This offering is my take on the events leading up to, and those described within, the classic Captain Scarlet episode “Attack on Cloudbase”. For anyone not already intimately familiar with the plot (though I don’t imagine there are many visitors to this forum who fall into that category) it concerns the downing of Symphony Angel’s jet in the desert, and her subsequent gradual descent into a state of heatstroke-induced psychosis prior to her rescue by Captains Scarlet and Blue.
I’ve long been convinced that there are deeper – and darker – dimensions hinted at within this story than were presented in the original episode, so I’ve had a go at assembling them into a tale that both parallels and expands upon the original. Borrowings from the original screenplay which visualize Symphony’s ever-deepening delirium are presented as shaded grey paragraphs, while all other material appears in normal text.
Also referenced within this story are fragments of some songs that Symphony has recently heard or with which she is already familiar, and which fuel her disorientation as the desert heat takes its toll. It should help the readers relate to Symphony’s mind-set if they’ve heard any of these that they don’t already know prior to reading the story – the songs can all be found on YouTube, and are accessible by means of the following links:
· “Maid in Bedlam” (Owain Phyfe & The New World Renaissance Band)
· “Death and the Lady” (The John Renbourn Group)
· “Bedlam Boys” (Steeleye Span)
· “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (The Beatles)
· “I Can’t Let Maggie Go” (Honeybus)
I recommend you to listen to at least the first three, but if you can only manage one, make it the first – it’s exquisitely beautiful. At least, I think it is.
Enjoy, as the expression goes.
“Early lunch, Symphony? Mind if I join you?”
Furiously munching an all-day breakfast sandwich, and gesturing vaguely at her mouth to justify the absence of an immediate reply, she waved Captain Magenta into the chair opposite. His expression clouded as she added a mouthful of cola to help send it on its way down.
“Hey, don’t you choke on that now! Take your time – it’s unhealthy enough as it is, let alone with added indigestion!”
Symphony took one final swallow, and frowned at him. “What do you mean, ‘unhealthy’? There’s no fat in it – well, not much anyway – and the drink’s the diet variety. And anyway, you’ve got far more on that plate of yours than me.”
Magenta shook his head. “It’s not about quantity. See here – figs, right? Also olive oil, bread with a little honey... and that’s a pomegranate. Lots of antioxidants. The Promised Land was full of antioxidants. No sandwiches stuffed with gunk, no diet cola. And no candy bars either,” he added pointedly.
Symphony looked mildly peeved. “That’s for later. But what’s all that got to do with the Promised Land?”
Magenta gestured vaguely at his plate. “That’s what they ate when they got there - an abundance of antioxidants.” His voice took on a stentorian tone. “For the Lord sayeth unto them, eat ye of the antioxidants, and they did eat, for the antioxidants were good.” He stopped and glanced around him, looking slightly embarrassed. “Look it up – I think you’ll find the original somewhere around Deuteronomy 8.”
“I wouldn’t have guessed you had a religious streak, Captain.”
He shook his head. “I haven’t - at least, no more than anybody else. I just had a strict Catholic education when I was a kid, that’s all. You never really shake it off. What was it the Jesuits said? ‘Give me a boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man.’ Well, you’re looking at the man.”
Symphony regarded him thoughtfully. “You know, something tells me you were a precocious child.”
Captain Magenta looked down at his cup of coffee with an introspective smile. “Yeah… I guess I was. I was always top of the class when it came to being able to recite the Scriptures – especially all that mystical stuff at the end of the Bible – you know, the Apocalypse and all that? I must have spent hours and hours trying to make sense of it when I was a kid. Looking at it now, I reckon the guy who wrote it must have been on some kind of LSD trip.”
She looked at him blankly. “Some kind of what?”
“Not heard of it? Probably not surprising, I guess. LSD was a popular recreational drug about a century ago. You know that old song, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’? That was all about LSD. The stuff produced hallucinogenic effects: that’s why the lyrics don’t make any sense. The song was an attempt to recreate the experience of taking the drug – and the experience didn’t make any sense.”
Symphony searched her memory, and after a few seconds managed to hum a couple of bars. She looked at him quizzically.
Magenta nodded with an approving grin. “Yep - that’s the one. There’s a lot of music from that era that’s still around, even now. Some of it’s still quite popular. That’s the great thing about music – it lives on, long after its original meaning has been forgotten. The songs become like windows into the past, but looked at through a warped mirror… like mythology and folklore. Hey – we’ve got company!”
He turned to regard the next table, at which Destiny, Harmony and Melody were in the process of arranging their lunch trays before sitting down. Suddenly realising that something about the situation was amiss, it took him half a second to work out what it was, and he frowned.
“Er… is nobody keeping shop in the Amber Room? I thought you girls had to take it in turns – or has Rhapsody been evicted from Angel One early?”
Destiny regarded him disdainfully. “You think perhaps we disregard the regulations, Capitaine Magenta? Incroyable! We obtain the dérogation exceptionnelle from Colonel White himself!”
Symphony blinked at her in astonishment. “Wow, this must be a first! Nothing short of a crisis situation is supposed to prevent at least two of us…”
Destiny gesticulated wildly à la mode française. “Pah! This is a crisis situation! The Amber Room, it is uninhabitable! The walls, they are in pieces! The elevators, they go up and down of their own accord, and there are men in the ceiling – it falls down!”
Symphony and Captain Magenta exchanged glances, and Magenta’s frown grew a shade deeper.
“Er, Destiny… you know… well, I was just telling Symphony here about something that used to be called an LSD trip… are you sure you haven’t…”
Destiny cut him dead with a look. “You think I imagine it? See for yourself – the room is a… chantier de démolition! I call Colonel White and I say to him that we will all go out of our minds if he does not let us get away from the mess! And he thinks for a moment, and he says ‘Well, perhaps it might be permitted…’, so immédiatement I switch off the microphone and I say ‘Vite, girls, vite! – to our lunches before he changes his mind!”
She turned her attention to the salad on the plate in front of her, and attacked it with a vengeance. Symphony turned back to her companion and lowered her voice. “Whatever’s going on down there, it’s sure got her rattled! What do you reckon, Captain? Are they all suffering from one of those LSD trips of yours? Or is it really the Apocalypse?”
Magenta shook his head gravely. “The Apocalypse - no doubt about it. LSD’s been banned for decades.” Glancing back at Symphony with a twinkle in his eye, he closed his eyes and slowly intoned in a deep voice:
“And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind shall not blow on the earth, nor on the sea…”
Suddenly conscious that the immediate vicinity had just become abnormally quiet, he opened his eyes once more. Taking in at a glance the four girls silently staring back at him in bemusement, he clapped his hands and laughed out loud.
“Hey ladies – chill! Just extracting a little appropriate quote from the Book of Revelation, that’s all. Chapter 7. End of the world – nothing to get excited about.”
He frowned to himself as if in thought. “No, wait… there were five angels – there was another one that flew in from the east: that was a verse or two later. ‘And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth…’ And then that angel was given the key to the bottomless pit, or something like that.” The frown grew deeper. “I mean, there had to be five, didn’t there! They had five, we’ve got five – makes perfect sense. No, wait a minute – that can’t be right… the Earth’s only got four corners. One angel in each corner – that makes four! But there were five – I know there were five! Let me count them… one… two…”
Symphony silenced him with a hands-up gesture, and began to extricate herself from the little chair. “Enough, Mr Bible-Thumper! I’m relieving Rhapsody topside in a few minutes – so you just tuck into your land-of-milk-and-honey lunch there while I start looking forward to my candy bar. See you around, girls!”
Returning the collective wave from the adjoining table, she emptied the cola glass with a single large swig, deposited her tray in one of the carousels opposite the serving hatches and made her way down to the Amber Lounge. A scene of utter chaos greeted her as she entered: the panelling adjacent to one of the elevators was in pieces all over the floor, and much of the ceiling was exposed; she counted three ladders ascending into the ducting above, where a couple of technicians were busily working on the wiring. The sound of the Angel One elevator descending was just audible above the mayhem, and she hop-scotched gingerly over the morass of dismantled hardware to greet its occupant upon her arrival.
The frosted glass doors slid aside, and Rhapsody rose from her seat, eagerly loosening the top button of her tunic while singing quietly to herself.
“… and she flies like a bird in the sky, she flies like a bird, oh me, oh my…”
She stopped abruptly, surveying the mess. “Oh me, oh my, it makes me sigh. Not quite finished yet, I see. Never thought it would be. How you doing, Symphie?”
“Great! Just great… at least I think so.” She gestured at the mess. “So this is what Destiny was complaining about, is it? What the hell’s going on?”
Rhapsody shrugged. “Oh, just a little problem with the electrics – remember that business with the comms link that she reported yesterday? They’d just started work on it when I began my shift. Can’t say I’m all that surprised to discover that it’s just a teensy-weensy little bit more complicated than I was led to believe earlier.”
Symphony winced as a large piece of ducting detached itself from the ceiling and fell to the floor with an impressive clang a couple of metres from where the two Angels were standing.
“Jeez, you Brits really do know how to understate things, don’t you? It’s bedlam in here!”
Rhapsody’s eyes roved around the lounge, her expression thoughtful.
“Yeee…ess… I can’t actually see any screaming naked bodies in manacles and leg-irons around the place just yet, so I think we’ve got a little way to go before that description applies…” She turned to Symphony with a mildly mischievous expression on her face. “Well, I hope so anyway.”
Symphony peered at her uncertainly. “I’m sorry - what are you talking about?”
Rhapsody grinned. “Bedlam! It was an asylum for the insane throughout the Middle Ages – its real name was the St Mary Bethlehem Hospital. Not that anybody actually treated them there, of course: the inmates were more curiosities for the general public to laugh at than patients in any real sense. Conditions in it were unspeakable: contemporary accounts spoke of ‘crying, screeching, roaring, brawling, shaking of chains, swearing, fretting and chaffing’, if memory serves. Most of the inmates would have been naked, of course: clothes would have been so disgustingly filthy as to have been unwearable. Our little problem with the… TURN THAT BLOODY THING DOWN, WILL YOU! Sorry, where was I? Oh yes – well, our little problem with the sound system doesn’t sort-of quite, well, fall into the same category.”
She frowned at the morass of ducting hanging from the ceiling, as if at an afterthought. “Still a bit irksome, mind.”
One of the technicians working above them scrambled down a nearby ladder and hurried over to the two Angels, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.
“Sorry about that, miss – we had to strip out the whole assembly to get at the relays. It should be all right now though - we caught it.”
Rhapsody arched an inquisitorial eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”
“The gerbil, miss. We caught it. It was trapped in the drive mechanism underneath the elevator to Angel One, and managed to short out the comms link to the cockpit while it was trying to get out. The radio backup automatically tried to re-establish the frequency but couldn’t find it - that’s what made the base’s online music library cut in every time the pilot tried to contact Flight Control. Begging your pardon, miss, but one of you must have brought it back with you: it probably escaped from a cage somewhere on one of our airbases on the ground, got into the fuselage, and then came down with the elevator. Dr Fawn’s giving it the once-over right now – he says he’s not a vet, but he reckons it’s going to be okay.”
Rhapsody’s eyes opened wide in horror. “Oh no! The poor little thing! It must be in shock – I mean, it’s probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or something – we’ve got to get over to Sick Bay right away…”
Symphony held up her hands in a “slow down!” gesture. “Hey, cool it, Florence Nightingale! If Dr Fawn can bring people back from the dead he should be able to calm down a frightened gerbil – and anyway, I’ve got to be in the cockpit in a few minutes. Desert patrol, yeah?”
The technician glanced down at his check-sheet and nodded. “Yes miss, we know – all the pre-flight checks were completed fifteen minutes ago: you’re good to launch.”
He turned to Rhapsody. “And don’t you worry about Dante, miss – sorry, that’s the gerbil – I’m sure he’ll be fit as a fiddle in no time, now he’s back on proper food. The doc reckoned all the coating on the wiring he managed to chew his way through probably gave him a touch of constipation.”
He caught the look on the English Angel’s face, and coughed apologetically. “Well if that’s all, miss, I’d better just make this thing safe. The lads have just finished their shift – we’ll be back after lunch to put it all back together again.” He turned to the business of disassembling the ladder, and Symphony turned to Rhapsody with an air of uncertainty on her face.
Rhapsody nodded sadly. “Ah yes… didn’t Destiny tell you? It was Liszt’s symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedy that cut in every time she tried to speak to the control tower. It lasts about three-quarters of an hour, and she had to listen to it three whole times at full volume before the technical guys managed to disable it.” She frowned to herself again, as if lost in thought. “Rather a pity really – Destiny used to be quite a fan of Liszt. Oh well…”
Glancing at the last remaining technician disappearing through the door, she shook her hair, pulled the zipper of her tunic down to her navel, pulled off the jacket and handed it to her friend. Peeling the white sweater beneath it up and over her head, she flung it into the corner of the room with a sigh of relief, then grabbed the jacket out of Symphony’s hands and put it back on again, pulling the zipper up about halfway. Taking the lapels between her fingers, she flapped them vigorously. “Who designed these infernal uniforms anyway? If I don’t get out of this damn thing within the next few minutes I’ll have sweat running down my legs.”
She turned her head at the sound of two pairs of boots approaching with a familiar gait. Rapidly turning her back to the door, she pulled the zip up a further few centimetres to leave her just about presentable, notwithstanding the perspiration still trickling down her ample cleavage. She caught Symphony’s pointed glance and rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, Symphie – they both know what young ladies look like under their uniforms. If I have to do it up to the top again I’ll collapse.”
She swung around to face Captains Scarlet and Blue, fixing them both with a steely gaze as if defying them to look down.
“My apologies for the indecorous state of the attire, gentlemen, but I’m off-duty as of five minutes ago and it’s kind-of hot up there. I don’t expect to hear any complaints about breaches of protocol before I can get in the shower – which will be very shortly. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Captain Blue grinned. “Well, I can’t speak for Captain Scarlet here, but you’ll certainly get no complaints from me, Rhapsody! We couldn’t let Symphony here leave for her tour of duty without saying goodbye - but having said that, I’d be interested to hear what pleasure you had in mind anyway.”
Symphony shot him a murderous glance, but noted with satisfaction that throughout the verbal exchange he still hadn’t actually committed the unpardonable sin of looking directly at Rhapsody’s sweat-soaked cleavage.
Scarlet seemed to be completely oblivious to the horseplay. “Why are we still flying these patrols, anyway? The sabotage attempt at Bensheeba was months ago, and it’s not as if the Mysterons are going to be put off by one of our little tin kites flying over the area every couple of weeks, is it?”
Symphony glared at him, bristling. “Hey, Captain! That’s my aircraft you’re rubbishing!”
Captain Blue inwardly grinned at her display of indignation, but acknowledged his companion’s observation with a curt nod. “I’m afraid he’s right, Symphony. Even with all our resources, we’re still spreading them pretty thin – and every threat we counter spreads them even thinner. They’re wearing us down, and they know it.”
He paused for a moment, as if in thought. “What do they want? I mean, what do they really want? For all the technological superiority, they’re still acting like a bunch of high-school bullies. Why? What’s their game plan? Captain Scarlet?”
“The Mysterons have pow…”
Captain Blue winced. “Okay! Okay… we’re not going to get anywhere with questions like that. But it makes fighting them damned hard when you can’t even get to grips with their motivation. Is it fear of us?”
Symphony shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense, Adam – they’ve nothing to fear from us. To them, we’re still living in the Stone Age - and behaving no better.”
She paused, exploring the thought. “Could it be our basic animal instincts frighten them? Strip away what we think of as ‘civilisation’, and we’re in a class of our own when it comes to revelling in other peoples’ misfortunes, and making them ten times worse. Rhapsody and I were talking about something like that just before you arrived.”
Rhapsody blinked. “Sorry? Oh! Bedlam, yes. All the therapy of screaming naked bodies, handcuffs and leg-irons. Not nice… though I seem to remember reading that 18th century visitors to the place found it all quite entertaining to watch. Rather less fun actually to experience, I imagine – but then I wouldn’t know, would I?”
Symphony found herself suppressing a shiver. She shook her hair, and glanced at the illuminated display on the wall of the lounge, automatically noting both the time and the weather report.
“Anyway, it’s almost time for my appointment with an oil refinery. At least I shan’t need to worry about running out of gas. See you, guys! Wish me all the best, Adam.” She gave him a brief hug, chaste enough not actually to embarrass him, but just close enough to remind him to be around when she got back. Then she turned and headed off briskly across the lounge towards the elevator up to Angel One, inwardly smiling at the damn-near certainty that he’d be watching the movement of her hips as she walked away.
As the frosted glass doors closed around her she glanced back into the room, noting automatically that Scarlet had now quit the lounge, and that Rhapsody was now visibly trying to end the conversation with Captain Blue, presumably to get to her shower. So Scarlet came to see me off too, she mused. He might be a humourless so-and-so, but he does have taste when it comes to women – gotta give him that. She mentally preened herself at the thought. Of course, Scarlet never talked about such things – but then Scarlet never really talked about anything personal. I wonder if he has a dark secret or two? Without quite understanding why, Symphony trembled slightly.
Once in the cockpit, she flicked open the communicator to the command deck, frowning with mild irritation at an audible electronic whine accompanying the familiar carrier wave. Oh well – as long as she could hear what Lieutenant Green was actually saying…
“Angel One is manned and ready for launch. Request launch clearance please.”
Lieutenant Green’s melodic West Indian accent filled the cabin. “Symphony Angel – launch is delayed by thirty minutes. Please maintain launch status: no further information available at this time.”
Symphony cast a glance towards the heavens, acknowledged the update, switched off the communicator and then sighed gently to herself, settling back into her seat and eyeing the Cloudbase online music library. Lizst? She smiled to herself. No thanks – Destiny can keep her classical stuff. Upon a sudden impulse she pulled the keyboard towards her, typed in the single word “Bedlam” and hit the search key.
Two further delays before launch and three hours in the air later, Symphony’s plane soared over the desert sands to the east of Bensheeba, its pilot quietly humming to herself as the ever-changing dunes passed slowly beneath her plane.
The music wasn’t at all what she’d been expecting to find in the online archive prior to launch, though she herself couldn’t have put into words a description of what she’d been looking for that made any sense. A musical clue to the inhumanity of mankind to the rest of mankind, perhaps? Instead, she’d found an assortment of mediaeval English folk songs with some of the strangest harmonies she’d ever heard, plus one slow, haunting ballad which was now running round and round in her head like a gerbil in a wheel. Dante the gerbil… She smiled to herself at the thought – weren’t all the domesticated gerbils in the world supposed to have been descended from just a single pair that were discovered in the sands beneath her at this very moment? A single pair in the hot sand… guiltily she found herself fantasising about making love in the sand naked with Adam.
Sighing, she reached for the microphone and flicked the switch, noting with mild irritation that not only had the high-pitched whine returned, but was noticeably louder than before. So much for those comprehensive pre-flight checks…
“This is Symphony Angel. Have completed patrol; nothing to report.”
“Right, Symphony - return to Cloudbase.”
“S.I.G., Lieutenant”. She eased the jet into a graceful 120-degree arc, absently noting the increasingly high-pitched whine emanating from the loudspeaker on her right, but dismissing it as little more than an irritant until the explosion occurred. So unexpected it was that in that first second after the massive blast somewhere behind her, she didn’t even connect the two events – and after that, the nature of whatever relationship linked them was an academic question.
“Emergency! I’ve been hit – explosion to rear of cockpit… cause unknown!”
“What is your position, Symphony?” The tension in Lieutenant Green’s filtered voice was plainly audible, and she smiled grimly to herself. Lieutenant Green had a streak of humanity in him that occasionally got lost by some of the others in the heat of the moment. The heat of the moment, yes… Squinting, she peered through the smoke that was beginning to emerge from the instrument panel.
“Grid reference… three… seven… nine… G!” Even as she relayed the final character, the realisation struck her that in an area as sparsely populated as a desert, that very short code represented one hell of a lot of sand for her rescuers to cover. Let’s hope they’ve got good eyesight, she thought. The jet was now starting to tilt into an uncontrollable dive towards the desert far below, picking up speed rapidly as it did so… she had just seconds left to get out before the increasing turbulence would throw the ejector seat straight back into the tail, and she knew it.
“I have that fix.” Lieutenant Green sounded calm and confident.
There was no time left for double-checking. She stabbed at the ejector button, bracing herself for the explosion that would hurl the canopy clear of the cockpit, followed by the hurricane-like blast of air that would sweep her seat and parachute high into the sky above the crashing plane as easily and mercilessly as it would a feather.
“Aircraft out of control… am ejecting… out!”
The force of the air blast hitting her as the canopy was blown away was even greater than she’d anticipated. Frantically trying to breathe as she was hurled into the blistering heatwave, she passed out for a few seconds, returning to consciousness just a few seconds later after the parachute had opened. Dazed and disorientated, she looked down uncomprehendingly as the plane nose-dived into the desert in front of her, exploding on impact even as her parachute slowly descended over it. Closer and closer she drifted… until she could just make out the burning fuel tanks through the dense black smoke. The fuel tanks… Too late, she realised that there was more to come…
The second explosion tore the remains of the jet apart, blasting a massive crater in the sand dune into which the plane had dived just a few moments previously. The last thing she saw before losing consciousness for the second time was a solid wall of sand being hurled through the air towards her.
“My… descendents… must… have… walked… this… way…”
Symphony tried to shake the hair out of her eyes, partly to clear her vision, partly to clear her brain, and found herself strangely unsurprised to fail on both counts.
“No, not… descendents… haven’t got any kids… did I… mean ancestors? Yeah, I guess… meant ancestors… walked this way… out of… Africa? Africa. Out of Africa into… what’s the goddam place? Europe… that’s the goddam place… Europe… God, the heat… gotta walk to… Europe… ”
She peered down at the two fuzzy white things beneath her, alternately rising and falling, right, front to back, left, front to back, right, front to back…
“Silly things… legs… legs to walk… what for?... why we gotta have legs?… oh yeah… know why… I know why… gotta have legs… Adam… likes legs… that’s why… we gotta… have legs… I got… good legs… gonna walk to Adam…”
She frowned, and involuntarily glanced upwards at a faint sound above her, somewhere beyond the horizon, wincing in pain as the searing heat of the sun burned her eyes.
“No… not right… can’t walk… to Adam. Can’t walk to Adam… ‘cos Adam’s… in the sky…”
She screwed up her eyes and forced herself to raise her head once more, trying to identify the source of the sound as it gained in intensity.
“Adam’s… come… knew Adam… would come…”
With a superhuman effort she raised her arm to wave as for a fleeting moment a black triangular shadow partially eclipsed the sun.
“Adam… wait for me… please… my love… wait… for me…”
She twisted to watch the plane continue on its course, fading into the mirage out of which her footsteps could still just be discerned cutting a meandering track through the ripples of sand behind her.
“Not… Adam… would have come… I got… good legs… Adam… would have come… Adam’s an angel… angel… would… have come…”
Her legs finally gave way beneath her, and she collapsed in a heap on the sand, instinctively throwing out her hands to break her fall, then snatching them back as they impacted with the unspeakable heat of the sand. Fighting back tears of rage, she rolled over to shield her face from the sun, clasping her hands around her knees and frantically willing herself to think. Why…?
“THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. SPECTRUM’S HEADQUARTERS, CLOUDBASE, IS OUR NEXT OBJECTIVE. WE WILL SPARE NO EFFORT TO ENSURE THAT CLOUDBASE IS TOTALLY DESTROYED…”
Even before the slow sonorous voice began to speak to her inside her head, Symphony knew they were there. Mildly surprised not to feel the all-too-familiar amalgam of dread and anticipation she normally sensed whenever they spoke to her, she merely found herself musing on the consequences of their latest proposed wanton act of destruction to herself – and found that inexplicably, it calmed her.
“Now he’ll come. Now he MUST come…”
Lieutenant Green switched off the microphone and looked up from his communications board. “Still nothing from Symphony, Colonel.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Don’t worry about Symphony – we’ll find her.” Colonel White turned back to face Captains Scarlet and Blue, now sitting on two of the stools at his desk and waiting expectantly for the briefing to begin. “Well, I sent for you both to discuss the Mysteron threat against Cloudbase.”
Scarlet nodded sombrely. “It had to come, Colonel. This base was an obvious target.”
“I agree, Captain Scarlet,” replied Colonel White. “But we must ensure the Mysterons do not succeed. This will be our operational plan: Cloudbase will be sealed from all external contact. Any plane coming within a hundred-mile radius will be warned off.”
Scarlet nodded once more. “And internal security, Colonel?”
“As of now, all personnel on Cloudbase are on red alert. We will double the radar watch, and everyone will work round the clock – four hours on, two off. That is all.”
I guess I was hoping for a more proactive response, thought Captain Blue. As it was, he merely replied with a perfunctory “Yes, sir.”
“S.I.G., Colonel White.” The edge in Scarlet’s tone smacked of consequences for anyone who had the temerity to question the plan, and Captain Blue was reassured. Maybe he’s right, he thought, grimly. Discipline’s what this is all about. Just as long as nobody loses sight of the human dimension, that’s all.
“Legs useless… can’t walk… any more… to Adam… no… angel would have come… angels… got legs… Adam… likes my legs… Destiny… leave me… good legs… thinks I’m dead…”
Symphony frowned, struggling to come to terms with realisation that the tiny dot in the sky, already fading into the desert haze, wasn’t returning. Silently she mouthed Destiny’s name.
“Not right… Destiny… friend… Destiny’s my friend… wouldn’t… leave me…”
It wasn’t Destiny. It couldn’t have been Destiny. Destiny wouldn’t just leave her…
“Not Destiny… that flirts with Adam…
Oh no… not Destiny…
“She makes him laugh, she makes him cry, with a twinkle of her eye…”
Oh, the long hair, the couture, the accent, the class… She knew how to play with men…
Rhapsody… walks in the sky… Rhapsody… walks in the sky with diamonds…
A dry laugh forced its way into her throat, and died there.
Bitch! Rich bitch… thinks we don’t know how much dough she’s got stashed away… could buy her own plane…
That was it! That was Rhapsody’s plane! Sure, it was Rhapsody’s plane…. Making sure I’m outta the way… Rich bitch… No rescue this time…
“She flies like a bird in the sky… she flies like a bird, and I wish that he was mine…”
Symphony’s lips twitched, and a rasping chuckle escaped her throat. Wish that he was mine? Yeah… Symphony peered desperately into the haze, eagerly awaiting the dazzling flash.
“Oh me, oh my, I’ll see her die… now I know… I can’t let Rhapsody go…”
No flash… no explosion… no justice… no way… Symphony ground her teeth in impotent fury.
“Don’t think I don’t know… bitch…. maybe I… can’t stop you… never… been able to stop you… but one day… I swear it… vengeance is sweet…”
A ghastly travesty of a satisfied smile flickered across her cracked lips as the sand dunes surrounding her dissolved into a liquid morass that shifted and swirled around her, enveloping her in a burning haze that seared into her lungs with each breath. Vengeance? They knew all about vengeance. They would put a stop to Rhapsody...
High above the desert, Destiny Angel gloomily flicked the comms switch. She’d heard the Mysteron threat crackling over her radio not half an hour previously, and was in no illusion as to what response to expect from the Colonel upon receipt of the status report she now had to deliver. Could she leave it just another five minutes? No, she couldn’t.
“I have completed vector search. Nothing to report.”
Back on Cloudbase, Lieutenant Green frowned, and swivelled in his chair. “Colonel White, Destiny has completed her search pattern. Shall I send her around again?”
The colonel shook his head. “No Lieutenant. Bring her back to Cloudbase.”
Lieutenant Green looked up, startled and shocked. “But Colonel… Symphony’s down there somewhere… without food or water!”
The colonel’s emotionless grey eyes regarded him sombrely. “Recall that jet, Lieutenant. The security of Cloudbase comes before any individual.”
“Yes, Colonel.” Lieutenant Green swivelled his chair back to face the control panel once more. “Destiny Angel – return to base immediately.”
Sighing inaudibly, the French Angel acknowledged with an equally emotionless ‘S.I.G.’, and raised the nose of her plane to take it into a sharp ascent. Ma pauvre chère amie, she thought. Tu es toute seule…
Two thousand feet below, and thirty miles to the east, Symphony tried to open her eyes, and then tried to close them again as the heat touched her eyeballs. Whimpering in agony she again twisted over in the sand to try to face away from the sun, now at its zenith.
“Revenge is a china dish which is best served with iced tea in an indestructible scarlet saucer… oh me, oh my, I’ll see her die… Adam… fawns over her… Magenta too calculating by half… or is it three-quarters? No quarter – I’ll give no quarter… not a cent… cent from heaven… Adam’s heaven-sent… want my Blue… he’ll rescue me… brave… risk everything… to save me…”
His eyes fixed like a hawk on the radar screen, Captain Magenta mentally flinched as the door slid back, then turned slightly in his chair as the two captains entered.
“Captain Blue… Captain Scarlet! Is anything wrong?”
Scarlet shook his head. “No Captain – just checking.”
“In the present situation this Radar Room could be just about the most important spot on Cloudbase,” added Blue, an element of tension clearly audible in his voice. “Keep a constant watch.”
“Does he think I’m playing Space Invaders on it?” wondered Magenta in a flash of irritation, swiftly substituting a crisp “Don’t worry about that!” for the considerably more acidic retort going through his head. At Cloudbase’s present altitude, playing Space Invaders was pretty much what he actually was doing, he thought wryly.
If Scarlet was conscious of the strained atmosphere building up in the room he chose to disregard it. “I assume there’s nothing to report?”
Magenta’s eyes instinctively flickered over the screen once more before replying. “No, sir. Nothing has come within a hundred miles of this base since the red alert. Except Destiny, of course.”
Blue looked up sharply. “What was that?”
“Destiny Angel, sir. She landed about five minutes ago.”
The sound of a boot swivelling on its heel behind him caused Scarlet to turn, just in time to see his companion disappearing through the open door. Even as the words “Where are you going, Captain Blue?” left his lips, Scarlet realised they were unnecessary. There was only one person on the planet who could produce that effect on his friend, and Destiny was that person’s single best chance of survival right now. Or rather, was.
Captain Blue regarded his friend steadily through ice-cold eyes. “To see Colonel White.”
“God almighty,” thought Scarlet, watching his friend marching away down the corridor towards the express elevator to the command deck. “As if we didn’t have enough problems…”
Her uniform now in tatters, Symphony twisted and writhed in the sand, desperately trying to find a position – any position – that didn’t result in at least one patch of her bare skin burning like fire. Through her smarting eyes the dunes shifted and swirled, one moment beneath her, the next high above her head as she floated above the blazing sun as it seared her back. Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes… Sobbing in frustration she summoned every last morsel of what little energy remained within her to scramble up onto her feet, launching herself up the slope of the nearest dune and tumbling over the top of it, collapsing instantly in a heap on the other side where the temperature was a few degrees lower.
“Where is he? Why doesn’t he come? Oh, WHY doesn’t he come?”
“Colonel White! I demand an explanation! Why was the search for Symphony called off?”
The Colonel looked up, his initial startled expression instantly giving way to justifiable outrage at the pre-emptive tone. Not for many years had anyone addressed him in such a way without being given a very thorough dressing-down.
“What’s the meaning of this, Captain Blue? Bursting in here and making demands!”
Too late, Blue realised that in all the five minutes he’d taken actually getting to the Control Room, he hadn’t given one second’s thought to what he was actually going to say when he got there. Not a good start.
“I’m sorry, Colonel – but I have the right to ask for an explanation!”
Even as he uttered the words, Captain Blue realised how hollow they sounded. He had no such right, and he knew it. To the Colonel’s credit, he spared Blue the withering retort he’d invited, and merely stated the obvious.
“I don’t have to answer to you for any of my decisions, Captain. Understand the situation: Cloudbase is the target of the latest Mysteron threat – its safety must be my first consideration. Destiny may well be required to defend it: that is why she was recalled.”
“And what happens to Symphony?”
“Her last position has been sent to Spectrum Headquarters Ground Forces. Desert patrols left half an hour ago.”
“Colonel White – I’d like permission to join the search party.”
The Colonel blinked at him. “Out of the question.”
“I’m going, Colonel!”
Captain Blue already had his toes on the line. Now he’d crossed it.
“I’m giving you a direct order, Captain Blue! You’ll stay on this base! What’s the matter with you, man? Are you in love with the girl?”
Not the sort of question an officer was usually asked by his commander-in-chief, thought Captain Blue. Oh well – he’d asked for it. He rapidly considered his options. The answer ‘No’ wasn’t one of them.
“I suppose I am. Yes… I am.”
Colonel White’s expression softened slightly: he knew just how hard one of his toughest men would have found it to make an admission like that.
“I see. I’m sorry, but this cannot affect my decision. I’ve given orders that any aircraft approaching or leaving Cloudbase is to be destroyed.”
Checkmate. Captain Blue quietly stood up and left the room with as much dignity as he could muster. Colonel White watched him leave with unblinking eyes.
At last! At last he’s said it! I knew he would – I knew that one day he would. But why did it take him so long? And why could he never say it to ME? Symphony smiled in the depths of her delirium as she savoured the moment she’d lived and breathed for these last two years. Adam, my love… Slowly the features of her lips changed almost imperceptibly as she realised the implications – and the change was not a pleasant one. I’ve won. I’ve won! And she’s LOST…
In one of the secluded alcoves tucked away in the corner of the Standby Lounge, Scarlet and Blue sat silently at a coffee table, now littered with sandwiches and empty glasses. Behind them, the viewing port offered a spectacular view of the darkening stratosphere containing… nothing. In his fingers, Scarlet twiddled a cocktail sausage on his fork while Captain Blue watched him morosely.
Scarlet glanced up. “Hungry?”
Blue shook his head. “No – I couldn’t eat a thing. But you go ahead.”
“I think I will. It’s going to be a long night.” Scarlet peered at the sausage once more, spun it round on its fork again, and then popped it in his mouth. Blue watched him grimly, turning the words over in his mind. Is it? Is it really? Doesn’t that kind-of assume we’re going to live to see the end of it? In his mind’s eye he saw Colonel White standing silently on the command deck, and then the Angels in the Amber Room. Perhaps he should go and talk to them… see how they were coping with the enforced inactivity?
No - best not. He knew them too well - they’d all be showing as little apparent concern for the current situation as if a taxi they’d ordered to take them to a dance was slightly overdue - and anyway he’d only betray his own concerns for her in the process – and she wouldn’t want him to do that. He shifted his position in the chair, watching stoically as Scarlet reached forward and poured himself another cup of tepid tea, spilling it into the saucer as he did so. You’d be better with iced tea, my friend, he mused. At least it’s supposed to be served that way…
Writhing in the merciless heat, Symphony gasped aloud for a sip of the spilt drink as it trickled out of the saucer into the air above her face, inexplicably evaporating before it touched her skin. The words of the song with weird harmonies rose unbidden into her consciousness; silently she mouthed them to herself:
“I went down to Satan’s kitchen, for to beg me food one morning,
And there I saw souls piping hot, all on the spit a-turning…”
Sing for your supper, Symphony! She laughed out loud at the thought of one particular piping hot soul languishing in the standby lounge with the others, awaiting Adam’s attention… waiting in vain. No, you bitch! He won’t come to you – you’ll burn in hell first, do you hear? Burn in the fires of hell that are waiting for you out there…
On the command deck, Colonel White turned slowly away from the observation port at which he’d been standing for what seemed an eternity. “What time is it, Lieutenant?”
Lieutenant Green looked up from his instrument panel, mildly surprised at the question but sufficiently well-trained not to let it show in his voice.
“Two minutes to midnight, Colonel.”
His face stoic and expressionless, Colonel White turned to face the port once more.
Two minutes to the witching hour… the time of pumpkins and white mice...
Fear not, Cinderella – you SHALL go to the ball…
Symphony writhed and squirmed in the sand as Adam’s face smiled down on her from the sky, blazing with light, searing her body with the heat of his love. Invitingly her fingers slipped under her tunic, ready to pull it up over her head in readiness for his hands to take her eager body in his arms… then snatched them away again as a less pleasant thought surfaced inside her brain. There were other contenders for the attention of the handsome prince…
The oppressive silence on the command deck was rudely broken by a burst of static, followed instantly by the urgent voice of Captain Magenta, almost shouting into his microphone.
“Colonel White! Colonel White! I’ve picked up something on the radar! It must be big – really big!”
Colonel White grimaced – it wasn’t the first time Magenta had dispensed with protocol in the heat of the moment.
“Don’t be so eager! Slow down, Captain Magenta! Just give me its course, altitude and speed!”
There was a slight pause, then in a marginally calmer tone of voice: “Altitude 45,000 feet… range 47 miles and closing. Speed mark four!”
Lieutenant Green frowned. “Could it be a passenger transport, Colonel?”
Wishful thinking, thought Colonel White. He shook his head. “Too fast, Lieutenant.”
“Some air force jet – off course?”
The colonel frowned. “Well, it’s just possible, but unlikely…”
The loudspeaker burst into life again, this time even louder than before.
“Colonel White - it’s stopped! It’s hovering! Range 25 miles!”
Colonel White calculated rapidly. With the exception of our own interceptors, the only jets capable of that turn of speed don’t have hovering capability at this altitude – at least not the ones we know about…
“Sound Action Stations, Lieutenant!”
Lieutenant Green swivelled in his chair and stabbed at the control. Instantly a fog horn-like klaxon blared throughout the base. In the cafeteria, Captain Blue shook himself out of his daze and glanced across at Scarlet, absently noting that he was still working his way through the same plate of cocktail sausages he’d been tucking into earlier.
“Action Stations! I wonder what it could be?”
Scarlet dropped his fork and swung round in his chair. “I don’t know – but let’s go!”
Anticipated as the alarm obviously was, the preceding several hours of enforced inactivity magnified its effect tenfold, galvanising everyone throughout Cloudbase into action like a shockwave. In the Amber Room, Destiny was rallying the troops with a rare but impressive display of Gallic impetuosity, almost screaming at them in French as they raced for the pilots’ elevators, while above them they could hear the increasingly high-pitched whine of Angel One’s jets powering up.
As Scarlet and Blue stepped out of the elevator onto the command deck, Colonel White acknowledged their presence with a curt nod, then turned again to his lieutenant.
“Launch Angel One. Order her to investigate and report.”
“Yes, Colonel!” Lieutenant Green lifted the microphone. “Angel One – immediate launch!”
Instinctively all of their eyes turned to the array of monitors covering the launching platforms, as the familiar flash of igniting gasoline accompanied the sound of a jet being catapulted into the sky from the flight deck far below them. In fewer than twenty seconds it was little more than an illuminated dot in the darkness that now enveloped Cloudbase, and ten seconds later it was gone. Lieutenant Green glanced across his panel of instruments at the loudspeaker that was now their only means of contact with the plane. Almost as if on cue the device crackled into life; the precise, clipped tones of its English pilot clearly audible.
“I’m on interceptor course – should have visual contact any second…”
Lieutenant Green moved a fraction closer to his microphone, even though he knew his words – and his affections – were plain to everyone.
“Be careful, Rhapsody…”
Rhapsody! A shock of anticipation crackled through Symphony’s veins as the realisation hit her with full force that it was Rhapsody who was piloting Angel One. They know all about revenge… they’ll help me now…
Eve, the temptress, the apple of Adam’s eye. Oh yes… this one’s all about Eve. Silently she mouthed a few words of advice to her friend in the cockpit.
“Fasten your seat belt – it’s going to be a bumpy night…”
“I… don’t believe it!”
“What is it, Rhapsody?” The tension in Colonel White’s voice was clearly apparent.
“I’m not sure… I’m going in for a closer look.”
“I just don’t believe it!” Rhapsody stared at the incredible object hovering in the sky before her. It’s a saucer! It’s a bloody flying saucer, for God’s sake! She fought down an urge to laugh out loud and quickly reassembled her thoughts into a more informative and professional-sounding response.
“Colonel White - it’s some sort of space vehicle. Flat, circular, estimate diameter 200 feet.”
Even over the speaker she heard a sharp intake of breath.
“A spacecraft! Rhapsody – don’t go too close!”
Oblivious to the all-too-obvious concern in the Colonel’s voice, Rhapsody’s expression changed as she became aware of a subtle change in the air in the cockpit around her… there was something… no, it was more of a presence… Her face was calm and composed – this time there would be no hero’s return to Cloudbase for Rhapsody. She would meet her nemesis with dignity…
“I can hear a noise – it’s getting louder…”
“Return to Cloudbase immediately! Rhapsody – return to Cloudbase immediately!”
The explosion that followed as Rhapsody’s jet disintegrated in a ball of flame was perceived as a faint flash of light over thirty miles away, where back in the Control Room of Cloudbase, Lieutenant Green was trying increasingly desperately to re-establish contact with the stricken jet over Angel One’s radio channel – a channel that now carried only static.
“Rhapsody Angel… come in Rhapsody… Rhapsody!”
Behind him, Colonel White harboured no such illusions.
“It’s no good, Lieutenant Green. She must have been blown out of the sky.”
Damn right it’s no good! It never was any good while you were flaunting those aristocratic tits of yours at him every time you passed him in the corridor… So that’s how hot you have to get before you burst into flames, you bitch! You didn’t believe it, huh? Lying tramp – I saw the look on your face just before the end – you knew, didn’t you! You knew I’d get you in the end… he’s mine, do you hear? MINE!
A tiny scuffling sensation beneath her made her start; her movement had disturbed a gerbil in the sand, which indignantly set about reburying itself to get away from the blazing heat. Suddenly and inexplicably terrified, Symphony rolled over and struggled up onto all fours and scrambled away from the little rodent, trying to bring the elusive memory buried deep inside her into focus. Deep, deep down…
“Can’t look. Mustn’t look.”
Gerbils… desert rats. Little rats with long hair…
No. Not the rats. There’s something else in the room. Something on my right. Someone on my right...
“Why can’t I look?”
Because there’s something terrible there. The answer came to her as surely as if she had heard the words spoken out loud. And yet they were not spoken out loud. Why weren’t the words spoken out loud? She shook her head desperately – the answer was within her grasp.
“I want to look. I need to look.”
Her legs buckled underneath her, and she pitched forward onto the sand.
She laughed out loud, and mouthed the word to herself. And even they were cared for better than her now…
But then, they weren’t cared for at all, were they? They were abandoned, deserted, left to rot in the filth of their naked bodies and the hell of their own madness…
Symphony’s lips twitched as she tried to drag the words of the half-forgotten song from the depths of her memory. Yes, that was it: “… for they all go bare and they live by the air, and they want no drink nor money…” She frowned, puzzled by the thought of not wanting a drink. How much money would she give for a sip of that iced tea? How much wouldn’t she give? Perhaps Rhapsody would lend… no, Rhapsody wouldn’t. She laughed hysterically.
“Live by the air… yes! That’s what I am… a maid in Bedlam...”
Colonel White sighed to himself, and picked up the microphone. The time had come; there was nothing to be gained by putting it off any longer. He took a deep breath and began to speak, instinctively conveying his message with the gravitas of a classical orator, the tone of which demanded – and received – the absolute attention of everyone present.
“Members of Spectrum – Cloudbase is now positioned over a remote, uninhabited area of the Himalayas. When the Mysteron attack comes – as I’m sure it will – I do not want any civilian personnel involved. This is our fight – and I am sure you will all do your duty.”
“Yes sir, Colonel sir!”
That was from Magenta. Colonel White glanced at him stoically as if to confirm a previously-held opinion of his over-zealous officer, then returned to the task of winding up the briefing.
“Right. That’s it. Dismissed. Oh… and er, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet stopped rising from his chair, and Colonel White lowered his voice slightly as the other officers left the table.
“Captain – if ever we do get out of this alive…”
“Sir?” Scarlet’s voice betrayed an expectation of hearing the worst.
“Get your hair cut, will you?”
The faintest trace of a grin flickered across Scarlet’s lips. “Yes, Colonel!” He stood up and marched across the room to the door, where Captain Blue was waiting for him.
“What did the Colonel want, Captain Scarlet?”
A travesty of a smile flickered across Scarlet’s lips. “Just making sure I don’t get out of line. Maintaining discipline. He’s a wonderful man.”
Captain Blue grimaced. “I wonder if Symphony thinks so…”
In the rapidly falling temperature of the desert twilight, Symphony stirred. He’s thinking of me… I know he’s thinking of me. And Scarlet’s thinking of me too…
She shuddered a little, her lips quivering.
“Maintaining discipline! Oh yes… Paul understands the need for discipline all right… Paul knows all about that…”
She frowned, desperately trying without success for a few seconds to decipher Colonel White’s admonition – and then slowly, inexorably, as if a veil over her consciousness had been lifted, everything fell into place. At last, Symphony understood.
Rats with long hair…
She frowned again, this time with just the slightest hint of an air of determination.
We can’t have rats with long hair running around on Cloudbase…
Captain Blue stood in silent contemplation in the Standby Lounge where earlier that night he’d watched Scarlet twirling his cocktail sausage. A terrifying vision of Symphony’s soul roasting on a spit sprang unbidden into his head. Behind him sat Captains Grey and Ochre; the former staring morosely at the remnants of Scarlet’s unfinished meal while the latter was impatiently drumming his fingers on the table. Scarlet meanwhile had joined Colonel White back up in the Control Room, where likewise the tension was beginning to show.
“Why don’t they attack? Why don’t the Mysterons attack?” Lieutenant Green was now clearly and visibly feeling the strain, muttering to himself with increasing agitation.
Colonel White looked at him with understanding. “Steady, Lieutenant… steady, man.”
“I’m sorry, Colonel – it’s just that I can’t bear this waiting!”
The Colonel smiled grimly. “You mustn’t let them break your nerve. They’ll come… soon enough…”
The intercom burst into life, and Captain Magenta’s voice assailed them again. “Colonel White! Here they come! Two… no, three of them! Yes, three!”
Colonel White grimaced, clearly suppressing more emotion regarding Magenta’s increasingly irritating outbursts than he was allowing to be seen. “Make up your mind, Captain - and there’s no need to shout!”
“No – there’s four! Sorry, Colonel – there’s four. One... two… three… four!”
Colonel White nodded. “This is it! Launch Angel Two!”
Scarlet swung round in his chair, an expression of resolute determination on his face. “No, Colonel! Let me go!”
Almost as if he’d been expecting Scarlet to make the offer, Colonel White settled back into his chair with barely concealed relief. “Thank you, Captain. Thank you.” He turned back to the microphone. “Destiny, come down to the Control Room. Captain Scarlet will take the patrol.”
Up in the cockpit of Angel Two, Destiny almost jumped out of her seat with agitation. “Oh, mon Dieu! Non, Colonel! Let me go! Let me go, Colonel, please! I have to go!”
Colonel White was having none of it. “Get down here! That’s an order!”
He paused, wincing at a steady stream of alarmingly unsuccessful attempts that Captain Magenta down in the Radar Room was making to count the aliens, then turned his attention back to the communications link to Angel Two, where the sound of an elevator locking pin snapping shut indicated that Captain Scarlet was now in the cockpit.
Colonel White nodded to himself with satisfaction. “There goes a brave man…”
He turned with some irritation to Lieutenant Green, who even now was inexplicably muttering to himself about the ease of being brave when you just happen to be indestructible, and silenced him with a curt admonition. Satisfied that discipline had been restored, he turned back to the observation port, just in time to watch proudly as Scarlet’s jet streaked away into the midnight sky.
Symphony writhed in pain, her face contorted with anguish at the dilemma presented to her. Sweet Destiny… her friend, her dear true, loyal friend… safe for the moment. But who should be condemned in Destiny’s place? Symphony’s features cleared as the answer presented itself to her in startling clarity.
Amateurs! Cocky, macho, self-opinionated male amateurs! How dare Colonel White hand over control of our Interceptors to that humourless, conceited prig? Oh, you’re so right, Lieutenant! So, so easy to be brave when you’ve nothing to fear from death… just destroy as much hardware as you can get your hands on, cover yourself in glory, then come back and start all over again…
She gritted her teeth in determination. All right, Captain Scarlet – let’s see you get out of this one…
Captain Scarlet coolly viewed the glittering futuristic spacecraft hovering before him. Just the four of them, then… the odds were looking good. Confidently he leaned forward and spoke into the microphone.
“Have visual contact with the UFO – range four miles. Am closing for attack!”
The Colonel had barely acknowledged the transmission when once more, the increasingly high-pitched whine heralded yet another imminent change of fortune. The flash, and then the explosion to the rear – the same familiar pattern…
“I’ve been hit!” Scarlet’s voice betrayed surprise. No, it was astonishment…
“Can you make it back to base?” The concern in Colonel White’s own voice was unconcealed, and Scarlet once more evaluated his chances of returning both himself and the plane to Cloudbase intact. They were still good.
“I…. I think so.”
Back on Cloudbase, Colonel White flicked the intercom switch. “Flight deck area – stand by for emergency landing! Captain Blue… get Captain Scarlet down to the Sick Bay as soon as he lands!”
Symphony Angel convulsed violently in the sand, reliving once more the explosion to the rear of her cockpit that had ultimately resulted in the destruction of her own jet. What does it feel like now, Captain Scarlet? Ridicule my plane, would you? I’ll see you suffer for that…
Her whole body racked with pain, she shrieked with uncontrollable laughter as in her mind’s eye she watched the burning aircraft attempt one of the clumsiest landings she’d ever seen, completely mis-timing the descent onto the elevated platform, then crashing headlong into it with a devastating shower of pyrotechnics, and finally hurtling onwards out of control down the runway before juddering to an ignominious smoking halt on one of the lower levels. Exhausted, Symphony sank back onto the sand, her eyes blazing with grim satisfaction. Little tin kite indeed…
“We’ve released Captain Scarlet from the Angel jet, sir.” Colonel White looked down as Captain Blue’s filtered voice rose from the control panel.
Colonel White nodded in satisfaction. “Good… Doctor Fawn is preparing the Sick Bay.”
Symphony violently shook her head in fury. Oh yes, here we go again! Always the same… never mind anybody else – it’s always all about Scarlet, isn’t it? They smash him, and his body may burn... They crash him, but they know he’ll return…
“To live again…”
She mouthed the words silently to herself. What was it Adam had said?
“I’m afraid he’s right, Symphony. Even with all our resources, we’re still spreading them pretty thin – and every threat we counter spreads them even thinner. They’re wearing us down, and they know it.”
Everybody on Cloudbase for Doctor Fawn to care for, and he wastes resources on the one person on the base who doesn’t need them… She gritted her teeth.
“So he won’t need any help getting back on his feet THIS time, will he?”
The communication channel to the Radar Room crackled, then burst into life once more. “Colonel White! Colonel White! They’re closing in – they’re all around us!”
Captain Magenta paused. “Er, one…. two…”
Colonel White raised his eyes in exasperation, glanced out of the observation port, took in at least a dozen shining lights in the sky above them at a glance, stopped listening to Magenta completely and merely reached for the base-wide intercom switch.
“Seal all emergency pressure locks!”
He braced himself as a sequence of explosions rocked Cloudbase in rapid succession, then strode over to the observation port to assess the damage. The rapid flickering and flashing of the dozens of alien craft surrounding them gave him all too good a view of the destruction beneath the control tower; smoke was now billowing and pouring out of gaping holes in much of the infrastructure. Even as he watched, the medical wing exploded in a massive fireball.
In the silence of the night Symphony shook uncontrollably, conscious of the temperature dropping around her almost with each breath she took. She squirmed inside the tattered remnants of her uniform, stuck to her body by her own now-freezing sweat. Her right hand fell on something hard and she snatched it away instinctively, simultaneously rolling away from it before turning back to see what it was – and caught her breath in an instant of primeval terror before fading back into semi-consciousness once more. The bleached skull of a long-dead animal stared back at her through its empty eye-sockets… She laughed hysterically at the sight – a long-dead animal…
“I am sorry Symphony Angel, but you leave me no choice. Prepare to die.”
She jumped at the sound of the voice, which spoke softly out of the still darkness above her. Where had she heard those words before? She frowned… Ah yes. From an animal… a long-dead animal. In the midst of life we are in death…
“Her chains she rattled in her hands, and thus replied she
I love my love, because I know my love loves me….”
How were the insane cared for in Bedlam?
“Her chains she rattled with her hands…”
Symphony convulsed, her eyes instantly wide open. Chains! That was it – chains. In the dungeon of Glengarry Castle. Bound, gagged, abandoned, deserted, alone… not alone. There was someone else, shackled to the wall alongside her. Someone else to share her guilt, her anger, her humiliation, her degradation…
She shook her head furiously, desperately trying to fight down emotion that was struggling to surface from the depths of her mind, but to no avail.
…and her thrill…
She turned frantically to face the man at her side, likewise transfixed to the wall with arm and leg irons; likewise struggling to find the means to unshackle both her and himself before the chiming of the hour brought death to the conference delegates in the room above them. Their eyes met, and she knew…
If he frees himself first, will he then free me? Or will he…
Her body twisted and writhed uncontrollably as she imagined Scarlet’s hands ripping open her tunic as she was held helpless in the chains, the constricting uniform ruthlessly and systematically being torn from her squirming body…
“Scarlet… he knew… he knew… what... I… needed…”
How dare he? How dare he see me like this! How dare he know my thoughts, my needs, my desires - nobody but Adam has the right… nobody but Adam…
Symphony sighed, and let her head fall back onto the cooling sand as she allowed her fingers to slide gently over the contours of her bosom. Adam.
Adam would never understand. She would never want Adam to understand. Adam loved her; adored her; wanted her; cared for her. Adam would come for her, and she would be waiting for him. But Paul had looked into her eyes and seen what lay behind them. Could she ever look him in the face again, knowing that he knew what lurked in the darkest recesses of her mind? Perhaps it would be safer…
She laughed coldly, the pupils of her eyes like pinpricks of fire.
“NO! He’s not coming back… Not ever again… Not this time…”
Down in what little remained of the Sick Bay, Captain Blue surveyed the desolation around him; the body of Doctor Fawn lying in the corner while a stranger dressed in a surgeon’s gown looked down on the gurney upon which lay Captain Scarlet’s lifeless form.
The stranger raised his cold emotionless eyes sadly to meet his own, as if to say “Do you not know me, Captain Blue?”
Captain Blue looked back at the stranger uncomprehendingly, almost as if he wasn’t there. Slowly, ever so slowly, the realisation dawned on him that somewhere, sometime very soon… he would know who the stranger was. But somehow, deep inside, he also knew that this was not the time – this time the stranger had come for another. He seized the microphone, and began to speak rapidly.
“Colonel White! Doctor Fawn has been killed – but his assistant tells me that Captain Scarlet is dead!”
As if in confirmation, Captain Black shook his head slowly.
Colonel White frowned impatiently, cutting him short. “I want Scarlet in the Control Room! How long will he take to recover?”
Captain Blue was almost frantic. “You don’t understand, Colonel! He’s really dead! Permanent… final… absolutely dead!”
Confusion flickered across the Colonel’s features. “Dead? Captain Scarlet, dead?”
Symphony frowned at the memory. Doctor Fawn’s assistant? In the midst of life we are in death… Of course – the Dark Stranger. Scarlet was in the midst of life, and was now in death. Doctor Fawn gave him life, but now Doctor Fawn’s work was done, and it fell to the Dark Stranger to finish it.
“I am sorry Symphony Angel, but you leave me no choice. Prepare to die.”
Her lips parched and cracking, Symphony chuckled as she looked deep into the Dark Stranger’s soulless eyes. I know you… No longer the mirth – it is not fitting. Symphony composed herself. Yes, I know you well… pardon me, sir, but we have met before… you asked me to dance with you at Culver, but I had to leave before we could be properly introduced… have you returned for me at last, then? I have been waiting for you…
“My name is Death, cannot you see?
Lords, dukes and ladies bow down unto me,
And you are one of those branches three…”
Symphony extended her hand to the Dark Stranger, inviting him to take it. And yet he did not; her fingers merely passed through the suffocating heat haze above her face. And Symphony understood. Her lips moved as if to sing the words of the music that would accompany their dance…
“Fair lady, lay your robes aside
No longer glory in your pride
And now, sweet maid, make no delay
Your time has come and you must away…”
She frowned at the unexpected sensation of moisture on her face, as she realised that she was crying. Was it really to end like this? After so much pain, so much heartache, not to feel Adam’s touch ever again…
“Adam, love me… my darling…love me one last time…”
The Dark Stranger’s hand moved, and the suffocating heat of the sun began to fade away.
“The Mysterons also have compassion… I am going to give you one chance.”
Where had she heard that before? Yes… the Dark Stranger had said those very words to her at Culver… would then he grant her one last request?
“If it pleases you sir, may Adam accompany us on our journey?”
And the Dark Stranger slowly bowed his head…
“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpets of the three angels, which are yet to sound…”
Captain Blue watched helplessly as the ever-more-closely encircling UFOs wreaked explosion after explosion upon Cloudbase’s flight deck, sending the remaining Angel Interceptors tumbling away to their destruction in the mountains, far below them. Beneath the launch area, he could see the tattered remnants of the planes’ boarding elevator shafts now open to the elements, and numbly realised that the remaining Angels in the Amber Room were now all dead. No more trumpets to sound… Raising his eyes to the sky, he spoke softly… “Symphony”.
Sighing, he turned to his commander to deliver one last report. “It’s no good, Colonel – we’re finished! The port jets are out of action, and the rest are losing power! Cloudbase will crash in about two minutes…”
“Is anyone else alive, Lieutenant?”
Lieutenant Green slowly shook his head. “No sir… we’re the last.”
Captain Blue watched with slowly dawning comprehension as the lieutenant’s final words dissolved into the swirling morass of suffocating red smoke and fire that had now begun to engulf the Control Room… the acrid stench of sulphur that had already enveloped the burning souls of the remaining Angels, now destined to scream and writhe naked in eternal torment as Cloudbase fell… the End of All Things at the End of Time…
“Are you all right, Captain Blue?” The compassion in the voice of Colonel White broke through Captain Blue’s delirium with a force stronger than any command. He looked up, the searing pain mystically and inexplicably taken from him.
“Yes sir – it’s just my arm – I think it’s broken.”
He looked across the room at the lifeless body of Lieutenant Green, now slumped over his console. “The lieutenant is dead.”
Colonel White sighed deeply, acknowledging the inevitable. “The situation’s hopeless.” He looked into Captain Blue’s eyes with infinite sadness. “Put on a power jet pack and abandon Cloudbase.”
Dead… all dead… abandon hope all ye who enter here…
“…and I saw another Angel ascending from the east…”
Symphony! What of the fifth Angel? What did the prophecy say? Captain Blue desperately battled against the enveloping darkness as he forced the words into the light of his mind where he could consider them, analyze them, understand them. The fifth Angel… a reason to live!
But even as the thought assailed him, he realised it was but a test. Symphony walked with the Dark Stranger now, and he would save none but himself. And yet… if there’s just one place set aside for the fifth Angel at the end of their journey, is it possible – just possible - that another poor wretched soul might take it from her, so that she might live? And in that moment, he knew what had to be done.
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Colonel – I can’t make it.”
It was a lie, and returning his commanding officer’s steady gaze, he could see that he knew.
Once more, the benevolent all-knowing smile. “No need for that, Captain… Adam, isn’t it?”
Not a rank, not a title – just a man with a name… Adam. The Alpha and the Omega… the first man in the world… and now also the last. Captain Blue nodded. “Yes.”
Colonel White turned to address his microphone for the last time.
“This is Colonel White to Spectrum Headquarters, London. Cloudbase is severely damaged and out of control. We will crash in approximately one minute… I intend to go down with my command. Out.”
The choking sulphurous red smoke reached out and enveloped them both in the swirling maelstrom that carried Cloudbase down… down… down…
“And the fifth Angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit…”
Symphony opened her eyes, muttering a long-forgotten catechism and squinting in confusion as the early morning desert sun assailed her senses. Alone? Not alone… Turning her head with excruciating difficulty, she squinted into the haze as two men standing over her slowly began to come into focus. Or rather, as one man came into focus…
Captain Blue bent down to take her hand, his voice tense with concern. “It’s all right, Symphony. We’ll soon have you back on Cloudbase.”
Symphony stared uncomprehendingly back at him, silently mouthing the lyrics of the strange song that flitted and danced through the last vestiges of her consciousness…
“Just as she sat a-weeping, her love came on the land,
Hearing she was in Bedlam, he ran straight out of hand
He flew into her snow-white arms, and thus replied she
I love my love, because I know my love loves me…”
Her vision blurred once more and she sank back onto the sand, the faint echo of the ballad accompanying her descent into oblivion as she felt herself being swept up in his arms…
“It was a nightmare! A terrible, horrible nightmare!”
Colonel White nodded understandingly. “Yes, I know how the sun can play strange tricks.”
Sitting next to her, Captain Blue beamed at her with undisguised affection. “But you’re safe now.”
Symphony shook her head, more in incomprehension than denial. “Yes – but it was so vivid! You were all different somehow! The colonel even more commanding! And you, Captain Magenta – so eager to please…”
Magenta visibly flinched at the reference to one of his personal characteristics that he’d prefer wasn’t quite as obvious as he knew it was. “Well… I am! … I mean, I try…”
Captain Blue cut across him, partly to save his fellow captain’s blushes, but mainly because there was something he needed to know – embarrassingly personal as it would probably be. He hoped they’d all understand. “How was I in your dream, Symphony?”
Symphony lowered her voice slightly. “You were just… Adam.”
“Sounds to me as if it wasn’t too bad,” mused Captain Scarlet quietly, his face unreadable.
She flinched. “No, it was horrible! You were all killed!”
Scarlet blinked at her. “Even me?”
“Even you, Captain Scarlet!” She looked up at him, meeting his expressionless blue eyes, and inwardly shivered once more as a fleeting memory of chains and a dungeon flickered though her mind, before fading away into nothingness. She glanced around at the array of concerned faces surrounding her, and asked herself if they’d noticed anything in her expression that might have betrayed her. No… they’d seen nothing. She permitted herself a little introspective smile. But then… it was only a dream…
“Symphony Angel! And about time too – you’ve already ducked two appointments. I thought I was going to have to come up and bring you down here in handcuffs!”
Something in the flash of her eyes made him realise he’d somehow said not quite the right thing, and he hurried on. “Er… that is… I mean… anyone would think you were trying to avoid me! Would you go behind that screen over there and just…”
…fair lady, lay your robes aside, thought Symphony in a flash of déjà vu. Shaking her head to banish the song, she cut him short. “Before we get to that – just one thing first, Doctor… can I see Dante?”
Doctor Fawn blinked at her, frowning. “What?”
“Dante the gerbil, Doctor! The little rodent who caused all this – Rhapsody told me you’ve been looking after him ever since he was pulled out of the wiring of Angel One. How is he?”
Comprehension dawned, and Doctor Fawn laughed out loud. Beckoning Symphony to follow him into his inner office, he gestured towards a small cage in the corner. Inside it, two little black eyes peered back defiantly at her from a rather obese-looking bundle of hair.
Symphony bent down and returned his gaze, wrinkling her nose at him with a smile. “So you’re the cause of all the trouble, you little scamp! How’s he been treating you, eh?”
“He could do with some exercise,” mused Doctor Fawn. “It pains me to admit that even my resources don’t extend to treatments for gluttonous gerbils – and they tell me he made quite a meal of the cables before they removed his food supply. A wheel for him would be a good start – though perhaps in view of his name you ought to bring back nine of them the next time you do some shopping.”
Symphony looked at him blankly. “Why nine?”
Doctor Fawn grinned. “One for each of the nine circles of suffering that Dante – the original one – saw during his journey through Hell.” He nodded towards the little gerbil, which had lost interest in the two giants standing over it and was now curled up in the corner of its cage, fast asleep. “The sin of gluttony would put this little guy here into the third one, I seem to remember. It even outranks lust – that’s only the second! Though from what I’ve been hearing from Captain Blue since he and Scarlet brought you back, you seem to have been treated to a pretty comprehensive first-hand experience of the place yourself.”
A distant memory chimed inside Symphony’s head as the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. Dante’s Inferno… yes, of course. How very appropriate.
A tap on the door to the office had them both turn, to see Captain Blue standing there with an awkward expression on his face. “Er… Hi, Doctor Fawn! Symphony… they… they told me you were coming down here for your check-up, so I thought I’d just come and wait for you… thought you might be finished by now, and the door was open so I…” His voice trailed away.
Doctor Fawn raised his hands in a “forget it” gesture. “No problem, Captain Blue – if Symphony’s medical had started the outer door would have been sealed. I’m well aware of your concern – to say nothing of the part you played in persuading her to keep this appointment at all. Er… would you two perhaps like a few moments alone before we begin?” He glanced at the sleeping gerbil. “I’ve just remembered that I need to replenish his supply of pumpkin seeds…”
Without waiting for a reply, he quit the office, quietly closing the door behind him.
Symphony shook her head apologetically. “Sorry Adam - I’m afraid we’re running a bit late – my fault. I haven’t even taken my clothes off yet… oops! I didn’t quite mean that to sound the way it… er, that is, well – we just came in here to see Dante first.”
Captain Blue walked over to the cage and peered at the little gerbil, still fast asleep against the bars.
“So you’re Dante, eh? You’ve got a lot to answer for, little fella!” He turned back to face Symphony. “And how’s Beatrice?”
Symphony’s eyes flashed, her body involuntarily stiffening. “Who?”
Captain Blue chuckled. “Dante’s young lady, honeybun! When he wasn’t busy writing about his guided tour through the underworld, Dante and Beatrice were lovers – rather passionate ones, if the stories are to be believed. I’ve been reading up on it since you got back – Doctor Fawn out there lent me a book. It’s in my quarters right now, if you’ve a little time available to take a look at it after your check-up. And of course if he assures me that you’re completely well and, er… fit.”
Symphony gave the offer due consideration.
“I think I’d like that,” she replied.
My appreciation and thanks are due first and foremost to Hazel Kohler, who did the beta-reading for me with characteristic energy and diligence, and also to Chris Bishop, who checked over Destiny’s idiomatic French and also supplied me with a quick refresher on the relative positions of the various locations on Cloudbase where much of the action – both real and imagined – took place. (So easy to get such things wrong these days – it’s many years since I last went on a guided tour of the place, courtesy of Graham Bleathman’s fabulous cutaways.)
Also perhaps a word of acknowledgement is in order to the anonymous first-century author who penned the Book of Revelation, as without those prophesies to work from this little tale probably wouldn’t ever have been completed. I’d actually already written most of it before discovering that I needed a mythological element to justify Symphony’s salvation at the hands of Captain Blue, and almost fell out of my chair with delight when I scanned Chapter 7 of Revelation in the King James Bible and found those verses about the four-plus-one angels staring back at me. But then, the Christian symbolism implicit in the show’s mythology has been noted before now: there was a thread about it on the Forum to which I myself contributed several years ago, and the show’s Wikipedia page includes a small section on the subject to this day.
As to the music, well, that’s actually what started it all rolling. Symphony’s descent into madness needed some travesty of reality to which she could relate, and what better than the collective cries of anguish, torment and despair emanating from the inmates of the most infamous asylum in history? In particular, it seemed to me that those slightly demonic harmonies in the opening bars of Steeleye Span’s “Bedlam Boys” and the ethereal beauty of Owain Phyfe’s “Maid in Bedlam” characterised rather well the dichotomy of Symphony’s murderous hatred of her imagined rival in love with the tenderness of her affection for the man she adores above all things. Musical preferences are obviously very much a matter of personal taste, and I appreciate that one or both pieces aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea – but if they helped the reader to get a glimpse into Symphony’s disintegrating perception of reality as I saw it, then I’d like to think that’s a good thing.
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