The sequel to ‘The Ghost in the Machine’
The future is the shadow our past throws in front of us
“Put it over there,” Rhapsody Angel ordered. She moved away from the door and watched as Captain Ochre and Captain Scarlet lugged the new desk through the door and over to the far wall of the room.
“Okay?” asked Ochre, as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Yes, it ought to be okay there.” She spun round and surveyed the long L-shaped suite of rooms. The Cloudbase technicians had been working busily for almost two weeks, removing partition walls and changing one en-suite bathroom to a neat kitchenette. It had been touch and go as to whether it would be finished in time for the return of the newly-weds.
The team of volunteer decorators had only had unlimited access since yesterday, although there had been quite a number of people willing to lend a hand. It was surprising how many hidden talents there were on the base, quite apart from the obvious ones of re-wiring and plumbing – carpet had been expertly laid, walls painted and belongings packed and moved ready to be unpacked in record time.
Colonel White had surprised them all by his suggestion that the three corner apartments could be merged to create married quarters for the newly-wed Captain Blue and Symphony Angel. They had gone on a ‘second’ honeymoon to spend some time with Symphony’s mother on the family ranch in Iowa. That in itself was a surprise – they’d only returned in mid-September from their wedding in Boston and the subsequent honeymoon, spent initially on a private Caribbean island and followed - at Karen’s insistence - by a ‘shopping spree in New York’. Then, a month later, they had departed for Cedar Rapids. Rhapsody rather thought this filial visit was a suggestion from their commanding officer to enable the work on the apartment to be done in secret. Not that Blue minded spending time with his new mother-in-law, with whom he was on the friendliest of terms. Symphony had called up a couple of times and seemed very happy with her new status, volunteering the information that she and Blue were ‘keeping busy’ and ‘enjoying married life’ – and Rhapsody had not been able to draw her on what that meant exactly, although she had a pretty good idea.
The remaining Angels on the base had undertaken to decorate the newly-enlarged apartment and had roped in the colour-Captains, and anyone else they could, to do the donkey work.
Scarlet flopped onto the newly delivered double-bed and stretched out across it.
“Get off that, you nitwit,” Rhapsody chided. “It’s not for lounging on.”
“What is it for then, Dianne?” Ochre asked, a broad grin on his handsome face.
“It is for Karen and Adam, of course. Get off it, Paul; you’ll get it dirty!”
“How can I? It’s covered in plastic wrappers,” Captain Scarlet protested.
“And you’re covered in dust,” she pointed out, flicking him with a duster.
He grabbed her and pulled her down beside him. Rhapsody struggled - but not seriously - she was trying hard not to giggle.
“There just aren’t enough double-beds on this base,” he said, planting a kiss on her nose as he let her go.
“Do you suppose this matrimony thing is catching?” Ochre asked genially, watching his friends with amusement.
“You worried, Rick?” Rhapsody teased as she slithered off the bed, smoothing down her rumpled overalls.
“Me? Not likely. I was wondering about you two,” Ochre teased as he perched on the desk and stretched his aching shoulders.
Neither of his friends replied, as it was a question they had been trying to avoid. They both felt that marriage was the obvious way for their own relationship to progress, especially now that their friends had shown the way and the colonel had proved less than adamant that it would never happen on Cloudbase. Dianne had the feeling that at 32 she’d be cutting it fine if she wanted to start a family – although she wasn’t sure that Paul did want a family. His unique status as the only retrometabolised person on the planet – at least, the only one free from Mysteron influence – meant that he’d doubts about the wisdom of having children who might inherit God-knew-what from their father.
Ochre sensed that he might have stirred up something he’d have done better to leave alone, and tried to change the topic. “Do you think they’ll like all this?” He swept his hand around the room with an all-encompassing gesture.
“Well, if they don’t they can move all the stuff back on their own,” muttered Scarlet, whose sunny mood had crashed into grumpiness as soon as he’d heard Ochre’s remark.
It was several hours later that the final crates of belongings were moved in. Ochre dropped the box of books on the table and grunted at the ache in his arms. Rhapsody looked up from the shelves where she was unpacking a vast collection of music discs and grinned at him.
“Nothing you can say will ever make me believe Adam has read all of this stuff,” he said, flicking through the books on the top of the pile. “It’s a wonder the base stays up with all of this dead weight on board. Look at this stuff: The Romance of Tristan and Isolde, Viking voyages of exploration, Clayton on Accounts Receivable, Advanced Macro-economics, Quantum Mechanics? I ask you… and look: Deadly boring books: the intelligent insomniac’s tried and tested way to drop off to sleep…”
“You made that last one up,” Rhapsody accused him, laughing as she came over to see what he was looking at.
Ochre grinned as he showed her the books. “What if I did? If it did exist – he’d have a copy! Is there anything that man won’t read?”
“Uh-huh, all Karen’s books for one thing.” Rhapsody picked up a garish paperback from the adjacent crate and added, “Can’t say I blame him, either.”
Ochre was distracted by the cover of a recent blockbuster whodunit and studied the blurb on the back. “Do you think Karen’d mind if I borrowed this?”
“You – a policeman – read crime novels?” Her surprise was obvious.
“Oh yeah – they’re a laugh a minute.”
She smiled in understanding and said, “She won’t mind – probably won’t even notice it’s missing. Is this the lot?”
“Paul’s doing the last box – it’s the stuff from Adam’s desk – the really personal stuff. I left that to him – don’t want to upset anyone, do I?”
“If Adam’s going to be upset about it, it won’t matter who moved it. You sound as if you’re expecting he will mind. Do you think he will, Rick?”
Ochre shrugged. “I wouldn’t like to second guess that. He’s a very private person, Dianne – who knows how he’ll react if he thinks we’ve all been rifling through his personal effects? Besides, since he had that run-in with the Mysterons’ Geminator and got split in two separate entities, he’s been far more … unpredictable, at least it seems so to me. Besides, if he kills anyone because of it, it’s much better that it’s Paul – then it won’t matter.” He grinned cheekily at her.
“Richard Fraser, you are incorrigible,” she said, but her reproof was tempered by a huge smile and he didn’t take her in the least bit seriously.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “But you have to admit, Dianne, I’m dead sexy with it…” He winked flirtatiously, and ducked out of range as, with a barely suppressed chuckle, she flicked at him with her duster.
Captain Scarlet was sitting at the desk in Captain Blue’s old quarters, carefully emptying the files into a crate. Adam was meticulous in the records he kept and the archive was precise and comprehensive, so he was taking great care not to disarrange it and fighting the temptation to peek at some of the more intriguing files.
The top drawer was full of stationery – functional biros and pencils as well as the silver fountain pen his Grandfather had given him. There were a few bankbooks and a leather wallet with the charge cards made out in his Spectrum identity and his Spectrum ID card, which was surprising as Blue usually lodged these in the colonel’s safe when he went on vacation.
Obviously had other things on his mind, Scarlet thought with a grin as he placed the last items in the crate and slid the drawer shut.
He carried the box carefully across to the new suite of rooms on the other side of the base and walked backwards through the door.
“Is that the final box?” Rhapsody asked hopefully as he placed the crate on the new desk. She straightened up from making the double bed, and then smoothed down the new duvet cover before turning a corner back to reveal the sheet beneath.
“Yes, I’ve emptied his personal filing drawer and all the other nooks and crannies I could find. You did Karen’s earlier, didn’t you?”
“Destiny did it, but yes, it has been done. I put it all in the left-hand drawers, so you can put Adam’s on the right.” She gave the crate a jaundiced glance and said, “If there’s enough room. Doesn’t he ever throw anything away?”
“Doubt it,” Paul grinned, “He’s always moaning about how far back the tax people want to delve into his finances. I told him: my heart bleeds for you, you poor little rich boy!”
Dianne smiled, it was only recently they had come to realise just how much of a personal fortune their friend had – and Karen had gone on a mammoth spending spree whilst they were on their ‘first’ honeymoon; the presents she’d brought back to Cloudbase were very generous.
“Can I leave the rest up to you, Paul? I need to get something to eat and shower before I go on duty. It’s nearly all done and with luck it will be finished before they come back tomorrow. Harmony says she’s going to make one of her flower arrangements to put on the dining table and Melody talked the catering staff into filling the fridge – there’s even a bottle of champagne from somewhere! If they don’t like it I shall think them both the most unreasonable people alive.”
“Not like it? – of course they’ll like it – anybody would.”
“Rick thought Adam might get huffy about the personal papers and stuff,” she confessed, brushing a stray strand of her red hair away from her face and frowning a little. “He won’t will he?” she asked him.
“No, he’ll know it was all done as a gesture of friendship,” he reassured her. “You go and get showered and fed; you’ve worked harder than anyone. I’ll finish the bookshelves and do the desk, although I’d rather come and scrub your back…” He took her in his arms and kissed her; she sighed and leant against him for a brief moment.
“Absolutely positive, but I’d better finish this first,” he teased. “Off you go and I’ll see you tomorrow, Angel.”
She left him alone in the room and he sighed as he looked at the remaining box of books and the crate he’d just brought in. It was lucky he was off duty and that Rhapsody had been given two double shift breaks as well - although he thought the colonel had arranged that to ensure the job was completed. Two standby Angels were on base to ease the pressure on the duty rotas – Calypso and Sonata – and it really seemed as if the old man was determined to get the place set up for his officers. There had been some muttering of favouritism - wasn’t there always? He sighed. Not from the colleagues who worked closely with Blue and Symphony and knew the colonel well enough to acquit him of that particular sin - but by some of the support staff.
He decided to finish the bookshelves and sat on the floor to unload the last box. The first books were technical: textbooks on aerodynamics, manuals for computer programs and paperback dictionaries for the various languages Adam spoke. Scarlet was only mildly surprised when the next books out of the box were poetry – Shakespeare and John Donne passed without remark; but Alexander Pope, the Brownings - husband and wife - Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë? – caused him to raise an intrigued eyebrow. He shook his head and slipped the well-thumbed copy of the collected works of Robert Frost next to a run of anthologies.
An illustrated history of sports cars and one on early pre-jet engine planes held his attention for a time, although he was not interested in the occasional modern novels he discovered amongst the collection and - judging by the near pristine state of the spines – nor was Adam. A glance at the title pages showed they were – without exception – gifts, from either his mother or his sister. Scarlet grinned; he remembered Adam’s doleful sighs on birthdays and at Christmases when he’d opened yet another tome they’d sent, as part of their joint mission to covert him to the joys of modern prose.
Then there was a sizeable collection of travel guide books, and quick flicks through the pages showed most were littered with admission tickets to galleries, museums and other attractions and annotated in Adam’s distinctive handwriting.
He beguiled away the time dipping into the eclectic collection and hardly noticed the hours slipping away until the small clock on the dresser gave a subdued bleep to indicate midnight. He shook his head as he slipped the last book onto the shelf and contemplated the remaining volumes with distaste – there was simply no room. He opened the wardrobe and stowed the box under the blue uniform tunics – Adam could sort that problem out himself!
He made himself a coffee from the newly-stocked kitchenette and sat at the desk. He glanced through the files on the left hand side and saw that even with Karen’s far more limited and haphazard record-keeping there was hardly much room left. He started to carefully unload the files from the crate and place them in the filing drawer. He could get in more than he expected and made an arbitrary decision as to which ones he could transfer to Karen’s side of the desk. The three remaining files would have to join the books in the wardrobe.
It had taken longer than he expected and he was feeling tired when he started on the final personal items. He decided that he’d better not hand Blue’s ID cards over to the colonel, so he put them back in the desk and covered them with the oddments of correspondence he’d found in the other desk’s drawer. The pens all slotted nicely into the stationery tray and that only left the odd photographs and an oblong cardboard box of about nine inches in length, with a shiny red lid. It looked like the kind of thing you would get a necklace in, and Scarlet wondered if it was a present for Karen, but it seemed rather old and battered for that.
He was turning it round in his fingers, idly speculating on what it contained when he lost concentration and it slipped to the floor, the lid falling away from the box. Cursing, he bent to pick it up and saw on the inside of the lid a couplet in Adam’s writing,
What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things.
Fair tresses man’s imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.
He was more intrigued than ever as to what the box contained. That quote is from Alexander Pope, I think – we did it at school - and Adam has that volume of his collected works… although why anyone would want to voluntarily read Pope is a mystery…
A quick glance at the remaining half of the box revealed that he could now discover its contents easily enough. There was a sheaf of folded tissue paper and it was already half out of the box. He picked up the cardboard and then the tissue paper. It wasn’t wrapped around metal, that much he could tell, and as he lifted the soft bundle, he saw lying beneath it a page of the heavy handmade writing paper Adam used for his personal correspondence – one of the small personal luxuries he’d kept.
Wild horses could not have stopped him unfolding the tissue paper, and to his surprise he found a long coil of reddish gold hair - obviously Symphony’s - and on the writing paper that accompanied it - a letter. It was addressed to ‘My darling Karen’, but once Paul had read that far he could not stop; even though he realised how appalled his friend would be to imagine any eyes but hers reading the letter.
The words, at once passionate and tender, revealed just how deeply in love Adam Svenson was with the woman who was now his wife, and Paul doubted there were many people who realised the wealth of emotional sensibility that lay beneath the self-possessed exterior of Captain Blue’s public persona, and even fewer who would imagine him capable of writing anything like this… There was no date on the document – it could have been written years ago, or merely weeks, which, given the trauma caused by the Geminator, seemed the likeliest scenario – but, either way, he doubted very much if Adam’s feelings would have altered, whenever he wrote it; he knew his friend had been in love with Karen Wainwright for many years.
As he folded the paper once more Paul was shaken; ashamed of himself for having read something so intensely personal and so revealing, and yet, somehow, glad that he had. With infinitive care he laid the sheet of paper back in the base of the box and wrapped the lock of hair in the tissue paper, replacing the lid and sliding it into the back of the top drawer.
He rested his face in his hands and thought about Dianne. He wished he had the words to express to her what he felt – wished he could say to her as much as Adam had said to Karen - and he envied his friend the capacity to express himself so completely - in writing, for heaven’s sake!… he sighed and thought disconsolately: all I can say is – I’ll never change and I won’t die, but I will always love you, my sweet Lady Dianne – yet somehow I doubt I’d ever have the nerve to commit that to paper.
Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel had been engaged for years now; but they had decided to wait for the cessation of hostilities between the Mysterons and the Earth before getting married. Recently he had come to wonder if that was really the best solution; the War of Nerves showed no sign of stopping and the fact that Captain Blue and Symphony had married in despite of that, and were allowed to remain on active duty nevertheless, gave him reason to expect that Rhapsody and he could do the same and remain on Cloudbase too.
Paul knew that Dianne wanted a family; and a life as ‘normal’ as possible, given that the man she loved was the man he was – indestructible and never aging – and he yearned for the same, but an insecurity made him hold his hand… there was so much about his new life that he still didn’t know. How can I ask her to risk marrying me – risk having my children? And yet – is that so very dissimilar from the situation our friends are in? Every day that passes might bring about the death of one of them – and yet – their love is enough to accept that risk. Dare I contemplate that my own love for Dianne might be any less than Adam’s is for Karen?
Paul found himself getting hot and bothered and he tried to think of other things, resting his head on his arms to calm his overheated thoughts.
Sometimes he wished he could lose himself in sleep, like the others…
He felt a hand on his shoulder and recoiled. The hand didn’t go away; in fact it started shaking him. He looked up, snarling with rage. “What?”
Rhapsody Angel backed off in surprise and it was some moments before a wry smile crossed her lips.
“You’d dozed off. I hope you finished what you were supposed to be doing… Lieutenant Green says their plane is nearly here and I’ve brought Harmony’s flower arrangement down, so she can go and meet them at the hangar – she goes on duty shortly – it’ll be her only chance to welcome them back….” Her voice trailed off as she looked at him more closely. “Are you all right, Paul? You look dreadful.”
Disorientated, he remained speechless. He ran a hand over his face, grimacing at the feel of the heavy stubble on his cheeks and chin.
“What day is it?” he croaked.
She brushed the tousled lock of hair back from his temple with a soothing hand. “The day Adam and Karen arrive back on Cloudbase and move into their new married quarters, of course.”
Scarlet gave a little sigh as he contemplated her answer. He asked suddenly, “Did we ever fix a date for our wedding?”
A disconcerted frown puckered her brows. “No, of course not. You’ve always thought it would be unwise of us to marry before the Mysterons are defeated.”
He reached out and took her hands in his, before continuing soberly, “Dianne, I know that when you said you would marry me, we both agreed that we’d wait until this war of nerves was over – until the Mysterons were defeated…but neither of us could have guessed then, how long this dreadful stalemate would drag on for. We could spend our entire lives waiting for the end of the war. I was worried about things that might happen then… but now, well, there seems little chance that the Mysterons will ever regain control of me… we’d be free from that worry, at least – don’t you think?” He dropped her hands and said resentfully, “Oh, it’s so easy for Adam and Karen – theirs is a normal relationship…”
Rhapsody snorted. “You really think so? There are times when they can’t live with each other for love nor money. Okay,” she appeased him, “there are also times when they can’t keep their hands off each other – but, if you ask me, Paul, it doesn’t exactly qualify as ‘normal’…” She gave an affectionately wry smile. “Still, I guess it’s their way of loving – even if it isn’t ours – and it must work for them…after all, they’ve just got married...”
“Yeah, you’re right; it’s perfectly normal for them to fall headlong into bed with each other at the slightest opportunity - at least, when Karen’s not spoiling for a fight it is,” he qualified his statement with an ironic smile. “But I was talking about us, Dianne; do you still agree that it isn’t a good idea for us to follow their example and get married?”
She was perplexed. Paul had always used the war as a reason why they shouldn’t go through with it. It wasn’t, she knew, because he didn’t love her – she was confident that he did – but because he worried too much that his Mysteronisation would ensure they were never happy. It was something Dianne had tried to reason him out of many times, but he never accepted her arguments. Now she sensed he was having second thoughts. Perhaps Ochre’s right – maybe matrimony is contagious? she mused.
When she didn’t answer, he tried to explain, “I know I want to spend my life with you. I can’t promise you an easy time of it – I don’t know, yet, exactly what will become of me. Who knows how long the retrometabolism will persist? I can’t even be sure how I’ll age: slowly or not at all? Do you still love me enough to – to make the commitment – despite all this?”
“Yes, Paul,” she smiled.
He smiled back at her and his mood lightened. “I’m doing this all wrong, aren’t I? There ought to be moonlight, and soft music, fine wine and romance…” She gave an amused nod. “How can a man be expected to ask a woman to marry him, when he’s sitting in the middle of someone else’s quarters on Cloudbase, on a prosaic Saturday morning?” he complained.
“Oh, poor Paul, you’re out of luck; but I’m sure Adam won’t mind if you rifle through his music collection…or maybe one of Karen’s discs would suit your mood better?” Rhapsody teased – Karen’s taste in music was a far cry from his.
He grimaced at the very thought. “Hmm, on second thoughts, you will just have to use your imagination,” he said. “Okay… just imagine that light is the moon; this desk is the romantic candle-lit table at a classy restaurant and this cup of cold coffee is the fine wine.”
“Good job I’m teetotal then,” she grimaced as he handed her the mug. She put it down on the desk again.
To her surprise he went down on one knee. “Dianne, my dearest, sweetest, most precious of all women, tell me, do you still want to marry me?” he proclaimed, adding, “And, if the answer is yes – as I hope it will be – will you marry me soon?” He looked up at her, drinking in her flawless complexion, her rich red hair and her soft, blue eyes – eyes that were smiling back at him with a wealth of love - and a great deal of amusement - in them. He was suddenly serious again, feeling that he was asking so much of her with so little he could promise in return. “Will you, Dianne? Are you still prepared to take the chance and …and marry me?”
“It won’t be easy – there are bound to be pit-falls and problems; not the least of them being my… my condition. For myself, I know I’ll love you until my own life ends. I can only promise to do everything in my power to make you happy…” He paused. “What did you say?”
“I said: ‘Yes, Paul’ – but you seemed too concerned with making me change my mind to listen!” She slipped her hands around his face and smiled down at him. “Yes, I will marry you, Paul Metcalfe. Yes, I can and I do love you. Yes, I know you will make me happy… and if – in marrying you – I also have to marry Captain Scarlet, well, that is a price I am willing to pay. I know the risks and together we’ll face them with confidence. You’re a wonderful man, Paul… and I adore you – you silly noggin!”
He sprang up from the floor and enfolded her in his arms, intent on kissing her. Protesting at his rough face, she teasingly pushed him away.
“You need a shave…”
“Bugger that,” he murmured. “Kiss me, Dianne; kiss me like you’re never going to stop…”
Chuckling, she obliged.
Someone cleared their throat loudly and said, “Well, excuse us. I can see you two want to be alone…”
The lovers parted and turned to welcome Blue and Symphony.
Rhapsody laughed up at her fiancé’s rueful expression at this unwanted interruption. “You two can be my witnesses…” she said. “We’ve just got engaged again, and this time, he means to go through with it…” she confided, by way of an explanation.
Symphony let out an excited squeal and flew to embrace her friend. “Congratulations, Dianne!” She glanced archly at Captain Scarlet. “And about time too, Paul,” she teased.
Captain Blue shook his hand warmly. “I couldn’t be happier for you both. Congratulations!” he said, reaching to enfold Dianne in a bear hug.
“Thank you,” Scarlet said with a grin that spread from ear to ear. “I guess you two have started a trend…” he added.
Blue grinned back. “I hope I’m going to get the chance to make a speech at your wedding. I still have to get my own back for that one you made at mine…”
“Hey,” Scarlet protested, “you never gave me much notice. I thought it was very tactful – considering… and rather apt too – given the way you two go at it…” He gave a guffaw of laughter as Adam assumed an exaggerated look of outrage.
“Handspring, bedspring, offspring, next spring,” Symphony recited with a giggle. “I hadn’t seen Adam blush like that for a long time…”
“So, what do you think of your new quarters? Do you like them?” Rhapsody interrupted, gently disengaging herself from Blue’s enthusiastic embrace. “Everyone’s worked like Trojans to get them ready…”
The couple wandered around the rooms, expressing their delight at the thoughtful effort that had been put into making the change over. “They’re wonderful,” Symphony reassured Dianne. “It’s the nicest thing to have happened… well, one of the nicest things.” She went back to her husband’s side and slipped her arm through his, glancing up into his face with a secretive, slightly smug smile. He gave an almost imperceptible nod. “I’m only too sorry to say that we won’t be in them for long,” she continued, with an air of barely suppressed excitement, “but maybe you two can move in – so your hard work won’t be wasted?”
“Not in them for long? Why ever not?” Rhapsody cried.
Symphony looked almost self-conscious for a second and then lifted her face towards her friends; an inner radiance momentarily turned her pretty face to one of ethereal beauty. She grinned, shattering the impression and reverting to the vivacious Karen Wainwright they knew. “Well, maybe Paul’s speech was prophetic? Because, it looks like I am going to have a baby, if not exactly by next spring…” she said.
Rhapsody gave an excited squeal and rushed back to her friend, almost whooping with delight at the news. As the women hugged each other in tears of excitement, Blue gave Scarlet a bashful smile, which quickly broadened into a proud grin.
“Seems like I finally managed to do something right,” he quipped, as Scarlet shook his hand, slapped his shoulder and chuckled.
Lady Dianne Simms married Colonel Sir Paul Metcalfe by Archbishop’s licence in Winchester Cathedral, before a select congregation consisting of relatives and close friends of the couple, on the groom’s 39th birthday, just before Christmas.
In his speech at the reception, held at the Metcalfe family home, Commander Adam Svenson, the colonel’s American colleague who was acting as the best man, revealed in response to much speculation that - given such short notice - the groom’s parents had asked him to organise a secret honeymoon for the happy couple. He looked very apologetic as he confessed that, the best he’d been able to do was a fortnight’s cruising on board the Svenson family’s private yacht… which just happened to be handy - off the Norwegian Arctic coast. “But it is the perfect place for honeymooners,” he said with a roguish grin, “they have really long nights there at this time of the year…”
Colonel Metcalfe – who was just probably the world’s worst sailor - was the only one amongst the company who did not roar with laughter at this deplorable arrangement…. In fact, it took him some time to see the funny side of it – even after Adam had handed him their plane tickets and they were safely on their way to the Maldives…
Cloudbase - 2100AD
The rumour spread around Cloudbase like wildfire, leaving the personnel stunned, disbelieving and not a little scared. Racing down to the sickbay, Colonel Scarlet dodged the huddled groups, some of whom called out to him, their voices begging him to refute the rumour. But Scarlet had no time, and precious little hope that it would be possible to issue a refutation.
He crashed in through the doors, scattering the nurses who thronged the entrance to the emergency medical ward. The junior doctors made no attempt to stop him as he barged in to where Doctor Fawn was turning away from the body on the operating table.
The two old friends shared a long, wordless glance and Scarlet knew – knew that his worst fears were realised – knew that it was the end of an era – knew that his life had lurched sickeningly into an unknown future, long before he was ready for it to take that step.
Fawn’s eyes dropped away and he mechanically peeled off his latex gloves. “I’m sorry, Paul, there was nothing I could do… the internal injuries - the massive internal injuries - must have meant he was dead before they even got him from the wreckage. I doubt he knew much about it, once the plane hit the stanchion, he was a dead man…”
The doctor raised his eyes once more and looked with concern at the expressionless face of his most frequent patient. The sapphire-blue eyes had gone dark with, Fawn suspected, a flood of tears – although he doubted they would ever be shed where any man would see them. Scarlet’s iron will and long years of training would never allow that to happen.
He moved forward and placed a hand on the taller man’s arm. Scarlet started, as if surprised to discover he was not alone. “I must see what I can do for Lieutenant Bister. They found him at the rear of the plane and he’s still alive, they tell me.”
“Of course, Edward. May I stay with him?”
Fawn nodded. “Of course, take as long as you need. Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy, Paul.”
He waved his team out of the operating theatre and swept away, burying his own shock and grief in a professionalism that was as total as Colonel Scarlet’s in its way.
As the door shuddered closed behind the last nurse, Scarlet moved forward and stared down at the face of the man on the operating table. He might have been sleeping, his eyes closed and his hair tousled across the pillow. He reached out a hand and touched the still-warm cheek with tentative fingers. This was a nightmare he’d lived with for numberless years…
“You bloody fool, Adam,” he said quietly. “I told you you’d get yourself killed one of these days…”
He blinked and was surprised to feel tears on his cheeks. He wiped them away and drew himself up with a sharp intake of breath. “There’s going to be hell to pay over this… if it turns out that someone is to blame, I promise you, I will make sure they pay in full for it. “
He sniffed and rubbed the end of his nose in an attempt to regain his equilibrium. Vague thoughts chased around his shocked mind and he stood, irresolute until he heard the swing doors flap open. He turned and saw Lieutenant-Colonel Green standing by the entrance.
“It’s true then?” the Trinidadian asked bleakly. “He’s gone?”
Scarlet nodded and moved away from the body. Green moved closer and stared down at the body for a long minute. He looked up at the taller man and asked with hopeless confusion:
“What the hell do we do now?”
Scarlet resented the expectation that he’d be in any state to give directions, but once more his training cut in and he said with surprising evenness, “We need to tell the staff on base and then, the World President and Spectrum Intelligence. Someone will have to take command, pro-tem, until a successor is appointed. I don’t know if they will opt for a contingency plan, or if they had already decided who’d take over once the general retired, and they’ll just bring that forward. Either way, it’s not a good time for anyone to have to take over. I’m guessing you know about that threatened World Senate enquiry …” He was surprised his mind and voice were functioning as normal; but when his gaze came back to rest on the general’s body once more, the enormity of the situation swept over him and his voice trailed away. He crossed the room and pressed his throbbing head against the cool metal wall of the theatre, fighting down the powerful urge for tears.
Green came and laid a hand on his sleeve. “Are you okay, Paul? I’m afraid we have got to get a handle on this – however difficult it is to come to terms with. I’ll deal with the authorities and then get in touch with Kate so she can tell his family. People will expect you to make the base announcement – you were his closest friend – although how you find the words to tell everyone the C-in-C is dead, is beyond me. However, I’m sure they’ll be reassured if you speak to them and we cannot afford to let rumour cause panic.”
“You’re right, Seymour, we do need to get a grip. Just give me a minute or two, will you? I don’t think anything will be served, if I break down over the tannoy, will it?”
The other man nodded sympathetically and drew a shaky breath. “It really is the end of an era, isn’t it? Somehow, even knowing he was going to retire, I could never quite imagine a Cloudbase without him around…”
Scarlet nodded. The three of them – and Doctor Fawn - were the only agents from the first intake of Spectrum personnel still serving on Cloudbase. Fawn was due to retire shortly – having worked on over the normal retirement age to train his successor in the science of retrometabolism and the care of the only human to possess this remarkable ability – Colonel Scarlet.
As his mind started to function sensibly once more, Scarlet’s face blanched. “Oh sweet Jesus… how am I going to tell Karen?” he moaned.
The SPJ landed cleanly and taxied to the hangar. Once the cabin was pressurised, the door opened and the stairs descended. The small group of people waiting by the exit moved forwards as a tall, graceful, well-groomed woman, dressed in a tailored suit of unrelieved black and carrying a black lacquered box, negotiated the steps with care.
A stocky, black man in a smart green uniform moved to meet her, extending his hand. “Hello, Karen, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to once more to Cloudbase. I only wish it could have been in happier circumstances.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” She held on to his hand as she looked around the hangar with a nostalgic smile, “It’s always nice to be back, whatever the reason, Seymour.” He embraced her with affection. Although his marriage to Adam’s sister, Katherine, was long over, he still regarded this woman as an in-law, and she was his son’s aunt.
She turned to smile at a youthful, dark-haired man in a red uniform who now approached her and enfolded her in a very unmilitary embrace. “Paul, it’s good to see you,” she whispered, hugging him with her free arm.
Colonel Scarlet’s arms tightened around her. He was alarmed to see how much she’d aged since the funeral – there wasn’t much to her at the best of times, but now she was looking gaunt. Doctor Fawn, the third member of the welcoming committee, also hugged her, taking the opportunity to cast a professional eye over her pale skin, drawn features and lifeless hair. Karen Svenson’s state of mind had always been reflected in her outward appearance.
Colonel Green led the way through to the officers’ lounge past an unplanned honour guard of silent and respectful personnel. The younger officers sitting around the room tactfully made way for the party and absented themselves with murmured pleasantries.
“Would you care for some refreshment?” Green’s stilted words conveyed his emotion far more than his carefully controlled expression.
The former Symphony Angel smiled. “That would be nice, Seymour. Has the coffee got any better in here since I left?”
“It’s debateable,” Scarlet quipped, and moved across to make four coffees.
She sat in the armchair nearest the table and carefully placed her box on it, next to her handbag. Green cleared his throat and moistened his lips with his tongue. The question hardly needed to be asked, but, “Is that… the ashes?” he said.
She nodded. “I wouldn’t let them put him in the cargo hold. I thought it was hardly a fitting way for the Commander-in-Chief to travel back to his base for the last time. Silly really, I doubt if he’d mind.”
“No, no, you were quite right – it would not have been fitting,” Green replied making a mental note to have someone’s hide over the very suggestion.
“I’m grateful that Spectrum has agreed to honour his last request; although now I am going to put you all on the spot by making a request of my own. I don’t know who I should ask really, but I guess you three are the senior officers left on Cloudbase and, as such, you’ll have to do.”
“Actually, it would be me,” Green muttered. “Confirmation came through yesterday that I am to be promoted to Brigadier and C-in-C of Cloudbase.”
“Congratulations, Seymour!” Karen said with genuine warmth. “It’s well deserved.” She knew her husband had been lobbying for the past eighteen months or so for Green to be his successor when he retired from active duty. She glanced at Colonel Scarlet carrying the coffee back towards them. “I guess you still didn’t want it?”
Scarlet shook his head vehemently. “I have never looked good behind a desk, Karen, and whilst I can still be useful I want to carry on in field work.”
“That’s what Adam always said,” she acknowledged. It was the first time she’d spoken his name and the three men tensed. She didn’t seem to have noticed and continued, “Well, my request, Colonel Green, is a simple one. When my time comes, I want to be with Adam. I guess I’m asking you to keep his ashes here, until… well, until I die and then… scatter us together.”
Her voice trailed away and her head dropped. Doctor Fawn put a hand on her knee in silent support. In command of herself again, she raised her head and smiled her thanks at him. “I know I don’t have the same call on Spectrum as he did, but I did serve in the Angel flight and after that, in one capacity or another, for a number of years and my husband was your longest serving C-in-C.”
Momentarily distracted by a thought, she smiled at Scarlet. “You should’ve seen him crowing over Charles the day he passed his service record – just like a kid on prize giving day!”
“How did General White take it?” Scarlet grinned back.
“With his usual unruffled calm, it was my Mom who got riled – it wasn’t long after Charles’s heart attack and she was very protective of him.” Karen smiled. “She gave Adam a right telling off.”
“How are they both?” Fawn asked.
“Fine, a little slower and less agile perhaps, but still good despite it all. I think Adam’s death has affected them both more than they let on, of course.”
“It has affected us all, Karen,” Fawn replied. He spoke with an urgent conviction as if he wanted to apologise to her, “There was nothing I could do. He was already dead by the time they got him to sick bay; but even if he’d still been alive, I doubt I would’ve been able to do much - the internal injuries were just too extensive …”
“I know, Edward, please don’t think I hold you to blame in any way. Adam always said you were the finest doctor around and the only doctor he trusted. Besides, it’s hard to say now, but I try to console myself with the fact that really he wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way. He wasn’t looking forward to retirement – even with the sop of a consultative brief for Cloudbase. He’d spent the greater part of thirty years on this base – it was his home - far more than the place we have in England or even the one in Boston.”
Scarlet patted her shoulder. “The only thing he was looking forward to was spending more time with you, Karen. He said it would be a chance for you two to catch up after all these years living separate lives.”
She smiled. “I know, he told me that. But,” she shrugged, “I could hardly hope to take the place of 600-odd people and a world-wide organisation, could I?”
“What will you do now?” Scarlet asked.
“I’m not really sure. Peter has already offered to take the Boston house – he’s had his eyes on the family home ever since Adam inherited it from his mother, and it’s really too big for me to live in alone – besides, I want to be close to my mother and Charles. With Dianne and the kids close enough for me to see them every so often; it makes sense to stay in Berkshire.” Scarlet grinned, even after years of residency she still pronounced it the American way. “Dianne wrote me the most wonderful letter, please do thank her for me, Paul, when next you speak to her and say I’ll get round to answering it – soon!”
“Don’t worry about that, she understands that you have plenty of other things on your mind right now.”
“That’s just it; I don’t have a thing on my mind. If I did, I would just want to curl up and die right now and save you the trouble of storing the ashes until I get my act together.” Her voice was shaky. “I daren’t think about anything, I’m on auto-pilot and I have been since you called to tell me he’d been killed...”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t have felt any pain, Karen. It would’ve been instantaneous …I’m damn sure of that.” Doctor Fawn reiterated. He was watching her reactions carefully. He’d known Karen Svenson for more than thirty years and was well aware of her emotional fragility in times of great personal stress.
She nodded and rummaged in the expensively small handbag on the table for a handkerchief. She sniffed delicately, wiped her eyes and made a concerted effort to keep calm. Gathering herself, she continued, “The lawyers read the will yesterday; not that I didn’t know what was in it already. It seems you’re now the proud owner of a red Ferrari, Paul, with enough money to tax and insure the machine for the next hundred years, I think! He said you’d never take it on the roads if he didn’t cover the expenses and he wanted you to drive it – often - in memory of him.”
Scarlet coloured and looked close to tears for the first time in days.
Karen continued, “Except for his shares in the family firm - which revert to his brothers and sister - and bequests to his nephew, nieces and his god-children, as well as numerous family retainers and his personal Cloudbase staff, he left everything to me for the duration of my lifetime. Thereafter, Colonel, most of it goes to the Spectrum Family Support Fund, for the widows and orphans of Spectrum personnel the World over. I promise not to spend it all, so you should end up with a tidy sum.”
The men smiled politely at her strained witticism – Adam had always complained that money flowed through his wife’s fingers like sand.
Karen tilted her immaculately coiffed head and said thoughtfully, “I was surprised just how well he’s done with his investments latterly. The money he inherited from his parents helped, of course, but I think he also inherited his family’s knack with money – however much he denied it. Even Peter was impressed…” Peter Svenson now ran the family’s financial business – the ownership of which had been a bone of contention between the brothers for a good many years.
“That is extremely generous,” stammered Green.
“What else could he do with it? His nephew and nieces have their parents’ money to look forward to and once I’m gone, there’s no-one else.”
There was an uncomfortable pause. All three of the men present knew how much both Adam and Karen had longed for a family of their own. They also knew that Symphony’s statement was not strictly true – there was someone else.
Freya Saville Svenson was Adam’s daughter; the result of a one-night stand with a young technician then stationed on Cloudbase. On discovering that Lesley Saville was pregnant, shortly after Karen and Adam’s wedding, Colonel White had arranged for her to transfer to a Spectrum base on her native Cornish coast; and Adam - openly admitting his responsibility – had made a generous financial settlement on both mother and daughter.
Karen had known of the girl’s existence from the start and to begin with had tolerated Adam’s infrequent visits to see his daughter, even agreeing, in theory, to the child spending time with their family; but once it became clear that they would have no children of their own, she refused to have anything to do with the child. Always too aware of his transgression, Adam had acquiesced and Freya had never met her father’s wife.
Scarlet’s thoughts turned to his own children, who had grown up in the family home in Winchester with their mother – the former Rhapsody Angel. Adam had stood as god-father for them both – his son, Adam Charles, and his cherished daughter, Susannah Marie - and he wondered momentarily what act of outrageously extravagant generosity was covered by the phrase, ‘bequests to his god-children’. ‘Uncle Adam’ had spoiled them both since the day they were born.
Symphony was still speaking and he tuned in to the conversation once more.
“None of which, I hasten to add, is meant in any way as a sweetener for the granting of my request.” She was smiling at Green, knowing that, in reality, the thought would never have occurred to him.
“Well, of course we’ll do that for you, Karen, if it’s what you really want?”
“I want to be with Adam,” she repeated, “and this is what he wanted. So just empty us out through the vents and let us go with the winds… it’s a suitable last resting place for Spectrum pilots, I think.” She looked at all three of them and a deep uncertainty came over her face. “Just don’t forget about me, will you?”
Green shook his head. He reached for her hands and held them in his own for a long moment. “Karen, Cloudbase does not forget any of her children – wherever they roam…”
She smiled gratefully at him and gently withdrew her hands. “Now, if it’s all right with you, Colonel, I would like to go to Adam’s quarters and start sorting through his personal effects. I don’t want to take up any more of your time than I have to.”
“Of course, whatever you want to do is fine with me. I hope you will feel able to take dinner with me, Colonel Scarlet and the doctor later? But I’ll quite understand if you wish to be alone.”
Symphony smiled as she stood up from her chair. “I’ll have plenty of time to be alone now, Seymour, and I would love to have dinner with you all. Shall I leave Adam with you?” She glanced at the lacquered box on the table.
“Leave him with me,” Scarlet said decisively. “I’ll take care of him.”
“Just as you always did,” Karen smiled and kissed his cheek.
Scarlet carried the urn across to his personal quarters, thinking ironically as he went in and placed the box on the table, that Adam would be as much at home here as anywhere. He cleared a space on his bookcase and stood the urn on the top shelf, propping up a history of powered flight, which his son – known in the family as ‘Ace’ from his initials and to distinguish him from his Godfather - had given him for Christmas, last year. How very appropriate, he thought. He had a momentary qualm about having the ashes in his quarters, but dismissed it as fanciful; after all, they had been like brothers and shared almost every aspect of their lives. We never had any secrets before this, my old friend: so welcome back into my world, Adam!
He sat in the battered armchair and gazed reflectively at the sealed lacquer box, remembering the times they had sat in his quarters, chewing the fat over whatever was happening in the world or on the base. Adam had always been prone to bouts of insomnia and he’d make his way to his friend’s quarters, knowing Scarlet needed very little sleep and the chances were he’d find him still awake. They would take one glass each from the illicit bottle of single malt whisky Scarlet kept in his bookcase, and talk the night through often enough.
Scarlet poured himself a stiff whisky now and toasted the box on the shelf with a wry grin. Adam had known about the whisky ever since they had first become friends and partners, and since alcohol now failed to make Scarlet drunk due to his retrometabolism, he’d never seen the need to do anything about it – even when he became Commander-in-Chief.
On duty, Blue had been an exemplary commander, something of a disciplinarian, but fair to a fault. He’d maintained a slightly aloof persona towards the officers under his command, yet in private, towards his old friends, he remained as relaxed and as easy-going as ever. The younger officers held him in the same kind of awe the original officers had reserved for Colonel White, and the first time he’d heard Captains Auburn and Saffron speaking of ‘the old man’ he’d automatically thought of the colonel. On realising they meant Blue he’d had to stifle a guffaw of laughter and had taken particular delight in telling Adam about it later. He remembered the familiar smile and casual shrug that had greeted his revelation as Adam had said, “as long as that is all they call me.”
It was his hold on his officers’ loyalty that had seen Blue through the worst crisis in his professional career, when the current World President, Ousmane Boukari had taken office some years ago.
Boukari had burst onto the international political scene some ten years ago – a charismatic, authoritarian leader with boundless ambition, who had exhausted the possibilities his regional government had to offer and had seen the World Senate as a natural career progression. Looking for a campaign to build his new career on, he chose the premise that not enough had been done to attempt to negotiate a peace with the Mysterons. Over the decades, Spectrum had done such an excellent job of containing the Mysterons’ threats that, to the general populace, they were a barely-understood danger and one that caused little anxiety. Boukari used this to argue that there was no need to keep Spectrum on such a high level of readiness – at such vast expense – and that the Mysterons were not as much of a threat as Spectrum insisted; his implication being that the organisation was being used by a succession of World Presidents as nothing more than a private army.
The then present incumbent, Valdis Arnorsdottir, had supported Spectrum, like all of her predecessors since the organisation had been created by the second World President, James Younger. She had done what she could to rebut Boukari’s assertions, but given the intense secrecy that surrounded Spectrum and the nature of the threat posed by the Mysterons, it had been an uphill task, and Boukari’s ideas had slowly gained ground in the World Senate.
Nevertheless, Arnorsdottir had worked closely with General Blue to begin the essential improvement and update of Spectrum’s terrestrial facilities. With more staff and improved equipment, the Mysterons’ success rate had dropped even further; which, ironically, provided the by now World President-elect Boukari with additional ammunition for his argument advocating the down-sizing, if not the complete dissolution, of the organisation. With her influence in the World Senate waning, President Arnorsdottir had continued to champion Spectrum, but her voice was increasingly lost in the general chorus of dissent from career politicians in the World Senate, who saw the removal of Spectrum as a way of reducing the power of the Presidential office, and could think of alternative uses for the billions Spectrum cost, which would reflect well on them with their national constituencies.
After his inauguration as World President, Boukari had been given access to the secret dossiers on the Mysterons and their threat to destroy all life on the planet. Subsequently his anti-Spectrum pronouncements had become less frequent and it was assumed that, now he was in receipt of the full facts, he’d realised his mistake. Then, in what came to be seen as an open declaration of hostility, he publicly called Spectrum ‘an over-mighty organisation and an indulgence the World can ill-afford’ in a policy speech given on the anniversary of his inauguration
Caught on the back foot by the attack, General Blue had been forced to defend his command’s very existence at the same time as he argued for additional funds to complete the update and refurbishment of the terrestrial bases. Getting nowhere with President Boukari – who had developed a personal animosity to the American general who stood, so resolutely, in the way of his ambitious plans - Blue had been forced to take his case to arbitration in the World Security Council. He’d done so with such eloquence that the Council had over-ruled the President’s budget cuts and voted Spectrum its additional funds.
Boukari had taken this defeat personally, and the general had found himself the target of the President’s spite. Under a cloak of moral indignation, Boukari had promulgated a rumour that, despite being a married man, General Blue was involved in a clandestine relationship with the senior Angel pilot on Cloudbase – Raeka Garcia, a svelte, stylish and intelligent Argentinean, codenamed Calisto. He also implied that this was not an unusual state of affairs for the personnel on the base, which, the President claimed, was a hotbed of loose morals.
Realising that the general was so closely identified with Spectrum that undermining one would impact on the other, Boukari made a further concerted attempt to blacken Blue’s reputation and, by implication, the organisation he led. The oblique suggestion that the former ‘Madam President’ had been charmed into accepting Spectrum’s demands by the ‘attentions’ of the personable General Blue, had sown enough doubt to compromise her spirited defence of Spectrum – and caused the normally even-tempered general one of his rare bursts of outraged anger.
Blue had stormed around his friend’s quarters, fulminating against the President and demanding of Colonel Scarlet if he thought Boukari planned to imply that he’d slept with every woman on the frigging planet, if it suited his political ends? Taking it as a direct and not a rhetorical question, Scarlet had pursed his lips and replied dryly ‘only the ones that might oppose his policies’, adding innocently that Boukari was probably only jealous. Blue had stopped dead and stared at his smiling friend, until his habitual good temper reasserted itself and he’d burst out laughing at the inanity of it all.
The scandal quickly fizzled out because of a lack of any supporting evidence, but the damage had been done and it became fair game for opportunistic politicians who knew little of the considerable threat the Mysterons posed, to take pot-shots at Spectrum and its dedicated personnel.
Not surprising it all died down really, it was just so much rot, Scarlet thought loyally. What is surprising is that anyone ever claimed to believe it. There wasn’t anything untoward about his relationship with either Calisto, or Valdis Arnorsdottir, that I could see. So what if Calisto did spend the evening at the Christmas party getting Adam to dance with her? It did him good to relax a little and it was all perfectly innocent; they were never out of the full view of everyone at the party…. The image of the stunning South American smiling happily as she swayed in the general’s arms for the best part of the evening was hastily banished. It was not in Scarlet’s nature to be a hypocrite and he’d spent most of that particular evening with the attractive Melete Angel and when, the next morning, Adam had casually asked where they’d got to and what on Earth they’d been doing, his answer of ‘watching the test cricket’ was not the whole truth…
Anyway, it was no big deal if Calisto was friendly with the general – all the Angels were… I mean, he was old enough to be her father - and so am I, of course. I’m old enough to be the father of every pretty woman I meet these days … the problem is explaining that to them… He sighed. But Boukari was just out to cause trouble, that’s all. He even dragged up the fact that Adam had a child ‘born out of wedlock’ – although, thankfully, he never managed to identify her. No one who knew Adam gave ‘Calisto-gate’ a moment’s credence and because Adam’d never made the fact of his daughter’s existence a secret – unlike her identity -that couldn’t be used against him. Of course, it didn’t stop Karen going ballistic though - when the story about Calisto hit the papers – and not for the first time, either… he sighed again and sipped his whisky.
However, mud sticks and even Blue at his most charismatic wasn’t able to restore Spectrum’s reputation to what it had been before Boukari started his vendetta. He was forced to devote a lot more of his time to ‘politicking’ than before the scandal -and how he hated doing it, even though he was good at it. Some of those power blocs still need to be reminded of the protection Spectrum provides and the danger the Mysterons continue to pose to the Earth.
Scarlet knew that his friend had been hopeful that things were moving back onto a happier footing – he’d dreaded handing over a ‘crippled’ service to his successor. It was this need to be constantly lobbying on Spectrum’s behalf that had been the purpose of his last visit away from Cloudbase…
Scarlet took another sip of his drink and refused to think about the trip that had cost his friend his life; instead he thought about Karen and her task of sorting Adam’s belongings. It will be hard for her to do it all alone… he concluded.
It had naturally fallen to him to clear the general’s personal effects from his desk in the control room and, in the course of doing this, he’d found an envelope bearing his name in Adam’s distinctive handwriting. He’d opened it later, alone on the promenade deck, where they had spent so much of their free time, wondering what his friend could have to say in writing that he couldn’t say in person.
The envelope had contained two sheets of the hand-made paper Adam had kept for his personal use. Written in the familiar angular, upright script was a brief message and on the second sheet a poem. Scarlet had read the message carefully:
‘It’s a foregone conclusion that you will survive me, Paul, and I could never hope to say goodbye to you in any words that express my thoughts half as well as these I enclose do. I believe what they say is true and that good friends – who are amongst the most important things in life – are never really parted. And I consider that I have been fortunate in so many of my friends.
I hope you know how much I have always valued your friendship, and that I feel privileged to have known and worked with you, and honored to have called you ‘my friend’.
Good luck in the future, Paul, I could almost envy you the possibilities of all you will see and experience - almost.
I know you will have many good friends in the years ahead, but I hope you will occasionally remember me amongst their number, for you were the best friend I ever had.
The date had made him gasp. Adam must have written the note before the two clones went into the Geminator; sensing how alone his death - whenever it came - would leave his friend. There had been a brief time when, due to the effects of their joint exposure to the Mysterons’ cloning device, they had shared a telepathic link; but it was only now that Scarlet wondered just how much of his deepest fears Adam had divined in that period. Although he’d had never spoken of what they’d experienced, the letter suggested to Scarlet either an uncanny perception or ‘insider knowledge’ of this inner turmoil.
Still uncertain at the time of the full implications of his retrometabolism, he’d been speculating fearfully on his future: would he age along with contemporaries, fated like the Cumaean Sibyl, to be immortal without eternal youth or would he remain as he’d been on the fateful day of the car crash? Either way he had seen nothing except a future devoid of companionship ahead of him – as his retrometabolic abilities set him aside from his friends.
By then, Dianne and he had been engaged for some time, yet fearful of the future, he’d held back from the full commitment, even though he’d no doubt their love was strong and true. It was the marriage of Adam and Karen – the consequence of their being made only too convincingly aware of the perils of further delay – that had acted as a catalyst, propelling him into going ahead with his own wedding plans, much to Dianne’s delight and his own joy and satisfaction.
Curious to see where Adam had found the words to express his feelings, he turned to read the poem; that too was handwritten, but undated.
The Valediction - Forbidding Mourning
by John Donne
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.
And though it in the centre
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
That Adam should find the words to express his recognition of his friend’s dilemma in the intricate imagery of the greatest of the metaphysical poets, didn’t surprise Paul; what did surprise him was that Adam had cared enough to let him know he’d sympathised with the nature of his friend’s fear.
Scarlet finished his whisky and thought back over the last few months. Since Adam had told him of his intention to retire to a part-time terrestrial command, he’d had to face up to many of the unpalatable truths he’d previously preferred to ignore.
His retrometabolism, whilst saving his life countless times, had only gradually made clear the full nature of the price he had to pay for it. He didn’t age; he didn’t even change with the years. Like a fly in amber, he was to be preserved as his friends, wife and children grew older and died around him. This knowledge had created a whole new set of concerns, some of which he was still struggling to come to terms with.
He was now sixty-three years old, but still looked and felt thirty. He was regularly working out with men young enough to be his sons - or even his grandsons - and leaving them exhausted. He’d suffered so many injuries and deaths in the course of his career that he now took it for granted. Yet he could see the way this exceptional ability had fostered the feeling of loneliness that had grown over the years; how his unique situation had set him aside, even from his closest friends. The splintering of the original elite brigade - and their replacement by younger, brasher agents, whose attitudes towards him were untempered by the understanding of the momentous events that had followed the Mysterons’ first strike at the Earth – had increased his feeling of isolation.
The original elite corps of agents had gradually drifted away from each other – as was only to be expected - it was a process that had been going on for some years even before Colonel White retired. The colonel had unwittingly started the process when he had sanctioned the first three ‘Cloudbase weddings’: Blue and Symphony led the way, with Dianne and him close behind. Then Captain Grey and Destiny Angel had followed suit. Lieutenant Green had made it four weddings in two years, when he’d married his long-term girlfriend, Katherine Svenson - Adam’s sister - in a lavish ceremony in Boston, and that had started the trickle of personnel away from Cloudbase.
The newly-married Green had taken a stint ‘ground-side’, with a promotion and a posting to New York. He’d been given the task of beefing up the entire organisation’s communications technology, and it had been over three years before he’d returned to Cloudbase and another two before he returned full-time to field officer duties. By then his marriage had started to break down and when Kate had finally had enough of wondering if her husband had survived the day, she filed for divorce. Initially, there had been a certain reserve between Green and his brother-in-law as the divorce went through, but that had faded with the years, and recently they’d been as close as they’d ever been.
The predictable appearance of ‘Cloudbase ‘grandchildren’’ necessitated the resignation of their respective mothers from active duty – Rhapsody first and then Destiny. Colonel White had made no secret of the fact that he meant to retire on his 65th birthday and he married Amanda Wainwright a few years before that momentous event. They had retired to live in an English village – a million miles away from the stress and dangers of Spectrum.
Colonel Blue had stepped into the command of Cloudbase in a seamless transition, liaising with the colonel – now General White – over wider Spectrum issues. With Blue absorbed in his new responsibilities, Major Scarlet had taken Captain Green as his field partner. That partnership was hardly established when they had lost Captain Magenta, in a Mysteron attack on a newly-commissioned Spectrum base, which had also taken three promising lieutenants.
Magenta’s death had shaken the senior staff as nothing had done since Black, Brown and Indigo had been lost to the Mysterons in the early days of the war of nerves. Everyone had become edgy and Blue had been faced with several members of his senior staff requesting alternative postings, for personal reasons.
Captain Grey had been the first to leave. Naturally enough, he wanted to be with his wife and young daughter, Alinor; but he’d chosen to leave Spectrum altogether, severing his links with the organisation. The couple were now living on the rugged Mediterranean coast of France, running their own adventure holiday company and pretending Spectrum had never existed as part of their lives. Scarlet knew that Destiny – Juliette - kept in touch with the other Angel pilots, but that was on a purely informal basis.
On her fortieth birthday, Melody Angel announced that she’d decided not to renew her service contract, and would be moving back to the States to open a restaurant with one of the Cloudbase computer-technicians, a gently-spoken Californian named Catherine Brady. The women had been happy together in New Orleans for a dozen or so years; until Melody had finally succumbed to the cancer that had been ravaging her slender body, until every breath was an agony. The funeral – held in Atlanta - had been the last time every one of the surviving original Cloudbase officers had got together.
Captain Ochre – perhaps the one man on Cloudbase who had not been surprised at Melody’s choice of partner - had taken both Magenta’s death and Melody’s departure particularly badly. Now teamed with a new partner in the recently promoted Captain Purple, he’d received serious injuries whilst trying to combat a Mysteron attack against a chemical plant in the Ruhr valley. Captain Purple – his commission scarcely old enough to have been saluted – wasn’t so lucky and died in the explosion. Ochre recovered but, feeling increasingly out of step on a Cloudbase he no longer recognised as the one he’d grown to call ‘home’, he resigned shortly after his 50th birthday – an event he called ‘a significant enough landmark’. He went back to North America and started his own private security firm in Ontario, close to the Great Lakes he loved. He was doing pretty well for himself, and had made a tidy fortune – or so rumour had it. He still acted as a consultant for Spectrum when necessary, but he was long beyond donning a field uniform any more. Richard Fraser had never married, although Scarlet did hear through Blue, who kept in touch with all their old comrades, about a succession of pretty companions – some more significant than others…
Harmony, the last remaining original Angel pilot, had been posted to Koala Base, to train Spectrum pilots in the advanced flying techniques needed by the state of the art planes they used. She’d been happy there until she’d met a man she’d wanted to marry – a Spectrum surgeon who had come to Koala to perform an operation. The man was a widower, with three children who were being cared for by his relatives. Both Harmony and he had resigned and were now in the Far East somewhere, raising their family; Scarlet had lost track of where exactly.
Doctor Fawn was due to retire in the next few months and would be leaving Cloudbase medical in the capable hands of Doctor Beige – who Scarlet remembered first meeting some twenty-five years ago as the rookie, Eva Javorsky.
Scarlet shifted and gazed up at the urn on the shelf. And now, I have to deal with the greatest wrench of all – your untimely death. If only I had been co-piloting that plane rather than Lieutenant Bister, maybe things would’ve been different, he thought with helpless regret.
He’d been scheduled to accompany Blue to his meeting with the Asian Director General, but had cried off; arguing that he’d already had to sit through half a dozen such meetings this month. He remembered Adam’s cynical amusement as he acquiesced to his request and his expressed hope that he’d enjoy the football match being shown on TV that afternoon. As it happened, he hadn’t enjoyed it – it had been a bad-tempered match and his team had lost, thanks to a dodgy penalty decision – and he’d been waiting impatiently for Adam’s return, so he could express his dissatisfaction over the result to someone who would, at least, listen, when the incident in Bereznian airspace had occurred.
Although reason told him that if Adam hadn’t been able to land the plane on Cloudbase without crashing, it was unlikely he could have, yet he may have stood a better chance of downing the jets that attacked the plane as it crossed the Bereznian border, before they had damaged the undercarriage so badly. Lieutenant Bister, who, by some miracle had survived the crash, certainly blamed himself for the incident and was having to have intense counselling in order to come to terms with the fact.
Scarlet pursed his lips and wondered cynically what would happen if he requested counselling? Fate had not been kind to many of the friends and colleagues he’d spent almost 35 years of his life with, and yet he was expected to absorb everything that life threw at him without a qualm, even though all of his oldest and closest friends were disappearing. He sometimes thought that people equated ‘retrometabolic’ with ‘uncaring’ for some unknown reason.
Even Dianne had grown away from him, losing herself in the lives of her children. Her children; he’d been relieved when neither child showed any indication of being affected by his retrometabolic abilities. Doctor Fawn had monitored both babies carefully for the first couple of years, but had concluded they were perfectly normal, healthy children and, as such, they could not be allowed to know too much about their father’s ‘condition’ until they were old enough to understand why the secret had to be protected. Consequently they had probably seen more of Adam than of him. Uncle Adam had been a frequent and welcome visitor to the Metcalfe family home, whilst he’d watched his kids grow up through Adam’s eyes and they had heard his messages relayed in the affectionate tones of Adam’s voice.
So, Scarlet mused, we had no secrets, Adam. You’ve seen my darkest fears and you knew my most dearly held hopes; and I, in turn, knew yours. Whatever part of your spirit haunts that lacquer box is as welcome as any friend…
He refilled his glass and raised it to the urn once more. “Slainte Mhor, Adam.” He drained it in one and stood up. “I think I’ll go and give Karen a hand…”
Karen Svenson stood with her back pressed against the closed door of the room and looked around with a feeling of familiarity. However strange it was to be back in Adam’s quarters once more, it hadn’t changed much since she’d left Cloudbase. When she’d come to collect his body for the funeral in Boston, she had deliberately avoided visiting his rooms and had remained on the base for as short a time as possible; but now she had to face sorting through his belongings and bringing the chapter of her life that had revolved around Adam to a close.
Lieutenant Peach had delivered her luggage and her vanity case lay on the narrow bed, with the two suitcases she’d brought - one of them empty to take away the more personal things - lying by the desk. Since he’d decided to retire, Adam had been sending regular consignments of his belongings back to their home – presumably with the idea of making leaving Cloudbase easier when the day finally arrived. What was left would be the really personal things – the things that had meant the most to him and the things that had made this hovering base his home.
She wondered how easy it was going to be to sift through the segment of her husband’s life that she knew so little of. Part of her was fearful that she might discover proof of something that would destroy what composure she’d managed to retain. Almost the only time Adam had been angry with her jealous suspicions, had been when speculation about a relationship between himself and Calisto had been current. The very fact that he’d been angry had made her less sure that he wasn’t involved with the young woman… and she dreaded what his personal effects might reveal.
With a sigh she threw her bag onto the bed and kicked off her shoes. The severely-tailored jacket followed and she undid the collar and cuffs of her white cotton blouse. Walking into the small en-suite, she splashed cold water on her wrists and eyes and felt a little better.
Back in the main room she looked around and wondered where to start. Everybody’s quarters on Cloudbase had a certain sameness about them – corporate living, Adam had called it. A bed, a desk, built-in wardrobe and chest of drawers – a tiny kitchenette with coffee-making machine, microwave and - in this case- a toaster. Around the walls were the personal touches - the posters, pictures, photos – that made each room individual. A quick glance around this room showed that he had, at least, changed the pictures since her last visit. He appeared to be ‘into’ landscapes: the Turner print of Durham Cathedral that he’d bought on a wonderful holiday they’d spent in the area with the Metcalfes, an antique map of the British colonies in North America, a 15th century Flemish landscape obviously taken from an illuminated manuscript – both of which, on closer inspection, looked to be originals – and the large black and white photograph of Nantucket that used to hang in his grandparents’ house.
She pulled open the wardrobe doors to look at the neat rows of denim jeans, sweat shirts, suits and cotton shirts hanging on the right hand side. On the left hung the uniform tunics – one formal dress uniform and three standard winter tunics, next to the innovative summer tunics he’d introduced - as soon as he got control of the finances - no more sweating through the tropics for his officers.
The faint aroma of his favourite cologne assaulted her nostrils and tears surged into her eyes. She wanted to sit down and howl out her misery, until she was too tired to get emotional over whatever else she might discover in this oddly impersonal room, which nevertheless, shrieked to her of him.
Sternly, she took herself in hand. This isn’t going to get me far; I need to concentrate! There’s no need to take the clothes, someone on Cloudbase can arrange for them to go to a charity somewhere. Likewise the shoes: handmade, leather, wide fitting, size 12. The uniforms remain Spectrum’s property anyway, so no doubt they have ways of disposing of them.
She reached over and picked up a colour-coded cap from the shelf above the tunics, turning it over in her hands. There was a single strand of pale hair caught in the lining, which made her smile, but then her smile faded as she turned the cap around and saw a darkened patch of pale blue leather, suggestive of a blood stain. Suddenly her hands were shaking so much she dropped it; it clattered to the floor bouncing on the Perspex peak and rolling away from her feet.
Still trembling, she left the clothes and went across the room to the chest of drawers to survey the photographs lined up on the top – like an identity parade: his parents, brothers, sister and their families, her mother and Charles on the day they got married and their own wedding portrait, along with an informal photo with Dianne and Paul at their side. Next to it was a picture from Paul and Dianne’s wedding, of the pair of them by the side of the happy couple. She studied it with a slight frown. Adam was standing behind her, with his arms around her shoulders and she was trying to look as happy for her friends as the occasion deserved. The wedding had taken place shortly after it had become apparent that she was not pregnant after all. She sighed and put the frame back on the chest. Adam had been fairly sanguine about it – So, you made a mistake with your dates…these things happen… it’s no big deal – he’d said. After numerous repeat performances he’d stopped saying it, but she’d stopped believing it long before then, anyway.
The next frame held a shot of his beloved red Ferrari, with Dianne and herself perched on the hood; both of them minus their shoes, for fear of scratching the paintwork. That’s Paul in the driving seat, she thought, smiling at the dark-haired man grinning out of the window, he was always looking for any excuse to drive that car!
Then there were the pictures of the children – the Metcalfes in pride of place, with Seymour’s and Kitty’s son, Marcus, alongside them. The youngster had a look of his father about his darkly handsome face and he promised to have his father’s love of music too; as they had found out the time they’d holidayed with Marcus and his father on the Caribbean island that was Seymour’s home.
The final photo made her frown again. It was Adam with a tall girl of about 9 or 10, with long, blonde hair in two thick plaits, squinting into the camera against the backdrop of what appeared to be the Svenson family house on Nantucket. Karen shivered as she lifted the frame for a closer look. Adam was smiling and his pride in this child was more than evident whilst she held on to his hand as if she’d never let it go.
Blinking furiously, she suddenly scooped the rest of the photos up as well and put them in one of the suitcases. Calming herself, she went to sit at the desk and slowly opened the top drawer.
Surely nothing in here can be upsetting?
There were neat rows of biros and fountain pens, along with paper clips and a stapler. She removed the stationery tray and discovered the cheque books and debit cards underneath. They’d have to go, although she thought they had been cancelled by the bank – one of his brothers would’ve seen to it, surely? She’d have to check later.
There was a small collection of picture postcards mostly from the kids on their various holidays – including one of the Tower of London; printed on the back, in wobbly letters, was the message: ‘To Daddy, I wish you were here, with kisses from Freya’ and several neat rows of crosses.
Presumably he kept this one due to the ambiguity of the message in conjunction with the picture on the front? she thought wryly. That would appeal to his sense of humour…
Karen placed it in one of the piles she’d created on the desk. I wonder if Paul has the girl’s address and where she is these days. She must be about twenty-four now – a young woman. She was told of her father’s death, I know she was – but she didn’t bother to come to Boston for the funeral – not that I would’ve wanted her there. There was that wreath with a card… what did it say? - Oh yes, I remember: ‘with all our love, Freya & Lesley’. Damn cheek!
She stretched her hand to the back of the drawer and encountered something hard. She pulled it out and found herself holding a faded, red cardboard box, about nine inches long and three wide. Cautiously, she lifted the lid and saw precisely folded tissue paper, yellowing slightly and starting to become brittle with age. Intrigued, she placed the box on the desktop and unwrapped the paper. Within the folds lay a substantial lock of reddish-gold hair, lovingly tied at both ends with a long piece of familiar narrow green ribbon.
The years flew away as she remembered so clearly standing in a room very like this, hurling abuse at his astonished face as she threw that lock of hair at him. She’d stormed from the room immediately afterwards, and had not seen what he did with it, and never thought to ask later, when her embarrassment had made the subject too painful to mention.
Well, now she knew: he’d kept it, tied in ribbon and wrapped carefully in tissue paper to preserve the colour. For thirty-odd years he’d kept it close to him in the personal drawer of his desk. Tears swam into her eyes as she fought to control her breathing. She lifted out the lock of hair and held it in her hand, thinking of the young, hot-headed woman who had lopped it from her head and thrown it at the quiet-spoken man she adored. She noticed faded writing on the underside of the lid and read
‘What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things.
Fair tresses man’s imperial race insnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair’
She’d always teased him about his reading – he’d read the strangest things, but it was so like him to find a quote that suited. Then she noticed, beneath the tissue paper, an envelope, on which was written in Adam’s handwriting: ‘Personal - For Karen Svenson, in the event of my death’. She laid the coil of hair on the desk and picked the envelope up, opening it with a nervous anticipation of what he’d have to say to her. Inside were two closely written sheets of paper. She read:
My darling Karen,
The fact that you’re even reading this means that I’m dead, for I have no intention of ever letting you see this before then. Ever since we met, we’ve understood the risks involved in what we do for a living and that one day some incident - some tragedy – might sever us from each other. I’m grateful for all the wonderful times we’ve enjoyed and I count myself fortunate that we’ve had this long together; yet I can still mourn for the lost days of all the years we might have expected to have lived - and loved - together. My dread of being separated from you becomes more real with every passing day.
I can’t know if what I’m going to say will help you come to terms with the situation, or only serve to make it worse; but I want to try to make you understand what you’ve meant to me over the years. I’ve tried innumerable times to tell you, only to discover myself incapable of finding words that could convince you of my sincerity. Perhaps these words - carefully crafted and considered over the past twenty-odd years - will succeed where I have failed before. I hope you will gain some comfort from reading this; I do not intend it to be a criticism, although you may accuse me of simply wanting to have ‘the final word in the argument’ - again. So be it.
I can guess how alone you’ll be feeling; deserted by the ‘someone’ who persistently promised he would never leave you. It is because of that promise that I need to reassure you of one simple fact: my love for you is eternal and it binds me to you with chains that not even my death can break.
We’ve had our fair share of disappointments over the years: trials and tribulations that have tested our love to the extremes, and, if neither of us is entirely blameless for the hurt we’ve caused each other, nor does the fault lie exclusively with either of us.
My love for you was never dependent on your ability to give me children. It saddened me that you valued yourself so poorly as to imagine that a single facet of our relationship could negate all we had going for us. I could and did share your disappointment, but having children never figured in the reasons why I loved you. I loved you for your unquenchable spirit, for your boundless energy, for the spontaneity of your personality and the liveliness of your intellect - not to mention your sweet body; but I’m sure all the things we’ve done to each other in the dark have proved that to you over the years.
I can almost hear you saying: it’s easy for you to say that your feelings for me are independent of our ever having a family - because I’ve heard you use that argument so many times; and each time I wondered if you ever knew – or cared - just how much that accusation hurt me? There was not a day passed by when you were struggling to accept the truth about what had happened to you at Culver, that I didn’t blame myself and I would have given the world to have that day to live again. I wanted to go in after you – and I should have done - instead I allowed Paul to stop me; and that’s an irony in itself – that Paul should have had to stop me acting on impulse. We had orders to wait – but I’d disobeyed orders before - and many times since - in situations where the outcome meant far less to me. I should have trusted my instincts and gone to find you, the chances were I’d have stopped Black from harming you. I failed you then, Karen, even though I already knew I loved you more than anything or anyone else in my life. Try to forgive me, älskling; I couldn’t have known the awful consequences of my failure.
I understand, only too well, why you see my fault as compounded by Freya’s very existence, and I can only refute the charge in the same way I’ve always done: what happened to me in the Geminator was beyond my control. ‘Blue’ was a part of myself – I’ve had to accept that unsavory fact - but he was an Adam Svenson deprived of any moral sense, and of the finer feelings – if I may credit myself with such – of the whole man. I willingly accepted the responsibility for the consequences of his actions, but I still find it hard to accept the absolute guilt you believe accompanies that responsibility. I know you feel that I have preferred my daughter over you too often, but you should never have taken my relationship with Freya as a reproof. Freya is, in every respect, precious to me, but my heart was always - and entirely - yours. I was, and still am, so wholly in love with you, that I don’t even care how unreasonable you are about this. With my trust in your generous nature and my faith in the strength of your love for me, I am sure you will forgive me the many faults and the pain I have so often, unwittingly, caused you. I know how thoughtless - and how foolish - I have sometimes been, but, Karen, I never meant to hurt you.
Never forget how much I love you, Karen. Hold on to that one truth, my darling, through the hard, cold days that follow. Even in the darkest nights, when you feel most alone and hopeless, my loving spirit will watch over you; I will be there if you need me. You’ve had my heart in your keeping ever since that first kiss beneath the Antipodean stars, so how could I ever really be parted from you?
So, don’t mourn for me, älskling – just imagine I’m away on another of my interminable journeyings – because, if there is any justice in the universe, we shall meet again in the fullness of time. This part of our life together is over – but I will be waiting for you, because I am so absolutely - and truly - yours; as I always have been - and shall be until the end of all time – that providence could not be so unkind as to separate us forever.
The tears were flowing unheeded down her cheeks, long before she reached the end of his letter, making it hard to read the angular script. She rested her throbbing forehead on one hand as she stared at the blurred handwriting.
“Oh, my darling…don’t leave me, my love….” Overwhelmed by the events of the day, she surrendered to her misery and laid her head on the desk, holding the paper against her heart.
She must have cried herself to sleep, for the buzz of the doorbell made her jump in surprise. She wiped her eyes and tried to compose herself, reluctant to let anyone see her in such a state. She could hardly get any words out; her throat was so hot and sore from weeping. She managed to croak, “Come in.”
Colonel Scarlet came in quietly and saw at her sitting at the desk, her eyes brimming with tears and her face flushed. “I came to see if I could help,” he said, wondering if he’d been right to intrude on her grief.
He could see that she couldn’t speak and glanced down at the desk. With a startled gasp he recognised the red box and the heavy cream-coloured paper in her hand and knew instantly what she’d found. Anxious to cover his knowledge of so intimate a message between his friends, he latched onto the subject of the coil of hair and said, in a desperately hearty tone, “Oh, I see you’ve found the keepsake. He always kept it in that desk; I caught him looking at it occasionally. Then he’d get all gruff and embarrassed, so I’d pretend I didn’t know what it was.”
“You know what it is?” she stammered a little confused.
Scarlet nodded. “He did tell me once that when you first cut your hair you’d given it to him,” he volunteered, to distract her from the subject of the letter.
She shook her head and the tears spilled from her eyes. “I threw it at him – I was screaming angry about something he’d said and I hacked it off and threw it at him.” She dropped her head into her hands and began to cry in earnest once more.
Scarlet grimaced and tried to think what he could do to stem this outburst of emotion. “So, maybe he was a little economical with the truth, he could be that way … sometimes,” he said in what he hoped was a soothing voice. “However he came by it, it meant a lot to him, Karen; I do know that,” he added with more confidence. He’d heard Adam’s explanation of how he acquired the lock of hair and he remembered how he’d covered his own illicit knowledge of the box and its contents by mocking his friend as a ‘hopeless romantic’. In fact, Rhapsody Angel had told him the ‘saga of Symphony’s haircut’ years before Adam tried to muddy the truth with his sanitised version of events...
“I never knew - I never even knew he’d kept it – he never told me!” Karen exclaimed. She waved the letter towards him. “He wrote to me, Paul; he left this letter with the hair for me to find. It says such wonderful things - things I don’t deserve to hear! You wouldn’t believe how awful I was to him sometimes - I was a bitch, I made his life hell… it was as if I couldn’t help myself…and yet, I loved him so much… Why do people do that, Paul? Why do we hurt the people we love? I think it was because I couldn’t believe he really loved me – and the more he said he did, the more badly I behaved towards him – almost as if I wanted to up the ante until he stopped loving me! Yet, he could still write something like this to me… I don’t deserve it, Paul – but then, I never thought I deserved him! Oh, Adam…” She thrust the letter into Scarlet’s hand and dissolved into a fresh flood of tears.
Uncertain of what help he could be, Scarlet came to her side, and after a moment’s hesitation, he abandoned his inherent reserve and hugged her until the torrent subsided into hiccoughing sobs. She was so slight in his arms, he couldn’t help wondering what had happened to the buxom young woman his friend had so loved.
Over her head he glanced at the letter. The words that had burned themselves into his memory twenty-five years ago, rose unbidden to his conscious mind. This letter was longer than the one he’d originally read, but whatever Adam may have added over the years, he doubted very much if the tenor of it had changed from the ardent declaration it had been. His eyes skimmed the text and instantly recognised some of the phrases, but he was momentarily stunned by the scale of the anguish his friends had endured. The emotional bonds between them had been stronger– and Karen’s dependence on her husband much greater - than even he’d realised.
He folded the paper once more and hugged her a little harder as a consequence.
She pushed herself away from his embrace, grabbed her letter from his unresisting hand and walked to the open wardrobe, to rest her pounding head against the cool, blue suede of a uniform tunic, breathing in the faint scent of him.
“What am I going to do without him, Paul? What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life? I have never felt so alone and I’m no good at it.”
“You are not alone; you have all your friends, your Mom and Charles. You’re not alone, Karen.”
“What do you know about it?” she raged. “You have your work, your friends, and your family! Without him I have nothing!”
Scarlet glanced at her flushed face, her tear-streaked cheeks as she stroked one of the uniform tunics. She’s verging on hysteria; he thought and strode over to cradle her once more against his chest, as he’d seen Adam do many times to calm her. Eventually, she stopped weeping and fell into an almost catatonic silence, totally exhausted. As Scarlet held her, he reviewed the history of his closest friends’ marriage. Their story was certainly a turbulent one, and one that - from Scarlet’s own observations - had made Adam as unhappy at times, as it had ever made him happy.
It all boils down to children - or the lack of them - that’s the rub, of course, he realised as he held her. Adam could find it in himself to admire another man’s family without envy and regret, but Karen’s a different story. That place in her heart where her children should’ve been, is still an aching void. At the time, she couldn’t even find it in her heart to accept our kids, never mind Adam’s daughter; although, she’s better now – at least with our two...
Yet, whatever anyone thought about this unlikely relationship between the laconic Bostonian and the volatile mid-westerner, it had lasted, growing stronger over the years. This was the main reason why Scarlet found the rumours of Blue having an extra-marital affair ridiculous - there was nothing Adam would not do for his capricious wife and nothing, or no-one, she wouldn’t argue with – including Adam - if she thought he was getting less credit than he deserved.
Of course, at first no one had realised that Karen’s subjection to radiation, all those years ago in Culver Atomic Station, had robbed her of the chance of ever having children. At the beginning in her marriage, she’d suffered what had appeared to be several early miscarriages and after that - there was nothing… It had been Doctor Fawn who’d discovered why things were not happening as they should; and he’d had the unenviable task of telling the couple, not long after Dianne had given birth to their daughter. Karen had been devastated – in fact, Scarlet didn’t think she’d ever really got over the blow. The fact that her capture by Captain Black was no one’s fault but her own, and that Adam’s child with another woman was thriving, made the situation even more poignant. But Scarlet had never realised, until he’d seen that letter – that Adam blamed himself quite so much…
And maybe, he also blamed me, a little, for preventing him from going in… he thought sadly. Oh Lord, what if we made it worse by asking them to be godparents? Adam was delighted to accept – but Karen… she never even saw Suzie until she came to that birthday party… when she was… 2 or 3? That was the first time she’d seen Adam since they’d separated too. It was not a very convivial house-party.
Karen’s depression had grown until she’d found it hard to continue with her duties as an Angel pilot. Doctor Fawn had suggested she take a break from Cloudbase for a while, and eventually she’d agreed and left to spend time with her mother but she’d never arrived. She completely disappeared. Adam took indefinite leave and he finally tracked her down several months later and took her home to their apartment in Boston.
Scarlet was probably the only other person – apart from Charles Gray - who knew how vehemently Karen had castigated Adam: over his daughter, over what had happened at Culver, over her own unhappiness, over almost everything that upset her, almost as if she wanted to goad him into leaving her. Their friends all watched with feelings of helpless pity, as Karen tore what had seemed an almost perfect relationship apart. That they remained a couple at all was as close to a miracle as you could get, in Scarlet’s opinion, and he gave Adam the credit for that.
Colonel White, at that time preparing for his own marriage to Amanda Wainwright, had watched his soon-to-be step-daughter with deep concern, realising just how close she and her husband were to separating permanently. He’d a good deal of affection for both of his officers, but he was powerless to help, knowing they had to find their own way through the difficulties. Finally, he suggested that Karen – who was refusing to return to Cloudbase whilst Adam remained there – might take the post of flight instructor to the cadets based at Glenn Field.
Rather grudgingly, she’d accepted the offer, and so the couple had spent several years living almost entirely separate lives.
During these years, Adam had usually taken his furloughs alone; until, tiring of that, he’d turned to Lesley Saville and sought her permission to spend time with Freya. Lesley Saville had married a Spectrum operative based at the tracking station in Cornwall and now had twin boys to occupy her, so Adam’s offer to take Freya for the holidays had been a welcome one. It became standard procedure for her American grandmother to collect her from her home on the Cornish coast, and spend some time in London or another European city with her, before heading off to her father’s family home in Boston. From there, Adam would collect her and they would explore some new part of the world together. It had been during these years that he’d forged a strong and loving relationship with his daughter, but his marriage had looked to be over, and Scarlet and Dianne expected to see the imminent divorce of the couple.
Yet, it seemed, unknown to their friends; the Svensons had not given up on their marriage. It took years for Karen to completely come to terms with the truth that she needed Adam as much as he needed her. When she’d finally contacted him and asked him to lecture at Glenn Field, it had signalled the start of a rapprochement that had seen them painstakingly rebuild their relationship.
When she acknowledged herself to be in the wrong, there were no lengths Karen would not go to make amends, and thereafter her whole life had been centred on her husband. She’d accepted his refusal to relinquish the weeks he spent with Freya, with a meekness that had surprised those who knew her, yet she still refused to meet the girl herself, and Adam had never pressed her to do so against her will.
By now Calypso, Madrigal and Sonata Angels had replaced Symphony, Destiny and Rhapsody in the original Angel flight and although she’d never returned to duty on Cloudbase, she’d been instrumental in training all subsequent Angel flights, moving to replace Harmony at Koala Base when her friend married and left Spectrum for good. With Adam’s summer leave taken with Freya, they had holidayed together every February, until, by the time he was in command of Cloudbase, everyone knew that February was the month Blue went on vacation with his wife and would be unavailable for twenty-one days. Scarlet grinned, remembering how the first weeks of Blue’s return to Cloudbase were invariably characterised by pedantic implementations of the rule book, and plenty of extra-curricula ‘voluntary’ activities – including Doctor Fawn’s infamous annual lecture on the lower primates, which some of the more established officers found they could recite verbatim.
He snapped out of his daydream as Karen stirred in his arms and he loosened his grip and moved away from her.
She brushed a hand through her hair and looked apologetically at him. “I’m sorry, Paul.”
“Whatever for? Adam was my best friend for more than thirty years; I wish I could express my grief at his death quite so cathartically.”
“Oh, I’ve always been good at expressing myself.” She gave an exasperated smile. “And it was always Adam who had to deal with the consequences. I’ve left a damp patch on your uniform…” she added, desperate to change the subject.
He waved away her concern and grinned at her. “Now,” he said, “do you need help with this stuff, or shall I just push off?”
“No, don’t go, Paul. I could do with the company – if only to stop me getting all … emotional again.”
“Right you are, then. Where shall I start?”
Lieutenant Teal signed off duty in the radar room and stretched languidly. Over the desk top her replacement at the monitor, Lieutenant Damask, grinned at her, studying the tall, shapely body as it flexed and relaxed once more. Teal remained blithely indifferent of the effect she had on the male officers around her. It was generally accepted that she was a pleasure to look at, although she could never be described as ‘petite’. She was so notoriously level-headed that she appeared to be disinterested in having a relationship with any of the colleagues who had made tentative advances – of either sex. This had earned her the nickname of the ice maiden – but it was not something anyone dared call her to her face. Teal had a devastating line in put-downs.
Damask and his girlfriend, Lieutenant Lavender, were probably her closest friends on Cloudbase and even they knew little enough about her background.
“Are you off duty now, Tee?” he asked, typing in his password and glancing up to see her leaning on the desk top watching the screens.
“Uh-huh, seems like it was a long shift. I think I’ll go down to the Room of Sleep before I eat.”
Damask frowned at her. “You shouldn’t rely on the enhanced sleep techniques so much. You know they say we need to get proper REM sleep every so often. When did you last go to bed with a hot drink and your teddy bear?”
Teal waved his concern away. “A couple of weeks ago,” she admitted and when
Damask began to chide her, she shrugged. “I can’t sleep, Jimmy. I need to use the Room of Sleep or I don’t get any rest.”
“Then see the doctors – they’ll give you something.” He grinned. “If you’re lucky it might just be a half-bottle of booze!”
Teal laughed and ran her hand through her short blonde hair. “If only,” she smiled. “I’m due for some furlough in a month or so and I’ll go home then. A little bit of Mum’s home cooking, brisk walks with the dogs along the beaches and cliff tops and some TLC ought to do it.”
“You might not last that long,” Damask warned, an edge of concern in his voice.
“I’m okay, Jimmy; you worry too much.” Teal reached across and ruffled his dark hair. He shook his head and grimaced at her. “See you around, Sunny Jim,” she teased, smiling at his friendly face as she collected her cap from the bench. Waving goodbye, she left the room.
Striding purposefully towards the Room of Sleep, she smiled at the medical clerk on duty there. She tapped her code into the monitor and waited for the clearance. The machine beeped mournfully and the clerk looked down at the screen,
“Sorry, Lieutenant, it says here you’ve exceeded the safety limit on visits over the past month. You need to report to sick bay and get the records updated before I can let you in.”
Teal frowned and protested, “I’m tired, I’ve been on duty all day, I just need half an hour,” she pleaded.
The clerk shook his head. “It’d be more than my job’s worth to let you in, miss. Doctor Fawn would have me for breakfast if I over-rode this.”
With a snort of annoyance, Teal turned on her heel and marched towards sick bay.
Doctor Fawn was not there and Doctor Beige, engrossed in working on some important test results, categorically refused to reset the record. “The limits are there for a reason, Lieutenant, go and get some proper sleep,” she said without glancing at the woman standing before her. Too many of the younger personnel on board tried to use the Room of Sleep as a convenient way of making time to indulge in leisure activities. Like her colleague Doctor Fawn, Beige had her doubts about the wisdom of over-use of the enhanced sleep technique. She’d have much preferred that the Room of Sleep should only have been available in emergencies - when the duty rotas were worked four hours on and two hours off – and the facility became a necessity.
“I would if I could,” Teal explained, “but I’m not sleeping very well at the moment.”
“Why not?” Beige asked, still typing at her keyboard.
“A… recent bereavement in my family, I guess you’d call it,” Teal replied hesitantly.
Beige finally stopped what she was doing and glanced up from her desk. Recognising the young woman before her, she began to understand. She studied Teal intensely, until the lieutenant felt her cheeks growing hot under the doctor’s cool scrutiny.
Then Beige called up her medical records, scanned the ‘RoS’ log for her visitor and asked, “How close were you to your father?”
“Close enough to care that he died as he did,” Teal snapped, unsettled by the question. She realised her medical records would show her parentage, but none of the doctors had ever openly referred to it before. Not even Doctor Fawn.
Beige raised her eyebrows and typed something on the record. “Nevertheless, Lieutenant, you still need to get some proper sleep; you have become too reliant on the enhanced sleep facility. It cannot be allowed to continue; I am blocking your access for the next two weeks – so you will have to get some proper sleep. I can give you a mild sedative; it will only help you relax and after that it’ll be up to you.” She paused as something else occurred to her. “Did you attend the funeral?” she asked.
“No,” Teal muttered, “I was invited – but not my mother, and so I chose not to go.” She grimaced. The thought of facing the combined disapproval of her Uncle Peter and Karen Svenson had proven too much for her – on top of the shock of losing her father – and even knowing that Scarlet would be there had not been enough to give her the heart to attend. She regretted it now – berating herself for allowing them to intimidate her from paying her last respects to the father she’d adored.
Beige frowned. If the young woman had not had a chance to mourn her father – and, indeed, there were very few people on Cloudbase who knew just how much right she had to mourn the general’s death - then she obviously still needed to come to terms with the situation. Beckoning Teal to follow her, Beige led the way to medical bay pharmacy and handed the young woman a couple of small pills. “With water and then go to bed,” she advised.
“Is that an order, Doctor Beige?”
“Yes, Lieutenant, it is,” Beige said firmly. She watched as Teal turned abruptly on her heel and left the medical bay with an aggrieved air that was faintly reminiscent of her father’s occasionally mutinous pride. She smiled to herself, musing: there’s little enough of Technician Saville in that young woman!
Doctor Beige could remember the Svenson clones very well, having been involved with the medical care of them both. Christened ‘Adam’ and ‘Blue’ by Captain Scarlet in order to identify them from each other, she’d found ‘Adam’ to be an impressively intellectual, but emotionally cold, personality, whereas ‘Blue’, although thoroughly untrustworthy and highly manipulative, could be a real charmer. It was not hard to understand why the young, hero-worshipping Technician Saville had fallen into bed with him and the result was that young woman. Lesley Saville had been carefully monitored throughout her pregnancy, and during the child’s early years, to ensure there were no genetic consequences to her having been fathered by a clone. Once assured that the child was perfectly normal and, indeed, brighter than average, the Spectrum doctors had left the family alone, until Freya Saville had presented herself as a candidate for employment in Spectrum, some three years ago.
The Medical Director of the European Selection Board had quietly referred the matter of her application to Doctor Fawn, and she’d been given her physical by the Head of the Spectrum Medical Unit at the London HQ. Fawn had known Adam Svenson for almost thirty years, and he had had no difficulty in recognising the young woman’s ‘family resemblance’ to her father. On finding her A1; he had passed the documents through to Major General Blue for final approval, rather than the usual administrative officers in SI, because, whilst he was happy to recommend her as a candidate for employment by Spectrum, he had not felt comfortable about making the decision regarding her posting. Once the general’s approval was forthcoming, and the young woman’s training was completed, Spectrum Intelligence had posted her to Cloudbase – which decision, Beige suspected, had something to do with direct orders from the general himself, but with which Fawn had readily concurred, signing the medical approval without hesitation.
She sighed; technically, it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen, of course – although there were a few cases of members of the same family working together on the base - and after all, the differences in rank meant it was unlikely the pair would ever work together very often, if at all. She knew from Doctor Fawn that the general had taken a proud interest in his daughter’s progress, so it seemed as if their relationship had been one of mutual affection, to say the least, and maybe Adam Svenson, harassed and besieged by complex problems within and around his organisation, had felt the need of some loving, uncritical support, now and again.
Making a mental note to keep an eye on the young woman over the next few months, Beige decided that this was another issue she ought to talk over with her superior, when the opportunity arose. Then, with a slight sigh, she returned to the analysis of the urgent test results once more.
Lieutenant Teal stomped angrily down the corridor towards her quarters and barged through a swing-door in an effort to work off her frustration. Such was the force of her shove that the door cannoned into a surprised on-comer, and with horror she realised she’d upended Colonel Green.
“Oh shit… I mean, I’m so sorry sir. It was all my fault, I’m so sorry…”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Green complained from the floor, “it was entirely your fault.” Scarlet reached down a hand to haul his friend to his feet; trying to hide the smile that threatened to get him included in Green’s righteous anger as well.
“Are you all right, Colonel?” Doctor Fawn asked with a professional detachment honed from years of seeing the stupid things people did to each other at times.
“Yes, thank you, Doctor.” Green brushed down his dress uniform tunic and turned his dark gaze on the anxious lieutenant who was almost holding her breath. “Well, where were you going at such a speed? It had better be urgent, Lieutenant.”
“No, sir,” she admitted, “I was just cross.”
“Cross?” Green exploded.
Teal nodded sheepishly and then blurted out, “Doctor Beige won’t over-ride the Room of Sleep limits and I have to take sedatives and go to sleep and I don’t want to - but I am so tired.” She turned to Fawn in supplication, “I can’t sleep right now, I just can’t.”
The woman was almost in tears and Fawn stepped forward to calm her down. “I have to agree with Doctor Beige, Lieutenant; the limits are there for a reason and should not be exceeded. Perhaps you should go and get some exercise before you take the pills – it often helps.”
Teal didn’t look convinced. “Do you think? “
Fawn nodded. “Yup,” he said genially.
“Why don’t you come and have dinner with us, Teal?” Scarlet said suddenly.
“What!” Green cried in surprise, more than a little alarmed at the suggestion.
“No, I couldn’t,” Teal said, suddenly realising that the three senior officers were all in dress uniform.
“It might help everyone concerned,” Scarlet reasoned with a glance at Fawn. He’d told the doctor of Karen’s outbursts and they were both concerned about her. Fawn shrugged non-committally; it was just as likely that seeing this young woman might trigger further emotional outbursts.
“Colonel Scarlet,” Green reminded him, “We’re to dine with…. Mrs. Svenson, I am sure she wouldn’t…” he stammered to a halt.
“She’s here? She’s brought him home?” Teal asked, suddenly going pale.
Scarlet nodded. “For the memorial service tomorrow, when everyone can pay their last respects. But the ashes won’t be scattered yet. Symphony has asked that their ashes be scattered together and the colonel has agreed.”
“Is it what he wanted or just her?” asked Teal belligerently.
“He would’ve wanted it that way – if he’d ever had the chance to ask her,” Scarlet said firmly.
“How can you know that?”
“Because I knew your father, young lady, for over thirty years and I was closer to him than his own brothers.” Scarlet’s tone brooked no argument. Teal looked away flushing. Seeing her distress, he moderated his voice, “Come with us, Freya; I think it’s time you met Karen Svenson.”
“And will she want to meet me?”
“Right now, I think she will,” Scarlet said, taking the young woman by the arm. “If she knows what’s good for her,” he added cryptically.
Karen changed the black suit for a ‘little black dress’ that clung to her frame. She examined her reflection in the long mirror and sighed. Espousing the mantra that ‘you can never be too rich or too thin’, she’d worked hard over the years to achieve the perfect figure. Adam had not approved; he’d reasoned that she’d always been able to eat what she liked and stay trim and he liked her that way, and besides, being too skinny didn’t suit her and wasn’t healthy. She’d ignored him, as she’d always done when he was right and she didn’t want to admit it and, time and again, he’d paid the bills for her personal trainer and her dietician, when she’d exceeded her personal allowance - even though he’d never approved of her long sessions in the gym and her rigorous dieting.
He’d spoiled her, and he knew it – and so, if she was honest, did she. For a variety of reasons he’d indulged her every whim – with the notable exception of the time she’d wanted to have plastic surgery. She grimaced at her reflection, recalling the last ‘discussion’ they’d had on the topic. It had been one of the few occasions when Adam had reminded her that he was his father’s son – and unleashed the full force of the acerbic Svenson temper. ‘If you want bigger boobs, you have two choices,’ he’d raged, not even attempting to conceal his frustration, ‘start eating properly again, Karen – put some flesh on your bones, for heaven’s sake! - that, or you pay for it yourself – because I never will.’ It wasn’t bad for a closing line, she admitted to herself, remembering how he’d marched out of the house and gone straight back to Cloudbase. She smiled ruefully: before she’d calmed down again, she’d sent his luggage on after him, with a note that implied he could stay away for as long as he liked – for all she cared. Yet even vicious arguments like that one hadn’t kept them apart for long – and such arguments had been rare. She still couldn’t comprehend the reality that she was never going to see him again – the concept was too painful to appreciate.
Turning away from the mirror, she brushed her hair and then applied a little make-up before fastening the pearl choker Adam had given her around her neck and inserting the matching pearl earrings. She studied the face of the woman in the mirror once more but saw only the emptiness in her eyes. Sighing, she clipped the matching three stranded pearl bracelet around her too-narrow wrist.
The doorbell chimed and she stood, brushing down the dress before calling ‘Come in.” The sight of the officers in their dress uniforms made her smile.
“Oh, you guys, I didn’t think you’d get all dressed up,” she teased. “Wow, what an escort!”
“Nothing but the best, Karen,” Scarlet winked at her. He stood to one side slightly and continued, “There is someone I would like you to meet; this is Lieutenant Teal. I have asked her to join us this evening, but as she’s just come off duty she hasn’t had time to ‘get dressed up’ – so please excuse her.”
The smile froze on Karen’s face as she looked the young woman standing behind Scarlet, her head thrown up in a defiance that didn’t quite hide her nervousness. She could not mistake the Svenson family’s regular features, in this case emphasised by the frame of short, fair hair. She was tall, barely shorter than Scarlet, long limbed and generously built. This was a handsome woman, not a pretty one.
“Good evening… Mrs. Svenson,” she said through stiff lips. Her voice was pitched low with a lingering Cornish accent.
“Freya?” Karen’s whispered question hardly reached the men watching with concern.
Teal’s head went back further; she refused to cower before this woman she’d never met, but who had dominated her life by her very absence from it.
“Yes; I am Freya Evelyn Saville Svenson.” She enunciated the collection of names with every ounce of pride she could muster. On Cloudbase she was plain Freya Saville, but standing before her father’s wife she needed to reinforce her own belief in both her importance and her identity.
The tension in the room was palpable and Green was almost ready to dismiss Teal forthwith, when Karen leant forward, her hand outstretched. “I’m pleased to meet you, Freya. I can understand now why my husband had so much pride in you.”
Astonishment flooded into Freya’s brown eyes – her one obvious legacy from her mother. She reached out to take the cool, slim hand in her own and despite herself asked, “He told you that?”
Karen smiled. “He didn’t have to – I could see it for myself. He was enormously proud of you – especially when he thought I wouldn’t notice.”
Freya smiled back and Karen’s heart jumped – she has his smile too. She dropped the hand and turned to Scarlet with only the merest hint of censure in her glance. “Well, shall we go and eat? I’ve had quite enough excitement for one evening.”
If Colonel Scarlet thought that an evening spent with the three senior officers on Cloudbase – and the former Symphony Angel – was enough to send anyone off to sleep, he has badly miscalculated, mused Freya as she stared at the ceiling above her bed.
She’d been fascinated by the topics of conversation around the dinner table: the early days of Spectrum, the first campaigns against the Mysterons and the incredible events that had left Colonel Scarlet indestructible. All Spectrum cadets were told the official story of the doppelganger who had tried to kidnap the World President and the way in which Captain Blue had saved James Younger from the hands of the Mysterons by shooting his friend and future partner, Captain Scarlet. A few of the cadets selected to work on Cloudbase would be told more than that, but very few were told of the true outcome of Scarlet’s Mysteronisation. Her father had told her more than he should have, she knew that; because soon after she joined the staff on Cloudbase she’d commented to him that Scarlet looked very much as she remembered him, from when she’d met him as a youngster. It had been hard to believe, in a way, but she’d had the living proof before her eyes in the person of her ‘Uncle Paul’.
The story had made her realise how close the bonds between her father and his friend were – and helped her understand the reasons for it. She had respected his confidence and never spoken of it again – even to her father. To hear the same story told from Scarlet’s point of view was simply incredible.
She’d also seen her image of the formidable Symphony Angel crumble too, as the men had reminded the former pilot of her many youthful indiscretions and she’d joined in their laughter, even blushing a little. Without having met her father’s wife, Freya had nevertheless formed her own opinions of her and built up an image of a real harridan – pencil-thin and brittle-tempered, difficult and self-centred, scheming and jealous - and now, seeing this woman and hearing the genuine emotion in her voice as she spoke of her husband, it began to dawn on her that she might have got some of it wrong.
But what had made the whole evening so wonderful was hearing about her father’s life from his closest friends. To cap it all, Doctor Beige had come in towards the end of the evening and had joined them to add her memories of Captain Blue to the conversation. These began when he’d been split into two individuals and one of the clones had become her father. Freya had always been rather sketchy about what had actually happened; as, understandably, neither of her parents had wanted to discuss it with her much, and she could see now how difficult it had been for them. She realised that Adam and Karen had been together for many years before they’d married and that her father could not have known of her mother’s condition at the time.
When the party had started to break up, Karen Svenson had taken to her to one side; she’d seen the dark circles beneath the American’s beautiful, hazel-green eyes and the sallow skin beneath the expertly applied make-up. After two or three attempts to say what she wanted to, Karen had told her of the great disappointment she and her husband had experienced, once they had realised they would never have a child of their own. She admitted, with a sad smile, that she regretted her decision not to allow Adam’s child – Freya - to become a closer part of their lives. She was, she’d said, glad to think that he’d been able to have a loving relationship with his daughter – a relationship which, she was sure, had been important to him.
The whole evening’s conversation had made uneasy listening, but Freya was glad she’d heard it, even though it had given her more questions than answers. She knew that, however taken aback he’d been to discover himself a father, Adam Svenson had taken his child to his heart and devoted himself to her welfare – even in the face of the disapproval of the woman he’d loved. It seemed that Karen Svenson knew that too.
The relationship between her parents had always been ‘strained’ – as if her mother was embarrassed whenever he visited them. Now, it was easier to understand why – her father had not been the Captain Blue her mother had so admired, but a clone – and whatever he had said – and done – had not been the genuine feelings of the man who was now her daughter’s father. Yet, Adam Svenson was willing and indeed, insistent, on taking responsibility for the child and her mother.
Freya remembered how happy her mother and she had been together in the early years– living in a little cottage overlooking a magnificent seascape on the Cornish coast. Lesley had continued to work at a nearby Spectrum facility, whilst her daughter had spent time in a local nursery until she was old enough to start school. There had been times when not having her father around the place had been hard for her – children can be cruel - but even with an ‘absentee father’, Freya had never felt less than loved - and wanted - by her parents.
That had ended when she was about five years old and realised that her mother had started dating Simon Tregonning – the commander of the Spectrum tracking base where she worked. She had never liked Simon – he was a heavy-set man, with curly dark hair and hard, brown eyes that had not looked at her with much approval, and with a deep voice that boomed around the tiny rooms of their cottage. When they’d married the following year, Freya had been the bridesmaid, dressed in a twee peach-coloured satin dress with artificial flowers woven in her long blonde hair. It was a memory that could still make her cringe.
They’d left their cottage and gone to live in an open-plan modern house, closer to the base. Within eighteen months, the twins were born and the household revolved around the babies. Her mother had been too exhausted at the end of a busy day to spend time with her and she’d felt lonely and unwanted for the first time in her life.
It was then that her father had first offered to take her for the summer holidays, and she spent her summers with him and her American grandmother – exploring a world that she’d never expected to see. These holidays had made life in Cornwall bearable through the stormy winters, when the atmosphere in the house had often mirrored the weather outside. Tregonning had resented that she had ‘advantages’ he could not give his sons and he’d been openly hostile to both her grandmother and her father on their rare visits. But her father had never stopped coming to fetch her or offering her his unconditional love and support, and he’d never wavered – not once - she knew she was important to him and she’d adored him in return.
Freya wiped the tears from her cheeks and blew her nose. Glancing at her bedside clock she saw it was 2:00am and sighed; surrendering to her exhaustion, she swallowed Beige’s sedatives.
She was woken by a noise and sat straight up in bed in alarm. The clock said 3:36 and she couldn’t imagine who might be in the room. Stealthily, she reached out to snap on the light. Standing by the partly open door, looking back over his shoulder towards her, was her father. She gasped in shock and the figure slipped silently through the door, which continued to close behind him.
Shaken, she slid from the bed and shoved her feet into her slippers, striding over to the door, which was still slightly ajar, she slapped her hand over the automatic lock to stop the closure, and peered nervously into the dimly-lit corridor outside. She looked in both directions - but the corridor was empty. She slapped the door lock again and watched it slide shut, and only then did she realise she was trembling.
It must have been a nightmare, or an hallucination brought on by those wretched tablets. It can’t have been real – it’s just that I’ve been thinking of him so much lately, she reasoned as she rested her forehead against the now securely closed door for a moment. Too shaken to do more, she clambered back into her bed and lay down again, reaching out to switch off the light once more.
Whatever the truth of it, the incident had jolted her awake with a vengeance and she got no more real sleep for the rest of the night; consequently, she was bone-tired as she stood in line to get her breakfast at 6.30.
Listening to the buzz of the conversation around the adjacent tables as she munched, without enthusiasm, on muesli and toast, Freya must have drifted away because she jumped in alarm when Captain Auburn’s hand landed on her shoulder and he asked sternly, “Lieutenant, did you hear me?”
“What did you say?” Freya flushed and unconsciously brushed her hand through her hair. “Sorry, sir, I was miles away,”
Auburn was not as much of an ogre as his reputation made him out to be, but he was not known for his patience. He gave a slight smile at the pale, young woman frowning up at him. “Are you okay, Teal? You look bushed.”
Teal nodded and pulled herself together. “You have my orders, sir?”
“You’re to relieve Peach in the navigation room at around 13:00 hrs – he wants to go to the service for the general,” Auburn said levelly.
“But, sir, so do I…” It had never occurred to her that she might be unable to attend.
Auburn frowned. “Not everyone can go, Teal, and Peach was on the general’s personal staff.”
“But Captain, please – I have to go,” she said assertively.
Auburn looked at her intently; the young woman certainly wasn’t looking her best this morning and, he had to admit that - at her best – she was one of the best. He had, of course, heard the rumours that Teal was somehow connected to General Blue, although no one was sure if it was true and the general had never shown her the slightest preferential treatment – Teal had done her stints at the boring and repetitive jobs that every cadet, ensign and lieutenant came to loathe, just like everyone else. She was now one of the top lieutenants in her shift: efficient, hard working and trustworthy. Auburn knew he’d have competition when Teal was promoted – as she surely would be. It was to her credit that, if there was some family connection between her and the C-in-C, she’d never mentioned it or used it to avoid doing her share of the work; but, on the other hand, if there was something, you’d have expected her to have attended the funeral in Boston and she hadn’t gone – so, he remained unconvinced.
“I’ll see what I can do, Lieutenant,” he said levelly, “but for now, you just assume you’ll be on duty – okay?” He turned away to speak to Captain Saffron, who was waiting close by.
She nodded unhappily, knowing he wouldn’t change his mind. Just then, she caught sight of Colonel Scarlet entering the canteen with Melete Angel. Knowing that Auburn was watching her, she went across and accosted him. “Excuse me, Colonel Scarlet, sir, may I have a word?”
Seeing her all-too-obvious distress, Scarlet replied immediately, “Of course.” He excused himself to the young woman at his side and took Freya’s arm to steer her away from the entrance. “What’s wrong?”
“Captain Auburn wants me to go on duty during the memorial service today. I can’t miss it, Uncle Paul – I have to go.”
Scarlet’s eyebrows twitched at her use of her childhood name for him. Teal was always so formal on Cloudbase that it was indicative of just how upset this had made her. He looked across at Captain Auburn and beckoned him over with an index finger. Auburn snapped to attention and glared at Teal with some displeasure.
“A word with you, Captain, if you would be so kind,” Scarlet said genially enough. “I require Lieutenant Teal to attend the memorial service this afternoon. I understand that you have given her orders that make this impossible? Am I right? Hmm, I must ask you to change them, Captain, get your replacement officer from somewhere else, will you? There’s a good chap.” Scarlet gave the younger officer a friendly smile and patted Teal’s arm as he walked away – confident that Auburn would do as he’d been told.
Teal looked apologetically at her commanding officer and Auburn sighed with annoyance, once Scarlet was out of earshot. “Flexing your muscles, eh, Teal?” he sniped. “I’d heard you dined with the big three last night.” His tone was unfriendly.
“Yes, sir, Colonel Scarlet invited me along. He specifically said he wished me to attend the service today. I did try to explain that, sir.”
Auburn’s expression hardened. “Well, you’d better get along to the navigation room and do a stint now. I have to find another replacement for Peach so I can’t relieve him myself now, can I?”
“No, sir, I’m sorry, sir.”
Auburn strode off without another word. The more easy-going Captain Saffron gave her an appraising glance, smiled and wandered off after his partner.
Teal watched them leave and sighed. Today is not going to be easy, she thought, as she stacked her dirty tray and hurried down to the navigation room. To reach the computer monitors she needed to enter a restricted access corridor and she automatically groped for the security fob that hung on her belt. It wasn’t there. She cursed and fumbled through the pockets of her uniform – but it wasn’t there either. It must be back in her room. Swearing, she ran back through the corridors and into her small cabin. A quick but thorough search failed to find the fob; it was well and truly missing. That meant reporting it to internal security and waiting for a replacement. Meantime, Peach would be waiting to go for his breakfast and Auburn was already angry enough at her. She slipped across the corridor and knocked on Lieutenant Lavender’s door.
Blearily, Danielle Dumesnile peered out at her visitor. “Freya? What’s wrong?”
“I can’t explain now, Danni; lend me your security fob, please. I’ve lost mine and I’m late and Auburn’s on my case already today.”
“Tch, Auburn is a pig,” Lieutenant Lavender said with feeling and fetched her fob. “I’m on duty this afternoon, so I’ll need it then.”
“I’ll give it back as soon as I can,” Teal promised and she raced back to the navigation room, using Lavender’s fob to gain access the security corridors. She arrived just as Peach was about to call Auburn again. He grinned at her, cut the connection and waved a silent farewell as he left to get his long-deferred breakfast.
She entered her security code into the mainframe computer and sat in the control seat. The monitor flickered and a message came up on the board – access denied. Teal frowned and entered the code again – access denied. She knew she hadn’t made a mistake with the numbers that time. A vague suspicion began to form in her mind and she gave a low groan: her fob was missing, her security code changed – that meant anyone who possessed it could go anywhere she had authority to go on the base – Navigation, Monitoring, Admin, Armoury and the hangars, and access any of the computerised systems she had authority to use. The memory of the figure stealing out of her room came back. It couldn’t have been her father – but it could have been someone else – perhaps of his build, and her mind had ‘filled in the gaps’…
She groaned at the thought of the head-start the thief had because she’d wasted so much time before reporting it. With a look of pained resignation, she pushed the communication switch to the Control Room and prepared to face the music.
Captain Flaxen was on duty at the communication desk and she opened the channel to Navigation with a sigh. She hated com-desk duty.
“Flaxen here, go ahead Navigation,” she said half-heartedly. It was probably some mentally-challenged ensign asking which way was up.
“Lieutenant Teal reporting, I have been denied access to the navigation monitor...”
“Why?” Flaxen asked – she knew Teal was an established member of that department’s staff.
“I don’t know exactly, it seems my security code number has been invalidated. My security fob is missing too and,” Teal gulped, “I think I saw an intruder in my cabin last night.”
“Did you report it?” Flaxen was well aware that nothing had shown on the shift reports.
“No – I assumed I was… dreaming.”
“Do you often dream of intruders in your cabin, Lieutenant?”
“No,” Teal said testily. “Doctor Beige had given me a sedative to help me sleep and …”
“Never mind,” Flaxen snapped. She pushed a location switch on the panel before her: ‘locate Lt Teal’ she typed.
The computer’s staccato voice rapped out a reply moments later: Lieutenant Teal is in the hangar decks.
“No, I’m not,” Teal cried, “I’m in Navigation.”
Colonel Scarlet sauntered into the Control Room to relieve Major Claret. Claret rose to his feet and gave a vague salute, his attention focussed on the com-desk. Scarlet realised something was wrong when Flaxen’s voice rang out: “Security – intruder alert! Repeat: there is an intruder on Cloudbase. Seal all secure areas and report to main security stations. Yellow alert – this is not a drill.”
“Captain Flaxen, what’s going on?” Scarlet asked.
Flaxen looked up and gave a slight frown. It would have to be Scarlet, wouldn’t it? He still made her so nervous she was bound to make mistakes.
“Lieutenant Teal reports her access code has been invalidated and her security fob is missing, sir. She believes she saw an intruder in her cabin last night. She’s reporting from Navigation but the computer locates her on the hangar decks, sir.”
“Send a security team armed with Mysteron detectors and electron pistols to the hangar decks, Captain, and have a security detail collect Teal from navigation and take her to the main conference room – after an MD test, of course. Alert Colonel Green of the situation and say I’m on my way to speak to Teal myself.” Scarlet glanced at Claret. “Can you cover here, Major?” Claret nodded. Scarlet turned to leave and then paused to add over his shoulder, “Oh, and don’t forget to remind Auburn to replace Teal at her station, Captain Flaxen. We wouldn’t like Cloudbase to crash, would we?”
“No, sir,” Flaxen growled. Scarlet had never let her forget the mistakes she’d made during the short time they had been field partners. As he left the Control Room, she rapped out an order for Lieutenant Mauve to get along to Navigation and asked Captain Auburn to contact the Control Room at his earliest convenience.
Two security men marched Teal along to the conference room where Colonels Scarlet and Green were waiting. Green gestured to them to wait outside and pointed to a seat. Obediently, Teal sat down.
“Did you see who it was in your room?” Scarlet asked immediately they were alone.
She shook her head.
“Can you describe what you saw?” Green prompted. “We need a description; otherwise we’ll have to suspect everyone on base.”
“Freya,” Scarlet said, “whoever or whatever you think you saw, we have to know.”
She flushed. “I was more than half-asleep and I’d taken the sedatives Beige gave me,” she explained. “I thought I was dreaming.”
Sighing, Scarlet said, “Let me help; was it the general you thought you saw? Was it Adam, Freya?”
She nodded. “But I know it can’t have been him – I was dreaming, or hallucinating, more likely. It was probably someone of his build and I just wanted it so much to be him…” Her voice trailed away into a shaky silence.
Scarlet cursed and turned away as Green slowly shook his head. “Have you considered that what you saw was a Mysteron reconstruct, Freya?” he asked gently.
Teal’s brown eyes flared with horror at the suggestion. “It can’t have been. Every precaution was taken – his body was never alone and the funeral was held as soon as possible. He was cremated because they can only replicate whole bodies…”
“As far as we know,” Scarlet interrupted. “We’re still discovering new aspects of their power even now.” He glanced at Green and continued. “Very few people have ever witnessed a retrometabolism and lived to tell of it, but – the Mysterons aren’t infallible - we do know they recreated one human who subsequently revived – Major Gravener - a test pilot. Perhaps they ‘jumped the gun’ with the general and he was not dead when…” His voice trailed away, too appalled at what he was saying to finish.
Green said thoughtfully, “That opens a whole new can of worms, Paul. Gravener survived after being retrometabolised, and Fawn’s favourite theory is that you were not dead when it happened to you – so your original personality reasserted itself after you fell from the Car-Vu. If that has happened to the general…”
“We’ve cremated his human body,” Scarlet reminded him. “What’s left to survive?”
“You survived in a Mysteronised body,” Teal said eagerly. “My father might’ve too.”
“I only survived because apparently the Mysterons had finished with me. We don’t know what they expect Adam to do, or even if any of his original self has survived. We can’t assume that it has.” He gave her a sympathetic smile as her face fell. “If it is a Mysteronised replicant of the general – it is dangerous and not to be trusted, Freya. It is not your father.”
She nodded unhappily.
“If there is a Mysteronised Blue on Cloudbase, that would mean he’s been here ever since the crash,” Green mused. “We’d have seen him… someone would have, I mean.”
“Adam knew this base like the back of his hand. He could stow away here for as long as it takes,” Scarlet muttered. “It would account for the slight uneasiness I’ve felt ever since he died.” He gave a mordant snort, “And I thought it was just grief...”
“But what about food and clothes and …” Teal stammered.
“I have never seen a Mysteron agent eat anything,” Scarlet explained. “Perhaps they don’t need to.”
“You do – you eat. I’ve seen you,” she protested.
He smiled at her. “I’m not your average Mysteron, Freya, and I can do without if I have to. I’m not going to die – permanently – of starvation, even if I don’t eat.”
“What was the intruder wearing?” Green asked, bringing the interrogation back on course.
“An auxiliary uniform – I think, just a basic charcoal tunic.”
“Nicely anonymous,” Scarlet said. “Who’s going to give a second glance to a technician wondering around?”
“But he’s the Commander-in-Chief – I mean he was,” Teal argued. “Everyone knew him and someone would’ve recognised him.”
“Everyone knew he was dead,” Scarlet reminded her. “Most people on Cloudbase saw the accident when his jet crashed. You didn’t believe what you saw last night, why should anyone else?”
She frowned in confusion.
Green nodded. “And he wouldn’t have to go to the places where the people who knew him best were likely to be, anyway. That must be why he stole your fob, Freya – to gain access to the secure areas. I take it that he knew your security codes?”
Teal nodded apologetically as Colonel Green frowned at such a breach of security protocols.
“He’d have got them from the computer if he wanted to know them,” Scarlet said dismissively. “His personal security code wasn’t disabled straight away – we had other things to think about. Check the records, Seymour, and see when it was last used.”
“S.I.G.,” the new Commander-in-Chief of Cloudbase said without hesitation. He strode to the computer monitor in the corner and tapped in several codes, studying the screen intently as he did so. Scarlet waited impatiently, nervously biting at his right hand thumbnail. “Hmm.” Green looked up. “It seems that the general’s codes were used several times – after his death. They weren’t disabled until 72 hours later.”
“Why ever not?” Teal asked sharply.
Green looked at her with surprise and Scarlet gave an amused smile as he explained, “The general had prism class clearance, alpha security codes and the highest ranking cipher codes. As such, only Spectrum Intelligence can disable, alter, or amend them in any way. There are procedures to be followed even by them, Lieutenant.”
Teal blushed slightly; acutely aware that she was quizzing her superior officers, she pressed on, “But if the Mysterons planned to use my fa…the general’s death to attack Cloudbase, why wait so long to do so?”
Green didn’t answer this question either, so Scarlet did once more.
“The funeral in Boston was a pretty low-key affair and – quite apart from the speed with which it was arranged - it wasn’t deemed suitable to alert the press to Adam’s importance. That’s why the World President has ordered a memorial service on Cloudbase, which can be open to all. We’re expecting the President himself; along with the two former World Presidents – Younger and Roberts - the American Vice-President and President Arnorsdottir, in her present capacity as a member of the European Triumvirate – although it was whilst she was World President that she got to know the general well, of course, so she’d have been invited either way. Plus the foreign ministers of several other governments. The military will be represented by the Supreme Commander: Earth Forces, a couple of admirals and several 4-star generals - not to mention that a plethora of Spectrum grandees, past and present, are also coming. Your father made a lot of friends, Freya, and was admired by a good many of the people he came into contact with. Plus, it never does any harm to be on friendly terms with Spectrum,” he added with just a touch of cynicism, “even if we’re not quite the blue-eyed boys we used to be…”
“They will all be here today?” she asked.
“They should start arriving in the next few hours,” Green confirmed, glancing at his watch.
“But that would mean that if the Mysterons did manage to destroy the base, the best part of the World’s leaders would go with it,” Teal gasped.
“Exactly, that is why you’re the only person who knows who’s expected to be here, apart from Colonel Green, me and Karen Svenson,” Scarlet explained.
“Maybe you should consider postponing it?” she suggested, looking from one to the other.
Green had already wondered that and he drew a deep breath, but Scarlet shook his head. “If we do, they’ll only try again somewhere else. I am not going to let them get away with this – they’ve gone too far this time.”
“You shouldn’t take this personally, Colonel,” Green warned him.
“Personally? I should say I take it personally! Adam was my closest friend and they can’t even let him rest in peace!” Scarlet’s temper flared out of control. “When I get my hands on that Mysteron…”
“You’ll do what, exactly?” Green spoke loudly enough to be heard above Scarlet’s bluster. “Could you shoot him, Paul? Could you shoot Adam?”
“That isn’t Adam – it’s a mindless drone – an insult to a great man!” Scarlet stormed.
Teal stood up and went to his side. “I agree, Uncle Paul, that isn’t my father and never mind how much I wish he was still here – I’ll never accept a Mysteron.”
“Fine, just as long we all agree to that,” Green said succinctly. “I can’t afford to have sentiment over-riding necessity here.”
Surprise apparent in his voice, Scarlet muttered, “They taught you well, didn’t they? Charles and Adam?”
Green nodded briskly. “And you had better remember that, Colonel.”
Scarlet’s response was an apologetic smile which hinted at his embarrassment.
Teal suddenly laid a hand on Scarlet’s arm, “But wait a minute, there hasn’t been a threat – the Mysterons haven’t issued their usual warning. Are we sure this is a plot?”
“True,” he agreed and there was a silence as the three of them considered the anomaly.
Green spoke first, “It’s been quiet these last few months; but, if you remember, the last threat we received said ‘our next act of retaliation will come from the blue’. We assumed they meant a surprise attack somewhere. When the general’s plane was fired on we thought they’d achieved their purpose. By the way, did I mention that we finally got the Bereznians to confirm that they had lost two fighter jets? A mid-air collision, some four hours before the general crossed into their air space, apparently. That information took some extracting; they just kept denying everything, until I threatened to send the Angels in to do some serious target practice on their airfields.” He glanced at Scarlet and they shared a brief, rueful smile. “So, we know for sure that the planes that attacked General Blue were Mysteronised, but what if the plot involved the murder of the general as the preliminary move – merely the acquisition of the necessary agent…?”
“Gordon Bennett,” Scarlet moaned. “We’re all idiots. They weren’t just threatening the general. This goes much further than that.”
“But they couldn’t have known everyone would come to Cloudbase for a memorial service,” Teal reasoned.
“No,” Green agreed, “but they might’ve planned an attack at the funeral somehow. If they Mysteronised Adam before the body left Cloudbase, the chances are that they’ll have known about the memorial service. I discussed it with the head of Spectrum Intelligence and the World President, before I told you, Scarlet, and Karen Svenson.”
“Perhaps they just meant to kill Adam anyway and the memorial service is an ‘added extra’,” Scarlet mused. “That’s just the warped way their twisted minds would work.”
Deciding to take them completely into his confidence Colonel Green explained: “The World Leaders are planning to use this opportunity for an emergency summit meeting. The Europeans are agitating for something to be done to contain the Bereznians – using the general’s death as an excuse – and of course, the Americans are hopping mad at the murder of one of their nationals by enemy planes. The Supreme Commander is concerned that this could escalate into a full-scale armed conflict unless the Europeans calm down. Any hint that there was a plot to assassinate world leaders would add credibility to the hawks in the European assembly. And, of course, the World President will be, without a doubt, looking for a way to cut Spectrum down to size, now General Blue is gone.”
“But this is the work of the Mysterons,” Teal reasoned. “They can’t use it for political ends…”
“Yes, it is – and as such it’s Spectrum’s business,” Green agreed, but then he shook his head sadly and explained, “Unfortunately, the politicians don’t always see it that way. This could be the perfect excuse for military action against the Bereznians – which would suit the Mysterons too, of course.”
“So, how do we tackle this? Tell everyone to look for the general or just round up all the technicians?” Teal asked.
“Neither. My guess is he’s done what he needs to and he’s not going to show himself now until it’s time for him to complete his mission,” Scarlet said. “We need to allocate every dignitary an individual security guard and make sure we always know where everyone is.” He frowned. “I‘d even call off the security alert and allow people to think it was just another of Flaxen’s foibles. I want that Mysteron to relax again.”
Green took a moment to consider the suggestion – he still had reservations and the pair became involved in a detailed discussion about the security implications – Green was ultimately responsible for the safety of these visitors, after all.
Teal watched them in silence. She felt drained of all emotion after her initial excitement and was surprisingly calm; although she was aware of the anger boiling away under the surface at the knowledge that the Mysterons were responsible for her father’s death, and that they were using a reconstruction of him to place her friends in danger.
Suddenly she said loudly, “There is one person who should know everything that’s going on.” She saw them turn frowning at her interruption. “Mrs. Svenson.”
Scarlet clasped a hand to his head. “Karen!”
“She’s right; we can’t risk her seeing him and raising the alarm too soon,” Green nodded.
Teal gave him a look of righteous indignation. “We need to tell her that her husband has been Mysteronised – simply because he was her husband and she has a right to know! How would you feel if the person you loved and had just seen cremated, walked in on you unexpectedly?”
Scarlet tried to hide his smile at the sight of this young woman, who was several inches taller than her Commander-in-Chief, standing with her hands on her hips, admonishing him like a naughty schoolboy. Adam, you should’ve seen this, he thought.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Teal,” Green said pulling himself up to his full 5ft 8 with dignity. “Perhaps you’d like to go and tell Mrs. Svenson?”
Teal blanched. “Me, Uncle Seymour?” she squeaked, but Green was as immune to the appeal on her face as he was to this exceptional appeal to their family ties. He ignored her interruption and continued:
“Then you can report to Colonel Scarlet in the Control Room and work with him until this mission is over. I’ll inform Captain Auburn that you’ve been seconded to Colonel Scarlet’s command until further notice. That should make Auburn’s day,” he added with a wry grimace at Scarlet, who gave a silent chuckle. He was well aware that Green did not share the general’s good opinion of the forthright Captain Auburn.
Teal looked across at Scarlet who was perched on the edge of the conference table. He gave her an encouraging wink. “Sounds okay to me, sir,” he said and grinned. “Almost like the old firm again - eh? Metcalfe and Svenson…”
“…Trouble a speciality,” Green muttered, remembering Colonel White’s frequent exasperation when his premier officers went off at a tangent – again.
Teal sighed and tugged the hem of her tunic down. “SIG, sir,” she acknowledged without enthusiasm. She guessed she deserved to be put in her place a little, and she realised she was lucky to get off so lightly. Obviously, Colonel Green was taking her distressing circumstances into account…
She saluted and marched out of the room with the air of someone going into combat.
The men watched her leave and Scarlet gave an ironic chuckle. “As long as she’s around, Seymour, I’m afraid we’re never going to be quite free of Adam’s most endearing mannerisms.”
“If she tells me off once more I’ll bust her so low she’ll be saluting bacteria…” Green muttered, but his fond expression as he gazed after the young woman belied his threat.
“Of course you will; just as the colonel did every time he was mad with her father and me...” Scarlet agreed pleasantly, then noticing his friend’s now exasperated expression he slapped Green’s back, threw back his head and gave his first genuine peal of laughter since the general’s death.
Teal walked along the corridor towards the Senior Officers’ quarters with a reluctance that grew with every step. She doubted if Mrs. Svenson would be pleased to see her when she heard the news she had to bring. She rang the door bell and waited nervously. There was no reply, so she knocked politely and called, “Mrs. Svenson, are you in there? It’s Lieutenant Teal; I… I have a message from Colonel Green.” She thought she heard movement in the room and so she knocked again, calling, “Mrs. Svenson, please answer the door…”
Slowly, the door began to slide open, halting about a third of the way across. She saw Karen’s face appear in the gap. “What is it, Lieutenant?” she asked in a voice which quavered a little.
“May I come in? I need to speak to you – in private?” Teal frowned. Karen’s eyes were red and swollen - which might be easily accounted for – but her mouth looked bruised and her hair disordered, which was unexpected.
“I would rather you didn’t come in, just now,” Karen said, her eyes flicking back towards the interior of the room, with an alarm which bordered on fear.
Teal’s hand went to the gun on her hip as she met Karen’s distracted gaze. “Mrs. Svenson, is there anything wrong?” she asked as terrifying suspicions began to formulate in her thoughts. “Please, let me help you…”
Suddenly Karen gave a cry of surprised pain, and fell away from the door, which sprang open. A strong arm shot out, knocking the gun from Teal’s hand and making her lose her balance; it gripped her arm and she found herself pulled through the door and thrown across towards the bed. She stumbled and then staggered to her feet as the door slammed shut behind her.
When she regained her balance, she looked towards the doorway, already sure of what she would see. Her father stood there, holding her gun in one hand and watching the pair of them with a grim smile. He motioned Karen to move to the bed with a jerk of the gun.
“Well,” he said in an almost expressionless voice. “Here’s a happy family reunion. Oh, no, I forgot – we were never allowed to be a family - were we? Some stupid woman’s hysterical demands had to be pandered to. Well, finally I get to say it – Karen – may I present my daughter? Freya – this is my wife.”
Colonel Scarlet quickly went down to the hangar bays and sought out the officer in charge of the security detail.
“Nothing to report, sir,” Captain Saffron said. “We’ve done a sweep of every hangar and there’s nothing there – except that one of the men found this.” He handed Scarlet a security fob.
“Thank you, Captain. I expect this belongs to the lieutenant who alarmed Captain Flaxen, by claiming it was stolen when it was merely lost. Call your men off and return to normal security status. Colonel Green is expecting several important guests for the general’s memorial service this afternoon and new security duties will be posted shortly. All personnel will be placed on red alert until further notice, so I’d let your detail get a break whilst they can.”
“SIG,” Saffron responded and turned to his lieutenant. “Call them off and everyone take half an hour’s rest and await further orders.”
The lieutenant saluted and spun on his heel, striding away to bark orders at the security personnel scattered around the hangar.
Scarlet sighed and fingered the fob – he didn’t doubt that it was Teal’s. If the Mysteron had left it here it must be because he no longer needed it. Had he completed whatever work needed to be done to destroy Cloudbase or assassinate the VIPs? Where had he gone if he wasn’t here? It was hard to think of the Mysteron as Adam and – in all honesty – he didn’t want to do that; but he knew he must try to put himself in his friend’s mind if he was to track him down. He flicked down his cap mic and called through to the communications desk.
“Go ahead, Colonel Scarlet,” Flaxen said.
“Flaxen, stand all the security details down and return the base to a neutral security status. I’ve already dismissed Captain Saffron’s group. Let Major Bronze know that the missing security fob has been found, although there is no trace of an intruder.” Scarlet suddenly snapped his fingers. “Damn, I meant to ask Teal whose fob she’d been using – these lieutenants all need a crash course in security procedures – another fact you might convey to Bronze, Flaxen. See if you can find out who’s missing a fob, and make sure they’re both kitted out with their own fobs, before the VIPs arrive. We must be sure we know who is where when Cloudbase personnel are moving around. Get Bronze to upgrade the security access to all the areas of the base likely to be frequented by our guests, concentrating on the chapel and the conference room.”
“SIG, Colonel,” Flaxen said. “Do you know where Lieutenant Teal is at the moment, sir?”
“She was going to see Mrs. Svenson. I imagine she’s still there if she hasn’t turned up in the Control Room. I’ll be back shortly, so tell her to wait there for me when she does arrive.”
“SIG,” Flaxen broke the connection.
Teal was sitting on the divan, watching the Mysteron as he idly flicked through the neat piles of paper on the desk. Beside her, Karen Svenson stared obstinately in the other direction, refusing to look at their captor. Teal had scrambled to help her to her feet as she struggled to obey the command to return to the bed; in doing so she’d noted the bruises on her arms, and the beginning of bruises around her cheeks and chin. She’d gasped in concern and the older woman had averted her face and wrapped her arms tightly around herself to hide from the insightful gaze. Once on the bed Karen drew her bare legs under her and withdrew into a silent huddle. Staring with loathing at the Mysteron, who seemed apparently unconcerned at the state of his prisoner, Teal hardened her heart against any man who could cause such injuries to a woman who had, most assuredly, loved him once.
The Mysteron had taken her communicator and her radio cap and they now lay out of reach on the far side of the room. She tried to think of a way to get past him and call for help. The knowledge that Colonel Scarlet expected her to arrive in the Control Room was obscurely comforting – but who knew when the colonel would be annoyed enough to come looking for her?
The Mysteron glanced up at them and grinned. “It always used to bug me – all this frigging paperwork. Scarlet got out of it by making a virtue of telling everyone of his inability to do it, before anyone asked him to – but me, well, I got to do it all – even his most of the time… I must’ve been mental…” He flicked the papers one by one onto the floor.
Teal frowned at the man sitting at the desk. He looked exactly like her father and his voice was her father’s voice, but he was acting so strangely that it didn’t seem like her father. She was confused and disorientated; surely Mysterons were exact replicas of the humans they replaced?
Karen shifted beside her and stood up suddenly. The Mysteron glanced at her angrily. “Sit down,” he ordered.
“I have to go to the bathroom; surely I’m allowed to do that?”
He shrugged. “Quickly, and don’t try anything whilst you’re in there.”
“What exactly do you imagine I could do in there? No, don’t try to answer; God knows what warped thoughts lurk in the recesses of your mind, Blue. You always were a moron.” She strode past him with her head held high, and he turned to watch her until the bathroom door slammed shut behind her.
He sighed. “What a magnificent woman – even after all these years, I want her so much she drives me crazy.” Teal looked uncomfortably at him as he continued, “You should’ve seen her years ago – I had such trouble keeping my hands off her that she blacked my eye for me…” He laughed and turned his blue eyes on his daughter. “Of course, if I hadn’t done that – you might never have existed, my girl. I was so frustrated I went out and … met your mother…” He winked at her and gave a conspiratorial grin at his daughter, but Teal had never felt less like smiling and the gambit fell flat.
Suspicions began to form from the confusion in Teal’s mind. She recalled the conversation at dinner last night and the snippets she’d gleaned about her conception. Karen had called this person ‘Blue’ - which might apply to her husband - but she had also referred to him as a ‘moron’ – not a word to be applied to General Blue at all.
“You’re the clone,” she stammered, thinking aloud. Seeing his brows snap down angrily, she added, “When the Mysterons cloned my father, one was known as Blue and Mrs. Svenson called you Blue…”
He grinned at her. “Clever girl; so they’ve told you all about me, did they? I bet you never thought you’d get to meet me in person?” He sniggered. “I have to admit I’m damned surprised to be here – especially after the plane crashed – I thought we were both goners then.”
“Are you a Mysteron?” Teal demanded.
He shrugged. “I have no idea – and I don’t really care… I’m here and I aim to stay.” He gave her a bright smile and she found herself responding with a half-smile of her own.
Teal was even more confused; she thought about what had happened since the plane crash, and wondered if it were really possible that the Blue clone had been on the base since then, without anyone noticing him, or whether he was a Mysteron reconstruct who had taken on the identity of the clone as cover. She asked her next question carefully: “Did you come to my room last night?” Blue’s eyebrows shot upwards and he gave a leer. Hastily, she added, “And steal my security fob?”
“At the risk of suggesting I’m capable of committing incest – if I went into a girl’s room at night, I’d be after more than a security fob…”
“Then you didn’t take my security fob?” she pressed him.
“What would I want with it? I’ve been here, waiting for Karen to arrive. I wanted to speak to her alone - before I revealed myself to anyone else – but she’d hardly been here five minutes before Scarlet arrived. He hung about for ages, and they were sorting through papers and God knows what – and, when he went, he said he’d be back to collect her for dinner in a while – so that wasn’t going to give me a chance to speak to her – was it? So, I waited until she came back.” His voice trailed away and he had the grace to lower his gaze from his daughter’s searching stare, “And then I spoke to her.”
“Where were you when Colonel Scarlet was here?” Teal asked curiously – there were not that many places in the room that were capable of concealing a 6 foot 3 inch man for long.
Feeling on safer ground, Blue smiled. “Rank has its privileges, Flicka.” She started at his use of her father’s pet-name for her. He stood and walked towards the far end of the room. “I was rather disappointed that not one of my senior staff thought to check I wasn’t hiding here…” Blue said with a rueful shake of his head, as he pressed a wall panel and the door of the emergency elevator to the Control Room slid open. “A real lapse – I’ll roast Colonel Green for that one!” he said with a boyish grin at the prospect.
The bathroom door opened and Karen came back into the room. She looked more composed and she’d applied make-up to her face and tidied her hair. In passing her suitcase, she stopped and pulled out a short-waisted cardigan, which she slipped over her bare arms, effectively hiding the bruises. She gave Blue a venomous glance and returned to her seat on the divan.
“Better now?” he asked. When there was no reply he grimaced and began to say, “Look, älskling...”
“Don’t call me that –” Karen raged, jumping from the bed to face the man across the room. “Don’t you ever call me that.”
“Why ever not? I’ve been calling you that for over thirty years.” Blue shrugged.
“You haven’t been here for thirty years – you’re an aberration!”
“Karen, I thought we came to an understanding before I went back through that frigging machine with old misery-guts. I am as much part of Adam Svenson as he was… why he didn’t make it through after the crash, I don’t know –and I can’t say I care enough to find out either – but I am here and I am Adam Svenson now.”
“You were never Adam Svenson!”
“You’re my wife and I love you,” Blue shouted, his growing anger all too apparent in his face.
“Well, that’s your problem because I don’t love you…” she snarled.
Teal had the distinct feeling that this argument had been going on for some time before she arrived. She was concerned to see Blue strike out in his blind fury, and smash the coffee mug standing on the desk.
“What was it that made him so much better than me?” he challenged his wife.
“You wouldn’t understand,” she hissed.
His eyes narrowed and he continued, “Do you think it was him that made love to you? He didn’t know where to start.”
Karen put her hands over her ears and turned away. “Shut up, shut up, shut up! I don’t want to hear you.”
“Why not, Karen? Can’t face the truth that your precious Adam was less of the superman you imagined him to be? Without me he wouldn’t have been the man you knew…”
“And you are not the man I knew either! I don’t want to talk to you – I don’t want to see you. I want Adam…”
“For the love of God, woman – I am Adam!”
Alarmed at the menace in his voice, Teal moved towards him, her hands outstretched in an effort to calm him. “Please … Dad, give her time to come to terms with it all. She thought you were dead; she saw your body cremated and now you’re back… it’s a bit of a facer – even for me and I’m less… involved - in many ways. What we have to do – Symphony, Blue – is decide what we’re all going to do now. Spectrum is about to say a dignified farewell to its Commander-in-Chief, and the bigwigs of the world are coming to play their parts. We can hardly arrive and say – well actually – he’s only half dead…”
At opposite ends of the room Karen and Blue stood, refusing to look at her but listening – she was sure they were listening. “Perhaps we should contact Colonel Scarlet?” she suggested.
“No,” Blue said firmly as Karen turned to look at her with a sudden hope in her hazel eyes.
“He’s expecting me to rendezvous with him anyway about the … possible Mysteron intruder,” Teal admitted.
“What intruder?” they both asked.
“That’s what I came to tell you about,” Teal explained to Karen, outlining what had been happening and the latest theories they had. She concluded, “Blue says he didn’t steal my security fob – but someone, who looked like him, did. That suggests that there may be – another Blue – on the base.” She looked helplessly from one to the other. “I really think we do need Colonel Scarlet here. Please let me call him – or perhaps you had better do it, Symphony?”
Blue gave a spurt of laughter. “I seem to be model of the month! I wonder how many more of me there are wandering about.”
“Try not to speak at all if you can’t say something sensible,” Karen snapped at him and went decisively to the intercom before he could object. “Colonel Scarlet? Symphony Angel here. Please would you come to the general’s quarters immediately? I have Lieutenant Teal with me and we need your help with something.”
“Karen, what’s wrong?” Scarlet sounded concerned.
“Come at once, Colonel, and I’ll explain everything – as best I can, anyway,” she added as she closed the link.
“Great,” Blue said, perching on the desk. “Now we’ll have Paul to deal with, too. I don’t think he’s going to any more pleased to see me than you were, äls… Karen.”
“That is also your problem and – to quote Rhett Butler – frankly, I don’t give a damn,” she replied and returned to her seat on the divan.
Blue looked ruefully at Teal and said, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, “Take my advice, sweetheart and never get married.”
Scarlet jogged down to the general’s quarters, jumping the last half-a-dozen steps on the escalator and dodging through the personnel busily getting the base ready for its important visitors. Panting slightly, he leant on the doorbell – although he knew the access code very well. Lieutenant Teal opened the door and stepped outside rather than allowing him in.
“What’s wrong, Teal?” he asked sharply.
“Don’t be alarmed, no-one’s hurt – much. Uncle Paul, it’s just that, well – my father has turned up – my real father, I mean,” she added.
“What are you talking about? Adam was your real father,” Scarlet snapped beginning to lose his patience.
“No, he wasn’t – well, not exactly... Blue was,” Teal said with heavy emphasis.
Scarlet’s expression froze. “Blue?” His mind was racing. “Do you mean to say that…? No, it’s impossible, isn’t it?”
Teal shrugged and whispered, “Do you have a Mysteron detector with you, Uncle Paul?”
“Of course not,” Scarlet frowned. After the slightest pause, he activated his cap mic. “Major Bronze? Please would you bring me a Mysteron detector to the general’s quarters? As soon as possible, please.” He looked at Teal. “Well, are you going to let me in to see for myself?”
With a sweeping gesture, she stepped aside and the door opened wide. Scarlet could see Karen sitting on the divan and beyond her standing by the desk, looking apprehensive…
“Hiya, Paul. Good to see you again.”
Scarlet strode in and went straight to the other man. “You,” he said, “are under arrest.”
“On what charge? Impersonating myself?” Blue suggested.
“Attempted sabotage,” Scarlet improvised.
“That’s a good one – I’ve never left this room. But if it’s how you want to play it – okay.” Blue held out his hands meekly. “It’s a fair cop, Gov; I’ll go quietly,” he said, attempting a Cockney accent – badly. He raised one eyebrow and sat back on the desk as Scarlet made no move to cuff him.
The pair continued to stare at each other with an intense scrutiny.
Scarlet was searching hopefully for a sign in the other man’s face, that this was indeed the friend he’d lost. He knew Adam Svenson’s face as well as he knew his own, and this was his face – but somehow, it was not Adam… that individual ‘spark’ that made every human being unique was not present in these pale blue eyes.
Blue returned the stare without flinching, yet he too was searching, watching for a sign that Scarlet’s ‘sixth sense’ might have marked him as a Mysteron.
The tension was only broken when the door bell went again, and Teal sprang to open it.
Major Bronze gave her a surprised look as he marched in. “You wanted this, Colonel?” he asked, holding out the Mysteron detector. Then, as his brain registered what his eyes were seeing, he dropped it and stepped back, crossing himself.
Blue sniggered. “If everyone wasn’t so disappointed to see me, I’d find this all very amusing.”
Teal picked up the MD and took the all-important snapshot. It seemed as if everyone was holding their breath until, moments later, the picture was pushed out of the top of the machine and she handed it over to Scarlet with a reassuring glance at Blue as she did so. Scarlet examined the x-ray picture for some time.
Finally, Blue leaned forward to look over his shoulder and said, “It’s a pretty impressive bone structure, if I say it myself. My mother was right when she said we were a handsome family.”
“Will you shut up?” Karen suddenly exploded from the bed. “Can’t you arrest him, Scarlet?”
“The… eh... the general’s quite right – what for?” Scarlet turned to Bronze. “Fetch Colonel Green, Doctor Fawn and Doctor Beige – tell them only as much as they need to know to get them to come here. I want this corridor sealed off from both ends. Anyone with quarters down here will have to wait for access and anyone in their quarters right now is to be escorted away from here. The rooms are to be thoroughly searched afterwards.”
“What exactly are we looking for, Colonel?” Bronze asked.
“A Mysteron replica in the form of General Blue,” Scarlet said with a sigh.
“I wondered when someone would remember that,” Blue said, studying his fingernails.
Doctor Fawn finished his examination and handed Blue his shirt. He huddled into a conference with Doctor Beige, comparing notes. The others waited at the far end of the room.
“Well,” Blue said impatiently as he buttoned his shirt, “am I dead, Doctors?”
“Of course not,” Fawn began. He consulted a series of records and continued, “You are Adam Svenson...”
“Told you,” Blue interrupted with a significant glance at Karen.
“In as far as he and the clone known as Blue were physically identical. The Mysteron Detector test proves that you’re not a Mysteron…” Blue licked his index finger and chalked one in the air by his head. Teal sniggered nervously and then looked apologetically at the frowning Colonel Green. “…and there are no signs of the massive internal injuries that... erm?” Fawn hesitated.
“Killed my other half?” Blue suggested.
“Your better half,” Karen corrected sourly.
“My wife would prefer to be a rich widow, it seems.” Blue glared across at her.
“So, does that mean this gentleman is in command of Cloudbase?” Green asked.
Fawn heaved a huge sigh. “No, I can’t recommend that, Colonel. The general needs to undergo full psychological and neurological testing before I can certify him fit for command.”
“To command, yes,” Blue agreed. “But I’m fit to fly, ain’t I, Doc?”
“Physically you’re as fit as you were at your last medical, four months ago,” Fawn agreed. “And I’m glad you took my advice and got that cracked tooth seen to. You’d have ended up with toothache – or worse.” Blue averted his eyes and appeared to be exploring the right side of his mouth with his tongue. His eyebrows rose in pleasant surprise.
Fawn pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and continued in his wry conversational tone, “I guess everyone has a limit to their pain threshold.” The general had been notoriously reluctant to go to the dentist. “How you’ve kept your own teeth for as long as you have is a mystery beyond the comprehension of science…” Blue rolled his eyes.
He glanced at Beige and the two doctors huddled together conversing in whispers again.
“I’m sure this is all fascinating, Doctor,” Green proclaimed into the renewed silence. “We still have the problem of … what to do with the general.”
“I want to help,” Blue said.
“You can hardly go to your own memorial service,” Green reasoned. “And it wouldn’t be appropriate for you to act as a security guard to one of the dignitaries. I feel it would be better if you stayed here until after they left. After all, General, you’re due to retire in the next few months and I’m sure we can get SI to release your pension a little early. This… regeneration can’t change matters, I’m afraid – however pleased we are to see you back amongst us.”
“You speak for yourself,” Karen muttered.
“Symphony?” Green looked with real surprise at the woman sitting on the divan.
“I don’t care how many tests Fawn runs on him – that is not Adam Svenson,” she insisted.
“What makes you say that?” Green pressed her.
“Do you think I wouldn’t know my own husband? Oh, I know you’ll say he’s Blue – just as when that machine split them before – but I’m telling you – he’s not the Adam Svenson you knew!”
“This is obviously a great shock to you…” Green began soothingly.
“Don’t you dare to patronise me, Seymour Griffiths! I know what I know. And I know that is not my husband.”
Teal placed a hand on her arm. “But, Symphony, Doctor Fawn says…”
Karen shook her hand off and turned angrily towards the taller woman. “What would you know about it? You weren’t even born!” She turned and appealed to Scarlet who had been standing with bowed head, wrapped in his own thoughts. “Paul, surely you can tell the difference?”
Scarlet raised his head and revealed a troubled countenance. “No, Karen, I can’t say I can – not yet.” He looked across at Blue who was watching with a pained expression. “Which is not to say that I totally accept that you are General Blue either,” he said, reasoning aloud. “It’s been a long time and I may be forgetting some of it, but I do remember that Karen knew almost as soon as she met the pair of you, which one was which. And, if she’s not happy with it now, I think we should trust her intuition.”
“Great,” Blue exploded, “my wife and my best friend distrust me!”
“And me,” Doctor Beige said quietly.
Green looked at her in astonishment. “Doctor?”
“I nursed Blue and Adam – far more than Doctor Fawn – there is something not quite right with this,” Beige frowned. “I am willing to accept that somehow the clone survived the crash – but what triggered his regeneration? And,” she mused, “if he was regenerated by some means, it may be that that was what tipped the balance against the general’s recovery. The clones fed off each others’ energy. However innocent, your arrival here might have drained the general of the stamina he needed to recover…” she said to Blue.
“You can’t blame me for that,” he snapped.
“I attach no blame to anyone. Given the extent of his injuries the odds were always against his recovery anyway. Yet he was a strong man and I thought he would’ve put up more of a fight…”
“You killed him!” Karen pointed an accusing finger across the room at Blue.
“I did not,” he protested. “How could I?”
“Okay, okay.” Green moved into the no-man’s land between the two groups. “We don’t have the time to investigate this further now. I recommend you stay here, sir, until we’ve finished with our guests. There’ll be plenty of time afterwards to sort this out…”
Blue turned away from them. This unexpected rejection of him had obviously upset and disturbed him. “Get out – all of you! Get out!”
The angry frustration in his voice upset Teal who shook off Scarlet’s restraining hand and walked towards the motionless figure. He looked so alone in this crowded room that her kind heart was aching for him. “Dad…” she began. He turned on her, blue eyes blazing with anger. She stopped and instinctively backed away.
“I told you all to get out and that includes you!”
Scarlet collected the lieutenant and steered her towards the door. He waited until everyone had left the room before he turned and said, “I’m sorry – I want to believe you – God knows I do. Maybe we all just need a little time to get used to the idea? However, there’s no need for you to take it out on the girl.” He sidestepped the marble paperweight Blue threw at the door, shaking his head as it closed behind him.
In the corridor Karen and Freya were waiting for him, but the others were already out of sight. They both turned questioning glances on him, waiting for his conclusions. He wanted to say something reassuring, but his own mind was in turmoil. The ‘sixth sense’ he had, that warned him against the presence of Mysterons, had not reacted in Blue’s company; yet, his intellect was warning him that this ‘regeneration’ was too unlikely to ever have happened spontaneously. Hoping against all reason that somehow his friend had survived, but fearing at the same time to trust his instinct, Scarlet merely gave a wry shrug of his shoulders and spread his hands, almost in apology.
Karen was not suffering from such indecision. “It is not Adam; but I don’t know what it is,” she admitted.
Scarlet looked into her troubled eyes and nodded. “I think you’re right – although I wish to God you weren’t.”
“You can’t wish that more than I do.” She was twisting her wedding ring round on her finger. “Come on, Freya; let’s get a hot drink and something to eat.”
He watched her take the young woman’s arm and lead her away. Karen might be a real termagant sometimes, but she was also capable of great kindness. It encouraged him to think she was showing that side of her nature to her husband’s daughter.
Scarlet went back to the control room to relieve Major Claret but he couldn’t settle to the task and eventually called Captain Auburn and left him in temporary command. He walked down through the busy corridors until he came to the security HQ and, waving the two duty lieutenants out, he closed the door and sat down opposite Major Bronze.
Bronze looked up and waited.
“What do you think about it?” Scarlet said after a long silence.
Bronze shook his dark head. “I saw very little of the cloned ‘Blues’,” he began. “If you remember, it was only when you brought them to Prague, for their re-entry into the Geminator machine, that I really became aware of what was ‘wrong’ with Captain Blue in the first place.”
“I know, Vladimir, but there are not many of us left who were around at the time.”
“Colonel Green worked on the computers that ran the machine – so did Doctor Fawn,” Bronze reminded him. “And Beige was responsible for the care of the clones whilst they were here.”
Scarlet heaved a sigh. “Yes, and Fawn says it is Adam and Green won’t commit himself yet and - to be fair - he’s got enough to worry about with this conference and all that’s going on. Javorsky doesn’t think it’s him though and neither does Symphony.”
“Mrs. Svenson might be … in shock,” Bronze suggested.
Scarlet gave a silent chuckle. “I know you don’t know her very well, but don’t let that fragile little widow act confuse you. Symphony is virtually un-shockable – she always has been. Besides, Eva Javorsky spent more time with the Svenson clones than anyone left in Spectrum, so we can’t discount her opinion – which has the added factor of objectivity – she wasn’t in love with either of them.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and focussed Bronze with his sternest gaze. “I need access to the personnel records going back over Blue’s entire service history. I can’t access them myself – I’m not password-enabled - but you are, you’re the security chief. Will you do it for me, Vlad?”
“It could cost me my job and pension,” Bronze havered with a mischievous grin.
“Not really, you just say I made you do it – pulled rank, if you like. They can do what they like to me after I’ve sorted this out - to my own satisfaction, at least.” He waited.
Bronze shook his head and tapped instructions into the monitor on his desk. He slipped a disk into the CPU and after a time he flicked it out and handed it to Scarlet.
“Now do me a favour, Colonel, and be somewhere other than here when they find out it’s been downloaded.” He grinned.
Scarlet pocketed the disk and gave a casual salute. “I have to say that General Blue was a good judge of men – he always said you could be trusted in a crisis, Vlad.”
“Oh sure,” Vladimir Ziak smiled. “I’m doing this for him, okay?” he added poignantly to the departing figure of Colonel Scarlet.
“Yes, we both are,” Scarlet replied as he slipped out of the room and headed back to his quarters.
Karen rang the doorbell to Scarlet’s quarters and wondered why she wasn’t invited in. The door opened partially and Scarlet peered cautiously out. “Oh, it’s you…” He flung open the door. “Come in.”
She gave him a puzzled glance as she slipped past and watched him scour the corridor and close the door with exaggerated care. “What’s wrong? I had nowhere to go once I left Teal in her quarters – I can’t go back to Adam’s quarters whilst he’s there, so I came here – is that a problem? I mean, is someone going to tell Dianne you’ve been entertaining strange women in your rooms?”
“Of course not! I’m doing a little research and I don’t want it known about, that’s all.”
“Research? Into what?” She headed towards the computer on his desk.
Scarlet moved quickly round the other side of the desk. “I called in a few favours and I’m looking through Adam’s personal service file.”
Karen gave a moue of surprise. “Some favour. What’s it say?”
“I’m not sure I should let you see it,” he teased with an arch expression.
“Rubbish, Paul, there’s nothing I don’t know about Adam anyway.”
She grabbed the mouse and pulled the information back onto the screen. First thing she noticed was the date – July 2075. “The clones? Anything of use?”
Scarlet sat in the office chair and took control of the mouse again. “I have my own record here, too, for the same dates. I was wondering if there was anything recorded here that I’d forgotten. The only thing I’ve discovered is a memo from Captain Magenta which says they believe clones would not register as Mysterons if a detector was used. Also, on Fawn’s initial medical report, it says neither of the Adams showed positive on an MD.” He glanced up at Symphony’s frowning face. “You do understand?” he asked.
“Yeah, Freya took an MD shot and it came out as negative. But if the clone was a Mysteron it would still do that. The test cannot be conclusive proof that he’s not a Mysteron.” She walked away and stared at the photograph of Dianne and the children that adorned the wall behind the desk. “But at least it does prove he’s the clone – he’s Blue. If he was a ‘normal’ Mysteron reconstruct – if something that unnatural can ever be called normal – he would’ve shown as a positive image on the MD.”
Scarlet nodded. “Why he was regenerated, rather than a normal Mysteron, is another question.”
“It means that what Beige said is probably true. If Blue was around during the crash, he must have been feeding off Adam’s strength and he’s responsible for Adam’s death,” she said acerbically.
“That’s hardly his fault, Karen. The nature of the process meant they took strength from each other – it wasn’t a conscious action by either of them. Adam wouldn’t have held him responsible for his death now, anymore than he would’ve in ’75.”
“No.” She gave a wry smile. “Adam was too soft with him even then. He took responsibility for Freya and her mother – and she’s Blue’s child – not his.”
“Wait on here, let’s get one thing straight – Adam understood that Blue was as much a part of his whole personality as his … cultured side. He never thought of Freya as anything but his daughter and it was his pleasure to ‘take responsibility’ for her and to ensure Lesley was okay too. Good heavens, Karen, anyone who knew Adam and really looked at her would understand whose daughter she is.”
“Oh, I know that – she’s a good kid.” She sighed and turned to him with a sad, sweet smile. “I really shot myself in the foot with this one, Paul. When she was born, Adam wanted us to adopt her – he suggested it to Lesley and ‘negotiations’ started. Then Fawn told us why I couldn’t conceive and… I refused to let it go any further. You see, me and my emotions can be a right pain in the butt, because by the time I’d come to terms with … the situation, Lesley refused to let her go.”
“It was understandable that you’d be upset,” Scarlet floundered, what else could he say? He stared at her flushed face and noticed for the first time the bruises around her chin. Gently he reached for her and turned her face to the light. “Did he do this?” She lifted her head free of his touch and gave a slight nod. Scarlet made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat as if he were about to spit. He reached for her hand and gently pushed the sleeve of her cardigan up towards her elbow, despite her attempt to stop him. “And this as well, I’ll bet?” he snapped. He began to rapidly pace the room, stopping suddenly to look at her, wide-eyed with the full horror of his suspicions.
Karen heaved a sigh and squared her shoulders. “Forget it, Paul; there’s no help for it now.”
“I swear to you, I’ll thrash him within an inch of his life if you ask me to,” he said through gritted teeth.
“My hero,” she said, but not unkindly, as she gave him a sad, yet grateful smile. “Now do you understand why I know he’s not Adam? I don’t even want to believe he is Blue. I can’t believe that Blue – and certainly not Adam - would ever truly hurt me. If he is the clone, he cannot be the unadulterated clone of Adam Svenson – there has to be something else there too – something more threatening than Blue ever was. But we have more than what happened to me to worry about.”
“Karen,” he stopped, lost for words. This was not like her at all; he’d have expected her to demand personal justice before anything else.
She nodded her head in affirmation. “Really, Paul, we do have more important things to concentrate on. Like what has he done to sabotage the base and the VIPs’ visit?”
Scarlet dragged his attention back to the computer screen. “I suspect he did take Teal’s security fob – if for no other reason than to create the impression that there is another Mysteron around the place.”
“So, has he sabotaged the base?”
“That’s what I don’t know, as yet, and will have to find out before the really important bigwigs arrive. I have Major Bronze – who’s our security chief - organising sweeps and checks on all essential systems. There’s still time to call it all off, if necessary. But, I have to tell you, that’s not something Green will want to do without absolute proof – it’d be political suicide to admit that Spectrum can’t even guarantee the safety of Cloudbase.” He glanced at his clock. “On a personal note, Dianne and the kids should be here soon; they called me from London when the SPJ took off. I’m looking forward to seeing them.”
Karen smiled with genuine pleasure. “Yes, it will be good to see them all again.”
Lieutenant Teal sat curled up on her bed staring into a vague mid-distance. Her feelings were in turmoil and memories of her father dominated her thoughts. She suspected that Karen Svenson had been kept in ignorance of just how closely he’d kept in touch with her. It can’t have been easy for him – she thought - with his responsibilities in Spectrum - and a wife as demanding as his – to find the time to visit as often as he did.
As she’d grown up, she’d looked forward more and more to Adam’s visits. She’d always been able to tell him everything; her resentment of the way her half-brothers monopolised her mother’s attention; her uneasy relationship with her step-father – her hopes, her plans and her dreams of joining Spectrum.
Her step-father had tried to convince her that she couldn’t rely on her father’s continuing interest, and her mother had never taken any opposing view to her husband’s; whether from prudence or from conviction, Freya had never known. But Adam had always been there for her – in spirit, if not in person - and he’d always come to see her when he could – and when it really mattered. When he’d seen how unhappy she’d become at home, he’d paid for her to attend a private boarding school, and he got her into Harvard when she’d passed her exams with distinction – despite Tregonning’s resentment of the scheme.
She grimaced. I feel like I’m trying to live the lives of two different people; I’m Freya Saville at home and on Cloudbase – and I do what’s expected of Freya Saville - but really, I’m Freya Svenson – and that’s who I want to be - someone who’s not afraid to be the best she can be and who has nothing to apologise to anyone about. Mum dotes so much on the boys; she’s never really missed me… I think I became an embarrassment to her years ago – Tregonning made sure of that. But I never felt like that with my dad – even when I could feel the waves of disapproval that wafted off Uncle Peter whenever I visited Boston; I always knew my dad was proud of me. He took the time to teach me to ride and to surf and scuba dive on those wonderful holidays we had on the Great Barrier Reef. He taught me to drive and to fly – gliders and then planes - in preparation for entering Spectrum; something we agreed on and I so wanted to do. Even on Cloudbase he spent what time he could with me. I’d even find him waiting for me here after my late night shifts, with some food – as like as not - and he’d tell me off for not eating regularly – because somehow he always seemed to know when I’d skipped my dinner…
She sniffed and hugged her knees closer. To think that the man in those rooms was, somehow, more her father than the man she remembered with such affection – was almost impossible. She resented Karen Svenson’s outright rejection of him. If that was her father – her ‘biological’ father – he was also the man who had spent so much of his time and invested so much of his limitless affection in her. She ought to help him. It was as much her duty as her moral obligation.
He’d always had a temper – a well contained, buttoned-down temper – rarely seen and therefore more feared by his young daughter. He’d been angry when he threw her out, but he couldn’t mean it – surely? He’d never stayed angry with her for long.
Teal stretched her long legs and sighed; she ran her fingers through her short hair in the gesture she had unconsciously copied from her father. She suspected that Symphony and Scarlet would be trying to prove that Blue was not the man he claimed to be. Colonel Green was too concerned with keeping the visiting dignitaries safe to get involved, and the doctors were at loggerheads too. She was his only uncritical ally and for the first time in her life he needed her. She stood and picked up her radio cap. She snapped the gun onto her belt and reached for the new security fob she’d been given. Whether he’d admit it or not – he needed her - and she wouldn’t fail him, she would be there at his side.
The SPJ rose through the heavy clouds and into the permanently sunlit sky. It was a sensation that never failed to lift Dianne Metcalfe’s spirits, and she smiled to herself as she looked down at the luminous cloud-bed disappearing below them. The plane banked and headed westwards, away from London airport.
Dianne dragged her thoughts back to the passenger cabin and the low undertones of her squabbling children; whatever those two did together was always accompanied by constant verbal sparring. Anyone who didn’t know them would think they hated each other, yet in reality, Adam and Susannah got on rather well; at least, she corrected herself, as well as any 23 year-old man could get on with his precocious – and rather spoilt – 20 year-old sister. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander.
The news of the general’s death had come as a complete shock to her. Over the years, she’d become very fond of the affable American, who had become almost inseparable from her husband in her consciousness, so that she found it hard to imagine Paul doing anything without Adam being involved somehow as well. He’d survived so many incidents since they had all joined Spectrum that it almost seemed as if her husband’s invulnerability had rubbed off on him. There was no doubt that if she felt this bad about his death, then Paul would be devastated.
Her thoughts turned to her husband and a slight frown appeared between her expertly-shaped brows. It wasn’t that she no longer loved Paul – she’d always loved him and always would – but her feelings had changed in an unforeseen way. She was 57 years old and he still looked like – and to all intents still was – a 31 year-old man. He made an effort to appear older on the occasions he came to their Winchester home – using theatrical make-up to add grey to his black hair and the odd wrinkle to his handsome face. It always made her squirm because she felt there should be no need for him to have to do that, and yet recently, when he’d turned up unexpectedly and she’d been hosting a meeting of her reading group, one of the women had complimented her on having two such handsome sons and it had frozen her heart with the fear that, one day, Paul would see her as an old woman and resent being tied to her.
He may not have heard the woman’s well-meaning gaffe, but he’d quickly sensed that some unspoken dread had risen between them. He’d spent the evening trying to worm it out of her until finally, as they lay entwined in their bed; she’d confided it all to him. At first he’d been angry – with the woman, with himself for not ‘preparing’ for his visit and even a little with her, for getting so upset over such a triviality. He’d been anxious to reassure her that in his eyes she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and the only one he loved.
She’d pretended to believe him and allowed herself to be wrapped in his strong arms again, but she sensed that underneath it all, he had the same misgivings as she, and that this particular genie would never go back in its bottle.
She hadn’t believed for one moment that Adam’s visit some days later was any kind of coincidence. He’d sat in her living room, self-consciously sipping tea – which he didn’t really like much - from the best bone-china teacups, and trying not to devour too many of the dainty ham sandwiches at once. She’d disobligingly prepared them when he’d accepted her offer of refreshments after his journey, even though she knew he disliked what he saw as such unnecessary refinement. But she’d decided that he deserved to be punished for allowing Paul to talk him into coming to see her. She could imagine Paul’s incessant pleading with him, to go and reassure his wife that nothing had changed between them; but if he’d thought she’d help him carry out his mission, she’d quickly disabused him of that expectation. She’d left it to him to make the conversation and – for a man normally so skilled in the social graces – he’d floundered badly.
Towards the end of an uncomfortable hour he’d risen to go, defeated by her inflexibility. As she walked him to the door he’d turned to say goodbye and she’d seen sadness in his blue eyes.
Surprising herself, she’d thrown her arms around him and hugged him whispering, “Thank you, Adam, for everything.”
He’d hugged her back and looked with kindness into her suddenly emotional face. “He truly loves you, you know. He always has.”
She’d nodded and pulled herself together. “I know – but why on earth did he send you to tell me…?”
“Something to do with that damned ‘stiff upper lip’, I guess,” he’d teased and then added soberly, “It isn’t easy for him, Dianne. He knows that sooner or later we’ll all leave him and it is a burden he’s tried to bear alone for years. All we can do is ignore the peculiar curse he lives under and pretend that to us, at least, he’s the same as we are.”
“I always thought I could do that, Adam, but now, I am not so sure,” she’d admitted sadly.
“Well,” he’d said as he opened the door, “look at this way – many women would give their eye-teeth for such a toy-boy…”
She’d laughed at his arch expression and the wink he gave her as he turned to leave. She watched his car down the drive and waved as he tooted the horn before turning towards the main road.
It had been the last time she’d seen him…
Susannah’s excited call made Dianne open her eyes and look out of the window. There in the distance, gleaming in the sunlight was the massive bulk of Cloudbase. It was an impressive sight, no matter how many times you’d seen it and she felt her throat constrict with emotion as she recalled the happy years she’d spent there, with the man she loved at her side and surrounded by her closest friends. The SPJ circled the base and made a landing approach on the port side. As they swept in, Dianne could see the repairs still being made to the flight deck where the general’s plane had crashed.
As the plane taxied to a halt and the platform began to descend into the vast hangars beneath the decks, she instructed her son to pick up the hand-luggage, and led the way to the front of the plane. She thanked the young pilot for the smooth ride and landing, making the young man blush with her smile.
As the door opened, she glanced across the hangar and saw the flash of vivid red that indicated the presence of her husband amongst the welcoming committee. Dianne sighed and drew a deep breath before starting to descend the steps. Right now, he was striding towards her, as bright-eyed and welcoming as ever. He took her in his arms and kissed her, in a way that almost seemed inappropriate – however much she welcomed it. She smiled into his handsome face and hated to see the flash of concern he couldn’t keep from his deep-blue eyes.
“Hello, darling,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see you.”
“Hello, Paul; you’re looking well. Ace has the luggage; could you give him a hand, please?”
“Luggage, are you planning to stay?”
“Only as long as Karen, but we’ve arranged to go back with her – she’s going to be so lonely for awhile, and Suzie’s promised to join her in some retail therapy – so prepare to have to bail her out again when the credit card bills arrive – she’s worse than Karen when it comes to exercising self-restraint in a shopping environment.” She saw the flash of amusement in his eyes and smiled. She’d known from the moment her daughter was born with the ‘Metcalfe dimple’ and bright blue eyes, that her father would be putty in his daughter’s hands. She added, “I thought I mentioned it?”
“Probably, I must’ve forgotten.” He gave her a smile and turned to reach out his hand to his daughter, his affection so obvious in his voice, “Suzie… hello, sweetheart.”
“Hello, Dad.” Susannah Metcalfe had not been old enough to remember her last visit to Cloudbase and, even given the occasion, she was obviously excited. “I hope it gets more impressive than this dingy hangar,” she pouted.
“Far more impressive,” he reassured her and then added, “Give your old dad a hug then.” Susannah obliged, her warm smile reminding him with a pang of his own mother.
“Oi, anyone prepared to lend a hand here? There are several hundred bits of hand-luggage! Suzie – lend a hand…”
“Here, let me.” Scarlet sprinted up the steps and took several bags from his son – smiling into the face that echoed Dianne’s more than his own. “Hello there, young’un; glad you could make it.”
“Hi Dad, I’m glad I could too. Mind you, it wasn’t hard getting time off, once I explained to Peter Svenson whose memorial service I wanted to attend.”
Scarlet nodded. He’d grown used to the idea that his son had no desire to enter the military, and was grateful when, as Ace finished University, Adam had got the boy a much-sought-after Junior Executive post with SvenCorp. He was currently living in Boston, in Adam’s old penthouse apartment actually, and doing a good job, by all accounts. He’d not been at his Godfather’s funeral as he’d been at home in Winchester, on leave.
“Honestly,” Ace grumbled as he staggered down the final steps, “you’d think they were planning to spend a few months away from home, instead of a week or so.”
“Your mother could never pack sensibly,” Scarlet confided with a grin.
“Well, Suzie’s just as bad,” his son complained.
A squeal distracted them both as the former Rhapsody and Symphony Angels met and hugged each other.
Scarlet gave his son a wry shrug. “I think we’re superfluous, Ace.”
“Oh, whenever Mum, Suzie and Aunt Karen get together, I generally am,” the young man said cryptically.
The women congregated in Scarlet’s quarters. Dianne frowned at her husband as he and his son came in from delivering the children’s luggage. “Paul, Karen’s been telling me that Adam’s clone has reappeared and is likely to be a Mysteron to boot. What’s being done about it?”
Devoutly wishing that Karen could keep her mouth shut, Scarlet replied, “Officially nothing - until after the dignitaries leave – Green’s too wound up about the memorial service and the conference afterwards to do much else.” He heaved the last of the enormous suitcases onto his bed and grimaced.
“And unofficially?” Dianne asked.
“Karen and I are on the case.” Scarlet smiled at Symphony Angel.
“Well, count me in – I’m not having some Mysteronised clone destroy Adam’s memory either.”
“Dianne…” he started to protest.
”Yes, Paul?” Her stern gaze revealed that this was not the time to try to talk her out of her decision.
“Right you are,” he said simply – cursing all stubborn women under his breath.
Lieutenant Teal stood outside the general’s quarters and typed in the access code, half-expecting he would’ve changed it, but the door clicked open and she saw her father lying stretched out on the bed. He seemed to be sleeping, his face turned towards her as he slept.
Quietly she stepped into the room and crept towards him. Looking down at him she wondered in alarm if he was dead – he was so still. His face was pale, lacking his usual golden-tanned complexion, and – unusually for him - he was unshaven, so that she could see patches of grey amongst the blond stubble on his cheeks and chin. His hair, now fading to silver at his temples and receding slightly from his high forehead, was disarranged by sleep and she frowned as she stared at his face, sensing that something was different and wondering what it was.
With a shiver of surprise she realised the long, thin scar which had marred his forehead for as long as she could remember, had disappeared. As a child she’d been fascinated by it and could clearly remember how it ran along his hairline down to his left temple. He’d always been incredibly self-conscious about it, and had not appreciated her childish curiosity, laughing off her questions with uneasy references to ‘Harry Potter’ and, beyond saying it was the legacy of an incident in his childhood, he would never explain exactly how he’d come by it. Hesitantly her hand moved towards his face – she needed to confirm its absence by touch for her mind to accept the evidence of her eyes.
She gasped with shock as his hand snaked out, and grabbed her wrist in an iron lock before it reached him. The pale-blue eyes snapped open and he frowned up into her alarmed face.
“Freya? What are you doing here? I told you to go away.”
“You’re hurting me,” she complained.
“Answer my question.” His grip tightened on her wrist as she struggled for release.
“I want to help you – I believe in you.” She tugged against his hold and he suddenly let her go, so that she staggered backwards and almost lost her footing.
“I see,” he said, sitting up on the bed. “Well, that’s nice of you, Lieutenant, but you’d do better to keep out of this and stay away.”
“Is that an order, General?”
He gave a wry smile. “I don’t have the right to give anyone orders any more, Flicka.” His hand went to his hair and he ran his fingers through the fringe until it covered his forehead once more.
“I couldn’t help noticing – the scar – it’s gone,” she said uncertainty in her voice.
He frowned at her and swung his legs on to the floor covering the gap to the mirror in quick strides. He brushed the fringe away and stared at himself. “Well, what do you know? It has at that,” he muttered. “I’ve hated that scar for over 50 years… and now it decides to fade, just when I need all the help I can get to make people believe I am who I say I am …” His voice trailed away as he examined the unblemished skin.
Suddenly, he turned back to her, a thoughtful expression on his face. “You know I can’t remember if I had it before… in ’75. Fawn might know, I guess. He’s always said we were identical, but I doubt if anyone looked for that.” He was watching her carefully. “Does this make any difference to your belief in me?”
Teal shook her head, but said, “No,” with some hesitation.
He smiled at her. “Don’t lie to me, Freya – I am your father.”
“Yes, you are and I’m not lying. It’s just that they will use it as another reason for not believing you.”
“Only if anyone mentions it to them…” Blue rubbed his eyes, sighing. “Why is life so complicated? All I want is to be with Karen – and you – and to be left alone. If Spectrum can’t bring themselves to trust me – they can go hang! I have enough resources to manage without their two-bit pension.” He stopped suddenly, frowning. “That is – I did have – I guess I don’t even have that anymore if the world thinks I’m dead.”
“You can have the money you gave me,” Freya said with a rush of pity for his confusion. “I don’t need it.”
Suddenly he was the father she knew and loved again. “Don’t be silly, Freya – that money is to secure your future. I won’t touch a penny of it.” He grinned, looking almost mischievous. “My dad always said I never had to lift a finger for myself – never knew any real insecurity – well, he’d be cheering now.”
Freya ran to his side and threw her arms around him. “We’ll manage together – we don’t need them!”
Hesitantly, his arms came around her and he hugged her. “Just as you say, Flicka,” he muttered, sounding exhausted. “Right now, I just need to sleep for a while.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m tired, that’s all. I want to think this through in peace and quiet. Why don’t you go and get something to eat and come back later?”
“Everyone’s trying to stuff me with food today,” she complained. “I’ll just sit here whilst you sleep. I’ll wake you if anyone comes.”
Blue studied her face and nodded. “Whatever,” he agreed apathetically. He went back to the bed and lay down again; he closed his eyes and turned his head away from her.
She sat at the desk and watched him. He was preternaturally still and only the shallow rise and fall of his chest proved he was still living. She couldn’t quite dismiss the seed of uncertainty that had taken root in her mind, but whilst he needed her, she owed him her loyalty – far more than she owed Spectrum anything. If they dismissed her from the service, she’d get another job somewhere and earn enough to keep them both. She felt her eyelids growing heavy and without realising it, dozed off herself – resting her head on her arms.
Susannah and Adam ‘Ace’ Metcalfe sat on the divan as their parents and Aunt Karen studied the PC screen and muttered to each other in confidential whispers. No-one would tell either of them what was happening, and it was beginning to annoy Adam in particular. He glanced at Susannah who was twiddling her father’s radio cap in her hands and she met his gaze with a bored shrug, plonking the cap on her head and grinning inanely at him. He gave an exasperated groan and stood up.
Three heads at the computer screen turned in unison to glare at him.
“I need to stretch my legs,” he said defensively, “I’ve been cooped up here and stuck on that ruddy plane for ages – it’s worse than sitting in a mini.”
“Well, you can’t go wandering around the base, so sit down,” his father snapped.
“Aw, Dad!” both youngsters protested, and then grinned at each other.
“Look, we’re busy, we’ll show you round later,” Dianne promised.
“You’re a colonel; can’t you get a little pleb to show us round, Daddy?” Susannah wheedled.
“There aren’t any plebs on Cloudbase,” her mother corrected with exasperation.
“Maybe not, but Teal could do with a distraction…” Karen suggested softly.
“Teal – of course, she’s the very person. A brilliant idea, Karen; I’ll get her to come over.” Scarlet snapped his fingers peremptorily and beckoned his daughter to his side, reaching up to remove his radio cap from her rich auburn-red hair.
Susannah asked, “What’s a Teal?”
“It’s a kind of duck,” her brother answered automatically.
Karen smiled. “This one’s a lieutenant, actually – and Teal is a she, not an it.”
“’Speckies’ are named after fluffy ducks now?” Susannah asked, adding, “that’s so cool, Aunt Karen.”
“You’d be the outstanding candidate to be Lieutenant Pigeon,” her brother remarked, and dodged her vengeful swipe.
“It’s the name of a colour, too,” Dianne responded automatically and then shrugged, realising they were too busy annoying each other to listen. She shook her head and gave Karen a rueful smile.
Scarlet’s call was eventually answered. “Ah, Teal, doze off, did you? Would you do me a favour, Lieutenant? I have my family here and they’d love to see round the base, but I’m busy. I’d appreciate it if you’d do the guided tour for me? Just the general areas of the base – maybe feed them? – that’s usually a popular idea. Thank you, they’re in my quarters, so we’ll expect you here shortly.” Scarlet glanced across at his children – Adam was holding his sister at arm’s length and she was trying to thump him. “Cut it out!” he ordered in a tone that brought them to heel immediately. Sometimes, it seemed that however much older they got, there were always times when they behaved like juvenile delinquents.
He couldn’t remember ever behaving quite so immaturely himself; but then, as an only child, he’d grown up quickly, conscious of the sanguine expectations of his parents and the weight of family traditions; both of which carried the unspoken presumption that he’d follow in the footsteps of his illustrious ancestors. The fact that generations of Metcalfes had served in the military, with distinction, for centuries, was something he often thought he’d been born knowing, along with the certainty that he would do the same. Unlike his friend, Adam Svenson – who had fought long and hard to avoid being absorbed into his family’s financial corporation - he’d been only too willing to fulfil his perceived destiny.
But Dianne had never wanted either of her children to feel burdened with the responsibility of having to ‘live up’ to their forebears. She’d often expressed the thought that it was bad enough that Adam had inherited her family’s title – not that they ever used it. Scarlet still thought ‘Lord Adam Metcalfe’ sounded… odd – although not as odd as ‘The Earl of Anerley’, the title the teenager had involuntarily acquired on his grandfather’s death. Strangely enough, he felt at home with the idea of ‘Lady Susannah Metcalfe’; after all, his wife was Lady Dianne. The arcane and ancient laws of etiquette baffled most people they met socially, and he’d been called ‘Earl Metcalfe’, and many other equally as implausible names, often enough before now…
He considered his children with affection; they’re good kids… if a trifle unruly at times. He dismissed the guilty feeling that he’d so rarely been at home in their formative years, and fixed them both with a stern gaze. “Lieutenant Teal is coming to take you round, and you will behave like charming, rational individuals, because, if I hear anything to your detriment, there will be hell to pay – comprendez?”
They both nodded. “Yes, Daddy-dear,” Susannah said with a beaming smile. Scarlet humphed – experience had taught him to distrust her sudden bursts of childish innocence.
“What’s she like, this lieutenant?” Ace asked warily. His father’s amusement at the prospect was making him uneasy. “I’m guessing she’s some old battle-axe, who probably shaves more often than I do, and frightens children and horses at 50 paces…?”
“Adam!” his mother reprimanded mildly. “I am sure there’s no one on Cloudbase that fits that description.”
Karen laughed. “She’s fair-haired, easily as tall as you and certainly able to break your neck, if you play her up,” she said, hiding her amusement at the spark of alarm that fired in the young man’s deep-blue eyes. The doorbell rang. “Well, let her in,” she instructed.
Susannah opened the door and sniggered as her brother gave a low, appreciative whistle at the sight of Teal in the corridor, her cap on her head and a look of resentment on her face. Freya couldn’t understand why her father had welcomed her departure in answer to Scarlet’s summons; and the thought that he was pleased to get rid of her, hurt.
“Reporting as requested, Colonel,” she said, straightening to attention, even as she covertly studied the occupants of the room.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” Scarlet said and beckoned her in. He gestured towards his children, “My daughter Susannah, and my son A…”
“Adam; Adam Metcalfe,” the young man interrupted. He wasn’t going to let his parents embarrass him with that childhood nickname in front of this fascinating young woman. “I am pleased to meet you, Lieutenant Teal.” He stepped forward, extending his hand and she stared at it, until he began to feel uncertain. As he started to withdraw it, she reached out and shook it firmly.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Metcalfe,” she said guardedly. It was obvious he’d no idea who she was.
“It’s Adam,” he prompted.
Suzie chuckled and introduced herself. Teal shook her hand and said, “Well, if you’ll follow me, Miss Metcalfe, Mister Metcalfe, I’ll take you to the Promenade Deck first, before it gets too crowded with the other VIPs.”
“Adam,” he repeated, following her out.
Dianne met Karen’s gaze. “I’d like to see the outcome of that battle of wills,” she said and they both laughed.
Scarlet looked from one to the other in confusion. “What’s so funny?” he asked.
Dianne gave him a sorrowing smile. “Maybe age is deadening your senses after all, Paul, but that was a very attractive young woman – a fact your son certainly noticed.”
Scarlet raised his eyebrows. “Well, yeah, I’m well aware that she’s attractive, but I guess I still just think of her as ‘little Freya’… I mean, it wouldn’t be quite right of me to think of her any other way… would it?”
Dianne gasped. “That was Freya? Why ever didn’t you say so?” She looked at her two companions, noticing Karen’s smile and her husband’s incomprehension.
“I thought you knew…” he protested, adding, “Would it have made a difference?”
Dianne sighed. “I haven’t seen her in years, Paul. Last time I did, she had her hair in long plaits like two bell ropes, braces on her teeth and was wearing some sort of ‘kaftan’ that Adam had brought her from Samarkand, or somewhere equally obscure. And yes, Paul, it would have made a difference; I’d have liked to offer my condolences. I didn’t know she was on Cloudbase,” she added by way of an explanation to Karen.
“Neither did I - until last night - when your charming husband invited her to dinner with us – without warning me, I might add.”
“Oh, Paul, you didn’t?” Dianne laid a sympathetic hand on her friend’s arm.
“Don’t worry, Di, I managed. She’s really quite a nice young woman.” Karen smiled.
“Oh, I don’t doubt it. She always was a charming little girl; rather serious and very ‘grown-up’ in her ways. Ace was completely smitten with her as a ten or eleven year-old.” Dianne laughed reminiscently. “He used to complain that she could run faster than he could… I dread to think what he intended to do, if he’d ever caught her. I‘m sure Freya thought he was a right pain – girls do mature so much earlier than boys, after all - but she was too polite to tell him so. She’s Adam’s daughter in more than mere biology, you know,” she concluded, without considering her words. She noticed Karen’s eyes cloud over and cursed herself.
“Let’s crack on with this research – we need to get to the root of this before the WP arrives – if at all possible,” Scarlet said, tactfully changing the subject.
Lieutenant Teal led the way through the rather characterless corridors of Cloudbase, towards the splendour of the Promenade Deck. Susannah Metcalfe was interested in everything, and had to be discouraged from exploring all the doors off the corridor. She also flirted outrageously with any good-looking young men they happened to pass by, but, instead of trying to restrain her, her brother preferred to gaze at his tour guide, with what Teal thought of as ‘bedroom eyes’.
Anyone would think he’d never seen a grown woman before, she thought with amusement. He hasn’t changed much at all… he’s still got that ‘eager beaver’ look about him. He’s not bad looking - he definitely has Uncle Paul’s blue eyes – and, thankfully, he’s grown up to fit his knees and elbows – last time I saw him, he seemed to consist of nothing but knees and elbows… his voice has stopped squeaking too. She suppressed a giggle at the memory of the adolescent boy he’d been and turned to make sure she had both of her charges in tow.
“This way, if you please, Miss Metcalfe,” she called for the nth time as Susannah tried to open the door into Captain Auburn’s quarters.
“Yes, come on, Suzie! Can’t you see you’re annoying the lieutenant?” Adam Metcalfe smiled at her and continued, “I can’t keep calling you Lieutenant – you must have a real name.”
“Lieutenant will do fine, or Teal if you prefer, Mr Metcalfe.”
“It’s Adam,” he said, perfunctorily. “Shall I guess what you’re called?”
“If it would amuse you, go ahead,” Teal shrugged. “You’re unlikely to get it right.”
“So – it’s not a usual name. Not Jane or Betty or Sarah…” He gave her a boyish smile and said cheerfully, “You know, this has shades of Rumplestiltskin.”
Teal gave a snort of laughter and looked away to hide her grin. He was looking so absurdly pleased with himself.
“You’re really very pretty when you smile,” he said.
“And you’re wasting your time.”
“You’re not married, are you?” He sounded put out. Despite herself, she chuckled and shook her head. “Phew, I was about to tell you off, for not waiting for me to come into your life.”
“Adam.” Teal sighed and he continued, “I was named after my godfather, General Blue, he and my father were great friends, you know? That’s why we’re here – for the memorial service.”
“Yes, I did know.”
He was intrigued. “Did you work with the general?”
He was frowning at her. “But you knew him?”
They came out into the glass-domed Promenade Deck. It was so warm and sunny after the artificial light of the corridors, that Teal removed her cap, running a hand through her hair. She smiled with sheer pleasure at the scene before her – she always enjoyed ‘the Prom’.
Adam shielded his eyes and turned to look at her again as she stood bathed in the sunlight. “Have we met before?” he asked earnestly. “Because now I see you without that miserable headgear, in the wonderful, clear daylight of this charming …greenhouse – you look kinda familiar.”
“This is the Promenade Deck – not a greenhouse. And yes, we have met before, but there’s no earthly reason for you to remember; it must be ten years since I saw you and your sister.”
“Was that the only time?” She shook her head. “When was the first time?”
“Oh, I can’t remember – you weren’t very old.”
“You came to Winchester?”
“Yes, we were going to Cornwall from London and we made a detour to visit your parents.”
“My father and I. General Blue may have been your godfather, but I can go one better – he was my father.”
“Freya! You are Freya Svenson?” He grasped her hand and smiled with pure delight at her. She found it impossible not to respond, and nodded in acknowledgment, a shy smile on her face. “But – of course you are – I can see that now – I must’ve been blinded by that less than flattering uniform, although I must say, it looks good on you…. This is wonderful – Suzie, come here and meet Freya. Where has she got to now? Oh well, never mind her...” He studied her face eagerly. “Freya Svenson… I can’t believe it! I know I haven’t seen you for years, but I’m surprised I didn’t recognise you – you were always my favourite visitor…” She gave him a pitying grimace and gently withdrew her hand. Suitably chastened, he calmed down a little. He arched a dark eyebrow and tilted his head, admitting, “You’re quite right, I never would’ve guessed your name without a clue.”
She smirked at him. “I guess I was teasing you along, a little. I wondered if you’d recognise me – eventually.” She drew a deep breath and reverted to her ‘on-duty’ persona. “But now, if you please, Mr. Metcalfe, you’ll drop this silly flirting.”
He gave an apologetic shrug. “I guess it’s a little inappropriate given the circumstances. I apologise, Freya, I didn’t mean to upset you.” He blushed slightly and added uncertainly, “I can understand why you don’t want to use my name, right now, as well…but you can’t call me ‘Mr Metcalfe’ – we’re old friends, for heaven’s sake! I get called Ace too, remember? Adam Charles - A. C. It’s a very silly name for a grown man, but… would it be any better?”
”It might be.” She looked at him standing irresolutely under the wisteria and smiled. Disliking him would be like spurning a puppy for being playful. “You’re forgiven…Ace. But, if anyone comes, I’m Lieutenant Teal – okay?”
“Aye-aye, Captain – I mean – SIG, Lieutenant.”
Colonel Green consulted the running order once more and checked with Captain Flaxen that it was still on schedule. Flaxen was getting tired and he was starting to irritate her. “For the last time: everything’s going according to plan,” she said touchily.
“We can’t afford a mistake, Flax.”
“There won’t be a mistake – you’ve planned everything yourself.”
“That was before the Mysteron alert,” Green said with a shrug. “It would be just my luck for it all to go pear-shaped and something to go wrong.”
“Why on earth would it do that for you any more than for anyone else, Seymour?” she asked.
Green looked up and smiled. Their relationship went back a long way, but Flaxen rarely used his Christian name on duty. “You’ve heard of sod’s law, haven’t you Audrey?”
“Yeah, I live my life by it,” she grinned. “You, however, have always had a charmed life.”
“You think?” Green sat back and sighed. “It was always me left to pick up the pieces when Scarlet and Blue did something spectacular – but ultimately the responsibility was theirs and they had to talk their own way out of it. Now I have no one to hide behind any more. The buck stops right here. ” He thumped the console before him and grimaced.
“You’re man enough not to need to hide,” Flaxen reassured him, punching a series of buttons. “Angel One, you’re clear to land – anything happen on patrol, Calliope? Oh good. Report to follow as normal, then.” She turned back to him. “You have as good a team as White had back in the early days – some might say better. It’ll be okay.”
“You know they see me as a ‘caretaker’ candidate, don’t you? I’m in my late fifties – a safe pair of hands until one of the whizz-kids is experienced enough to take over – Auburn, most likely. I know the general saw him as a potential Commander-in-Chief, if he ever manages to improve his ‘people skills’,” Green mused aloud. “Things are starting to pick up again, after that run-in with President Boukari; Blue worked damn hard mending fences. I don’t want to go down in Spectrum history as a disastrous commander – foisted on the organisation by Blue’s death.”
“You worry too much,” Flaxen said shortly.
“Someone has to, Audrey. You never have.”
She grimaced. “I spend my life worrying – I just don’t go on about it.” She saw the hurt in his eyes and in a wave of sympathy said, “Never mind. I tell you what; after all the VIPs have gone back to their fortresses, I’ll cook us a nice meal. What do you fancy?”
“You choose – whatever you make is always fine by me.”
“Right-o; no complaining though, if you don’t fancy it at the time…”
“Audrey… you know I always fancy it…at any time.”
“I meant the food, Seymour….”
Alone in his quarters, Blue considered the nagging doubts that had been bothering him for the past few days. Now that Teal had gone – and he had Scarlet’s peremptory request to thank for that – he could give the matter his undivided attention. He frowned in an effort of concentration, determined to resolve the puzzles for himself.
He was uncomfortably aware of the fact that he had not always had an individual voice and wondered how he could remember as much detail as he could. He had a clear recollection of the all-too-brief period when he’d experienced the delights of having a corporeal body, of the irritation he’d felt for his ‘intellectual’ twin and his regret at having to let that independence go. But since the two extremes of Adam Svenson’s personality had been re-merged in the Geminator machine, he had no clear memory of even existing – let alone of functioning as an individual – until the plane was attacked.
Now he could clearly remember Lieutenant Bister filing the return flight plan from Singapore, and wondering why the kid had chosen to cross Bereznian airspace – albeit merely clipping the south west corner. Given the tense international situation, it suggested some rashness of thought, to say the least. He’d questioned Bister about it and had received a rather garbled response in which the main reasoning seemed to be that it shortened the flight to Cloudbase, which was scheduled to move to its new location in the north Atlantic at that time. Well aware of that – and the fact that he made the young man nervous – he’d let the kid off; after all, he’d reasoned, who’d be so foolish as to attack a Spectrum plane anyway?
Blue frowned. He regarded consideration for other people as a weakness and thought he could recall how he’d railed against it in the hours of sleep, when he’d had some parity with the powerful personality that restrained him. A flicker of doubt made his frown deepen. How can I remember these things? I must have been held within the consciousness of Adam Svenson – a prisoner of my own mind… or at least – of his half of my own mind… he pouted at the unfairness of it all, his expression at once petulant and uncertain.
He knew ‘General Blue’ had been severely wounded in the first missile strike – there had been so much pain and a titanic struggle to keep a hold of conscious thought. It was then – and only then – that he’d found his voice and remembered how he’d been buried for so long beneath ‘Adam’s’ personality. He’d screamed in rage – fearing that now they would both die.
Suddenly- inexplicably – he had regained a corporeal form, had been standing, naked, in the cockpit, close to the co-pilot’s seat, where Adam lay dying. He’d been impressed by how quickly he’d adapted – he’d dragged the silly kid from the pilot’s seat where he was panicking and failing to take the obvious avoidance measures, and thrown him towards the back of the plane, where he had passed out. Taking control of the machine himself he’d almost – almost – brought it down intact.
He allowed himself a brief burst of pride. Anyone else would probably have demolished Cloudbase as well.
Then, ‘Adam’ had reached out towards his mind – even from the depths of his final agony, he had wanted to dominate and control his twin. He had resisted, and he’d sensed his weaker clone’s desperation at this rejection. After that, his memories of events were blurred. There was pain everywhere – a searing shock that tore at every nerve. He’d fought against it, struggling to escape from the invisible chains that had kept him in thrall. The other had no strength to deny him his freedom any longer and instinct told him that to merge with his twin would mean certain death for them both. In a brief moment of union one thought had flooded both minds – Karen – and the overwhelming desire to see her again.
Blue shifted in his chair and smiled to consider how confused ‘Adam’ must have been, not to realise how powerful an impetus that thought was towards keeping his own identity. He would see Karen with his own eyes; touch her with his own hands - at last – after twenty-five years of longing and experiencing the sensations vicariously. He remembered glancing down at the other body and seeing the pale eyes growing dim. He’d reached out to touch ‘Adam’s’ face - revelling in his victory over his clone - and almost instantly the eyes had glazed over. ‘General Blue’ is dead. Long live General Blue, he’d thought triumphantly, but then, as every connection between them was brutally severed, he’d passed out – waking to find himself, sprawled on the floor of his quarters. He was weak as a kitten and stark naked.
His smile grew to a grin, as he sniggered at the thought that he might’ve sprinted through the base to get back here. Not, he gloated, that I don’t still have a remarkably good body….at least he kept it in shape. With a self-satisfied sigh, he forced himself to return to the sequence of events that had led to his present dilemma – my concentration isn’t as sharp as it used to be – that’s a certainty.
The desire for sleep had been over-powering and he’d tumbled into his bed and slept for many hours – he wasn’t sure how long. When he woke, he found his strength was slowly returning and the fetters of the other mind had fallen away. He realised with a profound sense of shock that he was a completely free agent – more so than he’d ever been. He’d showered, shaved and gone to the wardrobe to dress in his duty uniform, intending to go back to the control room and sort out a few of the things he disliked about the way his ‘other half’ had run things. Things would be done his way from now on – he’d shake Cloudbase by the scruff of its complacent neck and make them all sweat… if they’d ever thought the general could be a martinet – they’d seen nothing to what he was about to become!
Then he’d heard the message on the tannoy – Colonel Scarlet announcing to the Cloudbase personnel that the general’s coffin was being moved from sick-bay to the hangar deck, so that it could be taken back to Boston by his wife for cremation. A memorial service would be held on Cloudbase in a few days’ time, before the ashes were scattered from the base, in accordance with the general’s wishes. He concluded, “I am sure we all feel shock and dismay at this turn of events, but, more than anyone, General Blue would’ve expected us all to continue to do our duty. There will be a time to mourn – but it is not now. Those of you on duty must continue to carry out your duties, and remain on the alert. Cloudbase is still not fully functional and the repair work cannot be allowed to stop until the base is repaired. Those of you who are off-duty, and wish to do so, may form an honour guard between sick bay and hangar three. Try not to block the corridors, though. Colonel Green and I will be accompanying the body and representing Spectrum at the funeral. In our absence, the base will be under the command of Major Claret and Major Bronze. Spectrum is Green.”
It had stopped him – dead in his tracks – if he could use the phrase. He had not expected there to be any physical remains of the general’s body. His own body had vanished when he’d been ‘absorbed’ by Adam and he’d assumed that, as the stronger of the pair, he’d absorbed the now weaker ‘Adam’, emerging as the dominant one - the only one. Of course, he realised now that he should have guessed something of the kind – or why had he been he left alone, lying on the floor of his quarters? They’d have whisked him to sickbay – and allowed Doctor Fawn to mollycoddle him half to death.
The thought that he was only half of the original Adam Svenson had shaken him to the core, leaving him unable to think clearly. Fear and uncertainty had clouded his mind, making him dread that the intellect he’d expected to have at his command would not materialise. On the previous occasion he’d taken corporeal form, he’d been robbed of his intellect by the other clone.
Unable to decide what to do and fearful that he wouldn’t be given a chance to explain what had happened before some trigger-happy lieutenant blasted him to smithereens, he’d removed the uniform and pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt Karen had given him last Christmas. It was only then that he’d realised the full import of Scarlet’s announcement. Karen must be on the base. He’d grabbed a baseball cap to cover his distinctive head of blond hair and tried frantically to get to the hangar bay – to see her and to get her to take him away - but he couldn’t get through the silent mourners lining the corridors and when he’d dived down alternative routes to hangar three, the security barriers defeated him – he didn’t have the electronic fob that allowed access. Thankful that no one had seen him – at least no one who realised who he was – he’d raced back to the security of his quarters. Safely behind the locked door he’d tried to calm down and assess his situation:
There have been previous attempts by the Mysterons to trick people into betraying their colleagues. What if this is another elaborate attempt? Perhaps I am not dead? Not just the clone? Perhaps Scarlet is a Mysteron again -bamboozling Cloudbase into believing their commander in chief is dead?
Or perhaps I am dead?
Confused, and alarmed by the possibilities, he was shocked to realise that along with his incisive mind, the self-assurance which had served to bolster to his courage for so long was no longer there.
It had taken time for him to recover some semblance of calm. He’d watched the SPJ take off with an Angel Interceptor escort, carrying the body of General Blue and his wife back to his hometown. He’d struggled to reassure himself that Karen would be back. She’ll come for the service – she’ll come to this room – there were personal things she’ll come for. I’ll wait for her – then I’ll explain. She’ll understand – she’ll take me home, he’d repeated to himself like a mantra.
He’d had a few days to prepare. Late that night he’d slipped to the laundry room and lifted a charcoal auxiliary tunic, which gave him a better opportunity to move around the base without attracting attention. There was some bread in his cupboard and he’d lived off toast and whatever else he could find. Not that he’d ever felt very hungry which had surprised him. He could clearly remember eating enormous meals previously and never quite assuaging his hunger. He dismissed the thought – then he’d been two distinct people – now he was alone… but that thought was too unsettling to be of much comfort.
He’d managed to avoid contact with anyone by remaining in his quarters. Two days after the general’s death, Colonel Scarlet had come in – a Scarlet pale-faced and heavy-eyed. Watching from his hiding place, hardly daring to breathe in case his friend’s incredibly sensitive hearing picked it up, Blue realised he must have returned from the funeral in Boston, and that, in accordance with standard procedures and with its usual efficiency, Spectrum had pulled strings to get it performed with only the minimum of delay. After some moments standing in the centre of the room, looking more bereft of hope than Blue had ever seen him, Scarlet had been startled by the arrival of Colonel Green and together they had sifted through the neat piles of paperwork on the desk, leaving with a handful of administrative files and personnel dockets. On his subsequent visits, Scarlet had always come alone; he hadn’t ever done much, just annoyingly hung around. Once he’d sat his entire off-duty hours in Adam’s armchair, staring blankly at the bookcase and the photographs on the dresser; presumably lost in his memories.
Forced to remain crouched in the emergency elevator for the better part of a night, Blue had devoutly wished Scarlet’s memory wasn’t as efficient as it evidently was. He’d debated revealing his presence to his oldest and closest friend, but he’d instinctively felt that he couldn’t trust Scarlet and he’d been right, of course. Scarlet had rejected him; so, of course, had Karen, when she’d returned to Cloudbase.
The memory of his wife’s return made Blue shift uneasily again. It had been as far from the joyous reunion he’d planned as it was possible to get. She’d fainted with shock at the sight of him and would’ve screamed herself stupid when she recovered if he hadn’t stopped her. She’d spat and scratched at him – even tried to punch him – but he’d had no trouble dealing with that, there had been other times when her anger had exploded in a similar vein but her strength had never been a match for his. Her struggles against his restraining arms had excited him - it had been so long since he’d held her - and the self-restraint she’d expected him to exercise was no longer a part of him. Even so, he hadn’t meant to be so rough and he’d never meant to make her cry. It was her cold contempt for him afterwards that had cut him to the heart and made him even angrier – with her and himself.
He realised now that he’d lost any chance of ever winning her over by his actions and felt something akin to regret…but at the time he’d been driven by different and over-powering emotions.
Realising that the moment he left alone she would call for help, he’d imprisoned her in the wardrobe, binding her hands and feet with leather belts and apologetically tying one of his handkerchiefs around her mouth. Reassuring her he would soon be back – which had earned him a murderous look – he’d sneaked along to Teal’s quarters and stolen her security fob, with the intention of hijacking a plane and taking Karen away with him. His one thought was to leave the base and avoid the restrictions and investigations he knew Spectrum would impose. He’d no desire to stay here – he’d no belief in his own abilities any longer. He‘d hidden the fob on the general access area of a hangar deck, changing the password number after the sensor had registered Teal’s entrance to the area. He would collect it when he needed it to gain access to the flight computers and launch sequences and unwilling to remain out in the open where he might be spotted at any time, he’d returned to try to convince Karen to come with him.
Coaxing her to be reasonable, he’d untied her and although at first she’d refused to speak to him, when she did speak, she’d poured undiluted contempt and rage over him, undermining his already weak self-esteem, until – in a burst of temper – he’d struck her, sending her sprawling across the bed. The sight of the bruises he’d caused on her chin, and the tears that seeped from her tightly screwed-up eyes, had made his frustrated anger worse and he’d shut her back in the wardrobe until he could calm down – closing his ears to her muffled sobbing.
Finally, mawkish with remorse, he’d opened the door and begged her to forgive him, trying to kiss her even as she backed away from him. He’d helped her to her feet, and started once more to reason with her. They had argued through to the daylight hours when Teal’s arrival had sparked the recent events.
Blue groaned; everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong. Now I’m going to have to deal with Spectrum Intelligence’s labyrinthine bureaucracy; because, of course, Green will call in SI and months will be spent questioning, theorising and pontificating. Adam might’ve enjoyed it; he could run rings around SI – and frequently had – quite an achievement - but I doubt I can do those past triumphs justice. It’s more essential than ever that I get out of here and out of the orbit of Spectrum’s authority, he reasoned, chewing on his thumbnail and continuing to ponder on his situation and any possible solutions.
Suddenly he was startled by an interruption, and looked around, hearing a voice. There was no-one in the room, except him. He frowned and sat up, alert for danger, as the voice spoke again:
Poor Karen, this was always going to be hard for her – but you did your absolute level best to make it as bad as it could get…
“She shouldn’t have been so unkind to me. I gave her the chance to help me… she preferred to fight,” he muttered defensively. The sound of his voice surprised him; he’d not meant to speak aloud. He was more alarmed as he realised the opposing voice was actually inside his own head.
“I did no such thing – she’s my wife and I love her… she was just… playing up – like she used to when she was mad at me.”
I was there – I know what happened. You make me sick…
“Adam?” he asked uncertainly.
“But, you’re dead – they’ve cremated your body – how can you be in my head?”
The same way you seem to have been in mine for all these years, I suppose.
Blue stood and walked to the mirror over the dresser. He stared at himself for some time. “I don’t believe it’s you. I’m imagining it… “
No, the voice in his head replied as his eyebrow raised itself, apparently of its own volition at his reflection. Don’t you remember anything about what happened on the plane? When I was wounded you seized the opportunity to take on corporeal form; but don’t you realise where this body came from? I saw it, before I blacked out… the unearthly green light, the rings… Blue, this body isn’t ours; it’s a Mysteron reconstruct.
“I am not a Mysteron… you heard them; the test was negative. This is my body... you may have lost yours, but this is mine,” Blue protested angrily.
I tried to reach you, to make you realise that by taking the body over, you were playing right into their hands – assuming Mysterons have hands, ‘Adam’ added with some disdain before Blue could say it. He continued, You were draining me of so much strength; I knew I couldn’t survive for long if we didn’t reunite – and even then, I wasn’t sure we’d pull through. But you wouldn’t…would you? You rejected me and I knew I was finished – so – I came with you – it took all my remaining influence to get you to touch me, so that I could join my consciousness with yours. It seemed like the best thing to do, but it was difficult and it’s taken me this long to get myself sorted out again.
“I don’t believe you – this is a trick,” Blue snapped in response. His eyebrow rose again in mocking exasperation. He turned away from the mirror. He didn’t want to be patronised by his reflection.
No… I didn’t think you’d want to believe me. Right now, we’re in control…”
“I’m in control,” Blue asserted. “You can’t order me about.”
You’d be wise to listen to me and take my advice – we’re in this together, after all. I must say, Blue, you’ve made a deplorable mess of things without me…
“I have not!” he argued.
‘Adam’ seemed to sigh and said, with a long-suffering reasonableness: You‘ve alienated Karen, terrified Freya; made Scarlet, Green and everyone else suspicious of you... It isn’t going to be easy for us to work our way out of this mess.
“There is no ‘us’,” Blue snapped. “There is only me in my body and I want you out…”
How do you propose to get rid of me?
“I don’t know – yet. Maybe I’ll get myself exorcised…”
Five minutes ago you were bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t around to help you solve your problems…
If I knew how to, I just might… and it would serve you right. Now, let’s see what we can salvage from this situation, shall we? Or are you going to sulk?
Blue glanced back at the mirror and saw a questioning expression on his face. He turned away again, struggling to regain control of his features and hoping that would stop the conversation going on his head.
As he moved into the room, something caught his eye and a frown started between his pale eyebrows. He shook his head doubtfully as his face began to take on a look of intense concentration. Unwillingly, he turned to peer into the gloomiest alcove of the room. His frown deepened as the shape he imagined he saw defined itself into the figure of a man – a tall man with dark hair and pallid features.
The voice in his head clarified what he could see: ‘Captain Black!’ and then it faded away, burrowing into the deepest recesses of his mind – much to Blue’s relief; he didn’t need ‘Adam’ to help him fight Mysterons.
Automatically, he reached for the weapon that was no longer at his hip and then panic began to set in as he turned around, seeking a weapon to defend himself with from this long-established enemy.
To his surprise, Captain Black’s voice had none of the menace he associated with the Mysterons – in fact, it was almost friendly as it said, “Come, come, General, you must realise that if we wished to harm you, we could have done it many times before this?”
Blue stood rigid with fear and stared at the dark figure. The decades had dealt harshly with Conrad Turner – true, his hair was untainted with grey, but his ashen skin was stretched tight over his strong-boned face and he was almost skeletal in appearance. Scarlet and Blue had spent many hours debating what must have happened to their former colleague, once he fell under the thrall of the Mysterons, without ever really coming to any conclusion. It seemed as if Captain Black would endure for as long as his alien masters needed him, but they made no effort to ensure his well-being.
As Black slowly moved forward into the light and extended a hand towards him, Blue’s head went back and he moved away, with a hostile shake of his head. Black gave what was almost a petulant shrug and went to sit at the desk.
“We have been watching you, General,” he said calmly.
“Who has?” Blue stammered.
“The Mysterons, we were intrigued to see just what we had created when we tried to retrometabolise you. We were, of course, responsible for the planes that attacked you, and not a little annoyed when you managed to land the jet without destroying Cloudbase, as we had expected. Still, we feel certain your undoubted skills might still be used to our advantage.” Black glanced around the room and went to inspect the map on the wall, almost as if he was obeying the wishes of a voyeur directing a remote camera. There was no interest on his drawn features. Curiosity satisfied, he turned to Blue and continued, “It was with our assistance that you regained a body and we placed you back here in this room.”
“Are you telling me I am a Mysteron?” Blue asked, almost choking on the question – he’d be damned if he’d accept what Adam had said as true…
Black’s face contorted into what was obviously supposed to be a smile. “You are a free agent and we are merely offering you our help.”
“Go to hell,” Blue snapped.
Black’s eyes flashed with amusement. “Unlikely; but for you – it can be arranged.”
“Threats?” Despite his bravado, Blue shivered at the thought of the awesome malevolence of the Mysterons focussed exclusively on him.
“Warnings, General. You need not fear us. We are your allies against the humans who would never have allowed you to live again. You would not have survived the crash without our assistance and we feel sure you would like to repay us for our intervention on your behalf… and of course, there is always the added inducement that, if we removed the … sustenance we are giving, we are certain you would…terminate.”
“Sustenance? I don’t understand?”
“You require a demonstration, perhaps?” Black’s mouth tightened into the semblance of a smile once again. Suddenly the room seemed to grow much colder and his voice took on the fathomless echoing timbre of the voice that delivered the Mysteron’s cryptic threats with such chilling menace. “EXPERIENCE THE POWER OF THE MYSTERONS. YOU CANNOT OPPOSE US, EARTHMAN.”
Suddenly Blue’s world was full of nothing except an excruciating pain. His eyes seemed to boil in their sockets, and every nerve-ending in his brain was ablaze with an intense white-heat. He pressed his hands against his forehead, the fleshy base of his thumbs pushed into the orbits of his blistering eyes. He bit his lip in a determined effort to hold back the gasps of agony.
Captain Black was watching him with a detached interest, as if gauging how much punishment the clone could absorb. A slight frown appeared between his black brows and as he tilted his head, Blue’s pain intensified until he couldn’t help the whimper that forced itself between his bleeding lips. Black seemed satisfied that it was so.
Yet, even as he felt his resistance begin to crumble beneath the relentless nerve-jarring pain, Blue became aware of something stirring, deep within himself. An essence – a spirit - and it was coming to his support. Was it courage or fear; pride or pure adrenalin? He couldn’t begin to guess, and yet, fortified by this new strength, he forced himself to drop his hands, straighten up and stare defiantly at the silent figure of Captain Black.
The dark brows of his enemy rose in what might have been approval and as suddenly as it had arrived, the pain ebbed from his body leaving him weak and breathless, but unbowed.
Black began to speak again in the almost conversational tone he’d first adopted. “When Adam Svenson was first cloned, it was by accident – the Scarlet-being was our target. You… interrupted our plans. We know that during their previous incarnation, the two clones were linked and fed from each others’ energy, neither strong enough to fully overcome the other. How could it be otherwise? The Geminator had been calibrated to be effective on the Scarlet-being – to strip the infected humanity from him and return him, as is inevitable, to his true allegiance as a servant of the Mysterons. It was not meant for a mere human. But we learned much from that incident. Nothing is closed to us, General.”
“The plane crash sundered you from your clone and we saw the domination your human clone had over you weaken, as you struggled to gain corporeal form once more. But the general was too badly hurt for you to draw the strength you needed to break free. We gave you that strength and transported you here – away from the prying eyes of Spectrum’s agents. The general died, as we knew he would, but you continue to survive with our assistance. If we withdraw the energy you are receiving, you will expire, very slowly and painfully.” Black gave another taut smile and continued, “The flaw with the clones was that, previously, they had a tendency to contest our commands – pitting their puny minds against ours. It is futile; we can crush humans with ease. But we grew tired of such intransigence so we never attempted to repeat the experiment – until now. You will do as we say voluntarily – or you will suffer for it. Your free will – that attribute so prized by humankind – will unreservedly bend to our will, and once we have perfected this with you, we will once more begin to create the clones we need. Undetectable by Spectrum’s primitive technology, they will infiltrate your society and destroy you utterly, from the inside.”
“You want to use me as a prototype to make better Mysteron agents on Earth? I would rather die than help you; I’ve spent the best years of my life fighting you!” Blue retorted. “You can’t threaten me with death – I’ve faced it more times than I care to remember…” The words died on his lips as he began to choke for breath, he stumbled and fell to his knees.
Against his will, he found himself crawling towards Black as his mind began to cloud once more.
Black moved away, forcing the tortured body to crawl even further in response to the irresistible power of the Mysterons. “You disappoint me, Adam,” he said quietly, “but we are prepared to give you another chance. You have been our gateway to Cloudbase and we can now destroy the base and kill everyone on board: the Spectrum agents; the politicians and world leaders, gathered to say a sombre farewell to the man who guided Spectrum, in their futile war against our might – and to discuss tearing each other apart with deadly war machines, of course.” Black paused and added, “Also Scarlet’s charming wife and delightful children – they have arrived now, if you didn’t know? Oh, and of course there’s your own daughter, the so-promising Lieutenant Teal, and your problematical wife – the unpredictable Symphony.”
“Karen,” Blue whispered the name, as he gasped for breath. Her image shimmered in his tortured mind and he reached for her, abandoning the confines of his corporeal prison and fleeing from the pain. The pale-blue eyes rolled back in their sockets and all semblance of life ebbed from the body, which collapsed and lay rigid and motionless on the floor before the perplexed Mysteron Agent.
An irritated rictus passed over Black’s features, and with considerable force, he drove his booted foot into the inert body, forcibly expelling breath from the lungs and kick-starting Blue’s breathing. The man lay gasping like a fish out of water, as he dragged air into his burning lungs.
“We owe you an apology for that, it seems,” Black continued as if nothing had happened to interrupt their conversation. Casually, he strolled over to study the Turner print. “It appears that something we did affected Symphony and quite soured her sunny personality – so sorry, my dear chap,” Black’s voice took on the timbre of Scarlet’s refined English. He turned his dark eyes to the powerless figure of Blue now lying prone on the floor, bewildered and exhausted, and considered him for some time, watching as the body laboured vainly for breath.
“What’s wrong? Can’t you quite die?” Black asked with apparent concern, “No, and you won’t unless someone finishes you off; but we can make sure they don’t. Tell me, Adam, how does an eternity like this sound to you? Just you – and Scarlet – alone on a floating ghost ship in the earth’s atmosphere. Do you think he’d forgive you for the death and destruction of all he holds dear? I’m afraid we’d have to make it clear that you chose to defy us in the full knowledge of the consequences. It would only be fair that two such friends, who have no secrets from each other, should be open and honest to the bitter end. And every time he killed you – or you killed him – you would both recover to fight again.”
The words chilled Blue to the bone, describing, as they did, the nightmare of his darkest fear – becoming a Mysteron. He vowed to himself, I’ll never stop fighting them… never and he felt comforted by his resolve, or by his ability to make it, at least. He repeated Karen’s name in his mind; a focus for his tortured spirit and a promise of sanctuary and healing beyond the confines of his present agony.
Eventually he struggled onto his hands and knees, his fair head drooping between his arms as he gasped for the life-giving breath, that seared his lungs even as he drew it in. “You said I would die,” he croaked. “You haven’t managed it yet, Conrad…”
“Oh, eventually you might – when we were good and ready to let you. Remember that damaged tooth, General, and the faded scar? If Doctor Fawn had done a full medical he’d have been surprised to discover your appendix is back where it should be, and perfectly healthy.” Black leant down, grabbed the long fringe of hair that shielded Blue’s face from his view and used it to yank his head upwards. He placed his mouth close to Blue’s ear. “We can keep you alive for as long as we want to; in full possession of your faculties, of course.” He paused and added, speaking with Scarlet’s voice once more, “Think about it, Adam.”
Blue’s pale eyes stared with anguish into impassive brown eyes of his tormentor. “Conrad, help me,” he pleaded between shallow breaths.
Black released his hold, stood upright and moved away. “Sorry,” he said lightly, with a shake of his head. “It has taken us many years to learn how to torture. We killed and we destroyed – but we never tortured; yet it seems it is all you humans really understand. So now we fight you with your own weapons. We think we will become very adept at it; after we’ve practised on you, of course. Take your time to decide, Adam, we are in no hurry – and you’re not going anywhere.”
Dianne reached for a second custard cream biscuit and absentmindedly dunked it into her mug. The three of them had read almost all of the relevant parts of Captain Blue’s service record but nothing had leapt out as the solution to their problem. Dianne grimaced as the biscuit dissolved in the coffee. “Well, what exactly have we learned from all this?” she asked, to distract attention from her predicament.
“Only that we still have no way of telling if that is the clone or a Mysteron,” her husband said, silently handing her a teaspoon.
“You had better get a report from Bronze and see if they have found any signs of sabotage aboard,” Karen said. “I’m sure he must be up to something,” she added.
“You said he’s been asking you to go with him in a hijacked SPJ. Perhaps,” Scarlet suggested, “he really did just want to get away from here.”
“There is no way I would’ve gone with him after… what happened,” Karen said bleakly. “It’s more likely he was looking for a way to escape the consequences of his sabotage. I would’ve been a hostage, that’s all.”
“Mysteron agents are not known for their self preservation instincts,” Scarlet commented.
“Nor their concern to save lives,” Dianne said, sucking the teaspoon.
“You’re disgusting!” Paul laughed. “If one of the kids did that you’d be the first to yell at them!”
“Parental privilege – do as I say, not as I do,” she agreed with a smile.
“What shall we do?” Karen stood and stretched – she was aching from head to foot, and tired as well. She was beginning to worry that her mother and step-father were coming to the memorial service and would see the state she was in. “Would you do me a favour, Paul?” she asked, “nip over and get my suitcase so I can get a change of clothes and, please, may I use your shower?”
In the chapel, everything was coming together nicely.
Captain Flaxen checked her clipboard and ticked off another task. There were the printed orders of the service, lying neatly on the seating. The flag of the World Government hung limply at one side of the chapel and the flag with Spectrum’s insignia on the other. The American Stars and Stripes draped the table before the altar. On it stood the formal photograph of the general in full dress uniform, and beside it his radio cap, alongside a floral tribute in the shape of the stylised Spectrum S. The urn itself was still with Colonel Scarlet, so he’d need to be reminded to bring it before the service started.
The chapel on Cloudbase was non-denominational, but had been specifically designed to recapture the appearance and feel of terrestrial places of worship. It had wooden pews – or at least, wood-veneered pews - on either side of a central aisle, leading to the altar, above which hung a stainless steel cross. The doorway was arched and – uniquely on Cloudbase - the doors, which were not automated, were also made of a wood veneer. It was decorated in neutral shades and had subdued lighting. It could be made to look very attractive – as it always was for religious festivals and the rare occasions when weddings - or baptisms - had been conducted on Cloudbase. Now it looked very sombre and dignified.
On one side of the chapel stood a small table with the book of condolences open on it. There had been a constant stream of people coming into the chapel to record their sadness at this tragic death, many in rambling, confused sentences that were somehow symptomatic of the feeling aboard the base.
Flaxen had flicked through the pages several times but only this last time had she seen the round, child-like handwriting of Philippa Daniel, the woman who had been the general’s orderly for the best part of thirty years now. His death had hit Philly hard and she’d obviously taken some time to feel comfortable about adding her thoughts to those of the rest of the base. In Flaxen’s somewhat biased opinion, if a marriage was more than ‘four bare legs in a bed’ – then her friend had almost as much right to be counted as the general’s ‘widow’ as Symphony Angel, because Philly had adored ‘The Captain’ ever since the first day she’d met him; and had cheerfully devoted her life to making his as comfortable as she could – even to the extent of caring for ‘Mrs Svenson’ too, when he married.
Symphony had regarded Philly as something of an embarrassing encumbrance, but Blue had been unwavering in his determination to keep his orderly for as long as she wanted to stay, and Philly had been as equally determined never to leave.
Even when she had risen to become the housekeeper for Cloudbase, ‘Miss Daniel’ had kept personal responsibility for the general’s welfare and Flaxen suspected there was very little that happened in Blue’s private life that escaped Philly’s notice. But her discretion was absolute and Blue had trusted her implicitly. His impending retirement had occasioned Philly much heart-searching, about whether she wanted to remain on base herself, although on the whole she thought she would have to… she didn’t have the financial resources to retire early. She’d confided in her friend that the general had promised her an annuity when she did retire – or whenever he died – but Flaxen was sure that, given the choice, Philly would have gladly forgone every penny of the money to keep the man she loved alive.
Her written tribute in the book of condolence was - not unexpectedly - emotional; perhaps the more so for being surprisingly brief. ‘This is the most terrible tragedy I could have ever imagined. My thoughts and prayers are with The General and Mrs. Svenson. He was quite simply the most Wonderful Man I ever met. I will miss Him more than I can say. …’
It seems to be a recurring theme, Flaxen thought sadly as she turned to see a technician come in with another beautiful flower arrangement. Flaxen nodded at the young woman as she stood it with the many others before the altar and left the chapel with her eyes misty with unshed tears.
General Blue would probably be surprised and embarrassed at just how deeply his death has affected everyone on base; but it isn’t really that surprising – with the exception of poor Captain Magenta, none of the senior command have died on duty since the early days – so much so that there is a standing joke that Scarlet’s invulnerability is contagious… how ironic that sounds now, Flaxen thought and with a sigh she turned and left the chapel, closing the door behind her.
General Blue raised himself from the floor and glanced at the clock on the wall. The time was slipping away and the hour when he’d have to make his move was rapidly approaching. Captain Black had vanished from his quarters as silently and as unobtrusively as he’d arrived, but Blue was convinced that somehow the Mysterons were still monitoring him. So, once he recovered from the excruciating pain Black had inflicted, he crawled into his chair and sat, in deep silence.
Tentatively, he started to explore the confines of his mind, searching for his cloned consciousness. The revelations of the past hour had been traumatic enough and he didn’t want to encounter any more… unexpected visitors. There was a restless feeling in him, stretching and growing, seeking to impose its will on the confused and tired entity in control of this body, but as yet it was too weak to do so. He felt it turning towards him, probing his psyche; hungry for control, so that even his thoughts felt as if they were no longer safely his own. He ignored it beyond seeking to conceal his thoughts from its scrutiny; he didn’t have time to deal with that problem now.
Captain Black had told him that he was expected to participate in the killing of the VIPs attending the memorial service– and then go on to destroy Cloudbase and the elite force aboard her - and Black’s demonstration of just how dependent he was on the Mysterons had been a powerful one and had graphically illustrated the nature and extent of his dilemma. Although he had no desire to obey the Mysterons, he dared not even consider possible ways out of his predicament, because of his uncertainty about the extent of their control of his mind. If they could read his thoughts, he might inadvertently reveal something that would place the base in greater jeopardy and any scheme he might devise to oppose their will would be known to them.
He had to figure out some way of warning Spectrum of the danger, without getting himself - and them - killed.
He filled his conscious mind with trivia - multiplication tables, chemical formulae, baseball scores; poetry and song lyrics - anything that avoided what they might need to know. Every moment he disobeyed his ‘orders’ he half-expected the pain to start again, but nothing happened. In its own way, that was almost as unnerving. Did the Mysterons have a ‘plan B’ to force him to do as they wanted – or a punishment that would kick into operation if he failed to do as they wished? The thought of the agonies he had endured being re-imposed was not a pleasant one.
He suppressed the need to go and demand that everyone be tested with the MD. Colonel Green wouldn’t obey him; it was obvious the man was wary of him and with good reason. He knew Seymour Griffiths very well – they’d been brothers-in-law for eight years and their friendship had even survived the collapse of his sister’s marriage. Seymour’s not a man to shirk his responsibilities, he reassured himself, everything that can be done to protect the base will be being done…
The one thought that would keep resurfacing was how on Earth he proposed to save Karen, Dianne and the children - not to mention the other civilians at the service and the personnel on the base. Whenever that happened he concentrated on trivia with renewed vigour; anything to baffle the Mysterons. He’d no idea if it was working and small hope that he’d find a way out of this maze before it was too late. He only knew he had to keep trying.
Standing outside the general’s quarters, Scarlet debated whether to use the access code or ring the bell, and in the end he rang the bell. There was a considerable pause before the lock clicked open and he entered the room cautiously, ready to duck if another paper-weight headed his way. Blue was near the desk; he looked pale and was holding on to the back to the office chair as if he might faint.
“Karen wants her suitcase,” Scarlet said by way of an explanation. He stooped to collect it and as he stood he saw pain in Blue’s eyes. He dropped the case and crossed to the desk, to place a hand on the man’s arm. “Are you all right?” he asked earnestly. Blue nodded, but Scarlet didn’t believe him; he was sweating and trembling slightly. “Shall I send for Fawn?” he suggested, his concern apparent in both his voice and his expression.
Well, that was definite enough, Scarlet thought. “Look, Adam,” he said, withdrawing his hand, “I know this must have been pretty hard for you; but you must understand that, although everyone would like your return to be true, there have been so many times when the Mysterons have used our dearest wishes and hopes against us, that it’s no surprise we’re all a little wary.”
Blue straightened up, using the back of a chair as a prop. “You must do what you feel is right, Paul. I’ve always trusted you to act that way and I expect you to do as you promised you would, even now.”
Scarlet frowned. “I don’t understand you – do you mean you expect me to distrust you?”
“In your heart of hearts I’m sure you do, and nothing I can say will change that,” Blue said sadly.
“You must admit, you haven’t been acting very much like yourself,” Scarlet said harshly, the memory of Karen’s bruises making him angry again.
“Is she all right?” Blue didn’t need it spelt out and he sounded so anxious that Scarlet relented a little.
“She’s okay – and surprisingly calm - under the circumstances. She’s one tough cookie. What surprises me is that she isn’t howling for your blood! What made you do it for heaven’s sake? To Karen…?”
Blue looked away, fighting for self control. When he turned back Scarlet could see that he was under an immense strain. “I don’t know – I never meant to hurt her.” He shook his head as if in disbelief. “I love her, Paul, God alone knows how much. Whatever happens, I want you to promise me that you will take care of Karen.”
“Let me call Fawn…” Scarlet repeated, uneasy at this unexpectedly repentant and concerned attitude.
“No.” That response was as definite as before. Blue sighed. “You’d better take her the suitcase. She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
Scarlet bent to pick up the case and walked towards the door. He turned to take one last look at Blue and the man smiled. “Give my love to Dianne and the kids...”
Scarlet nodded and gave a slight smile in response. “The kids are somewhere around the base with Freya.” But Blue made no response and Scarlet let himself out with a quiet and ominously final, “’Goodbye, Adam.”
Once Paul had left to fetch the suitcase, Dianne contacted Colonel Green and asked if the security sweep of the base had brought anything to light. Green refused to discuss it, but a short time later he turned up at Scarlet’s quarters. Dianne hugged him and offered him a cup of coffee. Green had just sat down with his cup when Scarlet came back, and Karen came out of the bathroom, wearing Scarlet’s red dressing gown, with a towel wrapped around her head.
“Good grief, are you starting a harem?” Green grinned.
“I wish,” Scarlet joked with a smirk at his outraged wife.
“Why do men never have a decent mirror?” Karen demanded somewhat rhetorically, as she stood on tiptoe and squinted at the small mirror on the wall. She shook the towel from her hair.
“They’ve got nothing worth looking at?” Dianne suggested, getting her own back for the harem crack.
“I bet you don’t have a hairdryer either,” Karen complained to Scarlet. With an apologetic grimace, he shook his head. Sighing, she ran her fingers through the tangle of wet hair and pouted.
“Real men don’t use hairdryers…” Dianne said sweetly.
Scarlet and Green exchanged wry glances and wisely kept quiet.
Her plan to style her hair effectively scuppered, Karen turned round and looked inquisitively at Green. “What’s happening?” she demanded.
Green snapped back to alertness and replied, “There are two planes on their way; one for the Supreme Commander: Earth Forces and the other for Euro-President Arnorsdottir. Your mother and General White are on that plane too,” he added.
“Will they be safe?”
Green nodded. “Every check we can run has been run, with no result. Cloudbase appears to be as safe as it always is. Of course, I’m aware that the Mysterons have a wealth of powers we can do little to combat, so I’m proposing to keep … Blue – confined to quarters for the duration. All of the venues likely to be visited by our guests will be guarded by our own agents, all armed with electro-ray guns and detectors. All arrivals will be screened and assigned their own personal security guard. If you can think of any other precautions I should take, please let me know. I’d much prefer over-kill to dead bodies.”
Karen turned back to the mirror and began to comb her hair. “Well, you could let me fly Blue down to SI HQ. After all,” she continued with a glance at Scarlet, “if he was so keen to get me to leave, he should be happy enough to come with me now – assuming he’s not planning to blow us all to Kingdom Come…”
“And if he won’t go?”
“Kill him,” Karen said evenly. “Chances are you’ll be saving hundreds of lives if you do, Seymour.”
Green looked unhappily at her. “I don’t think we can do that, just because he might refuse to go flying with you.”
“He’s a Mysteron, Seymour. We did some research and Captain Magenta reported that clones are immune to MD tests and so that snap Teal took is worthless,” Karen turned back to her friends. “I know that is not Adam,” she reiterated.
“How can you be so sure?” Green pressed her.
“Not enough to condemn a man to death,” Green reasoned.
“More’s the pity.” Dianne smiled at Paul.
He chuckled at her and said, “Look, if you’re worried about Blue, Seymour, I can stay with him if he’s to remain here, or fly him down to SI, if you prefer. That way Karen is safe.”
Green considered the offer. “Better you than Symphony,” he conceded.
“He won’t go with Paul,” Karen said flatly.
“I could order him to leave the base,” Green mused.
“You could try,” she agreed, “but odds are he’ll disappear and you’ll have to waste manpower looking for him. If he’ll go with anyone it’ll be with me,” she predicted. “After all – he owes me.”
Green glanced in confusion at the Metcalfes; this cryptic remark obviously meant something to them, at least.
“Seymour, do you believe that Blue is harmless?” Scarlet asked abruptly.
Green glanced up at Spectrum’s premier officer and shrugged. “Not entirely, but right now I’m distrustful of everyone and everything.” He sighed and shifted in his chair. “We have the remains of the body of General Blue and a memorial service to conduct – so let’s do that. So far the ‘new’ Blue shows no signs of being dangerous – he’s clear on every Mysteron test we can run. And if he did take Teal’s fob he left it on the hangar deck, which backs up your claim that he wanted you to leave the base with him, Karen…” He raised almost apologetic eyes to his friends. “I just can’t bring myself to mistrust him. I mean – it’s Adam we’re talking about…“
“Yeah,” Scarlet said reflectively, “It’s hard to ignore a legacy of thirty plus years worth of complete trust in someone….”
Green gave him a grateful look – he felt obscurely comforted to know that someone understood how hard he was finding this. He drew breath and continued, “I have to get the relevant dignitaries into their conference after the service and then off this base, once they have finished their deliberations – but who knows how long that will take? In the meantime, there is another General Blue, skulking in his quarters… like a bad fairy. However much it goes against the grain, I have to assume he’d hurt us if he could – it would be foolish to do otherwise.”
Scarlet shrugged in uncertainty. The Adam he’d seen on his last visit had not looked as if he was planning to harm anyone. He hadn’t looked at all well – he stirred as a thought clarified in his mind – that was it… Adam had looked drained. A fresh memory of the cloning incident surfaced; he recalled both clones looking tired and drawn when their opposite number had been over-active.
So, he thought, where does that fact lead me? Of the two clones, it was always Blue who looked the picture of health… ‘Adam’ – the original of the pair – was always fighting to keep his strength from being sucked out of him. If Blue is now looking like that… he shook his head and almost hated to think it through. The sight of the urn on the shelf made him squirm. Supposing – just supposing… ‘Adam’ was absorbed into Blue’s body before he died… the ‘spirit’ now had nowhere to go… it must be locked inside Blue…
He came to with a jerk, which made Dianne give him a frowning glance.
“Colonel Scarlet?” Green was saying in some concern.
“I’m sorry, Seymour, I was miles away.” Scarlet tried to shrug off his unease. “What were you saying?”
“I asked if you wanted me to take the urn to the chapel…” Green repeated his concern still evident.
“No, it’s all right. I’ll do it, Seymour. Leave Adam to me…”
“Very well,” he agreed. “I’ll see you all shortly. I really should be glad-handing the big-wigs.”
“Rather you than me.” Scarlet tried to make light of it.
“Yes,” Green said tritely, “that’s exactly what I thought.” He stood to take his leave and as the door closed behind him, Dianne turned to her husband.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” she asked.
Rhapsody led her children into the ante-room allocated for the use of the former Spectrum senior officers. Colonel Green had thoughtfully considered that the old friends might prefer to greet each other away from the prying eyes of the present personnel, and the censorious gaze of the World President. Most of them had been unable to attend the funeral in Boston, which had been organised as swiftly as possible and deliberately left low-key. In the room, already waiting for her, were General White and his wife – Amanda. She hurried over and reached to kiss Spectrum’s distinguished elder statesman, before turning to hug and commiserate with Amanda over her son-in-law’s untimely death.
General White turned to greet the young Metcalfes; he knew them both very well and was delighted when Suzie threw her arms around him and hugged him. In the absence of any grandchildren – or step-grandchildren - of his own, he treated his godparent duties very seriously and he’d enjoyed the company of the Metcalfe children on many occasions.
“I saw a second SPJ arrive as we were coming into the hangar,” White said. “I surmise some of the others will be attending the service too?”
Dianne nodded. “I think everyone’s due to attend, according to what Paul told me. Adam had a lot of friends…”
White laid a hand on her arm. “Not least among them were you and your husband. I pride myself that we had a good relationship too. I’ll miss him; I was rather selfishly looking forward to seeing more of him and Karen after he retired.”
Amanda linked her arm with his. “Charles, I know how hard this is going to be for all of us, but we have to consider Karen. She’s going to need all our help and support.” She turned to Rhapsody. “I joined her in Boston for the funeral and I was shocked to see her, Dianne.”
Rhapsody smiled sympathetically. “Don’t worry, Amanda; I just saw her a while ago. She’s looking peaky, but … well, feisty enough now.”
White smiled. “Feisty – oh my word – yes; that’s Symphony to a T…” he said with a reminiscent chuckle. “It runs in the family,” he added with an affectionate glance at his wife.
Amanda gave him a lovingly exasperated smile.
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door which slid open to reveal a striking middle-aged couple. The genuinely beautiful woman had luxurious silver-blonde hair, and, like the handsome black-haired man beside her, was tanned to a rich honey-colour by the sun.
“Juliette!” Dianne flew to her side and received a warm welcome with many continental-style kisses from her old friend; when she turned to Bradley Holden, that previously reticent man also swept her into his arms, and greeted her in a similar fashion, leaving her breathless.
“My - that Mediterranean sun is doing you good, Brad!” Dianne teased, blushing slightly. Captain Grey had never been one for demonstrative gestures.
Destiny Angel had rushed on to greet the general and Mrs Gray, and Brad shook hands with his old commander, as his wife embraced the Metcalfe children and – rather to their embarrassment - complimented their mother on their healthy good looks.
“How is your daughter?” Dianne asked. Destiny preened slightly. “Oh, she is very well. We did not think to bring her – she knows very little of our past life in Spectrum and although she knew Adam… this would be too much for her to take in. She has written a letter of condolence for Karen. How is she, by the way?” The Frenchwoman shook her head. “I think this will be a purgatory for her now, non?”
Rhapsody nodded but said nothing. She was aching to tell her colleagues of the situation they were in – but Paul had been quite adamant that she say nothing of the appearance of the ‘Blue’ clone. She saw that Destiny was expecting an answer. “She’s bearing up, Juliette. At the moment – I don’t think this has really hit her … not yet.”
She glanced back towards General White, who was deep in conversation with the former Captain Grey. Paul is complaining that no one really remembers exactly what happened during the Geminator incident – but I bet the general does… she thought, wondering if she dare speak out.
The opportunity vanished as the door slid open again and two more old friends came in. The slight, dark-haired figure of Harmony Angel was dwarfed beside the solid frame of Captain Ochre. Rhapsody’s face broke into a delighted grin and she flew to Harmony’s side, embracing her with genuine pleasure; she saw far less of Chan than of any of the others. When Harmony moved on to speak to former colleagues, Rhapsody glanced up at the man beside her, smiling.
“Hello, Rick – you old reprobate,” she teased. “You’re looking disgustingly fit and healthy.”
Richard Fraser gave his familiar roguish grin and swept her into a smothering hug. “Dianne – my very favourite English Angel. How are you, honey? I’ve missed you.” He planted a kiss on her lips and raised an eyebrow in anticipation that she’d admonish him.
She did not. There was something so reassuring about Richard Fraser: he hadn’t changed, like Grey had done, but had retained his former mischievous streak - and his habit of flirting with every pretty woman he met. A little older - a little stouter, certainly – he was still recognisably the same handsome, captivating man she remembered. She’d always had a soft spot for him and it did her good to see him now.
Rick was scanning the company with his sharp eyes. He acknowledged Brad’s presence and gave the general an informal salute, but when his eyes came to rest on Destiny, he gently released Dianne from his arms and advanced towards the beautiful blonde.
“Madame Holden… your beauty illuminates the room, as always. Brad, you’re a lucky man and I hope you let her know it every day of your life? If he ever gives you any trouble, Juliette, let me know. I’m still available…”
“And how have you managed that, Richard? I felt sure some young girl would have sweeped you up into matrimony…” Juliette laughed, returning his kiss.
“Hey – I’m matrimony-proof,” Ochre responded with a light laugh. “I’m working on isolating the gene that gives me this immunity – I plan to sell it on the open market, make a fortune…”
“…another one?” Grey teased.
Ochre’s grin broadened but he continued as if he hadn’t heard the interruption, “… and be hailed as the saviour of mankind. Well, the bachelors amongst it who want to stay fancy-free, anyway.”
“Pouf!” Destiny derided in the same teasing manner. “You would be condemned by all right thinking men everywhere. Until he is married, a man cannot know what life really is…”
Both the general and Captain Grey snorted with laughter, and Ochre hugged Destiny once more.
“You know, Juliette, I’ve got the tiniest suspicion that I might be missing out on something,” he admitted. “Especially now I see how sleek and contented Brad’s looking these days…” His roving eye saw Susannah, perched on the edge of a table, following this banter with a bemused smile. “Oh, now, Dianne, what have you been keeping from me?” he teased. “I can see now why you haven’t invited me over to Winchester recently during the school holidays…” He moved towards Susannah, holding out a hand. “You must be little Suzie Metcalfe. My, how you have grown…”
Susannah blushed and shook his hand.
“Rick, behave,” Dianne ordered. “This isn’t the time or the place,” she added, but not unkindly. Ochre nodded and with a wink at Susannah, he turned back to his colleagues, to complete his ‘hellos’ in a more sober fashion.
“Shouldn’t we be moving into the chapel?” Amanda Gray suggested, once the general excitement of their reunion had passed.
Dianne glanced at her watch. “Very shortly,” she agreed. “There are seats reserved for us all at the front – don’t worry. Paul and Karen will be joining us here. Paul’s been keeping the ashes in his quarters; although I don’t know if they will be brought to the service.” She went on to explain about Karen’s request for their disposal.
Ochre ran a hand over his face and mused, “That sounds like Karen – as long as she doesn’t try to … hurry matters along.” Amanda bristled with anger at the very suggestion. “I don’t mean to insult her, Mrs Gray,” he continued, “but I know how hard this has hit her. When I saw her at the funeral; it damn near broke my heart…”
The general spoke: “I’m sure we all know how deeply Karen loved her husband – despite their … differences over the years – but I’m also sure that Karen has strength enough to come through it – with our help. Let’s try to keep this up-beat, people, shall we? It’s a memorial service in celebration of a life that was dedicated to the service of humankind. I can’t imagine that Adam would want us all to get maudlin.”
Everyone nodded and silence fell as they all spared a thought for the one man missing from this reunion; and, once again, Dianne fought the urge to tell them all what was happening.
Their reflection was interrupted by the entrance of Karen herself, with Colonel Scarlet at her side. The women clustered around her, solicitous and emotional, and the captains shook hands with their erstwhile colleague – and maybe sighed a little at his perennially youthful good looks and his rude health.
“Is there a problem, Colonel Scarlet?” General White asked once the greetings were complete. He knew Paul Metcalfe too well not to sense his … excitement.
Scarlet glanced at Karen, still surrounded by her entourage of friends and her mother. She gave him an almost imperceptible nod.
“Not exactly, General,” Scarlet began. He glanced at his children and beckoned them over. “Would you two please go down the corridor – you’ll find Lieutenant Teal waiting. Fetch her here for me.”
Ace frowned at his father and Suzie began to protest, but one warning glance from Scarlet was enough to curb their objections and send them, reluctantly, from the room.
“Paul, what’s going on?” General White insisted.
Scarlet waited until he had everyone’s attention before he launched into the facts of the situation. There was universal astonishment and dismay, but he pressed on, ignoring their urgent questions. Lieutenant Teal’s entrance, with the Metcalfes close behind, caught everyone’s attention, but Scarlet didn’t stop to introduce her, nor falter in his monologue. She waited in silence by the door; she knew all of these people by reputation, and some personally, although she hadn’t seen them since her childhood. Her father had distanced her from his Spectrum colleagues once she’d started to grow up and had made her desire to enter the organisation more definite. He wanted no favours for her from well-meaning friends.
Scarlet continued, “There will be time for explanations later, I hope, but right now, I need your help – all of you. You were all on Cloudbase when Captain Blue was cloned – you all met both clones. Cast your minds back – we have to try to work out what’s happening here…”
Ochre was the first to speak. “You say this ‘Blue’ has tested negative on with a Mysteron Detector – isn’t that proof enough that, by some miracle, Adam has survived?”
“Only part of Adam – if it’s Adam – has survived,” Karen snapped. “And not his better nature, either.”
Desperate to get his colleagues to concentrate on the problem, Scarlet said, “I knew Adam Svenson for almost thirty-five years, and so did you. I liked him and I know you did too, or you would not all be here today. Adam and I were friends – good friends… we understood each other….” On impulse, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the sheets of paper he found there. “He left me this – it was his way of saying goodbye…. I can’t help feeling it might be meant to… tell us something?”
He separated the two sheets and passed the poem to the general, who read it, frowning, and handed it on to Grey and Destiny, and they to Ochre, until everyone had seen it. Harmony passed it back to Scarlet, with a sad shake of her dark head.
Disappointed, he glanced at the poem again, trying to clear his mind of any preconceived notions he’d about it; Adam was a complex and erudite man – he would never miss the chance to expand on any theory he had about anything that intrigued him. Even when he’d been split apart by the Geminator, his intellect had been fascinated by the whole experience, and yet, he’d rarely spoken about it after the incident was closed. Scarlet was sure he’d have left some clue as to his understanding of the phenomenon. Moreover, something had happened to ‘Blue’ – he was more convinced of it than ever. If only he could remember everything about his own experience in the Geminator he might be able to solve the conundrum… but the events were buried in the hazy mists of time.
Suddenly, just as he sighed in frustrated disappointment, he found new meaning in the words he was staring at. Hesitantly, he read them aloud... “Listen to this:
‘Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.’
He looked up at his friends.
“Very nice, Paul,” Ochre responded to his unspoken question, “but it doesn’t mean much to me.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Think outside of the box, Rick. Like Adam always did…
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.”
Scarlet’s face took on a puzzled expression. “I know from the note that accompanied this, that he copied it out at the time when he was about to risk his life going back through the Geminator in an attempt to ‘merge’ the clones… I thought he meant it to refer to him and me – but – what if… what if …he meant it to refer to the two halves of his cloned self…? We both experienced the Geminator, and both absorbed our cloned copies. I know we’d both come to believe that where there was one half of the clone, there had to be the other half - however weak it was –‘like gold to aery thinness beat’?” He frowned and shook his head, struggling to pin down the nebulous theory in his mind. “You may not all have known this, but we shared a telepathic link, for a time. I knew exactly how his mind worked – and he knew mine.” He ran his hand over his chin and stared with unseeing eyes at his astonished friends. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have picked up the fact that I was never very good at the metaphysical poets.” He gave a wry grimace. “Trust Adam to wrap his clues in bloody riddles…”
Lieutenant Teal walked through the company and took the paper from Scarlet’s unresisting hand. She stared at the familiar writing for a moment and said, “I must’ve heard him read this dozens of times; it was one of his favourites – maybe because it did say something about what had happened to him?”
General White spoke sharply across their discussion. “Scarlet, what is going on, for pity’s sake…?” He was staring at Teal with a slightly disbelieving frown. She turned to see who was speaking and the angle of her head and the set of her features echoed her father so strongly, that the general and his wife were left in no doubt who this young woman was.
Destiny Angel placed hand on her husband’s arm. Grey gave a slight nod – he’d noticed it too.
With a sad smile, Teal continued, “Dad often read Donne to me when I was younger – he liked the complexity of the imagery in it, he said. I couldn’t always understand it either, Uncle Paul; I just liked to listen to him reading…” She handed back the paper. “He often used to say that I was ‘completely’ his daughter; I never really understood what he meant, until yesterday, when Doctor Beige explained what had happened when he went in the Geminator…”
Karen Svenson caught the astonished expressions on the faces of her friends and announced, “For those of you who don’t already know her, this is Adam’s daughter – Freya Saville Svenson. I’m sure you all remember about her?”
To her annoyance, Teal felt herself starting to blush, but, refusing to be intimidated by their stares, she kept her head held high – she didn’t feel she’d anything to be ashamed of. Ace Metcalfe caught her eye and winked in friendly support. Curiously heartened by his gesture, she struggled not to smile back at him.
In the startled silence, it was left to Ochre to say, “Now that you mention it, I do remember you saying something about her, Karen; for hours and hours…”
Out of the corner of her eye Teal saw Karen blushing at his words. He stepped forwards, his hand extended. “Pleased to meet you, Freya; you won’t remember me, I guess, but we met once or twice when you were just a kid.”
Teal smiled gratefully at him. “Oh, I remember you, Mr. Fraser; you bought me cotton-candy at the fairground. I was sick in the car going home - but my Dad wasn’t cross with me - he said it was all your fault…”
Ochre laughed and the uneasiness in the room evaporated.
Amanda Grey put her hand on her daughter’s arm. “Karen, does all this mean that Adam is still alive?”
Karen looked at Scarlet; he saw such hope and longing in her eyes that he dare not answer. To disappoint her was not an option – and besides, nothing was certain. In the face of his silence, she said, “I wish I could say yes, but we don’t really know, Mom.”
“This has to be something to do with the Mysterons… it has to be, Colonel…” Scarlet murmured to White, unconsciously slipping back into the familiar old ways and ranks. “I just don’t see how either clone could be… resurrected…”
General White turned to glance at Ochre and Grey. Between them all, the agents here had more knowledge of the Mysterons and their devious ways than any other people alive.
“Is there some way the clone could have survived?” Grey asked thoughtfully. “Maybe triggered by the shock of the crash… or… something…?”
“We know something triggered the reappearance of the clone,” General White agreed. “There is still a physical embodiment of Adam Svenson – here on Cloudbase - even though one body was destroyed at the cremation …” he began to reason.
“But don’t you see, General? There should never have been two bodies!” Scarlet cried vehemently.
He put his head in his hands, racking his brains to resolve the tangle of doubt that was hiding the true nature of the state of affairs from him. After a deep sigh, he looked up again at the bewildered faces watching him. They showed varying degrees of emotion – ranging from was confusion and uncertainty to dread and unhappiness. In a far more moderate tone, Scarlet continued, “There should never have been two bodies, not after the clones were merged; that’s the whole point. When Karen took the body of General Blue back to Boston, the ‘cloned’ body was already on Cloudbase. That means there were two bodies in existence at the same time. I can remember the Geminator – I went through it too, don’t forget – I was cloned and I reabsorbed the clone it created of me – which,” he sighed dispiritedly, “happened to be my Mysteronised self. So did Adam – he absorbed ‘Blue’ – and, after that happened, there were no longer any physical remains of that clone and never could be. The man in the general’s quarters is a Mysteron – he has to be - a cloned Mysteron, maybe, and that’s why the MD hasn’t caught him and I don’t feel nauseous in his presence; but he’s not human! I just don’t see how he can be the original clone.”
“I’ve been saying that since I first saw him, but you wouldn’t believe me,” Karen said sombrely.
Scarlet gave an apologetic smile and said, “Yes, you have and you were right about him, Karen, just as you were right all those years ago, about which of the clones was really Adam. Blue – the Blue that assaulted you – has to be a Mysteron creation. Maybe, if they tried to retrometabolise the general, the Blue clone was able to take the reconstruct’s body? It’s possible that the general was so seriously wounded that the clones became… separated again …”
“Wait a minute,” Amanda Gray gasped. “You said this ‘clone’ assaulted Karen?” Scarlet nodded, almost irritated at the interruption to his thought processes. Making inarticulate noises, Amanda reached for her daughter, but Karen, quite as focussed on the problem as Scarlet, pushed her mother aside and moved to join Scarlet and Teal.
“But…?” she said, sensing that Scarlet had not yet reached his final conclusion about the clone. Over the years, she’d witnessed Adam teasing the solution to a knotty problem out of his partner often enough to have learned the technique for herself.
Scarlet turned his eyes on her, but he was looking through her… focussing on the kernel of truth he believed he was so close to discovering. “But Adam was saying in that poem, that, whenever one clone takes corporeal form, the other clone is also present. Remember, we didn’t know if he would absorb the Blue clone or be absorbed, and as you know, General, the other Spectrum agents were under orders to kill Captain Blue – and me – if the experiment went wrong. I think he was rationalising that for himself – through that poem – just as much as anything he might’ve wanted to say to say to me, about the nature of our friendship, I guess. He was resigning himself to the fact that, even if the Blue clone absorbed him and he ‘ceased to have a physical identity’ – he would still be part of the Adam Svenson who was dominated by… ‘Blue’…?” He looked confused and uncertain once more. “I should’ve realised before, only I wasn’t thinking straight....” He gave an apologetic shrug towards his erstwhile colleagues. “I guess I let my desolation at losing my best friend get in the way of my common sense.”
Dianne moved towards him, her eyes fixed on his face in sympathetic love. “Paul, you’re being too hard on yourself,” she told him, laying her hand on his. He squeezed her fingers and gave a wry smile.
“So ‘Adam’ is inside that body too?” Karen persisted. “The real Adam – my husband, I mean.”
“I believe it’s a distinct possibility,” Scarlet said, suddenly circumspect. The ‘Blue’ he’d seen on his final visit – the exhausted, yet articulate, man - was too unlike his memory of the original ‘Blue’ clone; the brashness had gone, replaced by a concern that had been alien to the original. He felt surer than ever that the man had been trying obliquely to give him a message – or maybe a warning?
“What makes you say so…?” Ochre said coming to put an arm around Karen’s shoulders. She smiled thanks at him, gripping his hand tightly.
“At our last meeting, Blue told me – ‘you must do what you feel is right. I’ve always trusted you to act that way and I expect you to do the same as you promised you would, even now’,” Scarlet quoted from memory. “That promise is one we made to each other in ‘68 – after I was Mysteronised - we vowed to each other that, if either of us was ever taken over by the Mysterons, the other would kill him: without hesitation, without regret, without guilt, without remorse.” He turned his dark eyes on Dianne and said, “Thankfully, until now, it has never had to be acted upon – although in ’75, when we were involved in the Geminator mission, ‘Adam’ reminded me of it. We neither of us wanted to be Mysteron slaves for the rest of eternity. I think he was reminding me of it again, just now, because he may know that his present … reincarnation is the work of the Mysterons. Adam would never put any of us – or his life’s work – at risk.”
“And now you believe that ‘Adam’ has some control over this ‘Mysteronised Clone’ and is asking you to kill him?” Dianne asked, her voice soft with compassion for the anguish she saw in his face.
“No!” Teal exclaimed. “This is saying that if the Blue clone exists then so does my father… so does the Adam clone! He tested negative with the Mysteron Detector – they can’t lie, they’ve never been known to go wrong! Test him again – test him with all the MDs on base – they can’t all be faulty – you’ll see – he can’t be a Mysteron…You’re on the wrong track – you have to be! ”
Scarlet turned bleak eyes on the young woman and said in a voice that was heavy with foreboding, “Understand this, Freya; learn it fast and well – as your father and I had to do – where the Mysterons are concerned, the answer is never just ‘a technological breakdown’ and whatever track you’re on it’s always a one-way street to Hell… They’ll wring every ounce of misery they can out of everything – for everyone concerned.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Ochre muttered.
Karen glanced across at Teal. “Freya, you must believe us; that ‘creature’ is not even just the Blue clone – only the Mysterons’ reconstruction of him. Besides, Blue was always untrustworthy – he might even co-operate with the Mysterons, if he thought he’d get his own way - he was governed by his own emotions to the exclusion of decent moral standards …”
“That’s going a bit far,” Ochre said soberly, seeing the young woman’s distress and dismay. He added, before Scarlet could voice his own protest, “Blue was a handful, but he wasn’t all bad, Karen. He’d never work with the Mysterons….”
“He isn’t all bad now,” Freya cried. She turned to Scarlet, pleading, “Uncle Paul – please – he’s my father…you know he is…you can’t do this…”
“That man is not your father – he’s not my husband,” Karen reiterated. “I would’ve sensed it if Adam had been there. We must do it…”
“Do what?” Amanda cried in confusion. “Charles, what does it all mean?”
“It means, my dear, that we’re in the dreadful position of having no choice but to kill Adam Svenson…”
There was sombre music softly playing in the chapel, the lighting was dimmed and around the altar stood the multitudinous floral tributes from the staff on Cloudbase. A discreet video camera was mounted in one corner, allowing a view from the door to the altar, and another scanned from behind the altar to the door. They were there for a dual purpose; to transmit the service of remembrance to anyone wishing to listen but unable to attend, and to protect the dignitaries who were present.
The Spectrum personnel lucky enough to have gained a place in the chapel were already in their places when the VIPs started taking their seats. They watched the arrivals with interest, always alert to the possibility of trouble.
An elderly, distinguished man, with a markedly military bearing, his stern face bearing the marks of a deep personal sorrow, led the way into the chapel with an attractive woman on his arm. She was pale and red-eyed, as if she’d been weeping. The ushers – Cloudbase personnel, dressed in the charcoal-grey dress uniforms with the discreet S logo on their sleeves – conducted them to the front row of the pews, somewhat in awe of seeing the near-legendary General White in person.
The next to arrive was a beautiful woman with shoulder-length, copper-coloured hair and blue eyes; accompanied by two young adults - obviously siblings - who walked with all the profound seriousness of youngsters ‘determined to do the right thing’. The younger woman, her blue eyes awash with tears, suddenly reached out and grabbed her brother’s hand. He calmed her down, and eventually, she raised her head again and with a determined tightening of her lips, followed their mother into the front pew, beside the elderly couple.
Moments later a tall, handsome man, with a straight-nosed, aristocratic face, and brown hair turning a distinguished grey at his temples, strode into the chapel. He ignored the ushers and went straight to the front pews, slipping into the second row. The older man turned to speak to him in a low undertone, the newcomer nodding in agreement every so often at whatever was being said. Next to arrive were an attractive middle-aged couple and a slender, oriental woman. They went join the man in the second row.
Even people who had never met them, knew enough to realise that the newcomers were the celebrated officers of the early days of Cloudbase: Rhapsody, Destiny and Harmony Angels, and the colour captains Grey and Ochre – all that remained of the elite force that had fought the Mysterons alongside Colonels Scarlet and Green, as the colleagues of their late commander-in-chief.
The remaining VIPs filed in, culminating in the arrival of three former World Presidents. James Younger - who owed his life to Captain Blue - and William Roberts, flanked the immediate past-President, Valdis Arnorsdottir. When she had left office, the apparently tireless Arnorsdottir had been elected to the executive triumvirate that headed the European government, and she was to represent their interests in the conference to be held after the service. She had known the general for many years and had considered him a personal friend.
The Supreme Commander: Earth Forces - one of Arnorsdottir’s last appointments and a firm Spectrum supporter - led in the military contingent; all of them wearing their full military regalia and looking very serious. They murmured in muted undertones as other guests arrived.
Finally, the World President himself appeared. Ousmane Boukari was a big man, with the blue-black skin of an African from the equatorial regions of that vast continent. He was dressed in a flamboyantly-coloured traditional robe, which, surprisingly, gave him an additional gravitas. His dark eyes searched the congregation as he walked up to the front row of the chapel; Colonel Green, looking positively diminutive, marched at his side. He paused momentarily to nod a polite acknowledgment to President Arnorsdottir – an old and respected political adversary – before taking his seat.
There was a slight murmur of resentment at Boukari’s presence at the ceremony, but the appearance of Colonel Green at his side was enough to quell any open hostility from the assembled Cloudbase personnel. The colonel had made it quite clear, when he’d addressed them shortly before they took their places, that he expected exemplary behaviour from his staff at this solemn occasion – and that he also expected them to remain alert.
From her seat in the front row, Rhapsody turned to glance back anxiously at the door, in time to see the five Angel pilots come and take their places amongst the congregation. The reserve crews had been called up in time to relieve the Cloudbase Angels for the afternoon. The five girls, so young and intense, formed as tight-knit a group as the original Angels had. She knew them by reputation and could put names to faces from listening to Paul’s gossip. Lachesis – a serious-minded Israeli, Thalia, a rather aloof Russian, Calliope – a stylish African-American, Melete – a sporty Australian, and Calisto – the dark-haired beauty at the centre of so much rumour. The girls were clustered around Calisto as if to physically protect her from the World President’s calumny.
Rhapsody gave a wry twist of her mouth; the girl was obviously upset, and her friends – no doubt from the best of intentions - were making this fact more obvious than ever by their solicitude. Whatever the truth of it – and Paul was certain it was all complete rot – there was no need for them to hide Calisto’s unhappiness. Before too long, we’ll all be in tears… she thought.
Destiny met her eye and the Frenchwoman raised an elegant eyebrow. It was enough for Rhapsody to read into it that her concerns were shared with her friend.
She turned her head as the procession arrived. The chaplain and the small choir of six choristers, led the way into the chapel and behind her, on Colonel Scarlet’s strong arm, was Karen Svenson. Rhapsody smiled; in a departure from planned proceedings, a young woman was walking beside Karen. Lieutenant Teal looked pale and very young in her smart dress uniform, and even the carefully neutral expression on her attractive face could not hide the pain in her brown eyes as she stared straight ahead at the altar where her father’s portrait and ceremonial accoutrements were displayed.
At last, Karen’s finally acknowledging the truth of the situation. It seems that every cloud does have a silver lining… Dianne thought. Adam would’ve been happy to see that. She smiled her approval at her closest friend as she walked passed and took her place in the front pew and hugged her husband’s arm as he came to sit beside her. She was sure Paul had had something to do with it.
“General Blue was raised in the Lutheran faith and he retained a genuine belief in the benevolent nature of God and the infinite vastness of His mercy towards all of His creation, for the rest of his life…”
The chaplain’s eulogy was well underway, but Colonel Scarlet was barely listening. His mind kept returning to the mystery of the man in the general’s quarters – the clone of Adam Svenson - and the likelihood that there was Mysteron involvement in his sudden reappearance.
Dianne’s elbow dug into his ribs and he snapped back into the ‘now’. He gave her a startled glance.
“You’re on,” she hissed. “You’re supposed to be doing a reading, aren’t you?”
With a groan, he scrambled to his feet and went to the lectern. He glanced at the bible page open for him to read and then at the expectant congregation, before drawing a deep breath to begin the lesson.
Before he could begin the chapel doors were thrown back, crashing into the walls and rebounding back on the men striding through them. They pushed the doors once more and this time as they swung back they slammed closed behind them.
A surprised gasp went around the chapel at the sight of the two Spectrum officers in standard duty uniforms. The taller wore a pale-blue uniform, his radio cap covering his blond hair; but, the man next to him was slightly shorter, with a pale complexion and dark hair and eyes. A superior expression on his face, he stared at the frightened faces of the congregation.
“Captain Black…” Scarlet gasped, “I was right – this is the work of the Mysterons.”
A confused murmur went through the congregation as the senior military men present moved to form a protective barrier around those VIPs they could reach. Instinctively, several Spectrum officers made a move towards the intruders, forgetting they were weaponless in their dress uniforms; as the truth dawned they hesitated and fell back.
Black’s lips twisted into a cynical smile.
However much they had discussed the hypothetical possibility that their old friend had been Mysteronised, seeing him there - standing side by side with Captain Black - was a waking nightmare for the group closest to the altar. Destiny crossed herself and clutched her husband’s hand. Rhapsody turned to shepherd her children behind her, much as General White was doing to his astounded wife. Intuitively, all of the original Spectrum personnel on that side of the chapel joined Rhapsody and White to form a human shield for the civilians.
There was no telling how long the tense, silent stand-off would have continued – certainly Black seemed to be in no hurry to make his move – if Karen had not moved out of her pew and into the aisle.
“Adam?” she called, taking a tentative step towards him.
Scarlet called a warning to her, but she gave a dismissive wave of her hand and advanced a little closer. Now that she was once more in Blue’s physical presence, her intuition was telling her that somewhere in that body was what was left of her husband’s ‘spirit’. They had become so attuned to each other that she’d always felt an affectionate aura of reassurance in his company. She had not felt the familiar comforting feeling when she‘d been with the clone – but this time, the jarring resonance that had so troubled her was absent… It was unsettling – and unexpected – a challenge to what she had brought herself to believe about the doppelganger; yet, in the light of what Paul had been proposing about the meaning of the poem Adam had left him, was it so very unlikely? She’d always trusted her intuitions and, feeling that she’d so little left to lose, she intended to do so once more. If she was right, within this apparently Mysteronised body was her Adam – and he needed her help.
The pale-blue eyes were staring straight ahead and, with an almost trancelike expression on his face, Blue was avoiding meeting the eyes of his old friends, but now his eyes flickered towards Symphony for a moment. He gave no sign that he even recognised her and his expression didn’t change. She took another step towards him, but was prevented from moving any closer by Captain Ochre, who went to her side and laid a restraining hand on her shoulder.
Captain Black turned his cold gaze on her and said, in a mocking parody of polite conversation, “Symphony Angel, how nice to see you again; I believe the last time we met was at the Culver Atomic Station. You may recall that, on that occasion I told you that the Mysterons too had compassion? Well, it seems I was wrong.” His voice became the harsh, chilling monotone they were all so familiar with. “THE MYSTERONS HAVE NO COMPASSION FOR THEIR ENEMIES. WE WILL EXACT OUR REVENGE FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX, EARTHMEN. IN ONE STROKE WE WILL RID OURSELVES OF SPECTRUM’S ELITE FORCES AND MANY OF THE WORLD’S LEADERS. WITH SPECTRUM GONE AND THE WORLD GOVERNMENT THROWN INTO CHAOS – NOTHING WILL STOP US FROM COMPLETING OUR REVENGE AND WIPING OUT ALL LIFE ON THIS MISERABLE PLANET.”
Whilst Black was making his pronouncement, Captains Auburn and Saffron had each been moving stealthily around the side of the chapel. As Black finished making his threat, they launched themselves at the Mysterons, trying to wrestle them to the ground. Blue sidestepped his attacker, knocking him unconscious to the ground with a deft karate blow. Black disposed of his attacker with more brutal force, shooting Auburn at point blank range as he attacked. Blood sprayed over the walls and panic spread amongst the congregation.
The Supreme Commander: Earth Forces, issued sharp orders for calm, but he was ignored by many of the gathered VIPs, now thoroughly scared. They looked towards President Boukari for guidance, but he was as startled as they and he said nothing, staring at Black and Blue with an expression that was a mixture of annoyance and disbelief. The former World President James Younger stepped into the breach and ordered them to keep quiet and sit down. That did extract a reaction from Boukari; he glared at Younger with obvious anger.
Susannah Metcalfe had screamed and buried her face against her brother’s shoulder when Black had fired his shot. Distractedly, Ace put his arms around her, but his attention was focussed on Lieutenant Teal. Seeing her transfixed with anguish at the sight of her father siding with the Mysterons, he wanted to go to her, to tell her that she was not alone in her suffering, but he wasn’t sure she’d appreciate his intrusion – even if there was a practical way to get to her past the row of Spectrum officers that separated them.
Goaded by seeing his authority usurped by James Younger, President Boukari suddenly screamed out, “Do something, Spectrum! I order you to do something! I want you to kill those terrorists…”
“Mr President, this is a house of God; we do not allow weapons in here!” the chaplain cried in alarm.
“Nonsense, woman! Where are your security guards? Where is the protection we were promised? You cannot let this madman do as he threatens. But it seems he is only one madman amongst many – Green, you are holding a memorial service for a man who is not even dead! General Blue is a traitor! He is to be arrested – or killed. Spectrum’s finished after this…” Boukari blustered.
“We’re all finished if Black gets his way, Boukari,” General White said sternly. “Keep calm, man, this isn’t over yet.”
Captain Black snarled at the old man, “YOUR PUNY EFFORTS ARE FUTILE, EARTHMAN, YOU CANNOT DEFEAT THE POWER OF THE MYSTERONS.” He turned to stare straight at Colonel Scarlet. “You once told me, Scarlet, that it should have always come down to fight between you and me – well, you finally have your wish… but you still have one chance to save yourself. Join with us and help us destroy these mortals. Reject this chance, and you will die with the others.”
“You’ve threatened that before, Black, but I am still here and here I will always be. I will never join with the Mysterons,” Scarlet replied. He looked at General Blue, still standing silent and impassive beside Captain Black. “I’m sorry to see this, Adam,” he said, “but I do remember the promise we made each other – many years ago now – and I will abide by the terms of it; believe me, my friend.”
For the briefest of moments, Blue’s gaze flickered towards Scarlet and, in that split-second, the colonel believed he saw the same indomitable spirit he’d always known Svenson possessed, watching from those astute eyes. A faint hope that, perhaps he was not alone in this fight, spread through him, yet he struggled not to react to it and, by so doing, warn his archenemy of the unsuspected danger at his side.
Oblivious of the silent exchange between the life-long friends, Black continued, “You reject our more than fair offer? Very well, Scarlet, the fight is on… and may the best ‘man’ win.” He reached into the holster at his side and drew from it an electron pistol, which Spectrum had developed from its cumbersome proto-type Mysteron gun. The pistols were less powerful than the electron rifles, and less accurate, but they had the advantage of being far more portable, and had proved themselves effective enough against Mysteronised subjects over the years. He pointed it straight at Scarlet and swiftly pulled the trigger.
Dianne screamed, “No! Paul – Paul, be careful…” She darted forwards towards him.
Scarlet dodged away and the blast buried itself in the wooden lectern singeing the wood. As he waited for the pistol to recharge, Black fired his conventional weapon in Scarlet’s direction and then more randomly. The chaplain, rushing to stop this sacrilege, was hit in the thigh. Doctor Fawn and Captain Grey dragged her into the relative safety of the pews and Fawn got to work to do what he could to staunch the bleeding.
“Get down! Everyone get down!” General White ordered, pushing his wife to her knees behind the back of the pew before he too crouched for cover.
The VIPs scrambled to obey, except for President Boukari, who made a determined dash for freedom. “I am not staying here to be shot at,” he shouted. “There must be the security guards out there – and I want these two traitors dead.”
Colonel Green made a desperate grab at him, but Boukari was a big man and he knocked Green aside with a swipe of his powerful arm. Green’s head caught the edge of a pew as he fell and he lost consciousness, slumping against a pew, his body stretched across the aisle.
Boukari was half-way to the door when Captain Black, almost casually, brought his gun to bear on him and shot him in the head. Boukari stopped and for an instant stared in disbelief before his bulky frame wavered and he crashed to the ground.
“He should have listened to your advice, Charles,” Black commented laconically. “Now, anyone else want to try something heroic?” he added, as a green light filled the chapel and the intense green rings that symbolised the Mysterons’ power travelled over the President’s body. Moments later, Boukari stood before them, alongside his dead body, his face the impassive mask of a Mysteron agent.
“YOU KNOW WHAT YOU MUST DO,” Black said, without a hint of doubt.
“Once Cloudbase is destroyed, I will order the rest of Spectrum to lay down its weapons and the other military forces will necessarily follow suit. The Earth will surrender to the will of the Mysterons. The Mysterons’ instructions will be carried out,” Boukari intoned.
Black nodded and glanced towards Scarlet. “Consider, Scarlet, that if you had delivered World President Younger to us all those years ago, how much suffering you would have prevented,” he taunted.
“Of course there would’ve been no suffering - there would’ve been no frigging life left on this planet to suffer!” Scarlet snarled in reply. “But even now, you haven’t won yet, Conrad.”
“You always were a blind optimist, Scarlet,” Black retorted. His attention was caught by movement to the side of him and he turned and fired a shot in that direction.
Ochre hit the deck, cursing.
“You’re getting sloppy, Captain Ochre,” Black mocked.
“So are you - you missed me,” Ochre lied in response, nursing a flesh wound in his arm and gritting his teeth against the pain.
“Enough of this childish play-acting,” Black snapped suddenly. He turned to the being at his side. “BLUE, KILL THEM – KILL THEM ALL…”
In slow motion Blue raised his gun and turned towards the VIPs cowering in the pews.
“Adam!” Scarlet and Karen screamed in unison. Scarlet rose to his feet, partially shielded by the lectern and brought his Spectrum pistol – which habit had made him conceal in his dress uniform - to bear on the Mysterons, but his line of fire was blocked by the rapidly advancing figure of Symphony Angel.
Free from Ochre’s restraining presence, she darted towards her husband. “Don’t listen to him, Adam. My darling, please… don’t do it,” she coaxed.
Blue hesitated and Black, annoyed by yet another delay in the implementation of his orders, turned his gun on the advancing woman. “I warned you the Mysterons had no compassion, Symphony,” he intoned. Seeing the gun pointing directly at her, she came to a halt some feet away from them.
“Will you let him kill me, Adam?” she gasped. “Maybe, after all the misery he’s brought to our lives, it’s only appropriate that he should finish it off and kill me – just as he killed all our hopes? Adam? I’d have thought you’d have more to revenge against him than you do against me…because I love you. Adam?”
Black gave a sardonic grin. “You appeal in vain, Symphony. Adam Svenson no longer exists – that is an agent of the Mysterons – he doesn’t even know who you are. It may be that my masters will be amused to take you into their service - alongside your beloved…” he mocked her, “neither of you aware of who, or what, you once were to each other. We have learned much over the years of the agonies humans inflict on each other in the name of ‘love’. We do not understand it, but it amuses us…”
“You disgust me,” she snarled.
Black’s grin faded and he cocked the trigger but, before he could fire, Blue slammed his pistol butt onto the back of his neck, causing the shorter and slighter man to stagger and fall to his knees. His gun clattered from one hand and the Mysteron pistol slithered across the floor. Blue’s powerful double-fisted punch connected with Black’s jaw and he fell stunned at the general’s feet. He stood over Captain Black, breathing heavily, apparently sapped of energy by his effort.
Karen reached his side and threw herself against him, hugging him and murmuring, “I prayed you’d come back to me.”
Hampered by his wife’s embrace and unable to pick up the Mysteron pistol, Blue turned his Spectrum issue gun on Black as he stirred back to action. Blue’s eyes met the dark ones and saw, within the fathomless depth of the Mysteron’s eyes the faintest glimmer of emotion. Without a sound, and with no hesitation, Blue shot the man between the eyes. Black fell back with a sigh. A conventional weapon might not kill a Mysteron, but it would slow them down – they had gained some time, at least.
By now, Scarlet had reached Blue’s side; he’d stopped to pick up the Mysteron pistol as he advanced down the aisle. He glanced down at the body of Captain Black and at the electron pistol’s recharge meter before he glanced at the face of Blue. His friend was looking drained; exhausted beyond anything which could have been expected from his brief exertion.
“You okay, Adam, only you’re looking…?” he started to ask. His sentence was cut short by a powerful blow to the side of his head from the Mysteronised World President, and Scarlet collapsed; his temple crushed by the heavy brass candlestick Boukari had picked up. The pistol flew from his hand and slithered further along the aisle.
“Daddy!” Susannah’s scream reverberated around the chapel, drowning the alarmed exclamations of the Spectrum officers. She struggled against her brother’s restraining arms and watched as her mother raced to her husband’s side.
Pushing Karen to one side with a gentle force, Blue turned once more to do battle.
“YOU CANNOT DEFEAT US, GENERAL,” Boukari warned, his voice sounding remarkably like the voice of the Mysteronised Captain Black. “WE ARE LIKE A HYDRA – WITH MANY HEADS. STRIKE ONE THOUGH AND MORE WILL SPRING FROM THE WOUND.” As he spoke the eerie green light flooded the chapel once more. Over Adam’s shoulder, Karen saw Captain Auburn starting to get to his feet.
“Then we’ll fight them as well,” Blue replied, but his voice was weak and he didn’t sound very convincing. He was wrong-footed when Boukari moved quickly towards him and swung a punch that made him wince as it landed. Winded, he doubled up to catch his breath.
But Boukari did not move in for the kill, instead he swooped on the Mysteron pistol, and advanced to where Scarlet now lay cradled in his wife’s arms, the wound at his temple healing even as she watched over him.
Desperately, Dianne looked around the Spectrum officers still shielding the VIPs. “Help me someone, please. I can’t move him alone and Boukari will kill him. Please. Help me!”
But the Mysteronised Captain Auburn was effectively blocking the approach of the current Spectrum officers and they seemed unable to take effective action against him. One or two men had attacked him individually, but they had been no match for the enhanced strength of the Mysteron. In exasperation, General White shouted down the chapel at the hesitant officers, “Attack Auburn en masse! He isn’t armed - any more than you are!”
Immediately, several officers launched an attack on the Mysteronised Auburn, and fisticuffs broke out at the end of the chapel. White sighed… thirty years ago my men would’ve wrapped that up in a matter of seconds… these new ones seem to be too reliant on weaponry and far too ‘chivalrous’ – but then Blue always did have a marked tendency to play by the rules – it’s his one big weakness. Gone are the street-fighters - like Ochre and Magenta - and Spectrum’s the weaker for it. If we ever get out of this, I’m going to have to have a serious word about recruitment…
Under the cover of the fighting, Captain Ochre had moved stealthily to the table before the altar, where General Blue’s ceremonial pistol lay. He now had it in his hands, but was disappointed to discover it wasn’t loaded. In response to Dianne’s plea, he dropped the useless weapon and began to move swiftly towards her. Captain Grey hastened towards her too, from his place at the far side of the pews; but both were too far from her to reach her before Boukari could fire.
Realising this, Rhapsody struggled to raise Scarlet from the floor, attempting to drag him into the pews and away from danger. Boukari aimed at Colonel Scarlet. Just as the electron pistol fired off, Ochre dived forwards, crashing into Boukari, who staggered, but remained upright. Ochre fell groaning to the floor, the pain from his wounded arm leaving him close to unconscious. In desperation, as she’d seen the gun fire, Rhapsody had thrown herself across her husband’s inert body and the electron blast buried itself in her back. She stiffened and uttered a high-pitched wail, her body arcing over her husband’s, as the electricity tore through her. There was a terrible smell of singeing hair. Then she fell across him.
Still doubled up from the body blow, Blue fired at Boukari as the man sought to regain his balance. The Mysteron dropped the electron pistol and took several steps towards the defenceless general. Captain Grey, having reached the scene and found Scarlet’s pistol on the floor, shot the World President once more and the massive man sank to the ground.
Karen had been racing towards Dianne, but now she stopped to help Ochre up, as Doctor Fawn arrived at the same time as Grey. Destiny and Harmony hurried to join them from the other side of the chapel. Gently, Grey lifted Dianne from Scarlet and moved her to a more secluded corner; where Fawn crouched down to examine her, praying he’d be able to save her. There had been very few incidents of non-Mysterons ever being shot with the pistol and it wasn’t known if it would always be fatal – although given the high voltages used, Fawn had a sinking feeling that it would…
Exhausted, Blue reached for the end of the pew for support and his head dropped, his eyes closed against the dreadful lassitude that filled his body, seeming to press against him until his own body-weight became oppressive. He groaned, fighting to retain control of his remaining strength, knowing that the people – the innocent people – gathered here were still in a terrible danger. He struggled to remember what that was…but his mind was fogging over again and in desperation he begged, “Help me…” although even to himself, his voice was feeble and strained.
But Karen heard him. She left Ochre’s side and raced towards him, tripping over the dead World President in her anxiety to reach her husband. As she approached she reached out to touch him. With an obvious effort, he raised his head and gave her a wan smile. She frowned; never before had Adam’s smile for her failed to be reflected in his expressive eyes. In fact, Blue’s eyes were clouding over as she watched, and he was losing consciousness, even as he stood motionless before her.
“Adam?” Her voice expressed all her confusion and anxiety. With relief she saw recognition return to his face and he whispered her name, as if the very sound of it gave him renewed strength.
White watched from across the aisle, wondering if they would be able to keep Blue alive and if he’d ever be the man he’d once been. Against all logic and reason, he dared to hope it could be done, but at the same time his intellect warned him against placing too much faith in the wonders of modern medicine, even in the hands of Doctor Fawn.
Then suddenly, the realisation of what he was seeing made him groan aloud. From around the neckline of Blue’s uniform rose the thinnest wisps of… steam? – No! Smoke! The years flew away and he was watching the security tape of the first ever Mysteron attack – an attempt on the life of World President Younger. Captain Brown, sitting with an eerie blank expression on his good-natured face, had gradually become wreathed in smoke – and then… White groaned again - the explosion had been violent enough to bring the maximum security building to the ground; Cloudbase would be blown to shreds – and everyone on her.
Years of command experience made White bark out orders. “Blue’s a bomb – a Mysteron bomb! Get the VIPs out of here; get them to the emergency escape capsules! Now! Move! This is a red alert!”
Colonel Green, slowly coming round from his fall, found himself staring at Blue for what seemed like an age, before he added his commands to the general’s. Spectrum personnel began to usher the terrified VIPs from the chapel in reasonable order. The frequent – and much resented - drills and practises General Blue had insisted on were paying off. White ushered Amanda towards the exit, placing Susannah in her care, as much to prevent her arguing as to get the child to safety. His last sight of her was as she hurried away – the near-hysterical Suzie at her side.
Praying they would escape the base in time, he marched back to where Karen was still trying to get through to the Mysteronised reconstruct of her husband. He tried to pull her away from Blue, whose eyes, once more devoid of intelligence, were staring straight ahead. Outside the chapel the red alert – abandon base – siren began to wail and the emergency lighting flickered on.
Karen shook her step-father off, throwing herself at her husband, crooning his name and shaking him, in a vain attempt to bring him back to reality.
“Karen,” White pleaded and, as that had no affect, he roared at his most authoritative, “Symphony Angel, I am ordering you to get out of here…” He made another attempt to pull her away, but she stubbornly resisted, her own voice growing more insistent as she called Adam’s name over and over.
“There is nothing you can do, Karen… Adam is gone. Let’s get the hell out of here, or we’ll all be killed,” Ochre pleaded, adding his efforts to White’s.
Shaking her head defiantly she refused to leave her husband. “He is in there – my Adam… he’s in there… he won’t let this happen…” she insisted.
“Is there any way we stop it?” Grey demanded. “Where is that Mysteron pistol?”
“No!” Enraged, Karen threw her arms around Adam’s unresponsive body and clung to him. “You shan’t kill him, you shan’t!”
With a ruthlessness born of overwhelming pity, Ochre yanked her away from the smouldering figure of her husband and began to drag her towards the door. “Adam!” she screeched. “Help me!”
Against every imaginable expectation, the Mysteron gave a flicker of recognition. It was as if a second force, equally as powerful as that which now controlled him, was seeking to respond to her heart-rending appeals. His head turned in her direction and his lips formed the word ‘Karen’.
“He will explode – like Brown did… move - get out of here!” White ordered as the smoke around Blue increased.
Suddenly there was an eye-sizzling white flash and Blue uttered a shrill cry, falling to the floor in a convulsive fit. As he did so, the figure of Lieutenant Teal was revealed standing behind him, the electrode-ray pistol in her hand, still aimed at the exact spot where her father had been.
With an almost inhuman burst of strength, Karen broke free of Ochre’s despairing grasp and launched herself at the stricken woman.
“You’ve killed him! He was coming back to me – and you’ve killed him! You bastard; you dirty, lousy, little bastard …” She began punching and scratching at the younger woman who, as the enormity of what she’d done overwhelmed her, made no attempt to defend herself.
“Symphony!” White roared, fearing that in her hysterical state his step-daughter might well commit murder before her rage subsided. Ochre sprang after her, manhandling Karen away from the youngster and enfolding her in his arms as she howled out her rage and misery.
Ace Metcalfe - who was still standing unnoticed at the back of the chapel, watching as Doctor Fawn fought to save his mother’s life – had seen everything that had happened and seeing no one else prepared to help the traumatised lieutenant, he went to Freya and took the gun from her unresisting hand, dropping it on the nearest pew. He wrapped her in his arms as she began to tremble uncontrollably. Startled by his touch, and as if waking from a trance, she drew in a great gulp of air and began to cry, burying her face against the young man’s shoulder. Clumsily, but with great tenderness, he tried to console her; rocking to and fro, patting her shoulder and murmuring quietly to her all the meaningless, yet curiously soothing phrases he remembered from his childhood. Freya clung to him as an anchor for her sanity, whilst her world descended into a deeper and more excruciating emptiness than she’d ever known before.
Exhausted by her rage, Karen’s strength was almost spent, yet she stubbornly pulled herself once more from Ochre’s weakened hold, to drop down beside her husband. Ochre stood close by, fearing to intrude, but sensing she was going to need some support – and that very soon. He cast an experienced eye over them both. At least the smoke has stopped issuing from his body – the electron-pulse must’ve broken the Mysterons’ hold – for now.
As she reached out to gather Blue into her arms, her tears, falling unchecked from her eyes, splashed onto his still face. “Adam… my darling,” she crooned, rocking him gently and stroking his hair.
He stirred and she loosened her grip to look at him, still a little frightened of what she might see in his face. The pale-blue eyes flickered open and recognition flooded into them as he breathed her name. Joyfully, she nodded and turned to call out urgently to Doctor Fawn, “Edward, we need you here; Adam’s alive!” She turned back to him, continuing to cradle him close to her.
“Paul?” he croaked, struggling and failing to lift his head.
“He’ll be okay,” she reassured him. “The electron beam never touched him.” She raised him slightly so that he might see where Scarlet lay – the wound on his temple all but healed and the warm flush of renewed life returning to his naturally pale skin.
“Fawn is with her – he’ll save her – you know he’s the best doctor in the world, don’t you?” He gave her a weak smile and closed his eyes in agreement. Karen gasped in fear, but his eyelids struggled upwards again.
“Finish it, Karen.” His voice was weak and every word was a laborious effort, but there was no doubt in it as he continued, “Use the Mysteron pistol on me again.”
“No, don’t talk like that, Adam!”
“Promise me, älskling. I don’t want to become a Mysteron and they will try again. I haven’t the strength to fight any more…” He could see that she’d never agree to it, and in desperation he looked beyond her to where Ochre was standing, his dark eyes brimming with compassionate tears. Rick gave a brisk nod of his head, and saw the grateful acknowledgment in Adam’s eyes that his request had been heard and would be granted. He returned his gaze to Karen.
“Shh, don’t worry about that, darling,” Karen begged, “you’re going to be fine. Paul won’t let them get you and Fawn will make you strong again…” From the corner of her eye she saw Scarlet stir and raise himself onto his elbow, shaking his head as if he’d just woken from a confusing dream.
Seeing her cradling Blue, Scarlet frowned questioningly at Ochre, fearful to ask if his friend was even alive still. Before Ochre could respond, Karen looked up and across at him and her expression told him everything. His heart contracted at the thought that Adam – after he’d fought so hard – could not survive. He crawled over to where his friends were huddled against the pews. Adam’s eyes glanced at him, although he didn’t seem to have the strength to even turn his head anymore. Karen’s head twisted round over her shoulder, as she looked anxiously, and in vain, for the medical teams.
Scarlet laid a hand on Adam’s arm and said, “Looks like I have you to thank for saving my life once more …” He gave his friend a smile – aware that it was the merest shadow of the casually exasperated expression they consistently used between themselves to cover their concern for each other. There was no hiding his concern now…
Adam closed his eyes in denial. “No, Dianne did.” He opened his eyes just as Scarlet’s head whipped round and for the first time he noticed the gaggle of people around another fallen figure. “Go to her…” he said, and with an inarticulate cry Scarlet started to crawl towards them. Adam’s eyes followed him until he could no longer see him. “Goodbye, Paul…” he whispered sadly.
Then the blue eyes returned to gaze at the face of his beloved – they would not willingly leave it again. “I’m glad we’ve got this chance to say goodbye,” he said softly.
“Goodbye? We’re not going to say goodbye. I’m going to save you,” she promised, stroking his cheek.
Adam found the strength to give her a reassuring smile. “You already have. It was my love for you that gave me the strength to resist the Mysterons and your love for me that drew me back... Only, now you have to be brave and let me go, Karen. I haven’t the strength to stay.”
“I can’t lose you again,” she protested. “Please Adam, stay with me…” Her eyes, already red with weeping, filled with tears once more, but she fought to keep calm as he spoke again, his voice no more than a shallow whisper, so she’d to lean closer to hear him.
“It was so hard to keep them out – I could feel the Mysteron power in me growing. Black tortured me… hours ago … never felt such pain… Blue’s mind wasn’t strong enough… it destroyed him and he became the Mysteron. There was only me and this… alien in my mind… it wasn’t me…yet it had elements of me in it. It would’ve gained control… I fought it… by not revealing my independence to them. They thought they had us both – Blue and me. But here they saw - at first hand – just how powerful the love they despise can make a man. Be pleased, älskling, that I won my last and hardest battle…”
Speechless, she continued stroking his face and hair, seeking to pour her strength into him and willing him to live.
He drew a deep breath, marshalling his remaining strength to make his final plea. “Karen, please, for me, take care of Freya.” He closed his eyes in exasperation as, even now, he could see her expression harden. “I’m begging you, Karen – she’s my daughter and I love her…” he said, powerless in the face of her continuing hostility.
“She shot you with the electron pistol; how can you expect me to forgive her?”
“Then… thank her for me; she did what Paul promised… saved me from the only fate I truly fear. I’d expect you to forgive her for my sake.”
She tightened her lips into a thin line to stop them quivering and obstinately refused to accede to his request.
Blue, fighting exhaustion, continued to try to reason with her. “Every man has to die, älskling; I don’t want a fate like Paul’s – and the Mysterons threatened they would do that… Please?” There was a genuine urgency in his voice as he beseeched, “Let me go, Karen; for God’s sake, you must let go….”
Her tears were almost blinding her as, abandoning her last shred of hope, she nodded. “I will,” she murmured. “I promise you, Adam, whatever you ask of me, I’ll do.” Her reward came in seeing him considerably eased and the faint, yet loving smile he gave her. He knew he could trust her word – Karen had never reneged on her given promise.
He lay quietly in her arms for some minutes and she thought he’d gone… but then with the last vestige of his strength, he said, “I can’t see you, älskling, hold my hand…” She took hold of his hand and kissed it, before allowing him to draw her hand down and press it to lips that were already cold. Slowly the long lashes fluttered to a close and the merest sigh escaped his gently smiling lips: “Karen…my love.”
She bowed her head against his cheek and let her tears flow. It is over. Nothing matters anymore… then, she filled her lungs with air and let out an unearthly wail of unbelievable loss and despair…
Captain Ochre saw Symphony’s head droop again and the silent shaking of her shoulders and knew that his friend was dead. All around the chapel, there was death and destruction… Auburn had been shot with a Mysteron rifle which some bright spark had thought to fetch from the armoury once the chapel doors were open. His body - bodies, Ochre corrected himself - lay side by side near the door. Boukari’s human body, and his Mysteronised one, also lay close by – both having been dealt with in the same way. He frowned, where’s Black?
Colonel Green, still a little dazed, looked up from where he was sitting on a pew and caught Ochre’s puzzled gaze.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Black’s body… where is it?” Ochre replied.
The two men searched the chapel, now empty of everyone except those who needed to be here, but they could not find the missing body.
General White, on hearing their concerns, gave a deep sigh. “The Mysterons must have taken him – they have before. Their powers are still surprising us… Don’t let it worry you, gentlemen. Whatever the Mysterons can throw at us, Spectrum can fight – and will do - to the last man, if it comes to that.” He glanced across at Colonel Scarlet. “I can’t see any of the World’s top brass arguing for cuts in the service now,” he added, shaking his head and heaving an angry sigh. “But, before we think of that, we have more important things to deal with now – we must bury our dead with honour and with pride.”
Ochre’s face paled. “Rhapsody?” he stammered.
“Fawn is still with her – and so is her husband. Whilst there is life there is hope…” White said, the strain of the past hour was clearly etched on his face. “And we must never give up hoping…” he added, half to himself.
Doctor Fawn settled Dianne Metcalfe as comfortably as he could. He smiled gently at her, and spoke in his softest voice to her. For a moment she turned her large, beautiful blue eyes onto his face, and in them he saw the fear of the unknown that every person faced with the reality of their mortality experienced. He squeezed her hand and moved away from her, to turn to the person alongside him. “I’m sorry, Paul,” he said to the grief-stricken man. “I have done all I can, but… it won’t be long, and… she has no pain. She wants to talk to you.”
With a sorrowful shake of his head, he ushered the anxious assembly of her friends away. This was not ideal – but they deserved all the privacy they could get.
Paul cradled Dianne in his arms. Her eyes fluttered open and focussed on his concerned face. With a great effort, she raised a hand to touch his cheek and smiled.
“I’m so sorry, Paul,” she gasped. He shook his head in confusion, and she tried to explain, “It’s better this way because I can’t be the wife you need – I can’t stay young and beautiful…”
“No,” he almost shouted, “you’re beautiful – you have always been beautiful in my eyes and you will always be...”
“Not for much longer, I think,” she coughed, and laid her face against his red tunic until the spasm passed. “Always remember me as I was, Paul, when you first loved me…”
“Dianne,” he moaned.
“One day, you will find another woman who will mean as much to you as I once did.”
He shook his head vehemently. “I will love only you – forever…”
She smiled, knowing better. “Paul, my dearest love, forever is a long time, and for you - my poor darling – it might be more than a mere figure of speech. You will have enough hardships in your life, without denying yourself the consolation of being loved. And, believe me, there will be women who will love you – almost as much as I do. Love them as you loved me – with my blessing, my darling. I am sure you will make them as happy as you’ve made me – and they’ll be the envy of everyone. I was. You made me the happiest woman alive – just as you said you would.”
“Dianne.” His voice was no more than a whisper. He was unaware of the tears on his cheeks and he was surprised when she raised her hand to wipe them away. He kissed her hand and pressed the fingers close to his lips.
Her voice was quieter when she spoke again, as if the effort of the movement had tired her. “Take care of the children – Freya too. You know, I would’ve liked to see our grandchildren – ours and Adam’s.” She smiled at his obvious bewilderment. “Oh, why can’t men ever see what’s right in front of them?” she teased gently, adding more urgently, “Don’t allow Ace to let her slip away, Paul – we’ll get that Svenson bone-structure into the family gene-pool yet…” She choked on her gentle laughter at the old in-joke that had existed between them ever since the children had been born. Then she drew in a huge gasp of breath as she heard Karen’s wail of bereavement. “Oh, no… Not Adam, please tell me…we haven’t lost him…” Fresh waves of pity surged through her as she saw the bleak expression on her husband’s face. “Oh Paul, oh my dear Paul,” she soothed as he turned his head to stare towards where his friend had lain. “And poor Karen… she’s going to need you too, Paul.”
“I can’t be there for everyone,” he protested, fighting the misery that threatened to engulf him. “When will people realise I’m indestructible not insensible? I suffer too. I only want to take care of you, Dianne – you’re the only one who matters to me,” he breathed against her hand, his lips caressing the soft skin at her wrist and feeling the weak and erratic pulse that fluttered there.
“That’s nonsense, you have the children and their children… and young children of your own again, some day. I wish I could see it with you…” She shook her head at the thought of his pain. “I hope it isn’t too long before you find someone to be there for you, my darling…” He shook his head with a growl of denial. Dianne asked suddenly, “Is it true that Black is dead?” He nodded. “Then the war is over? We have won?” she asked.
“Dianne,” the words were almost choked in unshed tears, “what does that matter now?”
“It matters, Paul, of course it matters. I want to know that my children are safe and that the man I love will be able to live his life in peace and happiness…”
“There is no happiness without you…” he protested.
Sensing that she did not have much longer, she devoted herself to helping him survive this initial, terrible tragedy. It might be many years before he allowed himself to love again, and she felt she had to try to give him the memory of her love to survive on, until then. “You have such a burden, my love… Oh Paul, I am so sorry I have let you down… I love you, Paul – I only wish I could’ve loved you … forever.” She gave a tremulous smile and her eyes opened wide almost in surprise. Then she relaxed into his arms with a quiet sigh.
“No!” Scarlet’s anguish tore his voice into a ragged scream. He held her body against himself, raining kisses on her unresponsive face. Refusing to accept the evidence of his own eyes, he hugged her, stroking her hair as he rocked back and forth.
Doctor Beige and her team arrived in response to Fawn’s emergency call, but one glance around the room showed her she was too late to do much except try to comfort the living. Nevertheless, she despatched a medic to assess the extent of Ochre’s wound and others to examine the still dazed Colonel Green and Captain Saffron.
Then she stooped and placed a hand on Scarlet’s shoulder. “Colonel, please let me see her,” she said quietly. “I have medical equipment…”
Scarlet shrugged her away and hugged Dianne tighter.
“There is nothing anyone can do for her now, Eva,” Fawn said with a sad shake of his head. “Just leave him alone. He has God knows how many lifetimes of grief ahead of him. We shouldn’t intrude.” He glanced around the room. “You would do the most good if you took the children away – both of them. They shouldn’t have to witness what must happen next.”
Eva Javorsky frowned at her old mentor, then her gaze followed the direction of Fawn’s dark eyes and she saw the men she knew as Captain Ochre and Captain Grey, adjusting the settings and charging the batteries on Mysteron guns. Horrified she turned back to Fawn. “Surely that is not necessary, Edward? It’s barbaric!”
“Maybe so, but it is still less barbaric than letting the Mysterons find a way to retrometabolise them both, Eva. God knows, I wish I knew of another way…”
Her initial shock over, Beige gave a deep sigh. “Yes, you’re right, of course, but somehow to do it to old friends…” she shivered and glanced across at the two youngsters. “I will take the children,” she confirmed, watching as Saffron was led away to sick bay. She waved away the remaining medic, who was attempting to reason with Colonel Green, but the commander absolutely declined to leave the chapel. She realised that to the individuals still in the chapel, the most important people here now were the dead.
The only people remaining the chapel, apart from original senior personnel, were the dark-haired son of Colonel Scarlet and the fair-haired daughter of General Blue, who were clinging to each other for dear life. They had already seen more than enough and there was no justification in making them witness what must happen next.
At a nod from General White, Destiny and Harmony Angels went and gently untwined Symphony’s arms from her husband’s body and helped her to her feet, supporting her as she wept. In the heavy silence, General White himself stepped forward and placed his hand on Scarlet’s shoulder.
“Paul, we’re ready. It’s time. Why don’t you take Ace and Freya away? Neither you nor Karen has to witness this…”
“No,” Scarlet said sharply. He glanced around and saw Doctor Beige step forward, to lead the distraught youngsters away. With some determination, Ace darted away from her care and came to his father’s side. Scarlet waved back Beige’s attempt to follow him and deny him access – far better he saw his mother like this than… afterwards.
Ace glanced at his father’s sad expression and then stooped down, kneeling to kiss his mother’s peaceful face. Grief invested his movements with a curious ungainliness and as he struggled to back his feet, Scarlet laid a hand on his son’s shoulder before enfolding him in his arms. The youngster’s self-control broke down and he sobbed awkwardly against his father’s shoulder.
Conversely, Freya was left standing alone, irresolutely waiting for Ace or Doctor Beige to return to her. Torn between unfathomable guilt and the overwhelming desire to go to her father, she was unable to make a move, intimidated as she was by Karen’s presence, as she stood like a protective sentinel, between her and her father’s body. Yet her eyes constantly flitted to where he lay on the floor of the aisle and General White realised the girl’s desperate need to make her goodbyes.
Undaunted by Karen’s overt antagonism, he went to Freya’s side and, speaking quietly to reassure her, he took her hand in his firm grip and lead her to her father, quelling his step-daughter’s still-born protest with a disapproving glance. He allowed Freya time to take her final farewell and make peace with her conscience before he helped her back to her feet and returned her, weeping once more, to the sympathetic care of Doctor Beige.
It was then that Scarlet urged his son to join her and, unsure if either of the youngsters realised why they were being made to leave, he watched them turn to follow Beige’s lead.
His son put a protective arm around Adam’s daughter and when he saw that proudly independent young woman rest her fair head against his dark one, and allow him to lead her from the chapel, he thought: I wonder if Dianne was right. Maybe - somewhere in the future – the three of us…Adam, Dianne and me – will be reunited in the person of our mutual grandchildren? For years we joked about the possibility of the pair of them falling in love – maybe the joke is on us and they are our hope for the future?
He looked down at Dianne’s still body and then across to where Adam lay. They were both so still – and in individuals who had been so vibrant in their lives, it was exceptionably noticeable. They lay in isolation, cut off from the living forever. He blinked back the surge of emotion: I can’t bear the thought of them being alone. And however irrational it may be, I won’t allow it to be that way. The four of us were such friends… he came to an impulsive decision and suddenly swept his wife’s slender body into his arms and carried her to where he could gently lay her beside his friend. I’m as entitled as any human being to have such irrational fancies…
He gazed, for the last time, at the faces of the two people who had become the most important adults in his turbulent life and, without whom, the future – stretching away into the darkness of eternity – looked forbidding.
He was startled when Karen came to his side. He’d assumed she wouldn’t be allowed to stay, but as she slipped her arm through his and laid her head against his shoulder, he saw, mingled with a gleam of approval for his action, that familiar glint of determination in her eye, as she too took her last farewell of the woman who had been her dearest friend, and the man who had been her whole life.
She can’t leave Adam to face this last obstacle to his eternal rest alone, any more than I can leave Dianne, he thought, feeling obscurely comforted that here, at least, was someone who understood, however inadequately, something of the emotions he was experiencing.
Paul struggled to swallow the burning lump in his throat and straightened up; setting his face in his well-practised expression of military formality before he led her some distance away.
Then, as Ochre and Grey took up their positions, he enfolded Karen in his strong embrace, and together they witnessed the release of their loved ones from the potential horror of Mysteron enslavement.
In the mighty Romanesque splendour of Winchester cathedral, which even familiarity could never quite reduce to homeliness, the memorial service for Lady Dianne Metcalfe was underway. The local people present – friends, acquaintances and the merely curious - gave the unknown mourners amongst them wary glances, even as they warbled the last of the hymns. The tall, upright, military men and women, presumably colleagues of Colonel Sir Paul Metcalfe – who, as everyone knew, was something to do with the World Government’s military forces – occupied the pews immediately behind the family. The Metcalfe children, Susannah pale and red-eyed as she leaned on her brother’s arm, stood beside the drooping figure of their grandmother, the Dowager Countess, and two other women, both fair-haired, stood beside them. The taller of them - a young woman with short blonde hair and brown eyes - was holding Adam’s hand.
The congregation sat and a hushed silence fell as the colonel, still a good-looking and surprisingly youthful man for his age, climbed to the lectern.
In his clear, precise voice he read the following:
“…Long, long must be our parting;
I was not destined to tell you thoughts.
I stood on tiptoe gazing into the distance,
Interminably gazing at the road that had taken you.
With thoughts of you my mind is obsessed;
In my dreams I see the light of your face.
Now you are started on your long journey,
Each day brings you further from me.
Oh that I had a bird’s wings
And high flying could follow you…” *
There were many amongst the congregation who detected a tremor in his voice as he concluded his valediction.
* from Chinese Poems by Arthur Waley. (1919)
With grateful thanks as always to Chris Bishop, Hazel Köhler and Caroline Smith (my beta-readers) for their consideration, patience and support.