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.)
Colonel White sat at his round control desk, pondering the new Mysteron threat he had just heard. Saying that he wasn’t personally concerned would be a lie. This time, the Mysterons had threatened to kill members of Spectrum. It was a first. And a perplexing turn of events. Last time the alien enemies actually DID take the lives of Spectrum agents, they were not so considerate as to give any warning of it.
Captain Scarlet strode into the Control Room and came to attention.
“Captain Scarlet reporting as ordered, sir,” the younger man announced.
“At ease, Captain. Please take a seat.”
Scarlet nodded and sat down, putting his cap on his knees. Colonel White gazed at him, wondering what could possibly be going through his mind. Scarlet seemed rather nervous. He had actually been the first victim on Earth of the Mysterons, White realised. No doubt, this threat was also troubling him.
“Is something the matter, sir?” Scarlet asked, seeing his superior so thoughtful.
“Just wondering, Captain,” White replied, shaking his head. “You arrived rather quickly. I take it you weren’t very far away.”
“No, sir, I wasn’t.”
“I heard you paid Captain Blue a visit in Sickbay, earlier.”
“Yes, sir. He’s still quite ill. Will he be joining us anyway?”
“No.” Colonel White nodded toward his aide, Lieutenant Green, who was seated behind Scarlet, in front of the huge computerized console that enabled him to control all Spectrum activities, in Cloudbase and around the world. “The lieutenant has just spoken with Sickbay about him.”
“Doctor Fawn reported that Captain Blue was sleeping like a babe, when I talked to him,” the young Caribbean lieutenant said to Scarlet with a smile. “And since there is no loudspeaker in Sickbay, he hasn’t heard the Mysterons’ threat.”
“He needs his rest,” White added. “So I instructed Doctor Fawn not to wake him up. He will learn about this soon enough.”
“He’ll be annoyed to find out he’s been sidelined on this one, sir,” Scarlet remarked, smiling a little.
“Well, I’d rather see him resting and getting well quickly than dragging that flu of his around and giving it to other Cloudbase personnel,” the colonel replied. “Besides, I don’t think he would dare question MY decision on that matter.”
Captain Scarlet had his doubts about that one. And he wasn’t fooled either by the colonel’s apparently harsh statement about Blue’s sickness; his superior was concerned about the American captain, that much Scarlet was certain of.
“Something on YOUR mind, Captain?” Colonel White asked his officer, seeing his distracted expression.
“No, sir. Nothing of importance.”
“We’ll wait for the others…”
White had just finished his sentence when the door opened wide. Captains Ochre, Grey and Magenta entered and came toward their superior’s desk. Grey reported for them all, and White invited them to sit down. As they did, Scarlet tried not to stare at Ochre, whose icy glare he could almost feel. Scarlet was aware that there was still some unfinished business between them, and they would have to talk it through at some point. That, however, would have to wait.
“Where were you, Captain Scarlet?” he suddenly heard Grey ask him. “I was looking all over for you.”
Scarlet looked at Grey and saw his look of concern. Magenta seemed anxious too. At least, Scarlet thought, these two appeared to be on his side. “Later,” he replied to Grey with a faint smile. “Right now, we have business to attend to.”
“Quite right,” Colonel White observed quietly. “As I was saying to Captain Scarlet, gentlemen, Captain Blue won’t be joining us. So, let us begin. You’ve all heard this new threat of the Mysterons’.”
“Yes, they want to sabotage the airshow which starts in Los Angeles in three days,” Magenta answered. “Aren’t we already on hand for security there, sir?”
“Yes, Spectrum ground agents are already checking things out, along with the American military,” Colonel White nodded. “But that was even BEFORE the Mysterons.”
“Which bring us to the second part of their threat,” Scarlet mused.
“That’s the one I’m more worried about,” White said. “It’s the first time the Mysterons have threatened to strike at Spectrum directly.”
“They must have known we’ve been put in charge of security in L.A.,” Captain Ochre noted. “Do you think they plan on using Spectrum personnel to carry out their threat, sir? Like they did with the World President?”
White looked sternly at Ochre. He would have thought that the ex-policeman had much more tact than that. Knowing Scarlet’s involvement in the affair, he should have been aware that such a statement could be unsettling for him. Even Grey and Magenta were turning furious stares toward Ochre. Only Scarlet himself didn’t seem to care.
“It is a possibility, sir,” noted the young British captain, nodding thoughtfully. White refrained from smiling. Scarlet’s diplomacy was more than a match for Ochre’s lack of it.
“Yes, it is,” the commander of Spectrum agreed. “It is possible that some of our ground personnel already involved with the airshow security have been targeted by the Mysterons.”
“If you’ll pardon me for disagreeing with you, sir,” Grey said at that moment, “it seems to me that the Mysterons should have a bigger target in mind than ground agents… Not ignoring the fact that they’re doing a great job.”
“I understand what you mean, Captain. We must not, however, let that kind of threat interfere with our job. And since the Mysterons have also threatened the airshow, it is our job to see that it is not sabotaged.” He cleared his throat. “Just before this threat came in, a pilot from Universal Aero Engineering had just landed here on Cloudbase. He has arrived with a prototype aircraft that should be the star of the Los Angeles show, a new class of Passenger Jet built by UAE.”
“I’ve heard of that one,” Ochre mused. He looked at his fellow officers. Along with his taste for building model planes, Captain Ochre was also well known for his interest in aeronautics in general. “The cabin and the cockpit have been conceived as a built-in capsule. It should come in handy in case of a crash. The crew and the passengers should then be able to effect an emergency escape.”
“An ejecting cabin?” Magenta repeated. “With a ’chute to slow down the descent, I suppose?”
“Something like the FB-111 Aardvark, that was built in the 1960’s by General Dynamics?” Grey added in turn. “Or the EF-111 Raven, perhaps?”
Ochre stared at his colleague in disbelief. “Very good, Captain Grey! You’re actually improving your knowledge of aircraft! I’m impressed!”
Grey smiled mockingly. While Ochre was the resident expert on classic aircraft and prided himself on knowing all there was to know on the subject, Grey was more of a Navy man. “Blame Captain Blue. He’s the one who’s been briefing me on those crates you’re so fond of… Figures somebody should put you in your place, once in a while… Or at least, be able to follow you when you’re babbling on about them, when nobody really cares.”
“Well, anyway, I can tell you that the principle behind that new UAE Passenger Jet is much more ingenious than what General Dynamics came up with for the Aardvark…”
“Oh, thank you VERY MUCH, Grey!” Magenta hissed. “Now you’ve done it!”
“The Aardvark ejecting cockpit was just conceived as some kind of escape pod,” Ochre continued, feigning not to hear Magenta’s protests. “It could be used as a shelter or even as a rescue boat, but that was about as far as it went. The capsule of the new Passenger Jet should be able to fly under its own power, with a limited amount of fuel.”
“Which could allow it time to land safely,” Grey remarked.
“Right,” Ochre nodded. He turned excitedly toward the colonel. “Don’t you think it could be a good idea for Spectrum to equip itself with that kind of Passenger Jet, sir?”
“Why do you think this prototype is here today?” Scarlet retorted in an amused voice.
Ochre stiffened and suddenly turned to him, finally seeming to notice his presence. “How do you know that?” he demanded.
Scarlet grinned widely. “I heard about it the last time I was at London Headquarters,” he answered.
“Right,” Ochre responded with bad humour. “That would be last week, then. How come the news hasn’t reached Cloudbase yet?”
“Because there is nothing official about it,” White responded. “The prototype is still in its test period. It should be tested thoroughly by one of our personnel before being added to our fleet… IF that ever happens.”
Magenta looked puzzled. “But our resident test pilot is down with the flu,” he noted quietly.
Ochre scoffed. “Blue isn’t the only one who can test that craft!”
“It’s easy to see you’re more than willing to take his place!” Magenta replied ironically.
“I’m more than qualified. Why shouldn’t I fly it?”
“We all have our pilot’s licence, Ochre,” Grey said dryly. “That doesn’t make test pilots out of us.”
“All right, now, stop bickering!” White called out. He turned to Ochre. “You won’t test that plane. None of you captains will. Since Captain Blue is out of action, I intend to assign an Angel pilot to it.”
“Melody Angel, sir?” Scarlet asked. He remembered the well-deserved reputation of the young Black American woman when she was a test pilot for the WAAF. She had been considered a master of her field. But White shook his head.
“Melody Angel is scheduled for active duty in the next few hours. I thought of one of the Angels who’s currently off-duty, since she would have to go to Los Angeles to perform the tests.”
“Sir?” Scarlet asked with a quizzical frown. “The tests will be performed in public, during the airshow?”
“The initial safety tests have all been completed by UAE, Captain. These are only flight tests. While Spectrum has a potential interest in acquiring the craft, other buyers are also interested and will be in Los Angeles to evaluate the jet’s performance. As with the last model of Passenger Jet, if this one should be acquired by Spectrum, it will be modified for our specific needs. That’s one of the reasons why one of our own pilots should perform the flight tests.”
“So that’s why Spectrum is responsible for security at the airshow in the first place,” Scarlet nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes, Captain, that’s why,” Colonel White agreed.
“Nothing gets by you, does it?” Ochre mumbled under his breath for Scarlet’s exclusive attention.
White did hear him muttering and cast a stern look at him; he also noticed Scarlet feigning not to have heard anything, so he did the same. For the time being. There was something going on here, he thought, but he really didn’t have the time right now to concern himself with it. Nevertheless, he took a mental note of the incident. He would have to come back to it later on.
Captain Grey too had heard Ochre’s acerbic remark to Scarlet. He was hoping Colonel White had been unaware of it, but the quick but icy glance he saw his commander casting at Ochre told him that wasn’t the case.
“The flight tests on the Passenger Jet would also provide a good cover for explaining Spectrum’s extended presence at the show,” Grey said, hoping to divert everyone’s attention.
White nodded. “Here’s your course of action, gentlemen: Captains Scarlet, Ochre and Grey, you will board the prototype with the UAE representative and our Angel test pilot and go directly to Los Angeles Airport.”
“S.I.G., sir,” the three officers responded.
“Captain Scarlet, you’ll act as field commander.”
Scarlet seemed startled, hearing that order. “Me, sir?”
White looked up at him. It was indeed the first time he had assigned Scarlet as field commander since his return to duty after the first Mysteron incident. Scarlet was the best man for the job, the most experienced of his officers in that aspect. Security surveillance was second nature to him; he never left anything to chance, always acted quickly and with determination and assurance. So why did he sound so uncertain right now?
“Yes, Captain,” White confirmed. “Is there a problem with that?”
“No, sir.” Scarlet’s voice didn’t seem as assured as White would have liked to hear it. “No problem at all.”
Ochre wasn’t very pleased about the decision, though; that was pretty obvious by the way he was trying not to look at Scarlet. Would probably have preferred me to choose him to be field commander, White thought, since he’s so versed in aeronautics. However, jealousy was not a personality trait he would have suspected in Ochre. There was something else.
“Lieutenant Green,” White asked, turning to his aide, “which of the Angels are currently off-duty?”
Green consulted his computer screen. “Rhapsody Angel came off duty an hour ago,” he announced. “She’s scheduled for eight hours rest.”
“If I may say so, sir,” Scarlet interjected, “Rhapsody has been on duty for the past twenty-four hours. The last I saw of her, she was exhausted.”
“Yes, she wouldn’t make a good test pilot under those conditions,” White agreed. “Who’s left then, Lieutenant?”
“Destiny Angel, sir.”
Scarlet refrained from scowling. He succeeded in hiding his reaction behind a puzzled expression. “Isn’t she supposed to be on duty in Angel One?”
Colonel White gave him a curious look. “Why do I have the feeling you know all the Angels’ schedules by heart, Captain?”
There was unaccustomed humour in the Colonel’s voice. Scarlet felt himself reddening violently. Seeing him suddenly so embarrassed, Grey chuckled. “You devil! Now we know why you always seem so busy!”
Scarlet shot him a murderous glance. A bemused Magenta elbowed Grey in the side. “Leave him alone, Grey. What is it with you, jealous or something? Those judo lessons with Harmony are suddenly not enough for you?”
“That’s all they are, Magenta: judo lessons.”
Scarlet snorted. “Where I come from, a gentleman never mentions a lady’s name in that context.”
“Hey! I’m taking your side here!” Magenta protested.
“Well, you’re not helping.”
“All right, enough now!” Colonel White called loudly. “We’ve all had our fun. We’re not in a school playground, gentlemen, but on a military base and we have business to attend to. Lieutenant Green?”
“Is Destiny Angel supposed to be in Angel One, as Captain Scarlet said?”
“Yes, sir. But she asked to be released. She wasn’t feeling well. Symphony replaced her.”
“She wasn’t feeling well?” Colonel White repeated, frowning. “Odd. I hope she hasn’t caught that dreadful bug Captain Blue brought back from London…”
“I don’t think so, sir,” Lieutenant Green stated. “She said it was probably something she ate.”
“Well, I hope she’s well enough to perform the flight tests in Los Angeles,” White remarked.
“I’ll go check on her, sir,” Captain Magenta proposed quickly.
White nodded his agreement. “All right, do it. Tell her to report to the duty hangar immediately. If she doesn’t seem well enough, we’ll have to rely on Rhapsody.”
“Yes, sir,” Magenta nodded. “Since I’m obviously not going to L.A., what are my orders?”
“You’ll stay here on Cloudbase, as back up, in case of emergency. If it comes to that, I’ll ask Captain Blue to join you.”
“Keep your distance,” Ochre muttered ironically, addressing Magenta.
“I’ll keep that in mind when YOU get the flu,” Magenta told him rather dryly.
“The rest of you, gentlemen, will go to the duty hangar, where the prototype and pilot await you. You’ll leave as soon as the Jet has finished refuelling.”
“Yes, sir,” responded Grey for Ochre, Scarlet and himself.
“Captain Scarlet, I’ll await your report on the situation in Los Angeles upon your arrival there.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Scarlet responded.
“All right, now. Dismissed, gentlemen.”
The four officers stood up and moved to the door. Almost as they were about to leave, White raised his head and called out: “Captain Scarlet… A last word with you, before you go.”
Scarlet acknowledged him; he turned to Grey. “I’ll join you in the hangar shortly.”
Grey nodded. He could see his fellow officer was somewhat downcast, and he thought he knew why. He patted his shoulder in a reassuring way and smiled at him. “Don’t worry, sport,” he muttered. “You know you can count on me, at least.”
Scarlet thanked him with a faint smile, then left him to return to Colonel White, who didn’t seem to have noticed the exchange between the two men. The young British captain stood in front of his commander who was consulting some details on the document upon his desk.
“Captain,” the colonel said carefully, “I couldn’t help but notice earlier how uneasy you seemed when I assigned you as field commander…” He looked up at the younger man. “Despite your affirmation that there was no problem, I’m quite sure I heard some. What is it exactly?”
“Well, sir…” Scarlet hesitated. “I’m not really sure I’m ready for it right now,” he said finally.
White didn’t bat an eyelid. “Sit down,” he invited Scarlet quietly.
As Scarlet obeyed, White cleared his throat. “I, for one, think you’re ready for field command, Captain,” he told him. “Why would you disagree with me on the matter?”
“That should be evident, sir,” Scarlet replied carefully.
White eyed him with attention. Of course, he had a pretty good idea what the young officer was referring to. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t doubt yourself, Scarlet,” he said. “Before that dreadful incident with the World President, you were one of the finest field agents this organisation has. You still are. What happened then is behind you.”
“Are you so sure about that?” Scarlet stared blankly at his commander. “Sir, you know as well as I do that I’m not really the same as before. For better or worse, the Mysterons have left their mark on me…”
“We’ve already discussed this, Captain.” White said, shaking his head. “This new ability of yours…”
“Sir, I accept the responsibility that brings,” Scarlet sighed. “I know the opportunities it represents. If it means saving lives… I’ll gladly put mine on the line.”
“I won’t ask you to risk yourself needlessly.”
“I URGE you to make use of it if necessary… sir.”
White sighed. “That’s not what’s troubling you right now, though.”
“Then what is it?”
Scarlet hesitated a brief moment. “Have you received Doctor Fawn’s report about that dizzy spell I had during my last mission in London, sir?”
White nodded his understanding. “Ah! Now I see what’s on your mind. Do you really think the Mysterons tried to regain control of you?”
“That’s what Doctor Fawn thinks. And frankly, the thought of it terrifies me.”
“It’s just a theory, Captain,” White remarked. “It’s also quite possible your dizzy spell has nothing whatsoever to do with the Mysterons.”
“It happened just before the DT19 made its move toward the Director-General’s plane, sir. I remember clearly hearing the operator behind me trying to contact the crew of the liner…”
“Well, in any case, if Doctor Fawn’s theory is right, and the Mysterons really did try to bring you back under their control, they failed.”
“And if they try AGAIN?”
“Captain, why dwell on these morbid thoughts…”
“Sir… I had another attack today.”
White frowned. “Really? When was that?”
“A few minutes ago,” Scarlet sighed. “Just before we heard the Mysterons’ threat, actually.”
“Yes. But stronger, this time.”
“Did you talk to Doctor Fawn about this?”
“I didn’t have the time. I had to report here.”
“Mmm.” White kept silent for a few moments, pondering this new turn of events. Scarlet looked expectantly at his commander.
“Under the circumstances, do you think I should stay on Cloudbase? At least until Doctor Fawn can find out what these attacks are?”
“No, I’ll stick to my decision,” Colonel White replied. “You’ll go to the Los Angeles Airshow and you’ll be field commander for the mission.”
“You’re willing to take the risk, sir?”
“I already took it, Captain. Last month, when you first revived and seemed to be yourself again. I gave you the benefit of the doubt then. And again, last week, I took a greater risk, by putting you back on active duty during the threat against the Asian Director.” Colonel White sighed heavily. “Our senior staff is short-handed right now, with Captain Black’s disappearance and Captain Brown’s untimely demise. And now, with Captain Blue ill, I need every available agent. I know I can trust you to do what you must. You have proved it, to your great credit.”
“I’m always ready to serve, sir. I just felt you should know about the dizzy spells and the doubts I have about them.”
“They are cause for concern, yes, but I don’t think they should make you doubt your loyalty to us, Captain. I don’t doubt it, so neither should you.” White stared at the younger man for a moment. “However,” he added firmly, “if you think you can’t bring yourself to surmount those doubts, to work efficiently, I’ll agree to let you off the hook and assign Captain Magenta to take your place in Los Angeles.”
“That won’t be necessary, sir.” Scarlet stood up and put his cap back on. “You know I work well under pressure,” he added with a smile.
“I knew I could count on you,” White said with a satisfied glimmer in his blue eyes. “Don’t talk about those spells of yours to the others… At least until we learn exactly what they’re all about.”
“Now, if there’s no other problem…”
“No, sir.” There wasn’t the slightest hesitation in Scarlet’s voice. However, the thought that he would have to put up with Ochre and Destiny’s behaviour toward him was very present in his mind. “No problem at all.”
White looked up at his young compatriot, with a thoughtful glance. Does he suspect something is afoot? Scarlet mused. The old man isn’t anybody’s fool…
“All right, Captain. Dismissed. Join the others and leave for Los Angeles as soon as possible. And be careful out there. Do remember the Mysterons have threatened to kill some of us this time.”
“I’m not about to forget that, sir. And… thank you.”
“Whatever for?” White asked with a puzzled look.
“For trusting me. Believe me, it means a lot.”
Scarlet saluted his commander and turned on his heel to depart. A thoughtful White watched as he strode toward the exit. “Paul.”
It was almost unheard of for White to call one of his officers by his first name. In fact, when on duty, it was forbidden for anyone to do so. It was one of Spectrum’s strictest rules, for the real identities of its personnel were its most jealously guarded secret, for security reasons. So, it always came as a surprise when the Spectrum commander himself broke that rule. Now was no different, as Scarlet stopped dead in his tracks to turn a puzzled look on his commander.
“You’re sure there isn’t anything else?” the older man insisted.
Scarlet shook his head, smiling. “Nothing I can’t take care of personally, sir. But thank you for asking.” He turned and left the room, nodding at Lieutenant Green as he went.
The young Black communication officer turned an inquisitive glance at Colonel White, who, noticing it, sighed slightly.
“What’s on your mind, Lieutenant?” he asked.
“Sir?” Green asked with surprise.
“I know that look, Green. You’re about to ask me something.”
“I was just wondering, sir… After what Captain Scarlet told you, about those attacks he has… You’re not worried about what might happen?”
“I trust the man to prevail, Lieutenant,” White replied dryly. “I don’t think the Mysterons will ever be able to take control of him again. IF they’re really trying to do that.”
“If that’s not the case, then what is it?” Green asked, wondering about that himself.
“I’m not sure… But I’m developing a theory of my own. I have to talk to Doctor Fawn about it.”
White stood up from his desk and walked to the observation tube, where he often found himself standing to gaze outside. The sky was blue and clear of clouds. “Captain Scarlet has one of the strongest wills I’ve ever encountered in a human being,” he said to Green. “You should know that, I’ve collided with it quite a few times already.”
“Yes, sir,” Lieutenant Green replied with a bemused smile. “He can be as stubborn as you…” The words had left his mouth before he could actually stop them. White was now shooting a stern look at him. The young man stuttered an uneasy apology. “I’m sorry, sir… I didn’t mean it that way… I meant…”
“Oh, I know EXACTLY what you meant, Lieutenant,” White cut him off promptly. “You’d better be careful what you say in future.”
“Er… Yes, sir. I will.” Green blew out a sigh of relief, and Colonel White had to turn his back on him, so the young man wouldn’t see him smile.
“I believe that Scarlet’s will have permitted him to survive his initial encounter with the Mysterons,” the Spectrum commander continued, as if the little incident hadn’t occurred. “And that it has also helped him to regain control of this new body of his. The Mysterons have unwittingly given us an invaluable weapon, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” Green agreed quietly. “I still can’t get over the fact that he actually died and now he can recover from any injury.”
White cast him a quick glance before returning to his thoughtful posture in front of the observation tube. “Neither can I,” he muttered. “And I have seen it.”
Five days ago, he remembered, Doctor Fawn had produced his final report on the young Mysteron survivor’s new abilities. Colonel White was quite taken by the possibility presented by the use of an unkillable agent. But still, he was unsure if he should take that opportunity right away. Certainly, his staff was short-handed, two of his best agents being unaccounted for – three with Scarlet, who was then still officially off-duty. And then the Mysterons had threatened the life of the Director-General of the Asian Republic, and White had to make a quick and vital decision.
He put Scarlet back on duty, and put him in charge of the Director-General’s protection, along with Captains Blue and Grey. There were risks involved, for sure, but Scarlet wasn’t in direct contact with the Director. Instead, he was stationed with field commander Blue in the Control Tower of London International Airport, where the Director was to take a private jet to get back to his people. And Blue, being Scarlet’s best friend, had orders to keep an eye on him, to make sure he behaved properly. Sure, Colonel White was willing to give Scarlet a chance, but he was also very aware that something could go wrong by doing so.
Something DID go wrong, but it was not due to Captain Scarlet at all.
Things got confused in a matter of minutes at the Airport, when the Mysteronised jet liner threw itself into the take-off path of the Asian Director’s jet. The Spectrum agents involved were too busy to be able to report a step-by-step account of the operation to Colonel White. When the commander finally learned what happened, all was done and finished. In spite of everybody’s best efforts, the Asian Director-General was dead, along with his staff cabinet. Spectrum had succeeded in destroying the DT19, but the wreckage was still in the path of the Director-General’s private jet, which collided with its tail. And it was just by a fluke that Captain Grey, due to a last minute change of plan, was not in the private jet when it exploded. It was Grey who reported to his commander that Captain Scarlet, aboard a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, had desperately tried to ram the wheels of the jetliner…
“Of all the crazy things to do!” barked a furious Colonel White upon hearing that. “Why did he have to do that, risking his and Captain Blue’s lives that way…”
“He almost succeeded, sir,” Captain Grey told him in a tired voice. “And Captain Blue wasn’t in the SPV… Scarlet ejected him before trying to push the liner off course.”
“Is Scarlet nearby?” White asked. “I want to give him a piece of my mind.”
“I’m sorry, sir… The SPV crashed into a reinforced concrete wall. Scarlet…”
“He’s hurt?” Concern had taken the place of anger in White’s voice.
“Sir… He’s dead.”
The surprise in Colonel White’s tone was all too evident. Dead? How could that be possible? According to Doctor Fawn’s last report, Scarlet could not die; his wounds, even fatal ones, would heal in a matter of hours. Could the medical officer of Cloudbase have made a terrible mistake in his diagnosis? Then it would also have been a grievous error on the Colonel’s part to have put Scarlet so quickly back on active duty. He remembered how Scarlet, when he reported to him a few hours before, was eager to come back, but at the same time, the young man seemed confused. And with good reason. Just two weeks had gone by since he had learned his original body had been destroyed, and that THIS one was actually a cloned copy of it, made by the Mysterons. Scarlet certainly knew he could heal fast now and that he would survive most critical injuries, but to be actually indestructible? That would have been a hard one to swallow.
Was Scarlet so willing to put that to the test? Colonel White asked himself if he had not sent another fine young officer to his death under the assumption that he could survive anything.
Scarlet was not ready to face that. And White came to the conclusion he had made a terrible mistake. And so had Doctor Fawn.
“Colonel White, are you still there?”
That was Captain Grey’s voice, calling him. White snapped out of his fugue. “Yes, Captain, I’m here,” he answered heavily. “Have Captain Scarlet’s body sent back to Cloudbase.”
“Sir? Wouldn’t it be better to send him to London Headquarters?” a puzzled Grey asked him. “His family is here in England, and…”
“No,” White replied abruptly. “I want him here. And you and Captain Blue should come back with him. I want to hear a complete report on what happened down there.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Grey sighed heavily. “Sir?”
“He asked me to tell you he tried… And he really did.”
White nodded thoughtfully. “Understood, Grey,” he said, in a gentler tone. “Cloudbase out.”
Upon cutting the radio contact, White had angrily smashed his fist onto his desk, making Lieutenant Green jump at his station, surprised at his commander’s unusual outburst.
“Damn it!” White lashed out furiously. “I thought we finally had something going for us!”
He heard Lieutenant Green’s voice, with a dubious tone to it. “I thought Doctor Fawn said that Captain Scarlet couldn’t be killed any more…”
White turned to him, ready to snap. But he calmed down instantly. The kid at his station was looking rather shaky. “I know, Lieutenant,” the Colonel said with a sigh. “I know. The outcome doesn’t look good now. This is our second mission against the Mysterons, it failed, and we lost another fine officer… one in whom I had put too much hope, I’m afraid.”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Green muttered faintly.
“Steady now. I need everybody to stay strong, Lieutenant.”
“I know, sir. I’ll hang on.”
“I’m sure you will.”
White was depressed by the whole situation; if he were to lose one officer at every encounter with the Mysterons, the entire Spectrum staff would be completely wiped out very soon. That was why he had placed so much hope in Scarlet’s supposed new-found abilities. That was why he felt so disappointed now. But he wasn’t ready yet to lie down and die. Colonel White had always been a fighter and always would be to the end. Captain Scarlet was too. The man never gave up, and now had even sacrificed his life for the cause. If nothing else, after his terrible ordeal with the Mysterons, his death could provide an inspiration to the others.
But about an hour later, a new stone was turned…
The helicopter bringing Captains Blue and Grey, along with Captain Scarlet, had touched down on the landing pad, and Colonel White was waiting, pacing restlessly in the access corridor to Sickbay when he saw them coming his way, looking very anxious. There were Blue and Grey, of course, and two medics, hurriedly pushing a rolling stretcher forward. Scarlet lay on that stretcher, with one of the medics holding a dressing against the right side of his bloodied head. White rushed out to them; he saw the respirator tube hooked up to the young officer’s nose, noticed a slight rise and fall of his bare, crushed chest. The Colonel then realized with stunned surprise that the man was breathing, if only just. He looked at Grey in annoyance.
“I thought you said he was dead!” he exclaimed, following the stretcher with them.
“He was,” a very pale Grey responded nervously. He shook his head, looking down at the unconscious man on the stretcher. “I’m sure he was… He wasn’t breathing any more. He began showing signs of life in the ’copter, about ten minutes ago…”
“It happened just like before, sir,” Captain Blue remarked. “Just like when we brought him here after his fall from the Car-Vu… He wasn’t just APPARENTLY dead that time, he WAS dead. And he came back… just like he’s doing now.”
“But how is it possible?” White muttered. Doctor Fawn’s assumption was right, then. The colonel was astonished. “I didn’t realize it would go THAT far,” he added, almost to himself.
It was fascinating, and yet terrifying at the same time. White was unsure how Scarlet would react, once he recovered his senses… Would he still be his old self? Or would he have reverted to his Mysteron-controlled persona?
“How is he doing?” White asked, looking at one of the medics.
The man responded with a shake of his head. “Open fracture of the skull and a very severe concussion. Ribcage was crushed in the collision and the lungs were badly damaged. Breathing’s shallow, but at least he’s breathing NOW…”
“Has he regained consciousness yet?” White asked, without very much hope.
The medic sighed. “With that fractured skull, he won’t anytime soon. If he’s not a total vegetable by now…”
Blue snorted at the remark and shot an angry stare at the man. “He’ll come out of it sooner than you think. And he will be perfectly all right...”
He had hardly finished speaking when Scarlet moaned. Everybody stopped, even the medics pushing the trolley, and looked down at the wounded man.
“Good Heavens,” White murmured. He saw Scarlet opening his eyes and trying to clear his vision; he saw the young man’s troubled blue eyes focusing on him and apparently recognizing him. Scarlet raised a bloodied hand in his direction.
“Colonel White…” The voice was weak, filled with pain, but still very clear. “I’m sorry, I failed…”
White reached for the extended hand and clasped it between his, gazing down at the very pale face looking expectantly up at him. “Failed?” he repeated in a soothing voice. “I hardly think so, son. Quite the contrary.”
Scarlet’s eyelids fluttered, as if he didn’t understand what his commander was telling him. Colonel White gently lowered the hand onto the younger man’s chest. “Get your rest, now. You’ve earned it. We’ll talk about this later.”
Scarlet nodded slightly; his eyes closed and he seemed to lose consciousness once more. White stepped away to let the medics through with the stretcher. “Go with him, Captain Blue. See that Doctor Fawn takes good care of him.”
“S.I.G., sir!” The blond American hurried to join the stretcher before the medics took it through the door leading to Sickbay. Colonel White looked thoughtful as the door slid closed, while Captain Grey, still at his side, was apparently very shaken by what he had just witnessed.
“I could have sworn that arm was broken,” Grey whispered. “How can he do that?”
“I don’t know, Captain,” White answered, breathing out a sigh of relief. “All I know is that having Scarlet on our side could very well turn the tide of this war.”
“Things were looking pretty grim, weren’t they, sir?”
White turned away, taking the way back to the Control Room, with a new determination upon his features. “Yes, they were,” he quietly said. “But not so much anymore.”
Scarlet had taken about four hours more to recover completely. When Colonel White saw him next, he would never have believed what he had been through earlier. His body was whole, he didn’t even have a scar, and he wanted nothing more than to get out of Sickbay. The only thing was that he was blaming himself for not having succeeded in his attempt to save the Asian Director-General’s life. And nothing anybody could say on the matter seemed to be sufficient to ease his feelings on the subject.
At least, Captain Scarlet’s actions in this affair had served to regain the trust of almost everybody in the Spectrum organisation, as well as out of it. Even World President Younger, while still a little unsure since his abduction some weeks earlier by a Mysteron-controlled Scarlet, had nothing but praise for him now… Well, maybe the President wouldn’t be ready to meet with Scarlet anytime soon, but at least he would stop demanding that Spectrum revoke the young officer’s commission.
Now five days had passed and Colonel White had no doubts about Scarlet’s loyalty. Yet the Spectrum commander was very aware that there were still a few mixed feelings about Scarlet, even here on Cloudbase, perhaps even among the senior staff officers – although White had not had any confirmation of this yet. He would not permit such behaviour. But in any case, he knew that as long as Scarlet continued to act the way he already did, he would eventually dispel any doubts anyone might still entertain against him.
“I hope everything will go smoothly,” the Colonel said, going back to his desk. “This new Mysteron threat has got me more worried than the others.”
Lieutenant Green shot him an inquiring glance. “Because it threatened Spectrum directly, sir?”
White shrugged. “Because there’s NOTHING direct in that threat, Lieutenant,” he replied. “And it’s a double take. The World Airshow and Spectrum agents’ lives.”
“The question would be now… what agents?” Lieutenant Green mused.
White nodded. “Yes, the threat is so cryptic now… That’s what’s bothering me.” He paused a second, before adding, with a thoughtful frown: “Lieutenant, taking into account the circumstances of the airshow… which type of agent do you think would be the most obvious target?”
“The ones whose loss would cause the worst possible damage to Spectrum,” Lieutenant Green responded. He looked at his commander. “Senior staff officers.”
“Yes,” White agreed. “That would be the obvious choice. That’s why I told Captain Scarlet to be careful.” His stare became grim and somehow distant as he looked away from Green. “I hope he listened…” he added in a murmur.
* * *
Destiny Angel was not very happy.
When she had left her station in Angel One to Symphony – who had looked at her in anything but a friendly way – she had gone directly to her personal quarters, with every intention of getting a few hours’ sleep. She hadn’t even had the chance to get out of her uniform for a quick shower before somebody came buzzing at her door. She was unpleasantly surprised when it slid open and revealed Rhapsody, who stepped in.
“What are you doing here?” Destiny asked her British counterpart in annoyance. “Symphony told me you were tired, and were going to get some sleep.”
“I was, when a stubborn friend of mine started acting stupidly,” Rhapsody replied sharply.
“Please, Dianne!” Destiny warned her. “I don’t feel like discussing what happened earlier in the Amber Room.”
“Too bad. Because that’s exactly why I’m here.”
Rhapsody sat down on Destiny’s armchair. The French woman looked at her and suddenly felt sorry for her. She sighed. “Go get some rest, Rhapsody. You really look awful.”
“I look awful?” Rhapsody scoffed derisively at the remark. “That’s nothing compared to how Paul looked when you gave him the cold shoulder!”
“Would you stop calling him that?” Destiny snapped. “He’s not Paul! Paul is…”
“Dead? Are you so sure of that?”
“Oh, please, Dianne! Don’t do this to me. I saw his body… He was dead all right. And he had a nasty death.” Destiny shivered at the thought of it. “I only saw his face… He had burn marks on his neck.” She looked at Rhapsody, and her expression suddenly went blank. “I hacked the medical databanks afterwards, you know. And there I found Doctor Fawn’s report…”
“You shouldn’t have done such a thing to yourself, Juliette,” Rhapsody said softly.
“Well, I DID. I had to know. Dianne… He was alive when the fire got to him. Do you understand this? He burned alive…” Her voice had faded away. Tears were threatening to overflow her eyes. She turned away from her fellow pilot. “He didn’t deserve such an ugly death. Not Paul… He was a good man. Good men don’t die that way.”
Rhapsody stood up; she approached her friend and put a hand on her shoulder. Destiny obstinately kept her back turned.
“Juliette… Look at me.”
Rhapsody practically had to force the French girl to turn around and look straight at her. Then she saw the tears in her beautiful golden eyes, the anguish on her face. A wave of compassion washed over the younger British pilot and she hugged her friend, who then leaned against her. “You’re not over this yet, are you?”
“Why did he have to die that way?” Destiny sobbed on her shoulder.
Rhapsody frowned. “There’s something else I don’t know,” she noted. “What is it?” She looked at Destiny’s face. “Were you still in love with him?”
“No… Yes… I don’t know.” The French girl brushed her tears away with the tips of her fingers. “We could be no more than friends, Dianne. That’s as far as he wanted to go. We would never be what we were once… I understood that the first time we encountered each other again, in Koala Base, two years ago, when we were contacted to join Spectrum. His work was all to him. Yes, he had feelings for me… but the kind of feelings he would have for a sister, or a very close friend. As for me, well… I guess I was still quite taken by him.”
“Who wouldn’t be?” Rhapsody replied with a sympathetic smile. “All the Angels had a soft spot for him… He was devilishly handsome.” She saw a faint smile cross Destiny’s face. She carefully weighed what she was about to say next. “He still is, Juliette.”
The French pilot scowled and broke away. She turned her back on her friend again, throwing her hands in the air. “Will you stop with that? He’s not the same man!”
“Well, on that point, we’re in agreement.”
Destiny turned suddenly, with a surprised look. “We are?”
“Yes,” Rhapsody said, nodding. “You’re absolutely right: he’s not the same man. And you’re right about another thing: he did die. But he got better.”
“That’s not funny, Rhapsody.”
“I didn’t mean it to be funny.”
“Do you know what a clone is, Dianne? That’s what this guy is!”
“Juliette, I’m fully aware of what he is. He explained it to me.”
“Oh, he did now, did he?” Destiny scoffed dryly.
Rhapsody nodded quietly. “I don’t pretend to understand any of this, you know. Scarlet doesn’t understand it fully himself. But he’s so much more than a clone, Destiny.”
“Right. He’s a clone who cannot die,” Destiny replied sharply. “Do you realize what it means, Dianne? He can’t be killed. Does that even sound human to you?”
“You’re wrong there. He’s human, all right. With all the mixed feelings, all the traits of any human being. And these feelings, these traits he has are those of Paul Metcalfe. Maybe the body he has now is a clone of his original one, but I recognize the man inside. And even if I don’t know him as well as you do, I did see he was pretty confused. Confused and frustrated by what’s happened to him, and by what he’s become. He’s trying to get his life back, Juliette. To do that, he needs the help of all his friends… not their contempt. ALL his friends, Juliette. And that means especially the more important ones. Like you.”
Destiny stared at her British counterpart, dumbfounded by her extended plea. She could not think of anything to say against it. If anything, she was now the one who was feeling confused.
“You should have been a lawyer,” she muttered.
Rhapsody smiled slightly. “I studied law, remember? And Father is a diplomat. I think I may have inherited that from him.”
“Me, I have inherited MY father’s stubbornness…” Destiny sighed and turned away again. “I don’t know, Dianne. It is difficult to absorb all this at once… You must give me time.”
“Fair enough,” Rhapsody nodded thoughtfully. “I know it’s hard, Juliette, but at least, until you think it over, you should give Paul a break.” She noticed that this time around, Destiny did not say anything against Scarlet being called ‘Paul’. Maybe I’m finally reaching her, the young British woman thought.
“I can’t promise you anything, Dianne,” Destiny responded faintly. “But I’ll give it a try.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Rhapsody sighed. “Because despite what they say about Captain Scarlet being indestructible… I don’t believe he is, totally. His heart can be broken… and anybody could die of that.”
Destiny spun round to stare at her friend again. Just then, she thought she had heard something in Rhapsody’s voice. A hint of concern, and of another feeling altogether. Until that moment, Destiny had just suspected it, even if in the past she had teased her friend about it, although never seriously. But now… The way she was talking about Scarlet, the loyalty she was showing toward him, by defending him with such passion…
Could it be that Rhapsody Angel was actually in love with Captain Scarlet?
If Destiny intended asking her British friend about this, she did not have the time to do so. Someone came buzzing at her door, interrupting her. This annoyed her, and she wondered if she would ever find out the truth of her suspicions about Rhapsody’s feelings. “Enter!” she called. The door slid open and Captain Magenta stepped in. He smiled, seeing the two girls.
“Boy!” he said. “Am I in luck! Here I am with my two favourite Angels.”
“I’ll bet you say that to the others as well, Captain,” Rhapsody retorted with a faint smile.
“Actually, it’s true that I’m in luck. I had to see the two of you.”
“Really?” Destiny asked him with a curious frown.
Magenta turned to her, nodding. “A team is preparing to leave Cloudbase shortly, to provide security at the World Airshow in L.A. We may need you there, Destiny.”
“At the airshow?”
“Yes. There are some flight tests to perform with a new model of the Passenger Jet… modified with some new features.”
“I’ve heard of it,” Rhapsody said. “The one with the ejectable capsule.”
“Yes, that’s the one,” Magenta nodded. “Seems Spectrum is thinking about equipping itself with this new model. That’s why one of our own pilots should carry out the tests. Since Captain Blue is off-duty due to the flu, the Colonel wants Destiny to do it… That is, if you’re up to it.” He looked at her keenly. “How are you now?”
“We heard you left your station in Angel One because you weren’t feeling very well. You need to be in shape for those tests, you know.”
“I know. Who’s the alternative?”
“Rhapsody.” Magenta glanced at the British Angel and gave her a faint smile of compassion. “You look busted.”
“I’ve had worse days,” the young woman replied with a sigh. “Of course, I’ve also had better…”
Destiny was frowning, thoughtful. “Who is part of the team, Captain? You?”
“No. I’m staying here, as back up in case of emergency. With Blue if need be. Ochre and Grey are going… and Scarlet will be field commander.”
There was suddenly a heavy silence in the room, with Rhapsody and Magenta looking expectantly at Destiny. The French pilot realized then, almost right away, that the Irish-born Captain knew something of her difficult feelings about Scarlet. It didn’t take much time for the news to get around, she thought glumly. Now what should she do? There was work to do here. It wouldn’t be very professional on her part if she were unable to put her personal feelings aside and perform her duty. On the other hand, she was unsure if she would indeed be able to cope with all this.
“I’ll get my things,” she heard Rhapsody say tiredly.
That snapped her out of her thoughts instantly. “No,” she said to the British girl. “I’ll go.”
The other Angel frowned. “You’re sure?”
“Listen, it would not be fair to you if I let you do this. Look at you: you’re about half-dead from exhaustion.” Destiny produced a smile. “I wouldn’t want you to plough yourself into the ground with that plane.”
“Ditto. You’re REALLY sure you can handle it?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Don’t you worry about a thing. I promise I will behave.” Destiny turned toward Magenta. “Give me a minute to prepare, will you?”
Magenta nodded. “I’ll wait outside.” He gave an almost imperceptible look toward Rhapsody who, understanding his message, excused herself to Destiny and followed him out of her friend’s quarters. Magenta waited until the door had slid closed before addressing the female pilot. “I see you had a talk with her.”
“Yes, I did,” Rhapsody said. “I think she’ll come around. She just needs some time. What about Ochre?”
“Ochre isn’t too thrilled about Scarlet being field commander, to put it mildly. Grey tried to talk to him. But he’s as stubborn as – as –” Magenta smiled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Ochre has a bit of Irish drunkard in him.”
Rhapsody laughed softly at the comment. “Maybe he has. I’m sure you’ve met enough Irish-American policemen in your lifetime, Pat.”
He smiled in return and shrugged. “I just hope there won’t be any problems between those two during this mission.”
“I wouldn’t have thought so. But maybe this mission will help smooth things over.”
“Yeah,” Magenta muttered gloomily. “Don’t hold your breath, though. You know how Ochre can be when he’s like this.”
“Yes, I know.” Rhapsody smiled. “But I’m not too worried. Captain Scarlet will know how to take care of things…”
* * *
When Captain Scarlet arrived at the door leading to the duty hangar, he saw Destiny Angel coming down the corridor toward him, alone, her crash helmet under her arm. He stopped, his finger on the ‘open’ button, and waited for her. When she arrived in front of him, she saluted him smartly and almost came to attention.
“Destiny Angel reporting as ordered, sir.”
Her all-too-official behaviour would have amused Scarlet under other circumstances. As it was right now, it only annoyed him. He repressed a sigh and shook his head. At least, he thought, the coldness he had seen in her eyes during their earlier meeting wasn’t there anymore… and her tone was certainly less brusque.
“At ease, Destiny. Don’t be so formal. At least, not when we’re alone.”
She relaxed, if just a bit. Scarlet looked straight at her. He was feeling rather uneasy. “I… er… heard you weren’t feeling too well, earlier today. Are you all right now?”
“Yes, thank you. I’m ready to perform my duty.”
“Frankly, I didn’t think you’d join us on this mission.”
She stared at him blankly. “If I had not come, Rhapsody would have been assigned to it. I could not let her do this, right now.”
Scarlet felt a bit nervous; he shrugged. “There are still a lot of unresolved feelings between us.”
“Yes, there are.” Destiny’s statement was very straightforward; still, she lowered her eyes, feeling uneasy about it. Scarlet cleared his throat.
“Do you suppose we could talk about it sometime?” he asked her carefully.
“Maybe sometime.” Destiny looked up at him. It was difficult for her just to look at him, and Scarlet realized that instantly. “But not today, okay? That’s still… a lot to ask from me.”
“Okay. In the meantime, do you think you can stand being with me for the duration of this mission?”
She nodded. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t be here if that were the case.”
Scarlet thanked her with a nod of his own and pressed the button to open the sliding door. “Shall we join the others?” he invited the French pilot. She entered first and he followed.
It was in the duty hangar, below the lower flight deck, that Spectrum Passenger Jets were stored and maintained. The Angel craft had their own hangar, just the other side of the fuel tanks, and each of the fighter jets was taken care of by its own team of mechanics and maintenance personnel, making sure they’d always be ready in case of emergency. By comparison, two teams of mechanics, working around the clock, were in charge of the SPJs.
On landing on Cloudbase, the new Passenger Jet from Universal Aero Engineering – dubbed Aero Special One – had been brought down on the flight deck lift for refuelling and maintenance checks. Captain Grey was now looking thoughtfully at the jet when Captain Scarlet and Destiny Angel entered the hangar. Grey acknowledged their presence and indicated the craft. “Doesn’t look much different from our own,” he said.
“Yes, except for the colour,” Scarlet nodded. Spectrum Passenger Jets were silver and blue, while this Aero Special One was all silver. With his finger, Scarlet traced a dividing line just below the canopy window, and going almost all the way to the tail. “That must be the joining point for the ejecting cabin,” he noted.
“Too bad we won’t be able to see that particular feature in action,” Grey remarked.
“Bite your tongue,” Scarlet murmured. “The Mysterons might hear you. Where’s Ochre?”
“Inside the cabin, taking a look around. You know how he is with those overgrown gadgets. Loves them as much as those antique replicas he builds.”
“And the pilot from UAE?”
“Haven’t seen him yet. One of the maintenance people told me he was inspecting the landing gear. One of the wheels seemed to have nearly jammed when the jet landed earlier on.”
“I hope that’ll be our only problem.”
“Who needs to bite his tongue now?”
Captain Ochre poked his head out of the Jet. The sight of Scarlet didn’t erase the broad grin of contentment on his face. He seemed to be enjoying himself too much to let anything deter him. “Here you are!” he said, stepping down from the craft. “Where were you, anyway? Getting chewed out by the old man, I hope?”
“You would have loved that, wouldn’t you?” Scarlet replied dryly. “You’re out of luck. He didn’t ground me. I’m still leading this mission.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Ochre said.
“Ochre…” Grey warned.
“Lay off me, Grey,” Ochre told his compatriot. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep in line.” He looked Scarlet squarely in the eye. “I’m professional enough not to let my personal feelings get in the way of my duties.”
“Glad to hear it,” Scarlet retorted coolly.
Destiny was staring curiously at Scarlet and Ochre, trying her best not to look too puzzled. Obviously, by the sound of that conversation, there was some problem between the two men. She wondered what it could be. Right now, anyway, there seemed to be some sort of cease-fire between them. Scarlet waved a hand at the Passenger Jet. “So what do you think of it?”
“Well, this baby looks a lot like our SPJs… The control panel is about the same, ’cept for the controls of the new features.” Ochre looked toward Destiny. “You shouldn’t have trouble flying it.”
Destiny was scrutinizing the Aero Special One with an experienced eye. “The wings are designed differently,” she noticed. “The tail too.”
“Probably for more manoeuvrability, to compensate for the extra weight of the cabin,” Scarlet remarked. His right hand thoughtfully rubbed the polished silver finish of the craft. This new feature could be very useful, he mused. The concept could save lives in an emergency.
Scarlet’s head suddenly began to throb; a sudden wave of nausea hit him in the stomach. He felt his legs weakening under him, and leaned on the canopy to keep his balance. Oh no! he thought. Not another one of those dizzy spells! His three colleagues noticed his discomfort and how pale he had become.
“Captain? Are you all right?”
That was Destiny’s voice, Scarlet realized. Was she just being polite, or was she really concerned about his well-being? Grey came to him and gently put a hand on his shoulder. “You okay, sport?”
Scarlet nodded. He removed his cap to rub his temple. “Headache, nausea… It’s okay, it’ll go in a minute.”
“What is it?” Grey asked. “Caught Blue’s bug?”
“I can’t get ill,” Scarlet replied.
“Right!” Ochre scoffed behind him. “So how come you’re about to faint right now? Maybe you’re finally getting air sick from living on Cloudbase…”
“Shut up, Ochre,” Grey told him, annoyed. He was really worried about Scarlet’s health right now. He turned to address him anew: “You really look bad, Paul. Maybe you should stay here and see Doctor Fawn about it.”
Scarlet smiled faintly; he was beginning to get his balance back. “Wouldn’t that make Ochre’s day!” he remarked.
He heard Ochre snort derisively behind him. Grey shot his compatriot a quelling look, before turning to Scarlet again. “I mean it, Scarlet: you should go see Doctor Fawn.”
“Won’t do any good. He already knows about it, anyway.”
“Already knows?” Grey repeated. “It’s not the first time?”
“It’s nothing, really. Don’t concern yourself about it,” Scarlet muttered.
How could he tell them about the nature of these spells and what Fawn actually thought about them? Ochre would be quick to point out that the mission could be in jeopardy because of that.
Anyway, his dizziness was dispersing now, so maybe there was no cause to worry.
“Word has it… you were dead.”
Scarlet froze upon hearing those words spoken behind him. He wasn’t the only one. His fellow officers and Destiny Angel had stiffened as well. Scarlet exchanged a worried glance with Grey before carefully turning with him to face the man who had spoken.
The culprit, wearing a pilot’s uniform with commander’s insignia on its sleeves, was standing there, just below the port wing of the jet, a wide grin on his face, and a glimmering eye laid on the group who looked expectantly at him. He took a few steps forward and glanced attentively at them.
“That’s really you, isn’t it, Rick?”
Ochre frowned. He, too, stared at the man, not really sure how to react. “Jim?” he exclaimed. “Jim Torey? Is that you?”
“So, YOU ARE Richard Fraser!” the commander said, laughing. “What a marvellous surprise! I wouldn’t have recognized you without your beard!”
A delighted Ochre came toward the commander and excitedly clasped hands with him. Grey and Scarlet blew out a sigh of relief, watching the two men who were acting exactly as old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time, laughing and patting each other’s shoulders.
“I thought for a minute…” Grey left the whispered sentence hanging in the air. Scarlet shook his head, musing.
“Yes, me too,” he responded in the same tone. “I almost forgot about Ochre’s situation with his identity.”
“Him and his taste for melodramatics,” Grey muttered. “That just about gave me a heart attack!”
Scarlet smiled bemusedly, remembering how Ochre, almost two years earlier, had chosen to kill off his real identity of Commissioner Richard Fraser of the World Police to begin his life anew as Spectrum agent Captain Ochre. He had been the only one who had so cut all ties with his former life. Even Captain Magenta, a former mob boss, had simply chosen to ‘disappear’ from public life when Spectrum offered him a new challenge and a full pardon for his past misdeeds. No doubt, however, his former associates were wondering where he could have gone. But for Ochre, a simple disappearance wasn’t nearly enough.
As far as Scarlet knew, Ochre had no real family of his own, no close friends, only colleagues in the Police Department and a ton of enemies amongst the criminal underworld, who would have wanted nothing more than to put a bullet in his head. So Richard Fraser ‘died in a bomb attack’. Ochre changed his appearance, by simply shaving a well-trimmed beard he had kept for years – for the sole purpose of passing himself off as older as he really was – a purpose that was now obsolete. Apparently, Ochre’s strategy had worked and everybody thought Richard Fraser was now dead. But then again, Ochre hadn’t really had to move around his former turf since then.
“The last I heard of you, you supposedly died when your car blew up,” Torey said, with his smile still wide. “Weren’t you a victim of a mob hit, like the police reported to the press?”
“Not exactly,” Ochre said hesitantly. “As you can see, I’m still very much alive.”
“Yes, I see that. As a Spectrum captain, no less. That uniform suits you.”
“Yes. Er… It’s Captain Ochre, now… and it’s a secret.”
“Hey! You know me: mum’s the word.”
“How long have you been with Aero Engineering?”
“Three years now… Shortly after we lost touch with each other, actually.”
“And you said you’d never leave the US Air Force!”
“Well… UAE came up with a pretty interesting offer.”
Ochre suddenly seemed to recall he wasn’t alone with his old friend. He presented his fellow Spectrum agents to Torey. His tone had even lost his edge when he presented Scarlet as field commander. Must be really happy to meet up with his friend, thought the British captain. Commander Torey was pleasant enough… even courteous, to a certain extent, especially when it came to meeting Destiny Angel. He bowed slightly to her, with the most polite of smiles.
“So,” he said, turning to Ochre, “you finally found a way to fly planes officially. Are you to perform the tests in L.A.?”
Grey scoffed. “Wouldn’t we be in trouble!”
Ochre shot him a dirty look. “No,” he said to Torey. “Destiny’s coming with us. She’ll test the plane there.”
“It’d be an even better idea if she was the one to fly it from here,” Scarlet remarked.
“I agree,” Destiny said, nodding. “It will then give me time to get used to it.”
“Of course, if that’s all right with you, Commander,” Scarlet added quickly.
“I think it’s a good idea too. When do you want to go?”
“Colonel White asked us to leave as soon as the plane’s ready.”
“Tank’s been refilled, usual checks made…”
“I heard you had trouble with the landing gear,” Grey noted.
“Nothing really serious. It’s been taken care of. The bird’s ready to fly whenever you are.”
Scarlet nodded. “Good. So let’s go without delay. I checked the weather down there. They’ve forecast a storm over the Rockies. Maybe we can avoid it if we leave immediately.”
“This way, lady and gentlemen…”
Torey showed the group to the hatch leading inside the craft, Ochre keeping close to him, Scarlet bringing up the rear with Grey. The latter noticed how thoughtful his British counterpart seemed. “Are you okay?” he asked him.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Scarlet nodded. “I’m just concerned about this mission, that’s all. I hope it will go smoothly.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll see to it. We just have to be optimistic about it.”
“Nothing concerning the Mysterons can bring out the optimist in me,” Scarlet murmured.
He couldn’t tell Grey that, although his nausea was now gone, his headache was still persisting, and that with it, he had the unnerving feeling that something was definitely going to go wrong with this mission. He didn’t feel safe at all… as if a real catastrophe was about to fall on their heads. Gloomily, he shook his head. Of course there would be trouble, he mused. Mysterons always spelled trouble. The best they could do was to make sure they succeeded in bringing down their conspiracy… and stopping their threat at all costs.