And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
He isn’t an easy man to love; well, not since it happened. He used to brood for days; but he doesn’t do it as much now. Time is a great leveller, and eventually even traumatic events can lose something of their impact. I used to sit with him for as long as I could, just willing him to talk to me, but, more often than not, he wouldn’t – well, not about that, and that was the real issue, the underlying problem that coloured everything that he’d done – and is still doing. Perversely, when he did talk, it was about anything but what had happened, and it was then that he most resembled the man I first met: a quick-witted conversationalist, so charming that you forgot the time as it whizzed by, and then you found yourself running to the Amber Room to avoid being late for your duty.
I remember those days so clearly; they seem like a lifetime away sometimes, but it was really less than a decade ago. It wasn’t easy, even on Cloudbase, and I don’t know what I’d have done without Adam. Even now, he calls me whenever he can – he finds a way to let me know what’s happened and how bad it is… all the things Paul will never tell me. I used to rush down to sickbay to see him, but he made me promise not to do that. He hates the idea of me seeing him while he’s ‘recovering’ – the word he uses to describe his unique gift: retrometabolisation. I wanted to share it with him, but he has too much compassion, and says it isn’t fair to make me suffer agonies of uncertainty about him.
I know what he has to do is hard; I’ve always understood that. It’s hard on him, his family, his friends, his colleagues. He’s doing what no one else can do and he accepts the risks and the dangers as part of the package and we must do the same. Without him, Spectrum’s job would be far more difficult and, because they need him - and for as long as they continue to need him – he will not let them down.
So, I have learnt to share him – or at least, to share Captain Scarlet – with the World; but when he can relax, when he drops his guard, he comes to me, and I’ve never shared those times with anyone. Until now.
Now it seems like an excellent opportunity to share – openly and honestly – what happened between us: how we came to be together and the impact it had on us both.
Retrometabolism – the ability to recover from any wound, disease – or even from death itself. The ability to retain your youthful vigour, strength and fitness as the years that leave their indelible marks on your contemporaries pass you by, resulting in a physically young man with many decades of experience and the insight of maturity.
An alien attribute – given to a man those implacable aliens had murdered, and then revived for their own wicked purposes. A man who already had the willpower and strength of character to escape from their control; a man who had been so warm and so vital, and to me, at least, so very special.
A man who had been so very human –the man who was Paul Metcalfe.
When we first met, I don’t think we paid each other much attention. He was preoccupied with meeting an ‘old flame’ again and I was probably just a giggling redhead, who barely looked old enough to have left school. I know that I was excited about joining Spectrum – I had been training for some time with the other four girls who made up the Angel Squadron, and we were delighted to meet the senior captains of the organisation; the men who would be the field agents for the new anti-terrorism, security force.
Besides, in all honesty – and I did say I would be open and honest - at the time and for a while, I was in love with another man.
Richard Fraser – Captain Ochre - is a hard man to say ‘no’ to. There is something irresistible about the mischievous twinkle in those dark eyes, and the endearing way his chestnut-coloured hair falls over his forehead – even today. Oh, I was smitten, all right and I think Rick was fond of me – certainly enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak – and we’ve remained good friends over the years.
Luckily, at the time, all eyes were on the all-too-obvious attraction between Symphony Angel – Karen Wainwright – and Captain Blue – Adam Svenson – which had hit them both like a bolt of lightning. Although Adam tried to keep it hidden, it was probably the most ‘open secret’ since the dawn of time, at least amongst the members of the elite squadrons of Spectrum. Out of respect for Adam’s finer feelings, however, the actual gossip was kept low key, but the interest in their relationship was intense: so much so, that Rick and I slipped under the radar as far as prurient gossip went.
I used to listen patiently to Karen’s indiscreet – to an extent that would have chilled the more reserved Adam to his core – revelations about their affair, and then sympathetically to her angst that she wasn’t loved as whole-heartedly in return, and finally to her anguish when he seemed to reject her… and all the time I was wallowing in the excitement and sexual gratification that was the inevitable outcome of the nights spent in Rick’s arms.
But it wasn’t to last. Rick shied away from ‘commitment’ quite as fiercely as Adam appeared to do. Now I know why, of course; in order to join Spectrum he’d agreed to a fake assassination that had severed him forever from his lover. He rationalised it as essential both to protect his identity and to keep her from the risk of reprisals; but, I think, going through all that broke his heart. He never would admit as much, of course: Rick ‘doesn’t do’ romantic. Still, I think I’m right, because it’s taken him a long time to get over it, and even after she died, he remained pretty much a ‘jack-the-lad’ with a smile and a wink for every young female on the base. I don’t mean he seduced them all – in fact, his name was rarely linked with anyone’s for long - but he certainly charmed us all. Everyone would do anything for the dashing Captain Ochre.
He ended up being closest to Melody Angel, and maybe that was because they both knew it was a platonic friendship, with no romantic expectations on either side? It served to protect Nolie from unwanted male attention, and gave Rick a willing female partner for Cloudbase socials, and an excuse not to get too involved with the love-sick ladies on board. So it was a ‘win-win’ on both sides.
I can say that now, but at the time I felt cheated, and for a while I forswore men completely.
Karen – Kay - and I had become good friends early on in our time in Spectrum and that friendship was cemented by our working so closely together in the Angel Squadron. There was a candour about the young woman from Iowa that I admired, and Karen could get along with anyone, when she wanted to. It is true that there are times when she’s moody and stubborn, but most of the time, she’s fiercely loyal and great fun to be with.
Karen had graduated from Yale with honours in a variety of branches of mathematics. She’d been recruited into the Universal Secret Service from Yale, where she’d learned to fly and – much as I did – discovered her true vocation. Rather bravely, I think, she’d quit the USS and found herself a job flying executive air taxis. It was from there that she joined Spectrum, and found her métier amongst the high-performance craft we used.
My own upbringing had been highly conventional: a public-school education and on to University, with a vague idea of eventually joining the diplomatic corps like my father, Lord Robert Simms. I’d been hijacked into the world of espionage and – my passion – flying, by a fortuitous meeting with Lady Penelope Creighton Ward, whose family and mine were neighbours in the country. If it hadn’t been for Penny, I would never have been invited to join Spectrum, and you wouldn’t be reading this.
Paul and Adam became friends when they met at their Spectrum training camp, although initially they were not field partners, and Paul – who had served in the World Army-Air Force, becoming the youngest colonel in the history of the service - worked with an inexperienced field officer, Captain Brown, to pass on the benefit of his experience. Adam wasn’t a military man: he’d started as a test pilot for the World Aeronautical Society and moved into security work from there. I always wondered why, to be honest – he was the best damn pilot any of us had ever met.
This difference in their backgrounds and the fact that they did not work together, didn’t affect their friendship though, and they generally chose to spend much of their leisure time together on Cloudbase’s racquets courts, or playing chess in the Officers’ Lounge - or Honeymoon Bridge, although, given Adam’s amazingly retentive memory, Paul invariably lost, so I could never see the point in that!
To look at them you’d think they were chalk and cheese, but it isn’t the case. They have very distinct similarities, courage amongst them. Where they do differ they compliment each other, so that there’s rarely any friction between them.
Paul generally got on with most people, although he could be quick to jump to conclusions on occasion and was prone to taking offence when he felt himself justified. He tended to follow his instincts when it came to taking sides. Sagacious by nature, Adam, on the other hand, would weigh and consider, rationalise and review before committing himself to any side of an argument, but once he’d come to a conclusion it was hard to convince him otherwise, whereas Paul, once it was clear he’d made a mistake, would move heaven and earth to make amends and be forgiven.
Their friendship has deepened over the years, and outside of his immediate family, Adam is the most important person in Paul’s world. I suspect it is much the same with Adam, although wild horses couldn’t have made either express the truth in public! So I will just say that the four of us became the very best of friends, and that this friendship, in so many ways pivotal to the way things worked out, has proved to be the single most important one of all of our lives.
For a start, it was because of Karen and Adam that Paul and I began spending time together.
The Americans’ relationship was not an easy one, and they lurched from high points to low spots like a roller coaster, so that it was never easy to guess where they were in the love-hate cycle. In the early days the problems were compounded by everyone having to adjust to the routine of life on Cloudbase. There was also the slight matter of contravening official regulations, because according to Spectrum’s precepts, officers are not supposed to get personally involved with each other. However, it quickly became accepted that King Canute had had more chance stopping the advancing tide, than anyone had of keeping Karen out of Adam’s bed.
Colonel White turned a blind eye to the whole situation quite early on, because Karen became inconsolable after the loss of her grandfather, and then of her father in fairly quick succession, and the only person who could comfort her was Adam. It was imperative that Spectrum remained at maximum effectiveness, and I suppose the colonel rationalised his actions by weighing up the impact of a little hanky-panky against the loss of efficiency and the cost in time and money, of training another Angel pilot.
So, there was a complex game of double-bluff going on: everyone knew Captain Blue and Symphony were ‘an item’, and Blue and Symphony knew that everyone knew, but everyone pretended not to know, and Blue – at least – pretended he believed them. For some reason it seemed to work, and the Americans weren’t hauled in front of a disciplinary court to answer for their ‘fraternisation’.
One outcome of this arrangement was that, when things were good between them and they wanted to spend time together, they needed ‘camouflage’ and this is where Paul and I came in.
After all, what could be less reprehensible than a quartet of friends, innocently sharing their leisure time? There were numerous evenings when the four of us went to the movies, or spent the afternoon in the swimming pool and sundeck, and Paul and I were left to amuse ourselves while the Americans gazed into each other’s eyes and whispered sweet nothings. It was so sweet, really.
However, because part of the unspoken agreement that ensured the colonel’s indulgence was that no ‘horizontal exercising’ took place on Cloudbase, it was always debatable how long this state of affairs could last, and, I suppose when the itch got too much, Karen suggested we all went ‘ground-side’ for a short break somewhere – as Adam’s treat.
Well, I never said Karen was subtle and things weren’t nearly so innocent when we went off-base.
The first place they chose was London – which showed a certain lack of imagination - but, so that I wasn’t staying practically on my front door step, Adam booked a hotel in Kingston, by the river and close enough for us to explore Hampton Court. That was a nice idea, and there’s hardly a pleasanter way to spend a bright summer’s day – but this was in February… still, it was a nice idea.
Paul and I were pretty blasé about it – the English don’t like to be seen to be overly proud of their heritage, after all - but Karen was aglow with romantic notions, her imagination no doubt filled with lissom Tudor beauties and their often tragic ends, and even on a bleak winter’s day, there is something romantic about that intricate red brick palace and its ornate gardens and the deep, dark river flowing in stately majesty at the end of the grounds.
We walked along the bank, back towards the shimmering lights of Kingston. It wasn’t quite as romantic as it sounds. Paul and I were in front, talking about cricket, while Adam and Karen dawdled behind.
I thought it was sweet the way Paul was impressed I knew enough to talk sensibly about the sport he loved, but as I explained, Daddy was a member of the MCC and I’d grown up spending summer days at Lord’s watching test cricket and keeping score for him in a notebook. I don’t think I have ever seen him look so envious about anything. On an impulse I offered to get him an invitation to a day’s play in the final test match of the season. He smiled at me, his sapphire-blue eyes looking at me in delight – I mean really looking at me, as if for the first time. I caught my breath and felt disappointed when he turned his head to call the news to Adam.
But his words were destined to remain unspoken. Instead, he caught my eye and inclined his head back to where our friends should have been walking behind us. I looked back in time to see Adam sweep Karen into his arms, lifting her off the ground as her arms wrapped around his neck and their lips locked in a passionate kiss.
We were both smiling when our eyes met, and I felt a blush surge into my cheeks as I wondered what it would be like to be swept into his strong arms.
“You deserve a kiss,” he said, almost as if he could read my mind, and that’s what he did, pressing those oh-so-kissable lips to mine.
It probably only lasted seconds, but it left me breathless and when we broke apart, I saw his surprise at his own reaction to what we’d done. I swear he blushed too. After that we walked a little closer and occasionally our hands brushed against each other – and for my part it was accidentally on purpose, you might say. There was a rough patch of ground and he took hold of my hand to help me across, quite forgetting to let it go afterwards. We walked hand-in-hand for some time, until I had to withdraw it to slide my bag back onto my shoulder. After that I was too shy to take hold of his hand again.
We had a meal in a bistro in Kingston, drank wine by candlelight, and tried not to watch the increasingly passionate looks and casually sensual touches that passed between our friends. The atmosphere fairly crackled with sexual tension by the time we left to walk back to the hotel.
The hotel was a simple enough affair, a small, family-run concern, which presumably Adam had chosen so as not to draw attention to ourselves. What I was never quite clear about was if he had intended to book only two rooms: ‘one the guys and one for the gals’, as Karen had explained when we’d checked in; but when we got back from the restaurant, it was obvious that wasn’t what she wanted at all and she came to me, almost begging me to swap so that she and Adam could be together.
I think she’d assumed I’d agree, she’s always said that I’m too soft-hearted, but I only agreed to it as long as Paul had no objections. There really wasn’t much he could say, under the circumstances, and he was politeness itself to her when she made her request, only deferring the decision to me. I made it clear that I had nothing to do with the sleeping arrangements and so, more or less by default, the matter was decided.
I moved my stuff into the room next door to the one I expected to use, at the same time as Adam moved his out.
The room had narrow, twin beds, and a small en-suite bathroom, so it wasn’t that bad. I put my suitcase on a chair and wondered where Paul had gone. Faintly, through the partition wall, I could hear the murmur of American voices, the sensual trill of Karen’s laughter and the deeper rumble of Adam’s as the beds in the other room got moved closer together – at least that’s what it sounded like.
It didn’t bode well for the rest of the night.
When Paul finally came to the room, he knocked politely and looked rather sheepish as he strode to his bed, the one closest to the bathroom. It was getting late and neither of us felt inclined to make much small talk.
He went into the bathroom and emerged some time later in nothing but a pair of pyjama-type boxer shorts. His muscular body was strongly built and lightly tanned, with black hair across his chest and on his legs. While I was combing my hair, perched on the rickety stool at the built-in dressing table, I watched him in the mirror as he stowed his gear into his suitcase and ran a hand through his jet-black hair and over the dark stubble on his chin, looking away and blushing fiercely as he sensed my scrutiny and glanced towards me.
It was my habit to braid my hair into a couple of loose plaits at night, to stop it getting too tangled, but in his presence, I didn’t want to do that. I knew some of the captains considered me – the youngest pilot in the Angel squadron – as little more than a precocious schoolgirl, and I wasn’t about to risk reminding him of that by making myself look like a refugee from St Trinian’s. So, I merely finished brushing it and left it loose.
I sidled into the bathroom with my sponge bag and my nightdress over my arm. It was only when I put it on I remembered which one I’d brought. It was a pink tee-shirt type, with a design that looked like a package tied with scarlet ribbon across the front and a legend which read: ‘Sexy Body: see inside for details’. It would have been amusing if I’d been sharing with Karen, it was downright humiliating now I was sharing with Paul.
He wasn’t, as I’d hoped, already asleep by the time I slipped out of the bathroom. I clutched the sponge bag to my chest to hide the slogan and scrambled into my bed trying to keep my back to him. There was a silence that lasted forever until he asked:
“Shall I turn the light off?”
“Yes, please,” I answered, probably sounding like a frightened schoolgirl. I couldn’t understand it – I wasn’t some shrinking violet, and after all, there was always a chance that Rick had told him more about me than I wanted him to know.
I lay on my back and stared into the darkness breathing a sigh of relief. However, my composure didn’t last long; the noise through the wall made it perfectly obvious that our friends were definitely in training for some kind of marathon Sex Olympics event. I felt myself getting hot under the collar – and my nightie - as the performance continued.
When Karen’s soaring gasps made it quite obvious that the earth had just moved for her – again - Paul’s voice cut through the darkness with a hint of frustrated amusement in it. “They’ve been going at it hammer and tongs for ages, surely even a Spectrum agent’s stamina can only last for so long?”
“Yes, I’d say they’re bound to win a prize,” I gabbled – slightly hysterical by this time – and laughed when I heard him chuckling too. The light snapped on and he looked across at me, resting on one arm.
“This wasn’t the best accommodation or the best hotel they could’ve chosen,” he said.
I shook my head. “Next time we’d better make sure they’re in a sound-proofed room.”
He smothered a yawn. “I’m not going to be able to sleep until they’ve finished anyway. How about you? Do you mind if I leave the light on?”
I shook my head, and suddenly became aware that I was clutching the sheet to my chin with such determination he must’ve thought I either hated the sight of him or was terrified he’d try to molest me. I made myself calm down, telling myself I was a sophisticated woman, capable of holding a sensible conversation with a man in any circumstances. I sighed out my tension before I tried to speak.
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep a straight face tomorrow when we all meet up,” I said, as I made myself lower the bedclothes and turn onto my side towards him.
Paul grinned. “I know what you mean. Adam will be mortified to learn that we could hear anything, although I doubt it would bother Karen that much.”
I nodded. “I know, and I wouldn’t want to embarrass him; he’s such a dear.”
“You like him a lot, don’t you?” he asked me, studying my reaction.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t,” I retorted in all honesty.
He didn’t reply straight away, but a faint expression of sadness flitted over his face. “No,” he said eventually, “neither do I.”
There was a long silence while I desperately tried to think of something to say, but it was Paul who spoke first.
“Dianne,” he said stiffly, “if you’d rather I went and spent the night in the car, you’ve only got to say so. I know this wasn’t what you were expecting – although maybe we were both a little naive in thinking Karen and Adam would’ve been willing to spend the night apart.”
“No – I mean, I don’t want you to go. Why should you? It’s raining out there and it’ll be cold.”
“You just don’t seem comfortable with my being here… I thought…maybe it’d be easier for you, if I left.”
“No; no, no, no! It’s not you, Paul! It’s… it’s listening to Casanova Svenson and Emmanuelle Wainwright performing the Last Tango in Kingston, next door.”
He didn’t seem to find my reply as amusing as I’d hoped; instead he asked me, “Are you jealous?”
“Of Karen?” I heard an edge of desperation in his voice – I swear I did.
“Because she has a lover, do you mean?”
“Because it is Adam,” he explained quietly.
“No!” I was so astounded I actually laughed. “I mean, I like Adam, I like him a lot, but – not like that. I mean, I don’t fancy him…”
“No. What made you think I did?”
He shrugged. “You seem to prefer his company to mine – you hardly spoke to me over dinner, and at Hampton Court you were walking with him for most of the afternoon - at least, until Karen got jealous.”
“I was telling him about the place, that’s all. He’s got an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge – rather like their inexhaustible thirst for sex…” I inclined my head towards the partition wall.
He chuckled this time, sounding much happier.
“Besides,” I continued, “if Karen so much as suspected I had the hots for Adam, I’d be the last person she’d invite on a dirty weekend, even only to act as camouflage. And she’s quite capable of getting jealous of complete strangers if he so much as smiles at them, so you can’t go by that.”
“That’s true.” He shook his dark head and his short fringe flopped over his forehead, making him look like an adorably roguish little boy. “I sure got that the wrong way round then. But, even if you don’t fancy Adam, you don’t like me that much, do you?”
This surprised me and I babbled nervously, “I hardly know you that well, Paul, but I assure you, I like what I do know, or I would never have agreed to this swap, however horny Karen was feeling.”
“Good; because I like you too.”
I smiled and he beamed back at me.
“So, why did you scuttle past me like you thought I was about to jump your bones?” he asked suddenly, an exaggerated look of casual interest on his face.
“Oh… well, no real reason, I suppose it was daft really, but… I’m not that used to sharing my bedroom with… strange men – not that you’re a stranger, exactly! But, well, you know how it is.” I could see those expressive eyebrows soaring upwards again and a wry smile twitched the corner of his lips. Disconcerted, I ploughed on, “In all truth, I just didn’t want you to see this…” I sat up in bed, pulling the nightdress tight across my breast so he could read the slogan. “I thought it was a bit brazen,” I admitted.
He cleared his throat. “I don’t know about brazen, but I’ll say this: it’s certainly true and I rather hope that one day – maybe - you will let me ‘see inside’.”
I must’ve gone as red as a beetroot, and with my hair that is not a pretty sight. I let go of the fabric, so it sagged into shapeless folds again.
I didn’t want to get into deeper water – not here, like this - so I changed tack with the intention of finding out exactly how things stood, and if he was free to say such audacious things to me. “I thought you and Juliette were – well, you know?”
He raised a black eyebrow. “I could have asked the same of you and Rick,” he retorted, and, disconcerted, I looked away. When he spoke again, he sounded apologetic. “Some years ago, Juliette and I met in Paris and we… we had a fling. It was pretty special while it lasted, but; well, it died a natural death, with no hard feelings on either side. When we met up again, I guess we both thought it was worth seeing if the embers were hot enough to fan into flames again, but the old magic wasn’t there. I still like her a lot, she’s a wonderful woman and one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever met, but we’re just good friends. Believe me.”
“Are you asking me to – have a fling?”
“No. I’m not expecting you to jump into bed with me, here and now, if that’s what you’re thinking-”
“Good,” I interjected.
“But, I suppose I am asking you if you’d like to go out with me – as a proper date, not just as camouflage for the red-hot lovers, next door.”
I had to laugh, but it wasn’t in any way derisive. “I don’t think I’ve ever been asked out on a first date by a man I’m sharing a bedroom with, before now. You have to admit, there’s a certain irony in it.”
He grinned and sighed deeply. “Yes, and I’m not a hundred per cent sure that this ‘mix-up with the accommodation’ wasn’t carefully planned, by you-know-who.”
“It certainly isn’t like Adam to make such a fundamental mistake.”
“No, it isn’t. I shall be having a quiet word with Mr Svenson tomorrow, and instructing him to curtail his matchmaking activities.”
“I suppose it is almost Valentine’s Day. You know, I never thought of Adam as a romantic.”
“He isn’t – or so he claims. I’m not sure I believe him though.”
“Karen complains that all the romance in him is buried under a mountain of financial acumen and good business sense.”
“If the man everyone acknowledged as the handsomest in the world, arrived on a white charger with the head of a slain dragon to lay at her feet, and a choir of bluebirds draped garlands of flowers around them both as he pledged his undying love on one knee, while handing her the keys to a bank vault crammed with treasure, Karen’s romantic streak still wouldn’t be satisfied,” Paul complained.
I laughed at the absurd image but had to agree in broad terms. For someone so intelligent and experienced in the fine arts of espionage and skulduggery, Karen remains such a hopeless romantic that she’s doomed to be forever disappointed.
He grinned at me and I smiled back. “I don’t think I’d expect as much, but she is a full-blown romantic – with a capital R. Still, there’s no real harm done, is there, and as it is possible he was egged on by Kay, maybe we should forgive Adam?”
He shrugged. “Maybe, and it’s comforting to know you don’t expect romance, with a capital R. I’m damn sure I’m even less capable of that than Adam. ” There was a silence and then he said with exaggerated casualness, “You didn’t answer my question, Dianne. Would you like to go out with me sometime? You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. I don’t hold grudges, so, if you can’t think of something you’d hate more, it’s okay to say so.”
“No, I think it’d be fun to get to know you better, Paul. And I suspect, if the love affair of the century lasts, we’ll be seeing quite a lot of each other anyway. Whenever they need camouflage, in fact.”
I smiled at him and held out a hand.
He smiled back at me and swung his legs out of the bed, leaning across the narrow gap to take my hand and bending to kiss me – with a gentle peck on the cheek.
“Goodnight then, Di,” he whispered, adding, “In case you haven’t noticed, the fireworks next door have stopped; so we should get some sleep after all.”
“Goodnight, Paul,” I said, sliding down the bed and grinning like an idiot to myself as the light went out.
The following morning Adam made it clear that he recognised there was a new ‘understanding’ between us. He was obviously delighted, and, as we walked out of the hotel, Paul whispered to me, ‘it’s fudged the issue of what they were doing last night and how much we heard, most effectively.’
For a moment I was annoyed – had he only said those things to me to stop a universal embarrassment engulfing us all? And what exactly had he led Adam to believe had happened? But when he slipped an arm around me and gave me a squeeze, I realised he was just trying to disguise his own pleasure at this latest phase of our relationship.
I’d phoned home earlier, and, when Mummy told me that my father happened to be in London at the time, I phoned him and he invited us all to lunch at his club. The Americans politely declined because Karen wanted to go shopping, so we agreed that we’d split up and meet in plenty of time to get to the airport and catch the shuttle back to Cloudbase. We drove to the airport and returned the hire car, leaving our luggage in the care of Spectrum technicians and got a taxi into London, dropping the Americans at the entrance to Harvey Nicks, and driving on to Pall Mall.
My father is my second-favourite man ever. A cursory look shows a stiff, upright man, whose tawny-blond hair is going white at the temples, but closer examination reveals laughter lines, and sparkling blue eyes. He isn’t overly tall – Paul’s easily an inch or two taller – but he has a commanding presence and he’s no one’s fool. Until I met Adam I’d always imagined my father was the cleverest man in the world, and even now, I’m sure it’s a close-run thing.
He greeted me with a hug and a kiss, and extended his hand to Paul, welcoming him with polite gravitas. He enquired about Paul’s father - General Metcalfe – an acquaintance of his, and made conversation until our table was ready. My father’s an astute judge of character, with many years’ experience as a senior diplomat; I knew he’d be sizing Paul up, however genial he appeared to be. I watched them anxiously for maybe fifteen minutes, but as soon as they got onto the topic of cricket, I realised that they were entirely compatible and had no need of an intermediary. So, I relaxed and left them to it; two devotees, knowledgeable and partisan, yet prepared to abide by the old-fashioned standards that dictated you applaud your opponents’ triumphs as enthusiastically as you would your own.
We ate a leisurely lunch, and when Paul excused himself from the table, my father gave me a steady look and said,
“I heartily approve of your young man, Di.”
“Daddy, don’t go booking St George’s, Hanover Square just yet! We’re only on a first date – if you can call it that. Karen and Adam have been with us all the time.”
“All the time?”
I’ve never been able to lie to my father and I felt the blush creeping up into my cheeks. “Damn near all of it,” I assured him as glibly as I could.
“Well, be that as it may, I’m glad you’ve stopping mooning over that American.”
“The policeman your mother mentioned; she said you were mooning over an American policeman.”
“I told Mummy in confidence! And I wasn’t mooning. I just said it was a shame we didn’t work out.”
“And she told me in confidence, because she knows I worry about you and you never tell me anything,” Daddy said firmly, but the twinkle in his eyes told me he wasn’t cross.
“Well, you’re in on the ground floor with this one, Daddy; happy now?”
“Very. I like to see my little girl glowing with excitement.”
“Glowing? Oh, heck, I’ll need to powder my nose if it’s gone all shiny…”
“You look radiant,” he assured me, “and I might even be prepared to put some of it down to the presence of Colonel Metcalfe, and not just because you’re with me.”
“Daddy, you know I love you most of all…” I reached across and kissed his cheek as I stood to leave. “I’m going to powder my nose anyway. Radiance is only a degree away from shiny.”
My father shook Paul’s hand as we prepared to leave and hugged me, inviting us both to come and stay at the Chelsea house whenever we wanted, and promising to get Paul into Lord’s for the test match.
“Your father’s a great guy, Dianne,” Paul said as we made our way to Covent Garden where we were due to meet Karen and Adam.
“He liked you too,” I assured him. “Very few people get invited to Chelsea on a first meeting.”
“Even his daughter’s boyfriends?”
“Especially not his daughter’s boyfriends.”
He laughed; a warm, scintillating jewel of a laugh that sent pulses of excitement up and down my spine and set off a flight of butterflies in my stomach. Reaching for my hand, as the tube train started to hurtle through the grimy, black tunnels, he pulled me against him, and I felt the slightest touch of his lips on the top of my head.
I felt like singing.
From then on, even though we considered ourselves an item, we kept it pretty quiet.
Of course, life isn’t all beer and skittles even when you’re in love. Back on Cloudbase we were still governed by routines, duty rotas, reconnaissance flights, patrols and missions. Captain Scarlet was still working with Captain Brown, a nice man, if somewhat accident-prone for a field officer. I knew Paul would have preferred to be working with Captain Blue, whose designated partner, the icy Captain Black, was away on the ill-fated Martian expedition, but the colonel had decided that they were better apart and he might have been right; at least we can say his decision saved Blue’s life and, in a roundabout way, Paul’s as well.
I remember Captain Black as a difficult man; reticent, dour, unforgiving of transgressions and contemptuous of mistakes. It was no coincidence that our first ground trip together had coincided with his departure for Mars. For some reason Black also disapproved of Captain Scarlet, and it was only through the mediation of the genial Blue that the pair tolerated each other’s company. But, if the three of them were together, and I turned up – or Symphony – Black would swiftly make his excuses and leave. He had the reputation as a total misogynist – and he was the man who made me feel like I ought to still be in a kindergarten – so, although we respected his undoubted abilities as a field agent, none of the Angels were entirely comfortable with him.
Indeed, Symphony was openly antagonistic to him, which was odd for her, for she was – in her own way – even more sociable than Blue, but then, she was always scathing about anyone who came between her and ‘quality time’ with her boyfriend, and Black seemed to think he ought to spend the majority of his off-duty hours with his field partner too – no doubt ready to leap into action, should the need arise. Blue urged her to control her resentment lest she threaten his working partnership with his field partner and he managed to accept Black’s presence with his usual inherent affability, although the rest of us were less good-natured about it.
So I hope you can understand when I tell you that, basically, we’d all been waiting, with barely concealed impatience, for Black to leave for Mars. His mission was to investigate the inexplicable radio signals emanating from an unexplored part of the planet, which the powerful communication arrays on Cloudbase had picked up, and there had been a collective sigh of relief when he’d gone. But, looking back on it now, with the sharp focus of hindsight, those weeks were the quiet before the impending storm, one so epic that when it finally broke, it engulfed us all in its turbulence.
Everyone was busy working on projects and missions around the globe. Scarlet and Brown went to investigate an arms dealing scam in Bereznik, whilst Blue and Captain Grey, both expert divers, went to track down a smuggling ring in the Bahamas, which was believed to be connected to the Bereznian operation.
Symphony and I were kept busy flying patrols, doing target practise, and missing our boyfriends with equal vigour, but it felt like we were all waiting for something to happen. Spectrum was still the ‘new kid on the block’ and we had yet to crack a significant global plot, and Colonel White had one eye on the other senior military commanders, who were circling like vultures, ready to seize the first opportunity to bring us down. We all knew we were ‘on probation’ and still had to justify the time and money that had been spent on Spectrum.
The work was exciting, yet within parameters that, although dangerous, were human and understandable.
No one could have expected what happened next.
I was on standby duty as Angel 3 when the order came to ‘launch all Angels’. Harmony and I were in the chair lifts and ready to be catapulted into the wide empty skies around Cloudbase in the twinkling of an eye. Destiny was Angel Leader that day, and we fired the engines to catch her up. The co-ordinates given to us were for the north-east seaboard of America and centred on New York, and as we travelled, Destiny brought us up to date with what had been happening.
We knew something had gone spectacularly wrong with the Martian expedition and that Captain Black and the other members of his crew had disappeared. There were all sorts of rumours around Cloudbase, but the latest was that some group calling themselves ‘the Mysterons’ - who had been responsible for the failure of the Martian mission - were now threatening the World President’s life. I knew that much already, as Paul had mentioned that he and Brown were being sent to New York to escort the President to the safety of the Maximum Security Building. A fairly routine task, which wasn’t likely to stretch either man. We were to fly along the route, keeping an eye on the procession that included two of the distinctive red Spectrum Saloon Cars and a Maximum Security Vehicle – the tank-like MSV.
What Paul hadn’t mentioned, because the colonel had restricted the information to senior officers on a rigid ‘need to know’ basis, was that the Mysterons were aliens, with the technology they called ‘ the secret of reversing matter’ and which in practice gave them the ability to restore destroyed artefacts. It was these aliens who were threatening President Younger.
I’ve gone over and over the events of the next 24 hours or so thousands of times in my mind, and tried to make sense of them, but, in keeping with most people – even those most closely involved – I’m still unsure about what exactly happened. This isn’t unusual when you try to analyse events that have been initiated or manipulated by the Mysterons – we’ve learnt that over the years.
We do know that a tyre burst on the SSC Scarlet and Brown were driving to New York. But that in itself should not have led to the SSC running out of control and breaking through a barrier to crash into a steep gully. That is what happened though, and the car exploded. It was considered nothing less than miraculous at the time, that both men walked unharmed from the incident and were able to make the rendezvous with the World President only a few minutes late.
As for Paul, he’s said he can remember the heat of the flames, but nothing more, and he has no memory of the events that unfolded in fairly rapid succession after this crash.
What appeared to be happening was that Captain Brown – as field commander – escorted the World President to the Maximum Security Building; I saw them going in through the security barriers as the Angel flight flew over the area. Captain Scarlet had returned to Cloudbase as ordered, and so he wasn’t there when, only a short time afterwards, the huge explosion tore through the MSB and it collapsed in a smouldering heap of rubble.
Spectrum went into overdrive, of course. The World President had been quick-thinking enough to activate the emergency evacuation system, which had whisked his chair along a bomb-proof tunnel to the bunker at the back of the site, so he was not amongst the many dead and injured who were buried under the rubble. Later analysis of the security tapes showed that Captain Brown had been carrying some sort of incendiary device on his person, which had blown him to bits as it detonated a bigger bomb that must have been concealed somewhere in the MSB.
Of course, there was a huge investigation, but no trace of that bomb was ever found, and no one ever charged with planting it.
I was relieved that Paul had returned to Cloudbase before all of this happened and, as we could not be of much use to the poor souls in New York, the Angels were recalled there too. I hoped to get a chance to speak to him, to see for myself that he wasn’t hurt in the crash and to have him reassure and comfort me after the horror of what I’d seen, but when I got there he was already with the colonel and the World President and the next thing I knew, we were being ordered back into the air to fly escort to the SPJ that was taking President Younger and Captain Scarlet to the London MSB.
And that’s why I wasn’t there when Captain Ochre brought the bodies of Brown and Scarlet back to Cloudbase from the site of the car crash that killed them both. I wasn’t aware that anything unusual was happening, but the colonel was quick to see the implications: if Brown had been an impostor, then Scarlet must be one too. He ordered Scarlet to return to Cloudbase, and when his orders were ignored, Destiny was told to fire a warning shot across the bows of the plane.
Nothing we did made any difference, the SPJ flew on and Captain Scarlet ignored all attempts at radio contact. When the plane crossed the English coastline, Scarlet and the World President ejected, and tried to make their escape by car. Destiny reported to us all that Paul was holding the President at gunpoint and we were left with no doubt that Captain Scarlet was now the enemy.
Why Scarlet should have taken it into his head to attempt to kidnap the World President was a mystery to us all; the colonel did not waste time explaining things. We’d all been trained to attack when we were ordered to, regardless of who that person was – by its very nature, terrorism uses the ordinary man and woman in the street as its foot soldiers, which is why it is such a terrible thing. Our instinctive reactions to the shock and surprise that one of our erstwhile colleagues was now to be regarded as a terrorist were suppressed by our professionalism.
As luck would have it, Captain Blue was the Field Commander tasked with rescuing the President. There was something calmly reassuring in hearing Adam’s voice issuing orders as he raced after Paul and the President in the SPV he’d just requisitioned. I had the task of blowing up a motorway bridge to prevent the car heading towards London, and force it to take the only remaining exit which led to the ghastly, 800-foot-high, ‘Car Vu’ platform. I confess that however desperate the situation is, there’s something satisfying about diving down and firing missiles at a target, and seeing that target explode and crumble. No one doubted at the time that it was the right thing to do, but I know there was a long and tedious dispute with the British Government afterwards, about who was going to pay for the reconstruction. I’m glad to say, it wasn’t me.
The colonel had ordered a ground-based force helicopter – A42 – to rendezvous with Blue and rescue the President, and the Angels flew around the area, unable in our jets to do anything practical to help. Trying to land on the sky-park would have been asking for trouble and the chances were we’d have blown the car, Paul, and the President off the tower! We had a grandstand seat though, as the SPV raced out into the open arena of the sky-park and Captain Blue descended to the ground, and strapped on a hoverpack and safety helmet. I could see that Adam had drawn his gun, and had no doubt he meant business. If Paul refused to surrender, he would be gunned down, either by his friend, or by the pilot of helicopter A42. Yet, we were all so wrapped up in the attempt to save President Younger, that I had still hardly assimilated the fact that the person we were fighting was Paul.
Just when it seemed that we were making progress, and there was a distinct possibility that Younger would be rescued, A42 arrived at the sky-park, and started shooting – at Captain Blue! By clever use of his hoverpack, Adam wasn’t hurt, but there was shock in his voice as he ordered us to consider A42 as hostile, and try and prevent it from attacking him again.
We were at the furthest extent of our patrol circle and Destiny broke away to return and attempt to distract A42 from its hostile actions. There was gun fire on the sky-park; Scarlet was firing at Blue, who was advancing deliberately towards the overhanging gantry where the President was clinging for dear life to a girder, and Captain Scarlet, clearly visible in his bright-red uniform, was standing between us and his hostage.
Another attack run by A42 sent Blue diving over the edge of the sky-park, where he played a macabre hide-and-seek around the vast concrete structures that supported the round viewing chambers and the sky-park above, even as he ordered Destiny to attack.
Destiny Angel is a calm and professional pilot. She’d been in the World Army-Air Force, which is where she’d met Paul in the days before they were both recruited to Spectrum. She’s also a dead shot. A42 was a sitting duck, and as her missiles caused the helicopter’s engines to fail, it slowed, and yet continued towards the Car Vu with an inexorable progress that was chilling to watch.
The helicopter ploughed into the support struts of the tower and exploded. Whilst we watched in horror the viewing platform of the London Car-Vu swayed and the World President was almost bucked off his precarious perch. Blue was moving in again, exchanging shots with Captain Scarlet as he approached. Finally he hit him, and with a despairing cry, Paul lost his hold and fell the long 800-foot drop to the ground, just as the President was thrown off-balance by another twist of the structure. He managed to grab a girder, to hang dangling from the communications array. I saw Blue swoop in and attempt to grab the President. He had to move fast; the Car Vu was in its death throes, and slowly the giant tower crumpled to the ground in a mountainous heap of concrete and steel.
Communications between the Angels and Cloudbase focused exclusively on the safety of the President, and I can clearly recall the cheers of triumph and relief as we saw Blue emerging from the dust and smoke, with Younger draped across the support arms of the hoverpack he was wearing. We watched anxiously until we were sure they were safely on the ground, and were then ordered to fly escort to the President as he was taken to the Maximum Security Building in Dublin; in the confusion about what was happening – and why - the colonel was taking no chances of there being a terrorist faction at work in England that might make further attempts on the President’s life.
So it wasn’t until much later, when Blue had already brought the body of Captain Scarlet back from the site of the Car-Vu, that the truth about there being two bodies began to emerge.
The fact that they fetched Destiny Angel to identify Paul’s body was testimony to how well we’d kept our relationship under wraps. It had been some years since they’d been close, whereas Paul and I had spent our previous weekend leave together in Rome, less than a month before. The body was in such a pitiful state, that it upset poor Juliette quite badly, and it took some time for her to forgive the colonel for that, I can tell you. Thinking back, I suppose I was fortunate that I wasn’t the one asked to perform that particular duty, as, although I can’t be sure how badly it would have affected me, I’m certain it would have made things seem much worse. As it stands, I never did see the body from the scene of the car crash, and so I was spared that particular anguish, which may have made my ultimate acceptance of Captain Scarlet as Paul Metcalfe, that little bit easier.
As soon as he could, Blue came down to the Amber Room. Karen was in Angel One and Harmony was sharing stand-by duty with me. Destiny, shaken and upset by what she had seen, had been taken to her quarters by Melody, who was going to the Room of Sleep after that to get the necessary rest before her next duty shift.
You can trust Harmony not to interfere in personal matters and she’s not one to gossip, so when Adam walked in, pale and undoubtedly choked up himself, I had no hesitation in stumbling into his arms and venting my grief against his broad chest. Chan would never tell anyone what she’d witnessed.
Adam’s always been a very tactile person; comfort for him means personal contact, and I have to say, it is a great comfort at times, so that even now I can remember how instinctively he put his arms around me, stroked my hair, and even laid his cheek against the top of my head, as he tried to tell me what had happened. It didn’t make any sense at all.
“Paul’s alive,” he said. “He’s recovering in sickbay.”
I stared at him as if he was mental. “No one could survive that,” I insisted, “and if he did by some miracle survive, Lord knows what state he’d be in. Besides, they’ll lock him up and throw the key away for kidnapping Younger. What the hell was he doing, Adam? And why?”
I knew it was unfair to ask him these things, he was as confused and shaken as I was in those early days, but I was so used to him having the answers that it was second nature.
He shook his head, and didn’t reply immediately. “We’ll know when we can ask him about it,” was all he said, eventually.
It worried me that I couldn’t go to see Paul; that was the downside of keeping things quiet, of course; no one knew I had any claim to visit him. Not that he was allowed many visitors. The colonel, Doctor Fawn and the interrogating officers from Spectrum Intelligence were there every day, according to Adam, who was his only ‘non-investigatory’ visitor. He reported back to me after his every visit, and I saw him gradually coming to terms with what had happened, and rationalising what were the astonishing, if not almost miraculous, events to his own satisfaction.
His undoubted belief that the man in sickbay was Paul Metcalfe came early on in this process and it remained unshakeable, even though he too was thoroughly grilled by the implacable agents of Spectrum Intelligence, who were determined to test everyone – and everything - to the limit. They maintained that if Captain Scarlet was not an alien-created doppelganger, he was guilty of treason against the World Government, and must face the full rigour of the law; but if he was an alien-created doppelganger, he was the agent of an enemy who had declared war against the World Government, and so he should face the full rigour of that law. Adam called it a ‘classic ‘catch 22’ scenario’, and over the long weeks of intensive questioning that followed, I could see it was growing increasingly difficult for him to restrain his irritation with those persistent investigators.
These were very difficult days for me. Not being able to see Paul, I remained in a state of confusion, uncertain that there was any way he could have survived. Oh, I heard what we were told, that the Mysterons had the power of ‘reversing matter’ – or retrometabolism, as it quickly became known – and that whatever this was and however it worked, it had been done to Paul to create a doppelganger, and it had been the doppelganger, controlled by the Mysterons, that had kidnapped President Younger.
So far, so good – however unbelievable – but it was still hard to escape the fact that – in order to retrometabolise Captain Scarlet, the Mysterons had first killed the real Paul Metcalfe.
Under those circumstances, I did not find easy to deal with Adam’s certainty that the ‘doppelganger’ in quarantine in Cloudbase’s sickbay was Paul, in exactly the same way as the man who had died in the car crash was Paul. He told me that the man in sickbay had no memory of anything, beyond the fact that a tyre burst while he was driving along the road with Captain Brown, until he woke up in sickbay with the astonished faces of Fawn, the colonel, Destiny and Blue gazing at him, as if they’d seen a ghost. He strenuously denied that he’d had anything to do with kidnapping the World President and was horrified to hear that he’d taken pot shots at Captain Blue.
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” I asked Adam repeatedly, as he patiently tried to explain the inexplicable.
“Yes, he would, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe him, Di.”
“I just can’t get my head around it, Adam!” I cried in a mixture of despair and near-total exhaustion. “I don’t understand how he can be Paul and yet he’s some alien-created… thing!”
He reached and put an arm round me as we sat, side-by-side, on the Promenade Deck bench that looked out over the runways. In the distance we could see Angel One where Symphony was on duty.
“Honey, I don’t know that I have an answer for you. All I know is that whenever I’ve spent time with him, I’ve had no doubt he’s Paul. You know, he’s as confused about all of this as you are. He’s wracking his brains to try to remember something – anything - that might solve the mystery – but he just can’t remember a thing,” Adam said, and smiled. At this point, I ought to say that he has one of the most glorious smiles on the planet, and it’s almost impossible not to feel heartened by its effulgence – after all, how could the world be a gloomy place when there is something as dazzling as this smile in it? It’d worked its magic now, and I settled back in the comforting circle of his arm and prepared to be reassured that Paul talked about nothing but me.
“Does he remember me?” I asked, feeling sure that if this was Paul, I’d have been uppermost in his mind, and Adam would tell me so.
I should have also known that Adam wouldn’t lie to me.
“Well, he’s mentioned you. He asked if you were safe and well.”
“That’s it?” My warm feeling of self-satisfaction evaporated at those words.
“He remembers the past and the people he cares about. He knows where he is and what Spectrum’s about. Everything, in fact, up to the car crash, so I’m sure he won’t have forgotten any detail of your… friendship.”
“Huh.” I gave a derisive snort to cover my disappointment.
“He remembers being invited to go and see the cricket by your father, for instance…” Adam back-pedalled desperately as he obviously realised that’d been the wrong answer.
“Wonderful. He hasn’t asked to see me, I suppose?”
Adam shook his head. “They wouldn’t let him see you anyway, so there’s no point.”
“The whole point is that whether there is a point or not, he ought to be asking!”
“Dianne, he’s under a lot of pressure.”
He retracted his arm and I felt more alone than ever. He leant forwards, his interlocked fingers resting on his knees as we sat in silence. He studied his hands and occasionally looked up to stare towards Angel One, until finally he sighed and got to his feet. I looked up at him and he must’ve seen the tears that had flooded my eyes.
“All I can imagine happened, honey, is that when the car crashed, Paul wasn’t killed outright – he remembers the heat of the flames, after all. The Mysterons may have created their doppelganger without realising they were recreating the heart, mind and memories of a living man. When I shot him at the Car Vu and he fell, he was still alive; I heard him scream, even if you didn’t. Maybe they… switched off their power over him – or maybe he was strong enough to reassert himself over their control? Maybe it is something as nebulous as a soul, and Paul’s soul got carried over into the Mysterons’ recreation? I’m no theologian, I don’t know any more than you do, but I could speculate on a dozen reasons why the man we have here is Paul Metcalfe. I just don’t know, Dianne – and we may never know – but I believe it is Paul. Something was important enough for him to want to get back to.” He glanced towards Angel One, but said nothing more.
“Oh, Adam…” I managed to choke out, and reached out my arms to him. He sat beside me, holding me as I sobbed out my confusion and misery. You can’t buy that kind of friendship.
I think Paul and I have been incredibly blessed in our friends.
You have to understand: it wasn’t that I didn’t want the survivor to be Paul – I did, with all my heart – but I just couldn’t fathom how it could be him. After our talk on the Promenade Deck, I pleaded with Adam to sneak me in for a visit, but he wouldn’t – believing, with some justification, that we’d both have been in deep trouble if we’d been caught. He advised me not to worry, but to wait until Scarlet was allowed out of quarantine, and he offered to deliver a note to him, if I wanted.
I accepted his kind offer, but after many hours of tearing up innumerable starts to letters that quickly ran out of steam, I realised there was no way I could express the conflicting emotions that were battling it out inside me, and I told Adam that I’d changed my mind. He nodded and patted my shoulder, and I knew without a doubt, that he understood why.
It was only a few days after this that Doctor Fawn announced that, in the light of all known medical criteria, the man in his sickbay was Paul Charles Metcalfe, the son of General Sir Charles Edward Metcalfe and Mrs Mary Caroline Metcalfe, née Blake, of Longwood Abbey, near Winchester, England. How he was the same man, Fawn didn’t pretend to have a clue, but that he was the same, he was adamant.
Immediately after Fawn had announced his conclusions, Colonel White ordered Captain Scarlet back on duty and, before he’d even had a chance to say ‘hello’ to any of us, he was sent, with the somewhat surprised Captain Blue, to prevent the Mysterons from carrying out their latest threat to assassinate the Asian Director-General, as he left a conference in London to return home.
I was in Angel Three as we watched Captains Blue and Scarlet race their SPV along the runway in pursuit of the Mysteronised DT19 aircraft that was heading towards the Asian D-G’s small private jet at the far end of the runway. Destiny’s first attempt at blasting the jet off the runway, missed, but Harmony’s shot was smack on target, yet the plane barely slowed. The SPV was now in missile range and we heard Blue saying he was about to fire at the wheels. I flew over and the Angel flight circled to make another attack run if it was needed. There was no explosion, the SPV continued to race after the plane and the next thing we saw, it dropped back slightly, and one of the emergency ejector seats flew skywards, the small booster rocket ensuring it gained enough height for the parachute to deploy and manoeuvre it away from danger. A second glance showed that the occupant of the seat was Captain Blue.
The SPV increased speed and the tank-like vehicle, dwarfed by the huge passenger jet, used its distinctive white nose of hardened Fleetonium to shred the tyres of the plane. For a heart-stopping moment it didn’t look like it was going to work - the SPV accelerated past the wheel array and rammed it; presumably the shock was too much for the structure and the metal sheered, tipping the huge jet onto its side.
The SPV veered off onto the grass and we all thought it would slow and stop, but it continued onwards in such a random manner, that it was obvious it was out of control before it crashed into a radar station and finally stopped.
The Asian Director-General’s private jet, which had begun to take off before the DT19 stopped, failed to get enough height, caught the upright fin of the stricken jet, and crashed in a ball of flame.
For the first time the Mysterons had succeeded in carrying out their threat.
Captain Scarlet was ferried back to Cloudbase and disappeared into sickbay again. When he finally returned from London, tired and dispirited, Adam went straight down there – much to Karen’s annoyance. We all waited anxiously for news. The rumour mill had been busy, and it was generally accepted that Scarlet had been killed in his courageous attempt to stop the Mysterons; it was not until a few days later, once the agents from Spectrum Intelligence had returned to question everyone about what they’d seen, that the thought he might have been instrumental in their success, was ever considered. The very idea shocked me when they quizzed me about the events at the airport, so I can only imagine what it did to Adam.
I happened to be present in the canteen when he overheard two technicians unwisely discussing the possibility that Scarlet was still working for the Mysterons, at the top of their voices. I’d never seen him so angry, and it took both Rick and Brad to hold him back from giving the oblivious offenders a bollicking they’d never have forgotten. Blue shook their hands off and stormed from the canteen, leaving his food untasted. I expected one of them follow him, but, after exchanging significant glances with each other, they sat down and began to eat. I left my tray next to Adam’s and ran out after him, but I was too late to see where he’d gone – although I supposed he’d have either headed for the Amber Room – and Karen – or sickbay.
Whatever was said, the SI Investigators obviously decided that Captain Scarlet had acted with the best of intentions and had been working against the Mysterons and not for them, because I heard the very next day that he was back on duty – as hale and hearty as if he’d never been in that SPV.
I was as nervous as a kitten about the prospect of finally meeting him again. Questions and concerns about our relationship had grown to such an immense proportion in my mind whilst he’d been in quarantine, that I was scared – yes, I don’t think that’s too strong a word – scared of seeing him again, of realising that he was the man I loved, almost as much as I feared discovering he was no longer that man.
Not surprisingly, Symphony was the first of us to meet the ‘new’ Captain Scarlet; she couldn’t stay away from Blue for long and it seemed that Scarlet was much the same, following his friend around like a lost puppy – at least that’s how Rick described it on a visit to the Amber Room a few days after Scarlet was released from sickbay.
I still hadn’t met him; it wasn’t unusual for shift patterns to fall in such a way that there was very little time for socialising, and at this point I hadn’t made a conscious decision to avoid Captain Scarlet, it was just the way the system had worked out. I was sitting with Melody, picking at a salad Harmony had brought me from the canteen before she went off to get some Judo practise, when Captain Ochre came in.
Rick and I were still good friends, and I suspect he knew how things stood between Paul and me, although he never mentioned it, as such.
You know, there isn’t much that escapes Richard Fraser’s attention, but he really isn’t as much of a chatterbox as his reputation would suggest. Oh, he can talk the hind legs off a buffalo when he feels like it, but most of what he says on those occasions is light-hearted and trivial. Sometimes he can be a little obtuse, and he’s been known to upset people because he will needle away at a subject where a more sensitive soul would hold their tongue. But, he never dishes the dirt, although I have no doubt that he knows all the dirt there is to know. He once told me that he tried to live by the maxim that ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’, which I took to be a reference to his decision to go through his ‘fake assassination’ and – as he now saw it – desert his partner.
When he joined us in the Amber Room that time, he was unusually thoughtful, and anxious to talk about the events of the past few days. First of all he asked if Symphony had expressed any opinion on the ‘new’ Scarlet, and we told him that she hadn’t, apart from saying ‘Adam says it is Paul,’ and we all knew what that meant: to her anything ‘Adam said’ was Gospel…
“Oh, to have such certainty in another human being’s infallibility,” Rick said, laughing.
“She could do worse,” Melody replied, smiling as she added, “she might’ve held the same belief in you, for instance.”
“Below the belt, Nolie! I’m a model of serious integrity; I can’t imagine where my reputation for frivolity comes from.” He wasn’t angry though, one glance at his bright eyes and the smile on his lips made that obvious.
“Probably from the last time you played a joke on someone, or left a model plane in the Officers’ Lounge with a notice warning of the dire consequences awaiting anyone who dared to touch it,” I suggested cheerfully.
“Well,” Rick defended himself with a shrug, “sometimes those guys do need to lighten up.”
“What do you make of ‘new’ Scarlet?” Melody asked, cutting to the core of the matter with her usual decisiveness.
I drew a sharp gasp of breath and bit my lip as I looked at him. I knew Rick was a good judge of character, and so sharp that he saw through deception without trying. His would be the first independent assessment of Paul I’d have heard. I couldn’t place that much faith in Kay’s declaration, and I hadn’t been able to get anything else from her, even in private. Quite apart from never admitting to doubting Adam, she was obviously reserving her own judgement for the time being.
Rick took his time in answering. He and Paul had not always had the easiest of relationships – they were quite alike in many ways and there was a tendency for them to rub each other up the wrong way – but I knew Rick’s sense of fairness would mean that he’d do right by the man.
“It goes without saying that he looks like Paul, although a Paul whose tan has long since faded – he’s awful pale. He walks like Paul, he talks like Paul – and you can’t mistake that mid-Atlantic upper-crust drawl, now can you?”
“But?” Nolie asked.
Rick squirmed. “Right now, he’s not Paul – well, not the Paul we knew. There is one huge chunk of self-confidence and – don’t hit me – self-righteousness missing. He’s had the stuffing knocked right out of him.”
“Hell, if I’d been through what they say he has, I wouldn’t be walking about full of swagger either,” Melody said. She admired Captain Scarlet for his professionalism and liked him for his playful charm as well. I knew she had been hoping hard that this was Paul Metcalfe.
“You’re right, Nolie,” Rick said, a slight frown between his brows. “Hell, I don’t know what to think. I want to think he’s one of us, but…”
“Fawn said he was virtually indestructible,” I whispered, pleading for reassurance from Rick’s fathomless eyes.
“I don’t see how Fawn can know that,” Rick said, placing a hand on my arm. “I mean, it doesn’t seem possible, does it?”
“It doesn’t seem possible that the Mysterons could make the Max-Security Building in New York blow up,” Melody reasoned, “but they sure as hell did. We saw that footage, with poor Alan steaming like some kind of human bomb…”
We all shivered. Alan Stephens had been a friend, and it wasn’t comforting to think of what had happened to him.
“But, if what Fawn says is true, that wasn’t Alan that blew up, it was another of these Mysteron doppelgangers,” Rick argued. “It looks like the Alan we knew died in the car crash and the Captain Brown who went to New York was a Mysteron.”
“Like Paul,” I murmured.
Rick heard me and he said with a kind smile, “Sure. They were both victims of these frigging aliens, but maybe if we’d got to Brown before the explosion, he could have been ‘rescued’ like Scarlet?”
“So you think Paul was rescued?” Melody exclaimed.
Rick opened his mouth to respond, but ended up shrugging speechlessly, either unable to find the words or too uncertain to be that positive.
“Rick,” I asked urgently, “would you trust Captain Scarlet if you were sent on a mission with him tomorrow? Would you feel safe working with him? Would you?”
He looked away, studied his fingers, picked at a patch of glue that had stuck to a fingernail. I waited. Finally, he shook his head.
“I wish I could say otherwise, but… no, I wouldn’t trust him – not yet.”
My dismay must have shown on my face for Melody patted my shoulder kindly and said, “We must all trust that Captain Blue has the right of it, and ‘new’ Scarlet is the man we all hope he is.”
I couldn’t put it off forever, of course, but I managed to postpone meeting Scarlet for a considerable period, by hardly going anywhere and working all the shifts I could. The longer the delay in seeing him got, the more important and dreadful the inevitable first meeting became, until it took on a significance in my thoughts that dwarfed every other problem I had. But, predictably the day did come when I met him again, and it was when I went with Karen to the Officers’ Lounge to wish Captain Magenta a happy birthday.
By rights, Blue and Scarlet should have been on duty; the pair of them had been confirmed as field partners following Paul’s return to duty after he’d recovered from the debacle at London airport.
Now, Colonel White never gives reasons for his decisions, but Rick said he reckoned it was still because no one else felt comfortable with the idea of working alongside Scarlet. Be that as it may, the new field partners had already proved just how effective a team they could be, by saving London from destruction by a nuclear device hijacked by the Mysterons, and everyone was full of praise for Scarlet’s selfless act in driving the container lorry carrying the bomb down into an underground cavern, where it had detonated harmlessly enough, the only fatality being Scarlet himself. Even so, he was up and about again in a day or so.
Magenta’s birthday was only a few days after Karen had had a run in with Captain Black, now confirmed beyond any doubt as a Mysteron agent. He’d taken her hostage and subjected her to a dose of radiation similar to the contamination he’d suffered at the Culver Atomic Power Station, in order to give himself a chance of escaping the security net Spectrum had thrown around the place. His ruse had worked, and Black had evaded capture, while Symphony – driving an SPV for the first time and only managing to avoid crushing the cordon of men in Spectrum’s roadblock by crashing into some trees – provided a distraction.
Back on Cloudbase, she’d spoken with horror of the dead look in Black’s eyes, the coldness of his touch and his impassive disdain. There had also been several high-level discussions about the significance of the statement he’d made to her: the Mysterons, too, have compassion. Colonel White chose to believe that it meant there was hope for a negotiated peace settlement, but, to the rest of us, it didn’t look as if that was the case, and feelings were running high against the Mysterons – Black in particular- and, by association, against Scarlet.
Anyway, to my consternation when we got to the Officers’ Lounge, Blue wasn’t on duty. I learned later that he’d swapped a shift with Captain Grey, who wanted the weekend off, and so he was there, keeping Patrick company, and – inevitably in those days - Captain Scarlet was with him.
Symphony swooped down on Magenta, to hug him and hand over the small gifts we’d all bought for him. Blue crossed to them to join in the fun as Patrick opened each gift, but Scarlet remained by the coffee machine, holding a mug of the dark liquid in his hands and staring intently into the steam that rose from it, as if he was divining the future from some sacred fire.
I hovered between the group of happy, laughing people and the man I loved; because I was no longer in any doubt that I did love him, as much, if not more than I had ever done.
He raised his head. Although he retained the pallor Rick had spoken of, he looked exactly as he had the last time I’d seen him before the car crash – there was not a mark on him to show what he’d suffered. He looked at me with the same clear, sapphire-blue eyes that always used to send pulses of desire through me, but this time there was no welcome in them – no sign of any emotion, in fact. I was reminded of Kay’s description of Captain Black, and a huge chill clamped down on my heart and nerves.
I stared at him like an idiot, and he stared back. I was the one who looked away first, feeling the blood rush to my feet, leaving me rather faint and speechless. When I looked across at him again he turned his head away, but not before I had seen the desolation on his face.
I took a step towards him and his head snapped round towards me again, but now his expression was one of anger and hurt, his straight, black brows were drawn in a frown over his deep-set eyes and everything about him radiated an hostility towards me.
Slowly I realised that I had given him every reason to doubt my love and enough time to grow to despise me, and it looked as if that’s what had happened. I’d failed him - that much was obvious. I should have gone to him as soon as it was humanly possible – never mind Adam’s caution or the colonel’s wrath. He’d expected me to go to him and I’d failed him because I hadn’t trusted him – or myself.
Pulling myself together I took another step and tried to smile.
“Hello, Paul. I’m pleased to see you up and about again.”
Even as I said it I knew it was the daftest thing I could have said, he and Blue had been out on two missions that had both had ended in his death. It looked as if Doctor Fawn had been right, and he would recover, and in a very short time, not only from serious wounds, but from death itself. Even though one of the missions had been a failure, he had been exonerated of any blame, and he was slowly regaining the trust of his colleagues.
I moved closer. “How are you?” Silly, stupid, woman! Why ask him that?
The merest twitch of a smile curled the edge of his lips. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Paul…” I laid a hand on his arm and he flinched, moving away as if I’d hurt him.
I stood stock still, staring at him with pain and confusion in my heart and my mind. For the merest second I thought I saw a flicker of emotion in his eyes, but then Karen’s voice broke through our self absorption, and the spell was broken.
“You’re wanted,” he said abruptly, indicating where Symphony was waving to us both to join them.
“I think she means us both.”
He shook his head. “You go.”
He turned and busied himself with adding milk to his coffee, and I knew I was dismissed.
With the falsest smile I’d ever given fixed on my face, I went to join my friends, but I’d never felt less like smiling and I could feel the hot embarrassment burning my cheeks and the smarting onset of tears in my eyes .
I had hoped when I got close to him, that I’d be hit by some surge of reassurance – some overwhelming proof that he was Paul Metcalfe – but it hadn’t happened. What Rick said was true: he walked and talked like Paul – but there was a coldness, a reserve in his manner that was new.
I tried to join in with the jollity that surrounded Magenta, and it was only after some minutes that I realised Adam had gone across to Captain Scarlet and was talking seriously to him. I watched surreptitiously as the fair head and the dark conversed in earnest whispers. Suddenly the dark head shook with some vehemence and he turned away from his friend, shrugging off the hand that rested on his shoulder.
Adam sucked in his cheeks, no doubt biting back some acerbic response to whatever Captain Scarlet had said. He waited and when Scarlet didn’t react, he said something else that brought a flush to the younger man’s cheeks, and came back to join us.
I saw Karen slip her arm around him, hooking her thumb over the belt that edged the short Spectrum tunic he was wearing. She looked up into his face and frowned a question. He shook his head and disengaged her hand gently, reaching forward to examine one of Pat’s birthday presents and asking me something about it, making it quite obvious that he had given up on his friend, for now.
Karen, fired up with indignation, went across to Scarlet and a few minutes later they were arguing in violent undertones. Adam and I both stepped forward as Scarlet drew himself up to his full height and towered over the feisty American. I could see that Scarlet was having difficulty in restraining his anger, but, fearing I might only make matters worse, I held back as Adam stepped between them and gently led Karen away to me, before going back to soothe the ruffled feathers of his friend. But it was too much even for Adam to accomplish, and Scarlet stomped out of the Lounge moments later.
“He’s just being ornery,” Karen seethed, explaining to us what had happened. “There’s no need for him to be so nasty to Adam!”
Adam reacted quickly to defend his friend. “Hey, I can look after myself and I don’t offend easy,” he said, “so just forget it, okay?” Karen looked aggrieved but nodded. “Besides, right now Paul needs some consideration from all of us,” he added, and I swear he was looking right at me and guilt flooded in to my heart.
I muttered something vaguely apologetic, and left the room at a run.
I went on duty in Angel One with a profound thankfulness for some privacy. Ever since I had seen Paul in the Officers’ Lounge, I’d been bottling up my emotions, and I am rather ashamed to say that in Angel One, on the runway of Cloudbase, I sat staring into the darkness, unable to focus on anything beyond the words of any number of banal love songs that kept running through my mind as often as the tears ran down my cheeks.
I should have reported sick and gone off duty, but my pride wouldn’t let me; all the same, it was a bloody good thing that the Mysterons – or any other cantankerous Chavs – didn’t choose that night to attack.
After I finished in Angel One, I was free to get some rest and so I went to my quarters and locked the door. My eyes were red from crying and my cheeks streaky with the tears; I felt heavy, depressed and utterly miserable. I stood in the shower, with the heat turned up and used my maximum allowance of hot water. With a towel wrapped round my head, and wearing my dressing gown and slippers, I sat at the meagre dressing table and stared at the stranger in the mirror.
Dianne Simms had always been a confident, bubbly and well-behaved young woman, with a compassionate heart and warm disposition. Dianne Simms wouldn’t have avoided seeing an old and dear friend who’d been hurt. She’d have gone and tried to help if she could. Rhapsody Angel obviously did not seem to share her qualities, and I felt craven and small in the face of Paul’s suffering.
Whatever had happened to him, I had done him an injustice and now he hated me – and I couldn’t blame him one jot.
The next morning, after a restless night with very little sleep, I wasn’t feeling much happier, but when Symphony pounded on my door and cajoled me into accompanying her to the canteen for breakfast, I managed to put a brave face on my misery.
Captains Ochre and Grey were eating together close to a porthole, and we joined them at their table. I avoided meeting Rick’s concerned glance and chatted with Brad – Captain Grey – as if I hadn’t got a care in the world. But I don’t suppose I fooled anyone – especially when Blue and Scarlet came in, and Symphony waved for them to join us all.
Most of the captains liked to eat a hearty breakfast – Paul had always said that it was because they could never know for sure when their next meal might be – so it was normal for most of them to sit down to full, cooked ‘English’ breakfasts, washed down with enormous mugs of tea or coffee. There was no change in that today as far as Blue was concerned, but Scarlet only had a mug of tea and a croissant.
Rick excused himself as the others arrived, explaining that he had to relieve Magenta from radar duty, but Brad stayed with us, finishing his coffee. Blue sat next to Symphony, who kept pinching grilled mushrooms from his plate while she kept up a stream of inconsequential chatter, and Scarlet sat next to me, although he didn’t speak. It was left to Brad to answer Karen’s conversation, as Blue munched his way through his food, and Scarlet picked at the rapidly disintegrating croissant before him.
When Grey drained his mug and rose to leave, leaving the four of us together, the atmosphere grew perceptibly more tense, although it seemed that I was the only one to notice.
The silence was only broken by the sound of Blue’s cutlery on the china plate until Karen asked brightly:
“What shall we four do this evening?”
“You’re off duty?” Adam queried. “I thought you were on standby tonight.”
“Nolie wanted to swap – it’s her brother’s birthday on Sunday and she’s got a 24-hour pass, so she’s popping down to Atlanta, as a surprise. Therefore, I am fancy-free this evening, should any handsome man want to ask me out…” She leant back in her chair and stretched, her hand ruffling Blue’s hair, as if by accident.
“We saw the movie yesterday,” he replied, flicking his hair back with an adroit movement. “But we could go to the VIP restaurant. I hear they’re doing a special menu.”
“Of what?” Karen asked, as the silence became oppressive.
“Lieutenant Green told me that the poster said: ‘It’s a hot, hot, hot and spicy World’,” he explained. “It’s going to be like Cajun and Mexican and Asian.”
Karen snorted. “Oh, right! All that stuff you guys like…” She smiled at Paul. “See, I remembered how much you like your curry, Paul.”
“I won’t be hungry,” he muttered.
“By rights, after a breakfast the size of the one he’s just eaten, neither will Adam,” she retorted, “but I betcha he’ll manage to find room for a chilli, at least. It isn’t fair, you guys eat like there’s no tomorrow, and I only have to look at chocolate for it to settle on my hips…” She wriggled, tugging her uniform jacket down over her curvaceous figure.
Blue grinned, and I managed to raise a smile, because it was a fact that Karen ate what she liked and, although she would never be a fashionable size 0, she never gained weight, due to a metabolism that must’ve been burning like a raging nuclear furnace.
But Paul didn’t react; he sat staring at the table top, his hands cupped around his mug of tea.
“Hunger has nothing much to do with it,” Blue remarked eventually. “What’d you say, Paul? Shall we treat these lovelies to a hot night out?”
“I doubt they both want to go,” his friend replied.
Blue looked across at me and raised an interrogative eyebrow. “You do, don’t you, Di? I know Karen’ll go anywhere there’s a chance of her getting fed.”
Symphony poked his arm in protest, but said, “Oh, come with us, Di! It’ll be fun!”
“Well…” I was reluctant to commit myself, unsure if Paul wanted me to go or not. If I said I’d go, he might not, yet he might want to… It was a tough choice and made all the tougher because I didn’t feel I knew him well enough to second-guess him any more.
“My treat,” Blue said, effectively closing off my excuse of ‘lack of funds’. “Paul and I will be there to collect you two beauties at 2000 hours. I’ll get us a table booked, just to be sure.”
“You can wear that new dress,” Karen said to me encouragingly.
I shrugged. “Okay; thanks, Adam.”
“My pleasure – and Paul’s. Come on, Scarlet, if you’ve finished tearing that croissant to shreds. The colonel’s asked us to check over the maintenance records for SPJ002. Seems there’s a discrepancy over some replacement parts.” He stood and grinned down at us both. “Sometimes this job is too exciting for words.”
Karen laughed and blew a kiss after them before she turned to me, a determined sternness on her face.
“What was all that about?”
I feigned innocence. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I don’t believe you, Dianne. Tell me – honestly – are you scared of Paul after what’s happened?”
“Scared? No.” I tried to keep the lie out of my voice, but there was no fooling Karen, so I added sadly, “That is… I don’t think so.”
“You still like him, don’t you? You still want him?”
She ignored my protest and said in a very serious way that was rare for her, “We’re all on new ground here, honey. I admit when I first met him again, I was a little bit nervous, but Adam had told me it was okay. He said it really is Paul – he doesn’t know how it is, but he’d swear to God it is. But, all the same, I can see it’s a Paul who’s been having a bad time of it - can’t you? - so we mustn’t expect him to be all that cheerful.”
I pulled a face to indicate that it was all the same to me and she gave an exasperated sigh. The silence lasted for just long enough to be uncomfortable and then Karen continued:
“You know that the word of ‘Mr Harvard’ is like unto the Word of God to little old me, but ... I have to say, there was a short time when I first met him again, that I wasn’t convinced either, but it didn’t last long and now, it does feel like he is Paul. A Paul down in the dumps, for sure, but Paul, none the less. Sometimes, like yesterday, it’s just so normal to have him around that I forget I’m supposed to be what Adam called, ‘mollycoddling’ him – and I will never know where he gets these words from – but, I’m not sure that being ultra-nice and making allowances all the time is a very helpful thing for us all to be doing. I kinda think that treating him like we always did, might be the best way to snap him out of his depression. If only because it might convince him we don’t see a different Paul Metcalfe from the one we’ve always known, if you get what I mean? If you did the same, and were just like always, I’m sure it’d help far more than anything Adam and I can do. Paul cares far more about you than he does about us, after all!”
“He turned his back on me, Karen; he made it quite clear that he doesn’t want me around any more.”
“Di, give the guy a break, willya?”
I lowered my voice. “You know, I’ve wondered if it might be because, after he di… after the car crash, now that he… that he’s… what’s happened to him – I mean, it might’ve… he might not… maybe Mysterons don’t … and so he can’t…” I was getting myself in a real pickle.
“Karen!” I had to gasp at her vehemence.
“Let me tell you what Adam said-”
“I’m fed up with hearing what Adam says!”
“I shall ignore that remark; you’re obviously under a considerable strain. Listen: Adam says that according to Doctor Fawn – see, it’s medical this time – Paul’s senses are more acute than they ever were. Not only that, but his heart and lungs are stronger, he’s got more stamina and more strength, so there is absolutely no way he isn’t going to be able to-”
“Okay!” I interrupted, “I get the message.”
“- And probably more often and for longer… I could almost envy you… almost!”
She is completely irrepressible, and we both collapsed in fits of giggles.
When we’d calmed down, Karen continued, “Look, let’s apply a different approach to this, shall we? Let’s pretend we’re dyed-in-the-wool romantics and make use of a little loved-up logic. Because I’m in love, and know that my man loves me, I can spot the same symptoms in other people– so, ipso facto, I know Paul loves you and I’m telling you, you silly goose – that you still have the hots for him and he’s still crazy about you. So, what’s the problem? Just tell him how you feel and everything will work out fine. It’s a lateral thinking problem.”
She’d got me giggling again. “Hanging around with Mr. Harvard has done wonders for your vocabulary, all right,” I teased.
“Not to mention my libido,” she agreed, with a lewd smile.
“Hmm,” I agreed.
“I know you English like to pretend you’re far too restrained to get down and dirty from time to time, but honestly, Di – you do like him, don’t you? All that casual politeness was just a kind of code between you for ‘get your clothes off, you’ve pulled’, wasn’t it? I’m damn sure you and Paul did some bed-pressing when we were out and about together.”
I was giggling so much again, that people on nearby tables were looking across at us and grinning.
“So, I’ll take that as a yes, and ask why it can’t be same now?”
I caught my breath and sighed. “I’d like it to be,” I confessed. “But he… well, he didn’t want to speak to me… and, if it isn’t because he’s been Mysteronised, maybe it’s because I waited so long to see him. I should’ve gone to sickbay…”
“You wouldn’t’ve got in.”
“I could’ve done something, Karen.”
“Honey, I think if you had gone down there before he was ready to face the world, so to speak, he really would’ve sent you away - permanently. Right now, I think he’s just as nervous as you. Adam says he’s very conscious of what’s happened to him. Very aware of being different.”
“He’s okay around you and Adam!” I protested, spilling out my angry jealousy.
“No – he’s okay with Adam. It’s just that he knows he can’t have one of us without the other, so he tolerates me, but he’s not comfortable with me around.”
I bit my lip and she reached across and patted my hand. “Give him time and he’ll be all over you again, Di. Trust your Agony-Aunt Karen… I know what I’m talking about when it comes to giving advice to the lovelorn.”
“I hope so; I really do, because, you know something, Kay? I’m so dreadfully in love with him,” I whispered.
“That is obvious. Let’s get back to the Amber Room and we can plan tonight’s date in detail.”
“We go and we eat…” I said warily. “What’s to plan?”
Symphony shook her head. “Oh, you cold-blooded Englishwoman…you really have no idea…”
It wasn’t easy getting ready for a special date when you had to be on duty all day – the shifts of four hours on and four off were not ideal - and, of course, there was always a possibility that some incident would occur half-way across the world, that would see you jetting away on a mission and, if it wasn’t you that got sent, it could as easily be your escort. But we were all getting used to being, as Rick had once described it, ‘stood up on a date in favour of the Mysterons’, and all of the Angels were adept at fitting in a little personal pampering around the strict duty rotas we worked. Not that we did it every day, you understand? Just when the occasion merited that little ‘extra’ effort.
So, Karen collected all of her paraphernalia from her quarters and over the course of the day, she manicured and painted my fingernails, plucked my eyebrows and gave me a facial. Then, in my last break, I scooted back to my quarters and washed my hair and, as we waited for our release from our final duty of the day, she blow-dried and arranged it for me. Now, however much we might tease her about it, Karen has a real knack with hair, and none of the girls ever refused an offer to let her ‘do’ it for us, when we wanted to look special.
When Destiny arrived in the Amber Room to take command of the evening and night shifts, it didn’t take her long to realise what was going on, even if she wasn’t sure who all the ‘extra effort’ was for. She congratulated me on my appearance and Karen on her skills, and called ‘bonne chance’ after us as we gathered up the various lotions and gadgets and scuttled to our adjoining quarters.
I dressed carefully, not wanting to mess up my friend’s handiwork, and applied my makeup. I felt optimistic about the coming evening, I knew I looked good, and was fairly confident that Paul would think so too.
I heard voices outside in the corridor and realised it was already time to go and our escorts had arrived. I waited and strained to hear what was going on: I could hear Karen and Adam’s voices, and although I couldn’t tell exactly what was being said, it sounded very much as if, despite being urged to the contrary, Paul wouldn’t call for me on his own, so when I opened the door in response to the chime, I wasn’t surprised to see Adam there, with Karen just behind him and Paul behind her.
For a split second Adam stared at me and then he smiled, a wonderful smile that made it obvious he liked what he saw and which boosted my confidence even further.
“You look stunning,” he said and – as if it had been co-ordinated – he and Karen moved aside so that Paul could see me, framed in the light of the doorway.
He was smartly dressed in his royal-blue tuxedo, the one I always liked best of all because it picked up the wonderful blue of his eyes. I felt my heart thump with a pulse of desire, and I walked towards him with a welcoming smile, holding out a hand towards him. His lips parted and he swallowed hard, his black pupils widening in his sapphire-blue eyes as he drank in the sight of me.
I placed a hand on his arm, and said quietly, “Let’s go, shall we? I’m so looking forward to tonight.”
After only the slightest hesitation, he took my arm to lead me away and I swear I heard a little celebratory ‘whoop’ from Karen as they followed us. We rode the escalators to the upper decks, with me standing on a higher step than Paul, just as we used to, so that we were face to face. He still hadn’t said anything much, but I caught him glancing at me several times, although he looked away as he caught my eye.
As he’d promised, Adam had booked us a table and the catering staff ushered us to a secluded table, dimly lit by several fake candles – the fire sprinklers on Cloudbase were very sensitive and several people had quickly learned that lighting real candles resulted in their rooms being deluged with flame-retarding foam – so this was as close to romantic as we were going to get.
There was a half-bottle of low-alcohol, champagne-style wine waiting for us in an ice-bucket, and even if the actual liquid was somewhat bland, the bottle opened with a satisfying ‘POP’ of the cork.
The menu consisted – as expected - of a choice of spicy dishes from around the world. I went for chicken tikka and salad, and Adam – as predicted -went for chilli con carne and rice, while Karen had Cajun chicken and Paul chose a madras curry.
Whether it was the psychological effect of the wine and the non-alcoholic beer, or the mere fact that we four were together again, in such a familiar setting, surrounded by people we knew and trusted, we were all able to loosen up, even Paul. Still, it was noticeable that, whereas before, he and Karen would have dominated the conversation, he was less forthcoming now, but he did join in and, once or twice, he volunteered some comments. It was so hard not to feel relaxed and comfortable that, by the time the waitress cleared the plates and handed us the dessert menu, we were all laughing - just like old times.
“I suppose you big, macho men won’t want dessert?” Karen said.
Adam shook his head – he never was much of a one for sweet things – but Paul decided he’d have profiteroles – which was a brave choice on top of a curry. I watched him eat them, almost certain he wouldn’t manage to finish, but he did. That was the first time I encountered Captain Scarlet’s legendary cast-iron digestion and his fluctuating appetite, and as the years have passed by, I’ve stopped being surprised by whatever he chooses to eat.
It was late when we left the restaurant and without consciously planning it, strolled to the Promenade Deck, Adam and Karen arm-in-arm, her head against his shoulder, and Paul and I walking side by side, some distance behind.
The Americans paused by the vast, panoramic windows and Adam’s arms went around Karen as his head bent towards hers. Beside me I felt Paul stiffen and draw a deep breath. His pace quickened and we hurried past the lovers as they kissed.
Now, I knew – as we all did – that the regulations insist Spectrum officers are not supposed to get too closely involved with one another, but I also knew – as most of the senior staff on Cloudbase did, if not everyone on board - that Captain Blue and Symphony Angel were so passionately in love there was just no help for it. Besides, when even Colonel White turned a benignly blind eye to a relationship that seemed predestined, there was no point anyone reporting them, was there? It was obvious that the colonel could have forbidden it or split them up, but he isn’t that much of an ogre, and besides, I believe he knew he’d only end up with two miserable and poorly functioning officers if he tried it.
So I wondered what was making Paul so jumpy. Surely, he couldn’t imagine that I wasn’t aware of their affair, or have forgotten that anyone walking past them when they were that lost in each other’s company, behaved as if they simply weren’t there.
“What’s the matter?” I asked as he opened the door out of the Promenade Deck that led to the stairs beyond.
“Nothing; absolutely nothing. I just thought… well, they don’t need us there.”
“They never have done, Paul, but they’ve never bothered if we were. If it hadn’t been for Karen and Adam, we’d never have… spent so much time together,” I reminded him.
“No, but…” he left the sentence unfinished.
“There was a time when this would have ended with you kissing me,” I said despondently.
“Yes; I do remember, Dianne. But – things are different now, aren’t they? I mean, I wouldn’t presume.”
“Presume what? That I still have feelings for you?”
“I’m not the man I was. I can’t expect...”
“Adam says you’re the same man.”
I stopped walking and waited until he stopped too and turned to me, slowly. There was a frown between his coal-black brows and he was staring at the floor.
“Adam’s too trusting sometimes.”
I snorted in derision. “No, Adam trusts no one without good reason. You always said he was the most cautious man you’ve ever met - and he hasn’t changed. I know I trust his instincts, Paul.”
He still wouldn’t look at me. But one eyebrow twitched in a cynical response.
I was annoyed. “Of course,” I said at my frostiest, “I can quite understand that a man as important as you to World security, and with such unique abilities, wouldn’t want to be tied to a mere, ordinary woman, like me. I’m not going to dog your movements, Paul. If you want to finish it, just tell me.”
“Finish it? What is there to finish? I’m an alien recreation of the man you knew, Dianne; whatever I want is of no importance – you must see that? I’m living a life that doesn’t really exist any more – shouldn’t really exist! Paul Metcalfe was killed in a car crash, wasn’t he? Adam and I went to the crematorium and watched his coffin slide behind the curtains! We drove down to Winchester and scattered his ashes around the places Paul Metcalfe grew up in. I’ve stood on the hill across from Paul Metcalfe’s home and seen his parents sitting in their garden, watched his dogs running around like dervishes. And now I’m here, with the woman Paul Metcalfe loved – and who loved him - and I can’t presume that any of that life is mine!”
“You are living your life, Paul, and it will be – as it always was – what you chose to make it.” I took his hand and held it. “It’s difficult, I can’t know how difficult, but I can try to imagine. I can try to help and to make it less difficult. If you will let me.” I raised the hand and kissed it.
He drew it away, but slowly, as if he didn’t want to let go.
“Dianne, since I woke in sickbay, and discovered that I’d attempted to kidnap the World President and the rest of it, I’ve been trying to understand all this and I can’t. Fawn’s done his best to explain it to me, and Adam’s used every twist of logic and philosophy he can devise to rationalise it – and I still don’t understand. How can I have died? How can I continue to die and yet… still be here talking to you, as if none of this ever happened?”
He shook his head, the corridor lights glinting on his jet-black hair as he shrugged and continued in a tone of frustrated confusion, “The first time I went out on a mission with Adam after Fawn’d declared me safe and ‘indestructible’, I mean, we didn’t make it: the Asian Director-General died, but he wasn’t the only one. I did too. And then I woke up in sickbay again, with Adam sitting there, looking scared. And I thought: this is my new life, where even my closest friend is scared of me…”
“No, he isn’t,” I asserted, “he’s just like the rest of us – scared that you might not come back to us! He wasn’t scared of you the next time you went out, was he? When you drove that nuclear bomb out of London…”
“And died again.” There was such sadness in his voice, I wanted to hug him and never let him go.
“And were up and about in time to take Juliette and Nolie out to dinner,” I reminded him. “So, it stands to reason they weren’t scared of you. They told me they had a great time. I was jealous.”
“Sure you were; so jealous you never came near me.”
“And I regret that, Paul; I really do.” I decided that this was the time to clear the air between us and try to discover if we had a future together any longer.
“They wouldn’t let me at first,” I said, “and having no right to demand to see you – no right anyone knew about, except Adam and Karen, anyway – I couldn’t find a way to get to you. Adam said we’d be in trouble if they discovered I’d sneaked in.”
“He told me you’d wanted to, but that you’d decided against it,” Paul said, with an edge of accusation in his voice.
“I did what I thought was best at the time. We can all make a mistake, Paul. Afterwards, I was more and more conscious that I should’ve found a way, but as the days slipped by and the fact that I hadn’t been to see you loomed larger in my conscience, I got too embarrassed to try.”
“Embarrassed to be seen with me?”
“No! No, Paul. Oh, I am sorry, ever so sorry! I never meant it to be this way. I so wanted to see you… but – if you want the absolute truth - I was just a teeny bit unnerved. Think about it, Paul, if you don’t understand what’s happened, and Adam and Fawn don’t either, what chance have I got when I can’t even think about you with my head and not my heart! I thought you’d hate me for not being there, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it! So, I stayed away and then I felt even worse about it. It was a vicious circle of guilt and embarrassment, longing and weakness.”
“And fear,” he said slowly.
It was hard to face him, but I knew instinctively that only the truth would do and that to try and lie now would create a barrier between us that might never be lifted.
“Some fear,” I agreed thoughtfully. Gaining some courage from his silence, I continued, “Yes, a fear of the unknown. Fear that Adam had got it wrong, and that you hadn’t come back to us. Fear that you’d no longer need me as much as you had, that you might not even want me. Fear that something fundamental would have changed in you.”
“And has it?” he asked so quietly I only just heard him.
I shook my head. “Karen said I was talking bullshit. She said she could tell we still loved each other, said she’d seen enough lovers’ quarrels to recognise them in whatever guise they took. She told me off for being stupid.”
“Karen’s always been something of a Job’s Comforter: she makes you feel a hundred times worse even when she thinks she’s making you feel better,” he said, with a wry smile. “She said something of the kind to me in the Officers’ Lounge yesterday. That’s why I left. Of course, I knew she was right – and that was galling too. I do still love you, Dianne, but I saw the doubt in your eyes when you looked at me, and I couldn’t take the chance that you’d tell me I wasn’t Paul Metcalfe - that the man you loved was dead and we were through. I didn’t want you to hate me…”
“Hate you? Oh, Paul, as if I ever could!”
I threw myself into his arms and clasped his face in my hands, staring into those spectacular blue eyes. There was the same tingle in my veins as I looked at him, the same thumping in my heart as I had always experienced when I was so close to him, and – thank God – the same desire burning like a flame in his eyes. How could I have ever doubted that he was Paul? My Paul… my lover?
“I had been telling myself that if you recognised me as Paul, then I could start to believe it was true. That whatever miracle had happened was meant to be, and the man in this – alien - body was Paul Metcalfe after all….” he whispered, barely able to meet my searching gaze.
“Kiss me,” I whispered imperiously. “Now. Hard.”
“Dianne…” the word was breathed out against my lips as his sought mine.
I have no idea how long we stood there, it might have been a lifetime, or mere seconds, but it washed away the doubt between us, rekindling the passion that has always underlaid our love. We heard the door swing open and footsteps approaching, but Paul never let me go and I clung to him as tightly as I could.
Symphony’s perfume wafted past as our friends made their way to their quarters. Only when the door at the other end of the corridor closed, did he relax his hold and look down at me.
“I don’t know what might happen to me – whether one day this ‘retrometabolism’ will go as mysteriously as it came, or if I will even grow old with my friends. Can you live with that doubt, Dianne?”
“I can live with the man I love – whatever and whoever he thinks he is. I don’t want to live without him - ever.”
He smiled and once more I felt my soul singing…
“Dianne Simms, I love you. I will never voluntarily give you up. My sweetest girl, it looks like you are destined to be the rock I can build my new life on,” he said, his voice caressing me as gently as his hands were doing.
“Me and all of your friends on Cloudbase, Paul. And maybe, in time, your parents too?”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
“No, you won’t – we will, together. From now on, we do everything together – whatever the Mysterons throw at us. Understand?”
He kissed me. “Thank God for you,” he whispered. “Now, however many tomorrows I have, I know I can face them.”
All of that happened eight years ago. Since then there have been so many missions that have ended in his death or any number of serious injuries, that I can’t possibly remember them all, and even if I could I don’t have the time to write them down now.
Last year, Adam finally married Karen, and with the colonel’s blessing too. It was as if that was the ‘all-clear’, and other relationships have emerged from the shadows and there’s been a rash of ‘Cloudbase’ weddings. It was last December 17th that I married Paul. Since then, I have never been so happy and I do not regret a moment of any of it.
Now, I’m sitting here in a commandeered wing of the local cottage hospital, waiting for Doctor Fawn and his team to arrive from Cloudbase.
I went into labour quite unexpectedly some hours ago, and things are getting intense. This wasn’t supposed to happen for another ten days or so, and we’ve all been caught on the hop. Mummy was coming to Winchester at the weekend, but now she’s rushing down the M3 to be here. Daddy’s in Futura, unfortunately, and he can’t be back in time, but Paul’s parents are here, and his mother keeps popping in and fidgeting about. She’s nervous, she says; well, I have news for her – so am I.
This has been the most closely monitored pregnancy since time began, or so I’d imagine, and Fawn isn’t taking any chances. He’s consulted every expert he can think of, from Dr Venus of the World Space Patrol, to the World Medical Organisation’s senior Paediatrician. All along he’s reassured us that ‘everything’s fine’ only to qualify his assurance by adding ‘as far as we can tell’.
We can’t be sure what effect – if any – Paul’s ‘condition’ has had - or will have - on you, you see? And after Paul overheard one of the Cloudbase nurses refer to ‘the alien hybrid baby’ he went into anxiety overdrive. He didn’t want me to come here; he wanted me to stay on Cloudbase, but they’re not equipped to cope with mothers and babies, and why should they be? So, we agreed that Doctor Fawn would continue to monitor us, and would deliver you, when the time came.
Of course, if I’d tried to insist on a civilian doctor, I might well have found myself over-ruled anyway… I’m not so naive as to imagine you’re not a ‘very-important-baby’ to more people than just your father and me.
I hope nothing delays the arrival of the helijet. Paul’s coming with Doctor Fawn – they’ve confirmed that, and I’m pleased to hear it. He should be here to welcome you into the World. We’ve watched you grow and develop for the best part of the past nine months, so that we feel we know you already, Master Adam Charles Metcalfe, and – if that last contraction was anything to go by - it won’t be long before we’ll be holding you in our arms.
As that’s the case, I’m going to stop writing now, but I want you to know, my darling child, that whatever happens to me today, or in any of the days to come, I have no regrets. I love you as much as I love your father, and I’m proud and happy to have carried his son and, if it does prove to be the case that you’ve inherited some of your father’s alien abilities, it will not make one jot of difference to me. I will do everything I can to stand between you and a world that will want to label you ‘different’, and spend their days investigating that difference.
To me you will always just be my little boy, Paul’s son.
Really time to go – you are in a hurry… there is just time for me to put this in an envelope for you, and address it to you on your 21st birthday. I hope you’ve been happy, my darling, and that you will continue to be so.
Your loving mother,
Dianne Simms Metcalfe.
This story arose out of the first line. It was going to be a Drabble (100 words) for the forum but something went wrong.
My thanks to my erudite, patient and long-suffering beta-reader, Hazel Köhler. What she has to put up with when I’m in ‘tweaking-mode’ is nobody’s business.
Thanks to Chris Bishop for her wonderful website. She’s the inspiration behind this website and it is to her we must offer thanks for the great fiction we have to enjoy! Not only does she write some of the very best there is to read here, but she always has time and patience to help and advise others.
Thanks to you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.