A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story
For 2006 Halloween Challenge
By Chris Bishop
Chapter 1 – Attack on Cloudbase
“Does everyone know the drill now? Right. Get ready to leave in two hours. Don’t be late, anyone… And thanks to all, for all your help.”
In the Conference Room, in the Underground Base, the people reunited around the table nodded their assent to Colonel Blue, and scattered with murmurs, each leaving to their own quarters or wherever they were needed to get ready for the upcoming operation.
The previous day, the Spectrum commander had returned from England, with Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Brown. Colonel White, who was supposed to stay behind in the first place, had joined them, as he had offered his help to Spectrum for the mission ahead, temporarily renouncing his retirement plans until the danger was safely behind them.
With the last details of the operation in hand, and the announcement that the Sea Turtles that had been sent to England to take delivery of the two shuttles he had purchased from Patrick Donaghue were arriving and would be entering the Cave soon, Colonel Blue had held a last meeting in the Conference Room, where all of the senior staff and the ‘volunteers’ that would participate in the mission ahead would be present. The meeting was now over, and as he watched everybody leave, Colonel Blue gathered the paper dispersed in front of him and closed his folder, heaving a deep sigh. Colonel White was still with him. The old man was determined to participate in this last mission, and as Blue had previously told him that he needed all the help he could get, there was nothing now he could say or do that would persuade White to actually stay behind. As Colonel Blue opened his mouth to make another attempt, White interrupted him swiftly:
“I will repeat myself, Colonel Blue: there is no reason for me not to go on this assignment. I’ll remind you that you yourself are going – even though you are currently Spectrum commander. Which would therefore mean that you should not be directly involved in the action.”
“This is something I have to do too,” Blue said. “But if something should happen to me, you might…”
“What, take over from you? Not a chance! I told you I was retiring, as soon as this is over. You won’t burden me with the charge of Spectrum command again, if you should get yourself killed. I am going back to England, after that. I will be buying myself a little cottage, with a view of the Channel, a rocking chair and a white cat. And if she’ll have me, I will try to convince Amanda that I’m still not too old to make a good husband.”
The image of Colonel White, rocking himself on the porch of an old cottage, stroking a purring cat sleeping contently on his lap, was a very amusing one to Blue’s mind’s eye. Almost despite himself, he smiled at the thought. “Of course, you have earned your rest, Colonel.”
“Start calling me Charles – since I might become your father-in-law. Of sorts.” White looked squarely at Blue. “Are you sure you want to come on this mission too? Spectrum will still need a commander, whether this mission is a success or not.”
Blue shrugged. “You know as well as I do, that, if we fail, it wouldn’t make a difference if I stay behind,” he remarked. “If the Mysterons succeed, all is lost. If we are able to stop them, but are not successful in stopping this war machine of the World Government… You heard Captain Green’s last report.”
White nodded. Just before the meeting had started, Green had come into the Conference Room with disturbing news: the radars that were following New Cloudbase’s movements had discovered that the hovering fortress had taken a new course: it was coming directly towards what was left of Futura City.
Right towards them.
“You think they have discovered your Underground Base at last?” White enquired. “After all these years?”
“Maybe – or maybe not. They could have picked up the debris that fell from the sky a few days ago – when Scarlet arrived in this time. Maybe they’re investigating that? But I’m not very hopeful that they might not find us eventually. This new Cloudbase is a craft of destruction. Spectrum Underground Base might be their target to try out their new Quantum weapon. And if that’s the case… I don’t know if the base will be able to withstand the attack, however deep it might be.” He looked around, assuring himself that no-one was listening. “I don’t want to take any chances, with all the people living down here. The Sea Turtles will take all personnel off the base and smuggle them into friendly refuges. Karen is supervising that operation. We might not need to do that, but I won’t risk entire families – wives and children – if this place becomes the target of Cloudbase II.”
“I hate calling this fortress ‘Cloudbase’,” White said with a grimace. “That sounds so wrong. Maybe we should give it another name… ‘Skybase’ or something…”
“That’s unfortunately the name the World Government gave to it,” Blue remarked.
“Nevertheless – I don’t find it proper at all, considering how they treated Spectrum – and that the original Cloudbase was Spectrum’s. Roberts certainly has a lot to answer for.” White paused. “Do you really think we have a chance, Colonel?”
“Yes. Maybe a slim one. But the odds are against us, I’m afraid. Everything comes down to knowing if the security code given to us by our contact will work or not. If it doesn’t… we’ll be blown out of the sky before we could even approach the base.”
“How reliable is your contact, anyway?”
“As reliable as could be,” Blue confirmed. “Do you remember Lieutenant Peach?”
“One of Spectrum’s duty helmsmen, way back when? He’s your contact?”
“Yeah – for years now.”
“And they don’t know he was in Spectrum years ago?”
“No – thanks to you, actually. When you destroyed those files containing our identities. Peach, under his real identity of Mark Tremayne, was able to use his extensive pre-Spectrum experience – and connections – to get himself a position of trust within the World Government Security Office. He’s been one of Rhapsody’s undercover agents there almost since the beginning. He’s been feeding us valuable information through her – especially these last few weeks, when we became aware of this new Cloudbase. Amongst that information were those security codes allowing for our safe passage – and landing on the base.”
“Sounds simple enough…”
“Of course,” Blue pursued, “there’s also the large possibility that it will all go wrong… considering we’ll be sailing in enemy waters. So to speak.”
“Nothing like a little pressure to get the blood pumping,” White deadpanned. “Of course, given the choice, I would prefer a nice, quiet game of chess. At my age, it would certainly be more reasonable.”
Blue smiled thinly. “Thank you for being with us on this – Charles. You don’t know how much I appreciate your help. It is very precious.”
“As you said yourself, we don’t have very much choice in the matter.” He patted Blue’s shoulder in a friendly fashion. “Go. I’ll take care of the rest of these papers. I’m sure you want to say goodbye to your family, and there isn’t much time left for you to do that. They will be waiting for you… Adam.”
With a nod, Colonel Blue turned around and left the conference room.
“Why can’t I go with you on this mission?”
Captain Black shook his head with some lassitude. The rebellious young man standing in front of him was hardly known to take ‘no’ for an answer, and Black knew, before he had come to talk to him, that it wouldn’t be easy, as Brown would have just learned of the decision not to include him in the operation.
“Because it’s the colonel’s orders,” Black said in answer to his question. “We need people of experience to go up there…”
“Bullshit!” Brown seethed between his teeth. “I’m a Spectrum officer, and I can command men in this mission. I’ve got about as much experience as any of you guys who are going.”
“That is not true, and you know it.” Black’s tone was incisive. “Chip… Steve… Those who are going all served on the original Cloudbase – the officers lived on her, and knew all about her and that kind of knowledge will be invaluable for this mission. You never set foot on a hovering carrier. You do not know how to move around on it. It could be disorienting, until you get the hang of it. We won’t have the luxury of giving you time to get used to it. We’ll have to move quickly, without anything or anyone there to hinder us.”
“So I would be a hindrance?” Brown said bitterly. “You know I learn fast…”
“Steve, you are a good officer – but you are still so very young and you still need to learn to come to terms with discipline and to learn to control your impulsiveness.” Black smiled thinly. “In a way, you remind me a lot of myself. And of other fine Spectrum officers I worked with.”
“You mean like Captain Scarlet?”
“Yes… and like your father.” Black squeezed the young man’s shoulder. “I know I already told you this but… I’m still very sorry for what happened to your father. He was a good man – a good friend. And I still feel guilty over what I…”
“Stop it.” Brown put his own hand on Black’s shoulder, and squeezed it. “What you did on Mars was a mistake, and I forgave you a long time ago for that. You know that. And you more than make up for his absence, you know. If Karen has been like a mom to me – you, Conrad, have been the father I never knew.”
“Kid… I want you to take care of yourself.” Black’s voice was threatening to break. “And if anything should happen to me – and to the rest of us during this mission – promise me: you will help Karen take care of all these people… and carry on the good fight.”
He took the young man into his arms and squeezed him tight, trying to keep him from seeing the tears brimming in his eyes. He heard the muffled answer in his ear.
“I promise… that I will keep on fighting until my very last breath… Father.”
Captain Black closed his eyes, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.
“Well, I’ll be… what are you doing here?”
In the Cave, Captain Scarlet was standing on the pier, as the technicians were making final checks on the two shuttlecraft that were sitting on the deck of Sea Turtle One. They were checking and tightening the clamps that held the craft securely fixed on deck, making sure that they had not come loose during the long trip, at supersonic speed, back from England, where they had been picked up early that morning. Standing right next to one of the shuttles was Patrick Donaghue, a large smile spread on his face.
“I decided to come along, to check on my investment.” He made his way across the deck, ducking under one of the craft’s wings, and jumped onto the pier, to stand in front of Scarlet. “Since he is supposed to pay me after the operation, someone should tag along to make sure our little billionaire boy doesn’t get himself killed during the operation.”
Scarlet raised a brow. “You knew all along that he would come with us,” he remarked. “We just heard during the briefing.”
“Well, he mentioned, during our last ‘tête-à-tête’, that he might go himself. He considered that, at this point, it’s all or nothing. Brad – excuse me – Captain Grey – confirmed it to me.” He pointed to the man behind them, who was keeping busy shouting orders to the crew on deck on Sea Turtle One. “Captain Argent contacted him first time when I boarded the ship – to tell him that I wanted to come over. We talked for a little while. He told me he was going too.”
“Yes. It’ll be Grey, Green, Black, Blue, Colonel White and myself. We’ll be commanding a handful of soldiers who were part of Cloudbase’s crew, years ago.”
Donaghue offered a smile. “A gathering of the old guard, then? A last hurrah, so to speak? If you’ll have me, I’ll be happy to tag along.”
“We can use the expertise,” a voice then said.
Captain Black appeared next to Scarlet, having approached quietly from behind. He had heard everything that Donaghue had said. The latter tensed upon seeing him – a natural reaction, since Magenta had passed most of his time as a Spectrum officer considering Black as an enemy. But he quickly remembered that Black was free of the Mysterons’ influence, and had rejoined Spectrum, fighting the good fight again ever since.
“Green is our computer expert,” Black said with a nod. “But we can always use another one. Unless… you plan to ‘scavenge’ this base in search of new goodies to sell to the highest bidder?”
There was humour in Black’s tone, and Donaghue chuckled. “Well… I wouldn’t let a good opportunity pass.”
“You’re in… Captain Magenta,” Black said, offering his hand that Donaghue shook willingly. “Colonel Blue had a uniform prepared for you. It’s waiting onboard with your equipment.”
“So… the sneaky devil knew I would come, then?” Donaghue said with barely registered surprise.
“He suspected. He knew you would want to… ‘check your interests’. Why do you think he told you he was going, anyway?” Black vigorously thumped Donaghue’s shoulder. “Go back onboard and change. I’ll tell the colonel you’ve arrived. And we’ll make sure to brief you properly before the operation.”
“You haven’t changed that much, Black. Always barking orders, like when you trained us.”
“Be happy that I don’t put you back in training,” Black smiled with good humour. “You would need it too – it seems you put on a little weight. Now, pronto. Get back onboard and into that uniform, Captain Magenta.”
“S.I.G., Captain Black.” With that, Donaghue gave him a smart salute, turned around and strode back to the deck of the Sea Turtle, where he met with Captain Grey.
“He might not admit it, but he’s a good man,” Black said, looking in Magenta’s direction.
Scarlet nodded. “So, what’s left of the senior staff are going to make an assault on this new Cloudbase,” he commented. “Except for our last two Angels, that is.”
Black nodded. “And for Ochre,” he muttered, as he turned around with Scarlet.
They both looked towards the large hatched door, some metres away from them, where Colonel Blue now stood, holding Symphony in a loving embrace. Just beside their mother, the two young Svenson children were looking up at their father with sad expressions on their faces. They both smothered him with affectionate hugs when he leaned down to embrace them in turn. Scarlet felt his throat tightening at the scene.
“I swear,” he muttered, “I will do everything in my power to bring him back alive to his family.”
“And I,” Black added by his side. “I’m envious of him, Paul. He has a loving wife, beautiful children… Something I couldn’t hope to have – not after what the Mysterons did to me.”
“Why couldn’t you have it?” Scarlet asked with surprise.
Black hesitated. “I felt I didn’t deserve it. It’s part of my punishment. I have too much to atone for.”
“You took Chip under your wing – is that also part of your atonement?”
Black lowered his head. “Yes… and no. I felt guilty for what happened to Chip’s father.”
“I do too.”
“No – it’s not the same. For you, it’s survivor’s guilt. For me…” Black let the rest hang.
“I was driving,” Scarlet pointed out.
Black sighed. “It doesn’t matter who was driving, Paul. The Mysterons had their sights on you both, and there was nothing you could have done to avoid the… ‘accident’. Because it wasn’t an accident, you know. It was orchestrated all along by the Mysterons.”
“I know,” Scarlet said in a low voice. “It doesn’t make anything less acceptable.”
“Taking care of Chip turned out to be a blessing, after all,” Black continued. “Oh, he still has some issues – he still has to work on his social skills and on his anger management. But I’m proud of the kid. I couldn’t be more proud if he were my own son.”
“Where is he?” Scarlet asked. “I thought he would have come to say his goodbyes.”
“We already did that, in private. Chip is not a demonstrative boy. He doesn’t like to show his emotions in public.” Black shrugged. “He wanted to come with us, I had to explain to him he couldn’t. He’s probably somewhere, keeping busy, trying to come to terms with that fact.” He pointed to Symphony. “He’s gonna help Symphony organise the Underground Base’s evacuation.”
At this point, Blue had finished his goodbyes to his family and was now leaving them – rather reluctantly, as he kept turning around to wave goodbyes at them; they were waving back – the children a little wildly, and Symphony more timidly. All of her emotions were reflected in her eyes, which didn’t leave her husband, as he walked away from them.
Blue stood next to Scarlet and Black and looked at his family one last time, with sadness in his eyes, as they turned away to leave the Cave.
“Is everything all right?” Scarlet asked his friend.
He nodded. “Karen would have liked to come,” he said. “But she knows her duty is now to her kids, and to the rest of the people here. She has the evacuation to think about. She’s in charge now.”
“She’ll do fine,” Scarlet reflected.
“I know. I really can rely on her to do a good job. I’m lucky to have her. Both as a wife – and as a member of this organisation.”
“You have a wonderful family, Adam.”
“There is still a chance for you and Dianne,” Blue reflected, turning to Scarlet. “When this is all over, you can settle down with her, and have kids of your own, who knows?”
“The colonel is right,” Black said, squeezing Scarlet’s shoulder. “It’s not too late for both of you.”
“One can only hope,” Scarlet said with a thin smile. “If we survive this mission. Dianne wanted to come along too, you know.”
“She’s safer where she is. Until you come back to her.”
“That’s what I told her.”
Through the door, the two last members of their team walked into the Cave, both carrying their equipment in rucksacks. Colonel White had trimmed his beard so it covered only his chin and cheeks, and his hair was cut short. He was accompanied by Captain Green and both were talking, as they approached the three men still standing on the pier. They stopped in front of Blue, and Green handed a datapad to his commander, who took it and checked the information it contained.
“This is the latest location of the hovering fortress,” Green explained. “It’s about five hours north from our present location. At the rate it is travelling, that is. At top speed, we should reach it in about an hour.”
“All right,” Blue answered. “All set to go, then?”
“Ready to follow your orders… Colonel,” White answered with a sly smile. “That’ll make a change…”
“Then let’s go,” Blue said in a commanding tone. “This is a military base, not a vacation resort. Move it, people!”
Scarlet rolled his eyes as they walked towards the awaiting Sea Turtle. “Some things never change…” he muttered. “Not even after fifteen years…”
Once it left the Cave, the Sea Turtle used its onboard modified radar to follow the route of the World Government’s hovering fortress – ‘Cloudbase II’, as it was called – and set a course in its direction. The trip lasted about an hour, as Green had estimated, and then the ultra-fast submersible carrier broke surface, in the middle of the Atlantic. It was a dark night and it was raining heavily, which made a perfect cover for the operation. The shell slid open to reveal the deck which was already slowly rising to snap into place. The engines of the two WAAF shuttles were powered up and then, when they had reached the necessary power level, the clamps securing the two shuttles firmly on deck snapped open, releasing the two aircraft, which immediately took to the air.
Steadily, both craft gained altitude, following the indication of their radar screens; the red dot bleeping nearly dead centre, at 40,000 feet above the surface, was their ultimate destination; it was moving gradually in a south-westerly direction – towards Futura City, and possibly Spectrum Underground Base.
In the first shuttle, Colonel Blue was piloting, with Scarlet seated by his side as co-pilot. With them were Colonel White and Patrick Donaghue – who was now wearing the uniform given to him by Grey onboard the Sea Turtle, and in which he was feeling a little uncomfortable, fiddling with the collar as if it was choking the life out of him. In the back of the cabin, four Spectrum commandos were waiting patiently.
The rest of the expeditionary team was in the other shuttle: Captain Black, Captain Grey and Captain Green and four other commandos. Black was piloting, keeping some distance behind the first shuttle.
A pocket of air shook them bumpily, and Blue adjusted the instruments, to compensate. The red dot on the screen was growing closer.
“I wish I could see something,” Scarlet muttered, narrowing his eyes in an attempt to see through the windshield of the cockpit. “This rain is much too heavy for my taste…”
“We’ll reach target in fifteen minutes,” Blue announced. “We’re already on their radar screens.”
“Somehow, knowing that doesn’t reassure me,” Donaghue muttered. “For all we know, they might be aiming at us as we speak. And plan to use us as target practice.”
“We couldn’t very well use stealth capacity – even if this shuttle was equipped with one,” Blue remarked. “That would really be suspicious. Are you having second thoughts, Pat?”
“It’s way too late for that, isn’t it?” Donaghue replied. “Just… fly casually, ‘Chewbacca’, so you don’t raise anyone’s suspicions.”
“I’ll do my best,” Blue said. “Relax, Pat… You worry too much.”
“Call me ‘Magenta’, while I’m in this outfit,” Donaghue replied. “Captain Magenta, if it pleases the Colonel for me to regain my Spectrum rank and identity for the duration of this mission. I do not want word to spread that Patrick Donaghue had taken part in folly. It would not be good for my image as a serious businessman…”
“Of course… Captain,” Blue said with a wry smile.
“I have to admit I share some of… Captain Magenta’s concern,” Colonel White then added behind Blue. “Are you sure we will be able to land on this base without any trouble?”
The speakers suddenly came alive, as a male voice was heard addressing them: “Cloudbase II to approaching WAAF Shuttles. You are entering our airspace. Please identify yourselves.”
“We’ll know in a minute,” Blue said between his teeth, answering White’s question.
He nodded to Scarlet, and the latter reached for the mic, and flipped a lever, in order to answer as he had been instructed to: “Cloudbase II,” he said, ignoring White’s snort of disgust at the name behind him, “This is WAAF Shuttles 136 and 138 from Bermuda, Hamilton International Airport. Transport of reserve troops for active duty on Cloudbase II. Request permission to approach and land…”
“Security identification, Shuttle 136…”
Scarlet told them the long and complicated code Blue had given him earlier. The man obviously took note of it, as silence followed. The silence grew longer, as they waited for the answer.
“WAAF Shuttles 136 and 138 from Bermuda, Hamilton International Airport…” the voice broke off, and they looked at each other, with baited breath. “You are authorised to make your approach and land on Cloudbase II.” There was an almost shocked silence inside the shuttle at these words. No-one dared move or say anything, barely believing it was working – they didn’t want to break the charm. “Please continue on your present course. You’ll be landing on the main deck’s runway.”
“Loud and clear, Cloudbase II. Shuttle 136 out.” Scarlet quickly closed the channel, and only then did everyone blow out a deep sigh of relief. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the same was happening on Black’s craft as well.
“I’ll be damned,” White muttered. “It worked.”
“That code your contact gave us was really handy,” Scarlet said, addressing Blue.
“It’s the same code used by all shuttles to board the base this week,” Blue explained. “They change it regularly, but our contact made sure to keep updated on them.”
“So, officially, these shuttles are transporting new troops for duty on base?” Magenta said. “So if they scan the shuttles and discover they’re loaded with people, they won’t be suspicious. That’s actually clever.”
“Or too easy,” grumbled White. “Are you sure it’s not a trap?”
“Peach told us that the base is presently manned by a skeleton crew, so we shouldn’t be bothered when we disembark. He’ll meet us in the hangar bay.”
“And you have complete faith in him?” Scarlet asked in turn.
“He’s never failed us before, and I don’t see him failing us now. Trust him, as you would trust me.”
“Me, I trust no-one,” Magenta said gloomily. “But here I am, putting my life entirely in your hands…”
“Relax, everyone. We’ll make it to the base in one piece.”
“The question will be if we will leave in one piece,” White remarked.
“I see something,” Scarlet then announced. He was looking straight ahead through the cockpit windshield. He pointed toward a large shadow, dotted with lights, that grew increasingly larger as they approached. “See that?”
“Yes,” Blue answered. “I see it. It must be Cloudbase II.” He flicked a button on his console, opening a scrambled frequency, already agreed on before they left the Sea Turtle. “Shuttle 136 to Shuttle 138 – do you copy, Conrad?”
“Loud and clear,” the voice of Captain Black answered through the speakers.
“Do you see the base, right in front of us?”
“Indeed. We’re right behind you, Shuttle 136, so we can’t miss it.”
That was at that moment that Scarlet felt it. A sudden dizziness that hit him right between the eyes, drilling into his skull, and he shivered violently. He groaned with pain, and Blue, hearing him, turned his eyes in his direction; he saw that Scarlet had suddenly become pale, with his face showered with sweat. He was shaking his head, to clear his mind of the sudden illness that had overtaken him.
“Are you all right?” Blue asked with a concerned frown.
“Just… feeling dizzy,” Scarlet muttered. “I’m still… probably not completely well… after that jump through time. I’ll be okay in a second…”
“Well, if you can’t fly, maybe you’d better give your place to Magenta. He…”
“I’ll be okay,” Scarlet repeated insistently. He was still very pale, but did seem better than a second earlier. “We are approaching the base, Colonel.”
“It’s… huge…” the voice of Captain Black said through the speakers. “Maybe bigger than Cloudbase was in its time…”
Colonel White, who had leaned over Blue’s shoulder to look ahead through the windshield, suddenly went rigid, and his face became hard, displaying an expression of shocked and cold anger. “I would say it’s exactly the same size,” he said icily.
“What?” Colonel Blue said, glancing briefly at him. “How can you te…” He stopped in the middle of his sentence, as he turned back to look at the approaching hovering base. And suddenly, he understood what White meant – as he gawped with the same total astonishment as Scarlet and Magenta, at the sight finally revealing itself to their eyes. Behind him, he heard the surprised murmurs from his commandos, and through the radio, the gasp coming from Captain Black himself.
“Sweet mother of God… Tell me it isn’t so…”
“It can’t be possible,” Scarlet said, his eyes riveted on the vision. “It couldn’t be…”
“It is,” White growled between his teeth. “God damn them. God damn them all. They wanted her so much… They made sure they would have her…”
He couldn’t keep the anger from his voice – he felt defiled, betrayed, just thinking that they had succeeded in the aim he had sacrificed so many years of his life just to make sure they would not achieve.
Cloudbase – his Cloudbase – was there, right in front of his eyes, her lights flickering and glimmering even more intensely against the hard-falling rain, imposing in her powerful presence in those dark, threatening skies. Hovering like a ghost, as he remembered it, in his most vivid memories.
“They have rebuilt Cloudbase?” an incredulous Magenta said, almost in a whisper. “From scratch?”
“Rebuilt it, my foot!” Colonel White exploded. “Don’t you see what’s happened, man? It IS Cloudbase – down to the last detail! Look at her!”
“Are you suggesting…?” Blue stared with wonder at the base, as they were continuing their approach. “It’s a Mysteron reconstruct?”
“I would bet what’s left of my life on it!” White said between his teeth. “And if you want any more proof, look at Scarlet!” Blue turned again towards his friend, seated by his side, his eyes set on the hovering base, entranced by the vision. His brow was still covered with sweat, his face so very pale. “You feel it, don’t you?” White asked, leaning across to his young compatriot. “That nausea you feel – it’s your sixth sense, isn’t it? You feel this base is a Mysteron reconstruction?”
Scarlet shivered. “I… don’t know if it’s a reconstruction,” he murmured. “But I do sense there is danger from it. Danger from the Mysterons…”
“I sense it too,” the voice of Black then confirmed. “They are nearby… Their presence… Inside this base… They will strike soon…”
“Hell!” Magenta cursed. “You don’t suppose now would be the time to abort this mission, Colonel Blue? If this base is a reconstruction…”
“Where would you go, Magenta?” Blue snapped at him. “How can you run to escape from Armageddon?” He turned a harsh stare to ‘Cloudbase’, now straight ahead. “If both Scarlet and Black can sense the Mysterons’ presence, then we were right in our assumption of their plans… They will use ‘Cloudbase’ and the Quantum energy within it to destroy Earth. Once and for all. So that doesn’t change anything in our operation.”
“I don’t get it,” Scarlet said, shaking his head. “How could the World Government be in possession of a replicate of Cloudbase – which can only have been made by the Mysterons? That doesn’t make any sense! Doesn’t the World Government want to destroy them, according to your spies?”
“I don’t have all the answers,” Blue muttered. “But I suspect we might find them onboard. So I suggest we continue with the mission. We don’t have any choice now, anyway. Anyone disagree with this?” There was no answer from the group of men surrounding him. He nodded grimly. “I didn’t think you would. Let’s go.”
He pushed the helm, to direct the craft towards the main runway of Cloudbase as instructed earlier – closely followed by the other shuttle.
By the time they landed on the main deck of Cloudbase, Scarlet was already feeling better, the disagreeable sensation of nausea having gone, but it had left him with an uncomfortable sense of edginess that he felt was transmittable to his team-mates. They all sat in complete silence in the shuttle’s cockpit and cabin, as Colonel Blue, following the instruction given by the base air controller, shut down the engines after bringing the craft down. Through the rear portholes, they watched as Shuttle 138 also landed, a little behind them.
As soon as the engines of the other shuttle were also turned off, they heard the clanking sound announcing that the lift underneath them had been engaged and they felt the slow motion as they were brought down to the hangar below. For all of them, it brought back fond memories of years ago, when they had this kind of experience on a regular basis, during their tour on duty onboard Cloudbase. For Scarlet, it was still as if it were yesterday.
“Yesterday’s gone, never to return,” he muttered under his breath, nostalgia pervading his voice. He caught sight of Blue, as the latter turned to look straight at him. “Sorry. I suppose I didn’t expect to come back here… after all that had happened.”
“Don’t apologise,” Blue answered. “I was thinking along about the same lines. In fact, I’m sure everyone is…”
There was no remark from the others to confirm or deny that affirmation.
The lift lowered to the hangar floor and above, they could see the hatch on the ceiling slowly sliding to cover the opening. It snapped closed with an echoing, ominous sound that made them shiver. Now they were on the enemy’s territory, with no turning back.
“Now what?” Magenta asked. He spoke in barely a murmur, as if he were afraid to be heard from the exterior.
A voice then made itself heard from the hangar speakers – distorted by the echo of the vast room: “Hangar Control to Shuttles 136 and 138. This is Agent 24. Wait for pressure to be restored inside the hangar before disembarking. Watch the indicator over the door. When it turns green, it will be safe for you to come out. I’ll be waiting for you by the hangar door.”
“Agent 24?” Scarlet asked, turning a questioning glance towards Blue.
“That’s our man, Peach,” Blue confirmed. He removed his safety belt, and everyone onboard did so too. “Arm yourselves,” he ordered, as he turned towards the cabin. “Keep on your toes, men, and be vigilant. Remember we are on enemy territory. Anything might happen.”
“S.I.G.,” was the combined answer from the men in front of him.
“Green light,” Scarlet announced. Through the windshield, he had been keeping an eye on the indicator over the hangar door. “Ready to disembark.”
“Let’s get out, then.”
Magenta, who was closest to the door, pushed the button to open it. The hatch opened with a hissing sound and everyone stepped out of the shuttle, one after the other.
Scarlet was the last to jump to the floor, just behind Blue; right next to their group, those who had travelled with Captain Black were also leaving their own shuttle, and they joined them. Black, Green and Grey came to stand in front of Blue.
“Everyone ready?” the latter asked.
“As ready as we’ll ever be.” Black glanced over his shoulder at the group of men behind. In all, counting those who had formed the senior staff of Cloudbase years before, there were fifteen men. It didn’t seem like much of a contingent, but they were all volunteers, ready to do whatever they had to, to stop the Mysterons once more.
Blue nodded and then moved towards the door leading out of the hangar, Scarlet, Black and Magenta with him, Green, White and Grey right behind, and the rest of the men followed, checking around to make sure they would not be surprised by any unsuspected attack. Blue gave his instructions, as they were moving along:
“Willis, Berryman, you stay behind and guard the shuttles. The others, you’re with us. You know what to do. As soon as we leave the hangar, fan out. You’ll have thirty minutes to cover the whole of Cloudbase and install the charges the way we discussed. You know this place, you should have no trouble finding the strategic places that will blow it completely out of the sky. Colonel White, Captain Scarlet, you come with me to wherever the Quantum technology is kept. Peach will guide us to it.”
As he reached the hatch, Blue tensed. Gun at the ready – just in case – and with the others doing just the same – he pressed the button, ready to meet the former Lieutenant Peach whom he fully expected was waiting for them on the other side.
The door slid open.
And Blue was the first to stare in astonished surprise into the face of WGPC Supreme Commander Richard Fraser, standing in the doorway.
Chapter 2 – Confrontations
Captain Magenta was the first one to react. Coming out of the general surprise that had taken everyone – including the man standing in front of them, gaping with wide eyes – and realising instantly that Fraser was all alone, Magenta sprang forward, with a low growl of anger, and caught the man by the front of his shirt, to drag him forcefully into the hangar. Blue swiftly pushed the button to close the hatch, just as Magenta was brutally shoving their former colleague against the wall.
“I knew it!” seethed Magenta, holding the obviously astonished Fraser still and looking straight into his face. “I knew it all along! It’s a trap!”
“P-Pat,” Fraser stammered, his face pale and looking with an incredulous expression into the face of the man who had been his best friend. “I… I didn’t know you would be here…” He blinked his eyes, looking over Magenta’s shoulder, and straight into Scarlet and White’s accusing glares. “And… Paul… and the colonel? You’re both alive? I can’t believe…”
“Stop this!” Magenta slammed him furiously against the wall. Fraser’s head bounced back against the hard surface. He winced at the impact, as Magenta moved on: “You trapped us, Fraser! You set us up!”
“I didn’t! Please, listen to me… I can explain…”
“So you can keep us busy until your men come to take us?” Scarlet accused.
“No… no-one knows you’re here, except me. Paul… How did you survive that bl…”
“You say you didn’t alert anyone to our presence?” Blue asked with a frown, interrupting Fraser.
“No – why would I?”
“For the same reason you betrayed me, years ago?” Magenta suggested with a growl.
“I never betrayed you, Pat.”
“You left me to ROT in Hell!”
“You know I would have helped you if I could… But I couldn’t. I didn’t even know where they were keeping you!”
“Pat,” Fraser pleaded in an almost desperate voice, “all of you, listen to me, please…”
“So you can tell us more lies?” Magenta accused, his tone becoming more threatening. “No, you’ve done enough, Fraser. So help me God, I’ll bash your head to a pulp before you…”
“Enough!” Blue interrupted, putting a hand on Magenta’s shoulder, in an attempt to calm his righteous anger. Magenta shut up, but he was still holding Fraser tightly, keeping him still against the wall, glaring ominously at him. Blue turned to Fraser and addressed him abruptly: “Where’s our contact?”
“I am your contact,” Fraser answered, looking him straight in the eyes.
“You most certainly are not,” Blue replied.
“I am, it’s true. Your man, Mark Tremayne… the former Lieutenant Peach? He was found out weeks ago and killed.”
“You killed him?” Colonel White asked.
“Of course not! But I was there when they caught him. They… they interrogated him. Ward and his cronies – under Roberts’s orders. I couldn’t help him… Like I couldn’t help you, Pat. When he died, I took over from him. The information had to get through to Spectrum, and I was the only man able to do that effectively.”
“You suddenly decided to do that?” Scarlet said doubtfully. “Out of guilt, perhaps?”
“I didn’t suddenly decide anything!” Fraser protested, incensed by the accusation. “Believe it or not, I have been doing this for a long time. Who do you think provided Peach with all this information in the first place? Santa Claus?”
“It was you?” Blue inquired, obviously doubtful.
“Of course, it was me! Who do you think?”
“I don’t believe you!” Magenta said between his teeth, his fists holding Fraser’s shirt even more tightly. “Why should we believe a single word you say? This is all a trap, and you are trying to delay us, Fraser – you are no more than a traitor… You’re in league with Roberts!”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, will you let go of me?” Angrily, Fraser pushed Magenta away from him, and was almost surprised when the Irishman let him go. Breathing hard, Fraser straightened his clothes, looking at each man surrounding him, glaring at him with accusation – and even murder – in their eyes.
“I am not in league with Roberts,” he said emphatically. “I never was and never will be.”
“You are Supreme Commander of the WGPC,” Blue remarked pointedly.
Fraser sighed deeply. “I only accepted this position as Supreme Commander to be in a position of power –and to be close to Roberts, and keep my eye on him. At the time, Spectrum couldn’t do anything against him and was being driven underground. I knew he was spreading lies about the organisation – I knew he was behind many ‘suspicious deaths’, some of them even ascribed to Spectrum. I had to find proof against him – irrefutable proof that it was all his doing.”
“You decided to do that without telling anyone?” Magenta asked sceptically.
“Who else would have I told? You, Pat? Or you, Adam? Or anyone else? I couldn’t tell anyone. First, I knew that you, or anyone else, would have tried to stop me from doing it. Second – well, once you knew, your reaction toward me would have been different. Your resentment over my ‘changing sides’ would not have been so apparent. That would have blown my cover.”
“Go on,” Blue demanded, unwilling to believe it all as yet, but unable to find arguments against Fraser’s explanations.
Fraser grunted and shook his head. “As the years passed, and I was unable to find the proof I was looking for, and things went from bad to worse – I kept getting deeper and deeper into that role I had given myself. I lost myself in it… to the point where I discovered I was now in so deep, that I knew I would never be able to do anything by myself. I couldn’t trust anyone… None of my staff… None of the men under my command.” He looked straight at Blue. “I was unable to tell which one was friend – or foe. For all I knew, Roberts had them all in his pocket and spying on my every move.”
“So then what?” Blue asked.
“I… knew about Tremayne – Peach. I met him quite by chance, and although he had changed over the years, I recognised him. It wasn’t difficult for me to find out he was spying on the World Government on Spectrum’s behalf, no matter how good he was at covering his tracks – don’t forget I’m rather a good detective. So I fed him with information that I knew would be useful to you. At first, Peach didn’t know it was all coming from me – I wasn’t that keen to contact him directly, so I acted discreetly, so he would think that he came by the information by chance. But that wasn’t the case; I always arranged things for him to ‘find’ it. When I eventually revealed myself to him, he wasn’t sure if he could trust me at first – like yourself. But he finally did. And then, not long after that, he got caught.”
“You would have us believe that?” Scarlet asked suspiciously.
“I know how it sounds, but it’s the truth, I swear! Do you really believe I would sell my soul to the Devil, like it seemed I had done for all those years?”
“I don’t know, Rick,” Scarlet answered. “I find things are pretty different from what they were, years ago.”
“I even know about Dianne,” Fraser said in a low voice. That seemed to arouse Scarlet’s interest, and the latter glared dangerously at him, but Fraser turned to address Blue. “I know she’s been spying on me for Spectrum. And I’ve also been feeding her with information.”
“You knew?” Scarlet said icily. There was something like disgust mixed with anger in his voice. If Rick Fraser indeed knew, what kind of sick game was he playing with Dianne, then? Did he keep her in the dark for the sole purpose of continuing to sleep with her?
As if he understood the mute accusation in Scarlet’s cold stare, Fraser lowered his eyes slightly, in an attitude of shamed regret. “Paul, I swear to you, if I had known you were alive, I…”
“Never mind that,” Magenta interrupted him. “Do you really imagine that, with that revelation, we will leave you alive to tell all your friends about her? How do we know you haven’t told them already?”
“I haven’t said anything about her,” Fraser protested. “I could never hurt her. And I haven’t said anything about all of you either. Nobody knows you’re here, I tell you – only me. And I helped you get onboard.”
“How can we believe you?” Magenta asked again. “How can I believe you? After the way you abandoned me to your new friends’ attention? You were my friend, Rick…” There was a hurt note in Magenta’s voice now, and that made Fraser wince, almost despite himself.
“Pat – I never would have abandoned you willingly – you know that. I fully intended to get you loose, as I had promised you. Even if I had to break you free all by myself, by my own means. I had everything prepared – it was just a matter of days. But then, you got transferred… And I didn’t even know where! They kept it a secret even from me, because they knew we were friends, and they probably suspected I wanted to help you. I tried to find you… But they left no clues to where they had taken you.”
“I was in Hell, Rick.”
“I know… At least, I suspected as much. The last thing I heard about you was that you had escaped – somehow. And then you set up your new business… That’s all I know, I swear. I wish I had been able to help you sooner…”
“What about now?” Blue asked suddenly.
“Now – all I want is to stop this madness. And I know I would never be able to do it all alone. Look around you.” Fraser waved wildly. “Don’t you all see? This new base for the World Government… it’s Cloudbase reconstructed by the power of the Mysterons. When I first saw it weeks ago, I nearly flipped. I couldn’t believe it… It couldn’t be! But as I visited the place – with Roberts and Ward who gave us the grand tour – I became increasingly ill-at-ease. At every turn, it was Cloudbase, just as I remembered it. No-one could’ve reproduced it in such minute detail… But, just to make sure – just to dispel the last doubts in my mind – I visited the location of what should have been my former quarters, fourteen years ago. Do you know what I found?” There was a shiver in Fraser’s voice, as he spoke again: “All my models. They were all there. Reconstructed, like the rest of the base. Down-to-the-last-detail. It scared the living daylights out of me. I ran out of those quarters. I ran like hell, until my heart stopped beating so hard…” He looked desperately around him. “I did some research, and discovered that, contrary to my earlier beliefs, and what Roberts claimed, the World Government had possessed this base for years, but had kept it secret – even from me. Ward knew, of course. So I figured that it must have been reconstructed on the day it crashed, fourteen years ago, and somehow the World Government recovered it. Cloudbase was my home for many years… I couldn’t bear the thought of what they did to my home.”
“And I was the master of this home,” growled Colonel White. He took a step forward, and stood in front of Fraser, to put a hand on the drooping shoulder of the man. He stared at him, straight in the eye. “I believe you. I know what you say is the truth, because I know you, and the man you are. You could not have changed that much over the years.”
“You played a dangerous game, Captain Ochre. You let yourself go too deep undercover. How in Heaven did you think you would be able to handle this all alone, without any risk to yourself? Why didn’t you trust anyone with this? Did you somehow have some suspicion that what Roberts was saying about Spectrum – me – any of us – might have had some truth in it?”
“It was all so carefully planned,” Fraser murmured. “Those accusations… those so-called proofs… I…” he sighed. “Colonel White… I don’t know what to say. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Yes, of course,” White said with a brief nod. “Your intentions were good.”
“You believe me then?”
“Yes. What you say is true to yourself – and does confirm our suspicions of this base.”
“Yes, it confirms it,” Blue said. “But how did the World Government come to be in possession of a retrometabolised Cloudbase?”
“Well, like Ochre said, maybe they salvaged it, after the Mysterons had abandoned it – after whatever threat they intended to use it for in the past?” White growled with irritation.
“The way Spectrum salvaged me after the Car-Vu mission?” Scarlet suggested. There was doubt in his tone.
“I think we would have known,” Blue retorted. “Although there was a period, in the beginning, as we settled down in our new base of operations, when it’s possible that we might have missed something… But I think it’s unlikely. We somehow always managed to know of the Mysterons’ threats… one way or the other. Captain Black, you still had contact with them. Would you have known about this?”
“I… I’m not sure…” Black murmured. “It’s a possibility, but…” He shook his head, grunting. “It was fourteen years ago. I was still under their control. I should remember them taking Cloudbase over for whatever reason – but I don’t remember.”
“Don’t I know the feeling,” Scarlet said grimly. “Could they have kept that away from you?”
“If so, why?” asked Black. “I don’t like this… I don’t like the feeling I’m getting from this.”
“Well, whatever: Commander Fraser is right,” White then said. “We have to put an end to this madness.”
“Agreed,” Blue muttered. “More than ever, I’m convinced that we must blow this place from the sky… Because it’s obvious now that the Mysterons will use it to destroy Earth.”
“Yes… That, they will certainly do.” Fraser murmured. “And they have the means to do it.”
“We know about the work on Quantum energy,” Blue said.
“Of course,” Fraser said with a faint smile. “I arranged for that information to reach you, like the rest.”
“…And we also know that the World Government intends to use it as a weapon of destruction,” Blue continued, and Fraser nodded his confirmation. “But from what we were able to gather from our scientists, they would need proper technology to correctly control it. Technology that they might not have, or do they?”
Fraser shook his head. “Actually, there’s more you should know. As I told you – Cloudbase has been replicated down to the last detail. That includes everything that was onboard when it was destroyed years ago. Everything. Including what was stored down in the R&D Department, for safe keeping…”
White shivered, suddenly understanding. “My God… The Quantum Transmitter?!”
“Fully functional,” Fraser agreed with a nod. “And with it – they can indeed control the Q Energy – and use it to its fullest power and capacity.” He sighed, looking at the men facing him with some nervousness. “They attached the whole device to the reactor, in the engine room,” he explained. “The Quantum energy containment field, the Q Transmitter, the whole thing…”
“To the nuclear reactor?” Black mused with surprise. “Why?”
“I don’t know why exactly – I’m just telling you what I know – and what I saw. One thing for certain – I sure don’t like the looks of it.”
Wait,” Scarlet said suddenly. “They do want to use the Quantum energy as a weapon, isn’t that right?”
“Yeah – that’s what’s been said… If our information is exact,” Blue said, glancing at Fraser.
“I can assure you it is,” the latter confirmed.
Scarlet blanched suddenly. He turned to White. “You were right about the Mysterons and ‘poetic justice’,” he said quickly. “This is Goliath, all over again… They intend to use Cloudbase like they used Goliath II!”
“The World Government?” Blue said with a frown. “But…”
“The Mysterons! Don’t you see? It’s so obvious! That would explain EVERYTHING! How come the World Government has been using a retrometabolised Cloudbase for years? Like Hell they retrieved it from the Mysterons’ control… the Mysterons are still in control of it! They are behind it all!”
As Scarlet said those words, popping sounds were suddenly heard, followed by a series of whistling sounds, like those made by an object travelling through the air at a tremendous speed. A cry echoed through the hangar, coming from the shuttles behind them, and all turned around, to see Berryman and Willis falling to the ground like cut trees, a bullet having struck each of them between the eyes. Galloway, standing right next to Captain Black was the next one to fall, in much the same manner, with barely a sound, and then it was Manchester’s turn – he fell with a groan, almost into Captain Scarlet’s arms. The English officer looked down into the man’s face to see the very visible bleeding hole dead centre in his forehead.
Everyone froze in place, and looked nervously around; powerful spotlights suddenly beamed down on them, blinding them almost completely. Sounds of rifles, being re-loaded, were heard and red dots appeared on almost every man’s shirt.
Snipers were aiming at them. And by the sound and look of it – there were many of them.
A voice barked through the loudspeakers: “YOU ARE ALL UNDER ARREST, BY ORDER OF THE WORLD PRESIDENT! DO NOT MAKE A SINGLE MOVE OR WE’LL SHOOT!”
Magenta swore. “It was a trap!” He turned an accusing and murderous glare in Fraser’s direction. The latter seemed as unpleasantly surprised as they all were.
“I had nothing to do with this!” he protested. He turned in the direction of the speakers. “It’s Ward – he’s behind this!”
“PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS!” the voice continued. “AND STAY WHERE YOU ARE! AT THE FIRST SIGN OF A SUSPICIOUS MOVE, WE’LL SHOOT YOU ALL!”
“Yeah, yeah, we heard you the first time,” Black muttered under his breath. He looked at Blue with an inquiring expression, still hesitant.
“We don’t have any choice,” the Spectrum commander said bitterly. “Do as he orders.”
Regretfully, they all disarmed themselves and put their weapons on the floor at their feet.
The lights dimmed and as they looked around once more, the Spectrum men were now able to see that they were completely surrounded. WAAF soldiers were coming from all corners of the hangar, where they had been hiding up until that moment, behind and inside aircraft and various machines; they were now advancing, weapons at the ready. Snipers were standing on the gantries overhead, keeping them in their sights, obviously ready to pull the trigger if they moved so much as an inch. In the glazed control cabin, two stories above, they could see an officer, who was leaning through the large window to look down in their direction, grasping a microphone.
“Ward?” muttered Blue, addressing White by his side.
“From this distance, I can’t tell,” the older man replied. “Unfortunately, my sight is not what it used to be.”
No-one dared to resist when the WAAF soldiers finally reached them, to surround them in a tighter circle. A small group of the soldiers was dispatched amongst the prisoners and proceeded to form two groups, separating the officers from the others, and pushing them aside. Richard Fraser joined the group of officers – he was pushed amongst them, none too gently. He nearly fell, but Scarlet caught him before he lost his footing.
“Watch it, pal!” Fraser snarled, turning around angrily to the man who had manhandled him in such a brutal way. “Who do you think you are dealing with?”
As an answer, the business end of an automatic gun was roughly shoved under his nose, with the soldier glaring at him with a very cold expression.
“I think it’s his way of saying he’s dealing with a traitor, Rick,” Magenta said casually. Fraser gave him an old-fashioned look and the Irishman shrugged dismissively. “Not meaning any disrespect, you know…”
The hangar’s hatch slid open at this moment, and a young WAAF officer entered, followed by another group of armed soldiers, who took immediate aim at the prisoners.
“Lieutenant Farrell, have ten of your men bring the officers to the Control Room,” the voice then said through the speakers. “And bring Commander Fraser along. Be careful. If any one of them attempts to escape or to attack – shoot them all, without exception. The other prisoners are to stay here.”
The young officer motioned to the men who had come with him and they surrounded the Spectrum officers, and pushed and pulled them towards the exit. Once again, none of them resisted; they knew they were outnumbered for now, and even thought they were not restrained, there was little they could do at the moment to fight back with any possibility of success. Each was thinking that maybe later on, a chance would present itself to them – especially if they were to stay together, as seemed to be the case. And at least, they weren’t being taken to the brig.
Colonel White and Captain Scarlet were the last to cross the doorway and they gave a last glance at the Spectrum commandos they were leaving behind; the latter were now facing what was left of the cohort that had surprised them, and were looking rather nervous of what their fate would be.
As the door was sliding closed, Scarlet heard the clicking of weapons being primed – and saw the WAAF soldiers taking aim. The door snapped closed – and the crackling of gunfire, mixed with cries of agony, reached the ears of the astounded and shocked group of Spectrum officers, now standing in the hallway.
They turned infuriated glares at the men keeping their under their fire.
“Murderer,” White spat in disgust between his teeth, addressing Farrell, standing just out of his reach.
The lieutenant contented himself with looking back icily at him, keeping totally silent. Then he made a gesture, and his men pushed the prisoners forward, to escort them down the corridor towards the nearest elevator.
Chapter 3 – The Mysterons’ Game
It was a gloomy and silent procession of captive Spectrum officers who stepped through the all-too-familiar green door and entered into Cloudbase’s Control Room, still surrounded by their ten heavily armed gaolers. Lieutenant Farrell was walking up front, and directed his step towards the circular control desk that had long ago been Colonel White’s. A grey-haired man was seated there, his back turned on them, as he was watching a scene on the large vidscreen set on the wall behind the desk. The Spectrum officers recognised the engine room on the screen, and even saw the nuclear reactor; they exchanged knowing glances. The man seated at the desk didn’t move as he heard them approach, as he seemed too busy contemplating the scene on the screen.
The WAAF soldiers forced their prisoners to stop at a safe distance from the desk, and Farrell climbed the lone step to reach the man seated there. He leaned down by his side and murmured words into his ear. The man nodded and waved his acknowledgment. Farrell then returned to his men. He took two with him and walked from the room, leaving the others to keep guard over the captives. The reduced number of men made no difference anyway to the Spectrum officers; they were still in danger of being killed on the spot – just like their men had been in the hangar.
The man at the desk pressed a button, activating the rotating desk, which turned to permit him to face his captives. Scarlet wasn’t surprised to discover who it was:
World President John A. Roberts – who was now watching them with a totally serene expression.
“Welcome to Cloudbase, gentlemen,” he said in a very affable tone. “Welcome… to what was once your home.”
As he spoke these words, Scarlet suddenly felt a shiver going all through his body, a feeling of such intense discomfort that he had rarely experienced before – except, perhaps, in the first days of his Mysteronisation, after he had been freed from the Mysterons’ control and his ‘sixth sense’ developed and adapted itself to his new body. He felt sick in his stomach, nauseous, as vertigo hit him mercilessly, and a cold sweat suddenly covered him from head to toes. He wavered on his feet, and his knees bent, and he would have fallen, if Blue had not caught him in time.
“Are you all right?” the Spectrum commander asked him.
“No,” Scarlet whispered. “No… I’m not all right…” He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “Conrad…” he said, turning towards Black, who was right by his side, “Conrad, are you…” His words died on his lips when he realised that Black was standing rigidly, his brow also covered with perspiration, his face pale as if he were sick, as he stared in shock in Roberts’s direction.
“Yes,” Black answered, with a catch in his voice. “Yes… I feel it too… So strong… Like I never felt before… except… when I was in their presence. Under their control…”
“I never… felt it so strongly before either,” Scarlet answered in a murmur.
Scarlet had barely got the words out when a multitude of beeping echoed all around. Blue, who was standing next to his friend, looked at his companions, who were exchanging glances with each other, seemingly at a loss to understand what was happening. Then they all, almost at the same time, lowered their eyes to their bracelet of instruments that the WAAF soldiers had not deemed necessary to remove from their wrists.
A cold chill ran down Blue’s spine as he checked his own bracelet, and saw the red light blinking wildly in the middle of it.
“Mysteron,” he muttered.
And all the signals were similarly pointing in the same direction. All eyes turned at once towards the lone man seated at the control desk, his fingers casually intertwined, looking calmly at them.
“Roberts,” Blue murmured, gasping. “Roberts is a Mysteron!”
“It's GOT to be him,” Green muttered. “These bracelets haven't been acting right ever since we set foot on board. Mine has been giving me unstable Mysteron readings all along. I assumed it was because of all the instruments onboard – or even maybe because this whole base is a reconstruction. But I'm only getting a positive Mysteron lock NOW, with him in front of us...”
“He is a Mysteron,” Scarlet answered between his teeth, forcing the words out through the pain in his brain. “I can feel it.”
“How…? When?” Blue continued. Suddenly, it was as if a light had been turned on in his mind. “Of course… That’s the only explanation…”
“Oh Dear God in Heaven…” Fraser whispered, opening wide eyes. “I should have realised… I should have seen…”
“You should have seen, Commander Fraser?” Roberts then said with a casual tone. “How could you have seen it, tell me? How could you have imagined for one instant – that the leader of the World Government…” he stood on his feet and rounded the desk, “… was an agent of the Mysterons?”
As Roberts neared the group, the bracelets’ beeping became more insistent. Roberts made but a simple, yet dramatic wave of his hand. “Your primitive Earth technology has served its purpose; you won't be needing it any more.” The beeping suddenly stopped. The Spectrum officers looked at each other with some surprise; did Roberts really do that?
He waved around to the men surrounding them. “Do not think that my being a Mysteron will persuade these soldiers to help you, gentlemen. They are fully devoted to my orders.”
The Spectrum men looked around; all the soldiers stood rigidly, without any reaction, their eyes fixed and glazed. It was as if the words that had been exchanged in front of them had no effect on them.
“I suppose these men are Mysterons too,” White spat.
“No, simple foot soldiers, merely following orders, Colonel,” Roberts answered. “Human drones, if you will, mind-controlled and unable to think past the orders I will give them. Stupid, but quite useful.” Scarlet gave a derisive snort at the last comment but Roberts ignored him.
“Humans,” White breathed, “A whole army of slaves of the Mysterons. I never thought I'd see the day...”
Roberts addressed White a faint smile as he approached. “So good to see you among us, Colonel White… We thought for a long time that you had been killed when Cloudbase was destroyed in the Himalayas…”
“An event your masters took advantage of to recreate the base, wasn’t it?” White said with deep resentment. “Then it’s a blessing I wasn’t killed. I might have been Mysteronised too – with the rest of Cloudbase.”
“A fate you probably consider worse than death itself, wouldn’t you? We should have realised it would take more than a simple crash to effectively kill you,” Roberts deadpanned. His attention shifted to the man standing beside White. “And… Captain Scarlet.” He moved aside to stand only a few feet away in front of Scarlet. The latter was glowering fiercely at him. “Truly – the indestructible Captain Scarlet. Back amongst his friends – still fighting the good fight – through to the bitter end, I’m afraid. How are you feeling now, Captain? No more wooziness?”
“I’m better, thanks,” Scarlet answered icily. He paused a second, his eyes flashing. “As you said, ready to fight the good fight.”
“Anything else from you would disappoint me, Captain.”
“You don’t seem that surprised to see me alive…”
Roberts lifted a brow. “Should I be? I don’t see any reason why…”
That was a curious enough comment, and Scarlet wondered exactly what it was hiding. But he didn’t have time to ask questions, as Roberts had turned his attention away from him, effectively ignoring the interrogative frown displayed on the Englishman’s brow, to address the next man by Scarlet’s side.
“You, however, my dear Richard, do disappoint me. I expected you to be far less predictable than that… Of course, you had to help your friends, and join them, in this ultimate assault. Oh yes, that was so predictable… Did you really imagine we had left you without surveillance, ‘Captain Ochre’?”
“Are you saying I played your hand?” Fraser replied swiftly.
“What do you think, my friend?”
“Don’t call me that,” Fraser snapped. He frowned. “I want to understand. How did it happen to you? How, and when, did you become a Mysteron? I should have noticed something – realised there was something wrong… Changes in you… after you had been taken over…”
“Changes? You expected to notice some changes?” Roberts smiled wickedly. “Oh, Rick, I said you disappoint me. You do so again. You were a Spectrum officer – you still are, as far as I can see – so you know better than anyone that a Mysteron agent is a perfect replica of his original.”
“Not quite perfect,” Captain Black said bitterly.
“Oh, that’s right, there are a few differences… But the Mysterons aimed to perfect me – I’m their crowning achievement, as they say. They’ve had several years to do that…”
“Years?” Blue repeated with a frown.
“Years, Colonel Blue.” Roberts turned to the Spectrum commander, and came to stand before him. “So we meet at last, you and I. You know you’ve caused me many problems over the years, keeping Spectrum effective, even after my attempts to destroy it. But I must say… you also gave me much entertainment.”
“Entertainment?” Blue asked with a frown. “What kind of sick pleasure do you find in causing destruction and watching people die? I didn’t know Mysterons could be entertained, to begin with.”
Roberts smiled thinly. “This Mysteron can,” he said softly, turning around and walking a few steps away from the prisoners.
“Is that part of the ‘improvements’ your masters made with you?”
“You catch on quick, Colonel. My ‘behaviour’ is nearly as human as you can imagine.” Roberts turned to face them again. “And as you can see, the Mysterons were able to adjust my metabolism, so I would ‘age’ – or at least appear to age – at a relatively normal rate – for a normal human being.”
“You’ve been a Mysteron agent all these years,” Blue said with a knowing nod.
“Yes, Colonel. You understand perfectly: all these years I’ve been a thorn in Spectrum’s side – I have been an agent of the Mysterons.”
“Ever since Futura City?” Colonel White asked. “When you first started your attacks on Spectrum?”
“Of course… Now everything is clear…” Scarlet murmured. “That’s why you turned so drastically against Spectrum. From ally – to bitter enemy.”
“We never got close enough to you to use a Mysteron detector and realise what the deal was with you,” Grey continued. “You kept Spectrum at bay, pretending you were afraid of what we could do to you – that we wanted nothing more than to shut you up. Oh God, it’s so obvious now – you planned everything to the last detail!”
“And it worked too,” White said angrily. “Almost too perfectly! People started believing him and doubting us. That attack against you by the replicate the Mysterons made of Harmony Angel…”
“… Was all staged, of course,” Green concluded.
“Yes, to plant further doubts in the collective mind of the people,” Roberts admitted. “Wonderful, gentlemen. You are catching on.”
“You are stronger, more sophisticated than any Mysteron agent ever made,” Black then remarked.
Roberts turned to him and took a step in his direction . “Ah, but I have you to thank for that, Captain Black.”
“Yes, when you finally broke free from the Mysterons’ power, years ago, and returned to your human self, with full control of your body and mind – the Mysterons then turned their full attention to me – whom they already had under their control, as you now know. They could easily have taken you over once more, but they felt they didn’t need a frail being like yourself anymore to be their main agent, their ‘conduit’ to this pitiful planet. From then, they could as well use a much more powerful, fully loyal agent, who wouldn’t be fighting their control every step of the way… One they could imbue with more powers, in order to pursue their ultimate aim.”
“So you’re saying I only owe my salvation to the fact that they chose to take you as their main agent?” a doubtful Black asked. “They simply… abandoned me?”
“Disheartening, is it not?”
“I don’t believe you.”
Roberts shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
“When did it happen exactly?” Colonel Blue then asked. “When was the real Roberts killed exactly, so you could replace him?”
“Three days after the bombing of Futura,” Roberts announced, moving to stand in front of the Spectrum commander. “On October 31, 2072. Halloween. Fitting, isn’t it? I was – that is, the original Roberts was – leaving the White House, through that secret underground parking garage that was built some years ago, after the European Atomic Wars. That’s a nice way to leave the White House unnoticed – for you see, Roberts wanted to visit his lady friend, before leaving for the conference in Geneva. Oh, didn’t you know he had a lady friend? The Press didn’t know about it, he was very considerate of her, not wanting for her to be known. Anyway… Of course, as the President of the United States, I – well, he – was always followed by bodyguards. Two of them, actually, that day. The chauffeur had already been replaced by a Mysteron agent. And there was an accomplice, the one who had killed the chauffeur in the first place, already waiting in the parking garage. Roberts was killed there, in the garage, as he was getting into the car.”
“That simple?” Scarlet said, lifting a brow. “Right there, underneath the White House? What about the body? Nobody ever knew about this – how did you get rid of it?”
“Quite easily,” Roberts grinned. “We had the U.S. President’s limousine. Do you really think someone would have pulled that car over, just to check if there was anything suspicious in the trunk?” He waved aside the disgusted looks he had caused on the captives’ faces. “It was rather easy to bury Roberts’s body – and those of his previously killed bodyguards – where no-one would find them. Then I settled into my role quite easily. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Roberts did start his attacks on Spectrum at that Geneva conference,” Grey commented.
“Quite discreetly,” Blue added. “Just by asking questions, and raising doubts in people’s minds. With time, the attacks were more aggressive. We were fools. We never suspected a thing.”
“Of course not – how could you? You were not allowed to come near me anymore, as your colleague said earlier.” Roberts backed away a few more steps, and came to rest against the circular desk. “But now, you are here, with me – where I wanted you. Within my power.” He chuckled. “All of you, you played my hand quite nicely, I’m happy to say.”
As the Spectrum officers were glaring at him, obviously infuriated by his words, but unable to do anything about it, the green door slid open behind them, and they turned slightly, just as Commander Ward – a much older Ward than Scarlet remembered – entered and walked purposefully towards the control desk – carefully making a large detour to avoid passing through the group of captives.
“I believe you know my right-hand man, gentlemen?” Roberts announced. “Commander Anton Ward, Supreme Commander of SHEF?”
“We had the displeasure,” Colonel White deadpanned with a deep frown, remembering with fury that the man standing there had ordered the murder of brave men in the hangar. “What are you, Ward? Human or Mysteron?”
“Oh, he’s a Mysteron agent, of course,” Roberts announced. “The Mysterons took him over about a week ago – for the completion of this plan.”
“The real Ward hated the Mysterons with a passion,” Commander Ward then said, coming to stand next to Roberts. “Needless to say – I do not share that point of view.” He smiled wickedly. “On the contrary, the Mysterons ‘opened my eyes’ to their cause.”
“So you don’t have the excuse of having been a Mysteron all along, like Roberts – considering all the horrors you committed over the years, Ward,” Blue said with disgust. “You were behind Magenta’s incarceration…”
“And Peach’s interrogation and death,” Fraser said bitterly. “I saw what you did to him, you bastard… I swore I’d make you pay for it.”
“I didn’t touch him.”
“But you signed the order, which is just the same!”
“You are mistaken, Commander Fraser,” Ward replied with yet another smile. “It wasn’t me – it was… the human Commander Ward.”
“That’s just a technicality, you…”
“Actually, Rick,” Blue suddenly interrupted, “I would say that Ward was already being punished for his crimes. Considering the repulsion he had for the Mysterons, being turned into one of their slaves is quite a fitting punishment, don’t you think?”
“Say what you wish,” Ward replied coldly. “It doesn’t matter anymore. You are all condemned anyway.”
“We’re not done yet,” Magenta said defiantly.
“And what can you do, tell us, Mister Donaghue – or is it Captain Magenta again?” Roberts retorted calmly. “It is fitting that you should also be with your colleagues for this ultimate mission – along with Commander Fraser, whom I knew would not hesitate to betray me, whenever the chance arose.”
“I never was with you to betray, to begin with,” Fraser said dryly. “And call me ‘Captain Ochre’. That’s a name I am proud to wear again. You said it earlier – in my heart, I am still a Spectrum officer. And Spectrum will still find a way to beat you. Yet again.”
Roberts scoffed. “Such bragging – this is quite like you, Rick. So… utterly… human.”
“Now who’s bragging?” Scarlet shot back. “As far as I can see, you are as pompous as the original Roberts was. Oh, of course… Mysteron duplicates take their original’s traits, don’t they – and as you are more ‘sophisticated’ – as you said yourself – you must have taken Roberts’s most infuriating flaws as well.”
“As you did the original Captain Scarlet’s – didn’t you?” Roberts retorted. “Or do you still consider yourself different from all the other duplicates? If you were so different – you would not be standing here right now.”
“I am not following your masters’ orders like a blind slave – like you do yourself. Or like those drones of yours do,” Scarlet replied, gesturing towards the WAAF soldiers. “Me, I have my own free will.”
“So do I,” Black defiantly added in turn.
Ward turned swiftly to him. “Do you, Captain Black? Do you really have your own free will? How is it, then… that you have retained contact with the Mysterons – that you still feel them – their thoughts, their… emotions… that you can even hear their Voice?” Roberts smiled thinly, in a very wicked way. “How do you suppose we knew you would all come tonight? Do you still suspect Commander Fraser – Captain Ochre – of having led you into a trap? Or are you afraid to face the truth, Captain Black?”
“What are you talking about? Black muttered, frowning.
“Leave him alone,” Blue demanded. “Didn’t you torture him enough when he was under your control?”
“And what if he still was under our control?” Roberts replied quickly.
“I am not,” Black defended himself, fiercely. “I have fought your kind with all my heart, all my strength – all my hatred – for twelve years now! I swore you would never control me again, like you did before.”
“No – not like before, that’s true… But consider this, Captain: as you kept contact with the Mysterons all these years, using this ‘gift’ as a weapon to help Spectrum counter them – so did the Mysterons keep contact with you.”
“You are lying.”
“Why would I lie to you now? You are condemned like the rest of the human race. We knew your thoughts, Captain Black. We knew all about your plans, your life, your dreams… Through you, we knew where Spectrum had established its base – its Underground Base, under Futura City.” Shock registered on Black’s face, as a cold sweat ran down his spine, and empathically, his Spectrum colleagues felt the same concern and disbelief as himself. Roberts shook his head slowly. “You see I am telling the truth now.”
Black licked his dry lips. “So… because of me, you knew of this attack on Cloudbase,” he murmured.
“Yes. In all its details. Like we knew all about those other operations that Spectrum undertook against us. We learned about them – through you.”
“If you knew of the Underground Base –”
“For a long time,” Ward confirmed.
“Why didn’t you attack before, to destroy it?”
Roberts shrugged. “We liked the challenge – to give you a sporting chance. Spectrum had been a worthy adversary through the years. This was one advantage we were not eager to take with you. Just as we permitted you to win a few rounds against us…”
“Yes, you liked the ‘entertainment’,” Blue shot back pungently, remembering the term used by Roberts earlier. “What you really mean is that you were playing with us like cats with mice.”
“Exactly, Colonel Blue,” Roberts answered coldly. “But now, you must realise… the game is over. We tired of it. It is time for the Mysterons to fulfil the promise they made years ago.”
“Destroying all life on Earth,” Scarlet said in a low voice.
“Starting with the Underground Base,” Blue commented. “That’s why your Cloudbase is moving towards it. After all these years, you finally decided to launch the ultimate assault.”
Roberts shook his head dismissively. “We just moved Cloudbase in the direction of the Underground Base, because we knew you would draw this conclusion. We hoped to attract your attention, enough for you to actually come to us. It would appear our plan was successful.”
“And the Underground Base?” Grey asked.
Ward shrugged. “It will share the same fate as the rest of your planet, of course – and at the same moment. No sense in wasting our time with it in the meantime.”
“We won’t let you,” Blue swore. “We’ll stop you.”
Roberts chuckled. “Will you?”
“It seems to me, we won more than a ‘few rounds’ against you,” Blue said. “And most of them due to our own efforts. It has nothing to do with you… ‘letting us win’. Does it?”
Roberts didn’t answer. Blue turned to Black, who was standing beside him looking completely shaken, and put a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t care that you say you used this man to gain information on us. He fought as hard as any of us against you. And I know he won’t allow you to win either.”
“I certainly won’t,” Black murmured.
“Courageous to the very end,” Roberts sighed. “Courageous and stupid. Don’t you see all hope is gone?”
“You are so sure of yourself,” White remarked. “That has been the Mysterons’ main flaw all these years.”
“There is no way you can stop what has been put in motion, Colonel White. You already figured out that Cloudbase – which was once Spectrum’s pride – is now a giant instrument of destruction, with the Quantum Transmitter attached to its nuclear core. When it explodes – at midnight tonight – the Q Effect it will unleash will be so devastating that it’ll destroy your entire planet – transforming it into a living Hell. Those who will be unlucky enough to survive – if there are any survivors – will come to envy all those who had died instantly.”
“I was afraid you would say something like that,” Scarlet muttered.
“We’ll see if your relative indestructibility will withstand that test, Captain Scarlet,” Ward said coldly. “Somehow I’m assuming it won’t. But who knows, if it does, you might end up cursing it in the long run.”
“One thing bothers me,” Colonel Blue then remarked, attracting Roberts’s attention back to him. “If you already had a Quantum Transmitter, in working order, why did the World Government pursue research on Quantum energy? And why did you need to send all those teams in the Himalayas, to retrieve the one that was on the destroyed Cloudbase? Yours is obviously a replica of that one…”
“The Mysterons never do anything without a reason,” White agreed. “Why all those efforts, Roberts?”
“We couldn’t run the risk…”
Ward was interrupted when Roberts said suddenly, “What does it matter now, Earthmen? You are all doomed – you and all who live on this planet.”
Scarlet raised an inquiring brow, looking from Roberts to the now silent Ward, and then to Roberts again. “What is it? What couldn’t you risk? You are so close to victory, so what difference could it make now? Are you so unsure of yourself now, that you are not willing to tell us? So you prefer to say that ‘it doesn’t matter’?”
Roberts shrugged indifferently. “It doesn’t matter, Captain Scarlet, because the Quantum Transmitter you retrieved from the Himalayas is destroyed – so you couldn’t possibly use it against us.”
“What makes you think it is destroyed?” Blue said matter-of-factly. “You think you learned that through Captain Black? There are things I don’t tell my staff – even him…” He glanced surreptitiously in Black’s direction, to catch the slightly surprised look on his second-in-command’s features. Black understood the silent message. Blue was playing for time.
“Don’t believe them,” Ward then said, addressing Roberts. “They can’t have the Quantum Transmitter with them – it was destroyed. The Mysterons made a reconstruction out of it.”
“What if we had it repaired?” Scarlet asked.
“And what if you had?” Ward reiterated. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it in the first place!”
“Well, we do know we can use it to counter your present attack,” Blue instinctively said, thinking that continuing the bluff might be their best course of action.
“Do you?” Roberts said, narrowing his eyes to a mere slit. “I think you are lying – and that Commander Ward is right. You wouldn’t know how to use the Quantum Transmitter, even if your lives depended on it.”
“Which is the case, right now,” White noted quietly, entering the game. “I had the Quantum Transmitter in my possession for many years. Even if it was damaged, I could see it wasn’t beyond repair. And I learned quite a few things from examining it.”
“You are hardly a man of science, Colonel White,” Roberts replied.
White glared at him. “Do not believe I am without a brain, sir. I am quite capable of processing thoughts by myself.”
“And what can you possibly have found, Colonel?” To Roberts’s question, White only smiled, almost as wickedly as the Mysteron agent had done before.
“Now, I’m hardly going to tell you that, am I?”
There was a hesitation on Roberts’s part for a few seconds, and he exchanged glances with Ward. Then, he chuckled – and openly started laughing. “Well done, gentlemen, for a time there, you almost had me going…”
“How about time travelling?”
The new voice was that of Captain Green who – until right that moment, had kept completely silent, standing beside his colleagues. His statement made everyone turn in his direction with dumbfounded surprise – and not only from his Spectrum colleagues, but also from Ward and Roberts. The latter frowned.
“Please, continue, Lieutenant.”
“Captain, if you will, Mister President. I won my rank and title the hard way – not like you, it would seem.”
“WHAT exactly do you think you know?”
“All these years, you’ve been studying the Quantum energy,” Green pressed on. “Maybe because you weren’t grasping all of it? If you were to use it to destroy Earth, would it affect Mars, and the rest of the Universe? You couldn’t possibly take that risk, now, could you?”
“You are wasting our time…”
“Not at all. I think I hit you right on the spot, didn’t I? You were afraid that we would use the Quantum Transmitter against you – ”
“Who said we were afraid?” Roberts replied.
“You did. A few minutes ago.” Green withstood Roberts’s glare without flinching, and continued: “Now, what can you possibly be afraid we would use it for, exactly? Perhaps, by any chance, that it would permit us to find the secret of travelling back in time.”
“This is something even the Mysterons don’t have the power to do…”
“Not by themselves, perhaps – but what about with a little technological help?” Green pointed towards Scarlet. “You know it’s been done already – you have the proof in front of you. You know what happened to him – maybe you learned it through Captain Black? That’s why you were not surprised to see him amongst us.”
“His presence in this time is due to an accident. He only moved forward in time, falling through a fracture in the continuum.”
“Yes, it was an accident,” Green agreed. “But many discoveries – at least ‘human’ discoveries – have had accidental breakthroughs. Once the way is shown to us, we continue to experiment – until we find what we want or what we need. What Captain Scarlet experienced has unlocked the door – a door you are afraid we would open wide.” Green shook his head. “How did it feel to discover that an Earthman has been able to travel through time?”
“Captain Scarlet is not one of your own…” Roberts started.
“Like Hell, I’m not!” Scarlet snapped. “My physiology might be different, but I am more a part of the human race than I will ever be a part of yours!”
“It must gall you that we ‘Earthmen’ have found – just within our grasp – the technology that would eventually permit us to travel in time,” Green continued. “And that scares you, doesn’t it? You must be afraid that we would find a way to use this against you.”
“You couldn’t do that, even in your wildest dreams,” Ward scoffed loudly. “Even if you found the secret – you wouldn’t be able to use it. None of you could travel back in time. Human physiology is not strong enough.” The Mysteron’s eyes then turned to Scarlet and he took a step forward in his direction. “You, on the other hand, would be able to perform it… Not only because of your physiology – but also because your existence in this era is a time anomaly. Because you stupidly rode the Quantum wave from your own time to this one.”
“Pardon me?” Scarlet said, raising a brow. He wasn’t sure he understood everything that was coming out of Ward’s mouth now.
“You do not belong to this time, and you still have roots in your own time. That makes you a dangerous liability that we cannot permit to exist – even for the few hours that remain of your pitiful planet.”
“Well, it’s always a pleasure to be able to annoy you,” Scarlet said imperturbably. “Even unknowingly…”
“Enough,” Roberts snapped. “Commander Ward is right. You are a liability, Captain Scarlet. We cannot take the risk of Spectrum using you and the technology we put into place for your own disreputable ends. You must be destroyed – we do have the means to do that – before you can cause us more trouble. And your friends will soon be joining you. Oh, and speaking of which – I believe someone is already waiting for you…” Saying those words, he put his hand into his vest pocket and fished something small from it; he tossed it towards Scarlet, and the latter instinctively caught it on the fly, his fist closing on it, before he could even see what it was. His eyes filled with curiosity, he opened his palm to look.
His heart jumped in his chest as he finally recognised what it was.
A golden ring, surmounted by a red stone – which was surrounded by tiny, glittering diamonds…
The world started crumbling apart, as the full implications of Roberts having this object in his possession suddenly sank in. Through a growing mist filling his mind, he could hear the cold voice of Roberts addressing him, taunting him, confirming the dreadful notion that he already suspected:
“She was arrested, soon after you had left her house. We tried to extract information from her, but she wouldn’t say a thing. Courageous and obstinate, just like Tremayne had been. Like all Spectrum agents. She died with your name on her lips, Captain Scarlet.”
“Oh no…” the voice of Richard Fraser then said, audibly catching in his throat. “Oh no, you didn’t… Not her…”
Scarlet’s heart sank, deeper and deeper. He knew he must have visibly paled, and that he probably appeared shaken, as he became aware of his friends’ concerned presence, all around him; he barely took any notice of them, of all that existed, anymore, as he delicately caressed, with the tips of his fingers, the shiny ring resting in the palm of his hand. His jaws tightened.
“Dianne…” he murmured, his voice barely a whisper.
“Paul…” That was the voice of Blue now, sorrowful, distant, through other murmurs all around him.
“Not Dianne…” Captain Ochre said in turn. “Paul, I’m so… sorry… I…” The catch in his voice suddenly turned into a growl of anger, and he turned fiercely towards Roberts and Ward. “You killed her, you bastards!” he yelled, taking a step forwards.
“This is war, Commander Fraser,” Roberts said icily. “Of course, we killed her. Like we will kill all of your pitiful race.”
“Like we will kill you… now.”
With that ominous statement, Ward pulled his own gun and aimed it at Ochre. The latter stiffened in surprise – just for a split second.
Ward pulled the trigger; but one person had reacted quickly to the threat against Ochre; Captain Grey had swiftly jumped forward, roughly pushing his former colleague aside and standing in front of Ward, effectively offering a shield of his body to anyone who might be standing in the line of fire. A loud detonation rang around the room.
Hit in the chest, Grey fell backwards, right into Ochre’s and Magenta’s arms.
Then there was pandemonium.
Just as Scarlet leapt forward with a cry of fury, murder in his eyes, with the full intention of reaching Roberts, the green doors behind them, at the other end of the room, suddenly exploded, blown open by an explosive charge from the other side. That created enough confusion for the Spectrum officers to finally jump into action. Like a perfectly run fighting machine, each of them charged and attacked the soldiers closest to them, effortlessly relieving them of their various weapons before they could even react, and immediately started using them to their own advantage. Shots were fired, but no bullet hit the Spectrum officers who, on the contrary, were scoring a bull’s eye at every shot, downing as many of the drone soldiers as they could before the latter could start backing up and put up an efficient resistance.
Scarlet found Ward in his way, as he was trying to get at Roberts, the SHEF commander firing at him to stop his advance; Scarlet easily evaded the bullets, and grabbed the hand holding the gun, before hitting Ward with such a furious punch that the latter was pushed backwards – to land straight on Roberts, as the latter was attempting to get away. Scarlet turned the gun against Ward, and stoically fired multiple shots into his abdomen. Ward fell to the floor, his chest a mess of blood, and Scarlet turned his attention back to the fleeing Roberts, raising the gun at him; to his frustration, it clicked empty. As he took a step towards Roberts, a soldier grabbed him from behind; Scarlet turned to his new opponent, and broke his chin with a brutal strike of his elbow. He tore the gun from the man’s hands and turned once again to Roberts, who was retreating towards the doors leading to the Information Centre. Those doors were presently opening and new soldiers rushed into the Control Room, covering their leaders’ escape.
More bullets started flying around and Scarlet was forced to duck behind the circular control desk to avoid being hit.
“RETREAT!” he heard the voice of Blue bellow behind him. He turned around to see his friend gesturing wildly around, encouraging the Spectrum officers to move in the direction of the now wide open and destroyed green doors – in front of which a young man was standing, dressed in a grey uniform with brown piping on his sleeves and pants, eagerly shooting with an automatic rifle to protect their retreat.
Scarlet opened his eyes wide with surprise. How the Hell did Brown happen to be here?
Ochre and Magenta had taken the wounded Grey with them, and were dragging him along, with White and Green already nearly at Brown’s side, and both Blue and Black shooting down soldiers taking aim at the escapees.
“Scarlet!” Black shouted, waving at his compatriot, still hidden behind the control desk. “COME ON! We can’t hold them any longer!”
Scarlet glanced over the desk to see that Roberts had sought refuge in the observation tube leading to the next room, behind his drone soldiers. Seeing that he wouldn’t be able to reach him – for now – the Englishman reluctantly left his position and dashed towards Blue and Black. The three of them retreated together to the green doors.
Once they all crossed the threshold and found themselves in the main corridor outside the Control Room, Captain Green swiftly entered a command into the keypad by the door. Reinforced pressure doors slid from the ceiling, over the space previously occupied by the green doors, and locked into place. These security doors blocked the access to the soldiers rushing toward them from the other side.
He destroyed the pad with a violent blow from the butt of his rifle.
“That should gain us some time,” he announced, turning to his companions.
“Barely a few minutes,” White concurred.
Black had turned to Brown, standing beside him with a wide grin on his face. “What the HELL are you doing here?” he exploded. “I thought you were ordered to stay behind?”
“Hey! No thanks for saving your butts?” Brown asked, offended by the remark. “Seems to me I arrived just in the nick of time…”
“How did you get here?” Blue asked in turn, in an incisive tone.
“I sneaked aboard your shuttle, Colonel… You know I was quite good at sneaking in and out when I was a kid living in the ruins of Futura… You never knew I was there.”
“No, I never knew,” Blue admitted. “None of us did, apparently. You’re in for court martial when we get out of this, Lieutenant, for disobeying a direct order!”
“Yes, sir…” Brown said, lowering his eyes.
“And, Lieutenant…” Blue put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, squeezing it tightly. “Thanks. You did arrive in the nick of time.”
Brown beamed. “Thanks, sir.”
Blue turned around to where Ochre and Magenta had laid Grey on the floor, very gently. There was no movement from the grey-bearded officer now. His eyes were closed, and he didn’t react when Ochre spoke to him. Magenta checked his vitals, touching his neck. He raised regretful eyes to the group of men standing above them. “Grey’s dead,” he announced sourly.
“He died saving my life,” Ochre added, his voice shaking.
“Make it count, then,” Colonel White said, keeping his tone of voice harsh in order to prevent the others from hearing the emotion behind it. He pushed his rifle into Ochre’s hands. “Make it count by fighting this scum with us!”
“With pleasure,” Ochre answered, gritting his teeth and arming the weapon.
“We shouldn’t stay around longer,” White continued. “These men will soon get through the door – and they’ve probably already called for backup. They’ll try to corner us between them.”
“You’re right,” Magenta said. “But where do we go from here?”
“We continue the mission we came to do,” Colonel Blue answered firmly. “We have to destroy this place.”
“Agreed,” White answered, with a harsh expression on his face. “I’ll be damned if I let these Mysterons use a replicate of my base to seal the fate of this entire planet. I’d rather destroy Cloudbase myself. Again.”
“Are we all together in this?” Blue demanded all around.
There was a unanimous sound of approval – yet one voice remained noticeably silent.
All the Spectrum officers turned towards the silent lone man leaning against the wall facing the door, barely a foot away from Colonel Blue, his back turned on them.
Captain Scarlet looked like a devastated man, so awfully tired after a horrendous effort. He was looking down into his open hand, staring with dry eyes, filled with deep sorrow, at the ring that Roberts had tossed at him. Blue moved by his side and squeezed his shoulder, comfortingly.
“She’s gone, Adam…” Scarlet’s voice was barely audible, and Blue had to strain to hear it. “Dianne is gone… and there was nothing I could do to save her…” He shivered and shook his head. “Just… just like I was afraid would happen…”
“She died doing her duty, Paul. You have to live on…to continue the fight for her.”
“I have to live on…” There was a sad smile on Scarlet’s lips as he pronounced those words, almost sarcastically. He stroked the surface of the ring with the tip of his finger. “Yes… I suppose I will at that…”
“Come on,” Blue said urgently, between his teeth. “You have to pull yourself together. We need you… the world needs you. More than ever before. Right here, right now!”
“We have to get out of here,” Captain Green said. He was standing in front of the door, listening as the soldiers on the other side hammered at it – in the vain hope of bringing it down. Soon, he realised, they would fetch explosives, to blow it open. He turned to his companions. “We have to stop the Mysterons and save this planet all right, but there might be another way to do it, besides destroying Cloudbase.”
“What are you talking about?” Blue asked with a frown.
“You all heard what Roberts said. He’s afraid we would use the Quantum technology against the Mysterons.”
“Seymour, if you mean by that the time travelling theory…”
“I mean exactly that, Colonel Blue.” Green stepped in front of Scarlet, and put a hand on his shoulder. “They’re afraid of you, specifically. They know that with the Quantum Transmitter, we can send you back in time – where you would be able to stop all this from ever happening.”
“Are you mad?” White muttered.
“I am not,” Green almost snapped. “The Mysterons don’t fear this possibility for nothing. They have a reason: they know we can do it. Barnard said it, and Roberts repeated it: Scarlet was never meant to leave his time. He arrived here by accident. He’s a living anachronism, an anomaly – who still has roots in our past – his own present, that he should not have left. Don’t you see? All of this madness started with the destruction of Futura City – by the same explosion that threw Scarlet out of his time. If we send him back nearly to the moment he was propelled through the time continuum by the Quantum blast, and if he can stop that explosion from happening – all of the events that followed Futura City’s destruction would never happen. All this… existence will not exist.”
“This is crazy,” Scarlet murmured, frowning.
“Captain Green, you are not talking sense,” Blue said. “Think about it, man: we don’t have the technology to even attempt what you are suggesting.”
“It is within our reach,” Green insisted. “Didn’t you listen to what Roberts said at all? They have the technology!” There was a short second of silence, before he pursued: “He said, almost his exact words, that they couldn’t take the risk of Spectrum using the technology they put into place for our own ends. Somehow, they have developed the means to travel back in time…”
“To what purpose?” Magenta replied with a frown.
“I wouldn’t know, but we would be crazy not to actually take the chance and use it!”
“That is an interesting theory, but I’m afraid we won’t have time to put it to the test,” White declared. “And yes, I heard what Roberts said: Earth will be destroyed, when the Quantum bomb explodes. Tonight at midnight.”
“Forty-five minutes from now,” Black clarified.
“The Quantum Effect,” Green murmured, as a plan was forming in his mind. He squeezed Scarlet’s shoulders. “That’s the way! Scarlet, we will go down to the reactor – down to the Quantum Transmitter. When the reactor explodes, you will have to ride the Quantum wave to get out of this time and back into yours.”
“I would be standing next to a bomb?” a bedazzled Scarlet said.
“Yes. Just like the first time. You were thrown here through a rift in the continuum. According to Barnard, another Quantum blast will send you straight back where you come from.”
Scarlet was frowning. “Seymour,” he said, “if you are right…”
“I know I am.” Green smiled. “Trust me?”
“But if you are wrong… The Quantum Effect will destroy the planet,” Ochre remarked. “If we don’t do something about it…”
“It will be a moot point if Scarlet stops all this from happening, to begin with.”
“Of all the insane ideas…” White took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down, before his temper got the better of him. He sighed. “All right, it’s worth the risk,” he finally conceded. “But we have to take back-up measures, in case it doesn’t work.”
“We should take this base into space,” Black then suggested. “Out of Earth’s atmosphere. If it should explode, it’ll be the safest place for it to be, to at least have a chance to save the planet.”
“Will it be able to withstand a trip out of the atmosphere?” White asked. “Cloudbase never went this high…”
“It was originally built in space,” Black reminded him. “And it was able to withstand re-entry into the atmosphere back then, once its construction was completed. I’d bet my life it can go up as high as we want it .”
White nodded slowly. “All right. I’m with you then.”
“Right, we have lost enough time as it is,” Blue concluded. “Let’s take the escalator. Colonel White, you go with Captain Black, to the wheelhouse. Take Ochre, Magenta and Brown as backup. Captain Scarlet, Captain Green and myself…” he turned to Green and gave him an approving nod. “… We’re going to the engine room. You’ll have your chance to prove your theory right, Seymour. I guess, all things considered, we have nothing to lose.”
“Let’s go then,” Ochre said eagerly. He lowered his eyes, to glance one final time at Captain Grey, lying dead at their feet. “Let’s save this planet – and avenge our dead!” he said between his teeth.
Chapter 4 – Spectrum’s Last Stand
The small group of Spectrum officers ran together, as a perfect battalion, down one of the pylon escalators in total silence, listening with attention in the hope that no-one would run up the steps in their direction, and take them as targets on their way down. They just had time to avoid a team of WAAF soldiers, as they reached the lowest level of the Control tower, and sought refuge in the conference room, waiting patiently as the drones ran up to the Control Room in the hope of catching the escaped captives. As soon as the way cleared for them, the Spectrum men resumed their progress, and amazingly found no more surprises as they continued their descent of the escalator, towards Cloudbase’s main body.
They were nearly at the bottom of the last flight of steps when suddenly, three soldiers appeared before them, at the foot of the escalator, blocking the way, and raising their weapons in their direction.
“Look out!” Scarlet yelled.
He shot the first volley, downing two men almost straightaway, before they could even fire their first shots. But the third found the time to squeeze the trigger of his automatic rifle and every Spectrum member ducked to avoid the rain of bullets. There was a ricochet, and Scarlet heard Blue swearing by his side before toppling down the stairs.
The sight of his commander falling under the bullets of the enemy sent Lieutenant Brown into a complete rage. “Colonel Blue!” he roared furiously. And he jumped forward behind Blue, covering his fall by firing wildly at the remaining WAAF soldier, without heeding the words of caution erupting from nearly all of his companions behind him.
The new hail of bullets cut a crimson line of holes through Brown’s chest – and sent him down the stairs, right into the WAAF soldier’s arms, whom he was finally able to shoot at point blank range. Both men collapsed on the floor, right next to a stunned Colonel Blue.
Black nearly ran down those who were standing between him and his protégé and jumped down the remaining steps, dropping to his knees as soon as he reached Brown. He turned the young man onto his back, and took him in his arms, holding him upright. Brown gasped in pain, and paled under Black’s clumsy attempts to stop the flow of blood from the bullet wounds in his chest. He bit down a cry.
“Crazy kid,” Black gasped. “Why did you have to do that? You’ll get yourself killed…”
“I… had to save the Colonel,” Brown whispered. “H- how is…he?”
“Groggy,” Magenta announced, as he and Scarlet were leaning with concern over Blue, who was moaning as he regained consciousness.
“I… I’m glad,” Brown answered. He coughed, blood bubbling at the corning of his lips. “Ow… That… that hurts…”
“Hang on, Steve,” Black encouraged him. “We’ll get you out of here… We…”
“S’no use…” Smiling sadly, Brown put a reassuring hand on his mentor’s chest, smearing his uniform with his own blood. “I know I’m a goner… I… I did okay… didn’t I, Conrad?”
Black swallowed hard. “Steve… you did better than okay… You did great.”
“You saved your commander, Lieutenant.” That was the voice of Colonel White, who was now standing just behind Black, looking down with sadness at the dying young man. “You acted… like a true Spectrum officer.”
“Despite my age… eh, Colonel White?” Brown’s voice grew weaker. His eyes clouded. “I always wanted to die… like my old man…”
“Chip…” Black called desperately. “I… I love you, son…”
“I’ve… always loved you, Conrad…” Brown said almost inaudibly. “I couldn’t love you more… if you were… my own father…” His eyes closed and he drew a deep breath before his head dropped against Black’s shoulder.
“No…” Black whispered. “Steve…? Chip…?” He shook the young man’s body, but received no reaction. A sob escaped him and he leaned his brow against the young man’s, rocking him as he did. “You… you did great, son,” he said again, his voice catching. “You did great…”
The others left him to his pain, and turned around, just as Colonel Blue was raising himself into a seating position, looking haggardly at the scene offering itself to his eyes.
“Oh no… Chip?” he murmured. “Not him?”
“He… protected your fall,” Scarlet told him. He deeply felt Conrad’s pain, so similar to his own, over the loss of a loved one. Again, the Mysterons had claimed a new victim. Again, their ranks had been robbed of another good officer. A very young man, who had yet to experience the full happiness life could offer. He had died a true hero. Scarlet tried to keep his emotions in check, as he put a helping hand on Blue’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“I’m… fine. Just fine. A little shaken, though… Nothing broken.” He stood up, with the help of both Scarlet and Green. As he put his artificial leg down, he felt it giving way underneath him, and barely had time to catch himself. “Ah no. I remember now. I received a bullet in the leg. I’m afraid it must have damaged the hydraulics… It won’t bend anymore.”
“Will you be able to walk?” White asked.
“And run… but I’ll be limping heavily.” Blue waved the concern aside. “I’ll be all right. But Conrad…”
“I’ll be all right too.” Black had put the body of Lieutenant Brown down onto the floor and was now rising to his feet. His hand was tightly clutching his rifle – and his face had taken on a hard expression. There were unshed tears in his eyes, but the others knew his pain and sorrow were greater than he would admit. “Adam, go to the engine room with Paul and Seymour – this time-jump theory of yours had better work, Seymour… Chip’s sacrifice must not be in vain. Charles, go to the wheelhouse with the others. Take Cloudbase into space.”
“And what are you planning to do?” White asked.
“I’ll be staying here – to cover both your groups.”
“All on your own? Don’t be stupid, Conrad. Now is not the time to play hero. I need you in the wheelhouse to take this heap of junk into space. Remember it takes two helmsmen – and I don’t count on automatic pilot this time to help me with the second helm.”
“Then you go with Colonel White, Captain Black,” Ochre then offered quickly. He took the rifle from Black’s hands. “I’ll stay behind.”
“Not alone, you won’t.” Magenta stepped forward. “I’ll stay with you. We’ll have a better chance together to keep the enemy back.”
“It’s likely we won’t survive the first assault, Pat,” Ochre warned.
“Oh right – now you tell me, after I volunteered? I won’t be letting you win all the honours, Fraser.” Magenta smiled sadly. “If we are to die, then we’ll die side by side, you and I. No way you’re gonna see Saint Peter, before me…”
“Who says we’re going in the same direction?” Ochre answered casually. He looked at the others, who were watching them with an expression of profound admiration. He frowned. “What are you waiting for? Time is against us, remember! Get your butts out of here and go, before it’s too late! Move it!”
“S.I.G.,” Colonel White said with a faint smile. “Good luck, men.” And with that, he and Black, after a last glance at the men they were leaving behind, were already on their way to Cloudbase main body.
“Pat, Rick…” Scarlet said, moving away with Blue and Green, “we will never forget you.” He accorded them a last military salute, just as he disappeared from their view behind his two companions. He barely had the time to see them answering him, with rather casual salutes of their own.
“Man, he can be so stuck up at times,” muttered Magenta, as they both moved on to take position at the entrance where both groups had disappeared. He pressed a button, closing the door leading to the Control Tower’s pylon.
“That’s Paul for you – he’ll always be the military man,” Ochre answered. “Even if he lives to be a hundred years old.” He paused. “As he’s likely to do, even if this mission fails.”
“I don’t know if I envy him…”
Ochre hesitated. “Did you mean it earlier, Pat? About us – dying side by side?”
“I did,” Magenta said. “Ain’t nobody I would rather have by me to cover my ass than you, buddy… and nobody I would be prouder to die with than yourself. We’ll go – like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, pal.”
Ochre smiled widely at the answer, a warm sensation filling his heart at the sound of Magenta’s obvious honesty towards him.
Through the door, they heard footsteps and clamours approaching.
“Here they come,” Ochre muttered. He extended his hand to Magenta. “Been nice knowing you, Pat.”
“Been nice knowing you, Rick.”
The two shook hands warmly –
- and stepped back, weapons at the ready, as banging started on the closed door.
“How long do you think Ochre and Magenta will be able to hold them off?” Scarlet asked Blue as they were hurrying down the corridors of Cloudbase.
“I don’t know,” Blue answered, panting heavily as he was pulling with all his strength on his now nearly useless mechanical leg, to keep up with the others. “Five, ten minutes? My guess is they will be dead before either of our groups reaches our objective.” Despite all his efforts, he was lagging behind, and Scarlet was staying close to him, to offer him cover in case they encountered trouble.
They were advancing as fast as they could, going deeper into the heart of the base, taking detours to avoid encountering any enemy along the way. They met barely any resistance. Obviously, there weren’t many of Roberts’s and Ward’s foot soldiers left; they were either still in the Control Tower, looking for them – or busy with Ochre and Magenta. The few soldiers they did encounter were swiftly taken care of, even before they could either aim at them with their weapons or raise the alarm.
At a junction of corridors, they stopped, as much as to take a breather as to decide on their next move. They looked at each other.
“Time to separate,” White commented. He pointed to the left. “That’s the shortest way to the engine room control centre – where the wheelhouse is.”
“And over there is the lift leading down to the heart of the engine room,” Scarlet said, pointing to the right. “To the nuclear reactor and the Quantum Transmitter.”
“I hope your theory will work, Captain Green… Seymour,” White said to the younger man standing by his side. “If it does, it might spare me years of solitary Hell in the middle of the Himalayas.”
“We’ll do our best, sir,” Green answered truthfully.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye, then,” White said with a wry smile. “I wish you good luck with your mission.”
“And you with yours,” Blue said with a quiet nod.
“It’s been an honour working with you, gentlemen,” White said with no concealed pride.
“And with you, sir,” Blue answered.
Quick handshakes were exchanged between the five men, and White, shaking Scarlet’s hand last of all, looked straight in the eyes of the youngest member of their group. “All our fates will be in your hands, Paul – I know you’ll do well.”
“Thank you, sir…” Scarlet answered – and somehow, he felt, as he had rarely felt before, intimidated by the task ahead. There was so much at stake now.
“Godspeed, son,” White finally said, squeezing Scarlet’s shoulder.
Black did the same, thumping it as well. “Stop this hell from happening, Paul.” And with that, the two men rushed down the left corridor – towards the engine room control centre. Blue, Scarlet and Green watched them disappear, before turning to the other corridor, where the lift that would take them down to the bowels of Cloudbase awaited them.
“Ready to go?” Blue demanded.
“As ready as we’ll ever be, I guess,” Scarlet answered.
The three of them hurried down the hallway.
Colonel White and Captain Black arrived at the engine room control centre in record time. There were two guards at the door, but they easily took care of them, killing them on the spot before they could react, before making their way to the wheelhouse – where they found no helmsmen working at the helms. White checked the controls.
“Automatic pilot,” he reported to Black, who was closing the door behind them, and destroying the locks with one blast of his rifle, so they would not be disturbed in their task. “I’ll override it…”
He stationed himself in front of the main helm and pushed a button – and frowned when he realised that it did little to give him control of the helms. He frowned.
“Hello – who’s flying this thing?”
“Would you bet it’s the Mysterons?” Black had left the door to swiftly come to his friend’s side. He pushed a few controls himself, but to no avail. He grunted. “That’s what I thought,” he said. “The base is controlled by the Mysterons and they are flying it…”
“Great,” White muttered. “Now what?”
There was a sad smile from Black, who put down his rifle and took his place in front of the second helm. “Leave this to me.” He put both his hands on the helm, and then closed his eyes, seemingly concentrating. For long seconds, he remained still, and beads of sweat formed on his brow, now creased with what looked like an intense mental effort. White watched him, in silence, wondering what he was doing exactly.
He heard a beeping sound coming from the controls and suddenly felt the helm responding under his hands.
“How…?” He started, looking at Black with astonishment.
“It’s… part of the gift the Mysterons left me, when they lost control of me,” Black answered, opening his eyes. He was still very pale, and his brow was covered with perspiration. “I can remove mechanical stuff from their control, and back to my own, just by concentrating enough. I don’t have to do it that often, which is a blessing – because it’s very tiring and it gives me a hell of a migraine.” He grunted. “It takes all of my strength right now just to keep it up…”
“Will you be able to hold on, until we get this thing into space?” White asked him.
“I’ll hold on as long as it takes,” Black answered.
“Good,” White said with satisfaction. He pressed the commands in front of him, to calculate their course. “We have twenty minutes to do it…”
“You realise of course, that due to my link with them – and if Roberts told the truth earlier – the Mysterons might know exactly what we’re attempting?”
“If Roberts told the truth…” White grimly nodded. He had no doubt, in fact, that what Roberts had said was true. He saw no reason for the Mysteron to lie. Except maybe to further torture Captain Black. Which would be a moot point at this moment. “And they possibly also know about Green’s plan to send Scarlet back in time. If they’re as afraid that this might succeed as Green imagines they are, they’ll be concentrating more on Blue’s team than on us… I hope they’ll be careful.”
“Sorry,” Black said, genuinely apologetic.
“It’s not your fault, Conrad. You couldn’t help yourself.” White turned to face him. “All in all, old friend… It’s still good to be working by your side again – and I want to tell you… how sorry I am for you for the loss of young Blackburn.”
Black thanked him with a nod, keeping the pain inside of him. “It’s good to be by your side too, Charles… If only for a short moment.” He turned back to the controls.
“Let’s put an end to this madness. I swear, the Mysterons won’t have the last laugh this time…”
White approved with a nod of his own and both pushed the controls forward.
Cloudbase’s speed increased gradually, and started climbing higher and higher into the atmosphere…
The lift took Scarlet, Blue and Green down to the lowest level of Cloudbase, into the engine room, the largest section of the base. So far, their journey had been uneventful – so much so, that it was becoming unnerving. They couldn’t believe it could go so smoothly, without the Mysterons even attempting to stop them.
They felt Cloudbase’s increase of speed and change of altitude as they stepped out of the lift, and knew that Colonel White and Captain Black had reached their destination. Now it was their turn to fulfil their own mission.
They took another five minutes to reach the nuclear reactor, right in the middle of the engine room floor – a huge, golden globe to which were attached so many complicated circuitries and mechanisms, and large silvery pipes which conveyed the excess heat from the reactor through the underside tubes running the length of Cloudbase; it was the heat from these pipes, in conjunction with solar panels, that prevented the base from freezing in the atmospheric cold.
There was a smaller globe, cocooned on one side of the large reactor, which contained all the controlling circuitries of the reactor. Attached to this, was a mechanism that Scarlet never had seen before – obviously, the Quantum energy containment field, he realised. It was pulsating with a greenish glow, that reminded Scarlet uncomfortably of the Mysterons’ manifestation of power.
Connected to this mechanism, was a hand-sized gizmo, that he recognised instantly.
The Quantum Transmitter – actually, the Mysteronised reconstruction of the Quantum Transmitter he had brought back from the Himalayas.
“This is it,” Green said in a whisper.
Strangely, there didn’t seem to be any guards around, so the three men walked towards the reactor.
Scarlet, still on his guard, was the first to notice movement on their right side, and instantly reacted.
“Ambush!” he yelled, and he pulled the trigger of his gun, firing on two men who suddenly jumped out of the shadows to shoot at them.
From the left side, three other men appeared, and Blue cut them down too. Just in front of them, yet another three men appeared who attempted to block their way to the nuclear reactor. The Spectrum officers were forced to duck behind the heating ducts to avoid the hail of bullets that spat from their weapons. Bullets pierced the hull of the pipes, and hot white vapour escaped, filling the room and forming a screen from which the Spectrum men were able to shoot down the last of their opponents, who fell to the ground with barely a sound.
“Is everyone all right?” Scarlet shouted over the hissing of the escaping vapour.
“Yeah, all right,” Blue answered, not far from him.
“Here too,” the voice of Green echoed, from the other side of a control panel. “There don’t seem to be any more of these guys.”
“For now,” Scarlet agreed. “Let’s do this quickly, before others arrive.”
The three of them emerged from their respective hiding places and they walked cautiously toward the nuclear reactor. Stopping in front of it, Green examined it, then checked on the Quantum containment field and finally the Q transmitter. He put his weapon down.
“Great. No bullets seem to have touched the equipment in the shoot-out,” he commented. “I wouldn’t want to work on damaged equipment for this.” He sat down in front of the control panel, and started typing on the digital keyboard. Scarlet and Blue were keeping guard next to him, looking around to make sure no-one was coming.
“There’s a detonator attached to this thing,” Green announced. “It’s scheduled to go off in five minutes…”
Blue checked his watch. “At midnight exactly, like Roberts said.”
Green nodded. “It’ll blow the nuclear reactor – then the Quantum energy will do its stuff… Let’s just hope that Colonel White and Captain Black will have time to take this base into space before it does. If we’re unable to send you back in time, Scarlet, at least, Earth might have a chance of survival.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Scarlet asked, glancing over his shoulder at Green.
“Actually… no,” Green admitted with a shake of his head. “I’m just working on this, adjusting the data within the Quantum Transmitter, following the information that Professor Barnard gave me about it – and what he told me about your particular case. If he is right, when the Quantum energy is discharged – even if it is in space – you should be sent back to your time – at about the moment you left it. Think of it as… simply pulling on an arm to re-seat a dislocated shoulder. Time should naturally resume in its track for you after that.”
“ ‘Should’…” Scarlet repeated. “There’s no certainty, then?”
“No, I’m afraid there’s not… Remember that we’re working with a science which is relatively unknown to us. Most of it is still theoretical.”
“Marvellous,” Scarlet mumbled.
Green’s brow furrowed as he concentrated on his controls. “I’m just trying to fiddle this a bit… so you might return to your time a few seconds before you left it. I hope I understood Professor Barnard’s explanation of this…”
“That would be great,” Scarlet said. “A few seconds would be all I need to act and stop Futura’s destruction… and all that followed won’t happen, right?”
“All the events that followed were mostly due to the destruction of Futura City. Stopping that event should do the trick.”
“What about my other self?” Scarlet asked, as something suddenly occurred to him. “If I stop all this from happening, he – well, ‘I’ – will never be sent forward in time. Won’t that mean I will never be standing here, waiting to go back – and stop Futura City from being destroyed?”
Green smiled lightly. “I can understand your confusion. You are referring to what is theoretically called a ‘time paradox’. But I don’t expect you have anything to fear from this. You are that other self, displaced in time and we are just putting you back where you belong.”
“But a few seconds before I actually left.”
“The same human being cannot exist as his own duplicate in the same timeline – you’ll be ‘absorbed back’ into your ‘other self’ and you will become as one. It would be like you never left – except you will retain all the memories of what you experienced here. I expect it will be a little disorienting.”
“In theory,” Scarlet said with deadpan aplomb.
“In theory.” Green paused before he continued, a little hesitantly: “You have to be aware, Captain, that if we successfully send you back in time, there is also a high possibility that you won’t be able to stop things from happening. For all we know, Barnard might be wrong, and time might even not be changeable.”
“The Mysterons appeared to think it could,” Blue remarked from his position.
“Yeah – which might be an indication that this will indeed work. Despite my bragging earlier, I have to admit that they do know more about how the Universe works than we do. But in any case, we still could be sending Captain Scarlet to his death – he could truly die this time during the blast, as it might have been his fate all along. He might also find himself trapped in a time loop...”
“What’s a time loop?” Scarlet asked.
“We send you back in time, and the initial blast that destroyed Futura City will send you into the future – again. To live these last few days once more, until this very moment where we’ll send you back in time. And again… and again…”
“Oh good,” Scarlet said rolling his eyes. “Just like ‘Groundhog Day’, then.”
“Well, ultimately, you would likely lose your mind.”
“Better and better,” Scarlet muttered.
“Are you still willing to do this?” Blue asked, watching Scarlet with a thoughtful expression. “This is an enormous risk you’re taking.”
“The thought of dying doesn’t scare me. Even before becoming indestructible…”
“Whatever – well, even before that, I was accustomed to the thought of dying in the course of duty. But there are so many imponderables to this… ‘mission’. We’re not even sure if it will work, by Green’s own admittance. It’s never been done before.”
“But if it succeeds, so many things will change,” Blue remarked. “People will live. The citizens of Futura… Your parents… Dianne… ”
“And other people will die,” Scarlet remarked, thoughtfully. “Or… won’t even come to exist.”
“What do you mean?”
Scarlet walked to Blue, who instinctively took a step backwards, at his friend’s advance. Scarlet barely noticed that he was holding himself upright on the console behind him. He looked him squarely in the eyes. “What will happen to those people who exist in this timeline, when – if – it dissolves into nothingness?” he asked quietly. “The bad things that happened, with the destruction of Futura, will cease to exist… but what about the good things?”
“There are so few…”
“You and Karen – you got married.”
“We will still get married. Only this time around, hopefully, the wedding will be less… eventful.”
“And what about your children?”
Blue paused, not answering right away, looking into the distance, obviously weighing his thoughts. After a few seconds of reflection, he looked into Scarlet’s anxious blue eyes again – and smiled.
“They will have a better life than they presently enjoy,” he said. “And more… they will play with your children.”
“Adam…” Scarlet hesitated, unsure what to say anymore. His eyes dropped, and then he noticed that his friend was holding his abdomen with his free hand. He could see blood pouring from between the fingers tightening against the dark of the uniform. Scarlet swiftly returned his gaze to Blue’s face, and then saw how drawn he looked, although he was doing his best to appear strong.
“You’re hurt,” Scarlet said in concern. “How…? When…?”
“That last attack,” Blue answered quickly. “With my bad leg, I wasn’t quick enough to avoid the bullets, I’m afraid. But it isn’t important… You have your mission to think about.”
“Adam, I can’t leave now. You’ll die if…”
“I’m already dying, Paul.” That stunned Scarlet into silence. Blue took his friend by the shoulder and stared him right in the face, with an inflexible determination in his own blue eyes. “It doesn’t matter. Like Green said, it’ll be a moot point if you succeed in your mission. That’s all there is now. Your mission. Now, you go back to your own time – stop all this madness from ever happening… and everything will be all right.”
“I wish I was as sure as you are…” Scarlet murmured.
“There’s no way to be sure, but you have to go,” Blue insisted. “Don’t you see? It’s our only hope now…”
Scarlet sighed. “All right, all right. I’ll do it. But if I turn out thoroughly mad, getting trapped in a time loop, I will have you to blame, Svenson.”
The smile on Scarlet’s face took the edge off his words, and Blue smiled in turn. “I accept the responsibility.”
Scarlet nodded. “And I accept the risk.” They clasped hands. “I’ll see you – sooner than you think, old friend.”
Blue chuckled. “And I’ll probably be less old when you do.”
There was a violent shake of the base, which nearly make them lose their footing. They looked at each other, wondering what was happening.
“Cloudbase,” Blue muttered. “The ascent must be straining her… She’s probably reaching her limits, at this altitude…”
“Captain Scarlet,” Green called from his station. “The detonator… there’s less than a minute left. Get ready.”
“Where should I stand?” Scarlet asked.
“Next to the Transmitter and the containment field – close to the Q energy. When it’s released, it will hit you dead on.”
“What about you? You’ll be very close too.”
Green shrugged. “Close or away, it doesn’t matter. The whole base will be blown out of existence.” He looked at Scarlet. “Only you will have a chance.”
Sounds of multiple footsteps echoed through the distance, quickly approaching. Blue leaned against his console, raising his rifle, and looking in the direction from which the steps were coming.
“Scarlet, get into position!” he urged. “Those drones are coming closer. I’ll try to contain them long enough!”
“Get a move on!”
“S.I.G.,” Scarlet muttered, moving to stand next to the containment field.
Scarlet nodded his thanks. “I will need it,” he murmured.
Cloudbase shook violently, as it pulled itself out of Earth’s atmosphere, and emerged into orbit. The stars never looked so bright as they looked now, and the moon seemed so close through the vidscreen that Colonel White felt that he would be able to reach out and touch it.
“It’s so beautiful,” he murmured.
Captain Black flicked a lever, and the view on the screen changed, so both men were now able to glance down to the planet Earth, as it looked from this height – a shimmering blue, green and white ball, slowly turning underneath their feet.
“Now you know how I felt – when I was with the Space program,” Black murmured. “There’s no sight that could ever equal this sight. Our home.”
White was mesmerised by the vision. “Home,” he whispered in turn. He could feel the weightlessness starting to affect him. His feet were on the verge of leaving the floor, his body felt so light.
Just within Earth’s circular horizon, at the limits of his own vision, he saw a shooting star – and made a wish.
That was his last thought, as the nuclear reactor suddenly exploded, and Cloudbase broke in two, a blinding light bathing it, and sent ripples through space, which bounced off the surface of Earth… causing a ‘boom’ that could logically be only heard from the planet.
But through the distance in space, a hundred million kilometres or so from there, another sound answered the violent explosion.
The roar of anger from a powerful, collective mind, over a battle lost at the hands of a handful of Earthmen…
Chapter 5 – Back in Time
The very last thing Scarlet saw, seconds before the explosion of Cloudbase’s reactor, was WAAF soldiers approaching their position, and Colonel Blue literally charging them, with a war cry that was almost blood-curling. Green had left his station to join him in this ultimate charge, shooting wildly; the haggard Scarlet watched as they fell, and could only see the silhouette of the one remaining opponent standing in the distance beyond them, as the blast occurred – and the wave of pure, white light hit him and made him flinch.
The pain was horrible – and yet he couldn’t cry out. It was as if there was no air to carry any sound, or to allow him to breathe… His body felt weightless, insubstantial, and yet he was falling, unable to move, with nothing to hold on to, feeling as if all of his atoms were being disintegrated in the blast. His limbs felt as if they were torn apart, and then reattached to his body, in multiple successions. He clenched his teeth, and closed his eyes – he couldn’t see anyway. There were only bright, multicoloured lights dancing in front of him, blinding him, even through his eyelids. They were burning his pupils, making his brain boil…
He remembered what he had been told concerning travelling through time – no human was expected to be able to survive it. Now he knew why. He wondered how he’d ever survived it in the first place – and whether he would survive it this time.
Through a daze, he had the impression of hearing voices; voices he thought he recognised. There was Dianne’s voice… and Adam’s… And then Colonel White’s… Captain Black’s… They were talking, all in unison, all at once, speaking to him, speaking to each other, but he couldn’t decipher what it was they were saying.
Then there was a unique, deep voice, that made him shiver, even in his state of intense pain .
“THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS…”
That was the only line he was able to hear clearly, as this voice too mixed with those of his friends, then with others as well… His father’s, his mother’s… other voices he didn’t recognise, or that he didn’t know at all…
There seemed to be millions.
He thought he was going mad; his mind wanted to explode.
Seymour… I will not need the time loop to lose my mind…It’s already happening.
He put his hands to his head – without realising that at this moment, he could move.
The sound became deafening; he felt blood pouring from his ears and nose, running down into his mouth, and he felt the acrid taste of it on his taste buds.
There was a sensation of suction, as if he had been pulled inside a narrow funnel, and then his falling sensation stopped as he abruptly landed on his feet, nearly losing his footing, and the rolling, deafening sound that had been filling his ears suddenly stopped, leaving him temporarily blind, deaf, and dazzled.
His eyes wide – although he didn’t remember when he had opened them in the first place – he looked around in confusion.
He could now hear the sound of blowing winds, which were rushing all around him in the narrow space of a plane cabin – it was dark, barely lit by red security lights, oxygen masks were hanging from the ceiling and papers were flying everywhere between the rows of seats surrounding him…
Goliath – I’m back.
He looked down at himself; he was wearing his Spectrum uniform – his old Spectrum uniform, with the red tunic. He had a helmet on his head, and a thruster pack at his feet.
How the Hell…?
In front of him, there was a door –
In a fraction of a second, he saw it open – and knew instantly what would happen; he threw himself headfirst behind the first row of seats, taking his gun from its holster. The second he saw the silhouette of the Mysteronised pilot, his gun spat fire – three times. Each of his bullets reached their target, and the man collapsed to the floor, right next to where Scarlet was lying. His gun had escaped from his right hand, while in the left, he was still holding a now useless detonator.
He was dead.
Scarlet stumbled to his feet, his gun trained on the dead man, and took the detonator from his lifeless hand, not wanting to take any chances this time. A quick expert glance informed him it was a simply-configured device and did not appear to be booby-trapped. He pulled on the protruding wires, effectively cutting all contact with the activating button, and satisfied that it wasn’t working anymore, he threw it out the door into the void.
In the helmet, he could hear a voice calling to him:
“Captain Scarlet! Captain Scarlet, can you hear me? Is everything all right?”
A wonderful feeling filled Scarlet’s heart at the sound of this voice. Destiny. It was Destiny’s wondrous, sensual voice addressing him with concern. At this precise moment, Scarlet thanked whoever was presiding over his fate for this veritable miracle.
“I’m all right, Destiny,” he answered with a sigh. “There… was a little mishap. It’s been taken care of. I am now progressing to the bomb…”
Leaving the dead Mysteron behind, he quickly walked the remaining distance separating him from the door from which the man had emerged, and stepped inside the new compartment.
There it was; the nuclear generator – to which was attached the Quantum Transmitter. He didn’t waste any time, and simply jerked the Q transmitter from the generator, before turning his attention to the control panel set on the generator itself. He hoped his week-long trip to the future had not made him forget the numeric code he needed to defuse the nuclear reaction.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the case. And it was with growing relief that he saw the many lights on the control panel slowly extinguish themselves, until the generator ultimately went dead.
He stood in front of the mechanism, his hand still holding the Q transmitter, and blew out a deep sigh, as he wiped his sweaty brow.
Goliath tilted to one side and he suddenly found himself flung against the far wall.
The Mysterons were sore losers…
“Scarlet to Destiny!” he yelled into his microphone. “I have disconnected the Quantum Transmitter and deactivated the generator!”
“What’s happening to Goliath?” the worried voice of the Frenchwoman asked him. “It’s losing altitude, heading for Futura.”
Oh great… Scarlet looked into his hand. He had the impression that the Q-transmitter was burning his palm.
“The Mysterons obviously want to crash the plane,” he said into his mic. “Destroy it!”
“With you inside?” Destiny protested.
“I’m already on my way out,” Scarlet answered, stumbling out of the room. “Destroy the plane, Destiny! The SPJ is armed with enough ammunition to blow Goliath out of the sky. Do as I say!”
“Spectrum Control to Captain Scarlet,” a new voice then said into his ears – that of Colonel White, who had obviously been following the conversation. “Get the hell out of there, Scarlet. The Angels are on their way to assist. They’ll do the rest!”
“On my way…”
Scarlet was rushing to his thruster pack, and was reaching for it, when suddenly, the hand of the ‘dead’ Mysteron agent grabbed at his ankle and jerked him off his feet. He roughly fell to the floor. He didn’t know how he was able to keep his hand from opening and letting go of the Quantum Transmitter.
The Mysteron was on top of him the next second, one of his hands around Scarlet’s throat, and the other trying to wrest the Quantum Transmitter from him. Scarlet gasped for air, as the fingers were tightening, choking him dangerously.
“You have not won yet, Scarlet,” the Mysteron agent spat into his face. “I just need to connect this thing back into the generator – and then, Futura City and yourself, will be doomed.”
“I’ve heard that before…” Scarlet gasped. In desperation, he pushed his head forward; the helmet hit the Mysteron’s forehead with force and made him relax his grip. Scarlet jerked his knee, hitting him where it counted, and then struck him in the face with the Q-transmitter.
“Captain Scarlet!” he heard the roar of Colonel White’s into his ears. “Get out of there, NOW!”
Scarlet was on his feet as Goliath tilted again and, his left hand still holding the Q-Transmitter, he grabbed the belt of the thruster pack and rushed towards the still-open door in front of him. Without even putting the thruster pack on, he plunged through the opening, hearing the Mysteron’s cry of fury behind him – and prayed that his luck would continue to run as he fell away from Goliath and toward the surface, way down below.
He was facing upward and could see the plane he had just left; there was the sound of jet engines and then a sudden ball of fire erupted from Goliath. The SPJ – or the Angels, he wouldn’t know – had done the job and destroyed it.
The force of the blast pushed Scarlet downward, unbalancing him even more in his uncontrolled free fall. He nearly lost his thruster pack to the shock.
He had no respirator mask, no goggles, and the cold and the rush of air were making him feel dizzy and were burning his eyes. Desperately, he tried to slow his descent, while attempting to put the thruster pack on. It was terribly difficult, as his frozen fingers were barely responding to his mental command.
When he succeeded in snapping the belt around his waist, he realised he was already very close to the surface; he could see the waves of the ocean approaching, as he fell towards them, faster and faster. He desperately pushed the ignition button, hoping that the engine would work, and that it had not been damaged during the fight in the plane…
Through the rush of the wind, he heard the comforting humming sound of the engine.
Maybe, just maybe… I’ll be able to make it in one piece…
But he was still falling too fast, and was so very close to the water, that he understood almost instantly that the thruster pack would never be able to stop him in time before he hit the waves. He just hoped it would slow him down enough to save him from being utterly crushed by the terrible impact.
It probably did slow him down – but quite truthfully, he would never be able to judge exactly how effective it had been.
He lost consciousness almost immediately as he hit the waves, with such force and violence that his half-broken body sank several metres into the water, unable to stop itself. The last thing he was consciously aware of was of desperately trying to free himself from the now useless thruster pack which was weighing him down…
Epilogue – Hope for the Future
Distractedly reading the morning newspaper, United States President John A. Roberts was riding down the concealed lift, which was taking him directly from the Oval Office to the concealed parking garage underneath the White House.
By his side, stood one of his most loyal bodyguards, Thomas Ruggles. Ruggles was the very picture of his profession – tall, dark, muscular, with sharp eyes, square jaw and tight lips. He had been assigned to the Presidential Detail for ten years, and was fully trusted to do his very best to protect the president. He had already taken a bullet, during the previous president’s time in office – and was quite ready to do the same again, and lay down his very life, if it came down to that.
He had also become something of a confidant to President Roberts – one of the very few people to know of the man’s most guarded secret.
The five-year-widowed Roberts had been secretly seeing a young woman for the past year and a half – a fact that he jealously kept from nearly everyone, aside from a handful of close friends and most trusted employees. Roberts didn’t feel like exposing the woman to the curiosity of the world at large – especially the Press, who would gladly tear into her, and the hot story she represented, like vultures on a piece of dead meat. ‘The woman who was the U.S. President’s girlfriend’ – Roberts could already see the headlines. He loved her too much to see such a label stuck to her. Besides, very soon he hoped, he would present her to the world – officially, as his fiancée. She would then be ‘the woman who was engaged to President Roberts’… A much better, and more fitting epithet.
She would like that.
“Those Spectrum agents did a very good job, last week, didn’t they, Ruggles?”
Ruggles looked over at the President, reading the headline on the front page of the newspaper: ‘SPECTRUM’S SUCCESS IN SAVING FUTURA GARNERS PRAISE IN GENEVA’. Even after three days, the subject was still making the headlines. Ruggles shrugged. “If you say so, Mr. President…” he said in a detached tone, squaring his shoulders.
“They deserve the praises indeed,” Roberts continued. “I’ll make sure to add my voice to them, once we’re in Geneva tomorrow.”
“Of course, sir. I’ve been informed that we will be taking Air Force One right after our return from Miss Braddock’s apartment.”
“Never a moment of rest, is there, Ruggles?”
“Is the car ready?”
“Of course, sir. It’s already in the parking garage. Waiting for us in front of the door.”
Roberts sighed, folding his paper. “I sure wish you would stop being such a stiff, Ruggles.”
“Can’t help it, sir.” The lift reached the last level. “Goes with the job, Mr. President.”
“Right… and you don’t mind being a walking stereotype.”
Roberts rolled his eyes, as the door opened in front of them; as usual, Ruggles walked out first, looking around, and Roberts followed.
The limousine was waiting only three metres in front of the door, and the chauffeur was standing on the driver’s side of the car, next to his open door, his cap pulled down onto his face, and dark glasses hiding his eyes. At first, Roberts wasn’t sure that he could identify him as one of his regular bodyguards – a new one, probably, he told himself. The men from the Secret Service were hand-picked from the very best and the most loyal; what risk could there be? He shrugged his momentary concern aside and approached the car.
Roberts saw the chauffeur touch the side of his glasses, as if he was adjusting them into position, and then give a brief nod. Without giving another thought to the matter, Roberts walked purposefully towards the limo, as the chauffeur rounded it to open the door for him. Roberts climbed in, without hesitation, and settled himself into his seat, putting his newspaper on his lap, and getting ready to continue his reading. Ruggles was about to follow, and at that very moment, Roberts thought he saw him reach for his gun, holstered under his left arm. That was when the chauffeur, still standing next to the open door, pointed a gun at Ruggles’s temple.
“If I were you, I wouldn’t try it, handsome,” was the cold warning coming from the chauffeur’s lips.
Roberts froze, suddenly realising the presence of a man with dark features and dressed in dark clothing, seated right in front of him, holding what looked like a strange weapon. He saw Ruggles make an attempt to resist, to get his gun out. The chauffeur didn’t hesitate one instant, and pulled the trigger, putting a bullet into the bodyguard’s head before he could make another move. Roberts gasped when he saw his man fall.
The door slammed shut, and the chauffeur quickly rounded the limo to take his place behind the wheel.
“What is the meaning of this?” shouted Roberts, angry and afraid for his life. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“We want your safety, Mr. President,” was the calm answer from the man seated in front of him. A disbelieving Roberts watched as the man put his strange weapon down on the seat by his side, where already stood a rigid cap sporting an emblem that Roberts knew very well. The President realised then that the ‘dark clothes’ the man was wearing was a Spectrum uniform.
A grey uniform.
“I’m Captain Grey of Spectrum, sir,” the man presented himself, addressing a reassuring smile to Roberts. “We’re here to protect you and assure your safety.”
“Protect me?” Roberts sputtered. “You just killed my bodyguard!”
“He was about to kill you, sir.” That was the chauffeur speaking now. He had removed his cap and glasses and had turned around on his seat to address the worried Roberts. “And he was not your bodyguard, but a double.”
“Double?” Roberts whispered. “That was not Ruggles? You’re saying it’s a Mysteron attempt, then?”
“Yes, sir,” Captain Grey answered. “We heard of a plot to assassinate you.”
“You guys sure cut it close!”
“We were notified of it at the last minute, sir. We acted as quickly as we could after that. We apologise for causing you discomfort – and worry.” Captain Grey motioned to the chauffeur. “This is Captain Ochre. He will be your chauffeur today. Sorry for the deception…”
“Of course, I recognise you now, Captain,” Roberts replied, nodding at Ochre. “What about the secret agent who was supposed to do that today? Was he part of this conspiracy too?”
“I’m afraid so, sir.”
“My God… If you had not heard of this, I… I would have fallen in a deadly trap. I don’t know how… ”
Roberts was interrupted by a gunshot that made him jump, just as a star appeared on the windshield, in front of Ochre. Grey pulled the President down, and covered him with his body; the doors and windows were of reinforced material, but he didn’t want to take any chances. “Ochre!” he yelled. “That must be the accomplice Scarlet told us about! Get us out of here!”
“S.I.G.!” Ochre answered, pressing down the accelerator. The limo literally jumped forward, its tyres screeching, and raced toward the exit.
“Captain Scarlet?” Roberts asked Grey. He was in a rather awkward position, half-slumped, half crouched on the floor of the limo, with Grey nearly on top of him. He felt for sure he had given himself a stiff neck. “Is he here as well?”
“Somewhere in the garage,” Grey confirmed. “Looking for your assassins’ accomplice. It’s up to him now to find this last man. As for us…” He addressed a new reassuring smile to Roberts. “… we’ll be taking you to Miss Braddock in complete safety.”
“You know about her too?” Roberts asked, rolling his eyes with surprise.
“We know everything,” was the casual answer from Grey, as the limo left the parking garage and he finally allowed the President to sit up straight.
Captain Scarlet watched as the dark limousine took the last ramp leading out of the parking garage and blew out a deep sigh of relief, now assured that President Roberts was safe and sound, and not in any danger of being taken over by the Mysterons.
They had been lucky – so very lucky – to have been able to avoid that tragedy. He had only awakened in the middle of the previous night, to find people watching over him, waiting for him to finally recover and open his eyes, and extremely concerned that he was taking so much time to recover from the injuries he had sustained during his last mission. Scarlet had learned that nearly three days had passed, since he had efficiently stopped the bombing of Futura and he had been picked up at sea, his floating body tossed around by the furious waves, after he had successfully freed himself from his thruster pack.
At first, he knew complete elation at the discovery that his mission had been a success, and that, in all probability, the terrible future he had seen, and that he had left to come back to his own time, might not come to happen, after all. He had changed everything, by changing the one major event from which that future had been born… and for him, it was a wonderful relief. Millions of people in Futura City were alive today… Destiny and Melody had not been killed, Blue had not been injured, Goliath had been destroyed – and he had not been thrown out of his own time.
For a few minutes, it was a wonderful feeling of victory.
But then, he realised that all was not won. There was still something to do, to ensure that this future would not happen anyway – and that the future of Spectrum would not be in jeopardy again, and become the outlawed organisation he had known.
It had taken him a considerable time to convince his colleagues – and especially Colonel White – of his story. At least, part of his story, as he didn’t feel the inclination – nor did he have the time – to tell it all. The important thing was to persuade them that President Roberts was in danger of being killed. He knew all about the assassination attempt, where, when and how it would be carried out. As there was no Mysteron threat so far, Colonel White showed himself reluctant to fully believe him; finally he had decided to play Scarlet’s hunch – trusting that his officer was rarely wrong when it came to the Mysterons, but still wondering if he had not been seriously injured psychologically during that terrible fall from Goliath, and his rather brutal crash into the ocean.
But then, just at that moment, the Voice of the Mysterons made itself heard again, stating that they would sabotage the World Security Conference in Geneva, and that new threat gave full credibility to Scarlet’s assertions.
President Roberts was to attend the conference – basically, the World President and most of the other political leaders of the planet, were to meet to discuss further economic plans for global security. Amongst the topics discussed would be the advancement of more funds for Spectrum’s budget – and an extension of their jurisdiction. It was a very important meeting for Spectrum’s future – and Colonel White thought that it was fitted perfectly with what Scarlet had been saying. The Mysterons taking Roberts over – and using him to turn public opinion against Spectrum – would certainly be a sure way to sabotage the Geneva Conference. Even if Roberts couldn’t use the destruction of Futura as a springboard for his campaign – as Scarlet had implied in his story – there was no point in taking any chances. Roberts was too powerful an ally to lose, and having him as an adversary might prove disastrous.
So a strategy to save Roberts from the planned attack by the Mysterons – as reported by Scarlet – was put into place. Although still not feeling one hundred percent fit, Scarlet insisted on following the contingent of Spectrum officers who rushed to Washington. And they arrived not a moment too soon. They had found the chauffeur, already Mysteronised and on his way to meet Roberts with the limo. They swiftly took care of it, and both Ochre and Grey were dispatched to meet the President, and ensure that no harm would come to him.
“The bodyguard was a Mysteron,” Captain Blue, standing next to Scarlet, told him. “Just like the chauffeur. Like you said.”
“I wasn’t that sure about the bodyguard,” Scarlet answered distractedly.
“Well, we had to make sure, anyway. As soon as Grey was able to check him with the Mysteron detector – Ochre knew what he had to do. The President is safe now.”
“What about his girlfriend’s place?” Scarlet asked.
“Magenta is over there already with a security team. They checked the place – and the girl. Everything is cleared.” Blue smiled thinly. “They’re being discreet about it, so Roberts won’t be angry that we blew the woman’s identity for him. What a strange idea, to keep this relationship with the woman a secret,” he added, deadpan.
“Indeed,” Scarlet approved with a smile of his own. “You Americans have such strange ideas…”
“No comment,” Blue answered dryly. “The President won’t be safe until we catch that Mysteron who’s hiding here. All the exits are either closed or guarded. He won’t escape us.”
“That is, if he hasn’t left the car-park already,” Scarlet remarked.
“No chance. It should only be a matter of time before…”
A sudden gunshot echoed through the parking; almost instinctively, both men ducked as a bullet hit the concrete support next to where they were standing.
“You still think he’s left the place?” Blue asked between his teeth.
“That way!” Scarlet pointed to a specific position, nearly at the other end of the underground garage, just above a ramp leading to the next level up; they could see a dark delivery truck parked there. “He’s either hiding in that van, or behind it.”
“Got it. I’m calling all personnel. We’ll trap him easily.” He was lowering his cap mic, when he saw his friend rounding the support. “Where are you going?”
“Tell the men to tighten the noose around him,” Scarlet said, “and to cover me. I want a shot at this guy myself. I’ll go around him and catch him from behind.”
“You’ll catch a bullet, that’s what you’ll catch. Remember, you’re still not on top of things. You’ve been through a lot…”
“You have no idea…” Scarlet smiled briefly. “But I think I’ll survive…”
“It’s your hide, partner… But I’ll do my best to cover it.”
Scarlet thanked his friend with a nod and started his progression, running in a crouched position to keep himself hidden from the sniper.
It wasn’t long before he heard exchange of fire between the Mysteron agent and the Spectrum men who were surrounding his hiding place and closing on him. Scarlet went from concrete pillar to supporting wall, using them as cover as he moved swiftly towards his objective, all the while making a large detour around it. He climbed up the stairs leading to the next level, moving as lightly as he could so that his footsteps would not clang on the metallic surface, jumped over a last wall and hid behind a few cars as he quietly and swiftly approached his prey from behind.
Reaching a black sedan, he looked over the hood and saw the man, leaning against the protective concrete wall of the ramp, a long-range rifle in his hands as he aimed at something – or rather someone – on the level below. Scarlet took position over the hood, targeting the Mysteron agent.
“This is Spectrum, you’re surrounded!” he barked authoritatively. “Give up while you still have the chance!”
He didn’t think the Mysteron agent would obey and wasn’t that surprised when he saw him jump at the sound of his voice, then turn and shoot at him. Scarlet fired, but his bullet went wide, as he was forced to take cover behind the car in order to avoid the Mysteron’s shot.
“Never, Earthmen!” the angry voice of the Mysteron – such a young voice, Scarlet noticed – echoed through the parking lot. “I will never surrender! You have not won yet!”
Scarlet exhaled deeply. Typical… But he had to try. He heard the footsteps as the sniper made a run for it, and he rose to his feet once more. From over the roof of the car, he saw the Mysteron attempting to escape; he took aim and pulled the trigger..
This time, his bullet ran home, and the Mysteron, propelled by the force of the impact, fell over the low wall of the ramp, with a brief cry.
Scarlet left his position and ran to where his opponent had disappeared, to look down over the wall. He could see the sniper, lying on his obviously broken back, moaning piteously. His rifle was out of his reach, and there was a large red smear on his dark shirt, where Scarlet’s bullet had hit him.
When he moved his head to look up, Scarlet’s eyes went wide with astonishment.
“Oh, my God… No…”
He stepped across the low wall, and jumped down the short distance to the ramp where the Mysteron was lying, bending his knees as he landed. He hurried across to the wounded man… and stood over him, looking down at him with bewilderment.
A deathly pale and so very young face turned around to look at him directly. The man coughed violently, spitting blood, as air wheezed out of his lungs.
“You… stopped them… Captain,” he said in a barely audible voice.
“Chip…” Scarlet frowned in disbelief, shaking his head, trying to make sense of what was going on – of what might have happened. “How… how could it be you…? How…”
“The Mysterons… took me over,” Lieutenant Brown whispered. “Right… after I was shot… on Cloudbase. They knew… you would come back in time… to stop the destruction of Futura… to stop… Roberts from being killed…” He coughed again. “It became my mission… to ensure that Roberts died…”
“Only Mysterons can travel through time,” Scarlet reflected dryly, nodding his understanding.
“Yes… I was there… when you were hit by the Quantum wave. I was hit also…”
“You were the silhouette I saw before leaving your time.”
“Yes… A time… that doesn’t exist anymore… thanks to you…” Brown smiled sadly.
Scarlet crouched by his side. “You sound as if… they had lost their hold on you.”
Brown weakly nodded his head. “I… am myself again…” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
Scarlet reached for his hand, and held it tight. “Steve, hang on… We’ll help you.”
“It’s no use… I… only have a few seconds. My timeline ceased to exist… and so… I’ll cease to exist too… this Steve Blackburn Jr… will never be… I’ll be a better man… I’ll have a better life…”
Brown let go of Scarlet’s hand. “Don’t be sad for me…” he smiled very weakly, closing his eyes. “Be… happy…”
Before Scarlet’s eyes, the broken body started to blur; he saw the young Lieutenant Brown draw his last breath…
… and disappear into nothingness.
As if he never existed, Scarlet reflected in shock.
He slowly stood up, and was still looking fixedly at the spot where the body had been lying when he perceived the sound of running feet approaching from behind. He discovered Blue, suddenly standing by his side – also looking where the Mysteron had fallen.
“Did I really… see him disappear?” Blue asked, nearly out of breath as if he had run a marathon.
Scarlet nodded. “Yes…”
“The Mysterons took him away like they sometimes do?”
“No – he was dying. The Mysterons had nothing to do with his disappearance… He simply vanished… out of existence.”
Blue wasn’t sure if he understood what his friend was saying. “You talked to him – you knew him?”
“Who was he?”
Scarlet smiled sadly. “An angry young man… who, I hope, will now live a much happier life.” With that, Scarlet turned around, and walked away, followed by the probing eyes of Captain Blue.
Sometimes, even he found his friend’s statements mystifying…
“Man, guys… you couldn’t believe what a looker President Roberts’s girl is! That man is so lucky, I tell you…”
There was a general atmosphere of complete relaxation in the Officers’ Lounge the next evening, as everybody was loosening up following the events of the day. The conference at Geneva had been a success – mostly, anyway, as Spectrum had been able to keep it safe from any further attempt by the Mysterons to disrupt it. In view of its latest achievements, the Spectrum organisation had received the commendations of the world’s leading authorities, including those of the United States’ President himself, John A. Roberts, who thanked them personally for having saved his life – yet again. Nobody cared to tell him that his death would not only have upset the conference, but that undoubtedly, the replicate the Mysterons would have made of him would also have attempted to cause Spectrum’s downfall.
Captain Magenta had returned from Washington a couple of hours before, to join his colleagues in the Officers’ Lounge. He, too, had praises of his own… and they were all directed at the beautiful young woman he had been assigned to protect, these last few hours, in order to make sure President Roberts would meet her safely – and would not come face to face with yet another Mysteron replicate, created to kill him.
His admiration of the President’s girlfriend, however, did not meet with the approval of everyone present.
“Really, Capitaine Magenta,” Destiny Angel said with a sniff. “You should learn to wisely not express so much appreciation of the beauty of a woman, in presence of other women… What, we might think you do not find us pretty…”
“Did I say that?” Magenta protested. “Scarlet, did you hear me say that?”
Scarlet, lying on one of the sofas, his arms crossed behind his head, and his eyes closed, simply permitted himself a smile. “I’m sleeping,” he said in a half-slurred voice. “So I didn’t hear anything…”
“A lot of help you are, buddy,” Magenta grumbled before turning back to a still apparently incensed Destiny. “Juliette, of course I find you pretty! You are probably the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen.”
“You are just saying that…” she replied, batting her eyelashes in a coquettish way.
“Oh no, I’m not… I really mean it…”
“You said the same thing to Rhapsody, not so long ago,” Captain Ochre, pouring himself a cup of coffee, said wickedly.
“Hey! That’s not true… Are you trying to get me into trouble?”
“With whom?” Ochre asked with a mocking smile. “Destiny, Rhapsody… or Scarlet?”
Scarlet opened an eyelid. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, old friend,” Ochre said, thumping his arm. “Just teasing Pat… Go back to sleep, you earned it.”
Scarlet sighed and put his feet down to the floor. “Well, sleeping here is next to impossible with every last one of you nattering like this.”
“Well, it’s the Officers’ Lounge, not the Room of Sleep…” Blue stopped, but the line was already out. He grimaced, not believing he had said it. The others were looking at him with amusement. “Damn it. That sounded just like the colonel…”
Scarlet chuckled. “One day, big guy,” he told Blue mischievously. “One day… but right now, I’m glad to say you’re still the same old Captain Blue that we all adore…” He paused a second. “Well, that Symphony adores,” he corrected himself with a wink. “We simply like you.”
“Why don’t you go get some sleep in your room, instead of staying here, talking nonsense?” Blue asked, raising a brow. “You still obviously need your rest…”
“Are you kidding?” Scarlet scoffed. “It feels far more comfortable staying here with all of you guys… Even if you stop me getting some sleep.” He got to his feet and grinned. “It’s so good to see you all here, together, and looking and acting exactly like you should.”
“Here he goes again,” Ochre muttered, rolling his eyes. “You know I still have trouble believing this story of yours, Scarlet… I personally still think you were hit too hard over the head this time, and that you dreamed it all.”
“Dreamed it all?” Blue repeated, lifting a brow. “Then how do you explain that he knew in advance of the attempt on President Roberts’s life?”
Ochre shrugged. “Lucky guess…”
“Like hell it was,” Blue replied dryly.
“Oh, all right – so let’s suppose it did happen then…” Ochre sighed, as he looked straight at Scarlet. The latter was simply smiling. He seemed in too good a mood to get angry, even at Ochre’s antics. “I tell you, buddy, all those strange things keep happening to you. It will take me a long time to actually swallow this one.” He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced. “Like it’ll take me a longer time to swallow this stuff. Blue, I thought we had an agreement that you SHOULD NOT come close to the coffee maker ever again?! What are you trying to do, poison all of us?”
“Richard?” Scarlet called to him.
“Don’t ever change, you hear?” Scarlet told him with a renewed smile. “And never think that we are not there for you. You don’t ever have to do things alone.”
“I know that… I think.” Ochre looked at Destiny, bemused. “Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?”
“Pat,” Scarlet continued, “we’re all your friends. Never doubt that. Money will never be more important than friendship.”
“Am I allowed to keep some pocket change?” a puzzled Magenta asked, raising a brow.
“Yes?” At this point, Blue was starting to wonder what kind of bug could have bitten his friend. Maybe he did need more rest to get fully back on his feet. He was on his guard when Scarlet came to rest his hand on his shoulder.
“Marry the girl,” Scarlet told him. “Quickly. Set a date. Now.”
“Well, er… soon, I promise.” Blue answered with perplexity. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Me?” Scarlet grinned. He took his cap from the sofa, where he had left it, and put it on his head, walking towards the door. “I’m just feeling good, that’s all… and I need to share that feeling with someone right away.”
The door slid open just as he reached it – and right on the other side stood the very person he was on his way to meet. He smiled upon seeing her, and took a step through the doorway.
“Hello, pretty lady,” he said, removing his cap.
Rhapsody looked up at him in surprise; one glance over his shoulder informed her that everyone in the Lounge was staring right at them with bemusement. Was he going to blow their secret like that? Blue and Destiny knew about it, but Ochre and Magenta…
Scarlet, in fact, didn’t care about the secret anymore. All he wanted to do was to take the woman he loved into his arms and hold her tight and kiss her. And it was exactly what he was going to do. Right here, right now, and to Hell with that damned secret…
He took another step towards her, swiftly wrapped his arms around her and put his lips to hers, before she had the time to protest further. Nature took its course and, before she knew it, she automatically responded to the kiss.
The door closed on them.
Blue looked around to check on those who were standing in the room with him. They were all grinning at each other knowingly.
“I think he’ll be all right,” Ochre said, taking a last sip of his coffee…
He made a face again, and threw the remainder of it into the sink.
The Mysterons had lost. Spectrum had won.
That was almost the only thought in Captain Black’s mind that night, as he was standing in the middle of the Parc des Eaux-Vives in Geneva, all alone, staring up at the cloudless sky above. It was dark, without a moon, which made the stars look even more bright, and more beautiful, than Black ever remembered.
Just like that night… when Cloudbase exploded – or will explode.
Of course that would never happen now, Black reflected with a sense of relief. Spectrum had effectively stopped the chain of events that would lead to that dreadful future, that catastrophic moment where his friends – and he – would lay down their lives to save the planet Earth from the Mysterons’ most devastating attempt to destroy it.
Captain Scarlet had succeeded in his mission.
Futura City had been saved. President Roberts had been saved. That future would not come to be. Black could sense it. As he had been able to sense his ‘future self’, on that ultimate night when he sacrificed himself. He had been ‘touched’ by his last thoughts, which seemed to have been sent through the time continuum by the Quantum energy blast; and for a short time after that, Black had been able to keep the Mysterons at bay from his own consciousness. Just enough not to listen to them – just enough not to obey their orders to lay new plans to sabotage the Geneva Conference.
Just enough to give Spectrum a chance to win this very important battle.
Now a new chain of events had been set in motion – and a new future had replaced the terrible one that had been awaiting them. Somehow, Black felt some regrets – to know that this new future might not be one where he would break free of the Mysterons’ control once and for all. It was but a fleeting thought of sorrow for him; he was satisfied, knowing the plans of his malevolent and unforgiving masters had been defeated so radically. If that was the price to pay, he would gladly pay it.
But – perhaps… who knew? Maybe there was still hope, whatever the future might hold for him…
“Captain Black… This is the Voice of the Mysterons…”
Black went stiff, as the voice echoed in his mind and all around him; he lifted his eyes to the sky once again, searching for that elusive dot, just a little more brilliant than the others, from where he knew the Mysterons were watching him. His temporary freedom was coming to an end; he could feel it slipping away from him…
“We know that you can hear us, Earthman… We have set our eyes on a new target.”
A flash of defiance flared in Black’s eyes. “Go to Hell…” he muttered under his breath.
“Captain Black, the Mysterons have new orders for you…”
Black’s head bowed down, and his eyes took back the lifeless expression that had been his for the past four years.
“You know what you have to do…”
“The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out…”
Slowly, like an automaton, Captain Black left the field, without another look at the starry sky…
Announced as last year’s Halloween contribution, ‘Dark Horizons’ was really born more than five years ago. The first lines of a Captain Scarlet’s fanfic I wrote were the scene in the SPJ, at the start of this story. I never finished the story, as I realised straight away that at that time, I wasn’t ready, and didn’t have the skills required to write such a story. So, the story was put aside since then, while I turned my attention to others, developing my writing skills – such as they are, and with lots of help from many friends who helped me get better, corrected me, encouraged me all through the last years.
In the meantime, the ‘Dark Horizons’ story grew in my head. It changed title – twice – and finally, I felt ready to write it down – rather in a record time, once I got my mind to it.
The character of Steve ‘Chip’ Blackburn Jr. – Lieutenant Brown in this story – is my own creation, but is the son of Captain Brown, the character who was killed in the first episode of the TV series – and to whom Mary J. Rudy gave the name of Steve Blackburn, a dashing Australian pilot who was to be the first victim of the Mysterons. The character of President Roberts (to whom I added the first name ‘John A.’) first appeared in the TV series episode ‘The Launching’ as President of the United States, while the character of the already unsympathetic General (Anton) Ward, appeared in the episode ‘Avalanche’.
The ‘Scarab Protocol’ first was mentioned in my story ‘The Quest’ – and ‘Amanda Wainwright’ , the mother of Symphony Angel for whom Colonel White obviously has a soft spot, was also one of my creation, and first appeared in the story ‘A Symphony in Blue’, as was John, David and the rest of the Svensons family – for the same story.
General Charles Metcalfe and his wife Mary, parents to Captain Scarlet, were the creation of Mary J. Rudy – which I used freely, like Captain Brown, but with due acknowledgement to her contribution.
“Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” ©, all the characters, craft and equipments, and events from the TV series are the creation of Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and the rights of the classic series, once owned by Century 21, ITC/Polygram and now by Carlton International.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped me through with this story – all the beta-readers who performed real miracles – really, plural! – for it to make it possible and FINALLY appear online – and on time for this year Halloween.
So really, this one for you: Hazel Kohler, Mary J. Rudy, Caroline Smith and Marion Woods – ladies, you are stars and without you, this story would not be online now.
So many, grateful thanks to you all.