By Caroline Smith
For so delicious were the words she sung,
- Lamia, by John Keats
Captain Magenta stood at the dockside in the port of Mestre, northern Italy, and waved at Captains Scarlet and Blue as they disembarked from the super-liner, La Serenissima. The Spectrum agents had foiled a Mysteron plot to destroy the fabulous ship with its compliment of VIPs on its maiden voyage. The bomb had been primed to detonate as the liner docked in Venice, the first port of call, just across the lagoon from Mestre. Magenta, Captain Ochre and Lieutenant Copper had been in charge of ensuring civilian safety, whilst Scarlet, Blue and two Spectrum bomb disposal technicians had deactivated the device in the bowels of the ship.
“Nice job, Lieutenant,” Magenta said, smiling at Copper.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied in a thick Irish accent, a faint blush on her cheeks in response to his appraisal. Grainne O’Brien had been assigned to Cloudbase six months ago. This had been her first big field assignment and she had acquitted herself admirably. It didn’t hurt that she was a good looking lass either, with her wavy shoulder-length chestnut bob and lively green eyes. He smiled wryly to himself as he imagined the tongue lashing he would have got from any of the Angel pilots if they could have heard that remark.
“Imagine the loss to the art world and civilisation if they’d destroyed the city,” Scarlet said, as he and Blue joined the other three officers on the ground.
“Yeah, it seems such a shame to get so close and yet not see it. I’ve heard it’s an incredible place,” Magenta replied.
“I was lucky, my parents took me on a trip there when I was nine, only thing is, I wasn’t into anything remotely resembling culture at that age, more’s the pity.”
“Who is?” Ochre replied laconically. He saw Captain Blue’s sorrowing look and grinned – the Boston-born blue-stocking was steeped in ‘culture’….
Scarlet handed his high-powered binoculars to Magenta. “You can probably see her from here.”
“She?” Ochre said in an amused voice.
“La Serenissima, is an old nickname for Venice. The city is an ageless marvel, somehow just managing to survive against the ravages of the time and the sea.”
“Jeez, Scarlet, you sound just like you swallowed a poetry book. Either that, or you’ve been spending far too long in Blue’s company,” Ochre said, laughing good-naturedly. Blue rewarded him with a pointed stare and Scarlet rolled his eyes.
Magenta chuckled at their banter and focused the lenses onto the horizon of the lagoon at the distant water-bound city. The flat lumps of the islands floating in the silver-grey lagoon looked ethereal, mysterious. They were almost level with the water that surrounded them, save for the punctuation of the campanili and domes. He’d certainly heard of her canals and marvellous architecture, but he had never desired to visit the place. Now, as he looked at these distant silhouettes, so close through the powerful lenses that he felt he could almost touch them, that desire rose inexplicably.
Once the idea had lodged in his head, he found himself searching for articles and images of Venice, of which there were plenty. Its mix of seductiveness and salaciousness had drawn people down the ages: artists, poets and writers, and its influence on the world was out of all proportion to its size. It made him all the more determined to take his next vacation there, so he could wander its labyrinthine streets, squares and canals and see for himself what continued to draw people there. Finally, his furlough slot came through, and it just happened to coincide with Halloween.
“You sure you don’t want to stay here for the fun and games?” Ochre said, as Magenta popped into the Officers’ Lounge to say a quick farewell just before he departed. “Gonna be a good party…you might even have managed a couple of dances with Ms O’Brien…” he tapped his nose in a conspiratorial manner.
Magenta didn’t rise to the bait.
He landed at Venice’s mainland airport, Marco Polo, and he decided to treat himself by arriving in style via water-taxi. Initially the driver sped the powerful little boat across the lagoon towards the island; but once within the confines of the city, it threaded its way at a more sedate pace along the Grand Canal, in accord with the local speed-limits. He stared, mesmerised at the pillared and balconied palazzos, their multi-hued walls jostling against one another on both sides of the famous stretch of water, and at the ubiquitous gondolas, their glossy black hulls bobbing in the wake of faster traffic. At last, the taxi throttled to a stop at the side of his hotel; a converted palazzo, its muted pastel shades of ochre, green and pink bringing a smile to his face, a subtle reminder of home. The driver smiled secretly too, mistakenly thinking that once again, yet another tourist had fallen under the spell of La Serenissima almost as soon as they arrived in her welcoming bosom..
“Quanto?” he asked the man.
“Cinquante. Fifty euro signore, per favore.”
Magenta handed him his card and the driver swiped it on his terminal. After bidding him a good day, he throttled noisily back the way he came, leaving Magenta to carry his own small valise into the hotel. It was only a four day trip, not including this evening, and he hoped it would be enough time to capture the essence of the city.
He settled into his room. It didn’t have a great view, but he figured he could find these just as cheaply by wandering the city and ascending one of the numerous campanili. He smiled again to himself as he unpacked his clothes onto the elegant bedspread. Not so very long ago, he wouldn’t have thought twice about staying in the most expensive hotel in any city; however, since he had renounced his previous life for one which paid a far more modest salary, he couldn’t quite afford his former luxuries at the drop of a hat.
The sun had finally gone down, and he felt hungry. Airline food in coach class gave him stomach-ache, and it had been some time since he'd left Cloudbase. He would have dinner in the hotel and an early night, so he would be fresh for sightseeing the following day.
He had already decided, during his numerous bouts of research on the history of Venice, to start with a trip to the island of Torcello, the cradle of the Venetian civilisation. The island was remote, at the north end of the lagoon, and was obviously not the most popular excursion, especially at the end of October; so he found himself travelling with only a handful of people, a couple of whom didn’t even look like they were tourists. They had the rugged weatherworn look of the fishermen he remembered from the coasts of Ireland, seemingly ageless. Anyway, he didn’t mind at all; it was one of the reasons he jumped at the chance to come in late fall to avoid the tourist hordes.
He stared out of the mud-smudged windows on the battered craft as it rumbled gently through the silvery water. The lagoon had silted up towards the north and the outbreaks of malaria, in the 14th century, started the decampment of people to the other islands, and now only a handful of people lived here any more. The boat slid into the jetty at the vaporetto stop and he jumped lightly onto the paving, looking around to get his bearings. A canal towpath was signed for the Basilica, the oldest building in the lagoon.
He spent a lazy hour wandering around the 6th century interior, marvelling at the fabulous Byzantine mosaics. The Last Judgment sequence seemed particularly apt for the season, with its angels and devils and disembodied corpses. He appreciated art, and had been quite an avid collector in the past; although, as a part of his pardon agreement, his beautiful sculptures and paintings had been auctioned for charity, as the world government had considered them ‘ill-gotten gains’.
When he returned into daylight again, he squinted, even though the sun had been replaced by a thin veil of cloud, and he felt a sudden chill in the air. The weather was unseasonably cold for the end of October and he pulled up his collar, glad of his sports coat. He wandered away from the solemn architecture towards the lagoon, with no particular destination in mind. In fact, apart from the expensive locanda near the Basilica, there were no other tourist attractions.
As he ambled across the silent countryside, he was struck by the poignancy of the place, and as he approached the lagoon’s edge, over a low ridge of marshy sea-moor, he stopped there to stare out across the silvery water. After a while a strange melancholy overtook him. Perhaps it was the feeling he was the only human being on this island - so near to thriving humanity, and yet in another instance, so far removed. The land seemed feathered with the shades of ghosts long departed. He felt the wind pick up again, and saw it whip up the silver-grey water and slap it noisily against the sand. The sky had grown darker and he wondered if he was going to get caught in a sudden downpour.
Then all at once, he thought he had heard a sound.
He stood stock still, his eyes flicking around the land, and then he heard it again - a strange sound; rising and falling with an eerie intensity, if the lagoon itself was whispering a lament. It was so beautiful that for a moment, it brought a lump to his throat and he felt the hairs rise against his forearms and the back of his neck, even through the layers of clothing he wore. A sea-mist had rolled in from the lagoon with surprising speed, becoming inexplicably thicker by the second, and he shivered with the sudden chill. And then, a movement caught his eye. It was a female figure – it has to be with such long blonde hair, he thought – and was pleased to have his deduction confirmed when he saw her pale flesh as she raised one arm.
He thought it odd that someone would be out here, obviously not dressed for the weather, and he wondered if she was in some sort of trouble. But she continued with her ethereal refrain, and he found himself oddly drawn to her.
“Signorina, are you all right?” he called out to her in his halting Italian. There was no reply, and he saw a flash of movement, and the sounds of a large wave crashing onto the rocks where she sat.
The singing stopped abruptly and she disappeared from view.
His heart raced, and without thinking he sprinted to the promontory, his eyes frantically searching the waters. He had no idea how deep they were, but people could drown in an inch of water if they were unconscious.
Then through the mist, he espied an arm grasping out from the water, a disembodied limb that for one second, sent a shiver down his spine.
It was slender, a woman’s arm, the five fingers clawing through the mist.
leaned out, stretching to his limit, his feet grappling for leverage on the
uneven rocks. Horrified that she was drowning
“Hold on, I’ll get you out!” he cried, not knowing if she could hear him.
But as he pulled with all his might, the nails on that grasping hand, long and sharp, dug into his fleshy palm, scoring the skin. The sudden pain caused his hand to jerk open for a second, just enough for it to slide out of his grasp. It disappeared into the foaming waters, the mist swirling around the spot.
“God, no,” he breathed in horror. And without warning, his vision blurred and he was overcome with dizziness. Then his world went black.
When he came to, he found himself lying face down on the coarse sand. For a moment he was disoriented, until the stinging in his right hand reminded him of the girl he had tried to save. He hauled himself up and raked his eyes across the water, but saw nothing.
Barely thinking, he threw off clothing down to his shorts and splashed out into the water of the lagoon, breathing in sharply at its chill. He took a deep breath and plunged down into the dank waters. But he struggled to see much in the murk; there was a lot of disturbed silt in the shallows. He felt his lungs start to burn as his oxygen ran out, and he broke the surface. He tried several more times, but he couldn’t find a body. He hauled himself wearily back onto the rocks and shivered as he pulled on his clothes. He stared at the three cuts on his palm with bewilderment, unable to understand why she had injured him like that, unless for some reason, she hadn't wanted to be saved.
With a heavy heart he knew he should return immediately to Venice and report the incident to the local police. If he was honest, cops of any nationality weren’t top of his list as favourite people, bar one obvious person in particular, and he figured it would be difficult trying to explain this to the authorities with his restaurant Italian. He sighed. His dream vacation had suddenly taken a nasty turn for the worse.
Gloomily, he trudged back to the vaporetto stop and caught the boat back to Venice, where he immediately contacted the nearest local polizia in San Marco. He recounted his story to the young officer at the duty desk, and his rather disbelieving look told Magenta that he imagined he had been hallucinating or imbibing rather too much of the local prosecco. He was almost at the point of waving his Spectrum identification under his nose, but he thought better of it. The young man finally recorded everything and promised they would look into it.
The incident had marred his entire visit and he considered returning immediately to Cloudbase, however, a small voice of reason told him that it was over, there was nothing further he could do and he might as well make the best of it. After all, he might never have the chance to return to the city. So, after a bite to eat, which made him feel a lot better, he strolled aimlessly down the fondamenta by the hotel with no particular destination in mind. His meanderings took in both the sublime and the mundane. Exquisite buildings, little food shops full of exotic delights, majestic churches chock full of magnificent artworks and flapping lines of washing strung out over the warren-like lanes like a rallying cry against the modernity of the 21st century. Slowly, La Serenissima began to exert her magic upon him.
After getting lost several times, he finally found himself at the furthermost point of the Dorsoduro, the Punta della Dogana, on its triangular point jutting into the Grand Canal. He stared out across the pale-blue waters of the most romantic waterway in the world at the incomparable view. The magnificent filigreed bulk of the Palazzo Ducale and its soaring Campanile seemed to glow in the muted autumn light. Venice was truly a city built for lovers and he felt a sudden pang of loneliness, a feeling that, in this unique city, there should have been someone at his side to share it with him.
Perhaps he should have taken heed of Ochre’s not-so subtle teasing about Grainne O’Brien and asked the Irish girl to come with him to Venice. He wasn't dense; she was interested in him, romantically speaking, but was obviously waiting for him to make the first move. His former life – before Spectrum – had left little room for romance. He enjoyed women’s company, but he hadn’t allowed anyone to get too close, his main concern being that someone he might come to care for would be considered an easy target by his rivals. After he joined Spectrum, he found himself attracted to Karen Wainwright – Symphony Angel – but it didn’t take him very long to figure out that she was interested in the tall blonde type.
I'm in my thirties, he thought, life’s slipping away.
Just as he wondered why he was suddenly feeling so morbid, a movement caught his eye, pulling him out of his reverie.
He saw a woman, dressed for the autumnal weather in a flowing black velvet cloak, the wide hood covering her head. As if she became conscious of his sudden scrutiny, she turned slowly to face him, and for a few seconds all coherent thought left Magenta’s mind and he was literally dumbstruck.
She was, quite simply, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life, and he’d seen quite a few. But he couldn’t tell if she was twenty or forty; her face seemed ageless in its oval beauty, as if one of Giotto’s Madonnas had come to life. A tiny smile hovered around her perfect mouth as she stared back at him, a gesture both bold and innocent at once. In short, she was totally beguiling. And then, before he could open his mouth, she spun on her heel and turned quickly, to walk back along the fondamenta. As she left, cloak billowing in her wake, he caught a flash of turquoise belonging to her long dress, and his mind spun with a sensation of deja-vu.
He stood for a moment at the water’s edge, feeling his heart hammer against his ribs.
The incident had unsettled him yet again, although he couldn't quite understand why, but he figured the only solution was a cup of double espresso at Caffe Florian, so he caught the vaporetto across to Piazza San Marco. He settled down at one of the geometrically positioned tables, as if the waiters considered their placement as much of a work of art as those hanging in the galleries and churches. The waiter brought him his ridiculously tiny coffee, accompanied by a tall glass of water, and left him to enjoy the view for as long as he wished; it was after all, included in the price. Magenta’s first sip almost brought tears to his eyes. Now this was coffee, not that insipid muck Adam insisted on making back at base, and one of the things Italians did best, along with shoes and clothes, not to mention the odd car. He let his gaze wander lazily around the square, taking in the mix of sights: elegant locals, moving quickly with a purpose, a gaggle of Koreans, all wide eyed and camera-snapping. A lonely street-sweeper sang an aria to the low-pitched accompaniment of his ponderous vehicle, while a trio of jugglers amused a small crowd with their skills.
And then, from the connollade across the piazza, a sparkle of turquoise caught his eye. Standing beside one of the pillars was the young woman he had met on the Dogana - and she was looking directly at him. He felt his pulse race as seconds slipped by, and then she melted into the gloom of the portico. On sudden impulse, he leapt up to follow her, throwing several notes upon the table in his haste, (the waiter would smile at the gigantic tip), and he sprinted across the square, dodging the tourists and the pigeons, the hawkers and the performers. He whirled around, his sharp eyes scanning the milling street up ahead; just in front of a group of tourists he saw the tell-tale banner of her dress and cloak as she disappeared into a tiny sottoportico.
He followed her, trying to keep that flash of turquoise in his sights as she threaded her way through the tiny alleyways, always staying tantalisingly ahead of him, as if she was actually enjoying leading him on this merry dance. He had no idea what he was doing following her; an inner voice whispered that he was crazy, even as his limbs propelled him with volition of their own. He followed her for what seemed like forever, and he ran across yet another little bridge over a small canal and sent a cloud of pigeons fluttering upwards from the tiny campo. He stopped, disoriented, and realized he was hopelessly lost.
He took a few deep breaths, and with a strange feeling of disappointment, turned around to try and retrace his steps. And then – she was there – on the bridge, and for a breathless moment, the entire world stopped. Still she stood, regarding him with opalescent eyes, until finally, his legs moved once again and he walked to stand eye to eye with her. Feeling caught in some enchantment he asked, “Who are you? Why are you following me?"
She gave a curious smile, tilting her head back, and as the black hood fell, a thin shaft of sunlight emerged from the overcast sky and bathed her golden hair in a nimbus of glowing light. His breath left him suddenly, as if he had been punched in the stomach. His palm throbbed and he rubbed it, remembering the drowning girl on Torcello.
She shook her head, her dark eyelashes fluttering, her expression amused. “It would seem you are the one following me, signor,” she replied. Her accent was definitely Italian, yet laced with overtones of something else, something he couldn’t put his finger on. Her voice sounded archaic, as if she belonged to another time and place than this one
He flushed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me, it’s just that you, I mean –” he stopped, momentarily at a loss for words, realising the absurdity of his actions and totally unable to convey his reasons for them to her.
She smiled that secret ‘Mona Lisa’ smile again. “Then again, perhaps I wanted you to follow me.”
He shook his head, and laughed, a little self-consciously.
“Don’t you believe me?” she asked him, the smile still playing around her perfect lips. He found himself staring at them, wondering with part of his mind, what it would feel like to kiss her, whilst the other part wondered what the hell he was doing, even thinking this about someone he’d just met.
“It’s the sort of thing that happens in movies, not in real life,” he said lamely.
She moved against him, without warning, and he felt a jolt at the unexpected coolness of her fingers against his.
“The islands, they are magical, are they not?”
He blinked at the change of subject. “Sure, sure they are,” he replied.
“And Venice is a city made for lovers, that was what you were thinking, on the Dogana, was it not?”
He blinked. Still, it was an obvious thing anyone might deduce. “Yes, I was thinking along those lines,” he admitted.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?”
“I'd like to,” he replied, and watched as she took his hand and drew it across her cheek, then kissed the palm. He felt the hot wet dart of her tongue flick against the thin scores where the young woman on Torcello had dug her hand, and his head swam, hot desire arcing inexplicably down his spine.
“Who are you?” he repeated, almost to himself.
“Whoever you want me to be,” she replied enigmatically.
“This is crazy. I can’t believe I’m standing here having this conversation with a complete stranger.”
“But we are not complete strangers, we have already met! And you followed me because you are attracted to me, are you not?"
“Yes – no! I mean, you’re a beautiful woman, who wouldn’t be –”
"Just as I am attracted to you. But, perhaps you would feel better about the inevitable if we acquainted ourselves with one another?” she said softly.
“The inevitable?” he said, stupidly.
“As truly as the sun rises and sets, caro, we are destined to be one. I can see such things.”
“Are you making a pass at me?”
“If, by that expression, you mean do I want to make love to you, then the answer is yes.”
His look of astonishment brought a low peal of laughter from her, her head flew back, exposing the fine column of flesh of her throat, and Magenta fought the longing to press his lips onto that skin. Instead he wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead, for he seemed to be burning up inside, despite the chill.
“Surely you cannot be afraid of me?” she asked, amusement filling her grey-blue eyes.
Magenta looked around, wondering if he was being taken for a fool, and she had some male companions ready to cut him up for his credit. As if she sensed his reticence she said, “Do not be afraid. I am alone, and merely a woman. Come, why not let me show you the city?” and she took his arm but he stopped her.
“I have to know your name before we take another step.”
“My name is Lia, and now we will go,” she said, in a tone that brooked no further argument. Magenta found he was unable to resist her, and they walked arm in arm, through the city. They talked little, and he couldn’t help notice the glances people stole at them as they passed. She was like a small sun, bestowing the dazzling light of her beauty on everyone within the sphere of her influence, and the whispering voice of good sense receded with every minute he spent in her company.
As it turned dark, they happened upon a small trattoria. He ate, but she merely nibbled some shell-fish and drank a little wine. They talked of inconsequential things, as people who have just met often do, all the while knowing, on a subliminal level, that their bodies were speaking the language of desire. As he put her cloak around her shoulders and stepped into the chill of the evening, his thoughts whirled between desperation at parting with her, and not wanting to commit to anything that he might regret. So for a while they walked along the fondamenta, the moon glinting silver off the Grand Canal, and Magenta continued to wrestle with his conscience.
Finally, she stopped and prevented him from walking any further.
“You must know how I feel about you...I don’t want to leave you this night.”
“Lia, I’ve had a wonderful evening, but I’m only here for a few more days. It would be better if we didn’t - get intimately involved with one another.”
“But we already are. I feel the passion between us, to deny ourselves would be foolish.”
“Lia, I’m really flattered, I mean it, but it would be wrong.”
“Who is to decide that? I offer myself to you, not for money, but for our mutual pleasure. There is no offence in that. Why did you follow me, if you had no desire to claim what was in your mind, and your heart, when you first saw me?"
“I didn't –” he protested, but before he could say anything more she leaned into him, and brushed her full, soft lips upon his in a kiss that tasted of the sea and night-blooming honeysuckle; a kiss filled with delicious promise. His thoughts tumbled awry as her touch invoked sensations too impossible to understand and his heart pounded with the crazy desire to make love to her. It caught in his throat, turning his veins to molten fire, making him dizzy as he stood there pressed against her.
After an eternity, she pulled away from him, “Patrick,” she said it like an incantation. “You have nothing to fear from me....”
Throwing caution into the canal, he acquiesced, making his way back to his hotel with her as if in some dream. The night porter smiled beatifically at them, or rather, at her as they entered the lobby. Once in his room, he locked the door and turned to see Lia standing against the wide bed, her eyes weirdly luminous in the silver light cast by the disc of the full moon outside the windows.
Magenta padded slowly across to her, and shook his head in wonder at what had brought him so rapidly to this point. It was if his body required him to do this, to worship her with everything he possessed. He knew it was madness but he seemed powerless to resist her.
“It is time,” she whispered, taking his hand and kissing his palm, and the warm swirling fog of desire swept away everything except the two of them. He peeled away the layers of her clothing, his hands trembling as her translucent skin was revealed. He pressed his lips against her skin; her salty-sweetness like the morning lagoon, and her yellow hair spilled in long coils around his face. He abandoned himself to her, losing time and place in her embrace, hour slipping into hour, aching and sweet. Finally, exhaustion overtook him and, as he spiralled down into sleep, she entwined his body with her own as if she feared to be separated from him, even in repose. They remained clasped together until the dawn crept slowly in to replace the night.
When he awoke, his first thought was of her, and the instance of fear that she might somehow have vanished like a wraith in the night, was replaced by relief as he realised she was still right there beside him, her golden hair fanning out across the silken pillow. Whatever she wanted, it truly didn’t seem to go beyond pleasuring him beyond his wildest dreams. Then, her eyes opened and she gazed at him with such longing that he bent down to kiss her softly.
“About last night,” he began.
“You will tell me it was wonderful?”
He sighed, long and deep, and kissed her perfect nose. “It was wonderful, you were wonderful, but –” the words clogged in his throat. He wanted to tell her he only had a few days to spend in Venice, that he had to return to his job, and yet it all seemed so far away, so inconsequential, compared with the bliss of lying in her embrace.
She touched his lips. “Do not speak of it, we will break the magic. Just tell me that you will stay with me today.”
He smiled. “I will, but all that exercise makes a man hungry. I’d call room service, but…” he trailed off.
She stepped out of the bed in a slow movement and gave him a knowing smile. “Do not worry, I will go to your bathroom and bathe, and that will save you the embarrassment.”
He looked contrite. “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
She bent to kiss him again, and his head swam with the pleasure of her tongue swirling against his, his body heat rising as it answered her summons.
“Nor I, caro, I hunger for you again, even now. But you need your strength for me I think, so go and order your food,”
“You don’t want anything?”
She shrugged. “I eat very little.”
He watched her with hooded eyes as she padded to the bathroom, the fine line of her body a poem of movement. After she closed the door he heard the sound of water running and he sat for a few more minutes, shaking his head in remembrance of the long blissful night. He had no idea what was going to happen after this, for he was still caught in her enchantment, and the whole encounter was taking on the aspect of a dream. However, his stomach rumbling brought him back to reality and he dialled room service. Within a short while a bellhop arrived with a tentative rap at the door and a loud cough. The staff evidently knew all about his ‘companion’ and, with typical Latin understanding in matters of romance, were choosing to be perfectly discreet about the whole thing.
He tipped the man generously and he left. As if on cue, Lia appeared from the steamy bathroom, her hair wet around her shoulders.
“Good soak?” he asked
“Perfect, grazie,” and she settled down beside him on the enormous bed.
He tucked into his eggs and ham while she picked delicately at a pastry, and he felt her eyes following his every move, although he pretended he didn’t notice. It was hard not to feel incredibly flattered by her attentions. I mean, what guy wouldn’t be? he thought, his stomach fluttering in response to memories of the previous night. Instinctively, he turned his gaze upon her and she held out her pale arms to him in invitation.
An entirely different hunger consumed him.
For the next twenty-four hours they didn’t leave his hotel room. He ate sparingly, just enough to keep his hunger at bay. It was as if the real world didn’t exist any more. She was like the ocean, and his need to drown in her depths was a desperation that shook Magenta to his core. Nothing seemed as real as their two bodies becoming one, their minds fused in their shared adoration of one another, blotting out the reality of his life.
From time to time, during a lull in their lovemaking, he would feel a pang of regret at missing out further explorations of the city. But, almost as if she could sense his feelings, she made him realise that they were secondary to their shared passion.
But, even someone as physically fit as he was, has to call a halt somewhere. He awoke on the third day of his vacation, feeling boneless and drained of energy. As he lay in the wide bed, he imagined his mother’s lilting voice admonishing him: ‘Too much of a good thing, my boy.’
He could hear Lia humming tunefully in the bathroom; her showering and bathing only seemed to take only second place to her unalloyed enjoyment of his body. He dragged himself out of bed and opened the windows to allow the fresh air to circulate into the room. As he took deep breaths and watched the water traffic below on the canal, he wondered with bemusement just what had happened to him in the past couple of days. Lia was a drug in his system; the more he had, the more he wanted. He was Odysseus in thrall to the siren. And yet, nagging doubts continued to chew at the edges of his consciousness.
His realised wryly that he didn’t even know her surname, or she his. His heart ached at the thought of her, and yet, they were still strangers to one another, in everything but the intimacy of their bodies. In the daylight and the cool air their mutual obsession seemed odd and unhealthy and beneath the simmering pyre of his infatuation, he knew he had to go back to Cloudbase in twenty-four hours, and all of this just had to come to an end.
He was thirsty, and needed more air than that provided by the windows in his room. He’d get a coffee from the dispenser in the lobby downstairs, and go for a much need walk. And perhaps he could think about how to tell her he had to leave soon. He pulled on some clothes and his shoes, and padded across to the door. Just as he opened it, the other door to the bathroom opened, and Lia stepped out. There was a look of hurt and anger in her eyes as she saw him about to leave the room.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m sorry. I just need to get outside for a bit, you know we haven’t left this room for two days. It’s not really healthy, Lia.”
She was at his side in an instant, draping her body sinuously against him. And for the first time, he felt a small shiver of distaste at her touch.
“Then we can go together, I do not want to part with you for an instant,”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you. I have to leave Venice, tomorrow morning.” There, it was out.
Her eyes grew wide, and there was sadness etched on her lovely face. “You cannot leave me, I love you, you must know that, how I feel about you,”
He took her hands in his. “I know, I feel the same way, but I have a job, an important job, I have to go back, people need me.”
Her eyes flared wide and her mouth turned petulant. “I need you too!”
His heart sank. “I don’t want to leave you. Look, this doesn’t have to be goodbye; next time I get some vacation I’ll come back to see you,”
“You don’t understand, I cannot live without you, and you cannot live without me!”
He shivered again, a trickle of unease along his spine.
“I have to go, Lia, I’m sorry.” He tried again, “Don’t make it harder than it already is.”
“Hard?” she cried, in a pitiful voice that tugged at his heart. He tried to ignore her entreaties, knowing that it was so easy for her to crumble his resolve. “You cannot leave, I shall die.”
“Don’t say things like that, it isn’t the slightest bit amusing. I knew this wasn’t a good idea for us to – become involved. I should have listened to myself, I should have –” his voice rose in sudden agitation.
She appeared so distraught that his anger died and he pulled her into his arms.
“Oh please hold me, I need to know you still feel something for me,” she whispered, her lips against his cheek.
He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her forehead, for he didn’t dare kiss those lips that dissolved his will. “Silly girl, of course I do.” But what exactly do I feel? He wondered.
Tears shimmered in her eyes. “But you do not love me enough to want to stay.”
He frowned. Her clinginess was beginning to unnerve him. How could he have been fool enough to believe that such pleasure would really come without a price?
“C’mon, we have one night before I go,” he said finally, “let’s not spend it feeling miserable. After all, you were the one who told me not to have regrets.”
“So I did,” she said quietly and then her face brightened with a smile, “Then, perhaps we shall go outside as you wish, and take the air and see the city.”
He smiled gratefully. “I think that would do both of us a lot of good.”
“Very well,” she answered, and hummed happily as she pulled on her clothes.
They wandered arm-in-arm through the warren-like streets, crossing the tiny bridges to take them from one jewelled fondamenta to another. Magenta felt a blissful happiness steal over him once again. It seemed that in this moment, he had everything he wanted. They spoke little, other than for her to point out some important building or sculpture. Oddly, she refused to go into any of the churches, saying she didn’t like the smell there, and he didn’t press the point.
Every now and then, as if reacting to some unspoken need, they stopped and embraced and kissed and she murmured endearments into his willing ear. He surrendered once again to her touch, both she and the city working their magic upon him again. He was dimly aware of the benevolent scrutiny of the other passers-by, and occasionally he would hear their murmured voices as they passed. ‘Amore,’ or ‘bellissimo’. Wherever Lia went, she seemed to draw people’s eyes to herself.
Before he knew it they were at the quayside, at the northern point of the city, where the boats left for the islands. "Where are you taking me now?" he asked her.
“To my home,” she answered simply.
“You live on one of the islands?” The sense of foreboding stole up on him again.
She nodded, and pulled him towards a boat which was about to depart. Magenta allowed her to, but all the while a ridiculous thought insinuated itself in his head. A frightening thought. His mother’s tales came back to him and he shivered with premonition.
As the boat continued past the islands of Murano and Burano, he said in a toneless voice. “We’re going to Torcello, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” she whispered back, and gripped his arm as if he should suddenly take flight, but he didn’t move. He remained outwardly calm, even as his stomach rippled with some nameless dread.
The boat docked at Torcello, and then departed, leaving the two of them standing alone on the quayside. She started to walk, and he followed, like a sleepwalker in a dream.
“Soon, we’re nearly there,” she said, her grip tight on his arm. He felt his palm throb and he curled his fingers to rub them.
She led him towards the lagoon, near the place where the girl drowned, and he suspected that he had known all along whom she was.
“You’re the drowning girl, the one who scratched me, aren’t you?” he said in a weirdly calm voice.
Her chin lifted defiantly, an unfathomable sadness etched into her eyes. She slowly nodded her head.
“Why me?” he asked.
Lia touched his face. “I was drawn to the darkness within you…”
Magenta swallowed hard, shocked by the implications of her words. He did have a dark past, and although he had worked hard to expiate his sins, they had already been imprinted on his soul. Was that what she saw?
“What are you…really?” he said in a whisper.
She didn’t reply. Instead she turned away from him and walked a few steps closer to the water’s edge, and looked out across the lagoon. Magenta watched her, and saw a peculiar sea-mist roll in, its tendrils curling around the base of her velvet cloak, as if the lagoon itself welcomed her into its embrace. His heart was a lump of ice as she slowly undressed, leaving her clothes strewn on the sand. Still mesmerised by her beauty, even as his mind recoiled with the thought of what she might be…she slipped naked into the water.
Magenta closed his eyes, and his scalp prickled as he was pulled by the forces of curiosity to the water’s edge. As he heard the splash on his boots he opened them again. And there she lay, floating on the water; her golden hair streaming out around her perfect face…and where her legs should have been…was a long curved tail of iridescent turquoise scales…
Mermaids really do exist.
“I am a water-sprite,” she said, as if reading the words from his mind. “Our kind is nearly gone and I am the only one who remains here in the lagoon. I am so lonely. And so are you. That is why I responded to your emotions when you came to this spot.”
He looked at his hand, at the three scores which still throbbed faintly, even as his blood surged at her command. Somehow this injury she had inflicted upon him that first day in Torcello had created a link between them. And he looked at her again, and the sight of her sent a mixture of revulsion and desire through him. But there could be nothing between them, they came from different worlds.
“I’ve got friends, colleagues, people I care about, and who care about me,” he said, automatically.
“But you have no one special, a soul mate. I can fill that void! You know I can!” Her pleading voice and her wide eyes tore at his resolve.
“Lia, it can’t work, you’re –”
“Stay with me, I only take this form when I must. I can be a woman for you, only for you, to love.”
She rose from the lagoon, changing slowly as he watched in horrified fascination, still so beautiful it made his heart ache with the memory of her languorous hands over his willing body.
“I’m so sorry. I never should have…” He couldn’t finish. He gritted his teeth and turned away, feeling the wind whip chilly fingers in his hair, as if she had sent it to admonish him.
She let out a keening howl, which froze the blood in his veins, but he kept walking. And then her voice shrieked in the wind, “If you go I will curse you! You cannot refuse the love of a naiad and remain unpunished!”
He ran, legs pumping along the beach, as if the hounds of hell were after him, away from this madness, knowing that if he turned back, he might very well be lost for ever.
As he tumbled across the moor her voice was a sibilant whisper on the wind, frigid and brittle, “If I cannot have you, then no other shall have you either!”
His senses swam, and nausea flared in his guts. But he continued to keep running, fighting it, until the sound was gone.
“So – did you have a good vacation then?” Captain Ochre asked him, as Magenta wandered into the Officers’ Lounge after returning to Cloudbase.
“Sure, it was fine, thanks,” he replied, heading off to the coffee machine. He took one sip from his cup and grimaced.
“Fine?” Ochre glanced at Gray, who gave a slight shrug. “This, from the guy who kept chewing my ear about how he was so desperate to go there? What about the great art, those pretty Italian signorinas, the wonderful coffee…”
“The coffee was – great,” he interrupted Ochre’s flow, and then paused, during which time both captains continued to look at him expectantly.
“So, what’s been going on here while I’ve been away? How did the Halloween party go?” he changed the subject hopefully.
Ochre raised an eyebrow. After all Magenta’s exuberance about visiting Venice, he’d expected his ear to be pummelled with everything he’d been up to, so he wasn’t fooled by his partner’s forced nonchalance. There was a pale gauntness to Magenta’s cheeks that hardly spoke of an invigorating vacation, and he could figure enough about his body language in the time they’d worked together to know his field partner was hiding something. And he also knew that nothing would drag it out of him before he was ready to talk about it.
“Well, let’s see…”
Magenta couldn’t shake off the image of Lia, despite trying to throw himself into his work with a vengeance. For the first two weeks he lay awake every night on his bunk, staring at his ceiling, imagining that he could hear her whispering sweet endearments in his ear one minute, and her parting words in the next. His depression and fatigue grew by the day. Colonel White even drew him aside and questioned his commitment after an elementary programming error almost led to a disaster on Cloudbase. He felt that whatever he touched was cursed... Lia's powerful presence was everywhere in his life....
By the third week he was sneaking extra shifts in the Room of Sleep, anything to try to drive away the memories of cool flesh and warm mouth and the total loss of self to which he had, so desperately, surrendered.
When Fawn caught Magenta out (which didn’t take very long), he received the proverbial lecture about misusing the facilities, and, of course, he had to admit he was having difficulty sleeping, and, no, he didn’t know why. (He could still lie with a straight face.) But Fawn clearly saw that the Irishman was suffering from sleep deprivation and grudgingly prescribed some medication
His behaviour didn’t go entirely unnoticed by the others; even though he was extremely careful to maintain a cheerful façade to everyone who didn’t know him well enough to realise, that was exactly what it was.
Ochre was almost in a frenzy of curiosity as to what had happened in Venice, to cause the palpable sense of loss, that seemed to cloak the Irishman like an aura, but every time he brought the subject up, Magenta shut up tighter than a clam.
Somehow in the following weeks, he succeeded in pulling himself together enough to keep Colonel White off his back. His medication helped but he knew he couldn’t take it forever. He’d have to kick it at some point… he just couldn’t figure out when.
Christmas arrived and the Angels held their annual get-together for the officers and pilots in the Amber Room. By eleven most of the party-goers had left, either for sleep or duty-shifts, and Magenta found himself sitting in a corner of the room with Lieutenant Copper. He hadn’t seen a great deal of the Irish girl, as their duty shifts hadn’t coincided for some time, but she was as animated as ever. He found himself thinking how confident she’d become over the last year and as she chattered away he realised with a wry delight that he wasn’t moping about a pair of grey-blue eyes and coils of silken blonde hair. In fact, Lia’s image was slowly receding from both his waking and nocturnal dreams with every day that passed, and he wondered if he was getting over her at long last.
He found himself staring dozily at the dusting of freckles on Copper’s nose. It’s such a pretty nose…much like the rest of her…he observed dimly through the pleasant haze. And then the room seemed to waver and her face blurred, and he wondered why non-alcoholic champagne was having such an effect on him.
He blinked, as Copper waved her hand in front of his eyes. “Did you hear a word I said?”
“I’m, uh,” he stared at his glass, which turned into two glasses, and then back again. He turned slowly to see Ochre on the other side of the room, a knowing grin on his face.
Fraser! I might have guessed, he thought murderously, he’s spiked my bloody drinks!
He cursed himself for not figuring it out faster; it was only now that he realised Ochre was always just a little too obliging about filling his empty glass, and he had been too distracted with Copper to recognise the fact. Ochre must have been sticking something into it, synthol most likely; it was odourless and tasteless and a deadly combination mixed with his sleep medication, which Ochre, of course, had no idea he was taking.
He rolled his eyes. “God help me,” and then the room pirouetted in front of his eyes.
“Oops,” Ochre said. He moved quickly to catch the lurching Magenta as Copper looked anxiously on.
“Oh God, is he going to be okay?” she asked.
Ochre grunted as he shifted Magenta’s weight. “I guess so. I only meant to get him pleasantly drunk enough to –” He glanced at Copper for a second. “Well, never mind.”
“Maybe I should help you with him,” the Irish lieutenant suggested, her voice neutral. “He’s pretty heavy.”
Ochre gave her a sideways grin as he hauled a cursing Magenta over one shoulder. “Yeah, maybe you should.”
“I’ll get you for this, Fraser,” Magenta mumbled as the two of them supported him along the corridor to the officer’s quarters, somewhat inelegantly as Ochre had at least five inches of height over the Irish lieutenant.
“Lighten up, willya?” Ochre said with a snort of laughter. “I just wanted to bring a smile to that miserable face of yours…and that’s the thanks I get.”
“You’re a dead man, I mean it.”
Once in Magenta’s quarters, they deposited him on his bed. Ochre stood up and made for the door and Copper stared at him, “Are you just going to leave him here without – I mean –?”
Ochre winked at her. “I’ll let you tuck him in.”
Copper turned crimson.
Magenta didn’t notice her embarrassment, thankfully she thought, as he gave her a lopsided smile. “S’nice of you to take me back, I hope I wasn’t rambling…back there.”
“Heavens, not at all, I enjoy your company, I mean, I just wish, maybe we could see more of one another,” she trailed off, wondering if she had really said that.
“Mmm,” he murmured, his eyes closing.
Copper, feeling as if she had been given carte-blanche by Ochre’s departing wink, realised that she might never have a better chance to do what she’d been desperate to do for almost as long as she had known her compatriot. Here she was alone with him, and he was pleasantly drunk. Who was to know?
Without another thought, she swiftly bent low and planted a kiss on Magenta’s lips.
Magenta responded to that warm mouth, a male instinct intensified by intoxication. Emboldened by his reaction, Copper wound her arms around his neck and moaned with delight against his lips.
Magenta’s eyes flipped open, his thoughts scrambling. Jesus Mary and Joseph, what am I doing?
He pushed her away and tried to sit up on the bed. Copper fell away from him, confused by his abrupt change of manner.
“What’s wrong?” she said, smoothing down her tunic and feeling self-conscious at his reaction.
He stared at her for long moments, as if he expected her to expire on his bunk, or himself for that matter. But thankfully, she continued to remain as alive and lovely as always.
She peered at him strangely. “Patrick,” she said his first name hesitantly, “are you all right; why are you looking at me like that?”
He wiped his suddenly sweaty forehead and looked at her with haunted eyes. “You kissing me, s’not a good idea, Grainne,”
“It felt nice to me, and I thought you didn’t seem to mind it either,”
He sighed, falling back down on his bunk. “Wouldn’t work,”
“What wouldn’t? You mean us getting involved?”
“How d’you know unless you try it?” she said.
He opened one eye; saw her staring at him with a frown on her pretty face. He clenched his eyes shut again.
Can’t take the risk, can never take it - makes no sense but what if –
“Look, you’re a lovely girl and all, but –
“Woman. I’m a woman,” she flashed back.
“Sorry, lovely, beautiful woman, but I can’t.”
She got up in a fluid movement from the bunk, smoothed down her uniform again, and pushed her disarrayed hair back into place. “Very well Captain,” she replied stiffly, “I’ll bid you goodnight.” She crossed the floor and exited his room without another backwards glance.
He rubbed his face in frustration as he lay on his bunk. What had he done to warrant such a complicated love life? In the moment he had kissed Grainne O’Brien, Lia’s curse slammed into his head, despite his inebriated state. And despite the pleasurable knowledge that she was indeed very interested in him, it could never be. He really couldn’t take the chance that there was truth in Lia’s words.
But when he awoke the next morning, perfectly sober, it dawned on him that nothing had happened to her, or for that fact, to himself.
He laughed aloud for the first time in weeks.
However, that didn’t mean he was about to embark on another relationship just yet. His emotions were still too fragile following his encounter with Lia. However, it seemed Ochre had other intentions. He was like a dog with a bone sometimes when he sensed a mystery to be solved. Magenta just didn’t like being the mystery.
A few weeks later Ochre caught up with his partner in the canteen. After a polite pause while they dug into their food with the usual relish after a mission, he said, “She really likes you, you know.”
Magenta let out a sigh, it was pointless pretending he didn’t know who, or what Ochre was on about.
“Hey, are you worried what the others might think?” Ochre jerked his head in the direction of the table across the way, where Captains Scarlet and Blue, and Symphony and Rhapsody Angels were deep in animated discussion. “They’re too busy with their own love lives,” he said with a knowing grin.
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean I have to join their cosy little club. Anyway, you seem happy enough remaining footloose, what’s the deal with trying to get me hitched?”
“Hey, c’mon, I wasn’t suggesting marriage, for crying out loud, but a little feminine company now and then doesn’t do anyone any harm, I thought you were the expert on that.”
Magenta’s face darkened; and the response wasn’t lost on Ochre. He dropped his teasing tone for a minute and looked seriously at the Irishman.
“Look Pat,” he said quietly, “Are you ever going to tell me what happened to you…after you returned from Venice?”
Magenta considered it - again. And imagined – again, how his partner would react. Laugh his head off probably. Somehow up here, in Cloudbase, far away from Lia and from Venice, with the normality of Mysteron plots to keep him occupied, it took on the aspect of some far-away dream. He shook his head slowly. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me. It was a woman, wasn’t it?”
“Maybe some other time.”
“Suit yourself, Pat,” Ochre said breezily and thankfully dropped the subject as he hauled himself out of the seat.
As the weeks passed Captain Magenta found he was thinking more and more about Grainne O’Brien. Was he going to let this nonsense eat away at his life? Finally, he decided to put his ridiculous fear to the back of his mind. He was going to ask Grainne out - and to hell with Lia and her imaginary curse.
He caught her leaving her duty shift in the corridor outside the radar room. Her look of surprise melted into a smile in response to his.
“Look, Lieutenant, I’m sorry I pushed you away, that night, at the party. Just put it down to my intoxication. Will you forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive Captain, I was the one out of line, sir.”
He said quietly, “I don’t think it’s specifically stated in the regulations that a court martial will follow a kiss. If that was the case then Cloudbase would be in danger of severe under-manning.”
She blinked. “Sir?”
“Drop the sir, Grainne, at least in private. What do you say we meet for a private coffee or two on the Promenade Deck, tomorrow, 19:00 hours?”
She kept a remarkably restrained face, but delight danced in her green eyes. “Absolutely, sir.”
Ochre had been right, a little female companionship was good for the soul. Grainne was as uncomplicated as Lia had been melodramatic. The first time they had kissed, it was almost laughable in its chasteness. The second time, buoyed by the lack of anything resembling harm coming to either of them, things got a little more interesting, but he always stopped before they surrendered completely to their desires. He sensed her confusion, even though she was too polite, or embarrassed – or both – to ask why he didn’t want to make love to her. It was obvious that she was ready to take that step and as time went on, it got more and more difficult, for him to justify his restraint. Copper didn’t hide her emotions, not that she demanded any sort of undying love from him, on the contrary, she offered herself with a generosity that made him feel humble and mean.
One night, they were in her quarters, having a private celebration for her birthday. They had eaten a little, drunk a little champagne, and were watching a weepy romantic movie.
“Why are women such suckers for romance?” she said laughing as he held her close.
“You tell me,” Magenta replied, leaning his head against her hair. She turned and looked into his eyes,
“I’d rather you just kissed me,” she said.
He duly obliged.
But Copper wanted more this night. It was her birthday after all and she was prepared to use every feminine wile she possessed to persuade him of the fact.
“Grainne,” Magenta groaned her name. For so long now, their passion for one another was a slow burning fuse, and yet he struggled still with the dark secret he kept locked away.
“For goodness sake, Patrick, I’m not made of glass,” she whispered urgently in his ear, “and I’m not a bloody virgin either, so why don’t you do what we both desperately want, please now, before I start screaming?”
So he did.
Afterwards, as her damp body pressed against his, his relief was overwhelming. Nothing had happened to her. She lay in his arms, lovely and alive. He brushed his fingertips tenderly across her chin, and gently kissed her lips.
She gazed back up at him, her own eyes brimming with tears. “Oh Patrick, darlin’, I just knew that we were – ahhh –.”
He saw her eyes widen, the irises contracting violently, and his breath caught jagged in his throat as her face, so rosy in the aftermath of their coupling, drained of colour.
“Patrick…hurts…all over…..” her lips turned blue, and her breath was a series of ragged, shallow gasps, as if she fought for air. Horror stamped on his heart as he watched the young woman clutch her stomach and writhe in some nameless pain. Instinct and training took over and he tumbled across the room to her personal console, stabbing the code for a medical emergency. He pulled on a robe and rushed to Copper’s side.
“Oh, Christ, Grainne, stay with me, they’re on their way,” he whispered frantically, his blood chilling in his veins at the thought she was losing her grip on life with every second.
An eternity later, or so it seemed to him, following the pick-up of the code and its location by Lieutenant Green in the control room, a small medical team arrived. Magenta watched; his knuckles in his mouth, as the sound of the heart stimulator punched into his gut and his stomach danced with nausea, as a voice sang in his head, all your fault…all your fault.
Fawn turned back to him, as the technicians bundled the gurney through the door. “We’re taking her to sickbay; she’s gone into a coma,”
“Oh my God, no, please no.” Magenta shook his head numbly. “Wh-what’s wrong with her?” he stammered, his face pale with shock.
Fawn shook his head. “As to what caused it you mean? I have no idea, any signs of trouble…before this?” he ventured.
Magenta shook his head again, barely able to answer the doctor’s question. “It’s the first time we – I mean if that’s what you’re suggesting?”
Fawn nodded. He wasn’t one for making judgments about people’s personal lives. What adults did behind closed doors in their own time was their own business. as long as anything they might get up to didn’t endanger their lives or anyone else’s.
Magenta let out a deep breath, trying to gain some composure. “We just drank a little champagne, made love, nothing funny, no wild gymnastics. That’s the truth.”
“Sure. I’ll try to run some tests; perhaps she’s developed some heart malfunction since her last medical. Maybe this might be a blessing for her.” Magenta’s face drained of what little colour was left. Fawn continued in a reassuring tone, “It’s not your fault, Patrick. I’ll let you know, how she’s doing.”
Magenta nodded dully again and sat heavily down on his bunk. He barely registered Fawn leaving his quarters.
Not a blessing…a curse.
The rest of his day passed in a painful blur waiting for news of her. When he finally got off his duty shift he wandered along to the infirmary, his heart sinking with every step he took. His only consolation was the old adage ‘no news is good news.’ He was sure that Fawn would have patched through if things had gone bad…
When he arrived at the surgery, her condition had stabilised. Fawn’s armoury of sophisticated equipment and his medical team’s superior knowledge had ensured it. Magenta shuddered to think of what might have happened if any poor woman he made love to was anywhere else but Cloudbase.
Fawn however, had run a battery of tests on Copper, and in response to Magenta’s desperate questioning, confessed that he hadn’t found any cause at all for her sudden seizure. Magenta’s heart sank. He had dared to hope that what had happened to his lover was coincidence, but it looked very much like that was misplaced optimism on his part.
“I’ll have to report this,” Fawn said quietly to him. “But certain details will be kept private, patient confidentiality and such.”
Magenta nodded, right now, knowledge of his extra-curricular activities with the young woman came a poor second to her health. “You’ll let me know when she wakes up, Doc, please?” he said as he glanced at the young woman in the cot behind the plastic partition. Her face was pale and drawn, a parody of the lively, animated girl he had held in his arms less than twenty-four hours ago, and a wave of despair washed over him.
He couldn’t face going back to his quarters, and the Officers’ Lounge held little appeal either. The Promenade Deck was usually quiet this time of the day at shift changeover. He might just be able to find a corner, hide behind the potted plants and stare out at the stars. He had been there for about twenty minutes when a familiar voice disturbed his bleak thoughts.
“You’re a hard man to track down; thought you might like some company,”
Ochre came around the screen and plonked himself down on the settee.
Magenta continued to stare out of the wide windows. “If I did, I would have stayed in the lounge.”
“Pat, I’m sorry. I only heard about Copper just an hour ago. What the hell happened? Are you okay?”
“Crap. I know what fine looks like, and you ain’t it.”
“So, go and look at something else if it bothers you.”
A heavy silence hung in the air between the two men. Magenta was torn between unloading his anxieties on someone before his head burst and fearing that his story would not be believed. . He slowly bent forward and put his head between his hands as Ochre looked on with concern.
“It’s my fault; Grainne’s sick and it’s my fault,” Magenta mumbled through his fingers.
“How the hell could it be your fault?”
Magenta’s head came up and he glared at Ochre with haunted eyes. “Don’t you frigging understand? I nearly killed her, and I’ll kill any woman who I try to touch – like that.”
“You’re not making a whole lot of sense buddy, maybe you need to start at the beginning.”
With a heavy sigh, Magenta finally gave into his despair and gave Ochre a brush sketch of his encounter with Lia and her dreadful curse, leaving most of the intimate details well out of it. Ochre listened gravely, allowing him to get it all out without any prompting. After he finished the Mid-Westerner had one of his ‘thinking’ faces on.
“I knew you’d think I was crazy,” Magenta said gloomily. “Just as well I didn’t tell Fawn the story or he would have put me in a straightjacket.”
“Hey, we believe in little green aliens, don’t we?” replied Ochre. “Well, we don’t know if they’re actually green, but they sure as hell curse us on a regular basis, so why not sex-starved mermaids with a possessive streak??”
“It isn’t the least bit funny, Rick.” Magenta glowered at him.
“I know. But haven’t you considered the other possibility?”
“That it’s pure coincidence. So what if Fawn never found anything to trigger Copper’s seizure? That still doesn’t prove the curse is real.”
“So what are you suggesting? That after she recovers, I just sleep with her again to get a better statistical sample? Forget it.”
“So, you’re going to stay celibate the rest of your life?”
“If I have to.”
“Well, this isn’t the Patrick Donaghue that had the underworld in New York all running scared. What are you going to do about it?”
Magenta’s head snapped up. “What? I – I – don’t know…”
“God, this nympho has really addled your brains…If she’s really cursed you, then maybe there’s a way to get rid of it.”
Magenta snorted in derision. “Oh sure, maybe I’ll just call up some of my old colleagues and tell them to put out a contract on her.”
Ochre’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you swore blind you never did that.”
“You aren’t the only one gifted with sarcasm,” he snapped back, “and you think you can just go search the ‘net and find ‘one hundred and one ways to lift a curse’?”
Ochre shrugged. “Why not? You can find just about anything else there. I thought you’d know that of all people.”
Magenta was about to make another retort when his epaulettes flashed fawn. His heart somersaulted and he and Ochre traded anxious glances. He dashed over to the nearest intercom and opened the channel. “Magenta here,” he said, in as even a voice as he could muster.
“I just thought I’d let you know, Lieutenant Copper had regained consciousness. I knew you’d want to know straight away,” Fawn replied.
Magenta closed his eyes in a silent prayer of gratitude. “Thanks, Doc; I appreciate it. Is it okay if I come by and see her?”
“For a little while, she’s still poorly.”
As Magenta turned away from the intercom, Ochre squeezed his shoulder.
“Good news,” the American said with a sympathetic smile. “You go see her, and then, get some sleep, you look terrible. Maybe we can both figure out something in the morning, huh?”
Magenta smiled wanly. “Okay, thanks, Rick, I’m sorry for biting your head off, and I really appreciate you hearing me out.”
“Hey, no sweat, that’s what partners do, what friends do.”
When Magenta left, Ochre stayed for a moment, rubbing his chin, deep in thought. Astonishing as the story was, his partner wasn’t given to flights of fancy, so Ochre did believe him. He’d also never seen Magenta so rattled. It certainly wasn’t like him to pass up an opportunity to use his renowned computer skills to solve a mystery. Ochre wanted to help if he could so he decided there and then to search the system himself. He wandered across to the computer-console. There was only one on the Promenade Deck, although it was rarely used. But would such an answer really lie within cyberspace as he had so confidently asserted?
He’d been searching on the system for about fifteen minutes when Lieutenant Flaxen wandered onto the Promenade Deck. She spotted him and walked up to him slowly, hoping she would catch his eye, but he was resolutely preoccupied with something on the console. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she sauntered past him.
His head snapped up and his mouth split in a grin. “Flax, the very person!”
“Me?” she almost squeaked.
“Yes, you,” he replied jumping up from the chair and ushering her into his vacated space. She sat down gingerly and tried to stop heart jumping in that god-awful way it always did, when he looked her straight in the eyes.
“You’re a little Ms Mole when it comes to digging in the ‘net .How’s about finding something for me and I’ll buy you a coffee?”
Flaxen swallowed hard and tried her best casual ‘is-that-the-best-you-can-do?’ look. “Coffee?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll throw in some double-chocolate-toffee-fudge-covered-in-more chocolate cake,” he said.
“You’re on. So what am I looking for?”
“Mermaids, water-sprites; especially those found in Italy. How to remove the curse of – or something to that effect…”
“You’re having me on…” she blurted out and then promptly turned a nice shade of pink at her rudeness.
He shrugged. “Hey…Halloween’s on its way…”
Flaxen looked at him, as if she didn’t quite believe him,…but thought better of arguing and settled down to the console with him beside her, prompting. However, finding what he was looking for didn’t happen quite as quickly as he had imagined. There was plenty of information about mythical sea creatures; the majority of them female; and their sole aim it seemed, was to lure the male of the species to their doom, usually after indulging in some pleasures of the flesh beforehand, Flaxen noted, colouring slightly as Ochre read the website details over her shoulder and sniggered occasionally.
Her eyebrows rose as she tried to figure out what on earth he was going to do with this for Halloween…however; she continued to search until something caught her eye. It was a facsimile of an old manuscript, found in Venice at the turn of the 15th century. It was written in Latin, and there was something about it that radiated authenticity.
“Didn’t Captain Magenta go to Venice?” Flaxen remarked, thinking it an odd coincidence.
“Yeah, he did,” Ochre said somewhat dismissively, staring at the screen in annoyance. “I don’t do Latin.”
Flaxen grinned smugly. “As it happens….”
Ochre shook his head and smiled wryly at the English girl. “You’re a bundle of surprises, Lieutenant, but I can’t expect you to spend your time doing this – probably be more than your job’s worth. I’ll get it translated downside - somehow.”
“Sir, I really want to. It’ll be fun.”
“Then you have a strange idea of fun….but if you really are sure…”
“Well. I guess that means I’m gonna have to buy you lunch then…”
Flaxen felt like she’d hit the jackpot. “You’re on,” she said with a grin.
At the first chance Ochre got, he handed Magenta a datapad with Flaxen’s translated file.
“What’s this?” he asked Ochre, who looked entirely too pleased with himself.
“Take a look, I told you I’d think of something.”
Magenta frowned as he scanned the datapad. “You can’t really be serious!” he said at last.
Ochre shrugged, as if to say, some people are never satisfied.
“This is hopeless. To do what this says, if indeed it would even work, which is a big if, do you know what it means?”
Ochre gave a short sigh. “Let me guess, you don’t have a lock of her hair.”
“No I don’t, dammit. What made you think I would? And that means that I’d have to go back to Venice and face her again. I don’t think I can do that, not after what –” he tailed off with a sigh of despair.
“So, you’re just going to forget about this, then?”
“It’s better than the alternative,” Magenta replied.
“You know, maybe you should confide in the old man, maybe he could arrange for –”
“Colonel White? Are you nuts?” Magenta interrupted him with a glare. “Oh sure, he’d be just sooo happy to know one of his senior officers couldn’t keep his libido locked up on shore leave.”
“Hey, what we do off-duty is our own concern.”
“Not when you end up trying to kill one of his staff!”
“Calm down, Pat, from what you told me, you were under some spell of hers. It could have happened to any of us, it was just bad luck.”
“The truth is…I’m scared Rick. I still think about her sometimes, she was like a drug. Who knows what might happen to me if I went back there. I might not have the strength to resist her again.” He rubbed the faint scars on his palm and upturned it for Ochre’s benefit. “She did this, scratched me, and she was like an infection in my system. I couldn’t resist her.”
Ochre blew out a breath. He didn’t have an answer for that.
Magenta stayed away from sickbay until he was sure Copper was well enough to deal with what he had to say to her. When she saw him come into her cubicle, her pale face broke into a flustered smile. He sat down at her bedside and took her hand. Fawn gave them a knowing look and discreetly went back to his work.
“Oh, Patrick, I’m so pleased to see you,” she said in a low voice, so as not to be overheard. “Doctor Fawn told me what happened. God, I’m so sorry; I mean, I caused you all that embarrassment. What they must have thought –”
He squeezed her hand, knowing what he was going to say, the thought was making him feel like a total heel. “Hey, Grainne, forget it, the only thing that matters is that you’re okay.”
“I just remember feeling so bad, after we – I just hope you won’t hold it against me, as soon as I’m up and about for duty, I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
Magenta steeled himself. He knew the only way to save her was for her to hate him. “Look, Grainne, about us…it’s not going to work.”
He felt her hand stiffen in his and her face pinched up. “I don’t believe you, when everything we have feels so right. Okay, we had a little set-back in the bedroom department, but we can work it out!”
He shook his dark head and kept his expression nonchalant, like his voice. “Hey, we had a little fun, but I think we need some space, you know.”
Her eyes widened as if she could not believe he’d actually said that. “What’s happened, I thought… I mean, after we –”
Magenta kept his face impassive, hating himself with every word he spoke. “Nothing, darlin’. I just get bored easily. You were fun at the time, but now well…you know…”
“This sounds nothing like you, Patrick. What’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on. I’m just telling you we’re finished, Lieutenant.”
“I never took you for a coward, Patrick Donaghue,” she said, her voice brittle. “Still, at least you had the decency to tell me face to face, sir.”
She turned her head away from him on the pillow, not giving him the satisfaction of seeing the glimmer of tears in her eyes. Magenta’s heart lay like a stone in his chest, and without another word he stood up quietly and walked out of the room.
Shortly after that, Lieutenant Flaxen popped in to see her friend. She was delighted to hear that Fawn was about to discharge the Irishwoman, and looked forward to having her back on duty. Flaxen apologised for not being in to see her for last couple of days, but she’d been sent off to Spectrum London HQ with Captain Scarlet, and she’d blotted her copy book with him, no end. She rattled on and Copper listened in silence.
“Hey, Grainne, sorry; I’m prattling on here like no-one’s business,” she said, finally taking a breath. Her eyes narrowed. Even taking into account her illness, the Irish girl seemed uncommonly subdued. “Is there something up? You don’t look like someone who’s ready to take on the world. Maybe Doctor Fawn’s being too hasty about signing you off?”
Copper shook her head. “No, that’s the best place for me to be. I need some action, been lying too long in this place. Makes you feel even worse.”
Flaxen grinned knowingly. “Wouldn’t hurt to be able to have a decent snuggle with you-know-who, without Fawnie looking on either?”
“He can go to hell,” Copper said vehemently.
“He said that?”
Copper nodded. “He’s dropped me, Aud,” she said, voicing the unpalatable truth for the first time and almost swallowing her words with her pride as she did so.
“God, you’re kidding me? I can’t believe it - and after all you’ve been through!”
“I suppose that must have been pretty scary, nearly having someone practically expire on you just after –”
Flaxen shook her head. “That’s hardly an excuse. I’m astonished Grainne, I mean, from what you told me, the two of you seemed to be doing famously, and he – well - he always seems so nice.”
“Well, that’s what I thought,” Copper said, bending her head gloomily. “Even though it took me ages to get us past the kissing stage…I wondered if we’d ever… and look what went and happened when we did…I’ve never had a seizure or anything like that in my life. Oh God, I must be cursed or something, just when everything seemed to be going right…”
Flaxen blinked for a second. Cursed, cursed, Copper’s words took her mind back to that bizarre Latin on-line manuscript she’d found for Captain Ochre. When she’d watched him scan through it, she’d seen the barely suppressed excitement in his eyes. It all seemed a bit excessive for Halloween - even by his exacting standards…unless, it wasn’t for Halloween at all… Flaxen’s stolid common-sense reeled at possible implications…and she knew she had to find out what was going on.
Was it possible that Grainne might actually be in danger? She swallowed at the thought that she would have to confront Captain Ochre about it, but finally, concern for her friend overrode that.
“You did what?”
“It’s the only thing I can do.”
Ochre shook his head in exasperation. “That isn’t fixing the root cause of this problem, and you know it.”
“Rick, I can’t go back there, I might never get away again.”
“Well, what about if I can find a way to wangle a couple of days furlough and I’ll come down with you?”
“No! I can’t take the risk. We don’t know what she’s capable of. If Lia can really cause these things to happen from such a distance…who knows what she’s capable of close up…she was mad at me Rick, I swear she might kill me if she saw me again.”
“Well, maybe Scarlet could help,” Ochre suggested.
Magenta gave him a withering look. “You’ve lost the plot. It’s bad enough that you know what a first class jerk I’ve been, I don’t figure on being the laughing stock of the whole base. And if the colonel finds out about this…”
“Hey, forget your image, Pat. Anyway, Scarlet keeps his mouth shut, you know that, and if there’s a chance of someone dying…he’s our man! Seriously, you’ll never have a moment’s peace if you don’t try and settle this. Why don’t we at least just ask him and see what he says?”
Magenta grimaced. “God, I do so hate it when you’re right.”
“Have you got a minute, Captain?”
Ochre glanced up from his chair to see Flaxen standing in the doorway of the Officers’ Lounge, looking disappointed when she saw Captain Grey was also in the room.
“Sure, come right on in.”
Flaxen walked up to him and said conspiratorially, “I wonder if we could talk in private, sir.”
Ochre raised an eyebrow and Flaxen swallowed and continued, “It’s about that manuscript we found together.”
Ochre’s eyebrow dropped and joined the other in a slight frown. “Sure, Lieutenant, let’s go over here,” he said in a louder voice for Grey’s benefit. They went across to a quiet corner far enough away from Grey so as to be out of earshot. Grey didn’t seem to notice anyway, being thoroughly engrossed in his book.
Ochre waited for Flaxen to speak. She coughed nervously and then spat it out.
“I can’t get the thought out of my head that something bad has happened between Captain Magenta and Grainn - Lieutenant Copper.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Pardon me, sir, but I’m suddenly seeing coincidences; about Captain Magenta’s trip to Venice, about the search we did and about Grainne’s unexplained seizure.”
“What are you getting at, Flaxen?” Ochre said, almost too blandly.
“I just want to know if Grainne’s in any danger.”
Ochre sighed. You had to hand it to her, Flaxen was sharp on the uptake at times. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully – it didn’t look like he had much option but to let her in on the secret. Only problem was - Magenta would kill him.
Captain Scarlet was a touch sceptical when he heard Magenta’s story. Not that the Englishman didn’t believe in strange occurrences; after all, arriving back from the dead ad infinitum was about as weird as it could get. He was however suspicious on account of Captain Ochre’s involvement. He didn’t fancy being in line for one of Richard Fraser’s tiresome practical jokes.
However, Scarlet reasoned that even he wouldn’t go to such lengths for a laugh at his expense. And now that he thought about it, it did go a long way to explaining Magenta’s less than ebullient manner, since he’d returned from his vacation in Italy.
“So help me, Rick, if this is a wind-up –” he said, looking at both of them for any signs.
The American held up a hand. “Cop’s honour.”
“All right, against my better judgment - I believe you both…so what makes you think I can help?”
“We might need your retrometabolism…” Ochre said.
It was nearly a month to the day after Scarlet had agreed to help Magenta that they found a suitable window of opportunity to travel to Venice. Ochre, however, was unable to go, much to his annoyance. The manuscript had stated that two persons, other than the one who had been cursed, had to be present. After a long discussion, which was actually more of an argument, especially as far as Scarlet was concerned; they finally agreed to take Lieutenant Flaxen. She was the only other person that knew of Magenta’s curse, and she had been sworn to secrecy by Captain Ochre – banned from even telling Lieutenant Copper. “And besides,” Ochre said, delivering a killer blow to Scarlet’s objections, “she knows exactly what to do – after all, she translated the thing in the first place.”
The vaporetto chugged along the Grand Canal on its way to the open lagoon and Flaxen stared open-mouthed at the intricate gothic palaces lining the water’s edge.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Magenta said, and his eyes grew melancholy. He grabbed Scarlet’s hand in sudden agitation. “I don’t want the same thing to happen to you, Paul.”
“She can’t kill me, if that’s what you mean. That’s, after all, why I’m here, just in case things get nasty.”
“Maybe there are worse things than death.” Magenta said, with a haunted look in his dark eyes, and Scarlet felt a primal shiver insinuate itself around his spine. For the first time he realised they were all venturing into the unknown; pitting themselves against some mysterious creature from Earth’s mythical past.
He was looking to reassure himself, as much as Magenta when he said, “That may well be the case, Pat, but she’d have an uphill task with me. My affections are already given…to someone as normal as you or…” his voice trailed off leaving the natural conclusion of the simile unspoken.
Magenta gave him an unexpectedly sympathetic and grateful smile.
As the boat approached Torcello, Magenta’s apprehension grew. Ever since he had entered the lagoon, he had felt her influence pulling at him, and he felt in turns, elation and dread at the thought of seeing her again. He wiped his clammy forehead. Scarlet noticed the gesture and the Irishman’s agitated look.
“Are you all right with this?”
“I will be,” Magenta replied, but his voice lacked conviction.
They approached the lagoon-shore quietly and stealthily. At Magenta’s signal Scarlet and Flaxen crouched behind a low ridge near to the rocks where the Irishman first encountered the water-sprite. None of them had any idea if her unearthly powers allowed her to detect the presence of those she couldn’t see, but they had agreed that there must be an element of surprise in order for their plan to work.
Magenta walked on alone. He tried to keep his breathing steady, even as fear crept along his spine at the thought of what they had to do - and not knowing if he had the strength to do it.
he called, and heard the echo of his voice dissipate across the water.
For long moments, there was no reply. And he now began to be afraid that she was no longer here, and he was destined to live his life alone, bereft of intimacy.
And then at last he heard it.
The keening sound on the breeze, the notes falling and rising, and his pulse beat in rhythm with it. The uncanny mist rose from the lagoon, thick and curling, and his heart beat faster. Within the mist he saw her sitting on the rocks a little way off, yet it was close enough for him to see every contour of her beautiful alabaster body, the flesh tones merging into the exotic shimmer of turquoise tail. As he moved closer she turned to him. Her eyes reflected the blue-grey of the lagoon, and were full of love and forgiveness, and, may God forgive him, the very sight of her made the breath burn in his throat again.
He stopped at arm’s length from her.
“You came back to me,” she said, in a tone of voice that said: They always do.
Magenta’s voice wavered, desperate to give her one chance to redeem herself. “Lia, tell me you didn’t try to kill her, please tell me.”
Her kohl-rimmed eyes grew sad, if such a creature could in fact feel any such emotion. The coils of her golden hair swung as she shook her head slowly.
“You left me. What else could I do? You had my love and spurned it.”
“It wasn’t love, Lia, it was slavery.”
“Pleasure beyond imagining, desire that never wanes, how can you, a mere man, refuse these things I offer you?”
“I give you one chance, Lia, take away this curse or I won’t be responsible for anything that happens.”
She laughed, the sound of silver in his ears, and vainly he tried to still his beating heart.
“You are but a mere mortal, what can you do against one who has lived aeons?”
She reached out her slender white arm, and took his hand, and kissed the fresh, still bleeding scars on his palm. Magenta closed his eyes as his blood burned again in his veins, and he felt her wretched power over him, and wondered why on earth he had ever imagined he could fight her.
And then he was hurtled to the ground, as Scarlet launched himself at the two of them. Lia was pulled from his embrace and Scarlet pinned her on the ground. Her arms flailed at his face and his hair, and her voice, was a high-pitched screech that jagged through their skulls.
Magenta heard Lia’s cries; her summons for his help. A black sea lapped at his senses and he was no longer fully in control of his body. A cold rage began to fill him, flowing out through every fibre and sinew.
Help me! Help me, Patrick!
He watched as Scarlet struggled with her…his love, and saw Flaxen running to join him, a knife in her hand. Scarlet caught it and hacked at a long hank of Lia's yellow hair.
“Captain Scarlet, watch out!” Flaxen cried, as Magenta leapt at him.
The impact knocked Scarlet from Lia, and the two men rolled over and over in the sand. Scarlet, with his enhanced Mysteron-given strength, should have had no difficulty in defending himself from Magenta’s pulverising attack, but he found that the Irishman was also imbued with exceptional strength – Lia’s power was, indeed, formidable.
Flaxen stared open-mouthed for one second before Scarlet's sharp bark of: “Draw the circle!” brought her wits tumbling back.
Scarlet grunted as Magenta's fist drove through his guard and onto his unprotected face. The blow stunned him, enough to lose his grip, enough to allow Magenta's hands to squeeze around his throat.
Flaxen, heart thumping, dragged a ragged circle in the sand around Lia with the knife. Lia, finally realising their intent, started to change into her human form. But Flaxen was too quick for her and completed her less than perfect ring before she could move outside and reach the Spectrum officers. The water-sprite fell to the ground, and hissed, inarticulate with rage, unable to move, caught within the spell of the circle. Flaxen ran across to grab the hank of hair that Scarlet had let fall, and threw it into the circle…
But the spell needed blood.... Magenta’s blood and that was out of Flaxen’s reach. She turned back to the men, still locked in combat and shouted, “I’ve done all I can, Captain Scarlet… you’ve got the rest of the spell’s ingredients…”
Scarlet struggled against Magenta's grip around his neck, despite the Irishman’s inhuman strength...he managed to croak out the words: “Patrick,...for God's sake...fight her... we need your help, Pat… you must fight her…” even as the spots of white light danced in front of his eyes.
Magenta heard his voice, as he continued to struggle with Scarlet, unaware of what he was doing. It was such a familiar voice…The voice of a man who was trying to help him – a man who understood the torment of loving someone, despite the differences between you… He looked down, his murderous anger seeping away as he saw his hands choking the life from Scarlet.
With a sob, he released his grip.
Scarlet’s lungs wheezed, dragging in air, his hand rubbing his throat, as Magenta struggled to his feet, his eyes searching for Lia, her control of his mind unlocked by the horror of what he had been about to do.
“Patrick, do not let them kill me! You can save me! You want to save me!” the water-sprite cried.
“No!” Magenta barked hoarsely. He scrambled back down to Scarlet, fumbling in the Englishman's jacket for the vial and the flare; with trembling hands he struggled to open it, all the while fighting the incessant call of his sea-witch to return to him. Then, Flaxen was at his side, helping him. With a reassuring smile, she took the vial from his shaking hands. Whatever magic Lia exerted over the male of the species, it couldn’t interfere with a woman’s determination to stop her. With the image of Grainne’s pale and miserable face in her mind’s eye, Flaxen opened the vial and tossed the rich, red blood into the circle.
It spattered across the yellow hair, seeping into the sand beside the immobile Lia.
Lia screeched one final time, sensing what was coming, as Magenta activated the flare. He dug his nails so hard into his injured palm that he almost fainted with the pain...but her hold on him was waning and he threw the flare into the circle. Mingled blood and hair caught fire almost instantly, and Lia gave a rending cry, utterly pitiful in its agony.
Waves of despair rolled over him and he stared with haunted eyes, clutching at the resolute Lieutenant Flaxen for support, as Lia shrivelled before his eyes; her beautiful hair falling away in pieces from her head to the ground, the brilliant turquoise of her scales fading to dull grey, her pearlescent skin crinkling like old parchment.
And all the time, her beautiful eyes were pleading - pleading with him to save her, to join himself with her, to give himself - even in her final agonies. He felt sure the vision would stay in his memory for the rest of his life…
And when it was over, they stared at her remains for what seemed like forever, until Flaxen broke the silence.
“My God, what have we done?” she whispered in awe, only now coming to terms with what she had just witnessed, with what she had helped to do, as the adrenalin rush subsided.
Patrick stared at his hand, seeping blood. He had cut into Lia’s scratches, and put his blood in a vial, so he could destroy her. He felt no euphoria that he was freed at last from her spell and her curse, just a deep aching sadness.
Behind them, Scarlet hauled himself to his feet, rubbing his neck and Magenta turned to him with shame in his eyes. “Paul, I hope you can forgive me, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”
Scarlet brushed sand from his jacket. “She did…obviously. But you succeeded in breaking free, and I’m still alive. It’ll take more than you to do me in…” he replied with a wry smile.
“Is she really gone?” Flaxen said, as if she expected the desiccated remains to suddenly reanimate.
Magenta nodded again. He felt nothing, and he had to believe that her twisted spirit had vanished. He hoped that somewhere, she was finally happy, in whatever afterlife existed for one such as her.
After they had returned and the shock of their mission had finally worn off, it still took him some time, and much cajoling by Ochre, not to mention Flaxen, for Magenta to finally pluck up the courage to try to make amends with Copper.
He punched the access pad to her quarters, heard the chime within and when he heard her lilting voice he answered with his code name. There was a silence which drew out into several minutes.
He sighed, and tried again. “Grainne, please, I know I behaved like a complete creep, but I had my reasons. Will you at least allow me to explain them?”
An agony of waiting later, the door slid open, and she stood there, regarding him coolly. “I suppose I’ll get court-martialled if I refuse to acknowledge a superior officer,” she said crisply. But once they were within her room she rounded on him with a bitter tone in her voice. “So why now? Why the sudden change of heart?”
He took a deep breath and told her everything, leaving nothing out. He felt that she deserved it; he didn’t want any more secrets between them. Oh, he was running a risk, but he wasn’t going to be the coward she thought he was.
Copper listened in silence, as he’d asked, but her face told him of her hurt and astonishment at his tale. When he had finished she sat quietly in another long silence that grated at his nerves.
“Say something, Grainne, anything… tell me to get out, go to hell, whatever…”
“Why on earth couldn’t you have told me? Why didn’t you trust me enough? I’m a Spectrum officer. I don’t deserve to be patronised like that! Maybe I could even have helped!” Her hands flew up in rising agitation.
“I don’t – know. I wasn’t thinking straight, all that time, not when it came to my emotions. I’ve tried to explain, she bewitched me somehow, but it wasn’t any sort of real love or real affection I felt for her, you have to believe me.”
“Do I indeed? And why should I? You’ll be telling me next that I wasn’t just another crutch then, a convenient someone to help you get over her? Tell me, Patrick – tell me truthfully - when you were with me, were you always thinking of her?”
“No! My feelings for you were real, Grainne. It’s why I panicked when I thought I’d nearly lost you – that, God forgive me, I nearly killed you. It’s why I couldn’t take the chance anything would happen again. I don’t know how I can explain any further, but I just don’t want you to hate me…”
“I bloody well should, if I didn’t think you really actually had tried to protect me from that thing’s curse.” She shook her head, and sat down hard on a chair. “This is too much to take in. I need some space and time to think about this.”
“Sure, I understand,” he said, trying to keep the note of disappointment out of his voice. He got up to go and gave her a stiff nod, from one officer to another.
“I should have trusted you, Lieutenant. Perhaps that was my mistake? Maybe someday, when you can get around to forgiving me, you’ll give me another chance –.”
The door slid open as he punched the panel, but just as he was about to leave, he heard her say quietly, “Maybe I will…but you’ll have to promise me something…”
He turned around, not knowing if he had imagined the note of softness that had crept into her voice. When he looked at her face it was impassive, but he swore he saw a hint of forgiveness in her eyes.
“I don’t ever, ever, want you to take me to Venice…”
As always, the characters from the TV series: “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”, are the property of the companies that own the rights to the series, excepting the character of Lieutenant Copper, who is my own creation.
I’d like to thank Marion Woods for allowing me to borrow her delightful character Lieutenant Flaxen, (I do hope I did her justice, Marion…); doing a sterling job as beta-reader and last but not least for her invaluable suggestions and encouragement ( without which I would usually give up about a two-thirds of the way through the story!) All errors and omissions are…as Marion would say…entirely my own.
I think I owe Siobhan Zettler credit for her idea of ‘misusing’ the Room of Sleep which I borrowed. I hope she didn’t mind.
And of course my thanks as always, to Chris Bishop, for without her I’d never have started this writing lark in the first place.