A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysteron” story
By Chris Bishop
“It was so nice of you to come and visit me today, my boy… You should come more often.”
Paul Metcalfe took a sip of his tea, as the elderly man addressed him with these words in which he could easily detect a hint of reproach. He knew him way too well not to suspect that it wasn’t only a mere innocent remark. Glancing at him across the garden table, he put his cup down on the saucer and offered an apologetic, yet sincere smile. “Wish I could, Granddad,” he answered, “but I’m afraid it’s impossible. I’m… very busy with my job. You know how it is.”
“Ah yes… your job.” The older man humphed, distractedly playing with the arms of his wheelchair, glaring meaningfully at his grandson. There was discontentment in his old, yet lively, blue eyes for the space of about three seconds. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished; he reached for his glasses, and started cleaning the lenses with a corner of the blanket covering his frail legs, making a show of being very absorbed in this task. He gave a dismissive shrug of his stooping, yet still broad, shoulders. “Yes, I know how it is,” he said quietly. “I was in that business myself a long time, as you recall… But I was never too busy to spend time with my family.”
“Well, it’s not quite the same. You mostly stayed in England,” Paul remarked.
“And you have to run around the globe, I know,” his grandfather swiftly put in. He raised inquisitive eyes toward the younger man. “Are you sure this job isn’t just too demanding?”
Paul smiled widely. “I’ll be all right, Granddad. Don’t worry about me.”
“Yes, yes, you would say that,” the white-haired man mused. “You youngsters always think you have your whole life before you and that you can tackle everything the world throws at you. But then, before you know it, you reach eighty, and then you realise that you’re not as strong as you used to be… And that maybe you were just a little too demanding of your body when you were younger. But at this point… it’s far too late to be able to do anything about it.”
He squinted through his glasses, and didn’t seem quite satisfied with the result of his efforts. He grunted with frustration and was about to start again, when the young red-haired woman seated by his grandson’s side leaned toward him and, with a very charming smile, offered to take the glasses from his hands.
“Let me do that, Mr. Blake… That blanket will never do a good job with those lenses.”
Rhapsody Angel took the glasses and, producing a fine scarf from her bag, started rubbing the lenses expertly, under the old gentleman’s curious eyes. When she gave them back to him, Paul Blake examined the glasses and gave an approving nod, before putting them back onto his nose.
“Thank you, my dear… you obviously know how to do this.”
“I always used to do it for my father,” she explained, her smile widening. “Since I was little. So I got the hang of it very quickly.”
Blake nodded again, pensively. “Dianne Simms… Paul told me your father is Lord Robert Simms?” he ventured.
“Yes, sir,” Dianne answered. She pointed to the teapot and cup on the table. “Do you want more tea?”
Blake accepted with a nod and the young woman started pouring tea into his cup, as he pursued: “I’ve met him a couple of times… in the course of my job at the Secret Service. Struck me as a nice young chap… He was the one who helped defuse the situation during the Icelandic dispute, wasn’t he?” Dianne confirmed the statement with a nod, handing him his cup. “Very good job. And a very fine diplomat,” Blake continued. “We should have more like him, today.” He took a sip of his tea. “And how is your mother? I think I remember her too. Tall, black-haired, with green eyes? Name of Mira, yes?”
“No… that would be my grandmother,” Dianne answered with a careful smile.
“Your father’s mother?” Blake asked with a raised brow.
“Yes, my grandfather was named Robert too.”
“Ah yes… Hence the confusion. Sorry about that.”
“No harm done. My mother is indeed tall – well, my height, actually. And she had red hair too. Her name is Julia.”
“Now I remember,” Blake agreed with a nod. “A strikingly beautiful woman. Just like her daughter.”
“You are too kind, Mr. Blake.”
“I’m only stating the truth, my dear. You are very beautiful. And charming. Just like I remember your mother. Your father was blessed to have two such visions of beauty under his roof.”
“Actually,” Dianne answered a little bashfully, “my parents have not been together for quite some years now. They divorced early on.”
Blake raised a brow. “Is that so?” he asked curiously. “Oh, so sorry to hear about that, my dear. Please accept my apologies. I’m such an old fool…”
“You are not, and you couldn’t know about that, Mr. Blake. My mother lives in Italy now… Well, she has been living there most of the time, for the past five years, I believe.”
“Italy? Why Italy? Any reason?”
“She has relatives there. Mum is part Italian, part Irish – and all fire and temper, as my dad used to say,” Dianne said with a faint smile. Blake answered with a smile of his own and she moved on: “As for my father… last time I heard, he was on a diplomatic mission, in the Middle-East. Last month, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Still working, then. Very nice. Please, give him my regards, when next you see him… if he remembers me, that is!”
“I will, sir. And I’m sure he’ll remember you.”
“My, you are indeed a charming young lady…” Blake said, his smile broadening. He seemed to be genuinely smitten by Dianne’s personality. He leaned forward and took her hand in his, and squeezed it gently. “Were I quite a few years younger, I might be tempted to steal her away from you, Paul,” he said to his grandson, before delicately kissing the young woman’s hand and winking at her. She giggled.
“You are quite charming yourself, Mr. Blake,” she noted. “Almost as much as your grandson…”
“Really,” Paul said with a raised brow. “I always heard he was a very dangerous man with the ladies at my age.”
“That’s vile and preposterous gossip,” Blake defended himself self-righteously. Noting his grandson’s teasing smile, he shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “At your age, I was already married,” he then remarked. “And with two children to look after, my boy… Including your own mother.”
Paul rolled his eyes. “Here we go again,” he muttered.
“Be respectful of your elders,” Blake warned him. “Or you’ll give a wrong impression to this charming young lady here.” His words sounded harsher than they really were, and the brightness in his eyes betrayed the fondness he had for his grandson. His smile widened even more, and he looked at the two young people in front of him, one after the other, before nodding approvingly. “I can’t believe you found someone for yourself… finally!”
“Granddad,” Paul sighed, a little amused by the statement, “I’m still only thirty-four years old…”
“Well, you might be, but I’m not getting any younger!” the older man declared forcefully. “Seeing how long it took you to find someone, I might not live long enough to actually see you marry her!” He sat back comfortably. “Have you set a date yet?”
“No… not yet,” Paul admitted.
Blake grunted. “Mmm… not good.”
“And the truth to the matter is… we still haven’t told Mum and Dad,” Paul continued. “Dianne hasn’t told her parents, either. We haven’t even told our superior officer yet.”
“Your mother doesn’t know?” Blake inquired. “But she’d be thrilled to find out!”
“All in good time, Granddad,” Paul said in a calming tone. “And it’ll be soon, don’t worry. For now, you’ll have to be happy with the fact that you were the first in the family to whom we told the news.”
“I’m the first, really?” Blake said with a grin. “Well, that is quite an honour, Paul…” He leaned towards Dianne. “I knew there was a reason why I took an immediate liking to him, when he was born – and that was before his mother told me she was going to name him after me.”
Rhapsody Angel smiled fondly. Her fiancé Paul Metcalfe – the indestructible Captain Scarlet of Spectrum – shared a lot more than his given name with his grandfather. From old photos that the elderly man had showed them earlier, many of which showed him at Paul’s approximate age today, she could see the aged Blake looked a lot like his grandson, in those times. Except for the hair, which was of a slightly lighter colour in the case of Blake. It was easy to see where Paul got his good looks… Despite his advanced age – he was now well into his eighties – Paul Blake was still a very good-looking man. His hair had turned completely white, deep lines marked his face and his back stooped a little, but he still had broad shoulders and a spark in his eyes which were as blue and vibrant as his grandson’s. His mind was still sharp, and his speech very clear, and he had no trouble keeping up a lively conversation on any given subject, as he had proved for the three hours this visit had lasted so far. He just had trouble walking, his ageing body finally betraying him after all these years, and needed the wheelchair from time to time, especially when he had to travel long distances. But aside from that, he could be considered to be in excellent health.
“You know that yob was responsible for my first white hair?” Blake informed Rhapsody with a conniving smile.
Scarlet was about to take another sip from his cup. He glared at the older man. “Granddad…” he said warningly.
“Well, it’s true!” protested Blake. “Always getting into trouble, he was,” he continued, addressing an obviously interested Rhapsody. “See that big oak over there?” He pointed to a huge tree standing in the middle of the garden, not far from them. “He took it into his thick head to climb to the top. He was… what… six at the time?”
“Seven,” Scarlet corrected.
Blake shrugged. “Well, still too young to try to reach the sky in those days, wouldn’t you think? Naturally, although I had forbidden him to even try it, what do you think he did?”
“Climbed the tree, of course,” Rhapsody said with a nod.
“Of course! And what do you think happened?”
“He fell,” Rhapsody offered, smiling.
“Indeed! He was halfway up. Fortunately for him, the lower branches broke most of his fall. But he broke his arm as he hit the ground...”
“Dislocated my shoulder, actually,” Scarlet countered.
“Well, anyway… One would have thought he would have stopped there, now wouldn’t you, Dianne?”
“Knowing Paul, I’m sure he didn’t,” Rhapsody answered with a note of certainty in her voice. Hearing it, her fiancé rolled his eyes skywards.
“Of course not… Three months after that, I found him in the garden of his parents’ house… Climbing an even bigger tree than this one.”
“Hadn’t you learned your lesson?” Rhapsody asked mockingly, turning to face Scarlet.
“Of course I had,” he replied, quietly taking a sip from his cup. He winked at her. “By then, I had more experience in climbing trees… and I knew better than to fall.”
“Ah!” Paul Blake exhaled loudly, before chuckling. “When I asked him what he thought he was doing climbing that tree, he answered that my tree didn’t offer much of a challenge anymore. He had to try something bigger!”
“I do recognize him, there,” Rhapsody remarked in an amused tone.
“As if you never climbed any trees yourself,” Scarlet retorted with a raised brow.
“Why yes, I did, of course. But I never fell…”
“That’s right,” Scarlet mocked her. “You’re a regular Dianne of the Jungle…”
She smiled. “Wipe that grin off your face, Metcalfe. You’ll never catch me wearing a loincloth.”
“Pity…” Scarlet muttered under his breath, draining the last of his tea.
Paul Blake chortled loudly. “I like her a lot, Paul,” he told his grandson. “Please, play it smart – and don’t let her escape you.”
“I certainly won’t,” Scarlet grinned, putting the empty cup on the table. “I’m a very lucky man to have found her – and I do intend to make her the happiest woman in the world.”
“Nicely said,” Blake said with an approving nod. “Finding the right person to become your mate, and share your love for the rest of your life can be adventurous at times, but when you find that special someone…” he smiled contently. “… then everything seems so much easier.”
He went pensive, watching as the two young people in front of him were exchanging loving and silent glances, following his words. For a short moment, he was taken back so many years in the past, thinking about how he had courted the young woman who would become his wife for all those years to follow; she had passed away a long time ago now, the year before Paul was born. It had taken a long time for Blake to actually get over the hole she had left, and to learn to live again, even meeting other women, as time went by. But even that was long ago; for the past few years, he had lived mostly alone, in this small cottage near Bristol, in the company of a nurse who took care of him. Paul Blake would have been a very lonely man today, if not for the family he had founded with his wife – his children, and their spouses, and then their children – and friends, and colleagues from days of old, who came to visit him often. He had to admit, though, that his friends were getting fewer with each passing year – and he dreaded the day he might become the only one left from the close circle he formed with them.
He shook himself, coming out of his momentary fugue and went back to staring at both Paul and Dianne. Such a nice young couple, he told himself; he felt an intense pride and happiness in what his grandson had become – a handsome man, yes, but intelligent and cultivated, caring and dedicated to his chosen line of work. A courageous and committed agent of Spectrum, fighting against all manner of terrorism around the world, no matter how dangerous it might be for him, and ready to lay down his own life to save others.
Blake knew more of his grandson’s work than the latter was willing to tell him. The retired Secret Service director still had contacts that helped him keep approximate tabs on what was going on regarding World Security – at least, as much as security restrictions would permit – and when it came to Spectrum, restrictions were as high as could possibly be imagined. But despite the difficulties encountered, Blake had been able to glean a little information. Like that incident in Iceland, last Christmas, during which terrorists had taken over the British Embassy, in an attempt to kidnap the ambassador’s young daughter. Paul’s cousin, Jessica, who was a Secret Service agent, assigned to the child’s security, had been caught in the crossfire and wounded; it was Paul who had been literally dropped straight into the middle of the action to retrieve both his cousin and the child in her charge. According to Jessica, although succeeding in his mission, Paul had been wounded – and yet, when Blake had seen him, weeks after that, there was no apparent injury on him – and he never mentioned anything about it. It was a measure of Paul’s devotion to doing what was right, undaunted by the obvious danger he might put himself in – and not seeking any recognition, glory or profit from it. For Paul, it was just a question of ‘performing his duty’ and ‘doing what was right’.
He certainly deserves the happiness an exceptional woman can give him, Blake reflected. And this young woman here seems like the perfect match for him. They look like they’re made for each other.
And he was quite happy with this.
“Must you really go?” he asked the young couple in a soft, almost pleading tone. “Can’t you stay with me until after dinner?”
“We would like to do that very much, Granddad,” Scarlet said apologetically. “But we have to report back…” He checked his watch. “And I’m sorry to say this, but we will have to leave you very soon. We have a plane to catch, which will take us back to base.”
“That’s a real shame.” Blake sighed deeply, sorry to see them go. A thought suddenly came to his mind, and he raised his finger victoriously. “But… before you go, I’d like to give you something.”
“Granddad,” Scarlet protested. “No gift is necessary…”
“I insist!” Blake made a show of standing up, but his sore and weak legs refused to assist him. He grunted his bad mood and looked around for his nurse, who seemed to be nowhere in sight. “Confound it! Where’s that blasted woman, never there when you need her? Hilda!”
“She must be in the house,” Rhapsody offered. “Would you like me to fetch her for you?”
“I wouldn’t want to impose…” Blake started.
“Please. It would be my pleasure.”
“All right. Just tell her to go into the library. There’s a book there I want her to give you. Fifth bookshelf, third book from the left. She can’t miss it.”
“I’ll come back right away.” Rhapsody left her seat and walked the distance separating her from the back door leading into the house. Both Scarlet and his grandfather watched her as she disappeared inside. Blake then turned to face his grandson, in order to continue a casual conversation, waiting for Rhapsody to come back.
“Jessica came to visit, a couple of weeks ago,” Blake announced quietly.
“I haven’t seen her for months!” Scarlet declared. “How is she?”
Blake shrugged. “Quite all right, it seemed to me. She has a new beau.”
“Again?” Scarlet said, rolling his eyes. “This is, what, her third since last year?”
Blake chuckled. “Apparently, the previous one – Bruce, I think his name was? – had been pretty much shaken by the… ‘incident’ in Iceland, last Christmas. He started suggesting to Jessica that maybe it was time for her to retire from this dangerous career as a Secret Service agent, and to think of starting a new, more normal job for a young woman.”
“Knowing Jessica, I can imagine what she told him to do with this ‘new, more normal job’!” Scarlet said, grinning mischievously.
“Rightly so!” Blake frowned, thinking. “This new boyfriend of hers is American, I think. I don’t know much about him. I haven’t met him yet, and I don’t know how long it will last… But if he’s not the right man for her, I do hope she’ll find someone one day soon.”
“Don’t worry about her,” Scarlet offered. “She knows what she’s doing…”
“You reckon?” a doubtful Blake asked.
“… AND she will find someone right for her soon. I’m sure of it. Someone who won’t be critical of her choice of career and who will deserve her.”
“Like you and Dianne, right?” Blake said, smiling at his grandson, and nodding in the direction of the house. “You do seem right for each other…”
“We like to think we are,” Scarlet admitted with a brilliant smile.
“You love her very much, don’t you?”
From where he was sitting, Scarlet could see the back door of the house opening, and Rhapsody coming out, a big book in her hands, slowly crossing the garden to come back to them. He nodded to his grandfather’s question. “Very much indeed. I can’t believe I wasted so much time, not even noticing how much she truly meant to me.”
“While I suppose she was quite smitten by you?”
“How do you know that?” Scarlet asked, raising a brow.
“The same happened with your grandmother and me,” Blake answered, chuckling. “And between your Mum and Dad… Women… they all know before we do that they will end up with us.”
“Mmm…” Scarlet reflected with a slow nod. “I guess women are more perceptive about that sort of thing than we are…”
Blake sniggered again. “Maybe it’s us who are… just a little more obtuse.”
Both men laughed out loud, just as Rhapsody approached them. She had heard the last words they had exchanged, and smiled as she leaned down to her fiancé’s side. “Nonsense. You men are not as obtuse as you seem to imagine.” She gave Scarlet a swift kiss on his cheek. “You eventually figure it out.”
She took a step forward towards Blake, presenting the book. “Fifth row, third book from the left. Is this the one?” He nodded in answer, but declined the book she was handing him.
“No, keep it. It’s a gift for both of you.”
Scarlet took the book from Rhapsody’s hands and examined the old leather cover. “An old Bible?”
“Yes. It was given to me many years ago – by the vicar who married us, your grandmother and I. It was used on our wedding day.” He smiled and gestured to the Bible. “It’s my wedding gift to you two.”
“Granddad… I don’t know what to say,” Scarlet replied a little awkwardly. “But you know, the wedding is not planned for tomorrow…”
Blake grunted. “An engagement gift then, if you prefer,” he retorted in a falsely offended tone. “Yes, I know you’re not exactly a God-fearing man, Paul, but…”
“It’s a lovely gift,” Scarlet cut in quickly, before his grandfather started to imagine he didn’t appreciate the gift. “I realise it must mean a lot to you… And that you should part with it…”
“It’s because it does mean a lot to me than I want to give it to you,” Blake answered.
“Then we are honoured, sir,” Rhapsody said with a smile of thanks. “When the time comes, we shall ask the clergyman who marries us to use that Bible.”
Scarlet gave a sharp nod in approval of his fiancée’s decision. Blake smiled slightly, satisfied that his gift seemed to please the young couple. However, he was not about to let them believe he was happy with their present choice of waiting for a later date to celebrate their wedding. He humphed loudly, and resettled himself comfortably in his chair. “In the meantime,” he grumbled, “don’t forget to add me to your invitation list… and reserve me a place in the front pew.”
Both Scarlet and Rhapsody exchanged an amused smile, not fooled at all by the older man’s falsely grumpy tone.
“Don’t worry, Granddad,” Scarlet told him merrily. “We certainly won’t forget you… and you’ll have the best place in the house…” He winked at Rhapsody. “Well… the second best place, that is. I’ll have the best place, of course… by my beautiful bride’s side!”
Captain Blue met with Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel in the hangar, just after the latter’s SPJ landed on Cloudbase. Scarlet certainly welcomed his friend’s help in taking Rhapsody’s too numerous suitcases back to her quarters; Dianne had never been able to pack sensibly, and more often than not, it was his back which had to suffer the grief of carrying such a heavy load. After both men had escorted the Angel back to her place, Scarlet kissed his fiancée goodbye, and went to his own quarters, accompanied by Blue – carrying his only suitcase and a small carry-on bag. On entering, he deposited all of his luggage onto his bunk and sat heavily on it, sighing deeply. “Home sweet home…”
“How was the visit to Granddaddy?” Blue asked with a smirk. “By the looks of you, I gather it didn’t go too well.”
“Oh, on the contrary, it went very well,” Scarlet retorted quickly. “My grandfather and I have always got on well. He was thrilled to learn about our engagement, Dianne and I.”
“I imagine so. I suppose he started asking questions about when the big day will be?”
“Right on the spot,” Scarlet agreed sombrely. “He started saying that he ‘wasn’t getting any younger…’”
“… And that he might not live long enough to actually see the day?”
Scarlet sighed. “The truth is, he might be right about that, you know? He’s in his eighties – still a very vigorous man for his age, despite his bad legs… but he won’t be here for ever.”
Blue nodded slowly. “I can see your dilemma. You’re feeling guilty about making him wait.”
“Something like that,” Scarlet admitted. “Not only him. But Dianne’s parents, my parents – who still don’t know about this – the colonel…”
“…Who doesn’t know either,” Blue added meaningfully.
“Thank you for pointing that out, Adam,” Scarlet grunted.
“I know I don’t have to give you lessons in that field, Paul,” Blue continued. “But… don’t you think you’d better tell him too? I kept my relationship with Karen a secret from the colonel for a long time myself, before finally telling him…”
“… only to discover he’d known all about it all along…”
Blue smiled thinly at his friend’s remark. “Perhaps. But I didn’t know that at the time, and I felt so much better after coming clean with him. Believe me, it’s not such a bad thing to do.”
Scarlet hesitated. “All in good time,” he said with an awkward smile. “When I’m ready.”
“When you find the courage, you mean.”
“Courage is not something I’m lacking, I’ll remind you.”
“Except when facing the old man. And perhaps your parents as well…”
Scarlet rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t think you can compare our situations, Adam,” he said.
“Why not?” Blue asked with a frown. “What difference is there between my relationship with Karen – and your relationship with Dianne?”
“Well… me, of course.” Scarlet pointed to himself. “I’m different.”
“Paul, I still fail to see the point of…”
“You know,” Scarlet interrupted swiftly, “when we were coming back from my grandfather’s place, Dianne kept talking about how he looked a lot like me when he was my age. And I have to say, it is true: I am today the spitting image of what he was in his young days. You know what Dianne told me? She told me: ‘So that’s what you’ll look like when you’re eighty.’”
“And…?” Blue asked in a puzzled tone.
“Adam – I don’t know what I’ll look like when I’m eighty. I might still look as young as I look today!”
“And that’s bad?” Blue asked with a thin smile.
“It is when you’re involved with a woman, I would say!” Scarlet remarked, a little irately. “Don’t you think it could put a dent in any relationship, in the long run?”
“In the long run, maybe,” Blue reflected. “In the meantime, I don’t think you should worry about that.”
“I’m not. But the colonel might not agree.”
“The colonel is not an ogre, Paul. And I can’t see him getting all fired up about what – at the moment – is simply a theory – which might turn out not to be true.” Blue marked a pause. “Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? You did tell me that, so far, Fawn hasn’t found anything conclusive about that aspect of your… condition…”
“No, that’s true,” Scarlet admitted reluctantly. “But… I still feel the same as I did two years ago. I don’t feel any different.”
“Well, so do I,” Blue answered with a smirk. “Maybe it simply means we’re both in good shape?” Scarlet gave him an awkward look. “I say you should put all your fears aside and go forward. Tell the colonel. Tell your parents. Let the world know how you feel about Dianne. And that you intend to marry her and be happy with her for as long as you’re both alive and together.”
Scarlet smiled in turn and simply nodded in acknowledgement of his friend’s encouragement. “Soon, Adam,” he promised. “I’ll tell them – all of them – very soon.”
Blue nodded. “Perhaps the question will become academic. Your grandfather might tell your parents himself – did you think about that? Your mom is his daughter after all. How many secrets can he have from her?”
Scarlet laughed out loud. “Plenty, I’d imagine!” he said with good humour. “Remember, he was an agent, and then a director of the Universal Secret Service. I should think he knows a lot of secrets, that none of us would ever suspect – least of all, my mother!”
“Like who shot your dearly departed Director, for example?” Blue offered.
Scarlet grimaced. Blue was referring to a recent period of Britain’s history – far too recent for anyone’s liking – during which monarchist democracy had been abolished, and martial law had been imposed on the country, holding it for years under the iron hand of a tyrant who was known only as The Director. Even years after the civil war that had brought an end to his rule, his real identity was still unknown. Or kept like a shameful secret, Blue would rather think. His death had come about at the end of the civil war, in rather obscure circumstances, when he was killed by a U.S.S. agent – whose identity was also kept secret... Even to this day, the real circumstances behind his death – whether it was an ordered assassination or not, then viewed as necessary to end the terror regime of the Director – was still one of the 21st Century’s most guarded secrets. And nobody really expected the U.S.S. to ever reveal the truth of what had happened.
“Even the colonel doesn’t know the answer to that one,” Scarlet remarked. “And at one point, he was head of the British Division of the U.S.S.”
“Yes, but that was after the civil war,” Blue retorted. “Your grandfather, on the other hand, was deeply involved with the U.S.S. during that period.”
“The British section didn’t officially exist in those times.”
“But it did exist, you and I know about that.” Blue nodded thoughtfully. “You think he might have had a hand in that?”
Scarlet raised a doubtful brow. “My grandfather? Involved in the death of the Director? Well, if he was, then he would be Britain’s least celebrated hero!” he remarked. “But that would surprise me very much. Murder was not really up his alley. Never has been…” He gave it a second’s thought. “At least, I don’t think so.” He shook his head, chasing the doubt from his mind. “Anyway, he won’t say a thing to my parents concerning the engagement. He told me he would keep it to himself, until such time as I see fit to tell them myself.”
“A really nice man,” Blue said, musing.
“He gave Dianne and me a gift.” Scarlet unzipped his carry-on bag and fished something out of it, which he handed to Blue with a large smirk.
“A Bible?” Blue said, turning the big book in his hands. “And obviously quite old.”
“It was given to my grandparents by the vicar who married them,” Scarlet explained, as Blue was opening the Bible. He failed to notice the expression of surprise on his friend’s features as he continued: “So my grandfather thought that… Dianne and I could carry on the tradition.”
Blue turned a few pages from the beginning. He stopped and frowned. “With this book?” he inquired, looking directly at his friend with a doubtful expression on his face. “You’re sure?”
“What do you mean?” Scarlet asked with perplexity.
Blue sighed. “Well… I don’t know if a clergyman gave this to your grandfather, Paul, but he obviously didn’t read from it. Check this.”
Blue’s statement was unusual enough to intrigue Scarlet; he rose from the bed to look over his colleague’s broad shoulder at what Blue was staring at in such a curious way.
Blue first showed him the first pages of the Bible – which were completely blank, with no writing of any kind of them. Then he turned a page and Scarlet opened his eyes wide with surprise.
The interior of the book had been cut, in such a way that a small device, of almost exactly the size of the book, had been inserted inside. It was made of plastic and metal, with a series of six squared buttons covering half of it, and a larger metallic disc inserted on the other half.
“What’s this?” Scarlet murmured.
“I don’t know…” Blue answered, shrugging. “A recording device, perhaps? Looks pretty archaic though…” He closed the book. “See? You can’t see what’s hidden inside. Clever…”
“Not so clever, I’ve seen the exact same trick in an old western. Except the bad guy was hiding a revolver in it.”
“Why would a clergyman hide this thing in a Bible?” Blue asked with a frown.
“That’s the same question I was asking myself about the revolver. The bad guy was a clergyman too,” Scarlet said matter-of-factly. He smiled at the annoyed glance his friend gave him. “Maybe it’s not a recorder. It could be a player of some kind. That disc could be a speaker…”
“Doesn’t look like any kind of player I’ve ever seen,” Blue mumbled.
“Doesn’t look like a recorder either,” Scarlet pointed out.
Blue opened the book and after a short moment of hesitation, started pushing some of the buttons, but they clicked without anything happening. Scarlet took the Bible and did the same, and had no more success than his colleague.
“Maybe we shouldn’t touch it, after all,” Blue noted. “We don’t know what it is.”
“You’re funny, Blue,” Scarlet grumbled. “You’re the first to try it, and when it’s my turn, you say we shouldn’t touch it.” He pressed the buttons again, and grunted. “Well, whatever it is, it looks like it’s broken,” he remarked.
“Or maybe it’s a matter of getting the right sequence?” Blue suggested. He took the book back and made a few more attempts. Without any more success than previously. Scarlet sighed.
“This is getting tedious,” he reflected, as Blue gave him back the book. “I’d better put it away for the time being, and ask Granddad what this gift of his is all about. I’m sure I’ll be fascinated by his explanation.”
“I think that’s the best thing you could do,” Blue agreed. “In the meantime, I’ll leave you. I’ve got paperwork to do – and if I don’t start on it right away, I won’t be able to make it to this dinner with Karen later on.”
“Off you go, then,” Scarlet said, still trying for a new sequence on the buttons. “I’m going to have a shower, and get back into uniform, before I report to the colonel.”
“See you later, then. Don’t waste too much time on this thing. You might break it, if it’s not broken already.”
Scarlet didn’t answer as Blue left, and the sliding door closed on him. He tried one last sequence, but since the new command failed him again, he grunted in annoyance.
“What kind of gift did you give me, Granddad?” he muttered. He threw the Bible open onto his work-table with a frustrated sigh, and didn’t give it another look. I don’t have time for this… I need that shower. He turned on his heel and took his uniform out of his closet to lay it carefully on his bed, with his boots standing in front of it. Then, he swiftly removed his shoes, and directing his steps towards his small bathroom, started disrobing on the way.
He never noticed the lights appearing on the buttons he had pushed just a few seconds ago, nor did he hear the faint buzzing sound that started coming out of it.
“What are you doing out of your chair, Mr. Blake? You know the doctor said you shouldn’t stand up for too long.”
Paul Blake looked sideways at his nurse who had entered the library, carrying a tray on which were a teapot, biscuits and a cup. He gruffed and shrugged dismissively; her admonishments had become more and more frequent as time passed, but he had grown used to them. Not that they had any effect on him anyway; he would rarely listen to them – especially when he had something more important on his mind. As he had at the moment.
“I’m missing a book,” he grunted, continuing to scrutinize the bookshelves in front of which he was standing, leaning heavily on the cane that he used when out of his wheelchair. He didn’t turn around as she put her load onto the desk behind him. “Have you seen it, Hilda? I know you’re in the habit of removing my books from the shelves from time to time to do some dusting…”
“Yes – dust is no good for you,” the nurse replied. “Especially at your age. You know that… But you also know that I always put the books back where they came from.”
“This book is very important… You should never touch it. Now I can’t find it.” He put his finger in an empty space on the shelf he was staring at. “And there’s a hole here, where it should be.”
“You gave one to your grandson before he left,” the nurse reminded him matter-of-factly. “Such a handsome young man he is, Mr. Blake…”
“That’s not the same book,” Blake retorted, rather abruptly.
“That was a Bible, yes?” the woman behind him insisted, patiently. “You gave a Bible to your grandson… The nice young lady came in here looking for it. I showed her your bookshelves and helped her find it. It was this book we took.”
Blake frowned. “Wait a minute…” His fingers grazed the spines of the book, starting from the first one on the shelf. “Fifth bookshelf… third book from the left…” He ended up on the empty space he had discovered.
“Ah!” Hilda said victoriously. “You see? That is the book in question.”
“I gave them the wrong book,” Blake muttered. “It should have been… third shelf, fifth book.” Saying that, he grazed the said shelf and found the fifth book. He removed it from between the others and checked it. “This is the Bible I should have given them,” he said, turning to Hilda. “Not the other one.”
She shrugged, pouring tea into the cup. “A Bible is a Bible, isn’t it?”
“This Bible was the one that was used at my wedding,” Blake countered, turning around and leaning heavily on his desk to lower himself down into his seat. “And that other Bible I gave Paul… is something else. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… What a mistake I made. I really must be getting old…” He sighed. “That book should never have left this house. I was entrusted with it so many years ago…”
“Just call and ask your grandson to bring it back to you,” Hilda suggested. To her, the question didn’t seem to be all that serious.
Blake humphed loudly. “You think it is as simple as that?” he said almost ironically. She gave a dismissive shrug, and Blake grunted with annoyance, at first considering her suggestion a foolish one. You don’t call Spectrum like that for such a thing… Well, it could be serious enough, but Paul was a very busy man. And he was stationed on Cloudbase, far away from here… At least, as far as Blake knew. The location of Cloudbase was always changing, and a secret very jealously guarded.
Thoughtfully, Blake looked at the phone on his desk. Maybe Hilda is right, after all…I should call Paul. This is too important.
He picked up the receiver. “Leave that for now, Hilda,” he said, starting to dial a number. “And leave me, please. It’s a matter of … national – no, international – security. So this will have to be a private conversation. I hope you understand.”
Hilda rolled her eyes, but didn’t comment. Sometimes this man could be so melodramatic over nothing. International security, really… But she decided to humour him. After all, he was an old gentleman… he was entitled to his own fantasies.
“Don’t be too long,” she said, taking the empty tray with her. “Your tea will get cold.” She left, closing the door after her.
Blake barely acknowledged her departure. He got through to Spectrum London HQ, and after he had given his identity and the access numeric code required to get through security, he was put through to the Cloudbase communication centre.
A lilting voice answered him after a couple of minutes of waiting. “Cloudbase Control, Lieutenant Green speaking.”
“I’d like to talk to Captain Scarlet, please,” Blake announced. “I’m his grandfather.”
“Can I have your access code, sir?”
“I thought I just gave it to your colleague in London?”
“It’s the second code you need to give me now, sir. That’s the normal security procedure. To make sure of your identity. It was provided to you by Spectrum security should you need to contact your relative on Cloudbase.”
“All right,” Blake said with a sigh. He should have known that it would not be that easy to contact someone directly on Cloudbase. “It’s Alpha, Bravo, three, five, seven... I think.” He waited for a short instant, listening to the silence. “Is that okay?” he asked impatiently. “This is rather important.”
“Code accepted, sir,” Green announced diligently. “Captain Scarlet arrived on Cloudbase about an hour ago, and should still be in his quarters. I’ll put you through. If he’s not there, you will be able to leave a message on his voice mail, and he will call you back as soon as he can.”
“I suppose that will have to do,” grunted Blake. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“You’ll have contact in ten seconds. Have a nice day, Mr. Blake,” Green said in closing, and Blake wasn’t surprised that he should know his name. He imagined that the information was held against his security code. He waited the time announced by the communications officer and then heard the tone at the other end. He hoped that Paul would answer himself, so that he would be able to resolve the situation. I shouldn’t have kept that Bible, he told himself. I should have put it into the U.S.S. security vault in London, years ago. But I was personally entrusted with it – and I gave my word to keep it with me. And keep it safe.
Oh yes… I did hold to my promise, didn’t I?
Nobody answered the phone, and Blake heard the short message announcing that he would be transferred to the voice mail box. He rolled his eyes. Yes, of course… it would not be that easy!
He sighed as a buzzing sound told him it was time to leave his message. “Hello, Paul, this is me…”
After taking his shower and drying himself off, Captain Scarlet emerged from his bathroom, with only a towel around his hips, rubbing his hair vigorously with another, smaller one, and whistling while going through the contents of his carry-all in which he knew he had left the new aftershave he had just bought during his leave. He found it at the bottom of the bag, and opened the bottle, splashing a few drops of the contents into his hands, and then onto his cheeks. . He threw the smaller towel onto his desk, atop the open Bible he had left there; still he failed to notice the light that was now illuminating all the buttons.
He did notice, however, the blinking red light on his phone, telling him that someone had left a message on his voice mail, while he was in the shower. He pressed the command button and the numeric code to access the box, and went to his bed to start dressing in his uniform.
There was only one message in the box.
“Hello, Paul, this is me…” There was a short pause from the elderly voice of the speaker. “… Your grandfather.” Scarlet nearly chuckled. Leave it to Granddad to state the obvious! he told himself. The message continued as he pulled up his pants: “You know that Bible I gave you… I’m afraid I made a terrible mistake. I mean… I did intend to give you the Bible that was used at my wedding – but I obviously gave you the wrong one. You see, this… Bible you have… it’s not really a Bible at all. It’s just a cover, to hide something inside… an electronic device…”
“No kidding!” Scarlet muttered, slipping his head through the collar of his charcoal grey pullover. “We already found that out, Granddad…”
He combed his still-wet hair, while listening to the rest: “That book was entrusted to me by a fellow U.S.S. agent – a long time ago. He had just learned that he was ill, and would die soon, and needed to give it to someone whom he knew would take care of it… because he didn’t want the device the book contains to fall into the wrong hands.”
Scarlet was putting on his socks when he heard those last words. He frowned and turned to the phone, approaching with curiosity. “What is this thing, then?” he muttered to himself
“I can’t tell you what it is exactly,” the voice of his grandfather continued, as if answering his question directly. “But what I can say is that it should never have left my house. I have two requests to make of you, Paul. First, please, don’t try to turn the machine on. I doubt it would work – I know I’ve tried a few times already, without success – but I would much prefer that you don’t try yourself – just in case…”
“Too late,” Scarlet said out loud, with a faint smile. “And it didn’t work for me either…”
“Secondly, I need you to send the book back to me as soon as possible,” the voice of Paul Blake continued. “As I said, I can’t tell you what it does, but Matthew told me that it was very important that I keep it very safe.”
Scarlet nodded pensively, his curiosity piqued. He started looking around for the book, trying to remind himself where he had left it. On the desk. Of course, the towel is now hiding it.
He removed the towel. And frowned upon seeing the illuminated buttons of the device embedded in the book.
He saw the metallic disc glowing in turn as it steadily rose from where it lay, supported on a short rod.
The light became brighter, and suddenly, Scarlet’s head started to spin and the room seemed to move around him. Through the phone speaker, the voice of his grandfather became remote: “So I would appreciate it if you would call me back as soon as possible, Paul. To confirm to me that you received this message… I know it might sound a little ludicrous, when you think about it, but it is not, I can assure you…”
Scarlet had trouble keeping his balance, as his head became lighter and lighter. He felt giddy and numb all over; the light from the disc was becoming more distant, but at the same time brighter, even larger - as was the desk itself. He had the absurd impression that everything was now growing…
Bigger and bigger…
Faced with this unknown phenomenon, panic set in, and Scarlet’s heart started beating faster; he stepped backward, trying to get away from the source of the light, and his feet entangled themselves in something behind him. Something like a huge pile of cloth, lying on the floor; he turned around, trying to catch himself, and he fell face first right into it; at the same time, he had the very strange impression that the pile was mounting toward him, getting larger with each split second – seemingly becoming as huge as mountains, and as deep as valleys.
His head hit something metallic. He never realised it was one of the studs from his civilian jacket – which was now as big as his head itself.
His world became dark, and he lost consciousness, just as the last words of his grandfather’s message were heard through the speaker of the phone:
“This is very important, Paul. I’m counting on you. Please call me back. I’ll be waiting for your call. Bye for now.”
Nobody was able to hear the voice now, as it echoed through the room…
The now seemingly empty room – on the floor of which was lying a small heap of discarded civilian clothing.
When Captains Ochre and Grey stepped out of the SPJ that had brought them back from Spectrum New York Headquarters, they were greeted by Captain Magenta, who had just come to meet the London shuttle to pick up a package. He was waiting for it on the hangar deck, when his two colleagues arrived.
“So, how was the trip to my old home town?” Magenta asked with a grin.
“If at least we had seen the town,” Ochre grimaced, “I guess it would have been less boring.”
“You know how it goes,” Grey sighed. “Security investigations can be quite routine – especially when there seems to be nothing to be found.”
“So there’s no leak of information, like Lieutenant Tan suspected?” Magenta asked.
That was the reason that had taken Ochre and Grey to New York. Lieutenant Tan, the security officer in charge of New York HQ, had discovered unauthorised radio signals that were apparently coming from the headquarters’ offices. The signals had been intercepted, and Tan had launched a primary investigation, which had turned up nothing out of the ordinary. He’d reported this to Cloudbase at this point, and it was then decided that further investigation should be carried out by senior officers – if only to check if everything was indeed in order.
“Nothing to worry about then,” Magenta pursued. “It might only be a false alarm.”
“It would appear that everything is all right,” Ochre said pensively. “But… Tan is still convinced that his suspicions were right. As for Major Brooks… he’s satisfied that the investigation proves that security at New York HQ is as tight as he always thought it would be.”
Magenta nodded slowly, narrowing his eyes at his two colleagues, guessing at their opinion of the New York HQ Spectrum commander’s judgement. “I have the impression that you don’t agree with Brooks… and that you tend to share Tan’s suspicions.”
“Tan is not the paranoid type,” Grey agreed. “If he says there was something amiss… then you can bet your bottom dollar there was.”
“It is possible that, whoever was trying to leak information, he or she stopped by the time we arrived,” Ochre continued.
“The question now would be: will that person stay quiet, so not to run the risk of being identified,” Grey finished, “or will he/she start again, now that they’ve avoided detection?”
Magenta was about to answer when the speakers in the hangar suddenly came to life, and a dreadfully familiar, ominous voice was heard:
“This is the Voice of the Mysterons… We know you can hear us, Earthmen… The secrets of Spectrum’s Cloudbase will soon be revealed by an unexpected source. This will strike a crippling blow to the Spectrum organisation’s effectiveness. We will be avenged…”
Magenta, Grey and Ochre stared for a minute at the now silent speakers; then, they exchanged significant looks.
“That can’t be a coincidence,” Magenta remarked.
“Nope,” Grey agreed. “I think we can safely say that Tan was right – and that the target of those leaks has now simply changed. But I would never have guessed the Mysterons were behind this.”
The speaker came to life again, but this time, with the voice of Lieutenant Green. “We are now on Yellow Alert. All available senior staff captains report to the Control Room at once.”
With a common nod, and a hasty pace, Grey, Ochre and Magenta left the hangar, without delay. The technicians were finishing unloading the equipment from the SPJ and were preparing to taxi it off the lift on which it was still standing.
Nobody noticed, through the still opened hatch leading to the cabin, the little furry creature, that showed its nose outside, looking around attentively – before dashing out and breaking into a run across the hangar floor and then directly to the nearest air vent, before anyone could see it…
Mike ‘Dinger’ Bell looked around Captain Scarlet’s quarters with some puzzlement; for the last few years he had been the captain’s batman onboard Cloudbase, he could never recall him leaving his place in a mess – or even slightly untidy. Now, there was civilian clothing lying on the floor, tracing a path towards the bathroom, a couple of towels mixed with them; the shower had obviously been used very recently, and not cleaned; the red tunic of the captain’s uniform was still on the bed, alongside his cap, his gun belt with the sidearm inside the holster, and a pair of shiny boots looking as if they were standing to attention. Captain Scarlet’s luggage was still on the bed, open, with half of the contents still inside. There was even a big, thick book left open on the desk, right next to the telephone and computer.
Bell scratched his ear. He had heard the call to yellow alert a few minutes ago coming from the speakers – just after another of those enigmatic threats the Mysterons always issued. So he gathered that Captain Scarlet must have left in a hurry to report to the Control Room, and didn’t have time to pick up his things and unpack his luggage. Which explained almost everything – except why he had left parts of his uniform lying everywhere…
Bell shrugged. The captain probably used a spare uniform, or something, for whatever reason that the batman couldn’t think of at the moment. It wasn’t his job to try to understand anyway – he was just Scarlet’s orderly and only needed to keep his quarters clean and take care of his things. Which he would do right now.
He started by cleaning the shower and the rest of the bathroom, and then came back into the living and sleeping areas; he picked up in one lump the dirty clothes lying on the floor, but left the uniform – which didn’t seem to have been worn at all – and threw it all, unceremoniously, into his laundry basket. He glanced towards the open book on the desk, but didn’t dare touch it; he did notice the strange device embedded within the cut-out pages, and shrugged at the sight of it.
You see odd things on Cloudbase, he told himself. So he wasn’t that surprised.
He picked up his basket of dirty laundry and left the quarters, whistling contentedly after a job well-done.
If he had checked in his basket, he might have noticed the tiny arm emerging from between the folds of the clothes it contained – and on the sleeve of which a very small but nevertheless noticeable Spectrum logo was imprinted…
“Where is Captain Scarlet?” asked Colonel White.
The four colour-coded captains seated around his desk glanced at each other with inquiring looks, and then every eye turned toward Captain Blue. Ochre, Magenta and Grey had arrived at the room together, and had not seen Scarlet. Blue was probably the person who would know his regular partner’s whereabouts..
“Last time I saw him, Colonel,” Blue answered, “Captain Scarlet was preparing to unpack his suitcases after his arrival on base. Then he was planning on taking a shower. He might not have heard the threat or the call with the water running.”
“That would be a plausible explanation,” White agreed with a nod. It was almost unheard of for Scarlet to miss a staff meeting in the Control Room – especially after a Mysteron threat. The colonel turned toward Lieutenant Green, seated in front of his station. “Try to reach him, Lieutenant. Tell him to join us as soon as possible.”
“In the meantime, we don’t have time to wait for him,” White continued, turning to his remaining officers. “Any thoughts of what this new threat might mean, gentlemen?”
“We were just talking about it while coming here, Sir,” Captain Grey answered. “It would seem that the Mysterons intend to pursue on Cloudbase what was attempted at New York HQ.”
White raised a curious brow. “But according to earlier reports, you and Captain Ochre didn’t find anything, Captain Grey.”
“The fact that we didn’t find anything doesn’t mean there wasn’t something, Colonel,” Ochre noted. “Those signals Lieutenant Tan intercepted surely came from somewhere. Our spy was just clever enough to stop his transmissions just short of being discovered.”
“If that is true… then what kind of information do you think might have gone through?”
“Judging by what Lieutenant Tan intercepted, and the location the signals came from, we can count our blessings that it was non-essential information, Sir,” Ochre sighed. “It was in a relatively low-priority section of the building – but still, the access to it by non-Spectrum personnel and public is next to impossible – and it’s even less likely that someone would be able to sneak in a camera or any kind of electronic device going through all the current levels of security. Captain Grey made sure that the system installed by Captain Magenta months ago was still as efficient as it was meant to be.”
“But whatever caused those signals was very close to a high security section,” Grey continued. “We were lucky the transmissions were discovered at this point. Or there’s no telling just how far our spy would have been able to go.”
“So he just stopped,” Blue mused. “Just like that. To avoid detection?”
“It would seem likely, yes,” Ochre concurred.
“And now we have this threat against Cloudbase,” Blue said pensively. “You think it’s related?”
Ochre narrowed his eyes. “Think about it: What if what happened in New York was just a test?”
“To see how far the spy can get through security?”
“Exactly, Captain Magenta.”
“And now he’s moved to Cloudbase?” Blue was puzzled. “That would mean the Mysterons were behind the attempt in New York, then.”
“Or,” Magenta countered, “that the spy in New York, if an independent agent, was Mysteronised afterwards to do their dirty work.”
“Either way, it’s a possibility that the events in New York and this present threat are related,” White remarked. He turned to Lieutenant Green. “Any luck contacting Captain Scarlet, Lieutenant?”
“No, sir,” Green answered from his station. “And I tried everything. His cap microphone, his personal comm., the base speakers. Everything seems to be working fine, but he doesn’t answer.”
“Odd,” White mused pensively. “It’s certainly not like him to ignore a meeting. Captain Blue,” the colonel continued, “you will go to Captain Scarlet’s quarters and see what could be delaying him. Inform him of the new developments and tell him to report to me at once.”
“S.I.G., Sir,” Blue said, starting to rise.
“Scarlet’s input in this situation could be essential.” White pursued. “After all, if anybody knows how the Mysterons work, it is certainly him. He is still our best asset against them.” He then addressed his four officers: “Gentlemen, I want you to study the incident in New York HQ and come up with answers on how this ‘spy’ succeeded in getting through Spectrum security – and how his success could be applied on Cloudbase, to get access to our most vital secrets. I also want security to be increased, to stop the events in New York from happening here.”
“S.I.G.,” the four captains in front of White chorused.
“I do not have to tell you,” the colonel insisted, “what it would mean if our most guarded secrets were to be known by the public, or even worse, if they should fall into criminal hands. It would have devastating consequences… Spectrum would not be able to function efficiently in its war against terrorism – and the Mysterons. Indeed, gentlemen, as the Mysterons have said, it would be for our organisation a most crippling blow.”
The sound of whistling echoed in Scarlet’s mind. Still fighting against unconsciousness, he didn’t recognise the tune at first; and then, he was able to identify one of his batman’s favourite refrains; he had often caught him whistling it, while cleaning his quarters.
It was as awful as he remembered it to be all those previous times.
Bell… for Heaven’s sake, cut that out… You’re nearly as bad as Blue at carrying a tune…
He was lying on something soft – fabric of some kind, which was also covering him and weighing heavily on him. A strong odour made him choke as he tried to take a deep breath.
And then there was the sudden impression of falling, still entangled in the heavy fabric. He couldn’t hold on to anything, couldn’t see anything, as he tumbled down inexorably towards the unknown.
He fell head first into something soft, like a mattress, and found himself covered by the same heavy and smelly fabric in which he had awakened, pressing him down with a great weight. He gasped for air, and tried to focus, as he attempted to push away whatever it was that was covering him. But it was so heavy, it was flattening him, and nearly choking him. He couldn’t see a thing, so deep was the darkness surrounding him.
The whistling Scarlet was hearing was now growing faint, to the rhythm of receding footsteps. Bell – or whoever it was that he was hearing – was walking away, leaving him to his fate. He tried to call for help, but his cries never got through that ‘stuff’ covering him. Feels like heavy canvas, he told himself, now hearing only a deep, worrying silence. He couldn’t stand, so he crawled his way up – hoping to eventually get out of whatever this thing was.
It seemed to Scarlet that it took endless minutes, and he was starting to feel terribly hot, when he finally saw a ray of light; with a deep intake of air, he sighed with relief and crawled toward the light. He finally emerged out of the darkness, breathing heavily under the effort he had just made, and drenched with sweat. He crawled on his hands and knees out of what looked to him like a tube, made out of a dark, bulky fabric; then he stood, stumbling on the unsteady and soft ground under his feet; it was exactly as if he was standing on some sort of canvas, untidily thrown on the ground. He wasn’t wearing his boots, not having had the time to put them on earlier, and his toes bumped against something solid and sharp under the fabric. He yelped in pain, and nearly fell to his knees. He stared down, wondering what it was that his foot had hit. He opened his eyes wide with surprise, when he saw the metallic object protruding from the ‘canvas’.
It looks like… a giant zip?!
Scarlet crouched to stare at it with curiosity. The thing was at least ten feet long, probably longer as it disappeared under the dark cloth onto which it was attached – no… sewed on. He shook his head in disbelief. No, I’m dreaming, surely… who would build such a thing and to what purpose? And why would it be on Cloudbase?
I’m still on Cloudbase, aren’t I?
He looked around, his eyes filled with wariness. All he could see around him was lumps and bulges of canvas – of different colours, and sizes, lying everywhere, like so many uneven mounds and crevices… Beyond that, there seemed to be a… palisade of some sort –-smooth-surfaced and rising high above his head – surrounding him.
Where the bloody Hell am I?
Looking behind him, he made a double take – staring with wide-eyed astonishment at the dark ‘tube’ he had emerged from a minute earlier.
On top of the tube, which appeared to be made of a dark grey fabric, he could see a giant Spectrum logo; he looked down at the one he was wearing on his sleeve, in some puzzlement. It was an exact replica… And the more he looked at his sleeve and at this ‘tube’… the more he realised how very similar they were. He slowly rose to his feet, his heart beating faster, thinking he was dreaming. He nearly pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t.
No this is real. I am really seeing what I’m seeing.
Oh dear God, this thing is a giant sleeve!
“Paul, are you there?”
Captain Blue entered Captain Scarlet’s quarters after dialling the numeric code to open the door. As it slid shut behind him, he looked around into the empty living area with curiosity.
“Paul?” Nobody answered Blue’s call. He checked the sleeping area, wondering if his friend might be taking a nap – which would be surprising. Scarlet wasn’t the kind of person to take impromptu naps – especially when on duty. Besides, since his Mysteronisation, the English captain didn’t need as much sleep as any ordinary human being.
As Blue expected, Scarlet wasn’t there; strangely, though, his open luggage was still lying on his bed, most of the contents still packed. A pair of red boots stood right next to the bed, just underneath a uniform tunic, a radiocap and a gun belt. It was as if someone was getting ready to wear them.
“Paul!” Blue crossed the room towards the bathroom, but he found it also empty. He came back into the living area and looked around, puzzled. The Bible, with its strange contents, was on the desk, right next to the computer, the buttons still dark, and apparently devoid of life. Except for that, and what was in the sleeping area, everything looked as tidy as it always was.
“Now where could he be?” Blue asked himself, muttering.
Could Paul be with Rhapsody? That was far-fetched, of course – Paul would never miss an important meeting concerning a Mysteron threat, even to pass some time with his girlfriend. If he had been unaware of the threat and the meeting, by some odd chance, Rhapsody would have known about it anyway, and would have made sure to tell him.
Well, just to be certain, I’d better go check at her place, Blue finally decided, pushing the button to open the door. Discreetly.
As he stepped out, he failed to notice the blinking red light on Scarlet’s phone, signifying that there was still a message in his voice box…
The first moment of surprise passed, Scarlet finally came to realise what had happened to him. His last conscious thoughts, before he woke up in this strange place, was of the bright, blinding light coming from his grandfather’s Bible, then this sensation of dizziness that had struck him – and the impression that everything was growing bigger around him.
It wasn’t the things surrounding me that were growing bigger, he realised in shock. But me, who was getting smaller!
From the vantage point of a smooth, rounded top, made out of a red, soft, satin-like fabric, on which he was seated, he was now staring at the huge Spectrum logo he had discovered earlier, rubbing his chin pensively, making a quick assessment of his situation. A Spectrum roundel on a sleeve was approximately one and a half inches in diameter. This one he was staring at was about half of his present size. Which made him, roughly, three inches high…
I’ve been reduced to the size of a bloody action figure, he growled to himself.
HOW did THAT happen?!
Oh sure – he knew he had to blame that damnable device he had found in that book his grandfather accidentally gave to him – now he knew what it did! – but what he would have liked to know at the moment was how it could possibly be able to do such a thing. Reduce a man to such a height as he presently was… it sounded so ridiculous! And what could it possibly be useful for?
I’m sure the Secret Service must have thought of a logical, applicable use for it – but for the life of me, I can’t think of what it might be.
And how the Hell am I going to get back to my normal size? Is this thing permanent? Will it wear off eventually?
Please, let it not be permanent!
He glanced around thoughtfully. Whatever happened next with his present condition, there was one thing he was certain of: he had to get out of here. One look at the ceiling he could see so high above his head was enough to confirm that here wasn’t his quarters. He remembered having fallen straight into his clothes lying on the floor, knocking his head against something – he couldn’t recall what – and losing his senses in the process. Next thing he knew, he had woken up in this place.
He knew what ‘this place’ was – or rather, he had a pretty good idea.
This was, in all probability, the laundry room.
Somebody – Bell, since I’m pretty sure it’s him I heard earlier – must have picked up my clothes, and me in them, and brought me here.
And if he was to follow this line of thought, then Scarlet had to conclude that, logically, he currently found himself in the middle of what looked like one of the plastic baskets, in which he knew all the dirty laundry of Cloudbase’s personnel was sorted, before being put into the washing machine.
And the thing he was currently sitting on was…
Startled by the sudden realisation of what it actually was, he nearly jumped down from his perch; and then, he stared at it with mystification, before starting to laugh.
He had to admit, there weren’t that many guys in the world who would have the chance to say, in complete honesty, that he had been sitting on top of an oversized brassiere cup!
That reminded him of that old movie he had seen so many years ago – What was it… ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask’? – he was still a teenager back then, with raging hormones, and the title sounded so appealing… But if not for a couple of very funny scenes, and especially the giant breast featured in one of the movie’s multiple stories, he would have found it rather disappointing…
He was at this point in his reflection when he heard the sound of a hydraulic engine starting up, and suddenly felt the ground shake beneath his feet.
No… That’s not the ground… It’s the basket moving.
He looked up. The ceiling overhead was getting closer, as if the basket was indeed being lifted from the floor; and then there was a sudden jerk, that threw Scarlet down onto his back; the basket moved sideways, while he rolled down onto the dirty laundry, to finally bump against the side of the basket.
Getting unsteadily to his feet, as the basket continued to move, Scarlet raised his eyes to the opening over his head. A railing appeared in his line of vision, to which a huge arm was attached – a arm on the end of which was a large metallic clamp, that was now holding the side of the basket. In one instant, Scarlet realised what was happening; the fully automated features of the laundry room had been put into motion, and the content of all the baskets of dirty laundry were being dumped, one after the other, into the washing machine. The basket in which he was presently standing had just been grabbed by the automatic system.
I’ve got to get the Hell out of here before being washed to death, he told himself with urgency. No doubt he would drown in all that soapy water, and he certainly wasn’t looking forward to it – even knowing he would eventually revive.
Would I? Who knows what this… miniaturisation process might have done to my recuperative powers! For all I know, I might not have them while I’m this size…
He knew he was only seconds away from being dumped into the washing machine – and ironically, he also knew it was only at that exact moment he might actually have a chance to escape. He hurriedly went through the clothing lying in his immediate vicinity; he found one of the straps of the bra he had been sitting on earlier, and the unhooked fastener at its end. It certainly wasn’t his ideal choice, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. Fortunately, the strap was delicate and light enough for him to make good use of it. If it had been larger, it would have been useless to him.
He looked up and aimed at the side of the basket – from his point of view, something like ten feet over his head – and, after giving it some momentum, he threw the strap like a grappling line. He missed. A second try was equally unsuccessful. As he felt the basket rising steadily and finally coming to a halt, he made a last desperate attempt. The hook from the strap end finally caught hold of the side of the basket and Scarlet hung on to it… just as the trap under the basket suddenly opened and emptied its load into the washing machine underneath. Scarlet felt the laundry falling under his feet, leaving him without anything to stand on. The momentum sent him flying roughly against the side of the basket. Yet he held on firmly, gritting his teeth against the sudden pull on his arms.
He looked down underneath himself. Hanging on to the strap for dear life, he could see the rest of the giant red bra dangling below him. And beyond that, at what seemed like metres from him, there was a huge, menacing, dark whirlpool, half filled with laundry – the washing machine, with violent jets of water already starting to fill it.
He blew a sigh of relief when the basket, emptied of its load, slowly but surely moved away from the washing machine. From his vantage point, Scarlet could see that another giant mechanical clamped-arm had grabbed yet another plastic basket and was now moving it over the washing machine. For a second, mesmerized by the vision presented by this oversized machinery, he followed the trajectory with his eyes, before focussing on his problem yet again. The empty basket was being lowered, and if he wasn’t careful, he would find himself yet again a prisoner inside of it.
The floor was approaching, but it seemed yet so terribly far away. He would risk breaking his neck if he were to let go too soon. Yet, what choice did he have exactly?
There! Just underneath him, there was some laundry lost from one of the baskets, lying on the floor. Maybe it would be enough to cushion his fall? It was almost un-hoped for. He prepared to let go of his improvised safety line, and started swinging, aiming toward the pile of clothes as the basket approached. Closer… closer… just a couple of seconds more…
Unfortunately for Scarlet, all this swaying to and fro, combined with his weight, was putting too much strain on the delicate plastic hook he was using as a grappling iron. It broke and let go suddenly, sending both bra and Spectrum captain flying down toward the floor. Scarlet let out a yelp of surprise as he fell the distance that he knew was still a little too high. His cry died out in a loud huff as he landed heavily on the floor.
His last, absurd thought, just before he finally lost consciousness from the pain, was to remind himself to ask Rhapsody, when he was next able to see her, whether or not she wore red underwear…
“Colonel White, I can’t find Captain Scarlet anywhere.”
Colonel White raised an inquiring brow at Captain Blue as the latter entered the Control Room with the news. Captain Ochre was still present, standing over Lieutenant Green, and checking information on the computer screen that the communications officer was looking at. Both he and Green looked up as Blue approached their commander’s desk.
“I searched everywhere I could think of,” Blue said, by way of explanation. “I even called him several times, using the comm. It’s like he’s not on base.”
White slowly nodded in acknowledgement of the news. “That’s strange… When was the last time you saw him?”
“About a half hour before the Mysteron threat, sir.”
“An hour ago, then.” White turned to Green. “Has any transport left Cloudbase since then, Lieutenant?”
“No, Sir,” Green answered. “The London shuttle is getting ready to leave, though. I was about to give them the green light.”
“Hold it, until further notice,” White instructed. “No craft is to leave base until we find Captain Scarlet.”
“What do you think happened to him, Sir?” Ochre asked from where he was standing.
“I don’t know… But this is unusual enough to be suspicious.”
“Do you think this might have anything to do with the present Mysteron threat?” Ochre was asking the question, as he left Green’s side to approach the desk in turn. Blue gave his colleague a wary look, as he stopped by his side.
“Whatever do you mean, Ochre?” he asked suspiciously.
“Well, like the colonel, I’m wondering where Scarlet might be,” Ochre answered with a shrug. “It is unlike him to miss a meeting, following a Mysteron threat. And he’s not the kind to go AWOL like that. Something is afoot, that’s for sure. And considering the latest threat, I don’t believe that Scarlet’s… disappearance is a coincidence.”
Blue frowned, suddenly thinking he was hearing an accusation in Ochre’s tone. “How many times does a man have to prove himself to you, Captain?” he asked abruptly.
“Ochre, two years ago, when he got free of the Mysterons’ control, you suspected Scarlet of foul play,” Blue remarked in a cold tone. “You were wrong back then, I will remind you. And now, just because the Mysterons mentioned an unexpected source…”
“… First of all,” Ochre interrupted quickly before even Colonel White could say something, “I do not suspect Scarlet of any foul play, Captain Blue. I was just voicing my concern that something might have happened to Scarlet – in view of his sudden and apparent disappearance. He’s been a thorn in the Mysterons’ side for a long time, and they might have removed him from the game early on, so they could pursue this threat. And secondly…” He addressed a faint smile to Blue. “I’m as worried about a friend’s well-being – as you are yourself, Blue.”
Blue felt embarrassed about his earlier suspicion and lowered his gaze. “My apologies, Captain Ochre…”
“Apologies accepted,” Ochre said in a detached tone. “Besides,” he added quietly enough, “Scarlet was nowhere near New York when security discovered the suspicious transmissions. So he’s hardly a suspect…”
Blue smiled thinly. “You’re just saying that to annoy me.”
“You’re sure of that?” Ochre retorted, raising a brow. The wink he gave Blue was enough of an answer.
White cleared his throat, to recall his officers to order. “That’s all very well, gentlemen, but whether his disappearance has something to do with the present threat or not, Captain Scarlet has to be found. Captain Blue, it would seem you were the last person to talk to him.”
“Pardon me, Sir…” Lieutenant Green was approaching on his moving chair, calling to his commander to attract his attention. “Captain Blue might have been the last one to see Captain Scarlet in person, but there might be someone else who talked to him afterward.”
“And who that might be, Lieutenant?”
“About fifteen minutes before the Mysterons’ threat, I received a call from England,” Green explained. “Someone wanting to talk to Captain Scarlet. His grandfather, Sir.”
“A Mr. Paul Blake, Colonel. He insisted that the call was urgent.”
“Paul Blake…” White muttered, pensively. “I didn’t know that old goat was still alive…”
“You know him, Sir?” Ochre asked in surprise.
“It was a long time ago. He was director of the U.S.S. when I joined. I knew he was Captain Scarlet’s grandfather, but I thought he was long dead by now. By God, he must be pushing ninety, now…”
“Oh, he’s very much alive, sir,” Blue explained. “And according to Captain Scarlet, still in good health, despite frail legs. Captain Scarlet went to visit him during that furlough he just came back from.”
“And Blake called him so soon after they had seen each other?” White said with a frown.
“With an urgent call, sir,” Lieutenant Green remembered. “I don’t know if Mr. Blake actually reached Captain Scarlet, though, or if he left a message in his voice mail, as I suggested, if he was unable to reach him.”
White was quick to make his next decision. “Captain Blue, return to Captain Scarlet’s quarters. Search for possible clues to his whereabouts. Since it seems unlikely that he left base, then he must be somewhere. Captain Ochre, assign Spectrum personnel to conduct a search party. We must find him.”
“Lieutenant Green,” White continued, turning his chair towards his aide, “try to contact Mr. Blake. I don’t know if his call has anything to do with Captain Scarlet’s disappearance, but at the very least, we’ll know if Mr. Blake did indeed succeed in contacting him. And maybe then we’ll be able to put a more specific time to when his disappearance actually occurred.”
It was a constant humming that woke Captain Scarlet from his dreamless sleep. Groaning, he rolled over on the cold surface of the floor, and sat up; he didn’t have his watch on, so he had no idea how long he had been unconscious. It couldn’t have been that long, however; the pain he felt all over his body was a fair indication that his sleep hadn’t been long enough to be a healing one.
He looked around, wondering about the sound that had awakened him, and at first felt a little disoriented. He did remember what had happened before he had lost consciousness, but somehow, he had hoped that it would all turn out to be a bad dream.
Of course, he wouldn’t be that lucky. It was with dismay that he now found himself sitting in the middle of the laundry room, which looked like a huge stage-set straight out of an episode of that ancient, ridiculous Land of the Giants TV series that he had caught Captain Ochre watching a few months ago. The humming sound he was hearing was, sure enough, the washing machine, presently cleansing the dirty laundry.
He rose to his feet and stood unsteadily, grimacing against the pain in his back. He considered himself lucky not to have – apparently – broken anything in that fall he had had earlier, especially considering how hard the floor was, and that he had missed the heap of clothes he had hoped to land on. Something must have cushioned my fall, he realised instantly. He couldn’t recall what, exactly.
Not far from him was the red bra that had served him so well as a means of escape from the basket. A light flicked in his mind. Now here’s the explanation, he mused. He probably fell onto it, before rolling to the floor. The others will be so jealous when I tell them about this, he told himself, a large, mischievous grin forming on his lips. No way was he going to keep to himself the fact that during this adventure, he owed the success of his daring escape and subsequent survival to a flamboyant red brassiere…
The humming sound had increased and was now reaching a crescendo that was getting irritating to Scarlet’s ears. More than that, he suddenly realised… the sound was getting closer.
And it was coming from directly behind him.
Scarlet turned around, suddenly realising that the sound he was now hearing wasn’t exactly coming from the washing machine – but was an added sound, coming from another, different source.
He just had the time to jump to the side to avoid being run over by a robo-vac which was coming straight at him, vacuuming the floor.
As far as Scarlet was able to judge – considering his now reduced size – this model was larger than the small ones that often ran in Cloudbase’s corridors – and which, after its sensors had picked up the presence of any member of the base personnel, would follow the walls, to avoid being trodden on. These yellow, short, disc-like robots performed an invaluable task on base, by picking up any dirt, lint and dust they would find on the floor, and then scouring it thoroughly through a dry cleaning process, thus keeping the environment clean and reducing the risk of germ propagation.
This robo-vac, however, was not only bigger, but also seemed to be performing a slightly different task, as it now stopped in front of the bra lying on the floor and seemed to be considering it with interest. It was equipped with a small arm, ending in a pincer-claw, that now moved to pick up the lost piece of clothing… and throw it into a small basket mounted on its back.
Scarlet watched the operation with quiet fascination; his size was now giving him a new perspective on things, and he couldn’t help but marvel at something that, up until now, he had taken for granted. To him, these small robo-vacs now looked like giant machines, as if they had been built by – well, aliens from another planet, come to think of it...
Scarlet didn’t react at first when the robo-vac turned toward him and seemed to examine him attentively.
Neither did he react when it started moving in his direction.
He only realised the danger it represented when he saw the arm putting itself into position, directed towards him, and the pincer opened ominously.
Scarlet didn’t wait much longer after that, and broke into a run; as if infused with sentient life, the robo-vac gave pursuit.
Oh boy… it either ‘thinks’ I’m lint or a piece of clothing that fell to the floor! Either way, Scarlet was very aware that those claws would hurt very much if the robo-vac should get its… ‘hands’ on him.
Unfortunately, the little robot’s engine was pushing it faster than Scarlet’s legs were able to run and it was gaining on him fast. The pincer was getting dangerously closer.
Scarlet sidestepped and jumped behind an empty, discarded basket to hide, and the robo-vac, pushed by its momentum, passed by, missing him by an inch. It rolled for a small distance, before stopping again and ‘looking’ all around, obviously in search of what it was trying to catch. From the safety of his hiding place, Scarlet watched it warily.
The robo-vac wasn’t a sentient being, of course; so it seemingly forgot about Scarlet, and simply continued ‘patrolling’ the floor, in search of lost clothes and lint. That would only be momentary, of course. Scarlet knew he had only seconds before the robot would turn around, discover him and give chase again. He wouldn’t be able to play hide and seek with it for long. He had to find a better hiding place, to avoid being caught by the robot, until someone eventually entered the laundry room, and found him. Then he’d be able to ask – shout – for help, in order to resolve his dreadful situation.
There was an air vent nearby, at the foot of a wall, and to Scarlet, it seemed like a perfect place to hide and wait, and to be completely out of harm’s way. He gave a glance in the direction of the robo-vac and saw it turning to direct itself toward the other side of the room, where a small piece of unidentifiable cloth was lying on the floor. Since the robot’s sensors were ‘looking’ in the other direction, Scarlet was able to safely race across the floor and straight towards the vent.
There was nothing closing the opening, so it was easy for Scarlet to slip in without any problem. But after having gone a few feet into the vent, it was so dark inside that he couldn’t see where he was going exactly. His shoeless feet bumped against something – the surface of the vent was obviously rough and uneven. He nearly fell face first, and just had the time to catch himself against the side of the wall. He made one step further…
To suddenly slide into another vent, opening right under his feet. He tried to brace himself against the wall again, but with no success this time.
Scarlet fell on his back with a loud huff that echoed through the vent… and started the glide of his life, into a bumpy, dark, and narrow air vent, which slanted down forty-five degrees into what seemed like the bowels of Cloudbase itself!
Captain Blue was about to enter Captain Scarlet’s quarters for the second time that day when he saw Mike Bell coming from one of the maintenance corridors, whistling a happy tune, as was often his habit when he was working. In his arms, he was holding a neatly folded pile of clothing. He stopped when Blue beckoned to him and asked him if he had seen Captain Scarlet. Bell shrugged dismissively at the question.
“Not since he left for his furlough, a few days ago, Captain,” he answered truthfully. “I know he came back, though. I’ve seen his luggage in his quarters, when I went earlier to do the room. Most of his things were still packed.”
“So you didn’t see him at all?” Blue insisted. “Did you notice anything unusual in his quarters, aside from his unpacked luggage?”
“Well, he had left his clothes lying on the floor, after his shower,” Bell answered. “That is unusual for Captain Scarlet, all right, he always tidies his quarters before leaving. I thought he had left it like that, the same as the luggage, because he had been called to a meeting following the Mysterons’ threat? There also was an unused uniform on the bed. Probably the captain’s spare uniform… Must have put his other one on.”
Blue shook his head thoughtfully. Obviously, he had gone into Scarlet’s room after Bell had cleaned it up.
“No… not that I can think of.” Bell showed the pile of clothes he was carrying. “I’m going back there right now, though. This is Captain Scarlet’s clean laundry, from the other day. I just picked it up from the laundry room after leaving the new batch.”
“Leave it to me, Bell, I’m going there myself,” Blue said. “Thank you for your help.”
“You’re welcome, Captain.” Bell handed the clothes to Blue and was about to leave to carry on with his work, when a thought suddenly struck him, and he turned to Blue who was pressing the numeric code to enter Scarlet’s quarters. “Oh, I saw an open Bible on Captain Scarlet’s desk, earlier…” Blue looked over his shoulder in the man’s direction, just as the door slid open in front of him. Bell offered a bashful smile. “The captain never struck me as a God-fearing man, so I thought it was… a little unusual for him to have that Bible. Besides, it looked kind of strange.”
Blue nodded pensively, remembering Paul Blake’s gift to Scarlet. “Thank you, Bell,” he said, simply.
“As I said, Captain: you’re welcome. I’m glad I was able to help.”
Bell went on his way, and Blue entered Scarlet’s quarters, still very thoughtful. As the door slid closed behind him, he went into the sleeping area, and threw the clothes onto the bed, quite carelessly, before walking to Scarlet’s wardrobe to open it. He found there his friend’s spare red tunic, still on its hanger. So, contrary to what Bell had thought earlier, Scarlet had not taken it.
Where could he be? a frustrated Blue asked himself. He slid the door of the wardrobe closed and turned around, musing. His eyes fell on the desk. “The Bible,” he muttered. Well, not exactly a Bible, he reminded himself. “That device inside…” He went to the desk. The book was still there, of course, and open on the device Scarlet and he had tried to make work earlier – without any success. Blue looked at it suspiciously. What if Scarlet had finally worked out how to power this thing up? he pondered. But it seemed unlikely that it could be responsible for his colleague’s disappearance.
Well… how can I say, really?
His attention was caught by a blinking red light on the phone standing right next to the open book. Blue remembered Green mentioning earlier that he had suggested that Paul Blake leave a message on Scarlet’s voice mail if he was unable to reach him. Seems like old Blake DID leave a message after all, Blue mused. So Scarlet probably disappeared before he was able to answer the phone? I wonder what his grandfather wanted of him, that he had to call him so soon after their last meeting?
His conscience had no problem with deciding to press the button to listen to the message. After all, he considered, his friend was missing. And if the message left on the voice mail could provide with a clue to where he could be, Blue figured that it was justifiable for him to listen to it.
“Hello, Paul, this is me… your grandfather…”
And the rest of the message made Blue even more suspicious of the device that was embedded in the old Bible, and that he was presently watching with a wary eye.
The vertiginous ride finished abruptly when Scarlet landed in a heap of dirt and fluff that, quite fortunately for him, cushioned most of his fall. The impact raised a cloud of dust that engulfed and covered him, making him cough and gasp. He rolled and then crawled to get away from the cloud, to finally stand on his feet, holding himself against the wall, wheezing and trying to regain his breath. He couldn’t see much of anything. It was dark, inside this vent, and only faint rays of light were getting through skirting grilles fitted into the left wall, at relatively equal distances from each other.
Still trying to find his normal breathing rate, Scarlet approached the grille closest to him and looked through the slits, to discover where he had ended up.
From where he was currently standing, he had a good view of one of Cloudbase’s anti-gravity generators, which was humming steadily. If he leaned to the right, he could even get a glimpse of the second generator. Already huge, by normal size’s standards, they looked even bigger now that he was looking at them in this reduced size.
He blew a deep sigh. The engine room. The lowest possible part of Cloudbase. It was a huge area of the base; barely a soul ever came down here as everything was monitored remotely from the Engine Control Room, by sensors, control panels, and strategically placed cameras. If Scarlet wasn’t missing his guess, and judging from what he was able to see from this point of view, the Engine Control Room – set in a glass-enclosed balcony, about one storey up, so it oversaw the entire place – was situated at the opposite side of the room. He couldn’t actually see it from where he was.
Scarlet tried to push and pull on the grille, but it didn’t budge. It was solidly fixed; he couldn’t get out. He sighed again and abandoned the idea quickly. Even if I succeed in escaping this vent and was to walk through this place towards the Engine Control Room lift, I’d have to find a way to reach the command button to open the door. I also have no way to reach the comm. and call for help. And the chance of being spotted on the wire and pipe-covered floor by a technician in the control room was next to nil.
I have to find another exit, Scarlet told himself. To a place where I’ll be more liable to find someone who can help me. A more ‘inhabited’ section of Cloudbase…
He wasn’t that far from sickbay. Well, relatively speaking, in terms of real distance! It was still two storeys up and to the right wing of the Control Tower. As far as he was concerned, it might just as well be on a far away continent… The walking distance alone seemed like a discouraging and harrowing task, and he was dismally contemplating hours of walking – without boots, and in the worst of conditions. And that was without counting his odds of being able to find his way in this ventilation maze – not to mention how the bloody hell he was going to climb up two storeys.
Okay… first things first – finding a way out of the engine room – then I’ll improvise. Maybe I’ll get lucky. People must have noticed my disappearance, and are looking for me…
Right… but they’re not searching for a three inch tall midget now, are they? It’s unlikely they will look under the rugs and through the vents…
He shrugged, dismissing those negative thoughts; there was little he could do but get on with it. He started by orienting himself, judging by what he could see of the engine room, and finally decided to walk down the path in front of him.
He had only walked a very short distance, when he heard a sound echoing straight ahead. He stopped and listened carefully. It sounded like something grating on the surface of the wall – or the floor – inside the vent.
The sound was moving in his direction, coming from a junction he could see ahead, barely lit by the light coming from yet another grille. He narrowed his eyes when he saw a shadow come in front of the light and stop.
I am not alone in this vent, he told himself. This is strange… what could it be?
He soon received his answer when, from the corner of the junction, he saw a dark furry head appear, with small ears and a pointy nose, sniffing the air. Scarlet held his breath and kept very still. The ‘creature’ looked in his direction, but didn’t seem to see him, as he was standing in the darkest corner of the vent. Then, it came into full view, to stand in front of the skirting grille, to look through the slits into the engine room beyond.
A mouse! Scarlet observed, as the light coming through the grille gave him a much better view of the creature. Or a rat, hard to tell while I’m this size. Big, ugly bugger, too. And probably dangerous for me in my present condition; those fangs look like they could cut me in half. I’d better not get close to it…
He started to step back, very slowly, hoping not to attract the rodent’s attention.
He wasn’t very lucky with that.
As if it had suddenly become aware of his presence, the animal turned its enormous head in his direction and stared straight at him…
“Holy… Now this is unusual.”
“What is it, Lieutenant?” Colonel White, from his circular desk, had raised his head upon hearing Lieutenant Green’s sudden imprecation. It wasn’t that often that the young man would voice his reflections in such a way, so any such reaction from him warranted the interest of the Spectrum commander. But Green reddened when the colonel addressed him, and seemed suddenly embarrassed at his outburst.
“Sorry, Sir… I didn’t mean to disturb you. It escaped me. It was a report from Lieutenant Mulberry.”
“Mulberry? From Environmental Control?”
“Technician Terracotta’s military assistant, Sir. He replaces her during leaves of absence. His report surprised me. The infra-red sensors have detected movements in the air vents in the Engine Room.”
“Meaning?” White asked, frowning, failing to see the point the lieutenant was trying to make.
“Meaning we have rodents in the vents, Colonel.”
“Possibly, Sir. The detected movements are specific to one section of the vents and are quite minimal. Which would suggest that we only have one or two of those… unwanted visitors.”
White rolled his eyes. Rats on Cloudbase. Now that certainly was a rare – nearly impossible – occurrence. With the closed environment of the base, security in that field was made as tight as it was humanly possible to have it. All transports departing for Cloudbase were checked and double-checked before they could leave, with infra-red sensors that would detect any rodents that might slip in; all Spectrum craft were equipped with the same technology, to make sure that they were clean all the way through their flights… It was standard procedure, of course. No rodents could be allowed to board Cloudbase – the consequences of having them onboard could be disastrous, considering that they might gnaw away at every wire and electronic device they encountered… Not to mention that they could procreate at such at quick rate. And then there was the hygienic aspect of the problem, of course…
Despite all the security to prevent any rodents from clandestinely entering Cloudbase, and the unlikely event that it would actually happen, the base had been equipped with the proper equipment to counter the problem should it ever present itself. It was swift and efficient, and there was no way it would fail.
White shrugged indifferently. “Environmental personnel know the drill, Lieutenant. Tell Mulberry to follow procedures: to seal the section of the vents where the ‘suspicious activities’ have been detected, and gas that section. The robo-cleaners will take care of the… remains when they get there afterwards.”
“S.I.G., Sir,” Green answered, turning to convey the orders received.
“And don’t disturb me with reports of rodents again, Lieutenant,” White grumbled. “We have quite enough to do right now, with Captain Scarlet’s disappearance and the present Mysteron threat…”
Just as the rat started to move towards Scarlet, the latter heard an almost deafening sound echoing through the vent. The grilles suddenly slammed shut, preventing any light from entering the vent. He just had the time to see the rat turning toward the grille in front of which it was standing, before he completely lost sight of it.
Plunged into total darkness, he waited, trying to figure out what was going on. He could hear the rat moving in front of him, but couldn’t guess so far if it was approaching or not. Then suddenly, he saw two red dots, blinking in the dark – and realised it was the rat’s eyes, as it was staring at him.
Apparently, it had not moved from its spot yet…
As he was waiting for the rodent to make its next move, Scarlet became aware of a hissing sound. It seemed to come from all around of him. Sounds like air, escaping from a breach, or something.
No, not air, he realised suddenly. Gas…
Scarlet knew all about the security features installed in Cloudbase air vents, in order to get rid of unwanted guests like this rat in front of him. They had all been briefed about them, in the earlier days of Spectrum, when they were given all the details of the floating carrier – even the most boring, or those which sounded insignificant for them to actually know. Scarlet wished now that he had given them more attention.
Not that it would help me much…
It took barely seconds after he had realised what was going to happen before small traps snapped open and a concentrated fog was sprayed inside the vent, enveloping both current occupants; Scarlet coughed loudly, suddenly unable to breathe properly. He took a lungful of gas and fell down, face first, onto the rough surface of the vent, his mind clouding instantly.
The last thing he was aware of was the eyes of the rat, glaring with a odd red glow, as the creature approached dangerously close to him…
“Okay, I give up… What is it?”
After his search of Scarlet’s room, Captain Blue had gone to give his report to Colonel White, showing him the Bible that he had brought with him and telling him about the message Paul Blake had left in Scarlet’s voice mail. White had not waited a minute longer to ask Lieutenant Green to access the voice mail and make a copy of the message so he could listen to it himself. Then, he had called for Captains Ochre and Magenta to go to the conference room and ordered Blue to join them, and explain his findings to them. White would join them in a few minutes.
In the conference room, Captains Ochre and Magenta were looking with perplexity at the Bible that Captain Blue had put on the table, just between the three of them. He had opened it and showed them the device embedded inside, before telling them about Paul Blake’s message. To Ochre’s question, Blue could only shake his head.
“I don’t know, Rick. And apparently, Scarlet’s grandfather doesn’t seem to know either. But he seemed to think that this thing might be so important that he had to call Scarlet to get it back – as soon as possible.” He kept silent for a second, staring at the book. “What are you willing to bet that it might be responsible for Scarlet’s disappearance?”
“How?” Magenta asked, raising a brow. “By disintegrating him or making him invisible?”
“If he was invisible, he would still be able to talk to us,” Ochre remarked with a mocking smile. “And we would know where he is, unless he wants to make us search for him…”
“This is no time for jokes, Captain,” Blue retorted sternly. “Scarlet is missing, there is no question about it.”
“I know. Security is still searching all around the base for him,” Ochre sighed, regaining his seriousness. “And so far, not a single clue to where he might be.”
“Or if he’s still on base,” Magenta added grimly.
“If he’s not, then how would he have left?” Blue remarked. “Nothing’s taken off from Cloudbase since his return…”
Magenta hesitated. “Well… I don’t like to point out grim possibilities, but… how about if he’s been thrown out through an airlock?”
Blue gave him an odd look. “All of Cloudbase’s airlocks are under automatic supervision. If one of them was to open, it would send an alarm directly to the control centre.”
“So scratch that possibility,” Ochre confirmed.
“And what if… he’s been thrown into the incinerator?”
Ochre groaned loudly, noticing Blue’s annoyed – and slightly worried – expression. “For someone who doesn’t like to point out grim possibilities, you have an over-active imagination, Patrick.”
“Hey, I don’t like thinking about that anymore than you do,” Magenta protested. “But the fact remains that Scarlet is nowhere to be found – and that we’re running out of places to search for him.”
Before Blue could reply, the door behind him slid open, and Colonel White entered. The three officers stood up and waited until their commander had taken his seat before sitting again. They had barely settled down when White started addressing them:
“I have bad news,” he announced grimly. “Lieutenant Green has not been able to talk to Mr. Blake so far. So we’ve been unable to ask him about this device.”
“What is the problem?” Blue asked.
“It seems that Mr. Blake has gone to bed for the night,” White explained. “And since he’s taking sleeping pills, it’s next to impossible to wake him up. No matter how urgent the situation might be. Or so his nurse keeps claiming. She didn’t seem to be all that moved by the fact that it might be a question of worldwide security.”
“So we’ll have to wait until Blake wakes up to question him?” Magenta asked.
“I had Captain Forest in London sent to his house. Maybe he’ll be able to get through that nurse in person, better than Green through the phone.” White pointed to the book in front of him. “In the meantime, I’ve done some checking of my own and came up with some details that might be related to that device and might be of use to us.”
“You, Sir?” Ochre asked with curiosity.
“Of course. I was with the Universal Secret Service, before I became Spectrum’s commander. So who better than me to check for information involving the U.S.S.? I kept contact with friends there – who are in high places.”
“You found something then, Colonel?” asked Blue.
“Yes, I checked Paul Blake’s background and cross-referenced it with the U.S.S. personnel databank to find out if he had been in professional contact with another agent called ‘Matthew’. As it turned out, I found a ‘Matthew Harding’ with whom Mr. Blake worked closely, at the beginning of his career. Both of them worked at The Bishop Department, but Harding was a senior agent, while Blake was just a junior agent. “
“Sorry, Sir… The Bishop Department?”
“A very restricted department of the U.S.S., Captain Magenta. It was before my time, but it already was the ‘stuff of legend’, as they say. It handled some of the most difficult cases of its time. It was very selective. At its most active, it never had more than five agents at a time working there. I didn’t know that Blake was one of those rare agents – which is quite notable, even if he only was a junior one. “
“You think that this Matthew Harding was the same man Paul Blake mentioned in his message to Captain Scarlet, Sir? Blue asked.
“It seems likely. Harding left the U.S.S. when The Bishop Department closed down… He kept in contact with Blake, apparently. Ten years after retirement, he was diagnosed with cancer, and died less than two years after that.”
Blue nodded. “Does seem to be our man. It would be somewhere during those two years that he gave that book to Blake.”
“Whatever that device might be,” White remarked, “ it would seem that Harding acquired it during his time in the U.S.S.”
“Isn’t there any mention of this device in the U.S.S. records, Sir?” Ochre asked with surprise.
White sighed, staring at the book. “I didn’t find anything, no.” He reached for it and pulled it towards him. “But… considering what we heard on this recorded message, Harding thought this thing might be either important – or dangerous. So much in fact, that he didn’t even trust the U.S.S. with its safekeeping.”
“But he trusted Blake with it?” Blue noted.
White gave a brief nod. He scratched his ear and cleared his throat, almost uncomfortably. “I think I know how it went. In those times, the U.S.S. was the centre of many… irregularities. Corruption, treasons, briberies, sales of state secrets, murders… Those things occurred on a daily basis. So in those circumstances, it was understandable that Harding had second thoughts about entrusting the U.S.S. with something he considered of the utmost importance.”
Blue narrowed his eyes. “Yes… I think I can understand the dilemma he was facing.”
“You would indeed,” White acknowledged, remembering that Blue had to face a similar situation while Head of Security at the World Aeronautic Society. “Paul Blake was one of the rarest men within the U.S.S. whose loyalty could not be disputed. So logically, Harding would give him the book – with the device inside.”
“Without telling him how it worked?” Ochre remarked.
“Maybe Harding didn’t know?” Magenta suggested.
“Well, that’s something we will never know,” White asserted in a low voice. “Harding died a long time ago.”
“Actually, we’re not sure that Blake doesn’t know how this thing works,” Blue intervened. “In that message to Scarlet, he just said that he ‘can’t tell’ what it was all about. That can also mean that he knows but won’t tell.”
Colonel White shook his head thoughtfully. “Either way, we just have to hope that Blake will be able to give us some indication of what this thing could be.”
“Sir… do you really think this device has something to do with Scarlet’s disappearance and the present Mysteron threat?” Ochre demanded. “If you don’t mind my saying so, I don’t see any real indication that it could… In either case, but especially concerning the Mysterons.”
“Quite frankly, Captain Ochre, I have to agree with you. But… you know the Mysterons as well as I do. They make use of anything that comes their way to forward their plans. Blake might not know how this thing works and what it does… but maybe the Mysterons do. And maybe they will use it to their advantage – if they haven’t already, to get rid of Captain Scarlet.”
Ochre nodded quietly. “That is a… reasonable assumption, Sir.”
“We should try to decipher what this thing is and what it can actually do,” White declared. “Maybe that will shed some light on what happened to Scarlet.”
“I just hope he is all right, Sir,” Blue said grimly.
“Of course, he will be,” Ochre retorted, thumping his compatriot’s shoulder in an encouraging way. “He’s indestructible, don’t you remember that?”
“Yes, I do remember that,” Blue answered in the same sombre tone, glaring at his fellow officer. “But I also remember something else: none of us knows exactly how indestructible he might be. And that, Ochre, is scaring the Hell out of me…”
Scarlet was now slowly regaining his senses; he felt fine, if a little light-headed, and had no trouble breathing anymore. He was lying on his back and had an impression of motion underneath him. As if he was being carried away.
He opened his eyes. He was still in the air vent and faint light was coming through the skirting grilles once again. He was indeed moving – or rather, the thing he was lying on was, steadily, and very smoothly. He could hear the faint sound of a nearly silent engine, and feel a slight vibration coming from underneath.
Scarlet rolled onto his stomach and crawled to the side of the platform he was presently on, to find out what his improvised vehicle might be. He discovered he was lying on another model of robo-vac, this one built with the specific task of clearing air vents of the dust that might accumulate inside. It was designed to glide smoothly inside the vents, on an air cushion, exactly like a small hovercraft, to catch everything it might encounter.
Obviously, it had picked Scarlet up, when he was unconscious – or dead. Which was a logical course of action. The robots would not see the difference between the miniaturised captain and any dead rodent – or any alien object that might accidentally find itself in the vents, for that matter. Anything found in the vents by the robo-vac would be picked up and carried away to wherever it would be dealt with. In the case of a dead rodent, it would be disposed of quickly; there was no way it would be left inside the air vents, where it would rot freely and eventually upset everyone with a very disagreeable odour.
Scarlet speculated that in all probability, the rat, now dead, had also been picked up by another robot; it was nowhere in sight, and considering how quickly the gas had acted with Scarlet, it had had no chance to escape either. Scarlet couldn’t say he wasn’t pleased with that. As far as he could tell, that rat had decided to make him its next meal, when the gas had struck them both.
Almost despite himself, Scarlet chuckled. In a way, by killing me, the gas actually saved my life…
Well, now I know that my recuperative powers are working as they should, while I’m at this reduced size.
Scarlet wondered where the robo-vac was now carrying him. One look through the grilles told him that he wasn’t exactly going where he had previously planned to go. In fact, he had gone in a completely different direction. He now had a view of the interior of the Spectra-Mart. Which was empty and dark at the moment.
Must be the middle of the night, he reflected. The Spectra-Mart is open from seven in the morning to midnight. He had no way to determine how long he had been in this… reduced state. He had been conscious and unconscious much more often than he’d care to admit. That last ‘nap’ might have lasted a few hours. Considering I was probably dead. But then again, once my lungs had been cleared of the gas, it would take only a short time for me to revive…
Now what was he to do? He had to admit, sitting on this robo-vac and letting it carry him sure beat having to walk inside these dark vents, until he could find a way to get out – especially considering that didn’t have his boots on. Sure, it wasn’t going in the direction he had first chosen, but it was still heading towards a populated area. And eventually, an exit would offer itself, and he would be able to find help.
And eventually, I’ll get back to my rightful size, he told himself grimly.
In the meantime, I might as well enjoy the ride…
“Any news from Adam yet?”
Dressed in a rather attractive powder blue ensemble she had bought recently, an off-duty Symphony Angel entered the Amber Room where she knew she would find Rhapsody Angel, on standby duty. Sure enough, her English colleague was seated on one of the room’s orange sofas, reading a magazine – or rather, holding it the wrong way up and turning the pages absentmindedly.
“No, no news yet,” Destiny Angel answered from the counter where she was putting down her empty cup, after having finished her last cup of coffee. “We were hoping that you would bring us some.”
“Sorry, I don’t know anything.” Symphony sat down on the sofa right next to Rhapsody. “They didn’t find Paul yet.” She caught sight of the worried expression on her friend’s face and put a soothing hand on her arm. “Don’t worry, Dianne, I’m sure he’ll pop up soon.”
“Who said I was worried?” Rhapsody asked, turning yet another page.
“Well… unless this is an old exercise specifically designed for spies in training, I’m quite sure you’d feel more comfortable reading that mag the other way up…”
Rhapsody glanced at her magazine, noticed what her friend was driving at and sighed, before closing it and putting it down on the low table in front of her. “All right, I admit I am slightly concerned.”
“Slightly?” Destiny repeated in a doubtful tone, approaching. “Ma chérie, I would say you are beside yourself with worry.” She sat down on the other side of the sofa, while Rhapsody glared at her. “You are just being your English self by not showing it, that’s all.”
“Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, Destiny,” Symphony said in a somewhat cold tone.
“Oh, that is nothing…” Destiny took Rhapsody’s hand. “Do you not worry, Dianne… He will be all right, you’ll see.” She produced a large, beaming smile. “Like he’s always been!”
Rhapsody gave a deep sigh. “I wish I could be sure of that,” she said, almost whispering. “It is rather strange when you think about it. Just a few minutes earlier, we were returning from our furlough, talking casually, making plans… And then, he suddenly goes missing.”
“Well, I know the circumstances of his disappearance might look bad, but knowing Paul, I can assure you that… EEEEEEEEEEK!”
The strident shriek from Destiny nearly made both Rhapsody and Symphony jump out of their skins. Their ears still ringing, they stared at her with annoyance and surprise. She was white as a sheet, and had quickly gathered her feet up onto the sofa in a fearful way.
“For God’s sake, what’s the matter with you?!” Rhapsody snapped angrily at her. “I swear, you nearly burst my eardrums!”
Destiny was gesturing wildly in the direction of the floor, right behind the other sofa in front of them. “I saw a rat running on the floor. It’s behind there!”
“A rat?!” Symphony was puzzled. To her knowledge, there had been no previous story of rodents ever being sighted on Cloudbase. The security about that particular aspect of the base was so tight it was nearly inconceivable. She left her place on the sofa and slowly walked toward the spot indicated by Destiny – the latter was following her with horrified eyes.
“What are you doing? You’re not going to check, are you?”
“Why not?” Symphony retorted without turning back, and keeping her eyes peeled for anything suspicious. “If there is a rat in here, I…”
She stopped suddenly in the middle of her sentence, upon seeing a little grey creature darting from behind the sofa and scurrying across the floor, towards a nearby open air vent, situated just at the bottom of the furthest wall. The creature was just small enough to pass through a small hole caused by a dent in the grille and disappear inside the vent.
“There it goes,” Symphony remarked quietly. “And that’s not a rat, actually. Only a cute little mouse.”
“I don’t care how cute you find it,” Destiny retorted obstinately. “That beast can be a menace!”
“Quite right,” Symphony acknowledged, giving it some thought. “It could chew on anything it finds, and do some serious damage. We will have to report this to Environmental Control.”
She turned around towards the table where the comm. link was installed and then noticed that Rhapsody was gathering her feet up onto the sofa as well, but in a very poised and dignified way. Symphony gave her a reproachful – and surprised – glance.
“Oh no, Dianne, not you too! Don’t tell me you’re afraid of mice!”
“I’m not afraid of them,” Rhapsody defended herself loftily. “I just don’t like them very much.”
Symphony sighed deeply. “Fearless pilots and ruthless fighters indeed,” she muttered. “Really girls, you are embarrassing me…” She pressed the comm. link button. “Amber Room to Environmental Control. This is Symphony Angel.”
“Lieutenant Mulberry speaking,” a male voice answered almost immediately. “What can I do for you?”
“I have an official complaint, Lieutenant. We have mice in here.”
“What, again?!” the voice answered, obviously perplexed.
“What do you mean by ‘again’?” Symphony asked with a frown.
“Yes, what does he mean?” Destiny echoed. She didn’t think it was still safe for her to dare put her feet down to the floor.
“We had a rodent alert earlier today,” Mulberry explained. “In the vents, near the Engine Room. We thought that it had been taken care of. Must be another one… Strange that it escaped the heat sensors, and that we didn’t get another alert up until now.”
“Mice rarely come alone,” Symphony remarked. “Well, maybe the sensors didn’t pick up that one because it wasn’t in the vents…”
“Still bizarre. We should have been able to see it anyway.”
“Well, it is in the vents now. It just ran in there.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the voice of Mulberry was heard again, confirming Symphony’s report.
“Yes, the sensors are picking it up now. My, this is a fast one… It’s already fifty metres down the vent in the Spectra-Mart direction. Oh wait… It seems to be coming back your way.”
“DON’T let it come back here!” Destiny nearly pleaded.
Symphony gestured at Destiny in annoyance. “You heard, Lieutenant,” she then said with a sigh. “I have a hysterical woman on my hands. You’d better do something quick with this mouse, before the situation becomes intolerable.” She ignored Destiny’s expression of outrage – which became even more incensed when Lieutenant Mulberry openly laughed, hearing the American Angel’s remark.
“I am not hysterical!” Destiny objected. “I despise rodents. The convent was full of rats when I was studying there. Plus, I’m allergic to animal fur. You know that.”
“Checking what can be done…” the voice of Mulberry said. “Well, obviously, we can’t use gas in these circumstances. That vent is the only one for the Amber Room and we can’t close it, without causing you discomfort. Besides, if it’s the same mouse, for whatever reason, the gas didn’t work on it earlier. So maybe it won’t work this time either. We’ll have to check on that.”
“Is there an alternative to get rid of that mouse?” Rhapsody asked. “Or will we have to go into the vent and chase it ourselves?”
Destiny seemed horrified by the possibility. However, Mulberry’s soft chuckle and the following answer reassured her: “That vent is too narrow to let a man get through it. I even doubt it’s large enough to let one of you squeeze inside it, even the smallest of you. You’d get stuck and might get hurt. But there’s an alternative, yes. It seems that there’s a robo-vac in the vent right now, near the ‘intruder’ – nearly on top of it, if I can believe the sensors. So maybe it can take care of it.”
“How?” Symphony asked. “By vacuuming it to death?”
“No… But it can electrocute it. The robot must have sufficient juice in it to kill such a small animal. And when it’s dead, the robot will pick it up and dispose of it, like it normally would.”
“Neat. Get rid of that pest then, Lieutenant.”
“S.I.G., Symphony Angel. It won’t take long, you’ll see…”
Scarlet was starting to get a little too comfortable on his ride which was steadily moving along the vents when he felt it coming to a sudden stop. Intrigued about what might be happening, he leant down to check on the robo-vac. The lights on it were flickering as it was turning on itself, just as if it was searching for something.
It was twirling more and more wildly, to the point where Scarlet, starting to feel dizzy, found himself with no other alternative but to jump from the robot and onto the floor of the vent. He stumbled and turned toward the robo-vac, watching it with perplexity, wondering what could be wrong with it.
Was it suddenly malfunctioning?
The robo-vac stopped spinning; the sensors were now directed in the opposite direction from Scarlet, as it if was marking a pause.
“So, what seems to be the problem with you?” Scarlet mused. Tentatively, he reached for the robot with his hand. He felt a sudden power surge upon touching it and instinctively stepped back, muttering a curse. His hand was tingling, and felt numb.
The robo-vac then slowly turned around towards Scarlet – and seemed to consider him with attention.
Somehow, to Scarlet, that didn’t bode very well.
The robot started to move towards him, sizzling as it came.
Bloody Hell… it’s after me… And it’s giving electric shocks now. The blasted thing must think I’m a damned rat!
He didn’t wait to discover if the amount of electricity contained in that tin can would be enough to actually do him any lasting harm. That first surge he received, seconds earlier, hurt… and hurt badly. He turned on his heels and started running down the vent, putting as much distance as possible between himself and that robot.
The robo-vac gave pursuit, gliding faster and faster each passing second.
Scarlet didn’t have to turn around to know it was gaining on him.
I might be a good sprinter, and retrometabolism might give me stamina, but what good is that against a machine that doesn’t feel fatigue? I’m done for if I don’t find a way to escape these vents!
Scarlet suddenly skidded to an halt when, at a turn of a corner, right in front of him, bathed by the light coming from the other side of a nearby grille, he saw a furry head appear.
Oh no! Not another rat!
He briefly looked over his shoulder to check on the robo-vac. It was quickly getting closer. He returned his attention to the rat, and watched in total disbelief as it stared straight at him, with its ugly and fiery little red eyes. Scarlet could have sworn right there that it was the same rodent he had encountered before and that it had actually recognised him.
But… it’s impossible, isn’t it? That animal must be dead, surely… This one can’t be the same…
Unless… it had been Mysteronised or something…
Get a grip, Metcalfe! Why would the Mysterons take a rat over?! This is the stupidest idea you could ever imagine!
The rat started moving towards him. Scarlet groaned.
On one side, an electrified robot; on the other, a rat… Out of the frying pan into the fire. How much worse could it be?
He froze for a second when the rat suddenly pounced in his direction, silently, without any warning, its mouth wide open to reveal its sharp teeth, and its clawed front paws extended towards him. At the same time, Scarlet could feel the robot’s presence, just behind him, so uncomfortably close.
Years as an experienced soldier made him dodge almost instinctively – at the last possibly second. He barely made it, as he plunged under the leaping rat; he felt the razor-sharp claws tear into the sleeve of his right arm and the back of his uniform, deeply grazing the flesh underneath. He was unable to hold back a curse against the fiery pain as he rolled on the dirty floor, putting himself out of reach of both machine and rodent.
He heard a screeching sound as the rat landed squarely on the robo-vac, stopping its advance on the spot, and their encounter produced a blinding flash of electrical light.
Protecting his eyes with his uninjured arm, Scarlet quickly attempted to crawl away to avoid the dangerous sparks which were falling everywhere around him, creating images of shadows and light against the surface of the vent. He tried to stand, but he felt something heavy falling onto his left leg and tearing into it; he let out a brief cry as he felt it crack, and the sharp pain pulled him down.
He looked over his shoulder; his leg was trapped under the robo-vac, which was now leaning to one side, its lights blinking sporadically, and dying out one after the other. Obviously, the rat’s furious attack had severely damaged it.
As for the rat itself, it was now lying on its side and wasn’t moving.
Fantastic, Scarlet thought grimly. They took each other out…
A repulsive smell of burned hair hit Scarlet’s nostrils, as he lay there, looking with disgust at the scene, and he noticed the smoke coming from both motionless opponents - and starting to invade the vent. He was unable to move; his leg was pinned down, and hurt every time he tried to disengage it; he could feel something warm running against it.
Open fracture, he realised with a practiced knowledge of these situations. He was starting to feel chilly.
Bleeding out…I’ll be out cold before long.
“Yuck! So that’s what an electrocuted rat smells like? It’s horrible!”
Trying to regain his focus, Scarlet blinked in surprise. The voice had echoed into the vents. A voice he knew very well.
“It was not a rat, just a tiny mouse. I still can’t believe you are afraid of them!”
And now Symphony… Scarlet could barely believe it. Their voices were coming from beyond that grille in front of which the mouse had previously been standing.
And close to which he was presently lying…
Well not that close. He could see the light coming through it but not that much more. He desperately reached out to it, trying to get even closer, and stretched his neck to get a better look through it, just as a third voice made itself heard:
“You do realise, of course, that a thing like that would not have happened if we had a cat.”
“Bite your tongue, Dianne!” was the swift reply from Destiny. “Do you want my death? Don’t you remember what happened to me the last time Cloudbase ‘adopted’ a real live animal? I wheezed and choked every time I came near to it.” She marked a pause. “Besides, what difference would it have made if we had a cat? I can’t very well see how it would have chased that mouse inside that vent!”
Scarlet’s mind was working fast, trying to work out where he could be. Amber Room… It must be the Amber Room… He had confirmation of that when, through the grille, he was able to see the floor, which he recognised instantly. The Amber Room had a very distinctive, unique décor. At some distance from where he was, he could see the bottom of a sofa, and a pair of very expensive shoes along with a pair of white boots in front of them, thus demonstrating clearly that two people were seated on it. Another pair of boots was pacing on the floor just at the limit of his line of vision.
At last seeing an end to his ordeal – at the very least, he would get out of this vent, if not regain his normal size – Scarlet took a deep breath of air and nearly choked, as, in the process, he swallowed a mouthful of smoke. He coughed to clear his throat, feeling beads of cold sweat forming on his brow. Quickly, before I lose it…
Then he shouted at the top of his lungs: “HELP! ANGELS, CAN YOU HEAR ME? GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
For long, agonising seconds, only silence answered him. He coughed and shouted again, desperately: “ANGELS! CAN YOU HEAR ME?! I NEED HELP!”
In the Amber Room, Rhapsody, Symphony and Destiny, upon hearing the muffled, faint voice, looked at each other with perplexity, each of them wondering if she had not dreamed it. The look they could see on each others’ faces was enough to convince them that it wasn’t the case.
They heard faint coughing, and then the voice called them for a third time: “Angels! Get me out of here!”
“Paul?!” That was Rhapsody finally voicing the three Angels’ common suspicions. “Paul, is that you? Where are you?”
“Down here!” the voice answered faintly.
“Where?” insisted Destiny as she and Rhapsody stood up and joined Symphony in looking around, frantically searching for the elusive captain.
There was another cough. “In the vents!”
“What?!” a stunned Symphony replied. “That’s impossible! How did you get there?”
“Never mind that! Get me out of here before I suffocate! The smoke is getting to me!”
Rhapsody was already kneeling in front of the vent, through which a thick white smoke was coming out. As the two other Angels gathered behind her, she peered inside, but could not see a thing. To her, it seemed impossible that her lover could be inside that dark and narrow vent. And even more impossible to get him out of there. The hole through which she was looking was barely big enough to let the mouse get through.
“We need a screwdriver to remove that grille,” she started. Just saying that sounded absurd enough. Destiny’s voice echoed her thoughts.
“How did he get in there and how can we get him out? He must certainly be stuck!”
“I AM stuck!” Scarlet confirmed. They could hear his voice more clearly, now that they were leaning close to the vent. Which was even more puzzling.
“Then how can we help you?” Symphony asked.
“Just get your hand through the hole,” Scarlet answered, coughing as he did. “You’ll be able to release me… That’s all I need to get out.”
“What?!” The Angels were beyond being perplexed now. In fact, they were beginning to be very much annoyed. And the fiery-tempered Rhapsody was close to getting angry.
“Paul Metcalfe,” she warned, “if this is some kind of a joke that you concocted with Rick…”
“It’s not!” Scarlet now sounded almost desperate. And his voice was growing weaker. “Angel, I’m stuck here, with a broken leg. PLEASE, you’ve got to get me out of here quickly. I assure you, you will all understand in a minute…”
“That’d better be true,” muttered Rhapsody. “All right, Symphony: I think that Melody has a tool box somewhere on those shelves over there. Give me a screwdriver, and we’ll get him out of there. And I hope for his sake that we don’t find a mike in there…… Because I will not be very happy with that.”
“Colonel White! I’m picking up an unauthorised signal!”
At the sound of Lieutenant Green’s frantic voice, Colonel White raised his head. The young man was leaning over the controls of his station, and was staring at the information appearing on his monitor.
“What kind of signal, Lieutenant?” White asked urgently.
“Radio signals, Sir!” Green briefly looked up at his commander. “The same kind of transmissions that were intercepted in New York Headquarters!”
“So our spy did move on to Cloudbase!” White commented swiftly. “We were right, then. Someone is trying to transmit information through our security!”
“Looks like it, Colonel.”
“Can you stop those signals from getting through, Lieutenant?”
“Working on it, Sir! They won’t get by me, if I have anything to do with it!”
“Good man. Where do those signals come from?”
“Locating them…” Green’s voice cut off short. He looked at the information on his screen with a puzzled look on his face. “They seem to come from the Amber Room, Sir!”
“The Amber Room?! But how…” White let the rest hang. For now, the how wasn’t important. Someone – something – in the Amber Room was trying to get information – secret information – out of Cloudbase to a third party that would certainly make illicit use of it, in order to weaken Spectrum’s security and efficiency. He could not permit that to happen, and whoever the culprit might be, he or she had to be apprehended. Leaving Green to scuffle with the controls to stop the transmissions, and confident that his aide was proficient enough to succeed, White swiftly turned his attention to the other problem at hand, and slapped the base-wide communication control.
“This is Colonel White. Spectrum is Red! We have a security leak on Cloudbase! Security, proceed immediately to the Amber Room and secure the area! Search for any suspicious device that might be used to send unauthorised transmissions. If need be, apprehend ANYONE you find down there. Spectrum is Red! Move it, people! This is not an exercise!”
Waiting in the semi-darkness of the vent, Scarlet was beginning to feel sluggish from the loss of blood he was suffering. His leg felt so very numb now and he didn’t feel pain anymore. He considered letting himself fall asleep, and allowing his retrometabolism to do its usual stuff, but he didn’t dare. He felt that he had to stay awake, at least until he had been retrieved from this dreadful place – if only to give guidance to the Angels concerning his position and even maybe some explanation of what had happened to him. Well, at least the little he knew of the facts, anyway…
He was listening to the reassuring whine of the screwdriver Rhapsody was using to unscrew the grille, waiting with expectation for light to fully invade the vent, when another sound caught his ear. It was a screeching sound, coming from the opposite direction – very nearby.
Almost dreading what he would find, Scarlet turned his head towards that direction – looking at the still robo-vac under which his injured leg was trapped. It was still smoking, but he could see it was still motionless, and all of its lights were snuffed out, indicating that its power was definitely down. But beyond it…
Scarlet narrowed his eyes. Through the smoke, he could see movement; the screeching sound was picking up in intensity, and he saw something rise steadily from behind the robo-vac. He recognised the furry outline, and saw the long, fine tail moving, whipping through the air and casting shadows against the walls of the vent.
Oh no… not again!
The mouse stood up on its back feet, with, surprisingly, enough strength to lift parts of the robo-vac in the process. Scarlet felt the pressure on his trapped leg lessening, so he grabbed that chance to free himself from his position, and crawled away, as quickly as he could.. It was just in time, as the robo-vac fell back onto the metallic surface, exactly where his leg had been. The crashing sound echoing through the vent almost deafened Scarlet, and for a moment, it seemed to drown the sound of the screwdriver. It took a moment for Scarlet to realise that, in fact, that sound had actually stopped.
“Paul?” That was Rhapsody’s voice calling to him, with a note of anxiety in her voice. “Are you are right? What was that noise?”
Scarlet was about to answer, but thought better of it, as he fixed his eyes on the mouse that was now stumbling on its feet, just on the other side of the destroyed robo-vac. It looked unsteady, dazed, as if it was trying to regain its focus. Scarlet was wary of it. He wondered if mice were like rats – if the smell of blood would send them into a frenzy, as he had heard would happen with a band of hungry rats. He was injured, and by the way he was presently feeling right now, he had lost a lot of blood – just enough, he was prepared to wager, to actually learn if his suspicions were right.
“Paul? Are you all right? Please answer me!”
The sound of Rhapsody’s voice pulled Scarlet out of his thoughts; his eyes still on the mouse, he tried to make his way towards the nearby grille, crawling on his back.
Unfortunately, the obviously dizzy mouse had also heard Rhapsody’s voice – and became aware of his presence as well.
It swiftly turned its head to look over its shoulder.
Scarlet’s eyes became wide with total shock.
One of the rodent’s eyes, staring right at him, was bright red – and blinking unsteadily like a Christmas light, while on that side of its head, from the ear to the start of the jaw, all the fur and ‘flesh’ surrounding it had burned away to reveal an intricate piece of circuitry and mechanical parts.
“Oh my God…” Scarlet whispered. “That’s not a real mouse at all… it’s a robot!”
“Paul?” That was Rhapsody again. Scarlet looked in alarm in the direction of the grille and saw the shadows beyond it move. Huge, feminine fingers appeared through the mesh and closed on it. “We’re opening the vent now. You’d better have a good explanation of what is going on, or else!”
The robot mouse also turned to look towards the vent, its ears moving as if listening to the voice; Scarlet could hear the whirring of its now damaged mechanical components as the mouse gathered its feet beneath itself, obviously getting ready to pounce. He wasn’t the target; the robot’s eyes were fixed on the grille.
It was planning an escape.
A sharp jerk wrenched the grille out and it was slowly removed from its frame.
“Look out!” Scarlet called loudly. “The mouse is…”
His cry died on his lips as the mouse made its leap. It skimmed over Scarlet, knocking him down to the floor in the process. Dazed, the diminutive captain looked up as the mouse disappeared through the opening – and what he imagined to be cries of shock and horror echoed through the vents and into his confused mind.
Women… That’s so typical. They’ll bravely face any Mysteron assassin, but they’re unable to cope with a tiny mouse…
That was his last thought before finally giving in to unconsciousness.
The three Angels gathered around the now opened vent couldn’t help crying out in surprise, when they were startled by the unexpected appearance of the mouse suddenly emerging from the opening. The most surprised was certainly Rhapsody, who had started leaning in front of the opening, in order to get a look inside and find out what exactly was going on with Scarlet. The mouse passed literally right in front of her nose and slipped by the side of her head, grazing her ear and hair as it did. Gasping, she instinctively threw herself back.
“Dirty little bugger!” she muttered under her breath. She watched with dismay as the rodent quickly darted across the floor, in no particular direction, in an obvious attempt to escape those nasty humans surrounding it. It was by pure chance that it headed straight to Destiny, who had stepped away as soon as she saw the mouse coming out of the vent. Symphony was giving chase, and Rhapsody was unsure what the American actually expected to do if she could get her hands on the mouse.
The small creature was now at the foot of the bookcase on the far wall, and suddenly everything came to an abrupt halt.
A very large and heavy book dropped on top of the mouse, squashing it on the spot and putting an end to its getaway. Symphony skidded to a stop and looked with mystification at the spot where the book had fallen. The words ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica, Book of the Year 2070’ were written in huge golden letters on the cover and seemed to be taunting her.
Booted feet came into view and Symphony raised her eyes from them and up the legs and body to finally find Destiny’s features, looking down with obvious irritation at the huge book.
“And that, petit salopard, will teach you not to mess with me!” the French girl seethed between her clenched teeth.
“Congratulations,” Symphony said matter-of-factly. “You just killed your worst enemy.”
“Hardly,” Destiny said, glaring at her. “I just rid ourselves of an annoying pest.”
“In the meantime, we’ll have to clean up that mess,” Symphony noted.
Destiny made a face, disgusted at the idea. “I am not looking under that book,” she protested.
“Of course not,” Symphony said, amused at her friend’s display. She leaned down and carefully lifted the book, under Destiny’s wary eyes. Both Angels fully expected to find a crushed corpse of mingled hair, bones and flesh in the middle of a little puddle of blood.
Instead, they discovered a destroyed mechanical object, made of false fur, wires, and electronic circuits, bathed in what looked like oil…
“Well, I’ll be…” Symphony lifted the ‘mouse’ by its tail and looked at it with curiosity, imitated by Destiny. “It’s a small robot…”
“A what?!” Rhapsody called. She was kneeling in front of the vent opening again, and had raised her head upon hearing Symphony’s comment.
“A robot,” Symphony repeated. “Probably remote-controlled…”
“I can’t believe it...” Rhapsody’s temper was getting the better of her again. She leaned in front of the opening and looked inside the vent, trying to see through the darkness inside. She could see the interior of the vent and now had confirmation that it was definitely too small for her fiancé to slip inside of it. She could barely fit in there herself! She now suspected that something was terribly wrong. “Paul, do you hear me? I swear to you, if all of this, mouse included, is part of an elaborate hoax, I will personally wring your neck!”
“And I’ll be helping her!” Destiny declared, moving from her spot to get close to Rhapsody.
Before an answer could reach them, the door suddenly slid open, and a group of five security guards entered the Amber Room, startling the Angels, and quickly spread around the room.
“What is going on now?” Destiny demanded with a perplexed frown. She watched as the guards started looking around, into all the corners, obviously in search of something. Captains Blue and Grey entered in turn, and were now giving instructions to the guards, much to the Angels’ surprise. Captain Ochre followed behind, a Mysteron detector in his hands.
“Don’t let anyone out,” Grey ordered. “Look everywhere, don’t leave a single cushion unturned or a book unopened. We must find this communication device.”
“What communication device?” Destiny asked, approaching. She watched warily as Ochre pointed the Mysteron detector in her direction.
“I’m sorry for the intrusion, Destiny,” Blue apologised. “But Lieutenant Green discovered an unauthorised radio transmission coming from the Amber Room.”
“She’s clean,” Ochre announced, after checking out the picture from the detector.
“Of course I am!” Destiny protested angrily, as Ochre turned to face Symphony.
“Have you noticed anything in the Amber Room lately?” Blue asked, trying to dismiss Ochre’s verification of the American Angel from his mind. “Anything strange, remotely out of place?”
Destiny’s frown deepened. “Do you want a list?”
Blue frowned, not appreciating the sarcastic note behind Destiny’s tone. Behind the French woman, he could see Grey’s epaulettes flashing white, and his colleague answering the call from the Control Room in a hushed tone.
“Clean too,” Ochre announced, after checking on Symphony’s picture. Blue smiled widely, seeing the X-ray image in Ochre’s hand.
“Did you have any doubt?” Symphony asked, raising a brow.
“It’s just a formality, Angels,” Ochre said, with a reassuring smile. “Your turn, Rhapsody…” For the first time, he and Blue discovered the English pilot crouched in front of the opened vent. He frowned in perplexity. “What are you doing there?”
“I’m afraid you won’t believe me,” she said with a sheepish smile, looking up with slight apprehension as a guard cautiously approached her. She realised that her strange position now looked rather suspicious, in view of what was presently happening.
“Try us,” Blue stated brusquely, while Ochre pointed the detector at Rhapsody.
She hesitated. “Well, it all started with a mouse running through the Amber Room and into the vents…”
“A mouse?” Blue repeated.
“… And then we heard Captain Scarlet’s voice coming from there…”
“Scarlet?! Rhapsody, that doesn’t make sense… Mice and Scarlet?”
“One mouse, to be exact,” Symphony corrected. Blue turned to face her, disbelief plain on his face. She continued, quietly: “Destiny killed it. Squashed it with the Book of the Year from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to be precise.”
“This is no joke, Angels,” Blue said rather abruptly.
“We are not joking, Captain,” Symphony retorted.
“Blue, Ochre,” Grey then announced, attracting attention to himself. “I just received a message from Green. He lost the transmission. He says it went dead all of a sudden.”
“Did any of it get through security?” Blue asked.
“None, fortunately. Green was able to intercept and block it. And then, apparently, it just… died. As if suddenly cut off in the middle.”
“How bizarre,” Blue murmured thoughtfully. “Did our presence suddenly interrupt it?”
“Rhapsody’s clean,” Ochre then announced, presenting the last picture from the Mysteron detector to his colleagues. “None of them are Mysterons. Not that I really thought they would be, but better safe than sorry, as they say…”
“Very reassuring to hear that,” Rhapsody said rather dryly. “Captain Blue, we did hear Captain Scarlet’s voice through the vents.”
“Now then,” Ochre said in a mocking tone, “are you telling us Scarlet has been transformed into a mouse and that Destiny squashed him?”
“Don’t be absurd, Captain,” an annoyed Rhapsody retorted harshly, at the risk of seeing herself accused of disrespect towards a superior officer. Her patience was wearing thin. “All I know is that at the moment, we don’t hear him anymore. He told us he was injured and trapped.”
Blue was still perplexed; he approached Rhapsody’s position and crouched in front of the opened vent. “Scarlet has been missing for hours,” he said, leaning to look into the darkness. “We’ve been looking for him all over the base. We thought his disappearance might have something to do with the present Mysteron threat.”
“Maybe he was captured by whoever is responsible for those transmissions we intercepted, and he’s being kept prisoner somewhere?” Ochre suggested. “Maybe this vent communicates to wherever he’s being held? And he’s been using that vent to call for help?”
“But where could that place be?” Blue muttered. “I thought we searched every inch of Cloudbase… We might need the base blueprints if you are right, Ochre.”
“That doesn’t explain why the transmissions were coming from here,” Grey remarked suddenly, as Blue was poking his head inside the vent to look deeper inside. “Nor why they stopped suddenly, when we arrived.”
“It’s the same as in New York,” Ochre remarked. “Those signals stopped, so we couldn’t find their source.”
Symphony was pensive, watching as the security guards continued their search by throwing all the books off their shelves and looking behind them. Before long, she realised, the place would be a fine mess. “Captain Grey, when did those signals stop exactly?”
“According to Green, about one minute before we came in here,” Grey answered. “Why?”
“I think I know why those signals stopped, then,” she said thoughtfully.
“You do?” Ochre asked with surprise.
“Uh-uh. I think their source was effectively destroyed.” With both Grey and Ochre turning their undivided attention to her, she theatrically raised her hand, and produced the half-shattered electronic mouse she was still holding by the tail. She smiled impishly, when they opened disbelieving eyes. “And you thought we were kidding you?”
Destiny, standing only a short distance away, nodded her sudden understanding of Symphony’s line of thought.
“What is this thing?” Grey asked with a frown.
“The remains of the mouse Destiny smashed,” Symphony replied. “That’s when we discovered it wasn’t really a mouse.”
“That’s some kind of robot,” Ochre realised.
“Yep. And I’m sure that if you examined it carefully, you’ll find inside whatever communication device was used to send those transmissions you intercepted earlier – and which were interrupted when Destiny heroically destroyed this mouse.” She delicately deposited the electronic mouse in Ochre’s hand, and he looked at it thoughtfully, musing about this new discovery.
“I bet we’ll find more than a communication device,” he grumbled. “How do you wanna bet there’s also in there a miniaturised but complete kit for the perfect little spy?”
“I’m not betting,” Grey retorted. “Because I’m sure you’re right.”
“People,” Blue called urgently, pulling his head out of the vent to look over his shoulder. “I need a flashlight, quickly. I found something in there… But I can’t see what it is!”
“There’s the emergency torch right next to the door,” Rhapsody said, getting to her feet. “I’ll get it for you.”
It was a warm feeling across his face that pulled Scarlet out of his momentary unconsciousness, and that prompted him to slowly open his eyes. He still felt a bit drowsy, but the blinding light now flashing in his eyes made it impossible for him to go back to sleep. He groaned against the far too bright light, and raised his arm to try to protect his eyes, and at the same time, tried to see what could be causing it. He heard a loud gasp echoing into the vents and leaned his head to the side, still unable to see past the warm light.
It looked like a powerful projector of some sort – no, he realised, suddenly, it was a torch. He could see giant fingers holding it steady, and beyond that, there was a giant blue eye, surmounted by a blond eyebrow, which was opened in obvious disbelief upon discovering him.
“Oh, my God…” a very recognisable voice said, in what was probably a murmur, that echoed loudly inside the vents. “I don’t believe it!”
Scarlet gave a faint but still very genuine smile upon finally being able to perceive the giant blond head that he was now seeing stuck inside the opening of the vent, looking in his direction, slack-jawed and wide-eyed with complete incredulity. “Hi, Adam,” he said in a slurred voice. “So glad to see you… I never thought I would ever tell you this, big fellow, but… would you give me a lift, please? I would very much like to get out of this dreadful place…”
“Very ingenious,” commented Colonel White. He was in the Conference Room, standing in front of the table, and looking down with interest at the motionless object lying in the middle of a handkerchief. Half destroyed, with little metallic bits and wires lying all around it, and fake hair half burned by the electronic parts that had short-circuited underneath it, the robot-mouse was lying on its side, its electronic eyes now dead and dark, staring into nothingness.
Captain Grey, standing next to White, had just finished making his report concerning the incident.
“Very ingenious indeed,” White repeated, taking the mouse by the tail and raising it in front of his eyes to check on it more closely. “So that’s what has been causing us so much trouble in New York Headquarters – and then here, on Cloudbase.”
“Yes, Sir. A closer examination told us that this robot is equipped with a miniature camera, recorder and radio transmitter. This is definitely the spy we were looking for.”
“How did it get from New York to here?” White asked with a raised brow, putting the mouse down onto the table.
“The most likely answer, Sir, would be that this… ‘mouse’ simply stowed away in the SPJ that brought Captain Ochre and me back to Cloudbase. That should be easy to check, mind you. Surveillance cameras in New York should have picked up the mouse’s presence at some point. Maybe even caught it as it slipped inside the plane.”
White nodded slowly. “And once on Cloudbase, following the Mysterons’ threat, this robot started patrolling the base, in search of anything worthwhile to record.”
“Yes, Sir,” Grey concurred. “It seems that its micro-circuitry permitted it to make ‘decisions’ about what was worth filming and recording, to be subsequently stored in its memory – amazingly extensive, for the size of that thing. Apparently, the mouse was capable of logical ‘thoughts’ – and would be able to make decisions about where to go and what should be recorded or not. It also had built-in security features. Most of them made the robot act like a normal mouse… for example, it would run and hide whenever it was spotted.”
“Like a real mouse would do,” White remarked.
“Exactly. But when cornered, it would also fight back – even attack, if need be.”
“Did it get much information while roaming the base?”
“Quite a surprising amount, Colonel. This mouse has been nearly everywhere on the lower deck of Cloudbase. Mainly in the Engine Room. It’s a good thing we intercepted the transmission right at the start, or we’d be in a lot of trouble right now.”
“And you are sure it didn’t send a message earlier?” White insisted. “Considering the amount of information you say it had gathered, it would seem to me that it might have tried to pass it on to its… ‘owner’, as soon as possible.”
“Lieutenant Green, and the rest of the communication team, are quite positive: no unauthorised message had been able to pass through. Our security net was quite effective.” Grey sighed. “Apparently, following the failure of the previous break-in in New York, the mouse had been able to analyse that any attempt to transmit a signal would be detected and intercepted. So, it is possible that, once its mission was finished, it would have returned to the hangar and waited for an opportunity to stow away inside a departing plane.”
“Then, once on the ground, it would have slipped out of our sight and started transmitting the information it had stored, to whoever was waiting for it.”
Grey nodded, concurring to that statement. “The robot only attempted a transmission at the end, because it was trapped, and in danger of being destroyed.”
“An ultimate, desperate effort, until Destiny smashed it to pieces,” White murmured with dry humour, looking down at the mouse. “Do we know where it comes from and who it was supposed to be transmitting to?”
“Ah, yes… Searching records with appropriate key words did provide us with information about this – from old FAB files. A counter-espionage agency had been working on a similar project – dubbed ‘the Mighty Atom’ – some forty years ago. One of the prototypes had been stolen, and was never found. But they had worked on a second one – more advanced – only to abandon the project once complete because it didn’t seem that there could be a useful application for it. The new prototype had been stored in a vault since then.. And then, everyone forgot about it. Until two weeks ago, when it disappeared.”
“Stolen, of course.”
“The security cameras picked up a rather indistinct image of the thief, and we’ve been given a description of the man. And it is a rather familiar description, Sir: tall, dark-haired, male Caucasian with a pale complexion, dressed in black …”
“Captain Black?” White said, raising a brow.
Grey nodded in confirmation. “I’ve asked for a picture of the culprit, just to make sure. But I have no doubt that it is him, Colonel.”
So, I suppose we don’t need further proof that the presence of this mouse on this base is indeed the work of the Mysterons, then.”
“There’s no doubt about it, Sir,” Grey agreed.
“Yes, this is indeed very ingenious. Small, swift, capable of getting anywhere unnoticed… The heat sensors would not even be able to pick it up, because, as it’s not a warm, living being, it would not generate any heat.”
“The only heat the sensors in the vents actually picked up was in fact Scarlet’s,” Grey confirmed.
“And they mistakenly assumed he was a rodent,” White concluded. “Mmm… I suppose this is kind of amusing, but I doubt that Captain Scarlet would be able to see the humour in it.”
“I don’t think he would, Sir,” Grey agreed, fighting to keep the smile off his lips.
“Especially since he was gassed, because of this mistake,” White continued. “The gas, of course, had no effect whatsoever on the mouse – since it wasn’t alive to breathe it.” He paused for a second. “How is Captain Scarlet, anyway?” he asked. “Aside from… ‘being small’, that is.” He had seen Scarlet earlier, not long after he had been recovered from the vents by Captain Blue. White had to admit, at that very moment, it was probably one of the biggest surprises he had ever had in his life, seeing his best man reduced to a midget only a few inches high. Well, right next to discovering the Mysterons’ existence, probably…
And then, right next to finding out a man can be brought back to life after having been killed…
Why does it always have to happen to Scarlet, anyway?
Grey sighed. “He’s very frustrated, apparently. Mind you, Sir, anybody who’s been reduced to three inches tall would feel the same way as he does at the moment. I know I would.”
“As would I,” White said. “Well, Doctors Fawn and Lavender are examining him – and the device in this book, that seems to be responsible for Scarlet’s present state.”
“Captain Magenta is also studying that device, Sir,” Grey confirmed. “But so far, nothing has been found to – help Scarlet get back to his normal size.”
A buzzing sound interrupted him before he could continue and White leaned over the table to press the comm. button. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“The SPJ from Bristol just arrived, Sir,” the voice of Lieutenant Green announced. “With Captain Forest and his guest.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’m on my way to the hangar.” White turned to Grey, taking his cap from the table. “With any luck, here’s someone who might be able to shed some light on the mystery surrounding this strange device and Captain Scarlet’s present state. At least, let us just hope so… for Scarlet’s sake.”
Captain Forest was gently pushing the wheelchair down the ramp leading off the SPJ and onto the concrete floor of the hangar, towards the waiting Colonel White. The latter was fighting the urge to actually salute the elderly man sitting quietly in the chair, with his cane across his knees, and looking around him with barely-contained curiosity.
When Charles Gray had joined the Universal Secret Service many years ago, Paul Blake, then a junior Director, was already close to retirement. But due to the many irregularities that occurred daily in the British Section of the U.S.S. at the time – such as infiltration by double agents, corruption, treason and even murders – Blake, a thoroughly honest man in a period where such men were absolutely invaluable to the Service, had stayed a few years longer. Along with a few other trustworthy agents – such as Charles Gray himself – Blake had contributed greatly to the investigation and the subsequent cleaning up operation that followed. Blake’s last action within the U.S.S. was to recommend Gray as head of the U.S.S. British Section in London, knowing full well that the younger man would pursue the task of keeping the U.S.S. clean and safe.
As he watched the old man being rolled in his direction, Colonel White could see the spark of recognition in his blue eyes, from behind those thick lenses he was wearing.
“I know you,” Blake said, nodding his head meaningfully, staring into White’s face, as Captain Forest stopped the wheelchair in front of his commander.
“Welcome to Cloudbase, Mr. Blake,” White declaimed formally. “I am Colonel White.”
“Colonel White, mmm?” Blake said with a raised brow. “A lighter shade of pale, it would seem to me.”
Colonel White smiled faintly. Close to ninety or not, the old man still had all his wits. I hope to be as sharp as he is when I’m his age…
“It is good to see you again, Sir,” he told Blake candidly.
“So this is where you ended up,” Blake pursued. “Commander in Chief of Spectrum… Nicely done, Charles… or should I say, Sir Charles? They couldn’t have got a better man for the job… or the honour.” He smiled in turn. “It is good to see you too.”
With a motion of his hand, White invited Blake to follow. He walked alongside the wheelchair, as the older man pushed a button that powered up the chair’s silent motor, and send it rolling forward. As for Forest, he followed just behind, silently, as they all moved towards the airlock leading out of the hangar.
“I hope the flight wasn’t too inconvenient for you,” White told his guest.
“Are you kidding? It’s been ages since I had such an exciting time!” Blake protested. “And the view from the window of the plane of this… floating carrier, was worth the whole trip. Too bad I didn’t bring my camera…”
“My officers would have had to confiscate it,” White said matter-of-factly. “Naturally.”
“Naturally,” Blake repeated, in almost the same tone. “Though it’s not as if I would have sold the pictures to the highest bidder, is it?”
As a sudden thought struck him, remembering the content of the last Mysteron threat, Colonel White turned towards Captain Forest, with a look of interrogation, without even slowing his pace.
“He’s clean, Sir,” Forest responded reassuringly to his commander’s mute question.
White knew the answer referred to the fact that Blake was free of any weapon or recording device – and to the confirmation that he had successfully passed the Mysteron Detector test as well. He thanked his junior officer with a brief nod, just as Blake stopped his chair. He glared meaningfully at White, who had stopped walking.
“Now, surely, Charles, you didn’t think for a second that I…”
“Forgive me, Mr. Blake,” White interrupted him quickly. “But we had a little… problem, recently, with… er… unauthorised recording devices, here on Cloudbase. Surely you would understand that we’re not leaving anything to chance.”
“Even to the point of suspecting me?” Blake grumbled.
“Believe me,” White replied in a conciliatory tone, “Spectrum has to stay vigilant every minute of the day… Especially in our fight against the Mysterons. They have a way of apparently using ‘friends’ and ‘relatives’, people you thought you knew and trusted all your life, to carry out their plans.”
“They fight dirty, these Mysterons,” Blake reflected, narrowing his eyes.
“Indeed, they do, Sir.”
“I think I can relate to that kind of fight, ‘Colonel’. As you may well know.” Blake gave a sigh, the question now obviously settled in his mind. He put his chair in motion again, directing it towards the exit. Colonel White started walking by his side, Forest still following behind. Blake turned again to White. “Right, so since I’m… ‘clean’, as your captain so delicately put it, I suppose I’m permitted to ask for a grand tour of your base, then? Of course, we’ll leave out any restricted area…”
“I’ll be glad to give you the tour myself, Mr. Blake,” White answered with an approving smile. “That is, as soon as we have attended to the business that brought you here.”
“Ah yes… Of course,” Blake confirmed. “I’m guessing it has to do with that ‘Bible’ I gave my grandson by mistake?”
“In a nutshell, Sir… yes. We… encountered a small problem with the device it contained.”
At the sound of these words, Blake stopped the chair again, and spun it towards White, who had stopped in his tracks. The older man narrowed his eyes to the colonel in an inquiring way, a suspicion forming in his mind.
“Knowing my grandson, I’m fairly sure he’s in some kind of trouble.”
White raised a brow. “You know your grandson well, then,” he noted.
“Of course I do. Now, then. What has he done to himself, this time?”
White shook his head. “All right, I will tell you… and then show you. But I have to tell you: you might not believe any of this…”
In one of Sickbay’s laboratories, Captain Scarlet, seated on a small box on a table, and now healed from his earlier wounds, was waiting impatiently. Right next to him was a huge microscope, through which Doctor Fawn was looking, examining a sample of his blood, while Doctor Lavender, head of Cloudbase’s Research and Development Centre, and Captain Magenta were working at a nearby table, studying the device inserted inside the Bible, and consulting between themselves. Captain Blue and Captain Ochre were also present as observers, standing next to Fawn, and impatiently waiting to see what results the research had turned up concerning their friend and colleague’s appalling situation.
To say that Scarlet was not in a good mood was putting it mildly.
As far as he was concerned, nothing was going right; he was still a three-inch-high midget, but now, of all the humiliations, he was out of proper clothes to wear. His uniform had taken quite a beating during his adventure in the vents, so he had been forced to take it off. He was now wearing a kind of tunic that Blue had improvised for him, made of a piece of handkerchief with a hole cut in it for his head, and tied around the waist with a rather-too-long strip of the same fabric.
The oh-so-tiny uniform desperately needed a good cleaning before it could be worn again. Rhapsody Angel had volunteered to wash it, stating that she didn’t really trust the Laundry Room not to lose it, if it was put in with a regular load of washing. Since she couldn’t be present in Sickbay while people were attempting to find a way to get Scarlet back to his rightful size – at least, not without the risk of revealing their relationship – Rhapsody was feeling rather powerless, and welcomed the opportunity to make herself useful. Scarlet was also only too pleased to accept her offer, considering that that uniform might be the only decent thing he had to wear, if the efforts to bring him back to his normal size took much longer. He missed Rhapsody, but in a way was also grateful that she could not be there. He couldn’t bear the look on her face when she saw him in this too-vulnerable form – he had seen it earlier, and although she was trying to present a brave façade, she could not hide her distress from him. He could also see a very similar expression on all of his friends’ faces – Blue’s especially, whose sympathy and compassion were so very obvious… And perhaps... a certain amount of amusement? Scarlet pondered. He had seen a peculiar spark in Blue’s eyes earlier - and he wasn’t all that sure that he had not seen the same – ever so brief – in Rhapsody’s eyes either.
Do I REALLY want to know what that was all about?
On the same line of thought, Scarlet barely could tolerate to be yet again considered an object of curiosity, and to be treated like a guinea pig, by Fawn – whom he knew, however, to have only his best interests at heart – but especially by Lavender, whose inquisitive mind was only fascinated by whatever scientific information such a situation presented to him. At least, Scarlet knew he could fully count on Edward to actually do everything in his power to help him. After all, he was his friend…
“It’s a fine mess you’ve got yourself into this time, Captain.”
Hearing Fawn’s grunted remark, Scarlet came out of his fugue and raised his head, furrowing his brows in protest and glaring at Fawn, who was still looking through his microscope.
“Me?!” Scarlet lashed out in surprise. “What are you saying, Doc? That I put myself into this situation on purpose? Need I remind you that I am the victim, here! I had my leg nearly torn off by a mouse, and…”
He was suddenly interrupted by the loud guffaw of Captain Ochre; Blue looked a little embarrassed by the obviously amused attitude displayed by his compatriot and was nudging him with his elbow to try to shut him up. Since he had come into the room a good half-hour before, to see what was going on, Ochre had tried to keep quiet – but it was obviously too much of a temptation for him not to say anything and have a good laugh at Scarlet’s expense.
Scarlet knew Ochre well enough to suspect it was his colleague’s own way of hiding his own discomfort and concern for a friend. Maybe he was attempting to make the situation less strained. However, even knowing that didn’t help to calm Scarlet’s fiery temper in the slightest. He doesn’t have to try so hard, though… Scarlet’s temper rose one degree.
“And what are you laughing at?” he asked angrily, lashing out at Ochre.
“You should have heard yourself,” Ochre answered, wiping a tear from his eye. “‘I had my leg nearly torn off by a mouse’,” he said, giving an almost perfect imitation of Scarlet’s English accent. “My God, this is too funny…”
“There was nothing funny about it,” Scarlet complained forcefully. “If you had been in my place, Ochre, you wouldn’t think so, either!”
“Sorry,” Ochre said, with an expression that plainly said that he was anything but repentant. “I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t all that peachy for you down there… in the vents.” He obviously had tremendous trouble not to laugh, and was hiding his smile behind his hand, in a falsely thoughtful posture. “Say, it must have been interesting too. While you were gazing into the Amber Room, you had a good vantage point from the floor – I think Symphony was wearing a skirt, did you…”
“OCHRE!” Blue objected loudly, suddenly worried that his colleague would go too far in his train of thought.
kidding!” Ochre said with a mischievous smile.
“Say, why are you here, exactly?” Blue asked with irritation. “Don’t you have anything to do, anywhere you have to go – anyone else you might want to pester?” The tone was becoming insistent, but Ochre affected not to notice.
“I’m here for moral support,” he said in a casual tone.
“Well, you’re not helping any!” Magenta said from his station.
listen to him,” Scarlet called in Magenta’s direction. “And concentrate on finding a solution to my
“I’m afraid it’s not as easy as it sounds, Captain,” Doctor Lavender then remarked, standing up straight and removing his glasses. “Captain Magenta and I have been studying this device for several hours, and have not even come close to discovering how it actually works.”
“Do you really have to find out how it works?” Scarlet said irately. “All you really need to know is the right combination to get me back to normal size, isn’t that right?”
“No,” was the combined answer from Lavender, Magenta and Fawn alike. The latter still had his eyes glued to the eyepiece of his microscope.
“What do you mean, no?”
“We mean that if we don’t actually know how it works, and considering we don’t have any idea of the combination that was used to ‘downsize’ you, it might be dangerous to try any combination on you and see if it will work,” Fawn explained.
“What danger could there be?” Blue asked. “He’s indestructible, yes?”
Lavender made a sucking sound. “Oh, well… that might be part of the problem, you see… If we get the combination wrong and the experiment goes haywire, how would the captain feel if he should end up as an indestructible and formless mass of flesh, bones and blood?”
There was a stunned silence, following which Scarlet swallowed hard. “I wouldn’t like that at all,” he confirmed.
“So, that’s why we need to take this easy,” Fawn said, still looking into his eyepiece. “Be patient, Scarlet.”
“Easy for you to say,” Scarlet mumbled, scowling. “You’re not the one who hardly comes up to the knee of a Barbie doll.”
“Let alone a real life, grown-up woman,” Ochre said with a grin.
“Captain Ochre,” Doctor Fawn said warningly, “if you are unable to hold your tongue, I will have you forcibly removed. We need to work in peace and quiet and you are not helping with your idiotic comments!”
Before Ochre could reply, one way or the other, the door slid open. An elderly man in an electric wheelchair entered, followed closely by Colonel White. Everyone stopped what they were doing; at the sight of the visitors, Scarlet jumped from his box and stood up.
“Colonel White,” he said in confusion.
“At ease, Captain,” White said with a gesture. “I brought you a visitor…”
“Granddad,” Scarlet said with surprise in his voice. “What are you doing here?”
“Dear God in Heaven,” Paul Blake answered, rolling astonished eyes at the sight of his reduced grandson. “Paul, what on Earth have you done to yourself? I told you not to touch that device. Look what it did to you!”
“Now wait a minute here, Granddad,” Scarlet protested in annoyance, frowning deeply. “You should know that your warning came a little too late.”
“A little all right,” Ochre said in an undertone, chuckling. That won him an incensed glare from Captain Blue, apparently the only one to have heard him.
“Did you know what this device could do?” Scarlet asked as his grandfather stopped the chair in front of the table.
“Well, yes… and no, actually,” Paul Blake confessed. “To tell you the truth, Matthew never told me exactly. I just had some suspicions of what it might be used for, you see. Rumours going around the Bishop Department at the time… and some barely concealed comments made by my superior. They all sounded ludicrous, really… And I even thought at some point people were leading me on… Now I see it was not the case.”
“No, it certainly is not the case,” Scarlet mumbled.
“I had no idea a man could be reduced to that size,” Blake continued.
“What size do you reckon the people using that device would go for?” Colonel White asked.
“Oh… in what I thought was only banter, my superior mentioned something of about one to two feet tall, I suppose.”
“Which is a lot taller than I am at the moment,” Scarlet remarked. “So probably a different combination of the keys would give a different size.”
“That seems to be the case,” Lavender approved, leaving his table, and approaching with Magenta. “We need to find what numeric code was used, before you were reduced to that size, Captain Scarlet – and find what numeric code will ‘undo’ the process.”
“Can’t you remember that code, Captain?” White asked.
Scarlet sighed. “No, Sir. I’m sorry to say.”
“Sir,” Captain Blue then added, “Captain Scarlet and I – we punched so many different keys in so many different orders, it’s simply impossible to recall. I’m afraid I can’t be of any help, either. I wish I could…”
Blake sighed. “Well, when I was told earlier that there was some sort of problem concerning the device, I took the precaution of bringing this with me.” He searched in the inside pocket of his vest, and produced a small black notebook; he handed it to Fawn. “Matthew gave it to me. At the same time he entrusted me with the device, all those years ago,” he explained as Fawn opened the book to look inside, with Lavender leaning over his shoulder to get a look too. “It’s filled with graphics, scientific formulae, notes…”
“… And what looks like numeric codes,” Lavender murmured, in an interested tone. “Well, I think this thing might help us a lot in our research, don’t you think, Doctor Fawn?”
“Do you reckon?” Blake asked with a brow raised in doubt, and shrugging his shoulders. “I tried reading that stuff, it was all Greek to me. Couldn’t help me to work out how to use the device either.”
“Well, we might be able to understand it enough to help your grandson,” Fawn told the old man, with a reassuring smile. He closed the book, much to the dismay of Doctor Lavender who was still reading it with absorbed interest. “We had better get on with it, too,” Fawn continued, turning around. “If you will excuse Doctor Lavender and me…”
“Of course, Doctor,” White acknowledged with a nod.
“This is so very interesting,” Lavender said, following as Fawn stepped towards the other table. “Have you read that note on the second paragraph, Doctor? So that is how it is done… How fascinating…”
The rest was lost to prying ears as the two doctors put the book down on the table and started studying the contents, consulting in low tones and oblivious to everyone else’s presence. Colonel White turned to Blake.
“I think we’d better leave our resident scientists to their work, Sir. If I know them, I’m sure they’ll come up with a solution in no time – and will get your grandson to his regular size, once they have deciphered the contents of that notebook.”
“I’m so very sorry about what happened to you, Paul,” Blake said, looking at Scarlet with a contrite expression. “I’m aware that this is all my fault…”
“No, it’s not,” Scarlet reassured him with a smile. “You couldn’t know what would happen, Granddad. You were right: I shouldn’t have touched that thing, without knowing what it would do.”
“Well, you could hardly know that it could do that to you,” Blake reasoned.
“That’s a fact,” agreed Scarlet. “So maybe we should blame it all on a very foolish accident?”
“An accident that actually had a purpose,” Blue remarked with a smirk. “Let’s face it, Scarlet, if you hadn’t been reduced in size the way you were, this spying mouse would never have been discovered in the first place.”
“And the Mysterons might have succeeded in their threat this time,” Ochre agreed, with a smile of his own. “But they failed. All that because Spectrum’s tiniest hero ever ended up in the same air vents as their diminutive, furry spy robot…”
“Mouse? Air vents? Spy robot? What are you all going on about?” Blake sounded and looked perplexed, as he looked inquisitively at each officer surrounding him.
“It’s a long story, Granddad,” Scarlet said with a deep sigh.
“Indeed, and a very interesting report it will make, Captain,” White remarked, permitting himself a slight smile. “That is – when you’re big enough to use your computer keyboard. In the meantime, I’ll take your grandfather to the guest quarters, and bring him up to date with what you and your colleagues have been telling me of what happened. I believe you’ll be quite busy, in a short while, when the good doctors attempt to ‘enlarge’ you.”
“To six foot one, not an inch shorter,” Scarlet said in a gloomy tone. “At least… I hope they’ll get it right and it’ll be over soon!”
Following the departure of Colonel White and Paul Blake, and then of Captains Blue and Ochre, Doctors Lavender and Fawn, with the help of Captain Magenta, became very absorbed in studying the notebook Blake had handed them. A few hours after that, they felt confident enough to put their newly acquired knowledge to work and attempted three experiments to get Captain Scarlet back to his own size.
All of them, unfortunately, failed miserably.
The ‘Minimiser’ – as they learned it was called, from the notes in the book – did produce a display of blinding light and sound, as the book said it would – and as Scarlet had reported from his previous experiment – but nothing actually happened. Much to Scarlet’s growing frustration, but to Fawn’s actual relief.
“Back to square one,” Scarlet muttered dejectedly , sitting down heavily on his box, after the last failed attempt.
“Don’t be a pessimist,” Doctor Fawn said encouragingly. “At least, you didn’t end up a pulsating lump of living flesh…”
Scarlet grimaced. The Cloudbase medical chief officer had not hidden his concern during the tests that they might go terribly wrong and something dreadful might happen to Scarlet. Going against Lavender’s wishes to go right ahead with the experiments, he had insisted that a series of trials were run on inanimate objects – a baseball, a piece of cloth, even a few fruits. The objects had not been reduced, unfortunately, but at least they had stayed intact. And Fawn had finally agreed to submit Scarlet to the effects of rays produced by the device. After all, the results might be more encouraging with a living person…
It was not to be the case.
And it had not done anyone’s morale any good. Especially Scarlet’s.
“That should have worked,” Lavender had proclaimed, checking in the notebook. “Are we sure we have the right number sequences?”
“Those we tried seemed the most likely,” Fawn sighed.
“Maybe Green and I should get together,” Magenta offered, “and run a program listing all possibilities of number sequences. Taking into account the information in the notebook, we’re bound to find one that works.”
“It might take an awfully long time!” Scarlet reflected. “It sounds like playing the lottery.”
“We might not have much choice,” Fawn retorted. “And we could program it into one of the medical robots, to keep pressing sequence after sequence, to make it quicker…”
“Still with me playing guinea pig, though,” Scarlet grunted.
“It might not be a solution,” Lavender intervened, thoughtfully. “Maybe one of the sequences we tried was the good one. We might be overlooking details, a few relevant data that we should have taken into consideration. Like an outside source, maybe… that might have caused the process to fail.”
“Like what?” asked Fawn.
“How about nuclear radiation emanating from Cloudbase’s reactors?” Lavender offered. “I mean, it could have caused an interference that might have somehow changed – or temporarily disrupted – the normal miniaturising effects – or even the enlargement effects.”
“I doubt it very much,” Magenta retorted. “Considering that this base runs round the clock, with state-of-the art equipment that need to be ultra-efficient, and that people are living here twenty-four hours a day, Cloudbase uses the cleanest form of nuclear energy you can imagine. Our reactors are under constant watch. Possibility of nuclear emission – however faint – is close to zero. Nothing to cause any harm to personnel or equipment. So I can imagine that it would not affect the Minimiser either.”
“How about solar flares?” Lavender asked.
“Don’t you think they were taken into consideration when they put this base up here, in the stratosphere?” Fawn remarked in turn. “Cloudbase has been equipped with the best solar shields you can imagine.”
“I don’t mean your ‘regular’, run-of-the-mill flares, Doctor – I mean something huge, that might have disrupted the device, even temporarily – of course, one would have to admit that it would have also been felt throughout the base – it would have disrupted the instruments too.”
“And we would have known about it,” Magenta remarked.
Lavender went pensive. “Cloudbase is equipped with a cloaking device, yes?”
“Stealth capacity?” Scarlet said. “Yes… The best there is, actually.”
“So the base can move about without being spotted by every radar and satellite in the world,” Magenta continued.
Lavender nodded slowly. “If it had been turned on at the moment the Minimiser reduced Captain Scarlet…”
“It could have caused a magnetic interference,” Magenta admitted.
But Fawn shook his head dismissively. “But Sickbay is normally informed every time the stealth capacity is used. Because we need to shield our equipment against the effects of the stealth. I don’t remember having received such a call. I will have to check the logs.” He stared meaningfully in Scarlet’s direction. “And there is Captain Scarlet’s unique physiology we might also consider...”
Scarlet scowled. “It didn’t stop me from being miniaturised to begin with,” he noted.
“No… but we do know that the average size this device usually reduced its subjects to was between one and two feet tall,” Lavender remarked in turn. “Your Mysteronised and retrometabolic body does generate a faint, nearly undetectable radiation that might cause havoc with the Minimiser’s circuits.”
“The same kind of radiation that causes Scarlet – or a Mysteron – to be impervious to X-rays,” Magenta said with a slow nod.
“Exactly,” Lavender confirmed. “Now to find out if it has caused irreversible damage to the effects of the device… “
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Fawn cut in suddenly, seeing that Scarlet was getting ready to protest Lavender’s assumption. “It might be that this radiation – or whatever else might have caused possible interference with the Minimiser – is simply delaying the reversal effects. Scarlet might still regain his size with time.”
“What do you mean, ‘with time’?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“It is possible,” Lavender agreed, not listening to the worried captain.
“And another thing: what if it was possible for Scarlet’s own retrometabolism to eventually have the opposite effect?” Fawn continued.
“You mean it might actually bring him back to his normal size?” Magenta queried.
“Granted, the miniaturisation effect is not exactly an injury or an illness – but it’s also not a normal state for Scarlet.”
“No – but it’s not far off of one,” Lavender retorted.
“Can I disagree with this assertion?” Scarlet tried again. “It is not normal for me.”
“The way the Minimiser works,” Lavender continued, addressing Fawn and ignoring Scarlet’s interruption, “is by somehow ‘shrinking’ the space of the constituent atoms of the object or person – as far as we were able to ascertain. In that case, it’s not taking it very far off ‘normal’ if the subject is two feet tall instead of six.”
“Try three inches,” Scarlet corrected.
“Still, the spaces between the atoms are not the same,” Fawn observed. “And if the retrometabolism should consider that ‘abnormal’… It might bring Scarlet back to size by itself.”
“Why didn’t it do so already?” Lavender asked.
“Good question,” Scarlet concurred.
“I don’t know – retrometabolism is still a mystery in itself. We’re still unsure of how it works. Maybe it needs a ‘boost’ – something to trigger it.”
“Like Captain Scarlet being injured?” Magenta remarked.
“I’m stopping you right there, gentlemen,” Scarlet suddenly interrupted, unsure if he liked the direction this conversation was taking. “I have been injured – a number of times already – since I’ve been in this condition. Remember – open fracture of the leg and loss of blood? And that was only the last injury I received.”
“Now then,” Lavender remarked, as if finally acknowledging Scarlet’s presence, “it seems that refutes your theory, Doctor Fawn…”
“Maybe not, Doctor. Maybe that, just as in the case of your ‘solar flare’ or ‘stealth field’ theories, the re-growth effect might be delayed, for some reason.”
Lavender shrugged. “You are the expert on Scarlet’s physiology, Doctor. So, what do you propose we do?”
“Tonight, I propose nothing.”
“Doc?” a concerned Scarlet queried.
“It is late,” Fawn continued, looking at his watch. “Past one in the morning. We’ve been at this for hours, without a break. And I don’t know about you, but I’m knackered. It’s been a long day, and I can’t think straight anymore. I suggest we call it a night, and continue tomorrow.”
Scarlet didn’t seem too pleased with the suggestion and was looking down, with a scowl on his face – like a kid who didn’t get the toy he wanted so much. It made Captain Magenta smile, almost despite himself.
“You probably need sleep as much as we do, Paul,” he noted in a affable tone. “You must be dead on your feet – if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“I hate to admit it, but it’s true I’m shattered,” Scarlet answered with a sigh. “To the point where I will probably need a whole night of sleep.”
“All right then, I will ask a nurse to prepare you a room,” Fawn interjected, fearing the normally uncooperative captain would change his mind.
“Don’t worry, Paul,” Magenta offered reassuringly to Scarlet. “We will get you back to normal.”
“Of course we will,” Lavender concurred. “You couldn’t be in better hands, Captain. Me with my scientific and electronic knowledge… Doctor Fawn as the definite expert on your physiology… And Captain Magenta with his… er…”
“… Wits?” Magenta offered with a raised brow.
“Thank you. We will find a solution of your problem, Captain Scarlet.”
“For starters, tomorrow, Green and I will work on that program,” Magenta added. “While the good doctors work on examining other avenues.”
“And who knows,” Fawn interjected quickly. “Maybe we’re looking at this all wrong too. Maybe the effects of the Minimiser are only temporary and they will wear off eventually, without any help from us?”
“We’re bound to find a solution,” Magenta added. “Just wait and see.”
“I just hope it’ll be soon, Pat,” Scarlet said grimly. “ ‘Cause I will admit – I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable living in a doll’s house for the rest of my life. For starters, you can be sure that I would not hear the end of it from Captain Ochre. And that is something I would not be able to bear at all, believe me!”
It was dark in the Sickbay room assigned to Captain Scarlet when Rhapsody Angel silently pushed the door and entered, carefully tiptoeing so not to make any sound at all. There was only a small lamp, on the table right next to the bed, barely lighting a corner of the room, where a man was sitting on a chair, almost dozing. He straightened up when he saw the visitor and acknowledged her presence with a nod.
“How is he?” Rhapsody asked in a whisper.
“Asleep,” Captain Blue answered, standing up. “Which is more than I’ve been able to do myself. Lucky dog…”
“I would hardly call him ‘lucky’, Adam,” the young woman remarked with a faint smile.
They approached the bed cautiously. It had not been turned down, and on top of it, there was a cardboard shoebox, which had been lined with several pieces of cloth, to act as mattress and blankets. His head resting on one that was rolled to form a pillow, and covered by another, Captain Scarlet was sleeping peacefully and soundly. He didn’t even stir at their approach.
“Sleeping like a baby,” Rhapsody acknowledged in a whisper. “I don’t remember having seen him sleep that deeply, except when he’s regenerating.”
“Or so stressed out he’s ready to drop with exhaustion,” Blue pointed out. “I can only guess that this present condition isn’t easy for him to swallow. Not to mention the ‘experiences’ he had in the vents…”
“Poor Paul,” Rhapsody sighed. “Even this shoebox is too big a bed for him.”
Blue smiled faintly. “I’m sure he’s very mortified with all this – ‘being treated like a guinea pig again – or worse, a toy’, he told me earlier.” He chuckled. “I think the one thing he might die of would be embarrassment.”
“He’s a proud man,” Rhapsody concurred. “You have to put yourself in his shoes.”
Blue threw up his hands. “Believe me, I do – and I hope something like that will never happen to me.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised that you are staying here, watching over him,” Rhapsody said with a fond smile. “You’re a good man, Adam,”
Blue shrugged. “Hey, he’s my partner – and more important, he’s my friend. The fact is, he looks so vulnerable at the moment – almost as much as when he’s asleep, retrometabolising. Frankly, if by some odd chance, something were to happen to him, or someone went after him while he’s that way, I doubt he would be able to defend himself. Even if there’s a guard at the door, I feel I have to be here. He would do the same for me.”
“You can’t help worry about him, can you?”
“No.” Blue tilted his head to the side. “The same for you, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” she answered, shrugging. “I felt miserable not being able to come earlier. To stay away from him during all that time, waiting to see if he would be all right. I nearly decided not to give a fig about our secret anymore and actually come over. But I thought twice about it, and I realised that – well, Paul was in good health – just reduced in size. So he really didn’t need me to make a fool of myself right there by fretting over him.”
“It didn’t stop you from coming here now, though,” Blue remarked.
“Of course not – I waited as long as I could. And I have a cover story, anyway, if someone should wonder what I’m doing here at this hour of night.”
“You just finished your stint in the Amber Room and you decided to pay a visit to a friend before going to bed?”
“Well, that and…” She smiled and produced from her pocket the tiny grey uniform that she had taken earlier in order to wash. It was now clean, dry and neatly folded. “I can always say I brought this back for him to wear when he wakes up.”
Blue chuckled. “He’ll be eternally grateful to you, Dianne. Having nothing more to wear than a crude tunic made with my… er… handkerchief … is something else that’s upsetting him. He told me earlier that if he had been reduced to an Action Man or a Ken size, instead of an action figure’s, at least he could wear different clothes!”
Blue’s attention was suddenly attracted by a very faint mumble, coming from the shoebox on the bed; also hearing it, Rhapsody turned in that direction. By the way the box was moving, it was obvious that Scarlet was agitating himself in his sleep; indistinct mutterings were reaching their ears, but they were unable to make out what he was saying.
“Nightmares?” Rhapsody suggested.
“Must be dreaming of giant mice,” Blue remarked. Rhapsody glared at him, but said nothing. He cleared his throat. “I think we’d better wake him…”
The two of them stepped closer to the bed, and Blue was wondering how he would actually be able to wake his friend up, without being too rough with him in the process, when he noticed the box was now moving more wildly as Scarlet’s thrashing increased considerably. Now beginning to worry, he leaned down to peer into the box, and prepared himself to call to his friend loudly – and stopped, his jaw dropping and his eyes wide open with wonder.
Scarlet had started growing…
Already, his size had reached the length of his makeshift bed, and as he continued to grow, the cardboard sides started breaking up. As they gave out under the pressure applied to them, Scarlet suddenly opened his eyes, dozy with sleep. He first noticed Blue and Rhapsody standing over him, gawking with obvious astonishment, but then, in a split second, he realised something was happening to him.
The shoebox finally collapsed underneath him, and dazed and confused, Scarlet wrestled with what was left of his improvised blankets, as if they were enemies trying to choke him. They were growing smaller in his hands by the second, barely enough to cover him now, and he was still growing, at considerable speed. He sat up, and in his disorientation, tried to step out of bed. He naturally miscalculated the distance between his feet and the floor, before Blue and Rhapsody could even stop him. He fell face first onto the floor, grabbing the bed sheets in an ineffectual attempt to stop himself, and dragging them along with him. Fortunately for him, he was now big enough for the fall not to cause him any serious injury.
Sprawled on the floor, the stress on his body was now so tremendous that he was shaking like a leaf, and drenched with sweat all over. He was gritting his teeth against the pain and moaning. His head felt as if it was exploding. Why does it hurt so much to grow, when I felt next to nothing when I was shrunk? That doesn’t seem right… He tried to force his eyelids to open but screwed them shut again almost immediately, the room spinning around him, amplifying the effect of dizziness and vertigo he was feeling.
It seemed to take an awfully long time – longer than it actually was. Scarlet barely felt the hands reaching for him, and the sheet that someone covered his shoulders with; the pain was finally fading away, and the pressure against his temples vanished. Breathing hard, he rose on one elbow and finally dared to open his eyes, very carefully.
The room wasn’t spinning anymore, and there were faces – concerned faces – hovering in front of him.
Those of Rhapsody and Blue.
“Paul?” Rhapsody asked with obvious apprehension. “Are you all right?”
“I am,” Scarlet murmured wearily. “I’m back…”
“You certainly are!” Captain Blue said with a wide grin, squeezing Scarlet’s shoulder in a friendly fashion. He had a feeling that his colleague probably preferred Rhapsody’s brand of welcome: she had knelt in front of him, and put her arms around him to embrace him warmly.
“You gave us quite a scare,” she told him. “You don’t know how glad we are to see you back to normal!”
She kissed him on the lips and he responded to the kiss, but it was brief, and Blue and Rhapsody helped Scarlet to rise to his still unsteady feet. He swayed momentarily, a wave of sudden dizziness hitting him; Blue held him up, as Scarlet, shivering, instinctively gathered the sheet around him to cover himself.
“Whoa, take it easy, big fella,” the blond captain recommended. “That ‘re-growing’ process you just went through looked like it was difficult – and painful.”
“It was,” Scarlet confirmed. “Although I don’t know if it was normal to be that painful. But hey… I’m back. That’s all that counts.” He looked down at himself, and realised he was stark naked under the sheet. No wonder I’m cold, he reflected. He wondered what exactly could have brought him back to size. Did one of the previous sessions to which he had been subjected finally kick in, after, according to one of Lavender’s theories, its effects had been delayed by whatever outside source? Did his retrometabolism reverse the process?
Or did the effects of the miniaturisation rays simply wear off?
“I bet Fawn – and Lavender – will want to run a battery of tests to see how I am,” he muttered darkly. “I’m so not looking forward to this…”
“Well, we’ll make sure they will leave you alone for a little while,” Blue offered. “After all you’ve been through these last few hours, I think you deserve a good rest.”
“I’m all for it.” Scarlet was looking intently in Rhapsody’s direction. There was a spark in his eyes that Blue had no difficulty interpreting. He gave a slight smirk. Despite Scarlet’s previous statement, it was fairly obvious that resting was not foremost in his mind.
Blue cleared his throat. “I think it would be best to inform Fawn that you’ve woken up – and that you are now back to your normal size.”
“Am I?” Scarlet eyed up his friend, evaluating the difference in height between the two of them. Blue was already taller than he was, by a good two inches. Scarlet was just making sure that it was still only two inches. He smiled approvingly. “Yes – I think I’m really back to my normal size.”
Blue chuckled. “I’m pretty certain that Fawn will want to make sure of that,” he asserted. He looked at Scarlet, then Rhapsody in turn, musing, noting the way they were looking at each other. Then he nodded, and gave an encouraging pat to his friend’s shoulder, before moving towards the door, slowly, still looking at them. “I… think I’ll get a coffee before going to Fawn… And take my time drinking it. We’ll be back… say, in a half hour?” Scarlet smiled thankfully at him, and Blue answered with a smile of his own. “Good to have you back.”
“Good to be back,” Scarlet answered simply. “And please, bring me some clothes when you come back – before I freeze to death!” Blue grinned, and went out.
Left alone with his fiancée, Scarlet turned to her. She was looking up at him, with eyes as bright as his.
“Half an hour?” she grimaced.
“A shame it isn’t an hour…” Scarlet conceded quietly. “I guess there’s limits to how long Adam can wait before telling Fawn – without risking his just wrath. At least, we’ll have a few minutes, just the two of us. Alone.”
The smile on Rhapsody’s lips spoke volumes. “I… brought you this.” She showed him the tiny uniform she still held in her hand. He chuckled.
“I don’t think that’s going to fit me now…” he reflected with good humour.
She gave him a odd look, but didn’t answer to the barely-concealed tease.
She used her hand to measure herself against him, and nodded thoughtfully, when her hand reached a certain position near his shoulder. “Does look as if it’s the right spot,” she remarked matter-of-factly.
“Does look like it,” he approved, nodding in turn.
“Is there… a way we can make sure you’re back to your right size again?” Rhapsody asked, almost innocently.
Scarlet’s smile broadened as he extended his arms, and brought her against him, holding her as close as he could, and leaned to kiss her tenderly, longingly.
He hardly paid heed to the fact that the sheet covering him was now starting to slide off him. He was just in time to catch it and wrap it around his hips before it ended up on the floor. Rhapsody caught his movement with her eyes, and smiled mischievously.
Oh, this was so tempting… But…
“Later,” he whispered, bringing her close to him once more.
They exchanged another passionate kiss, and Scarlet grinned inwardly. He wondered for a fleeting second if he should ask her about red underwear…
The thought quickly fled his mind.
Okay, I will admit it – this is not really a Halloween story, as Halloween has not been mentioned anywhere in it. But – you might want to consider this very odd story might find a place in the Halloween selection because of its weirdness – and that it could be, in fact, a ‘treat AND trick’ tale. Hope it has been as fun for you to read as it was for me to write.
‘Paul Blake’ was a recurring character of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s last Supermarionation series, ‘The Secret Service’©, in which he was ‘portrayed’ by the Captain Scarlet puppet – under a brown wig and wearing spectacles. As it was already speculated by Century 21 that Paul Blake was Captain Scarlet’s grandfather, I simply extrapolated that he was his maternal grandfather.
The ‘Minimiser’, of course, also comes from ‘The Secret Service’©, as it was the tool used by Father Stanley Unwin to reduce secret agent Matthew Harding to a – ahem! – puppet-sized midget.
‘Thunderbirds©’ fans will also have recognised in the tiny robotic ‘spy mouse’ featured in this story has been inspire by, and is an upgraded version of ‘The Mighty Atom’, from the episode of the same title.
Mike ‘Dinger’ Bell, Captain Scarlet’s batman, was created by Marion Woods for her story ‘Silent Majority’. I’m grateful that she let me borrowed him. There is also a mention in this story of Engineer Terracotta, although the character does not appear – who also is the creation of Siobhan Zettler for the story ‘Sikako’.
Lieutenant Tan, Captain Forest and Doctor Lavender are my own creations – they had previously appeared – respectively, in ‘A Question of Trust’ ‘Spectrum is White’ and in ‘Parallax View’. Other characters, except for the original cast of ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’©, also are my own.
The ‘robo-vac’ has been inspired by a mention of similar machines in one of the Captain Scarlet annuals or magazines. Similar robotic vacuum exist today, although obviously not as sophisticated as those patrolling the different sections of Cloudbase in this story. The name ‘robo-vac’ as been suggested by my friend Mary J. Rudy.
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler and Mary J. Rudy for their invaluable help, notably at beta-reading this text, and to Marion Woods, Siobhan Zettler, Sue Stanhope, Clya Brown and Caroline Smith for their continuing encouragement and either suggestions or inspiration.
‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ ©, is still the creation of Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and the rights of the classic series, once owned by Century 21, ITC/Polygram and now by Carlton International. I do not own any of those rights, and simply had borrowed the characters for a fraction of time in order to write this story.
Thanks to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and to all who have been involved in the original series, which still provides us today with much joy and entertainment.
Happy Halloween 2005.