Captain Blue of Spectrum saluted and the Taoiseach smiled, indicating that he should take a seat.
“Many thanks, Captain; it’s a comforting thing to know that our national security network is up to the new standard and running smoothly. I’m sure you’ll forward your full report to the European Triumvirate’s officers – I believe President Henderson is taking the lead on this initiative?” Captain Blue nodded confirmation. “I should express my satisfaction at that, I know Henderson well, and he’s a good man to work with, but nevertheless, I appreciate you giving me a sight of the interim report here and now. I’ll be sending my own report to him as soon as maybe, and I’ll copy Colonel White in on it too.”
“Thank you, sir; I’m sure the colonel will appreciate the gesture.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with while you’re here, Captain?”
“There is one way you could help me, sir. There’s been a problem with the tracking relay station at the World Navy’s Western European base, at Moneypoint. Because of it, the important upgrade that needs installing to complete this sector of the European enhancements has been delayed. I was informed earlier that the technicians have fixed the initial problem, but they’re having trouble uploading the new program. I can do that, if I can get in there. As we weren’t sure it’d even be ready while I was here, I wasn’t provided with the necessary authorisation to gain access… but, if you could just…”
“Say no more! I’ll have my secretary nip along to the Defence Minister’s office and get him to sign a chitty. The World Navy are most obliging about accepting the Government’s passes into the base.”
“Yes, it’s standard procedure, sir; designed to ensure the World Navy doesn’t get too big for its boots – or should that be boats?”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that last remark, Captain.” O’Flaherty chuckled and reached over to give instruction to his assistant over the intercom.
Blue blushed slightly. It wasn’t often that he spoke without giving due consideration to his words, but the friendliness of O’Flaherty, and the people he’d been working with, had lulled him into a feeling of camaraderie with them, and he’d relaxed his guard.
It would never have happened if Captain Black had been here with me, he thought. He never allows friendliness to affect his professional detachment.
He spared a thought for his absent field partner, currently leading an exploratory expedition to Mars. Captain Blue was basically an honest man and he admitted to himself, not without some twitch of guilt, that it was a relief to be on this mission alone: Conrad Turner was hard work. Nevertheless, it was lucky O’Flaherty was such an easy-going sort of guy, but he’d better watch his tongue in future.
“Thank you, sir. It’ll save me the time of waiting for the World Navy to issue authorisation, and with these reviews on all over Europe, Spectrum’s pretty busy at the moment.”
“My pleasure, Captain. Anything to help Spectrum,”
Brian O’Flaherty inclined his head and leant back in his leather upholstered chair, which creaked slightly. “Tell me, Captain, is this what Spectrum is going to be doing all the time? I know that our late, lamented World President had wide-reaching plans for his new security organisation, and this seems – no offence – a trifle ‘domestic’ for Spectrum’s interest. Am I right to assume that the newly-installed World President Younger is less sure what you should be doing?”
Blue quickly realised that he was expected to divulge information in return for the favour he’d received – the Taoiseach was well-known as a subtle politician, however affable he appeared. This time, though, he was on his guard and chose his words carefully. “Spectrum’s brief was always to combat terrorism, wherever and in whatever form it takes, sir. The new World President is as firmly committed to that as President Bandranaik was; in fact he worked closely on the project when he was Senior Vice-President. His… elevation to the top job means that the situation hasn’t changed at all. We’re involved with the new security networks purely because Colonel White sees the value of the Triumvirate’s security upgrade program and he volunteered our help. Once it is in place, I expect administration of the project will be devolved to a different organisation.”
“Oh, I see. Well, be assured that the government here will do all we can to help. Ireland sees itself as very much a part of Europe.”
“That’s good to know, sir.”
“Will you be driving over to Moneypoint, Captain Blue? It’s a lovely drive, even at this time of year, and you might find it easier than trying to land an aircraft within the compound. Between ourselves, Captain, the Bereznians have been making noises about the freedom of the seas again, and the last report I had from the Supreme Commander’s office said they’d detected a fleet of their submarines patrolling the Atlantic, off the west coast here. I don’t suppose it’ll amount to much, but I have a feeling the naval base will be on the alert, and unexpected, unidentified planes might not get a welcome – even those declaring themselves friendly.”
“Is it likely that the Bereznians would launch an air attack, sir?”
“Probably not, but it’s not so long since they sank that fishing boat – you know about that? Good. It was a sorry business, right enough, and one which heightened anti-Bereznian sentiment here. There has been some sabre-rattling in the military because of it too. Now I’m more a believer in the cock-up theories than the conspiracy ones, so I’m thinking it was a sad accident, but even so, as I say, the base is going to be jittery. I’m probably teaching you your job, Captain, but my advice is better a car than a plane, under the circumstances.”
“You’re probably right, sir. I’ll requisition an SSC from Spectrum: Dublin and drive over. It shouldn’t take me that long to get there and, as everything went so smoothly here, I still have a few days’ grace on my mission schedule. Time enough to make the trip there and back, and still have plenty of time to work on the upgrade.”
Rising to his feet to signify the meeting was at an end, O’Flaherty said, “Speak to my secretary on your way out; she should have your entry authorisation organised by now.” He extended his hand and shook the tall American’s hand warmly.
Captain Blue saluted. “S.I.G., sir.”
Escorting his guest to the door, the Taoiseach kept up the conversation.
“Well, have a good and safe journey, Captain Blue. Remember what they say: if the Emerald Isle gets into your system, you’ll never want to leave us!”
“I can believe it, sir! Everyone here has been most welcoming and helpful. My thanks, once again.”
In the main office the young secretary gave the handsome American a coy smile and handed him the paperwork. He saluted her, gave her his brightest smile and a flirtatious wink that made her blush and giggle.
Captain Blue left the offices in a light-hearted mood and hummed to himself as he walked through the bustling streets to the brand-spanking-new Dublin offices of the World Government’s latest international security force, and took possession of a sleek, powerful, red saloon, codenamed the Spectrum Saloon car. He informed Cloudbase where he was going, set the satnav for Moneypoint and began the next phase of his mission with a feeling of relaxed optimism.
The satnav gave clear and precise instructions and once out of the urban sprawl of Dublin the roads were fairly clear and fast. Blue had always enjoyed driving, and with the power of the SSC at his command it was a pleasure to be out and about. He relaxed and glanced at the attractive countryside he was travelling through with some pleasure. Living on a huge floating base, 40,000 feet above the earth, might seem exciting to the ordinary Joes in the streets, but sometimes it was just nice to be out in the fresh air, smelling the – admittedly, occasionally whiffy – smells of the countryside. It was a little early to see the full glories of spring, yet the promise of regrowth was evident in the plants, heavy with buds, that lined the verges and Blue’s psyche responded to the primeval regenerative urge of nature that pervaded the air.
The canteen in the Dublin offices had provided him with a hearty sandwich, bottled water and a small selection of soft fruit, and on a whim Blue drew into a lay-by and dined ‘al fresco’, the weather being unseasonably mild. He felt a growing sense of tranquillity as he listened to the silence and watched the scudding clouds race across the sky. Finally he dragged himself from the pleasant spot and hit the road again, following the concise, clipped voice of the satnav westwards with the setting sun.
He reached Moneypoint as the twilight began to turn the sky to a kaleidoscope of oranges and reds. His pass gained him access without any problem, and the naval attaché, whose office he was ushered into, allocated him quarters nearby. After taking possession of his egalitarian room, Blue strolled down to the base’s public bar, where he’d been told he could get a decent meal.
There was an impromptu céilidh going on and he was invited to join in and handed a pint of Guinness before he had a chance to refuse. He sipped it slowly, nodding in response to the friendly assertions that ‘it’ll do ya’ a power of good!’.
His companions were surprised that he recognised – and even knew – many of their songs.
“I grew up in Boston,” he explained to an elderly man sitting beside him.
“Plenty of good folk went to Boston,” the old man said sagely, “back in the days when it was leave or starve. Why, Boston’s an honorary Irish town.”
Blue smiled. “In my home state about every fifth person you meet claims to be Irish by descent,” he agreed. “And you’d certainly think so, on St Patrick’s Day!”
“But you’ve no Irish yourself?” his new friend asked, a look of sympathy on his face.
“Not that I know of. My father’s family were Scandinavians.”
“Ah, but to be sure! Wasn’t it the Vikings that were after starting Dublin?” the old man cackled cheerfully, raising his glass to their young American visitor. “On my honour, that makes you a tiny bit Irish too!”
Blue grinned and raised his glass in response. They drank a toast to the ‘good old Emerald Isle’… the first of many toasts drunk that night.
The next morning, Blue’s head was thumping and the thought of breakfast made him queasy. Nevertheless he was in the office at the appointed hour and settled down to update the security programs for the tracking relay. The problem wasn’t as serious as he’d imagined; either that, or – Blue acknowledged – Captain Magenta’s program patch was better than he’d realised. He informed Cloudbase that he’d completed the task, and ran a series of tests and dummy sweeps in conjunction with Lieutenant Green and Captain Magenta.
Once that was completed, he reported in for his next assignment and Colonel White ordered him to return to Dublin, where he was to rendezvous with Major Dempsey, the head of Spectrum in Ireland. It seemed that the Taoiseach had given Dempsey some papers of a highly secret and confidential nature with a request that Captain Blue deliver them to Spectrum: London, where President Henderson was due to arrive in the next day or so. The colonel charged his officer with delivering the documents personally, before Henderson held his scheduled talks with the British Prime Minister, the Heads of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and a senior representative of the Supreme Commander: Earth Forces.
“The question of the Bereznians’ recent naval incursions will be discussed, and Mr O’Flaherty’s report is vital for those discussions,” White explained. “Your priority must be to get the papers there on time, Captain.”
Blue acknowledged the order with a sigh. He’d hoped that this mission wouldn’t degenerate into that of a message boy, but there had always been a slight risk that it would. He wrapped up the work at Moneypoint and bade farewell to the friendly staff of the base, pointing the SSC eastwards in the direction of Dublin once more.
He’d gone some distance and was making good time when the sky started to grow leaden and great banks of rain-heavy clouds flowed in from the coast and down the surrounding hills in a tide of mist and drizzle, until the valley he was driving along grew dark with them. A few minutes later there was an ominous rumble overhead and the heavens opened – rain drilled down in a torrent, bouncing on the surface of the road and drumming on the roof of the car. The SSC’s automatic headlights flashed on, and the windscreen wipers sprang into action, splashing through the deluge at maximum speed, but with little effect.
Blue slowed the car to a crawl, barely able to see the roadway ahead. This is going to make me late…
A deafening clap of thunder rolled overhead and the jagged spear of lightning that sliced through the darkness, earthing itself just ahead of him, almost blinded him.
The satnav faded into a hiss of static and the headlights went out. The engine died and the powerful car rolled slowly to a dead stop.
Blue swore. He pressed the starter and tapped the dashboard control panels but the lighting must’ve fused everything. The static when he tried to report to Cloudbase, or, indeed any other Spectrum facility, almost deafened him. He stared out into the raging storm and sighed. There was nothing else for it, but to ‘get out and get under’ and see if he could coax the machine back to life. He realised with a grimace that he hadn’t got a raincoat.
Spectrum’s colourful uniforms were the very latest in high-tech garments: bullet resistant, wired for sound and thermally-lined to adjust to the wide range of temperatures officers might expect to encounter as their missions took them around the globe; however, Captain Blue soon discovered they were evidently not water-proof, and within minutes he was soaked to the skin.
To add to his woes, his best efforts at repairing the car were fruitless; the SSC remained dark and quiet. The light of the standard issue torch was just about adequate for him to see what he was doing, but as his fingers started to grow numb with cold he realised he wasn’t going to be able to do much more – even if he’d had any more ideas about what to try.
He straightened up and glanced around him. What had seemed pleasant, open countryside, now looked barren and deserted, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d passed a house or farm. His heart sank as, locking the SSC, he set out in the direction he’d been travelling, hoping to reach some sign of habitation before too long.
He’d been walking for what seemed like an age, when he thought he heard a car approaching. He turned and peered hopefully through the pounding rain: there was a dim glimmer of headlights in the distance. Fervently thanking the Almighty for this hope of deliverance, Blue moved out into the road, prepared to risk being mowed down rather than let this rare chance slip past. He needn’t have worried, the car slowed as it approached and stopped some feet away from him.
A woman’s voice called:
“Can I help? I saw your car a few miles back.”
He came to the open window and looked down at her; from what he could see in the poor light, she was young and pleasantly attractive, dressed in a green jacket, with a scarf over her hair. She was squinting up at him as she waited his reply and she laughed merrily as the rain trickled from his peaked cap and splashed against her shoulder.
Apologising profusely, he explained, “I’m a Spectrum Captain,” well aware that she might not recognise the bedraggled uniform. “There was a flash of lightning and my car – the electrics – packed up. If you could give me a lift to somewhere with a garage, or even just to somewhere I can contact my base…”
“Surely, Captain; hop in the car.”
With a grateful smile he sprinted round to the passenger side and opened the door. Good manners made him pause before he slid into the seat.
“I’m soaked through, I’m afraid your upholstery-”
“- Has seen far worse than a man with a wet behind,” she interjected, laughter in her voice. “Don’t concern yourself.”
Smiling, he settled into the seat and removed his cap, running a hand through his wet hair.
“I’m very grateful, ma’am,” he said, as she turned up the heating, put the car in gear and started to move.
“American?” she asked succinctly.
“Yes, I’m here on business. I was driving back to Dublin.”
“Americans always are ‘here on business’,” she commented cryptically. “I never knew a race more concerned with time and money.” She turned and gave him an apologetic half-smile. “That was rude of me, I’m sorry.” Her voice was soft and gentle, so that not even her deprecating remark sounded offensive to him.
“Not all Americans are like that,” he replied, giving a moment’s thought to his father who put his business concerns before everything – even his family, or so it seemed at times.
“No, I’m sure they’re not.” She paused. “Call me a cynic; I was once badly let down by an American.”
“Then a jaundiced view of us all is kind of understandable,” he reasoned, “but I hope I can make you reconsider your opinion.”
She looked long and hard at him from beneath long, dark eyelashes, and there was something of the coy invitation in her expression as she said, “I’m sure I’m willing to give you every opportunity to do just that, Captain.”
Disconcerted, Blue chose that moment to study the car. It was an old one, right enough, with blankets over the back seats and a decidedly doggy smell. His rescuer was a little older than he’d first thought, with a flawless complexion and large, dark eyes set wide in a heart-shaped face. Her rosy lips were full, giving her the suggestion of a pout even in repose, yet, with her pert nose, the overall effect was one of sultry beauty. Her hair was long and hung down her back from beneath the serviceable head scarf; it was too dark for him to get a decent idea of the colour, but he thought it was a reddish-golden-brown.
Blue, who had something of a hand-fetish, glanced at hers as they steered the car along the winding road, and was rather disappointed to see they were large and square-shaped, with broad fingers and short-cut nails. In contrast to her face, the skin was reddened, suggesting this woman was no stranger to hard, manual work.
“Where are we going?” he asked, suddenly anxious to break the silence.
“I shall take you back to my home, get you something dry and warm to wear and something hot inside you, so’s you don’t catch your death,” she replied, changing down a gear as they approached a road junction. Three roads branched out into the darkness.
“I need to report to my superiors,” he reminded her.
“Of course, Captain – but much good it’ll do you if you’re raving with a fever, now would it?”
The car turned into the middle road, little more than a lane, with high, grassy banks on either side. Blue glanced towards the right, where a broader, obviously more important road swept away to the east.
She noticed and said, “Don’t worry, Captain. What harm can come to you with me?”
“None,” he replied and smiled. “I’m just concerned about letting my people know where I am and making sure the SSC is okay.”
“In the morning I’ll send someone to tow it to a garage. There’s no one would turn out in this weather to fix it for you – be reasonable, Captain.”
“Yes. I guess you’re right. It’s no night to be out and about if you don’t have to be.”
The car sped up as she drove skilfully along the narrow lane, obviously familiar with its twists and turns. The high banks were topped by mature trees that over-arched it, meeting close to the middle to make a living tunnel. It was darker, although the rain was less heavy and in the distance the sky looked lighter, as if the storm had passed.
They splashed through a shallow ford, and out into a clear, star-spangled night, where a crescent moon hung in the inky blackness, gilding the trees and odd-shaped, moss-covered boulders with silver.
In the distance, Blue saw the silhouette of a house, a large, elaborate red-brick-built building, with a turreted gatehouse and several tall, twisted chimney stacks. It was quite a mansion and wholly unexpected in this sparsely populated part of the country. Closer to the house, the landscape changed to fields and lawns, with a far more domesticated feel to them than the wild valley they’d entered at the junction. They rolled across a turfed embankment into a small, cobblestone courtyard. Now, he could see that there were lights inside the building, and as she stopped the car she turned and smiled.
“My people will look after you, Captain.”
“Your people? I’m afraid I don’t even know your name, Miss…?”
“My name is Muirin Rioghan.” The words had a musical ring that charmed him.
“M-Mohr-in Regan,” he attempted.
She gave her captivating laugh. “Close enough,” she said cheerfully.
“And all this is yours?” His hand swept around to indicate the house.
“Everything since we crossed the ford is mine,” she agreed. “You are in my land now, Captain.”
Blue smiled. “It must be a wonderful place to live – like an enchanted valley…”
“So you might say.” She became business-like. “Now, I can’t go on calling you ‘Captain’ – it’s the name I’ve given one of the dogs, for a start. What is your name?”
“Captain Blue, ma’am.”
“Your real name.”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you-”
“-Of course you can! I can’t extend hospitality to someone who refuses to give their name.”
Blue sensed an annoyance in her tone and reluctantly he said, “Adam.”
She was all smiles again. “Then come, Adam; come with me into my home, and welcome!”
He stepped from the car and even in the closed courtyard caught the familiar scent of the sea. “I thought we were some way inland,” he said, surprised enough to mention it to his hostess.
“Here you are never far from the sea, Adam,” Muirin replied, with a secretive smile. “And when the wind’s in the right direction you can smell its freshness. It is why I love the place. Come inside and make yourself at home…”
Once within the house, Muirin led the way to a living room, where a log fire roared, sending out a welcoming heat. Two sleek greyhounds and a large wolfhound lay before it; they got to their feet, surrounding their mistress and growling softly at the stranger.
“Hush you,” she commanded and they slunk back to the fire, keeping one wary eye on the newcomer, nevertheless.
Two young men entered, as slender and doe-eyed as Muirin herself. She turned to them and spoke in Gaelic.
They nodded and one went back the way he’d come, while the other took a lamp and gestured that Blue should follow him.
“They don’t speak much English, but ask of them what you will and they will understand. Go with Eochaid, Adam. He will see that you have warm clothes to wear. Strahan has gone to make us something hot to eat and drink and help banish the damp from our bones.”
Blue followed the youngster through a door and along a wood-panelled corridor to a bedroom, where a fire was laid, but not lit. Smiling, Eochaid set the lamp on a dresser, closed the shutters on the window that looked out across the approach to the house and welcomed him into the room with a slight bow, before bending to cast a match to the tinder. It flamed almost at once and the light and heat spread around the room with surprising speed.
Handing Blue a towel to dry himself with, Eochaid pursed his lips and stared him up and down, measuring him for clothes, before disappearing into a dressing room, the door of which was hardly visible in the darkest corner of the room. He emerged moments later with a pile of clothes which he placed on the large, curtained, four-poster bed and, smiling, backed himself out of the room.
With a rueful sigh, Blue stripped, rubbed his hair and body dry with the towel and set his boots and tunic as close to the fire as he felt was safe, to dry them out. He examined the clothes and found Eochaid had provided some drawstring shorts, a shirt with laces and a linen tunic that reached to his ankles. In addition there was a heavy-furred, floor-length robe, with intricate embroidered patterns on it. As it was all there was, Blue put them on, including the sheep-skin slippers that completed the eccentric outfit. Everything fitted as if it had been tailor-made for him.
He picked up the lamp and went through to the living room, the aroma of food luring him back.
Muirin was already there; she had changed into what could most certainly be described as ‘something more comfortable’ – a long, full gown of white lace and silk. Her long hair was loose over her shoulders, and caught the gleam of the firelight, which turned it to a bright, shining gold.
She turned to welcome him, a smile on her lips at the sight of him.
“Come, sit by me by the fire, and warm yourself. Strahan has a good soup and roast meat for us. And there is mulled wine.”
Blue returned the smile, self-conscious in his strange garb, but he soon realised that to her it seemed a perfectly natural outfit, and so he quickly forgot what he was wearing, and ate and drank his fill while listening to Muirin’s sweet voice, talking about whatever came into her mind, in a lyrical mixture of English and Gaelic.
He grew drowsy, and felt his eyelids drooping. When he opened them again she was beside him on the couch, her cool hands on his brow.
“Would you rest, my Fionn?” she whispered.
He blinked, fighting to focus on what she was saying. “I’m Adam,” he slurred, “not Finn.”
“It is the name for a man with bright hair, the colour of the sun,” she explained. “I give you that name.”
“Thank you,” he said, bemused yet amused by her; she was so obviously out to seduce him. He wondered for a brief moment if he wanted to be seduced, and gazing up into those enigmatic eyes decided that he rather liked the idea: it had been a while since the last time. He stretched towards her, pressing his lips to her cheek. She inclined her head towards him, and placed her lips against his. He kissed her.
Soft music filled the room and he peered over her shoulder to where Strahan was playing a harp of some kind, and singing in a high, entrancing voice, a song so potent it conveyed the melancholy and joy of love at the same time.
Muirin’s hands were moving over his body, as she murmured unintelligibly in Gaelic. He closed his eyes and leant his head back against the couch as she began to kiss his neck, licking at the sensitive flesh and sucking on his earlobe, her breath warm in his ear.
Hungrily he pulled her against him, burying his hands in her long hair as he slid his tongue between her parted lips. When he drew breath, she responded, wrapping her arms around his neck, whispering:
“Take me to bed, mo muirneach, Fionn.”
With strength that he’d felt too tired to summon a mere moment ago, Blue rose from the couch and lifted her into his arms, carrying her to the room Eochaid had prepared. The warmth of the fire had drawn a heady scent from the rose petals that were strewn over the bed, and a dozen candles filled the room with a golden light. Muirin helped him undress and then with a sensuality that made him ache for her, slowly removed her own gown.
She was beautiful: perfectly formed with an unblemished skin the perfect blend of pink and white, long slender legs, rounded hips and full breasts. Only her ungainly hands and feet spoiled the perfection, but she knew enough to minimise the incongruity of these extremities, and Blue was soon lost in the thrall of her exotic body, awash on a tide of passion and sexuality such as he had rarely known.
He forgot about the demands of his job; forgot the loyalty he owed the World Government, the oath he’d sworn to Spectrum. Throughout the long hours in the confines of the soft bed, curtained from the world beyond their singular paradise, Muirin filled his mind and his senses; he was enthralled by her beauty and, lulled by the strangely compelling magic of her sensual voice, he forgot the aching void of loneliness left by the death of his fiancée and even the young, vivacious woman he’d met recently who had seemed to be the only person capable of filling it.
He forgot the companionship of his friends, the rigours of his past life and the disappointments, the heartaches and sorrows. He forgot the hopes he had for the future, the growing love between himself and Symphony Angel, the much-valued friendship of Captain Scarlet and the camaraderie amongst the band of specially chosen men who formed the elite colour squadron of Spectrum.
They slept entwined, frequently waking to mutual passion and energy, and throughout a night punctuated with many vivid dreams – dreams so real to him that he almost felt them - Muirin’s voluptuousness stirred desires deep within the core of his being, liberating the libido he had repressed for so long. They were well matched: energetic, skilled and inventive, they led each other to ever more intimate and greater sensual satisfaction.
Sunk in the sloth of sated exhaustion, Blue dozed again to dream vividly of what a life with Muirin would be like: his every wish catered for by her servants, who obeyed her every wish to make him happy and content. He saw the tempting indulgence of spending the winters wrapped in her love and the warmth and luxury of this magnificent house; the boundless promise of every spring as it swept through this beautiful valley, bedecking the trees with bright green leaves and the grassy banks with carpets of bright yellow daffodils, or the delicate blues of wild harebells and the intense blue of rare gentians; the beauty of the summer skies with their promise of a rich autumn harvest of fruits and grain.
In one of these life-like dreams, they walked through the magical valley hand-in-hand. Laughing together and so much in love, they paused to embrace as they reached the highest point and stopped to survey the patchwork of perfect natural harmony below them.
Blue’s eyes lifted from the marvel of the valley and stared out beyond the ford. There was a pall of smoke, a brooding darkness, on the horizon. He turned to ask Muirin what it was, but she laid a gentle finger on his lips, kissing away the question.
But the worm was now in the bud, and Blue’s dream became less comfortable. A nagging sense of neglected duty, of something he’d forgotten to do, began to colour his imaginings – along with a variety of faces, names and places. Yet, when he dreamt that he spoke of leaving, or of what lay beyond the confines of their idyll, Muirin became evasive, seeking to turn his mind to other matters: the pleasures of the bed and board, of the beauty of their surroundings, of their mutual love. He tossed and murmured in his sleep. No longer contented with the unending ease of his dream-existence his continued presence in the house began to seem like imprisonment.
When he stirred from sleep, impatient and seeking for something he couldn’t quite put a name to, she consistently roused him to make love to her again, but he was less willing, rougher, and less satisfied by the sensations that flooded his psyche than he had been.
So it was with something akin to relief that he saw the glimmer of dawn through the shuttered windows and although he kissed her kindly, he shook his head when she attempted to divert his attention from it with her caresses.
“I’m sorry, but I must go, Muirin. I should never have let this happen; I should not have stayed the night.”
“But, Fionn, has all this meant nothing to you?”
Blue smiled; the well-practised sadly-affectionate smile that had compensated more women than he could remember for the prospect of his imminent departure from their lives. “It’s been marvellous; I… well, I’m grateful-”
“Grateful? What of the love you pledged to me?”
“Love?” Blue frowned. “I never mentioned love, Muirin.” He said that with utter certainty; ‘love’ was not a word he used carelessly, in fact, since he’d lost his fiancée the word had been anathema to him and, even now, it was hard for him to admit that what he felt for Symphony was the stirrings of profound love, rather than the superficial desires that had led him to so many encounters on a par with this one.
“Did you not? Then I must’ve misheard you times without number, Fionn.”
He sat up, aware that she was angry. He was used to this too and knew from experience that it was best to be brisk about leaving. “I’m sorry; but this could only ever be a one-night-stand. You knew I’d have to leave come the morning.”
“Come which morning?” she asked cryptically.
Seeing his incomprehension, she wrapped herself in a warm furred gown, before walking to the window shutters and drawing them back. Blue scrambled to the end of the bed and rubbed his eyes, unable to believe what he saw.
Outside the window the landscape showed the deep mature colours of late summer – and there was a mist rising from the stream that flowed through the valley.
“What the f…? How long have I been here?”
“How long do you imagine?”
“One night – it’s been one night!”
Muirin threw him an exasperated and irritated glance and wrapped the robe closer around herself before opening the door to the rest of the house. Blue grabbed the robe he’d been given and ran barefoot after her to the living room.
Eochaid was there, laying out breakfast things, just as he had done in the many dreams Blue remembered. He smiled, bowed to them both and slipped away.
“Muirin, what’s going on?” he asked, as she sat to break a soft, freshly baked bread roll. “How can it be Fall outside? When we went to bed it was spring – the daffodils were barely out!”
“I expect your mind is still a slight bit confused. You got a fever from the drenching you had. I looked after you and you were happy to stay with me. Don’t pretend you don’t know this…”
“I don’t! I’m not pretending. I’m telling you what I remember. I had dreams that we spent days together, and in those dreams I saw the seasons change – but they were dreams, Muirin! Weren’t they?”
“Eat.” She gestured to the plate of food opposite her.
“No, I have to get dressed. My uniform, I left it by the fireplace, but it isn’t there. I need it. Now, Muirin. I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to the colonel. I’m so going to be in trouble.”
She made no comment, but merely gestured with her hand and he heard the soft fall of a footstep and Strahan was there with the familiar pale-blue tunic, cap and boots, and Eochaid stood behind him with a neatly folded pile of underwear and the black trousers and top to complete the uniform.
Blue accepted the garments and strode back into the room, where he found a ewer and bowl of hot water waiting, a bar of shaving soap along with a cut throat razor beside a polished metal mirror.
He washed, shaved – carefully - and dressed with as much speed as he could. He tried his cap radio – but it wasn’t working, which he considered might have been something of a blessing, given that he doubted his reappearance was going to elicit much pleasure from his commanding officer.
He walked back to the living room, where Muirin was waiting, now dressed in the familiar white silk and lace gown he remembered from his dreams.
“Did you send someone for the SSC? There’ll be no end of trouble if I’ve lost that as well as going AWOL.”
In reply she gestured towards the window and he saw the red car standing on the embankment across the courtyard. “It is working,” she said. “I had them arrange it.”
Blue gave her a frowning glance at the strange words, but he said nothing. She followed him out and watched as he slid onto the driver’s seat and tried the radio. It was working, she was right, but there was no reply beyond the white hum of static.
He got out and went over to her. He looked down into her upturned face: the dark eyes, full of love and yearning, the soft lips parted, as in anticipation of his kiss.
He took her hands, although she had tried to withdraw them from his touch.
“I must go.”
“So you keep saying,” she told him, sadness in her voice. “It seems you really don’t remember, Fionn, but we’ve been through this scene so many times of late and every time you do this, we get one step closer to the moment when you say you must go, but you never leave me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t remember. I’m sorry. Since that night we met, everything seems like a dream. Only now I have really woken up.” He stooped and kissed her. “And I must go; I have responsibilities.”
Muirin sighed and nodded her beautiful head, as if she recognised that this time he would carry through his threat. She withdrew her hands and took from around her neck the large teardrop-shaped pearl threaded on a delicate golden chain that she habitually wore. She put it in his hand and closed his fingers around it.
“You will need this when you want to come back.”
“I won’t be coming back, Muirin.”
She ignored his protest. “Hold it when you need to cross the ford, and call on me. It will bring me to you.”
“I can’t take this; it’s too valuable! And I’m not coming back!”
“Do you imagine it’s as valuable to me as you? Take it - and fare thee well until we meet again, Adam Fionn.”
She turned away and he knew he was dismissed.
The SSC ate up the miles along deserted roads and Blue arrived at the outskirts of Dublin sooner than he’d expected. He stared in disbelief at the sight that met his eyes. There were huge billboards bearing pictures of Captain Black or Captain Scarlet above the slogan: You know what you must do. Spectrum is watching you. As he slowed and drove on, wondering what he was supposed to do, he came to a large road block, where a few pedestrians were queuing to be checked. The men manning the roadblock were wearing the familiar charcoal grey uniforms of Spectrum’s terrestrial officers.
They must have seen him approach, there were no other cars on the move after all, and as he drew up, the barrier rose and he was waved through.
Thank goodness, he thought, I didn’t relish having to explain to these guys where I’ve been. It’s going to be tough enough explaining that to the colonel and… Karen. Besides, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing now and they’d probably have arrested me for being AWOL.
The satnav still wasn’t working, but he drove through the streets heading towards the centre of the city anyway, following the half-remembered route he’d taken before. As he did so, a growing unease made him frown. Every building was damaged; their windows shattered, and many bore the dark smears of smoke on their walls. Every shop he passed had been looted. Water seeped across the streets from broken mains, traffic lights were dark and abandoned cars littered the streets, some burnt out and others still smouldering. There was an eerie silence – the alarms on the damaged buildings must have stopped – and there were no signs of any people, but, at least as far as he could see, there were no dead bodies either.
He assumed that, following on from whatever disaster had hit the country, most people would have fled the city. He pressed on towards the government buildings: surely there would be someone there who would be able to explain what had happened? With any luck it’d be Captain Scarlet, and he was less likely to worry about where his friend had been for the past months – at least initially – but there’d come a time when Paul would expect to be told all the sordid details though. The idea was not one that gave Blue much pleasure: since he’d joined Spectrum he’d striven to turn over a new leaf, and leave the less salubrious aspects of his immediate past behind him. Besides, there was Symphony to consider…
As he drove through the deserted streets to the modern steel and glass offices built for the politicians close to the solid Georgian architecture of the Dáil in Merrion Square, he considered what could possibly have led to such devastation.
Have the Bereznians finally dared to attack? They’re usually loud and furious, but they’ve never actually made a move against a member state of the World Government before. Besides, not even they would over-react with such savagery to a spat over the extent of territorial waters – the World Government would be down on them like a tonne of bricks if they did! They’d have to take out every major city to be safe from reprisals… but why else would Spectrum be running road blocks, and the portraits of Black and Scarlet be glaring from the walls like cut-price ‘Big Brother’ clones?
Not surprisingly, this was of little comfort and Blue urged the SSC forward with more urgency.
He recognised the turning for the government admin offices with some relief, and swung the SSC in. Only then did it occur to him that there were no guards here, no road blocks, no defensive measures at all. Concerned and wary, he stopped the car and drew his gun from its holster, ready to fire at any sign of danger.
Then he opened the car door.
The overpowering stench of death assaulted him. Feeling the unmistakable sensation of bile rise in his gorge, he clapped a hand over his nose and mouth, until, desperate to draw breath, he took a gasp and was unable to stop himself vomiting. He crouched beside the SSC, retching and heaving. When he finally wiped a shaky hand across his mouth, he realised his face was drenched with sweat.
Panting for breath and spitting out what he could of the foul taste, he got to his feet, and marshalled the armour of his professional detachment, before turning to investigate the source of the odour.
The sight that met his eyes appalled him: from makeshift gallows around the small, tree-lined courtyard, hung the bodies of numerous politicians and civil servants. Men and women, young and old – the slaughter had been wholesale and indiscriminate. Struggling to retain his composure, Blue examined the closest body, only recognising that it was the Taoiseach’s pretty young secretary after some considerable time. Her body was already fairly decomposed; the carrion scavengers had been busy and both eye sockets were empty. The bloated and blue-tinged face proved her death had not been an easy one. He turned away and saw on the next gallows the body of the Taoiseach himself.
“God in His heaven; what’s happened here?” he demanded of the silent witnesses to the massacre.
There was nothing he could do; every one of the victims was long dead, so with a heavy heart he returned to the SSC and used the high-powered Spectrum binoculars to scan the floors of the building in case there were any signs of life within. The place was deserted and, disheartened, he turned the car and drove away, although he had no immediate idea where to go next.
He considered returning to the Spectrum roadblock and quizzing the officers on duty; but a nagging fear that what had happened here couldn’t have been an isolated incident kept resurfacing. On impulse, he swerved into the business district and drove slowly along the main road until he found the building he was looking for. He pulled up before the tall office block and made a careful inspection of it from the street.
Like the surrounding buildings it was badly damaged, but the infrastructure seemed sound enough. He scanned the list of names on the brass plaque by the heavy chrome-framed glass doors and stepped through the frame – all of the glass had shattered - heading for the stairs and sprinting to the fifth floor. Breathing heavily, he opened the door onto the lift lobby and opposite the lifts he saw the familiar logo on a business sign that bore the legend: SvenCorp Financial Services (Eire) Incorporated.
He made his way to the General Office, reasoning that there might be a working machine he could use to contact Boston, and find out what had happened in Dublin, as well as getting someone to notify Cloudbase of his whereabouts.
The rows of computer screens were dark, the desks deserted, scattered with abandoned personal effects. There was no sign of anyone – but no cluster of bodies either. Blue thanked God for that – after the horrors of Merrion Square, he wasn’t sure he could face the sight of another massacre.
After checking the networked machines, he moved cautiously towards the executive office, knowing he’d stand best chance of finding an independent machine in there, which would offer a better chance that he’d be able to get it going.
As he approached the office door, he thought he heard something moving inside, and scowled to think it might be rats. He drew his gun and pushed the door open slowly, carefully making enough noise to scare them away.
The room was empty, although there were definite signs of habitation: what appeared to be a fire blanket thrown over the high-backed, leather executive desk chair, assorted debris including a pile of screwed up sweet wrappers from the vending machine in the office.
It’s not rats then…
He stepped inside and said aloud, “Hello?” He softened his voice to appear as unthreatening as possible. “Can you help me? Or, can I help you?”
There was a scuffling noise beneath the solid wooden desk, confirming his impression that there was someone cowering beneath it.
“I won’t harm you – look-” He laid the gun on the bookcase near the door and raised his hands. “I want to talk to you, that’s all.” He paused and, considering the possibility that any representative of whatever authority existed, including a Spectrum Officer, might not be a welcome visitor, removed his radio cap. “My name’s… Fionn.”
Fragments of a whispered conversation reached him.
Young voices. Kids? he thought in astonishment.
“What are you doing here?” he asked conversationally. “Look, it’s okay; you won’t get in any trouble. I know the guy that owns this place; he’ll be okay with it if I speak to him.”
“We found it first. We live here, mister.” The voice was aggressive, and, he suspected, male.
“Sure – like I said, it’s okay. The guy that owns this place; he’s my father. I’ll make it okay with him – if you talk to me.” The scuffling continued. “I’m looking for a way to talk to him, actually. He’s in America – that’s where I come from.”
“Everythin’s broke,” a younger, female voice informed him, and a tousled red-head appeared, just tall enough to peer over the desktop.
“Hiya,” Blue said, a friendly smile on his face.
The child smiled back shyly.
“Get down!” the boy’s voice ordered.
“Don’t want’a,” she retorted and came round the desk towards Blue. “They broke it when they came here.”
He crouched down to her level. She must’ve been about three or four years old and still at the chubby, appealing little girl stage, with large blue eyes and a button nose with a sprinkling of pale freckles. She was definitely what his mother would have called ‘a moppet’ – despite her grubby face and stained dress. “What’s your name, honey?”
“Aww, that’s a pretty name.” He smiled again. For decades he had relied on his smile to work its magic with people and it had never let him down. The child certainly had no defence against its affability and she smiled back, two dimples appearing in her soft, round cheeks.
“It was me mam’s favourite,” she confided. “She tol’ me.”
“I can see why it would be.” He extended a hand towards her.
“Come away, Aibreann! Remember mam said to wait here and not to talk to strangers!”
The boy showed himself at last: taller, maybe as much as five or six years older than his sister, he was red-haired and freckle-faced. Grimy and belligerent, he displayed a wariness that contrasted with his sister’s trust as she took Blue’s hand.
“Can you help us find her, Mister Finn?” she asked.
“I can try, honey. What’s her name?”
“Mamaí,” she replied.
Blue glanced across at her brother. He shook his head and said, “That’s not her name, you silly baby. Her name’s Dervla McLoughlin.”
“And you’d be..?” Blue prompted.
“Sean,” the boy replied. “She’s my baby sister. I’m in charge and I’m looking after her good.”
“I can see that. You’ve found a great place to stay. Why did you choose this building?”
“Mam brought us here. She works selling sandwiches and cakes to people for their lunches – very good sandwiches, too.”
“I’m sure they are,” Blue agreed readily. That explained the pile of empty sandwich boxes strewn around the office floor.
Sean continued, “We came with her, and when they came, she made us hide.”
“They?” Blue asked.
“Them Spectrum men.”
“Spectrum are here to help-” Blue began.
Sean thumped his fist on the desk. “Liar!” he screamed. “They come here and they took everyone. They took mamaí.” Tears flooded into his eyes, but he threw back his head defiantly.
“What’s been happening here, Sean? You’ve got to tell me,” Blue said sharply.
““She made us hide in the toilets when we heard the shooting start on the lower floors. But when we came out, they’d all gone and we don’t know where she went. I bet they’re all Mysterons now, all the people who worked here,” the boy said, wiping a stray tear from his cheek with a glare at Blue. “And me mam’ll be one too.”
“Mysterons? What’s a Mysteron?” Blue asked in confusion.
“Where you been?” The boy was dismissive. “You’re trying to trick me.”
“No,” Blue said forcefully. “I’ve been away: I was ill. I drove into Dublin today and saw what had happened, but I don’t know why or when anything happened. How long is it since your mom went?”
“A long time; mumfs and mumfs,” the boy mumbled as he strove to retain control of his emotions. “We’d had Abi’s birthday – and that’s on the 22nd…”
“The sandwiches couldn’t have lasted all that time?”
Sean grinned proudly. “I had a good idea. This is a big building, see? There are vending machines all over it – some of them had sandwiches in. Mam didn’t sell to every company here, only she said the people in this one had more money than sense, and she charged them more than some other places… so I had lots of change to work the machines with, see?”
“Sound business practise,” Blue said wryly.
“And there are some kitchens and a big canteen for the ground floor - we found all sorts of stuff.”
“Some of it isn’t very nice when it’s cold though,” Abi confided, pulling a face. “I like mamaí’s cooking best of all.”
“Okay, so you’ve been here all the time since the… Mysterons came?”
“Yeah.” Sean gave him a questioning glance. “If you’re not a Mysteron, why are you wearing a Spectrum outfit?”
“Yeah – that’s what they wear,” Abi confirmed with a solemn nod. “I seen ‘em.”
“As far as I can say, I’m not a Mysteron – Hell, I don’t even know what one is.”
Aibreann tugged on his hand. “Mist’rons are off the tee-vee. We seen ‘em – me and Sean.”
Blue shook his head and looked to Sean for enlightenment. The boy seemed to decide to trust him, and he ventured warily from behind the desk.
“I’ll show you,” he said, taking Aibreann’s other hand and pulling her away from Blue. “It’ll be easier than telling you. The TV is in the staff lounge.”
“The TV is working?” Blue asked incredulously, as he glanced at the surrounding wreckage.
“Kind of. It only shows one thing, over and over, you can’t change the channel to watch anything good. We got sick of it, so we moved into Mr Lovett’s office,” Sean explained, as he led the way.
As they passed the vandalised vending machine he asked, with just a hint of nervousness, “Your dad really own this place?”
“This part of it, yes.”
“I didn’t break that; it was already done,” the boy said hurriedly.
“I’ll be sure to tell him that,” Blue reassured him seriously.
“Mist’rons did it; that’s what I think,” Aibreann said solemnly, as she trotted beside Blue.
“I guess they must’ve,” he agreed.
The staff lounge was across the lift lobby and through a set of double-doors. As they approached down the short corridor Blue could hear the muffled sound of voices coming from behind the closed door of the lounge. Sean pushed it open and stood aside.
“I don’t want to see it; I’ve seen it a million times already.”
He tried to pull Aibreann away, but she’d taken hold of Blue’s hand again and went with him into the room. Reluctantly, Sean followed them in.
There was a TV screen on the wall, and it was tuned to the World Government’s News Network. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason why it was working, although Blue remembered noticing a flickering light when he scanned the government offices, which might just have been a TV screen. He watched in confused alarm at the broadcast. There was footage of the Martian Expedition, and a clip showing the Exploration Vehicle firing on a strangely-lit cluster of buildings, which rose from the dust almost immediately afterwards.
Then the scene shifted to show Captain Black and Captain Scarlet standing either side of World President Younger, who looked unkempt and scared. The scrolling dateline stated it was March 2068, about a week after Blue knew he’d left Moneypoint.
Black began to speak in a deep, hollow and emotionless voice that was nothing like Blue remembered.
“…we have not forgotten your unprovoked attack on our Martian complex. Our retaliation will be slow, but none the less effective. Our first act of retaliation is to assassinate your World President.”
At those words Scarlet placed his gun against Younger’s temple. The President closed his eyes, his lips moving in silent pleading. There was a bang, and Younger’s body fell to the ground. Scarlet’s expressive lips twitched in a sardonic smile.
“Oh no… Paul…” Blue moaned.
“The Mysterons have discovered the secret of reversing matter,” Black said. “Those who are valuable to our mission will be recreated under our control. They will be our agents and they will be instrumental in avenging the Mysterons.”
Mesmerised, Blue watched as electric-green rings materialised over the President’s dead body and moments later a recreated President Younger stood between the two Spectrum officers. When he spoke, his voice was as hollow as Black’s.
“People of Earth, your attention please. This is your World President. I order all military forces to lay down their arms and surrender to the Mysterons. They are peaceful beings and we have tried to destroy them; but we can not succeed. Now the people of Earth will pay for their act of aggression. Their retaliation will be slow but nonetheless effective. Failure to obey will mean the ultimate destruction of all life on Earth. I order all Spectrum officers to report immediately to Captain Black or Captain Scarlet, here in London. This is the voice of the mysterons: we know that you can hear us, Earthmen.”
“You know what you must do. The Mysterons’ orders must be carried out,” Black said, and Scarlet echoed his words.
“My God, how do they do that?” Blue asked.
Sean shrugged. “They do it all the time. Watch…”
Blue’s eyes were riveted to the screen as the dateline changed, and one by one he saw the terrestrial forces surrendering, heard the shots and saw them re-created in the service of the Mysterons. The more men they ‘assimilated’ the more widespread the killing became.
The picture went fuzzy; the date changed rapidly as the screen showed scenes from major cities: WAAF bombers flew overhead, systematically destroying buildings and installations. Politicians, prominent citizens, soldiers and civilians alike were executed and many of them recreated, just as Younger had been.
“Did no one try to stop them?” Blue gasped.
“Watch,” Sean repeated, adding, “They catch the rebels soon.”
“It’s what they call them.”
“Right.” Blue turned his attention back to the unremitting violence of the screen and saw, with a heavy heart, Captains Magenta and Indigo shot in a New York street, and recreated as Mysterons. Mysteronised forces overcame the defences of the World Government with monotonous success.
Split amongst themselves and uncertain of their mission, following the President’s order to surrender, the military high commanders squandered their chances of mounting a credible resistance and the numerous WAAF bases, including the major strategic ones of Vanden and Slaton; the Naval bases at Marineville and Atlantica; the WSP’s Space City and Glenn Field; the Frost Line and Base Concord were overrun, or bombed into oblivion by Mysteronised personnel. Captain Grey – an early Spectrum casualty – led the Mysteronised fleet of warships that prowled the oceans picking off any vessels as yet free from Mysteron control.
Finally Captain Black appeared on the screen again. The dateline was now the end of September 2068 and he stared straight into the camera and, to Blue’s surprise, addressed him directly.
“Captain Blue, we know that you can hear us. We know that you are in Ireland and you should know that you are trapped there. You cannot leave the country, all ports and airfields are now in the hands of the Mysterons. Surrender, Captain. You have no alternative.”
“We’ll see about that,” Blue muttered under his breath.
But Captain Black had not finished. The picture panned out to show him seated at Colonel White’s desk in the Control Room aboard Cloudbase. The technical and auxiliary staff standing around him all exhibited the blank expressions of Mysteronised individuals. An expressionless Lieutenant Green stood beside the main computer station, another victim of the Mysterons’ revenge.
Blue’s courage almost failed him: his last hope of help was gone. He hung his head and felt hot, angry tears behind his eyes. All those lives, all that potential… gone.
But it was then that Black made his biggest – maybe his only – mistake: he underestimated his adversary.
“Captain Scarlet has captured the final rebel Spectrum agents.”
Blue glanced at the screen. Scarlet stood guard beside a bloodied and bruised Colonel White. “Dear God, not the colonel…”
Colonel White was in a bad way, his silver hair grizzled and dirty, and his face unshaven. His grimy uniform hung in shreds and tatters from his stooping frame and his hands were bound in front of him with a rope that trailed on the floor and which must’ve been used to drag him along behind his captors.
Mysteron-Scarlet had a gun in his hand, and it didn’t take a genius to tell that he was itching to use it, nor to deduce that the colonel had suffered at least one severe beating since his capture.
Blue took a step towards the screen.
“You are quite alone, Captain Blue,” Black’s voice intoned.
Scarlet spoke, “You know what you must do, Colonel. Give the order for the final surrender of Spectrum. Give it now - Old Man.”
Colonel White’s head rose and for a long moment he studied the man beside him, recognisable contempt in every line of his distinguished features. Then he turned to stare out from the TV screen, until Blue felt he must be able to see him. Just before Spectrum’s commander-in-chief opened his mouth to speak, Blue saw a gleam of continuing defiance in his blue eyes and the order was no real surprise.
“Captain Blue – and any other remaining Spectrum personnel - this is Colonel White. My final order to you is fight on! There’s still hope while one free man opposes-”
Scarlet struck out with a sadistic side-swipe of his pistol butt across the colonel’s temple, and the older man sank to his knees, gasping for breath. “That was foolish, Colonel. Now you will have to die along with the others.”
Scarlet turned and beckoned to his subordinates. They dragged forward two struggling women. They were also bloodied and in rags, and Blue’s rage flared to see that their heads had been crudely shaved in a cynical gesture of humiliation. He looked closely at them and to his horror recognised the slight figure of Harmony Angel and beside her the taller, more robust Symphony.
Harmony stood in dignified silence beside the colonel, who was still on his knees, while Symphony, hampered by the restraints that bound her, bent down in an effort to comfort him.
Captain Black said, “These pitiful rebels were captured yesterday, attempting to sabotage a Mysteron installation. One of their group – Captain Ochre – was killed at the scene and is now in the service of the Mysterons. These remaining rebels will be punished as a warning to all who seek to oppose the Mysterons.”
Scarlet looked into the camera and addressed his old friend directly, and for a moment Blue thought he saw a glimmer of compassion in the Englishman’s handsome face, as he listened to the message. “Captain Blue, you could save their lives. We will commute their sentences if you surrender-”
“Don’t listen to him, Adam! You can’t trust the Mysterons,” Symphony cried.
Scarlet grabbed her roughly and covered her mouth with his hand. When he spoke again there was nothing but malevolence in his voice. “We will give you forty-eight hours, Captain Blue, and then these rebels will die.”
“But I don’t even know what the date is!” Blue shouted at the screen. “How can I know if the time’s elapsed?”
Symphony, still struggling in Scarlet’s grasp, sank her teeth into the hand that covered her mouth and turned with fury on her surprised captor.
“Leave us alone, Scarlet! You’re nothing but a dirty traitor! A filthy, murdering, slime-ball! Don’t listen to him, Adam! Save yourself!”
Scarlet’s fist swept round in a powerful blow that knocked the young woman to the floor, where she lay, concussed. White tried to struggle to his feet, but two guards kept him down. Suddenly, Harmony unleashed a powerful kick that caught Scarlet in the gut, and momentarily he doubled-up with pain. As he straightened, anger flashing from his blue eyes, he aimed his pistol and shot the young woman through the forehead as she stood defiantly beside her friends. Harmony crumpled to the floor without a sound.
Colonel White gave a roar of anger and once more began to get to his feet. Imperiously Scarlet waved the guards away and when the colonel was upright took visible pleasure in pistol-whipping his head until he sank to his knees once more, bloodied and stunned by the onslaught. Then, with a callous smirk on his lips, Scarlet stepped aside and shot White in the back of the neck.
Captain Black’s voice cut through the silence. “Captain Scarlet, The Mysterons’ instructions must be obeyed…”
But whatever those instructions had been, it was too late to remind Scarlet of them, and he finished his killing spree by shooting Symphony through the temple, as she lay on the floor.
Blue raged against heaven as he watched, powerless to intervene.
Captain Black appeared beside Scarlet and surveyed the carnage with a deep frown, but the younger man seemed oblivious of any disapproval for his actions. He faced the camera and said:
“Give yourself up, Captain Blue, there is nothing left to fight for, and we will find you. I will find you. It is just a matter of time. even now, Spectrum’s men are questioning the Taoiseach in accordance with my instructions. If he does not hand you over to us, I personally will ensure that he and all of his staff die…very… very slowly for their intransigence. The Mysterons’ orders must be obeyed. But I am sure you will realise that their blood is going to be on your hands, Captain.” Scarlet fastidiously sidestepped the growing puddle of blood threatening to encircle his blood-red boot.
“Go to hell,” Blue hissed, as if Scarlet could hear him. “Symphony was right – you can’t be trusted! What happened to the forty-eight hours’ grace, Paul? You always were a hot-head! I’ve seen what you did to the Taoiseach and his staff as well – and they couldn’t have known where I was! Still, I don’t suppose that bothered you, did it? Why would I surrender to you now? If you want me, you’ll have to come and get me.”
Even as he spoke the screen faded and Blue’s ID picture came on screen with a voice over by Captain Black:
This is the voice of the Mysterons. Your orders are to find this man and alert the Mysteron High Command. Captain Blue must be found, only then will Spectrum be completely neutralised. You know what you must do. The Mysterons’ orders must be obeyed. Failure to comply will be punished.”
“Well, at least I know what I’m up against,” Blue said, anger banishing the despair and sorrow he felt from his voice.
“That’s you, in’t it?” Sean said in wonder.
Blue looked down at the youngster and nodded. “Yes, that’s me.”
“You’re a rebel.”
“If refusing to hand myself over to a bunch of murdering aliens makes me a rebel, then yes, I am.”
“That’s cool,” Sean said, with a hint of admiration in his voice. “What’re you going to do now?”
Blue shook his head thoughtfully. “I’m not sure, if you want the truth. But I have my orders; I’m not going to surrender. The only question is, how many of them can I take with me?”
Aibreann put her hand in Blue’s and looked up into his face with a trusting smile. “Now can we go and find mamaí?”
He stooped down, smiling. “I promise you, I’ll do what I can to find her for you.”
“They’ll come for you; they said they would,” Sean reminded him. He was casting wary eyes at the doors and windows as if he half-expected the Mysteronised Spectrum agents to appear.
“I know; and that’s why I can’t stay here. You and Aibreann should be safe enough though.”
He led the children from the lounge as the news tape started up again with Black’s expressionless explanation of how his mission to Mars had created such powerful enemies for the earth.
“Are we going to find mamaí now?” Aibreann asked again, confused by the emotional tension in the air and Blue’s response to what she considered a boring TV show.
Blue stopped and swept the little girl up into his arms. She was dirty, undeniably smelly and damp, all the things that normally repulsed his fastidious nature, yet he hugged her close, brushed a stray curl from her matted hair and kissed her cheek.
“Honey, you and Sean must stay here until I get back…” he began to explain, but Aibreann was having none of it.
“No; that’s what mamaí said, and she never comed back. I want my mam!” She began to cry, screwing her fists up into her eye sockets.
“She’s just a little baby,” Sean said, with a loving, yet exasperated, glance at his sister. “She doesn’t understand. I’ve had to listen to this ever since mam left us here.”
Blue tried to calm her, but she was inconsolable and laid her head on his broad shoulder, her thin body shaking with sobs. Although he had younger brothers and a sister, Blue was out of practise with small children and he resented the time he was wasting. He tried to put her down, but she squealed and clung closer.
Sean had gone back to the office they were living in, and Blue followed him, going to sit in the big leather office chair with Aibreann on his lap. He rocked back and forth until she dozed off, exhausted by her tantrum. The chair was comfortable and the child’s body was warm against his. He felt his own eyelids closing and realised it was almost 20 hours since he’d had any sleep. Sean had rolled himself in the blanket and was curled up under the desk, so Blue allowed himself the luxury of snatching forty winks…
He was not sure what woke him. Some way away, down in the bowels of the building maybe, there was a noise. He blinked himself to full alertness and concentrated on the sound. Footsteps – and plenty of them – in the stairwell and getting closer. Recognition brought alarm.
“Someone’s coming,” he said, shaking Aibreann awake. He turned to wake Sean only to see that the gap beneath the desk was empty, the blanket discarded. Blue cursed; he presumed the boy, terrified and maybe even a little jealous of his sister’s transferred allegiance to this newcomer, had gone to fetch the Mysterons in the wish to save himself and his sister, and in the forlorn hope of being reunited with his mother.
Aibreann was still drowsy and reluctant to wake, so he put her on the chair and quickly went out into the bigger office. The main stairwell led to the lift lobby, but there was a fire escape that ran down the east side of the building - he’d seen it when he checked the building. He wrenched the fire door open and cupped his ears listening for the sound of movement below. It was silent.
As he ran back through the office he saw Sean coming in from the corridor. The boy stared at him terrified.
“They’re coming,” he said. “They must’ve seen your car and tracked you! You’ve brought them here – to find me and Abi! They’re going to shoot us all!”
“Not if I can help it. Where are they, Sean?”
“There’s a couple of those tanks they drive and a lorry, down on the street. I heard them coming, I went and looked from the stair landing. There’s too many of them coming up the stairs. We’re trapped. What’re we going to do?”
“Maybe we can all get out, down the fire escape. My guess is they’re planning on taking us by surprise and there’s no guard there.” Blue beckoned the lad towards him. “Abi’s in the office; get her and we’ll make a run for it.”
Sean hurried towards the executive office, as he approached, Aibreann – wide awake now and worried at being alone – threw the door open and came out. She looked around anxiously for Blue.
“Come on quick, Abi,” Sean ordered. “The Mysterons are coming!”
She stared intently at her brother. “Is it mamaí?”
“No, you stupid baby! Mamaí’s as dead as those people on the tee-vee. We’ll never see her again!”
Her lips started to tremble and she raised her fingers to her mouth. “She isn’t, she isn’t! I hate you!” she screamed, and she ran from him, veering off towards Blue, who was overturning desks and scattering chairs to make as much of an obstacle course as he could between the main doors and the fire escape. He looked up as she called, “Mister Finn! Take me wi’ you!”
She threw herself against his legs, clinging tightly. “I won’t stay with Sean! I hate him! He says they’re gonna make us Mist’rons now!”
Blue looked across at Sean and saw the fear in the boy’s face. “Come on, Sean – let’s go,” he ordered. As the boy ran towards them Abi screamed and pushed one of the chairs in his way. Sean collided with it and fell in an ungainly heap, gasping with pain.
“Are you hurt?” Blue asked, grabbing Abi and swinging her up.
The boy was pale, but he shook his head and gamely struggled to his feet only to gasp, and fall again, clutching his ankle.
“I can’t carry you both!” Blue cried in dismay.
Sean swallowed hard. When he spoke his voice was resolute, except for a slight quaver. “Take her with you – just save Abi! Mamaí told me I had to look after her – and that’s what I’ll do. I’ll try and keep them here for as long as I can, so you can get away.”
“Sean-” Blue began, but could find no words to convey his regret.
“Go on – get out of here while you can – quick! Look after her, Captain Blue. Go!” The boy was shouting, fighting his fear with adrenalin-fuelled anger.
Torn by his instinct to protect, yet knowing he couldn’t do anything but run, Blue threw the boy a salute and without further delay, lifted Aibreann in a piggy-back. “Hold tight, Abi – don’t let go – whatever you do!” he told her, and turned to Sean one last time.
“You’re a brave lad, Sean McLoughlin. Good luck and thank you,” he said, and pushed open the fire door to race down the stairs, praying the street entrance to the fire escape wasn’t locked or guarded.
He heard the door slam behind him, but not before Sean’s valediction came echoing faintly down the stairwell:
“Bye, bye, Abi…”
Blue pushed the bar of the fire door carefully and slowly opened it out into the alleyway that led to the main street. He peered round in the twilight gloom of the dawn, to see if he could spot any Spectrum guards, but it seemed the coast was clear.
He lifted Aibreann to the ground and looked down into her trusting face with a lump in his throat. High above them he heard the crackle of gunfire followed by one long wavering shriek. He closed his eyes as he sent up a plea that Sean wouldn’t suffer for his absence.
“Is that the Mist’rons?” Aibreann asked, turning her gaze back up the staircase.
“Might be; we won’t stay to find out though.” She nodded and watched as he stripped off his pale-blue uniform tunic and slipped it over her shoulders. “This’ll keep you warm,” he said, thinking that its bullet-proofing might be useful too. Then he lifted her to his back again.
“Keep very quiet, Abi. I’m going to see if I can find us a car that’s working.”
“Okay, Mister Finn.” She snuggled her head against the nape of his neck and held on tight as he looped her legs over his arms to give her support.
Blue slipped out into the alley and turned away from the street where he’d left the SSC. Walking as quickly as he could he made his way along to the next passageway and headed away from the building.
On the 5th floor of the office block, in the SvenCorp suite, several Spectrum ground-based personnel were milling about, checking side rooms, corridors and cupboards. Standing by the reinforced, double-glazed window overlooking the alleyway that ran between this building and its neighbour, Captain Scarlet was staring down to the street, an angry frown on his face.
At his feet, no longer trying to hide his sobs of pain and terror, sprawled Sean McLoughlin.
“Where are they going?” Scarlet asked.
“I don’t know!” Sean cried, desperate to be believed. He was nursing his left arm, cradling the swollen wrist against his chest. He couldn’t move his hand and his fingers were numb.
“Don’t waste my time, Earth-child.” Scarlet glanced down at the boy and prodded him with his booted foot. “You will tell me all you know – one way or the other.”
“He said he’d been ill, that he drove to Dublin today – that’d have been yesterday… he never said where he’d come from! Honest, Mister!”
Scarlet pounced and dragged the boy to his feet, ignoring the scream as he wrenched Sean’s broken arm and the boy tried to take the weight off his already injured ankle. “You knew he was a wanted rebel – the recording’s on every TV in the country – yet you never turned him in.”
“I didn’t have a chance – you found him before I could get away from him. I would’ve – honest!”
“Don’t lie to me.” Scarlet pushed the boy away angrily. “He used to be my friend, I know how… affable he can be. Why did he leave you here? It is not his way to abandon those he befriends.”
“I hurt my ankle, I told you. I couldn’t run.”
Scarlet gave a wry chuckle. “He’d have carried you then. It’s the ‘chivalrous’ thing to do, and he sets store by such archaic values. There has to be another reason…”
Sean shook his head and was grateful to see Scarlet’s stern gaze turn from him to the trooper who entered the room at that moment.
“There were two of them. Two children,” the man reported.
A smile of comprehension spread over Scarlet’s face. “And the other one must have been younger – more vulnerable.” He gave a chuckle. “Oh, Adam, you are so predictable at times. I hope you manage to make this an entertaining chase…”
Sean was crying in earnest now. He felt that his sacrifice had been worthless if the Mysterons knew about Aibreann. The noise attracted Scarlet’s attention.
“You are of no further use,” he said. It was the work of a moment to fire a bullet into Sean’s head and he’d forgotten about the boy before he’d left the room.
Captain Blue kept close to the buildings, walking in the shadows where he could, looking for the nearest shopping centre. Even if most of the shops had been looted, he hoped to find a change of clothes for them both and maybe some food and water to take with them – wherever they were going.
It isn’t safe for me to stay in my Spectrum uniform, he reasoned, and besides, where there’s a shopping mall, there’s parking and – please God – a car that’s still working…
He found a small, rather select arcade of shops and as it led off the main street through to one even further from the office block, he went inside. The shops had all been looted to some degree, but perhaps because it was not in a popular retail zone, the damage seemed less extensive. Most of the shops sold luxury items – jewellery, watches, and electrical equipment – and they were of no interest to him. He noted with passing interest that one TV had been left behind by the looters, and sure enough the Mysterons’ news reel was playing. He hurried past, not wanting to see the fate of his friends played out before him once more. In the middle of the arcade he found a men’s shop of the kind he was familiar with, selling good quality, over-priced clothes to people who could afford to ignore price labels.
He clambered over the broken glass of the shop-front and looked around. The obvious things had been taken, the till and anything portable that looked to be of value, but there were still clothes lying around the place.
He sat Aibreann down on the counter and stretched his aching back.
“I’m going to look for something for me to wear. I need you to be good and wait till I’m done,” he explained. She nodded and sat drumming her feet against the counter, sucking on her thumb as she watched him rummage about.
He found some dark trousers that looked a decent fit and a rather bilious greeny-blue shirt. He took his boots off and put the trousers on over his uniform britches – using his uniform belt they fitted well enough. The shirt was a bit tight, but left loose over his black polo-neck tunic, it looked casual enough. He put his boots back on; most of the distinctive colour would be hidden by the wide-legged trousers anyway. His final useful find was a dark jacket – knowing that at this time of the year it was going to get cold – especially at night. He slipped that on over his new outfit.
“You look funny,” Aibreann giggled. She was getting restless, but she’d been less trouble than he’d expected. He jumped her off the counter and took her hand.
“Mister Finn,” she said, squirming from foot to foot, “I need a wee…”
Grimacing, Blue led her into the back of the shop, where they passed two dead bodies before they found a small toilet and he helped her onto the seat, turning his back. A few minutes later, she tugged his jacket sleeve and looked up at him. With a rueful smile, and recollections of his childhood jogging his memory, he helped her wash her hands, before he led the way out of the shop.
As they moved along the arcade, past what had been a small patisserie and café, she asked, “Can I have some brekkie?”
“Sure, let’s see what they have…”
There wasn’t much, but there was some bottled water in a storeroom, and Blue packed it in the carrier bags he’d brought from the clothes shop. He found some small packets of out-of-date biscuits, and packets of crisps; it wasn’t a balanced diet but it would hold the hunger pangs at bay for a while. Luckily, Aibreann wasn’t fussy; she accepted the biscuits, crisps and water and chewed happily on them while he continued packing what he could.
A few doors down was a shop selling handbags and travel goods and he swapped the carrier bags for a rucksack, and found a travel blanket and a groundsheet, which he also packed.
The final shop was an upmarket ladies’ and children’s wear boutique, selling ‘designer-wear for the discerning’, according to the discreet banner over the shattered plate glass window. It had been ransacked too, but he found some packs of girls’ underwear and helped Aibreann out of her soiled, thin dress and into clean pants and a vest. Unfortunately. there wasn’t much in the way of practical, warm clothing.
Obviously ‘the discerning’ wear nothing but evening gowns and party-clothes, he thought ruefully, casting his eyes round the jumble of merchandise left behind by less discerning looters. I wish ‘the discerning’ had gone skiing now and again…
Over in one corner was a heap of children’s elaborate party-style dresses, and Aibreann fell on them with cries of delight.
“Look, Mister Finn! I want a pink one… can I have a pink one?”
“Sure, Abi, if that’s what you really want.”
She chose an eye-wateringly candy-pink satin concoction bedecked with more ribbons than it was safe to contemplate. It was too big, but with a belt it didn’t hinder her walking, and so he let her wear it. She pirouetted around singing happily while he rummaged through the rest of the jumble and found a cape with a fur-lined hood. It was way too big, but it’d keep her warm at night.
It’ll have to do, he thought ruefully.
He looked up to see her standing beside a collapsed shelf of plush-covered stuffed animals, clutching a large tawny-coloured rabbit, with improbably long legs and pink-lined ears. It was obviously ‘love at first sight’.
“Can I keep her, Mister Finn?” she asked, her eyes shining. “I don’t fink she belongs to no one and she’ll get lonely if I leave her here now.”
“No, I guess ‘she’ doesn’t belong to anyone any more; whoever ran this shop is long gone. Yeah, you can bring it along, but you’ll have to carry it…”
“Her,” she corrected. “Her name’s Picksie… ‘cause I chosed her.”
He smiled and held out his hand to her, as he swung the rucksack over his other shoulder. She put her hand in his and smiled back, the rabbit clutched against her chest like a talisman.
“Right, now let’s see if we can find some way to get away from here.”
“And find mamaí…” she reminded him, with a beguiling smile.
He nodded ruefully. “I’ll give it my best shot…”
Blue was lucky and the seventh car he tried in the deserted city office parking lot had petrol in the tank and the sort of engine he knew how to start without keys. He strapped Aibreann in the front seat, but - because he remembered long car journeys with his much younger brother – only after finding a drain for her to do another ‘wee’ over before they started.
He drove out onto the deserted street and turned westwards, away from the centre of the city.
“Where are we going?” Abi asked.
“It’s a surprise. I’ll tell you when we get there, so there’s no need to ask,” he explained to the excited child beside him. “You just sit quietly, okay?”
“Okay.” She nodded happily and began to admonish her new toy in a penetrating whisper. “Now you sit quietly, Picksie… Mister Finn’s consecratin’ on his driving…”
Blue smirked, and with an irrational surge of confidence, began his search for a safe way out of the city. He had a vague plan to travel back to Moneypoint; although he had little hope that it had escaped the Mysterons’ attention, there was always a slim chance that amongst the many military personnel, technicians and mechanics, a few remained free from the aliens’ baleful influence.
Without the benefit of the satnav, he only had his memory of the route to go on, and the only way he knew was through the road block and that presented a problem; he knew he was a wanted man, and although from what he had seen, the Mysteron ‘Zombies’ – he didn’t know what else to call them – hardly had the initiative to think for themselves, he felt sure that he’d be recognised easily enough.
A rummage in the glove compartment of the car produced a pair of wrap around sunglasses and a rumpled baseball cap, but they were hardly enough to constitute an effective disguise, especially not after the discovery of his whereabouts had alerted his enemies to his presence.
He glanced at the child beside him and sighed. If I was on my own, I‘d take bigger risks, but I have Abi to look after. Besides, what good I could honestly do against the powers of these aliens, I don’t know.
Deep within himself, Blue nursed a burning anger against Black and even more against Scarlet; there was, he reasoned, some argument that his former partner had an excuse for his behaviour - the Mysterons had declared that they would use one of the Earthmen against them and Black’s dour expression indicated that he was that man – but there seemed no explanation for the cynical enjoyment that had been so apparent on Scarlet’s face as he’d despatched the colonel and the two young women pilots.
Blue’s heart ached as he contemplated the fate of the Angels. Chan Kwan had always been such a sweet-tempered woman: it was true that she was an experienced and excellent pilot, yet she’d retained the daintiness and femininity considered essential for a young woman by her native society, and you’d never have guessed she was a black belt at Judo, and perfectly capable of downing a man twice her size – as he had personal reason to know.
There was no way he could even bring himself to think about Symphony: he already felt guilty when he thought of how he had betrayed her by his passionate encounter with Muirin, the idea that he had also failed her in her hour of need – while she had used her last breath to beg him to save himself - was just too unbearable. All he could do was promise her- and his other friends from Spectrum – that he’d do everything he could to avenge their deaths.
Even Paul, he thought and shook his head. That can’t have been the man I knew… the Mysterons must have done something to warp his mind. I couldn’t be that mistaken. Could I?
It took a while to find a way through the maze of back streets, but Blue finally found a way out beyond the road block and headed westwards. They continued to drive for several hours through countryside that Blue now recognised as unnaturally quiet. There was no sign of pursuit or any hindrance from the Mysterons’ zombies, and his spirits started to rise as he dared to hope they were out of the worst danger. Although he repeatedly told himself there was no reason to expect he’d find help in Moneypoint, try as he might he couldn’t think of any alternative or fallback if his plan failed. He was rational enough to realise that however sensible he presently believed himself to be, he was almost certainly suffering from delayed shock and that once he’d exhausted his adrenalin-fuelled energy, he’d pay for suppressing the grief and anger he felt.
But there will be time to grieve for and mourn my friends and loved ones, he reassured himself, and, with God’s good grace, there will time for revenge. For now, I ‘m just thankful we’re on the move.
“Mister Finn,” Aibreann broke into his self-absorption with some urgency. “Mister Finn, I gotta wee…”
“What - again?” He glanced down at her and saw the empty water bottle she was holding and the way she was jigging about on the seat. He sighed. “Okay – just wait – just a minute. Okay?”
He pulled into the first gateway he saw and unclipped her seatbelt and leant over to open the door. “Quick, hop out and we’ll go into the field. I’m on my way to open the gate.”
She scrambled out and marched as purposefully as her ornate dress would allow towards the wooden 5-bar gate. She was hopping from foot to foot by the time Blue got there and opened the way for her. He leant on the gate and narrowed his eyes as he scanned the nearby hills for any sign of life and then walked into the field, climbing a small hillock, where he had a better view over the surrounding fences and hedges back towards Dublin, and along the way they were going. When he looked down again, Abi was smoothing out her dress and grinning up at him.
“Okay?” he asked and she nodded.
“How much farther is it till we get there?” she asked, climbing to stand beside him.
Blue gazed along the road into the far distance. “I’m not sure.” He frowned slightly for the sweep of the road began to look familiar yet at the same time the frown deepened as his sharp hearing alerted him to a faint noise. “We’ve come quite a long way already,” he said to cover his anxiety.
Aibreann hadn’t noticed, she had her own concerns. “I’m hungry, Mister Finn.”
He grinned at her. “There are some cookies in the car; would you like some?”
She nodded. “Yes, please,” she said, and slipped her hand into his as they started down the slope towards the car.
Suddenly the buzzing that had been on the edge of Blue’s hearing identified itself. He stopped mid-stride and peered up into the sky, where he could see a distant smudge against the grey clouds.
A helijet –it’s gotta be! And what are the chances it isn’t friendly?
He lengthened his stride with Abi trotting beside him, almost running to keep up. When he paused by the gate, she climbed on the wooden bars, swinging it back and forth as she chanted a rhyme to herself.
“Quiet,” he snapped.
She stared at him rebelliously, but seeing the stern expression on his face as he continued to stare into the distance, she said nothing.
Blue could see the helijet coming from the east and following the road.
Damn – I guess it was too good to last.
He looked down at Abi. “We need to hide. I don’t want that helicopter to see us. Come - back against the hedge.”
He lifted her off the gate and ducked down to minimise the chance of being spotted. He found a shallow dip in the ground and crouched down with Aibreann between him and the hedge – and at that moment the sound of gunfire ricocheted along the road.
The helijet was firing at the car – using the roadway to line up the shots as it approached.
“Picksie!” Aibreann squealed and squirmed away from Blue’s despairing grasp. He struggled to his feet, slipping on the damp grass and, cursing, ran after her. She raced back towards the car and was through the gate before he could stop her.
The helijet had turned and was making another sweep, the bullets creeping closer to the car – and Aibreann.
Blue darted forwards and grabbed the child from the front seat of the car, sweeping her into his arms as he sprinted for dear life away from the gate. The force of the explosion as the car went up in flames knocked him off his feet. He fell onto his hands and knees, winded, but knowing the danger they were in, grabbed the child again, stumbled upright, and forced himself to run faster than he’d ever gone before.
Aibreann screamed and clung to him as he slithered and dodged across the grass making for the other side of the field and a gap in the wall. There was just a chance that he could lose himself in the patchwork of small fields that covered the hillside. No helicopter would be able to land in one of them, and beyond the final wall was a blanket of gorse and scrub that would provide some cover.
All he had to do was get to it.
But even as he ran he realised he was an easy target for the chopper hovering overhead. He swerved down the slope, but the bullets came thick and close, forcing him back onto his original trajectory. As he approached the gap in the wall, the helijet fired again, using its bullets to herd him higher up the incline where there was no hope of escape.
Finally reaching the wall some yards from the gap, Blue came to a halt and, thrusting Abi behind him, he stood to face the chopper, defiance apparent in every line of his body language. Gasping for breath, he stared at the machine expecting every moment to see the tell-tale flash of the guns and feel the bullets tearing into him.
“Come on then!” he yelled, as he spread his arms in a gesture of surrender – although there was no submission in him as he taunted them. “Finish it, you bastards!” The chopper continued to hover out of the range of any gunshot, but close enough to kill him if it wanted. “What are you waiting for?”
“Mister Finn, don’t. Let’s run away, please…” Abi pleaded, tugging at his jacket.
Blue continued staring at the helijet. As he caught his breath and his pounding heartbeat slowed, the red mist of rage began to dissipate and his mind to function with its usual lucidity.
He recognised the man at the controls and smiled ruefully.
Conrad Turner, the man who – according to the broadcast - had brought the Mysterons’ retribution down on the unsuspecting and unprotected Earth, was his former field partner, and although he returned Blue’s stare with unblinking eyes and an expressionless face, the American felt less intimidated. He knew Conrad’s bark had always been far worse than his bite and he’d long since lost the diffidence that had characterised the way the other Spectrum colour captains had treated the senior captain.
“What’s stopping you, Conrad? You know I can’t outrun a Spectrum helijet, I know I can’t outrun it – so I’m not even going to try. I won’t play your stupid games. If the last thing I can do to show my contempt of you and your alien masters is deny you your moment of triumph, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said, hardly raising his voice over the throbbing of the ‘copter blades, yet never doubting the Mysteron could hear him.
“That is something you cannot do, Earthman,” said a familiar voice with a coldness that really did chill Blue’s blood.
He turned his head and saw the unmistakable figure of Captain Scarlet standing nonchalantly in the gap between the fields.
“The Mysterons will triumph. They will have their revenge. the Earth will pay for its unprovoked attack - there is nothing you can do to prevent it.”
“So kill me,” Blue said, drawing himself up to his full height and glaring at his erstwhile best friend with undisguised hatred.
Scarlet shook his head and pursed his full lips slightly, frowning at the older man with an expression akin to disappointment.
“Oh really. It isn’t like you to be melodramatic, Adam,” he said, adding, “We have other plans for you.”
“Have you?” Blue felt a thrill of fear-tainted anger wash over him. “You don’t want me dead, do you?”
Scarlet gave an encouraging and exceedingly patronising smile. “Well done; you catch on quick.”
“What is it to be then? Some sort of alien ‘Roman’ triumph? A show trial? Followed by public humiliation and execution, like you gave Symphony, Harmony and the colonel?”
Scarlet moved forward slightly, closing the gap between him and Blue. “Nothing so quick. The Mysterons have vowed to eliminate all life on Earth, and we will, but revenge is sweeter when it is witnessed and understood by the victim. So you, my dear Adam, as the final representative of Spectrum – the organisation that instigated the unprovoked attack - and someone closely associated with Captain Black, will be the last living thing standing. You will see it all disappear: men, women and children, animals and plants, insects, algae, microbes… There will be just you on this barren rock… and you will understand the power of the Mysterons. Kind of appropriate, don’t you think?”
“Go to Hell!”
“Not before you,” Scarlet snapped in response.
Enraged by his taunting smile and the sadistic gleam in Scarlet’s eyes, Blue launched himself at him like a man possessed, punching with all his might at the annoyingly superior face. His fist connected and he felt a jolt of pleasure to see Scarlet’s eyes screw shut as he was rocked back on his heels by the force of the blow.
They’re Zombies, but they feel pain. The thought was barely a conscious one, but it galvanised Blue to continue his attack.
Scarlet was obviously trying to focus and block the punches that were raining down on him, but his feet seemed rooted to the spot and his half-hearted parries were no barrier to Blue’s rage-fuelled onslaught; he had gone beyond what he’d always considered the civilised rules of personal combat, and he laid in to his friend, punch after punch, wanting nothing more than to beat the arrogant Zombie into a pulp. He saw pain and fear in Scarlet’s sapphire-blue eyes as his lip split and his left eye started to close as it swelled, purple and bruised by the onslaught. Blood ran from the broken, misshapen nose and at least two teeth sprayed from his mouth when Blue’s fist slammed in from the side, crunching into the strong jaw.
Still Scarlet remained frozen, defenceless against his attacker and still Blue kept punching, until his energy and anger faded and his adversary slumped to the ground.
Blue was sobbing as he strove to draw breath when he finally stood over the prone body of Captain Scarlet. He drove his booted foot into the man’s ribs, feeling them crack as he made contact and hearing with an evil pleasure the grunt of pain that was forced from his foe’s lips.
“That’s for Sean.” He kicked again. “And that’s for the colonel.” Another kick. “That’s for Harmony.” He kept kicking, reciting the names of the friends now dead until, with his last strength, he stamped down on Scarlet’s breast bone, which splintered beneath the grinding heel of the Spectrum boot. “And that, you dirty, filthy, fucking bastard, is for Symphony!”
Blue stepped back from the bloody mess and stood shaking with exhaustion and spent fury. He wiped the back of his bleeding hand across his mouth, as if to smother the sob that rose in his throat and stared at the swollen knuckles of his trembling hands, as if surprised to realise they were his own. He closed his eyes and sighed out a last great surge of emotion.
Then, realising that this was not over yet, he glanced up at the helijet. Black had watched the whole fight without making any attempt to intervene. Even now he was staring with detachment at the scene on the ground.
That apathy fired Blue’s anger again. Spectrum’s officers had become a tight-knit band, each prepared to back the other against all risk of personal harm if it was necessary. Black’s reaction was yet another insult to all that they’d stood for. He raised his blooded fist, the middle finger extended upright in a universally understood gesture of defiance and contempt.
“Kill me now or fuck off!” he yelled, advancing towards the helijet.
The helijet moved back, maintaining the distance between them, but showed no sign of leaving.
Blue was exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. He stood, his shoulders bowed, and tried to make sense of the past few days. He had no idea how long he remained there with Scarlet’s bloody corpse at his feet, the blood seeping from the cuts and congealing on the pallid face – or what was left of it.
It was the noise of Aibreann’s sobbing that finally brought him back to senses. “Mister Finn… Mister Finn; are you all right?” she wailed.
He dragged his hand through his sweat-damp hair, wincing at the sting of the sweat in the cuts, and nodded. “Let’s go, Abi.” He held out his hand to her.
She stared at him with fearful eyes, and shrank back against the wall.
Blue sighed, too tired to make allowances for the violence the child had just witnessed. All he wanted now was to get away from this carnage and put as many miles between him and the Mysterons as he could. “Come on, Aibreann,” he ordered, more aggressively than he’s intended.
Reluctantly, she got to her feet and clutched the wretched rabbit to her with one arm.
“Where are we going?” she asked unhappily, as she made a wide detour of Scarlet’s corpse and came to his side. She reached up and took his bloodied hand in hers.
“Anywhere but here.”
Blue turned and walked back towards the gate, Aibreann beside him. The helijet stayed hovering over the field, and if Black was paying him any attention, Blue was unaware of it, and cared less.
Their car was still burning, a column of acrid black smoke billowing up into the grey skies. There was no possibility of salvaging anything from the wreckage, and as he turned westward and started to walk as fast as Abi could along the road, Blue felt a numbing sense of hopelessness grip his mind and heart.
He made no attempt at concealment: They know exactly where I am, so what’s the point?
The clouds had rolled in over the hills and a grey mist was seeping into the valley; a fine drizzle drenched the couple and washed the splatters of Scarlet’s blood from his hands, face and boots.
Aibreann walked beside him without speaking, the pace he set was fast for her and she tired quickly, tripping over the frills of the elaborate dress so often that Blue lost patience and stopped to rip it off at her knee. He looked up from his destruction to see unspeakable sadness in her childish face and a fear that brought tears welling up into his eyes.
“Ah, sweetheart,” he said, wrapping her in a tight embrace. “I’m sorry. We’ll get you plenty of pretty dresses… I promise.”
“You’re not cross with me, are you, Mister Finn? ‘Cause I went to get Picksie?”
He shook his head. “No; I’m not mad at you; just worried, and angry with the Mysterons. Don’t you worry Abi; they’ll have to climb over my dead body to get to you.”
She shook her head. “Don’t say that!”
He hugged her and tapped her nose with his finger. “While there’s life there’s hope, Abi. Come on, let’s keep moving.”
Reassured, she gave a smile and took his hand again. “I know I’ll be all right with you, ‘til I find mamaí,” she announced.
Wishing he could share her uncritical confidence, Blue started off again, heading westward for the simple reason that he knew no other way would offer any greater chance of help and that, sooner or later, Black would rouse from his near-catatonic stupor and come after him. He wanted to put as much distance between them as he could, and find somewhere safe for Abi. However, his ever-rational mind nudged his conscience with the question of what would happen to her out here in the comparative wilderness, without someone to look after her.
Better a Mysteron than a slow death from exposure or starvation?
He shrugged the problem off. It wasn’t in his nature to give in without a fight, and as long as he could, he’d protect her. Beyond that, the future was in the lap of the gods.
The distant throb of an approaching helijet warned him that that future might not exist for too much longer. He swung Abi up onto his back and began to run, scrambling over a hedge and across a field. There was a line of trees running up the gently sloping hillside and that would offer some shelter.
Abi screamed and struggled when she recognised the menacing noise of the approaching engine. Blue dragged her off his back and into his arms, using his body as a shield and she clung to his neck so tightly he almost choked; nevertheless, he carried on running, sheer willpower keeping him moving.
Once more the helijet hung back, watching, threatening and almost herding him across the field. He had no intention of being taken alive: not for him the humiliation of a show trial, or the bleak future Scarlet had described. He still had a Spectrum pistol and enough ammunition to spare a couple of bullets for Abi and himself – when there really was no alternative.
The shelter of the trees was mere yards away when he glanced up, and saw a flash of red moving purposefully towards them from the sunken lane on the other side of the ridge.
He was so surprised he stopped and stood with his mouth agape as he dragged air into his protesting lungs. Aibreann stirred in his arms and peeped out. They watched in fascinated fear as Captain Scarlet – as hale and hearty as he’d ever been – strolled towards them, his Spectrum pistol at the ready.
“You were dead,” Blue whispered.
Scarlet pursed his lips and rolled his eyes heavenwards.
“Were – that is the operative word here. The Mysterons have the power of reversing matter; surely you took that much in? When they want it to, that includes living matter.”
Blue remembered what had happened to President Younger, Indigo, Magenta and the rest. “And if I kill you again?” he asked. He shifted Abi’s weight to his hip, and drew his own pistol.
“It’d be a waste of your time,” Scarlet advised. “Give up now, Adam, and we’ll let you keep the kid. You seem to have grown nauseatingly fond of her. Resist and she will die… slowly.” He smiled as if that idea amused him.
“Have you no compassion?” Blue raged, as Abi choked back her fear and clutched him even closer.
Scarlet appeared to give the matter some thought. “No,” he said, shaking his head as if the fact surprised him. “No, none at all.” He gave Aibreann a knowing wink.
“Tell me what happened to the others,” Blue demanded. “I saw Indigo and Magenta, Green, Grey and most of the Cloudbase staff on the newscast. But, Fawn, Brown and the other Angels?”
“Oh, Brown was the first to go… a slight miscalculation allowed President Younger to evade us for a while. I am proud to say it was I who finally delivered him to the Mysterons. As for the others, they’re all gone, I’m afraid. I buried Rhapsody only last week.”
“At least you had the decency to give her a Christian burial,” Blue said, wondering if somewhere in this menacing Scarlet-zombie, there still gleamed a spark of humanity.
Scarlet gave a brief snort of laughter. “What makes you think she was dead?”
Watching the gloating pleasure that flooded into the face of the man he’d called his friend, Blue swore viciously under his breath. Anguish at the fate of all the young women pilots they’d met when Spectrum was founded swept through him once more. Even though the Angels had all been expert fliers, most of them with experience of security or military work, to him – and to all of the other colour-captains - they were primarily young women, each as vulnerable in their way as Aibreann and in just as much need of protection. Besides, for Scarlet – as much as himself - there was the added weight of emotional ties. Juliette Pontoin had been an old flame of Colonel Paul Metcalfe before they’d joined up, and he’d detected a soft spot in his friend for the youngest Angel, the charming Dianne Simms: the woman he now boasted of burying alive.
Following the grief came a tremendous rage. Blue fired two bullets in quick succession, straight at Scarlet’s legs. The Englishman bellowed in agony and fell to the ground, writhing and grabbing at his shattered kneecaps.
“Reverse that,” Blue snarled, and jumped over the prone man to run as fast as he could down the bank and across the next field.
Once more the helijet had remained overhead throughout this exchange, and now, even though the pilot watched the humans fleeing in their desperate bid for safety, he still did not attack. The Mysterons still wanted this remaining Spectrum agent to witness their triumph, and Captain Black had his orders.
He looked down at the pitiable sight of Captain Scarlet still writhing and sobbing with the agony of his injuries and calmly turned the helijet’s guns on him. Scarlet’s body jerked upwards from the impact of the bullets that ripped into him, and he lay in a tangled heap on the green grass amidst a puddle of vivid red blood.
As if from nowhere, two bright rings of an electric green appeared some distance away and moved purposefully towards Captain Scarlet. They travelled over the still form, shimmering and pulsating as they traced the contours of the body. Moments later, Scarlet’s china-blue eyes sprang open and he got to his feet.
Black’s dull voice echoed in Scarlet’s mind, although the older man didn’t speak.
“You have been justly punished for your persistent failure to obey your orders. You are not here to enjoy yourself, Captain Scarlet. Until now the Mysterons have tolerated your insubordination, but for no longer. You know what you must do; we need Captain Blue alive in order that we may come to understand the full extent of the emotions the Earthmen exhibit. These emotions make all Earthmen inferior to the Mysterons, and you will no longer exhibit them. Failure to comply will result in further punishment. Nevertheless, our knowledge would be incomplete if we do not completely understand their function, therefore we shall observe Captain Blue closely as he witnesses the destruction of his planet so that our revenge will be complete.”
“The Mysterons’ orders will be obeyed,” Scarlet replied, and then glared up at the helijet. “I didn’t see you doing anything about apprehending him.”
“I have my orders,” Black replied sombrely. “Your only concern should be to obey yours.”
“Don’t be so bloody superior, Black. The Mysterons created me as I am, neither of us can do anything about it. I always get the results they demand, even if I do it in my own way.”
Captain Black raised an exasperated eyebrow and said, “They went that way. Get it right this time.”
Blue dropped Aibreann to the ground beneath the shelter of the trees at the top of the embankment and doubled over, dragging in lungfuls of air. He was shaking with a combination of anger and despair.
“Are we safe?” Abi asked, peering round the nearest tree back towards the field where the helijet still hovered. The echo of a round of shots bounced off the trees.
“I have no idea; but I think we should keep moving.” He straightened up and reached a hand to her. “Can you run with me for a while? I’m a bit tired to carry you right now.”
She nodded. “You saved us,” she stated in the obvious way of young children.
She looked at his sweat-drenched face and asked, “Shall we rest here for a bit?”
“No; we need to put distance between us and them.”
From ahead of them came a chilling interruption:
At the sound of Scarlet’s voice Blue froze, and then immediately dived, pulling Abi with him and covering her with his body as bullets flew past.
He rolled back down the bank and into the field, putting as much of a barrier as he could between themselves and Scarlet. Once more he started running with the child in his arms. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Scarlet slithering down the bank after them.
Desperately he looked for some cover and noticed a gap between the close-growing trees above them. He hoisted Abi as high as he could and threw her through it, scrambling up after her as she disappeared over the top and dropped down the other side. They found themselves on the narrow road that ran between the two high tree-lined banks. Ahead of them the branches reached overhead to create a living, green tunnel.
It felt strangely familiar.
The road rose slightly and twisted around a sharp corner, so sweeping the child up again, Blue set off as fast as he could, hoping to be out of sight before Scarlet reached the gap. Around the bend the road dipped suddenly towards a small ford, where the tree tunnel seemed so dense it all but blocked visibility beyond the stream.
With an overwhelming sense of relief, Blue realised where he was.
“Muirin!” he gasped, as he struggled to reach the talisman she’d given him from the pocket of his uniform trousers.
Behind him he heard Scarlet calling for him to stop but he kept moving, reinvigorated by the anticipation of help. Shots were fired and Blue staggered as one hit his shoulder. He almost dropped Abi, who clung to him as he stumbled on into the water, the pearl clutched in his hand. Pain cascaded through him as he was hit again, and it was hard to move his legs.
He sank to his knees, Aibreann falling from his arms.
“Muirin!” he gasped, his voice no more than a croak.
He could hear more gunfire, but as he crawled from the ford and sank to his knees, finally spent, it grew more indistinct. Aibreann crawled beside him and lay with her arm around him as he collapsed face down onto the road.
His rasping breath was turning to sobs as pain began to burn into his consciousness and the cumulative exhaustion took its toll. The last thing he remembered was the feeling of relief that it was over: he’d done his best, but whatever happened now, he couldn’t run any more.
Everything went black.
He lay in a twilight world between life and death while white-hot bolts of agony throbbed through his body. Unbearably intense spasms of pain frayed each raw nerve-ending, contracting his muscles in excruciating cramps. Distorted images bewildered and tormented him: nothing made sense beyond the reality of the pain in which he was ensnared. In a pageant of dreams he saw a procession of the dead: his family and loved ones, his friends and colleagues – bloody and pale – their spirits trampled by the jackboot of the Mysterons’ malevolence. Above all the remembrance of Black’s cold and impassive stare and – far worse - Scarlet’s degenerate pleasure in witnessing the degradation and torture of his old friends, emphasised his inability to do anything to alleviate or revenge the universal suffering. He could not even conquer his own.
He thrashed and struggled against the encroaching danger, seeking to warn and protect those as yet untouched – but found himself voiceless, alone in a wilderness of devastation.
Exhausted, he slept.
Captain Blue woke to find himself in a warm bed, his damaged shoulder bound securely in tight bandages and his aching body wrapped in the sheets to prevent him kicking off the heavy blankets in his struggles.
He frowned and tried to drag up the memory of where he was, but he had no recollection of anything before the pain; the past was a fog of shadows and half-remembered faces. Gradually, hearing the soft murmur of voices, he recognised that he was not alone and turned his head towards the sound.
One of the figures close to a large fireplace looked familiar.
“Muirin?” He tried to speak but all that emerged from his dry throat was an unintelligible croak.
The figure turned and came to the bedside, smiling down with tenderness.
“You are awake. This is good. Welcome back, Fionn.”
Her cool hand brushed the sweat-soaked damp hair from his forehead and she leant and pressed her lips to his fevered brow. Then she gently helped him sip from a tankard of cool, sweet-tasting water.
He sank back on the pillows and tried to frame a question. His voice still eluded him, but Muirin knew what concerned him and provided the answers he craved.
“Aibreann is safe and well. She comes to see you every day. She’s well cared for.” He tried to smile his thanks; Muirin stroked his face gently and continued, “You took a bullet in the shoulder and another in the back. We have removed the bullets. You are healing. You will regain the use of your limbs in time. And, never fear, my belovéd Fionn, you’ll have all the time you need.” She smiled. “Sleep now, and when you wake again you shall have some food and Aibreann will visit you.”
He closed his eyes and for the first time in many days slept dreamlessly.
It was a slow progress. Muirin had no access to antibiotic or pharmaceutical drugs, and she relied on natural remedies to ease his considerable pain. But Blue’s body was strong and gradually, as his indomitable will to live returned, so his traumatized body healed and regained its vigour.
For the patient in the bed, the days merged into each other and he only marked the passing of time by the gradual change in the seasons.
What he had slowly recognised as the winter had been spent in the bed, riddled with pain and feverish dreams, but with the spring Eochaid and Strahan had carried him to sit in a chair by the window where he could watch the dappled sunlight dancing through the new season’s leaves and the tall daffodils shaking their golden heads in the breeze. Muirin spent many hours sitting beside him, yet she refused to explain what had happened to him. Aibreann came to see him many times, leaning carefully to kiss his cheek, so that she did not put any pressure on his shoulder or back. There were many evenings when Eochaid or Strahan would carry her, and the ever-present Picksie Rabbit, to her own bed, after she’d fallen asleep with her head on his knees.
Summer found him strong enough to walk from the bedroom to the main door that looked out on the courtyard, and breathe in the sweet air and feel the bright sun on his face. Muirin hovered at his side, concerned and yet as proud of his faltering, independent steps as any mother with a toddler.
By autumn he was strong enough to walk through the courtyard to the gates and look across the verdant valley. Aibreann stood beside him, supporting him by resting his arm on her shoulder. Her halo of red curls now tumbled down her back and she was definitely blossoming into an attractive young girl under Muirin’s care.
The next winter was spent within the house. He ruefully accepted Muirin’s warning that it was too slippery underfoot for him to risk himself outside. Eochaid and Strahan went hunting on horseback, Aibreann riding at their side, although more often than not they returned empty-handed.
Blue was the first to acknowledge that Aibreann McLoughlin was turning into an attractive young woman, her figure filling out and her flirtatious wiles setting the household in confusion. She loved him as a father, and he returned her affection and looked forward to the evenings when she would sit, curled on a cushion at his feet before the roaring fire, while he told her the tales of chivalry and adventure that had played a part in his own childhood, and which seemed to chime in so well with their situation.
It was during the darkness of this long winter that he welcomed Muirin back into his bed and their relationship, at first no more than the mutual comfort of physical closeness and intimacy, gradually returned to the maze of pleasures it had been before he’d left to witness the ruin of his life.
On Midsummer Eve they celebrated the marriage of Aibreann and Eochaid, and that evening as the newly-wedded couple lay together in the darkness of the master bed, he walked with Muirin all the way to the hill in the centre of her land, and saw the familiar patchwork of fields and fitful sunshine that lay spread out around them for the first time since his return. The sky was an immutable blue, with feathery white clouds and on the gentle breeze came the tang of the sea.
That summer he also rode for the first time, and enjoyed cantering with Muirin and the ever-attentive Strahan around the ferny lanes and woods. Aibreann stayed home, contented and happy to await the birth of her child.
The child, a healthy boy, was born in the mid-winter, and they named him Oisin – after the legendary son of Fionn mac Cumhaill who had spent 300 years with his lover in Tir Tairngire.
Blue had never felt so relaxed, his body was as fit as it had ever been and there was nothing to cloud the prospect of a future spent with the people he had grown to love around him. His world had shrunk to this one valley.
He was happy.
Oisin was a lively toddler, forever running with high-spirited energy along the grassy banks of the valley, when Muirin went away.
She had never left his side since he’d returned and Blue was lost and lonely without her. Aibreann and her son kept him company, walking with him around the familiar countryside on his regular exercises.
They breasted the central hill and stood to scan the horizons as they always did. At their feet Oisin played contentedly with a wooden horse his father had carved for him.
Blue frowned slightly and squinted into the distance.
“Is it rain?” he asked, pointing at a dark smudge along the rim of the horizon.
Abi stared and shook her head. “It doesn’t smell like rain, Finn.”
“Daideó, look at what my horse can do!” Oisin tugged at his sleeve imperiously.
He bent to lift the child and handed him to his mother, returning to stare with worried eyes at the horizon.
“I wish Muirin would come home.”
“She will, Finn, don’t worry. She said it might be awhile before she could get back to us.”
“I don’t know why she had to leave here. It’s not safe beyond the valley!” he exclaimed.
Aibreann looked at him with a mixture of concern and sadness on her pretty face. “Are you starting to remember what was before?” she asked gently.
He shrugged and ruffled Oisin’s rich red hair. “I… I don’t know. There was more, I know that. It all seems so long ago and vague that Muirin says I should not struggle to remember it. Sometimes I think that I do remember and I see faces in dreams – and I know that I do know who they are - but on waking I can’t recall the faces or the names. I think that I had a job to do… and I never finished it. Something I should have done – something important – wasn’t done.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head again, repeating, “I wish Muirin would come home.”
Aibreann took his hand and they walked back towards the welcoming house. She set Oisin to play with the puppies on the broad lawn and turned to the man at her side, inviting him to sit on the stone bench and watch the child at play.
After some minutes she asked:
“When did you start remembering things?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. The dreams have always come, only to vanish with the daylight. But the feeling has been getting stronger recently, and I spoke to Muirin just before she left, asking her why I felt this certainty that I had unfinished business.”
Aibreann smiled and squeezed his hand. “How long have we been here, Mister Finn?”
He smiled at her use of the honorific she’d discarded long ago. “A few years…”
“And yet, in those ‘few years’ the little child you saved has become a woman with a child of her own?”
Aibreann pressed his hand to her cheek. “We’ve been here for a long time, Finn; I’m almost 200 years old,” she said softly.
“What?” He drew his hand away and stared at her angrily. “I don’t find that very funny, young lady.”
“It’s true! Outside of this valley roughly 195 years have passed since we arrived.”
Aibreann shrugged. “You may say so, but you know that time becomes a jumble here. Can you honestly say – hand on heart, Finn – that you really know how long you’ve been here?”
“If you know this is true, Abi, why don’t I know it?”
She dropped her gaze to the child playing happily on the grass and took her time to answer. “Muirin said you were hurt so much, by the events… before, that we were not to tell you about them. She said that one day you would start to recall everything on your own and then she would know the time was right to explain what you needed to know. The fact that you spoke to her about your vague memories, must’ve been what triggered her trip. This is not her first time away; just the first time you’ve realised she’s gone. Before now she was always able to hide it from you.”
“How could she hide that from me? And where has she gone?”
“Ah, now you have me; I don’t know. Eochaid won’t tell me.”
“Maybe he’ll tell me then,” Blue stood and started back towards the house with a determined stride.
Aibreann collected her son and hurried after him.
Eochaid was busy in the kitchen preparing a meal for the evening. He looked up and smiled in welcome at Blue’s arrival and again at the sight of his wife and child.
“Eochaid,” Blue began, “I want you to tell me how long I’ve been here.”
The dark-eyed young man looked at Aibreann and she shrugged apologetically.
With a warning glance at her, Eochaid replied, “As long as it has been necessary, Lord.”
“Necessary for what?” Blue asked, well aware of the silent exchange between the couple.
“To make you hale and vigorous,” Eochaid said smoothly.
“And in chronological time, how long has that been? And I want a straight answer this time. Godammit, how old am I, Eochaid?”
“I am not sure how old you were, Lord, when you first arrived here, but I would estimate that you are now somewhere near two hundred and twenty-seven or eight years old…”
Blue sat down heavily on the nearest chair and Aibreann rushed to his side, putting a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off.
“What the hell has been going on here?” he demanded.
Eochaid sighed. “You are in Lady Muirin’s land. Things here do not… conform to what you expect.”
“Why not? What stops them from conforming?”
“The Lady will be home tonight; she will explain it to you far better than I can.”
“You’ve heard from her?” Aibreann asked.
Eochaid smiled, his dark eyes shining. “The tide is high tonight, she will be back.”
And he wouldn’t elaborate or answer any further questions.
Muirin sensed the change in the atmosphere the moment she entered the house. She greeted everyone with her usual courtesy and kissed Blue’s cheek as if she hadn’t noticed his uncharacteristic reserve. She ordered the meal to be served and when they all sat to eat together, only Oisin’s babble broke the almost total silence. When the child was ready to sleep, Muirin dismissed Strahan and bade goodnight to Eochaid and Aibreann, taking Blue’s arm to lead him to the privacy of their bedchamber.
She laid a finger on his lips before he could speak and brought two chairs to the fireplace where they might sit and share the mead Eochaid brewed so well.
“Well?” Blue asked.
“The time has come when we should talk of many things,” she began.
“’Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Muirin inclined her head, hiding a smile as she poured mead from the tankard into goblets. “You’re angry with me, Fionn.”
“I’m angry that I’ve been kept in the dark about what’s going on here! Angry – and hurt – that you would keep such things from me, Muirin.”
“I did it for the best,” she said evenly. “I intended no harm from it, Fionn.” She placed her goblet on the table beside her chair. “It is a long and complicated story; one that might take many hours to tell, but I think you are ready to hear it.”
“I have a right to know,” he insisted. “No more riddles, Muirin. Explain it to me. Now.”
She looked long and hard into his blue eyes, and saw there a determination that was new. “Very well, I will tell you all that I know and can explain. To begin: I’m not what you think.”
“You don’t know what I think!”
She smiled. “I know much more than you imagine, Adam Svenson.”
He started at the half-remembered name; for so long had he been ‘Finn’ that it sounded odd to hear it – especially on Muirin’s lips.
“Who are you?” he asked her.
“I told you when first we met that my name was Muirin Rioghan, and I didn’t lie. To many people around here it would have been enough to tell them all they needed to know, but I didn’t expect you to understand it, and so it proved. You have remained in ignorance, although I’m surprised that now you understand our language better, you don’t realise its significance: Muirin, born of the sea, and Rioghan, the daughter of the king.”
“Names don’t have meanings, Muirin.”
“Well, you know best, of course; but I am the daughter of the Sea-King whose realm covers the waters around these islands and stretches out into what you call the Atlantic Ocean.”
Attempting to cover his surprise and disbelief with calm reasonableness, Blue said, “Really? Then what are you doing here?”
She did not answer directly, but began to tell him a strange tale. “Many centuries ago now, before the age of scepticism, the people here believed whole-heartedly in the ‘super-natural’: beings above and beyond their own mundane lives and capabilities. Gradually that belief leeched away, until it was no more than an old-wives’ tale that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, and all manner of goblins waiting to do decent folk harm. Even so, there is a pinch of truth in even the oldest and most outrageous beliefs.”
“I don’t want fairy tales, Muirin.”
“And you won’t hear them from me, Fionn. You may not know this, but it was in your time that the Terraineans of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol discovered some of the underwater races. There was an American officer – Troy Tempest - who piloted a submarine, and he was instrumental in revealing the existence of some of our communities to your authorities. The news that our existence had been discovered by the Terraineans reached us even here, for news travels fast under water, but it was kept top secret by your people, for fear that making our existence general knowledge would destroy the millennia of privacy we’d enjoyed. Many Merfolk communities are timid, shunning even the company of their own kind, and they feared contact with the warlike Terraineans even more. There were those who – like the great sea predators – would have fought and attempted to destroy your people, but most of us are peaceful and shy. Even so, some of us have interacted with Terraineans for countless centuries; only consider how many of your cultures have stories of sea nymphs or ‘mermaids’.”
In the face of his incredulity she raised her large square hands and spread the strong fingers to reveal a sturdy web of skin between them, and as he continued to stare, she lifted the hem of her elegant gown and revealed the same strong folds of skin between her long toes.
Covering her feet once more, she continued, “We have our own myths about where our people came from, and some say the legend your people have of the city of Atlantis is of a past when our races lived together in harmony. I believe that we evolved independently of any ‘human’ connection, although over the millennia some of us have come to resemble humans more closely, due to inter-breeding between your people and mine. That gave some of us dual characteristics of the land and the sea, and these people can live away from the water, although we prefer to be close to the seas. Yet others are restricted to the oceans and suffocate on land. All of us have a longer lifespan than Terraineans.”
For the first time she looked uncomfortable and there was a pause before she said, “I first came here in what your people called the Dark Ages.”
Muirin smiled at his expression, and hastened to explain: “I am exceptional; not many of my kind live nearly so long, but fate dealt me the cards to prolong my life and I have played them as best I may. I was always curious about the world above the surface and I swam close to the shores, despite warnings. One such day, I was caught in the net of a fisherman who brought me ashore, and there I was baptised – that the ‘demon’ in me might be cast out. For many years I lived by the sea shore, eager to learn what I could of the strange ways of the land-dwellers, but when I wished to return to my home, my father’s people denied me the right, claiming I had accepted the ways of the Terraineans.”
Muirin’s expression became cynical at the memory of the plight she had found herself in. Her voice took on a hard edge as she continued:
“I was an outcast from both cultures. The Terraineans had become fearful of what they could not understand and the Merfolk regarded the land dwellers as barbarians. Finally, after many weary years of wrangling, a compromise was agreed and my people went to consult the Sidhe – the Elven folk, an ancient and powerful people who have long moved at will between the realms of Merfolk and Terrainean – about what should happen to me. They suggested that I be given the land ‘between the salt water and the sea strand’ and the perpetual dominion over it. The Sidhe are a literal folk, and have a quirky sense of humour; so that is why we are here now.”
“You’re an immortal?”
Muirin shook her head and tried to explain. “I exist only as long as my land exists. When the barriers between the valley and the worlds beyond fall, I shall fall with them. I cannot return to the sea for long, for once I do the years will begin to catch up with me and I shall have no more than a normal lifespan. Yet, I savour the few hours I am able to move through the beautiful world of my youth, although it costs me many of the remaining days of my life. When the barriers fall the sea will reclaim the valley – and me.”
“But the sea is miles away!”
“Humans think in so few dimensions. This land is everywhere - and nowhere. Beyond the nearest hill is the vast ocean and beside it the deserts of ice or sand; around the next corner are jungles and mountain ranges, and all of them a mere step away. Somewhere in time-space yesterday will start when the sun rises, and tomorrow is old history. Time is an illusion, Fionn: a decade can pass in the blink of an eye for the ancient trees, yet to the mayfly a day is a lifetime – and it is the same moment.”
“That’s as may be, but how do you hold back time here? I feel no older than the day I met you, but Eochaid told me I’m over 200 years old…”
She gave an exasperated sigh. “Eochaid should not have said so much. Besides, although you have been here for almost two hundred years you have not aged two hundred years. Time is no more than a commodity to be used and manipulated, and I’m very good at it.”
“I suppose you must be, if there is a grain of truth in this… fantastic tale.”
She looked deep into Blue’s eyes again, and raised her elegant brows. “You still don’t believe, do you? For a man of such spirituality, Fionn, you are a profound sceptic.”
She stood and walked to the dresser by the window and beckoned him to join her. “There are no mirrors here – you’ll have noticed. We use bronze – but if you wish, I will show you your true self.”
Blue hesitated, some alarming ideas of seeing the face of a wizened old man in the mirror making him reluctant to risk the experiment. As if she could read his mind, Muirin smiled.
“I will show you what I’m like and then you can decide.” She drew a small silver-rimmed mirror from the cupboard and breathed on it. Then she looked at herself for a moment before holding it so that the reflection of her face was visible to Blue. He looked and saw an imperious woman, elderly, but not old. Her skin was still clear, but the youthful tautness had disappeared and she had the softness of middle age in the chin and jaw line. Around her bright eyes was a fine tracery of smile and frown lines. Her hair had a streak of silver amongst its still luxurious strands. Her deportment was of self-assurance brought about through the wisdom of experience.
Muirin glanced quizzically at him and, after a moment’s hesitation, he nodded. She angled the mirror towards him, and he saw his reflection.
He looked so much like his grandfather it made him gasp, but there was nothing in the reflection to make him fearful. He met her gaze with something like relief, and she wiped the surface with her hand before placing the mirror back in the cupboard.
“You age well, Adam Svenson,” she said affectionately.
“Is that how you see me?” he asked. Muirin nodded. He looked at her and saw again the young woman he was used to. He frowned. “Then why do I still see you as you’ve always looked?”
“My feminine vanity?”
“Huh.” He did not believe her.
She sighed and waved her hand before his eyes, and as he blinked and looked again, she was the woman of the reflection. “How much else of what I see around me isn’t real, Muirin?”
“Nothing. Part of my reason for not allowing you to see me and yourself as we are, was to keep the passage of the years from you. Aibreann is as you see her, and the house and the valley. I swear it.”
He resumed his seat and took a long sip of the mead from his goblet on the nearby table. He rested his head in his hands, his mind churning over the information he’d been given. Part of his rational self pooh—poohed the very idea, but he had the evidence of Aibreann to consider. The small, grubby child he had first met was now a beautiful and poised young mother, and all of that had happened in what seemed to him to be merely a few years. He wondered why he had never questioned it before.
He raised his head and looked across at Muirin. Although she doubted he was seeing her clearly, she was instantly aware that the sharp intellect she’d assiduously protected from the truth of what was happening, was now back in full command of the man she loved.
He’s ready, she acknowledged to herself. I only hope we still have the time…
“So, if Abi and I went back, out of the valley, would the years catch up with us too? Are we destined to spend eternity here with you?”
She shook her head. “To leave would mean that you would age through your normal lifespan, and if there were no other reasons to consider it, I would plead with you to stay; but…” She paused and then plunged on. “It seems that even after all this time I still can’t take good advice, Fionn. Many years ago, I did something I should not have done; only this time my actions put more at stake than just myself.”
“Something to do with me and Abi?”
“With you.” Muirin drew a deep breath and continued, “Beyond the valley, life on this planet is on the edge of extinction. You see, almost two hundred years ago a human being made a disastrous mistake on the planet Mars.”
“Mars?” He raised his eyebrows in confusion. “This gets worse.”
“Try to remember,” she encouraged. “I don’t know exactly what happened, and anything you can remember could be important.”
Blue sat racking his brain for any information although the deep frown between his fair brows told Muirin that he was not having much success.
She waited awhile and then said, “He’s known as Black – Captain Black. You and he were both in an organisation called ‘Spectrum’. When I first met you, you were dressed in a pale-blue uniform and told me you were ‘Captain Blue’…”
He looked up, a sudden gleam of awareness in his pale eyes. “I know that man – C…Conrad – Conrad Turner! He was sent on a mission to investigate some radio anomalies.”
“That may be his name – now he’s known simply as Black. On Mars, he roused the anger of the Mysterons by attacking their city, and they vowed to wipe out all life on this planet in slow retaliation. They’ve certainly been taking their time, but they’re almost there. The land is barren of all but the simplest life forms and my people are in fear for their lives; there is hardly any food – the seas are nearly depleted. Even the powerful arts of the Sidhe are becoming ineffective against the Mysterons; and when the Sidhe fail, I won’t be able to hold back their advance. With the fall of Tir Tairngire, they will have conquered the final bastion against their victory on the land.”
“And you want me to do… what about this – exactly?”
“No more than you were always intended to do. It seems that two hundred years ago you should have killed the man who – because you did not kill him – went on to become the Mysterons’ most destructive agent, but you were prevented from doing so by some foolish, love-struck mermaid.”
“But you let me return – I remember that – it’s when I found Aibreann. We came back here,” Blue’s excitement grew with his returning memories.
“Yes, that’s what happened, but I had already delayed you too long, it seems. The damage was already done.”
Blue’s head dropped as he concentrated on the swirling memories. “I remember – running… running - from Captain Scarlet! He was going to kill me… and Abi.” He raised his head in triumph as the image clarified in his mind. “Captain Black was also there… in a helijet; it was like he was directing everything – giving the orders.”
Muirin smiled. “Good; your memory is returning! You outran Scarlet and made your way back to me. Once you had crossed into the valley, I was able to warp the landscape and gnarl the folds of time around us all, so that the Mysterons couldn’t find you. They’ve been trying to ever since and I‘ve had to consult with the Sidhe many times over the years for help to prevent them finding the valley, and you. The Sidhe were of the opinion that it was best you remained hidden from the Mysterons; for some reason they seem to set a great store on finding you – possibly because your continued existence poses a threat to their pre-eminent agent. And that, my dearest Fionn, is why I’ve kept your memory from you; for fear that you would try to leave if you remembered what had happened.”
“You deliberately kept my memories from me?” He stared at her with a fierce anger.
She stood and went to kneel at his feet, her long hair falling over his legs as she laid her head in his lap. When she looked up, there was genuine sorrow and contrition on her face – something he rarely saw in Muirin who was so sure of herself that she deemed apology a weakness.
“Forgive me, Adam Svenson. I’ve never meant you any harm. It was my mistake that I prevented you from keeping the rendezvous fate had earmarked for you, but that was because I wanted you for myself. When you were strong enough to withstand my witchery and leave, it was too late - the Mysterons had already over-whelmed the Terraineans’ defensive forces. But I’ve kept you safe from them, protected you and Aibreann until… until I can’t protect you any more. Now the options for where you might be hiding have narrowed considerably; the Mysterons are turning their eyes on the valley and we are vulnerable. I denied you the truth for so long and I’m sorry – I was wrong. But now I’m going to try and make amends.”
“By which you mean I am supposed to go and put right your mistake?” He sighed. “But how do you expect me to do that, Muirin? By your own admission I’m over 200 years old – and from what you’ve told me there’s nothing – and no one – beyond this valley except these Mysterons. I can’t kill them all.”
“Killing the Mysterons would solve nothing now. We must undo the damage that’s already been done.”
“Hindsight’s an exact science, Muirin – I’ll give you that – but how can we change the past?”
“Haven’t you been listening? Time is malleable, if you know how to do it.”
“And you know, Muirin?”
“The Sidhe know. It has been agreed that at Halloween, when the barriers between realities are at their weakest, they’ll send you back to the pivotal moment in time when the future changed.”
“Do I have any say in this?”
She sat back on her heels and looked at him in astonishment. “Are you saying you won’t do it?”
“I want to know what’s involved. You have played fast and loose with my life for long enough. IF I do this, I want certain assurances…”
“Nothing is certain, Fionn.”
“Then how can we know when the pivotal moment was?”
“You will know it when you arrive back at the moment.”
Blue sighed and ran a hand through his long hair. “Are you sure of that? Will I remember you and all this?”
She bit her lip. “I don’t know for sure. You may recall some of it – much as you recall your dreams of your other life now. But you’ll have to retrace your steps and face up to situations as they arise as if it is for the first time, any precognition might well change your actions once again. We’ve only got one chance.”
“What will happen to me when I kill Black?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see the future in either time line. I imagine you’ll merely continue as you would have, living the life you should have lived, and any reprisals from your colleagues will depend on why – and how - you killed him, I suppose.”
“So, I’m not going to wink out of existence? Well, that’s something, I suppose. What will happen to Aibreann?”
“If you succeed, she will revert to her previous life from before the Mysterons attacked, and live the human span as ordained by her fates. If you fail, she will be destroyed, along with everything else, when the valley falls to the Mysterons.”
Blue thought a moment about the consequences and the complications that might follow on from what he had to do. Suddenly he looked up alarmed. “What about Oisin?”
Muirin smiled and patted his knee. “You can’t worry about everyone, Fionn.”
He brushed aside her platitude and said urgently, “He won’t ever have existed if his parents don’t meet up, will he?”
She hesitated and then said, “Eochaid is a Sidhe, and Oisin is only half-human. Eochaid will take his son away from here before this begins, the child will be safe with his father’s people. This timeline – and all that’s happened - will not exist, so he can never return to it, but he will continue to exist. As far as I know. You could always ask Eochaid, but he might not tell you the truth. The Sidhe are notorious for giving people half-truths and letting them make the wrong decisions.”
“That is less than reassuring, Muirin.” He sighed, and as the thought occurred to him, asked, “Couldn’t Eochaid take Abi too?”
“She’s human; she cannot go to Tir Na Nog. Just be thankful she will live a normal human life and have no memory of what she’s lost.”
He looked long and hard at her, as if doubting she was telling the truth, but Muirin returned his stare with a steady gaze of her own, and eventually he nodded.
“Thank God,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to have her death on my conscience.”
He looked into his lover’s customarily calm eyes and saw a hint of fear in them. “What happens to you if I succeed?” he asked gently.
Disconcerted by his perception, Muirin rose and turned to the window. He went to stand behind her, wrapping his strong arms around her slender body. She leant back against him as if drawing strength from his presence.
She felt frail beneath the elaborate lace gown, and for a moment there seemed an ethereal quality to her he’d never recognised before. Maybe it’s more than my eyesight she bedazzled, he thought.
“I’ve lived a good life – many lives. I will return to the sea with Strahan and we will live what few days remain to us together. It will not be so very difficult. ”
“You’re fond of him, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am. I don’t suppose I took the time to explain everything, but he is my son. Many years ago, I went back to the sea to see my people and was there when a fierce storm blew up. There was a vessel, heading to the Americas from Bristol, and it foundered. I went to help those aboard, and what I saw sickened me, Fionn. I have never understood why Terraineans enslave each other, but there were so many men and women shackled together in the hold that I could not free them all, and those I did, did not make the shore alive. Only he was saved. He was the captain, and I found him clinging to the great wooden wheel in the storm-tossed waters. There have been times when I wondered if I should’ve let him go his death, but he was handsome, and I was lonely, and so it was that he came with me to Tir Tairngire and stayed. When our son was born, we watched him grow to manhood as a family. But then, as you did, Fionn, he grew restless, and craved the company of his own kind, so much so that he was prepared to leave both me and Strahan – for he would not hear of taking his son with him. The boy is of both worlds and neither; he knows nowhere but this valley, yet after his father rejected him he vowed never to set foot in the Terrainean World, and now he’s elected to return to the seas with me, when the time comes.”
“What happened to him - this other American?”
She smiled wanly. “I tried to warn him that to set foot outside of the valley would be fatal for him, but he would not listen – he was even more of a sceptic than you, Fionn, and my warnings were not believed. One morning he walked across the ford, back to the life he wanted and the riches he believed were his by right. But many years had passed and he was an old, old man. He fell to the ground before he had taken many strides, his bones too brittle to carry the weight of those untold years. I saw him crumble to dust.”
“Oh, Muirin, I’m so sorry.”
“He was a fool,” she said coldly and turned to embrace him. “But that fate will never befall you, Adam Svenson; the Sidhe will protect you until time has rewound to when reality was diverted, and then you may walk beyond the valley with impunity. And you see, nothing can last forever, Fionn. He lived with me for over a hundred years, and we were happy. I vowed I would never love again when he left and I closed my heart, until I met you.”
“Maybe I should come back here if they make me a Mysteron,” he teased. “They seem to have found a way to cheat death.”
She looked angrily at him. “Never say that – even in jest. Believe me, Adam Svenson, the fate of all the life on this planet rests on your success in achieving what you should have done.”
He let go of her and sighed. “So, no pressure then…”
Blue took several long and lingering farewells of the valley, the house and the people he’d come to care for. Aibreann walked with him and although they never spoke of what was to come, he realised she knew well enough.
One morning he came into the courtyard to see Eochaid saddling his horse and Oisin’s pony. The child came running over to take Blue’s hand, babbling excitedly of going with his father on an adventure. Choked with sudden emotion, Blue swung the little boy into his arms and hugged him until Oisin struggled.
When Aibreann appeared to say goodbye she was pale and red-eyed, but she smiled at her son, ruffling his red-hair, trying not to alarm him. Eochaid took her into his arms and kissed her; there was nothing left to say between them, their farewells had been made in the solitude of their bed.
Eochaid came to Blue and took his hand, holding it firmly between his palms for a long moment, while he studied the taller man’s face. “I do not foretell, but I do not now, and never have, sensed failure in you, Lord. Whatever you undertake, you do with your whole heart and mind, and these are formidable weapons against your enemies. All speed with your mission, and it has been a privilege to serve you, my lord.” He bowed over the hand and Blue rested his other hand on the young man’s shoulder.
“Take care of yourself, Eochaid, and Oisin,” he said. “I’m fond of the young rascal.”
Eochaid smiled. “I will speak to him of you and his mother. He will not forget you.” He took his leave of Strahan and Muirin and led the horses out to the green banks beyond the house.
Blue and Aibreann walked with them to the gate, and stood waving at the excited Oisin until they vanished in the curve of the road. Then Aibreann’s courage broke and she would have collapsed if he hadn’t caught her. She turned in his arms, clung to him and wept against his broad chest. Blue had no words to comfort her; in fact he hardly dared trust his voice beyond a soothing and decidedly inarticulate whisper. He stroked her hair as vivid memories of their life together flickered across his mind’s eye and it began to dawn on him what he was about to lose. He knew there had been a life before Tir Tairngire and that it had contained happiness as well as sadness, but what he had here was far more real and all he could do to console himself was think that he would not remember what he had lost. He hoped Aibreann wouldn’t either.
After Eochaid and Oisin had left, getting away from the emotionally charged atmosphere of the house became an imperative for Blue. He felt the need for peace and quiet to psyche himself up for what was going to happen, but the depressing silence of the house only served to reinforce his concern.
Aibreann was a shadow of herself, and although she tried, for his sake, to be upbeat and cheerful, the spark had gone from her and all too often he saw her eyes red-rimmed with weeping. Muirin, quietly preparing for the end of life as she’d known it for centuries, was too distracted to be of much help to her loved ones. She would vanish for days at a time and return quiet and thoughtful and unwilling to speak of what troubled her. Whatever the outcome of Blue’s mission the household and the valley would cease to exist – and although she was adamant that she was willing to pay the price to correct her mistake, only a fool would have assumed she wasn’t anxious about the future. As for Strahan, he had always kept himself apart from his father’s people, and although he was friendly enough towards them both, he still kept himself to himself pretty much, and got on with his own preparations for departure without involving the others.
A few days before Halloween, Strahan brought the pale-blue boots, the black trousers and roll neck sweater that was all that remained of Captain Blue’s Spectrum uniform, out from storage. Blue had almost forgotten about them; and as he dressed, he gradually remembered how his pale-blue tunic and radio cap had been lost in the attack that had destroyed the car they’d been using to escape Dublin. There was some ammunition for the handgun, and he polished up his rusty skills with a shot or two out in the fields behind the house, returning to the house to find Aibreann had been watching him. She took his hands and slid into his embrace for a moment before she turned and hurried away to the room she’d shared with Eochaid. They’d not seen her for the rest of the day and her empty place at the dinner table caused him fresh heartache.
Finally Halloween dawned. Blue rose early and dressed in the remnants of his Spectrum uniform. Muirin thought it wiser not to take anything from this reality back into his own. She’d explained that because time would be reversed to where it had taken the road that led to their current predicament, he’d find himself equipped as he would had been, and therefore there was no need.
He left Muirin asleep, but when he reached the kitchen he found Abi already there. She was making a breakfast of porridge but she left stirring the pot and came to his side. “I want to spend every last moment I can with you,” she said with an attempt at a bright smile. “I have made some breakfast, although it won’t be as good as Strahan’s.”
“It’ll be wonderful,” he reassured her, and he managed to eat the entire bowl she presented him with, with every appearance of enjoyment.
“I think you are so brave to be doing this for us,” she said. She was twirling her spoon in her own bowl of cold porridge, but she looked up and explained, “Eochaid told me that if you… if this doesn’t work and the Mysterons are not stopped, then the Sidhe will not be able to prevent every last living thing – themselves included – being destroyed. If that happens, it will be the end of Oisin too. Even if I can never see him again, and – when you have done what you were supposed to have done so long ago – I won’t even remember him, I wanted to tell you that I appreciate your giving him a chance to live a full life.”
“Not only Oisin, Abi, but all those others who died at the hands of the Mysterons: your brother, my friends… all the innocent people across the globe,” he said, feeling daunted by the enormity of the responsibility.
“Be careful, Mister Finn,” she whispered, and moved to kiss his cheek, her eyes still averted from his face, so that he might not see her fear.
He stood and hugged her, laying her head against his chest. “Abi, I don’t know what to say, except ‘good luck with your life’. I shall miss you.”
Now she looked up and he saw her eyes filling with tears. Her voice was shaky as she replied, “If you do this, you won’t even know me, or I you.” He gave a rueful nod and Abi threw herself back into his arms, sobbing, “Oh, Mister Finn, I do love you so!”
He held her and for a while they stood together drawing comfort from their closeness.
As Muirin came into the room, Blue kissed the top of Abi’s head and gently ended their embrace.
“Are you ready?” Muirin asked. She was dressed in the gown she used for riding and was briskly efficient as she pulled on her gloves.
“Yes,” Blue replied. “What do we do now?”
“We ride to the ford and I will call on the Sidhe to fulfil their part of the bargain. I’m sure Eochaid will be doing the same. With the last vestiges of our combined knowledge and power, we will rewind the past two hundred years around you. You will then be free to keep the rendezvous you should have made and, if the Fates decree it, the Mysterons will lose their greatest weapon against mankind. This will weaken them substantially, so that there will be a chance they can be defeated. From then, it will be down to you and the other officers of Spectrum to do whatever you can to stave off their attacks. But there will be a chance you’ll win through.”
“And I’ll know what I have to do?”
She looked at him with a bleak expression. “I hope so.”
Strahan had only saddled one horse and Blue mounted into the saddle, with Muirin riding behind, her arms around his waist and the reins in her hands. Abi came out to stand beside the youngster, and Blue noticed she was carrying the well-worn rabbit she’d found as a child. The pair locked arms and raised their hands in farewell as Muirin encouraged the horse forward.
Blue did not look back.
The road to the ford was gloomy – the sun was low in the grey sky, and a chill wind blew in carrying the familiar scent of the sea. The trees had not yet shed all their leaves, but the lane was carpeted with a gaudy carpet of reds, oranges and golds. The white horse stepped daintily, the harness jingling as he shook his head and mane.
When they reached the stream, which was in full spate across the road, Blue could see nothing except a dark mist that lay like a curtain on the other side.
“You must dismount,” Muirin said, giving him a final hug before he slithered from the beast. “Now, step into the water, it is the barrier between the valley and your world.”
He turned and kissed her hand. “Wish me luck, Muirin.”
“With all my heart, Adam Svenson.”
He waded into the stream, feeling the chill of the water as it covered his feet; it was difficult to keep his balance against the strong flow. The Spectrum boots were waterproof enough, but it wouldn’t be long before he had soaking wet feet. He looked back at Muirin, who already seemed to be less solid than she had been mere moments ago.
Her hands were raised to the sky as she invoked the power of the Sidhe and she was chanting in a language that was unknown to him. Presumably, the Sidhe would understand.
He turned to look forwards, peering through the swirling mist into the ‘old’ world he had left so many years ago.
He frowned as a vague shape began to appear, the mist flowing around it as it grew more solid.
Suddenly, the haze cleared and he found himself looking directly into the face of Captain Scarlet.
Paul Metcalfe was unshaven, but his face had not aged and Blue could see, from the way the wind whipped the strands of his long, jet-black hair across his face, that there was no grey in it. He was staring intently at the exact spot where Blue was standing, but it seemed he could not see his adversary. Alarmed at the cold, intense hate that flared in those bright, china-blue eyes, Blue put his hand to his pistol and loosened it in its holster.
He could still hear Muirin’s voice, it was stronger then before, louder and more insistent as the charm wound itself around him, and echoing back from somewhere other than here, came the responses of many voices.
The mist before him swirled again, thinning until he could see beyond the person of Captain Scarlet and back along the road – the road he remembered running along for his life, with Aibreann in his arms and Scarlet in pursuit.
Suddenly he realised Scarlet’s expression had changed. A sly smile tugged at the corners of his expressive lips.
He spoke: “At last, I can see you, old man…” Alarmed to see Scarlet raise his gun, Blue went for his. “I would have waited all eternity to find you. The Mysterons’ order must be obeyed.”
Suddenly, the wind gusted, and there was a shower of what smelt like sea foam, the water around Blue’s legs rose and he almost stumbled as the tide surged upstream… A thick mist arose between them.
Scarlet roared his anger that his prize should be taken from him again. There were gunshots…
Blue felt the bullets whiz past harmlessly and then he felt himself spinning, although he knew he wasn’t moving. It was if the very world around him juddered and shook, and then, began to spin the other way: faster and faster until there was nothing but a blur of colours and the crackle and static of emptiness.
It felt as if his limbs were being torn from their sockets; lights exploded behind his eyes, and he felt sick – although that might simply have been the after-effects of Abi’s porridge…
He screamed, yet the sound went unheard by even his own ears.
Instead, echoing through his consciousness came the chanting of the Sidhe, and when he dared to open his eyes, he thought he saw – for the merest blink of time – Eochaid’s face, smiling reassurance. The spinning, flashing colours disorientated him and threw his balance out, so that he swayed and felt himself falling…
Into total oblivion…
…the sky started to grow leaden and great banks of rain-heavy clouds flowed in from the coast and down the surrounding hills in a tide of mist and drizzle, until the valley he was driving along grew dark with them. A few minutes later there was an ominous rumble overhead and the heavens opened – rain drilled down in a torrent, bouncing on the surface of the road and drumming on the roof of the car. The SSC’s automatic headlights flashed on, and the windscreen wipers sprang into action, splashing through the deluge at maximum speed, but with little effect.
Blue slowed the car to a crawl, barely able to see the roadway ahead. This is going to make me late…
A deafening clap of thunder rolled overhead and the jagged spear of lightning that sliced through the darkness, earthing itself just ahead of him, almost blinded him.
The satnav faded into a hiss of static and the headlights went out. The engine died and the powerful car rolled slowly to a dead stop.
Blue swore. He pressed the starter and tapped the dashboard control panels but the lighting must’ve fused everything. The static when he tried to report to Cloudbase, or, indeed any other Spectrum facility, almost deafened him. He stared out into the raging storm and sighed. There was nothing else for it, but to ‘get out and get under’ and see if he could coax the machine back to life. He realised with a grimace that he hadn’t got a raincoat.
Spectrum’s colourful uniforms were the very latest in high-tech garments: bullet resistant, wired for sound and thermally-lined to adjust to the wide range of temperatures officers might expect to encounter as their missions took them around the globe; however, Captain Blue soon discovered they were evidently not water-proof, and within minutes he was soaked to the skin.
To add to his woes, his best efforts at repairing the car were fruitless; the SSC remained dark and quiet. The light of the standard issue torch was just about adequate for him to see what he was doing, but as his fingers started to grow numb with cold he realised he wasn’t going to be able to do much more – even if he’d had any more ideas about what to try.
He straightened up and glanced around him. What had seemed pleasant, open countryside, now looked barren and deserted, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d passed a house or farm. His heart sank as, locking the SSC, he set out in the direction he’d been travelling, hoping to reach some sign of habitation before too long.
He’d been walking for what seemed like an age, when he thought he heard a car approaching. He turned and peered hopefully through the pounding rain: there was a dim glimmer of headlights in the distance. Fervently thanking the Almighty for this hope of deliverance, Blue moved out into the road, prepared to risk being mowed down rather than let this rare chance slip past.
The car approached at a near suicidal speed and he realised it wasn’t going to stop. He sprang to the side of the road as it swept past, drenching him with filthy water from the deep puddle that ran along the edge of the road.
“Fucking hell!” he yelled, shaking the water from his hands as he watched the red tail lights vanish over the next incline of the road. “So much for everyone in this God-forsaken, sodden country being friendly!”
The terrestrial officers at Spectrum: Dublin had a struggle to keep straight faces as the bedraggled colour captain stomped into their offices around mid-morning. He had arrived minutes earlier in the cab of a garage tow-lorry, with their SSC being dragged behind it.
“Pay the man,” Blue snorted, as he continued through to the executive office.
The senior technician wandered out to discuss the problem with the driver, while the admin officer got the money out of the safe. As she straightened up she could hear the somewhat petulant voice of the American trying to explain to Cloudbase just where he’d got to and why he hadn’t reported in according to schedule.
She knew that Cloudbase had been in touch with Major Dempsey in an effort to track their missing elite officer, and from Dempsey’s expression after he’d been speaking to Colonel White, Captain Blue was definitely in the muck up to his handsome neck.
Ah well, no one said being a colour-ranked officer was easy… they have to earn their salaries somehow.
She closed the safe and went to pay the tow truck driver his fee.
“There really was no way I could get in touch, Colonel. The storm that burnt out the SSC’s electrics took out most of the electricity supply for that part of the country. I had to walk to the nearest village and then get a lift to the closest town before I could even get a tow truck!”
“Under the circumstances, Captain Blue, I accept your explanation. I have, however, had to despatch Captain Grey to collect the documents from the Taoiseach in order to ensure their delivery on time. I would therefore like you to return to England and head for Dover, where Grey was supposed to meet Admiral Sharpe and take him to the conference as the representative of the Supreme Commander Earth Forces. The storms that have incommoded you, have also delayed Admiral Sharpe’s arrival, it seems.”
“Were you acknowledging my orders, Captain, or merely making conversation?” Colonel White asked frostily.
Blue shook his head. It isn’t like me to slip up like that… he thought and corrected himself. “My apologies sir, I meant S.I.G...”
“I’m sure Major Dempsey can provide you with a clean uniform; I don’t want you meeting the Admiral looking like… well, like you do at the moment. As the representative of Spectrum you must present the Admiral with our formal welcome, and Sharpe is – as Grey knows only too well – a stickler for protocol.”
“S.I.G., sir. I’ll contact Captain Grey for the full details.”
“Be sure you do. Carry on, Captain.”
The video-phone screen went blank and Blue sat for a moment with his head in his hands. He felt woozy and hoped he hadn’t caught a cold as a legacy from the soaking he’d received.
Maybe Muirin has some thing to ward off colds? he thought and looked bemused. Who the hell is Muirin? I thought the admin officer here’s name was Molly? I must be sickening for something.
Captain Blue drove through the English countryside heading for the London orbital motorway. He sniffed every now and again and wished the dull ache behind his eyes would go away. The Dublin admin officer had provided him with several commercial cold remedies – which he had duly taken and slept like the dead for a good ten hours – yet he couldn’t shake off this headachy feeling. The SSC’s air conditioning was making him shiver, so he’d turned it off and switched on the heating, but that made him shiver too.
Fawn’s going to slam me into isolation when I get back, in case I infect the entire base. Just my luck; I was going to ask Symphony if she’d like to come to the St Patrick’s Day Parade with me. I’m due leave and it can’t be that difficult for those girls to swap their shifts.
He allowed his mind to wander.
I could even see if she’d like to join my parents for dinner… mind you, that might be a step too far at this stage: if anything could scare Karen off for good it’s the revelation that I come from a totally dysfunctional family. There’s the ogre that is my father, the shallow geeks that are my brothers and the rapacious man-eater that’s my sister – dearly though I love her. You couldn’t NOT like my mom though; but even there there’s the problem of her over-enthusiasm – she’s so happy to see me dating any W.A.S.P. female under forty these days, she’ll be ordering wedding invitations before the dessert arrives.
He pinched his nose and sniffed again to try and clear his heavy head.
“This is Spectrum Headquarters: London, calling Captain Blue, please report your position.”
While the microphone on his radio cap dropped down in front of his mouth from the peak of his cap, Blue checked the satnav and read off the co-ordinates.
“Thank you, Captain. Please proceed to Spectrum equipment dock, A69mark5, and collect the SPV. You will receive fresh orders from Cloudbase. S.I.R, Captain.”
Blue was genuinely surprised to hear the emergency codewords. “Spectrum is red, London? What the hell is going on?” he demanded, but the link had been closed and there was no response.
For a split second he considered checking the orders with Cloudbase, but the months of training kicked in and with a concerned frown, he set the satnav and saw that the storage base was a mere matter of minutes away, but in the other direction. To a chorus of blaring car horns he made a U-turn, drove back the way he’d come and headed off at the nearest slip road, flooring the accelerator as he raced the wrong way up the sweep of the highway.
At its inception Spectrum had carefully chosen strategically located petrol stations all around the world, purchased them from commercial oil companies, and converted them to the brand name of a dummy oil company - ‘Delta’. It had then undertaken an extensive programme of work to adapt them to suit the organisation’s needs. Now, to most observers they seemed normal, if unexciting places – and business analysts shook their head over a commercial venture that had apparently intentionally targeted such an eclectic choice of non-profitable locations. What no one realised was that these strategically placed garages housed a large number of Spectrum’s terrestrial fleet of SSCs and Pursuit vehicles. The staff there were all highly-trained mechanics, qualified to maintain the powerful high-tech vehicles in perfect readiness for any Spectrum officer who needed one.
This Delta garage was on a sleepy side road that ran parallel to the main road, and close to the slip roads for both directions. In front of the few petrol pumps stood a large ‘Swift’ removals van. Blue drew the SSC up beside the small manned kiosk and opened the window.
“Captain Blue of Spectrum,” he said, as the regulations obliged him to, although he‘d always thought it was a bit of a superfluous statement. “Pursuit vehicle A69, please.”
“Pass, please,” the Delta employee said without a flicker of surprise.
Blue held out his Spectrum Pass for inspection. The operative barely glanced at it and then, rather to the captain’s surprise, he said conversationally:
“I see you have expert ratings on SPVs. It must be tricky facing backwards and driving by TV monitor?”
Wondering if the man had any concept of urgency, Blue struggled to answer politely. “Ah, you get used to it,” he managed to respond. The sudden controlled explosion of a series of dead bolts made him jump, and he had to grin as the sides of the removals van sprang apart, collapsing to reveal Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle A69.
Nodding his thanks to the attendant, Blue sprinted from the SSC and clambered up to the armoured car. He inserted his access key and punched in his security number. The side of the heavy metal-grey vehicle slid open and the driver’s seat descended on its hydraulic lift to allow him to climb aboard. While he was fastening his seat belt, it rose and slid back into the Spartan, tank-like interior.
As he drove away he noticed the Delta employee meandering out to the SSC.
If he doesn’t get that put away soon, all the pretence in the world won’t keep the location secret… he shook his head and concentrated on the mission in hand, reporting to Cloudbase that he was on his way.
Lieutenant Green updated him as he drove along:
“There has been a threat against the World President’s life. He was being taken to the New York Maximum Security Building, but there was an explosion there – the place was gutted. Captain Brown didn’t make it, but the President managed to use the escape tunnel. Captain Scarlet was sent out to take him to London – well away from every possible danger.”
“And?” Blue asked, with a sinking feeling.
“It’s all gone pear-shaped… Scarlet’s refusing to obey orders and he and the President have ejected from the SPV; the Angel Flight is tailing them, but it’s hard for them to fly that slowly.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Destiny’s voice over the radio.
“Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet’s vehicle, a white saloon, registration CR2X00, has just turned onto M21 in direction of London Car Vu.”
“Destiny Angel, I have joined the M21; I should make contact with Captain Scarlet’s car in a few minutes.”
He increased the SPV’s speed and was glad to see that the road was almost deserted; presumably the authorities had closed the motorway on Spectrum’s orders once it became apparent where Scarlet was heading. In the distance he could make out the shape of the saloon travelling at speed and began a dogged pursuit.
“Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet’s car has now turned off M21 and is now heading towards London Car Vu.” Destiny’s formality was no doubt helping her remain calm in the face of this surprising turn of events, and he was grateful for it. He suppressed his own bewilderment and concentrated on doing the job in hand.
“Seek, contain and apprehend,” he muttered to himself, “We’ve been over this a thousand times in training… see a threat and neutralise it. Concentrate!”
The colonel’s voice startled him. White was not known for getting wound up about anything and his authoritative voice was as calm as usual. “Calling Spectrum Angels, Captain Blue and Helicopter A42: Captain Scarlet is now trapped. Soon he will be climbing the Car Vu, and when he gets to the top, that’s the end of the line.”
Blue grimaced ruefully. I just hope he realises that and surrenders… but even as the thought flashed through his mind his instinct was telling him that ‘surrender’ was abhorrent to Paul Metcalfe and he’d better prepare for the worst. As he drove through the shattered barrier at the entrance to the Car Vu, he spoke into his radio cap mic:
“Spectrum helicopter A42: what is your position?”
“I’m already heading for London Car Vu; will rendezvous in one minute.”
Well – at least I won’t have to do this alone… Blue thought gratefully, as he drove up the corkscrew-like access road, climbing upwards to the viewing platforms, 800 feet above the ground.
Despite his attempts at rationalising the situation, he was finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that the man he was chasing – the traitor to Spectrum and the World Government – was the man he was coming to think of as his best friend. They’d hit it off almost from the moment they’d met: he admired the younger man’s military skills and recognised that they shared a determination to see every job done - and done well. He quickly came to believe that Paul Metcalfe was the best soldier amongst the elite captains, a natural leader and a dedicated agent. Having lived in close proximity to the man since then, nothing had happened to make him doubt his initial assessment, and it was the saddest of ironies that Scarlet – the man he would have gladly trusted with his life – was the man he was now going to have to face as an enemy. It was hard to accept that Paul would be intent on his destruction, but he had to accept it – or risk failing in his mission to save the President and possibly, get himself killed in the process.
However, he didn’t have time to ponder the conundrum for long, as he burst from the spiral driveway onto the open sky-park that formed the roof of the viewing platform. The white car was parked at one side of the circular sky-park’s platforms and Blue paused to assess the situation before contacting Helicopter A42 to issue brisk orders. “Spectrum Helicopter A42, you know the situation; as soon as you arrive, your first target is Captain Scarlet – and make sure you shoot accurately, he’s right next to the President - then winch the President to safety. All this if I don’t get there before you myself,” he added with a pang of guilt; he knew it wasn’t really fair to expect the rank and file pilot to take the responsibility for his mission – and who knew how good a shot the guy was anyway?
Satisfied that the pilot understood his orders, Blue steered the SPV diametrically across from where Scarlet and the President were standing, out on a metal communications gantry.
That really is the end of the line, Paul – where do you expect to go from there? he thought as he opened the SPV’s door and strapped on the hover pack and the safety helmet while he continued his conversation with Helicopter A42.
“Helicopter A42, I can see you. I’ll stand by while you come in to attack; you’ve got better cover than I have…” He glanced around at the wind-swept and exposed platform and raised a cynical eyebrow. “You’ll find Captain Scarlet on the west corner of the sky-park.”
He waited for a response and watched with growing alarm as the craft swept past the communications gantry and approached him across the deserted car park. “A42, did you receive my message? Please acknowledge.”
Helicopter A42 was still some distance away when it opened fire, the bullets drawing a straight line towards him. In a split second Blue had fired up the hover pack and dodged the deadly line of bullets, as the craft flew by and started to turn as tightly as it could for another run.
“Destiny Angel!” he gasped into his microphone, “Helicopter A42 is firing at me. It must now be considered as hostile!” And why am I stating the frigging obvious? The woman has eyes!
“S.I.G.,” Destiny’s grim-sounding voice came loud and clear over his helmet radio.
Trusting the Angel Pack Leader to deal with the inexplicably hostile helicopter, Blue set off towards where Scarlet was holding the President at gun point. He approached warily, wondering if Scarlet was prepared to surrender himself before someone got killed. A moment’s doubt crawled across Blue’s mind:
There has to be a reason for this: Paul’s a rational man. Maybe it wasn’t the real World President that survived the blast at the New York MSB? Captain Brown was an impostor, after all, and tapes can be faked. Maybe Paul knows this and is trying to prevent us all obeying an enemy alien? I’d better be sure I’m doing the right thing – I need to know for sure.
Captain Scarlet fired at him. The shot went just wide and instinctively Blue fired off two shots in reply. They also missed their target, but earned him another close shot in response. He fired and managed to hit the strut nearest to the World President, who went even paler as a fragment of metal just missed him. Even Scarlet winced at that.
Concentrate! Blue castigated himself mentally, striving to calm his rapid breathing. Scarlet’s the best shot in Spectrum; he never misses his target. Were those warning shots?
He glanced round and saw that A42 had evaded Destiny and was coming up behind him, firing.
Shit! He powered the jetpack forward towards Scarlet with such speed the Englishman didn’t have time to fire, and dropped down beneath the vast supporting bowl of the sky-park.
“Destiny Angel – come in for attack! Repeat: come in for attack!”
Blue concentrated on playing a lethal game of hide-and-seek around the bleak concrete struts of the Car-Vu, while he waited for Destiny to sweep in to his rescue. She arrived, and with one deadly accurate missile removed the immediate danger from the helicopter. With black smoke streaming from its engines, A42 slowed and veered off course as the Angel Jet swept onwards to circle back ready for a second shot if one were needed. Safe from immediate harm, Blue used the jetpack to rise back towards the gantry, hovering below it and keeping out of range for a moment. It was only then that he realised the danger from A42 was not over.
The stricken helicopter was on a collision course for the Car Vu. He darted away as the aircraft hit the struts with a huge explosion and a ball of flame and fell, trapped inside them to explode again lower down, effectively weakening the structure to the point of collapse.
Part of the supporting access road splintered off and fell, causing the sky-park to tilt forward.
Blue groaned. Wonderful – now I have to get the President away from Scarlet before the whole thing collapses and takes the three of us with it!
He moved back in, close enough for his voice to carry across the windy distance, over the noise of the aircraft, and yelled: “Okay, Captain, you don’t stand a chance. You throw your gun away and I’ll come and pick you both up!”
The response was a volley of shots from the still silent Englishman. The juddering of the Car Vu was enough to send them wide, and Blue evaded them easily enough. He swooped out of range while he considered what to do next.
The Car Vu was clearly doomed, twisted metal was shearing off and chunks of concrete falling from crucial weight bearing struts; time was running out for World President Younger. One major twisting lurch made the decision for him and Blue swooped in closer to the men clinging to the gantry. The World President was thrown to his knees and resorted to clinging on with both hands, but Scarlet was still holding his gun and watching his erstwhile colleague warily.
Coming close enough to study them; Blue stared directly at the men, searching for some inspirational way to save them, and he was still hesitating when Scarlet turned his deep-blue eyes on him. Blue frowned; there was no recognition in those translucent depths, instead he saw only an indifferent coldness, an unearthly emptiness with a hint of malevolence mirrored in the disdainful curl of Scarlet’s expressive lips.
Suddenly – like glass shattering – memories flooded into Blue’s mind: mental images so sharp and clear he could not doubt their authenticity. Captain Scarlet pursuing him across a wild countryside, shooting at him and the precious child he was protecting. He could hear her voice shrill with fear as she clung to him when he toppled forward into cold running water – pain pulsating through his back and shoulder. Finally there was the mental image of the deadly hate and fixed purpose on the young face of the man who had waited out the centuries – ageless, implacable, and determined – to exact revenge on his erstwhile friend.
All of that evil was latent in the face staring at him from across the Car-Vu sky-park.
Shocked into action, Blue aimed his gun. “Okay, Captain Scarlet,” he muttered, “It’s either gonna be you or me.”
Scarlet returned fire, his shots going wide as the structure lurched and threw his aim off. He glanced down at the man cowering at his feet, a warning stare that transfixed the President with fear.
That brief inattention was Blue’s chance. He closed the gap at top speed and with a clinical determination to end Scarlet’s reign of terror before it had chance to begin, he fired again: three shots to Scarlet’s one.
Captain Scarlet grimaced as Blue’s final bullet pierced his uniform. He staggered, his grip faltering as he swayed on the already teetering gantry. As it shifted again, his grip failed and he fell.
The long, shrill scream rang in Blue’s ears as he holstered his gun and raced over to grab President Younger before he lost his grip on the smooth metal columns. He was desperately trying to grab a hold with both hands, as Blue came up from below and behind and edged the supports of the hover pack under the President’s arms.
“Hold tight, sir,” he said, sounding surprisingly calm to his own ears.
Younger slouched over the armrests, his head lolling against Blue’s ribcage as the captain fired the jets away from the already collapsing structure and safely down to where the terrestrial authorities had arrived in force.
As his feet hit the ground the World President staggered and the doctors and paramedics ran forward to help him into a waiting ambulance. The doors slammed shut and, with the Angel Flight overhead and a police escort, the ambulance raced away towards London, its siren wailing.
At something of a loss as to what to do next, Blue looked around the site of the devastation; there were Spectrum Ground-based Officers, paramedics and police, but, thankfully, no reporters. Yet.
As the adrenalin that had kept him focussed left his body his legs began to buckle and he rested against a police car, trying to stop himself from passing out. It felt like he’d been holding his breath since he started the climb up the Car Vu.
Added to that was the full realisation of why he was here and what had happened to him.
He had saved the World President, but killed the wrong traitor. Somewhere, probably watching and planning his next move, Captain Black remained – the greatest threat to the Earth.
“Captain Blue, report,” the colonel’s voice over his cap radio was hoarse with anxiety.
“The President is safe, sir,” Blue replied, and even as he spoke he felt a sense of relief; whatever was to come, the immediate victory of the Mysterons had surely been halted.
“Thank God,” White breathed. There was a slight hesitation before he continued, “And Captain Scarlet?”
“Dead, sir. Dead and buried – where he belongs.”
Colonel White ascribed the vehemence in that response to the stress of the moment. “We must have his body brought to Cloudbase, see to it, Captain.”
Blue was too emotionally drained to argue against the instruction even though it engendered a profound misgiving in him. “S.I.G.,” he muttered as the link closed down, and marched across to the senior Ground-based officer and relayed the orders.
Seeing the obvious patina of exhaustion on the officer’s face, a concerned paramedic offered to check him over, but Blue excused himself and wandered away from the main area of activity to look back and survey the vast mountain of twisted metal and concrete that was all that remained of the London Car-Vu. In the centre stood the base of the shattered tower, pointing like an obscene finger into the sky; Blue wondered if the Mysterons could see it from their Martian Complex and if it conveyed the same defiant message to them as it did to him. He hoped so because it conveyed everything he felt about them and their ‘agents’.
This time it won’t be so easy to crush the human race… He focussed his mind on the problem of Captain Black; wherever he’d seen Scarlet in action, Black had been present, which suggested he might well be around now. It was possible that his body would turn up in the wreckage, but there was no guarantee of that. Besides, either of them might regenerate and be as much of a danger as they ever were… how am I ever going to know if I have done enough to stop the destruction of the world?
He continued walking away, deep in thought and frequently distracted by the many memories of his life with Muirin as much as by the consequences of his failure to change the course of history. He speculated that the fact he could remember so clearly all that had transpired in Tir Tairngire meant that the mission was not yet completed, and that even now, his loved ones could be facing annihilation at the hands of the Mysterons’ death squads as the World’s last bastion surrendered to the aliens.
For himself, he supposed he was destined to live through his predestined lifespan either as a captive of the Mysterons, facing the agony of seeing his world die, or as a zombie, devoid of human emotion and part of the death squads along with his Spectrum colleagues. The only possible salvation he could imagine was for him to destroy Captain Black before the Mysterons grew too powerful, and his anxiety to face the Captain increased with every passing moment.
He had stopped to stare across the devastated landscape towards the sprawling city of London, where the World President, secure in Spectrum’s premier terrestrial headquarters, would be undergoing a thorough examination by the top medical personnel. Maybe I should tell them about the way the Mysterons can imitate and recreate people, and get them to check Younger very carefully?
From the corner of his eye he saw a flickering light and spun round, his hand going to his gun, only to see Muirin standing some distance away. Delight and relief flooded through him and he took several rapid strides towards her, yet the gap between them remained constant – she faded from his approach like the end of rainbow flees the would-be claimant for the pot of gold.
She held up a hand and he stopped.
“What’s happening?” he asked urgently. “I’ve killed Scarlet – it was him and not Black who had kidnapped the World President. Younger’s safe, the Mysterons can’t make use of him now, as far as I know anyway. But I can’t find Black!”
She shook her head and her voice was faint, as if it was coming from many miles away. “Our defences are holding,” she said, “they’ve weakened but not fallen. Aibreann is still with us. There must be something else, my love, the key to defeating the Mysterons has not been found. Something else has to happen before it is over and the World is safe.”
“I’ll continue to search for Black, Muirin. I’ll never stop! Just hold on – never surrender.”
She nodded reassuringly. “The Sidhe chose their champion wisely and well, Fionn.”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t feel like a champion, Muirin, and I don’t understand why I can still remember all that happened in Tir Tairngire? I thought the whole point of this was that I wouldn’t know anything, and so couldn’t be swayed into doing the wrong thing.”
“I can’t tell you,” she said, with a slight shrug. “But the Sidhe do not play by any rules but their own, and if they felt there was a chance you might make the wrong choice, perhaps they returned your memories to give you a nudge in the right direction?.”
Blue considered this and nodded. “You know, you could be right; I thought it possible that Scarlet was trying to protect us from a Mysteronised Younger… I offered to save them both.”
She smiled. “I’d expect no less of you; but I also trusted you to make the right decisions, Fionn.”
“I might not have done if my memories hadn’t come back and reminded me that the Mysteronised Scarlet had no redeeming features.” He gave a rueful smile at his naivety. “Will I keep the memories?” Muirin didn’t know. “I’d like that, if I could be sure of seeing you again, but to remember you and all that passed at Tir Tairngire, and know that I could never return or see you again, would be torment.”
Muirin’s heart was touched by the sadness in his voice. “Who can tell? If they think it is advantageous, then we shall meet again. Besides, you are their champion, Fionn, you’ve fought and won their battle; I think they will be generous in their reward for you. For myself, I could wish it might be; when even such a restricted time with you gladdens my heart.”
He stepped towards her quickly, but in the mere twinkling of an eye she had vanished. “I swear I will not give up. I will do everything I can to defeat Black and to save you and Aibreann,” he vowed, hoping that by the power of the Sidhe his words would reach her.
Reinvigorated and with a renewed motivation to bring the mission to a totally successful conclusion, he strode back towards the site of the Car-Vu wreckage. There were work gangs of Ground-based Spectrum operatives at work all over the place, searching for clues, debris, bodies – anything that might help Spectrum solve the riddle of the Mysterons and the fate of their apparently treacherous agent.
Blue wished there were a way he could explain what he knew, directing their defences in the right direction…
“Captain Blue – over here, sir!”
He looked across to where the group of workmen who had shouted to get his attention were waving for him to approach.
“We’ve found something, sir,” the foreman announced, and pointed down to where an upright metal girder was holding back an enormous block of blast-damaged concrete, forming a narrow cavern amongst the rubble.
The man shone a torch into the darkness and peering inside, Blue saw the glint of red and gold, as the torchlight reflected off the unmistakable shoulder epaulettes of a Spectrum uniform.
“It’s Scarlet,” he said with certainty. “Can you get him out?”
“He’s dead, Captain.”
“Think I don’t know that? He fell over 800 feet with my bullets in him, man! The question remains: can you get him out?”
The man removed his hard hat and scratched his head. “Yeah, shouldn’t be too difficult, if you want him.”
“Then bag him and tag him. He’s wanted back on Cloudbase.”
“I obey my orders without question – I suggest you do the same.” Blue knew the colonel would not want details of the Mysterons leaking out at this stage and he had no intention of allowing speculation and rumour to start over what had happened to Scarlet – or why.
“Oh, we’ll do it, sir – keep your shirt on. Just seems a waste when – after all - he was the traitor who kidnapped the World President.”
“Maybe he’s going to get a posthumous medal for ensuring this eyesore got knocked down?” some wag in the work gang suggested, to much laughter.
Blue managed to keep a straight face and there was real authority in his voice when he repeated, “Bag him and tag him, officer. They’re sending a chopper for me – how long will you need?”
“Give us ‘alf-an-‘our.”
“Right – don’t take any longer, unless there is danger to your work crew. I’m needed back on the carrier too and I don’t want to have to explain any delay to Colonel White.”
“Right you are, Captain. Leave it to us – we’ll give you a shout.”
As Blue walked away he tried not to grin when he heard an irreverent and highly bowdlerised chorus of ‘John Brown’s Body’ break out as the gang started work.
“He landed on the roadway like a pound of strawberry jam.
He landed on the roadway like a pound of strawberry jam,
He landed on the roadway like a pound of strawberry jam…
And he ain’t gonna jump no more!
Glory, glory, what a helluva way to die…”
“It sure is,” Blue muttered to himself, “but the alternative was far worse, believe me, Paul.” And he sniggered, even as he grieved for the man he had known.
Captain Grey piloted the helijet back to Cloudbase; one look at Blue made him refuse to allow his colleague anywhere near the controls – it looked to him as if he was close to the edge.
So, perforce, Blue sat in the passenger cabin, mere inches from the flaccid body of Captain Scarlet. His mind was in turmoil; he had done his duty - by the colonel in this reality and Muirin in the other – but the problem of Captain Black remained. He may have been somewhere in the Car-Vu complex and there was still a chance they’d find him, but if they did not, it meant that somewhere and somehow he was plotting the Mysterons’ revenge.
He shifted uneasily and wondered if the Mysterons would recreate Scarlet again as he’d seen them do before. He glanced nervously at the body bag, half-expecting the zip to start to undo and some half-crazed and wholly-evil zombie to emerge.
If there is any justice in any reality, you’ll stay dead, Scarlet.
As soon as the helijet had landed, a team of paramedics took the body to Sick Bay. Seeing the way Blue stared after the gurney that was transporting Scarlet’s remains, Captain Grey suggested he might go along too, and get Doctor Fawn to check him over.
Jerked back to awareness, Blue shook his head. “It’s okay, really, Captain; I’m just tired. I’ll grab some rest in my quarters.”
Grey looked unconvinced, but he knew better than to argue with Captain Blue when he was in this mood. “S.I.G., Blue; I’ll tell Colonel White where you’re going. I’m sure he won’t need to debrief you immediately, but if he does, someone’ll come and get you, I imagine.” Blue raised a cynical eyebrow at the implication that he too was under suspicion, but he guessed it was wise under the circumstances – wiser than anyone on Cloudbase could possibly know at this stage of the Mysterons’ War of Nerves.
Grey had lingered beside him, studying his reaction, and now he asked, “Are you okay, Adam?”
It wasn’t often that Grey broke the regulations on the use of Christian names between officers, and Blue gave a slight smile. “I think so; but such a lot has happened, Brad.” To Grey’s surprise the younger man reached out and shook his hand firmly. “I’m glad to see you again.”
“And me you – but it’s only been a few days, Adam; you make it sound like a lifetime.”
“Time’s an illusion – that’s what someone told me once… a long time ago. I realise now that a lot can happen in a few days.”
“Hmm,” Grey said, concern for his friend making him frown. “Maybe I’ll ask Doctor Fawn to drop by later and look in on you?”
“I’m – I’m fine,” Blue insisted, turning away. “I just need some rest; some time to get used to the way things are. And you know Fawn’s aversion to making house calls...”
“Sure I do; but I also know you and Scarlet were friends. You do know you had no choice, don’t you, Adam? Paul turned traitor, he betrayed Spectrum, the World Government and … yes, and his friends. He deserved to die.”
“Oh, I know that, better than you can imagine, Brad. Sad to say, it doesn’t make things any easier though.”
Grey sighed. “Yeah, I can understand that – truly I can. Paul Metcalfe was a good man; one of the best, but when the best go bad, everyone’s in danger. Taking him out was the only thing you could’ve done.”
Blue nodded. “It’s better this way, much better - for everyone - I don’t doubt that for a minute. But, I can’t help feeling it’s not over yet.”
Hesitantly, Grey patted Blue’s shoulder. “If you want my opinion,” he said, “you ‘done good’, but you need to give yourself a break. Go get some rest, eh?”
“Sure. And thanks, Brad. It’s good to know I have your support.”
“Scarlet’s alive?” Blue heard the news with consternation; the memory of his encounters with the Mysteronised Scarlet still clear in his mind. “Are you sure?”
Doctor Fawn nodded. He’d asked to speak to Blue and Destiny Angel privately and the trio were seated in the Head of Spectrum Medical’s private office in the part of Cloudbase that housed the state-of-the-art medical facilities. “I’ve got no idea how or why he’s alive,” Fawn said, a hint of frustrated bewilderment in his voice, “but my many years of medical training, not to mention the years I’ve spent at the forefront of my profession, leave me no choice but to conclude that the Captain Scarlet you bought back from the Car Vu is not dead.”
“Very funny,” Blue responded, with a frown. He chose his next words carefully, anxious to ensure he revealed nothing that wasn’t already known by his colleagues. “We know the Mysterons can recreate matter – according to their broadcast – is that what they’ve done here?”
“I’m a doctor, and in my experience death is usually fatal and invariably permanent. However, I can only speak for its effect on human beings, so if what we have is an alien Scarlet, it opens a vast new range of possibilities. I assume they’ve told you both that officers from Spectrum’s New York office found the bodies of Captain Brown and Captain Scarlet at the scene of a car crash, which suggests that somehow the Captain Brown who died in the Maximum Security Building was not the same man who left Cloudbase earlier. How this is possible I don’t pretend to know – yet; I’m bloody-well going to find out though! With regard to Captain Scarlet, I can only assume the case was the same as Brown.”
Destiny spoke for the first time since they’d sat around Fawn’s desk. “But you asked me to identify a body – the body that came from the Car Vu. That body was most assuredly that of Captain Scarlet. I could not have doubts of it.” She drew a deep breath and concluded, “And that body was definitely dead.”
“It was,” Fawn agreed laconically, “but even then, didn’t you think that, for a man who’d fallen 800 feet onto a concrete roadway, he looked remarkably… intact?”
“Non!” she exclaimed. “I am just grateful it was not all squashy and bloodied! And even so, it made my blood to run cold in the veins of my heart!”
“Of course, I apologise, Juliette; I didn’t mean to upset you, merely to explain that however dead the body of Captain Scarlet was when it hit the ground - it isn’t dead now.”
“Can I see him?” Blue asked sharply. If this Scarlet posed the same threat he’d done before, it was down to him to find someway of ending this life - permanently.
Fawn hesitated. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Captain. He tried to kill you once before-”
“And if he does so again I’ll be ready for him,” Blue asserted. “Someone else might not be so much on their guard, Doc. Besides, if he poses no threat to me – the man who shot him – maybe he’s safe?”
“An amiable Mysteron?” Destiny exclaimed. “I do not think this is something we should expect, mon ami. They have shown no mercy to any person from the time they were first encountered. Think of the deaths we already know of: the crewmen on the Martian expedition, Captain Black, le pauvre Capitaine Brown - and Paul… I would not wish for you to be added to the list.” She placed her well-manicured hand on his arm and gave him a smile.
He patted her hand absent-mindedly. “But what are the alternatives, Destiny? We can’t keep him locked up or sedated for ever, can we?”
“I don’t have enough sedatives for that,” Fawn interjected. “His body seems to recover from them in less than no time.”
“There you go then,” Blue said, closing the discussion. “We have to discover if he’s still a threat and I’m the guy to do that – I’m not exactly a pushover, you know.”
“I do know this – you have been a strong tower for us all, during this terrible time, Adam. Mais, tiens, I do not wish to see him,” Destiny said, with a delicate shudder. “It was horrible to see him as a dead man, for many times that sight will give me night-horses.”
“Nightmares,” Blue corrected automatically.
“Ah, oui; you see how this makes me to forget mon anglais?”
“You don’t have to see him, Destiny,” Fawn reassured her with a smile. “And I will speak to the colonel, Blue, and see if I convince him to let you meet with Scarlet. I can’t do more than that right now, but I thought you two had a right to know what was happening; after all, you were his closest friends.”
“Non, I was the friend of Paul Metcalfe – I am not the friend of that… thing in there!” Destiny exclaimed. “And, because it must be he who killed Paul, and I shall never, never forgive him!”
“And if that is Paul Metcalfe?” Fawn asked.
“No person shall rejoice more than I,” Destiny replied, rather spoiling the effect by adding defiantly, “IF it is he.”
Captain Blue presented himself at Sick Bay around mid-morning the following day in response to a call from Doctor Fawn. Last night his dreams had been so vivid that he had no doubt of the risks he was taking, or the lengths he might have to go to in order to prevent the disaster of a Mysteron assault striking twice. He was mentally prepared to face the malevolent Scarlet of his memories and to that effect he had checked and loaded his service gun and wore it on his hip when he made his way across Cloudbase.
Fawn met him at the door of Sick Bay and they walked towards the isolation ward where Scarlet was presently incarcerated. The two guards on the door straightened to attention at their approach, but Fawn stopped before they were in earshot, turned his back on the guards and said in a vehement whisper:
“He says he doesn’t remember anything, Blue. The hours between the car crash and the Car Vu are blank.”
“Is he lying?”
Fawn hesitated. “You tell me, you know him better than I do. However, I will say this much: I always found Paul Metcalfe to be honest to a fault. He would never lie, even if it meant getting into trouble. I don’t say he couldn’t lie – but he was not comfortable doing so.”
“Do you feel he’s retained his evil Mysteron persona?”
Fawn looked at his companion sharply. The American’s face was unusually pale given his tanned complexion and there were dark, grey rings around his pale-blue eyes; Fawn knew all of these men extremely well, and he recognised the signs of unremitting stress in his companion. Svenson was a tough man, but he was also prone to being acutely censorious of himself, and others, when he believed there was good reason. To dismiss the question might cause more soul-searching and blame than was merited; to give it too much credence might well be as harmful, especially as it occurred to the doctor that the man beside him was struggling to justify the fact that he’d killed his colleague and friend.
“Evil persona? Well, Captain, evil is a subjective word when he probably had no choice. But, for what it is worth, I don’t think the man in that isolation ward is ‘evil’ as I would define the word. Confused, frustrated, angry – certainly – but it isn’t evil to be all or any of those.”
Blue noted the reply, yet asked, “So kidnapping Younger wasn’t evil?”
Fawn shrugged. “Brainwash someone and they do as you instruct them to. Does that make them evil or the brainwasher?”
“We know now that Paul Metcalfe died in the car crash,” Blue reminded him sharply. “If they had brainwashed Paul, then I might agree with your analogy, but that… man… in there – that’s a creature of the Mysterons. A zombie programmed to do their bidding and with a turn of mind that delighted in making people suffer!”
Fawn took the taller man’s arm and steered him away to the nurses’ lounge where he poured them both a cup of coffee before taking Blue into a neighbouring examination room and closing the door.
“Look, Adam, I’ll be honest with you. What tests I’ve done show a perfect match between my patient and Paul Metcalfe. And I don’t just mean, height, weight, colour of his eyes, I mean deep down exact matches. Psychologically, I don’t know what effect his experiences might have had on him, or how much his natural character might have warped under the influence of the Mysterons – or how you can be so sure he ‘delighted’ in his actions.”
“You weren’t at the Car-Vu,” Blue responded quickly, annoyed that he’d let so much slip.
“No, I wasn’t, but I can assure you I don’t see any malevolence in my patient – so far.”
“So much to the good then,” Blue muttered, as he drank his coffee.
“Tell me, Adam, you’re a religious kind of guy, aren’t you?”
Blue’s astonishment was evident at this change of tack. “In this day and age I suppose my beliefs would get me labelled as such,” he replied warily. “But I don’t see-”
“Right; then maybe you can tell me – what is a soul?”
Blue’s eyebrows rocketed upwards in unfeigned surprise. “Doc?”
“If every man has a God-given soul – an essence, a spirit, or whatever you want to call it – and that soul lives on beyond the destruction of the physical body, and it finds refuge in a new corporeal host – I’m not talking ghosts here - does that inevitably make the soul evil?”
Blue shifted on his seat and gave Fawn a thoughtful stare. “I see where you’re coming from, but what if the new host is evil?” Fawn shrugged but refused to answer. Blue continued, “You’d need to talk to the Chaplain, Ed, this goes beyond me.”
“Hmm, I don’t think so; I’m damn sure you know what you want to believe, Adam. Let me lay my cards on the table for you. What I think we have here is a Mysteron-reconstructed body – perfect in every detail – inhabited by the soul of the Paul Metcalfe they killed. The body has no mind of its own, Adam, so when the Mysterons discarded it, the soul of the real Paul Metcalfe took over. Now, I’d be the first to agree that it is the soul of a very fallible human being, with the faults of the original; but is the body it inhabits enough to make that soul evil, and in so doing make this new Captain Scarlet evil?”
“When you get philosophical, Doc, you don’t do it by halves,” Blue muttered, although there was a hint of amusement in his tone.
“Answer the question,” Fawn insisted.
“Paul’s original human self had nothing to do with any evil done by the Mysterons,” Blue said circumspectly.
“So the man in the isolation ward is not evil? We’re agreed?”
“How can we know the Mysterons have discarded their hold over him?”
“We can’t – not 100% - not yet. I think they have and I think you want to believe they have. Maybe you’ll answer your own question when you see him.”
Blue sighed and put his empty cup down. He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head slowly. “Your patient is Paul Metcalfe, then?”
“He is whatever made Paul Metcalfe the man he was. He is – and I don’t deny this – inhabiting an alien body. A body which, as far as I can tell after my preliminary tests, won’t… won’t die.”
“He’ll cease living – which is not the same thing – because it won’t be permanent.”
“The way you split hairs, Edward, you could’ve been a corporate lawyer.”
“I know my limitations,” Fawn replied, with a smirk.
“You are telling me that Scarlet is immortal?”
“Not in so many words; I don’t know what effect time will have on him, but he is ‘indestructible’. When something gets damaged or stops working, it will repair itself. I have no idea how – yet.”
“So, if he attacks me and I kill him – he’ll simply recover?”
“That’s about the sum of it.”
“You, him and me.”
“Not yet, I’ll tell him later today. Strange though it may seem, I actually wanted to see what impact my observations had on someone else before I told the C-in-C. Someone who didn’t have the authority to have me put in a straitjacket.”
Blue smiled. “I don’t envy you that job, Ed.”
“I don’t fancy doing it, Adam, but someone has to.”
“So, if Scarlet is indestructible but human – we have a winner; if he’s indestructible and alien – we have a problem.”
“That’s the crux of it, Blue. I need to know what you make of the man. You knew – know - him better than any of us. I’d value your judgement. Just keep an open mind when you see him, and remember – we all need the benefit of the doubt at some time in our life.”
When Blue walked in, Captain Scarlet was sitting up in bed, a petulant frown on his face. He looked at his visitor without enthusiasm.
“Come to see the freak show, have you?”
Blue looked round the room and shook his head. “I can’t see one – just you.”
“Yeah, right. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean; Fawn’s probably been spinning you the same kind of yarns he’s been spinning me.”
“No, he hasn’t got the imagination to spin yarns. He deals with solid facts, he always has done – or, in this case, the absence of solid facts where solid facts ought to be.”
Scarlet gave an exasperated grimace and flounced back against his bank of pillows. There was a long silence while Blue went and drew the armchair provided for visitors a little closer to the bed. He sat down, crossing one leg over the other and folded his arms, making it quite clear that he wasn’t going to leave and that he was prepared to sit out the duration of the sulk.
He was determined to come to a decision about the identity of the man in the bed.
“Did I shoot at you?” Scarlet asked suddenly.
Blue nodded, adding, “Yes; you missed though.”
“I can’t have meant it then,” Scarlet muttered defiantly.
“I figured that.” Blue clearly remembered his own doubts before the Sidhe had restored his memories of the Mysteron-Scarlet from the other timeline.
“Did you shoot at me?”
“Yes. Only I didn’t miss.”
“So they tell me.” There was heavy irony in Scarlet’s voice.
Knowing how much pride Paul Metcalfe had always taken in his marksmanship, Blue volunteered, “I did have an advantage: my jetpack was stable, but the sky-park was about to collapse, it was juddering about. You were probably thrown off balance.”
For one brief moment the deep-blue eyes darted a glance at him, but when they met his eyes, Scarlet looked away – but not before Blue had seen the gleam of restored pride at his explanation.
Ah, so you still want to be the best… he thought.
When Scarlet spoke again it was with some uncertainty: “You thought I’d kidnapped the World President?”
“I know you had. I saw you holding him at gunpoint.” And blowing his head off later… he added to himself.
“Did you save him?”
There was another long silence.
Finally Blue said, “You’re not dead.”
“I figured that,” Scarlet mimicked, with a hint of mockery.
“I’m pleased you’re not.”
This time the silence was less tense, and Scarlet finally seemed to relax slightly, although he was still reluctant to look his friend in the eye.
“Do you remember anything?” Blue asked.
Scarlet gave an exaggerated sigh. “I remember Brown; I remember the car, the crash. Flames. Then I woke up here as ‘exhibit A’.”
Blue longed to ask ‘do you remember what happened in Dublin? How I escaped to Tir Tairngire and how you waited centuries for a chance to kill me?’, instead he said, “Is all this cold shoulder because you’re mad at me?”
This time Scarlet’s deep-blue eyes swivelled upwards and met Blue’s with a forthright stare.
“If I kidnapped Younger, and if you thought I meant harm – then you did what you had to and I don’t see I have a cause for complaint.”
“I did kill you.”
Scarlet smirked. “You made a lousy job of it then. Besides,” he added, “I thought the fall killed me?”
“You screamed on the way down,” Blue admitted thoughtfully.
“Dead men don’t scream, Adam.”
“You mean I’m not responsible for your death?”
“Oh, I dunno - Fawn says I died. Fawn’s a doctor – they usually know these things. Given that he wasn’t telling me porkies – something killed me. If you want to take the blame – or is the credit? – you can do, for all it matters to me.”
Blue went straight to the heart of the matter. “Do you remember the Mysterons?”
“No.” The response was immediate and vehement.
Blue studied the clear blue depths of his friend’s troubled eyes; Paul was desperately trying to make sense of his situation and he could empathise – after all, it wasn’t that long ago he’d had to come to terms with something just as inexplicable. He’d decided then that some things were beyond rationalisation; you just had to have faith, and hope it made sense in the great scheme of things.
Paul was looking at him anxiously, clearly hoping for reassurance, but expecting rejection and ready to erect defensive emotional barriers to protect himself.
Adam knew all about those too – he’d lived behind his own for years after Soraya died. They’d been supposed to stop him getting hurt again – but they had proved an illusion. He hurt now and the chances were that Fate held more pain in store, given that his life was busily spiralling out of his control.
He recalled the bleak months after the trauma that had blighted his childhood, how his mother and his grandparents had tolerated his moodiness and his silences; how their patience and their love had gradually taught him to once more value the life he’d begun to find unbearable. The words of a foolish little song his grandfather had sung to him frequently, floated back into his memory:
‘Nothing's impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again.’
Unnerved by the silent scrutiny he was receiving, Paul blinked rapidly several times in quick succession and his head started to droop as he believed he was about to receive an unequivocal rejection from his erstwhile friend.
That one look of all-too-human dejection was enough to tip the scales. Blue shook himself mentally. The benefit of the doubt – Doc was right, except I don’t think I have any doubt. This man isn’t the homicidal maniac who threatened Abi and me; the man whose malevolence outlasted centuries and I guess I’m prepared to stake my life on that assessment… I think now might be as a good a time as any …
He stood up and approached the bed, holding out his hand. “Welcome home, Paul.”
For a moment Paul Metcalfe stared in disbelief at the hand, and then up at the smiling face of his visitor, then a huge grin erupted across his face and he reached out.
The grasp that enveloped Adam’s hand was strong and fervent. They shook hands.
For Paul it represented the promise of friendship, support and a sympathetic hearing.
For Adam, it was a pact between equals, between men. Between friends.
Captain Blue couldn’t sleep that night.
This wasn’t in itself unusual, he was used to periodic bouts of insomnia especially in stressful times, but he felt unusually restless and finally, after tossing and turning in his bed for several hours, he dressed in a pair of chinos and an old surfing Tee-shirt, slipped his feet into his trainers and wandered out to take a stroll to the Promenade Deck, hoping the quiet and the beauty of the night sky would relax him enough to get some sleep. Failing this, he’d have to use the Room of Sleep – he had a busy day ahead of him tomorrow.
Standing gazing out at the flight deck and the starlit canopy beyond the base, he mused on the present state of affairs. Whatever had happened – and however it had happened – it did seem as if Captain Scarlet had been restored to them. This Mysteronised officer would not terrorise this reality in the way his malevolent alter-ego had done to the one he’d shared with Muirin and Aibreann.
Blue did a double-take.
No sooner had he thought of her than Muirin was there, standing some distance away against the darkness of the night sky. Simply pleased to see her, he didn’t try to approach her this time, but he felt his mood rise nevertheless.
She returned his welcoming smile and gave him a reassuring nod of approval. “It is good to see you, Fionn. The Sidhe want you to know what’s happened and they gave me this last visit, so that I might pass on their thanks. But there isn’t much time and there is so much to say.”
He stepped closer but did not reach out to her, afraid she might vanish. “Tell me all the news.”
Muirin smiled again and began, “Most importantly, Aibreann is safely back with her family. She will not remember anything of the life we had together, but will grow and live the life she lost when the Mysterons invaded.”
Blue sighed out his relief. “Thank God. I already miss her.”
“Strahan and I will be leaving to return to my people with the new dawn. Tir Tairngire will vanish and the land fade from every reality.” He shook his head sorrowfully, but she continued in a bright voice, “Don’t mourn for that; a bargain was made and I will keep to it. I have no regrets, Adam Svenson, and nor should you. You found the way to prevent the Mysterons wiping us all out. The Sidhe have told me that the scales of fate are balanced once more – the Terraineans have the chance of defeating the aliens and of saving the planet for us all. Congratulations, my dearest!”
“That’s wonderful news, I can’t tell you how wonderful. I really worried about whether I’d done the right thing at the London Car Vu, but now I think what happened was predestined in some way. It’s a miracle, Muirin. I reckon that’s why I got my memories back: when I faced Scarlet across the sky-park, I was in two minds about killing him; I felt there might be a chance to ‘rescue’ him from the Mysterons. And it was then that I remembered everything - all about Tir Tairngire and the horrors of the world beyond the valley, of the unadulterated evil of the man the Mysterons were using to destroy the planet – the man who had been Paul Metcalfe. And I knew there was no saving the man that Paul Metcalfe would become if he wasn’t stopped. So I shot him and in doing so, I did more than save the World President.”
“Do your people know about the other Mysteronised Scarlet?”
He shook his head. “I’ve tried to make sure I don’t let anything slip about what happened; I don’t see that it could help matters – and, besides, they’d be likely to lock me away where I couldn’t do any harm if I tried to explain it. This is the Age of Scepticism, Muirin, after all.”
She chuckled. “So it is – and yet the inexplicable and the magical continue to happen.”
“You can say that again. That’s where the miracle comes into this, Muirin: I didn’t kill Scarlet – well, not exactly. He fell and that fall seems to have broken the hold the Mysterons had on him, but the body they gave him has retained the ability to repair and recover from anything – even death, it seems. Our doctor calls it ‘retrometabolism’. I call it a miracle.
She looked surprised. “Is that so? The Sidhe move in mysterious ways –”
“-Or God,” Blue said emphatically.
She inclined her head. “Praise be to whoever brought about this miracle, Fionn. So Captain Scarlet was the key after all, and you have redeemed him from his Mysteron captivity, giving the world a man as dedicated to saving it as the Mysterons are to destroying it. I can see that such a man would be the natural counterweight to Captain Black and the Mysteron power he deploys.”
“We will fight them, Muirin. Spectrum won’t surrender to them, and with Scarlet’s help, we will defeat them.”
She gave him a smile of such sweetness that once more his emotions overwhelmed him. He had loved this woman so deeply, it did not seem as if he could survive without her.
“I won’t see you again, will I?” he asked, sadness in his voice.
She shook her head, and seeing his pain, replied, “In all honesty, I’m tired and I long to return to the beauty of the seas. I don’t regret leaving anything in this world, Fionn, except for you.”
“It seems as if everything I truly love leaves me…” he murmured, looking away to hide his wretchedness.
“Not everything,” she said softly and there was a hint of amusement in her voice. “Goodbye, Adam Svenson. I wish you joy.”
He glanced up, surprised by her unexpected farewell, but all he saw was a sparkle of light that could have simply been one of the aviation warning lights that dotted Cloudbase. Muirin had vanished.
“Talking to yourself, Harvard?”
Symphony’s voice made him jump; he hadn’t heard anyone approaching but it was obvious that Muirin had, and that was why she had vanished so quickly. He hoped Symphony hadn’t seen her.
He glanced over his shoulder at the young woman and saw her waiting expectantly for his reply.
“Only when I don’t have a more congenial companion to talk to,” he said.
“If it wasn’t past midnight, I’d say you were daydreaming,” she teased, taking his reply as an invitation to linger. She came to stand beside him and stared out across the flat runway to where Harmony sat on duty in Angel One. “Only I didn’t think Harvard men were allowed to dream; they’re all such hard-nosed geeks and nerds I assumed they had their capacity to dream surgically removed before graduation?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Inside every ‘hard-nosed geek and nerd’ is a sad little dreamer just waiting to break free.” He smiled down at her laughing face. “Surely Yale taught you that much, even if they couldn’t teach you anything else?”
She slipped her arm through his and pressed it against her ribs. “I do love our inter-collegiate rivalry, somehow it makes being up here in this… miracle of a place seem normal.”
“Yeah, I guess life is made up of millions of small miracles.”
She frowned slightly and said, “Are you okay, Adam? Only you’ve looked kinda lost for the past day or so…”
“I’m fine, Karen. I just need some time to get my head around all that’s happened lately. I’ve lost a very close friend-”
“And found a new one,” she reminded him. “You’re not having second thoughts about Paul’s sincerity, are you?”
“Absolutely not! I’m just trying to think things through. You know me; I like to know all there is to know about everything there is something to know about.”
She gave a snort of laughter. “Yeah… I guess you do, at that. But does this ‘knowing all there is to know’ include Paul?” She rested her head against his shoulder
“Yeah – pretty much.”
“You’re sure about him, aren’t you? I mean no one would blame you for having doubts. I guess we all do, to some extent – it’s not like things like this happen every day.”
“On the contrary – miracles seem to be ten-a-penny around here, at least.” He squeezed her arm and smiled down at her, pleased to see the colour mount in her soft cheek as she realised he meant her. “But I wasn’t talking about Paul; this was someone else I was remembering…”
“Oh.” She sounded put out.
He grinned and patted her arm. “One day I’ll tell you all about it.”
“All about what?”
“You’re keeping secrets again.”
“Not for long. I guess you’ll have to know sometime.”
“About…things that happened in my life and… girlfriends.”
Her expression hardened. “I don’t want to know what you’ve spent your disreputable youth doing.”
He chuckled. “What about my disreputable future?”
“That belongs to me, Mr Svenson,” she teased. “I have a very jealous mind – I don’t share.”
He slipped his arm around her and pulled her against him, inclining his head to plant a kiss on the top of her shining golden hair. She snuggled a little closer.
“May I buy you some coffee in the restaurant, Miss Wainwright?”
“No. I don’t think so; but thank you very much for the offer, Mr Svenson.”
“Okay,” he said, thoughtfully. “How about some coffee and cake?”
“You’re getting better; but it’s still not the offer I can’t refuse…”
“Ah – you want ice cream. Chocolate ice cream… with all the trimmings? My treat?”
“Now you’re talking! I guess there is something to be said for a Harvard education, after all! Bring it on…”
When he finally turned in again he was ready to sleep, and as he lay down and turned off the bedside light, he stared at the dim patterns made by the outside warning lights flickering on the ceiling, and reflected on the fact that he was a lucky man to have Karen: by herself she was more than compensation for the loss of Muirin and Aibreann.
He drew on the rapidly fading memories of the dream-like faces from Tir Tairngire and, as sleep took hold of him and his eyes closed, he whispered:
“Was it all real?”
The western European Naval Station at Moneypoint was wet and windy when Captain Blue arrived by helijet to complete the networking of the new defence installations upgraded yet again in the light of the development of the new Mysteron Detectors. This was the final port of call, after Portsmouth and Faslane on the Clyde, and once it was finished he could return to Cloudbase where Symphony was waiting…
He was met by a slim red-haired man with bright eyes and a broad smile.
“Welcome, Captain Blue. I’m Captain Ryan McLoughlin, World Aquanaut Security Patrol. I’ve been assigned to give you all the help you need.”
“Thanks, Captain, but I shouldn’t need much – at least not if that repair I made a few months back is working.”
“Like a charm!” McLoughlin assured him.
“Good, I’ll pass that on to my colleague who wrote the program.”
“He’s one smart guy; the glitch had foxed all the brains we had here.”
“You weren’t here when I came before, I think?” Blue said as they walked into the Control Room.
“No; I was at sea, patrolling the Atlantic approaches. We didn’t want the Bereznians sinking another fishing vessel, now did we? So a little sabre-rattling was thought to be the very thing – it worked too, we’ve not seen hide nor hair of them since the incident.”
“That’s all been sorted out, I hear?”
“Yes; the politicians squabbled and complained, but finally came to an arrangement whereby the families were compensated for loss of earnings. The Skipper’s going to get a brand new boat out of it, which is worth a darn sight more than the rust-bucket he had before!” He laughed and then sobered up to add, “Still, it was lucky no one was killed, or it would have turned really nasty.”
Blue set to work and, with McLoughlin’s help, the job was done well ahead of schedule.
“Have you time for a drink and a bite to eat before you go?” McLoughlin asked. “On me, of course.”
“That’s very kind of you.” Blue hesitated, recalling the lingering after-effects of the Guinness he’d been plied with on his last visit. “Something to eat would be welcome.”
Cheerfully, McLoughlin led him to the same bar he’d visited last time. It was almost empty now, but the food was as excellent as Blue remembered and over the meal the men chatted amiably.
“You’re not married?” McLoughlin asked as the conversation meandered onto the topics of families.
“No. It isn’t something that’s encouraged in Spectrum. We spend a great deal of our time on our carrier – Cloudbase – and there are no facilities for married couples or families there.”
“That must be hard. I couldn’t carry on without my wife and kids to keep me sane. They’re about to move here in the next month or so. Once my formal posting here was confirmed by WASP HQ, I applied for married quarters.”
“Where are they at the moment?”
“Dublin. Dervla and I come from there. She runs her own little business, selling expensive sandwiches to office workers. Good little earner, it is too.”
“Yeah, I know office workers who’d kill for a decent sandwich,” Blue said, with a grin.
“So it seems,” McLoughlin agreed. “Dervla’s ready to give it up though – she says we owe the kids a proper family life, and I think she’s right.”
“How many kids?”
“Two – and you shouldn’t have asked, Captain, if you weren’t prepared to admire their photos!” He drew a wallet out of his tunic pocket and handed it to Blue. “All proud fathers carry their kids’ photos with ‘em.”
“Do they?” Blue asked, recalling the fact that his father never had.
“Oh sure – you wait till you have a kid or two – see if I’m not right!”
Captain Blue grinned and studied the pictures of the attractive woman with deep auburn-red hair and an expression of contentment. Next to her stood a sturdy boy, the image of his father, and perched on her mother’s knee was a younger girl. She had a fine head of curly, red hair and dimples in her rosy cheeks as she smiled. She was clutching a large, plush toy in the form of a rabbit, with improbably long ears and legs.
“They’re fine kids,” Blue said, after a moment.
“Oh, you should see our Sean – he’s the proper little man of the house while I’m away. Takes great care of his little sister. That’s Aibreann there – she’s a baby-darling!”
“She’s a cute little moppet, all right. I bet she’ll break hearts when she grows up,” Blue acknowledged. There was something vaguely familiar about the child.
“Oh, you have the right of it, Captain. She’s as bright as a button is our Abi.” He chuckled. “Right now though, the only thing she cares about is that rabbit; she’s inseparable from it even for a photo – it’s all she cares about! She found it in a shop her mom went into looking for a special outfit for a wedding we were invited too – and she had to have it. She calls it Pixie Finn, would you believe? Beats me where she got that name from.”
“Kids do have such amazing imaginations,” Blue said, with a half-smile. There was something nagging at his memory, a half-remembered image, a face, voice… something important… something…
“You gentlemen want anything else?” the waitress asked politely, breaking Blue’s concentration.
“No, I’m fine. That was very good. Thank you, ma’am.” He handed the picture wallet back to McLoughlin. “I’m sure your family will be very happy at Moneypoint, Captain.”
“Oh, we will. As long as we’re together we can be happy anywhere,” McLoughlin said, smiling down at the photograph before he put it away.
“They’re great kids,” he said proudly.
And Captain Blue was sure that they were.
The lyrics Captain Blue remembers his grandfather singing are from ‘Pick yourself up’ written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, in 1936.
The dialogue of the scenes depicting Captain Scarlet’s abduction of the World President are taken from the first episode of the TV series – Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ - written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The show belongs to Carlton International, although it was originally created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in 1967.
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler for her encouragement and support whilst I was writing this and for the impeccable beta-reading she provides. Any mistakes in the text are mine.
Thanks also to Chris Bishop, without whom so many Captain Scarlet fans would be lonely individuals. Instead we have the website and the forum that enables us to share our love of the show with other devotees. Thank you, Chris!
Finally, my thanks to you for reading this story. I hope you enjoyed it.
A Happy Halloween to us all!