A “Captain Scarlet” story for Halloween
By Chris Bishop
My name is Seymour Griffiths.
But that’s not my only name. For the past few years, I’ve been known under another, that, strangely enough, I’ve been using even more often then the one that was given to me when I was born, twenty-eight years ago.
I am also Lieutenant Green of Spectrum.
Now, you would probably think that all colour-coded officers are courageous, and able to face any danger, whatever it might be, without flinching, whereas other men would run from it, as far away as possible.
Well, this is a common misconception; for you see, each colour-coded officer has his own expertise, and although all of us have a certain degree of courage, it varies according to our capacities. The soldiers amongst us would certainly rank as the bravest. But me, I am not a soldier. Although I do not lack a certain amount of courage, and I have received sufficient training to hold my own in battle, and know what to do in order to survive, my real expertise lies somewhere else: I’m Cloudbase chief communications officer and technical expert. I’m also Colonel White’s aide.
I am, by no means, the best field agent you can imagine. But on occasion, I crave for action, and want to prove myself, and I keep bugging Colonel White to let me go on assignments, whenever the chance occurs. More often than not, he rejects my appeals, but on a few occasions, he relents and complies. I sometimes wonder if he only does so out of exasperation, because he grows tired of my asking. However, as he knows my limitations, he’s wise enough to team me up with more skilled officers – most particularly, with Captain Scarlet, the most capable and experienced of his field officers. I am almost certain, without having any proof of it, that the colonel asks Scarlet to make sure I stay safe, and to see that I don’t run into unnecessary danger. Which, you might easily imagine, bothers me no end, because, quite frankly, how can I show my worth if I have to stay in Scarlet’s shadow while he takes the spotlight and receives the praise for his incredibly brave actions, by taking all the risks?
I should probably say ‘used to bother me’.
Because right at this moment, I sure wish I was in Scarlet’s shadow.
I sure wish I was back at my station on Cloudbase, minding my own job instead of facing a situation that is much more than I can deal with, and that will likely cost me my life.
Because at the moment, I’m only minutes from dying, maybe even seconds, under the knife of a crazed killer, and I don’t have the slightest idea how to get out of this.
As for Captain Scarlet? Well, I certainly can’t count on him this time around to get me out of this mess. And I probably only have myself to blame for this too.
But I should probably start at the beginning…
It all really started with reports of possible Mysteron activities in Haiti. The alarm had been raised by none other than General Sir Charles Metcalfe, Captain Scarlet’s own father. General Metcalfe was a semi-retired officer from the World Army Air Force; although generally enjoying the peace and quiet of his home in Winchester with his wife, the WAAF would, on occasion, send him on minor assignments – generally, to visit and assess various bases all over the world. From what Captain Scarlet had told me, it was his father himself who had asked SHEF – the Supreme Headquarters of Earth Forces – to keep him available for such assignments. A very active man, the general didn’t want too sedentary a life after years of service and thought that this would be the ideal solution for him to keep busy. Plus, there was the added bonus to see and visit different and interesting parts of the world – and most of the time, his wife would be able to accompany him. I must admit, it sounded like an all-win deal. Or so Captain Scarlet said.
General Metcalfe was at the Port-au-Prince WAAF base when he contacted us. Obviously, his wife had not come with him on this particular assignment, as Haiti was still one of those hot spots that the World Government needed to keep an eye on and he probably deemed it a little too risky to bring her along. As Captain Scarlet’s father, he was one of those few people outside of Spectrum and certain World Government authorities to know of the true nature and powers of the Mysterons – and of their agents. So when he found himself faced with the weird events at the Port-au-Prince base, he suspected it might be of some interest to Spectrum.
Colonel White seemed to agree with this first assessment and dispatched both Captain Scarlet and myself to investigate. Because of the absence of any Mysteron threat for the moment, this wasn’t really considered an emergency, but it was still worth checking, as Spectrum knew far too well that, even when the Mysterons were seemingly quiet, they probably were planning their next act of retaliation. Very often, they would prepare the ground and put their agents in place before even issuing their customary threat.
The colonel considered this investigation as good ‘field experience’ for me. ‘It should help quench your thirst for action, Lieutenant’, he told me with a thin smirk. As far as I was concerned, that was complete rubbish. Basically, if I wasn’t missing my guess, this was a simple, standard investigation; there would be very little action involved, and the only reason the colonel was willingly letting me go was that it was unlikely I would run any kind of risk. This would be nothing more than legwork. I didn’t need to leave my station on Cloudbase to do legwork.
Our SPJ arrived at Haiti Toussaint Louverture International Airport, in Port-au-Prince. This was a joint civilian and military airport, and the WAAF had a private strip. We landed there, and a WAAF military car was already waiting to take us directly to the base, without any detour. The driver barely said more than two words during the whole drive, and already, there was a very palpable sensation of awkwardness, and that led to an uncomfortable feeling of ‘not being wanted’.
The Port-au-Prince WAAF base wasn’t a very large facility. It looked like a small outpost, more than anything else. There was a staff of only forty or fifty people, at the most, and it was composed in great part of natives of Haiti or the surrounding islands. Once we arrived there, we definitely sensed some tension from them. There was something these people were not that comfortable with. Scarlet and I didn’t have to consult with each other to check if we were having the same feeling about it; one look at one another was sufficient to confirm our shared suspicions. What we didn’t yet know was the reason for the base personnel having such an attitude. Spectrum didn’t come to Haiti often – in fact, I wasn’t that sure that we had ever come here even once before. The local problems were mainly in the WAAF’s jurisdiction, and there had been no Mysteron activities here thus far. So maybe it was only our presence that was making some people ill at ease. At least, that’s what I surmised when I caught a few apprehensive glances following us as we walked silently in the corridors of the base.
We were escorted and introduced to General Metcalfe, who was waiting for us in the small quarters that had been allotted him for the short duration of his stay. Looking around, I could see very well that the unstable situation in Haiti wasn’t the only reason why the general had not brought his wife along; there was barely enough space for one person alone in this room, which obviously served as an office as well. I thought it almost scandalous that a man of such reputation as General Metcalfe should be given such a tiny and uncomfortable private space, even if it was only for a short period. He, on the other hand, didn’t seem to mind. I guessed he had probably been accustomed to far worse, when he was on active duty for the WAAF.
As soon as our escort left the room to stand guard outside the closed door, General Metcalfe first shook hands with his son and, on a sudden impulse, brought him close to take him in his arms and thumped him vigorously on the back. I watched in silence. It was kind of a strange sensation to witness this moment between them; from my experience with English officers, they were not that keen to express such a degree of familiarity in front of strangers. But then again, I knew it had been a long time since Captain Scarlet had seen his father, so I imagined it shouldn’t be that surprising after all.
Captain Scarlet answered his father’s affection with some thumping of his own, and then, as if he remembered my presence nearby, he broke the embrace and turned to me. “You remember Lieutenant Green, our communications officer on Cloudbase, Dad?”
“Of course I do.” The general shook my hand. His handshake was strong and firm, not unlike his son’s. “How are you, Lieutenant? I’m sure you must be happy to leave that flying tin can of yours for once?”
Now how could he have known that? I suspected for a second that Captain Scarlet might have mentioned my frequent eagerness to go on assignments, but I quickly dismissed that. Despite the reserve I might have towards him, I knew that Scarlet was professional and discreet enough not to indulge in common gossip. Most probably, General Metcalfe, with his vast experience, had met other officers, holding posts similar to mine, and expressing the same kind of desire to see a little more action when the occasion arose. I smiled.
“Thank you, sir. Yes, it feels good to have my feet on the ground. And to be in a climate quite similar to that of my own island.” As he looked at me with an inquiring expression, I explained: “I was born in Port-of-Spain, in Trinidad.”
He nodded, and then heaved a deep sigh. “Unfortunately, you’ll find that around this base the ‘climate’ such as it is, is somewhat ‘chillier’.”
“We kind of noticed people didn’t seem happy to see us,” Captain Scarlet said with an understanding nod.
“Well, it’s not specifically Spectrum’s presence here that’s making everyone nervous. There’s something else entirely.”
“Would that be the reason why you called us here?” Captain Scarlet asked.
The general nodded. “I would say, but they have their own theory about that. And I’m not sure I agree with their conclusions.” He marked a pause, then eyed the cumbersome backpack I was carrying on my shoulder. “You have the instrument for your test in there, I imagine?”
“The C38, yes,” I answered.
He nodded again. “Why don’t I take you to the mortuary?” he said, reaching for his cap, which hung from a coat rack. “And then I’ll explain everything to you.”
I hated visiting mortuaries. All things considered, I don’t know anyone who likes them. I knew for a fact that Captain Scarlet had a particular dislike of them – and that was for his own unique reasons. In the Officers’ Lounge on Cloudbase, he once revealed to Captain Blue and myself that one of his greatest fears was to one day wake up to find himself lying naked on the cold slab of a mortuary drawer. I have to admit, the thought of that ever happening to me sends shivers down my spine; and if you are Captain Scarlet, I imagine that the possibility of this happening might be highly likely.
If he felt any discomfort at all that day, visiting the WAAF mortuary, Captain Scarlet was quite proficient at hiding it. He was standing rigidly by my side when the nurse opened the one drawer that interested us; cold air escaped the narrow, restrictive resting place and we had to wait a second or two before the fog cleared and we were able to see.
A dead man was lying on the slab; despite his skin now being nearly completely white due to death and the cold, he was obviously a black man, physically fit, who had been in his forties at the time of his death. There was a series of holes in his chest, which were testaments of the way he had died.
Or so we thought.
General Metcalfe, who was standing on the other side of the slab, thanked the nurse with a nod, and the latter went his way through the door, leaving the three of us with the dead man.
“This is – or rather this was – Lieutenant Jean-Maurice Simon,” the general explained. “He was in charge of the security team assigned to the armoury.” He rounded the slab and came to stand by his son’s side. “About three weeks ago, I was told, Lieutenant Simon became ill. Some kind of fever he caught suddenly, with apparently no explanation. The kind of illness that’s current in these parts, I heard.”
He looked at me as if seeking a confirmation. I nodded to the affirmative, remembering quite vividly that we nearly lost my little sister Amelia to malaria, nearly fifteen years ago.
“When I arrived here, Lieutenant Simon seemed to have beaten this fever, and was back on duty,” the general continued. “Unfortunately, it came back with a vengeance the day after I arrived, and he was found dead in his quarters, the next day.”
“Of that fever?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow. I could hear the suspicion already in his voice.
“That’s what Doctor LaSalle confirmed,” his father said with a shrug. “She’s the expert. I’m not. However…” He moved a couple of steps back and leant against a worktable behind him. “… Three nights after the lieutenant was officially pronounced dead, and his body was properly buried according to his last wishes, he was seen walking around the grounds of the base.”
“A Mysteron reconstruct,” Scarlet said instantly.
General Metcalfe didn’t respond to this suggestion; if there was something on his mind at this moment, he didn’t mention it right away.
“I was sleeping in my quarters, when I heard first the alarm, then shouting. I rushed outside, putting my robe on, to know what was going on.”
“That was pretty risky, Dad,” Scarlet admonished him.
I saw the general frown in irritation. “For goodness sake, Paul. I might be retired, but I’m not in my dotage, and I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
“Semi-retired,” Scarlet corrected in a quiet voice.
“Anyway, I wasn’t alone in rushing out. I was followed by a few armed soldiers, who were ready to face whatever it was that had raised the alarm in the middle of the night.”
“You told us it was reported to be Lieutenant Simon,” I said as I turned to glance at the dead man. I was starting to feel a little nervous, just standing close to him. Even if he appeared dead right now, if he was a Mysteron agent, he could very well rise from this slab at any moment.
“I saw him, with my own eyes. Well, at that distance, at first I couldn’t see it was Simon; I was only seeing a man walking directly towards the command centre, very slowly, taking no notice whatsoever of the warnings from the guards who were ordering him to back away. He just… kept walking, as if he couldn’t hear them or didn’t care about them.”
“I see he was shot,” Scarlet remarked, looking back at the dead man. “As you told us he died of fever three days before, I suppose he was shot that night?”
General Metcalfe nodded again. “As he got nearer, he came under the light of a lamppost and I distinctly saw his face. That’s when I recognised him. He was completely expressionless, and his eyes – it was as if there was no life in them, but they were fixed towards the command centre. He didn’t slow down, or speed up, and he had a gun in his hand. Until then, I didn’t even notice he was armed.” He cleared his throat. “When he raised the gun, the guards on duty that night, and the soldiers with me, didn’t wait much longer and shot him down instantly. It took an awful lot of bullets to drop him. He fell nearly at our feet.”
“And he didn’t stand up again?” Scarlet asked matter-of-factly.
The general frowned. “He had been riddled with bullets. With that much lead in him, he would have set off an airport metal detector. Who can stand after that?”
Captain Scarlet didn’t answer that one, and simply turned away to check on the dead man. It then occurred to General Metcalfe exactly what he had just said. “Oh… Well, not everyone is like you, you know.”
“Obviously,” Scarlet replied thoughtfully. “What you just described to us, Dad, is typical Mysteron behaviour.”
“I thought as much. That’s why I contacted Spectrum. But there is something else I should tell you…”
“What exactly?” Scarlet asked, turning to face him again.
“Well, Spectrum did explain to me how the Mysterons work. How they use the death of a human being to re-create some kind of a double – an alter-ego – who carries out their orders without question?”
“Yes… We call them replicates.” Scarlet frowned. I knew for a fact that he didn’t like this kind of conversation with his father. For him, considering his condition, it was a little too close to home. “Exactly what are you driving at, Dad?”
General Metcalfe pointed to the dead Lieutenant Simon. “Well, I’m not entirely sure that this… man lying there is the replicate of the man who died of fever, and that we buried three days ago.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think it’s the same man.”
Scarlet’s frown deepened as he scrutinised his father; as the latter was obviously too slow to answer, he turned to me. He wasn’t exactly known as a very patient man.
“Check him out with the detector, Lieutenant.”
“S.I.G.” That was the logical course of action. We certainly had to make sure if we were really facing a Mysteron situation – although at this point, if I was to consider what General Metcalfe had told us, I would have to say it was the case.
I put my carry-on bag down on the table right next to the general and unzipped it, to take the C38 Mysteron detector out of it. General Metcalfe was watching, obviously curious about this machine that could tell us if someone, dead or alive, was a Mysteron agent or not. He was rubbing his chin thoughtfully, as I turned the device towards the dead man lying on the slab. He was probably more eager than we were to see what the result would be.
I activated the device, and after a few seconds, a green light blinked on top of it, announcing that the answer we needed was available. I ejected the photograph from the detector and took a look at it.
The result was negative.
I handed the picture to Captain Scarlet and as he checked it out, his father looked over his shoulder.
“He was not a Mysteron,” Scarlet muttered. I knew he was surprised, his voice was betraying more disappointment than anything else. He gave the picture to his father.
“Strange,” General Metcalfe said, dubiously checking the image of a human skull displayed on the photograph. “I was expecting something more spectacular… like a green glow or something.” He smiled bashfully and gave the picture back to his son. “How can you tell, exactly?”
“The detector is an X-ray camera,” Scarlet explained. “The Mysterons are impervious to X-rays.” He looked at the dead Lieutenant Simon with curiosity. “If this man had been a Mysteron, the detector would have produced a positive image. Just like a regular camera.”
“Could it be defective?” the general asked. “Is there any way to check it out?”
“Actually, there could be.” As soon as the words were out, I realised that I had spoken too quickly. Captain Scarlet shot me an old-fashioned look; he knew what test I was thinking of and what it entailed for him, and he obviously wasn’t that willing to participate. I felt somewhat embarrassed at my own audacity to even have thought of suggesting it. I cleared my throat. “But I see no reason why the C38 wouldn’t work anyway,” I added quickly.
I think General Metcalfe understood the awkwardness of the situation. “Of course,” he said, addressing his son. “It was just curiosity on my part.”
“How did you know this man wasn’t a Mysteron, Dad?” Captain Scarlet asked, obviously eager to change the subject.
“Actually, I didn’t. In fact, I thought that we had buried a Mysteron agent three days ago. I didn’t expect your detector to tell us otherwise.”
I probably wasn’t the only one to think that was a strange statement; Scarlet was also looking at his father with doubt plain on his face. The general shook his head.
“When Lieutenant Simon re-appeared, apparently still alive, Major Perrin, the base acting commander, had his grave checked out – and they found out it was empty.”
“You didn’t tell us about that when you contacted us,” Scarlet remarked with a frown.
“That actually happened after I contacted Spectrum,” General Metcalfe explained. “I thought there was little point telling you until you arrived and checked if this man was indeed a Mysteron.”
“Well, now we know he’s not,” Scarlet said. “But if he’s not a Mysteron, then what is he?”
“Isn’t the answer to that question obvious?”
Neither the three of us had noticed until this point, that there were people who had entered the room a few seconds before, and who were presently standing in the doorway. We turned in that direction.
There were two black officers – one of about forty years old, dressed in a uniform of a WAAF major, and a slightly younger, very thin man, with the insignias of lieutenant. A young black woman, wearing a white lab overcoat over her uniform, was standing between them. She approached with the major, as the lieutenant closed the door. General Metcalfe made the presentation.
“Captain Scarlet, Lieutenant Green, may I present the base acting commander, Major Jacques Perrin – and the charming Doctor Henriette LaSalle, the base medical officer.”
Charming was barely enough to describe her. Although she seemed austere with her hair all tucked into a neat bun, and the spectacles resting nearly at the tip of her nose, Doctor LaSalle looked strikingly beautiful, with a figure that would be the envy of any top model. I couldn’t help staring, and smiled at her; she noticed and answered with a smile of her own, if somewhat coyly.
“Obviously, I am less charming that the good doctor,” Perrin said with a large smile. For a brief second, I thought he had also noticed my not-so-subtle interest in Doctor LaSalle. It took me a moment to realise that the major was simply answering General Metcalfe’s introduction. He shook both Scarlet’s hand and mine. He nodded in the direction of his lieutenant, who was coming in behind him. “My right hand man, Lieutenant Arturo Saturnin.”
“Doctor, Major… Lieutenant…” Scarlet looked Perrin straight in the eyes, and raised an interrogative brow. “Acting commander?”
“A temporary posting, Captain,” he explained. “Until a new, permanent commander eventually takes over. This base has had four commanders in the last year and a half.”
“That’s an awfully high ratio,” Scarlet commented matter-of-factly.
“Yes, well – that’s why General Metcalfe is actually here, to assess what could possibly be wrong with this base to push commander after commander to resign,” Perrin replied without committing himself. “But that’s another problem entirely.” He crossed his arms on his chest. “What I would like to know is exactly why the general felt compelled to call on Spectrum – for something that obviously wasn’t their concern.”
Scarlet raised a curious brow. He obviously found the comment as intriguing as I did. “It seems to me that the general thought there was enough evidence to suspect that there might be Mysteron activity on this base,” he replied. “Considering what happened with your officer, Lieutenant Simon…”
“General Metcalfe simply followed the procedure, Major,” Doctor LaSalle then said. “You certainly remember the notice we received from Spectrum, concerning such incidents...”
Perrin exchanged glances with his lieutenant, and the latter nodded. “That would be the information notice we received a couple of years ago,” he commented. His voice was slow and somewhat hesitant, and had such a painful nasal inflexion that I had to fight myself not to grit my teeth. “What happened with Simon does fit the description of incidents to be reported to Spectrum.”
“I could think of other incidents that fit those descriptions which probably are not Mysteron-related,” Perrin replied, dryly enough, keeping his eyes on both Scarlet and me.
“Major –” Scarlet started to reply.
“Lieutenant Simon wasn’t a Mysteron, was he?”
“Well, it would seem he was not, no,” I answered the major, as I put the detector away. “At least, according to our test.”
Perrin gave a short snort, and again exchanged glances with Lieutenant Saturnin. Neither of them seemed surprised; it was as if they were expecting this answer.
The major came to stand in front of the dead Simon. “I heard your question earlier, Captain Scarlet,” he said gruffly. “I don’t know what a Mysteron is exactly – but I have a pretty good idea what Lieutenant Simon was.”
“And what would that be?” Scarlet asked with a curious frown.
Perrin turned to face both of us. “Have you ever heard of zombies? I believe that’s what he was.”
I was stunned by this declaration. And clearly I wasn’t the only one; I saw Captain Scarlet’s brow twitch at the major’s words.
Saturnin didn’t have any noticeable reaction, but Doctor LaSalle, on the contrary, scoffed loudly. “Oh, vraiment, Jacques, you’ll not bring that up again?”
“You know that it’s possibly true, Doctor,” Lieutenant Saturnin remarked.
“Zombies?” Scarlet repeated dubiously.
“Surely,” I said, turning to the major, “you don’t seriously think –”
“This is Haiti, Lieutenant,” he answered roughly. “Of course, I seriously think it.”
I was even more perplexed; and so was Captain Scarlet. He shot an interrogative look in the direction of his father, and the latter shrugged at his mute question.
“I told you people here had their own theory about this incident, Captain,” he said quietly.
“Not my theory,” Doctor LaSalle retorted. “I’m sure there must be a more logical explanation –”
“Can you give a better explanation, Doctor?” Perrin asked, turning to her. “As I said, this is Haiti. These things have been known to happen here.”
Scarlet exchanged glances with me, as if making sure that we were sharing the same thoughts on the matter. He need not have wondered; the expression on my face was probably enough to give him the answer he sought. He turned his attention back to Major Perrin.
“You’ll forgive us, Major, if we are doubtful about this… theory of yours, about Lieutenant Simon being a zombie.”
“I cannot blame you, Captain,” Perrin replied. “You wouldn’t be the first one. We do not expect non-natives of this island and non-initiates to believe about this stuff.”
I raised a brow. Non-initiates? I didn’t quite understand what he meant. Looking at him, I was sure that Scarlet picked that up as well.
“Now you see why I thought that Spectrum had no need to come here,” Perrin continued. “If Lieutenant Simon wasn’t a Mysteron –”
“According to our preliminary test, it doesn’t seem like he was, no,” Scarlet replied quickly, confirming my earlier statement. “But still… I don’t think we should dismiss the possibility too quickly, Major. We might need to investigate further.”
Perrin shrugged. “As you wish, Captain. Far from me to interfere in matters I do not know anything about and to tell you how to do your job.” He marked a short pause. “But I’ll tell you this: I might not know about Mysterons – but I do know about zombies. And I honestly think you will be wasting your time in pursuing your investigation. You should leave this to experts.”
“You mean – like you, Major?” Scarlet asked, sharply enough.
There was a warning glow in Perrin’s eyes as he glared at my colleague. “You might think better, Captain, but I do know what I’m talking about. And so does Lieutenant Saturnin,” he added, turning to acknowledge his man. “Don’t think that because we are born on this poor island that we are ignorant. We certainly are not.”
“Major, I had no intention of implying any such thing.”
“Things have happened here, for centuries,” Saturnin added quietly, in support to his commander. “Strange, supernatural things, that you cannot hope to comprehend, gentlemen – if you were not born here or witnessed them first hand.”
“Believe me, Lieutenant, I’m very broadminded,” Scarlet replied casually. “You have no idea what I can believe in.”
“Well, then – believe what we tell you. This is not a Spectrum concern, and it should be left to be dealt by the people of this island,” Perrin said.
“Excuse me, Major – but a WAAF officer died in mysterious circumstances,” General Metcalfe replied sharply. “He might have been Haitian, but this is still a WAAF matter. Or a Spectrum matter, unless Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green say otherwise. Their investigation will have to continue.” He glared at Perrin who had turned a dark stare on him. “Whether you agree or not.”
The major lowered his eyes. “Of course,” he said in a mutter. “And as you say: I don’t have to agree, and I don’t. Now, if you will excuse us, gentlemen, the lieutenant and I will leave you to your… investigation. We have important duties to attend to.”
Major Perrin gave a crisp salute to General Metcalfe and went his way through the door, Saturnin following him like a shadow. Doctor LaSalle, who had been left behind with us, seemed to have been put slightly ill at ease by the two men’s brusque behaviour. She turned to us, flashing an apologetic – and rather dazzling – smile that made her all the more attractive.
“You will excuse the major,” she said. “He’s been rather… preoccupied lately.”
“He certainly seems like he’s in a bad mood,” Captain Scarlet commented dryly. “What’s his problem?”
“I believe that taking over duties from the two previous commanders, who left so abruptly, over the course of three months, might be starting to take its toll on Perrin,” General Metcalfe said quietly. “Fortunately, Lieutenant Saturnin is a very efficient officer, and takes a lot of weight off Major Perrin’s shoulders.”
“He seems to make a habit of always agreeing with Perrin,” Scarlet remarked.
General Metcalfe smiled thinly. “Which probably is quite fortunate for Saturnin – or working with the major would probably be an impossible task.”
“Actually,” Doctor LaSalle said quickly, “they get along very well together. They’re both Haitians, and they share the same beliefs.”
“We kind of noticed that,” I commented. “Are you Haitian too, Doctor?”
She nodded. “I was born here, in Port-au-Prince,” she said, and this time around, her smile was addressed exclusively to me. “But I do not share my colleagues’ beliefs. You’re obviously from the islands, Lieutenant.”
“We’re almost neighbours, then. And you’re a Spectrum field agent? That must be an exciting life.”
“Actually, I’m the communications officer. But I sometimes act as a field agent…”
“Why did the last two commanders leave so suddenly?” Scarlet asked with curiosity. It might have sounded a little rude to interrupt us like that, but actually, he was bringing me back in line. But I couldn’t help being fascinated with Doctor LaSalle. I hoped it wasn’t too obvious.
“They suffered extreme burn out, in both cases,” Doctor LaSalle answered.
“And the commanders before them?” Scarlet inquired.
“They left for about the same reason,” General Metcalfe said, with a shake of his head. “Apparently, the officers who were assigned command of this base in the last couple of years were not of the highest calibre. And no-one volunteers to accept this command, I’m afraid. If I have any say in this, that’s something that SHEF will have to correct as quickly as possible. That is, if we want to continue to help this country effectively.”
“The major believes that to do an effective job here, this base absolutely needs a Haitian commander,” Doctor LaSalle added. “Like himself. Or, at the very least, someone who understands the people – and the culture.”
“And the belief in zombies is part of this culture?” Captain Scarlet asked dubiously.
“I understand your scepticism, Captain. I too, as a doctor, have trouble believing it. However, I can assure you, there is some truth in these stories. And Lieutenant Saturnin didn’t lie. There have been weird and unnatural happenings on this island.” Her smile was now a sad one, and again, she looked directly at me. “As a Haitian-born, I’ve heard about this often too.”
“And witnessed it?” I asked.
She hesitated. “Aside from what happened to Lieutenant Simon, not really… But I know people who witnessed these strange events… reliable people.”
General Metcalfe grunted. “All Haitians know someone who knows someone who witnessed this kind of thing,” he replied dryly. “I have yet to meet anyone who actually saw it.”
“And what about Lieutenant Simon, General?” Doctor LaSalle replied. “You did see what happened in his case. Can you honestly say that Major Perrin’s assumption could be all that wrong?”
“That he was a zombie?” I offered.
“Zombies, really?” Captain Scarlet repeated, unconvinced. “Brain-eating walking dead?”
Doctor LaSalle chuckled openly. “You watch too many bad horror movies, Captain! I can assure you, Haitian zombies are nothing like that.”
“The major seems to strongly believe in them,” I remarked.
“The major is an adept of the voodoo religion, Lieutenant,” General Metcalfe explained. “And so is Lieutenant Saturnin.”
“And Lieutenant Simon was as well,” Doctor LaSalle added. “Most natives of this island are voodooists.”
“You said you didn’t share their beliefs,” Captain Scarlet remarked. “So you are not a voodooist, Doctor?”
“I’m a woman of science, first and foremost,” she said with a shake of her head. “I dedicated myself to medicine. I have little time for magical and spiritual stuff, Captain.”
“Reminds me of another doctor I know,” Scarlet said with a thin smile. “All the same, I was kind of hoping you would have been able to give us more information about these zombies, Doctor.”
She giggled. It was a very charming sound. “I’m afraid the little I know about voodoo wouldn’t fill one chapter of a book,” she answered. “And what I know of zombies – outside of what I heard while growing up – wouldn’t be very helpful to you either. You would need more detailed information than I would be able to provide.”
“That’s a real shame,” I said broodingly.
Captain Scarlet seemed disappointed. “Then I guess we will have to rely on Worldnet to get that information. That might make our investigation much longer.”
“Are you in such a hurry to leave?” Doctor LaSalle asked, again looking directly at me.
I could drown in those dark eyes. Obviously, she was as interested in me as I was in her. I did wish that we could stay a little longer so I could get to know her a little better.
Scarlet sighed at her question. “Well, I would very much like to know as quickly as possible if there is any link between what happened to Lieutenant Simon, and the Mysterons. Understanding more about this ‘zombie phenomenon’ might help us decide if we should stay – or leave.” He marked a short pause. “Actually, I think we should ask for either Doctor Fawn or one of his assistants to examine Lieutenant Simon’s body.”
“Whatever for?” Doctor LaSalle asked. She seemed a little upset that Scarlet would want the opinion of a second physician.
However, Scarlet was swift to reassure her. “Doctor Fawn is our expert in Mysteron physiology. He might want to examine Lieutenant Simon’s body – and make sure we’re not facing a new kind of Mysteron agent. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, but I also think we’d better make absolutely sure of that.”
“If you tell me what needs to be checked, I might be able to help you,” Doctor LaSalle offered. “Although I already examined Lieutenant Simon’s body and found nothing peculiar…”
“I’m sorry, Doctor. I’m sure that you’re very efficient, but this really requires… another kind of expertise,” Scarlet replied.
“I doubt that Major Perrin will be easily convinced to let the body be taken elsewhere,” General Metcalfe warned. “That might mean a lot of red tape to go through, Captain. And by the time you’re allowed to take Simon’s body away, there might be very little left to find.”
“We won’t have to take it away.” Scarlet smiled wickedly. “We’ll ask for Doctor Fawn to come here.”
“Your sense of humour is still as appalling as ever,” the general remarked. “Seeing as how Major Perrin doesn’t appreciate your presence here, he might not like a third Spectrum agent coming over.”
“That’s tough. And there’s nothing he can do about it. We do have to continue this investigation, and the sooner we’re able to complete it, the sooner we’ll be gone and out of the major’s hair. So for his sake, he’d better let us do our work properly.”
While they were all talking, I was mainly keeping silent and thinking. I was aware of Doctor LaSalle watching me intensely, but at this point, I had something else entirely on my mind.
It occurred to me that I might actually be able to supply Captain Scarlet with some of the information he wished for. I wasn’t exactly the one who would be able to provide it, but I knew how to acquire it. Why didn’t I think of it before? It should have been so obvious to me. Perhaps I had been a little too preoccupied with other thoughts, I reflected, glancing discreetly in Doctor LaSalle’s direction. I had better not tell that to Captain Scarlet; I would never hear the end of it.
I smiled to myself; Scarlet noticed it, and looked at me with curiosity.
“Is something amusing you, Lieutenant?” he asked matter-of-factly. “I hope your mind is still on the job…”
I scowled. Too late. Of course, he would have noticed the way the doctor and I had been exchanging glances.
Fortunately I had a good answer to give him. “Actually, Captain, I was just thinking – I might just know someone who can give us all the information we might need to continue our investigation. That’ll be certainly faster than seeking it out by ourselves, by going blindly through Worldnet articles.”
“Really?” Scarlet asked with interest. “And where can we find this person?”
“Well, it just so happens that he’s presently living here, in Port-au-Prince, conducting very important research on voodoo for a university paper he has to write. I just need to call him, and he’ll give me his exact address.”
“And you think he’ll agree to help you, Lieutenant?” General Metcalfe asked.
“Most certainly, sir.” I gave a new smile. “We’ve always helped one another in our family.”
While Captain Scarlet contacted Cloudbase, to request that Doctor Fawn – or one of his assistants, if he should not be available – be sent over to the Port-au-Prince WAAF base to examine the dead body of Lieutenant Simon, I made my own call. It only took a few minutes. We were in luck; not only was my brother Caleb home when I phoned, but he was also available to receive us right now. And it happened that his rented apartment wasn’t that far from the base.
Doctor Fawn was actually able to come himself for the examination. I believe that he made himself available, when Scarlet told him personally of the development in this strange affair. That would be something he wanted to check for himself – if this dead man, who acted so much like a Mysteron agent, was by any chance a new kind of agent. If he was not – well, maybe Fawn was curious about this zombie theory that Scarlet told him about, and wanted to know more about it too. In any case, he was eager to come as soon as possible, so a SPJ was immediately readied to bring him down to Haiti.
Doctor Fawn’s arrival was due in less than two hours, but Captain Scarlet and I suspected we might not be there to welcome him: we had our own part of the investigation to pursue. Taking our leave of General Metcalfe, we borrowed a WAAF jeep and drove to the city.
As the jeep journeyed through the streets of Port-au-Prince, through crowds of pedestrians who took very little notice of the passing vehicles – military or otherwise – I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness and dismay at the poverty surrounding us. I said that Haiti was still a hot spot; that was true. But it also needed support – financial and material – from the World Government.
Thank God, it wasn’t as bad as it used to be in the last century or so; there was less hunger and poverty on the island, and the death rate due to starvation, dirt, impoverishment and violent crimes had dropped significantly over the last few years. That wasn’t to say that there weren’t any of these things anymore: unfortunately, there were still poor people, and not enough jobs to meet the demand, and consequently, crime was still over-present. The high level of corruption was a problem too, and the new Haitian government, elected relatively recently, had to work very hard, with the help of the World Government, to get rid of some of the more tenacious corrupt officials from the previous administration. Nobody was naïve enough to believe that there was none left, but at the very least, a good deal of the job had been done, and the people’s lives were better for it.
How lucky I felt to have grown up on my island of Trinidad, where life was better – relatively speaking – and where opportunities to better oneself were offered to even those born into modest, even unpretentious beginnings. Look at me: I was orphaned at fourteen, the eldest of a family of nine children, all of whom instantly became my responsibility – imagine it, becoming a surrogate father to eight youngsters at fourteen! And I was now part of Spectrum, the most renowned security organisation on the globe, and an expert in the field of communications and electronics. I knew how good I was – there was barely anyone better than me in that field. Maybe only a handful, and I had yet to meet half of them.
Captain Scarlet drove the jeep into a narrow street, crowded with people. He needed to honk the horn repeatedly for them to make way, but still, we were progressing at a very slow rate. We finally left the car by the side of the road, in front of the outside terrace of a small café, and we walked the remainder of the way. We weren’t that far away at this point anyway. We found that, while on foot, we seemed to attract more attention and had less trouble getting through the crowd. I guessed that people were not seeing past the jeep, while we were driving it, and while a jeep trying to get through a crowd was probably frequent enough in this part of town, two walking Spectrum officers were probably far less commonplace.
Five minutes later, we reached our destination – a small shop at the very corner of a busy street, with a small stand on the pavement in front of the door, selling all kinds of odd items which seemed of little value to us. I saw an assortment of dried and blackened chicken feet, all painted with multicoloured signs and decorated with feathers, hanging just over a display of brilliant stones – which had been painted and polished to resemble human eyes. That was pretty unsettling to look at, actually, so real these ‘eyes’ actually seemed.
The vendor – a short woman who was nearly as wide as she was tall, and wearing a flower-patterned dress and a large hat made of natural-coloured straw that hid most of her features – was busy answering a couple of tourists, who were obviously trying to haggle for a pair of feathered chicken feet. She gave us an odd look as we crossed the doorway to her shop, and I could feel her eyes on my back as we went inside.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Captain Scarlet asked me in a whisper as he looked around the shop, taking in, with obvious curiosity, the various and very strange objects offered for sale. They were all talismans and good luck charms of some sort. He obviously couldn’t believe that people – probably mostly tourists like the couple arguing outside, and that group speaking German checking out voodoo dolls in the back – would be willing to pay good money for such useless junk, in the hope of gaining some luck or keeping the bad spirits away.
“This is the place all right,” I answered. “Caleb told me that he had a room and an office in the back.” I pointed to a young man, of about fifteen, leaning on the other side of the selling counter, his eyes drowsily looking at us. He looked like he was about to fall asleep; I guessed that either business was slow, or that he was growing bored. Or both. “Let’s ask this lad where to go.”
We had only taken one step towards the counter when the large woman from outside seemed to appear out of nowhere – an amazing achievement for a woman of her size – to stand in front of us. Even Scarlet, on whom it was difficult to walk unnoticed, was taken aback by suddenly seeing her there. She smiled and put a gentle hand on his chest, looking up into his eyes.
“Mon beau monsieur, tu dois protéger ton petit bon ange du mauvais œil,” she said to him.
Scarlet blinked, unsure of what he had heard. “Excuse me?”
She tapped lightly on his chest with her open hand. “Your soul. You must protect your soul from the evil eye.”
Scarlet smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe –”
“Oh, but you have to believe,” she replied, her deep voice still very gentle. “There is an aura about you – an aura of power, such as Mama Leona has never felt before.”
“Really?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow.
“But there is also great danger surrounding you. You have seen many dangers already, in your short life, and you will face many great dangers to come.”
“That goes with the uniform,” Scarlet reasoned, apparently deciding that humouring this lady was probably the best course of action.
“In the ordeal ahead, you need protection for your body – and your soul.” Her free hand raised to eye-level; she was holding a pendant which was dangling from a crudely braided leather lace. It was one of those ‘evil eye stones’ I had seen outside. This one was a spectacular blue, almost the same colour as Scarlet’s eyes. “You need a juju – a very powerful juju to keep the evil one away from you. Mama Leona gives you this.”
She took his hand, turned it palm upwards, and deposited the stone into it. Scarlet looked at it in silence, before addressing her again.
“I’m sorry, my dear lady, this is very thoughtful of you, but I don’t think I need to pay for good luck charms to –”
“It’s more than good luck charm, handsome soldier. This is good magic.” The woman Leona closed Scarlet’s fingers on the stone. “And you do not pay for it,” she added with a bright smile. “Shoddy junk I sell – I give genuine, efficient charms to those who really need them.”
“That is most generous of you,” Scarlet answered, smiling.
“And here…” The woman turned to me, digging into the large pocket of her oversized flowery dress. She produced another stone, similar to the one she had given Scarlet, except this one was a very bright green. She also held with it a small leather pouch, ready to burst with whatever was in it and closed by a braided lace. She put all of this in my hand. “This is for you too, my boy. You will also have need of it for what is coming.”
“Er… thanks. I’m very touched,” I said, looking down in puzzlement at the stone resting in my palm.
“This is green,” she said, patting my shoulder in what I believe was a comforting way. “Like your uniform.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. My uniform was a darker shade of green. This stone was much brighter, and brilliant; it kind of reminded me of the green light that had been described to us, in some cases of Mysteron manifestation. Quite frankly, that made me a little unsettled. This talisman looked more like a bad omen than anything else; I didn’t like the way the eye ‘looked’ at me.
But I was quite sure that this charming woman had only my best interests at heart, so I said nothing that would disappoint or offend her.
I took the small pouch by its lace and stared at it with curiosity, frowning.
“And what is this?” I asked with curiosity.
She spread her hands. “This pouch contains a very powerful juju, my boy… A powder that will help you – when you make use of it at the required time.”
A powder? I was intrigued. But I didn’t have time to ask more about it.
“Mama Leona, que faites-vous?”
The voice coming from behind me made me turn around. There was no way I could not recognise it, even if speaking French.
My brother Caleb was standing there, under a doorway on the right from the counter where the young man we had seen earlier seemed to still be dozing. He was looking in our direction, a bright smile on his lips, and a frown on his brow.
“Leave these people alone,” he said in a falsely stern voice. “They are coming here for business.”
“Ah, you do not fool me, Monsieur Caleb,” Leona answered, and gave a big laugh, as she affectionately thumped my chest. “I know this one is more important to you than you let know.” She gestured to both Scarlet and myself. “Please, beaux messieurs, go about your business, and Mama Leona will do the same. But do not forget: keep your jujus close to your heart – it might save you from the evil eye.”
Both of us answered with a somewhat sheepish smile; she turned around to admonish in Creole the dozing young man at the counter; he stood up straight in front of her, and she huffed with annoyance at him, before returning outside to her customers. We directed our steps towards the doorway where Caleb waited for us. We were aware of eyes drilling holes in our backs, but we ignored them. At this point, we were becoming accustomed to being stared at. Attracting attention came with the uniform, anyway.
Beyond the doorway, there was a small room, that by the looks of it, obviously served as a stockroom. My brother invited us in and stepped back in front of yet another open door. In all appearances, from the little I could see at this point, this door led to his loft.
I had not seen Caleb for months – not since the family meeting the previous spring. Needless to say that we were happy to see each other and that, once out of view from people who might have been looking from the store, we indulged in a long, warm hug, and vigorous thumping, while laughing and asking how we were doing. Captain Scarlet stood discreetly to one side, politely waiting until our family reunion was finished. Knowing his impatience, I imagined that he was hoping that it wouldn’t drag on for too long.
He was probably grateful when I finally turned to him.
“Captain Scarlet, this is my brother, Caleb Griffiths.”
“Doctor Griffiths…” Scarlet shook hands with my brother; Caleb was shorter, slimmer than me; in front of the six foot one, athletic Scarlet, he looked like an under-developed teenage kid. His puny appearance, however, was deceptive: Caleb always was an energetic young man, and he proved it once again, as he pumped my colleague’s hand enthusiastically, laughing as he did.
“Please, Captain! I’m not a doctor yet – I still have a year to do at the university and one thesis to write before I’m awarded that title.”
“It’s only a formality,” I replied. “It won’t take long before it’s official.”
“Doctor of Theology doesn’t seem as grand as chief communications officer for Spectrum,” Caleb replied. He gave me an approving look, checking me from bottom to top. Then he grinned and turned again to Scarlet, pushing his spectacles up his nose, as they had slid out of place. “Is my brother behaving himself within your organisation?” he asked with a falsely stern voice, thumbing in my direction.
Scarlet smiled. “We’re keeping him in line,” he answered quietly.
I rolled my eyes upwards; the last thing I needed was my own little brother making fun of me with the complicity of one of my superior officers.
I thought it better to change the subject before they started to enjoy themselves too much.
“Caleb, that woman out there –”
“Mama Leona,” my brother said with a large grin. “She’s my landlady. Don’t worry about her. She’s perfectly harmless.”
Scarlet shook his head. “I was wondering for a moment there if she was for real.”
“Oh, she is. And she was only filled with good intentions towards the both of you. People around here say she’s a powerful mambo. She doesn’t give jujus to just anybody. She must have liked you on sight.” He took the green stone I was still holding in my hand. “She makes these by hand. Whether you believe in their ‘powers’ or not, they’re a genuine work of art.”
“I’ll say,” Scarlet replied. “I put a couple of bucks on the counter while she wasn’t looking because it didn’t feel ‘right’ to accept them without at least a small token of appreciation.”
Caleb’s smiled widened. “Then they’ll probably protect you better for it.”
“She mentioned something about ‘protecting my good angel from the evil eye’?” Scarlet frowned.
“She didn’t mean any of your Spectrum Angel pilots was in danger, Captain. She must have said ‘petit bon ange’ – or ‘gros bon ange’…”
“Petit bon ange,” Scarlet confirmed.
“That freely translates to ‘guardian angel’, Captain. The ‘petit bon ange’ is your spiritual energy – your will. While the ‘gros bon ange’ is your consciousness and personality. Both represent the entirety of your soul.” He put the stone back into my hand, and I slipped it into my trouser pocket, along with the small pouch.
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. “It looks as if you’re the right man to give us the information we seek, Mr. Griffiths…”
“Caleb.” Scarlet made a short pause. “Your brother told me you’re an expert in… voodoo?”
“I don’t know if I qualify as an expert as such,” Caleb answered. “But I know quite a lot about it. I studied it at length. It was the subject of my last paper at university. It’s such a fascinating religion.”
“You wrote a book on it,” I observed.
“A small book,” Caleb replied humbly enough.
“Three hundred pages,” I clarified.
“You read it?” he asked me with a curious frown.
“Are you kidding me? Of course not. Why would I be interested in voodoo…”
Scarlet cleared his throat to bring us back to the subject at hand. “Voodoo as in ‘the religion of voodoo’, then,” he said to Caleb. “What about the more mythical side of it? The… ‘magical aspect’ that is said to be part of voodoo?”
Caleb smiled and nodded thoughtfully; there was a twinkle in his eyes as he looked at Scarlet. “You wouldn’t both be here if you didn’t know that I also know a fair deal about that too,” he said. “I wrote a whole chapter in my book on it.” He blinked at me. “You did read it, then.”
“Rubbish…” I replied dismissively.
Caleb’s smile broadened. I didn’t fool him at all. Of course, I had read his book; well, skimmed through it, to be precise, because it was true that I had no interest in voodoo. Nor in any religion, for that matter, with maybe the exception of my own – although I wasn’t that much of a religious person to begin with. I always was a pragmatic kind of guy. Theology was more Caleb’s stuff; although I never truly understood his interest in it. All of this was very boring to me.
Seeing our present situation, maybe I should have given more attention to his book, after all…
“Step into my office, please,” he said, gesturing to a doorway where a multicoloured ball-beaded curtain hung. “I’ll make coffee and we’ll talk about this.”
While Caleb was busy preparing tea in a small kitchenette, Scarlet and I took the grand tour of his ‘office’; which literally meant that we walked the entire ten by ten feet of the small living room-come-office, crammed with piles of books and folders filled with loose sheets of paper, in the space of five minutes. Caleb lived and worked in a world of organised chaos – he had always been like this, while I believed in meticulous organisation. Back in Trinidad, when we were kids, I had the worst trouble to get him to clean his room. For that, he used to call me a tyrant, out to kill his creativity.
There was a small desk at one end of the small room, with a computer standing on it; the latest, most sophisticated portable machine money could buy. At least, I thought with satisfaction, Caleb had learned something from me. It stood next to a pile of disorganised papers, covered with my brother’s fine handwriting. I checked the first page, but couldn’t make sense of what was written on it. Oh yes, I understood the words, but they formed some kind of psychobabble that I believe only someone holding a degree in Theology would understand.
There were a few books lined up on the desk, tucked between a desk lamp and a miniature statue of a native idol. I checked the titles with curiosity, and one of them attracted my attention. I slid it out of its spot and flipped through the pages, distractedly reading a paragraph or two in passing; Captain Scarlet, who was checking the other side of the room, while waiting for Caleb, came to my side, just as a passage in the book caught my attention. I showed the cover to him.
“‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’, by Doctor Wade Davis,” he read. He gave a curt nod. “Appropriate.”
“More than you think.” I closed the book and handed it to him. “It seems to be all about zombies.”
“Is that the information you are looking for?” We turned around. Caleb was shouldering aside the bead curtain separating the kitchenette from the living room, to enter, carrying a tray with three mugs. He put the tray on top of a pile of papers on his desk – that made me cringe – and handed Scarlet one of the mugs, while nodding towards the book he was still holding. “It’s zombies that interest you?”
“I was right earlier. You indeed seem like the right person to come to, Caleb.” Scarlet raised the book to eye level, showing the title to Caleb. “What can you tell us about zombies?”
Caleb glanced in my direction, while I was taking a sip of his coffee; it was as I remembered it. Caleb always made the best coffee ever; he had his own blend of beans, and was always precise about the quantity – and quality. I should probably remember to ask him his secret; I would be very popular on Cloudbase.
“Seymour probably told you that I came here to Haiti to study the ‘magical aspect’ of voodoo, as you put it yourself, Captain,” Caleb said, taking a gulp from his mug. “Before I return for a new session at university.”
“For your thesis, I’m guessing?” Scarlet asked.
Caleb smiled. “You guessed right.” He became more serious and nodded thoughtfully, taking another gulp and walking to sit on the only corner of his desk which was not covered with papers. “Right, zombies… What is it you want to know about this specific subject, exactly?”
“Well, for starters, are they real?” Scarlet asked.
Caleb raised a brow. “By the tone of your voice, I’m thinking you don’t believe they’re real, Captain. But I can assure you – they most certainly are.”
“Really?” There was doubt in Scarlet’s voice, and he made no attempt to hide it. “Dead people coming back from the grave… with a particular taste for eating brains of the living?”
“Ah, you see here: you think you know about them, but you are completely wrong.” Caleb put his mug down, while I rounded the desk and came to stand next to Scarlet. “To begin with, the brain-eating bit is a complete invention from Hollywood – from about, let’s say… oh, a century ago. In any case, the zombies portrayed in those old movies – and many others since then – have very, very little to do with the Haitian zombies. Nothing at all, actually.”
“So – what are we talking about, exactly?” Scarlet asked. He sat down on the chair behind him, and showed again the book he was still holding. “Are we talking about what’s in here?”
Caleb gestured dismissively. “This book isn’t the best one Doctor Davis wrote on the subject,” he said. He turned to his other books on the desk and chose one. “You want a better book, you read this one.” He threw the book to me. Fortunately, I had just put my mug down onto the small table by Scarlet’s chair; I caught the book awkwardly and read the title.
“‘Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie’.” I showed the book to Scarlet and then looked at Caleb. “Ethnobiology?”
“The first book, ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’, was mainly Doctor Davis’s account of his… ‘adventurous investigation’ in the heart of Haiti, while in search of the process for zombification. It was highly criticised, right from its first printing, mostly for the inaccuracies that scientific authorities found in it.”
I flipped through the pages of the book, much like I had done earlier, and checked the date of first printing. “1988?” I said, raising a brow as I looked back in Caleb’s direction.
“Well, zombies existed well before that date,” my brother explained. “So I don’t believe the process to create them changed over that period of time. Well, not that much, although it’s quite possible that this process might have been polished with time.”
“Okay, so you believe that zombies exist,” Scarlet said.
“I do not believe, Captain, I know. And I’m not the only one, at that. Most of the inhabitants of this island know the same. Ask them. But ask them carefully, because they do not like to talk about it much, believe me on that.”
Scarlet put his own book back onto the table, right next to my coffee, and he settled himself comfortably onto his chair. “So… how does a… dead man leave his grave, Caleb? How does one become a zombie?”
I gave a surreptitious glance towards Scarlet; he seemed a little awkward at the moment and I thought I understood why: talking about ‘walking dead men’ was not really a comfortable subject for him, considering his own condition.
That was probably the reason why he seemed so incredulous on this subject. I don’t think he really wanted to believe it.
“First, I should give you a little crash course on voodoo,” Caleb then said. I could see the impatient frustration appearing on Scarlet’s face. He didn’t like complex or long explanations, and it looked like this was going to be one of those. He always wanted to know the facts, plain and simple. My brother noticed my colleague’s scowl and probably guessed the thoughts behind it, because he smiled tolerantly, quite like a teacher would with an impatient student. “This is necessary to understand more about zombies, Captain.”
“Voodoo is a religion born here in Haiti; it derives most certainly from the West African Vodun, and was created by the merging of traditional beliefs and practices of African slaves brought to this island in the 16th Century, with the Christian faith that their owners tried to inculcate in them. Voodoo is what is called a ‘syncretic religion’ – and yes, it is considered a religion, and it is practiced not only here in Haiti, but by many nationalities around the world, with some variants to the rituals. There is one supreme God in Voodoo, and he’s called ‘Bondye’ – which is a contraction of the French ‘Bon Dieu’. He’s the Creator of all things, but you cannot call on him for help, as he’s unreachable. Instead, you will call on ‘loas’ – spirits that are intermediaries to Bondye. But you do not only pray to loas – you must serve them to obtain their favours, through rituals.
“In the Haitian voodoo religion, those who maintain the relationship with the loas and preserve the tradition and rituals within the community are chosen from birth. These priests are called ‘houngans’, when male, and ‘mambos’, when female. They are keepers of the faith, if you wish – and are imbued with the secret of voodoo magic.”
“Mambo,” I said as I suddenly picked up the word. “That’s what you said your landlady is.”
“That’s what people say about her, yes,” my brother agreed. “She does present some traits of a voodoo priestess, although she has never mentioned it directly to me. Probably because she knows of the nature of my work and doesn’t feel like it would be right to reveal any of her ‘magical secrets’ to me. Not that I would ask her to.”
I could see that during this long speech from my brother, Captain Scarlet was growing increasingly impatient; but at the first mention of ‘magic’ he seemed to relax, as if he understood that this was finally coming to something more interesting.
Frankly, I was thinking the same thing. Caleb was sure taking his sweet time.
“Magic is an integral part of the voodoo religion,” my brother continued, “whether you believe in it or not. It is through ‘jujus’, fetishes, spells and magic potions that the houngan displays his power to contact the loas, and will – normally – help his people.”
“Normally?” I repeated.
“Unfortunately,” Caleb explained with a shake of his head, “it has been known that houngans will take advantage of their people’s trust in them, and will use their social position and ‘magical knowledge’ to keep their hold on them, increase their own social standing – or simply out of greed, by taking money for their services. You might say, not unlike some priests from other religions would do – but then again, there’s a little difference.”
“The magic?” Scarlet inquired.
“There are two forms of magic – the ‘right hand magic’, which is used for good, of course – and ‘left hand magic’, used for darker designs – even for evil. Now as I explained to you, only houngans and mambos can do magic – but when they turn to dark magic, these priests become ‘bokors’. And a bokor can be a very powerful and potentially dangerous person.”
“I suppose that the creation of zombies enters the dark magic category,” Scarlet said with an understanding nod.
“Absolutely. But a bokor cannot create a zombie without proper authorisation, first. He must ask permission from ‘Baron Samedi’, the loa presiding over the dead and cemeteries. The person to become a zombie must also have ‘deserved’ this fate: zombification is regarded as a punishment, and one that a bokor must not give lightly.”
“Who deserves to become a living dead?” I asked meaningfully. I knew that the same question must be burning Scarlet’s lips, but for some reason, he didn’t seem to want to ask it.
“And who can decide that such a judgment can be passed on anyone?” he said instead, in a dark voice.
“That does seem cruel and extreme, doesn’t it?” Caleb made a pause. His eyes fell on the two books now resting on the table between Scarlet and me, and he pointed to them. “In his books, Doctor Davis makes mention of a secret society, the ‘Bizango Sect’, the existence of which stretches back to the very beginnings of Haiti. The Bizango Sect was supposedly created to maintain social and moral order within the members of the Haitian community, and up to this day they still exist as… ‘an underground government’, if you wish, deciding and passing judgment on who is or isn’t living according to their moral code.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes upward. “Are you telling us, Caleb, that these… ‘illuminati’ are the ones who create zombies?”
“Not quite. But the bokor performing the zombification would need to be a part of this secret society. He would have to be, because otherwise, he wouldn’t have the proper authority to do so. And he would risk the wrath of the Bizango.”
“You want us to seriously accept –”
“This is serious, Captain, and has been serious for Haitians for centuries. We don’t know if the Bizango Sect exists or not – it is possibly a myth – but people do believe in them. And they do believe in zombies too. Do you know there’s even a law against zombification in this country? According to this law, a person – whether he’s a bokor or not – who performs an act of zombification against another human being could be accused of attempted murder. And if the bokor’s actions should lead to the victim being buried alive, then that would be considered plain murder.”
“Whoa. Back up a minute.” Scarlet frowned, and leaned forward in his chair; something in what Caleb had just said had visibly attracted his attention. It had attracted mine too. “I think now we’re getting somewhere: are we to understand that victims of zombification – are not truly dead to begin with?”
“Well – how else do you think they can rise from the grave, Captain?” Caleb asked, casually.
Scarlet didn’t want to elaborate on this. Even if he had been allowed to, he would not have said anything on this subject. Caleb would not have believed him – nor probably understood. But he sure as hell would have found it extremely interesting.
“It is with the help of a skilful mixture of drugs that the bokor is able to create a zombie,” my brother started explaining – and at this point, Scarlet and I were not bored anymore, but very attentive. “The chosen victim must first be prepared; first, a drug will be mixed into his drink and food, by either the bokor or an accomplice. He will become increasingly weak and feverish, and then eventually, after weeks of being administered the drug, will fall in a state of deep catalepsy – so deep that he will appear really dead. A doctor would not even see the difference. Or rather as the bokor often acts as doctor himself…”
“…He would certainly be the last to explain what had happened to his patient,” Scarlet said sourly.
Caleb nodded. “Another way would be to rub his skin with the same kind of powder, which will give the same results. I suspect that this would be done during ‘treatments’ given by the bokor, when called to ‘help’ his innocent victim, after the initial poisoning…”
“And nobody suspects a thing?” I asked.
“Sometimes – but mostly, houngans are regarded as saintly people.” Caleb marked another pause. “Anyway, whatever the chosen method, the poor victim, now apparently dead, will be buried. As he had apparently died of fever, the bokor or his accomplice will emphasise on the need to bury the body as quickly as possible. Then, when night comes, and nobody is near the grave, the bokor will have the ‘body’ secretly dug up and taken to a clandestine place. There, the victim will be ‘brought back to life’ with the use of other medicine – sort of. Because from this point on, the bokor will use other drugs to keep the victim under his spell. The victim is then without any will of his own, and mindless. He will barely speak, if at all, and will obey every order given to him by the bokor, or the master the bokor will have chosen for him.”
“He is now a zombie,” I said.
Again, Caleb nodded. “For whatever reason, the zombification treatment seems to increase the zombie’s strength and stamina – although apparently, it also inhibits the motor functions of his muscles – which is why he is described as possessing a rather ‘stiff walk’. He will not feel pain anymore. This absence of will and new resilience makes the zombie perfect for hard labour – like field work, for which the zombies are often used. It is said that the bokor will often sell his newly-created zombies as cheap labour.” Caleb gave a deep sigh. “That is the reason why zombification – and zombies – are feared. Not because they are viewed as dangerous, or evil; they couldn’t be evil to begin with, because they do not have enough will to want to hurt anyone on their own. But because to become one means that you become a mindless slave that anyone can use for his or her own means. And that, for a people descended from ancient slaves, it’s something that they cannot bear to even imagine.”
“You don’t have to be a descendant of slaves to find it unimaginable, I believe.” Scarlet sat back in his seat, nodding pensively, his fingers intertwined and resting on his chin. “Could a zombie escape his fate?” he asked quietly.
“Zombies are attached to their bokor through the entire life of the latter,” Caleb explained. “It is believed that the bokor has successfully taken the soul of his victim, through his drugs and spells, and that now this soul is attached to him.”
“The ‘bon ange’,” Scarlet remembered.
Caleb nodded. “According to this belief, the bokor steals the part of the soul which is the will – while the part that is the consciousness of the victim ‘dies’ with his body and leaves for the world of the spirits. When the bokor dies, the zombie, who still doesn’t have his full soul, will become disoriented… Those are the zombies that are said to aimlessly roam the many desert rural roads of Haiti, their eyes glazed, their minds empty. There are also other zombies described as temporarily regaining their consciousness, but only for a short moment, before they eventually die, not that long after their master.”
“Soul-stealing?” I asked with a frown. “You believe that?”
“Well, I rather believe in the most likely theory that the bokor and his accomplices feed their zombies with some kind of drug, that keeps them in a trance and under their control,” Caleb explained. “A drug that will stop being supplied to the zombies, once the supplier – the bokor – dies. That drug is probably highly addictive – not to mention toxic. The zombie’s body, over the years, might actually grow to need this drug – or it will die.”
“Then the zombie being viewed as ‘going crazy’ after the bokor dies might simply be the manifestation of a victim ‘weaning off’ the effects of the drug,” I realised.
“That seems likely, yes. And the drug might actually have destroyed enough of the victim’s brain cells, to cause irremediable damage.”
“We are now faced with a brain-dead victim who will never be able to tell what happened to him,” I said pensively.
“And has anyone ever escaped unscathed?” Scarlet asked insistently.
“There is one reported case. The story is told in Davis’ first book. In 1962, Clairvius Narcisse apparently died at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti. Death was verified and confirmed by the hospital staff. However, eighteen years later, Narcisse turned up. Alive and well. And claiming to be an escaped zombie.”
“Was he?” I asked.
“Well, we’re not quite sure. Like many things from Davis’ first book, this case was considered highly suspicious. What Narcisse reported of his experience does match the theories about the use of drugs to keep zombies in line and under control, while forced to do hard labour.” Caleb shrugged. “Actually, his case might be the basis of this theory.”
“But if this case is suspicious – why accept it as proof for the theory to begin with?” I insisted.
“Because it rings so dreadfully real that it might be close to the truth?” Caleb suggested.
“And why is Doctor Davis’ first book so controversial?” Scarlet asked in turn.
Caleb gestured vaguely. “It wasn’t well received by the scientific community. The style was more like an adventure story, rather than a scientific book. Some of Doctor Davis’ claims about the ingredients for the drugs used by bokors couldn’t be verified with exactitude – tests were inconclusive. And then there was the mention of the Bizango Sect in all this…” He shook his head. “All this and other stuff meant that it wasn’t taken very seriously.”
“I think I see what you mean,” Scarlet said musingly. “But if the efficacy of the drugs couldn’t be verified…”
“Well, the dosage and strength of each ingredient could have been different from what Davis proposed. And the ingredients, as such, might not be the same as described. There was tetrodotoxin from the puffer fish, substances from marine toads – even human remains…”
“Human remains?” I repeated. As if it wasn’t sickening enough, now it was becoming plainly disgusting.
Caleb nodded. “Apparently. To begin with, Davis was sent here to Haiti to investigate and find this zombification drug. The fact that he failed to produce one that works as it should wasn’t exactly going to make him very popular.” He paused. “There is something else you must also understand about the zombification process: it is both pharmaceutically and socially induced.”
“Socially induced?” Scarlet repeated. “I don’t understand.”
As for myself, I thought I had understood something. “Ethnobiology,” I then said, remembering the subtitle of the second book.
Caleb snapped his fingers and pointed to me. “Exactly. Now, in theory, the drugs used by the bokor would not only act on biological factors, but also on cultural and social factors. It would be a ‘psychoactive drug’, acting on the psychological state of the victim, which will give different results from one victim to another. Considering that in Haitian culture, most zombie victims are Haitians, adepts of voodooism, and likely to believe that they could be turned into zombies by a bokor if they are considered guilty of some sin or other… you will then end up with zombies who will docilely obey their masters’ orders. But if you give the drug to someone who does not believe in voodoo to begin with – then it is unsure that the drugs will produce the same effects – if they have any effect all.”
“So not everybody can be zombified,” I said.
“In theory – no,” Caleb confirmed. “Which might be the reason why the tests done following Doctor Davis’ instructions were not conclusive.” He smiled. “Although, I do not believe they really were tested on human beings to begin with…”
“You said earlier that the process might have been polished with time,” Scarlet remarked. “So could it be possible that the drug might get improved to a point where social factors might not be that much of an issue – or a necessity – after all?”
“Everything is possible, Captain.” Caleb shrugged. “But anyway, the secret of zombification is still held by bokors – who are supposedly part of the Bizango Sect. I do not think that the Bizango would be out to turn just anybody into a zombie. Because if it was the case…”
Caleb left the rest of the sentence hanging. Captain Scarlet didn’t comment; he sat, with his hands resting on his chin again, his fingers intertwined, his brow creased in deep reflection. I could almost hear him think, analysing what we had just learned, and trying to apply it to the case we were presently investigating. I imagined that he was also making some very uncomfortable parallel with his own past experience with the Mysterons. He couldn’t possibly not think about it. And quite frankly, he probably hated thinking about the similarities between his own case and zombification – which, when all was said and done, did now appear to us far too real to dismiss as rubbish – or to be comfortable with.
I watched as Scarlet slowly rose to his feet. His coffee had grown cold; so had mine. We had forgotten all about it, too engrossed in Caleb’s explanation to be concerned with anything else. Now with this new information, we had some material to continue our investigation.
“I believe it’s time for us to go,” Scarlet said, as he put his cap back on his head. “All this has been very interesting…”
“And helpful?” Caleb inquired, straightening up. “Mind if I ask you why you needed all this information to begin with?”
Scarlet offered a thin smile and exchanged glances with me. I smiled in turn and cleared my throat. “I’m afraid we can’t tell you that, Caleb,” I answered.
“Oh yeah… classified information, and all that, right?” Caleb smirked. “I guess that goes with the job, then – doesn’t it, Seymour?”
“I’m afraid it does.” Scarlet presented his hand to my brother. “Thank you for your help, Doctor Griffiths.”
“Anything to help my brother,” Caleb answered, squeezing my partner’s hand. “But I told you, Captain, I’m still not –”
“It’s only a technicality,” Scarlet interrupted. He smiled again. “I’m sure that next time we meet, you’ll be one.”
We started walking towards the exit, but just as we reached it, Caleb called to us: “Just a last word of caution, if I may…” We turned around. My brother was standing in the middle of his small office, and looking gravely at us. “I don’t know what you’re dealing with right now, but if it involves the Bizango Sect – that is, if the Bizango Sect really exists – be careful. Crossing them could be very dangerous.”
Captain Scarlet gave an understanding nod. “So is crossing the Mysterons,” he answered grimly.
Logically, after we left my brother’s home, we should have gone directly back to base, to report to Captain Scarlet’s father the information that we had just received, re-evaluate the situation again in the light shed by these new data, and then decide on a plan of action. Instead, considering the time, Captain Scarlet suggested that we should stop somewhere in town for a bite to eat and discuss things between us, before meeting with the base officers. At this point, it seemed very clear that we were not really facing a Mysteron situation, and so it didn’t look like it fell under Spectrum’s jurisdiction. However, the WAAF was still left with a problem, and depending on the gravity of this problem, it would be up to the senior officer in charge of this assignment to recommend to Colonel White whether Spectrum continue or not to offer its support to the WAAF.
I suspected that Captain Scarlet was very much leaning towards staying and continuing the investigation; not only because the call for help came from his father in the first place, but also because I had the distinct impression that he wanted to know more about the ‘zombie phenomenon’. He couldn’t dismiss the parallels drawn between the working zombies, devoid of will and thought, and the replicates of dead people created by the Mysterons. Considering his own experience, that didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. Obviously, the information given by my brother had aroused his curiosity. And one thing I had learned about Captain Scarlet over the last few years, is that when he felt that something was worth his interest, he would not let go.
We didn’t have to go very far to choose where we would eat; we stopped at the little café in front of which we had parked the jeep. It was called ‘Le Café des Anges’. The name was inspiring to both of us, so it sounded like a good omen. We took a table on the outside terrace.
“I hope you don’t mind the short break, Lieutenant,” Scarlet said, putting his cap on the corner of the table. “But I do feel a little peckish – after all, we haven’t eaten since before our departure from Cloudbase early this morning, and it’s way past lunchtime.”
“Actually, very nearly dinner time,” I agreed. “And I do feel a little hungry too, so why would I mind, Captain?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said casually enough. “Maybe the thought of seeing the charming doctor again might be enough incentive to return quickly to base?” He looked at me with a roguish expression. “She is a looker, isn’t she?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” I replied innocently.
I wasn’t going to tell him anything, but it was obvious I wasn’t fooling him, just by the way he smiled, while looking the other way. I shrugged and opened my portable computer. As I needed to type up the information given by Caleb, and send it over to Doctor Fawn’s computer in case he needed it in his examination of Lieutenant Simon’s body, I suggested to Captain Scarlet that he should order for the both of us. He checked the menu for a good ten minutes before making his choice, just as our waiter, a dreadlocked young man, approached our table. He seemed a little ill at ease; I figured that our uniforms somehow intimidated him, like they had attracted the attention of everyone we had approached so far. As I said, you don’t see many Spectrum colour-coded officers around these parts.
I barely took notice of what Captain Scarlet ordered – in French – from our waiter. I just hoped that it would be something I wasn’t allergic to. I heard Scarlet asking for a glass of water, then change his mind and ordering a bottle of Evian water instead. I imagined that he suddenly remembered that water in these parts of the world might be a little… chancy to drink. Unless you’re from the area yourself and you have developed a certain immunity to it. Like me, for instance.
But frankly, with his special ability, I imagined that Captain Scarlet would be nearly as immune to unsafe water, and so, continuing to type, I made the remark to him. I glanced just in time to see the briefest of smiles on his lips.
“I prefer to be on the safe side,” he said. “After all, as Doctor Fawn often says, my invulnerability is only relative. I can still feel pain… and stomach upsets, I suspect.”
I nodded my understanding. I could feel the captain’s intense stare on me, as I was pursuing my work on the notepad.
“Your brother provided us with very useful information, Lieutenant,” he said. “He obviously knows his subject very well.”
“He’s passionate about his subject, Captain,” I answered, looking up from the screen. I thanked him for the compliment to my brother with a grin. He nodded thoughtfully.
“As you are about your own, Lieutenant. Are you all like that in your family?”
“You mean passionate?” I gave some thought to Scarlet’s question, wondering how I should answer that. Then I nodded slowly. “Well, I think we all are – to a certain extent. Although, the youngest of my siblings have yet to put it to useful goals. For now, Timothy, the youngest, is still only interested in sports, and only has football on his mind.”
The waiter with dreadlocks returned at that moment, and placed in front of Captain Scarlet a plastic bottle and an empty glass. While my colleague broke the seal of his bottle to open it, the waiter turned to me and asked if I wanted something to drink while waiting for my meal. It was very hot, and I admit that seeing Scarlet pouring the contents of his bottle into his glass was making my mouth water, so I ordered the same. The waiter nodded and went away.
“One can make a very good living at professional sports, Lieutenant,” Scarlet said, putting the bottle down onto the table.
I nodded to his remark. “True. But it calls for much sacrifice to actually reach the kind of levels you’re implying, Captain. Tim is good, but is he good enough to go that far, make the necessary sacrifice and have the strength to resist the many traps a professional sportsman has to face – especially if he becomes famous?” I shook my head, slowly. “He still has a long way to go, and a lot of effort to make.”
“I think that ‘effort’, ‘sacrifice’ and ‘avoiding traps’ are a part of the Griffiths family’s trademark,” Scarlet replied pensively. As I looked at him, unsure what he meant exactly, he nodded. “Look at yourself. You’ve made a lot of sacrifice and effort to arrive where you are today. And look at your brother Caleb… An expert in his particular field, on his way to writing his second book? You’re both so young – that’s truly remarkable.”
“I suppose so,” I murmured pensively. At this point, I was a little puzzled at Scarlet’s sudden interest in me and my family. He actually seemed more inclined to open a discussion on this subject, than to talk about the case. I didn’t really mind the interlude, really; I thought it would make a nice change from the business-like attitude we always maintained with each other. Besides, I just had completed my summary of our meeting with Caleb. I saved the file, addressed it as an attached document to Fawn’s encrypted Spectrum email address, and closed the lid of my pad, before looking directly in Scarlet’s direction. “My accomplishments are nothing compared to yours, Captain. You are talking as if you were that much older than me. You’re only, what, six, seven years older? You were younger than me, when you became a war hero… the best soldier to come out of your class in West Point – and probably of any class before and since. Gaining promotion after promotion, until you became the youngest colonel in the WAAF. I read a list of your exploits. And I have to admit, I would never have been able to do half of what you did – never mind survive to talk about it.”
“Well, sometimes, some of those ‘exploits’ you mentioned were due to chance,” he answered, taking a gulp of his water.
“No way can they only be due to that.”
“Oh yes, you have no idea… So in some cases, you might even say that I got rewarded because I was way too cocky for my own safety. And I was just incredibly lucky it paid off.”
“You saved people’s lives…”
His eyes became distant. “And lost some. And took others too, in battle.”
“That was war, wasn’t it?”
Scarlet shook his head. “The path of war is always the easiest path, Lieutenant. When you resort to violence, it’s because either you don’t want to make further alternative efforts – or that all alternative efforts have failed and there’s nothing else to do.”
I was surprised by his words. “That’s strange coming from the mouth of a soldier,” I reflected.
“You think so?” He grinned mischievously. “What did you expect, that I would praise the ‘noble art of war’ and revel in it? I’m not that much of a masochist. Or a sadist.”
I felt myself reddening; thank God for my dark complexion. “I’m sorry, Captain, I didn’t mean –”
“I know you didn’t.” He shook his head again. “I know you don’t think that little of me, Lieutenant.”
He wouldn’t know, but I did think that little of him, not that long ago – and before I got to know him better. I imagine today that it was all part of that resentment, that jealousy I felt towards him for my own selfish and personal reasons. But I certainly didn’t have to tell him that.
“As for my ‘exploits’, I just happen to be good at what I do,” he continued with what sounded like regret in his voice. “For me, it’s not that difficult and there’s not much heroics in it.” He looked directly at me. “In my view, you are the true hero, Seymour.”
“Me?” Again, that took me by surprise, and I felt compelled to protest: “But I’m no hero, Captain!”
“You don’t think you are? Well, I beg to differ, Lieutenant, and I think that all your brothers and sisters would agree with me. If not for you, your whole family would have been dispersed when your parents died. And while keeping your family together, you successfully pursued your studies, and became what you are today. Not only that, but your brothers and sisters are doing very well for themselves too.”
“Are they?” I asked with a smirk. “I don’t know if they’re all doing that well… My sister Virginia has decided to make a career in the WAAF…”
“Oh, cheap shot, Seymour.” There was amusement in Scarlet’s voice, so I chuckled. “Is she, really?” he asked.
“Just found out last spring,” I said. “I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to take it. You know how it is… that old rivalry between the Army and the Navy?”
He rolled his eyes. “Reminds me of my West Point years,” he said.
I smiled. “I admit, it did take some imagination to keep us all together, and to allow us all to stay in school, and to eventually pursue higher studies. We did a lot of odd jobs to keep food on the table and a little money in the bank. There weren’t that many of us old enough to have the right to work, you know, but that didn’t stop us… It was a matter of survival, after all.”
“As long as you didn’t rob a bank…” Scarlet took a sip from his glass of water and stopped, looking at me suspiciously. “You didn’t rob a bank, did you?”
This time, I laughed openly. “Nah… Although if I had thought of setting up a network like Captain Magenta did in New York, life would have been much easier…”
“I’m kidding, Captain! I had enough trouble as it was keeping one step ahead of the social services at the time, to even think of pulling off a heist like that.”
“I was wondering about that,” Scarlet commented. “How did you manage, exactly? If the social services in Trinidad are anything like they are in Britain, it’s a wonder you were able to convince them to leave the family be!”
“Well, Trinidadian social services might not be equal to what you have in Britain, but I can tell you, they gave us some headaches.”
The dreadlocked waiter was coming back with my bottle of Evian water and a glass that he put on the table in front of me, so I stopped right there, and hesitated for a moment. Scarlet was scrutinising me with curiosity. I don’t know why I told him that much about my family – he wasn’t even a close friend of mine to begin with – nor why I felt compelled to confide further in him. Was it that I wanted to gloat about my own personal ‘exploits’ against the government system? I don’t know exactly. But if there was one thing that I knew about Captain Scarlet, it was that he’s completely trustworthy. If you tell him something in confidence, he won’t tell a soul.
Beside, there wasn’t any risk anymore in me telling the story; my family was safe from any involvement from social services now.
The waiter left us again, assuring us that our meals would shortly be on the way; I still wondered what it was that Captain Scarlet ordered. I guessed I would learn that in due time.
“I’ll tell you a secret, Captain,” I finally said, and I could see that it attracted his attention. He took a sip of his water again and he grimaced. Obviously, it wasn’t to his liking. “Promise me not to tell a soul, however.”
“Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I’ll be as silent as the proverbial grave.”
This was one of his usual jokes. Not one of his worst, but certainly not his best either. He noticed the odd look I gave him and smiled apologetically. “Go ahead, I’m all ears.”
I leaned over the table towards him, and he leaned forward too. We must have looked like two conspiring buddies.
“You were right in thinking that social services in Trinidad were not too keen on letting the family stay together, as we were all under-age. There was only one possible condition under which they would accept that… We needed to be taken under the responsibility of a legal guardian, who would look out for us, and make sure we didn’t lack anything.”
“And you had that guardian?” Scarlet asked. The clever guy already suspected there was something afoot, of course.
“Well, officially, yes… And no. We didn’t have much family left. Except for Uncle Joe. He was Dad’s older brother, and he was a sailor, in the World Navy. That meant that he wasn’t around much – he was always at sea. He would take furlough once in a while in Trinidad, and come for a visit. My parents’ funerals were only the second or third time I actually met him. He didn’t like children much, and considering the number of kids in the household… He wasn’t really comfortable staying around. He was a little grumpy, but nevertheless, he agreed to act as our legal guardian for the social services.”
Scarlet frowned. I could see the perplexity in his face. “I don’t get it. If he wasn’t even around, how could the social services accept him as your guardian, to begin with? He wouldn’t fill the requirements – or am I mistaken?”
“No. You’re perfectly right. He didn’t fill the requirements. But the social services accepted him anyway. Because we never told them that Uncle Joe, instead of being home, was out at sea.” I sat back on my chair. “As long as they had a name on the forms, they were happy with it. Oh, of course, they made some checks at our house… Visiting often to make sure we were well fed, well taken care of, and well educated, according to their conditions. We were able to fend for ourselves, and what they saw seemed to satisfy them.”
“Didn’t they insist on meeting your guardian? At least a few times?”
“Yes… And there were some forms that needed to be filled in as well through the years… Obviously, Uncle Joe wasn’t always available for that.”
“Well then… how did you manage?”
“For the forms, I filled them in by myself,” I explained. “That was the easy part. Most of them were in electronic format. All I had to do was fill them in online and send them. I had manufactured an electronic signature of Uncle Joe’s, so nobody suspected a thing. I… had to lie on a couple of forms, of course, but it went without a hitch.”
“And for those times the social services needed to meet your guardian?”
“We manufactured that as well.” As Scarlet was looking at me without seemingly understanding, I shrugged. “You’d be surprised how easily a bottle of Jamaican rum can buy the services of a fisherman, whenever the presence of my uncle was required.”
“You mean – you hired someone else to pose as your uncle?” Now Scarlet was incredulous. “Lieutenant, I’m surprised at you! I never expected you to be that… that…”
“Dishonest?” I offered, raising a brow.
“No… the word I was looking for would rather be ‘enterprising’.” Scarlet smiled. He seemed more and more impressed by my revelations. “And you say you filled out the requested forms yourself, for all those years? And lied on them?”
I hesitated again. “I actually did a little more than that,” I admitted finally. “I… erm… hacked into the social services systems. A number of times.” I saw the astonishment on his face, and I smiled mischievously. I was rather satisfied with the effect I was having. “You know I’ve always been good with computers, Captain.”
“Good is an understatement,” he said. “You’re remarkable with computers. I shouldn’t be surprised you already were at the time.”
“Well, what can I say, I grew up with those machines. The social services system was rather easy to hack into. So I used my… expertise… to get in, change a few data – and get out without leaving a trace.”
“Uh-huh. Captain Magenta once told me the best hackers are those who don’t leaves traces.”
“Captain Magenta should know what’s he’s talking about.”
Scarlet took another gulp of his water, and grimaced anew. “This water really has a bad taste. And doesn’t really help in this weather. What kind of data did you change exactly – if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Nothing of much importance, really… Information regarding our Uncle Joe – so that when the investigators met the guy we had hired, they wouldn’t know he wasn’t the real deal. I changed scheduled dates for those meetings, and for planned visits, so we would be prepared… And I also changed birth dates.”
“Mine and my brothers Joshua and Caleb, to be precise. So that we would be allowed to work AND go to school at the same time. You cannot do both under a certain age, so… That also helped us attend some advanced classes, which we would not have been able to do otherwise, due to our young age.”
“I see. Well, I was right, Lieutenant. You were enterprising.”
“Hey, whatever it took to keep the family together, Captain, I was willing to do. I have no regrets or guilt over that.”
“I understand perfectly. Although I don’t have brothers or sisters of my own, I regret to say.” Scarlet sat back, pensively. He wiped his brow. “Is it getting hotter?”
“That’s the climate, Captain,” I remarked. “You’re not used to it.”
“And these uniforms don’t help either,” he added, pulling on the collar of his shirt. “I envy you your family, Lieutenant. I would have given a lot to have at least a younger sister or brother. I do have cousins – some of whom I was very close to, and for whom I would have done anything. My cousin Jessica, for example… we were like brother and sister, as we grew up in Winchester.”
“Isn’t she the one who’s in the U.S.S. now?” I enquired. “Jessica Blake?”
He nodded in answer. “We were much alike, she and I. We still are today.” He emptied his glass, but that didn’t seem to refresh him at all, as he wiped his brow once more. “In some ways, Symphony reminds me a lot of her.”
“Ah yes!” I laughed, as I took my own bottle of water and broke the seal to open it. “You often say that you feel like an older brother towards her.”
“I feel the same for all the Angels, Lieutenant,” Scarlet replied, taking a swig directly from his bottle.
“Funny,” I said matter-of-factly, without really thinking about it, as I poured the contents of my bottle into my glass. “It seems to me that you would have trouble being a brother to two of them, Captain.”
I saw his frown, and realised my mistake right then – talking way too much of things I shouldn’t even know about. Scarlet had been romantically involved with Destiny Angel; that was way back, well before Spectrum, when both of them were in the WAAF. They were not together anymore, however, and today, it was with Rhapsody Angel that Scarlet was having a romantic relationship. And that was one of the reasons I used to resent him. I liked Rhapsody – well, more than liked her, actually; I was very much attracted to her, in truth, and I had hoped that maybe one day I would build up the courage to ask her out. Unfortunately, I might have waited just a little too long, as I found out, quite by chance, that in the meantime, she had fallen for Scarlet. Just my luck, I supposed, to have lost her to him. But then again, what chance did I have against a guy like him? He was tall, handsome, a heroic figure – while I was… only me. The self-effacing communications officer who could never hope to become as successful with strikingly beautiful women as he was.
I thought I had given myself away about Destiny and Rhapsody, but, as he replied, I discovered that he had completely misunderstood me.
“Lieutenant,” he said with a cold edge in his voice, “I thought you would know me well enough by now to know that the colour of someone’s skin makes absolutely no difference to me. I regard Harmony and Melody in the same way –”
“Just a minute, Captain!” His comeback surprised me, as I didn’t even imagine he would think that. But it didn’t surprise me enough to leave me speechless. At that moment, I didn’t even ask myself if it was wise to reply the way I did; I just reacted to the accusation: “With all due respect, you should know yourself that that wasn’t at all what I was implying. I wasn’t talking about Harmony or Melody, I meant –”
I didn’t have time to finish what I had to say, and maybe it was just as well; if I had been surprised by Scarlet’s earlier accusation, it was nothing compared to his next reaction. He was suddenly on his feet, and, as fast as lightning, was extending his right arm straight in my direction. I don’t know why, but I honestly thought that at this point, he was attacking me. Scarlet’s temper was notorious, but I never imagined that he would lose his British cool for so little.
I should have known better.
I froze in place, almost expecting to receive either a slap across the cheek or a fist right in the nose. That wasn’t at all what happened.
Scarlet’s arm made a large arc – to knock from the table the glass of water I had just poured myself, before swatting from my hand the half-empty plastic bottle. Both flew into the air before falling to the ground, and I blinked, looking in astonishment at Scarlet. Oblivious to the nearby clients of the terrace looking in our direction in wonder, he was leaning heavily against the table, staring down at me with a glazed expression; there were beads of sweat on his forehead and cheeks.
“Don’t drink the water,” he croaked. “There’s something in it.”
The astonishment in me turned to horror. I stood there for a few seconds, my jaw hanging, and looked down at my bottle of water, lying on the ground and slowly emptying itself of its contents. Then I raised my eyes to Scarlet’s bottle, still standing on the table.
“That’s impossible,” I murmured. “The seal was intact…I broke it myself – as you did with yours…” Then it occurred to me, just as Scarlet’s hand snatched the empty glass still on the table. “The glass…”
He brought the glass to his nose and sniffed it, before handing it to me. The smell inside the glass was awful, and I could see a small white deposit at the bottom.
“No wonder you thought it tasted funny,” I said. “They must have rubbed the surface with some kind of drug,”
“Or poison,” Scarlet muttered.
I looked at him. He didn’t look that good, but he was still standing… and doing his best to keep himself upright, using the table as support. “Are you all right?” It occurred to me that he had drunk all of the contents of his glass – and that he had probably swallowed all of the drug or poison as well.
He didn’t answer, as if it was of little consequence to him, and instead looked around. I knew he was seeking our waiter, who, suspiciously enough, had not returned with our meals. I searched around with my eyes too.
I was the first to spot him; he was standing just around the corner of the restaurant, watching us, and looking awfully nervous, now that we were watching him in turn. He suddenly darted towards the street.
I was always amazed at Captain Scarlet’s capacity to spring into action almost at the moment his mind had made the decision to do so. Even as sick as he seemed to be at this precise moment, he was rushing after the man with dreadlocks before I had actually made a single move. I followed, running after him. At the peak of my form, I knew I was no match for Scarlet’s usual Olympian top-shape. And even right now, I had trouble keeping up with him.
Our prey had a definite advantage; he knew the city, and used every turn and corner to keep his lead over us. There were an awful lot of people walking the streets, and he tried to blend into the crowd; but obviously, he couldn’t escape us totally; he was still running, afraid that if he was to stop, we would gain on him, and that was what made him stand out amongst the pedestrians. Wherever he went, there was a commotion, angry people shouting after him after he had pushed them aside. And that was slowing him down.
I could see him perfectly. He was looking over his shoulder, as if hoping he had lost us; he wasn’t in luck, really, because as he did just that, he collided violently with a party of three young men, and they nearly crashed to the ground. They were not particularly happy with him, and one of them caught him by the collar, shaking him violently, yelling at him a series of insults that, with my basic knowledge of Creole, I couldn’t fully understand.
The dreadlocked man looked over his shoulder once more, oblivious to the harangue, and I saw the panic in his eyes when he realised we were gaining on him. He brutally pushed his aggressor aside, and resumed his race. We passed right through the middle of the three men he had knocked down, as they were still throwing invectives at him; now it was our turn to receive insults, and I clearly heard one of them calling us ‘Spectrum elitist scum’ as we ran past them, without slowing down.
Our prey had turned into a narrow alley that we entered after him; a whole lot of stuff like dirty garbage cans and bags, filled to capacity, discarded old mattresses, various pieces of broken furniture, cluttered the alley, and he had to either jump over these obstacles, or push them aside to get through. He got entangled in some drying sheets hanging a little too low, and he struggled to free himself from them. By doing so, he cleared the path for us, as we came after him; it never came into his mind that he could have thrown any of this stuff at us to slow our advance.
He had nearly reached the end of the alley when a backing truck suddenly appeared, effectively blocking his way. He skidded to a halt, looked back and saw we were almost on him. In one last desperate attempt, he tried to jump over a wall to his left. Scarlet’s hands grabbed him and pulled him down violently; he turned the man around to face him and slam him violently against the same wall.
Our ‘waiter’ was barely more than a boy, probably not even twenty years old. He was weakly built, and was no match for a highly trained Spectrum officer. Even I could have made mince-meat out of him, without breaking a sweat, so it was easy to imagine how he would fare against an angry Captain Scarlet – even if the latter looked like he was fit to fall.
Scarlet pushed the boy up against the wall, keeping him there with his feet barely touching the ground. I had never seen him that furious before; and I had never seen him that sick before. His face was pale as a sheet and drenched with sweat, and he was breathing hard; and I knew it wasn’t only because he had just given chase to this would-be poisoner. He was making a desperate effort to stay on his feet and not throw up.
I found myself wondering how much time it would take for his retrometabolism to clear his system of the drug. I imagined it was already working full time right now.
“Now, you will tell me, you bastard,” Scarlet growled through clenched teeth, “who the hell you are and why you tried to poison me and my friend!”
Friend. I often wondered if Captain Scarlet truly considered me a friend. An appreciated colleague, certainly. A respected and competent officer, more than likely, as long as I kept to my own field. But a true friend? I wasn’t sure. Probably, he would never give me the same consideration as Captain Blue. That would be too much to ask.
Did I consider him a friend? I wondered about that too.
The young man was taking too long to answer, and that didn’t please Scarlet. He banged him against the wall. He obviously had no intention of playing nice with him; I was wondering if I would have to intervene soon, before he went too far.
“Answer me!” Scarlet demanded with barely contained fury. “What do you want from us?”
“You only,” the young man finally answered – and his voice was just a little more than a whisper. “You only have been marked. It is you only who is wanted.”
“Marked?” Scarlet frowned deeply, and pushed the young man higher against the wall; I swear I had no idea where he found the strength. He appeared too sick to even stand up straight, but there he was, heaving this man a foot off the ground.
I guess anger was pumping his adrenaline at a level he didn’t even suspect.
“Easy, Captain,” I said, trying to calm him down. “You’re strangling him…”
He wasn’t even listening to me. “What do you mean, ‘marked’?” he asked again, addressing the young man. “You’d better tell us who sent you after us, and be quick about it, or –”
“The bokor wants you…” the young man said defiantly. “You are to be his… for the rest of your life…”
“Oh yeah? The bokor, you say? Who is he, and where can I find him?” He pushed the young man further up the wall. I heard a tearing sound and the shirt Scarlet was holding gave way. On the exposed throat of the man, there were two shiny plates, dangling from a chain that attracted both Scarlet’s attention and mine.
“What is this?” Scarlet lowered the young man back to his feet. Keeping hold of him with one hand, he used the other to tear the chain from the man’s neck. He gave but one glance at the objects attached to it, before shoving it before the young man’s eyes.
“Now you will explain to me what you’re doing with WAAF dog tags!” he spat between his teeth. The only answer he received was dead silence, and that infuriated him. He angrily bumped the man’s head against the wall. “Tell me before I break your neck!”
“Captain!” I tried again, as I heard the choking sound coming from the young man’s throat. “He won’t tell you anything if you kill him. Let him go!”
Suddenly, Scarlet did just that – but not exactly as I had expected. He peeled his prisoner off the wall, turned on his heel and used the momentum to brutally toss him away. The man’s unbalanced body brushed by me and I stepped aside to avoid him – and watched with astonishment as he violently collided with another man who was coming up behind me.
The two of them collapsed to the ground; our waiter’s dreadlocked hair fell from his head, revealing very short-trimmed hair, and I realised just at that moment that he was wearing a wig.
Scarlet took a threatening step in the direction of the two men, who struggled to gather their wits and get back to their feet, as fast as possible; they ran away from us, bumping and crashing into garbage cans. The truck that had been blocking the way earlier was now moving, and they slipped through the narrow gap between the wall and the truck to escape.
However, they did not need to hurry that much. Scarlet was quite unable to give chase; obviously having used what remained of his energy, he had fallen on one knee and was now trying to regain his strength.
I probably could have gone after the two fugitives – or even drawn my gun to threaten them into stopping, although I doubted they would have listened to any of my warnings to begin with. But at this point, I was a little too concerned about my colleague’s apparently failing health. My first duty was to him.
As the two men disappeared at the turn of the alley and into the main street, I crouched down near Captain Scarlet. “Are you all right?” It sounded like an idiotic question, and if it had been any other person, it certainly would have been one, and I would have deserved a good smack for asking it. But this was Scarlet, and he knew perfectly well what I meant. He was breathing hard now, and had trouble even raising his head. He wiped the sweat from his brow.
“At the moment, I’m not feeling too great,” he said, swallowing hard and struggling to pull himself together. “Whatever this poison I swallowed is, it must be very powerful.” He shook his head, trying to dispel the effects of the drug, gritting his teeth as if in pain. “I should be all right in a short time, when retrometabolism finally kicks in…” He blinked and looked crossly at me. “You should have gone after them.”
“No way,” I reasoned. “The colonel would have my hide for leaving you all alone to fend by yourself, in the state you’re in. You know how attached he is to you…” I smiled. I’m not sure he appreciated the joke, but at the moment, he was apparently unable to get angry with me; he just gave me an exasperated look. I gently helped him up. “Lean on me… You look like hell.” As he stood up by my side, I looked him in the eyes. “By the way, thanks. If not for you, I would have drunk that water too…”
He shook his head; while leaning on my shoulder to stay upright, he was hugging himself with the other arm, like someone who was having painful cramps. “Took me long enough to realise something was wrong,” he said between breaths. “I wish I had sooner, that would have stopped me from drinking so much of it.”
“How do you feel?”
“Like I’m going to die. And believe me, I know what I’m talking about.” He looked directly at me. “You heard what that bastard said?”
I nodded. “A bokor is after us. Or rather you, specifically.”
“I don’t think that means you’re out of danger, Lieutenant.”
“Hell if I know exactly.” With a shaky hand, Scarlet showed me the dog tags he had retrieved from our attacker. “Either that guy took these from a WAAF soldier – or he was a WAAF soldier. My guess is – someone is afraid we’ll find out the truth behind what happened to Lieutenant Simon at the base.”
I shook my head. “Let’s not talk about this now. I have to take you away from here to safety, and give your retrometabolism time to clear the poison out of your system.”
A sound coming from the end of the alley attracted both our attention, and we turned in that direction, wondering if, by any chance, our attackers had found the courage to come back after us again. Scarlet could barely stand on his own; gently but firmly, I guided him towards the nearest wall, so he could rest against it. “Stay here, Captain,” I urged him firmly. “I’m going to check this out.”
He nodded, acknowledging that he was of little help at the moment, but nevertheless took his handgun out, as he leaned his back against the wall. “Be careful,” he told me. “The colonel is attached to you too.”
He didn’t really have to say that; I had no intention of risking my life needlessly.
I drew my gun too, and carefully walked towards the end of the alley. As I reached the corner, I heard hurried footsteps, and then saw a shadow, which loomed from the other side. The owner of this shadow barely had time to take a step into the alley; my free hand grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him in. I vigorously shoved him against the nearest wall, threatening him with my weapon. He gasped in shock.
I froze. I don’t know which of the two of us was the more surprised to see the other, as I instantly recognised the features of the man who was now staring me with wide, frightened eyes.
“Steady on, Seymour – it’s only me.”
I could barely contain my anger. “Caleb, what the hell are you doing here?” I lowered my gun and loosened my grip on his shirt.
“I was looking for you,” my brother explained. “A kid came to Mama Leona’s store earlier, with a story that there had been a clash at the café and that he had seen two Spectrum officers chasing after a guy. The kid was very excited by all that – it’s not every day you get to see Spectrum agents in action in Port-au-Prince…” He looked at me, nervously. “I knew it must be your friend and you, so I was worried and tried to find you. It wasn’t difficult to find people to tell me what direction you took…”
“You were worried?” I snapped. “Caleb, we know our job – you shouldn’t have come after us. What were you thinking? Don’t you know it could be dangerous?”
“Tell me about it,” he replied quickly. “Look behind me.”
I did. I had a good view of the other side of the main street, where I could see a soup kitchen, with about ten people lined up outside. Standing apart from that line, there was a group of men, and three of them were talking to each other with animation. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were pointing in the direction of the alley where I was standing with Caleb.
One of the three guys was our false dreadlocked waiter. He didn’t seem very happy. One of his two companions suddenly dashed out and ran down the main street at full speed.
“That’s how I knew precisely where you were,” Caleb explained. “They were saying that they’ll trap you in this alley – with another group of their friends coming up the other end. I saw that other group on my way here.”
“Oh, damnation…” I whispered. “That’s probably where that other guy who just left went…” I pulled my brother further into the alley, a little roughly. “Of all the reckless things for you to do… Now they’ve probably seen you. And know about your link to us.”
“They probably knew already,” the voice of Captain Scarlet said from the shadow of the alley, attracting our attention. “They must have been following us ever since we left base.”
“Captain Scarlet!” Caleb had just discovered my colleague, leaning against the wall with his handgun at the ready, and still looking very sick. He went to stand directly in front of my colleague, looking worried. I followed suit, looking behind me towards the main street. “You look like hell – what happened to you?”
“He drank some drugged water,” I explained quickly. I nearly used the word ‘poisoned’, but I stopped myself just in time before doing it. ‘Poison’ had a finality to it that might have raised too many questions if Scarlet was to die right here in front of Caleb’s eyes and revive after that.
Right now, however, that wasn’t exactly my main concern.
“We’ll discuss that later. For now, we have to get away from here.” I thumbed in the direction of the main street behind us. “Our Bob Marley reject is about to launch an assault on this alley with a few chums of his. How many people did you see at the other end, Caleb?”
“Enough to know that you’re in trouble,” my brother answered gloomily.
“Well, you’re in trouble too, now,” I reflected darkly.
“Seymour, I had to come and warn you. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing, knowing that those guys were after you. You’re my brother.”
I didn’t reply. Caleb’s intentions were certainly good, but he didn’t seem to realise that his presence was now making things far more difficult than they already were. We had a civilian with us now, and our duty was to protect him. No matter that he was my own brother.
“Our jeep is over there too,” Scarlet muttered pensively. “We won’t be able to reach it and use it to get back to base. Your brother was right, Caleb: coming here might have been a mistake. You’re stuck with us now.”
“How about going up there?” I had just noticed a metal ladder, coming down the side of one of the buildings surrounding us. It went straight up to a series of balconies, and up to the roofs. The lower end of it was folded in a horizontal position, just under the second storey’s balcony.
“The fire escape,” Scarlet murmured with a nod. He hobbled to the balcony, pushing garbage bags out of his way, and we followed; when he reached it, he pulled on the ladder with all of his weight to unfold it and bring the end to him. It didn’t look that solid, so he jerked it as strongly as he could to test it, before looking up towards the balconies over our heads.
“It seems sturdy enough to support our weight,” he said thoughtfully.
“You’re in no condition to climb this thing,” Caleb protested. “You might fall and kill yourself.”
Caleb was stating the obvious, but quite frankly, it didn’t look like we had any other choice left to us. And we had to make a decision quickly, as I was hearing a commotion coming from the far end of the alley; as we looked up, we saw the gang announced by my brother, looking into the shadows.
There were seven of them, and they were slowly entering the alley to approach us.
From behind us, we heard shouting, and we turned around to see our earlier attackers and their new companions crossing the street to come towards us from that direction.
Captain Scarlet took a swift decision. “Let’s not waste any more time. Caleb, go on first!”
My brother didn’t argue; one look at the men coming at us convinced him that it was best to follow our instructions. He jumped the first rungs and quickly climbed, reaching ten feet before the echo of Scarlet’s voice had faded.
“Your turn, Lieutenant,” Scarlet commanded, stepping back to give me space.
I grabbed the ladder, putting my feet on the first rung, and stopped to look at Scarlet, suddenly hesitant. “What about you?”
His face became hard. “Your brother said it. I will never be able to make it in my present condition. I’ll stay and buy you some time.”
“Don’t argue, Green! You know I run far less risk than you!”
I glanced over his shoulder; the men coming from the far side of the alley were approaching our position. They didn’t look like they were in any hurry – like they were sure we wouldn’t be able to escape; which seemed odd, because, surely, they could see we were trying to use this ladder to escape.
Then, as they stepped out of the shadows, something even stranger caught my attention: the expression in these men’s eyes. They were fixed on us – but even from this distance, they looked haggard – seemingly empty of all emotion.
They looked… like the eyes of dead men.
I blinked in surprise. Surely, I was dreaming…
I looked behind me; the other group of men was approaching fast. They were six, and walking in front were our false waiter, and his friend who had tried to attack me from behind. These two looked very determined now that they had backup, and were shouting. Their companions, however, were following at a slower pace, in silence.
And on their faces, there was a dead expression similar to that of the first group.
I felt myself shivering, and turned to Scarlet. “Captain –”
“Go on, Seymour! Climb! You have to protect your brother!”
Scarlet grabbed me by the arm, and urged me up. I obeyed and hurriedly started climbing; I had barely reached the first balcony when Scarlet pushed the ladder up, so that nobody could follow me. Stepping over the banister, I looked down and saw the first of his assailants reach my colleague, just as he turned to face them. I heard his gun thunder only once, as he was quickly overwhelmed and was unable to keep them at bay.
I saw Scarlet fall and he disappeared from my view, as if drowned under the human wave attacking him.
I swallowed hard, and forced myself to detach my eyes from the scene; I looked up and saw Caleb, who was climbing the last steps of the ladder to reach the roof. I followed, as quickly as I could, heart pounding, not daring to look down, and hating myself for leaving my superior officer like that to fend for himself.
But Scarlet had given me a direct order, and although it galled me to admit it, he was right. He was likely to survive an attack from these men, no matter what they might do to him.
I was haunted by the vision of these men’s expression, and that gave me the incentive to climb as fast as I could; I had never seen such a dead expression in my life. Not even in a Mysteron agent – although I admit I hadn’t met many. Just enough to know the men down there weren’t Mysteron duplicates. They didn’t seem alive enough.
I reached the roof; Caleb was standing by the ladder, waiting for me. He helped me up, and I took a few seconds to regain my breath. My brother was about to lean over the edge to look down and see if Scarlet was following, but I grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him away. Whatever was going down there – and I could hear a loud enough commotion – I didn’t want him to see.
“Where’s Captain Scarlet?” he asked me, opening his eyes wide in confusion.
I shook my head and stood up tall. “He stayed behind to gain us some time.”
“But he’ll get killed –”
“… He’s doing his job,” I interrupted harshly. “Now come on! We cannot stay here and wait for those guys to come after us!”
I pushed him onward rather brusquely and urged him to run. He must have thought me pretty insensitive to leave my colleague behind like that and flee. But I had Caleb’s safety to think about. I had already lost one brother in a tragic accident; I had no intention of losing another in similar circumstances. I knew that those guys down there had seen us climb this ladder; Scarlet would not be able to hold them long, and then they would probably come after us. I didn’t want to wait for them.
We ran to the other end of the roof, and accessed the roof of another building, and then another; we were about three stories up, and from this point of view, I could see the shantytown of Port-au-Prince extending towards the horizon. If I had not been so preoccupied with running for my life and getting my brother to safety, I might have felt more than simply sorry in front of this desolating proof of poverty displayed at my feet. Frankly, I had enough on my mind at the moment.
We came to a halt at the end of the third roof. I looked back, to make sure that nobody was behind us; there wasn’t another living soul on the roofs; I checked on the streets below, wondering if there were any of our enemies down there waiting for us.
There were many pedestrians walking and going about their business on the main street, and at first glance, there didn’t seem to be anything suspicious about them. However, I knew better than anyone that the commonest appearance may hide the darkest of intents. At least nobody seemed to be looking up, so no one noticed our presence on the roof.
There was another fire ladder by the side of the building, quite similar to the one we had used earlier to climb up, which was going down the wall down to a dark alley below. It was empty of people – but as filled with garbage bags and containers as the one we had escaped, only a few minutes ago. The ladder was close to the corner of the street, so I figure it was safe enough to use it.
“Okay,” I told Caleb, turning to him. “You go down first. I’ll follow close behind you. When we’re on the street, we’ll lose ourselves in the crowd.”
“How about your friend?” he asked me, almost accusingly. “Aren’t you going to call for back up to go help him? Are you going to leave him to die?”
“Calling for help will be the first thing I’ll do when I’m sure we’re entirely safe,” I replied sharply. I figured that when we were safely hidden in the crowd, I would be able to contact base, and report on the latest events. I was already picturing myself trying to explain to Colonel White how I was forced to abandon his number one agent to face forces greater than he was able to contain – and that I had lost him. I didn’t expect the colonel to take the news very well. I didn’t lie to Scarlet earlier: our commander was very attached to him, but it wasn’t so much an emotional attachment as the fact that he regarded Scarlet as Spectrum’s best asset in our fight against the Mysterons.
But my brother was making my work difficult. He didn’t seem quite ready to follow my instructions. I was about to get angry with him.
“Come on, Caleb. We shouldn’t waste time! We’re still in danger and we have to –”
I had actually realised there was something wrong a second before Caleb’s frantic warning. I had seen his eyes growing suddenly wide with panic as he looked past me; that was a sure indication that something was lurking behind, and it made me react instinctively.
I pushed Caleb out of the way and stepped aside, just in time to avoid hands coming to grab me from behind. Then I turned to my mysterious assailant, and landed a karate chop on him; I’m not a great fighter, but I know how to defend myself, and I had learned that if I was able to land a swift and strong strike at the right place, I had a good chance of surprising my adversary and gaining the advantage – or even knocking him out instantly. It was Harmony, Cloudbase’s resident martial arts expert, who taught me a thing or two about karate. That girl was barely taller than five feet, and at first glance, didn’t look that much of a threat; but she was impressive at the helm of an Angel fighter, and even more on a dojo mat. And her lessons had proven useful to me on more than one occasion.
However, this time, they weren’t very effective, although I was pretty sure that even Captain Scarlet would have staggered after the kind of blow I just landed on my assailant. He barely reacted; it could have been a love tap, for the good it did me.
He stood there, silent, completely unfazed by my counter-attack; his mouth closed in a thin line, keeping deadly silent. I instantly took a defensive pose, expecting him to press his attack – and then I froze, when I noticed his eyes; they were staring at me, but didn’t seem to even see me. They were dull and glazed, devoid of any light, and lifeless, as if there was no mind behind them.
No mind and no soul. Just like these other men down in the alley, who had trapped Captain Scarlet.
That gave me a shock as a dreadful suspicion crept into my mind and stopped me from reacting properly. No, I couldn’t possibly be facing –
My hesitation left me open to a follow-up attack.
My adversary took one step forwards, and made a wide sweep with his arm in my direction. I wasn’t able to avoid it, and it hit me from the side. His closed fist, hard as granite, connected with my temple, and I saw stars, just as the tremendous, almost incredible, strength behind the blow pushed me sideways. My feet left the ground and I found myself falling – over the side of the roof that was much too close to me. I heard Caleb’s voice screaming my name.
The last thing my stunned mind registered was the garbage bag-filled dumpster rushing straight at me as I fell from the three or four storey high building…
END OF PART 1