A Captain Scarlet story for Halloween.
By Marion Woods.
The sun set all over the world.
Clouds boiled out of nowhere and twilight deepened into darkness. From Spitzbergen to Cape Town, from Brisbane to Anchorage lights came on and people wondered what the hell was happening.
News services flashed the message: The world has turned dark. The World President convened video conferences with regional heads of state, and scientists were dragged from their bed, or their lunches, to provide explanations.
Cloudbase, floating 40,000 feet above the earth, was more or less immune from the phenomenon. There, the sun was as bright as always, yet below the vast, hovering headquarters of the Spectrum organisation, the cotton-wool clouds were gloomy and grey, and the patches, deepening into black, were spreading.
In the Conference Room Colonel White was already on the video-phone to the World President.
“No sir, we’ve had no Mysteron threat so far. I’m getting reports from my terrestrial agents that it is like an instantaneous world-wide solar eclipse, but no one has a clue why it’s happened.”
“I expect Spectrum to work on finding the reason, Colonel. Put every man you’ve got on it.”
“Of course, Mr President. We’ll keep you informed.”
The connection closed down and the colonel turned to the assembled members of his elite squad of field agents.
“There are already some reports of looting and panic is spreading – especially in the places where it is supposed to be daylight. None of the bases report any sign or warning of Mysteron activity, and the scientists are baffled as to what’s happening and why.” He shook his head. “If the sun is cut off it won’t take long for the effects to be felt around the globe. Temperatures will fall and the crops will fail, if it lasts long enough.”
Destiny Angel shook her head. “There is no meteorological reason why this should be, Colonel. Such a thing is unprecedented.”
“No reports of a meteor strike, I suppose?” Captain Blue asked, and then answered himself immediately, “No, they’d have had warning of that and there’d be shock waves…” He sighed. “I’m just clutching at straws, I guess.”
“That was the first thing the scientists checked for,” White confirmed. “But there’s been nothing. The seismographs are all quiet; and something big enough to do this would have been noticed around the world.”
“So there’s no clues at all?” Symphony Angel asked.
“No,” White replied. “Everyone’s baffled.”
“Any sign that the clouds are beginning to disperse – anywhere?” Captain Scarlet inquired thoughtfully. “That at least would give us somewhere to start looking.”
White shook his head.
“Where are they thickest?” Captain Magenta asked.
“Why do you want to know that?” the colonel asked.
“Well, if they’re not thinning out anywhere, finding out where they’re spreading out from seems like the obvious next step.”
The colonel gave a brisk nod and consulted his database. After a few seconds he asked Lieutenant Green to check some data and it wasn’t long until the young Trinidadian officer replied with the following information.
“The weather satellite relay shows a strange, dark cloud formation spreading out from the area around the British Isles, sir. It looks to be centred on Ireland, to be precise. It started to advance across Great Britain and out into the Atlantic first of all. No one took much notice, it was twilight time and much of Europe was already in darkness – more or less. But it reached the east coast of America long before it should have got dark there. It just kept spreading around the globe, until it formed a solid band at that latitude. After that, it started to expand north and south. As far as we can tell, there is dark cloud cover, of varying depths, from pole to pole now, sir.”
Magenta shifted uncomfortably in his seat and half-opened his mouth to speak, drawing in a preparatory breath, which he then exhaled without saying anything.
“You have an idea, Captain?” Colonel White asked.
A faint blush rose in the captain’s face, but he replied, “Not an idea, as such, but a memory, sir.”
“You’ve seen this before?” Captain Ochre asked sceptically.
“No!” Magenta shrugged and reluctantly explained, “I was born in Ireland, and we lived there until I was three. I can just remember an old tale which my grandmother used to tell me, and which she said she’d heard from her grandmother – and so on back into the mists of time.”
“Okay,” Ochre said, with a grimace, “you might as well tell us. As no one else has any ideas at all about this, an old wives’ tale is better than nothing at all.”
Magenta gave him an exasperated look, but then caught sight of the colonel nodding in agreement.
“Okay – well, don’t blame me.”
“Please Captain Magenta, we don’t have all day,” White remarked.
“Or all night,” Scarlet muttered.
Magenta started his explanation.
“Back in antiquity, when men and the sidhe lived side by side, there was a very powerful sprite, but he was bad tempered and malicious, and held no other his equal. His name became a by-word for evil and strife and no one was allowed to pronounce it, for fear of calling him to their company. So, he was shunned by his fellow sidhe and in his despair and anger he grew ever more malevolent. Eventually, after his behaviour became too much for the others to bear with any longer, he was stripped of all of his powerful magic and turned out of the blessed land of Tir Na nÓg to wander forever, despised by the sidhe and feared by men. The only time his powers were fully restored to him was on Halloween, when the magic of the sidhe is strong, and the barriers between the two realms are not tough enough to prevent it breaking through to the human world. The banished sprite roamed the world as a beggar and an outcast. When anyone tried to help him, he repaid them with ill-luck and curses. He used to trick people and cause trouble wherever he went… Well, to cut the story short,” he said, noticing the bemusement on some faces and the growing irritation on the colonel’s, “he eventually became closely associated with Samhain – Halloween – so much that in the world of men, he was called Samhain too.”
“And this is relevant because…?” Scarlet asked.
“Because it’s Halloween tonight and Samhain – after he was severely punished by the Sidhe for one particularly nasty Halloween trick – threatened that when he had enough magic, he would come back to the world of men and turn every day into Halloween, to exact his revenge on men and the sidhe. My old granny used to say that’s why we celebrate; to make enough light and noise to keep the sidhe watchful and the wicked Samhain away.”
“Right,” Scarlet said. “So you think this ‘sprite’ has conjured this enormous black cloud to prolong Halloween?”
“I didn’t say that,” Magenta defended himself. “I said I had a memory of a story that foretold such a thing as this and you asked me to tell you about it. All I can say is that there are plenty of legends about Tir-Na-nÓg that certainly don’t apply; but, if you’re asking me if I think this one is the answer: pass.”
“It’s a nice story, Magenta, but, well, that’s all it is. It’s not likely to be the cause of the mess we’re in now, is it?” Ochre reasoned.
“Wait a minute,” Blue interposed thoughtfully. “That name rings a bell.” He glanced at Destiny, while Ochre rolled his eyes. “You might be able to correct me, Destiny, but isn’t there a commercial company based in Ireland, called ‘Tear-nan-og’ or something like it, that offers micro-climate management? I remember my grandfather saying something about it years ago, when they wanted venture capital.”
The beautiful Frenchwoman frowned, and pouted slightly as she searched her memory. “When the war was over, there were many small companies in Europe who did offer to do this, for farmers who suffered with the bombings. I do not think they make a great success. Not many of them are left. I cannot say, précisément, if this Irish one is still working.”
Lieutenant Green was on to the search in a flash. “There are several small micro-climate companies still registered, Colonel. One of them is Irish-based, and has been making something of a name for itself recently. It has a flamboyant new Chief Executive and he’s become a bit of a media darling.” He looked up and stared across at the other officers. “His name is Samuel O’Hain.”
“On screen, Lieutenant,” White snapped, rotating his chair towards the big display screen.
The screen flickered to show a newscast of a tall, handsome man, with red-gold hair, bright grey eyes, and a laughing smile. He was expensively dressed and wore several gold rings on his large, strong hands. He was speaking Gaelic, his voice almost mesmerising in its timbre, even though no one, even Magenta, understood the words.
Green switched on the auto-translator and subtitles ran across the picture.
<I can promise you that the work we are doing now is a big stride onwards in the science of weather control. There will be warm summers and snowy winters across the world if that is what people want.>
“Worth a look, Colonel?” Scarlet asked, disturbing the rapt attention of his companions.
“Yes, I think so,” White said. “Take Captain Magenta with you; and keep in touch. I want to know the moment you discover anything. Anything at all, Understood?”
“SIG,” the two men replied and strode from the Conference Room.
Scarlet piloted the plane, while Magenta scoured the onboard computer for information about Samuel O’Hain and the Tir-na-nog Microclimate Company.
He told Scarlet what he’d discovered as the SPJ made its approach to the airport.
“The company’s been around since before the Atomic War, a family-run concern, mostly dealing in computers and programs for agriculture. You know, how much fertilizer you need for a ten acre field of whatever you’ve planted, when to apply it, how to maximise the crop – that sort of thing. Not a big player in the scheme of things, but a nice little earner. They branched out into micro-climate control after the war, when the thing was fashionable. They’re about the biggest company still left doing anything of the kind in the country.”
“Who owns it?”
“The Flynns. Nothing known about them, to their detriment anyway. Old Patrick Flynn died about five years ago, leaving the company to his two children: Niall and his younger sister, Niamh. About eighteen months ago, Niamh Flynn married our Mr Samuel O’Hain in a big wedding. Twelve months ago her brother was killed in a car accident and the company passed into the entirely into the hands of Niamh and her husband.”
“Is she still alive?”
“It would seem so, although the last information I have suggests she was badly injured by an accident while pregnant and she lost her baby. Since then she hasn’t been seen in public much.”
“That could just be misfortune,” Scarlet reasoned.
“It could indeed; but given the tale of woe that’s dogged the Flynns over the past few years, I’m a little sceptical,” Magenta said.
“You think this ‘blackout’ is really the work of some sort of wicked fairy?”
Magenta shrugged. “I don’t know. Think back over what’s happened to us and our friends over the past few years, Paul. It kinda makes you open to the idea that anything is possible.”
“You’ve got a point,” Scarlet agreed. “Let’s hope we’re on the right track anyway. This darkness is making me jumpy.”
They collected an SPV and drove through the dark, deserted streets towards the suburban business park where the headquarters of the Tir-na-nog Microclimate Company were located.
The building was modern and set in a neat, landscaped garden. Lights blazed from the offices that fronted onto the small car park, but there was no sign of any people inside.
They left the SPV parked before the main entrance and strode over to the door. It refused to open.
“Shall we ring the night bell?” Scarlet asked doubtfully.
Magenta shook his head. “I’d prefer to keep the element of surprise on my side, if you’ve no objection.”
He crouched down before the lock and drew something from his tunic pocket. Minutes later the door slid open.
“Neat,” Scarlet murmured with approval as they strode in.
“A little trick I picked up in my previous employment,” Magenta said, with a wry smile.
“You must teach me it one day.”
Magenta chuckled as they made their way through the empty foyer to the reception desk. “We’re being watched,” he said, and indicated a security camera.
“Sure we are, if you think there’s anyone here to monitor the screens.”
“What are we looking for?”
Scarlet paused; he pushed back the red Spectrum cap on his black hair and scratched his forehead. “I don’t have a clue. Something that might indicate the Mysterons have infiltrated the company? Leprechauns? A mad scientist with a doomsday machine? Any, or all, of the above.”
They started looking around for anything that might give them a further clue. Going through the jumble of papers on the reception desk, Magenta found a telephone directory and flicked through it, reading the names. Tucked into the back he found a floor plan of the offices.
“Scarlet, this diagram shows there’s a lab at the far end of the ground floor corridor. Maybe we should check that out?”
The Englishman agreed and they walked warily down a brightly lit corridor to a door clearly marked: Laboratory – Restricted Access. Magenta dealt with the lock again and they edged inside.
The place was full of computers, all of them switched off. There was a classic lab bench with interesting jars of strange-sounding substances and Bunsen burners, but there was nothing to suggest any unusual activity.
“Nothing much here,” Magenta remarked, as he read the labels on the jars. “No eye of newt, or nose of dog, for example.” He sounded disappointed.
Scarlet gave an amused chuckle. “Is that what you were expecting? You’re worse than Blue. Keep looking.”
They had just agreed there was nothing to be seen here, when Scarlet’s acute hearing caught a sound coming from an unmarked door at the far end of the lab. He pointed towards it, and then laid his index finger against his lips to keep his companion quiet.
As they approached, a flash of brilliant light showed momentarily from beyond the door and they heard an ominous rumbling, so low as to be barely within the bounds of human hearing.
Scarlet laid a hand on the metal door handle, grimacing as a shock of static electricity shot up his arm. He turned the knob and silently opened the door a mere crack to allow them a sight of what lay beyond.
Ahead of them lay the vast openness of a rich, green landscape. Surrounded by a dense forest of leafless trees, a tumulus rose in the middle distance.
Standing on the brow of the hillock was a solitary man. Even from this distance it was easy to see that he would tower over both of them, and he was dressed in strange, brightly-coloured clothes and a full-length cape. His long, red-gold hair was bound by the silver band that circled his brows.
Small darts of lightning danced around his outstretched arms as he stared upwards into the blackness. A dense swirl of black cloud pulsated from his fingertips like a small tornado, up into the billowing mass that spread out across the night sky.
Scarlet looked at Magenta, who returned his astonished stare with equal surprise. At a slight jerk of Scarlet’s head they slipped back through the door and far enough away for their whispered conversation not to attract attention.
“Okay,” Scarlet said. “I reckon we’ve found the source of the cloud cover.”
“Mr Samuel O’Hain: Samhain,” Magenta agreed.
“But I still don’t see how he can hope to make it remain Halloween forever. The sun might not be visible, but time will still pass. It’ll be tomorrow in a few hours – however dark it is now, or stays.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Magenta pursed his lips. “What do we do?”
“Well, I’d call in the Angel squadron,” Scarlet said decisively. “They can blow this place apart. That should stop Mister – so-called – Samuel O’Hain.”
“Do you suppose stopping him will make the clouds disappear though?”
Scarlet shrugged. “I’m a soldier, not a wizard, Captain; besides, I failed ‘Practical Magic 101’ at West Point, and dropped the subject.” He gave a rueful smile at his bemused companion. “Sometimes, Pat, I honestly think that’s what we should have been taught – nothing I learned there prepared me for the Mysterons, for example.”
“Except, maybe, the advice to ‘expect the unexpected’?”
“Yeah; you never spoke a truer word. Let’s hear what Colonel White has to say about Samhain. I’ll keep a watch here, make sure no one goes in, and that our friend doesn’t leave. You go back to the reception area and call Cloudbase.”
Magenta nodded and walked briskly down the corridor back the way they’d come. As he walked into the foyer he saw something lying on the floor in the emptiness of the entrance lobby. Frowning, he moved towards it and saw it was a woman; face down, her white-skinned arm flung out before her in an apparent appeal for help. She was wearing some sort of plain tunic-dress, and her pale legs and feet were bare.
Instinctively he bent to help her, touching his fingers to her warm neck to check for a pulse: there was a feeble and irregular fluttering beneath his fingers. Gently he turned her over so that he could see her face.
He caught his breath as he looked down at her. She was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen, but he felt a surge of anger as he noticed her white skin was marred by ugly bruises and her shapely lips were pale, and slightly torn, as if she had been biting into then. Her hair was a tangled mass of tumbled, jet-black curls. Long, black eyelashes lay on her cheeks and fluttered slightly as she stirred back to consciousness.
“Are you all right?” Magenta asked, gently. “Ma’am? Don’t be alarmed. I’m a Spectrum agent, my name’s Captain Magenta. I won’t hurt you.”
The dark lashes lifted to reveal eyes of a misty sea-grey; that seemed to change hue as he studied her. “Oh, this is better,” she murmured in Gaelic.
Magenta knew some Gaelic, but it wasn’t enough to hold a proper conversation with a fluent speaker. “Do you speak English?” he asked hopefully.
She gave a slight nod. “I can speak English.”
“Who are you? What are you doing here – and what’s happened to you?”
She shook her head, her eyes closed again and she grasped at his hand. “You must stop him,” she urged in a powerful whisper.
She nodded. “My husband.”
“And you are, exactly?”
“I am Niamh.”
“You’re Niamh O’Hain?”
“Don’t call me that abhorrent name – I reject it!” she snapped, and then put a hand to her forehead, adding with more composure, “ Forgive me, Captain, but I’ve had neither a moment’s peace nor happiness since that ill-fated wedding day!”
“It doesn’t matter, Ma’am. You don’t have to apologise. Can I help you to your feet? Are you well enough to walk?”
“I have not been able to walk since the accident that cost me my child, Captain. I use a wheelchair, but Sam took it away when he left me in the main office. He thought it would ensure I did not ‘escape’.”
“Then I’ll carry you, Ma’am. Here, put your arms around my neck.”
He struggled to lift her because she was a dead weight and she couldn’t offer him any help even by standing on her bare feet while he lifted her. Finally, he managed to stand upright, with Niamh O’Hain clinging to him, her face buried in his shoulder, and he carried her to a couch, set against the marble-clad wall for the use of waiting visitors.
He noticed a water cooler set in a nearby alcove, and fetched her some water, offering it to her as she rested, lying the length of the sofa, her pale arm hiding her bruised face.
She looked up at him, and smiled, taking the transparent plastic cup gratefully.
“What are you doing here, Captain?” she asked in-between sips.
He hesitated, wondering how much he could tell her – how much she’d believe – and if she really hated her husband so much.
“We’re looking for the cause of the global cloud cover,” he said finally, and glanced back towards the laboratory where Scarlet waited, watching Samhain. “We think we’ve found it.”
Niamh nodded and struggled to sit up. He helped her and waited.
Drawing a deep breath she began:
“I don’t know what drew you here, Captain Magenta, I’m just happy you’re here. Sam… he must be stopped. He imagines he is some sort of supernatural being.”
She shook her head, although he sensed she was covering the truth of what she knew for a fact.
To reassure her he said, “I know the legend of Samhain of the sidhe, and of his threat to make every day Halloween. It’s a coincidence your husband’s name is so similar. Is that what he thinks he’s doing?”
She studied his face carefully; and seeing nothing but an honest desire for knowledge and to be of help, she nodded.
“How’s he doing this?” Magenta asked. “Can you tell me?”
Niamh shook her head. “I don’t know, Captain. He told me he was going to turn the world dark, and I didn’t believe him. That annoyed him, and he dragged me to the workroom beyond the laboratory, so that I could witness his triumph – as he called it. It looks, for all the world, like the Hill of Allen on the west coast, where the great castle of Finn Mac Cumhail used to stand. We went there on our honeymoon and Sam told me all about the place. I thought then what a good imagination he had, for he could describe it so clearly; I know now that he was merely telling me what he’d once seen.”
Magenta nodded. “I’ve seen the room, it looks almost real. I’d say he must have some kind of projection running – a hologram machine, maybe. It’s very impressive.”
She looked at him a little sadly, but continued. “We were in there for some hours, Sam chanting what sounded like gobbledy-gook to me – it had some Gaelic , but it was no language I knew. Slowly at first, a mist rose from the floor, and started to rise into… what I can only call the sky. I told him he was wasting his time, but he laughed at me and waved his arms about, chanting even louder. The mist increased and spread through the whole place. I still wasn’t appreciative enough, it seems, because he got angry with what he called my scepticism, and went back into the lab and turned on a radio. There were news reports about the unusual clouds and the fact that night was falling everywhere at once. I begged him to stop, because it was scaring me, and then he got really angry. He dragged me back to the main office on the first floor and threw me on the floor – promising me a proper lesson in humility when he’d finished. He didn’t have time for me now, he said.”
She ran a hand over her face, brushing away the tears that tipped from her swollen eyes down her alabaster cheeks.
“There was nothing I could do. I sat and waited for him to come back – although I prayed he wouldn’t. My husband gives many ‘proper lessons’ and since the marriage, I have borne the brunt of them, Captain. I know what to expect by now. Then, on the security monitors, I saw two men open the front door and walk into the building. You and your partner, I think? I knew I had to find you, to get help. I managed to crawl to the lift and I got as far as the reception desk, when I must have passed out and you found me.”
“Spectrum will take care of you, Ma’am,” Magenta assured her. “But right now we have to deal with your husband. Do you know if there’s any machinery he might be using, anywhere near by?”
“No, I don’t know anything more – I swear. I’m not allowed to come into the office any more; Sam only brought me here tonight to ‘witness his triumph’ – as I told you.”
Magenta straightened up. He excused himself to the young woman and walked far enough away for his conversation with Cloudbase to be confidential. Quickly he briefed Colonel White, explaining Scarlet was watching Samhain and that he had found Mrs O’Hain – and she needed medical treatment. He suggested Scarlet’s solution to the problem:
“An Angel strike, sir, to blast the place apart and stop Samhain – he broke off as he heard a sound of a gunshot coming from the direction of the laboratory. “Sir, I think Scarlet’s in trouble. I’m on my way!”
He closed the connection and started for the laboratory at a run.
Scarlet had watched Magenta leave before he went back towards the doorway, intent on keeping a close eye on Samhain and seeing if there were any clues about how to prevent him completing his plan. He crouched down, leaning back against the door jamb, one foot propping the door ajar, enough to afford him a reasonable view.
He expected it wouldn’t be long until his field partner returned and he estimated the Angel strike could be here in thirty or forty minutes: plenty of time for them to make sure the area was evacuated and get far enough away themselves.
He watched the solitary man with curiosity, trying to work out how he was creating the clouds. He didn’t discount a magical connection; he knew from personal experience that such things could – and sometimes did – happen, especially on Halloween, and especially to him. However hard he looked, he couldn’t see a machine, or any kind of apparatus that might be making the clouds and concluded that however fantastical it seemed, Samhain was creating them himself.
Samhain’s voice drifted back towards him, as he continued to chant and weave his arms in complex patterns. The dark clouds seemed to flow from his fingertips and expand into the dense blanket above them. Scarlet had no idea what was being said; he knew no Gaelic apart from ‘Slainte Mhor’ – and he had a sneaking suspicion that was Scottish anyway – but the sonorous tone and the rich sound of the words were mesmerising.
He found his attention slipping as he rested his head against the wall and was carried along with the rhythm of that remarkable voice…
Coming to with a start, he thought, Magenta’s taking a long time, and thoughtlessly glanced at his wristwatch. A bolt of lightning crossed the sky and reflected in the watch glass.
That flash, however slight, was enough to alert the man on the tumulus that he wasn’t alone. Scarlet detected a subtle change in the rhythm of the chanting and a hardening of the tone, as slowly, almost like a man in a dream, Samhain turned towards the partly opened door and saw the crouching figure of the watching man.
Realising he had been seen, Scarlet got to his feet – there was nothing to be gained from trying to hide now.
There was little sign now of the handsome face Scarlet had seen on the videocast in the Control Room. Although the man was recognisably Samuel O’Hain, his face was distorted by the effort of weaving the spell. The fiery red-gold hair was plastered against the handsome head and, what had looked to be grey eyes were now dark, and flashing with anger at this intrusion.
“Who dares to disturb me?”
Scarlet stepped forward into the open space. He could feel grass under his feet, feel a gentle breeze against his face and the moisture of the swirling clouds soaking into his uniform as he moved forward a little.
“I’m Captain Scarlet of Spectrum. I’m here investigating the cause of the global cloud cover, Mr O’Hain. Weather satellite images suggested it might be centred round here. Now I find you… doing this.” He gestured with one hand to encompass the open space.
“You don’t know anything,” Samhain mocked him, taking a step towards him. “You cannot stop me, you puny, little man. On Halloween the power of the sidhe is too powerful. For centuries I’ve waited – waited for the chance and the conditions to be right – now I will have my revenge. Revenge on every one of the cowardly sidhe who banished me from my home so long ago, and the humans who mocked me as I trudged this earth, friendless and alone.”
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” Scarlet said sharply. He drew his pistol and aimed at Samhain as the man advanced towards him.
“Your weapons would be useless against the feeblest of the sidhe. You are powerless against me.”
Not entirely surprised, Scarlet holstered his pistol again. “Maybe, maybe not,” he replied.
Samhain’s expression showed some interest in this stranger who would discard weaponry so readily.
“You are a man of honour, Captain; you will not shoot an unarmed man. That is rare in these days of cheap lives and greed.”
“Oh, I’m a very rare specimen,” Scarlet agreed readily enough.
Aware that any time he could gain by distracting Samhain from his task might prove to be invaluable in helping Spectrum defeat this threat, Captain Scarlet was prepared to talk all night if it helped, but he knew he would have to fight in the end. He suspected that he might well lose the fight, as well, but the fact that he was prepared to fight to the death, something he doubted Samhain would expect, might be in his favour and prolong the bout, at least until Magenta returned.
“Why do you want to destroy the world by blocking out the sunlight?”
“I do not want to destroy it – merely to be revenged upon it.”
“It amounts to the same thing.” Scarlet reasoned. “No sunlight means that mankind will die. Is that what you want, Samhain?”
“I want justice, Captain! I shall make Halloween last for ever and my power will be enduring and limitless. I shall be worshipped as a God! And you – my brave little soldier – will be my first acolyte.”
“Ah… well, I don’t think I’d make a very good acolyte. I have this terrible attitude to authority, you see; it gets me into no end of trouble.”
He began to circle around, moving in closer to Samhain with every step. His opponent watched him, a patronising smile on his lips. Scarlet made several quick feints, darting away before he could become embroiled in a fight, but Samhain barely reacted to them. He merely moved a pace or two as he watched Scarlet.
“This grows tiresome, Captain! Are you afraid to fight? Can it be that even this late in the day, you realise you have met more than your match?”
“Don’t be so sure you can defeat me, Samhain. I’m an experienced soldier and I know a trick or two.”
Samhain laughed, throwing back his head in mocking amusement.
Samhain was taken slightly by surprise, but he recovered quickly. The pair of them grappled. Scarlet’s skill in unarmed combat compensated for Samhain’s advantages of height, weight and reach, but eventually, Samhain was able to slide his powerful hands beneath the protective roll of the uniform tunic and around the slighter man’s neck.
Struggling hard to break free, Scarlet sought to loosen the vice-like grip by yanking at the fingers. When that didn’t work he smashed his hands down on Samhain’s extended arms, in a karate chop that would have shattered any normal man’s bones. But even his Mysteron-enhanced strength had no impact on the sidhe.
Slowly Samhain tightened his grip, choking the life from his assailant.
“You could have saved yourself from this, Captain Scarlet,” Samhain said, a faint echo of mild regret in his voice. “If you had listened to reason and obeyed me. I would have spared you the worst of my revenge. Now, you will be the first to feel my wrath.”
He clenched his fist around Scarlet’s throat, ignoring his frantic efforts to release himself. In one last desperate act, Scarlet managed to free his gun and fired at Samhain from point-blank range, hoping to make the sidhe loosen his grip, even if the bullet wouldn’t kill him.
Samhain flinched slightly as the shot tore through his body, but his grip tightened. “In the end even the brave resort to weapons,” he said, the disgust on his face mirrored in his voice.
As a red mist floated before his eyes and his heart thumped like a hammer against his ribs, Scarlet’s breath ran out.
Everything went black.
Samhain threw the body away and left it on the ground near the base of the tumulus. He returned to his position on the peak, raising his arms and his voice in the complexities of the spell once more.
Magenta reached the laboratory at a run and approached the open door with caution. He drew his gun and edged around until he could see ‘outside’. Samhain was walking back to the tumulus and Scarlet’s body lay on the grass, some distance away. Magenta had seen a victim of strangulation before, and he knew Scarlet was dead from the blue lips, the pale, almost waxy, skin and the redness in his still open eyes, where the blood vessels had ruptured under the pressure.
He swallowed bile and looked away.
It was all too easy to become blasé about Scarlet’s retrometabolism and make suitably sympathetic noises when Captain Blue brought him back from another fatal mission. He and Ochre made a point of popping in to sick bay to see the patient, once Blue had returned to the Officers’ Lounge with the news that Scarlet was on the mend. But by occurring out of sight of his colleagues, these frequent deaths became almost ‘theoretical’ to the agents not directly involved.
Magenta had seen death in his time; he’d sat in rooms with men he knew for a certainty had ordered others killed, or maybe had even pulled the triggers themselves, but he’d never sunk that low himself. Initially this had given him the reputation of being ‘soft’ amongst the Syndicate bosses, but they soon learnt that the dapper Irish-American was no one’s fool and had his own ways of exacting revenge, and that only an idiot would cross Patrick Donaghue.
None of which made it easier to see his friend lying lifeless on the damp grass. He knew Scarlet would recover – eventually – but he had no way of knowing how quickly. Blue admitted that even he was wrong-footed by Scarlet’s recovery times occasionally, and it was not a hard and fast science, so there was nothing he could do except wait for the retrometabolism to kick in. He replaced his gun and dropped to the floor, slithering forward until he could grab Scarlet’s boots. He tried edging back, but that didn’t work, so with a sinking heart, he knelt, threw the body over his shoulder and staggered to his feet.
How he made it to the door he never knew. Once inside the lab, he just kept going until he was back in the reception lobby. Niamh was still sitting on the sofa and she gasped with alarm to see him emerge from the corridor.
“Is he dead?” she called anxiously.
Magenta just had enough of his wits about him to say, “No.”
He laid Scarlet on the floor and fetched water, drinking a plastic cupful himself to steady his nerves. Then he took some across to his colleague and moistened the dead man’s lips, dribbling some water into his mouth.
“Holy Mary, I don’t know what to do next, Paul,” he whispered. When his mind kicked back into gear, he contacted Cloudbase.
“Scarlet is dead?” White asked in concern.
“Out cold, for the moment, sir,” Magenta replied, adding, “Mrs O’Hain and I will keep an eye on him.”
“She must not see him recover,” the colonel reminded Magenta.
“She’s seen worse things, I’m thinking.”
“Captain Blue and the Angels are on their way. They should be with you in thirty minutes. Is there anything you can do to slow Samhain down?”
Magenta glanced at the clock on the wall. It showed 04:08.
“Sir, it can’t be long until dawn. However much cloud there is, it can’t stay Halloween for ever. Time isn’t standing still,” he reasoned. “Surely, Samhain’s powers will wane as the sun rises?”
Niamh interrupted. Her voice sounded more authoritative as she said, “No, Captain. The legend is that the sun must strike the Hill of Allen for Halloween to be over. Samhain is building a dense bank of cloud over the area, so the sun’s rays will never touch the hill. While Halloween exists anywhere, he will have power. Centuries of power, unleashed against a world that no longer has defences against the sidhe. And he will grow stronger the longer Halloween lasts.”
He looked at her in astonishment as she stopped speaking, and she gave him a smile of piercing sweetness. “At least, that’s what Sam told me,” she added, as an obvious after-thought.
Magenta reported back to the colonel.
“Then you must find a way to distract him from his cloud-making, Captain,” White replied. There was a pause and he added, “And the Angels will go cloud-seeding.”
Magenta closed the communication link and glanced at Niamh. She was still on the sofa, her feet off the floor, but she was looking closely at Scarlet and when she caught his eye she gave him a knowing smile.
“Any ideas how I can stop Samhain?” he asked her directly.
She frowned a little and drew her feet closer up. “The sidhe are said to fear the power of the Christian faith,” she said quietly. “A bit like vampires, you know? Maybe you could try that? A good Catholic boy like you, must know enough liturgy to unsettle a sidhe?”
“My mother always told me to put my faith in the Lord,” he replied with a rueful smile. “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done before….”
She actually chuckled at him as he stood and unzipped his tunic enough to draw out the elaborately carved, Celtic silver cross his mother had given him when he’d won his scholarship to Yale, and which he always wore around his neck. She looked away, down at the motionless Scarlet.
“I will care for him, Patrick,” she said. “Don’t worry about him.”
Magenta turned and walked back towards the lab. He stopped and searched the desks until he found two rulers. He broke one in half, and binding them together with a couple of elastic bands made a rudimentary cross. He reached the doorway to where Samhain still stood, weaving clouds into an impenetrable blanket of darkness above the Hill of Allen. And then it occurred to him: I never told Niamh my Christian name.
He paused, turning to look back towards where he had left Scarlet with the strange woman. There’s just no time to worry about that now, he told himself. Let’s just hope she knows what she’s on about when it comes to dealing with Samhain. Whoever she is.
He crossed himself and strode out into the open, proclaiming as loudly as he could, and with more than his usual fervour:
‘Hail Mary, full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.”
Samhain heard the voice before he grasped the sense of the words. He turned, prepared to do battle again with the other human, and saw Magenta advancing towards him, his simple crucifix held aloft. When the sense of what was being said penetrated his preoccupied mind, he hissed, as if stung, and drew himself up to a great height, towering down over the determined figure of Patrick Donaghue.
“Leave me!” Samhain roared, the mesmerising quality of his voice ripped away by anger and fear. But the new intruder continued to advance, gaining courage with every step. “You cannot fight me, you puny human,” Samhain taunted, as he retreated over the brow of the hill, the clouds swirling around him.
But Captain Magenta wasn’t about to be distracted; he was getting into his swing now and running through his catechism as he continued pacing up the incline. His preoccupation was his downfall, however. Samhain came up behind him and struck out to try and knock the cross from his adversary’s hand.
Magenta slipped and lost hold of his home-made crucifix, which slithered down the hillside on the wet grass. Quickly, he dropped to his knees, reaching out to retrieve it. Samhain’s foot stamped down on his hand and he gasped with pain. The sidhe kicked out again, catching the man under his ribs, knocking the breath from his lungs.
Fighting to focus through his agony, Magenta managed to roll away from the next kick and grabbed at Samhain’s foot with his good hand as it swung towards him. The sidhe lost his balance and he too fell to the ground. Hampered by his injured hand, Magenta couldn’t follow up his advantage, and although he tried to impede Samhain’s assault, his attacker reached out with his strong hands and forced the slighter man back onto the hillside. Pinioned, Magenta struggled to get free, but quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen. Desperately he sought for another mode of attack, and remembering Niamh’s words, reached inside his partially open tunic to draw out the silver cross once more. He yanked hard, breaking the chain, and then jabbed it into Samhain’s cheek.
An inhuman scream filled the air, and the sidhe withdrew to nurse his wound, a shallow cut that scored down from cheekbone to chin but was hardly more than a scratch. Making best use of the reprieve, Magenta scrabbled across to grab his fragile homemade crucifix and then retreated down the hill, pacing backwards, so that he could keep Samhain at bay. His breath was coming in hard-won gulps as he reached the doorway and stepped through it again. He knew there was nothing to stop Samhain following him, but somehow the feel of the hard vinyl flooring under his feet was reassuring, and in addition he was banking on the creature’s need to keep the cloud blanket dense enough to deflect the dawn rays of the sun.
Surely, he won’t risk failing just to chase an annoying human? he thought hopefully.
He saw Samhain get to his feet and then double over in pain as he rubbed at the sharp wound on his cheek. Magenta glanced down at his cross; there were some sharp corners on the design, right enough, but the wound it had inflicted wasn’t enough – in normal circumstances – to have incapacitated any man so much. Obviously, the significance of the delicate symbol carried more weight than he’d realised. He kissed it and put it carefully back in his tunic pocket.
Grateful for the extended respite, he leant against the doorjamb and got his breath back. The sharp ache in his chest made him think he might have a broken rib – or two – and his left hand was throbbing painfully, and was already swollen and bruised, but he knew he would have to go back out there again if Samhain started cloud-weaving once more.
Gradually he became aware of the distant rumble of fast-advancing planes. He looked upwards, but from the lab side of the doorway, the sky – or as much as you could see of it – was clear. He stepped through onto the grass, and looked upwards again, to catch a brief glimpse of an Angel Interceptor jet, twisting and rolling through the dense clouds, a stream of shiny particles trailing behind it.
Samhain screamed in anger, as the plane disappeared into the murk, and hastened back to the brow of the hill, where he began his spell once more. Clouds flowed from his fingers and spiralled into the sky.
Sighing, Magenta checked the elastic bands on his crucifix and prepared to go forth into battle again.
Just as he was about to step up the hill, from behind him a familiar voice, the slightly mocking tone failing to disguise all of the concern in it, said, “How’re doing, Pat?”
He spun round, a smile breaking out on his face as he saw Captains Ochre, Blue and a restored but pale, Scarlet walking across to join him.
“Am I glad to see you, guys,” he admitted, advancing to meet them. Ochre punched his arm in welcome and frowned to see the state of his friend’s hand.
“Looks like we’ve arrived just in time,” he said. “You can leave that creep to us now, Pat.”
Blue peered skywards. “I know the Angels are up there, I can hear the planes, but I can’t see them.”
“You have to step outside onto the grass, if you want see them,” Magenta said. “I don’t begin to know how it happens, but it’s like out there is… well, is somewhere else.”
“Then it won’t surprise you to learn that the Angels are, at this very moment, flying over the west coast, miles away from here,” Ochre said with a wry grimace at his friend. “Just another strange Halloween-night for Spectrum…”
“Come on, let’s wrap this up. I want my breakfast,” Blue said briskly, and walked outside.
Magenta stopped Scarlet as he made to follow his field partner. “I’m glad to see you up and well, Captain,” he said, embarrassment making him more formal than usual.
“I owe you, Pat,” Scarlet said with a smile, placing a hand on Magenta’s shoulder. “You must’ve got me out of there. Thanks.”
“No problem,” the New Yorker said, his usual insouciance returning. “We’d all help a friend when he’s down, and I guess it was my fault you had to take on Samhain alone. I got side-tracked by Niamh,” he admitted.
Ochre chipped in, “If you two have quite finished, Blue’s getting antsy. Sometimes he has even less patience than you, Scarlet.”
Together the three captains went through the doorway.
The moment they did, the three Angel Interceptors swooped through the clouds above them leaving their strange trail behind them.
“What is that stuff?” Magenta asked Blue, pointing upwards with his good hand as one jet plunged through the mist overhead and dumped another load of its strange cargo.
“Silver iodide,” Captain Blue replied. “They use it to seed clouds and make it rain… a supply arrived on Cloudbase earlier in response to the emergency. Apparently, one of the scientists suggested we seed the clouds as the base moves along. They’ll be sending other planes out too, of course, Cloudbase doesn’t exactly race through the skies...”
“Yeah, the WAAF’s entire airborne divisions, and every plane the WAS has, not to mention cargo planes, executive jets, gliders and anything else with wings,” Ochre interrupted, adding with just a touch of exaggeration, “they’re saying they may even resurrect the 1903 Wright Flyer from the Smithsonian…”
“Well, I hope they don’t send out every plane,” Scarlet remarked casually. “At least, not all at once. We don’t want to have to cope with floods next.”
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll have that sorted out,” Blue responded reassuringly, failing to catch his partner’s amused roll of the eyes, and Ochre’s suppressed chuckle.
Even as Blue spoke, the first huge raindrops splattered around them, and Magenta gave a sigh of relief. “That’s clever,” he said. “Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. You have clouds, you get rain, and then the sun comes out.”
“Will the rain make him disappear as well as the clouds?” Ochre asked, jerking a thumb towards the outraged Samhain, who was shouting and shaking his fists at the impervious Angels.
“Sadly, no; we still have to find a way to deal with Samhain,” Blue replied.
“Well, maybe not,” Magenta contradicted thoughtfully. “Niamh said that he’d have no power once the sunlight struck the Hill of Allen.”
“Who said?” Scarlet asked.
“Niamh O’Hain. Samuel O’Hain’s wife.” Magenta frowned as he saw the confusion on Scarlet’s face. “You must have seen her – all of you. She was lying on the sofa in the reception lobby. I found her sprawled out on the floor when I went back to contact Cloudbase. She’d dragged herself down from the offices – that brute had beaten her up, it seems, because she failed to sufficiently appreciate his master plan.”
Ochre and Blue shared wary looks, and Ochre answered his partner quietly:
“Pat, Spectrum had a report from the local police that they’d gone to the O’Hain house and found Mrs O’Hain’s body – partly decomposed and very, very dead. Besides, there was no one in the lobby when we arrived.”
“Yes there was! She was keeping an eye on Scarlet for me. It was her that suggested the way to stop Samhain to me.”
Ochre shook his dark head and when Magenta turned to Blue, firm in the belief his partner was leading him on, the Bostonian shook his fair head as well.
“I know she was there! Scarlet – didn’t you see her?”
Scarlet’s dark brows puckered over his eyes. “I do have a vague memory of a voice, a woman’s voice, calling to me from a distance. It could have been anyone’s voice, to be honest – all I know is it wasn’t Blue’s dulcet tones. There was a face, I think…” He shook his head. “No, it’s gone. I never can remember much when I wake up, I’m afraid.”
“I wonder where she’s gone, then,” Magenta said sceptically. “You see, she couldn’t walk – she told me he’d taken her wheelchair away to trap her here.” The others looked even more doubtful and in desperation he cried, “You guys are yanking my chain, aren’t you?”
They shook their heads in unison.
“She told you how to stop Samhain, you say? Was she pretty?” Blue asked reflectively.
Magenta nodded enthusiastically. “She’s a honey.”
“And she called you back to health, Paul?”
Scarlet nodded. “Like I said, it might’ve been anyone, but I got the impression of a woman, and the voice was… kind.”
Blue drew in a huge breath. “Then I’d guess you were talking to another of the sidhe, Pat.”
“No way. She was real.”
“Yes, way,” Blue retorted. “Samhain’s real – as real as anything supernatural can be, anyway. Besides, the legends say –”
“And, believe me, he’s read every blessed one in the SPJ coming here; so he knows what he’s talking about,” Ochre interjected. He gave an exasperated sigh.
“The legends say,” Blue repeated, “that the sidhe cannot walk on the ground of the human world, for, if their feet touch the earth, they will age and shrivel. Time has no dominion over the land of Tir Na nÓg - or the Land of Youth, as it is sometimes called - and they are ancient beings, possibly immortal. Sidhe are tall and beautiful, mostly benevolent unless you really annoy them, and they can heal wounds.”
“Three out of three – jackpot! The dame was a fairy, Pat,” Ochre concluded, before Blue could continue. He’d heard enough about the fairy-folk over the past few hours to last him a lifetime.
Scarlet patted Magenta’s shoulder compassionately and said, “You get used to it. I keep bumping into all sorts of supernatural beings – especially at Halloween. Don’t worry about it.”
Ochre grinned at his still-unconvinced partner and said, “Now, let’s sort out this Sammy guy, shall we?”
“I don’t think there’s much left to do,” Blue said, pointing up the hill.
Samhain had visibly shrunk in stature. His bright, red-gold hair had dimmed to a dull-grey, and his mellifluous voice had become weak and harsh. His fine robes had lost their colour and hung heavily from his shrunken limbs. He saw the Spectrum agents watching and slunk away down the hill into the darkness of the trees that fringed the foot of the tumulus.
Scarlet said, “It seems the sidhe have no mercy when someone does ‘really annoy them’. Anyway, it should take Samhain another millennium or two to store up enough magic to attempt this again, and my guess is Niamh and the others will still be watching him when he does.”
“Well, I guess that’s it then?” Ochre said, a hopeful note in his voice. “Mission over. We could stop off in Dublin and sample a few of the local specialities before we go back to Cloudbase. I mean, we have to make sure it’s going to rain here – that is, there, as opposed to outside here, wherever we are – and that the dawn breaks in the time-honoured fashion, don’t we?”
He turned to lead the way back down the hill and gasped. The others looked to see what had alarmed him.
The building and the business park had vanished. They were standing in the middle of nowhere. Away – a long way away – were the lights of a small town.
The heavens opened and the rain bucketed down.
“Well, we knew the Angels were flying over the Hill of Allen, so we should’ve guessed that once Samhain’s power failed, we’d be there and not in Dublin,” the ever reasonable Blue said.
“How long are we gonna have to wait to be picked up?” Ochre cried.
“Too long for a detour around the fleshpots and breweries of Dublin, I bet,” Scarlet replied.
Ochre cursed again. Scarlet and Blue laughed.
Magenta consoled his field partner with a friendly pat on the back and said, cheerfully, “Put me right, boys, but isn’t that the dawn I can see over there?”
Three heads turned eastwards, and there were four identical smiles on four handsome faces, as the thin strands of sunlight broke through the rapidly dispersing clouds. They watched in silence as the sun rose and sunlight streamed down onto the green grass of the Hill of Allen.
“Aww, look,” Ochre said, “They’re even using our trademark.”
The others broke into laughter as a bright, double rainbow curved overhead and the Angel Jets flew beneath the arc, rolling in farewell as they turned back towards Cloudbase.
My thanks to Caroline Smith for beta-reading this Halloween story with such expertise and sensitivity, and at such short notice. Any mistakes in it are mine alone.
Captain Scarlet and his brave companions grew from the imaginations of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their talented workforce, in 1967 – 40 years ago this year. Technically, they all belong to Carlton International (I think) but to his dedicated fans, Captain Scarlet is ours and we persist in describing his continuing adventures.
Long may it continue, and long may the site dedicated to him flourish under the skilful guardianship of the webmaster extraordinaire – Chris Bishop.
Thank you, Chris!
Thank you for reading this and I hope you have a happy - and safe - Halloween!