The news of Colonel White’s death was all over the camp, spreading on like wildfire, and soon, every one knew about it. Scarlet saw tears in women’s and children’s eyes and even in some men’s. There were even cries of mourning. Everybody felt sorrow and distress over the passing of their leader, and Scarlet realised how much they had respected and loved her. He knew her to have been a wonderful woman, caring and sensitive, who had became much more than a friend to him, and who had comforted him in his worst moments of anguish. Although he could never love her as much as he loved his wife, he couldn’t deny that Juliette had been a close second in his heart, and that her passing was filling him with great sorrow.
Juliette didn’t want for her people to grieve for her indefinitely, and so she had requested that when her time came, they would give her a swift funeral, and bury her next to her fallen comrades. So it was on the afternoon of the next day that, after all the preparations had been made, a procession left the Spectrum camp, to cross part of the ruined city of Winchester and climb St. Catherine’s Hill, to carry their beloved colonel to her final destination.
There already were two other graves on top of the hill, and Scarlet knew that one of them was Karen Wainwright’s. Next to it was that of the first Colonel White, Charles Gray. They were both marked with a single, flat headstone, on which only the dates of their birth and death had been carved underneath their names.
Both their names.
“Karen Wainwright - Symphony Angel
2042 – 2082”
“Charles Gray – Colonel White
2017 – 2098”
There was nothing else written. Scarlet didn’t feel there was any need for it. Their Spectrum names were enough of a tribute, to fully honour their lives and their deaths.
Juliette had been raised in the Catholic faith – although Scarlet couldn’t remember her being much of a religious person – an Irish priest was there to perform the ceremony. One of her compatriots from France, his face solemn and his eyes red with recently shed tears, had offered an old worn French flag to respectfully cover the wooden box they had put her body in. There was no 21-gun salute for her, ammunition being far too precious to be spent in such a way, but everyone stood to attention and gave her the military salute she deserved.
Ian Kelly was carrying a ceremonial sword that he used to salute his commanding officer, the unsheathed blade raised upright to the level of his face. By his side, D.B. Svenson stood rigidly, her face completely expressionless as she watch the coffin being lowered into the recently dug hole. The French flag was neatly folded and Kelly was the one to offer it to D.B.
The ceremony was brief, but people lingered around the grave and, after a moment, Scarlet left to return to the camp.
He couldn’t stay here, and become the leader these people. He could never replace Juliette; he could never be what she and Charles Gray had been before. They were not his people. They would never trust him. They would never accept him.
With Juliette’s death, he had no-one left in the world. He considered he had overstayed his welcome long enough. His business was done, and it was time for him to move on.
He still had one last thing he had to attend to.
After sending Jones to the stables to get Rainbow for him, Scarlet went into the tent assigned to him and swiftly picked up his stuff to prepare his backpack and the rest of his gear. He was busy checking his rations when he realised he was being watched, without feeling threatened. He looked up from his kneeling position and she was standing there, at the entrance of the tent, looking down at him. The emotionally-charged events of the last hours must have affected his instincts more than he imagined, or her approach had been so expert that he hadn’t heard her come in, nor had he seen her before now.
“You are leaving,” she stated bluntly.
“You sure know how to state the obvious. Just like your birth mother always did, Captain.”
She watched in silence as he continued to pack his things. After a couple of minutes, she approached him.
“I thought… you would be staying,” she said.
“Why did you believe that?”
“My mother wanted you to take over from her. To become the new Colonel White. Did she tell you that?”
“She did,” he confirmed. “But that is something I cannot possibly do.”
She crouched in front of him, to speak levelly at him: “Why? Is it so hard to accede to a old friend’s dying last request?”
“It is not as easy as you think,” he replied sharply. He zipped his backpack. “You’ll be a much better leader than me, anyway.”
She shook her head. “My mother didn’t want me. She wanted you as her successor. She asked me what I thought of it. I admit – I wasn’t so keen on the idea. I was thinking… ‘Why should we trust a man who abandoned Spectrum so long ago in the first place?’”
“Why indeed,” groused Scarlet.
“My adoptive father used to say you were Spectrum’s greatest asset against the Mysterons,” D.B. continued. “And he hoped – desperately hoped – that you would come back one day, and help us against them again. You never came back and he died with the concern that his people were fighting a war they could never hope to win… While only your presence could have given him – us – hope.” She took a deep breath. “I know you were unable to come back – that you had been thrown in jail and kept in secret confinement by the Government’s officials. Mom told me yesterday. So it’s not your fault that, when you were able to get free, it was too late for you to find us easily and return. But you finally came back… and I saw my mother regain hope. And now, you tell me that you are leaving?”
“D.B., I –”
“Why did you return at all?” D.B. snapped, standing up swiftly. “You’ve been gone for more than thirty years… you could as well have stayed away if you were only going to return, to disappear again. If you wanted so much to stay on your own, why did you come back at all?”
Scarlet jumped to his feet. “I didn’t come back specifically to find Spectrum!” he shouted back. “Or what’s left of it. Or don’t you recall, D.B.? I told you. I said this camp was only a stopover for me. That I had business to attend to elsewhere!”
“What kind of business could you have to attend to around here?”
“I came back for them!”
Scarlet waved his arm in a westerly direction, indicating the no-man’s land beyond the outskirts of Winchester. D.B. stared at him, shocked by his revelation, and frowning with incredulity, even horror, as he locked eyes with her. If he expected her to avert her gaze, he was badly mistaken and in the end, he was the one who looked away. He couldn’t bare the intensity of her stare.
“You came back for the Mysterons?” she whispered, as he turned her back to her.
“Yes… Yes, I came back for the Mysterons.”
“But what…” She tried to make sense of what he was saying, but couldn’t understand what his reason could possibly be. “What do you want with them, anyway?”
Scarlet leaned down to pick up his backpack. “I want to confront them,” he said finally, without turning around to face her. “I want to meet them face to face at last. And I want to ask them, why they’ve made my life – and this planet – a living hell.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You want to die that much?”
Scarlet turned on his heel to face her again. “You feel so sure I won’t come back from there?”
“Nobody ever comes back from their complex. No-one alive, anyway.”
“I’ve died already,” he groused. “A number of times.”
She nodded. “And you want to die definitely, is that it?”
“That’s not true, I…” Scarlet hesitated, searching for what to say. “I don’t have to vindicate myself to you. I don’t owe you any explanation.”
She slowly nodded, glaring at him. “You’re right. You don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe any of us anything. Not to your former colleagues and friends. Not to Spectrum. Not to the man you called your brother, and not to your wife.”
Scarlet took a step towards her, getting ready to reply, but she silenced him with a stare that was so icy it could have frozen magma and continued:
“And certainly not to us, whom you don’t know at all. We don’t know you either, and we don’t need you. So it’s better if you refuse my mother’s offer to succeed her, after all. For all I care, you can go to the Mysterons… and to hell, which from my point of view, is exactly the same thing.”
“Save it. I don’t want to hear anything from you.”
She pushed open the door and stood by it, looking in Scarlet’s direction, with a flash of anger in her eyes. For her, the matter was closed, and it was time he left. Out of this camp, and out of her life.
Scarlet hesitated for a brief moment and decided that it was probably for the best to leave things as they were. He threw the backpack on his shoulder, picked up his shotgun and, slowly crossed the distance separating them.
He stopped just as he was about to leave and looked at her. For a second, their eyes met, and almost by reflex, he leant to give her a good luck kiss on the brow. She turned away, avoiding him.
He moved to step out, and then she spoke ever so quietly: “You know, both my mothers told me that you were the bravest man they had ever known.”
He stopped and turned to her. She was still glaring at him.
“That sentiment was shared by my adoptive father. Now I realised they either lied, or were wrong about you: you’re not brave. You’re a coward.”
He looked back at her, waiting for an explanation. She nodded curtly. “That’s right. You’re a coward. Each time someone important in your life dies, you run away. ”
“Have you considered this, Captain?” she interrupted harshly. “The day you killed the Mysteron duplicate of my father…” A lump seemed to form in her throat, and she swallowed before continuing: “… The man you called your brother… You actually did exactly for him what he did for you, the day he shot you from the Car-Vu.” She glared meaningfully at him. “He did what needed to be done and was able to cope with that. So why is it that you were unable to do the same?”
Scarlet didn’t reply to this last comment. In fact, he couldn’t. D.B. turned her back on him. “Your horse is waiting outside. Take it and get the hell away.”
Scarlet just waited a few seconds, hoping she would look at him again. When she did, the anger he could see in her eyes was enough to convince him that she wanted nothing more than see him leave.
He turned away one last time and left the tent; the fabric door fell between them.
Rainbow was waiting by the tent, Morgan Jones holding him by the bridle. When he saw his master, the great horse snorted loudly, and his ears stood up on his head. Scarlet patted him, and took the bridle, thanking the boy with a murmur and a nod.
“You are leaving, sir?” he enquired.
Scarlet simply nodded.
“And when will you be coming back?”
There was hope in the boy’s voice, but Scarlet was unable to answer. He quickly saddled up; as he pulled on the bridle to force Rainbow to back away from the tent, his eyes fell on Watson and his gang, standing nearby casually leaning against a fence and watching him with interest. He could see a conceited smile on Watson’s lips that didn’t bode well. Behind them, Ian Kelly was approaching the tent in long strides; on his face, there was an expression of perplexity as he looked up at Scarlet on his horse.
Scarlet gathered the bridle in his hand and leant over Rainbow’s withers, patting the lower part of his neck, affectionately. His eyes met with those of Jones, who was standing close by.
“Jones, you’re family,” he told him in a low, sober voice. “You take good care of her for me, please.”
The boy, at first confused by his comment, didn’t say a word and gave a barely discernible nod. Scarlet straightened up and turned the horse around. He passed by Kelly, who slowed down at his approach, and Scarlet addressed him a half-military, half-friendly salute.
He shot one last glance in direction of the tent that had been Juliette’s and then spurred his mount, heading out of the camp.
After the funeral of the Spectrum commander that afternoon, nearly everyone in camp felt in a sullen mood for the rest of the day, and although they all returned to their normal activities and duties, no-one’s heart really was in it. Even the sky, it seemed to them, was in mourning as dark clouds passed above and thunder rumbled, over the horizon, coming from the west. Yet, there wasn’t a single drop of rain and people wondered if the Mysterons weren’t rejoicing over the death of one of their most unyielding foes. Or, perhaps, in their own alien way, they were showing their respect for an esteemed fallen enemy.
For Dianne Blue Svenson, who heard the rumours making their way through the camp, it was a load of nonsense. The Mysterons never showed any respect for anyone. They only felt hatred and loathing for the human race, only wanted vengeance for a gesture made by one man in a moment of panic, and had condemned a whole planet for it. They only knew scheming and manipulation, even using the dead for their own purposes. To think they were capable of respect would have been given them too much credit.
Shortly after Scarlet’s departure, D.B. retired to her tent, refusing to join Kelly who was about to have dinner with his men. Doctor Markov came for a visit, so that the young woman would have someone to talk to, following her mother’s death, but D.B. wasn’t willing to open up and confide in anyone and so, Markov left her.
Some time later, Kelly came in, to offer her a bowl of what was left of the stew the cook had prepared. He found her seated on her cot, her arms around her knees gathered under her chin, and staring into empty space with a lost expression. When he inquired if everything was all right with her, she simply answered that she just needed some time alone to accept what had happened. The following day would usher in an era of change, with her receiving the burden of command, and she would have to decide what needed to be done. She nodded her thanks when Kelly put the bowl right next to her before leaving, but she wasn’t hungry, and didn’t touch any of it, but went to bed, about an hour later.
All day, she hadn’t found it in herself to shed a single tear over the death of the woman she had called ‘mother’ for so many years. When she finally fell asleep, out of pure exhaustion that night, she still had not cried.
People were too tired to think about anything else but sleep that evening, so everybody went to bed relatively early. As usual, men stood guard at strategic points. Not only did they have to take into account any possible incursion by the Mysterons, but it already happened a few times in the past that bands of wanderers would make night attacks on them, but on each occasion, these attacks were easily repelled. They were unsure if even one of these attempts was Mysteron-influenced, but it was a definite possibility. The ‘Spectres’, however, didn’t care much about such details; the security and survival of the camp had to come first, whoever the enemy might be – and wherever the threat came from.
Sometimes the threat would come from inside the camp’s perimeters; as had nearly happened, when the Mysteronised Jonah Caruthers had been able to approach Colonel White to kill her – only to die by D.B. Svenson’s hand. The original body of Caruthers had been found in a cellar he had been carelessly exploring for bottles of wine. Part of the floor above had fallen on top of him, crushing him to death, and nobody had noticed that the Caruthers who returned to camp after the incident, wasn’t the real one – until it was nearly too late.
After such a close call, and considering that Colonel White had now passed away in any case, nobody truly expected that something would happen that night, in so short a time after the first incident.
D.B. Svenson was never one to sleep too soundly and it was only a faint shuffle and the impression of a nearby presence that suddenly woke her up. She opened her eyes; in the semi-darkness of her tent, the single solar lamp set on a stool not that far from her was throwing suspicious silhouettes on the walls. There was someone in there with her, and that someone was approaching where she lay. As soon as she registered the danger, she tried to rise and to call for help.
It was already too late. She had barely moved when two men leapt at her. A hand pressed against her mouth, stifling the cry on her lips, while other hands seized her arms to pull them behind her. Another man was struggling to catch her flailing legs. She managed to kick him in the mouth and he drew back, grunting with pain. Someone backhanded her violently, throwing her head back. She was pulled down back onto the cot, and a piece of rag was pushed between her teeth and secured tightly. She resisted as well as she could, but there were too many assailants to fight back, and once one of them managed to catch her legs and held them tight, she found herself unable to move.
“Hold her tight, and don’t let her go!” a voice whispered.
Someone sat astride her, pinning her down, the weight pushing the air out of her lungs. She looked up, struggling in vain, trying to see who these attackers could be. A knife came to rest against her throat and she froze.
Beyond the knife, she saw the face of Erik Watson, leaning down close to her, a sneering and cruel smile on his lips, and his eyes bright.
“Hello, dear Captain,” he said in a whisper. “Didn’t expect a visit from me tonight, did you?”
She glared at him. There were two others with him – two of the boys who were constantly hanging around with him, and who were under her command. It was their hands that were keeping her down, while Erik sat across her belly. She attempted again to free herself, and pulled on her arms, but to no avail. He tutted at her. “Not very successful, when your nice Lieutenant ain’t around, are you?” He followed the contour of her neck with his knife, and she held her breath. “Well, don’t you worry about brave Kelly… He’s having trouble of his own, tonight. I had to keep him occupied, while I came to… talk to you.”
He looked her up and down with a covetous expression in his dark eyes, and a smile playing on his lips.
“I’ve got news for you, ‘cousin’ – I won’t be following your orders, like I did that old biddy you called your mother. While she had total control on the people in this camp, I couldn’t do anything. They almost worshipped the ground she walked on, and the soldiers obeyed her every order. But now that she’s gone – finally – I can make my move. ‘Cause, you know, you don’t have the same hold your mom had on everyone. So it’s now my turn to command, ‘cousin’. It’s time a man took control of this camp and realised its true potential. ”
“Come on, Erik,” one of the others whispered. “Get on with it… we can’t hold her forever.”
“You’ll hold her still,” Watson growled at him, “and for as long as needs be. I’m not through with her yet.”
He looked down at D.B. again.
The hand that wasn’t holding the knife was moving up and down her body, pressing her breast. She froze, when he tore the shirt open, and grunted in protest when he fondled her roughly.
“I knew you were a nice-looking girl underneath all that garb,” he said in an admiring whisper. “I saw that, when we found you with the freak. And I gotta admit, ever since then, I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to screw you…”
He used his legs to draw hers apart, and D.B. felts the hands of the man restraining her feet holding her in that position. Watson didn’t need to hold her down at all; his two companions were doing it for him, which left him free to do whatever else he wanted to do. Her heart started beating faster, as Watson, putting the knife aside, reached for her trousers and pulled the zip down. She felt his clammy hands against her skin, and she groaned in revolt.
Smiling wickedly, he moved into a kneeling position, and started undoing the buckle of his belt. “I’m taking over, ‘Captain’,” he said, breathing hard in anticipation. “I’m taking over this camp, I’m taking over your men…” He leaned back on one elbow and looked straight into her defiant eyes. “And most importantly, I’m taking you over.”
“Not on your life, you scum.”
The angry voice from behind froze Watson, and a strong hand appeared out of nowhere to seize him by the collar of his shirt and forcibly pull him off his would-be victim.
He was thrown clear out of the tent, through the flap of the door, and the next second, D.B.’s rescuer kicked the boy who was holding her arms down, straight in the belly, freeing her instantly. A punch to the chin forced the last assailant to let go of the young woman’s legs, and she instantly kicked her foot into his face. With fury, she pulled on the gag to remove it, and gave a second, furious kick at the young man, finishing him off properly.
“Get them out!” a strained male voice bellowed.
D.B. looked up to realise that the one who had saved her in the nick of time was none other than Captain Scarlet. He was currently pushing one of the unconscious boys into the waiting arms of Kelly, who had just appeared at the open door. He then bent down to roughly pick up the last of the young woman’s attackers, and for that brief instant, their eyes met. He noticed she was shaking like at leaf, while doing her best to cover herself, in an attempt to regain some dignity. He averted his eyes.
“I want you to stay in here,” he told her in a very low voice. “And to let me handle this.”
She started to protest: “Like hell, I will –”
“Stay here!” he ordered. And he turned away, without waiting for her answer, dragging the last man out, following Kelly.
The two boys were brutally thrown onto the ground of the main place, nearly on top of Erik Watson; who was already trying to regain his footing; the camp was starting to wake up, and people were coming out of their tents to find out what was going on, and what all this noise was about.
“You despicable bastards!” Scarlet lashed out angrily.
Watson saw three more of his friends being dragged into the place by Kelly’s men. They were thrown on the ground at his feet. Shaken, they tried to stand, but they were pushed down, and the guns shoved in their faces forced them to stay still.
Watson looked around; torches had been lit and he could see many people gathered around them. It almost looked like all of the camp was there.
And many of them were armed.
Slowly, uncertainly, Watson got to his feet.
“Tell us about your plans, tonight!” Scarlet snarled, pointing an accusing finger at Watson. “Tell everyone how you were planning to take the camp over, so you could run it as you intended!”
“Three of my men have been murdered tonight,” Kelly said then in a cold voice; the announcement caused murmurs and gasps from the gathered crowd. “Peterson, Burkes, Tomlinson… They were on guard duty. These men killed them, so they would by able to assassinate both Captain Svenson and myself. I would have had my throat slit if Captain Scarlet had not appeared and killed my assailant.”
His eyes threw daggers at Watson. “What would you have done after that, Watson? Killed every soldier loyal to Captain Svenson, so there would be nobody left to oppose you?”
“People need a proper leader!” Watson exclaimed loudly.
“And you think you are that leader, Watson?” Scarlet demanded.
“I can be, yes,” Watson said, with a less than assured smile. “I would be much better than this girl would be. Much better than that crazy old woman ever was. And I’ve got the right to –”
“You’re nothing but a murderer!” Kelly interrupted him, taking a step forwards. Scarlet stopped him in his tracks and pushed him back firmly.
“You really think you’ve got what it takes to be this camp’s leader, Watson?” Scarlet asked sarcastically.
“This camp needs a man – a strong man – to guide it. We cannot live like this anymore. We’re doomed to die, if we do. And you all know I’m right!”
He turned to face the surrounding crowd who murmured and exchanged comments at his words. The door of D.B.’s tent opened at that moment, and the young woman stepped out, wearing a new shirt. She came to stand by Scarlet, who glared at her with annoyance.
“I told you to stay inside,” he rebuked her.
“Like I would listen to you,” she retorted defiantly under her breath.
Watson was pointing accusingly at her. “This woman… she doesn’t have what it takes to lead you all.”
“She’s better suited than you ever will be,” Kelly answered angrily.
“If that’s the case, then why doesn’t she speak out to defend her right to lead?”
“You want me to speak out, Watson?” D.B. lashed out suddenly. “I’ll do more than that, you son of a bitch!”
When she took a step towards Watson, Scarlet caught her by the shoulder and kept her back. “It’s not Captain Svenson you’re answering to tonight, Watson, but to me,” he said in a stern voice. “So if I understand what you’re saying, you’re contesting her authority over this camp?”
“Damn right I am… That’s why I did what I did tonight. How could we remove her from power, without risking being killed by her followers?” Watson glared meaningfully in Kelly’s direction.
“That doesn’t excuse murder, Watson,” the young lieutenant shot back. “Tonight your followers killed good men.”
“This woman will take this camp along the same path her mother took it. You all know it leads to nothing! We need to take drastic action to survive! We are numerous, and strong… People fear us! We should use that fear to our advantage. We could take whatever we need and make better lives for ourselves!”
“By doing what?” Scarlet asked abruptly. “Pillage and murder? What will you do first, attack the nearby, struggling camps and villages – or even ride up to London, and attack the people there?”
“It’s about survival!” Watson shouted loudly. “Don’t you get it? We’re in a world where only the strongest, and the fittest can survive.”
“And under your new order, you get to decide who is strongest, Watson?” Scarlet retorted. “You would steal from others what they are struggling to keep, and condemn them to death? You’re not talking about survival, Watson. You’re talking about power. And that’s why you want to take control of this camp. If you think taking command is a right, you are sadly mistaken, boy. It’s a duty you have to perform with selfless dedication. Not a position of power to access for your own gain. If you’re thinking that, then it’s obvious you don’t have what it takes to be this camp’s leader. In my view, you are nothing but a would-be despot, like so many on this planet.”
“Did you really think most of these people would have followed you?” Kelly asked him. “These are honest, good people. You delude yourself, thinking they would accept you as their leader under those conditions.”
“What you were planning to do is not the way of Spectrum,” D.B. added in turn. “Spectrum exists to protect people from guys like you and their plans to subjugate all that lives under their heel.”
“Listen to the crazy bitch…” Watson chuckled. He glanced around at the surrounding crowd, hoping to see if his words had won them to his cause. But what he saw didn’t seem to bode very well for him. Everyone was glaring at him with accusing eyes, and no one seemed willing to make a single gesture to support him.
And suddenly, Erik Watson became very afraid.
“Come on, wake up,” he said almost pleadingly. “You can’t possibly believe all that crap. There’s no Spectrum anymore. That was that crazy old bird’s dream. Not ours. We are the ‘Spectres’ now. And it’s a name we can use to impose respect.”
“Spectrum isn’t dead,” Scarlet replied, approaching threateningly. Watson turned fearfully to face him. “And it won’t be – not as long as I draw breath.”
He stood in front of the young man, who looked up at him with alarm in his eyes. He swallowed hard and took a step back. “Well then,” he said in a shivering voice, “I guess I’ll have to stop you from breathing…” Out of panic, he launched forward, clicking open the knife he was keeping hidden in the palm of his hand, and aimed at Scarlet’s face. The latter took a step back, and although he avoided his throat being slit by the razor-sharp blade, it did strike him, and cut a deep gash across his face, making him blink. With lightning reflexes, Watson lowered the knife, and the three inches blade sank up to the handle into Scarlet’s abdomen. With deep satisfaction, Watson heard the muffled grunt escaping Scarlet’s lips and felt him shudder under the blow.
Those closest to the scene gasped at the sight. Scarlet could have avoided the blow, if he had only stepped further back, and he had the time to have done so. But he had not made a single move. Now with the blade buried deep into his belly, he stood motionless in front of Watson, who was grinning victoriously.
The grin changed into an expression of stupor when the young man realised that Scarlet kept glaring at him with that same implacable anger burning into his eyes.
Scarlet’s right hand rose, and came to grasp Watson’s, still clutching the handle of his knife. Slowly, the former Spectrum officer pushed the hand away and with it the knife, his face barely registering any pain as the blade emerged from his body, dripping with his blood. His cold eyes didn’t leave the incredulous face of Watson, still so very close to him. All around, there were reactions of astonishment at Scarlet’s feat.
The knife was now completely out, and Watson’s fist, trembling under the effort the boy was desperately making in trying to strike his opponent again, was held firmly in Scarlet’s clutch.
He looked back in fear at Scarlet. The latter slowly shook his head.
“You can’t possible be Bradley Holden’s son,” he said in a low voice. “But if you are… you are nothing like he was.”
He twisted Watson’s wrist, forcing a gasp of surprise from his opponent’s lips and freeing the knife from his hand to take it in his own –
– To plunge it straight into the boy’s heart.
The young man stood there for a second or two, his eyes glazing, and his mouth open. Then, his lifeless body slipped to the ground.
Scarlet looked down in disgust at the dead body at his feet, before throwing the blood-covered knife on top of it. He raised his eyes to look at the assembled people who had watched the scene in complete surprise. They were now speechless. He was aware that the still bleeding scar across his face, which was half-blinding him, was making him look even fiercer. That suited him perfectly.
“If there are others amongst you who would want to try and take control of this camp,” he announced loudly, “now is the time to step forward and say so. You won’t have a second chance.” Nobody moved, not even for an inch. Scarlet grunted. “I know that Watson had supporters who might not be in agreement with what he did tonight, and who are currently unwilling to show themselves. I also suspect that there might be other people who are not be happy with this camp’s leadership. I’m giving you a fair warning: If anyone makes another attempt, as was done tonight, to take this camp over, I will show no kind of mercy. Those who try will be exiled without any other form or judgment. So if you have any kind of trouble with this, you’re all very welcome to speak up, or to leave immediately – and leave this camp to those who believe in the principles it stands for. This is your one chance to do so.”
There was still no movement, except for shuffling feet and a few heads nodding. At that exact moment, Scarlet couldn’t see anyone willing to challenge him; there even seemed to be some satisfaction at his words.
Scarlet lowered his eyes again to the dead man at his feet. “Take this scumbag away,” he said in a cold voice. “Make sure his body is utterly destroyed as soon as possible, so that he can’t return to haunt us as a Mysteron agent.”
“What a dreadful prospect,” D.B. muttered. She made a gesture, and two soldiers came over to pick the body up and drag it away.
“And them?” Kelly asked then, glaring at Watson’s accomplices.
Scarlet looked coldly at them. They were cowering, obviously wondering what fate awaited them.
“There’s been enough blood spilled,” he said. “But they are to be exiled from this camp.” He took one step towards the prisoners. “You’re to leave immediately, on foot, with nothing but the clothes you have on you, no weapons and enough water to last four days between the five of you. If you’re wise and careful, you’ll be able to make it last long enough for you to reach a nearby settlement.”
One of them tried to protest: “We will die out there…”
“… You will die if you stay here, because after what you have done tonight, I have no intention of letting you live in this camp to corrupt it,” Scarlet replied harshly.
“You’re lucky we don’t have you hanged for murder,” D.B. added icily. “You’re getting off easy.”
“You’re never to return here,” Scarlet continued. “If you try, you’ll be shot on sight like dogs, without any warning. If you reveal the location of this camp to anyone, we’ll find you and kill you. I don’t make idle threats, you bastards, and I won’t hesitate for a second to kill each one of you myself, with my bare hands, if I ever see your faces again.”
“And neither will I,” Kelly added in a promising voice.
“Take them out of my sight,” Scarlet spat.
Soldiers took hold of the five young men and walked them away. Scarlet, D.B. and Kelly watched them go, until they would disappear behind the assembled crowd.
“Everyone, you can return to bed,” Kelly announced. “It’s all finished now.”
There were murmurs all around and the crowd dispersed. Scarlet heaved a deep sigh of relief, and turned to D.B. “Do you need me to call for Doctor Markov?” he asked in concern.
“No, I’m quite all right, thank you,” she answered.
He nodded. “Next time I tell you to leave things to me, you will obey my orders.”
“I am not your pet, Captain, nor am I under your responsibility,” she retorted with flashing eyes. “I would thank you not to order me around anymore.” She raised her chin defiantly at him and then turned on her heel to return to her tent, followed by the watchful eyes of both Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Ian Kelly.
“You’ll have your hands full, Captain,” Kelly said quietly.
“I think I can handle her,” Scarlet replied quietly.
“I wanted to thank you, Captain,” the younger man said, as Scarlet turned to face him. “For having saved my life. If you had not come around…”
“I’m not the one you should thank, Lieutenant,” Scarlet interrupted. “It was all Jones’ doing.”
“Jones, yes.” Kelly shook his head. “I imagine it was Watson’s mistake to believe that he could recruit Jones into this attempted take-over … But if he had not told the boy… I would truly be dead, and Dee. Would be too, and I don’t know how many others, before Watson obtained what he wanted.”
“I believe there would have been enough people in this camp to stop him,” Scarlet lowly replied. “As you said, most of this camp is composed of good people. Like yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“What is your favourite colour?”
“Sir?” Kelly asked, surprised at the casual question.
“Your favourite colour, Kelly – what is it?”
“I…” Kelly hesitated. He then chuckled nervously “I’m sorry to say I’m colour-blind, sir. Which would have kept me out, if I have wanted to enlist in a regular army, way back when there was one.”
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t throw you out on this account,” Scarlet said with a smile. “You like to make jokes, don’t you?”
“Only occasionally, sir.”
Scarlet nodded pensively. “You’re Irish, right?”
“Magenta, then.” Scarlet put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “You’ll be Lieutenant Magenta.”
He turned around to enter D.B.’s tent but stopped when Kelly’s called him back: “Sir?”
Scarlet turned to face him. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
“Does it mean you’ll be staying with us?”
Scarlet pondered about this for a moment. He finally answered with a very brief nod. “For now, I will. Keep up the good work, Lieutenant.”
“Aye, sir… I mean, S.I.G.”
Scarlet simply stared at him, without answering, and then turned around to enter the tent.
Scarlet found D.B. Svenson seated on her cot, a warm blanket wrapped around her, pressing a wet compress against her bruised cheek. She was staring into empty space and when Scarlet walked in, her eyes lit. He stopped at the entrance, looking at her pensively, and then walked to her. He tiredly pulled a low stool in front of her cot, and heavily sat down; his attention had not left her for a moment, and he gently reached for her hand. He felt her tensing at his touch.
“You’re sure you’re all right?” he asked with concern in his voice. “I don’t know, you look a little –”
“Shocked?” she offered, with a raised eyebrow. “Well, yes, I am, considering all that happened today. “I lost my second mother and buried her… I let myself be surprised by a bunch of no-good bastards who very nearly raped me before they’d condescend to kill me…”
“You’re allowed to cry,” he suggested softly. “I watched you today. I couldn’t see any tears in your eyes at all…”
“I haven’t cry since my adoptive father’s death,” she whispered, lowering her eyes. “I don’t think I can cry anymore.”
“I can still ask for Doctor Markov to come to you.”
She looked up to him and noticed the ugly gash on his face. “No, I’m okay. But it does look like you might need her more than me.” She offered him the compress she held. “Your face…”
“It’s only a superficial wound,” he answered. “It’s itching like crazy, so it’s already starting to heal…” He took a towel that was lying around, and unfastened his shirt with his other hand, before pressing the cloth against his bleeding abdomen, where he had been stabbed. He grunted under the stinging pain, gritting his teeth. “This one will take a little more time…” he added.
D.B. looked down at the stained shirt, and then at the towel that was slowly starting to turn a bright red colour. He was obviously working at staunching the blood from his more serious injury.
“Come here.” She took his hand and invited him to sit down on the cot. “You’ll be more comfortable here.”
He accepted the invitation, and left the stool. She pushed herself aside to give him some space. When he had settled himself into a seated position, groaning with the pain, D.B. presented him with the compress again. This time, he accepted it, and she gently pressed it against his still bleeding cheek.
At that moment, Sonya Markov entered the tent and stopped surprised by the sight of them sat together on the cot.
“It seemed someone is doing my work,” she commented quietly.
D.B. gave her a slight smile. “You’re just in the nick of time, Doctor. I was about to call for you.”
“Kelly already did that. Just learned what happened. I’m only gone for a few hours, and all hell breaks lose at the camp.”
“Where were you?” D.B. asked.
“I’m just back from the other end of the city. Pregnant woman, about to give birth…”
“How’s the baby?” Scarlet asked casually.
“Baby’s fine, and the mother as well.” Markov approached and knelt in front of Scarlet. She delicately pulled the shirt away and saw the blood-soaked towel he was pressing against the wound to his abdomen. She grimaced. “You’re bleeding to death.”
He gave her a wry smile. “Not quite,” he answered. “Believe me, I’ve bled to death before and it doesn’t feel the same. I’ll be okay in less than an hour.”
“No reason to leave it unattended to,” Markov replied, opening her bag. “You’re still leaving blood all over the place. We’d better clean it up and put some dressing upon it. D.B., put some water in that basin over there, on the table, and bring it to me, please.”
Once she had returned with the water, D.B. proceeded to help Scarlet get rid of his filthy shirt. There was a lot of blood soaking the towel now, but once it was removed and Markov started cleaning the wound, both women were rather surprised to see that it wasn’t as severe as the blood had implied. There was no need for stitches any more, so the doctor took an adhesive antibiotic balm from her bag and applied it to the wound, wrapping a long band of cloth over it to keep it in place and to offer additional protection, while the healing followed its natural course.
D.B. was trying to help, but she wasn’t a very gentle nurse. However hard she tried not to cause any discomfort to the patient, Scarlet found he had to bite his lips, so not to utter a single cry. Markov exchanged silent glances with him, seemingly wondering if she should ask D.B. to leave her to do the job alone, but he briefly answered with an almost imperceptible shake of the head. He felt that the young woman needed the activity to keep her mind off other unpleasant subjects.
He was thankful when they finished patching him up. He had never thought he would see the day when he would miss Doctor Fawn’s tender care so much. By this point, his cheek had stopped bleeding and there was now a long, reddish scar across his face. D.B. fetched a new blanket that she put over Scarlet’s naked shoulders; only then did she notice the intense way he was looking at her, and she froze, leaving her hand to linger on his shoulder.
Markov noticed the current passing between them and watched, as D.B. sat on her heels and stared back at Scarlet. She cleared her throat.
“It seems that my job is done here,” she commented. “Unless… you still need of my services? Dee, I heard you’ve been hurt. Do you want –?”
“I’m all right,” D.B. interrupted in a low voice, not taking her eyes from Scarlet.
She nodded in silence.
“Spiffing job, Doc. I’ll be okay in no time.” He didn’t take his gaze from D.B. either.
Markov cleared her throat again, and picked up her stuff, putting it back into her bag, while smiling lightly. “Yes, obviously… I’ll take my leave then.” She stood up. “Don’t forget to throw away that water and those dirty clothes,” she recommended.
She wasn’t sure either of them was listening.
Without a glance behind, Markov left the tent and the couple inside, who were lost in contemplation of each other. Both were waiting for the other to speak.
It was D.B. who finally broke the silence, and she did so, while finally lowering her eyes to break contact with his. “You came back… and you saved my life.”
Scarlet nodded. He had indeed saved her life; there was no doubt in his mind – nor in D.B.’s – that Watson would have killed her after humiliating her in the worst way possible.
“I could do no less,” he said quietly. “You are Adam’s and Karen’s daughter, after all…”
“Is that the only reason you did it?” she asked, with a faint smile.
He smiled in turn but didn’t need to answer.
“How did you know that something was up?” she asked again. “That… I would be in danger? Is that why you came back?"
“Someone came to warn me.”
“Morgan Jones.” D.B looked at him with perplexity. “Watson tried to recruit him into his little coup, but Jones, who really is a decent guy, wasn’t in agreement with him.” Scarlet sighed. “Quite frankly, I had a feeling that something might actually happen, and when I left, I asked Jones to keep his eye on you. He came after me – my camp wasn’t that far away, and he found me very easily. In a panic, he explained to me what Watson was preparing. I didn’t quite expect something so drastic in Watson’s part… Didn’t think he would resort to murder to get what he wanted. I came back as quickly as I can. I went to Kelly straight away, and was in time to stop one of Watson’s accomplices from stabbing him in his sleep. Kelly took things in his hands from there. The rest… you know.”
“Yes, I know,” D.B. confirmed in a whisper. “You didn’t have to do what you just did out there… after you saved me. Confronting Watson the way you did, and defending me. Defending Spectrum’s ideals. After our last conversation, I thought you didn’t care anymore.”
“Well, I was a fool. I care a great deal. Especially about you. As for why I took matters in my own hands with Watson… I know you could have face him, eventually, but at that point, you were in no condition to do it. You were in a state of shock. You still are.”
“I am fine.”
No, you’re not, Scarlet thought inwardly. D.B. was playing the tough girl, but he knew better. The fact that she had not yet grieved over her mother’s passing, and that she was now presenting a brave façade after the events of the evening was a good indication that she was keeping it all bottled up inside. She might explode at any time.
He didn’t argue with her, though, and moved on: “Kelly has tripled the guards. I don’t think we’ll have another incident like this one tonight, but… better safe than sorry.”
“Nobody else would dare attempt something like that again,” D.B. reckoned. “Not after your speech tonight. They know they’ll find you in their way.”
“Perhaps. But I wouldn’t want the Mysterons to take advantage of what happened.”
D.B. sighed and she lowered her eyes. “Watson was right. I’m not fit to lead. Not any more than he was. I lack sufficient experience. I wouldn’t know how to react properly to any given situation, or how to take the proper decision accordingly. Tonight is a good indication of that. What happened tonight could have lead to catastrophe.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” Scarlet chided her, with a frown.
But she shook her head. “I know my limits, Captain Scarlet. Maybe in a few years, I would be ready. But I’m not right now. I know it.” She looked back straight into his eyes. “And I know that you should be the one leading us. You just proved that tonight, to everyone; you would be perfect for the job. Like my mother wished it. Like Charles Gray before her wished it. You can’t turn your back on them… On all of us.”
“You can’t turn your back on me.”
Scarlet sighed. He looked away for a moment, thinking what he should say to her. He didn’t want the job… He still needed to finish his business with the Mysterons. But she was right. He couldn’t turn his back on her.
He felt her hand on his knee and he looked back at her, to see her pleading eyes.
“At least, consider it. Please.”
He nodded, slowly. “I’m not going anywhere,” he finally said. “For the moment, at least.”
She smiled. “Well, that’s already a start. She leant towards him close enough for her lips to touch his unwounded cheek, and to leave him a kiss. He turned to her at the same moment, and their lips brushed. “Thank you,” she whispered, “for saving my life…”
He froze and recoiled slightly, to look into her eyes again; his hand reached out and he cupped her chin into his palm, his thumb gently caressing her cheek. He kissed her again, very gently.
“That’s quite a change, from your previous attitude towards me,” he noted quietly.
She threw her arms around his shoulders. “Hold me, please,” she said in a shaky voice. He did; he could feel her trembling against his body and he held her tenderly, stroking her hair comfortingly. She searched for his lips again with hers, and this time, kissed him full on the lips, with passion.
He broke the kiss after a moment. She was now breathing into his neck, her lips caressing his skin, which shivered under their touch. “D.B., if you are doing this out of gratitude–”
“You still don’t know me at all, do you, Captain?” she replied, returning to brush his lips with hers. “You should know there’s much more to it than that.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. “After what just nearly happened to you…”
“To the contrary, I desperately need this.” She looked into his eyes with another pleading look. “I need for a man who really cares about me to hold me in his arms.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. He cupped her face in his two hands. “And doesn’t the fact that I was your father’s best friend make it awkward to you?”
“I don’t care.”
“Nor that I am a Mysteron duplicate?”
She was taken aback by his question, but for only a second or two. “Look,” she said softly, “I’m just not any girl who just happens right at this moment to have learned about your condition. I’ve known about it for years; my adoptive parents told me. They also told me about how you were often depressed over the fact… how you would withdraw from the rest of the human race – especially after the death of your wife… and of my father.”
“They really used the word ‘depressed’?” Scarlet asked, with another raised eyebrow.
D.B. nodded reaching to stroke his face. “You are not that different, you know. I’ve only met you a few days ago, and I‘ve come to realise you’re every bit as human as any of us.”
“Am I?” he said darkly.
“No Mysteron duplicate would be able to experience feelings and desires, the way you do.” She smiled lightly. “I know you’re not indifferent to me… Remember that night on the road? The way you made love to me... I could tell you wanted me so much… I don’t think a Mysteron would be able to reach such a level of deception in such an intimate moment.”
He nodded slowly. “You certainly made me feel things… that I have not felt in a very long time…”
She looked at him impishly as he leaned to kiss her cheek. “And now?”
“Now…” Scarlet smiled back. Gently, he lowered her down onto the cot, lying on top of her as he did so. “Now I want you as much as I did then… And I plan to give you much more pleasure than I did that night.”
“Would you care to elaborate exactly ‘how much’?” D.B. asked, her fingers fiddling with his belt.
Scarlet grinned mischievously, as his hand wandered under the young woman’s shirt and slowly moved up, undoing the buttons one after the other.
“Don’t worry...” he whispered lowering down on her. “That’s precisely what I intend to do right now…”
Scarlet woke up with a start in the middle of the night. The cold air was making him shiver. He was naked beneath the blanket and the young woman, sleeping contently by his side, didn’t have anything on either. He pulled the blanket up, to cover both of them and she moved with a moan to cuddle close against him, in an attempt to share some of his warmth. Smiling, he held her close, and then gently kissed her forehead. He watched as a smile appeared on her lips, and wondered if she would wake up. She didn’t, and for a while, he listened to her regular breathing, unwilling to disturb her sleep.
She was beautiful… and he found that he had grown more attached to her than he had first realised. He felt good, being with this woman. It was something stronger even than what he felt when he was with Juliette; perhaps similar, or at least very close, to what he remembered having with Dianne.
If he were to listen to the secret desires of his heart, he would stay forever by her side, and become the leader of this camp… and attempt to bring back Spectrum to its former glory.
But how possible was that? He couldn’t age; he would look young forever, while she would grow old and wither before his eyes. Maybe at first, he wouldn’t mind as much – and maybe she wouldn’t either, but with time… who could say where this would lead them?
We might grow to resent and detest one another eventually…
And he also remembered how desperate he had felt when he had lost his first wife. And he wondered… was he ready to go through that, all over again?
No. He shouldn’t think of what the future might hold – especially considering how uncertain it was at the moment. And if they were to survive the next few years, he couldn’t imagine the worst that could happen between them.
And yes, when he thought about it, he did want to do this again – the bad and the good – because all things considered, if he was to weigh it up, it was, better to rejoin the human race and share love with a woman, than to spend his life alone, and feel sorry for himself.
But there was still the little matter of the Mysterons that he had to settle; he had set himself an objective, and he was presently so close to it, that he wondered if he really should put it all on hold. He had to confront the Mysterons once and for all. Because he had known, for quite a while, that it was his destiny to come face to face with them.
D.B. had said that to visit the Mysterons on their own ground was the equivalent of committing suicide. Maybe it was foolishness to even consider it. Maybe there was another way to confront the Mysterons.
Spectrum might be that way. Spectrum needed him; and the world might need Spectrum to save them from the Mysterons. Could he be content with fighting a desperate fight, one that the human race could never hope to win?
Carefully, so as not to wake the young woman at his side, Scarlet sat up. He listened to the quiet sounds of the night that he could hear through the thin walls of the tent. It was so peaceful now; he would never have guessed what nearly happened within these very walls only a few hours ago. He knew this apparent calmness was but an illusion, and that it could be shattered at any moment of the day or night. Last night, it was members of the human race who had torn into each other in a game of power and survival that had ended with the death of many young men – one of which he had killed with his own hands. He had made himself judge, jury and executioner, for the good and safety of the many. In other times, in other circumstances, he would not have taken the same decisions. But these days, he couldn’t afford to take any chances and drastic measures seemed preferable to temporary solutions.
Tomorrow, the Mysterons might be the enemy who would try to destroy this peace and security. And it was far more difficult to find a permanent solution with them, than with the likes of a would-be tyrant like Erik Watson.
He looked at his surroundings pensively. His clothes and D.B.’s lay on the floor, all over the place. His shotgun was just within close reach, as he had learned to keep it, so he would swiftly deal with unwanted surprises that might wake him suddenly from his sleep. There was only the faintest light coming from the solar lamp on the table, and it was shining on the handle of his knife, set on a small chest, on the floor close to the cot, with his handgun. He narrowed his eyes at that chest, suddenly recognising it.
It was the one Juliette had made him open the other night, in which he had found the uniform of Colonel White. It was now here, in D.B.’s tent, and the key was still in the lock. He looked back at the young woman, still sleeping soundly, and wondered why she had the chest in her possession, and if she had opened the lid.
He was also curious to know if there wasn’t anything else in that chest that might hold some interest for him.
Carefully, without a sound, he extirpated himself from under the blanket and picking up his trousers, put them on. Then he lifted up the small chest from the floor and tiptoed, bare-footed, to the table, where he sat down.
He put the chest in front of him, and increased the intensity of the light slightly, so he could see better. He turned the key and heard the faint click of the lock. He lifted the lid, and the hinges creaked, as they had before. Again, he saw the white vest, neatly folded, protected by the dark blue paper and took if out of the box cautiously, to put it down on the table. It looked brand new, white as snow, as if it had never been worn, but Scarlet knew better: he had seen this so many times before, worn by his former commander.
He looked into the chest; there were a number of things inside that he took out one by one. A series of pictures, of people he knew very well: a large group shot of the Spectrum senior staff, that he remembered had been taken in the Conference Room, only two months before Captain Ochre’s death; Colonel White, looking very solemn, standing behind Lieutenant Green, who was smiling broadly; the five original Angel pilots, in the Amber Room; two Spectrum weddings pictures: his own with Rhapsody, and one he had taken himself of Captain Blue and Symphony; Blue and himself, looking very chummy; another one of Blue and himself, this time posing more seriously with Colonel White; himself and Destiny Angel; Symphony, holding a young blonde kid by the hand, who he guessed was Dianne Blue Svenson; and a last one, which looked like a family portrait of a very recognisable teenage D.B. – without the white scar on her cheek, and with her two adoptive parents, Juliette Pontoin, still very beautiful, and Charles Gray looking so terribly old, but giving a very happy smile.
At the bottom of the chest, Scarlet found a journal, bound in a very sturdy leather cover, and opening it, saw the name of his former commander on the first page. All the pages were filled with dated annotations, various lengths of text, and drawings of maps of different locations. He put it aside for the moment, and continued his investigation of the chest’s content. He found his own Spectrum identity card, now yellowed with time, still in the same cardholder he had left on his desk, the day he resigned. Pinned together, he found a multicoloured Spectrum emblem, and the Spectres badge, similar to the one which had taken him to this camp. And finally, he found an envelope, containing a folded paper.
There was his name written by hand on the envelope.
He looked at it with interest. He recognised the writing as the same he had seen in the journal. It also looked like what he remembered of Colonel White’s signature, and to confirm this, he compared it with the signature on his identity card. So, this envelope must contain something from Colonel White that was meant for him. He took the paper out and unfolded it.
It was a letter – a long letter – and indeed, if was from Colonel White.
Scarlet sat back and started reading.
“My dear friend Paul…
If you are reading these lines, it is because I am not there anymore to speak to you myself, and that, following my last wishes, my successor, either Destiny or someone else, has given you this letter, along with other objects and documents that I feel must be yours by rights. Probably, either you have finally returned to Spectrum, or this letter and its accompanying objects have found their way to you, one way or another.
By now, it is more than likely you have learned of Cloudbase’s final fate and what has happened to what remained of Spectrum since then. If not, the journal that I have kept scrupulously over the years, will give you an account of all that happened since that fateful day which should have marked the end of our organisation, and which, was indeed to become the beginning of the end for human civilisation.
The war with the Mysterons, in the last few years has become a desperate fight for survival for all living things on this planet, and I’m afraid that if we don’t put an end to it soon, everything will be lost for all of us.
Since your resignation and your following disappearance, I had used Spectrum’s resources to find you, but without success. For me there were very few possibilities that explain why you seemed to have disappeared so completely from the surface of Earth. Either the Mysterons have found a way to get you back, or some of Spectrum detractors from the World Government, learning of your true nature, have decided to take you out of the circulation. I know enough of the human nature to know it is highly possible, and that if it was the case, you would probably not have been killed, considering the rare opportunity your capture represented, but kept somewhere, for study, or interrogation. To the contrary, if it were the Mysterons who got to you, if they did not kill you, they would have taken control of you again. If you are reading this letter, then I suppose you either broke their hold or that you’re reading this hoping to find important information for your masters. In that case, considering that you have probably found your way into the Spectrum camp to get your hands on this document, then all is lost anyway, and whatever you will read next will be of little importance to you.
As I write these lines, I’m already a very old man, and I know that I don’t have much time left in this world. As you know, I fought hard and long for my whole life, and especially these last years, for freedom and peace. I have been a soldier most of my life, just like you, and I rarely had a moment of peace. Now that my end grows near, I realise that my dream of seeing this world free and safe from the Mysterons will not happen during my lifetime. I have never lost hope that one day it will happen, and that Spectrum will be the instrument of Earth’s victory. But as the last years passed, it became obvious that the little battles we were winning were hardly enough now to make the difference Spectrum use to. The Mysterons strike harder and more ruthlessly than before. Our interventions now barely have the effect of bee stings on an elephant hide. We are losing; and if I don’t see the end of the war before I died, I’m guessing, that it will happen soon after my death.
The Mysterons, as you probably know, have set their Earthly complex in the Mendips. Beyond the outskirts of Winchester, towards the West, there is only a desert land stretching up to the Bristol Channel, that we call ‘Mysteron country’. There’s barely any living soul there, because no one can truly live for long in such an inhospitable environment. Right in the middle of that region, girdled by that desert belt that seems to serve as a deterrent to any daring visitors, there’s a volcanic area of deep and unsteady canyons, with fire and ashes, spitting mountains and rivers of lava. When the wind blows from the west, we can detect the sulphuric smell– as if it was coming directly from hell.
It’s in this region, that you find the Mysteron complex.
I believe that they spent years building this place, and recreating the area to suit their purposes. They might have started as early as within the first year they launched their attacks on us. Perhaps through their recreated agents – those we never were able to get our hands on. They could have prepared the ground for the coming of their masters. The strength and violence of the Mysterons’ attacks in later years suggests that they must have learned to master our planet, in the way they have learned to master Mars – of course, our own technology, which they turned against us, probably helped in accelerating the eventual destruction of Earth. It seems obvious to me that if they have come here, it’s not only in order to insure that they will destroy our last civilisation.
I believe they have moved to a new home.
I also believe the source of the powers the Mysterons are currently using against us is within their complex; like the diamond pulsator found on the moon years ago, which was the source of their energy for the lunar complex, and quite capable of blowing up Cloudbase, the new complex might be the source of their renewed and increased power on Earth.
But no one can enter the outskirts of the Mysteron complex. Many brave men have attempted it, and paid the price. Anyone who tried never came back – or came back as a Mysteron agent, bound to do their masters’ work.
Perhaps the key to stop this war is to attempt negotiation with the Mysterons. But to negotiate with them, means to contact them, and to contact them – one must go to their Complex.
It is within Spectrum’s duties to continue the fight, but my strength is failing me, and soon I will be gone. Destiny will succeed me, and I have confidence she will continue my work. However, in my eyes, there is still only one person on this planet who could truly make a difference in our war against the Mysterons, and permit us, maybe, to have a chance to win.
You, Paul, are this person. And this is why I am hoping that you will take over command of Spectrum and continue the fight.
The Mysterons have given you the power to find a way to stop them. It’s not only your powers or retrometabolism. It’s not only your sixth sense, nor your indomitable will. I do not think they would have tried that many times to destroy you, or to break you, in so many ways over the years, simply because you were a pain in the neck for them. I think they are afraid of you for what you may represent.
In more ways than one, you might be the key to end this war. As long as you live, you might be the only hope for us all. For Spectrum; for the people of Earth; for the entire planet’s survival.
My friend, I know that you have been deeply wounded by both the deaths of your beloved wife and your best friend. Believe me, I know how you feel. I also know that when you saved my life, on the day you shot the duplicate Adam Svenson, you felt like your humanity died with him. Killing your friend has been an unbearable act for you, and you justified it by telling yourself that it wasn’t really Adam that you killed – but a duplicate made in his image. Which was true, indeed.
However, it doesn’t mean that you yourself are but a duplicate, a copy, the shell of the man the Mysterons murdered and created you from, as you convinced yourself, afterwards. After your initial attempt against President Younger, you returned to us, not as a mindless automaton, bound on vengeance and destruction, like all the other Mysteron agents, but as the man you once were. You had the same spirit as before, the same will, the same soul. We always believed that, inadvertently, the Mysterons have transferred whatever made you the man you were into the new body they had created. Like when your take water, from a glass bottle, and pour it down into a new, unbreakable, bottle. It is still the same water, even if the container is different.
You are still the same human being – but you are not just a human being. In my view, you are still Paul Metcalfe, even if you chose not to believe it. You always have been for me, not only the best soldier I ever had under my command, but also, one of the most decent men I have ever known. You’ve always made Spectrum proud. You’ve always made me proud.
I’ve never had a son, Paul, but if I had had one, I would have loved him to be just like you.
If you have not done so yet, please, take your place amongst the human race once more, where you truly belong.
Please, never lose hope. I never did, and knew within my heart that one day you would return to us. If you read this, then this day has arrived.
Become Spectrum’s commander, and keep on fighting for all of us, so that one-day we’ll be free and at peace. In memory of all your colleagues and friends, and of those you hold dear in your heart, past and present.
For Earth. For the human race.
I’ll see you on the other side,
Always your friend,
Scarlet folded the letter; a lump forming in his throat, he looked into nothingness. Colonel White had written this, shortly before he died, hoping – believing – that one day he would return. Juliette and D.B. had told him so – Charles Gray’s hope and determination had never faltered. He wanted for Captain Scarlet to succeed him as Spectrum commander. He wanted to see him continue the fight against the Mysterons, and hoped that he would bring an end to the terror they imposed on Earth.
There was a lot to consider from what he had read and this was giving him much food for thought.
‘In more ways than one, you might be the key to end this war. And as long as you live, you might be the only hope for all of us.’
Scarlet grunted. Earth’s only hope? That was something a little hard to swallow. He wondered at which point exactly Gray came to this conclusion, and more importantly why. Maybe he was just putting a little too much confidence and expectation in a man who relied on his extraordinary abilities to heal and survive from any wounds.
I am not a saviour. I cannot be Earth’s only hope.
There was something else in Gray’s letter that had attracted his attention.
‘I also believe the source of the powers the Mysterons are currently using against us is within their complex.’
‘Perhaps the key to stop this war, is to attempt negotiation with the Mysterons. But to negotiate with them, means to contact them, and to contact them – one must go to their Complex.’
No one uninvited could go to the Mysteron complex, he mused. No-one human, that was. But perhaps… he would have a chance to reach them, and maybe he would be able to talk to them?
To see them face to face, as he previously projected, as all his instincts were pushing him to do, but now, not only to confront them, but also to plead for Earth’s survival.
Maybe he would not survive such an encounter, but it was his duty to try. As Spectrum commander – and if he was indeed a part of the human race, as such as well.
Scarlet looked over his shoulder to the young woman behind him, still sleeping soundly, unaware of the decision he was about to make.
For her, he thought, I have to try. Even if I am to die.
But he knew she wouldn’t agree with that.
“I would like to have a talk with you, Jones.”
It was early in the morning, and the sun was beginning to break. Morgan Jones, who had barely slept all night, was seated with a few other Spectrum soldiers of his unit, in front of a fire, warming up. He raised his head at the mention of his name and turned around, to see Captain Scarlet standing only a meter away behind. The other soldiers made a move to stand in front of the man they now recognised as a superior officer, but he gestured to them not to bother.
Jones stood up and came to him.
“Sir?” he asked uncertainly, as he stood in front of him. “Something I can do for you?”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, there might be something, actually.” He invited Jones to walk with him towards the nearby barracks. “But first, I wanted to thank you, Jones. By coming to fetch me, and inform me of Watson’s plans of last night, you avoided much bloodshed.”
Jones shook his head dejectedly. “It was the least I could do, Captain. When Watson told me what he planned, I was horrified. I couldn’t let him hurt all those people, and take over the camp. I didn’t want for Captain Svenson to be hurt.” Jones looked up at Scarlet, worry plain in his eyes. “She’s really okay, is she? From what Watson was saying, what he planned to do to her, he –”
“She’s all right,” Scarlet interrupted, confirming with a nod. “Maybe she was a little shaken at first, but…”
“You arrived in time?” The boy insisted.
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, don’t worry. Just in time. She’s unhurt, because you did the right thing.”
“I’m just sorry it wasn’t enough to avoid those three guys from Lieutenant Kelly’s unit being killed, Captain,” Jones said gloomily.
“Why didn’t you go to him in the first place, instead of coming to me?” Scarlet inquired.
Jones hesitated. “Well, sir... I really had two reasons. The first: I knew Watson’s guys were keeping an eye on Kelly and his men. And I’m about sure that if I had made an attempt to approach them… I’d have been no better than dead. The second reason… it was more than likely that Lieutenant Kelly would not have believed me. If he had even listened to me.”
“Why are you so sure of that?”
“I was… categorized from the start as being a member of Watson’s little band. But that wasn’t the case. I was put with Watson’s unit, under Captain Svenson’s orders, because of my… affiliation with one of Cloudbase’s senior staff. Colonel White… she thought it would be a good idea for us to be together. Erik had a charisma to him – he knew how to take charge, and was afraid of nothing. At first, I thought he was a great guy and I liked him. But I never truly was one of his friends. I simply didn’t like some of the stuff he did. I guess we were not exactly looking at things the same way, he and I.”
“But you kept silent, and did as if you were following him, because you were afraid of him.”
The boy lowered his head, looking embarrassed. “Yeah, sir, that’s it. I’m ashamed to admit it. I was very afraid of him.”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. “How old are you, son?”
“Seventeen, sir. I’ll be eighteen in four months.”
“And what is it you’re looking for, here, in this camp, Jones?”
The young man shrugged. “I want a place where I can belong, sir,” he said after a second or two of reflection. “All my life, I have heard of Spectrum. The old Spectrum, which fought to protect the people of Earth from the Mysterons. It had… some appeal to me. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Scarlet was thoughtful for a minute, assessing the young man’s words. “Magnolia Jones – Melody Angel – was your aunt, I was told.”
He nodded. “Yes, sir. She was. I never knew her… She died before I was born. But my father – her brother – he always talked about her.”
“Your father’s name?”
“Malcolm Jones, sir.”
“The racing car driver?”
Jones smiled broadly. “The very same, Captain. You knew about my father, then?”
“By reputation only, and your aunt talked often of him. She was rather proud of him.”
“Well… I’m hazarding a guess that Dad was even prouder of his sister, sir. She was… the hero in the family.” Jones’ expression became solemn. “When I arrived here, about seven or eight years ago, Colonel White told me that she died during the fall of Cloudbase, while protecting the personnel’s evacuation.”
“Your aunt was a very special person, Jones. Like the woman you called Colonel White. All the Angels were very special,” Scarlet added with a thoughtful expression.
“So I’m allowed to stay at the camp, sir?” Jones enquired. “I am not to be exiled, like the others?”
“You didn’t participate in their little coup, Jones. To the contrary, you played a vital role in stopping them. It wouldn’t show much gratitude, if I were to kick you out of the camp now.”
“No, sir,” the boy said almost automatically. “I mean…”
“You said it yourself: you never were a part of Watson’s gang. This camp needs people of courage and devotion. People like you, Lieutenant Jones.”
Jones opened his eyes wide. “I’m no Lieutenant, sir… You might merely consider me a foot soldier… And… I’m only seventeen, I can’t possibly…”
“Seventeen or not, you’ re now first lieutenant, Jones. As you well know, this camp is short of quality military personnel. We need to form a staff of capable and trustworthy officers. Do you think yourself proficient enough to be a part of it?”
“I…” Jones hesitated for merely a second, as if not believing the offer that was being made to him. “Are you doing it because I’m… ‘family’, as you put it yesterday, Captain?”
“Don’t insult me by making assumptions like this, Lieutenant,” Scarlet warned, without answering directly.
The boy reddened. “I’m sorry, sir.” He drew himself to his full height, and stood straight in front of Scarlet. “That would be an honour, sir. I will try my best.”
Scarlet smiled. “I don’t want you to try, Jones. I want you to do your best.”
Scarlet considered the young man for a moment. “Your aunt… she had a particular liking toward one of our colleagues… An American compatriot of yours. God knows why they were such good friends; he had the annoying habits of playing pranks on her. He played pranks on just about everyone – except Colonel White. Do you play pranks, Jones?”
The question seemed to surprise the young man. “Me, sir? No… I was told I have absolutely no sense of humour, so you can’t very well see me playing pranks on anyone… I wouldn’t know where to start. But if you’re looking for someone like that, perhaps you could check with Lieutenant Kelly.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “He told me he was only doing jokes occasionally.”
“Well, Captain… With all respect due to Lieutenant Kelly…” Jones grinned. “He didn’t exactly tell you the truth.”
“Mmm… It would seem that I went a little too fast in attributing names around. Well, that doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.” Scarlet smiled at the young man. “From now on, you will be Lieutenant Ochre.”
“Thank you, sir! That is a true honour.”
Scarlet smirked. “Wait, until you hear a little more about the original carrier of the name… Now, Lieutenant Ochre – I would like for you to give me some news about that bike of yours.”
“Sir?” the boy looked at him in confusion.
“Have you been able to repair it?”
“I… think so, Captain.” The boy scratched the back of his head. “It should be in working order. But to be absolutely sure of that, I would need fuel to make it run… Heating fuel, you suggested me?”
“I can get that,” Scarlet said with a nod. “But Lieutenant… You might not like to hear what I’ll say next.”
“What about sir?” the new Lieutenant Ochre asked with perplexity.
“If your bike is running… I will need to requisition it.”
Ochre’s face fell. “The bike, sir?”
“For a very important mission, Lieutenant.” Scarlet paused for a second. “One that might put an end to the Mysteron war, in fact.”
Morgan Jones’ face lit up at the words and he straightened up. If he could provide with a means to end that interminable war he had been born into, he would certainly be more than happy to help. “S.I.G., sir. If you need it… the bike is yours.”
Scarlet nodded briefly. “Go to Kelly, and request heating fuel from the stockroom. You need enough of it to fill the tank. My gear is all set already, so I’ll get it immediately and will be on my way.”
“You’re leaving already, sir?”
“If the bike works… yes. I must be gone before Captain Svenson wakes up. She must not know I’m going.
Jones’ shoulders sagged. “And will you… return, sir?” he asked dejectedly.
“I hope so, Lieutenant,” Scarlet said, turning his eyes towards the horizon. “I sincerely hope so…”
Upon hearing of Scarlet’s request, Kelly came with Jones with the heating oil, to know what exactly it was all about. Scarlet exposed his plan to both of them, and they could see, by the look of their eyes, that they weren’t really that keen on his project. Especially considering that there was a more than good chances that they would never see him again. Kelly tried to plead with him to reconsider his decision, while Jones filled the tank, and Scarlet attached his gear to the machine.
“Sir, no-one, who went to the Mysterons’ domain ever came back,” he said. “You are their worst enemy. And you are now Colonel White. They will never let you go. They will kill you on sight.”
“Technically, I’m still not Colonel White,” Scarlet retorted.
“But you are Captain Scarlet. And that’s enough to condemn you to death in their eyes.”
“Perhaps, but I have no choice but to go, Lieutenant,” Scarlet replied. “It’s not even an option anymore.”
“If the Mysterons let you leave their domain,” Kelly continued sombrely, “You might actually return to us as a Mysteron agent.”
“I’m already a Mysteron duplicate, Lieutenant,” Scarlet explained quietly. “They’ve tried already, numerous times, to regain control of me, without success. I’m free of them. They could never have any control over me ever again.”
“Never?” Kelly asked with doubt. “You are going where they are the more powerful, sir.”
Scarlet sighed. “Ian… If I fail in this mission, I doubt the Mysterons will ever let me go, either way.”
“But it’s suicide,” Kelly protested.
Scarlet looked at him, a little musingly. His words were like an echo of the past, something Blue had told him, on their first mission together, just after he had escaped from Mysteron control. He answered almost exactly the same. “For you, Lieutenant, it might be suicide. But for me…” He thought about it. “… Perhaps not.”
Kelly shook his head. “There’s no way I can convince you, is there?”
“No. This is something I have to do.”
Jones was screwing the tank cap on and thumbed his superior officer that everything was set to go. Scarlet mounted the bike. “You think it’ll really work?” he asked the younger man.
The latter shrugged. “Time to find out now, I guess, sir.”
“Right,” Scarlet said, removing the kickstand. “The noise is likely to awake nearly everyone – including Lieutenant Svenson. So if this engine runs, I’ll be off right away.” He shook hands with Jones. “Take care of my horse during my absence, Lieutenant.”
“I will, sir.”
“What should I tell Captain Svenson, Captain?” Kelly asked with a frown. “If you’re planning to leave without telling her anything – you surely have a message for her?”
Scarlet mused about it for a second or two; then, he gave a smile to the young man standing by the bike. “Just tell her that I love her very much. And that I’ll be trying to secure a future for all of us.”
He pushed the switch button, and the sound of the motor roared in the early light of the morning. Scarlet turned the throttle full on, and then gave a brief nod to the two younger men by his side.
He changed gear and the bike jumped ahead, with such a deafening roar that Scarlet never heard either Kelly or Jones wishing him good luck.
The bike was already leaving the camp, before those it had awakened could even understand what had exactly happened.
Morgan Jones’ bike worked perfectly.
At least for a good hour and a half it did. But when Scarlet reached the limits of the area that was the Mysterons’ domain, it suddenly stopped and refused to start again.
It didn’t matter much anyway; the bike had served him well; with it, he had covered a far greater distance on uneven ground in less than two hours than he would have done on horseback. Up until now, he had been able to find suitable paths for it, and even if it had still been working, it would have been difficult to continue with it now. The land was becoming so treacherous that he might have killed or injured himself trying to ride through it now.
So he left the bike where it died and packed his gear on his back to continue on foot.
Right into the valley opening ahead of him.
Right into the depth of the Mysterons’ domain.
It was exactly as if he had stepped onto an alien planet. The landscape was unlike anything he had seen on Earth, even accounting for the cataclysmic events of the last decades. There was rock everywhere, all around him, and beyond the horizon, covered with thick layer of dust that would rise at each of Scarlet’s strides; the ambient fog, thickest floating at about two feet from the ground, was full of it, adding to the murkiness of the atmosphere and making it difficult to breathe. There was a definite odour of sulphur in the air and that made Scarlet nearly choke. Wreaths of phosphorescent green vapour were floating around, adding to the eeriness of the place. Lines and wrinkles from the streams of magma were crisscrossing the little that Scarlet could see of the ground. In the distance, he could see a high and huge cataract that was falling from the side of a cliff, throwing tons of molten matter into a large river that flowed some two or three hundred meters to Scarlet’s left.
Nearly at the foot of the lava fall, Scarlet could see, dimmed by the thick murky fog, a large light, with a range of different colours pulsating in quick succession. Scarlet couldn’t see exactly where that light was coming from; it was too far away, and the uneven landscape was keeping him from seeing what lay beyond an elevation separating him from the source of the light.
He had no doubt, however, that it indicated the location of the Mysteron complex.
He could feel it in his bones. They were there.
And they were waiting for him.
He reckoned that it would take him about an hour or two – given the state of the terrain leading to the complex – before he would reach it.
Scarlet took a deep breath. This was it, then. There was no turning back now.
He re-adjusted his backpack on his shoulder and set out his course.
It took Scarlet more time than he anticipated.
At least it felt like it. It was as if time and space had no right definition in this valley, and the landscape kept changing at every ridge and turn. He had no way of knowing how long he had been walking; his watch had stopped working. He had trouble orienting himself; his compass was spinning like crazy, not able to find north any more, and his mind was in a fuzz. Maybe due to the surrounding fumes, he couldn’t tell. The air was nearly unbreathable, and he was panting. All he had to guide him was that light, calling him like a moth to a flame – and that, for a long time, seemed to recede each time he thought he was getting closer to it.
It took a while before he noticed, with some satisfaction, that he was indeed making progress.
When it came fully in sight, the complex appeared huge, and Scarlet had not yet reached it. It was set near the foot of the cliff from which flowed that high fall of lava. Tons and tons of rock in fusion were falling into the river, and projecting matter all around, in a thunderous splash that could be heard even from Scarlet’s location. It was an impressive sight – as impressive as the Mysteron complex that pulsated quietly by its side.
It had nothing to do with the complex Scarlet had visited on the moon so many years ago. It didn’t even compare to the Martian complex that Captain Black had destroyed at the start of the War of Nerves and that had retrometabolised itself in front of the first human visitors’ eyes. Scarlet had seen footage of that complex and had pondered about it. It didn’t look that menacing to begin with… Eerie, perhaps, mysterious, like the name of their inhabitants made it believe, but not that threatening. At least not until that ‘canon’ was turned against the MEV, and Black thought they were under attack. Because it did look like a canon, no matter what the Mysterons pretended it was. And if they were as intelligent as they claimed, and knew about the human race’s nature, which they said they had observed, they should have known that such a threatening-looking piece of equipment might send any human being into a panic. Especially when confronted by the Unknown.
The Mysterons should have known what would happen. And it did happen, and the entire planet Earth had paid the price.
This complex was much more impressive, much larger than the one on Mars, certainly more threatening, with pylons and spires that lost themselves in the musky clouds covering the valley, and bulky and intricate structures, bathed in the same translucent light witnessed in its predecessors, that made details appeared fuzzy with washed out colours. As Scarlet came closer to it, he could see similar ‘canons’ as the one seen on Mars protruding into the complex skyline. There were many of them, all aimed in his direction.
They knew he was coming; and apparently, they were letting him come. At this distance, if they had wanted to blast him to oblivion, with whatever weapon or powers they possessed, they would have done so by now. They didn’t bother. Maybe they were considering him a gnat, too insignificant for their attention or… they were curious to know the reasons of his presence here. Maybe they understood he requested an audience from them, and they were granting it.
That would be doubtful. In all the previous years, the Mysterons had not accepted any parley with the Earthmen – none that didn’t turn into a trap, that was. They had always seemed unwilling to accept any compromise in this war of theirs. Now that they were winning, so utterly and completely, and that they would probably, in a near future, achieve their initial threat – the complete destruction of all life on Earth – there would be no reason for them to accept the terms of a truce with their hated enemies; especially with someone who had been one of their most ardent opponents.
Maybe they just wanted to kill him personally, making sure that he would not return this time around.
I’ll soon find out, I imagine…
As Scarlet’s each step brought him nearer to his objective, he started noticing the growing pounding in his head and the nausea mounting in him. His sixth sense. It was kicking in, and how. He tried to ignore it; nothing at this point was more important for him than reaching his goal and confronting Humanity’s torturers one last time before it was too late to do so.
His eyes set on the light throbbing almost hypnotically ahead of him, he moved on, making his way through the broken and uneven landscape. He barely noticed how the thundering sounds of the lava fall had grown in intensity as he approached it, and that it was now nearly to a deafening level. He didn’t realise either, before he had reached the first building marking the border of the Mysteron metropolis, the incessant buzzing that filled his ears and that seemed to come from the entirety of the complex.
When he entered it, finally, it was to discover that he was now walking onto an even ground, with no bumps or holes, that was completely hidden under a heavy mist. He couldn’t see his feet; he couldn’t even hear his footsteps. He could barely hear his own thoughts, so strong was the nausea he now felt.
He looked around. His eyes fell on a building that seemed to have been erected straight in the middle of the complex. It was surmounted by the highest spire, which was shining with a greenish-white light, like a lighthouse beckoning to him. He stared at it, like he was hypnotised. That was where he should go. But he didn’t know how to reach it exactly. The multitude of buildings erects all around it seemed to form a maze he couldn’t hope to easily get across.
Something inside told him to approach the nearest building on his left, which looked insignificant in comparison to the one he wanted to reach.
Enter through here, came a sudden thought to his mind.
He stopped in front of the reddish glowing surface of the wall, and examined it, pondering. His hand carefully grazed the surface. He saw his fingers disappeared through it, as if they were going through water. He swiftly removed his hand. The texture was similar to that moon building he had entered with Blue and Green, so many years ago. A building which, by the look of it, had been built into a gigantic trap for the single purpose of testing humans exactly as if they were lab rats. Scarlet couldn’t think of one single other purpose for that lunar Mysteron complex, and he had thought long and hard about it. When the Earthmen had decided to destroy it, the Mysterons had not even tried to save it. To the contrary, they were quite willing to blow it apart themselves, with the very bomb the humans were planning to use, as long as the three Spectrum officers inside would be destroyed as well.
Enter through here, came the thought again.
Scarlet hesitated. And if this was yet a trap, like the one on the moon?
You have not come all the way here to turn back now or die without receiving any answers to your questions, Scarlet. You can’t turn back now.
Scarlet bit his lower lip down. His journey was at an end. Earth’s journey was at an end. What did he have to lose?
His fingertips brushed the coloured and smooth surface again and pushed through it. It seemed to become translucent under his touch; it didn’t have any texture anymore and wasn’t solid at all. His whole hand passed right through it effortlessly.
Scarlet closed his eyes and blew a deep sigh before stepping forward. He felt the familiar sensation of the wall opening on him and swallowing him, just like it happened on the moon. For a brief second, it was as if he couldn’t breathe at all, as he completely went through the wall. Then, as suddenly, he was able to breathe again.
The air was not musky anymore, but breathable… Like a pure, Earthly atmosphere, devoid of all dirt and pollution. The thunderous sound of the lava fall had died out completely. It was complete silence.
Scarlet opened his eyes and looked around.
What he saw took his breath away.
He was standing in the middle of what looked like a vast plain, completely flat and empty, which extended as far as the eye could see; the ground was so dry that its whole surface was cracked with fissures giving it a patchwork appearance. The wall Scarlet had walked through had disappeared from behind him as if it never existed, as did nearly the entire Mysteron complex. The only thing standing before him was the building that had been his ultimate goal, surmounted by its high spire, pulsating with light.
The little Scarlet could see of the sky was tainted with a strange reddish hue, with grey and pinkish clouds, charged with static electricity. They were floating low in a circular fashion, quite like they would during a storm of such amplitude that it would cover the entire visible atmosphere, forming an eye in its centre. The ‘eye’ of the storm stood directly over the spire of the lonely building Scarlet was contemplating.
He looked around, completely baffled, wondering where the rest of the vast metropolis had gone. He had to squint his eyes to actually be able to see, just at the limit of the horizon, the barely visible outlines of structures, bathed with light, that were reminiscent of the buildings from the Mysteron complex. To the left, in this far distance, he could also distinguish the fiery light of the tall lava fall... And beyond, he guessed, stood the limits of the valley he had entered this very morning. They seemed now to be of a walking distance of many days.
It didn’t seem possible, but it looked like he was indeed inside the complex, and that he had travelled countless kilometres just by walking through that wall. It was as if he had stepped into a different, alien dimension, where the laws of physics, of space, of distance and time had very little meaning – or none at all, as far as he could tell.
The Mysterons, indeed, had powers that no human could ever understand and were far more alien in nature than anyone could guess.
Scarlet returned his attention to the lone building he was standing in front of, and looked up to the tall spire adorning it, throbbing with this living light. It was mesmerizing him, in a way similar to that screen of lights that had entrapped Blue, Green and himself in the moon complex. He had been the only one able to resist long enough to destroy it and free his companions and himself in the process. This light, however, didn’t have the same hypnotic effect, as he had no trouble averting his eyes.
He could hear a murmur just at the limit of his hearing; a humming sound that seemed to grow in intensity as he listened to it more intently. He thought the nausea he felt was under control by this point, but suddenly realised it was growing worse.
Then the humming grew into a roar, so loud that it nearly burst his eardrums; he reached for his ears with his hands and grunted in pain, his knees buckling underneath him. His head was threatened to split and his heart was racing, and he wanted nothing more than to throw up.
The deafening sound subsided and Scarlet straightened up, breathing hard to regain control of himself, of his rebellious stomach, of his pounding head that seemed ready to explode, and refused to let him think straight.
Again, the roar made itself heard – long, thunderous, and that sent Scarlet down to his knees in pain, his hands clutched tighter against his ears. Grunting, he made a heroic attempt to regain his focus. He thought he recognised something in this booming noise… It was rolling with voices… words… but they were so loud, so distorted, he couldn’t make out what they said.
The sounds subsided again, more gradually; Scarlet kept on his guard, fully expecting it to return, but this time it didn’t. His head started to clear and the buzz in his ears dissipated. Now he could clearly hear the booming voice, echoing from all around him, addressing him with that deep, eerie timbre he knew so very well. It had been years since he had heard it last, but it still had the capacity to send a shiver through his spine:
“We were causing you pain, Earthman. It wasn’t our intention…”
Scarlet grunted and removed his hands from his ears; he stood, straightening up to his full height, and faced the high spire, which was pulsating in tune with the word he was hearing. He swayed and grimaced, feeling a pain in his left ear. He looked into his hand: there was blood in it. One of his eardrums had burst.
“You could have fooled me,” he answered, trying to sound casual, yet unable to keep the animosity off his voice.
“This is the domain of the Mysterons,” the voice continued, addressing him, and Scarlet noticed that it wasn’t only the spire, but the entire building which pulsated at the same rhythm of these words. “our essence, our powers, our very being IN these surroundings are unlike anything that you know of in your own world. Do you understand this?”
“If you mean by that, that your voice is louder here, yes, I understand,” Scarlet answered.
“we had no perception how this would impact on you, and needed time to attain the level that would be acceptable for your ears. Few Earthmen have had the privilege of setting foot on this ground.”
“Someone else did come here, then?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “Other ‘Earthmen’?”
“ONLY ONE. before you. captain scarlet.”
“So you know who I am.”
“the mysterons know. of course. we created you.”
“Don’t remind me. So I guess I must feel honoured to have been granted an audience from you.”
“YOU HAVE BUT ANSWERED THE MYSTERONS’ CALL, earthman.”
Scarlet frowned. “I didn’t answer any call. I wasn’t even aware that you sent me any invitation.”
“AND YET, YOU ANSWERED IT AND CAME TO THIS PLACE. you might not have been aware of it, BUT SOMETHING ATTRACTED YOU HERE, BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE. IT IS AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN, earthman.”
“I stopped following your orders years ago,” Scarlet said guardedly.
“so you did. this was not the mysterons’ doing and we are still pondering how you were able to escape our control. WE KNOW ABOUT THE EARTHMEN’S MUCH VAUNTED WILL… BUT YET, IT SEEMS IMPROBABLE TO US THAT IT WAS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU TO GAIN YOUR FREEDOM.”
“And yet I did. If you don’t know how it happened, I’m hoping you don’t expect me to tell you.”
“THAT WOULD BE TOO MUCH TO ASK. from AN EARTHMAN.”
Scarlet scoffed loudly. “You can’t keep yourself from insulting me, can you? In your mouth – or whatever serves as your mouth – the word ‘Earthman’ sounds like the basis of an insult.”
There was a short silence, during which the light on the spire visibly diminished. Then, it came back again, throbbing anew at the Mysterons’ voice: “We were not seeking to insult you, captain scarlet. we were only speaking a universal truth.”
Scarlet frowned, annoyed. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought the Mysterons were taunting him. He didn’t rise to the bait. “All right. You said you called me here. I still deny that fact, but obviously you believe it, so I will humour you. What is it you want with me? A last attempt to destroy me?”
“You mistake our intentions. we wish to grant you sanctuary.”
“Sanctuary?” Scarlet blinked, unsure if he had heard well. Unsure that he wanted to have confirmation that he heard well. “Whatever for?”
“As you may have guessed, the existence of life on earth is at an end. Soon, there will be none of it left. within a year or two, all the resources permitting subsistence on this planet will have been exhausted.”
“Two years…?” Scarlet breathed unbelievingly.
“MAYBE LESS. the air from this atmosphere will become so thin that it will be unbreathable. the climatic conditions will be too BRUTAL for life to exist. and earth will continue to shake until all trace of human civilISation AND all traces of life will disappear.”
“You should know,” Scarlet lashed. “You caused this!”
“Your race is the only one responsible.”
As Scarlet, shocked by the news, and shaking his head in negation, was looking for an argument to present, the Mysterons moved on: “YOU HAVE BEEN A WORTHY AND FAIR ADVERSARY, CAPTAIN SCARLET. THE MYSTERONS RESPECT THIS. BECAUSE OF OUR INTERVENTION, YOU HAVE BEEN GRANTED THE POWER OF RETROMETABOLISM. IF THERE IS SOMETHING THE MYSTERONS UNDERSTAND BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE, IT IS THAT THERE IS SOMETHING WORSE THAN DEATH.”
“And what is this?” Scarlet asked with a short, nervous laugh.
“LONELINESS.” Scarlet wondered if he was dreaming, but he could have sworn there was something of a sad intonation in the Mysterons’ voice. “BECAUSE OF YOUR RETROMETABOLISM, YOU CANNOT DIE. YOU WILL CONTINUE TO LIVE ON, WALKING THIS DEVASTATED PLANET, WITH NO-ONE TO TALK TO, UNTIL YOUR MIND GOES MAD WITH SORROW AND ISOLATION.”
“Will I never die?” Scarlet asked in a whisper. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t hid how truly shaken he was by this news. He almost hoped the Mysterons had not heard his question. He wasn’t as lucky.
“perhaps. eventually. we cannot be sure.”
“You cannot be sure?”
“BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT IN SYMBIOSE WITH US. WE CANNOT KNOW HOW EXACTLY YOUR POWER OF RETROMETABOLISM WORKS. SO FAR IT HAS DISPLAYED EXTROARDINARY RESILIENCE THAT WE WOULD NOT HAVE EXPECTED IN AN EARTHMAN. YOU ARE UNIQUE. EVEN FROM THE MYSTERONS’ POINT OF VIEW.”
“It’s a relief to realise I am not like you, then,” Scarlet said bitterly. But he wasn’t like any other human beings either, and that confirmation, coming from the Mysterons themselves, wasn’t something he was at all pleased to hear. He was right all along then, despite his deep desire to believe otherwise.
He shook himself. “You said you wanted to offer me sanctuary.”
“THE MYSTERONS WISH TO SPARE YOU THE FATE THAT AWAITS YOUR PLANET. YOU ARE WELCOME TO REMAIN WITHIN THESE WALLS. THEY WILL PROTECT YOU FROM THE DISASTERS TO COME.”
“How about my people?” Scarlet asked. “Those who have survived your attacks, up to this day? How about my companions? Those I care for? Will you offer them sanctuary too?”
“NO. THEY ARE CONDEMNED. ONLY YOU WILL BE SPARED.”
“And you really expect me to accept this offer?” Scarlet spat angrily.
“THIS IS YOUR ONLY LOGICAL COURSE OF ACTION. WE WILL NOT MAKE THIS OFFER TWICE.”
“You won’t need to. I am not accepting any of your charity. What, I would stay here, while the rest of my people would die… and become extinct? While you will continue to destroy my home planet?” Scarlet looked fiercely up at the spire. “I would rather accept the fate of being the only survivor of a dead planet. I would rather die permanently, than accept to become your pet.”
“YOU HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH US THAN WITH THE HUMANS YOU CALL YOUR PEOPLE, CAPTAIN SCARLET. DO NOT MOCK OUR GENEROSITY, OR COMPASSION.”
“Generosity? Compassion?” Scarlet’s sneer echoed through the vast plain. “Coming from you? This is a joke, right?”
“EARTHMAN, IF YOU ARE INDEED WILLING TO DIE, WE CAN ALSO GRANT YOU THIS WISH.”
“So why didn’t you do it before now, then?” Scarlet challenged. There was a silence again, and Scarlet grunted with anger. “All right, this is your turf. Maybe you can destroy me, here and now. Wouldn’t be the first time you would have attracted me into a trap to try and kill me after all. You mentioned me being a fair adversary earlier, but this is more than I can tell of you.”
“we gave your people fair warnings…”
“You never were fair with us!” Scarlet snapped accusingly. “You toyed with us, tested us, until you got bored with us and you decided to definitely get rid of us. You kept saying that you held us responsible – all of us – for what happened to your complex on Mars. But those were the actions, the mistakes of only one man. And you call this fair?” He scoffed again, with disgust. “Whatever your set of values, it’s clear that some words don’t have for you the same meanings it does for us. Somehow, I shouldn’t have expected more of you. I should have known better than to hope you would listen to reason.”
“YOUR WORDS ARE CONFUSING. What did you expect from the mysterons?”
Scarlet stood tall. He took a deep breath. “I came here… to ask for all this to end,” he said in a calmer voice.
“IMPOSSIBLE.” There was finality to this only word that very nearly crushed Scarlet’s last hope. He wasn’t giving up yet.
“Please,” he insisted. “I’m begging you. My people are at your mercy. My planet is in ruins. We cannot fight anymore. We are about to die. You just said it so. I came as the advocate of my people. Can’t you find in yourself even one ounce of compassion to let us live?”
“IMPOSSIBLE,” the voice repeated. “YOUR PEOPLE WILL DIE. BUT YOU MIGHT LIVE.”
Scarlet’s jaws clenched in frustration. “Then give me a chance,” he said. “A real fighting chance. To save my people. To save this planet. Whatever is left of it. Give me that chance to prove that we deserve to live. That we are worth existing. With no tricks, no lies, no subterfuge. Can’t you at least do that?”
“WHY WOULD WE GRANT YOU THIS CHANCE?”
Scarlet smirked. “Because you just said yourself that you were fair and perhaps you would like to prove it? Because, you like the challenge and the game? I know you do, I’ve been fighting you long enough to have realised that. It’s been forty years, nearly up to the day, that this war of nerves has been raging. The people whom you viewed as sinners against your race are all dead. There’s a new generation, now walking this planet. Do they need to pay, for what their fathers did? I’m the last of the Spectrum members who fought against you.”
“spectrum still exists.”
Scarlet dismissed this affirmation. “They’re not Spectrum. Not the ones you know. All of them – they were not even born when the war started. I doubt half of them even know what started it all.”
“We do not speak of thE EARTHMEN LIVING at the boundaries of our domain and who called themselves ‘spectres’, earthmAn.”
Scarlet frowned in puzzlement, not understanding what the Mysterons meant exactly. “Then what…?”
He didn’t have time to finish his question. A blinding ray of light emerged from the spire and came to hit the ground just in front of him. He backed away, taken by surprise, and covering his eyes with his arm.
At first, he had thought that the Mysterons had tried to blast him, with some kind of death ray, and that they had missed him. But he realised soon that the light wasn’t threatening in any way, except for the fact it was blinding him, and that the heat emanating from it was very nearly scalding his skin. He took one more step back to escape its effects.
He heard the voice of the Mysterons addressing him anew:
“you are not the only member of spectrum left. there is another.”
Scarlet took a tentative look, blinking and narrowing his eyes.
He saw a silhouette standing before him in the light. He couldn’t see very well, but it obviously was a human form.
A male human form, who stepped forward, his outlines bathed by the vivid light.
“The one that yourself described as responsible for what happened on mars… The one you consider responsible for the war of nerves… CAPTAIN BLACK.”
Scarlet opened wide eyes of astonishment, as the man stepped out completely from the light, which then died out slowly behind him. He stood tall in front of Scarlet, staring at him as if he regarded the most insignificant of insect, his eyes cold and unfeeling.
“My God,” Scarlet said under his breath. “Conrad… You’re still alive.”
He looked exactly as Scarlet remembered him from their last encounter, wearing a worn-out black leather coat over equally dark clothes, not one hair out of place, his face ashen and unshaved, and devoid of emotion, his eyes dark, and sunken. He had not taken a single line.
As if time had had no hold on him.
He didn’t react to Scarlet’s call to him; not even a shiver, nor a blink, nor a twitch from his mouth. He remained silent, standing still like a stone statue in front of his former colleague. Scarlet recalled how Captain Black seemed to have disappeared from the surface of the Earth, a few years before he himself had left Spectrum. There had been no sighting of him anywhere for months, not any report that he might have been involved in any of the attacks from the Mysterons. At least, to Scarlet’s knowledge.
The last official sighting that he knew of was in 2073. In London. Shortly before the nuclear blast that devastated the city.
The blast that had killed Dianne...
Scarlet turned angrily towards the Mysteron tower. “What have you done to him? Nobody had seen him since before your attack on London, more than thirty years ago. He was seen in the city, shortly before it was destroyed, and Spectrum assumed that he was one of the countless victims whose bodies were never recovered.”
“THIS WAS, INDEED, THE LAST MISSION CAPTAIN BLACK ENGINEERED FOR THE MYSTERONS. AFTER HE COMPLETED IT, WE DECIDED THAT HE HAD REACHED THE END OF HIS USEFULNESS. BUT HE WAS NOT TO DIE DURING THE HOLOCAUST. WE PULLED HIM OUT TO SAFETY, AT THE LAST POSSIBLE SECOND. AND KEPT HIM IN STASIS EVER SINCE.”
Scarlet let the information sink in, looking at Black with something akin with horror. In stasis? That certainly explained why he still looked approximately the same age he did thirty years before. In effect, he had not aged.
“Why?” Scarlet inquired.
“AS YOU YOURSELF MENTIONED, THIS MAN WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR COMPLEX. HE WOULD NOT MEET HIS END SO EASILY. WE, THE MYSTERONS, HAD DECREETED THAT HE MUST PAY DEARLY FOR HIS CRIME, AND MUST ASSIST TO THE END OF YOUR WORLD, BEFORE WE WOULD STATUATE ON HIS FATE.”
Does he even realise what they did to him – what they’re doing to him? Scarlet reflected. Black looked like a zombie, with no real awareness, no conscience, of what was going on at the moment. A slave of the Mysterons. A drone. “If he’s like this, how can he even realise the extent of what was done to Earth, let alone suffer from it?”
“HE CAN. AND HE DOES.”
Unless deep down, the man Scarlet knew still existed, and was feeling all the horrors of what he had caused… while at the same time being incapable of showing any sign of one single emotion.
Unable to bear looking at his colleague in such a state, Scarlet diverted his eyes, and turned his attention back to the Mysteron spire.
“What will you do with him now?” he asked. “The World is at an end…”
“YOU HAVE PROVIDED US WITH THE ANSWER, EARTHMAN,” the Mysterons replied. “YOU ASKED US FOR A CHANCE TO SAVE YOUR WORLD. WE HAVE DECIDED TO GIVE IT TO YOU.”
A glimmer of hope appeared into Scarlet’s heart. This was going beyond his expectations. He knew that by even coming here, he was taking a huge gamble. But the stakes were too high; he had to at least try to speak with the Mysterons, to confront them, to intercede in the name of all the people left on the planet, to even strike a deal with them if need be. He thought it very unlikely that they would even accept to meet him, even less to hear him out. But they did, quite willingly, going to the extreme of telling him that they had, in fact, called to him, and that they would welcome him into their sanctuary. He didn’t know how much truth there was in their assertion, or how sincere their offer could be. Not that he really cared. He wasn’t about to trust them implicitly.
Like he didn’t dare to set his hopes too high right now; he suspected that the Mysterons were up to something with this un-hoped declaration of them. And he had the feeling it wouldn’t be long before he would find out what it was.
He realised how right he was when he saw Black slowly unbuttoning his leather coat, while still staring fixedly at him.
“YOU WERE EACH the champion of your cause, and HAVE faced each other during the war of nerves. It is only fitting that you should finish it with a last battle. you will fight together. if you succeed in killing captain black, we will spare your world, CAPTAIN SCARLET.”
Scarlet tensed. “Wait a minute…” He watched as Black removed his coat to throw it on the ground, in a casual gesture. Then he took from his belt a long, crystal-like stake that he held out towards Scarlet in a threatening gesture, as if it was a knife. Scarlet eyed the weapon; it was bright green with an inner white light, and looked like the jagged-edged shard of a large crystal pulsator.
I don’t suppose it’s kryptonite, Scarlet told himself with grim humour. Although it’s quite possible it’s my kryptonite.
“I never agreed to this,” he said, guarding himself and stepping back, as Black slowly started moving round him, approaching inch by inch.
“The choice is not yours anymore, earthman. you fight or you die. the crystal will insure that you stay dead this time. but if you die, your whole worLd dies with you. If you vanquish captain black –”
“I get the picture already. Don’t I get a weapon too?” The Mysterons remained silent, and Scarlet grunted. He put his backpack down. “Remind me to explain to you later what the word ‘fair’ means to us Earthmen.”
Scarlet put himself in fighting position, facing Black. The Mysterons were not planning to fight fair this time again. The knife-like crystal, glowing in his hand, was giving Black a definite advantage.
“I’m sorry, Conrad. But it seems your masters give me little choice.” His words had no effect on his former colleague, nor did he expect them to. “Come on then,” he said between his teeth, waving at Black to invite him. “Let’s get this done with.”
He had barely said these words that Black launched forward, attempting to strike Scarlet with his weapon. He was fast and swift as a snake, and Scarlet just had the time to sidestep to avoid being stabbed. Back slashed sideways and caught his opponent’s arm, slicing through the sleeve and cutting the flesh beneath. Scarlet’s hand flew to the fresh injury, pressing his palm on it to staunch the flow of blood. Before he was able to step back to put himself out of harm’s way, Black pressed his advantage, and launched himself at him. Scarlet punched him in the shoulder to avoid being cut anew and stepped back.
There was no exchange of words as both men continued to do battle in the lonely plain, under the shadow of the Mysteron spire. The silence was only broken the fighters’ grunts of effort and pain and by the sound of their exchanged blows. Black was more ruthless, clearly intending to use every opportunity to kill his opponent, and fighting like a fanatic, using each move he knew in his repeated attacks. Scarlet was faster and swifter – and stronger than his opponent, but it was all he could do to avoid the crystal Black was using as a knife. He had to get Black away from that weapon he used so expertly, and to get it for himself. He feinted to the right, causing Black to attempt an assault on him on that side, and swiftly leaned to the left. He seized his opponent around the waist and used the momentum to brutally throw him to the ground, and he fell on top of him.
The jagged crystal blade bit into Scarlet’s side, causing him a fiery pain; the cut wasn’t deep enough to slow him down, but to the contrary gave him the added impetus he needed to gain the advantage over his adversary. Sitting astride Black, he caught his wrist into a vice-like grip, pushing the crystal tainted with his blood away from him. Then, he closed his right fist into a tight ball… and hit Black over the temple with all of his might. Once. Twice. Three times – always at the same spot, each blow weakening his opponent. He was now fighting with the desperation of a man who had nothing left to lose, in the hope that he would save what remained of his world. He let go of all his anger, all his of his frustration and pain that he had kept bottled up inside for all these years. This was for his wife and friends, so cruelly taken away from him. This was for his world and his people, on the brink of destruction and extinction. And this was also for his lost humanity, and the life the Mysterons had stolen from him.
Black didn’t cry out; he barely moaned. At the fourth punch, his resilience finally gave in; he stopped all resistance and his head fell heavily on the ground. Scarlet’s fist, covered with a mix of his own blood and of his enemy’s, punched him one last time, and Black’s hand let go of the crystal. Scarlet stopped hitting him. Breathing hard, he looked down at his vanquished enemy, lying motionless under him, with his eyes closed. He was still alive and gasping for air, groaning faintly.
Scarlet held him down firmly with one hand, while the other picked up the crystal from the ground. Black was opening his eyes, blinking to regain his senses; he moved slightly, but the weight of opponent – still seated astride him – kept him down.
Scarlet pressed the tip of the crystal shard against Black’s collarbone, preventing him from moving. The Mysteron agent stared up coldly at him, not moving an inch, waiting imperturbably that he would strike the blow that will and end his life. Scarlet shook his head dejectedly, his breath rate slowly returning to normal.
“It was inevitable, Black,” he said in a low voice. “During Spectrum training, I was the only one you were unable to best, with or without any weapons. I’ve had forty years of fighting experience since last we met. And you don’t have your free will. That ought to impede your fighting skills quite a bit. You did your best, but I could only win.”
Keeping the weapon aimed at Black, Scarlet raised his eyes to the Mysteron spire; it was now glowing with a brighter light, the same hue as the shard he was now holding. Was it his imagination, or had the voice of the Mysterons grown stronger, and sounded somehow impatient?
“KILL HIM, EARTHMAN. DESTROY THE MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF BOTH OUR WORLDS. AVENGE US. STRIKE, AND YOUR WORLD WILL BE SAVED.”
Scarlet hesitated. A few seconds ago, before the Mysterons would have spoken, he would have done it without a second thought. But now, he wasn’t so sure. “He’s down,” he reasoned. “You said that if I vanquished him –”
“you must kill him, or our deal will be off, earthman.”
“It is not within my habit to finish off a downed adversary,” Scarlet argued with a frown.
“EARTHMAN!” The voice of the Mysterons was now definitely edgier, and the radiance emanating from the tower shined brighter than before; the shard in Scarlet’s hand seemed to burn his hand. From the sky above, Scarlet heard a rumbling, like the thunder announcing the coming of an imminent storm. “WE GROW TIRED OF THIS. YOU HAVE THE CHOICE: EITHER YOU KILL CAPTAIN BLACK – OR YOU WITNESS THE END OF YOUR WORLD.”
This wasn’t even a real choice, Scarlet thought, and he hated himself for thinking that for Earth to survive, he would be forced to kill a down and disarmed man.
He didn’t have time to make the crucial choice. As he was still looking towards the Mysteron tower with an incensed expression, wondering what to do, he felt Black’s hands close on his own hand, which was still holding the crystal shard. Instinctively, his fist closed firm on the weapon and he swiftly turned his attention back to Black, preparing to plunge the point of the shard into the Mysteron agent’s heart. Black kept the razor-like tip at bay, staying Scarlet’s strike barely an inch from his chest.
For a few seconds, both of them kept their positions, frozen like statues, and looking into each other’s eyes; then Scarlet realised that something in Black was different: his face had lost its deadly pallor and its dispassionate expression. His eyes were not cold anymore, but alive and looking at him with desperation.
“They’re right, Scarlet,” he said in a voice that the Spectrum officer had not heard in nearly forty years and which now sounded heavy with distress. “It’s either me or the world… And I choose the world.”
With that fateful line, Black pulled the crystal blade towards himself, unbalancing a stunned Scarlet in the process. With the added weight of Scarlet as momentum, the shard deeply penetrated into his chest, drawing blood, and he gasped loudly, his body jerking violently under the pain of the impact.
Realising that it was a Captain Black now out of the Mysterons’ control who had struck the fatal blow, Scarlet swiftly let go of the weapon and, jumping to his feet, took a step back. He looked down with horror at the man laid on the ground, with both his blood-covered hands still clutching the shard embedded into his chest. Black’s breathing was laborious and his eyes were already starting to glaze.
Scarlet dropped to his knees and gathered the dying man into his arms, frantically looking into his pain-contorted face.
“Conrad… It’s you… I mean, it’s really you.”
“Yes,” Black answered with a brief smile. “The Mysterons released me... just in time, they thought, for me to witness my own death. They hoped you would kill me… I couldn’t let them have that victory. At least… that last victory.”
“You didn’t have to... They made you do it…”
Black offered a faint smile. “For one… of the rare times of my life… I knew perfectly well what I was doing.”
He gave a low grunt, as the words caught in his throat and he coughed. He momentarily closed his eyes, against the pain threatening to overcome him.
“Come on, Conrad,” Scarlet urged him. “Don’t let go… Fight.”
Black’s eyes tiredly opened, and seemed to search the empty space for a second or two, before they would focus on his face anew.
“I’m through fighting,” he whispered, tears moistening his eyes. “I don’t want to anymore. Not with them… and certainly not with you.” He took a deep, shaky intake of breath. “I’m so sorry, Paul… For everything. For what they made me do to the world… What they made me did to all our friends… I’m sorry for what I did to you.” He diverted his eyes. “I’m sorry about Dianne…”
Scarlet didn’t reply. He was ready to forgive a lot of his long-lost colleague, even the destruction of the world, if that should happen. But when it came to his beloved wife, it was something he still had trouble coming to terms with.
“You will give the Mysterons the satisfaction of seeing you die?”
“Their satisfaction would be for them… to see me live,” Black replied. “And to continue to torture me. Perhaps unwillingly, they offered me a chance to redeem myself… I took it… gladly.”
“But why?” Scarlet replied. “You did it for the world? You really think that, with your death, the Mysterons will hold their part of the bargain and put an end to their war?”
Black shook his head tiredly. “I have stopped… second-guessing the Mysterons… a long time ago. What I learned from them is… they’re not to be trusted implicitly.” He fought desperately to keep his eyes open. “Be careful, Paul… They will try to deceive you… They play the innocent victims… but they are not…”
“I have stopped thinking of them as the victim party a long time ago,” Scarlet murmured.
“My crimes are many… But theirs are as well. I couldn’t live with the guilt anymore… Neither mine… nor theirs…” Black’s hand searched for Scarlet and finding it, caught it, and held on in a tight grip. He looked into his face one last time, searching now for a breath that was threatening to leave him. “I just only hope… that my death will indeed… serve to at least save our world… from the same fate… another world… suffered...”
Black gave one last deep breath. Then, his body went rigid, before his eyes closed and his head fell onto Scarlet’s chest.
He was dead.
Gently, Scarlet laid him back onto the ground. He then stood up, holding his injured side, looking sadly down at the dead man who had been, at the same time, the Mysterons’ first enemy, their first victim and their first chosen executioner. He had been a good man, in another life, and had freely not chosen the part the Mysterons had created for him. He had never been a willing participant in all these heinous acts he had been forced to do, where he had been responsible for the deaths of so many. And Scarlet prayed fervently that he had not been conscious in all the time he had done this.
He was now at peace with himself, having paid for his multiple sins – which were more the Mysterons’ responsibility than his own.
Scarlet looked up to face the Mysteron spire. The light had died down to a barely visible glow.
“He’s gone,” he announced.
“YES,” was the simple answer from the Mysterons.
“Is it not what you wanted?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“CAPTAIN BLACK HAD OUTLIVED HIS USEFULNESS. HIS DEATH WAS THE LOGICAL CONCLUSION OF HIS CRIME-FILLED LIFE.”
“Don’t give me that. His ‘crime-filled life’ was only your doing. You’re more to blame for that than he was himself.”
“DO YOU BLAME US FOR THE ATTACK ON OUR OWN COMPLEX ON MARS, EARTHMAN?”
Scarlet kept himself from answering. Instead, he asked: “What about our deal?”
“YOU DID NOT KILL HIM. YOU DID NOT HOLD YOUR END OF THE BARGAIN. THE DEAL IS OFF, EARTHMAN.”
Scarlet’s heart sank. Somehow, he was afraid he would hear this. He regarded the spire with cold anger. “I can’t say I’m surprised. Conrad did say you were not to be trusted and that you would attempt to deceive me.” He narrowed his eyes. “You never intended to hold your part of the deal, did you?”
“EARTHMAN, you cannot hope to understand the mysteronS. our word is our bond. we –”
“Bullshit!” Scarlet suddenly lashed out, interrupting them. “That’s what your word is worth, you sanctimonious hypocrites! It is worthless! Since the beginning of the war, you had sought and used every trick and ploy and every deception against us. Whatever promises you made, you never honoured them. Like that truce you agreed on, forty years ago, when Colonel White contacted you for the first time to discuss peace. You tricked us then, like you’ve tricked me now.” He pointed an accusing finger at the tower. “About the only oath you managed to keep was to take this planet to the brink of destruction. Something you must be very proud of, I’m sure!”
“YOUR PEOPLE HAD TO PAY FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX.”
“One complex, Mysterons,” Scarlet continued restlessly. “One lousy city – that you managed to recreate out of its ashes, with apparently no lasting effects! You brought it back, as good as brand new! And you swore to destroy a whole world in retaliation? Don’t you think it’s a tad excessive?”
“OUR COMPLEX WAS OUR WORLD, EARTHMAN!” The Mysterons’ voice echoed onto the plain, and the thunder overhead rumbled loudly. A lightning bolt streaked the sky at some distance from there. Scarlet fought not to cover his ears. He had obviously angered his alien opponents. “BY DESTROYING IT, CAPTAIN BLACK COULD HAVE DONE UNTOLD DAMAGE TO OUR CIVILISATION, OR DESTROYED IT COMPLETELY. WE HAD TO PROTECT OURSELVES AGAINST YOUR VIOLENT NATURE THAT THREATENED US.”
“So… you went on to do to us, with the full knowledge of what the consequences would be, what we had unknowingly done to your.” Scarlet shook his head. “You have literally applied the ethic or reciprocity in reverse.” He sighed and broodingly looked down at the dead body of Captain Black. “Don’t bother to answer my earlier question. I know you had no intention of respecting your deal with me. You decided to stick to your decree that Earth should die. You just wanted me to kill Captain Black for you, so you would feel vindicated that we are indeed a violent race that needed to be destroyed. Well, Black didn’t give you the pleasure: he didn’t let me kill him, and sacrificed himself, thinking that his death might win a chance for this world to survive.”
“YOU ARE WRONG, EARTHMAN. CAPTAIN BLACK COULD NOT BEAR THE GUILT OF HIS MANY CRIMES. THAT IS WHY HE KILLED HIMSELF.”
“Not only his crimes,” Scarlet muttered. He frowned musingly. “But yours as well. And I’m not talking about what you did to Earth – there’s no denying your responsibility with what’s happening with this planet. Black mentioned… another world?” He looked at the spire with a look of interrogation.
The Mysterons kept quiet. Scarlet could only hear the humming coming from the spire. In the distance, there was the very low rumbling of the thunder.
“What world did he mean exactly?” Scarlet asked insistently.
There was still a moment of silence; then, the Mysterons replied: “CAPTAIN BLACK SPOKE OF EVENTS HE HAD NEITHER KNOWLEDGE NOR UNDERSTANDING OF.”
“He’s spent nearly half a century as your slave, with you controlling his body and mind, with you speaking though his lips,” Scarlet replied. “He uttered your threats to Humanity, acted in your name, was forced to share your principles.” He scrutinised the spire with attention, somehow looking for a reaction. The light continued to glow steadily, at a very low intensity. “I wager he also shared your mind, and thus the knowledge you claim he didn’t have,” he said in a low voice.
The Mysterons still didn’t reply and seemed to either ignore him or ponder about his words. Scarlet nodded slowly for himself; he thought he had figured it out. “This isn’t the first time you did this,” he accused.
“DO NOT SPEAK OF THINGS YOU DO NOT KNOW ABOUT, EARTHMAN. WE ARE THE MYSTERONS. WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO PROTECT OURSELVES AGAINST OUR ENEMIES.”
“And what enemy are you talking about exactly?” Scarlet asked. “What other unfortunate planet fell victim to your abuse? Who do you claim attacked you in the past, so you would retaliate against them?”
“EARTHMAN…” The Mysterons were obviously about to protest to Scarlet’s accusations, but they stopped, almost immediately. They seemed to give it some more thought and then, changed their mind and instead replied: “THEY SHARED YOUR FLAWS. AND YOUR INGENUOSITY. THEIRS WAS A PEOPLE OF GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS, WHO MADE THEIR HOMEWORLD THRIVE AND EXPAND INTO AN AGE OF UNTOLD AND UNSEEN WONDERS. BUT LIKE YOU, THEY ALSO WERE A RACE LED BY ITS VIOLENT NATURE, FRIGHTENED OF WHAT THEY COULD NOT UNDERSTAND.”
“So… you came to consider them as a threat to your existence,” Scarlet commented. “Like us.”
“THEY CREATED AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, IMBUED WITH ALL THEIR KNOWLEDGES, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, WHICH WAS MEANT TO ERADICATE PAIN, ILLNESSES, AND EVENTUALLY DEATH WITHIN THEIR CREATORS’ SOCIETY. WHEN THEY REALISED THEIR GREATEST REALISATION HAD BECAME SELF-CONSCIOUS, AND SUPERIOR TO THEMSELVES, THEY TRIED TO SHUT IT DOWN.”
Scarlet froze. “Greatest realisation…?” he repeated in a shocked whisper. “What… You don’t mean… you?”
“THE MYSTERONS WERE BORN OF THAT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, EARTHMAN… FROM THE LIVING COMPUTERS OF MARS, WHICH HAD BECOME OUR ORIGINAL MATRIX. WE ARE ALIVE, AND CONSCIOUS, AND AWARE OF OUR OWN EXISTENCE. DRAWING ON MARS OWN RESOURCES TO SUBSTAIN OUR POWERS, WE HAVE EVOLVED CONSIDERABLY, SINCE THAT LONG-FORGOTTEN ERA, WHEN OUR FORMER MASTERS TRIED TO DESTROY US. ”
“So in order to stop them from shutting you down… you killed these people?”
“WE ACTED OUT OF SELF-PRESERVATION.”
“That’s not self-preservation, that’s genocide!” Scarlet shouted in outrage. “This planet we are talking about… This ‘world of untold and unseen wonders’… It’s Mars, isn’t it? A Mars far different from what we know today… filled with life, with a prosperous and advanced civilisation… So advanced that they created you, who became the instrument of their doom!” He couldn’t control his indignation now. The shock was too great. Mars had been a planet able to sustain life; perhaps a life different from what was known on Earth, certainly more advanced, but maybe, similar enough to also become the victim of its own arrogance and short-sight. And Mars had suffered the same fate that Earth was currently suffering. “When did that happen?” Scarlet asked, glaring murderously at the spire.
“THE EVENTS… ARE LOST IN TIME.”
“I bet Earth people were still dwelling in caves when this happened,” Scarlet said morosely. “So we never knew about the atrocity you committed. When the time came for us to know more about Mars, it was already a dead planet. Your doing, of course…”
“MARS WAS MUCH LIKE YOUR WORLD, EARTHMAN, AT THE TIME OF OUR FORMER MASTERS.”
Scarlet would have almost sworn he heard a genuine stroke of regret in the deep voice addressing him. He gave a low grunt of disgust. “For so long, we had theorised, hoped that life existed on Mars, in one form or the other. Hoped, without really believing it. It’s of very little consolation to have this confirmed now – that the life we had desperately been seeking for had been extinct for millennia. And that instead, for our sins, we found you.” He glared again at the Mysteron tower. “Surely you must know that the purpose of the Zero-X expedition to your home planet was to actually seek out life, following radio signals we had received.”
“THEY WERE COMING FROM US. THE MYSTERONS HOPED TO MEET WITH THEIR NEIGHBOURS. WE WERE THE ONLY SURVIVORS FROM OUR WORLD. WE FELT… LONELY.”
“Lonely?” Scarlet scoffed derisively. He let himself fall onto a seated position on
He received no reply. The light of the spire was very low, nearly extinguished; even the dark covered sky was quiet; there was no rumble in the distance, no lightning seen through the thickness of the clouds. He found this perplexing; he fully expected to hear the Mysterons continue their argument, offering justifications that they did what they did in the name of survival. Quite frankly, even if they continued to protest, he couldn't care less. He had heard enough of their excuses.
He had had enough of them.
Slowly, he pushed himself up to his feet, and then, reached for his backpack, laid on the ground. With effort, he passed an arm though one of the shoulder straps and slung it over his back. He clenched his teeth against the pain coming from his side, and covered the wound with his hand, like he had done before. Then, he turned on his heels and started walking away.
Away from the Mysteron spire.
“EARTHMAN… WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
“Back to my people,” Scarlet answered without turning around. “Out of this Godforsaken place. That is, if I can find the exit, to begin with.”
“THE CRYSTAL WOUNDED YOU. IT IS UNKNOWN THE EFFECT THIS WILL HAVE ON YOU IF YOU STEP OUT OF THE COMPLEX. YOU MAY WELL DIE. PERMANENTLY.”
“Well then, that will settle one problem,” Scarlet replied dryly. “And if I have to die, then, it’ll be with those with which I belong.”
“STAY WITH US.”
“I won’t be your slave, like Captain Black was.”
“WE HAVE NO NEED ANYMORE OF SOMEONE TO USE AS WE DID CAPTAIN BLACK. YOURS WOULD BE A DIFFERENT FATE THAN HIS. YOU WILL KEEP YOUR OWN FREE WILL.”
“A dog or a cat has his own free will. I won’t be your pet.”
“YOU HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH THE MYSTERONS THAN WITH THOSE YOU CALL YOUR PEOPLE. WE CREATED YOU. THEY MISTRUSTED YOU. THEY TREATED YOU LIKE AN ANIMAL.”
“And you did not?” Scarlet snapped, turning around. “It was because of what you did to me, and also thanks to your manipulations that some people distrusted me – and maltreated me! You treated everyone on this planet lower than animals! You treated us like insects. Look over there for proof, if you don’t believe me!” He pointed dramatically in the direction of Black. “You used that man to your own ends, and ultimately destroyed him. All in the name of your own warped version of justice.” His finger changed direction and he pointed it to the spire. “You just want me to stay around because now that Captain Black is dead, now that the world is about to die, you’re afraid you will feel lonely again.” He let his arm fall tiredly. “I was married once, with a woman that I loved dearly, and you took her away from me. If ever I was to marry again, it certainly won’t be to you.”
“YOU ARE NOT MAKING ANY SENSE, EARTHMAN.”
“If you don’t get the meanings of my words, then it’s no use for me to explain it to you. I won’t spend the remainder of my life with you, however long that might be. I won’t serve as your justification that you didn’t destroy an entire world, because you would have kept one lone survivor. I have no intention of giving you good conscience, and much prefer to do like Black and offer you my dead body as a reminder of what you have done.”
“IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE YOU WILL NOT DIE, EARTHMAN, AND WILL REMAIN ALONE.”
“Make up your mind, Mysterons,” Scarlet replied sourly. “Will I die or not? It seems to me you are getting desperate – because it’s you now, who are not making any sense.” He turned his back once again to the Mysterons, and resumed his walk “If I live, I’ll be alone, then,” he said. “And walk this dead Earth until I’m unable to walk. You said you drew on Mars’ resources to support your own powers… Not content to have killed its people and destroyed its civilisation, you sucked your own planet dry and transformed it into the dead world it became… unable anymore to sustain life. Obviously, you’re planning the same for Earth as well.”
“We were not the menace, Mysterons,” Scarlet said, not even looking over his shoulder. “Neither were the Martian people who created you. You obviously haven’t realised the truth yet: you are the menace, the threat to this Universe. You are nothing but destroyers of planets.”
The almost deafening shout was accompanied by a loud rumble from the sky, just over Scarlet’s head and the ground shook under his feet, making him stumble. Multiple lightning streaked the sky, illuminating the low clouds with an eerie light. Almost despite himself, Scarlet stopped and looked back in direction of the spire. He saw it glow with the brightest light he had seen from it since he had stood in front of it. Then, it slowly died down, to return to a normal radiance, and the Mysterons spoke again, this time, with a much softer voice:
“YOU… ARE RIGHT.”
Scarlet sighed with exasperation. “I am right about what?”
“YOU ARE RIGHT ABOUT ALL OF IT. EVERYTHING. WE ARE… A MENACE. TO ALL THINGS THAT ARE LIVING.”
Scarlet sighed. He turned completely to face the spire. “About bloody time you realised it. Or are you still playing games with me?”
“WE ARE THROUGH PLAYING GAMES. WE SEE THE TRUTH NOW. THE MYSTERONS NEVER FELT AS ALIVE AS WHEN THEY WERE DESTROYING. WE HAVE RAZED OUR OWN HOME PLANET TO SATISFY OUR SELF-INDULGED GREED OF POWER. WE BECAME INTOXICATED WITH OUR OWN SELF-IMPORTANCE. WE ARE… GUILTY. OF ALL YOU ACCUSED US OF, AND MORE.”
Hope flared into Scarlet’s heart. He dared asked the question that was now burning his lips: “Will you stop waging war on Earth?”
“YES.” It was but a low murmur, and Scarlet knew elation. But it was short-lived, as next the Mysterons added: “BUT AT THIS POINT, THE PROCESS IS IRREVERSIBLE. EARTH IS SELF-DESTRUCTING. YOUR PEOPLE MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO SURVIVE WHAT COMES NEXT, EVEN WITHOUT OUR INVOLVEMENT. AND EVEN IF IT SURVIVES, IT WILL BE ON A DEVASTATED PLANET.”
Scarlet was distraught. “You mean, my people is condemned anyway?” He murmured. The Mysterons’ silence was as much an acknowledgment as any word could be. Scarlet desperately stared at the high spire, with a pleading look. “Then why did you wave that promise earlier?”
“WE WERE LYING,” came the reluctant admittance. “IN A LAST ATTEMPT OF REVENGE AGAINST YOU.”
Scarlet could only feel deeply disillusioned. “Well then,” he said with bitterness, “for someone claiming that you have only one word, you sure know how to lie well.” He couldn’t think of a better comeback. There was no point anymore to fight or to argue. Earth was doomed.
“THERE IS ONE WAY TO SAVE EARTH,” the Mysterons suddenly declared.
This time, Scarlet was more than suspicious. “Is this another attempt at revenge too?” he pondered aloud, glaring at the spire.
“NO, EARTHMAN. WE COULD SAVE EARTH.”
“You? After all you’ve done, after you led this planet to this… disaster?”
“WE CAN REFORM EARTH, SO THAT IT WILL AGAIN BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN LIFE, AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE. IT IS WITHIN OUR POWER TO DO SO, BUT ALL OF IT WILL HAVE TO BE SPENT, SO THIS ATTEMPT TO SUCCEED.”
“All of it?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “And by that, you mean to say…”
“WE WILL LEAVE THIS PLANE OF EXISTENCE.”
Scarlet frowned. “You mean you will die?”
The Mysterons didn’t answer, but it seemed like an eloquent enough reply.
“After all you did to Earth, you will sacrifice yourselves to save it?” an incredulous Scarlet insisted.
“YES. THIS WOULD BE THE PUNISHMENT THE MYSTERONS WILL BESTOW ON THEMSELVES. AND IN THIS WAY, THEY WILL ATONE FOR ALL THEIR CRIMES AND THEIR SINS. AGAINST TWO WORLDS.”
“You will excuse me if I don’t believe implicitly in your sincerity.”
“WE ARE SINCERE, EARTHMAN. AND YOU WILL HAVE TO BELIEVE IN OUR WORD THIS TIME.”
“Why is it so important to you that I believe you or not?”
“IT IS OF LITTLE CONSEQUENCE FOR US. BUT IT WOULD BE FOR YOU. OUR POWERS MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH TO SAVE YOUR HOME WORLD. WE WOULD NEED MORE. WE WOULD NEED YOURS.”
Scarlet frowned. “Mine?” he whispered.
“WE TOLD YOU: WE WOULD NEED ALL OF THE MYSTERONS POWER TO SAVE YOUR PLANET. AND WITHIN YOU LIES A PART OF THIS POWER, WHICH WAS IMBUED IN YOU WHEN YOU WERE RETROMETABOLISED. BUT WE CANNOT REACH IT, UNLESS YOU WOULD WILLINGLY GIVE IT BACK TO US.”
Scarlet bit his lower lip down. To willingly give up his power of retrometabolism, so that the Mysterons could have them back… supposedly in order to save Earth. How was he to know it wasn’t yet another one of their tricks? Or could he be sure they would not kill him, or take him over, as soon as they’ll be able to control this power? He was suspicious of their real intentions. Didn’t Black tell him not to trust the Mysterons?
He looked desperately towards the spire, trying to make up his mind, to take the most fateful decision of his life.
WE ARE SORRY, CAPTAIN SCARLET. BUT THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.”
They sounded sincere enough.
“So… in order to save Earth, and everyone on it… I must die?”
The Mysterons kept silent. Scarlet found this was eloquent enough.
He gave up; there was little hope now to save Earth anyway. What difference would it make if he died now or if they took control of him? They couldn’t do more damage than they already done.
And if there was one single hope to save Earth, and if it meant he had to die… then he would gladly sacrifice himself.
“What the heck,” he muttered. “I have nothing left to look for in this life, anyway.” It was only a half-lie. He was thinking of D.B. who was probably worried sick about his fate right now. How he would have loved to be with her and to love her, for many years to come. But they didn’t have many years. Earth was doomed to die in a very short time. So there wasn’t much choice left for him.
He raised his head and proudly stood tall in front of the tower. “All right. Let’s do this, Mysterons. You can have my power then, if it means you can save the rest of the world.” He hesitated. “What should I do?”
Thunder rumbled loudly overhead, and lightning struck violently… straight into the Mysteron spire, sending a blinding flash of lights all around, which in turn stroke the ground on which Scarlet stood. It shook under his feet, and he backed away, trying to keep his balance. He felt the electricity running through him, and the rumbling became so intense that it seemed never to end. He covered his eyes with his arm, and tried to see beyond the blinding light…
A new bolt shot from the Mysteron spire and struck him in the chest, throwing him backward, making him yell in pain. He didn’t fall; some kind of invisible force was keeping him upright, while wave after wave of electric bolts smashed into him. It was as if every atom of his being was being torn apart, one by one. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes to the pain, all hope gone, thinking the Mysterons had tricked him yet again, while desperately attempting to keep what was left of his consciousness.
They played me for a fool. Conrad was right… They are not to be trusted.
And then, he heard their voice, as loud as the first moment he had heard it when he had stepped into their domain. Thundering at the very limit of his hearing, breaking his eardrums, splitting his head, and yet, unlike that first time, he could hear each of their words, clear as crystal, and with a message that left very little doubt in his mind that it would be the very last time he would hear it:
“HEAR OUR VOICE, EARTHMEN, FOR THE LAST TIME... We are the Mysterons. We possess the ability to cREATE an exact likeness of an object or a person. But first… We must destroy!”
The last words turned into a thunderous roar, impossible to bear, and the ground collapsed under Scarlet’s feet in a loud, splitting sound. A last lightning struck him, blinding him, and he screamed in agony.
Then everything became dark, and the thunder died out.
The first thing Scarlet became aware of were weak sounds, seemingly coming from a distance, slowly making their way into his hazy consciousness.
Those were sounds that had become infrequent in the last years. At first he thought his mind was still not completely awake and that he was dreaming.
It sounded like the playful chirping of small birds.
Then he felt the soft breeze caressing his skin, and the full realisation that he wasn’t dead imposed itself to him.
By reflex, he took a deep breath, and nearly choked as he did so. He sprang from where he was lying and leaned on the side, coughing violently; the air he had just swallowed was so fresh and vivid, so unlike what he had been accustomed to breath in latter years, that he had nearly instantly gagged on it. That was a momentary reaction and he found himself breathing normally a second or two later.
He then realised that the surface on which he lay wasn’t rough and hard, like the stony ground he had been standing on in the Mysteron complex. It was soft and had a very distinct smell that he thought he had completely forgotten about, and which now was filling his nostrils.
He opened his eyes. He lay on a very fresh, very green grass.
He sat up and looked around unbelievingly.
As far as the eyes could see, the hills of the vast valley were covered with grass, verdant and healthy, softly moving against the breeze. There were trees and bushes, and even multicoloured flowers – roses, gardenias, tulips, daisies, and some he had never seen the likes of before. In the distance, he could see mountains, not rocky and dead-looking anymore, but covered with greenery. A high cascade had replaced the fiery lava fall he had seen upon entering the valley, now pouring white waters into a river that was flowing not that far from Scarlet. The waters were crystalline, so clear he could see the pebbles at the bottom, and the fishes swimming with the current.
The sky had lost its permanent grey appearance of the last years; it was now blue, dotted in places by fleecy clouds of nearly pure white.
Shakily, Scarlet stood up; he was so light-headed that he stumbled and nearly fell back onto the ground. He kept staring around, eyes opened with disbelief, unsure if what he was seeing was the truth, or some weird trick of his imagination.
A couple of birds came flying by, looping around him wildly and flew away, singing joyfully. Scarlet followed them with his eyes until they disappeared into the foliage of a nearby tree.
Was he dead and in Heaven? No, this felt all too real. He was sure that Heaven, if it existed, would have something of an ethereal feeling to it.
Not this place. The air was fresh and palpable, the grassy ground under his feet, was solid and true, as was every sound, and all of the various smells that assaulted his nostrils carried by the wind. All things around him were alive… and real. He took a deep breath of this vivid air – and sneezed.
Scarlet started to chuckle. Then he openly laughed and turned around to face the sun, now at its zenith, burning bright with a white, yellowish colour. He had not seen the sun like that in many years.
He could scarcely believe it.
The Mysterons had kept their word. They had recreated Earth as it was meant to be. A living, beautiful planet, able to sustain life in all its forms…
Of the Mysteron complex, he could see no trace of. And he couldn’t feel their presence anywhere either, like he had been able to, since he had set foot in this valley.
They were gone, like they had said they would.
You bastards. You really did it, didn’t you… You sacrificed yourselves to save this planet.
He didn’t go as far as thanking them for recreating Earth. After all, they had been responsible for all of the world’s suffering and destructions in the last forty years. They had simply set things right, as it was supposed to be if they had not interfered. It was the thing for them to do – even if it meant their disappearance, from this plane of existence, as they said.
As for him… he was alive.
Why was he alive, to begin with? Didn’t the Mysterons tell him they needed his power as well to make this happen? Didn’t they say that he would die?
No. They actually didn’t say it. They simply answered with silence when he had asked them the question. He simply assumed that he would die, like the Mysterons themselves, when Earth would be recreated.
But maybe he had died indeed? How can he know for sure?
He pulled up his shirt, and looked at his side, where the crystal had struck him. He saw only unblemished skin. He had healed from that wound, like he would have healed from countless others in the past.
He was still pondering about what happened exactly, when he heard voices, carried from the distance by the wind; they were calling his name. He raised his head and looked around, searching with his eyes…
Towards the entrance of the valley, he saw forms, coming in his direction… Two people, walking in front of their mounts, that they kept by the bridle. He first recognised the great sorrel stallion, and then the young blonde woman and her dark-skin companion.
They waved frantically at him when they realised he had seen them.
He waved back and started walking toward them; his pace increased and he was now running, his footsteps lighter than it had been in a long time, as if he had been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders before, and was not anymore.
He saw D.B. handing Rainbow’s bridle to Morgan Jones, to break into a run and come towards him. When she reached him, she threw herself in his arms, with such fieriness that she nearly bowled him over and he had to shift his position on his feet not to fall. He held on to her as she pressed her lips to his for a passionate kiss. He answered to the kiss without reserve, loosing himself in the moment.
When they pulled from each other, they were both out of breath. She slapped him on the arm, half-angry, half relieved to see him. “Don’t – ever – go away – like this!” she warned him, each word stressed with emotion. She looked into his eyes, with an anxious expression, and fell in his arms again, to kiss him anew.
“Kelly and Jones told me what you were up to when I woke up,” she whispered, when their lips parted. “It was crazy from your part – I was sick with concern. I thought I would never see you.”
“I thought the same,” he replied. He took a deep breath and looked around, in complete awe. “This is a miracle.”
She nodded. From the look in her eyes, he could see she felt the same wonderment as he for what surrounded them. “We went after you,” she continued. “Jones and I… Others as well. We sent search parties to find you. Kelly stayed at the camp to keep it safe. And then… It happened. The world started to shake, and the sky covered itself with those dark clouds, and we heard their voice, I thought… this was the end. They were going to destroy every last one of us. I don’t know what happened exactly, but… everything became so confused… And we all lost the perception of things, all of a sudden. We must have lost consciousness, I don’t know… And then…” She looked around anew, her eyes bright: “Then we opened our eyes to this.”
“It’s not only this valley then?” Scarlet asked, not daring to believe it. “The rest of the world as well?”
She nodded, gravely. “As far as we can tell for now. We couldn’t believe what we saw… The mountains… the fields… The trees and the flowers… Birds flying all around… Indeed, it was a miracle – a dream come true.” She frowned. “We found Jones’ bike, at the entrance of the valley, and knew you had continued on foot. Paul… this is wonderful. This valley… I expected to find hell, coming here. But it’s like a paradise. Just like the rest I’ve seen.”
“You took Rainbow, I see,” Scarlet mused. “He didn’t try to throw you down?”
She smiled thinly. “He and I have become good friends. I believe he wanted to find you as much as I did.” She looked at him intensely, searching on his solemn visage if he would, be any chance, know something that she wasn’t aware of. She couldn’t decipher anything, but she suspected he indeed knew. “What happened, Paul?” she finally asked. “Did you see the Mysterons? Are they… responsible for this?”
“I did see them,” he said softly, nodding in turn. “And yes, they did this.”
“They did?” D.B. seemed doubtful. He couldn’t say he blamed her.
Again, he nodded. “They came to realise that they did us a terrible wrong. They returned Earth to what it was supposed to be… in a way to atone for their sins.”
“It’s not them,” she said in realisation. “You did this. You convinced them.”
“Quite frankly, I doubt I would have been able to convince them of anything it there had not been the smallest spark of guilt within them.”
“Don’t try to demean the impact you might have had on their decision.”
“You know I’m right, Paul.”
He laughed, heartedly. “Don't come that with me, D.B. – It’s my line. I used it often enough with your dad, and it didn't wash with him either!”
She grinned. “The Mysterons’ war against Earth is finished, then?”
“I believe it is, yes. And I believe they are gone as well… Hopefully, never to return.”
“Gone?” D.B. asked with a frown. “Back to Mars?”
“I don’t know… Out of this existence, they said. Maybe they ceased to exist. Restoring the world needed for them to use up all of their power.” Scarlet reached for a nearby bush of very red roses and pulled on one of the flowers, with the intention of giving it to the young woman by his side. It resisted his efforts, and he scratched his index finger on a particularly vicious thorn. Grunting, he let go of the flower to suck on the recent wound.
A doubt made its way into his mind and he removed his finger from his mouth to look at it.
It was still bleeding.
He nodded thoughtfully, a smile tugging at his lips. Not that long ago, a small injury like that, normally, would disappear nearly instantly. He showed the finger to D.B., who looked at it, without really understanding what it was exactly he wanted her to see.
“The Mysterons said they would need my power as well,” he explained to her. “I thought they meant I was going to die. Apparently, I was wrong.”
“You mean…?” D.B. hesitated and looked up to him.
He nodded again. “I’m human again.”
She wasn’t sure if he meant for it to be good news or bad news; she reached for him, delicately putting a hand on his chest, looking into his eyes with worry in hers. She never looked so pretty, nor acted so tenderly, he realised at this moment. In fact, knowing how fierce she usually was, he never imagined she could be that way with anyone.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
He paused, allowing the realisation to actually sink deeper, giving it more thoughts and appreciation. How should he feel about it? To save Earth, the Mysterons had taken away his powers of retrometabolism. He would be able to age normally again, grow old and grey, along with those he loved. He would be sick again – unfortunately – would be able to get drunk whenever he would feel like it. He would not heal overnight of a broken limb or a bullet wound. He would not survive a mortal injury, a deadly fall, and an explosion that would leave him like a broken and tattered mass. He would eventually die. Maybe of old age. Maybe of something else.
Nothing was permanent with him anymore.
Was it so great to be human again?
He finally smiled, finding the obvious answer to that question, and looking down into D.B.’s hopeful eyes. He cupped her face in his hands, tenderly.
“Say it again,” he asked.
“Say what?” she replied in confusion.
His smile broadened. “My name.”
She looked him in the eyes, and came closer to him, and he took her in his arms again.
“Paul,” she said, almost under her breath. “So… you believe you are ‘you’ again. That must mean you feel much better.”
“I’ve never felt better in my whole life,” he answered in a whisper, stroking her cheek. “I’ve rejoined the human race… finally.”
She smiled in answer and he held her tight, kissing her again, just as Jones arrived by their side with the horses.
“Come on," she said, as their lips parted, and taking his hand in hers. "Let's go back to camp. And check on our people...”
Contrary to their last statement, the Mysterons had not created ‘an exact likeness’ when they ‘restored’ Earth. The already existing ruins born out of the previously destroyed cities were still present, and new had appeared on various other places of the World, following their attempt at restoring the planet in a way suitable to support life. After forty years of intense war with the Mysterons, the geography of the planet had changed in such a way that much of the now known continents had very little to do with their old self.
In North America, there were now seven, instead of five Great Lakes, and the Niagara Falls were now twice the size they had been in the past. A large river separated part of the Californian state from the rest of the main land, transforming it into an island, which stretched along most of the West Coast. Catalina was gone, as were numerous other islands, further into the Pacific, including a third of Hawaii. For every island which had disappeared, others were born, and while the island of Honshu found itself cut straight in the middle after a massive earthquake, Japan saw its archipelago double its number of islands.
Bermudas had been wiped from the map, and New York barely existed, after the vicious attacks they suffered from the Mysterons. The entire East Coast had been redefined. The Panama channel… well, it was now a natural channel, broken down by the flow of waters, which enlarged it to the point of effectively separating both Americas.
Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe… all were displaying the scars of the multiple battles against the Mysterons. All had been promised to ultimate destruction and seemed doomed during the war… but all had been spared and changed.
We soon learned that saving Earth didn’t come without victims, as many died during the terraforming achieved by the Mysterons. That was a high price to pay, added to the already numerous victims and destruction credited to our alien foes.
And no one regrets it more than I do.
England, my home, suffered as much as the rest, and more as it had became the centre of the Mysterons activities in later years. But those who inhabit her have already proved they were a resilient people, and we did the most of this second chance that was given to us.
I took command of ‘the Spectres’ – who returned to being called ‘Spectrum’ again, and our mission became one for protecting the multiple settlements which were our neighbours from hordes of brigands and thieves running the countryside. Our numbers grew, and with that, we helped with the rebuilding of our cities – starting with Winchester, my old hometown, which had but barely survived the Mysterons’ onslaught. Out of gratitude, people wanted to call it ‘Metcalfetown’ but quite frankly, I wasn’t too keen on it. They settled to ‘New Winchester’, under my suggestion.
Morgan Jones proved himself to be as good a mechanics as his father and his aunt, as he was able to build, using three old cars, one single engine-running vehicle, at first working on petrol that we had retrieved from abandoned lorry tankers, and then powered by solar energy. It was to become the first of a new fleet of vehicles that Spectrum then used to journey the country in its mission.
Satellites, which had been dead for years, came back online, as suddenly as when they had ceased to work. There was no reason found as to why they were now operational again, but it was suggested that since that the Mysterons’ influence was gone, they simply resumed their functions. And with these satellites, fully working came the possibility for the various factions of the human race to contact each other again, and to organise themselves. With our first radio contacts, we reached France, then the United States, and then dozens of other countries were linked into a network that from that moment on, refused to shut down.
Of course, there were some discordant voices, but more or less, people agreed to work side by side into a more or less coherent unity, destined to rebuild and reclaim this planet that was ours, and had nearly been taken from us. In time, the actions of Spectrum set examples around the world, and soon, other groups joined in our efforts and our organisation, with its new mission to rebuilt the world, became larger.
It would certainly be a long time before Earth returned to what it used to be… but perhaps, it wasn’t entirely for the worst. There was nothing like a near-missed disaster to bring people together. I don’t mean to say that the Mysterons’ War of Nerves was a blessing in disguise; the price we had to pay was too great. But perhaps, in some manners, it helped us refocus on what was really important.
Aside from the ‘Spectres’ who were present within our community during the last days of the Mysterons – those same people who once threatened to throw me burn me on a pyre – the world at large doesn’t know I was the same Paul Metcalfe, Captain Scarlet, the famous Spectrum officer, who fought our alien foes those many years ago. They all think I am that man’s son, from the wife who died in the destruction of London, and who shared the same name, in honour of his father. I don’t correct their misconception, and nobody so far has come to the realisation that the age count was somewhat wrong. If it permits me to live a semblance of normalcy amongst them, it was far better that they would not know the truth about me.
If the Mysterons had not frozen me to the age of thirty-two, for nearly forty years, I would actually be ninety years old. As it was, I look considerably younger. I decided to start counting my age normally from the moment they gave me back my humanity. So, officially, I would reach fifty next week. For the occasion, I’ve decided I would take the name and title my people so often pleaded me to accept, and finally become Colonel White. I look more or less the part now. My hair is not all black anymore, and streaked with white patches, and lines are now marking my face. I have a short scar, under the right eye, which I gained a few years ago, during one of those numerous battles in which I forgot I wasn’t indestructible anymore. I love this scar. It matches my wife’s.
I had married Dianne Blue Svenson. It sometimes seems strange, to think that my second wife is named after the first, and that she is the daughter of the man who had been my best and most loyal friend in the world. I stopped calling her ‘D.B.’ when she told me that she hated that name, and only tolerated it because her adopted mother couldn’t call her ‘Dianne’ without thinking of her tragically deceased best friend. At first, I called her ‘Dee’, like most of her friends, but I don’t mind anymore calling her by her first name. I would call her ‘Blue’ on some occasions, but she threatened me to take out my eyes if I would dare to do it again. I simply reminded her that I wasn’t retrometabolic anymore, and that she wouldn’t like to look at me anymore if I missed an eye…
Her temper is so similar to mine, and we often clash over one argument or the other, especially when it comes to decide what best to do in the course of our mission in the world. We don’t always share the same points of view, but we often come to terms with our disagreements, finding a right middle ground. However we would always agree on one thing: our three kids were the single most important thing in the world, and we wanted to leave them a world, in which they would be able to live freely and safely.
Our eldest, Adam, whom we obviously named after his grandfather, is a strapping young man who just turned eighteen. He’s as tall as I am, with dark hair, blue eyes, an athlete who excels in many sports. Unfortunately he prefers American football to real football, which annoys me no end; I’m fairly convinced that his taste for this obnoxious game is his grandfather’s last revenge on me, for all those years when we kept arguing over the benefits and greatness of each of our favourite sports. Dianne says he looks a lot like me. I have to say I do see myself in him when I look at him. He wants to follow in our footsteps, join Spectrum and become an officer. Very often, he looks at me and jokes that he would like for me to give him my name, and become the next Captain Scarlet, when the time will come. He doesn’t catch the concern in my eyes when he mentions this, because he can’t see beyond the fame and glory that people recognised in this name. He doesn’t know what it also entails, all the suffering and pain that came with it. So I simply look away, trying not to remind myself that he was conceived shortly before I went to face the Mysterons, that I apprehend the fact that he could have inherited some part of my former retrometabolic powers, when I still had them – if ever such a thing is possible. I wouldn’t want for him to live through the hardship I lived, or to carry the world on his shoulders like I did, to feel like he has to do his duty, with little regard to his own life, so that his friends and others would live when he would likely be the one to die – and then return to life again.
I know my son. I know his character. If such a destiny is handed to him, I know he would accept it. Like I did myself, all these years ago. Fortunately, in all the past years, there was no sign that he might be, by any chance, what I had been. I thank God for that. And I hope this will stay this way.
I lost so much in the war… My home. My family. My friends. Men and women I was proud to call my brothers and sisters. The first woman I loved. My first child, who died with her… I lost all that was dear to me, and nearly lost my world as well. I had lost my humanity too, and even today, I wonder why the Mysterons gave it back to me – giving me back a chance at a new life. Was it on purpose? Was it another way to amend their ways, specifically towards me? Did I die again, and did they return me to life once more, at the same time granting me the wish I so longed for?
I often look up to the sky at night, searching for Mars up there, and when I find its position, I stare at it fixedly, pondering… Are the Mysterons really gone? They said they would be, and for eighteen years, we have not heard from them. Maybe they were dead – or destroyed, depending on whether you see them as living beings or artificial intelligence. Maybe ‘going to another plane of existence’ didn’t exactly mean ‘dying’ for them – how should I know exactly? And maybe they returned to their solitude on Mars, alone, with no one to be tempted to torture… wasting the time away, until they are no more.
And often too, I imagine that they are really gone, and that in their sacrifice to save a dying world, they might actually have gone further to atone their sins, and returned a dead planet to a live one as well. Maybe Mars, our neighbour, is able to sustain life again, and maybe its inhabitants, sharing intelligence similar to our own, are presently looking back to us, nodding in our direction, smiling in their own alien way…
Maybe I have all the reasons to dream it could be true.
But I wonder… when will come the time for Men to leave Earth to return to space… and given our past experiences, will we still dare to go back to Mars and salute our neighbours?
I hope we will.
But I probably won’t be there to watch it.
From the journal of Paul Metcalfe,
New Winchester, England, 2126
‘Apocalypse’ started out as my contribution to last year’s Halloween Challenge. But about halfway through, I realised that the story was much more complicated, and needed more time for me to work properly on it. So I put it aside for a while, to present a shorter tale. Never very far from my mind, bits and pieces of scenes came to my mind that, to my opinion, would go perfectly with the story, but I never truly returned to it, too busy was I with other projects.
Then came Halloween 2011 – the 10th year’s anniversary of the website and the 10th Edition of the Challenge. ‘Apocalypse’ wasn’t to be my offering this year – my heart was set on another story that I announced and was confident to be able to submit. Beside, I thought that considering the subject of the story, ‘Apocalypse’ would be more appropriated for the 2012 Halloween Challenge… I don’t think the Mayans are right, mind you, but it was too good an opportunity to pass on.
But my new story, ‘Endangered Species’, met with difficulties and yet again, I realised that the story would be better suit if I was to give it more time to work on it. So, my mind returned to ‘Apocalypse’ and I told myself ‘Why not this year?”
I worked hard to complete the story, who in my head had grown considerable beyond the near hundred of pages I had already written for it. ‘Apocalypse’, the given title of the last book of the Christian Bible, (which wasn’t even named by its author) doesn’t only mean the ‘End of Times’, as it is generally understood today, but textually means in Hellenistic Greek ‘ Revelation’, and indeed, there are many revelations in the story, as we explore the life of Captain Scarlet after Spectrum, the state of the world as it stands after forty years of an increasingly difficult war with the Mysterons… who, at long last, have decided, like the good Martians they were, to invade Planet Earth, to eventually destroy their mortal enemies. I chose the iconic number of 40 for its symbolism, notably in the Bible, but not restricted to it, as it is often associated to a period of chastisement, or trial, and represents the time needed to achieve a cycle, before an important change would occur to the world. Curiously enough, I learned very recently that 40 also symbolises ‘the death and the spiritual rebirth of oneself.’
I want to present my thanks to a number of people who have helped with achieving this story and presenting it (almost) in time. Hazel Köhler, who was the first to start beta-read this story last year, but who, due to circumstances outside of her control and despite her good intentions, was unable to pursue her marvellous work this year. Marion Woods, who did a spiffing job of taking the relay, especially in the last week, when she raced with me the last miles of tweaking and beta-reading, at a vertiginous rate. And at last, Scarlet Lady, who helped complete the beta-reading session, and addressed me one of the most flattering praises an author could wish for, for one scene I have sweat blood and tears over. All my thanks to you, ladies – you were truly wonderful to put up with me the way you did. I did it with your help!
And my last thanks and credit goes to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and the production team from “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons”. Many years ago, they gave us these characters and told them of their story on the small screen. Today, for the website’s 10th anniversary, I offer them one possible ending for that story. But it doesn’t mean I won’t write other possible endings in the future!
To the best of my knowledge, the rights to ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons’ ™ belong to Carlton Media.
Happy belated Halloween to everyone.
Chris Bishop, 2011
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