a CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS short story
by Mary J. Rudy
The clock on Captain Scarlet’s desk read 2350. A relatively normal day was about to end on Spectrum Cloudbase.
Of course, even the word normal was a relative term. The headquarters of the international security organization was actually an aircraft carrier hovering 40,000 feet above sea level. Nevertheless, life went on here just about the same as on any military installation if one made allowances for the special conditions under which Spectrum’s secret base operated.
But in ten minutes, Scarlet mused, the new day would begin. And this day would be different from any he had ever experienced.
He opened the closet at the other end of his small but comfortable quarters and retrieved his dress uniform. Captain Scarlet wore his dress grays perhaps more often than any of the Cloudbase senior staff, so the action in itself was not unusual. What was out of the ordinary, however, was that this time the Spectrum officer didn’t dread the thought of wearing it. Putting on the charcoal-gray “monkey suit,” as Captain Ochre had nicknamed it, usually meant that Scarlet was receiving another medal or recognition of some kind. It was the circumstances under which he’d merited such awards that usually made Captain Scarlet ill at ease.
But there was no medal ceremony tonight, nor was there a formal reception where members of Spectrum were to provide discreet security. Tonight Captain Scarlet was donning his dress grays for something much more important.
The trousers and shoes went on first, the former with razor-sharp creases and bright but narrow red piping, the latter with a spit-shine only four years of West Point inspections could render. No patent-leather oxfords for this officer, thank you very much. He nodded in approval and reached for the tunic.
The medals were already pinned on the left breast, an impressive collection that included the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award, and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, both from his World Army Air Force days. The size and weight of Scarlet’s “salad bar” was such that he’d taken the tunic to a tailor to reinforce the fabric underneath. Scarlet pulled on the snug-fitting tunic and fastened its high collar, automatically poking a finger inside and stretching the cloth for a little breathing room. Three years of wearing a turtleneck sweater for an everyday uniform made the high braided collar even more uncomfortable.
The belt came on next, Scarlet taking care not to get any fingerprints on the buckle he had polished so diligently. But the uniform still wasn’t complete.
Scarlet opened his desk drawer and removed two velvet boxes, one large and one small. The smaller box held the honor his own organization had given him, a gold cross emblazoned with the Spectrum roundel and suspended from a rainbow band of silk. This silken band went tightly around his neck with the Spectrum Cross hanging just below the first button. The larger box held his latest acquisition, given to him just two months ago by King George VII at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The two Maltese crosses inside were insignia of England’s oldest order of knighthood, The Most Honourable Order of the Bath. He pinned the large ribbonless badge below the breast decorations and hung the smaller cross on a hook sewn inside the tunic. The Order’s famous red ribbon, from which the cross was suspended, peeped out from the tunic’s second buttonhole.
Captain Scarlet checked his reflection in the mirror a final time and hurried out of his quarters, but not before patting his pocket to make sure everything was in place.
Rhapsody Angel, one of Spectrum’s five interceptor pilots, removed her crash helmet and shook out her copper-colored hair, then unbuckled herself from the flight seat which the deck elevator had deposited inside the Amber Room. She was now officially off duty.
Rhapsody was perhaps the most unlikely choice for a tough fighter pilot among the five young women who made up the Angel Flight. Dianne Simms was a titled lady, the daughter of a World Government official and a bit of a social butterfly. She’d attended all the proper English public schools and excelled at university, but then she shocked the whole family by enrolling in flying lessons. She was rather surprised that the family hadn’t disowned her like Captain Blue once said his family had done. But Dianne’s flying skills had made up for her sheltered background, enough to bring her to the notice of the World Government committee in charge of creating Spectrum. She’d never looked back.
Rhapsody rose from the seat and stretched her leg muscles, then went over to the bookshelf to retrieve the novel she’d been reading. One disadvantage of night alert duty was that no lights were permitted in the cockpit. Lights lowered night vision acuity, so reading was out of the question. But Rhapsody Angel liked stargazing almost as much as she liked Victorian novels, and she usually relaxed on the Promenade Deck doing a bit of both after her shift. She opened the novel to make sure her bookmark was still in place and a folded sheet of paper fell out.
“I suppose Destiny’s been reading my book again,” Rhapsody muttered as she picked up the sheet from the floor. She was about to replace the paper in the book when she noticed handwriting inside the fold. Opening the note, a shy smile played across her features.
Symphony Angel looked up from the magazine she had been halfheartedly reading. “That good, huh?” the Midwesterner commented.
“Sorry?” A startled Rhapsody quickly tucked the note back into the page.
“That must be one good book. You only get that smile on your face when you talk about Paul.” Symphony smiled knowingly; she felt the same way about her beloved Adam--Captain Blue--as Rhapsody did about Captain Scarlet.
Rhapsody sighed and turned toward the door of the Amber Room, tapping the book against her palm. “It certainly is, Karen. I can’t wait to get up to the Promenade Deck and see what happens tonight.”
Symphony Angel returned to her magazine as the door shut. She couldn’t help notice, however, that her friend was only about a fifth of the way through the novel, still too soon for anything exciting to happen in the literary classics that Rhapsody usually read.
The most secluded spot on Cloudbase was her Promenade Deck, a lounge located at the very top of the carrier’s island structure. Like the rest of the Spectrum base, the deck was furnished in contemporary style, but no work was performed here. This was strictly a recreational area, filled with exotic plants that thrived on the abundance of sunlight that came through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was the favorite spot of part-time gardeners like Colonel White by day and part-time astronomers like Rhapsody Angel at night. And often the place for romantic meetings, she reminded herself with a smile as she rode from the main deck up to the island. It was there, on a night such as this less than a year ago, that Paul had finally professed his love for her. They had been virtually inseparable ever since.
Rhapsody finally arrived at the top of the moving passageway and discovered that she was not alone. At the door to the Promenade Deck stood Captain Blue, Paul’s partner and his best friend.
Blue greeted her with his customary grin. “Hi, Rhapsody! I wasn’t expecting you here--”
“Of course you were,” Rhapsody interrupted, smiling as only a fiery redhead could. “Got you on jankers again, has he?”
“Huh?” Even though he’d worked closely with British officers for several years now, the American still often needed an interpreter.
She recognized the clueless stare and quickly translated. “You know, guard duty. Whenever he asks me to meet him up here, you’re always outside standing guard.”
Blue held up his hands in defeat. “OK, OK, you win. I admit it. But after all, it is Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh dear, it is Valentine’s Day, isn’t it? I’d forgotten.”
“Well, he hasn’t,” Blue replied with a wink as he opened the door for her. “Have fun.”
The Promenade Deck was bathed in starlight. Rhapsody took a seat next to the windows, looking dreamily out at the cosmos.
“I see you got my note.”
She turned and saw Captain Scarlet standing before her. The sight of him in his full dress uniform turned her loving smile into a wide-eyed stare.
Scarlet gazed back at her, smiling broadly. “You are so beautiful, Dianne. You have no idea what that moonlight does to your hair.”
“I-I came up straight away,” she finally managed to say. “You said it was important.”
“Nothing is as important to me as you are,” he continued, looking deeply into her eyes.
But her eyes were fixed on his uniform. “Why on earth are you here in your dress grays? I know how much you despise wearing them.”
“I know how much you like seeing me in them. And besides, it’s an important occasion.” Scarlet grinned boyishly and brought out a single red rose from behind his back. “Will you be my Valentine?”
Rhapsody smiled and accepted the flower, inhaling its rich aroma. “It’s a bit much for just Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?” She reached up and touched the badge below his medal ribbons. “You’ve never even worn this since His Majesty gave it to you.”
He took her hand and cradled it in both of his. “There hasn’t been any occasion important enough to wear it. Until now.”
“Paul, what are you on about?”
Captain Scarlet held her hand tightly as he knelt before her and took a deep breath. “Dianne Simms, the love I have for you is greater than any emotion I have ever felt, and I’d like nothing better than to share that love with you for the rest of your life. Will you marry me?”
She looked at him with her velvet-soft eyes but did not answer. His careful wording of “the rest of your life” had caught her off guard, and Scarlet picked up her lack of a reply as a trace of doubt.
“I’ll understand if you refuse,” he continued falteringly. “I realize the circumstances are quite difficult.”
“Yes,” she whispered, nodding, not looking at him but at the floor, as if she agreed with him but didn’t want to disappoint him.
Scarlet nodded as well, trying desperately to read her thoughts. “But I hope you will at least consider. You don’t have to give me an answer straight away.”
“Yes,” she repeated, meeting his gaze once again. Her smile had returned, brighter than before. “Yes, Paul Metcalfe, I will marry you.”
Scarlet looked at Rhapsody in the same way he had looked at her the first time he revealed his love for her, then kissed her tenderly. She returned the kiss with an embrace that neither wished to end.
Scarlet reached into his pocket and took out a small box, opening it as he spoke. “Please accept this as a token of a love that shall truly be indestructible.” He slipped a dainty ring on her finger, its center stone a blazing ruby surrounded by a burst of diamonds.
“It’s beautiful!” she gasped, turning her wrist as she watched the gems sparkle. But a sudden thought caused her to look at him with anguish. “B-But we don’t know what the future will bring. You-- you may live forever. What’ll happen to you when I--”
Captain Scarlet quickly put his index finger over her lips. “Then, my darling, I will probably die--of a broken heart.” He then replaced the index finger with his own lips, giving Rhapsody a kiss that he wished could last as long as his love for her.
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