It wasn’t Lieutenant Gentian’s fault: he’d done all he could to ensure the mission was a success and, when things had gone horribly wrong, he’d tried to make Captain Scarlet comfortable and called for urgent medical backup. The Chemical Plant – believed to have been manufacturing illegal chemical weapons for the Bereznians - had been the target for a Mysteron threat and they had destroyed it while Scarlet was inside trying to locate the bomb.
The vast chemical tanks had exploded, showering the area with toxic rain and creating a fire ball that had risen several hundred feet into the air and a cloud of black smoke that was visible from space. Gentian had driven the SPV into the danger zone and collected the bloody mass of flesh that was Captain Scarlet. Miraculously, the captain had still been alive, although Gentian doubted he would survive for long. Once he had him at a safe distance from the fiercely burning plant he hovered close by his Field Commander, solicitously offering sips of water to the injured man when he thought Scarlet was conscious and praying that the medijet would get there soon.
The outcome of the mission might not have been any different whoever had been with him, but the fact that it wasn’t his best friend and habitual field partner at his side seemed important to the mortally wounded man and, as the pain grew, so did the feeling of abandonment and betrayal.
The pain was intense as the chemicals he’d inhaled attacked his internal organs: now every breath scorched his lungs and the slightest noise – such as the rapid, shallow beat of his heart, for example - reverberated around his aching head as if someone was banging a kettledrum. He lay in a personal darkness so profound it brought the insupportable pain into sharp focus; in desperation he opened his one remaining eye, but the dim light that filtered through his blistered eyeball was too painful to bear, so he closed it immediately.
Captain Scarlet felt a tear seep from the other shattered eye socket and scorch its way down his flayed cheek. He groaned.
The Mysterons have won this round.
That thought made everything worse – this round - there would be more missions, more failures, more – much more – pain.
Engulfed in a fathomless pit of agony and despair, Scarlet moved his hand with tortured slowness to his holster and drew out his Spectrum pistol. He struggled to bring it to bear; terrified that Gentian would see and stop him. He couldn’t move his arm enough to aim at his head, so he aimed at where he estimated his heart was and with a whimper of pain he pulled the trigger. The bullet wound hardly increased the pain and it was only when he felt his heart stutter that he knew he’d hit his target.
Respite, oh… thank God for oblivion…
Commander Zero pursed his lips and looked straight into Colonel White’s stern face. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” he said.
White nodded. “We’ve tried everything we can think of without much success. The fact that the Mysterons haven’t wiped out most of the life on Earth already is down to some damn close-run things and – I admit – pure luck on our part. I don’t know how much longer we can rely on that to prevent them succeeding.”
The third participant of the conversation, the Supreme Commander Earth Forces, exhaled deeply and leant back in his chair. “Spectrum has done a good job as I have cause to know,” he said thoughtfully, “but are you certain about this, Colonel?”
White gave a shrug. “How can one ever be sure about anything to do with the Mysterons, sir? But, as far as I am able to be sure, I’m certain we can’t go on like this much longer.”
There was a profound silence that lasted for several seconds.
Zero broke it by shifting in his seat. “Very well. I can let you have a Fireball rocket if you can give me at least 10 hours’ notice. If they’re all out on patrol they can be back in about 8 hours and ready for launch in a further two.” He glanced up at Colonel White. “More notice is preferable, that goes without saying.”
“Noted. I should be able to give you plenty of warning. I have to broach the mission with my officers. I intend to ask for volunteers, naturally.”
“Except for Scarlet, I presume?” the Supreme Commander remarked, one eyebrow raised in enquiry. “You must consider he’s uniquely qualified for a mission such as this. I understand he’s recovered from the injuries he suffered when that Kyrgyz chemical facility was destroyed?”
“Yes, he has recovered, although, understandably perhaps, he has been in somewhat low spirits since it happened. I’d prefer him to volunteer, and I expect him to, Supreme Commander, but I’m prepared to order him to go, should that become necessary,” White explained. He was not prepared to divulge what had happened to anyone outside of Spectrum, and very few of his officers knew the whole truth.
“He’s quite a guy,” the Supreme Commander commented, with a slight smile. “I kinda think he’ll volunteer.”
“Yes,” Colonel White replied quietly, “so do I.”
“Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six, a run of three and one for his nob makes ten,” Rhapsody Angel claimed, smiling.
“I’m sure you’re making that up,” Symphony Angel protested, “and making it sound rude,” she added.
“Not at all,” her friend exclaimed, moving her peg along the cribbage board. “What’ve you got?”
“Three fives… fifteen-two. A six and a four… so fifteen-four, fifteen-six, fifteen-eight, then with the ace, fives and four, that’s another fifteen-six…three runs of three, so that’s nine, plus six for a ‘pair royal’ of the three fives…makes … twenty-nine …and out!”
“Not again! Why do I ever agree to play cards with you, Karen? You always win… I shouldn’t bother checking what’s in the box if I were you… Here!” Rhapsody tossed over a small packet of sweets to her laughing friend. “That’s the last part of my chocolate ration for the week…”
Symphony chuckled happily and opened the packet to share. They were both munching contentedly when the door to the Amber Room opened and Captain Blue sauntered in, followed at some distance by a sullen-faced Captain Scarlet.
“Hi, girls,” Blue called. He saw the cards and the crib-board and continued with a mock air of reproach, “Gambling again?”
“Oh sure… for a packet of candies… want one?” Symphony held out the almost empty packet.
“My fault,” Rhapsody admitted. “I taught Karen cribbage the other day and she’s proceeded to wipe the floor with me ever since.”
“You think she’s bad? Let me give you a piece of advice: Never play Poker with Magenta or Ochre… I swear they both deal from the bottom,” Blue said, “although I’ve never actually caught them doing it,” he added, in fairness to his maligned colleagues.
“How’re you, Paul?” Symphony asked kindly, as Scarlet stood by the table, staring silently down at the board they’d been using. Since he had recovered from the incident at the chemical works they’d seen very little of him and both of them had missed his company.
Scarlet did not meet the eye of either woman. “I haven’t played crib for decades,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard Symphony’s question. He picked up the solid wooden board and examined the delicate, metal, rapier-like markers. “Granddad Metcalfe taught me and we’d play on wet afternoons. Granny used to disapprove, but he always said it would improve my maths… and he was right, I can add up to fifteen and thirty-one in hundreds of ways.”
Symphony exchanged a wry glance with Rhapsody and then gave a chuckle of laughter, screwed up the empty sweet packet and lobbed it accurately into the nearest waste bin. “I thought you guys were on duty this afternoon?” she said.
“We were, but the Colonel’s due back from Futura in about forty minutes and he wants to see us as soon as he gets back. So we handed the burden of command over to Grey and Ochre and came to see if you lovely ladies would like to have coffee with us?” Blue explained.
Scarlet placed the board back on the table with careful precision.
“That would be nice, but we’re on standby, Blue,” Rhapsody said. “We can’t leave the Amber Room.”
“And I’m not drinking any coffee you’ve made,” Symphony added, glancing at her boyfriend. “My taste buds went into a near terminal decline after the last time.”
Blue took the comment with a good-natured smile. “Lucky we asked the catering crew to bring down fresh tea and coffee and a selection of their finest cakes then, isn’t it?”
Rhapsody laughed. “And to what do we owe this sudden burst of gallantry?”
“Yeah,” Symphony added. “There’s no such thing as a free tea…”
“Oh, that one so young should be so cynical,” Captain Scarlet murmured.
Symphony was about to respond in kind, but at a swift, subtle gesture from Blue, she held her tongue.
“We were driven by a pure, unsullied desire to bring pleasure to the two most charming young ladies on Cloudbase,” Blue said. “Weren’t we, Paul?”
“I have no idea what your motives were,” Scarlet said dourly, “Although I can guess they wouldn’t qualify as ‘pure’ easily enough.”
The Angels exchanged anxious glances. The two captains would often bicker like brothers and they were forever mocking each other, but it was always light-hearted and without malice. However, it was obvious that Scarlet’s comments had not been made in that spirit of camaraderie.
“You know us,” Blue continued, ignoring Scarlet’s comment. “We’re gallantry personified.”
“You mean – you want something,” Symphony retorted playfully. Even if Blue wasn’t going to take offence at his friend’s comments, she was, but she’d keep her criticism of Scarlet to herself – for now.
“Out with it,” Rhapsody said, as the doorbell chimed and one of the catering crew brought in a wheeled trolley. “What is it?”
Neither captain replied until they were all alone again and Rhapsody was busy pouring out drinks for them all, while Symphony hesitated over selecting one of the cakes on display.
After waiting for Scarlet to explain, and rather than allow the uncomfortable silence to continue, Blue said, “You know you and Paul were due to go to the opera, Dianne?” Rhapsody nodded slowly, already expecting the worst. “Well, the colonel has implied that he has an urgent mission for us and so Paul doesn’t think he’ll be able to go.”
“Oh, Paul! We missed seeing ‘Tosca’ last year because you were on a mission.”
“That’s bad luck,” Symphony said somewhat perfunctorily, as she finally decided on a cream-filled doughnut. “Can’t you change the tickets for another date?”
“Tomorrow is the last night,” Rhapsody explained. “My father got me the tickets as a special treat for Paul’s birthday and Christmas.”
“You can still go,” Scarlet said dismissively. “Maybe Symphony would like to go with you?”
He frowned at Blue who seemed to be choking on his coffee.
“Me? Grand Opera? No, I don’t think so,” Symphony exclaimed, shaking her head. “Adam took me to one once and although it was supposed to be about an American it wasn’t even in English! I got a headache before the first intermission trying to read the subtitles and work out what was going on. Take Destiny, Di; she likes opera.”
“Some of them can be a bit heavy-going for someone’s first experience of opera,” Rhapsody said thoughtfully. “What was it?”
“‘Madame Butterfly’, at The Met,” Blue replied levelly, naming one of the most accessible operas in the classical canon.
“Oh. Then I think you’re right – you wouldn’t enjoy this, Karen,” Rhapsody said. “It’s ‘Parsifal’ and Wagner’s an acquired taste.”
“I only said I’d go to this ‘Butterfly’ show because I kinda thought it would be like ‘Miss Saigon’, you know?” Symphony explained, with a wry shrug. “Only it wasn’t.”
“No, it isn’t much like that,” Rhapsody agreed, with a sympathetic glance at Blue. She pouted slightly, sighed and looked disappointed. “There isn’t time to re-arrange the rotas for Destiny to come with me. We were due to leave an hour or so after I come off duty, and Harmony’s already left for her leave. I suppose I could return the tickets to the box office, so at least someone will get the chance to see the performance.”
“There must be somebody on a base this size who’d be prepared to sit through an opera,” Symphony mused. “After all, they all pretend they’re high-brow and cultural when asked.”
“You don’t,” said Scarlet.
Although Rhapsody and Blue looked alarmed at this pointed comment, Symphony gave a wry grin. “No, I admit I’m what Mrs Svenson calls ‘a cultural wasteland’, but part of my charm is that I own up to it.”
“Why don’t you ask Lieutenant Green to go with you, Dianne?” Blue suggested suddenly, anxious to prevent the conversation taking a turn for the worse. “He’s a music buff and I know he’s off duty this weekend.”
“At least he scrubs up well…” Scarlet added acerbically, “so, with any luck he won’t look too out of place in the Orchestra Stalls at Covent Garden.”
There was a sudden tension in the air. Symphony’s disapproval was obvious and Blue was still wondering how to respond when Rhapsody spoke sharply:
“You eat your chocolate éclair, Paul, and keep your snide remarks to yourself. From this moment on and for the foreseeable future I’m officially not talking to you.” She turned to smile at Blue. “That’s a nice idea, Adam; I’ll give Greenie a call and see if he fancies a night at the opera and a nice meal beforehand too, on me …”
Much to his annoyance, Colonel White’s flight from Futura was delayed for several hours by engine failure so he was pleased that when he landed on Cloudbase his officers were waiting for him in the Conference Room when he made his way there. Scarlet and Blue got to their feet and saluted as he walked in. He acknowledged the salutes and invited them to sit down again. Too preoccupied to register the acrimony in the atmosphere he got straight to the point of the meeting:
“Gentlemen, I have been discussing with the Supreme Commander and the World Space Patrol how Spectrum could take the initiative in the War of Nerves and, in so doing, prevent the Mysterons from carrying out their overall threat against all life on Earth.”
“It’s good to know there is a plan to take the offensive, Colonel,” Scarlet interjected. “We’ve been on the back foot for too long in this so-called war and we need to be pro-active against the Mysterons, preventing them getting a chance to attack. I firmly believe that the best form of defence is attack. How can we be involved?”
White gave a slight smile. “I want this mission to be on a purely volunteer basis, Captain Scarlet. Does he speak for you, Captain Blue?”
“Of course he does, sir,” Blue answered. “I’ll willingly volunteer for any mission you want us to undertake, and Captain Scarlet knows that well enough.”
“Thank you, Captain.” White opened the folder he had before him and handed them both a sheet of paper.
“This is a summary of the report Dr Kurnitz produced into the Mysteron pulsator you brought back from Crater 101 and which was destroyed by Captain Ochre just before it was able to blow Cloudbase out of the sky. We know that it is possible to contact the Mysterons and, even if they do not seem inclined to listen to or believe what we say, I believe it is incumbent on Spectrum to keep trying to establish peace between us. Therefore, I have been in discussions with Doctor Kurnitz about possible alternative methods of communication. Now, we know that the Mysterons may choose not to take us seriously when we use terrestrial wavelengths so the significant discussions have been around plausible extra-terrestrial options.”
“The fact that the former Lunar Commander stated he’d been in contact with the Mysterons would suggest that’s the most likely to succeed, sir,” Blue remarked.
White nodded. “Correct, Captain. It appears that although the pulsator you brought back from Crater 101 pulsator was destroyed, it is not the only prospect we might have of contacting them on their own wavelengths. The World Space Patrol have, at Spectrum’s request, been conducting spectrographic scans and a detailed analysis of the Humboldt Sea – where the Mysteron complex was situated. They have detected lasting traces of the same alien compounds that Doctor Kurnitz identified in the pulsator.”
“And you think these might provide us with a way to communicate with the Mysterons, sir?” Blue asked.
“Doctor Kurnitz believes that the pulsator was a method of transmitting the Mysterons’ powers, rather than a simple communication device and he believes that it was placed on the Moon in order to provide a powerful booster, allowing them even more scope for their attacks against the Earth. I believe that hypothesis is enough for us to make an attempt to utilise the remaining lunar traces to transmit our message of peace to Mars through the most powerful means we have, Captain,” the colonel replied. “The Supreme Commander and the Space Administration Commander-in-Chief agree with me that Spectrum should return to Crater 101 and explore those possibilities.”
As both officers were still reading the scientist’s report the colonel waited until they had finished before asking:
“Are you expecting us to mine the area for the compounds, or to construct some kind of communications relay dish at the site when we get there, Colonel?” Blue asked, glancing up from the report.
“Dr Kurnitz has hypothesised that if we use a broad transmission beam and a variety of signals rotated on all known frequencies, by deflecting them onto the surface, the mere presence of the alien compounds should enable the signal to be boosted enough to ensure that what we’re broadcasting cannot fail to be monitored by the Mysteron complex on Mars. The transmitter can be the standard Spectrum equipment, with a few adaptations; but that is nothing that needs concern you directly, Captains.”
“When do we leave?” Scarlet asked briskly. He was already eager to be in action.
“My unexpected delay has reduced the launch timeframe, so I have already requisitioned a Fireball rocket for your use and the optimum launch window is during the next three hours. This is still doable if we act promptly. The favourable libration of the Moon means that a direct landing can be attempted at the edge of the Humboldt basin. You do understand that although we always see the same side of the Moon from the Earth, the, so-called, ‘Dark Side’ does, in fact, receive light for roughly 14 Earth-days of the lunar day?”
The captains nodded.
“You will land at the Humboldt Sea as close to Crater 101 as practicable and, as the planetary alignment with Mars is at its most propitious for the next six days, you will be able to transmit the recorded message and wait for an answer. The Fireball will return to duty, but the WSP will send a cargo freighter into orbit around the Moon, in order to provide back-up and bring you home when the mission is completed. That should arrive approximately 65 Earth-hours after you land. The mission will end in approximately 150 Earth-hours, if we have heard nothing else before then.”
“So we will spend a maximum of seven ‘Earth days’ in Crater 101, sending and – hopefully - receiving the signal and any response, sir?” Blue wanted to absolutely sure of the mission facts before they started. They would have to plan the use of their resources carefully.
“Yes, Captain Blue. I have already instructed that the necessary equipment is delivered directly to Space City. If you leave immediately, you will arrive there with approximately 55 minutes of the launch window to spare. Colonel Jack Malone of Fireball XL4 will be your pilot and Lieutenant Green can modify the transmitter en route.”
“Green? But, sir, he’s on leave,” Blue interjected.
“I know, but he told me he wasn’t planning anything and I can’t imagine he would turn down the chance to participate in a field mission,” White replied; it was a well-known fact that Lieutenant Green was always agitating for a more active service role.
“But he isn’t here – he’s gone - to London,” Blue stammered.
Colonel White frowned at him.
“Rhapsody got opera tickets to celebrate my birthday and when she heard I couldn’t go with her, it was suggested that she asked Green,” Scarlet explained, with an annoyed glance at Blue. “I didn’t think it was a good idea, but they still left Cloudbase before you touched down, sir. I suppose we could radio the shuttle, but that won’t have the fuel to get to Space City or the speed to get back here in time for us to leave and still make the launch window.”
“We didn’t know what the mission was, sir, or we’d have tried to prevent Green from going,” Blue said apologetically.
The colonel looked annoyed, but shook his head. “No, that’s all right, Captain. Lieutenant Green has as much right to leave the base as anyone.”
He paused for a moment, considering who amongst the other communication and technology officers on call would be able to replace the head of the service. When Green was off-duty, his replacement was Lieutenant Claret and he would be needed on Cloudbase; of the other serving officers there really was only one suitable alternative and, although he knew it would not be a popular choice with his field officers, he was left with no choice.
“You will just have to take Lieutenant Citrine with you-” he announced.
“Citrine?” Scarlet gasped in protest. “But-”
The colonel cut him short, unmoved by his complaint. “Lieutenant Citrine is a fine officer and perfectly capable of modifying the transmitter. Now, I suggest you two get your kit together – if you haven’t already – and get down to the hangar bays with all speed.”
“S.I.G., sir,” the captains chorused.
Susan Gilchrist was a small-boned Englishwoman with well-defined features that almost seemed too large for her heart-shaped face. She was under medium-height, of an angular build and her brown hair was cut close around her face, framing her ears and leaving her features exposed. An overall impression of vulnerability was emphasised by the cleft in her small chin. She had a rather high-pitched voice that seemed to convey a permanent sense of disapproval and an expression that implied perpetual disbelief at the follies of her colleagues.
All in all, she was not overly popular with her colleagues, although not many of them had taken the trouble to get to know her since she’d arrived on Cloudbase almost a year ago. The rumour in the men’s locker-room was that she had fallen for the whiles of a fellow technician, Laurence Frost – known to the other male officers as ‘Lay-‘em–all-Larry’ – and that ever since Frost had moved on to new conquests, Lieutenant Citrine had become a man-hater of the worst kind.
Even Captain Blue, who was inclined to look for the good in everyone, had very little to say in her favour, apart from the fact that she was a damn-good communications technician.
Captain Scarlet was already waiting in the Hangar Bay when Lieutenant Citrine marched into the departure room. She stopped dead at the sight of him, saluted and announced that she was reporting for duty, on the colonel’s orders.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” Scarlet said, acknowledging the salute. “They’ve loaded all my gear on board, do you have your stuff to be stowed away?”
“No, sir. I’ve had my gear loaded. I was ready to go soon after the colonel told me of the mission. However, I had to go and collect several technical plans from Lieutenant Claret or I would have been here before you.” She glanced at Scarlet’s frowning face and added, perfunctorily, “I apologise for the delay, sir.”
“You’re not late, Citrine. After all, Captain Blue isn’t here yet and there are minutes to spare.” Scarlet glanced at his watch. “He should be here at any time now… if he can tear himself away from Symphony,” he added to himself.
As if on cue, Blue marched in and acknowledged the lieutenant’s salute. “Everything ready?” he asked, swinging his kitbag down from his shoulder.
“We’ve been waiting for you so we can embark, Captain,” Citrine replied primly.
“Sorry, Lieutenant… I won’t do it again,” Blue replied, suppressing a smile as he caught sight of Scarlet’s frowning face.
“Okay you two, let’s cut the cackle and get on board,” Scarlet ordered briskly. “Next stop – Space City!”
Lieutenant Citrine sat at the conference table on the other side of the SPJ behind the two captains, and settled down to consult the diagnostic diagrams her colleague had provided for her. The captains might have nothing urgent to do on the journey, but she, of necessity, intended to spend the flight planning how to implement the modifications required for the communications relay.
To Scarlet, peering at her between the seats, her actions had an air of self-righteous devotion to duty, designed to highlight her diligence in the face of her superior officers’ reprehensible idleness.
“Of all the tech-officers to get lumbered with, we have to get her,” he griped, as he unfastened his seat belt and turned around to settle more comfortably in the seat.
Blue shrugged. “She’s a good officer – you heard the Old Man. The fact that she makes you feel uncomfortable is your problem, not hers.”
Scarlet bristled with offence at this. “It’s not just me she makes uncomfortable – you’re on your best behaviour too, admit it.”
“Maybe I am, but it doesn’t do any harm to work with new partners on missions; it gives us a chance to review our own procedures and behaviour.”
“You can review what you like. When I’m on a mission I want to know I’m being backed up by someone I can trust to provide the support I need. It’s me that has to put my neck on the line, so I don’t want to be wasting time ‘reviewing my procedures’ – I want to be getting on with it and stopping the Mysterons. I can’t do that in the company of novices or anyone I have to continually explain things to.”
Blue looked up from the written orders he was reading and cast a cautious glance at his unusually prickly-tempered friend. “Well, it looks like you’ll get your wish. The colonel’s orders say that we’ll be working alone on the surface.”
“Just the same, I wish you’d never suggested Dianne take Green to the opera; he’d be a much better bet than Citrine to make a good job of the communication array. We’re going to have to rely on these adaptations to fulfil the mission aims. I know I can do my part and you’re okay – I mean you’re reliable – but she’s a complete unknown and what’s worse, a novice.”
“We all have to start somewhere,” Blue said levelly, feeling somewhat aggrieved at this faint praise of his own capabilities.
Scarlet wasn’t listening. “You’d better not volunteer any more suggestions about who gets to go off on leave at a moment’s notice. I can’t help feeling that it isn’t… seemly for Rhapsody to be spending 48 hours alone in the company of Lieutenant Green…”
“Have you heard yourself?” Blue interjected incredulously. “We’ve moved on from the days when a young woman wasn’t allowed to associate with whoever she wanted to. Besides, Di likes Seymour.”
“I think he has the hots for her,” Scarlet confided sourly.
Blue chuckled. “Have you only just realised that?”
“No, of course not – I’ve known it for ages,” Scarlet lied. “It’s why I don’t think it’s wise to go around giving him opportunities to make eyes at her.”
“You think she might prefer him to you? A woman has the right to change her mind, so I guess it’s always possible…”
“No; I just don’t want him to waste his time,” Scarlet snapped.
“Of course.” Blue paused and then said, affably, “It’s a shame you and Di didn’t get a chance to celebrate your birthday and do your Christmas shopping as you planned; but think of the money you’ll save if you blitz the post-Christmas sales instead.”
“There speaks the voice of experience,” Scarlet retorted.
Blue chuckled. “And how. Never mind, Paul; when Di gets back you’ll have a chance to patch things up with her – and making up is always nice to do.”
“Huh, but I thought you expected her to prefer Seymour to me after she’s been exposed to his ineffable charms for a couple of days.”
“No I didn’t. Tell me, did Fawn remove your sense of humour while you were recovering after Kyrgyzstan? I know he’s always on the look for new experiments to try on you, but tell him this one didn’t work and get him to put it back as soon as possible. You’ve been a total misery these past few days.”
“Hardly surprising when I’m surrounded by people who organise my life without consultation as if my thoughts and feelings are of no importance.”
Blue was incredulous at this remark and then realisation dawned. He said: “You know, I think you’re jealous of Seymour.”
“I am not!” Scarlet reacted with a vehemence that gave the lie to his denial.
“I don’t believe you, Paul – and take it from me – I’m an expert at spotting jealousy in all its forms.”
“Yes, well, you would be, given the way Karen stands guard over you, and gets her claws into you if you so much as acknowledge the presence of another living, breathing female. But please credit me with far more maturity than she’ll ever have.”
As soon as he’d said it Scarlet wished he hadn’t. He knew his friend would take almost any amount of personal criticism in his stride, as long as it did not impugn his fiancée and, as Blue’s genial expression froze into chilly neutrality, Scarlet’s temper worsened.
Irritated by his own gaffe, he tried to justify himself to his niggling conscience. I shouldn’t be expected to treat Karen with kid gloves just because Adam’s love-struck. He ought to face facts – she’s a liability at times.
The silence continued for some time until Blue turned his head to glance across the aisle to where their colleague sat and muttered: “We shouldn’t ignore her.”
“She doesn’t look like she wants to make small talk,” Scarlet muttered. “And I’m not sure I want to make small talk to her. Good grief, Adam, her first comment to you was to tick you off because you’d kept us waiting.”
“I don’t think she meant it like that…”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “They don’t call her ‘Bitter Lemon’ for nothing, you know? She’s not a people-person - especially not male people and you’ll just have to accept that, Adam.”
“A people person? And what exactly would you know about being one of those, Paul? You’ve not been winning friends and influencing people yourself recently. That crack you made about Green ‘scrubbing up well’ was uncalled for, for a start, and it made Dianne angry. In addition, you’ve managed to upset Ochre and Grey in the past week or so. Now, I grant you that Rick will take offence at the drop of a hat if he’s in the wrong frame of mind, but Brad? He could give me lessons in forbearance.”
“Oh right – and you reckon your ‘forbearance’ gives you the right to lecture me, do you? I’d like to know why. Why am I the only person who’s not allowed to get pissed off by other people’s stupidity, eh? It’s as if you think ‘he’s not human, so he has no right to complain’.”
“Bullshit – haven’t you realised yet that everyone is treading on eggshells around you all the time, just so you don’t think we consider you that way? Nobody on Cloudbase gets more consideration taken of their feelings than you.”
“Oh, so now I’m some kind of moody ogre? I’m a human being: you keep telling me so, so it must be right. After all, you’re Captain Blue – the Fount of all Wisdom.”
Blue gave an exasperated sigh and said, “Drop it, Paul.”
“There’s more to my life than just what goes on on Cloudbase, you know – and whatever you think, you don’t know everything that goes on in my life!”
“Okay – I hear you; it’s none of my business. I can live with that, in fact, I’d welcome it! You’re a human being – and right now you’re also one helluva jerk. But that is your prerogative and far be it from me to try and stop you. From now on if you want to act like a jerk, you go right ahead; I don’t give a toss.”
“That’s right: sulk because I’m in the right and you aren’t. You don’t know you’re born, Svenson – my life sucks!”
Blue felt a familiar wave of sympathy for his friend, but he knew that to placate Scarlet would merely prolong his bad temper. He sympathised with his friend for missing out on the chance of spending quality time with his fiancée, but felt that there had to be more to his moods than that. For some time, Paul had been feeling aggrieved and wanting to hit out and vent his frustration at the hand fate had dealt him. Rhapsody and Green’s London visit was merely a convenient handle for his bad temper.
Nevertheless, Blue had had enough of his self-centred behaviour for now. He shrugged and replied, “Did it ever occur to you that maybe Citrine’s had a rough ride lately too? No, I didn’t think it would have. If she was duped by Larry Frost she won’t be the first, or the last, but maybe what she cares about is that he bragged about it.”
Scarlet snorted. “If? From what I heard it was a dead cert that he’d had her!”
“I’ve reason to suspect that every not conquest Larry claims he’s made is totally on the level.”
“Uh-huh. You been listening to weepy women bewailing the heartless men in their lives, again? No wonder Karen’s such a harpy. You’re a universal shoulder to cry on, you know that?”
Now Blue was angry, but he shook his head dismissively, refusing to be goaded. In a very controlled tone, he said, “I like to reserve judgement on people until I’ve gathered my own evidence and not base it on hearsay, that’s all.”
Irritated by his friend’s refusal to argue, Scarlet snapped back, “What you mean is that you always give people the benefit of the doubt, don’t you, Goody-Blue-Shoes?”
“Yes,” Blue retorted, flushing with anger. He gave his friend an unforgiving glance. “Just as I did for you after the London Car-Vu.”
Scarlet gasped; it wasn’t like Blue to mention the events that had led to his Mysteronisation. He recognised that the fact Blue had done so revealed the extent of his displeasure but still Scarlet couldn’t help himself: he was in no mood to be conciliatory although he knew he was in the wrong. His unhappiness with the situation increased.
“Well, you go and talk to her then, if you want to. I prefer not to waste my time,” he hissed.
Blue didn’t move immediately, he waited for five minutes or so and then in his own good time got up out of his seat and headed towards the catering area at the rear of the cabin. As he walked past Lieutenant Citrine’s seat, he said:
“I’m fetching coffee; can I get you a cup, Lieutenant?”
Startled, Citrine looked up from the papers she was bent over and he saw the colour flood into her cheeks. “No… I don’t drink much coffee. That is, thank you, sir.” Warily, she glanced up at him to see nothing but a sociable smile on his face.
“Would you like anything else?” he coaxed.
For a moment she relaxed and admitted, “I would rather like a nice cup of tea.”
“Tea?” Blue’s smile expanded to a boyish grin. “Sure, although I don’t know about ‘nice’. Catering on an SPJ is a bit hit and miss.”
“I didn’t mean for you to fetch it, sir!”
“Hey, why not? You’re busy, I’m up and about and going that way. You carry on, Lieutenant.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s no bother …? That is very kind of you, sir.”
Blue gave a friendly wink and soon returned with two insulated mugs. He reached across to give one to Citrine.
“I did my best, Lieutenant. Captain Scarlet’s always wary of my tea-making skills: he says most Americans can’t make tea and Bostonians shouldn’t even be allowed to try. He reckons we lost any right to even touch tea leaves in 1773.”
Citrine’s plump lips almost vanished as her mouth tightened and Blue realised that was as close as she got to a smile. He took it as an invitation to remain and sat in the seat across the table from her. He could see that this made her self-conscious and, not usually an unkind man, for a moment he considered leaving her in peace. However, he was a great believer in teamwork and, for now, she was part of the team, so he decided to get better acquainted.
“What do you make of the alterations? Are they likely to pose a problem?” he asked, judging this would elicit a better response than any amount of small talk.
Citrine’s body language became defensive as she replied, “No, I’m perfectly capable of carrying out the modifications. Sir.”
“Of that I have no doubt. But, we’re a team, Citrine; you don’t have to be so formal all the time – a simple Blue or Scarlet will do, or even just ‘Captain’, if you feel more comfortable with that.” He smiled at her, trying to reassure her he wasn’t criticising. “The colonel’s setting great store on this mission, so there’s no way he’d have sent someone he didn’t have total faith in, you can be sure of that.”
She blushed again. He continued, “Scarlet and I aren’t as knowledgeable as you in this field, but we’re both fairly proficient in technical matters; you must make full use of us if you need any help – even if it’s only someone to hold the screwdriver or move the equipment for you. And, as I said, we don’t stand on ceremony on field missions, our only concern is that we achieve our goal.”
“S.I.G., sir.” He frowned at her and Citrine simpered slightly. “I will do my best to remember that, Ca… Blue,” she replied, looking down at the plans on her lap.
Feeling that this was going to be a long job, Blue said, “Okay… well, shout if you need anything.”
He returned to his seat, refusing to acknowledge the ‘told-you-so’ look on Scarlet’s face.
They arrived at Space City ahead of schedule and Colonel Jack Malone hurried over to meet them and escort them to Fireball XL4.
“Spectrum’s gear arrived a couple of hours ago and it’s all been loaded on board,” he explained, as they walked to the embarkation elevator. “Colonel White requested a fully-equipped work bay for any modifications necessary, so that’s ready too.”
He glanced at the upright figure of Lieutenant Citrine as she hurried to keep pace with the long-striding captains.
“Thank you, Colonel Malone,” she replied. “There should be plenty of time for me to make the modifications, sirs. I’ve been over the diagnostic documents carefully and am fully aware of what’s needed.”
“Excellent, Lieutenant,” Blue responded.
“Have you been into space before?” Malone asked, as the elevator platform carried them up to the external airlock.
“We have,” Scarlet replied, indicating himself and Blue.
“I haven’t,” Citrine confirmed.
“Normally we’d insist on a physical,” Malone explained, “but Colonel White was adamant that none of you needed one. I hope he’s right.” He glanced at Citrine again.
“I’m tougher than I look,” she said briskly, as the tell-tale colour flushed into her pale cheeks once more.
“I guess we expect all Spectrum agents to be tough, Lieutenant,” Malone said, with a quirky smile, “but we have to ask. Space travel can make some people feel poorly.”
“Of course, sir. I’ve had zero-gravity training.”
Scarlet looked surprised. Zero-gravity training was not part of the standard induction course for non-field officers.
“Well, that should help,” Malone reassured her, “but don’t panic if you feel a bit queasy.”
Once beyond the drag of the atmosphere, Fireball XL4 went to maximum cruising speed and set a precise course for the Humboldt Sea, avoiding the need to register at the Lunarville complexes that were scattered across the Moon’s earth-facing surface.
Scarlet and Blue found themselves a quiet corner of the passenger lounge to discuss their written orders, but there was precious little conversation. The atmosphere between them remained unusually tense.
Blue reflected on the fact that before his Mysteronisation Captain Scarlet had been spontaneous and high-spirited; always able to see the funny side of situations he had been the life-and-soul of any off-duty event. Since then, although he retained a certain rashness when it came to decision taking and still had an almost phobic dislike of inactivity, he had grown more sombre. Blue recognized that this was partly the result of the terrible risks he took and the resulting injuries he suffered, and partly an underlying concern that he was, somehow, less human than his friends.
Along with the other elite officers, Blue was always prepared to cut Scarlet some slack and accept that retrometabolism placed a burden on him that deserved their tolerance of his occasional moodiness. However, since the explosion at the Chemical Factory Scarlet had been showing signs of dissatisfaction with almost everything he encountered. His usual phlegmatic acceptance of the turn his life had taken had been absent, resulting in an excess of snide remarks, unexpectedly peevish behaviour and uncharacteristic rudeness which had become so pronounced that Blue had consulted Doctor Fawn about Scarlet’s state of mind.
Agreeing with Blue that things were not as they should be with Captain Scarlet, Fawn had contacted his colleague, Doctor Barbour, an eminent psychiatrist who was also an undercover Spectrum agent. But Barbour’s arrival had only resulted in what Fawn deemed a petulant display of bad manners by his patient, who had refused to talk at all for the rest of the day. It had only been a fleeting visit from a busy Rhapsody Angel that had broken this self-imposed silence, but Scarlet still refused to co-operate with his doctors.
Barbour had finally explained that he felt his presence was merely exacerbating the problem and that all they could do was wait until Scarlet indicated he wanted to talk about it, and then provide a listener, or give him a call.
Fawn had grimaced at that; he considered that between himself, Rhapsody Angel and Captain Blue, Scarlet already had a ready-made audience of willing listeners on tap, but he thanked Barbour and promised to keep him updated. However, knowing how stubborn Scarlet could be, Fawn was not entirely surprised that a desire to unburden himself to any, or all, of his friends had not materialised before he was called up for his next mission. So, the doctor had called Blue into the Sick Bay before they left and warned him not to be surprised if his friend was less outgoing than usual.
If this cantankerousness had only lasted until they were underway Blue would have put it all down to Scarlet’s habitual loathing of inactivity, coupled with the necessity of ditching another birthday celebration in order to work, and he wouldn’t have been troubled. Now he was growing concerned that his friend’s attitude had not altered when they were so close to beginning what was a difficult and important mission. Unlike Fawn, Blue did not think Scarlet’s misery was only a result of the horrific injuries he had sustained during the Kyrgyz mission; he’d seen it developing over the past few months, but hadn’t been able to identify exactly what had triggered it.
However, Blue was growing increasingly anxious because Scarlet’s current self-absorption was leading to a worrying lack of focus and inattention to detail. He’d trusted Scarlet with his life many times and still did, but he believed that only a fool failed to minimise risks whenever possible and there were facets of this mission that he considered profoundly risky. He glanced across at Scarlet’s dour expression and wondered, again, what was the best thing to do.
While the captains spent their time supposedly going over the work they would need to do on the surface, Lieutenant Citrine started work on the modifications. The Work Bay was, as Malone had promised, well equipped and she had formulated an action-plan for herself which was working well and allowing her to get to grips with the task.
She was so involved that she didn’t hear the door slide open or realise she was not alone until Captain Blue asked:
“How’s it going, Lieutenant?”
For a moment she stood stock still in surprise and then stepped away from the work bench, blushing furiously.
“Very well, sir.”
She risked a glance at him. Blue was gazing down at the plans, studying the careful annotations she had made and glancing across at the exposed circuitry.
“This is going back in the main transmitter?” he asked.
“Yes; basically what I’ve done is expand the frequency range so that any message can be digitally coded into any known sequence rather than just those used on Spectrum wavelengths. When the transmission is made it should allow the alien compounds that have been identified on the lunar surface to boost it on whatever frequency the Mysterons are using.”
“And is this going to work?” Blue sounded doubtful.
Citrine shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. It seems that Doctor Kurnitz thinks it might. I’ve just made the modifications the plans detailed.”
Blue nodded and gave a slight shrug. “We’ve got to give it a try, I guess. We’ve never been able to pinpoint the carrier wave of the Mysteron threats when they’ve made them, or we’d have been using them to broadcast peaceful messages 24:7.”
There was an uncomfortable pause while he continued to study the diagrams and for the first time Citrine thought about the practicalities of the mission as they applied to her colleagues; after all, they were the ones going to be risking their lives on the lunar surface.
“Do you think it will be dangerous down there, sir?” she asked.
Surprised, Blue gave another shrug and replied, “Standing on the dark side of the lunar surface trying to communicate with the Mysterons? Let’s just say I can’t help feeling we’re walking into this just a little too casually.”
“Casually? I thought every precaution was being taken?”
“Against the Mysterons, you can never be too careful.”
Even to Blue that sounded like a meaningless platitude. He was acutely aware that alarm bells were still ringing in his mind and he knew that for his own composure he’d have to resolve his anxieties before the mission got underway. He was distracted from his thoughts by surprise when Citrine asked primly:
“Have you discussed your concerns with the colonel, sir?”
Blue gave a wry smile. “Yes, I have, Lieutenant; that was why I was late at the Hangar Bay, but he wasn’t prepared to listen.” He added, more to himself than to his companion, “Sometimes I think he can’t see beyond Captain Scarlet as the solution to every problem.”
Citrine looked uneasy. “Should you be telling me this?”
“You’re the only person I can tell,” Blue replied rather more sharply than he intended. She looked abashed and turned her gaze back to the equipment. He laid a hand on her shoulder, feeling her flinch slightly, and said apologetically, “I think I’m going to need your help, Lieutenant, if you’re prepared to give it, that is?”
She looked up directly into his face and replied, “A Spectrum officer’s first duty is to prevent the Mysterons from attacking the Earth and if I can do anything to ensure we continue to do that I’m willing to help, sir.”
Blue nodded and removed his hand. “Thank you, Citrine. You’d better tell me how much you were told at your briefing and then I can bring you up to scratch.”
Citrine considered a moment and then gave a brisk explanation of her mission brief: “I was to accompany you and Captain Scarlet to the Moon using the journey time to effect the modifications detailed on the diagrams. I was to remain on the rocket and return to Cloudbase.”
“Is that all you were told?”
“Yes, apart from that the mission hoped to discover a way to communicate with the Mysterons and attempt to negotiate a peace treaty, sir.”
Blue considered her reply and then asked, “What do you know about the previous lunar missions?”
Her expression showed her surprise at the question, top secret missions were never made general knowledge, but she replied: “That the Lunar Controller announced that the Moon was remaining neutral in the war with the Mysterons and was discovered to be, at best, a traitor and at worst a Mysteron agent. The expedition to Crater 101 was a result of the discovery by you, Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green of a Mysteron base under construction there. A crystal was retrieved from that base before it was destroyed and the Mysterons subsequently used it in an attempt to destroy Cloudbase, when Colonel White tried to exploit it to contact them with a message offering peace talks. Captain Ochre saved the base by throwing the crystal out through a porthole just before it exploded.”
“Yeah, that’s basically what happened. What’s not common knowledge is that because Crater 101 was destroyed by a low-yield nuclear bomb, radiation levels, although not beyond endurance, are higher than is deemed ‘acceptable’ for prolonged exposure, so spectrographic studies of Crater 101 have had to be done from space. These studies also showed that a crystalline compound, identified in the crystal pulsator by Doctor Kurnitz, is present on the surface of the crater and it’s hoped this will transmit the carrier signal allowing us to communicate with the Mysterons.”
“I see why the modifications had to be done before the equipment is landed. Will the radiation time-restriction hamper the surface mission?” Citrine asked.
“I sincerely hope not,” Blue replied dryly. “The calculations have been checked and re-checked and we should, given the anti-radiation coatings on the spacesuits and the Bucky-dome base we’ll use, be within the maximum exposure limit. The fact that we’ll be on the far side from the sun during the mission will reduce the level of solar radiation.”
Citrine considered this. “I suppose the risk is less for Captain Scarlet?”
Blue shrugged. “In the long term he will recover even if the levels prove fatal, but he is as susceptible as I am and the symptoms and experience of contracting radiation sickness will be the same for us both.”
“You mean, it hurts him just as much as… it would anyone else?”
Blue nodded. “And consider that you and I can only die once, Lieutenant; Captain Scarlet can die – and has died - innumerable times.” He shook his head thoughtfully and continued, “That’s courage I can only hope to emulate in my own small way.”
“No wonder he gets a bit cranky then…” She looked up and gasped in embarrassment at having voiced her thoughts aloud.
Blue smiled. “Yes, he does, but I don’t think anyone else’d do any better. Captain Scarlet carries a burden I would not want, even though I knew it meant I could face anything in the knowledge I’d survive in the end.”
She believed the frank way he spoke of what could be a mortal peril was way above any level of courage she could aspire to. I guess that’s why they’re both the best agents Spectrum has, she concluded to herself.
Blue was still speaking about the mission:
“We’ll remain on the surface for about half of one lunar day – about a week in Earth days. The planetary alignment with Mars will be at the optimum during that time and, with luck, if the Mysterons are going to reply, they’ll do it then. Still, given that they can get a message to us whenever they want to, I hope we’re not sitting waiting for all that time without hearing something. However, we’ll resend the message every 8 Earth-hours or so. The Fireball will return to Space City, spending 7 Earth-days going round the Moon on the off-chance they’d be needed wasn’t something Commander Zero was prepared to agree to. They are sending a freight carrier to pick us up – but because it is much slower than a Fireball, it’ll arrive about 65 Earth-hours after we’ve landed and restore some level of communication for us with the outside world.”
“Can’t the message be sent automatically?” she asked suddenly; it seemed to her a waste of brave men to ask them to risk their lives acting as glorified telephone operators. “I’m sure the equipment can be programmed to do repeat broadcasts, if you want me to do it, Captain?”
Blue gave her a friendly smile. “If only it were that simple. If there is a reply and it isn’t transmitted worldwide, we need to know what it says and respond to it promptly so that the Mysterons don’t change their minds. The Colonel and the World President have provided us with various texts to be transmitted if our initial message is responded to, so we don’t have to make that up ourselves, but our dialogue with the Mysterons is considered too important to be left up to a machine. The response we give has to be the right one.”
“And if the pre-recorded messages don’t fit the bill?” Citrine asked.
“Captain Scarlet and I have been briefed about what we can agree to and what is non-negotiable.” Blue ran his hand through his fair hair and a small frown appeared between his brows. “To be honest, Lieutenant, I have few concerns about the negotiations, but I’m not entirely happy with only two of us being involved in this.”
“Sir? Surely the colonel’s orders took account of the necessary manpower?”
“Yes, he did – and two of us can cover the shifts without a problem. But, you see, when we were in the Mysteron complex, Green and I – and to a lesser extent, Captain Scarlet - were … transfixed by some powerful hypnotic screens. At least, that’s what we thought had mesmerised us, but I’m not so sure now. The complex was a strange place, with weightless areas, pulsating lights and these hypnotic visual features. If there had only been two of us, we might not have had the strength of mind to break away, but Scarlet was able to destroy the screen.”
“But it was Captain Scarlet that broke the spell – so to speak – and he’ll be there,” she reasoned.
“Uh-huh,” Blue agreed.
This wasn’t the ringing endorsement of his field partner she’d expected and Citrine sensed that he was still trying to define his anxieties even as he talked to her.
Finally, he said: “What I have never understood is why?”
“Why? I’m afraid I don’t understand you, sir.”
“Why was that place designed for humans? As far as we know the Mysterons have no corporeal bodies, in any sense we would recognise, anyway. They utilise the bodies and machinery of their enemies to carry out their threats, agreed?”
Citrine nodded as she considered his words.
Blue continued, “So, why have flashing lights, hypnotic screens and weightless areas to allow three human beings to reach the part of the complex they seemed to want us to be in? Were they expecting us and all that was an elaborate decoy for some other scheme?”
She hazarded a guess: “Perhaps it was for their agents, sir?”
“You mean, as a sort of rest home for time-expired Mysteron agents?”
“Not exactly, but... well, I mean we don’t always find them all. Do we?”
“No; some vanish. You think they’re teleported off the Earth?”
“I don’t know; it was a bit of a wild guess,” she replied diffidently.
“Maybe not so wild, Lieutenant.”
Although she looked puzzled, she didn’t ask the question that was on the tip of her tongue, believing that if he wanted to he would explain. As the silence grew, the captain apparently came to a decision and he continued:
“We recovered what we could from the data files on the Martian Exploration Vehicle when it returned on the Zero X rocket, with Captain Black aboard. We discovered that they considered themselves peaceful beings and were prepared to welcome us, until we showed ourselves to be hostile. Captain Black’s decision to destroy the alien complex was over-hasty and – frankly – I think, most unlike him; but it has given the Mysterons a valid reason to mistrust us.”
“It isn’t widely known that we fired first, Captain,” Citrine reminded him thoughtfully. “But when you judge it from that angle, it might be considered that Spectrum shares the responsibility for this War of Nerves.”
Blue nodded. “Not ‘shares’, Citrine, bears the responsibility – Captain Black was a senior Spectrum Agent, don’t forget. That’s why it isn’t widely known, of course, and why Colonel White hopes that by contacting the Mysterons, apologising and offering to negotiate a peace, we can bring this to a sensible conclusion before too much permanent damage is done.”
“I see that this mission is more important than I imagined, but I still don’t see how can I help beyond modifying the communications equipment?”
“One of the theories as to why the Mysterons haven’t simply blown us to bits already is that they’re conducting some sort of sadistic experiments on us. It is, after all, a War of Nerves. The threats they’ve made have been varied and there seems to be no clear pattern or logic to them which is what’s led to this theory being considered plausible. I was sceptical about that myself, until Crater 101, when I began to wonder why they were acting this way.”
“I see,” Citrine replied. “And do you think they might try a similar experiment again?”
“I don’t know. I guess I have to hope that this time they’ll listen and believe that we’re genuine in our attempt to resolve this peacefully. They certainly didn’t believe us the first time we tried; they offered a meeting but simply used their crystal to try and blow up Cloudbase.”
“There’s nothing left of their base in the crater, so I don’t think there’ll be much danger of hypnotic screens, sir.”
“Lieutenant, believe me, I’m perfectly capable of staring at pulsating circles on a screen without succumbing to a catatonic hypnotic state!” Blue snapped. “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe it was what we actually saw that affected us, I believe it was – or might’ve been – the crystalline compound itself. This time it might not be wired to pulsating lights, or enclosed in pretty, coloured alien-lava-lamps, as it was in the complex, but it will be present over the lunar surface. We’ll be using electricity to power the communication terminal; now, there’s some link between Mysterons and electricity and, despite what we first thought, it isn’t always fatal. I just don’t want there to be any kind of incident while we’re there.”
“But surely, Captain Scarlet-”
Blue held up his hand and interrupted. “The Mysterons are continually trying to regain control of Scarlet and short of him walking up to their Martian complex and saying ‘Hi’, I can’t think of a better opportunity for them to succeed than while we’re at Crater 101.” He glanced around as if to check that they were alone and continued in a quieter voice, “Especially as Scarlet’s not at the top of his game right now.”
Citrine’s mouth opened in surprise at this. She stared at Blue for a moment and then said, “You want me to come to the surface too.”
Blue nodded. “I know the colonel’s orders didn’t include that, so I’m only asking, not ordering you. You have every right to refuse and I will respect your decision. You understand that, don’t you, Citrine?”
She nodded. “But I’m not going to refuse, sir. I told you, I will do whatever I can to ensure the mission is a success.”
There was an almost palpable release of tension and Blue’s smile was warm and genuine. “Thank you, Lieutenant Citrine. I guess this is where I say, ‘Welcome to the Team’. My name’s Adam, by the way.”
“I know – everyone, or almost everyone, on Cloudbase knows the senior officers’ names. It might not be official protocol, but support staff gossip and word gets around.”
“Philly is an unmitigated chatterbox,” Blue remarked good-naturedly, referring to his youthful and enthusiastic personal valet.
“Oh, she never uses your real name – she calls you ‘The Captain’ as if there were no others,” Citrine explained dryly.
He chuckled, knowing the truth in that. “Your name’s Susan, right?” he asked.
“Yes, it is,” she added after a moment’s indecision. “Although my friends call me Sue.”
“And do you mind if I use it? Codenames are all very right and proper, but they’re a tad impersonal at times.”
Citrine was considerably over-awed. Blue was popular and well respected on Cloudbase as probably the most approachable of the elite officers, despite his occasional lapses into authoritarianism. He was offering her the chance to work closely with him and with Captain Scarlet – Spectrum’s undisputed premier agent – and, obliquely, entrance into the elite band of support officers who were trusted enough to have permission to ignore the petty constraints of the organisation’s regulations.
She might never get another chance.
“No, sir. I don’t mind at all,” she said without hesitation.
“Where the hell have you been? We’re coming into orbit,” Scarlet said angrily, as Blue slipped back into his seat.
“Talking to Lieutenant Citrine.”
“Has she finished all the modifications?”
“Yes, and she’s agreed to come to the surface with us.”
“What? Our orders are explicit – you and I go down there and that’s all.”
“I’ve asked her-”
“What the fuck for? We don’t need her – and I certainly don’t want her there.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve asked her to put herself on standby to come too.”
“I didn’t think I’d have to remind you that I am the Field Commander here and I don’t want her,” Scarlet snapped. “Sometimes you go too far, Blue.”
“You are the Field Commander, but I’m the field officer who’s going to have to drag your sorry ass back to Cloudbase if this goes pear-shaped. And I want someone there with us.”
“Citrine? Oh, do me a favour, Adam!”
“She’s a Spectrum Officer and she’s had the training and – Field Commander – you should be ready to acknowledge that. We don’t know what’s down there and I may be worrying too much, but I want backup. Why does it annoy you so much?”
Scarlet grimaced dismissively. “She’s a woman with little field experience and I’ve suffered at the hands of others like her before. Besides … I don’t like her.”
Blue started counting on his fingers. “One: Spectrum is an equal opportunities employer. Two: everyone has to start gaining experience somewhere, and three – that’s your problem.”
“I shall be recording this as insubordination.”
Blue grinned. “It’ll make the colonel’s day when he reads that, all right.”
“I don’t like it,” Scarlet repeated, refusing to be mollified by his friend’s teasing.
Blue looked steadily at Scarlet. “What’re you expecting in Crater 101, Paul?”
“Nothing; the complex was destroyed, or have you forgotten?”
“Then why are you acting like a cat on a hot tin roof? You’re not being open with me and that isn’t fair. I don’t know what’s waiting for us down there, but, whatever it is, I want us to be as prepared as we can be.”
“We’d be better ‘prepared’ to face whatever is down there if we don’t have to baby-sit a rookie,” Scarlet pointed out with insulting pedantry.
“Look, you and I are old hands at this and, just as we’ve learned to second-guess the Mysterons, they’ve probably learnt to second-guess us, so I reckon the addition of a new factor, an unexpected and unknown human, might well tip the balance in our favour. I know I might be worrying unnecessarily but, please, humour me?”
Scarlet’s full lips pouted in disapproval, but he gave a sharp nod of his head and said: “But if anything happens to her, Adam, it’ll be your fault.”
Blue’s expression fell. “I know,” he replied quietly. “I just wished the colonel had listened to me before we left and sent one of the others with us as well.”
“You asked him? Without discussing it with me? What’s up, don’t you trust me to get the job done? If I’d known that I wouldn’t have accepted you as my mission partner.”
Blue’s near-legendary patience finally snapped. “Look, Captain Scarlet, I have every reason to be concerned. Whenever we’ve been this close to the Mysterons before you’ve got antsy. Right now you’re like a bear with a sore head at the best of times, and I don’t fancy risking my neck on the surface because you’ve gone off chasing shadows on a whim!”
“How dare you – you, of all people – impugn my professionalism?” Scarlet snapped back. “If you feel like that you can stay on the rocket and I’ll go alone.”
“Don’t be stupid!”
“Captain Blue, you’re taking our friendship too much for granted. I’m giving you an order, Captain: you will stay on this rocket.” He leapt from his seat and strode down the aisle towards the changing room where the space suits were waiting.
“Shit!” Blue cursed, slamming his hand on the arm of his seat in frustration.
Jack Malone looked up in surprise as Captain Blue came into the command module. “What can I do for you, Captain?” he asked.
“I must speak to Colonel White,” Blue replied. “My Spectrum radio cap isn’t powerful enough. Can I use your radio?”
“Sure; you won’t have long, though. Our orbit will take us behind the Moon in about four minutes.”
Blue looked out of the glass frontage at the unfamiliar surface below them. In the distance were the clusters of domes denoting the locations of the various Lunarville settlements and amongst them the crater caused by the destruction of Lunarville 7 was still visible. Blue could make out the tiny tracks left by the bouncing Moon-mobiles and lunar tractors as they ferried workmen and resources back and forth to the devastated settlement. The expanses between the craters appeared featureless under the silvery Earth-light and the edges of the craters threw intense shadows into which the sun never penetrated. The lunar horizon curved away below them and the silver-gilt cliffs that edged the Humboldt Sea showed ragged against the deep-black emptiness of space beyond.
Even given the artificial atmospheres of the high-tech domes of the lunar settlements there were parts of the surface that would never be habitable. Although a permanently dark-side of the Moon was a myth, it seemed that no human was comfortable with the idea of living where the Earth was never visible and of being out of radio contact with the mother-planet.
Blue took the co-pilot seat and put the call through to Cloudbase. The response was faint, but audible.
“Cloudbase here; come in, Captain Blue.”
“I need to speak to Colonel White, is he there?” There was the customary delay as the radio message travelled back to earth and then he heard:
“Stand by, Captain.”
Another pause before the colonel’s familiar voice answered him: “Report, Captain.”
“We are about to lose radio contact, sir. Captain Scarlet has ordered me to stay on the rocket when he goes to the surface. I need your permission to over-ride him, sir.”
Malone started at Blue in surprise. The crack team of Scarlet and Blue was considered a rock-solid fixture amongst the world’s security organisations and the idea that they might not always be in agreement was an astonishing one.
“He has done what? Whatever for? No, don’t answer, I’ll read it in your report, Captain. You are both to go to the surface, and that is my final order.”
“I want Lieutenant Citrine to accompany us, Colonel. I’m concerned that we might face more than we bargained for down there. I want back up, but Scarlet over-ruled me.”
There was a pause… the radio crackled; the signal was breaking up as the Moon’s bulk started to block the transmission.
“No one … go alone… imperative … message is transmitted … Mars during…hours…our opp…nity …take advant.. of…fav… planet… alignment. Y…must ensure … no… prevents…is… Citrine…should… to the surface… danger… she…ly…pable… understan...”
“Citrine should go to the surface,” Blue repeated, straining to catch the response.
“Tell Captain Scarl…..”
The line went dead.
“Oh, I’ll tell him,” Blue promised. He glanced at Malone. “I can rely on your backing me up when I tell Captain Scarlet what Colonel White said?”
“Sure, Captain; he said loud and clear that you were to go to the surface. But I don’t know that he meant to give permission for that young woman to go with you.”
“I heard ‘Citrine should go to the surface; despite the danger she’s perfectly capable’,” Blue explained.
“And if it was ‘Citrine should not go to the surface if there’s danger she is not totally capable of understanding’?” Malone asked.
“If that’s what he said, I’ll apologise for my misinterpretation when we get back to Cloudbase,” Blue said stoutly. “Right now, I have enough on my hands dealing with Captain Scarlet to spend time worrying about what the colonel might have said.”
“It’s your mission,” Malone replied evenly, “I’m not going to get involved in an argument between the pair of you.”
Blue gave a wry smile of thanks. “I think if we give her the choice, Citrine will come with us.”
“Then give her the choice,” Malone suggested. “I’ll back up whatever she decides.”
Blue hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Okay…”
Malone set the auto-pilot and followed the Spectrum captain out of the cockpit and through to the passenger lounge.
Citrine was in the work bay supervising the on-board trip robots while they moved the equipment to the landing shuttle. She looked up as the men entered, but did not speak.
Colonel Malone gestured Blue to silence and said, “Lieutenant, I understand that you were not originally slated to go to the surface but that Captain Blue feels there is enough reason for you to join that part of the exercise. Given that you have no space experience, I want to know if you are going willingly, or whether you’d prefer to remain on Fireball in accordance with your original orders.”
Citrine frowned slightly and glanced at the non-committal expression on Blue’s face. “Of course I’m willing to go, Colonel. There was no pressure put on me to accept the new orders, in fact, I volunteered before Captain Blue even mentioned it. I can see that it might be helpful to Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue to have a third party with them, while they’re carrying out their mission.”
She sensed the relief in Blue’s barely concealed sigh, but she continued to meet Malone’s scrutiny with calmness and polite incomprehension at his unmerited concern.
“Okay; I guess you Spectrum agents know what you’re doing. But remember, once you’re on the surface there’ll be no contact at all until the freighter arrives in 65 Earth-hours,” Malone explained. He paused and then said, “You know, Captain, there is one more option: I could drop you off at Base Camp, complete an orbit and pick you up after the first message has been sent? I could drop you at one of the Lunarville settlements and still be back at Space City in time for my next duty mission. You could probably get a tractor from the settlement and arrive back at the base camp at the same time – more or less - as the freighter arrives.”
“We know; it was considered by Colonel White during mission development,” Blue assured him. “We can’t leave the transmitter unmanned in case an initial response from the Mysterons arrives. If we’re going to get one, failure to respond promptly could jeopardise the whole mission.”
Malone sighed. “Sure, I guess the Mysterons wouldn’t take kindly to waiting for a response from us; it’s just that… well, I don’t mean to try and scare you, Captain,” he said, glancing obliquely at Citrine, “but even experienced space pilots get uneasy on the far side of the Moon. It’s as if there’s something in every human psyche that fears the primeval dark. Right now, we’re heading towards a full moon, where the Earth is between the Moon and the sun, so the ‘dark’ side of the Moon won’t get much sunlight at all – call it a kind of lunar ‘arctic night’, if you like.”
Blue nodded. “Spectrum’s used to dealing with the unknown and the unseen, Colonel. Personally, if I have to deal with the Mysterons this up-close and personal, I’d rather do it on the Moon than the Earth, where any collateral damage might well be in the nature of a major catastrophe.”
“We’ll have light in the Bucky-dome, won’t we?” Citrine asked, sounding alarmed.
Malone smiled. “Yeah, each geodesic dome has a powerful generator that’ll give enough power for heat and some light. I’d concentrate on the heat, if I were you, it’s going to be around minus 150 degrees-C outside.”
She gave a brittle snort of laughter as a rare grin lit up her face. “That gives a whole new meaning to brass monkey weather…”
Captain Scarlet was already suited up for the descent to the surface when Blue and Citrine arrived at the launch bay. He turned his back on them and continued inputting information into the control panel as the robots loaded the final boxes of equipment, but before they had completed their preparations he turned and stared at Blue, ignoring Citrine altogether.
“What’re you doing here?” he snapped.
“Getting ready to go to the surface,” Blue replied evenly. “Check with Colonel Malone if you doubt that Colonel White countermanded your last order to me – on the grounds that you’d lost your senses!” Blue’s voice rose as he shouted down Scarlet’s inarticulate but vehement protest.
Scarlet glared at him, but recognised that Blue was telling the truth – he knew him too well not to spot a lie. “Lieutenant Citrine stays here,” he ordered.
Blue shook his head. “Colonel’s orders: Citrine comes with us.”
“And I suppose Malone can verify that too?” his friend snarled.
“Got it in one.”
“I don’t suppose it occurred to you that everything’s been calculated to support two of us down there?” Scarlet asked. “The Bucky-dome is a double-occupancy – so called because it is the ideal size for two men…”
“With an excess capacity that will comfortably house three – maybe not in the lap of luxury but adequately until the freighter arrives in 65 hours,” Blue reminded him. He stepped forward and took Scarlet by the arm, leading him away from the young woman.
“Listen, Paul, if it helps you accept the situation, put it down to my nerves. I’m not convinced that the Mysterons won’t try something while we’re alone down there, and I guess I just feel there’ll be safety in numbers.”
He frowned as he saw the cold hostility in his friend’s deep-blue eyes staring back at him, and with a sudden insight into his friend’s state of mind, Blue continued, “It isn’t that I don’t trust you – Lord knows, I trust you with my life every time we go on a mission – but this isn’t any mission. We’ve seen what the Mysterons are capable of and the power they can generate through those crystals. You remember those ‘hypnotic screens’ in Crater 101? Well, I’m not sure it was the screens that transfixed Green and me, I think they were powered by the same crystals as the pulsator and we’re going to be surrounded by them down there – fragmented, sure, but who knows how powerful they’ll be? Maybe each fragment will boost the power and between them we could unleash something far worse than the one we considered as the power source for the complex. I don’t trust this place… this site - this mission. It is far more dangerous than I believe the colonel considered. We can’t know what effect it might have on any of us.”
“And you want to risk exposing a novice like Citrine to that?” Scarlet interjected.
“I want all three of us to come out of this alive,” Blue retorted, “and I think three of us stand a better chance of doing that than just two of us. Fighting the Mysterons on Earth is bad enough, but out in space – as the old cliché goes: no one can hear you scream…”
“I never figured you for a coward, Adam.”
Blue drew a sharp breath and moved away slightly as the coldness of his friend’s words hit home. “Only a fool is never scared, Paul, and I’m no fool.”
“I hope you’re right about that,” Captain Scarlet said, and abruptly turned away.
The portable Geodesic Survival Pod – affectionately known as a ‘Bucky-dome’ to the legions that used it - was largely self-erecting and it didn’t take Blue and Citrine long to get it set up. Blue connected the leads to the temporary generator, which sat outside the main dome and was powerful enough to run the heating rods that held the thermally-treated fabric stretched over the frame, as well as the life-support and air filtering units that were connected to the main dome by insulated cables. The generator provided enough power to run the small, low-powered, halogen-bulbs spaced along the rods to provide a faint, silvery light inside.
Blue made sure the securing clamps were driven as deep into the surface as possible before he fired the hydraulic bolts. Without an atmosphere, there was no wind, so the dome was unlikely to shift, but he still felt reassured by the dull thud of the bolts as they anchored the dome.
In the distance, Captain Scarlet was already busy erecting the communication equipment. He worked by the light of the two halogen torches attached to his space suit helmet, for the sun was below the horizon and the darkest sky Scarlet had ever seen was lit only by the glitter of a million distant stars.
He knew that the relatively flat surface of the Humboldt Sea straddled the horizon so that part of it faced Earth for some of the Moon’s orbit but the majority of it lay on the mysterious ‘far’ side that was never seen by the neighbouring planet’s inhabitants. Spreading out across the unfamiliar pock-marked lunar surface were many thousands of craters, including this one – so insignificant it had only been numbered - 101 – rather than named. Now it was a name known to everyone dedicated to fighting the Mysteron menace.
The nuclear explosion had created a deep impact crater across the previously flat landscape, and although the dust had finally settled back onto the surface, it was lighter in colour than the surrounding plains. The new Crater 101 was deeper than the neighbouring millennia-old pock-marks, and in some places the bedrock was exposed, creating mysterious, dark wells into which no dust had drifted since the nuclear wind had dissipated into space. The radioactivity in the area was high enough to justify forbidding any curious individuals from venturing there, but it was not lethal for periods of moderate exposure. The data Spectrum possessed had come from scans conducted in stationary orbit over the crater ostensibly searching for exploitable minerals and the team’s feet were the first to stand in the crater since the explosion.
Scarlet paused and stood erect to stretch his back.
He glanced upwards into the pitch-black darkness and marvelled at the number of stars that peppered the heavens – many of them too faint to be seen from the light-polluted Earth. He could understand the stories he’d heard about unease previous astronauts experienced being out of sight of the familiar blue-and-white sphere that was their home and even more so of the all-pervading presence of the sun. There had been plenty of occasions when the events of his recent past had left him feeling isolated from every other human being, but he had never before felt this almost overpowering loneliness of knowing he was stranded in the vastness of space. If the Mysterons attacked, there was no one to come to his aid – or that of his companions. Frowning at the thought of Citrine and Blue, busy inside the Bucky-dome, he resumed his work.
Even as he worked, he considered the friendships he’d made in Spectrum. All of them had taken on a new importance since his Mysteronisation, particular that with Blue, which had started when they’d first met and grown during their training and the early days in Spectrum. Until the horrific conclusion of the mission to the Kyrgyzstan chemical factory, he’d never realised just how much he depended on the support of his stalwart friend.
Blue had not been on that particular mission because he’d contracted a severe bout of gastroenteritis during their previous mission to South Sudan and Doctor Fawn had refused to sign him fit to go to Kyrgyzstan. Recovering consciousness in Sick Bay and seeing the composed face of an unknown duty nurse at his bedside, rather than Blue’s, had reinforced his awareness of his reliance on his field partner’s constant support.
He had consistently shied away from contemplating what would happen if that support disappeared, but the anxiety, once acknowledged, grew. Until Fawn had signed him fit, he’d lain in the hospital bed torturing his imagination with the prospect of trying to live his unique life if anything happened to the select band of officers who formed his inner circle of friends. First and foremost amongst these was Rhapsody Angel, and his feelings for her played as significant a part in his emotional life as his friendship with Blue, although for entirely different reasons.
Spectrum’s first recruits had had it made clear to them that they were not supposed to become romantically involved with each other, for fear this might lead them to deviate from the path of duty when on a mission. However, Colonel White knew you couldn’t legislate for people falling in love and he turned a diplomatic blind-eye to the various ongoing relationships amongst his Cloudbase staff; still, no serving officer had ever married and Scarlet acknowledged that it was unlikely he and Rhapsody would be the first to break the unspoken ban. Until recently, Rhapsody had accepted that, although he was aware that she’d never stopped hoping he might change his mind.
Until recently, that was … just before the mission to Juba, to be precise. An indignant Symphony Angel - a woman to whom, Scarlet firmly believed, the exercise of tact and diplomacy was a closed book - had expressed her contempt for a mother who could be so inconsiderate as to upset her only daughter by criticising her for failing to provide her parents with a grandson. She went on to explain to a stunned Blue and indignant Scarlet that, when one of Dianne’s cousins had given birth to a son recently, Lady Simms had remarked to her daughter that, as things stood, the little boy was the heir presumptive to the family title. She had also said that this regrettable state of affairs was simply because Dianne had failed to do her duty to her family.
Not surprisingly, this conversation had caused Rhapsody much heart-searching and sorrow. It had also had created an intractable problem for Scarlet because he’d told Dianne he was not in favour of ever having children who might be at risk of being affected by his taint of retrometabolism, or something worse. He thought she’d accepted his concerns were valid, until her preoccupation with ensuring her family’s name lived on had resulted in several ‘difficult’ conversations and a slight distancing from each other that had not been resolved before he went to Kyrgyzstan.
During his post-mission recovery Scarlet had had plenty of time to brood and, already in low spirits, had convinced himself that he was a burden to his friends and should become more self-reliant, so that their inevitable desertion of him – for whatever reason – would be less traumatic. Therefore, when Blue, looking drawn and thinner than usual, had finally been released from quarantine and came to the recovery room where Scarlet spent his hospitalised days, his welcome had been brusque and offhand.
Scarlet could clearly recall his friend’s hurt and confusion at this less than sociable welcome, but he told himself it was for the benefit of them both to lessen their reliance on each other. Blue had left after a short visit and had not returned for several days, by which time Scarlet was even more firmly entrenched in his decision and thoroughly miserable because of it. Once released from Sick Bay, he’d argued with every one of the elite officers and - once more – with Rhapsody Angel.
He sighed and fired up another few circuits rather than think about Dianne any more; the problems in that relationship ran deep and were as much a result of his feeling of ‘alien-ness’ as his breach with Blue was. Furthermore, he‘d been alarmed at the strength of his reaction to her decision to take the lovelorn Lieutenant Green to London with her. It certainly didn’t suggest his campaign to distance himself from his friends was having much success.
He was so involved with his thoughts that the crackle from his radio made him jump.
“Blue to Scarlet: the Bucky-dome is S.I.G., all systems functioning; Citrine’s offered to make coffee, would you like some?”
Despite himself, Scarlet grinned. “Yes, as long as you don’t have a hand in it,” he replied.
“Don’t worry,” Blue said sharply and there was little hint of amusement in his words.
Scarlet cursed as he closed the link.
The first ‘evening’ in the Bucky-dome was uncomfortable; not in the sense of lacking in comfort – it was no worse than a camping holiday – but due to the fact that the atmosphere was fraught with unresolved tension. The captains were also aware that they were sharing the limited space with a young woman neither of them knew well and this presented certain practical problems. All of them were wearing the protective space suits the World Space Patrol had provided and there were three sleeping bags, but only one open-plan living space.
Scarlet, who since his Mysteronisation needed little sleep, finally went back outside, leaving Blue and Citrine to get what rest they could. There were roughly four hours before the Moon aligned in the most favourable aspect for the transmission to Mars and so he checked the equipment again, listening to the recorded messages from the World President and Colonel White that contained the World Government’s apology for the unprovoked attack on the Mysterons’ complex and the request for peace negotiations.
Both were eloquent and, Scarlet believed, genuine, but he doubted that the Mysterons would give much credence to either as he had no faith in their assertion that they were peaceful beings. He also had no expectation that this mission would lead to a negotiated peace; in fact, he was there to look for a weakness, anything that might suggest there was a way to ensure their fight against these implacable aliens remained successful until they had found a way to defeat them once and for all.
He straightened up and stared out into the limitless expanse of the dark, star-spangled sky towards Mars, wondering what the chances were of one unspectacular star, amongst the billions of stars, attracting the attention of such powerful aliens. True, this particular star had an intricate system of orbiting planets, including one beautiful blue-green rock and on that blue-green rock was a civilisation of intelligent primates with – frankly – delusions of importance and grandeur that the Mysterons must have found comical.
What brought you to this neck of the woods? He mused. Why did you watch us for years without making yourself known and why did you send those messages – you must’ve known we’d pick them up and being as curious as we are, come to find you. You can’t even have been that surprised when we took fright and fired at you. You’re not the type to do something without reason but I‘m buggered if I can figure out what that reason is…
Suddenly, something caught his eye – movement. He turned his head and stared into the middle distance. Mysteronisation had given him very acute senses and he thought he could detect swirling motes of moon dust against the monochrome horizon. If there was dust in the air on a planetoid with no wind, that meant one thing: trouble.
He stared intently in the direction of the apparent movement until his eyes watered, but there was nothing there. Glancing back towards the Bucky-dome, he moved forward, amused by his own surprise at his bouncing gait caused by the lower gravity. Childhood memories of watching the construction of the earliest lunar settlements on TV flooded into his mind and, with a rare spurt of careless enthusiasm, he lurched forwards, travelling several meters in one stride.
Landing in a miniature dust storm of grey particles, he sobered and remembered what he was supposed to be looking for. Examining the area around the spot where he estimated he’d seen the movement, he could find no sign that the surface had been disturbed for millennia. His own footprints were clearly visible, showing the ridged soles of his weighted moon boots leading back to the campsite, but ahead of him there was nothing but a pitted, grey plane to the dark horizon.
You’re letting your imagination run away with you, Metcalfe, he chided himself.
Slipping back into the Bucky-dome as quietly as he could, Scarlet’s sharp eyes soon adjusted to the gloomy half-light. Lieutenant Citrine was lying with unnatural stillness on one side of the room, with her back towards Captain Blue, who was lying on the other side of the dome, with his hands behind his head, his pale-blue eyes wide open.
Blue put a finger to his lips, and nodded towards Citrine.
Scarlet doubted that his partner thought she was actually asleep, any more than he did, but he nodded anyway. He crawled over to crouch beside Blue and unscrewed his space helmet, gulping in the slightly stale recycled air of the dome with a slight grimace.
“Okay out there?” Blue whispered.
Scarlet nodded. “Quiet as the grave.”
Blue rolled his eyes. “A rather unfortunate metaphor, Paul.”
Scarlet smiled apologetically. “Why aren’t you asleep? We don’t need to send the first message for another 90 minutes.”
Blue glanced towards Citrine and shrugged. “Too excited, I guess.”
Scarlet grinned at him, pleased that the tension between them seemed to have lessened. He twisted round and sat down beside his friend.
“You were out there a long time,” Blue observed quietly.
“Just scouting round; you know how it is.”
“There shouldn’t be anything to see,” Blue remarked.
“There wasn’t,” Scarlet assured him. He glanced at his friend and admitted, “I did a bit of lunar yomping. It’s like you’re wearing seven-league boots out there.”
“What’re you like?” Blue joked, shaking his head in amusement.
“A kid on a jolly?” Scarlet suggested.
Blue heaved a deep sigh. He avoided Scarlet’s insightful gaze and confessed, “I just wish I didn’t have the feeling we’re on a ‘Blair Witch’-style project.”
Scarlet took this seriously. “That why you wanted a third along?”
“I sure hope not. After all, apart from you, me and Citrine there’s no one and nothing between here and the Lunarville settlements. Even if we do contact the Mysterons, they’re much further away from us than the Earth will ever be. Maybe it’s just knowing we won’t see the sun while we’re here that makes it feel like we’re in the back of beyond? Still, I keep telling myself that the freighter’ll be here before we know it.”
Scarlet sucked his teeth thoughtfully and said, “Yeah, and the Mysterons can’t really teleport things around the Earth when they want to and they don’t really control inanimate objects and recreate human beings without ever leaving Mars… Adam, you know that if they teleport something here, even Lunarville won’t be close enough to save us, never mind Space City.”
“That’s a really comforting thought, Paul. Thanks!”
“It wasn’t me that wanted her here!” Scarlet’s comment went straight to the heart of Blue’s unease.
“No, it was me and –don’t worry - I’m sure your record will show that you opposed it!”
“I don’t blame you if you’re running scared about this-”
“No more than you are!”
“I’m not scared of anything they can throw at me!”
“Oh sure – you’re gonna walk away from this in one piece come what may.”
“You think I don’t feel what happens to me?”
“To you – yes, you feel it – but you have no concept of what it can feel like for everyone else involved-”
“Oh, cut the touchy-feely crap, Adam; it’s beneath you!”
“To care about my colleagues is ‘beneath me’?”
“No – but to whine about how I’m indestructible and so I’ve no concept of what ‘true courage’ is – that’s beneath you. It sounds like something Green would come up with!”
“Maybe he’s right then? Maybe it is easy to be brave when you’re indestructible?”
Their voices had grown louder as their tempers flared and it was only Citrine’s scream of ‘No!’ as Scarlet drew back his hand and swung a punch at Blue that brought them both to their senses.
Although Scarlet pulled the punch it still connected with Blue’s head, knocking him sideways.
“Oh shit! I’m sorry – really, really sorry! Adam?”
Citrine had scrambled over and was helping the American sit upright, her arms around his shoulders. The pair of them faced the guilt-ridden Scarlet.
“What’s happening?” Scarlet demanded of Blue. “We don’t act like this – we don’t fight.”
“I’ve rarely seen you doing anything else since this mission started,” Citrine interjected.
“But we don’t fight,” Scarlet insisted. “We disagree, we argue, but we don’t fall out.” He turned away, hugging his knees as he frowned in deep thought. “Maybe there’s something here that’s making us behave differently…”
“And it’s so powerful it made you bicker all the way from Cloudbase to Space City?” Citrine asked.
“No, of course not,” Scarlet snapped back. “I know things have been… strained, but that’s how it gets from time to time; no relationships are a hundred-percent sweetness and light. This is different – more… intense. I don’t know what it is; I’m not an expert – we’re all trying to get to the bottom of what makes the Mysterons tick – I know no more than anyone else, okay, Lieutenant?”
“Don’t take it out on her,” Blue remarked. “It’s not her fault. Blame me, if you want to blame someone.”
“I do,” Scarlet retorted.
“Don’t I know it?” the American muttered under his breath.
Citrine threw her hands out into the gap between the protagonists and interrupted Scarlet’s sharp retort. “Can you please stop acting like kids and remember that we’re here to do a job? Colonel White can decide which of us deserves the demerits for disobeying or exceeding our orders when we get back to Cloudbase, but let’s try and get along together in the meantime, shall we?
Scarlet sat back on his heels and glared at the floor biting his lip. Blue ran a hand through his tousled hair and sighed.
“I’m sorry,” he said eventually. “Scarlet’s right, Lieutenant, I may have acted from my unease about this mission and in so doing, put you at risk. He’s also right in that we don’t fight – well, not often – but nor do we usually disagree as much as we have done on this mission.”
“I owe you an apology too, Lieutenant,” Scarlet mumbled. “You’re here and we should concentrate on the mission.”
“Best friends forever, again?” she asked, with a droll glance at the two men.
Blue gave a snort of laughter and even Scarlet smirked.
“Not exactly, not yet, but we’ll play nice,” said Blue, with a glance at his field partner.
“Shall I make some coffee?” she suggested, as the tense atmosphere abated.
“Great idea,” Blue agreed.
“Yeah, you’ll soon realise that Blue-Boy here runs on the stuff; he’s always ready for another cup-a-carfee,” Scarlet remarked, pleased to see Blue’s lips expand into a grin of wry amusement.
All three of them went outside to send the first message to Mars. Blue carried the computer input keyboard and Citrine a toolbox, in case of last minute snafus. Scarlet was cautious and alert, his instinct still insisted he had seen something earlier.
Blue found it cumbersome trying to input codes while wearing insulated space-suit gloves and it was Citrine who handed him a screwdriver to depress the keys.
The comms relay flickered into life.
“Power, S.I.G.,” Citrine reported.
“Key code accepted; message uploaded for transmission,” Blue replied with evident relief.
They could just make out the hum from the nearby generator and the transmission relay.
“We have a green light… sectors 1, 2, 3…” Blue reported. “Message transmission… S.I.G..”
Scarlet loped across to the transmitter and watched the indicator lights flash. “S.I.G. here,” he reported. “Transmission ongoing… transmission completed. We’ve done it!”
There was a distinct feeling of anti-climax after that. Despite all three of them watching carefully there was no evidence of the alien compounds doing anything to boost the transmission.
“I thought they might glow a little, at least,” Citrine remarked sadly. “Or at least give some indication that something was happening.”
“You can never say for sure what’s going on with the Mysterons,” Blue replied.
Scarlet had bounced back to join them.
“We wait?” Blue asked.
“We wait,” his friend confirmed.
“First scheduled check for a response is in 3 hours and 52 minutes and re-transmission in 7 hours and 52 minutes,” Citrine reported.
“Or whenever we feel terminal boredom setting in,” Scarlet amended.
“You mean if we can’t convince them to negotiate we’re going to nag them into accepting peace?” Blue quipped.
Scarlet chuckled and Citrine smirked. “You know what feels really odd?” she said, “That we can’t even report to Cloudbase that we’ve done it.”
“Yes, but we can be sure they’re watching the clocks as much as we are.” Blue turned towards the Bucky-dome. “Let’s have lunch – or is it breakfast by now?”
“I thought it was suppertime,” said Citrine, with one of her tight-lipped smiles.
“Whatever it is, let’s go and eat it. I’m famished!” Scarlet cried.
Blue watched as Scarlet bounded off towards the Dome and frowned slightly. Mysteronisation had left Scarlet without the need to sleep much or to eat regularly and the only time he had much of an appetite was during or immediately after a period of retrometabolisation. This admission of feeling hungry was as out of character as his recent tetchiness and irascibility.
He saw Citrine looking anxiously at him, smiled encouragingly and picked up the toolbox before starting back in Scarlet’s footsteps, shortening his stride to match hers.
The mood of the Spectrum agents remained positive. They had little to do but wait to see if their message would receive a response, which left them at something of a loose end. Left to themselves, Scarlet and Blue would have whiled away the hours easily enough, playing cards or in conversation, but the presence of an unknown third left both of them feeling slightly too self-conscious to thrash out their remaining differences.
Blue calculated the minimum time they could realistically expect a response and nothing could prevent Scarlet going out to check the transmitter. He was soon back, shaking his head.
“My guess is we won’t hear immediately,” Blue reasoned. “You know they like to drag things out, especially if they know we’re expecting them to act.”
“You think we will hear from them?” Citrine asked. She was gradually growing more at ease in the captains’ company since she’d defused their ‘fight’ and the feeling that she had been more or less accepted as one of the team – even by Captain Scarlet – boosted her self-confidence.
Blue considered carefully before he answered. “We’ll hear from them, although what we hear might not be what we hope for.”
“Surely they must realise we’re serious?” Scarlet interjected. “We’ve come out here and gone to great lengths to contact them, after all.”
“We did before,” Blue reminded him, “and all they did was try to kill you and blow Cloudbase out of the sky. I’m not sure they’ll do anything different now.”
“They might be attacking Cloudbase even as we sit here?” Citrine gasped.
“They tend not to attack the same target twice, at least not with the same trick,” Scarlet explained. “Although,” he added, “they may go for the same target under a different guise.”
“I thought they only targeted something or someone once,” she said, with a frown.
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “They threatened to kill Colonel White and their first attempt was to try and blow up Cloudbase with a Mysteronised space radio station. Later they tried to kill him on a submarine, only I got in their way. They’ve also tried to blow up Cloudbase using their pulsator, so although the targets might have been different the results would have been the same – one dead commanding officer and Cloudbase shrapnel.”
“So, Cloudbase would have been collateral damage in killing the colonel and the colonel would have been collateral damage in blowing up Cloudbase,” Citrine mused. “I see what you mean.”
“What still worries me,” Blue confessed, “is that now you’re isolated from outside help and Scarlet’s been their target – obliquely – more times than anything or anyone.”
“That’s nothing to worry about,” his friend retorted. “I’ve told you I can deal with whatever they throw at me.”
Blue nodded, but made no reply.
Tentatively, Citrine spoke: “Captain Scarlet, may I ask... I mean, if you wouldn’t mind talking about it… may I ask what the Mysterons have thrown at you before now.”
Scarlet did not usually enjoy recounting his experiences on past missions, especially when he had been injured or killed, but judging by Blue’s present mood he decided that it wouldn’t hurt to remind him of the successes they’d had.
“Of course, Lieutenant; I may not be able to give you the whole story – quite apart from security issues – but I’m sure Captain Blue will be able to fill in the gaps where necessary. Let me see… Our first mission was actually a total failure: the Mysterons had threatened the Director General of the Asian Republic….”
It’s one way to pass the time, Blue reflected, as Scarlet got into his narrative stride, although, perhaps not the one I’d have chosen….
When the timer went off, an hour later, they were all rather surprised the time had gone so quickly, but Scarlet left to check the transmitter immediately. He was soon back, with nothing to report and picked up his story where he’d left off.
And so the hours slipped by…
Citrine and Blue had dozed off when the timer sounded again. Scarlet reset it quickly hoping not to wake his companions and quietly left the Bucky-dome to check the transmitter again.
There was no record that any response had been received and he decided he’d resend the original message.
What harm can it do? he thought. It’s been hours since the last transmission should have reached Mars: you can hardly call another message now ‘nagging’.
He was setting up the system when, glancing up from the control panel, his sharp eyes definitely saw movement – not just a swirl of dust this time, but a dark shadow moving independently across the open surface.
Scarlet’s hand went automatically to his hip and he cursed as he realised he had come out unarmed: there’d seemed no point on this uninhabited side of the Moon. He considered returning to the dome to fetch the gun and alert Blue, but that would leave the transmitter open to attack and he no doubt it would be the target of any hostile intruder.
He waited, watching closely as the figure continued to shamble closer. He was soon able to identify that it was a man: a little below average height, slim, dark-haired… As he got closer, Scarlet could make out his face and it didn’t take long for him to identify the stranger.
Fraser: the former second-in-command to Linda Nolan at Lunarville 6, the Mysteron agent who had attempted to annihilate Scarlet, Blue and Green on their mission to investigate and destroy the Mysteron complex in Crater 101.
If it hadn’t been for Linda Nolan’s quick thinking he’d have succeeded too, Scarlet conceded to himself.
Once she’d realised that Fraser was a threat to the Spectrum agents, Nolan had launched an obsolete CB29 rocket to the crater, triggering the memory of an earlier conversation with Scarlet and highlighting the fact that the mission had been competed ‘ahead of schedule’. Blue had gone to investigate and discovered that the detonator on the nuclear device intended destroy the complex once the Spectrum officers had left it, had been set for hours before the agreed time. There had just been time for Green to join him and for them both to get the Lunar Tractor out of the way of the blast. Scarlet had grabbed the crystal pulsator and only just managed to get it – and himself – clear of the crater’s rim before the nuclear device had exploded.
It had never occurred to the survivors to wonder what had happened to Fraser; Mysteron agents had a habit of ‘ceasing to function’ once they had completed their purpose and it was more than likely that Fraser had gone up with the bomb.
Only it didn’t look like that was the case…
“Captain Scarlet?” the man called across the open space between them.
“Stay where you are!” Scarlet yelled in reply.
“Help me, Captain Scarlet,” Fraser pleaded, stumbling forward, one hand outstretched.
“I’m warning you, Fraser, stay away!”
“I need help. You can’t refuse to help me, Scarlet. I’ll die out here if you do!”
“You’re walking on the Moon without a space-suit or a helmet, man – you shouldn’t be alive now!” Scarlet cried. “You were a Mysteron agent, don’t deny it – you tried to kill us.”
“I don’t understand what’s happened to me,” Fraser called. “I’m weak …and confused… I don’t understand. What’s happened to me? I’m unarmed, Captain. I’m no threat to you or your companions, I swear. Please, you must help me get back to Lunarville 6.”
Mysteron reconstructs were generally a picture of health and abnormally strong and resilient, so that they could carry out their masters’ orders. This man, although he looked emaciated and exhausted, was in no danger of expiring any time soon. Staring at the bedraggled man who was appealing for his help, his words fired a fierce hope in Scarlet’s mind.
Perhaps he’s like me. Perhaps he’s escaped from their control and now he’s indestructible too? He came to a decision. “Stay there! Don’t move another step closer. Maybe you’re not a threat, but you still need to prove it by doing what I tell you.”
Fraser nodded and stood, motionless, while Scarlet backed away towards the Bucky-dome. He turned his radio on and called:
“Blue! Blue, wake up and get out here.”
A sleepy and slightly grumpy voice replied: “S.I.G..”
“Bring the guns and a Mysteron detector,” Scarlet ordered.
“A Mysteron detector? Whatever for?” Blue asked in surprise.
“Just do it.”
“Whatever you say, Paul.”
Blue emerged from the Bucky-dome in a few minutes and joined his colleague. “Here you are, Paul, although why you want them and why you couldn’t get them yourself, I can’t imag… Who the hell is that?” he asked in astonishment, pointing at Fraser.
There was even less room in the Bucky-dome now and the Spectrum officers sat huddled together in one group, while Fraser crouched across from them wolfing down one day’s food and drinking far more than one person’s water. Citrine was surprised the captains didn’t try to prevent him depleting the rations, which were already being stretched from two to three people - but they both seemed to accept that Fraser needed the sustenance.
Finally, Fraser swallowed the last drop of water and wiped his hand across his mouth. He looked across at his companions and said:
“That was the best meal I’ve ever had.”
Knowing the bland taste of field rations only too well, Blue looked doubtful, but Scarlet replied, “Yeah, it’s amazing how nothing tastes as good as anything you can get your hands on after a bout of retrometabolism. I guess it revitalises your taste buds as much as the rest of you.”
Fraser looked concerned. “I don’t understand what’s happened,” he said. “The last thing I remember I was walking to the airlock in Lunarville 3 heading for Lunarville 7. I’d been notified of your imminent arrival and I was supposed to be there too for Ms Nolan’s briefing. Now I wake up here – in Crater 101 – walking about on the surface without a space helmet and you tell me I was Mysteronised and attempted to kill you. I don’t know what to believe.”
“Believe this much at least,” Blue suggested dryly. “If you hadn’t been Mysteronised you’d have been dead in seconds out there – not sitting here talking to us.”
“I suppose so, Captain,” Fraser replied, his expression clearly revealing his shock and distaste at the thought. “And I can understand your wariness, under the circumstances.”
“What you can also believe, because the computer database will confirm it, is that the destruction of the Mysteron base in Crater 101 took place almost a year ago,” Blue added.
“A year? I’ve been out on the surface for a year?” Fraser shook his head. “It can’t be…”
Scarlet nodded. “It is true. We have come back to make another-”
“Reconnaissance,” Blue interrupted, with a warning glance at Scarlet. “To make sure nothing’s left.”
“And you’ve found me,” Fraser said quietly. “I suppose I should be glad…”
“Would you rather have stayed out there for ever?” asked Citrine.
“No, Lieutenant; but I have enough intelligence to realise that an ex-Mysteron agent is not going to be exactly welcomed with open arms by his former comrades and employers. I suppose I’ll be incarcerated somewhere for the rest of my days?”
“Not necessarily,” Scarlet chipped in. “You might not be the first person this has happened to.”
“Was Spectrum able to take Captain Black?”
“Not Black – not yet,” Scarlet explained and was about to continue when Blue interjected:
“Captain Scarlet, may I have a word with you? In private?”
Annoyed, Scarlet grimaced at his friend, but scrambled out into the airlock and put on his helmet to follow Blue outside.
“What’s biting you?” he asked, before Blue could speak.
“Security – that’s what. I don’t think we should tell Fraser any more than we have to. We don’t know why he’s here for a start.”
“Why he’s here? He’s here because – like me – he’s broken free of the Mysterons and he’s indestructible.”
“How do we know that he’s broken free? If they wanted I imagine they could reactivate their agent and send him here to try and assassinate us, as he did before. In fact, he might still be obeying their original orders. It is too soon for us to trust him.”
“What happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt?” Scarlet asked cynically.
“Let’s just say that I know more about the Mysterons now than I did at the London Car-Vu. We can’t risk anything happening to the transmitter. We have to keep Fraser away from it. When the freighter gets here they can take him aboard and keep him in the brig until we get orders from the colonel about what we should do.”
“I’m the Field Commander and I say who gets put in the brig,” Scarlet said moodily. He heard Blue’s exasperated sigh over the spacesuit radio.
“Okay, have it your way,” the American replied. “I recommend we keep a careful eye on him and let the freighter captain put him in the brig when they get here, until the colonel says otherwise. Sir.”
“And if I tell you that I’m not getting any warning from my ‘sixth sense’ about him? You know I get nauseous when a Mysteron’s around. I’m not nauseous around Fraser.”
“You get nauseous sometimes when there’s a Mysteron around. You didn’t get a warning when we were here the first time and Fraser was close by – and he must’ve been a Mysteron then - why should you get one now? Besides which, you don’t know if you’d get the same warning if he was free of them – we’ve never met another like you before.”
“Another like me?” Scarlet snarled. “Like me: Scarlet the alien, Scarlet the not-human freak, you mean! Thanks very much, Adam.” Blue turned away, biting his bottom lip in an effort to control his rising temper. “I say Fraser poses no danger to us and I will not treat him like an enemy,” Scarlet announced.
“And I say you’re wrong. Sir,” Blue responded, as he moved back to the Bucky-dome airlock. “I just hope you’re not kidding yourself simply because you want to believe he’s free of them. But – you’re in command, so: S.I.G., Captain Scarlet.”
On Scarlet’s orders, Fraser was equipped with a spacesuit and a helmet from the reserve kit. There was the chance that he could have walked outside without needing the air supply, but he was reluctant to try and Scarlet considered this as further proof that he was free of Mysteron control. Mysteron agents were oblivious to their own danger and attempted to carry out their orders whatever personal risks they faced.
Citrine registered the renewed antipathy between the captains and quickly discerned the reason for it. Captain Scarlet was almost eager to involve Fraser in their discussions and in no time had explained what they were trying to do.
“Don’t you worry that if you do contact the Mysterons, they will try and regain control of you?” Fraser asked anxiously.
“No,” Scarlet reassured him. “Once you’re free of them they can’t regain the hold they had. They’ve tried before but it hasn’t worked.”
“So far,” Blue muttered under his breath.
“We’re closer to Mars here than the Earth is and with all these crystal shards around… the Mysterons might be more powerful.”
Scarlet shook his head. “They couldn’t get control of me when I was inside their base – here on the Moon - or when I went to the ‘meeting’ they offered us in Greenland and the Crystal Pulsator in both places was intact … so, I reckon I’m safe enough here with only fragments scattered around and so are you, Fraser.”
As Scarlet chatted on trying to reassure the other man, Citrine glanced across at Blue, who had turned away after his muttered aside and was, on Scarlet’s orders, methodically checking through the rations, with a view to dividing them four ways, instead of three.
She moved closer to him and whispered, “Captain Blue, do you think Captain Scarlet is right, sir? Are they both safe from the Mysterons?”
He looked down at her and drew a deep breath. “I don’t know, Lieutenant, and nor, I suspect, does Captain Scarlet. That’s what worries me.” He moved further away from the others and she followed, reaching out to take some of the packs of food from him, as if she was assisting with his work. “I want you to help me keep an eye on Fraser. Scarlet may be right and he may be free of the Mysterons, but I’m not sure and until I am, I won’t trust him.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “I understand.” Shyly she laid a hand on his arm. “What happened to Captain Scarlet was a miracle – I don’t know how else to describe it – and two miracles seems… asking a lot.”
Blue’s large hand covered hers and he smiled at her. “Yeah, I guess that about sums it up, Sue.”
She withdrew her hand quickly as the habitual blush rose in her face. “I’ll be happy to help you keep an eye on him, Captain,” she said formally.
Blue had grown used to her shying away from anything that smacked of over-familiarity and he took no offence at her abruptness, responding in the same vein. “S.I.G., Lieutenant.”
Captain Scarlet’s voice interrupted their conversation as he announced that he and Fraser were going out to check the communication array and send a repeat message.
“I can be ready to accompany you in a matter of moments,” Blue replied, alarmed at the news.
“Don’t bother; get on with sorting out the rations,” Scarlet ordered. “We’ll eat when we come back in.”
“Captain Scarlet,” Blue protested, “This is a Spectrum mission and Fraser is not a Spectrum agent. I insist on accompanying you.”
“He knows far more about the Moon than you do and might be able to suggest a better location or improved layout to maximise the strength of the signal,” Scarlet replied brusquely. “Get on with what you were doing, Captain Blue; that’s an order.”
“Sir, I must protest-” Blue began.
“An order,” Scarlet snapped. “Get on with what you were doing, Captain.”
Citrine stepped forward. “Captain Scarlet, I request permission to come. If there are any alterations to be made, I can implement them more effectively than anyone here.”
Scarlet stared at her for a moment, then, seeing only the officious interference he expected in her remark, nodded and said:
“Yes, that’s true. Come on then, Lieutenant – quickly.”
She handed Blue the ration packs and caught his eye with a significant glance as she hurried to collect her helmet and follow the two men into the airlock.
Scarlet led the way out onto the surface and waited for Fraser and Citrine to join him before heading towards the communications array. Citrine, carrying her toolbox, brought up the rear. She had taken a moment to slip her Spectrum pistol into the box and she watched Fraser intently as he walked after Scarlet, but if he intended to make a move against them, he obviously wasn’t going to do it immediately.
At the communication console, Scarlet was already checking the relays and the received inbox. He glanced up as Citrine arrived and shook his head.
“Nothing, so far.”
“Shall I resend the original message, Captain?” she asked.
“No,” Scarlet said, “wait a minute.” He turned to Fraser who was watching impassively. “You’re not sensing anything, are you?”
Fraser’s reply was hesitant. “No…but it is unsettling to be out here and to think that this,” he gestured at the communication relay, “can reach the Mysterons.”
“We believe it can,” Citrine responded, “but until we get some kind of feedback or response, we can only surmise that it has.”
“They do as they like,” he said. “Did you expect them to come at your bidding?”
“I thought you didn’t remember anything about them?” she asked sharply.
Fraser glowered at her. “I don’t; but I’ve always known what’s included in official security briefings. Quite apart from the details I was given surrounding the creation of the Mysteron base here.”
Scarlet’s interjection prevented Citrine from replying: “That’s enough, Lieutenant. Now, Fraser, if you look at this schematic and the transmission details, you may be able to advise us if we have the best arrangement possible…”
Fraser pushed past Citrine to join Scarlet at the console. Nothing daunted, she went to stand alongside him.
“Where’s the greatest concentration of crystal fragments?” Fraser asked, after studying the diagrams for a minute or two.
“They’re pretty evenly spread,” Citrine replied, “although, if there is a denser patch, it’d be there.” She tapped the screen. “That’s roughly over to the left: between the console and the three transmitters.”
Fraser studied the console for a little longer and then moved towards the area she’d indicated.
Watching him, Scarlet felt the first stirring of doubt in his mind. It was true that, in the first flush of excitement at the thought he might have found someone who understood his past experience and could appreciate the problems he faced, he had been eager to accept Fraser. However, he was perceptive enough to realise that Blue and Citrine were uneasy and, from her body language, he could see she was tense. Despite his irritation at their refusal to take the newcomer at face value, at least until he gave them reason to doubt his goodwill, he was professional enough to acknowledge their concerns and accept that they might be valid. After all, even if his own life had been in small danger from Fraser’s previous actions, Green’s and Blue’s lives had been threatened by him. He admitted to himself that there was no unequivocal proof Fraser posed no threat to this new mission apart, that was, from his own certainty and the absence of the nausea that warned him of the presence of a Mysteron agent.
Even then Blue’s right, of course, damn him. That sixth sense is not one hundred percent accurate.
He frowned as he watched Fraser moving between the transmitters, stirring up moon dust with every step.
But Fraser must’ve died in that explosion and now he’s as alive as I am… there’s no evidence that the Mysterons are in control of him – but also no evidence that they’re not… Bugger!
Fraser was kicking up more and more dust and swirls of it were rising up around him to waist height.
“Fraser,” Scarlet called, “Stop kicking up the dust. We don’t want those fragments buried.”
“They won’t be,” Fraser replied confidently.
“Oh, Lord,” Citrine murmured. It seemed to her that Fraser’s voice had deepened and taken on something akin the familiar, deep and emotionless tone of the Mysterons. She looked at Scarlet and saw that this hadn’t been lost on him. His hand was already moving to his waist, where his Spectrum holster was strapped – and was still empty.
She moved back to her toolbox and bent down to open it. Shielded from Fraser’s view by the lid she was able to pick up her gun. In accordance with Spectrum’s safety policy it was fitted with a colour-coded safety catch preventing it from being used by anyone except the designated officer, but there was an override. With some difficulty, due to her space gloves, Citrine activated the override, so that if Scarlet needed a gun he could use hers.
Unaware of the lieutenant’s helpful intentions, Scarlet was already moving towards Fraser. “How can you tell?” he asked.
“See for yourself. The larger crystals are on the surface now.”
Scarlet risked diverting his attention to the ground. He could see several flecks of shimmering light amongst the uniform grey dust. There was no natural light, apart from the glimmer of the distant stars, and even the console displays were too far away to reflect in the alien substance, so it had to be coming from within the small crystals.
“How did you know they were there?” he asked.
“Can’t you sense them?” Fraser asked, sounding surprised.
Scarlet shook his head. “I feel nothing.” He bent down, reaching out his hand towards one of the crystals.
“Everything that is of the Mysterons is linked through these,” Fraser said. “I can sense the location of every crystal, however small; feel the pulse of their latent power, a power that could so easily be harnessed…”
“What for?” Scarlet snapped suspiciously.
Fraser turned towards him, a look of innocent surprise on his face. “Against the Mysterons, of course, what else?”
“How do we harness it?”
“Gather them together, unite the power within them and focus it against the Mysterons.” Fraser’s exophthalmic eyes almost sparkled as he added, “Using the transmitter relay we can concentrate it against them as a weapon - of their own creation.”
“But we’re here to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” Citrine said firmly, as she arrived to join them; against her hip hung the comforting weight of her pistol.
Fraser turned on her. “There can be no peace!” he exclaimed. “The War between the planets is too firmly entrenched now. They will not negotiate.”
“You seem very certain that you know their minds,” she remarked. “For someone who doesn’t remember anything about the time he spent as their agent, I mean,” she added, as both men stared at her.
“They have not responded to your invitation. They did not respond to any previous invitations,” Fraser explained, as if to a dim child. “They used the last attempt you made to try to kill Captain Scarlet and destroy Cloudbase.”
“And how do you know that?” Scarlet asked quietly. There was a clear warning in his voice.
“You told me,” Fraser replied, with an off-hand shrug.
“I did not,” Scarlet protested. “Citrine and I discussed it, but you weren’t with us then.”
“Then I don’t know how I know.” Fraser spread his hands wide. “I told you, until I woke up and saw you here, I remembered nothing else.”
“Captain Scarlet, don’t trust him,” Citrine said. “We just can’t be sure…”
Fraser looked directly at Scarlet, a somewhat hangdog expression on his habitually morose face. Scarlet could recall all too well, the times when, just after his escape from Mysteron control, his colleagues in Spectrum had been wary and mistrustful of him. Nothing had gone right for him – the death of the Asian Director General being the most immediate and obvious example – and every word he’d said had been examined and challenged by the authorities. No one had given him their full trust or any support – no one, except Blue. He had no uncertainty as to the importance of that rock-solid support, at what had been a difficult time. He’d felt vulnerable and confused by what he had become, but able to rely on Blue’s unfailing trust and friendship he had persevered until the other Spectrum officers had come to accept him for what he now was.
He looked at Fraser, still standing motionless, and knew that he had to give him the same benefit that had saved his sanity. Being Mysteronised and knowing that the curse of Mysteronisation might keep you alive long beyond the normal life-span of your friends, relatives and loved ones, was enough of a burden without being doubted and ostracised.
“I trust him, Lieutenant,” he said, “and I expect you to work with Fraser too.”
There was a long and tense pause until Citrine muttered, “S.I.G., Captain.”
Scarlet moved away to speak to Fraser. “So, how do we gather these shards and fragments together and how do we get them to coalesce into one?” he asked.
While Scarlet was occupied, Citrine moved away back towards the communications array and took the opportunity to contact Captain Blue.
“What’s happening, Susan?” he asked.
“Captain Scarlet and Fraser are working out how to amalgamate the fragments of crystal and increase the power in them to use against the Mysterons, sir.”
There was a long pause and then Blue said, “I don’t like the sound of that; I’m coming out.”
She was heartily relieved to see him emerge from the Bucky-dome a few minutes later and walk purposefully towards her; it was no longer her responsibility to ensure that Fraser did nothing to hinder their mission. She spared a sympathetic thought for the American though, realising that Scarlet was unlikely to take this interference – in direct contravention of his orders - well. She waited until he had joined her and then followed close behind him as he walked to join Scarlet and Fraser. She was unsure if he would need – or even welcome - her moral support, but he’d have it for what it was worth.
“Captain Scarlet!” Blue called.
Scarlet and Fraser turned in unison and stared at the newcomer with an almost identical look of irritation on their faces.
“What’re you doing here?” Scarlet snapped.
“I’d finished dividing the rations and I thought I might be more use out here,” Blue explained.
“I’m perfectly capable of asking for help if I need it,” Scarlet retorted.
“Sure, but why should you? We’re here to do a job and it’s my primary duty to assist you,” Blue reasoned keeping his tone neutral and non-accusatory. “I thought you’d want me to pull my weight, Captain,” he added with just the right amount of self-justification in his voice to make Scarlet grimace and gave a dismissive nod.
“Well, make sure you don’t get in the way,” his friend said and pointedly turned his back to continue his conversation with Fraser.
Citrine switched her radio to one-to-one and explained to Blue what Fraser proposed. “I did remind them that we’re here to negotiate a peace,” she said, rolling her eyes, “but I might as well have been talking to myself.”
Blue replied, “Those crystal pulsators were immensely powerful. There was only one of them and it controlled the entire complex.”
“With respect, Captain Blue, there was only one that you saw,” she replied. “You said yourself that the Mysterons seemed to want you to find it and assume it was the main power source; but there was more than one structure, wasn’t there? What if every building had a crystal pulsator? They could have fragmented in the explosion, but it would mean that there was a vast amount of the crystal still here…”
“Shit…you’re right,” Blue hissed. “Piling that into one heap could make it far more powerful than even Scarlet imagines. Each fragment would magnify the power and reflect it through other fragments, making the pile massively more powerful than any number of larger, single crystals…”
“And there could be thousands - if not tens of thousands - of fragments…” Citrine whispered.
“We can’t let this happen; it’s too risky,” Blue said firmly. “The Mysterons may see it as a weapon for use against Earth. The fragments mustn’t be assembled together.”
“And how do you suggest we stop them?” Citrine asked, pointing to where Fraser and Scarlet had already started kicking the moon dust into small piles.
Blue hesitated a moment and then headed back to the communications array.
“Come on, Sue; we need to send a repeat message now…”
Blue entered instructions and sent the repeat transmission.
“What good will that do?” she asked, as he continued to input coding.
“I’ve rigged it so that the system won’t allow another message to be sent for several hours; if nothing else it buys us some time.”
“To do what?”
“To find out if Fraser is a Mysteron.”
She sighed. “And how do you propose we do that, Captain? He was a Mysteron – he admits it – so, like Scarlet, we can’t use a Mysteron detector on him.”
“I don’t know – yet – but I’m working on it, Lieutenant.”
Blue sounded rather distracted and she glanced up to see Scarlet bouncing towards them with giant strides.
“What’ve you done?” he demanded, as soon as he was in range.
“I’ve sent the next transmission,” Blue admitted.
“Fool! We wanted to boost the signal through a pyramid of crystals.” Scarlet landed between them, but his full attention focused on Blue. “How long until we can send another transmission?”
Blue shrugged. “You had the same briefing I did, Paul – so I’d say about three hours – minimum.”
“Who gave you permission to send it?” Scarlet snapped.
“I rather think Colonel White did,” Blue replied icily. “Look at the mission schedule.”
“He also made me Mission Commander and I did not give you permission to transmit-”
“You didn’t tell me not to,” Blue interjected. “You were so busy building moon-dust-sand-castles with Fraser you forgot the time. I was only trying to help...”
“How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t need your help? I know what I’m doing.”
“What are you doing, Paul? I don’t trust that man.”
“Just stop doing anything without my permission, Adam,” Scarlet growled. “This could be the breakthrough I’ve been looking for.”
“A breakthrough to what – the victory of the Mysterons?” Blue persisted. “If you pile those fragments together the signal could be boosted out of all reckoning – you think shouting at the Mysterons will make them more willing to negotiate?”
“The message we send won’t ask them to negotiate, it’ll be an ultimatum: call this war off or face extermination.”
“Leave that to me.” Scarlet turned away. “And leave everything else alone. I know what I’m doing!”
Blue and Citrine watched in dismay as Captain Scarlet yomped back to join Fraser.
“What do we do now?” she asked, on the private link.
“You heard him: we obey orders,” Blue replied.
Blue sighed but continued to watch his friend. “I may not trust Fraser, Lieutenant, but I trust Scarlet one hundred percent. Whatever he has planned he’ll be doing it with one aim in mind: to protect the Earth from the Mysterons, and even if it costs his life he won’t deviate from that.”
“And if the lives it costs are yours and mine?” she asked quietly.
Now he turned to look at her. “We’re expendable, Lieutenant. Every Spectrum officer knows and must accept the risks they face.”
Citrine’s dark eyes fell before his perceptive gaze. “I guess so, sir. It’s just that somehow you never imagine you’ll have to face those risks head on.”
He laid a gloved hand on her shoulder. “Trust me, it doesn’t get any easier however often it happens, but I can assure you that Captain Scarlet never takes risks with somebody else’s life.”
Fraser remained motionless watching Scarlet admonish the others and bounce his way back to join him beside the large pile of moon-dust and crystals they had already created. There was no expression on his face as the captain landed beside him and explained what Blue had done.
“It gives us time to make sure we have all the crystals,” he said calmly, as Scarlet’s obviously exasperated explanation came to an end.
“But every minute’s delay leaves the planet at risk of attack from the Mysterons,” Scarlet fumed.
Fraser nodded and then said, “I don’t think they’ll attack for now. They know we’re here and their attention will be focused on us; so it’s better we complete our preparations here and draw their fire.” He noticed that Scarlet was staring at him in surprise and added with a glimmer of uncertainty, “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Scarlet agreed after a moment’s pause, “Yeah, I’ve always thought so. I’d rather they targeted me than anyone else, whatever it cost.”
“Then let’s get on with it,” Fraser said. “There must be fragments scattered all over the crater rim. If we work our way round we’ll bring them to the surface easily enough. That should be enough to make a good start.”
“Hmm,” said Scarlet thoughtfully. “A good start…”
Fraser waved him off towards the right of the crater, while he started walking to the left, dragging his foot to rake the dust up as he had been doing for some time now.
Scarlet moved away, obediently dragging his foot as Fraser was doing, but once more his sense of certainty in the project was faltering. He couldn’t get a firm impression of Fraser and was still uneasy about his self-proclaimed goal of defeating the Mysterons. There were just too many imponderables for him to feel absolutely confident they were doing the right thing.
Doctor Fawn’s indefatigable – and infuriatingly incessant - research into his Mysteronisation and retrometabolism had provided few answers and more questions than Scarlet felt comfortable about contemplating. One of these questions concerned just how much his continued existence depended on the continued existence of the Mysterons and the ‘power’ they concentrated towards the Earth. There was no way of measuring this force, or harnessing it, but Fawn had once hypothesized that Scarlet’s retrometabolism was still supported by it and should that force dissipate, perhaps his invulnerability – or his very existence - would go with it?
Long hours, spent sharing low-alcohol beers with Captain Blue while they sat out sleepless nights, had been occupied by speculative discussions on the nature of all things Mysteron. Blue was still the only person Scarlet felt comfortable talking to about such things and the American was a good listener, so there were now very few of Scarlet’s secret fears he was not privy to.
Scarlet did not fear death – even a death that would prove to be his absolute ending – he’d been a soldier for most of his adult life and had long ago accepted that his chosen career contained more than a chance that he’d never make old bones. But he did fear that in some way the Mysterons might be able to use his death against his species and his home planet because he knew and accepted, as pragmatically as Blue did, that he played an important part in Spectrum’s success in preventing the Mysterons’ triumph – so far.
Spectrum was dedicated to protecting the Earth from these aliens and every officer was prepared to lay down their life in the course of a mission, if the sacrifice was necessary; but with Scarlet on the force, there was no need. They could take risks, cut corners, in the knowledge that their primary agent could be shipped back to Cloudbase, and be ready for duty again in a matter of hours. Nevertheless, not everyone felt comfortable about that and even Blue, who had witnessed most of Scarlet’s missions, would protest when his friend declared his intention of facing ‘certain death’ in order to defeat a Mysteron attack.
It was one of the American’s most endearing eccentricities, in his friend’s eyes.
Now the thought that they could be close to building a weapon that could potentially obliterate the Mysterons gave Scarlet pause for thought. There was still so much he wanted to do.
But I guess there’s never been a soldier who didn’t think that before a big battle… He kicked at a pile of dust and stubbed his toe against a hidden lump. Ruddy hell… He stomped on for a couple of paces and registered that the pain had vanished. Even for something as minor as a stubbed toe, that’s bloody quick…
He paused and looked across to where Fraser was diligently ploughing a track around the rim of the blast crater, then down at the ground where the crystal fragments glimmered back at him. He bent down and picked up one of the larger ones. It was throbbing; pulsating with a strength that surprised him; even through the thickness of his space glove he could feel a spot of intense heat. Fascinated and suddenly inspired, he slowly removed the glove and held the crystal in the palm of his hand.
Immediately his mind was filled with a terrifying awareness of the vast emptiness between this and millions of other galaxies and reaching out across that void he sensed an intelligence turning towards him: welcoming, curious… alien.
He dropped the fragment and put the glove back on, noting that the exposure had done no damage to his flesh. Sensing he was being watched, he saw that Fraser had stopped and was staring at him intently from the other side of the crater. He raised his gloved hand in salute. Slowly the other man did the same and resumed his laborious progress around the crater.
So that’s what he meant: ‘everything that is of the Mysterons is linked through them’. Everything about us is amplified and linked through the crystal pulsators: Mysteron reconstructions… communications…me… as if we’re one huge networked consciousness.
The potential implications of this discovery were immediately apparent to him and Scarlet turned his thoughts to inconsequential matters with alacrity. I hope Dianne and Seymour enjoyed the Opera. Tra-la! I hope they had a good time in London. Dianne needs a good break; she’s been getting too stressed lately. I hope Karen’s forgiven me and I hope my mother’s card and birthday present arrived on Cloudbase okay…. Maybe I should take her a moon rock – or at least a pebble – by way of a ‘sorry I couldn’t make it home for my birthday’ present? I wonder what tasteless goo there is for tea. Space rations never taste anything like it says it should on the packs. Boeuf Bourguignon, my arse… that muck was pureed corned beef and carrot with added monosodium-glutamate and about as appetising as baby food….
He was making his way back towards the Bucky-dome while he kept his mind full of these thoughts, although no clear plan of action suggested itself to him. As he approached, he saw the airlock open and Lieutenant Citrine emerge. She was occupied with the small box she was carrying and didn’t see him as she set off towards the communication array.
Scarlet continued on his way: Blue’s alone so that’ll make it easier to talk… I hope he isn’t going to make me eat humble pie…
A wave of nausea swept over him, making him catch his breath and close his eyes as beads of cold sweat dewed his skin. With the return of conscious thought, Scarlet had no doubt of its significance; that strong a sensation meant only one thing: Captain Black!
He opened the communicator of the suit radio. “S.I.R.! Alert! Blue, code Red!”
Distractedly, he registered Blue’s response as he scoured around for the familiar and despised figure of their erstwhile comrade, who was now the primary agent of the Mysterons’ terror attacks against the Earth. He saw Fraser bounding across the surface towards the communication array and glanced that way. Citrine, apparently unaware of his warning, was still tinkering with the transmitter and had her back to the figure of a man approaching her.
He was above average height, dark haired and pallid in complexion. Captain Black, unencumbered by the bulk of a space suit and dressed in the familiar black-leather jacket and orange roll-neck sweater, was moving purposefully towards the young woman.
“Citrine,” Scarlet yelled, launching himself into a bounding run.
“She’s turned her radio off, Paul,” Blue’s worried voice informed him over his headphones. “She thought you might order her to stop what she wanted to do, so if she couldn’t hear you, she wouldn’t be guilty of disobeying orders.”
“Bloody idiots, the pair of you!” Scarlet retorted angrily, as he increased his stride in an effort to get to Citrine before Black.
Just as Black reached out for the lieutenant, she straightened up and saw Fraser charging towards her. With a gasp, she stepped back, knocking into Captain Black and putting him off balance.
He grabbed her as he staggered and spun her round so that she saw her assailant and Scarlet was close enough to see her noiseless scream of surprise and fear. With commendable presence of mind, Citrine raised her hands to try to disengage Black’s hands from their grip on her, without success.
Black’s right hand moved up in an arc and his fist crashed down onto the Plexiglas visor that formed the front panel of the space helmet. The blow would have lifted Citrine off her feet except for the hold he had on her. He raised his fist and hit her again, a less effective blow this time as her struggles deflected the full impact. Angrily, Black struck again and again.
Scarlet launched himself forward, cannoning into the struggling couple and sending them both flying. He scrambled upright and threw himself on Black, who, taken by surprise, was slower in getting to his feet. They rolled over, raising a miniature storm of moon dust around them.
Scarlet struggled to get a firm grip on his opponent as Black made good use of his superior agility to avoid his grip and back away until he had room to swing a punch. The space suit did at least provide some protection from the fierce blow, but Scarlet knew he would be at an increasing disadvantage the longer the fight lasted.
He saw Citrine running towards him, intent on lending a hand and he tried to wave her away, but Black kicked out and his foot made contact with Scarlet’s raised arm, knocking him onto his back. Scarlet rolled with the impact and twisted onto his hands and knees, bracing himself for the inevitable follow-up kick to his torso.
It didn’t come. He glanced up to see Citrine launch herself at Black, slamming her helmet into his unprotected face. He thrust her away, sending her floating several feet before she was able to land. He wiped his hand across his face smearing the red blood trickling from his nose and lip. Fraser had arrived, but rather than attack Captain Black, he moved towards Scarlet, who was back on his feet and preparing to launch another attack.
“Back me up,” Scarlet ordered, “I’m going after him. He’s outnumbered.”
He didn’t wait for an answer but went towards Black, who was motionless, waiting for his adversary to reach him. The fight was a clumsy one, although fought with grim purpose on both sides: Scarlet was hampered by his space suit and Black seemed, curiously enough, to lack his usual killer instinct. They grappled, churning up dust and stumbling over rock and crystal fragments.
“Where’s that back-up?” Scarlet demanded urgently over his radio. The sweat was pouring off him for real now and even his superior endurance was starting to flag. “Adam? For pity’s sake get a move on!”
Citrine, who had switched her communicator back on, looked around for Captain Blue, but there was no sign of him.
“I can’t see Blue, Captain,” she announced in some confusion. “Let me help you…”
“No! Keep away, Citrine,” Scarlet snapped. He dodged a blow from Black and moved closer to his adversary to close down his opportunities to attack. “Go and fetch Blue,” he ordered, realising that would take her out of the combat zone.
“S.I.G.,” she replied briskly.
Scarlet turned his full attention back to Black and the need to take him ‘alive’ – for want of a better word, but moments later, he was distracted by an ear-piercing scream coming over his radio.
Fraser was attacking Citrine and it was clear even from this distance that he was trying to remove her helmet.
Scarlet roared in anger and given fresh stamina from the all-too obvious danger to his colleague, pushed Black so hard that he stumbled and fell. Scarlet ignored him and rushed to Citrine’s assistance. As he approached, he felt the strange overwhelming awareness he’d experienced when he held the crystal; he fought the sensation and struggled to concentrate on saving the young woman.
TOO LATE, CAPTAIN SCARLET.
He had no idea where the voice came from or if anyone else heard it, but it froze the blood in his veins.
“Leave her alone, you bastards,” he hissed.
He could see Citrine wrestling with Fraser as she fought for her life, hear her sobbing breaths as she gasped in fear. Then he saw Fraser’s hand holding something that glimmered in the perpetual twilight, come down on the face panel that Black’s assault had weakened. As he smashed the crystal into it, a spidery crack spread over the toughened glass.
One more slap and the panel crazed.
“No!” In desperation, Scarlet threw himself forward.
As he reached Fraser and grabbed him by the shoulder, he felt a violent shudder convulse the man’s body. A violent pain in his hand made him let go and he watched as Fraser crumpled to the ground, twitching and writhing.
Scarlet looked up from the distasteful sight to see Blue, an electron rifle strapped over his space suit and a ferocious expression on his normally affable face.
“Where did you get that?” Scarlet gasped in amazement, shaking his hand to dull the pain of the electric bolt.
“It’s Plan B,” Blue replied briefly, bending down to where Citrine lay unconscious on the ground. “Paul, this helmet’s cracked: she’ll suffocate. We have to get her back to the Bucky-dome and fast.”
“Give me the electron rifle.”
“No,” Blue said curtly, as he slung the rifle over his shoulder and picked up the young woman.
“You heard me. I’m taking her back to the Bucky-dome.”
“Sure; I think that’s the best idea, but leave me the rifle. I’m going to go after Black; I almost had him, Adam.” When Blue showed no sign of complying, Scarlet snapped: “And that’s an order.”
Blue still ignored him and started back towards the dome as fast as he could go.
“What about Black?” Scarlet yelled after him.
“What about him, Paul? Forget it, I’m not going to fall for that – there’s no one else here.”
Scarlet spun round to where Black had been sprawled on the ground and stared open-mouthed: his enemy had vanished.
“Damn you, Conrad, you fucking bastard! Come back and face me – or are you really just the snivelling coward I always took you for?” he yelled in frustration.
There was no answer.
Back inside the Bucky-dome Blue lay Citrine down on one of the camp beds and loosened the damaged helmet carefully. Her skin looked pale and clammy and her lips had the blueish tinge associated with shortness of oxygen. They had some first aid equipment but Blue wasn’t sure what was the best thing to do; he could feel a faint pulse in her neck and so discounted the need for a ‘kiss of life’, then he remembered that amongst the auxiliary equipment they had some oxygen masks. As quick as the thought occurred, he was busy attaching a mask to one of the oxygen tanks. He placed it over Citrine’s nose and mouth and opened the valve.
“Come on, Susan; there’s a girl! Breathe it in… come on… in, out… in…good… good.”
He slipped the straps around her ears and stood up to remove his own helmet and slide the electron rifle straps from his shoulders, dropping the weapon on the nearest camp bed. Then he fetched a bottle of water and broke open the seal, leaving it by her side, in case it was needed. He could see that the blueish tinge was fading from her lips, but she was still unconscious. He slipped her gloves off and held one of the absurdly small hands between his palms, as if he could transfer some of his own strength into her slight frame by a process of osmosis.
“How touching,” Scarlet said scathingly, making Blue jump as he’d been so preoccupied he hadn’t heard the airlock open. “Be sure you don’t let Karen know how friendly you two’ve become.”
“Can it, Paul. She’s unconscious and I don’t know how much, if any, damage has been done.” He placed her hand back on the bed with gentle precision and turned to his field partner. “What the hell happened out there? How could you let Fraser attack her?”
“I told you - I was fighting Captain Black.”
“No one mentioned Black,” Blue replied sharply. “You called S.I.R. and I responded, but I had no idea what had happened. When I got there, Fraser was attacking Citrine and you were yards away. She’s not an experienced field officer – you should have been watching her back!”
“Captain Black was there! He attacked her before Fraser got anywhere near us and I got him off her. I wanted help with Black; I had no idea Fraser was going to turn on her! I thought he was going to help her.”
“I never saw any sign of Black and no one mentioned him over the radio,” Blue reiterated, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. “His presence is the kind of thing I imagine you would mention.”
“I did – I said I was going after him.”
“And I immediately thought you meant Fraser,” Blue replied brusquely. “Who was I supposed to think you meant, when after all, there were only four of us here?”
“Where did you get that electron rifle from and what the fuck is ‘Plan B’ when it’s at home?” Scarlet challenged in return, annoyed at being interrogated as if he was to blame for Citrine’s condition. There was no immediate answer and when he glanced interrogatively at his friend, Scarlet recognised the onset of the well-known Svenson stubbornness in Blue’s pursed lips.
“I am the Mission Commander and I ought to be told about everything that’s brought on the mission, but I’m damn sure there’s no mention of an electron rifle in the manifesto,” he continued. “What else have you got stowed away that I don’t know about, Captain?”
“But you admit I wasn’t told that was amongst the equipment?”
“It’s there and if you ever read the paperwork properly you’d have known about it.”
“I signed off the equipment manifesto – after I’d read it – and there was nothing about an electron rifle.”
“And the medical manifesto, did you read that?” Blue challenged.
“Medical? Since when has a Mysteron gun been medical equipment?”
“Since we were going to be sent to an area littered with a large amount of Mysteron crystals, under orders to jump up and down waving our hands in the air while shouting ‘yoo-hoo, here we are’,” Blue snapped furiously.
“Does the colonel know you have it?” Scarlet demanded.
“He can’t alter a mission’s medical equipment,” Blue hedged.
“So, he doesn’t and you got Fawn to authorise it behind his back, I take it?”
“I didn’t have to ‘get’ him to do anything. He insisted.”
“Why?” Scarlet looked at his friend in genuine bewilderment. “As far as Fawn knew there would only be you and me here.” Even as he said it an explanation occurred to him. “Oh… and he thought I might be a danger to you – right?”
“You’ve said yourself, we can never second guess the Mysterons,” Blue reasoned, trying to defend Fawn from Scarlet’s obvious ire.
“He doesn’t know me very well then, does he? For all that he’s forever telling me that I’m not a Mysteron…” He bit his bottom lip, hurt more than he cared to admit by this evidence of his closest friends’ lack of trust in him. “...he can’t bring himself to trust me.”
“He has to cover all eventualities,” Blue placated him. “I don’t think he really thought it would be necessary to use it, but if – I said if, Paul – if anything happened and I died because I’d nothing to defend myself with, he’d have to live with that. So, I guess he was just hedging his bets.”
“Yeah, blame the alien. Never trust Scarlet, he’s not one of us.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake: stop feeling so sorry for yourself. What if the Mysterons had killed and retrometabolised me, and you needed something to get rid of me with?”
“But I didn’t know it was there!” Scarlet snarled.
Angrily Blue reached for the mission log, tapped a key and shoved the small computer into Scarlet’s hand. “Look for yourself! About halfway down the list there’s an entry for one electron gun. See? And whose code-sign has signed it off? The Mission Commander: Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet almost threw it back at him. “All right, so I signed off the medical equipment! I still didn’t know where the gun was.”
“Had you checked the medical chest?” Blue closed down the log and drew a hand over his haggard face. “I don’t know what’s wrong, Paul, but you’re not acting like your usual self. You’ve been moody for weeks; so prickly and acerbic that everyone’s too frightened to say a word in case you bite their head off; but this is more than that, much more. Something here is affecting you and it frightens me, even if it doesn’t you.”
Scarlet said nothing, believing that his deductions about the possible effect of the crystals would not improve matters. His normally pale face was tinged with colour due to his heightened emotions and his lower lip was thrust out petulantly. “You could have killed me too, firing the electron rifle while I was that close to Fraser,” he accused, changing the subject.
“Now who’s got no trust?” Blue said wearily, as he sat on the edge of the other camp bed. “I have an A-star marksman rating and a steady hand. The only way you’d have got hit was if you’d jumped in front of the beam.”
There was a prolonged silence: Blue sat with his head in his hands while Scarlet shifted from foot to foot, chewing on his bottom lip and sighing occasionally.
“Fraser’s dead,” he said eventually.
“So I should frigging well hope,” Blue muttered indistinctly in response.
“But Black is still out there somewhere,” Scarlet continued, as if he hadn’t heard.
Blue looked up; his eyes were red and there was a tear-track down one cheek. “If you say so,” he replied, wiping a hand across his face again. “Right now I’m too tired to care even if a fleet of flying saucers was bearing down on us.”
Scarlet recognised the truth in that. “Get some rest, Adam. I’ll watch Citrine,” he said.
“Make sure you do; I don’t know how badly she’s hurt, Paul. I should’ve taken more care of her but all I did was blame you for her being at risk.”
“She’s a Spectrum Agent; she wouldn’t have thanked you for mollycoddling her. She did well,” Scarlet assured him.
“Yeah, she did. Blue said, even as he stretched out on the camp bed. “There is definitely something going on here… We shouldn’t go out there alone – any of us. Wake me if you plan to go outside.”
“S.I.G., Captain. Don’t fret about it. All three of us are going to come through this – I promise you. Right now, you should try and get some sleep while you can…” Scarlet said, although by the time he got to the end of his sentence Blue was already asleep.
Patience was not one of Captain Scarlet’s most notable virtues, but for once he sat out the hours until the alarm for the next transmission check sounded without leaving the Bucky-dome, as he’d said he would. Blue stirred in his sleep at the shrill alarm, but he did not wake. Citrine was breathing regularly, her colour returned to normal but with no sign of re-awakened consciousness.
Scarlet silenced the alarm and started to suit up ready to leave the dome. He half-hoped Blue would wake up on his own but the American remained sound asleep. Reluctantly, Scarlet shook his shoulder:
“Adam, wake up…” he whispered.
“Hmmn, K’r’n? Nnnno.” Blue moaned and turned over.
“I’ll take that to mean ‘bugger off and leave me alone, you sadistic bastard’ then, shall I?” Scarlet said, amused. “I’m going out to check for a response and send the next transmission, Captain. Join me if you want to.”
Smiling, he put his helmet on and entered the airlock.
Fraser’s body lay where he had left it, but there was no sign that Captain Black had ever been present. Scarlet frowned, wondering if, by some alien contrivance he had imagined the whole fight with Black. The remarkable insight he had gained while holding the crystal shard in his hand might well have given him the hallucination, such was the strength of its power over his perceptions.
Pushing such reflections to the back of his mind, he went through the routine procedures to transmit the Earth’s peace message.
Maybe Blue’s right and we’re just annoying them like irritating hooligans forever knocking on their door and running away?
He no longer hoped the Mysterons would respond in kind, in fact, he was more certain than ever that all they’d do was try to use the array to put the planet in danger. He looked across the blast crater at the heaps Fraser had created in his effort to gather the crystals together. There was one close to the transmitter, one across the crater and the one he had made: they lay like three points of a triangle around the rim. Slowly he walked to the edge and leant forward to peer down into the dark interior of the crater left by the nuclear blast.
I wonder if there’s a concentration of crystals down there. I could look on the distribution map the survey plotted, that ought to show if there is, although what it might prove if there are crystals down there is beyond me. That’s the sort of puzzle I generally leave for Adam to solve.
He straightened up and was intending to go back inside when he felt two hands plant themselves firmly in the small of his back and push – hard.
Flailing his arms in a fruitless effort to keep his balance, Scarlet slithered forward and down into the darkness, followed by an avalanche of moon-dust that completely buried him.
Captain Blue gradually became aware of the nagging need to empty his bladder. He ignored it for as long as he could, but he knew there was no hope of sleeping again until he’d dealt with the problem. Grudgingly, he half-opened one eye and kick-started his dream-heavy mind and reluctant body into action.
It was only when he ambled back towards the inviting warmth of his camp bed that he realised Captain Scarlet wasn’t in the dome. He glanced at the chronometer and realised just how long he’d slept. The next transmission was two hours overdue, but the alarm had not gone off. Blue sighed at the realisation that Scarlet must have gone out alone without resetting the alarm and was probably still outside – which meant that no one had been keeping an eye on Citrine for some time.
“Paul?” he called angrily, just in case his friend was somewhere in the Bucky-dome after all.
There was no answer.
With more purpose in his movement now, he walked to where Citrine still lay on the other camp bed. He laid the back of his hand against the exposed flesh of her hand and drew back as if scalded, although it was not heat that startled him - she was stone cold.
He observed her closely for a minute or so, but saw no movement of her chest and could find no flutter of a pulse when he searched.
Gently, he removed the oxygen mask from her white face and turned the valve off.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry, Sue, it wasn’t supposed to end like this,” he murmured sadly, drawing the sheet over her face. “And now I find myself facing an all too familiar conundrum: what the hell does Captain Scarlet think he’s doing?”
Despite his anger and his determination to have Scarlet’s apparent neglect of Lieutenant Citrine out with his friend, Blue took the time to prepare and eat one of the pre-packaged space rations, although the food was so bland he had to re-read the label to make sure he was hadn’t misread the recipe and had picked up the right one. He drank a bottle of water, partly to remove the after-taste of the food and then suited up to leave the dome.
Outside the landscape was as bleak as ever. There was no sign of Scarlet or anyone else. Nothing moved except one blinking red light on the communications array. But one thing was glaringly obvious: Fraser’s body had vanished.
Of course, it’s possible that Scarlet’s taken it to dispose of away from the camp. In which case, he’ll have left a message before he set off. There’s nothing obvious in the dome, so… let’s try the communication array.
Blue stomped over and glanced at the settings. The last scheduled transmission had not been sent, but an intermediate message had been sent at the time of the second transmission check which meant that Scarlet, wherever he was now, had not been at the array for at least six hours – possibly longer.
He switched on his space-suit radio and set it to the widest range.
“Captain Scarlet, can you hear me? Come in, Captain Scarlet.” He waited, hearing nothing but the background static of the suit and his own quickening breath. “Scarlet? Come in, Scarlet. Paul!”
All the response he got was another lengthy silence, so profound it was almost deafening in its intensity.
Cursing, Blue tapped in the key codes and sent the delayed transmission, although he considered the exercise futile.
As the red light on the control panel blinked in the gloom indicating the message was transmitting, Blue surveyed the bleakness around him and felt a shiver of revulsion. Ever since they’d arrived in Crater 101 he’d concluded that his one-time childhood ambition to be an astronaut must have been an aberration. He’d always loved flying and he knew he was good at it – the best, although he never pressed the fact in company – but he didn’t feel comfortable away from the ethereal blue of the Earth’s open skies.
The blackness that surrounded him, the dull grey of the planetoid beneath his feet and the emptiness of the surroundings made this place feel hostile and depressing. The Bucky-dome and the communication relay were the only things in sight, with the exception of the circular blast crater and the jagged edges of exposed rock. He had never felt so alone and vulnerable. There wasn’t even the comfort of communicating with Cloudbase or the Lunarville bases situated over the curving horizon.
Blue had seen the Earth’s horizon curving beneath him countless times, seen the sun-gilded brilliance of the clouds and the haze of the troposphere and loved every second of it. This horizon simply installed a sense of foreboding in him.
He turned away from contemplating the inhospitable view and looked back towards the Bucky-dome, taking a reluctant decision to return and make what peace he could with Scarlet when the wanderer returned. The mission was the important thing here – not his anger or his frustration at his friend’s inability to consider the needs of others less hardy then himself.
He started to walk.
“I never thought that when I’d see you again, it would be here.”
Blue froze at the sound of the well-known voice. He tapped the sides of the helmet of his space suit with his gloved hands, in disbelief.
“You’re cracking up, Svenson,” he muttered to himself. “This place really is getting to you.”
“Aren’t you even going to say hello?”
Frowning, Blue started to turn around, perturbed at what he might see, yet – perhaps – more uneasy at what he might not see.
There was a figure standing some yards away: an elderly, slender man with straight hair of a distinguished silver-grey, and piercing grey-blue eyes in a square-jawed, handsome, yet austere, face. He was not wearing a space suit; he was dressed in an immaculately tailored business suit, a crisp white shirt and dark tie. He looked as if he had just walked out of a boardroom.
“No,” Blue whispered in horror. “Not you, please God, they haven’t got to you.”
The man approached, apparently unconcerned that he was walking on the moon without a spacesuit. He glanced into the younger man’s face and smiled, one fair eyebrow raised interrogatively as he waited for an answer to his question.
Blue’s heart almost failed him. He knew that smile, he knew that man – he thought about him almost every day…
“Hello, Grandpa …”
“Hello, Adam. What’re you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Blue replied in confusion, unsure how this conversation was even taking place.
Stefan Svenson shrugged. He looked around the lunar landscape and said conversationally, “I think I preferred this place when everyone thought of it as something mystical rather than as a lump of dusty rock. They should never have started building on it, it feels almost sacrilegious; don’t you agree? Queen and huntress, chaste and fair, seated in thy silver chair, Hesperus entreats thy light, thou that makes a day of night… something-something… dum-de-dum. Oh, how does it go?
Blue responded automatically: “’Cynthia's shining orb was made, Heaven to clear when day did close. Bless us then with wished sight, Goddess excellently bright’. It’s the Hymn from ‘Cynthia’s Revels’ by Ben Jonson,” he concluded.
“Goddess, excellently bright – that’s it. I always liked that image. I see you haven’t lost the knack of identifying an apt quote then?”
Unable to smother his smirk of amusement at the remark, Blue replied, “No; and it still annoys people.”
Stefan chuckled in response and after a moment’s pause asked, “So, what are you doing here, Adam?”
“Don’t tell me SvenCorp’s trying to buy the Moon?”
“I’m not working for SvenCorp. I never have.”
“Ah, is that so? Do you see much of your father?”
“He’ll be disappointed. He never accepts losing easily.”
“Nor do I.”
“True; you have that much in common, at least.” Stefan came a few paces closer. “And your mother?”
“We keep in touch. She, at least, is prepared to listen.”
“Sarah Ellis is a clever woman. You were born with the best of the genes from both sides of the family, Adam.”
“What are you doing here?” Blue asked again.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t anywhere much and then suddenly, I was here. I think I’m dead… or I would be if I wasn’t walking about and talking to you, like this.”
“You died some years ago,” Blue confirmed. “In a motor accident.”
“Oh. Well, I hope it was quick. Did you go to the funeral?” Stefan raised his eyebrow again and tilted his head interrogatively in a way that tore Blue’s heartstrings with its familiarity.
“Yes…” he managed to whisper.
“Was it a ‘good’ one?”
“No – I hated every minute of it.”
Stefan gave him a consoling glance. “Well, maybe good wasn’t the right word, under the circumstances. Was it ‘corporate’? I‘d be surprised if your father didn’t make what capital he could from it.”
“It was very well attended and not just by the people who thought they ought to go. A great many were there who wanted to celebrate all that you stood for. But it was… pompous and not really like you at all. My father and Grandma fell out about it afterwards. She moved back to Norway. I see her when I can.”
“Oh dear; you’d think your father would have known his mother well enough to know she wouldn’t appreciate that. I suppose Karin left John in no doubt of why she was going, before she went?”
“Hmm,” Blue agreed, with a nod.
The conversation was beginning to lose its incongruity and descend into the mundane as Stefan continued to ask about the family and issues that interested him until Blue had to remind himself that he was on the Moon, talking to his long-dead grandfather and not just catching up after an extended absence for some less mortal reason. There was only one explanation for this indisputably bizarre situation: Stefan Svenson had been Mysteronised.
“Why are you here?” he asked, then after a pause when Stefan did not reply, he rephrased his question: “Why have they sent you?”
“They?” Stefan sounded genuinely confused.
“I don’t believe the Mysterons sent you here just to make small talk, Stefan, but I do believe they sent you.”
Stefan gave a disparaging laugh and a vacuity settled on his features. When he spoke again, the voice had a deeper, almost hollow tone that reminded Blue of the Mysteronised voice of Conrad Turner. “No, you’re too intelligent to fall for that, aren’t you?”
Blue returned his grandfather’s penetrating stare without flinching.
Stefan continued in a tone that suggested he was reading a character analysis: “Adam John Svenson, now also known as Captain Blue of Spectrum: a man so secure in the confidence of his own intelligence and ability to be rational and logical about everything that it has become a weakness in him. Always that little bit afraid to let his emotions lead, wary of following hunches and never totally open to anyone or anything. Isolated from his friends and his family by a fear of the harm genuine emotions may cause.”
Blue responded sharply, “I try to keep my head when all about me are losing theirs. Kipling, in case you were wondering,” he added condescendingly.
Stefan shrugged and continued:
“What you mean is that to protect yourself you ignore what your instincts and emotions are telling you to do – usually what needs to be done! Better that humanity perishes than Adam Svenson be asked to act outside of his precious comfort zone. Look at yourself: you refused to sully your high-minded principles by working for your family, broke your father’s heart – and your mother’s; sowed distrust and unhappiness amongst the people you claimed to love and cherish, rather than bend a little. You hunted down and destroyed the man you felt responsible for murdering your fiancée, you stood up to the authority of the organisation you worked for and did as you saw fit. Your father regained some of the pride he’d lost in you, for that. Yet, then you joined Spectrum and now blindly follow orders like an automaton. How does it feel, surrendering your self-determination to the whims of strangers rather than to your own flesh and blood? Does it provide you with a get-out clause: ‘I was only following orders’ – the excuse of every war criminal from every age? And what horror have you unleashed by doing so?”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” Blue muttered angrily.
“I shouldn’t have to tell you,” Stefan snapped and, despite himself, Blue felt the familiar dismay at having annoyed his grandfather. Stefan continued, “You should use that superior intelligence to work it out for yourself, Adam Svenson. Oh – but of course, you have! You just refuse to acknowledge what your mind knows is fact: that Scarlet is a threat to humanity. He’s a hybrid and a misfit, something that should never have existed. The Mysterons don’t trust him and humanity can’t – nor should it! You created him as he is – he is your responsibility and you will leave the world at his mercy when you die.”
“I trust him; more than he trusts himself.”
“Maybe he is the wiser man? Ever thought of that, Adam?”
“Frequently. But I won’t bandy words about Scarlet with the Mysterons – even if they come to me in the shape of my grandfather.”
Stefan shrugged. “Would you rather it was someone else?”
“Almost anyone else, but that’s an irrelevance; you’re here now.”
“Very well. Take my advice: work with me and all will be well, Adam. The human race is doomed if you don’t.”
This answer made Blue weigh up the possibility that this apparition was the Mysterons’ response to the offer of a peace treaty. However disconcerting it felt, he realised he had a duty to pursue the opening and discover what terms they might be offering.
“We came here to send a message to the Mysterons asking for a negotiated peace, but a peace between equals and with honour, not a surrender. What happened on Mars was deplorable and no right-thinking human would dispute that, but it was the action of one man – one individual – and not that of the whole human race. Nevertheless, in retaliation you threaten all life on our planet. We’ve tried to make you understand that we accept that the man responsible for the attack on your settlement was misguided and wrong. Personally, I believe, he must have been afraid of what he saw happening, because he was not a warlike man – I knew him. Now it seems that maybe his fears were justified, if the Mysterons’ disproportionate retaliation is anything to judge by.”
Stefan responded, “Look at what happened from the other point of view: an Earthman attacked the Mysterons without reason and, in consequence, they do not believe they are safe while there is any life on your warlike planet. You could show them there is honour amongst mankind. Prove that the Earth is no threat and they will spare it.”
“How would I do that?”
Stefan continued: “They would need proof of your goodwill, Adam. This has gone beyond the capacity of fine words to resolve.”
“What kind of proof?” Blue exclaimed.
There was a pause before Stefan replied, “Give them Scarlet and they will give you your world.”
Blue gave a derisive snort. “So that’s it? You present me with someone you believe I can’t argue with and try to convince me that surrendering Scarlet would save the Earth and all I hold dear. How very Machiavellian – how very human – of you.”
“Not just the world as you know it now, but another Eden. No one need ever die again. You can have anything you want: I could come back. They could send me back. They could send Soraya back… You’d only have to ask. Consider it, Adam, for your own sake.”
There was a pause, which for Blue seemed to last a lifetime, but was merely a fraction of a second in the fabric of the universe. Then he drew a deep sigh.
“Let the dead lie. I loved my grandfather – he made me what I am, faults and all – but there’s no way back for him, just as there is no way back for Soraya or even for Paul Metcalfe. You can’t turn back the clock; a world full of Mysteronised people is not an Eden, but a Hell. Scarlet is what he is – if the Mysterons couldn’t prevent it happening and can’t stop it continuing, then his fate truly is in the lap of the Gods.”
“Then like another Frankenstein’s Monster he will spend an eternity alone and unloved! Can you live with that guilt?”
Blue gave a sad smile. “I’m well-versed at living with guilt – which you’d know, if you really were Stefan.”
“I could be Stefan – you would never know the difference.”
“I’d know,” Blue said vehemently. “Let’s be honest: you were sent to me to negotiate along the lines of: surrender our greatest asset in the fight against your malevolence and you’ll deliver peace by turning our planet into a Mysteronised Hell.” He shook his head. “You want me to turn against my world? All that shows is that you don’t know me at all.”
“What is one man’s fate against the fate of billions?”
“Without that one man the Mysterons would have too great an advantage and the fate of the billions of others becomes far more perilous. The Mysterons fear Captain Scarlet – I don’t know why – but the simple fact that they do means he is too valuable to surrender. If this is all the Mysterons have to offer, we have nothing more to talk about.”
Stefan inclined his head sadly. “I can offer nothing more and by offering as much as I have I have exceeded my instructions.”
“I’m sorry you have wasted your time then. I’m going back to my camp; if you follow me, I will be forced to kill you. I’d rather not have to do it, but I will.”
“I will not follow you. You have made your choice and condemned our two races to perpetual hostility.”
With those apocalyptic words ringing in his ears, Blue turned and started the walk back to the Bucky-dome. It was the loneliest walk he had ever had to make, and every step of the way he had to fight to ignore the urge to glance back. He sensed Stefan watching him and although he didn’t feel comfortable leaving a Mysteron that close to the communications array, without Scarlet or Citrine to call on, he had little choice. He also knew that if he’d stayed talking much longer he risked being won over by his memories of the man who was now nothing more than a Mysteron agent. Tearing himself away under those circumstances would’ve been a near impossibility.
He decided to rig up a surveillance camera to monitor Stefan’s activity around the array from the safety of the Bucky-dome, as well as keep an eye open for Captain Scarlet’s return.
As he took off his helmet and his gloves and stepped into the living quarters he was preoccupied with his thoughts and consequently it was some moments before the full horror of the sight that met his eyes impressed itself on him: Citrine’s body had disappeared. Instinctively he looked across to the camp beds –
The electron rifle was gone.
Blue searched the dome thoroughly without success before he sealed every entrance in a security lock-down and set about rigging up a CCTV camera. He was a capable technician, but this task was about at the limit of his expertise and took some time and a lot of concentration. The picture he got was clear enough, but devoid of interest – there were no figures in the landscape.
He made himself a hot drink – coffee so featureless it made the stuff he usually made taste good - and sat in front of his new screen to consider what to do next.
With Captain Scarlet missing, Lieutenant Citrine dead – and presumed Mysteronised – Mysteron agents in the guise of his own grandfather and Fraser on the loose, as well as, quite possibly, Captain Black to contend with, he considered the odds against his own survival until the expected arrival of the Freighter to be very slight. He had already conceded the likelihood that it wouldn’t be possible for him to transmit any more the messages to Mars.
He racked his brains for any way he might be able to contact the Lunarville settlements for help, but there weren’t even any distress flares in the equipment, not that he’d expect anyone to see them.
He stared disconsolately at the screen for what seemed like an age and gradually realised that he could see a small satellite flying in a low orbit overhead; it might even be one the same geological survey machines that had originally mapped the area. He wondered if there was any way to send a message through that, but doubted anyone was monitoring it any longer.
I can’t sit here like this forever, just waiting for them to come and get me, or let the freighter fly into a trap. I have to try and do something and find Scarlet. I don’t believe he’d walk out on the mission, or me; if he’s not here it’s because someone – or something - is preventing him.
He tipped the rest of his drink away and recorded a log entry on the mission computer, explaining what he thought had happened and what he intended to do next. If no one survived, at least the search parties would have an account as to why. He decided against including any personal messages, self-consciously aware that nothing sounded so melodramatic as a valediction to your loved ones when you were still there to hear it.
Then he suited up to go outside.
“We should arrive back in Space City in about another three hours. I’m sure looking forward to some leave. This tour has been a tough one.”
Professor Matthew Matic glanced up from the monitor on his desk and nodded. “Sure has, Steve,” he said.
“You got anything planned, Matt?” Colonel Steve Zodiac asked.
“Oh, I thought I might attend a scientific conference they’re holding in Futura City. It looked kinda interesting.”
“Call that ‘leave’? I sure don’t.”
Matic ignored him and asked, as he knew he was expected to: “What’re you planning to do, Steve?”
“I’m going to relax: hit the beach, go for a drive in my car, take in a movie, maybe, and have a few beers.”
“Venus going to the movie too?” Matic asked, without looking up.
Zodiac smirked. “Maybe I’ll ask her – as long as she doesn’t want to go and see some chick-flick weepy.”
“I can’t see her wanting to watch some gung-ho action picture,” Matic warned. “You might have to compromise, Steve.”
“We’ll see,” the younger man replied non-commitally. “She’s not the only female I know, Matt.”
“Sure, Steve,” Matic agreed, adding to himself, “but she’s the only one that matters…”
“I think I’ll wander down to the lounge and see if there’s a coffee on the go. There’s plenty of time before I need to go back to the bridge and bring us in; Robert can cope alone for now. You want to come?”
“No, thanks, Steve. I want to finish mapping that system we explored, so I can upload it as soon as we land and get away in time to attend the conference.”
“Shall I bring you a cup on my way back to the bridge?”
“Thanks, Steve. That’d be great,” Matic replied distractedly, and, as he left the Lab, Zodiac wondered if the professor really knew what he’d been asked.
Fireball XL5 was on its final approach to Earth through the inner solar system, when Matic finally completed as much of the work as he could do without additional equipment or expert assistance. He saved and closed the datafile, adding it to the rocket performance data and crew log files that formed the queue of automatic downloads to Space City’s databanks. With luck it would be available for him to transfer to his portable computer before he had to leave for Futura, so that he could discuss it with his professional colleagues at the conference.
He switched his monitor to scan and saw that they had already flown past Mars – at the prescribed distance insisted on by Spectrum – and were approaching the Moon. The information from the Space City’s traffic control showed that their approach was to take them round to the far side, swinging out towards Venus to approach the Earth from the Sun.
Despite his vast knowledge and the experience of other star systems and the planets they had encountered, Matic retained an abiding interest in his home sector and he recalled that some months ago he’d learned that there had been a controlled low-grade nuclear explosion conducted on the far side of the Moon. He’d not seen any data of the consequences of that controversial explosion and so he decided to scan the surface as Fireball passed by, so that he could compare the present landscape with the data he had from before the explosion.
He switched on Fireball’s powerful cameras and watched his monitor as the giant rocket drew steadily closer to the Moon. They had almost cleared the planetoid before something out of the ordinary caught his eye. A deep circular crater scarred the surface where he was sure there hadn’t been one before. It was almost certainly the result of the blast. He increased the magnification of the cameras and saw strange jagged lines in the dust around the lip of the crater.
“Now what could that be?” he muttered, punching open his radio link to the bridge.
“Hello Matt, we’re almost home,” Zodiac greeted him.
“Steve, can you slow down? The cameras have picked up something unusual on the lunar surface. I want to investigate a bit more.”
“Well, sure, Matt, but I hope it won’t take long?”
“No, it shouldn’t.”
Matic focussed all the cameras on the area and split his monitor screen to show live footage from each of the four.
“Well, I’ll be…” He pushed the radio. “Steve, we have an emergency.”
“What? Can’t you be more specific?”
“Someone has written SOS in the moon dust near where a low-grade nuclear device was exploded about a year ago. My guess is that someone needs a lift home.”
“Matt, that message could have been there for months!”
“Maybe, but there’s habitation pods close by and it so happens that I think I can see someone, or something, moving about, so my guess is we’re the first to see it.”
Zodiac sighed. “I guess the movie’ll wait a while. Prepare to go into orbit; I’ll take Fireball Junior down and investigate.”
“Be careful, Steve, there’s a higher than usual reading for localised background radiation.”
“Okay, Matt. Good job Venus makes sure my anti-radiation shots are up to date.”
Zodiac took the nosecone landing pod, known as Fireball Junior, down to the surface some distance from the area Matic had identified as Crater 101. He found it hard to believe that whoever was leaving SOS messages in the Moon dust was there without the knowledge of the authorities and the fact that no one seemed to be undertaking a rescue, put him on his guard.
“There might be some sort of transmitter between the domes and the crater, Steve,” Matic reported, while his commander was preparing to leave Fireball Junior.
“What do you mean, there might be a transmitter? Either there is or there isn’t something there,” Zodiac complained.
“I mean there is something there and it might be a transmitter,” Matic explained.
“If they have a transmitter why don’t they call for help?”
“Must be out of commission,” Matic reasoned. “I can’t raise them on the open global channels, Steve.”
“Check with Space City to see if they know anything about it,” Zodiac ordered. “If some commercial enterprise is out there they should have registered their licence. If it is the Bereznians, we’ll need orders about what we do. I don’t want to start an international incident this close to my leave; there’ll be such a fuss I’d never get to see that movie.”
Zodiac swallowed an oxygen pill while he waited for the airlock to open and steered his Jetmobile out of the landing pod.
“Where did you say you saw someone moving about?” he asked Matic, as he descended towards the surface.
Matic gave him the co-ordinates and moments later come back on the radio.
“Steve, Commander Zero says the camp is Spectrum’s. They have a mission in the crater. There should be three of them there: Captains Blue and Scarlet and Lieutenant Citrine. The area’s out of bounds for all other personnel while this is ongoing.”
“Right, Matt; but my guess is Spectrum’s in trouble – why else the SOS? Better get Zero to let them know we’re going to investigate. If they tell us to scram, nothing would give me greater pleasure… but I’m not going until I know those guys are okay.”
“Sure thing, Steve.”
“Oh, and Matt, you better alert Venus that we might have incoming wounded… although I sure hope it’s nothing like that.”
He reached the edge of the crater without seeing anyone on the surface and carefully approached the communication array. A single red light blinked balefully into the gloomy twilight, but there was no sign that it was active. Zodiac dismounted from his Jetmobile and studied the controls before pressing one button. A small screen lit up showing that the last transmission had been made some 12 hours ago.
He stared around but apart from a jumble of footprints around the site there was no indication that any living thing was present.
“Hello?” he called, just in case someone was hiding. “Need any help?”
After a pause he got back on his bike and reported his findings to Fireball adding that he was going to the domes.
“I reckon if anyone’s here that’s where they’ll be,” he added. “There’s nothing to keep them out on the surface.”
As he approached the domes, he could see the glimmer of light inside and took that as a good sign, nevertheless, he made sure his pistol was primed and ready, if necessary. There was no reason why a Spectrum agent should be hostile to a member of the World Space Patrol, but they were an anti-terrorist squad, so presumably they were used to facing enemies in all sorts of disguises and they probably weren’t expecting visitors. If for some reason they had been attacked badly enough to result in their appeal for help, they might think he was one of their enemy’s men come to finish the job.
The other, far more mundane, problem was that Bucky-domes didn’t come with doorbells.
Zodiac left the Jetmobile a handy distance from the dome and approached on foot. He could see surveillance cameras on the top but had no idea where they were pointed. Nevertheless, he waved and called out:
“World Space Patrol, Colonel Steve Zodiac of Fireball XL5: we saw your SOS and I’ve come to see if we can help.”
He waited and just as he was about to give up, the airlock activation alert bleeped and he was able to slide the door open. It clicked shut behind him and the seal pressurised. After a few minutes, the interior door clicked and he was able to slide that open.
It opened into a small ante room, with space suits and equipment stashed against the walls. Another door led into the living quarters inside the dome. One hand hovering over his gun, Zodiac reached for the handle and pulled the door open.
Across the room from the entrance stood one man: he was tall, with distinguished silver-grey hair and sharp eyes that were fixed on Zodiac with a perceptive stare. He was dressed in a well-tailored business suit and, despite wearing his years well, he was certainly too old to be an active field agent.
“I’m Colonel Steve Zodiac,” Steve repeated and asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
The stranger gave a wry smile. “I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you, Colonel, but my name is Stefan Svenson and I’m going to need your help.”
“I thought this was a Spectrum facility,” Zodiac said warily, glancing around. “Are the Spectrum officers here, Mr Svenson?”
“No, and that’s why I need your help, Colonel. You see, one of them is my grandson and he’s in danger.” Stefan took a step forward, holding out his hands to show they were empty. “Please believe that I am no threat to you, but I am perfectly able to defend myself if you try to attack me. I don’t want to hurt you and I have no intention of doing so, unless you make me.”
“And why would I do that, sir?” Zodiac found the declaration somewhat incongruous; he couldn’t believe that the unarmed and elderly man stood any chance against him.
The older man smiled in response, a smile that Zodiac couldn’t help but react to with one of his own, but he ignored the question and continued, “Will you help me find my grandson – Captain Blue – and his colleague, Captain Scarlet, Colonel Zodiac?”
“Yes, if they’re in danger, of course I will. But, isn’t there a lieutenant here as well? And I don’t understand what you’re doing here.”
Svenson smiled. “Do you believe in miracles, Colonel?”
“Well, maybe you’ll have to revise your opinions after this,” Stefan remarked enigmatically. “If you help me find the Spectrum officers, they or I will explain everything to you; but right now, we’re wasting valuable time. Listen to this.” Stefan played the last part of the log Blue had taped before he’d gone in search of Scarlet. “I don’t think Adam’s – Captain Blue’s – air supply will last very much longer. He went out almost four hours ago.”
“You’d better suit up then, sir,” Zodiac said, trusting to his gut-feeling that whoever – or whatever - he was, Svenson posed no threat.
“Oh, that won’t be necessary. Let’s go, shall we?”
Stefan strode from the room and into the airlock, followed by Zodiac. The World Space Patrol used top-secret oxygen pills to allow their officers to explore new planets. This meant they were unencumbered by restrictive space suits and their uniforms were thermally heated to prevent freezing in the sub-zero temperatures they might encounter on other worlds. However, the idea that a civilian had obtained oxygen pills and – what’s more - was prepared to walk on the lunar surface in nothing more than a three-piece suit was alarming. The surprise clearly showed on Zodiac’s face.
Stefan smiled and pulled open the outer airlock door. “We need to start over by the transmitter. That’s where I last saw Adam.”
To Zodiac’s amazement, Svenson declined to ride pillion on the Jetmobile and walked quickly beside him and without any indication that he found it any different from walking down a street on the Earth. Steve had expected him to struggle to keep up and found himself impressed that the man wasn’t even a little breathless as they reached the transmitter.
“They were sending a message every eight hours, or so. Adam sent the last one about 12 hours ago.”
“Is that the last time you saw him?” Zodiac asked in alarm. He knew most of the spacesuits of the type he’d seen in the ante-room carried about six hours of oxygen in their tanks. He was relieved when Stefan shook his head.
“He went back into the dome after he’d sent it and spent time setting up the surveillance cameras, dictating his log and whatever else he did. He came out again four hours ago and came up here to the transmitter. He didn’t send a transmission and I don’t think he did anything to the equipment, but then he went around the rim of the crater and out that way.” He pointed into the empty distance.
“Did he say where he was going or why?”
“He didn’t speak.”
“Did he see you?”
“I wasn’t hiding, Colonel, if that’s what you mean.”
“Any idea why he chose that direction?” Stefan shook his head. “Right.” Zodiac contacted Fireball. “Matt, I want you to run a life-signs scan across the whole area; a detailed one. We have a Spectrum Captain who has apparently gone walkabout without enough air to get back home.”
“Sure thing, Steve.”
Venus’s voice cut into the communication. “How long is left on his air supply, Steve?”
“A couple of hours. He went looking for the other captain, so they might be together somewhere, but the chances are the other man is dead. He’s been missing for much longer.”
“Please send Fireball Junior back. I am coming to help with the search,” she said.
“I don’t think that’s necessary, Venus. If Matt can find any life signs….”
“They will need a doctor; I have seen the radiation readings for the area. I will bring oxygen pills with me also. Please, Steve; we must do all we can to help.”
Zodiac knew he would have to give in eventually and there wasn’t time to argue, so he replied, “Okay, Venus; I’ll send Robert and Fireball Junior for you.”
“Thank you, Steve. I will be waiting.”
Zodiac turned to Stefan. “I can get further, faster on the Jetmobile and as you say, speed is vital now if we’re going to find Captain Blue. I’d offer to take you with me but if I find him he’ll need to ride pillion – assuming he’s in any condition to.”
“I understand. I also think you’ll find him more co-operative if I’m not there, Colonel.”
Zodiac looked stern. “Look, Mr Svenson, who, or what, are you? You’re here on a restricted area of the Moon, without a space suit or oxygen, yet you kept pace with my Jetmobile and you’re not even out of breath. That makes me curious.” He waited, but Svenson did not reply. Slightly irritated by what he saw as unnecessary secrecy, Steve continued, “If it helps, please remember this: I’m a space pilot and I’ve met and seen people and things that are not as most humans would expect. I have an instinct for… the alien – no offence. I’m also difficult to shock, Mr Svenson.”
“I know a lot about you, Colonel Zodiac. We have, let us say, a mutual acquaintance. Nevertheless, I did not want you to refuse your help and I thought that you might, if I told you the truth straight away.”
“Tell me now and fast - if you really want Blue found.”
“I am a traveller, but you would call me a Mysteron, and some of the people on your planet consider us all to be ‘the sworn enemies of Earth’.”
“Are you?” Zodiac asked, disturbed despite his assurances to Svenson. Spectrum kept the truth about the threat posed by the Mysterons a closely guarded secret, although the World Space Patrol had, of necessity, been told more than most.
Svenson shrugged. “Not every Mysteron feels the Earth should be punished in quite so draconian a way as was threatened. A strand of opinion that has developed since we have had more to do with the Human Race.” He glanced up at Zodiac and gave a wry smile. “You are a fascinating species.”
“I take it Captain Blue is not your grandson?”
Svenson shook his head. “His father is the son of the human whose identity I presently occupy. That is a grandson, isn’t it? But, I take your point, and no, he is not my grandson.”
“And the real Stefan Svenson is safe at home somewhere?”
“No, Colonel; the ‘real’ Stefan died some years ago and it was nothing to do with the Mysterons. I ‘borrowed’ his identity to approach his grandson, in response to the messages Spectrum were sending us. It was, perhaps, not the best idea I’ve ever had. The young man was… disconcerted. However, now I am experiencing a sense of responsibility for what’s happened here and I would not like the captain to cease to be, because of me.”
“What did happen?”
“I am not the only ‘Mysteron’ here. There are others, but they are agents of the Mysterons and not what I would call ‘real’ Mysterons. A fine point, but a necessary one to make. I do not control them and I am not sure what their orders are.” Stefan looked anxious for a moment.
“How many more?” Zodiac asked briskly.
“Two, possibly three…”
“You don’t know?”
“I am not exactly authorised to be here any longer, Colonel. I exceeded my orders and decided to do what Stefan would have thought of as ‘a little freelancing’. So it’s hard for me to tell… two, that I am sure of; the third? Well, he’s an anomaly.”
“Right. How do I kill them?”
“You can’t. You can stop them in the same as you could stop any human - with a bullet.”
“Would it stop you?” Zodiac asked curiously.
“It’d never reach me.” His companion looked bemused, so Svenson offered, “Try and touch me.”
Steve reached out to grip Svenson’s shoulder and felt his hand go straight through the man, although he still looked solid enough. To complete his confusion Stefan reached out his hand and grabbed Zodiac’s wrist, holding it in a vice-like grip.
Smiling, the Mysteron released his hold and stepped away slightly. “Just a child’s trick really,” he said apologetically, “but useful at times.”
“Very,” Zodiac agreed, rubbing his wrist. “I’d better make a start.” He mounted the Jetmobile and started out in the direction Svenson had indicated.
The jumble of footprints and scuffed moon-dust around the rim of the blast crater soon changed into two distinct trails of footsteps, running in parallel but not together, suggestive of one person on foot being followed by another. He took it as a good omen that he was following the right path: Captain Blue must have decided that Captain Scarlet had gone this way and was searching for him.
A few moments later, Matt contacted him over the radio. “I’m getting one additional life sign in the area, Steve. About 1800 metres further on five-zero-green from your present position.”
Zodiac paused long enough to scan the area with his high-powered binoculars, but there was no lone figure trudging along to be seen. “I’ll take a look, Matt, but I can’t see anyone right now.”
The footprints were veering off in the right direction and he increased his speed to cover the distance. Just ahead was a small, deep crater, and he slowed as he approached. A warning shot rang out, followed by a voice, clearly being projected by a space suit helmet.
“Don’t come any closer!”
“Captain Blue? Captain Blue of Spectrum?” Zodiac shouted in response. “I am Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol, commander of Fireball XL5. We were returning to Space City when we saw your SOS. I’m here to help you.”
“You’re a Mysteron, or you’d be in a space suit, and I never sent an SOS.”
“It was etched out in the moon dust near the crater. My scientific adviser, Professor Matthew Matic, spotted it as we flew past on our approach to the Earth.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Okay, Captain, I think I know what happened, but I can’t carry on a conversation like this. If I get off the Jetmobile, will you let me talk to you face to face?”
“I guess I can’t stop you,” Blue replied without much enthusiasm.
Zodiac dismounted and keeping his hands away from his body and the gun at his hip, he approached the crater in the direction of the voice and, as he drew closer, a figure rose from the shallow rim of the depression which had effectively served to screen him from sight. He was taller than Zodiac, and Steve could tell that he was a well-built man. On closer inspection he thought he detected a resemblance to Stefan Svenson in the features glaring at him through the helmet visor and definitely in the keen gaze of the grey-blue eyes.
“Is Captain Scarlet with you, Captain?” Zodiac asked. “Our Space Doctor is on her way and we can offer either or both of you emergency medical assistance, if it’s needed.”
“So, Scarlet’s avoided the Mysterons yet again, has he?” Blue remarked, a slight smile on his lips. “You’ll never get him.”
“I’m not a Mysteron, Captain. The World Space Patrol uses oxygen pills to allow us greater freedom of movement on other worlds; I took one before I left my ship. Our uniforms have thermal threads in them, I guess Spectrum’s do as well? – it’s becoming standard issue for military uniforms these days.”
“What SOS?” Blue asked. He kept his pistol trained on the stranger and it was impossible to say if he believed Zodiac’s explanation.
“It’s true; come back with me to the Bucky-dome and you’ll see it. Someone traced SOS in the dust, big enough to be seen from space. I thought it must’ve been you…”
“It wasn’t me and you tell me you haven’t seen Scarlet…?” There was a genuine hint of confusion in his voice now.
“You were following his footprints?” Zodiac prompted.
“I was following the footprints; I hoped they were his…”
“I understood from Space City that you and Scarlet were the only two here,” Zodiac hinted.
“We should have been…I insisted…it was my fault. She shouldn’t have been involved and it was all my fault.” Blue shook his head unhappily. “I must make sure they know that.”
“Come with me and you can tell them yourself,” Zodiac suggested, without a clue what Blue was on about. His main concern was to get this man to safety.
“I’m not going to go with the Mysterons,” Blue asserted, suddenly focused again.
“I’m not a Mysteron, Captain…”
“Then who is that?” Blue pointed behind Zodiac who risked a glance over his shoulder. A Jetmobile was approaching at speed.
“That is Doctor Venus, the space doctor on Fireball XL5. I mentioned her before, remember? She’s here to make sure you’re okay.”
Blue watched warily as Venus landed her Jetmobile close to Zodiac’s and came to join them, carrying a supply bag over her shoulder.
“I am Doctor Venus, from Fireball XL5,” she said authoritatively to Blue. “I need to examine you, Captain Blue. According to what we know you have had a long exposure to the radiation here, which, although not fatally dangerous is certainly hazardous. I am also concerned that your air supply must be close to exhaustion and that, when in partnership with space radiation can have profound medical implications. You may need to take an oxygen pill and I need to administer anti-radiation treatment.”
“I’m fine, Doctor.”
“Are you thirsty, Captain?” she asked, ignoring his protestation and holding out a small bottle of water. “Radiation sickness can make you dehydrated. Take this.”
He didn’t respond, so she moved forwards and laid it on the ground between where Zodiac and Blue stood, immediately moving back again.
“I can’t drink that,” Blue replied, gesturing to his helmet.
“Then come back with me to our spaceship, Captain,” Venus suggested. “I can help you; you have a touch of radiation sickness from exposure to the lunar surface. If it is not treated, you will only get worse and you may die. Come with me now, on my Jetmobile.”
Blue gazed longingly at the water. “Can I trust you?” he whispered.
“With your life, Captain,” Venus replied resolutely.
“And with Captain Scarlet’s life, if we can find him,” Zodiac added.
They watched as Blue debated what to do and finally in desperation reached out for the water. Venus moved quickly and took hold of his hand as he stooped down. Blue pulled away, but she held tight and moved to his side. She could see the beads of sweat on his face and the shallowness of his breathing.
“You need help,” she reiterated, as Blue refused to move. “On Fireball XL5 I can put you to right. Then, I promise, we will both return to search for your friend.”
Blue swallowed hard; he knew he wasn’t going to make it alone. He looked at Venus’s genial face, smiling reassurance and made his decision.
“Okay. But you must be careful; Scarlet’s missing and he told me he saw Black – Captain Black – the Mysterons’ most powerful agent. I didn’t believe him – God help me – I didn’t trust him! He was right – I should’ve known. Now Citrine’s dead and she vanished, so they must’ve Mysteronised her too. She has an electron rifle – it’ll kill Scarlet. You’ve got to find him before she does!”
“Don’t worry, Captain,” Zodiac assured him. “The Space Patrol are on the case now. You go with Venus and I’ll see you both later.”
As he watched Venus’s Jetmobile head back to Fireball Junior, he shook his head. “I hope we’re in time, poor guy was already talking gibberish. They shouldn’t let novices go stomping around in space…”
Nevertheless, he contacted Matic back on Fireball and repeated Blue’s information. “You’d better get Space City to speak to Cloudbase and let them know we’ve got Captain Blue safe and sound. I suppose you’d better let them know what he told us, as well. After all, I’m not sure I know who might be wandering about down here now and I want to know exactly what an electron rifle is before I find myself on the wrong end of one.”
“Sure thing, Steve; I’ll get right on it.”
Lieutenant Flaxen had copped the Middle Watch on the Comms Desk in the Cloudbase Control Room again. It wasn’t that she minded much; after all, as the Base operated on GMT wherever it happened to be, the ‘midnight to dawn watch’ took place in bright sunshine as often as during the hours of darkness. What was making her crotchety was that her commanding officer for this particular shift was Captain Ochre.
That made no sense either, Flaxen realised, for if she thought about it, her lingering fondness for the handsome American had survived every failure of his to reciprocate her feelings. They got on well-enough and she suspected that amongst the female junior officers she was his closest friend; but the fact that he would insist on treating her like ‘one of the guys’ was not always appreciated. Captain Magenta and his other cronies might like to hear all about his latest romantic conquests or his opinions on the current World Series, but to her, baseball was a glorified game of rounders, and she cordially loathed every one of the other on-board females who succeeded in rousing his romantic interest when she had failed.
Ochre had finished his latest attempt to explain why baseball was a game of subtlety and athletic rigour and was giving the Base reports a dutiful glance when a communication indicator informed Flaxen that Space City was on the line.
“Captain Ochre, sir,” she called, “Commander Zero is calling to speak to the colonel. The Crater 101 Mission is in trouble and Fireball XL5 has gone to assist.”
Ochre looked up, anxiety clearly reflected in his expression. “Better alert the colonel, Flax, and put Commander Zero on the main screen.”
“S.I.G., sir.” She made the connection and Ochre spun the control desk around to face the screen.
“Captain Ochre, duty commanding officer of Cloudbase at your service, Commander. What can I do for you?”
“Is Colonel White there, Captain?” Zero asked. He was reluctant to give too much information away unnecessarily.
“He’s been alerted, Commander,” Ochre assured him. “I’m sure he’ll be here presently.”
“Good. I’ve had a message from Fireball XL5. The crew have stopped to render assistance to a Spectrum mission to Lunar Crater 101 – you are aware of that, I presume?”
“Yes, sir, I am. Are the Spectrum officers okay?”
Zero gave a wry smile, pleased to see that this young man had his priorities right. “Doctor Venus has taken Captain Blue aboard XL5. It seems he may have a mild case of radiation sickness.”
“And Captain Scarlet?” Ochre asked, as Colonel White appeared from the elevator that connected his quarters with the Control Room.
Zero gave a slight shrug. “I understand that Captain Blue has said that he’s disappeared. Along with another officer: Lieutenant Citrine?”
“Citrine?” Colonel White frowned. “She wasn’t supposed to go to the surface with them.”
“Maybe I’m getting it wrong?” Zero admitted, with a shake of his head. “Professor Matic wasn’t too clear himself about all the names … it gets a bit like Chinese Whispers sometimes…” He cleared his throat and said more purposefully: “Colonel Zodiac also asked him to get information about the nature of an electron rifle. It seems Captain Blue warned him that Citrine has got hold of one and Scarlet was in danger, so Zodiac wants to know what he’s up against, Colonel.”
“Why would Citrine be stalking Scarlet with an electron rifle?” Ochre interjected in bewilderment. “I know Scarlet’s been a Right-Royal-Pain-in-the-Ass for a while, but Citrine’s not had to suffer him.”
The colonel glanced down at his subordinate and gave no direct response; instead he said to Commander Zero: “Do you mean to suggest that either Scarlet or Citrine have become Mysteron agents, Commander?”
“I don’t know, Colonel. I’m simply passing on the message I have been given. And asking for information, of course…”
“Of course, Commander. Mysteron guns were developed by SIRAD – Spectrum Intelligence: Research and Development. Enhanced electrodes produce a beam of electrons; these are concentrated by prisms and projected at the speed of light along a reflective barrel. They are effective over a range of about 45 metres. It would be as lethal to a human as to a Mysteron to get in the way of an electron ray."
“Then I had better warn Steve to be on his guard,” Zero said and then he asked, “Is there anything else you think I should know about your agents or these Mysterons. Colonel? Only I don’t want my officers to be put at risk through ignorance of what they’ve got to face.”
Colonel White sighed and gave a slight nod of his head. “Yes, Commander, I’m afraid there is…”
“This retro-metabolism sure puts a different complexion on things, Venus,” Matic said. They were discussing the news from Space City in the Sick Bay of XL5 where a heavily sedated Captain Blue was undergoing treatment to counter the radiation he’d been exposed to on the surface.
The young woman nodded. “Yet I can see why Spectrum kept it quiet, Professor; imagine if people thought anyone they met might be an alien enemy?”
“It might make the Earth ungovernable,” Matic agreed gloomily. “It seems Spectrum has found a way to identify these Mysterons with their Mysteron detectors, but that isn’t going to help Steve in his search for Captain Scarlet. We’re already aware that at least one person he’s met on the surface is a suspect.”
“Yes, the man who called himself Stefan Svenson and, I suspect, that Captain Blue meant to warn us that his colleagues, Lieutenant Citrine and Captain Scarlet might also have become retrometabolised. I do hope Steve will take care!”
“How long before Captain Blue is fit again, Venus?”
She glanced at the computer monitor beside the bed. “Not long, Professor. The medication I calculate he needs to counter the exposure he experienced and protect him when he returns to the surface will have been administered in another 10 minutes or so. I will leave him another half-an-hour and then give him the antidote to the sedative. A light meal, plenty to drink, and he’ll be fit to discharge. I will inform his own service physician of the treatment I have given him and advise two further treatments over the next three months. As long as that’s done I don’t think he will suffer any long-term effects. We got to him in time.”
“He’s a fortunate man,” Matic said reflectively. “His partners may not be so lucky.”
“If they have been retro-metabolised I doubt there is anything I can do for them,” she replied sadly. “It is a tragedy.”
“Yeaah,” Matic said, “but imagine, Venus, what a boon such an ability would be to the human race… to recreate matter when necessary…”
“You’re forgetting, Professor, Spectrum’s information said that before they do that, the Mysterons must destroy. That can never be right.”
“Sure, Venus… but you can’t help wondering…”
“I can.” She looked directly at this eccentric man with his insatiable curiosity, and sighed. “Forget it, Matt. The Mysterons don’t want to share their knowledge with us and that makes them a formidable foe.” She glanced down at the Spectrum officer on the bed. “So our brave young men are facing an almost impossible task. We must help them, not hinder them by trying to investigate the Mysterons. If they felt threatened by us again they might reveal even greater powers than we already know they possess – powers we could not deflect.”
“But an army of retro-metabolised men would be…”
“An army of the walking dead!” Anger flashed in Venus’s large, blue eyes. “Enough – let us leave him to his rest.”
She shooed the Professor out of the room and refused to discuss the news from Space City any further.
Steve Zodiac had been quartering the area around Crater 101 looking for signs of Captain Scarlet, Lieutenant Citrine or any life at all, without success. There were tracks left by footsteps criss-crossing the crater, but they all petered out without leading Steve to discover who made them or where they’d gone. He was alert to the possibility that the Mysteron agents Svenson had spoken about were observing every move he made, but he saw nothing threatening. To all intents and purposes, Crater 101 was deserted.
He returned to the communication array to find the dapper figure of Stefan Svenson was still there.
“I thought you would’ve left once we’d found Captain Blue,” he said, as he drew alongside on his Jetmobile.
Svenson gave a wry smile. “He won’t stop until he finds Scarlet.”
“Do you know where he is?” Zodiac asked outright.
The Mysteron shook his head. “I have been trying to find out, but I am a long way from home, Colonel Zodiac and, as I said, I am not supposed to be here.”
“How did you get here?” Zodiac’s tone was conversational, but his interest was intense.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Svenson replied dismissively. “Getting home might be trickier,” he added, more to himself than his companion.
“If Scarlet isn’t out there,” Zodiac waved a hand around the emptiness of the crater, “then he must be here.”
“Logical,” Svenson agreed. “I did search the Bucky-dome and I can assure you he wasn’t in there.”
“Why should I trust you about that?” Zodiac said.
Even this overt suspicion didn’t seem to annoy the alien. “You don’t have to; if you think I have anything to gain by lying to you, go and search the place yourself.”
“Fireball XL5 to Steve Zodiac,” Matic’s voice was loud and clear over the Jetmobile radio.
“Go ahead, Matt.”
“Captain Blue has recovered and Venus has declared him fit for duty, Steve. He wants to come back and help with the search. I… I don’t think we can keep him here without throwing him in the brig, to be honest.”
Zodiac saw Svenson trying to suppress an amused smile and pressed the mute button on the radio. “What?” he challenged.
“Nothing; I just know that is typical of him. I would let him come, Colonel. He and Scarlet … they know each other very well and if anyone can second-guess what Scarlet’s done or where he’s gone, it will be Adam.”
Zodiac released the mute and gave permission for Blue to return to the surface. When the radio link was closed he glanced at Svenson and said, “Are you planning to stay around once he’s arrived?”
“I have nowhere else I can go, at the moment,” the alien admitted, “and I might be of some help, even now.”
“Let’s hope Captain Blue thinks so too,” Zodiac replied.
Fireball Junior landed some distance away and Zodiac watched two Jetmobiles approaching. Both riders were fair-haired and he had no difficulty identifying them: Captain Blue was in his spacesuit but without a helmet - courtesy, no doubt, of a WSP oxygen pill - and Venus had decided to accompany her erstwhile patient. Zodiac moved away from the communications array and flagged them down.
“How are you feeling, Captain?” he asked, before Blue could start protesting about the presence of Svenson.
“I’m fine,” the Spectrum captain replied, although he was staring over Zodiac’s shoulder towards the communications array. There was a slight frown between his brows, and Zodiac, with a flash of perception, realised the captain was none too sure he really was seeing the man.
“You’ve already met Mr Svenson, it seems,” he said.
“He is not Stefan Svenson,” Blue snarled. “He’s a Mysteron agent and he’s dangerous!”
“He says not,” Zodiac said firmly, causing Blue to stare in surprise at him. “He admits he is a Mysteron but says that is quite different from the Mysteron agents you’ve dealt with until now.”
Blue stared over Zodiac’s shoulder at the alien, the frown between his fair brows deepening as he wrestled with this conundrum.
“A Mysteron?” he murmured more to himself than his companions.
“So he says,” Zodiac confirmed. He glanced towards Stefan who remained impassive and immobile. “That he’s alien, I’m sure of. I’ve seen a few in my time, Captain. He told me to try and touch him and my hand went straight through him just as he gripped my arm so hard it hurt.”
“They have powers we can’t hope to explain and probably don’t know the half of,” Blue replied glumly. “How can we ever trust them?”
Zodiac shrugged. “I can’t say; but I do know he wanted to make sure you were okay. He wrote the SOS in the dust that brought us here to investigate. In point of fact, he saved your life, Captain.”
“Mysterons are the sworn enemies of Earth and all the life on it,” Blue retorted.
“It seems as if they’ve reconsidered their stance on the human race – well, some of them have. He told me he came in answer to your messages of peace.”
Blue shook his head; his ingrained disbelief was hard to overcome.
Zodiac glanced at Venus and continued, “He’s got no control over the Mysteron Agents who are here – the ones you’ve told us about. He’s not even sure he can get back home.”
Venus gave a soft gasp of sympathetic alarm and turned her troubled gaze on the alien. For her he represented an exciting new opportunity to advance her knowledge of Extra-Terrestrial Medicine and she was already wondering how to start learning all she could about him.
“He got here, didn’t he?” Blue said grudgingly, “I’m sure he can get back – I just wish he would go!”
“It’s a long walk back to Mars,” Zodiac remarked laconically, “Besides, I got the impression his friendly intentions towards mankind are not universally shared by his fellow Mysterons.”
“Friendly? Huh!” Blue exclaimed. “Why did he have to choose my grandfather?” he added, revealing the real reason for his enmity.
Zodiac did his best to explain, “He thought it’d be a sign that he meant you no harm. He realised pretty quickly it wasn’t the brightest of ideas. If it helps, he told me your grandfather died some years ago and that his death was nothing to do with the Mysterons.”
“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” Blue muttered, but Venus detected a glimmer of uncertainty in his voice, even if Zodiac didn’t.
She decided it was time to capitalise on the alien’s apparent willingness to help. “Does he know where Captain Scarlet is, Steve?”
When Zodiac shook his head, Blue strode forward, determined to find out for himself the truth of the situation.
“Where’s Captain Scarlet?” he demanded of Stefan.
The Mysteron smiled. “I’m glad you’re safe, Adam; but I’m afraid I do not know where your friend is. I know where he isn’t, if that’d help?”
“Riddles: nothing but riddles!” Blue snarled. “You’re all the sa-”
Stefan interjected: “Scarlet is not on the surface. If he was I would be able to sense him.”
“Not on the surface?” Venus repeated. She’d followed Blue when he’d advanced, partly anxious that her erstwhile patient should come to no harm and partly from curiosity about the alien. “There are no space ships here except Fireball and we know he isn’t there.”
Blue’s surprised glance indicated he thought she was something of a mind-reader and then he smiled at her. To her surprise and slight annoyance, Venus felt herself blushing: it was just a smile for heaven’s sake: however handsome he was!
She continued her reasoning, and her words chimed in with Blue’s as he said: “He’s below the surface!”
“Bravo!” Stefan said cheerily. “That’s what I’ve concluded.”
“There are no underground caverns or facilities on the Moon,” Zodiac said emphatically. “We’d know about them if there were.”
“But there are craters,” Blue exclaimed.
“Our scans would pick up life signs in a crater,” Zodiac assured him.
“Not this one, I bet!” Blue cried, rushing to the rim of the blast crater and peering into the Stygian darkness. “Look! Over there - there’s been a slip – an avalanche.”
“Careful,” Venus ordered, worried he too might go crashing down.
Zodiac came forward and assessed the evidence. “We’ll go down on the Jetmobiles and see what’s down there,” he said.
“Quick,” Blue agreed, starting to move towards the machines already.
“Wait a moment,” Venus interjected. “Those Jetmobiles are World Space Patrol equipment, Captain. And not yours to do with as you wish.”
“I have to find Captain Scarlet,” Blue asserted.
She dismissed that with a very Gallic shrug. “And I am a doctor – he will certainly need medical assistance,” she retorted, “If he is still alive.”
Blue glanced at them and came to a decision: the two astronauts already knew more about the Mysterons than most of the senior military officers on Earth. “Scarlet doesn’t need medical assistance – ever. He was Mysteronised during the first attack they made and for some reason he broke free of their control. He has retained the power of retrometabolism, so that whenever he gets hurt – or even killed – he recovers in a few hours. Sometimes it takes longer, but he always recovers.” He was emphatic as he sought to convince himself that this was true, as much as the others.
“Sacre bleu!” Venus spun round to face Stefan. “This is true?” she demanded.
Svenson nodded. “We don’t know why the process continues outside of our control, it is not… common to our agents, but we have observed it in Captain Scarlet. Adam is telling the truth.”
“So, you must understand now why I have to go down there, Doctor,” Blue insisted. He took Venus’s hand and looked down into her still sceptical face, willing her to accept his seemingly outrageous statement. “It was me that fired the shot that caused him to fall to his death. Six hours later he was sitting up in bed on Cloudbase, complaining about the military-issue pyjamas he was wearing and eating and drinking like a horse. He can’t remember anything about the time he was in their power, but he has willingly given his life many times since then to save the world, his friends and his family. I owe him. Big time.”
“You will be exposed to a very high level of radiation,” Venus reasoned, “and you do not have the level of immunity that Steve and I have. It is dangerous.”
“I know; I appreciate your concern and the warning and I absolve you from any responsibility for my actions,” Blue said. “But I don’t care; I’m going, with or without your blessing.”
“I make a formal objection to this,” Doctor Venus said, looking at Zodiac, “but I see that, in practice, this will present no argument to the Captain.”
“Thank you,” Blue said, smiling at her.
Determined not to be caught out by that engaging smile again, she insisted, “You will wear medical transmitters that can allow me to monitor your conditions while you are down there - both of you. I do not know what the environment down there is like and if I tell you to come back, it will be a medical order and you will obey me.” She looked at them both and they recognised the glint of an adamantine will behind her large, soft, blue eyes.
“S.I.G., Doctor,” Blue said formally.
“Sure, Venus; you’re the boss,” Zodiac agreed.
A short time later, two Jetmobiles took off from close to the rim of the blast crater and descended into the gloomy depths.
“Keep talking, Steve,” Venus instructed, as she monitored the feedback from the bio-transmitters. “What can you see?”
“There has been a land slip,” Zodiac replied, “a big one. It’s narrowing the crater as we go down, but it doesn’t look too solid; mostly dust and small rocks.”
“Switch on the Jetmobile’s bio-scanner,” Venus instructed, “and sweep the area. If Captain Scarlet is down there, it should pick up his vital signs.”
She watched the monitor as the probe flat-lined across the screen giving regular and somewhat mournful beeps.
“I’m not seeing anything, Steve,” she reported, frowning.
“Neither are we,” Zodiac replied. “I think we’re too late; it’s a hopeless search,” he admitted.
“You won’t see life signs if he’s dead,” Blue retorted, “and it is never too late for Captain Scarlet.” He was concentrating hard, almost daring Fate not to provide the evidence that Scarlet was down here.
The headlight on the Jetmobile was powerful and cast sharp shadows amongst the mountain of dust and rocks; as he turned his head to see where Zodiac was, Blue caught something out of the corner of his eye. He swivelled round, manoeuvring the vehicle so that the whole light was focused on the edge of a particularly rocky area.
“There!” he shouted, pointing down. He increased speed and swerved towards the floor of the crater.
“Be careful, Blue!” Zodiac yelled, speeding after the Spectrum captain. “What is it?”
“There – between those rocky boulders! Captain Scarlet’s helmet!”
Zodiac peered into the middle-distance and was rewarded by a sharp flash of light from the shattered glass visor of a space helmet.
“We’ve got to get him out!” Blue urged, edging the Jetmobile closer.
“Captain,” Zodiac snapped, “if that’s his space suit helmet – he’ll have suffocated!”
Blue turned and stared at the man as if he was a complete imbecile. “Didn’t you hear me back there? Scarlet’s indestructible; if we can get him out of here, he’ll do the rest. I know he will.”
“Okay; we’ll play it your way,” Zodiac said to pacify the anger he saw flare in the younger man’s eyes. “But not you. You go back up there.”
“Listen, Captain. You’re down here on sufferance and you’re not fit to shovel this stuff off your friend. We’ll go back and get Robert down from Fireball. The radiation won’t bother him and he doesn’t get exhausted. He’ll do the job in half the time we could.”
Blue continued to stare at him, weighing his words carefully. Zodiac gave a wry smile and spoke into his radio:
“Venus, get Matt to send Robert down. We’ve found Captain Scarlet under a pile of debris. He’s needed to dig him out.”
“Okay, Steve. You two come back here now,” she replied. “Captain Blue’s vital signs are weakening. He is only just recovered, remember.”
“Okay, Captain?” Zodiac returned Blue’s gaze with amity.
“Okay, Colonel. But make it quick, for God’s sake.”
Fireball’s tireless robot soon showed himself more than capable of doing the job in half the time it would have taken the two men, but it still seemed to take an eternity to Captain Blue. He paced up and down close to the rim of the crater despite Doctor Venus’s pleas that he should take some rest.
Stefan Svenson was also watching but he stood silent and impassive, his gaze following the restless pacing of his ‘grandson’. Abandoning her attempts to convince Blue to take a break, Venus moved to his side and when the Mysteron glanced at her, she rolled her eyes.
“He will not rest,” she explained. “I feel as if it is a stone wall I am addressing.”
Stefan smiled. “The family are stubborn, it’s in their genes.”
Eager to discover what she could, Venus asked, “How do you know so much about him and his family? If, as you say you have ‘borrowed’ this body, where does this knowledge come from?”
He looked at her for a long moment before answering. “Humanity is so… curious. So are we, of course, and we’ve watched you for many hundreds of your Earth years; yet until the Martian Explorer came to our city, we never truly understood what we had learned about you.”
“That is not an answer to the question,” she remarked, raising one slender eyebrow.
“I cannot tell you the secrets of my race. Please, do not be offended, Doctor; I don’t feel you would use anything I might say against us, for I sense you have a wider tolerance of other life forms than most of your species.”
“I am a doctor of space medicine; I seek only to learn what I can about other species, Mr Svenson.” She studied him as he watched Captain Blue’s restless pacing. “You have an affinity with him.” The statement invited his comment, should he choose to make one.
The Mysteron’s tone was reflective when he did reply. “I did not initially nor did I expect to, but, strangely, it has grown while I have occupied the body of Stefan Svenson. It began when the appearance of his departed relative affected him so strongly. Although he quickly realised I was not what he considers to be ‘the real’ Stefan, his emotions reinforced the memories I discovered in the lingering imprint of this mind.”
“You recreate the original from the… blueprint of the dead body?”
Svenson nodded. “For those that have long ceased to exist, the memories are sparse and usually there is plenty of scope to bring our will to bear, so the effort of control is lighter, which is why I am able to be here. More recent recreations require a more concentrated force. But I was not aware that these people – Stefan and Adam – were so close in their relationship. They shared a great deal that left … an emotional resonance. I can’t explain it any more than that.”
She smiled at him. “We call that ‘love’, Mr Svenson.”
He looked a little bemused. “We understood that was part of your mating rituals, governing your physical and emotional reactions, such as those you experience when you are with Colonel Zodiac.”
“And about which you will say nothing,” she responded firmly. He smiled and nodded agreement. Mollified, she continued, “Love has many forms, it is the bond between two people but not necessarily just between a man and a woman. The bond between a mother and her child is also love, between members of a family, between friends. In varying degrees, this is true, but it is still ‘love’.”
“Then he ‘loves’ the Scarlet being?” Svenson mused.
“They have shared a great deal from what I understand; such experiences can engender deep friendships which often have emotional strands as well. Love can be platonic; it is not necessarily always a ‘mating ritual’.”
Stefan said, “As such, we have always considered it to be a source of weakness, but this ‘platonic’ love of which you speak is a concept I am unfamiliar with.” He paused and then added, “I can see how it might exist and, by its very existence, reinforce the ties that bind individuals for their common benefit. That could be a great source of strength and resilience. Thank you for explaining that to me, Doctor. It also goes some way to explaining why there is often a young woman – sometimes more than one –in his thoughts and the feelings he experiences about them are very similar to yours and Captain Zodiac’s, but such is not the case when he considers Scarlet, which explains why I did not recognise this as ‘love’.”
Venus blushed with pleasure at this oblique confirmation that her feelings for her colleague were returned, but she did not pursue it. “Lucky Captain Blue, for as long as the two ladies never meet, anyway,” she replied lightly and then asked, “So, you can read his mind? Can you read mine?”
“It isn’t that simple, Doctor. Mysterons are able to communicate without the need for speech, but it is not what you would call telepathy. Even thoughts are superfluous in most circumstances. We can synthesise speech, where necessary but the need is infrequent. We do not sense the world in the ways that you do and, although in many ways your vision is primitive, yet, I must admit it is enchanting. For instance, we do not distinguish what you call colours. It was one of the things that intrigued us when first we saw through human eyes and we have concluded that it is one of the reasons your species is so easily distracted… also, this concept of …beauty is alien to us. We seek functionality in all things. Our senses are far more developed than yours, although they are not unknown on your planet in very primitive forms.”
“And retrometabolism?” she asked quickly, but her eagerness was her downfall, for Svenson shook his head emphatically.
“I may not speak of that.”
“Of course,” Venus replied, trying to keep the disappointment from her voice, “I understand.”
There was no further opportunity for conversation as Blue’s voice rang out across the distance:
“They’ve found Scarlet! Zodiac’s bringing him up on the Jetmobile, Doctor!”
Venus ran over to watch Steve’s Jetmobile rising slowly and carefully from the darkness. As it drew close to the rim, she called out: “Steve, take him to the Bucky-dome, I will follow!” and she turned and raced towards her own machine.
Blue drew alongside the Jetmobile, groaning as he saw Scarlet’s body slumped against Zodiac’s back and held fast by emergency straps. His space helmet had been crushed and his pale face was cut and bruised and his hair sticky with dried blood. His space suit was punctured and torn in several places by the fall and the sharp rocks that had buried him. He was dead; there was no doubt of it.
Zodiac speeded up and Blue was left behind, struggling to follow the Jetmobile back to the Bucky-dome as quickly as he could. He had not gone far before Stefan Svenson appeared beside him, easily keeping pace with him.
“What the hell’re you doing here?” Blue snapped.
“Where else would I be?” Stefan asked, adding, “Maybe I can help with your friend.”
“Stay away from him! He’ll do it alone.”
“Are you sure, Adam? Do you even know what happened to him? He told you Captain Black was here, or maybe Fraser or Lieutenant Citrine attacked him? The Mysterons want Scarlet out of the game and they will do whatever they have to so they can achieve that.”
Blue stopped to face him. “And how do I know it wasn’t you that attacked him? You asked me to give you Scarlet, remember?”
“I do and I told you my reasons for doing so. He is what they fear for they cannot control him and they do not understand why. But you refused and I’m not someone to persevere with a closed option.”
“Why do you say ‘they’ when you mean ‘we’? You’re a Mysteron.”
Stefan shook his head at this stubborn refusal to accept his friendship and said, “I am, but I believe that mankind and their planet should be – how would you say it? – cut some slack. Everyone can make a mistake and we can all learn from them.”
“The Mysterons don’t accept that argument; they’re determined to wipe out all livings things because one man – one man among millions – made a mistake. Well, maybe they’ll discover they’ve made a mistake – a colossal one: we don’t scare easy.”
“Not every Mysteron thinks the same way; like humans, we have independent opinions and beliefs. I accept that the Earth wants peace; I came to try and make that possible. That decision hasn’t won me many friends amongst my own kind, but I do not regret it.”
There was a long silence before Blue asked cautiously, “Can I trust you?”
“I don’t know if you can, I only know that you should, Adam.”
Blue sighed; he was too overwhelmed with all of the recent events to think rationally about this problem any more. “Come on,” he said roughly, “but remember – I’ll kill you if you make a move against Scarlet.”
“I don’t doubt it for a minute,” the alien replied.
In the Bucky-dome Venus was removing Scarlet’s space suit in order to determine exactly what injuries he had received. A medical monitor was beside the bed, and Scarlet was wired to it, but there was no indication of life in the patient. She opened his mouth and scooped out a handful of dust, before starting a pump and clearing the airways of inhaled debris.
That at least indicated he had been alive when he was buried, but she found it impossible to imagine that this cold, unresponsive corpse could ever become a living human being again.
She glanced at Zodiac who was waiting across the Bucky-dome, and shook her head.
“He’s been dead for many hours,” she explained. “I don’t see how-”
At that moment Blue and Svenson came through the airlock and both moved straight to the camp bed where Scarlet’s body lay.
“I’m afraid he is dead, Captain,” Venus said gently.
Blue nodded, appearing surprisingly unconcerned. “His recovery time usually seems to be linked to the length of time he’s been like that, although, sometimes the urgency of the situation seems to speed things up. It’s uncanny how he knows when we need him fighting-fit as soon as possible. Doctor Fawn, our chief medical officer, thinks it may be linked to adrenalin?”
Venus shook her head. “I do not think it will be the case here. He has been dead for a long time, in sub-zero temperatures. His flesh has been badly damaged by frostbite; so that I think, if he did recover, they would have to amputate.”
“I think you still don’t quite understand,” Blue said. “He’ll be okay; everything will put itself to rights. It always does.” It was obvious that Blue was seeking to reassure himself as much as Venus. He approached the bed and took one of Scarlet’s cold, swollen hands into his, examining it thoughtfully.
The doctor continued: “Even if I knew how to initiate the process of retrometabolism, I have no equipment here to assist a recovery and limited facilities on Fireball. The best we can do is to take him back to Earth.”
“That seems a good idea,” Zodiac agreed, “given that your mission here is over.”
Captain Blue gave a deep sigh of resignation and after a moment nodded his head. “I don’t see what else we can do.” He glanced at Svenson. “The Mysterons aren’t going to negotiate with us, that much seems obvious.”
Svenson pursed his lips and shrugged. “They might have done, if Scarlet was kept out of the equation.”
“That’s not negotiable,” Blue retorted quickly.
Blue studied the alien for a moment and then asked, “Do you think they know we’ve rescued him?”
“They will do, if they don’t already, and outside Captain Black is waiting. The fact that the World Space Patrol is here with you won’t concern them.” He paused, and turned to Zodiac, a slight frown on his face. “Where did you leave your robot, Colonel?”
“Robert? He’s in the blast crater; I needed the Jetmobile seat to bring Captain Scarlet to the surface.”
Svenson gave Blue a significant glance, but said nothing. They both knew that it was possible for the Mysterons to take control of the robot and use it against them.
“Do you want me to fetch him?” Zodiac asked, reading the uneasiness in their expressions.
“I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Blue replied brusquely. “If the Mysterons have taken control of it, you’ll be facing the likelihood of attack.”
“I thought they had to destroy before they could control?” Venus said to Svenson. “Oh, Steve! They may destroy Robert!”
“Robert can take care of himself,” Zodiac reminded her with every appearance of calm, although he shared her alarm. “We need to concentrate on the humans here.”
Venus nodded unhappily and turned back to her patient, replying, “But I do not think there is anything I can do for Captain Scarlet. It seems we must just wait, unless you can tell me what your doctors do in these situations, Captain?”
Blue shook his head. “He has a recovery room on Cloudbase. Doctor Fawn wires him up and… we wait.”
“Then we shall wait,” Venus said, with a sigh.
“I’ll get Matt to update Space City so they can contact Cloudbase for you, Captain,” Zodiac said. “Maybe your medical team can give Venus some advice.”
He moved towards the airlock intending to use the Jetmobile radio communicator and his hand was on the activating switch when Svenson called out:
“Be careful! Check the CCTV, Colonel. I sense something out there.”
Frowning, Zodiac went and studied the monitor. In the ubiquitous gloom and against the grey background of the surface there was little clear definition or perspective and although he studied the screens carefully, he couldn’t see anything that suggested danger.
“Looks A-Okay to me,” he announced, “but I’ll be prepared, just in case.”
He stepped into the airlock and while waiting for the outer door to open adjusted his coma ray gun to the highest and, therefore, lethal setting. The CCTV might not have shown any obvious threat outside, but he had come to respect Svenson’s advice and could well believe that the alien’s senses were much sharper than his own, especially in respect of the presence of other Mysterons or Mysteronised entities.
From what the other military and security forces had been told, he understood that Captain Black was the most important and dangerous Mysteron agent on Earth, but Spectrum had been pretty cagey about how much information they made public, and now he understood why. The powers that these aliens appeared to possess made them formidable foes and if the public ever got to hear of ‘retrometabolism’ it was likely to lead to witch hunts and panic. It was worrying enough to think that Black might well be on the Moon… and targeting the Spectrum party.
As the door opened fully and he stepped out towards the Jetmobile, a flash of light warned him of danger and he jumped back as a bolt of electrical energy whizzed past him and hit the wall of the Bucky-dome, scorching the surface with its heat.
Zodiac dived back inside and hit the close button. He couldn’t see anyone outside, but he fired in the direction the beam had come from until the door blocked off the access.
Back inside the main room, Venus was looking anxious. “What happened, Steve?” she cried, as soon as he appeared.
“Mr Svenson’s right; there’s someone out there with a weapon – one of your electron guns, I think, Captain Blue. They’ve got us hemmed in.”
“Damn. I hoped I was wrong and they hadn’t got hold of it. Colonel, does your ship have multiple communication frequencies?”
“Sure, Matt always monitors all known frequencies.”
“So, if I fire up our Spectrum transmitter, could you contact your ship from here? It won’t take a minute,” Blue suggested, indicating the Spectrum transmitter that stood in one area of the dome. Zodiac nodded. Blue went across to start the machine and flicked the switch several times to no avail. Removing a maintenance cover, he threw it down to examine the exposed circuitry and sighed. “It’s been sabotaged. I presume the Mysteronised Lieutenant Citrine must’ve done it before she left. She’s - she was - a technical officer; it won’t have taken her a moment. I never thought to check it; after all, I had no hope of reaching anyone until the freighter arrived.”
“So, there is no way of contacting your ship, Colonel?” Svenson asked.
“The hand held communicators are for short range only, the transmitter on the Jetmobile boosts them enough to reach the ship,” Zodiac explained. “Look, this isn’t that much of a problem. Now we know someone is out there we just have to devise a way to neutralise them.”
“Will you help us, Mr Svenson?” Venus asked.
Svenson did not reply immediately. He looked at the young woman staring hopefully at him, and then at Zodiac, who was frowning slightly as he looked at the man standing beside him. Stefan also turned his shrewd gaze on to Captain Blue. The Spectrum captain’s expression was stern, as befitted their predicament, but carefully neutral as he returned the alien’s scrutiny. Stefan knew Blue would never ask for his help but he believed the man was pragmatic enough to know when that help was needed.
He gave the briefest of smiles and turned back to Venus. “I am not sure there is much I can do, Doctor, but I can certainly even the odds.” He turned to speak to Blue, adding: “If you will allow me to?”
He moved to Scarlet’s body and placed his hand on the captain’s blood-matted hair. Blue took a step forward, but hesitated as Venus also moved to Scarlet’s side.
“Stand aside, Doctor,” Svenson said. His voice was deeper and more like the hollow tones that Blue associated with the Mysterons.
Venus stepped back and shook her head at Blue who was preparing to step in. “Go ahead, Mr Svenson,” she said.
Svenson closed his eyes and spread his fingers into Scarlet’s hair, covering his forehead with his palm. He stood there in silence, and after a moment began to sway gently back and forth. The colour faded from his already pale complexion and his visible flesh went a lifeless grey and then turned to pale silver before a becoming an intense magnesium-white that made the watchers blink and squint with its brilliance.
A shimmering light tinged with an ethereal green glow appeared to emanate from Svenson and flowed over Captain Scarlet’s recumbent form. There was no sound in the dome apart from the breathing of the officers and Blue could discern no change in Scarlet to suggest that his retrometabolism had kicked in. As the silence lengthened, he began to fear that, rather than curing Scarlet, the Mysteron was ensuring his friend would never recover and he was steeling himself to intervene when suddenly the monitors attached to Scarlet’s body gave a loud ‘bleep’ and the captain sat up, his sapphire-blue eyes open and alert.
Svenson staggered back and if Venus had not moved to support him and guide him to a chair, he would have fallen. His complexion had returned to the cold grey and his eyes remained closed. He was shaking with exhaustion.
Yet Blue barely spared him a glance as he sprang to Scarlet’s side. “Captain Scarlet, how are you?” he asked urgently.
For a moment Scarlet stared at his friend as if looking at a stranger and Blue feared the worst, but Scarlet quickly re-orientated himself and grasped Blue’s hand.
“Never better, Blue-boy,” Captain Scarlet replied, with a tired smile. “What have I missed?”
While Scarlet was introduced to a suitably astonished Colonel Zodiac and brought up to date with the situation, Venus went to assist Stefan Svenson.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, placing a hand on his shoulder and removing it quickly as the heat from his body threatened to scald her.
“Some water, for kindness, Doctor,’ he rasped.
She handed him a glass and he swallowed it in one draught. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Captain Scarlet doing the same.
“What did you do to him?” she asked.
Svenson glanced across at Scarlet, who was now munching his way through one of the ration packs, and shrugged one shoulder. “I simply… replenished his powers. I think that is the best way I can describe it that you might understand.”
“At what cost to yourself?” she demanded.
But Svenson was not going to be intimidated into revealing too much. “Don’t worry on my account, Doctor,” he replied. “I am a Mysteron; I have the ability to recreate matter when I need to.” He glanced at Scarlet and continued, “Please be assured that he would have recovered on his own in time, I simply… speeded things up.” He gave a slight smile. “I just hope I did not overdo it; the Captain should be back to his ‘normal’ self – the process was underway but would have taken many of your Earth-hours, for the damage was considerable.” He glanced at Scarlet, who was listening intently to Blue and Zodiac’s explanation of the situation they were in. “He was a remarkable human being with great potential – albeit largely untapped when we… recruited him – it is the Mysterons who have given him the self-knowledge and the ability to utilise all of his inherent strength.”
“And do you now understand why Scarlet broke free from Mysteron control?” Venus asked quietly.
To her relief, Svenson shook his head. “No; but I can understand why he reverted to his human personality when we lost control. He has a strong physique and indomitable willpower; such as he do not make submissive hosts.”
Venus got the impression he had forgotten she was there and was, quite possibly, speaking to other entities – possibly Mysterons – she could not see.
“Through the aeons we have explored the galaxies, we have grown to understand that in some species, the disposition of the host body can, on rare occasions, survive our incursion. Captain Scarlet was one of the first Earthmen we assimilated and we were not aware of either the over-riding sense of ‘self’ humanity has nor their powerful instinct for self-preservation. The mistake was not and shall not be made again.”
The uncompromising tone in his voice as he spoke his final sentence was a salutary reminder to Venus that however personable he seemed, Svenson was a member of an alien race the majority of whom were undeniably hostile to the Human Race.
“Yet you want to help us,” she remarked. “Is that not alien to the disposition of your species’?”
Startled by her words, Svenson gave a wry smile. “I am out of practise at controlling a host body, it seems. This man was, as his grandson is, obdurate and, as I explained, there remain the echoes of powerful emotional resonances between them. In this age Mysterons rarely venture into hosts ourselves, why would we expose ourselves to such unpredictable risks? We can control the recreated hosts and direct their actions to achieve our aims, this way their lingering personalities have little or no influence on us.”
Despite the distaste she felt at what he was saying, Venus handed Svenson another glass of water and remarked, “But you are a Mysteron and not just a controlled ‘host’, that’s what you said.”
“I did not say we could no longer venture into hosts; simply that we rarely choose to do so.”
“So is Captain Black a Mysteron recreation of the human who went to Mars?”
It looked as if Svenson had come to realise he might be giving too much away and after drinking his water he avoided giving a direct answer, saying,, “Black is our most powerful tool on Earth, which is why I believe he has been sent here. As Scarlet is the weapon we fear most, Black’s presence will enable us to make the best use of the agents we have here against Scarlet.”
“Do you fear Scarlet?” she asked, glancing at the young man who was now in deep discussions with Blue and Zodiac.
Svenson shook his head. “He cannot harm me. None of you can.”
She wondered if there was some element of bravado in those words, for he looked exhausted and in no state to defend himself against a determined attack by three human beings.
“None of us would wish to,” she assured him kindly.
Svenson gave her a grateful, if somewhat doubtful, smile.
“Right,” Captain Scarlet briskly when Zodiac had finished his briefing, “we need to get out there and put a stop to Black and whatever plans his masters have in store for us. Maybe, as he’s out on a limb, we’ll have a chance to catch him or, at least, put him out of commission once and for all.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” Zodiac asked. “We’re in here and they’re out there with an electron gun. As soon as we try to move out they’ll open fire and we’ll be sitting ducks.”
“Are you a fisherman, Colonel?” Scarlet asked.
“What? No, well… no,” Zodiac stammered.
Scarlet explained: “Then it might not have occurred to you that fish have an excellent way of making it difficult to pick them off one by one: they travel in shoals and they don’t move in straight lines. You went out there alone and – understandably – you were shot at. What we need to do is all go out at once. The electron gun might well hit one of us, but they’re not always that accurate and it can’t hit us all because, which you might not know, it has to recharge before it can be fired again. By then, I’m betting it would be back in our hands and not Citrine’s – or Black’s.”
Zodiac nodded slowly. “That’s all very well, Captain Scarlet, but there aren’t that many of us.” He looked around the dome. “Maybe there’s something we can adapt to provide us with some sort of armour, or a shield? If we minimise the risks and are well-prepared we stand a better chance. I’ll go with you guys when we’re ready.”
“We could rig up something that we could use as a grenade,” Blue suggested. “It’d stir up enough dust to make it difficult for them to get a clear shot at us, initially, at least.”
Scarlet swung his legs off the bed and flexed his shoulder muscles. “Excellent! Get cracking, Blue-boy. Just let me get my gear on and I’ll give you a hand.”
Zodiac stared after him as he went into the small private area off the main room to dress. “Is he usually like this?” he asked.
Blue was already checking the ammunition chambers of the Spectrum weaponry, he glanced up and replied, “More often than not. He’s been rather subdued of late, so it is good to have him back to normal.”
Blue grimaced thoughtfully. “Sometimes that is what makes him moody.” He frowned and confessed, “I often think we don’t give him enough time to recover – well, we do physically, of course - but mentally. I know what he undergoes does my head in, so Lord knows what it does to his…”
“Yeah; it can’t be easy,” Colonel Zodiac agreed, watching Scarlet searching the dome for suitable equipment with renewed admiration.
Zodiac anticipated that they’d conduct as thorough a reconnaissance of the area as the scanners would allow, once Scarlet returned, so therefore, he went to brief Venus on their plan of action and see if she had any ideas of what equipment they might use as additional protection.
She made no comment until he finished and then said, “I will be ready to come with you, Steve.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Venus,” he replied. “Leave it to the three of us.”
“Three is hardly a shoal,” she replied, with impeccable logic. “If Scarlet’s plan is to work, we will need everyone to participate.”
Captain Blue joined them as Zodiac was struggling to explain why he felt the mission only needed the three of them to participate.
“Doctor, we’re not expecting you to risk-” Blue interjected, in support of the colonel, but Venus turned on him angrily.
“You do not listen to my advice, Captain, and now I shall not listen to yours. The more of us make the sortie, the lesser the risk for us all.” She turned to include Zodiac and asked, “What will happen to me, here alone, if you three don’t overcome the aliens? Spectrum considers Robert is out of the action, Fireball Junior’s too far away for me to get back there and Matt can’t do much in Fireball except destroy the whole complex. I am coming too – finis!”
Blue flushed and shrugged his shoulders, glancing ruefully at Zodiac, who gave a wry grin in response, adding:
“We shouldn’t try to argue with Venus, Captain. It isn’t worth the energy it takes.”
The petite woman pursed her lips in a show of reproach. “I am disappointed in you, Captain Blue,” she announced. “Spectrum made a big announcement of the rights of women to be combat personnel and to take the dangers and the responsibilities the same as men. There are the Angel Pilots who do this, aren’t there?” Blue nodded. “Then why would a Spectrum officer think that a woman who is a crew member of a World Space Patrol rocket ship is less capable of facing risks? Hmm?”
“You’re a doctor,” Blue replied bluntly, “and our medical staff – whatever their sex - rarely face combat situations.”
She appeared to be mollified at this explanation and gave him a slight smile. “In space we have to be prepared to face whatever we encounter. I am perfectly capable of fighting my corner.”
“I’m sure you are,” he agreed.
“Sure she is what?” Scarlet asked, as he approached, dressed in his uniform.
“Capable of joining us in our sortie,” Zodiac explained.
Scarlet looked at Venus and recognised from her combative stance that the wrong answer was going to result in nothing but an ear-bashing. He smiled. “Of course she is!” he exclaimed. “The female of the species is more deadly than the male; that’s right, isn’t it, Blue-boy?”
Blue gave a one-shouldered shrug. “According to Kipling, anyway,” he agreed, although his tone suggested he had reservations about the truth of it.
“I’d never argue with a man who makes such exceedingly good cakes,” Scarlet replied obscurely.
Venus smiled, dimples appearing on both cheeks. “Then we are friends again,” she assured the officers.
“Good. Did you rig up some explosive devices, Blue? Great. Even if they don’t make much of a bang there’s the element of surprise on our side. Now, then this is what I want you to do…”
As Scarlet gave everyone their orders, Svenson stood and, as if he was seeing him for the first time, Scarlet turned and looked at him.
There was an almost electrical charge in the air as their eyes met and Blue thought he could see a reoccurrence of the greenish aura around both men. His impression was that they were having a conversation no one else could hear.
After a moment Scarlet nodded, a slight smile on his full lips, and pointed a finger towards Svenson. “Good, you do that. Okay?” He glanced at the others.
“About what?” Zodiac asked in some confusion.
“Weren’t you listening?” Scarlet said. “Stefan will focus on locating Black and when he does, I’ll go with him and deal with our erstwhile friend and colleague.”
“I didn’t hear a thing,” Zodiac said, glancing at the others who shook their heads.
The Mysteron seemed to make a concerted effort to speak, “Apologies. I was forgetting to verbalise. I should be able to locate Captain Black, if he is here, much quicker than any of you. Therefore, it makes sense I should be the one to approach him, with Scarlet’s help. ”
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Blue snapped. “I’m not sure we can trust you. Paul, be careful.”
Scarlet nodded and placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Trust me on this, Adam; he’s dependable. I guess it runs in your family,” he said.
“We should scan outside, to try and identify where the Mysteron agents are,” Zodiac added, as Scarlet checked his gun and slid it into his holster.
“No time,” Scarlet replied. “The element of surprise should give us enough of an advantage. Black won’t have chance to react before Stefan, here, gets to grips with him.”
As the quintet walked to the airlock, Blue dropped in beside Svenson, who nodded a welcome although he had no doubt that the captain was not acting from friendship, but from his innate suspicion that this alien might yet play them false and move against Scarlet. Whilst he could appreciate the loyalty Blue had to his friend and field partner, he was disappointed that he had not been able to win the young man over to believing he meant the humans no harm.
As the American gave no sign that he’d seen the nod but pointedly re-checked the make-shift grenade he’d made, Svenson gave a slight shrug and gave his attention to the impending fight.
Captain Scarlet pushed the activating switch for the inner airlock door and they stepped inside. It was crowded and Zodiac’s shoulder was pressed into his; Venus was behind them and Blue and the Mysteron brought up the rear.
Scarlet had not felt the need to question the Mysteron’s assumption that he would fight alongside them. He had a vestigial memory of the time he’d been lying in limbo waiting for the sensations that told him his body was recovering. He’d sensed the urgent need for a speedy recovery; knew that the mission was dangerously close to failing and that both his friend and the astronauts who were helping him were in danger, but everything was taking too long – until… he’d become aware of the powerful presence of the alien beside him.
A strange force had enveloped him. His senses had re-awakened at once and he’d experienced the void that was his lifeless body filling with the familiar sensation of the power of retrometabolism, sparking nerves and contracting muscles. On Earth the sensation was always gradual, building into a crescendo that allowed him to breathe again and gain control his organs and limbs, but this had been like a tsunami, sweeping through him and energizing his body to ‘live’ like a thrown switch turns on a light.
Unspoken words had become comprehensible to him: you know what you must do - and he did: the plan and the outcomes had been there in their entirety and he was confident they’d succeed. He’d open his eyes to the surety of victory.
Alongside him, Steve Zodiac was less sanguine. Captain Scarlet seemed rather hasty in formulating his plans and the young man was obviously keen for a showdown with their enemies outside the Dome. This was all very well and generally he approved of the concept of attack as the best line of defence, but what he’d learned of the Mysterons suggested they were in for a tough fight and, although he knew Venus was more than capable of protecting herself, he regretted her insistence on joining them. He also found himself wishing that Robert was on hand – despite Blue’s apparent concerns - for although Matt had programmed the machine never to take life, he could act in defence of his masters. Given time he felt sure they could have found a way to get Robot to join them, thus providing a distraction while they broke out of the dome.
Sighing out his regrets for the ‘might-have-been’, Zodiac gripped the handle of his gun firmly and, as the outer air-lock door widened, prepared to go out fighting.
Scarlet felt the adrenalin flowing through his veins as the gap widened, revealing the monochromatic landscape. His senses were stretched in anticipation when he sensed the beginnings of the nausea that affected him in the presence of Mysterons – especially Captain Black. He blinked and swallowed, desperate to quell the debilitating sensation and suddenly, in his mind he heard Stefan’s calming voice:
Leave him to me: there is no need for you to concern yourself…
To Scarlet’s relief, the nausea faded, leaving his mind and senses clear. He turned his head to the left, focussing on a remote area of darkness; behind him he sensed Stefan moving and then heard Blue gasp as the Mysteron vanished to reappear in the distance, where Scarlet was staring.
An ominous green aura shimmered in the thin atmosphere as Scarlet sprinted forwards and a figure emerged from the darkness and coalesced into Captain Black.
“Scarlet!” Blue yelled, and forgetting their plan he raced off after his friend.
“Come and face me!” Scarlet bellowed his challenge at Black. “Get over here and face me – you coward!”
Black vanished and reappeared closer to the Bucky-dome, leaving Scarlet and Blue racing off in the wrong direction. Moments later, Stefan vanished from sight. Spinning round, Scarlet bounded towards Blue and they both started back towards the dome.
Startled at the disarray, Zodiac had cursed under his breath and started after Blue, but several metres on he stopped, gaping in surprise as Captain Black appeared before him.
“C…Conrad?” he stammered. “What the hell…?”
Black’s fierce gaze swivelled to Zodiac and the colonel felt a powerful force hit his chest, like a punch. He gasped, almost choking, struggling to gain his breath as he began to lose consciousness.
As Zodiac fell to his knees, Venus rushed to his side. She knelt beside him and cradled him in her arms as the bloodstain slowly spread across his abdomen, distracting him from trying to look at how bad the wound was.
“Stay with me, Steve,” she instructed. “I’ll get you back to Fireball; you’ll be okay.”
“Venus,” he whispered, finding it hard to get his breath, “I’ve never known another woman like you. I’m glad you were part of my life.”
“Am part of it, Steve – I am part and I always will be!”
“Sure, honey. I know I wouldn’t want it any other way…”
Blood trickled from his mouth and he coughed, splattering bloody saliva over her sleeve. He gave a shaky smile, raised one hand to her cheek as his eyes widened.
The hand dropped to the ground and his head fell forwards against her breast.
“No! This cannot be happening…”
She looked up into the impassive face of Captain Black and drew her gun. “You did this, Conrad – you’ve killed him. Now you will pay for it.”
Before she could pull the trigger, Black kicked the gun from her hand and it went tumbling away across the surface. He reached down and dragged Venus to her feet, using her as a human shield against Scarlet and Blue who were rapidly closing the gap.
“Kill him!” Venus gasped to the Spectrum officers. “Forget me – kill him! You must get Steve back to the medical unit on Fireball. You must save him.”
“Come any closer and the earth-woman and the man will die,” Black said.
“They won’t be the first and if it means we can stop you doing any more harm, it’ll be worth it,” Scarlet retorted.
“The Mysterons have heard your messages. We have considered the offer of your surrender –“
“Surrender? No one said anything about surrendering,” Scarlet snapped. “Not only are you Mysterons vindictive and pitiless, you’re also delusional.”
“We would discuss the terms of your surrender with your Earth leaders.”
“Did you listen to a word I said? I said – quite clearly - No surrender.”
“You’re wasting time – Kill him! Save Steve,” pleaded Venus, struggling vainly to escape from Black’s iron grip.
Blue made a move forward, but Black shook his head and raised a gun to Venus’s temple.
“Don’t worry about me,” she cried, looking down to Zodiac’s inert body with anxious eyes.
Blue glanced at Scarlet: he could see that his colleague was ready to take Venus at her word and would attack Black with a view to killing him without fear of the consequences. The thought was an uncomfortable one and he spoke out:
“We’re unable to contact our leaders at the moment – which I am sure you’re aware of. What terms are the Mysterons seeking?”
“Are you crazy?” Scarlet exclaimed, staring at his friend. “There will be no surrender!”
“Spectrum is supposed to save life not risk it,” Blue responded through gritted teeth. “We’re here to negotiate and I want to hear what the Mysterons are offering as terms. Maybe their idea of surrender is our idea of a negotiated settlement; we’ll never know if we don’t ask.”
“They’re not here to negotiate.” In his anxiety to win the debate, Scarlet was shouting. “They’ve threatened all life on Earth, so one human being – half a dozen human beings,” he waved his hand to encompass the small group, “are of no consequence.”
“’Any man’s death diminishes me’,” Blue replied, “’because I am involved in mankind … therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
“Will you listen to yourself?” Scarlet snarled. “Come out of that warm cocoon of high moral philosophy you inhabit and smell the shit. The Mysterons have no morals – no mercy – and the bell will toll for every man, woman and child if we don’t stop them here and now!”
“Captain Scarlet, you will carry the burden of guilt for innumerable deaths if you forgo the chance for peace,” Captain Black said.
“So be it,” Scarlet snapped and launched himself towards Black with murder in his heart.
Blue sprang after him, as Black pulled the trigger and Venus crumpled to the ground. Scarlet’s leap carried him on through the atmosphere as Black vanished and he landed on the surface with a thud, sending up a storm of dust.
“Damn you, Paul,” Blue yelled, as he bent over Venus’s still body. “She’s dead!”
Scarlet crawled back and stared, horrified, at the young woman. “She can’t be. This wasn’t supposed to happen!” He looked up, searching for Stefan. “You said nobody would be hurt!” he accused.
Blue looked over his shoulder to where the alien stood. “This is your doing?”
Stefan shook his head. “I am one individual against a powerful collective. I can only do so much. I am sorry Black escaped you, but you will have other chances.”
“Sod Black – neither Venus nor Zodiac were meant to be hurt,” Scarlet raged, getting to his feet.
“I’m not infallible, Scarlet.”
“They weren’t going to be hurt – you promised!”
Stefan frowned thoughtfully. “There may be a slim chance… if we act quickly.”
“What do we have to do?” Blue said, picking Venus up in his arms.
“Get her into the Dome. Bring Zodiac,” Stefan instructed Scarlet as Blue started back inside.
Venus lay on the camp bed so recently vacated by Scarlet while Blue stood beside it, hopeful expectation radiating from him as he watched Scarlet carry Zodiac in and place him on the middle of the three camp beds.
Stefan moved to stand between them and looked down at them both with some tenderness.
“What’re you going to do?” Scarlet asked.
Stefan looked up and smiled. “I still have powers you don’t know about or would comprehend, Paul. The shot pierced the Doctor’s brain, but her mind was no longer there. What you would undoubtedly call her ‘spirit’ was in my keeping and still is.”
“You can restore her to life?” Blue whispered, his face draining of colour.
“She is not dead in the sense that you understand it – her ‘essence’ is within me. I can and will restore it to her body once that body is strong enough to support it.” He nodded. “There is equipment on Fireball that will repair the physical damage, but she will not make use of it until Steve is recovered.”
Blue reached for the colonel’s arm and felt for a pulse. “He’s not dead,” he said in surprise.
“Not yet, but he will be if we don’t operate soon,” Stefan said.
“We?” Blue smiled at his ‘grandfather’.
“She is a very determined female,” Stefan explained, simpering and almost fluttering his eyelashes at the younger American.
Blue laughed aloud. “Really, Doctor – behave.”
Robert the Robot helped them ferry Zodiac and Venus back to Fireball Junior and Stefan took control of the craft accomplishing docking with the larger Fireball rocket with ease. Once there, Professor Matic helped them arrange the medical unit, and with Robert’s assistance, and Venus’s knowledge, Stefan performed the necessary life-saving surgery.
Scarlet and Blue waited in the recovery room, pacing up and down for all the world like expectant fathers, to Matic’s private amusement.
When Stefan emerged from the operating theatre he was exuberant.
“It went well?” Blue asked anxiously.
“Splendidly. You know, Adam, it was fascinating to see the complexity of the human body and the doctor was able to show me how to deal with the issues and repair the damage. Zodiac will be fully recovered in …oh, a week or so… we have no doubt that he’ll recover and that is welcome to us.”
“Good,” said Scarlet, sharing a relieved smile with Blue. “Now, can we please repair the damage to Doctor Venus so I can relax?”
“It will be disconcerting to operate on the doctor,” Stefan admitted, “but we are ready to proceed.”
The second operation took even longer to accomplish and Scarlet and Blue had exhausted themselves – or in Scarlet’s case, his patience – long before Stefan emerged from the operating theatre. He looked at the slumbering officers, smiled and went to find something to eat and drink.
He had finished eating when Professor Matic joined him. They sat in companionable silence, while Matic scrutinised Stefan’s face.
“Tell me, is Venus still with you?” Matic asked, after the silence had lasted some minutes.
“Of course. She can only leave me when her body is recovered enough to support her consciousness.”
“Is she conscious now?”
Stefan shook his head. “It’s been tiring, she’s resting. She’s not aware of our conversation, Professor, you may speak freely.”
“Will Steve and Venus remember any of this when they’re recovered?”
“If by that, you mean will they be Mysterons, the answer is no. If you’re asking if they will be different people, I can’t answer that completely. Zodiac did not die; his consciousness remained within his human body, although he was seriously injured. Whatever such an experience might bring to his psyche, he may experience, but it will not be of my doing.”
Matic nodded to show he understood. “And Venus?”
“The Doctor’s consciousness has been within me since it became apparent that Captain Black’s actions would kill her otherwise. Part of her – a residue, if you will – will remain with me for ever, but, as I have taken care that she remains as divorced from my inner consciousness as possible, it is unlikely she will have absorbed much. My people fascinate her and she would have sought answers I cannot allow her to have.”
“It is a remarkable gift your people have, Mr Svenson.”
“Call me, Doctor – somehow it seems… appropriate.” Stefan’s smile was almost mischievous. “I will tell you what she cannot help but know, but before I do, I must bind you to total secrecy. I have my own people to protect just as you have yours, Professor.”
“You have my word as a man of science and I am sure Venus would agree as well.”
“She has already given her word and I have accepted it. It is because I realise from her psyche how much humans love to speculate and debate that I am prepared to give you the same knowledge. I would hate her to have no one she could discuss things with.”
“You are a good man, Doctor.”
Svenson smiled. “That’s debateable, Professor. However, I should explain that my people are from a different dimension to this one; we can move through time and space without hindrance. Across the multiverse we have left outposts, watching and listening to the development of other races and species. Sometimes these mechanical outposts create problems and we have to personally intervene. Warlike behaviour is not acceptable and the Earth was despised as unworthy of continuing existence after the Martian attack. But there was a minority faction that argued against the immediate annihilation of the planet; so the case remains in the balance, Professor. How Spectrum and the Earth deals with our War of Nerves will determine the ultimate fate of the planet and its inhabitants.”
“You’re some sort of Galactic Judiciary?”
Stefan shrugged. “Self-appointed, at best. A few of us, who are concerned that we are becoming too powerful, have become travellers, Defending Councils, if you wish to continue the analogy. We protect the accused civilisations; make a case for their continuing existence. Earth may feel alone against the might of the Mysterons, but it is not.”
“That’s reassuring,” Matic responded with some emotion.
“Captain Scarlet is the reason the Earth remains at the forefront of my people’s concerns. What happened to him is not understood, even now. There is genuine concern that if this anomaly spreads, our people will be endangered, therefore the animosity of the Mysterons – our name in this dimension – is directed against the Earth and Captain Scarlet.”
“And if Scarlet was no longer here to pose that perceived threat, would the Earth be spared?”
“On behalf of the ruling council, I offered Captain Blue the choice of surrendering Scarlet to the Mysterons or fighting on, and he chose to fight, Professor. Personally, I think he made the right choice, but I could understand if to a human being this was not the case.”
Sensing that a great deal depended on his answer, Matic sat in deep contemplation for some time. He then looked up and met Stefan’s direct gaze.
“No, I reckon Captain Blue did the right thing. Captain Scarlet was not responsible for the attack on your outpost or for what made him indestructible. You say your people don’t know what happened any more than mine, so maybe there’s an authority greater than the Mysterons in the universe, who wants to even things up in the conflict? I wouldn’t like to say either way, Doctor; but I will say that if the innocent have any right to protection that right must extend to Captain Scarlet.”
Stefan’s expression was genial and benign. “I so rejoice in humanity, with all its contradictions and foibles; long may it continue to thrive.”
Matic tracked down the Spectrum officers and reported that the relief freighter was less than an hour away.
“Do you want to go back to the surface, so they can pick you up, or shall we take you back to Space City with us?” he asked them.
“I think we’d better go back to the surface,” Scarlet said, glancing for confirmation at his field partner. Blue nodded. “There’s things we need to do before this mission’s properly over and done with.”
“O-kay, I’ll make the arrangements.”
“There’re some answers I need before we leave though,” Blue said, once they were alone. “I don’t know about you, Paul?”
“Let’s wander down to the Medical Bay and see how the patients are doing,” Scarlet suggested by way of an answer.
In the Medical Bay, Stefan was sitting watching the sedated bodies of Zodiac and Venus. He had obviously been raiding the civilian wardrobes of the crew, and was no longer wearing his formal business suit. Instead, he wore what looked like a random collection of garments and sported a small, fez-like hat on his head. He glanced up as the captains entered and rose to direct them into the small office that Venus used.
“You’re leaving Fireball?” he said, glancing from one to the other in swift appraisal.
“We are,” Scarlet acknowledged.
“Only there’s some questions we need answers to before we go,” Blue explained.
“Ask your questions; I will answer those I can.”
Blue took him at his word and replied immediately with, “Where’s Lieutenant Citrine?”
Stefan inhaled deeply and gave an apologetic grimace. “She is no longer alive in a way you’d understand.”
“What happened to her?”
“Fraser. He was the Mysteron agent instructed to kill her. When Scarlet left the Dome and you were asleep, Adam, he went inside to carry out his orders.”
Blue looked accusingly at the alien. “You couldn’t stop him?”
“No; I couldn’t.”
“Was she Mysteronised?” Scarlet interjected.
Stefan opened his mouth to reply and closed it again without speaking. He gave the matter further thought and then said, “You know I am a Mysteron, but not the kind of Mysteron you should fear – at least, I hope I am not. Well, Citrine is also a Mysteron you should not fear. She is – her body is – host to … well, to use a term you would understand, my child’s child. She is now – oddly enough – genuinely my granddaughter.”
“When I left the collective, a young individual, known to me, followed me to the Moon, despite having been forbidden to do so. Not as strong as me, on their arrival it quickly became necessary to take refuge in a host body. Because Citrine was wounded, I helped in her assimilation; the alternative would have been the extinction of both. When Fraser tried to kill Citrine’s body, with the intention of making her an agent of the Mysterons, she was able to resist him until I could arrive to help her. Fraser won’t be seen again by any living soul – believe me. But my child’s-child was left very weak, so weak that she could not leave the host body and I had to ensure Citrine’s body was somewhere safe – away from the Mysterons’ attempts to use her against you all, so that she could recuperate her strength.”
“So Citrine’s alive?” Blue gasped.
Stefan shook his head. “Not in the way you mean, Adam. Susan Gilchrist would never have regained consciousness. Although her psyche was strong, the deprivation of oxygen when her helmet was shattered had done too much damage – beyond even my repair, before you ask. My child’s-child is now bound into her body and will be for many of your Earth years while she grows and regains her strength. We have both expended a great deal of our life force coming here and, because I have annoyed the Mysteron Consciousness, we can expect no help from there to return to our own dimension. In our human forms, we can survive and recover and we will be eternally grateful to humanity for that.”
“Where is your ‘child’s-child’ now?” Scarlet said sharply.
There was a slight disturbance in the air and the faintest of green lights coalesced into the figure of Lieutenant Citrine. She had also changed from her Spectrum uniform, although, as her attire must’ve come from Venus’ wardrobe she was dressed in a fashionable outfit and wore a black leather cap on her dark hair.
“Susan,” Blue gasped, getting to his feet and moving towards her.
“Hello, Captain Blue,” she replied. “I am pleased to meet you – both of you.”
Her voice had perceptively changed and had a new maturity and confidence. Realising this was no longer the young woman he had known, Blue stopped dead and stared as she moved over to stand beside his ‘grandfather’.
She placed a hand on Stefan’s shoulder as the older man gave her an affectionate reprimand. “I told you not to come, Susan,” he said.
“And I told you I would,” she replied. “How could I leave without saying goodbye?”
“I should know by now that you never listen to me,” Stefan said, with the eternal exasperation of older relatives to impetuous youths everywhere.
Smiling, Susan turned to Scarlet and Blue and explained, “Susan Gilchrist could never have survived in your world. Her mind was damaged and although I can repair her body, I cannot restore that to her. Please try to be happy for her; what remains of her psyche is within me and I have some of her memories and her great feelings of friendship towards you both. She would want you to know that she is content and looks forward to an existence beyond anything she could have expected on Earth. She will never be forgotten while I am in existence.”
Blue was dumbstruck, but Scarlet said, “Look after her, won’t you?”
The young woman nodded. “The Doctor, my Grandfather, and I will remain vigilant and this body will never suffer because of anything I do.”
Stefan smiled and stood to face the two officers. “We should be going. To remain longer would cause… difficulties for all concerned.”
“Where will you go?” Scarlet asked, “You’ve told us that you can’t return to your home.”
“There’s time and space enough for us to explore without crossing our people’s paths for a long time,” Stefan replied. “And we have done all we can here. The rest is up to you. Doctor Venus is back in her own body and comfortable. She and Zodiac will soon recover their strength. I can only wish you two every success and encourage you to remain united in your fight against the enemies of your world. It may help you to know that you are not alone in that fight.”
“What about my grandfather?” Blue blurted out, afraid that the aliens would leave before he had his answers. “Is he dead?”
“I told you that he was and through no action of ours. I assure you that even though for now, I must continue to inhabit his body; I will not use his name. The time will come when I have to leave this host and from then on Stefan’s form will never be seen again. I am grateful to him for the use of it and for the insights he and you have given me into mankind. You are a remarkable species.”
“Remarkable? Yes; but not perfect,” Blue replied.
“Agreed, but you have aspirations to achieve perfection,” the alien said. “And that is laudable and encouraging. On a personal note, before I go, I want you to know, Adam, that Stefan was – and is – inordinately proud of you.”
Overcome with sudden emotion Blue looked away.
“And what about me?” Scarlet asked quietly. “What comfort can you give me, Doctor?”
The alien took his hand and looked deep into Scarlet’s sapphire-blue eyes.
“You will be your people’s champion; their first line of defence against the malice and enmity of my people. While you live, Paul Metcalfe, the Earth is safe. You must take your comfort from that fact. It will be a hard road to travel, Paul, but you are strong enough and brave enough to make the journey and you will never be alone along the way. Perhaps, one day, we may meet again – in the infinite universe all things are possible.”
Lieutenant Citrine’s service record showed ‘Killed in Action’ and Captain Blue received a formal reprimand for exceeding his orders and taking her to Crater 101. He was currently working through his demerits as Christmas Duty Officer in the Radar Room. Captain Scarlet, who had been left with the job of writing a full and comprehensive report of the mission, was, on the colonel’s express orders, attending a 3-day crash course in report writing with an emphasis on sticking to the facts and not embroidering his reports with fanciful details.
It was only the fact that the World Space Patrol had backed up some of those details Colonel White found unbelievable that had prevented Scarlet’s reprimand being more severe.
However, the colonel was beginning to wonder if he should relent towards his errant officers. A deputation of colour-captains and Angel pilots had requested that both men be allowed to attend the Christmas Party due to be held in the Amber Room later that day and Rhapsody had added a touching plea for clemency based on the fact that the mission had already caused Captain Scarlet to miss his birthday celebrations.
The deputation left without a definitive answer, but when the colonel’s shift came to an end, he began to make his way down to the Radar Room, stopping at the various workstations and leisure rooms en route to wish his crew ‘a merry Christmas’. As he approached the main Radar Room where Blue was serving out his demerits, he saw the door was open and hesitated, wondering what was going on. Moving slowly forwards, he peered in.
Symphony Angel was sitting on Captain Blue’s knee, holding a small bunch of mistletoe above his head while she locked her lips to his. Rhapsody Angel and Captain Scarlet were huddled close together in a corner, similarly engaged, although there was no sign of any mistletoe this time, White noticed.
“Happy Birthday, Paul,” Rhapsody murmured as they broke apart to draw breath.
“Thanks, Sweetheart.” Scarlet kissed her cheek.
Immediately, Rhapsody produced her own bunch of mistletoe and reached up for another kiss. “Merry Christmas,” she said…
“Who needs the Amber Room party when we have the Radar Room and some mistletoe?” Symphony asked rhetorically, as Blue gasped for breath.
“Much more privacy here,” Rhapsody agreed, hugging Scarlet close.
“I’m not too heavy for you, Adam, am I?” Symphony purred, as he shifted uneasily in the narrow seat.
“Not at all, älskling… only you just happen to be sitting on my service gun…”
“And I thought you were pleased to see me…” she teased, pouting.
Shaking his head and chuckling to himself, Colonel White sauntered away from the Radar Room under the cover of the guffaws of laughter coming from Scarlet and Rhapsody and the exclamation of protest from Captain Blue.
On the whole, I think they’re coping well enough with being back even though they’re on reprimand, so I’m not going to interfere – this time. Mind you, I hope the Mysterons don’t decide to attack tonight because there’ll be little or no warning from the Radar Room if they do… perhaps Scarlet’s report was the truth after all and there are some ‘good Mysterons’ out there, on our side and ready to give us the benefit of the doubt? That really would mean ‘Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all men’. Nevertheless. I’d better warn Angel One to be extra vigilant or no one will have a very merry Christmas.
This is the Anderverse where all things are possible, very little is logical and nothing is consistent.
Oxygen pills are Fireball XL5 canon and neither Steve Zodiac nor Venus wear spacesuits when leaving their spaceship to explore an alien planet. I was able to hypothesise that ‘thermal uniforms’ kept them warm but I have no idea what prevented their bodies from exploding due to the pressure – or lack of it. It obviously didn’t bother Gerry Anderson and his crew in 1962 and so I decided I wasn’t going to let it bother me either. Therefore, I have presumed that it is possible for people to scamper about on the surface of the Moon unhindered by space suits and the lack of oxygen, when they need to.
I spent some time debating whether to expound my own theory of the Mysterons, as far as it went, and how to prevent whatever was learnt during this adventure becoming common knowledge across the Anderverse and thereby resolving some of Spectrum’s dilemmas. I hope the solution to the problem seems plausible.
As we are told so little about the Mysterons in canon sources, I felt free to work on what I believe to be an idea of my own. If I have reused any concepts other authors have already expounded, I apologise for not acknowledging them, but it was not done intentionally. My own idea actually evolved (as far as it has) from a programme I saw on the BBC, presented by Professor Brian Cox, which discussed the various ways life forms on Earth perceive the universe around them. ‘My’ Mysteron theory evolved from the section about catfish. Inspiration is a many and varied thing, I find.
I am not a Fireball XL5 expert, so I apologise for any mistakes I have made with their canon and hope that my interpretation of the characters passes muster.
I want to pay a huge debt of gratitude to Hazel Köhler, both for her exemplary beta-reading services and for sowing the germ of an idea that developed into an unexpected aspect of this story. Hazel’s own fiction is a constant source of inspiration, admiration and enjoyment to me and I am grateful to her for allowing me to use the result of her unique creativeness in my own way as part of this story.
It goes without saying that any mistakes in the text are entirely due to my own inveterate tweaking after she had finished.
Thanks also go to Chris Bishop, for the wonders of her website, her continued enthusiasm and much-valued friendship. Similar thanks go to the other Scarletinis around the Globe who continue to carry the torch for Captain Scarlet and his friends and keep the fandom fresh and alive.
Finally, I acknowledge a lasting debt to the Late Gerry Anderson and his colleagues for creating the fascinating world of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ - and indeed, all of the Supermarionation shows - in such a way that there are limitless possibilities and opportunities to expand and expound the Anderverse without ever getting it wrong…
I hope you enjoyed reading this and I wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Oh, and a Happy Birthday to Paul Metcalfe!
12 December 2015