A ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ Story
By Caroline Smith
Colonel White sat behind his white curved control desk, and stared at the screen terminal, trying to decide what he ought to do about the message he had just received. The ‘celebration’ of Halloween was once more imminent, a day, which, for some unfathomable reason, seemed to appeal to the most basic juvenile tendencies in otherwise sane and intelligent individuals. In his opinion, Americans tended to be the worst affected by such high jinks, and one particular brown-haired American came quickly to mind. In the main, like all his senior staff, he was eminently logical, loyal and reliable. The one blot on his otherwise pristine copy-book, was this officer’s annoying and on occasion, troublesome penchant for practical jokes.
But White couldn’t believe even he would dare to play one on his superior officer, despite the tension-filled calm that followed an month’s hiatus in Spectrum’s short war with the Mysterons without the merest hint of a threat.
Thankful though White was for such a blessing, it made everyone jittery, perhaps the niggling idea at the back of everyone’s minds, that the next threat would be the biggest of all. Perhaps the Mysterons had tired of playing their games of cat and mouse, and were now prepared to finally put Earth and the human race out of their misery.
Lieutenant Green glanced across, inquisitive as ever, no doubt instantly registering the expression on his superior’s craggy face, an instinctive knowledge borne from spending more time in his company than most people did with their spouses.
“Sir, is it bad news?”
“I’m not entirely sure, Lieutenant, Relay a message to all senior captains to meet me here in the next five minutes.“
“Yes sir.” Green knew that Captain Ochre was ten minutes into his nap at the Room of Sleep, Captains Scarlet and Blue were slugging it out on the squash court, and Captain Magenta was…It was Lieutenant Green’s turn to frown. Where on earth was Captain Magenta? He had an annoying habit of vanishing off the Cloudbase radar at times.
In scant moments four of the captains entered the Control Room, and took their seats on the stools that rose from the floor around White’s desk. The only one missing was Captain Grey, taking his allotted leave from the airbase to spend time with his sister and twin nephew and niece.
“What is it, sir?” Scarlet demanded crisply, as soon as they were all seated.
“I’d like to ask you all what you make of this.”
White swivelled his monitor screen so each one of them could read a message displayed upon it. Four heads bent forward, and after a few seconds of reading, were raised again. This time their faces showed surprise and perplexity.
“It had occurred to me,” White continued, “That is might be a joke, a prank, given the impending date of the month.”
Three heads automatically swivelled to Ochre, sitting at the end of the semi-circle of stools. His hands climbed, palms out in a ‘why me’ gesture and a look of annoyance painted his face.
“Hey, I had absolutely nothing to do with that, I swear.”
White raised a majestic eyebrow,
“I mean it, sir,” he argued. “You can get Green to check the logs, I’m smart, I know, but even I can’t fool the security systems.”
“He’s right, sir,” Green announced from his chair at the Control Panel. “I’ve just completed a check on the transmission’s origin. It is definitely extra-terrestrial.”
Ochre relaxed for only a fraction of a second. “Wait a minute, so this message is real?”
“It would seem so,” White replied gravely.
They studied it again.
Message relayed Martian time 000456000.
:TO: COLONEL WHITE OF SPECTRUM
:SUBJECT: WAR OF NERVES : TO DISCUSS RESOLUTION OF CONFLICT
:PLACE: THIRD PLANET OF SOL – MARS
“Mars,” Blue said, after drawing a long breath. “We’re being invited back to their home world.”
“It has to be a trap,” Scarlet said, his handsome face was marred by a deep V of a frown. “We’ve been caught out before; when we tried to contact the Mysterons using Dr Kurnitz’s transmitters with the diamond pulsator we retrieved from the Moon.”
“Yeah, which nearly blew Cloudbase into smithereens,” Ochre concluded grimly. “I still get the jitters when I remember how close we were with that one.”
White nodded. “Thanks to your quick thinking that catastrophe was avoided, Captain.”
Ochre’s lips tightened in a faint smile, embarrassed at being singled out for praise, yet pleased at the same time. White doled it out like miser’s gold, so it was something to savour when it was given.
“So, do we take the bait, or are we going to spring a little surprise on them at the same time?” Magenta spoke up.
“Sneaky, huh?” Ochre said, with a raised eyebrow at his field partner.
“My middle name,” Magenta said quietly.
“I fail to see what we could surprise them with,” White said. “They seem to anticipate our every move.”
“Not every move, “Scarlet interrupted.
“Granted, they seem to have made mistakes in the past, but perhaps they were just allowing us to believe that they knew nothing about our efforts to deceive them.”
“Colonel, you aren’t really going to take this request seriously, are you?” Captain Blue interrupted, as his naturally cautious reserve surfaced. It was a bit of a running joke amongst the senior staff that the Bostonian was partnered with the completely impulsive Englishman, although how much of Scarlet’s impulsiveness was intrinsic and how much was now determined by his invulnerability bestowed on him by the Mysterons, was something no one had ever asked.
“I have never forgotten that awful day when Captain Black opened fire on the Mysteron Complex,” White said, almost in monotone. For a moment he fell silent, his face grave, almost as if the long drawn-out months of death and disaster perpetrated by those implacable aliens, had settled as a great weight upon his broad shoulders. His staff mirrored his silence, and there was barely the sound of breathing, before White recovered his composure.
“Too many innocent people have paid the price of Spectrum’s idiocy,” he said at last, “We – that is I – cannot allow this to continue. Even with the possibility of this being a trap, I cannot afford not to grasp any chance, however slim, of ending this War of Nerves. I shall approach this in good faith. No tricks, no surprises.”
“Colonel!” Magenta and Scarlet let their feelings be known by their outraged gasps.
“I just don’t like it,” Blue insisted.
“Neither do I,” Ochre said, arms folded, in unity with the others. After all, he was the one who nearly suffered fatal decompression when he blew a hole in the porthole window to dispose of the pulsator bomb. This time they might not be so lucky.
“That may be as it is,” White continued, “But I am the Commanding Officer, and this is my last word,”
“Sir.” The voices fell into agreement.
“I want to volunteer for this assignment again,” Scarlet said, in the ensuing lull.
White shook his head. “Thank you, Captain, but no. This time I will be going alone.”
Voices raised in protest again, and White signalled for them to all to calm down.
“However much I appreciate your concern, if this message is valid, you see what they ask. That I come alone, with no intermediaries. I have to respect that – “
“Respect?” Magenta almost spat out the word. “They’ve shown none to us for the last two years, why should they behave any differently now?”
“This message contains no threat,” White said.
“Not at the moment,” Blue replied sharply. “But they’ve tricked us in the past, and produced one when the wheels were already set in motion. This is just another threat on your life, Colonel, mark my words.”
“The Mysterons never go for the same target twice, Blue,” Scarlet said.
“Indeed,” White added, “and, as much as I appreciate your concern, Captain Blue, my mind is made up. I will be going to Mars, with or without your agreement or permission.”
They stood up as one, and every face betrayed the frustration and unease they felt. White’s face remained implacable, as they turned to stride out towards the door of the Control room.
“Oh, and Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet turned, as the other three hesitated, involuntarily, in their tracks.
“I remember the events on the USS Panther. Don’t think you can get away with the same ruse this time.”
Scarlet’s lips drew together in a thin line. “No, sir. Of course not, sir.”
“I have your word on it?”
Scarlet glanced around at his fellow officers, who all wore a variety of defeated expressions. Finally his shoulders slumped in a gesture of resignation.
A faint smile hovered around White’s lips. “Thank you, Captain.”
“The old man’s losing it,” Ochre muttered, as they filed into the Officers’ Lounge. “He must know this is a load of bullshit, and yet he’s walking straight into it with his peepers open.”
“Well, you try persuading him otherwise,” Blue retorted, clearly as unhappy about this turn of events as the rest of them.
“I suppose we ought to be vaguely happy that there is a ‘glimmer of hope,” Scarlet mused.
“You don’t really believe there’s a shred of truth in this message, do you?” Magenta said.
Scarlet shrugged. “To be brutally honest, I don’t know what to make if it.”
“Are we really going to allow him to go on his own?” Ochre asked.
“Do we have a choice?” Blue asked.
Scarlet replied. “We always have a choice.”
“Colonel, this is one helluva thing you’re asking me to countersign!”
World President John Roberts was brusque and to the point, as usual. His face was set in stone as he regarded White from the opposite end of the video-transmission.
White remained composed. “Anything and everything to do with Mysterons is, and has always been, laced with risk, Mr President. But I have to grasp at the flimsiest of straws if we ever wish to see an end to this madness. You see, I have always felt responsible for what happened with the MEV, for what happened to Conrad – “
“But what about Captain Scarlet?” Roberts interrupted him, “Surely he’s the natural choice for what could conceivably be a suicide mission?”
“They have specifically asked for me, and if this is a trap, I do not intend to take any of my people with me. I will ask Captain Blue to accompany me in the MEV, but he will stay with the vehicle at a safe distance, and I will go to the Mysteron city with a jet-pack.”
“Captain Scarlet can’t be killed. It makes perfect sense for him to be with you in case this is an ambush.”
“Perhaps that’s exactly what they want,” White said grimly. “Perhaps this is a trap for Scarlet, which is exactly why I’m not letting him come to Mars. After all, he’s been a thorn in their sides from the start, once captured and on their home turf, it’s possible that they might be able to render him harmless. Neuter him, as it were.”
Roberts was silent for a few seconds. “I guess I never thought of that.”
“Mr President, I have no earthly idea why the Mysterons have suddenly decided to sue for peace. It isn’t as if we have been winning this war, quite the contrary in the past six months. The public are tired of it, sir, and between you and me, they are losing faith in Spectrum’s ability to beat this foe. This is my responsibility, it always had been from the start, and I feel I owe it to the world to try to make amends for what Spectrum, in effect, started.”
Roberts’ brows lowered further. “And if it goes wrong?”
“Then, Mr President, we will lose only one man.”
“Yeah, but you’re one helluva man, Colonel,”
“No one is indispensable, sir, except perhaps Captain Scarlet, and in my remaining senior agents, we have men who have the ability to lead this organisation in my stead if I should not return from Mars at the allotted time.”
“I don’t like it.”
White raised an eyebrow and smiled. “I don’t like it either, sir, but it is the only sensible option.”
The SPJ landed safely at Glenn Field Spaceport. From his window, Colonel White could see the long, metallic-blue shape of the Zero-X spaceship waiting at Number One launch pad, facility personnel buzzing around it like so many flies on a racehorse, checking, re-checking for the long flight ahead. At the apex of the giant ship was the blunt-nosed MEV, which would detach from the main body and descend to the surface of Mars, once the Zero-X went into geo-synchronous orbit around the planet.
As he regarded the great space vehicle, a fluttering in his belly led him to realise only now what he was about to undertake. He was a sailor, for God’s sake, not an astronaut! Some of his sudden misgivings must have translated to his face for the beautiful young woman who had piloted him and Captain Blue from Cloudbase finally broke her long, and probably, he surmised, mutinous silence.
“This is just one big trap, you are both risking your lives.” Symphony Angel said with a snap in her tone.
“I have made my decision, Symphony, and I would appreciate you allowing me to get on with it.”
He could see the familiar pout, and his voice softened, knowing full well that it was not him that she was primarily concerned about, but his blond-haired companion. The American Angel had never been very adept at hiding her feelings. Despite the speed at which they would be travelling in the Zero-X it would still be a month round trip to the Red Planet.
“Captain Blue will remain in the MEV with the pilot, Captain Demetrius, and if I do not return from the Martian City, then he has his orders to return to the Zero-X and make it back to Earth within the launch window.” He commenced unbuckling his harness, suddenly eager to be on his way before he changed his mind about the whole venture.
“Captain Blue, are you ready?”
Blue hesitated, sent an almost imperceptible glance at the blonde Angel, and then finally nodded.
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Colonel.”
As the two men stepped off the last rung of the SPJ’s ladder they were met by a stocky man in the uniform of the Space Patrol. Behind him, was a small transporter buggy, used to ferry personnel around the huge base.
The officer shook hands. “Welcome to Glenn Field, Colonel White, Captain Blue. If you’ll come this way, I’ll take you to the departure area so you can prepare for the launch.“
They climbed in the back of the buggy, which sped off towards one of several massive buildings, their white painted sides glaring in the desert sun. The aide took them through several security check points, “We can’t be too careful, as you already know, sir,”
The aide finally deposited them in the departure area, where they were introduced to the Mission Captain, Dan Fielding.
“Let’s hope this Spectrum mission turns out better than the first, eh, Colonel?” No one in the Space Patrol had forgotten the loss of three of their best men at the hands of the Mysterons in 2068.
White nodded grimly. “I shall do everything in my power to assure that it does, Captain.”
White stared out of the window-screens of the MEV as it approached the bloated red disk of Mars. Their two week voyage had finally come to an end, and they were about to enter orbit around the planet. Minutes ticked by endlessly as the planet filled their vision, blotting out the starlight beyond – a gigantic ball of malevolence. White felt a cold knot of fear grow in his belly. Mars, the Bringer of War, that was the name bestowed on it by the Romans in ancient times. Did they have some prescient notion of the dangers lurking there even so long ago? White blinked, and brought his mind away from such fanciful and unhelpful notions, and instead, attempted a rational study of the planet’s features as they approached – the vast canyons and shield volcanoes that pockmarked its surface.
At the helm, Captain Iannis Demetrious began the final checks for disengaging from the main body and conversed with Captain Fielding who remained in the main body section.
“Separation in five – four – three – two –“
There was a slight shuddering as the MEV pulled away from the giant mother-ship and glided noiselessly towards the vast red orb below. Demetrious’s swarthy face betrayed no emotion as he checked and re-checked the instruments, ably abetted by Captain Blue, acting as navigator for the MEV.
“Approaching vector site, Colonel,” Blue intoned, turning briefly for acknowledgment to his superior officer.
“Steady as she goes,” White replied, nervousness making him lapse into naval-speak.
The craft sailed around in a long arc, and looking out of the window, White could see the landing site – and even from this distance, noted the two sets of tracks leading away into the horizon – still there, unchanged in all those months - the fateful path taken by Conrad and his two Zero-X companions. Would this trip fall prey to the same end?
Demetrious landed the MEV with barely a jolt
“Landing successful, all checks complete,” he finally announced, with little preamble. “Engaging tractor controls.”
The MEV began to move smoothly forward on its caterpillar tracks, on an approach to the ridge overlooking the crater. Within that crater was the Mysteron complex. Journey’s end.
White would go into the crater alone, wearing a jet-pack, while Demetrious and Blue would remain to keep watch in the MEV. He could trust Captain Blue to follow orders; thankfully, the man had none of Scarlet’s impulsive willingness to flout the rules. Whatever happened, Blue at least would be safe.
“Be careful out there, sir.” The blond captain said. The concerned expression in his eyes never wavered as he helped White into the harness of the jet-pack.
“Rest assured that will be uppermost in my mind, Captain.”
“All ready for your departure, Colonel,” Demetrious said, “Good luck, and may the saints go with you.”
White’s mouth lifted gently, and he waved a farewell as he moved through the first airlock door at the rear of the module.
Inside the tiny space, his gaze went ceiling-ward at the digital readout.
The outer door opened, and White stepped out into the Martian night.
He zig-zagged down into the crater on the jet-pack, a straight drop was too much, too soon, like jumping over the edge of the Grand Canyon. It also gave him a chance to get used to the transport in almost weightless conditions, for he’d had minimal experience of using them before now,
I’m really pushing the limits of my endurance, he thought. I hope this desire of mine to broker peace doesn’t ruin us all.
Closer – closer to the Martian complex he floated. A bizarre collection of spheres, turrets and connecting tubes, in all manner of shape and size, huddled in the bosom of the crater. Every one of the structures shimmered and pulsated with chromatic light, a spectrum of colours, alive with power, making it seem as if the entire complex itself was sentient.
He smiled grimly at his ironic connotation. Across the spectrum, misunderstanding reigned. Perhaps this time, he could mend the bridges between their species.
Closer still, and the spheres and columns assumed massive proportions, and high above, on a companion ridge the sister of the one the MEV rested upon, stood a silver tower topped with a spherical ball. The structure reminded him of a guard tower in one of Earth’s prisons, and here on this alien world, seemed to take the same stance over the city, like a gigantic silver sentry. The orb reminded him of a great eye, and it seemed to stare balefully down at him in the crater below as he approached, although he knew the notion was nonsensical. .
As he grew nearer, White had no idea where the centre of the complex was, there were hardly any signs saying ‘This Way to the Mysteron Meeting’ and no indication of a welcoming committee.
He turned, slow with the low gravity, just to see if the MEV was still in the same position on the opposite ridge. Yes, there it was, a tiny silver-blue rectangle, punctuating the long line of the rock cliff. Blue was following orders, as he knew he would.
White continued on, trying to decide which of the spheres he should approach, when he saw the wall of one slide open, revealing a dark portal.
Coincidence? White doubted it, he was sure the Zero-X’s approach had been tracked a long time ago. Heart thumping within his suit, he directed the jet-pack towards the opening.
Inside the sphere, there was nothing but arrays of glass panels, strobing with multi-hued light. Whatever their function, he could only guess at it. He glided past them, unable to tell if his passage was being relayed in some mysterious way to the occupants of the sphere.
Glancing behind, he noted with a gut-twisting feeling of helplessness, that the doorway had closed leaving no trace on the smooth walls. Instantly, he tried contacting Blue on the radio, but all he got was a hiss of static. He pursed his lips, trying to get his pulse back under control, and finally gathered his resolve to continue his exploration of the complex.
Now he was in a long corridor, with a dazzling light display, reminiscent of the aurora borealis, arching overhead. At its termination he found himself at a junction, where the corridor split into two long curves, and directly in front of him lay another wall, or room. He was trying to decide which way to go when another door opened in the wall ahead, evidence of a large chamber beyond.
Bracing himself, he stepped in…
This room was different from the ones he had already passed through. Firstly, it was much larger then the others, and was filled, not with simple panes of light, but with a variety of structures – globes, tubes, and wires, everything connected and working in a pulsing unison. White could almost feel the vast power being generated within the chamber, and felt, even through his helmet, his hair stand on end, as if his hands grasped a monstrous van de Graff generator. The walls swirled and pulsated with myriad colour, like a psychedelic dream gone haywire.
If he had been in any doubt that this was the nerve centre of the complex, it was answered when he caught sight of the enormous white structure in the centre of the chamber. A control desk, if he wasn’t mistaken. For a few seconds, he thought he caught a glimpse of movement behind the console.
Yes, there it was…two dark shadows…
His heart thumped wildly in his chest as the shadows resolved.
Captain Blue stared ahead at the bleak arid landscape that filled the rectangular windows of the MEV and chewed his bottom lip with impatience. Twenty minutes had passed since the Colonel had entered the crater for the Martian base, and although his last transmission had been on schedule, he had the jitters. On no account were they to do anything that might be construed as offensive, White had warned them, and so far, at least, nothing within the Complex had shown signs of activating.
But he still couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. He glanced over at Captain Demetrious, who gave an outward impression of total calm, his dark head buried in a data-pad.
The Greek pilot looked up and smiled. “Relax, Captain Blue, have a coffee, read something, your Colonel seems to know what he’s doing.”
Blue returned the smile with a tight-lipped one of his own, a little annoyed that his fretting had been so overt.
“I understand,” Demetrious added. “Sometimes it isn’t easy to wait, when you are used to being in the centre of the action.”
“You said that right, buddy, but waiting’s all we can do.”
“Of course. We have our orders, and Colonel White does not seem like a man to disobey, eh?”
Demetrious nodded. “I’m sure everything will be all right.”
Blue continued to stare out of the window. “I sure hope so.”
There were two of them.
Bipedal, and humanoid, after a fashion, which was a surprise to White, as in his nightmares he had imagined the Mysterons as something amorphous, not requiring substance.
Their skin was iridescent, like butterfly wings caught in sunlight, feathery antennae on their foreheads waved like grass in the breeze, picking up – what? Sounds, smells?
They wore no clothing that White could make out, other than a shimmering belt that travelled across one shoulder and around their waists, but the most intriguing thing about them, was their multi-faceted green eyes.
They regarded him solemnly, as he floated towards them, and despite the air-conditioning of his spacesuit, a small trickle of sweat make its way down between his shoulder blades.
“Welcome, Colonel White,” the taller of the two spoke first. “We have rendered the atmosphere around you breathable for your kind, you may remove your helmet and your means of mobility, if you so wish, so that you may be more comfortable.”
To his eternal surprise, the voice that issued from the blue mouth had none of the booming intonation that sent that subliminal fear into his bones and those of every human on Earth. He had expected an ultimatum perhaps, a demand for surrender from Earth, not this polite offer, delivered in what was a good approximation of a perfectly respectable male English accent.
However, he hesitated at their invitation. Was this yet another of their tricks? If he was to comply with their request, would it hasten his last moments of in this existence?
The Mysterons waited, almost polite in their manner, and White swallowed, knowing that to refuse may signal a breach of alien protocol. With hands that shook just slightly, he took a last, deep breath of his space-suit’s air, unclasped the lock to his helmet, and pulled it off. With a heartfelt relief, he found he was able to breathe normally.
He then removed the jet-pack, laying it to rest at the side of one wall, then finally his gloves.
The taller of the Mysterons spoke again.
“We are pleased that you answered our summons, and that you came alone, as we requested. The situation we are about to discuss is – rather – delicate.”
I’ll say. White thought acerbically, but instead, gave his prepared little speech, that he’d gone over time and time again during the long journey to Mars in the Zero-X. Whatever his own personal feelings on this whole debacle, they had no place right now. He was Earth’s ambassador, and he must absolutely, categorically, not make the same mistake that Conrad had.
“On behalf of the peoples of Earth I offer greetings. I am gratified that you have finally acceded to our wish for peace between our two races.”
“I agree,” the same Mysteron spoke again. “And it our sincere wish that we can resolve this whole mess so we can all get back to normal.”
White blinked, and he wondered if his ears were deceiving him. “You’re calling this War of Nerves – a mess?”
“We can use another word if you like. There are so many words in your English language, perhaps you can choose one that is more suitable?”
“No,” he replied quickly, “Mess, is fine. Please go on.”
“Certainly, although this particular mess is really very – ah, what is your Earth term…”
White was about to offer a suitable choice of word, however, the second, shorter alien beat him to it.
“Embarrassing, I think, is the word you are looking for,” it said.
White thought, with a small start of surprise, that the alien sounded feminine. In all his wildest imaginings he had never ascribed a notion of gender to the Mysterons. And yet, as he regarded them with closer scrutiny, he could not help being convinced that a male and female stood before him.
“You must excuse our manners, Colonel,” the ‘female’ continued, “We are poor hosts. Let us introduce ourselves. I am Selvera, and this,” she indicated the taller Mysteron, “is Mrov.”
White inclined his head in a gesture of acknowledgment.
“Please, sit and be comfortable.”
Selvera crossed to one of the consoles and nimble fingers flicked across the panels of light. A few seconds later, to White’s astonishment, a curved seat grew, seemingly from nowhere, right behind him. Another flutter of long, thin fingers and a silver cup of something hot and steaming appeared on the top of the console. She picked it up and with a few lithe movements across the floor, handed it to him as he slowly lowered himself onto the ‘chair’.
“It is your drink called ‘tea’,” she explained, as he peered suspiciously at the tan-coloured liquid in the cup. “I hope it tastes adequate. It is a very difficult beverage to approximate.”
White sipped, as the two aliens stared at him with their unreadable eyes. It was quite simply, foul.
“Thank you,” was all that he could think of saying. “And now, perhaps, you might continue with your explanation?”
“Of course,” Mrov replied. “I will start at the beginning. We have studied Earth from this planet for many of your years, monitoring your communications, your radio, television, and satellite.”
“We, as in, the two of you? Are there not more of you here on Mars?”
“We were only two, when we arrived.”
Arrived? Then they’re not native to Mars!
“If I may ask, who was it that sent you here?” White asked in a very polite voice.
“Those we serve, the Communion.”
“And they are, who, exactly?”
Mrov and Selvera looked at one another, and seemed to be exchanging information Telepathy? It would make sense given what they knew of the Mysterons. White briefly glanced at the disgusting brown liquid sloshing in his cup and hoped that their powers didn’t extend to reading human minds.
“The Communion will allow us to give you only that information which is directly applicable to this situation.” Mrov said.
“Can I ask why you were monitoring Earth?”
“To determine your species’ suitability for inclusion into the Communion. We had seen indications of technological promise in the short time that you humans have colonized your planet.”
“Unfortunately, your social intelligence has not kept pace with your scientific progress,” Selvera added. “Humans are essentially tribal, it is very difficult for you to rise above your xenophobic natures –“
“Always warring with one another,”
“Greed, corruption, revenge, extortion, the lists are endless.”
“We have studied your history, and it always seems that violence is your reason for being, from the moment you evolved from your primordial swamp.”
White found that he could no longer remain silent. “I must protest, on behalf of the human race. Granted, our history reflects poorly upon us as a species down the centuries, but we now have a World Government, almost two-thirds of our world is at peace!”
“Yes, a noble institution, certainly,” Mrov conceded. “Although it was born from the ashes of atomic catastrophe. Such stupidity is a mark of an inferior species.”
“But we do agree that your Nikita Brandranaik was a singularly perceptive human, of great intelligence,” Selvera added.
“We have watched the attempts of many such individuals, and institutions down your history with hope.”
“Ghandi, Gorbachev, , Einstein, Clarke, Sagan, Tupelov, Nakamura– “
“Don’t forget Rodenberry, or Von Daniken,” Mrov added.
“Of course, they were so close to the truth.”
“To our guiding principle of non-interference in primitive worlds.”
White’s jaw tightened at the words, so casually spoken. Non-interference? After everything they had done to Earth and the human race? He found the fingers of his free hand clenching and he fought to control the hard ball of anger that swelled in his chest, constricting his breathing. He took a convulsive swallow of the ‘tea’ in order to calm himself.
“I would just like to understand this more clearly,” he said in an even voice. “You sent signals from Mars to welcome us, and when we made a simple mistake, stupid though it undoubtedly was, you have punished our entire planet for the actions of one man. You have rejected numerous attempts for us to make peace, and instead have continued to terrorize our planet. You talk about the human race being vengeful and sadistic, but the things you have done in the name of your revenge express exactly the worst traits of our kind. This is what you call non-interference?”
A shattered silence fell after White’s outburst, and he immediately regretted his impulsiveness, worthy of Captain Black and Captain Scarlet combined. For all their apparent veneer of politeness in this meeting, he was only too well aware of the Mysterons’ omnipotent powers. They could strike him down now and everything would be lost.
Does a mortal rail at gods?
What an unmitigated fool I am.
He let out a long, slow breath, waited while both Mysterons both regarded one another solemnly, as strange pulses of light flickered beneath the iridescent skin, and their antennae waved and bobbed.
Finally, they turned again to face him.
Now I’ll pay for my stupidity, he thought. And the Earth too.
“You are of course, quite correct, Colonel White,” Mrov said at last.
“Yes, non-interference is our primary code, but we are – embarrassed to say that it has been broken.”
“How, in what way? I simply don’t understand.”
“We shall have to begin – at the beginning,”
“Yes,“ Selvera added. “That is probably the best way,”
White nodded dumbly. They had already started at the beginning, and he was no closer to making any sense of this encounter.
“When we were assigned to this planet,” Mrov continued, “We were – colleagues.”
“It was unthinkable that something such as this should ever happen.”
“Indeed, we are conditioned to ignore such intercourse until sanctioned at the proper time, it should not have happened.”
White continued to wonder what in Jupiter’s name they were talking about. He decided, on reflection, that he would refrain from interrupting and just allow them to get on with it. Perhaps somewhere along the line, in perhaps, maybe a week, this conversation would start to make sense. He gave a sage nod of his head, hoping this would invite further explanation from the Mysterons.
Mrov spoke again. “Selvera and I were to collate information on your technological advancement; however, we began to take an interest in your Earth poetry, literature and music. From the beginning of your history your culture has expressed these strange outpourings of – I think you call it – emotion. Emotion is – a condition that is – alien to us, and yet, it seems that it powers and underlies everything you do.”
Selvera took up the conversation. “We digested the great works of literature from the dawn of your times: Homer, Sappho, Mallory, Shakespeare, Shelley, Dumas, Tolstoy, Pasternak. Furthermore, we assimilated the output of your radio, television and satellite. This we did, in the hope of understanding what drives the human condition.”
“The British Coronations, the Royal Weddings, the Presidential elections, the Olympic Games, Last Night at the Proms, the World Cup, Wimbledon, Life on Earth…”
“We devoured, more and more, and as your species moved into cyberspace, there was an explosion of new things to pique our interest. Most of your species early cultural offerings exhibited the noble tenets of morality, inspiration, education, but always, this literature was interwoven, like the currents within your great oceans, with your primitive passions: greed, lust, desire, sloth, jealousy, ambition… your irrational need to be loved, to procreate, to elevate oneself before all others, to possess that which other humans have and they do not.”
Mrov took up the conversation again. “Early in your 21st Century, the lofty aims of mass communication disintegrated into a slow spiral of degeneracy. Now there were daytime soaps, endless reality shows, twenty-four hour pornography, on-line shopping malls, on-line gambling, psychic readings, chat rooms, chat shows, religious ravings, ever increasing violence portrayed on your news and in film. The contents of five thousand channels that we could absorb as this world turned endlessly around your star.”
Selvera gave what White could only approximate as a Mysteron grimace.
“We found ourselves caught up in this maelstrom of – emotion,” she said. “It – contaminated us.”
At this juncture, Colonel White was feeling light-headed and was very glad of the chair that his padded bottom was resting upon as he listened to the Mysterons. Perhaps the journey had taken more out of him than he’d thought and he was suffering some form of space-sickness. Perhaps, he was actually dreaming. Yes, that was it. He hadn’t actually left Cloudbase yet, all of this was some, mad, insane-wish-for-closure of a nightmare, and if he pinched himself, he would wake up in his warm, firm bed in his quarters, ready for another grinding day at the control-face. He surreptitiously moved the fingers of the hand not holding the cup to the back of his neck, grabbed an index finger and thumb-full of skin, at the same time, closing his eyelids, and pinched. Very hard.
He opened his eyes.
Nothing had changed. Mrov and Selvera still regarded him with their multi-faceted gazes, and it seemed almost certain that they now waited for him to take his turn in the conversation regarding the reasons for the War of Nerves. He sighed deeply, and fervently wished, against all his natural instincts, that the brown liquid in the silver cup was a rather large Scotch. For more agonizing, drawn out Martian minutes, White contemplated the swirls of prismatic light reflecting off the walls into the liquid,
“Contaminated,” he said. “Perhaps you can be more specific?”
Mrov cleared his throat, in an altogether too disturbingly a human fashion, and an expression that hinted at embarrassment, if White’s slow comprehension of the meaning of their facial gestures was on track, resolved on both of the Mysterons’ faces.
“Melos,” Mrov said in a clear ringing voice, “You may now join us.”
A doorway in the wall behind the two Mysterons mysteriously appeared, and through it, came a third alien. Smaller, slighter, almost like a –
Colonel White’s breath caught in his throat, all manner of absurd thoughts running around his head that he dared not voice.
Mrove nodded. “This is Melos – our offspring.”
White felt his jaw sag. Never in his born days…
“Your - child?” he finally managed to say.
“Sexual relations are forbidden to interplanetary emissaries of the Communion,” Mrov explained. “But we could not – help ourselves, after so many years of studying, living within your irrational, emotional culture, we were seduced by the very passions that we sought to understand. Melos was the fruit of our forbidden liaison.”
White practically felt himself blushing; he certainly did not want to think about the unsettling idea of the Mysterons engaging in sex.
“We attempted to hide this violation of the regulations from the Communion,” Mrov continued, “Even as we knew such behaviour was totally irrational, but it seemed that our seduction by the human race had gone far deeper than either of us ever realised.”
“What was worse,” Selvera interrupted, “We soon began to realise that our proximity to the human culture was also contaminating Melos….”
“And that was – as you humans say – the last straw. We contacted the Communion and requested a transfer back to a more ‘rational’ posting.”
Colonel White’s ire was rising by this point. Now that it seemed the Mysterons were not going to turn him into space-dust, or issue yet another one of their threats, he felt that he was simply getting nowhere by letting them take charge of the discussion. It was time for some real answers to this Martian mystery. He took a very long, deep breath and launched into his counter-attack.
“Much as I appreciate what you have told me, I am still no further forward in seeing how it has any bearing on what we are here to discuss, namely the War of Nerves that you instigated with Earth. I once again apologise on behalf of Spectrum for our mistaken judgment in firing on your city, and hope that our species can call a truce and continue in harmony from this point onwards.”
“But, Colonel White, we have not brought you here so that you may apologise to us, but for us to apologise to you, and through you as intermediary, to your planet.”
“When we broke the rules of fraternisation we were stripped of our ranks and privileges,” Mrov said. “Our status revoked for inter-dimensional travel, except this once, for this meeting, Colonel White.”
Selvera stroked the child’s head and her lips formed into what looked peculiarly like an indulgent smile. “I suppose we should be annoyed at him, but he’s such a clever grokweh.”
Mrov gave a very human-like grunt.
“Well, he is. His intelligence scores are ten levels above the norm.”
“That isn’t the point. He is guilty of reprogramming a matter-transfer gate and disallowing everyone access, and nearly causing an interstellar incident!”
“And no one’s managed to do that – ever!” Melos, the Mysteron child finally spoke up, in a whining twang that reminded White of a recalcitrant American adolescent. It contrasted bizarrely with the King’s English pronunciation favoured by its parents.
“Be silent, Melos,” Morv said sternly, “We have not yet asked you to speak. It is surely enough that you initiated this whole subterfuge and caused distress to the human population…”
“Excuse me,” White interrupted, hardly believing what his ears had relayed to his brain, “You are saying that your child is…”
Melos folded its ‘arms’, and with a disdainful look on its soft, barely formed features, announced loudly: “I am the voice of the Mysterons!”
Blue tried White’s radio channel for the twentieth time in so many minutes, but there was still no answer. It was as if he’d been cut off completely.
“Perhaps there’s some sort of radio blackout zone within the complex,” Demetrious offered helpfully.
Blue’s lips thinned. “Maybe, or just maybe things have gone wrong over there, like we predicted it would back on Cloudbase when this crazy mission was first discussed.”
“You know what your Colonel said, that we were to wait here in the MEV, no matter what happened. We still have six hours before our scheduled departure.”
“I know what he said, and I’m thinking it through.”
“You always did think too much, Blue.”
Blue whirled at the sound of the third voice, an all too-familiar voice. With dry mouth, his eyes fell towards the pistol in the intruder’s hand, aimed to fire.
He raised a hand, a pleading gesture, and tried to speak, but the weapon spat, twice, in rapid succession…
“Damn you,” the American whispered, before his brain was enveloped in soft darkness…
Colonel White’s jaw sagged. He’d heard the words, but his brain was having trouble translating. He stared at the short alien, unable to equate him with the sepulchre tones that struck cold fear into the hearts of all that heard them.
“I’m sorry, but you couldn’t possibly…”
“Oh, but I could, and I did, and I still would if they hadn’t brought me back to my own planet. It’s boring back there, I wish you hadn’t found me! I was much happier here, where I could play with my toys….”
“Melos…” Mrov’s voice sent a warning.
“Silly humans, they have no idea how to deal with matter and energy transfer and replicate-technology, but they are fun! I’d really like to stay and play with them some more… I haven’t even begun to…”
Mrov’s thundering tone made Melos quieten at last, but the expression on its face remained as sullen as any human-child’s. White’s thoughts scrabbled around like a spider wearing boots on an ice-rink.
“At first we were gratified.” Mrov continued in a calmer tone. “Melos seemed to display an insatiable curiosity about Earth customs, indicating that he might become a researcher like ourselves. His studies seemed innocuous at first, but it became clear after some time, that his exposure to all of these outpourings of emotionally laden data was having an invidious effect on him.”
“He became insubordinate, argumentative, prone to fits of temper and hysteria.” Selvera added.
“Why on earth did you let him watch our television and satellite transmissions?” White said with an acerbic tone, “After all, you knew the effects our ‘culture’ had on you.”
Mrov gave an excellent approximation of a human sigh. “Ah, quite, Colonel White, that was our second infraction, since our intercourse was totally unplanned we had none of the mandatory training that is required before embarking on the process of rearing offspring. Before long, we decided that we must inform the Communion, and submit to whatever punitive measures they must take for our transgressions.”
“Unfortunately,” Selvera gave another distasteful look. “Melos’s contamination had been too early, too ingrained. He deceived us.”
“Yes, that was a brilliant trick!” Melos cried out, and followed it with a sound that White could only approximate as a ‘whoop of joy’.
“A trick, yes,” Mrov said, and there was real annoyance on his face when he regarded his offspring. ”Melos was very fond of, what do you humans call them – practical jokes?”
“I had it planned for ages, it was awesome!” Melos’s blue lips formed a wide grin.
White’s head spun. It was as if he hung suspended at the edge of a black hole. If he moved a muscle, its rather large maw would swallow him up whole.
“I don’t understand…” he said weakly.
“We knew nothing of his intent, I assure you, Colonel,” Mrov said in earnest. “The technology that you see around you is the product of a very ancient race of beings who vanished from this Solar System long before the dinosaurs appeared on your Earth. It is because of this complex that the Communion sent us to this planet to study you, since we would not have to construct a new facility.”
“We allowed Melos to utilise all of the technology you see around you in this complex, but we had not foreseen he would use it for such undesirable ends. He created a clone of himself and circumvented the usual protocols with creating such individuals so that we did not realise the subterfuge. The clone accompanied us to the Communion Worlds, Melos stayed behind here on the third planet of Sol.”
“I stayed behind to play the biggest prank on the human race, ever!”
“After re-programming a Communion matter-energy-transfer gate, effectively locking us out,” Selvera added, “It took some time to analyse the codes and return here to and to discover what had taken place.”
“But we have been fighting the Mysterons for a year!”
“Time-dilation effects Colonel, what seemed years in this system were hours back on the Communion world.”
“And you spoiled all my fun,” Melos said with a snort. He made a sudden dash for the console and waved his hand over a coloured panel, and this time, the gravelly voice boomed out into the chamber, and White’s hair stood on end, and he fought to control the involuntary shiver of fear that skittered down his spine.
“THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERIONS – WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US EARTHMEN.”
Mrov waved his own long digits over the panel, and the echoing voice vanished.
“Be silent, Melos. Do you not think you have done quite enough? We have invited Colonel White here to Mars to apologise to the people of Earth, not to antagonise them further.”
White’s initial shock at hearing that hideous voice was now slowly turning into ice-cold anger. “Why, how, could you do such a thing?” he demanded.
Melos gave a very human-like shrug. “Why not? Earthmen have been playing games with one each other since you crawled out of your caves. You love blood and excitement – it’s your basic nature, as my father said. You can’t help it, even when your world is mostly at peace, you still crave this conflict, Why else is your world populated by the ghoulish, the scary, the unknown, the conspiracy theory? Why do you need vampires and ghosts and zombies and aliens who come to your planet and steal your body parts? Why do you make such a big deal out of Halloween?””
“Well, I don’t – this doesn’t – “White spluttered.
“All I’ve done is give your race what they want – on a bigger scale than any pathetic Earthman could devise. This practical joke of mine is the best in your entire history – what I’ve done – “
“What you’ve done,” White’s fists clenched, and his whole body trembled as he fought his rage, “Is kill and main thousands of innocent people with this so-called prank of yours. Murdered them, do you hear?” He tore his blazing gaze from Melos and fixed it on Mrov and Selvera, at the same time moving towards them. “Your son has killed men and women in my organisation that were dear to me, he has blighted the human race with this poisonous joke – and you think an apology will put it right?”
Mrov looked shocked, and took a step backwards in the face of White’s wrath.
“Calm yourself, Colonel White – your people haven’t died.”
White could hardly believe what he’d just heard. “What – what did you say?”
“I speak the truth.”
“I don’t understand. You always said that first, you had to destroy.”
“Yes! That was my little bit of fun!” Melos interrupted with a smirk. He was bobbing up and down on his long thin toes. “Oh, let me tell the story!”
“Another word and I shall personally gag you!” Mrov’s voice was reaching breaking point. There followed another short burst of silent communication with Selvera, with much waving of antennae between the two aliens.
“Colonel, we are not Mysterons,” Selvera said, “That is a name Melos made up for his ‘game’.”
“I liked it, had a ring to it. Two rings in fact…mysterious and ominous, although those were just the energy signature of the matter-transfer gate…” Melos ignored his father’s warning and interrupted again, his voice bright with mischief. “And that scary voice I used when I contacted you on Earth: This is the voice of the Mysterons!” He chortled with laughter at his own cleverness.
“I got the idea from one of your old Earth movies. You know, the one called ‘The Wizard of Oz’? That feeble old man, hiding behind that terrifying green goblin mask, and making everyone do his bidding. No one would have been scared of me, or my voice – would they now? We couldn’t have Trick or Treat without being scared to death, after all.”
“I think your son is quite mad.” White said.
“You may be right, Colonel,” Mrov replied. “It will take an enormous amount of conditioning to decontaminate him, if that is indeed possible. For our part, we are again truly sorry for everything that has happened. Melos sent the signals from this complex so that you would come to investigate. His main aim was to obtain a human specimen to determine the structure for the cloning process.”
White’s voice remained even. “Captain Black…”
“My main man,” Melos interjected again. “I thought I’d make his clone look a bit like a ghoul, those zombies you’re all so fond of – nice touch eh, only making him different screwed up the process, and it turned out replicate Captain Black didn’t always follow my orders, he liked to think he had a mind of his own. Still, I was real fond of him, being my first creation and all, so I let the process run without intervention. He made things – interesting.”
“What about the rest of the crew on the MEV?” White demanded.
“They are still here, on Mars,” Mrov answered. “Melos did not consider them once he had decoded the structure. In other chambers, below the planet’s surface, there is a vast array of cryo-chambers. Melos was very interested in their operation, although if we had known for what reason…”
“It’s where I stored all the Earth-people after I transferred them through the matter-transfer gate here on Mars,” Melos replied. “They’re completely fine, just having a little sleep.”
White chewed on these hopeful words for a few seconds. “Captain Scarlet, what about him?”
“Rules of your games, Colonel White,” Melos answered. “You always need two protagonists in a conflict, the hero and the villain. I already had my baddie in Captain Black, and for my champion I chose your top agent, Captain Scarlet, tall, dark and handsome, like the prince of your fairy-tales, with some smart-ass moves and arrogance to go with it. He never let me down.”
White ignored the supercilious tone of the young alien, it was now more important to discover everything about this monstrous façade.
“So you are saying that the Captain Scarlet I left behind on Earth is not the real one?”
Mrov nodded. “The original Paul Metcalfe is here, with all the others who were replicated.”
A mixture of relief and joy flooded through White’s veins at this admission. It started a trembling in his limbs within the confines of his space-suit, and he gripped the edges of the chair, unwilling to show his weakness in front of these aliens.
Scarlet was not a Mysteron!
He felt a rush of happiness for the man whom he had believed had given his life so many times for Earth’s sake. Now this sham was over, and the real Captain Scarlet, fully and totally human, could be returned to life, no longer fearing the disdain and uncertainty of his fellows by being considered different, no longer would he need to deny his feelings for the woman he loved, afraid that such feelings would endanger them both and any child they might hope to have….
White stopped, realising he hadn’t fully taken import of the alien’s last words.
“How many others are we talking about?” he demanded.
“Oh, just a few hundred, you know I didn’t actually ‘kill’ all that many, Colonel, I much preferred big explosions, blowing up bridges or roads, and unmanned objects, like aircraft and vehicles. Anyway, you and your Spectrum agents did more damage than I did half the time.”
White made a face. He did not need reminded of their perceived failures by this chit of an alien.
“Anyway, inanimate matter is a breeze to re-construct. All the patterns are stored in this complex’s data-banks, it’ll be no problem to get it all back in one piece, the bits you didn’t re-build already. I was going to put it all back eventually…”
White doubted this for an instant, but refrained from stating his thought out loud. His mind whirled. It was simply unthinkable that a child – even an alien one – could fashion and play with such powerful technology for a mere whim. He admitted that there were still things here that he failed to understand. Despite their limitations these aliens – this Communion – were still as far ahead technologically ahead of Earth as the human race was from the amoeba.
“Melos, in his ‘way’,” Mrov said, breaking into his reverie, “speaks the truth. Everything can be restored to your planet as it was since he first commenced this – unfortunate – experiment.”
Selvera touched her husband’s arm, and there was something in her manner that sent a warning tingle up White’s spine.
“Not quite everything…” her voice whisper-quiet.
“No, indeed, you are correct,” Mrov replied.
“What is it?” White said, his heart missing a beat.
Before either alien could answer – a chiming sound echoed out, bouncing off the walls of the chamber.
Mrov glanced briefly at the main console, White, from this distance, could not see what he looked at. “We have another visitor. He has entered the complex. You agreed to come alone, Colonel White.”
White’s brow furrowed at that unpalatable news – and immediately tried to reassure the Communion aliens lest they retaliate. “It wasn’t possible to come to Mars alone, I needed personnel to fly the space-ship. I gave them strict orders to remain in the Exploration Vehicle on top of the ridge, so they know nothing of our meeting.”
“That is a truth, of sorts, Colonel,” Mrov nodded, “We will accept your reasoning. But it seems your personnel do not listen any more to you than Melos does to us.”
White said between gritted teeth. “I told Captain Blue to remain in the MEV, I will have him run up the mast for this insubordination, I promise you…”
Mrov waved a hand. “It is of no consequence, he cannot enter this chamber, unless we let him.”
White swallowed, and in the confusion following this unexpected turn of events, realised that the aliens had been about to tell him something important. He forgot his insubordinate officer to get back to the question.
“Before we were interrupted, you were saying that not quite everything could be returned as before. What did you mean by that?”
A few long agonizing seconds passed, and a cold knot began to settle in White’s stomach. Selvera hesitated, then moved forward, reaching out with one thin iridescent arm to touch White’s suit with her spindly fingers.
“It is about Captain Black….”
“You said no one had died.”
“Captain Black was the only Earthman not kept in cryo-stasis. Melos decided to keep him conscious and alive – he said he needed – someone to talk to…”
“Well, what do you expect?” the alien child piped up. “I didn’t want to be all alone up here but I couldn’t have the place overrun with humans. But I liked Captain Black, I think we became friends.”
“Melos is deluded, I am afraid, Colonel,” Mrov replied. “The first process that he devised to create replicates of your species was initially flawed. The original host – Captain Black – there was brain damage…”
“Brain damage…” White echoed.
“If he had been immediately put in stasis afterwards, perhaps…but from what we understand from Melos, by allowing the host body to remain awake, a mental connection was made between the two Captain Blacks, the clone and original.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Nor, in truth, Colonel, do we, completely. But interpreting Melos’s ramblings, it seems that the original Captain Black was forever trying to communicate with his replicate…”
“He tried to stop his clone from carrying out my orders,” Melos said sullenly, “I tried to stop him, but he kept on doing it, so I had to sedate him in the end.”
“Our drugs did not agree with his systems. By the time we arrived and assessed the situation – it was evident that the deterioration of the neural pathways was such that it was beyond our capabilities to repair them.”
“But you can create exact likenesses of humans!”
“That is true, but we do not understand your physiognomy well enough to reconstruct an existing human brain that has been damaged to such an extent. It is altogether a different process, and one we are only beginning to understand. We doubt however that we will be allowed to continue with any research in the light of this mess. We are sorry.”
“So you keep saying.” White sagged, his emotions had run the marathon of anger, hope and now, quiet despair, and he was utterly drained. “Please, I want to see him…”
Mrov waved a hand and a door slid open in one of the psychedelic walls.
White let out a long agonized breath as a type of suspensor chair glided silently into the chamber. Its occupant was a man he had believed lost forever - a man who had been a trusted colleague, confidante, friend.
As he regarded Conrad Turner he felt his irises turn unexpectedly, annoyingly, moist. He was struck by the pale, haggard unshaven face, free of the pallor of his zombie clone. It was a face he recognised, the strong, stubborn jaw, the straight smooth brow, everything almost as it was.
Except for his eyes.
Conrad’s hawk-piercing stare had always been a reflection of the man inside: intelligent, witty, and possessing a supreme drive and ambition. The shallow, unfocused stare from the man who slouched in the gliding chair manifested little hope that those attributes still existed within the shell of the human being before him.
But he tried anyway,
“Captain Black, Conrad, it’s me – Charles. Can you hear what I’m saying?”
The head rose in the direction of White’s voice, and for a brief second, hope flared in his heart as the spark of recognition he sought seemed to ignite within Black’s dull gaze. But it was a forlorn hope. The face stared back, vacant, oblivious to the world.
White looked up towards the trio of aliens. “I don’t understand, all these powers you possess, this fantastic technology? You can create this chair with a wave of your hand, fluids appear in a cup before my eyes, surely a simple brain operation isn’t beyond what you are capable of? You must do something to help him. I will not leave until you do.”
“Then, Colonel White, you will remain for millennia,” Selvera said, “For we cannot help him, we are truly sorry.”
His shoulders slumped within the suit, reading the expressions in those alien faces, no amount of raging against the dying of the light would change matters.
“So, what happens now?”
“We must return everything as close as possible before Melos conducted his experiments. You may take Captain Black to your shuttle waiting on the ridge above the city. Once that is done, we will begin the process of removing all traces of our presence in this Solar System, including the shut-down of this facility. Humanity is still too raw and emotional for inclusion into our species. The Communion will watch and wait – from afar.”
“And it’s as easy as that?”
“It will take a little of your time, but yes, it will be done – as easy as that.”
The chime sounded again, and Mrov glanced once again at the panel, saw the figure advancing along the corridor to the hidden door of the chamber, and then, peering curiously at the wall before him, as if certain that something lay behind it, but unsure how to proceed. .
Melos too, peered over his father’s arm, seeing the figure, and chuckled. White shivered. It was the laugh of a madman.
“It’s him,” the child announced, “Let’s see what he’s got to say for himself…”
“No! Melos, do not touch –“
White braced himself as the wall of the chamber opened to admit the intruder, ready to give Captain Blue the tongue-lashing of his life. He was thunderstruck when an all-too familiar figure strode through the door, pistol in hand.
His number-one agent, strike that – the replicate, White realised with regret –stared at the scene before him, stopping in his tracks, his blue-eyed gaze scanning the room, its occupants. Whatever he thought he’d find here, the presence of Mrov, Selvera and Melos obviously wasn’t it.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he started, a note of fluster lacing his voice, “I just couldn’t allow you to come here alone – the danger you might have been in –“
“I’m not in danger, you fool! But you – you’ve probably just jeopardised this whole mission by your usual rash behaviour! By God, if we get back alive I’ll have you court-martialled for this! No, on second thoughts, I’ll have you shot, hanged, drawn, quartered, beheaded, burnt at the stake…”
White paused, almost incoherent with red-faced anger, and realising that he wouldn’t be doing any of these things. This clone would be returned to – well, he simply didn’t know what would happen to the clones, it hadn’t really occurred to him until this point in time.
“My God, Conrad…” the Scarlet replicate seemed to have forgotten White’s wrath and walked slowly over to where the real Captain Black sat in the suspensor chair. He peered down and waved a hand over the impassive face, with no response.
“Welcome, Captain Scarlet, my brave hero,” Melos piped up, and he too sidled up to the chair.
“Who the hell are you?” Scarlet asked with typical bluntness.
“I’m your creator, and I expect a little more respect.”
Scarlet’s jaw fell slack and his dark brows lowered in a deep V. He shot a glance to Colonel White for explanation.
White, however, had a question for Scarlet right now. “What have you done with Captains Blue and Demetrious?”
The clone looked sheepish. “They’re just sleeping in the MEV Colonel, I used stun only.”
White shook his head. “Never in my born days…I thought you gave me your word at Cloudbase.”
“Ah, well, I didn’t exactly say anything, Colonel.”
White recalled the meeting and conceded that Scarlet was correct, and once again, he had made a foolish assumption that his impulsive officer would take any notice of his wishes.
“And how did you stow away, exactly?”
“It wasn’t difficult, Colonel. Just before the SPJ took off I crept aboard and hid in a storage compartment. It was a little trickier stowing away on the MEV, but I managed it.”
“That journey took two weeks, man – how did you…”
“I took the precaution of bringing enough food tablets and water with me to last the journey. I stayed well out of sight of the crew. They had no idea I was on board. I stowed in a compartment within the MEV just before separation to the Martian surface, then waited until you were clear into the canyon. And here I am, sir.”
“Indeed, here you are. And how in blazes did I not receive a transmission from Cloudbase telling us you had disappeared off the radar – oh, let me guess, you managed to persuade my second-in-command – again.”
Scarlet looked even more contrite. “He wanted to help me, sir, he was concerned for you. It was just between the two of us, we concocted a story for the others…to explain my absence”
White’s mouth was a thin line. “Mutiny, in my own backyard …”
“Sir, the circumstances were exceptional, you must understand…” but his voice was less certain now that it was evident White had not been harmed in any way. Mrov and Selvera, up to now, had remained silent, and in the wake of White’s tirade, it seemed Scarlet had almost forgotten the three aliens. Now in the silence that followed he regarded them with narrowed eyes.
“Are you – the Mysterons?”
“Yes,” White answered curtly, still furious with Scarlet, and with no desire to recount the entire saga again for his benefit. He wasn’t even sure that Mrov and Selvera would allow him to after their evident wish for secrecy.
Scarlet indicated the suspensor chair. “Is that the real Conrad?”
Scarlet looked troubled. “So, he was alive, after all this time, did he know what was going on – how his doppelganger killed and maimed in his name?”
“No one’s been killed, Scarlet, not even you,” White said quietly.
“I’m not sure I follow you, Colonel.”
“Your original self – he still alive, here on Mars.”
Shock flew over the Scarlet clone’s face. “No, it can’t be, I’m not – “
“Your commander speaks the truth,” Mrov said, “and you would have known nothing of this, if you had not interfered, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet’s head flicked from Mrov to White. “Colonel, I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here, please tell me what’s happening…”
White sighed, and glanced at Mrov, who nodded slowly. “It is unfortunate, but inevitable, you may tell him.”
Scarlet listened with silent horror as White swiftly informed his officer of the alien prank in as sparse terms as possible, and with none of the delay he had been subjected to during the first telling. Scarlet was fixated on Melos, evidently unable to comprehend what he was hearing.
“The replicates,” Colonel White asked. The question had niggled at him ever since Scarlet had barged through the door. “What will happen to them?”
“At the moment the original humans are returned to Earth by the matter-transfer gate they will be deactivated.” Mrov answered.
“By that, you mean…”
“They will cease to exist.”
Realisation was dawning on Scarlet’s face. “You mean that I’ll cease to exist too.”
Selvera nodded. “You will be a casualty of our failure to deal with human emotions, we are sorry.”
“But I can’t die, I’m indestructible, you made me that way.”
“I made you that, way, Captain Scarlet,” Melos jabbered and broke away from his parents to stand in front of Scarlet, his antennae waving right up against his face. “But they’re going to stop all of our fun; they can’t see what I’ve achieved, what we’ve done! And now they’re going to destroy you – maybe you shouldn’t stand for that, maybe you should fight for your right to exist!”
Scarlet stepped back a pace, uncertainty flooding through him. In the same instant, Mrov hauled his son away, alarm and fury written all over his face. He handed him to Selvera, strode to the console, and waved long fingers over a panel. A hidden door opened silently on one of the walls of the chamber.
“It is time. Selvera will return to the Communion with our child, I believe it is for the best. Melos, I ask you one more time to apologise to the humans.”
Melos’s face retained its alien scowl and rolled its multi-faceted irises in an all-too-human way. “Whatever.”
“Is that the best you can do?”
Melos mumbled something unintelligible, his antennae waving again, and Mrov gave a long sigh and communed with Selvera. She nodded, and pulled Melos’s skinny arm, dragging him towards the opening.
“Farewell, Colonel White, I hope only the best for your world.”
“Don’t let them destroy you – fight them, Scarlet!” Melos yelled as he passed through the doorway. It closed and the sounds vanished instantly.
Scarlet stood statue-still, his fists bunched and a grimace on his handsome face, and there was a silence so penetrating in the chamber it could have been sliced with a knife.
“Captain Scarlet, you are an agent of Spectrum, as such I expect you to follow my orders, do you hear?”
Scarlet blinked, as if he’d snapped out of a nightmare. “Sir! Yes, sir!” His pistol dropped to his side and he stood to attention, once again the obedient soldier.
Mrov’s fingers flew across the panels, and uttered a long sigh, almost human in its intensity. “You see how your culture had infected us all, Colonel. I have the most urgent desire to be away from this Solar System. It is unfortunate that Captain Scarlet took it into his head to intervene. That is the one thing that confuses us about your species, your un-predictability.”
“Are the replicates un-predictable too?” White asked.
“Most of the clones that Melos created were given limited programming, enough to deceive those around them, and to carry out his bidding in the ‘game’. The two exceptions of course were Captain Black and Captain Scarlet, both of which were given full sentient capability.”
“To the point of being human in every way,” White said.
“The real Conrad wouldn’t have done these things…”Scarlet said.
“Your colonel has already told you how the Black replicate was flawed, and furthermore, the presence of the conscious original activated competing electrical brain patterns, making matters worse for both.”
Scarlet looked at the slumped figure of Conrad Turner in the suspensor chair, and turned thoughtful. “Why would I always get the feeling of nausea when I encountered other Mysteron agents?”
“It seems that small interference patterns occurred between the neural nets of the clones, although it also seems, from our limited knowledge of the replicates that Melos created, that certain electrical activity causes a complete breakdown in the nets, rendering the replicates inactive.”
“Is that why we could ‘kill’ them with our electric rifles?”
“It would seem so. Melos, unfortunately, took pleasure in discovering these – unpredictable vectors – and allowed them as variable in his ‘game’ He is, as you know now, Colonel, very resourceful.”
White nodded, and Mrov’s fingers stopped for a moment.
“Everything is ready to begin, Colonel, on your acceptance of our – wishes.”
“What will happen?”
“All humans who have been replicated will be returned, all replicates will be –
deactivated.” To Scarlet’s look of pain, he shook his head. “It is the only way. You are not the real Paul Metcalfe, you are a constructed replicate, and you must give way for the human whose place you took.”
“I didn’t do this, I’m not at fault! Why should I die?”
White flinched at the anguish in Scarlet’s voice. His cry was wrenched from deep within – as if it came from his very soul. White had spent little time pondering such metaphysical concepts, but now, faced with losing this Scarlet to oblivion, the question, of whether a replicate possessed such a thing, struck him with illogical abruptness.
“Isn’t there a way to keep them both?” he demanded. This dark-haired man by his side seemed every bit as human as the two he had left behind in the MEV. The resolution of the War of Nerves was essential, but surely it couldn’t demand Scarlet’s sacrifice again?
Mrov shook his head slowly, the antennae bobbing. “It is prohibited to allow a replicate fashioned from Communion technology free reign on your Earth. The consequences would be disastrous.”
“They already have been, Mrov,” White replied grimly.
“Indeed, all the more reason why the process should be terminated here, on the third planet of Sol, as we agreed. These are the terms of ‘peace’ between us, Colonel. You must decide.”
“You haven’t left me much choice, to allow you to – someone that I –” he trailed off, unable to complete his sentence.
Scarlet had been quiet up to this point, a frown upon his face, but now, he interrupted, saving White the effort.
“All this time, since the real Paul Metcalfe supposedly died, I believed that I was an alien, indestructible, unable to grow old. And now – it turns out that’s exactly what I am. All these memories I had, of growing up, attending West Point, joining Spectrum, they were all a sham. None of those memories belong to me, but to the real Paul Metcalfe. I was never a hero, saving the world; I was just a pawn in your child’s pathetic little game.”
“Captain Scarlet, I am sorry,” Mrov started to say, but Scarlet waved a hand so he could continue.
“Well, perhaps I don’t want to be a hero. Maybe I only want to save myself. I could shoot you where you stand behind that console, and nothing would stop me from living forever on Earth, and this time, it would be for real…”
Scarlet raised his pistol and aimed it at Mrov, right at the alien’s forehead – point-blank range.
For a few agonized seconds time itself seemed to stand still in the chamber. White felt a sharp pain in his chest and realised he’d stopped breathing. He let out a low gasp, breaking the silence.
Scarlet blinked, and then slowly lowered his weapon. Mrov’s shoulders relaxed, almost imperceptibly.
“I’m fooling myself,” Scarlet said, with a rueful smile. “Even as a replicate, I know I couldn’t live with the knowledge that I failed you, Colonel.”
“I’m a soldier. It’s in my blood, even if it happens to be alien blood. And the duty of a soldier is to defend those that he serves. That small blue and white dot, millions of kilometres away might not truly belong to me, but I feel as if it does.”
He paused, letting his thoughts coalesce. “If this is really the only way to set this all right again…”
Mrov nodded gravely.
“A soldier must always be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. For peace on Earth, I accept your terms.”
Mrov bowed his head. “It seems we learn something new about the human condition, even now. Captain Scarlet, it truly pains me to do this. I do not expect your forgiveness.”
Scarlet stood stiffly, as if he was afraid he would change his mind, then saluted his commanding officer. “Goodbye, sir, it was an honour serving with you.”
White tried to swallow the hard ball that constricted his throat. “The honour is mine, Captain Scarlet.”
Mrov‘s hands started to once again move across the console.
“Colonel White, you may take Captain Black to your shuttle, but you will not remember anything that has transpired between us.
“Nothing? But that’s preposterous…”
“The knowledge you have gained here cannot be disclosed to anyone on your planet; the human race is not yet ready for the technology of the Communion worlds. I believe you to be an honourable man, Colonel White, but this is too much of a burden for one man to bear, since your species has such limited mental capacity. Therefore, we have no choice but to take this course of action.”
“When you return to the MEV, we will beam a powerful hypnotic suggestion into the minds of all Earth people. You will remember only that Spectrum’s mission was successful, and that the War of Nerves with the Mysterons is finally over. You will also retain a powerful belief that any return to the Red Planet is forbidden, for the ‘Mysterons’ wish no further contact with the human race. This way we shall ensure that Mars’ secrets will remain that way.”
White regarded the slumped form of Conrad in the chair. “And Captain Black, what of him, how will I explain his return, or that of all the other people who have supposedly died at the hands on the Mysterons?”
“You found Captain Black within the complex. His condition will be evidence that he has paid for his so-called ‘crimes against your humanity’. If we understand your emotional states correctly, no further retribution would be necessary. As to your second query, Melos was amused greatly by the way our technology was perceived by you as a form of magic. I believe he told me that it was you who said: ‘The Mysterons have powers we cannot hope to understand.’ Therefore, you already have the answer to your question.”
White shook his head. “But why bring me all this way to Mars if you had no intention of allowing me to remember any of it? Why all the drama?”
For a moment, Mrov’s fingers stopped their incessant movement over the panels, and his face took on an expression of thoughtfulness.
“To salve our conscience, Colonel. I believe you would do the same, in my place.”
The invisible door opened on the wall of the chamber, and Black’s suspensor chair began to move towards it, so White knew that this astonishing meeting was at an end. He was certain that Mrov would keep his word, but there was a grave price to pay. Two identical Paul Metcalfe’s living on Earth would be a difficult issue to deal with, but surely there had to be some way…
“Is there nothing I can do to persuade you not to – deactivate this Captain Scarlet?”
The replicate stood quietly to one side, for, having said his piece, he seemed resigned to the fate which awaited him. When he heard White’s last plea for his existence, the corners of his mouth turned upwards in a small smile.
“No, this is our absolute decision,” Mrov replied. “And now, Colonel, it is time to take Captain Black and return to your MEV.”
White, with heavy heart, followed Conrad Turner through the doorway.
“Tell them I was a hero, Colonel,” Scarlet called out to him, just before the door to the chamber closed for the final time.
“You can depend on it, Captain Scarlet,” White murmured.
The premise of this story has been rattling around in my head for several years, getting nowhere fast, so I’m delighted that I finally completed it for the Spectrum Headquarters’ 10th anniversary year, more so since it’s been two years since I was able to offer a story to the website for the Halloween challenge. I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading it.
I’d like to thank:
Marion Woods and Chris Bishop, for beta-reading and helping me to thrash out various plot points that were niggling me.
This story used characters from TV series “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” ©, which is the creation of Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and the rights of the series belong to Carlton International. No profit was made from this story.
A Happy 10th Anniversary Halloween to All!
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