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
Johnny threw the last grenade from Petroski’s belt; he grunted with satisfaction as it landed right against the closed door – which burst into fire upon the explosion. Satisfied with his work, he stood next to Montgomery, who was watching the burning shed with a cold expression in his eyes. Behind them, Jasper and Scarecrow got up from their hiding place, and slowly, their weapons at the ready, approached the scene, watching with mystification as the fire quickly spread across the shed and a thick cloud of smoke mounted towards the sky, darkening it.
“Stay alert,” Montgomery advised Johnny, and the latter turned an inquiring look towards him. “They’re in a desperate situation now, they might attempt anything.”
“You really think they will try and get out of there, Major?” Johnny asked, doubtfully. “They must know they’re trapped now.”
“By now, you should know better than to underestimate Spectrum officers’ capacity for survival,” Montgomery replied coldly. “These two have demonstrated it over and over again, during the last twenty-four hours. Yes, they know they’re trapped. But that makes them all the more dangerous. If they think they have only one chance, they might attempt to charge their way out. And if they do, then maybe we’ll be able to recover the microchip. If not… Well then, for them, the results will be the same.”
Calmly, he drew his pistol out of its holster, and turned on his heel, to address both Scarecrow and Jasper who were now standing behind them.
“Spread out,” he instructed them in a very ominous voice. “Keep your eyes on that shed, and shoot anyone who tries to get out of there. No-one must get out alive.”
“Is it true, then?” Jasper asked him with a frown. “You are an agent of the Mysterons?” He pointed to the shed. “And they are Spectrum?”
Montgomery’s expression became hard. “Does it make any difference to you?”
“Not really, no,” Jasper said with a shrug. “That is, if you’re not an alien from outer-space.”
“Do I look like I have green skin and antennas, boy?” Montgomery replied stoically.
Jasper chuckled. “That was a stupid comment, wasn’t it?”
“Quite ludicrous, yes. So are you with me or not? Do you have problems with killing two Spectrum officers, who might have you arrested if they have the opportunity?”
“When you put it that way – no, I don’t have a problem with that.” A cruel smile appeared on Jasper’s lips as he raised his rifle. “I actually like your plan, Major. You certainly can count on us!”
He didn’t bother to consult with Scarecrow who stood by his side, certainly looking much more hesitant about the situation than he was himself. He felt for sure his friend would follow his lead.
If he knew what was good for him, that was.
* * *
Inside the shed, Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel were deadly aware that the precariousness of their situation was rapidly becoming worse as the seconds ticked away. At least, for the moment, no bullets were flying around them, which was rather a weak consolation, all things considered, but allowed them to move more freely in their attempts to put out the fire.
It was a futile effort, however, as even as they tried to smother the flames with the blankets at their disposal, they could see the fire and flames spreading across the walls and the smoke thickening around them.
“It’s no use,” Rhapsody said as she stood in the middle of the shed, holding the blanket helplessly in her hands. “There must have been some kind of chemical inside those grenades which make those flames more resilient. All we’re accomplishing is spreading them even more.” She coughed and Scarlet stopped his efforts to turn concerned eyes towards her. “It’s a toss up between being fried or choking to death.”
“I can’t believe it’s going to end like this!” Scarlet replied angrily, throwing his blanket down onto the ground with a furious gesture. The buzzing in his head was increasing, but so far, it remained more of an annoyance than anything truly concerning. He certainly couldn’t let himself get distracted by it. He coughed in turn and cleared his throat, before speaking again: “There must be a way for us to get out of this jam!”
“Well, I might have something that could be of some help against the smoke,” Rhapsody offered in a strangled voice. Scarlet watched with curiosity as she fished in one of the multiple pockets of her trousers; she took out a small cylinder and showed it to him. “It’s not much to rely on,” she admitted. “And quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to use it and wait until the flames get me.”
“What is it?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“A miniature respirator,” she explained. “Courtesy of Captain Grey. It’s been part of Spectrum standard equipment for about four months. It contains a capsule of concentrated oxygen. There must be about twenty or twenty-five minutes left of it, by my own count. Between the two of us, it would be even less. I used some of it earlier to escape Montgomery’s commandos by hiding underwater when I ejected into that pond of water.”
“Water,” Scarlet muttered suddenly, as a thought crossed his mind. “God, water! Why didn’t we think of it before?”
Quickly, he strode to the old pump Rhapsody had used the previous night. He activated it; the flow of water emerged to spill into the sink. Rhapsody, who was watching him, shook her head dejectedly.
“We’ll never pump enough of it in a short enough time to put out that fire,” she pointed out. She coughed. The smoke was starting to get very uncomfortable. “And we’d need to keep pumping.”
Scarlet looked around and discovered a large sledge hammer resting against the wall only two feet from him. He seized it with both hands and swung it in a large arc, before slamming it straight down on the pump valve, with all of its weight. The blow was enough to break the valve, and water came bursting out in a strong, horizontal jet that bounced off the side of the boat lying nearby, splashing against the wall and down to the floor. The flow doused the flames it came into contact with, but it was obvious it would be far from enough to extinguish the fire entirely.
“The system is linked to a strong underground stream,” Scarlet realised. “Maybe a tributary to the river outside – or maybe, it’s even linked to the river itself. The pump was just keeping the pressure down. Without the valve, the water will flow freely.”
“But what good will it do us?” Rhapsody replied. “We can’t even use it to put out the fire.”
With his eyes, Scarlet was following the course of the stream flowing across the ground, creating a mix of dirty water and mud. Pensively, he watched as it flowed right into the hole in the middle of the shed, next to which Rhapsody stood, and where they had dug out Riley’s stolen bags of money.
His eyes narrowed. “There might be a way,” he murmured.
Quickly, he picked up the blanket from the floor, and putting it in front of the jet escaping from the pump, doused it generously with water, until it was totally soaked. Then he went to Rhapsody, and, before she could ask what he was up to, wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. She gasped in shock at the coldness of the drenched fabric, and looked at him in confusion. He took the respirator from her hand.
“Get into that hole,” he ordered her firmly. “Keep the blanket around yourself, and put this thing in your mouth. Try to make it last as long as you can.”
She started to protest: “But –”
“The water will continue to pour down into the hole,” Scarlet interrupted quickly. Along with the mud it’ll create, that should provide enough protection against the flames. Hopefully.” As Rhapsody kept staring at him in confusion, he continued, gesturing in the direction of the boat behind him: “I’ll drag this thing over the hole to cover it. With any luck, that’ll be some added protection – for when the shed collapses. And this,” he added, putting the respirator back into Rhapsody’s hand, “will help you breathe, even if that hole fills completely with water.”
“Only me?” she stammered. “How about you? We can share –”
“You said it yourself, Dianne. There’s only about twenty minutes of oxygen in this. Barely enough for you, so imagine if we were to use the respirator in turn.” Scarlet coughed and shook his head. “There’s no time to argue. Get down there quickly!”
“Only if you join me,” she insisted.
“Don’t worry, I will join you,” Scarlet reassured her. “But not before I move that boat over the hole, or we won’t stand a chance of surviving.”
Rhapsody stared at him, as if she didn’t believe him. She obviously thought he was planning to sacrifice himself for her sake; it made him scowl in annoyance.
“Do you think I’m looking forward to being burned alive in this furnace?” he asked her impatiently. She didn’t answer his question and coughed instead. “Please, Rhapsody,” he insisted, “get in that hole now! Lie on your back, put that respirator in your mouth, and don’t get out, no matter what happens! And that’s an order!”
“An order?” she repeated with a frown, her voice catching in her throat.
“I’m your superior officer, am I not? Obey me now, Dianne. I would never forgive myself if I let anything happen to you!”
She nodded, but was still somewhat hesitant when Scarlet steered her forcefully towards the hole. When she finally lowered herself down into it, and he was sure she would follow his orders, Scarlet left her and quickly strode to the boat.
He found an old rag lying on top of its hull and after soaking it thoroughly, tied it around his mouth to protect himself as much as he could from the now thicker smoke. Then he set himself to the task.
While working to get the boat off its trestles, he found himself heavily drenched by the water still emerging from the broken pump. It suited him fine, despite the coldness of the water, as the heat was becoming unbearable in this place.
It took all of his strength to heave the boat high enough to lift it clear from one trestle. He let go of his end and it fell heavily to the ground; the rest of the boat followed, rolling on its side with a loud crash, and he was satisfied that it was now nearer to the hole into which Rhapsody had disappeared. He felt rather concerned that the enemies outside could have heard the sound, but he tried to discard the thought from his mind as he heaved and pulled the boat closer still to the hole.
He was coughing and gasping, sweat covering his brow and his hands, the smoke getting thicker and the flames more intense by the second. The acrid smell was making it more and more difficult to breathe, and his eyes were watering so much he could barely see. The buzz in his head had increased another degree and was becoming a dull thumping, but he did his best to ignore it. He knew it was just a question of minutes before either the shed would collapse on him, or he would choke because of the smoke, and that made him work the more desperately.
As he hauled the boat over the hole, with its hull up, he glanced down to make sure Rhapsody was still okay; he could barely make out her outlines, as she lay still in the thick mud at the bottom, with the respirator in her mouth. He saw her blink her eyes against the smoke as she looked up at him and he addressed her an encouraging nod before coughing loudly. He just had time to see her nod in answer, before she disappeared from his view as he gave a tremendous tug to pull the boat over the hole, leaving a space just large enough for him to slip through.
This last effort had exhausted him and he fell on his knees, groaning, as a sudden pain in his head awakened and nearly blinded him. The thumping had suddenly reached a crescendo he had not known before; his ears were ringing and blood was running down from his nose. He was almost surprised that spell had waited all this time before it hit him, but at the same time, he was relieved he’d had time to put Rhapsody somewhere safe.
Almost, he told himself, as he gazed at the remaining gap. He still needed to close it, after joining his companion down in the hole.
He was about to do just that, when through the crackling of the fire consuming the shed, he heard sounds of commotion outside. Gunshots… But no bullet hit the side of the shed or broke the window to fly past him.
What could be possibly going on out there?
It didn’t really matter to him at this point. He didn’t have the time anymore to investigate; his strength was quickly abandoning him, so he didn’t lose another moment and slithered through the narrow gap and into the hole, taking great care not to step on Rhapsody. He was standing ankle deep in the cold mud and water, and he knew she must have sunk halfway into it; but should the hole fill to the point of covering her, she would be able to breathe with the help of her respirator.
With his last remaining energy, his head spinning, he struggled to close the lid over his head, as best as he could. The hole was filled with smoke and was as dark as a grave, and indeed, it felt like one; his task done, coughing, he lay down in the narrow space, covering Rhapsody’s body with his own. He heard her gasp in the darkness when she felt his weight against her, and then she whispered to him, in a weak and concerned voice:
“Captain? Paul…” She coughed. “Please, you must use the respirator and –”
“Keep it,” he interrupted her with a strained voice. He coughed again and felt the choking taste of the smoke in his throat. “You need it more than I do, and you know it.” He coughed one last time. “Just try to relax and to keep calm… so not to waste your oxygen… And pray that it will be sufficient to keep you alive, until we’re out of here.”
Rhapsody swallowed hard at the sound of his pained voice; she nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see her in the darkness, and put the respirator back into her mouth. Scarlet wrapped his arms around her to hold her close, and right away, she knew what he was planning.
She knew he was offering himself as a last barrier to protect her against the fire raging over them.
But she wondered if even this ultimate sacrifice would be enough to save her.
* * *
“I don’t think anyone is gonna get out of there alive, Major.”
Johnny Monroe and Montgomery, standing side by side at the same place as before, were watching the fire spreading rapidly across the walls and roof of the shed; in less than ten minutes, it was now nearly completely engulfed in flame. Jasper and Scarecrow were standing at some distance from either side of them, and were keeping their weapons aimed in the direction of the burning building, ready to shoot at a second’s notice.
“They’ll be roasted Spectrum officers in no time,” Johnny concluded with confident finality.
Montgomery nodded grimly at this statement. “It does look that way. They were not going to give us the microchip anyway. At least, this assignment won’t be a total failure if we get rid of Captain Scarlet.”
Still lying on the ground where he had fallen, Dallas was watching the burning shed, eyes wide with disbelief and a certain amount of horror. Despite the pain he was in, he had heard most of what the others had said around him. The gravity of the situation did not escape him and added to his mounting concern. How could things turn so quickly from bad to so much worse?
“So those two really were Spectrum?” he said, breathing hard, as he turned enquiring eyes to the two Mysteron agents standing over him. “You’re kidding me… Johnny, do you know what it’s gonna cost us for killing two Spectrum agents?”
Johnny narrowed his eyes at him. “Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet, Dallas. You already killed the sheriff yesterday. Did you think they were gonna give you a medal for that? Why would the death of those two be any different to you?”
“We had a patsy then to pin the sheriff’s death on – but now, that patsy turns out to be a Spectrum officer. That’s bad, Johnny. That’s bad for us.”
“Jasper didn’t seem to mind.”
“Jasper’s an idiot. He doesn’t seem to realise how deep in trouble we could be.” Dallas grimaced as he reached to grab Johnny’s trouser leg and the movement sent a wave of pain through his thigh. He gasped. “Please, Johnny – help me. Jasper can hang for all I care. Let’s get away from him… Let’s get away from that other guy… He’s as crazy as Jasper.”
“You mean the major.”
“Yeah… He’s gonna get us all killed, man.”
Johnny seemed to give it some thought; he exchanged glances with Montgomery who shrugged dismissively and turned around to walk some distance away from the scene. There was a dangerous glow in Johnny’s eyes as he returned his attention to Dallas.
“The major’s not crazy, Dallas,” he said in a cold voice. “He’s just a guy on a mission. And he does what needs to be done to see it through.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Johnny,” Dallas moaned. “He killed two Spectrum officers. That Scarlet guy – he said he was an agent of the Mysterons. Aren’t they, like, bad guys?”
“That’s a matter of opinion. And you’re a murderer, Dallas. Doesn’t that make you a bad guy too?”
Dallas started to weep. “He’s gonna get us hanged, man. He’s gonna get us hanged for what he’s making us do.”
Johnny nodded slowly at these words; and even more slowly, he removed his handgun from his belt. “I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you, Dallas. You’re not gonna hang. That, I promise you.”
He pointed his gun straight between Dallas’s eyes; the other boy stared at him with horror and disbelief.
Without showing any emotion whatsoever, Johnny pulled the trigger and the gun spat fire.
Dallas Fenmore’s body flopped to the ground, dead.
A thunderous detonation answered the gunshot. Johnny Monroe was hit from behind and his knees buckled, before his body crumpled and fell next to Dallas’s. Surprised by the sudden turn of events, Montgomery spun on his heels, in time to see Jasper pumping his still smoking gun and walking swiftly towards him. He started raising his handgun.
“Don’t move, you creep!” Jasper warned. “Or I’ll fry your brain, just like your buddy Johnny.”
Montgomery froze and looked the young man straight in the eyes as the latter stopped in front of him before roughly snatching the pistol from his hand. Hearing hurried footsteps, Montgomery glanced back and saw that Scarecrow strode towards them. Ignoring the second young man, he returned his attention to Jasper, and glared angrily at him.
“What do you think you’re doing, you stupid young fool?” he seethed between his teeth.
“Stupid, uh?” Jasper retorted with a crooked smile. “Did you really think I was gonna wait until you order your goon to kill me, just like he killed Dallas?” He nodded in the direction of Johnny’s dead body. “How d’you manage to win that coward to your side, anyway?”
Scarecrow came to stand next to his friend; he was keeping his rifle aimed at Montgomery as well. There was panic in his eyes, and incomprehension as well, as he looked first at the Mysteronised WAAF major, and then at the two dead bodies at their feet.
Two dead bodies – who happened to be two of his closest friends.
“Johnny killed Dallas,” he said, the words catching in his throat. “Shot him through the head, just like that. Why did he do that, man? Has he gone crazy?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Jasper spat, his eyes not leaving Montgomery. “Care to answer that, ‘Major’? What did you promise Johnny in return for his loyalty? And to make such a killer out of him? He was so stupid, I often wondered if he knew how to use a gun to begin with. And there he was, throwing grenades and shooting someone between the eyes.”
“Whatever he did to him, it ain’t natural, man,” Scarecrow added in turn.
“Shut up, ‘Crow,” Jasper growled at him.
Montgomery slowly shook his head. “You boys are making a mistake,” he said in a low voice.
“Are we?” Jasper replied, raising a brow.
“It could be that your friend found a cause to fight for,” Montgomery replied evenly.
Jasper scoffed. “A cause? Johnny wouldn’t recognise a cause if it bit him in the ass!” He shook his head. “Whatever the reason you’re here, Major, I think Johnny opened it and told you all about Riley’s money. You wanted it too, didn’t you? Six million dollars – that’s pretty inviting, and much, much higher than a year’s pay for a major, ain’t it?”
“Money has no interest for me, boy,” Montgomery snapped at him. He pointed to the shed, which was now nothing more than a giant torch burning in the middle of the clearing. “My mission was to retrieve what these two Spectrum officers stole from me. Failing that, my sole remaining aim was to see them dead.” He nodded slowly. “And thanks to you and your friends, at least that last part is done.”
“Which suits me fine, as they won’t be around anymore to bother me.” Jasper smiled wickedly. “Before I heard you say they were Spectrum, I already figured there was something fishy about this whole ‘mission’ of yours. But quite frankly, if you don’t care about money, me, I don’t care about your stupid mission. You’re just another obstacle in my way, man.”
Montgomery didn’t reply and kept staring at him, with the same aloofness in his eyes, and the same unwavering expression, showing no fear while facing these two weapons threatening him at such a close range. Feeling nervous just at standing so near to this apparently unemotional man who seemed so indifferent to his own impending death, Scarecrow came closer to Jasper.
“I tell you, this guy ain’t human, Jasper,” he said near a whisper. “Look at him. He ain’t afraid of nothin’. What if you were right about it all? What if these Mysteron guys really are from outer-space?”
“Don’t talk nonsense, ‘Crow,” Jasper retorted sharply. “Those were only stories from Worldnet.”
“You said you believed them.”
“Yeah, I did, but it was just talk, ‘Crow, nothin’ else. You can see he’s as human as we are. Well, maybe not quite. I’m thinking he must be a freak, just like that Scarlet guy he was after, don’t you see?”
Montgomery offered him a cold smile. “You don’t know how close you are to the truth, boy.”
“Shut up. For all I care, you’re all freaks to me, Spectrum or Mysterons, or whatever you might be. I don’t care those two in the shed were Spectrum and that you had them killed. In fact, I ought to thank you for that. Makes two witnesses less to worry about.” Jasper smiled wickedly. “I also ought to thank you for reducing the shares of the treasure. Six million between ‘Crow and me, that’s more interesting than five shares.”
“Why am I not surprised you would be happy to see things that way?” Montgomery said indifferently. “Of course, you Earthmen have a fascination with money that we can’t hope to understand. You would kill your own brother if it would mean possessing more wealth.”
“Why is he calling us ‘Earthmen’?” a frowning Scarecrow asked edgily.
“He’s just trying to unnerve ya, that’s all.”
“Am I?” Montgomery continued with the same coldness.
His attitude and unemotional voice unsettled Jasper somewhat, and the young man shifted on his feet; his crooked smile lost some of its assurance, but remained arrogant. “And so what if you’re an alien terrorist or something? What does it matter to me? If that’s true, I mean really true, and that’s a long shot – then like Scarecrow said, you ain’t human and I shouldn’t have any scruple in getting rid of ya.”
“You don’t need that excuse to kill me,” Montgomery replied, his smile matching Jasper’s in aloofness. “I can see your game, boy. Perhaps you will not be content with one-half of that money you are so eager to get your hands on.” He looked directly at Scarecrow and could see by the troubled expression of the youth that he had succeeded in planting the seed of doubt in his mind. “Perhaps you have decided to get rid of every unwanted witness and partner in order to keep all that money for yourself.”
“Jasper –” Scarecrow started with an unsure voice.
“Don’t listen to him,” Jasper said quickly. “He’s trying to pit us against one another.” He raised his gun and took aim at Montgomery. “Any last request before I blow your brains out, Major?”
Montgomery stared for a second at the barrel pointed at him, still without displaying any apparent emotion. To the boys facing him, it was as if he didn’t care about dying.
There was a sudden loud rumbling coming from the shed, which attracted the three men’s attention. Montgomery slowly turned around; the small building had caved in on itself, its still burning, weakened beams unable to support its own structure any longer. There was only a heap of rubble where it had previously stood, still consuming itself with the same intensity as before.
The shed was so old, so decayed, that it had taken merely minutes for it to burn down.
Montgomery smiled thinly; it didn’t look as if anyone could possibly have survived that fire. He hadn’t retrieved the microchip, but he was satisfied nonetheless. The Spectrum officers were surely dead, and he hoped that even Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolism wouldn’t be enough to help him come back to life after this.
He turned back to face Jasper with a serene expression. “The Mysterons’ will has been carried out,” he said quietly. “My mission here is done.”
Jasper shook his head in incomprehension. “You’re really a crazy freak. You asked for it, Mysteron man.”
“Jasper, wait –”
Jasper didn’t take any notice of Scarecrow’s call and pulled the trigger. The gun thundered and at close range, hit Montgomery in the chest, throwing him off his feet. As if he didn’t want to take a chance, Jasper fired a second time, hitting his victim in midair. There was a rain of blood as the Mysteronised agent fell to the ground, seemingly in slow motion, to fall nearly on top of Johnny Monroe’s body.
For a moment, his gun smoking, Jasper stood there, and looked down at the multiple bodies at his feet, a satisfied smile spreading on his lips. As far as he was concerned, all of those who stood in his way were now gone; Joe, the sheriff, the freak and his girlfriend, the major and his men… even those with whom he would have had to share the money he was so eager to get his hands on. He would be rich, he would be able to leave this hellhole he despised so much, those little people he had been forced to live with all of his life when his father had left his mother for the big city those many years ago. He wouldn’t need the pocket money his father grudgingly gave him – he would be his own man and would tell his old man to go straight to hell.
Jasper only became aware of Scarecrow’s presence when the latter put his hand on his shoulder; that drew him out of his reverie. He turned around to his friend who had a look of panic in his eyes.
“What d’you do that for?” Scarecrow asked pointing frenetically to the dead body. “We don’t even know who this guy was and you just –”
“He said it himself,” Jasper interrupted him. “He was a Mysteron, ‘Crow – a terrorist. A killer too, you saw what he did to these Spectrum officers. He had them burned alive!” He shrugged. “After that, you know he couldn’t let us live. We were liabilities to him – witnesses to get rid of. We had to kill him before he killed us. It was survival, ‘Crow. Don’t you see?” He grunted. “He was after the treasure too, I bet he was.”
Scarecrow shook his head. “I knew it. For once in your life, Jasper, be honest. Your main reason for killing him wasn’t to protect yourself in case he killed us. You killed him for that darn money. You’d already decided to get rid of him before knowing he was dangerous to us!”
“And what if I did? Ain’t no-one getting between that treasure and me, ‘Crow. I know you worked as hard as me, so you must understand. Now there’s nothing, no-one, to stop us from getting the money. We just need to look around, search for where Ol’ Joe has hidden it. And when we find it, we’ll be rich, man. Richer than we first thought. ‘Cause there’s only the two of us, now. Six million, ‘Crow! That makes three for each of us!”
“But look, Jasper. Look at that!”
Scarecrow gestured at the dead at their feet and then at the shed, where the fire was dying out. The few remaining wooden beams still erect were finally collapsing, and there was now nothing left standing of the small building. Not that far from where a wall previously stood, there was an old rusted pipe, protruding from the rubble, and from which sprouted a strong spray of water. It was obviously the source of the flow of water which currently ran from beneath the debris and streamed down the slight incline of the ground, almost straight to the two boys’ feet.
“Look at all this destruction,” Scarecrow said miserably. “Look at all those deaths… It’s a massacre, that’s what it is. I don’t know how many people died for that money, Jasper. I’m not sure I wanna know. I’m starting to think it must be cursed, or something.”
“Don’t be an idiot, ‘Crow. Of course that money ain’t cursed. It’s money, for crying out loud.”
“Well, whatever, I think there’s been more than enough disasters associated with it. I’m through, Jasper. I’ve got enough. I don’t want to be involved in any of this anymore.”
“You don’t want any of the money?” Jasper asked in a cold voice.
It was only then that Scarecrow realised that his friend had now his gun – his still smoking gun which he had used to kill the major – aimed at him. He swallowed hard, and his heart started pounding faster, as he now became afraid for his safety, unsure what he should do or say next.
But he soon reflected that, no matter what he said, if Jasper had got it into his evil mind that he should kill him, nothing would save him.
Scarecrow then wondered if by any chance it wasn’t Jasper’s plan all along anyway. At this point, he felt for sure that, even if they were to search for Riley’s money together, once it was found, Jasper would assuredly get rid of him, and that way, become the only one to get his hands on the treasure. There would be no-one left to share it with, and he would be even richer than in his wildest dreams.
“No,” Scarecrow finally said with a sense of finality, but at the same time, with a mind clearer than it ever had been in the last few days. “No, I don’t want any of it. It’s stained with blood, and it causes only death or pain to anyone attached to it.”
Jasper’s eyes narrowed to slits as he glared dangerously at him and his jaw tightened with determination. Scarecrow saw his friend take a single step back, his gun still aimed at him.
“Let go of your gun, ‘Crow.”
Scarecrow felt his heartbeat increase. I’m dead, he thought, now I’m sure of it. He had no choice but to obey, knowing that even if he tried to use the gun to defend himself, he had not a single chance: Jasper would have killed him before he could even move. His shaky fingers opened almost of their own volition, and his rifle clattered to the ground.
“Jasper, wait,” he said in a little voice, in an ultimate attempt to save his life. “There’s no need for you to do that. I won’t say a thing, I swear…”
“But I must do it, ‘Crow,” Jasper answered quietly. “Surely, you must understand that?”
“You’re really gonna kill me?” Scarecrow said, his voice shaking. “Like you killed Joe, and the others? Jasper, I thought we were pals, man…”
“We were pals, ‘Crow, we really were. And you were very helpful, I’ve got to tell you that.” Jasper shook his head in an almost sad way. “That’s a shame, ‘Crow. That’s a real shame. Of all the lot, you’re the one I liked best, you know?” He pumped his weapon, his eyes becoming implacable. “I’ll remember you, man. When I find that money, and count every last bill of it, I’ll think of you. And remember what a fool you have been.”
The sound of that stentorian voice made both Jasper and Scarecrow shivered and they turned in the direction it came.
From beyond the edge of the clearing emerged a man, wearing a flat hat and the khaki uniform of a sheriff. With both hands, he was holding a handgun that he was aiming straight at Jasper. The latter had frozen in place, and his face paled; his gun was still trained on Scarecrow, whose legs were shaking uncontrollably.
From behind the sheriff, two other men appeared, wearing uniforms that the boys recognised as those of Spectrum colour-coded officers. One was pale blue, and the other of a golden yellow colour. They were also armed with handguns with a strip of colour at the top which matched that of their uniforms.
As if it wasn’t enough, behind the three of them, came at least four other men, all holding weapons, all ready to use them. Scarecrow and Jasper recognised them instantly: they were citizens of Les Arbrisseaux, and they didn’t seem to be in any kind of joking mood; there was the same hard expression of loathing and anger displayed on their faces as they watched the two boys closely.
“Don’t make a single move, boy,” the sheriff said in a harsh voice, addressing Jasper directly. “There’s enough guns aimed at you to blow your brains out if you should try anything foolish.” He went directly to Jasper, and roughly snatched the gun from his hands.
The tension left Scarecrow, and suddenly, his legs refusing to support him any longer, he let himself down to the ground, and he sat there, gasping for air. He had narrowly escaped death and counted himself lucky to still be alive; but he was very aware that he was now far from out of trouble.
Now he knew he would have to pay for all the harm and suffering he had helped cause – and caused himself.
The sheriff, a heavily built white man in his fifties, sporting a shaggy moustache, stood menacingly in front of Jasper and looked him squarely in the eyes. “You know who I am, boy?”
Jasper swallowed hard; up until the appearance of all these men, he had found himself unable to speak, so shocked he had been. Now he shook his head nervously and answered, trying hard not to stutter: “You’re Stan Huxley – the sheriff from the next parish…”
“That’s right I am, and I have full authority to arrest you, Jasper Holland.”
“Whatever for?” Jasper asked, making a show to roll unbelieving eyes.
“Murder and attempted murder, to begin with. Maybe multiple murders at that, if we are to believe what we just heard. We’ll make the count of your victims in due time.”
“What are you –”
“Don’t try to take us for fools,” the sheriff snapped roughly, cutting Jasper off even before he could start to defend himself with ludicrous excuses. “We heard everything you and your chum said, as we got here. All of us.” He gestured towards his companions, who were now standing all around. “So you see, there are enough witnesses here who can testify against you.”
“I’ll testify,” a small voice then piped up.
The sheriff turned to Scarecrow, seated on the ground with his head between his legs. The boy looked defeated and very tired. “You were saying, boy?” the sheriff called loudly.
Scarecrow heaved a deep sigh and raised his head. “I said I’ll testify,” he repeated, his voice firmer. “I’ll tell everything you want to know. It was Jasper who killed Joe Benson. He also killed Johnny Monroe and that major, over there…” He pointed in the general direction of the bodies nearby.
“You dirty…” Jasper choked on the insult and turned to the sheriff. “That’s all a lie, Sheriff!”
“You forget what we heard, Holland,” the sheriff replied impassively. “Ain’t no sense you denying the truth.”
“You snitch!” Jasper yelled, turning to Scarecrow. “You think you can save yourself by selling me out?”
“I’m not trying to save myself,” Scarecrow replied. “I know I won’t cut it, Jasper. I’ve been there for everything, and I didn’t try to stop any of it. I’ve got a lot to answer for too.” He turned to the sheriff. “Dallas Fenmore killed Sheriff Masters,” he added. “You might find his body in the river, not far from Devil’s Bayou Bridge.”
“Sheriff Masters is alive,” Huxley then replied, causing Scarecrow and Jasper to look at him in surprise. “He survived the gunshot through the chest and that dive into the river. The little he was able to say upon waking up last night was enough to make people realise that your little gang of thugs were behind many of the things that’s been going on around here.” He turned to the now despondent-looking Jasper, who was still glowering murderously at Scarecrow. He gestured to the two men closest to him. “When these Spectrum officers called for my cooperation last night, I deputised some volunteers from Les Arbrisseaux, who were only too happy to come after you. Leonard Masters is not only a good man, but a friend to all of us.”
“So you all ganged on me, didn’t you?” Jasper hissed between his teeth. “When my father hears about it –”
“Your father already heard about it, Holland,” Huxley interrupted him. “He arrived in town this morning. I wouldn’t count too much on him to help you out, this time. He was none too happy with you – and didn’t seem very surprised you had turned into a murderer. Probably figured out for a while you were a bad seed.”
Jasper looked up at him. “Oh yeah? Well, I’m not too happy with my old man either. He can rot in hell, for all I care.”
“I believe you’ll be the one who’ll rot, boy. You’ll pay for what you did. To Sheriff Masters and to Joe Benson. And all those others as well.”
“How did you know where to find us?” There was still some defiance in his voice, but it was now obvious to Jasper that he had reached the end of the road. He could see there was no way to fight this any longer.
“We were searching for you when we saw the smoke coming from this place,” the Spectrum officer in the blue uniform said. “When Sheriff Huxley told us what this location was, we called for a helitanker and headed this way. Fortunately, we weren’t that far.”
He took a step forward to stand in front of Jasper who, almost despite himself, stepped back at his approach. The man was tall and well-built and his presence was not only intimidating, but somehow threatening. He was looking at Jasper with an ominous glow in his clear blue eyes that entailed nothing good for the young man.
“Where’s Captain Scarlet?” Captain Blue asked, glaring down at the boy who was looking up anxiously at him. “And Rhapsody Angel? What have you done to them?”
Jasper swallowed hard. Somehow, despite the threat he could feel hanging over his head, he found in himself a spark of his innate arrogance, as he looked up into this man’s face, visibly concerned and angry regarding his friends and colleagues’ fate. Jasper considered that, with Sheriff Huxley and all these other people surrounding them, this Spectrum officer wouldn’t dare hurt him in anyway, despite his obvious desire to strangle him.
He chuckled nervously, thinking that at least, he would be allowed one little victory in this whole disaster. “Funny you should ask,” he said with a taunting smile. “You just mentioned the fire.” In a nonchalant gesture, he pointed at what remained of the burned down shed. “You should look under that,” he added, as Captain Blue and Captain Ochre turned horrified eyes in the direction of the smoking and still burning ruins. “You might be able to find what’s left of ‘em.”
“Oh no…” Captain Ochre gasped in shock.
Captain Blue didn’t say a word, but became completely livid. He turned murderous eyes towards Jasper.
“Wasn’t my doing,” the young man protested swiftly, reading the accusation in the Spectrum officer’s expression. “Was all the major and his minions’ doing…”
“But you did your worst helping them, I bet, didn’t you, you little creep?” Blue seethed between his teeth. His fists were clenched in rage, and he was doing his utmost not to let go of his righteous anger and punch this devious bastard in the face.
“That’ll be close enough, Captain,” the sheriff then said, interposing himself between his prisoner and the Spectrum officer. “This punk isn’t worth you getting your hands dirty on him.”
“Where’s that helitanker?” Blue snapped heatedly.
“Last I spoke to the pilot, he was to arrive here in five minutes,” Captain Ochre answered. By the sound of his voice, it was obvious he was working very hard in trying to keep his cool.
“Call him back, and tell him to hurry!” Blue swiftly replied. “We need to search the ruin as quickly as possible, but we won’t be able to approach that furnace until the tanker drops its contents onto it. I’ll call Cloudbase, and ask for a medicopter to be sent over right away.”
Sheriff Huxley stared at Blue as if he had suddenly gone mad. “Surely, Captain, you’re not thinking that someone might still be alive under these ruins? I’m sorry, but your two friends are goners for sure.”
Blue turned to him, with a grave expression. “Sheriff, you might not believe it, but I have my reasons to think there might still be a chance to save at least one of them! And I swear to you, I won’t rest until that person is pulled out from under there. Even if I have to do it all alone!”
* * *
Within the next five minutes, the helitanker was on the site. Everyone quickly vacated the premises, putting themselves at a safe distance when the tanker did its job by pouring the contents of its bucket straight onto the spot. It was a small helicopter and as such, could carry about a half-ton of water in its cable-suspended bucket fixed underneath its belly. Yet, it was sufficient to stifle most of the flames still ablaze amongst the shed ruins. Under the weight of the water, the ruins caved in completely to the ground, making Captain Blue and Captain Ochre cringe. If Captain Scarlet had indeed survived the fire, he might very well have been crushed by the final collapse of the shed.
The place was still steaming, and there were still some small flames emerging here and there, when Captain Blue rushed in, quickly followed by Captain Ochre. Sympathetic to the anguish of the two Spectrum officers, Sheriff Huxley and his volunteers came along behind, bringing their two prisoners along. None of them could fathom why both men seemed in so much of a hurry to find their colleagues – who, more than likely, lay dead beneath the rubble. And if anyone had the luck to survive the fire, then that person would be in such a state that it would be preferable for him or her to be dead. Yet, they were willing to offer a helping hand – even if it was for nothing.
Blue was the first to step amidst the ruins which once were the old shed in which Scarlet and Rhapsody had taken refuge. The ground was covered with ashes and cinder, and what remained of burned wooden beams which still crackled under each of his steps. He could still feel the fire burning underneath, and smell the acrid scent of the smoke. It made him cough and watered his eyes, as he looked around desperately for any trace of his friends and colleagues. For Rhapsody, he had no hope at all; for Scarlet, if they were to find him, if his body had not been irretrievably reduced to ashes, then there remained hope.
But he could see nothing; and when he exchanged glances with Ochre, who was already moving the blackened beams around by hand, he could see in his friend’s eyes that he didn’t have much hope either – and that hope was quickly evaporating.
Sheriff Huxley came up to him and was now looking at him with a compassionate and sorrowful expression. “Captain, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like any of your friends might have survived this fire.” He waved at the highest heap of wreckage, where the roof of the shed had collapsed, and put a comforting hand on Blue’s shoulder. “I’m afraid we’ll only find their bodies under all of this.” He looked the Spectrum officer squarely in the eyes. “Are you really sure you want to see what they look like now?”
Blue looked back grimly at him. No, he wasn’t really looking forward to discovering both of his friends’ dead bodies. While it was obviously too late for Rhapsody, finding Scarlet, however, was always a necessity, each time he ‘died’. He knew far too well that, for his friend, death didn’t have the same finality as for any other human being. He didn’t want to take the risk that his body would be taken back to yet another morgue, and that the incident that happened in Les Arbrisseaux just the day before would occur again.
He was about to answer Sheriff Huxley that he wasn’t giving up until he found his friends, dead or alive, when a call from Ochre, who stood on the other side of the pile of ruins, suddenly interrupted him and made him turn in his direction: “Blue! Over here!”
Ochre was gesturing to him, and leaving the sheriff behind, Blue quickly joined him, striding around the high pile of debris as quickly as he could, despite the uneven surface he was walking on. He stood in front of his colleague.
“What is it?” he asked hopefully.
Blue kept quiet and strained his ears, listening intently. At first, he didn’t hear anything, and then, he perceived it.
Just at the limit of his hearing. Faint tapping noises.
Both Spectrum officers looked around, with anticipation. They were at a loss; they couldn’t figure out where the noises originated from.
“It sounds like it’s coming from underground,” Ochre muttered.
“Wait…” Blue stood in front of the heap of burned planks and narrowed his eyes. Just underneath there, he could just distinguish the blackened outline of a small boat, hull upwards. The weak, hollow knocking he and Ochre were hearing seemed to come from there.
From under the hull, more precisely.
Blue pointed to it excitedly. “It’s coming from there!”
Hurriedly, the two Spectrum officers started clearing the burned beams and planks out of their way, and the sheriff, at first startled at their behaviour, suddenly realised they genuinely were on to something. He motioned to two of his men to come join him, leaving the others to keep guard on the prisoners, and the three of them went to help Ochre and Blue.
As the five men worked their way through the ruins, the thumping stopped; fearing the worst, they redoubled their efforts. In no time, they had removed all the debris and uncovered the boat; it was half-embedded in the sticky mud which was made of a mix of ashes and dirt; it had obviously been driven into the mud when the roof had collapsed on it.
The thumping was heard again, clearer, closer, and there was no doubt this time it was coming from underneath the overturned boat.
“There is someone alive under there!” roared Sheriff Huxley in a tone of disbelief. “All together, let’s get that thing off!”
Ochre and Blue exchanged concerned glances; even if they had wanted to, they couldn’t stop these men: they were determined to lend a helping hand, if it meant saving a life. Blue shrugged inwardly; if Scarlet was attempting to attract their attention by knocking against the side of the boat, that surely meant he was alive – and relatively well. They wouldn’t find a corpse that would suddenly revive, scaring everyone out of their wits. Spectrum’s best kept secret didn’t run the risk of being uncovered.
All of them struggled with all of their strength to remove the boat, fighting against the suction of the mud keeping it in place. It was Blue who was rewarded with the first result, as after long seconds, he was able to heave the boat a few centimetres from the muddy ground. There was now enough space for him to slip his fingers underneath the boat and to get a better grip. He pulled harder.
As he heaved the boat higher, he saw a mud-covered hand slither through the gap, and he almost jumped in surprise.
They then heard the hoarse cough of a man.
“Oh, Sweet Jesus,” one of the sheriff’s volunteers said, to Blue’s right. “He is alive!”
“Quickly!” Blue said between clenched teeth. “Let’s get him out of there!”
Once the boat had escaped the suction of the mud, it became easy to remove it completely and to pull it aside. The upper body of a man, dirty with mud, appeared through a hole dug into the ground; blue eyes blinked in the light and looked up in apparent confusion at all the men standing around the hole and staring down at him with complete astonishment.
“Scarlet!” Blue shouted with obvious relief. “Thank God, you’re okay!” Leaving the sheriff and his men to take the boat away, he knelt down next to his friend and caught his hand in his; he found Scarlet’s grip somewhat weak, but still firm, and he held on to it. Scarlet had a haggard expression on his face, which was visibly drawn and pale underneath the mud covering. He looked straight in Blue’s direction, but from the expression in his eyes, he didn’t seem to recognise him – or even see him, for that matter.
Either he’s still amnesiac, or he’s in shock, Blue reflected.
Ochre came to stand next to Blue, and he got hold of Scarlet’s other arm; together, they pulled their colleague out of his precarious position. Scarlet staggered on his feet, his legs seemingly refusing to keep him upright, and it was all his two friends could do to keep him from falling down. The sheriff and his men didn’t help in the matter, as they came to surround them, curious to know this stranger who had survived against incredible odds, and showing their admiration with encouraging thumps to the back and appreciative squeezing of his hand.
“Give him some space,” Blue requested in vexation. “He needs some air!”
They realised he was probably right, as they quickly stepped away from the injured man.
“Hey, big guy,” Ochre told him, in a comforting voice, “You look just as if you had dug your way out of hell this time.”
“Take it easy, buddy,” Blue said in turn, soothingly. “You’re safe, now. It’s all behind you.”
But Scarlet wasn’t listening to them; he shook his head, and struggled weakly, as if desiring to escape their helping hands. He seemed upset, and they couldn’t figure out why. Unable to stand properly on his feet, he fell on his knees, pulling his colleagues down with him.
“Scarlet, what’s the matter?” Blue asked in concern.
“Get her out of there!” Scarlet suddenly shouted in a strained, gasping voice.
Blue opened wide eyes, as his friend nearly collapsed between his and Ochre’s arms. “Her?” he echoed with uncertainty.
He looked down into the hole, almost not daring to hope.
There at the bottom, almost entirely encased in the ground, he could just make out the outlines of a woman, her body muddy, and her eyes closed, with a Spectrum miniaturized respirator in her mouth. Blue’s heart missed a beat, when he saw one of her hands move feebly, and then her eyes open. Her hair was a mess, all sticky with mud, and he couldn’t see the colour, but he did recognise those blue eyes, looking confusedly up at him as she slowly removed the respirator from her lips.
Blue was staring at her in complete shock.
“Rhapsody!” he roared, startling Ochre so much that he made him jump. “Oh my God, I don’t believe it!”
Ochre leaned over the hole and gasped in astonishment, upon discovering the young woman alive, when they fully expected her dead. He exchanged disbelieving glances with Blue, but there was only a short moment of hesitation from the blond officer.
Leaving Scarlet with his colleague, Blue jumped into the hole and helped Rhapsody extricate herself from the sticky muck keeping her body down. She was visibly drained of all strength and was shaking, but otherwise, she seemed fine, as far as he could tell. Blue’s strong arms lifted the exhausted young woman up towards the opening, where the multiple hands of the volunteers from Les Arbrisseaux were now offered to help her. Once she found herself safely back at the surface, she sat down by the hole, exhaling loudly. Blue joined her, the strong arms of Sheriff Huxley and of another man pulling him up.
“You’re alive!” Blue told her as he knelt in front of her. “That’s unbelievable! I was… We were sure you couldn’t have survived that fire.” He cupped her face in his shaky hands to look levelly into her weary eyes. “But thank God, here you are – very much alive. It’s a miracle!”
She smiled weakly. “And I’m sure you’ll want to make sure that miracle is not Mysteron-related, won’t you, Captain?” she said in a small, hoarse voice.
“You don’t look like a Mysteron to me, hon,” he told her reassuringly.
She coughed by way of clearing her sore throat. “Don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you if you test me, as soon as you can.”
He grinned. “Don’t mind me if I will then,” he said with good humour.
“I don’t know what the two of you are on about,” Sheriff Huxley then said suddenly, attracting both their attention, “but it sure looks like this young lady and her companion over there will need medical attention immediately. I suggest we get them back to Les Arbrisseaux as quickly as possible and have them checked by Doctor Evers.”
Blue rose to his feet to face him. “I thank you very much, Sheriff, but the Spectrum medicopter should be here any minute now. We’ll take our people back to Cloudbase, which is currently stationed close by. I’m sure Doctor Evers is a good doctor, but we have some of the best medical facilities on board.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” Huxley groused. “But I will need to hear these two witnesses’ accounts of what has been going on around here.”
As Blue was trying his best to reassure the sheriff and to convince him that Spectrum would do its very best to cooperate with the local law, within the boundaries of what was allowed by World Government security, Rhapsody Angel, momentarily left on her own, was heaving a deep sigh of relief, raising a trembling hand to her throbbing head. Thank God, this whole ordeal was finished now – and miraculously, she was alive and relatively well.
She looked down at the respirator in her other, dirty hand. It had been empty for the last two minutes they had stayed underground, but it had performed its job perfectly – and well beyond what was expected. If not for this, she wouldn’t like to imagine what could have happened. She would need to offer her grateful thanks to Captain Grey, for having suggested this gadget be officially added to Spectrum’s survival equipment.
And Grey wasn’t the only person to whom she owed her thanks; there was also the man with whom she had shared this dreadful adventure.
He was there, only a meter in front of her; helped and supported by Captain Ochre, he was currently gawkily getting up to his feet. She stumbled up as well, and noticing this, forgetful of Huxley who was still arguing with him about taking the two rescued Spectrum officers to Les Arbrisseaux, Blue immediately offered his assistance to her. She thanked him with a nod and once on her feet with his help, she took a few steps towards Scarlet.
When she stopped in front of him, she noticed his haggard expression, and his general weariness; the experience had been much more unpleasant for him that it had been for her; she could see the tatters of his shirt in the back, and his blackened hands. He had protected her from the worst, and had not come out of it unscathed.
It took a few seconds for Scarlet to notice the young woman in front of him, along with the tall figure of the blond man, wearing a blue uniform now dirty with mud, standing by her side, supporting her. He stared at him first, fixedly, trying his memory in an attempt to recall who this man could be. It wasn’t as difficult as he had thought it would be, as a name came instantly to his mind.
“You’re Adam,” he said with confidence, nodding as he did.
Blue nodded in turn. “Your memory seems to be returning to you, Captain,” he commented. “I heard it was gone.”
“It comes and goes,” Scarlet replied. “Right now, it’s still mostly gone, but I’m sure it’ll get better.”
“I’m sure it will.”
Scarlet then lowered his eyes to look deep into Rhapsody’s blue eyes, which were not leaving him. He felt the headache, the awful headache he had come to know too well and fear so much, settling in and increasing as he stood there, unable to talk to her.
“If I’m alive, it’s because of you,” she said in a hoarse voice.
He nodded weakly; the headache was getting worse. He raised a shaky hand and reached for her cheek. He swallowed hard and offered a feeble smile.
“If I’m alive… it’s also because of you,” he answered so softly that he could barely hear himself.
Then he had the impression his head was exploding, as the pain became unbearable. His legs gave way underneath him and he collapsed forward. Before completely losing consciousness, he felt many pairs of hands catching him, preventing him from hitting the ground, and heard a female voice call his name.
Then total oblivion engulfed his mind and he knew nothing more.