Caught in the Middle

 

A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story for Halloween

 

By Marion Woods

 

The brief was a simple one: meet the scientist in question at the research centre in the rural wilds of Shropshire, collect the info-disk with the schematics on and deliver them to the World Government’s top scientist at Futura, with as much speed as possible.   Bread and butter stuff, hardly worth employing a Spectrum Captain for, let alone their premier field agent.    But still, it meant something to do, a change of scenery and the chance to do the driving – the colonel wasn’t prepared to send two captains on the trip, even if the World President was anxious for Spectrum to act as delivery boys. 

Captain Scarlet landed at Birmingham and collected an SSC from the local agency.  He set the GPS and headed north-westwards, soon leaving the sprawling conurbation behind him and hitting the archetypal green and pleasant land that stretched away in all directions.  The weather was pleasant - one of those jewel-like, late-autumn afternoons, when the crisp sunshine and blue skies disguised the fact that it was bloody cold - the summer that year had been a wet one, and it had been raining persistently for days, so it made a welcome change.  Trees and hedgerows were a bright kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, reds and browns, providing a final magnificent display before they slipped into the stark skeletons of winter.  

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness….”  Scarlet recited and then, rather than admit to himself that he didn’t know the rest of the poem, he switched the car radio on. The DJ was playing the ‘All-Time –Top 100’ and he was soon enjoying himself.  

He swung the car off onto the minor road in time to the beat of a jaunty pop tune and joined in the   ‘de-wop’ chorus with gusto.   The GPS was telling him he was nearing his destination and the farming landscape was gradually giving way to the imposing bulk of the Long Mynd.  The research facility was in the heath land between the purple-heather-hued Mynd and the rocky outcrop of the Stiperstones.   The barbed -wire fence and the floodlights that surrounded the complex was in stark contrast to the collection of port-a-cabins and Nissan huts that made up the research facility – so indicative of the make-do and ‘Heath Robinson’ way things were still done in most places.  The only truly modern building was an incongruous two-storey glass and steel pyramid that bore the legend ‘Administration and Reception’. 

Scarlet showed his Spectrum pass to the security guard and was permitted to drive through the barrier and up to this edifice.  He marched in and smiled at the young receptionist.  “Captain Scarlet, Spectrum,” he said, proffering his ID.  I’ve come to see Doctor Chisholm.”

“Of course, please take a seat, Captain,” she responded and waved blue-nailed hands towards a collection of low-level seating against the windows.  Scarlet marched over and stood instead, staring out over the neat lawns and shrubs that flowed around the other, less impressive buildings.

Doctor Alan Chisholm was a tall, be-spectacled man, with dark hair liberally flecked with grey.  He was wearing a white lab coat and looking rather cross as he strode towards Captain Scarlet.

Scarlet turned and saluted.  “Doctor Chisholm?  Pleased to meet you sir, I’m Captain Scarlet.”  Once more he proffered the ID.  “I’ve come to collect the Info-disk for shipping to the labs at Futura…”

“Captain Scarlet, I do not appreciate having my time wasted.  I handed the info-disk to your colleague this morning.  Doesn’t Spectrum keep track of what its operatives are doing?”

 “My colleague?  Doctor Chisholm, I can assure you, I’m the only agent entrusted with this mission, no other agent has been sent here.”

The Doctor did not look convinced by this avowal.

Anxiously Scarlet asked, “What did he look like, the man who you gave the disk to?”

 Chisholm sniffed and pushed his glasses higher up the bridge of his broad nose.  “Tallish, dark-haired, English accent – dressed in black.  In fact he showed me his ID card – just like yours, except it had his picture in a black uniform.”

Scarlet’s face fell.  “Captain Black was here and you gave him the disk?” he repeated.   This wasn’t something you wanted any uncertainty about. 

“Didn’t I just say so?  I really don’t have time for this, Captain.”

“My apologies, Doctor, but Captain Black is no longer a Spectrum agent – he works for the terrorists known as The Mysterons.”

“My goodness me – he had the uniform and the ID – how are we supposed to know he isn’t a proper Spectrum officer?” Chisholm blustered.

“You can’t, Doctor.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll contact my base and report back.  It may be that other Spectrum agents will need to come here and check the base.  It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Black might have laid traps or explosives here.   It is essential you evacuate the facility immediately.  Do you have any ideas where Black was heading?”

“Do you think I have time to stand and watch where visitors go when they leave?  And this is a working laboratory, Captain; we can’t waste time needlessly evacuating the premises.”

Scarlet‘s smile was almost a grimace.  He activated his cap mic and his uniform epaulettes glowed white.

Report, Captain Scarlet,” Colonel White’s voice came over the comms system.

“Sir, Doctor Chisholm reports that he gave the info disk to Captain Black this morning.” Scarlet heard the intake of breath at the other end.

“Captain Scarlet, it is vital you retrieve that disk.  If it falls into the wrong hands, it could be catastrophic.”

“S.I.G., Sir.   I suggest you send a team to check the facility over – Black may not have worked alone, or he may have done more than just collect the disk.”

“S.I.G., Captain.  I will have Spectrum London send local agents to conduct a security sweep.  In the meantime, find that disk, Scarlet – and fast!”

“S.I.G.”

As Dr Chisholm stomped away, the receptionist, who’d witnessed the whole meeting between the two men beckoned Captain Scarlet over and told him that she had watched Captain Black leave the compound. 

“After all, it’s not every day you see Spectrum officers around here,” she explained with a wry smile.  “But he wasn’t a very nice chap, not at all friendly and rather rude, in fact.  I thought you must all be like that.”  She smiled up at Scarlet with a faint blush on her powdered cheeks.

“He wasn’t always that way,” Scarlet found himself explaining in Black’s defence.

She smiled winsomely at him.  “Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to hang about here, Captain, but all I can tell you is that I heard him ask Dr Chisholm for the way to Barton – although Dr Chisholm wouldn’t tell him and told him to ask the security guard at the gate.  He’s a very busy man, the doctor, but he’s nice enough when you get to know him,” she asserted loyally.

“Barton?  Thank you, Maisy.”   It was lucky she was wearing a name badge because he knew he had to charm her into doing what he wanted done next, and a little personal attention was always a good start. 

She beamed at him.  “You’re welcome, Captain.”

“Now, be a good girl and sound the fire alarms for me?  We have to empty the buildings as quick as we can.”

“But, Doctor Chisholm said –“

“He’s a busy man, but I’m sure he doesn’t mean to imply that anything you’re doing here is worth more than a single human life, Maisy.”

“You really think…”

“I don’t play games about such things; do it, Maisy, there’s a good girl.” He saluted her and strode back to his car. In the SSC he pushed a few buttons on the nav-comp in the light of the information he’d managed to accumulate and glanced up from the route his computer was displaying, nodding with approval as he heard the whine of the fire alarms echo around the complex. 

He fired up the engine and headed for the gates, turning north as the GPS instructed.

 

 

 

Barton was a little village on this side of the Stiperstones with nothing – as far as Scarlet could see – that would have any interest for Captain Black.   Presumably he had arranged to meet someone or be collected from here.   The Mysterons did, apparently, have the ability to manipulate matter in many ways – and one of them was ‘teleporting’ their agent to safety when necessary, but Black still used more conventional means of transport as a rule.

Scarlet pulled up outside the small village post office.  The sun was sinking behind the Stiperstones, casting the village into shadow and the illuminated shop front was shedding a bright yellow light over the narrow pavement; its window display of pumpkin lanterns, witches hats and tawdry plastic masks of Frankenstein’s Monster, chiming in with his ever-more pessimistic mood.    Further down the street, lights were coming on in the houses as families returned from work and school.  There was a new heaviness in the air and Scarlet glanced skyward seeing a blanket of black cloud rolling over the mountain as a weather front advanced inland from the Welsh Marches.   It was going to rain.

His mood sank pretty much as the brilliance of the early day waned, and he entered the shop with a heavy heart.  Behind the piles of newspapers on the counter, a curly-haired, red-headed girl sat reading a magazine of romantic stories. 

Scarlet smiled.  He had a fondness for all red-heads.

“Good afternoon,” he said, presenting his ID card.  “I’m Captain Scarlet of Spectrum; I wonder if you could help me?”

The girl blushed and stammered, “I don’t know; what can I get for you?”

“Has another Spectrum agent been in here today – a man in a black uniform, like mine?”

She frowned in a theatrical expression of thoughtfulness.   “No,” she said eventually.  “But I did see a man in a black uniform walking towards the church about a couple of hours ago.  I was on my way back from school – I wasn’t feeling too well so they sent me home early – and I saw him when I got off the bus.”

“Where is the church, exactly?”

She grinned at him and slithered off her stool coming around the counter.  She was a slip of a girl, barely reaching to his shoulder, but she had a personality big enough to brighten the entire shop. 

“You have to go up the street and turn left towards the mountain.”  She walked to the window and started waving her hands to describe the route. “It’s about a mile – maybe less.  St Chad’s it’s called and the Vicar is Mr. Gillick.  He lives just a little way further, on the other side of the street, if you want him.  You can’t miss the vicarage – the road comes to a dead end just after it.   You might need to find him, if you want to go inside the church – because he doesn’t keep it open in the wintertime.  He’ll be opening it later, though anyway – because it’s Tuesday and that’s choir practise.” 

“Thank you – that covers just about everything I need to know,” Scarlet smiled down at her.   She smiled back, her freckled face made almost beautiful by the brightness of her expression. 

“Has Mr Gillick done something wrong?” she asked.

“No – not at all.  I… I just need to find my colleague urgently.”

“Can’t you speak to him on your radio thing?”

“It’s not working.  I’d better be going if I want to catch Captain Black.  Thank you very much, Miss.”

“Julie… my name’s Julie.”

“Thank you, Julie.”

As Scarlet reached for the door handle there was a flash of lightning and an almost simultaneous rumble of thunder. 

Julie let out a squeal.  “Oh, I hate thunder.  They do say around here that, when it thunders, it’s the Devil sitting in his chair on the top of the Stiperstones! “

Scarlet was more concerned about the fierce rain sheeting down.  “I just knew today was going to get worse,” he muttered.

 

 

The SSC headlights pierced the darkness and the windscreen wipers fought a losing battle with the rain as Scarlet eased his way up the narrow lane towards St Chad’s.  The lightning was racing across the dark sky, edging the rushing clouds with silver and gilding the church.  Thunder rumbled with an ominous echo.  

Scarlet stopped the car and reluctantly stepped out.  He ran towards the church and sheltered momentarily in the shallow rounded porchway to take his bearings.  The door was locked and the crowded graveyard gave too many hiding places to any would-be assailant for Scarlet to venture out and explore.   He contacted Cloudbase and reported to the colonel where he was and why. 

Your witness saw Black heading for the church?” Colonel White repeated sceptically.

“Yes sir, but she also said the church is kept locked at this time of year.”

There is no sign of him?”

“No sir – not a whisker.”

Why would Captain Black be heading towards the local church?” White mused and Scarlet heard him say: “Lieutenant Green, get a research team to find out all they can about Barton in Shropshire, and St Chad’s church in particular.” The colonel addressed his officer again, “We will get back to you with any information, Captain Scarlet.  I suggest you investigate the area yourself.”

“S.I.G., sir.”

“Do you need any assistance?”

“Not at the moment; Julie might not have seen Captain Black, and this could be a false lead.  I’ll let you know, sir.  Scarlet out.”

He sighed and wandered out into the graveyard, his pistol drawn and his keen senses on the alert.  Ever since he’d been Mysteronised he’d experienced a nauseous sensation around Mysteron agents – generally speaking - and he prayed that this would stand him in good stead now.  Keeping his back to the church wall, Scarlet edged deeper into the churchyard, his eyes scanning the dark gravestones and his ears straining for any telltale sound of danger.

A bolt of lightning lit the sky, the thunder starting to rumble overhead even as the glare faded.  Rain dripped off Scarlet’s peaked cap and water splattering from the gargoyle on the corner of the church sprayed his tunic. 

A wave of apprehension went through him and, as a second bolt jagged across the sky, he saw clearly in the electric brightness, the unmistakable figure and pallid features of Captain Black, standing beneath a tree.  He was dressed in his Spectrum Uniform and staring with his deep-set, dark eyes straight at Scarlet.   Behind him were the tall, ornate iron railings that surrounded the graveyard. 

 Scarlet tensed but as the lightning faded, Black vanished.    He must’ve been more surprised to see me than I was to see him, he thought. I knew who I was looking for.  In the split second that thought took, Scarlet had moved away from the church wall and dodged behind an ancient lichen-covered gravestone, his gun at the ready.   Conventional bullets might not kill a Mysteron – and the jury was still out over whether Black was a conventional Mysteron agent – but they would slow them down.  Somewhere in the SSC there was an electron rifle and the pulse of electricity that it fired was known to be fatal. 

He debated whether to try to make dash back to the SSC and fetch the rifle, or play peek-a-boo around the graveyard with Black in the hope of finally catching the Mysterons’ main agent on Earth.   On reflection he decided it was better to get the electron gun and a powerful torch, and he crept to the front of the church and sprinted across the open pathway towards the low wall that formed the entrance. 

As he reached the road, he saw the lights of the SSC flash on and the powerful beam picked him up as the engine started.  He ran forward, throwing himself across the bonnet and saw Black behind the wheel.   The SSC made a three-point-turn, crashing into the vicarage hedge and then ramming the low, church wall until Scarlet slipped off and fell back into the graveyard, allowing the car to head away towards the village.

Shouting with rage Scarlet ran out into the road after the departing car and saw it turn towards the summit of the Stiperstones.   He looked for some way to follow it and noticed a motorbike standing in the vicarage garden.  He vaulted the low hedge and ran to it; fishing his Spectrum skeleton key from his tunic and praying it would work on the bike.  The engine roared into life at the same moment a man, hastily pulling on a raincoat, opened the front door and ran out into the rain, shouting in protest. Scarlet kicked the bike-stand away and revved the engine, racing down the garden as fast as he could.  He lost his radio-cap as the bike cleared the hedge and skidded wildly as he chased after Captain Black. 

 

 

The road to the summit of the Stiperstones was narrow, twisting and devoid of any lighting, but through the rain and the flashes of lightning, Scarlet could still see the SSC.  He had no idea why Black was heading this way, no idea where the road went beyond the summit of this irregular and boulder strewn mountain, but he knew he had to follow.  Whatever the significance of the information contained on the disk Black had stolen, whatever plan the Mysterons were preparing to launch on the world, became secondary to his own desire to extract revenge on Black for every injury, and every death he’d experienced since his first one. 

 

Ahead of him the SSC was swerving to avoid the rivulets of rain water, streaming down from the water-logged, scree-sided slopes.  Scarlet’s motorbike swerved too as small stones and larger rocks bounced across the road surface, gaining momentum with the torrential rain.  He crouched lower over the handlebars of the bike, knowing that he was gaining on Black.   Suddenly, in a crack of lightning, he saw a sight that made him gasp with astonishment.  Some distance ahead of them the side of the mountain was moving, slipping down towards the road; thousands of shards, rocks and one large boulder hit the tarmac and a good many of them rolled down the slope in the direction of the speeding SSC.  Black swerved the car out of their way and crashed into the bank, burying the bonnet in the hillside.  Scarlet stopped the bike and jumped off to one side, out of the path of the avalanche.  He could just make out the dark figure of Captain Black, running higher up the side of the mountain; he was too far away and it was too dark for Scarlet to get a good shot at him, so he set off in pursuit. 

It was a steep slope and the ground was soft underfoot and uneven with the sharp stones, but he was gaining – he was definitely gaining.   Black staggered, scrabbled on all fours and then set off again, his stamina as inexhaustible as Scarlet’s.  Retrometabolism fuelled a strength and endurance in Captain Scarlet that dwarfed that of any normal man, and the power of the Mysterons gave Black similar advantages; the chase could well last for hours without either tiring.

Black had reached the summit and stood momentarily silhouetted against the skyline, as a fork of lightning illuminated the sky.  Scarlet aimed and fired, but the bullet missed and by the time he aimed again, Black had disappeared behind an outcrop of rock.  Scarlet raced on in determined chase.

An unearthly shriek split even the noise of this turbulent night, competing with a deep rumble of thunder that made Scarlet’s ears ring.  Grimacing he changed direction and found himself at the foot of the outcrop.   Some distance away Captain Black was standing stock still, his gaze riveted on the man beside him.  Coming to a sharp halt, Scarlet stared as well.

The stranger was tall– well over six feet, he estimated.  Broad and muscular he was dressed in dark leather – trousers, waistcoat and what appeared to be a long cloak or loose overcoat, that was draped over his shoulders, covering most of his body to protect him from the rain.  He had short, blond hair that sprang up from his high forehead and receded slightly at both temples.   Within the brightness of his deep-set and haughty tawny-brown eyes Scarlet thought he saw a flash of fiery red.  His complexion was ruddy, and although his strong features were undeniably handsome, there was an unsettling hint of a dangerous sensuality about them. 

When he noticed Scarlet, the stranger’s wide lips stretched in a condescending smile.   It gave Scarlet the shivers but when he tried to move away, he discovered that he was rooted to the spot.   A quick glance at Black showed that he was similarly restrained, but the Mysteron Agent was making no attempt to break free, seeming content to watch the movements of their gaoler.  

“Paul Metcalfe,” the stranger said in a deep, ageless voice.  “We meet again.”

 “I don’t know you,” Scarlet managed to gasp.

“Oh, but you do – you both do.  You slip in and out of my bailiwick with an annoying frequency.”

“Who are you?” Paul stammered.

“I have many names.  You might call me Lucifer.  Yes; today you can call me Lucifer, because I really am the bringer of light to this dark night.”  He grinned and lightning flashed amidst a deep rumble of thunder that sounded like a laugh.   But there was very little amusement in his voice as he asked, “Why are you here, disturbing my solitude?”

“He stole something of mine -” Scarlet gasped, struggling to point an accusing finger at Black.

Black spoke for the first time, hissing, “It is not yours – it was never yours, Earthman!”

Lucifer’s eyes darted from one to the other with amusement as he eased himself onto the outcrop of rock, which seemed to mould itself to accommodate his strong body comfortably. 

“And for that paltry ‘something’ you brave my storm in the hope of killing each other?  I’m impressed by your stupidity.  Few humans would venture to the Devil’s Chair on Halloween.”

Scarlet glared at Black.  “Is this some trick of your Mysteron masters, Black?  Some new challenge they’ve devised?”  He struggled to move.  “They won’t succeed…I will take that disk from you!”

Finally Black fought for his freedom and suddenly found that the heavy, invisible force-field that had pinned him to the spot vanished, and he was free to move.  He turned and started to run away from Scarlet and the strange entity that had enthralled him.  Lightning struck the ground ahead of him, making him swerve onto a different tack and thunder growled ominously.   To his surprise he found that, somehow, he was now running towards Scarlet and the Devil’s Chair.  He stopped and turned his haunted eyes on the stranger. 

Lucifer seemed to find the whole episode amusing and he leant down over the sides of his mountain seat and said: “You cannot run away from me, Conrad, and I say that you must fight him to keep your treasure.   You invaded my privacy, so in reparation, you shall entertain me.  Fight - show me what you and your masters would do to him if he were in your power.  And to the victor shall go the spoils and the vanquished will be mine!”  He held out his hand and lying in the broad palm was the info-disk Scarlet had been sent to collect.   Black moaned and rummaged through the pockets of his uniform – the disk was gone.

Scarlet, still imprisoned by Lucifer’s force-field, shouted out in anger, “Give that to me!”

IT IS NOT TO BE GIVEN TO THE EARTHMEN,” Black’s voice took on the familiar deep resonance of the Mysterons. 

Lucifer’s tawny eyes blazed with anger.  “You do not tell me what to do!  I am not afraid of you – you cannot harm me.”

THE DISK IS OURS,” Black asserted.

“Then earn it,” Lucifer ordered as he pointed a finger at Scarlet who found himself freed from his confinement, just as Black leapt at him with a murderous ferocity.  Taken by surprise he staggered, but did not fall, even though Black continued to pummel him.

Conrad Turner had been one of the foremost of Spectrum’s agents.  Older than the other candidates in the original intake of candidates, he had been the first one chosen and given the task of overseeing the selection and training of the other potential colour captains.   He had lost none of his skills in the intervening years, and with his Mysteron enhanced stamina and strength, he proved to be the most formidable adversary Scarlet had ever faced.

The men traded punches, their concentration entirely focused on the combat; parrying blows, dodging attacks, taking punishment when necessary.  Equals in what had become a mortal combat, neither seemed to be able to gain the upper hand.   And Lucifer watched, his lips curled in a sadistic smile as he savoured the blood and the pain they inflicted on each other.  Scarlet’s  retrometabolism ensured his injuries healed almost immediately, whereas Black’s injuries did not; his lips were cut and bleeding and his left eye almost swollen closed from stopping a vicious right hook from his younger opponent, yet, he continued to fight on, oblivious of his hurts.

The ground around the summit quickly became churned by the scuffling feet.  The long, wet summer had left the land waterlogged and it wasn’t long before they were fighting in a puddle of mud and scree.   Lightning crowned the ridge top, illuminating their bedraggled outlines as they exchanged blows and, whenever Lucifer laughed, the rumbling thunder echoed across the sky, before rolling down into the dark valleys. 

For long hours they fought, inexhaustible warriors locked in an unending enmity.   Scarlet lost track of why he was fighting, he only knew that he could not yield to his dark enemy.   Finally, as he sprang away from a fresh attack, the inevitable happened and he slipped in the mud, falling to his knees.  With a shout of triumph Black leapt on to him and forced him onto his back, his fingers seeking to encircle Scarlet’s neck, protected as it was by the high roll-neck of his uniform tunic.  When he encountered flesh the strong fingers squeezed.

Red and orange lights danced before Scarlet’s eyes; a bolt of lightning threw Black’s body into a grotesque silhouette.  He could see the hot anger in those dark eyes – eyes that mirrored the same violent hatred and contempt he’d seen in Lucifer’s gaze.  Unknowing, uncaring, devoid of any humanity, Black concentrated on killing his long hated rival. 

Scarlet found it hard to get his breath, yet he struggled to maintain consciousness.  Black’s knees pinioned him to the ground, and although he thrashed and fought like a madman, there seemed no way to break free.   From his vantage point, Lucifer leant forward, his eyes glowing red with blood-lust as he eagerly savoured the anticipation of a kill.    His strong fingers clenched as if they too were squeezing the last gasp of precious air from Scarlet’s prone body.

With the darkness closing in on his mind, Scarlet gave one last monumental attempt to fight back.  His feet had been scrabbling in the mud and finally gained some purchase against the shifting mire; using this leverage he dug in his heels and thrust his hips from the ground.  The sudden movement was enough to unsettle his assailant and Black’s fingers momentarily lost their stranglehold, allowing Scarlet to gulp in a lungful of air.  Revitalised, he was able to roll sideways, unseating the older man.

With barely a moment’s hesitation he was straddling his adversary, his hand under Black’s unshaven chin, thrusting his head back to expose his vulnerable throat.    He shifted slightly, and then rammed his forearm across Black’s neck, pressing down with all of his fast returning strength.   There was a gurgling noise in Black’s throat as now he fought for breath, Scarlet pressed down harder – settling old scores owing from the years since he’d first encountered the Mysterons. 

Black lost consciousness and his body went limp.   With a grunt of satisfaction Scarlet realised he had won and released his hold on the inert body.  Here, through some super-human intervention, lay his arch-enemy entirely at his mercy. 

“Kill him,” Lucifer demanded.  Scarlet hesitated.

It was not known if Captain Black had been Mysteronised on Mars.   There had been no chance to interrogate him – he had vanished once the Zero-X returned to Earth, leaving more questions than answers - but, unlike most Mysteron reconstructs his human body had never been found, which had lead some to speculate that, within a mind dominated by the alien intelligence that was the Mysterons, Conrad Turner remained imprisoned and guilt-wracked by his own actions. 

 Before the Martian expedition their paths had crossed fairly frequently; they’d both served on Cloudbase, for a start, and Captain Black had been Captain Blue’s original working partner, and Blue was Scarlet’s best friend.  At the time Scarlet had partnered Captain Brown, the man who had been with him in the fatal car crash that had – through a series of related incidents – left Scarlet with his retrometabolism and Brown as a Mysteron Agent, destined to become a suicide bomber in the Mysterons’ attempt on the life of the World President.    Scarlet was convinced that Captain Black had also played some part in that plot, although Spectrum had no proof of his involvement and, at the time, had had no idea Black was working for the Mysterons.

Scarlet had never been particularly friendly with the man; Black had made his contempt for the younger Englishman all too apparent at times.  Conrad Turner, who had worked hard all his life, striving to rise above the tragedy that had blighted his childhood, had achieved prominence in his profession by his diligence, and now he thought he saw in the cheerful, popular and good-looking Paul Metcalfe - scion of a family with a long military tradition - someone who had been handed success on a plate.  It wasn’t true, of course, Scarlet too had worked hard to succeed in his chosen career and he resented Black’s assumption.   The tacit acrimony between them had remained and - although both were professional enough to, at least, attempt to discount it - generally they had managed to maintain no more than a strained politeness with each other.   

All of these considerations flashed through Scarlet’s mind in the split second of silence before Lucifer added, in a voice heavy with coaxing,   “In your heart of hearts you know you want to kill him.  You could save mankind from suffering if you remove this traitor.  You would be the hero of the hour – the saviour of the world…”

It had been Captain Ochre – almost inevitably – who’d had the temerity once to hint that Scarlet’s life paralleled that of  another man whose birthday was in December and whose mother also happened to be called  Mary and  who had risen from the dead.  Scarlet had been uncomfortable with the comparison rather than amused, and accordingly Blue had been outraged on his friend’s behalf.   Even the other captains had looked embarrassed, so that Ochre - realising he had gone too far that time – had apologised.  Hearing the same analogy applied to him by the words of the very Devil himself, brought Scarlet’s mind down to earth with a bang. 

He gave a quiet, ironic chuckle, and shook his head, dismissing Lucifer’s demands.   “Give me the info-disk,” he responded. “I’ve beaten him and you promised the victor would take the prize.”

“I want the death of the defeated man.” Lucifer’s expression hardened.  “Kill him; you know he would have killed you without a qualm.”

“I don’t doubt it – but I’m not the man he is.  I will hand him over to Spectrum for trial and judgement.  I don’t execute summary justice on any man.  Besides, I never accepted your bargain - Black did, he attacked me, remember? ” Scarlet’s tone grew angry as he extended a hand.  “Give me the disk, Lucifer.”

Lucifer sat back on his throne of rocks and smiled.  “Your trust in me is touching, Paul Metcalfe.  Kill him – or lose your prize and fail in your mission!”

“Go to Hell,” Scarlet retorted deliberately.  He was busy securing Black’s arms with the belt from his uniform tunic and seeking ways to restrain his prisoner whilst he remained unconscious.

The lightning struck the ground nearby and the roll of the thunder was deafening.

“Do not anger me!” Lucifer threatened.  Deep within his eyes the red fire flared.  “I know your weaknesses; I know your pathetic fears, Paul Metcalfe.  The eternity you must endure can be made horrific beyond your feeble imagination, if you anger me.”

The deep menace in his voice stirred emotions in Scarlet; primordial, basic fears that set his pulse racing.  His immediate reaction was to obey, to placate this embodiment of evil, but fast on the heels of that came his stubborn pride, his courage and his self-confidence.  He stared deep into the fathomless pits of Hell reflected in Lucifer’s terrifying eyes.

“No,” he said.  “Your threats mean nothing to me.  If I obey you then I’m no more than my worst fears would have me believe I am: less of a man than the human being I once was, before ever the Mysterons came into my life.  I prefer to follow my own code of right and wrong.  Black has sinned – committed crimes against all of humanity – but there are mitigating circumstances.  I am not qualified to judge him – thank the Lord – and I won’t presume to do so.  After all, there, but for the Grace of God, go I, Lucifer.”  He saw The Devil flinch at the very mention of his nemesis.  “Give me the disk – or I will come and take it from you.”

The thunder grew louder still as Lucifer roared with laughter.   You would threaten me?  You weak, vacillating man; I have your soul within my grasp, Paul Metcalfe.  I can crush you.”

“I don’t believe you!  The right to judge me doesn’t lie with you, Lucifer.  Whatever evil I did before I escaped the Mysterons, I’ve done penance for since; and I believe in a merciful judge and respite in the hereafter.”

Lucifer growled, “Sanctimonious claptrap.  There is no mercy – only me.  Tonight - of all nights – I am the judge and jury…”

“But I am the victor,” Scarlet asserted, “and as such, under the terms you yourself prescribed, I’m not yours to command.”

“Then give Black’s soul to me,” Lucifer demanded.  “Those were my terms and you have accepted my bargain.”

“I want the disk!”

“Why?  What do you imagine is on it?”

Scarlet shook his head, the rain spraying from his black hair, much like a dog shaking its coat.  “I don’t know – and I don’t care.  I’m a soldier; I do what I’m ordered to – by commanders I respect,” he added quickly, aware that Lucifer would exploit any weakness in his argument.

Lucifer’s laugh seemed to shake the mountain.  “The eternal cry of the soldier in mitigation of his actions:  I was ordered to do it, I was only following orders!” He leant down.  “It is no defence of the indefensible, Paul Metcalfe, and you know it.  Captain Black will be condemned.”

“Then you merely have to wait until Spectrum’s gone through the due process of law and the prize will be yours; so what’s your hurry?”

Lucifer raged, “You dare to bandy words with me, mortal?”

The surge of hope Scarlet experienced at that unexpected word – even though it was obviously meant as an insult - fuelled his self-confidence further.  He had always dared to hope that, however long it might take, his existence was finite – and one day he would have closure.  Buoyed up by this surprising corroboration of his most fervently held personal desire, he replied, “If Black’s soul is forfeited, I can do nothing to save it; but I won’t hasten his torment.  I want nothing except that disk - and to walk away from here with him as my prisoner.”

As Scarlet spoke he noticed on the distant horizon the merest glimmer of the fast approaching dawn.  Halloween was almost over and Lucifer would have to depart.  His relief was profound, but the urgency of recovering the disk grew.  There was little time left to bandy words with this demon; he glanced eastwards again to gauge the speed of the sunrise, and a frown appeared between his dark brows as he noticed that, independent from the radiance of the eastern sky, a light was moving through the dark mass of clouds – a shimmering, fluorescent green aurora that, as it approached the mountain, coalesced into two green rings, traversing the rough ground with speed and rising to the summit of the Stiperstones. 

The Mysterons.

 

Lucifer turned his gaze on the rings as they reached the plateau around the peak, and then lounged back in the supporting depression of the rocky crag that bore his name.   The rings stopped and emerald green light crackled from them – reminding Scarlet of the way a snake’s tongue would flick in and out to taste the air around it. 

“I wondered if you’d show up,” said Lucifer languidly.

THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS.  WE WILL BE REVENGED FOR THE ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX, EARTHMEN. WE HAVE COME FOR WHAT IS OURS.

“The disk, or the human?” Lucifer raised one eyebrow and glanced at the still figure of Captain Black.

THE HUMAN IS OURS.  WE REQUIRE THE DISK FROM YOU.

“I take no orders from the likes of you,” Lucifer responded, anger flaring in his eyes.

Ignoring this, the rings traced over the comatose body of Captain Black.  They began to pulse and shimmer; Black’s body grew indistinct and suddenly vanished.  Scarlet’s gasp of protest was drowned out by an angry rumble of thunder.

“I gave you no leave to remove him!” Lucifer roared, as lightning crashed around the summit.

WE DO NOT ASK.

“Even you are subject to my power,”   Lucifer snapped.  “I do not forget such insolence.”

THE SCARLET BEING – the rings began as they moved purposefully towards Captain Scarlet. 

“The Scarlet being is not yours,” Lucifer asserted.

Menaced by the Mysterons’ approach and fearful that they might be able to regain control of him, Scarlet edged away towards his unlikely champion – Lucifer.

WE REQUIRE HIM OF YOU.

“You shall not have him,” Lucifer repeated.  “I do not negotiate,” he added, and as he stood a powerful bolt of lightning struck the earth mere inches away from the rings, which wavered under the electrical discharge.  They faded and then returned to their brilliance, continuing to move towards the retreating Scarlet.

A second blast hit the ground between them.  “Paul Metcalfe is mine,” Lucifer growled.  The next strike hit the rings on the ground.  Sparks exploded into the darkness turning the driving rain emerald green.  Thunder rumbled, loud enough to shake the chimneys in the valley below them.  Lucifer’s body stretched upwards until it towered above the summit, his black cape morphing into huge, black wings as he discarded his assumed persona.

WE REQUIRE THE SCARLET BEING

“You shall have neither man nor disk,” Lucifer vowed, and he threw the info-disk into the night, where a lightning fork blasted it to fragments.  “You know you have no answer to my lightning – what is destroyed by it is lost to you.  Leave me, before I grow weary of you and turn my power on you!”

WE SHALL BE AVENGED.  WE REQUIRE THE SCARLET BEING –

“Always the same refrain!  Aeons of fretful vengeance across the measureless chasms of time and space.  Hear me – you shall not have him!”

Lucifer turned his gaze on Captain Scarlet.  Gone was the beauty that had reflected his angelic origins; hardened and coarsened by his innate evil, Lucifer had become a hideous mockery of his former self.  His nose was curved like a scimitar, above cruel, thin lips and sharp, vampire-ish canines.  His complexion had darkened and his skin taken on a leathery texture - his wings resembling those of a giant bat.   Large, curved horns now protruded from both of his temples, framing the ravaged face and holding back the long, matted, black hair.

Scarlet gasped in fear as once more a powerful force enfolded him and he rose high into the blackness above the mountain.  Looking down on the shattered summit he saw the vivid green rings throb and shimmer as the lightning struck repeatedly at them.

“I would rather send him –” Lucifer’s voice echoed within the crashing thunder, “to the dominions of Hell!.”

Scarlet was spun around, dropping, falling earthwards, his scream lost in the rush of the wind as his descent gathered speed.   As he tumbled ever downwards the ground opened, as if a huge fissure had cleft the earth.  Deep, deep within, glowered the violent crimson flames of the molten interior.

He struggled, tumbling in free-fall earthwards.

Everything went dark.

 

In the east the first rays of the sun struck the summit of the Stiperstones, illuminating the Devil’s Chair with a pale, golden aura.

 

 

Doctor Michael Sterling sighed as he drove his car into the surgery car-park.  It had been a long night – the storm had been the worst he could remember in all of the many years he’d lived here.  People had been frightened, imagining all sorts of omens and super-natural happenings that foretold of disasters.  To cap it all, Mrs Marsh had gone into premature labour, no doubt frightened by all the silly mumbo-jumbo people were ringing her husband – the local policeman - about.

He couldn’t say that he was surprised to see the SPV parked beside the surgery – he’d been a terrestrial agent for Spectrum for some years now – but he’d told Cloudbase that he wasn’t going to be much use once Mrs Marsh’s distracted husband had called him in.  Maybe they were here to say his services were no longer required?  Odd that they’d sent an SPV though… his was still in the out-house behind the surgery, next to the lane leading to the churchyard.   Well, he thought of the vehicle as his – although it wasn’t, of course – he just provided the garaging. 

He sprinted across the flooded car park and into the surgery.  There was a dim light showing under the consulting room door.  He went towards it, cursing as he banged his shin on a stray chair. 

He opened the door and peered, bleary-eyed into the room.

“Dr Sterling?”

He turned his head to see a tall, blond-haired man, in the pale-blue uniform of a colour captain, standing to the side.

“Yes – who are you?”

“Captain Blue of Spectrum.”  The American extended a hand to proffer his ID card for examination.

“How can I help you, Captain?” Sterling asked, as he handed it back and walked to the desk.  He dropped his medical bag onto the top and ran a hand through his damp hair. 

“You’ll have heard the report that Captain Scarlet was in the area in pursuit of Captain Black?”

“I did – but there was nothing I could do.  Captain Scarlet did not contact me and I was called out on an emergency almost immediately after that.  Mrs Marsh went into labour and it was a breech delivery.  I informed Cloudbase,” he added in his defence.

“Was the delivery successful?” Captain Blue unexpectedly asked.  Terrestrial agents came in all kinds and it was accepted that, in some cases, their role in the communities they monitored would take priority.  It didn’t happen often, but no blame was attached when it did.

There was a tinge of relief in Sterling’s expression.  “A fine boy; both mother and child are doing well.”  The men exchanged smiles.  “It makes the job worthwhile,” Sterling volunteered.  “But, what can I do to help you, Captain?”

“I’ve been sent to assist Captain Scarlet.   We know he went into the churchyard and reported a possible sighting of Captain Black.  After that, we lost contact with him.  I found this by the vicarage hedge.”  Blue picked up a dark-red radio cap from the unlit side of the desk.

Sterling scratched his stubbled cheek.  “Marsh told me that the Vicar had reported that someone had stolen his motorbike; and there’s been reports coming in of boy-racers revving up in the village.   Mr Marsh is the local policeman,” he explained to the confused Captain Blue. “Apparently, the miscreants went up towards the Devil’s Chair, on the summit of the mountain.”

“Boy-racers?  That could well be Captain Scarlet, all right,” Blue commented wryly.  “But why would they go to the summit?  Does it lead anywhere?”

Sterling shook his head.  “Not directly. You can go across country to the Long Mynd…”

“Captain Black wouldn’t go anywhere without reason,” Blue said thoughtfully.  He sighed.  “I guess I’ll just have to go out there and look for him.  Is it still raining?”

Their conversation was interrupted by deafening claps of thunder and violent lightning.

“Yes,” Sterling answered as the noise died down.  “I thought the storm had blown itself out – people have been on edge all night with it.  After such a wet summer there is a fear that a night like this will cause a landslide.”

Blue strode to the window and looked out across the churchyard to where the dark bulk of the Stiperstones loomed over the village.  On the summit there seemed to be an impressive light show in progress; forked lightning sparking through an emerald green aurora. 

Emerald green…?  “The Mysterons,” Blue whispered. 

Even so, Sterling heard him.  “Them – here?  Whatever for?”

“Captain Scarlet,” Blue answered, and turned from the window just as a bolt of lightning struck the graveyard. 

Sterling went closer to the window to see if it had damaged the church.  Storms were not infrequent, but ones this violent were rare.   As dawn broke over the mountain the lightning on the summit ceased and the thunder growled into silence.  The rain eased into a fine drizzle.  

There didn’t appear to be anything amiss with the church, and Sterling’s eyes were drawn to the impressive array of gravestones that surrounded the building. 

He gave an alarmed gasp.   He couldn’t believe his eyes.  Beneath the long established headstone on the Harrison family plot, the soil was newly turned, because Old Mrs Harrison had been buried a few days ago, but he was damn sure the ground shouldn’t be heaving like that.

“Captain Blue!” he shouted.

Something in his tone made Blue stop and return to the window.  In the gloom of the pallid dawn, with the help of the full moon which had finally made a belated appearance through the scudding clouds, he saw the loose earth on the fresh grave quivering and shaking.  Suddenly a hand erupted from the grave, the fingers scrabbling until the arm began to emerge and frantically dig away at the earth to the other side, allowing a second hand to break through.  

Sterling was muttering in disbelief as both arms stretched towards the heavens and then began to hurriedly dig away at the spoil, throwing it away from the grave.  The moonlight picked out roundels on the black sleeves - a rainbow of circles…

“Scarlet!” Blue gasped, and ran from the room, out into the rain.  He vaulted over the wall and raced around to the site of the burial plot.

Captain Scarlet was struggling from the grave, using his arms to heave himself through the hole he had created. 

He looked up in bewilderment at the sound of his name. 

“Paul!” Blue called and dropped to his knees to help shovel the earth away. 

“Adam?  Are you dead too?” Scarlet muttered, smearing grime across his face as he brushed dirt away with a weary hand.

“Dead?  No, I’m not dead, Paul, and neither are you – thank goodness.”  Blue stood and placed his hands under Scarlet’s armpits, heaving his partner from the damp soil.  As Scarlet emerged - with a quiet ‘plop’ – Blue lost his footing and they both sprawled in the mud. 

Winded, Blue lay by Scarlet’s side on the damp ground, staring up at the dark clouds while the fine drizzle soaked them both, and asked, “How the hell did you come to be in there?”

“Better there than Hell,” Scarlet replied obliquely.  “I think I really was saved by the light this time, Adam.  When dawn came up – his power failed him and I fell...but somehow I ended up in there…”

Blue grimaced.  “Am I right in thinking this is gonna be a long story?  I mean, can it wait till we get into the warm and dry?  Because, although it isn’t every day you emerge from the ground like… like some exotic scarlet moth from its underground chrysalis, I’d rather not catch pneumonia hearing just how this particular miracle came about,” the American teased.   He grinned at Scarlet but, disconcerted at getting no response from his companion, he returned his gaze skyward.

Scarlet studied his friend’s profile – the fair hair, the classically handsome contours of brow, nose, cheek and chin – and a shudder ran through him.  “No, it can’t be true…” he murmured.

Blue’s head turned towards him again, and a frown creased his brow at the trepidation he saw on his friend’s countenance.  “What’s wrong, Paul?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Scarlet shook his head; he was still feeling disorientated and this unexpected resemblance between friend and foe was more than a little unsettling.   He reminded himself that the man beside him was Adam and not Lucifer.  Seeing the concern on his partner’s face he turned the question aside with one of his own.    “Do you believe in The Devil, Adam?” he asked. “Do you believe that there are forces of evil at work in the universe?”

Blue stared up at the sky; the fine rain was splashing gently against his face, so he closed his eyes to consider the question seriously for a few moments.  It wasn’t often that they discussed such weighty matters, and this was surely not the time or place for a theological discussion of any depth, but he sensed that Scarlet was serious and that a flippant answer would not be enough for him.  “I… I don’t know,” he confessed.  “I guess I believe there is evil, just as I believe in a merciful goodness.”  There was a flush on Blue’s cheeks as he turned his head back to meet Scarlet’s gaze.  “Why?”

“They say Lucifer was an angel, don’t they – who fell from grace?”

“Some say.”

Scarlet shuddered.  “Let’s get out of here, Adam.  Before something wicked comes this way…”

 

 

 

 

 

                                            The End

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/shropshire/panoramic/devils_chair/index.shtml

 

 

Author’s Notes:

 

The references to the legends about the Devil’s Chair on the Stiperstones in Shropshire are true.  The village of Barton, in Shropshire, is fictitious – created by Malcolm Saville in his series of ‘Lone Pine’ Books.    Everything else in the story is my own invention, so any mistakes are mine.

My thanks are due to Caroline Smith, for her insightful beta-reading with this story.  She writes such chilling Halloween stories I am in awe of her talent, and grateful that she took the time to help me get this one ready. 

Thanks, as ever, to Chris Bishop, for hosting the website and posting so much wonderful fiction. 

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ belong to some very lucky people in corporate TV Land.  I am not one of them.  I am merely enjoying myself playing with their creations.  I do hope they don’t mind.   The real cachet for creating Captain Scarlet belongs to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their team of talented collaborators in the 1960s. 

Thanks to you for reading.  I hope it entertained you.

Happy Halloween

Marion

October 2006

 

 

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