A 'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons' story for Halloween
by Marion Woods
Her simple brain could only just remember a time when she wasn’t always alone, when others had shared the dark waters where she made her home, but slowly they had disappeared and she did not miss them or seek them out. As much as she was capable of deliberation, she considered that her solitude was good. Although there were fish and the occasional unwary animal, food was not plentiful, so no competition meant there would be enough to eat. When the water grew cold she returned to her nesting inlet and curled into the mud, sleeping away the short days of winter.
Spring came early and although the days were still short she woke from her hibernation to a deceptively bright sun that had yet to warm more than the shallows. When she realised she was awake and the air was warm and the sky light, she moved sluggishly out into the water. For a while she floated, stretching and turning over in the shallows to wash the mud and accumulation of slime from her skin. As her body accustomed itself to movement and her joints flexed and stretched, a hunger grew until she realised she must eat to begin replenishing her wasted stores.
The first hunt after hibernation was always difficult: she moved far slower than in the warmer weather and the prey had the advantage of speed. But she knew she must eat soon and eat well, or face starvation: this was the eternal truth of life on the knife edge of an existence at the uttermost limit of the natural habitat for her kind.
With an ungainly splash that scared all nearby fish away, she struck out to hunt. The prey had scattered and this forced her to move into still deeper water. Her limbs felt stiff and the water was so much colder than expected that it seeped into her bones. For hours she searched and found nothing, wasting precious energy in chasing the swiftly darting fish she saw. The early light was fading as the short spring day drew to a close. She had slowed even more when, tired and hungry, she surfaced and gulped a lungful of air before diving once more on a final hunt.
She caught nothing and when she rose from the depths this time, the sky was almost dark and the sun had vanished behind the surrounding hills. Mournfully, she bellowed her frustration into the emptiness and turned to head for the far shore where the comparative warmth and safety of the inlet beckoned. The surface water felt a little warmer, so she floated, seeking what little heat there was to combat the weight and tiredness that suffused her bulky body.
Along the shoreline she saw a young deer coming to drink and with the merest movement of her tail steered towards the wary mammal. Now the darkness was her ally, allowing her to get close; and, as the animal dropped its head to drink, she used the last of her energy to dart forward and grab its neck in her powerful jaws. It was a successful strike and however much the animal struggled it was never going to escape those razor-sharp teeth.
When the struggling stopped, she heaved herself from the shallows and started to rip the still warm flesh from the bones. It wasn’t much of a meal but it would get her through the night.
When the time came to find a mate, it meant the search was long and took her far from her usual territory, but driven by that overwhelming primal urge, she kept searching. The first male she encountered was old but she accepted his advances, leaving as soon as she could and making her way back to more familiar waters. Now she had no wish to meet another for they would be a threat to her unborn young and her instinct to preserve the next generation was more powerful than any other – even self-preservation.
And tomorrow she would hunt again.
Cloudbase, somewhere over the Atlantic
"I see the silly season has started already," Captain Scarlet said ruefully, throwing the tabloid newspaper down on the table. He was in the Officers' Lounge with Captain Magenta and Captain Ochre and they both looked up enquiringly.
"Whazzup?" Ochre reached for the newspaper.
"I suppose it makes a change from celebrity love-lives and TV shock-horror exposés," Scarlet replied, “but it is scraping the bottom of the barrel somewhat."
Ochre shrugged and passed the paper to Magenta.
"'Monster sighted at Loch Ness - report page 4 and 5," Magenta read aloud. He looked up at Scarlet. "Nice photo," he commented dryly, as he opened the paper.
"Nice photo!" Scarlet repeated scathingly. "It's probably a log or an otter or a model..."
"Don't look at me when you say that," Ochre protested cheerfully. "I've never been to Scotland."
"You aren't the only model-making geek in the world," Scarlet responded, with a wry grin at the American, before he added, “Sadly…”
"Says here the photographer was a clergyman of unimpeachable credentials and he was stone-cold sober when he saw the monster and took the picture," Magenta reported. "'This is the best proof ever provided that Nessie exists' – it says so, right here."
"And the moon is made of green cheese and the Tooth Fairy leaves money under your pillow," Scarlet said, rolling his eyes at his friend's gullibility.
Ochre felt a spurt of irritation at this cavalier dismissal of the evidence. "And the Mysterons are invisible and you're indestructible," he said, taking the paper from Magenta. "Consider this, Scarlet: we manage to believe all sorts of unbelievable things without a problem – so why not this?"
"Yes, I grant you those things sound unbelievable, but we’ve had enough proof to substantiate their existence since their first attack,” Scarlet retorted. “But a prehistoric monster living undetected in a Scottish lake? You'll be telling me next that Bigfoot is for real and unicorns exist."
"Sure they do - the leprechauns who live at the bottom of my garden race them round the Fairy Rings in the fields," said Magenta in his broadest Irish brogue.
Scarlet laughed. "Okay, you guys! You can believe what you like, but I choose to remain sceptical.” Ochre and Magenta shared a pitying glance. Scarlet’s grin broadened and he continued, “I’ll see you later; I'm off to play squash with Rhapsody."
"Like we’d believe that," Ochre remarked, as the Englishman left.
Colonel White looked round the conference table at the assembled officers and announced: “Any other business?” There was a muttering of negatives and shaking of heads. “Then I have one final item,” he continued. “Some of you may have seen the recent photograph of what they’re calling the Loch Ness Monster.” He glanced around the table again to see a universal nodding of heads. “The authorities are furious that a photograph got out, but despite their best efforts, it seems someone – and an unimpeachable someone at that – got through their security cordon and was able to capture the shot on their communication device.”
“You don’t mean it is real?” Magenta gasped.
“I do not know if the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ per se is real, Captain, but the World Navy is setting up another expedition to find this creature, if it exists. A few years ago the WASPs sent a Stingray sub to scan the loch and they reported that they ‘found something’ but couldn’t identify it. The World Navy feel they can go one better and they have asked Spectrum if we would like to be involved-”
“Whatever for?” Captain Scarlet interjected.
The colonel glanced at him and explained, “They think that as we specialise in the weird and wonderful, this would be right up our street, if you really want to know, Captain.”
“But we don’t specialise in the weird and wonderful,” Captain Blue reasoned and then paused. “Well, apart from the Mysterons, of course.”
“And they’re not wonderful,” Melody Angel chipped in, “just weird.”
“Yes, I agree,” White said, his expression genial and his tone relaxed. “However, I do consider that we need to foster good relations with other military organisations and so I am inclined to send-”
“Not me!” Scarlet interjected. He had never been a very good sailor but since his Mysteronisation his propensity to suffer from sea-sickness had become worse. Doctor Fawn rationalised this with the hypothesis that as his senses had been enhanced by his retrometabolism, his one ‘weakness’ would have increased in ratio.
White shook his head. “No, Captain, not you. I was going to ask for volunteers.”
“I’ll go,” Captain Grey said quietly. “Be nice to be on the water again.”
“And me,” Ochre said, raising a hand. “I’ve never been to Scotland before and I reckon I should give the old country the once over, at last.”
“Very well. Captain Grey and Captain Ochre will be assigned to Operation Nessie, in affiliation with the World Navy. Please amend the daily orders accordingly, Lieutenant Green.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” the lieutenant replied.
Grey and Ochre flew to Inverness where they were met by Chief Petty Officer Kerr, who drove them from the heliport to where the canal opened out into the loch, and the ship had anchored waiting their arrival.
“There she is, sirs,” Kerr said, smiling in amusement at the expression on the Americans’ faces, as they drove up. “The good ship Seagull.”
“But it’s got sails,” Ochre stammered. “I thought we were getting a proper boat – you know: a metal one with an engine.”
“The ship is fitted with an engine for manoeuvring and for when there isn’t enough wind,” Kerr explained. “She’s been refitted with every modern aid; you’ll be safe enough, Captain.”
“It looks damn small to me,” Ochre replied ruefully. “I guess I’m just used to the boats on the Great Lakes, and they’re enormous compared to this one.”
“Ships,” Kerr corrected.
Grey gave the officer an apologetic smile. “We’re both Mid-Westerners, Chief, and on the Lakes all the shipping’s called boats – however big they are. I’ve been a naval officer, so I grew out of that habit, but my colleague’s never had that chance.”
“Aye, well, then maybe that’s excusable. But The ‘Gull is a ship – albeit a wee one – and if you’d ever gone looking for a lifeboat you’d know why she’s a ship. She was a brig of the line until she was decommissioned and sold to a wealthy arms manufacturer in the 19th Century. The navy got her back during the Second Commonwealth, after the Atomic War. Now she’s used for training and for special operations, such as this.”
“Why The Seagull?” Grey asked curiously, as he handed Ochre his kitbag from the boot of the car.
Kerr seemed happy enough to explain: “When the military got her back from the arms manufacturer’s family she was called the ‘Sweet Saucy Sally’ – and no self-respecting navy ship’s going to be called that, gentlemen.”
“She’s a fine ship,” Grey said, admiring the vessel as they walked to the gang plank. “I’m looking forward to sailing on her.”
Ochre glanced at him and muttered under his breath, “You would.”
They were allowed time to settle into the small, Spartan cabins they’d been assigned. Ochre kept banging his elbows and head as he stowed away his kit and personal belongings. He was not impressed.
A sudden knock on the door which opened immediately afterwards, revealed Grey.
“All stowed away?” he asked.
“This place is a rabbit hutch. I can hardly move in it without bashing bits of me on the bulwark,” his field partner complained.
“You get used to it,” Grey assured him. “These aren’t cruisers of the kind Blue’s people own or the sort you take your vacation on, you know. They’re working ships and space is at a premium.”
“Thank heavens Cloudbase was built on different lines,” Ochre said, a rueful expression on his face. “You can’t swing a cat in here.”
“We’re the lucky ones on Cloudbase,” Grey said, as they walked towards the bridge where the captain expected to discuss the mission with them. “We’re on board all the time, so our quarters are more generous than those of the rostered support staff. They have to share quarters and washrooms.”
“I know,” Ochre protested. “You make it sound like I walk around the place with my head in the sand. I only meant that as guests I kinda thought we’d have… the most comfortable cabins, I guess.”
“They almost certainly are the most comfortable cabins,” Grey remarked. “But, Rick, try and remember we’re not here for a vacation.”
“I know; you don’t have to get preachy with me, Brad.”
“Look, it all sounds rather farcical, I agree, and the World Navy has been known to go off on a tangent at times, but the colonel isn’t the type to send two officers off to investigate something like this for the fun of it. I reckon he has a hunch there’s something in this.”
Ochre paused at the foot of the steps up to the bridge. “You mean, the Mysterons have recreated a prehistoric monster and they’re planning to send it to destroy the great cities of the world?”
It was never easy to tell if Richard Fraser was being serious or not, and Grey was at a loss to read his friend’s mood now. He settled for mockery and replied:
“Magenta’s been letting you borrow too many of his collection of B movies. Let’s just act like professionals and, with any luck, we’ll have a relaxing cruise and win friends and influence people in the Navy, so that the colonel thinks we’re the bees’ knees. Okay?”
“S.I.G., Captain Grey, sir.”
Rolling his eyes at what was an obvious piss-take, Grey replied patiently: “Come along, Ochre; let’s report in for duty.”
Commander Reynolds was a grizzled veteran, probably about the same age as Colonel White, but there the similarity ended. Reynolds was short and stocky, with coarse features that gave the impression he was a bit of a ‘bruiser’. Yet, he gave a half-smile of welcome and saluted the two Spectrum officers. “Captain Grey and Captain Ochre, I presume? Welcome aboard.”
Grey and Ochre saluted in return and shook the commander’s proffered hand.
“Allow me to introduce my fellow officers,” Reynolds said. “Lieutenant-Commander Jack Kemp is my First Officer, and Sub-Lieutenant Hilary Parker is the Navigation Officer.” The other officers in the small wheelhouse saluted. Reynolds continued, “The other naval officers are off duty, and we also have Lieutenant Benjamin Prugh, of the WASPs with us, an experienced hydrophones and sonar operator. He’s currently getting his equipment set up in Engineering. Naval High Command has decided that, despite the failure of the previous attempts to ‘find’ the Loch Ness Monster to produce any real evidence that the beast exists, this time it is going to throw everything it has at the problem.”
“Is it a problem not knowing if Nessie is for real?” Ochre asked.
Hilary Parker answered him: “Well, the local tourist industry would prefer that we left it an open question, Captain, if we can’t produce a living, breathing monster, that is; but the Navy feels its reputation is at stake. The last survey that was conducted here was inconclusive, again.” Her accent identified her as a fellow North American – probably from the North West - and Ochre gave her a friendly smile as she concluded, “I think the Navy just wants a definitive answer – either way.”
“So, why this sudden interest? Has ‘Nessie’ been interfering with shipping or rampaging about destroying villages?” Ochre persisted. Like Grey, he felt sure there was some hidden underlying imperative that justified two of the elite colour captains going fishing for monsters in a remote Scottish lake.
Reynolds pursed his lips for a moment and then obviously decided he needed to reply. “That’s the exact problem, Captain. The World Government have been financing extensive fish farming along the loch as part of the World Food Programme. Things were going well until this summer. Something has been attacking the fish farms and killing thousands of tons of fish.”
“Okay…” Ochre said uncertainly. He looked at Grey for help.
“That doesn’t mean there is a monster in the loch,” Grey reasoned. “It could be otters, seals or dolphins…or all three.”
“Yes, it could,” Reynolds agreed, “but neither otters, seals nor dolphins would attack a man.”
“What happened?” Ochre gasped.
“This is top secret,” Reynolds said, “even most of the crew don’t know.”
“Has the Navy told Colonel White?” asked Grey perceptively.
Reynolds hesitated as if the question worried him.
Grey improvised. “We need to confirm that you have told Spectrum everything so that we’re sure we have all the available information, Commander.”
Reynolds looked reluctant and continued to say nothing.
“If it helps, remember that as Spectrum officers you might say that ‘Secrecy’ is our middle name,” Ochre said quietly.
After a short pause, Reynolds exhaled and continued: “Well, I guess you have a right to know. It was about six weeks ago. One of the Fish Farm wardens heard a noise out in the fish pens, so he took to the water in his launch. He went towards the disturbance at the most distant pen, somehow his boat was overturned and he was thrown into the loch.”
“Did he see anything?” Grey asked.
“We don’t know. They found what remained of his body the next day. Something had bitten him in half…”
“Oh, hell…” Ochre grimaced at the vision this information created.
“We don’t know what it was,” Reynolds concluded, “But if there is a large marine creature – especially a dangerous one - unknown to science and living in the loch, the Navy wants to be the one that discovers and deals with it.”
“I can assure you that Spectrum is more than willing to lend its support,” Grey replied. “Colonel White is anxious to avoid any potential threats that might arise from the findings of the mission.”
Ochre gave him a bemused glance, but held his tongue.
“Thank you, Captain Grey. We will be ready to start the research sweeps tomorrow morning. Until then, please make yourself at home. Hilary, would you show our guests around the ship?”
“I will see you at dinner, in the Ward Room at 1900 hours, gentlemen.”
Hilary Parker was a tall, solidly-built woman, with short, brown hair and brown eyes. She was level-headed enough to know that even ‘glamorous’ military officers were just men when it boiled down to it, and young enough to still be impressed at meeting two Spectrum Colour Captains. It didn’t take her long to realise that Grey was familiar with all things maritime whereas Ochre was a typical ‘landlubber’ who couldn’t tell a frigate from a battleship.
“I hope you’re a good sailor, Captain,” she remarked to Ochre, as he lost his footing on a ladder and slithered down a few rungs, cursing.
“I’ll do okay,” he replied, with a rueful grimace at his clumsiness. “Cloudbase is often described as an aircraft carrier floating at 40,000 feet.”
“Then The Seagull would be the airborne equivalent of a hot-air balloon,” she replied. “We’re a lot smaller.”
“He’ll quickly get used to it,” Grey said.
“I’m sure.” She smiled and after the short tour was over, she left them in the Ward Room to return to the Bridge.
“I’ve done some sailing, you know,” Ochre explained to Grey over a mug of coffee. “On the lakes.”
Grey nodded; coming from the cities of Chicago and Detroit both men were familiar with the Great Lakes. “You might find this is a bit small in comparison,” he said. “Loch Ness is big, but not compared to Michigan-Huron. You’re talking under 22 square miles compared to over 45,000.”
“S’just a puddle then,” Ochre said carelessly, with a shrug. “How can they not find something – if it’s there - in something that small?”
“It gets pretty deep – for a puddle,” Grey explained. “750-odd feet at its deepest, compared to about 920 for Michigan-Huron, and it is very dark and murky, due to the peat in the surrounding land.”
“Okay, so it’s a deep, muddy puddle,” Ochre quipped.
Grey grinned. “I wouldn’t let the Brits hear you call it that,” he advised, with a raised eyebrow.
His companion gave a beaming smile in response. Then he sobered up to ask, “You reckon there’s really anything in all this, Brad?”
Grey shrugged. “They’ve found stranger things at sea,” he said thoughtfully, and refused to say any more about it.
The two captains spent a productive evening in the wardroom getting to know the crew of The Seagull. The officers were a fairly multi-cultural bunch who, it transpired, had been brought together for the mission. Commander Henry Reynolds was an Englishman who had been a career sailor and was now approaching active-service retirement age. It was apparent from his attitude to the mission that he felt he had drawn the short straw when he’d been told to go monster hunting. Nevertheless, the Spectrum officers both got the sense that he intended to do a good job.
Lieutenant Torin Johansson, was Norwegian: a fair-haired, hatched-faced man, who, Captain Ochre soon discovered, had a dry sense of humour and a sharp mind. Johansson made no secret of the fact that he too was determined to make a success of the mission and intended to use it as a step towards his next promotion.
Hilary Parker was the only female officer on board, although, as she explained to the ever-interested Captain Ochre, there was another woman amongst the crew. Hilary was from British Columbia and although this was her first overseas posting, she was confident and self-assured.
Captain Grey had been slightly alarmed to hear that there was a WASP Hydrophones officer amongst the officers. He had been a captain in the WASPs before joining Spectrum and the organisation was not so big that it was impossible they would have met before. However, Prugh proved to be a very young American who had not been in Marineville during Grey’s service there. He was tall and skinny, and barely spoke unless spoken to. He clutched his Hydrophone earphones and kept fiddling with them.
Ochre glanced at Grey and muttered: “I recognise a nerd when I see one.”
Grey raised one eyebrow and replied, quietly, “Takes one to know one, Model-Man.” And Ochre had the grace to smirk his acknowledgment of the justice of that dig.
Lieutenant Averey Ekwensi was a handsome, young Congolese man, with an infectiously friendly smile. Like Parker, this was his first overseas posting and he admitted to feeling the cold ever since he’d arrived, at which his colleagues laughed.
“You wait until it snows,” Hilary Parker warned him.
“By then I shall hope we have found what we came for,” Ekwensi replied. “And I can take my leave and return to the sun.”
Commander Reynolds excused himself early from the gathering in order to get some rest before their early start. Hilary Parker went next, saying that she was on duty as navigator and then Prugh bid them a hesitant ‘goodnight’, and slipped away.
Johansson and Ekwensi were prepared to entertain their guests for as long as necessary and after some general conversation, Grey asked:
“This is an unusual crew; I know it was brought together for this particular mission, but I must admit, I had anticipated a crew of Brits.”
“We were all especially chosen,” Ekwensi said. “The World Navy considered carefully who was needed to make this a successful mission.”
“How ‘especially chosen’?” asked Ochre, looking from one officer to the other with an air of interested innocence that did not fool Grey for a moment.
Johansson sighed and glanced at Ekwensi before answering. Ekwensi gave a slight nod, as if of approval, and Johansson explained: “The Loch Ness Monster is probably the most famous example of the genus Cryptid that have been reported in many locations around the world, Captain; but it is not the only one. Many lakes have reported sightings of unknown animals and strange beasts, some are obviously legends and some are obviously hoaxes. Some are not. Consider – for many years science believed the Coelacanth had been extinct since geological times, yet in 1938 they fished one out of the southern African seas. So who can ever say that something is truly extinct?”
“You should ask the dodo to answer that one,” Ochre muttered.
Johansson ignored the remark and continued: “The persistent sighting of these Cryptids even led the World Zoological Organisation and the World Ecological Society to jointly put up a prize for evidence that leads to the substantiation of these sightings. The World Navy has decided to go for the ‘Big One’ and to conduct a thorough search of Loch Ness.”
Recalling Reynolds’ admission that not every officer knew about the attack on the fish farms or the warden, Ochre played along. “A prize? Our colonel never mentioned that.” He glanced at Grey, relieved to see that his partner grasped what he was doing. “How much?” he added.
“One million,” Ekwensi replied.
“And as much kudos as any organisation needs to justify its continued existence,” Johansson added cynically.
“Jeez…” Ochre exclaimed. “We’re on a glorified treasure hunt!”
“That isn’t why we’re here,” Grey reminded him. “Spectrum is here to ensure that if there is anything in the loch, it has no potential to become dangerous.”
“So; you guys are all marine… crypto-zoologists,” Ochre mused.
“I am a sailor,” Ekwensi said, “but, in the same way as my colleagues, I have a special interest in the mission. When I was a child, back home by the banks of the Congo, I saw Mokèlé-mbèmbé.”
“You saw who?” said Ochre.
“A large, unknown river animal, said to live in the Congo River and Lake Télé,” Grey answered, rather to Ochre’s surprise.
Ekwensi smiled. “Yes, indeed, Captain. Mokèlé-mbèmbé is not as well-known as Nessie, but he is well-documented to exist.”
Ochre scratched his head. “So, you claim to have seen one of these Cryptids, then?”
“I don’t claim – I did see it,” Ekwensi said firmly. “I and my brother were fishing along the river. We saw it very clearly and it was not far away, so I know it was not a crocodile or a hippo, or a snake, or any of the things that the sceptics say I saw. It was Mokèlé-mbèmbé, or one of them.”
“Okay,” Ochre said uncertainly, and turned to Johansson. “And have you seen some mythical beast as well?”
Johansson gave a silent chuckle. “Yes, Captain Ochre; you have hit upon the very secret of the crew’s cohesion. We have all seen a Cryptid: Averey, Hilary, Lieutenant Urner – our engineering officer, who you have not yet met – and me.”
“Okaaay…” Ochre considered what to say next. “And that’s why you were all chosen for this mission?”
“Yes.” Johansson poured himself another drink. “It is too easy to find people who do not believe, so the Navy decided to make the crew ‘believers’ – if you will call us that.” He took a sip of the beer and added thoughtfully, “Although, I do not think Commander Reynolds is a believer. Perhaps the Admiralty wanted to temper the enthusiasm of us all?”
“So… out of the people on this ship, four have seen… water-dwelling monsters?”
“Five,” said Grey quietly.
Ochre glanced at him in surprise. “You too?”
Grey heaved a sigh and gave a slight nod of his dark head. Ochre was staring at him in utter disbelief, so he began to explain: “Long before I joined Spectrum, I was on leave in Chicago with a friend. We decided to go diving for shipwrecks in Lake Erie. I saw…” He wrinkled his brow and paused to consider what to say next. “I saw something, it looked like a water snake, but it was bigger than any I’d ever seen: it had to be 20 to 30 feet long and about a foot thick. It had large eyes on the side of its head and a smooth skin – not scaly, as far as I could see. It swam past me, but started to circle back.” He gave a slightly embarrassed laugh. “I got out of the water pretty damn quickly, I can tell you.”
“Jeez,” Ochre muttered. “I’m surrounded by ‘em…”
That night, as Cloudbase was making its way slowly across the Atlantic towards North America, the Mysterons’ threat was heard through every communication speaker across the base.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. YOU ATTACKED OUR COMPLEX ON MARS, AND YOU WILL PAY A HEAVY PRICE FOR YOUR ACT OF AGGRESSION. THE REVENGE OF THE MYSTERONS WILL EMERGE FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE AGE OF DARKNESS.
Colonel White and his sleep-tousled officers met in the Conference Room to discuss what this might signify and how they could prevent it coming to fruition. Nothing they could think of sounded very plausible and the colonel was becoming frustrated at the lack of probable targets. It was Captain Blue who raised the possibility that it might be connected to the mission at Loch Ness.
“How come?” Scarlet asked.
“The legend of a monster in the loch goes back to the 6th century,” Blue explained, “and that’s in the period known as the ‘Dark’ Ages in Europe.”
“And the use of ‘depths’ does suggest water,” Rhapsody added, nodding her head.
“But the Navy’s on a wild goose chase,” Scarlet protested. “Everyone knows monsters don’t exist.”
“But does the Monster know that?” Rhapsody asked sweetly, smiling at her compatriot.
Colonel White ordered Lieutenant Green to contact Captain Grey on The Seagull and alert him to a potential Mysteron attack.
Grey listened and then explained about the attacks on the fish farms and the death of the Fish Warden. “Do you think ‘Nessie’ has been Mysteronised, Colonel?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Captain, but I suggest you and Captain Ochre go to Amber Alert and report in every 4 hours. I want to know of every sighting or potential sighting and any further attacks.”
When the communication link was closed, the colonel looked at his other officers.
“The research staff can continue scanning for other possibilities, but for now, we’ll consider Loch Ness as the site of the proposed Mysteron threat. We’ll reconvene this meeting at 0600 hours. For now, everyone get some sleep…”
The Seagull got underway at first light, slipping away from the quay with a minimum of fuss. Ochre woke up to the gentle creaking of the timbers and the swell of the water and, momentarily confused as to where he was, sat up quickly, banging his head on the low ceiling above his narrow bunk. So he was not in the sunniest of moods as he made his way to the Ward Room for some breakfast.
Captain Grey was already there, munching through a plate of bacon and scrambled egg and slurping strong coffee.
“’Morning,” he said to his colleague.
“Hi,” Ochre replied. “You been here for long? Aww, there’s no bacon left…” he protested from the serving counter.
“No.” Grey shook his head. “But I imagine most of the crew ate before we weighed anchor.”
“Yuk; porridge. I hate porridge.”
Ochre sat at the table and nursed a cup of coffee while Grey finished eating and then updated him about the Mysteron threat and his conversation with the colonel.
“So, we might be fighting a Mysteronised monster?” Ochre mused. “Things just keep getting better.”
“There may still be a rational explanation for what happened,” Grey replied, although his expression was sceptical.
“You really meant it last night, didn’t you, that story about the serpent in the lake?” Ochre said.
Grey nodded. “I don’t know what it was I saw, but I know it scared the hell out of me, Rick. Afterwards, when I’d calmed down, I tried to rationalise it and even did some research to try and explain it. I discovered that there have been reported sightings of something in Lake Erie before, just like there have in the Congo River and Loch Ness. So, whatever it was, I’m not the only person to have seen it. I can accept that there are things we still don’t know about this planet; I did a lot of travelling while I was in the World Navy – and so did Colonel White, of course – and then, I transferred to the WASPS and, let me tell you, you see a lot of strange things in the deep ocean.”
“Everyone’s seen the TV shows about the odd things that live near deep sea vents and the weird creatures that live on them,” Ochre replied, although without the usual scepticism in his tone.
Grey nodded. “Well, what struck me most about them was that they were just getting on with their lives; the fact that mankind didn’t know a thing about them was of no concern to them, and why should it be? Consider this: most of this planet is still inaccessible to us; we can’t breathe there and we can’t stand the immense pressures, and yet we still consider ourselves the masters of this planet. Let me tell you, Rick, there’s nothing like the deep ocean to make you realise just how limited the powers of a human being are. It’s an environment as hostile as any on Mars, or out in deep space, and it is right on our doorstep. I have to accept that there are things we can’t know about it or about the life that’s adapted to survive in it.”
Ochre gave a murmur of agreement; he was fascinated by Grey’s unusual openness and didn’t want to spoil the mood.
Grey continued: “So, I guess I’m prepared to be open-minded about ‘Nessie’ – and all the other Cryptids – I can hardly refuse to believe that other people have seen something as inexplicable as something I’ve seen myself, can I?”
“Does Colonel White know about what you saw?”
Grey gave a slight shrug. “It isn’t in my official records; I wasn’t on duty at the time so there was no need to log it. Quite apart from the possible doubts it might well have cast on my reliability. But, if you ask me, there is very little the colonel doesn’t know about every one of us.”
“And yet he still employed me…” Ochre said, with a spark of amusement in his dark eyes.
Grey gave a wry smile. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? He employed all of us: a desk-bound sub-mariner who thinks he saw a monster, a gangland boss with a heart of gold, a chain-smoking gadget-freak who’d never been a field officer, an over-conscientious Head of Security with a powerful guilt complex, an uptight weapons expert with a rash streak, a forensic expert with a fear of flying, and a maverick cop… with attitude.”
Ochre sniggered as he recognised descriptions of all of the elite captains, including their late colleagues Captains Brown and Indigo.
“Not content with that bunch of misfits, he topped it off with a world-famous hero-turned-astronaut who, despite his reputation as a harbinger of peace, in one panic-stricken moment brought this planet into more danger than it has ever faced,” Grey concluded.
“The Mysterons,” Ochre replied. After a moment’s pause, he added, “Do you think they might have some connection to these Cryptids?”
“I honestly don’t know, Rick. If they have been watching us for aeons they may’ve tried taking over other species before us. I mean, the dinosaurs ruled the Earth for a long time, the Mysterons could have used retrometabolism on them and we’d never know. Maybe there are scattered colonies of retrometabolic Cryptids – although, frankly, that idea scares me even more than my encounter in Lake Erie did.”
“Yeah, but none of these Cryptids have attacked anyone, have they? You don’t see them rampaging Godzilla-like around the planet wreaking havoc. If they have been Mysteronised they’ve kept it quiet and – until now – we’ve barely given it – or them - a thought.”
“Did you read the dossier Green gave us before we left Cloudbase?” Grey asked thoughtfully.
“Somehow, in all the excitement, I forgot to,” Ochre admitted, managing to sound contrite.
“Well, it pays reading. Green’s included a table from the World Zoological Organisation that shows that the incidents of reported sightings of known Cryptids – and some new ones - have been increasing over the past 12 months. All over the world from the Bunyip in Australia to the Storsjoodjuret in Sweden, people have been reporting strange creatures in the deep waters.”
“You’ve just made them up,” Ochre accused him.
“Read it and weep, Rick. I have a sinking feeling that the Cryptids are on the move…”
The Seagull was making its way smoothly across the unruffled surface of the loch when Grey got to the wheelhouse. Commander Reynolds nodded ‘good morning’ and Johansson, who was standing beside him, gave him a welcoming smile. CPO Kerr was at the wheel and Parker was consulting the navigational radar.
Reynolds waited until Grey was beside him and said, “Prugh is testing the hydrophones. This part of the loch is well mapped, as the boats need to follow the correct channels to the canal lock. Parker is comparing the readings and relaying them to Prugh in the temporary hydrophonic room, under that tarpaulin tent arrangement on the deck. So far, we seem to have the correct settings and the readings are true to what we know. Once that’s calibrated sufficiently, we will move out into the deeper water and start the sweeps across the loch.”
“And if we spot an anomaly?” Grey asked, watching the radar-scope flashing the depths and shoals of the approach with interest.
“We have remote cameras and a submersible that can be launched quickly,” Reynolds explained. “There’s also a motorboat and two dinghies, should we need to get into the shallower parts of the loch where The Seagull cannot sail.”
“Who’ll go in the submersible?” Grey asked.
“Ekwensi has the first watch.”
“I’d like to be included in the service rota,” Grey requested firmly. “As I expect you know already, I’ve been a sub-mariner and I’m familiar with the protocols and procedures.”
“Gladly,” Reynolds agreed. “Do you need a wetsuit?”
Grey smiled. “No, I have my own, thank you.”
“And your colleague, Captain Ochre?”
“Ochre would be out of his comfort-zone in a submersible, but he’s the best man you could have beside you in a crisis.”
“You anticipate a crisis?” Reynolds was surprised and did not trouble to hide it.
Grey glanced at him. “If we find ‘Nessie’, then, yes, I anticipate that would be something of a crisis. Do you have contingency plans for that eventuality?”
Reynolds averted his eyes and struggled to keep a straight face. “There you have me, Captain; I admit I‘ve neglected to make any provision for the possibility that we might find ‘Nessie’.”
Captain Grey looked surprised. “I suggest you put it on your ‘to do’ list, Commander, after all, isn’t that exactly what the Navy is hoping you will do?” he said reasonably.
Over the next few days Captain Ochre grew accustomed to the rolling and pitching of The Seagull as she ploughed back and forth across the loch, although he’d have been more uneasy if he’d known that the weather was considered very clement for the time of year and the loch was calmer than expected. The routine on the ship was a strict naval one, far more rigid than that the colonel imposed on Cloudbase and which Ochre had, until now, considered draconian. He fretted under the restrictions and rather resented the way Grey integrated so easily with the other crew members. However, he found most of the crew friendly enough and more than willing to make allowances for the only ‘landlubber’ on the ship.
The main problem was that he wasn’t allowed to do anything technical, although when they needed an extra man to ‘trim’ the sails they expected him to muck in. He was also allowed to watch the radar and sonar blips on Prugh’s state of the art equipment and listen to the hydrophones, when Prugh needed a break. He complained to Grey that he might as well ask for a lift off the ship and back to base if that was going to be the full extent of his involvement.
“You’ve got to be patient,” Grey responded. “This is a serious mission and you can’t expect to be allowed to do anything you’re not trained to do.”
“I should never have volunteered to come!” Ochre snarled, and, however reluctantly, Grey was beginning to agree with him.
Nevertheless, it was Captain Ochre who first reported a large anomaly on the hydrophones. It was a squally day and the overnight wind and rain had washed vegetation into the dark water, Prugh had already sent the automatic underwater cameras out to identify several clumps of floating debris, so, when he handed over to Ochre and went to get his lunch, he cautioned the older man against getting too excited.
“If every blip I’ve heard today was a cryptid there’d be a whole herd of them out there,” he joked nervously, as he prepared to leave the tented cabin and descend to the galley.
“Is more than one cryptid called a ‘herd’?” Ochre asked, but Prugh had already hurried away and so his question remained unanswered. With nothing better to do, he amused himself trying out the various options while he settled to his spell as hydrophonic duty officer. As a job, it was about as exciting as radar watch on Cloudbase, but at least he felt he was contributing to the mission.
“A shoal of cryptids? A pod of cryptids? A pride of cryptids – yes, I like that one best.” He checked that the radar and hydrophone sweeps were aligned and muttered to himself, “Come out, come out, wherever you are, Nessie. Let’s get this show on the road, eh?”
There were always anomalous clicks and beeps on the scanners; the loch had a population of wild fish as well as the farmed ones and there were other boats out and about their business too, so it took a while to get attuned to the background noise. It was five or six minutes into the shift before Ochre became aware of a sounding, deep down and moving fast across the loch towards the near shore. He focused the hydrophones and fine-tuned the radar, frowning in concentration.
Suddenly it dawned on him that this …whatever it was, was swimming against the flow and circling round as if searching for something – or hunting!
He forced himself to calm down and called the command centre.
“I have a large anomaly on the scanners…” He read out the co-ordinates. “Moving erratically, but in the general direction of the shore. It’s deep… and fast.”
“Launching remote camera 3,” Ekwensi replied over the radio. He didn’t sound as excited as Ochre felt, presumably because he’d spent the morning filming clumps of floating vegetation.
“What can you see, Averey?” Ochre asked, after what seemed like a long time.
“There is something there,” Ekwensi replied, slowly. “I can not get it into focus; it moves too quickly.”
“Something… big?” Ochre was having difficulty stopping himself from running up to see for himself.
“Hold, please.” The comms link went quiet, apart from the distant rumble of voices, as Ekwensi consulted with the other officers.
“What’s going on?” Ochre demanded in frustration. He concentrated on the scanners again and reported: “It’s moving off… further out into the lake. It can’t be debris, unless the current’s suddenly reversed for no good reason. It has to be something alive.”
“Sorry, Captain,” Ekwensi’s voice came back online. “We are going to launch the sub.”
“Whoa! If Grey’s going out in it, then I want to be on deck,” Ochre demanded.
“Lieutenant-Commander Kemp has recalled Prugh to the hydrophone station and the Captain is coming to the command station. You can come on deck once Prugh relieves you,” Ekwensi explained.
As he finished speaking the launch stations siren sounded and a few moments later Prugh burst into the room to take over the hydrophones.
Ochre pointed to the pad where he had jotted down the trail of co-ordinates and Prugh nodded, focussing the scanners onto the location and starting to refine the signal and increase the definition.
“I’m going to assist with the launch,” Ochre told him, although he doubted the young man registered the information at all. Prugh had apparently morphed from the self-effacing techno-geek they knew into a focussed professional, determined to provide accurate information to his colleagues and oblivious of everything else.
“Right… see you,” Ochre said, more for his own satisfaction than anything else, and he hurried onto the part of the deck where the sub was stowed.
When he got there, Grey was already suited up and consulting the charts and co-ordinates with Hilary Parker. He took a second to acknowledge his colleague and then turned back to the chart.
“What do you think it is?” Ochre asked, excited in spite of himself.
“Could be salmon,” Hilary said, although her voice betrayed her own excitement.
“Bloody big salmon,” Ochre muttered. “I saw the sonar…”
Grey smiled and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’ll take a picture of it for you, Rick; the one that really got away.” He laughed, glanced around to see that he could not be overheard and then continued, “Who knows, we may have found a new species and it will be known as Cryptid RicardusFraserii…”
Ochre grimaced and gave a hollow laugh as he followed Grey to where the sub was ready to be winched overboard.
“Just as long as it isn’t a Cryptid Mysteronimus,” he muttered, as his colleague prepared to embark. “Remember: Captain Black thought there was nothing to worry about on his expedition to Mars and we’re all paying for that mistake. Watch yourself out there, whatever you find – okay?”
Grey glanced at Ochre and recognised the serious expression of concern on his friend’s face. “S.I.G., Captain,” he replied.
The navy’s submersible, Tiamat, hit the lake surface with a jolt and then sank slowly into the choppy water. The heavy duty chain played out slowly until the vessel was submerged and Johansson’s voice came over the radio:
“Clearing the mechanical hawser… three, two, one. Hawser clear. You are free to dive, Tiamat.”
“S.I.G.,” Grey replied, as he checked the controls and switched on the first bank of powerful searchlights. The sub was small and cramped – a far cry from the comparatively spacious Stingray subs he had commanded in the WASPS, but he had also had experience of these single-manned rovers and so it wasn’t too disorientating.
The wide-beam lights shone into water that was murky and full of floating silt and debris. Even with them on the visibility was poor and he realised he would have to navigate by sonar and hydrophonic dead reckoning. He input the coordinates relayed from Prugh on the ship, and the Tiamat began to turn and move out towards the deeper water. The further he went from the shore, the deeper and darker the water grew, so Grey switched on another bank of lights and peered through the dense blackness.
“You are almost at the last location we have for the anomaly,” Prugh said.
“Last location? You’ve lost it?” Grey asked in surprise.
“It remained static and then sank,” Prugh explained. “At least, I think that’s what it did… it sort of vanished.”
“Oh, did it?” Grey muttered, recalling with some concern the various occasions when Captain Black had been in danger of capture and had been transported away from the site by his alien masters. It was not a comforting thought. He switched on the third and final bank of lights and pointed them downwards into the black abyss of the loch.
Outside the small, round, thick-plated portholes, Grey could see the tendrils of plants and twigs from bushes and trees that had been washed into the loch swirling in the wake caused by the single propeller he was using to manoeuvre the craft, but beyond that there was nothing but a murky gloom. He cut the power to the engine and allowed Tiamat to drift. Once submerged and silent in the water, he had expected to see some fish or other creature swim by, but as the minutes ticked passed nothing moved. The hydrophones were silent and he couldn’t see anything on the scanners. It was preternaturally empty, as if something had scared the normal inhabitants away. He increased the scope of the hydrophones, reaching out into the darkness and listening for the tell-tale signs of life.
“Seagull to Tiamat, is everything okay?” Ochre’s voice sounded edgy and very loud in the intense silence.
“Yes, Seagull; I’m conducting a broad sweep with the hydrophones and then I’ll conduct a detailed sonar search of the loch bed around here. The preliminary readings show we must be in one of the deepest parts of the loch.”
“S.I.G., Tiamat. Lieutenant Parker concurs with that,” Ochre reported. “Lieutenant Prugh still has no readings on his scanners. Whatever it was seems to have vanished.”
“Yes, and that’s exactly what I don’t like about it,” Grey confessed. He increased power to the hydrophones again and strained to hear anything recognisable. “One more sweep and I’ll switch to the sonar,” he reported.
The moment he finished speaking his eardrums were assaulted by a loud, high-pitched signal. He yelled out in pained surprise and dragged the headphones off.
“What’s the matter?” Ochre was yelling.
“Something’s approaching the sub at speed,” Grey managed to gasp out, his head still ringing with the shock of the noise.
And then he saw it – or as much of it as the small portholes allowed him to see.
“Oh, my God!” he exclaimed, just as his world turned upside down.
On The Seagull, Ochre was calling urgently into the radio:
“Come in, Captain Grey! Grey, what’s happened? Come in, Brad… come in!”
Prugh came over the internal radio. “Something huge and fast moving has collided with the Tiamat,” he explained. “It rose out of the depths at a tremendous speed.”
“What is it?” Ochre demanded.
“I don’t know, sir, but I don’t think it’s inanimate,” Prugh replied.
Ochre glanced defiantly at Parker. “I bet it isn’t a frigging salmon, either,” he muttered.
“Look!” Kemp was pointing out of the observation window in the direction the Tiamat had gone. The other officers followed the direction of his finger.
The water was seething as something writhed and thrashed about at the surface. A wide cylinder of air bubbles rising from the depths created a net that effectively trapped anything inside it. One enormous flipper came up and rolled over to smack down again with a thud that created ripples strong enough to rock The Seagull as they spread across the loch. A long backbone rose from the water, arching into a hump as it dived back down, two giant rear flippers propelling it back into the depths.
“Nessie,” breathed Parker in astonishment.
“I don’t care what it is - that fucking newt is attacking the Tiamat!” Ochre yelled. “We’ve got to get the sub out of the water – and quickly!”
When the Cryptid attacked, Grey was thrown from his seat and his head banged against the corner of the control panel, leaving him slightly stunned. The Tiamat was rolled over and over by the great beast as it rose from the depths and batted it aside with one powerful sweep of its flipper.
When the sub stopped rolling, Grey re-orientated himself and started to examine the vessel to see if anything was still working. When he touched the control panel a spark of electricity told him all too graphically that there was little chance of getting the sub’s engines to restart. The comm link was also out of action and there was no way to contact the surface for help.
By the time he had surveyed that much of the damage, the Cryptid had surfaced and was diving back towards the crippled vessel for a second attack. One more powerful swipe sent Tiamat spinning across the loch away from the shore and Grey was rattled around like a pea in a whistle. Breathless and bruised, he grabbed onto the emergency hatch lock to steady himself and saw with horror that there was water seeping through one of the portholes.
There was no way the sub would take another direct hit.
With every option but one closed off to him, Grey acted quickly. He was already in a wetsuit and – as he always did – he had taken the miniature aqua lung kit that he’d been working on for the last few years with him. There was more than enough air for him to get to the surface, as long as he could get out and away from Tiamat unseen.
He fastened the oxygen tanks onto his back and adjusted the mouth piece so that he was prepared if the Cryptid managed to break the sub apart before he was ready to leave. Then he went to the emergency stores and broke the seal. Inside were emergency flares, an inflatable dinghy, a first aid kit and rations. Working quickly he rigged the flares to go off as the dinghy was inflated and using tape and bandage from the first aid kit, he attached the inflation stopper to the emergency hatch.
From the undamaged porthole, Grey could see the Cryptid had dived under the sub and was now surfacing again for another attack. He exhaled and then put the respirator into his mouth.
“Goodbye, Tiamat,” he whispered, and as the great beast approached, he opened the emergency hatch and launched himself into the cold, dark water. As he had intended, the open door activated the inflation device for the dinghy and the emergency flares went off inside the sub, sending beacons of brilliant magnesium-white light out of the portholes. As the Tiamat spun round, the light hit the Cryptid and with a frightened rumble that shook Grey’s very bones, it swerved away and back into the darkness.
Grey kicked for the surface: up – straight up – he told himself, not daring to look back to see if the beast was returning.
He hit the surface and shook the water from his face, surprised by the fact that it was still light above the loch and that in the distance he could see The Seagull. He waved and then started swimming for dear life towards the ship.
Deep below him, the flares had gone out and as the light died the Tiamat, flooding and dead in the water, was slowly spinning to the loch floor. Grey kept swimming, pumped by the sheer flood of adrenalin that swamped his body, his heart was thudding against his chest so much that he could hardly get oxygen into his protesting limbs.
Gotta keep going… Oh, Sweet Jesus… let me keep going…
On the deck of The Seagull, Johansson and CPO Kerr were about ready to launch the motor launch, when they saw, deep below the surface, the flash of light that signalled Tiamat’s death throes. In the hydrophonics room, Prugh reported the deep cry of alarm and fear from the Cryptid. Ochre ran to the deck and was scanning the surface of the loch, urging the men to get the launch out there as soon as they could. In the distance they could see the rotating beacons of light, sinking into the depths and to their surprise, some distance away from The Seagull, towards the middle of the loch, the Cryptid surfaced again. This time they could see the head, with massive jaws lined with the rows of sharp teeth, ideal for ripping flesh from its prey.
‘Nessie’ reared up into the water and arcing into a dive, it went down into the water, after the crippled vessel.
“Grey can’t have survived that,” Johansson said in utter misery.
Kerr nodded agreement. “I hope it was quick and merciful.”
“Get that launch out there,” Ochre snapped. “I won’t believe it until I have proof.”
“Captain Ochre, I know he was your friend, but no one could survive that,” Johansson reasoned.
“Launch it,” Ochre said, his hand moving to the Spectrum pistol at his hip.
Shaking their heads, the men obeyed.
Ochre went to the rail and stared out into the distance. There was something, small and vulnerable in the choppy water…
“Look!” he cried, pointing. “There’s Grey! Get that boat in the water… now!”
Kerr shouted with delight as he focussed on the swimmer and they got the launch down as quickly as they could. With Johansson steering, they raced out to Captain Grey and Kerr and Ochre hauled the exhausted man into the launch.
There were plenty of willing hands to lift Grey on board The Seagull and Ochre went with them down to the small Sick Bay below deck. Doctor Järvinen shooed everyone out, except Ochre and between them they stripped the wetsuit off Grey and dried him.
“He does not seem to be harmed,” the doctor said, as he examined the strong body while they dried it. “He has much shock and perhaps a concussion – see here? His forehead is bruised.”
Grey’s dark eyes fluttered open and he struggled to focus.
“Rest, my good Captain Grey,” Järvinen said. “You are on The Seagull and all is well for now. I have something for you to drink and you will sleep. In the morning you shall feel much better, I promise it.”
“Ochre?” Grey gasped desperately.
“I’m here,” Ochre reassured him, and took the frantically groping hand in his.
Grey stared up at the blurred face before him and gasped, “Rick, it was the cryptid… we’ve found the Loch Ness Monster. They do exist.”
He gave a weak smile and as the doctor held a potion to his lips, drank and quickly sank into a dreamless sleep.
After reassuring himself that Grey was going to be all right, Ochre went along to the wardroom, which had been doubling as a chart and conference room during the day, and found Commander Reynolds and his officers debating what to do next.
“I estimate that it was 12-15 metres long,” Prugh was saying as Ochre entered the room, “and it moved quickly and was highly manoeuvrable, so I can’t be totally accurate without taking further readings.”
“But what is it?” Reynolds asked with exasperation.
Ochre replied, “Grey said it was a Cryptid – and I don’t think any of us who saw it would argue with that.” He looked around at the others and no one disagreed. “Grey says we’ve found Nessie.”
“But Nessie’s never attacked any one or any thing before,” Johansson protested.
“That …thing was out to kill,” Kemp said firmly.
“Maybe no one or no thing has come that close to it before?” Ekwensi said thoughtfully. “Mokèlé-mbèmbé is known to attack when confronted.”
“That has never been proved,” Parker replied quickly, “and there are no reports of any other cryptid appearing hostile.”
“Well…” Kemp began, but he was interrupted by Reynolds.
“Be that as it may, the loch must be closed to shipping while that thing is out there. I am not prepared to risk civilians being attacked. I will inform the local authorities and Naval Command in London. It is possible that they’ll send a warship to hunt the creature down.”
“What?” Parker exclaimed. “We can’t do that, sir! Whatever this is it is a new species, unknown to science – we need to study it and protect it – not slaughter it!”
“I doubt you will find the civil authorities consider keeping the loch closed to shipping indefinitely while boffins paddle in the shallows looking for footprints – or whatever it is they do – is a practical suggestion, Lieutenant, “ Reynolds said. “And now we have evidence that ‘Nessie’ will attack humans, it has to be considered dangerous.”
“It was frightened,” Prugh said suddenly. “I heard its cry – it was deep and low and it was frightened. Maybe that’s why it attacked the Tiamat?”
Several officers started talking at once and, with a shake of his head, Ochre left them to their argument. He went to his cabin and contacted Cloudbase to report in.
“And you’re sure that Captain Grey will be all right?” Colonel White asked immediately Ochre had explained what had happened.
“Yes, sir. Doctor Järvinen says he’s shaken and bruised but intact. He gave him a sleeping draught and thinks he’ll be okay tomorrow.” Ochre paused and then volunteered his opinion, “I think he was lucky. I saw that…cryptid and it could’ve swallowed him whole.”
“Has Grey been able to tell you anything at all about what happened? Anything that might suggest Mysteron involvement?”
“No; all he said was that we’ve found Nessie and ‘they’ do exist. I’ve just left the World Navy arguing about what to do next. Commander Reynolds wants the loch closed to shipping while their warships round the beast up and – presumably – kill it. Some of his officers are not in agreement.”
“I agree that it is wise to close the loch; if this is a Mysteronised creature, then there is no limit on what it might do.” The colonel paused thoughtfully and then continued: “We can’t know – we may never know – when the creature was Mysteronised, assuming it has been. Nessie, or a whole colony of Nessies, might’ve lived for blameless millennia in the loch, but having recently died - of natural causes or with a little help from our alien friends – been retrometabolised and ordered to attack humans. Either way, I agree with Commander Reynolds, the creature is a threat.”
“What do you want me to do, Colonel?”
“I want you to stay with Captain Grey, and keep me informed of the plans the navy’s making. I will send Captain Scarlet to the Admiralty in London to see if he can be of any assistance. They may want to send in the WASPs to search the loch and it maybe that, given his unique abilities, he would be the ideal person to attempt to hunt down the creature and… render it harmless.”
Ochre pulled a face. “Harmless as in ‘d-e–a-d’, sir? I guess that’s one solution, but perhaps it’s wise to consider that although Captain Scarlet is indestructible he isn’t indigestible and it might be beyond even his powers to recover from being Nessie’s lunch.” Hearing the colonel’s habitual ‘humph’ of disapproval at his remarks, Ochre thought it wise to add, “Sir.”
“Captain Scarlet knows the risks, Captain,” White replied, “as does every Spectrum agent. It is obvious that this cryptid is a danger to shipping and it may move out of the loch into busier and more important shipping lanes. That cannot be allowed to happen. However, I take your point and I will ask Spectrum Intelligence’s Research and Development facility to give some thought to how we might deal with that threat of danger. For now, you remain with Captain Grey and keep me informed. White out.”
“S.I.G.,” Ochre said, but he doubted the colonel had kept the link open long enough to hear him.
When Grey woke the next morning Doctor Järvinen was at his side.
“How are you feeling, Captain Grey?” he asked kindly. “You have slept well, I think?”
“I feel fine, Doctor,” Grey replied, although he grimaced as he tried to sit up. “I ache a bit… that’s all.”
“You are one lucky man, I am thinking,” Järvinen said, with a smile. “All the crew are thinking much the same, but you will tell your story only once, eh? I will send for Captain Ochre. He was here to see if you were awake earlier but I sent him to get some breakfast.”
“I hope there is more than porridge left for him today,” Grey remarked, with a wry smile.
“You should have some porridge; yes indeed. It would be fortifying for your body.”
Grey gave a weak smile. “Okay, Doc; I’ll take my medicine. Bring it on.”
Järvinen gave a beaming smile and went to call through an order for his patient.
The bowl of porridge was delivered by a beaming Captain Ochre.
“Hi there,” he said, as he laid the tray on the bedside table top. “You’re looking much better than you were yesterday when we pulled you out of that lake.”
“Yeah, seems like I owe you my thanks for that.”
Ochre shrugged with a friendly grin. “Hey, you’d have done the same for me. Now, eat this before the Doc throws me out as a bad influence.”
“You may stay as long as you like or until Captain Grey is too tired to talk to you. I have no concerns,” Järvinen said. “I shall be in my office if there is need of me.” He pointed to a small alcove across the room. “Captain Grey, if the pain is great, I have pills that will help.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Grey reached for the bowl and spooned some of the porridge into his mouth, feeling warmth seep through him as he swallowed the food.
Järvinen left them alone and Ochre watched him go. He turned to Grey and asked mischievously, “Do you think he’s a proper doctor? I mean, shouldn’t all properly trained doctors have the same bedside manner as Fawn and bawl everyone out if they dare to try to visit a patient?”
“Fawn hasn’t got a bedside manner any longer; he’s got a ‘what-are-you-still-doing-here’ manner,” Grey said cheerfully, adding in-between spoonfuls of porridge, “I think he’s developed it especially to use when he’s itching to do more tests on Captain Scarlet – again.”
Ochre chuckled. “Yeah, poor Scarlet, he really got the short straw when he ran up against the Mysterons.” He glanced at his friend. “He sends his ‘best’, of course – Fawn, I mean. I got the impression he thought you’d got yourself knocked about where he couldn’t administer his own brand of healing on purpose.”
“I didn’t intend getting myself knocked about at all,” Grey replied, once he had finished the cereal. “I had no idea that was going to happen – none at all.”
“You told me last night that we’d found the Loch Ness Monster and, from what I saw, I think you’re right. Why did she attack you? I mean there’s no history of her being so aggressive. What happened?”
Grey shook his head, wincing slightly at the sudden ache the movement generated. “I don’t know; but maybe it was the lights? I had turned on all three banks of lights and shone them down where I thought the cryptid had gone. Then it appeared, rising out of the darkness and coming straight for Tiamat.” He shifted uneasily and tried to explain what he remembered to his attentive friend.
“The portholes on the sub are small and thick to withstand the pressures of a deep dive, so what I could see once it came close was limited. I saw its head and rows of very sharp-looking teeth. A longish neck and flippers – diamond-shaped flippers. I think it hit the sub, maybe with a flipper and maybe unintentionally, but the Tiamat span out of control and that’s when I hit my head and I may have blacked out for a moment. The second hit was – I think – intentional but I wasn’t going to stay around for another one.”
He went on to explain about the way he had rigged the inflatable and the emergency flares and slipped out of the sub, leaving the cryptid to deal with the vessel and cope with the blinding light show he had devised.
“I don’t think you killed her,” Ochre said, as Grey’s story came to an end.
“I wasn’t trying to, I just didn’t want it to kill me!”
“The Navy are upstairs planning what to do next,” Ochre explained, “They’re going to close the loch and Colonel White agrees with them.”
Grey grimaced, shrugged and sighed. “Closing the loch is a good idea; I guess we can’t run the risk it might be Mysteronised. It’s big enough to do damage to even large ships if it gets out of the loch into major shipping lanes…”
“Hold on – this is a fresh water lake, right? All of the major shipping lanes tend to be out there in the big, blue oceans. No giant newt, even if it is Mysteronised, is going to be able to get out to the shipping lanes and even then, she might not survive in sea water.”
“Salmon cope,” Grey reminded him dryly, “and the Mysterons have ways of moving things about to suit themselves…”
“Yeah.” Ochre sat silent for a long moment and then said in a rush: “It is just that it seems so unfair, Brad. Until recently there’s no evidence of Nessie hurting anyone and now, just because we’ve found her they’re planning to send in the heavy ships to blow her to Kingdom Come. You said yourself, we may have scared her into attacking the sub. Strikes me as pretty flimsy evidence for assuming she’s dangerous.”
“Take it from me – it was dangerous,” Grey replied, noting with some amusement how Ochre’s sense of chivalry led him to the defence of the cryptid almost from the exact moment he had started to consider it a female. He continued, “But I do see what you mean, Rick. Maybe we can convince the colonel to talk the navy into granting a stay of execution, at least while we investigate further? I, for one, would like to know what we’re up against before we slaughter it – assuming we can. Preventing the Mysterons from carrying out whatever they have planned means we’ll need to deny them the corpse of the animal – if they haven’t already retrometabolised it, of course. The prospect of trying to do that while it’s still in the water doesn’t exactly appeal.”
“Hmm,” said Ochre thoughtfully. “It certainly won’t be easy to avoid electrocuting everything in the loch. If you explain that to the colonel he can hardly refuse us the chance of capturing it and getting it on dry land, can he?”
Grey spoke to Colonel White for some considerable time over the communication link. Then, some hours later, the colonel called Grey; he explained that he had done better than just ask the World Navy to grant a ‘stay of execution’, he had informed them that Spectrum would take over the mission. London Naval HQ had blustered and protested, but Spectrum had the authority to override them and there was little they could do to prevent it happening while they took their protest to the World Security Council for adjudication.
“However, I expect, results, Captain,” said White. “I want answers and I want them quickly.”
“S.I.G, sir,” Grey replied.
“And how exactly do we find answers? And answers to what?” Ochre protested, when Grey gave him the news.
“Whether Nessie is a Mysteron, of course,” Grey explained, “and we won’t be doing it alone-”
“Don’t tell me,” Ochre sighed dramatically. “Captain Scarlet’s going to arrive on his white charger to save us all from Nessie the newt?”
Grey smiled and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Wrong – the Old Man told me he’s sending Fawn and Green.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and concluded cheerfully, “They should be here before your bedtime, my young friend!”
Ochre’s expression of pure astonishment remained Grey’s favourite memory of the mission for a long time after.
Doctor Fawn immediately insisted on giving Grey a once-over when he and the excited Lieutenant Green arrived on The Seagull, so while Green got what information he could from Ochre, the doctor examined Grey and got the story from the horse’s mouth.
“You were lucky,” Fawn said, as he indicated Grey could put his shirt back on. “But you’ve got the heart and lungs of an ox, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
He turned suddenly and took a snapshot of the captain with a Mysteron detector.
“I wondered why you were here,” Grey said, only slightly put out by the incident.
“Colonel White’s a cautious man, Brad.” Fawn watched the photograph emerge as an X-ray picture and smiled. “But he’ll be relieved to know you’re good to go.”
“Don’t you think Ochre would have noticed if I’d been killed and Mysteronised?”
Fawn slipped the photographic evidence into his medical file. “Ochre’s clever – far cleverer than he likes to admit – but even he can’t tell a really accurate Mysteron replicant from the real thing. Besides, it was him who told the colonel the monster could’ve swallowed you whole.”
Grey nodded. “I understand, but you’re sure I’m not a Mysteron now, Doc?”
Fawn gave his friend a dry glance. “SIRAD’s Mysteron detector is the best proof we have. I’ll have to trust it.”
The men exchanged friendly smiles.
“I bet Ochre’s got Green all wound up about monsters already,” Grey remarked, as they prepared to join their colleagues. “Why did the colonel send Greenie with you and not Scarlet?”
“I’m surprised you haven’t worked that out for yourself,” Fawn replied. “Green was in the WASPs as a hydrophones operator. He’s familiar with all the equipment and he suggested to the colonel that with two systems, it would be possible to triangulate where the monster was and take appropriate action.”
“Ah-hah,” Grey said thoughtfully, as he followed the doctor back to the Ward Room. “So it had nothing to do with Scarlet’s mal-de-mer after all?” he asked innocently.
Fawn’s deep chuckle just about reached his hearing.
Having been reassured by Captain Grey that Prugh was a recruit from after their time, Green was confident that the WASP lieutenant was unlikely to pose any threat of a security breach. The days when he had served on the Clam subs for the WASPs and in Marineville’s Control Tower seemed an age ago, but you couldn’t be too careful about protecting your identity.
Green spent so much time on Cloudbase these days that being afloat again seemed strange; nevertheless, he was enjoying being aboard The Seagull and looking forward to working with another skilled hydrophones operative. Prugh was waiting and ready to start. He moved from the control panel and allowed Green to sit and open a second sonar channel. They started calibrating the soundings against known data and the readings from the terrestrial posts. Before long they were working together like old friends…
Captain Grey sought out CPO Kerr and asked him to help prepare the launch to take the mobile sonar equipment that Green had brought with him. The Scotsman was pleased to see the Spectrum captain up and about, and said as much.
“We all thought you were out a goner, out there, Captain. That beastie was in a rare fit of temper,” he said.
“My colleague thinks I might’ve frightened it with the lights from the Tiamat. I suppose that could be the reason; after all the depths of the loch are very dark.”
“Aye, well, the water’s awful peaty,” Kerr explained. “It’s one of the reasons they say something might’ve survived in the loch without it being known about.”
“Have you ever seen Nessie – before the Tiamat was attacked, I mean?”
“No, I never have. I would’ve said I was sceptical about Nessie’s existence, until then.”
Kerr gave a slightly cynical smile. “Once the loch’s open I’d say the tourist board will be beating a path to the shore.”
Grey smiled back. “You’re probably right,” he said, as Captain Ochre appeared with the first of the equipment.
They all got to work. It was now imperative that they wasted as little time as possible in starting their search.
Admiral Sir Walter Nugent listened to Captain Scarlet’s argument with every appearance of attention.
“And you say Spectrum believes this submersible was attacked by the Loch Ness Monster?” he asked, raising his dark eyes from the papers on his desk to stare at the young man, as Scarlet stopped speaking.
“Yes, sir. It was witnessed by several of the men on board The Seagull as well as two Spectrum officers.”
Nugent looked down again at the papers and re-read the letter Captain Scarlet had delivered from Colonel White. He knew the colonel was not given to flights of fancy or practical jokes having served alongside Sir Charles Grey in the British Navy before the Civil War, but he still found the whole concept somewhat preposterous.
“And Vice-Admiral Teddeman authorised this… expedition?”
“Yes, sir. Colonel White said that it was the Vice-Admiral who invited Spectrum to participate.”
Shaking his distinguished head, Nugent gave a rueful smile. “Between you and me, Captain Scarlet, I sometimes wonder if some parts of the World Navy haven’t got too much time on their hands… However, you can assure Colonel White that I will assign one of our submarines to assist the expedition. I’m sure there must be at least one not fully occupied with naval matters.”
“Thank you, sir,” Scarlet said, trying not to grin.
“Go and get some lunch, Captain. If you come back at about two o’clock I’m sure one of my flag lieutenants will have chosen the lucky crew. Mind you, if you do catch Nessie, I want a framed photograph of it for my wall; otherwise no one will ever believe me.”
“Yes, sir.” Scarlet saluted and marched smartly out of the office before the urge to laugh got the better of him.
In fact what Scarlet got assigned to him was one of the Zeidae class of mini-subs, Z359, known as ‘John Dory’. He was rather pleased that his instructions were to rendezvous with the vessel at Inverness, rather than on the Clyde for the journey to Loch Ness and he flew up there in an SPJ direct from London.
Commodore Rupert Holland greeted him on the quayside and conducted him aboard.
“So, we’re to take you to join your colleagues in Loch Ness,” Holland said, as he showed Scarlet to a ‘break-out’ area, where a coffee machine stood.
“That’s right, Commodore. Spectrum is undertaking an expedition with the World Navy.”
“It’s okay, Captain, Admiral Nugent’s flag lieutenant told me what’s going on. It seems we are to protect our colleagues and yours while they hunt for Nessie.”
“Did the flag lieutenant also tell you that there have been recent attacks on local fish farms, resulting in the death of one man and that the expedition’s submersible has been attacked by some large underwater animal?”
“Flags didn’t go quite that far,” Holland admitted; as he handed Scarlet a mug of hot coffee, his expression was one of deep concern. “Was anyone hurt?”
“My colleague, Captain Grey, was able to swim clear, but it was touch and go,” Scarlet explained. “I really don’t want you to take this mission lightly, or to scare you into thinking there is inevitable danger in the loch, but you will need to be ready to take action, Commodore.”
Holland could see that Scarlet was serious about the possible dangers they faced and his expression grew grave. “Well, the John Dory is armed and although we don’t carry many weapons, we have a couple of missiles and some light armaments.”
Scarlet sipped his coffee. “That might be enough to kill the animal.” He didn’t mention that if the creature – whatever it was – had been Mysteronised it would probably be impervious to anything the John Dory could throw at it – at least, in the long term.
Holland turned to leave, but he said, over his shoulder as he walked away, “Oh, come on, Captain! If the thing is alive we have more than enough firepower to stop it in its tracks.”
“If it is alive,” Scarlet muttered to himself.
When the John Dory came alongside The Seagull, Scarlet went aboard and after the introductions were completed, he and the other Spectrum officers held a private meeting.
“It is my understanding that the colonel wants it dead because we can’t risk the Mysterons using it against us. And they mustn’t be able to retrometabolise the corpse. Whatever they plan to do has to stop right here.” Scarlet glanced around his colleagues, inviting discussion.
“The Mysteron threat is obscure enough to mean almost anything,” Ochre said. “Just because Blue thinks it has something to do with Nessie, doesn’t mean it actually does.”
“I know; but we can’t think of anything else,” Scarlet admitted. “And we can’t risk of doing nothing because Blue might be right - especially since the attacks on the fish farms and the warden and now on the Tiamat. If ‘Nessie’ attacked civilian shipping there’d be panic.”
Grey shrugged. “I’m inclined to think that the attack on the Tiamat was more from fear than aggression.”
“And the warden, was that fear?” Scarlet asked abruptly. “It bit him in half!”
“I know; I thought it might do the same to me,” Grey reminded him pointedly. Scarlet gave a brief nod. “Who knows what prompted that attack,” Grey continued. “Maybe it was disturbed while feeding or the warden attacked first?”
“I wonder why it hasn’t attacked the fish farms before.” Fawn said suddenly. “They’ve been there for years now and Nessie’s ignored them.”
“Perhaps she’s not very bright and the realisation that there’s a fast food outlet on her doorstep’s only just dawned?” said Ochre.
“Maybe there’s more than one?” Fawn mused.
“Oh please, no. One is more than enough to deal with,” Scarlet said. “I think Spectrum’s on a hiding to nothing here. Whatever we do the media will have a go at us: kill it and we’re barbarians, don’t kill it and we’re putting people at risk.”
“How are we going to kill it?” Green asked.
“We need to get it out of the water before we do anything,” Grey said.
“We track it and then we corral it into shallow water,” Scarlet explained. “If possible, we catch it but if not, I will kill it. I’ve been adapting some of the armaments on the John Dory and I have a viable harpoon which will explode once embedded in the flesh.”
“Nice one,” Fawn muttered, in a tone that implied the opposite.
“Not from choice, Doc,” Scarlet remarked, with a wry smile. “But if I don’t want to end up like the warden, I need to be prepared. Besides, even retrometabolism needs something to work with.”
Fawn nodded. “You’re right, Captain; we need to be careful when we confront the… cryptid. We don’t know what we’re up against.”
“Could we photograph it from the air?” Ochre suggested. “If we used the Mysteron detector that’d at least clear up the issue of whether it was Mysteronised, at least.”
“That’s an idea,” Scarlet agreed. “Lieutenant, will you please ask the colonel to equip the Angel jets with a detector? If they can spot the creature from the air, they may just get a chance to use the detector.”
Green nodded and opened a channel to Cloudbase.
“The sonar rigs are ready,” Grey confirmed, as Green relayed their idea to the colonel. “We should start the search. This is a big loch and not every anomaly is a cryptid.”
Green confirmed that the Angel Jets would have a Mysteron detector aboard and rose to go to his post as Scarlet dismissed the meeting. The second phase of ‘Operation Nessie’ was underway.
The Angels patrolled the loch during the hours of daylight without success: there were no sightings of Nessie. The sonar sweeps identified numerous anomalies that turned out to be nothing more than floating debris or matter that was unidentifiable by the remote control cameras. Soon it wasn’t only Captain Scarlet who was getting frustrated by the lack of success.
“I am being pressed by the Navy and by the civil authorities to give them some indication of how much longer this will take, Captain,” Colonel White informed Captain Scarlet.
“I wish I could tell you, sir,” Scarlet replied. “We can’t really search for 24-hours a day and the daylight hours are getting shorter. She has had hundreds of years to perfect her camouflage skills and I’m afraid we just we can’t find her.”
“How do you propose to intensify the search, Captain?”
“Well, we have thought about trying to get her to come to us, sir, by launching remote submersibles with strong lights attached, to see if we can entice the cryptid to attack them.”
“Then I suggest you get on with it, Captain. This is a Spectrum mission not a health cruise!”
Captain Ochre’s model making skills came in handy when they rigged the lights onto the remote submersibles that usually held the cameras. The main problem was the additional batteries necessary to keep the lights as bright as possible, but he was able to resolve the problem with a little ingenuity. Grey devised a search pattern taking into account known sightings of the cryptid and the possible areas it might inhabit and the next day they were ready to start.
“Sadly, it seems that nobody’s told Nessie that today’s the day we get acquainted,” Ochre complained, as Prugh relieved him for the late afternoon shift on the sonar sweep.
They’d been searching the loch in a methodical way since early light, but without success – there hadn’t even been a good enough reason to launch the light arrays.
Prugh shrugged. “Maybe Nessie doesn’t need to feed every day, Captain? And it’s been cold, so she might’ve holed up somewhere to keep warm – or as warm as she can in this loch.”
“That’s a point,” Ochre agreed, as he collected his radio cap from the spare chair and made ready to leave. “I wonder what she finds to eat; we could lay on a supply to entice her out.”
“Do you want to see her killed?” Prugh asked.
“Not really,” Ochre admitted, “but if we don’t find her soon, the World Government will probably order us to bomb the loch dry, so I reckon she stands more of a chance if we find her – and soon.”
He made his way to the Ward Room where Scarlet and Fawn were pouring over the charts of the loch and marking the areas they’d already searched.
“Prugh suggested that Nessie’s sleeping the bad weather away,” he told them. “He also said she might not need to feed every day, so it might be a few days before we spot her moving about.”
“That’s true,” Fawn agreed. “Some reptiles don’t always need to feed every day, but she’s a big animal, so chances are she’ll feed frequently.”
“What’d she feed on, Doc?” Ochre asked, as he sat beside them with his hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. “When she can’t get wardens and submersibles, I mean.”
“I would expect it to be a piscivore, although I’d also expect it to take whatever meat it can get.” Fawn grew thoughtful and the other two looked at him expectantly.
“It’d explain the attack on the fish farm, for sure,” Scarlet remarked as the silence lengthened.
“Yeah,” the doctor said thoughtfully. He stood up and wandered away to a computer terminal.
Ochre shook his head. “Maybe he’s going to invent an anti-piscivore cream to put Nessie off the idea of snacking on any human she encounters?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Scarlet replied without conviction.
“If something doesn’t happen soon we’ll be back on Cloudbase facing a lifetime of shifts in the radar room.” Ochre stretched. “Mind you, at least I’d be able to stretch my legs properly. This boat’s way too small.”
The idea that Fawn had been working on was revealed over the evening meal. He joined the other Spectrum officers in the Ward Room and when a suitable languor occurred in the conversation he said:
“I’ve been doing some research about the loch.”
Scarlet gave his friend a grin. “Well, the Blue-boy’s not here so someone has to, I guess. What’ve you come up with, Doc?”
“It was something we were talking about: what the cryptid would eat. Did you know that there has recently been a government-sponsored eradication programme in respect of the wild salmon in the loch?”
“Whatever for?” Ochre gasped.
“Seems they carry parasites or diseases that threaten the farmed fish. Of course, with the density of livestock in the fish farms, any parasite or disease would spread like wildfire. So, the World Government funded a programme designed to prevent interaction between wild and farmed stock by, effectively, removing the wild population.”
“They never learn, do they?” Grey muttered. “Tampering with natural ecosystems is bound to create more problems than it cures.”
Fawn nodded. “So it would seem, and my hypothesis is that in this case over the past five years they’ve managed to remove so many of the wild fish that the cryptid – or cryptids - are starving.”
“More than one?” Scarlet asked doubtfully.
“A small population never that numerous, probably slow to grow to full size and become mature enough to breed, but you need more than one to continue a species, Scarlet, and I can’t quite believe that a single ‘Nessie’ has survived since the 6th Century when the legend started – if not since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. There has to be more than one. As the wild fish stocks declined, their food source was depleted, so the animals had to attack the fish farms or starve. Until the farms expanded and the wild fish were being eradicated there were no records of attacks on the fish farms or on human beings.”
“Jeez: so Nessie isn’t vicious, just hungry?” Ochre said.
“I think so,” Fawn said.
“And that means we have the perfect bait for our trap,” Scarlet said. “Salmon…”
Ochre glared at the Englishman across the table. “Sometimes I really hate this job.”
“C’mon, Rick,” Scarlet reasoned, “We can’t risk lives by allowing the cryptids – however many there might be - to remain in the loch. If Doc’s right, then the attacks will become more frequent.”
“Did I say I didn’t understand that? I just think we’re complete bastards as a species and occasions like this one make me think the Mysterons might actually have something a case.” Ochre pushed back his chair, nodded farewell to everyone and left the Ward Room in a moody slouch.
Scarlet waited until the door closed behind him and then said to Grey: “Get on to the Fish Farms and arrange for them to send us some salmon in the morning so that we can entice Nessie to the shallows during daylight. I want the submersibles working all day, back and forth to attract attention. We have to close this down as soon as we can.”
“S.I.G.,” Grey replied, although he did not sound enthusiastic at the idea.
“This isn’t a big game hunt; this is a mission to prevent human deaths and thwart any plans the Mysterons might have that include the cryptid.” Scarlet glanced down for a moment and then raised his sapphire-blue eyes to his colleagues. “Spectrum can’t afford sentiment when lives are at risk.”
The others nodded and gradually, the meeting broke up as they went to prepare for the forthcoming operation their field commander had outlined.
It was barely daylight when CPO Kerr informed Captain Scarlet that the Fisheries had sent a pen of live salmon from their stocks as well as a vat of fish heads and offal to use as bait.
The navy crews had been briefed and they took to the launches to scatter the offal around the area, while Kerr and a small detachment lowered the live salmon into the inlet they had chosen as the best place to corral the animal, should it appear.
Scarlet was kitted out in a dive-suit with a pair of the miniature aqua-lungs Grey had developed strapped to his back. They were small enough to allow freedom of movement and still had provide enough air to give him a chance of avoiding the cryptid underwater. He had two modified harpoons, both equipped with explosive charges, as well as a conventional gun. He had considered taking a Taser, but Fawn had convinced him that unless the creature was out of the water it was too dangerous. Since Spectrum had learned that the Mysterons were vulnerable to electricity they considered that Scarlet might well share that weakness, although they had never attempted to find out.
The submersibles were out, lights blazing as they trawled back and forth across the loch and Prugh and Green manned the sonar phones on The Seagull and John Dory.
Ochre, Fawn and Grey waited on the deck with Scarlet, scanning the surface of the dark and still water for signs of movement. After the first hour, Hilary Parker brought them out mugs of hot coffee and reported that there was still nothing on the sonar scans.
“Still,” she said reassuringly, “the sun’s come out and the day will be a fine one, so if Nessie is going to hunt, today would be an ideal day for it.”
“I hope you’re right, Hilary,” Scarlet said, with a dry smile. “We can’t afford to wait much longer without taking drastic action.”
She glanced skywards for a moment and replied, “I guess that’s why Spectrum’s got jets patrolling the loch? Commander Reynolds asked me to tell you that they’ll be here in about 5 minutes.”
“The Angels? Good. They’re going to try and monitor the cryptid if it’s out in the deep water where we can’t,” said Scarlet, adding, “but if they have to they will shoot or bomb the loch.”
Ochre knew that Captain Scarlet had never been good at waiting for anything, he understood that his friend thought of himself as an archetypal ‘man of action’ and genuinely found having nothing to do a trial; but his repetitive requests to know whether there was anything to report from the sonar scans were starting to get on Ochre’s nerves.
In a rare flash of insight he understood why his father had so very quickly lost patience with him and his brother for asking ‘are we there yet?’ on the long drives to make duty visits to elderly relatives.
He stared at the small screen and pressed the hydrophone headset to his ears in studied concentration as he saw Scarlet approaching again: this time I won’t answer at all, he thought.
To his surprise Scarlet tapped his shoulder and said: “Rick, Prugh’s got a reading – can you confirm it?”
Ochre glanced at the co-ordinates written on the piece of paper Scarlet was holding in front of his eyes, and adjusted the range of his hydrophones.
Frowning, he replied, “Yes, there’s something – something moving.” He glanced up at the Englishman. “I don’t think this is flotsam.”
Over the radio he heard Lieutenant Green confirming that he too had a reading and reported his co-ordinates, so that Green could triangulate the position.
Grey hurried over to consult Scarlet, and Ochre lifted one hydrophone speaker from his ear, so he could hear clearly.
“They’re ready to launch the mini-sub.”
Ochre joined Grey and the two captains went to watch the mini-sub move from alongside The Seagull and dive into the stygian gloom of the deep water towards the middle of the loch.
Scarlet stood stock still, waiting. His heart thumped as the adrenalin rush built in his body, firing his muscles for fight or flight. His breathing deepened as his alien haemoglobin stored more oxygen against any impending danger. His mind focussed on the task ahead cutting out extraneous thoughts and concerns: whatever he had encountered before he was now about to undertake the most unexpected challenge.
He had grown used to situations that anybody else would consider extraordinary; since the Mysterons had begun their War of Nerves against their neighbouring planet every Spectrum agent had become blasé to the extent that nothing was that surprising any more. However, he had never once imagined he might be required to fight a beast which, until very recently, he had considered nothing more than a myth.
He was a career soldier, trained in armed and unarmed combat, and he was not being immodest when he acknowledged that he was bloody good at it, but nowhere in his training or past experience was anything remotely useful in formulating tactical moves for dragon-slaying.
His deep indrawn sniff of insecurity, coupled with a slight shuffle as he unconsciously adjusted his stance, caused both Ochre and Grey to glance at him in palpable surprise: he had been so still for so long that they’d forgotten his presence.
“You okay, Paul?” Ochre asked.
Scarlet dragged himself back into reality and gave a curt nod. “Update me,” he muttered.
“Green says the anomaly is approaching the bait. The Angels haven’t been able to get a clear shot of it, so we’re no nearer knowing if it is a Mysteron,” Grey replied succinctly.
“Right,” Scarlet said, as he exhaled deeply. “Then I need to be on the water.”
He checked he had all of his gear, covered his face with the scuba mask devised by Captain Grey and then jumped from the gangway, down into the cold, dark water of the loch.
The shock was almost enough to take his breath away, but his training, as much as his alien-enhanced stamina, quickly cut in, and he struck out for the surface feeling in control. He could hear Lieutenant Green’s voice reporting the hydrophones and sonar readings in relation to his position and orientated himself in the direction he expected the Cryptid to approach.
He felt its approach before he saw or heard it. The current in the water grew stronger, pushing him backwards as it rolled over him. He fought to stay upright and pushed for the surface to get his bearings and take another gulp of air through the snorkel.
He was further away from the fish pens than he wanted and so he started to swim towards them, sure that the Cryptid would be making for the food they represented. The sweep from the giant flipper caught him by surprise and sent him tumbling in free-fall through the water. He got an impression of immense size and weight as something swept passed him. He struck out to follow the rapidly disappearing bulk as it moved on towards the fish pens.
Over the microphone he heard Green’s voice almost screaming in excitement:
It’s breaking the surface towards the pens! See? My God. Look at the size of that hump! Get ready – fire at will!
To Scarlet’s relief he heard Grey’s authoritative voice cut in:
Belay that order! Do not fire! Captain Scarlet’s in the water… Wait!
The Cryptid had dived into the depths and was no longer visible, but Prugh’s steady voice was relaying depth soundings data – presumably while Green recovers his composure, Scarlet thought with a grim smile as he manoeuvred himself to what he hoped would be an attacking position.
Anomaly is rising, quickly, towards the fish pens, Prugh said. You should be able to see it any moment, Captain.
The first clear glimpse Scarlet got of the beast was of a large reptilian head at the end of a long, muscular neck. The creature had small eyes and prominent nostrils, and its wide jaw was lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth. The head alone was formidable enough but the body emerging into view at speed was vast: a ridged, flexible backbone, four diamond-shaped wide paddle-like flippers and a powerful tail, tapering away in the gloom.
They named you right, Nessie – you are a monster… Scarlet thought, as for one brief moment the creature fixed its gaze on him. Scarlet aimed the harpoon gun and fired.
The dart seemed to move at snail’s pace through the water and with a glancing blow finally it embedded itself in the creature’s shoulder. The vast body rolled with the impact, but to Scarlet’s dismay the charge did not detonate – the impact could not have had sufficient force to penetrate the rough hide deeply enough. A low rumbling sound hit Scarlet with some force and seemed to shake him to his bones. Before he could get the second harpoon fitted ready to fire he realised the beast was coming for him.
He jinked sideways and managed to avoid the deadly bite, but the flipper hit him and sent him spinning deeper into the water. The cryptid followed, circling for the kill.
Scarlet took the time to slip in the breathing mouthpiece of Grey’s aqualungs in and drew a deep breath. The resulting air bubbles from the tanks seemed to confuse the cryptid, which swerved away but it circled again, perhaps a little a little more wary now of its small, but clearly dangerous adversary. Scarlet made best use of its hesitation to fix the second harpoon.
Come on then, he thought, there’s only you and me, Nessie, and one of us isn’t going to come out of this lake alive.
As if it read the challenge in the man’s mind, the cryptid suddenly darted forward. Scarlet felt the sharp teeth pierce his wetsuit and tear the flesh from his left hip to knee as he tried to avoid the deadly bite. His silent scream allowed the mouthpiece to fall from his mouth and he felt the cold water flood into his throat and down into his lungs.
He shook his head to clear it and, as the blood flowed from his wound, he kicked for the surface with every ounce of his remaining strength. The Cryptid was watching, perhaps sensing that it had delivered a fatal blow and its prey was weakened it was waiting to deliver the final bite.
Scarlet saw the muscles in its powerful body tense for another attack and he pointed the harpoon down towards the beast. Just before he lost consciousness, he pulled the trigger.
Everything went black.
Ochre was hanging from one of the upper rigging ropes and shouting down reports of what little he could see.
“There’s blood in the water!” He pointed to where the water was roiling with the battle between man and beast.
“What can you read from the sonar?” Grey demanded of Green.
“The anomaly is still moving towards Scarlet,” the lieutenant replied anxiously.
Ochre yelled that he could make out Scarlet and that he was trying to get to the surface.
“Get the boats out there and pick him up!” Grey yelled to CPO Kerr, pointing out to where Ochre was indicating he could see their colleague’s body. “If you have to blow that creature out of the loch, do it!”
The boat had just cast off when an explosion erupted from the water, quickly followed by another boom which created such waves that Ochre, still clinging to the rigging, was almost thrown from his perch.
The cryptid leapt from the lake in its death throes: its lower jaw had been ripped from its head and was hanging useless. The roar of its agony echoed around the loch, deafening in its force and the onlookers all knew that the chances were it was dead before its bulk hit the water again and sank below the surface.
“Get Captain Scarlet out, now!” Grey ordered and watched with concern Kerr steered the boat out to search for the body.
“He’s dead, sir,” Kerr reported, as they dragged Scarlet from the water and laid him in the boat. “Looks like Nessie’s filleted his leg an’ he’s lost an awful lot of blood.”
Doctor Fawn, who had been watching from the banks near the fish pens instructed Grey to order the body brought to him immediately.
“I’ve got a medijet on standby at Inverness, it’ll be here in no time,” he explained.
Grey passed on the order and by the time Kerr had reached the bank and Fawn was clambering down towards his patient, the sound of the approaching medijet was clearly audible. Minutes later, Fawn boarded the plane with Scarlet’s body and they were on their way to Cloudbase.
The Naval vessels had been busy securing the carcass of the cryptid and towing it to the shore. Grey and Ochre joined the other officers and went across to examine ‘Nessie’ at close quarters.
It was clear to see where Scarlet’s harpoon had exploded and almost torn one flipper from the body, exposing the ribs and internal organs.
Conversation was prevented by the roar of the Angel jets overhead and the naval officers watched in amazement as one of the trio swooped low over the shoreline, before following the others and disappearing over the hills to circle round.
“Your planes are still here?” Commander Reynolds asked the Spectrum officers, once the noise had died down.
“Yes, why shouldn’t they be?” Ochre replied, his eyes scouring the sky for the approach of the planes once more. “The mission’s not quite over and they were sent from Cloudbase in case they could assist with the mission.”
“A wasted journey, in effect,” Parker said, “as Captain Scarlet managed without any help.” She looked away her eyes awash with unshed tears. “I wish we could’ve helped; maybe that would have saved him.”
Ochre laid a sympathetic hand on her arm. “Scarlet’s tougher than most and Fawn’s a miracle worker, of a kind. Don’t write either of them off just yet.”
“You may be right, Captain,” Kerr said, “and I admit I’m no medical man, but to my way of thinking that young man was dead and gone.”
Ochre could do nothing but shrug and turn away. He knew, as did all of the elite captains, that Scarlet had survived every wound he’d taken and even returned from the dead through the mysterious alien power they knew as retrometabolism, but it was hard to explain that to people who had witnessed him suffering on a mission.
Moments later a message came through: “Rhapsody Angel to Captain Grey.”
Grey’s radio mic dropped down for him to respond. “Go ahead, Rhapsody Angel.”
“I have taken a scan with the Mysteron detector, Captain, and the result is negative. I can confirm that the Cryptid is not a Mysteron agent. Colonel White has asked me to remind you that the body of the animal must, therefore, be dealt with using an Electron Rifle to prevent any retrometabolisation taking place.”
“S.I.G., Rhapsody; message received and understood,” Grey replied. He turned back to the others to see Hilary Parker peering gingerly at the ruined head of the great beast.
“Looks to me,” she said, as she stood up and grimaced, wiping her hands on her trousers, “as if one of the harpoons must’ve gone down its throat from close quarters. There’s a lot of damage down there. What do we do with her now?”
“The Navy Board want the body shipped to one of their secure facilities, so that their scientists can perform an autopsy,” Reynolds replied.
“I don’t think Spectrum can let that happen, Commander,” Grey said firmly. “I am under orders to have the body… incinerated.”
“Besides, you don’t need an autopsy; I can tell you what killed her: two direct hits with a harpoon gun.” Ochre rolled his eyes.
“Captain Grey, I understand that you are merely carrying out your orders, but I must protest,” Reynolds said, ignoring Ochre’s remark. “This is a major scientific breakthrough, we have a duty to ensure science learns all it can from the corpse...”
“And finally crushes the legend of the monster in Loch Ness?” Grey interjected, “ruining over a thousand years of belief and single-handedly destroying the tourist industry around here?” He shook his head. “I have a feeling that if the World Government gets to hear of it, they’ll hold the Navy responsible for the ruin of the major part of the local economy of an isolated region.”
“We won’t ruin it, we’ll confirm it,” Parker reasoned.
“With the dead body of ‘Nessie’,” Ochre reminded her. “I agree with Grey; it’d be better to say our search was inconclusive and let the loch keep its mystery.”
“I have my orders,” Reynolds said firmly.
“And so do I,” said Grey with equal firmness. “And I think you’ll find that if it comes to the test, I outrank you, Commander. I suggest you take your crewmen back to The Seagull and contact the John Dory and make arrangements for the reopening of the loch to civilian and commercial vessels.”
He turned to Ochre and said, “Let’s get this over and done with, Captain.”
“S.I.G.,” Ochre replied.
Captain Scarlet was lying propped onto his right side in Cloudbase’s Sick Bay. He was hungry and bored.
The first problem he had dealt with by calling one of the nurses and asking her to order him a substantial meal from the canteen. She had shaken her head at him, then smiling, remarked that if he could ever bottle his metabolism he’d make a fortune in the dieting business, for he never gained an ounce despite eating the most prodigious meals.
Scarlet had smiled and not bothered to reply. The nursing staff saw him when his retrometabolism was working and then it was true that his appetite was prodigious, but he usually had no appetite to speak of and often had to remind himself to eat. In fact, he considered meals as a social event more than a necessity and he would go along with Blue or Rhapsody to keep them company.
The boredom was more of a problem. Usually Blue or Rhapsody would be keeping him company during his medical incarcerations, but she was on duty and still out at Loch Ness, from what Fawn had said, and Blue was on a mission with Captain Magenta. Fawn claimed to know nothing about that and unable to reach his radio cap, Scarlet couldn’t contact anyone else for more information.
He was feeling very sorry for himself when the door opened and Colonel White came in.
“Don’t get up, Captain,” the colonel said, with the merest of smiles on his face.
“Yes, sir: I mean… hello, sir.”
“I thought I would come and debrief you while you recovered; save a bit of time later,” White said, as he pulled up the chair in which Blue usually waited out his friend’s recovery.
“Sorry, sir; but I can’t type a report when I’m immobilised like this,” Scarlet said, with satisfaction.
“You can’t type a report when you’re hale and hearty,” White remarked ironically. “I am seriously considering sending you on another report writing course, Captain.”
Scarlet grimaced. He could and did – sometimes – produce perfectly acceptable reports, but he preferred not to and the ever-obliging Blue would usually complete them while he was waiting for his friend to recover.
“Perhaps you can just tell me what happened at Loch Ness?” White suggested, “And I’ll rely on Grey to fill in the details.”
Scarlet nodded and told the colonel all he could remember of his fight with the cryptid.
“I don’t know if I hit the beast with the second harpoon, sir; but I’m guessing I did, or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Preliminary reports suggest there were two explosions, so I imagine the second one did hit and triggered the first explosive charge as well,” White confirmed.
“Was Nessie a Mysteron?”
“There is no evidence that it was Mysteronised.”
“So, we killed her for nothing?” Scarlet said regretfully.
“We can never be sure,” White said. “The Mysterons could still have tried to use the animal and once we killed it their opportunities to use the cryptid against us increased. That’s why I have ordered Grey and Ochre to ensure the corpse is destroyed with the Electron Rifle. There will be no proof the Loch Ness Monster was ever found.”
“Back to the status quo?” Scarlet mused for a moment before nodding his head. “Better than the alternative of one dead monster, I think, Colonel.”
“Yes, indeed.” Colonel White stood to go.
“Colonel, where’s Blue?” Scarlet asked.
“In the Orient. There’s been a theft of plague bacillus from a secure medical unit. It seems the Mysterons may have been talking about the reappearance of the Black Death, rather than the Loch Ness Monster. Once you are fit for duty I want you to join them there, if they haven’t sorted it out by then that is.” White hesitated at the door and continued, “I regret what’s happened at Loch Ness, Captain, but you know as well as I that we cannot risk doing nothing.”
“No, I understand. Poor old Nessie; she really was a victim of ‘friendly fire’.”
“He, Captain. The cryptid was male.”
Scarlet smiled a little sadly and his commanding officer returned the smile as he turned to leave.
The old male had been more virile than she’d expected for all of her eggs had hatched. She had guarded them carefully and herded her nestlings into a safe and secluded shallow, where she watched over them and found food for them until they were old enough to fish for themselves. Now they were dispersing along the loch shore and only three remained in the nursery shallows.
The winter was coming. Soon she would leave to bury herself in the sand and sleep away the dark days while her young would have to fend for themselves. If she encountered them when she woke, she would not know them for her own and they might find themselves becoming a breakfast snack for their mother.
She turned and looked across the loch to where the strange floating islands used by the bipeds were still busy moving the fish pens away, back to their original site. She had taught her young to avoid the dangerous upright creatures and stay away from their food caches. There was still enough for all, if you knew where to look for it.
She dived and went hunting for her last meal of the season.
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler for beta-reading my story and assuring me that it made sense. It’s taken me a long time to complete and I thought there might be numerous plot holes I hadn’t spotted. If there are – or you spot any other mistakes in the text – the fault is mine.
Thanks are due as well to Chris Bishop, the doyenne of webmasters, for her wonderful site and for all the positive vibes and encouragement she dispenses to struggling authors.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ belong to some corporate entity, but the characters belong to the fans who continue to carry the flag for our favourite heroes. So thanks too to everyone connected with bringing the show to our TVs and to the comics, novels and fan fiction that have expanded the Scarlet Universe to what it is now.
Thanks to you too, for reading the story which I hope you enjoyed.
27 October 2014.
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