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.)
“He was dead before the helicopter actually touched down.”
Rhapsody Angel stared blankly at Destiny, seated across from her in one of the couches in the officers’ rest lounge. She frowned deeply. “Dead? Are you sure?”
Destiny nodded quietly. “Yes, quite sure,” she answered. “He wasn’t breathing anymore, his heart had stopped beating… He was dead.” She sighed heavily, looking down uneasily at her hands. “It turned out he had been hit by a sharp piece of wreckage when the capsule exploded,” she explained. “It severed an artery close to his heart… Can you imagine that? Every beat of his heart was actually pumping his blood out of him. There wasn’t much left of it when the medics from the helicopter took him.” She looked at Rhapsody. “He saved my life yet again. If he had not been shielding me with his body, I would have been hit by that piece of wreckage… And I would have died in his stead.”
“Except you would not have revived afterward, the way he did,” Rhapsody added quietly.
“Yes. That is something I am not about to forget. It was quite amazing… Grey told Ochre and me that Paul would be all right, that we had no need to worry about him. He tried to remind us that he was indestructible.” Destiny shook her head. “I didn’t know exactly what it meant, before. But after what had happened in those mountains, I THOUGHT I had it all figured out: he walked out unscathed from that jet crash. The wound he received to his head took only a few minutes to completely disappear. And his hand… Mon Dieu, his hand was completely crushed… And yet, less than an hour later, it was perfectly all right. So I thought he could heal from any wound, no matter how severe … and maybe, he could not be killed… just maybe.”
“You weren’t sure of that,” Rhapsody noted.
“It seemed so incredible,” Destiny sighed again. “And yet… I saw him DIE. Oh yes, he could be killed… but to actually think he would REVIVE…” She shrugged. “Even after Captain Grey’s insistence that it would actually happen, we kept staring at the instruments they hooked Paul to in that helicopter. We were sceptical about it. And it was obvious even Grey had some doubts… even if he had already witnessed it before. We all felt pretty relieved when we saw that monitor showing some signs of life. When we finally arrived on Cloudbase, Paul was well on his way to complete recovery.”
Rhapsody smiled widely. “That’s the third time you called him ‘Paul’,” she reminded her friend.
Destiny gave it some thought before answering serenely. “It comes so naturally. It does not feel awkward to call him ‘Paul’. No, it feels right.” She looked down again. “He IS Paul. The things he did in those mountains… A Mysteron would not have done it. I’ve seen what those reconstructs were actually all about. Commander Torey was dedicated only to his masters’ orders. He was cold, unfeeling, calculating, and cruel… Paul could never be that way. He’s the same caring, warm, courageous man I have known all along. I recognized his spirit down there… I recognize his soul. I should never have doubted him. And thinking what those doubts caused… We could all have been killed, because of that.”
“You weren’t the only one at fault, Juliette.”
“But I had a great deal of responsibility in all of this. Paul didn’t want the Colonel to learn about what really happened with Captain Ochre and me… He actually asked us not to put this on our official report.”
“Once again, showing you he’s the real thing,” Rhapsody noted, smiling broadly. “Who else but Paul Metcalfe would risk doing a thing like that?”
“He’s trying to protect us. Again. Well, I must say, I wasn’t too sure to follow his lead in this direction. I did it for Ochre, more than for myself, actually. But I felt so guilty over what I personally did in those mountains… Fortunately, it was taken out of my hands.”
“Meaning what?” Rhapsody asked, frowning. “I know you saw the Colonel this morning…You… didn’t talk to him about this, did you? ”
Destiny shrugged. I had to, she thought, but she did not say that to her British friend. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, however. Colonel White HAD come to see her that very morning. Why he suspected something was wrong with these reports was beyond her knowledge, though. The talk she had with him did a lot of good; she had felt quite relieved afterward. She was just a little worried that Paul would eventually have some problem over that whole falsified report affair. But the Spectrum commander didn’t seem to have taken it the wrong way. Not TOO wrong, anyway. He had something else on his mind…
“Don’t concern yourself too much about this,” Destiny said to Rhapsody. “The question has been taken care of.” Thinking of the Colonel provided her with a reason to change the subject. “By the way… did you know somebody almost destroyed the Colonel’s rose tree in the Promenade Deck?”
It had the result she had hoped for; she saw her friend frown. “It’s been the talk of the base since yesterday,” the British pilot said carefully. “It was discovered shortly after you and the others left… How did you find out?”
“You need to ask? The Colonel grilled me this morning. It seems he’s on the lookout for the culprit.” Destiny glanced curiously at Rhapsody. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Colonel White asked me the same question,” Rhapsody retorted. “Of course I don’t know anything about it.”
She was lying and Destiny knew it. Captain Scarlet himself had told her about the tree, and Rhapsody’s presence when the accident happened. But since the British girl had chosen to be discreet about it by not saying anything, even to the one she considered her closest friend, Destiny decided not to press. Instead, thinking again of Scarlet and of all that had happened with him the day before, she lowered her eyes, and her voice was filled with embarrassment when she spoke up again:
“About Paul, Dianne…”
“You were right, you know? You were right all along about him, and I was wrong. So terribly wrong. Now I only hope he finds it in himself to forgive me for how I treated him until now.”
“You actually doubt that?”
Destiny looked up at Rhapsody, who was still watching her, with a smile on her face. The British pilot shook her head. “Come on, you should know him better than that: that same ‘warm, caring man’ you described earlier isn’t able to carry a grudge. Especially if it’s against somebody who’ll actually admit to having been wrong.”
“Yes, that I know,” Destiny murmured. “But under the circumstances, I would not hold it against him if he would not talk to me anymore.”
At that precise moment, the door slid open and Captain Scarlet strode in; he nodded to the two women seated there and, whistling a happy tune, went directly to the coffee distributor. The girls followed him with their eyes and watched as he poured himself a big cup. He added some milk and turned around, stirring the warm beverage, when he suddenly realized he had become the centre of their attention. He instantly stopped whistling and stared back at the girls with a perplexed frown.
“What?” he asked. “Is there something wrong?”
“We were planning a ski trip to Aspen,” Rhapsody told him, causing Destiny to smile in amusement. “Would you care to join us?”
“Oh, very funny!” Scarlet threw the spoon he was using onto the counter behind him. “I don’t want to see any more snow for a LONG time!”
“Provided your job doesn’t send you to Antarctica,” Rhapsody remarked, standing up. “If you’ll excuse me, Captain, I’ve got some business to attend to.”
“What kind of business?” Scarlet asked, frowning again.
“Er… ah… things. They can’t wait. See you later.”
Rhapsody shot an understanding look at Destiny and then hurriedly left the room, followed by Captain Scarlet’s puzzled glance.
“Was that because of me, or am I imagining things?” he asked.
“Don’t worry,” Destiny replied with a warm smile. “Rhapsody isn’t about to act toward you as foolishly as I did. I’d dare say she thinks you’re the best thing to happen to this Earth since sliced bread.”
“Seeing the way she flew out of here, it doesn’t really look like that!” Scarlet was still asking himself if he should take it as a compliment, being compared to sliced bread.
“She just thought you and I should be left alone together for a talk,” Destiny explained.
“Really?” Scarlet came to sit next to her and put his cup on the low table in front of them. “So, what do you want to talk about?” he asked with a grin. “Sport? Politics? Don’t tell me it’s about a ski trip to Aspen, you will really disappoint me…”
Destiny smiled slightly. His humorous tone and the twinkle in his clear blue eyes were good to see.
“You look good,” she noted.
“I feel good,” he replied. “I think I could take on the world right now… No, wait. Some people may take that the wrong way, considering recent events. Let me rephrase that: would you settle for me taking on the Mysterons?”
His bad-taste humour wasn’t really out of character, Destiny thought. In any case, it was more proof that he was really back.
“You’re looking pretty grim, love,” Scarlet noted, frowning. “Why the long face?”
“I acted pretty badly toward you these last weeks,” Destiny said, looking down. “I was even cruel to you…”
“Forget about it, Juliette. I told you I could understand your reasons.”
“Perhaps, but I would like to explain myself… even if it doesn’t excuse my behaviour toward you.”
“If it makes you feel better…”
Destiny nodded; she was keeping her eyes down, not daring to face Scarlet. Her throat was tight and her heart heavy. She could feel the tears coming to her eyes. “Paul, I…” She finally looked up to him. She could see the puzzlement in his handsome face. He was obviously wondering what could put her in such a state. To his amazement, she burst into tears, right into his shoulder. “I saw you dead,” he heard her say in a muffled voice, filled with tears and pain.
“Hey! Come on, now!” he protested with a soothing tone, taking her into a warm hug. “Don’t cry over me… Twice in two days, this is starting to be embarrassing, you know! Especially since I know you’re not the crying type.”
“I can’t help it…” the girl replied, sobbing.
“Stop it, please! You’re making my brand new uniform wet!”
Scarlet heard her giggle through her tears. That did the trick, he thought, smiling. He put his hand under her chin and forced her to look at him. “Calm down, Juliette. I’m not dead… Far from it, actually. What happened in the mountains is over now.”
She shook her head. “That is not what I’m talking about,” she retorted.
“What are you talking about, then?”
She hesitated a second, and bowed her head again. “After your car crash a month ago? I… I saw your dead body.”
Scarlet frowned. “What?” he murmured. He raised her head again, taking it between his hands to look into her eyes. “You actually saw my body? The original one?”
She nodded. “I was the one who identified it and signed the death certificate as witness.”
“Oh, God!” Scarlet exclaimed. “Don’t tell me…” His tone changed then, to a furious growl, and his eyes flashed angrily. “I’m going to wring Fawn’s neck!”
“Don’t be angry at him, Paul. I actually insisted to do it,” Destiny protested quietly.
“Why in God’s name did you let yourself in for that?” Scarlet asked her. He nodded his understanding. “Now I see why you had so much trouble accepting me, after seeing that,” he murmured, looking at her with compassion. He blew out a heavy sigh and let himself slump against the back of the couch. He looked thoughtfully at the young woman. “You must have felt awful,” he realized. “I know I did.”
“What do you mean, ‘you did’?” Destiny asked him, puzzled.
“I saw the state the body was in.”
“Oh, no…” Destiny murmured, starting to go pale. “You didn’t… see the body?”
“Yes, I did,” Scarlet nodded. “They didn’t want me near the actual body, at first… But I was rather insistent.” He scratched his head. “Actually, Adam helped me convince the Colonel and Doctor Fawn. They were reluctant to let me go into the morgue, but… they finally agreed. Adam came in with me. He didn’t want me to face it alone.” He shook his head. “It was a sorry sight, wasn’t it? I nearly broke down myself when I saw it… If Adam hadn’t been there…” He shrugged uneasily and cleared his throat. “I won’t bore you with the sorry details. Let’s just say he helped me pull through.”
“And you asked me why I exposed myself to that?” Destiny frowned. “Why did you? It was your own, original body…”
He shrugged again. “I really can’t say… Morbid curiosity, perhaps. And somehow, I had to see for myself, to convince myself that what everybody was telling me was really the truth. It all seemed so strange, so improbable, so confusing… It was so hard to believe.” His stare became distant, as the memories of his broken, half-burned body flashed into his mind like a chamber of horrors exhibit… or rather, a scene from a very frightening nightmare. I can’t burden Juliette with that, not after what she’s been through herself. She doesn’t deserve it. He sighed. “Well… I suppose I know now, it was all true… And I have to accept what happened and make the best of it.”
“That was… a very courageous thing to do”, Destiny said. She gave a faint smile. “But then again, you always have been courageous…”
“No. I’ve always been lucky.”
“Don’t give me that, Paul,” Destiny replied, looking straight at him. “I know you. Probably better than anyone else on Cloudbase. I know what kind of man you are.” She nodded thoughtfully. “You said you had to make sure, well it was the same for me. I had to make sure it was really you who were dead. It was hard enough believing you had kidnapped the World President, even having witnessed it myself… But the thought that you were dead was very hard to accept. And then, I learned that the body I had identified was not actually that of the man I saw falling from the Car-Vu…”
“That must have been confusing.”
“I’m just starting to understand more of it now.” Destiny looked at Scarlet. “And now I realized you can be no other than the man you pretend to be. You are not a ‘cold soulless Mysteron clone’, like you said yourself. I knew Paul Metcalfe, and I saw you act like him. With all my heart, I believe YOU ARE Paul Metcalfe.” She smiled slightly. “Can I ask your forgiveness for ever doubting you?”
He looked at her, thoughtful for a moment, then smiled back at her, and hugged her close to his heart. “The day I can’t forgive my closest friends, I would be a ‘cold soulless Mysteron clone’,” he told her. “I’m glad you’ve come around, love.”
She closed her eyes and squeezed him tightly, letting herself be washed by his warmth. “And I’m glad you’re back, Paul,” she murmured gently in his ear.
* * *
“Hello! How are things going here?”
Captain Scarlet entered the bedroom in Sickbay that had been assigned to Captain Grey the day before, when they all came back from their ordeal in the mountains. In the room were Captain Blue and Colonel White, surrounding the bed where Grey was lying, his injured leg elevated to reduce the pressure on it. When he saw Scarlet entering, a large smile crossed his face.
“Hi, Scarlet! Good to see you on top of things!”
“You look better too, Grey!” Scarlet nodded.
“Doctor Fawn says I’ll be on my feet before I know it,” Grey explained.
“He also said you have to rest for a few weeks,” Blue noted.
“Physicians don’t know the extent of a strong man’s capacity to recover,” Grey retorted, winking at Scarlet. “Three years ago, they said I would never be able to walk normally again.”
“Nevertheless, I suggest you don’t overexert yourself,” Colonel White said. “You are not Scarlet, Captain Grey.”
“Believe me, sir: I know that.”
Colonel White turned to Scarlet. “And I see you’re back to normal, Captain.”
“Yes, sir,” Scarlet answered with a grin. “Taking into consideration what ‘normal’ means for me now… Nearly didn’t make it, though. That Mysteron was a tough one to handle.”
“It would appear all Mysteron agents would have the same rejuvenating powers you have inherited,” White remarked gloomily.
“Not all, sir,” Blue retorted. “What about Captain Brown’s reconstruct? He didn’t come back to life.”
“Brown was literally blown to pieces, Captain Blue,” White replied, shaking his head. “I doubt there is any regeneration possible after that.”
“Or maybe the Mysterons were relying on me at the time, to finish Brown’s mission,” Scarlet noted, quietly.
“That’s a rather cold assessment!” Blue remarked.
“What choice do I have?” Scarlet retorted. “I can’t keep dwelling on it. It would drive me mad.”
“Well, anyway, while there is really no explanation why you have retained that regenerative ability, the fact that you did could even the score,” White said, thoughtful. “And we must consider the fact that, basically, all Mysteron agents do possess the same powers.”
“The mere thought of that sends shivers down my spine,” Grey said grimly.
“There is another thing going for us,” White added, looking closely at his young compatriot. “Now we know what those dizzy spells of yours are all about, Captain Scarlet.”
“Yes,” Scarlet answered, scratching the back of his head. “As strange as it seems, they’re part of some sort of ‘sixth sense’ I’ve developed, telling me of a Mysteron’s presence, or danger coming from them.”
“You sensed the DT19 was Mysteronised, when it landed at London Airport, last week,” Blue noted.
“Yes. I also sensed Torey’s presence when he landed on Cloudbase, yesterday. He was already a Mysteron.”
“And on board the jet, his presence near you was so overwhelming that you were actually feeling sick through almost the entire flight,” Grey added quickly.
“So now, in addition of being indestructible, you’re a walking Mysteron detector,” White mused. “Mmm… I had a feeling it was something like that…”
“Really, sir?” a puzzled Blue asked.
“I couldn’t believe the Mysterons were actually trying to take Scarlet back under their control,” White replied. “So there had to be another explanation. That seems to be it.”
“If Doctor Fawn’s prognosis is right about the sixth sense, the symptoms should become less and less pronounced as time goes by,” Scarlet said. “I ought to think of this as an ‘adaptation period’. In fact, I believe the process is well on its way. My headache was gone, more or less, by the end of yesterday’s misadventures.”
White nodded thoughtfully. “Good thing, then. It wouldn’t do much good if you’re too ill to do your job every time the Mysterons make their move.”
“He did a pretty good job yesterday, sir!” Grey protested.
Colonel White shot him a measuring look. “I was trying to be humorous, Captain,” he replied dryly. “Obviously, I didn’t succeed very well.”
“How did you find out the Aero Special One had been Mysteronised?” Scarlet asked. “Nobody’s told me that, yet…”
“It was Symphony, who had her doubts at one point,” White explained. “And then, the body of the real James Torey turned up. Killed in a car accident.”
“Like me,” Scarlet murmured.
“We realized then that the Jet was in the hands of the Mysterons,” Blue said. “It didn’t answer any of our calls, and the Angels succeeded in getting a look in the cockpit. They saw there was nobody at the helm… Like the DT19 last week. So they shot it down.”
“As for what happened to you all,” White continued, looking straight at Scarlet, “We thought that at least YOU would have survived a crash. So we put out a search party.”
“All for me?” Scarlet said, grinning. “Gee… I’m touched!”
“We’re not about to let our best asset against the Mysterons slip through our fingers, now!” White retorted with a faint smile. “Captain Blue insisted on leading the search team.”
“Sick as you were?” Scarlet asked his friend.
“I’m quite all right, now, thank you very much,” Blue retorted. “You can imagine how glad we were to actually find out you were all alive, the four of you!”
“Well, I have to thank you. I’m certainly glad to be out of those mountains.” Scarlet glanced at Grey. “You had your share of troubles there, Captain Grey. I think I’d better be going now… Let you get some rest.”
“That’s a good idea,” White agreed. “We’d better all go… But I still have some words to exchange with Captain Grey… alone, if you don’t mind, gentlemen.” He addressed a reassuring smile to his wounded Captain. “Then I’ll leave you alone.”
Captains Scarlet and Blue nodded and left the room. Colonel White then pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down next to Grey. The American was looking uneasily at his commander.
“Is there something the matter, sir?”
“You tell me, Captain,” White said quietly. He nodded toward Grey’s injured leg. “How are you, really?”
“Doctor Fawn said I was lucky,” Grey answered, shaking his head. “My fever’s been under control since the rescue team found us. It’s pretty well gone, now. My leg will heal quickly. And I’ve got a couple of cracked ribs that shouldn’t cause any problem now.”
“I heard you had a concussion.”
“Just have to keep quiet for a couple of days and it will only be a bad memory. I should be back on duty soon enough, sir.”
“Right now, that doesn’t worry me. The important thing is for you to rest, and get well soon. And that’s an order, Captain.”
“I won’t tire you much longer… Now, on an entirely different subject…” White got himself comfortable and cleared his throat. “What REALLY happened down there, Grey?”
“Sir?” Grey looked in puzzlement at Colonel White. The latter could see his officer was on his guard. He nodded thoughtfully.
“Something happened, didn’t it?” the Spectrum commander said, more as a statement than a question.
“You read our reports, sir,” Grey answered cautiously.
“Yes, and that’s why I’m here to question you. I’d like to know why one of my agents’ account of events is different from the other three…”
“Say that again?”
White sighed, a little annoyed. “Of all the members of Spectrum, I would have thought that at least I could count on YOU, Grey, to be truthful to me.” He gave the faintest of smiles. “Remember… you carry my real name? And you were a Navy man, just like me… Now, as one Navy man to another… Would you mind telling me what happened down in those mountains?”
Captain Grey was more than embarrassed. When Captain Scarlet had revived, some hours earlier, he had pleaded with Grey, Destiny and Captain Ochre to keep silent about certain details of their misadventure. He didn’t want the Colonel to learn how he, as field commander, had been so badly treated and mistrusted by two of his team-mates… No doubt, he wanted to protect Destiny and especially Ochre, who had knocked him out and restrained him with handcuffs… This could have had serious consequences for all of them. Knowing how the Spectrum commander-in-chief would react to Ochre’s blatant indiscipline, Grey had reluctantly agreed to follow Scarlet’s lead and left out the incriminating incidents from his report. He particularly wanted to save some trouble for Destiny, who could have been considered an accomplice after the facts.
But now, someone obviously didn’t produce the same report as the others and Colonel White was now on to them…
“You know, falsifying official reports could be considered a serious offence,” White continued softly. “Who put you all on to this? Scarlet, yes? That would be like him.”
“Ow, sir…” Grey sighed heavily and turned a pleading look on his commander. “Don’t blame Scarlet for that. He had it pretty tough down there…”
“I knew it!” White observed dryly.
“I bet it’s Ochre who reported everything,” Grey noted.
“Captain Ochre did what he thought was right,” White replied. “And I had a talk with Destiny, earlier this morning. She confirmed most of what Ochre’s report had already told me. Now I want to hear your side of the story.”
“You won’t like it, sir.”
“From what I’ve learned of it, I already dislike it pretty badly. Grey, do I have to take disciplinary action to make you talk? I don’t want to. And I’m sure YOU don’t, either.”
“It won’t be necessary, sir,” Grey sighed. “I’ll tell you what you want to know. Guess I should have known you’d learn about it sooner or later. But, please, don’t be too harsh on Scarlet…”
“Let me be the judge of what I should do with Captain Scarlet,” White interrupted. “For now, I’m still waiting. And my patience is wearing thin, Captain.”
“All right, sir. Here it is, then…”
* * *
Captain Ochre snapped to attention in front of Colonel White, seated at his circular, computerized desk. The Spectrum commander took a look at the report spread in front of him and looked up at his officer. “At ease, Captain,” he told him. “Have you been waiting long?”
“No, Sir,” Ochre replied, clasping his hands behind him. He was still rigid enough, obviously fully expecting the worst from this encounter.
“All right,” Colonel White said. “Following your report, I spoke to Destiny Angel and Captain Grey, asking them not to talk about this to anybody else. I would have liked to talk to Captain Scarlet concerning this matter, but it seems that will have to wait. His position on this is fairly clear, anyway, and nothing he would have to say would change the outcome of this meeting.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Ochre said tentatively, “Could Captain Scarlet be in trouble concerning that false report thing?”
“What are your feelings about that, Captain Ochre?”
Ochre shook his head. “Considering what happened, sir, and since it’s all due to my own actions, I don’t think you should take any action against him.”
“He DID ask you and the others to falsify your reports. I know it was HIS idea. That could be considered a conspiracy.”
“I know, sir, but Scarlet did it to protect his team-mates.”
“Destiny and yourself, anyway. Captain Grey wasn’t in any position to interfere or stop you.”
“Destiny neither, sir. I was pretty convincing in dragging her along in that whole mess. She was reluctant to do anything. I took full responsibility.”
“I’ll be the judge of your responsibility, Captain. Right now, you should be concerned about your own actions, and let ME decide if I should take measures against your team-mates.”
“That part of the subject is closed, Captain.”
Ochre kept his mouth shut and watched silently as Colonel White turned the pages of the report for one last look through it. “I know you want this over with, Captain Ochre,” White continued, “so I’ll make it quick.”
“I appreciate that, sir.”
“Wait before actually thanking me.” White paused a few seconds before looking up to the American. “Captain, I must say that your report and my subsequent investigation of the incidents that occurred during your last mission have given me cause for concern. I assigned Captain Scarlet as your field commander. You contested his authority – and mine by doing so – knocked him out and put him in handcuffs. All that because you choose to believe the story of your friend, Commander James Torey – who happened to be a Mysteron agent – over that of Scarlet himself. Now I realize you already entertained some mistrust toward Captain Scarlet…”
“Yes, sir. I regret to say I did.”
“You used the past tense.”
“Yes. The mistrust I may have had… that’s been resolved.”
“Explain yourself, Captain.”
“Ever since Captain Scarlet came back on duty, I had a hard time considering him as the real thing. For me, he was just an impostor, who had taken a friend’s place. In fact, he took everything from him: his face, his identity, his name… even his life, for all I knew.”
“The Mysterons kill their victims before making reconstructs out of them, Captain,” White remarked. “That much we know. If you are implying that Scarlet has…”
“No, sir. I don’t imply anything. Not anymore.” Ochre sighed. “I was wrong, I know it now. That’s not an impostor who came back to us. Except for that retrometabolism thing, he’s the same, loyal guy. He came through for us, yesterday, more than once. You were right to trust him. I should have trusted your judgement over that fact.”
“If you had, it would have saved you and the others a lot of trouble,” White noted dryly. “Do you realize your own actions during that mission could have had serious consequences? They could have cost your life, as well as the lives of the others.”
“I realize it fully, sir,” Ochre said without expression.
“Your act of insubordination could be considered as mutiny, Captain. Notwithstanding the fact that you actually sided with an enemy agent to trap your field commander and put him in a defenceless position… Do you know what Captain Scarlet actually DID to get out of those handcuffs, in order to come to Destiny’s rescue?”
“Destiny and Captain Grey told me, sir. He broke all the bones in his hand.” Ochre shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t think anybody else would have done the same thing under the same circumstances.”
“Nobody in his right mind and not possessing the same powers of recovery, anyway,” White agreed.
“Still, it must have been very painful,” Ochre added. “He would not have needed to do that, if I had acted correctly toward him.”
White looked sternly at the American officer. He looked pale. Must be in pain, standing on that sprained foot of his, the Spectrum commander thought. No sense in dragging this on needlessly. “Do you have anything more to say in your defence, Captain Ochre?”
“I have no defence, sir. I’d plead guilty to all charges in front of any court-martial you’d send me to.”
“Those are serious offences, which could be brought against you.”
“I’m prepared to face the consequences of my actions, sir.”
“So I see. And if it weren’t the case, you would have followed the others’ lead and falsified your official report too.”
Captain Ochre didn’t say anything; he waited, while his commander was writing some quick notes on the report before looking back at him. Here goes, Ochre thought, getting himself ready for the worst. I’m done for, now…
“Here’s my decision, Captain Ochre,” White finally said, in an official voice. “Since Captain Scarlet is obviously reluctant to press charges against you, and taking into account the fact that you honestly came clean with that story, I’m willing to drop all the charges but one, on certain conditions.”
Ochre blinked, obviously surprised by his commander’s magnanimity. “Colonel, I… I don’t know what to say.”
“I am not finished. The charge I keep against you is your insubordination and obvious contempt for Captain Scarlet’s authority during this mission. I take this as a personal offence, since I was the one who assigned Scarlet as your field commander. I cannot accept this kind of behaviour, especially coming from one of my senior staff officers. So I assign you to radar duty for a period of two weeks.”
“Two weeks, sir?” Ochre asked with dismay.
“Two weeks, Captain. And if you haven’t already done so, you will have to present your formal apologies to Captain Scarlet.”
“One more thing: the entire incident will be put on your permanent record. You pull just one more stunt like it and I’ll personally kick you out of Spectrum.”
“It won’t happen again, sir. I promise you.”
“For your sake, I hope so.” White closed the folder. “Dismissed.”
Captain Ochre saluted his superior officer and turned on his heel, sighing with relief as he did so. He was about to make good his escape when a call from Colonel White stopped him short.
“Captain, one last thing…”
What now? Ochre thought, turning back to White. The Colonel was looking at him in a curiously suspicious way.
“Yesterday, did you happen to go onto the Promenade Deck?”
“Sir?” Ochre was puzzled. “I haven’t been up there for weeks, Colonel.”
“You’re sure?” There was a note of scepticism in the Spectrum commander’s voice.
“Yes, sir. Ever since the Mysterons announced their first threat, actually.”
White nodded quietly; he seemed somehow upset. “All right, then. You can go.”
Ochre didn’t need to be told again; he passed by a quiet Lieutenant Green, as always seated at his station, and strode out of the Control Room, wondering what the Promenade Deck thing was all about.
As soon as the door had closed on Ochre, Lieutenant Green turned to a grim-looking and thoughtful Colonel White. “It seems your investigation isn’t producing any results, sir,” the young Black man remarked.
“It’s maddening,” White murmured, resting his chin on his steepled fingers. “I asked just about everybody on base. The only ones left were the members of the team who boarded the Passenger Jet, yesterday. And I have met with all of them today, and asked them… Now it seems even they don’t know anything about the incident.” He sighed heavily. “I suppose that’s it, Lieutenant. It looks as if I won’t find out who’s responsible for what happened to my rose tree.”
“Did you ask Captain Scarlet, sir?”
White stared thoughtfully at Green. Scarlet. Maybe he knew something about what had happened the day before in the Promenade Deck. Curiously, the commander had left him out. Proceeding by elimination, and since Scarlet would be the last one he had to question, and also providing nobody had dared lie to him…
White quietly stood up. “I’ll be back in a short while, Lieutenant. I'm going to have a talk with Captain Scarlet.”
“Do you want me to call him up, sir?”
“Not necessary.” A devilish smile crossed the habitually stern face of the Spectrum commander. “If I’m right, I know where to find him. As they say in the mystery novels: the culprit always comes back to the site of his crime…”
* * *
Up on the Promenade Deck, scissors in hand, Rhapsody Angel was looking with obvious satisfaction at the tree of white roses she had put onto the table in front of her, when Captain Scarlet entered and saw her. He also saw the tree and frowned deeply, wondering what was happening with it now.
“Come to finish my job?” he asked as he approached the young woman.
He startled her, but she recognized his voice almost right away. She smiled at him and gestured toward the tree. “Actually, I came to see how my patient was doing.”
“Patient?” Scarlet asked, puzzled.
She nodded. “It was a painful experience, but I think it will survive. Look.”
Scarlet bent down, looking at the tree. It was clean of all the dirt he had thrown the day before on its leaves and flowers… A few of them had actually disappeared, and there were some fresh cuts where they previously had been.
“You had to do some trimming, I see,” Scarlet noted.
“Couldn’t be helped. The branches were lost, anyway. I think, in a few days, the damage will be nothing but a bad memory. Look: there’s already new buds here and there…”
“Good job, Angel,” Scarlet grinned, straightening up. “I didn’t know you had such green fingers.”
“I didn’t know, either,” Rhapsody smiled back. “But I guess desperation can cause a person to discover some unsuspected abilities…” She scowled. “Too bad I didn’t act fast enough so the Colonel wouldn’t discover anything about the… accident.”
“He knows about it?”
“He’s been on the prowl since yesterday, looking for the culprit. I kept my mouth shut, of course… but if I were you, I’d ask for a weekend pass right now.”
“Or better, a long enough assignment until that tree is completely healed and those buds have blossomed.”
“That would be safer.”
“Now, what about that ski trip to Aspen, then…”
Rhapsody started laughing. “Hey! Your sense of humour is actually improving! That’s good. I take it all is well in Captain Scarlet’s life?”
He nodded. “All is well in Captain Scarlet’s life,” he agreed. “And in Paul Metcalfe’s too.”
“You had your talk with Destiny.”
“Yes, I had. And it did a lot of good.” Scarlet looked at the Angel pilot. “You were right, she came round.”
“She loves you too much to stay that angry at you forever.”
“I think I owe a great deal to you, though. You talked to her.”
“But you did the rest. When you were trapped down in those mountains, she saw you for what and who you truly are.”
Scarlet nodded again, quietly. For a moment, he looked at the young woman, who turned away to put her scissors down on the table. She was aware of him staring at her and felt a bit uneasy about it.
“By the way,” he suddenly said, “I checked out that novel of yours…”
Rhapsody turned back to him, with a puzzled look, as if she didn’t remember what he was talking about. He shook his head. “The Machine to Kill?” he reminded her. There was a twinkle of amusement in his blue eyes. “Now I know how it ends.” He crossed his arms on his chest, smiling at her mischievously. “Did you really think I would’ve thrown myself off a cliff?”
She smiled back, but didn’t have time to answer. The door not far from them slid open and Captain Ochre walked in. His eyes immediately acknowledged Scarlet’s presence. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” Scarlet nodded back, uncrossing his arms. He had not seen Ochre since early that morning, shortly after he had revived from his ordeal, and Scarlet had spoken to him only to ask him not to include in his official report everything that had happened between them. Not a word from Ochre after that. And right now, the American Captain seemed pretty embarrassed as he walked toward his British counterpart.
“I… er… thought I’d find you here,” Ochre said. “I seem to recall you’re fond of this place.”
“Yes, I’ve always found it lovely,” Scarlet agreed. “Reminds me a lot of the wood behind my parents’ house in Winchester… minus the tropical plants, of course.”
Rhapsody cleared her throat, to remind to the two men she was still there. “I think I’d better leave you alone, gentlemen…”
She was already moving to go when Ochre stopped her in her tracks. “No, wait. I may need a witness for this.”
“A witness?” a perplexed Scarlet asked, frowning. “Are you going to challenge me to a duel or something like that?”
Ochre laughed softly. He shook his head. “No, that would be your privilege, I think.”
“His humour is improving,” Rhapsody told the American officer, as in confidence.
“So I see. I…” Ochre stopped right away. Seeming to suddenly remember something, he searched his trouser pocket and withdrew a shiny object which he held out to Scarlet. “I wanted to give this back to you.”
Scarlet took the object; he recognized it the second he laid eyes on it. “My Swiss Army knife,” he said, frowning again. “I thought I had lost it forever… Where did you find it?”
“At the site of your car crash… when I investigated it a month ago.” Ochre lowered his gaze, under Scarlet’s perplexed and curious stare. “I… know it was a gift from your father.”
“Yes. He gave it to me when I received my Spectrum commission,” Scarlet replied quietly. He shrugged. “You kept it all this time?”
“I didn’t feel it truly belonged to you. That is… until now.” Ochre looked up at his British colleague. “I am truly sorry, Paul. For all I have done.”
Captain Scarlet said nothing. He looked down thoughtfully at the knife, distractedly toying with it. He then turned his attention back to Ochre. “You owe me,” he said quietly.
Ochre had been expecting this. But then he saw the grin crossing Scarlet’s face. “You owe me a revenge match in the boxing ring,” the Brit said, in a sprightly tone. “And THIS time, you’d better play fair!”
Ochre relaxed. “Knock me out if I don’t,” he retorted, extending his right hand and grinning broadly.
The two men clasped hands, before the very happy Rhapsody’s eyes. Scarlet showed the knife to Ochre. “If you want one so much, I’ll ask my father where he bought this one and get you one.”
“You’re too kind. But it wouldn’t be the same. I kept it ’cause it reminded me of a good friend. Now I don’t need it, because I’ve got my friend back.” He frowned. “Now, I hope you don’t actually think I intended keeping that knife!”
“Perish the thought!” Scarlet replied. “Coming from an ex-police commissioner, that would be pretty ironic!”
Ochre gave Rhapsody a puzzled look. “You’re sure his humour is improving?”
The young woman shrugged. “One can always hope,” she remarked. “I guess he’s a hopeless case.”
“I thought you were on my side!” Scarlet protested.
“Come on, now! There are some things so obvious you can’t deny them, you know?”
Scarlet was about to make some retort when he heard the door behind him sliding open. He did not even have time to turn around before a strong voice, with a very recognizable accent, thundered suddenly, startling the three of them:
Scarlet spun around swiftly; a very stern, angry-looking Colonel White had stepped into the Promenade Deck and was staring straight at him, with blazing blue eyes that caused the young man to snap to attention. Behind him, he heard Captain Ochre and Rhapsody Angel doing the same.
“Yes, sir?” Scarlet asked uneasily.
“I was looking all over for you,” the Colonel said, coming closer, his voice still sharp. “I want to ask you a question…”
Oh boy! Ochre thought, making himself as invisible as possible. The falsified reports… The old man must have reached a decision about them. Scarlet must be in trouble, now. And I didn’t have the time to tell him… But Ochre soon realized it was far more serious than that when Colonel White pointed an accusing finger toward the tree, standing in honour in the middle of the table, right next to Captain Scarlet.
“By any chance, do you know what happened to my rose tree, yesterday?”