“Okay. If I could have everyone’s attention for a minute.” The Red Cross worker standing at the front of the room clapped her hands, bringing silence to the assembled group of people. “Okay. Firstly, thank you again for all agreeing to take part in these exercises. I know they can seem silly, but drills like this can and do save lives.”
Her eyes travelled over the colourful Spectrum Captains, with the confidence of someone who does at least think they know what they’re doing.
“Secondly, I’ll just run through the scenario again. At 0700hrs, an all points emergency warning was issued here at the Peterway Central Hospital. Ambulance, fire crews and the military responded, as per procedure, but the situation worsened and at,” she glanced at the watch pinned to her chest, “09.30hrs, the decision was taken to request assistance from Spectrum.”
She continued to stare around. “That’s all I’m allowed to tell you, as it is felt that this is all you would know on approaching a real-life situation. You will be interacting with members of staff at the Peterway Hospital and our own Red Cross volunteers, who are playing casualties, bystanders and other essential roles. I warn you, they have been briefed to be as difficult and uncooperative as possible. They will be playing their parts well, but of course there’s always the risk that something could go wrong. So if you hear the phrase “No duff”, that means that what you are doing is genuinely hurting the volunteer, so please stop it. If you hear it over the radio, that means that we have a real casualty. The exercise will continue, but that casualty will of course be our priority. Equally, if you hear the phrase “No duff, Code Red,” that means the exercise is terminated as we have a real emergency on our hands.” She smiled. “I know, I know… I’m preaching to the choir here and you’ve all done this before, but it never hurts to run through it again.”
“Unless it creates an unrealistic delay that could cost lives.” The Chicago accent of Captain Brown broke the tension, causing most of the other Spectrum captains to roll their eyes.
“Touché, Captain.” The Red Cross worker smiled. “Alright, you’ve been given your teams, and bearing in mind what the good captain said, I won’t detain you any further. You may now put on your headsets.”
“Finally!” Blue muttered to Scarlet who couldn’t hide a smile.
They’d arrived at Peterway Hospital early that morning, a frost still making the ground slippery as they were guided into the small hospital gym where the exercise was being Co-ordinated. They all understood how vital these drills were, to prepare the local emergency services and to foster better relationships between Spectrum and the local agencies, but the waiting around was trying.
“Could be worse,” Scarlet observed, philosophically. “The colonel’s back up plan to keep us off Skybase during Halloween was a seminar on note-taking skills.”
Ever since Scarlet’s first retrometabolisation, Halloween had acquired a greater jinx reputation around Spectrum than for most people. While Doctor Gold had proven scientifically that threats, including those from the Mysterons, were no worse at Halloween than any other time of the year, he was forced to admit that they did tend to be more unusual. As Scarlet was almost certainly involved in these unusual threats Colonel White usually took him and Blue out of field rotation and assigned them to training or other duties on 31ST October.
Blue looked appropriately horrified. “You’re joking.”
Scarlet shook his head. “That’s what Green told me.” He placed the small white circular communication device in his left ear and almost immediately drew it out with a yell.
“Are you okay, Scarlet?” Captain Brown was standing beside them. As Spectrum’s chief liaison officer, co-ordinating the exercise was his job.
“Yeah, just static.” Scarlet glanced ruefully at the small headset in his hand. “Working with Spectrum, you forget that other organisations don’t have the same state-of-the-art stuff.”
“I suppose. I’ll just be glad when this is over,” Brown sighed. He glanced around uneasily. “I hate this place. Bad memories.”
“Bad memories?” Scarlet couldn’t help but look confused.
Brown nodded. “The Peterway bombing.”
Both Scarlet and Blue winced. The Peterway Hospital bombing had taken place early in the Terrorism War. Two bombs had been hidden in the hospital incinerator. The first explosion was assumed to be the incinerator blowing up and as a result, only the local emergency services were called. Miscommunications between the police, fire and ambulance services had left non urgent casualties in place. In the aftermath of the second explosion, which had also ruptured a gas main, many of them had been forgotten about in the chaos. Twelve people had died unnecessarily. It was one of the things that led to drills like these being carried out.
“I was one of the first on the scene,” Brown sighed. “Guess they figured an ex FBI agent could handle it, but…” He shook his head. “It was hell. So unnecessary.”
He touched his earpiece as Scarlet replaced his.
“There’s the call. You two take the second floor.”
They moved forward, heading up the old wide staircase. The building was in darkness, simulating, Scarlet supposed, the power cut that would be expected in the event of most emergency situations. He signalled to Blue and they both lowered the night vision screens on their caps.
Through the visors, the white-washed walls of the empty corridor ahead glowed with a ghostly grey-green tinge.
The sudden desperate cry from nowhere made both men start in surprise. “Hello?” he called out.
He noticed Blue looking at him strangely.
“Help!” The cry was repeated, but less loudly, so that it didn’t echo around the corridor as much. Scarlet moved quickly in the direction he thought the voice was coming from, not bothering to look over his shoulder to see if Blue was following him.
He paused at an open doorway.
Dust, probably talc, he thought, that was what the Red Cross usually used to simulate plaster dust, filled the air. Peering through the fog, he could see a figure, also covered in the dust-talc.
A girl, maybe eighteen or nineteen, lay in the middle of the floor, surrounded by debris. Even under the dust, her face appeared pale.
“Help!” She cried again.
Scarlet looked around, making a rough survey of the situation. The girl was trapped, half her leg caught under a pile of rubble. There was a second, larger pile next to her, under which another casualty might be hidden. But there was nothing he could do if there was. The rubble looked too big for him to shift on his own and there was no sign of Blue.
“Easy.” He stepped carefully over the debris to kneel down beside her. “I’m here.”
Hazel eyes stared up at him, unfocused. Her face was chalk-white and when he reached out to touch her arm, it felt cold and clammy.
Shock, he thought, marvelling at the skill of the Red Cross Casualty makeup artists. He’d seen victims of shock when he was with the special forces, and he could almost believe this girl’s condition was genuine.
“My name’s Captain Scarlet. What’s yours?”
“Carly.” She licked her lips. “Carly Simmons. I’m cold.”
Scarlet wished he had a blanket or something in his back-pack, but aside from a very basic first aid kit, there was nothing like that.
“Can you tell me what happened, Carly?”
“There was a big bang. People started running.” Carly shook her head. “Someone knocked into me. I fell down and the laundry rack up turned on me. I couldn’t move it.”
Scarlet nodded in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.
“How long have you been here?”
She shook her head again. “I don’t know. A long time, I think. Eric… Eric said he was going to get help. That he’d come back. But he hasn’t.” She looked at him, her eyes suddenly focused. “You’ll remind him, won’t, you Captain Scarlet? Remind him that he promised to come back.” Her eyes almost seemed to bore into him. “You have to tell him.”
“When I see him, I will,” Scarlet replied with a smile. “But right now, I’m not going anywhere.”
Carly smiled tiredly. “Yes, you are, Captain. You’re going as we speak.” She paused, and then said softly: “It’s strange. There was always a bright light with the others.”
“In and out, Captain. That’s right, in and out.”
There was a bright light shining in Scarlet’s eyes and a black face peered cheerily down at him. White teeth flashed in a smile as he managed to focus on the face.
“That’s better. Just keep breathing like that. It’s okay.”
The room was clearer now, and he recognised it as part of the gym. A white screen had been pulled around the bench on which he was sitting. There was something pressed on his face and it took him a moment to identify it as an oxygen mask.
The black woman, dressed in a Red Cross uniform, but with ‘Nurse’ written across her chest, smiled at him.
“That’s better. You gave us quite a scare there, Captain.”
He moved the mask a little away from his face and asked, “What happened?”
She smiled. “Just keep the mask on for a little bit longer, okay? Just ‘til the doctor gets back.” She got to her feet and carefully pressed some buttons, reducing the flow of oxygen so that it felt less like his nostrils were under attack. “You had a panic attack, Captain Scarlet. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Happens to all us from time to time.” He noticed the pin on her collar, a small dove that the Red Cross had issued to its members who’d been overseas in the Terrorism wars. “Just going to check your vitals, okay?”
She didn’t give him the opportunity to reply, clamping a small Oxypulse monitor over his index finger. “Blood oxygen 98%. That’s a bit better.”
The remark was also addressed to the man who came around the screen with Captain Blue. His face was grim, but Blue seemed relieved.
“Indeed.” The doctor had come closer and Scarlet could now read the name badge attached to his coat. Doctor Eric Ket. “Good enough that I think Captain Scarlet could come off the oxygen now.”
“If you think it best, Doctor.”
Scarlet let the mask come away from his face. “Did the volunteer call you?”
The nurse frowned. “Your partner, Captain Blue?” She glanced at Blue, who nodded to confirm his identity. “He called in the situation and brought you here.” She smiled. “You could have swapped names when you first arrived here, Captain. I haven’t seen anyone that blue with cyanosis in a long time. I’d have thought you’d being suffocated if your partner hadn’t explained it had happened before –”
“There’s no need to distress the captain, Caroline.” The doctor’s voice was harsh in censure. “I think you can leave him with me now, you and Captain Blue can return to the scenario.”
Neither looked happy with the suggestion, but both obeyed. As they were reaching the door, Scarlet called after them, “You’d better let Carly know I’m alright. Must have given her quite a scare.”
“Carly?” The nurse repeated.
Scarlet saw Doctor Ket sank into a chair, his face suddenly white.
“Yes.” Scarlet paused. “She said her name was Carly Simmons, I know you usually like volunteers to use their own names…”
Blue frowned. “Wasn’t that the name of one of the bomb victims? I think I remember Brown being summoned to give evidence when the inquest was reopened.”
The nurse’s face was grim. “Captain, I have to tell you there were no volunteers on the floor where you collapsed and if there had been, I assure you none of them were called Carly Simmons.” She shook her head. “You suffered a panic attack, Captain. The loss of oxygen can cause strange symptoms, including hallucinations. I am going to be generous and assume that’s what happened in this case.”
She stalked out of the room in a flurry of red and grey. Blue shrugged and followed her.
Eric Ket was still sitting in the chair.
“There was nothing I could do, he muttered to himself more than to Scarlet. “The rubble had trapped her. If I’d pulled her free when I found her, she’d have died of toxic shock.” He lifted his head to stare at Scarlet. “She didn’t mean to hurt you. Or any of the patients in there. She was just a kid. How could she…?”
“I don’t understand.”
Eric stared at Scarlet with unfocused eyes. “Carly Simmons was trapped by falling rubble in the initial blast. By the time I found her, it was over fifteen minutes after the first explosion. Any efforts to free her without proper medical assistance would have made the situation worse, possibly even killed her as the toxins built up in the trapped limb would have been released to the rest of the body. I was just a junior houseman back then. I elected to stay with her, while some of the police assisting the evacuation went to get help.” He paused. “What happened next isn’t clear, but… just no one turned up.” He sighed. “We sat there together. Carly was getting worse, she was going into shock. The autopsy later revealed a complicated fracture of the ankle and tibia. While I couldn’t see it, she was bleeding to death while we waited. Eventually I couldn’t bear it. I went to get help, I swore to her I’d be back, but… None of us knew about the gas leak. That the air was becoming steadily more toxic. I passed out as I was walking down the stairs. And Carly… poor Carly.” He looked at Scarlet like a desperate man. “No one knew she was there. The area had already been reported as cleared. I was lucky they found me. But Carly… She must have felt so scared and alone.” He swallowed. “It was three days later that they finally reached her. She was just lying there, still buried in the rubble. Autopsy gave the cause of death as asphyxia.”
“The coroner ruled unlawful death at the second inquest,” Scarlet said, details of the incident Blue had mentioned coming back to him. “Because if Carly had received medical aid as soon as you found her, or within a reasonable period, she would have survived.”
Eric nodded. “Seven years of fighting for justice. I hope it was some comfort to her family.” He shook his head. “It changed things here too. Not just the drills. Patients in that room would suddenly worsen, become unable to breathe. We lost two and eventually the room was taken out of use.” He swallowed again. “She was just a child and she was so alone, so afraid. She didn’t mean, she couldn’t have meant to hurt anyone. She just…didn’t want to be alone, didn’t want to be scared anymore”
“She asked me to tell you, to remind you, that you promised you’d come back,” Scarlet said, uncertainly.
Eric Ket smiled. It made him look much older.
“Then I’d better do so.” He paused, his manner suddenly becoming more professional. “I’ll arrange for your transport back to Skybase, Captain. You’ll probably have to speak to your counsellors.” He smiled again, a tortured farce of a grin. “Doctors don’t tend to believe in ghosts, after all.”
It was a year before Scarlet heard the truth about what happened to Doctor Ket. Brown and Indigo were planning another drill at Peterway Central Hospital and Scarlet was sitting at the next table in the canteen as they confirmed the final details.
“I’m surprised they want us back again under the circumstances, muttered Indigo. “Doctor Ket’s suicide didn’t exactly enhance our reputation in the eyes of the Hospital.”
“It was hardly our fault,” Brown observed, finishing his coffee. “The doctor had PTSD and depression. He could have done it at any moment.”
“But he didn’t,” Indigo pointed out. “He hanged himself a week after the exercise. In the room where Scarlett had his attack.”
Brown shrugged. “Eric Ket was greatly affected by what he saw in the Peterway Hospital bombing,” he said firmly. “He’d been fighting the nightmares for years and eventually it got too much for him. That’s what the coroner said.” He smiled, sadly. “Anything else is just crazy talk.”
This story was beta-read by the Spectrum Headquarters beta-reading panel.