A “Captain Scarlet” story for Halloween
by Hazel Köhler
The pretty girl sat at the reception desk, filing her nails. It had been quite quiet today, not at all like the regular receptionist, Serafina, had described, and of that she was very glad. She hadn’t been here very long, and this was her first day manning the reception desk on her own. This was, luckily, not a busy department – in fact, she had hardly seen a soul all day. So it was with mingled relief at having something to do at last, annoyance at having her quiet day interrupted, and trepidation at being suddenly faced with a client, that she heard the main entrance door swish open. She looked up towards the newcomer with a bright smile.
The man looked a little startled at the sudden rush of words, then smiled as he mentally inserted the spaces. “No thank you, just passing through.”
Angela frowned as he strolled past her desk, obviously heading for The White Door.
She might not have been in this job very long, but there were two things Angela was very well aware of. Firstly, no-one was allowed in without a ticket, and secondly, no-one, but no-one, was allowed through The White Door without a special pass. That point had been made so forcibly to her that The White Door had acquired capital letters in her mind.
She swallowed her first-day nerves, and called out: “Sir! Excuse me, but I’m afraid you’re not allowed to go through there. And I have to look at your ticket.”
The man looked a little startled, then a little embarrassed. “Sorry,” he apologised, coming back towards her. “You’re new here, aren’t you? I’ve got a pass – hang on a second.” He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a wallet, flicking through it with a slight frown on his face. “I know it’s in here somewhere,” he muttered. “I only used it last week… Ah, here it is.”
He withdrew a small rectangle of plastic from the wallet and held it out to Angela.
Her expression changed abruptly from slightly-impatient-but-nevertheless-polite-guardian-of- the-door to wide-eyed awe. “Oh!” she breathed. “I’ve never actually seen one of these before!”
The tickets people normally had when they came through here were made of thin card, in a variety of colours. Most were single-use, with a blue or pink stripe across them, indicating male or female. She’d checked any number of those while learning the job from Serafina. As well as blue or pink stripes, there might also be all sorts of other markings, according to the complex system of classifications the company used to differentiate its clients. But this one was very, very different. It was coloured the palest of reds, shot with silver and white, like mother-of-pearl. The company logo shimmered on it like a watermark, but apart from that, it bore no other markings at all.
Serafina had told her about these special cards – only a handful of people in the entire history of the company had one. The Managing Director, of course, and his son who was probably going to take over one day, Sir Nicholas (to whom Serafina had daringly referred as Old Uncle Nick) – that was about it. And now, this one…
Angela took the card almost reverently from his hand, turning it so that the light gleamed on its iridescent surface. It seemed almost sacrilegious to pass the card through the reader, but nevertheless, she did, handling it like the finest porcelain.
The reader beeped, and a picture appeared on her monitor, a picture of the man standing in front of her. Details of name, date of birth, and registration number scrolled across the bottom of the screen. She carefully extracted the card from the reader and handed it back to the visitor with a tremulous smile. “That all seems to be in order, sir,” she squeaked, biting her lip.
He smiled at her as he replaced the card in his wallet, and she felt her knees go weak. Gosh, he’s nice-looking…
“Do you know where to go, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, thanks,” he said, with another knee-weakening smile. “I’m one of your frequent fliers.”
And with that, he pocketed his wallet and strode towards The White Door, which opened at his approach, and closed soundlessly as he went through.
Once through the white door, Paul Metcalfe strolled down the short corridor that led to an enclosed footbridge. It was difficult to judge how far from the ground this bridge was, but what was certain was how different the views were on either side. The first time he’d come here, the difference had rather disconcerted him, but now it was just part of the wallpaper, so to speak, and he ignored it. It was unlikely that he’d ever go to either section, anyway.
His destination was a set of double-doors at the far end of the footbridge. A discreet notice informed him that “Entry to the Anubis Lounge is restricted to VIP cardholders only”.
Paul took out his card again and swiped it through the lock. The door opened with a soft hiss, and he found himself in a small, comfortable lounge. He helped himself to a drink and a handful of peanuts from the complimentary bar, checked the Departures list, noting with mild annoyance that his flight hadn’t been called yet, then wandered over to the smoked-glass window that ran the entire length of one wall.
The window looked out over the enormous public waiting room. There were many people in there: some relaxed, others tense, some laughing, some crying, all of them clutching cardboard rectangles on which were printed number and letter sequences in a variety of colours.
The public address crackled into life: “Flight 666 now boarding. Holders of green tickets, ED001 to ED499, please proceed through door H.”
There was a flurry of number-checking, then the lounge slowly emptied as people slouched, trudged or hurried towards the door. In a remarkably short space of time, everyone was through the door and gone. Door H closed with a thunk, and a blissful silence settled over the waiting room.
Apart from a cultured female voice coming from the Customer Services desk. The owner of the voice was currently conducting a conversation on the phone, and sounded as if she was holding on to business-like politeness by her beautifully manicured fingernails.
Paul grinned. He picked up a half-full coffee pot from its stand, tapped on the window to attract her attention, and waved the pot at her with a look of enquiry. Her face adopted an expression of almost comical acceptance, tongue hanging out like a panting dog.
Paul poured coffee for himself too, and swiped his passcard through the lock of the door which connected the private waiting room to the public one. He took both cups over to the woman’s desk.
You angel, she mouthed.
He laughed, and mouthed in response, Close, but no cigar!
She rolled her eyes at him as he made himself comfortable in the armchair beside the desk, then turned her attention back to her conversation.
“Yes, that was Paul Metcalfe. Did you want to have a word with him?” She paused, then: “All right. Give me a call when you’re ready, and I’ll bring him.”
She put the phone down, sighed, and looked over at Paul. “I’m glad you came in. Nick wants to see you. Urgently, he says.”
“Hi, Petra. Was he giving you a hard time?” Paul asked.
“Nick? No, but BZ is. Ever since the merger, he’s been insufferable. Thinks he’s God’s gift to management.”
Paul managed to turn a guffaw of laughter into a cough. He didn’t know BZ all that well, never having had any direct dealings with the HF&D department, but he knew him by reputation. A thoroughly nasty piece of work, in Paul’s opinion.
“What does Nick want to see me about, any idea?” he asked.
Petra bit her lip. “Paul – have you got your VIP card?”
“You know I have. You saw me come in with it just now.”
“Have you ever lost it, or lent it to anyone?”
“No, of course not! Nick made it perfectly clear what would happen if I ever did that!” Paul stood up to lean on the desk. “Petra, what’s this all about?”
Petra took a deep breath, and looked around to make sure that no-one was within earshot, then leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Apparently, at about the same time as we gave you your card, another one was stolen. You know that BZ was very much against you having that card? Well, Nick thinks he wanted it for someone else…”
Paul raised his eyebrows. “Is that what Nick wants to see me about?” At Petra’s nod, he shook his head. “I don’t know what he expects me to do about it. I’m only a visitor, not a member of Nick’s security staff, no matter how often I drop by.”
“He’ll tell you all about it,” Petra said. “He’s got someone with him at the moment, but he’ll call down when he’s ready. Shouldn’t be too long, if you don’t mind waiting?”
The phone rang. Petra lifted the receiver and spoke: “Immigration, Petra Aghios speaking.” She listened for a moment, then replaced the phone and looked up at Paul with an apologetic smile. “That was Reception. There’s another batch of immigrants on their way. They’ll be here in a moment. Could I ask you to make your own way to Nick’s office when he calls?”
“Of course.” Paul straightened up. “See you later.”
Paul strolled back to the bar and helped himself to another drink, mulling over what Petra had said, and wondering how long Nick was going to be. Suddenly, over the Tannoy came an announcement:
“Would VIP passenger Paul Metcalfe please report to gate 001 immediately, where his flight is waiting?”
Paul lifted his drink in a bandaged, bloodstained hand, finished it, and glanced over to Petra, but she was already swamped with the new wave of arrivals. He waved at her as he hurried towards the door – she looked up and tried to disentangle herself from someone convinced that his reservation was with Elysian Airways, not ED666.
“Paul! Where are you going? You’re supposed to be seeing Nick…” but by then, the door was already closing behind Paul’s departing back.
“Ah well,” she sighed to herself. “Nick can wait until next time. It’s not as if that’s going to be very long…”
Captain Scarlet awoke from his latest death with the nagging feeling that he’d been interrupted in the middle of something important. But that was ridiculous. You die, you lie around for a while, you wake up. What else was there…?
Just occasionally, I like to play around with somewhat heavy-handed allusions, hints and puns. I’d like to acknowledge the influence of Andy Hamilton and Tom Holt on this regrettable tendency. The examples in this story are:
Angela and Serafina, the receptionists – derived from “Angel” and “Seraphim” respectively
The White Door is sort-of the Pearly Gates
Petra Aghios – pidgin Greek for Saint Peter
Old Uncle Nick – Old Nick, aka the Devil
BZ – Beelzebub
HF&D – Hellfire and Damnation
Flight numbers – ED stands for ‘Eternal Damnation’, and 666 is of course the Number of the Beast.
Door H – the departure gate for Hell
The view from the footbridge – this is the sort of thing I had in mind: , by Hieronymus Bosch.
The Anubis Lounge – in some versions of Egyptian mythology, awakens the dead, and helps Isis bring her husband back to life. I thought ‘Anubis’ was therefore quite an appropriate name for the lounge where Scarlet waits for his flight back to the living world.
Three guesses about who’s got the stolen VIP card…
I have no idea who owns the rights to characters, concepts and vehicles from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons these days, but whoever it is can rest assured that I am making no profit from this story, or any other fan activity.
Many thanks to my friend and beta reader, Marion Woods, who is much better at finishing stories than I will ever be! Thanks for the brain-storming sessions and the wine! Thanks also to Chris Bishop for the Spectrum Headquarters website, and many happy years of friendship and collaboration.
Finally, indestructible thanks to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and all the wonderful writers, puppeteers, model-makers, effects artists, etc., who created such a wonderful world for us to play in.
Hazel Köhler, October 2010