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
“Are you sure we’re on the right track?”
Rhapsody Angel rolled her eyes at her companion’s recurring question; it was only the third or fourth time he had enquired upon that same subject – each time formulated differently.
“According to the map, we are,” she answered, her voice dripping with impatience.
Following behind her, and carrying the shotgun Rhapsody had left in his care, Captain Scarlet shook his head dubiously. He still wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know. It seems to me we should have kept following the river. From what I remember, the cabin is close by it, and we would definitely have stumbled upon it sooner or later –” A large branch, heavy with leaves, whipped into his face, brutally interrupting him. Exasperated by his constant questions, Rhapsody had let go of it on purpose, after pushing it aside to pass through. She had made no attempt to make it look like an accident.
Scarlet frowned in annoyance and brushed the branch aside to follow her.
“I’m only saying that because in the last hour, we nearly stepped into two patches of quicksand, had a close encounter with an angry-looking black bear, and almost fell into a dangerously steep ditch. Not to mention that we have to cross pond after pond of muddy water… I almost lost one of my boots in the last one. This is definitely not the most secure path we could have chosen.” He received a new branch across the face and grunted in irritation. “I wish you’d stop doing that.”
“Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t question your sense of direction,” Rhapsody replied edgily. “But you have to admit, in your present condition, it probably isn’t very reliable.”
“I certainly can’t argue with that. But I’m only saying that there must be a better way to reach our destination. And following the river would also ensure that we won’t get lost.”
Rhapsody suddenly stopped in her tracks and spun around; Scarlet had to step back to avoid colliding with her. He could see by the way she was glaring at him that she wasn’t very happy and obviously had quite enough of his recriminations.
“Look, I’ve trekked through these woods since this morning, so I’m sure of the direction we’re currently taking,” she explained, trying to keep her cool. “This is the most direct path. The river snakes through the swamp, and following it would mean wasting an awful lot of time. We can’t afford that. Believe me, give or take a few meters, we should reach Joe’s cabin before nightfall.”
“Which shouldn’t be too long now,” Scarlet commented, raising his eyes to the patch of sky they could see above, to evaluate the sun’s position. “But Dianne –”
interrupted him before he could argue again, “following the river would have
put us too much in the open, and would make us vulnerable to surprise
attacks. Remember that
“As well as for the microchip,” Scarlet commented. “And you want to arrive at the cabin before they work out where we’ve got to.”
Rhapsody approved with a nod. “And don’t forget your other friends,” she added sourly. “I’m not exactly sure of those young thugs’ intentions, but I’ll bet they haven’t given up. You saw them murdering two men; they would not want to take the chance of seeing you get away and telling anyone what you witnessed.”
Scarlet nodded. “And that includes you.”
“Believe me, I’m quite aware that I’m as deep in this as you are.”
“That’s a nice way of saying it,” Scarlet commented. He looked down at his feet as emphasis, as he was standing ankle-deep in thick mud – which, he realised, was the reason his companion was able to look almost levelly into his eyes, as she was standing on higher and dryer land. He grunted in annoyance and disengaged himself before taking a step forward out of the mud. Rhapsody stepped back to permit him to join her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to doubt you,” he apologised, standing once again in front of her. “I know I said you were in charge – so I really shouldn’t argue so much.”
She acknowledged his apology. “I understand this isn’t easy for you. You’re more used to taking charge than simply following.”
“Am I always this difficult?” he asked, with a curious frown.
Rhapsody answered with a light smile. “Colonel White would argue that you are… but then again, he would also say that you’re one of the best officers he has under his command.”
Scarlet raised a dubious brow. “Really?”
“I mean, you’re a soldier – that would mean you’re accustomed to following orders… most of the time, anyway.” She turned around, and continued to walk, with him following behind. This time, she took care not to let any branches hit him. “But I do know you can be difficult when you consider that an order is not… reasonable.”
Rhapsody sighed, trying to recall from her mind one of the many infamous examples of what Scarlet himself described as ‘using one’s initiative’.
“Such as the time when Colonel White was threatened with assassination by the Mysterons. You blatantly went against his orders, and clandestinely followed him to his hiding place to protect him.”
“Did it help?”
“It did – you saved his life.”
“It was a good decision then.”
Rhapsody chuckled, without turning around. “It was – except that to do so, and to lure the assassin out, you actually knocked the colonel out and took his clothing to assume his identity.”
Scarlet frowned, pondering this. “Isn’t that slightly against military regulations? Knocking out a superior officer?”
“It’s highly against regulations,” Rhapsody confirmed. “Not that it stopped you.”
“But it was to save his life. So I suppose that the ends justified the means. And surely, Colonel White agreed with that – especially considering it avoided him being killed.”
Rhapsody smiled to herself. “That’s quite possible. Although he would probably deny it if you ever ask him. He’s very keen on discipline.”
“Is he? So why does he put up with me, then?”
“Because, as I said earlier…” Rhapsody turned to him, forcing him to stop again in front of her. “… You are his best man.”
They had stopped at the edge of a large clearing, and they could clearly see the sky above. For a moment, there was silence between them, as Scarlet looked at the young woman, pondering her words. He finally shook his head, a new doubting scowl marking his brow.
“I don’t feel like the best of anything right now. Not with this dodgy memory of mine.”
“It’ll come back to you,” Rhapsody reassured him.
“You always seem so sure of yourself when you say that, but I can’t help feeling doubtful, Dianne. What if it doesn’t come back? Or takes an awful long time to come back? If it’s indeed that thing I have inside my head that’s depriving me of my memory –”
“Whatever that thing might be,” Rhapsody replied, “I’m sure Doctor Fawn will get rid of it for you.”
Scarlet stared at her, looking suddenly uncomfortable. The full implications of what she was saying had an ominous and somehow scary ring to him. “Doctor…? I’m sorry but you’ll understand that I’m not really looking forward to someone operating on the inside of my head. However necessary it might be.”
Rhapsody reached to give him a comforting pat. “You shouldn’t worry unduly. Doctor Fawn’s the best doctor in the world – and I’m not just saying that, it’s the truth. And he’s the ultimate specialist when it comes to your unique condition.”
“Well, that offers a bit of reassurance. Just a bit.” He shrugged. “There is an awful lot I wish I could remember… about myself… About this condition of mine. About the job I do… People I work with… People like you.” He looked straight into her eyes, and frowned anew, pondering. “I do feel that I know you… I mean, I know I know you, but it’s all out of my reach for now. I would like so very much to know more about you.”
He was looking so desperately at her that she couldn’t ignore his plea. “What would you like to know?”
“You said… that we work together. That we are… friends?”
“Yes. Yes, we are colleagues.” Rhapsody smiled lightly. “And friends.”
Scarlet’s frown deepened, and his stare became more intense, as he made a new, desperate attempt to remember. Silence hung between them again; out of a sudden compulsion, he raised his hand, with the obvious intention of reaching for her, and Rhapsody followed his movement with her eyes. He thought he saw disapproval, and he hesitated, stopping just short of touching her cheek.
Rhapsody then saw his frown turning into a grimace of pain, and he squeezed his eyes shut, grunting between his clenched teeth. It was her turn to reach for him, and she touched his shoulder in concern. She felt him shiver under her fingers.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Headache,” he moaned, his hand going to his head. “Again.”
She nodded her understanding. “You told me you had them every time you try to tax your memory.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yeah. Maybe it’s –” He gave a louder grunt and clutched his head with his hand; he wavered on his feet, and Rhapsody’s hold on him became firmer.
Scarlet could hear the young woman’s voice, but over it there was another voice – a male one, filled with the same concern. There was a flash in Scarlet’s mind, coming with the pain, and then, a brief vision – the face of a blond man, of about thirty, with pale blue eyes, looking seriously at him. “Captain, are you all right?”
The image was gone as quickly as it came, and Scarlet shook his head, the pain clearing. Rhapsody was looking at him, an expression of worry on her face. “What is it?” she asked. “You’re as pale as a sheet.”
“I had a… new flashback, I think.”
“A new flashback?”
“Yeah, but it was very brief… like the blink of an eye. And… it was different this time. It wasn’t of pain or violence, like all the other flashbacks I had before.”
“What was it about?”
“I saw the face of a man. A blond man.” Scarlet frowned. “He looked friendly. I don’t know, I feel like I should know him. He seemed familiar to me. But I have no idea who it could be.”
Rhapsody nodded slowly. “Was he wearing a blue uniform?”
“I don’t know if it was a uniform…” Scarlet frowned, trying to recall what he had seen. “Yes, some kind of blue tunic, I think.”
“Captain Blue,” Rhapsody said with a slow nod.
“Captain Blue… another colleague in Spectrum?”
“Yes. Your regular partner, on assignments. And also – your best friend. His name’s Adam.”
“Adam,” Scarlet echoed pensively. He made further effort to remember, to get hold of this elusive image that had disappeared so quickly, but his attempts were rewarded with a new sudden pang of pain and he grunted, reaching for his head.
“What’s the matter?” Rhapsody asked. “Did you remember something else?”
“No, but I should stop trying for a while… unless you want to pick me up from the mud. I’ve… er… fainted, from trying too much to remember already.”
“Then stop,” Rhapsody suggested firmly. “There’s no point in causing yourself further pain.”
“But I want so much to remember everything you’re telling me, and –”
Scarlet’s voice broke. The splitting headache was threatening to overcome him and it was all he could do to keep on his feet.
At this point, Rhapsody didn’t realise the severity of his predicament, as she suddenly became aware of an approaching danger; just at the limit of her hearing, she could hear something – a faint buzzing, the sound of engines that she recognised instantly. She raised her eyes to the sky over their heads, searching anxiously.
She saw the dark shape of a helicopter appear over the treetops and fly over the clearing; instantly, she recognised that craft, with the WAAF markings on it; realising that any second now, they might be spotted, she instinctively reacted.
Unaware that Scarlet was the victim of yet another spell, she forcefully pushed him back under the shade of the trees and bushes they had just left a moment ago, and forced him down to the ground. He fell, not offering any resistance, at the same time surprised by her action and preoccupied by his own dizziness. The shotgun escaped from his grasp and he crashed on his back, onto the leaf-covered ground and she landed practically on top of him; he held on to her on pure impulse, to avoid both of them getting hurt.
She scrambled to lie by his side, leaving her right arm across his chest to compel him to stay down. With her left hand, she reached for the shotgun, lying on the ground nearby. “Don’t move!” she ordered him.
Scarlet feebly nodded, indicating that he would follow her instructions, but just as he did, there was another violent flash of light, and the pain in his head became more violent. He swiftly closed his eyes, as if his mind suddenly tore itself open, and a new image appeared to him.
Again, it was a very brief image.
He could see himself, holding a young woman in his arms; he was kissing her, and it was an intense kiss. The woman’s long hair flowed over her shoulders…
The image disappeared as quickly as it came and darkness then engulfed Scarlet’s mind.
As she was flat on her belly, Rhapsody needed to twist her neck around to look above. Through the thickness of the branches and leaves hiding them, she could see the helicopter hovering in the sky, apparently scanning the area. As it approached their position, she lowered her head close to the ground, her heart pounding, wondering if they had been seen already – and hoping that if it wasn’t the case, it would remain so. Her hands tensely clutched the gun, her right index finger stroking the trigger.
The helicopter didn’t spot them, and it continued on its course, going in the opposite direction they had been heading. Rhapsody anxiously followed it with her eyes, until it disappeared over the treetops, and the sound of its rotor faded in the distance. She then exhaled loudly, reassured that they were safe for the time being.
She had not expected
this. According to what she had overheard that very morning, the helicopter
wasn’t to participate in the search for Scarlet, in order to save fuel to
She hoped that Spectrum was indeed close by, which meant that Scarlet and she stood a chance of being rescued, but she was deeply aware that now, their pursuers were even more dangerous than before.
She and Scarlet had to be extra-careful.
Putting the shotgun down on the ground, she turned to her companion, lying on his back by her side. Contrary to what she expected, he wasn’t looking to the sky, in the direction the helicopter had disappeared to. His eyes were closed, and he looked unconscious.
He couldn’t have hit the ground that hard, she thought, concern filling her. Or maybe he did. He had cushioned their fall with his body, but surely that wouldn’t be enough to knock him out. She recalled his dizzy spell just as the helicopter had appeared. Might he have lost consciousness due to that?
Those attacks were becoming more than an annoyance – they were now downright worrying.
She crawled to him and leaned over his chest, shaking him gently, but firmly. She was about to call his name, when he groaned and his blue eyes opened. At first, they seemed confused, but then, they looked straight at her and they cleared of all confusion.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
He nodded, taking a deep breath. “I am,” he answered in a low voice. “Pain’s gone now…”
“You lost consciousness, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. But I’m okay now. I’m sorry I scared you.” He was looking at her in a very odd way.
“Damn right you scared me.” Rhapsody sighed in relief. She then realised he had his right arm around her, in an almost protective way, and didn’t seem inclined to remove it. She wondered at what moment exactly he had got hold of her like this.
She tried to ignore the arm.
“You saw the chopper?”
she asked, and when he nodded, she explained:
He nodded again. “I’d worked that out.”
“It was obviously searching for us,” she moved on. “It’s gone now, so we’re safe… at least for a little while.”
He nodded again in answer, and she frowned at him, puzzled by his uncharacteristic silence. Up until now, she had had so much trouble getting him to shut up. And now, the way he was staring at her was making her a little ill at ease.
“I think it would be better if we keep under the trees,” she continued, “and avoid coming out into the open as much as possible.”
“Seems like the sensible thing to do, yes,” he responded.
Rhapsody’s frown deepened. He was a little too calm and docile, and that worried her. He didn’t appear as concerned as he should be about this close call. His reaction – or rather lack of – was rather bizarre.
“Paul… Are you sure you’re all right? Did you hurt yourself when we fell?”
“No, I didn’t hurt myself. I’m okay. As fit as a fiddle, actually.”
Rhapsody wasn’t convinced.
“Come on. Get up from there.” She rose into a sitting position, freeing herself of his arm, and pulling him up by her side. He brushed dead leaves off his clothes, absently, and she looked at him attentively. She touched his rough cheek. He stopped brushing himself and their eyes met again.
“I’m not sure you’re as fit as you pretend,” she insisted. “Does your head still –”
“I don’t have a headache right now,” Scarlet answered swiftly. His voice softened. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
“I can’t help it,” she replied. “You’ve not yourself at the moment. I’ve never seen you so helpless and –”
“So that must mean you care about me?” Scarlet asked.
Rhapsody frowned. What a silly and strange question…
“Of course, I care about you. You’re –”
Scarlet put a finger to her lips, shushing her. Then he reached to cup her cheek with his hand, and Rhapsody felt his thumb warmly stroking her. He was looking at her so intensely again, the blue of his eyes turning to a darker shade, as he gazed into hers. A very thin smile tugged his lips.
“I’m fine,” he said softly, as he leaned closer. “Quite fine…”
The next thing Rhapsody knew, his lips were on hers, and she opened her eyes wide with surprise.
There was a moment of
timid hesitation, as Rhapsody’s hand hovered uncertainly over Scarlet’s chest,
undecided whether she should push him back or not; but it barely lasted a second
or two, before she laid it against him and she found herself willingly
responding to his kiss. That seemed to
encourage him, and he wrapped his arms around her to pull her closer to him. Again, she responded in kind, almost out of
reflex, and her arms slid around his shoulders.
Rhapsody tried to recall how many times she had dreamed – hoped – that one day he would be holding her in his arms so closely, and kissing her like this. It seemed to her that it had been an eternity since the first moment she had laid her eyes on Paul Metcalfe and had felt something stir inside her. Since the first time she had realised it, she had tried to deny it – in her opinion, pursuing a relationship other than friendship with a work colleague wasn’t the best of ideas, even without considering the strict military regulations of Cloudbase. But she couldn’t deny she felt something for this man. A physical attraction – certainly. A deep affection – more than probably. Love… She was still wondering about that.
She had never truly opened up to him, because she wasn’t that sure how he truly felt about her in return. Oh yes, he liked to tease her – most of the time, he drove her crazy, often on purpose, knowing full well that it didn’t take that much for her temper to flare up. And he had flirted with her on a few occasions, but she had caught him flirting with other women as well. Especially with Destiny, and that had made Rhapsody wonder about the depth of his feelings for their French colleague – although Destiny would deny that there was anything romantic or sexual between them. She had always pretended they were now just good friends. But Rhapsody had yet to learn if this was the kind of friendship she herself had with Scarlet; and most importantly, was it really what she wanted to content herself with?
He had not kissed her like this since the previous Christmas, when she had fallen from a stool straight into his waiting arms, and they had found themselves under the mistletoe. No, this wasn’t really true; he had never kissed her quite like this before, nor held her this way – with such passion, such possessiveness. The way he was stroking her, Rhapsody had a very strong feeling that simply kissing and holding her wasn’t the only thing on his mind.
She had confirmation that he indeed wanted more, when she felt his hand slipping between their bodies and slowly wandering up her sweater, stroking her naked belly. An involuntary shiver passed through her skin, and she realised, without much of a surprise, that she shared his much too palpable desire.
And somehow it scared her.
She reached for his hand and stopped its wandering before it went too far, while with her other hand, she gently pushed Scarlet off her. She broke their kiss, reluctantly but firmly, disengaged herself from his arms, and, breathing hard, turned away to avoid looking at him, making a show of smoothing her sweater down.
She could feel his eyes on her, and she had no trouble imagining how perplexed he might be at her reaction. She had a hard time not to shudder when he gently touched her shoulder. “What is it?” he asked softly.
She turned to look at him; there was indeed a puzzled expression on his face. “I don’t think this would be a good idea,” she explained, offering a rueful smile.
The answer seemed to add to Scarlet’s confusion. He then appeared to suddenly realise what could be wrong. “You mean – now is not really the time to…” He let the rest hang.
Rhapsody hesitated for a fraction of a second, before answering, “Well, yes, there’s a bit of that. But that’s not the only reason. Or even the main reason.”
His perplexity growing, Scarlet frowned, looking at Rhapsody. He was sure he wasn’t mistaken: she was the woman he had seen in that flashback. That long red hair was a dead giveaway.
Was it? Perhaps it was another woman. Or perhaps what he had seen wasn’t exactly what he imagined it to be.
He felt himself a little embarrassed. He sat up straight. “I’m sorry… I just assumed…” He cleared his throat, unsure how to voice his apologies. He didn’t want to embarrass her by uttering some thoughtless idiocy. “I should have realised… A woman like you – you must have someone in your life.”
“No. No, it’s not that.”
“No?” Scarlet gave it some quick thought, and another explanation came to him. He let go of her shoulder, looking even more apologetic. “I think I see… It’s like I’m taking advantage of you, and of the situation, and –”
She put a hand on his chest, stopping him in mid-sentence. “No. No, you don’t get it at all.” She looked at his even more confused expression and shook her head slowly. “It’s not you who’s taking advantage of the situation. It’s me.”
* * *
It wasn’t the first time that Johnny Monroe felt his friends had shunned him.
Of course, he knew he was different from them; he wasn’t as eager as they could be when it came to getting whatever they wanted. He wasn’t as tough, mean, or brutal as them. Even Scarecrow could be really nasty when he wanted to, and he certainly didn’t need that much incentive. For Johnny, it was different. He would follow the others’ lead because he had to, if he wanted to be part of the gang. And because he desperately wanted to be accepted by them, he would do whatever they asked of him. He followed them in any of their deeds – however bad they seemed – although he would sometimes have second thoughts. Not because he felt it was wrong to do those things, but because he would often consider the consequences of his actions, if he ever got caught.
At heart, Johnny Monroe was a coward, and he knew it. And what was even worse, the others knew it as well.
He wasn’t that much against the killing of Joe Benson; after all, he had no sympathy for the old man, who had been nothing to him, and done nothing for him. Old Joe lived alone, like a hermit in the bayou, and had very little contact with anyone else, so it mattered little if he disappeared. And there was the reward they would eventually be able to claim, now that the old man was out of the way. Jasper had told them about the secret Joe had kept for years, the fortune he was sitting on. The old man never really made the most of it, so it really was a total waste. So why couldn’t they just have it themselves? It wasn’t as if Joe would miss it anyway.
But Old Joe refused Jasper’s demands, and in no uncertain terms had made it very clear that he would never accept any offer. So there was no other way for Jasper and his gang to get what they wanted but to get rid of him. That proved easy enough to do, and it would not have been so bad if there had not been a witness to the killing. That’s where everything started going badly.
Unlike to the others, Johnny never was that sure that the stranger would make such a good patsy. Sure, he was amnesiac, and nobody knew him, and the sheriff did seem satisfied that he had a culprit – although Johnny had a strong feeling that Masters didn’t entirely believe Jasper’s version of events. And the guy was supposed to be dead, so he couldn’t really defend himself. But that was the problem: the guy wasn’t dead. He freakishly seemed to ‘revive’ in the morgue, taking everyone by surprise, and throwing a wrench into Jasper’s plans. And then, it looked like the stranger was wanted by Spectrum. Johnny didn’t know for what reason, and quite frankly, he didn’t care.
Things kept going from
bad to worse from there. They were forced to get rid of the sheriff –
Both were unwanted witnesses, and both needed to disappear; Johnny couldn’t deny that fact. But he didn’t like that they were roaming free, and could, at any moment, encounter anyone to whom they might tell their story. However unlikely that story seemed, there was the risk that it would be believed. What would Jasper do, then – make these new witnesses disappear as well? The way things were going, Johnny had no doubt that it was Jasper’s solution for everything. He hadn’t hesitated one minute to give Johnny a gun with instructions to use it if he should need to.
When it came to standing back and watching as someone else did the killing, Johnny had little problem with that – as long as there was no risk of him getting the blame for it. But to actually murder someone himself… Johnny had yet to make that step. However, if he had to do it to prove his worth to the rest of the gang, he would; he didn’t have to like it, but he would get his hands dirty as well.
When he reached the site by the river, where they had left the sheriff’s car along with what remained of the ORVs, Johnny stopped to consider his next action. He decided to first check on the bikes, assessing the damage done to them. Jamie’s machine had been totalled by the shotgun discharge, and would never be repaired, whatever amount of work was done to it. There was a wheel missing, and Johnny even wondered how the hell he would be able to move it. He imagined that the best he could do was to cover it up or push it into the river, if he was even strong enough to make it budge.
As for the other ORVs, they still had wheels, and so it would be easy enough to push them onto the road, walk them some distance away and hide them. Johnny knew of a pond of dark water nearby, and it looked like a perfect place to throw them in. Cleaning up their traces wouldn’t be too difficult either. Brushing the dusty road with branches should take care of any imprint left by the machines’ tires.
His decision of what do to with the ORVs made, Johnny turned his attention to the sheriff’s car. The boot was open, so he checked the contents out. There wasn’t much in it, except for a gasoline container, and an empty rack, which was obviously intended to hold a rifle. In his mind’s eye, Johnny recalled how the red-haired girl had appeared from behind the car with her shotgun, and he thought he’d figured out where she had got that weapon.
Johnny eyed the gas container. ‘Destroy the evidence’, Jasper had said. Suddenly, the young man knew exactly how he would do that. He pulled the container out of the boot, and weighed it in his hand; it was almost full. He grunted with satisfaction. He had a lighter in his pocket; setting the car alight would be the best way to make sure there was nothing incriminating to be found in it. And the surrounding area was moist enough to prevent a fire propagating further than the clearing itself.
He opened the container, and started splashing its contents into the boot and then all over the car, while quickly walking around it.
When he had nearly completed a circuit of the car, he reached the open front door and stopped his splashing, casting a curious eye inside; there was something lying on the passenger seat. It was an empty folder, and Johnny could see the papers it used to contain spread out on the floor. He put the now half-empty container onto the ground and leaned into the car to take the documents, curious to know what they could be. He found a medical report, signed by Doc Evers, as well as black and white mug shots of the man his friends were hunting. He tried to read the report, but couldn’t make anything out of it; not only did the doctor’s handwriting leave a lot to be desired, but the words aligned on the paper made no sense to him at all.
As he was still trying to read, Johnny noticed a large brown paper bag on the floor; he picked it up and put it onto the seat to check what was in it. He found a big transparent plastic bag, containing clothes – some kind of camouflage costume, like those worn by hunters. There was an awful smell pervading them, and by what Johnny could see, they were in pretty bad shape, with tears all over the place, and dark stains that the boy could only presume were blood. He grimaced and threw the plastic bag aside.
He went on with his examination of the bag’s contents; there were still a few items in there, all individually packed in smaller transparent bags. There was a broken compass that Johnny snorted at. In another bag, there was what looked like dog tags, similar to those worn by Army guys. Johnny could see a tiny round logo printed on one of them, but it was so damaged that he couldn’t figure out what it could be exactly. He shrugged it off, negligently tossed it away onto the back seat and continued his investigation.
As Johnny’s hand reached inside the bag for the next item – a tiny box that was lying at the bottom – he heard a sound behind him, like a twig snapping under a heavy step; he stopped his searching instantly and was about to turn around, when something cold came to rest against the nape of his neck, and he heard the click of a hammer being cocked. He froze.
“Don’t make a single move, boy, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
Johnny blanched and his heart started to beat wildly. Someone grabbed him by the shoulder to extract him from the car, and he instantly let go of the bag, which landed on the floor. He was pushed against the hood, where he landed roughly, and he felt hands frisking him none too gently, to finally relieve him of his gun.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. What are you doing with artillery like that?” he heard the same voice as before. “And you didn’t even have the safety on. You know you could hurt yourself, just by carrying it that way?”
Hands turned him around and again, he was roughly pushed against the car, but this time, facing his assailants. They were two men, stone-faced, dressed in camouflage uniform. They were heavily armed, like soldiers would be. Johnny was shaking in his boots; whoever they were, they looked dangerous to him, and the cold way they were staring at him didn’t bode very well. He also didn’t like the fact that they were wearing the same kind of clothing as those he had just found, and which he suspected belonged to that O’Hara guy.
While the first man, tall and slim, was putting his own gun back into his holster to aim Johnny’s gun under the young man’s nose, the other one, standing just behind his companion, was shaking the gasoline container. Johnny could hear the hollow splashing of the liquid against the metallic surface.
“What were you planning with this, boy?” the man asked casually. “Something naughty, no doubt…”
Johnny swallowed hard. “Who are you?”
“We are asking the questions, boy,” the man facing him snapped so roughly that it made Johnny jump. “Tell us about the man who was in that car.”
“The man who was the sheriff’s prisoner. The stranger who got arrested for murder.” There was a dangerous glow in the man’s now narrowed eyes. “Where is he?”
“How the hell should I know?” Johnny replied, trying to keep his aplomb.
The soldier stepped forward, squarely levelling the gun between Johnny’s eyes. The boy tried to step back, out of fear, but his back was already against the car behind him.
“Don’t play with me, kid. Seeing as you were about to set fire to that car, I’m pretty sure you know whom I’m talking about. You will tell me you don’t know what happened here either?”
Despite his fear, Johnny found in himself the courage to deny everything. “That’s right – I don’t know. Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“That’s why you’re trying to destroy the evidence?” the other man said, waving the gasoline container. “Aren’t you the smart-ass…”
“Is one of these yours?” the taller man asked again, nodding in the direction of the closest ORV.
“No,” Johnny replied quickly.
“You’re lying,” the first man remarked quietly. He took aim. Johnny paled and his jaw dropped. “If you know what’s good for you –”
“Don’t shoot!” Johnny closed his eyes, almost panicking. “All right, all right… There was an accident… The sheriff’s car went off road. His prisoner killed him and ran off into the swamp!”
“Ain’t it the truth?” the second man muttered.
“Shut up, Baxter,” his companion growled. “So Scarlet killed the sheriff, kid?”
“Yeah – yeah, that’s the guy’s name… He killed him… In cold blood. I saw it!”
“Did you? And he escaped all on his own?”
“He had an accomplice who helped him.” Johnny opened his eyes to stare at the tall man with the implacable face.
“Who?” the man insisted.
Johnny nodded nervously. “A girl… A pretty girl… with red hair.”
“The Angel,” Baxter spat. “I told you she would be trouble, Major.”
“Angel?” Johnny repeated, stuttering.
“You were not alone,” the major moved on. “You had friends. You didn’t ride all of these bikes on your own. Where are they?”
Johnny hesitated, unsure how to continue his story.
“And what happened to these bikes?” the man continued with insistence. “How did they end up this way?”
As Johnny continued to keep his mouth shut, Baxter snorted with derision.
“This kid obviously knows more than he’s letting on,” he said. “If you give me a minute with him, Major, I’ll make sure he’ll tell us everything we want to know.”
Johnny paled, but the slim man standing in front of him shook his head at the suggestion. “That won’t be necessary, Sergeant.” He looked straight at the trembling Johnny. “You’re afraid of us, aren’t you, lad?”
“I have a gun aimed in my face…” Johnny swallowed hard. “Who wouldn’t be afraid?”
“Point taken.” The major nodded, and lowered the gun, but only slightly. That was enough to give Johnny some courage.
“Who are you people, anyway?” he asked abruptly. “What are you doing here?”
Major Philip Montgomery
glared at the frightened young man standing in front of him. He was everything
“We’re asking the
questions here, lad. Not you,”
Johnny nodded vigorously in answer.
“Into the swamp? Wouldn’t they head to town instead?”
“No, they went up river.” Johnny nodded towards the violent stream running beside them. “They stole a boat, but they surely didn’t go far with it.”
“How can you tell?”
Johnny shrugged. “It was McCullen’s boat they stole. McCullen never leaves much fuel in the tank, ‘cause he knows people would be taking rides in it for free. Everybody knows that.”
The latter shrugged. “Scarlet – killing the sheriff in cold blood? That part doesn’t compute, Major. But for the rest… I think some of what the kid says is true… If Scarlet is back in the swamp, it’ll be easier for us to get him there. Not as many unwanted witnesses around than there would have been in town. And as long as he or the Angel hasn’t made contact with his base…”
“According to our last
“You’re after them too, then?” Johnny asked, his curiosity suddenly stronger than his fears and his good sense to keep quiet.
“The law, of course,” Johnny added quickly, realising he might have said too much. “He killed a man already – that’s why the sheriff had him in custody. And now that he killed the sheriff too – the townsfolk at Les Arbrisseaux will want his skin.”
“I doubt very much that
people in town already know about the sheriff’s demise,”
“You’re not telling me the truth. Or at least, you’re not telling me everything. Something else happened here, that you and your friends were involved in. We caught you as you were preparing to destroy the evidence and that tells me you don’t have a clear conscience.”
“Where are your friends
Johnny couldn’t stop
himself from shaking; he didn’t answer, and
“I can still make him talk, Major.”
Johnny became even paler
than before, seeing the evil glow in the man’s eye. But just as Baxter was about to put his hands
“You know the swamp well, son?”
“Well enough.” Johnny eyed the military man suspiciously. “Why d’you ask?”
“I was thinking that maybe you would be able to help us.”
Johnny opened his eyes wide with surprise. “Me… help you? How?”
“That should be easy to understand. We don’t know this swamp, but it’s easy to see that someone could hide there for days, before they could be found. And there are many dangers all around the place that we wish to avoid while we search. Since you seem to know your way around… you could be our guide.”
“Are you deaf as well as dumb, boy?” Baxter snapped at him irritably.
Johnny swallowed hard
under the remonstrance. He found the courage to ask the question that was
burning his lips, addressing
“They have something of ours – something of great value that we want to retrieve. If your friends kill them – and I believe that’s what they’re planning to do – we won’t be able to get what we want.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes. “So by that, I think you mean… you need me, right?”
Johnny pondered this a moment. “What’s in it for me?” he finally asked.
“You mean as a reward?”
“Yeah… You asked me to help you, so I think that I should deserve –”
“I’m not saying I’m asking you, boy,”
“It’ll be night soon. You know, it ain’t safe to go into the swamp at night… Too many dangers.”
“You’ll tell us you’re
afraid of the dark, lad?”
“The swamp is dangerous at night,” Johnny insisted. “It’s not called Devil’s Bayou for nothin’. Nobody with any common sense will venture into it after dark. It'll be suicide. Everybody around here knows that. You’re not from these parts, you said so yourselves. So you’d better take my word for it.”
“At night?” Johnny snorted. “Even they’re not that stupid. They’ll set up camp somewhere and wait until morning to continue their search. And if your Scarlet guy and his girlfriend don’t do the same, they’ll be goners. They’ll end up at the bottom of a pit or in the jaws of a ‘gator, that’s for sure.”
“Kid seems to be talking sense here, Major,” Baxter approved. “He has some good points.”
“All right then,”
“I’m not sure I should trust you, man,” Johnny replied. “I haven’t said ‘yes’, yet.”
“You will trust me,”
Johnny froze and became white as a sheet; he didn’t even have time to cry out, before Major Montgomery pulled the trigger.
The single detonation rang through the swamp, and the impact drove Johnny’s limp body back; it fell into the car and slumped onto the back seat. The young man was dead long before the echo of the shot faded into the distance.
“Call back Petroski,” he instructed. “It’s not necessary for him to check the town any more, since Scarlet is not there. And we will need everyone to track him and the Angel down.”
Baxter nodded. Having been sent barely an hour earlier to scout ahead and survey Les Arbrisseaux before they would reach it, Petroski wouldn’t take much time to rejoin them. “We may have to consider that Scarlet is not amnesiac anymore, Major,” Baxter remarked. “Knowing him, he might have healed from that by now. And as the Angel’s with him now, she probably helped him remember.”
“That was a good idea,” he commented, turning to Baxter. “Light it. Get rid of the evidence.”
“Sure…” Baxter said casually. “I imagine I shouldn’t bother with the bikes, though?”
“It’s not necessary, no.”
Baxter took his lighter from his vest pocket, and lit it, before nodding casually in the direction of the footsteps he could hear coming from behind him. “And what about him?”
“Am I correct in assuming that now you will answer all my questions – and that you will help us willingly?”
The new Mysteron agent wearing the face of Johnny Monroe simply nodded at the question, as a cold and evil smile slowly spread on his lips.
* * *
“Why don’t you have anybody in your life?”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes at the sound of her companion’s query. Following their near-miss encounter with the WAAF helicopter, she and Scarlet had started walking again, in the hope of reaching Joe’s cabin before nightfall. Scarlet had stayed mostly silent, letting her lead the way, and this time, refraining from complaining as he had done during the first half of their trek through the swamp. These were his first words in nearly an hour; she wondered if she didn’t prefer him complaining than asking a personal question like that.
She felt highly annoyed.
“I never said I didn’t – and I don’t see why it’s any of your business.” She didn’t turn around when she answered, but by the sound of his voice when next he spoke, she understood he was a bit surprised by her harsh reply. And certainly contrite enough.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude in your private life.” He casually rested the shotgun on his shoulder. “I just thought… well, since you said we were friends…”
“We are,” Rhapsody answered swiftly. She then hesitated slightly. “But I don’t think that friends should ask questions like that.”
“Again, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” Rhapsody heard his steps hurrying from behind, and he came up beside her. The path was widening, allowing them to now walk side by side. She didn’t look at him, as he continued: “I’m just… Well, there’s something I don’t quite get.”
She wondered what he meant by that; although it didn’t seem very wise to raise to the challenge, she replied, “A woman like me, you said… What did you mean?”
“Well, you’re a strikingly beautiful woman…” She waved the remark aside, but he insisted: “No, really, you are. I’m sure you realise that. I naturally assumed that you would be romantically involved with a man.” Scarlet looked at her, but she didn’t look back. “Is that not the case?” he asked carefully.
Rhapsody shook her head. “I don’t really have the time for romance in my life at the moment,” she replied emphatically.
“Romantic involvements between colleagues are frowned upon on Cloudbase.”
“That sounds like an answer drilled into you.”
“Those are the rules. There isn’t much that can be done about them.”
Scarlet chuckled, almost despite himself. “Now which imbecile thought of rules like that, and imagined that normal people would stick to them? I may be amnesiac, but I’m not stupid.” His comment made a smile appear on Rhapsody’s lips, but she quickly wiped it away, hoping he had not noticed. She was pretty sure he had, anyway, when she heard his next question: “Do I have someone in my life?”
“No,” she answered with a shake of her head.
The reply had been swift, which again seemed to render Scarlet perplexed. “No? That sounds very definite. Are you sure?”
“If you were involved with someone, I’m pretty sure I would know.” Rhapsody bit her lip. Now why did I have to say that?
It was, of course, too late.
“Why? Am I the kind of man who has the habit of laying out his private life – or conquests – for everyone to know and see?” He mused on it and shrugged. “Not that I think I am…”
“You’re not,” Rhapsody said, offering him what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
She caught then the way he was looking at her, and quickly averted her eyes. She started walking faster, as if trying to put some distance between herself and her colleague; before she could get very far, he seized her by the arm and stopped her in her tracks, forcing her to turn to him; it wasn’t a brutal gesture, and he wasn’t holding her too forcibly. When she faced him, annoyed, she found him smiling, with that roguish kind of smile that sometimes could either disarm her or infuriate her.
She didn’t quite know where to stand, when he spoke again:
“If you know that much, then it must mean that you do feel something for me, I reckon.”
“I’ve never said that,” she replied bluntly.
“If I know that much, it’s simply because everyone on Cloudbase has noticed how hard you’ve been working these last few months.”
He looked at her sceptically. “So I’ve been working so hard that I couldn’t find time to spend with someone?”
No, Rhapsody reflected inwardly. There was something else. But what could she tell him? She couldn’t very well say that from what she’d been able to gather, he didn’t seem to want to get involved in a romantic relationship with a woman because of his condition. Not that she agreed with that – she did not, in fact, and found it profoundly ridiculous. She preferred not to say anything at this point and simply looked back at him in silence.
“You actually haven’t said either that you don’t feel anything for me,” he continued, more as a remark than as a question. “The way you responded to my holding you earlier –”
“I pushed you away,” she reminded him.
Scarlet conceded that fact. “Because you said it was a bad idea at the time, and I admit that it was, considering our current situation. But before you pushed me away… you didn’t seem to mind that much.” The intensity in his blue eyes seemed to glow just a little brighter, and that made Rhapsody uncomfortable. “I would even say that you might not be… that indifferent towards me?”
Rhapsody raised a brow. “If I gave you that impression –”
“You did. But –” Scarlet stopped, hesitating.
Rhapsody scrutinized him. “There’s something else, isn’t it?” she asked suspiciously. “Where did the impulse to kiss me come from, exactly?”
He chewed on his bottom
lip. “Remember just before that helicopter appeared?” he said. “The dizzy spell I had? I was having another flashback. And not of
Now that’s interesting, Rhapsody thought. “What kind of flashback?”
“About us.” Scarlet pointed to himself and then at her. “You and me. I saw us. We were kissing.”
He noticed her swift blink of surprise; but she quickly picked up the ball. “Friends do kiss from time to time, you know.”
It was his turn to raise a sceptical brow. “The kind of kiss I remembered?” He shook his head. “Uh-uh. I don’t think so.” He waited for an answer and received none; if he hoped her eyes would betray her thoughts, he was disappointed. She was just looking back at him in silence. He frowned. “Are you sure we’re just friends?”
“You’re jumping to conclusions,” Rhapsody finally answered, in a poised and calm voice, as a thought came to her mind. “Tell me – in that flashback of yours – how were you dressed?”
“Dressed?” he asked with a frown.
“What were you wearing? Do you remember?”
“I don’t know… Well… It certainly wasn’t the same tunic as your Captain Blue.”
“I guess.” Scarlet made an effort to recall the image he had seen earlier. “All I can remember now is a red sweater… Yes, I was wearing a red sweater. A woollen sweater. And you…” He scratched his head. “Something white… maybe you were in uniform…”
“I see.” Rhapsody nodded. “Was there a Christmas tree? Some mistletoe hanging over us?”
He stared at her, unsure, frowning as if trying to recall something of what she was describing. He stopped quickly, as he feared a headache might come to interrupt the present discussion. “I’m not sure… Maybe.”
“Last Christmas, you were ill, and rather down – for some reason. I gave you a gift, a book, hoping it would raise your spirits. When you finally got through your bad patch, and decided to join the Christmas celebrations, you kissed me – I imagine, as a way of thanking me.” Rhapsody smiled lightly. “I remember the woollen sweater. It was a very nice sweater and you told me about it: it was a gift from your Mum, a few years back. You always wear it around Christmas, because you think it’s kind of Christmassy.”
“So that would just be it, then? I simply gave you that kiss… to thank you?” Scarlet seemed perplexed – and still doubtful.
“I admit it was a pretty intense kiss. But then again, you never do anything by halves.”
“Look…” Scarlet sighed and lowered his gaze. “Whatever that kiss was meant to be… I didn’t kiss you earlier just out of gratitude. I would be lying if I denied feeling strongly attracted to you. And I thought, by the way you responded to me…” He let the rest hang and looked at her, waiting for an answer.
Rhapsody drew a deep breath. “I’m afraid it’s all my fault. Your attention was quite flattering, I can’t deny that. But further than that… there isn’t anything between us.”
She smiled, seeing him suddenly awkward, as he stood in front of her. He suddenly looked akin to a shy schoolboy. She gently reached to touch his arm.
Scarlet tensed, and uneasily looked back at her; he wasn’t so sure he had jumped to conclusions, as she was implying. There definitely was something between them, he was almost certain of it, and the electricity he could feel pass between them at the mere touch of her hand was enough to make him believe he was right. He had not dreamt the way she had abandoned herself to his embrace earlier. She was as attracted to him as he was to her. But why would she deny it now? Was it only because of those stupid rules she mentioned? Somehow he doubted it was the case.
And that thing she had said… about her taking advantage… What did she mean by that exactly? She wouldn’t want to get further involved with him because he was amnesiac?
Damn your conscience, girl… What if I wanted you to?
He breathed out, slowly.
“All right,” he finally said, looking closely at her, watching for her reactions, “if you say so, I will accept your explanations… however far-fetched they might sound.”
He quickly interrupted her before she could protest further: “For now, anyway. But I certainly won’t forget to come back to the charge with that question…” He smiled, almost wickedly. “… At a more appropriate time.”
Rhapsody frowned deeply, annoyed at these words. He sounded as if he didn’t believe her. Her temper rose. “See here, Captain, you would be wasting your time if –”
But Scarlet wasn’t listening to her. He seemed somehow distracted and wasn’t even looking at her, but over his head, fixing a point in the distance. “Dianne…”
Rhapsody wasn’t about to allow him to interrupt her. “Now, Captain, you really should give me the courtesy to speak so I would explain to you that –”
“Rhapsody,” he said insistently, “I think you should look behind you.”
Scarlet took her by the shoulder and gently coerced her to turn around.
She saw, not that far away from where they stood, an old, man-made, wooden construction. A cabin, half hidden behind the trees.
“Joe’s cabin?” she asked her companion.
Scarlet shook his head. “I can’t say for sure.”
He narrowed his eyes as they stepped forward and emerged from behind the trees to stand in the small clearing. The cabin did look like what he remembered of Joe’s place… And there, closer still, he saw the outline of a smaller wooden building. Listening carefully, he heard a very distinctive sound.
Scarlet then nodded. “There’s a river nearby… And I remember that shed over there. Joe was cutting wood not far from it when he got killed. So that’s got to be it.”
“So we’ve reached our destination,” Rhapsody said, heaving a deep sigh. “Finally. Do you recall if there’s any kind of communication in there? Something we can use to call Spectrum?”
“Probably.” Scarlet shrugged. “Remember, Joe alerted the sheriff after he found me? He might have had a radio, or a phone. Mobile, maybe, as I don’t see a land-line.”
“Then maybe we’ll find that as well and see the end of this dreadful adventure,” Rhapsody said, turning to Scarlet with an encouraging smile. “Come then. It’s time to collect our prize.”
Scarlet smiled in answer and just as they took their first steps towards the cabin, coming out from under the shade of the trees to step more into the open, he heard something that made him tense. He stopped and took Rhapsody’s arm, compelling her to stop in turn. She turned a curious gaze at him.
“What is it?” she asked, spying the apprehensive expression on his face.
“Shh,” he said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Listen.” He leaned his head to the side, brow furrowed and looked around, pricking up his ears. “I heard something.”
Rhapsody became alert. Amnesiac or not, Captain Scarlet would not joke about a thing like that. She scanned the area with her eyes, listening carefully.
“I don’t hear anyth–”
She was cut short, as Scarlet roughly pushed her aside. She stumbled, and heard something fast whistling by her ear; almost instantaneously, she saw the object strike her companion in the left shoulder. The force of the impact was such that it pushed Scarlet off his feet and he hit the ground on his back with a force that knocked all the breath out of him. The shotgun flew from his hand to fall some distance from him. The Angel pilot froze momentarily.
“Paul!” Her first move was to rush to him, but she only took two paces before stopping, upon seeing the fletching of an arrow sticking out from where he had been struck. Instantly realising there was still danger, and that she might become the next target, she threw herself down on the ground, and slithered towards the fallen shotgun, trying to convince herself that Scarlet would be all right for the time being and that her first priority was to protect both of them from the invisible foe attacking them.
He didn’t stay invisible for long; just as she was about to reach the gun, a booted foot viciously stamped on her hand. She cried out in pain and raised her head to look straight into the cold eyes of Scarecrow.
“Hi, girlie,” he said with a malevolent smile. “Thought you had seen the last of us, didn’t ya?”
Saying these words, the boy raised his foot with the intention of kicking Rhapsody under the chin. She saw it coming and she instinctively protected her face with her free arm. The foot connected with her forearm, with less force than Scarecrow intended, but it was violent enough to send the young woman rolling on her side, half-stunned.
With bleary eyes, she saw a second youth coming out of the woods, carrying a crossbow and whooping with joy over his victory.
“I’ve got him! I’ve finally got him, that son of a bitch!”
Jamie Lewis pranced over to where Scarlet lay on his back and delivered a violent kick, which drew no reaction from the victim, except for a low moan; he took aim again with his crossbow, intending to finish him off. This sight gave Rhapsody the strength to attempt to rise in order to intervene. But Scarecrow, swiftly dropping on his knees behind her, picked up the shotgun and passed it over her head, pressing the barrel across her throat and pulling her back. She choked, reached for the weapon with both hands, and fought back to free herself, but to no avail. She watched, helplessly, as Jamie released his new bolt, straight into his victim’s chest. Scarlet’s body shivered under the impact, before falling back motionless to the ground.
“That takes care of the freak.” The struggle between Rhapsody and Scarecrow had not escaped Jamie. Dismissing the now silent and still Scarlet, he lowered his crossbow and turned all of his attention to the young woman, sneering evilly. “Now, as for you… ”
He casually crossed the short distance between them, and threw his crossbow to the ground, obviously finding no use for it anymore. Instead, he pulled a jack-knife from his pocket, and then crouched in front of Rhapsody, clicking it open and flashing the blade before her eyes.
“Fancy finding you here, doll,” he said casually. “Now I wonder… why did you and your boyfriend come back to this God-forsaken place when you could have headed toward civilisation? You were here for Joe’s treasure as well, weren’t ya? The old man told the freak about it and you wanted to beat us to it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, you murdering little creep,” Rhapsody said between clenched teeth.
“You’re lying,” Jamie retorted. “We heard you, ‘Crow and I. You said you wanted to collect the prize. Well, you can think again, bitch. The prize is ours and you’re not gonna get it. We haven’t found it yet, but it’s only a question of time before we do. As for you, well… maybe, if we feel inclined to, we’ll let you live just long enough for you to get a look at it.”
When the knife came to rest on her cheek, Rhapsody stopped struggling; she glared with fury at the young man.
“I won’t make it easy or quick for you, bitch,” Jamie said between his teeth. “You destroyed my bike, and I promised myself I was gonna make you pay for it… And I’m gonna take my sweet time enjoying it.”
His eyes changed focus and lit with covetousness, as he lowered his knife to rest it casually against one of her breasts; the smile on his lips became a crooked one. His intentions were painfully clear.
“Hang on, Jamie,” Scarecrow then said from behind her. “We should call the others. Jasper said –”
“Screw Jasper!” Jamie snapped angrily. “He might kill her before we get a chance to have a piece of her.” He paused a second. “Beside,” he added, “it might make him a bit suspicious to know we found them here, so near Joe’s place. He’ll wonder why we were here to begin with, and might get idea that we intended to double-cross him for the dough.”
“But we just wanted to have a first look for it, didn’t we?” Scarecrow retorted.
“Yeah, ‘Crow… Like you say.” Jamie chuckled. “Come on, ‘Crow… We can have some fun with her before we call the others, and then, that’ll make no difference, one way or the other.” He raised his eyes over Rhapsody’s shoulder to look into his friend’s face. “I can see it in your eyes, ’Crow. You want it as much as I do.”
As Scarecrow was considering his companion’s words and his mind was sidetracked, Rhapsody felt his grip relax, ever so slightly. Without either of the boys noticing it, she surreptitiously changed her position, and was able to slide her fingers behind the gun barrel, and her hold became firmer. All the while, she continued to glare coldly at Jamie Lewis. She had no intention of giving him the satisfaction of seeing any fear in her eyes.
He saw the way she was looking at him, and he cackled evilly.
“Tough broad, aren’t you?” he said. He lowered his knife, and his free hand came up to fondle her.
Rhapsody gritted her teeth, loathing the touch of his hand on her body, and trying to ignore it. There was a far more important consideration in her mind now: the knife wasn’t threatening her anymore; she could make her move. She took a deep breath, preparing herself.
“Tougher than you, creeps!” she seethed between her teeth.
The words had barely flown from her lips than she violently jerked her head backwards, and hit Scarecrow dead on the nose; he yelled in pain, and his hold on the gun relaxed completely. Using all of her strength, Rhapsody pushed the weapon straight into Jamie’s face.
The latter didn’t even have the chance to gather his wits back and use his knife. Under the suddenness of her attack, he only thought of backing away to avoid the barrel, and raised his hands in an attempt to protect himself. The gun knocked his knife out of his fingers. He lost his footing and fell back, desperately taking hold of the gun at the same time. He pulled Rhapsody down with him, as she didn’t want to let go.
The Spectrum Angel was fighting like a she-devil, and it was all the boy could do to keep her from getting complete control of the gun, all the while protecting himself from her wild kicks. Only a few paces behind her, Jamie could see Scarecrow holding his bleeding nose and moaning piteously. He didn’t seem inclined to offer any help.
“Get her off me, ‘Crow!” Jamie shouted, his voice mixed with anger and desperation. “Don’t let her take the gun!”
Finally shaking himself, Scarecrow took but one step towards the two fighters.
Rhapsody just had the time to glance and see him coming; she felt his arms as they wrapped around her waist and pulled her up. She stamped on his toes, and that made him let go almost immediately, but it was enough time for Jamie to decide to change his strategy. Instead of pulling, he pushed the gun’s barrel towards her; she was so surprised, that she failed to guard herself efficiently, and it was by pure luck that he hit her over the brow, so violently that she saw stars. With a victorious shout, Jamie struck her again, this time with more strength. That made her let go of the gun she had been so desperate to get, and she fell back and sprawled on the ground. Her mind clouded.
Jamie quickly scrambled to his feet, stumbling as he did so. “Bitch!” he yelled, standing over the now motionless Rhapsody, and pumping the gun. “I’ll blow your head off and be done with it!”
He didn’t even have time to take aim, as suddenly, a strong hand pulled him from behind and made him spin on his heels; he just had the time to see a fist coming at his face, before he felt the pain of its full impact. The gun was forcibly torn from his hands as he fell to the ground.
Stunned, Jamie shook himself and looked up – and opened his eyes wide with astonishment upon seeing the man he thought he had previously killed standing awkwardly between him and the unconscious girl, the shotgun now at his feet.
“Don’t you come near her!” Scarlet warned angrily.
Jamie could only watch, barely believing his eyes; with two arrows stuck in his body, the stranger was still alive and standing on his own two feet. And he seemed quite determined to protect his woman.
Scarlet swayed on his feet, but it was not as hard to stand as it was to think. He had trouble using his left arm; the first arrow he had received, stuck in his shoulder, hurt every time he tried to move. His right hand reached it; he could feel the hard tip there, just beneath his skin; it wasn’t stuck very deep. His fingers curled around the arrow and he pulled hard, gritting his teeth against the pain. He gave a low grunt as the arrow emerged from his flesh.
Jamie’s eyes grew wider at the scene, and he watched, slack-jawed, as Scarlet glared at him with righteous anger burning in his now feverish eyes. The young man was frozen into place.
“Oh Hell… He’s still alive…” That was Scarecrow’s whimper, and glancing over his shoulder, Jamie could see that his companion was staring at Scarlet with the same astonishment in his eyes. Furthermore, he looked completely horrified. “That guy ain’t human…”
“Certainly more human than you,” Scarlet replied harshly in a stressed voice, causing Jamie to turn his attention back to him. He threw the blood-covered arrow to the ground with a disgusted gesture. “You boys should find a new pastime, other than trying to kill people.” He took one threatening step, overcoming the pain from his injuries. “I have had quite enough of you all.”
Scarecrow gasped loudly at the sound of this ominous threat and Jamie looked back in time to see his already terrified companion bolting away behind the trees. Jamie thought it was the best idea Scarecrow ever had in his life, and decided he should do the same. He didn’t want to be the only on whom the freak exacted his vengeance. He swiftly scrambled to his feet to take the same direction, shouting after Scarecrow to wait for him.
He reached the trees, and noticed Scarecrow rounding a huge, fallen, dead trunk, before darting to the right as fast as his legs could carry him. Afraid that Scarlet would be giving chase, Jamie glanced over his shoulder, just as he jumped over the trunk. Too late he realised why Scarecrow had decided to go round it, as his feet hit the ground and he felt the mud closing around his ankles: he had completely forgotten the pond of quicksand just on the other side. He yelled in horror, stumbled forward, and quickly sank to his waist.
“Help!” he shouted, his heart pounding. “’Crow! Come back! I’m stuck!”
He saw Scarecrow slowing down just a little and looking in his direction; for a split second, Jamie thought that his friend might actually return to help him out. But he could only see the terror in his eyes, even from this distance, and then Scarecrow turned around and ran away, disappearing quickly behind the trees.
“No!” In despair, Jamie could feel himself sinking even deeper. From behind, he heard movement, and as he turned around, he saw the stranger emerge from the bushes and stop as he reached the dead tree, to look at the young man’s predicament. Jamie turned pleading eyes on him. “Don’t leave me in here, man! Please, get me out!”
Scarlet froze for a moment. He was torn between the temptation of leaving the boy to the fate he so richly deserved, and his conscience, faced with the deadly danger threatening the life of another human being. His hesitation lasted only a brief second, and he shook himself; he rounded the trunk of the dead tree, trying to get closer to the boy who was still sinking, and was now up to his armpits.
“Help me!” Jamie bellowed desperately. “I beg you!”
“Calm down,” Scarlet called to him in a stern voice. “I will help you. Just don’t move and try to calm yourself.”
“Please, man… I don’t wanna die!”
Scarlet frowned. Joe Benson didn’t want to die either… and neither did the sheriff. Nor that young woman this cowardly boy wanted to have his way with before he murdered her.
“I told you to stay calm.” Scarlet came to stand at the very edge of the quicksand. He looked around, looking for something to throw the boy; he didn’t have a belt, and he doubted that Jamie would be able to undo his in time. He found the solid low branch of a tree, to which he anchored himself with his right hand and he leaned over the pond, as close to the boy as he could. His left foot slipped in, but he found solid ground underneath it and leaned closer, stretching out his left arm towards Jamie. He grunted. The wound in his shoulder was making it difficult, and he still had a bolt high in his chest, impeding his movement. He couldn’t reach as far as he normally would.
“Reach out for my hand,” he instructed the boy, between clenched teeth. “Come on… try to catch it!”
With his right arm heavy with mud, Jamie was frantically stretching as far as he could; he was now up to his neck and kept on sinking. His fingers touched Scarlet’s, and the latter made another effort to catch him. When both their hands hooked, and Jamie held on with a strength born of desperation, it sent a wave of pain through Scarlet’s shoulder and he cried out in pain, his vision blurring momentarily.
“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Jamie cried victoriously. “Don’t let go, please!”
Scarlet shook his head to regain his vision, and held on. “I can’t pull you... Hang on tight. Try to come to me.”
“Man, I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I swear to you, I’ll make it up to you… I’ll tell everything… I’ll tell everyone the truth…” Jamie was now crying; out of gratitude, out of fear, probably both. Scarlet couldn’t decide, and frankly he didn’t care. He was just too disgusted.
“Just hold on,” he said between his teeth. “You’re not out of the woods yet…”
Slowly, Jamie was making his way towards him, but the mud was obviously pulling him down and it was a tiring effort for both the boy and the man trying to save him, just to keep him from sinking beneath. All this exertion was hurting Scarlet, and he could feel the sweat dripping down his face. His hands were sweaty; he wasn’t sure how long he would be able to hold on, either to the branch anchoring him to the safe ground, or to Jamie’s hand; he hoped the boy would be able to get out soon.
And then, his left foot skidded deeper into the quicksand and the hand he was holding slipped out of his grip; he heard the desperate and terrified cry from Jamie. He tried to reach for the hand again, and was about to catch it, when suddenly, he felt strong arms catching him from behind and pulling him back brutally, making him let go of the bough he had been holding on to. As he fell on his rear, the last he knew of Jamie Lewis was the sight of his terrorized face as he disappeared into the quicksand, and the sound of his scream just before it drowned under the muddy surface.
“No!” Scarlet crawled on hands and knees to reach the side of the pond, but it was already far too late. His heart sank; he looked at the disturbed, but empty, surface of the quicksand that had swallowed the boy, searching for an answer, trying to comprehend exactly what had just happened.
Someone had just prevented him from saving the young man, but who –
He saw a pair of booted feet appear by his side.
“Don’t feel sorry for the boy, Scarlet. As I understand it, he really wasn’t worth your efforts.”
Scarlet raised his head at the sound of this callous voice. The man standing there was wearing a camouflage military uniform, and his face, although young and unseasoned, was looking down at him with a coldness that matched his earlier words. A cruel smile spread on his lips, and then he kicked Scarlet in the chest; the impact made the bolt shift. Scarlet cried out in pain, and he fell on his back, fortunately at a safe distance from the quicksand pond. Reaching for his wound with his left hand, he looked at the approaching soldier with dazed eyes. A sudden pang of pain hit him between the eyes. He blinked several times.
This young man’s face was familiar…
“I… I know you…”
The man pulled Scarlet up to his feet and brutally punched him in the stomach, before thrusting him beyond the bushes, back into the spot where he and Rhapsody had been attacked. Scarlet rolled onto his side, trying to protect his wound and fell on his back again. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Rhapsody lying motionless in the mud, just a short distance from him, her face turned to the other side. She was still unconscious from Jamie’s earlier blow. For a brief moment, concern that she might be seriously hurt crossed his mind, but he didn’t have much time to dwell on it. The young soldier had approached, and was now standing over him.
“Make an effort to remember, Scarlet. I’m sure you can do better than that.”
There was a flash before Scarlet’s eyes, and suddenly, his head threatened to split, as an image appeared in his mind.
He saw a gun, in the hand of the man Rhapsody had
Scarlet saw him lying at his feet, dead, his eyes empty…
“Mahoney,” he croaked. “You’re Mahoney…”
“Bingo.” The same crooked and cruel smile appeared again on the soldier’s face.
Scarlet frowned with incredulity. “But that’s impossible. I saw you dead… How –”
“You remember that too? So I guess your memory isn’t completely gone, then. The major will be pleased.”
Scarlet didn’t have the strength to resist when the man pulled him to his feet. He was roughly shoved against the bark of a tree, and almost at the same time, the soldier struck him in the chest, with his palm open, with all of his weight, driving the arrow deeper into his flesh. The pain paralysed Scarlet and he was unable to make a single move to defend himself when Mahoney seized the fletched end of the arrow – and brutally pulled it out, tearing through the flesh of the Spectrum officer.
A wave of excruciating pain went through Scarlet’s body and, with a now muffled cry, he fell face first to the ground.
Fighting hard not to lose consciousness, Scarlet raised his heavy head. Mahoney leaned over him, and roughly turned him on his back, before putting a booted foot on his chest to keep him down. Instinctively, Scarlet grabbed for the booted feet with both hands, but he was too weak to remove it. He then saw the barrel of a pistol aimed at him.
“There’s only one reason why I didn’t throw you into that quicksand with the boy, Earthman,” the soldier said in a cold voice. “And I think you know what that reason is. You’re going to hand me the microchip. The Mysterons have need of it.”
Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t… I don’t have it…”
“Wrong answer.” Viciously, Mahoney pressed his boot against Scarlet’s wound. Blood oozed under the pressure and the Spectrum captain yelped, writhing under the pain. His fingers curled helplessly around the soldier’s boot. “You had it on you when you fell from the chopper, just after the major put that bullet into your head. You must still have it. Or you must have a pretty good idea where it is.”
“You’re wrong,” Scarlet said, gasping for breath. I don’t –” He muffled a cry as Mahoney pressed harder on his shoulder.
“You’re lying. But that doesn’t matter. I just need to contact the others now, and tell them I found you. When the major is here, he’ll know how to make you talk.” Mahoney produced an evil smile. “You’re indestructible. We can torture you as much we like. It won’t matter if we kill you: you’ll just come back and we’ll go on until you spill the beans. That is, until we decide to put a definitive end to your miserable life.”
Scarlet blinked, his mind a confused haze. “What… what are you talking about?”
“Maybe you don’t care what we do to you,” Mahoney pursued, seemingly not listening. “But there’s the Angel pilot to consider…”
That seemed to make Scarlet come out of his confused state. “Stay away from her,” he moaned between gritted teeth. “Or I’ll… I’ll kill you.”
Mahoney scoffed derisively. “You’re really not in any position to make threats, Captain Scarlet! Your attachment to your more fragile colleagues seems to be your Achilles’ heel. The girl will make a perfect bargaining chip to obtain what we want.”
“I told you… Keep away from her!” With a supreme effort, Scarlet pushed on the feet, lifting it from his chest. His left leg snaked around Mahoney’s other foot, and he tripped him. Unbalanced, the soldier stumbled back.
Scarlet’s now free hand blindly reached for anything that might be within range and his fingers curled around a dead bough lying on the ground. As quickly as he could, he drove himself up; he was still on one knee when Mahoney swiftly came back, pulling the hammer of his gun and aiming it at the Spectrum officer’s head, at nearly point blank range. Scarlet struck at his arm with the bough, which broke under the impact, but successfully disarmed the soldier. The latter retaliated, hitting Scarlet in the face with a swift reverse kick that sent him down once more.
That last blow had been so violent that Scarlet had trouble keeping focus. Stars were flashing in front of his eyes and his head was killing him.
Mahoney recovered his gun and came to stand over Scarlet with anger burning in his eyes. “Enough games!” he yelled. “You will tell me where the microchip is, Captain Scarlet, or I swear, I will kill the Angel in front of your eyes, before I start cutting you into little pieces to make you talk!”
“Mahoney, I keep telling you…” Scarlet gasped, his eyes bleary, “I don’t have any idea where it is…”
“Well then, maybe I should just kill her right now, since she’s no use to us.”
Mahoney turned around, aiming his gun in the direction where he had last seen Rhapsody lying on the ground, right next to a clump of bushes, barely four meters behind him. He was startled to find she wasn’t there anymore; all he could see now was the flattened grass, marking the place of her earlier presence. He frowned.
“Where the hell did she go?”
“Over here, creep!”
Mahoney turned around; Rhapsody was standing there, what remained of her uniform filthy with mud and dirt, her red hair a mess, barely hiding a reddish bruise over her left cheek; she was aiming the shotgun straight at him, with a menacing glow in her blue eyes.
“You think you’re such a big man with your little gun?” she asked defiantly.
Mahoney gave an incoherent growl of anger and raised his handgun, in an attempt to aim it at Rhapsody.
There was a deafening thunderclap as the Angel pilot stoically pulled the trigger and discharged the last of the shotgun’s ammunition straight at the Mysteron’s face. The impact blew half of his head off; literally swept off his feet, his body fell many feet clear of Scarlet. The latter couldn’t do anything but watch powerlessly, as a rain of blood sprayed over him.
The body had barely hit the ground before Rhapsody threw away the now empty and useless shotgun, still smoking from its use, and ran to Scarlet. She knelt by his side and helped him up, as he was attempting to pull himself into a sitting position. He grunted with the effort, and looked into her face; the grimace she produced upon seeing his bloodied shirt and the end of the broken arrow emerging from his wound looked as pained as his own.
“Are you okay?” he asked her between two breaths.
“I’ve had worse,” she replied. “I’m in a better state than you…”
Scarlet shook his head, his teeth clenched. “Somehow… I’m sure I’ll be okay.” He slowly turned his head to look at the half-decapitated body of the Mysteronised soldier, bloodying the mud underneath it. “I remember that guy,” he said in a low voice. “That was Mahoney.”
“Mahoney…” Rhapsody recalled the name. “That’s the guy you tried to hook me up with? Thank you, Captain, but I can do without a murderous boyfriend.”
“S-sorry?” he asked in confusion.
“Sorry – I guess you don’t remember that part. And I guess he wasn’t that way before the Mysterons got their hands on him.”
“He was dead before,” Scarlet said. “I remember… I saw him dead. How can he still be alive and walking around?”
Rhapsody turned a cold look at the dead Mysteron agent. The grisly sight didn’t seem to bother her at all, and Scarlet thought she had to be one of the strongest and fiercest young women that existed on Earth. “Well, I don’t think he will get up and walk after that,” she said.
Scarlet realised she wasn’t joking in the least; her words made him shiver. He didn’t know exactly why.
“Dianne… what’s exactly going on?” He asked in confusion. “No-one can come back from the dead like that, can they?”
Rhapsody hesitated. “Captain –”
“Is that… Is that what happened to me?” Scarlet asked with a bleak voice, interrupting her. “When I woke up in the morgue in town… They hadn’t just thought I was dead? I really was dead?”
“Now might not be the ideal time to discuss this,” Rhapsody replied in a firm voice.
“Later, Captain. We’ll talk about it when you’re less distraught. Right now, the night is coming. We have to reach that cabin and take cover before dark. It’s not far… can you walk?”
Scarlet shrugged. “I suppose I will have to…”
“Come on, then. I’ll help you up.”
Rhapsody took him by the shoulders and he leaned on her, pushing himself up. Once he was on his feet, he stumbled, and caught himself against a tree, so not to fall back. He blinked several times to stop the salty sweat of his brow from falling into his eyes. His head was pounding wildly, and he had trouble thinking. Through it all, he could hear Rhapsody’s voice talking:
“Come on, Captain. We can’t stay here.”
Scarlet opened his eyes and started walking, the young woman supporting him. As they made their way towards Joe’s place, he glanced again in the direction of the dead Mysteron, in a worried way. “Are you sure he won’t come after us, even after that?”
“I would say he’s as dead as a Mysteron can get,” Rhapsody replied in a cold voice.
“And his friends?” Scarlet insisted. “Major Montgomery?”
“You heard Mahoney: he didn’t have time to call them, so they won’t know where to find us. We’ll be safe.”
They were approaching the shed, and Scarlet took a few, hurried steps in its direction. He felt that his strength was about to betray him. He could barely stand, and he knew he was weighing heavily on Rhapsody. He reached the wooden wall and supported himself against it, just in time to stop himself from falling. His head was spinning wildly.
Rhapsody was looking at him in concern.
“Captain?” she asked him. “Please, we have to move on…”
“Give me a minute to catch my breath,” he requested, leaning against the wall. “I… don’t feel too bright.”
He shook his head, trying to clear his mind which was gradually becoming hazy. It didn’t work too well.
“What about Jasper and his gang?” he said, trying to keep his focus. “One of the boys who attacked us is dead, but the other… he escaped. He will warn his other friends…”
“Which is a good reason for us to take cover as soon as we can. We’ll be able to protect ourselves.”
“You’re the expert…” Scarlet said weakly.
“Assuming they’re close by, to begin with. Those two boys – from what they said, they were not really supposed to be here, and were surprised to even find us. They were… looking for some kind of treasure, or something. They assumed that we were here for the same thing.”
“The microchip?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“No, not the microchip. They were not Mysterons. They were looking for something else… whatever it might be. I think it might be the reason why they killed Joe.” Rhapsody looked around, assuring herself that nobody would come out from behind the surrounding wood. Satisfied that they were safe, she continued: “So if the others are not in the vicinity, we’ll have to assume they’re not stupid enough to be out in this swamp after dark. There’s danger waiting for you round every corner in this bayou. Imagine how much more dangerous it could be at night.” She looked back at Scarlet. “That should give us some time to rest… and for you to recuperate.”
“I’d… like that very much, yes,” Scarlet murmured tiredly. “My head feels like it’ll explode.”
Rhapsody noticed how pale he had become. “Can you lean on me?” she asked him. “We still need to get to that cabin. Come on, Paul, there’s only a few more steps…”
“I… I can try.”
Scarlet pushed himself from the wall and Rhapsody gently took his arm with the intention of supporting him again.
The arm slid off her shoulder, and Scarlet, with a last groan, collapsed, Rhapsody being unable to stop him.
He was already unconscious before he hit the ground.