A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short-story for Halloween 2002.
by Tiger Jackson
The Mysterons had attacked Earth six times in an eight-week period, keeping Cloudbase on constant high alert. Long-scheduled leaves and furloughs had been cancelled. Tempers were short and morale was fraying. Something had to be done, agreed a group of junior lieutenants. But what?
The idea of a party was proposed and the pros and cons, especially the now-infamous anniversary party and its consequences, were vigorously debated. Finally, everyone voted in favour of the party. The celebration of the agreement was cut short when they were reminded, “So who’s going to bell the cat and ask Colonel White’s permission?”
Two junior lieutenants, representing a committee, had asked to speak with Colonel White. With an inward sigh, he noted how nervous they were. Clearly they expected him to deny whatever they were about to request.
They wanted permission to organise a Halloween party but found it hard to explain why trading a real-life horror like the Mysterons for the make-believe frights of Halloween wasn’t as odd as it sounded. It was a good escape, a chance for tired, stressed people to pretend they were somewhere or some when or someone else. They stammered and finished each other’s sentences, hopelessly trying to salvage their carefully rehearsed presentation. Now that they’d screwed up, they knew there was no chance. Well, it had been worth a try.
But, to their surprise, the Colonel understood. He was aware that many people found facing monsters they knew well and could deal with bolstered their courage to face bigger, more deadly threats. And he agreed that the diversions of a Halloween party would boost morale.
Amazed by their success, the party committee eagerly started making plans. And the word quickly spread through Cloudbase.
Two more attacks in the weeks before Halloween did not significantly disrupt the committee’s work. Nor did they erode morale, which kept rising as the day of the party drew closer. The party planners behaved secretively, hinting at what marvels could be expected, but clamming up whenever asked for details. They took over the lounge on the Promenade Deck and sealed the doors, adamantly refusing to admit anyone who wasn’t on the committee.
Curiosity, excitement, and anticipation were running high on Cloudbase. Everyone who could be off-duty on the night of 31 October was planning to be at the party.
Halloween at last.
The long-barred doors opened, grudgingly, just wide enough to admit partygoers, then shut firmly behind them.
Cloudbase was suddenly a world away.
The lounge had been transformed to resemble a gypsy encampment, complete with garishly decorated caravans and exotic tents offering games, refreshments, and surprises. Realistic leafless trees of cunningly twisted and stiffened papier-mâché spread their branches wide. An owl hooted softly. Unseen horses stamped and whickered. Dead leaves crunched underfoot. Thunder pealed and lightning occasionally flashed across the ceiling and down the walls. A hidden smoke machine had created a cloud of swirling icy-blue fog that hid the floor and added to the eeriness of the scene. The only light was provided by the flickering flames of artificial campfires and lanterns, and real, scattered candles. Even the air smelt strange, a mixture of wood, leather, and patchouli.
Among the first to arrive were Captain Blue and Symphony Angel.
“Wow! They really worked hard on this. It feels kind of cold and spooky,” exclaimed Symphony.
“You’re not scared, are you?” asked Blue.
“Of course not!”
“Oh,” said Blue, his voice heavy with mock disappointment. “And I was all ready to protect you from the ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night.”
Symphony laughed. “Well then, if you want to be a knight in shining armour for Halloween, I won’t stop you. Hold me, Adam; I’m scared!”
“Liar!” But he smiled as he spoke and put his arm round her as they strolled over to the nearest tent, it’s entrance almost completely concealed by a shadow.
Strangely, the arrival of more partygoers did not change the atmosphere. Newcomers gazed round them in awe, instinctively speaking in hushed whispers and moving slowly through the fog, which now swirled from the floor to the ceiling.
People emerged from and vanished into tents and caravans, from which bursts of soft music and muted laughter were briefly heard. Outside them, the only sounds were of thunder, wind, the owl, and an occasional distant howl. It was getting harder to see through the fog.
“It’s almost like a camp of ghosts,” breathed Rhapsody Angel, turning too late to see who — or what — had just passed by.
“You barely spot someone you think you recognise, blink, and they’ve disappeared,” added Captain Scarlet.
A shadowy figure appeared near a caravan, then vanished as a thread of light escaped through the opening door.
“This is the strangest party I’ve ever been to,” Captain Ochre told Lieutenant Green as they stepped out. “Where did they get those dancers from? And how did they get them onto Cloudbase?”
“I’m sure they didn’t clear everything for this party with the Colonel,” chuckled Green. “No, nothing like that!” he laughed, seeing the look of astonishment Ochre gave him. “I mean junior lieutenants have talents you never imagined.”
“They were Spectrum?”
“You didn’t recognise Lieutenant Olive?”
“Not dressed like that! In all those veils!”
“Right here, Magenta. Follow my voice.”
“You enjoying the party, Captain?” asked Green as Magenta materialized out of the fog.
“I had my palm read in that tent — a tent — somewhere over there.” He waved vaguely. “I can’t see it now. The palmist said I’m going to meet someone I forgot about a long time ago.”
Ochre frowned mockingly. “Sounds ominous.”
“This way!” shouted Magenta, leading Green and Ochre.
“C’mon!” shouted Scarlet, grabbing Rhapsody’s hand. Together, they plunged through the fog in the direction of the scream.
Moments later, the five would-be rescuers, unable to see each other clearly, collided violently with Blue and Symphony.
“HEY! OW!” someone cried.
“Back off!” shouted Blue.
“We heard a scream,” snapped Scarlet.
“Oh,” said Symphony in a small voice. “That was me. Something swooped down at me out of the fog and I was startled.”
“Probably a special-effects bat,” suggested Green. “I was ambushed by one when I arrived.”
Rhapsody shuddered. “At least the fog is clearing up a bit. We’ll be able to avoid any more of the things. Maybe we’d better get under shelter, where there aren’t any bats. Or worse!”
“How about in here?” said Ochre. He was holding back the drape on a dark wine-coloured tent.
It was dimly lit inside; only a few tea candles flickered inside grotesque gargoyle-like candleholders that obscured the firelight and cast shadows in weird patterns on the tent walls. A highly polished, round, wooden table with eight chairs took up most of the space. A glass sat in the middle of the table, surrounded by a fan of cards marked with numbers and letters and the words ‘YES’ and ‘NO’.
“Hear your future, reveal your past! Step into the gypsy’s tent, if you dare!” intoned Ochre sepulchrally.
The others laughed as they followed him inside.
“What is this?” asked Blue.
“It’s a type of Ouija board. Everyone touches the glass and asks questions, and the glass moves around the table and spells out the answer,” explained Scarlet.
“You mean like at a séance?” Ochre sounded puzzled.
Blue looked around. “We’ve still got one empty chair. We need to get just one more person to join us and complete the circle.”
“And I see just the man!” said Symphony, jumping up and ducking out of the tent again. “Colonel, won’t you join us? We thought we’d hold a séance and we have room for one more.”
Colonel White was taken aback. “Really, Symphony! I’d never have dreamt you believed in such a ridiculous bit of nonsense!”
“It’s just a game, Colonel. We all know that!”
Rhapsody, who had followed Symphony out of the tent, laughed. “It’s all in fun, you know.”
“I understand, but it’s beneath my dignity to participate in a séance.”
“Oh, come on, Colonel,” wheedled Symphony. “It’s Halloween! Just this one day, we can all be and do things we’d never do normally.”
“In fact, we’re not supposed to do things normally on Halloween!” added Rhapsody.
“Think of it as your Halloween costume — a person who goes to a séance!” finished Symphony triumphantly.
Colonel White knew when to concede defeat.
“That’s the spirit, Colonel!” said Symphony, trying hard to keep a straight face.
The candles created a multiplicity of shadows; it seemed as if there were more than just eight people in the tent. For a few moments, Scarlet found himself entranced by how they divided, crossed, separated, and merged.
“Are we all ready? Then let’s get started. Everyone put a finger on the glass,” said Ochre. “Good. Now I’ll start summoning a spirit.” He cleared his throat. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight . . .”
There was a burst of laughter round the table. “C’mon, Captain, that’s not how it goes!” said Green, smiling.
Ochre grinned back at him. “Okay, I’ll try again.” Clearing his throat, he resumed in a deep voice:
“Friends remembered, reunite.
“Those who hate, forget your spite.
“We call you now to speak and thrive.
“So now for the living, let the dead come alive.”
“That was good. Where did you learn to do that?” whispered Blue.
“I didn’t. It just sort of popped into my head,” Ochre replied. He cleared his throat again, then intoned, “Is anyone there who would like to speak to us?”
The glass moved slowly across the table and stopped before the word YES.
“Well, we’re on the right track, then. Who wants to ask the first question?”
“I will,” Colonel White said, surprising everyone. “The last time I returned from leave, I found boot prints on my desk. Who had his or her feet up on my desk?”
The glass moved hesitantly, picking out letters.
C — A — P — T — N — S — C — A — R — L — T
“So! The truth comes out. What do have to say for yourself, Captain Scarlet?”
“I’ll report to the firing squad at dawn, sir,” Scarlet deadpanned. Everyone laughed, even Colonel White.
“Let me try one,” said Green. “Oh spirit of the glass – ”
“Oh blimey,” murmured Scarlet.
“I’m just being polite. Spirit, um . . . who will I marry?”
The glass moved slowly as it searched.
J — E — E — N — C — H — R — R — Y
Colonel White raised an eyebrow. “Jean Cherry? Isn’t she the daughter of Washington D.C.’s Mayor Raymond Cherry?”
“We met when Captain Scarlet and I attended the King Convention for Ethnic Pride,” Green explained, grinning. “We’ve been writing, but . . . well, it’s a nice answer! I’ll take it!”
“Who’s next?” asked Symphony.
“I’ll go,” replied Scarlet. “Will Ochre be polluting the air in the Officers’ Lounge with his model-aeroplane glue any time soon?”
The glass shot across the table and bounced on one card.
YES — YES — YES
“Alright! I’m sorry I asked!” said Scarlet, grimacing.
“Will I get that book on diving in the Great Barrier Reef I want for Christmas?” said Blue to the air.
Again the glass skidded back and forth among the cards, backtracking and hesitating as it searched for the right letters.
W — E — L — L — C
“We’ll see!” translated Magenta.
Symphony chuckled as Blue pouted, pretending he didn’t like the answer.
Everyone took turns posing questions and laughing at the answers. Captain Magenta was about to ask his third question when the glass started moving, slowly at first, then more swiftly from letter to letter.
S — A — Y — A — N — Z — G — D — I — D — A
“Just a bunch of random letters.” Magenta was puzzled.
“Try sounding them out,” suggested Symphony.
“Say . . . sayanzg . . . séance! SAYANZ is séance!” ventured Scarlet. “GD — good. Ida? I . . dee . . . ay?”
“I–dee—uh! Idea!” said Blue. “The séance is a good idea!” There was more laughter.
The glass moved again.
“Y—T . . . White. R—S—T . . . arst. Asked? White asked—” Rhapsody began, frowning with concentration.
White broke in. “That last bit looks like ‘Magenta’ M—G—N—T—A. But that’s not a complete thought. ‘White asked Magenta’ what?”
Symphony sighed. “So it could be something something Magenta. R—S—T. Rust?”
“T—rust. Trust!” supplied Green. “Y—trust. Why trust Magenta. Is it asking us a question?”
“Wait, the glass is moving itself again!”
I — S — S — C — R — L — T — 2 — C — L — O — S — 2 — B — L — U
“Is Scarlet too close to Blue?” Symphony read.
“What does that mean?” asked Blue.
“I don’t know. But I don’t like the implication,” growled Scarlet.
Another message began.
R — R — A — P — S — D — N — S — C —R – L — T —L — V — R — S
“Are Rapsd — Rhapsody. N — and. Are Rhapsody and Scarlet,” Blue began translating before he was interrupted.
“Captain Ochre, a joke’s a joke but this is going too far!” Rhapsody exploded.
“I’m not doing anything!” Ochre snapped back.
The glass flew beneath their fingers, rapidly spelling out another message.
Colonel White frowned. “It sounds impatient.”
2 — S — L — O
“Too slow?” repeated Lieutenant Green. “What does that mean?”
The glass spun itself out from under their fingers and shattered on the floor.
Symphony’s eyes widened. “I feel strange . . .” She shuddered and drew a deep breath, then let it out slowly as her eyes closed. The dancing lights and shadows played eerily. One shadow seemed to linger over Symphony’s face. Her features changed subtly. And when the Angel opened her eyes again, their colour had changed from brown to a greenish amber. She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Ah, that’s much better.” The voice was not Symphony’s; it was deeper, and the accent was different.
“Who are you?” demanded Colonel White.
“You don’t know me? Then call me . . . Blithe. As in Blithe Spirit.” The possessed woman smiled cheekily. “No need to introduce yourselves. I know all of you perfectly well.”
Under the table, Rhapsody slipped her hand into Scarlet’s.
The candle behind him flared, casting a bright disk of light over Blithe’s face as she spoke. Her features seemed to change, to become somehow familiar . . . She was his wife, his deeply loved and missed wife.
“Colonel, nothing seems to be too much for you to handle. Not insubordination, not death threats from the Mysterons . . . . Do you have absolute faith in your officers? Do you trust all of them?” Even the voice was an echo of his wife’s.
He did not want to appear shaken. But his posture became more rigid, his expression more stony, his voice more controlled. “Yes, I do.”
The glamour faded as the possessed woman turned away.
“Tell me, Captain Magenta. What if you had a good reason to resume a life of crime?”
“I would never do that!” Magenta declared indignantly.
He watched, eyes widening, as flickering shadows changed the woman’s face again. Her hair seemed to darken, her eyes were more green . . . he gasped as he recognised her. But he’d last seen her years ago, in a life he’d left behind. Or thought he had.
“Never . . . unless a certain dark secret came to light?” purred Blithe. That voice had once haunted his dreams.
Involuntarily, several people glanced wide-eyed at Magenta, who had gone pale. “You can’t — can’t —” he stammered.
She laughed. Her appearance changed again as she gazed at her next victim.
“And what about Lieutenant Green . . . how would you behave if your jealousy of Captain Scarlet became common knowledge?” mused Blithe.
Green felt as if his brain had been impaled by those eerie deep brown eyes. “I’m not jealous of Captain Scarlet,” he protested, thinking that his voice sounded thin and unconvincing.
“Do you think I didn’t notice when I first met you? And him?” sneered the voice of Jean Cherry, shocking Green into silence.
“Captain Ochre’s penchant for practical jokes.” The woman turned as she spoke. She must have tired of her game, because the face she presented to him was Symphony’s. Or perhaps she had drained too much of her hostess’ vitality to keep changing faces. Ochre noticed how prominent her cheekbones seemed in the candlelight, how waxy her skin had become, how the shadows made her cheeks and eyes look sunken. “What would happen if one of them accidentally killed Symphony Angel?”
Blue gasped and turned pale. “NO!” he shouted. “No,” he repeated quietly, involuntarily reaching to touch Symphony’s wasting face. “Not Karen.”
Blithe turned back to Blue, raising an eyebrow and cocking her head as she studied his reaction. His breathing uneven, Blue drew back his hand, shaking with the violence of his emotions, the pain of imagined loss clearly etched on his white face. “I see. That raises interesting possibilities.”
“I would never set up a joke that could harm anybody!” Ochre hissed through clenched teeth.
“You’re not in control,” snapped the spirit. “So, Colonel White. What do you think now? Still have faith in all your officers? Or would the crises be too much?”
Her eyes blazed but the Colonel did not flinch. “I will not change my assessment of any of my officers based on mere suppositions.”
“Bravo.” Blithe leaned back in her chair. “But if all those officers were out of action for one reason or another?”
“The remaining officers and Angels would take up the slack.”
“What if two Angels were to die?” She turned her skull-like face to Rhapsody. “Could Cloudbase manage with only three?”
Scarlet’s grip on Rhapsody’s hand tightened as he turned to her. She was visibly shocked, and had recoiled slightly under the other woman’s unblinking gaze. But she quickly recovered herself, sat up, and looked the possessed woman straight in the eye. “Yes. The Angels would survive,” she said calmly enough, although a hint of tremor underlay her voice.
“Maybe, maybe not,” mused the spirit. “What would happen if the strain got to be too much for the commanding officer? What if someone had to take his place for a time?” Again, those disconcerting eyes came to rest on Lieutenant Green. “Would you be able to function effectively under Captain Scarlet’s command? Or would resentment get in the way?”
Green was mortified by the implications. “Wh– what? Is my loyalty to Spectrum in question?”
Blithe drew back her lips in an unpleasantly skeletal smile. “Scarlet, you command well but you dislike being desk-bound. Wouldn’t you assign yourself to the field at the first opportunity? Who would be next in line to command if you went off and got yourself killed again?”
“Why are you asking us all these questions?” barked Captain Scarlet. “What is it you want from us?”
“I have everything I need from you for now.” Blithe closed her eyes. Her head dropped; she shuddered violently and went rigid. Everyone was silent. No one even seemed to breathe. Then a voice spoke:
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS . . .
“I never thought I’d be glad to hear that!” Magenta murmured.
WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN! WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOUR ACT OF AGGRESSION AGAINST US. THE WHITE KING WILL BE IN CHECKMATE WHEN THE RED KNIGHT FALLS. WE WILL BE AVENGED!
Colonel White immediately broke the circle by standing. “We will all meet in the Briefing Room in 30 minutes. Lieutenant Green, please notify Dr Fawn that Symphony Angel will be brought down to Sickbay immediately.”
“Yes, sir.” Green hurried out of the tent to find a comm. link.
Captains Scarlet, Ochre, and Magenta rose to their feet as Symphony raised her beautiful face and opened her eyes again, clear, brown eyes. “What’s happening? Why is everyone getting up?”
Rhapsody reached across the table to touch Symphony’s hand. “You don’t know? You didn’t hear the Mysterons’ threat?” Symphony’s blank expression was her only answer.
“Karen, are you okay?” whispered Blue.
“Yes, I’m fine. But I feel so tired . . .” Her voice trailed off and her eyes closed again as her head drooped. There was a long moment of tension until Symphony looked up again, her eyes still brown, her face familiar.
“Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet,” said Colonel White, “would you assist Symphony Angel down to Sickbay?”
WHEN THE RED KNIGHT FALLS. WE WILL BE AVENGED! <save>
Okay, ‘white king’ and ‘red knight’ each have at least two meanings. Yeah, so that will do for Aerial Gambit’s cryptic threat. Damn, I could use an aspirin; brainstorming always gives me a headache. Man, my subconscious cooks up weirdness! It’s creepy how the characters almost come alive when I’m trying to work out plot twists and figure out how they’ll act. And they respond in ways I don’t always expect. Like Captain Blue. I know he loves Symphony but I had no idea he’d be emotionally destroyed by her accidental death.
Hmmm . . . . That opens the way to eliminating or incapacitating at least three key players in only a few moves right in the first chapter. If I can only capture that stricken look on Blue’s face . . .
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