A "Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons" story
“Is he coming out of it?”
“No – but he’s drifting in and out. He’s trying to regain control. Like the Angel before him.”
Voices… coming from the darkness. So far away that they seemed to echo in the recesses of Captain Blue’s mind. He wasn’t exactly conscious at the moment. It was as if he was in a state between consciousness and sleep, without the ability to drag himself from this sleep. The voices were just at the very edge of his awareness, and didn’t bear the same lilting accent he had heard just before losing his senses completely. They seemed more real.
He tried to focus on them, hoping to chase away the drowsiness his mind seemed filled with. He realised that he was lying on his back on a bed, and that he was physically struggling as well. Something was holding him down. Restraints, obviously, biting into his wrists and ankles. He couldn’t get free.
A sense of desperation clutched at him as he became aware that this wasn’t a normal situation. He struggled even more, straining every nerve, every muscle to free himself, his efforts causing more pain from the restraints; the fog in his mind began to disperse slowly, and he tried to force his eyes to open.
“He’s waking up…” The growl of anger was close, but yet almost still out of reach. Almost. It was close enough for Blue to concentrate even more.
“Don’t worry, that won’t do him any good,” the second voice retorted coldly. “This sedative will put him back under before he’ll be able to get a good enough grasp on reality.”
Whether it was those words and the obvious threat they were conveying or the sudden puncture he felt in his forearm that gave Blue the boost he needed to finally find the strength to open his eyes, he would never truly know. The fact of the matter was that his eyelids flew open suddenly, just as he felt a warm liquid entering his bloodstream. His vision was a blur of indistinct colours, but he could see forms leaning over him. Two people, one of whom was clearly holding what looked like a gun; Blue fought against the unexpected numbness he could feel spreading through his body. He heard beeping sounds over his head, coming from what sounded like an electronic medical panel. He could feel something cold on his temples. Electrodes, his confused mind registered. Probably plugged into that panel…
A hand pushed him down as he made an otherwise fruitless effort to rise.
“Relax, Captain… There is no need to struggle. Any resistance is quite futile, believe me.” Even though he tried not to obey that soothing voice, Blue felt his head fall heavily onto the pillow. His eyelids were becoming increasingly heavy, and his mind was fogging with each passing second. His breathing slowed, and his throat tightened as he struggled to speak.
“Who – who are you?” That was all he managed to say coherently. A curtain seemed to fall before his eyes, and the image fogged completely, turning into darkness. Despite his bravest effort, his mind shut down, and total silence surrounded him…
“…Don’t you know who we are?”
It seemed like only seconds had passed since Blue had lost consciousness when these words reached him once more. He groaned, concentrating on them, trying to pull himself out of his darkness.
“Come on, you can do it – fight! This is what you were born to do…”
Blue realised with dread that there was something… awkward… in this voice calling to him. There was that lilting accent again, like in that dream where he was lost in a raging snowstorm, and where Vikings were coming to his rescue… No… their rescue, his and Rhapsody’s. It was becoming clearer now… But it was only a dream, wasn’t it?
“Come on, brother… Wake up!”
Blue’s eyes flew opened and he found himself staring up at a tall, red-haired warrior, standing over him and looking down with obvious worry in his eyes… Eyes he instantly recognised, and where he saw a flash of relief.
“Finally!” the warrior grunted with obvious satisfaction. “You deign to join us in the land of the living, brother!”
Captain Blue wasn’t in any mood to jest; if this was Captain Ochre’s strange idea of a joke, he wasn’t playing it.
“Rick, what is going on?” he asked in a slurred, although quite obviously annoyed, tone. “What game are you playing?”
“Game?” The red-haired warrior furrowed bushy eyebrows, looking down in concern at Blue. “’Tis not the first time you have called me ‘Rick’, my brother. What is this game you are playing?”
Blue did not deem it necessary to answer; he raised himself on his elbows with some difficulty. His head was still a little woozy, but at least, he noticed, he was free to move; he also noticed the chased bracelets encircling both his wrists, as well as the alien clothes he was wearing… and that he was lying on a wooden bed, covered with thick furs as a mattress. He looked around, with some perplexity. The walls that formed the room he was in were made of stones, supported on strong, wooden studs that looked like they had been crudely carved from huge pieces of tree trunks. There was an aperture in the wall next to him from where he could sense a cool wind entering – and beyond which he could see a clear blue sky, devoid of clouds.
He couldn’t be on Cloudbase: Cloudbase didn’t have any windows – only portholes that couldn’t be opened. Cloudbase didn’t have rooms that even remotely looked like this one! So the only logical explanation could be…
“I didn’t dream it, then?” he muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes in disbelief.
The red-haired warrior grunted again, this time with annoyance. He turned his attention to another man, who then entered Blue’s line of vision. The confused Spectrum officer almost jumped upon recognising, under long, unkempt, greyish hair and beard, another familiar face – that of Doctor Fawn, who, now standing next to the impressive-looking warrior, was looking down at Blue with apprehension.
“You did say he would be confused, physician,” the warrior snapped in an obviously angry tone. “How long do you think this condition of his will last?”
“I’m not certain, Lord Thor – I can only hope it will not last long…”
Blue’s eyes opened wider still – was it his imagination or did the ‘physician’ actually speak with that same slight Australian accent he knew so well, and not the lilting tone he could still hear in ‘Lord Thor’s’ voice. He remembered that same accent issuing from the mouth of another warrior who had borne an astonishing resemblance to Captain Grey.
“Yes, you had better hope!” snarled ‘Thor’. “We will need the presence of my brother for the ceremony later. Lord Odin will not suffer any delay. This is too important!” He turned squarely on his heels, glaring ominously at the shorter man, before walking toward the door. “Make him better, Master Mimir, or your head will adorn a pike at the front door of my house!”
At those words, Blue nearly jumped out of his bed, in complete outrage. “What is going on here?”
‘Mimir’ was on him before Blue could actually leave his bed. ‘Thor’ had not turned around – either he didn’t acknowledge Blue’s outburst or he was totally unaware of it. He left the room, as Blue struggled to get free, but the other man’s hands were strong and were holding him down forcefully.
“Let go of me!” Blue demanded angrily. “I want to get out of here and find out what is going on. I can’t…”
“Calm yourself, Captain!” The authoritative voice of Doctor Fawn, coming from ‘Mimir’, stopped Blue on his tracks. He looked up at the man’s face. He saw the familiar flash in those dark eyes – and noticed the wink of complicity the man gave him.
“Edward…?” Blue asked, under his breath.
“Yes, Adam, it’s me,” Doctor Fawn whispered quickly. “Now, please calm down, I beg of you! Or you’re going to make things worse for all of us!”
Almost despite himself, Blue obeyed, forcing himself to calm down, and sat up in bed, looking up at Fawn with bewilderment in his eyes. “What is going on?” he asked, his throat tightening. “Where are we? What happened to Rick… what happened to you?”
Fawn put a finger on his lips, demanding that Blue keep quiet, and went to the door to look out, as if to make sure that nobody was listening. Reassured that there was no one about, he came back to his patient, nodding slowly. “You mean, what happened to all of us,” he grumbled under his breath.
“All of us…? Rhapsody, where is Rhapsody? Is she okay?”
“Oh, she’s all right,” Fawn confirmed to an increasingly worried Blue. “As confused as you are, undoubtedly… but all right.”
“Where is she? I was with her in the SPJ when we… we crashed.” Blue’s brow furrowed in a questioning frown when he looked up into Fawn’s face once more.
“You did crash, as far as I can say,” Fawn acknowledged. “On Cloudbase’s runway… That’s about the last thing I remember clearly from… before.”
“Before… Doctor, what the hell is going on?”
Fawn shook his head and, with an open palm, motioned to the window. “Look outside, Captain Blue.”
Blue only showed a moment’s hesitation, before getting to his feet; a wave of dizziness hit him instantly, as he tried too quickly to get up. He took a deep breath, and then took a slower, almost tentative step toward the window. Fawn followed behind, as if to make sure he wouldn’t fall down; but this was a useless precaution – Blue was growing stronger on his feet by the second.
But his mind was going from perplexity to complete incredulity over the situation.
Standing at the window – a carved aperture in a wall almost a foot thick – Blue gazed outside in wonder. We’re not in Kansas anymore, he thought wryly. In fact, they weren’t on Cloudbase either, of that he was certain.
He was staring down at a green narrow valley, wedged between high mountains. There was a high palisade, made out of heavy wood and stones, guarding the entry of what looked like a fair-sized village. The valley opened out into a plain which stretched towards what Blue thought was a distant, dark forest, nestling at the foot of high, threatening peaks. The mountain tops were covered with eternal snow, and surrounded by an eerie fog. The sky above the valley was blue, with almost no cloud at all, and the sun was shining brightly. Over the side of the palisade, there was a stone bridge, stepping over a narrow cliff, from the side of which poured a waterfall of pure, white water. The contact of the rays from the bright sun above upon the millions of water droplets from the waterfall created a beautiful, complete rainbow under the stony bridge, which led to what looked like a large, white palace apparently carved from the side of the mountain.
Strong winds lashed into Blue’s face and he took a deep breath of the vivid, cold air. This air, this wind, were too real not to be true.
“Pinch me,” he murmured.
“You think you are dreaming?” the voice of Fawn asked from behind. Blue turned around to face the bearded man who was looking grimly at him. Instinctively, Blue stroked his own face with his hand. It was as smooth as he remembered it should be. He searched around for something which he could look into and discovered a shield lying against the wall not far from him; he took it to stare at his face, with some apprehension.
Unlike the others, he realised with relief, he didn’t look different. His face was smooth from his last shave, his hair as short as it should be. He put the shield down, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Why?” he whispered again. He turned to Fawn. “Doctor, am I dreaming?”
“I wish I could tell you exactly,” Fawn said hesitantly. “If we are indeed dreaming, then this is a most unnatural dream – as we are all sharing it.”
“Can you explain to me what happened?” Blue gestured toward the window. “And where we are?”
“From what I know, this place is called ‘Aesgard’.”
“Aesgard… as in Norse mythology?”
“Exactly as in Norse mythology. And,” Fawn added quickly before Blue could utter another word, “we’re stuck in here. All of us on Cloudbase. And apparently, only you, me – and Rhapsody, as far as I can gather so far – remember and realise that this is wrong. The others seem to have settled quite nicely into their new ‘persona’ – and don’t seem to remember anything of their real lives.”
“How did this happen?” Blue repeated, frowning.
“Well – I’m not sure if you will believe me…”
“This all started with a game…”
“Exactly…” sighed Doctor Fawn. “And with the use of that unspeakable Room of Sleep as a FX Room for the purpose of what should have been a simple experiment…”
* * *
“You mean to tell me a 3D game was responsible for all this?”
Blue was sceptical of Fawn’s explanation. The doctor had told him about the game received by Captains Ochre and Magenta, and that the senior staff on board Cloudbase at the time had presented it to Colonel White, asking for his permission to use the Room of Sleep as a FX Room, so it might serve as a possible exercise. Colonel White had agreed to the test, obviously more than a little curious about what benefits such an experiment would actually bring, and certainly very aware that his officers were eager to try something new – and possibly entertaining at the same time. He had asked for his officers to give him a full report on this test. He had allowed Lieutenant Bromwell to reconfigure the Room of Sleep, to transform it into an FX Room and…
“…Something went wrong,” Fawn said with a sigh. “I don’t know what exactly. Colonel White had asked me and Lieutenant Green to supervise the experiment, and Scarlet had agreed to serve as guinea pig. ‘Just in case,’ he said, and considering he was indestructible, he thought he should be the one to make the first test. And the first part of the experiment went okay, obviously… It appeared that Scarlet even seemed to have a good time, according to what we could witness through the monitors and…”
“What happened?” Blue demanded.
“I don’t quite know.” Fawn shrugged. “As the test progressed, there was the emergency caused by your SPJ crashing on the runway and I was called back urgently to sickbay, while Green, Bromwell and the others were supposed to interrupt the experiment, wake Scarlet up, and take him out of the FX Room, to tell him what had happened. The last thing I remember clearly was when you and Rhapsody were about to be rolled into sickbay. There was a hissing sound, then a sudden buzz coming from the speakers, and finally, a violent flash of light. I think I passed out. And next thing I knew, I found myself in this crazy world, chased by warriors on horseback… seemingly wanting to cut my head off!”
“You’re not serious, are you?”
“Oh, very serious!” Fawn sighed. “Well, obviously, they didn’t kill me and I was brought here. Because of my – er – understandable confusion, they seemed to think I was crazy and apparently, they respected that… Or rather, feared it, I am still unsure, I have to admit.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, as you can imagine, I was quite confused – especially when I got to meet with some of our friends who were decidedly different from what I knew of them. They didn’t remember anything at all about the ‘real world’, Spectrum, the rest... This world was the real world for them. They were acting like real barbarians – Vikings, to be precise – and were mistrustful of me. They didn’t recognise me as – well – me. It would seem that to them, I am some kind of an enemy… You see, according to them, my name is ‘Mimir’ – and I am apparently part of another clan, called the Vanir – and at some point during the course of a war, I have been captured by this clan, the Aesir, who inhabit the land of Aesgard… And since then, as they recognised my qualities as a physician, I have been kept as a prisoner here to… take care of their sick and wounded.”
“Wait a minute,” Blue cut in, “you mean to say that this is a world created by the 3D game? Doctor, that doesn’t make sense. I’ve played 3D games. This place doesn’t look – or feel – like anything I know of any 3D game – it’s too real!”
“I’m only telling you what I know, Captain,” Fawn retorted. “I never said it made any sense. Believe me, I know it sounds crazy – but this does look like the world described in that booklet Captain Magenta showed me. It is the world of Aesgard, and all the others are playing the part of characters from this world… and believing every second of it.”
“You’ve said this already, Doc. All the others…?”
“All of them, Captain. It very well looks like every single person on Cloudbase has been affected by this. Whatever this could be and however it happened.” Fawn huffed loudly. “I knew that Room of Sleep would eventually cause us trouble. I just knew it. But I never imagined it would go to these lengths…” The doctor’s aversion to the Room of Sleep and its ‘unnatural purpose’ of cramming the benefits of eight hours’-worth of rest into two or three was well-known throughout Cloudbase, so Blue barely listened to his complaints. He was too stunned and trying too hard to concentrate on the problem in hand to take any real notice, anyway.
“I can’t believe it…” Blue murmured. “This can’t be a 3D game. I know how that kind of game works. It’s all done through the subconscious mind – nothing is real, and you can get out of it any time you wish…”
“Well, no one ever used a Room of Sleep to experiment with those games, did they, Captain? It would appear this time is different. It must be some kind of weird malfunction… How it got all over Cloudbase is a mystery, but… it’s affecting everyone. We are all stuck here with no idea how to get out.”
“So… whatever might be affecting the others’ memories, why isn’t it affecting you… or me?”
“Me, I don’t know,” Fawn grunted. “Maybe because my mind isn’t as attuned as the others’ to the Room of Sleep’s procedures?” Blue gave him a doubtful, almost annoyed look. Fawn shrugged again. “As for you – well, it might be because you weren’t actually there when this… thing… happened. So you weren’t affected the same way the others were.”
“So it’s up to us to find out what happened, how it happened and how to reverse it,” Blue murmured.
“If that is possible… Frankly, I don’t have the faintest idea how it happened to begin with…”
"Doc… Do you recall if there were any strangers on Cloudbase prior to this incident?"
"No, so far as I can tell…"
"Are you sure?" Blue insisted.
Fawn stared at Blue with an inquiring look. "Why do you ask that?"
"I'm not quite sure. Before waking up in this room I… I had a strange dream. I was on Cloudbase, in sickbay, I think… and I was trying to wake up, struggling against restraints that were holding me down on a bed. There were people standing over me. Two men, I believe… and they were talking. I'm not sure but… from what I can recall of their conversation, it seemed it could be related to what is happening to us. They were very apprehensive that I would…'regain control’."
"Regain control of what?” Fawn said with a frown.
“Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all,” Blue mused. "I don't know, Doc… but you’ve got to admit, it is highly suspicious."
"Highly suspicious indeed," Fawn murmured. "If these men weren't part of a dream, and if they do have anything to do with what happened to us, we'll have to discover who they are, how they did this… and why."
“We’ll find out, Doctor. We’ll have to try.” Blue marked a pause. “They mentioned an 'Angel trying to regain control' too. They probably meant Rhapsody? You said she remembered too?” he pointed out.
“She does – well, for the short time I saw her, she seemed to, anyway.”
“You still haven’t told me where she is. Just that she is all right…” Blue sounded suspicious.
“Oh, she is all right, of that I’m sure. They wouldn’t dare hurt her… the Aesir, I mean. Ochre – er – ‘Thor’ and the others… From what I know, they went to great lengths to have her here.”
“Where is she?”
“Well, she was brought to me with you, so I could make sure she was all right…” Fawn gave a deep sigh, hesitating to continue. “I do wish I’d had more time to talk to her and explain to her what I’m telling you. The poor kid must be confused as hell. But when I gave confirmation that she wasn’t hurt, Lord Thor had her sent to the dungeon…”
“The WHAT?!” Blue was outraged.
“Shhh! Not so loud!” Fawn urged. “You want someone to hear you?”
“I don’t care about that! I don’t care what kind of crazy fantasy the others think they are living in! Whatever could possess them to send Rhapsody to a dungeon?”
“She’s not alone there, that’s where they put all the Valkyries.”
Blue’s jaw dropped. “Valkyries? Oh no… I’m afraid to ask… That’s not… the Angels?” Fawn’s grim face gave him the answer he was dreading. “You’re not serious!”
“Calm down, none of them are in any danger, as far as I can tell.”
“HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?!” Blue protested.
“Blue, please… What I do know is that they’re all right. All of them. The Aesir need the Angels – Valkyries – for some kind of ceremony later tonight, which you should attend too. I don’t know what it’s all about but…”
“Wait a minute, that doesn’t add up,” Blue cut in, looking suddenly pensive. “From what I know of Norse mythology, the Valkyries were daughters of Odin – and Odin was the ruler of Aesgard… That’s the case here too, right? Why would he put them in a dungeon?”
“I don’t know about Norse mythology, but this world, although similar to it, is rather different. These people are not gods, like in the Viking legends, Blue. They seemed to be… er… warped human representations of those gods of Norse mythology. The Valkyries are not the ‘daughters of Odin’ – apparently they are the Vanir’s elite cavalry – the personal guards to their ruler. They have recently been captured during a long-lasting war between Vanir and Aesir and are to be kept here as – hostages of some sort, I believe. I don’t know the full details of it, but the Vanir will be sending representatives tonight, at this ceremony I was telling you about. It seems they are going to discuss the terms of their surrender.”
“That seems down to Earth enough,” Blue grumbled. “And you believe that the Angels are treated fairly?”
“I would think so – the Aesir all have an interest in keeping them alive – and well. Odin would not permit it to be any other way.”
“So… there is an ‘Odin’ in this mad set up,” Blue groused again. “I was beginning to wonder. Doc, I’m almost afraid to ask again… Odin… that’s not…?”
Fawn nodded. “I told you everyone has been affected,” he answered grimly. “The colonel like the others.”
“I don’t know, I was kind of hoping that at least he would have been untouched by this. It seemed so… unlikely that he would be transformed into a… Viking.”
Fawn raised a brow. “You haven’t seen him yet. I tell you, you’re in for a shock.”
“I guess I am.” Blue took a deep breath. “Edward, you haven’t said anything about Scarlet – except to tell me that he had agreed to become the ‘guinea pig’ for this experiment with that 3D game. What became of him? I guess that… his retrometabolism has not prevented him from falling under the…‘spell’ too?”
Fawn sighed in turn, and lowered his eyes. “Oh, Scarlet, well… I guess he’s a case all by himself in this world. You see, he…”
Fawn’s voice broke off, as he suddenly became aware of a presence at the open door; he turned to it, and Blue followed the doctor’s gaze. Casually leaning against the recess of the door, stood a tall man, staring at them with intense blue eyes. Blue rose to his feet, almost out of surprise; it took him a few seconds to realise that the Viking warrior standing there, a mean-looking sword at his side, wasn’t a threat at all. The black hair was long on his neck and surrounded an unshaven, familiar face lit up by a roguish, somewhat bemused smirk.
“I see you are well now, brother,” the black-haired warrior noted. Although he fully expected it, following Fawn’s warning, Blue could not keep himself from feeling frustrated when he heard the man he knew as Captain Scarlet speaking in the same lilting accent as the others. He watched as the newcomer now fully entered the room to approach him and take him into a strong embrace, laughing gaily. “It is good to see you on your feet again!”
Fawn had shot to his feet in turn to welcome the newcomer, who, letting go of Blue, now turned to face him. “Lord Balder…” Fawn bowed slightly, and caught sight of Blue lifting an inquiring eyebrow at the use of the name, and in nearly the same manner, Fawn mutely asked him to play along.
“It would seem your patient is healed now, physician,” ‘Balder’ remarked with an obviously pleased smile, while his hand rested on Blue’s shoulder.
“He is… not all well, my lord,” replied Fawn. “Still his… memory fails him a little. But, in time… he should make a full recovery.”
“Is it true, brother?” Scarlet/Balder asked, turning a concerned look on Blue. “Are you feeling better?”
“I’ll be all right… brother,” Blue said without so much as a second’s hesitation.
“That is good.” Scarlet’s hand squeezed Blue’s shoulder in a brotherly fashion, smiling at him. “I do not have to tell how much I am relieved that you have come back to us alive from the dangerous mission you had undertaken.”
“You don’t have to, indeed,” Blue agreed.
“In truth, I should have been the one to go, do you not agree?”
“Should you?” Blue asked with a lift of his brow.
‘Balder’ nodded slowly. “So I see that the usual fire of your eyes seems to have given place to confusion. Still, you will be able to attend the ceremony, brother?”
“Lord Hodur can attend, my lord,” Fawn confirmed. “That may even be… helpful to him.”
“It could be helpful indeed,” Blue agreed.
“In that case, we will leave you now, Master Mimir,” Scarlet said. He moved towards the door, literally dragging Blue along, and the latter looked over his shoulder at Fawn, unsure of what to do. Fawn gave him an encouraging nod.
“I’ll see you later, Lord Hodur,” Fawn declared to a less than enthusiastic Blue. “If ever you feel any discomfort, you’ll know where to find me.”
“There will be no need of your further assistance, I am sure, physician,” Scarlet declared as they walked out of the room. “You have taken enough of his time, my brother. And I waited long enough for you,” he continued addressing Blue. They were now in a large hall, at the end of which Blue could see an open door leading out, with two warriors guarding the entrance. There was a beautiful young woman walking out through another nearby door, closing it behind her, and adjusting her clothes as she started to walk past them. Scarlet looked musingly at her. “’Tis true that I found… a suitable way to pass the time.” Saying that, he grabbed at the passing young woman and brought her close to him to plant a big, ardent kiss on her lips, right in front of Blue’s mystified eyes. The woman didn’t resist much; on the contrary, she gave in to his kiss, giggling like a schoolgirl, before pulling herself from him, flashing him a big smile.
“Come see me later,” Scarlet murmured to her with a knowing smile. “In my chamber… We will continue this… interesting conversation in private.”
The languorous expression on her face spoke volumes, and she reluctantly went away.
Oh boy… this is not the Scarlet I know, Blue pondered as he watched the woman leave. He knew her. That was, he thought he knew who she was in ‘real life’. If he wasn’t mistaken, she was one of sickbay’s nurses. Preston… Anna Preston. That was it. Blue knew she had a crush on Scarlet, but the English captain had never given her more than a polite smile and some kind words.
Apparently, her secret wishes might have come true in this fantasy world…
But… what about Rhapsody? Doesn’t Scarlet care about her here?
Think logically, Adam… Remember what Fawn told you. Strictly speaking, this isn’t really Scarlet… He’s acting the part here, as if he doesn’t remember the real world. He is Balder, an Aesir warrior. Rhapsody – is supposed to be a Valkyrie. And according to Fawn, Valkyries are part of the enemy. So I guess he wouldn’t know about Rhapsody…
And technically, it wasn’t as if anything had really happened between Scarlet and Preston. If this situation really was caused by a 3D game and a malfunction in the Room of Sleep, then this was all only on a subconscious level… It was all a trick of the mind, after all…
Right… I don’t know if Rhapsody would be that open to this particular kind of cybersex… I don’t want to be anywhere near when everything is back to normal and this comes to her ears…
“I see what you mean when you said you had found a good way to pass the time,” Blue declared matter-of-factly.
“She is a nice girl, that Gerda,” Scarlet declared nonchalantly, as he and Blue walked toward the exit. “They are all nice girls…”
“All?” Blue was more and more perplexed. He stared at Scarlet who sighed heavily, as if filled with regret.
“Too bad… I suppose these carefree days will be gone soon.”
Blue lifted a brow. “What do you mean?”
“As if you do not know,” Scarlet retorted with a shrug. He looked at Blue with a mocking smile. “You know, Gerda told me – she has a friend who is quite smitten by you…”
“No, thank you,” Blue retorted emphatically.
“I might have known you would say that.” Scarlet chuckled. “You are already taken, after all.”
“Taken?” Blue asked, puzzled.
“I do not think you have forgotten that too,” Scarlet laughed. “But still, you continue this charade of yours, brother Hodur. If it pleases you so, then… we will continue the pretence.”
Blue didn’t insist. He figured he would have time enough later on to understand the riddle of Scarlet’s words.
As they walked out into the open and were welcomed by the bright light of the sun, Blue looked around with mystification. All the houses around were made of sturdy wood or stones, and most of the ground was of hardened mud, on which many people, men and women, all of Viking appearance in clothing and hairstyle, were going about their personal business. On a corner, there was an argument between a woman and what appeared to be a vegetable merchant, who seemed to be insisting that the prices of his merchandise were a bargain. Not far from there, a peasant was trying to make his stubborn donkey – a donkey?! – walk on with the cart it was pulling, while a band of warriors were standing by laughing heartily at his apparently useless efforts. A blacksmith and his apprentice were busy at their forge, while in front of what could pass as a tavern, someone was being thrown out into the dirt of the street, amidst the loud clamouring of voices coming from inside.
Blue had trouble believing his eyes, and he had to fight hard not to actually rub them. He knew these people – well, some of them he recognised - hiding under that rough, unsophisticated exterior. They were all Cloudbase personnel; technicians, nurses, security guards, administrative staff, military and civilian personnel alike. All of them acting in this setting as naturally as if they had been born into it and had lived it all their lives. All of them so manifestly and dreadfully unaware that this was not, by any means, a usual situation for them.
I don’t care what Fawn said – there is NO WAY a simple 3D game and a malfunction of the Room of Sleep could create this. There is more to this, I am sure of that!
He realised Scarlet was now crossing the street, without waiting for him, so he dashed across to join him. Just at that moment, the obstinate donkey finally decided to move and, escaping from his frustrated master’s hand, started to race down the street. Blue nearly got run over by both animal and carriage. He probably would have been if Scarlet had not grabbed him by the arm and pulled him over to his side. As a result, both men found themselves surrounded by a cloud of dust raised by the hurried departure.
Blue coughed, more than a little astonished that the dust would feel so uncomfortably real. From his memory of 3D games, that certainly wouldn't be the case. He brushed himself free of the dirt, while looking at Scarlet who was doing the same with an obvious look of disgust on his features.
"It is a good thing that the ceremony does not start for an hour yet," Scarlet remarked, glaring darkly in the direction of the donkey's unfortunate owner, running after his possession. "We will have time to change before presenting ourselves to Odin."
"Where to now?" Blue asked. He coughed again, finally clearing his throat of the annoying dust. Scarlet gave him a curious look.
"Why, to the Walhall, of course," he answered matter-of-factly.
"The Walhall?" Blue turned around, looking beyond the stony bridge, and staring in direction of the huge construction which seemed carved from the mountain. "Odin's Palace?"
"Aye,” Scarlet concurred, with a deep frown. "That is where we live, as Princes of Aesgard. Do you not remember that?" He grunted, seeing the obviously lost look upon Blue's face. "Maybe Mimir was wrong – you might not be well enough to attend the ceremony. Maybe you should rest more…"
"Well, he did warn you my… memory was still failing me," Blue retorted. Seeing Scarlet’s doubtful expression, he added quickly: "Come on, I know it's your habit to worry about me, but there is no need for that, I assure you." Of course, Blue had no way of knowing if 'Balder' usually worried about 'Hodur', but he was playing a hunch that it might be the case – if there was anything of the usual relationship between Scarlet and himself in this fantasy world.
The bluff paid off, and Scarlet grinned widely, before landing a friendly, but expectedly forceful, slap on Blue's shoulder. That took the latter aback, and he was nearly thrown forward. "Spoken like a true prince of Aesgard," Scarlet laughed heartily.
Blue nearly rolled his eyes. Whatever else he might be feeling, he didn't feel 'true' at all, at the moment.
As he followed Scarlet toward the foot of the bridge, Blue found himself reflecting on this strange world he found himself in, and what he knew of Norse mythology. The names were obviously the same he remembered from the ancient legends his grandfather had told him so much about and that he read in later years. This 'Aesgard', however, and the people living in it, seemed to have little to do with the home of the Viking gods. For starters – as Fawn had pointed out – they weren't gods, but apparently ordinary people, from an ancient and defunct time. The village had nothing 'godlike' about it, although it was an extraordinary man-made construction. Odin's palace - and especially the bridge overstepping the waterfalls leading to it – was an extraordinary sight.
The Bifrost, Blue reflected inwardly, nodding his head thoughtfully. This bridge seemed to be a fair illustration of the legendary ‘Rainbow Bridge’ of Aesgard, from Norse stories, as he recalled it. It was, according to myth, the link between the world of Aesgard and the world of men below. And it was guarded by…
“Heimdall,” Blue murmured out loud. He had stopped in his tracks as, right at the entrance of the bridge, he could see a group of guards standing there, holding spears, one different from the others by his smaller stature, brilliant armour and the horn hanging by his side. There was also something more distinctive about him as, seeing the two ‘princes’ approach, he came to them, with long strides, a bright smile of very white teeth in the middle of his…
… black face.
“Ah!” Scarlet said with a satisfied grin. “So your memory is not a total loss then! You remember our captain of the guards!”
Not quite, a confused Blue reflected, as the newcomer stopped in front of him and clasped his hand in a welcoming gesture. That was Lieutenant Green’s face he was seeing under that horned helmet polished so bright, the sun flashed from it.
“My lord Hodur, it is so good to see you back amongst our people!” Blue blinked in surprise. Gone was the West Indian accent of the young communication officer from Cloudbase; it had been replaced by the same lilting accent as Scarlet’s – or Ochre’s – which Blue had heard earlier. This was getting confusing, and he could do little to properly hide his reaction to it.
“Are you all right, my prince?” Green asked with a concerned frown. “You look like you have seen a phantom… Or maybe one of those dreadful Ice Giants, while you were on your mission? I heard you had been hurt.”
“Ice giants?” Blue asked. “Er… no, not exactly…”
“The Valkyrie gave you trouble when you captured her, then?”
“Actually – I think we were attacked by wolves… both she and I,” Blue replied, offering a bashful smile.
Green nodded his understanding. “Aye. I should have realised. You had to cross Fenrir’s woods… So you would run the risk of encountering his fearsome offspring.”
“At least it was not the brute Fenrir himself, noble Heimdall,” Scarlet remarked. “Or maybe my brother would not be here to tell the tale. Though he has not said much of it so far!” He laughed and thumped Blue’s back vigorously.
“Or he might have won the wolf’s hide and wear it as his coat of arms, now,” Green proposed with a wink.
“Nay… that is an honour that Lord Tyr reserves for himself – or even Lord Thor, whoever first meets with the fiendish beast. Lord Hodur prefers… other sports over the wolf hunt.”
Blue raised a brow, but did not dare ask Scarlet/Balder what kind of ‘sports’ he was referring to. It was obvious by the large mischievous grin displayed on his face that Balder regarded this as a good joke. Green didn’t seem to notice – or made a show of ignoring it, Blue couldn’t decide. The younger man was now turning to point his spear in the direction of the palace beyond the bridge. “I have been made aware that our lord Odin has been waiting for the both of you,” he declared solemnly. “I would suggest, my lords – respectfully – that you prepare yourself for the upcoming ceremony, which should be starting in the hour.”
“Will you not come along, brave Heimdall?” Scarlet asked.
“Nay – someone must keep guard over the Rainbow Bridge. Keeping it safe, and that way keeping Aesgard safe, is my responsibility, as you are well aware, Lord Balder. And my duty.” Green’s smile broadened. “And your responsibility, my princes, is to make sure this venture, carefully planned by our lord to ensure the safety of our land, will succeed – by doing your duty.”
“’Tis a price highly paid,” groused Scarlet. “For me, it means the end of freedom…”
Green burst out laughing. “I am sure it is not such a sacrifice, my lord. I would gladly take your place. But, alas, this is not possible. I am not a prince of Aesgard.”
“Though your heart is a noble one, Heimdall.” Before Blue’s puzzled eyes, Scarlet squeezed Green’s armoured shoulder. “We will leave you to your task, then.”
Green nodded his acknowledgement and watched as the two ‘princes’ left to start crossing the bridge. Blue found himself looking over his shoulder, in a curious manner, pondering what the conversation Scarlet and Green had had was all about. He couldn’t even begin to fathom what was going on and the more he ‘advanced’ into this business, the more confusing it was becoming. He caught sight of Scarlet glancing at him.
“Not too nervous, are you, my brother?” Scarlet asked matter-of-factly.
“Nervous?” Blue retorted, trying to compose himself into a casual attitude. “No… Why should I be nervous?”
“I supposed you would not be. After all, all you have been fighting for these last months, all your efforts, will finally bear fruit.”
Blue frowned at the remark and looked straight at Scarlet as they were approaching the large open door of the Walhall palace, guarded by warriors. Scarlet shrugged dismissively. “’Twas your idea, after all…”
“Aye… Yours and Lord Tyr’s, to be precise.” Blue could hear a certain animosity in Scarlet’s voice and at first thought it was directed at him; but as they entered the palace, he could see that Scarlet’s eyes were looking straight ahead. Turning his eyes in the same direction, Blue discovered that there was a black-bearded man standing in the hall, his arms crossed on his chest and looking at them as they approached. Blue frowned, recognising Captain Grey – who had assumed the identity of Lord Tyr in this strange reality. He offered a tiger-like smirk as the two stopped in front of him, and addressed a nod to Blue.
“So, I see you are on your feet already, Lord Hodur,” he said, in that lilting accent that was beginning to grate on Blue’s nerves. “It is good. We will be able to proceed according to plan.”
“Your obvious lack of sympathy is bordering on insolence, Lord Tyr,” Scarlet growled, eyes flashing with anger as he faced Grey. “You are speaking to a prince of Aesgard. Do not forget it.”
Grey raised a brow. His voice was still calm when next he spoke. “And I, Lord Balder, am a prince of Vanaheim. I am only within these walls and in Odin’s service, because it serves a good greater than either my own land or Aesgard. I am not here for my own pleasure. Do you not forget it.” His eyes moved from Scarlet to Blue. “As for my ‘lack of sympathy’ – I do not see any lasting wound on your brother. So it would seem he would not have any use of it.”
A dull rumble escaped Scarlet’s throat, as he gritted his teeth. “Beware, Lord Tyr...”
“That is quite all right,” Blue interrupted.
He didn’t wish for this conversation to end up into a fight. Both Scarlet and Grey were carrying heavy and mean-looking swords. If he was to believe Fawn that this was a 3D game gone wrong – about which he was starting to have considerable doubts – he had to admit any fight in this ‘world’ would not have any wounding impact on the participants.
But if Fawn should be wrong in his assumption – there would be no telling what could happen. Blue didn’t want to take any risks with the lives of his friends and colleagues. He addressed a diplomatic smile to Grey and presented his hand.
“I have no quarrel with you, Lord Tyr. Let’s not fight. Are we not all working toward the same goal – which will soon be achieved?”
Grey stared down at the extended hand without answering; the up until now detached expression on his features had changed suddenly to one of total coldness and he had tensed. He then looked straight at Blue, who suddenly felt as if he were frozen into place, so icy was his look.
“Is this some kind of a jest?” Grey asked slowly. There was restrained anger in his tone, and Blue could not imagine what could be wrong this time. He saw Grey raise his right hand at eye level, presenting it to Blue who could only stare at it without any reaction.
Instead of a flesh and blood hand, Blue saw an artificial metal hand, wrought in the shape of a fist, shimmering in the sunrays entering through the door. Beyond that stunning sight, the coldness in Grey’s eyes grew so intense that Blue found himself shivering inwardly.
“I do not shake hands with anyone,” Grey seethed between his teeth. “And that, Lord Hodur, you very well know.”
Unable to detach his eyes from the iron hand, Blue continued to stare at it. He wished to God this was really a fantasy world. He didn’t dare think that something that bad might have happened to Bradley Holden...
He didn’t have time to answer Grey’s remark; as suddenly as the coldness had appeared in Grey’s eyes, it disappeared, and he turned his back on the two princes. “I will see you in an hour, at the ceremony,” he announced, in a voice which was calm again. “Despite our past differences, be assured of my entire support, princes of Aesgard. This scheme must be allowed to run its course. Our security, for all of us, depends on it.” He walked away briskly, without even turning around. Blue followed his departure, until he disappeared through a door, and then let out a deep sigh. Scarlet’s hand landed heavily on his shoulder.
“That was a careless gesture, Hodur,” he said quietly.
How was I supposed to know he was missing a hand? Blue asked himself himself, almost angrily.
“He’s an intense man, isn’t he?” he murmured, trying hard to hide his discomfort.
“I suppose he is at that, since he lost his hand to the Fenrir Wolf, during a hunt,” Scarlet said with a nod.
Wait – that’s it… I should have known… In Norse mythology, Tyr, the god of War, had had his hand bitten off by the Fenrir Wolf, when the gods of Aesgard had tried to tie up the beast with chains that couldn’t be broken. Blue now recalled that legend, as it rushed into his mind. Fawn might be right – this world is following the pattern set by the Norse legends; except, it’s been transposed into a more ‘human’ setting. His colleagues really seemed to be living warped versions of the true legends’ lives. Blue stared at Scarlet. I wonder what HIS story is, he pondered. He’s supposed to be Balder in this fantasy. But who and what is Balder exactly? Fawn said earlier that he was a case all by himself here. What did he mean? Blue only knew that Balder was a son of Odin, but he couldn’t recall what the legend attached to him was. He recalled the name, of course – but it wasn’t as familiar as Odin, Thor, or the Valkyries.
And he had to admit, his mind was still a little confused… It was all coming back to him, but so slowly, it was frustrating.
He had to remember more of those stories and characters. Fast.
“Tyr is not such a bad man,” Scarlet continued. “Once you get to know him.”
“You mean – for a Vanir warrior,” Blue said with a forced grin.
Scarlet laughed, as he dragged Blue toward another open door and into a new room. “Aye! That is true. For a Vanir warrior. But then again, I still prefer to have a Vane such as Tyr as an ally than some others who are claiming to be allies – but are not.”
Blue’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Footsteps coming from behind made him stop in his tracks and turn around, and Scarlet did the same. From the shadow cast by the recess of the door, the outlines of a man appeared; standing tall, dressed all in black, the sun was behind his back and Blue had to narrow his eyes to see his features.
His eyes opened wide with horror as he finally made out the pale features of the newcomer, glaring at him with aloof and very dark eyes.
“I’m talking about him, of course,” Scarlet said gloomily, the loathing very obvious in his tone. “The wretched Loki.”
But to Captain Blue’s eyes, the man Scarlet was talking about, standing there looking coldly at him, had the appearance of Spectrum’s worst enemy.
Mysteron agent Captain Black.
* * *
She couldn’t imagine what could be going wrong; but she was getting more worried by the minute.
First, she had witnessed the crash of the SPJ that had brought Captain Blue and Rhapsody Angel from Los Angeles. From her vantage point of view inside the cockpit of Angel One, she had seen everything: the craft going out of control as it was making its approach, the bumpy landing, the landing gear breaking, and the SPJ sliding on its belly across the lower runway, with a trail of flashes as metal scraped against metal. A fire broke out, but was quickly smothered by the automatic foam extinguisher cannons. Then security had come over with pressurised suits and lines, and the SPJ had quickly been brought down into the hanger, where a sickbay emergency crew was waiting.
Worried for Captain Blue and Rhapsody, she had contacted the Control Tower, inquiring what was going on, what was the status of her colleagues. She was told that they were both doing, that the rough landing had shaken them a bit and that they were unconscious, but that they hadn’t received any serious wounds. For that, she had been grateful.
But then, her radio went dead. She was unable to make contact with Control any more, no matter how many times she tried. She waited, fully expecting that this would be looked at and that she would be recalled.
It didn’t happen. On the contrary, other systems in her Angel craft started failing too, one after another, until there was barely anything left working. Nothing responded to any of her commands. Not even the emergency controls that would permit her to open the hatch below the seat – and give her access to the lift that would bring her to the Amber Room, if ever there should be need of it. She felt lucky that life-support and oxygen were on independent controls, and were still operational – at least for a limited amount of time. Or she might be in worse trouble still.
But aside from that, everything else was dead.
Or rather, as it appeared to be, everything had been remotely disconnected, so she would be isolated and a prisoner inside her own cockpit. And that could only be done from one place on Cloudbase.
The Central Control Room.
She didn’t want to even think this could be right, that the suspicion growing inside of her was true. Yet, when she saw the new craft arrive – a civilian plane – and land on Cloudbase’s main runway, before being lowered down into the hangar, out of her view, and when nearly an hour passed from the moment one of the Angel pilots failed to relieve her at the scheduled time, this suspicion became a dreadful reality.
She was through with waiting; she had to do something. In any case, she could not afford to waste time much longer, before her oxygen ran out. If it had been one of the other girls, she might have been utterly trapped in here, until someone came to free her. But she knew how the craft worked; her curious mind wanting to learn as much as possible about the sophisticated piece of equipment she was operating, she had assisted technicians when they were taking it apart and rebuilding it. She was there when they made security inspections of the craft, as well as the Amber Room chute, the lift, the many hatches securing its access, the elevator seat. She knew how each circuit operated, and she knew what to do to manually change them, in order to gain control for herself.
She might also be able to free the whole craft, and take off – but not knowing what was going on in the Control Room, she dreaded that whoever was there at the moment would press the remote command which would order her craft to self-destruct in flight.
No – she would rather use her knowledge to flee this too narrow prison and go down the chute to access Cloudbase… And see what was happening.
She had a feeling something weird was going on…