A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” short story
by Hazel Köhler
As the supply plane took off from Cloudbase’s flightdeck, various clerks from Maintenance and Housekeeping were already sorting through that day’s deliveries.
“Someone’s got a birthday,” one of the sorting clerks remarked, as parcels and envelopes piled into the pigeon-hole marked ‘Symphony Angel’.
“No kidding,” sighed the clerk who had just tried, and failed, to cram yet another parcel into the overflowing pigeon-hole. “She must be a popular girl. These things have been arriving for days!”
“Ah ha, what do we have here…” The clerk read the name on the large label that obscured the original name and address of the recipient. “One for Mr Popularity himself.” The clerk tossed the envelope into Captain Scarlet’s pigeon-hole, and carried on with the rest of the pile in front of him.
How to deliver mail to Spectrum’s colour-coded, Cloudbase-posted, agents had been a minor, yet sticky, question to sort out when Spectrum had first been formed. Immediate family aside, no-one was supposed to know that, for instance, Paul Metcalfe was now known as Captain Scarlet, or that he was no longer resident in Winchester, or in the WAAF, but instead lived on a flying aircraft carrier forty thousand feet above the surface. Several solutions had been proposed, but the one that had worked the best so far was the Rainbow Mail-Forwarding Service, operated by Spectrum Intelligence. The Service collected all items sent to anyone on assignment to Cloudbase, obscured the addressee’s original name and address with one of its own labels, then re-addressed the item to, for instance, ‘Captain Scarlet, Cloudbase’. The label didn’t, though, necessarily cover any business logo that might be printed on the envelope…
Scarlet frowned at the envelope. “Wonder why my bank’s writing to me?” he murmured. “My parents usually take care of anything like this.”
“Open it?” Blue suggested. He was reading his own letter, an entertaining, if somewhat scurrilous, account from his brother about a long weekend spent on the coast with some friends. Blue returned to the letter, and was shaking his head in resigned amusement over a colourful description of the pursuit of yet another prospective girl-friend, when a vocal explosion rocked the standby lounge.
“Hey!” Blue protested. “Don’t yell like that! You nearly deafened me!”
“Insufficient funds? What the hell do they mean, insufficient funds?” Scarlet brandished the letter in Blue’s face. “Here, read this!”
With no choice but to take the offending letter as it was shoved into his hand, Blue read it, then shrugged, and handed it back. “Just what it says. Your account’s overdrawn. No big deal. Happens to Symphony all the time.”
His attempt at mollifying Scarlet went unappreciated. Scarlet glowered at him. “I don’t spend enough to be overdrawn,” he growled. “Besides, I’ve spent a good part of the last few months being dead. You can’t spend money when you’re dead.”
“You’re the great exception to the rule that ‘you can’t take it with you’.” Blue grinned, then sighed. “OK, don’t look at me like that. Just check your account. Maybe there’s been a mistake at the bank. Have you noticed anything wrong recently? Any charges or payments you don’t recognise?”
Scarlet waved a hand in irritable negation. “Who has time to check their bank statements?”
“I do,” Blue said mildly.
“Yes, well, you would. I, on the other hand, don’t. But I’m going to, right now. See you later.”
Blue sighed again as Scarlet stormed out of the lounge, then returned to his letter.
Scarlet slumped back in his chair, eyes fixed dazedly on the computer screen. “Three months…” he repeated, like a mantra. “I haven’t been paid for three months…” For a moment, he sat in stunned disbelief, then turned determinedly to the phone and tapped in a number.
“Personnel Department, how can I help you?”
“I need to speak to someone in the Payroll office.”
“Who’s calling, please?”
“Captain Scarlet, Cloudbase.”
“One moment, please. I’ll put you through.”
Scarlet drummed his fingers in irritation at the sickly ‘on-hold’ muzak for what seemed like an eternity before a different voice came on the line.
“Payroll. How can I help you, Captain?”
Scarlet explained the situation with as much clarity and patience as he could muster.
“I see. Would you hold the line, please, Captain? I’ll see what I can find out for you.”
Again, Scarlet seethed gently to the accompaniment of ‘Danny Boy’. It was a much longer pause this time, but eventually, the Voice came back.
“Captain Scarlet, did you say?”
“Yes.” Scarlet was proud of his acting skills, and the concealment of his impatience and irritation was, he felt, one of his finest performances.
“I’m sorry, sir, we have no Captain Scarlet listed under Cloudbase personnel. Are you a recent transfer?”
Scarlet gaped at the phone as if it had just bitten him. Pulling himself together, he put the Voice straight about the length of his Cloudbase posting.
“I’ll check a little further back in our records, sir. Would you hold the line, please?”
The muzak was different this time, but Scarlet had even less interest in how things were in Glocca Morra than in the comings and goings of Danny Boy. Seasons changed, civilisations rose and fell, then at last: “Are you still there, sir?”
Good question, Scarlet thought. Aloud, he just said, “Yes.”
“I have found reference to a Captain Scarlet posted to Cloudbase. However, the file is marked as Deceased, as of three months ago.”
Three months ago… what had happened three months ago that would have short-circuited the careful security arrangements made to conceal the fact that, for Scarlet, death was only a temporary inconvenience? There had been several missions at about that time, mostly short, violent and nasty ones. Which one had gone wrong?
Lieutenant Green and Doctor Fawn were also digging through their records, and it didn’t take Fawn long to find what he was looking for. So, less than four hours after discovering his missing salary, Scarlet met with Fawn, Green and White to discuss the situation.
“Here it is,” Fawn said, handing Scarlet a printout. “Your death certificate, signed by a Doctor Gunther Reiner, of the Bismarck Hospital in Berlin. And –” another piece of paper changed hands “– my cancellation of that certificate. Dated, I’m afraid, several days later.”
Scarlet gazed morosely at the two pieces of paper. “What was the hold-up? And why wasn’t I brought back here when I was injured? What the hell was I doing in a civilian hospital?”
White shook his head. “As I understand it, Captain, it was a case of good intentions going bad. If you remember the situation with that mission, it was fairly chaotic.”
Scarlet remembered, all right. The Mysterons had caused havoc with communications across a wide swathe of Germany, he’d got separated from the rest of the Spectrum team, and had been badly injured in the final showdown with the Mysteron agent. It had taken quite some time for communications to be restored.
“By sheer coincidence and bad luck,” Green said, “one of the admin staff at the hospital has a sister who works in Spectrum Berlin, in the Personnel Department. He gave to her in person, and she forwarded it to Payroll.”
“I’ll have a few words to say to our Berlin office about proper procedures,” White remarked dryly. “In the meantime, I’ve spoken to Personnel, and they’re sure they can get this sorted out. Don’t worry, Captain. Everything will be all right.”
Scarlet buried his face in his hands. “How much longer is this going to go on?” he whimpered to no-one in particular.
“What is it this time?” Magenta asked sympathetically. He glanced at Blue, who spread his hands in a ‘what can you do?’ kind of gesture.
Wordlessly, and without uncovering his face, Scarlet held out a letter. Magenta took it, read it, and passed it to Blue with a low whistle of awe. Blue read the letter silently, folded it, and handed it back to Scarlet, completely understanding his friend’s reaction of despair.
“An appointment with ‘Bloody’ Mary Dunning, the Auditor from Hell,” he murmured. “Gee, Paul, I’m so sorry…”
Sometimes, Spectrum’s international nature could be rather disconcerting, Scarlet mused, as he, an Englishman, sat in an office overlooking the fountain in Lake Geneva, about to face an American auditor who, according to rumour, took ground glass in her coffee instead of sugar and could even get Colonel White saluting and calling her ‘sir’. Ms Dunning’s secretary, a glacial blonde with a stare that could trigger another Ice Age, answered a buzz from the comm, looked up, and gave the two waiting officers a smile that made the average Mysteron agent seem like your best friend in comparison.
“Ms Dunning will see you now,” she informed them.
Silently, Scarlet and White rose to their feet.
After a few minutes in Ms Dunning’s company Scarlet was already missing the warmth and joie de vivre of the secretary.
“You understand, Captain, uh, Scarlet,” Ms Dunning said, peering at him over the top of her glasses, “that a properly authorised death certificate was received and entered. You are dead. Dead people do not continue to draw salaries. It’s that simple, Captain.”
“But you can see I’m alive!” Scarlet protested. “I’m standing right here in front of you!”
“That makes no difference, Captain. To Spectrum, you are deceased. Your record says so.”
“You said ‘to Spectrum you are deceased’,” White interjected. “I believe that I am in charge of Spectrum, and to me, Captain Scarlet is quite definitely still with us.”
Ms Dunning smiled a wintry smile. “I wish I could agree with you, Colonel White, but I’m afraid that’s simply not the case. Captain Scarlet is registered in the Human Resources database as deceased. I have no proof that this person with you is in fact Captain Scarlet –” White flicked a stern, quelling glance in an outraged Scarlet’s direction “– and while I have every sympathy with you, a registration of death is not something we can cancel without concrete proof.”
That was it. Scarlet had had enough. “How much more proof do you need?” he shouted, jumping to his feet. “I’m here! I’m breathing! I have a pulse! I’m yelling at you! You want to see my ID card? Here it is!” He thrust the plastic rectangle at her, but she simply ignored it.
“All this is circumstantial, gentlemen. I’m very sorry, but we need properly notarised evidence from the doctor and hospital concerned that an error was made, and the statements of two independent witnesses before any registration of death can be rescinded.” She folded her hands on the desk and smiled politely as Scarlet sank back into his chair, baffled by her intransigence.
White decided to try another tack. “You say that no change can be made, Ms Dunning. May we see the record in question? From a technical perspective? Perhaps technically, it is possible, and the administrative detail can be resolved at a later date.”
“Oh, I’m afraid not!” The auditor couldn’t have looked more shocked if White had made a suggestion that Scarlet leave the room and the two of them got to know each other better. “Personnel records are strictly confidential!”
“But it’s my damn record!” Scarlet leapt to his feet again, almost at the end of his tether. White looked at him pointedly. Sit down and be quiet, he mouthed.
“So,” White said, with a magnificent effort at calmness, “your position is that we have presented no evidence to convince you that the record is wrong, and that Captain Scarlet is, in fact, alive and well.”
“Exactly.” Ms Dunning positively beamed, as if at a slow child who had at last learned to tie his own shoelaces. “For all I know, this Captain Scarlet could be a Mysteron agent. I understand that they are quite indistinguishable from the real thing.”
White and Scarlet exchanged glances.
“I’m rather surprised, Colonel, that such a thing wouldn’t occur to the Chief of Operations.”
White let that comment pass, but not without some difficulty.
“However, if you can provide properly documented proof that Captain Scarlet did not die in Berlin three months ago, that a mistake was made, I will be happy to correct the computer record.”
White smiled. At last! he thought, opening his briefcase. “If it’s documented proof you need, Ms Dunning, I have it here.” From the depths of the briefcase, White produced a manila envelope, which he handed across the desk. The documents had been tricky to draft; how to prove that Scarlet was alive without going into too much detail about why. “An affidavit from Spectrum Medical, signed by –”
“I’m afraid this isn’t acceptable as evidence, Colonel White.”
White and Scarlet stared at her in complete disbelief.
"But it's a signed affidavit –” White began.
"Yes, I can see that, but I can’t question a piece of paper. I need to have the PERSON who signed the affidavit here to question. I will also need to see the doctor who originally signed the death certificate. And, of course, Captain Scarlet…” She favoured Scarlet with a wintry smile. “Documents are no good on their own, Colonel White. Produce the documents, PLUS the witnesses, and I will see what I can do. And that, gentlemen, is all I can give you. Good day to you.”
Gunther Reiner was a hard-working, compassionate man, and a highly competent doctor. He also had a lot of demands on his time and this request from Spectrum, to talk to him about a death certificate that he’d almost completely forgotten about, was an unwelcome interruption in his busy day. He’d had so much to do today that he’d only just remembered to call up the certificate from the hospital’s database.
As he read hurriedly through it, in preparation for the arrival of Spectrum’s representatives, a few details of the case came back to him. The agent in question had been shot at point-blank range, and had died in the ambulance. Sad, very sad. As he scrolled down the screen, his intercom buzzed, distracting his attention.
The rather awed voice of his secretary emerged, somewhat tinnily, from the speaker. “The Spectrum people are here, Herr Doktor.”
Reiner unconsciously straightened his jacket and smoothed his hair. “Danke, Birgitte. Show them in.”
He stood up to welcome his visitors, completely failing to notice the red ‘Certificate rescinded’ note flashing at the bottom of his computer screen.
“Mein herren, please, accept my profoundest apologies. I really do not know how I could have come to make such a dreadful mistake!”
Doctor Fawn smiled reassuringly. “It’s a mistake anyone who doesn’t know Captain Scarlet could have made, Doctor Reiner. His medical condition is very rare – I’ve only seen it once before, myself.”
Despite his distress, Reiner was fascinated. “So, his body reacts to the stress of injury by – virtually shutting down? And this minimises the damage and trauma… Fascinating, fascinating… Much like the Mammalian Diving Response, ja? Or hibernation?”
Inwardly, Scarlet was grinning like a maniac. This is the stuff to give HR, he thought. Never in a million years would he have thought of the Mammalian Diving Response, which he’d barely heard of, or hibernation. Ms Dunning would lap it up. Outwardly, he allowed himself a slight, grave smile. “That’s more or less how Doctor Fawn has described it to me, yes,” he said. “So, Doctor Reiner, you would be willing to come and testify on my behalf?”
“Of course! It is the very least I could do. Just tell me when.”
Scarlet was much better prepared for the second hearing. Doctors Reiner and Fawn would be there, and Captain Blue had given him some heavy-duty coaching on how to deal with auditors and bureaucrats.
This was actually the second date arranged for the hearing, the first having been postponed due to the small matter of a Mysteron threat. The glacial secretary had seemed to take this as a personal affront to her meticulously-managed diary, and had arranged another date with much sighing and sucking of her perfect teeth. She now fixed the waiting Spectrum officers with a steady gaze.
“I thought a Doctor… Reiner? was supposed to be attending today,” she stated.
“We medical practitioners are busy people,” Fawn said. “I expect he’s been delayed.”
The secretary sighed. “I will inform Ms Dunning.” With that, she disappeared into the inner office.
“I suppose he is still coming?” Scarlet wondered, an edge of worry in his voice. “Captain Russet was supposed to be picking him up. I’ve not heard anything from him yet.”
Colonel White’s epaulettes flashed a reddish-brown colour and his cap mic dropped down. “Yes, Captain Russet?”
Scarlet pricked up his ears, but a call to another radiocap was all but inaudible to anyone else, even someone with Scarlet’s alien-enhanced hearing.
“Oh. That’s... unfortunate,” White replied gravely to whatever it was that Russet had said, and flicked a glance in Scarlet’s direction. Already wound up, Scarlet was now deeply alarmed. “Yes, I understand. Of course. You did the right thing. When can you be here?” There was another pause filled with almost inaudible mutterings from the speakers in White’s cap. “Well, we will have to hope that Ms Dunning accepts the situation. Thank you, Captain. Please get here as quickly as you can.”
White finished the call, and turned to face his increasingly antsy agent.
“That was Captain Russet with a report that Dr Reiner suffered a heart attack en route. Sadly, the doctor died shortly after arrival at a hospital here in Geneva.”
Scarlet collapsed into a nearby armchair. “It’s the Mysterons,” he whimpered. “They’re not content with shooting me, they’re getting at me through my pay packet now.”
White felt that he had to say something, even though all he could say was largely irrelevant. “Dr Reiner had a history of heart trouble. There’s no evidence that the Mysterons had anything to do with it.”
Scarlet glowered at his commanding officer.
“Dr Reiner’s clinical assistant, Dr Renata Kolbe, will be presenting the evidence instead. We can only hope that she will be an acceptable substitute.”
Scarlet sat in the SSC, watching Doctor Fawn and Colonel White saying goodbye to Dr Kolbe and Captain Russet. They shook hands, then turned almost reluctantly to walk towards the Spectrum car.
White came over to the driver’s side, and gestured to Scarlet to move over. As he strapped himself in to the driver’s seat, and Fawn settled into the back seat, White said, “I thought it best that you don’t drive in your current state of mind, Captain.”
“I can’t believe it...” Scarlet muttered. “All those documents we brought, the DNA tests, the letters from SHEF... all for nothing, all because one doctor dropped down dead this morning and his assistant was on holiday when I was brought to their benighted hospital.”
White and Fawn exchanged glances in the rear-view mirror, but said nothing. What was there to say? Once they got back to Cloudbase, they’d have to do some world-class thinking to get this mess sorted out.
Still seething from his encounter with Spectrum bureaucracy, but spurred on by an idea he’d had on the flight back, Scarlet stalked down the corridor from the hangar to the captains’ Standby Lounge. Spotting the very person he needed, he strode over to the coffee counter. “Captain Magenta?”
“Oh, hi, Scarlet. How did your meeting go?” Magenta then noticed the expression on Scarlet’s face. “Not good, huh?”
“Not good,” Scarlet agreed. “I want you to do me a favour, Pat.”
To Magenta, the words might have sounded like ‘I want you to do me a favour’, but he had no doubt the meaning was ‘cross me in this and you die in some horrible way which I have yet to decide’. He stood up. “Sure. What do you need?”
“Spectrum HR? You actually want me to hack Spectrum HR?” Magenta was no longer looking at Scarlet, who had now obviously tipped over the edge and was residing somewhere south of the sanity line, but at Colonel White and Lieutenant Green..
“Yes, Captain, if you would. Your computer skills are up to it?”
Now also having doubts about the colonel’s mental well-being, but stung by the implied slur on his hacking abilities, Magenta cracked his knuckles and tapped in a sequence of commands on his keyboard.
“More ways to skin a cat, sir,” Magenta assured White confidently, and tried something else.
“Can I suggest something, Captain?” Green asked, glancing at Magenta for permission first, then entering a string of characters which meant nothing to Scarlet or White, but which drew a grin of appreciation from Magenta.
“Lieutenant, you have a devious, almost criminal mind.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
Magenta drew a deep breath. “OK,” he said. “This is where it gets complicated. I suggest you go and get some coffee, sir, Scarlet, while the lieutenant and I work this out.”
Less than half an hour later, White’s epaulettes flashed dark pink. “Yes, Captain Magenta?”
“We’re in, sir. What would you like to know?”
“Don’t move off the opening screen, Magenta, and that’s an order. We’ll be with you in five minutes.”
White and Scarlet had never got from the cafeteria to the Officers’ Workroom so fast. Mere minutes later, slightly out of breath, they were striding across the room towards at Magenta’s workstation, where the database search menu was displayed in all its glory. Green and Magenta, looking justifiably smug, acknowledged the entrance of their commander and an increasingly harassed-looking Scarlet.
“What would you like to see, sir?” Magenta asked.
“Captain Scarlet’s personnel file,” White instructed.
Magenta called over to Scarlet: “What’s your service number, Scarlet?”
Scarlet gave him the number, and hurried over to the screen to watch.
Sure enough, the last entry was ‘Deceased’. Magenta clicked on it to display the details, and noticed that the Update button was disabled. “I assume you’d like an – uh – unofficial update?”
White nodded. “And I assume that you can cover your tracks?”
Magenta looked wounded at this slur on his expertise. “Sir!” he protested. “As far as the system is concerned, I’m Mary Dunning.”
Scarlet and White exchanged glances. “My, my, Ms Dunning, how you've changed. Have you done something with your hair?” Scarlet murmured.
Green hastily turned a snigger into a cough, while Magenta gazed haughtily at his English colleague. “You don’t want my help, Scarlet, just say the word.”
Watching Magenta work was an education in itself. Both White and Scarlet were proficient on computers, but Magenta was an artist. And in combination with Green, lethal. No computer system, not even the Spectrum HR one, stood a chance. It was the work of moments to reactivate the Update button, and not much longer to do what the system kept telling them was impossible – bring someone back from the dead. Scarlet watched, leaning on the back of Magenta’s chair, lost in admiration. Every time the security protocols smelled a rat and tried to shut them out, either Green or Magenta was there with an electronic pat, a virtual smile, a hyper-arm around the cyber-shoulders, to soothe the system into acquiescence.
“Y!” Scarlet shouted, almost overturning Magenta’s chair in his eagerness to see this whole sorry saga over and done with.
With exaggerated courtesy, Magenta stood up. “Be my guest,” he grinned, waving Scarlet into the chair with an overblown sweep of his arm.
Scarlet was only too happy to oblige. With a savage grin, he tapped the Y key, then sat back with an enormous sigh of relief and malicious pleasure as the payrolls for the last six months were updated. Now perhaps he could pay Blue back all the money he’d had to borrow. He couldn’t wait to get back to his quarters and check his bank account…
It had been a long, tiring day, and Magenta was only too pleased to get back to his quarters after the latest assignment against the Mysterons. He wondered how Scarlet was getting on in Sickbay, and toyed briefly with the idea of going to see. However, Blue and Rhapsody would probably be there, and whatever else he might be, Magenta was not a gooseberry. There was another way for someone as accomplished with computers as he was…
Spectrum (Cloudbase) Medical Database.
Patient’s name: Captain Scarlet.
Current status: Deceased.
Full recovery predicted by 02:30, 29.04.2069
Magenta clicked his tongue sympathetically. Poor guy, he thought. That’ll put the skids under going to the cinema with Dianne tonight. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.
He yawned widely, and started his nightly task of backing up his files to a secure location he was sure even Green was unaware of. One of them looked unfamiliar – he frowned at the screen and paused the backup. Must be tired, he thought. Don’t remember this one…
A mouse-click or two later, a slow smile spread across his face as he saw the file that came up on his monitor:
Spectrum Human Resources Database.
Death in Service Benefits.
Statement of Intent
Good thing I’m so honest, he thought…
Acknowledgements and disclaimer
A little bit of fluff for the impending end of the current fiscal year. Thank you to Marion Woods for beta-reading, and to Chris Bishop for her wonderful website!
I am not making any profit from my unauthorised use of characters and concepts from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.