A "Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons" story
"Had a nice stay on the ground?"
At the helm of the Spectrum Passenger Jet which was bringing them from Los Angeles back to Cloudbase, Captain Blue addressed the question to Rhapsody Angel, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat. She answered with a large smile.
“Indeed,” she said, “I don’t often have occasion to go down there. I was actually able to catch up with that old friend I worked with a couple of years ago at the Federal Agents Bureau. He has opened a private investigation office in LA. Looks like he’s very successful.”
“No kidding!” Blue replied. “I bet he asked you to go and work with him?”
“I told him I had… other career plans.”
“I’m sure he was crushed,” Blue noted, smiling.
He and Rhapsody had been in Los Angeles for the past week, both on official Spectrum business. After four days working with the officers of Spectrum Los Angeles concerning the investigation of suspected terrorist activities in the area – during which she had met with her old friend – Rhapsody’s help had no longer been necessary; she then took advantage of the free time to visit the city with her friend.
During that time, however, Captain Blue had been busy checking on the security of the Los Angeles Headquarters, and had not been able to free himself before the very day of their return to Cloudbase. He and Rhapsody had not been able to see each other this past week until the moment they boarded the SPJ.
“I noticed you had time to do some shopping too,” he said, giving a sharp nod toward the cabin in the back. “You must have bought something for everyone onboard Cloudbase.”
Rhapsody laughed. “Not quite! But enough not to create any jealousy amongst the senior staff, anyway.” She stole a glance in his direction. “I know you wanted to buy something for Karen, too. Were you able to tear yourself away from work for a few hours to do that?”
Blue grunted. “The last three days in particular have been very busy. I got about three consecutive hours for myself earlier today,” he admitted. “Thankfully, that was enough to run off to the shops. When Colonel White gave me this assignment, I made a call before leaving Cloudbase and placed a special order. I hope it has turned out right and that Karen will like it.”
Rhapsody raised a brow. “It will surprise me if she doesn’t like it,” she retorted. “You know she worships the ground you walk on. So whatever you buy her, she’ll adore it.”
“I just hope this thing will be the right size,” Blue retorted with a sigh. “If Karen had been able to come with us…”
“And that would have spoiled the surprise!” Rhapsody protested. She smiled mischievously. “And anyway, after the stunt you pulled in Las Vegas, I doubt the colonel would allow you both anywhere near that city in any foreseeable future.” She chuckled. "He will want to avoid any further temptation for you to elope.”
Blue grimaced. "We've learned our lesson, don't worry. Besides, there’s no need anymore, since he has more or less given us his blessing to get married eventually."
“Perfect. Because no-one on Cloudbase would miss that for the world, so you two had better not try to secretly elope again, if you know what’s good for you.”
“I’ll pass the message to Karen,” Blue said with a short laugh.
“And when 'eventually' might the wedding be?” asked Rhapsody.
Blue shrugged. "We haven't set a date yet… And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“You and Paul. I seem to recall that you haven't set a date either," Blue pointed out.
Rhapsody shook her head slowly. "No… and neither have we talked to the colonel. You know Paul's feelings about this. While there is this continuing war with the Mysterons…"
"Mmm-hmmm… I know. He wants to wait until it’s finished. Has it ever occurred to you that it might go on for years and years?"
"I know… but I’m hoping that he might change his mind…” She smiled. “…eventually.”
“Seems to me that makes a lot of ‘eventually’, don’t you think?” Blue replied, smiling in turn.
“I think that makes us hopeful people, Captain.”
Blue laughed openly. “Sure does at that…”
A beeping sound coming from the control panel attracted their attention, and they looked ahead; through the cockpit windshield, they could see their destination, growing bigger as they approached it.
“Cloudbase in view,” Blue announced, flicking up a switch. “Auto-pilot deactivated. Taking back control of the plane.”
“S.I.G.,” Rhapsody answered, taking the same official tone, and checking the information on the computer. “We’ll touch down in about… five minutes. Contacting Cloudbase Control Tower…”
“It’ll be good to be back home,” Blue muttered, while Rhapsody was preparing to make the call. “I wonder what the others have been up to while we were gone… I heard it was pretty quiet up there…”
“It’s difficult to imagine Cloudbase being ‘quiet’ at all,” Rhapsody retorted. “Especially with Captain Ochre and Captain Magenta probably up to their usual tricks… If you know what I mean.” She spied Blue’s knowing smile just as she was making the call to the Control Tower to announce their arrival.
That’s certainly true, mused Blue. Life on Cloudbase is ANYTHING but quiet…
* * *
Upon seeing his friend and colleague Captain Magenta enter the Officers' Lounge, Captain Ochre raised his head, his eyes momentarily leaving the chess board set on the table between him and Captain Grey. In the back of the lounge, Captain Scarlet barely glanced over the top of his newspaper to see who the new arrival was, before going back to his reading.
“Hey, Pat… What have you got there?”
Captain Magenta had a large, multicoloured box stuck under his left arm; hearing Ochre's call, he strode toward him, a broad grin on his lips. “I’ve got something to show you, guys. Fresh from this morning’s shuttle from London.” He sat down and put the box on the table, right next to the chess board, almost on top of it. That made Grey turn to him in annoyance.
“Hey! Be careful where you put that! You almost knocked the pieces down…”
“Forget your chess board, Grey,” Magenta retorted with a dismissive shrug. “That is so boring… here is something much more interesting.”
“How can you know chess is boring if you never play?” Grey asked with a frown. “You’re a philistine, Magenta.”
“Chess is all about strategy, and defence, and taking your opponent right where you want him to go,” Scarlet added from behind his newspaper. “It’s a good exercise in our line of work.”
Magenta rolled his eyes. “It might be good for you, Paul, but for these two…” Scarlet lowered his newspaper in time to see Magenta shake his head pathetically, turning to face both Ochre and Grey. “I swear, you two are becoming more and more like Scarlet and Blue when you’re playing with that board. And that’s starting to worry me… ”
“Hey!” Scarlet protested, putting the paper aside and getting to his feet. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Especially coming from you, Rick,” Magenta continued, without taking notice of Scarlet’s protests. “Brad I can understand… We know what to expect from him.”
“What do you mean by that?” Grey retorted in a warning tone. “That I am boring and predictable?”
Scarlet, who had joined the three of them, cleared his throat, but kept silent. Grey stared at him, before fixing Ochre and Magenta with a look of enquiry. He was somewhat annoyed that none of his colleagues would answer his question. Instead, Ochre had turned with interest to the box that Magenta was opening. “Oh, that’s grand! So it’s arrived?”
“What’s arrived?” Grey asked, unsure whether he should feel more frustrated at being ignored – or that his friends should be more interested in the contents of that big box. They watched in curiosity as Magenta, his smile becoming broader, almost dramatically took a large object out of the box. He handed it to Grey, who started turning it around in his hands.
“Now, if you want a strategy game, so much more exciting than chess, I’ve got just the thing.”
Grey stared at the object for a second, before lifting a brow. “Electronic goggles?” he asked Magenta.
“More than that,” Ochre retorted. He fished out another pair of goggles from the box, and passed it along to Scarlet, standing beside him. “Those are state-of-the-art, the finest piece of equipment in the ultimate in 3D digital entertainment.”
“I see.” Grey exchanged glances with Scarlet, who shrugged. In fact, the only thing that both could see was that Ochre also knew what all this was about. Unlike themselves.
Grey sighed deeply. “I know I don’t usually strike you as being the most computer-minded person onboard, but I can recognise what they are – do I have to remind you that all of us had to train with computerized flight simulators – and in my case, sea-navigation simulators – for the different aspects of our past or present jobs?”
“Gee… For a guy who usually doesn’t talk that much, Grey, you sure can string mean sentences together when you want to.”
“Oh, stop pestering me, Ochre,” Grey retorted with obvious annoyance. “Now, would you care to tell me what this is all about?”
“Tell us,” Scarlet corrected, walking around the group to sit next to Grey. “I am quite curious to know what this is all about, too.”
“Rick told you,” Magenta replied patiently. “It’s the state-of-the-art in 3D digital entertainment.” He took the lid of the box onto his knees to show it to Grey and Scarlet, as if it was a large sign. The two men frowned deeply. On the cardboard cover was a colourful drawing of bearded, fur-wearing Viking warriors, all armed with swords or axes, battling with each other in a snowy background setting.
“Twilight of the Gods… The ultimate battle against the Ice Giants,” Grey read in a mumble. “It’s a computer game?”
“It’s a 3D role-playing game,” Magenta specified. “You put those goggles on and, it’s like you’re there, in the middle of it.”
“Thank you, I know what a 3D game is. I’ve played some of them already.”
“I’m sure you’ve never played one like this. The graphics are so real, you would BELIEVE you’re really in those battlefields, and that the people you’re talking to are as real as yourself. As for the feel – it’s like you’re really holding an axe to cut your enemy open.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “Why would I want to cut an enemy open when I can blast him with a gun?”
Ochre rolled his eyes. “The real soldier talking. I knew it, you’ve got no imagination.” He ignored Scarlet’s indignant look and pointed a finger at Grey. “That goes for you too.”
“”I’ve got as much imagination as both of you,” Grey defended himself. One look toward Magenta told him that he shared their colleague’s view. That made him frown. “Except I use it for far less trivial things than you.”
“Come on, don’t you know how to have fun?”
Grey did not deign to answer that. Ochre for his part was flipping through the pages of a thick user’s manual. Magenta pointed to a note on the cover, attracting his friend’s attention to it.
“Read that. It’s really interesting.”
Ochre nodded slowly. “For the full version, and better effects, this very special strategy game should be played inside an FX Room…” He shrugged and threw the book back into the box. Scarlet reached for it and started flipping the pages in turn. “Too bad we don’t have that kind of thing around. This game will really be appreciated only in games arcades.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Magenta retorted with a new smile. “You know Lieutenant Bromwell, in Engineering?”
“Yeah – the guy’s who’s in charge of the Room of Sleep. What does he have to do with this?”
“Well, hear this: before joining Spectrum, Bromwell was a video game designer – one of the best in the field. He worked with the company which created the FX Room.” He turned to Grey and Scarlet to explain: “FX Rooms were created especially for very sophisticated 3D games. They’re pretty much only available in games arcades. You go into the room, you see, and…”
“I know what an FX Room is, Pat,” Grey cut in.
“I know too,” Scarlet added, not wanting to be left out. “It’s the same as those goggles, but on a larger, and more realistic, scale.”
“Okay, so from what Bromwell’s told me, he was working on a similar type of 3D role-playing game to this one, a few years ago, and had adapted it to work in an FX Room. That was before he branched out and came to work exclusively for Spectrum - where he was hired, with a team of engineers, to work on the Room of Sleep concept.”
Magenta sighed. “You were right, Rick. No imagination whatsoever…” He stopped upon seeing Grey’s warning frown. As for Scarlet, he didn’t seem to be too concerned by the comments. He looked far too occupied reading the contents of the book he had taken from the box earlier. “So Bromwell told me he would be able to use this program here and combine it with the Room of Sleep’s electronic mechanism so it would induce in the players a sense of near authenticity in the game’s virtual world.”
“In plain English?” Grey asked with an impassive expression on his face.
“That means that the virtual reality in which the players will find themselves will feel totally real. The Room of Sleep could be used as an FX Room, simply put.”
“Uh-uh. I got that, okay,” Grey said with a quiet nod. “I’m not totally stupid. But there’s something that is bothering me. As you two well know, the Room of Sleep is programmed to induce sleep, by using lights, sounds, music, and low frequency electromagnetic waves – directly to the brain.” He took the small disc he found inside the box and showed it to Magenta and Ochre. “So… erm!… isn’t it a little risky to feed this kind of program directly into one’s brain?”
“Why do you think Spectrum hired Bromwell to perfect the Room of Sleep idea to begin with?” Magenta reiterated. “It’s because the mechanism behind the Room of Sleep is pretty much the same as for an FX Room. An FX Room also uses electromagnetic waves directly to the brain – except the user is awake, and not asleep – and instead of being induced to sleep, they are plunged into a new virtual reality in which they can live out their fantasies. So Bromwell only has to cut the sleep-inducing program, introduce this one and we’re in business.”
Scarlet was keeping silent. He had left the reading of his book and was now totally involved in Magenta’s explanation, his blue eyes reflecting the obvious fascination and interest he was feeling about it all. The same couldn’t be said of the more cautious Grey, however.
“Okay… I’ll buy that. Another question, please?”
“You’re very inquisitive. What now?”
“What makes you believe you will be allowed to use the Room of Sleep as an FX Room?”
“Bromwell IS responsible for the Room of Sleep. He’s already given his agreement.”
“You think the colonel would approve?”
“Oh, lay OFF, Grey!” Magenta almost snapped. “The colonel’s bound to approve; it sharpens our wits and sense of strategy.”
“It’s a goddamn game!”
“Yeah, so is this,” Magenta pointed out, gesturing towards the chess game.
“It’s similar to a war game,” Ochre interjected. “Now, isn’t that enough to justify its use? It’s like we’d be doing an exercise.”
“Think of it as a simulator,” Magenta added quickly. “Who knows, it could also be accepted as an official training session for all of us?”
“Doing battle with a bunch of Ice Giants, using axes and swords? I hardly think so!” Scarlet now expressed his opinion, but both Magenta and Ochre could see that he was contemplating the possibilities presented by the game. He was looking down pensively at the book he was still holding. He patted Grey’s shoulder. “You know, as strange as it may sound, these two clowns may actually have a point, Brad.”
“Thank you,” Ochre said with a broad smile. It disappeared suddenly, to be replaced by a frown. “Who are you calling ‘clowns’?”
Scarlet ignored him, and continued addressing Grey: “If this… experiment… of theirs is conclusive… and if Bromwell is as adept with computer games as Magenta pretends…”
“I don’t pretend anything,” Magenta cut in suddenly. “Bromwell is a genius.”
“Then maybe he can create some kind of a program especially made for Spectrum to use in… training sessions?” Scarlet continued with a meaningful smile.
“Are you serious about this, Scarlet?” Grey asked with a frown.
“Think of the possibilities, Brad. I think there’s no harm in trying it out and seeing what can be done with it. Besides… Battling ‘Ice Giants’ might prove interesting.” He showed him the book and patted it. “I’ve been reading the game backgrounds and the characters’ bios. There’s a lot in there which is relatively similar to that book on Norse mythology that Adam lent me to read a few weeks ago. Could actually be fun…”
“You’re saying you will try this with us?” Ochre asked with a raised brow.
“Well, I would say I’m rather curious to see how it goes.”
“And I’m saying that we should talk to the colonel about this,” Grey added quickly. He seemed a little concerned at the direction the conversation was now taking. He knew all too well how impetuous Scarlet could be. Fortunately, Scarlet’s next statement made him breathe a sigh of relief.
“Of course, we’ll have to ask the colonel,” the English captain said with a vigorous nod. “After all, we wouldn’t want to have these two charged with unauthorised use of Spectrum equipment now, do we?”
“Would we do that?” Ochre asked, twitching his brow. His secret question was, of course, to know if Scarlet would.
Scarlet put the book back into the box, collected his cap, and rose to his feet. “Come on, let’s go and see him now.”
“You mean, right away?”
“That’s what ‘now’ usually means, Rick. Yeah, right away. And if you present him with the same arguments you just presented to Grey and me, then maybe – just maybe! – he’ll agree that you can conduct that game – sorry, that experiment! – of yours! And of course, I’ll be there with you to give you my entire support.”
Ochre and Magenta smirked broadly, getting to their feet. They looked down at a brooding Grey. “And what about you, Brad?” Magenta asked hopefully. “Are you coming along? You know, the colonel values your judgement very highly. If you’re there to support us as well…”
“Don’t you think we’ll look like a delegation?” Grey gave a deep sigh, and then got to his feet, picking up his cap from the table. “All right, I’m coming along… I’m also curious to see what the old man will think of your idea.”
“What would we do without you, Brad?” Ochre asked with a grin.
“You would get in trouble, that’s what you’d do,” Grey mocked them. “Now, let’s go, and don’t forget the whole contents of that box, Pat.”
Magenta nodded, and while the others walked to the door, he leaned down to gather all the objects into the box, before putting the lid on and hurrying to join the others who were waiting for him at the door.
All four of them left the Officers’ Lounge to go to the Control Room, to ask for an audience with Colonel White.
* * *
That was the sensation Captain Blue first felt upon slowly recovering his senses. Then through the cold, he felt the shooting pain all over his body, and the heaviness in his head. Snow and icy winds were lashing at him, filling his ears with an incessant and unnerving wail. He moved and groaned, feeling the pain once more; with a supreme effort, he tried to ignore it and rose to his knees. The snow already covering him slid down to the ground on which he was lying. He looked around in confusion, his eyes barely able to focus.
There was nothing to see but a vast, white-covered area, stretching towards a faraway wood – he could see the outlines of trees in the distance. It was difficult to know if it was night – it was dark enough, but then that could just be the effect of the falling snow…
It was all so confusing…
Blue tried to recall his last conscious moments, before waking up in the snow. His head hurt as he reached for the memories, which seemed to be immersed deep in a very distant, foggy dream.
Cloudbase… The SPJ was approaching Cloudbase… We had started the landing manoeuvre…
What happened? Did we miss the runway?
That didn’t make sense… They couldn’t possibly have missed the runway and fallen to crash to the ground. They wouldn’t have survived… Besides, Cloudbase was over the Pacific Ocean… Nowhere near any place with this kind of weather, this much snow…
Where the HELL are we? he repeated inwardly.
He literally sprang to his feet at the thought of the young woman. “RHAPSODY!” he called loudly.
The all-too-prompt movement and the desperate shout sent a wave of nausea through him and pain reverberated inside his skull. His vision blurred and he fell to his knees again, groaning. His hand reached for his throbbing head and his fingers delicately felt a huge bump he had on his temple. He grunted and brought his hand forward to see blood covering his fingers…
… And at the same time, he noticed the large, finely chased, golden bracelet encircling his wrist.
He stared at it in puzzlement, and when he reached with his other hand to touch it, he saw that his other wrist had the same kind of bracelet. The sleeves weren’t of his uniform, but made out of a thick, brownish wool; he stroked the rough fabric, going up his arm to his shoulder, and then looked down at himself with astonishment. He wasn’t wearing his blue uniform tunic anymore, but some kind of leather overall, laced up in front, and worn over the warm woolly vest. The fabric was thick and hard, giving the impression of a solid, protective cuirass, and was adorned with white fur around the waist and shoulders, and pieces of metal hanging in front of his chest.
What the Hell…
“What is going on here?” he mumbled, his teeth chattering because of the cold. He could no more explain why he was dressed like that than his presence in this place. He didn’t remember getting here… he didn’t remember having changed into these… outlandish… garments.
He looked around, with uncertainty. No SPJ in view… no wreckage of any kind… Only darkness, snow… winds lashing furiously into him. The woods in the distance… Nothing else. He shivered anew. His mind couldn’t conceive how he could have got there.
A faint moan from nearby nearly made him jump and he looked in the direction it seemed to come from. About two metres from him, he could see a hump in the snow, from which emerged a slender, naked arm. A woman’s arm. And the new groan he heard was a woman’s groan. His eyes opened wide. He could see her move…
“Rhapsody…” With a pounding heart, Blue paddled on his hands and knees into the thick snow towards the arm, towards the young woman he knew was lying there, under the snow. When he reached her, he hurriedly brushed away the snow covering her. Her face appeared, and he lifted her to cradle her in his arms. She let out a louder groan of pain.
Blue noticed her pale face and the large bruise on her forehead. Her eyes were closed and she muttered something when he tried to wake her up. He looked down with puzzlement at her attire – as bizarre as his own, made out of fur, leather and wool… Except that her clothing seemed to be of more expensive quality than his own. The wide belt she was wearing was obviously covered with gold, and hanging from her neck was a large, richly decorated medallion. There was a very large white pelt around her shoulders, and Blue quickly wrapped it round both of them, in order to protect them from the lashing winds. He held the young woman close to him, to share warmth. In doing so, he uncovered something big that was previously hidden by the fur, and that Rhapsody had been lying on – and nearly gave a double take when he saw the head of a grey horse lying in the snow.
The animal was obviously dead, not moving at all, its tongue sticking out from its mouth through the bit between its teeth. It had a bridle, and a full harness, completed by a fur saddle that was hanging loosely on its back. Blue could see large, deep lacerations on the horse’s rump and side. As if the mount had been attacked by vicious predators.
Just as Blue came to that conclusion, he heard howls in the distance. Deep and sorrowful, that sent shivers down his spine, almost despite himself.
At the same instant, he felt a violent headache assaulting him. Images flashed in his mind in furious sequence. He almost lost hold of Rhapsody, before bringing her closer to him, groaning.
He was riding the horse… with Rhapsody. There was the feeling of impending danger… Wolves, coming from the blizzard, attacking them. The horse went down… Trying to protect the young woman, he slashed through the wolves with…
He was wielding a sword?
That didn’t make any sense! Those… memories… they couldn’t be real! They were as absurd as these clothes they were wearing… and this place they were stuck in.
We were approaching Cloudbase…Rhapsody and me. We were coming back from Los Angeles. I was piloting the SPJ… We contacted the Control Tower and we received the green light. We were making our approach… All was going well… And suddenly, we experienced trouble…
We made an emergency landing…
That’s what had happened. Blue remembered that, but couldn’t recall the actual images in his head. But beyond that, he didn’t know anything at all. What could have necessitated that emergency landing, what happened afterwards, how they had survived… Nothing. There was a total blank in his head.
We must have been shaken up pretty badly during the landing. We were hurt…
“Rhapsody… can you hear me? Please, wake up… I think I’m going mad…”
He heard her whimper faintly and her eyelids fluttered. She was obviously making an effort to answer his call. When her blue eyes finally opened and she looked groggily up at him, he offered a relieved and hopeful smile.
“Thank God, you’re alive…”
“A-Adam?” she slurred tiredly. “W-what happened? C-cold…” Her brow creased and she looked around in confusion. “Snow…?” She winced and shivered violently, and Blue brought her closer to him, wrapping the white pelt tighter around them.
“Shhh… Don’t try to move. I think you have a concussion…” He glanced about, suspiciously. “…And I may have one myself…”
“W-what’s going on? Where are we…?” Her voice slurred into nothingness and Blue saw her close her eyes. By the sigh he heard coming from the young woman, Blue realised she had lost consciousness. He made sure she was all right by checking the pulse in her neck. It was beating strongly, if a little erratically.
“I wish I knew,” he murmured in answer to her question, even though she might not hear him. “None of this makes any sense at all. If I wasn’t so cold and hurt, I would say I’m dreaming all this… Or that I am going mad. Of course, the fact that you’re seeing it all as well proves that I’m not crazy, fortunately…”
Howling interrupted the course of his thoughts and he raised his head in the direction from which it was coming. It seemed to be closer than previously, and to Blue, that sounded ominous. He looked down at the horrible wounds on the horse's rump and shivered. He did hope it was all a dream, that this howling was nothing but a figment of his confused imagination, but it seemed far too realistic for him to dismiss it. Just like the rest of what was going on. If there were wolves around – wolves hungry enough to attack a horse and to kill it – it was far too dangerous for both himself and Rhapsody to stay here in the open.
"We’ve got to find a shelter," he breathed, looking around desperately, as if his wish would make one appear out of thin air. Of course, nothing of the kind happened, and his hopes stayed unanswered. On the contrary, he heard a deep throaty growl coming from his left and his head snapped that way, tensely.
At first, through the heavy falling snow, he could see nothing at all. Narrowing his eyes, he looked attentively – and finally came to distinguish a number of red, bright dots seemingly burning into the darkness…
He suddenly realised those were intense red eyes, looking directly at him…
His heart nearly missed a beat when he saw the red eyes approaching so very slowly – and five big wolves, their dark backs covered with snow, barely visible a few seconds before, appeared before his horrified eyes, with their lips curled on their bared yellow fangs, staring at him and the young woman he was holding, in such a way that obviously meant they fully intended to make them their next meal.
Blue kept his eyes fixed on them, as they trotted around him, making a large circle that was slowly shrinking… One of them snapped furiously. Blue had made a supreme effort not to move – but it was hard trying to ignore the danger those fierce beasts represented.
“Easy now,” Blue murmured in a soothing tone. “I guess you want the horse, fellows… Plenty of meat for you all… You don’t need either the lady or me…”
In answer, one of the wolves snapped at him and made a daring step towards its prey. It stopped just short of reaching them and stepped back. Blue had flinched this time and pushed himself away from the approaching fangs, holding the unconscious Rhapsody closer to him, his free hand nervously groping along the surface of the thick snow behind him. His fingers encountered something solid and cold. He surreptitiously looked over his shoulder. Through the snow, he perceived the flash of metal. The handle of a sword...
Oh God, so I didn’t dream these memories?
He didn’t have time to elaborate on this, as suddenly, the closest of the wolves charged at them. Instinctively, Blue’s fingers wrapped around the sword handle and he raised it. He winced under the unexpected weight of the weapon as he slashed it in the general direction of the attacking beast. It was pure dumb luck that he actually succeeded in striking it in mid-jump. The razor-sharp blade cut right through the wolf’s breast, causing a geyser of blood that spilled over Blue and Rhapsody. The beast gave only one brief yelp of pain as it fell to the ground.
Stunned by the rapidity of what just happened, Blue looked down at the dead wolf lying only inches away from him, turning the snow red with its blood – the same blood that was covering both Blue and Rhapsody and that seemed to render the other wolves frenzied with rage. Keeping the Angel pilot close to him, Blue raised the sword again, threatening the beasts with it. The first kill was a stroke of luck, he knew that, but he was determined to defend his and the young woman’s life dearly.
“Stay back,” he warned ominously.
He really didn’t expect the wolves to listen to him, of course. They were stepping closer to their prey. Blue drew a deep breath when one of them suddenly leaped forward, causing the others to follow in its steps. Blue braced himself for the attack.
As the first wolf was making its last jump to reach its prey, a whistling sound was heard through the wind, immediately followed by a high-pitched whine coming from the beast; it fell on its side in the snow, right in the path of its brothers who suddenly stopped their assault to sniff in incomprehension at their fallen comrade. Blue was staring in wonder at the thing that he could see protruding from the dead wolf’s side.
A feathered arrow.
As soon as Blue had made this observation, a swarm of new arrows suddenly seemed to fall from the sky and hit the other beasts, taking them all by surprise. Amongst a concert of howls, whimpers and whines, the wolves fell back from their prey, albeit with obvious reluctance. One of them attempted a new dash at them, but a wall of arrows fell in front of it, narrowing missing their target. The wolf snarled angrily and backed away.
Distant shouts coming from behind made Blue turn around; through the falling snow and semi-darkness, he could see a group of human and horse shapes swiftly coming down the snow-covered hill, yelling and gesticulating wildly. He couldn’t make out what they were shouting, but they were obviously trying to scare away the wolves. And it was working.
Narrowing his eyes, Blue watched the rapidly approaching group. Their features became more distinct as they grew nearer. Blue blinked several times, unsure if he was seeing straight. All of them were dressed in furs and leather, and were holding ancient weapons – not only the bows and arrows that they were presently using against the wolves, but swords, battleaxes and shields – and they were wearing sturdy metal helmets, glittering against the snow, adorned with high horns or wings.
Blue didn’t have time to wonder if he were truly going mad or not; with growing concern, he saw the band of howling men moving towards him and Rhapsody, waving their weapons in a threatening way. They were strikingly fearsome, and the alarmed Blue felt his heart miss a beat at the thought that they might now attack him. The one running in front was coming fast, bellowing his heart out, his heavy furred cape flapping in the wind, striking the air with the heavy, short, but terrifying-looking club he was holding in his left hand. He was now so close that Blue could see the foam dripping on his dark beard, the fierce expression on his face, the glitter in his dark eyes, which seemed to reflect a madness beyond them. In defence, Blue raised his sword…
He frowned in disbelief, as he thought the approaching ‘Viking’ was familiar.
“B-Brad?” he murmured.
The Viking didn’t answer – probably he didn’t hear him; he drew level with Blue, but didn’t stop running, passing by the crouched man and the unconscious woman to run toward the fleeing wolves, shouting curses and threats in a furious, throaty tone:
“Come back here, spawns of evil! We have a score to settle and tonight is the night I am going to make you pay!”
Blue opened eyes wide with surprise. He barely recognised Captain Grey’s voice, but he was sure it was his friend’s. Except – there was a strange, lilting accent to it that wasn’t Grey’s at all.
“Come back, you cowards! And I will cut you open and spread your innards onto the snow and give them to your hateful sire to eat …”
“Let them go, Tyr. There will be another day to wage battle against these beasts.”
The new voice, coming from behind Blue, made him turn in astonishment. It had the same throaty accent he had heard from the first man. Standing over him was another man, with long red hair, emerging from under a horned helmet, and a long, full moustache falling on each side of his mouth. Under thick, shaggy eyebrows, there were two brown, twinkling eyes that were looking down at him with concern.
It took a few seconds for Blue to recognise the eyes and he gasped the name, almost in an undertone. “Rick…?”
The man tilted his head to one side, staring at Blue with probing eyes. “You are safe now, brother… Do not concern yourself anymore with those blood-thirsty devils.” He crouched near Blue and his hand reached for the sword the blond man was still warily holding. “You do not need this anymore. Give it to me.”
The red-haired man had to force Blue’s fingers open, so tightly were they holding the sword. He gave a comforting, almost contrite nod. “Do not worry. I will give you your sword back later on. I mean you no dishonour.”
The words made little sense to Blue at all, but he could see the red-haired man wearing his friend’s face only meant to reassure him. As soon as he let go of the handle, all the tension he was under took its toll on Blue and he fell backward, suddenly victim of a violent dizzy spell. His vision was blurred, and his mind was fogging, unable to understand what was going on. The red-haired warrior gently held him up with one arm, while passing the sword along to another warrior behind him.
“Easy now, brother…” he said in a soothing tone that contrasted with the roughness of his accent. “We will take care of everything now…”
“Rick,” Blue croaked in a faint voice, trying to focus on the known face looking down at him. “Wha-what’s going on…? Why are you dressed like this?”
Either the man didn’t hear him out or didn’t understand him. He turned toward the men standing behind. “Relieve him of his precious load. Gently. She seems hurt…” He looked down at Blue again, as two men were carrying out his orders by carefully taking Rhapsody from Blue’s arms. The latter didn’t stop them, as they obviously didn’t mean her any harm. But even if he had tried, he was presently too weak to do anything.
“Were you attacked by the wolves, brother, or were they seeking to finish the job started by someone else?”
Blue shook his head in confusion. “I don’t know, I… Rick, I… I don’t feel so good.”
“Aye. You are wounded in the head. That is why you are confused. But do not worry, we will get you to Aesgard and you will get better.”
“Aesgard…?” murmured Blue, his eyes drooping with tiredness.
“Home, my brother Hodur, whence you have been gone too long in the quest for the missing Valkyrie.”
Blue didn’t have time to ask more of what the man, who looked and sounded so much like Captain Ochre, meant. The latter was getting to his feet, and helping him up. Blue gasped in pain, as a sudden throbbing awoke in his side. He felt as if he was losing consciousness and would have fallen down again, if the red-haired warrior had not been holding him up, with the help of another man. The red-haired Viking raised his head and shouted in the direction of the still vociferous warrior, who had pursued the wolves.
“You had better come back here, Tyr, before they REALLY turn around. We are leaving right away. If you do not come, we are leaving you behind. You might regret having to face these devils alone.”
The man called Tyr – who bore a striking resemblance to Captain Grey - turned around. “THEY might regret having to face ME, if they were to come back!” he replied in a furious tone, nevertheless turning on his heels to join the group.
The red-haired warrior had left the haggard Blue in the care of two other men, who gently took him toward a make-shift wooden stretcher, covered with furs, that was dragging behind a horse, attached to the saddle. Quite unable to resist, and actually thankful that someone should take care of him, Blue let them lie him down on the travois and cover him with warm furs. He was by now shivering from head to toes, and his ribs were hurting like hell when he took too deep a breath. He noticed that Rhapsody had been laid on a similar travois, attached to another mount, and that she was being equally tended to. She was still unconscious, and Blue wasn’t that far from losing his senses himself.
“Perhaps you are afraid of these beasts, my lord?” While desperately trying to decide whether he should fall asleep or fight to stay conscious and attempt to figure out what was going on, Blue slowly turned his attention to where the loud voice had made itself heard. The dark-haired, club-carrying warrior was standing in front of the red-haired man, apparently defying him.
“You know better than to ask that question,” the red-hair warrior snapped back with an obvious edge to his tone. “Be careful, Lord Tyr, or I may forget how useful you have been to Aesgard’s cause.”
“Is that a threat, Prince?” the other man asked in a taunting tone. “Your sire would not be pleased about this.”
“Your personal war against Fenrir’s brethren will have to wait. We have more important things to do. Hodur and the Valkyrie need to be cared for as soon as possible,” the red-haired warrior replied, still harshly enough. “And you had better believe, Tyr, that Lord Odin would not be happy if something were to happen to one of his sons…”
Tyr bowed slightly before him, a smile obviously playing on his half-concealed lips. “Aye, Lord Thor. That I do believe.”
“Very well, then. Let us go back to Aesgard.”
The red-haired warrior turned again and walked toward his own mount. Blue followed him with blurred eyes and incomprehension, and watched as he was climbing into the saddle. Hanging from it, Blue could see a heavy hammer, half-hidden behind a rounded shield.
His mind reeled as, with all the men finally saddled up, the procession start to move forward. He felt the tug in the stretcher he was lying on, as the horse started to walk.
Odin. Thor. Valkyrie…
My God – this is a freaky Wagnerian nightmare…
What the Hell is going here? was Blue’s last but not-so-coherent thought as he drifted into merciful oblivion.