Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light…
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
(Tennyson In Memoriam A.H.H.)
“Very flat, Norfolk,” the young woman said, breaking the long, yet companionable, silence in the car.
Her companion sniggered. “We’re not in Norfolk.”
“Are you getting bored, Angel? Don’t worry, we’re nearly there,” he assured her.
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard of the sleek and comfortable car they had hired and nodded.
“Good; I could do with a cup of tea and possibly even a slice of cake.”
“After the lunch you had when we stopped in Cambridge?” He risked a glance at her. “You’ll never fit into your uniform when we get back to Cloudbase.”
“Ho-ho, funny man. Who, may I ask, had a starter and two desserts as well as the main course? Not to mention pigging all the sucky-sweets we bought to share…”
“I need sustenance so I can concentrate on my driving. You wouldn’t want me to collapse at the wheel through starvation and neglect, would you? Besides, what I had for my lunch is an irrelevance.”
“It was sheer greed, Paul Metcalfe,” she retorted, “coupled with a nauseating smugness because you know you never gain a pound.”
He laughed and she smiled with pleasure at the rich sound. He so rarely laughed out loud these days that she considered it a personal triumph if she managed to make him do it.
“Touché,” he admitted when he had regained his composure. He began slowing down as they approached a junction. “This looks like the one…”
“How can you tell? I haven’t seen a single identifying feature in the landscape for about an hour.”
“That’s because it’s been getting progressively darker for about an hour. Besides, the satnav says it is…”
“The same satnav that said that road in Cambridge wasn’t a one-way street… remember? You were lucky that traffic warden was susceptible to a little feminine charm.”
He made a sharp right turn onto an even narrower single-track road before he replied. “You were perfectly shameless… making out you were some hopelessly inept navigator with an out-of-date map.”
“It was out of date.” She could just read the signpost in the beam of the headlights and she read out, “Buresiart Parva, 3 miles. That’s the place, isn’t it?”
“Uh-huh. Buresiart St Jude is just beyond that.”
“There’s somewhere even more remote than a place that’s obviously in the middle of nowhere?”
“Apparently. Don’t say I never take you anywhere exciting…”
The road ahead was illuminated by the main beam of the car headlights; they were driving along a raised embankment and consequently it felt very narrow and exposed, although it had a faded white line down the middle, implying it was meant to take passing traffic in both directions. For much of the later stage of the journey all of the roads had been pencil straight with corners that were at right-angles, following the lines of the old dykes and drainage ditches. There had been little to see apart from the endless stretch of low-lying fields with distant clusters of trees and buildings against an endless horizon that met the steel-grey sky in an unwavering straight line.
Paul slowed down as they drove through the narrow main street of a tiny village clustered around an ancient stone-built church, to the stubby tower of which, in the long-distant past, the residents had added an incongruously elegant spire. The faded noticeboard announced it to be dedicated to St Sigebert.
“Tell me again, why did your cousin choose to get married here?”
Paul sighed. “Two reasons; I suspect. Partly because he’s fallen out with his father, which is, incidentally, why Mum set such a store on me agreeing to be the Best Man and the family’s official representative at the event, but mainly because his fiancée’s family live locally and her uncle is the rector here. He’s doing the service for them.” He glanced at her, adding, “And Daniel is my grandfather’s cousin’s grandson, not strictly my cousin at all.”
“He’s your grandfather’s first cousin twice removed which makes him your third cousin,” she explained. “I realised that when your mother was talking to me about it.”
“Oh, is he? You learn something new every day…” he muttered.
She ignored him and continued, “She said you saw a lot of him when you were children.”
Paul nodded. “We had chicken pox together. He’s about a year younger than me but he got it first and, as I hadn’t had it, he was shipped over to spend the summer at Longwood and pass on the germs. Despite that unfriendly act on his part, we got along fine. I saw him pretty regularly when we were growing up but we lost touch when I went to West Point and he went to Cambridge to read physics or something equally esoteric. Mum always said that he got all the brain power in the family gene pool and I think she hoped some of his intelligence would rub off on me if we spent enough time together.”
There was laughter in Dianne’s voice as she replied, “That’d never work! Look at all the time you’ve spent with Adam and it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference.”
“Well, thanks a lot, Angel…” Paul retorted, adding, “Oh, Adam and Daniel’d get on just fine, but for everyone else it’d be like Mastermind meets University Challenge twenty-four hours a day.”
She chuckled and peered ahead as they left the village behind them and headed for the next clump of dwellings, little more than a mile away. As they approached, she could make out the tower of a far more impressive church, standing on a slight incline that must’ve passed for a sizeable hill in this flat landscape. She gave a surprised gasp as they drove past and was still twisting her head to look at the church when the car slowed and turned into the short drive of a substantial detached house. It was, surprisingly, what she would class as a ‘new build’; probably turn of the century when the fashion was for developers to put up 5-bedroom detached houses that looked substantial enough but were in reality fairly flimsy and – in her opinion, coloured as it was by a life lived mostly in two architecturally important listed buildings - had all the character of a shoebox.
Paul pulled the car up in front of the detached double garage, turned the engine off and relaxed back into his seat.
“We’re here then?” she said.
“Yes. Another mission successfully completed.” He grinned at her.
“Are we stopping? Because if so, we’d better get out…”
Their arrival had obviously already been noticed by the residents. Floodlights came on, illuminating the driveway and making them both blink in the glare. In the distance a dog was barking hysterically. When the front door opened, Paul opened his car door.
“Paul!” the tall, dark-haired man advancing towards them exclaimed. “You’ve made good time!”
Paul got out, reaching to shake the man’s hand. “Hello, Danny. Good to see you.” He found himself enveloped in a bear hug which was only relaxed when they heard the other car door open.
“And this must be the captivating Lady Dianne I’ve heard so much about from Aunt Mary!”
“Hello, Mr Blake,” she replied from the other side of the car, as he hurried around to greet her.
“Daniel, or Dan if you prefer, please! I’m delighted to meet you at last, Lady Dianne.” He enthusiastically shook her hand in a firm grip.
“Dianne is fine, please – no formality between friends… Dan.”
“Wonderful, just wonderful! You’re a lucky man, Plod.”
“I know,” Paul replied. He gave Dianne a rather apologetic glance; he’d forgotten just how animated his cousin could be at times and wondered if she was as overwhelmed by his welcome as he was himself.
But Dianne was taking it all in her stride, as usual, smiling as Daniel tucked her arm under his and escorted her towards the door.
“You must be exhausted; it’s such a drive from Winchester. Were you at Winchester or have you come from town?”
“We stayed overnight in London, so I could see my parents,” she replied.
“Come on in, Plod. I’ll get the luggage, never mind that!” Daniel called over his shoulder. “I want you to meet Sophie and her Uncle Oliver. We’ll be eating in about an hour. Sophie’s parents are coming over too – a proper family affair!”
“How delightful,” Dianne murmured with every appearance of sincerity, as she was swept along into the house with Paul following behind, a bemused expression on his face.
Sophie Quantrell was even less like Dianne expected her to be than her fiancé. She was a tall woman, not much under 6 foot at a guess, with poker-straight golden hair, cut into a severe, short bob around her rather long, angular face. She was of a slender build and looked decidedly flat-chested dressed in a dark-red and navy-blue checked-shirt cinched at the waist with a leather belt, over faded denim jeans. Dianne noticed her long, thin arms as she held out a surprisingly large, almost masculine hand in greeting. Her voice and her smile were genuinely welcoming though and it was obvious, from the glance she gave her exuberant fiancé, that she was very fond of him.
“Welcome to Buresiart St Jude,” she said. “I know Daniel’s been looking forward to meeting you for a long time, Lady Dianne, and I’m pleased to have the chance to meet you both, at last. I’m delighted you’re both able to come to the wedding.” She reached out and shook Paul’s hand before turning to the other person in the room. “This is my uncle, Oliver Barker. This is his vicarage, which he’s kindly put at our service for the weekend, although, Daniel’s been living here for the necessary period to get the banns read, of course. It wouldn’t do for the celebrant to bend the rules.”
“Welcome to you both,” Oliver said, shaking their hands. “I hope you’ll be comfortable here.” There was a strong family resemblance between them, although his fair hair was thinning and his pale-blue eyes looked large through his metal-rimmed spectacles.
“Thank you, but we asked Daniel to book us into a local hotel or guest house so as not to cause any disruption,” Paul said in some confusion. “We aren’t expecting to stay here.”
“Nonsense,” Daniel said, as he came in carrying Dianne’s luggage. “We talked it over and agreed that as you’re the part of my family with the common sense, you are our guests of honour. Sophie goes home every night, of course, and so tonight she’ll go with her parents. I’m staying here with Ollie and there’s plenty of room for you two. What could be more neat and comfortable?”
“But-” Paul began.
“Plod, please, not another word. It’s all settled,” Daniel said. Oliver nodded while Sophie watched their guests with a thoughtful expression as her fiancé continued, “I’ve put Lady Dianne in the main guest room and I thought you could make do with the sun-lounger in the small box-room for a couple of nights. After all, you can’t expect a lady to rough it whereas a soldier like you…”
“Yes, Daniel, I understand, but that’s not really the issue,” Paul began, but his cousin took no notice.
“Fine! I’ll take your things up now, Lady… I mean, Dianne.” He gave her a huge grin and she found herself smiling in response. His boyish enthusiasm was undeniably infectious.
Oliver Barker went to lend a hand with unpacking the car and when they’d gone, Sophie apologised. “The guest room has a double bed, but… well, it’s Ollie’s house and his rules… I hope you understand?”
“Perfectly,” Dianne said before Paul could open his mouth and put his foot in it. “Please don’t give it a second thought, Sophie. Paul could do with a gentle reminder now and again that he ought to make an honest woman of me.” She caught her own fiancé’s astonished expression and winked.
“I sometimes wonder if Daniel isn’t as unworldly – if not even more so – than Oliver,” Sophie hinted, with a smile. “He’d be devastated to think he had disappointed you.”
“We won’t say a word; will we… Plod?” Dianne couldn’t restrain her amusement and burst out laughing at the whole preposterous situation.
In the face of such female determination not to upset the clerical apple cart, Paul shrugged and nodded.
“Not a blessed word,” he promised ruefully.
An hour later they were all sitting around the dining table consuming an excellent beef casserole with mounds of mashed potatoes and additional fresh vegetables. A short time before they sat down, Sophie’s parents had arrived in a battered and muddy Land Rover and greeted the visitors with as much warmth as the younger members of the family.
Mr Quantrell, a solidly-built, balding man with thin, gingerish hair and a ruddy, weathered face, had a bluff manner and a loud voice that made few concessions to the fact that they were indoors and he was not calling in his livestock.
“Call me Bob,” he instructed, “everyone does. They all know me around here as plain Bob Quantrell.” He shook Paul’s hand in a grip so tight the younger man suspected he might actually have crushed a couple of small bones in the process. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Paul.”
To Paul’s relief, Bob Quantrell came over all chivalrous in the presence of the diminutive Lady Dianne Simms and raised the young woman’s hand to his lips with a flourish.
“Welcome, welcome to Buresiart, my dear young lady.”
Dianne smiled up at him and thanked him for his welcome; from that moment it seemed that he was loath to leave her side and he upset his daughter’s meticulous seating plan by insisting that she sat beside him during dinner.
Mrs Quantrell was more like her daughter in appearance, pale and thin with an angular face; she was also more softly spoken than her husband, but none the less welcoming. Apparently she found it perfectly understandable that her husband should monopolise the elegant young aristocrat and contented herself with quizzing Paul about his family.
“Has your family been farming in the district long, Bob?” Dianne asked her new conquest during a lull in the conversation in-between the main course and the pudding of treacle sponge and custard.
“Generations untold, my dear. There were Quantrells here when the Cavaliers chased the Roundheads, when York pursued Lancaster, when the Normans subdued the Saxons and probably when the Romans marched north.”
“How fascinating. My grandfather undertook extensive research into our family history but no record of our name has been found before 1234. It’s believed to have originated in the Middle East with Crusader Knights.” She smiled at him and added, “Paul likes to rub that in by pointing out that his family name is Anglo-Saxon and that the Blakes – in a variety of spellings - go back to the 10th Century too.”
Bob Quantrell laughed heartily. “I don’t know that you’d find our name as it is now on any records going back nearly that far, my dear, but the bloodline’s been about as long as there was land to till.”
“Of course, and that’s what matters – the spirit of the place, not some dusty old parchment. I’m glad it’s the case, Bob, because perhaps you can clear up something that is rather a mystery to me,” Dianne continued, as she helped herself to a glass of barley water. “I can’t help wondering how such a … rural community as this comes to have such an impressive church. I’m really looking forward to seeing it clearly in the daylight tomorrow.”
“Ah, well; that’s a wool church, you see.”
Oliver chipped in to explain, “The de Valensis family were the local Medieval Lords of the Manor, and they made so much money from exporting the wool from their flocks out to the continent, that one of the daughters married a Mowbray.”
“Goodness,” Dianne said, feeling she was expected to appreciate the dramatic importance of this fact.
Oliver smiled and continued, “Presumably this gave them delusions of grandeur and they decided to build a great church that would form the family mausoleum and boast of their wealth and prestige for evermore. It was common enough at the time and this part of the world is blessed with a great many magnificent churches, all raised to the glory of God on the back of the humble sheep. Sadly, not even the Mowbrays could save the family from bankruptcy when the bottom fell out of the wool market, but mercifully, they had almost completed the church by then. The rest was completed by the Howards – albeit rather grudgingly.”
“It must cost a fortune to maintain,” Paul said pragmatically.
“Sadly, it does,” Oliver agreed, “but the local community does what it can to keep it standing. The parish has three churches, none quite as grand as St Jude’s, but all of them local build and all centres of thriving local communities. We’re planning to have a sponsored bell-ringing event here at St Jude’s on New Year’s Eve, to raise money to pay for urgent repairs of which, sadly, there are many.”
“You must let us sign up to sponsor you,” said Paul immediately.
“Are you having the bells rung for the wedding?” Dianne asked Sophie. “I love to hear them, it’s such a jubilant sound.”
“We are, indeed. We’re making a donation towards the fund-raising and the ringers are going to get some practise at the same time.”
“Plain Bob major,” Daniel said, with a broad grin.
“I beg your pardon?” Dianne said.
“That’s what they’ll be ringing,” Daniel explained.
Quantrell chuckled. “That’s right. Plain Bob major is one of the changes they’ll be ringing and it’s apt seeing that I’ve rung the bells myself at that church, man and boy.”
“But not this time?” Dianne smiled at him.
Robert Quantrell roared with laughter. “No, my dear, not this time. I shall be busy in the church itself this time!”
Dianne was tired long before the Quantrells were ready to return to their home. She bade them a quiet ‘goodnight’ and heard Mr Quantrell’s booming voice in the hallway instructing to Paul to ‘look after your young lady’.
Oliver went into the kitchen and Daniel was still outside saying his goodbyes when Paul wandered back into the sitting room. He crouched down before her chair and took her hand in his, reaching out to push back a strand of her long, red hair that had fallen across her cheek.
“Look at you, Angel, you’re half asleep already. Want me to carry you upstairs?”
She smiled at him, shaking her head. “You’ll shock the vicar. I’m okay, I just need a good night’s sleep. For some reason I didn’t get much sleep last night…”
“You should kick me out of bed if I make a pest of myself,” he said apologetically.
“I was having far too much fun…” She leant forward and pressed her lips to his in a gentle kiss. “But tonight you will have to get yourself to your virtuous sun-lounger and leave me to my dreams. If I’m representing your family I want to look my best at the wedding and I can’t do that on the few hours’ of uninterrupted sleep I’m getting every night.”
“Even looking far from your best, you’ll still be the most beautiful woman there,” he assured her, returning her kiss with passion.
“Naughty, Plod. No hanky-panky. Now, let me get up and make my goodnights… I will see you in the morning and not a moment before.”
“S.I.G., my Angel.”
Paul needed very little sleep, which was a good thing as the sun-lounger was quite possibly the most uncomfortable thing he’d ever been expected to sleep on. He rose as early as he could, threw on some clothes and went out for a run even though it was still dark and cold. He jogged along to the church and back towards the neighbouring village with its strange little church and then out towards the main road.
It was nice to be out in the open, even on such a dismal morning. The almost perpetual sunlight on Cloudbase had its disadvantages and he’d always rather liked the early dark of winter mornings just before dawn. He turned and sprinted back through the village and along towards St Jude’s. It was light enough now for him to see the detail of the decorated arches and the delicate tracery of the flying buttresses. The tower was square and rose into four ornate points; from the centre rose a metal weathercock. About two-thirds of the way up the solid tower there were slats in the stonework, providing openings for the sound of the bells.
Paul was admiring the craftsmanship that had gone into the building in the days when brute force and faith was all you had, when a flickering light inside the church caught his attention. It moved along the chancel and vanished shortly before the door opened and a figure stepped out. Paul moved forward cautiously; it was second nature for all Spectrum agents to be alert to any chance that there was something wrong – however innocuous the venue or the event. They had learnt quickly that the Mysterons were no respecters of social niceties.
He waited in the shadows to see who would emerge.
There were two men. One was a dark figure, dressed in a long, heavy overcoat with the collar turned up, which partly hid his face. He stopped for a moment and stared across the churchyard in Paul’s direction, then with a slight shrug, turned and walked away from the path, disappearing round the side of the church and into the graveyard beyond. The other man was dressed in a loose-fitting cloak or coat, muffled about the head with a scarf. He walked purposefully down the path towards the Lytch Gate where Paul was standing. Almost sure who it was, Paul stepped out into the path as he approached.
“Good grief, Paul! You gave me a surprise,” Oliver Barker said, as he came to a sudden halt.
“Sorry, Vicar. I wasn’t sure you were someone who had the right to be in the church at this hour. I didn’t want the wedding to be ruined by the police delaying things while they searched for clues about who pinched the candlesticks. Who was that other man you were talking to?”
“The other man? Oh…oh, you mean Dino? He’s just passing through. I suppose you’d call him a tramp. I met him the other day in the village when it was pouring with rain. He was looking work locally and for somewhere to stay, but he had no money to speak of and so I said he could stay in the vestry until it was his day to collect his dole money. It was such foul weather that it was the least I felt I could do. I gave him some blankets and I’ve provided some food every day and he’s been paying for his very basic accommodation by doing some minor repairs around the church and tidying the graveyard. Nice enough man, if a little taciturn; but these days people are so chary of getting involved with something unsavoury that they’re suspicious of all strangers. Especially in a rural place like this where everyone knows everyone else.”
Paul nodded at what was a perfectly reasonable explanation, but the uneasy feeling lingered even so.
“What are you doing out this early?” Barker asked a little suspiciously.
“Let’s just say that your sun-lounger is not conducive to a good night’s sleep and I’m used to getting up early, so, I thought I’d run the cobwebs out of my head.”
Barker gave a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry about that. I did wonder if Daniel’s idea was the best we could do.”
“Oh, please, don’t concern yourself; I’m fine and it’s only for a couple of nights. Can I be of any help to you, now I’m here?” Paul asked, as they approached the vicarage.
“No, but thank you. I’m afraid I must go to one of the outlying farms. An elderly parishioner is not expected to live much longer and her family have asked me to go and pray with them all. I should be back in an hour or so. Please, help yourself to whatever you want in the house.”
“Thank you. I don’t envy you that job, Vicar.”
Oliver placed a hand on Paul’s shoulder and said kindly, “We all do what we can in this life, Paul. You prevent crime and administer justice according to the law, while I try to alleviate suffering.”
With that he left to start his battered old car and backed out of the drive and turned away from the village out into the nameless lanes that connected the isolated farms and hamlets.
Paul shivered uncomfortably as he raised a hand in farewell. The morning air was damp and he had raised a sweat on his run, but he realised that the discomfort he was feeling had nothing to do with that. “Must’ve had too much treacle pud last night,” he muttered, as he turned and went back indoors to put the kettle on. A nice cup of tea might help calm his unsettled digestion.
The sunlight streamed in through the Promenade Deck’s glass wall and Captain Grey had to squint in order to see if the person he was looking for was here. He shaded his eyes and peered towards the panoramic window where he could see two figures sitting on the low containing wall, deep in conversation.
“Captain Blue?” he called out, advancing towards the couple.
One of them turned. “What is it Captain Grey?” he asked, swivelling round completely and standing up.
“Sorry to barge in on your free time, Captain, but Colonel White’s asking for the report on the last mission you and Scarlet undertook – to Bogotá? It doesn’t seem to be on the database and I’ve looked on the EDRMS but I can’t find it.”
It was obvious from Captain Blue’s tone that he was irritated by this request. “Scarlet was supposed to have posted it before he went on leave.”
With an apologetic shrug, Grey asked, “Are you sure he wrote it?”
“Oh yes; I stood over him and watched him write it. The days of him leaving it up to me to write all the reports are over.”
“You’ve said that often enough before,” Grey recalled, with a wry smile.
Blue heaved a deep sigh. “I suppose I’ll have to check the shared drive and see if it’s there and where he posted it to…”
“I’ve checked where I could. I didn’t want to disturb you,” Grey said, apologetically.
“It’s okay, Captain. I was going to get something to eat in a few minutes anyway.” Blue turned back to his former companion and called over his shoulder. “Catch you soon, Cerise. Let me know how that you get on with that new Ultra-Tech board, it sounds interesting.”
“Sure thing, Captain,” the young Australian lieutenant called back, raising a hand in farewell. “I’ll give you the low-down when I get back from the Gold Coast.”
“Another surfing vacation? Does that young man ever go anywhere else?” Grey asked conversationally, as they left the Promenade Deck.
“No, why should he? The lucky bastard has perfect surfing beaches on his doorstep…”
“Not quite what I meant,” Grey murmured, as they descended the escalator.
Blue was about to answer when both men froze. The base wide Tannoy crackled and the emotionless voice of the Mysterons echoed around Cloudbase.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE ARE PEACEFUL BEINGS AND YOU TRIED TO DESTROY US. YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE ATTACKED OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX. IT WILL BE USELESS FOR YOU TO RESIST OUR REVENGE AND WE KNOW OF YOUR PATHETIC ATTEMPTS TO DEFEND YOURSELVES. YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED. YOU WILL NEVER LEARN THE SECRETS OF THE MYSTERONS. THE SCARLET ASSIGNMENT FACES DESTRUCTION.
“We shouldn’t let him off Cloudbase unsupervised,” Captain Ochre protested, “it only causes us more work.”
“Us? I haven’t seen you do a stroke more than usual,” Captain Magenta retorted.
“I’m going to have to do some now, aren’t I?” Ochre reasoned.
The four colour captains were in the Conference Room awaiting the arrival of Colonel White. Grey and Blue sat listening to the familiar bickering between Ochre and Magenta with vague amusement; the two Americans were close friends yet whatever one said the other invariably challenged or contradicted, but Heaven help the man who came between them.
Melody Angel was the Duty Angel and she was grinning at Ochre in apparent disbelief. “You, do some work? Why did no one tell me Hell had frozen over?” she teased.
“What is this? Gang Up On Ochre Day?” the captain protested but without rancour.
“We’re just getting our retaliation in early,” she explained cheerfully. “It’s good to strike first for once.”
They all got their feet as the automatic door slid open and Colonel White marched in, Lieutenant Green close behind.
“You will have heard the threat,” the colonel said briskly. They all nodded. “Lieutenant Green’s tried to raise Scarlet on his Spectrum communicator but without success. What’s he doing, Captain Blue, and where’s he gone?”
Blue shrugged. “He and Rhapsody are going to a family wedding, sir. In East Anglia, I think he said.”
“It’s a big place, Captain, can’t you be more specific?” White asked.
“Burzart Parlour, I think. At least, that’s what it sounded like.”
The colonel’s lips compressed into a thin line.
“Checking now, sir,” Green murmured.
“Have you any idea what they might mean by this reference to the Scarlet Assignment, Captain?”
Blue shook his head. “No, sir. I know he’s going to be the Best Man at the wedding. The groom’s his cousin of sorts, Daniel Blake, and the bride’s name is Sophie – but I don’t think he ever told me her family name, sir; he may not even know it. His mother … asked him to go and represent the family because, apparently, there’s been some sort of falling out amongst the Blakes – not an unusual circumstance, according to Scarlet – and Daniel’s parents have declined their invitation. I think the General and Mrs Metcalfe weren’t sure they’d be able to go themselves due to some previous army commitment? I’d sort of lost the thread of it all by then, sir, but I understood that his mother was organising for Paul to go in their place… so it might be considered his assignment… from her… I suppose?”
“Very possibly, Captain,” White said with an edge of concern in his voice.
“Maybe the Mysterons have got to his cousin?” Ochre mused aloud.
“Is his cousin in the military?” White asked Blue. The American shrugged.
“I don’t think so, sir. From what I can recall, he’s a year or so younger than Paul – Captain Scarlet - and the family consider him to be something of an eccentric genius because he read some sort of science at Cambridge rather than follow any of the family’s usual career paths. There’s nothing to say he didn’t get involved with the military after that, of course; so many of the family have done so in the past.”
“Have you tried to raise Scarlet on his personal mobile phone, Captain?”
“No, sir, not yet. I can try now, if you want?” The colonel nodded as Blue dug his personal cell phone out of his uniform pocket. “It’ll depend on what time it is in England, of course; I mean, he won’t have it on if he’s asleep or in the church.”
“One of the girls will know Rhapsody’s cell phone number, Colonel,” Melody said. “If she and Scarlet are together at this wedding, maybe we can get hold of her?”
White nodded. “Make the attempts, but in the meantime, Lieutenant, see if you can get me Mrs Metcalfe on the phone. It’s possible she’ll be able to shed more light on the matter, even if it’s only to verify where the ceremony’s being held.”
Blue, pressed the speed dial and waited. There was a click, a ringing tone and then a discreet bleep before an automated voice was heard saying: The number you have dialled is not available. Please try again later.
Blue shook his head at the colonel. “Sorry, sir, there doesn’t appear to be a signal or he’s got the phone switched off for some reason.”
Melody looked up from the base intercom terminal and replied. “Symphony’s tried calling Rhapsody, sir, but she’s not answering either.”
“Maybe they’re already at the wedding?” Grey suggested.
Colonel White glanced at the clock and pursed his lips. “It’s a bit early for that, Captain.”
“Maybe they’re… otherwise occupied…” Ochre said, with a playful wink at Melody.
“No doubt,” Colonel White replied, taking the suggestion at face value. “But the question is, occupied with what?”
Before the colonel could react, Lieutenant Green reported that the Metcalfe family’s phone number was going straight to an answering machine.
“I don’t like this; all three of the contact numbers are non-responsive. It’s early so where on earth can Mrs Metcalfe and the General be?” Colonel White glanced across the conference table at Blue and Grey and said decisively, “Get down there and see what’s happening. Do whatever it takes to protect Rhapsody Angel and bring her and Scarlet back here. Melody Angel, I want you to see if you can contact the Metcalfes. Someone must know where they are. If you have no success after you’ve tried the military, you have authority to fly down to Winchester, if necessary.”
“S.I.G.,” Blue said, already standing to leave.
“Yes, sir, Colonel,” Melody replied.
Captain Grey fell in beside Blue as they made their way quickly to the elevator that connected the Control Tower to the hangar bays.
“Where’re we heading for?” he asked.
“Mildenhall Base,” Blue replied, glancing at his personal computer just as Lieutenant Green filed the flight plan. “From there we’ll drive to Burzat Parlour. Always assuming Melody can contact Mrs Metcalfe and she can tell us where exactly that is…”
Paul washed the shampoo from his hair and reached out for the flannel to wipe the suds from his eyes. His hand groped about without making contact, until someone pushed the flannel into his hand.
He wiped his face and glanced up, smiling his thanks. Dianne was standing in the guest room’s en-suite bathroom wearing a pinkish towelling dressing gown. She hung her bath-towel on the heated rail and said:
“You’d better get a move on. You still need to shave.”
“You could’ve scrubbed my back for me; that’d’ve saved time,” he replied, grinning at her.
“No it wouldn’t. I’ve fallen for that opening line before, Paul Metcalfe…”
“Did I hear my phone ring just now?” he asked cheerfully, changing the subject.
“I don’t know. I had the radio on.”
He shrugged. “Oh well, if it’s important they’ll call back.”
“Probably your mother making sure we were here and hadn’t forgotten the presents.”
“She’s never trusted me to get things right. That’s why she insisted we come a day early and have a wedding rehearsal. She even vetted my Best Man’s speech.” He gave her a conspiratorial wink. “Well, she vetted the version of my speech I gave her to vet.”
“You so enjoy living dangerously, don’t you?” Dianne asked, amused at the mischievous grin on his face.
He chuckled. “I’ll call her before we set out for the church.”
“Make sure you do,” Dianne replied. “I don’t want her fretting. She’ll be busy getting ready for your Christmas-cum-birthday bash when we go back to Winchester. She’s setting great store by it, it seems.”
“I’m rarely at home for either celebration these days. I hope she doesn’t get too carried away. This close to Christmas people tend to be booked up and she’s not giving them much notice. She’ll be disappointed if everyone cries off suffering from too much pre-planned festive cheer.”
Dianne smiled and turned to leave. “She’s made them all swear that they’ll be there, on pain of banishment from Longwood forever. Even my parents have been roped in. Daddy will follow us when we drive down on Monday and Mummy’s bought a new cocktail dress just to do the occasion justice.”
“Oh, good grief. A real gathering of the clans… I could almost wish for an emergency recall to Cloudbase.”
“No you couldn’t, Paul!” she exclaimed, turning to frown at him over her shoulder. “You’ll enjoy yourself when it’s all happening.”
“I’ll enjoy seeing Mum enjoy herself,” he admitted. “She’s been aching to show Longwood off to your parents for ages; keeping up with the Simmses is her new hobby.”
Dianne laughed. “Get dressed quickly, or you’ll miss the rehearsal and mess up the wedding, so your mother’ll make you spend the festive season in the dog house.”
“Now there’s an idea…”
“Paul Metcalfe, don’t you even think about it!”
Downstairs the house was surprisingly quiet. Daniel was still in his dressing gown, munching on burnt toast and sipping tea from a large mug. As Paul walked into the kitchen, he glanced up from his book, which was resting against the carton of orange juice in front of him, and grinned.
“Hi, Plod; sleep well?” he asked.
“No, I did not. I suspect that that sun lounger is a relic from the Spanish Inquisition and was designed to have knobs and sharp edges in the exact places that come into contact with any poor soul daft enough to try and lie on it.”
Daniel laughed. “Cramp your style, did it?”
“You might say that. Actually, I gave up trying to lie on it hours ago and went for a long run round and about. I saw Oliver leaving the church. He said he had to go to visit a sick parishioner, but would be back in time for the rehearsal.”
“That’s been happening a lot recently. He takes his clerical duties very seriously and he’s on call 24:7 these days, since they amalgamated three parishes into one.”
“Tough call,” Paul said, sitting down opposite his cousin and reaching for the butter to apply it liberally on his own slice of toast. “I told him I didn’t envy him his job. Can’t be easy.”
“It’s a vocation, I guess,” Dan replied. “He takes the rough with the smooth – as we all have to do at times. You must face death on a regular basis, Paul; I couldn’t do that.”
“More then you can imagine,” Paul replied, “but thankfully, I haven’t lost a close friend or comrade for some years. That’s why we spend so much time training for all eventualities, of course, but how do you train to sit beside a deathbed, offering whatever solace you can to grieving family and friends?”
“Some people find they have no alternative but to try and do just that,” Dianne said quietly. She’d come into the room without either man noticing and caught the tail-end of their conversation.
Paul looked up and saw a shadow of an immeasurable sadness on her beautiful face. He reached out his hand and grasped her delicate fingers firmly, giving a gentle squeeze.
“So they do and it’s always appreciated,” he said to her.
There had been more times than he could count since his Mysteronisation when he’d been severely wounded or had died on a mission and he knew that on such occasions Captain Blue and Rhapsody Angel spent much of their free time sitting by his bedside in the high-tech Sick Bay on Cloudbase, waiting anxiously for signs that his retrometabolism had not failed him. Try as he might, he could never remember what happened to him during these periods but, as he started to regain consciousness he would strain to hear the familiar and much-loved voices of his friends, as if they were outstretched hands waiting to haul him back to safety.
Daniel glanced from one to the other. He was confused at Paul’s statement but unwilling to pry into what he could see was a matter of personal significance between them. Instead, he stood, drawing the edges of the dressing gown around his thin frame and said:
“I’d better get dressed; I want to be ready when Oliver gets back. Sophie should be here in another 30 minutes or so and then we’ll go over to the Church, if you like? There are parts of the ceremony we can rehearse without Ollie, I’m sure. And we can show you round; it’s an impressive place.”
“I’d like that; thank you, Dan,” Dianne said, breaking the intense gaze she was sharing with Paul to turn and smile at his departing figure.
Once alone with Paul, she sat down beside him and took one half of the slice of toast from his plate.
“I’m sorry, Paul,” she said quietly, “I shouldn’t be reminding you about such things.”
“It’s okay, Angel; I understand the price my friends pay for my unique ‘gift’ – if you can call it that.”
“The gift is you, Paul. We know what you do to protect us all and the price you pay. I simply meant that you have so few chances to get away from it all, darling, that I shouldn’t be dragging the topic up when you do.”
“The real miracle in all this is that you can still love me, Di. I owe you and Adam my sanity and without you both, I’d be a basket case. You know that, don’t you?”
She leant across and kissed him softly. “You are the most rational man I know…”
“But… wait a minute, I thought you knew Adam?” he teased, a twinkle of amusement sparkling in his sapphire-blue eyes.
She chuckled. “You’re as bad as each other,” she chided him. “But for now, we should avoid the subject, especially when we’re in company.”
“Right, as ever, my Angel.”
They finished their breakfasts in a leisurely pace and sat talking about their mutual friends until Paul’s sharp hearing picked up the scrunch of tyres on the gravel drive outside. He glanced out of the window and saw Sophie Quantrell pulling up in a small hatchback.
“I hope Oliver will be back in time,” Dianne remarked, as they heard Sophie’s key in the lock. “Hopefully that parishioner’s not as bad as he expected.”
They rose to greet Sophie and explained where her uncle was as Dan bounded down the stairs and kissed his fiancée.
“We can still show Paul and Dianne the church and let them get familiar with it before we practice the wedding though, can’t we, Soaf?” Dan said. “I’m sure Ollie will be back as soon as he’s able.”
“He said there was a tramp sleeping in the vestry,” Paul remarked. “He might still be there.” He had not lost his vague feeling of uneasiness about the mysterious man he’d seen talking to Oliver that morning but Sophie didn’t seem surprised.
“Oliver’s known around here to be a soft touch,” she explained. “He’s always ready to offer a handout or give someone a roof over their head. That man’s probably cursing his luck that he turned up when Ollie had guests; most of these unfortunates get housed here in the vicarage.”
“I bet they don’t have to sleep on the sun-lounger either,” Paul muttered darkly, and everyone laughed.
On the short walk over to the church Sophie, with interruptions from Dan, gave them a potted history of the building and drew their attention to the external architectural features.
“Was there ever stained glass in the windows?” Dianne asked. “The plain glass looks right, somehow, but so many of these lovely churches did have remarkable stained glass.”
“There was, but it got destroyed in the 16th and 17th centuries. This area was strongly Protestant, even Puritan, and the iconoclasts had a field day with churches like St Jude’s. We’re lucky so much of the interior survived,” Sophie explained.
“And that the area was too poor to employ the Victorian arts and crafts movement to come and put in long-limbed Pre-Raphaelite angels and saints with flowing locks and lugubrious eyes,” Dan added.
“Oh, I rather like Pre-Raphaelite art,” Dianne protested, as they walked up the gentle incline to the main entrance.
“Our angels are much better,” Dan enthused and led her by the hand into the church nave. “Look!” he exclaimed dramatically, pointing upwards.
Dianne followed his pointing finger and gasped. The church had a wooden hammerbeam roof, decorated on each side with pairs of apparently life-sized angels hovering parallel to the floor, as if watching the congregation. Each one carried a different object including chalices, candles and prayer books.
“How wonderful!” Dianne gasped.
“Of course, they’d have been painted in somewhat garish colours – or possibly gilded – originally. The Medieval population didn’t have quite as much ascetic good taste as we like to think we do. You can see some roofs that have been restored – usually by the Victorians - or even some where the original paint hasn’t quite vanished yet,” Dan explained.
“Those angels would have given me the heebie-jeebies as a child,” Paul confessed, as they walked along the nave, staring upwards at the impassive faces staring down at them. “We can see you, Master P. C. Metcalfe! Stop munching illicit extra strong mints during the sermon and reading your comic under the pew, or we’ll send you straight to the Infernal Regions!” he intoned sternly, making the others chuckle.
“Were you really such a little heathen?” Dianne asked.
“A sad case,” Paul admitted readily before trying to look abashed.
“You’d better not start crunching mints in one of Oliver’s sermons,” Sophie warned him. “He has hearing a bat would envy.”
“I’ll be good,” Paul promised. “I’ve got quite nice manners now I’m all grown-up. Well,” he added after a slight pause, “almost all grown-up; my mother still thinks of me as ten years old, I’m sure.”
“Aunt Mary has never quite got used the idea that ‘her boys’ have grown up, has she?” Dan remarked, smiling broadly. “Whenever I speak to her on the phone she still calls me ‘Danny-dear’ and I half-expect to her ask if I’ve washed behind my ears this morning.”
“I do hope she and your father manage to get to the wedding, Paul,” Sophie said, “I’m dying to meet her.”
“I thought they couldn’t come?” Paul said in surprise.
Daniel explained, “So did we; but the other day just before you arrived, Aunt Mary rang to say that there was an outside chance they’d be able to get here in time on Saturday for the actual wedding and would it be okay if they came? Well, I said ‘yes’ to that, of course.”
Paul grimaced. “You don’t think Mum’s trying to sweet-talk your father into coming, do you? You know what an inveterate peacemaker she is.”
“I wish her luck if she is,” Dan replied, sighing with frustration. “Never mind wild horses, it’d take the entire personnel of every World Security Force and Spectrum to get Dad here. Since Mum died he’s been like a bear with a sore head and nothing I do is ever right.”
He turned and hugged Sophie clumsily. “But he’s wrong about me and Soaf getting married. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me!”
Sophie disengaged herself gently and explained, “Mr Blake thinks Dan needs to get a proper job that’ll enable him to support a wife and family before he gets married. He doesn’t know that Dan has a proper job, of course.”
“Doing what?” Paul asked. He was sure that if Dan did have a job, his mother would have told him about it and he was equally sure that she hadn’t.
“Can’t really tell you, Plod – sorry. Government work - you know what I mean.”
“Top-secret-mad-scientist stuff?” Paul said genially.
“More or less,” Dan admitted.
“ ‘Nuff said,” Paul replied, with a wink. “Keeping secrets runs in this family.”
They had walked up to the altar and stood looking down the impressive nave towards the door. As they stood there, it started to open and a man walked in.
“Ollie?” Sophie called.
The man halted suddenly and shrank back into the shadows as he realised he was not alone.
“Sorry, Miss,” he mumbled and hurried out of the church.
“Who was that?” Dianne asked,
“Probably the tramp,” Dan replied.
“So, where’s Ollie?” she said, glancing at her wristwatch. “He’s awfully late. I’m going to call Vale Farm and see if he’s left yet.”
She went into the vestry to use the old-fashioned landline phone there. After a few minutes’ conversation she came back to the others looking concerned.
“Any luck?” Dan asked.
“There’s no answer but I didn’t let it ring for too long, you can’t know if something’s happening, to Mrs Ranson I mean, and then they wouldn’t answer, of course. But you saw him this morning, didn’t you, Paul? And that’s where he said he was going?”
“He didn’t say where, only that he was going to see a parishioner who was not expected to live much longer,” Paul corrected her.
“That’d be old Mrs Ranson, it must’ve been,” Sophie explained. “He’s been going there for the past few weeks since she came home from the Infirmary.” She suddenly turned to Daniel, the colour draining from her cheeks. “Now I come to think of it, when I drove past Vale Farm this morning, there was no sign of anyone there. No lights on and no cars in the yard – even Oliver’s. Ollie wouldn’t go to the Infirmary with them, I’m sure he wouldn’t. Oh Dan, he must’ve had an accident; that old car of his isn’t up to much. We must go and see if we can find him.”
“You’re going nowhere,” Paul said firmly. “I think you and Dianne should stay here in case he turns up and, maybe, you could ring a few places Oliver might’ve gone. Even try the hospitals and police stations – you know the drill, Angel.” Dianne nodded. “Dan and I will go in my car and search the roadside for any signs of an accident. You know the way, don’t you, Dan?”
“It’s on the way to the Quantrells’ farm,” his cousin said.
Paul nodded. “When we get to the farm we’ll call here – give me a note of the number, Sophie. Thanks. We’ll find him if he’s out there. Come on, Dan, we’ll take some blankets and a flask of hot tea from the vicarage before we set out, just in case there needed.”
Dan started for the doorway and Paul smiled reassuringly at the two young women. “Not to worry, we’ll find him safe enough. You look after her, Di.”
“Of course, we’ll be fine. It’s a nuisance the mobile signal is so weak here, but let us know as soon as you find out anything, won’t you, Paul?”
“Sure thing, Angel. See you soon.”
As he turned and hurried after Daniel, the two women left alone in the church turned towards each other, almost identical expressions of mingled pride and concern on their faces.
Sophie sat at the old wooden desk in the vestry making a series of phone calls with the view of tracking down her uncle. Dianne was occupied making a list of hospital telephone numbers and local police numbers from a tatty telephone directory, so that they could widen their search if Sophie exhausted the numbers on Oliver’s telephone pad without learning anything useful, which was looking increasingly likely.
The room was not particularly small, but felt as if it was due to the clutter of obsolete or broken bits of furniture it contained. There was a collapsible camp bed standing against one wall with a pile of blankets neatly folded on top of it. A small, grubby refrigerator took up one corner and on the outside wall a stained wooden table stood beside a basic sink with a single tap. On that was an old electric kettle amidst a jumble of tea caddies, coffee jars, mismatched mugs and teaspoons. The windows were high and small and the only light was a single bulb hanging down from the middle of the ceiling on a long, peeling - and therefore almost certainly lethal –white plastic-covered flex.
As Sophie hung up the phone again she turned to Dianne and sighed.
“That’s the final number on the list. I suppose we’re going to have to call the hospital now?”
Dianne glanced at her watch. “Let’s give the boys a little longer to get back to us; only having the one phone means they might have difficulty getting through if we’re on the line all the time. Let’s make a cup of tea and then, if we haven’t heard that they’ve traced Oliver, we’ll make a start on the other numbers.”
Sophie nodded. “You’re right, there’s no point bothering until we know he isn’t at the farm or anywhere else local.”
She stood and started to fill the kettle at the tap while Dianne continued checking the telephone numbers of potential contacts who might have knowledge of the vicar’s whereabouts.
They were sitting drinking the tea when they heard a noise out in the church. With a hopeful expression on her face Sophie put her mug down and started to move towards the nave.
Dianne was less sanguine and she reached out to grab her friend’s arm. “Let me go first,” she said.
Sophie looked at her in surprise and Dianne tried to explain without revealing her instinctive wariness that came from personal experience of the Mysterons’ frequent involvement with people who went ‘missing’.
“If it is… I mean, it might be bad news…” She left the sentence unfinished as Sophie’s face went pale.
“We’ll go together,” Sophie said with surprising firmness, and grasped Dianne’s hand. “And thank you for being so sweet, Di.”
The women went to the door and peered out into the gloomy church. Sophie instinctively looked towards the altar. There was a figure there – a man – but it quite clearly wasn’t the vicar.
“Oh, it’s you, Dino,” she called across the church. “I thought it might’ve been Oliver. Have you seen him? He ought to have been here for the wedding rehearsal and there’s no sign of him. Paul – one of our guests – saw him while he was out running this morning and said you were speaking to him. Did he say where he was going?”
The man turned slowly, and as the sullen winter light from the clear windows caught his sallow face, Dianne gasped in recognition.
“Captain Black!” She turned to her companion and said urgently, “Get out, Sophie, get out of here while you can! Run! And don’t stop!”
The SPJ touched down at Mildenhall amidst tight security. Spectrum’s equipment caused a lot of interest wherever it went and, given that so much of it was top secret, a security detail was waiting for them as they taxied into a hangar.
The sergeant in charge saluted Grey and Blue as they disembarked and informed them that a local ground base had sent a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle for their use.
“An SPV; isn’t that overkill?” Grey muttered to Blue, as they were escorted across the tarmac towards a distant shed where the vehicle was waiting. “I mean we don’t want to broadcast the fact that we’re here to rescue Scarlet and Rhapsody, or make it too easy for any Mysteron agent to spot us and follow us.”
“Given that we don’t know where we’re going, I reckon Rhapsody and Scarlet are pretty safe,” Blue replied gloomily. He had contacted Cloudbase just before they landed and Lieutenant Green had had to admit that they hadn’t been able to contact the Metcalfes and that ‘Burzat Parlour’ remained an unidentified location.
On impulse Blue asked the sergeant, “Hey, buddy; have you heard of a place around here called Burzat Parlour – or something like that?”
The man, a local born and bred, grinned. “Americans never get it right,” he said. “I reckon you mean Buresiart Parva.”
“You mean there is such a place?” Grey asked in astonishment. “And what’s a Parva?”
“Damned if I know,” the sergeant replied amiably, “but there’s definitely a Buresiart Parva, my son and his partner rented a place there last year because it was cheaper than renting in the town. The journey was too much over the winter though, so they moved. It’s about fifty miles from here.”
“Fifty miles? That won’t take us long,” Blue said, much happier now.
“You going in that?” the sergeant asked, indicating the SPV. The captains nodded. “It’ll take you a while then; that’s a big tank to be taking down some of these roads around here, Captain. You meet any tractors and you’re in for a slow drive because you’ll never get that past them.”
“Just watch me…” Blue vowed, as he activated the automatic codeword controlled lock and the heavy doors opened allowing the elevator-controlled seats to descend to ground level.
“That’s a fancy machine, all right, I’ll say that for it,” the sergeant said, as Blue and Grey strapped themselves in on either side of the SPV and the winch started to lift them inside, so the doors could slide shut. “Good luck, Captains. I hope you find who you’re looking for.”
“So do I,” Grey muttered in reply.
Daniel drove the car slowly along the narrow road heading towards the Ransons’ farm, zigzagging across the road to scan the ditches that ran on either side of the shallow embankment. There had been no sign of the vicar or his car back at the house or through the streets of the hamlet; Daniel had taken a quick diversion past the only pub in the place, which also acted as the shop and post office, in case anyone had seen Oliver that morning, but no one could be of any help.
The fields beyond the embankment ditches had been ploughed and the dark, wet soil ran in straight ridges and furrows giving the landscape a uniform appearance that became mesmerising after a while. Paul had to concentrate on the nearest fields and not allow the long furrows to lead his gaze into the distance.
“We’re about two-thirds of the way to the Ransons’ farm now,” Daniel remarked, “and there are no signs of an accident. I hope the girls have had better luck and even now are sitting laughing at the thought of us out here still searching.”
“Hmm,” Paul said absently.
Since his Mysteronisation he had on several occasions experienced a nauseous sensation when in the presence of Mysterons. But, as Captain Blue had often remarked, this sixth sense could not be relied on and there were notable instances when it had not been triggered by someone who had later turned out to have been a Mysteron agent. So now he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe that the chances of Oliver being found fit and well were anything but slight.
Every one of Spectrum’s elite, colour-coded officers had developed acute instincts for spotting danger and they were all too aware that the Mysterons’ incessant malevolence didn’t stop just because you happened to be on leave. So, however hard you tried to suppress your instincts when in civilian company, the chances were you wouldn’t be able to. Right now, loud alarm bells were ringing in Captain Scarlet’s psyche.
He continued to scan the surroundings as the car crawled along and then, in the distance he caught sight of something that did not look as if it ought to be there.
“Pull over in about 50 yards, Dan. There’s something in the ditch at the foot of the embankment to that field,” he said.
“That doesn’t sound good,” his cousin replied, speeding up a little and pulling in where Paul indicated.
“Stay here,” Paul instructed. “I’m going to take a look.” He jumped out of the car and slithered down the bank and over the ditch to what he could now see all too clearly was an overturned car.
Dan had ignored his orders and followed him. He cried out in shock and dismay as he recognised the car. “That’s Ollie’s! Is he still in there?”
“Stay back!” Paul ordered, but Dan took no notice. He rushed towards the car, so that Paul had to tackle him and bring him to a standstill. “The thing might explode – we can’t tell how much damage has been done. Now wait here!”
Paul went closer and peered through the mud-splattered windows.
“There’s someone in here, Paul. It must be Ollie!” Dan shouted and sprang forward to tug at the door handle. “He must be injured!”
“Get away,” Paul snapped, pulling him by the arm. “Leave it to me.”
Irritated but unwilling to argue, Dan stepped back and allowed Paul to force the driver’s-side door open and lean inside. A few moments later, Paul drew back and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Dan, he’s dead.”
“What do you mean ‘he’s dead’? How can you be sure from such a cursory examination?”
“Believe me, he’s been dead some time.”
“How can he have been dead for some time? You saw him this morning,” Dan reasoned, despite his obvious distress. “We must get help – call an ambulance – we may still be in time!”
Paul hesitated, remembering in time that his cousin knew no more about the Mysterons than any other civilian. “He was driving away from the Ransons’ farm, wasn’t he? He must’ve realised there was no one there when he arrived, or decided not to visit after all and…and turned back, I suppose… Maybe he lost control; skidded down the bank and overturned in the ditch…”
“I still say we should get an ambulance. We’ll go to the farm – there may be someone there - and call from there.”
Heartened by the thought that he could examine the scene without his cousin’s interference, Paul agreed. “Call the police too,” he instructed. “I’ll wait here.”
Dan hesitated but he didn’t want to stay and understood that someone ought to. “Okay. I’ll be as quick as I can.” He turned and scrambled back to the road.
Paul heard the car door slam and the engine rev as it moved away. Then there was a deathly silence. He sighed and glanced back at the body in the car. It was clear now why he’d felt uneasy: the Oliver he’d spoken to that morning was almost certainly a Mysteron and, if the state of the body was a true indication, so was the Oliver he’d met last night. He wished he’d thought to bring his Spectrum waveband communicator, but there’d seemed no need when they were only walking to the church and in the rush to get out and find Oliver, it had slipped his mind.
Why you? he thought, glancing at Oliver’s body. What can they be targeting here? Or who… He recalled Daniel’s confession about his new job, the ‘Top-secret-mad-scientist stuff’ he had been so flippant about.
“Oh no,” he breathed out into the cold air. “Not Danny, please…” With an increasing sense of urgency he scrambled up the embankment and stared in the direction the car had gone but all he could see were the tail-lights in the distance.
Dianne pushed Sophie towards the door, urging her to leave, but she kept one eye on the motionless Captain Black, who remained by the altar and said nothing.
“What’re you talking about, Dianne?” Sophie asked, stepping back to avoid another of Dianne’s frantic shoves. “It’s only Dino, the man who’s been staying in the vestry. Do you need to go in there, Dino? I made a cup of tea just a moment ago, the water’s probably still hot enough if you’d like-”
“WHERE IS CAPTAIN SCARLET, EARTHWOMAN?” Black interrupted. His voice carried the sepulchral overtones of his Mysteron masters but his face remained impassive.
“Who?” Sophie asked. “Why are you talking like that, Dino?”
“I AM SPEAKING TO YOU, SPECTRUM ANGEL. WHERE IS CAPTAIN SCARLET?”
Sophie turned to Dianne. “He means you, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, I’m afraid he does,” Dianne said, with an apologetic smile. She glanced at Black and replied, “He’s not here.”
“HE WAS HERE; I SAW HIM. WHERE IS HE NOW?”
“You won’t be able to find him,” she replied inattentively, her mind busy with the implications of the conviction that Paul was now searching for a Mysteron agent. “Why are you here?” She started to edge towards the door, pushing Sophie ahead of her as she did so. “This is a backwater, there can’t be anything here to interest the Mysterons.”
She heard Sophie give a gasp as the realisation of who this was dawned on her. The general public had been warned that Captain Black was a renegade Spectrum officer now working with the dangerous off-world terrorists who called themselves the Mysterons and told that they should never, on any account, approach him.
“I WON’T NEED TO GO LOOKING FOR SCARLET,” Black said, and Dianne thought she heard a hint of smug satisfaction in his voice. “HE WILL COME LOOKING AND I SHALL BE WAITING.”
“He won’t come looking for you,” Dianne snapped, hoping Paul was safely preoccupied with Oliver – man or Mysteron he was less of a threat than Captain Black.
“NO,” Black agreed. “BUT HE WILL COME LOOKING FOR YOU.”
There was a loud creak and the heavy oak door to the church slammed shut.
Sophie ran across and tried to heave it open but the door was stuck fast.
“Is there another way out?” Dianne asked her, as they tried to pull the door open together.
Sophie shook her head. “Oliver had the only other door bricked up as a security measure a few years ago after a spate of vandalism.”
“MAKE YOURSELVES COMFORTABLE, EARTHWOMEN,” Black said, almost conversationally. “WE MAY HAVE A LONG WAIT AHEAD OF US BUT SOONER OR LATER CAPTAIN SCARLET WILL COME LOOKING AND I WILL BE WAITING.”
Captain Blue had a well-deserved reputation for patience and composure in times of stress. He and Captain Scarlet were Spectrum’s premier field-officer partnership and generally Colonel White’s first choice to be sent out on dangerous missions. Captain Grey had worked with them together and separately on occasions and was aware of the strong, not to say unique, ties that bound them. He was reminded of that now as Blue sat at the controls of the SPV cursing the lumbering tractor pulling a loaded trailer that was slowing their progress towards Buresiart Parva.
“This is a nightmare,” Blue muttered again. “I have to get round this thing, we’re taking too long. The Mysterons could be making their move even as we crawl along here.”
“There’s a crossroads in about another mile or so,” Grey said, consulting the on-board satnav information, “you might get past him then.”
The trailer being pulled by the tractor gave a lurch as it foundered in a pothole and swerved dangerously. Blue hit the brakes and the SPV jolted to a stop. They watched in horror as the trailer slowly tipped over, spilling brassicas across the narrow road and blocking it completely.
“Goddam it” Blue hissed.
“I’ll check they’re okay,” Grey said quickly, opening the door and descending to the road level.
While his companion was talking to the tractor driver and his mate, Blue closed the door and backed the SPV along the road. There was no other traffic on the single track highway that ran ruler-straight across the low-lying, muddy fields. The crossroad Grey had mentioned was just visible in the far distance, although what could actually be seen was simply an intersection with another straight road, stretching off at right angles across the empty countryside. Blue consulted the satnav and realised they still had some way to go. At their current rate it was going to take them hours to reach their destination – hours he did not think they had to spare.
He contacted Cloudbase and received confirmation from Lieutenant Green that they were still unable to contact Scarlet, Rhapsody or the Metcalfes:
“I will let you know, Captain, as soon as we have news.”
But this reassurance was negated by the anxiety in Green’s voice, which merely reinforced Blue’s own concerns.
“Thanks, Seymour,” Blue replied, unconsciously letting his sympathy for the younger man override field protocol; he knew that the lieutenant was extremely fond of Rhapsody Angel.
On the SPV’s monitor screen, Blue could see Grey still talking to the two men from the tractor and, as he watched, his colleague gestured towards the SPV with what Blue conjectured was an offer to use it to re-right the trailer.
That reinforced the decision that had been forming in Blue’s mind for some minutes: there’s no time for delay!
He gunned the engine and made a sharp turn down the embankment that carried the road through the fields. The ground was wet and the SPV floundered a little in the mud until Blue revved the powerful engines again, churning up the ground and sending a shower of mud and cabbages up behind the vehicle as it lurched forwards. Once past the tractor and its load, he forced the massive armoured vehicle back up the embankment onto the roadway and drove a short distance before he stopped and opened the door for Grey, who was frantically running after him, to get back in.
“Everyone okay?” Blue asked conversationally, as Grey’s seat slid back into the main cabin and the door closed with a smooth swish.
“Seems so,” Grey replied, breathlessly. “You weren’t intending to wait long though, were you?”
“If they needed medical help, sure, I’d stay,” Blue said, as he gunned the engine. “But we have our orders: to protect Rhapsody and help Scarlet. So I’m afraid they’re gonna have to pick up their cabbages by themselves.”
Grey sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Go straight on at the intersection…”
The SPV shot ahead, gathering speed as it rushed to the rescue.
After making a sweeping gesture with his arm, which resulted in the vestry door slamming shut, Captain Black didn’t make any attempt to prevent the women from moving about the church. Every so often Sophie went to try the main door again, rattling the heavy wrought-iron hoop that worked the ancient lock and tugging for all she was worth. Dianne stayed where she was; she was less optimistic and, besides, experience told her that if the Mysterons had closed the door it would stay closed until it suited them to open it.
Sophie dropped down onto the pew beside Dianne after her latest assault on the door: she was dejected and beginning to get scared, so Dianne placed a hand on her arm and said:
“Don’t worry, Sophie, Paul will come and get us out of here.”
Sophie gave a weak smile. “You and he are both Spectrum agents, aren’t you?” she said quietly. Dianne nodded; there didn’t seem much point in trying to deny it after Black’s threats. “And is he,” she nodded towards Black, still standing by the altar, “is he after you and Paul?”
Dianne shrugged. “I’m not sure he’s that bothered about me, but he is after Paul.”
“Captain Scarlet?” Sophie whispered, glancing at Dianne who nodded slightly.
“We’re not supposed to let anyone know,” she replied.
“It’s okay, I won’t say anything.” Sophie paused, and then in a rush she added, “I might as well tell you that Danny’s new job is with British Intelligence Service Headquarters, part of the World Intelligence Network. They are the development section that works on specialist equipment.”
“Yes, I know,” Dianne answered. Paul’s maternal grandfather had been an agent of the organisation in his youth, assigned to the top-secret ‘Operation Priest’.
“I suppose you do,” Sophie said meekly. “I suppose all you secret agents know all about each other.”
“Not all about,” Dianne admitted, “but something about each other.” She glanced at Black and murmured, “I wonder if he knows about Danny…”
“You mean he might be after Dan?” Sophie gasped.
“No, not necessarily… I mean it isn’t very likely. The Mysterons don’t always give us details of what they’re doing. Sometimes they do issue a specific threat but often it comes too late to be of much use. I have no idea if there was a threat this time, but if there was, and Spectrum have deciphered it, we can assume that not only Paul’s on his way to help us…”
As if he had heard their conversation, Black suddenly turned towards them and stared intently. Sophie nervously grasped Dianne’s hand and the Angel gave her a reassuring squeeze.
“SPECTRUM,” Black said, and focused his gaze on the women. “HAVE YOU CONTACTED THEM?”
He stepped towards them and Sophie drew back cowering against the pew.
Dianne spoke up: “You’ve been here with us all the time; you know we haven’t been able to contact anyone.”
“HOW HAVE THEY FOUND US SO QUICKLY?” Black said, although Dianne realised he wasn’t expecting an answer from her when he gave a slow nod. “VERY WELL, I UNDERSTAND.”
He walked quickly towards the door and, as he approached, it swung open. Sophie jumped to her feet and started to run after him, but the door was already swinging shut as Black walked through. She grasped it as it snapped closed and sobbed in frustration as she tugged vainly at the handle.
“Why won’t it open? Why won’t it open!” she cried and finally gave up as she rested her forehead against the wood and burst into tears.
Dianne had different priorities and now that Black had gone she was rummaging in her handbag for her mobile phone. She went to a window in an effort to pick up a signal and then, with a sudden flash of inspiration, keyed in her personal officer code that allowed civilian devices to tap into Spectrum’s secure wavebands. Even if there was no local signal strong enough that could transmit her message to Cloudbase, there was a possibility that the agents Black had gone in pursuit of would be close enough to pick it up.
The phone bleeped and clicked while it adjusted to the new settings and then – very faintly – she heard a wary voice:
“Captain Grey. Who’s calling?”
“It’s Rhapsody!” Dianne yelled, hoping the signal was carrying. “Rhapsody Angel!”
There was a momentary pause before the faint answer came back to her:
“Rhapsody? Where are you?”
“In the church. Never mind me; I’m okay. Captain Black is in the village looking for you. Captain Scarlet has gone in search of the vicar, who must be a Mysteron agent. Find Scarlet – before Black does!”
“We’ll come and get you-”
“NO! Find Scarlet – he went towards Vale Farm – V for victor - a – l -e – say again: Vale Farm!”
“S.I.G., Rhapsody. Vale Farm.” There was another slight pause and then she heard: “You be careful.”
“S.I.G., Captain. You don’t have to tell me that,” she added, as she closed down the mobile phone.
“Why didn’t you let them come and get us?” Sophie said angrily.
“I told you: Black isn’t concerned about us, he’s after Paul and possibly Danny too. Now he’ll be trying to get to them before the other Spectrum captains. I think we’re safe enough in here.”
“I hope you’re right,” her companion said, and went back to tugging ineffectually on the door.
“So do I,” Dianne whispered to herself, while turning her worried eyes towards the high altar in an unconscious appeal.
Grey turned to Blue. “That was Rhapsody,” he said.
“Uh-huh. Where is she?”
“In the church, but she said Captain Black’s here in the village and he’s going after Scarlet.” Before Blue could ask the obvious question, Grey explained, “Scarlet’s gone to somewhere called Vale Farm, for some reason.”
“That must be local,” Blue said sourly, “We’re never going to find it on the Satnav.”
Grey nudged him and pointed out of the port-hole-style window to where a plaque on the wall of the local public house announced that it doubled as the village shop and Post Office. With a satisfied grunt, Blue brought the SPV to a stop.
“I’m on it,” Grey muttered, as the door opened again and his seat slid out and started to descend.
There were two women customers in the shop and an elderly man at the post office counter, where the only shop assistant was busy with his requests.
“Excuse me,” Grey said loudly, “My colleague and I,” he gestured towards the looming presence of the SPV in the narrow street, “are looking for Vale Farm. Can you help me? Is it around here?”
The four locals stared at him and at the massive armoured vehicle as if they couldn’t believe their eyes.
“That’s Frank Ranson’s place,” the old man said slowly, after what seemed like an age to the impatient Grey. “It’s not that far as the crow flies, but if you’re going in that… tank, you’ll need to keep to the roads, young man. Go through the village and out along the lane for about a mile or so. Turn left at the T-junction and carry on over the bridge. Then turn left at the next T-junction. It’s about 2 or 3 miles further on.”
“You might not find anyone there,” one of the female customers said helpfully. “Old Mrs Ranson’s poorly and not expected to live much longer-”
“I never heard she was that bad,” her companion interjected.
“The Vicar told me when I was doing the Church flowers the other day. Dr Rayne said they should get her to hospital, but she wanted to die at home, according to the Vicar. Seems like that daughter-in-law of hers wasn’t so sure that was a good idea though, and she was for moving her to the hospital despite her wishes. So, they might not be at the farm right now; Patsy Ranson generally gets what she wants.”
“We’ll take the risk. Many thanks,” Grey said. He saluted and left hurriedly with the continuing gossip still ringing in his ears.
Back in the SPV he gave the directions and the local colour he had learned, to Blue, who snorted:
“I can’t help it, these days I get antsy when people start talking about deaths, recent or unexpected, especially when I know Black’s in the vicinity. My guess is Paul’s the same and he may be on his way to find out if Mrs Ranson has been Mysteronised.”
“Well, Rhapsody said the vicar was a Mysteron, so maybe Paul’s looking for him there?” Grey suggested, as the door finally slid closed. “Whatever the reason we’d better get a move on. I don’t want to leave Rhapsody on her own anywhere around here for long.”
The village street was narrow and dog-legged round to the right between two white-washed houses, causing Blue to slow down to a crawl as he undertook the manoeuvre. Grey turned in his seat, peering out of the small port-hole to check that they had clearance on his side of the SPV, when a movement caught his eye. He peered into the shadows and gasped.
“Blue, it’s Captain Black! Over there, moving away from us.”
Blue continued edging the SPV round into the straight road leading away from the village.
“Stop, stop!” Grey ordered. “We have to follow Black. Whatever he’s up to, we have to stop him.”
“I can’t stop here, we’ll block the road,” Blue reasoned.
“Good; Black won’t be able to get away in this direction then, will he?” Grey retorted, already undoing his seatbelt as the door started to open.
“Wait, Brad,” Blue said, “we know Black’s after Scarlet, so we should find Scarlet. He probably doesn’t know he’s the target of a threat and as the Mysterons could just teleport Black anywhere it doesn’t make sense to go haring after him…”
Grey wasn’t listening and he had jumped from his seat before it reached the ground to start his pursuit.
“Brad!” Blue called after him despairingly. He was torn between following his colleague and ensuring he didn’t fall victim to the Mysterons, and following his instinct to find Scarlet. His pragmatic mind told him that of the two agents, Grey was definitely the more vulnerable and so, with a sinking feeling and a deep sigh, he left the SPV blocking the road, to follow his companion out into the crisp winter day.
He darted round the vehicle, his hand already loosening his Spectrum pistol from its holster, and raced after Grey who was hot in pursuit of Captain Black and running alongside a garden fence, down a muddy track towards the fields. He caught his friend as he reached the end of the track and stood staring out across the open fields and the embankments that surrounded them.
There was no sign of Captain Black.
“He’s vanished,” Grey gasped, pushing his cap back to scratch his head. “The Mysterons must’ve transported him somewhere…”
“I always hate having to say ‘I told you so’,” Blue muttered, adding in a louder voice, “Let’s get back and go find Scarlet.”
Grey nodded. “Yeah, no real harm done, we’ve hardly been more than a minute or two.”
In the distance they heard the roar of the SPV engines.
“Oh shit,” Blue hissed, and started racing back towards the road, arriving in time to see the SPV disappearing in the direction of Vale Farm.
“Yes, sir. Yes, Colonel. Of course, sir. Right away. Goodbye, sir.” Blue closed the radio communication with Cloudbase and grimaced at Grey. “The connection wasn’t up to much and what I could hear I almost wished I couldn’t. The colonel considers that we’re ‘blithering idiots’ - and that’s the polite version – who ought to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves for leaving the SPV unsecured.” Blue sighed. “I couldn’t argue with that.”
Grey shrugged. “It was my fault, Blue; I went chasing after Black. I should have realised the Mysterons would get him out of the place once he’d been spotted.”
“We’re partners,” Blue said firmly. “That means no one takes the blame alone. Besides, I’m happy to admit that as I was last out I shouldn’t have left the SPV unsecured.”
Grey shook his head, dismissing his friend’s offer to assume sole responsibility for their predicament. “Any crap decisions are also joint efforts, Adam; isn’t that how a partnership works? Did the colonel say what we should do now?”
Blue nodded. “And some of it was anatomically impossible,” he quipped, trying to make light of the colonel’s anger. Grey gave a wry grimace in response. “So, after that, he said we should go back to Rhapsody and get the full story from her.”
Grey nodded as they turned to walk back through the village.
“Paul said they were going to hire a car,” Blue recalled thoughtfully, “We could commandeer that…”
Grey nodded, more enthusiastically this time, and then said, “Let’s hurry. We’ve a lot of ground to make up on the SPV.”
Paul was jogging quickly along the road in the direction Daniel had driven. He would have been enjoying the physical exertion if he hadn’t been so concerned about his cousin and preoccupied with trying to decipher what the Mysterons were doing in this rural backwater.
He mulled over the facts he knew as he stomped along the road at a constant pace.
Dan has a new job doing something scientific and secret. Oliver, his fiancée’s uncle, is dead after a car crash that must’ve happened yesterday, but I saw him this morning. He was talking to a man who didn’t want to be seen – at least not by me. I’m guessing that man was a Mysteron, as Oliver must’ve been by then. Oliver’s gone missing and I’ve sent Dan off into the last known place he was seen…
None of which gives me the faintest idea about what’s going on here… I wonder if I can contact Spectrum: London and…
He heard the rumble of familiar engines in the distance and turned to peer down the straight road back towards the village.
I knew it! There’s been a threat… Spectrum’s here already.
He moved into the middle of the road, waving his arms above his head to attract attention.
The vehicle sped towards him and a slight frown appeared between Paul’s dark brows as he calculated the braking distance and considered that the enthusiastic driver was cutting things fine. The realisation came quickly that the SPV had no intention of stopping and that he was – for some reason – its intended target. He tensed, drawing a deep breath in readiness to spring aside and as the SPV drew close he dived out of the way and tumbled down the embankment into the muddy ditch.
He lay still for a moment, winded by the fall and as he gathered himself he heard the SPV brakes screeching to a halt and the vehicle manoeuvring. Paul staggered to his feet and started to run away along the ditch, crouched to make the best use of what small protection it offered. A blast of gunfire hit the ground some yards away, splattering him with mud and moments later a missile exploded, creating a crater in the field in front of him.
Paul dodged and scrambled up the bank, intending to run across the road and down the other side. He was about half-way across the road when he saw a civilian car approaching at speed from the direction of Vale Farm. It had its headlights on full beam and started sounding its horn as the driver caught sight of him. Paul stepped off the narrow roadway and watched as the car approached and someone leant from the passenger seat and pointed an old fashioned shotgun at the SPV.
“Bugger off, you ruddy hooligans!” a man’s voice screamed, as the double-barrelled weapon was discharged towards the SPV.
Paul smiled at the optimism that thought a shotgun could scare off an SPV, but he was also concerned that whoever had control of the vehicle would not hesitate to blow the car and its occupants to pieces if provoked, so he scrambled back up the embankment and started running back towards the village. If he was the target, he was sure the SPV would come after him.
He ran doggedly on expecting at any moment to feel the sharp pain of a bullet and he had gone some considerable way before he realised the SPV had not pursued him. He peered over his shoulder, slowing slightly and then stopped to turn and see what was going on.
The SPV had turned its attention to the pursuing car and, Paul had no doubt, was bringing the weapons to bear on the unarmed vehicle. He started to race towards it, waving his arms and yelling:
“Get away! Swerve! Move! It’s going to fire!”
The passenger of the car leant out of the window and fired the double-barrel shotgun at the SPV again. The bullets ricocheted harmlessly enough off the Fleetonium bodywork, but to Paul’s relief the car then swerved across the road, catching the bumper of the SPV as it did so, due to the speed it was travelling. At that moment, the SPV’s laser canons fired but missed the car by some considerable margin to explode in a shower of mud and vegetation in the field below the embankment.
Paul raced across to the car. Dan was slumped against the steering wheel and Mr Quantrell was frantically trying to reload his shotgun. Paul wrenched the driver’s door open and pushed Dan across.
“Get him out of the way,” he ordered in a tone that brooked no argument.
Quantrell manhandled the younger man over the seatback into the rear of the car as Paul revved the engine and threw the car into reverse to give him room to swing round.
For all its manoeuvrability the SPV was hampered by the narrowness of the road and the safety feature that required the driver to sit with his back to the direction of travel made it difficult for anyone unused to the sensation to perform the more complex procedures. Paul was relying on that to give him time to put his plan into action.
“I’m not running away,” Quantrell said, as he snapped the shotgun closed. “So put that outa your mind, sonny.”
“We wouldn’t get far,” Paul replied brusquely, as he floored the accelerator and urged the car into motion directly towards the SPV. “Those cannon would blow us to microns if they got a direct hit and their range is impressive. Our one chance is to stick so close to the SPV it can’t use them.”
“I like your thinking,” Quantrell said, with a grim smile at his companion.
Paul took the car as close as he could alongside the SPV, carefully keeping out of the range of the driver’s monitor cameras. The heavy vehicle was now facing in the right direction and he could imagine the driver’s confusion as he wondered where his wounded quarry had gone. The SPV moved forward slowly, edging towards the embankment, where it was a plausible guess that the car had toppled off the road.
Paul moved with it, shadowing the bulky craft’s movements. Beside him he heard Quantrell chuckle, but he knew this happy state of affairs could not last indefinitely. Sooner or later the driver of the SPV would realise and take action.
No sooner had the thought crossed Paul’s mind than the SPV suddenly speeded up and shot ahead. The car, obviously disabled by the earlier collision, was sluggish and it was soon far enough away to be seen by the driver’s monitors. The SPV began to deploy to bring its weapons to bear again and Paul urged the car to swerve away, keeping it moving so that targeting sensors would not be able to get a secure lock.
There was a flash and loud explosion as the laser cannon fired and the rocket, which missed the car by a matter of inches, created a large crater in the road and destroyed yet another area of crops.
“That was close,” Paul mumbled, throwing the car into a spin as he sought cover once more beneath the flanks of the SPV, which was reversing away.
“I’ll teach that bugger to wreck my fields,” Quantrell snarled, and leaning out of the open window, he fired both barrels at the SPV. The cartridges bounced off without causing any significant damage.
“Save your ammunition,” Paul snapped. “We might need it later - if we survive this cat and mouse.”
“There’s nothing that bugger can do to us, sonny. Listen…”
In the distance Paul heard the wailing siren of a police car. He gave a cynical snort of laughter. “The Seventh Cavalry?”
“Whatever this so-and-so is trying to do, he won’t have time. The police may be toothless these days, but they won’t stand for it.”
“Ask yourself, Bob: who are they likely to blame for the rumpus?” Paul asked through gritted teeth, as he hauled on the steering wheel to swerve and avoid a sudden jink from the SPV that could’ve pushed them down the embankment. “The upright, law-abiding Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle or a civilian car with a maverick gunman taking pot shots out of the window?”
“They all know me and my Land Rover around here,” Quantrell said enigmatically, as he reloaded the shotgun. “They know what I stand for.”
It seemed that the driver of the SPV shared Bob Quantrell’s opinion, because, with the car riding shotgun behind and the impending arrival of the agents of law enforcement ahead, he obviously decided to cut his losses. The massive vehicle drove down the embankment and stuck out across the field, leaving deep ruts in the damp, black earth.
Exhausted, Paul sank his head onto his arms as he clutched the steering wheel.
“You all right, son?” Bob Quantrell asked gruffly.
“I will be,” Paul replied. “That was a close run thing, Mr Quantrell.”
“Yeah, it certainly was.”
They watched as the police car attempted to follow the SPV and bounced down the embankment almost overturning before it moved out into the open field and quickly became bogged down in the ground.
“Bloody idiots,” Quantrell remarked. The SPV was already miles away and heading for the embankment of the road on the far side of the fields.
“Why did you fire at the SPV?” Paul asked. He got out of the car to check on his cousin, who was reassuringly making groaning noises from the back seat. “Those vehicles were developed from the World Army’s Zeus tank – no shotgun’s going to stop one of them.”
Quantrell had a sour expression on his face. “No bloody World Government thugs are going to run amok on my turf without me giving them what for,” he growled. “They’re messing with the wrong man if they think they can intimidate me.”
“I don’t think that was Spectrum officers,” Paul said, although he had no idea who it might’ve been.
“Don’t you be so sure,” Quantrell replied. “I fought for the National Government in the Civil War and such things don’t get forgotten by the mealy-mouthed powers that be. I make no secret of the fact that I’ve never approved of the decision to join the World Government and I don’t care who knows it. I believe this country was much better when we had the right to make our own laws and judgments and nothing I’ve seen since has made me think I was wrong. Now we have secret security agencies riding roughshod over our rights and traditions – and we’re expected to pay extortionate taxes for them too!”
“Even so, a shotgun is no match for an SPV; you could have got yourself – and Daniel – killed!”
“They wouldn’t have dared – look how they scarpered when the police arrived. The entire force is staffed by bullies and cowards. Let me tell you, when I fought in the Civil War I soon learnt that however indestructible you may feel inside an armoured vehicle, the sight of someone fired up against you is always gonna make you wince. Think David and Goliath, son; such stories are ingrained in our consciousness.”
“You may be right, but I don’t think you can apply that to using a shotgun against an SPV, sir. Whoever was driving it was not going to be worried by anything we did, not knowing that they’d have the whole of Spectrum after them for stealing the thing in the first place.”
Quantrell sniffed dismissively. “We were sold down the river by the monarchists for their own enrichment and this just proves it: World Government bully-boys chasing down an innocent citizen in broad daylight.”
“How do you know I’m innocent?” Paul asked. He was surprisingly shocked and slightly alarmed by Quantrell’s declaration; he’d always unquestioningly accepted the official line that, in the decades since the end of the brief British Civil War, all residents of the country had come to support membership of the World Government.
The older man turned his angry gaze on him and snapped: “You bloody well better be.”
Paul made an appeasing gesture with his hands. “You’re right -I haven’t done anything wrong, but I was a colonel in the World Army Air Force, and my father’s still a senior officer in the same force.” He avoided saying what he did for a living now.
Quantrell shrugged. “A good man has to make his living and abide by what he thinks is right. I don’t like the situation this country’s in and I will do what I can to prevent the World Government from destroying centuries of our independent democratic tradition; but the key word there is ‘democratic’ – I respect my fellow man’s decisions, however mistaken I consider them to be. If I can vote the bastards out, all well and good, but the Civil War showed me, and many like me, that violence is not the way forward.”
“Then we can be friends, Mr Quantrell,” Paul said, extending his hand. The older man gave him a mocking smile and shook it firmly. “How did you come to be on your way to rescue me?”
“We weren’t. You can thank Daniel that we were here at all. He arrived saying Oliver had been in an accident. He’d gone to Vale Farm and no one was there, so he’d come to us. He should’ve come straight to us, but that wasn’t the point.” Quantrell paused and asked, “How is he?”
“He’ll have a headache worthy of one almighty stag night, but he’ll make his wedding,” Paul replied. “Now we’d better get that police car out of the mud and get Oliver’s body to the morgue, so we can get back to the church and make sure your daughter and Lady Dianne are safe.”
Blue and Grey hurried through the largely deserted village and climbed the slight hill to the churchyard, too pre-occupied to recognise the magnificence of the building that had so entranced their colleagues, just a few hours earlier.
Grey grabbed the handle and tried to open the door. “It’s locked,” he told Blue, rather surprised. He rattled the iron ring that operated the lock.
“Well, maybe Rhapsody locked it to keep Black out,” Blue reminded him.
Grey thumped on the door repeatedly, shouting: “Rhapsody! Open the door.”
They heard muffled voices inside the church which resolved into one familiar voice calling: “Captain Grey? We’re locked inside!”
Blue stepped close and called urgently, “Dianne? Is Paul with you?”
“No – weren’t you going to get him?” she replied.
“Can you open the door?” he said.
“No, it closed after Black left to find Scarlet. We can’t get it open,” she explained.
“I can’t get it open,” Grey announced, then shouted: “Stand back – stand clear of the door, Rhapsody. I’m going to shoot the lock.”
“Clear!” Grey yelled after a few moments and then fired three shots around the lock before kicking the door hard with his booted foot. It took three more kicks and Blue ramming into the door with his shoulder before the lock gave and the heavy door swung open.
Dianne rushed to join them and flung herself at Blue demanding angrily: “I told you go and find Paul! Where is he?”
“We saw Captain Black in the village and tried to detain him. While we were after him, someone – possibly Black or one of his agents – stole the SPV,” Grey explained.
She pulled away to stare in amazement at him. “You lost an SPV?”
“No,” Blue said evenly, “we know exactly where it went… So we’ve come back to get Paul’s hire car.”
“He took it to Vale Farm,” Dianne said, and went on to explain as much as she could about the situation they were in.
Captain Grey’s astonishment was obvious as he asked: “Black was in here with you and he didn’t try to Mysteronise you?”
“No, he didn’t. Test me, if you don’t believe me,” Dianne urged, before adding scathingly: “Oh, wait - you can’t - the detector’s in the SPV…”
“She’s human all right,” said Grey to Blue, with an ironic glance at his colleague.
“Why did you doubt it, Brad? I’ve never seen a Mysteron’s eyes flash with passion like this little lady’s beautiful eyes are doing.” Blue smiled affectionately at the diminutive Angel Pilot.
But he had misread his friend and Rhapsody drew herself up to her full height and faced her taller colleague. “Don’t you ever dare to patronise me, Adam Svenson!” Blue held up his hands in an apologetic acknowledgment of her rebuke. Somewhat mollified, she said, “Now, what are we going to do about finding and saving Paul?”
“You’ve heard the threat?”
There was good reason for Grey to be so surprised: Spectrum went to great pains to ensure that the Mysterons’ threats were not broadcast worldwide, for fear of the panic they would cause.
“Threat? There’s been a threat? I didn’t know. Black talked about capturing Captain Scarlet, that’s all. What did they threaten to do, this time?”
“The usual stuff about retaliation and then they said that ‘the Scarlet assignment faces destruction’,” Grey replied.
Confused by this, Rhapsody asked, “What on earth do they mean by the Scarlet assignment?”
“We thought it might have something to do with Paul acting as best man at the wedding; although we’re not sure why they’d be concerned about that, except as a chance to attack Paul,” Blue said. “We couldn’t identify any likelier suspects.”
He turned to smile at Sophie who was hovering by the pew, apparently over-awed by the presence of two Spectrum captains. Rhapsody gestured towards her.
“This is Paul’s cousin’s fiancée, Sophie Quantrell. Her father, Robert, is a local farmer.”
“Pleased to meet you, Ms Quantrell.” Blue’s reputation for good manners and politeness was well deserved.
“I can’t see either of the Quantrells posing a threat to Scarlet,” Grey remarked.
“Unless one of them has been Mysteronised,” replied Blue quietly.
“But if anyone around here has been Mysteronised, I don’t think it’s Bob Quantrell, or Sophie,” Rhapsody explained. “It’s far more likely to be his brother-in-law, Oliver Barker – the vicar here. It’s him Paul and Danny went to look for.”
Blue turned to Sophie. “Miss Quantrell,” he began, “can you think of any unusual thing that might have happened to your father or your uncle recently, or has anything they’ve done seemed out of character?”
Sophie shook her head. Sensing the young woman’s unhappiness, Dianne placed a reassuring hand on her arm.
“Sophie, these are friends of Paul’s and mine. They want to help us find him, Dan and Oliver, before Captain Black can do them harm. Please, if you can think of anything – anything at all – that will help us, tell us now.”
“I can’t think of any reason why my father or my uncle should be a threat to Danny or Paul; of course I can’t! It’s ridiculous to even think such a thing.” She shrugged off Dianne’s hand.
Blue focussed his considerable charm on the young woman and said kindly: “Miss Quantrell, the Mysterons don’t make threats they don’t mean to carry out. I’m sure that your relatives wouldn’t intend to hurt anybody, and if we can get to them as soon as possible, we stand a chance of preventing the Mysterons from hurting them.”
“I don’t know much about these Mysterons…Captain, but from what I do know they don’t attack ordinary people. The newscasts are always about how important people have been saved from their threats.”
“Sometimes they use ordinary people to get to the important people, Sophie,” Rhapsody said gently.
“Well, I can’t imagine who’d be considered important enough around here to be targeted by an international terrorist organisation,” Sophie replied stubbornly. “We just keep ourselves to ourselves and get on with our lives.”
“Ms Quantrell, the Mysterons don’t waste their time,” Grey began to reason in the face of this stubbornness; to his surprise the apparently meek-mannered young woman spat back:
“They may not waste their time, Captain, but isn’t it part of their plan to waste Spectrum’s time? It’s foolish to imagine that my father or my uncle – a man revered locally for his compassion and devotion to his parishioners – would be involved in some local plot to overthrow the status quo.”
In the stunned silence that followed this outburst Captain Blue said calmly, “No one’s proposed that there’s any kind of ‘local plot to overthrow the status quo’ and, quite frankly, right now I couldn’t care less if there is one. I assure you Spectrum’s only interested in preventing the Mysterons from carrying out their threats – whoever they’re against. We don’t always know what the Mysterons’ overall intention is from their random acts of violence around the globe, but, if they’ve chosen to use your family or friends to achieve their aims, these people need our help to prevent themselves becoming embroiled in the threat. Miss Quantrell – Sophie - I suggest you tell me what you know or what you think you know about what’s going on and leave it to the professionals to decide if there’s anything we need to do about it. I don’t mean to frighten you, but experience has shown us that most of the Mysterons’ agents – willing or not – end up dead.”
Sophie looked from the tall American to the elegant Englishwoman at her side and Dianne gave a sympathetic nod of agreement.
“He’s telling the truth,” she said. “The Mysterons can’t be trusted and they will use anyone or anything to achieve their warped ends. Trust me, if you can’t bring yourself to trust my friends. There’s nothing on this earth I want more than to see Paul safe and sound and in order to achieve that his friends must be safe too.” She held out her hand to the confused woman and Sophie grasped it firmly. “Help me, Sophie; help me save Paul and Dan and your family from the misery the Mysterons bring.”
Sophie’s reluctance was still obvious, but she turned towards Grey and said, “What did you say faced destruction?”
“The Scarlet Assignment,” he replied. “Have you heard of it?”
She nodded, bit her lip and then looked up at Captain Blue. “My fiancé, Dan, works for the World Information Network, doing research. The project he’s working on is called ‘the scarlet assignment’.” She drew a quick breath and gabbled: “I thought it was the colour – scarlet – like you might have a red, amber or green tag to designate the workload – I never thought it might be anything to do with a person.”
“What is the Scarlet Assignment exactly?” Blue said.
She shrugged. “I don’t know; Dan’s never said. He made me promise I’d never even mention it to anyone – he shouldn’t even have told me as much as he did. I know it’s a high profile assignment because they’re paying relocation expenses for us to move down to the south west, so Dan can be closer to where the work’s being done. That’s why we’re having the wedding here and now – it was short notice.”
“Whereabouts in the south west?” Rhapsody asked her.
“Casterbridge, in Dorset.”
“Is the base there?” Grey asked sharply.
Sophie shrugged again, sighing with exasperation. “I don’t know; it’s get-at-able from there, that’s all I know.”
“We’ll need to get in touch with Cloudbase so someone can check,” Grey muttered.
Rhapsody sighed in defeat. “We can’t get through from here; I’ve tried but the signal’s too weak. We could try contacting W.I.N.; they’re based in London and are sure to have a 24-hour duty service. They’ll want to check our bona fides with Spectrum before they talk to us, so approaching them directly won’t waste any time.”
“Beats me why the communications are so bad around here,” said Grey. “The World Government’s been pouring money into ensuring all member states are 100% covered by official communication relays. When we get back, we’ll have to alert Spectrum: London to the black spot – no pun intended – so they can ensure Spectrum’s wavelengths, if nothing else, work here.”
“Maybe it’s atmospherics?” Rhapsody suggested.
“That’s not very probable; the SPV’s links worked okay…” Grey reported and was about to continue with his explanation when someone appeared at the entrance to the Church.
“Thank God you guys are here and the girls are okay,” Captain Scarlet said, opening his arms to receive Rhapsody as she raced towards him.
“Paul! You’re okay! Captain Black was here. He went after you. I was so worried…” she exclaimed, as she ran.
He swept her into his arms and held her close for a long moment. “I’m fine,” he reassured her. She reached out a hand and stroked his cheek. He caught her fingers and pressed them to his lips before glancing over her head at the other Spectrum officers and asking, “Where’s Black now?”
“We think he made off with our SPV,” Blue said, with an embarrassed grimace at his friend.
“I could’ve wished you’d come by helijet. We’ve had a run in with it already; it attacked the car we were travelling in, out near Vale Farm. The arrival of a local police car sent it careering across the open fields, so we’ve no idea where it is now. I should’ve guessed it was Black we were playing cat and mouse with, because whoever was driving it was very familiar with the controls, which made it unlikely to be the vicar.”
He glanced sympathetically towards Sophie and spoke gently to her. “I’m afraid we found Oliver’s body in a crashed car on our way to Vale Farm. There was nothing we could do for him. I’m sorry, Sophie.”
She turned away to hide her anguish from the sympathetic strangers. A moment later Bob Quantrell’s voice called her name from the open doorway and she hurried to his side.
“Where’s Dan?” she cried, looking round in alarm.
Her father hastened to reassure her. “He’s okay; he was behind me a minute ago. He’s banged his head, but he’s fine. Look, here he is…”
Dan was standing in the doorway holding on to the door frame, a somewhat sheepish smile on his face. There was a darkening bruise on his cheek and across his brow, but he hugged Sophie to him, kissing her as she fussed around him.
They all congregated in the middle of the nave and Scarlet explained that the SPV which attacked them had been driven by Captain Black.
“From what I’ve heard Captain Black’s a Spectrum man gone to the bad,” Quantrell said. He was staring at Blue and Grey with some suspicion. “Nothing to say they all won’t.”
“Mr Quantrell doesn’t approve of secret international security forces roaming the countryside disturbing the peace,” Paul explained, with a warning glance at his comrades-in-arms.
“Does he know who you are?” Rhapsody asked quickly and quietly. Paul gave a slight shake of his head. “I’m sorry, Paul; Black made it pretty obvious and I couldn’t lie to Sophie when she asked me.”
“That could make things a little uncomfortable with Bob; let’s hope I’ve won him over,” he said, but gave her a reassuring squeeze before turning back to his colleagues. “What’re the Mysterons threatening this time?”
“We were wondering about that,” replied Blue, and succinctly brought his field partner up to date. “The colonel thought you were, in some way or other, this ‘scarlet assignment’ and although there’s some doubt, I’m not convinced he’s wrong, especially after Black’s tried to run you down.”
Quantrell looked suspiciously at Paul. “You obviously know these men and he’s saying you’re the target of a Mysteron threat. I don’t think you’ve been entirely honest with me, Paul.”
“I haven’t told you any lies, sir,” Paul said firmly, “and if I haven’t told you everything that’s purely because I’m not permitted to.”
Quantrell nodded but he did not seem pleased.
Beside him Sophie and Dan were having an intense, if muted, discussion and finally Dan stepped forward.
“Paul,” he said, “Soaf’s told me about the threat the Mysterons have made and that it might, possibly, have some bearing on my new job…”
The Spectrum captains turned towards him. Paul gave a nod and indicated the pew in the middle of the circle of people. “You’d better sit down and tell us all about it, Dan,” he said.
Dan looked nervous as he took the seat. Sophie sat beside him, holding his hand tightly, while her father leant against the pew end, frowning.
Dan began: “Last year I started work for the World Government – for the World Intelligence Network, to be precise – on a very secret research programme. Decades ago, a Professor Ian McClaine invented a revolutionary machine. It was amazing, years ahead of its time, but very much a one-off and not as robust as modern manufacturing techniques would make it. Technology has improved considerably, of course, and so, WIN decided it was important to update the original machine, so Professor McClaine’s work could be extended to suit modern purposes. I’m part of the dedicated team assembled to do this.”
“What kind of work did Professor McClaine do?” Blue asked.
“I’m getting to that, Captain. The machine he created was called BIG RAT, which stands for the Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer. That doesn’t really explain what the machine does, but you know how the military love their acronyms. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating piece of machinery: it works on the principle that when brain impulses are recorded the … the… knowledge embedded in the brainwave patterns can be harvested and ‘transferred’, or at least, accessed by a third party. So, the consequence of this is that any one – or everyone - could be a brain surgeon, for example, when one was needed.”
“Did it ever work?” Grey blurted out, his scepticism obvious in his expression.
Dan nodded emphatically. “Apparently it did. Provided the agent wore a pair of specially customised spectacles with embedded electrodes, developed as part of the Rat Trap mechanism - that’s the equipment used to record the brain impulses – they’d acquire the vital expertise, whatever it was, in the recordings of the brain impulses. I can’t really explain it in lay terms, but I should explain that the system’s harmless: neither the mind-donor or the operative are permanently affected. Taking off the glasses removes the ability to complete the expert task.”
“Still sounds a bit fanciful to me,” Grey muttered.
“Possibly, Captain, but I understand there are top secret files on the missions undertaken by a special WIN agent, trained in using the device. I haven’t seen them, of course, but from the work I’ve undertaken so far, I can assure you there’s nothing fanciful about the BIG RAT.”
“Then why haven’t we heard of it?” Grey protested. “I thought Spectrum’s supposed to have access to all of this kind of information and technology across every World Government organisation. I wouldn’t like to be in someone’s place when Colonel White hears about this.”
Daniel sighed and continued, “McClaine never took anyone into his confidence about his work and when he died, development on the BIG RAT stopped. The machine was mothballed and more or less forgotten. WIN scientists have only recently been given access to it again and they’ve had to start from scratch trying to work out how McClaine did it. I’m working on developing a flexible method for transferring the brain patterns so the agent doesn’t have to go to the RAT TRAP site for induction…”
“I can see it’s a fascinating project, Mr Blake,” Blue remarked, “but I fail to see why creating a multitude of temporary brain surgeons would make the Mysterons go after you?”
“Ah, yes, well… The World Government… well, they have this plan. I assume you know the Mysterons are an off-world terrorist cell with a base on Mars?” The Spectrum officers nodded, although it was obviously news to the Quantrells.
Dan nodded and continued, “Well, the World Government want to go to Mars and fight the Mysterons on their own turf. Obviously, sending human beings there’s not the best way to do it, but because the Mysterons are believed to have the capability of destroying any missiles we might send, that option isn’t viable either. So, General Ward, of the Frost Line Defence System, proposed this revolutionary scheme to the World Government-”
“General Ward?” Scarlet said. “That doesn’t bode well…”
“Well, he’s very keen for this to be progressed and he’s got the backing of the World President, at least for the moment, so the project is being fully funded.”
“President Roberts is always on the look out for vanity projects,” Quantrell said sullenly.
The Spectrum officers nodded in agreement; the working relationship between Spectrum and the current World President was considered as something of a challenge.
“You might be right, Bob,” Dan said. “Anyway, Ward’s scheme is for the BIG RAT to transfer human thought processes to an army of androids who can be sent to attack the Mysterons on Mars.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Paul snapped. “Ward’s got a one track mind: the bigger the bang the better.”
“You know he has a sign on his desk that says ‘Might Makes Right’, don’t you?” Blue said, shaking his head. “The colonel’s busy looking for ways to negotiate a peaceful end to the dispute and Ward’s looking to turn it into drone wars…”
“Spectrum wants peace with these terrorists?” Quantrell said, staring at Blue.
“If it prevents people getting hurt, we’d rather seek an honourable peace than continue the war – such as it is,” Blue explained carefully, realising that a lot of what was being so openly discussed was as much a top secret as the BIG RAT program. “Not everything is released to the public, Mr Quantrell, at least, not until it’s safe to do so.”
Quantrell grunted thoughtfully but said nothing.
“What’s the Scarlet Assignment, Dan? Is it part of this development programme?” Rhapsody asked.
“Yes, Dianne, in a way. BIG RAT needs a mind-donor: that’s an expert at whatever they do, and Spectrum have a captain, I’m guessing you may know him: Captain Scarlet?”
“Yes,” Blue said, carefully not looking at Paul, “we know him.”
“Well, apparently, Captain Scarlet is considered to be the best there is – or one of the best, anyway.” He smiled at the officers, unwilling to give any offence. “They say he has a knack for surviving where other men would be 100% goners… at least that’s what General Ward reckons. He’s lobbying for Captain Scarlet to be recorded by BIG RAT so we can work on his specific brain patterns to create algorithms that’d allow us to program the androids to react and improvise as he would do. And that’s the Scarlet Assignment.”
“I doubt you can record ‘luck’ in someone’s brain patterns,” Quantrell said.
Dan shrugged. “Obviously the military aspect’s an important element as it provides the funding, but the work’s a fascinating challenge and the implications of what could be achieved through its peaceful use are endless.”
“And do you know if Captain Scarlet’s aware of these plans?” Blue asked, although a brief glance at his friend showed that Paul was as astonished as the rest of them.
“No; but I doubt it,” Dan admitted readily enough. “We’re nowhere near ready for his participation yet. We’re working on mapping the neuron-path of a single instructive thought and producing a mimicking algorithm we can implant into an inanimate object. The Scarlet-teenies-”
“The what?” Paul interjected.
“The Scarlet-teenies – the robots we’re working with,” Daniel explained, with a chuckle. “At the moment they’re little more than small robots on wheels, like the robo-vacs you can program to do housework but more sophisticated, if you know what I mean?”
“I do,” Paul said grimly.
“The androids, or Scarleteers, as we call them, will be developed to be fully functional once we get the technology operating adequately.”
Dianne sighed. “Hmm, just think, if they program a ‘fully functional’ Scarleteer to do housework as well, every woman will want one.”
“As well as what?” Grey asked.
Paul grinned at her until she blushed and turned away, chuckling.
Blue gave an exasperated sigh. “Look, we’re in a tough spot here; I’d appreciate a little concentration.”
“Sorry, Adam,” Dianne said.
“We have a Mysteron threat to destroy the Scarlet Assignment and, as I see it, two potential ways they could attempt to do it. They could attack Captain Scarlet or they could attack Mr Blake,” Blue continued. “Our SPV is under Mysteron control and we’re cut off from our support bases by the lack of a robust communication system.” He looked at his colleagues. “Your suggestions, please.”
“Well, it’s obvious: we have to ensure Dan’s safety,” Paul said. “Especially as he’s actually involved with the Scarlet Assignment and I’m a mere adjunct to it. They could replace me with any number of military minds.”
“They’d be stupid to even consider it,” Dianne chipped in indignantly.
“They may have to,” he replied, “No one’s asked me about it yet and, on first hearing, I don’t think the plan has one iota of a chance of succeeding. I’m not exactly flattered to be considered as a suitable mind-donor for a bunch of animated shop window dummies – albeit mannequins with attitude.”
“You?” Daniel exclaimed. “You are Captain Scarlet?”
“Yes; but don’t shout so loud, it’s supposed to be a secret,” said Paul. He glanced at Mr Quantrell. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to explain that to you earlier, sir; I hope you understand why?”
Quantrell nodded brusquely. “I do, although I don’t like it much.”
“We have to get Dan away safely,” Sophie said, clutching her fiancé’s arm protectively. “Can’t you call up more tanks to get him out of here?”
“We could, if we could speak to our organisation,” Blue explained. “But for some reason our communications seem to be limited to short range, local reception.”
“Could be a transmitter or relay failure,” Paul suggested.
“In which case it will be days before they get round to repairing it,” said Grey. “And we don’t have days: Black is out there with an SPV, remember.”
“Not to mention Oliver Barker,” Paul reminded them.
“You said Oliver was dead,” Quantrell growled.
Paul nodded. “He is. The Mysterons usually kill a person they want to make use of and then a… a doppelganger is used to gain access to the people who are their real targets. My guess is Oliver was supposed to kill Dan, and possibly me too, at the wedding.”
“And then I provided them with an SPV. Goddammit,” Blue muttered.
“We provided them,” Grey corrected him quietly.
“You need to call for reinforcements to ensure Dan and Sophie’s safety?” Quantrell asked.
“Helijets could be here in minutes and get the three – four - of you out of here,” Paul said. Beside him Dianne started to protest, but he cut her short. “We three’d deal with the SPV, the false Oliver and Captain Black.”
“You could call in the Angel Flight,” she advised him and Paul nodded. “But as we can’t get through to anyone you need me in the frontline too!”
“No.” The three officers spoke in unison. Then, smiling, Paul continued, “ It’s academic anyway as we’re on our own, but I’m sure I speak for the three of us when I say we need to know you’re as safe as we can make you, Di, and your job is to make sure the civilians are safe. You might be their last line of defence against the Mysterons.”
“I can give you open communications,” Quantrell said.
“How?” Blue stared at the older man with a fierce expression on his face. “What’s going on here? I know something is!”
Grey shook his head and said, “Don’t suggest we can use the landlines, Mr Quantrell. The automated public switchboard requires time and patience to even get through to a human being. It’s not designed to be user friendly.”
“You won’t need the landline,” Quantrell said firmly, returning Blue’s stare without wavering. “Up in the bell tower there’s a damping field generator; it’s been blocking your signals.”
“Whatever for?” demanded Grey.
“I can guess,” said Paul. “It’s to keep the World Government from eavesdropping, isn’t it Bob? You really don’t trust them, do you?”
“No, I don’t; and none of this is going to change my mind. Robot armies in space? It sounds like some fantastical Hollywood blockbuster – and a damn waste of money!”
“Stranger things have happened,” Paul remarked.
“Not in Buresiart Parva they haven’t.” Quantrell growled. “However, I saw what that SPV’s capable of. I’ve seen Oliver’s body and I know that somehow, someone is responsible for a good man’s death. I understand that if I don’t open the communication frequencies, people will get hurt: people I care about.” He looked at his daughter and her fiancé and gave a thin-lipped smile.
Blue was already preparing to take action. “How do I switch it off?”
“You don’t. I’ll go up and I only need one man to help me.” Quantrell turned to Paul. “You,” he said and turned back to Grey and Blue. “I want you two on guard here in case this Black character comes after the girls.”
Blue was about to remonstrate, but Scarlet waved him to silence. “We just need to get this done. Come on, Bob; lead the way.”
Exasperated, Blue took a small communication device out of his tunic pocket and handed it to his partner. “You better take this and try to reach Cloudbase from the bell tower.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue.” Paul gave his friend a genial grin; he was aware how just irritated Blue could get when his appointed role as Field Commander was usurped by his partner’s arbitrary decisions.
Blue rolled his eyes but grinned back.
Quantrell led Paul to a narrow door, partly hidden behind the arch of the transept and they disappeared from sight.
Grey was the first to speak. “Let’s hope Mr Quantrell’s right and we can contact Cloudbase again. We need a rescue craft and a couple of SPVs from the nearest ground base so we can track down Black.”
“The Angel Flight can scan the area and they’ll get here much quicker than the SPVs, so they can keep Black occupied,” Rhapsody said. “In the meantime, I think we should…”
The church door slammed shut. Sophie gave an inarticulate cry of alarm as the noise echoed around the church.
“Just the wind…” Grey started to say reassuringly, but Blue was already running to clamber up the wall and peer through one of the high arched- windows.
“The SPV’s in the village! Captain Black’s here…”
Quantrell led Scarlet up the poorly-lit, narrow, spiral stone steps into the tower of the Church. They came to the bell-ringers’ chamber with the bell ropes secured around the walls and on one side was a narrower door, leading to almost vertical solid wooden steps.
“The clock room is above us,” Quantrell explained. “There has to be some space between the ringers and the bells, because of the noise.”
Paul nodded. “Where’s the damping field generator?”
“On the roof. We need to go through the bell loft to get to it. You must go careful; it’s easy to slip and those bells weigh anything from 5 to 15 hundredweight. Some of the repairs we need to do are on the metal headstocks that support the bells in their frames.”
Paul nodded. “Lead on, Bob.”
They were about half way up to the clock room when the first rocket hit the church.
“What the hell…?” Quantrell exclaimed.
He slipped in surprise so that his foot came down on Paul’s right hand, almost knocking him off the ladder. It was with some difficulty that Paul heaved himself back onto the rungs by the one hand he was holding on with.
“What was that?” Quantrell asked again.
“At a rough guess I’d say that was the SPV firing at the church,” Paul explained. “We’d better get a move on, Bob. Contacting Spectrum’s the only way we can stop Black now.”
Sophie’s stifled sobbing was the only sound in the church as the echoes of the rocket strike died away. Then Rhapsody said, “Where’s the safest place to for us to hide, Sophie?”
“The crypt – we could go down into the crypt,” the young woman replied, struggling to regain her composure.
“Good.” Blue said. “Rhapsody, take Ms Quantrell and Mr Blake down there and,” he offered her his pistol, “take this with you.”
Rhapsody shook her head. “What good would it do against Captain Black? You might find a better use for it, Adam.” She turned to the two civilians. “Come on, Sophie; show me how to get into the crypt. Come on, Dan, there’s nothing you can do to help here and Sophie needs you.”
The two captains watched as the trio went towards the high altar and turned off through a small and previously unsuspected door.
“What’re we going to do?” Grey asked Blue.
“Pray that Scarlet turns the damping field generator off in time for the rescue party to arrive before this church is nothing but a fond memory and a pile of rubble.”
“It’s a good start, but surely we can be slightly more proactive?”
Blue gave a cynical snort. “What with? This is a church, not an arsenal, and two handguns are not going to stop an SPV.”
“He’ll blow this place apart, if we don’t do something, Blue.”
Blue sighed. “You got any ideas?” he said.
Ruefully, Grey shook his head.
Paul noticed that Quantrell was breathing heavily by the time they reached the foot of the ladder to the bell loft.
“You all right, Bob? You need to rest?”
Quantrell shook his head. “Let’s get up there and then we can rest.”
They completed the climb to the bell loft and for the first time Scarlet saw the six massive bells. They were hung with their mouths pointing upwards for safety and attached to circular frames that allowed them to swing freely throughout a peal.
They edged across the wooden beam that formed the frame for the bells and stepped down onto a thin step next to an iron ladder attached to the brickwork, which led up to the roof of the tower.
“Keep down when we get outside,” Paul instructed. “If Black sees someone moving up here he might decide to take another shot at us.”
“I can’t understand why he hasn’t just blown us to pieces already,” Quantrell muttered. “Surely that tank would have the fire power to destroy the building?”
“Easily; but you can never be sure what the Mysterons are up to. Second-guessing them is never easy. It’s just possible that they don’t know who’s in here and, if they want Dan or me, they may be trying to confirm our presence before they attack. Whatever they’re doing, we should be grateful they’ve not blown us apart yet and get on with closing down the damping field. You ready?”
Quantrell nodded. “You go first, while I catch my breath. The control panel’s on the west side of the tower.”
“Right.” Paul looked at his companion with concern. Quantrell’s lips were turning slightly blue and his face was dashed with beads of sweat. “What’s wrong, Bob?”
Quantrell gave a weak smile. “I have a heart condition and I should’ve taken my medication hours ago, but Dan arrived and I went with him without thinking. I’ll be okay, son. Just you concentrate on saving my daughter and your friends – promise?”
Paul smiled and, placing a hand on the older man’s shoulder, he nodded. “I promise.”
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. YOU WILL PAY A HEAVY PRICE FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX. WE WILL MAKE CERTAIN YOU NEVER RETURN TO OUR PLANET. YOU WILL NEVER LEARN THE SECRETS OF THE MYSTERONS AND ANYONE WHO DARES TO TRY WILL BE DESTROYED. IT IS USELESS FOR YOU TO RESIST.
“What’re they talking about? We’re not resisting,” Grey said, as the ominous voice died away. “There’s nothing we can do for a start.”
Blue went back to the window and hoisted himself up, so he could peer out of the window. He couldn’t hold himself there for long as even his strong arms grew tired of taking his unsupported weight when there was only the narrowest of ledges to rest against before the wall sloped away. He dropped down, gasping.
“Awwoowh-ah… well, as far as I can see the SPV is still outside the churchyard. I can’t understand why Black hasn’t attacked again. Give me a hand, Brad; let me have another look…”
Grey cupped his hands and crouched to support Blue’s foot as his companion scrambled up to peer out of the window again. He was just about to drop his partner when Blue jumped down again. “You need to go on a diet, Svenson,” he muttered, shaking his burning palms.
“Don’t be so feeble,” Blue protested. “I’m 196lbs: perfectly healthy for my height - ask Fawn.”
“Fawn doesn’t have to hold you up… What could you see?”
Blue said, “I think Black has a problem. He must’ve fired the first rocket from some distance away and now he’s come closer to the church there’s no room to manoeuvre: the houses across the street are too close – I don’t think he can lock weapons on the church again.”
“It’s almost worth two crushed hands to hear you say that.”
There was a boyish grin on Blue’s face, generated as much by relief as by amusement, as he aimed a playful punch at his friend.
Grey grinned back. “So what was that announcement for? Scare tactics?”
Blue chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Could be. Look, if we can find a way out of here, we could circle round and – maybe – recover the SPV, or at least keep Black busy until the others get here.”
“We could break a window,” Grey suggested. “One round the back where Black wouldn’t see…”
They walked to the side of the church facing away from the village to inspect their options and, as they stood looking at the row of windows, another rocket hit, causing the glass in every window to shatter. The two officers sprang away to avoid the vicious shards of glass raining down. They stood in the middle of the church out of immediate danger.
Grey looked at the younger officer and said flatly, “Maybe he backed up a bit?”
“Maybe. But the shot was higher – he was aiming for the tower. I bet Quantrell and Scarlet have reached the roof and been spotted… Shit. I hope that missed them. We’d better split up, that way if one of us gets hit the other should be okay. You go that end of the nave, Brad, and I’ll go this. Keep trying your radio…”
Scarlet pushed back the bolt and opened the trapdoor to the roof. It fell back with a thud and he was able to haul himself out, crouching down as much as possible to avoid detection. A quick glance showed that there was not much room up there, but in one corner sat a chunky metal padlocked box. Cursing under his breath, he called down.
“It’s locked, Bob. I hope you’ve got the key?”
“I always carry the keys,” Quantrell assured him and Paul slid back down and took it from him. “You’ll need me up there,” Quantrell continued, starting to get to his feet. “There’re transmitters on St Sigebert’s and St Ethelbert’s and they need to be closed down too. It can be done from here – this is the master control - but it needs two people because there are six buttons that have to be pressed simultaneously to break the field.”
He was looking slightly less blue around the mouth now, so Paul nodded agreement. “Come on then – carefully. You go first - and keep your head down!”
He followed Quantrell up the ladder and helpfully gave the older man a shove to get him through the trapdoor. Then, leaving Quantrell to catch his breath, he crawled over to the box and opened the lid. The control panel was simple enough, adapted slightly from a standard kit, by the look of it. A quick glimpse was enough to conform that the lightning conductor was being used as the transmitter for the damping field.
Quantrell crawled over and sat leaning against the crenulated wall. “There are three control panels, one for each of the transmitters. To close down the damping field, you have press two buttons on each panel simultaneously. St Sigebert’s switches are on the extension panel, the other two on the main panel. You’ll need to change the settings on the panels before you send the close-down signal.”
Quantrell gave instructions on what the settings were and, as Paul started to make the change, he explained:
“The system was designed by a local retired electronics expert so we could either switch off the individual transmitters on each church tower or, in cases of emergency, all three of them from here. When the buttons are pressed simultaneously and held down for at least ninety seconds the power switches off. It was designed to need two of us, so no one man could take action without the agreement of the others.”
“How many of you are there?” Paul could hardly keep the surprise from his voice.
“A select band of trustworthy men.”
“I’m not asking for names, Bob. Spectrum’s not in the habit of cracking down on people’s freedom to express dissent. I just wondered if dissatisfaction with the World Government was a local thing or more widespread. You know, I’d never even realised there was any real discontent until you told me.”
Quantrell hesitated and studied Paul’s face. He saw nothing in the young man’s expression that suggested anything apart from a genuine curiosity, so he said, “We’re affiliated to a national movement. Members who live on the eastern side of the country are known as ‘The Sons of the Danelage’.”
Paul’s dark eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Blimey.”
Quantrell gave a brief snort of contempt. “I imagine you think it’s all very amateurish and petty. But before you condemn us, just remember you’re a member of a secret global army, fighting off-world terrorists under fancy codenames and consider how amateurish that sounds! We’re expected to stand in awe of Spectrum and cheerfully accept their authority because we’re told ‘it’s for your own good’.”
“Believe me, it is for your own good,” Paul interjected.
Quantrell ignored him. “In the Brotherhood, everyone has genuine concerns about the domination of the World Government or they wouldn’t be a member.”
“There’re things going on that only the World Government has the authority and manpower to deal with…”
Quantrell began to get very animated as he continued, “So they say, Paul, so they say, but they never produce any evidence to back these wild assertions, do they? People have a right to know what’s being done in their name; I believe that most sincerely.”
He calmed down slightly as he drew a shaky breath and continued, “I know some of the Brotherhood are more militant than others – it’s often the case - but I want you to know that I was being honest when I said I would not resort to violence. If the democratic will is for ever more integration, then so be it, but people do have a right to know the options before they agree to the World Government’s plans for their country.”
Paul nodded in agreement with the concept, if not the actual belief that the World Government had subversive intentions towards the former United Kingdom.
Quantrell’s outburst had tired him and his voice was quieter as he said, “The problem is that some of the Brotherhood are not so liberal-minded as me and have been persecuted for trying to communicate their concerns. That’s why we decided to create the damping field – to guarantee our conversations wouldn’t be used against us.”
“Wait a minute… you’re talking about Gerald Hillington, aren’t you? The ‘Brotherhood of the White Wyvern’ guy who’s always going to the press about how he’s being spied on by the security forces as a dangerous subversive?”
From the expression on Quantrell’s face it was obvious that Paul’s suggestion was right. He shook his head, sadly. “Really, Bob, that man is certifiable – I swear to you no one has the least interest in him; which is probably what upsets him so much.”
“That’s what I’d expect you to say.”
Realising that this was getting them nowhere when time was important, Paul shrugged. “Have it your own way; I don’t have time to argue right now. I’ve changed the settings; are you ready to switch off the field generator?”
“Good man. Here, let me help you to your feet…”
As Quantrell struggled to rise, he stumbled and in preventing himself from falling, he stood upright, presenting a clear target to anyone watching on the ground. Paul grabbed him and pulled him down below the parapet, but moments later there was a boom and a shudder as a second SPV rocket struck the church.
“Are you all right?” Paul demanded and, although shaken, Quantrell nodded. “Come on then, we’ve got to get a move on. Now they know someone’s up here they may start shelling for real.”
“Bloody fools – they’ll have the place down!” Quantrell snarled.
Reassured, Paul crept to the wall and peered out through a decorative carving on one of the parapets.
The SPV had backed away from the church, although the narrow street between the Lytch gate and the houses opposite was still blocked by its bulk. The laser cannon was trained on the church and Paul recalled, with a rueful grimace, that it had only taken Captain Blue about 3 or 4 shots to demolish Glengarry Castle on the occasion of one the Mysterons’ more fanciful threats to ‘clip the wings of the world’. If the SPV attacked, it would only be a matter of minutes before it demolished the church and there’d be no chance for Quantrell and himself to get away. It was only the thought that Blue and Grey were with Dianne in the church and that both of them would give their own life to save hers, that gave him any comfort.
Better that it never comes to that, he thought and turned towards the control panels.
Quantrell had moved to the far side of the panel and was waiting. The switches on the panels were close enough for Paul to depress them both with his fingers outstretched. He removed his wristwatch and placed it where he could watch the seconds tick away before resting his hands on the switches.
He glanced at Quantrell. “Ready?”
“On the count of three… three, two, one – press!”
Nothing happened, except the slow seconds ticked by on Paul’s watch; he found himself counting them under his breath. At 34 seconds two lights flickered on the control panel.
The third explosion rocked the tower and chunks of masonry were thrown across the rooftop by the impact, which had been aimed much higher than the previous two. Quantrell groaned as a substantial piece of stone caught his temple and he slumped forward.
“Bob?” Paul called, unwilling to move his hands, but then Quantrell’s body twitched and his hand slithered from the switch. The two lights stopped flickering. Cursing, Paul scuttled round to the other side and placed two finger tips against Quantrell’s jugular. The pulse was weak and erratic and there was no indication that he was going to regain consciousness soon – if ever.
“Improvise…” Paul muttered. A moment later he was struggling to shift Quantrell’s body so that it was braced against the wall of the tower and then he placed the hands and arms over the buttons, weighing them down with some of the rubble that surrounded them. After some shifting about, the buttons were depressed and, hoping that there was a little leeway in the instruction to press all six buttons simultaneously, he scrambled back to his position and pressed the other four.
Once more he counted off the seconds: “50, 51, 52...” This time the consol lights did not flicker and Scarlet began to sweat: if the damping field didn’t close, then there was no way to call Cloudbase and no chance of getting help in preventing the SPV from blowing the church to smithereens. As he mechanically counted down the seconds, his mind turned over alternative solutions to the present situation: it didn’t take long because, right now, he couldn’t think of a single one.
Melody Angel closed down her communication link to Cloudbase and adjusted the flight co-ordinates of her Angel Jet. The duty-commander of the World Army Air Force base at Winchester had been helpful, but unable to tell her where General Metcalfe and his wife were. She’d already confirmed that they were not at their home. After discussions with Cloudbase, the jet swooped and raced across the leaden sky towards London and the family home of Lord Robert and Lady Susan Simms.
An hour later, Melody was standing in the elegant surroundings of her friend’s home in Chelsea, talking to Rhapsody’s mother.
“Dianne and Paul stayed here overnight on their way from Winchester to the wedding,” Lady Susan explained. “We’re expecting them back on Sunday night and we’re following them back to Winchester for a Christmas-cum-birthday party at Longwood Abbey on Monday.”
“Do you know where the wedding was, Lady Susan?”
“Yes, Dianne did tell me… it was a strange name,” she hesitated for a long moment. “Buresiart Parva, I think that was it.”
“Thank you, Lady Susan.”
“Why do you need to know? Is there a problem?”
“We need to contact… Dianne and Paul urgently and for some reason the communications are down in that area. We’d tried General and Mrs Metcalfe, but they don’t seem to be at home, so I hoped you might know.”
“It seems a long way to come just to find that out. Couldn’t you have called? Not that I am not delighted to see you, Melody. Can I at least offer you some refreshment – a cup of tea, perhaps?”
“It’s an operational thing,” Melody explained, not wanting to go into the fact that they feared the Mysterons might well be monitoring their communications, if they too were searching for Captain Scarlet. “And thanks, Lady Susan, but I don’t really have time for a cup of tea.”
“I’ve always surmised that you gels don’t eat properly,” Lady Susan said, with a friendly smile. “But I know better than to argue. Is there anything else I can do for you, Melody?”
“You don’t happen to know where this Buresiart Parva is, exactly, do you?” Melody asked.
Lady Susan produced a hand-held phone and keyed something in. A moment later she handed it to Melody. “Easier to show you than even try to explain…”
Melody studied the small map and noted the names of nearby towns. “Thanks, ma’am,” she said, handing it back. “I’d better go and speak to Dianne.”
“Where did you leave your plane?”
“At the City STOL-port. I got a cab from there.”
“Well, we can do better than that. I’ll tell Craig to drive you back.”
“It’s okay,” Melody started to say, but Lady Susan was not to be denied and she found herself sitting in the back of Lord Robert’s luxurious classic Daimler limousine on her way across the city. Aware of the admiring glances from other motorists and pedestrians alike, she was hard pressed to prevent herself from giving them a regal wave as she swept along.
Gee whizz, Magnolia Jones, if your folks could only see you now… she thought, as they drove past the Houses of Parliament and turned left onto the Embankment.
It was an all-too-brief respite from her duty before she waved goodbye to the Daimler and climbed back into the Angel Jet. She filed a flight plan, informed Cloudbase where she was and where she was going, and took off into the rapidly darkening sky over the Thames.
Although it was chilly in the crypt and the atmosphere was one of all-pervading damp, there was enough light from the unshaded, low wattage bulb by the stairs to show that the stone roof was vaulted and that there were several, plain rectangular tombs set in the middle, roughly below the High Altar in the church above.
“I hope we won’t have to be here for too long,” Dan said, gloomily. “We’ll catch our deaths.”
“Whose are the tombs, Sophie, do you know?” Dianne asked, seeking to divert her companions from speculating about their situation and the danger the others – including Bob Quantrell – were facing.
The tall woman shook her head.
“Probably some of the de Valensis family, or a peripheral Mowbray,” Dan suggested.
Dianne chuckled, although she was already starting to shiver. “Yes, I suppose even a ‘peripheral’ Mowbray would merit a grandish tomb in a church like this. We’d better make ourselves as comfortable as we can until Paul and Mr Quantrell get the radio comms working again or someone gets Black out of the way.”
“Do you think that’ll take long?” Dan asked, moving towards the stone tombs to see what was beyond them.
“Not if they can get the radio comms open,” Dianne replied, following him deeper into the crypt. “Spectum’s strike capabilities are the best there is. Wherever Cloudbase is located, we can send agents around the globe using some of the fastest jets ever made and we have terrestrial bases, of course. One of the biggest is in London.”
“That’s good to know, isn’t it, Soaf?” Dan sounded deliberately upbeat as he turned back towards the door where his fiancée was still standing. “There’s a niche here we can sit in until it’s safe to go back upstairs. I’ll put my jacket down for us to sit on, shall I?”
Sophie did not reply and remained standing stock still.
“Soaf?” he said with concern, a frown marring his normally carefree expression.
Noticing his unease, Dianne turned too. Sophie had not moved since they’d entered the crypt, she stood slightly to the side of the ironwork grill that served as a door. The inadequate lightbulb threw the wall beyond the bulky pillar that supported the doorway into deep shadow. As Dianne’s eyes adapted to the gloom, she thought she could see a slight movement in the dark and then she saw the hand that lay on Sophie’s shoulder.
Dan took a leap towards her, but stopped as turned an emotionless gaze on him.
“Stay where you are,” Oliver Barker said harshly, emerging from the depth of shadow.
“Oliver?” Dan gasped. “But…” He stared open-mouthed at the man he had seen dead and cold not too many hours ago, then turned to Dianne as if seeking an explanation.
“Haven’t you realised yet, Earthman, the extent of the powers you seek to oppose? I am disappointed in you, Daniel. My masters consider you as a threat and yet you do not seem to me to be capable of even understanding what you are up against.”
Whilst Oliver was talking, Dianne had moved stealthily towards the doorway. As she grew closer to Sophie she began to fear the worst. The young woman was expressionless, immobile and showed not a flicker of emotion – even fear. Her growing concern was confirmed when Sophie turned her dead eyes on her.
“Do not move, Earthwoman,” she said. Dianne froze.
“Earthwoman?” The agonising truth dawned on Daniel as he stared in bewilderment at his fiancée. “Have the Mysterons taken control of you as well, Soaf?”
Oliver closed the gap between him and Daniel, leaving Sophie to guard the exit. “I was sure Captain Scarlet would sense our presence before now; but it seems that even Spectrum’s greatest weapon is no longer capable of identifying matter recreated by the powers of the Mysterons. This will make us invincible! This planet is at our mercy and our retaliation will soon be complete!”
“It must’ve been Black who made you a Mysteron,” Dianne reasoned aloud. “When did that happen?”
“Days before you arrived he knew you were coming here,” Oliver bragged. “We know about the BIG RAT project and plan to use it against you. Daniel is part of that plan. As a Mysteron agent he would oversee the mind-mapping process for the Scarlet Assignment. The Scarlet-being will be at his mercy – his mind laid open to Mysterons and the secret of his intransigence revealed.”
“That does seem to intrigue you, doesn’t it?” Dianne said. “You get really peeved that you can’t control him – but you never will. Paul is too strong for you – even with all your much-vaunted powers!”
“You do not understand, Earthwoman, the Mysterons are all powerful.”
“Yeah, yeah… Megalomaniacs Anonymous is full of deluded misfits like you and your ‘masters’,” she retorted with more bravado than she felt. “Spectrum is a match for any one of you.” She had continued edging towards the door while this conversation had continued and in order to keep Oliver distracted from killing Dan and her, she asked: “Was it you or Black that killed Sophie?”
“It was I,” Oliver admitted. “I flagged her down on her way here this morning and it was all too easy.” He turned his attention to Dan and taunted him: “If you had examined the tombs more closely you would have noticed that the lid of one had been opened recently. Perhaps it is some consolation to you, Earthman, to know that your woman lies in this consecrated ground?”
Daniel yelled aloud in anger and sorrow and leapt towards his tormentor, fists flailing. This sudden attack distracted Sophie from her scrutiny of Dianne, who took her chance to make a break. She rushed to the doorway drawing breath to call for help, but found herself pinned by a strong and unyielding grip from behind.
This was Sophie’s mistake, for long, dedicated hours of training kicked in and Rhapsody Angel relaxed, allowing her body to prepare for action. She sensed Sophie standing close behind her, determined she should not move from the crypt. The sudden explosion of force lifted the taller woman off her feet and with ease Rhapsody threw her over her shoulder, in a move that would have impressed even the Black-Belt ranked Harmony Angel. Sophie’s body flew into the rough stone wall and, for one brief moment, Rhapsody felt a spark of pity as she heard the unmistakable snap of breaking bone. Her assailant lay – neck broken – at her feet.
With a momentary glance at Daniel, still locked in close combat with Oliver, Rhapsody flew up the winding stairs, yelling for Blue and Grey to come to her assistance.
As she reached the top she was met by the captains. “Oliver – Mysteron – Crypt – attacking - Dan. Quick!” she gasped, panting for breath after her sudden exertion.
Blue led the way down into the gloom and Rhapsody clung to the wall for support as the sharp crack of gunfire sounded below. She didn’t notice the tears on her cheeks until she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned to bury her face against the broad chest of Captain Grey.
“It’s okay,” he reassured her, “Daniel’s okay – we were in time, thanks to you. He’s beaten up but he’ll survive. Oliver’s dead and Sophie too – poor kid.”
Rhapsody pulled herself together, determined that Grey should not get the impression that she wasn’t up to facing the harsh reality of the fight against the Mysterons. “She was a Mysteron,” she told him, blinking rapidly to clear the moisture from her eyes. “Oliver killed her – this morning, I think. The real Sophie is in one of those stone tombs.”
She looked up and saw nothing but sympathy and understanding in his handsome face. “Oh, Brad, why didn’t we realise Oliver was a Mysteron before it came to this? Paul didn’t sense anything or he’d have told me. And now poor Sophie… and Dan…”
He gently guided her away from the stairs as Blue emerged with the unconscious Daniel in a fireman’s lift over his shoulder.
“I don’t know, honey,” he said, “but we have a duty to the living before we mourn the dead. Can you look after Daniel?”
She nodded and indicated a pew where she could pile up the hassocks to make the young man comfortable. Blue laid him down along the wooden bench and as soon as he was sure Rhapsody and her patient were okay, he caught Grey’s eye and jerked his head towards the stairs.
Both captains went back down to the crypt without a word; but there was no need for an explanation, Rhapsody knew the standing orders for field officers included ensuring that any Mysteron agent they killed remained dead and unable to retrometabolise in the service of their alien masters. The lack of an electron rifle meant that the two officers would be improvising with whatever electric power source they could access.
She shook her head, unwilling to visualise the undoubted, but necessary, horrors taking place beneath her feet. She busied herself fetching some water and the cleanest of the tea-towels from the vestry to bathe Dan’s blood-splattered and bruised face.
As she soothed Dan’s handsome face so reminiscent of his cousin’s, yet lacking the strength of Paul’s firm jaw and strong cheekbones, she wondered how Paul was getting on up on the roof and just how they were going to get out of the church.
“It can’t be long before the Mysterons realise their agents have been lost and then they’ll probably resort to blowing us to rubble,” she whispered to her companion, who was starting to show signs of reviving. “Come on, Paul; we’re relying on you.”
“72…73…” That sounded like gunshots “…75…76…”
Scarlet’s sharp hearing detected the muffled retort from the two officers’ guns even out on the rooftop. It was a phenomenon he had noticed when on a mission: his senses were heightened beyond what any human might expect and it had served him well on many occasions. Even now as he maintained the steady count of the passing seconds, his mind was racing through numerous explanations.
“85… come on, you bastard, 87…88…”
The red light on the panel flickered once. Scarlet allowed a surge of hope to bring a grim smile to his lips. “93…94… come on, come on…”
The flickering continued and slowly – much too slowly for the ever-impatient Scarlet - it increased in frequency and then suddenly stopped.
After a moment’s hesitation to make sure the flickering wasn’t going to start again, Scarlet took his hand off the button and grabbed the communicator Blue had given him. He switched it on. “Captain Scarlet to Cloudbase. Come in, Cloudbase. Do you read me?” he shouted.
The resulting silence was soul destroying.
“Captain Scarlet to Cloudbase: come in, Cloudbase. Come in, damn you. Do you read me?”
“Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet, only reading you at strength 3, but I can hear you, sir.”
“Hallelujah! Flaxen, I think I love you!” He could hear the embarrassed lieutenant giggling nervously. “Lock on to this signal and patch me through to Colonel White; and whatever you do, Flax, don’t lose these co-ordinates. Spectrum is Red - very, very Red!”
As he closed the communicator down, Scarlet acknowledged that the colonel had an enviable ability to listen without comment and grasp the complexities of a mission situation in moments. There were no pointless questions or expressions of concern, although he knew the Old Man would be fretting to think that Rhapsody was in danger. His poorly-disguised, affectionate concern for all of the Angel Pilots was a facet of his character that endeared him to many of the cynical and hardened field officers under his command.
Confident that what could be done to help them would be done fast and effectively, Scarlet crawled over to Bob Quantrell. The feeble pulse was still there, irregular and faint. Paul removed his jacket and placed it around the older man’s shoulders.
“Hang on in there, Bob,” he urged. “I’ll be back with help just as soon as it’s humanly possible.”
He scurried over to the hatch and just as a fourth shell hit the church, he slithered down the ladder into the bell loft.
The huge bells were reverberating from the impact, a noise that chilled Scarlet to the bone with a powerful sensation of potential danger. He told himself he was being fanciful and stepped onto the wooden frame to cross to the next ladder.
As he did so another shell shook the tower and blew away a corner of the exterior wall. Beneath his feet the wooden frame twisted and he lost his balance, falling against the biggest of the bells. It swung and the clapper connected with the rim.
The noise exploded in Scarlet’s sensitive hearing and, once upright, he covered his ears with his hands. The warped frame provided the bell with momentum and it continued on a ponderous swing.
Paul hurried on, slipping in his haste and knocking a second, smaller bell, which also began to swing. The two bells clanged and the increasing noise made him feel nauseous.
Another shell impacted, probably on the nave, but it was enough to set the remaining bells swinging. The resulting din set the frame juddering and it came free from one of the walls.
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG-CLANG, CLANG, CLANG-CLANG.
Agony caused Paul sank to his knees, screaming in pain as blood trickled from his ears and seeped between his fingers. He screwed his eyes tight shut, as the pressure inside his sinuses grew until he felt as if his head might burst. He bit deeply into his lip as his teeth clenched. He curled into a ball, and cowered against the wall, but there was no respite from the fearful cacophony.
His grip on reality began to slip as his conscious mind became unable to tolerate the sensory overload of the dissonant, random chimes. He fainted.
“You’d almost think Black was doing it on purpose,” Grey complained, as the bells continued to jangle overhead, sounding preternaturally loud even in the body of the church.
“You think it’s bad here?” Rhapsody said, “Paul’s on the roof, with nothing between him and the bells.” She turned her worried gaze to the captains and bit her lip. “I hope he’s okay – and Bob.”
“We can’t get up there,” Grey explained and sighed. “I wish we had the jet packs from the SPV.”
“We can’t just ignore them,” Rhapsody protested. “I’ll go and see if they need help.”
“You won’t,” Blue said firmly and caught her by the arm as she moved towards the bell tower stairs. “But I will, in just a short while. Can you find me some matches, Rhapsody? There must be some to light the altar candles.”
“Matches?” She looked at him strangely. “Whatever for?”
“I’m going to marry a little pagan ingenuity with a touch of desecration. However, I’m sure the Angels will forgive me for ignoring their siren song – if it works.” He glanced up at the roof, where the carvings remained impassive and, so far as could be seen, undamaged.
Her mind was busy trying to follow his thoughts and suddenly she grinned. “It’s supposed to have worked, isn’t it?”
“What’re you on about?” Grey demanded.
“Odysseus,” Rhapsody called over her shoulder, as she ran towards the kitchen, leaving Blue to collect a candle from the high altar and explain his intention to his bemused – and highly sceptical - compatriot.
Scarlet regained consciousness as his retrometabolism fought against the assault on his senses. Whimpering in pain, he shuffled on his elbows and knees, his head protected as much as he could by his hands and arms from the clamour of the bells.
Inch by inch he moved towards the ladder to the clock room, although his mind was now so affected that he was barely capable of coherent thought. Even the beat of his heart had become erratic, chiming in with each dolorous stroke of the pitiless bells. His whole being was focused simply on surviving the next spike of pain as the torture continued.
He didn’t realise he was no longer alone until he was dragged to his feet by strong hands under his arms. He couldn’t bear to open his eyes, but felt himself half- dragged, half-carried along the few remaining feet to the hatchway and the ladder away from the torment.
With considerable force and ignoring his squeals of fear, the someone else forced his hands away from his head and placed them on the rung of the ladder, nudging his feet towards the open hatchway. One hand physically placed his left foot on the rung before exerting considerable downwards pressure on his shoulders. Paul tried to co-operate as his indomitable will, that even death and the Mysterons had failed to conquer, responded to this potential and apparently miraculous rescue.
He lurched down to the next rung, missed the foothold and scrabbled to catch hold as he fell. His hand instinctively closed on a metal rung, the sudden jolt dislocating his shoulder. He hung by one arm until sheer willpower got him back on to the ladder and he tried again.
This foot… one step down…this hand…that foot… one step down… that hand…
He became conscious of instructions that seemed to by-pass his shell-shocked mind and go straight to his body. He concentrated as much as he could and was only a few rungs from the floor when he fell, to lie crumpled on the floor of the clock chamber.
Once more hands dragged him to his feet, propelled him across the room and manoeuvred him onto the ladder to the bell ringers’ chamber and relative safety.
This time, when he had successfully descended the ladder, he opened his eyes and looked up at his deliverer to share his sense of achievement.
He didn’t believe his eyes.
Captain Blue’s preparations were well underway, despite Grey’s doubts and the difficulty in getting the candle wax to the right consistency.
“If it’s too hot it’ll damage your ear,” Rhapsody warned, as she tested the temperature with the tip of her little finger.
“It has to be malleable,” Blue reasoned.
“Does this myth tell you how they got the wax out of Odysseus’ ears afterwards?” Grey demanded.
“Fawn’ll think of something,” Blue said. “Or do you have a better idea?”
“No, not right now, but I still think you’re crazy to risk it,” his friend replied.
“Noted,” Blue said.
“And ignored,” Grey retorted.
“I think you’re crazy too, if that counts for anything,” Dan said. He was sitting up, sipping a cup of tea and watching the Spectrum officers with a kind of bemused incredulity.
Blue’s response was interrupted by a clattering from the tower stairs and Captain Scarlet’s body tumbled from the stairwell and splayed on the flagstones.
“Paul!” Dianne was racing across to him before the others had time to react. She threw herself to her knees and gathered his bloodied head onto her lap, stroking back the black hair, to examine him for wounds.
“Is he okay?” Blue asked, rolling his eyes towards Daniel, who still did not know and could not be allowed to find out about Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolism.
She nodded. “He’s alive, but it looks as if something, maybe the bells, have taken their toll. I wonder what’s happened to Bob.”
Grey activated his cap mic and announcing that he could hear Cloudbase responding, albeit through a good deal of static, he walked away to report their situation to the colonel in private.
“I’d better go up and check,” Blue said. He grimaced and looked up towards the tower where the bells were still clanging out their erratic chimes. “Let’s move Paul over to the nave and settle him next to Dan. Perhaps by then they’ll have quietened down?”
Grey came running across to join them as Dianne settled Paul’s head in her lap and Blue stretched his body out along the pew next to where Dan was sitting.
“I’ve spoken to the colonel. Scarlet and Quantrell lowered the damping field and got through to Cloudbase. The Angel Flight is on its way. Spectrum: London has been mobilised and we can expect a couple of SPVs to arrive any time in the next hour or so. There’s a helijet coming too – in case it’s needed.” He glanced at the still comatose Scarlet.
“He’ll be okay, apart from a major headache when he wakes up,” she assured him.
“The colonel insists that we don’t go up the tower until the SPV has been put out of commission,” Grey continued. “I told him Bob Quantrell was still up there, as far as we know; but he said he doubted if Scarlet would have left a man who was fit to move up there on his own. Besides, Melody’s in the area already and should be here any moment. She’ll draw the SPV’s fire away from the church and, hopefully, get it away from the village too, and that’ll give us a chance to get to Quantrell.”
“Better start softening that wax,” Blue muttered.
“Oh yeah; I mentioned that little scheme to the colonel and he called you a…‘romantic nincompoop’ – I swear he makes these words up - and then said you were too clever for your own good. Fawn says you mustn’t do it and that’s an order. The helijet’s on its way, and they’ll be able to winch Quantrell off, if necessary. Until then, I’m afraid he must take his chances, just like the rest of us.”
When he came to and opened his eyes he sensed light flooding into his brain, although he wasn’t able to make sense of the jumble of shapes consisting solely of dark and light that hit his visual cortex.
Someone, with gentle hands, dripped cool water between his bleeding lips and let it trickle down his parched throat. He swallowed greedily, entranced by the subtle, sweet taste.
Slowly, like a flower unfurling, his tortured mind began to piece together sensory fragments into a cohesive whole.
Sweet water. Cool, sweet water. Cool, sweet water to drink.
Soft hands: a soft hand that was gently stroking his hand.
A face: a beautiful face, with large, blue eyes and ruby lips. A beautiful woman’s face: a beautiful woman smiling at him. A beautiful woman with blue eyes, ruby lips and red hair: soft, long, shining red hair, smiling at him.
And above all: silence. A blessed silence. An overwhelming, comfortable silence. He relaxed into the silence and smiled back at the woman.
She was speaking: the ruby lips were moving but nothing broke the silence. He smiled again.
She lifted a round enamel mug to his lips. A white enamel mug, with a black band at the rim: and a chipped handle. It was full of cool, sweet water and he drank thirstily.
Her lips were moving but his silence enveloped him and he could not hear her words. Instead he tried to form his own words, but nothing came from his parched throat. She gave him more of the water from the enamel mug with the black rim and the chipped handle, so he drank it all.
This time he knew he was making words and that she could hear them, although he could not. Not yet.
“Angel,” he said.
She smiled and nodded, leaning over him so that he could smell her fragrant hair and pressing those ruby lips against his, gently, so as not to hurt him.
“Angel,” he repeated confidently and closed his eyes with the vision of her still imprinted on his eyelids. “Angel,” he breathed happily and fell asleep.
Melody Angel’s jet raced across the flat landscape towards the co-ordinates Cloudbase had confirmed. She slowed slightly and banked, so that she could survey the scene laid out below her.
There was the church building, and close to it a row of white houses. Wedged between the houses and the wall of the churchyard, that ran down the incline to towards the houses, was an SPV and the identification number matched that issued to Blue and Grey at Mildenhall.
She flew over, making as much noise as possible to draw attention to her presence.
“Melody Angel to Cloudbase: I have arrived at the co-ordinates of the church and located the stolen SPV. From observation, the church, and more especially the tower, has been damaged by rocket fire. I can’t see Captain Blue or Grey and there’s no sign of Captain Scarlet or Rhapsody Angel. There’s no sign of Captain Black either and the SPV has not reacted to my presence.”
“Advise any civilians in the area to move away from the site, Melody. Then hail the SPV, and warn Black that you will open fire if he does not surrender.”
She made another circuit and activated the external loudhailer: “This is Melody Angel of Spectrum. We are in pursuit of a suspect terrorist and advise all civilians in the area to leave immediately. If the suspect does not surrender we will open fire. Clear the area! You will not be warned again.”
On the next circuit she observed several people hurrying away from the houses and, nodding in satisfaction, she opened a communication channel to the SPV.
“This is Melody Angel to the occupant of SPV C673. Spectrum considers you to be in unlawful possession of this vehicle. Surrender immediately or we will open fire and destroy you. You have 90 seconds before I open fire.”
The epaulettes on her shoulders flashed blue and over her helmet comm. link she heard the relieved voice of Captain Blue:
“Boy, are we pleased to see you, Melody,” he said.
“Captain Blue, is everyone clear of the SPV? I have orders to open fire in approximately 20 seconds.”
Blue’s answer was quick and succinct. “Rhapsody, Grey, Scarlet and I are here in the church. A civilian, Daniel Blake is with us, but we believe Bob Quantrell – another civilian – is still on the roof of the tower, or inside the tower. His status is unknown.”
“S.I.G., Captain. Stand by.”
She switched back to the SPV channel. “Occupant of SPV C673, I am opening fire in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” She pressed the controls and a rocket launched from the Angel Jet and homed in on the target.
“Direct hit,” Melody reported to Cloudbase, as the missile struck the SPV. “Minimal damage. Going round for another run.”
“Cancel that, Melody. If Black was in there, I doubt that he is any longer. Patrol the area; the other Angels will be with you in 3.25 minutes. When they arrive, you must land and relieve the officers in the church. The e.t.a. for the helijet is 6.5 minutes. Keep Captain Blue informed.”
Blue reported back to his colleagues. “Melody says the colonel thinks Black’s abandoned the SPV, which means he could be anywhere. Grey, you check by the door and I’ll search by the altar.”
“What can I do?” Dan asked.
“Sit still and stay outa trouble,” Blue replied sharply. “The Angel Flight will be here in about two-and-a-half minutes, and the helijet soon after, so we should be getting out of here before long.”
Dan watched the two Americans go before he turned a rather sulky face to Dianne and said, “Is he always this bossy?”
She smiled. “He’s just doing his job, Dan. Normally, Captain Blue is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet but he’s the Field Commander for this mission, which makes him the man responsible for everyone’s safety. We all have to do what he says.”
“Is Paul a Field Commander too?”
“Of course he is. He was off duty – we both were – when all this started. He and Blue work together most of the time. They’re good friends. Paul would tell you to do what Blue says, believe me.”
“Dianne, what Oliver said, down in the crypt, about Sophie – being dead and all – was that… was it true?”
“I think it was. The Mysterons are powerful and ruthless. They kill without remorse and the people they ‘recruit’ – doppelgangers of the people they kill – they’re dangerous and as heartless as their masters. But a Mysteron agent – one of these doppelgangers – is not the same as the person we knew and loved. You should remember Sophie and Oliver as they were and forget the two in the crypt.”
“I loved her very much,” he said simply.
“I know. I’m sorry, Dan, but there was nothing we could’ve done.”
“Oh – I know that. I also know now why the World Government sets such a store by BIG RAT and the Scarlet Assignment. I intend to do everything I can to make it a success and get my revenge on the Mysterons – if it takes me the rest of my life.”
They sat together in a companionable silence disturbed only by the muffled sound of movement from within the church. The clamour of the bells had reduced to an occasional clang now that the periodic shelling had ceased and outside it was growing dark. The church was cold, a bitter draught blowing through the doorway to the bell tower. Blue had lit the altar candles to provide some additional light and they were guttering, throwing surreal shadows against the walls.
From overhead came the powerful roar of the three Angel Jets and through the glassless windows, Rhapsody saw three powerful searchlights sweeping the churchyard in the search for Captain Black.
She was startled by Paul’s sudden movement, as he woke and sat up all in the same moment.
“Are you all right, Paul?” she asked, placing a hand on his arm. Her touch seemed to surprise him and he was frowning when he turned to her.
“He’s here,” he said.
“I can sense him. He’s here.” He was looking round in confusion, staring wide-eyed into the shadowy corners created by the guttering candles and the fading daylight.
She could see nothing and yet she had every faith in his uncanny sixth sense – when it worked.
“Captain!” she called urgently and in answer, Blue emerged out of the darkness at a run, with Grey appearing shortly after.
Scarlet did not acknowledge them or their greetings. “He’s here, I can sense him,” he said again.
“Any idea where?” Blue asked, as Grey took guard over Dan and Dianne.
Scarlet was still scanning the shadows intently, and he did not answer.
“Paul,” Dianne said loudly, “can you hear me?”
“He’s here; I know he is,” Scarlet said.
Dianne looked at Blue. “I don’t think he’s hearing anything,” she said.
“Captain Scarlet, respond to the question; that’s an order,” Blue said.
Scarlet took a step forward, staring intently towards the bell tower stairs. “Maybe there…” He pointed and turned to look at Blue without the slightest sign of recognition. “You, fetch him.”
“What did your last servant die of, Plod?” Dan muttered his voice heavy with sarcasm.
“Deaf or not, Scarlet’s not often wrong about Captain Black,” Blue said. “Cover me, Captain.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue.”
“Be careful,” Rhapsody pleaded, as Blue walked forward.
Scarlet continued to move his head from side to side.
“It’s as if he’s triangulating a location fix,” Rhapsody muttered.
“Gone,” Scarlet said to Blue, and pointed towards the church door. “You’re too slow.”
“Well, they say ‘fools rush in’ and I was never one of those,” Blue muttered in response.
The door opened, allowing a brilliant light into the end of the church, as Melody announced her presence.
She stepped forward as Scarlet yelped, “No! Not now!”
In the confusion and against the bright searchlight, Blue could not see well enough to get in a clear shot as Captain Black grabbed Melody and kicked the door shut.
He dragged the struggling woman up towards the altar, where the group stood aghast at the sudden turn of events. Grey moved to stand in front of Dan and Rhapsody but Scarlet was jumping up and down, shouting in frustration:
“Catch him. I told you! Catch him, why don’t you?”
Blue had stepped back into the darkness and was shadowing Black’s progress up the nave, intent on saving Melody, if nothing else.
“Shut him up,” he ordered, as Scarlet’s shouts grew louder and more insistent.
Rhapsody placed a hand on Scarlet’s arm and having attracted his attention, she placed a finger to her lips.
“I told you,” Scarlet said grumpily, but he did fall silent.
“You’re surrounded, Captain Black,” Blue shouted, from somewhere down the nave. “The Angel Flight is outside and reinforcements are on their way. You might as well surrender now and save yourself the inevitable pain of a fight.”
“The Mysterons do not surrender, Earthman. Our threat was to destroy the Scarlet Assignment and that is what I will do. Give me Daniel Blake and I will give you Melody Angel.”
“No deal,” Melody cried, before anyone else could answer.
“I don’t like him,” Scarlet announced loudly, jumping onto the first step leading up to the pulpit.
“Shush,” hissed Rhapsody, placing her finger to her lips again.
“You heard the lady, Black: no deal; but I promise you, if you harm her, there will be no escape for you. Not here on this planet, nor anywhere beyond it that the Mysterons take you to. I will hunt you down,” Blue said coldly.
“Brave words, Earthman; but you cannot accomplish your threat. Give me Blake.”
“Why don’t you take Scarlet?” Grey said. “After all, the Scarlet Assignment is designed around him.”
“You would just use another human in your arrogant belief that you can challenge the might of the Mysterons. Besides,” Black added, glancing at Scarlet, “the bells have destroyed his mind. He is faulty. Never again will we fear him.”
“Oh, so you do fear him?” Blue cried. “The Mysterons can’t know what Scarlet is capable of. He’s recovered from worse than this and he’ll face you and defeat you until you and your alien masters learn to fear Captain Scarlet all over again.”
“Give me Blake,” growled Black angrily. He twisted Melody’s arm behind her back and despite herself, she cried out.
“Leave her alone!” Dan exploded in frustrated anger and raw pain. “She’s just a girl. You want me, then come and get me!”
He started to run down the nave towards the door and Black thrust Melody to the floor in order to aim his gun at the fleeing man.
Before he could pull the trigger, Scarlet had sprung from his position on the pulpit steps and cannoned into Black with a force that knocked them both to the ground.
They rolled over and over, punches flying. It was as impossible to see who was gaining the upper hand as it was for Blue or Grey to get a clear shot.
The candlesticks holding the large altar candles fell to the ground and in no time the guttering flames caught hold of the decorative altar cloth and started to spread. The breeze from the shattered windows fanned the flames, which caught the old wooden roodscreen and shot up into the roof.
All the while Scarlet and Black were trading punches and fighting what had become a personal battle amidst the chaos.
“Get out,” Blue ordered Rhapsody, Melody and Grey. “Take Daniel to safety and don’t come back.”
“What’re you going to do?” Rhapsody cried.
“Whatever I can before I have to get outa here too… now go!”
Grey had hoisted Melody to her feet and he took hold of her hand and Rhapsody’s arm and steered them down the nave to where Dan was watching from the doorway.
“He saved me,” he muttered to the others. “Paul saved me.”
“It’s the kind of thing he does,” Grey said. “Now, you heard, Blue – let’s scram!”
Scarlet was tiring. His recovery had been interrupted by Black’s arrival and he knew he wasn’t strong enough to defeat his enemy once and for all. He’d noted with relief that Blue had ordered everyone to leave, but he wished his friend had gone too.
Blue was hovering as close as he dared to where Black and Scarlet were locked in battle. Around them the church was in flames and it was clear that there was no saving that spectacular roof. Blue dodged as a huge timber fell to the floor, scattering flames to the hassocks and books spread out along the wooden pews. He knew there was not much time until he had to choose to leave, or be hemmed in by the flames.
“Scarlet!” he called in despair.
His friend’s head turned and for a brief moment his clear blue eyes met Blue’s troubled gaze. There was a slight smile on his bleeding lips and one hand rose in farewell, as smoke billowed up around him, obliterating the combatants from Blue’s sight.
Aware that the soles of his boots were starting to smoulder, Blue was forced to back away, and with a heavy heart he turned and ran out into the dark night, leaving his friend to his fate.
Moments later the roof crashed in, sending huge spurts of flame into the night sky and then the bell tower collapsed.
Doctor Fawn arrived in the medical helijet and patched up Melody’s broken arm, examined Daniel Blake and pronounced him unharmed – physically, at least – before suggesting that Blue’s uniform boots be disposed of with full military honours for saving the wearer from serious damage to the soles of his feet.
Daniel and Melody were shipped back to Cloudbase, where Colonel White was waiting to personally debrief the scientist and impress upon him the need for absolute and eternal silence about the identity of his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée; not to mention the events that had led to the tragic deaths of his own fiancée, her father and the local vicar.
Captain Ochre and Captain Magenta arrived in Buresiart Parva at dawn with a team of terrestrial agents. Their task was to contain as much of the ensuing local outrage as they could and deal with the Church Commissioners over such issues as what the hell Spectrum thought they were doing trying to blow up a church and when could they expect the money for a new one?
“I get all the good jobs,” Ochre muttered to Blue, as he went into a meeting with the irate Rural Dean who was demanding full and immediate reparations.
Blue managed to raise a wry smile, but in truth, he felt nothing like smiling.
The venerable church of St Jude’s was a smouldering ruin. The emergency services were busy damping down the embers and searching for the bodies supposedly buried in the rubble. So far the only body they had found was that of Bob Quantrell, and Blue was blaming himself for their failure to get the civilian off the church roof before the tower collapsed.
Fawn came over and placed a mug of steaming black coffee on the bench in front of his fellow officer and sat down beside him.
“Just as you like it,” he said, “strong enough to tarmac a road with and a guaranteed health hazard to every human organ.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Blue cupped his hands around the mug, thereby putting himself in serious danger of scalding, but he made no effort to drink.
“I’ve had a word with the police pathologist,” Fawn said. “She thinks, from her initial examination, that Quantrell was dead before the fire, possibly for some time before the fire. I know the colonel thinks that Scarlet wouldn’t have left him unless there’d been a good reason to do so.”
“If Scarlet was trying to get down the tower after the bells had starting ringing he’d have had to leave Quantrell behind. Paul didn’t make it through there without doing himself serious damage, so there’s no way Quantrell – even a fit and healthy Quantrell – would have survived.”
“This from the man intending to pour hot wax in his ears and go into the bell tower himself,” Fawn snapped. “You’re bloody lucky Scarlet got out of there on his own, Captain. Next time, engage your brain before deciding to emulate the heroes and demi-Gods of old, willya?”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya, okay?”
“Whatever happened to him up in the bell tower, he’d have recovered. I’m sure of that,” Fawn said returning to his habitually calm manner.
“He already had,” Blue confirmed. “I saw him and he saw me just before I had to leave and the roof collapsed. He was back to normal. Well, normal for Captain Scarlet.” He took a sip of the coffee, grimaced as it scalded his mouth and put it down again.
“They’ll find him.”
“But in what shape, Doc? Paul hates fire; I think it is the one death he still fears. What little he can remember about the first time he died is tied up with the fire after the SSC crashed. He suffers enough without all this on top of it.”
“Well, none of it is your fault; so you can sympathise; empathise, if you really feel the need, but you have no reason to criticise yourself.”
“I know. You go through the same catechism every time this happens. The problem is, he’s my friend and… well, I care what happens to him. I owe him my life a hundred times over, so what little I can do is small enough thanks.”
“I think he’d say the same, Adam; I really do,” Fawn said, as he got to his feet. He looked down at his melancholy friend. “Don’t brood or you’ll get worry lines and Symphony won’t love you any more…”
“Fuck off, Doc,” Blue said, a genuine smile breaking out on his face for the first time since he left Scarlet in the burning church.
Grinning, Fawn left him and went to see if he could spread a little more of his own peculiar brand of happiness anywhere else.
The leader of the emergency team reported to Captain Magenta.
“We’ve cleared the rubble down to the floor level. It looks like the floor collapsed, presumably when the roof or the tower came down, and underneath there’s a crypt or some kind of vault. It’s full of debris, but we’re shifting it as quick as we can.”
“Yes, there’s a crypt, according to the report I have. It’s possible you’ll find 2 or 3 bodies in there. It seems there were people sheltering there from earlier in the day. Let me know if you find anything.”
“Right-o, Captain. It seems like it was a proper hive of activity yesterday, but I bet the place is empty 300 days of the year.”
Two hours later, Magenta was called over to peer into the darkness of the crypt through the opening they’d made. Under the powerful glare of the rescue floodlights he could make two stone tombs, still largely intact and across them lay the carved wooden figure of a larger than life-size angel. In the space between the tombs and protected from the tonnes of falling masonry by the angel, sat a bedraggled Captain Scarlet.
He looked up and said: “Hello, Captain Magenta. You wouldn’t happen to have a pint or two of water on you, would you, or maybe a large Chicken Madras? I’m famished.”
Doctor Fawn banished every one of the excited crowd from his Medical Facility – in reality a small tent – and looked at the grinning and decidedly grubby face of Captain Scarlet, who was perched on the examination bed.
“You’re all right then?” he said, reaching for the arm Scarlet had obediently extended. He counted the pulse. “Uh-huh.”
He reached for a needle and drew a phial of blood.
“Still not green?” asked Scarlet.
“Still not green,” confirmed Fawn.
The doctor held up a hand. “How many fingers?” he asked.
“Two; and that’s not very polite,” Scarlet replied. He was clearly enjoying himself.
“What can you remember?”
“The capital of Peru is called Lima; the eighth month of the year is August, so called after the Emperor Augustus, formerly Octavian Caesar. My Mother’s name is Mary and I used to have a goldfish called Lenin. You need any more? ”
“Funny man,” Fawn said, smiling slightly. “And what can you remember about yesterday?”
“Yesterday? Oh, yesterday was special. Yesterday, I met an Angel.”
Captain Blue was overseeing the salvaging of the carved angel from the crypt. In the brief meeting Fawn had allowed him with Scarlet, his friend had impressed upon him the absolute necessity of saving the angel from being damaged or carted away by the emergency services. Blue didn’t know why it was important to Scarlet, but he had no doubt that it was and, therefore, he was happy to devote his time and energies to ensuring its safety.
It was winched out of the crypt and laid carefully on the ground. Some of the wood was charred and there were cracks, presumably where masonry had hit it. One of the wing tips had snapped off and was missing. There were small round holes all over it which, Blue surmised, had probably been made by some kind of insect. But for all of that, it was instantly recognisable as an angel. The craftsman who had carved it centuries ago had been a true master of his trade and the long, wavy hair flowed realistically around a face that was arresting in its individuality and expression. The hooded eyes seemed to twinkle in conjunction with the faint smile on the well-defined lips. The overall expression was one of a benign and almost affectionate amusement.
“Thanks,” Blue said emotionally, “You saved his life.”
“Talking to insensate objects is the first sign of madness, you know,” Ochre remarked, coming to stand beside Blue and staring down at the carving.
“I talk to you, don’t I?” Blue teased.
Unusually, Ochre sniggered rather than bridled at the allusion. “Touché, Blue-boy. What does Paul want done with it now?”
“Not sure. Maybe he wants to ship it to Winchester?”
“Oh, I bet his mom’s gonna love him for introducing woodworm into the happy home.”
“I don’t think it has woodworm – well not any more,” Blue said. “Maybe carvings get it in their formative years, like teenagers get acne?”
Ochre stared at him. “I think your grip on reality just let go.”
“Go and tell Paul I’ve rescued his guardian angel, will you? I’ll get the workmen to move it away from here, so it doesn’t get damaged.”
“S.I.G., Captain.” Ochre paused. “You know, it looks a bit like the colonel… on one of his rare good days.”
“Now whose reality is slipping? He never has any good days.”
Scarlet approached the angel as it lay on a groundsheet in the vicarage garage. Rhapsody had left in their hire car to go back to London with their things and her parents were going to take her down to Winchester for Christmas. He had to go back to Cloudbase for a de-briefing but Colonel White had promised he’d be at home for the festivities.
Blue was with him, as observant as ever, waiting to fly them both back to base. “It’s a remarkable carving,” Blue commented, from the doorway.
“Yes, he is.”
“Jophiel; it’s his name.”
“One of the seven angels listed in Enoch,” Blue remarked.
“Yes; only, well, I didn’t know that. Not till he told me.”
Scarlet looked up at his friend and saw faint unease in his expression. “Oh don’t worry; I’m not going off my rocker. If I tell you – if – you have to promise never to tell anyone else. Ever.”
“You know you can trust me, Paul.”
“Sure, as long as you don’t think it’s in my best interest to blab something to Fawn or the colonel.”
Blue looked hurt, but he shrugged. “It’s your choice, buddy.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t understand this myself and I can’t give you an explanation – and if you think of one, I don’t want to hear it, okay?”
“I was coming down from the roof. Quantrell had been hurt – he had a heart condition, so he was suffering before the shrapnel or whatever it was, hit him. He was barely alive. I had to prop him up against the wall and weight his arms down on the buttons to make sure they stayed pressed. Then, after the comms were working, I had to leave him, to get help. I couldn’t move him and I think if I’d tried he’d have died anyway.”
“Yeah, so I went down alone. The bells started chiming, the missiles must’ve set them off and the support frame got damaged. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think straight, my eardrums burst, my sinuses were about to explode. I crawled as far as I could towards the next ladder. I had my eyes shut and I felt hands lift me to my feet and shove onto the ladder. I got down it somehow and the hands dragged me to the next ladder – and safety. I looked up as I reached the bottom and there, smiling down at me was the angel: Jophiel.”
Scarlet looked across at his astounded friend. “No, don’t say it – whatever it is, don’t say it!”
“Not a word.”
“I ran. I lost my footing and fell down the stairs, and you saw me fall into the church. I don’t know what was in my mind – or if anything was. I was as close to what I remember about being dead as I have ever been without actually being dead. Nothing worked. No senses, no sense. It didn’t all come back until Black grabbed Melody and I heard him say: the bells have destroyed his mind. He is faulty. Never again will we fear him.’ And you leapt on that and said ‘so you do fear him’. And I knew what I had to do. I had to get Black.”
“You certainly did that.”
“I wasn’t fully recovered, I wasn’t strong enough and then the fire – and you know I don’t like fire. Black had me pinned down. He was going to kill me and I knew – somehow, I knew – if he did I would not be able to retrometabolise. I remember looking up into the ceiling and seeing the same angel. I called out – help me.”
There was a long silence and then Scarlet continued: “The roof came down, flaming beams, falling everywhere. One knocked Black away. He vanished but I was trapped. Then the tower came down and the floor opened and I fell. There was more noise; I thought I would be entombed, but I fell close to the stone tombs and I crawled between them. Jophiel fell across the tombs and sheltered me from the masonry.”
“That’s how things were when they found you,” Blue confirmed.
“I don’t know how long it was – hours, certainly. I don’t know if my mind was in this world or the next; but Jophiel and I sat and talked and he told me things would be okay. He said I was someone special, and I was needed.”
“He was right.”
“And so I waited and it all came right. When I heard the rescuers approaching, I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted to stay here, in Buresiart, and I said I would do what I could. They’re talking about making a monument or a museum kind of place from the ruins and I thought Jophiel could stay there. But I don’t know if that’s what he wants.”
Blue came and stood beside Scarlet, looking down at the smiling carving. “Oh, I think it’s what he wants, Paul. If it wasn’t, I’m sure he’d let you know.”
“Yeah. You know, Adam, it’s kinda nice to think I have a guardian angel; that I’m not alone in this mad existence of mine. That someone keeps an eye on me.”
“Apart from me and Dianne and the colonel and your mom and Fawn, you mean?”
Scarlet laughed. “Yeah; apart from all of them.”
“Let’s go; the colonel’s waiting and Jophiel’s safe here for now. After Christmas we’ve got some leave due, so we could come down and make sure it’s all arranged properly.”
“Yeah; I’d like that.”
“Merry Christmas, Jophiel, and a happy New Year,” Blue said cheerfully, as he led the way out of the garage.
Scarlet laughed and echoed the sentiments, and as he turned to follow, he could have sworn he heard a voice at the very edge of his hearing, say:
Merry Christmas, boys.
The village of Buresiart Parva does not exist and although the name is adapted from the Domesday Book entry for a real place, it is not that place.
St Jude’s is an amalgam of several churches I have visited over the years, although the Hammerbeam roof has been lifted in its entirety from St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. There are some lovely pictures of it here: http://www.angelroofs.com/140710-gallery-8
It has been a difficult year in which to find the time and motivation to write for me and I am relieved that I was able to get this one finished before the deadline for the Christmas Challenge: although it was a close run thing, as Wellington said about the Battle of Waterloo; an apt analogy as I thought I might have met my own personal Waterloo this year, at least as far as writing anything went.
I have been writing Captain Scarlet fan fiction – at a rate of several stories a year - for over a decade now and felt I had nothing new to say and I may be right.
I have a couple of stories lost in Development Hell, a purgatory well-known to several of my fellow fandom authors, and there is simply no time to send out a search party.
My Halloween Challenge offering was one I had written for a friend many years ago which I dusted off, with her kind permission.
For the first time I wasn’t able to write a new ‘Birthday’ story for Our Hero; although this one started life as a Birthday story it quickly had to have tinsel added.
And I have just scraped into the Christmas Challenge.
I wouldn’t even have managed that except for the help of and advice from Skybase Girl, a fellow fandom author, who has suffered similar trials to those I now faced when writing her own, marvellously perceptive stories. She told me about an idea she has for a story – a story I passionately want to read! – and that rekindled my enthusiasm. I had lurched once more into the fray when my PC was sent away to be nursed back to fully-functional health and I bewailed unkind Fate. Skybase Girl sent me an email saying: ‘write longhand; there’s no excuse’. Suitably chastened, that’s exactly what I did. So, thank you most sincerely, Skybase Girl, I couldn’t have done it without you. But don’t forget you have an avid reader, anxiously awaiting the result of your own latest endeavours.
Thanks also go to the usual suspects:
Hazel Köhler, friend, fellow author, beta-reader, and provider of copious encouragement, inspiration and, on occasion, wine. None of which lets her off the hook for failing to complete any of her own excellent fiction.
The ‘Scarletinis’, without whom none of this would be nearly as much fun and who all produce such wonderful stories in their own right, and often despite their own personal ‘Waterloo’ moments.
Colonel Chris, who is responsible for bringing together this collection of disparate and aspiring (or rather that should be ‘inspiring’) authors through the medium of her fantastic website, as well as leading the way with some amazing fiction of her own. It was wonderful to see you again in 2013, Chris!
The TV show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ and all the merchandise related to it, belongs to a big company somewhere – I am afraid I have rather lost touch with who they are. The concept was brought to our TV screens by the late Gerry Anderson and his talented collaborators. Their work inspired a generation of wide-eyed children, all ready to believe that anything was possible in the next half-hour. I trust my story is in keeping with that concept.
Thank you for reading; I hope you enjoyed this story and that you had a good Christmas and will have a happy 2014.
26 January 2014
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