A ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons’ short story
“So, I heard that you and Scarlet had a wonderful romantic moment in Scotland?”
Busy preparing himself a cup of coffee at the counter, Captain Scarlet raised his head at the sound of these words. With him in the Officers’ Lounge, there was Captain Ochre, seated on the sofa with Symphony Angel, while Melody Angel, having sat down in one of the armchairs, was reading a magazine. She lowered it to look at Ochre with curiosity, while Symphony scowled at the American captain’s odd comment.
“I would hardly call it a romantic moment, Captain Ochre,” she retorted with a scoff.
He grinned. “Come on. Old Scottish castle, dark, intimate room, chains… I didn’t know you were into this bondage thing, Symph.” He winked. “Because if I had I known that…”
Melody rolled her eyes in vexation, while Symphony scoffed again: “Well, it’s obvious you weren’t there… Old Scottish castle indeed, but it was a dark, damp and musty dungeon we were thrown into. The cold got right into my bones.” She shivered. “I can still feel the chill.”
“Don’t forget the rats,” Melody piped up. Symphony had told her all about it earlier, while the two of them were alone together, and that particular part of the tale had made quite an impression on her.
Symphony nodded energetically. “I swear, those rats were bigger than my head. The cats we had on the ranch chased their share of rats – but even they would have shrunk away from those rats.” She shivered anew. “Now I have chills just thinking of them. I wonder what they used to feed them with.”
“Probably poor, unfortunate English prisoners.” Scarlet approached the group and came to stand in front of Symphony. “And Americans as well,” he added with a thin smile. He offered to the young woman one of the two cups of coffee he was carrying in his hands. “Here, for the chills.”
She accepted it with a grateful smile. “Thanks, Paul. You’re a life saver.”
He sat down on the seat next to her. “It was a pretty unpleasant experience,” he confirmed, taking a sip from his own cup. “Those chains they used to restrain us were all rusty and heavy, and hurt like hell.”
Symphony approved. “That they were. I could barely move. I was surprised you were actually able to grab that spear that was between us, Paul.”
“Well, I might be somewhat stronger than you,” Scarlet reasoned. “And let’s face it, without your help, I wouldn’t have managed to actually get it. When I accidentally threw it down on the floor, I could have sworn we were done for. That was, until I saw you going for it with your feet.”
“Team effort, that’s the key.” Symphony smiled and raised her cup to him. He answered in the same fashion. “We were downright lucky it was there to begin with,” she continued. “Or, as you said, we would have been done for.”
“I guess Goddard and Holt never imagined how resourceful Spectrum officers could be,” Ochre commented. “That was their downfall.”
“Still,” Melody pointed out, “if I had been able to find the wreckage of the XQR in time to be sure Goddard and Holt were Mysterons –”
“It wasn’t your fault, Melody. And you did find it anyway,” Symphony interrupted. “In time to have the cavalry sent to our rescue.”
“Blue wouldn’t have arrived in time to save the delegates,” Melody pointed out. “They would have been long dead. It’s only because you two were able to get free that they’re alive right now.”
“I did very little. Paul did it all.” Symphony turned to Scarlet, who was looking down into his cup of coffee in a thoughtful way. “You were hurt trying to stop Goddard. Are you okay now?”
“Of course I am.” Scarlet smiled. “You know these… ah… situations are little more than scrapes for me. I don’t even have a scratch left. I do believe it was more difficult on Blue than on me. He was the one who got me back after Goddard shot me.”
“It’s difficult on all of us,” Symphony said, patting his knee in comfort. “Be more careful in future, okay?”
“I wish I could make that promise… but I can certainly try.” Scarlet took a new sip of coffee, then sighed. “It was fortunate that Mr. Morton didn’t fully realise the extent of my injuries – or he would have been more surprised than he actually was. He was certainly impressed by my… er… explanations earlier on, in the Control Room.”
“That he was.” The voice ringing from behind made them all turn their heads. They saw Lieutenant Green who had just strode in, the door closing behind him. He had obviously arrived just in time to hear the last part of their conversation. He offered a smile around. “Hi everyone, care if I join you?”
“Come on in, Lieutenant,” Scarlet invited. “Finished your stint in the Control Room?”
“Lieutenant Burgundy relieved me a few minutes ago,” the younger man explained as he walked towards the counter. “Is that coffee I smell? Who made it?”
“Captain Scarlet,” Melody answered, taking a delighted sniff of the aroma coming from her own cup. “And I can confirm: his coffee is much better tasting than Captain Blue’s.”
Green chuckled. “So it’s quite safe if I take some of it, then. If you don’t mind, Captain.”
“Be my guest,” Scarlet said, waving dismissively, as Green took a cup from the top cupboard.
“Paul, what did you mean earlier by Mr. Morton being impressed by your explanations?” Ochre asked with curiosity. “What kind of cockeyed story did you actually tell him?”
Scarlet took a new sip of his coffee. “I simply told him the truth,” he answered quietly.
“The truth?” Ochre echoed, frowning.
“That he was indestructible,” Green specified from the counter, while pouring himself a cup.
Melody let out a sharp gasp, while Ochre raised a doubting brow. Scarlet took another sip from his cup, with an innocent expression on his face. Symphony was the only one not to react.
“Paul, you actually told your secret to a civilian?” Melody asked incredulously. “It’s not like you to make such a blunder!”
Scarlet chuckled. “Mr. Morton is not a civilian,” he retorted.
“He’s not?” Melody repeated, suspiciously.
Scarlet shook his head. “No… Actually, Mr. Morton’s a Spectrum undercover agent. He was with the U.S.S. many years ago, working under Colonel White’s command at the London office. The old man recruited him himself. I actually met him a couple of times during assignments before. He posed as the keeper of Glen Garry Castle, and was presented as such to Commodore Goddard. Under this guise, he was free to move about the castle, without arousing suspicion.”
“So he was your back up?” Melody asked.
Scarlet nodded. “His true identity was to be kept a secret – at least until we were sure Goddard was on the level.”
Melody turned to face Symphony, who didn’t seem in the least surprised. “And you knew?”
“I learned about it later. When I landed in Glen Garry Castle, Paul was nowhere to be found. Mr. Morton told me he had not seen him since the day before, and then we went looking for him together. I learned who he truly was then.”
Realisation dawned on Melody. “Now I understand why Colonel White allowed him to visit Cloudbase. He wouldn’t permit that to any ordinary civilian. He was already a Spectrum agent.”
“That’s why you mentioned being indestructible to him,” Symphony said.
Scarlet shrugged. “Exactly. Only, I didn’t know that Mr. Morton is the ‘doesn’t-need-to-know’ type of agent. How was I to know that, as he seems to have the colonel’s trust?”
“The colonel made believe it was Captain Scarlet’s little joke,” Lieutenant Green added, chuckling. “I don’t think he was very happy, if I can judge by his reaction.”
“Well, it’s not like Morton would have believed me, anyway…”
Green sniggered. “No, he didn’t, that’s for sure.”
Ochre shook his head despondently. “A joke, really? Fortunately, that Morton character doesn’t know you well, Metcalfe, or he would have realised you have no sense of humour whatsoever.”
“I bow to you extensive experience, Rick. You’re the best in that field… So I won’t attempt to outclass you. I’ll stick to what I do best.”
“And that would be?” Ochre inquired.
Symphony slapped his arm playfully. “Lay off, Rick. You know Paul is the best amongst us when it comes to fighting Mysterons.”
“Yeah,” Melody agreed. “Without him, it would be a far less even fight.”
“Through no particular merit of mine,” Scarlet retorted humbly. “With these… powers the Mysterons left me –”
“With or without them, Paul,” Symphony interrupted. “You’re still our best asset.”
Scarlet smiled gratefully at her. Green was slowly approaching, savouring his coffee, and came to stand behind Melody’s seat.
“Let’s be fair, Symphony,” Scarlet said. “By all rights I should have been killed right from the beginning, during that first assignment against the Mysterons. And without their intervention, I would be dead today. And what good would have I been dead against the Mysterons?”
“Let’s not dwell on that, shall we?” Symphony dismissed the argument. In truth, she felt uncomfortable talking about the very subject. Scarlet noticed the ill-at-ease expression of her face, and cleared his throat.
“In any case,” he said, “I should probably not take too much for granted these powers the Mysterons inadvertently gave me. And learn to use them much better than I do right now.”
“Not getting killed on every other mission would be a good idea, yes,” Ochre agreed. He too had noticed the expression on Symphony’s face.
“Well, if that should reassure you, I wasn’t really ‘killed’ this time,” Scarlet said hesitantly. “Just seriously wounded.”
“Just seriously wounded,” Symphony echoed, rolling her eyes. “And you think that should reassure us? Really, Paul…”
“Anyway, retrometabolism may be one thing,” Scarlet continued. “What I really should learn to use is that sixth sense that seems to come and go as it likes. The problem is, I don’t even know exactly what triggers it – and why it doesn’t always seem to work. Maybe it’s something to study with Dr. Fawn.”
“I’m certainly curious to know how it works, too,” Lieutenant Green commented. “Maybe it has to do with the way the Mysterons communicate – and control their agents. Maybe you’re picking up some stray signal of some sort… If they keep a tight leash on their agents, you might be able to ‘sense’ that. Or, if they’re giving them more freedom and initiative… that might be when you don’t sense anything.”
Scarlet raised a brow. “That’s… an interesting theory, Lieutenant.”
The younger man shrugged. “I was just thinking that it might work like radio wave communication. The way the Mysterons intercept our radio signals and make use of them to air their own messages… they might use something similar for contact with their agents. Using electrical brainwaves, maybe…”
“Well, however your sixth sense might work,” Symphony interrupted, “learning exactly what triggers it and how to use it to our advantage might certainly be useful. For example, in this mission, if you had been able to use your sixth sense to find Goddard out before you gave the all clear for landing, that would have saved us a lot of trouble.”
Scarlet, who was about to take a new sip of coffee, stopped and looked at Symphony, shaking his head. “I didn’t give the all clear,” he said.
“Yes you did, Captain,” Green countered. “I was there in the Control Room when you contacted Colonel White.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“But I heard your voice. Don’t you remember?”
“I remember correctly, but it wasn’t my voice you heard, Lieutenant.” Scarlet gave it some thought. “Or rather, it was my voice, but I wasn’t the one speaking.”
The others stared at him with incomprehension. Melody frowned deeply. “Now that doesn’t really make sense, Captain.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes to the ceiling, before looking down into his cup of coffee. “I know it doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but it’s the truth.” He sighed. “The fact is, during this last mission, the Mysterons pulled a new, unexpected trick on us. Proving once again that they do have… powers that we do not understand…”
* * *
The night before… Glen Garry Castle, Scotland
“Melody Angel is presently flying the path she took while escorting the XQR aircraft to Cloudbase,” the voice of Colonel White said over the radio. “She’s to search the area for any trace that might suggest that something indeed happened to the craft.”
Captain Scarlet, alone in the vast, very sumptuous room that had been allotted to him for his brief stay at Glen Garry Castle, was walking back and forth between the bed and the large window, nodding to himself at his commander’s announcement. “I do hope she doesn’t find anything, sir,” he said in reply. “I will admit… I don’t quite like how this mission is going. My instinct tells me something isn’t right.”
“Do you… ‘feel’ anything out of the ordinary, Captain?”
Scarlet smiled thinly. By ‘feel’, it was obvious the old man was asking if his own personal ‘Mysteron detector’ had been somehow triggered since his arrival at the castle.
“No, sir. I ‘felt’ no Mysteron activity, if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“But still it doesn’t mean anything, as you well know. There could be some Mysteron related goings-on around here, and I might never be aware of it. No, I meant my soldier instinct. The one that saved my life more than once in the past, before all this Mysteron business.” Scarlet stopped by the bed. “I don’t like the way the Commodore is handling the situation. It would feel safer if Spectrum had been fully in charge of security in this affair.”
Through the radio, Scarlet heard the sigh from Colonel White. “You know the special arrangement made with S.H.E.F. for this conference, Captain: Commodore Goddard is their expert in the field, and has been in charge of many similar events in the past, always with the same amount of commendable success. Which is why the S.H.E.F. Supreme Commander insisted that Goddard remains in charge of the whole conference, with his own security team. Spectrum only needs to be there in a support facility, as well as to keep a look out for the possibility of a Mysteron attack against the conference. It’s ONLY in that eventuality that we need to intervene.”
“Up until recently, these dispositions would have been fine, sir,” Scarlet commented. “Because we didn’t know for sure if the Mysterons would be interested in planning an attack on the conference. But from the moment they actually made their threat, we’re sure there will be an attack.”
“I know your feelings, and I tried to convince the S.H.E.F. senior command. They refused to alter their position on that subject. As it was, it was all I could do to convince them that the candidates needed to fly over here to Cloudbase, to first receive security clearance, before being flown to the conference site. However, Captain, as soon as there is the first sign of Mysteron activities... we immediately take over.”
“I’d still feel safer with a Spectrum security team on the site.”
“I’m sorry, Captain. But it’s part of the deal between Spectrum and S.H.E.F. An intervention on our part without request or the presence of Mysteron activities might be viewed as interference.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Scarlet sighed.
“That said, I fully agree with you.” White paused for a fraction of a second. “However, in view of the present threat, we made a full security check on the Commodore’s team, quite similar to what we did with the delegates. They all passed muster, of course, or their presence would not have been allowed on the premises.”
“Well, I certainly can’t contest their expertise,” Scarlet said. “They’re a small team – about twelve men – but they swept the castle thoroughly. I joined them – I made sure to be discreet in my checking of them, by the way. Commodore Goddard had them stationed at various strategic points, outside and inside the castle.”
“Commodore Goddard certainly seems to know what he’s doing,” White commented thoughtfully.
“He does seem to, sir. He’s very thorough. He’s even enquired if Spectrum had made a security check on Mr. Morton, the… castle caretaker.”
“I trust he was fully satisfied with the answer?” White enquired matter-of-factly.
Scarlet grinned. When it came to deadpan statements, nobody could do better than Colonel White; but the English captain knew his commander well enough to almost hear the subtle hint his question hid.
“Of course, sir. As far as everyone is concerned, Mr. Morton is above any suspicion.”
“Good. If Melody Angel should find anything suspicious concerning Commodore Goddard, I will inform you right away and will make arrangements to send you back-up.”
“S.I.G., Colonel. I’ve been assigned a room for the night. It’s in the east wing, and from here, I can see a good part of the castle, including the main entrance.” Scarlet patted the Spectrum-issued binoculars hanging from his neck. “But I don’t intend to stay put,” he added. “I’ll patrol the hall tonight. As you know, sir… I don’t sleep that much these days.”
“Report back in the morning, Captain. The delegates are to depart tonight, and will arrive at Glen Garry Castle early tomorrow, in the morning. Symphony Angel will fly them by Magnacopter. The conference is due to begin at 10 o’clock. So there will be plenty of time for them to prepare, once they reach their destination.”
“If you have any suspicion of any Mysteron activity, alert us right away. I trust the risk of any other intervention has been reduced to minimum by Commodore Goddard and his team?”
“That's correct, sir. The castle is completely isolated. We'll be able to maintain maximum security throughout the conference.” And pray that everything will proceed according to Goddard’s plans, he added inwardly.
“Right, Captain Scarlet. I'll wait for your final clearance before allowing the delegates to land.”
“S.I.G., Colonel. I’ll call back in the morning, then. And will give you the all clear if nothing has changed. Scarlet out.”
The cap’s microphone returned to the visor and the communication was cut.
Scarlet gave a deep sigh. He still wasn’t comfortable with the way things were being done on this assignment.
He wondered how much of S.H.E.F.’s insistence on having one of their own men in charge of the operations had to do with the rumours he knew had been spreading across many of the World Government security organisations for a few months already – and that had been reported to him by old friends in the W.A.A.F with whom he had kept contact. The rumours had it that some very high-ranked personnel amongst these organisations were feeling that Spectrum was starting to gain a little too much importance, to the detriment of its peers. Spectrum being the only security organisation to escape S.H.E.F’s control – as Spectrum was only answerable to the World Presidential Cabinet – the present decision might be a deliberate and not so subtle attempt by S.H.E.F. to show it still was a force to be reckoned with and that they could do things as efficiently as it had before Spectrum’s creation. Colonel White surely knew of these rumours – after all, his contacts within the World Government and other security organisations could probably provide him with more accurate information than Scarlet’s former colleagues could; he might even have been informed by the Cabinet of the World President. It was certain that the Spectrum commander didn’t like it anymore than Scarlet did, but he knew that it was a tactful move to keep good relations with S.H.E.F. and to humour its ego; it would indeed be careless of Spectrum to make itself an enemy of such a powerful organisation.
Scarlet couldn’t dispute the wisdom of his commander’s decision, but he felt that they might all live to regret S.H.E.F.’s ego trip. When it came to the Mysterons, Spectrum was the expert, whether these people liked it or not, and there were high probabilities that the Mysterons were to be involved. With Spectrum unable to be in full control of all the aspects of the assignment and of the conference’s security, anything could go wrong in a matter of minutes… if not seconds.
Even if he was convinced that S.H.E.F didn’t need encouragement, Scarlet couldn’t help but wonder how much of Goddard’s influence might have weighed in the balance. He was a man of vast experience, fully efficient, who had only successes to his name. A former commando of the W.A.A.F. Special Forces, Scarlet had heard of him often, and of his reputation, but had never actually met him. After leaving the Special Forces, Goddard had been promoted to a new post and assigned a new task with the organisation of security for various military meetings. He had been responsible for countless conferences, and had countered many attempts against them, with the same incomparable success. There was no one better than him at this job, and he knew it. He certainly had the power to pull some strings with the help of friends in high places. Maybe it was for his own gratification; he was known as a man of great ambition and there was talk that if this new conference were to be a success, he would finally be granted the rank of Air Chief Marshal – a rank that, despite his many years of near flawless service, had escaped him.
Or maybe he had ulterior motives, Scarlet mused. After all, if the Mysterons wanted to strike at the conference – like they had threatened to do – who better than Goddard himself to be their pawn? If he was indeed working for the Mysterons, it was only logical that he might choose an isolated location to execute his plan of attack – whatever that plan of attack could be.
Maybe I’m too suspicious, Scarlet told himself. True, this change of location, following the Mysteron threat, took me by surprise, and it did seem odd to me, but I’ve got no proof that Goddard is indeed a Mysteron agent.
There was of course Melody’s report – but visibility being nearly zero, she was the first to admit that she wasn’t one hundred percent sure she indeed saw the plane carrying Goddard and his aide, Holt, being struck by lightning. Colonel White didn’t want to take any chances and that was the reason he had sent her on a reconnaissance flight.
For the nth time, Scarlet regretted that his sixth sense wasn’t as reliable as he wished it would be. It would have been a great help if he was able to tell with certainty if at least there was Mysteron activity nearby. But the few times his sixth sense had been triggered, it was without any earlier warning – and there didn’t seem to be any common denominator between those events.
If only Spectrum had a means to detect Mysteron agents… but R and D was still at the development stage with that, as well as with a way to dispose of those said agents. It was only recently that it was actually found out – through an incredible stroke of luck – that Mysteron agents were impervious to X-rays, as well as vulnerable to electricity. That was an unhoped-for discovery and one that Spectrum fully intended to use to its advantage. However, it would still be quite some time – perhaps many months – before any working equipment would be at Spectrum’s disposal.
For now, we have to do without. Which means we have to be extra careful. And without proof that Goddard – or anyone else in this castle – might be a Mysteron agent, Spectrum’s hands are tied.
But for Scarlet, that didn’t mean he would stay idle and wait for disaster to strike. With a sigh, he moved towards the windows, reaching for his binoculars. Standing in front of the panes, he thoughtfully looked outside. It was still night and it would be some time before the first lights of the morning, but it was still sufficiently clear for him to see the inside courtyard of the castle, as far as the entrance gate, where he knew two of Goddard’s men were supposed to keep guard. However, at the moment, he couldn’t see anyone there, and that made him frown in puzzlement.
He put the binoculars to his eyes, adjusted the focus and checked again, scanning the courtyard. Not only couldn’t he find anyone standing guard by the gate, but also the courtyard was completely empty.
There was supposed to be at least two teams patrolling the grounds that night; he had seen them earlier that evening. They could not have simply vanished.
Scarlet continued to look around with his binoculars for a moment, returning to the gate to make sure it was still left without surveillance, checking all corners of the courtyard for any trace of someone, and lastly, turning towards the entrance of the castle, which was feebly lighted by an old-fashioned lamp post set by the side of the huge oak door. Still, the grounds remained desperately clear.
In frustration, he lowered his binoculars – and then his eye caught sight of some movement; but not coming from anywhere on the ground, nor near the gate or the door.
It was coming from the battlements over the west wing, just across from his position.
Quickly, he raised his binoculars anew and checked in the approximate direction he thought he had seen something.
He nearly missed the moving shadow as he passed over it, and quickly returned to the spot and refocused, looking with attention.
He saw the shadow again, moving along the battlements, and then it swiftly disappeared from his view.
Scarlet lowered his binoculars with anger. “I thought there was no way up there!”
He turned on his heel and quickly departed the room.
* * *
Especially in the darkness of the night, Glen Garry was like a labyrinth, with countless corridors intersecting with each other and leading to various parts of the castle, and so it took Scarlet several minutes to cross the distance from his room to the landing overhanging twenty feet above the hall. Once arrived there he stopped, only a few feet away from the main red-carpeted staircase, and approached the massive oak balustrade to look down. The hall was in near darkness, with only a few patches of light coming from a few wall lanterns – he noticed they seemed to be running on electricity, which suggested they had been adapted to modern times at some point in the castle’s history. Oddly enough, he couldn’t see anyone about. The hall seemed empty.
“Hello?” Scarlet called. Only the echo of his own voice reverberating through the empty space answered him. He had not met anyone on his way over, he recalled, nor could he hear anything. At the very least, he should have heard voices, footsteps… Half of the men comprising Goddard’s security team were supposed to stay inside the walls to patrol the corridors. But at the moment, there was but silence surrounding him and that was starting to give him the creeps.
Why do I have the feeling that I am completely alone in here? Where IS everyone? This was highly irregular – not to mention worrying – especially in view of the present situation, when the utmost level of security needed to be kept on the premises, in preparation of the conference that was to be held the following day.
There was no way Goddard, or any of his men, could be that negligent… Not considering the unblemished reputation of the commodore’s past experience. He wouldn’t surround himself with incompetents; he knew all too well that no risks were to be taken, especially now that the Mysterons were involved.
There is something afoot… Scarlet mused. And he didn’t intent to wait for it to happen; he needed to inform Cloudbase.
He was about to activate his cap microphone when he suddenly became aware of a presence near him; someone had crept from behind to approach him. It was almost too late for Scarlet to react, as he already felt the strap holding his binoculars suddenly snatched from the rear and brutally pulled back. He raised his right hand to seize the strap between two of his fingers, just as it tightened against his throat. The sudden pressure made him gasp.
Thrown backward as his assailant pulled harder on the strap, Scarlet found himself unbalanced and staggered on his feet so violently that his cap left his head and fell to the floor; he was too busy preventing his attacker from strangling him to worry about that loss. The man had taken him by surprise – he must have been very good to have been able to do that, as it wasn’t something easy to do to Scarlet. He was strong, and was trying to make the most of his advantage, but the English captain wouldn’t give up and kept fighting back. He couldn’t see who had attacked him; he could only hear his adversary panting with effort and could feel his breath on the back of his neck; he could also feel his body close to his, his feet behind his own as the man tried to tighten the strap around Scarlet’s neck.
Way too close, mate. Scarlet raised his heavy boot and stomped on his adversary’s toes. The latter grunted in pain, and his hold on the strap relaxed ever so slightly. Scarlet threw his body forward against the guard, in an attempt to unbalance his attacker; at the robust tug, the strap snapped, instantly freeing Scarlet’s throat… But at the same time, pushed by the bodyweight of the man behind him, the Spectrum officer was thrown straight over the railing. His assailant took advantage of this, and gave a violent shove, and Scarlet’s feet left the floor to pass over the balustrade. For a split second, Scarlet felt his body falling towards the floor below; his left hand instinctively reached for something to hang on to… and at the last possible moment, caught hold one of the balusters.
Hanging from his hand, Scarlet watched with wide eyes as his binoculars plunged the twenty feet separating the landing from the hall floor, where they crashed with an echoing thud and exploded in many pieces. He then quickly looked up, searching for his attacker whom he had been unable to see up until now, certain that the man would take advantage of the situation, and try to make him let go. He was still unable to get a good look at the man, as through the balusters, he could only get a glance of him as he swiftly took off, towards the staircase, as fast as he could.
“Hey!” Scarlet called with anger. “Come back here, coward!”
Through the semi-darkness, his eyes followed the feet of the man, as he rushed down the carpeted staircase, reaching the hall in record time. Now holding himself with both hands, Scarlet twisted his body around, so not to lose sight of the man; he could only see his outline and his dark clothes, and hear the sound of his footsteps as the man hurriedly crossed the hall towards a closed door that he opened widely, before disappearing behind it.
The door closed with a resounding slam that echoed through the hall.
The fuming Spectrum officer muttered a curse, as he struggled to free himself from his precarious position. Whoever that man was, Scarlet had no doubt he was a part of whatever attempt the Mysterons were preparing to sabotage the conference and murder the delegates. And here he was, hanging out to dry, while the attacker was gone. More than that, there didn’t seem to be anyone about in this castle, Goddard and his men having seemingly disappeared. For all he knew he was totally alone, which meant it was up to him to stop whatever was about to happen.
With his feet dangling in empty space, and nothing to get a foothold on, Scarlet couldn’t get a good enough grip to climb back up onto the landing. The only way to go was down; he jumped the fifteen or so feet between his boots and the floor and received himself on feet and hands. The landing had not been too rough and he swiftly got up, looking in the general direction taken by his attacker and finding the door behind which he had disappeared. He then realised it was precisely the door leading into the large room where the conference was to be held. No doubt now… Something is definitely up.
If he wanted a chance to catch up with his assailant, he had no time to go back upstairs and pick up his cap. He would need to call Spectrum afterwards, once he had established the identity of the man who had tried to kill him.
He went to the door and tried the old-fashioned handle, fully expecting to find it locked; he was surprised to find out it wasn’t and that it turned without difficulty or sound. He carefully pushed the door and peeked inside.
The room was empty; the large traditional wooden table which took most of its central space, with all the chairs positioned around it waiting for the delegates’ arrival, didn’t seem to have been disturbed since last he had been in this room with Goddard, a few hours before. Scarlet entered fully, looking around carefully, expecting to see his attacker lurking in the shadows or hiding behind one of the furniture. He went directly to the staircase at the other end of the room, which was covered with red carpet like the main staircase in the hall. This staircase led to an adjacent, smaller room, that a long time ago must have been a small dining room for guests. Maybe the man who had attacked Scarlet was hiding in there…
But after he climbed the stairs and checked on the door, Scarlet could only note that it was impossible for his mysterious aggressor to have gone through there: the door was locked from this side, with the key still in the hole. So the Spectrum officer thoughtfully went down the steps, thinking that if someone had indeed entered this room, he would still be there. And he was sure he had seen the man entering this room – there was no other nearby door in the hall, behind which he could have disappeared anyway – but at the moment, he was nowhere to be seen. And there was no place to hide. The walls, except for curtains, paintings, a collection of ancient suits of armour and armaments hanging here and there, didn’t offer much of a cover.
Maybe behind the curtains? Scarlet wondered, looking at the heavy drapes of red velvet hanging from one of the stone walls. But one look at the bottom of the curtains gave him his answer: they didn’t reach the floor – there was a gap about one foot high, and if someone had been hiding behind, his feet would have been showing. The only possibility was upstairs, and he already checked that out. That was certainly odd enough, and added to this feeling of awkwardness he was having over this assignment.
It certainly wasn’t a ghost, never mind this being an old Scottish castle, he told himself with irritation. Ghosts don’t go around trying to strangle people…
Mysterons on the other hand…
Scarlet slowly crossed the room, still looking around in search of a clue that might indicate where his prey could have gone. He spotted the large portrait on the wall, between the set of two ancient suits of armour he had seen earlier and stopped, watching it, and stroking his chin thoughtfully.
Morton had said that there used to be a staircase where that portrait stood – a staircase leading directly to the battlement. That was before the previous owner had it filled. Since then, still according to Morton, there was no way to get up there anymore.
However, Scarlet was sure he had seen someone on the battlements, a few minutes before he had been attacked, and it was to investigate that phenomenon that he had left his room. Now he was in an empty room he knew his attacker had entered… He must have disappeared through somewhere.
And what if that staircase Morton says doesn’t exist anymore is still there?
He approached the portrait and stood in front of it. He scanned it from top to bottom. He frowned when something on the floor caught his attention and he crouched down to get a better view.
There were some scratch marks on the floor, and bits of dust and tiny gravel, pushed against the stony wall. It was as if someone had swept the floor, in a hurried attempt to clean the place up. Scarlet rubbed the dust with his fingers and, standing up, raised them to his eyes to check exactly what it could be; he found it oddly similar to the surface of the stone wall in front of which he was standing.
He narrowed his eyes as he looked back at the portrait. Why couldn’t he properly see the eyes of the man painted on that canvas? They were dark and lifeless, as if they were totally empty. He stepped back, and looked right and left at the armour standing on either side of the portrait; they were similar in every way, except the one on his right was holding a spear in its right hand, while the other one held a flail.
There was something else which was different.
Scarlet noticed dust on the arm of the armour with the spear, while on the arm holding the flail, there seemed to be none. He approached the armour on his left and checked the arm carefully; there was some dust on the part underneath the vambrace and the gauntlet, but nothing on top of it. Close to the elbow, Scarlet could see some marks, as if the surface of the metal had been nicked by a repeated up and down movement.
What if… could this be a hidden mechanism?
Scarlet stroked the gauntlet for a second or two, and then pushed it down. Even though he expected it, he was still stunned by how easily the arm moved, making a loud clicking sound as it did so. He stepped back to avoid the whipping ball from the flail and stood in front of the portrait, from behind which a louder sound made itself heard.
The portrait swiftly slid up and disappeared inside the wall, leaving behind the empty wooden mount that framed it… and revealing beyond a narrow alcove of the same size, where Scarlet discovered Holt, Commodore Goddard’s aide, standing next to the stone staircase Morton claimed didn’t exist anymore… and a high-tech machine gun, set on a tripod and aimed at the table behind the Spectrum officer!
Visibly startled at being discovered so easily, Holt froze in place and didn’t make use of his weapon; wondering if it was even loaded, or even operative yet, Scarlet reached for his sidearm. He had to use the surprise to his advantage and apprehend this man while he still had the chance.
But as his fingers were about to close on the handle of his gun, he felt a sudden jab in the small of his back and froze instantly when he heard someone addressing him in an ominous voice:
“Don't move, Captain Scarlet. And keep those hands away from your gun!”
Scarlet raised his hands and bit his lip. He knew the man was holding a gun to his back and would fire at any moment if he were to resist. How? he asked himself. How could this man have been able to sneak up on him and surprise him in such a way? Twice in the same evening, this was becoming embarrassing…
And where did he come from?
Scarlet looked back, having little doubt of who was standing behind him. And precisely as he was expecting, he saw Commodore Goddard, grinning, and casually aiming a handgun at him. Anger took hold of Scarlet and he lowered his hands, almost without thinking about it.
“You!” he spat. “Melody was right! Something did happen to the XQR! You were killed… and the Mysterons took you over. And your aide too!”
Goddard’s smile widened. “Correct, Earthman.” He reached over and took Scarlet’s gun from his belt, before throwing it onto the table beside him. Scarlet followed the gun’s trajectory as it slid on the polished surface.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Scarlet demanded. “There was no-one in this room when I came in!”
“And yet, you saw me enter, didn’t you, Captain?” Goddard retorted. “Yes… it was me who attacked you on the landing earlier.” Without looking, he thumbed in the direction of the wall behind him directly towards the red curtain Scarlet had contemplated earlier. They were opened on one side now, and Scarlet could see part of a window, recessed deep into the thick stony wall. It was large enough for a man to sit or crouch on the sill, with his feet raised up.
Scarlet’s heart sank. “I should have checked that curtain more closely,” he groused.
“I would have shot you through the fabric the second you touched it,” Goddard replied.
“Now I understand how you could have approached me so easily from behind. Only a man with your past military training and abilities could have done it.”
“You flatter me, Captain. Or it is that you flatter yourself? I am sorry you've discovered my plan before its execution. You will see now why I wanted to hold the air conference here.”
“Yeah,” Scarlet huffed. “Miles away from the nearest village, or the nearest military facility… This place is totally isolated. I saw no-one on the ground as well as nobody inside. Where are the men of your security team? I’m guessing you got rid of them, so you would be totally free to do whatever you want?”
“Again, you’re correct, Earthman. I see you understand perfectly.”
“What have you done to them?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“Don’t concern yourself needlessly with their fate. I simply dismissed them and sent them away. They obeyed my orders, suspecting nothing. Quite frankly… why would they be suspicious of me? After all, I’m the security expert. I must certainly know what I’m doing.”
“You’re planning to assassinate the delegates – according to the Mysterons’ threat.”
Goddard nodded. “Tomorrow morning, on the stroke of ten, the entire Supreme Command of the World Air Force will be wiped out! Here in this room.”
“With that thing,” Scarlet said, turning his head to nod towards the machine gun. “And your aide will be more than happy to do the deed, I’m sure.”
Holt was climbing down the alcove to approach them. He, too, was aiming a gun at the Spectrum officer; in his other hand, he was holding a length of rope and a roll of duct tape.
Scarlet glared at him. “What are you planning to do with that?” he asked, nodding at the rope.
Holt smirked. “Hanging you from the battlements would seem like a good idea to me. But the decision as to what to do with you is the Commodore’s prerogative.”
“How did you find out that the opening was still there, and how to open it?” Goddard asked.
“You were not as clever as you thought,” Scarlet answered. “I saw someone on the battlements from my room. And you left clues… dust on the floor, that you tried to clean up, but which had obviously come from some stonework – the filling Mr. Morton mentioned, obviously, that you removed recently. And there were odd marks on the arm of that suit of armour…”
“You’re a clever man, Captain Scarlet,” Goddard said with a slow nod.
Scarlet glared back at him. “You’re in this together, aren’t you, Goddard? Your aide, yourself… and Morton?”
Goddard scoffed. “Mr. Morton is but a pawn in our plan, Captain. He’s perfectly unaware of what’s going on in this castle right now – or what will transpire tomorrow.” He chuckled. “He doesn’t even know that Mr. Holt and I had that secret passage opened recently. He’s not much of a caretaker, if you ask me.”
“He’s gone, like the others, then?” Scarlet asked.
“No… I have no authority over Mr. Morton, so he’s still here with us. Probably sleeping in his room as we speak. He’s the only living soul in this castle except for the three of us in this room. And since you so generously reassured me that the man is harmless, I’ve no need to worry about him. He won’t pose a threat. Of course, if he should interfere with my plan…”
“You’ll kill him.” Scarlet kept himself from sighing with relief. He had just learned that Morton was not a Mysteron and that he was still in the castle. More than that, Goddard didn’t suspect that he was an undercover agent, and was even disregarding him as a potential threat.
Scarlet still had his ally within these walls.
“You'll never get away with it!” he snapped angrily at Goddard.
The latter smiled wickedly. “And you think you’ll be able to stop me? You are a remarkable man, Captain Scarlet, I know. But I don't intend to let you or Spectrum thwart my plans. Tomorrow at ten, those men will die!”
“That’s easier said than done,” Scarlet said with confidence. “You might be efficient, Goddard, but Spectrum is too.”
“And if you think I didn’t take that into account, Captain Scarlet, you’re terribly naïve.” Goddard pointed his gun to Scarlet’s head. “Now, let’s go recover your radiocap, that you left on the landing, shall we? And don’t make a single false move. Or I won’t hesitate to kill you.”
Covered by two guns, Scarlet had no choice but to accompany both Goddard and Holt, and climbed the main staircase to the landing, where Goddard picked up the lost radiocap. Scarlet wondered what the Mysteron agent intended to do with it; obviously, the Spectrum officer had no intention of calling Cloudbase to give the all clear – he would rather die before being forced to do that. But seeing how confident Goddard seemed in his plans, Scarlet was beginning to wonder if indeed he didn’t have a card up his sleeve.
Once the radiocap had been retrieved, Goddard instructed Scarlet to march back to his bedroom; still followed and threatened by the Mysteron agents, the Spectrum captain obeyed, and soon, the three of them reached their destination. Scarlet looked around thoughtfully, considering his options. From the window, he could see the sun low on the horizon. He knew that the Magnacopter would be arriving soon, bringing the delegates to the conference… and Goddard knew that too.
So far, the Mysteronised agent had the upper hand, but Scarlet hoped an opportunity might present itself soon that would permit him to escape their vigilance and stop them.
Goddard pulled up a chair and pushed it in front of Scarlet, still pointing his gun at him. “Sit down!” he ordered ominously.
Scarlet hesitated; he knew what that order entailed. He could hear Holt approaching from behind, and he knew he was holding a rope. They intended to tie him up. If he were to obey, he would be totally at their mercy.
Seeing his reluctance, Goddard angrily kicked a nearby table, throwing it down loudly; he raised his gun, aiming between Scarlet’s eyes. “Don’t make me repeat myself, Captain. Time is running out, and the craft bringing the delegates will soon arrive. I don’t have time to waste. I’ll kill you now instead of later, if you don’t do as I say!”
Holt took Scarlet by the arm and pushed him towards the chair. In view of the precariousness of his situation, the Spectrum officer didn’t dare resist; with two guns aimed at him, there was no way he would be able to avoid getting shot. If he were to be killed, he would be even less effective than he was right now. He had no idea if Goddard knew of his retrometabolism or not, and if he would act upon it to find a way to get rid of him. And even if Goddard didn’t know, Scarlet couldn’t afford the time he would be out of action.
Reluctantly, he sat down on the chair in front of Goddard, and the latter nodded briefly.
“Tie him up, Holt. Make sure he won’t be able to free himself.”
“With pleasure, sir.”
Holt pulled Scarlet’s hands behind the backrest of the chair and started tying them together; the Spectrum captain maintained a calm façade, even as he felt the rope biting cruelly into his wrists. He glowered at Goddard, who was standing in front of him, thoughtfully looking at the Spectrum cap he was turning in his hands.
As Holt was roping Scarlet’s body tightly to the backrest of the chair, Goddard looked down at him and noticed the direction of his eyes. He pulled a chair and sat in front of him, before looking at his watch.
“Seven o’clock,” he said. “I’m guessing the Spectrum craft is very near, now.” He looked thoughtfully at the silent Scarlet. “I know what’s on your mind, Captain. You’re thinking that I won’t be able to put my plans in motion, if the delegates are not here. And since you won’t give clearance to Colonel White for the craft to land, they will be safe.”
Scarlet frowned at these words. “How do you know –” Realisation dawned on him. “You monitored my communications with Cloudbase,” he accused.
Goddard nodded. “Rest assured, Captain, that additional precaution on Spectrum’s part won’t stop me.” He indicated Scarlet’s cap. “Because you’ll help me.”
Scarlet scowled. “If you think I’ll be your accomplice in the murder of innocent men, you are grossly mistaken, Commodore. I won’t call Cloudbase and give clearance for that plane to land. You can go hang yourself.”
Goddard smiled; at this point Holt had finished tying Scarlet’s feet together, making sure he wouldn’t be able to move.
“No, Captain. It’s you who are mistaken. You will help me - whether you agree or not is of no consequence.”
“You’re thinking of Mysteronising me?” Scarlet enquired.
Goddard raised a brow. “I don’t have that power. That’s something the Mysterons do, not their agents. Beside, they did Mysteronise you before, and look at the results.”
Well, that answers one question…
“However,” Goddard continued, “I’ve got other means at my disposal to make you help me. Tricks you are probably not aware of.”
Before Scarlet could say a word, Holt, cutting a length of duct tape from his roll, swiftly applied it firmly to the Spectrum officer’s mouth. The latter grunted with annoyance and looked daggers at the smirking commodore’s aide who stood up in front of him and took his gun back to aim it at the prisoner.
“Watch this, Captain.” Scarlet turned back to face Goddard, who addressed him a mocking wink. “I’m sure you’re going to love this.”
With that, he manually activated the radiocap in his hands, lowering the mic. Scarlet’s epaulettes flashed white, as contact was made through to Cloudbase. He heard the voice of his commander echoing through the speakers embedded in the cap:
“Go ahead, Captain Scarlet.”
The captive Captain Scarlet saw the evil smile on Goddard’s face as the latter started to speak… and to the Spectrum officer’s horror, he recognised his own voice!
“Colonel,” Goddard said over the radio, “I have to report complete security clearance on the conference centre.”
Scarlet opened wide eyes and desperately struggled against his bonds. He scarcely could believe it. How could this be possible? What kind of a devil of a trick was this? The Mysteronised agent was imitating his voice so perfectly that even he would have been deceived!
“Thank you, Captain. I'm glad to hear it.”
Scarlet’s anger and frustration grew in him; Colonel White suspected nothing and truly believed he was speaking to his officer. He had no way of knowing that something was terribly wrong. Scarlet struggled anew, tapping the feet of the chair against the floor in an attempt to alert his commander; but the sound was muffled by the carpeted surface. He tried to call out, but the gag effectively stifled his voice and nothing came out but an irate moan.
Holt pressed his gun against Scarlet’s shoulder, compelling him to stay quiet. As for Goddard, there was a large grin of satisfaction on his face as he defiantly looked at his prisoner, while pursuing his conversation with Colonel White in Scarlet’s voice: “The security Commodore Goddard has arranged is faultless. The conference can proceed as planned.”
“Right,” the voice of Colonel White replied, adding to Scarlet’s frustration. “I'll give Symphony clearance to land immediately. The Magnacopter should be in Glen Garry Castle in about thirty minutes.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” Goddard was still using Scarlet’s voice, but the satisfaction the captive Spectrum officer could hear in it was adding to his anger and helplessness. Suspecting nothing, Symphony would fall into the trap, bringing the delegates to the slaughter. “Should there be any change, I will call you back. I suggest we maintain radio silence in the meantime.”
“S.I.G., Captain. Cloudbase out.”
Upon hearing those last words, Scarlet wanted nothing but to scream ‘no!’ but again, the gag upon his mouth stifled his cry and all he was able to do was stare powerlessly and with utter resentment as Goddard cut contact with Cloudbase. Then, the Mysteronised commodore stood up and looked down with an evil smirk at his prisoner.
Scarlet’s glare was nothing less than murderous. If he had been free, he would have jumped at the Mysteron’s throat to happily wipe out that loathsome victorious smile of his.
“That settles it, then,” Goddard quietly said. “My plan is proceeding as I have foreseen. You see it now, Captain Scarlet. The delegates are doomed… and the Mysterons’ orders will be carried out.” Goddard then detached his eyes from Scarlet and turned to his aide. “All right, Holt, we will deal with Captain Scarlet later. Throw him in the dungeon for the present, then take up your position in the hall. You will be receiving the candidates, and take them to the conference room.”
Scarlet could hear the satisfaction in Holt’s voice and knew that it didn’t bode well for him. He protested, as loudly as the gag would permit him and struggled so hard that the chair rocked on its feet. He definitely had no intention of letting himself be locked up without resisting.
He heard the frustrated sigh coming from Holt who was moving behind him:
“All right, then. If you won’t come quietly, I’ll have to calm you down, so you won’t cause any trouble.”
Scarlet didn’t have the time to wonder what he meant exactly; the following second, he felt something hard and heavy hitting him on the back of his head; still tied to the chair, he fell down towards the floor.
It was the last he saw, before everything became totally dark.
* * *
“The next thing I knew,” Scarlet explained as he poured himself another cup of coffee at the counter of the Officers’ Lounge, “I woke up in that dungeon mentioned by Goddard, chained to the wall and still gagged. And very close by, there was Holt, chaining Symphony next to me.”
“I was gagged too,” Symphony explained. “Or I would have screamed in horror at the sight of those awfully big rats.”
“You never struck me as someone afraid of rodents,” Melody commented. “Seeing how you grew up in the country…”
“I’m not normally… when I’m not confronted with Ratzillas, that is.”
“Anyway,” Scarlet continued, returning to his place on the sofa, “when Holt left – after punching me in the stomach because I dared look at him the wrong way…”
“The bastard,” Symphony muttered.
“… I noticed the spear leaning on the wall between Symphony and me.” He waved his hand theatrically as he sat down. “The rest, you already know.”
“That’s frightening,” Melody commented. “To think that Mysteron agents can imitate the voice of anyone as they please…”
“You were right, Scarlet,” Ochre said. “They pulled a new one on us. We already couldn’t really trust the person standing in front of us – but now we can’t even trust what we hear.” He sighed. “We already knew they could answer over the radio with a ‘disembodied voice’. Like they did with the A42 Helicopter at the Car Vu. Flying by itself, with no pilot… and a voice, coming out of nowhere, answering Spectrum’s calls. And nobody suspected a thing. And now this…”
“That’s an even scarier thought,” Green declared. “How did the colonel react when he read your report about this, Captain?”
“Well, he wasn’t very pleased, that’s a fact,” Scarlet declared. “We’ll have to establish some kind of challenge code during assignments, in order to verify our identity...”
Ochre nodded approvingly. “So that something like this does not happen again. Good idea. At least that’ll take care of Mysteron ventriloquists.”
“But not of Mysteron agents,” Scarlet said in a low voice. “If the Mysterons replicate someone instead of his voice, the replicant would know about the challenge code and how to answer it. Until R and D come up with an effective way of detecting them, there’s nothing that can truly protect us there. This mission is perfect proof of that.”
“Tell me about it,” Symphony murmured. “When I saw it was Morton who discovered us, I was a bit concerned. I thought he might have been a Mysteron agent too. I thought he was the one who helped trap me in Paul’s bedroom. After all, I did tell him I was going to search there… When I saw that old metal grille falling between me and the door, I thought: ‘That’s it. You’ve been had, girl’.”
“I knew Morton was on the level,” Scarlet said with a smile. “On account of what Goddard had said when he captured me. It’s possible Holt or Goddard heard the two of you talking. And decided to act upon it.”
“They didn’t want you to contact Cloudbase, to report Scarlet’s disappearance,” Ochre noted.
“And prevented us from contacting you,” Green added. “It must’ve been around that time that Melody discovered the remains of the XQR plane. When we failed to reach you by radio, the colonel ordered Captain Blue to be sent there right away.”
“Someone talking about me?”
The voice coming from the direction of the door made everyone look. Captain Blue came in, a big smile upon his lips, and walked down the stairs leading to the sofa; Scarlet quickly vacated his place next to Symphony Angel, whose face beamed at the arrival of her compatriot. He knew of the special bond existing between the two of them and right now, he could feel that Symphony wanted nothing more than to be near this man she obviously loved so much.
“Hello, Big Blue,” Symphony said, as Blue approached her. “Already back from Scotland?”
“Just arrived, a few minutes ago,” Blue answered, sitting down next to her.
“Going back to the scene of the crime, were you?” Ochre asked with a mischievous grin. “You know, it’s quite possible that Historic Scotland will sue the pants off you… for having destroyed part of their national heritage.”
“You mean that heap of junk they call a castle?” Blue retorted.
“It was a castle before you blew it to pieces, Adam,” Scarlet remarked. “With its stone walls, its battlements, its secret passages…”
“And its dungeon,” Symphony piped up.
“That’s right,” Melody added. “Let’s not forget the dungeon.”
Blue scoffed. “I’ll remind you that you gave me the order to fire,” he defended himself, pointing towards Scarlet. “Anyway, if there’s a problem with the people from Historic Scotland, Spectrum will take care of it – as it always does.”
“I’m sure,” Scarlet agreed. “Besides, Mr. Morton did tell me that it’s the ruined castles that now interest the tourists. A part of it certainly is in ruins now… And imagine the story the guide will tell the visitors to explain how that happened!”
“How can Morton know about this?” Melody asked with a frown. “I thought he was a Spectrum undercover agent?”
“He is,” Scarlet said. “But when he goes undercover, he studies his subject very well, so not to arise suspicions. The only thing he didn’t know about Glen Garry Castle was that the secret passage had been opened again. But then, we can hardly blame him for that.” He then addressed Blue: “Was Mr. Morton suitably impressed by his visit to Cloudbase?”
Blue nodded. “That he was, or so he told me. But as impressed as he might have been, during the whole flight to Scotland, I could see he couldn’t wait to be back home.”
“So he’s a real Scotsman, then?” Ochre enquired.
“As real as you can get,” Scarlet answered. “You can’t fake that accent with such a level of authenticity.”
“Can’t we?” Symphony retorted with a raised brow. “Och, Captain, Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous beastie, O, what a panic's in thy breastie.”
Everybody stared at her with surprise. Scarlet was especially impressed; he nodded his approval and smiled at her. “Very good, Karen! That was spot on!”
“Thank you, Captain!” she beamed.
“You certainly can pronounce it, but do you know what it actually means?”
She hesitated and then reddened slightly. “Er… Not exactly, no. It’s something we learned, way back when, during… shall we say ‘Spies in training course’… They wanted to know how convincing we could be with simulating various accents. That was our exercise for Scottish.” She addressed a wink at Melody. “I also do a mean Southern drawl…”
“It’s an old poem, by Scottish author Robert Burns,” Scarlet explained. “Many British people are familiar with it – at least those first lines. I used to know it all. Let’s see… The follow up goes like this…” He cleared his throat: “Thou need na start awa sae hasty, Wi' bickering brattle!”
Ochre raised his eyebrows in doubt. Scarlet’s fake Scottish accent was nearly as good as Symphony’s, but it was so thick that he would not have understood a word, even if they had been familiar. Beside, poems weren’t really his cup of tea. “Very nice,” he said, without the tiniest hint of enthusiasm, “whatever it’s about…”
“It’s about a tiny, scared field mouse,” Scarlet said, “who saw his nest destroyed. It’s called ‘To a mouse’.”
“All that for a mouse?” Ochre shook his head in desolation.
“Oh, I know that one!” Blue then added quickly, waving his hand to attract attention. “My grandma Ellis just loved Robert Burns, and this one was her favourite! She recited that one often. She got me memorising it. Hang on, there’s a couple of verses further down in the poem that might just apply to our situation here: Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin! It's silly –”
“ – Wa's the win's are strewin!” Scarlet finished with him. “Hey, very good, Blue-Boy. I swear, that’s a fitting description to Glen Garry Castle.”
“I don’t believe it,” Ochre then proclaimed. “You three must have practiced that one.” He looked at them, suspiciously. “You’re pulling my leg. I think it’s downright impossible for three people in the same room to – coincidentally – know that specific poem and recite it so perfectly. It’s a joke, right? I’m pretty sure you’re paying me back for those few times I played jokes on you.”
Scarlet raised a brow and exchanged glances with both Symphony and Blue. The latter scoffed. “I wish I had thought of that one!”
“And you call yourself a detective?” Symphony said. “Believe it or not, Rick, this is pure coincidence. And I have to say, as far as I’m concerned, those first verses I recited are all that I know of that poem.”
“Right. And I don’t believe you.” Ochre had had just about enough; he had never developed any taste or interest for poetry anyway, not even as a tool to charm the ladies, in whatever form it presented itself. And hearing it now recited in a more or less perfect Scottish brogue – he was unable to understand more than a word here and there – made it even more dreadful than he ever thought possible.
Exchanging glances with Melody, he could see that she somewhat felt the same. He put his half-empty cup down on the table in front of him and stood up, offering his hand to the young woman. “Come on, honey. Let’s leave these three disgusting erudite intellectuals declaiming verses to their hearts’ content. I’m offering you lunch.”
“With pleasure.” She put her cup down as well and took Ochre’s hand, almost jumping to her feet. “A cheese burger and fries with ketchup would do fine.”
“You guys have no sophistication whatsoever,” Symphony declared.
“And proud of it!” Melody retorted, raising her chin defiantly.
“You’re a really surprising fellow, Rick,” Blue said from his seat, looking up at Ochre with a smile.
“Why, because I’m allergic to poetry and I’m certain you’re pulling my leg?”
“No,” Scarlet answered before Blue could utter a word. “Because you unexpectedly managed to fit ‘erudite’ and ‘declaiming’ in the same sentence.”
Ochre glared at him with near indignation and picked his cap from the table. “Oh yeah? Well here’s something to surprise you, Scarlet. I too can do poetry and sound as Scottish as you: ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne!’” The last lines were spoken with Ochre’s own attempt at a Scottish brogue, after which he drove his cap onto his head. “And that, my friends, is the best I can do.” He grinned at them to show there were no hard feelings, despite the fact they had tortured him with Scottish-accented poetry. “I’ll see you all later.”
He waved at them, and with Melody, left the Officers’ lounge, followed by the curious gazes of Symphony, Blue and Scarlet. The latter crossed his arms on his chest, chewing on his bottom lip and watching as the door slid closed on their departing colleagues.
“Mmm… That wasn’t too bad an attempt, after all,” he commented quietly, turning to his two friends.
“Quite decent, even,” Symphony approved.
“A picture,” Blue seconded with a vigorous nod.
Scarlet chuckled and sat down on the seat Ochre just vacated. “Well, what do you know? He managed to have the last word in this conversation...”
This story is probably one of those which took me the longest to bring to fruition. Actually, for years, I wanted to write a full adaptation of my favourite episode "The Trap", but that never came to be. The middle scene in this story always was to be a part of it: it would have been my own explanation as to why Captain Scarlet went to investigate a suspicious situation at night in Glen Garry Castle - without his cap, and therefore without a proper mean to alert Cloudbase should he needed to. That always seemed to me like a serious negligence from his part, and certainly, there was a logical explanation behind it! Of course, there was also the matter of Goddard speaking with Scarlet's voice to lull Spectrum into a false sense of security... Certainly, that new trick from the Mysterons would have caused some eyebrows to rise within Spectrum.
So after all these years, instead of the original planned adaptation, I decided to write a simple short story, with only a handful of scenes to tackle the subjects I wanted to. Here's this story, hoping that you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Thanks, as always, to my beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, for checking this story, and also, to Marion Woods, for helping out on the little bit I added towards the end, shortly before posting.
'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons' is the creation of a team of very talented people led by the late Gerry Anderson, and his wife of the time, Sylvia Anderson. The episode 'The Trap', from which the plot and some lines had been taken for the purpose of this story, was written by Alan Pattillo.
I do not own the rights to the series, and acknowledge whoever do hold them today. Thank you for letting me play with these ideas with all the respect I owe them.