This story is based on characters created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Some events and characters Copyright © of all trademarks materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, crafts, etc.), owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information of the series are all been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.
A Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons story
By Chris Bishop
PART 2 – EVIL TWIN
When Captain Scarlet opened his eyes again, he found himself staring at the ceiling of sickbay, with the familiar sounds of beeping monitors set over the head of his bed. This time, he was lying on a comfortable mattress – not the padded leather surface of the examination table on which he had awakened earlier. He was free of restraints, and his mind was clear.
“How are you feeling, this morning?”
That was the equally familiar voice of Doctor Fawn, coming from his right –his tone now very friendly, if somewhat tainted with concern. Scarlet turned to face him; the Cloudbase medical officer was standing next to the bed, staring earnestly at him. None of the mistrust and wariness Scarlet had previously seen in his eyes was present now. He even managed to address him a welcoming smile. To which Scarlet answered with a smile of his own, if a little faint.
The first thought that came to Scarlet’s mind was to wonder if he had not dreamt everything. The arrest in R and D, the detention in sickbay, the drugs, the interrogation session – right through his showdown with Lavender and the subsequent gunfight where he had been shot.
Lavender’s crazy theory about him being stuck in a parallel world… Could all of this be an awful nightmare, then?
He was nearly starting to really believe it, and it was some kind of a relief for him, until he tried to move. It was a simple movement, just to make himself a little more comfortable. His aching muscles refused to work, and compelled him to stay put. He felt stiff everywhere and was unable to move more than a inch from where he was lying. With a groan, he let his head fall heavily onto the pillow, and closed his eyes to fight the growing dizziness he was feeling. The voice of Doctor Fawn then addressed him anew, sounding very ill-at-ease. “Er… I have to say, I’m not really accustomed to this…Would – er – saying ‘welcome back to the land of the living’ sound awkward in a situation like this?”
Scarlet’s eyes flew open and he turned swiftly to stare at the physician. He could see that Fawn seemed to be keeping a little distance from him, and the wariness – ever so slight – in his eyes. It wasn’t as if Scarlet was looking at an old friend who had helped him countless times during his recoveries. He was staring into the face of a complete stranger who didn’t quite know how to approach him – or deal with his unique situation. The realisation sank instantly into his mind, and he let out a deep, disheartened sigh – which he regretted instantly, feeling the twinge in his belly muscles.
“It wasn’t a dream, after all,” he muttered under his breath.
“No,” Doctor Fawn confirmed with a sympathetic shake of his head, “I’m afraid it wasn’t.”
“Would have been too good to be true.”
Scarlet pushed himself up from his lying position, forcing his body to sit up. His tormented muscles protested; they were all knots and making a move was nothing short of torture. A terrible pain shot through his abdomen the second he found himself in a sitting position; he found himself leaning forward, almost bending double, gritting his teeth and stifling the cry coming from his throat. Instinctively, he reached for his stomach with his hand. And noticed the heavy bandage encircling his torso.
“Hey, take it easy!” Fawn protested. The doctor had witnessed Scarlet’s all-too-sudden attempt to sit, but had been too late to stop him. Now, he was coming to his rescue, concerned that he might fall off the bed and hurt himself. He reached for the pillows and expertly positioned them behind his patient, before gently lowering him to lean against them, in a half-seated position. Grunting, Scarlet let him do as he pleased. It wasn’t often that he would permit Fawn to fuss that much over him.
No. I have to remind myself… This is not the Fawn I know. This is another one.
“Thank you,” Scarlet told him, as Fawn drew back a step. He looked down in concern at the way his torso was bandaged, and frowned. “How long has it been?”
“Seven hours,” Fawn announced.
“Seven hours,” Scarlet repeated, with some puzzlement in his tone, shaking his head. “Was I… er…”
“Dead?” Fawn nodded. “Yes, you were. For about an hour or so. I was near to thinking we had lost you when we suddenly noticed… signs, that you were coming back to life.” He addressed Scarlet with a new smile, all the while staring at him in a way that betrayed his customary scientific curiosity. “It’s quite amazing, the rate at which you heal…”
“You’d find it even more amazing if I was healing at my normal rate,” Scarlet answered, looking down at the bandage.
“Because it’s usually faster?” Fawn asked with mystification.
“It always depends on the seriousness of the wound. Normally, about six hours, when I… die.” Scarlet shuffled to make himself more comfortable. Again, he felt a tenderness in his abdominal muscles and grunted. “And normally,” he added with a sore note to his voice, “I don’t wake up before I’m totally healed. And I feel absolutely fine and refreshed when I revive. No stiffness, no sore muscles…” he gestured toward the bandage. “That should be healed completely by now.”
“You’ve been through a lot,” Fawn stated quietly, shrugging. “Two… ‘healings’ in such a short time… Those electric shocks Lavender subjected you to…”
“Electricity.” Scarlet nodded pensively. “That might be the answer,” he admitted. “Maybe that disrupted my healing capacities.” He addressed Fawn a curious, somewhat suspicious stare, narrowing his eyes. “Tell me… Why are you so good to me, all of a sudden?”
“Because now we know the truth.” Scarlet raised his head in the direction of the door from where that voice had come. He had not noticed until now that it was open. He saw Colonel White standing tall in the doorway, his hands folded in front of him, holding his cap. In an automatic gesture, Scarlet tried to straighten up, gritting his teeth in the process. White walked fully into the room, gesturing to him to stay put. “As you were, Captain. It’s obvious you’re still in a fair amount of pain. Don’t exert yourself.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” Scarlet never felt so happy in all his life to obey such an order. He watched as White came closer, spotting at the same time the guard standing just the other side of the door. As he was drawing a chair near the bed, White noted the direction of the young man’s gaze. He nodded quietly.
“You won’t object to me taking some precautions, I hope,” the older man remarked in a quiet tone, while settling himself down.
“Not at all,” Scarlet answered, trying to match his voice with that of the colonel. “We can never be too careful.” He pointed to the guard. “In fact, if one had been in front of that room where Lavender was torturing me…”
“There were two. Lavender had dismissed them earlier, so he could… ‘interrogate’ you, without running the risk of being discovered.” He shook his head, to show his disapproval. “I assure you, Captain, if I’d had even the SLIGHTEST suspicion of what he was planning to do…”
“I know you would have stopped him.” Scarlet lowered his head. “I’ll have to thank Rhapsody Angel, for her intervention. I was lucky she arrived when she did. How is she? And… how’s Captain Indigo?” He felt awkward asking that question concerning Indigo. White probably noticed this, as a light seemed to appear in his eyes as he stared intently at the younger man. He didn’t say anything about it for now, and simply changed position on his chair, making himself more comfortable. “They’re both fine. Rhapsody only has a slight concussion, while Indigo… If the scalpel had sliced any deeper into his throat he would be lying in the morgue at the moment. As it is, he’ll be off duty for a couple of weeks, until he recovers.” He paused a short instant. “And you? I see you’re definitely better than last time I saw you.”
“Not as good as I ought to be,” Scarlet replied.
“The electricity may have hindered his healing abilities,” Fawn declared at that moment.
“Is that so?” White murmured, still staring at Scarlet. “Fascinating.”
“But I should be completely recovered soon,” Scarlet added quickly.
White nodded slowly. “Good, then.” He turned to Fawn, who was still standing next to the bed, busying himself with taking notes from the monitor above Scarlet’s head. By the way he was scribbling quickly, and the brightness in his eyes, it was easy to see that the doctor was fascinated by what he was reading on the screen at the moment. “Doctor, would you leave me with your patient for a few minutes? We have important things to talk about.”
“Only if you assure me you won’t distress him.” There was a warning note in Fawn’s voice; that made Scarlet smile, almost despite himself. This Fawn had a lot in common with the Fawn he knew. White addressed the doctor what looked like an annoyed look, before producing his answer.
“I’ll do my best not to upset his fragile physical condition, Doctor.”
That too sounded like the kind of dry, deadpan humour that the Colonel White Scarlet knew so very well was capable of. Fawn shrugged with quiet indifference, before directing his pace toward the door. “I’ll see you later, Captain.”
“See you later, Doctor,” Scarlet responded with a smile, watching as Fawn disappeared through the door. He turned his attention back to White, whom he found still staring at him, with some sort of calm fascination. That made Scarlet feel ill at ease. He tried to change his position again, only to find out he still wasn’t up to it, and finally decided against it. He cleared his throat, before addressing White, “How… How’s Captain Ochre, Colonel?”
White raised a brow. “I imagine you’re referring… to your Captain Ochre, aren’t you, Captain Scarlet?” Seeing that Scarlet wasn’t about to answer his question, he nodded slowly. “Your Captain Ochre is resting in another room in sickbay. He’s suffering from a severe concussion, but woke up a few hours ago. He was even able to say a few words. Since then, he’s been sleeping. Doctor Fawn says he’s now out of danger.”
“Thank God for that,” murmured Scarlet.
“Strange words, coming from the mouth of a Mysteron,” White reflected matter-of-factly.
“I am not a Mysteron,” was the rather fierce reply.
White nodded. “I see that is a sore subject for you. I apologise for that.”
“You wanted to see my reaction,” Scarlet said, eyeing the colonel. He hesitated only a short instant, before pursuing, “You said you now knew the truth. How much of the truth do you know, exactly?”
White leaned against the back of the chair and crossed his legs, not taking his eyes off the younger man. “I know you are not the Captain Scarlet I know. I know that you and Captain Ochre – that second Captain Ochre who was found with you in R and D – are not from this world. That you came from a parallel dimension where you, very obviously, experienced a fate quite different from the Captain Scarlet of this world.”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes, a little suspicious of all the detailed information that White seemed to have in his hands at the moment. “How do you know about this ‘parallel world’?”
“There’s a camera and a microphone in the room where you were held. Those devices are not constantly monitored, but they recorded everything that was said in there. After Lavender was killed and you were brought here, we checked the recording. We saw everything that Lavender did to you and heard everything that was said. By both of you.”
Scarlet permitted himself a wry smile. “Aren’t you afraid that it might have been some kind of trick?”
“Frankly, no. Lavender couldn’t know about that camera and mic. Plus, we have Rhapsody’s testimony as an actual eyewitness of the events. She swore that what happened in there couldn’t possibly be a carefully planned scenario. It was too real. And the recording confirms that statement.” Scarlet didn’t answer, and went pensive, as White was still staring at him, closely scrutinising him. The colonel cleared his throat. “I have to thank you for saving her life,” he said less formally. “Hers, and Captain Blue’s. As I see it, you threw yourself in front of Lavender’s bullet, when he tried to get a shot at Blue.”
“It was only normal, Colonel,” Scarlet answered. “Furthermore, in my world, Captain Blue is my field partner. We look out for each other.” He noticed the faint flicker passing in the older man’s eyes, but didn’t mention it. Later on, he reflected, he’d have time to question him further. “So you do believe Lavender’s theory about parallel worlds,” he observed.
“It’s not as if it’s a completely new theory, Captain… I’m sure even in your world, it’s been talked about.”
Scarlet nodded. “As a hare-brained notion,” he admitted. “Yes.”
“Hare-brained or not, it seems to be confirmed now.”
“You accept it, then? Without a single doubt?”
Scarlet sighed. “At first… I had my doubts, Colonel. But… For me, it’s the only possible explanation for what is happening at the moment. Even if it does seem completely crazy and quite illogical.”
“On the contrary,” White replied. “As strange as it may seem, it is perfectly logical. Everything is adding up. It explains the presence of the two Captain Ochres, and how different you act from your… counterpart. It even explains why you were found on Cloudbase, wearing your old Spectrum uniform…” White smiled dryly. “Some of us were starting to think you had used it to get onboard unnoticed, which undoubtedly was an aberration, since it would have made you easier to identify! Everyone onboard Cloudbase knows about Captain Scarlet, and would have alerted security the second they saw you.”
“And do you regard that as enough evidence, Colonel?”
“It might not have been – if something else had not come up that was brought to my attention recently.”
“What…” Scarlet murmured, frowning with perplexity upon hearing the colonel’s mysterious statement.
“Don’t concern yourself with that for the moment,” White cut in swiftly. “Suffice it to say at the moment that I do believe this apparently wild theory about co-existing parallel worlds, as stated by Doctor Lavender. I suppose that, if anyone should know about such things, a Mysteron would.”
“I suppose they would,” Scarlet admitted. “Since they possess powers and knowledge far greater than our own. Or so they say.” He looked down, growing quiet for a moment. White stared at him with some concern, wondering what could be going through his mind.
“Are you all right? You look tired. Perhaps you need more rest…”
“No,” Scarlet said, raising his head again. “Physically, I’m fine, Colonel. Or at least, I will be in a short while. No, it’s just…” He sighed deeply. “It’s strange thinking that, in this world, I – that is he – that other person who should be me – is still a Mysteron agent, and a wanted… criminal.” He shook his head pensively, obviously troubled by the thought. “I’d always wondered… how different things might have been for me, if I had not been freed from the Mysterons’ influence. I always thought I would have died – like the other Mysteron agents I meet on assignments, who simply drop dead once their mission is finished, either killed by us or by sacrificing themselves to ensure the success of their mission. But to imagine that I might have lived on, and continued to be the slave of those alien monsters…” He shuddered. “I would rather be dead,” he said under his breath.
“Not a comforting thought, is it?” White remarked in a kind enough tone.
“Not really, no.” Scarlet sighed deeply. “Now I find myself trapped in a ‘parallel world’, with a murdering counterpart of myself, and with apparently no possible way to return home.”
“We might be able to find a way,” White remarked.
“How?” Scarlet asked with annoyance. “The only person who would have been able to help me has been killed by the Mysterons and…” he stopped in mid-sentence, as a thought suddenly crossed his mind. “The red stone…” he murmured.
White fished in his pocket, and produced a small egg-like stone that Scarlet recognised instantly. “We found it on Lavender’s person,” the Spectrum commander explained. “Is this thing responsible for your presence here?”
“I… Yes, Sir, I believe so. But I have no idea how it happened. Doctor Lavender – the one in my world – thought it was inert. And probably never imagined what it would do when he put it on the Kurnitz console – which wasn’t even powered up at the time, I might add.”
“I think we can call on two experts to try to understand what happened,” White remarked. “Doctor Kurnitz himself – and Doctor Giadello, from the R and D Center in Valley Forge.”
“That would be a long shot, if they can find anything, Sir,” Scarlet said, in a rather discouraged tone.
“We won’t know if we don’t try.”
Scarlet stared suspiciously at Colonel White. He could see there was something on the older man’s mind. Something he wasn’t telling him, but which he could sense quite easily. “You’re not doing all this out of the goodness of your heart, are you?” the captain asked carefully.
“No.” White stood up from his chair. “I’ll be straight with you. I was hoping that we would be able to proceed to… an exchange of services.”
“What do you mean by that?” Scarlet asked with a furrowed brow.
“With Captain Indigo in sickbay, I’m presently short one man. At the moment, Spectrum is involved in a project that might help even the score with the Mysterons. Your arrival presents me with an opportunity that I could never have hoped for. If you’re willing to help us, in exchange, our scientists will do what they can to return you – yourself and Captain Ochre, that is – to where you both belong.”
“Back to Kansas,” Scarlet said with a faint smile. He stared up at White. “Are you as good to your word as the Colonel White I know?”
White raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, you tell me.”
“I suppose I’ll have to take the risk,” Scarlet murmured, thoughtfully. “And anyway – it’ll be another chance for me to try to thwart the Mysterons’ plans… And that’s something I always look forward to.” He raised his head, his mind already made up. “You have a deal, Colonel.”
Colonel White’s face seemed to light up. “How soon before you think you’ll be up on your feet and ready for briefing?”
“Give me an hour,” Scarlet evaluated unreservedly. “But I’d like to see Captain Ochre before I see you.”
“Of course, Captain. I’ll have time to make some arrangements, in the meantime. You just have to present yourself in the Conference Room.” With a formal expression on his face and a rigid posture, White presented his right hand to Scarlet, who shook it emphatically. “Welcome to Spectrum, Captain Scarlet.”
* * *
A little later, Captain Scarlet, now completely healed and feeling like his old self, was sitting on the side of the bed, and putting on a fresh Spectrum uniform. The cap was absent, probably having been left behind or destroyed in the incident, and his sidearm too – that last detail not really being a surprise for Scarlet, as he had the feeling that an armed Captain Scarlet onboard Cloudbase could be an unnerving thought for some people of this world. Colonel White wasn’t taking any risks with security; Scarlet couldn’t blame him for that, as he understood perfectly the dilemma the Spectrum commander was presently facing.
He stopped short when he reached for his bright red tunic that was carefully laid next to him; he put it on his lap to stare at it pensively. Although the rest of the uniform was brand new, replacing the one that had been so ill-treated during the explosion in R and D and his subsequent trip through the inter-dimensional gateway, the tunic and boots were his own. The boots had been polished and still looked good, but the tunic, even though it had been thoroughly cleaned, and there was not a trace of blood left on it, was looking a little beaten up. There were two bullet holes quite visible in it, and that reminded Scarlet of who had actually been behind those shots.
Although the other people he had encountered so far reminded him very much of those he had left behind in his own world – notwithstanding the fact that they thought he was a Mysteron agent and were acting accordingly – he could see there was something decidedly different in Captain Blue. The vision of his hard features and cold blue eyes, filled with loathing, haunted Scarlet, who was wondering what terrible hardships this Blue may have experienced in his life for him to be transformed that way. He was obviously filled with bitterness, and hatred – both of which seemed directed straight at Scarlet himself.
He obviously hates me, Scarlet reflected gloomily.
No. Not me. That other Captain Scarlet. The one who’s still a Mysteron.
Engrossed in his reflections, he didn’t notice that someone was standing in the open doorway, studying him in silence. A faint knock against the frame drew Scarlet out of his reverie; blinking, he looked up at his visitor. Rhapsody Angel addressed him with a genuine, if awkward smile.
“May I come in?” she asked in a tentative tone.
“Of course you may!” he invited her with a grin of his own, standing up. “I was just checking out my wardrobe.” He showed her his tunic, and poked his finger through one of the holes. “Look. Do you think your colonel would allow me to go around the base with a uniform in such a state?”
“Would yours?” she asked raising an eyebrow. “Unless it’s a new fashion in the world you come from…”
He chuckled. “Well, yes, my dear. Didn’t you know those holes are for ventilation?”
She made a face. “Obviously, making jokes isn’t your strongest point.”
He looked at her, in an almost scrutinising way. “Strange,” he noted, “That’s exactly what the Rhapsody from my world would say. But then again… I usually reply that she doesn’t have a sense of humour herself.”
She seemed outraged by the insinuation. “I would feel like decking you!”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. “I believe she already did at that,” he replied with a straight face. He saw her smile and returned it. It was easy being his casual self with her. She was so very much like his Rhapsody. However, it wasn’t that easy for him to keep in mind that this woman wasn’t really the same as the one he knew, as he could feel himself drawn to her. As he imagined, by the way she was looking at him, by her whole attitude, that she was also drawn to him. But she wasn’t his Rhapsody. His beloved Angel was waiting for him in his own world, probably wondering what had happened to him, if he was dead – this time for real, when – IF – he would return. He had to keep sight of the fact that THIS Rhapsody in front of him was only a twin of the woman he loved. And he had to keep the undying hope that he would return home, to her, to his friends and duty, as soon as possible.
Realising that he was rudely staring at her, he lowered his gaze, to look at the tip of his boots, and cleared his throat. “I’d like to thank you,” he said, now with a very serious expression on his face, “for saving my life. If not for you, I would be dead by now.”
“Would you really be?” she asked, a bit awkwardly. He raised his eyes to meet her gaze again. She was the one to look away this time, uncomfortably. “I’m sorry. But I did see you dead yesterday evening, and it feels a little awkward now to see you standing there, in front of me – with apparently no ill effects from your recent ordeal – as good as new…”
“Nearly,” he replied. “I’m still feeling a little fuzzy after Lavender’s treatment. Electricity… doesn’t agree with me.”
“So I imagine.” Rhapsody nodded. “And I would like to thank you too. For saving MY life.”
He shrugged. “I couldn’t do any less. You did free me from that table, hoping I would help you, didn’t you?”
“I was playing a hunch. If Lavender was telling the truth about you – I thought I stood a much better chance of surviving if I had you free and on my side, don’t you think?”
“You played your hunch well. But that was a very risky thing to do. You didn’t know if I might have turned against you.”
“I was told that, yes. But frankly, considering how desperately you tried to warn me to get out – I doubted that you would have hurt me yourself. And I was very desperate,” she added, with quirky smile and scowl.
Scarlet chuckled. “I imagine you were, yes. Tell me,” he said with a frown, “what possessed you to go into that room last night?”
She hesitated before answering. A little red came to her cheeks, but it was very brief; she didn’t even look up when she spoke. “I was just fresh off the SPJ that brought me back to Cloudbase from furlough, and heard that… Captain Ochre had been hurt and taken to sickbay,” she said quietly. “So I wanted to visit him. But a guard refused to let me into his room. I didn’t know at the time that it was another Ochre, and that he was suspected of being a Mysteron. Just like our Captain Ochre – I found out later that he was in the brig, while they tried to find out which was which.”
“If that Ochre is anything like the one I know,” Scarlet reflected, “he wouldn’t have liked that at all.”
“No, he didn’t. But he’s quite fine, now. Since we found out the truth about you and that other Ochre, he’s been released.”
Scarlet nodded slowly. “Are you… close to Captain Ochre?” Why in Heaven was he experiencing that twinge in the pit of his stomach – like some feeling of jealousy over the idea that this Rhapsody might be involved with Ochre – or any other man? He felt like an idiot, to have asked that question. This wasn’t his Rhapsody, why would he care? Surely she would be wondering why he was asking her that. He felt relieved when she chuckled softly, and didn’t seem to take offence at his remark.
“Captain Ochre is a very dear friend, Captain Scarlet,” she told him with a large grin. “I was just very concerned about his health. As I would be for any of my friends.”
“Of course,” Scarlet replied quickly. He tilted his head to one side, staring at her. “You didn’t answer my question,” he noted. “Why did you come into that room where Lavender was… interrogating me?”
“Oh, that… I…” Now Rhapsody reddened even more violently. “You’ll think I’m stupid,” she said waving the thought away.
“Absolutely not. Not after you saved my life.”
“This is quite embarrassing, Captain,” she said looking down. “And, I feel a little awkward admitting it to you. Since I was in sickbay, I… Well, I was curious. I wanted to see the big, bad, dangerous Mysteron agent that had finally been captured and was being held in sickbay.” She didn’t dare look up to see Scarlet’s reaction. He had none, except for the fact that he continued to stare down at her with curiosity. She could feel his intense gaze. And somehow, she could feel that he didn’t believe her.
A sigh coming from him made her look up; he was turning around to put down his tunic on the bed. “You must have been very disappointed, then.” That was a surprising statement. Even more surprising was the gentle smile he gave her, when he faced her again. “I’m sure Colonel White wasn’t very happy with that initiative of yours.”
“Certainly wasn’t,” Rhapsody admitted, rolling her eyes. “He reprimanded me this morning – hauled me over the coals would be a more fitting term. He said something about what the curiosity did to the cat…” she said with a glimmer in her eyes.
“I’m certainly glad this particular cat came along when she did,” Scarlet added kindly. He nodded. “I’m on my way to visit Captain Ochre – my Captain Ochre – before leaving sickbay. Then I have to go to the conference room for a briefing with Colonel White. I… would feel more comfortable if you would accompany me. I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to walk the corridors of Cloudbase without an escort. Might get some people a trifle nervous.”
“I think that’s very wise, Captain,” she said in agreement. She gestured toward the door. “Shall we go, then?” He nodded and took the lead. Rhapsody couldn’t help but frown when she noticed he had intentionally left his tunic on the bed. That was a significant gesture, she thought, as he was probably also aware that that too would make people feel nervous. She nodded approvingly.
If nothing else, this Captain Scarlet was demonstrating a tact that she felt for sure would be absent in any Mysteron agent…
* * *
“How is he doing, Doctor?”
Doctor Fawn, who was checking on a sleeping Captain Ochre, nearly jumped when he heard the voice coming from the open door leading into the room. He turned around to look as Captain Scarlet entered briskly, to stand near the bed, next to him.
“You gave me a start, Captain,” Fawn said, putting a hand on his chest. “You should be more careful how you approach people on this base. We’re not at all accustomed to your presence here.”
“Sorry,” Scarlet answered apologetically. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” He looked down to Ochre, who was resting on the bed, his eyes closed, the monitor above him registering his condition. “Will he be all right?”
Fawn noted the genuine concern in his voice, not really surprised to hear it, but observing on a professional level that no Mysteron would be able to show that much sincere feeling – even though they were typically programmed to copy the reactions their originals should display. That man standing there was really worried for his friend – he wasn’t playing the part.
“He’ll be all right,” Fawn reassured him. “He’s sleeping right now. He wakes up sporadically, so that tells us he’s out of danger. The concussion he’s suffering from is a pretty severe one, and he should have plenty of rest, to recover fully. Otherwise, he’s quite fine.”
“Glad to hear that, Doctor,” Scarlet said with a sigh of relief.
He was looking down at the sleeping Ochre when he saw the latter agitating himself a little and then giving a low grunt. Realising his friend was about to wake up, he crouched down near the bed so he would be able to look at him on the same level. Ochre drew a deep breath, then opened his eyes tiredly. He found himself staring straight into Scarlet’s bright blue eyes, and reassuring smile. “Hi. How are you? Finally decided to join us in the land of the living?”
Ochre offered a wary smile. “Hey, Scarlet… that’s usually my line,” he said in a thick voice.
“…Was mine,” Doctor Fawn deadpanned behind Scarlet’s back. The latter feigned not to hear it.
“How are you doing?” Ochre asked, his voice slurring. “You got to play hero again, I bet…” He was obviously fighting to stay awake. “You should be more careful, Paul… We don’t really know how far you’re indestructible…”
“Right now, I’m far more concerned about you, mate,” Scarlet replied quietly.
“I’ll be all right…” Ochre slurred, his eyes closing. “If only I didn’t feel so sleepy…”
Scarlet looked up over his shoulder to Fawn. The latter shrugged. “Normal, considering his condition,” he explain. “With the concussion, combined with the effects of the painkillers…”
“Damned medication,” Ochre muttered under his breath.
“Yeah, I know how it is,” Scarlet said sympathetically.
“No, you don’t,” Ochre grumbled, remembering through his haze that in general, medication didn’t have much effect on his English colleague.
Scarlet chuckled and got to his feet. “Believe me, I do,” he said good-naturedly. “You’d better get some rest, Rick. You look like you need it.”
“What are you up to?” Ochre said, looking up to his colleague with a furrowed brow.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re up to something, I can smell it…” Ochre’s frown deepened as he stared straight at Scarlet’s presently set face. It was so obvious that the American captain was drowsy, but that he trying very hard not to sleep – not until he heard Scarlet’s explanation. “Something came up?” he asked in a sluggish tone. “Was there a new threat from the Mysterons?”
“Would you stop worrying?” Scarlet cut him off suddenly, addressing his friend with a new, comforting smile. “Get some sleep, now. I’ll come back to see you later.”
Ochre nodded, very slowly, unable anymore to keep his eyes open. “S’the best I can do…” he slurred. “Since I’m stuck here, being useless…”
“We’ll try to make do without you,” Scarlet chuckled. “Don’t you worry, Rick.” He reached to pat his friend’s shoulder comfortingly, and noticed that Ochre had closed his eyes to finally give in to his sleepiness. He was already breathing deeply, almost snoring. Scarlet permitted himself a faint smile before turning around to face Doctor Fawn.
“He doesn’t know yet what happened to you two,” the physician stated meaningfully.
“I know. And I can’t see myself explaining that to him right now.” Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t think he’s presently fit to understand it all. To be frank, I’m not sure I understand it myself!”
Fawn rolled his eyes. “You and all of us. I see your point. He’s better to sleep it off and gather his strength for now. We’ll worry about the explanation later on.”
“Thank you, Doctor. Take good care of him.”
“S.I.G., Captain. Don’t worry, it’s just what I intend to do.”
Scarlet left the room, pensively, thinking of what Ochre’s reaction would be when he found out exactly what had occurred. Of course, he didn’t have any doubt that he couldn’t say anything to Ochre just yet – poor Rick was so out of it that he wouldn’t even begin to grasp the concept – parallel worlds, inter-dimensional gateways, twins that were not exactly the people they knew, all that was admittedly hard to swallow. Ochre was a sceptical kind of person – even considering that he had dedicated his life to fight aliens from Mars, who recreated copies of dead people to carry out their evil plans. Scarlet wasn’t sure he would believe. And if he believed, he wasn’t sure how he would react.
Upon stepping out of the room, he nearly bumped into someone – a black woman, nearly as tall as himself, dressed in an Angel pilot’s uniform, who gasped in surprise when he stopped himself from colliding with her and automatically reached to grab her by the shoulders to keep her at bay.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” Scarlet apologised, staring the woman right in the eyes. He could see she seemed somewhat tense to find herself in front of him – or maybe it was because he was touching her. He removed his hands quickly. “I was distracted…”
“No apologies necessary. I am as much to blame as you.” She studied him from head to feet and back again, and stared him in the face again. Her preceding nervousness had disappeared to be replaced by a cool curiosity. Scarlet, on the other hand, felt awkward, under her scrutinising gaze.
“So you are the infamous Captain Scarlet,” she stated in a quiet enough voice.
“Uh…” Scarlet could only stammer. What to answer? He wasn’t sure if he deserved the epithet ‘infamous’, as he was pretty certain she was referring to his Mysteron twin from this world. He didn’t feel that he should even answer the remark.
“No, he’s not.” To Scarlet’s relief, Rhapsody’s voice made itself heard behind him. While he was visiting Ochre, as she didn’t want to impose her presence, she had gone to see the wounded Indigo who, Scarlet knew, was resting in the neighbouring room. She must have come out just recently, and had seen his encounter with her fellow Angel pilot. Now she was standing next to him, facing the other woman. “This isn’t the same man, Djamila, you know that.” Her voice was calm, but the statement direct. As if to emphasise it, she had taken Scarlet by the arm. He couldn’t help feeling himself tense, as a chill ran up his arm at her touch.
“So we were told,” the tall Angel answered in her cool voice, a faint smile appearing on her lips. “Nice to meet you, Captain ‘not-so-infamous’ Scarlet.”
“I prefer that, thank you,” Scarlet answered with a grin of his own. “And you are…?”
“Oh, sorry,” Rhapsody said, stepping forward. “May I introduce Concerto Angel, Captain?”
“Charmed. Concerto?” Scarlet repeated a little puzzled.
“I take it there isn’t a ‘Concerto Angel’ where you come from, Captain?” Concerto noted, lifting an eyebrow.
“Er… Not right now, no. Sorry.”
“Which would make you the ‘not-so-famous Concerto Angel’, Djami,” Rhapsody remarked mockingly.
“Oh, har-har, Rhapsody,” Concerto scoffed. “You’re very droll.” She wasn’t taking her eyes off Scarlet. There wasn’t the same expression in them now, he noticed. Instead of wariness there was curiosity and… some kind of appreciation. He felt himself warming behind the ears. “Right. Maybe it isn’t so surprising, since I’m relatively new amongst the old guard…”
“Old guard? Watch it, Djami,” Rhapsody warned her.
“Well, I did get into the team after he… er… departed from Spectrum – sorry, not you, I know,” Concerto added quickly, seeing Scarlet ready to correct her. “Maybe my counterpart from your world is still stuck in the WAAF,” she reflected thoughtfully.
“You were in the WAAF?”
“I was a pilot in the same squadron as Destiny Angel. Juliette was my commander. My name is Djamila Marembo.”
“Oh.” Scarlet frowned deeply, obviously trying to make an effort of memory. “I… knew Juliette during that period....”
“You mean you were going out with her,” Concerto said with a large grin. She seemed to take some pleasure of seeing him a little embarrassed.
“I don’t recall any pilot named Marembo,” he added, obviously making a genuine effort to remember. “I don’t think I met your counterpart, Concerto.”
“Well, not surprising,” Concerto remarked. “We knew Juliette was going out with you, but few of us met you – I mean him. Personally, I only saw you from a distance – I mean…” Concerto stopped, seeing the amused smile on Scarlet’s lips. He had a lot of trouble trying to conceal it. “This is getting confusing, isn’t it?” Concerto asked with a flustered expression.
“Don’t worry,” Scarlet chuckled. “I get it. I think,” he added with a falsely puzzled expression. He turned to Rhapsody. “Did you?”
“With a lot of concentration…” Rhapsody replied innocently.
“Right,” Concerto said, making a face. “You two would make Burns and Allen jealous if they were still alive.”
“Burns and Allen?”
“George Burns and Gracie Allen,” Rhapsody explained. “A couple of stand-up comedians and TV performers from the last Century.”
“They were also husband and wife,” Concerto added, moving past them. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to visit Captain Indigo before starting my duty shift in the Amber Room again. I only have a half hour free for myself.”
“Of course, Djami. I’m on my way to the Amber Room myself. See you there.”
“Captain Scarlet, it was very nice to have met you.”
“Same here, Concerto.”
Scarlet looked on as Concerto disappeared through the door leading to Captain Indigo’s room. Pensively, he returned his attention to Rhapsody, who was waiting near him until he made up his mind to go.
“The Angels are still on a tight schedule, I see,” he noted in a factual tone.
“Isn’t it always the case with only five of us?” she replied. She shrugged, apparently not aware of the quizzical glint in his eyes. “Shall we go? The colonel must be waiting for you.”
“Lead the way. Straight man’s always first.”
“On comic duos? When they’re on stage or their names appear on posters? The straight man’s name always comes first.”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes upward. “Right. So I suppose you do think you’re funny.” She shrugged her annoyance and took the lead, directing her pace toward the exit door from sickbay. Scarlet followed close behind, pensively. He couldn’t get his mind off what he had just heard.
Five Angels. In this world and on his own. He knew all of them back home. Rhapsody, Destiny, Harmony, Symphony and Melody. If things were the same here as in his world, they would be ‘the old guard’, as Concerto had named them. There wasn’t a Concerto.
One of the others was missing. Obviously, not Rhapsody.
Who could that be and where was she?
* * *
“This isn’t a good idea.”
Captain Grey almost rolled his eyes upward, asking the Saints to give him the strength and patience to continue to put up with Blue’s incessant complaints. It was growing very boring at the moment, as the two of them were waiting with Colonel White, in the conference room. The Spectrum commander, seated in the centre of the big circular table, was keeping very quiet, following with his eyes the blond officer’s tireless and annoying pacing in the middle of the room. Up until now, White had been patient with Blue. Too patient, Grey reflected inwardly, as he gave a sideways glance at his commanding officer. He could see that he was becoming increasingly tense over Blue’s remarks.
“I don’t feel that I have any choice, Captain,” White commented, trying to keep his voice calm.
Blue stopped his pacing. “But, sir… You can’t be serious? You’re asking us to work with a… Mysteron?”
“I doubt he is a Mysteron,” Grey replied curtly.
“He tested positive with the Mysteron Detector,” Blue said, turning tersely toward him.
“We all know that, Captain,” White noted, keeping himself from sighing with irritation. “But you now know as well as we do that in his case, that doesn’t prove anything.”
“You believe that crap about him being from ‘another, parallel dimension’? That’s what Lavender said. How can we believe that and be sure it’s not a lie? The word of a Mysteron?”
White’s eyes glowed dangerously, hearing the disgust in Blue’s spat words. Blue’d better watch his language, Grey thought. The old man won’t take much more of this…
“After having seen all the evidence, Captain, are you able to present me with an explanation OTHER than this one?”
“It’s a Mysteron trap. That’s what it is. They staged everything from the beginning.”
“Why?” Grey quietly asked.
“It’s far too elaborate for that,” White added, his patience growing thin. “No, Captain. It seems very unlikely. So I suppose we will have to take the ‘word of a Mysteron’ for what had happened. This man – this Captain Scarlet – is not of this world. As far as we know, his presence here is accidental – but it could provide us with a rare opportunity that might not present itself again. We have to grab that opportunity and make the best of it.”
“I say it’s too great a risk,” Blue mumbled. “I don’t see why we have to work with that Mysteron.”
“And I don’t remember ever asking YOU your opinion on the matter, Captain!” White said in a warning tone. “Captain Scarlet’s presence is necessary for this mission to succeed. And you’d better accommodate yourself to that situation. Because I’m assigning him as your partner.”
“WHAT?” Blue froze, staring at the Spectrum commander in disbelief. “P-partner? HIM?” he sputtered, opening wide eyes.
“According to him, he and the Captain Blue of his world work as field partners. If their Colonel White has paired them as a team, I don’t see why I wouldn’t do the same.” He raised a brow. “After all, I suppose I can trust the better judgement of a man who is – well – myself, come to think of it.”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t need a partner, Colonel,” he said harshly. “And I certainly don’t need HIM as a partner!”
“I know you’ve taken a liking to working alone, Blue,” White replied, his tone picking up in intensity. “But at the moment, I don’t need you to work as the Lone Ranger. This assignment is far too important.”
“I don’t TRUST him!”
“You don’t trust anybody, what else is new?” Grey asked with a shrug.
“Watch it, Grey, or…”
“And YOU’D better watch yourself, Captain Blue!” White suddenly exploded, the spark in his eyes suddenly burning hotter. The tone of his voice had risen, in accordance with his anger. Blue automatically snapped to attention in front of him, as White jumped to his feet, and leaned over the desk to stare straight at him. “I’m growing tired of your disrespectful attitude toward me, Captain Blue, and your obvious contempt for Spectrum regulations! Last time I looked, I was still commander of Spectrum! I still take the decisions around here! YOU are still to follow my orders! And you will do so WITHOUT ANY DISCUSSION! Is that CLEAR?”
“Sir,” Blue replied. His tone was dry, and the expression of his eyes bleak. It was obvious he had heard the words, but whether he would take them to heart, that was another question. White was well aware of that. He shook his head with irritation.
“I’m warning you, Captain,” he growled. “If you are unable to accept those conditions, I’ll have you transferred to a non-essential station on the ground. I don’t want that, and I’m sure you don’t either!”
“No, sir,” Blue answered. “I wouldn’t like that in the least.”
“Then change your attitude, man! I need my best officers to work efficiently, Blue, and YOU are the best amongst them. But I won’t have you dispute my orders anymore, neither will I have you take unnecessary risks as you have been these last few months!”
“The job needs to be done, Colonel.”
“The way you do it, anyone would think you’re trying to get yourself killed!”
Grey almost grimaced from his seat. That’s not very subtle, Charles, he thought inwardly. He and the colonel had talked at some length about Blue’s case. Both of them had grown concerned that the younger man’s behaviour was precisely due to an underlying desire for auto-destruction. He had certainly enough guilt in him, following the events of two years ago. Blue would not show it openly, or ever admit it – as he would never consult with any analyst about it. He was content with throwing himself headfirst in any kind of danger his work would require him to face, in some cases in complete disregard for his own life. As time went by, he had multiplied the risks he was taking. Blue was incredibly lucky. His worst brush with death had sent him to sickbay with a bullet in his chest, about two months ago. He lasted there no more than a week. Or rather, Doctor Fawn was unable to bear his presence any longer and had sent him to spend the remainder of his convalescence in his quarters. Blue put himself back on duty another week after that, much to Fawn’s annoyance.
At the moment, Colonel White’s harangue didn’t seem to cause any reaction what-so-ever in the blond captain. He was contenting himself with standing rigidly, staring straight at his commander.
“It won’t do anymore, is that understood, Captain?” White continued sternly. “This behaviour will have to stop or I’ll have you put on sick leave.”
That was something White couldn’t afford to do, and Grey knew it. Blue WAS the best amongst them, and if he was to be taken off duty, that would deliver a terrible blow to Spectrum’s efficiency. Furthermore, there was not enough proof that Blue’s behaviour was due to any mental disturbance on his part. Up until now, he had cleverly passed the yearly psychiatric check up with Dr. Weiss. That might have seemed confounding enough in the past as it was, but next time, Grey wasn’t so sure he would be able to get through it in one piece. Weiss was bound to find something wrong. But it wouldn’t be for another six months. In the meantime, White couldn’t even order Blue to take a psycho-test without hard evidence – Blue would have the right to refuse.
And would White really want to do it? Perhaps, if he was sure that it would be the best thing to do for Blue, that it could indeed put his life in danger if he was to pursue his present destructive behaviour. But obviously, the colonel wasn’t too convinced about that. The Spectrum commander shared a deep sympathetic bond with his junior officer, as he knew exactly what he was feeling. He had gone through this himself, years ago, and was only now starting to heal from it. Throwing himself into his work had helped him to cope. And he had apparently assumed that the same medicine would be as healing for Blue as it had been for himself – hard work would probably help the young man get through. Grey, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure of that.
“No need for that, sir,” Blue replied to White’s remark, snapping to full attention. “I’m perfectly all right.”
White kept silent for a moment, looking at the young man’s set face with a hard stare. Blue was looking past him, into the distance. The Spectrum commander shook his head in annoyance.
“WHEN was the last time I asked you to shave that beard?” he grumbled under his breath. White remembered quite well when it was, and how Blue had simply dismissed the remark with a negligent shrug. It was months ago. The last time White had even bothered making that demand. He knew that the young man would never obey that order, as he knew why he was keeping the beard. It was a last mark of devoted respect – and he wouldn’t depart from that commitment even if it meant being impertinent with his commander in chief.
“Leave the past behind, Adam,” White advised the young captain. “Don’t you think you have suffered enough?” Blue shifted his eyes to look at his commander. There was a glitter in his eyes that told White he was not about to follow that recommendation for a long time. “I’m not sure she would have wanted you to do this to yourself.”
He didn’t receive any answer, nor did he think he would. Blue was still standing at rigid attention. White sat down, with an annoyed gesture in Blue’s direction. “In case you haven’t realised it yet, Captain,” he said between his teeth, “I need you on this mission as Scarlet’s partner so you can keep your eye on him – just in case he isn’t being completely straight with us.” He saw the understanding appearing in Blue’s features, and the glow in his eyes. Instantly, he read what was in his junior officer’s mind, the prospect he was contemplating. He added quickly, “I do think he’s been honest, however, and this is just a precaution I’m taking. Can I trust you to use your best judgement during this assignment and not to act too harshly if anything remotely suspicious happens? I wouldn’t want you to shoot him again because of a blunder.”
“Sir,” Blue said straightening up, “you know you can count on me.”
“I’ll be holding you responsible for any slip-up, Captain.”
“I accept the responsibility, Colonel. There won’t be any slip-up.” Blue paused a second, before adding, in an assured voice, “I’ll put aside any dislike I may feel for Scarlet – and do my duty accordingly.”
White stared at him for a short instant, scrutinising his set features. He could see Blue meant it. He nodded briefly. “Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. Now, sit down, before you get cramp.”
Blue relaxed and was about to obey when a buzzing sound came from the door. His eyes not leaving Blue, White pressed a button on the table console. The voice of Rhapsody Angel was heard through the speaker, announcing that Captain Scarlet was waiting to enter. White gave a sigh. He welcomed the interruption. As he was also deeply aware of the way Blue had suddenly tensed.
“You behave, Captain,” he warned in an undertone.
“Of course, Colonel,” Blue replied with a quiet shrug.
“Send him in, Rhapsody,” White announced into the comm. link.
The door leading to the room slid open; Captain Scarlet was seen in the doorway, standing next to Rhapsody Angel; he addressed her a thankful nod before stepping in, alone, the door sliding closed behind him.
Briskly, Scarlet walked toward the circular table. He was aware of the intense way White, Blue and Grey were staring right at him. He could almost feel the tension in the room; the three men were all somewhat wary of him, but Blue probably more so than the others. Standing in front of the table, his eyes, set on Scarlet, were cold and attentive, his face wearing an inexpressive mask. The British officer could see, by his stance, that Blue was on his guard, ready to jump on him at the first sight of suspicious behaviour. Not that Scarlet had any intention of giving him the opportunity to do so.
He stopped in front of White and saluted him crisply. “Reporting as ordered, sir.” It felt so weird. He knew this Colonel White wasn’t really his superior officer, but he couldn’t help feeling that he should react and behave in front of him exactly as if he was. White gave a brief nod of acknowledgement and with a wave of his hand, invited Scarlet to take a seat. The English captain obeyed, at the same time noting, from the corner of his eye, that Blue was sitting at the same moment, his eyes always set on him.
“I’m glad to finally see you here, Captain,” White told Scarlet. “I noticed Rhapsody Angel at the door. Did you have trouble finding your way around?”
“No, Colonel, not exactly,” Scarlet replied with a faint grin. “Aside from a few minor details, your Cloudbase is quite identical to my own. No, I just asked Rhapsody to be my escort, just in case people were wary of my wandering the passageways on my own.”
White gave an appreciative nod. That certainly was tactful, he thought, eyeing the younger man. He wasn’t wearing his tunic, either. He was starting to like this Captain Scarlet – so much like the dedicated officer he once knew.
He cleared his throat. “You remember Captain Grey?”
“We… met in R and D yesterday,” Scarlet replied turning to the officer seated to his right. He held out his hand and offered him a smile. “Sorry to have been so rough with you.”
“I wasn’t gentle with you either,” Grey noted with a smile of his own, graciously shaking hands with Scarlet. “And I should be the one to apologise for the mix-up.”
“We were all pretty confused at the time,” Scarlet reflected. He turned to his left. Blue was staring straight at him, his face still very imperturbable. “Captain Blue…”
“Captain Scarlet.” The expression in Blue’s eyes was telling Scarlet very clearly ‘don’t wait for any apologies from me’.
And frankly, Scarlet didn’t think he could expect any.
“How’s your Captain Ochre, Captain?” White asked courteously.
“Better, sir, thank you. Although he still has to recover fully… enough anyway to grasp all the complexities of our present problem.” Scarlet shook his head. “He doesn’t know anything about it yet.”
White nodded his understanding. “I don’t see any reason either to trouble him with that for now. Don’t worry about him, the sickbay personnel will take good care of him.”
“I know that already, Colonel.”
“In the meantime… are you ready to engage in your mission for us? You must be aware however, that it won’t be an easy one for you.”
Scarlet grinned. “I signed up with Spectrum three years ago, Colonel. And due to my… condition, I’m rather accustomed to taking greater risks than my colleagues. I’m ready when you say the word.”
“Good man. All right, then. Let me show you something.”
The colonel’s seat turned around and at the same time, he pressed a button on his console. A huge flat videoscreen slowly lowered itself from the ceiling, a few feet behind him, and stopped about two feet from the floor. White pushed another button and an image appeared on the screen, that of a dark room, badly lit, filled with archive cabinets from one wall to another. The image came to life in front of the four attentive officers; a man dressed in black was going through the files in the cabinets, uncaringly throwing documents to all sides, the floor at his feet already strewn with papers. The film was silent, but there was no need for any sound to figure out that the man had just broken into the room. He was looking to all sides, while busy with his work, as if to make sure that nobody would come in and surprise him. The three captains behind White leaned closer to check on the man on the screen, as if fascinated with the same sudden interest. Even Blue was now oblivious to Scarlet’s presence at his side; his attention was all concentrated on what was going on in the picture.
“This was taken yesterday evening,” White announced, “from the archive vaults of Spectrum Los Angeles.” At the touch of a button, he froze the image, just as the man on the screen was turning around and the camera got a better angle on his face. White zoomed in on the image. “Do you recognise anyone, gentlemen?”
“Scarlet.” The word was but a breath from Blue’s lips. He stole a glance to his right. The man who was seated there was staring with an expression of apparent silent shock at the image on the screen. The image of his own face, cold and determined, with expressionless eyes, and a dark five o’clock shadow covering his cheeks and chin. The Scarlet near him wasn’t making a single sound. It was as if he couldn’t detach his eyes from that dark reflection of himself the screen was now presenting to him. Blue shrugged, turning his attention to the same image.
“You said that was taken last evening, sir?” he asked pointedly.
“Yes, Captain Blue,” White answered turning his seat to face the three men. He waved toward Scarlet. “While our ‘guest’ here was being held in custody here on Cloudbase, the real Captain Scarlet was breaking into our archives in Spectrum Los Angeles.” He looked at Scarlet, noticing the way the younger man had frowned upon hearing the Mysteron agent being referred to as ‘the real Captain Scarlet’. “I’m sorry, Captain, but for us, this man is the real one.”
“Apologies unnecessary, sir,” replied quickly. “I’ll have to get used to it. So this is the event you were telling me about earlier in sickbay. The one that confirmed to you that Lavender had told the truth concerning the parallel worlds.”
“Exactly, Captain. Mind you, when I saw this, I was baffled, to say the least. I speculated that even the Mysterons couldn’t make the same man appear in two different places at the same time. Then I heard Doctor Lavender’s explanation. And all the clues suddenly fell into place.”
“What was he looking for in the archives?” Grey asked.
“It’s probably in relation to the present Mysteron threat,” Blue remarked.
“It certainly is in relation to the present Mysteron threat,” White confirmed. “The Mysterons have threatened to destroy what we would come to consider our most effective weapon against them.”
Scarlet’s ears pricked up. The most effective weapon against the Mysterons… In his world, Colonel White had often referred to him as exactly that. Much to Scarlet’s annoyance, to be truthful, as he never viewed himself as a ‘weapon’, but simply as an officer doing his job and duty to the best of his capacity. Of course he was aware that his healing capacity gave him an edge that his colleagues didn’t have, and he accepted that – accepted the terrible and heavy responsibility that it meant. It did mean that the Mysterons probably considered him the man they had to get rid of, which wasn’t a very comforting thought. He was afraid that his presence in this world, being now known to the Mysterons here through Lavender, might have brought on this present threat – and that it could be directed at him. But the next words from White dispelled his apprehension.
“That threat may be seen as vague enough, if the Mysterons had not offered us a clue to what they meant. Their exact words: ‘The clash between the gods of War will not be without damage’. And that, gentlemen, can only mean one thing.”
“They’re after Areopagus,” Grey suddenly murmured.
“Areopagus?” Scarlet repeated in a puzzled tone.
“In Greek mythology, Captain… ‘Areopagus’ – ‘the Rock of Ares’. Where, according to Greek legends, the first murder trial, committed by the god Ares, was held on Earth.”
“Ares,” Scarlet murmured. “The god of War – the Greek name of the Roman Mars.” He looked up to White. “Apparently, that has to do with the Mysterons’ present threat. But what does Areopagus refer to, Colonel?”
“It’s a very important Spectrum project, Captain. Two years ago, during the first part of another project, called ‘Operation Sword’, an attempt was made to send a spy satellite towards Mars – a satellite that would take photos of the red planet, specifically aimed at the area where the Mysterons are believed to be settled, according to the information we have from the remaining data of Captain Black’s Zero-X mission.”
“Operation Sword, I remember,” Scarlet said with a frown. “We attempted the same thing, trying to deceive the Mysterons with a decoy communications satellite that they destroyed, while in the meantime a mini-sat was settling itself on one of Mars’s moons – Phobos. But our attempt at spying on the Mysterons failed – the K14 Observatory in the Himalayas that was set to receive the photos was destroyed by one of the astronomers – recreated as a Mysteron agent – mere seconds before we received the first photos.”
White nodded slowly. “That’s about what happened for us too,” he reflected.
“Only it was Scarlet who destroyed K14,” Blue remarked bitterly.
White kept himself from frowning. That wasn’t a useful detail to disclose at the moment, he thought, as it brought very little insight to the present situation. The only thing it would really accomplish would be to unsettle Scarlet – which it obviously did, seeing by the way he winced – ever so slightly – upon hearing it.
“Were there… any survivors?” asked the young man.
“One,” Grey announced quietly. “The head of the project, Doctor Victor Beck.”
“Beck?” Scarlet murmured. He shook his head. On his world, Beck had been the astronomer the Mysterons had Mysteronised to destroy the K14 Observatory.
“Doctor Beck was seriously injured,” White added, “and still retains consequences of the incident to this day. But he pursued his work – with more determination than before. It’s by his efforts that ‘Project Areopagus’ slowly took form. On the assumption that Mini-Sat 5 was still sending signals from Phobos, he started work on a new secret Observatory Base to re-establish contact. Using the data he still held from his previous efforts, and making new calculations to take into account the many changes that have occurred in the intervening time, such as the respective orbits and velocity of Mars and Phobos, changing distance, decreasing strength of Mini-Sat 5’s signals, and so on. That’s Project Areopagus – and we’re on the verge of obtaining some results.”
“No wonder the Mysterons would view this as a potential powerful weapon against them,” Blue remarked. “Think of all the information we can gather about them if it works. So what was Scarlet after then, in Los Angeles? Information on Areopagus?”
“Most probably, the location of the hidden Observatory where the Project is conducted,” White confirmed. “It has remained a secret from everyone except for the highest security levels of Spectrum. On Cloudbase, only I know of its location – and Captain Grey, who was assigned to inspect the security procedures, about three months ago.”
“So that’s where you were, on that special assignment of yours, that you wouldn’t say anything about,” Blue remarked. “I bet it was interesting.”
“Believe me, it wasn’t all that peachy,” grumbled Grey. “Rather boring assignment.”
“Captain Ochre was to fly there yesterday evening,” White added, “That was before the… rather eventful incident that happened during the day, which changed all our plans.” He nodded in Scarlet’s direction. “And I believe, the Mysterons’ plans as well. Because Captain Ochre was to escort Doctor Lavender to the Observatory, so he could help Doctor Beck with a specific part of the Areopagus Project.”
“That’s why he was Mysteronised,” Scarlet suddenly realised.
“Yes, I believe it was the reason,” White acknowledged. “But his departure was pushed back because of the security breach caused by your presence on Cloudbase, Captain. Although he seemed quite eager to stay here and to attend to the puzzle you presented. I have the feeling that for the Mysterons you were another kind of problem all together.”
“The contraption he devised to keep a Mysteron powerless worked just as well to keep you from explaining yourself,” Grey noted. “Lavender must have known from the beginning you weren’t the one the rest of us all thought you were. He was probably also sensing that you may become a serious threat to his masters.”
“He was also very curious to know where I was from,” Scarlet mused. “So, not being able to pursue his plans for the Mysterons, as he was created to do, he contented himself with studying the enigma I presented.” He shook his head. “How would he have been able to pass through security while trying to access Areopagus, Colonel? I know you have Mysteron detectors. He would have been spotted, eventually – probably before entering the grounds.”
“Most probably,” White admitted. “Unless his plan was to kill Captain Ochre, take the control of the SPJ and send it crashing against the mountain where the Observatory is hidden.” He nodded. “Except for satellite dish, antennas and telescope, the main complex is underground.”
“Since their agent had not been sent to the Observatory, which location they ignored,” Blue continued, “the Mysterons then decided to send Scarlet to raid the L.A. archive vaults… To find out where their target may actually be.”
“Did they find out?”
White’s eyes narrowed, as he nodded thoughtfully. “They may think they have.” He saw the puzzled look in each of the three men’s faces. They were all waiting for him to pursue his explanation. He cleared his throat. “Considering the final fate of the K14 Observatory, we anticipated that the Mysterons would probably try to counter any other further attempts to spy on them. Which explains why we’re taking so many precautions with the Areopagus Project. Knowing that there would probably be some attempt to break into Records Centres to find its secret location, our security people thought it best to add a special safety measure. That’s why the information you can find in the official files concerning the Areopagus Project is false. Including the location of the secret complex hosting it.”
White saw the three officers’ expression light up with revelation. Blue was the first to comment on the news, doing so by stroking his beard thoughtfully: “So the information Scarlet took from the vault will likely send him on a wild goose chase…”
“BETTER than that, Captain Blue,” White rectified, looking straight at him. “It will send him directly within our reach. We will be able to set a trap for him.”
He saw the smile slowly spread on Blue’s face. “A trap,” the blond American said, his satisfaction now plainly evident on all his features. Suddenly, for the first time in long hours, he seemed very pleased with the situation. He turned to his right with a grin. It wasn’t clear right away if he was oblivious to Scarlet’s presence – if he didn’t care anymore, or if he had realised by now that this really wasn’t the man he ought to hate. His smile had all the outward look of a tiger’s snarl. Now there was nothing else more important to him than the fact that the man he was really out to get would soon fall into Spectrum’s hands.
“I kind of like that,” he said quietly, crossing his arms. “Would make up for the time we wasted with you, Mister Spitting Image.”
Scarlet frowned. He didn’t like this Captain Blue’s attitude at all. “I have a name – Captain.”
Blue raised a stoic brow. “You’re sure you want to use it here – Captain?”
Scarlet stared Blue straight in the eyes. He had to admit he had a point. On this world, his Spectrum codename was synonymous with all he abhorred – what he had been fighting against all his life. It was the name of a Mysteron agent wearing his face, and running around freely, doing his masters’ bidding. That was a fate he could not bear to imagine for himself. He would have gladly preferred to die, given the choice. Somehow, thinking that this was the fate of the Captain Scarlet of this world was an almost intolerable thought.
“You’re right,” he finally conceded to Blue. “I can’t go around with a name that has been disgraced by the actions of that Mysteron agent...”
“Captain,” White replied suddenly, “the disgrace isn’t yours.”
“Nonetheless, sir, if it’s all right with you, I would prefer not to use it.” Scarlet glared in Blue’s direction. “If only to avoid confusion…”
White nodded his understanding. “All right then – Mister Metcalfe.” He noticed Blue refraining from a derisive snort and contenting himself with a careless shrug. For the bearded officer, the change of name certainly didn’t mean that he was to like Scarlet more – or trust him. It was all the same to him.
“Are you ready to help us with this operation, then?” White asked, addressing Scarlet anew.
The latter straightened up. “I’m ready, sir. Just tell me your plan.”
“Thank you. So. At the moment, Captains Ochre and Magenta are already in attendance at the Areopagus Complex to assure its protection with a team of ground agents. In the meantime, we’ll be setting our trap. Mister Metcalfe, your part in this will be a crucial one. And more so than you think. Because if we play our hand well, not only will we be able to capture Captain Scarlet – but maybe even Captain Black as well, as the two of them often work closely together.” He paused a second, making sure he had the full attention of the three officers seated in front of him. He didn’t need to worry. They were hanging on his words. “Now, gentlemen,” he said in a quiet voice, “here’s what we are going to do…”
* * *
A trap laid
He was very close to his target.
He could see it through his binoculars, set on the side of the next mountain. Half-covered with snow, that had fallen on it the preceding day during a blizzard. K14 Observatory, that had been mostly destroyed by a violent explosion ordered by the Mysterons two years ago. The Earthmen were rebuilding it and the recent work they had done was more than apparent. No-one was there at the moment. The weather in the Himalayas was so very treacherous, that it was deemed dangerous to send workers to the Observatory for at least another two days. That much he had been told in the village below. He wasn’t sure if he was to believe it.
The records he had clandestinely consulted in Los Angeles were unquestionably positive: that was the location of the secret complex Spectrum was desperately hiding from the Mysterons. That seemed so improbable. The information the Mysterons had gleaned concerning ‘Areopagus’ seemed to indicate that the complex where the project was conducted was operational. The site he was observing right now seemed far from that. Restoration of the place was incomplete, the telescope was little more than a non-functional wreck, and there was no visual sign of life.
From what he knew, the complex should be underground. So maybe the old K14 Observatory, in its present state, was nothing more than a façade. Maybe the real complex, and the Areopagus project, were cleverly hidden behind that pathetic image.
That was a distinct possibility. Something that was certainly not beyond Spectrum’s careful strategy. After all, he was well placed to know how the organisation worked.
That was worth investigating.
He checked his watch, and then looked upon the distance separating him from the Observatory. With cold, analytical eyes, he evaluated which path he would take to reach it safely, without being seen if the place was under surveillance, how much time it would take him.
Two hours, and he’d know, he calculated, with a brief nod.
He turned around and directed his pace toward the backpack and the pair of skis stuck in the snow behind him.
* * *
“It’s not all that comfortable in here,” Captain Scarlet pointed out to Captain Blue. “Sure you don’t want anything to warm you up?”
In the observation post they had taken in what had previously been the cafeteria, on the second floor of the K14 Observatory, Blue was standing in front of an open window, scanning the area with binoculars. Scarlet, behind him, was leaning in front of a small microwave oven, set on a makeshift counter. Obviously, the construction staff working on the structural rebuilding had installed the electrical appliance, along with a large coffee maker, and had left behind a few bowls and cups and a handful of utensils. Electricity was working fine in the building – having been recently set up, about a week or so ago. But there was practically no lighting in the place, and no heating anywhere. The chilling wind entered from every opening – and there were many, as although the walls had been put back up, most of the windows were missing. The polythene sheets that had been tacked over the window-frames to prevent the snow from entering had been utterly torn by the fury of the blizzard the preceding day.
There wasn’t much protection from the uncomfortable cold, except for the winter coats and gloves the two officers were wearing, and the thermos of coffee they had brought with them. After hours of stakeout, the coffee had been finished very quickly, and Scarlet had set himself to search through the cafeteria cupboards for anything that may help warm them up, and that would have been left behind by the workmen. His search had been rather fruitful, and Blue, not leaving his observation post, had heard him getting busy at the microwave behind him.
“No, thank you,” Blue answered, still in the dry tone in which he had been addressing Scarlet since the start of the stakeout.
The latter shrugged. “Suit yourself. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
I’m sure he’s preparing tea, the annoyed Blue told himself, without turning around. He didn’t understand it. He had been stuck with Scarlet for what seemed like hours, and had done everything from ignoring him to only talking to him when absolutely necessary and when spoken to – and always with a disagreeable tone. But nothing seemed to infuriate the Englishman, or even simply annoy him. That was almost ridiculous. Surely, he knew that Blue disliked him, distrusted him, and that he was only tolerating his presence for the purposes of the assignment – because he was ordered to. Yet, Scarlet had remained consistently gracious, indifferent to the American captain’s offensive behaviour. He had even gone as far as to offer a friendly façade. Blue suspected it might be an act – his wariness of the man being such that he was thinking that Scarlet may be awaiting the moment he would let his guard down to strike. That won’t happen, a determined Blue promised himself. He’ll find I’m not that easily fooled.
His keenly alert ear picked up the faint beeping coming from the oven behind him; he looked over his shoulder to see Scarlet open the oven door and greedily reach for a cup inside, before bringing it to his lips with a more than obvious satisfied expression on his face. Blue grunted his disapproval, and turned back to his surveillance, as Scarlet quietly walked in his direction, to stand by his side, taking a sip from his cup.
“Nothing yet?” he asked casually.
Blue stole a sideways glance in his direction. “No, nothing,” he answered. “But I suspect he may not be that far.”
Scarlet nodded. Blue’s tone had been less sharp than previously. Maybe he’s mellowing…
“The other surveillance posts in the area haven’t communicated any suspicious movement yet,” he announced quietly. “I just contacted Grey.”
Blue nodded. “He was spotted by our man at the village below. He certainly hasn’t turned around so close to his target.”
“Or what he believes is his target.”
“Right. That wouldn’t be normal Mysteron behaviour. Even if he felt there might be a trap. Wouldn’t be his style.” Blue’s nose suddenly picked up a scent. He frowned and sniffed, turning around toward Scarlet, who was still drinking from his simmering cup. “That’s not tea. It’s…”
“Chicken broth.” Scarlet presented Blue with another cup he was holding in his left hand, giving the American a sly grin. “I found condensed cubes of it in the cupboard. This brand is a little salty, but I think you’ll appreciate it.”
There was little hesitation on Blue’s part. He was, after all, as cold as Scarlet, and since the latter had prepared the cup anyway… He took it with a simple nod. “I’ve always loved that stuff,” he noted.
“I know. That’s why I made it despite the fact that you said no.” Scarlet gave a nod outdoors, through the window. “I don’t see any reason for him to believe it may be a trap,” he observed, continuing their earlier conversation, as Blue took a drink of the steaming broth. “He’s probably very cautious, that’s all. I agree with you, he can’t be far. Maybe he’s even closer than we think.”
“You should know that, shouldn’t you?” Blue replied, lowering his cup, and turning around to face the impressive mountainous scenery spreading out in front of him. What a beautiful sight, he thought, letting himself be distracted for a very short instant. It lasted only a second or two, as the reason for his presence in such a magnificent place wasn’t leaving his mind for a moment.
“That man is supposed to be me in this world, remember?” he heard Scarlet reply. “I know what he is capable of. If he’s as expert at camouflage as I am…”
“He is.” Blue turned to narrow his eyes at the man standing by his side. Scarlet was staring straight ahead, looking thoughtful but unworried, sipping from his cup. Taking his binoculars in his free hand, Blue returned to his surveillance once more, with a slight shrug. “This time, I’m hoping we’ll catch him.”
“You want him that badly, Blue?” Scarlet asked, turning a curious glance at the American officer.
The latter grunted. “He’s been evading our net for two years. What do you think?”
He was avoiding the question. Blue had a personal stake in the Mysteron Scarlet’s capture, that much was obvious. Scarlet gave a faint sigh and took his own binoculars, to survey the direction opposite to Blue’s. “You know you can count on my help in capturing him.”
He heard the faint scoff coming from Blue. “I expect I can,” the blond bearded officer replied. “After all, that’s part of the deal you made with Colonel White, Metcalfe. You help us, and Spectrum scientists will find a way to send you back where you came from. With your Captain Ochre.”
“I’m not helping Spectrum only out of self-interest, Blue. And there’s nothing to say that scientists will actually find a way to send us back home.”
“I hope they do.”
“And I’m sure you’re not saying that out of sympathy, Captain. I can see you’ll be very happy to get rid of me.”
“ONE Captain Scarlet in this world is quite enough, thank you. In fact, it’s already one too many.”
Scarlet sighed and shook his head. “You don’t have to be wary of me, Blue. I’m nothing like him.”
“Right. ‘Nothing like him’. Don’t make me laugh.” The bitterness in Blue’s voice was almost palpable and that made Scarlet turn toward him. Blue was still observing the area with apparent attention. “I saw what happened in sickbay,” Blue remarked dryly. “How you healed completely, after sustaining wounds that would have killed anyone else in your place.” He lowered his binoculars to face Scarlet again, with an intense gaze. “In fact, you were dead. But you revived. Exactly like this Mysteron Scarlet would have. So don’t tell me you are different from him.”
Scarlet’s blue eyes met Blue’s stare, without flinching, with a gaze equally as glowing. “Whether you believe it or not, Blue,” he stated, forcing his voice to remain calm, “I am not your enemy. So I’m telling you again: you don’t have to be wary of me.”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word for it,” Blue replied between his teeth.
Scarlet tilted his head to the side, scrutinising the bearded man’s resolute and set face. “I know you don’t like me because I look like him. And that, in fact, it’s him you hate that much. What has he done to you?”
“Why would you care?” Blue seethed.
“It may be that I, too, have a bone to pick with the Mysterons.”
“Right. I can’t imagine what it could be. They made you indestructible.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “How about they killed me in the process and made me one of their mindless slaves for six hours?” he proposed quietly.
Blue kept silent for a moment, seeming to ponder the Brit’s words. He shook his head, dismissing them all, and turned around brusquely. “Keep your part of the bargain, Metcalfe,” he groused. “That’s all I want from you.”
Scarlet’s throat gave a low rumble of irritation, as he stared at the set profile of Blue, who was raising his binoculars again. “How different you are from the Captain Blue I know,” the Englishman reflected. “He’s certainly more agreeable than you are.”
“Oh right…” Blue scoffed derisively. “The two of you are partners, right? Friends and all, isn’t it?”
Scarlet glared at him. “That’s right, we’re all that, and even more. I owe him my life for freeing me from the Mysterons’ influence, when he shot me off the London Car-Vu, two years ago, and Spectrum recovered my body afterwards. That is something I will never be able to repay him for.”
So that’s how it occurred. The Car-Vu incident… That happened for us too, Blue reflected gloomily, not turning around to face Scarlet. Except in our case, Scarlet was never freed from the Mysterons. His body was never found, and he kept on working for his masters. Maybe things might have turned out differently if his body had been salvaged from the Car-Vu wreckage, then. Maybe he would have come back to Spectrum, and worked with them as an indestructible agent, like this one in his world – maybe so many of those failed missions of the past would have been a success, and many lives would have been saved. Maybe Symphony…
Blue shrugged the thought away; it wasn’t good to dwell on things that might have happened, on how different they would have been if only one event had followed another course. All was done, and there was nothing they could do to change things now. People were dead and they would not come back – not if they weren’t Mysterons.
But Blue couldn’t completely stop the thought from coming back to his mind. He was curious to know a little bit more about this counterpart of his.
“So you two are best buddies or something?” he asked, his indifferent tone making it sound as if the question wasn’t that important.
“Or something,” Scarlet replied, putting down his now empty cup and picking up his own binoculars to check the area. “As a matter of fact we’re as close as brothers…”
“Cain and Abel were brothers too,” Blue replied. That was an automatic reaction. But curiously, the Brit didn’t pick up the insult.
“Would Abel ask Cain to be his best man at his wedding?” he asked matter-of-factly.
Blue scoffed, keeping his eyes on his binoculars. “Now that’s surprising news! You, a Mysteron, are getting married?”
Scarlet bristled at the insult. “First of all,” he replied keeping his tone as cool as possible, while scanning his side of the area with his binoculars, “I am not a Mysteron. I’m a man like any other, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I do have someone in my life...”
“I pity the poor girl. Does she know what she’s getting herself into?”
“… And secondly,” Scarlet continued, feigning not to have heard the latest abuse, “I am not the one who’s getting married. Blue is.”
The reply didn’t register right away. It took a few seconds for it to sink into Captain Blue’s mind. He slowly turned around to stare at Scarlet, who had not moved from his post, still searching the mountains. “Blue? You mean… your Blue is getting married?”
“Eventually,” Scarlet answered without facing him. “As soon as Colonel White can arrange a way to get around the regulations about married couples serving together.”
Blue blinked in perplexity, the information again failing to register fully. Then he frowned. “Wait. What do you mean exactly by…”
Scarlet, his eyes still in the eyepiece of the binoculars, tensed suddenly, and he stood rigidly, now looking intently in one specific direction. “Heads up, Captain. I think I found him.”
All other considerations left Blue’s mind in a split second; he pushed the question to the back of his mind, with the full intention of asking Scarlet about it later on. For now, they had a job to do. Swiftly, he moved next to the Brit and put his binoculars to his eyes, checking in the direction that Scarlet was now pointing out to him. He saw a human silhouette, dressed in white and grey, smoothly sliding on skis on the side of the mountain. Coming in the direction of the Observatory.
“Looks like it could be our client,” Blue muttered. His epaulettes flashed grey at this moment, and he lowered his cap microphone. “Captain Grey? Yes, we saw him too. He’s coming this way, all right. Right into the trap. We’re getting ready to receive him. You can begin your approach into position. Blue out.” He cut the signal, the mic returning to his cap visor, and turned to Scarlet. “Come on. Let’s get the welcoming committee ready.”
* * *
The place was dark. Deserted. No sign of life anywhere, as the lone visitor’s steps echoed down the complex’s main corridor. He had no trouble breaking in, the simple electromagnetic lock on the door having offered little resistance to the plastic explosive he had put against it. No alarm had made itself heard, and he had simply walked in, untroubled.
If this was the façade for Project Areopagus, it was a GOOD façade. Nobody would imagine it could be here.
He walked the main corridor confidently, his gun drawn, expecting any moment to see a security guard or a Spectrum agent appear out of nowhere. But still, there was nobody in sight, and he continued on his way through the command centre.
As the door slid open in front of him, he found the room as empty as the rest of the Observatory. He walked in, looking around with cold blue eyes. This was more and more curious. Certainly, there was somebody somewhere – someone who could lead him to a possible secret passageway to the real complex, probably hidden in the belly of the mountain, as he suspected it might be. Spectrum couldn’t possibly leave the entrance unguarded. Especially after they had heard the Mysterons threat against Areopagus. Surely, the Earthmen had easily recognised what the target was this time?
Walking into the centre of the room, he stopped, still looking around, the perplexity mounting in him, although it wasn’t obvious on his pale features. No… There didn’t seem to be anything here. Did the Earthmen deceive us?
He had to report this to his partner. There was something definitely not right going on.
* * *
From his hiding place with the bearded Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet felt a sudden headache hit him between the eyes. He swayed, clutching the wall to keep his balance, and reached for his throbbing forehead. Standing in front of him, Blue was staring intently. Even in the dark surrounding them, he could see how pale his companion had become. His face was glistening with sweat.
“What’s the matter with you?” Blue whispered, glaring. “Do you want him to hear us?” He looked closer. “Are you sick?”
“His presence… nearly overwhelming for me,” Scarlet grunted.
“What do you mean, ‘overwhelming’?” Blue seethed between his teeth. “You ‘sense’ his presence?”
“I have this sixth sense… sometimes when there’s a Mysteron around… I…” Scarlet froze, his words dying on his lips as a stronger wave of nausea hit him. Blue looked in concern, as the man’s entire body shivered in front of him, and his eyes became wide. “My God…”
“What is it?” This was getting nerve-racking for Blue; his hand lowered to stroke the handle of his gun. If this guy was to turn against him…
Blue’s hand discreetly gripped the gun. He didn’t draw it yet. By the look on Scarlet’s face, what was happening right now wasn’t customary. He appeared confused, upset.
I knew it… There’s something odd with this guy…What if he’s still in the Mysterons’ clutches?
“I’m picking something up …” Scarlet murmured, his face creased in deep, obviously painful concentration. “It’s not very clear… Very distorted.” He shook his head. “It’s like… what happened on Anuenue…”
“It’s happened before?” Blue asked, unnerved.
“Only once. Nearly two years ago. Come to think of it… the circumstances were quite similar.” He didn’t seem to notice Blue's growing nervousness, too busy trying to make sense of the message he was hearing and to fight the annoying nausea and headache he was feeling.” Oh wow…” He frowned deeply, as something suddenly became clear in what he was perceiving. He looked up at Blue, with eyes opened wide with astonishment. “You won’t believe this,” he murmured.
“He’s contacting Captain Black.”
* * *
“This is Captain Scarlet contacting Captain Black,” the Mysteron Scarlet called out in the droning tone of the Mysterons. “I am inside the K14 Observatory Complex. It is completely deserted. So far, I have found no trace of the Areopagus Project. I will continue investigation, as maybe the complex is hidden inside the mountain, but the absence of security around the Observatory leads me to believe that it isn’t even here.”
He waited to receive acknowledgement of his call. Mental contact with Black, or any other Mysteron agent, always called for intense concentration, especially over long distances. In his mind, he finally heard Black’s answer, booming as if coming from all around him.
“The foolish Earthmen may have led us to a false trail… We should have thought they would try this. Continue your investigation. Make sure the K14 Observatory is really as deserted as it appears.”
“I will obey. If there isn’t anything here, it would lead us to believe that the McKinley trail is the right one.”
“I am proceeding to Alaska to investigate. Complete your own investigation. If the K14 Observatory proves to be a threat, destroy it. If the Areopagus Complex isn’t there, meet me in Talkeenta, at the Sutsina Lounge, tomorrow afternoon, at fourteen hundred hours.”
“I will obey the Mysterons’ instructions.”
The contact was terminated without further delay. There wasn’t any need to pursue it any longer. The Mysteron Scarlet knew what to do. He would carry out his orders swiftly and would then be on his way. Already, he felt that the Earthmen had made him waste too much of his time. He turned, removing the backpack from his back and letting it fall on the floor. He prepared himself to search the dark room he was presently standing in.
And then… the nausea hit him.
In the pit of his stomach, a churning like he never had felt before. It wasn’t long before he felt the headache too, banging on each side of his head, so painful that it made it difficult for him to think. He staggered, and reached for a console, a few feet to his left. Taking a hold of it, he kept himself upright, trying to focus.
What was going on? He NEVER felt sick before. That was an impossibility for him. And yet now, he had difficulty keeping on his shaking legs.
There was something abnormal going on, and he couldn’t imagine what it could be.
A light just overhead went on suddenly, blinding him and freezing him on the spot. A loud sound made itself heard from the door; he turned on his heel, in time to see a reinforced security door sliding from the ceiling and sealing the entrance.
“Feeling bad, old friend?”
The Mysteron agent looked up, the movement sending a bolt of pain through his skull. Through the blinding light, he strained his eyes and saw, alone, standing like a statue on a narrow mezzanine about ten feet above his head, the silhouette of Captain Blue, in his light blue coat, staring down at him with eyes as cold as his own, his hands casually behind his back.
“You walked straight into our trap, Scarlet,” Blue stated in a calm tone. “There’s nowhere for you to go. I suggest you surrender quietly.”
“Earthman… You’re more a fool than I thought if you imagine you have me.” Overcoming the sudden dizziness that had hit him, the Mysteron Scarlet forced the words out of his mouth. He raised his gun, to point it at Blue, who didn’t even seem impressed when he saw this. “I’m still armed. And I will fight my way out of here if you don’t let me go.”
Blue raised a brow, and his face lit with a faint, but very icy smile. “You think that’s going to impress me? You should know me well enough by now to know it isn’t going to.”
“Release me or I’ll kill you where you stand, Captain Blue.” Despite the banging pain in his head, making it hard to concentrate, the Mysteron felt confident. How would the lone Spectrum officer be able to stop him? He was easy prey, standing up there. There was no place for him to hide.
“Sorry, pal, no can do. I have you and I have no intention of letting you go.” He saw the Mysteron agent taking careful aim at him, but didn’t move from his spot, contenting himself with looking contemptuously at him. “Make it easy on yourself. Surrender.”
“No, Earthman. YOU will surrender.”
“I was kinda hoping you’d say that.” Blue narrowed his eyes. “Did I introduce you to my partner, Captain Scarlet?”
It suddenly hit the Mysteron Scarlet that Captain Blue wasn’t alone after all; he would probably have realised it sooner if not for the discomfort he was presently feeling. But it was already too late for him to react. He failed to sense the dark presence near him, and only became aware of it when it was on top of him, literally leaping from the shadows, grabbing the arm which was holding the gun he was aiming at Blue. A shot was heard.
Blue, cautiously, had dived to the floor, to avoid a stray shot. He need not have worried; the bullet had lost itself in the ceiling. He took his gun and looked down at the fight below. The earlier attack from his partner had pushed it out of the spotlight that had blinded the Mysteron agent when it had been lit; all he could see was two silhouettes, one dark and one pale, battling it out for supremacy. He couldn’t get a clear shot.
Damned Scarlet, he muttered under his breath, not knowing exactly to which one this curse was addressed.
He moved towards the stairs.
The Mysteron Scarlet was trying to escape the hold of his opponent, who had caught him from behind. He couldn’t see his face, but found out he was as strong as he was himself, and equally as skilled. Every move he tried was easily countered. At the moment, the Mysteron agent was at a distinct disadvantage, as his adversary, having surprised him, had succeeded in imprisoning one of his arms behind his back, and was holding his other arm in the air, so he couldn’t use the gun. Mysteron Scarlet didn’t give up and brought his heel brutally down his opponent’s toes. He heard a yelp of pain and felt the hold relax; his elbow struck back and made contact with a tender area.
Spinning around, the Mysteron prepared himself to throw a violent punch at his adversary, but the latter was just a little quicker; his own fist made contact first, on the Mysteron agent’s jaw, dazing him instantly. A second later, a karate kick literally paralysed his hand, and sent the gun flying into the air. The Mysteron stumbled under a new punch that sent him against the wall behind. He was too dazed, felt too nauseous to react effectively.
The man’s strong hands pinned his forearms against the wall, trying to immobilise him. Only then did the Mysteron agent succeed in getting a clear view of his adversary’s face. He was looking straight at him, with an expression similar to his own, nearly as pale and sick as his own features, but with clear blue eyes that were alive with a totally human determination.
“Anything you throw at me,” Captain Scarlet spat between his teeth into the Mysteron’s expressionless face, “I can do better.”
If his Mysteron self was surprised to see him, he didn’t show it at all. The Mysteron lifted his foot, and, seemingly drawing on his last reserves, pushed it against Scarlet’s stomach with great strength, forcing him away. Scarlet stumbled back, keeping his balance as best he could. It was only by an effort of determination that he kept upright. The presence of this Mysteron, his other self in this world, was truly overwhelming, nearly unbearable. As his own presence was upsetting the Mysteron, making him sick. Perhaps sicker than he was himself.
“You should be dead.” The voice, similar to his own, but tainted with the cold, sepulchral accent of the Mysterons, made him freeze on the spot. With renewed vigour, his twin leapt at him – and landed him an uppercut to the stomach that sent him to his knees. I was wrong. He’s not sicker than me. I am as sick as he is! He realised that the Mysteron, too, needed to get used to the illness caused by his other’s presence. That’s what he was doing right now. Quicker than himself, obviously. And that was something he hadn’t counted on.
“Doctor Lavender should have killed you,” the Mysteron agent continued, taking Scarlet by the collar of the dark grey coat he was wearing. “You’re too much of a threat for the Mysterons to be allowed to live.” He swung his clenched fist right into Scarlet’s face, with such violence that the Spectrum agent fell face first, flat on the floor, dazed. He heard a click, as the hammer of a pistol was pulled back very close to him. The Mysteron had recovered his gun. “I should be the one to finish you off.”
“Drop it.” The icy tone of Blue rang out, and everything seemed to freeze. Half-stunned by the vicious attack on his Mysteron doppelganger’s part, Scarlet raised himself slightly on his arms and looked over his shoulder, to see what was going on. He saw the Mysteron standing over him, his weapon aimed down at him, and Captain Blue by the Mysteron’s side, his arm extended, and pressing the barrel of his gun to the Mysteron’s head. Both were standing like lifeless statues, except for the blazing glow in Blue’s eyes. He extended his other hand and roughly relieved the Mysteron of his gun. “Did you forget about me, by any chance?” Obviously, by the way he looked back at the Spectrum officer, the Mysteron Scarlet indeed had forgotten about him. Too preoccupied by fighting off Scarlet or too sick to consider it, it was impossible to determine.
“Good timing,” Scarlet said, getting himself into a sitting position.
“You got cocky,” Blue stated, briefly looking down at him.
“And you didn’t yourself, when you stood up there, drawing his attention while I was approaching him?” Scarlet replied. “You should have got your gun out.”
“He would have fired instantly if he had seen it. Besides, it would have been too tempting for me to use it. As it is now.” Blue lowered his gun and pushed the Mysteron with the barrel. “Step back.” His captive silently obeyed, turning around to face him with a cold gaze. Keeping his eyes on him, Blue stretched out his hand to Scarlet; the latter grabbed it and the American officer pulled him to his feet. Scarlet staggered slightly, and shook his head to regain his senses completely.
“You should have realised you were too sick to handle him by yourself,” Blue observed.
“That was pretty unexpected, don’t you think? Besides, he was sick too,” Scarlet reminded him pointedly.
“Yeah. But he got better faster than you.”
Scarlet hesitated. “Maybe I’m not totally recovered from Lavender’s electroshock treatment,” he noted. That was a distinct possibility. But it was a pointless argument right now. He was getting better, anyway, and felt only the faintest of buzzing inside his head. He nodded in the direction of his Mysteron doppelganger who was still staring coldly and silently at them. “The important thing is that we have him. Alive, as the colonel wanted.”
“Yeah, we do have him,” Blue said between his teeth, not taking his eyes off the Mysteron.
“You think you’ll be able to keep me, Earthmen?” Scarlet couldn’t get used to that sepulchral voice; it was unsettling for him to think it was coming from the mouth of a man who was supposed to be him on this world.
“Make ONE move, you bastard, and…”
“Easy, Blue. He’s taunting you.” Scarlet glared back at his Mysteron self. “You’d better contact Grey instead, and tell him to come with the helicopter. We’re taking him to Cloudbase.”
“Where with any luck, and if I have any say in it, he will be hooked to Lavender’s contraption,” Blue spat angrily.
Scarlet couldn’t help but shiver. There was so much loathing in Blue’s voice, it was almost unbelievable. What had his Mysteron double done for Blue to have that amount of hate in him? It wasn’t at all like the Blue he knew. That man here was utterly obsessed with thoughts of vengeance against the Mysterons – against that Mysteronised Captain Scarlet standing there, with his unnerving cold stare set on them. He was responsible for something serious, something that had touched Blue personally.
The latter, his eyes still fixed on the Mysteron, had lowered his cap mic to contact Grey, as Scarlet had suggested, and was asking for the helicopter to be sent in, to take the captive along to Cloudbase. He just had the time to hear Grey say that the colonel would be pleased with how smoothly the operation had gone before shutting communication when the Mysteron Scarlet made a side-step. Automatically, Blue raised the gun on him.
“Stay where you are!” His finger was stroking the trigger hesitantly. One bullet, he thought, his eyes burning feverishly. One bullet between the eyes, and that bastard would be out cold for a while. What am I waiting for?
“Cool it, Blue,” Scarlet then said, as if reading the American officer’s mind, and swiftly putting his hand on his extended arm. “We want to keep him alive.”
“You can’t kill me, Earthmen,” the Mysteron then replied. “I will just keep on coming back.”
“Oh, that’s rich!” Blue seethed. “I just feel like killing you over and over and over again. Wouldn’t that feel good…”
“He’ll be alive, Metcalfe! Don’t you see? One bullet through his head and we won’t have to worry about him during the trip back to Cloudbase. Simple, but effective. Then he’ll just revive once on base, and everybody will be happy.”
“You more than anybody else, that’s obvious.”
“Stay OUT of this, Metcalfe!” Blue spat angrily, pushing Scarlet’s calming hand away. His eyes glowed dangerously. “This is between him and me. It always was between him and me… Isn’t that true, Scarlet? Now I have a chance to make you pay…”
“You’ve been trying to ‘make me pay’ for the last two years,” the Mysteron Scarlet observed calmly. “Yes, I believe you’re right. Now is your chance."
“Shut up!” Scarlet barked turning to his double.
“You’re tempting me, scum.”
“Blue, he’s trying to taunt you into making a mistake and lowering your guard!”
“How many times have you tried to kill me, Captain?” the Mysteron Scarlet continued.
“Not often enough,” Blue spat. He tilted his head to one side, scrutinising the Mysteron. “Metcalfe is right. You are taunting me, aren’t you?”
“No, Earthman. I’m trying to draw your attention away from the real threat.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
The Mysteron Scarlet gauged his opponent callously, narrowing his eyes to a thin slit. He nodded slowly, seeing as the American officer was cooling down gradually, but was still very much on edge. Now was time for the kill. Slowly, he turned to face Scarlet. “Well done, Paul Metcalfe. Now we have him exactly where we wanted.”
That hit the target. Scarlet opened eyes wide with astonishment hearing those words, and they had on the paranoid Blue exactly the effect the Mysteron thought they would – and that he himself was sure of. Blue relaxed his gaze from the Mysteron double and turned to Scarlet. There was doubt in his eyes, as he stared at him, disbelieving, and at the same time accusing. He was wondering if he was right about him after all. After what he had witnessed so far, it was hard to imagine that Scarlet had deceived him, but, still he couldn’t help thinking that he could have been the pawn in an elaborate farce.
All that went through his head in the space of seconds, and he could see that Scarlet was as stunned as he was by the accusation. Seeing Blue’s condemning gaze and hesitation at turning the gun against him, he started protesting, “You can’t believe that, Adam. Don’t you see he’s…”
From the corner of his eye, Scarlet saw his double make another side-step, his hand reaching for one of the pockets of his coat. He tensed instantly. “Look out!”
Blue too had caught the Mysteron agent’s move and had reacted accordingly. He pulled the trigger instantly, and the Mysteron agent fell back, a bullet in his chest.
“You were right. He was trying to force me to make a mistake,” Blue remarked casually to Scarlet. Both of them looked down at the Mysteron agent, lying motionless on his side, bleeding. Scarlet made a step in his direction, but Blue took him by the shoulder and stopped him. “Don’t move.”
Scarlet looked down; Blue’s hand was still hesitantly aiming the gun at his belly. He looked up angrily at his set face. “Don’t tell me you give any credence to what he said!” he said forcefully.
“I hope he just lied, Metcalfe,” Blue replied. “But I just can’t take the risk of…”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Scarlet lashed out stepping back, and shrugging Blue’s hand off his shoulder. “You’re really paranoid, Svenson! I wonder what happened to you to transform you in such a way. The Adam I know wouldn’t act like this.”
“I am not the Adam you know!” Blue snapped back forcefully. “Maybe HE didn’t live through the hell I lived! Maybe he would be more like me if he had gone through it!” He nodded toward the fallen Mysteron agent. “And it was all his fault!”
“That much I gathered. But I am not your enemy, Adam.”
Blue hesitated; there was a genuine expression of sympathy in Metcalfe’s features. At that moment, it was difficult for Blue to think of the man as an enemy. And yet, the doubt persisted, nagging at him, hampering his thought process. What if he had been right from the beginning about him? What if he was only playing a part, making believe he was friendly, just so he would lower his guard, making him easy prey for an attack? That sickness Metcalfe had experienced earlier – that ‘contact’ he had with the Mysteron Scarlet and Captain Black, while they were communicating… What if they were just indications that he indeed was under Mysteron control – and would eventually follow their orders? It didn’t seem possible, not after the way he had seemingly proved himself by fighting his double, but…
Slowly, Blue lowered his gun, and Scarlet nearly sighed his relief seeing that.
He didn’t have time to rejoice.
Captain Scarlet had never learned with any certainty what set off his very personal sixth sense concerning the Mysterons. Nobody had been able to discover that with precision. It was theorised that it was a remnant of the power that Mysterons agents had to contact each other mentally – or of some kind of feature that originally enabled the Mysterons to maintain their control over him. A ‘broken antenna’ in some way, that couldn’t pick up the signal in any other way but distorted. That didn’t fully explain how he could feel a direct threat of Mysteron origin, nor how he could feel a Mysteron’s presence. Nor why it didn’t always work. But when it was working, Scarlet was always glad it did. As he was right now when he felt, without any room left for doubt, what was going to happen. The danger was coming from the fallen Mysteron agent behind him. And it was coming fast.
He grabbed Blue by the shoulder and pushed him away, to the floor and behind the central console of the command centre, just beside them.
There was an explosion of flames that seemed to make the whole room shake, just as they hit the floor. They hid their heads under their forearms, as debris started falling all around them, revealing the proximity of the explosion. As the rain of debris stopped, Scarlet rose slightly on his knees to risk a peek over the console. The spot where Blue and he had stood was now marked with a large black burned stain, which was smoking at the centre.
That was close.
The Scarlet Mysteron had disappeared from the spot where he had been lying and was nowhere to be seen.
“Are you all right?” Scarlet asked Blue. Like Scarlet, the American officer was rising to his knees, shaking himself to regain his focus.
“What just happened?”
“Concussion grenade,” Scarlet replied. “At least, from the looks of it. He must have had one stashed on him.”
“That dirty…” Blue had just taken notice of his enemy’s disappearance. Furious about this, he recovered his gun from the floor, and started rising to his feet, shakily, without taking any care; Scarlet didn’t have time to stop him from coming out into the open. Multiple gunshots made themselves heard, and Blue, letting out a yelp of pain, fell down on his back, clutching his shoulder. Scarlet reached his side. As he bent down over the now wounded Blue, who was clenching his teeth against the pain of his injured shoulder, another hail of bullets hit the surface of the console, sending sparks over them. An ominous voice, that was becoming increasingly irritating to him, rang through the room – not seeming to come from any specific spot, but from everywhere at the same time:
“The Mysterons ordered me to destroy the K14 Observatory if it should prove a threat. I will obey that order, and make sure this place will become your tomb.”
All right, he’s still here, Scarlet reflected. Which was not surprising. He still had a job to do and would stay until he had done it. That was how Mysterons worked.
“Prepare to die, Earthmen!”
“Quick!” Scarlet urged Blue, realising the danger they were in. “He knows where we are! On your feet!”
He helped Blue gather himself up and the two left their hiding place in a hurry. Not a second too soon, as it suddenly exploded behind them, another grenade having been thrown onto it. The blast knocked both men off their feet, and sent them sprawling roughly on the floor, right under the metallic struts and railing supporting the mezzanine. Another grenade quickly followed the first one, hitting the mezzanine full on and destroying it in a huge blast of flames and smoke. It came tumbling down on the two men underneath it. Fortunately for them, the support struts fell in such a way that they formed some kind of a roof over them, which stopped the debris from burying and injuring them.
Half crouched on the floor, Scarlet looked up, as the wreckage piled up over them; the makeshift shield was holding. He let out a sigh of relief and leaned over Blue, who was lying on his back. The American had landed on the floor harder than Scarlet had, hitting his head and wounded shoulder in the process. He was still conscious, but half-stunned.
“Adam, are you all right?” Scarlet whispered, looking down at him with concern. Blue blinked, staring up at Scarlet with a confused expression. He tried to rise, but felt a pain shooting through his shoulder and back and fell back, grunting.
“I’d be a lot better if I didn’t feel so stupid,” he grumbled in answer to Scarlet’s question.
He would have added something else, but Scarlet stopped him, gently putting one hand on his good shoulder and the index finger of his other hand on his own lips, asking him to keep quiet. Scarlet was feeling a presence approaching. Blue looked in the direction he was staring.
Through the wreckage surrounding them, he saw the silhouette of the Mysteron Scarlet appear – and pass by, without noticing their presence there. With wary eyes, Scarlet followed his double’s progress as he made his way across to the closed door. He felt a nudge inside the hand that was keeping Blue down. He looked down, and saw that the bearded officer had slid his own gun into the palm of his hand.
“Go after him, Paul,” Blue said between clenched teeth. “Stop him, before he destroys the place and escapes!”
Scarlet blinked his surprise upon hearing Blue call him ‘Paul’. He didn’t waste time thinking about it, though, and he nodded his acknowledgement. He reached into his pocket, and took the personal communicator Spectrum had given him before sending him on this mission. He handed it to Blue. “Try to see what’s keeping Grey,” he muttered. Silently, he crept out of their hiding place.
Calling on all his reserves, Blue forced himself into a sitting position, grimacing with the effort. He looked down at the communicator, and activated it. He heard the faint beep indicating that the communication had been established. Breathing hard, he looked through the wreckage searching for the Mysteron Scarlet, assuring himself that he wasn’t close enough to hear him speak into the communicator. He saw him, not that far away, holding his backpack in one hand, and his gun in the other. He was looking around, through the debris, probably searching for the two Spectrum officers. Blue nearly drew back when he saw him turning around. The Mysteron remained standing there, staring in his direction.
He sees me, Blue thought with dread. And he had nowhere to go, and no way to defend himself, now, with his sidearm gone, and Metcalfe away.
WHERE was Metcalfe? He couldn’t be that far…
He saw his mortal enemy taking a step forward, very slowly, cocking the hammer of his gun. “I know you are there, Earthmen,” the Mysteron’s droning voice then said. “You cannot hope to escape me. Nothing you can do against me will save you from your fate. You are doomed.”
Blue licked his dry lips. He felt trapped.
“Hey, handsome!” The Mysteron spun around. Behind him, he saw his human double, training on him the blue-coloured gun of Captain Blue and looking at him implacably. “Don’t be so sure we’re finished.” With that cold statement, Scarlet pulled the trigger. Several times. The bullets only served to stop the Mysteron from firing his own gun, and pushed him back two steps. But he kept himself upright and seemed determined to get a shot at Scarlet in turn; he struggled to get his weapon in line with the Spectrum agent, until one of the latter’s bullets impacted into his wrist, damaging it and sending the gun flying into the air. Still, the Mysteron remained standing.
You’ll fall, damn it! Scarlet promised himself, clenching his teeth. He fired two bullets that hit his double’s legs, finally sending him to his knees. They were Scarlet’s last shots, as he had emptied the gun. The Mysteron stayed there, half-sprawled and head down, unable to stand up again, and bleeding from multiple wounds. The wheezing sound he was making informed Scarlet that he had trouble breathing, his lungs probably being badly damaged.
Blue had extricated himself from under the wreckage of the destroyed mezzanine, and was looking with some obvious satisfaction at the sight of his now-defeated enemy. He certainly would have preferred to be the one to bring about his downfall, but the thought that Captain Scarlet’s doppelganger from another world had done it was so very ironic – and satisfactory at the same time.
“Make it easy on yourself,” Scarlet advised, looking coldly at his double. “Surrender.”
He heard the scoff, at about the same time his internal alert went off, in anticipation that something else was going to happen. “You think… you have won, Earthman?” The Mysteron’s good hand had slipped into the opening of the backpack, that had fallen next to him. A faint click made itself heard. Narrowing his eyes, Scarlet saw, in the opening of the bag, two red LED indicators blinking quickly. Right next to them, a digital counter, with a row of three numbers only – with a quick countdown. The hair on the back of his head stood up straight.
“You haven’t… just yet.”
Scarlet didn’t wait to see the sneer on his double’s pale face. He ran toward the door, shouting to Blue, “Let’s get OUT of here!”
He pushed the blond officer in front of him as he reached him. Opening the door was just a matter of seconds, while Blue dialled the numeric code, but it seemed like time hopelessly lost. The door had barely slid up before they ran down the main corridor, Blue calling Grey on the communicator. He started heading through the main door, but Scarlet stopped him in front of the stairs leading to the second floor. “We won’t have time to reach the exit – tell Grey to position the chopper in front of the cafeteria windows!”
“If they are close enough…” Blue started climbing the stairs behind Scarlet.
“They HAVE to be close enough!” Scarlet snapped at him.
They had reached the second floor and rushed to the cafeteria, Blue hastily giving Grey his instructions. They WERE lucky, as the helicopter was at the moment overflying the Observatory, searching for a secure spot to touch down, considering the unsteady layer of snow that had covered the area since the last blizzard, which would have made for a dangerous landing. By the time Scarlet and Blue entered the cafeteria, the helicopter was ready and waiting for them, a security line with a harness dangling in front of the open windows. Scarlet leaned out to snatch the harness, almost finding himself in an unsteady position over empty space in the process, but recovering his balance right away. He swiftly snapped the harness around Blue’s waist.
“How much time?” the latter asked, breathing hard and trying to ignore the pain in his throbbing shoulder.
“Not much.” Having secured the harness, Scarlet got hold of the line with one hand and took the communicator from Blue’s hand, shouting into it: “Take us up! And let’s get OUT of here! Quick!”
He just had time to grab hold of Blue before a violent jerk took them up and the Spectrum helicopter climbed higher into the air and away from the K14 Observatory. The wind nearly knocked both men breathless and Scarlet had to hang on with all his strength to both Blue and the line, fully aware that he was causing pain to the American captain, whose face was now virtually colourless.
“How much time?” Blue repeated, this time shouting over the sound of the rotors overhead, as they were hauled up.
A huge explosion made itself heard from the Observatory and both looked down. They saw it going up in a huge ball of fire, the massive struts supporting it giving way and collapsing, bringing down the whole structure with them. They had escaped just in time and the helicopter had been able to take them far enough away to clear the blast completely.
The line had brought them up to the helicopter and helping hands dragged them inside. Scarlet’s now red and burning hand let go of the line. He let himself fall on his knees on the helicopter’s floor, shaking his hand to restore circulation. It was about time he arrived, he reflected; he was hardly able to feel it anymore. He looked on as Captain Grey helped the wounded Captain Blue out of the harness and carefully settled him into a sitting position against the helicopter’s side wall.
“None, now,” Scarlet then said in reply to Blue’s last question.
The latter looked positively annoyed at him. “You didn’t have any idea when that bomb would blow up,” he realised, dryly.
The latter shrugged. “The only thing I knew was that we couldn’t waste time.”
A loud rumbling made him turn around. The whole Observatory was now disintegrating under its own weight, while huge amounts of snow and rocks were descending the mountain to swallow the destroyed structure. It would soon be completely covered by tons of rock. Scarlet had a strange feeling of déjà-vu as he looked down at the impressive spectacle. That was two years ago, the same observatory. A different explosion, but one which had equally devastating results. More. There had been human victims in THAT explosion.
Now? Only one. A Mysteron.
“There’s no way he could have survived that,” he murmured grimly. “He was right next to the bomb. And with his legs in the state they were in, he couldn’t get away.”
Blue, by his side, gave a simple nod. “Well, he wanted for the Observatory to be our tomb. Guess it’s him who’s entombed now.”
Scarlet nodded in turn, taking note in passing of how serene Blue seemed now. Maybe the thought of his enemy’s death brought some sort of balm to his heated hatred, and volatile anger. Maybe from now on, he’d be able to cope with whatever was eating him inside.
But for Captain Scarlet, looking down at what was the last resting place of the Mysteron agent he might have become if things had been different on his world, there was an indefinable feeling of uneasiness brewing deep in his soul.
* * *
“For Heaven’s sakes, you should have told me!”
Captain Scarlet raised an eyebrow, upon hearing Captain Ochre’s outburst. The American was still in his bed in sickbay, but sitting up instead of lying down, and he was considerably better than last time his British counterpart had seen him. He was agitating himself, nearly knocking over the glass of juice from the tray that had been put across his lap. He seemed upset, and that anger was directed at Scarlet.
“Would you have believed me?” the Brit asked in an innocent tone.
“No, of course, I would not have believed you!” Ochre scoffed loudly, frowning. “I would have thought that it was your lamest attempt to date at a joke! But at least, it would have spared me the humiliation of laughing in Colonel White and Doctor Fawn’s faces when they finally told me, while you were off trying to catch that… that Mysteron double of yours with their Captain Blue.”
“You didn’t believe them either,” Scarlet smirked. “And you thought THEY were joking.”
“No, I didn’t believe them. Not at first. Why would I believe an irrational story like that? But they were so serious… That got me thinking… The colonel never jokes, does he, Scarlet?”
“Not that often anyway! But even that didn’t convince me that just MAYBE they’re weren’t pulling my leg. And then I had the SHOCK of my life.” He leaned toward his friend. “Do you know WHO’S lying in a bed next door?” he asked in a conspiratorial tone.
“You knew that too!” Ochre accused, almost shouting.
“I was there when he got the injury that landed him in here.”
“Can you imagine the SCARE I got when I saw him?” Ochre continued vehemently. He leaned against toward Scarlet. “That guy’s supposed to be dead!” he whispered.
“In your world, he might be.” The voice was coming from behind Scarlet; the latter turned around. In the doorway, seated in a wheelchair, Captain Indigo, his face pale, and his throat bandaged, was addressing them a faint, but genuine smile. Upon seeing him, Ochre instantly shut up and leaned back against his pillows. Indigo rolled himself in. “In this world, I can assure you, I am quite alive,” he continued, his grin widening.
“Shouldn’t you be lying in bed, so you don’t pop your stitches?”
“I’d swear I’m hearing Doctor Fawn,” Indigo grumbled, rolling his eyes. “I should also be sleeping, but it’s not always easy with your friend blowing his horn like he does.”
Ochre scowled. Scarlet contented himself with smiling. He could see his colleague wasn’t that comfortable being in the same room as a ‘dead man’. “So introducing you to Ochre was the way Fawn and the colonel found to convince him.”
“I’m not sure he wasn’t thinking it was all a Mysteron plot to make him go crazy,” Indigo noted. He chuckled, but that hurt his injured throat and he reached for the bandage covering it, grunting. “Got to remember about that,” he muttered.
“Let me guess – you’re the wise guy around here?” Scarlet asked with a faint frown.
“Well – Let’s say I’m fighting it off with our Ochre, to be exact. Ever since I was promoted up here two years ago, when you… that is the other Scarlet…”
“I get the picture. People around here are having a hard time thinking of the two of us as different people, it seems,” Scarlet remarked, remembering Concerto’s blundering about his identity earlier.
“I heard you got him good.”
“He got himself. I had little to do with it, actually – Andrew, isn’t it?”
“If you met my other self on your world – that’s my name too, Paul.”
“We knew each other slightly. Not very well, since he was stationed in London, but…”
“Is it true what I heard?” Indigo asked with curiosity. “That you… killed him?”
Scarlet carefully weighed his answer. “No,” he finally replied. “The Mysterons killed him. I killed his duplicate.” He looked closely as Indigo kept quiet and seemed to become thoughtful over the revelation. “I’m sorry,” he added. “I didn’t mean to upset you…”
“You didn’t,” Indigo objected. “It’s not really me, after all. But I gotta admit… It’s a strange sensation knowing that the guy who’s supposed to be me in a parallel world has been killed and Mysteronised...”
“Yeah,” Scarlet muttered, nodding pensively. “I know the feeling.”
A faint knock at the door made all of them look up; Doctor Fawn was standing beyond the doorway, looking less then pleased at seeing all of them there. He frowned deeply. His annoyance seemed to be mostly directed at Indigo, as he stared straight at him.
“I thought my patients ought to be in bed and resting,” he said in a warning tone, “especially when they’re as seriously injured as you are, Captain Indigo.”
“Aww, I’m not that injured, Doctor,” Indigo replied waving aside the physician’s protests. “I’m well enough to get out of bed and get around, in this wheelchair. To tell the truth, I felt a little lonely in that room and when I heard the voices coming from here…”
“Do you want me to sign a release paper saying you can be assigned to light duty, Captain?” That cut Indigo off right in the middle of his sentence. By the look on his face, it was plainly evident that he wouldn’t like that at all. He didn’t feel that well. Fawn permitted himself a faint smile. “All right,” he finally conceded, “you can stay a few minutes. But I forbid you to leave that chair.”
“It never crossed my mind, Doc,” Indigo replied with a broad, grateful grin.
“Although I wonder if you’ll want to stay that much.”
Fawn returned to the door and invited two men in. Scarlet and Ochre tensed a little, upon recognising who they were. “Captains,” Fawn said turning to the two outworld visitors, “I don’t know if you know these two gentlemen, but if there is anyone who can send you back to your home, I believe these men can. They are…”
“Doctor Giadello,” Scarlet interrupted, looking at the first, rugged-faced gentleman, who at first hesitantly shook the hand the captain held out to him.
“And Doctor Kurnitz,” Ochre added, offering his hand in turn to the other, more distinguished-looking blond man. “We met your counterparts in our world. Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you, Captain,” Kurnitz said with a large smile. “It’s not often we get to meet visitors from another dimension. I think your presence here is sufficient to prove the Anderson theory, then, won’t you agree, Doctor Giadello?”
“It would appear so, Doctor. Quite a fascinating experience you had, gentlemen.”
“I’ll be more fascinated when we’re able to get back home!” Ochre replied.
“Doctor Giadello and Doctor Kurnitz have agreed to combine their efforts into helping you do just that,” Fawn remarked.
“And we may already have found something that may be a step in the right direction,” Giadello added.
That visibly interested both Ochre and Scarlet. “Really?” the latter said enthusiastically. “Now that IS good news, Doctors!”
“We’ll have to make some tests, however. And we will need you for that,” Giadello added, much to Scarlet’s dismay. Ochre grinned inwardly, knowing how his friend and colleague hated all kind of tests that might be performed on him. He was dejectedly surprised when he heard Giadello’s next statement. “Doctor Fawn told us it would be impossible for you to offer your assistance, Captain Scarlet. So we thought that Captain Ochre may be able to assist.”
“M-me?” Ochre asked with wide eyes. “How exactly can I help you?”
“Thank you, Captain!” Giadello said, mistaking Ochre’s question for an actual consent to his services. “Believe me, the faster we get on with it, the sooner you’ll be back in your own dimensional world.”
“Of course, if you feel well enough for those tests,” Kurnitz then added, noticing the worried expression on Ochre’s face. “And if Doctor Fawn gives his approval.”
“He’s as healthy as a pig,” Fawn answered, much to Scarlet’s amusement. “So you can perform all the tests you want on him …”
“What KIND of tests?” Ochre asked between his teeth.
“It’s nothing to be worried about, Captain,” Giadello answered him quickly. “We just have noticed, from our examination of Doctor Kurnitz’s console in R and D, which seemed to have been instrumental in the opening of the portal between your dimension and ours, that there is a faint radiation emanating from it – an aura, if you will…”
“… A signature that may give us an exact indication of which dimensional world you came from,” Doctor Kurnitz added.
“ ‘Which dimensional - ’ You mean there’s many?” Ochre asked, unsure.
“According to the Mysteronised Doctor Lavender’s statements – there might be countless universes, such as this one and the one you’re from,” Kurnitz declared. “We wouldn’t want to send the two of you back in a world that isn’t your own – and where, say, the Mysterons have total control of Earth.”
That thought made Ochre shiver. “Of course not,” he agreed swiftly.
“Doctor Fawn told us he found such traces of the same radiation in both you and Captain Scarlet,” Giadello then continued. “Quite harmless, I assure you. We theorised, Doctor Kurnitz and myself, that this is probably some residue from the vortex that opened between our two worlds, following that explosion of raw energy in your world.”
“You said, ‘theorised’, Doctor,” Captain Scarlet then remarked. “That means to say you’re not sure.”
“We can’t be one hundred percent sure about this, Captain. This is, after all, unknown territory for us. But we’re doing our best, our very best, to find out as much as we can – and make the better guess.”
“Oh, that’s grand,” Ochre murmured.
“What’s that, Captain?”
“I mean ‘that’s great’,” Ochre replied a little louder. “And why would you need me, Doctor Kurnitz?”
“To match the radiation emanating from your body to the one on the Kurnitz console,” Doctor Giadello answered. “When we’re sure we have a perfect match… We’ll be able to open the portal once more. And send you and Captain Scarlet back to your world.”
“And take notes of the interesting information we will draw from that experiment,” Kurnitz added.
“How will you open the portal again?” Scarlet asked.
“The red stone Doctor Lavender found in R and D had obviously travelled with you from your world,” Kurnitz noted. “We’ll be using it. And Doctor Giadello has confirmed to me that such stones existed at the Research and Development Center in Valley Forge. We’ll probably be able to recreate the necessary conditions to re-open the vortex.”
“We found those stones in Greenland,” Giadello specified. “About a year ago. You see, at the time, we were trying to negotiate peace with the Mysterons, using the Kurnitz console and…”
“I know, Doctor,” Scarlet interrupted with a faint smile. “The red stone found by Lavender came from the same source, you see. The same event you’re describing occurred in my world. The threat against Cloudbase, the contact with the Mysterons, the rendezvous they made with one Spectrum agent in a remote spot in Greenland...”
“That’s right, yes,” Indigo then said, looking straight at Scarlet. “I suspect the details must have been different, though. In your world, who received the dubious honour of being sent to talk with the Mysterons in Greenland, Captain Scarlet?”
“Why, him, or course,” Ochre declared, jerking his thumb in Scarlet’s direction. “Nearly getting blown to pieces in the process by that diamond pulsator they rigged for him out there.”
“I was the one to go out there, here,” Indigo informed. “I figured the Mysterons tried to blow me apart because I didn’t play fair. I had a concealed communicator on me, thus not following their instructions. I didn’t believe in their goodwill, in the first place, but was ready to listen to them – although going there without some kind of insurance would not have been my first idea. The communicator was useful, though: after I escaped their attempt to blow me away, I was able to issue a warning to Cloudbase, about how the Mysterons intended to use the pulsator that had been set up there.”
“I can tell you that they certainly never intended to play fair,” Scarlet retorted. “I didn’t have a communicator myself. Which didn’t stop them from trying to blow me away, like they tried with you.” He nodded quietly. “Well, I’ll see you’ll be very busy, Doctors. I hope you get results.” He reached to pat Ochre’s shoulder. “I have to go, Rick. I’ll see you later.”
“W-what?” Ochre protested. “Paul, you’re… you’re not leaving me alone with them?” He offered his friend a sheepish, almost pleading smile.
“Like Doctor Giadello said, I can’t stay. There’s still some business for me to attend to, I’m afraid,” he answered his friend with a grin of his own. “But I should be back soon.”
“Yeah, right,” Ochre mumbled, with a scowling expression. “Somehow, I have the feeling that you’ll have a better time than me.”
Scarlet tilted his head to the side. “Don’t bet on it, pal,” he said, shaking his head. “You might lose that bet this time.” He patted his colleague’s shoulder a second time. “Take care.”
Ochre stared gravely at his friend; he could see there was something serious going on. But he knew better than to ask questions, especially in front of Kurnitz and Giadello. So he contented himself with giving Scarlet a nod of acknowledgement. “And you take care of yourself, buddy.”
“Don’t I always?” Scarlet replied with a smile. He addressed his salutations to all and left the room, followed by Doctor Fawn, who was pushing a now protesting Indigo out as well, not listening to what he had to say about it. The door slid closed on them.
“Don’t worry about your friend, Captain,” Doctor Fawn told Scarlet as the latter turned around to stare at the closed door. “He couldn’t be in more capable hands.”
“No, I think yours would be that, Doctor.” Indigo rolled his eyes hearing Scarlet’s statement. The Brit thought that the other Spectrum captain was fortunate that Fawn was at the moment too embarrassed to see this.
“Do you say that often to your own Doctor Fawn, Captain Scarlet?” the physician asked, feeling the red coming to his cheeks.
Scarlet grinned. “You’re kidding, right? You should know that his ego is big enough as it is?” He looked on as Fawn scowled with outrage, and Indigo beamed with obvious amusement. “To you I can say it,” he pursued. “Without the risk of having you around reminding me I said it, once I get back home!”
Fawn narrowed his eyes mischievously. “And what if you’re stuck here?”
Scarlet seemed to give it some thought. “Damn,” he muttered. “I do hope not!”
Fawn grinned. “Well, if it’s any reassurance, you have the best men on the job to ensure that you will get home, Captain.”
“It would be fun to keep you around for a time, however,” Indigo then noted. “I’m sure you’ve got plenty of interesting things to tell us – We could compare notes, for example… on the similar assignments here and on your world, and the different ways they were dealt with…”
“Like we just did concerning the diamond pulsator case?” Scarlet asked. “Yes, that could be interesting. Frankly, Captain Indigo, and this without meaning you any disrespect, I would have thought that Captain Blue would have jumped at the opportunity to go to Greenland in your place to meet with the Mysterons.”
Indigo scoffed. “You’re kidding? Sending Blue over there would have been like a real declaration of war with the Mysterons. The colonel knew better than make a move like that.”
“Sorry, I had the impression he was…”
“…Our best man? That he is. But he is also a mental case.” Indigo steered the wheelchair around. “With that, gentlemen, I’m going to take my leave. And, yes Doctor, I’m going right to bed and will rest a few hours. You don’t need to come to tuck me in.”
Fawn raised a brow. “Who said I would do that?” he protested to the departing man. “And stay in bed, now, or I’ll have you restrained!” He saw Indigo give a negligent wave of the hand, before disappearing inside his own room. Fawn gave an annoyed sigh. “I really don’t have the easiest of patients,” he declared turning to Scarlet.
“Don’t you, now?” the latter said with a barely concealed grin. His face became serious again. “Doctor… how is Captain Blue?”
“Captain Blue?” Fawn repeated. “Oh, his wounds aren’t that serious… He’s been very lucky, indeed. He should be on his feet in a few days. Knowing him, I’m sure that when I told him that, he actually heard ‘a few hours.’”
“That’s great. I wanted to go and see him, but I wasn’t sure how he would receive me. Considering… his feelings toward me…”
Fawn nodded his understanding. “It’s quite difficult to know how Captain Blue will react, that’s true. And when it comes to the Mysterons… His feelings are never mitigated.” He let the rest hang, while Scarlet was staring at him, waiting for a follow-up that didn’t come. Instead, much to his disappointment, Fawn switched to a new thread: “I know you’re not really a Mysteron agent, Captain, but considering who you are, and what you are, Blue might not think the same…” Fawn cleared his throat. “You got him out of the Observatory before the explosion. You saved his life. And since you were the one to take care of your Mysteron double… He might be inclined to tolerate and even be grateful to you.”
“He hates the Mysterons with a passion, I know,” Scarlet replied with a nod.
“Yes. That he does. But please, don’t let that get to you. Whatever Blue might think of the Mysterons, we know you’re not like that.” Fawn gave him a sympathetic pat, and Scarlet thanked him with a nod. Clearing his throat once more, Fawn moved on, wanting to completely change the subject, and distract Scarlet from his now brooding thoughts. “Are you ready for the next phase of your mission?”
The Englishman straightened up, and answered with confidence, grinning, “Absolutely, Doctor.”
“Right, follow me. Lieutenant Green is waiting for you.”
“Yes, he’s the one preparing the ‘material’ you’ll need for your mission. He’s very proud of what he’s come up with, and is eager to try it on you – and to make the necessary adjustments, if need be.”
“By all means, then, Doctor,” Scarlet smiled more widely, stepping aside. “We shouldn’t keep him waiting. Lead the way, please.”
* * *
Strolling down the corridor with a quickened pace, Captain Blue rubbed his left arm in annoyance. It had been in a sling since sickbay personnel had removed the bullet he had received in the shoulder during his last mission. He had been lucky; the bullet had missed both bone and artery. But the wound was very sore, and itching like crazy at the moment. He had to force himself not to scratch it.
He had just left sickbay. Escaped it, would be a more appropriate term, as he knew that the nurses had received instructions from Doctor Fawn to keep him in his room for the rest of the day – after which, he had been told, he would be allowed to pass the rest of his convalescence in his quarters. But Blue didn’t feel like staying in sickbay – he never felt comfortable there and always did his best to leave as soon as he was able to. He had become very adept at playing hide and seek with the doctors and nurses. Generally, they never discovered he had left until a few hours later – and then they always found him in his quarters, so deeply asleep that nobody dared to disturb him then.
But right now, as he left sickbay, without being spotted, as usual, he didn’t want to go to his quarters. First he didn’t feel that he needed to rest at all, and second, he wanted to find Scarlet – Metcalfe. Wherever he was, he needed to talk to him.
He had learned that after a visit to sickbay to see his friend Ochre, Scarlet had gone to the R and D lab. Blue had thought that he would come to see him too – obviously, he didn’t, for some reason. A reason that Blue had no trouble guessing. Which made it all the more important for the American to see him.
“I ought to report you.”
Almost jumping, Blue spun around. A few feet behind him stood Rhapsody Angel, looking at him with a half-amused, half-serious expression on her face. He answered with a smile, almost embarrassed. “You wouldn’t do that to an old friend, Dianne?”
“You should be in sickbay,” she reminded him. “Or at least, resting in your quarters. What are you doing prowling Cloudbase corridors, like a cat burglar?” She narrowed her eyes. “Anyone would think you’re up to something wrong.”
“Well, I’m not. Quite the opposite, actually.” He scratched his head. “I’m looking for Captain Scarlet.” She raised a brow and he continued, quickly, “I’m not ‘up to something wrong’, Dianne, I promise. I just want to talk to him. I was told he was in R and D.”
“So I’ve heard too.” She stepped forward and took Blue’s free arm. “Okay, I’ll join you.” He turned an inquiring look to her. “Somebody ought to keep an eye on you, Mister Svenson. I want to make sure you won’t tire yourself on your way to R and D – and I’ll accompany you back to your quarters afterwards. Where you’ll promise you will stay and rest. That’s the only condition on which I will not blow the gaff on you.”
“That’s blackmail, Rhapsody.”
“If it’s the only way to get you to be reasonable…”
He smiled slightly, looking down at her with curiosity. “You’re sure there’s nothing more to it than that?” he asked in a low, amused tone, as they started walking.
She flushed. “Whatever do you mean?”
“You know very well what I mean, Dianne. You’ve been around Captain Scarlet more than the other Angels…”
“Some of them paid him a visit this morning,” Rhapsody defended herself. “When you came back from the Observatory mission.”
“I know. They came to visit me too, with a quick hello.”
“I think Destiny felt quite uneasy in his presence,” Rhapsody continued, with a mischievous smile. “At first. Melody told me she had trouble looking him in the eyes. But seeing how well it went afterward, it’s quite possible she might fall for him all over again, given the chance.”
“And you, Rhapsody?”
“What do you mean, Captain Blue?”
“Hey! I know you, remember?” Blue stopped in his tracks, forcing her to do the same. “I know what your feelings for him were – I mean the other him, before this whole mess with the Mysterons.”
“It’s not the same, Adam.”
“You’re sure? I don’t get that impression.”
She sighed. “Adam, things have evolved. We… I never got the chance to tell Paul how I felt about him, before the Mysterons entered the scene and took him over. I was devastated.”
“I know. I’m just… a little worried that you might get too attached to this new Paul.”
“Would that be so terrible?” Rhapsody remarked, teasingly.
He scowled a little. “That’s not it. I happen to know that… well, if I am to believe what he told me, he’s involved with someone in his world.”
He watched her reaction. It wasn’t exactly the one he expected. “And that surprises you that much?” she asked pointedly. He felt that he couldn’t answer that. Rhapsody gave a sigh. “Look, I can’t deny now that I feel something for this new Paul. He’s so much like the one we all knew, surely you noticed that.” She saw him nodding thoughtfully. “But it’s not the same. It couldn’t be what it was between us – what it could have been with our Paul. For some obvious reasons.” She smiled, reaching to stroke his beard-covered cheek. “He has his own world to go back to. His own life to live. And I have mine as well. I have to follow a new path.”
“Leaving him behind without regret?”
Blue returned her smile. “Then that makes me glad for you, Angel,” he said leaning down to kiss her cheek.
“You know you’re a very kind man, Adam Svenson?” she said, reddening a little.
He chuckled. “You’re probably the only one who would say that!” he remarked. “About everybody else onboard thinks I’m an execrable character.”
“I would NEVER think such a thing of you!” Rhapsody protested. They started walking again. “And I’m quite sure you exaggerate about how people regard you…”
“And I’m not quite that sure I exaggerated that much,” he replied with a faint smile.
They reached the R and D Department shortly after; asking a technician where they could find Captain Scarlet, they were directed to a room adjacent to the one where the accident with the Kurnitz console had occurred, two days earlier. With Rhapsody standing by his side, Blue pushed the button and the door slid open. In the room – one of the many workshops/labs of the R and D Department – they found Doctor Fawn, who was leaning casually against a wall, behind Lieutenant Green, who was standing close in front of Captain Scarlet; the latter had his back turned to the door. Green greeted both Blue and Rhapsody with a large grin, and invited them in, with an enthusiastic gesture.
“Come in,” he said, moving to one side, staring at Captain Scarlet with what looked like a very satisfied look. “You’re just in time to see the results of my masterpiece.”
“What are you talking about, Lieutenant?” Blue asked with a frown, stepping inside, followed by Rhapsody.
They were welcomed by a sepulchral voice that sent a shiver down their spines.
“Captain Blue, Rhapsody… please, enter.”
Scarlet turned around, and stared at them, his look dark, and his face now with a ashen complexion. Rhapsody gasped and froze on the spot, and Blue jumped.
“Oh my God!” He automatically reached for his gun, forgetting that he didn’t have it, as he was coming from Sickbay where it wasn’t allowed for patients to have weapons. He nearly cursed his lack of luck, when he saw Scarlet raising his hands in defence.
“Hey! Take it easy! It’s not what you think!”
It was Blue’s turn to freeze, as he narrowed his eyes at Scarlet, now understanding. Although the man’s voice was that of the Mysteron Scarlet that he had heard so often, the tone was definitely different, as was the shy smile the Englishman was presently displaying. Quickly, Scarlet inserted fingers inside his turtleneck collar and removed a small object that he carefully presented to the two edgy Spectrum agents. The thing looked like a rounded, flat, very thin microphone.
“Sorry about that,” Scarlet said in his normal voice. “I kind of forgot I had that thing against my throat.”
“You forgot?” Blue heaved a deep sigh of relief. “That oversight of yours nearly gave me a heart attack, Metcalfe!”
“Are you sure you just forgot?” Rhapsody asked in a suspicious and offended tone. “Or is it simply a demonstration of a very weird sense of humour?”
Scarlet grimaced. “Have a care, Rhapsody. Even Ochre wouldn’t make such a sick joke!” He gave it some thought. “At least, I don’t think he would.”
“Sounds like your Ochre is very similar to our own,” Blue noted. He approached, still a little on the defensive side, and Scarlet couldn’t help but notice that he was standing between himself and Rhapsody. The bearded Captain stopped in front of him and stared at his face very closely. “That’s remarkable,” he muttered under his breath.
“It is, isn’t it?” Scarlet said with a grin. “I told Doctor Fawn that if ever he thinks of trading professions, he might consider a career as a make-up artist for the movies.”
“I’m living with enough prima donnas as it is at the moment,” Fawn deadpanned behind his back.
Blue narrowed his eyes at the face as pallid as the Mysteron Scarlet. The growth of beard wasn’t that much of a surprise; already, the day before, it had been fairly visible. Now it was even more so. He then looked at the object Scarlet was holding, and carefully took it. He turned it in his hand, with a scrutinising stare.
“Pretty neat,” he said.
“That’s Lieutenant Green’s invention,” Scarlet declared, waving in the direction of the younger man standing nearby. “He deserves all the credit.”
The young black man offered a delighted grin, hearing the compliment. “It’s really a very easy matter,” he then said with humility. “It’s a simple voice transformer, but a very compact one, that can be stuck close to the throat with a special, but easily removed adhesive.” He took the gadget from Captain Blue’s hand. “The biggest difficulty was to find the frequency that we needed to transform Captain Scarlet’s voice adequately.” He put the thing against his own throat. “See?” he added with a voice that gave Rhapsody the creeps. “Very simple.”
“It is ingenious, Seymour,” Blue replied taking the gadget again. “But, will it be enough to deceive Captain Black this afternoon?”
“It has to,” Scarlet replied quickly. “That may be the only chance we’ll have.”
“I guess you’re right. But I wonder if a voice transformer, a five o’clock shadow and an artistic make-up would be enough to transform you into a suitable Captain Scarlet, Metcalfe.”
The Brit addressed him with a mocking, almost droll smile. “You thought I was ‘suitable’ enough before, without all that,” he remarked. “In fact, everyone did.”
“We thought it was a Mysteron trick.” Blue shook his head and handed the object back to Scarlet. “You can’t blame us for thinking that, can you?”
“No,” Scarlet sighed. “I’m better placed than anybody else to know never to underestimate the Mysterons.”
“There’s still a small adjustment to make with that thing,” Lieutenant Green said, taking the gadget from Scarlet. “We don’t want it to run out of energy while you’re doing your number with Captain Black, Captain Sca – er, Mister Metcalfe. I have to see to that right away.”
“Do you need Mister Metcalfe’s help?” Blue inquired.
Years of learning how to read people’s body language and tone of voice told Green that Blue was hoping it wouldn’t be the case, for some reason. And by the way Scarlet was staring back at Blue, it was obvious the Brit had understood that too. Green hesitated little in offering his answer in the matter.
“No, actually, I can do without him, if you need him yourself, Captain. It’s really a simple matter. Maybe Doctor Fawn…”
“I’ll be able to help, Lieutenant,” Rhapsody Angel offered. “I’m sure Doctor Fawn has more pressing business in sickbay than playing technician here.” She offered a faint smile to the physician, who nodded, checking his watch.
“Quite so,” he agreed. “I’m already late as it is. I’ll be seeing you later, Captain. I’ll try to update you on Doctors Kurnitz and Giadello’s latest efforts.”
“Make sure they don’t torture poor Ochre too much,” Scarlet requested with a grin, looking on as Fawn left the room. He then turned to Blue. “What can I do for you, Captain Blue?”
“I just want to talk to you.” The eyes were saying, in private, so Scarlet looked around. Rhapsody had approached to offer her assistance to Green, who was working on a table behind. They drew as far away as possible from them, to the other side of the room.
“All right, you wanted to talk to me,” Scarlet noted. “What about, Captain?”
Blue looked down, awkwardly. “I’ve never been very good at this,” he mumbled. “I… wanted to thank you, Captain. For saving my life out there. And to present my apologies. I was wrong about you.”
Scarlet nodded gravely. “You said it yourself, Captain Blue. I can’t blame any of you for being wary of me, considering what I know now of that double of mine in this world.”
“But I was unnecessarily rude to you,” Blue insisted. “Sorry, it was a feeling stronger than me.”
Scarlet could see it was a genuine effort on Blue’s part to make amends, and that it was a difficult one. He offered a gracious smile. “No apologies necessary, Captain. I believe you have your own reasons to be mistrustful of the Mysterons – and of that Captain Scarlet specifically.”
“That was great work you did with him out there,” Blue pursued. “I couldn’t have done better myself.”
“Oh, watch out for that ego of yours, Captain!” Scarlet chuckled.
“We’ve been trying to stop him for so long. It’s ironic that it took his other self from a parallel world to finally do the job.”
“The job isn’t finished yet,” Scarlet said seriously. “There’s still another piece of business to attend to. And this one may be even more dangerous.”
“Captain Black.” Captain Blue nodded. “And then you’ll get back to your own world.”
“With a lot of luck, soon, yes. Doctors Kurnitz and Giadello’s research seems to present promising results. I’m crossing my fingers.”
“Then you won’t miss… your friend Blue’s wedding ceremony,” the bearded captain offered tentatively.
“The date isn’t fixed, yet. But I don’t intend to miss it, no.” Scarlet grinned. “I’ve been waiting TOO LONG for this to happen. They’re both great friends of mine and…”
“Who will he be marrying?”
Interrupted by Blue’s inquiry, Scarlet stopped talking, and stared at him with a curious glance. He tilted his head to one side. “Sorry, I… kind of imagined that would be obvious to you, considering that, in general, events on this world are quite similar to my own. Except, of course, bearing in mind my own case…”
“Paul.” Blue cut him off again, but this time more quietly. “You said something about the colonel arranging things between them so they could get married. I think he would need to do that only if the two people in question are posted on Cloudbase. It’s… Symphony, right?”
Scarlet nodded briefly. He could see the sadness very obvious in Blue’s eyes, although the rest of his face was a mask of impassivity. The English captain thought he had figured out by now what was wrong with him. He opened his mouth to speak again when Lieutenant Green’s voice made itself heard behind them, with a jovial tone to it. Scarlet was almost annoyed at the interruption, as the young black man approached them gingerly; he could see, however, that Blue almost welcomed it.
“That’s it! Everything is ready!” Green declared with a grin almost as wide as his own face. Scarlet had to make an effort not to appear too bothered by his intrusion, as the young man showed him the gadget again. “Now you won’t risk any danger of it running out of juice in the middle of the mission.” Eyes bright, he looked Scarlet in the face, but didn’t notice anything wrong. “I’ll go inform Colonel White directly,” he added. “He’ll want to know when you’ll be ready to leave.”
Scarlet nodded distractedly, and Green was already on his way out. Scarlet wanted to continue his conversation with Blue, but, to his intense frustration, the blond-bearded captain was turning around to follow the lieutenant. “I’ll be coming along, Lieutenant. I need to talk to the colonel too.”
“Blue, what about…”
“Later, Captain.” Blue looked over his shoulder, addressing the Brit a brief nod. “We’ll… talk about it later.” That said, he turned quickly and disappeared through the door with Green, leaving Scarlet behind, open-mouthed, and a little dejected.
“Well… At least, he mellowed a bit,” he grumbled, pushing his fists into his pockets.
“I would say he has.” Scarlet spun on his heel, hearing the voice of Rhapsody behind him. She was leaning back against the worktable, looking straight at him. “It’s not often that he apologises to anybody,” she explained. “And that he would, to you…” She shook her head, a little shyly. “Sorry, I couldn’t help hearing part of what you were saying.”
“That’s okay. It’s not a very big room.”
“And I have very good hearing,” she added, leaving the table to approach him. He had returned his attention to the closed door; it was as if he was looking through it, with a thoughtful attitude.
“Rhapsody… I think I’ve worked out Blue’s problem.”
“Yes.” He paused a second. “Symphony is dead, isn’t she?”
He turned to look at her; she had lowered her eyes to the floor. She nodded. “Yes. I noticed that was a question. So in your world, Symphony is not…”
“No. She’s very much alive, thankfully.”
“How did you…”
“I guessed,” he answered with a sigh. “He never mentions her, and I’m guessing he keeps that beard as a mark of last respect for her. I haven’t seen her so far – and she wasn’t amongst the Angels that visited me earlier today. If I know Symphony… she would have come to visit me, at one time or another. And you mentioned yesterday that there are five Angels on the roster…”
“And Concerto was new to you.” Rhapsody nodded. “She’s Symphony’s replacement.”
“That’s what I thought. When did that happen?”
“Two years ago. At the Culver Atomic Centre in Dorset.”
“Captain Black?” Scarlet asked tentatively.
He saw Rhapsody shake her head, but she didn’t dare speak an answer. He figured that out by himself, and felt as if he’d been punched in the stomach. He closed his eyes. “Oh no…”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Rhapsody said, reaching for him.
“I know that,” he answered in an irked tone, moving one step away from her. “But now I understand much more clearly why he hated and mistrusted me so much. In this world, that Mysteron double of mine is responsible for Symphony’s death… And he took it out on me.”
“He takes it out on almost everyone,” Rhapsody replied shaking her head. “Adam has changed drastically since Symphony’s death. He’s not the friendly, likeable, considerate man he was before that incident happened. He became harsh, dark-minded, often rude, and obsessed with everything about the Mysterons. He takes risks that nobody would dare take, putting his life on the line as if he doesn’t care at all whether he lives or dies.”
“How tragic,” Scarlet sighed.
“I think he blames himself as much as he blamed Captain Scarlet for Symphony’s death,” Rhapsody continued. “He was there when it happened. He tried to surprise him, to free Karen. But Scarlet – he shot her in the back, right before Adam’s eyes. She died in his arms.”
“I’m so sorry for him,” Scarlet murmured.
“Me too,” Rhapsody said in a compassionate and sad tone. “It’s very tragic… He loved her so much.”
“I know,” Scarlet said blankly. “In my world… Karen and Adam are about to get married.” He gestured towards the closed door. “I just told him that.”
“Poor Adam,” Rhapsody almost whispered. “To know that, if circumstances had been different, he might have had the same happiness too…” She reached again for Scarlet, and gently touched his arm. “In a way, I know how he feels.”
It was as if he had been electrified by her touch. He turned his head to look at her. It was so difficult not to think of her as his Rhapsody, he found himself thinking again, for the nth time. He cleared his throat, disengaged his arm firmly, but as gently as he could, spun around, trying to escape this vision of her, and looked toward the door.
“I think – er – I should get going to. No reason to make the colonel wait unnecessarily. He’ll want to brief me for this new assignment.”
He made a step toward the door, but Rhapsody’s voice stopped him in his tracks. “Wait.” He turned slowly, almost regretfully. Her eyes were still set on him, but with some kind of scrutinising expression in them, as she tried to read what his face might be concealing from her. “Are you… trying to avoid me, Paul?”
He nearly shivered upon hearing her say his name. He hid that under a carefree shrug. “What makes you say that, Rhapsody?”
“You can call me Dianne.” She approached him. “I don’t know, the way you seemed to… want to run away from me, right now?”
“I’m not trying to run away,” he defended himself.
“No?” She touched his arm again; she could feel him tense under her fingers. “Right now, I can tell that you want nothing more than to get away. Are you… afraid of me?”
“I’m not afraid of you,” he replied tersely. “I’m just…” He hesitated. Then, giving up, he sighed. “You remind me of my Rhapsody,” he finally admitted.
Rhapsody barely blinked, but her surprise was obvious in her eyes. Then, a gentle smile appeared on her lips. “So. You found each other,” she noted simply. “She’s the woman you’re involved with that Adam told me about.”
“He told you that?” Scarlet asked with an annoyed frown.
“Not MUCH more than that, I assure you. He was just concerned that I would get… ‘attached to you’, were his words. I should have realised really – I do remember you calling me ‘love’ when we met the first time.”
He nodded very slowly, eyeing her with caution, searching for the right words to say to her. “You were ‘attached’ to this world’s Paul,” he reflected, finally using the same wording she had used herself. “Perhaps, even in love with him?”
“That was a long time ago,” Rhapsody admitted. “Before the Mysterons took him over. To my knowledge, he never had a clue.” She paused. “I’m glad my counterpart from your world did find you.”
“We were a long time denying it,” Scarlet said. “At the end… we had to confront the truth.”
“If she loves you as much as I loved him – and I suspect it’s perhaps even more, because she was able to share that love with you – then you’re a lucky man, Paul Metcalfe. And she’s a lucky woman.”
“He made you suffer a lot, didn’t he?” Scarlet asked carefully.
“More than you can imagine,” she answered sadly. “Part of me was hurting to see him do those unspeakable things. The Paul Metcalfe I remembered would never have done all that – he would never have killed Symphony. I was hoping that one day he would be free of the Mysterons’ influence – but, knowing him, how would he have lived a normal life afterwards, with the ghost of everything he had done?”
“When you came to the sickbay the other night – and found me… The reason you gave me afterwards, it wasn’t the truth, was it?”
“I did come to see Captain Ochre – but seeing you was my main concern, yes,” she confessed. “I didn’t have the same feeling as I did before for Paul – but, thinking like everybody else you were him – I had to see him. Call it morbid curiosity if you want.”
“Rhapsody… Dianne… I’m so sorry. Now that he’s dead, you must suffer even more.”
“Now?” She smiled, looking up to him. But it was a very sad smile. “For months, my feelings were only those of pity for him. I wanted so much for him to find peace. Now I suppose, he is at peace – thanks to you.”
* * *
“Ready for the assignment?”
Standing in the hangar bay, Captain Scarlet looked himself up and down for the last time, making sure everything was in order. The dark clothing he was wearing made a striking contrast with his now deathly pale face. They were comfortable, if a little warm at the moment, especially with the addition of the black leather jacket he had put on. The high collar of his polo neck hid perfectly the device that Lieutenant Green had handed back to him in the Control Room earlier. He felt a little nervous, but prepared to face the new challenge this mission represented.
“It’s not every day I have a chance of going after Captain Black himself,” he admitted to Colonel White, who was standing alongside him, next to the SPJ that was waiting for its special passenger. His voice was normal for now, since he had not activated the gadget resting against his throat. It would just be a matter of pressing it later on for it to work as it was intended. “In my world, we rarely come so close to capturing him.”
White raised a brow. “I can assure you, it’s the same thing here. And this present operation is mostly thanks to you. If you had not picked up that ‘communication’ between Captain Scarlet and Captain Black, and therefore learned of their rendezvous in Talkeenta… we would not have that chance now.”
“The Areopagus Complex is really in that area, then?” Scarlet asked.
White nodded. “Yes, they had indeed discovered that. Although, we don’t know as yet what Captain Black might know of its exact location.”
“They mentioned the ‘McKinley trail’,” Scarlet remarked. “You said it was underground… So I’m thinking it’s hidden deep inside the mountain. Am I right?”
White raised a brow. “If you have worked that out, we’ll have to suppose Captain Black made the same deductions,” he noted. “Nevertheless, I haven’t taken any chances. Captains Magenta and Ochre are on alert. They’re surveying the area, for any trace of him. They’ll be in contact with you, as will Captain Grey and the Angels. But in effect, until you call for them, you’re on your own.”
“Captain Blue won’t be on the mission,” Scarlet realised.
“Captain Blue is off duty due to his injury. He tried to convince me to let him go, but I didn’t let myself be impressed by his display of outrage, for letting you walk right into what might be a trap.”
“He wanted to be on this mission that much, then?” Scarlet asked with a grin.
“You’re starting to get to know the man. But I suspect that he might have been a little more genuine in his feelings about this even than that.”
“You mean, he was truly concerned for my well-being?”
“Surprising thought, isn’t it? Well, it might be, yes.”
Scarlet nodded. “I won’t spoil this for you, sir. We’ll get Captain Black.”
“I’m sure you’ll do your best,” White said with an approving nod. “But I want you to be careful anyway.”
“I’m always careful, Colonel.”
“I’m sure you say the same to your own commander. And I’m also very sure that he doesn’t believe you any more than I do,” White grumbled. He turned around and took a small package, wrapped in a piece of cloth, from a table behind him and handed it to Scarlet. “You’ve already done a lot on our behalf. I think it’s time I showed you some trust.”
“You’ve already shown me enough, sir,” Scarlet protested.
“Not nearly enough. Take this.”
Scarlet briefly looked down at the package, then he took it. Holding it in one hand, he carefully unwrapped it with the other; soon, resting in the middle of the piece of cloth, a pistol appeared, in its holster. Scarlet looked up to the colonel who, his face still set, nodded briefly.
“You can’t go to face Captain Black without any kind of weapon. That would be suicide.”
“Thank you, sir. This is much appreciated.” Scarlet took the gun and then looked with curiosity at the other object that was left on the piece of cloth. At first, he thought it was a personal communicator, like the one he already had, but it looked even more like a fountain pen.
“It’s a grenade,” White explained. “It may look small and harmless, but the technicians at the weapons development centre assured me that it’s quite powerful.” He reached for the object. “It’s for last resort use, if you ever need it. You pull both ends to set it off. Then you’ll have ten seconds to get rid of it before it explodes.” He mimed the pulling movement then handed it back to Scarlet, with a faint grin. “I reckoned that if the Mysteron Scarlet wanted to blow you and Captain Blue up with a grenade, you might do the same to his accomplice if you should find yourself in trouble.”
“I’ll try not to come to that end, sir.” Scarlet took the pen-like grenade from White’s hand, and then noticed the gold ring encircling his third finger. He concealed his surprise, and pocketed the weapon, with a offhand movement, but not much got past the older man, and he had noticed the direction of Scarlet’s eyes. He raised his hand, showing the ring.
“I take it the Colonel White of your world isn’t married?”
Scarlet shook his head. “No sir.” He smiled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”
“No harm done. Everybody will stare in a short while, anyway. I’ve just started wearing it. I’ll be announcing the news after this mission is completed. Today, with any luck. Although I’m guessing that a few of them already know.”
“You got married recently?”
“I was on honeymoon when I received the call that you had broken into Cloudbase,” White answered gloomily.
“Oh.” Scarlet felt a rush of embarrassment, and offered a sheepish, apologetic smile. “Sorry about that, Colonel.”
“No need to apologise. It’s not as if you were really responsible for it.” He raised a brow, and with mock seriousness, added, “Is it?”
Scarlet chuckled. “No, sir.” He glanced at the plane waiting for him. “With your permission, sir, I’ll be going, now.”
“All right, Captain,” White answered with a nod, extending his hand. “Good luck, son.”
Scarlet shook the hand then turned around to get onboard the SPJ. White looked on until he disappeared from his view; then he walked out of the hangar. He stood in front of the sliding door, and watched through the Plexiglas window as the jet was taken up by the hydraulic lift to Cloudbase’s lower runway, through the opening doors of the roof. He barely heard the sound of light footsteps behind him.
“That was a nice gesture of trust you just showed him, Colonel,” a female voice told him quietly.
“I thought you might say that.” White grunted, looking as the jet disappeared completely from view and the lift snapped into place into the opening above. “He may need to know that we trust him,” he replied in answer. “But more than anything else, he needs luck. And something to even things up if that should fail him, and Captain Black suspects any wrong doing from him. ”
* * *
The Spectrum Passenger Jet had dropped Captain Scarlet at Anchorage, Alaska; from there, he had taken a charter flight to Talkeenta, which was about 100 miles north by road, into the Alaska Range. Talkeenta was but a little town, with many of its activities related to tourism – and it was the main launching spot for the adventurous souls wanting to climb Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. It was no wonder, thought Scarlet, that Black had arranged to meet his accomplice in this town, if he suspected the Areopagus Complex was hidden inside the mountain.
It wasn’t difficult to find the Sutsina Lounge. Lieutenant Green had discreetly made enquiries and the information had been passed on to Scarlet, so he would know exactly where it was. It was a large log cabin set on the side of a mountain, bordering upstream of the fiercest rapids of the Sutsina River. It was part of a fifty-year-old tourism project, which had been abandoned for lack of funding. From there, climbing expeditions for the McKinley top – which was visible from the Lounge – rafting descents and explorations of the Denali Park would have been launched. But the property developers didn’t get much further than building the lounge, before the project ran out of financial resources. For a time, the Sutsina Lounge was used as a hotel, but its administration declared bankruptcy after barely two years of activity. The Lounge was put up for sale, with nobody interested in acquiring it, and it stayed that way for many years, abandoned, deserted. Its only inhabitants were now wildlife and occasional excursionists, hiking their way through the area, and taking advantage of a warm place to spend the night in the middle of their trip.
Scarlet rented a car to get to the Lounge. The quickest route would have been by the river, using a motorboat, but he still had enough time in front of him. He didn’t want to arrive too early at the rendezvous, in fear of raising Black’s suspicions.
The road was bumpy, but still drivable. The vehicle’s suspension wasn’t very good and Scarlet was feeling every bump and hole that he drove over. Every now and then, he could hear a muffled sound from the boot as if something large was shifting around in it after a particularly pronounced bounce. He couldn’t help but smile. The person who had rented it to him might find dents in the boot when he returned it. Doubt if he’ll be very happy about that. Serves him right, he thought. Should have checked that there wasn’t anything there that might move around, in the first place…
He arrived in view of the Lounge; it certainly had been beautiful in its time, he reflected, but now, it was showing the decrepitude and desolation of years of abandonment. The spot where it had been built was a beautiful one, in the middle of the forest, surrounded by tall pines, presently half-covered by snow that had fallen during the night, with its front facing the river. There was a wooden pier bordering the river, and driving the remaining distance, Scarlet could perceive a small motorboat attached to it, dancing, its flanks beaten by the cold water. He frowned, wondering if it had been abandoned there, with the rest of the location, or if it was a recent arrival.
He parked the car in front of the Lounge, killed the engine and got out. Thoughtfully, he looked in the direction of the boat; it didn’t seem like an abandoned craft at all. Unless the Lounge had another visitor, he thought that Captain Black had come here by way of the river.
So, he might be already here, he mused, looking over the Lounge. He felt nervous. Any encounter with Captain Black by Spectrum agents in his world had been a very intricate matter and had ended in disaster. No doubt this Black was equally as lethal as his counterpart.
He had activated the locational bug he had on his person the second he had reported to Cloudbase that he was taking the road to the Lounge. Grey was on the lookout for any signal from him, and would rush up if problems should arise, but Scarlet didn’t know where he was. Neither did he know where the Angels might be waiting at the moment. Spectrum was keeping its presence very discreet, for two reasons. First, they didn’t want to inform the enemy of the Areopagus Complex’s exact location, should they not know already. Second – they didn’t want to scare their prey away. In those circumstances, the time between his possible call for help and any intervention from Spectrum could be fatal for Scarlet, and he knew it. I’m definitely on my own, he thought gloomily.
Discreetly checking the gadget pressing against his throat, Scarlet walked quietly toward the Lounge, inconspicuously looking around him. There didn’t seem to be anything suspicious in the vicinity. The high pines formed a green backdrop, with patches of white snow contrasting in many places. There was no sound but the crunching of the snow under his boots, the low whistle of the wind between the mountains and trees, and the cascading river behind him. Almost despite himself, Scarlet shivered, more from anticipation than from the bite of the cold wind. He walked up the steps leading to the front door and reached for the handle. It turned without resistance, unlocked. He pushed the door, and it squealed on its hinge.
Scarlet found himself looking into the desolate, dust-covered grand hall of the lounge, with the reception counter to his right. The door slammed on the wall behind, sending an echo through the deserted house. A few birds, which had taken up residence inside, flew off, scared away by the sound. Scarlet looked around, slowly. Not a soul in view.
Then a murmur seemed to come from the interior of the hall, he didn’t know from where exactly. It was almost the same phenomenon he had experienced just the day before at the K14 Observatory – and a handful of times before, in his dealings with the Mysterons.
“Enter, Captain Scarlet. And close the door behind you.”
Scarlet kept himself from shivering again. Quietly, he obeyed, and pushed the door closed. He wished he knew where the voice was coming from, but it was impossible to say. He stepped further into the hall, looking around methodically.
“Come into the lounge…”
Scarlet found it to his left, facing the reception counter, on the other side of the hall. He entered, passing under a large arch made out of stones, some of which had detached themselves from their joints and were lying on the wooden floor. He looked up at the architecture, noting how fragile and potentially dangerous it had become with time. It was supporting a huge balcony, with multiple doors opening to it; access was gained through a wide staircase, climbing up in a spiral. I must check this place out when I get back home, he told himself. If it’s still running there, it might be an interesting spot to spend some holiday time with Dianne…
From a huge and lonely armchair set in front of a cold fireplace, he saw a pair of crossed legs, owned by a man seated there, the high backrest concealing him. That made Scarlet stop in his tracks. Get your mind on the business at hand, he admonished himself. IF you want to get back home alive.
He saw the legs uncrossing and a man slowly standing up, then taking a few steps away from the shelter provided by the chair, and stopping. Wearing dark clothes just like himself, and an unsettling impassive face, Captain Black stood there, watching him fixedly. Captain Scarlet copied his own, set expression, so to not give himself away. His right hand was in his pocket, tensely stroking the gun Colonel White had given him.
“Captain Black,” he said simply with a tone that equalled in coldness that of the Mysteron agent. “The K14 Observatory has been destroyed, following the Mysterons orders.”
That was answered first with a nod. “Very well done, Captain Scarlet. An efficient job on your part. As ever.”
Scarlet relaxed a little, although not making it visible; his hand stopped stroking the handle of his weapon. He saw Black walking in his direction.
He suddenly felt a cold sweat running down the back of his neck, and then along his spine. A wave of nausea mounted unexpectedly in him. Was it Black’s presence or…
Then the sky fell on him.
Not exactly the sky, but pieces of stones apparently coming from the height of the huge arch he was standing under, hitting him with such force that it sent him sprawling on the floor with a huff, his head, shoulders and back in pain. Dazed, he missed the vision of a tall, dark-dressed man jumping with ease from the balcony overhead. He heard him landing by his side. Then the second after, as he was still trying to get his bearings, he saw the barrel of a gun appear under his nose. He didn’t react when a hand roughly searched his pocket and relieved him of his weapon. He felt another strong hand taking him by the collar of his jacket to pull him up on his knees. He swayed, his vision nearly a blur, feeling a warm trickle of blood running down the right side of his head, from a wound caused by one of the fallen stones. The gun was stuck under his chin, pressing against his jaw, and forcing him to look up. He blinked, looking into the face of his aggressor, with Captain Black standing merely two feet in front of him.
“Of course,” Black’s voice continued, “that job can hardly be ascribed to you. It was the deed of another man. ANOTHER Captain Scarlet.” He waved in the direction of the other black-clad man.
Scarlet’s teeth gritted, staring with anger and intense frustration at the face of the man holding the gun against him with a total coldness and lack of expression. So, he was the cause of his earlier dizziness. He should have guessed that he would have survived. But how…
“The Mysterons teleported you away from the blast!” he growled in realisation.
The Mysteron Captain Scarlet reached his free hand to the Spectrum agent’s throat, tucked his fingers under the turtleneck, and swiftly removed the gadget hidden there. He gave it to Black, who took it casually, and checked it out. “Most impressive…” he lowered his eyes to Scarlet with an even colder expression in his features. “… For Earthmen.”
“Black, listen to me…” The Mysteron Scarlet suddenly jerked the gun under his human counterpart’s jaw, hitting him violently, and sending him backward. Scarlet sprawled on his belly, gasping for air, coughing. His head was reeling. This is bad, he thought. This is REALLY bad…
He heard echoing footsteps, as Captain Black was quietly walking around him. “You and Spectrum were planning to set a trap for me,” Black said in his dull tone. “But here’s the surprise for you: it is we who entrapped you, Earthman.” He stopped in front of Scarlet, looking down at him without any emotion; casually, he discarded the voice transformer, throwing it over his shoulder. Then he took his own gun, tucked under his coat, and aimed it at Scarlet. “We found Areopagus. It will be dealt with shortly. As for you, you are too much of a liability for the Mysterons to be permitted to live. You must be destroyed.”
Scarlet coughed loudly, finding enough breath to talk. “There’s nothing new in what you’re saying,” he croaked. “You’re repeating yourself…”
“Don’t get overconfident. We know about your relative invulnerability. We will ensure that you won’t come back from the dead again to oppose us. There are many ways for us to destroy you permanently.” Black looked up to his accomplice, who was standing next to the downed Spectrum officer, his gun still aimed at his head. “I think it’s only fair that my colleague should do the deed. After all, he’s your other self in this world.”
“I am NOTHING like him!” Scarlet growled. “And I am nothing like you…” His doppelganger pulled him up to his knees again, and he nearly stumbled. Looking up, the Spectrum officer found himself looking straight into the cold and unfeeling face that was so similar to his own. “I am not a murderer,” he said between his teeth.
“You are a soldier,” Black replied coolly. “Try to deny that you never found the necessity to kill in the course of your duty.”
“Was it necessary to kill Symphony Angel, two years ago?” snapped Scarlet.
“The woman knew the risks of her job,” the Mysteron Scarlet replied, pushing the barrel of the gun into the Spectrum agent’s face. “And what happened to her wasn’t my fault.”
Scarlet gasped in outrage. “YOU held the gun, you son-of-a…”
“Enough.” Black’s cool voice rang out, cutting Scarlet off in the middle of his diatribe. “We have wasted enough time as it is with you. We have a mission to pursue, so we’ll dispose of you temporarily, until Captain Scarlet returns from the Areopagus Complex, and we can finish you off.”
“I’m sure I’ll find a Spectrum officer there who will be more than happy to lend me a Mysteron gun,” the Mysteron Scarlet said quietly.
Scarlet addressed him a smirk. “I’m not even sure that will be sufficient,” he said with a scoff.
“You are vulnerable to electricity,” Captain Black noted.
“Vulnerable, yes… But will it kill me?” He shrugged. “Make your bets, gentlemen.”
Mysteron Scarlet narrowed his eyes. “You are bluffing.”
“Am I?” Scarlet said, keeping as set a face as he was able to manage it. He was indeed bluffing – there was a good chance that electricity – along with the Mysteron gun – could kill him, as it would any Mysteron agent. But there was no certainty. Since he was out of the Mysterons’ control, it might be possible that death by electricity or Mysteron gun would not have exactly the same definitive effect on him. But considering that up until now, he had retained some aspects of Mysteron physiology, it was understandable that he wasn’t that eager to try to find out.
“It doesn’t matter,” the Mysteron Scarlet replied. “We will find a way to deal with you. Properly and irremediably. In the meantime, I’ll make sure you won’t interfere with our present mission.” Scarlet found himself staring into the barrel of the gun that was about to kill him. He saw his double’s finger stroke the trigger, almost in a gentle manner. The Mysteron was taking his sweet time. Scarlet didn’t lower his gaze and stared defiantly.
If he blinked for the space of a second when a detonation resonated through the room, it was almost out of instinctive impulse. The gun flew out of the Mysteron Scarlet’s hand, when a bullet impacted with it; blood exploded from the hand, spraying onto Scarlet’s face. He impulsively rolled out of harm’s way just as Black’s gun spat flame in turn. He felt the heat of the bullet passing through his coat and grazing his left shoulder, before he crashed into Black’s legs, and sent him to the ground.
“About time you showed up, Blue!” he yelled over his shoulder. He didn’t waste any time in jumping on Black, trying to pin him down. He couldn’t see the look of intense frustration he was just guessing was splattered on Captain Blue’s face. The man, his left arm in a sling, was standing in the doorway leading to the hall, with his gun smoking from the use he just had made of it.
“How did you…” Blue didn’t get to finish his sentence as the Mysteron Scarlet tried to make a run for it, up the stairs. “Son of a gun…” He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger, a little too eagerly, as he saw with irritation part of the handrail disintegrate under the bullet, one inch behind his target. “Come back here, you!”
“Go after him!” Scarlet shouted over his shoulder. Blue looked down at the British officer who was fighting Captain Black to the ground. After but a second of hesitation, considering that his present partner was probably more than a match for the Mysteron agent, Blue sprang up the stairs, climbing with long strides.
Scarlet had his hands full with Black, who was fighting him with a knowledge of hand-to-hand combat that matched his own. Even though Scarlet had pushed himself up to sit astride him, so giving himself a slight advantage, Black was able to counteract every move he was making to try to keep him down, and plus, he didn’t seem to have any reaction of pain to the blows landing on him. Scarlet, on the other hand, was feeling every knock and thump, and Black knew exactly how to strike, as he methodically attacked Scarlet’s injured head and shoulder, spilling out more blood. It didn’t take long for the English officer to feel woozy after Black had attacked his head injury a couple of times. Blood was flowing into his eyes, and he was losing his focus. If he didn’t get a hold of himself soon, Black was liable to win this one.
“Oh no, you won’t…” he grumbled under his breath. He took Black’s head between his hands and smashed it violently against the floor. Once. Twice. Three times before he heard a moan coming from Black and started feeling his strength waning, his hands slipping away from him. “This time, Captain Black,” he added between his teeth, “this time, I’m bringing you in!”
He was about to bang his opponent’s head one more time, when something suddenly hit him roughly over the head; to make things worse, it landed directly on his already sustained injury. Playing possum, Captain Black had surreptitiously grasped a piece of fallen stone in his hand and had used it to treacherously smack Scarlet. The shock was painful enough, and the British captain didn’t have time to brace himself against it. A loud grunt escaped him; seeing stars dancing in front of his eyes, he collapsed to the ground, clear of his opponent.
For a moment, he lay there, trying to get his bearings and strength back; Black was regaining his energies faster than him and already, although with great effort, he was pulling himself onto his feet. Swaying, Black looked down at the man who had very nearly beaten him. Scarlet was slowly crawling away from him, in the direction of the gun his Mysteron double had dropped and which was lying on the floor, just by the large stony arch. Black staggered in the same direction, and reached the target before Scarlet was able to get his hand on it.
When he saw Black crouching down to grab the gun, Scarlet rolled to the side, to get onto his back; supporting himself on one forearm, breathing hard, he looked up with dazed eyes as Black, rising to his feet again, was coolly levelling the gun at him.
“I must commend your effort, Captain. You tried hard. But it wasn’t sufficient.”
“You think… I tried hard?” Scarlet said breathlessly. His right hand reached for the left, and only then did Black note he was holding something in it. A pen-like object. Scarlet pulled on it, looking up coldly at the visibly stunned Mysteron agent. “I haven’t finished trying yet!” He threw the object up toward the foot of the arch, and, taking advantage of Black’s momentary distraction as his cold eyes followed the object’s trajectory, Scarlet quickly got to his feet and made a run for it. Black snapped his attention back to his adversary and targeted him with the gun.
The pen-grenade then exploded. The deflagration behind Black literally knocked him off his feet; it even caught Scarlet, blowing him away as he was leaping behind the armchair previously occupied by Black, in the vain hope that it would protect him. Scarlet heard the loud rumbling and watched as the old stone arch crumbled, bringing half the house down with it. He got a glimpse of Black being buried under dust and debris, before something knocked him down. He stumbled, trying to see around him.
He realised there wasn’t hardly anywhere to hide and that he could only HOPE to escape being buried alive!
* * *
After reaching the second floor of the lounge, Captain Blue had chased after the Mysteron Scarlet from one end of the large balcony to the other and through the last door leading into a room. His mortal enemy having slammed the door shut and locked it, Blue had not wasted any time and kicked it open. The ageing hinges gave way under the violent treatment and simply tore from the frame. Peeking inside, Blue saw the silhouette of the Mysteron disappear through a broken window. He rushed into the room, went to the window and looked out. Scarlet was quickly striding down the surface of the roof covering the front veranda. Blue passed through the window and followed suit. His boots were sliding on the roof’s surface, but he managed to keep his footing, while pursuing his prey. He might have tried to shoot the Mysteron down, but it would call for him to use his only valid hand at the moment – and he was afraid he might eventually need it to catch himself, if he should trip on the uneven surface.
The Mysteron Scarlet jumped off the side of the roof, landing nimbly on the ground; Blue grumbled with irritation. As he reached the same spot from where his prey had leapt, he saw him running the distance separating the lounge from the motorboat attached on the pier. Blue looked down, calculated his leap and jumped in turn, landing in a crouched position. With no risk of tripping now, he took his gun and gave pursuit again. Through his own breathing, he could hear the Mysteron agent’s footsteps as they slapped on the pier’s surface. He’s not going to escape me now, Blue thought grimly. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get him…
Just before entering the house to rescue Metcalfe, he had called Grey to inform him of the new development and asked for the Angels to be on standby. He lowered his cap mic to request their immediate presence. Seconds, he evaluated. It would take seconds for them to be here… Sure enough, he was starting to hear the roaring of fighter jets, coming from way overhead.
The Mysteron Captain Scarlet had reached the boat and had swiftly untied it before jumping onboard. No, Blue thought with alarm, as he made his first steps onto the pier and realised he was still too far away to reach his prey in time before he would turn the ignition key. He raised his gun and took careful aim. This time, he genuinely had wanted to capture him, without having to resort to deadly force, but now he felt he didn’t have any choice.
“Scarlet!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.
The Mysteron, working at the wheel of the motorboat, straightened up, looking in his direction. Blue could almost feel the cold, yet taunting expression of his enemy’s eyes through the distance. He pulled the trigger twice. He hit his target, who gave a brief cry as the impacting bullet pushed him back and made him stumble overboard, splashing into the river. Blue cursed his ill fortune; he ran down the pier, until he reached the boat. He arrived just in time to see the dark-dressed body, floating face down in the water, taken by the river current, and heading toward the rapids downstream.
“Oh, Hell…” From where he was standing, Blue could see that the river became wilder farther downstream, with increasingly fast current and huge rocks piercing the water in many places. He had to follow, he told himself, looking down at the motorboat. It may not survive the descent – it was the kind of river only a true expert would attempt with a light and controllable raft. His chances were slim to nil, but he was determined to try and get to Scarlet.
Nobody lives forever, anyway, he told himself grimly.
Blue was about to jump into the boat when a violent explosion made itself heard behind him; he spun round and looked with eyes wide in surprise as a huge ball of fire erupted through the roof of the Sutsina Lounge. What happened in there? he thought, confounded. Half of the roof and part of the front wall caved into the house with a rumble almost as loud as the explosion had been itself.
Metcalfe… Blue mused, a shiver running down his spine.
He looked over his shoulder to the river where the current was rapidly carrying away the body of the Mysteron Captain Scarlet. Soon, it would disappear from his view. He gazed down at the motorboat, hesitating, then back again at the floating body and thirdly at the half-destroyed Lounge behind him, contemplating his options. He bit his lip, gave one last glance at the floating body vanishing away and turned around.
“Damn…” he muttered, starting to run in the direction of the lounge. “I can’t believe I’m doing this…” The sound of the roaring Angel jets ahead made him look up; he saw the three sleek interceptor passing by. Thanks for small miracles, he added inwardly. He lowered his cap mic. “Melody Angel! Captain Scarlet’s body – the Mysteron Scarlet – has fallen into the river and is being taken downstream by the current! Keep an eye on him and don’t lose track of him!”
“S.I.G., Captain, Blue,” the voice of his compatriot responded. “It won’t be easy, but we’ll do our best!”
I’m sure you will, girls, Blue told himself, but he didn’t entertain high hopes that they would be able to keep track of their Mysteron prey.
He had reached the front of the now smoking Lounge. Strangely, although almost the entire front had fallen down, the part of the wall with the main entrance was still up. The door had been wrenched from its frame and was lying on the veranda. His gun in hand, Blue climbed the four steps leading to the entrance and peered inside, cautiously. There was nothing but destruction, with pieces of wood and stones piled everywhere; the reception desk had been shattered in two by a huge supporting beam, made from heavy wood, that had fallen from one side of the hall to the other, while in between the hall and the lounge, a high mound of what had previously been the stone arch was half blocking the way. Dust was rising from everywhere, making it hard to see anything past that heap of debris. The dust irritated Blue’s nose and throat. He coughed. And he heard somebody else coughing.
“Metcalfe?” he called loudly, narrowing his eyes. “Can you hear me?”
Another cough answered, coming from the destroyed lounge. “Captain Blue?” a shaky voice called back.
“Paul!” Blue made a step forward, still keeping his weapon at the ready, just in case. “Are you all right?”
“I think so…” Blue went round the rocks and debris piled in the middle of the place, and made his way through the rubble into the lounge, filled with dust and smoke. He saw a human silhouette extricate itself from under a large armchair covered with pieces of wood that had fallen from the second floor. It was no longer dark, but covered with dust from head to toes. Blue smiled despite himself when he recognised Captain Scarlet staggering to his unsteady feet, and heaved a deep sigh of relief.
When Blue reached him, however, the half-stunned Scarlet nearly lost his footing, and caught himself against the still standing wall behind him. Blue re-holstered his gun and lent him a hand, keeping him upright.
“Are you all right?” he asked Scarlet again with concern, looking at his dust-covered face, and taking notice of the blood running from the side of his head.
“Yes, just stunned, that’s all,” the Englishman said, trying to regain his breath. “I’ll be all right in a few moments.”
Blue grinned. “You truly ARE indestructible, Captain!” he said in an affable tone, thumping the man’s back, making dust fly in the process. Scarlet winced. Either Blue didn’t know his own strength or he had thrown his back, trying to avoid most of the debris falling down on him. He was willing to bet on both.
“Black?” he murmured, looking up to Blue. The American stared at him with something like a clueless expression on his face. Scarlet gestured in the direction of the heap of stones behind them. Blue turned around. “He was standing under the arch when it fell on him.”
“Let’s see if we can find him,” Blue offered.
Scarlet nodded his approval and the two of them walked toward the huge mound. They started moving rocks around, when they heard a faint moan, that made them stop instantly. It was coming from the other side. Quickly, they went around the stones, and found themselves in the nearly completely destroyed hall.
They found Black, covered with dust, lying over and under wood and stone debris, having avoided most of them, but not all, as the injuries all over his body indicated. The huge beam that had destroyed the hall was resting across him, and would have crushed him if it had not crashed down on the reception counter, which, at the present, was obviously supporting some of its tremendous weight. The beam had, however, hit Black roughly over the head and he was bleeding profusely, his face covered with dust-mingled blood. Scarlet and Blue leaned over him, removed some of the debris and looked down at him. He moaned again.
“He’s still alive,” Scarlet noted, taking the man’s hand to check his pulse. “But he looks in a bad way…”
“I’m calling Grey,” Blue declared, lowering his cap microphone. “We need a medicopter to take him back to Cloudbase…”
He was about to make the call when a louder grunt escaped the wounded man. Both Spectrum agents looked down; they saw his face flinch in a painful contortion, then the eyes opened very slowly. Black blinked several times, trying to focus his sight, and obviously failing to do so.
“Hurt…” he moaned. “Hurt… so much…”
Scarlet and Blue tensed. The voice. It was different. It wasn’t the Mysterons’ voice they heard from Black’s lips. The voice they had heard, during those previous and rare encounters of the last two years. The eyes too were different, displaying an expression of loss and hurt, and apparently devoid of the icy and inexpressive stare they had learned to dread. Both captains looked at each other with uncertainty, before staring down at Black again. He was trying to push against the beam pinning him down. Scarlet put his hand on the wounded man’s shoulder, stopping him.
“Don’t move. We’ll get you out of there.”
“Paul… Is that… you?” Black murmured faintly. His eyes searched around, and found Scarlet. They looked up to him, with confusion so very obvious in them. “Why does it hurt… so much…” His voice trailed away, and his eyes closed as he drifted back into unconsciousness.
For a short instant, both Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue continued to stare down at Captain Black, with the same uneasiness, and sharing the same doubt that neither of them dared express out loud. Scarlet then cleared his throat, looking back into Blue’s apparently inexpressive face.
“What do you make of it?”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t know, really. But what I’m sure of is that he has to go to Cloudbase.” He finally lowered his cap microphone. “Maybe there, we’ll be able to get some answers.”
* * *
Reopening the portal.
“That’s… an interesting development.”
Colonel White was standing in sickbay, in front of a Plexiglas window that permitted him to gaze into the room where Captain Black was lying in bed, surrounded by bleeping monitoring devices. Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue, standing at the older man’s side, were also staring at Black, sharing the same curious and perplexed interest in the man they had escorted back from Alaska. Now cleaned of the layer of dust he had been covered with when they had found his injured body, they could see his face had lost the pallid complexion it always had displayed while under Mysteron control.
The man was deeply unconscious, and had been that way since he had blacked out in the Lounge. His injuries had been treated, and bandaged, and for security reasons, he had been strapped onto his bed, with two security guards close by to keep an eye on him. But according to the machines he was hooked to, he wasn’t any kind of threat now, and wouldn’t be for a long time. Neither was he in any danger of dying. Even though he had suffered serious injuries, and a massive concussion, his condition was improving slowly. He just needed extensive medical treatment for his injuries. Like any normal human being in a fit condition.
He wasn’t healing at an increased speed, like a retrometabolic Mysteron agent – or like Captain Scarlet.
“Could he have reverted to his human persona?” Scarlet had voiced the question he knew was on everyone’s mind. White was rubbing his chin, thoughtfully, his eyes riveted on Black. He didn’t dare hope it, really. But it was a distinct possibility he wasn’t ready to discard just yet.
“Possibly,” he murmured, “I suppose that if you managed it in your world, he might manage it here.”
“And it might also be another Mysteron trick,” Blue observed dourly.
“Still being paranoid, Captain?” Scarlet asked him quietly, cocking a brow.
“No… being practical – Captain.” This time, there wasn’t any sarcasm in his tone when Blue used the rank. And Scarlet acknowledged that with a faint, but thankful nod.
“Yes, you’re right, of course. You can’t afford to take the risk.”
“This is something we’ll indeed have to make sure of,” Colonel White recognised, turning to face the two officers. “If the Mysterons have indeed lost control over him, following that explosion in the lounge – if he is truly free – there might be hope for him. If so, we’ll have to take good care of him.” He glanced over his shoulder to the sleeping Black, and turned to face Scarlet, with a sly grin. “I would dare say, it’s almost a shame he doesn’t seem to display any of your healing abilities, Mister Metcalfe.”
Scarlet answered with his own smile, amused at the ironic thought. “…Or your organisation would probably have its own indestructible agent, wouldn’t it, Colonel?” He looked at Black. “I wonder why he doesn’t seem to have them?”
“Who knows?” White said. “We don’t know any of the circumstances under which he was taken over by the Mysterons. His body was never found when the Zero-X mission returned from Mars.”
“As was the case, on my world,” Scarlet reflected.
“Not that that means anything,” White added quickly. “It could have stayed on the planet’s surface.”
“Is Black retrometabolic on your world?” Blue asked Scarlet with curiosity.
“I wish I could answer that question. There is so much we don’t know about Captain Black. About as much as you do about your Captain Black.”
“Quite right,” White agreed. He nodded toward Black. “Maybe he’ll be able to tell us, eventually.”
“Maybe he will,” Scarlet agreed. “But I wouldn’t count on that too much, if I were you, Colonel. If my own experience is any indication, he might not remember much of what’s happened these last two years.”
“Then if he’s himself once more, that will truly frustrate him.”
Scarlet nearly chuckled, hearing White’s remark. “Yes – knowing him, I expect it will. If he’s anything like the Captain Black I knew.”
“By the sound of it, I reckon he might be.” White paused a second, glancing one last time in the direction of Black, before addressing Scarlet once again. “I have to thank you, Captain, for the help you brought us, that permitted us to capture Captain Black – be he Mysteron or not.”
“Only a half success then, Colonel?” Scarlet asked quietly.
“More than that, Captain. The Areopagus Complex has been saved from the attack the Mysterons were planning on it. So it will be able to pursue its research – and hopefully, will eventually provide us with useful insight that will help us in our fight.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, you’re right. That certainly counts for something. You need all the help you can get, sir. But I was referring to something else.” He looked toward Black, who was still peacefully sleeping. “I thought it was a shame his accomplice escaped,” Scarlet noted with a dry note to his tone.
“Yes, a shame,” White said, stealing a glance at Blue who was standing with a scowling expression behind the British captain. “The Angels followed his body for some miles down the river – but it eventually disappeared among the eddies and rocks. Search teams have been sent along the river bends, looking for any trace of him. I don’t expect they’ll find any.”
“I don’t expect so either,” Blue said under his breath. “Maybe I should have followed with the motorboat…”
“And killed yourself against the rocks?” White retorted. “No, Captain. You did well not to go after it. It would have been a useless operation.” He frowned deeply. “As far as I’m concerned you took enough risks as it was during this mission. I still wonder about the wisdom of letting you follow Captain Scar- er – Mister Metcalfe to that rendezvous with Captain Black. With that injured shoulder of yours…”
“You allowed him to go?” Scarlet said with a frown.
“I convinced him,” Blue remarked with a grin. “You needed some back-up. And I was the only one around to provide it.”
“Grey could have done it.”
“Grey’s not nearly as good as me!” Blue scoffed. “Even with a wounded shoulder!”
Scarlet rolled his eyes, while White frowned. The statement wasn’t serious, evidently, as Blue knew of the true effectiveness of Captain Grey, but it didn’t mean White had to appreciate it. Then it hit him that Captain Blue had made a joke. Even if it was a bad one, it was also a genuine joke. His first for such a long time. So White kept his reprimand for the time being, contenting himself with contemplating the possibility that his best officer was finally drawing out of the cocoon he had built around himself and had kept for so long.
But Blue had better not make a habit of statements like that, or…
“Tell me, Metcalfe,” Blue was saying to Scarlet, “there’s something that’s been nagging me. When I rescued you at the lounge, from being shot by your own double, you gave me the definite impression that you KNEW I was there. How come?”
“Really, Captain Blue, you have to ask?” Scarlet took on a mock-exasperated expression, and crossed his arms on his chest, to look Blue squarely in the eyes. “Next time you travel in a car boot, try to find a way of securing yourself tightly, so you don’t bounce around at every other bump on the road. You were making so much noise in there, I thought I was carrying a moose!”
Blue scowled. “Even a moose would have fit into that trunk!” he grumbled. “I couldn’t get a good enough grip and it was so big I was flung in all directions. How would I have known the road was so bad? I nearly knocked myself out.”
“Thinking you could sneak up on me… It would have served you right.”
“But then, I would never have been able to rescue you,” Blue replied with a smirk.
“Oh dear,” White mumbled watching their exchange with a reproachful glance, “is this what your Colonel White has to put up with, Mister Metcalfe?”
“Well… not every day, sir,” Scarlet answered with a faint smile.
“I would not tolerate that nearly as much,” the colonel declared sternly, causing the two younger men to regain their seriousness. He paused for a dramatic instant, before adding, more coolly. “Fortunately, it seems I won’t have to.” He looked at Scarlet who was staring at him with an anxious expression displayed on his face, and grinned widely. A grin that reminded Scarlet of his own commander when he was in a particularly good mood. “I have news for you. And I dare say, good news.” There was a soft package, simply wrapped in brown paper, on the table behind the three men. White turned around to pick it up, and then handed it to Scarlet, in an almost solemn gesture. The younger man looked down with uncertainty at the package resting in his hands. It was light, and the paper wasn’t wrapped that tightly around it. Holding the package in one hand, he simply tore the wrapping with the other. One tear was enough to tell him what was under the paper.
He found himself peering down at a brand new, neatly folded, Spectrum colour-coded officer’s bright red tunic.
White put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Time for you to go home, Captain Scarlet. And you certainly can’t do that in a bullet-holed uniform, can you?”
* * *
Captain Scarlet slipped on the tunic as, with Colonel White and Captain Blue, they walked through Cloudbase corridors to gain access to the Research and Development Department. As they passed by various personnel along the way, Scarlet noticed that things seemed now to have changed a great deal in their attitude toward him. They no longer regarded him with that glitter of suspicion he had often seen in their eyes, and some of them even insisted on shaking hands with him, thanking him for his help and congratulating him for the success of his mission. He personally considered it as half a success, seeing as, even though Captain Black had been captured, the Mysteron double of himself had made good his escape. He made a point of saying that Captain Blue was in good part responsible for Spectrum’s triumph in this assignment. But Blue, walking a few paces behind him, kept to himself, not saying a single word, and following quietly, allowing the British captain his moment of glory.
It took them double the time it normally would to finally reach R and D. White guided the young man to the same small lab in which he had previously prepared himself for the assignment in Alaska. Captain Ochre was already there, fully dressed in his uniform, standing next to Captain Magenta and Captain Indigo, the latter seated in a wheelchair, chatting with him. Scarlet went directly to Ochre and thumped him in the back.
“What do you think, Rick?” Scarlet said with a large grin. “Soon we’ll be back home, and we’ll have a very entertaining story to tell all our friends. I wonder if they’ll believe us…”
In his enthusiasm, Scarlet failed to notice the expression of perplexity displayed on Ochre’s face as the American turned and stared at him. When he heard the reply, coming from behind him, Scarlet instantly realised his mistake.
“I don’t know, Paul… You may have a great deal to tell them about… As for me, I’m afraid I will have to bore the living daylights out of everyone with details of all those tests the good doctors did on me…”
Scarlet scowled. He turned around slowly and stared at another Captain Ochre, in full uniform minus the cap, who was leaning casually against a wall and smirking mockingly at him. Scarlet turned back to face the serious-looking Ochre whose shoulder he still held. “Rick?” he said looking into his eyes.
The man raised a brow. “Yes… Paul?” He kept a stern face, but it was easy to see he had tremendous difficulty doing so, and was trying not to burst out laughing. Scarlet frowned.
“I don’t know. You tell us.”
Did they set this up from the beginning? Scarlet pondered. Maybe not, but upon realising his mistake, they had decided, with the same mind, to lead him on. So like Ochre, not to pass up an opportunity like that! Which one was which, Scarlet didn’t have a clue. And it was obvious they weren’t about to tell him. The two looked exactly the same, except for the present attitude they were displaying, and a missing cap for one of them.
Scarlet turned around, pointing to the cap-less Ochre. “You. You’re the one.”
“I’m the one what?” the man asked with a falsely baffled expression.
“Cut it out, Rick. I know you’re the one from my world. You obviously lost your cap during the explosion – like I lost mine.”
“Maybe he gave it to me,” the Captain Ochre standing in front of Scarlet then said innocently.
“And maybe I should go back alone,” Scarlet replied with a mischievous glitter in his eyes.
“Certainly not! One Ochre is more than enough in this world,” protested Colonel White from the door, causing both Ochres to snap to attention. Scarlet was about certain he would order the twins to stop their fooling around and reveal themselves. Instead, he was very surprised when the colonel, after a thoughtful pause, spoke next: “you can have BOTH of them if you want, Captain.”
Behind White, Captain Blue couldn’t help but guffaw with laughter upon hearing the words, causing White to glance at him with a chiding look; Blue had difficulty regaining a more serious expression. Next to Captain Ochre, both Captain Magenta and Captain Indigo also had trouble containing their amusement. As for the Captain Ochre standing in front of Scarlet, his face literally fell.
“What?! You would get rid of me, sir?”
“I knew it!” Scarlet proclaimed, turning to advance on the still grinning, cap-less Ochre.
“Would if I could, Captain Ochre,” Colonel White answered to his discomfited officer. “If you weren’t such a damned good officer. But your incessant pranks can be so exasperating, and my patience wears very thin at times!”
“I couldn’t agree more, sir.” Scarlet stood in front of his Ochre, giving him a reproving look. “Don’t you think now really isn’t the moment for this kind of gag, Captain Ochre?”
“Sorry, Captain Scarlet,” Ochre replied in a tone that plainly said he was anything but sorry. He sniggered. “I couldn’t resist…”
“Neither could I,” the other Ochre added with a grin similar to the first one.
“Oh, I’m so glad you two don’t have a twin in each other’s respective world,” Scarlet said, rolling his eyes.
“You and the rest of the universe,” White added grimly. He approached, followed by Blue, and looked down at Captain Indigo, who, almost despite himself, straightened up in his chair. “What are you doing here, Captain Indigo? Shouldn’t you be resting in sickbay?”
“I should, sir,” Indigo said with a smile. “But I heard that both Captain Scarlet and... Captain Ochre…” he nodded to the man standing closer to Scarlet, “…were leaving soon. I wanted to say my goodbyes, Captains.”
Both Scarlet and Ochre approached and clasped hands in turn with the injured officer. “Goodbye, Andrew,” Scarlet said with a large smile. “It’s been good knowing you. Keep up the good work.”
“You too, Captain Scarlet. Captain Ochre – you’re not as bad as your twin here.”
“Watch it,” the other Ochre by his side advised him. “Or you’ll be the victim of my next prank, Indigo.” He cleared his throat when he saw the warning glow in Colonel White’s blue eyes. He shook hands with Scarlet, and then with his twin. “Goodbye, ‘brother’,” he told him with a smirk. “Too bad we didn’t get to know each other better.”
“We could have made an awesome team,” the cap-less Ochre agreed.
“God save us from that prospect,” Captain Magenta said under his breath, rolling his eyes. “I already have enough trouble keeping my eye on you as it is, you worthless crook…”
“Crook?” asked Scarlet with perplexity.
“That’s what ex-commander Patrick Donaghue keeps calling me,” the Ochre standing next to Magenta said, laughing. “He can’t seem to forget my old life with the Chicago mob. He also seems to forget I’m reformed,” he added with a smirk addressed to the pink-clad officer who was obviously his friend, and failing in the process to notice his twin’s jaw dropping and hitting the floor. Scarlet was enjoying all this, and made no effort to conceal the large smirk displayed on his face.
“And how is my twin?” Magenta asked almost matter-of-factly. He noticed the handshake he exchanged with the cap-less Ochre was flabby, and the expression on the man’s face a little wary. He couldn’t guess why.
“I’m keeping my eye on him,” Ochre declared, his tone a little curt.
Magenta failed to understand the allusion. Ochre turned to Scarlet. “I think it’s about time we left, Captain.”
“Eh? Oh, of course, Captain Ochre.” It was Scarlet’s turn to shake hands with Magenta. “A pleasure having met you, Captain Magenta.”
“Sorry we didn’t get to work together, Captain Scarlet.”
“I’m sorry too. I’ll be sure to give your best to your… twin.”
Magenta grinned. “Thank you, Captain. That’s most kind of you.”
“Only natural, really.”
“We’d better get on, gentlemen,” Colonel White called from the door. “The doctors are waiting for us.”
With a nod, both Scarlet and Ochre left the room, following White and Blue, who were walking up front. As the door of the room closed behind them, Ochre addressed a sideways glance at his British colleague, who was displaying a face of complete and pure innocence.
“You won’t say a word about this,” he muttered between his teeth.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Scarlet asked, feigning not to understand his friend’s motive.
“Because if you do, I’ll kill you.”
Scarlet scoffed with derision. “And you think that SCARES me?”
* * *
The room where both Scarlet and Ochre had made their arrival in this so similar – but oh so different – world was to be their next destination. The airlock doors, previously destroyed by the ‘accident’ of three days ago, had been removed by the clean up crew, but not replaced yet. The lab had been cleaned as well, all the debris from the explosion having been neatly picked up. There wasn’t much left of the room’s original fittings, and there had been some modifications, in order to pursue the ‘experiment’ they were both about to engage in.
Behind a large, screen-like, transparent wall set up in the middle of the room, stood the Kurnitz console; it had been repaired, the marks of its recent ordeal not quite hidden under a new and full set of circuitry that had been visibly added to it. By its side stood a robotic device, equipped with long metallic gripping arms. Long cables had been taped to the floor, running from the console and under a door pierced in the transparent wall. Beyond the wall had been installed what looked like a control room that comprised a full wall of computerised controls for the console. Doctors Kurnitz and Giadello were there, apparently setting the last details on a large control panel, with Captain Grey standing right behind them. When they saw Colonel White and Captain Blue enter, immediately followed by Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre, they left their work and came to greet the four men.
“Ah, Captains!” Kurnitz said, clasping hands with Scarlet then Ochre. “Ready for the big jump, are you?”
“As ready as we can be, Doctor,” Scarlet nodded. “Grey – happy to see you here. We’ll get a chance to say goodbye, then.”
“Indeed, Captain Scarlet,” Grey said grinning. “Captain Ochre – nice to meet you.”
“Tell me you’re not an astronaut?” Ochre asked the grey-clad captain, while clasping his hand. All he received in answer was a clueless look, and Ochre moved on. “Nice meeting you, Captain Grey.”
“I see you have modified your console, Doctor,” White was saying to Giadello, nodding in the direction of the device.
“AND taken security measures, Colonel,” Giadello added, gesturing toward the transparent screen.
“Good,” White said with satisfaction. “I wouldn’t want to see Cloudbase damaged while we proceed with this experiment.”
“No danger of that, Colonel,” Giadello said with a reassuring smile. “As you know, all the walls of this room have been reinforced. Checked and double-checked. Furthermore, this security wall will protect the controls – and ourselves – from the initial blast caused by the opening of the vortex.”
“I was wondering about that,” Scarlet said, with a nod. “The explosion is rather violent, Doctor. Not to mention the blinding light and deafening noise…”
“Yes, and that’s the worst part of the operation. The most risky one,” Kurnitz agreed. “But when that phase is done, and with the controls sheltered and therefore in perfect working condition, we should be able to take control of the energy flow, and to harness it to a point where you’ll be able to step into the vortex, Captains. But it won’t last long - a few minutes only. So you’ll have to be quick about it.”
“You said, ‘should be able to’,” Ochre remarked grimly. “As in ‘we’re not yet sure it’ll work’?”
“As we already said, Captain Ochre, this is…”
“ ‘Unknown territory to you’, I know,” Ochre sighed.
“So it might be potentially dangerous,” Blue, standing next to White, remarked. “There’s a risk of them being blown to smithereens, isn’t there?”
“A slight risk, Captain.” Kurnitz hesitated a moment. “But a risk anyway.”
“Wonderful,” Ochre sighed again.
“And we’ll have only ONE chance to try this,” Giadello added.
“Why only one chance?” Scarlet demanded.
Giadello shook his head. “I’m afraid we only have enough power in the stones for one try, Captain. The opening of the vortex will surely drain the stones of all their remaining energy. After that try, there won’t have enough energy left to open it again. If you don’t get through – you may be stuck here. Indefinitely. At least, until we find another source of power that may replace the one provided by the stones.”
“Which could mean years of waiting,” Scarlet said. He turned to Ochre, hesitating to speak for his friend. The latter nodded, understanding the mute question.
“I’m as eager as you to get back home, Scarlet. I’m ready to take the risk.”
“Well, it’s settled, then,” White concluded. “These gentlemen seem to be ready when you are, Doctors.”
“Perfect. Then we’ll put the energy stones in place, using the mechanical arms we installed on the console to do so at a distance, from behind the security wall. Er… gentlemen, you may want to put these on.” Kurnitz distributed yellowish goggles around that he took from the counter behind him. “As Captain Scarlet said, the initial explosion may be uncomfortably blinding.”
“It certainly is,” murmured Scarlet, looking down pensively at the goggles he was holding in his hands.
“As for the sonic wail that accompanies the opening of the vortex between the dimensional worlds,” Giadello explained, “the wall will serve to contain it, as it will for the force of the blast itself. We won’t risk any danger of losing our hearing.”
“When the initial blast is over,” Kurnitz explained, carefully closing the door leading to the console, “you, Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre, will be able to enter the compartment – and then step into the now open portal. We’ll be behind the protective wall, monitoring everything, and making sure this will be a success – to the best of our capacities, that is.”
“We WILL be sent to our own dimensional world, Doctor?” Captain Ochre asked, doubt still obvious in his tone. He was remembering the earlier conversation they had had about the possibility that they might end up in yet another world – where the historical events might not exactly be to their liking. Kurnitz reassured him with a smile.
“Don’t worry, Captain. On that point – we’re pretty sure we’ve taken care of all the figures. That risk is nil.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want to find myself in a world where I would end up in prison,” Ochre mumbled under his breath. Only Scarlet heard him, and had to lower his head to conceal his amusement over his friend’s statement.
“Right, we still have a few details to check. Then we’ll be able to proceed. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
Scarlet stepped back to permit Doctor Giadello to gain access to the controls. In a few minutes, he thought, he and Ochre would be back to their own world. He didn’t want to think about what might go wrong. He just wanted to be confident that everything would be all right. He looked down at the goggles in his hands. He was about to try them on when he noticed a slender figure standing in the frame of the door. He looked around; Doctor Giadello was checking data on a monitor, while Doctor Kurnitz was explaining a few details of the control panel that Captain Blue was curiously examining, and in which Colonel White and Captain Ochre took equal interest. Grey seemed to have seen all he needed to know about the device, so he was busy cleaning the lenses of his goggles. Scarlet was far more concerned with that last minute visitor he had discovered; he walked toward the door.
Rhapsody Angel smiled warmly when he stood in front of her, a little awkwardly, addressing her with a large grin of his own.
“Hi. I almost thought you wouldn’t come to say ‘goodbye’.”
She raised a brow. “Would I miss it?” she asked. “I’m conveying good luck wishes from the other Angels in the process. They couldn’t come. Most of them are involved in searching for – er…”
“Captain Scarlet?” He grinned. He saw her reddening a little, as if embarrassed to have even mentioned it. “That’s all right. It would have surprised me if I didn’t have to hear about him one last time before leaving.”
She nodded slowly, looking down. Scarlet scrutinised her. “You’re still thinking about him, aren’t you?”
She sighed. “I’m just sorry he didn’t find peace, like I thought he had,” she murmured.
“Perhaps one day,” Scarlet observed. “Perhaps he might even be freed from the Mysterons’ control, like Black seems to have been. And find a way to fight his own revulsion at what he might have done.”
“… And perhaps you would even be able to find each other?”
Rhapsody shook her head. “No, I doubt it. That part of my life is over and done with. It’s time for me to… concentrate on something else.”
Scarlet nodded, looking at her even more closely. “Now you’re in love with someone else,” he realised, nodding thoughtfully.
“And what makes you say that?”
“I don’t know – something in your eyes…” He grinned in turn. “I’m glad you can get on with your life, Rhapsody Angel. You deserve to be happy.”
“I keep telling you to call me ‘Dianne’,” she replied with a fond smile. “In any case, I’m not sure I’ll be keeping the name ‘Rhapsody Angel’ much longer.”
“You’re leaving Spectrum?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“Oh no! It just that something happened in my personal life that makes it impossible for me to be an Angel pilot anymore. My replacement will arrive tomorrow. I’ll be assigned new duty at Koala Base, shortly. As chief pilot instructor. We’ll need new teams of pilots. Have to make sure the rookies will meet the colonel’s high standards!”
Scarlet laughed. “With you as their instructor, they’ll be sure to succeed. You’re the best they could have.”
Rhapsody reddened. “You’re just saying that because I remind you of your Rhapsody!” she admonished him, hitting his shoulder playfully. Her hand rested there, and she found herself locking eyes with Scarlet as he gazed down silently at her. He bent down, to plant a quick, yet gentle kiss on her lips. She lingered a little, but then released him, swiftly. She looked down, awkwardly, as if realising that she might have gone a little too far. But when she stared up again, she could only see Scarlet’s kind, friendly features. “Treat her well, Paul,” she whispered, caressing his cheek. “She deserves happiness too. And so do you.”
He nodded. “I will, Rhapsody.” He raised a brow. “You don’t mind if I keep thinking of you as ‘Rhapsody’?”
The young woman smiled. “I don’t mind at all.”
“Good bye, then – Dianne.”
“Good bye, Paul – Have a good life.”
“Captain Scarlet?” That was the voice of Captain Grey behind, and Scarlet turned around just in time to see the American captain approaching the doorway. Grey noticed Rhapsody and nodded his salutations, before addressing Scarlet anew: “We are ready to proceed.”
“And I’m ready as well, Captain Grey.” He gave a last glance at Rhapsody, nodded briefly at her, and turned around. “Let’s go.” He went back into the room and Grey was about to follow suit, when Rhapsody caught his arm.
“Can I … attend too, Captain?” she asked. It was almost pleading. Grey only hesitated for a second, before agreeing with a brief nod. “I don’t see why not, unless the colonel throws you out.”
“He won’t,” she assured him. “Or at the very least, I won’t let him intimidate me.”
“Right – just make sure he doesn’t bite my head off afterwards, okay?” He pointed an almost warning finger at her. “And stay in the back,” he whispered.
She nodded her agreement, following him in.
In the room, both Captain Ochre and Captain Scarlet were making their last goodbyes. Ochre had finished his quite rapidly, not having had as much contact with everyone as Scarlet had, but the British captain took a little more time, making sure he said all he needed to say to both Colonel White and Captain Blue.
“You could – make yourself a life here, Captain,” Colonel White offered, clasping hands with Scarlet, after wishing Ochre good luck. “We certainly could put your special abilities to good use in Spectrum, against the Mysterons.”
“As they are in my own world, Colonel,” Scarlet remarked gravely.
White nodded. “Of course. Your duty is to your world. And your organisation. How thoughtless of me.”
“No harm done, Sir. The offer IS appreciated, though. But my place isn’t here. It’s there.” Scarlet gave a brief glance in Rhapsody’s direction – he could see her standing some feet behind White, accepting a pair of goggles that Captain Grey was presenting to her. Then he quickly looked to his left, where Captain Ochre was exchanging a handshake with Captain Blue. “Beside,” he added in an undertone, with a mischievous grin, “would you really be able to bear the antics of two Captain Ochres?”
White seemed to ponder that very quickly, before scowling deeply. He nodded in the direction of the Kurnitz console. “You’d better get the hell out of here. And fast,” he seethed between his teeth.
Scarlet chuckled and nodded in turn, before leaving White and turning to Blue. The latter looked awkward for a moment, then lowered his gaze, not seeming to want to look him in the eyes.
“Captain Blue…” Scarlet held out his hand. “It’s been an honour meeting you.”
The hesitation in Blue was quite visible, and not really surprising to Scarlet, considering all he had learned about the bearded officer. What totally took him by surprise, however, was the way Blue suddenly took his hand, and the vigour with which he pumped it.
“The honour, Captain, has been mine,” Blue declared solemnly, finally locking eyes with Scarlet.
“Blue, Adam – I heard what happened to Symphony, I…”
“Hey,” Blue interrupted him quickly, in little more than a murmur. “I know. That was nothing to do with you.” On an impulse that amazed everyone around, and Scarlet more than anyone else, Blue reached out to hug him, thumping his back energetically. “Tell your friend to take care of his girl, Paul - and make sure nothing happens to destroy their happiness.”
“I promise, Adam. I’ll be there to take care of them.”
“I know. I’m counting on you…” The bearded officer bit his lip, and gave Scarlet one last hearty thump. “…Brother.” Blue’s voice was shaking, and Scarlet could swear he heard a choke – or a sob – in it. When he looked into the blond man’s face, he could see a genuine, friendly smile, along with a sincere emotional display of sadness at seeing his one-time partner leaving. There were no more words exchanged between them; they clasped each other’s forearms, as only two old friends would do, and nodded acknowledgement of what had been said – and left unsaid.
That was it.
They heard someone clear his throat behind them.
“All right, then,” the voice of Colonel White said. “I think it’s time, now.”
“Quite right,” Doctor Giadello agreed. “Everyone, put your protective goggles on. Captain Scarlet, Captain Ochre, stand by. We’re about to begin.”
* * *
Back to Kansas
Captain Blue and Symphony Angel were standing in the Research and Development Lab where, three days before, both Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre seemed to have disappeared into thin air following the violent explosion that had destroyed half of the room.
“Do you think they’re really gone, Adam?” a troubled-looking Symphony asked her fiancé, as they looked around them. There were still marks of the blast everywhere on the walls, ceiling and floors, with most of the equipment broken, still lying here and there. The clean-up crew had to wait for the investigation into the incident to be closed before being allowed to do their work. It wasn’t looking as it they would step in any day soon, as every check and analysis had come up blank so far.
Doctor Lavender had survived the explosion. He had been lucky enough to have been thrown behind a fallen cabinet, that seemed to have shielded him from further harm – he had awakened in the evening of the same day, feeling sore all over, and with a headache like he said he had never experienced before. Interrogated about what he knew of the incident, he had explained how the explosion had occurred – he had told Colonel White and Captain Blue all about the red stones, how they were supposed to be inert, but how they suddenly came to life, with a rare and violent display of unknown pure energy, that had wreaked havoc in the lab. The blinding light emanating from the stones had then bathed both Scarlet and Ochre, who were closest to the energy source, and then, to the stunned Lavender, they seemed to simply vanish from his view. He was unable to say anything else, and regretted it deeply, as he obviously considered himself responsible for the incident. Colonel White had showed himself very irritated with the doctor, for having endangered all of Cloudbase with what could be considered a hazardous scientific test. A test, he made a point of telling Lavender, that might have resulted in the deaths of two of Spectrum’s best. White was considering pressing very serious charges against Lavender – the least of which was accidental manslaughter.
“I can’t believe they could have been completely vaporised like that!” Blue replied with harshness in his tone. His anger wasn’t directed at her, and she knew it. In fact, they were both sharing the same anger and anxiety. Only their friends’ damaged radiocaps had been retrieved from the scene of the explosion, and that was about the only indication that they had indeed been there. There weren’t even ashes of what might have been their bodies.
That had compelled Colonel White to order a complete search of the base, to see if they weren’t somewhere – who knows, even held captive in some remote place of Cloudbase – although it seemed very unlikely. The Spectrum commander wasn’t about to accept easily that they had been vaporised with absolutely nothing left of them. Maybe this was all a clever plot by the Mysterons to deceive them all. Admittedly, no threat had been announced so far, but it wasn’t unknown for them to place their pawns before making their first move. But examination of the Kurnitz console, which seemed to be partly responsible for the blast, had not shown any indication that it had been tampered with, or that an explosive device had been placed in or near it. And it had been three days now, the search for the two missing officers had proved inconclusive, and still there had been no Mysteron threat. The likelihood of such a theory was quickly growing thin…
“They could have been taken off-base,” Blue remarked, without actually answering Symphony’s question.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Symphony replied.
“They’re alive,” Blue retorted, shaking his head. “I can’t explain how but…”
“So you think Doctor Lavender… lied to us? He passed the detector test, Big Blue, he’s not a Mysteron. So why would he have lied?”
Blue shrugged. “Whether he lied – or made a mistake, who knows? I just KNOW they’re somewhere, and that they’re alive… I can FEEL it.”
“That’s hardly a scientific response, Captain Blue.”
Blue turned around at the sound of the male voice coming from behind him. Doctor Lavender just entered the room through the destroyed first airlock doors. Blue frowned, showing plainly his dissatisfaction upon seeing him there.
“I neither lied nor made a mistake,” Lavender continued, standing in front of the American officer. “I know what I saw.”
“What are you doing here?” Blue growled. “Didn’t Colonel White put you under arrest in your own quarters?”
“I am a civilian, Captain,” Lavender observed. “Colonel White can’t order me around like all of you military-type guys…”
“You may be responsible for the death of two senior Spectrum staff officers,” Blue reminded him, poking the man’s chest. “I need only ONE word from MY commander, and I’ll not hesitate to put you under lock and key, pending charges, if it comes to that.”
“What about your feeling that your friends are still alive, then?” Lavender asked without blinking. “You are not as sure of that as you pretend, are you?”
“Look, Captain,” Lavender interrupted suddenly. “It was all an accident. I didn’t intend for this to happen, you should KNOW that. And you should know I am deeply sorry for all this.”
“Are you?” Blue asked bitterly. Blue was about to let go of all his anger and tell Lavender what he thought of him and of his irresponsibility, when it seemed to him that his ears were ringing. He winced, and his hand reached for his ear; he saw the same movement from both Lavender and Symphony, standing by his side. He looked from one to the other, with perplexity. “What’s this?” he murmured. “Are you hearing something too?”
“Not exactly ‘hearing’,” Lavender replied, rubbing his ear. “There’s no sound – at least, nothing our outer ear can actually hear – it’s like it’s being picked up by our middle or inner ear.” He inserted his finger into his ear, rotating it as if trying to dislodge a blockage. He frowned. “It’s getting more acute… Not exactly painful, but certainly annoying.”
“Symphony?” Blue said turning to his fiancée. She had her hand pressed against her right ear. She nodded to him.
“Any idea what’s this strange phenomenon might be, Doctor?” she asked turning to Lavender.
“No… But considering what had happened in here recently, it might somehow be related to it.” He winced, pressing his hand harder on his ear, as Symphony was doing herself. “Ow! It’s getting even stronger. May I suggest we leave this place immediately? If only to see if getting out eases our discomfort?”
“Good idea,” Blue agreed, taking Symphony by the arm and gently pushing her toward the door. “Let’s get out and…”
He was suddenly interrupted when a loud booming sound resonated and a flash of light appeared dead centre of the room, cutting off their way out. The annoying sensation the three were feeling in their ears suddenly felt worse, transforming into a sharp pain. For a short instant, their sense of balance was thrown off; Lavender braced himself against a nearby wall so as not to fall, while Blue, suddenly feeling dizzy, put a knee on the ground, and uneasily stayed in that position. He caught Symphony as she fell to her knees too, and hanging on to her, held her as upright as possible. She was pale and holding both ears.
“Are you all right?” Blue asked in concern, “you…” His voice trailed off as his eyes fell on the brilliant light in the middle of the room, only a couple of metres away from them, and noted that it was enlarging, until it reached a couple of metres in diameter. It was illuminating its immediate surroundings, but wasn’t throwing much light around. It was pulsating, with rays of white and red, each pulsation matching the rhythm of the buzzing inside their ears, and getting more and more intense by the second. Both Blue and Symphony found themselves staring at the throbbing light with some kind of fascination – a fascination shared by Doctor Lavender who, fighting the wave of dizziness he was feeling, had let go of the wall to approach closer, on unsteady legs.
“Fantastic,” he murmured. “That looks like the same phenomenon as three days ago – with the absence of the explosion… As if it was… somehow controlled…”
Blue shook himself out of his trance, and lowered his cap microphone. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t a normal occurrence… “Captain Blue to Control Room… There’s something peculiar in R and D, and we might need…”
Another boom drowned his words and forced him to cover his ears fully. He looked in the direction of the light. In the middle of it, a black spot appeared, that grew bigger. Blue and Symphony stared, spellbound; it was as if an irregular tear was forming in the light. Then there was another boom, a very sharp one, and the energy source seemed to expand its light, very suddenly, and briefly. Something emerged from the centre of the light, two large forms – human silhouettes that looked as if they had been expelled roughly out of the light and head first into the real world. The three witnesses of the incredible event jumped, startled by the newcomers’ arrival and subsequent bumpy encounter with the floor, where they both landed unceremoniously, with a loud huff.
For a few seconds, which seemed like countless minutes, nobody dared make a move. All Blue, Symphony and Lavender were able to do was to stare at the two men – clad in very familiar uniforms – sprawled on the floor, motionless. Then they heard them groan – and saw them moving, ever so slowly.
“Man… I’m never gonna take that bus ever again…”
That was the familiar voice of Captain Ochre, all right – along with his all-too customary trivial tone, which now had a sore note to it.
“Okay, Rick?” Next to Ochre, Captain Scarlet was shakily trying to raise himself, and was speaking in a slurred and breathless voice; he reached his hand out to his companion, as if wanting to help him, but put it back on the floor, so not to sprawl completely.
Momentary frozen by their sudden appearance, Captain Blue then came back to life. And with him, Symphony Angel, and they both scrambled hurriedly to their miraculously returned comrades, oblivious to the proximity of the still pulsating light. The buzzing in their ears had vanished, and nothing was more important now than helping Scarlet and Ochre. They pulled them up their knees and kept them upright, while they were both trying to get their breathing down to a normal rate.
“I can’t believe it,” Blue murmured. “You’re alive! Both of you!”
“A-Adam?” Scarlet reached for the hand that was holding him up; he raised his eyes, uncertainly, to meet Blue’s face, close to his. A smooth beardless face, that was smiling roguishly from one ear to the other. “Adam, is that really you?” he asked gripping the blond man’s shoulder.
Scarlet perceived the almost imperceptible frown on his friend’s features, as if he didn’t understand the question. Turning around, he saw Symphony Angel, who was helping Ochre up. The dark-haired American seemed obviously a little more shaken by their trip than Scarlet was, as he had fallen back onto his rear.
“Karen…” Scarlet said with unbelieving hope. She looked up quizzically into his trembling eyes. And was utterly taken aback when he reached for her and drew her close to him in a strong embrace. “Thank God, you’re all right!” Her surprise was total when he cupped her face in the palms of his hands, and leaned to kiss her briskly on the mouth. Then he pushed her off, looking into her bewildered golden eyes, with a flash of worry back in his own. “Wait,” he said, still gasping, settling himself into a sitting position, and staring at Symphony, then Blue, and back to Symphony, “You two… You two are engaged, right? I mean, still engaged? You plan to get married, yes?”
“Paul…” Blue gave his friend a completely perplexed look. “What kind of a question is that?”
Symphony showed him her left hand, where a gold ring, surmounted by a diamond, encircled her finger. “Does that answer your question?”
Scarlet gave a deep sigh of relief. Then he noticed another silhouette lurking around, standing in front of them all. He nearly flinched when he made out Doctor Lavender’s face, looking down at him with a mixed expression of surprise, worry – and interest. Behind him, he heard Ochre gasping.
“Captain Scarlet… Captain Ochre…” The scientist nodded to them. “Are you both all right?”
“I… Yes, we are, Doctor,” Scarlet said warily. “And… you? Are you all right too?”
Lavender grunted. “I’m afraid I suffered an unspeakable migraine when that explosion occurred three days ago,” he said, pointing to the adhesive dressing he had over his brow. “I guess I was lucky, in any case… But what about you two? I thought for sure you had been vaporised by…” He looked up to the huge light, which was still pulsating regularly not far from them. “… By something quite similar to that,” he added, frowning.
Scarlet’s face transformed into a broad smile, hearing those words. He suddenly didn’t have any doubt in his mind. This Lavender was his world’s Lavender. The one who had witnessed their disappearance into the vortex. And he obviously wasn’t a Mysteron. The Brit reached around to give a victorious clap on the shoulder to the clearly exhausted and still recuperating Captain Ochre. “We’ve done it, Rick… We’re back home!” the beaming Brit declared.
Ochre lifted his hand. “I won’t be COMPLETELY convinced of that until I actually see Magenta and make sure he’s still the Irish crook he’s supposed to be!”
“What a thing to say!” Symphony protested. “Captain Ochre, after all this time, you should know that Captain Magenta is completely reformed!”
Hearing that, Ochre permitted himself a faint smile. “All right,” he conceded to Scarlet. “Looks like we’re really back, then.”
“What the hell are you two talking about?” Blue demanded forcefully. He gave a wary glance in the direction of the pulsating light that was quietly diminishing – to which Lavender was getting closer, examining it with a very technical curiosity. Blue turned back to Scarlet. “First you disappeared three days ago during an explosion that seemed to have vaporised you and now you reappear, talking nonsense…”
“People thought we were dead?” Scarlet asked.
“We weren’t exactly sure, to tell you the truth. We…”
A last booming sound made itself heard, coming from the pulsating light; looking to it, everybody saw it suddenly extinguish itself into nothingness. Like a shut down television screen – or more precisely, like a star going out all of a sudden. Lavender had stepped back, his face now a mask of disappointment. Obviously, he was hoping to learn more about what that thing was.
“Paul… What happened to you two?” Blue asked his friend solemnly.
Scarlet sighed. His breathing had almost returned to normal. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…”
“Try us!” Lavender added, getting closer to the group.
“No, really,” Ochre said insistently, looking up at Lavender, with a large smirk. “You wouldn’t believe…”
“And… what WAS that thing?” Blue added, waving to where the light had been. Seeing as Scarlet was trying to stand up, albeit with great difficulty, he helped him, while Symphony was giving a hand to Ochre. Both men still seemed a little unsteady on their feet, but both looked fine.
“That would be very interesting to know,” Lavender prompted in turn, standing in front of Scarlet. “What WAS it, Captain?
“A portal,” Scarlet stated quietly.
“A portal?” Lavender repeated, lifting an eyebrow.
Scarlet sighed. “Everyone – Captain Ochre and I will be very happy to tell you all about this after we’ve been debriefed by Colonel White. I’m sure he’ll be as eager as you to know what happened to us.”
“Oh, the joy,” Ochre grumbled unhappily. “He’ll have us committed, that’s for sure.”
“You won’t mind, any of you, if we ran a couple of checks on you first?” Blue asked with a faint frown. “Radiation, for example, and Mysteron tests – I know that won’t really be conclusive with you, Scarlet, but at least by showing that Ochre is still a normal human being, that should prove that the two of you are okay.”
“Then I’m in trouble,” Scarlet replied. He winked at Blue. “Since when is Ochre considered a normal human being?”
“I heard that, Scarlet.” Ochre permitted himself to smile in turn, staring at his smirking friend. “Your sense of humour still stinks appallingly.” He smiled. “I guess there are some things that will never change – in this world.”
“Comfortingly so, Captain Ochre,” Scarlet said with a relieved sigh, as they all walked toward the door. “Comfortingly so.”
* * *
Captain Ochre had been right. It had been very difficult to convince Colonel White of the veracity of their story.
And that wasn’t particularly surprising, when Scarlet was thinking of it, as he sat on the sofa in his quarters, drinking a relaxing glass of scotch, pondering recent events. If he had not lived through that strange experience himself, and had only been told about it, he would have dismissed it entirely. Not going as far as calling the person who told him about it a liar, but very seriously doubting the state of his mental health. As White had done with him and Ochre, in the beginning.
There was no dismissing the fact that the two officers had disappeared – under very strange circumstances. They were even believed dead, vaporised out of existence by an unknown force. They had been off-base for three days, and then they had suddenly re-appeared, with a completely daft story about a ‘parallel world’ where familiar events had taken a different course, where the war against the Mysterons had that world’s Captain Scarlet fighting on the side of the aliens – and where, understandably enough, the visiting Scarlet had been mistaken for the Mysteron agent. That sounded like a bad joke, and if it had only been Ochre – without the additional testimony of Scarlet to corroborate it – who had come to him with this story, White would have completely rejected it.
Of course, the security checks proved that both Scarlet and Ochre were clean – physically. There was no trace of dangerous radiation, except for fading remnants of energy emissions of apparently unknown origins that were, Doctor Lavender found out, related to the type found on both the Kurnitz console and the remaining red stones. Nothing to cause any concern about the health of the two people concerned, and nothing to indicate a possible propagation to other people – or even explosion, which White was concerned about, considering that the emissions were related in origin to the red stones. In less than two hours, Lavender had promised, the faint radiation traces would have disappeared. And they did, as he had forecast.
The Mysteron checks on Captain Ochre proved he wasn’t a Mysteron agent, but still his annoying self; on his own admittance, he was still feeling down from the remains of a violent head concussion – which Doctor Fawn confirmed upon examination. Scarlet – not surprisingly – was physically fine, apart from a visible slowing down of his healing capacities, which was apparent when the doctor took a sample of his blood and noticed that the wound left by the needle didn’t heal as quickly as it used to. The British officer had attributed that to his prolonged exposure to electric shocks, but had explained that, as far as he was able to assess, he was slowly coming back to his ‘normal healing rate’. Fawn made a point of examining that closely – much to Scarlet’s irritation, when he learned he would have to report to sickbay regularly for the next few days.
Concussion, electric shocks… White was wondering if his officers had been victims of some sort of ‘alien abduction’ by the Mysterons and had been subjected to all kind of tests that may have impaired their judgement. Scarlet’s story was an unbelievable one, and if Ochre had not been with him, and had not confirmed that most of what he had seen and heard was true, maybe White would even have thought of it as a very bad dream – or a carefully crafted illusion, perhaps engineered by the Mysterons themselves, to drive the young man mad and get rid of him that way.
But even that theory was as hare-brained as Scarlet’s story.
Scarlet took a sip of his drink, staring into space, thinking back on the meeting with his commander. The last piece of proof to convince White that his story was true, he reflected placidly, had come from Destiny Angel. When he had mentioned the presence of a Concerto Angel onboard that other dimension’s Cloudbase, and revealed that this new pilot was someone who had previously been in the WAAF, in the same squadron as Destiny, White had ordered Lieutenant Green to make a database search. No Djamila Marembo had been found listed in the WAAF. But of course, Scarlet had reflected, that didn’t prove anything, considering the differences existing between the two worlds – Djamila Marembo might not even exist in this world. Nevertheless, out of curiosity, Colonel White called upon Destiny to question her, to find out if she knew of any pilot named Marembo. Both he and Captain Scarlet were stunned by her answer.
She explained that indeed, she knew a Djamila Marembo – that yes, she had indeed joined the squadron, and that she was one of the finest pilots she had ever known – and that she had died, about two months after enlisting, when the craft she was flying had experienced difficulty upon landing. She didn’t even eject to save herself when she had realised that the plane would hit the control tower if she were to leave her controls. She had sacrificed herself in order to spare twenty other lives.
An act truly worthy of an Angel pilot.
That was a good month before Juliette Pontoin – Destiny Angel – even met Captain Paul Metcalfe, in the Azores. So he would never have known of Djamila Marembo, and her heroic death.
That seemed to give the last confirmation White needed. Yes, Ochre and Scarlet’s story was unbelievable, but somehow – it sounded true. And White believed it. Neither of his two officers would have forged a story like that. They were telling the truth – however improbable it seemed. White knew too well that there were many unexplainable things in the universe – the Mysterons and their incommensurable powers being one – and that it would be unfair to dismiss the two men’s reports on the simple assumption that it sounded like complete folly.
Colonel White congratulated both men on their safe return home, welcomed them, asked for a complete written report to be handed in at their leisure during the next week, and to eventually meet with them for a full account of their experience – on an unofficial note. He was curious to know more about it. Then he ordered Captain Ochre to report to sickbay for a full physical check-up, and finally dismissed both of them, and ordered them to take a couple of days off-duty, as they looked as if they would need it.
Scarlet couldn’t say he wasn’t unhappy about being laid off for a little while. He truly felt exhausted after his ordeal and needed to relax fully.
His first move, after leaving the Control Room, was to go directly to the Amber Room with Destiny Angel. But he was rather put off when he discovered that Rhapsody was on patrol at the time, with Harmony and Melody. She had learned about his return, though, as Lieutenant Green had announced the news over the speakers and called the patrolling Angels to inform them as well. But they wouldn’t be back for a few hours. Sadly Scarlet had then gone to his quarters to wait.
He thought he would sleep a little. He found he couldn’t, as he kept receiving calls from around the base from people who had been worried about him and were delighted at his return. Even Captain Grey and Captain Magenta, who were on the ground at the moment, called him up to welcome him back and asked what had happened exactly to him and Ochre. He promised a full account of his extraordinary experience as soon as they were back on Cloudbase. He wouldn’t do justice to his story by telling it over the videophone. And, he added to himself, he would make sure to ask the assistance of Captain Ochre for the narration. Ochre was a better storyteller than he was, having a much better facility with words. He was sure their audience would be enthralled with their story.
He had just finished his chat with Captain Grey and was about to pour himself another drink, when he heard a buzzing at his door. He looked up, expectantly. Could it be her? Finally back from patrol? He put down his glass. “Enter,” he called, after clearing his throat.
The door slid open and he stood staring, as he saw a slim figure standing in the doorway. An image almost disturbingly similar to the one he had seen not that long ago, just before the trip back to his world – to his reassuringly normal world. But the stance was different, as the woman standing there was looking at him with apprehension in her eyes – and an almost indescribable underlying joy in all her features. She cleared the doorway, permitting the door to slide closed, staring at him all the while. There were circles under her eyes, proof that she hadn’t been sleeping very well lately and that she had probably been crying. Scarlet felt a pinch to his heart. He stepped forward, hesitantly, and stopped a mere two feet away from her.
He couldn’t find the words to express what he was feeling; and didn’t have to, as he suddenly found her in his arms before he could say another word. The kiss was passionate and almost possessive, and Scarlet, with trembling arms, drew her close to him.
When Rhapsody broke the kiss, it was to take his face between her hands, and to look up into it; tears welled in her blue eyes, but Scarlet couldn’t determine if they were caused by sadness, relief, or even anger, when next she spoke, in a forceful tone: “You will NEVER again take that much time to come back to me!” she pleaded. “Don’t EVER give me another fright like that!”
He found himself smiling, and drawing closer still to her. “I promise, my lady,” he whispered, chasing away the tears from her eyes with two soft kisses. “Next time, the trip will be a short one…”
* * *
Cloudbase, Fall 2070
Colonel White stood next to the bed, silently gazing down at the man lying there, his eyes closed, his face covered with bruises, and dressings covering his cuts, the machines he was hooked to monitoring his condition. Up until now, Captain Black had been sleeping peacefully; his breathing was regular, the broken ribs he was suffering from not having caused any serious internal injuries, nor punctured his lungs. But his breathing was now gradually changing, becoming quicker by the second, matching the first stirrings that announced his return to consciousness. He was starting to fight, albeit weakly, against his restraints.
White was waiting patiently, all the while checking the man’s tortured features. He had noticed that Black’s face had lost the ashen complexion that had been his since the moment he had been taken over by the Mysterons, and his wounds, apparently, weren’t healing at the rapid rate characteristic of a Mysteron agent. White had also read the reports from both Captain Blue and that out-worldly Captain Scarlet – and heard them out when they had told him about the incident. Still, it didn’t prove anything conclusive, and White wasn’t ready to risk hoping – far too soon – that Black just might be free of the Mysterons’ influence.
So far, the preceding day, he had been lucky, White reflected, looking the wounded man’s weakened body up and down. Lucky indeed to be alive, considering the severe punishment he had taken when he had been hit by all that falling debris.
But how far has his luck held? Colonel White inwardly added to himself, looking imperturbably down at Black.
He heard a groan and stood up straight, moving a little closer. In the semi-darkness, he saw the eyes open, with great effort, and blink several times. The eyes were tired, undoubtedly, and the brow surmounting them frowned deeply as they looked up, staring at the ceiling for a moment, apparently trying to focus, as their owner attempted to figure out where he was. There was something bright in those eyes – nothing of the coldness that had been theirs for the last few years. Black’s lips trembled, and then moved tentatively.
“Where… where am I?”
The voice. White noticed the voice instantly. It wasn’t the sepulchral drone of the Mysteron agent who had been Captain Black – but the very human, warm tone of Conrad Turner, with that undeniable American accent that he had gained during his days living in the States.
“Sickbay…” murmured Black, his brow frowning again, as he realised where he was. “Cloudbase… Oh God… How…” His voice was shaken with a sobbing sound that almost choked in his throat. White thought he saw something else brighten in his eyes and he came closer still. Only then did Black notice his presence and swiftly turn in his direction, wide-eyed, with a stare that reminded White of a frightened, wounded animal. And only then did White realise that the new brightness in Black’s eyes was tears, forming against the bridge of his nose.
The voice was only a murmur, almost inaudible. There was no certainty yet, White considered, but still, that might just be the sign of a possibility – a chance.
A hope that his friend may now be free of the Mysterons’ influence.
Almost despite himself, a smile formed on his lips, just very faintly, as he looked down with sympathy at the confused and wounded man, and offered the words that might very well be his friend’s welcome back into the human race.
* * *
Alone in the semi-darkness of the R and D Lab, Captain Blue was standing still in front of the transparent security wall, a dreamy expression on his bearded face, as he stared vaguely at the now inactive Kurnitz console. He stroked the panel controls. What a shame that it won’t work again, he thought. That the portal is definitely closed now. There could never be any travel again between the two worlds – or between any other dimensional worlds, now that the red stones used to power up the device had been depleted of all their energy. But fortunately, the device and the stones had served their primary purpose.
They’re back home, he reflected, nodding his head thoughtfully. Captain Ochre and Captain Scarlet. Not the Captain Scarlet who is Spectrum’s mortal enemy. The other one. Paul Metcalfe. The man I once knew. The man I learned to know yet again. My old friend.
He was sad. Sadder than he thought he would be ever again in all his life. But this sadness wasn’t caused by the fact that the friend he had rediscovered had gone – for that, he was happy, because he was back to the world that was his own, a world where he was loved and appreciated, and free of all Mysteron control – and able to fight those evil tyrants that had made a slave of his counterpart on this world.
No. Captain Blue was sad for another reason altogether.
“A penny for your thoughts?”
Blue drew out of his reverie to turn slightly around; Rhapsody Angel quietly entered the room and came to stand by his side.
“Shouldn’t you be packing your things?” he asked pointedly.
She raised a brow. “It’s late,” she noted. “I finished a long time ago. I should be sleeping, in fact.”
“That late?” Blue looked down at his watch. “Yes, that’s right. I didn’t realise.”
She looked in the same direction he was staring at, and smiled slightly, stroking his arm. “You’ll miss him.”
He nodded. “Yes, I’ll miss him,” he admitted. “But I know he’s happy now. So that makes me happy too. He’s living a good life there. Better than he would have been able to have here.”
She acknowledged that. “Yes, things would not have been easy for him if he had stayed,” she noted.
“You regret that he had to leave?” Blue asked in turn.
“You love him?”
There was a pause. The question was awkward enough. Rhapsody sighed. “What difference would that have made?” she asked quietly. “He could never have loved me in return.” She lowered her eyes. “There would always have been a ghost between us. A ghost that might have been me.”
“That other woman?”
“That other Rhapsody. For him, the real Rhapsody.”
He shook his head. “It’s a night to think of ghosts, isn’t it, Dianne?”
“Whatever do you mean, Adam?”
He hesitated. No. He had said enough as it was. He didn’t want to trouble her any further.
“You know what day it is, right?” he said instead. “Or what night it’ll be… Halloween. The night where souls are free to roam the Earth.”
“Really?” she said with a frown. “I didn’t realise.”
“Sure… Halloween isn’t celebrated in England as it is in the States.” He grinned. “I believe the Angels are throwing a party today in your honour – you’re sure it won’t be a costume party?”
“If they do that, they’ll scare that new Angel who’s come to replace me,” she chuckled. “Sonata, I think her name is.”
“Whatever. She’ll never be able to replace you, Dianne.”
Rhapsody reddened. “It’s so sweet of you to say that, Adam… But don’t be too hard on the new blood, okay?”
“You know me, right?”
“Yes, I do. And that’s what makes me fear for the poor girl!”
He turned to look down into her eyes. “I shall miss you dearly,” he told her, gently stroking her cheek. “It’s like… an era is ending. Two years ago, it was Symphony who – was replaced. Now it’s you. You’re sure there isn’t a way for you to… stay?”
“I wish there was,” Rhapsody replied, sadly. “But you know the regulations…”
“Against families forming on-base,” Blue murmured. “Scarlet said that – his Colonel was trying to arrange something so – the Captain Blue and Symphony Angel of his world will be able to marry and carry on their duties.”
“Well, I don’t doubt he would, if that is possible, but this present case is different, Adam.” Rhapsody smiled broadly. “How could our Colonel arrange something like that when it concerns him directly?”
“Right,” Blue grumbled. He looked Rhapsody squarely in the eyes. “That must feel – awkward, right? I mean… you and him… what you are to each other now…”
Rhapsody scoffed slightly. “Awkward? Strange, you might say! For me, he’ll always be ‘the colonel’. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to bring myself to call him ‘father’. Although he has always been ‘fatherly’ toward us Angels. Kind of. Now that I am his step-daughter, I can’t expect him to be able to send me on a dangerous mission without feeling uncomfortable about it. If anything happened to me…”
“He would never be able to face your mother again,” Blue said with an acknowledging nod. “You’re right.” He paused a second, then shook his head. “You should never have introduced him to your mom,” he chided her. “Now look what you’ve done!”
Rhapsody laughed. “Well, at least they’re good for each other!” she said. “And that is worth it, to see my mum happy after all those years of loneliness. I know the colonel will make her a good husband.”
“You’ll find a good ‘someone’ for yourself too, Dianne,” he noted kindly.
“I hope so.” She stroked Blue’s bearded face. “You will find someone someday too, Adam.”
“You think so?” he asked with a wicked grin. “It would take someone as crazy as I am to fall for someone like me!”
“Don’t say that.” Rhapsody stood on tip-toe to reach his cheek and kissed it lightly. When she stood back down again, she saw his calm, if somewhat perplexed face set on her. “You’re a kind, and gentle and wonderful man, Adam Svenson.”
“You said that already,” he reminded her teasingly.
“But not as volubly.” She smiled. “Any woman would be happy to have you.”
“And you are an extraordinary woman, Dianne Simms. Any man would be crazy to not have you.” He kissed her on the forehead; a very brotherly kiss that made her sigh inwardly. He didn’t seem to notice, and lowering his eyes to her again, stroked her cheek gently. “Now go to bed this instant. It’s very late and you need all your strength tomorrow – for the party and then your departure for your new duties at Koala Base.”
“Will you come at the party?” she asked invitingly. “I wouldn’t want to go without saying goodbye.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I promise I’ll be there. Now go, that’s an order.”
She nodded, thanking him with a smile and turned, leaving him.
Now alone, Captain Blue turned back to his previous contemplation of the Kurnitz console, his hand thoughtfully stroking the surface of the control panel. He was reflecting on Rhapsody’s words, on the so-obvious invitation he had heard in her voice, the interest she had shown in him. He had to admit, he had felt ready to reciprocate those feelings she seemed to have for him. They had both had been lonely for years – each having lost the one they had been in love with. Maybe they would be able to find solace in each other.
But Captain Blue didn’t think he could commit himself to Rhapsody, without being unfair to her. Not without feeling like a hypocrite. Not while he still thought of Symphony.
Symphony who had appeared like a ghost to him that very day, through that portal that Doctors Kurnitz and Giadello had opened so Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre could return to their dimensional world.
Symphony, whose apparition was so brief and appeared so distant – he had felt as if he was close enough to touch her, just by reaching out, but he knew he couldn’t.
She had not seen him, was completely unaware of his presence – of his very existence. He had stood in silence, just contemplating her, his heart beating faster, and breaking once again as he realised he wasn’t really losing her a second time, but could never have her for his own. Even if the portal had been open long enough for him to decide to step in and go to her. And take her in his arms one last time, and tell her how much he still loved her and how he had missed her.
It was impossible.
She was with a man who might have been himself, and to whom she was engaged. And, he was hoping, would be very happy with.
He wished them that. Fervently.
As for him… he was still left with the ghost haunting his dreams and his every waking hour. And a raging battle against the alien enemies who had taken away from him the woman he loved.
He would never forget. He would always carry on.
Until the day he died, if he had to.
The basis behind the “Parallax View” storyline was an old one that had been residing in my mind for a couple of years. It can be summarised into two words: “What if?” What if Captain Scarlet had not been freed of the Mysterons’ influence and had continued his mission of destruction and killing under their orders, alongside Captain Black – being involved even more deeply than him? What would have happened then? Obviously, some events related in the TV episodes would have come out differently – as would have stories from other medias, particularly, as far as we are concerned at the moment, in fan fiction. That was an interesting idea to start and develop a story from. It would mean writing a ‘parallel world’ story – or otherwise known as ‘inter-dimensional world’, ‘multiverse’, ‘other world’ or ‘elseworld’ – Take your pick, it all means the same in sci-fi world.
Unfortunately, the idea behind this particular story stayed there in my mind, as I was unsure how to write it in a befitting way. I even asked a second writer her collaboration into writing the story, but, as things goes, even though we discussed a few plotlines – that incidentally gave me a couple of ideas – we never wrote so far as a line together, and the story kept to a standstill. Over the months, however, the idea grew in my head, and matured into a more precise plot, more and more detailed as time went by, becoming more clear at each scene, subplot, twist and line adding into it. I suddenly found myself with an almost totally complete story in my head that was crying to burst out. With Halloween growing near, I thought it would be a fitting time to post this story – if I should have time to write it. Granted, it wasn’t really a Halloween story, but the creepy feeling I wanted to infuse into it seems an enough reason for it to be part of the Halloween collection. So I asked permission to my once partner if she wouldn’t mind me writing the story by myself, seeing as I now knew exactly how it should go.
Graciously, she said yes. And here it is, written in a record time, as never I had written a story before. It has flowed from my head and onto the paper rather easily, give or take a couple of difficult scenes, and I hope I was able to give it the feel and credence I wanted to. Any mistakes and flaws found in this story are mine, and mine alone.
CREDITS TO WHERE THEY ARE DUE:
Marvel Comics Group and DC Comics, to which I must, not as shamefully as some adults would, admit my first dwelling into the world of ‘Parallel Worlds’ and ‘Outer-wordly’ dimensions. I still recall today, long after having read the first of them, some of those interesting inter-dimensional stories. DC Comics still publish, to these days, a series of ‘Elsewords’ © stories, some of which are of great interest, and that I recommend to any comic readers.
The Gerry Anderson’s movie ‘Journey to the Far Side of the Sun’, otherwise known as ‘Doppleganger’ – as far as I can remember, the first movie I saw that present the possibility of another Earth, similar but also so different in details of our own – and, at the time unbeknown to me, which had been produced by the same guy who had created ‘Captain Scarlet’, ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Stingray’, ‘UFO’, and the rest. (Although I admit having noticed a similarity with UFO…)
The online article ‘The Mysteron Menace’, by Geoff Wilmetts, that appeared in SF Crownsnest, January 2002. Some theories presented in it served as basic for developments of ideas for a few plotlines contained in this story. You might say it helped but some few things into focus.
The 1993 Thunderbirds Comics – in which I borrowed the name of ‘Andrew Laurence’ for ‘Captain Indigo’, in one of their many character blurbs. He was not officially named in the TV series, but I thought it would be a nice touch to use the name ‘Andrew’ for this story.
The 1993 book “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”, by Chris Drake and Graeme Bassett, which also contains material and theories that I freely adopted and used to develop plotlines – not only for this story, but for many others than I had written in the past, and will be writing in the future.
Kelly Haycock, who had accepted to let me write this story as I wanted to – and who had been part of the ‘thinking process’ that had allowed the birth of the ‘diamond pulsator/red stone’ idea that would allow the journey through dimensions. If you find a strange red stone, Kelly, stay away from it!
Sue Stanhope and Marion Woods – who have read the earlier drafts of the story as it was unfolding – through many of its rewritings, as did Hazel Köhler and Mary J. Rudy. Your encouragement throughout the writing process has been dully noted, and had pushed me on, so I would meet the deadline.
My ever-helpful beta-readers Hazel Köhler and Mary J. Rudy, who, as always, but I would think more this time than before, helped with their comments, advices and corrections for this story, working as hard as I did myself, for it to meet the deadline. They even provided a few ideas that I used into it, Mary with the other dimension Ochre/Magenta swap in characterization, and Hazel with a few insights on how Captain Scarlet’s sixth sense may work when confronted to his other world double. Many thanks to the two of you, I know I’ve said it many times, but you’ve been so very helpful.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, for the creation of that wonderful series, its characters and its background, that we all took pleasure to use in our writings and our readings.
And finally… to you, readers, for reading that story, and allowing me to let go of my overactive imagination.