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 few minutes later, Captain Scarlet and Destiny Angel were back in the capsule. A worried Captain Grey was very relieved to see them coming back together, very much alive, and even more relieved to learn that Mysteron agent James Torey was now dead. That didn’t improve his health, though, as Grey was developing a fever from his wounds and his temperature was rising fast. Scarlet and Destiny first settled him more comfortably and put another blanket on him. He soon fell asleep, completely exhausted.
Destiny had put some snow on Scarlet’s injured hand, to help ease the pain a bit; she then dressed it with a temporary bandage. He let her do it, and announced his intention of going up in the mountain Ochre and Torey had climbed with the transmitter. She didn’t really try to change his mind, but it was pretty obvious she was against the idea. She simply told him to keep resting a few minutes, until the pain in his hand eased, and she went outside, to once again clear up the snow that was threatening to cover the emergency flares.
When she came back after a few minutes, she found Scarlet putting his coat back on over a new warm vest he had just taken from the emergency cabinet. With his bandaged hand, he was having a difficult time trying to button up the last layer of clothing; she came over to him, sighing.
“Here, let me help you.”
She motioned him to sit down, before putting his red colour-coded pistol into his good hand. He looked at it, nodding.
“I see you found it.”
“It wasn’t very far,” she responded. “Just outside the door, actually, about half covered with snow.” She paused a second, then added: “You’re really sure you want to climb that mountain? The weather is pretty bad now, out there…”
“That’s why I’m dressing warm.” Scarlet nodded toward the apparently sleeping Grey. “I don’t have much choice,” he whispered. “Grey’s condition is deteriorating by the minute. I must find that transmitter and make the emergency call.”
Destiny closed the last press-stud on his collar. Scarlet grinned maliciously. “Do you remember the last time you helped me dress?”
Their eyes met and Scarlet suddenly felt uneasy. He tried to look away. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…”
“No,” Destiny interrupted him and forced him to look back at her. She smiled faintly. “I do remember. Was it really three years ago?”
He smiled back at her, his heart feeling lighter. “I think it was a little more than that…”
“Oh, really? You have a bad memory, Captain!”
“No, I rather think it’s you demonstrating some of that French coquetry of yours.”
“So, now I’m coquette?”
“You always were. And I do mean that as a compliment.”
“I certainly hope so!” Destiny looked down at his bandaged hand. “How is your hand?”
Scarlet shook his head; before the Angel pilot could stop him, he tried to flex his fingers. They barely moved and he grumbled softly. “Still a bit stiff.”
“STIFF?” Destiny repeated. “Fifteen minutes ago, I would have sworn you would never be able to use that hand again – and now you can move your fingers.”
“That means it’s starting to heal, I guess.”
“It’s still painful, isn’t it?”
Scarlet shrugged. “Less than it was earlier. You shouldn’t worry about it, Juliette.”
“How long before it will be completely healed?” she insisted.
Scarlet shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s all new to me too, remember? All I know is that it took about six hours before I…” He stopped himself. He didn’t know if he could say more without freaking her out.
But Destiny already had guessed what he was about to say. “It took about six hours before you revived,” she said for him. “When you… died.”
He nodded slowly and lowered his eyes, looking at his hand. “I’m just guessing it would take less time for a minor injury,” he added.
“It’s far from minor. We’re talking about broken bones.”
“Well, maybe an hour then?” Scarlet saw her perplexed look. “It’s only a rough guess. It could be longer.”
“Or even shorter,” Destiny nodded. “Still, it’s rather impressive…”
“Funny. That’s exactly how Rhapsody described it earlier today… Come to think of it, it was the same hand…”
“What had you done to it for her to say that?”
“I… er… scratched it on some thorns, on the Promenade Deck.”
“From a rose tree I… accidentally destroyed.”
Destiny looked at his uneasy smile. She shook her head. “There is only one rose tree I can think of on the Promenade Deck,” she noted. “Aside from that, there are some bushes of red roses…”
“The roses were definitely not red.”
“Don’t tell me you destroyed the colonel’s tree of white roses!”
“It was an accident!”
“Well, accident or not, you’re really in trouble.”
Scarlet scoffed. “What can the old man do to me? Kill me?” He got to his feet and went toward the emergency cabinet, from which he took a ski cap and a pair of mitts. Destiny kept looking at him.
“What does it feel like?” she asked. “Being… like you are?”
Scarlet came back to her; he noticed how she avoided calling him by his name; she was obviously still feeling uneasy about him. “Confusing,” he answered. “Troubling… I’m having a hard time adjusting to it.”
“How far are you… indestructible, anyway?” she asked.
“I really wish I knew, Destiny.”
“You still can feel pain…”
“Yes, but to a lesser degree. I don’t think a normal human being would have been able to stay conscious long after having his hand broken like mine… Although I nearly did lose it.”
“I’m lucky you didn’t. You saved my life, out there.”
“And you saved mine.”
“Did I? I don’t even know if you can really die.”
Scarlet looked straight into the young woman’s eyes. “I’m not even sure of that myself,” he replied softly.
“And yet, you still put yourself on the line, risking life and limb…”
There was a short silence, before Scarlet sighed. “Because no-one else can do what I can do,” he responded. “I’m living on borrowed time, Destiny. The best I can do with it is to make every opportunity count.”
Destiny did not reply. Scarlet put on the cap and pulled down the earflaps. She watched as he put his gun back in its holster, turning his back on her. “You really don’t remember anything about what happened during the time the Mysterons controlled you?” she asked.
He did not turn to face her. “No,” she heard him reply. “No, I can’t remember a thing.”
“THAT must be confusing.”
“Yes, it is, but… it’s also kind of a blessing.” Scarlet turned back to face her. “Can you imagine how it would feel to actually remember having buried my own body to conceal it from discovery?”
Destiny averted her eyes. “I’m sorry for that crack about it, earlier,” she whispered.
“Not your fault. You were hurt. You still are, I can see.” He sighed again and came to kneel in front of her. “Were you humouring me, just then, when you acted as if you really thought I was the man you once knew? The real Paul Metcalfe?”
“I… really can’t say,” Destiny replied uneasily. “I guess I was humouring myself.”
“Or maybe you were trying to find out if I really am him.”
Destiny nodded thoughtfully. “And are you?” she murmured.
He weighed his answer for a few seconds before giving it. “I believe I am. Every fibre of me says I am Paul Metcalfe. I must believe it. I can’t accept, and won’t accept, the idea that I could be just a soulless alien clone, with the memories and feelings of a dead man planted in my brain. If I believed THAT… it would drive me mad.”
Destiny didn’t answer but looked thoughtfully into his bright blue eyes. He was so much like Paul… Was it really possible that it could be him? Could it be that Rhapsody was right about him all along? She touched his cheek. “In any case,” she said, “you are not soulless… and you are not an alien. I think that, whatever you are, you are very human.” She kissed his cheek gently. “Proof of it… you’re in dire need of a shave…” she added, smiling.
He smiled before standing up, taking a coil of rope he had put nearby. “I must go now. Can’t wait too much longer.”
“Do you really think you can find that transmitter? In all that snow?”
“I hope so. It’s our only chance to make contact with civilisation.” Scarlet looked thoughtfully in the direction of the sleeping Captain Grey. “You and I can hold on a few days, with the food we have, but Grey…” He shook his head. “His condition’s getting serious.”
“What about Captain Ochre? You implied earlier that he may still be alive.”
“I’m crossing my fingers about that.”
“I… have a horrible thought.”
“If indeed you find Ochre… you must keep in mind that he may be already be lost to us. He may well be a Mysteron agent.”
Scarlet nodded grimly. “The same thought had crossed my mind,” he murmured, looking down. “I hope it’s not the case.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll try to make it quick. In the meantime, keep Grey comfortable… and if it’s possible for you to go outside despite the weather, make sure the flares are still visible. Don’t take any risks, though.”
“I won’t. Would I dare ask the same from you?”
“I can only promise you I won’t take unnecessary ones.” He quickly kissed her cheek. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Don’t worry too much.”
Scarlet was gone before Destiny could actually think of an answer. She found herself staring almost blankly at the opening through which he had gone.
“Good luck, Paul,” she whispered softly.
* * *
The cold bit hard, even with the extra warm clothing Captain Scarlet had put on for the expedition. Furious winds and snow lashed at him, making progress difficult, but the Spectrum agent continued on despite the punishment he was taking. Too much was at stake here. Grey’s and Destiny’s lives were in his very hands. He knew exactly what they risked if he failed.
When he passed near the wreck of the Aero Special One, he almost didn’t stop to notice how the drifting snow had almost completely swallowed it. In a few hours, he mused, it would have disappeared totally. The same fate was awaiting the capsule eventually. And if Destiny wasn’t able to make sure the flares stayed alight and visible, there would soon be no trace left of their presence at all.
It seemed to take an eternity to reach the base of the cliff he would have to climb, and that he knew Ochre and Torey had reached before him. Beginning the difficult ascent to reach the top of the mountain, he wondered if they had used the same path he was taking. Then he cleared his mind of any thought that wasn’t of the mountain itself. He had to concentrate in order to reach his objective without slipping to his death. The stones on the side of the cliff were sharp, covered with ice and snow, and very, very slippery. The wind and falling snow were lashing at him, and his still healing hand wasn’t of much help.
After a long, agonizing time, he reached a narrow ledge and crawled onto it on his belly. He permitted himself a few minutes of rest to gather up his strength and regain his breath.
He looked down at his bandaged right hand and flexed the fingers; they were responding much better now, so he began removing the long band of cloth covering his hand. It appeared whole and was, apparently, close to its normal size, though still a bit blue . It wasn’t hurting anymore. He sighed with relief. He still had a long way to go and he was certainly thankful to have the use of both hands to achieve his goal now.
He shone his electric torch up the side of the cliff, trying to find the easiest path to the top. Immediately to his left, about ten feet higher up, he noticed a large black spot contrasting with the white snow. He frowned; strange, he thought, there didn’t seem to be any snow on that spot. He got to his feet and approached it, to examine the phenomenon more closely.
It was some kind of crack in the side of the mountain. A large opening, swallowing up all the snow falling into it. Scarlet climbed up to it. It was large enough for him to step inside. It looked like a dark, murky cave, he noticed, looking around with his torch. He could see an opening some way above his head. An overhang of snow almost covered it; part of the natural roof had fallen into the cave, revealing the grey, snowy sky above.
Captain Scarlet shook his head; reckoning the distance, this cave opened somewhere higher up the mountain, not very far from the summit. The stone walls were solid, if somewhat damp. They could, however, offer a better grip than the cliff outside. In any case, inside, Scarlet wouldn’t be exposed to the wind and snow.
He took a few steps further, looking up, hoping to find some ridge sturdy enough to hook his rope and then use it to pull himself up. He was about ten feet from the opening when his ears caught something through the sound of the blowing and whistling winds. It sounded like pebbles rattling down on a stone surface… He would probably have dismissed it as a trick of his mind if the echo hadn’t taken the sound, repeating it endlessly.
Have I kicked some loose stones? Captain Scarlet thought. He hadn’t really noticed, in fact. Looking down, he realized he was actually standing on snow.
No, the sound seemed to come from behind him now. He turned around, fully expecting to encounter a racoon or some other creature of the same kind. The shadow of a much larger creature suddenly came out of the dark and jumped at him with a furious cry.
Scarlet only realized it was another human being, dressed in a yellow coat just like himself, when his assailant shoved him against the stone wall and laid into him with the fury of a wild animal. Under the attack, he lost hold of his torch, which landed safely on the snow-covered ground, sending grotesque and distorted shadows of the fight all over the cave. Trying to deflect and avoid the blows, Scarlet caught a glimpse of his aggressor’s face and, although already suspecting who it might be, gasped in surprise.
Captain Ochre’s next punch hit him in the groin and sent him to his knees, his breath driven from him. Ochre pressed his advantage and kicked him in the side.
“Think you’ve won, but I’ll show you you haven’t yet!” Scarlet heard his attacker panting. He kicked him again and Scarlet sprawled to the ground, groaning in pain. He’s going to injure me unless I stop him, he thought. He’d covered his head to protect himself from the attack, but managed to notice that Ochre was standing unsteadily against the stone wall, supporting himself on it. With a quick movement, Scarlet grabbed his ankles and pulled. Ochre fell backward.
With difficulty, trying to catch his breath, Scarlet got to his feet; he saw Ochre crawling on the ground, toward an object the British captain recognized as a short-handled pickaxe. Scarlet reached it in three quick strides, drawing his pistol from its holster. He stepped on Ochre’s hand at the very moment he reached the axe handle. Ochre cried out in pain, and Scarlet shoved the barrel of his weapon under his nose.
“Don’t move!” he barked.
Ochre’s low moan was the first response he received. Scarlet didn’t know what to do next. Was his colleague a Mysteron or…
“Go on!” Ochre snapped, not even looking up. As far as Scarlet could tell, he had closed his eyes against the pain in his pinned-down hand. “If you’ve come down here to kill me, do it now and be done with it! I just hope you and your Mysteron masters go straight to Hell!”
Scarlet shook his head; understanding his colleague’s confusion, he put away his gun and sighed. “Ochre, it’s me,” he said quietly.
Ochre opened his eyes. Seeing him blink in disbelief, Scarlet removed his foot from his hand and crouched in front of him. He carefully threw the pickaxe away from them, just in case.
“It’s me, Ochre,” Scarlet repeated softly. “Do you recognize my voice?”
“Scarlet,” Ochre murmured. The first thing he saw was the red boot right in front of him. He quickly looked up and stared right into the face of his British counterpart, who was looking at him steadily. “Scarlet,” he repeated excitedly, with apparent relief in his voice. He tried to get up. “How did you…”
“Are you okay, Ochre?” Scarlet asked, still on his guard.
“Yes. Yes, I’m okay…” Ochre got himself onto his hands and knees and Scarlet helped him to stand. The second he put his left foot on the ground and tried to support himself on it, Ochre stumbled forward, right into the arms of his fellow officer who caught him before he sprawled on the floor again.
Ochre groaned. “No,” he said, gritting his teeth. “I’m not okay. I think I hurt my ankle.”
“Well, let’s have a look.” Scarlet helped his colleague to sit on the ground, leaning his back against one of the stone walls. He started to crouch in front of the injured foot when Ochre stopped him suddenly.
“No. Forget about me right now.” He gestured toward a corner of the cave. “The transmitter is there. It’s perfectly all right, and can still work. Go fetch it… and make the call to Spectrum.”
“You’re asking me to leave you here?” Scarlet asked him with a frown.
“Look,” Ochre sighed deeply. “I’ll be all right until you come back for me. We’ve got the others to think about…” He looked at Scarlet with a dismayed and troubled expression upon his abnormally pale face. “They’re… they’re all right, I hope?”
“Yes,” Scarlet responded, nodding. “They’re all right.”
“Thank God for that!” Ochre exclaimed with relief. “Torey…?”
“Torey’s dead, Rick.”
“You killed him?”
“Actually, Destiny did.”
“I knew I could count on that girl,” Ochre murmured with a fond smile. “Look, you can tell me the whole story later. Go make that call. I’ll wait for you here. Can’t do much climbing with this foot.”
“Is there a way up from here?” Scarlet asked.
“Go to the end of that crevasse. The climb should be easier… and with that rope, you’ll reach the top in no time. Go on, Captain! I tell you I’ll be all right!”
Scarlet stared at his fellow officer and nodded quietly. He went to the corner Ochre had gestured toward a few minutes earlier and found the backpack in which was the transmitter. He took his rope off his shoulder, put the pack on his back, and went deeper into the cave. Ochre watched him go, until he could not see him anymore. Then he rested his head against the wall and heaved a deep sigh.
“I hope it will be all right, now,” he murmured to himself.
* * *
Using the rope, Captain Scarlet reached the top of the mountain in less than fifteen minutes. He had to dig his way through the thick snowcap that had formed on top of the crevasse, and emerged from it about thirty feet from the summit of the mountain. He put down the backpack in front of him and opened it to install the transmitter and the dish. He double-checked the connections between all the devices, switched on the juice, and sighed with relief as all the lights turned green. He closed his eyes, murmured a quick prayer for success, took the microphone, and made the call.
“This is an S.O.S. call from Captain Scarlet, of the Aero Special One flight. Calling Spectrum. Come in please.” He waited a couple of seconds before sending the call anew. “S.O.S. from the Aero Special One flight. We have crashed in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. We’re in desperate need of help. I repeat, this is Captain Scarlet of Spectrum. Please acknowledge this S.O.S. call.”
He repeated his call three or four times, with sufficient time between each transmission for somebody to answer him. He only could hear faint static over the speaker of the transmitter. Then, after about fifteen minutes of apparently fruitless attempts, a voice finally made itself heard, sending a wave of relief and gratitude into Scarlet’s heart.
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet. This is Captain Blue answering your call. Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, Captain Blue!” Scarlet answered joyfully. “You don’t know how glad I am to hear your voice! Aren’t you supposed to be ill?”
“I dragged myself out of Sickbay just to join the search team for you,” came the response over the speaker. “Spectrum Helicopters have been scanning the area for hours now. How are things down there?”
“Better now, thanks to you. We ejected the capsule to escape the crash, but we still landed rather hard. Captain Grey’s been injured in the crash. Broken leg, ribs and concussion. He needs medical attention as soon as possible.”
“Only Commander Torey. He was taken over by the Mysterons and tried to kill us all. He’s dead now.”
“There’s another thing. The prototype that went to Los Angeles…”
“We know it was a replica,” Blue interrupted. “Symphony worked that out early on. When the other Angels caught up with her and the Aero Special, they investigated it more closely and saw there was no-one at the helm. To cut a long story short, they shot it down… Not a minute too soon, either. It was heading toward the hotel where all the aviation companies’ representatives were staying.”
“So that part of the Mysterons’ threat is over too,” Scarlet sighed.
“Yes. Now all that’s left is to pick you up. Where are you exactly? We can’t get a trace from your beacon.”
“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me. Wish I could tell you where we are. All our navigational instruments were dead long before we actually crashed. Can you home in on me?”
“Yeah, I can do that.”
“Good. I’ve installed a transmitter up a mountain about eight to ten kilometres South East of the capsule’s position. There’s a blizzard raging around here, but you should find it quite easily. The capsule landed in a high valley, and we put emergency flares all around it.”
“Can you leave the transmitter on that mountain?”
“Sure. But I estimate only about two hours’ power max left in the battery.”
“That should be long enough. Now go back to the capsule, and make sure the snow doesn’t cover those flares. We’ll find you and pick you up there.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue. Make it fast, please. That blizzard’s getting pretty bad, you know.”
“We’ll be as fast as we can. Now we know where to look. Hang on a bit longer. Captain Blue out.”
Scarlet left the transmitter operating, and got to his feet. Good, he thought. Now it will be only a matter of a couple of hours before we’re found. Got to hurry back to the capsule with Ochre, he added to himself.
He went down the crevasse much more quickly than he had climbed it and strode the distance separating him from Captain Ochre. He found his colleague at the same place he had left him, waiting impatiently. When he saw Scarlet coming back to him, Ochre looked at him questioningly. “Did you do it?” he asked expectantly. “Did you make the emergency call?”
Scarlet knelt down in front of Ochre’s injured foot and nodded with a broad smile. “Don’t worry, I made the call. I contacted a search team from Cloudbase. I left the transmitter on so they could home in on it to find the capsule.”
“Thank you, Lord!” Ochre murmured, closing his eyes. “Who’s conducting the search? Magenta?”
“Blue got out of sickbay. It’s him I reached,” Scarlet answered. He looked thoughtfully at Ochre’s booted foot. “Now let’s see this ankle. I want to know if you can actually walk back to the capsule.”
“I sure hope I can!” Ochre murmured. He watched as Scarlet tried to remove his boot. The effort sent a wave of pain up his leg. “Be careful, though!” he added between his teeth. “I may need that leg, you know!”
“I have to cut your boot,” Scarlet remarked. “Do you have anything I could use?”
Ochre nodded. He took a penknife from his trouser pocket and gave it to Scarlet. The British captain opened the sharp blade and nodded in turn. “Not my Army Swiss knife, but it’ll do,” he said. “You’re not too nervous of actually seeing it in my hands?”
Ochre said nothing. He looked on as Scarlet carefully made an incision on the side of his boot. “Tell me,” the American captain said, “how did you get out of those handcuffs I put on you?”
“I… er… used a trick I know,” Scarlet responded.
“Which one?” Ochre asked curiously. “I don’t know, maybe it could prove useful for me one day.”
“Professional secret,” Scarlet smiled. “And I don’t think you would use it. Believe me, it wouldn’t be in your best interests.”
“If you say so.”
Scarlet cautiously removed the boot, and then the black sock under it. He examined the bare, swollen foot he now had before his eyes and gently touched it. He saw Ochre’s face crease in pain. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. You’re lucky. Your foot isn’t broken. You’ve got a sprained ankle.”
“Is that all?” the surprised Ochre asked.
“Yes. It’s a bad sprain, but only a sprain. It’ll swell a bit more, and turn blue… but in a few days, you should be as good as new. In the meantime, I’ve got to bandage that foot, to reduce the swelling. I’ve brought some bandages from the medical kit.”
“Always the reliable one, huh?” Ochre said, watching as Scarlet retrieved the bandages from one of the numerous pockets of his coat. “Funny. With that fall I took into that crevasse, I’d thought I would have gotten much more than a few bruises and a bad sprained ankle… I landed on a thick layer of snow, and lost consciousness for a time. When I came round, I looked for a way out. That’s when I saw you.”
“And you mistook me for Torey, didn’t you?”
“Didn’t see the red boots, only the yellow coat. Figured he wanted to finish me off.”
“He thought you were dead. At least, that’s what he said when he came back to the capsule to finish US.”
Ochre kept silent a moment as Scarlet began to wrap his foot. He was gritting his teeth against the pain. “Hang on,” Scarlet told him... “It’ll only take a moment.”
Ochre nodded, looking on as Scarlet continued. The American shook his head. “All right, you can say it.”
Scarlet stared at him, puzzled. “What do you want me to say?”
“That I acted stupidly,” Ochre said, bitterly. “That I should have trusted you instead of Torey.” He gestured toward his injured foot. “That I brought this on myself.”
“All right. You brought this on yourself.”
“You could be more tactful than that, though!” Ochre retorted. He stopped, seeing the look Scarlet was levelling at him. “I know I shouldn’t have hit you…”
“You hit me pretty hard,” Scarlet remarked. “You know, if I hadn’t been indestructible, you might have killed me… or at least done me a serious injury.”
“What can I say, Scarlet? I’m sorry.”
“Well, I suppose you had the others’ interests and security at heart.” Scarlet secured the bandage tightly around Ochre’s foot and picked up the boot. “So I forgive you.”
“I put the others at risk,” Ochre muttered. “I know my conduct could have had serious and fatal consequences. I was acting irrationally. All I could think of was…” He stopped, noticing Scarlet’s look of curiosity. “Forget it,” he added, waving his hand.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind, Captain Ochre?” Scarlet asked him quietly. “Let’s get this over with once and for all.” As Ochre kept silent again, Scarlet sighed and carefully put the boot back on the injured foot. “Why can’t you bring yourself to trust me?” the Brit asked quietly.
“Didn’t I show you some trust, just now?” Ochre protested.
“Yes, well… considering the circumstances, I don’t think you had any other choice!”
Ochre opened his mouth to protest, but stopped almost right away. Scarlet was now using the belt of his own coat to tie the cut boot around his colleague’s ankle. “That should hold it tight,” he murmured, looking at his job with satisfaction.
“You’re right,” Ochre murmured.
“About what? The boot?”
“You know what about… What you just said.”
“Oh! It must’ve cost you to admit that!” Scarlet mocked him. “I don’t think you ever said it, even before the… accident.” Ochre didn’t answer. Scarlet cleared his throat. “It’s where all of this began… the accident.”
“It wasn’t really an accident, and you know it,” Ochre icily replied, eyes blazing. “It was plain murder. A conspiracy to kill two Spectrum officers. A conspiracy just like the one we just narrowly escaped.” Ochre turned his eyes away, adding morosely: “Except that other time, two friends of mine didn’t escape. They died.”
Scarlet could not find an immediate reply. Ochre gave him an uneasy, almost embarrassed glance. “I was told you don’t remember what happened after that car crash.”
“Between that and the moment I woke up in sickbay, after that fall from the Car-Vu,” Scarlet nodded. “In fact, the entire time I was under Mysteron control.”
“So you can’t remember having talked to me, during that time.”
“What?” Scarlet asked, frowning. “When was that, exactly?”
“Just after the crash, actually. Brown was already with the World President, and you came to New York Headquarters to leave for Cloudbase. You looked so cool after that crash… so surprisingly untouched by it… You said you had been lucky. You even took me up on my invitation to do the town when the mission was over.” Ochre averted his eyes again, as he continued: “A few hours after that, there was the explosion at the Spectrum Security Building. I was called to investigate the site of your car crash. And there I found…” He stopped, his throat tightening.
Scarlet waited, giving him a moment to regain his composure. “You found the bodies of your two friends,” the British officer continued for his colleague. “That much I was told…”
“Can you imagine how I felt?” Ochre asked him. “My friends were dead… assassinated. And an impostor deceived me by posing as one of them… and had pushed the indecency of acting so casually friendly with me. I felt betrayed. How could I ever trust you again after that? How could I ever believe you really were who you claimed to be, if you were capable of acting that way, just so you could follow your masters’ orders?”
“No wonder you were so bitter toward me,” Scarlet remarked, nodding. “But, Ochre, the Mysterons have no control over me any more.”
“I know that now!” Ochre said dryly. “But I couldn’t believe otherwise before! I guess I didn’t WANT to trust you.”
“Instead, you chose to trust your friend Torey.”
Ochre seemed embarrassed again. “Well, in my defence, I must say I investigated the wreck of the Aero Special One, to see if he was telling the truth about what had happened there.”
“Oh?” Scarlet said, raising an eyebrow. “Before or after you tried to crack my skull open?”
“Er… After, actually.”
“Thank you for your candour. Much appreciated.”
“In any case,” Ochre sighed, “except for a large smear of blood in the baggage hold, I didn’t find anything conclusive. Nothing to confirm or deny your story… or Torey’s, as a matter of fact, and it’s one of the reasons I kept my doubts about him. It probably saved my life when he did try to kill me.”
“There was no dead body in the wreckage?” Scarlet asked, frowning.
Ochre responded with a shake of his head.
“The reconstruct must have hidden it somewhere, then,” the Brit added thoughtfully.
“It’s possible, but there wasn’t any indication that a body had recently been moved,” Ochre retorted. “Believe me, with the blood there was inside, it would have left some trace.”
“I did see a body, Ochre,” Scarlet insisted.
“Hey, I believe you, don’t sweat it,” Ochre defended himself. “You’re not the one who tried to kill me… Torey did.” He shrugged. “Strange. The real James Torey was a friend. It was indeed a surprise to see him on Cloudbase, after all these years. How easily I’m referring to his Mysteron reconstruct, using his name.”
“As if it was the same man…” Scarlet murmured, frowning.
“This isn’t a crack against you, Scarlet.”
“No, no… You just got me thinking. And if the man we met on Cloudbase actually was the same one who tried to kill us? Oh, Lord… the dizzy spells.”
“I have these spells, Ochre… ever since that Mysteron incident in London, last week. I… thought it was the Mysterons trying to regain control of me. But Grey… Grey suggested it might be just me actually sensing the Mysterons’ presence.”
“You mean, you would’ve sensed Torey was already a reconstruct when he arrived on Cloudbase with the prototype?”
“That could explain why we had so much trouble with the jet… He could have sabotaged it.”
“And the radiocaps? Come on, Scarlet! How could he have sabotaged THOSE?”
“All right then, maybe there’s another explanation for that particular incident. Maybe it’s another aspect of the Mysterons’ powers… BUT my theory would explain the disappearance – apparently without trace – of Torey’s body from the wreck.”
Ochre wasn’t sure he correctly understood what Scarlet was trying to tell him. He gave it a try anyway: “You don’t mean the dead body would actually have got up and walked away on its own?” he asked, with a puzzled frown.
“We overlooked one thing, Ochre,” Scarlet said. “If I have the power to regenerate myself, it’s a good bet other Mysteron clones also have it.”
“I… see your point. But you must admit, that thought is far from comforting…” Ochre stopped in the middle of his sentence. He suddenly turned pale and stared at Scarlet, with concern in his eyes. Seeing his colleague’s expression, almost as uneasy as his own, he understood the same thought had come to Scarlet’s mind, exactly at the same instant. “Oh, my God…” Ochre murmured, his throat tightening. “You know what that could mean…”
“We must get back to the capsule quickly!” Scarlet urged him. “Think you can walk with that foot?”
“I’ll crawl if I have to!” Ochre replied, starting to get up, gritting his teeth. “Come on! We have no time to waste!”