This story takes place approximately a year after the War of Nerves started, and shortly before Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel became a couple.
A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
It wasn’t really a typical mission.
At least, that was what Captain Scarlet was thinking as he gazed distractedly through one of the cabin windows of the helicopter, watching the white clouds passing by in the clear sky.
He wasn’t seated in a Spectrum helijet; he wasn’t in the company of his Spectrum colleagues and he wasn’t even wearing his usual Spectrum uniform. Like his companions riding in the helicopter with him, he had donned a woodland camouflage uniform, distinguished from the others only by the black armband with the black, white and grey Spectrum emblem stamped on it. His bright red Spectrum uniform was deemed far too conspicuous for this operation, and besides, it would not really have been practical or even comfortable for the terrain they were about to survey.
Regular combat boots are much better for walking in muddy water, Scarlet reflected, looking down at his feet. He had not worn these for years, it seemed to him. They were his own boots from his time in the WAAF, not those from the Spectrum combat uniform that had been issued to him when he had been given his commission, a couple of years ago. The occasion to wear those other boots had never presented itself, not in a field situation, anyway; they were far too new to be comfortable when he had tried them on the previous day, before he was to leave for this mission. Fortunately, he had kept his old boots, and they were similar enough to Spectrum’s to swap them, without anyone even noticing the difference – especially not Colonel White. He wondered if the old man would approve of the exchange; he preferred not to ask him directly.
Scarlet looked again out through the window he was sitting next to. There was a white jet flying nearby, matching speed with the helicopter. He smiled inwardly; the Angel fighter was actually the only thing that indicated that this was a Spectrum mission. The fighter was close enough for him to be able to make out the outlines of the pilot through the canopy, with her long red hair emerging from beneath the helmet. Almost despite himself, he waved a discreet salute in the jet’s direction. He saw the pilot wave back, and was almost surprised to realise she had actually seen his gesture.
“Is it true what they say, Captain? All the Angel pilots are women?”
The young commando seated by Scarlet’s side was peering through the same window, towards the Angel fighter. The Spectrum officer wondered if he had seen the wave back from the pilot. Not that it was of the utmost importance. He nodded at the question.
“Yes, Lieutenant, it’s true. They’re all women.”
“Pretty?” the commando asked.
Scarlet was rather amused by the young man’s question. “Yes, they are. They suit their codename very well. And they’re amongst the best pilots in the world,” he added quickly. “Either male or female.”
“Yeah, so I heard,” the commando said. “I guess they would have to be, or they wouldn’t be part of Spectrum, would they?” He paused, looking again towards the Angel interceptor through the window. “I always wanted to meet an Angel pilot,” he added thoughtfully.
“Lay off, Mahoney,” one of his companions told him, teasingly. “Stop bothering the captain. He has other things to think about than answering your silly questions.”
“I’m not bothered,” Scarlet replied.
“You might not be, Captain, but we hardly can say the same. Mahoney has been bothering us forever about Spectrum, and their pilots, how great they are and how he would like to meet one of them. He’s been worse since he learned about this mission and that one of the Angel craft would be escorting us. Ask Major Montgomery,” the commando concluded. “He will tell you about it.”
Scarlet turned to the man seated nearest to the open door leading to the cockpit. The major was a tall, slim man with blue eyes blazing in the middle of a craggy, exceptionally tanned face, which was already half-shadowed by a black cap covering prematurely greyish short hair. He shrugged indifferently and offered a thin smile to the Spectrum officer.
“Our young lieutenant’s dream is to join Spectrum one day,” Montgomery explained. “He’s a good officer, all right, and I’ve no doubt that one day, he’ll be able to fulfil that dream. But he’s still a little green around the ears and needs to gain more experience. So for now, he’s kind of stuck with us.”
“And us with him!” another commando added mockingly. His remark caused his companions to laugh and exchange jokes at the expense of Mahoney who reddened violently and lowered his head. He didn’t seem to mind their teasing though, despite the fact he outranked most of them. He obviously was the rookie of the team. He noticed Scarlet pensively looking his way.
“I would like to fly an Angel jet,” he said to Scarlet, by way of explanation. “I signed up for the flying course… I know the Angels are women-only, but…”
“So far,” Scarlet remarked, “but who knows if you might not get your chance in the future? Spectrum is an equal opportunity employer, Lieutenant. If you’re good enough, you might get to be chosen. But you have to know that Spectrum only takes the very best.”
“I know that, Captain,” Mahoney answered, smiling. “And I intend to become one of them.”
“Good lad.” Scarlet smiled back. “But if you are ever chosen, won’t you feel a little alone if you find yourself the only man in a squadron full of women?”
“No… I’ll be the envy of the rest of ‘em, Captain,” Mahoney replied. “Especially if these girls are as pretty as they all say!”
Scarlet chuckled. “Clever guy. That’s what I call planning!” He glanced through the window, thoughtfully. “In the meanwhile, would you really like to meet one of those Angel pilots?”
Mahoney’s eyes lit up. “Are you serious, Captain?”
“Of course. That way you’ll be able to judge for yourself how pretty they really are.” He jerked his thumb towards the window. “I’ll ask Rhapsody if she would accept a date with you.”
There were whooping sounds from all around, coming from the rest of the commandos. Mahoney reddened anew. “You think she would accept, Captain?”
“I don’t know yet, but I can always ask her. If you’re free after this mission…” Scarlet glanced towards Montgomery who shrugged again.
“I’m sure it can be arranged,” the major answered.
“Then I’ll try my best to convince Rhapsody,” Scarlet said with a new smile.
“Rhapsody,” Mahoney repeated dreamily. “What a lovely name…”
Scarlet’s smile turned to a grin. Rhapsody was, indeed, a lovely girl.
“Great,” one of the other commandos muttered. “Think it was bad before, guys? Wait ‘til Mahoney finally gets to meet one of them. We won’t hear the end of this.”
Chuckles and laughs filled the cabin and Scarlet’s ears pricked at some of the jokes he was hearing, no doubt aimed at teasing poor Mahoney. He feigned not to hear them; he had no doubt the young man was big enough to be able to take them. He took an instant liking of the young man, having been in similar situations before during missions, with companions much older and far more experienced. He imagined the lieutenant would have his revenge, anyway, when he told them all about his date with the Angel pilot. Mahoney was probably around Rhapsody’s age; perhaps a year younger, if Scarlet was any judge.
He returned his attention back to the window, looking down to the ground over which the chopper was flying. It was wilderness, as far as the eye could see: a devastated territory of swamps, woods and greenery that spread for miles around. Amongst the dense tree cover, Scarlet could see broken and dead trees, covered with moss, scattered here and there all around the ground; driftwood floated on the muddy water and though the vegetation was very dense in some areas, he thought he saw what was left of a couple of destroyed houses, standing as proof that this region had not always been as it was today.
Already covered with patches of wilderness in the recent past, this part of Louisiana had been, over the years, stricken by a series of tornadoes from inland and hurricanes coming from the Gulf of Mexico, which had destroyed nearly all habitations, and driven most of the population away, reclaiming the land to expand the wilderness of woodlands and swamps over a far larger territory than it used to be. Since those tumultuous times, most Louisianan people had elected to settle in the more protected big cities, like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but even to this day, there still remained a few towns scattered through the now wild area, inhabited by those who obstinately refused to give in to Nature and leave their homes.
Those people still living there were stubborn, proud people, who had chosen to defy the elements that, even today, were repeatedly trying to claim a land that they had lived on and worked on all their lives. The folks from some of these mostly isolated towns lived as a close society, away from what was called ‘civilisation’, often not even benefiting from the latest that technology and science had to offer. The surrounding area was untamed and inhospitable. Not only was the land itself dangerous ground for people to live on, but it now offered better protection to the animal kingdom, permitting beasts living in the existing wilderness to multiply and increase their natural habitat. Wild creatures like bears, snakes and alligators were now roaming free on this new enlarged territory, claiming it as their own, and there had been a number of fatal outcomes for human beings who crossed their paths.
Which, Scarlet mused, could add to the danger of their present mission.
“All right, men,” he heard the voice of Montgomery say. “We’re approaching the search area. Prepare for landing.”
Everyone around Scarlet muttered their assent and then got busy. He made a careful check of his gear. To tell the truth, he didn’t feel completely at ease in the company of these men, despite having been a WAAF soldier himself some years before, and a member of similar groups of commandos during various missions. Perhaps, he considered, he didn’t feel like a part of these men, because of the very nature of this assignment; he was to only accompany them to the base of operations, but his job was to be slightly different from theirs. He had his own search to make, and for security reasons, he was not to share it with them.
Montgomery knew that much, but no more than that; and it was more than probable that he hadn’t even confided any of this to his men.
Scarlet knew Major Philip Montgomery by reputation; he was a highly experienced, efficient WAAF commando, who had participated in many successful missions. Having received his own orders from the WAAF, he knew better than to ask any questions about the Spectrum officer’s assignment, but it was plain by the way he was looking at the latter that he was still somewhat bemused by Scarlet’s presence in his team. Perhaps he was wondering why he was coming with them instead of being part of a whole Spectrum party. Like Scarlet, he was English, which, the Spectrum captain presumed, was probably the reason why he had been chosen to lead this expedition in the first place. He knew that the wreckage they were to search was from a British craft, which had crashed in these wetlands more than twenty years ago. But for the rest, he probably had no idea.
And quite frankly, Scarlet reflected, it was much better that neither Montgomery, nor any of his companions, knew. They were honest men, good officers, but that wasn’t enough to put them in the know, considering the nature of this search. And specifically regarding the secrecy surrounding his mission, which was ordered by Colonel White, and passed down from the World President himself.
Considering all this, Scarlet couldn’t help but feel ill-at-ease…
“In September 18th, 2046, the A67-Z private jet out of Heathrow, England, made its last layover at St.John’s International Airport, in Newfoundland, before taking off two hours later, towards Bermuda. That was the last time it was ever seen.”
Colonel White turned away from the screen behind him and looked at the two English officers seated with him in the Conference Room. Both Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel were listening with attention.
“Tropical storm Diego, which was wreaking havoc in the Gulf of Mexico during that time, had evolved into a hurricane and struck the coast of Florida in the hours following, moving along the south coast, and then striking the Bahamas and Bermuda. While most flights had been called off, A67-Z continued its course, and was believed to have been hit by the hurricane. It vanished without trace.” He turned back towards the map, as his finger pointed a spot on the digital pad upon his desk, on which the same map was drawn, on a smaller scale. A luminous dot appeared on the large map, where his finger had landed. “Two days ago, wreckage of a small plane was found here, in the middle of Devil’s Bayou, in Louisiana, by a local hunter. According to what could be seen of the markings, it could be A67-Z.”He turned again to his officers.
Scarlet was nodding slowly. “So that’s where the storm would have taken the plane then, some twenty years ago. Quite a long way from its destination, I must say.”
“Apparently,” White agreed. “Diego hit this wide area hard, for three consecutive days. It travelled deep inland into Southern United States, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. The strong winds obviously carried the plane further west of its destination, and it’s quite possible that, in those circumstances, while trying to battle the force of the storm, the pilot completely lost track of his trajectory. The last message from A67-Z was received from the Miami Tower, with the pilot saying he was caught in the wind with no idea of where he was.”
“So the plane crashed in Louisiana,” Rhapsody said in turn. “In the middle of the wilderness, away from civilisation… And during the storm, there were no witnesses to the exact location of the crash.”
“It’s the wilderness all right,” White confirmed. “There are no major cities around that area for kilometres – only a small town or two, barely inhabited. At the time of the storm, the people of the area had probably been completely evacuated. The others who might have been left behind had other problems on their minds, obviously. The plane might have sunk deep into the swamp. Never to be found until two days ago.”
White pressed a button, and the image on the screen disappeared, before the screen itself, slowly, started to rise towards the ceiling. The colonel addressed his officers again: “A team of WAAF commandos will be dispatched to Devil’s Bayou tomorrow, to mark the place, recover what they can of the wreckage and bring it back to civilisation, so an investigation will take place to establish the cause of the crash.”
“Isn’t it obvious it was the storm?” Rhapsody asked with a slight frown.
“It would appear so, but it could very well be that the plane had been sabotaged in the first place, and the World Government would very much like to know if that’s the case.”
“Sabotaged?” Scarlet echoed, puzzled by the use of the word. “Why would the World Government be interested in a plane that crashed more than twenty years ago?”
“I don’t have to remind either of you what the situation in Britain was, back in 2046,” Colonel White sourly continued. “Those were the last days of the Military Regime and the world at large was growing rather concerned about the intentions of the… British leaders of the time. Not without reason, I might add. The World Government was keeping a close check on Britain back then. The Universal Secret Service had a ring of highly trained agents which operated from a secret London office. There were spies at every level of the British Government.”
“Can’t say I blame the World President of the time wanting to keep an eye on what was going on in our country,” Scarlet said darkly. “Bandranaik was nothing, if not a very careful man.”
“At some point,” White continued, “the U.S.S. came into possession of some important information that they obtained from a very high-ranking official of the British Government.”
“Obtained?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow.
“That’s spy lingo for ‘stole’,” Rhapsody clarified.
“Thank you, I think I got that.”
“The information in question was contained in one microchip,” White moved on, “and was considered so vital that it was deemed necessary to smuggle it out of Britain without delay, to be handed over to the World Government.”
“So a U.S.S. agent left England aboard the A67-Z,” Scarlet concluded, catching his commander’s drift. “And the microchip was lost during the storm.”
“But now, the plane has been found, after all these years. And it’s imperative that this microchip is recovered,” White confirmed. “By direct order of the World President.”
“If it still exists,” Scarlet remarked with a frown. “What does the chip contain exactly, sir?”
“At the moment, Captain, I’m not at liberty to tell you. Either of you. Suffice it to say that this is a matter of World security. What this chip contains must not fall into the wrong hands.”
“Of course, sir,” Rhapsody concurred.
“I chose the two of you,” White continued, “because this affair is closely related to something that happened in our country. Not only is this a demand from World President Younger, but I will feel more comfortable not asking non-English members of Spectrum to get involved with this, if I can avoid it.”
“We are not particularly proud of this specific part of our history, are we, sir?” Rhapsody said. “It still too close for comfort.”
“You probably remember very little of it, Rhapsody,” Scarlet remarked quietly. “After all, you were probably still in nappies around the time the Military Regime ended.”
He saw her straightening up on her chair as she turned a withering look at him. He quickly hid an amused smile behind his hand. He knew her so well; she had such a fiery temper, and it was so easy to set her off, he couldn’t resist doing it whenever he had the chance to. Obviously, references to her age were still a sore subject, ever since Captain Black had raised questions about it at the start of Spectrum just a few years before. Not that her age had ever been viewed as a setback within Spectrum – only by Captain Black, really, as he saw her as nothing more than a thrill-seeking, little rich girl. That was a situation that didn’t sit too well with her at the beginning, and she had made a personal point to prove to the most senior of the captains that she was anything but a kid and an amateur. Gaining Black’s respect had not been easy, and although Black had finally conceded that Rhapsody was quite able to perform her duties as well as any of the other Angels, he still was unable to see her as anything other than the ‘baby’ among the senior staff.
Of course, for Scarlet it really wasn’t an issue, as he had experienced many similar reservations about his age during his career. Truly, Rhapsody should know that he would never think badly of her, especially in that respect; but yet again, her anger was blinding her to the obvious.
Sure enough, the comeback wasn’t long in arriving.
“First of all, Captain Scarlet, I may have been very young when the Military Regime fell, but I was far from still being in nappies. Secondly, I imagine you were not much older yourself, at the time, and too young to actually grasp the gravity of the situation in our country. After all, you grew up within a privileged military family, were you not?”
He gave her a fake wounded look. “Ouch. I’m sure you meant for that to hurt, Rhapsody.”
Rhapsody never noticed the raised brow on Colonel White’s face as she addressed Captain Scarlet anew, still in the same incisive tone: “Last of all, Captain, I’ll thank you not to raise the subject of my ‘relatively young’ age again. I grow quite tired of these assumptions that I won’t be able to do my job properly, based solely on the pretext that –”
“Hey,” Scarlet defended himself, “calm down a little. I never implied that you –”
Colonel White loudly cleared his throat. “If you two have quite finished sniping at each other…” he said without raising his voice. His interruption brought an abrupt end to their exchange and, as if suddenly electrified by his words, they turned to him; he was looking straight at them with glaring eyes, under very furrowed brows. “I swear, at times you sound exactly like an old married couple,” he mumbled in the following silence. “Perhaps we can now continue this briefing? We have an upcoming mission to discuss, and I won’t tolerate any more disruption from either of you.”
“Of course, sir,” Scarlet apologised. “Sorry about that.”
“My apologies, Colonel,” Rhapsody added in turn.
“Right. Let’s get on with it then. Captain Scarlet, you will join the WAAF commandos who will be leaving tomorrow for Devil’s Bayou. Your mission: to recover the microchip, if it still exists. This must be a discreet operation that you must not share with the commandos.”
“Rhapsody Angel, you will escort the commandos’ transport. You will serve as back-up for the mission, in case Captain Scarlet needs you.”
“Do you expect something to go wrong, sir?” Scarlet asked.
“Quite frankly, no, I don’t, Captain. But I don’t want to take any chances. After all, we all know that anything can happen, don’t we? So it’s better to be safe than sorry. Now prepare yourselves, both of you. You are to leave for Miami in two hours. From there, you will proceed to New Orleans, where you will meet with the WAAF commandos team. And remember – extreme discretion is called for in this operation. If the microchip has not been destroyed in the crash, it must be recovered… and brought back to Spectrum.”
* * *
“Landing zone approaching. Prepare for landing.”
The voice of the pilot drew Captain Scarlet out of his fugue. He finished checking his gear and sat back to wait, while the helicopter slowly started its descent towards the ground below. The pilot had found a piece of dry land, near the location of their search, and steadily, he landed his craft. As soon as the floats touched ground, Montgomery slid open the door and motioned to his men. Everyone quickly got to their feet and stepped outside. Scarlet left just before Montgomery himself. The pilot, still at the helm, shut down the engines.
The chopper blades slowed down over their heads, as the seven men jogged away from the craft with their gear, to a safe distance. Montgomery made a mental count of his commandos, making sure that everyone was present for the briefing. They had eaten onboard the craft on their way over to their present location, and he seemed eager to get on with business, and not waste any time.
“All right, men, you know the drill: fan out and start the search. You are to pick up every transportable piece of debris you find and bring it all here. Mark the precise location of where you find them. If the pieces are too big to be carried, simply mark their co-ordinates on the electronic map. Remember that, more important than anything else, you are to find the plane’s black boxes, if anything’s left of them. If they’re not too damaged, they should give us details about the plane crash.”
“I still wonder why we have been assigned to this mission,” one of the commandos complained. “It doesn’t seem like a suitable job for us, Major. We’re highly-trained soldiers after all. And we’re talking about a civilian plane, right?”
“You have your orders, Palmer, and I have mine. If the brasses think we’re more useful searching for the debris of old planes and bits of corpses, that’s their decision. I’m not going to argue with them, and you won’t either.”
“Of course not, sir,” the commando said, with a slight blink of surprise at the force of his commander’s remonstrance.
“You’ll be working in teams of two. Keep radio contact with me. And keep your weapons ready. In case of… surprise encounters.”
“What kind of ‘surprise encounters’, Major?” Palmer asked suspiciously.
“There’s quite a few alligators in the area,” Montgomery explained. “They might welcome a free meal, if you bump into any.”
“Great,” another commando muttered. “Alligators… I hate those slimy things.”
“Cheer up, Baxter,” the man closest to him said cheerfully. “I’m sure they’ll be more scared of you than you are of them.”
“Shut up, Williams. The first alligator that crosses my path, I’ll make me a pair of cowboy boots with it.”
“They’re protected animals, you know,” the last man of the team piped up with a mocking smile.
“Perhaps, Petroski, but I have every intention of protecting myself first.”
“Captain Scarlet,” Montgomery asked, ignoring his men’s antics to turn to the Spectrum officer standing by his side. “Will you need assistance? It would be safer for you to team up with one of my boys.”
Scarlet hesitated. Of course, it certainly would be safer. He didn’t care much for encountering an alligator either, or any other beast for that matter. He didn’t think that his retrometabolism could protect him to the extent of recreating any pieces of him that had been eaten and digested. “Thank you, Major,” he answered. “I accept gladly.” In any case, the man assigned to team up with him would not know what he was looking for. He scanned the assembly. “Maybe Lieutenant Mahoney can come with me?”
He saw the face of the young lieutenant light up with a wide smile. Montgomery approved of the choice with a nod. “Go with him, Mahoney. Try to bring him back in one piece, Captain.”
“Don’t worry, Major. I don’t intend to put him in any danger. He’ll just have to cover my back – in case we meet alligators,” Scarlet added with a wink addressed to Mahoney.
Montgomery narrowed his eyes; he was probably still wondering why the presence of the Spectrum officer was deemed necessary for this otherwise ordinary mission. “What direction do you need to go?” the major asked carefully.
“I just need to know the approximate location of the passenger cabin debris,” Scarlet answered. “I know it was found nearby.” He had read the report of the surveillance plane that had overflown the area two days before, and knew perfectly well that Montgomery had received a detailed briefing on the findings. The major pointed in a general direction towards the south.
“It’s about a mile from here,” he said. “You can’t miss it, it’s resting against a copse of trees, half buried in the mud. The cockpit,” he continued, moving his finger, “is more to the north, and half of a wing was seen floating around there too. That’s where most of my men will be searching, while I’ll go to the west, where other debris has also been spotted.”
“You’re going alone?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow.
“I studied the terrain carefully, Captain. And I know this kind of swamp. I’ve never been to Louisiana, but the ones in the Florida Everglades are quite similar. Of all of us, I’m the one running the least risk, I can guarantee you.”
“If you say so,” Scarlet replied with a shake of his head. Montgomery’s statement sounded terribly arrogant. But he wasn’t in any position to argue.
“According to earlier reports, what was seen of debris is scattered of about five miles around the area,” Montgomery continued. “We should be able to find the most important parts easily enough. It was a rather a small plane.”
“It was indeed,” Scarlet mused.
“I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for and that you didn’t come here for nothing.” Scarlet kept silent at this remark and watched thoughtfully as Montgomery turned his back to him to address his men. “All right, men. Let’s get a move on! I don’t have any intention of staying in this hell-hole longer than necessary. Fan out – and report every hour.”
* * *
In the minutes that followed, during their walk towards the location of the passenger cabin, Lieutenant Mahoney took the opportunity offered to him to ask Captain Scarlet various questions concerning Spectrum. However, he showed himself sensible enough not to overwhelm the Spectrum officer, and knew exactly when and where to draw the line between being naturally curious and plainly inquisitive. As much as the young man was obviously very much fascinated with Spectrum, he was also enough of a professional to know when it was time to perform his job effectively and how not to show himself as an annoying nuisance to a superior officer.
Following Montgomery’s instructions, Scarlet had reached the co-ordinates where the cabin had been located. Indeed, it wasn’t that hard to find, when you knew where to look; from the ground, anyway. It was so covered with mud and wild vegetation that it was effectively camouflaged from the sky. No aircraft would have been able to spot it. If not for that hunter finding it a couple of days ago, no-one would have ever known that A67-Z possibly had crashed in this area. The plane could have been missing for still many years to come. If not indefinitely.
What was left of the cabin was half submerged in the dirty water. The side had been entirely ripped open during the crash years ago, and nearly all of its contents had spilled all over the place, completely disappearing into the wild nature. This isn’t going to be easy, Scarlet contemplated gloomily. It’s quite possible that what I’m looking for has been swallowed by the swamp – and can’t be retrieved.
“Mahoney, you can start looking around and proceed with your mission,” Scarlet instructed. “I’ll inspect the immediate area of the passenger cabin.”
“You need any help, Captain?” the lieutenant offered.
“No.” There was no discussing this. Scarlet had instructions to pursue his search completely alone. It was a matter of extreme security.
“If you should come across any remains of the unfortunate people who were in the plane, or find any of their personal effects, call me right away,” Scarlet instructed the young man. “But… don’t touch anything.”
“Right, sir. Good luck in your search.”
Mahoney walked away, leaving the Spectrum officer alone. Scarlet watched him go, then, when he considered the young man had gone a reasonable distance, he returned his attention to the gutted cabin. He heaved a deep sigh, as he removed his rucksack from his back and put it against the foot of a tree, on dry land. He took his communicator from his pocket, and activated it, in order to contact Cloudbase and inform the colonel that he had reached the location of the cabin and was about to commence his search.
Strangely enough, he could only get static from his communicator.
From above his head, he could hear the sounds of jet engines passing at slow speed, and saw, through the branches of the tree hanging over him, the outlines of the Angel fighter. He quickly changed channel on his communicator.
He changed channel. “Scarlet to Angel Three.”
“Go ahead, Captain,” he heard the voice of his compatriot over the speaker.
“Rhapsody, I can’t seem to be able to reach Cloudbase.”
“I know. I’ve been informed by Lieutenant Green that there’s a violent storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s scrambling communication with Cloudbase. That was the last contact I had.”
“A storm?” Scarlet asked, slightly alarmed. “Are we in any danger of being hit?”
“No, apparently it’s travelling North-East, towards the Atlantic. Louisiana should be safe. This part of it, anyway. You won’t get wet, Captain, don’t worry.”
Scarlet looked down at his legs, almost knee-deep in the water. He didn’t need that storm to get wet. He already felt damp enough as it was.
“Cloudbase has moved into a higher position, and is trying to avoid the storm,” Rhapsody added. “If I climb high enough, I should be able to contact them.”
“Good. In that case, can you forward a message to the colonel for me?”
“I have reached the location of the A67-Z’s passenger cabin. There’s not much left of it, I’m afraid, and it looks completely empty, of either the people or anything else it was originally carrying. I’ll search it, though, and the immediate area as well, as thoroughly as I can. But I don’t think there’s much chance of me finding the microchip. It might be lost forever in this swamp.” He shook his head. “The only chance we might have of ever finding it would be to send a special unit down here, to search the swamp from the bottom up. I’ll be marking the location of the wrecked cabin very carefully, so we can find it again, in case it should come to that.”
“No need to, Captain,” the voice of Rhapsody answered. “My onboard computer already saved the position, based on the signal it’s currently picking up from your Personal Tracker.”
Scarlet grinned. “Resourceful as ever, Rhapsody. I see you’re keeping your eye on me.”
“Well, that’s my job, isn’t it? Don’t forget that the tracker you’re wearing only works over a very short distance. So don’t go running off this swamp and out of the county without telling me, while I’ve gone to relay your message. I might have trouble finding you again.”
“They don’t call them ‘counties’ in Louisiana – they’re ‘parishes’,” Scarlet informed her. “An old legacy of the State’s French origins.”
“Whatever. You know what I mean.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t go away. I have my work cut out for me right now.” Scarlet paused a second, as a sudden thought crossed his mind. “Rhapsody… when this mission’s over… are you busy?”
“What do you mean?” she asked with curiosity. “Why the question?”
“Well, I reckon that we’d be entitled to some time off afterwards… So I was wondering… How would you feel about going out with someone?”
“You mean… is this an invitation?”
Scarlet could hear the surprise – and doubt – in Rhapsody’s voice. “Yes, sort of… What do you say? You’ve certainly earned a break. I can ask the colonel. I’m sure he won’t say no. We’ll be returning to New Orleans after the mission, and there’s some rather nice neighbourhoods there.”
"You mean, like the New French Quarter?"
"Yes - it's amazing what they've done with the city, since they rebuilt it after the last big flood, twenty years ago... Really, you can’t pass up the opportunity to visit.”
There was a silence over the radio. Scarlet frowned.
“Rhapsody, are you still there?”
“Yes, I am,” he heard the female voice again. “I’m sorry, I was thinking. This is quite unexpected, Captain. Thank you.”
“Is that a yes, then?”
“Why, yes. I’d be glad to!”
Scarlet smiled. “Splendid! I’ll tell Lieutenant Mahoney that everything is settled, then.”
He thought he heard a hiccup. “Who?”
“Lieutenant Mahoney,” Scarlet explained. “He’s dying to meet a real Angel pilot. I told him that I would do whatever I could to introduce him to one. Well… you actually, since you were there.”
“You plan to take this Mahoney on a date – with us?” Rhapsody asked, her voice betraying her incredulity.
“Of course not!” Scarlet protested. “Three’s a crowd, Angel. You and Mahoney won’t need me. He’s about your age and he’s a nice man. I’m sure you’ll appreciate his company. You’ll get along together fine without me.”
There was a pause yet again, during which Scarlet heard a very audible breath exhalation.
“Of all the unfeeling –” Rhapsody kept the rest to herself, and her voice suddenly became very cold when she spoke again: “You don’t know how LUCKY you are to be down there and me up here, Captain Scarlet! If you had been in front of me when you made that… ‘invitation’, I would have punched you in the mouth!”
“What’s the matter?” Scarlet asked in bewilderment.
“DON’T play the innocent with me, it doesn’t become you! Next time you want to have a joke at my expense, be VERY SURE to keep your distance!”
“I’ll be back in half an hour after I had made that call to Cloudbase. You won’t be able to reach me in the meanwhile. I’ll make contact with you when I’m back. Angel Three out.”
That said, very abruptly, Rhapsody cut communication. Seconds later, Scarlet could hear the engines of the fighter, as it made a last pass over his position and headed in a westerly direction, climbing as it did.
Scarlet heaved a deep sigh and closed the channel. Even if he were to live a hundred years, he would never understand that girl.
He liked all the Angels – they were agreeable women, smart and witty… and not at all unpleasant to look at. He would pass a good number of hours in their company, either in the Amber Room or the Officers’ Lounge, or anywhere else on Cloudbase. If it happened that he and an Angel had furlough at the same time, he would invite her out to dinner. He appreciated each of their individual qualities, but for some reason, it was Rhapsody he felt the closest to. Closer than Symphony, with whom he shared so many traits he had come to consider her as a younger sister; or even closer than Destiny, with whom he had shared an intimate relationship a few years before. He couldn’t exactly explain why he felt so close to Rhapsody. Perhaps it was because they were compatriots – but he felt there was more to it than only that.
Rhapsody was the youngest of the Angels – and the fiercest amongst them. For someone so young, she had accomplished so much already in her life. He could relate to her in that aspect, knowing exactly how it had been for her during her career. In his time, he too had to face contempt from far older colleagues in the WAAF, when he rose through the ranks to become a high-ranking officer before the age of thirty. ‘The youngest colonel in the WAAF’, he had been called; but there was no denying he had won his rank through hard work and successes – not because, as most people were too happy to gossip about, of his social standing and his family history.
He could almost see himself in Rhapsody – more so than in Symphony, perhaps. They were more alike than he was willing to admit. Their social upbringings, although different, had points in common – she was from an aristocratic family and he grew up in a very strict, reserved military environment. They shared the same set of moral values.
Perhaps, Scarlet reflected, it was what actually appealed to him in her. They were, as they say ‘good for each other’s’.
What is it exactly with me about that girl? he asked himself. Do I fancy her or what?
There were times, he had to admit, where he did feel attracted to her; but in view of unique condition, he also didn’t feel that it would be a good idea to get involved that way with a woman. Not that he didn’t have many opportunities lately; he was still interested in girls – was he glad to know he was still very much of a man because of that fact! – and they were obviously interested in him. Which was making his situation even more difficult for him. His last attempt to get closely involved with a woman had been disastrous for her – as well as for him. After that, he didn’t feel that it would be fair to renew the experience with anyone else. Not as a long-standing relationship anyway.
Having changes of mind is normal for a human being, Scarlet reflected, looking up to the sky. Maybe it’s time for me to re-evaluate my decision. After all – I am still as human as I was before this business with the Mysterons started…
“Captain Scarlet?” The voice of Mahoney made Scarlet turn abruptly on his heel. The young lieutenant was standing behind him, just a few metres away. He looked a little uncertain.
“What is it, Lieutenant?”
Mahoney shook his head. “Sir, I don’t know what it is that you’re looking for… I just imagine that it must be something very important for the World Government to ask a Spectrum colour-coded officer to join us in a survey mission to inventory the debris from this crash. And I know you said you didn’t need any help, but…”
Scarlet sighed. “Please… to the point, Lieutenant.”
“I might have found something of interest for you, Captain.” Mahoney jerked his head in the direction from which he'd come. “It’s over here.”
Scarlet had to admit he was a little curious about what Mahoney could have found that he thought would be important for him. He gave a last glance at the eviscerated passenger cabin in front of him and then slowly turned to join the young lieutenant, splashing the muddy waters as he did so.
* * *
“This is disgusting… I really didn’t sign up for this.”
WAAF Sergeant-Major Sam Baxter wasn’t a very happy man, as, with Sergeant Palmer, he was squelching knee-deep in the sludgy waters, grumbling with disgruntlement and sharing his disapproval with his companion. They had been searching the area for hours, gathering tiny bits of what looked like remnants of a crashed aircraft, that they both carefully put in marked plastic bags, before placing them in their backpacks.
There was not a single soul around, not any trace of civilisation. Nature really had claimed the area back, erasing with time all signs there might have been of any previous passage of man. As the two soldiers went deeper into the swamp, it became more creepy and murky – even threatening, as they noticed a faint mist slowly starting to surround them. Sounds of animals echoed in the distance – birds singing a disturbing mantra that sounded like an ominous laugh, mocking them on the futility of their labour.
“I don’t like it anymore than you do,” grunted Palmer at his companion’s comments. “Mind you, I’ve been in dirtier spots than this one. And certainly as sticky as here,” he added, as he pulled his left foot out of the muddy hole in which it had become stuck. “At least in this place, we don’t have to worry about the enemy emerging from behind the trees to attack us.”
“What about beneath that mud?” Baxter replied. He was holding his automatic weapon at the ready, trailing it around, directed at the surface of the muddy water. He grimaced. “I worry enough about alligators at the moment, you know. I wouldn’t want to see one of them appear suddenly and snap at my legs.”
“We haven’t seen any yet,” Palmer remarked. “You know, Williams might be right: those alligators might be more afraid of you than you are of them.”
“Oh yeah? What about if they’re hungry enough? A hungry beast ain’t afraid of nothing, Jim.”
“Wherever did you learn that, Sam? I bet you’ve been reading National Geographic again!”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong in reading informative stuff! You should try it some time! That is, if you know how to read.” Baxter heard sounds of disturbed water from his right and turned sharply, weapon at the ready. His movement was welcomed by a loud curse.
“Je-sus, Baxter!” the voice of Williams shouted as he and Petroski, appearing from behind the trees, approached. “Will you please put that thing away? What are you trying to do, scare us to death?”
Baxter lowered his weapon, exhaling with relief. “I thought you might be one of those damned alligators, Williams.”
“Well, obviously, I ain’t,” the other WAAF soldier grunted.
“Though with that skin condition of yours, I wonder…” Palmer said with a thin smile.
“What skin condition?” Williams protested. “I don’t have a skin condition!”
“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” Petroski said in turn, joining in the fun. He left his companion to stand by the other men, who had stopped their advance. “How come you’re here, you guys? I thought you were searching east of our landing position.”
Baxter and Palmer exchanged a quick glance. “We thought YOU two were searching west,” Baxter replied. “The major sent us north shortly after you left.”
“Ain’t so,” Williams insisted. “We were instructed to follow a northerly direction. Which brought us here, obviously. The major told us he'd be searching west. Ask Petroski, he’ll confirm.”
To that, Petroski answered with a vigorous nod of his head. Baxter groaned loudly. “Oh great,” he muttered. “Don’t tell me we misunderstood the chief’s instructions. We won’t hear the end of this…”
Sounds of broken branches made the four men turned on their heels. They found Major Montgomery watching them, very relaxed and holding his automatic weapon down, standing just a few feet away on the mounded bank of the swamp they were squelching in. A still-nervous Baxter had instinctively raised his gun; he rolled his eyes at his own foolishness.
“Actually, you men followed my exact directions,” Montgomery said very quietly. His eyes fell on Baxter, who was slowly lowering his weapon, in the vain hope that his commander would not have noticed his previous gesture. Baxter felt himself reddening to the roots of his hair when he saw the smile on Montgomery’s thin lips.
“Sorry, sir,” he said apologetically. “We didn’t hear you come.”
“You thought I might be an alligator or a bear, did you, Baxter?” Montgomery remarked, still smirking.
“Yeah – that was very stupid of me, wasn’t it? But this place… it’s giving me the creeps.”
Montgomery’s eyes rose and he looked about their surroundings, slowly, as if attentively assessing the place. “Yes, it is a little… sinister around here, isn’t it?”
“It is indeed, Major,” Petroski agreed.
“Don’t worry, men. You don’t have anything to fear from alligators or bears around these parts. Does that reassure you, Baxter?”
“It sure does, sir,” Baxter said with just a hint of assurance in his voice and a grateful smile. “But how come you sound so sure? You said yourself that we might encounter some.”
“Did I say that?” Montgomery said in a detached tone. “Oh, then, my mistake, I suppose. They won’t hurt you, that I can assure you. As for the reason why I’m so sure…” His hand, which was holding his automatic weapon pointing down, rose suddenly, and he turned the barrel directly at the four men standing knee-deep in the muddy waters. “… It’s because I know the danger will come from elsewhere.”
A cold edge suddenly replaced the good-natured tone of his voice, and his face became a hard expressionless mask. Surprise barely had time to register on the commandos’ faces as Montgomery’s finger squeezed the trigger. The gun was equipped with a powerful silencer so that the sound of the hail of bullets emerging from the barrel was barely heard… and was effectively covered by the cries of pain from the WAAF soldiers as one by one, they fell like trees being mercilessly cut down.
A very cruel smile appeared on Montgomery lips, as, lowering his weapon, he looked down coldly at the four men now lying dead in the water.
The mission could now proceed according to plan…
* * *
Captain Scarlet couldn’t believe his luck.
Lieutenant Mahoney and he were standing in front of a copse of trees, about thirty metres away from the position where they had found the main wreckage of the passenger cabin. Mahoney had discovered the cabin door, half buried in the mud, nearly intact, if slightly distorted on one side. By the look of it, it had probably been torn from its hinges during the crash, perhaps on impact, as it was not that far away from the cabin.
It wasn’t the door itself that Mahoney had found interesting – but rather, what he had found beneath it.
There was a body lying there, nearly hidden by dirt and half-sunken in the mud, crushed between door and trees. Half of a body actually, reduced to a skeleton by the passage of time, with one of its legs gone, either severed by the crash, or taken away by hungry predators, it was impossible to say. The clothes were but dirty rags, but still, it was possible to distinguish that they had once been a fashionable man’s costume. Only a handful of blond hair was hanging from the skull now; his face having gone, it would have been impossible to identify who that man was – short of using dental or DNA analysis, that was.
Scarlet’s first reactive thought upon discovering the corpse was to mutely recommend his soul to whatever deity the dead man might have believed in. He caught sight of Mahoney crossing himself, almost without thinking about it. It was never pleasant to find a dead body, especially in this state of decomposition, years after the person’s death – even for hardened soldiers. He hoped this man’s death had been a quick one, and that he wasn’t still alive when he had been ejected from the plane and crushed underneath the door.
That moment past, Scarlet’s interest was drawn by what was left of the man’s left hand. A handcuff encircled the skeletal wrist, attaching to it a black briefcase – covered with mud but otherwise apparently intact. Scarlet’s eyes narrowed. Could it be…?
He lowered himself to his knees and carefully searched what remained of the corpse’s clothes; there were no papers, nothing to say if it was the U.S.S. agent Colonel White had told him about. Not that Scarlet imagined he would find anything of the sort; he was just looking for…
In the inside pocket of the man’s vest, Scarlet found a key, that shone between his fingers as he examined it closely. Obviously, it wasn’t a key for those handcuffs the dead man was wearing but perhaps…?
He looked in the direction of the briefcase.
“Lieutenant Mahoney,” he said in a very even voice to the WAAF soldier standing behind him, “would you leave me for a few minutes, please?”
“Of course, sir,” Mahoney answered with only a hint of hesitation. His voice betrayed the disappointment he felt over the fact that Scarlet was trying to get rid of him when it was beginning to become really interesting. The Spectrum officer noticed that, and turned to the younger man, offering him a grateful smile.
“You have been most helpful. Thank you for your help.”
“My pleasure, Captain,” Mahoney answered with a smile of his own. Just at that moment, the communicator hanging from his belt beeped, attracting his attention. He glanced at it for a second, then addressed Scarlet anew: “If you’ll excuse me, sir – I’ll take the opportunity to answer this call from the major.”
Scarlet answered with a distracted nod; he barely paid attention as Mahoney splashed away from his position, all the while attaching the communication device to his ear.
The Spectrum officer turned his attention back to the briefcase hanging from the dead man’s wrist; he wondered if the key he was now holding would be able to open it – and if indeed, the briefcase contained what he was looking for. It was almost too much to hope for.
Still in a crouched position, he went around the dead body, and approached the briefcase to pick it up from the ground; it came out with a sucking sound as it disengaged from the mud. Mostly, as Scarlet had ascertained, it was intact, aside from a large dent on the lower side. Scarlet carefully checked the security lock, brushing the multiple dials to remove the dirt covering them; like the rest of the briefcase, it was also intact, having withstood the crash of long ago and its prolonged submersion in these dirty waters. He imagined that the security combination within the lock must still be working; Colonel White had explained that if the briefcase were to be forcibly opened, without using the proper combination, a security device would automatically set off a small explosive charge that would destroy the content of the briefcase… and probably take off the hands of the unlucky person who had tried to open it.
Blasting the handcuff attaching the briefcase to its owner would have the same effect, Scarlet recalled Colonel White’s warning; it would be easy enough, however, to blast the dead body’s hand, take it off and carry it away. But Scarlet, after considering this for a few seconds, decided against it. The dent he could see on the side of the briefcase worried him; even if it apparently hadn’t been enough of a shock to either open the case or set off the explosive device inside, he wondered if the impact had not damaged it in some way. Transporting the case might prove a hazardous business; the thing might explode at any moment, taking away whatever secret it was holding – and even claiming victims in the process.
The bumpy ride back to New Orleans in the helicopter might not be a very safe one…
No, the safest solution was to open the case right here and now.
Fortunately, Colonel White had been informed of the proper combination used at the time and had given it to Scarlet. However, the question still remained: was the lock still working after all these years?
Only one way to find out…
Scarlet slowly inserted the key in the lock, and turned it without much difficulty, listening closely as he did so. He heard a click from the lock. So far so good. The first step has been completed. Now to the next, more dangerous one…
Carefully, Scarlet turned the dials; there were five of them, and he had to apply three series of number to them, one by one, and in the right order. Some of the dials were a little difficult to operate, clogged with dirt and water, but Scarlet painstakingly persisted; he had the impression that long minutes passed by, during that time, while he fully expected an explosion to occur at any moment.
When for the third time he turned the last dial and stopped it on the last digit, he heard a very faint click from within the case.
Wiping a brow wet with perspiration, he blew a deep sigh of relief and opened the case.
There wasn’t much in there; mostly, it was filled with some greyish foam rubber, in the middle of which a very small hole had been cut; inserted into that hole was a tiny, metallic case, even smaller than a jewel box.
Scarlet removed the box from its place and held it in the palm of one hand, while carefully opening the lid with his other hand; inside, resting in the middle of the box, was the microchip, shining exactly like a diamond ring.
Scarlet grinned. He closed the lid, and then slid the small box into the large pocket on his left thigh, taking great care to close the zip tightly; he certainly didn’t want to lose it, now that he had it!
He then activated his communication device.
“Captain Scarlet to Cloudbase…” The static sound that screeched in his ears reminded him, almost instantly, that Cloudbase couldn’t be reached at the present. He grimaced and changed channel, trying to contact Rhapsody instead. “Angel Three, do you copy?” He received no answer. She must still be out of reach, he thought. Well, she should be back soon enough…
As he was thinking that, just at the limit of his hearing, Scarlet could detect a whisking sound coming not that far away, from a direction behind him. Helicopter blades, he realised instantly, and from experience, he knew it was the very specific sound of a WAAF chopper. He would recognise it anywhere.
“Captain Scarlet?” That was the voice of Mahoney that Scarlet heard as he got to his feet. The sound of the helicopter was growing nearer.
“What is it, Lieutenant?” As he turned around, he discovered the young man, standing only a few feet away from him – and holding his weapon on him.
“I’m sorry, Captain. I have my orders…”
Scarlet frowned, upon hearing the genuinely apologetic tone in Mahoney’s voice.
“Lieutenant, what is the meaning of this?” he asked angrily.
“I can’t even offer you an explanation, sir,” the lieutenant answered. Behind Mahoney, in the sky, Scarlet could see the helicopter approaching. It was the same one which had brought him and the WAAF commandos to the Bayou. “The major just told me to apprehend you – as soon as you opened the case.”
“The major?” Scarlet’s surprise and anger rose. “You told him about the case, Lieutenant?”
“The major already knew about it, sir. I only had to confirm to him that –” Scarlet stepped forward and Mahoney backed off a step. “Please, Captain, don’t make a move! I don’t want to shoot you, but I have orders to do so if you resist arrest!”
“Lieutenant,” Scarlet growled, stopping in his tracks, “you are making a big mistake!”
“I’m just following orders, Captain. I was told that everything will be explained once we’re back in the chopper. Please, stay where you are.”
Scarlet gave up trying to convince Mahoney that something was wrong; he kept totally still, under the young man’s vigilance, and gritted his teeth as the helicopter approached their position. It didn’t land but instead, hovered overhead, just a few feet above the treetops, and he watched as the belly hatch slid open. Mahoney came over to him and, still keeping him covered, swiftly relieved him of his handgun. Lines were thrown down through the chopper’s hatch; Scarlet looked on as two men swiftly slid down.
Everything was moving so fast that Scarlet barely noticed the nausea that mounted in him; as he looked up at the men descending towards them, it hit him suddenly, and he swayed, a cold sweat covering his brow in mere seconds. The two men landed next to him and Mahoney, and he recognised both Palmer and Williams.
A defenceless and nauseous Scarlet, still covered by Mahoney’s weapon, didn’t make a move as Williams snapped a security hook from one of the lines to the ring attached at the front of his belt, while Palmer was fastening a metal hand-grip to the same line. He firmly took one of Scarlet’s hands into his own and put it on the grip, smiling coldly at the Spectrum officer. “Hang on tight, Captain… we wouldn’t want to lose ya.”
Scarlet just had the time to grab the handle with both hands before he felt the sudden jerk and his feet left the ground. He was hoisted upward at such a speed that, nauseated as he already was, he nearly felt his stomach coming to his lips. He held on for dear life and a few seconds later, he had reached the helicopter. Hands pulled him inside, none too gently, and pushed him to his knees, beside the opened hatch.
“Put your hands on your head,” a rough voice told him, as at least two gun barrels appeared in his line of vision. “And don’t try anything funny!”
Scarlet obeyed, trying desperately to dispel the violent nausea he was feeling. For him, there was only one explanation possible for all that was happening right now.
A pair of combat boots appeared before Scarlet and he raised furious eyes upward to meet the cold stare of Major Montgomery.
He saw Palmer and Williams being heaved inside the helicopter by the same motorised winch that had pulled him up. Mahoney appeared a second later; the first thing he noticed was Scarlet being held at gunpoint. The young man’s brow furrowed and he quickly unhooked himself from his line to walk straight to his commander.
“Major…” Mahoney seemed rather unnerved by all that was happening and obviously didn’t understand any of it. Scarlet could see he clearly had had nothing to do with it. “Sir,” the lieutenant continued, “What’s happening? Why did you tell me to arrest Captain Scarlet?”
Suddenly, upon seeing the hardened expression on the major’s face as he turned toward Mahoney, Scarlet felt very concerned for the young man.
“Lieutenant, you’d better be care–” A brutal shove from Palmer interrupted Scarlet, and threw him forward; he fell on his hands.
Mahoney turned in anger. “Stop that!” he admonished Palmer, before turning again to Montgomery. “Why are you treating him like a criminal?” He gestured toward a grim-looking Scarlet.
Montgomery raised an eyebrow. “You demand an explanation from me, Lieutenant?” he asked in a detached tone.
“You owe me that much, sir,” Mahoney insisted. “You did say earlier that you would tell me what it’s all about once we were back in the chopper. Now we are. Please, tell me. I don’t understand.”
“Oh yes, I remember saying that,” Montgomery continued quietly. “Well, Lieutenant, there’s really only one answer I can give you, actually…” Calmly, the major un-holstered his handgun; Mahoney looked down with surprise obvious on his face at the weapon now aimed right at his heart.
“What –” Mahoney never got to finish his sentence, as Montgomery coldly pulled the trigger three consecutive times, without even blinking.
Lieutenant Sean Mahoney was thrown backwards by the impact of the bullets; he was dead before his body even hit the floor, just in front of a still kneeling Captain Scarlet.
For a moment, the Spectrum officer looked down on the still face of the dead young man; then, he carefully raised his eyes and glared at each of the five men surrounding him, with their weapons trained on him. His eyes rested lastly on Montgomery. The major’s expression was as cold as those of his men as he gazed impassively at Scarlet. His gun was still smoking in his hand.
“Murderer,” Scarlet growled between his teeth.
Quietly, Montgomery re-holstered his gun.
“You’re Mysterons,” Scarlet continued. His nausea wasn’t as strong as it had been previously, but there was no denying what it was telling him. He looked all around again, dejectedly. “All of you… you’re all Mysterons.”
“You are right, Captain,” Montgomery answered quietly. “I’m surprised you didn’t suspect anything before now… Or is your much vaunted sixth sense highly overrated?”
“You were not all Mysterons when I boarded this chopper in New Orleans,” Scarlet replied harshly. “I’m sure I would have felt something.”
“You are still right,” Montgomery answered. “Only I had been taken over by the Mysterons at that point. Well me and the pilot. The others… joined us later on.”
“You mean you killed them in the swamp,” Scarlet realised. He looked down with anger at Mahoney’s body. “Except the lad. That’s why you had to kill him now. He was with me, when you dispatched the others.” He made a move to get up, but suddenly, Montgomery pointed his gun directly between his eyes.
“Stay on your knees and don’t make a move, or I won’t hesitate to kill you right away.”
He motioned to Palmer, standing nearest to Scarlet, and the man swiftly searched the Spectrum officer for any weapon on his person. Scarlet didn’t so much as bat an eyelid as Palmer relieved him of his Swiss Army knife, that he found in one of his trouser pockets. He thanked his lucky stars that the case containing the microchip was so tiny and thin that it escaped the search. Scarlet kept his eyes on Montgomery, standing in front of him.
“No other weapon on him,” Palmer told his commander. He pocketed Scarlet’s knife, wickedly grinning down at him. “Thank you for the gift, Spectrum.”
“Hang on to it,” Scarlet icily replied. “I’ll reclaim it soon enough.”
Palmer scoffed mockingly at the implied threat.
“I would advise you to keep very quiet, Captain,” Montgomery said quiet.
“I haven’t heard a threat from your masters yet,” Scarlet hissed between his teeth. “Did they decide to change the rules of their own sick game this time?”
“You know the Mysterons better than that, Captain,” Montgomery replied. “They are always true to their word. At the moment, they are simply putting the pieces in place, for their next act of retaliation.”
Scarlet slowly nodded his understanding. “Of course. Like they often do. I should have realised that. Well, if you ask me, it’s still cheating.”
“You are not really in any position to make that kind of comment, Scarlet. Be careful with your words.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Don’t you know?” Montgomery presented his opened hand. “We want what you retrieved from the wreckage of the plane.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play games with me, Scarlet,” Montgomery replied harshly. “I know all about the orders you received… to find the microchip that was onboard that plane.”
Scarlet’s expression hardened. He had no idea how Montgomery had learned about that, but when it came to the Mysterons, he wasn’t all that surprised that they should know, probably very precisely, and better than himself, all the details of the microchip and exactly what it was. They had a way of knowing some of those nasty little things, and to act upon them. Now would not be any different from any other time.
If the Mysterons wanted this microchip, Scarlet considered, then it was even more important than he imagined. Probably potentially dangerous.
“I don’t have it.”
“Now, Captain,” Montgomery demanded more insistently, “the Mysterons need that chip. I know you found it. Lieutenant Mahoney was kind enough to tell me. You will give it to me.”
“Like Hell I will.”
Scarlet lowered his eyes for a brief instant, stealing a glance at his breast pocket, and raised his head half a second later to stare back into Montgomery’s face. The Mysteron agent had obviously seen the almost imperceptible movement of his eyes; a smile crossed his lips. “So that’s where it is, is it?”
Scarlet kept silent, lifting his chin in defiance.
“Major, the Angel jet is coming back,” the voice of the pilot then said, coming through the opening leading into the cockpit. “She’s at four o’clock.”
Montgomery turned to look through the nearest window, in the direction indicated by the pilot. Scarlet’s gaze followed the same direction; he could see Angel Three, coming their way from a higher position, its pilot unaware of what was going on.
Scarlet’s heart started beating faster when he heard Montgomery’s next order:
“Blow her out of the sky, Whitaker. Before she realises something’s wrong.” The major swiftly turned to face Scarlet again, his expression even colder than before. “Williams, search his breast pocket. Give me that chip.”
Eager to obey his commander, Williams leaned in front of Scarlet. The latter didn’t wait a second longer. As soon as the man was within reach and he felt his hands on him, he swiftly attacked with a headbutt. Hit on the chin, Williams saw stars and bent over with a muffled cry of pain; Scarlet roughly pushed him to one side, sending him reeling into the legs of Baxter and Petroski, standing to his left, while hitting Palmer, on his right, with a violent uppercut where he knew it would hurt him the most. The yelp coming from Palmer’s lips reached a height that Scarlet never knew could come out from the throat of a man.
Scarlet was on his feet in a fraction of a second, as Montgomery was barking orders to his men to stop fooling around and stop him. Himself did try to reach the Spectrum officer, raising his gun as he did, but he was stopped in his tracks, as Scarlet threw the still-incapacitated Palmer in his way, sending the major sprawling on the floor.
Thinking very fast, the unarmed Scarlet knew there were too many opponents surrounding him to tackle all at once. His only chance, while he briefly had the upper hand, was to get away as fast as he could. He turned to the still-open hatch close to him; one of the lines was within reach, not completely rolled back into its winch. Kicking the winch into motion would be a piece of cake and he would be out of the chopper in no time.
He grabbed the line with one hand, while with the other, activated his communicator that Palmer had neglected to take from him. He had to warn Rhapsody of the danger.
“Captain Scarlet to Angel Three!” he barked into the mic. “S.I.R.! Rhapsody, get the hell away from –”
He was interrupted by a loud detonation, that resonated through the cabin; at the same time, he felt as if his skull had exploded from inside, and he let go of the line. His knees buckled underneath him and he toppled forward, straight through the opening at his feet.
His mind numbed with pain, he felt himself falling toward the tree-covered ground so far below, the helicopter having gained height since the commandos had picked him up.
His world became dark as he finally gave in to the pain.