Birnam Wood, near Dunsinane castle, Scotland 1057A.D.
By the time the victorious army had withdrawn in some kind of order, it was raining and the blood-soaked ground was rapidly turning into a quagmire. The air was filled with the groaning of the wounded and the occasional shriek of terrified and dying men. Some bodies were still twitching and some poor souls were trying to drag themselves across the slippery filth of the ground in a desperate attempt to avoid the fate they knew was coming. The scavengers had moved in, looting the dead and with a terrible mercy, cutting the throats of those too weak to avoid them, before they stripped the bodies.
In an island of dark silence, quite separate from the droves of death-dealing scavengers, moved three women, standing so closely together that they seemed to share one vast body. They were dressed in heavy cloaks, made of a material that was black only in the same way as a starling’s wing is black, and which seemed to shine even in the dull skies overhead. Their faces were partially hidden by their long, matted jet-black hair and folds of material that covered their noses and mouths, yet their dull-grey eyes missed nothing on the heaving battlefield around them. The scavengers made haste to avoid them ignoring the dead that lay in their path, as they moved with deliberate purpose across the hellish killing ground.
As it was with the Goddesses in the old religion that still clung to the wilder parts of the country, she was three – The Morrígan – the Raven Goddess of Battle, who chose the heroes from the slain. On this field she had come for one body – and one body only. It was a man – the King - her champion - dressed in a fine woven plaid and the most expensive of body armours. Not that that had availed him anything for his head had been hacked off and the corpse lay in a sticky pool of blood.
One stooped and lifted a cold and stiff arm upright.
“You have it?” one asked, her voice muffled by her cloak.
“Aye, it’s here.”
“Take it from him.”
The woman, a surprisingly slender creature of indeterminate age, tugged at a dull golden band that encircled the arm and when it would not come, she drew a long bladed dagger and hacked the limb near the wrist, so the circlet fell into the bloody earth with a squelch.
She lifted it and all three placed a hand on it and began circling the corpse widdershins as they intoned,
“Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine.”
The tallest raised the circlet above her head and it seemed to the few scavengers that dared to watch, that a grey mist rose from the desecrated corpse and flowed into the band, making the gold grow dimmer.
“Now the charm’s wound up and through all eternity, as we dwindle and die in men’s memories, this band shall seek out new champions, until it finds a man who has the power to undue the ruin of this defeat and restore to us our power over men’s fate. A champion who need fear no man of woman born but will triumph over the treacherous Macduff and all his kind! The evil done to us on this day shall be revenged on all traitors and false friends by those that possess the band and but speak the name of Macbeth!”
A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysteron” short story
by Marion Woods
Captain Blue wandered into the sick-bay on Cloudbase carrying a newspaper under one arm. Unbeknown to the medical staff, the newspaper was wrapped around a bottle of pale ale. He skirted past Doctor Fawn’s office and sidled past the nurses on duty at the desk, returning their smiling ‘hellos’ with a weak grin. Once in the ward he hurried over to the bed where Captain Scarlet was lying, eyes closed and head nodding rhythmically in time with the loud music over his headphones.
Blue dumped the bottle on the bed and in so doing very nearly gave his friend a heart attack.
“The things I do for you,” he complained at Scarlet who was examining the bottle with delight. “I’ll be the one who gets hauled over the coals if I’m caught.”
“Adam, you are a life saver. I am dying of boredom and blandness here.” Scarlet stretched out his hand.
“One, you said one bottle,” Blue reminded him.
“Damn! I knew I had forgotten something…”
“What?” Scarlet’s face fell. “You are having me on, aren’t you? Oh, Aadaamm…” he whined.
Blue dropped the paper on the bed beside his friend. “Hey, just show a little gratitude here, buddy. I go out of my way to smuggle your illegal hooch in here for you and all I get is complaints.”
“A bottle is no use without a bottle opener.”
Blue was rummaging through his pockets, emptying a handkerchief, some loose change, a biro pen and a leather wallet onto the coverlet. Finally he found a bunch of keys and assorted gadgets.
“Here you go.” He selected a small penknife and flicked a blade open to reveal a bottle opener.
“How do you manage to keep all that stuff in your uniform and still look presentable?” Scarlet asked rhetorically – Adam could make rags look chic. He happily took the cap off the bottle and handed the bunch back to Blue, who was carefully stowing his possessions back into the various pockets of his uniform. “Hand me that tooth mug, please.”
He poured out the beer and proffered the glass to his friend, “Want some?” Blue grimaced and shook his head. Laughing Paul downed the first glassful and sighed with content. “What news?” he asked.
“Nothing much on the Mysteron scene, at least, but Seymour has called a meeting of the CADS committee for Friday, to discuss a new project. He’s putting it all together now. You should be out by then, yeah?”
“Soon, Fawn promised me this morning that it won’t be long now.”
“You’ve only had three days off work - with a shattered pelvis,” Blue smiled. “I don’t know if I should envy rather than pity you.”
“Oh pity me, please! I’d be at work right now, but Fawn is flexing his muscles and keeping me here ‘for observation’.” He sipped his beer and grimaced, “Just my luck to be on the Glenn Field shuttle when they let a novice pilot it! They were lucky more people weren’t hurt.”
“No, you were the only passenger who got injured, luckily enough – and that was only because that freight container with the machine parts in broke free and crashed through the passenger doors. If you’d been a little friendlier and sat up front with the others you wouldn’t have got crushed at all.”
Scarlet pulled a face and asked, “Who was flying that day?”
“A young English woman promoted to Cloudbase Lieutenant from the admin side at Spectrum London. She’d been working in research for a few months before her name went on the flight duty rota – and guess what? – now she’s back in research! ”
“So I should hope! What’s her name – just so I know to avoid her in the future?”
“Flaxen? Right - keep her away from me, Adam.”
Captains Ochre and Magenta walked in to the conference room for the meeting of the Cloudbase Amateur Dramatic Society and apologised for being late. CADS was the brainchild of Lieutenant Green who had – and no-one quite knew how he’d managed it – got permission from the Colonel to start the group about 18 months ago. It had quickly become a very popular pastime – especially amongst the senior staff, who found it an acceptable way to avoid the Colonel’s wrath whilst still having an opportunity to ‘act the giddy goat’.
Lieutenant Green scowled at them and pointedly carried on his argument with Destiny Angel. “There aren’t enough French speakers to do a Molière play.”
“But it isn’t fair – always I do your English dramas.”
“And very good you are in them too. Now Destiny, please be reasonable.” Green produced a red folder and waved it theatrically, “Everyone – your attention please! Now we are all here, I have a suggestion to make. So far we’ve put on one performance – our Christmas pantomime of Robin Hood, which we devised ourselves -so now I suggest we do a full production of a recognized play. We could be ready to do a few performances around Halloween – if we concentrate.”
“And if the Mysterons give us a breathing space,” Blue reminded him.
“And if Scarlet can avoid landing himself in sick-bay every other week,” Ochre laughed.
“Stop waving it about, Seymour – we can’t see the title!” Scarlet demanded, glaring across at Captain Ochre, but managing to bite back his retort.
Green opened the folder and began to distribute the typed scripts inside.
“What is it?” the impatient Ochre asked as the individual scripts were passed around.
“Macbeth? Oh, I have a sinking feeling about this one…” Blue muttered as he flicked through the pages.
“You’re not supposed to say the name of the play!” Rhapsody warned with a grin. “You call it ‘The Scottish Play’.”
“Why?” Symphony asked.
“Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote real witchcraft into the play to impress the new King – James I - who was an acknowledged expert on witchcraft. He’d even written a book about it.” She noted the surprise on the faces of her friends, “And you all thought I was just a pretty face, didn’t you?”
“No, never that,” Blue said and added hastily, “I mean you’re not just a pretty face… but you are, of course… very pretty….”
Rhapsody laughed at him and bowed her head in mocking acknowledgement of the compliment. She smiled at Symphony who was watching his confusion with a jaundiced eye.
“Shakespeare?” Scarlet queried, “Do you think we’re ready for that? It’s a bit highbrow, Seymour and well, most of the company are Americans and everyone knows they can’t read the lines properly.”
“Who can’t read?” Ochre bristled.
“Read the lines – it’s what actors call speaking the blank verse,” Scarlet retorted.
“That’s a form of racism,” Ochre protested.
“Yup, cruelty to dumb Yankees…” Scarlet teased. Usually it was Ochre who annoyed everyone else, so he was delighted to find an opportunity to needle the dark-haired American.
“You must have been working on these for some time to have them all ready and edited, Seymour,” Blue said glancing up from his script. “Were you so confident we’d agree?”
Green shuffled a little, “Well, to be honest, Captain Blue…”
“Always the best policy, Seymour,” Blue smiled at the younger man.
“On my last trip home I met up with an old teacher of mine, Miss Adrian. She’s a marvellous woman and she was the one who introduced me to the theatre and the delights of Shakespeare. We did this particular play in my last year at school there. Well, when she mentioned that the school had received money to buy new script sets for the drama department and I mentioned that I had set up a little Am-Dram at work, she offered me these scripts, and as they had played such a major part in my last year at home I said yes…”
“Ah, so you are an old hand at this play, then?” Symphony said looking at the typescript over Blue’s shoulder. “It says there are witches – is that why you wanna do it at Halloween? I have this real neat Witch’s outfit I could use…”
“I don’t think these witches are the same kind as the ones that would wear that green chiffony thing…” Blue warned her and they began to whisper together.
“I would say that this is the ‘edited highlights’ of the play Shakespeare wrote,” Scarlet commented as he started to read his script copy.
“Well, it has been pruned – there are too many parts for us to play them all – even doubling or tripling up,” Green explained. “But the story isn’t altered any.”
“Well, I think it’s a good idea; plenty of meaty parts for us girls, for a change. We won’t have to fight over who gets the only speaking part like we did with Maid Marian,” Rhapsody said. “Will you direct again, Seymour?”
Green nodded, “Do we need to hold auditions?” he asked tentatively.
“Non,” Destiny said sharply. “Last time it was too much fighting and Ochre and Scarlet did not talk for weeks afterwards.”
“Huh, I still say it was fixed,” Ochre muttered.
“Hey, Richard the Lionheart was English,” Scarlet responded. “And it was only a bit part, so it made sense to get the Lieutenant to do it. I don’t know what you were making such a fuss about - you got to play The Sheriff of Nottingham, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but he only agreed to that because he thought he was gonna get to be a cowboy,” Magenta said with a snigger.
“Coeur-de-Lion was French,” Destiny chipped in poking Scarlet in the arm.
Needled by their carping, Scarlet went onto the attack, “OK, ok, so it wasn’t our best effort, but it went down well enough. And everyone had agreed to do a pantomime of Robin Hood,” he reasoned. “If I had known we would still be arguing over it all these months later, I would never have agreed to play Robin.”
Blue gave him a disbelieving glance and rolled his eyes. The acting bug had bitten Scarlet deeply and it was mostly his pestering that had jollied everyone into joining in.
“I thought the guys looked splendid in those cute costumes,” Symphony laughed, coming to Scarlet’s assistance by changing the subject slightly. “Well most of them anyway… those that had the legs for it.”
“Funny, I was just thinking the same about you and Destiny, when you played Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale,” Magenta winked at her.
Destiny snorted her feelings about that, “It was stupide that we two had to be men!”
Rhapsody laughed and glanced at Scarlet, “Hmmm, I agree with you, Karen, although it’s not a million miles away from the situation with their everyday uniforms, of course…”
Symphony nodded, “And I guess it was an example of the famous British sense of humour to get someone as tall as Adam to play a guy called Little John!” She ruffled his hair with her fingers.
“No, as I explained at the time, he wasn’t called Little John because he was little…” Scarlet began to explain again.
Green cleared his throat and said loudly, “This is why we need to do a recognised play, so that the Colonel can see we are really serious about it and so he’ll continue to authorise exemptions for radar duties and admin work during the rehearsals and the performances.” He paused significantly and looked around the room, well aware that some officers remained in the company solely for the exemption passes. “We can prune some more of it if necessary,” he added.
“So, who’s playing which part, Seymour?” asked Blue, guessing the young man had worked it out to his own satisfaction already.
“Well, I have a few suggestions,” Green cleared his throat. “For Macbeth, an ambitious Scottish general, I thought of Captain Scarlet…”
“No fair – he’s not Scottish – and if I couldn’t be Richard the Lionheart because I wasn’t English…” Ochre protested.
“You’re not Scottish either!” Scarlet retorted.
“I’m descended from…”
“Oh, shut up you two!” Blue commanded with a rare display of irritation. “Carry on, Seymour.”
“Banquo, Macbeth’s right-hand man, that’s you Captain Blue. He’s murdered by Macbeth but his ghost comes back to haunt the King.”
“Hey, Adam, at last a role commensurate with your acting skills,” Ochre said sardonically. From Captain Blue’s expression it was obvious that he was waiting for the put down and sure enough, Ochre continued, “You should have no trouble playing a stiff!”
“And as Macduff – a Scottish nobleman who’s the enemy of Macbeth – I suggest Captain Ochre,” Green said hurriedly as Scarlet looked ready to leap to his friend’s defence.
“Is that another example of your type-casting, Seymour?” Magenta grinned. “Macduff is the man who finally kills Macbeth.”
“Seymour,” Destiny wheedled, “Who will be Lady Macbeth?”
“It’s a very important part,” Scarlet said, glancing at both Destiny and Rhapsody Angels with some hesitancy.
“I thought that Rhapsody should do it,” Green said avoiding Destiny’s eye.
“Hey, she’s a real bitch, this Lady Macbeth,” Symphony said, looking up from the script she had pinched from Blue. “And I use the word ‘Lady’ in its broadest sense. What makes you think any of us could pull it off, Seymour? What with our nice manners and all?” she teased.
“ I assure you, Seymour, I can do a real bitch just as well as Rhapsody…” the French woman protested, her eyes flashing with indignation.
Symphony laughed gaily.
“Yes, I am sure you can,” Green agreed. “But well, Rhapsody’s English and …er… surely you’ve seen the definitive picture of Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth with long, red plaits?” he hedged looking intimidated.
“I plait my hair for no man,” Rhapsody warned playfully. “Plaits make me look like Anne of Green Gables.”
“She is very sexy,” Blue muttered, thinking aloud. He became aware of the sudden silence and glanced around the room. Ochre and Magenta were grinning and Scarlet was looking amused, whilst even Destiny was smirking and Rhapsody was blushing a little.
“Anne of Green Gables is very sexy, is she?” Ochre sniggered. “Tell me, did this proclivity show up in your character profile, Adam?”
“I meant Rhapsody… I mean, Lady Macbeth is a very sexy woman!” he protested. “Well, all powerful women are sexy,” he muttered, wishing that the ground would swallow him up.
“You’re lucky - I’m gonna take that as a compliment,” Symphony purred in his ear and Blue sank lower in his seat, his face a picture of stoic resignation at the surety that he hadn’t heard of the last of his gaffe.
“Let’s get a move on,” Green shouted over the laughter that broke out. “There are also the three witches, and these will be played by Symphony, Destiny and Lieutenant Flaxen.”
“Oh no,” Scarlet groaned dramatically his head in his hands, to a general sniggering.
“Magenta, I’d like you to play the Thane of Ross, a Scottish nobleman, if you will. Some of the minor parts can be played by Lieutenants, and I’m sure we can double up with some minor parts towards the end of the play, especially those whose main characters are already dead. Good, well that’s settled then,” Green said cheerfully. “Rehearsals start tomorrow afternoon with a read through. I’ll speak to the Colonel about the exemption passes…”
The meeting began to break up, with everyone taking their scripts with them to study. Blue was waiting for Scarlet and as they turned to go Green said,
“Oh Captain, I nearly forgot, there is also this…” he held out a thick torque made of a yellow metal. “My grandfather gave it to me when I was a kid. He said his grandfather’s grandfather had found it on a beach – washed up from some wreck, maybe. I’d guess it must be much older than that, but I never cared enough about it to find out. In fact, I never liked it much at all. When we did our performance of Macbeth at school, I loaned it to my best friend, Sam Myers, who was playing the lead role. Sam and I knew each other since we were knee-high… his parents were good friends of my parents and they helped me a lot with the kids, when my folks were killed. It looked the right sort of thing for Macbeth to wear and Sam became quite attached to it – he used to wear it all the time – I think he wanted me to give it to him permanently, but it was almost all I had left of my family and I wanted it back when the play was finished. I thought if things got really desperate I could sell it – but it never came to that, thankfully. We argued about it – just about the only argument we ever had.” He looked with intense dislike at the object lying in his dark hand and sighed.
“Eventually, Sam did give it back - his parents made him give it back – just before I was going to University in Jamaica. He was obviously not happy to have to do it, and we had another argument – he said if I was his real friend I would let him have it as a gift of friendship. I might as well have let him keep it – a few days after he returned it he went out on a bender and was killed in a bar-room brawl and we never did get the chance to patch up our quarrel. Now all I see when I look at it is Sam’s face – it comes between me and my memories of my own folks…”
Green’s genial face set in a hard and angry expression. Scarlet looked askance at him, Seymour Griffiths was so laid-back as a rule that his reaction was surprising. Still, it was a dear friend who had died.
Green caught the concerned expression on Scarlet’s face and snapped out of his musing with a rueful grin, “Sorry… lost track there! Anyway, as I said, Sam wore this as part of his costume when he played Macbeth – and to be honest I can’t see any other use for it, I’ve been using it as a paper-weight myself – but it looks right for this, at least! Would you like to wear it in the play?”
Scarlet took it with a smile, “Why of course I will, Seymour. You’re right; it looks as if it would be the right kind of jewellery.” He examined the heavy metal band with some interest, noticing a fine tracery of carving on what he had assumed was a plain gold band. At the end the torque had intricately woven strands of metal interlaced into a solid ball. It was about the right size to fit a man’s arm. “Was he good as Macbeth?” he asked conversationally, as he slid his uniform sleeve up to his elbow and experienced a slight static shock, which made the hairs on his arm stand up, as he clamped the torque onto his left wrist. It fitted perfectly, almost seeming to mould itself to his arm and the metal felt surprisingly warm. He admired it for a moment before pulling the sleeve down again.
“Best I ever saw. You’d think he was the man himself…” Seymour smiled.
“What part did you play, Seymour?”
“Me? Oh I was Banquo…”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow; “Is that why you gave the part to Adam?” he nodded at the silent American still waiting patiently by the door. “Continuing the tradition from Macbeth and Banquo, through you and Sam - best of mates and all?”
“I guess it had something to do with it…” the young man smiled in response.
“Well I hope I can do your friend – and your torque – justice,” Scarlet said, twisting the ornament around on his arm until it felt comfortable “And maybe that will exorcise the sad memories you have about it now and remind you of the good ones.”
That evening as they came off duty Captain Blue suggested they wander over to the Amber Room – as they usually did - but Scarlet knowing Rhapsody was in Angel One, called off with the excuse of looking over his script. Waving goodbye he went back to his quarters. There he sat in his armchair with a glass of whisky and opened his script to read it through. He knew the play fairly well, had seen a couple of excellent productions at Stratford and he wanted to do his best to bring the man to life. He read his lines, muttering them under his breath to get the rhythm of the scansion. Gradually he became aware of a burning sensation on his left arm and rolling back the sleeve to investigate he saw that the flesh around the torque was red and inflamed and as he tried to move it away to inspect the problem, a sharp pain jarred his nerves and he grimaced. He twisted the thing round and the sensation eased. Frowning he examined it closer under the reading light and his frown deepened. Not only was it causing him pain, but the fine line carvings had disappeared and across the red skin were faint white lines – almost like crease marks - that seemed to correspond to what he remembered of the carvings.
The pain had all but disappeared now, but he was reluctant to risk reanimating it by trying to remove the torque now. He felt sure his retrometabolism would deal with any other problems overnight and it would slip off easily in the morning. He undressed and rolled into bed, finishing the script before he turned out the light. He was looking forward to this production – very much indeed.
He slept with an unusually deep and dreamless sleep and so in the quietest hour of the night there were no witnesses to the faint grey mist that rose from the torque, which still encircled the strong arm. It hovered above the sprawled body and someone with sharp hearing might have heard faint echoes:
"Of all the men that have come to our call, this one is a most worthy champion. Come sisters, let us make sure he will do out bidding and revenge us at last."
A slow murmuring filled the room and slowly the words became intelligible,
“Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine.”
“When shall we three meet again
In Thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
“When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.”
“That will be ere the set of sun.”
“Where the place?”
“Upon the heath.”
“There to meet with Macbeth.”
Lieutenant Green interrupted from the prompt box, “Destiny, you are supposed to be a witch – a ‘secret, black and midnight hag’ – you are not about to invite Macbeth to dinner. So, can we have a little more ‘menace’ in the speech, please?”
“How do you put menace into two lines?” Destiny pouted, brushing her blonde hair back with an angry gesture. “Besides, I do not know what is this hurlyburly…”
“And if you call us hags just once more, Seymour Griffiths, I swear, I will hit you with my broomstick,” Symphony threatened as she stretched to her full height. She added, “I don’t even want to play the witch this way. This image is outdated and erroneous.”
“Adam tells you that?” Destiny grinned.
Symphony stuck her chin out stubbornly. “I wanna be a modern, sexy witch.”
“Shakespeare did not write about sexy witches! Forget the TV re-runs and get wicked!” Green thundered. “Now once more if you please, and Symphony, please remember, again is supposed to rhyme with rain. You were not bad, Flaxen, a little more screeching and you’ve got it nailed.”
With deep sighs the witches began again.
“A drum! A drum!
Macbeth doth come,” Flaxen chanted.
Scarlet and Blue, out of uniform and casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts, entered on their cue and walked down to centre stage ignoring the fact that the one of the witches was standing with her hands on her hips. She nodded a curt welcome.
“What are these,
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the earth.
And yet are on’t?” Blue began,
“Speaking of wild attire, Adam, did you check that… sack-bag of a witch’s costume Green’s devised, as I asked you to? I’ll probably come out in a rash if I wear it. I really don’t see why we three witches can’t wear nice clothes,” Symphony complained. “So I want you to tell him what you told me about outdated and erroneous images.”
“Vraiment,” said the second witch, also getting to her feet and stretching her back, “I too cannot have the harsh clothes.”
“Aw, come on girls, now is not the time for this,” Green pleaded climbing from the prompt box. “The costumes are what witches would’ve worn.”
“Quite right,” Scarlet said with surprising vehemence, “You are devotees of Hecate, She-devils and harbingers of evil – it is only fitting you should be dressed as such! You are not taking this seriously!”
Both Angel Pilots flared in anger at his outburst and Blue could see them both about to launch into an argument, “Whoa, hold on here, it’s just a play and we’re just doing this for fun, right? So back off, Paul,” he said, glaring at his partner.
Scarlet looked a little sheepish as he fiddled with the torque around his wrist. He shook his head slightly and said, by way of appeasement, “Well, you could always keep your silk undies on underneath,” he winked. “And after all, he’s expecting us to wear kilts!”
“Plaids, kilts weren’t invented until the early 19th Century,” Flaxen said automatically and blushed violently as she realised she had just corrected Captain Scarlet. She stood and stretched, gabbling in her confusion, “Can’t we have a break, Seymour, it seems like we’ve been crawling around for hours?”
“Oh, well, I guess twenty minutes won’t make much difference, Audrey,” Green smiled and ran his fingers through his curly black hair. “There’s some coffee over in the wings there.”
“Will you be going for authenticity too, or will you be wearing something under your kilt, Paul?” Symphony asked pointedly, still niggled by his remarks.
“I shall strive for authenticity in as much as possible, but I doubt if what is under the costume will make much difference to my acting ability either way, so I’ll be wearing much the same as usual, I expect,” he replied loftily.
“And that is?” she asked archly.
“Shouldn’t you be asking Adam what he’ll be wearing?” He began to realise she was teasing and responded in kind.
“Oh, I know what he wears…”
Blue, innocently wandering towards the coffee, heard Scarlet’s splutter of laughter and turned to see what the joke was, satisfied that the two people who mattered most to him had patched up their differences.
“Flaxen told us that Scotsmen don’t wear anything under their kilts. If the guys get to wear their boxer shorts, why do we have to be authentic and wear stinking clothes of sacking?” Symphony demanded when Green and Flaxen came back with their coffees, with Captain Blue strolling along behind them.
“We’ve been all thorough this already. And besides, unless the guys are very unlucky, no-one will see what’s under their costumes,” Green argued. “But everyone will see what you three are wearing and I can’t think of any production that had the three witches dressed in the latest Verdain outfits.”
“Well you keep saying that you want ‘wicked’, Seymour, and believe me, that dress makes me feel very wicked,” Symphony laughed as she slipped her arm through Blue’s and pinched his cup of coffee. “Doesn’t it, Adam?” she winked up at him.
“Oh don’t ask me. I can never second guess your moods…” Blue said mildly enough, but he gave her a sharp glance, by way of asking her to tone it down a little.
Scarlet’s frown reappeared “It is obvious that Banquo is too besotted with Lady Macbeth, to fall for your blandishments, Weird Sister!”
“Oh lay off it, will ya?” Blue snapped. “I must’ve explained what I meant dozens of times…”
“Where is the sexy Rhapsody?” Symphony asked, tugging her arm free of her boyfriend’s and looking rather put out.
“She’ll be next when we go to relieve her,” Destiny said and glanced at her watch, “Which we must do now… Tiens, we are late.”
With a withering glance at the unfortunate Blue, Symphony flounced out of the theatre after Destiny.
Green sighed, “We’ll never get the witches right if those two don’t concentrate. Right, whilst we’re waiting for Lady Macbeth, let’s do Macbeth and Banquo… Act 1 Scene 3 – Macbeth’s speech ‘Stay you imperfect speakers…”
Scarlet moved upstage and Blue, left holding the now empty coffee cup followed him. Halfway through the scene Flaxen skipped over and took the cup with a sympathetic smile.
“Were such things here as we do speak about?
Or have we eaten on the insane root
That takes reason prisoner?” Blue declaimed.
“Your children shall be kings.”
“You shall be king.”
“And Thane of Cawdor too; went it not so?”
“To the self-same tune and words...”
“Choon – not toon!” Green howled as ‘Macbeth’ creased with laughter.
“Hey, I never said I could do the accent!” ‘Banquo’ protested in self defence.
As the weeks went by Cloudbase personnel became used to the senior officers and the Angels spending their off duty time in the theatre and even walking around the place muttering their lines, or ‘speaking forsoothly’ as one wag called it. The project even seemed blessed with good fortune in that, apart from a threat to a new giant transport plane - when Spectrum just managed to avert a complete catastrophe and Scarlet spent another few days in sick-bay recovering from his latest death - the Mysterons remained inactive, with all of the bases around the World reporting nothing suspicious.
Colonel White was grateful that his senior officers were all so wrapped up in the doings of an Eleventh-Century Scot that they weren’t tempted into wild projects of their own. Long periods of inactivity simply waiting to react to the next Mysteron threat tended to set everyone’s nerves on edge and lead to all kinds of problems.
However, ever since he had had cause to discipline Lieutenant Green for spending time, when he should have been working on Spectrum files, re-editing his stage directions and ‘improving the text’, he kept a watchful eye on things, to ensure that the enthusiasm remained within sensible bounds. He had to admit that everyone seemed very dedicated to CADS’s new project, even to the extent that Captain Ochre had stopped polluting the air of the Officers’ Lounge with modelling glue, and was deeply involved with creating the scenery and props for the play. Captain Magenta, as well as playing his own role, was experimenting with a computer projection to depict the climactic approach of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Castle and all of the Angels – even the two who had chosen not to become involved with the performance side of the project – were helping create costumes.
But the project was not confined just to the theatre and its adjacent facilities, nor was everything all sweetness and light amongst the company. One particular evening he had gone into the canteen for his dinner and had chosen a table adjacent to one where Scarlet, Blue and Rhapsody Angel were already eating and apparently so deep in conversation, that he had not liked to intrude. He’d had difficulty eating his meal without choking, as he listen to Captain Scarlet trying to coach Captain Blue to speak with a proper English accent. By the time dessert appeared he suspected, by the way the American’s native Bostonian drawl was getting more pronounced rather than less, that even the long-suffering Blue was losing patience with his best friend, whose coaching technique was amounting to little more than hectoring. He got the distinct impression that it was taking all of Rhapsody’s diplomatic skills to stop the men coming to blows, and even if Captain Scarlet could be an impulsive hothead at times Captain Blue was not known for his quick temper.
The Colonel decided to keep a closer watch on the situation. If his elite team of agents were going to end up at each other’s throats over this play – it might still have to be called off.
Lieutenant Green saw things differently. Everything was gradually falling into place, the scenery was almost ready and the props were all prepared. Performances were beginning to gel. There were still areas that caused concern – some of the minor parts were less well rehearsed and Captain Scarlet was still picking on the Americans in the cast for their pronunciation and delivery. However, Captain Blue did sound less ‘American’ than he had done and was managing to imbue Banquo with the aura of a man swept to his doom by his closest friend’s insecurity. Ochre was improving with every performance as the upright, moralistic Macduff, intent on revenging his family’s murder on an increasingly amoral Macbeth.
Symphony and Destiny had finally stopped arguing about how the witches should be portrayed and, if they were not as overtly evil as the director would have liked them to be, they were better than he had expected they ever would be. Flaxen had started to relax amongst the exalted company she was keeping and he was beginning to get a decent performance out of her too. She hadn’t broken a prop or tripped over her costume for days and she was proving invaluable as an assistant stage manager.
Symphony, having been shown a copy of John Singer Sargent’s inspiring portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, which Flaxen pulled off the internet, had even persuaded Rhapsody to allow her to make hair extensions plaited in the manner of the portrait, which could be attached to her own copper-coloured hair in time for the performance. In her costume of a heavy, dark-green gown, with a broad golden circlet over her now impossibly long and heavy plaits, she now looked every inch the imperious Queen.
Having watched Scarlet and Rhapsody rehearse on many occasions he had to admit that there was definitely ‘a chemistry’ between his leading actors – one that transcended mere acting. Scarlet was utterly believable as the ambitious nobleman, prepared to wade through blood to achieve the ultimate prize and there was something tragic in Rhapsody’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness from the ambitious woman who had urged her compliant husband to murder. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up…
Indeed, overall Lieutenant Green felt quietly confident that the performance would do them all credit.
Like the Colonel, Captain Blue wasn’t so sure. He had learnt his lines without difficulty – it was one of the advantages of a photographic memory - and thereafter he had maintained his interest in the project by researching both the historical background and past productions of the play. He had even made a few suggestions about the staging to Green, which the Lieutenant had adopted, although he suspected that was merely to humour his superior officer.
He already knew the play itself was dubious history and he began to delve deeper into some of the known facts of the period. He became intrigued by the discovery that Macbeth had reigned for a decade- was widely approved of and had been – if not a devotee of – then the protector of the old Celtic religion, that still continued in the wilder and more remote parts of his realm. From there it was an easy stride to the myths and legends of the Celtic people. His interest in such matters had been kindled as a child, listening to his Grandfather reading wonderful tales of heroes and monsters. He became engrossed in studying the fragmentary knowledge of the complex society that had existed over a millennium ago, so much so that Symphony – who had no interest in long gone history - was forced to present him with an ultimatum - either he put the books away or he got himself a new girlfriend.
One afternoon, as they sat on the edge of the stage swigging mineral water, during a break from yet another rehearsal, Blue leant across to Scarlet and pointed at the torque – which his partner never removed these days.
“You know I’ve been looking at the background to this play? Well, I wondered if that torque you’re wearing isn’t Celtic. I heard Seymour telling the story of how he came by it – but if it is really as old as I suspect - it ought to be kept somewhere safe or even be in a museum. It could be very valuable.”
Scarlet turned on him with a face like thunder, “He gave it to me. Are you suggesting I might lose it?”
“No, just that it might be worth far more than he realises. Can I have a look?” He stretched out a hand expecting to be given the ornament.
“No,” Scarlet almost snarled, moving his arm away from Blue’s advancing hand with a jerk. “You don’t need to see it.”
“I don’t need to, I’d just like to, that’s all,” Blue frowned.
Blue grabbed the arm and pulled it towards him, despite Scarlet’s fierce attempts to break free from his grasp. Suddenly he let the arm drop and gazed in concern at his friend, “Paul, are you allergic to that metal? That is a terrible rash on your arm. Maybe even your retrometabolism can’t cope with it if you don’t take the thing off for long enough.”
“I am fine – it is nothing to do with you! Keep your interfering meddling to yourself!” Scarlet leapt to his feet and strode across the stage away from his speechless friend.
Thereafter relations between the two became strained, with Scarlet avoiding Blue’s company except when they were rehearsing. Adam became uneasy about the way the play was beginning to take over all of Scarlet’s time and energies. Paul was never available to go to the gym or the pool anymore, he missed their regular game of squash in the sports hall and he rarely seemed to go to the canteen - which was definitely odd - because even to Blue’s inexpert eye he was losing weight. Scarlet was brusque and unfriendly towards most of his colleagues now and, even on stage during the rehearsals he craved, he was domineering and arrogant.
Try as he might, Blue could not shake off his underlying apprehension. He tried telling himself he was being too intrusive and taking on a responsibility that no-one had asked, or expected, him to take and he debated speaking to Doctor Fawn and suggesting that he check out Scarlet’s rash – but the thought that Paul would know it was his doing, and get justifiably annoyed with his… interference, was a risk he was not prepared to take. Why should I worry when nobody else does? He’s a grown man; let him deal with his own problems! he reasoned whenever some incident rekindled his vague feelings of foreboding again. So, in the face of Scarlet’s continuing sharp antagonism and steadfast denials of any problem, Blue shrugged off his concerns as fanciful and was grateful when a different problem arose to grab his attention.
There were occasions when Scarlet, himself, became aware of his pre-occupation with the play and regretted his sharpness with his fellow actors, but there was something driving him on, something forcing him to devote his attention to this and nothing else. His sleep was disturbed by images of dark castles and smoky halls. Strange people he felt he should know - but did not - wandered through his dreams and he felt they expected great things of him. But he did not know how to satisfy their expectations – or even exactly what they expected of him. His only relief came whilst he was rehearsing, or studying his lines and increasingly he spent every spare moment doing that. Most of the cast were tired of his insistence that they spend so much time on the project. Even Blue was finding excuses to be elsewhere than in the theatre. But he would have the last laugh – he would show them all just how the part should be played.
“Thrust - parry - spin. Thrust and parry, lunge! Spin and lunge…”
Scarlet pranced around the stage practising his moves for the duel in the climactic battle scene. He was wearing his plaid costume and a breast plate of armour. The dimmed stage lights glinted off the golden circle he wore around his brows and the torque, which he now wore openly all the time – even when he wasn’t acting. Scarlet and Blue had been rehearsing all morning, initially in company with the Angels and Lieutenant Flaxen and latterly with Captain Magenta, who had just left to swap duties with Captain Ochre. Scarlet seemed tireless, exuding an raw energy and coiled tension that was exhausting to watch – never mind trying to keep up with – which was lucky because Ochre was scheduled to attend rehearsals for the next two hours.
Blue, watching without much interest from the wings, called across, “Wouldn’t it be better to wait for Ochre to get here? You may find that’s too energetic for the lines you have to speak,”
“Stand in for him and read his lines for me, so I can pace myself.” It was an imperious demand rather than a request.
“No, you can wait for Rick,” said Blue annoyed at being ordered about in this way - really it was getting beyond a joke. “Besides, you’ve already thumped me black and blue and I don’t intend to let you do it again today. Why I let Green talk me into playing Young Siward as well as Banquo, I don’t know. It is such a rush to get the ghostly make up off before I have to come back on to get slain again,” he sighed.
“Let fall thy sword on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
To one of woman born.”
Scarlet extended the sword and lunged across the stage; Blue sat motionless and watched his approach with unblinking eyes. He stopped with the blade mere inches from his friend’s face and grinned insolently at his partner along the length of his arm and the blade.
“Oh, cut it out!” Blue snapped reaching to push the blade away. “You’re just like a big kid showing off.”
“A charmed life – it could have been written for me,” Scarlet mused as his hand twisted the torque around on his arm. “I wonder how a man who lived almost 500 years ago could have known so much about how it would feel to know there isn’t a man alive that can kill you.”
“Aren’t you being a little over-dramatic, Paul?” Blue asked with a frown. “There are plenty of men who can kill you – just not for long,” he admitted in the face of Scarlet’s haughty expression - Paul was associating himself far too deeply with this role. It filled his every waking moment and he talked about nothing else. Blue was still concerned about the torque, for the rash associated with it, now covered the left arm and was clearly visible.
“Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast serv’d
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Ochre’s voice cut through the air and Scarlet turned with a delighted gasp. He advanced on the newcomer and they circled each other, snarling like lions along the lengths of their swords.
“Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield; lay on Macduff,
And damn’d be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’”
With a shake of his head, Blue watched them as the duel took them across the stage, Scarlet on the attack all the time. Ochre, who was nowhere near as good a swordsman as his colleague, was forced to defend himself.
“Hey, don’t forget I am supposed to win this...” he panted, running around to change direction and backing off from Scarlet’s advance.
“Why?” Scarlet asked, “You must be of woman born and I fear none such as you.”
“Never mind that gibberish, the stage directions clearly state I have to win – I come on at the end with your head,” Ochre gasped, dodging Scarlet’s blows.
“Yeah,” Blue reasoned, “But you’d expect Macbeth to fight like a madman – he’s just realised that his promised invulnerability is a big con. Suddenly he’s just Mister Normal-Guy again all because MacDuff was born by caesarean – untimely ripped - and therefore not of woman born – at least not in the normal way,”
“Huh,” Ochre said, holding up his hands. He stopped defending himself, and turned to Blue, “Well, the play says I have to win…”
“But your victory happens off stage, don’t forget, so you don’t get your moment of glory,” Blue grinned. “I kinda suspect Shakespeare couldn’t bring himself to top his hero in full view of the groundlings.”
Suddenly Ochre gasped with pain and staggered to his knees as Scarlet, still fighting, landed a heavy blow on his shoulder and would have come in for the kill, if Blue hadn’t stepped forward and pushed the sword away from the stunned Ochre.
“Hey, Paul – pay attention here! Rick had stopped the fight…”
Scarlet came to a halt, and looked in surprise at his fallen comrade, “He never called hold, enough!” he muttered darkly. He backed off looking shaken and placed his right hand over his left arm once more. He looked almost dazed for a moment and then said, in a voice that was more like himself, “I am sorry, Rick. Here, let me help you,” he reached out a hand, but Ochre shrugged him off.
“Thanks, but your kind of help I can do without. Give us a hand here, Adam.”
“Sure, come on let’s get Fawn to check you over. Accidents will happen.”
“Accidents? That was no accident, he did it deliberately,” Ochre complained as they walked away, leaving Scarlet alone on the stage.
“I doubt it was deliberate, but he is getting more carried away than ever as the performance approaches. The Colonel might pull the plug on us after this…” Blue’s voice faded as they disappeared through the doors.
Scarlet watched them go, his hand once more over the torque on his left arm. “So, that’s the way of it now, is it?” he muttered to himself, “My so-called best friend sides with my enemy and conspires against me even whilst he pretends to be my friend. You think yourself so secret, but I have seen you, Banquo, consorting with one of the weird sisters – late at night in secret places. I tried not to believe that my doubts were valid, that you – my most trusted captain – could be turned from me! But she-devils have more wiles than we have armour to withstand, and now she has you in leading-strings you are little more than her puppet! I trusted you, Banquo, and you should know me well enough to know how I deal with treachery like yours. It may be that I shall have to deal with you sooner than I expected, I cannot risk you interfering with my plans now – so soon before the performance that will see the triumph of the Goddess once more – when Banquo, Macduff and their traitorous allies all die at my hands!.”
He returned the prop sword in the rack and left the theatre, moving stealthily across the base. When he reached a door in the armoury he glanced about to see that no-one was around, and then slipped through. When he emerged a matter of minutes later he was careful to keep his back to the security cameras and walked away to turn off the corridor at the first opportunity. Then, using skills honed to perfection over years of training he crossed to the accommodation levels, avoiding the CC cameras and, in effect, vanished from sight.
“Hhmm,” Symphony Angel gave a satisfied sigh as she finished the last mouthful of her doughnut and settled down beside Captain Blue. “I really must work a charm on Lieutenant Green to see if we can’t have these duty patterns more often. This beats the canteen and a stint in the Room of Sleep hands down.”
They had just eaten a picnic lunch in the privacy of Blue’s quarters and were now together on the futon, his arm around her shoulders, listening to soft music on the audio system.
When he didn’t answer she moved out of his embrace and frowned into his face - he was miles away. “A penny for them,” she prompted, nudging his ribs.
He winced and shifted uncomfortably. Playfully, she tugged his Boston Bruins T-shirt out from the waistband of his designer jeans and saw the darkening bruises on his ribs, “Ooh, that’s nasty; what d’you do? Walk into a door?”
“No, I got that courtesy of Mr Scottish Play himself. There’s another on my left shoulder and one just above my right elbow.” He grimaced and stretched the arm; the joint gave a sharp crack as he did so.
“Paul beat you up?”
“No, Macbeth defeated Young Siward - several times. And I wasn’t the only one. He damn near broke Rick’s collar bone with a sword whilst they were rehearsing their duel.”
“Oh, rehearsals,” Symphony wrinkled her nose dismissively. “Dianne says Paul is demanding she spends every spare minute rehearsing. I know we only have a matter of days left before the performance, but it’s going a bit far, if you ask me. We’ll all be heartily sick of it before opening night. Still, if effort equates to a good performance it will be Oscar-winning work.” She brushed her hair back from her face and sighed.
“Do you think he is getting…obsessive, about this?” he asked her uncertainly.
She wrapped her arms around her knees and gave it some thought. Finally she turned to look at him over her shoulder and said, “Well, it could just be that Paul and Dianne don’t often get an opportunity to spend so much time alone… they’re not as ruthless as we are in taking advantage of the schedules.” She smiled brightly.
“Or maybe just better at hiding it when they do,” Blue reasoned. There was a subtle game of double-bluff going on amongst the senior staff, with everyone assuming he didn’t realise they knew about his relationship with Symphony. But as long as they were all happily humouring his presumed ‘innocence’ of their knowledge, they were keeping their noses out of his affairs – which was all that he asked. He’d realised very early on in the relationship that Karen’s open and impulsive nature meant she was almost incapable of hiding her true feelings for him, and he loved her all the more for it.
She grinned, “You complaining again, Svenson?”
“Who me? Good, old Adam? I never complain, you know that,” he sighed and gave a wry grimace. “It’s just that Paul is getting so wrapped up in this play. Apart for his pursuit of Mysterons I’ve never seen him so – focused.”
Suddenly she shifted onto her knees and turned to face him with a rueful smile, “You’re doing it again…”
“Talking about Paul! You worry too much about him, d’you know that?”
“Maybe, but I can’t help it – I feel kinda responsible for him…”
“You… big brother, you!” she teased. “You can’t be responsible for everyone!”
“I know that and believe me I have no desire to be responsible for the rest of the crew on this base! – but it’s different with Paul…I mean after London and all.”
She gave him a sympathetic half-smile. Adam rarely spoke voluntarily about the events surrounding Captain Scarlet’s Mysteronisation and their battle to the death at the top of the London car-vu. That Scarlet had survived to become indestructible was nothing less than a miracle, in her opinion, but somehow in the excitement of Scarlet’s metamorphosis, she felt that people under-estimated the effect it had had on his best-friend.
“And who’s going to worry about you? Apart from me, that is?”
“I don’t need to be worried over; I can take care of myself.”
“And so can Paul,” she said forcefully. She shook her head affectionately at the obstinate expression that settled over his features, “I don’t know why I bother telling you off, it won’t stop you worrying. If it wasn’t him it would be someone else.” She looked at him sideways from half closed eyes and pouted, “One day it might be me, if I’m lucky…”
He laughed at her outrageous flirting and soothed, “Aah, Älskling, do you need proof that whatever else I may be thinking about; I always have you on my mind?”
“It might be nice to be reassured that there are occasions when I have your full and undivided attention…” she tapped an emphatic finger on his knee.
“Oh, there are – most certainly there are! Come back here and I’ll give you a for instance…” he pleaded, patting the empty space beside him.
“What girl could refuse an offer like that, you sweet-talking guy?” she asked ironically. “Still, if you promise to be a good boy, I’ll kiss your bruises better on my way back…”
“I’m damned sure that won’t be covered by my medical insurance,” he said dryly, smiling as her laughter wrinkled her nose in the way that always set his heart thumping.
He reached out hungrily to take her in his arms and for some time afterwards they were so pleasantly occupied that he didn’t give his concerns about Captain Scarlet another thought.
Finally he breathed languidly into her ear, “Well, Miss Wainwright, was I a good boy?”
Her smile started his pulse racing all over again and she said, “Fishing for compliments, Mister Svenson?”
“No, just a little… market research - you know I have a reputation for thoroughness. “
“Market research, eh? Well, you won’t get any valid results from a single example…”
“How true... I suppose there’s nothing for it but to increase the data available for analysis…”
Symphony laughed. “Purely in the interest of research, of course?” she teased.
“Of course,” he confirmed, tilting her chin up to kiss her lips.
On duty that evening as relief commander of Cloudbase, Blue had a meeting with Destiny, who was currently Angel Leader. They spent several hours trying to match up the duty rotas for the next month or so. It was complicated by the numerous requests for leave over the forthcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and the only good point was the fact that the play would be over and everyone would be back on full duty sessions.
Destiny finally pushed back her chair and said, “Eh bien, it isn’t our fault if the liste does not work. C’était très difficile, but we manage it, Adam.”
Blue leant back and grinned up at her as she collected her papers. “You have a knack for it, Juliette. Mind you, there will be some complaints, even so.”
“There always are,” Destiny agreed with an expressive shrug. She looked down at his smiling face, noticing how tired he looked and impulsively laid her own cheek against his to say in a stage whisper, “Mais au moins tu as finalement le week-end pour toi et Symphony, seuls tous les deux.”
Blue blushed slightly and gave a low chuckle. He had rather hoped she hadn’t noticed that. Laughing, she ruffled his fair hair and blew him a kiss as she left. Lieutenant Flaxen, covering the comm desk, sniggered and had to move her chair to the far end of the bank of computers, so that he couldn’t see her grin.
Later, Captain Blue looked up from the files he was amending and gave a tired smile. Captain Grey smiled back and came to stand by the Colonel’s impressive circular desk.
“All quiet, Captain?”
“As the grave, we damn near fell asleep, didn’t we Flaxen?”
Flaxen stretched and gave a bright nod, “Almost…” she agreed, although in fact it had been Captain Blue who had seemed ready to doze off, she had been quite busy enough.
“Well, I guess we ought to be grateful. After all, if it was busy it would mean the Mysterons were up to no good somewhere, and some poor soul would be suffering,” Grey reasoned.
“Guess that’s right, Captain.” Blue signed off the computer system and collected his files together. “Who’s on with you?
“Claret, I saw him going into the gents as I came up the escalator. He’ll be here any minute, so you can go, Flaxen.”
“SIG and thanks, sir.”
“Come on Flaxen, I’ll buy you a cup of tea before you turn in,” Blue offered impulsively as he waited for her to join him.
“Thanks, Captain, that would be… smashing,” She couldn’t hide her surprise at the suggestion, but she fell in beside him and as they left the control room she waved at Claret, hurrying towards the automatic doors.
Busy logging on for their duty shifts no-one noticed the shadowy figure that slipped out from the computer banks and followed behind the departing officers.
The canteen was almost empty, except for the few night duty crews who had also just swapped shifts and were quenching their thirsts. Blue bought two teas and an individual packet of chocolate-chip cookies, before joining Flaxen at a table by the window.
“How are you getting on with your lines?” she asked, a little nervous of sitting alone with a senior Captain. She opened the cookies he handed her and the packet ripped showering the table in fragments of broken biscuit and crumbs.
Blue pretended not to notice and continued the conversation, “Aah, I know them all right; I just don’t seem to be able to say them in a manner that satisfies either Lieutenant Green or Captain Scarlet. Why they just can’t accept that I don’t speak King’s English and grit their teeth about it, I don’t know!”
He gave her a charming smile and it wasn’t hard to understand why many of the impressionable young women on the base were starry-eyed about him. Of all the Senior Captains he was probably the least intimidating, at least, when he was off duty. Captain Grey had a reputation for being somewhat dour, whilst Ochre and Magenta were practical jokers and Captain Scarlet... well, many people, even on Cloudbase, hardly knew how to react to a man who was indestructible – herself included. Besides, Captain Scarlet tended to keep rather more to himself when he was off duty these days – although she had heard from personnel who had served on the base since before his ‘accident’ - that he had been far more outgoing and care-free in those early days.
She collected her fragments of cookie and gave a rueful grimace before confessing, “Captain Scarlet makes me so nervous that I end up doing something daft – something that invariably seems to cause him grief. We were doing the scene with the witches and Macbeth yesterday and I managed to knock the cauldron over and it landed on his foot. What’s the chance of that happening normally? I’m jinxed.”
“Or he is,” Blue suggested. “But why should he make you nervous?”
“Well, he’s a senior Captain…”
“So am I, but I don’t make you nervous, do I?”
“Not as much,” she admitted with a blush.
“Oh good, because I’ve never thought of myself as scary.”
“Oh you’re not scary - exactly – but you are Captain Blue … the Captain Blue and he’s the Captain Scarlet - Spectrum’s premier agents – so it is infinitely worse that whenever I screw up it always seems to be Scarlet who witnesses it!.” She shrugged as she tried to explain, “I’m just plain Audrey Geffen, from West Bromwich – the insignificant Lieutenant Flaxen - the idiot banished to the research library until the last tick of recorded time, whilst she works through demerits awarded for crashing an SPJ.” Her face was a picture of misery.
“But that wasn’t your fault,” Captain Blue said conversationally, as he nibbled at some of the scattered cookie fragments he’d been collecting.
“What do you mean? I was flying the Glenn Field shuttle and it crashed. And, of course, just to add to my woes, Captain Scarlet was one of the passengers too,” she sighed. “I fail to see how that wasn’t my fault, Captain.”
“It was a dodgy plane. The retractable landing gear had malfunctioned and it failed to descend in time for the grappling lines to catch the jet properly.” He smiled at her astonishment. “Hasn’t anyone told you yet? That figures.”
“When?” she gasped, “I mean when was that discovered?”
“Well, I became involved a little over a month or so ago when Lieutenant Green asked me to check it out before the repair crews set to work, because he was concerned about the crash investigation report – with reason as it turned out, it was a very sloppy piece of work! I managed to get down to Glenn Field for a couple of days on some pretext and gave it the once over. It wasn’t hard to spot what the problem was – I was very surprised the crash investigators didn’t pick up on it.” He looked at her astonished expression. “I gave the Colonel a report to the effect that the crash was due to a malfunction and not pilot error – and that the crash investigators could do with some basic re-training! As I understand it, the report was accepted in its entirety and the demerits have now been rescinded. The Colonel issued an official duty record amendment – it was in one of the morning briefings. The official notification should’ve reached you – but then it’s probably creeping through the internal snail-mail.” And I hope I haven’t just spoiled someone’s surprise… he added to himself as a thought struck him.
She was still staring into the middle distance with a stunned expression. “Oh, that was nice of him,” she murmured.
Unsure of whether she meant Green or the Colonel, Blue drained his cup and continued, “Anyway, we’re the lucky ones! Because of that mistake you went back to Research and I happen to think you’re one of the best researchers we have. That was a neat piece of work tracking down the transport plane as the Mysterons’ last target.” He winked at her as he got to his feet.
She suddenly realised he was leaving and cried, “Oh, I ought to thank you, Captain! I thought I’d moulder in Research for ever after the accident,” her dark eyes glowed with excitement, “It’s so wonderful, I could kiss you!” She gasped at her own audacity and began to stammer an apology.
Blue laughed and stooped to present his cheek, “Be my guest!” Blushing furiously, Flaxen planted a tentative kiss on the rough cheek and was even bold enough to join in with his laughter as they took the cups back to the serving hatch.
“Goodnight, Flaxen. Sweet dreams.”
“Goodnight, Captain Blue, and thank you – thank you so very much!”
From across the other side of the canteen a dark figure watched the little drama at the table and frowned. Moments later he stood and pushed past the group of technicians just entering through the main door.
Feeling pleased with life for once, Blue strode towards his quarters, humming tunelessly. Symphony had been telling him for some time now what a nice girl Flaxen was, and when Green had asked if he would check the plane over before the maintenance team started work, he had agreed. It had made a nice change from rehearsing. Melody had joined him and they had gone through the plane with a fine-tooth comb, although it had become quite obvious fairly early on that there had been a malfunction. The report hadn’t taken him long and Green had been delighted when he had handed it over for inclusion in the Colonel’s in-tray. Quite frankly, the Colonel had been more concerned at the failure of his crash investigation squad than the lifting of the blame from one of his Lieutenants, but he had, with his usual thoroughness, removed the demerits from the young woman’s record. No doubt, in his own way, he would seek to make amends for her temporary banishment back to research.
Blue rubbed his chin thoughtfully and hoped once more that he hadn’t queered Lieutenant Green’s pitch with Flaxen. I’m not usually so slow on the uptake,” he castigated himself, I must be getting as preoccupied with this damn play as Scarlet!
On impulse he took the scenic route through the Promenade deck, stopping to gaze down on Angel One, where he knew Symphony was on duty. She couldn’t see him, of course, but he blew her a kiss anyway and went on his way feeling more light-hearted than he had for some days past.
Turning past the corridor that led to the theatre he stopped, catching a muted cry coming from the auditorium. He went down to the door meaning to reprimand anyone stupid enough to be rehearsing at this hour – even if it was Paul. As he pushed open the door he heard Rhapsody’s voice, choked with tears,
“Thank God, I thought no-one would ever come this way.”
“Dianne, what’s wrong?”
She was dressed in her full costume and sitting on the floor near the steps to the stage, holding her ankle. “I tripped over this flaming dress and slipped down the last couple of steps. I’ve hurt my ankle.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m supposed to be rehearsing with Paul, but I have no idea where he’s got too. I’d given up waiting for him and decided to leave and that’s when I tripped.”
“Rehearsing? Do you have any idea what time it is? You are both mental cases. Come on, put your arm around my neck and I’ll carry you down to sick bay so Fawn can give you the once over.”
“Oh, just to my room, Adam, I’ll be fine.”
“No, it is sick bay or nothing.”
“But it’s too far to sick bay – I’m too heavy,” she began a protest that quickly became redundant as he swept her up as if she were no more than a child.
“I’m not that decrepit and you weight less than Karen, even in that frock – although for the sake of all concerned don’t ever tell her I said that!”
She gave a shaky laugh and acquiesced gracefully, “All right – the secret is safe with me! Off we go to sick bay then – Sir Galahad.”
“Surely I should be Sir Lancelot, if I’m the Queen’s champion?” he said genially as he pushed through the theatre doors.
“Yes, I guess you should, at that. All right, Lancelot – carry me away…” She rested her throbbing head against his shoulder and closed her eyes with an exhausted sigh as he strode along the corridors.
Both of them were oblivious to the dark figure watching from the shadows. A slow hiss rose from the figure – so he wanted to be Lancelot to His Queen - and never had there been a more treacherous friend to his monarch than the adulterous Lancelot. He turned away from their chosen route and raced back towards the place his surveillance had started. Sooner or later, Banquo would have to return…
Doctor Fawn was on duty and directing Blue to an emergency bed he examined Rhapsody himself. He quickly confirmed a twisted and badly swollen ankle, applied an ice pack, dosed her with an analgesic and left the duty nurse to help her undress so she could spend the rest of the night in sick bay.
As Blue strolled back towards the exit Fawn stopped him to ask, “What’s going on, Adam? I’ve been seeing a spate of minor accidents from people involved with the play recently. Just in the last 24 hours or so, Flaxen stubbed her toe badly tripping over the witches’ cauldron; Ochre is going to have severe bruising and you’ve got quite an impressive collection of bruises yourself from your fights with Scarlet. Now Rhapsody’s twisted her ankle – rehearsing – at a time of night when she ought to be in bed! They’re the worst, but I’ve had cuts and splinters and bumps and bruises from half a dozen other ‘actors’. I thought this was a play – not a real war…”
Blue grimaced and hesitantly said, “I know what you mean…but I think it’s just that people are getting a little wound up as the performance approaches.”
“By people you mean Scarlet, hmmm?”
Blue considered the question seriously, “No,” he reasoned slowly, “I think everyone’s on edge at the moment – although Paul is perhaps more on edge than most. Tempers are fraying…” he gave an almost apologetic shrug, “too many artistic temperaments, maybe?”
“Too many bloody prima-donna-type egos, more like,” Fawn grumbled. “I for one will be glad when you’ve given up on this project and gone back to making fools of yourselves in pantomimes.”
Blue grinned, “You should join us, Edward. It’d do you good to get out of sickbay for once…”
“Not bloody likely… now do me a favour and see if you can’t keep everyone in one piece until the final curtain falls. Artistic temperaments…just an excuse to behave like spoilt kids….” Fawn muttered derisively as he turned away and walked back to check on Rhapsody.
Satisfied that the Angel was in good – if somewhat peeved - hands, Blue continued his journey back to his quarters. By now he was really tired and just wanted to fall onto his bed and sleep away the remaining hours until his next shift. If he left it much longer he’d have to use the room of sleep…
He was already starting to relax mentally when he opened the door to his quarters and stepped in, reaching for the light switch as he did so. He was totally unprepared for the attack. Two hands grabbed him round his neck from behind and a leg tripped him so he fell, winded, to the floor. His face was pressed into the carpet, which scratched and burnt at his flesh as his assailant pushed him down, kneeling across his back.
Blue had long experience of unarmed combat and self defence, but every move he made against his unknown assailant was countered by an effective and painful countermove. He was having trouble breathing and he tried to keep calm as the grip never lessened on his throat. He stopped struggling, forcing himself to relax.
“Oh you’re good, but I am and always have been much better,” a voice hissed in his ear.
Blue’s mind almost refused to take in the information… “Paul?” he managed to gasp.
The grip tightened. “Shut up and listen. I have been watching you – first you consort with those bawdy She-Devils – plotting and conspiring – and then not even content with that - you would usurp my place in my lady’s affections – well, I am no Arthur to forgive such treason – Lancelot!”
“Paul, what are you talking about? Watching me? If you saw Dianne was hurt – why didn’t you help her?” The words were cut off as the fingers tightened around his throat once more.
“You intrigue against me with my enemies…”
“What enemies?” Blue gasped, almost choking.
“Rick? Oh my God, Paul – stop this, it isn’t funny…” Desperation lent Blue strength and he pushed his elbows into the carpet, forcing himself up from the floor. It unseated Scarlet, whose grip lessened enough to allow him a deep breath of air. With a huge effort Blue rose to his knees and threw Scarlet to the ground as he made another attempt to grab his neck. He moved over the prone figure of Captain Scarlet, intent on calming him down and to his horror felt a blade slice into his shoulder. The pain shot through him and he staggered, falling to the ground. Just before he passed out he saw Scarlet’s face, staring down at him with a look of unreserved hatred. His last conscious thought was, “Oh God, he’s really gonna kill me….”
Doctor Fawn was less than sympathetic towards the distraught women hovering around the emergency room. He angrily ordered Rhapsody back to bed and told Symphony to go and sit with her friend. Then he stripped the blood soaked tunic from Captain Blue and cut the polo-neck sweater away. The wound was jagged, but not too deep, having been deflected by the collar bone. He had lost a lot of blood though.
“Match the blood, nurse, and we’ll top him up.”
He cleaned the wound and bandaged it carefully, and then he treated the carpet burns on Blue’s face and saw the bruises beginning to form across his larynx. He examined the throat and thought compassionately, this is one Adam’s apple that is going to be very sore! Leaving the nurse to set up the transfusion, he washed his hands and went from the room to speak to the Angels. Rhapsody lay on her bed, whilst Symphony sat on the edge clasping her friend’s hand in a fierce grip. They were both pale and it looked as if Symphony had been crying.
“How is he?” they asked simultaneously.
“He’ll live. Now, what happened, Karen? I’m going to have to report this to the Colonel and I want the truth.”
Symphony blinked, “You think I did it?”
“Heaven knows what happened. You have all been acting like drama queens for weeks now. What I want is the truth…” Fawn repeated sternly.
Symphony bristled with anger and drew herself up, loosening her grip on Rhapsody’s hand in the process. “I had just finished in Angel One and I knew Adam had been on a late duty too, so I thought I’d go and visit and maybe we’d have a night of unbridled passion - you never know your luck! – although I would have settled for just a hot drink instead! I found him lying by the door, bleeding all over his carpet. I rang for the medics and they whizzed him down here. And that’s the whole truth!”
Fawn suppressed a smile and kept his uncompromising tone, “I believe you, so don’t get mad at me. Did you see anyone?”
“No,” she snapped.
“Okay. Well, apart from the bit about the unbridled passion, I’m going to tell the Colonel immediately. If there’s an armed assailant on the base, he’ll need to know. I suspect he’ll order a security clamp down.”
Symphony’s anger evaporated as quickly as it had blown up and she asked meekly, “Please, can I see him?”
Fawn knew without asking which ‘him’ it was and he relented. “Well, you can, but he’s dead to the World. I’d come back tomorrow and see him then, if I were you. Mind you – even if he’s on sick leave for a while – I’m afraid he’ll be in no state for any kind of passion – bridled or otherwise – for some time.”
Symphony blushed, “I’m sorry, Edward.” It was a rare apology. He smiled.
Colonel White was used to being woken for emergencies and he responded immediately the intercom buzzer sounded. He listened with a frown to Fawn’s report and snapped into his usual efficient mode. As he was getting into his uniform he asked, “Is Captain Blue out of danger?”
“Yes, he’ll be okay, with plenty of rest. The blade missed the vital arteries, but he’s lost a good deal of blood. He must have been lying there for some time before… he was discovered. There are the marks of hands around his neck too – evidence that probably before he was stabbed, someone had tried to strangle him.” Fawn discreetly suppressed the information that one mark was a lovebite.
“There is a chance he saw his assailant then. It may be that the attacker does not know Blue has survived; so it might be as well to maintain the pretence that he is even more seriously hurt than he is – we don’t want the attacker to return to complete his job. Inform me the moment he regains consciousness, Doctor.”
“SIG, Colonel – oh and by the way, Rhapsody Angel will be out of action for a few days with a badly sprained ankle.”
Colonel White made an irritated noise, “There seems to be an epidemic of carelessness around. People with too much free time…”
“Well… maybe. There definitely seems to be something going on. I have seen incidents of …heightened emotions recently in some of the most unlikely people.”
“Your meaning, Doctor?”
“I’m not sure I have one yet, Colonel. It’s more a vague feeling that there’s … something in the air.”
Fawn mused for a moment, “I can’t be more explicit I’m afraid. But it wouldn’t hurt to have someone – not Lieutenant Green or any of his actors – run a check on the environmental controls on the base. “
“You suspect it has something to do with this play?”
“I don’t know that I suspect anything… but the people closest to the production are the ones suffering the most from these… incidents.”
“An intruder might be targeting them, you mean? We might have a Mysteron aboard Cloudbase?”
“There hasn’t been a threat lately, has there?”
“No, they have been remarkably quiet,” White confirmed.
Fawn sighed, “I might be imagining it, Charles, but there is something I can’t put my finger on.”
“That’s enough for me, Edward. I’ll have Lieutenant Claret run the environmental tests.”
“Thank you, Colonel. Fawn out.”
The Colonel cut the comm link and punched into the direct link to the Control Room. “Captain Grey, sound yellow alert! We have an armed assailant on the base – Captain Blue has been attacked. Get the security teams to search the base and put an exclusion zone around Cloudbase with immediate effect. We don’t know who – or what – this assailant may be. Step up the routine Mysteron detector sweeps. I am on my way.”
“SIG.” Grey took the time to ask, “How is Blue, Colonel?”
“He’s lost a lot of blood, Doctor Fawn is doing all he can right now,” White replied brusquely, giving an impression to his officer that Blue was actually fighting for his life as they spoke.
Grey sighed, “We’ll hope for the best then.”
“Yes, Captain, you do that.”
Moments later the klaxon sounded and the lights on the base flashed a bright yellow.
Turn the light out and don’t make such a noise…. Blue’s fuzzy mind thought he had spoken but when nothing happened to improve the situation, he made a monumental effort to try and open his eyes.
“He’s waking up…”
I know I am – and there’s no need to shout!
He managed to get his eyelids half open and squinted at the blurred face hovering above him. “Whazzup? Sshuush,” he murmured.
“Doctor Fawn! He’s awake!”
When he wasn’t so tired he was going to thump that woman for making so much noise!
The vaguely familiar blonde head was replaced by a dark one.
“Hello, nice of you to join us,” said a voice far less anxious than the female one. “You are in sick bay – Symphony found you in your quarters with a stab wound in your shoulder. You’ve lost blood, but you’ll be fine.”
The information fired Blue’s memory and the shock of the attack flooded back. He struggled to sit up. “Paul…” his bruised throat protested by sending a searing bolt of pain shooting to his already aching head. He fell back with a groan.
“Captain Scarlet is involved in looking for the assailant. I’m sure he’ll drop by later – you were unconscious when he was here earlier.” Fawn saw his patient’s eyes widened in panic and he frowned, that was not the reaction he’d expected. “I have to tell Colonel White you’re conscious. He wants to question you about the attack. Can you manage to speak to him?”
Blue shook his head and instantly regretted it, closing his eyes and feeling tears slip beneath his eyelids, despite his best efforts.
“Well, I won’t let him keep you long, but he will want to speak to you. Rest for awhile.”
Fawn moved away and he felt a soft hand smooth his aching forehead and struggled to open his eyes again. The blonde woman was back, smiling affectionately at him, her own green eyes brimming with unshed tears.
“You had me worried for a time, honey,” she said.
He couldn’t respond, didn’t know what to say, even if he was prepared to tolerate the pain in his throat. He closed his eyes.
Symphony frowned, however bad he was feeling, Adam could usually manage a smile for her – he hated to see her worrying. He must be feeling really bad to ignore her like that. She sat on the chair and waited for the Colonel to arrive.
Colonel White looked down at his officer’s pale face with the darkening imprint of the fingers around his throat.
“Captain Blue?” he said as softly as he could.
The eyelids flickered but remained closed.
White glanced at Fawn who shrugged and spoke to his patient, “Adam, it’s the Colonel. He wants to speak to you. We need to know all that you can tell us about the attack or someone else might get hurt – and they might not be so lucky – the next stabbing could be fatal.”
Laboriously the eyelids rose and Captain Blue looked at the three people around his bed with a defensive expression.
“Sir,” he croaked and swallowed painfully.
Fawn glanced at the Colonel, “His larynx is very badly bruised, and he’s going to find it difficult to talk much for some time to come.”
“Save your voice, Captain. I’ll try to frame the questions so that you can answer in as few words as possible.” White watched carefully, “Captain Scarlet will drop by later – he’s busy right now.” Blue’s guarded eyes flared with a flash of emotion and he looked away. White’s expression hardened, Fawn’s briefing had warned him that mention of Scarlet was upsetting the American. “Now, first and most importantly, did you see the man who attacked you?”
Blue’s head gave a minute shake.
“No? Very well, did you hear anything that might give a clue as to his identity?”
Another minimal shake.
“Do you have any idea as to why you were the chosen victim?”
The blue eyes widened slightly and then he shook his head again.
“Is there anything you can tell us that might assist, Captain?”
A more definite shake and a grimace of pain.
“I’m afraid he’s not really in a fit condition to answer any more questions, Colonel. Maybe later when he’s had some sleep, he might be able to remember more. Of course, there is no guarantee he’ll ever remember anything about it.”
“I’ll ask Captain Scarlet to come and talk to him, perhaps between them they can piece together what happened.”
This had the desired effect and Blue’s eyes sprang open. There was no mistaking the fear in them this time.
“Was Captain Scarlet there when the attack happened?” White said quickly.
Blue was confused; he turned his head to the side, away from the Colonel’s too perceptive gaze. White made the leap to the next logical question – however improbable it seemed – “Was it Scarlet that attacked you, Captain?”
Behind him Symphony gasped and drew breath as if to protest. He turned and gave her a warning glance that silenced her. Then he turned back to the man on the bed and pressed, “Captain Blue, I am waiting for you to answer the question. Have you two had a fight?” He waited, but it was obvious there was not going to be an answer. He looked with some compassion at the man on the bed, noticing for the first time the tears pooled against the bridge of his nose. As Blue gave an involuntary shiver the tears trickled down the pale face towards the tightly compressed lips. “Very well, Captain, that is all for now. Get some rest as Doctor Fawn orders. We will speak of this again, when you are feeling better.”
Outside of the recovery room, White turned to Symphony Angel with a stern expression, “I am assuming, as you are here, that it was you that discovered him in his quarters. I will not go into the question of just what you thought you were doing – going to a Senior Officer’s quarters at that time of night – at least not at the moment – but I want to make sure you are fully aware of the gravity of the situation we are in. Blue has almost certainly been attacked by someone on the base, someone familiar with layout and with access to his personal quarters – his reaction to the mention of Captain Scarlet suggests it may have been him.” He held up a hand to silence her protest. “I don’t intend to speculate on what has been going on between these two or why it should have come to such a pitch tonight. I have no proof that Scarlet is responsible. However, I do not intend to let it be widely known that Blue is on the road to recovery. The assailant - whoever he is – may be tempted to return to finish the job. You will not speak of any of this to any other officer or member of staff. Is that completely understood, Symphony Angel?”
He gave a slight nod of his distinguished head, “Very well, go and get some sleep. You will be needed to cover for Rhapsody – who I understood has sprained her ankle.” He turned away, muttering to himself, “I told them five Angels wouldn’t be enough, but did they listen? I might as well talk to a brick wall when it comes to staffing costs…”
Doctor Fawn restricted all visitors to Captain Blue – partly because it would have been too obvious just to exclude Scarlet and partly because the Captain really was in some considerable pain. It did not stop Symphony coming down to visit though and she took her frustration out on Rhapsody when she too was denied access
“Quite frankly, Karen, that was a stupid question,” Rhapsody objected angrily, “Why ever would Paul attack Adam?”
Symphony shrugged, “It doesn’t make sense, but Adam was hiding something. Something he found upsetting…”
“He’d been attacked – of course he was upset! But that doesn’t mean it has to be Paul who attacked him!”
The two Angels stared at each other, neither one prepared to back down in their defence of their loved ones.
“They haven’t found any sign of an intruder and everyone’s been checked with the Mysteron detectors and cleared. It means that it has to be someone who was already here and is still here. Paul did attack Rick…”
“That was an accident; you know how intense Paul gets when he’s acting. Rick just didn’t make his ‘time-out’ call clear enough,” Rhapsody’s face set in a stubborn expression.
“Maybe, but well before the attack, Adam said he thought Paul was becoming obsessive and I had to agree with him. And besides, he’s barely made an effort to get to see him since the attack!”
“He’s been too busy trying to find the assailant!”
“And rehearsing, don’t forget that … he’s found plenty of time to do that it seems,” Symphony accused.
“Paul is carrying a lot of responsibility for the play – everyone has worked so hard and if he fails the play will be ruined. I am sure he feels the need to carry on, despite his private concerns.”
“Oh, well of course the show must go on! He can’t let his public down… I hear he’s already asked Seymour to play Banquo – forget Adam and all his hard work… Paul is so selfish! Adam would never walk away from him if the tables were turned!”
Rhapsody’s head went back and she glared at her friend. “I think you had better leave, if you can’t remain civil.”
“Don’t worry My Lady; I’m not staying where I’m not wanted.” As she turned to leave Symphony added, “I said right at the start that Lady Macbeth was a bitch – and it seems like they got the right woman to play her!”
Rhapsody bit back her angry reply – arguing with Karen wouldn’t help solve matters. She knew that in a while her friend would regret her outburst and be only too eager to bury the hatchet. In a way, she could empathise with her; she knew that when Paul was in sick bay – during one of his longer periods of recovery, when it wasn’t possible for her to spend all of her time with him – she always felt like hitting out too. It was ironic, she thought with a wry grimace, that the person she usually took her frustration out on was lying in the next ward – and that Paul was suspected of causing his serious injury.
Sitting alone in her room, Rhapsody mused over the events of the past few days. She got the impression that there had been some hostility between Paul and Adam for some time now – but it was unlike Paul to be so unconcerned about Adam’s welfare. She had to agree, with Karen that it was never that way when the case was reversed. It was also worrying that Blue seemed to be getting worse rather than better, Fawn’s answers when she asked after her friend were non-committal and brusque. It was odd that they were even keeping Karen out, although she knew Colonel White had been into see him on several occasions.
Her curiosity was aroused and she squirmed from her bed to grab the crutches Fawn had given her. He had not forbidden her to move about so, when it was quiet over the lunch break, she hobbled out of her room and across to the men’s ward next door. Adam’s bed was curtained off, even though the rest of the ward was empty. Perhaps Blue really was as bad as Fawn was suggesting.
Nervously she went up to the curtain and peered in rather uncertainly. Blue was sitting up against a bank of pillows, his left shoulder bandaged and his arm in a sling. Propped up against his knees was a security file and on a trolley beside the bed were a pile of books and reference folders. He was thoughtfully chewing on the end of a pen as he frowned over the pages. She was so relieved to see him looking as well as this that she smiled and opened the curtain rather more sharply than she intended.
He gave a gasp and shifted – genuinely startled.
“Sorry, Adam, it’s only me. May I come in? I could do with some company.” He nodded. “Does your throat still hurt?” She could see the bruising quite clearly above the pyjama jacket.
“Not so bad now,” he croaked.
“I am pleased to hear it. I never really got the chance to thank you for rescuing me – before all this happened. I thought I was stuck for the night! I could’ve cheerfully killed Paul for standing me up.”
Adam gave a meagre smile and made a show of closing the file and putting it away. She perched on the end of the bed, resting her crutches against the metal frame.
“I still haven’t found out where he went to, either. I’ve hardly seen him; he’s been so busy with the dress rehearsals. Did you know that Flaxen is going to have to play Lady Macbeth? Fawn says I won’t be walking well enough – I think he really just wants to see Paul sweat it out! Oh, she’s a nice enough girl, but she is so clumsy and Paul is fated to be on the receiving end of all the spills, it seems. But, she knows the lines – she acted as prompt for me so often. They’re asking Melody to do the third witch – should be good! I’m determined to be in the audience, if nothing else.”
She looked up and smiled at him. His face was carefully neutral and he made no effort to speak to her. His silence was making her uncomfortable – something she had never felt in his company before. After a prolonged silence, she began to make a move, “Well, I guess you don’t want much company right now. I am so glad you are not as bad as Fawn seemed to be suggesting, but I guess you need your rest, eh? I’m sorry I bothered you – Fawn will probably bawl me out too if he finds out.” She reached for her crutches which fell to the floor with a clatter. She stared in dismay – it was going to be hard for her to bend to collect them.
Suddenly the bed moved and Adam got out and picked them up one at a time with his good arm, holding them out to her with a wry smile.
“Thanks,” she smiled back and as she managed to get to her feet she stretched to kiss his cheek. “Get better soon.”
“You’ll see Paul?” he croaked, as if every word was painful.
“Yes, I guess so. He came yesterday just passing through, but he hasn’t been round today. I am sure he would have come into see you, but Fawn was adamant that you weren’t well enough for visitors. He must reckon you need plenty of rest.”
“Tell Paul ‘I will not fail his feast’” she recognised the quote from the play and smiled at him. “I will be there,” Blue promised, his voice cracking before even this short sentence was finished.
“We’ll go together and sit in the front row to cheer them on!” Rhapsody smiled, reaching out a hand to touch his injured arm with a gentle hand.
“Something like that,” he agreed. Even this short conversation had been hard for him and he climbed back into bed.
It was only a matter of minutes after she had reached her bed again before Doctor Fawn came in and smiled wryly at her. He said very little but stayed in the room until Colonel White arrived. Rhapsody realised that either Blue was being monitored or he must have alerted them to her visit.
“How are you Rhapsody?” White asked casually as he smiled down at her, “Moving about a little now, I see?”
“Yes sir, I hope to be up and about very soon.”
“Good, good, you have been to see Captain Blue, I understand?”
“Yes sir,” she was uncertain as to his mood and added, “I didn’t stay very long, I could see how trying to talk tired him. But I was concerned about him, and Doctor Fawn was so downbeat in his reports.
“There is a reason for that, Rhapsody. You will have seen that Captain Blue is on the way to recovery, indeed he has been performing some light duties already.” White settled back in the armchair and looked severely at the youngest Angel pilot. “Rhapsody, what I am about to tell you is rated for class one security and I hope I can trust you to keep it that way?” She blushed and nodded her agreement.
“Good. Captain Blue did see the man who attacked him – that man was Captain Scarlet…”
“Paul!” she gasped in disbelief. “I find that hard to believe, Colonel.”
“Frankly, so did I, but Blue was adamant that he had not made a mistake. Confirmation was obtained by matching Scarlet’s handprint with the bruises on Blue’s neck – if confirmation was needed.”
She noted that they had matched the prints despite Blue’s assurances. “Why isn’t Paul in the brig then, sir?”
“For that he can thank Captain Blue. He is refusing to press charges. He has convinced himself that there is something affecting Scarlet – something making him act out of character.”
“Do you believe him?” she asked bluntly.
“Adam Svenson is not an easy man to say no to,” White smiled, “particularly when he is so sure of himself.”
“So you haven’t arrested Scarlet,” she persisted.
“No, Captain Blue asked for a few days to prove his theory and then, even if he fails to press charges, I shall call in SI and have Scarlet interrogated. I cannot risk an unresolved breach between two of my agents.”
“May I ask what this theory is, Colonel?”
White glanced across at Doctor Fawn, who gave a deep sigh and shrugged. Realising the Doctor was not going to answer the question White began to explain, “Doctor Fawn is sceptical about the validity of the whole premise and I must say, I am a little surprised that Blue has come up with this at all. He believes that Scarlet is … possessed by that amulet he’s been wearing.”
Rhapsody looked in amazement from one man to the other. Fawn’s scepticism was clearly shown by his expression and even Colonel White looked uneasy. “Why does he think that?” she asked.
This time Fawn did answer, “He has seen evidence of a rash beneath the torque on Scarlet’s arm and he believes that is affecting his moods. He may even be right, but there may be a far more prosaic explanation than possession. If there is an allergic reaction or infection and Scarlet hasn’t given his retrometabolism time to clear it up by removing the torque for long enough – well – I have no idea what effect continued and prolonged exposure to the process of retrometabolism may do to him. It is possible that it may even lead to the re-establishment of the Mysteron’s control over him. As usual I am working in the dark with that aspect of his physiology. However,” Fawn continued, “I have to say that I have no more proof of my theory than Blue has of his and besides, Blue isn’t thinking along the lines of a physiological reactions – he’s talking possession – and as such, I think it’s more the Chaplain’s preserve than mine.”
“Apparently, Lieutenant Green told them about the friend who originally wore the torque as part of a stage costume to play Macbeth and how the youth’s moods and character changed when he started wearing it .” Colonel White ran a hand over his chin and looked askance. “It isn’t like Blue to get carried away with fanciful theories but he seems genuinely to believe in what he’s saying.” He looked at Rhapsody’s concerned face, and asked, “Have you noticed any difference in Scarlet, Rhapsody, you two have been very close of late – rehearsing…”
Rhapsody sighed and bit her lip, “Well, he has been rather distracted and he’s has been speaking of himself as Macbeth – even when the topic didn’t seem to be related to the play. He’s been calling Adam – I mean Captain Blue – Banquo too. I thought it was just an affectation…”
White nodded, “I have heard about the incident with Captain Ochre and his inability to restrain his... enthusiasm. Whatever Blue is planning to do – and he hasn’t confided that to me, at present – all of this must be kept from Captain Scarlet and from everyone else on board. The situation remains as it was – officially Captain Blue is severely injured and may not recover. No-one will be allowed access to him, except for myself, Doctor Fawn, and now, if he so wishes it – yourself. Later he may need other assistants, but for now that is all.”
“Yes Colonel,” she paused and asked, “Did Adam tell you I had visited him?”
White smiled, “No, there are security cameras on the ward. I don’t want anyone approaching him without our knowledge.”
“That’s why his curtains are drawn,” she smiled in response. “I really thought he was at death’s door.”
“And that is exactly what everyone else must continue to believe.”
“Even Symphony? She’s very worried about him, sir.”
“Most especially Symphony! If she starts cheering up we might as well broadcast his recovery over the tannoy system!” White said with unusual candour.
Colonel White stopped at Doctor Fawn’s office after he had visited Captain Blue and before he left sickbay.
Fawn looked up with questioning glance, “Well, what does he say now?”
“He says he’ll be pleased to see Rhapsody,” White smiled amused at a private thought. “I suppose she’s a prettier sight than either of us two.” He sobered up and said, “You weren’t completely open with her about your own suspicions when you explained Blue’s theory. Was there a reason for it?”
Fawn shrugged, “Blue is sure that Scarlet’s erratic behaviour is due to the torque and that may be true, either for the reason I explained or for Blue’s theory. Against that, all I have is the vague feeling that somehow people are behaving out of character all around the base. For instance, I suspect that Captain Blue has been exercising rather less of his usual self-restraint, of late. And he’s not wearing any unusual, antique jewellery.”
“What makes you say that?” the Colonel asked, putting his cap back on in preparation for leaving.
“I’m a doctor… just trust me on this one,” Fawn said with a secretive smile.
Captain Scarlet continued to go through the motions of searching for the assailant who had attacked Captain Blue with a face like thunder. His colleagues on the search party equated his mood with concern for his friend, not with anger that Banquo still lived. They were all deeply shocked and spoke in muted voices about how badly injured the captain was. Several people asked about the nature of Blue’s injuries and he had to remember to say that he had not been allowed to see the victim.
When he had left Banquo, unconscious and bleeding profusely on the floor of his quarters, he had not expected him to survive. Of course, his very survival was further proof of Banquo’s unholy alliance with the weird sisters, that the witch who had entrapped him in her web of deceitful lust, should hasten to his side and find him, still living. It was final confirmation, if any were needed, that Banquo was not to be trusted.
He had gone back to the sick-bay, hoping he might be able to finish his botched task, but was denied access by the stern-faced doctor. His questions were deflected with answers all too vague to reassure him of Banquo’s ultimate demise.
Frustrated in his mission, he wandered into the room where his Lady was still recovering from Banquo’s assault on her. She was looking pale and her bright eyes were full of sadness. He wanted so much to confide in her, to describe how they were part of the great scheme of things and explain his plans to her - plans the Goddess was unfolding to him in the darkness of his dreams. He had no doubt of his ability to defeat the forces ranged against him. He would undo the wrongs of that ancient battlefield and unravel the chains of written words, in which that all too perceptive and inquisitive dramatist had confined their story over 500 years ago.
“My Lady,” he said and kissed her hand, his concern apparent in his expressive, blue eyes.
Rhapsody removed her hand from his with a gentle tug, avoiding his gaze. She drew a shaky breath and looked surreptitiously at his left arm seeing, as if for the first time, the red and flaky skin. Hardening her heart to him she did as she had been asked.
“Oh Paul,” she breathed, “I am so worried about Adam. Doctor Fawn seems to think he won’t recover. It seems he lost so much blood that there is the high probability of permanent damage.”
“Do not concern yourself, my dear; I have already made arrangements for another to take the part in the play.”
“Paul! The play is not important any longer – Adam is dying!” She was genuinely shocked at his callousness.
Scarlet’s blue eyes narrowed, suspicious of her concern for the man who had abducted her. Perhaps, like Guinevere, she too was not above reproach. He had assumed the fault lay entirely with Banquo, but maybe he was wrong. He shrugged, “That cannot be helped. We have worked so hard on this that we cannot draw back now.”
Rhapsody’s face became a mask of disapproval, “And will you replace me too?”
“My dearest heart, no-one can replace you if you only remain as true to me as I do to you! If you cannot take your place beside me in the performance of our task, there must be another. Do not worry, this is better – because now the fate they predict for you cannot take effect and we two shall survive to triumph over our foes. How much sweeter that triumph will be, with you at my side to share it.”
“Captain Scarlet,” she said sourly, drawing herself as upright as she could, “I think you are going out of your mind! Stop behaving like this, Paul – or get out!”
His gaze hardened as he looked at her and his suspicions flooded to the surface again, “As you wish, my Lady.”
“Stop calling me that – and go away!” She was close to tears as he bowed himself out.
When Doctor Fawn came in to tell her Scarlet had left, he found her sobbing inconsolably. “I can’t do this – I can’t lie to him!” she sobbed. “Can’t you help him, Edward? He needs help…”
“He won’t let me near him, Dianne. Our best hope is Blue’s plan, whatever it is – indeed it maybe our only hope.”
The day of the performance dawned and everyone was on edge . The only person who seemed oblivious to the tension in the air was Captain Scarlet, whose attention was fixed on the performance that would see the culmination of his plans and nothing else. Lieutenant Flaxen was being given final coaching through her performance as Lady Macbeth and Captains Ochre and Magenta, after a private conference with the Colonel, had agreed to go on stage that afternoon. Melody Angel had learnt her lines and was enjoying herself as Symphony applied her stage make-up.
Symphony had been another reluctant performer, but after the Colonel had had a quiet word with her and – rather to Destiny’s surprise - she had agreed to take part. Once Melody's make-up was completed, the American applied herself to making the beautiful French woman look like a wizened hag – always a tough assignment – then, rather to the director’s consternation; she disappeared along with her make-up kit before she did her own.
The auditorium was starting to fill with curious spectators and the final touches were being put to costumes and props when Colonel White sent for Lieutenant Flaxen. He smiled at the young woman standing nervously before him, and mentally compared her with the sight he had of Rhapsody in the same costume. On the Angel it had looked regal and elegant; on Flaxen it looked what it was – heavy furnishing fabric and tawdry gold ribbon. The Lieutenant just did not have the self-confidence to carry it off. He hid his smile and tried not to fluster her any more than she was already.
“Lieutenant I know you have a great deal on your plate at the moment, but I want you to be aware of something that will happen during the performance, something you, of all people, must not react to.”
Flaxen listened to the Colonel with eyes growing wider at every sentence and finally promised to do her best. Colonel White smiled, “That is all I can ask of any of my staff, Lieutenant. Good luck for the performance; although under the circumstances you will understand if I do not say ‘break a leg’”
Flaxen blushed and nodded.
Because the Colonel had limited them to one performance the place was full to capacity. Lieutenant Green, flattered at the interest being shown, had arranged for a relay to the Amber Room and to the general lounge. Harmony was in Angel One, with two Lieutenants, Sorrel and Dun, acting as Standby ‘Angels’ for the evening.
The curtain rose on the first scene. Thunder and lightening rolled across the stage as Symphony stood to deliver her first lines. She looked spectacular, having coloured her hair with streaks of black, whilst make-up gave her fresh complexion an unhealthy grey hue. She spoke her lines clearly, falling almost naturally into the rhythm of the verse. Destiny answered her, her accent seeming far less pronounced than it had at the rehearsals and Melody, standing in as third witch, spoke with confidence. All three witches excelled in their portrayal of evil, and as the play moved towards Macbeth’s first appearance a tension built up.
Macbeth and Banquo entered downstage and moved towards the witches. Scarlet wore his plaid costume and clearly visible around his left arm was the golden torque. Although Green was much shorter than Captain Blue was he handled his overlarge plaid easily enough and spoke Banquo’s lines with conviction. The witches set their lure, edging Macbeth towards his first murder and the story began to unfold.
Lieutenant Flaxen’s entrance as Lady Macbeth was something of an anti-climax as her accent with its broad, flat-vowels was at odds with her assumed station in life, but as she got into her stride her confidence grew and the delivery improved. A genuine shiver ran around the auditorium as she pleaded to the forces of evil,
“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts! unsex me here,
And fill me from crown to toe top-full
Of direst cruelty…”
With Macbeth’s arrival the mood changed again as the relationship between the couple was a world away from the sexual chemistry that had been so evident between Scarlet and Rhapsody. His address to her was perfunctory and her replies sounded shrewish. She had become a nagging wife, urging her husband to murder for social advancement and he a tired, hen-pecked creature.
“If we should fail-“ he moaned.
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail,” Flaxen chided him, her voice heavy with derision, as she pushed him towards the chamber where the old king lay sleeping.
Scarlet almost tripped over his plaid as she shoved him but regained his balance in time. Once the deed was done and Macbeth had fled from the carnage, she chided him further and, with the time-honoured sigh of exasperated wives everywhere, went to replace the daggers he should not have removed from the scene of the crime. A quiet ripple of amusement went round the auditorium.
Scarlet was uneasy, things were not turning out as they should. His wife, the beautiful and noble woman he had schemed for and with and whose strong character he so admired had turned into an ungainly shrew. Their ambitious and daring plot to win the ultimate reward risked becoming a farce at the hands of this woman. His anger grew – these tribulations could be traced back to that first Banquo – the false friend who had taken his Lady from him and whose attempted murder had come between them - the man he most devoutly hoped was now dead. It was Banquo who had tried to take his torque - the symbol of his greatness - from him and in so doing sever his links to the Goddess and her power. Banquo whose calm, rational acceptance of the witches’ prophesies so enraged him. The weird sisters had promised him he would be king - but they also promised to Banquo that his descendants would wear the crown - making his kingship nothing but an empty triumph, barren of all future honour.
His anger carried him through the next few scenes and into the murder of the man who now represented the absent Banquo. It was with sheer malice that he drove the theatrical dagger into the man’s flesh – reliving the satisfaction he had felt when he had stabbed his erstwhile friend. This time – there would be no mistake - the play would ensure he died from the wound.
As the curtain came down and Lieutenant Green staggered to his feet complaining about the force of the blows he’d received, he turned to look at Scarlet, seeing an expression in the man’s eyes that gave him a shiver of déjà-vu. The years evaporated and he was back on the stage at Port of Spain, looking at the self-same expression in the eyes of Sam Myers. Scarlet spun away and stalked off stage, leaving the Lieutenant stunned and shaken.
As he came off stage himself, he was met by a messenger from Colonel White – Lieutenant Claret, who was manning the comms desk in the control room, needed his assistance and he was to remain there until the Colonel relieved him.
Lieutenant Flaxen was on hand and he turned to her, “Audrey, can you make sure Scarlet knows I’ve had to go? Banquo’s ghost doesn’t say anything so he doesn’t need to a real person to react to… its annoying but the Colonel wouldn’t insist if it wasn’t urgent.”
“I’ll see he gets the message, Seymour. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, just a bit bruised – I’m not surprised Ochre didn’t want to have to fight him again if he caught a wallop like I did just then!” He paused and asked her, “Audrey, have you noticed Scarlet’s eyes lately?”
“What, me look Captain Scarlet in the eye? You have to be joking! You’d better go…”
“Yeah, well, you just watch him – he’s getting a bit carried away, that’s all…”
She leant forward and to his surprise kissed his cheek, “You worry too much, Seymour,” she said and turned away with a triumphant smile.
Green watched her go with a sheepishly happy grin and then turned and rushed off to the control room – with luck he’d still be able to catch the rest of the performance on the internal video-network.
The banqueting hall set had been designed to look impressive and as Macbeth welcomed his guests Flaxen took a seat on one of a pair of high backed thrones. In accordance with Colonel White’s instructions she remained impassive when amidst a general intake of breath, Captain Blue entered downstage, dressed in a wide-necked, white medical gown, with a huge red stain around the shoulder. The bruises around his throat were clearly visible even from the auditorium and his sharp-boned face was an unnatural dough colour, his damp, blond hair was plastered to his head and there were dark rings beneath his sunken eyes. The whisper began to circulate that Magenta must have prepared a projection and this had now come on unexpectedly, until one sceptic asked why the apparition would’ve been shown as wearing a medical gown and the buzz of controversy increased.
Scarlet halted mid-speech as he became aware of the ripple of disquiet. He turned to stare at the man he had wanted dead and a shiver of confusion and fear ran through him. To imagine Banquo dead and no longer a threat was one thing – but this was Adam, not Banquo – he had killed Adam! Fighting for his self-control the words tumbled from him, helter-skelter,
“Thou canst not say I did it: never shake
Thy gory locks at me.
…If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites”
Flaxen caught up with his erratic race through his speeches and gave the next cue, “What! Quite unmann’d in folly?”
“As I stand here, I see him!” Scarlet yelled, pointing a hand at the silent Blue, who was now sitting next to Flaxen, his level gaze riveted on his increasingly unnerved friend.
“Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the cold earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou doest glare with.
… Hence, horrible shadow!
Unreal mockery, hence!”
With stately and unhurried movements, Blue rose and walked from the stage, halting just before he entered the wings to turn and stare for one last long moment at the petrified Scarlet. There was a ripple of applause from the somewhat uneasy audience.
As the apparition left the stage, Scarlet sank to his knees, shock forcing his common sense to begin to question the facts he thought he knew to be true. That was not Banquo - it was Adam and Adam wasn’t his enemy – how could he have ever imagined such nonsense was true?
What had he done?
He stared with loathing at the torque around his wrist, knowing it was the source of his misery and confusion. It was glowing with a strange brilliance beneath the powerful stage lights. He no longer wanted to wear it; he no longer wanted to be the champion of the Goddess. He forced his hand towards it, fighting for control. As his right hand grasped the torque he let out a low moan as the pain shot along his arm and settled with excruciating insistence behind his eyes.
Voices murmured in his ear that he must believe - that he was required to perform the tasks they demanded of him. He shook his head – no, he had had enough of such foolishness. He began to tug at the torque, which seemed to be embedded in his flesh. The surprised onlookers saw a faint grey mist, rising from Scarlet himself and starting to envelop him as he knelt. The temperature in the auditorium dropped alarmingly as a cold wind sprang up from nowhere, making the mist swirl in a tight spiral around the lonely figure of the kneeling man.
“Help me!” Scarlet cried, his fingernails digging into his own flesh as he tried to loosen the torque. In answer to his plea, Ochre and Magenta hurried out from the wings and knelt on either side of him.
“What can I do?” Ochre asked simply.
“Take it off… it must come off…” Scarlet gasped as his strength failed him and his right hand dropped away. It was sheer obstinacy that provided the momentum for him to extend his left arm towards his friends. They gasped to see that it was now bleeding profusely where the flesh had been almost peeled back by Scarlet's frantic efforts to remove the metal band.
Barely able to hide his distaste, Ochre reached out and laid his hand on the golden band. As he touched it an unearthly wail set up in the theatre and the mist swirled in a chaotic dance around the three men. To the fascinated members of the audience it looked like a huge, three headed bird - a raven with its cruel hooked beak - as it swooped and swirled over them.
The unearthly noise rose in pitch until words became audible, spoken with desperate fervour by voices that seemed young and ancient together:
“NO! It must not be,”
“Our champion must not fail!”
“He must perform the duties…”
“At last, we are so close to our revenge!”
“Come my sisters, join with me and we shall not fail now:
Fair is Foul, foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine.”
In the centre of the swirling mist, Ochre mustered his strength to pull at the band and as it slipped easily down the bleeding arm, he fell backwards landing just outside of the maelstrom. Shaking his head in surprised confusion, he dropped the torque.
With a cry of pain and loss Scarlet fell and curled into a ball cradling his arm against his chest, gasping for breath. An ear-piercing scream of desolate anger reverberated around the auditorium as the grey mist broiled and swirled around him, strong enough to force Magenta back on his heels and keep Ochre pinned to the floor. The screeching made those closest cover their ears wincing at its intensity. Slowly Scarlet got to his hands and knees and laboriously began to crawl towards the band, which was glowing with a luminescence that owed nothing to the stage lights. As his hand reached out for it, Flaxen stepped forwards and aimed a vicious kick towards him. She made contact with the torque, sending it spinning across the stage, far beyond his reach. With a sob of exhausted relief, Scarlet collapsed to the floor once more.
As suddenly as it had appeared the mist vanished, rising to the ceiling before funnelling back into the discarded torque and like a miniature tornado as the wailing died away.
Moments later Scarlet felt arms lifting him and he looked up to see Magenta's concerned face. Beyond his immediate group stood Flaxen, with Destiny’s arms around her shoulders, their faces mirroring Magenta’s concern, whilst the ever practical Melody extended her hand to pull Ochre back to his feet. The torque lay ignored on the stage. The small crowd parted and Doctor Fawn hurried up to examine Captain Scarlet and behind him came Adam; Symphony moored to his heels, his left arm back in its sling and a half smile on his ghoulish face.
Scarlet gasped as the apparition winked and croaked, “I always said you are such a bloody ham, Paul.”
He gave a weak smile and said, “At least I don’t look like Boris Karloff on a bad hair day!”
Magenta, having delivered his charge to the Doctor's care, turned towards the auditorium and announced, “I think everything’s back to normal, Colonel – Scarlet and Blue are insulting each other!”
Fawn kept Blue and Scarlet incarcerated in sick- bay but after his usual barrage of tests on Captain Scarlet, he relented enough to permit them the solace of each other’s company. Blue was allowed into the side room where Scarlet was resting as his flesh wound repaired itself.
They exchanged somewhat embarrassed smiles, and Scarlet’s broadened into a grin as he said, “That was a pretty impressive performance, Blue-boy; you scared me witless on the stage for a time.”
“Thank Karen; she did the make-up, after she had bawled me out for pretending I was half-dead. Mind you, by the time she’d finished telling me what she thought of me, I felt half-dead!” Blue croaked in reply, his voice lurching from bass to treble like an adolescent’s.
“Look, Adam, I feel really terrible about all this… I honestly don’t know what came over me the other night. I just know I felt a murderous rage towards you – well, no, it wasn’t towards you personally – it was towards Banquo, but I also knew with an utter certainty that you were Banquo and that you had betrayed me… you were my enemy.”
“I have never been that, Paul.”
“I know - I wasn’t thinking straight…” Scarlet studied his hands with a bleak expression on his handsome face.
Blue recognised an unspoken plea for forgiveness and responded with his usual generosity, “Hey, just don’t do it again, okay? A guy could get paranoid if his partner takes too many pot-shots at him.”
Scarlet looked up with a grateful smile and admitted, “God knows what was going on in this head of mine.”
Blue looked at him for a moment and pursed his lips. “Well, I have a theory…” he began.
Scarlet laughed, “When don’t you have?” Blue flushed slightly and chastened his friend continued, “Ignore me, Adam, I’d really like to hear your theory.”
“You might not,” the American said, perking up again. “Fawn thinks I’m going mental.”
“Fawn thinks we are all doolally,” his friend commented dryly. “It might do him good to have a hobby that doesn’t involve strapping people to machines and driving them crazy with galloping boredom!”
Blue chortled. Paul hated every minute he was kept in sick-bay and the very mention of the word ‘test’ was enough to start him off on a diatribe about Doctors. He gave a slight nod of his head in agreement with the general tenet of the complaint and said with some hesitation, “Well, I thought you might have been possessed by some force within the torque.”
Scarlet gave him a frowning glance, “Why do you say that?”
Blue shrugged, “I guess it was the way you wouldn’t let anyone touch the damned thing. Besides, I did some research…”
Scarlet sniggered and then sobered in the face of his exasperated friend’s raised eyebrows, “Sorry – research… yes, of course, you would have done the research.”
“The books speak of a cult religion with shamans and votive offerings. Possession didn’t seem such an unlikely option somehow, and you weren’t acting like yourself at all. You stopped eating, for one thing.”
Scarlet nodded emphatically, “And, Oh boy, am I famished now!” As if on cue, Blue fished in the pocket of his dressing gown before handing his friend a large bar of chocolate. “Where did you get this from?” Scarlet cried gleefully, opening the packet.
“From Karen, of course. I swear her approach to the healing process is – eat chocolate and all will be well.”
“Don’t knock it – it works for me! Sometimes that woman is a complete genius! Want some?”
Blue shook his fair head, smiling as his friend wolfed the bar in double time. “I don’t actually like chocolate that much,” he confessed.
Scarlet stopped mid-chew and gawped for a second. “You are weird, Svenson,” he volunteered.
“So she is forever telling me,” he admitted with a surprisingly shy smile.
Scarlet choked on his chocolate, “I don’t think I want to know that!” They exchanged amused glances and Blue actually blushed. “Well, moving swiftly on – you thought I was possessed?”
“Hmmm,” Blue nodded. “It tied in with what Seymour said about how his friend’s character changed when he wore the torque.”
“But Seymour has worn it – and his grandfathers – without, presumably, changing into raving lunatics. You can’t expect me to believe it was just me and Sam Myers that got taken over? But I can see you do expect me to believe it – come on, Adam, explain yourself.”
“If the torque had no effect on the Griffiths family members – there must be a reason why it affected you and Sam Myers. So - what it is you and Sam have in common?”
“Unlikely or everyone who knew him would go doolally too.” Blue sniggered as Scarlet acknowledged his choice of words with an approving nod.
Scarlet shrugged and screwed the chocolate wrapper up, lobbing it into the waste paper bin across the room with a deadly accuracy. “Well, however it managed it, the torque undoubtedly managed to sow mistrust and uncertainty amongst many of his friends on the base –everyone in CADS was carping at everyone else. The Angels were forever bitching over their costumes, Ochre was just bitching – as usual – and face it my friend, even you got stroppy at times! But, if it’s not Seymour that’s the common factor, what is then?”
Blue looked a little put out by his friend’s comments on the company, but he kept his tone neutral and answered the question, “It’s obvious when you think about it - the Scottish play, of course. Remember Rhapsody said Shakespeare was supposed to have included real witchcraft in the text?”
Scarlet frowned in concentration. The memories of the effect of the torque were fading, but the name of Macbeth stirred them again – like lees in a bottle. “Yeah – that was what obsessed me and I saw everyone in terms of the play’s characters. But in a strange way – I hated the play –I felt like it had me confined in a straitjacket - stopped my escape routes and made my death inevitable. I was fighting to escape that as much as anything. That’s why I can remember knowing people were acting out parts, yet at the same time I knew they represented a threat to me. Especially the witches… they should have been on my side but the play made them my enemies – it was only because of the play that they were dangerous. I was really uptight about them– they seemed to embody all the evil I was sure was ranged against me. It was hard not to attack them sometimes.” He shuddered at the thought that he might – in his ‘madness’ have hurt any of the young women. “When I saw you and Karen on your ‘secret’ assignations – it looked like proof absolute that you were in league with them - it was that which tipped me against you. That and the proof of your liaison with Dianne, of course.”
“My what with Dianne? Oh, please tell me that you are not still going on about that stupid comment I made months ago?”
“Hey, it didn’t seem stupid to me! You and she were forever making eyes at each other!”
“We were not! I think I can honestly say I have never made eyes at anybody,” Blue said taking umbrage at the suggestion.
“Ha! That’s rich. I suppose you’ll say you do the ‘little-boy-smile’ and the ‘come-hither eyes’ in all innocence?”
“What?” Blue was outraged.
“That’s what Dianne called it – “
“I can’t be held responsible for what other people might say about me! And anyway – I don’t believe she would say that.”
“That’s all you know about it then! I heard her talking to Flaxen when they were rehearsing. She didn’t know I was there, and she called you ‘the guy with the little-boy-smile and the come-hither-eyes’ – she wouldn’t say that of a complete stranger!”
“I do not have … either of those!”
“You do, you know!”
“Well, in that case it is in all innocence! I have no feelings that way for Dianne. You ought to know that -you know how I feel about Karen. My God, you’re the only person I have ever spoken to about it, so you should!”
“Proper little Don Juan the other day weren’t you? Just couldn’t leave them alone?” Scarlet continued light-heartedly. “A session with Karen and a few hours all flirty with Juliette followed by a quick smooch with Flaxen before you go and muscle in on Dianne. Come to think of it, Adam, it’s not the kind of behaviour I would have associated with you – Ochre maybe, in his wilder moments, but you? I’d say I wasn’t the only one acting out of character. Maybe the effects of the torque spread like ripples through the company?” He was so intent on exploring the reasons for what had happened that he did not notice the effect his words were having on Blue.
The American looked disconsolate as – for the first time – the realisation of the full implications behind Fawn’s theory that more people than Scarlet had been affected by the torque’s power hit him squarely. Memories of his passionate encounter with Karen flooded into his mind, accompanied by the nagging doubt that it may only have happened because she was ‘bewitched’’.
“A session with Karen,” Blue repeated miserably and then, as another intolerable thought arose in his mind, he looked sharply at the hapless man in the bed. “What do you mean? Were you spying on me?”
Scarlet opened his mouth to reply but a basic instinct for self-preservation stopped the words before they reached his lips. He looked across at the man in the chair and realisation began to dawn that, for some reason, he was beginning to provoke Adam – and doing a good job of it too. It was a little known fact that beneath Adam’s equable persona there lurked a diabolical temper - all the more devastating for being so tightly reined in. Even he seldom witnessed it and had rarely been the target for it, but it was not something he wanted to have to face when he was feeling as shaky as he did right now.
“No…well, not for long,” he temporised. He could see that Blue was genuinely angry and as he rose from his seat to glare down at Scarlet, the Englishman sought to recover the situation. “I just meant I had seen you and Karen together… I saw you with Destiny and Flaxen too later on that evening – and they were both all over you as well… that is, I mean… well, don’t forget I saw you carrying Dianne out of the theatre…”
“If I ever thought you had been spying on Karen and me …”
“Adam, would I?”
Blue hesitated and his sharp blue eyes narrowed, “No, but I’m not sure how much of the real Paul Metcalfe remained in Paul Macbeth.”
“Enough to know where to draw the line,” Scarlet sought to reassure his friend, but he had always found it hard to deceive Adam and it was his blue eyes that looked away first. There was an uneasy silence, as Blue paced the room obviously troubled.
“Why would the torque be associated so closely with Macbeth, do you think?” Scarlet asked seeking to divert Adam from his suspicions.
“He protected the pagans– although nominally Christian himself,” Blue said flatly.
Scarlet grimaced, it was going to take a while for Adam to lose that tincture of doubt – the Svenson family were notorious for harbouring grudges, although his friend had always seemed blessedly free of the practice until now.
He carried on brightly, trying to bury the tension between them, “That’s right; I remember something about it now – Macbeth had connections with the Vikings in the Orkneys – and many of them were still pagan of course. The King Macbeth usurped had been unpopular and it was his son, Malcolm, who defeated Macbeth. Malcolm Canmore was supported by an army of English mercenaries, paid for by King Edward the Confessor who saw it as a crusade against a pagan monarch,” Scarlet rambled. “With Macbeth’s defeat the last remaining pagan strongholds were stamped out and Malcolm and his Saxon Queen – who was later canonised as Saint Margaret, no less - made damn sure everyone toed the Roman line – not even the practices of the Celtic Christian Church were tolerated any longer.”
“How do you know that?” Blue asked– his interest sparked despite his anger.
“I’m a military historian remember?”
Blue gave a shrug. “Then you probably know more about it than I do, so there is little point in my talking to you any more. I’m going to get some sleep…”
“Adam…” Paul called in a conciliatory voice as his friend turned to leave; he was reluctant to part on such a discordant note.
“Later, Paul. Just give me some time, willya? ”
Blue sounded so dispirited that Scarlet persisted. “You do understand, don’t you? I couldn’t stop myself… something just made me act that way. I would never - never deliberately do such a thing…” he said, unwittingly making things worse.
“Oh well, I guess that makes it all right then.” Blue’s scorn was merciless.
“Oh, come on Adam... you know me!” Scarlet’s own temper began to flare in the face of such unexpected antagonism.
“Yes, I do – and you know me! I make more allowances for you than I would ever do for anyone else I know. I tell myself – he’s under a strain, he has it rough! I tell myself we are partners and that you would do the same for me. I thought I knew a man who held me in as much respect as I did him – but maybe I was wrong.”
“No – you are not wrong! I respect you more than any man alive! Jeez – I owe you my life, Adam…”
“So you keep saying and you make it sound like I owe you a favour because of it!”
“Now you are just talking rubbish! You can’t believe I would deliberately do something you would hate so much? It wasn’t really me!”
“Yes it was… you have just said so! You said you knew what you were doing…” Blue’s voice broke under the strain and he swallowed, massaging his bruised throat with his hand.
“Adam, what’s wrong? This isn’t like you…and we don’t argue like this. I wonder if there isn’t some lingering influence from that damned torque making us fight. It might not be a coincidence that after Sam gave up the torque he ended up dying in a bar-room brawl…Adam?”
“I’m not gonna talk about this now… I am going back to bed.”
Chastened, Paul watched the tall American move away across the room “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I am so sorry…”
Partly because Doctor Fawn refused to allow Captain Scarlet out of sick-bay and partly because the reports he was receiving from the Doctor indicated that relations between his two Captains could only be described as strained, the Colonel held the de-briefing session in the men’s ward a few days later.
Everyone concerned with the performance was there. The four Angels sat on a bed across from Captain Scarlet. Rhapsody was back in uniform again having been declared fit that morning. She was still shaken by the events in the theatre and kept looking with anxious eyes at the downcast man in the bed, as if she expected him to vanish much as the grey mist had done.
Symphony‘s eyes were fixed with equal diligence on Captain Blue, who was also back in uniform, even though his arm was still in a sling. He had spent the morning closeted with the Colonel, and was looking surprisingly down in the dumps. She could sense that something was bothering him and suspected it had something to do with Captain Scarlet and the incidents surrounding the play. She had heard from Rhapsody that the pair of them seemed to be at loggerheads about something – Paul would not talk about it and she had not had a chance to talk to Adam. She had been trying to get to see him for the past few days, but had been told by Fawn that he had asked not to see anyone until his throat was less sore. She had vehemently expressed her disbelief at that and insisted he would want to see her – but to no avail – Fawn remained unmoved. Now she was wondering why Blue had not come to join her and was trying to catch his eye, but he was steadfastly looking in the other direction. His whole demeanour was far less genial than usual, as he was avoiding talking to anyone, although he had exchanged a few friendly words with Lieutenant Flaxen, as she stood nervously between him and an equally subdued Lieutenant Green.
Ochre and Magenta stood opposite them, somewhat closer to the bed. Ochre was chatting with Melody, who was sitting closest to him, whilst Magenta was smiling at something Destiny was saying. As Colonel White, with Doctor Fawn in attendance, came towards the group the chit-chat ceased.
White cleared his throat and nodded grave thanks as Lieutenant Green moved a chair for him to sit on. Confident he had everyone’s undivided attention the Colonel began immediately, “I want to bring you all up to date with events concerning the incidents that have happened over the past few days. Firstly, the golden torque has been subjected to every test imaginable by Doctor Giardello of Spectrum Intelligence’s R&D department. There is no sign that it has been tampered with in any way that could equate with Mysteron activity, as far as we are aware of their capabilities. Everyone knows what they saw and what they heard on stage the other day and I, for one, have no reasonable solution to offer. Suffice to say that Captain Scarlet is on the road to recovery and that the torque can now be returned to its owner – which is you, I believe, Lieutenant Green?”
Green nodded unhappily, “If you please, Colonel, I don’t want it back. I saw what it did to Captain Scarlet and I know now what it must have done to Sam Myers. I feel as if I am responsible for his death by lending him the thing. I gave it Captain Scarlet to use in the play and he can keep it if he wants to.”
Scarlet immediately shook his dark head, “No, I don’t want it near me. I’m not sure I could resist the temptation to put it on again.”
“Then perhaps it would just be best to destroy it? Green suggested.
“No, you can’t do that,” Blue interjected surprising them all. “It is an ancient artefact – it should be in a museum.”
“Would any museum want it with such a record of destruction attached to it?” Green argued.
“Museums are places with little time and no imagination for the supernatural, Lieutenant. I’m sure many of them would jump at the chance of acquiring the torque,” reasoned the American, with a sympathetic glance at his young friend.
“What I don’t understand,” Ochre began, “Is why Scarlet couldn’t take it off when he wanted to and yet it slipped off as smooth as silk when I tried.”
When no-one had an answer, Blue hazarded a guess, “Well, you were playing Macduff, the man who defeats Macbeth. So it seems likely that, within the truth as presented by the play, you would be the victor in any struggle between the both of you. Captain Scarlet has said - that whilst he was under the influence - he was struggling to break free of the straitjacket of the plot. Isn’t that so, Captain?”
Scarlet looked up and nodded, “Yes, Captain, I did say that. Whatever was messing with my mind hated the play and yet, had to use it to achieve its aims…”
“Which were?” Ochre interjected.
Scarlet shifted uneasily, “As far as I can remember – to be revenged on the treachery of Banquo and Macduff which had led to Macbeth’s defeat at Dunsinane - the historical Macbeth, I mean. Something wanted revenge for his death…” he shrugged, “and she was determined to get it.”
“She?” Rhapsody ventured to ask.
“Yes, a woman – or women… they say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, don’t they? Well, this fury must have lasted for millennia.”
Doctor Fawn gave a slight cough and said, “I’m not saying I agree with this possession theory, but I did look up Ochre’s medical records – just out of interest, you understand? – and it would appear that you were born by emergency caesarean section, after your mother had had a fall at home.”
Magenta grinned, “So not only were you playing Macduff – but you are also not ‘of woman born’!”
“You’re making me sound like an alien,” Ochre complained.
“Where is that Mysteron detector?” Magenta asked casually and a ripple of laughter went around the ward.
Colonel White coughed again to remind them of the serious nature of the meeting. “It is all very well to laugh at it now, but the fact remains Captain Scarlet attacked and seriously injured Captain Blue. Who knows what might have happened if the torque had not been removed.”
“Quite so, Colonel. Even now, Scarlet’s lost a good deal of weight and his vital signs are all over the place,” Fawn complained. “I am sure his retrometabolism is trying to combat whatever infected his system – but as this has been like a low grade infection over many months, he is seriously weakened and I won’t let him out of my sight for the next fortnight.”
“A fortnight?” Scarlet wailed.
“Yes, a fortnight. And one without any illicit food and drink parcels - Captain Blue, please note. I want a chance to watch how your regenerative processes deal with this problem – it could tell us a great deal about your retrometabolism,” Fawn said implacably.
“But a fortnight? …Have a heart, Edward, I could get up now, I feel fine!”
Fawn pressed his lips together in an effort not to smile. “Maybe – just maybe - if you co-operate I will let you out in a week... or so.” And Scarlet had to be contented with that.
“What about the torque?” Green asked after the laughter had died down.
“Well,” Rhapsody said, “My father knows the director of the British Museum quite well, I am sure I could ask him for an introduction to the relevant expert there and get an opinion on it, at least.”
“That’s a good idea, Rhapsody. If everyone concerned with the article agrees?” Colonel White looked around at his gathered staff. Everyone nodded, just in case their approval was being sought. “It might be as well to determine who does own the torque before we dispose of it. Lieutenant, you are sure you want to give it to Captain Scarlet?” Green nodded. “And you, Captain, do not want it?”
“No sir, I do not.”
“I’ll take it,” Blue said quietly. “I don’t want it, but I’ll undertake to get rid of it. I have no desire to try the thing on, you can be sure of that,” he added as Scarlet looked across with some concern and Symphony let out a muted groan of alarm.
“You are quite sure, Captain Blue?” Colonel White asked, weighing the man before him in his perceptive gaze.
“Yes, sir, I’ll get rid of it for you and, if it is worth anything, I can at least make sure the money gets to the right people.”
“Maybe we should start calling him ‘Frodo’?” Ochre whispered to Melody, who couldn’t quite contain her snort of laughter.
Blue glanced across at his compatriots with an exasperated grin, “My arm may be in a sling and my voice still sound like something from The Chipmunks, but there’s nothing wrong with my hearing, Rick.” Nevertheless, he didn’t seem too annoyed and a ripple of amusement went round the room, dissipating the tension that had been growing.
Colonel White deemed it an appropriate time to change the subject and he said, “It may also interest you all to know that I have had a long and serious discussion with the World President, concerning the paucity of support staff for the Angel flight. And he has, finally, agreed that we may begin training a team of standby Angels. They will become an air display team – much as our own Angels were at the start of their training. I have already put forward the names of six candidates and the agents at SI will start vetting them. Their full Spectrum training will start after Christmas, at Koala Base.”
There was a murmur of approval from everyone present. Colonel White continued, “I have designated Captain Blue as the staff officer to oversee the technical side of their course.” He gave Scarlet and Blue a quick glance and added, “You will necessarily need time to prepare for this assignment, Captain, and so, you will be exempt from front line service for the duration.”
“Yes, sir.” Everyone immediately put Blue’s sombre mood down to the fact that he must had been informed of this before the meeting started and was obviously less than ecstatic at his new posting.
“But sir…” Scarlet protested, glancing across at his partner and willing him to look at him.
But Blue’s gaze, like the Colonel’s, was directed solely at Symphony Angel, who was looking with horrified outrage at her commanding officer. He saw Destiny’s hand move to her friend’s arm, advising caution as the Colonel continued, “Lately, there have been some quite inexcusable breaches of the regulations masquerading as rehearsals and these must stop! I will not tolerate such flagrant disregard for discipline. If there are any further incidents such as the fight between Captains Scarlet and Ochre … or the other infringements that have come to my attention, the Drama Society will be wound up. Do I make myself clear, Ladies and Gentlemen? Besides, it was never my intention that staff officers should work in rigid partnerships, so it might be as well if, following recent events, you all work on separate missions for the time being.” He glanced at the dejected Blue and the indignant Scarlet.
Before Scarlet could voice his indignation, Blue said soberly, “Sir, there is no need for that, I have no quarrel with Captain Scarlet. I hold no grudge against him for what happened – it wasn’t his fault.” However unhappy Blue was about recent events he could accept them on an intellectual level - that much was evident.
“And I have apologised and I do apologise unreservedly…” Scarlet said emphatically.
“I am sure you have,” White said as he saw Scarlet send an unspoken plea towards his friend. Blue gave a slight smile in response. They were clearly still ill at ease with each other, but it didn’t look as if it was a major breach in their friendship – maybe time was all that was needed to repair the damage. He continued, “However, I would feel better if all this had died down completely before you two worked as full partners again. Quite apart from the necessity caused by Scarlet’s incarceration in sick-bay for the next week or so and Blue’s secondment, I think it would be as well to swap all the duty shifts around – temporarily. It will mean re-doing the duty rotas, of course.”
“Ah, non,” Destiny sighed.
Once the meeting was over, Symphony hastened to Blue’s side as he stood, listening to Ochre and Magenta. She squeezed in between the two officers and took hold of his good arm saying, “I am sure you two gentlemen will excuse us – we have things to talk about…”
Ochre gave a knowing smile and nudged Magenta’s ribs, “Oh, sure… come on Pat…I want a word with Scarlet before we go. Catch you later, Blue…”
Blue tried to remove his arm from her grasp, but she held on and steered him to the quietest corner of the sickbay.
“Now,” she said, “what’s wrong and why are you avoiding me?”
“I’m not…” he lied.
“I won’t dignify that with a response. Adam, what’s wrong, what have I done?”
“So why are you mad at me?”
She gave an exasperated sigh, “Look, let me put it this way… talk to me now and we can deal with whatever it is – leave it until you’ve been to Koala and we will have problems…potentially terminal problems. “ He still gave no answer and eventually she drew a deep breath. “Okay, have it your way. You know where I am if you want to talk to me, Captain Blue, and I guess I should congratulate you on adding another notch to your bedpost!” She turned to leave but suddenly spun round to face him, her eyes flooded with unshed tears. “You know, I thought you were different from most of the men I’ve known. I believed the things you said and like an idiot I thought … I really thought you cared for me.”
He stared despondently at her, “I do… I do care…”
She raised a cynical eyebrow. “Then why are you being so callous? I thought better of you – especially after what happened…”
He swallowed and sought to control the quaver in his voice. “But that’s just it... I had the awful idea that what happened was because of the effect of the torque… and that …” he petered into silence.
“That you would blame me for what happened. That, maybe you wouldn’t have wanted it to happen – not then, not like it did… that it might not mean as much to you as it did to me…” he blurted.
She stared at him in disbelief. “Adam Svenson, for a supposedly intelligent man you are an absolute idiot at times! I’ve never heard such crap! I really don’t know what to say…”
He gave a rueful smile. “Don’t worry; It won’t matter what you say because you can’t be harder on me than I was on myself. I’ve made myself completely miserable.”
“It serves you right! You should have talked to me if you wanted to know what I was feeling… You’ve said often enough, that you can’t second guess me, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Karen. You are quite right, Karen.”
“And for your information, if it takes some ancient, demon-riddled piece of jewellery to finally get you to make a move… well, I can live with that.”
“But you really had me thinking that, having got what you wanted, you’d dropped me to go chasing after someone else! And I don’t like to think badly of you, even when you richly deserve it...” She placed a hand on his injured arm and smiled up into his blue eyes.
“Pre-emptive meekness won’t get you off the hook, either,” she warned him playfully.
“Yes, Karen… I mean, no, Karen.” His lips twitched as he fought a smile.
She sniggered at him and then suddenly frowned, “Did you volunteer to go to Koala base on the strength of this nonsense?”
He shook his head, “The Colonel said he was sending me because I was ‘the obvious choice’.”
“And that’s the only reason?” he grimaced and she pressed, “Are you lying to me, Adam?”
“He was less than pleased to think we might be blatantly breaching regulations. He asked me why you were coming to my quarters, on the night you found me.”
“Oh that,” she grimaced. “I got ticked off for that too – but it was my fault not yours – why doesn’t he bawl me out?”
“I am the senior officer,” Blue reminded her.
“Technically you are, I suppose. But it’s unfair to hold you responsible for the stupidity of others.” She sighed ruefully. “What did you tell him?”
“I said I didn’t know why you were coming, but that I was very pleased you had decided to ‘drop by’- which was true. If you hadn’t come to find me, I would have bled to death before anyone missed me in the morning.” He reached for her hand and raised her fingers to his lips. “Why were you coming?”
“I thought we might’ve… shared a hot drink after our duty shifts…” she coloured slightly. “That’s all.”
“Now who’s lying?” he smiled and grinned as she blushed.
“Well, we still have a few weeks before you go,” she said, linking her arm with his good one. “And at least we won’t have to spend any more time rehearsing! Actually, I rather think we’ve got it down to a fine art already….”
The taxi pulled up before the courtyard of the British Museum in London and disgorged its two passengers. The young woman was of medium height and slender, with a remarkable head of long, copper-red hair. She was dressed in a smart, tailored, two-piece suit, in pale grey and holding a leather briefcase as she waited for her escort to pay for the taxi. As the man stood back from the cab driver’s window it became obvious that he was tall, broad shouldered and fair haired. He was also wearing a suit, but over that he wore an open, calf-length, belted overcoat of black leather.
They crossed the courtyard through the smattering of people waiting for the museum to open. At a side-entrance they rang a bell and the woman announced through an intercom, “Lady Dianne Simms and Mr Adam Svenson to see Professor Hayward.” The door was opened and the couple were ushered through to the warren of corridors that opened out onto workrooms and offices.
Professor Hayward was different than they had expected, with a thick mop of wavy blondish hair over a square, strangely boyish face. He blinked at them behind large pale-framed spectacles and extended a hand, “Welcome, Lady Dianne, Mr Svenson, it is a pleasure to meet you both. Can I get you a cup of tea? There’s always one on the go around here?”
“Thank you, that would be most welcome,” Lady Dianne said, carefully placing the briefcase on the floor beside the chair the Professor was ushering her into to.
He skipped over to the door and called, “A pot of tea and three cups, please, Deirdre – there’s a love.”
Mr Svenson had fetched himself a chair from by a computer desk and was now removing his overcoat as the small office was rather close. He perched on the chair, his long legs stretched out before him so that he looked too big for it. Lady Dianne gave him a conspiratorial smile as the slight, energetic professor continued to flit about the room.
Deirdre brought in the tea and the Professor poured them a drink from an elaborate, but badly chipped tea pot into the mismatched china cups. Lady Dianne picked one up and examined it carefully, “Minton bone china, isn’t it? From around the 1860’s I would say.”
“Is it really?” Hayward said delighted, “Well, quite out of my period you know, but I don’t like to think of these things just gathering dust.”
“You should take care of it Professor; it's worth quite a lot of money, if you have the set.”
“Oh no, just what you see, I’m afraid. Things get left here by all sorts of people.”
“Perhaps, we should let you see the torque, Professor,” Svenson hinted.
“Well, yes of course… how exciting. From your description of it, Lady Dianne, I am expecting quite a treasure.”
She lifted the briefcase and flicked the combination lock to open it. Inside the case there lay just one item – wrapped in a large, bright yellow duster, was the golden torque.
With gentle hands the professor lifted it out and spread it on the desk, making little squeaks of delight as he examined it. “Look at the carving and the metal work… I have rarely seen such a fine example…. Where did you say you got it from?”
“A friend of ours says it was discovered by one of his forebears on a beach in the Caribbean,” Svenson explained.
“The Caribbean? Oh not, it’s not American… not even pre-Columbian…most certainly not. This is definitely Celtic.” He produced a magnifying glass and examined it carefully, "A very fine example and in marvellous condition. It has been kept somewhere safely, I expect.”
“No, until a few months ago no-one had any idea of its possible importance and it was being used as a paperweight before it was worn by another friend as a part of a theatrical costume.”
“My goodness, Mr Svenson! That is highly inappropriate for such an important artefact. Can you credit it?” Professor Hayward went back to his examination and Lady Dianne poured herself another cup of tea and settled down to wait. Finally he put the torque down and gazed almost sternly at them across the battered desktop.
“My dear young people,” he began, “I have to say that this is the most singular example of Celtic craftsmanship I have ever seen. There are the very finest carvings on the main band, which show a King or a Priestly figure being sacrificed for his people amidst a wonderful depiction of a forest. Quite an unusual subject for Celtic art – in fact I have never heard of it's like.” Hayward peered over his glasses at his visitors. “I don’t know what you intend to do with this artefact, but I have to say that the museum would be most interested in acquiring it – most interested.”
“How would it be kept?” Lady Dianne asked, unexpectedly.
“Well, I would want a protective case and a controlled atmosphere to protect the carvings. We have quite a splendid display of Celtic metalwork and this would be the centrepiece – oh, most certainly - without a doubt.”
“No-one would wear it?” she asked.
“Wear it? My dear young Lady, you don’t wear works of antiquity! Certainly, no-one would wear it. I should think so…”
“How much is it worth?” Adam asked suppressing his smile.
“It is priceless, Mr Svenson.”
“So it’s expensive… how much?” he repeated.
“I suppose I mustn’t expect an American to understand the importance of an object like this…” Professor Hayward began with a disapproving sigh.
“Forget it, Professor. I want you to value it so that I can make sure that an appropriate sum gets to the people it belonged to before I acquired it.”
“Well, I am sure if we had to bid for it… I could put a case to the Trustees for an amount up to…” he named a sum which made Blue smile.
“Well, that sounds quite acceptable to me, Professor. But I wouldn’t want to put you to the trouble of asking the Trustees for money – you can keep it,” Blue said reaching into his inside jacket pocket.
“I beg your pardon, Mr Svenson?”
“You do want it? Then it’s yours – free, gratis and for nothing!”
“My dear sir, I mean… you can’t be serious about this… its market value…”
“Is an irrelevance to me. Put it in a case, Professor, and don’t ever let it encircle another man’s arm,” Blue said sternly.
“As a bequest, do you mean? Well, certainly the museum would be delighted to accept such a magnificent donation – once we have proof that the item is yours to give… you understand my caution, Mr Svenson, I am sure.”
“Absolutely, Professor.” Blue produced a wad of papers, which he opened to display an impressive collection of signatures and seals. “I took the liberty of having the relevant documentation prepared before our meeting. These papers should take care of everything you need to know – all duly notarised by lawyers in Trinidad, Boston and here in London.”
“Well, I am sure…. The Museum’s lawyers will be only too happy to peruse your documents and in a week or so…”
“No time for that I’m afraid. I leave for Australia in a few days and expect to be gone for several months. If you want the torque you must sign for it now. I need a receipt that I have left it in your possession. If subsequent to your lawyers’ perusal of the documents, you have concerns or wish to return the torque – well Lady Dianne’s father has kindly agreed to make sure a message reaches me. I would like it to remain in Britain, but I am sure I could interest many of the museums in The States. ”
That threat was enough - without a moment’s hesitation the Professor reached for his pen and signed the necessary papers. “Oh, my goodness – such a bequest!” His eyes glowed with excitement behind his glasses, “The Adam Svenson bequest.”
“Hey, no not that… call it…” he glanced at Rhapsody.
“Call it the Scarlet Charm bracelet…” she suggested with a smile.
“A quite unsuitable name for it, if I may say so, Lady Dianne. No, such a generous bequest must be honoured with the donor’s name!”
"You want a name? Then call it … the Stefan Svenson Bequest - after my Grandfather."
"Excellent! Your generosity is very much appreciated - the torque will be most carefully studied by academics for years to come!"
"Just make sure they don't try it on," Svenson warned and with a conspiratorial laugh the couple left, leaving the professor to examine his new acquisition.
“What about the money, Adam? It was a lot more than I expected. I guess if it belongs to anyone it belongs to Seymour.”
“I spoke to him before we left Cloudbase and we agreed that if it was worth anything we’d split the amount between Sam’s family, Seymour’s old school and him and his brothers and sisters. I should say that the school’s share will buy a whole library of play scripts for Miss Adrian and the kids.”
“A whole new school, I should imagine!” she laughed. “But where will all this money come from?” she persisted.
He placed a long finger against his nose and said, “I am sure my Father will be delighted to learn that his generosity to the British Museum has been recognised with a plaque in his father’s name.”
“Oh Adam, you can’t expect him to pay for it…”
“Why ever not? “
“He might not agree to it…it is a lot of money.”
“You leave my Father to me….He can offset it against tax and everybody wins that way! Now, where did you say was the best place for Christmas shopping? Karen’s given me a list as long as my arm and I still need to get Paul a birthday present – how anyone could be so inconsiderate as to get born this close to Christmas is beyond me.”
He laughed and stretched an arm out to hail a taxi.
usual my thanks go to Chris Bishop, for her tireless support and encouragement
and also to Hazel Köhler and Sue Stanhope for their re-assurance and advice.
They all know what they have had to put up with as this story was written and I
hope they also know how much their friendship is appreciated!
usual my thanks go to Chris Bishop, for her tireless support and encouragement
and also to Hazel Köhler and Sue Stanhope for their re-assurance and advice.
They all know what they have had to put up with as this story was written and I
hope they also know how much their friendship is appreciated!
Any comments? Send an to the site