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
The barrel of his gun still smoking, Major Philip Montgomery crossed the distance separating him from the hatch in three long strides, taking little notice of his men who were getting back to their feet around him. He pushed Williams, who was already peering down the hatch, out of his way and, hanging on to the line, looked down in turn. It was too late for him to see anything of significance; the falling body of Captain Scarlet had already disappeared into the greenery below – and it was impossible to see where exactly, as the helicopter had changed position since.
“Damn it all!” The raging Montgomery turned to Williams, next to him. “You should have stopped him!”
“I tried, sir,” Williams defended himself. “But I wasn’t close enough and it was already too late to do anything.”
“At the very least, did you notice exactly where he fell?”
A call coming from the cockpit prevented Williams from answering. “Major!” Montgomery turned on his heel. That was the pilot, busy at the helm. “The Angel fighter, sir. It’s still coming at us!”
Montgomery’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. Although he wasn’t sure he had been able to stop Scarlet from warning the Angel pilot, he had little doubt that she must have seen the body falling from the chopper.
“I already gave my orders, Whitaker,” he replied. “Get rid of her, fast.” He turned a dejected look in the direction of the still-open hatch. Scarlet would have to wait a little longer. They had a more urgent problem to attend to first. “She must not contact Spectrum and report what happened here.”
* * *
Upon her return to the search area after contacting Cloudbase, Rhapsody Angel was a little puzzled to discover that the WAAF helicopter – which was on the ground when she had left earlier – was now in the sky, flying over Captain Scarlet’s previous position. She wondered what could have been going on while she had been away.
As she was moving towards the chopper, things happened very fast. First, her radio came suddenly to life with the voice of Captain Scarlet shouting in her ears, issuing an urgent warning; the anxiety she could hear in his voice was brutally interrupted by a loud crack – a single gunshot – and a muffled cry. Eyes wide in confusion, and then complete horror, she then saw a body stumbling from the hatch underneath the belly of the chopper and falling to the ground far below.
Her heart missed a beat. From her present position, she couldn’t see clearly enough to be sure, but there was barely a doubt in her mind that this falling body was Captain Scarlet. She could feel it in her guts.
The following seconds, even before she could come out of her surprise, she saw the WAAF helicopter veer squarely and head towards her – and a flash appear from underneath the cockpit.
“Oh, damn…” It was purely instinct that made Rhapsody pull on the helm as she realised – just as she saw it – what that flash meant for her. Two missiles had been launched in her direction, and at this distance, there was little chance they would miss her craft.
She managed to avoid the first missile – it grazed the belly of her craft, and made the Angel tremble as it passed. As for the second one, although it missed the direct hit, it did manage to strike the lower part of the tail.
The shock sent the Angel fighter into a wild spin, and warning lights started blinking red inside the cockpit. Rhapsody bit off a curse and, fighting against the now barely manageable helm, desperately attempted to regain control of her craft. At the same time, she activated her communicator to send a distress call:
“This is Rhapsody Angel calling Cloudbase! S.I.R., I’m under attack! S.I.R…”
The first thing she heard was the static in her earphones. Of course, she couldn’t contact Cloudbase, she recalled in frustration; she had momentarily forgotten that at this location, she was out of touch with base, due to that blasted storm over the Gulf of Mexico. Cloudbase would know nothing of her predicament, until it was too late.
Maybe if she used a new channel, she could reach someone else in the area and –
“THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS…”
Rhapsody’s eyes grew wide again. Of all the rotten luck… No… it couldn’t be a coincidence!
She never got to hear the remainder of the Mysterons’ threat. A violent explosion made her craft jolt, and the radio went dead all of a sudden as sparks flew from the control panel. An electrical shock made Rhapsody let go of the now useless helm. Either it was a second volley from the chopper or the first missile returning – it could have been heat-seeking – she would never know. Neither would it serve her, actually. The Angel fighter was now totally out of control and she saw part of her left wing, torn by the explosion, spin away from the craft.
Again, her instinctive reflexes saved her and she pulled on the ejector seat lever. The clear canopy blew away over her head and she felt the catapult beneath her seat pushing upward. She closed her eyes and prayed that she wouldn’t hit any debris as she ejected from the interceptor with the seat.
She was lucky. The angle of the falling craft was such that she was blown in an oblique direction, completely away from the Angel jet. Only at that moment did she realise how close she was to the ground, and she knew a short moment of panic, at the thought that her parachute might not have time to deploy safely. But she didn’t need to worry, as a second later, she felt the comforting if violent jerk, and her descent slowed down considerably. She looked up to see the white of the parachute unfolded over her head, and then down towards the ground, which was now approaching slowly.
A violent blast made her turn her head towards the sky, and she saw her Angel craft, at some distance overhead, explode in a ball of fire and debris. The helicopter had obviously finished it off and was now turn its attention towards her.
She was not out of danger yet.
The WAAF helicopter was coming her way,
threateningly, and her eyes grew wide at the realisation that the pilot had no
intention whatsoever of letting her land safely.
She looked down towards the ground below; the trees were not so very far now. Could she make it in one piece if she was to leave the seat and jump, she wondered? No, she was still too high, she would more than likely kill herself. She looked up in fear at the approaching helicopter.
Right at this moment, Fate suddenly lent her a helping hand.
As the helicopter was coming in for the kill, a rain of debris and fire fell between them, obviously coming from the Angel craft destroyed only seconds before, and the helicopter had to veer abruptly to avoid it. Rhapsody felt a tug as something hit her parachute; she looked up to see a burning hole, the size of her head, in the white fabric. Her descent suddenly speeded up.
No choice now… Quickly, her decision was made, and she punched the security button attached to the belt crossing her chest. She was automatically released from both seat and parachute and she jumped down the remaining distance to the top of the trees below her feet.
This will be a hard landing, she realised instantly. Instinctively assuming the landing position, she brought her forearms upward in front of her face, tucked her chin down against her throat, pressed feet and knees together as tight as she could, while at the same time bending her knees and pointing the balls of her feet upwards. The tension in her legs was a little too tight and she fought herself to keep calm, as she ploughed through the top of the trees, hoping that she wouldn’t hit the branches too roughly as she fell to the ground. She was lucky, as no large branches hit her directly enough to cause her any harm, but she did feel twigs grazing and flapping against her body; she kept her forearms tightly against her face to protect it, feeling the stings as the branches and leaves tore through her uniform and lacerated the skin beneath, and prepared herself for the roughest landing she had ever experienced.
Her incredible luck held, and she felt her feet coming into contact, not with the ground, but with water instead. She gasped loudly as she sank completely into the coldness. She just had the time to take a quick gulp of air before the water covered her head and she sank deeper. The contact of the water against the scratches of her body made her wince and, desperate to keep the little air she had, she fought the urge to cry out in pain. She removed her helmet, which was weighing her down, and threw it away. She forced her eyes open. The water was cloudy, and she could barely see through it; there was a ray of light, just overhead. The surface, obviously. She kicked in that direction.
Rhapsody burst through the surface and gasped in some clammy, but much needed, air. She couldn’t believe she had survived with only the most minor of injuries; never before had she ejected in the middle of the wilderness. She was aware of having been very lucky.
She assessed her situation; she had obviously landed in a small lake – or rather a large pond, partly covered by overhanging trees; at the moment, she was swimming in the middle of it, and she could see the clear sky above her head.
She heard an approaching whipping sound, and just over the top of the trees, coming towards her position, she saw the WAAF helicopter, with a man sitting on the edge of the side opening, his feet resting on the float beneath. The enemy was obviously searching for her, with the intention of finishing her off if she had survived her fall. Rhapsody had no intention of giving them that opportunity. Finding she was too exposed, she quickly plunged underwater and headed in the general direction of the closest shore.
When she emerged, a few seconds later, she found herself under the safety of the lowest branches of a large copse of trees. Hidden amongst mace reeds and thorny bushes, she watched the helicopter, which was now flying very low and very slowly over the middle of the pond. The man in the hatch was armed with an automatic weapon, and was scrutinizing the water with attention. She saw him firing a long volley of bullets into the empty water, and winced; either he had seen the shadow of an alligator swimming under the water, or he was just firing blindly to make sure that she would not escape. She kept still and low in the water and watched the operation, clenching her teeth, trying desperately to keep them from chattering from the cold.
Coming from the shore, she heard dead wood crack under heavy footsteps, and almost jumped in surprise. Then there were voices, approaching her position.
“If you ask me, we’re wasting our time,” she heard a male voice say. “The girl bought it.”
“Shut up, Williams, and keep searching. The major doesn’t want to take any chances.”
Rhapsody soon saw two men appear behind the bushes; they were two of the WAAF commandos she had met in New Orleans, just before they had left for Devil’s Bayou. Her heartbeat increased as they came a little too close for her comfort. If they were to discover her hiding place, they would kill her, she had no doubt. Behind her, a new volley of bullets fired into the water reminded her that the helicopter was also still looking for her.
She was certain that other commandos, besides those two men, were searching the shores too.
Although still out of view of the approaching soldiers, Rhapsody feared that they might find her within seconds if she were to stay there. Quickly, she scanned the area with her eyes. Not that far from her position was a huge willow tree, with its lowest branches extended nearly into the water beneath, and its foot completely covered with mace reeds and thick, tangled bushes.
Quickly, Rhapsody’s numb hand slid down her right thigh towards her pocket and her fingers slipped inside, to remove a small oblong object from it. Then, slowly, as silently as she could, she sank back into the water, and disappeared completely under the surface, just as the two men came to stand barely a foot from her.
She didn’t know how long she would have to wait there until it would be safe for her to resurface, so she put the miniaturized respirator she had taken from her pocket into her mouth and pulled it open to activate it. It was Captain Grey’s most recent creation, and only recently, the respirator, with its capsule of thirty minutes’ worth of concentrated oxygen within, had been added to the Angel pilots’ equipment, as part of their survival kit, in case of an emergency landing or ejection over water. Now it would be helpful to her in a different way, by permitting her to escape her pursuers.
Rhapsody swam underwater for a good five minutes, breathing through the respirator, and trying to get a sense of direction in the muddy water. She kept close to the shore, trying not to disturb the surface too much. She finally emerged anew, amongst the copses of thick bushes and reeds, just under the shadow of the root of the willow tree, which plunged directly into the pond. This new hiding place kept her out of sight from the helicopter – still flying low over the pond – and whoever might be searching for her on the shore.
“Whitaker just called in.”
As she removed the respirator from her mouth, Rhapsody froze when she heard that voice – the same voice as before – so close over her head. She raised her eyes. Just leaning against the tree, under the root of which she was hiding, was one of the same men she had seen before. He was presently hooking his communicator back to his vest, and was addressing his companion, who, standing by the shore, was looking in the direction of the hovering helicopter. Silently, Rhapsody lowered herself further into the water, down to her nostrils, and kept deadly quiet.
“They found the girl’s ‘chute,” the man continued. “It was torn in two and had a burned hole in the middle. It was probably hit by that rain of debris that nearly got us too.”
The other man slowly nodded. “No trace of the body, though?”
“If she was still attached to her seat, then she probably sank with it to the bottom of the lake. It’s too damned dark to see anything in that dirty water.”
“I don’t know, Williams. Those damned Angels are resourceful. At least that’s what their reputation says. We ought to know: Mahoney kept mentioning that damn reputation of theirs.”
“She would have resurfaced by now if she was still alive, Baxter. We haven’t found her, and neither have the other teams. Besides, Palmer is making sure she won’t come up to breathe.” Cracking sounds of gunfire came from the lake at that moment, as if to give weight to Williams’ words. A thin, cruel smile appeared on his lips. “Face it, she’s dead and out of our hair.” He paused a short moment. “The major wants us to regroup at the chopper in five minutes. We’re going back to search for Scarlet.”
“I wish we knew exactly where he fell,” Baxter said morosely.
“Relax, we know the approximate position. He can’t go very far.” Williams chuckled evilly. “With that bullet the major put in his head, and that fall he took, he’s not about to revive anytime soon, no matter how indestructible he might be.”
Rhapsody’s teeth clenched in anger. There was no doubt now: that body she had seen fall from the helicopter was indeed Captain Scarlet. And the fact that these men knew about his indestructibility was a very good indication that they might be Mysterons. That secret was not known amongst other security or military agencies.
“We’ll find him and then get rid of him once and for all,” Williams continued. “And take from him what we are here for.”
“Perfect. Then we’ll get out of this Godforsaken swamp and get on with our job,” Baxter added. “If we use the chopper to search the area, that shouldn’t take very long.”
“Actually, we can’t,” Williams replied, causing his companion to turn toward him. “We can’t afford more than one reconnaissance flight over the area, then Whitaker wants to take it back to our previous landing spot. He says he heard some spitting sounds coming from the engines and he wants to check that out. It’s possible they took a hit earlier. Besides, we don’t have enough fuel to fly much longer anyway. We have to keep what we have left to go back to New Orleans.”
“Great,” grumbled Baxter. “Looks like we will stay here longer than we really intended to.” He sighed and straightened up, leaving his watching position, while his companion pushed himself away from the tree against which he was still leaning. “Well, let’s go then. Let’s not keep the major waiting. He must be in a right mood right now.”
The two men left, without even a look back.
Still deep in the water with only her head out, Rhapsody watched them go; then, carefully, she glanced over her shoulder towards the middle of the pond.
She saw the helicopter slowly gain altitude, while the shooter at the hatch went back inside, sliding the door closed behind him. The helicopter veered abruptly in the same direction Williams and Baxter were heading.
From what she had just heard, Rhapsody imagined that all the teams searching for her were now to rendezvous with the craft at an already agreed location. She cautiously looked around, to make sure there was no-one else still there; it was only when she was perfectly sure that she was all alone in the surrounding wilderness that she permitted herself to sigh with deep relief, and slowly squelched out of the pond to crawl onto solid, yet muddy, ground.
She was gasping, her teeth were chattering, and she was shivering from her long stay in the cold water. Her feet were soaking in her water-filled boots, so she hurriedly removed and emptied them. She took off her soaked socks and energetically wrung them out to remove as much water from them as she could, before carefully spreading them atop the dry root of the willow tree underneath which she had hidden earlier. Her clothes were filthy, and were sticking uncomfortably to her; she removed her torn uniform top, at the same time glancing at her communication epaulettes. One of them was completely shattered, while the other was filled with water – both broken beyond repair. Groaning, she put the jacket aside and gingerly checked herself for any injury.
She had been very lucky: from her fall and subsequent swim in the pond, she was suffering from only a pulled muscle in her left shoulder and a few scratches all over her body, the deepest of which had been inflicted on her left arm and ran from the shoulder down to the elbow. Now that it was out of the cold water, it was stinging like hell and bleeding; Rhapsody thought it would be better to clean it up the best she could and to bandage it quickly. There was no telling what kind of filth could be floating in that pond, and she didn’t want to worry about any kind of blood poisoning or infection in the near future.
From the large inside pocket of her jacket, she took the pouch containing her Spectrum-issue first-aid kit. The pouch was waterproof, and fortunately had not been ripped during all her recent mishaps; it contained only the very basics of what she would need in case of trouble, and quite frankly, to properly take care of that cut, she would have preferred to have something a little more than that. She shrugged, trying to dismiss the thought. Obviously, this would have to do the job for now. She would have her wounds checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
While working very quickly to clean up the cut – all the while clenching her jaws against the stinging pain caused by the antiseptic iodine – Rhapsody’s mind was working fast to assess her situation, and what would now be her course of action. The Mysterons had launched a threat – of what nature, she didn’t know as yet, because her radio had gone dead before she could hear it. However, she was one hundred percent sure that it had something to do with what Captain Scarlet and she had come to retrieve, here in this Louisiana bayou.
The WAAF commandos were acting hostile, and she had to suppose that they could be Mysteron agents. Scarlet was lost somewhere in this wilderness, either grievously wounded or dead, and the commandos, believing her to be dead as well, were now looking for him – and for whatever they thought he possessed.
She had no means of contacting Cloudbase even if it had been within reach; for that matter, she couldn’t even reach anyone else, as her communications devices were either lost or destroyed. She was away from civilisation. From memory, she could recall one or two small settlements in the area, but still they were at some distance from her position, and she wasn’t that sure they were deserving of any ‘civilised’ epithet. She wasn’t even sure there was any authority or law enforcement figures in those places.
Right, a fine mess this is…
But there was one bright spot to all this – namely, following the new Mysteron threat, Cloudbase would now expect them to radio in before they missed their scheduled check-in time. That was standard procedure. If they were not to contact Spectrum… then their prolonged silence would be considered as highly suspicious. And if the threat was specific enough for Spectrum to believe it had something to do with their mission, then Colonel White would order that someone be sent to Louisiana to find them – as quickly as possible.
But how soon would that be, before it was too late?
Rhapsody didn’t think she could waste any time in waiting to be rescued. She had to do something herself, and she didn’t have much choice about what she actually had to do; as a matter of fact, her decision had been reached already as she waited in the stagnant water for the WAAF soldiers to go away.
She had to find Captain Scarlet before them.
While at the helm of her Angel craft, she had had a pretty good view of where he had fallen, and she had every hope of being able to get there before the commandos. According to what she had overheard, their helicopter would go first to that landing spot they had previously used. That gave her a head start, as it was some distance from there. Furthermore, they would have to make their way through the swamp with all their weapons and heavy equipment – while she would be travelling very light. Of course, she would have given anything to at least have a handgun; unfortunately, she had lost hers when she took that forced dive in the lake; she would have to do without.
It’s going to be close, though, she reflected grimly.
Still, she considered she had a good chance. The commandos believed her dead; so they would never think that she might beat them to the prize and consequently, they would not hurry too much to get to Scarlet – especially if they considered him dead, or at least, very seriously injured.
If he was dead, and Rhapsody believed him to be if he had been shot in the head before that awful fall, then he would not heal fully and revive for a good six hours.
At least, that’s what the English pilot grimly considered. She didn’t like thinking that he was all alone, and totally defenceless, somewhere in this swamp. Scarlet’s extraordinary healing capacities since his first encounter with the Mysterons had never ceased to surprise her – and everyone else too – but sometimes, she wondered if he didn’t take them too much for granted. So far, his powers had never failed him, but there was still so much they didn’t know about them, that it was natural to wonder to what extent he could really trust in them. Thus far, it was merely supposed that high-voltage electricity could be as dangerous for him as it was for any human being, but there was still the high possibility that something else might be equally as lethal to him… something that hadn’t occurred yet.
If his body were to be so very severely damaged – whatever the reason or the circumstances – could he still heal? So far, he had come back from some rather horrible and grisly ‘deaths’ but… maybe he just had not yet reached the limits of his powers?
I wonder if these thoughts also concern him, Rhapsody pondered. Or if he even imagines that we would worry about him so much – perhaps needlessly, and I’m sure he would tell us so himself. But still, we’re his friends… and I for one can’t help worrying about him.
Trying to chase away those troubling thoughts, Rhapsody finished wrapping the bandage tightly around her arm. Then, she put her still damp socks and boots back onto her feet. After tying up her hair into a crude ponytail, so it would not fall into her eyes, she searched the multiple pockets of her jacket and removed from them a collection of useful objects – matches, safely kept into a sealed plastic bag, a lighter, a small compass, a multi-bladed knife, her Spectrum ID wallet and the respirator tube, and put them into the various pockets of her trousers, along with what remained of the first aid pouch. She also took her Spectrum Personal Tracker from one of her trousers’ pockets, and was about to press the middle button to activate it, when she noticed the long crack running through it. The button fell into her open hand.
Well, it’s not with that I’ll be expecting any help, Rhapsody reflected gloomily, realising the SPT was beyond any repair and totally useless. She discarded it, and then rolled the jacket into a ball to stash it under the root of the willow tree. It was uncomfortably damp in this swamp, and the jacket, damaged as it was, was now worthless. She thought it would be far more comfortable for her to travel wearing only her sweater, trousers and boots.
She checked the time on her watch, and then orientated herself, searching for the direction that would lead her to Scarlet’s position, and recalling from her memory the terrain’s general geography, to draw the surest and fastest course to get to him. The ground was treacherous all the way, she considered – with swamps, pits, snakes, alligators, quicksand, and whatever other dangers she didn’t know about. She estimated a good two hours’ distance on foot. And the commandos, leaving from their previous landing position –– would have approximately the same distance to cover.
This will be a very close race, Rhapsody reminded herself again.
Grimly, she began her journey at the double. She didn’t have any more time to lose.
* * *
Captain Scarlet’s body took a very harsh beating as it fell through the thick foliage of the trees, and hit many branches on its way down. Fortunately for him, the Spectrum officer was unconscious through the whole ordeal, and when his body finally hit the ground with a dull thud, his fall had been slowed down enough so that it didn’t hit as hard as it might have, even considering the height it had fallen from.
Bleeding, his uniform and flesh slashed in many places by the lashing of twigs, his bones broken and suffering from multiple internal injuries, he lay limply on his back at the foot of the trees, the shadows concealing his motionless form from prying eyes which might have watched him from the sky.
He never saw any of the ensuing battle over the treetops, as the helicopter left its position to attack the Angel fighter, nor did he hear the sound of the explosion, as the Spectrum craft was blown out of the sky. If he had, he would probably have been worried sick about the fate of its pilot. He was too far gone to worry about anything at all – and even less about his own fate.
Contrary to what the Mysteronised commandos had assumed, neither the bullet, nor the fall, had killed him, but he was so grievously wounded that had he been a normal human being, he would have died from his injuries in a very short time, and no amount of care would have been able to save him. For a time, he wavered uncertainly between life and death, his breathing at first laborious, his heart beating unsteadily, his mind captive in a dark place from which he didn’t seem able to escape.
The first image to enter his mind was that of a violent flash of light – red and yellow – like fire threatening to eat at him. It was burning, consuming him, causing him unbearable pain. Vague pictures then followed through the pain, haloed by a strange white mist – fast cars, aircraft he didn’t know flying into a blue sky dotted with white clouds… faces that he couldn’t recognise, indistinct and out of reach. And then sounds filled his ears, horrible sounds of untold violence – shouts, violent deflagrations, screams of pain from women and men alike, crackling of automatic weapons, gunshots, mounting in a violent crescendo that threatened to drive him crazy.
The last sounds he heard were the whisking sound of helicopter blades, then warning shouts – and the cracking thunder of a gunshot that reverberated through his skull.
Coming out of his dream, he opened his eyes with a start, gasping.
His brutal awakening caused a fiery pain that clouded his mind and he groaned, closing his eyes. His whole body was in terrible, unexplainable pain, but it was nothing compared to what he was feeling in his head.
He could barely move – he didn’t dare make a single move, in fact. He was lying there on his back, trying to overcome this pain that seemed to stop him to think and to comprehend what was happening to him.
Gasping – it seemed to him his lungs were on fire – Scarlet opened his eyes once more, this time very carefully. He had to blink many times before his vision would clear, and he realised that he was staring up towards the sky, through the high branches of a tree under which he was lying. In his ears, he could now hear the peaceful sounds of the wind through the leaves, a river, which seemed to be running nearby, the song of birds, and the incessant tapping of a woodpecker working on the bark of a tree. Nothing remotely as violent as what he had heard and seen in his dream – all the calm and quiet of the Nature surrounding him.
Almost too calm and quiet.
What happened? What am I doing here?
He still felt the pain throughout his body and especially in the back of his head. He tried to rise, but was barely able to lift his head more than an inch, as the pain pulled him down. His back was killing him; it was as if it was broken. But if it was broken, he wouldn’t be able to move at all – and he wouldn’t feel anything, right? That was something of a consolation, he thought, although he was hurting so much that he wasn’t sure if he should be that happy with it.
More cautiously this time, he made another attempt, pushing himself up on one elbow as he rose to his side; his head felt like a thousand bricks, and momentarily, his vision blacked out entirely, as if his skull exploded; he closed his eyes and gasped; it hurt so much, he was almost unable to breathe. As he tried to raise himself further, turning on his side, he felt the persistent throbbing in his left leg. The pain became so intolerable that he cried out.
Scarlet forced himself to open his eyes again; he looked at the leg which was hurting him so much. Again, he blinked many times to clear his eyes from the salty sweat falling into them. He could see the blood soaking the lower part of his leg, about midway below the knee, where there was a large tear in his trouser leg. He could see the sharp end of a broken bone sticking out through the flesh and fabric.
Compound fracture, he realised almost immediately. No wonder his leg was hurting so much...
It’ll have to be put back in place. The coldness with which he came to this conclusion surprised him, and a new pang of pain to the back of his head made him close his eyes again and lower his head. It was hurting him more than he could bear. Slowly, with a cautious and very hesitant movement, and despite enormous effort demanded of his aching body, he lifted his right arm up and then carefully slipped his hand behind his head. He searched for the tender spot he could feel on the back of his head; his fingers came into contact with something sticky and damp and he gasped again. He brought his hand forward and opened his eyes to look.
He was shocked to discover his whole hand covered with blood.
His own blood.
Panic started to fill him, and it did nothing to ease his pain.
“You alive, son?”
The deep voice calling to him – tainted with an obvious accent of surprise – startled Scarlet, and he turned his head in the direction from which it came. He immediately regretted it as another new pain raced through his neck and spine. Through a growing mist, he saw the outlines of a grey-bearded old man, wearing dirty clothes and armed with a huge rifle, striding his way, his gun aimed at him. Scarlet’s eyes, wide with deep concern, followed the barrel of the gun, as the man approached. His heart rate increased, as he contemplated the possibility that the violent dream that had welcomed his return to consciousness was suddenly becoming a reality.
But as he reached him, the old man simply knelt by his side, putting the rifle onto the ground to lean over him. There was an expression of concern and astonishment on his craggy face. The tension that was keeping him upright left Scarlet at that moment, and with it the remainder of his strength, and he fell on his back, with a loud groan.
“Take it easy,” the old man told him. His voice, although gruff, was surprisingly soothing. “You’re in a bad way, boy… It’s a good thing Ol’ Joe saw your fall. He’ll take good care of you.”
“F-fall?” Scarlet muttered almost inaudibly. “W–what…?” He muffled a cry as the pain in his head became even worse than before, and his mind started to spin vertiginously, before starting to cover itself with a deep mist.
“Don’t try to talk, son. It’ll be all right…”
“W-what…” Scarlet slurred, trying to look at the old man he knew was bending over him. “What happened… to me?”
His eyelids fluttered, as he drifted further into unconsciousness; he fought desperately to keep a grip on reality – but barely had the time to utter one last sentence:
“I can’t… remember a thing…”
His eyes closed and, as his skull exploded in fiery pain, darkness mercifully engulfed him.
Standing at the opening of the observation tube, in the Control Room, Colonel White was thoughtfully watching the horizon, looking towards the huge grey and black clouds that had formed a few hundreds of feet below their present altitude. He could see flashes of lightning through the moving clouds and knew that underneath, the storm was raging furiously, pouring bucketfuls of rain onto the earth below. Called away to attend its next mission against the Mysterons, Cloudbase was at a safe distance and height, and was presently moving in a north-easterly direction, further away from the storm.
“Angels One and Two are in flight, sir,” the voice of Lieutenant Green, seated at his station, told him quietly.
White silently acknowledged the report with a brief nod. With Angel Three away on its own assignment, he had previously ordered one of the backup craft out of the hangar and ready for use in case of emergency. It had been a while since the use of more than three Angels at a time had been needed – the necessity of it only occurring two or three times in the past. And even then, one of those times had been to replace a launched Angel that had just crashed to the ground. Fortunately, the pilot at the helm at that time – Symphony – had been able to eject safely.
“We’ll reach Futura City in two hours,” Green continued. “Estimated time of arrival: 1735, local time.”
“No news from Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel?” White asked, not leaving his position in front of the tube.
“None so far, sir. Not since Rhapsody contacted us, a few minutes before the Mysterons issued their threat.”
White thoughtfully rubbed his chin. “She was returning to her escort duty in Louisiana, after her report,” he said, almost to himself. “So since the storm is still obstructing any contact with her through the communication satellite, she’s back out of touch. And so is Scarlet.”
“Rhapsody did report that everything was going fine,” Green noted, as his commander turned back to him, and he saw the musing – even slightly concerned – expression on his face. “I know they should have reported soon after the Mysterons’ threat to ask about new orders, but… maybe they didn’t hear that either, due to the storm?”
“That’s possible, yes,” White agreed. “Considering the communication firewall…”
A little more than a year ago, when the Mysterons had made their Voice heard through all of Earth’s communication frequencies announcing their first threat, the event had caused a wind of panic to spread amongst Earth’s population. At the time, no-one had been able to intercept that first message, as nobody was even prepared for it. But times had changed since then. Taking its most crucial decision since its creation, the World Government’s official position concerning the Mysterons was to deny they were from Mars, but instead, to pretend that they were a new group of worldwide terrorists using elaborate hoaxes to strike fear into the collective mind. That was, of course, an incredibly daring and perilous gamble, and the World Government was hoping that the people of Earth would not discover the lie. Politically, a conspiracy on such a large scale was particularly risky, but it was nothing compared to the kind of difficulties posed by frightened crowds dreading attacks from alien invaders. For security forces around the world, it might even become too much to handle. Eventually, maybe, the world would know the truth about the Mysterons. When it was ready. Or when no other choice was left to its leaders.
In order to keep people unaware of the Mysterons’ true nature, and avoid a repetition of the panic created by their first message, a very secure firewall was devised and installed on mini-sats in orbit around the world; they were designed to intercept any signals coming from Mars, before they could reach any other receivers.
Now, only World Government Security satellites, specifically configured for Spectrum use, were able to pick up the Martian signals. Whenever a Mysteron threat was announced, it was broadcast on every communication frequency used by Spectrum, so that every member of the organisation who heard it would be on immediate alert and ready for duty.
“If their radios were cut off from the main loop, indeed they might not have heard the threat either,” White concurred. “So they would be totally ignorant of what’s currently happening and would carry on with their mission.”
“Should we send someone to inform them, sir?” Green inquired.
White gave it some thought. According to Rhapsody’s report, Captain Scarlet had found the A67-Z’s passenger cabin and was about to search the immediate area. There was no telling how far he had got in his investigation, or if he would even have succeeded, but he still had some chance of finding the microchip.
I might as well give him that chance… Who knows when we’ll be THAT close to finding that damned chip again?
“No,” White finally answered his aide’s question. “Their presence is not required as yet, as we still don’t know the nature of the Mysterons’ threat. Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel can proceed with their current mission. However, they have to be informed of the situation, in case we need them to return urgently.” He went to his desk and sat down. He took a pen in his hand and returned his attention to Green. “We need all remaining onboard personnel at the moment, so I won’t be sending anyone to Louisiana right now. Have our New Orleans ground agent contacted through relayed transmission, Lieutenant. You can arrange that, can’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” Green answered, while consulting his instruments. “Our line to Washington is clear. Our base there will be able to contact our New Orleans offices.”
“Perfect. I want Washington to radio-contact Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel, and to tell them of the Mysterons’ threat, but that they should carry on, until further orders.”
“Maybe that storm will have blown itself out by the time we might need them, and we’ll be able to reach them ourselves directly,” White continued. “In the meanwhile, we have to concentrate on this new threat that’s fallen into our laps. Have all the on-duty captains report to the Control Room at once for briefing.”
“Right away, sir.”
Colonel White threw his pen onto his desk, in a frustrated gesture. “I hate cryptic threats,” he grumbled. “Let’s hope we’ll quickly find out what the Mysterons are planning this time…”
* * *
Spectrum agent Maxwell Laborteaux, the New Orleans communications and inter-administrative liaison officer – a rather high-sounding title that simply meant that he was responsible for all communication and relations between Spectrum and the various official authorities of the city – was in his office as he spoke on the phone to Lieutenant Dun, communications officer at the Washington Spectrum base. Seated in front of his window, his back turned to his desk, Laborteaux was distractedly outside, as the rain was falling over the city. A few minutes ago, Dun had called him with instructions relayed from Cloudbase. Laborteaux was now contacting him in turn with a report on the situation.
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” Laborteaux said to his interlocutor, spinning his seat around to face his desk. “I tried to make contact with Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel as instructed, but I have the same trouble as yourself and Cloudbase in reaching them. Yes, I know my office is the one closest to them…” He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I believe this damned storm in the Gulf is responsible for the problem too – it’s jamming our frequencies. It hasn’t reached the coast, fortunately, but it probably stands right between us and the satellite relay. Currently, I even have trouble hearing you clearly…”
As if to prove his words, static sounds filled his receiver and he pushed it away from his ear, wincing. When he put the receiver against his ear again, it was to hear the frustrated groan from Dun at the other end.
“Sorry about that,” he added apologetically. “It’s not like there’s anything I can do. Yeah, I copy. I’ll relay Colonel White’s instructions to both Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel as soon I’m able to contact them. Of course, I hope it’ll be soon too… Yes, Lieutenant… Don’t worry about a thing… I have everything in hand. I’ll keep you informed… Goodbye.”
Laborteaux hung up the receiver, before even hearing the reply from his interlocutor. He whirled his chair around and looked pensively out of the window again. The rain outside was only local, and judging from the sky, it would end very soon. It was far from resembling anything like the violent storm that was currently raging in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Was it good enough?” he asked over his shoulder.
“You did well,” was the answer he received.
Laborteaux turned around once more, this time to face the man standing rigidly in front of his desk. He slowly intertwined his fingers and gave a sigh. “You do realise that they will eventually get suspicious?”
“Then you will know what to do,” the monotone voice replied slowly.
A faint smile spread upon Laborteaux’s lips. “Oh yes,” he answered ever so quietly, as he looked up into the cold, pale features of Captain Black. “The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out…”