The World Government’s authority covered most of the globe and was generally reckoned to be benign. Although a few obdurate states refused to join the self-proclaimed ‘brotherhood of nations’ most were happy enough to cede ultimate authority to the World Senate, and work with them and the World President to keep the peace by resolving disputes and defusing potentially warlike situations through negotiation and compromise.
Many of the smaller nation-states found that the World Government took far greater notice of their concerns and complaints than they’d have received in isolation, and had instituted national holidays of ceremonial reaffirmation of their membership. Members of the World Senate were allocated the duty of representing the World President at these events whenever the President could not attend in person.
Sometimes, when Spectrum was asked to provide security for the occasion, Colonel White would decide that there was justification in the request and send a security detail of terrestrial officers commanded by a colour-captain to oversee the event. For their part, the captains were generally happy to go, seeing it as a bit of a ‘jolly’ after the spine-jingling terror of a Mysteron attack, or the nerve-wracking wait for the next threat.
During a briefing conference on Cloudbase one morning in October, Colonel White consulted his notebook and announced:
“The World President has decided it would be unwise for him to attend the Pomeranian independence celebrations next week. He suspects that the Bereznians would use it as an excuse to ‘kick up a fuss’, given that they have been complaining about access rights to the Baltic – again. I think he’s right; we cannot risk trouble in northern Europe with the Mysterons so active at the moment. Nevertheless, he’ll be sending a senator as his representative and he would like Spectrum to provide a visible level of support for the Pomeranians. Therefore, Captain Blue, you will accompany the World Senator and attend the ceremonies in Gedania, and Captain Scarlet, you will conduct an inspection of the military installations and… make sure Katania knows you’re doing so.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Scarlet replied. He glanced at Blue and they exchanged quick self-congratulatory smirks: they’d both been working non-stop on Mysteron threats for the past two months and the thought of an ‘N-double-M’ – as the base shorthand called a ‘non-Mysteron’ mission – was as good as a rest.
“Why must you go?” Symphony Angel asked her husband when Captain Blue explained his latest mission over their evening meal together. “Surely, Ochre would be the obvious choice? He’s done more personal security work than you have, after all.”
“Maybe the colonel wants to broaden my experience?” Blue replied smoothly. “All I know is I’ve been ordered to go and it sounds like a piece of cake. I could do with a break, Karen, and a change is as good as a rest – or so they say.”
She pouted sulkily and stabbed her fork into a potato with some venom. “I thought we were going to have a break together.”
“So we are – afterwards. Look, you know how hard we’ve all been working and there was never the slightest chance we’d get away until the colonel was satisfied the latest slew of Mysteron activity was over.
“That’s what you always say.”
“Must be because that’s the way it is, then.”
She threw her fork down. “You just want to get away from me.”
Blue sighed and reached for her hand, but she jerked it away when his fingers brushed against it.
He shook his head. “You know that isn’t true; but we agreed we’d stay in Spectrum and that means doing what we’re told. The colonel’s ordered me to go and I’m going. If you want to sulk I can’t stop you, Karen, but it won’t get you anywhere.”
She left the table and walked out of the canteen without speaking. Blue shrugged and continued eating. A few moments later Captain Grey came to sit at the table.
“Karen annoyed about something?” he asked casually, as he shook pepper over his food.
Blue gave a mirthless chuckle. “When isn’t she?”
“Are things okay with you two, Adam?”
It was rare for Grey to use the given names of his colleagues and Blue realised his friend was genuinely concerned.
“Sure, Brad. Just more of the usual. Excuse me, I ought to get my travel arrangements made, I have to liaise with Futura and the senator’s office. Best to get it sorted in plenty of time.”
“Sure. Take care, buddy.”
Grey watched the blond captain stow his and his wife’s abandoned tray at the catering hatch and open the canteen door, standing aside for a trio of laughing female technicians to walk before him, before he disappeared from sight.
Grey sighed and considered that since their marriage last year the relationship between his compatriots seemed to have grown more volatile than ever.
And we all know whose fault that is, he thought as he scooped food onto his fork and started to eat.
Supremacy of the Baltic coastal areas of Europe had been disputed by the great powers of the region throughout recorded history, and after the European Atomic War the World Government negotiated a settlement with the hostile Bereznian State aimed at ending the centuries-long antagonism. They recreated an independent state of Pomerania and settled – for the time being – the wrangling over a Baltic port for the Bereznians. Pomerania was small but fiercely independent and its government, based in the capital city of Gedania, made a great show of the ‘Independence Day’ celebrations in order to remind Bereznik of its existence and Futura of its obligations to maintain that existence.
Korneliusz Kamiński, the elected leader of Pomerania, welcomed Captain Scarlet into his office and listened carefully to the details of the military inspection Scarlet intended to conduct.
“The final part of the inspection will consist of an exercise around Gedania and a march-past – and fly-past – of the central square in front of yourself and the World Senator on Independence Day. I trust that meets with your approval, Mr President?”
“That sounds perfect to our requirements, Captain. I wish you to convey to Colonel White my gratitude on behalf of my people, for the World Government’s continuing support – and that of Spectrum.”
“Gladly, Mr President. Spectrum is well aware of the necessity of maintaining peaceful relations between the neighbouring states in Europe.”
“You must have not been born by the time of the Atomic War,” Kamiński said, smiling at the younger man, “but it was a terrible time for all peoples. Pomerania does not wish any such terror to be unleashed again across this lands.”
Scarlet nodded; he was growing used to the fact that people outside of the inner circle on Cloudbase considered him to be much younger than he actually was. His retrometabolism gave him the youthful appearance of the 31 year old he had been at the time of his first death. He reassured the President:
“The World Government and Spectrum are sworn to guarantee the neutrality of Pomerania and defend its borders.”
“Governments have sworn such oaths before and yet countries have fallen to enemies,” Kamiński said, “but I accept that you speak in good faith, Captain. Is there anything more I can be to your assistance?”
“Only to confirm when the World Senator is due to arrive, sir. My colleague, Captain Blue, told me he was to fly here today from Salzburg.”
“Yes, we expect them within three hours’ time. I should be there to welcome her.”
“Her? I thought it was Senator Ryan who would be coming.”
“Senator Ryan was taken to the hospital with dangerous… zapalenie kiszki… how would you say? – the sore guts?” The President poked himself in the stomach.
“Appendicitis,” Scarlet translated with an educated guess. “I wish him a speedy recovery then. Who’s coming in his place?”
Kamiński’s face beamed as he replied, “A lady: Senator Arnorsdottir.”
“Oh, that’ll please Captain Blue,” Scarlet muttered, hoping Symphony would be as sanguine about the change of personnel.
Surprisingly, Kamiński chortled. “He is one lucky dog, Captain Scarlet. She is a delight to a man’s eyes… and other organs.”
Scarlet tried to hide his amusement. “Yes, so I understand,” he replied and shook hands with his jovial host in preparation for leaving. He saluted. “I will see you at the march-past, Mr President.”
“Goodbye, Captain Scarlet. Good wishes go with you.”
Senator Arnorsdottir was a rising star in the World Government. For such a young woman, and she wasn’t 40 yet, she had a responsible junior ministerial post and a reputation for getting things done. She was slender, and shorter than she looked, because she dressed carefully to create the impression of height. She was invariably well-groomed without the appearance of too much makeup. She had a slightly husky voice that could turn, at will, into tones of command or chilly disapproval.
Her political opponents called her – with a depressing lack of imagination - ‘The Ice Queen’; her political allies called her ‘The Next World President But One’ –
“And my friends,” she told Captain Blue, as they shook hands in the reception foyer of the WG Administration Offices in Salzburg, “call me Val.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Madame Senator,” Blue replied. The way she had to tilt her head to meet his eye made him self-consciously aware of his own height and girth. “I have a Maximum Security Vehicle outside the building to conduct you to the airport where a Spectrum Passenger Jet is waiting for us. Your entourage will follow in the World Government cars.”
“Maximum security? I wasn’t aware this was a dangerous assignment, Captain. I’m going to a peaceful capital city to attend an Independence Day ceremonial, not a battlefield.”
“Yes, ma’am; but the Bereznians have been vocal in their complaints recently and the World President-”
“Tcha! William Roberts gets the jitters every time Katania rattles a sabre. Strange for a man who prides himself on his military past, don’t you think? Still, it isn’t every woman who can say she’s driven in a Spectrum MSV… I will be able to dine out on experience in Reykjavík.”
Blue smiled in amusement and the senator did a double-take at the tall man, and then smiled back.
“Shall we go, ma’am?”
“Oh yes, and on the way you can tell me all about yourself, Captain.”
“Well, actually, I can’t,” Blue explained as he opened the door for her and ushered her down the steps to the MSV. “Spectrum’s security protocols won’t allow it.”
“I am a member of the President’s security council, Captain,” she teased. “Surely that gives me rainbow class security clearance?”
“Yes, ma’am; but even rainbow class clearance doesn’t cover Spectrum personnel’s details. Those are confidential and restricted to very few people in the organisation.”
“Quite right – it doesn’t – officially,” She smiled up at him. “But it is a long journey, Captain and I like to know who I am talking to.”
“I’m Captain Blue, ma’am; you saw my credentials.”
“And very impressive they are, Captain.” She gave him an appreciative glance as he helped her into the MSV.
Blue flushed with embarrassment and she felt a stab of remorse for teasing him; after all, he couldn’t answer back.
“I am sorry, Captain; I shouldn’t try to provoke you, should I?”
“I don’t provoke easily,” he said genially, as he settled himself into the driving seat and set the automatic locks.
“Then we should get on like – as my personal secretary would have it – a maison en flambé. Now, tell me; does this impressive piece of engineering have a music player? I’m in the mood for something rousing… ”
President Kamiński was busily changing into his formal suit ready for the arrival of his guest. He was looking forward to spending the evening with her. His wife would be there, but for once she wouldn’t be able to prevent him enjoying the company of a younger and, quite definitely, sexier woman.
His secretary came into his dressing room with a small box in his hands and a concerned look on his face.
“What’s the matter now, Tytus?” Kamiński asked.
“Mr President, we’d expected Senator Ryan to be the guest of honour and the gift we had for him will not be suitable for Madame Senator. We have to find a replacement in the short time we have left.”
“What? Oh no – we can’t insult her by not giving her a suitable gift. What can we offer her?”
The younger man shrugged. “I can send to the stores for perfume – I am sure we can get one of the big shops to open up for us.”
“Don’t be foolish – she is a World Government minister, not your spinster auntie! We must give her something that is unique and speaks to her of Pomerania. She can get perfume anywhere.”
Mrs Kamiński came into the room and asked what all the shouting was about. Her husband explained their dilemma and looked hopefully at his wife.
“Do you have an idea what we could give her, Zofia?”
“Jewellery!” Tytus suggested.
Zofia Kamiński rolled her eyes at that. “You could give her some jewellery, but it ought to be something special. Something shop-bought would be an insult.”
“There is no time to commission a piece,” Kamiński moaned. “This is terrible.”
Tytus chewed his bottom lip and then said tentatively, “We could give her something unique, and invite her to commission a piece at our expense…”
“An IOU – wonderful,” Kamiński snapped.
“No, sir; remember a few weeks ago, that piece of Baltic amber was discovered on the beach? It was one of the largest on record. The fisherman who found it sold it to the state, so that it could be used to make some official piece of regalia representing the ancient trade in amber that financed the Pomeranian state in the middle ages. Well, it hasn’t been worked yet – it is in its natural state. We could present it to the Senator and invite her to commission herself a piece of jewellery from it, to be crafted by one of our young designers, knowing the remainder would form part of the state regalia. That would be an honour indeed!”
Kamiński looked uncertainly at his wife. Zofia was looking thoughtful and when she caught his eye she said,
“For once Tytus has a good idea. Arnorsdottir is Icelandic, she will know the rarity and beauty of amber – it would be an appropriate gift.”
“Well done, Tytus. Fetch the amber from… wherever it is and get a presentation box from somewhere and dig a calligrapher out to write a certificate of provenance or an IOU, or whatever is necessary. The Senator can choose her own designer – we will run a competition and they can submit designs – the winner being awarded the commission to make the regalia. It will be announced tonight at the state banquet – warn the press I want it promoted as a unique and thoughtful gift from a grateful nation to the representative of our friends in the World Government. There could be good publicity – international publicity – from this. When the jewellery is made, I shall have to go to Futura to present it.”
“And I will have to accompany you,” Zofia said firmly. “Perhaps, I ought to present it? From the grateful mothers of the Pomeranian nation…”
“Yes, well, we will discuss that later. Get a move on, Tytus – we need to be ready to make the announcement at the banquet.”
The official banquet was in full swing when Captain Blue slipped away and climbed the spiral stairs to the gallery that ran around the medieval civic hall.
Captain Scarlet was leaning on the banister and looking down on the guests. The hall was lit by the flickering light of a multitude of candles and the dim spot lights set high in the carved wooden hammer-beam roof. The President and Senator Arnorsdottir were sitting in the middle of the top table on a raised dais, deep in conversation.
The door opened.
“How’s it going?” Scarlet asked his friend, as Blue joined him at his vantage point.
“Well, I think.”
“How is Kamiński coping with the Ice Queen?”
“The question ought to be how is she coping with him, if you ask me. If she gets through this evening without decking him I’ll be impressed. Why do men like that always think women like her can’t wait for them to rip their clothes off and set to with vigour?”
Scarlet chuckled. “I expect Arnorsdottir’s used to it. She seems to have most of the male senators on a leash, if you listen to the political hacks anyway.”
“She’s an intelligent woman and yet the tabloids persist in talking about her looks and her love-life.” He turned and nudged his friend in the ribs. “I’ve told you before that blonds are always treated as morons and bimbos.”
“Is she a natural blonde?”
“You had time to check?”
Scarlet was actually giggling. “You and your proclivity for powerful women…”
“I don’t fancy her!”
“No? Well, take my advice: sue your face for slander and book lessons in body language, because it sure doesn’t look that way to me. But then, I have never understood this bond of blondness… have I? Hmm?”
Blue was staring down into the hall. There was considerable noise muffled by the heavy wooden double doors. As he watched they were flung open. “The media have arrived. It seems that the President wants to make some announcement when he presents the senator with her gift.”
Scarlet nodded and watched as the press gang came into the room and spread out around the diners, and between the trestle tables and the doors, erecting floodlights and sound booms while the journalists milled about seeking for the best possible angles and pictures. Additional lights were brought in and the full panoply of the lights in the hall was switched on.
The elaborate candelabras on the tables, with their slender white candles remained alight, although overshadowed by the requirements for modern communication technology. Due to the time of year the modern central heating was on and a splendid log fire roared in the stone fireplace behind the dais. The temperature in the hall started to rise.
Scarlet fanned his face with his hand.
“It’s getting hot in here,” he murmured. Blue nodded in agreement.
Finally the press were all assembled and President Kamiński nodded to the toastmaster who called for silence.
The President stood and made a speech that seemed to be very popular with the diners, for they cheered and applauded.
“Patriotism always goes down well,” Scarlet muttered, “but I wish I knew what he was saying, all the same.”
Blue had thought the same but he had taken action to find out. He had contacted Spectrum’s local office to patch his communication system through to the instantaneous translation provided by the World Government’s 24 hour International News Channel.
He paraphrased for his companion.
“He’s saying the Triumvirate of Europe are all jolly good fellows, World Government is a good thing and the World President is a man amongst men.”
Scarlet chuckled. “Roberts will love that.”
“We are very happy to welcome to our beautiful city, the equally beautiful World Senator Arnorsdottir… whose beauty is as legendary as that of Gedania itself.” Blue rolled his eyes. “There’s more of the same,” he reported and after a few minutes continued, “The Madame Senator is living proof of the beauty of the Nordic races and the Baltic lands they inhabit. We welcome her to this historic city. For many centuries the Baltic has been the source of a great and unique treasure, and the Nordic people have long known the value of such marvellous bounty.”
“Who writes this drivel for them?” Scarlet asked rhetorically.
“A few months ago the Baltic sea released to the care of the people of Gedania a truly rare and spectacular treasure.”
They both watched as a uniformed guard of honour bought a large and ornate chest to the table and placed it before the President.
“In this box is a millennium of treasure – priceless treasure - from the seas,” Blue continued hesitantly as the translation rolled on. “On behalf of the people of Gedania and the country of Pomerania, I would ask World Senator Arnorsdottir to open the casket and reveal to the world the magnificent bounty of the Baltic.”
“What is it?” Scarlet pondered aloud. “Spanish doubloons pillaged from pirates?”
“No idea,” Blue replied as they watched the over-elaborate ceremony in which Kamiński handed the key to Arnorsdottir, involving much ceremonial kissing on the cheek.
“I bet he copped a grope,” Scarlet muttered, as the Senator broke free and turned her attention to the richly decorated casket.
“She’ll probably up the WG’s charges for military support if he did,” Blue murmured cynically, in response.
“She’s definitely your kind of woman, isn’t she, Adam?” Scarlet teased.
With some difficulty Arnorsdottir got the key to turn and there was a battery of flashes from the press cameras as the lock snapped open.
Smiling for the cameras, she pushed the domed lid back and looked into the velvet-lined interior.
“Hversu falleg,” she breathed, and drew out a heavy, lumpen stone. It was a dull orange in colour and rippled under the lights as if it had cooled from a liquid. There was an explosion of flashguns as she held it up for inspection.
“What’s that?” Scarlet asked, frowning at the scene below.
“Amber,” Blue replied, sounding impressed. “Unpolished, unworked, natural amber. There must easily be a couple of kilos there.”
“Her official gift is a lump of rock? Big deal.”
“Shh – the translation’s back on. Senator Arnorsdottir, please accept this as a token of our gratitude to the World Government. We have hoped… hopes, that you will agree to our proposal. This magnificent amber was found on our shores and we intended to create from it civic regalia; but before that is done, we would like you to select a design for both the regalia and a piece of jewellery for yourself, to be crafted by the best of our young designers. Will you do this, Madame Senator, and earn our undying gratitude?”
“Of course I will, Mr President,” Arnorsdottir replied in English. “The World Government is honoured to be part of such a significant act in the rebirth of Pomerania.”
The applause was deafening and many of the guests got to their feet to cheer and stamp in their approval.
The casket was cleared away and the amber laid on the table on an ornate silver salver for the press to photograph and film it. While this was going on the President outlined the terms of the competition to design the items to be made from the stone.
“Sounds a rum deal to me,” Scarlet said. “She gets to choose the winning design and gets a geegaw for her pains. Hardly worth all this razzmatazz.”
“Amber is a rare commodity and it has always had special significance in the north,” Blue explained. “It is an honour for her to be asked, and the jewel will be extremely valuable.”
“I’ll take your word for it; it’s a funny old rock though.”
Blue leant his elbows on the banister beside Scarlet and looked down at the milling pressmen interviewing the President and the Senator. “Should we go down?” he wondered aloud. “It’s getting a bit of a rough house down there.”
“You go; I can keep watch from here – clear sight lines,” Scarlet replied, patting the gun at his hip.
“S.I.G.,” Blue replied, and left him in the gallery to return to the maelstrom in the hall.
Senator Arnorsdottir noticed him return and gave him a friendly nod of acknowledgement as she dealt with the clamour of the reporters and the determination of President Kamiński to put his arms around her ‘for the photographers’.
Captain Blue moved closer, gently pushing some of the more excitable reporters away from the senator and trying to bring some order to the chaos.
“A picture with the amber!” someone cried excitedly. “Let’s get a picture of you both with the amber!”
“Well, I suppose that’d be okay – but this is the last one, please, guys?” Arnorsdottir replied.
Blue cleared a pathway back to the dais where the amber had been resting under the full glow of the TV lights and flashguns. Glancing at it he thought it looked almost gelatinous in the brilliant shimmer of the light reflected from the silver salver.
As he pulled the salver towards the VIPs he drew in a sharp breath at the unexpectedly hot metal.
Kamiński had put his arms around Arnorsdottir and was planting another kiss on her cheek, grinning and hugging her as he did so.
Blue turned to extricate his charge from her over-enthusiastic host. As he did so there was sudden flicker in the lights and the electricity failed. Some cameras were battery powered and their lights still shone, along with the candles in the ornate candelabras. It took some time for everyone’s eyes to adjust to the comparative gloom.
From his vantage point in the gallery, Captain Scarlet had become more alert as the lights failed. He was watching for someone who might be intending to attack the VIPs, but to his horror he saw two insubstantial green rings of dull light appear out of nowhere and slowly travel across the hall to where the amber lay.
There the rings halted and for a moment they seemed to throb, then just as quickly and silently, they vanished, fading into the invisible spectrum.
Scarlet came back to reality with a start. He activated his radio cap.
“Blue, get them away from the amber – quick. I saw Mysteron rings over it. It must be dangerous!”
“Captain Scarlet? What Mysteron rings? I didn’t see anything,” Blue said, although he trusted his partner enough to try to move the VIPs away.
Scarlet was scouring the hall, looking for some indication that the Mysterons were out for blood. Despite the power failure, no one had left the hall and the press were milling about trying to repair their equipment or interview anyone who might have anything at all to say about anything – or so it seemed. Scarlet turned his attention back to the dais and saw President’s aides prevent Captain Blue from interfering as Kamiński advanced purposefully towards the amber.
“No!” Scarlet yelled as the President’s hands closed around the stone.
But the expected explosion didn’t happen and a frown appeared between Scarlet’s dark eyebrows as he continued to watch. The President was saying something and smiling broadly as he lifted it up.
There was a ripple of applause from people closest to the dais, but Scarlet, scrutinising the President’s face, saw a look of alarm and bewilderment cross Kamiński’s features.
“What’s happening?” he called, but there was no answer from his partner.
Down in the hall, Kamiński turned and extended his hands towards Captain Blue. To the American’s astonishment he saw that the President’s fingers were buried to over the knuckles in a sticky resin and they were still sinking into the apparently glutinous amber.
“Do something, Captain!” Kamiński ordered, a fearful terror obvious in his voice.
Blue’s radio mic dropped down so that Scarlet could hear the conversation.
“It’s remarkable, Mr President; it’s almost as if the amber is melting in the heat.”
“It is not ‘almost as if’, Captain – it is melting!” Kamiński exclaimed. “And my hands are stucked in it. Get myself out – now!”
“Calm down, sir,” Blue pleaded. “There must be an explanation …” He hesitated as he recalled Scarlet’s warning about the Mysteron rings. “We’ll get you out, sir.”
But Kamiński was not a man to wait patiently and he started shouting for his aides to free him at once.
Unease began to spread from the crowd on the dais around the hall, like ripples in a pool. The press, suddenly realising there was a completely new, and more interesting, story happening before their eyes, surged forwards to get a better view.
From the gallery Scarlet yelled, “Clear the room! Open all the doors.”
Blue tried to keep order amongst the curious guests and journalists, while offering reassurance to Kamiński. “Don’t struggle, sir, and we’ll get you out.” He turned to the security guards. “You heard Captain Scarlet! Get everyone out of here,” he shouted.
The officials threw open the main doors and tried to usher people out of the hall, but the journalists weren’t going to leave in a hurry while a decent story was playing out before them and the dinner guests were as unwilling to miss the excitement as the journalists.
Kamiński was getting more and more hysterical as the amber continued to engulf his hands. His wife barged through the crowd and grabbed his arm to try to pull him free, but it was no use.
“This is terrible,” Arnorsdottir gasped to Blue as she grasped his arm and clung to it. “Get the press out, find a doctor, immediately.”
“A craftsman might be better if they have to cut his hands out,” Blue remarked, wrapping his arm protectively around her shoulders, as the journalists pressed forwards to get a glimpse of the President’s predicament.
“Calm down, sir.” This time Blue’s plea was more of an order to the distracted President, but it was to no avail. Kamiński was now trying to shake the amber from his hands while cursing loudly and fluently.
With the doors open and the big lights off, the temperature in the hall was beginning to drop and Blue reported to Captain Scarlet that the amber had solidified once more, imprisoning the unfortunate man’s hands.
“This has to be the work of the Mysterons,” Scarlet replied over the radio. “Surely the rock isn’t normally this – meltable?”
“Of course it isn’t,” Blue replied. “But if we can get the place cleared and calm Kamiński down, it shouldn’t take long to find a solution. I hope.”
“What can we do?” Zofia Kamiński cried, and throwing herself against Blue’s torso she beat her fists on his chest, screaming, “Help him, Spectrum!” before bursting into tears and weeping noisily.
“We’re trying to, ma’am,” Blue said helplessly. Never at his best with weeping women, he was uncertain what to do with Mrs Kamiński and his bewilderment showed in his face.
Senator Arnorsdottir stepped forward and took hold of Zofia’s arm. “Come with me, my dear; let Spectrum do their job,” she said firmly. To Blue’s relief and gratitude, Mrs Kamiński did as she was told.
Suddenly, all eyes were on the President as Kamiński screamed in horror. “There is something biting me,” he yelled. “I can feel it! Help me - it is eating my hands!”
He extended his arms and as the astonished crowd watched they saw tiny streams of blood seeping through the minute cracks and air bubbles on the surface of the amber.
“Oh my God,” Arnorsdottir moaned, “I think I shall be sick.”
In his agony Kamiński turned and dashed his trapped hands against the table top, slamming the amber repeatedly against the wood.
“Clear the hall!” Blue yelled again as he strode towards the President.
Suddenly there was a loud crack – and Blue thought the table must’ve split, but with a cry of relief Kamiński raised his hands. The amber had split and freed him, but the fingers on both of his hands were gnawed down to the bones and blood was dripping from the mangled stumps. He screamed and dropped to his knees, cradling his wounded hands to his chest.
To Blue’s anger a dozen flashguns went off.
“Get those vultures out of here!” he ordered and the guards moved forwards to start dragging the fascinated onlookers out of the hall.
Mrs Kamiński went to her husband and knelt beside him, keening mournfully as she rocked him in her arms.
“What the hell could do that to his hands?” Scarlet shouted from the gallery, but before Blue could answer, Senator Arnorsdottir gripped his arm tighter and stretched one elegant hand towards the table.
“My God, what are those?” she gasped.
Emerging from the shattered shards of amber were two strange creatures. They were only about the size of mice, but their crumpled bodies were covered with scales rather than fur. When they straightened up and stood upright on spindly legs and feet with sharp, curved talons, it looked to Blue as if their bodies were being filled out with the blood they’d just consumed. Their flat faces were dominated by large eyes and lip-less mouths full of prominent razor-sharp teeth, teeth that were all too clearly stained with blood-red liquid. As the astonished crowd watched, they unfurled long, leathery wings and rose into the air, emitting high-pitched screeches.
Terrified screams broke out and the crowd dispersed in a frenzy of fear, struggling to escape from the hall by any way possible.
Blue pushed the senator behind him and went for his gun, but in the confusion it had been dislodged from his holster and he was weaponless. The screaming, confused and frightened people surged for the exits as the strange creatures fluttered overhead.
Suddenly, as if they had been given orders, they locked onto the cowering figure of Valdis Arnorsdottir and both made a diving attack at her.
Blue swung his free arm and made contact with one of them, sending the creature spinning across the room. “Get out of here, Val,” he ordered, but she clung to him, too frightened to move away.
Blue started to edge towards the door, trying to provide her with cover, but their way was blocked by the frightened crowd and in desperation, Blue shouted, “Scarlet, do something!”
Once the amber had shattered and the strange ‘vampires’ – for want of a better name – had emerged from the shell, Captain Scarlet had turned and rushed for the stairs. He did not reach the ground floor before he found his way blocked by a surge of hysterical people trying to get up the staircase. He spent some time ordering them back, and then trying to shoulder them aside, but unable to get through them, he was forced back to the gallery.
Once they felt comparatively safe in the dark, overhanging gallery, the diners calmed down and their curiosity reasserted itself, until Scarlet, annoyed at being crowded by the banister, ordered them to stand back against the wall.
By leaning out dangerously over the banister he could see that Blue, still protecting the senator, was now hemmed in against the stone chimneybreast, with Senator Arnorsdottir cowering behind him. He had armed himself with a metal-framed fire guard embroidered with the city’s heraldic arms and a sturdy iron poker – using them as a shield and a weapon against the continual attacks of the vampires.
Surprised to see this apparently eccentric choice of weapon, Scarlet glanced around and caught sight of the pale-blue handle of Blue’s pistol lying under one of the chairs on the dais.
Great, Scarlet thought, he’s lost his gun and if I fire the chances are I might hit Blue, Arnorsdottir or any one of the silly people still in the hall.
He saw Blue take a swipe at one of the creatures and miss, leaving himself open to attack by the other. Its assault knocked the radio cap from his head and with a screech it tangled its vicious talons in Blue’s hair.
Blue had to drop the fireguard and poker to untangle the creature and bat it away, which he did with some difficulty. The animal drove its teeth into the unprotected flesh of its victim’s hands, scraping the skin away and causing lines of red blood to swell out into the open.
Almost as soon as he had freed himself, Blue had to turn his attention to the senator, who was waving her arms to ward off an attack by the other creature.
Blue stooped and grabbed the poker, and with the hand-eye coordination that made him the expert pilot he was, he aimed a blow at the vampire that connected and sent it spinning down into the burning grate. Its leathery wings caught fire and with an unearthly screech it was consumed in a matter of seconds.
Arnorsdottir threw herself into his arms, sobbing with terror.
While he’d been watching this, Scarlet had climbed onto the ornate pillar that supported the gallery, and shimmied down far enough to be able to jump onto the trestle table.
The remaining creature was out for blood and had spiralled up into the rafters to make a swooping dive at the prey that had killed its mate. Blue thrust Arnorsdottir behind him again and raised the fireguard to protect his head.
The creature swerved, screaming frustrated defiance as it spiralled upwards again.
Still unable to get a safe shot at the creature, Scarlet hollered: “Come on then, you ugly bugger! Come and get me – I’m going to pull your wings off, you dumb beast!”
He was waving his radio cap in his hands, exposing his head to a possible attack, and he had rolled up the sleeves of his uniform, exposing his muscular forearms.
“Come on then, if you’re hungry! Come and get some fine, English blood – red blood! Come on – what’re you waiting for?”
The vampire hesitated, as if weighing its chances against the armed and undoubtedly dangerous victim of its first attack, or the seemingly crazy creature with plenty of exposed flesh. Suddenly, it made a dive straight for this new enemy and although Scarlet had just enough time to take aim, and his bullet ripped through one of the flimsy wings, he had no chance to dodge its attack.
The vampire’s claws clamped shut around Scarlet’s head and its talons dug into his neck as its teeth started to flay the skin from his face. Scarlet grabbed it and tried to pull it off, but the more he tugged the deeper its talons buried into his flesh and the greater was the risk of a major blood vessel being severed. He felt a rough tongue lapping at his blood as it started to trickle down.
“Paul!” Blue hurried to where his partner was writhing on the trestle table a few feet away from the cowering Kamińskis. Scarlet was still trying to tear the animal from his face with his bare hands.
He wasn’t having much success and Blue could see that the blood flow had increased and was now profuse enough to seep onto the trestle table.
He looked around for a weapon and seized a couple of the candles from a nearby overturned candelabrum, racing back to the fireplace to light them.
He advanced on the struggling Scarlet once more and shouted: “Paul, take your hands away – let go of it!” until Scarlet either got the message or passed out, and let go of the dreadful beast.
Blue moved to stand over his partner and dropped hot wax from the candles onto the creature’s scaly body. It raised its head and screamed but did not let go of its victim. Realising that he had no option than to risk burning his friend, Blue applied the flames to the edges of the tattered wings and – after what seemed an eternity – the animal loosened its grasp of Scarlet’s head and turned to deal with its tormentor.
Spitting and snarling, it threatened Blue with its talons and teeth, but he was too far away and too wary to be struck. He jabbed the candle flame towards it again and the vampire backed off.
It tried to fly, but its wings were too badly damaged for it to manage more than a few pitiful hops. Blue thrust the candle towards it again, all too aware that there wasn’t enough flame to engulf the creature.
Suddenly he realised Valdis Arnorsdottir was at his side. She handed him the iron poker and he saw that the tip was red hot.
“Kill it,” she ordered.
“S.I.G.,” Blue replied and with one thrust speared the creature on the end of the red-hot poker, pinning it to the wooden table and watched its body frizzle into nothingness.
There was a murmur from the mesmerised crowd and even a smattering of applause.
This brought Blue back to reality and he glanced at his friend. Even in so short a time the creature had succeeded in stripping all the skin from Scarlet’s forehead and nose, as well as his eyelids and there was no doubt that under the seeping, bloodied flesh, Scarlet was dead. The shock, if not the actual loss of blood, was enough to be fatal.
“Get those bastards out of here!” Blue roared to the bemused guards, and tried to shield his friend from the cameras and gawpers. The remaining people were manhandled out of the hall and the President and his wife were whisked away by newly-arrived paramedics.
Eventually, there was only Blue and the Senator left, standing by the bloody corpse.
“Is he dead?” she asked.
Long years of training and experience had instilled Captain Blue with an automatic response to that question about Scarlet. His unique capabilities were top secret, and even a senator with rainbow class security clearance had no right to be told of them.
“I don’t think so,” he replied, a little shakily. “Cloudbase will send a recovery medijet and he’ll be cared for in our sickbay.” He realised his radio cap was missing and, out of habit, reached up to brush his tangled hair back into its habitual fashion. When he drew his hand back he was surprised to see blood on the fingers, as well as the backs of his hands, from the wounds made by the creature’s talons. “Just let me get my radio cap,” he said flatly.
Valdis Arnorsdottir was no stranger to trauma; she sensed that the captain’s unnatural calmness was his reaction to shock as much as her own uncontrollable shaking was.
“Let me,” she said, finding some relief in the chance to be occupied, and went to recover the cap from where it had rolled when Blue was attacked. She also retrieved his and Captain Scarlet’s guns and handed them back to him. Her reward was seeing a more relaxed expression flow into Blue’s face as things ‘got back to normal’.
When he had reported in and ordered the medical support team, Captain Blue exhaled and his head sank down to his chest as his broad shoulders drooped. The adrenalin-fuelled tension dissipated from his body.
“He was so brave,” Arnorsdottir said, glancing at Scarlet’s body. “I wish we could have saved him.”
“Oh, don’t worry – I’m sure Captain Scarlet will be right as rain in less than no time,” Blue said quietly. “Cloudbase medical can work wonders. I’m just so sorry he had to experience all this.” He pulled himself together. “But, I am sorry, Senator; I should have asked if you are all right?”
“Thanks to you and Captain Scarlet, I am fine. It seems I was lucky to have been escorted by Spectrum’s finest agents. Thank you.”
“I didn’t do much,” Blue said helplessly, “it was Scarlet who saved the day, as is so often the case.”
“You saved my life, that’s pretty important to me. Between you, you have saved who knows how many people from attack by those monsters. And now you are both hurt.” She looked at Scarlet’s ravaged face and at the sadness in Blue’s. “He is your friend, isn’t he?”
“We’re field partners and, yes, we are friends.”
“You called him Paul, so I guessed as much,” she explained. “And you called me Val – back there when we were being attacked - so you can’t really refuse to tell me what your name is now, can you, Captain?”
He gave her a wry smile. “Adam,” he said. “Adam Svenson.”
She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “I owe my life to you, Adam Svenson, and your friend. I shan’t forget everything you and Spectrum have done for me today. You have a permanent supporter in the World Senate, for what that is worth.”
He smiled. “These days, it can count for a great deal, Senator. I look forward to working with you on less… startling missions.”
She looked down at Scarlet. “With your courage and resourcefulness - and my brains - I think the three of us could do a pretty good job of keeping these Mysterons under control. Count on me, Adam, I have faith in you and… Paul.”
“The fight against the Mysterons certainly needs all the help it can get, Madame Senator.”
She frowned playfully. “Madame Senator? Just when I thought we’d got to the informal stage of our relationship… really, Captain.”
He smiled and looked away as he heard the approach of the medijet.
“Will you be okay?” he asked, “Only I’d like to go with him…”
“Of course; the only peril remaining for me are the reporters and what I need to deal with them is my press officer. I had better contact Futura and then the cabinet members here to ensure that political stability and the rule of law remains secure. Katania can rattle all the sabres it wants, as long as they remain in their sheaths. I will contact Colonel White with my report as soon as I can.”
“Thank you; I’ll let him know.”
“One day,” she said, as the medics rushed in with a gurney and started to lift Scarlet into a thermal recovery bag, “I hope to visit Cloudbase and meet you and your colleagues.”
He turned from watching them zip the recovery bag and looked down into her attractive face. His heart skipped as he saw her eyes widen as she returned his gaze. He felt blood flushing into his cheeks and knew what he must do.
Reluctantly he said, “That’d be nice; my wife and I will look forward to welcoming you there.” He saluted, not wanting to acknowledge the disappointment he saw in her eyes at his words. “Goodbye, Madame Senator, for now.”
She watched him walk out beside the gurney and turned to survey the wreckage of the hall.
“A wife?” she murmured to herself. “Isn’t that just your luck, Valdis Arnorsdottir? You finally find a man you can feel… comfortable with and he’s already married. Oh well, there’s plenty of time for things to change and you’ve dealt with bigger disappointment before… Now, better get started. Where’re my personal staff? There’s work to be done!”
Captain Scarlet’s recovery took several weeks. He was up and about in a matter of hours, but his face was a patchwork of scars and cuts giving him the appearance, according to Captain Ochre, of a treasure map, with X marking myriad spots.
While his normal appearance reasserted itself, Scarlet stayed in sick bay, and spoke to his wife, the former Rhapsody Angel, now on maternity leave in Winchester, on voice-only transmissions.
On his first evening back in the Officers’ Lounge, his colleagues discussed what had happened in Gedania and since.
“What were those creatures that attacked you?” Grey asked.
“Nothing like I’d ever seen before,” Scarlet replied.
“There are fossils that resemble them,” Blue explained, “they must be some sort of blood-sucking reptile. The teeth were designed to rip through tough reptile hides and the saliva contained an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing. They must’ve hooked themselves onto passing dinosaurs and chowed down.”
“But you, Scarlet and President Kamiński don’t look anything like dinosaurs,” Ochre remarked.
“The resin must’ve trapped them back in the dinosaur age and the heat melted the amber enough to trap Kamiński’s hands. Scarlet saw Mysteron rings go over the amber-”
“Yes, I did,” Scarlet confirmed, swallowing the mouthful of cake he was devouring to speak up. “The Mysterons must have retrometabolised the vampires and they promptly fed off his trapped fingers. When Kamiński broke the amber apart by banging it on the table, the little buggers got out and were looking for more blood. We must’ve seemed like a ready-meal to them. No scales or tough hides to cope with.”
“Shame they were both incinerated,” Grey said. “Imagine what science could have learnt from them.”
“It would have learned to wear thick gloves and protective clothing,” Blue remarked with uncharacteristic cynicism. “Did you ever see those old movies about the guy that breeds dinosaurs from DNA trapped in amber and all the trouble it caused? No, thank you; let the Jurassic stay long buried.”
“You’re getting soft in your old age,” Ochre teased; he was several months older than his compatriot. “Time was when you’d have been as keen as Grey to see the little critters flapping about in a lab somewhere.”
“Well, I know better now. I don’t even want a pet triceratops anymore – not even a small, cute one.”
His companions chuckled at that.
“What happened to Kamiński?” Scarlet asked.
“They had to amputate one of his hands, but they’re working on some computerised, bionic replacements for him. He’s still President and the Bereznians are still complaining,” Ochre reported.
“You know, I don’t quite understand about the amber melting,” Grey remarked thoughtfully. “I thought it took much higher temperatures than even all those lights and candles and so forth would generate.”
“Yes, we wondered about that,” Scarlet said, with a glance at Blue. It was true that the matter had crossed his partner’s mind and that Blue had eventually come up with a solution that satisfied him – at least. “We think that the Mysterons have been planning this for some time – maybe they made sure that piece of amber was washed up on that beach and the fisherman was willing to sell it to the state, rather than on the open market – he’d have got more for it if he had done.”
“We had no threat though,” Ochre remarked. “That’s not like them.”
“But maybe we did,” Blue replied. “Remember a few months ago, there was a flurry of threats and one was ‘Spectrum will be trapped in the amber of the moment’. At the time we thought it was something to do with the faulty elevator seats from the Amber Room to the Angel Jets, but I wonder.”
“Yeah,” Grey agreed slowly, “you might be right. But three Angels were in danger when the seats shorted out.”
“Yes, I know,” Blue agreed, recalling all too vividly the fear that had gripped Symphony, Destiny and Melody Angels at the time. “But there was never any unexplainable fault traced to the system, was there? I know the Mysterons have manipulated machinery at molecular levels before, but the Chief Engineer’s report said it was a faulty gearbox. We chose to believe it was more than that.”
“So, the Mysterons set the whole thing up, you reckon? Including making the stone melt at a less than volcanic temperature?” said Ochre.
Blue nodded. “It was hot in there, though, but you couldn’t call it molten rock hot.”
“Hmm, they certainly do have powers we can’t hope to understand,” Grey mused.
There was a sombre silence until Scarlet asked:
“And the senator? What happened to her?” He cast the slyest of glances at his partner.
“She gave you and Blue an A-star rated report to the colonel,” Grey replied, as it became clear Blue wasn’t prepared to reply. “And, when the finances were under discussion, she talked the security committee into paying up for new equipment.”
“I heard say she wants to visit Cloudbase,” Ochre chipped in, “and given her talent for getting her own way, I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see her here someday soon.”
“Won’t that be nice?” Scarlet said to Blue, his expression one of exaggerated innocence.
“Can’t wait,” Blue responded sourly.
“She’s definitely a babe – I’ll be waiting on the hangar deck to welcome her aboard, while you old married men can just watch in envy,” Ochre exclaimed, with a merry wink.
Later when the two friends were alone, Scarlet said, “You really liked Arnorsdottir, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but so what? I’m a much-married man, as you’re forever reminding me.”
“True, but even much-married men are allowed to flirt a little, now and again.”
Blue looked straight at his friend and replied in a bleak voice, “Flirting wouldn’t be enough, for either of us, it wouldn’t stop there. I know Valdis doesn’t regard marriage as a bar to… other relationships, but I do. The colonel told me she’s scheduled to visit in three weeks from now, and I’ve asked for leave then. I’m going to take Karen on a second honeymoon to Hawaii.”
“Really. Now, if you don’t mind, the topic is closed. Permanently.”
Captain Scarlet looked at his friend with a perceptive empathy and gave a slight nod of understanding. “S.I.G., Captain Blue, whatever you say.”
Inspiration comes from many strange places and takes odd forms. The inspiration for this story came from a pumpkin which is apt for a Halloween story, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Pomerania is a region on the south shore of the Baltic which forms the border between Germany and Poland. In the Middle Ages it was part of the Hanseatic League, and its centre is the city of Gdansk/Danzig. The Latin for Gdansk is Gedania. Throughout its history authority over the area has been disputed, so it occurred to me that following the Atomic War of 2028-2034, it was plausible to suggest that Pomerania might become independent once again, as a buffer between Bereznik and the World Government’s member states.
I used online translation sites for the snatches of Polish and Icelandic in the text, so I apologise if they don’t make any sense – as I don’t speak either language, I had to rely on guesswork.
My thanks go to my beta-reader, Hazel Kohler, who, although she may not be indestructible, is certainly indefatigable. Without her skill and patience, this would never have progressed from pumpkin patch to web page.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to Chris Bishop for her website and her friendship and the years of pleasure they have given me.
Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons™ was devised and conjured into being by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their dedicated teams of magicians. They all played a significant part in my childhood and that of many millions of children world-wide, and my final thanks go to each and every one of them.
To my close friends in the Scarletinis who despair of getting a story ready for the annual challenges, I would say ‘don’t give up’. I had no hope of having a submission for this year until last Sunday, when this germ of an idea blossomed into the tangled web of implausibility you have just read – and I hope enjoyed.
Happy Halloween, everyone.
Sunday 19th September 2010.
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