Thanks to Hazel Kohler – with some help from Mary J. Rudy – who had graciously offered to be my beta reader and had proof-read this story. This is this chapter revised version. C.B.)
A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” novel
By Chris Bishop
Captain Blue was feeling miserable.
Alone, in one of Cloudbase Sickbay’s numerous rooms, he was sick with a severe case of flu. Rather common, by Blue’s own standard, but Doctor Fawn had judged him unfit for duty, and a health hazard for other Cloudbase personnel. In the closed environment of the flying Spectrum headquarters, Blue’s condition could be the beginning of a spreading epidemic that would have reduced the effectiveness of the entire base.
Knowing that Colonel White, Spectrum’s commander-in-chief, would have none of that, Doctor Fawn had quickly put Blue into quarantine - much to the young American Captain’s dismay.
There was only so much sport a man could watch on the television, Blue thought bitterly as he zapped through channels, successively moving from base-ball to basket-ball, soccer and American football… An active guy like Blue wasn’t really used to staying in bed doing nothing but while the time away. He would rather be out there, chasing after terrorists… or even Mysterons, for that matter.
As he tried to figure out the final score of the tennis match he had stumbled on, Blue saw the door of his room slide open. A dark head discreetly peered inside and looked expectantly at Blue. Recognizing the familiar grinning face, Blue let out a heavy sigh of relief and sat up straight on his bed.
"Well, are you a sight for sore eyes! I was beginning to think I hadn’t a friend left in the world!"
"Mind if I come in?" Captain Scarlet said entering, his cap in hands. "I thought you could use some friendly company."
"PLEASE come in!" Blue almost implored him. "Before Doctor Fawn sees you and throws you out on your rear."
"Actually," Scarlet replied with an amused glitter in his blue eyes, "he gave me permission to come and see you. Said your morale was way down."
"I hate being confined to bed," Blue mumbled. "Who said I was sick, anyway? I don’t feel sick!"
"Don’t lie, Adam."
Scarlet came nearer and touched his friend’s forehead. He frowned, taking on an alarming resemblance to Doctor Fawn when he was busy examining a difficult patient. "Fever still high, I see." He glanced at Blue’s puzzled face, trying to sound and look very serious. "Pallid complexion, red eyes, runny nose… Yes, I’d say you’re still very sick, my friend."
"Would you stop with the act?" Blue protested, torn between anger and amusement. "If Fawn came in right now, you’d have hell to pay next time you came to him as a patient. How come he’s let you visit me, anyway? I thought I was in complete quarantine, since we got back from London."
"Well, you are," Scarlet agreed, smiling and pulling up the only chair in the room to sit next to the bed. "And don’t expect to see anybody else but me." He scratched his ear, looking a little embarrassed. "It seems I have a … ah… natural immunity to all Earth viruses, now. I can’t catch flu anymore, and therefore won’t spread it around Cloudbase."
Blue scowled. "Some guys have all the luck," he muttered. "How come I caught flu, anyhow? I thought Cloudbase had a controlled environment."
"That’s why you caught it. That ‘controlled environment’ isn’t always very good for the immune system. Remember when we went to London… It was chilly down there, even with our warm uniforms."
"Typical British weather," Blue retorted with a devilish smile. He glanced at his friend, a bit perplexed. "You said you have a natural immunity against Earthly viruses now? What about London? I still remember how bad you looked in the International Airport Control Tower. I swear, Paul, you were about to faint."
"I know." Scarlet replied, thoughtfully. "I told Doctor Fawn about that incident four days ago, when I… er…"
"Revived?" Blue suggested, lifting an eyebrow.
Scarlet shrugged. "I’ll have a hard time adjusting to this ‘coming back from the dead’ stuff," he said gloomily.
"I think EVERYBODY here will have a difficult time adjusting." Blue sneezed loudly. "Understandably, you more than anybody else. Excuse me."
"Bless you," Scarlet smiled as Blue drew a handkerchief from the box next to his bed. "You know, you really look awful."
"Thank you," Blue sniffed. "Now what was it Doctor Fawn said about what happened to you in the Airport Tower?"
"Well, it’s definitely not due to the flu. I didn’t catch the same virus as you, he’s pretty sure of it."
"Then what was wrong with you?"
"Fawn has a theory…" Scarlet hesitated and Blue sneezed again, this time right into the handkerchief.
"What is this theory of his?" the American asked.
"He thinks it has to do with the Mysterons. Since I was a strategic part of the Asian Director General’s protection… Fawn thinks they might have tried to regain control of me to get to him."
Blue stared at his friend in concern.
"That’s bull!" he protested vehemently. "Seeing how you acted afterward, I hope Fawn was quick to admit he was wrong!"
"He said the Mysterons TRIED, Adam. He didn’t say they’d succeeded."
"I sure hope so!" Blue sneezed again and took a new handkerchief. "I swear, I’m becoming allergic to this place! Paul… you DIED trying to save the Director General."
"And failed," Scarlet responded sombrely.
"Well, that couldn’t be helped. War is war, and unfortunately, there are victims in war. And I wouldn’t be too quick to say you failed… At least, not entirely."
As Scarlet gave him a puzzled look, Blue smiled quietly. "Remember, dying for the cause proved you were still loyal to Spectrum."
"A rather poor consolation," Scarlet grumbled.
"Not for everybody, it isn’t." Blue sneezed again, much to his dismay. Scarlet smiled, somewhat amused by his friend’s misfortune. He then reached for his tunic pocket and opened it, producing a small envelope that he put into Blue’s lap.
"What’s that?" his friend asked, eyeing the piece of paper.
"Something that should improve your morale a bit," Scarlet answered, standing up. "It’s from Symphony."
Blue’s eyes lit up at the mere mention of that name. Since the very beginning of the Spectrum organisation, Captain Blue and Symphony, one of the female pilots of the Angel jetfighters, had been pursuing a romantic relationship that only a few were aware of. Colonel White was not of those. Not that the commander-in-chief of Spectrum was a heartless man. At one point, he had even allowed marriage between Captain Brown and Becky Evershaw, a Spectrum communications operator … and Brown’s recent death at the hands of the Mysterons had left his young wife a widow, with a child on the way. Colonel White had blamed himself for this dreadful situation. Now, nobody knew for sure how he would react if he found out about the relationship between one of his best staff officers and one of his Angel pilots.
"I’ll leave you alone to savour that," Scarlet smiled as Blue took the envelope. I’m sure you’ll feel much better afterward."
"Thanks, Paul," Blue said with a broad grin. "I owe you one."
"Don’t mention it. Do you have a message for your lady friend?"
"Tell her I love her. Tell her I love her. No… Rather, tell her to call me and I’ll tell her myself. I may not be able to see her personally, but I sure can answer the intercom or the phone."
"Won’t it be a bit risky? Somebody else might intercept it and hear you…"
"That depends on what you say and how you say it. Karen and I have our ways…"
"I’m sure you do," Scarlet grinned. "I’m out of here. Take care of yourself. I’d like to see you fit for duty very soon."
He moved to the door and opened it, putting on his cap, as Blue was opening the envelope. "Don’t be a stranger. Come back to visit me soon," the blond American called out to his British counterpart.
Scarlet nodded his agreement and departed from the room. He smiled with amusement as the door closed behind him, at the very moment Captain Blue let out one last sneeze.
* * *
The Amber Room was situated at the far end of Cloudbase Deck E, just beneath the Angel craft positioned on the higher flight deck. Angel One, always ready for take-off, was at all times manned by one of the female Angel pilots, on four-hour rotating shifts. At the present time, Melody Angel was stationed in the craft, and Symphony and Rhapsody, ready to respond to any emergency, were occupying the Amber Room.
Rhapsody was busy preparing herself a cup of tea over at the counter, all the while trying desperately not to yawn. About four hours earlier, she had returned from her own shift on board Angel One. Just before that, she had finished eighteen hours straight, replacing one or another of her fellow Angel pilots, who had other duties to perform. She couldn’t wait to get to her personal quarters to get a few hours of sleep, right now. You’re too accommodating, Dianne, she told herself. People are beginning to rely a little too much on you. Better be careful, or you’ll man Angel One all alone one of these days.
Symphony, comfortably seated in one of the Amber Room’s many chairs, raised her eyes from the book she was reading and looked toward her British counterpart, with a compassionate, but slightly bemused glance. She consulted her watch.
"About ten minutes to go, now, honey," the blonde American Angel said. "And you’ll be able to hit the bunk."
"That would be a real pleasure," replied the redhead with a heavy sigh, stirring her tea. "I mean, I’ve rarely felt so exhausted before… I really need that rest."
At that precise moment, Captain Scarlet entered the room in time to hear his compatriot’s words. He gave her a roguish grin. "That’s because you don’t know how to manage your time properly, m’dear. I’ll bet you didn’t sleep much last night… Couldn’t put down one of those trashy novels you ladies are so fond of?"
"Look what the cat dragged in!" retorted Rhapsody with a mocking smile. "I’ll have you know, Captain Scarlet, that I’ve been on duty for twenty-four hours now, dividing my time between standby here and in Angel One… which is where I was last night."
"What kind of a schedule is that?"
"I’m too much of a good sport. Destiny and Harmony had other business to attend to. So I volunteered to take their places."
On seeing Scarlet, Symphony had quickly got up from her seat. The British Captain came to her with an amused twinkle in his eye.
"Rhapsody," Symphony said, addressing the other girl, "would you mind giving us a minute or two?"
"What… him too?" Rhapsody replied with a devilish smile that took Scarlet by surprise. "You’re very busy, Karen… I wonder what Adam would say about that."
"Come on, Dianne…"
"Is the far end of the room far enough for you?" Rhapsody turned her back on the pair and walked toward the elevator leading to the Angel craft. "Don’t mind me, I’m not here."
Scarlet stared at her back for a few seconds before looking back at Symphony. "Does she know anything about you and Adam… or is she just kidding you?"
"With Rhapsody, you can never tell," Symphony said. "With her background as a detective… And if she knows something, she didn’t learn it from me."
"Well, not from me either."
"Did you see him?"
Scarlet smiled. "Yeah, I saw him."
"How is he doing?"
"He’s miserable and hating every minute of it. Can’t wait to be out of quarantine."
"Poor thing!" Symphony sighed heavily. "Maybe I should go visit him."
"I wouldn’t advise it. He’s very sick, you know. And it won’t do any good if you catch the flu too." Scarlet gave an amused smile. "Don’t you think the Colonel would be suspicious if that happened?"
"You’re right, of course. Did you give Adam my message?"
"Yes… He was about to read it when I left him. Oh! And he has his own message for you. He asked me to say he loves you."
Symphony’s face seemed to glow on hearing these words. "Thanks, Paul." she said warmly. "I could just kiss you!"
"Well," Scarlet smiled, opening his arms to her, "there’s no risk of catching the flu from me!"
He hugged her, like he would have the kid sister he never had. Symphony let out a heavy sigh.
"You’re a real friend, you know that?"
"I’m just trying my best," Scarlet responded. "You’ve got a good thing going with Blue. I just feel good helping you…"
"Are you finished yet?" Rhapsody, at the other end of the room, had turned to look at them. The mischievous smile on her face was proof enough that she wasn’t to be fooled by the appearance of the scene. Scarlet gave her an odd look.
"I thought you weren’t supposed to be here."
"I’m doing both of you a favour by pointing out that Melody will be coming off duty…" she consulted her watch, "…in less than five minutes. Now maybe you don’t care if anyone sees you like this…"
Exchanging embarrassed glances, Scarlet and Symphony broke apart. The British Captain cast a thankful look at his red haired compatriot and cleared his throat. "Right," he stated, turning toward the exit. "I should be going, anyway. I feel rather restless right now… Maybe I’ll go to the gym and do a few laps of the track…"
"Sounds like fun," Rhapsody smiled back. "I’d be tempted to join you…" she suppressed a yawn. "…if I weren’t so tired."
"Go and get some rest, girl," Scarlet responded, laughing. "You look like you could do with it."
The door slid open before him and, as he turned toward it, he nearly bumped into a newcomer who stopped dead in the doorway upon seeing him. Scarlet stopped too, then looked back at the young blonde woman who was now staring at him with bewildered eyes.
"Well, hello there!" Scarlet said warmly with a broad smile. "It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, hasn’t it?"
Destiny Angel, her crash helmet tucked under her left arm, blinked blankly at Scarlet’s words. She straightened up in front of him and cleared her throat. "Hello, Captain," she said evenly.
"How are you doing these days, Destiny?"
"Very well, thank you," the Angel pilot responded in her heavy French accent. "I’ve just come to relieve Melody in Angel One."
"She’s not down yet. We have a few minutes to ourselves to talk". Scarlet smiled again. "Did you have your hair cut?"
"Yes, a bit. I didn’t think you would notice, Captain."
"Come on, Juliette, don’t be so formal." Scarlet looked at her thoughtfully. "Listen, I should be due for a furlough in a few days, in London. I seem to recall I promised you a night on the town, several weeks ago…"
"You did?" Destiny’s voice had a cold edge to it, almost icy. Scarlet noticed it, but dismissed the thought almost right away.
"Yes," he said, trying to smile kindly. "So, what do you say? Maybe if you ask the Colonel, you could join me… for old times’ sake."
"For old times’ sake," Destiny repeated absentmindedly, lowering her eyes to the floor. Scarlet, along with Rhapsody and Symphony, who were following the conversation, could see she was somehow uneasy. "I’m sorry, Captain. I’m afraid I have to decline."
Scarlet frowned, perplexed. "What? Why?" He looked straight at her, trying to read her feelings in her face. He could see none. "Are you sure you’re all right?" he asked her.
Destiny looked up at him. "Yes," she replied, a bit too sharply for Scarlet’s taste. "Why do you ask that question?"
Scarlet shrugged. "I don’t know… You don’t seem like yourself, actually."
"I am quite myself, thank you," Destiny retorted curtly. She looked him squarely in the eyes, before adding: "Are you?"
The icy tone of her voice took Scarlet aback. From her seat, where she had reopened her book without really reading it, Symphony suddenly raised her head and exchanged concerned glances with Rhapsody, who seemed almost as astounded as she was.
"What’s the matter, Destiny?" Scarlet asked. As she tried to get by him, he reached to grab her gently by the shoulders, wondering what she could have against him. She drew back, and the almost disgusted look he saw in her eyes startled Scarlet.
"What do you think is the matter?"
Upon hearing Destiny’s icy response, Rhapsody stared at her with unbelieving surprise. "Juliette!" she started in protest.
Scarlet had instantly let go of Destiny, still looking quizzically into her face. He saw not only disgust in her defiant glance, but also a mixture of mistrust… and horror.
And he did know why. It just never occurred to him that of all the people in Cloudbase, SHE would react to him that way.
"I see what it is," he said, with a catch in his voice. "It’s all too obvious…" He could only stare at her blankly, unable to say more. And she was staring back at him, determined not to avert her eyes this time. The coldness in them was more than Scarlet could stand. "Excuse me, ladies," he muttered over his shoulder, addressing Symphony and Rhapsody, "I really must be going…"
"Captain…" Rhapsody tried to call him back.
"Paul, wait!" Symphony jumped to her feet, throwing down her book, but Scarlet was already on his way out. He didn’t even look back at a still cold Destiny as he went past her and strode out of the Amber room.
"Of all the unfeeling things to do!" Rhapsody slammed her cup down on the counter, almost breaking it in the process. "Juliette, what IS the matter with you?"
"What did you do that for?" Symphony added, frowning. "He was trying to be kind to you…"
"Well, I don’t want his kindness!" snapped an angry Destiny to her fellow pilots. "In fact, I don’t want ANYTHING to do with HIM!"
She started to move toward the elevator leading to the Angel craft. Symphony moved quickly in front of her, cutting off her way out. Rhapsody drew nearer.
"I don’t think you realize what you have just done!" the British pilot said. "You’ve hurt him, Destiny!"
"Hurt him real bad," Symphony added. "Why did you behave like that?"
"Do you have to ask?"
"Really, Destiny," Rhapsody protested, "you don’t really believe that crap about…"
"You forget," Destiny interrupted her abruptly. "I saw Paul’s body. I identified him in Sickbay, a month ago when…" Her voice caught in her throat and she had difficulty in continuing "… when his car crashed."
Rhapsody and Symphony looked at her in dismay, not knowing what to say. At that moment, they heard the elevator; Melody was coming down from her shift on Angel One. Destiny looked over the closed transparent amber door. Her expression indicated that she wanted nothing more than to escape further discussion with her friends. She looked at them with embarrassment. "Look, I have to go… You shouldn’t concern yourselves about what just happened."
"Shouldn’t concern ourselves?" Symphony repeated, not believing her ears.
The door of the elevator slid open and Melody appeared before their eyes, unstrapping herself from the elevating pilot seat which had just come to a halt. She stood up, removing her helmet, as Destiny, turning her back on Rhapsody and Symphony, went to take her place on the seat.
Destiny sat down and strapped herself in, glancing over at an angry Rhapsody, who came closer to the elevator door to address her.
"Listen, I sympathise with what you’ve been through, but that’s no reason to take it out on Scarlet, He’s not responsible for what happened."
"How can you be so sure of that?" Destiny replied dryly. "There’s so much we don’t know about these Mysterons…"
"That’s exactly why you should give Paul an even break. I thought you’d been in love with him, in the past…"
"That’s just the point," Destiny snapped back. "I was in love with Paul. Not… HIM."
The door slid down on her, before Rhapsody could add anything else. Through the semi-transparent door, the British Angel could see the seat rising to take Destiny up to Angel One. Angrily, Rhapsody turned around, swearing in a most unladylike fashion. She went past a perplexed Melody, without even seeming to see her.
"Did I miss something?" the young Black American pilot asked, frowning.
"I think Rhapsody and Destiny have just started the age-old British-French rivalry all over again," Symphony said, shaking her head.
"I can’t believe she could be so insensitive!" Rhapsody raged on, striding across the Amber Room toward the exit.
"Where are you going?" Symphony called to her.
"I’ve got to make sure a friend of mine is all right," Rhapsody responded, opening the door. It slid closed behind her, and Symphony was left shaking her head thoughtfully, while a puzzled Melody was still looking quizzically at her.
"I thought you were tired," Symphony murmured to the closed door.
* * *
Upon leaving the Amber Room, Captain Scarlet went directly to the Cloudbase sports centre, situated on Deck C, just next to Sickbay.
He wasn’t really angry about what had just happened. Annoyed, certainly. And most definitely shaken.
Destiny was his oldest friend in the Spectrum organisation. They had worked together a few years back, when they were both in the World Army Air Force. As captain Paul Metcalfe, Scarlet had been superior officer to Flight Lieutenant Juliette Pontoin for a period of two years. They had become friends quickly. In fact, they had been much more than friends. They had been lovers, even engaged to be married, much to the dismay of Scarlet’s father, General Charles Metcalfe, who didn’t seem to trust the young French pilot’s true feelings toward his only son. Eventually, though, the pair received different assignments and went their separate ways, on good terms. Upon seeing each other again when recruited by Spectrum, they had formed an everlasting friendship. Nothing romantic was ever involved, nor even hinted at. They just remained very good friends, relying on each other.
Well, not anymore, thought a gloomy Captain Scarlet. And if the initial discovery of Destiny’s new feelings toward him had startled him at first, he now saw that maybe it was all too understandable that she should react that way. She knew him too well, was too much attached to him NOT to dismiss the new man the Mysterons had made of him. After all, Scarlet’s present body was not his original one. It was some kind of a cloned copy, with some new, radical improvements now encoded into its genetic structure. He could heal from any wound, Doctor Fawn had told him. Even a fatal one.
The fact that the Mysterons had killed him, some weeks ago, and then used this cloned copy of himself to try to kill the World President didn’t help much in how some people would regard him. For six hours he had been in the Mysterons’ power, he’d been told. He didn’t remember anything about that, but even while he found it rather difficult to swallow, he had no cause to doubt it. There were too many people reporting the incident to him. And it explained all too well why, when he had awakened in Cloudbase Sickbay, apparently free from the Mysterons’ influence, he was kept closely under guard, even restrained to his bed at one point. He had truthfully answered the many questions of Spectrum Intelligence agents, who were trying to find out if he was the real Paul Metcalfe or the Mysteron impostor. At first, Scarlet, to whom nothing had been explained, didn’t understand much of what was happening to him. He was just dreadfully aware that he was accused of something terribly wrong. Then, when Colonel White, Captain Blue and Doctor Fawn had finally informed him of what had happened, he was badly shaken. It was taking him time to adapt to what they had told him. Killed once, reborn into a new body, not in control of his own actions and thoughts, killed again… by Captain Blue, no less. And then brought back to life anew, with this new power to rebuild himself. A MYSTERON power…
He could very well understand why Spectrum had to make sure he was really free of the Mysterons’ influence. It was no wonder that, even after he had proved his loyalty by giving his life trying to save the Asian Director General, some people should still distrust him. Realizing this didn’t make it hurt any less, though.
For a minute, Scarlet entertained the notion of talking to Adam about this. Blue had been a good friend, a confidante and a supporter from the very beginning of Spectrum, and even more so since the incident that had changed Scarlet’s life forever. The British Captain dismissed the thought. Sick as he was, Blue didn’t need to worry about his friend on top of it. What Captain Scarlet presently needed more than anything else was to let off some steam. And the best way he knew of doing that was still by doing some physical exercise. Anyway, he was going to the gym to do a few laps before this whole mess with Destiny started out.
He entered the locker room and changed quickly into sport clothing in the colour of his codename. Then he went to the door of the gym, pushed the button to open it and it slid open before him.
He was rather surprised to find it already occupied. Two other members of the Spectrum command staff were using the boxing ring set in the middle of the gym, while a third, standing by it, was apparently acting as both spectator and referee. Scarlet frowned. It was somewhat rare to find almost every member of the senior staff off-duty all at once. He approached the ring to find out more. Captain Grey, the one standing next to the ring, looking at the friendly sparring match between Captain Ochre and Captain Magenta, acknowledged Scarlet’s presence with a welcoming nod.
"Hi," Scarlet, said glancing toward the two fighters dancing around each other and trying to hit one another. "How come you’re all down here?"
"Since it’s so quiet right now, Colonel White thought it wise to give us all a few hours off," Grey explained with a big grin. "To get to know each other again, so to speak… I wonder what he’d say about these two beating up on each other."
"Exactly. And a wager of some sort. Ochre said he was a much better boxer now and Magenta challenged him to prove it." Grey paused a second. "How’s Blue?"
"In about as bad a mood as you can imagine," Scarlet responded. "He can’t wait to get out of Sickbay!"
"I can sympathize with him."
Scarlet smiled. He patted Grey’s shoulder and moved away from the ring to go to the running machine. He climbed onto it, set a fast pace, and began running.
He was paying little attention to the fight continuing to his right. He could however hear very well the different sounds of it; gloves hitting protective gear, fast-moving feet on the mat, heavy breathing, Grey’s encouragement to one opponent or the other… One glance at the fight told Scarlet Ochre had a distinct advantage over Magenta, who was getting repeatedly hit over his well-protected head. Apparently, Scarlet thought, the lessons he had given Ochre over the past year had paid off.
Scarlet changed the setting of the belt so it would increase its speed gradually until it reached its maximum pace in about ten minutes. He then quickly dismissed all distracting thoughts and concentrated on his running.
He was going full speed some minutes later. He noticed that his muscles weren’t straining much. It had been this way since he had escaped the Mysterons’ clutches. His body had always had good physical endurance before that, and even more so now. He could still feel fatigue, yes, but he was able to hold on far longer now.
The fight was still going on after fifteen minutes. Almost without really thinking of it, Scarlet gave it a glance. Poor Magenta was getting the pants beaten off him. Finding he had had enough of the punishing treatment, Magenta held up his hands and gave up.
"All right!" he said in his slightly Irish accent. "I’ll throw in the towel. You’re too strong for me!"
"Good!" Ochre let his defence down, smiling with satisfaction. "Told you you’d be no match for me!"
"Maybe you should get some practice until next time," Grey remarked quietly to Magenta. "Then maybe you’ll get a fair chance."
"Well, he’s welcome to try anytime he wants," Ochre replied. "How ‘bout you, Grey? Want to try it too?"
"No, thank you. I already know I have absolutely no chance in that field. Now if you want to try some judo…"
"Yeah, right!" Ochre laughed. "Coming from the guy who takes regular private lessons from Harmony, our resident black belt!"
Magenta, taking off his gloves, was looking toward Scarlet, who was still going fast on the running machine, apparently oblivious to the discussion taking place not far from him. Ochre followed the direction of his colleague’s glance and saw Scarlet too.
"How about it, Scarlet?" he called to him.
Scarlet glanced over his shoulder, without even slowing down. "No, thanks," he said between two breaths.
"Come on, Scarlet," Magenta encouraged him. "This bully needs a lesson."
"You’re the only one able to give it to him," Grey added.
"That wouldn’t be a good idea," replied Scarlet, shaking his head.
"What is it, Scarlet?" Ochre taunted him. "Afraid I’ll hurt you?"
That was really the least of Scarlet’s worries. He just didn’t feel like getting into a fight, even a friendly one. Not after what had happened in the Amber Room.
"Hell, Scarlet, why do we have to beg you for it?" Magenta said. "I would like to see you kicking that loudmouth’s butt."
"Imagine, a shanty Irishman like you calling me a loudmouth," Ochre murmured to Magenta. "And you could very well be surprised…"
"All right!" Scarlet sighed. He stopped the machine before stepping down from it, and came toward the ring. "If you want, I’m in."
"Good!" The smile on Ochre’s face had a strange look to it. "It will be my pleasure!"
Scarlet stepped into the ring and Magenta put his gloves and headgear on him. Grey took a new gumshield that he handed to his British colleague.
"Go get him, sport!" he encouraged him. Scarlet smiled and put the gumshield in. Magenta patted him on the shoulder and jumped out of the ring.
When Scarlet turned to Ochre, he found him ready for the fight. Ochre started rather quickly, trying a couple of jabs that Scarlet deflected easily. He was a bit surprised by the strength behind Ochre’s blows. Apparently, his American counterpart didn’t want to go easy on him.
They danced around each other for a while, exchanging blows. Neither one of them seemed to have an advantage over the other, but it was however pretty obvious that Scarlet had no difficulty holding his own, while Ochre was struggling to keep up with him.
Still, Scarlet thought, Ochre has improved quite a bit lately.
"All right," Grey said after several minutes. "End of round one. Time to stop a bit."
The two fighters broke it up. Letting out a sigh, Ochre shook his head, looking at Scarlet, his feelings well hidden on his face. Then he turned his back on him and went to his corner, to take a few seconds to breath.
Scarlet spat out the gumshield into one of his gloves and walked to Ochre, smiling broadly.
"You’ve become a tough customer there, Rick. Seems like you learned well from me."
It was like his words had triggered something in Ochre’s mind. Scarlet didn’t see at all what came next.
Ochre suddenly spun around and his gloved fist brutally hit Scarlet in the stomach. His breath knocked out of him, the Brit went down on one knee. The next thing he knew, Ochre was swinging a mean cross to his face, sending him flat on the mat.
"Ochre! Stop it!" An astounded Grey climbed into the ring, closely followed by Magenta. The two men pushed Ochre aside from a half-stunned Scarlet, who was trying to regain his senses. Seeing that the furious Ochre was still attempting to get at his opponent, Grey restrained him, while Magenta stepped in front of his fallen comrade.
"Ochre, snap out of it!" Magenta called out angrily. "What’s the matter with you?"
Ochre shook Grey off and jumped out of the ring. He furiously removed his gloves and headgear and threw them on the floor, while going straight to the door. Magenta was helping a perplexed Scarlet, still out of breath, to his feet.
"You okay, Paul?" Scarlet didn’t even hear Magenta’s concerned question. His eyes were focused only toward the departing Ochre. He was still trying to figure out the reason for his vicious and unexpected assault.
Scarlet shook off Magenta’s helping hands and jumped down from the ring. He was vaguely aware that Grey and Magenta were following him as he raced toward the door behind which Ochre had just disappeared. He quickly removed gloves and headgear and got out of the gym.
They were in the main corridor of the sport centre when Scarlet caught up with Ochre. He reached out to him, taking him by the shoulder.
Ochre turned quickly. Scarlet stepped back, almost dreading another attack. But the look in Ochre’s eyes was even more aggressive than any physical blow.
It was fearfully similar to the one he had seen earlier on Destiny’s face.
"Don’t call me ‘Rick’!" Ochre shouted back at Scarlet. "Don’t ever call me that again! Only my friends can. And you are not my friend!"
"Rick, stop it!" It was Grey, stepping between the two men, fully expecting some kind of a showdown between them and quite determined not to let it happen. "What is going on with you, anyway? I thought Scarlet WAS your friend!"
"Well, he’s not!" Ochre spat out the words with a disgust that stabbed into Scarlet’s heart. Ochre pointed to him. "Paul Metcalfe was my friend! Not that… freak!"
"Please, Ochre," Scarlet said with a tired sigh, "let’s talk about this…"
"I don’t want to talk to you!" Ochre exploded angrily. "You keep pretending you are my friend by you are not him! Paul Metcalfe was the one who taught his boxing moves! It certainly wasn’t you! You didn't even exist, not one months ago! You're nothing but a freak! Every time I look at you, it reminds me of how your masters killed my friend so YOU could live!"
"The Mysterons are not my masters, Ochre," Scarlet replied, his voice bleak. "Not any more."
"That’s what YOU say!" Ochre came back sharply.
"That’s quite enough, Rick!" Grey snapped. "You better stop right now. You’ve gone too far already!"
"Not far enough for me!" Ochre gave Scarlet an icy look. "You may be using the name ‘Captain Scarlet’, but you’ll never take Paul Metcalfe’s. You don’t have the right to take it. It’s HIS, not YOURS. You are not Paul Metcalfe… You NEVER will be."
"Rick…" Scarlet tried again.
"I said to stop calling me that!" Ochre bellowed. He pointed an accusing finger toward Scarlet. "Be careful. Be VERY careful. I’ll be watching you every step of the way. Make just ONE mistake, and I’ll bring you down."
The cold tone of his voice was almost unbearable for Scarlet to listen to. Yet, he didn’t move, didn’t even talk back. "It’s the least I can do for my friend," Ochre added evenly.
A shiver ran down Scarlet’s spine. It was exactly like somebody had just walked over his grave.
Having said all he had to say, Ochre shrugged away from Grey’s hands and turned quickly to depart. He didn’t even look back. If he had, he would have seen a very pale and shaken Scarlet staring blankly at him.
"Gee, Scarlet," Magenta said behind the British Captain. "I had no idea it would turn out that way… If I’d known, I would never have asked you to fight with him."
"It’s not your fault," Scarlet replied in a murmur. "It would have come out, sooner or later."
Grey turned to him, a concerned look upon his face. "We don’t all think the same as Ochre, Paul," he said. For using that name, and for the worried tone in his voice, Scarlet thought he would be eternally grateful to him.
"Unfortunately, he’s not alone in his attitude," Scarlet said, shaking his head. He was trying his very best to regain his composure, but found he couldn’t do it. He had the feeling he was going to break down any second now, before Grey’s and Magenta’s very eyes. He would not have it. It was bad enough that they had witnessed Ochre’s outburst.
Scarlet turned his back on them, without saying one more word and went directly to the door of the locker room, where he had left his uniform. Magenta called after him, but Scarlet didn’t even acknowledge him. He disappeared behind the sliding door.
"Oh, God!" whispered Magenta, looking at the closed door. "I had no idea Ochre was entertaining those kind of thoughts…"
"What happened here?" The soft English voice behind them made Magenta and Grey turn quickly around. Rhapsody was standing there, looking as concerned as them. She shook her head. "I heard a lot of what was said. What started it?"
"Let’s just say what we thought was a friendly boxing match got ugly," Grey responded with a heavy sigh.
"How ugly?" Rhapsody asked again.
"Aside from the verbal abuse you’ve just heard," Magenta explained dryly, "Ochre physically attacked Scarlet."
"Good Lord!" Rhapsody muttered. "And he's still smarting from the first one…"
"First one?" Grey repeated with a frown.
"Before coming here, Captain Scarlet was in the Amber Room." Rhapsody said. "Destiny froze him out, and if her attack was not physical, it was at least as violent as Ochre’s."
"Her too?" Magenta whispered. "But I thought Scarlet and her were… you know… old friends…"
"I’m afraid that's exactly part of the problem."
"Well, we can’t let that go on," a determined Grey said. "We can’t work under these conditions. We have to do something before the Colonel hears about it."
"I’m more concerned about Captain Scarlet’s welfare," Rhapsody replied.
"Believe me, it’s my concern too. I’ll try to get a word with Ochre. He’s got to calm down and give Scarlet a break."
"That’s exactly what I said to Destiny, but I’m not sure she even listened to me," Rhapsody sighed. "I’ll have to give it another try when she'll come off her shift on Angel One."
"I’ll go talk to Scarlet," Magenta said. "Poor guy needs a friend right now, and since Blue’s not on hand…"
"Let me do it, "Rhapsody interrupted suddenly. "No offence, Captain Magenta, but while you’re full of good intentions, I’m sorry to say you’re not the most subtle person on Cloudbase. That kind of situation requires a gentler touch…"
"A feminine touch?" Grey suggested, lifting an eyebrow.
"Nothing gets by you, does it, Captain Grey?" Rhapsody’s smile was a sad one. "He’s my friend too, you know. And regardless of what Destiny and Ochre say about him, I won’t turn my back on him and let him down."
Grey shook his head. "Neither of us will, Rhapsody. I think he’s suffered enough at the Mysterons’ hands without us adding to it. Think you can handle the mission?"
"I will. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of Scarlet. See to Ochre."
"You better be sure I will," Grey muttered, going on his way.