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.)
There were reactions of surprise when Captain Ochre entered the capsule, carrying an unconscious Captain Scarlet whom he dumped unceremoniously onto a large seat. Their surprise then turned to amazement when Commander Torey entered, and carefully told them his story, just like he had told it to Ochre a few minutes before. Then pure outrage took Captain Grey over, as he turned an accusing glare on his fellow officer who, putting a new coat on, related how he had knocked Scarlet out, in order to prevent him from shooting the UAE pilot.
“Are you completely out of your mind?” Grey bellowed at Ochre. “You actually hit him? How can you be so sure Torey has even told you the truth? He could be lying through his teeth!”
“I’m really touched by your trust in me, Captain Grey,” Torey noted in a cold and cynical tone.
“Shut up, I’m not talking to you,” Grey replied bitterly. He turned back to Ochre who was now proceeding to cuff Scarlet’s right hand to one of the metal feet of the seat. Grey was absolutely dismayed. “Ochre, you’re going too far!”
“Look, I had no choice!” Ochre replied harshly. “He was about to shoot Commander Torey! I had to stop him!”
“Did you have to hit him so hard?” Destiny asked Ochre. She had come nearer to examine the gush of blood from Scarlet’s forehead. He had a large, deep wound that seemed serious enough. She put a damp dressing on it, to stop the bleeding. “You could have killed him, Captain,” she said, addressing Ochre again.
“Give me a break! Nothing can kill that guy. He’s survived worse. I HAD to hit him hard if I was to be sure I’d actually stop him.”
“How do you know he was really about to shoot Torey?” Grey retorted.
“I saw it, Grey!”
“And what if he had a good reason to do it?”
“Spectrum agents don’t act that way. We’re not killers!”
“We didn’t have to face the Mysterons before, Ochre! New enemies mean new ways to deal with them!”
Ochre sighed. He crouched next to Grey. “Look, we all know where this guy comes from,” he almost whispered. “We all know what he tried to do to the World President. How can we be sure he hasn’t reverted to that?”
“How can we be sure he has?” Grey responded dryly.
“Why hasn’t he told us about the Mysteronised jet, like Jim did?”
“He told ME, Ochre!” Grey almost shouted.
“He told you?” Ochre repeated incredulously.
“Just did, before you came from the cockpit with Destiny and the battery.”
“Why didn’t he tell US, then?”
“I guess he never had the chance. Remember? You argued with him before going outside… And then you clobbered him!”
“I see.” Ochre sighed again. “Is there anything else he told you, without telling the rest of us, Grey?” he asked roughly.
“I don’t see your point.”
“I’d say this is a good way to win your trust, my friend,” Ochre said shaking his head. “I know about the dizzy spells.”
“What?” Grey’s face paled. “How?”
“That’s not important.”
“The Hell it isn’t! How did you find out?”
Destiny, who was still attending to the unconscious Scarlet’s wound, turned a curious gaze toward the two officers. Torey was keeping away, watching the scene in silence.
“What dizzy spells?” the Angel pilot asked, sounding suddenly uneasy.
“You remember how Scarlet seemed to get sick before boarding the plane?” Ochre replied.
“He didn’t seem well either during the flight,” Destiny nodded. “But what…”
“According to Doctor Fawn,” Ochre interrupted her, “those spells might be an indication that the Mysterons are trying to regain control over Scarlet.”
“What?” Destiny murmured, frowning. “Are you sure?”
“I heard Scarlet himself telling Grey, in the plane.”
“So you were listening,” Grey exclaimed. “I would never have thought you would spy on us, Ochre!”
“Come on, Grey! I came upon that information by chance.”
“It’s FALSE information! There is no way Fawn could be sure. Even Colonel White was certain there was something else about this…”
“The Colonel KNOWS about this?” a bewildered Destiny asked in dismay.
“That’s what Scarlet said to you,” Ochre replied, addressing Grey. “How do we know for sure it’s the truth? Why would Colonel White send him with us if there was any chance Doctor Fawn could be right?”
“I can’t believe the Colonel would take such a risk,” Destiny sighed. “Not with what has happened since the beginning of this…”
“I think you’re jumping to conclusions, the both of you,” Grey noted.
“Really?” Ochre pointed to Scarlet. “You heard Torey describe how Scarlet acted up there, after the crash? Didn’t it sound somehow familiar? Don’t you remember what Blue and the World President told us about Scarlet, after the Car-Vu incident?”
“Then why would he have risked his life saving ours, so we could escape today?” Destiny remarked in an uncertain and sad voice.
“I don’t know.” Ochre sighed heavily. “Maybe he’s not totally responsible for what he’s doing. Maybe he acts normal and then answers the Mysterons’ call when they need him…”
“Mon Dieu…” Destiny whispered, a shiver running down her spine.
“One thing is for sure, he may be dangerous. He left Commander Torey for dead up there… A few minutes ago, he tried to kill him. What’s he planning for us?” Ochre shook his head. “My guess is that he would have killed us, one by one, fulfilling the Mysterons’ threat.”
“And to do that, he came here, with that transmitter, and proposed to go install it on top of a mountain to call Spectrum to our rescue?” Grey sounded sceptical.
Ochre shrugged. “And an unsuspecting Spectrum rescue team would have come here to save us,” he replied grimly. “And would have collected reconstructed Mysterons agents…”
Destiny stared at Captain Ochre with horror in her eyes. She then looked back to the still unconscious Scarlet, with the same horrified expression. “Even knowing what he is, I can’t believe he would have premeditated such a horrid plan…” She shivered, looking away. “This is a nightmare…”
“Oh, for God’s sake…” Grey could not believe what he was hearing. He turned a furious glance toward Ochre. “Your paranoia has got out of hand! I know you haven’t trusted Scarlet since he’s been back with us, but I would never had imagined you would go to those lengths… He’s our field commander for this mission and you actually hit him…”
“Look me in the eyes, Grey,” Ochre replied roughly, “and tell me that at no time was there any doubt in your mind about Scarlet’s loyalty to Spectrum.”
Grey stopped. There was a doubt, he had to admit. If just the shadow of one. He had always preferred not to think about it. Seeing his hesitation, Ochre nodded thoughtfully and got to his feet, sighing.
“I thought so,” he said. “I’m sorry, Brad, but as long as we’re stuck up here, we’re going to keep Scarlet secured.”
“I take it you’re taking command?” Grey asked bitterly.
“I have no choice. You’re out of action, right now. That leaves me.”
“You realize you’re risking a court-martial? What you’re doing could be interpreted as mutiny.”
“I’ll take the risk.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for a little while, as Grey, still unsure, stared defiantly at Ochre. Torey still waited silently, away from the conversation. To say he didn’t seem interested by it would have been a lie. “Would one of you explain to me what all this is about?” he asked suddenly. “I feel like I just jumped right in the middle of a movie… What are these Mysterons exactly? And what’s their relationship with Captain Scarlet?”
“Sorry, Jim,” Ochre replied. “Most of it is restricted information.”
“Restricted maybe, but this all seems pretty bizarre…”
“We really can’t tell you,” Ochre sighed. “At least, not now…” He looked toward Grey and got to his feet. “Look, Grey, we’ll settle this later. The blizzard’s coming fast. I have to get that transmitter up on a mountain and make that call so we can be rescued.”
“You’re going ahead with Scarlet’s plan?” Grey asked ironically.
“It was a good plan nonetheless,” Ochre retorted. He turned to Destiny. “The transmitter’s ready?”
“Yes it is,” the young woman said, a bit hesitantly. “But, Captain, you can’t go up there alone. The same reason you gave to Captain Scarlet applies to you too.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“I’ll go with you,” Torey proposed. There was a moment of silent surprise following his words. Grey looked up at him suspiciously. Even if Ochre had installed some doubts in his mind concerning Scarlet’s loyalty, he didn’t trust Torey at all. But he didn’t want to show it too openly.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea,” he noted.
Ochre hesitated. He too had some mistrust of Torey, the same as for Scarlet, but perhaps less strongly. If only there was a way of being totally sure… In the case of the UAE pilot, however, the idea was to not leave him with the others. Just in case.
“All right,” Ochre said. “You’ll come with me, Jim. Get yourself ready. We go in five minutes.”
“What is it you Spectrum agents say?” Torey asked with a grim smile. “S.I.G.?”
He walked toward the emergency cabinet to fetch some more winter clothing. Ochre crouched in front of the transmitter next to Grey and was putting it back in the cloth bag Scarlet had brought it in. Grey was staring at him with worry in his eyes. When his colleague closed the bag and started to get to his feet, Grey grabbed him by his sleeve.
“Rick… You better be careful up there.”
Ochre looked at his friend. He noticed the tired, pale features. He’s getting weaker, he thought. There’s no telling how long he will be able to stay conscious now… He put a reassuring hand on the wounded man’s shoulder. “I’ll be all right, Brad.”
“The commander… I don’t trust him,” Grey insisted in a whisper.
“I’ll keep my eyes open,” Ochre promised.
“You’d better.” Grey shook his head. “For Scarlet’s sake, I hope you’re wrong. But if you’re right, you…”
“Hey, don’t worry about me. I’m a tough guy. I can take care of myself.” Ochre’s tone had softened a bit. He patted his friend’s shoulder. “You better get some rest. You’re tiring yourself.”
Grey nodded quietly and lay down. Ochre pulled the blanket up to his colleague’s neck and stood up. Taking the bag, he went to Destiny, who stood up when he drew level with her. He gestured towards Grey. “Take care of him,” he whispered. “I’m worried…”
“Yes, he grows weaker by the minute,” Destiny agreed in the same tone. “And all this agitation is not doing him any good…” She looked up at Ochre. “Where are you going, exactly?”
Ochre shrugged. “The peak Scarlet described. It’s the highest one surrounding us, and the nearest. I figure about two hours to get to the top and then back...depending on the weather, of course.”
“You’ll be careful?”
“Sure! I’ve got all of you to think about.” Ochre addressed a roguish smile to the young French pilot. “Aren’t I always?”
“I’d swear I’m hearing…” Destiny stopped. The faint smile on her beautiful face disappeared to be replaced by an expression of sadness. She looked away from Ochre, somehow embarrassed by her apparent weakness. The American Captain gently touched her face and she glanced at him again.
“You’re thinking about Paul, right?” Ochre asked her.
She nodded and then stared uneasily at Scarlet. “He looks so much like him. He’s so much like him…” Her beautiful eyes came back to Ochre. “I can’t believe he would do us any harm, Captain.”
“Well, we’ll find out soon enough,” Ochre replied. “Appearances can be deceiving, you know… While Commander Torey and I are away, be careful with him. DON’T LET him manipulate you. I’m sure he’ll try to convince you to free him.” He put his hand in his coat pocket and brought out a red colour-coded pistol he discreetly presented to Destiny. The young woman stared at the weapon.
“You don’t expect me to use this, do you?” she muttered.
“I don’t think you’ll need it, but… Better safe than sorry, you know? Just in case he gets free and threatens your life and Grey’s… He may be indestructible, but he’s sure not invulnerable. This pistol will stop him temporarily, if you use it.”
“Let’s hope it won’t be necessary,” Destiny said, taking the weapon.
Torey was coming back from the emergency cabinet. He had taken a couple of stout ropes, a grapnel, a pickaxe, and some leather straps. He looked at Ochre and shook his head in dismay. “We could use some pitons, but we don’t have much climbing equipment in here,” he noted. “Remind me to correct that oversight when we get back to civilisation.”
Ochre shrugged, examining the equipment Torey had brought back. “That should be all right. The summit of that peak doesn’t seem too difficult to get to. We’ll make do with this.”
Torey handed him a rope and a new pair of gloves. He nodded toward the exit. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah, let’s get on with it.” Ochre then turned to Destiny to address her one last time. “Now don’t you worry. We’ll be back as soon as we’ve made the transmission. Then it won’t be long before Spectrum comes to collect us.”
“Let us hope so,” Destiny murmured.
Ochre gave her a reassuring smile and went outside, followed by Commander Torey.
* * *
The first part of Captain Ochre’s expedition proved to be fairly easy. The path to the plateau where the Passenger Jet had crashed, even if it was uphill, was clear, the snow not too deep, already marked by the previous crossings of Captain Scarlet and Torey. Upon reaching the plateau with Torey, Ochre looked back. He could distinctly see the outlines of the capsule down there, surrounded by the orange flares he had put up. About twenty feet in front of the nose of the capsule was the edge of a steep cliff. A chill ran down Ochre’s spine. If the capsule, upon landing, hadn’t stopped sliding in time, it would have plunged right off that cliff.
Ochre then took a look around the wreckage of the Aero Special One. It was spread all over the place, the main body of it torn in half. Still having his doubts about Torey, Ochre went exploring, on the pretext of wanting to see if there was anything useful for the survivors. Torey didn’t try to stop him and even stayed out of his way. He would take a little rest during that time, he told the Spectrum captain. Ochre lingered mostly around and inside the baggage hold, where both Captain Scarlet and Commander Torey had been trapped during the crash. The side of it was completely ripped open, its contents lying everywhere. Ochre found some traces of blood, staining what was left of the floor, and some damaged luggage, but nothing else. He wondered about Scarlet’s story. According to him, he had found Torey’s body in the baggage hold. If it was true, and if the man quietly waiting outside was indeed a Mysteron reconstruct, the body of the real Torey would still be around. There was no trace whatsoever that a dead body had been recently carried out of this place.
Then whose blood was this? Torey didn’t seem injured to the point of losing so much of it. Scarlet, on the other hand, would have healed from his wounds. He must have sustained some, taking into account the sorry state of his uniform. And Torey did say he saw the British officer walking out of the wreckage, injured but seemingly not shaken by it.
There was still some uncertainty in Ochre’s mind when he came back to join Torey, who was waiting for him, quietly puffing on one of those awful cigars the Spectrum agent remembered he was already smoking some years ago when, as Richard Fraser, he had learned flying from him.
“Found anything interesting?” Torey asked him, blowing out smoke.
“Nothing, really.” Ochre almost said ‘nothing conclusive’, but he stopped himself in time. No point in arousing Torey’s suspicions, he thought. He frowned, eyeing the cigar hanging from the commander’s mouth. “Put that thing out, please! Don’t you think you’ve polluted your lungs enough as it is?”
Torey laughed. “Never like these things, did you?” he noted, throwing the cigar away. “I remember how annoyed you always seemed whenever I lit up … You were always saying that life was short enough without having to shorten it even more.”
The remark stirred up some mixed feelings within Captain Ochre. Was it just an innocent attempt to reminisce over the past, to alleviate the awkwardness of the situation? Or was Jim Torey trying to allay any suspicions the Spectrum officer might be having toward him?
“My opinion on the subject hasn’t changed,” Ochre said simply. “Come on. We’ve lost enough time already.”
Torey nodded his agreement and the two men directed their steps toward the mountain that was to be the end of their journey.
Walking knee-deep in snow toward the peak they would climb to make their transmission wasn’t easy. Fortunately, the blizzard hadn’t begun yet, and a high crest was protecting them from the winds, though the snow was falling thick and fast. As Ochre had earlier deduced, the summit wasn’t really difficult to reach. The plateau was situated right next to its easier slope. The only difficult part presented itself in the form of a large shoulder about fifty feet high.
Captain Ochre was a good climber, although the equipment he presently had was pretty inadequate for the job. Using the axe, he scaled a very narrow and slippery ledge, just wide enough for his feet. Torey climbed up close behind him and joined him on the ridge. Then they slowly followed the side of the cliff, grappling any boulder that could provide a good enough support.
For the last twenty feet, Ochre threw the grapnel up, after tying it to the end of one of the ropes. The grapnel caught hold of something at the first try. Ochre tested it with his own weight, and then climbed up it. It was not easy, the Spectrum Captain’s hands being numb from the cold, but he succeeded in reaching the top of the cliff and crawled onto it. He was now on a large ridge, covered with thick snow, from where he could still see the flickering emergency flares surrounding the capsule down in the valley. The falling snow was now too dense for him to actually see the capsule itself.
He took a few seconds to catch his breath and evaluate his position. The top of the peak was now about a hundred feet from him, up a crest he would just have to follow to reach it. All in all, it had been a pretty easy climb, he thought.
Torey was now using the rope. When he came within reach, Ochre helped him get his footing on the ridge. The UAE Commander stretched his back, while Ochre was busy securing the rope around a large, solid boulder of ice. The Spectrum agent had figured it was best to leave it there, so they could use it again to get back down to the capsule.
Torey looked over the crest leading to the top of the mountain. “Not much further to go, now, is there?”
Ochre agreed, shaking his head. “We don’t have to go farther. The snow is too thick. We can try to use the transmitter here. I’m pretty sure it will work. If not then… we’ll go higher.”
“Sounds good to me. Hey, climbing up here, that was Captain Scarlet’s idea, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Ochre admitted. He made one last knot on the rope, while glancing down the cliff, toward what he could see of the capsule’s position. “It was a good idea.”
Why was he having that strange feeling of certain and imminent danger lurking around him?
“Wonder what his plan was, anyway?” Torey continued. “Maybe he was going to throw you off that cliff when the two of you reached it…”
The feeling within Ochre suddenly gave way to an icy certitude. It was as if he actually felt Torey reaching to hit him from behind. If he hadn’t already been on his guard, he probably would have fallen victim to the traitorous blow the other man was preparing to lay on him with a large piece of ice. Ochre turned around quickly and raised his arm, elbowing Torey in the abdomen. He then reached for his pistol with his other hand and drew it; the improvised weapon of his adversary knocked it from his hand and sent it into the snow.
Ochre pushed Torey away from the fallen weapon, throwing him off balance; he jumped on top of him and grabbed him by the collar of his coat to look angrily into his eyes.
“Why you dirty traitor… You were trying to kill me, weren’t you?”
Torey stared back at him, with an evil grin. “Trying?” he repeated coldly. “I’d say I’m about to succeed… Earthman.”
He pushed Ochre’s face away from his, maliciously pressing his thumb into one of Ochre’s eyes. The Spectrum officer had to pull back to avoid having his eye put out. Torey hit him in the throat and pushed him toward the edge of the cliff. Ochre narrowly avoided falling over and rolled on his belly to reach a safer point.
The American captain saw Torey going for the gun. Ochre himself was too far away to jump him, so he leapt swiftly to his feet and hid behind a nearby boulder. A bullet rang close to his ear the moment he took cover. He heard Torey utter a loud curse.
“Come on, Rick! You can’t win! Make it easy on yourself,” Torey sniggered wickedly. “For old times’ sake…”
“Go to Hell!” Ochre lashed out angrily from his hiding place.
“I’ve been to Hell, Rick. Believe me, it’s not what they say it is. But you’ll see for yourself very soon.”
“You’re not Jim Torey!”
“Are you so sure of that?”
Ochre could hear Torey’s footsteps carefully approaching his position. He’ll kill me, he thought. And when I’m dead, he’ll go back to the capsule and kill the others. Destiny won’t be wary of him, Grey is wounded, and Scarlet is handcuffed. They’re defenceless against him…
“Good God,” he muttered, “What have I done?”
The steps were drawing nearer. In one desperate attempt, Captain Ochre sprang from cover, roaring furiously. He threw a handful of snow into Torey’s face and jumped him. The gun spat flame into the snow-covered ground. Ochre smashed his fist into Torey’s stomach and knocked him down.
He saw the Mysteron agent on his back, raising the gun in his direction. This time, Ochre realized grimly, I’m done for. I’ve got no chance of avoiding the bullet.
It was at this moment that he noticed the ground trembling beneath his feet. To his horror, he saw it suddenly disappearing; the thick cover of snow he was standing on crumbled and he fell with a cry of surprise into the hole that had just opened to swallow him.
Torey watched with amazement as the enemy he was about to destroy escaped from the death he had prepared for him, to plunge into the darkness of another one. He rose to his feet and approached what now appeared to be a narrow but deep precipice. He could not get too near, to get a closer look; the snow was threatening to slide down into the opening and would have dragged him along.
“Rick?” he called loudly.
He received no response. Nor did he think he would. He smiled to himself. Alive or dead, Captain Ochre was now finished. There was no way for him to get out of the abyss all by himself. Torey took one last look into the dark hole and then went to the edge of the cliff he had just climbed with the Spectrum officer. His eyes gazed down toward the capsule he could see in the valley, about an hour and a half away from him.
“One down,” he muttered, playing distractedly with the yellow colour-coded pistol, “three to go… The Mysterons’ instructions will be carried out.”