by C. S. Armitage
Lieutenant Sienna wasn't sure what to do: when the call had come in, Scarlet had seemed to collapse in onto himself. That had been five minutes ago and now the young lieutenant wasn't sure whether to just let Spectrum's legend sit, slumped over, in the Spectrum Saloon, or whether there was something she ought to be doing.
It didn't help that, since her promotion from Shade, there hadn't been the time for the "usual" orientation chat with either Captain Cream or Captain Amber, each of whom might have given Sinclair Reid-Graham some idea of how to operate as a female Field Agent.
Outside the car, the lights emphasised how dark the sky above was. Hardly surprising, Sinclair admitted to herself, for London two hours into Christmas Eve.
She decided to try again: "Captain?"
This time Scarlet's head rose.
"I'm sorry, lieutenant," his rich English voice said. "I know that I'm not supposed -- according to all the legends, anyway -- to get tired but…"
"There's nothing to… well, I mean, the crisis is over and you…"
"I didn't have to do anything," Scarlet said, with a lift in his voice that transformed the statement into half a question.
"It's not…" Sinclair started, but couldn't finish.
"I know," Scarlet replied: "But the legend -- which I never wanted but…"
"There's a Mysteron threat, so of course Captain Scarlet has to deal with it. "
"Do you know," he continued, starting the Saloon, and pulling away from the Thameside Reactor Plant, "I almost believe in it myself. So when I hear that Magenta and Ochre have done 'the business', it takes a few minutes to realise that for once I'm not going to be called on -- "
His words broke off, and he squeezed his eyes shut, obviously in pain.
Sienna grabbed the steering wheel, and steered the decelerating vehicle in to the side of the road.
"What's the -- "
'Matter', she'd wanted to ask, but Scarlet's suddenly-raised hand choked the word off.
Then the seizure was over, and Scarlet's head was coming back up--
"THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS -- "
The dreadful atonal voice rang through the Spectrum radios. All over the world, Sinclair knew, from Cloudbase to Urumshi, Spectrum personnel would be hearing the same words. And despairing. Not even an hour since they had countered the last threat and already --
"-- WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE KNOW THAT CAPTAIN SCARLET IS PRESENTLY IN LONDON, ENGLAND. WITHIN ONE HOUR, HE MUST BE AT THE TRAFALGAR PLAZA. DO NOT DISREGARD THIS MESSAGE."
"I am *not* leaving you," Sienna expostulated. "They didn't say anything about 'come alone', and you might be glad of the back-up. If we get there and there is no danger -- just a big gift-wrapped peace treaty or something -- then perhaps I'll let you open it without me. But imagine what the Colonel would say if I let you go and something happened."
"You've never met the Colonel," Scarlet rejoined, momentarily sidetracked. "You were commissioned by Major Argent, weren't you?"
"So, the Colonel would tell you --- " He stopped. It wouldn't be fair of him to lie to her -- not an outright untruth. 'Thou shalt not bear false witness', as Adam and Gillian would have reminded him.
"Let's get going."
It took half an hour to get to the centre of London. Of course, in a Spectrum vehicle there was no problem driving through the pedestrianised areas, or in parking square under the Admiralty Arch.
"If anything goes wrong," Scarlet told her, "Run for that door -- " He pointed to a steel door set in an otherwise featureless concrete wall "-- and your pass will get you in. It's an old military command post, and it should stand up to most things short of nuclear."
They pulled on their (colour-coded) overcoats and set off towards the four bronze lions on their granite plinths. This early in the morning there were hardly any others around, but both Spectrum officers kept turning their heads, in case of an ambush.
"We've twenty minutes to wait," Scarlet told Sienna, as they huddled at the broken base of the former Column (victim to a Bereznik saboteur during the 2047 British Civil War).
A dark shadow moved, and resolved itself into the form of a man in pitch-black garb -- a pale-skinned man whose face was all too familiar to Captain Scarlet, and was even recognisable (thanks to hours of drills) to Sienna.
Scarlet's hand went to his electrode-ray pistol, but the other man said calmly, "There is no need for that, Captain. I was merely going to point out that there is an all-night coffee shop just along the Strand -- it will be warmer there, and you and your Lieutenant can get refreshment."
"What's this about?" Scarlet asked, as the three of them settled into a booth at the back of the coffee shop - having warned the manager that it was imperative that they were not disturbed. To Sienna's surprise, their antagonist had ordered a coffee (triple expresso with nutmeg), and paid for it, just like anyone else might have at two in the morning.
"A message," Conrad Turner replied. "From my masters."
There was a moment's silence as Scarlet and Sienna digested this.
"Why couldn't they -- ?"
"We did not wish the content of this message to go beyond Spectrum, lest it be… misunderstood."
"All right -- do you want to come to Cloudbase to deliver it?"
Turner almost looked as though he were considering Scarlet's offer.
"No," he said at length. "Again, there would be the risk of misunderstandings."
He looked Scarlet up and down, and then surveyed Sienna.
"You will tell your -- the Colonel. Tell him that I vouch for the truth of what you will tell him. If he doubts it, your Lieutenant can confirm what I have said, and your own experience will tell you that we -- that my masters -- never lie."
There was another moment's silence. Then, as Turner opened his mouth to speak again, Scarlet raised a hand.
"All right -- but bear in mind that, if you don't want this on the airwaves, the two of us will have to get to Cloudbase. The nearest SPJ is at London Heathrow --" He heard Sinclair's in breath and turned to her, effortlessly moving into a sidebar: "It's all right, Lieutenant: it's not really a secret. He knew it used to be there, and there aren't any other real alternatives."
"The Army-Air Force field at North Clapham," Black speculated, with a faint hint of amusement in his eye: "Except that there you'd be leaving the jet where it might be hard to get to, if the Security Council declared an emergency. It's all right -- my masters try to ensure that every option is considered."
Scarlet darted a glance at his former brother-officer, and continued: "At Heathrow. We'd then need flying time to Cloudbase."
"Four hours, based on its position when Lieutenant Green radioed to stand you down," Black commented, dryly.
"What I mean is, there will be a time lag between *you* giving me the message and the Colonel being able to do anything about it."
"Which makes no difference," Black replied. He drained his coffee.
"The message is this: the Mysterons are aware of the significance of Christmas. This -- the agent sent to sabotage the Geneva Power Centre -- was the first time they have ordered an attack so close to Christmas, and it occurred because the agent was delayed for two days in getting into position by your security sweeps of the Centre's personnel. I am to tell you that, so long as Earthmen offer no provocation, there will be an informal truce in our war for three days on either side of the 25th. There is no honour in attacking when your enemy is obliged to deal with -- well, I suppose the simile doesn't translate well.” Black replaced his cup on its saucer with preternatural grace and -- almost – smiled. "Now, if you leave at once, and take the fair young lady with you," and this time Sinclair was almost certain he smiled, "the two of you will reach Cloudbase in time for all of Spectrum to know that their celebrations can go ahead."
He rose, but Captain Scarlet reached out a hand to catch his arm.
"What about you?"
"The shops will open in… five and a half hours. I have presents to buy and wrap. It's *my* only holiday as well."
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