I had never expected to be a fashion model, it isn’t something they give you careers advice about and in the aftermath of the European Atomic War everyone wanted to be doctors or engineers to rebuild the cities and the serve their communities. I wanted to serve my community too and I had ambitions to be a kindergarten teacher or maybe a nurse.
I was coming back one Saturday from a school netball match – I was tall and so I was the Goal Defence for the school team – when I saw a man watching me. That wasn’t so unusual, even as a teenager, I knew I was attractive and that plenty of young men thought the same, but this man was different. He was tall and - to a young girl like me – old and when he started to follow me, I was worried. That sort of admiration I could do without. It was a busy shopping street in the centre of town, so I stopped and turned towards him.
“Are you following me?” I asked loudly. Several people glanced at me and at the man.
He smiled and reached out a hand to give me a smart, white business card. “I am a scout, for a modelling agency. Speak to your parents, ring that number and say that Sigi recommended you.”
“And if I don’t?” I asked, examining the business card with suspicion.
“Then you have lost nothing.” He smiled again, tipped the old-fashioned hat he was wearing and walked away.
My parents were not keen on the idea of my ringing, but I wanted to know if it was for real. Finally, my father rang them and spoke at great length to the person on the other end of the phone. He hung up and turned to my mother and me.
“It is genuine, as far as I can tell. They want Helga for a fashion shoot, to see if she is photogenic. They have a campaign in mind for young women’s fashions and are looking for a new face.”
“Of course she is photogenic!” My mother snapped. “I shall take her and you will see, Jűrgen, just how photogenic she is!”
And so, the next Saturday, I did not play netball, but went with my mother to a studio in the nearby city and was turned from a lanky 14 year old with long, shapeless hair, into a sophisticated lady, with powder and paint and sleek golden tresses. The client, a big international fashion retailer, approved of the pictures and I had my first modelling job.
After that it was more photo-shoots, more fancy clothes and elaborate hairstyles, and even , occasionally, no clothes at all. For the next ten years I criss-crossed Europe and even travelled to America and beyond in pursuance of my career. I made a great deal of money and a few good friends; I saw many beautiful places and wore many beautiful outfits. I knew that it would not last for ever – good looks fade in everyone and then my days as a model would be at an end, but I accepted my good fortune while it lasted and faced the future with the stoicism I had employed all my life.
My parents were getting older and I wanted to settle down, to reduce the amount of travelling and disruption in my life and to be nearer to them and so, when I heard that Andre Verdain, one of the most fashionable and exclusive fashion designers, was setting up his own Fashion House to showcase his talents and those of the of the youngest and best designers of Europe, I made discreet enquiries to see if I might join the ranks of his dedicated models. To my great joy, The House of Verdain invited me to join its ranks and I was able to settle into an apartment in Paris and travel far less than I used to.
Amongst the other European models I was most often paired with Gabrielle. We made a contrasting pair for Gabrielle was tall and dark-haired; I found her a rather remote figure, exquisitely beautiful, yet one for whom it was difficult to find much liking. However, we held each other in some esteem for we were both excellent models and Verdain made great use of our contrasting looks and demeanours in the fashion shows he arranged for the spring and autumn, summer and winter collections.
Verdain concentrated his shows in Europe, sometimes exclusively in France, and that suited me too. I had never been a great fan of flying across time zones to parade in front of strangers and then fly back before my body had time to acclimatise. It was sometimes necessary to fly, but to me delight I discovered that Gabrielle was also no great fan of air travel and we often made the choice of using the trains or the new super-fast monorail to the locations chosen by Verdain for the latest show.
I was still able to work a little as a freelance and I found that I could make a comfortable living this way and had no desire to change back to my jet-setting life of former years. I envisaged serving the rest of my days for The House of Verdain and then retiring to some small town where I could live comfortably on my savings.
And so, when the spring collection of 2069 was ready, Verdain announced that he had decided to hold the fashion show in Monte Carlo, as the climax of their ‘Printemps des Arts’ festival. As Paris was at that time, dull and cold, with the dismal fogs and rain of the winter lingering on, Gabrielle and I were delighted to contemplate the warmth and colour of a Mediterranean spring. We decided that the monorail would be the best way to approach the venue and I was looking forward to it immensely.
I have never feared the monorail. I know there are always stories of the danger it can present but for me it is comfort and speed combined. There was no fear in my heart as Gabrielle and I left Paris on a foggy morning and settled into the first class carriage we had reserved for ourselves alone.
I remember there was a stretch through the mountains when we went too fast… the coach swayed and we started to be thrown around the carriage. There was an ominous rattle. I… I can almost recall the terror of the plunge into the ravine as the coach left the rails and fell…
Perhaps I did too.
Looking down on the wreckage from the mountain we saw the terrible fate of the monorail and saw the fires that broke out. On the wind, rising from the valley, I believe I could hear the screams and cries of the injured and the dying. But I looked at Gabrielle and she looked at me and we were both unharmed.
Then… from within my own mind came a chilling voice. It spoke without pity and with a calculating coldness that spoke to me of an unremitting hatred.
Go, it said, to Monte Carlo and bring us Andre Verdain.
“We know what we must do,” I replied. And beside me, Gabrielle nodded.
We made our way to the nearest road and there waiting for us, as we knew it would be, was a car. The driver was a tall, dark-haired man wearing sunglasses, who said nothing until we had got into the back seat and were underway.
“You are reborn into the service of the Mysterons,” he told us. “You will be told what to do and when. I will need you to help me accomplish their wishes.”
“The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out,” Gabrielle replied. Her voice sounded altered; she had never been one to express much emotion, but now her voice sounded flat and uninterested in what was being said.
I looked from her to the driver.
“Who are you?” I asked. “How shall we know you?”
“I am Captain Black. You will know me.”
There was so much more I wanted to ask, to understand about this new existence and I was surprised Gabrielle did not join me in questioning Black, but the atmosphere in the car was sombre and I was too discouraged to ask more and so the rest of the journey was undertaken in total silence.
Black drove us to the apartment in Monte Carlo that Verdain had rented for us. He came in with us but remained by the door.
“You will go to Verdain. You will tell him you survived the monorail crash, act normally and excite no suspicion. Keep close to him and wait for my instructions.”
“What will we have to do?” I asked still confused and uncertain.
Black turned towards me and removed his shades. There was a deep frown on his brow as he studied me and I sensed he was surprised that I had asked.
“Look at me,” he said and I obeyed. His eyes were deep-set and dark and they stared into mine with an intensity that took my breath away. “You will obey me without question.”
I felt at peace; the nagging doubt that had make me question my situation was assuaged by the certainty that Black knew everything about me and my concerns. He knew what we needed to do to serve our masters and all I wanted was to please him and them.
“Tell me what to do,” I pleaded.
“The Mysterons’ order must be carried out. You will do as I say.”
“Always,” I vowed.
He gave a brief nod, as if satisfied. “Go to Verdain,” he repeated. “Act normally and wait for my orders.”
Verdain had heard about the monorail crash and he was pleased to see us unharmed.
“If we hadn’t decided to fly to Monte Carlo at the last minute, we’d have been on that train,” I said trying to allay any suspicion he might have about just how we had survived.
Verdain promised to take our minds from our narrow escape by allowing us to wear his most glamorous outfits in the forthcoming celebration of his designs. He was as considerate and kind as always and I found myself wondering why the Mysterons wanted to kill him. But later that day he introduced us to two new models: Destiny and Symphony, who were to participate in next week’s fashion show as well as us.
I had been a top fashion model for more than ten years and I can tell one of my own kind. Attractive though these women certainly were, they were not the kind that makes a good fashion model.
Verdain asked us to take them under our wing and show them the ropes.
Where he had picked them up from, I cannot say. The French girl, Destiny – and I was sure that was not her real name – was pretty, but unsophisticated with long platinum-blonde hair gathered in childish bunches and a most unfortunate outfit of orange and green checked material. The American – Symphony, also a stage name – was less conventionally pretty, but she was curvaceous and more unadventurously dressed in a pale-blue trouser suit with contrasting necktie. Her personality was more outgoing than that of the seemingly withdrawn French girl, and she spoke up for them both when questioned.
There were two new male staff members too – a dark-haired Englishman who was to be the PR representative for the show and a blond American photographer, who showed very little expertise in his art.
In our industry it is important to influence people and I suspect that money influenced Verdain to appoint these amateurs, but he knew his business and, no doubt, these two men were paying ‘big bucks’ for insider access to the show – and the models.
They would not be the first to have done so.
I was not surprised when Verdain invited his new ‘models’ and the PR man to a cruise around Monte Carlo bay the next day. Remembering Black’s instructions, Gabrielle and I went too, but the American excused himself and went to photograph the venue – or so he said.
Verdain’s cabin cruiser was a powerful one, comfortable and modern, crewed and maintained by two full-time sailors. The day was calm and sunny and it was delightful after the dampness of Paris.
We lounged on the deck beneath the awnings and Gabrielle stood watching Verdain closely. A plane flew overhead and she commented about the pleasures of being a pilot.
Symphony was watching her and Gabrielle asked her if she thought she could have been a pilot.
With a wry smile Symphony confessed that she had no head for heights.
I sensed the beginning of a suspicious tension between the American and Gabrielle, so suggested to Verdain we go for a trip around the bay. Always willing to show off the prowess of his power-toy, Verdain agreed. Gabrielle made a remark about fetching a scarf for her hair and slipped away below deck.
Metcalfe – the English PR man – moved to Symphony’s side and they had a whispered conversation after which she rose and followed Gabrielle.
This was not what was needed. We had to keep them all under surveillance, so leaving the others on deck, I followed Symphony. I found her near to the engine room of the launch and invited her to join me in my cabin and, although surprised, she agreed.
I kept the conversation light and inconsequential, much to her growing irritation. She was about to make her excuses and leave when the fire alarm sounded.
The cruiser was at the furthest point from the shore when the engine caught fire. Gabrielle was already on deck when Symphony and I rushed up from the cabin. Verdain was ordering everyone to abandon ship. Gabrielle and I jumped together into the ocean and we were lucky that the coastguard, alerted by the explosion of the launch, picked us all up so quickly from the sea and took us back to land.
With a shared urgency, Gabrielle and I hastened back to the apartment as soon as the police allowed us to. I can’t remember now if I expected to find Black waiting for us there, but he was there. My senses reeled at the sight of him.
“The Earthmen escaped,” Gabrielle told him. “I did as you ordered and started a fire in the engine room.”
I looked at her in wonder, although something within me already knew that she was the person responsible for the fire on the launch.
“Those people with Verdain are Spectrum officers,” Black replied. “But it is of no great importance. We expected Spectrum to try and protect him. You must not be distracted from your mission by their presence.”
“I understand,” Gabrielle replied, but I was not sure that I did and I looked at Black again for reassurance.
“Why…” I began, but Black turned his dark gaze on me and looked deep into my eyes. The confusion, the uncertainty and the desire to question, left me and I knew he was my master – my soul mate. For him, I would do anything.
When he looked away he continued:
“The Mysterons have decreed that you shall both have another chance to complete the mission. Tonight at the reception before the fashion show, you will assist me in kidnapping Andre Verdain and delivering him to the Mysterons.”
Gabrielle spoke, her voice impassive, despite the horror of her words: “I understood our orders were to kill Andre Verdain.”
Captain Black took the trouble to explain: “The Mysterons’ order must be obeyed. Spectrum will wonder if your failure means we will now leave Verdain alone. They may have dropped their guard as a consequence.”
Gabrielle nodded and I too now understood that the sabotage of the launch had merely been the opening gambit in the mission.
“So we have not finished the mission?” I asked. “Verdain will be killed?”
He looked directly at me and once again I felt the force of his personality dominating my self-conscious as no man had ever done before.
“The Mysterons have instructed you to obey me. Verdain will be taken tonight and we will drive him to a small island where he will tell us the names of every European Security Agent he controls. Then he will become a tool of the Mysterons and turn against the very organisation he served.”
“But Spectrum will know he has become a Mysteron agent,” I remarked.
“That does not concern you,” Black replied, with a glance that thrilled my soul, such is the power of his dark charisma to bind all Mysteron agents to the will of their masters. “You will obey me.”
“Of course I will,” I replied, willing at that moment to lay down my existence for this man.
His dark eyes met mine and I opened my soul to his gaze. Within the closeness of conspiracy there was nothing between us but the vastness of space.
Gabrielle was ready for the reception cocktail party before me. She chose to wear one of Verdain’s designs from last year, a rather severe tailored gown, with an ornate detail of worked silver at the neckline. For myself I chose a far more frivolous outfit, a pink satin under-gown with bright blue lace over it and a feathered neckline in matching pink – also by Verdain, of course. We travelled together and I knew that Gabrielle was watching me to make sure I did not give our plans away by a careless word or gesture. But she need not have worried, for I was prepared to give my all for Captain Black.
The cocktail party was well-attended, all four of the Spectrum agents were there, of course, forming an informal, yet secure cordon around Verdain as he stood alone watching the newcomers arrive. He waved a greeting to us and I responded, but we did not approach him. Gabrielle drew me with her to a place where we could keep Verdain under surveillance and watch what was happening all across the room. Her dour expression kept all but the bravest of party-goers away and those that did approach were soon discouraged by her unsociability and left us alone.
The time dragged as I waited for the mission to start and Gabrielle was cross with me, when I gazed with barely concealed anticipation towards the open window, through which Captain Black was to launch our attack on Verdain.
“Helga, concentrate,” she hissed. “The Mysterons’ orders must carried out. We must not fail this time.”
“Do you think he will be late?” I asked.
Gabrielle turned to me with incomprehension in her expression. “He is, as we are, the servant of the Mysterons. Beyond that our lives can have no purpose.”
“I know that,” I replied, although secretly I did not believe her. I felt sure the bond between Captain Black and myself was stronger than that.
“Go – distract the Spectrum agents,” Gabrielle ordered. “Try to separate them and distance them from Verdain. They must not be too watchful.”
Obediently, I went across the room and stood in front of the two Spectrum agents – the ‘PR’ man was wearing the camera around his neck now and the ‘photographer’ made no attempt to pretend he was working. I smiled, as I have smiled at many men before and in full knowledge that they would find it pleasing.
“Mr Svenson,” I purred, “would you get me a drink?”
“Of course,” he said cheerfully. He glanced at his friend. “See you.”
I felt uneasy alone with the Englishman and was relieved to see Gabrielle come to stand beside him. His attention focused on her and I fell silent as they conversed about Paris. It was not long before they were interrupted as Verdain took to the podium to begin his welcome speech.
I was nervous with excitement. Unnoticed by the Spectrum agents who were watching Verdain, Gabrielle had positioned herself by the light switches and I moved closer to the podium. I glanced at the window and as the breeze lifted the net drapes, I saw Captain Black outside.
“Verdain!” Metcalfe’s shouted warning came a moment too late and a shot rang out. Verdain dropped as the lights went out. There were confused shouts and exclamations, yet I could still see as clear as day.
I knew what I had to do and as Verdain sank to the floor, I half –lifted him and dragged him towards to the window, surprised at how easy a task it was.
“Get those lights back on!” I recognised the voice as that of the American Spectrum Agent.
I wondered why Gabrielle did not join me. Time was running out.
“Will someone switch those lights on?” Metcalfe’s voice was peremptory and authoritative.
Black hoisted Verdain into the window cleaner’s cradle that he had used to descend from the roof, and I clambered in beside him. He started the winch and we went down to the ground. Only once did I question him.
“She has played her part. She is of no importance.”
But I was – he had chosen me to go with him and help with Verdain and not my friend, even though she was the more dedicated Mysteron agent. I was overcome with delight and although hampered by the gown, I found the strength to lift Verdain and help Black carry him to the waiting car.
Above us the lights had finally come on in the reception salon.
We drove away from the hotel, leaving Gabrielle to her fate.
The road followed the coast and was steep cliffs on one side and a steep drop on the other. I thought we were clear away and safe:
“We have a good start. They’ll never find us,” I said with smug satisfaction.
I was sitting next to Black, with Verdain slumped against the passenger door – unconscious but alive. The Mysterons’ orders had been carried out to the letter. Above me, the open sunroof showed the moon-silver-edged clouds flying past as we sped towards our hideaway.
We were heading for one of the small islands off Hyères, a small private island, uninhabited except for Black, until now. I did not consider how we would get there, secure in the knowledge that my companion would have it under control.
Once there, we would be able to interrogate Verdain and complete our mission. I thought no further than that, had no ambition or concept of a future beyond the completion of our orders from the Mysterons. I never thought of what had become of those others, my friend included – murdered and recreated to work for their alien overlords – and what might become of me. I thought only of the man beside me and how pleased he would be with me for the way I had played my part.
My relief at our success was short-lived, however, for we heard the thrum of helicopter rotor-blades and realised that Spectrum was following us.
“How did they pick up our trail?” Black snarled. “Search Verdain, he must have a homing device on him.”
I began to search him, although I do not know what I could have done if I had found anything. The Spectrum helicopter had us in its sights and there was no way we would be able to shake them off.
Things grew worse.
“There’s a convertible behind and it’s gaining on us,” I told Black. He increased speed, racing round hairpin bends and blind corners, yet our pursuer continued to gain on us.
He gave me a pitiless stare. “We need Verdain alive. This should take care of the convertible.”
He drew something from his jacket pocket and stretched his arm through the window away from the car to drop it into the path of the following vehicle.
The convertible slewed across the road, swerving at the precipitate edge of the road and crashing into the scree at the foot of the cliff face.
“He’s crashed!” I cried in relief.
“Good,” Black replied with a sliver of hatred in his deep voice. “Now we must lose that helicopter and get to the island.”
I should have been wary of that emotion, but at the time I felt it was a hint that he could love, so I treasured the notion that it reflected his desire to get to the island where we would be safe.
Moments later the helicopter was both audible and visible through the sunroof, flying above the road.
“They’re still with us,” Black growled.
“They must be homing onto something.” I began to search Verdain again.
Black drove on, recklessly cutting corners and tearing along the narrow straights. For one brief moment brilliant lights reflected in the driver’s mirror before we took another bend.
“Can you see anything?” he demanded.
I stared back out of the rear window into the darkness. I was almost blinded by the powerful lights of a large vehicle racing in hot pursuit.
“It’s a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle,” I gasped, although I had never seen one before. “And it’s closing.”
“An SPV…” For the first time I sensed uncertainty in Black and turned to look at him.
Don’t fail me… I prayed silently. You are my lodestar, my rock… don’t fail…
I turned away to stare out of the windscreen. Ahead lay one of the many tunnels that had been bored through the sheer cliff face to allow the road to continue safely. It was long and twisting and meant we had to slow down.
As we came into sight of the tunnel’s end I saw the police car across both carriageways of the road. Search lights and armed guards.
“Look, the exit’s blocked.” I turned back to see the anger in his face. “We’re trapped.”
“Get rid of Verdain.”
He slowed down a little giving me time to heave the inert body through the open window and to tip it out on to the unyielding tarmac.
He was alive as I pushed him out. Spectrum would certainly stop for him.
The lights of the approaching SPV could be clearly seen in the distance. I turned to Black.
He drove slowly to the edge of the tunnel, so that the front seats were outside of the shielding canopy of the tunnel, but far enough away for the police to need to approach us with caution.
I was terrified. We were surrounded by enemies and our mission had failed. Verdain had escaped our control. Gabrielle was probably dead. I would be next.
Black sat stiff and silent, as if he was in a trance, his eyes staring into a distance beyond anything earthly.
Everything beyond the confines of the sedan shimmered and a thousand lights sparked in the greasy air. Nausea washed over me as I felt as if every nerve in my body was being stripped apart. I became weightless and the world began to seep into nothingness.
I thought I was dying.
We did not die. I know now that the Mysterons removed us from that place and brought us safely to where Spectrum cannot find us. Why they took me as well as Black I do not know, but I was happy to be with him. I had visions and hopes that there was a future for us and that, working together for the Mysterons, we would become as one soul.
I wanted nothing more.
That was all some time ago. I am not sure how long: the days here are numberless. I wait.
I wait until one day morphs into the next.
I wait while Black comes and goes on the orders of our masters. I have played some small part in a few missions, but I know I am not really trusted. It was not my fault and I have tried to say that to him and to them so many times.
Something failed when they Mysteronised me after the monorail crashed. I have retained some small spark of humanity that makes me forever question and doubt their ambitious plans.
Why? What good can it do if you kill one scientist; if you destroy one atomic liner; if you blow up one Incan temple?
Explain it to me!
Black has no doubts. He is their creature to the last fibre of his being; although there are times when they free him from the cocoon of their pitiless hatred and I see the shell of the man he was, wracked with guilt and self-loathing.
I no longer love him, nor do I wish to be loved by such as he.
We co-exist, hating and yet desperate for the scrap of companionship we can still give to each other – that frayed splinter of sympathy for a fellow sufferer.
My existence no longer has any meaning. Time stretches before me in an eternity of endless tedium while I wait for the day when the Mysterons finally tire of me and send me to the quiet oblivion that awaits all such as me – creatures of the Mysterons.
Perhaps then someone will find this and understand something of the living hell that is the lot of a Mysteron agent. And, if there is mercy in this universe, then I shall know peace.
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler, my indefatigable Beta Reader, and to Chris Bishop, Master (or should that be Mistress?) of the best Captain Scarlet website in the Universe…
Captain Scarlet isn’t mine, but I wish he was… Thanks to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for creating my favourite Fantasy World.
Thanks for reading. Have a Happy Halloween.