A 'Captain Scarlet' story for Halloween
By Chris Bishop
“Come on, Sam. Put a little more heart in it. I’m sure it isn’t that difficult!”
Director Peer Abramson was at his wit’s end. The male star of his upcoming blockbuster was as inept to play an ape, as an ape would be to play a human; and even there, Abramson was almost sure the ape would do better than Sam Simmons, who kept struggling with the F.R.E.D. harness as if it was an instrument of torture from the 12th Century. By Simmons’ side, Jack Fuller, the operator instructing him on how to use the harness, seemed as tired as Abramson himself.
“I’m doing what I can, Peer,” Simmons replied between his teeth. “I’m an actor – not a goddamn ape. If I can’t find my character’s motivation…”
“His motivation?” Abramson said, rolling his eyes to the ceiling of the hangar. “As you just said, he’s an ape, Sam. He eats, he drinks water, he defends his territory from invaders, he pees and he has sex with the females of his species.”
The English director wasn’t a man known to be one to mince his words, and his closest assistant, Ida Quinton, seated by his side, rarely found herself surprised by whatever came out of his mouth. But even now, she had to smile upon hearing his comment, obviously borne out of deep frustration at witnessing Sam Simmons’ constant failures.
Blondie O’Day, seated next to Ida Quinton, giggled. It wasn’t as much the director’s choice of words that she found amusing, but rather the sight of her co-star, standing on that stage, and strapped from head to toe into that armature made of metal, leather and electronic circuitries. His moves were awkward as he tried his best to walk like a simian, his every move imitated by the man-size metallic robot-ape standing barely ten feet from him, and that Abramson had affectionately dubbed ‘Mini-Mechani-Kong’. She felt for sure Simmons’ efforts would eventually fry all the robot’s electronic components.
Behind Simmons was the gigantic, very life-like, cybernetic Kong prototype, seated in a ape-like position, completely still and seemingly gazing down at Simmons’ efforts with a bored expression which looked exactly like that of Abramson. Blondie knew the Kong robot wasn’t powered up but still, he seemed so much alive and impressive that almost despite herself, she couldn’t help but feel intimidated, even scared by its presence.
“Eeh eeh ooh eeh!” Simmons was making ape-like noises and jumping from one foot to the other on the stage, the electronic ape by his side jumping – silently – in the same fashion. Fuller stepped back in surprise at the scene; Blondie had a doting smile on her lips; Sam was certainly trying, the poor thing, but wasn’t getting it at all.
Abramson raised his head, and opened perplexed wide eyes; a few feet behind him, Arnie Doyle and Dirk Manson, the cybernetic operators, seated at their console and trying to make adjustments in their commands according to Simmons’ antics, shook their heads in dismay. The director heard one of them groan.
“Hang on. What was that?” Abramson asked Simmons with a frown.
“What was what?” the actor asked, stopping his strange, primitive dance and standing straight, swiftly imitated by the Mini-Mechani-Kong robot.
Abramson stood up and quickly strode to his star. “That sound… ‘eeh eeh ooh’ whatever… What was that?”
“Ape cries, of course,” Simmons explained. “I was trying to get into the ape’s skin.”
Abramson took a deep sigh. He closed his eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again. “Sam… I’m sorry, but it didn’t work. It didn’t sound at all like ape cries.”
“You’re sure?” Simmons asked with a frown.
“Sam… I thought you spent two months in the San Diego Zoo, studying their silverback gorilla there. What’s his name…”
“Bwindi,” Ida provided behind him.
“Thank you. Did Bwindi sound like that at all?”
“Bwindi wasn’t very talkative,” Sam explained with a shrug – swiftly imitated by the ape robot. “He wasn’t very helpful in that aspect. But I watched National Geographic last night, and –”
“Did I tell you to make ape cries?” Abramson interrupted his actor, before he went too far in his explanations, that the director was sure were beyond boring. “Sam, I thought I told you already. You will not need to do ape cries.” And thank God, you won’t be talking either, because you can never remember your lines. “We’ll be using sound effects,” he continued, addressing Simmons. “We have a wonderful library of sounds just for that. We want Kong to sound wild, terrifying, LOUD... I’m quite sure we don’t have ‘eeh eeh ooh aah’.”
“Eeh eeh ooh eeh,” Simmons corrected him.
“I don’t care either way,” Abramson snapped impatiently. “We don’t have that sound. And I don’t WANT it!”
Simmons crossed his arms and thrust out his chest, looking down with obvious annoyance at the director standing in front of him; in the same movement of the head, Ida and Blondie looked in the direction of the Mini-Mechani-Kong to witness him doing exactly the same.
“Well, maybe we ought to have it,” Simmons declared, ignoring the exasperated expression very obvious on Abramson’s face. “If I can’t act like myself, if I can’t talk so anyone would recognise my voice, what good am I for?” He gestured theatrically. The mechanical manikin did the same. Blondie thought she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from laughing out loud. Ida gently elbowed her. Fortunately, neither Simmons, nor, more importantly, Abramson, noticed. The director was livid enough as it was, and was doing his utmost to keep his temper.
“We can give you another role, if you want…” he started tentatively. A small role, he thought. A caricature maybe, or a comic element. Simmons loves to play comic roles. That ought to satisfy him…
But he realised it was a mistake, making that suggestion to Simmons; he should have known better than to open that door.
“I could be the hero, then,” Simmons said quickly. “The guy who falls for the heroine… The other guy, that is,” he corrected himself, waving at Kong, with the man-size robot still imitating him. “If you can call that mountain of wires and circuits a guy.”
“That mountain of wires and circuits is the star of the movie,” Abramson said. “Remember the title? It’s called ‘King Kong’? And that part you mentioned, you know it’s been given to Andy.”
“Andy Marlow?” Simmons snorted. “That Brit’s a two-bit actor…”
“Who played Richard III on Broadway and Hamlet in London!” Abramson almost exploded, bristling. That cheap shot against a fellow Englishman wasn’t at all to his liking.
“We can’t sack him like that and give you his part, Sam,” Ida then said quietly from her seat. She felt like she needed to intervene. Maybe then, Abramson wouldn’t lose whatever was left of his patience.
However, Sam didn’t seem to realise he was better off keeping his mouth shut from then on.
“Why not?” he inquired almost innocently.
“He’d sue me and Prestige Pictures for millions of dollars for breach of contract!” Abramson replied heatedly.
“Peer,” Ida called to him pleadingly.
Abramson got the message. The last time he had lost his temper with a lead actor, the latter had walked off the set more than half-way through filming. He certainly didn’t need that to happen right now. He closed his eyes and counted again. Arguing with Sam Simmons would not get him anywhere – except to give him an ulcer. The man was a complete idiot; he knew that before hiring him. But he didn’t have any choice in the matter. Simmons was under contract to Prestige Pictures, and Prestige Pictures imposed him on Abramson for this movie.
Abramson couldn’t explain to himself how such a bad actor could have any success at all; certainly, it couldn’t only be his good looks… But then again, he had many fans all over the world, and all his movies were big hits at the box office. His name on the posters would insure that the movie would attract a huge female audience… And bring a lot of cash in.
That’s why Prestige wanted you to hire him, Peer… So bear with him. He’ll get to work the machinery eventually.
And he hoped that, if there was any need, both Arnie and Dirk would be able to correct any flaws in Simmons ‘acting’ from their console.
“Sam,” Abramson said, trying to sound patient, “you’re only working with the Mini-Mechani-Kong dummy right now.” He gestured to the ape-robot on the stage with Simmons; when the latter turned to look at it, it turned its head the other way, seemingly not wanting to meet eyes with the actor.
Blondie couldn’t take it anymore; she openly laughed at the scene. Ida tried to shush her. Abramson, who already had his hands full with one star, preferred to ignore her completely; Simmons gazed at the young woman with some kind of mortified look.
“Sam, we need you to be able to manipulate the dummy through the F.R.E.D. harness,” Abramson continued. “Its circuitries are similar to that of the MIGHTEC prototype. So that should help you familiarise yourself with handling the commands. When you’ve learned how to do that, we’ll then connect you to Kong.”
“I can work the big ugly thing right away, Peer. Why wait?” Simmons shrugged and waved his arm in a large circle, in a dismissive circle. Abramson eyed as the man-sized robot-ape did the same, in the process almost knocking down Fuller who needed to take a step back to avoid it. He heard Blondie going into hysterics behind him. He looked to the sky, taking God as his witness. Bloody actors… We should replace THEM all with robots…
“Because of that, Sam,” he said, his voice growing less tolerant and gesturing impatiently towards the robot. “If you do that with Kong, one small gesture like that could destroy the set! You could hurt someone! You could hurt yourself or Blondie!”
Blondie had stopped laughing. She hiccupped: “Could he?”
Well, at least that shut her up, Abramson thought savagely. He pinched the bridge of his nose. He could feel a headache coming. “Didn’t studying that gorilla in San Diego teach you anything? Ida told me you were getting good at it.”
“That he was,” Ida confirmed. “He looked like a real monkey.”
“Thank you,” Simmons said, beaming at her. He frowned almost immediately after. “I think…”
“Then what’s the problem?” Abramson asked his star.
The latter hesitated. “I think it’s this whole get-up,” he finally admitted. “Can’t seem to be able to concentrate with that on…”
“So it’s the machinery then? You’re not able to work it?”
“Excuse me, Mister Abramson, sir?”
The voice echoing from behind made Abramson turn; at the controllers’ desk, Arnie Doyle stood up; he cleared his voice to address the director again: “If I may, I have a suggestion?”
“What is it, Arnie?” At this point, Abramson was ready to take any help he could from anyone.
“Well, if Mr Simmons was indeed able to imitate ape moves before putting the F.R.E.D. harness on, and if he’s unable to work the harness now, maybe it’s because he’s not comfortable with it?” Arnie gestured to the computer at his station. “Dirk and I are doing our best to encode and program his natural moves into the software, but as he’s instead doing ‘monkey moves’ which are not natural to him… and not doing them very well –”
“But I’m doing my best!” Simmons protested.
“That was said with all due respect, Mr Simmons,” Arnie quickly added. He didn’t want for Simmons to play the prima donna on them now.
“So what are you suggesting, Arnie?” Abramson asked with a scowl.
“Well, it’s quite simple. If Mr Simmons could act naturally to begin with… like himself, I mean… until he becomes familiar enough with the harness and able to manipulate Mini-Mechani-Kong better… What do you think, Jack?”
Fuller addressed a grateful look in Arnie’s direction. “That could work,” he said with a nod. “If Mr Simmons could just walk around, move his hands naturally, talk – saying anything so the facial conductors would recognise his face movements…”
“Yes,” Dirk then said, adding to his colleague’s suggestions. “And while he does all that, we’ll be able to calibrate the controls and enter the moves into the software. Then, when he’s perfectly at ease with the harness…”
“… He could go back to doing monkey business,” Abramson said.
“Hey!” Simmons protested.
Abramson ignored him. “That’s worth a try. Now listen, Sam – you have to master the commands to perfection. So we’ll do it the way the cybernetic operators suggest. Would you do that for me?”
“Okay, Peer. I’ll give it a try.”
“Don’t try, Sam. Just do it. Be natural… and don’t force it.”
Sam nodded his agreement; Mini-Mechani-Kong agreed too.
Abramson tiredly returned to flop back on his seat. “Now, let’s try again,” he sighed. “And please, Sam, follow Jack’s instructions. He knows what he’s talking about.”
* * *
Captain Ochre, Captain Magenta and Symphony Angel met with Curtis Greenwood, the director of the M.A.T. Corporation facility in Los Angeles, in his personal office, on the fiftieth and last floor of the facility’s main building. Unlike Calvin Gordon in London, Greenwood wasn’t directly involved in any research conducted by the Corporation, and was more of the business relations type. He was professional and very pleasant in his approach, and willingly answered the Spectrum officers’ questions without any complaint or hesitation. He offered them a tour of the facility, and even served as their personal guide, showing that way that he had nothing to hide from Spectrum.
The Los Angeles M.A.T. complex counted many office blocks, spread over a relatively large area, the perimeter of which was bordered by a high security fence. The tower which was the main office was erected near the west end, which meant that to access it, visitors had to cross almost the full length of the facility. From Greenwood’s explanation, the Spectrum officers learned that each of the buildings represented a division of the complex, and was assigned its specific task, according to the field of expertise the technology was attached to.
“Yes, we have many contracts with most of the World Government organisations,” he confirmed, when Captain Ochre enquired on that specific subject, while walking the grounds towards yet another building. “We provide them with plasma computers, microchip parts for transportation vehicles and craft, robotic instruments, high-tech communication devices…” He pointed to the radiocap Ochre had on his head. “I believe this was one of our concepts. It works with the epaulettes, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, I heard you have contracts even with Spectrum,” Ochre said.
“When I said World Government organisations, I should have mentioned that we mostly supplied the security organisations,” Greenwood explained. “Spectrum isn’t our biggest customer, though.”
“That would be the U.S.S.,” Magenta said. When Greenwood stopped and turned to him, he shrugged and smiled. “I did my homework.”
“So you did,” Greenwood commented, musingly. “Are you asking me questions you already know the answers to, by any chance?”
“Only a few,” Ochre admitted with an almost apologetic smile. “Just to make sure you’re on the level, sir.”
“I trust my answers have been satisfactory, then.” Greenwood turned to Symphony. “So judging from your uniform, you’re one of the Angel pilots, Miss Symphony?”
“Yes, sir, I am.”
“M.A.T. collaborated with Universal Aero Engineering and International Engineering for Spectrum craft,” Greenwood continued. “I was personally involved with the technical team which designed and provided many electronic parts for the Angel interceptor. Our collaboration with Spectrum continues to this day. I do not want to sound too pretentious, but I honestly think some of our finest work in the aircraft field is done for your organisation.”
“Your contribution is highly appreciated, Mr Greenwood,” Ochre said.
Greenwood nodded thoughtfully. “I was wondering… could it be that our work with Spectrum made us a target of the Mysterons? Maybe they’re somehow hoping to get to you, by attacking us?”
“Spectrum is not specifically a target of the Mysterons,” Ochre replied guardedly. “If we were, it would be easy to take the war to their own turf, so that innocent people don’t become collateral victims.”
Greenwood offered him an almost repentant smile, and with a gesture, invited the three of them to walk with him and continue the visit.
“That’s not what I meant, Captain,” he said. “My apologies if it sounded like I was accusing your organisation. No, Spectrum is doing a wonderful job fighting the Mysterons. I will never dispute that. But that makes you a target anyway, and by extension, those associated with you can also be targeted – because by removing Spectrum from the equation, the Mysterons would be free to do the damage they wish to do.” Greenwood’s smile broadened and he looked at each of the three Spectrum officers, one after the other. “The M.A.T. Corporation is proud to give its support to Spectrum, and will continue to do so without any hesitation.”
“Your support is as appreciated as your contribution, then,” Ochre said. “I need to say, though, whether or not M.A.T. has been developing technology for Spectrum is of little consequence to the Mysterons. The importance of the corporation in that field is enough to mark it as a target.”
“So it’s because we’re successful that we’re in danger?”
“Possibly,” Magenta said. “There’s still a slight possibility M.A.T. is not the target – but it would be surprising. We’re not taking any chances.”
“Well, I sure am grateful for that, Captain. Come to think of it… I would expect more an embittered competitor causing us harm – however anodyne it might seem under the circumstances – than dangerous terrorists.” Greenwood sighed. “You can’t begin to imagine the number of industrial spies who tried to pass through our security. In fact, some of them have probably succeeded in the past, stealing some of our technology for the benefit of other enterprises.”
“I can very well imagine, Mr Greenwood,” Symphony said quietly. “I was in the industrial counter-espionage business for some time before joining Spectrum.”
“Ah… So it’s not in your capacity of pilot you’re here then, Miss Symphony.”
“Many Spectrum agents have many fields of expertise, Mr Greenwood,” Magenta explained. “Symphony Angel is here for her investigative skills.”
“Ah! Now it’s clear! But you have nothing to fear, Miss Symphony. In that respect, this facility is as safe as it could be. You’ve seen the security at our gates... Everyone needs to be cleared before entering. Our computers’ firewall cannot be breached, and even if there was someone who managed to do it, our team of experts would instantly notice it and react to the menace. So you see, industrial spies and hackers of all kinds are pretty much kept at bay these days.”
“I’m not really that worried about industrial spies at the moment, Mr Greenwood,” Symphony replied with an indulgent smile.
Greenwood turned to Magenta. “And what would be your other fields of expertise, Captain Magenta? Aside from being a ground agent?”
Magenta hesitated, unsure how exactly he should answer that tricky question; he wondered how Greenwood would like learning one of these Spectrum officers walking with him had at one time been one of those hackers he thought his company was so thoroughly safe from.
Fortunately, Symphony quickly came to his rescue: “Captain Magenta is our computer expert.”
“Computer expert,” Magenta approved swiftly, with a swift nod.
And he’d be able to crack your much vaunted firewall in mere seconds, Ochre added inwardly. With no-one being none the wiser. He thought it best to change the subject. “It would seem to me then, Mr Greenwood, that this fence surrounding the facility would be the weakest link in your security.”
“It might not seem like much, Captain, but I assure you, it’s quite solid. It’s rigged to an electronic device of our invention that alerts security if anyone tries to pass over it, go underneath or cut right through it. We have cameras covering the whole perimeter, and drones patrolling the ground from the sky. See, that’s one, just right there,” he added pointing to a point in the sky behind them.
The Spectrum officers turned around and just had time to spy a small flying object, which just looked like a large firefly of about a foot long, flying about fifty meters from the ground, before it disappeared round the corner of a building. They turned back to Greenwood who shrugged.
“It’s tighter than Fort Knox in here,” he said. “Beside, most of our neighbours also equipped their grounds with the same kind of security equipment. Before going through our security, any person wanting to enter illegally here need to go through theirs.”
“Provided by M.A.T., I expect,” Magenta commented.
“But of course.”
“Even the Prestige Pictures Studios, right next door?” Ochre asked. He thumbed in the general direction of the facility entrance they had gone through earlier. “We saw the poster plastered all over their façade, on our way here.”
“Prestige Pictures are one of our biggest clients in New Hollywood at the moment,” Greenwood explained. “So yes, we provided their security equipment as well… I imagine. I’m not into those little details, but I’m pretty sure of this. We could check this out, once we return to my office, if you want.”
“Just to make sure, yes, that would be better,” Ochre said.
“So you saw the King Kong poster, uh?” Greenwood asked to Captain Ochre who smiled widely at the question. Neither of them noticed the apprehensive glance exchanged by Magenta and Symphony. “We’re particularly proud of our contribution to that movie. You’ve heard of course about the giant robotic gorilla they will be using for the movie?”
“That’s M.A.T.’s work?” Ochre asked. He was doing his best to contain his excitement. From Symphony and Magenta’s point of view, that he succeeded was nothing short of miraculous.
“It is indeed, yes. Nearly a hundred percent of it. We based the principle on the Glenn Field Prime-8 space exploration robotic ape…”
“Which of course is also one of your creations,” Magenta commented.
“Part of it, yes. We can’t take all the credit on that one. But Kong is more advanced cybernetically and robotically, though. The circuitry and general technology put into its carcass are many years ahead of everything else you can find in the market.”
“That was developed here, in this facility?” Ochre asked.
Greenwood shook his head. “No, that field of expertise is located in our London offices.”
“Oh…” Ochre looked disappointed by the news. Symphony and Magenta, on the other hand, were quite pleased to hear this. If that particular field of expertise had been located in this very facility, they would not have been surprised if Ochre had asked Greenwood for a visit.
“I trust Spectrum is offering protection to our London offices as well?” Greenwood asked, as if an afterthought. “You know they’re doing the most advanced research over there.”
“We’re well aware of that, Mr. Greenwood,” Symphony said. “And we already have a team there.”
“Ah, good then. Now let’s just hope that whatever the Mysterons are planning, we’ll all be safe.” Greenwood gestured ahead. “Now, let’s finish this tour, if you please… There’s not much left to show you.”
* * *
“Look out, Miss!”
The sound of the man’s call drew Rhapsody out of her momentary surprise. Barely one second later, the little grey monkey – a rhesus macaque, if she correctly remembered from that dreadful lecture given by Doctor Fawn more than a year before – leapt straight into her arms, which she had extended by instinct. All she could do was hold the small animal, which was cuddling against her and holding her in turn with his long arms. She could feel his body trembling under her fingers.
This little chap is terrified, she told herself. What on earth is the matter?
“Binx!” the woman in the white coat said, as she and her colleague stopped in front of Rhapsody. She had the name ‘Anna Veldes’ written on her security badge. “You naughty boy!”
“He didn’t bite you, Miss?” the man quickly asked Rhapsody.
“No, he… he didn’t.” Rhapsody frowned, somewhat concerned. “Is he in the habit of biting?”
“No, he’s normally very gentle,” the woman replied reassuringly. “Arthur, you’re upsetting our visitor needlessly.”
“She’s just lucky he wasn’t under the effects of Doctor George’s shots,” the man grumbled. “Or he might have torn her to pieces.”
“Oh, tish tosh, Arthur. Binx would never do a thing like that.”
Rhapsody read the man’s namebadge: ‘Arthur James’. He seemed genuinely relieved that the monkey had not done her any harm.
‘Binx, come over here,’ Anna Veldes said, invitingly extending her arms to the little monkey and talking to him soothingly. “It’s time for your injection, sweetheart.”
Rhapsody could see the monkey looking at her over his shoulder with frightened eyes. “He doesn’t seem to want to go with you,” she commented, as he continued to hold on tight to her. She smiled lightly. “Maybe mentioning ‘injections’ wasn’t a good idea.”
Veldes sighed. “Oh, damn... Please, would you take him to the examination table for us? He probably will let go of you as soon as he sees he won’t come to any harm.”
Rhapsody agreed with a nod and followed the two scientists, who took her to a large table set in the middle of the laboratory – which looked more like an examination room for a veterinary hospital. As she stood there in front of the table, Binx still clanging to her, she watched with some uneasiness as James prepared an injection.
“What kind of injections are we talking about exactly?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing bad, don’t worry,” Veldes answered. “It’s only an animal vaccine, mixed with a bit of tranquilizer to make sure Binx doesn’t have a bad reaction.” She took a banana from the table and offered it to the small monkey; he looked at it with covetous eyes. She tapped on the padded surface of the table. “Here, Binx. You like bananas, don’t you? Yes… That’s your favourite. Come and sit here, sweetie, and you can have it.”
Binx let go of Rhapsody and reached for the banana, before sitting down on top of the table. He started biting into the peel to remove it, leaving Anna Veldes to stroke his little head, while James was gently cleaning his shoulder with a small pad.
“He does seem gentle,” Rhapsody noted. “And very docile.”
“He is,” Veldes said, smiling. “He just had a bit of a panic attack earlier, when he saw the needle.”
“Courtesy of Doctor George,” James muttered, as he injected the vaccine into the shoulder of the little monkey – who, too busy with eating his banana, didn’t even react. “With all his disinhibiting jabs… He’s driving the animals crazy.” He finished his work by putting a small dressing on the tiny puncture wound, and turned to Rhapsody, sighing. “Doctor Arthur James, and my colleague, Anna Veldes. We’re the company vets.” He narrowed his eyes at Rhapsody. “You’re new around here.”
“Brand new,” Rhapsody said, not committing herself. “Jo Wallis. Security.” She prayed that they wouldn’t look too closely at her badge to realise that the ‘Jo Wallis’ she had borrowed it from was instead assigned to maintenance. She saw them both straightening up.
“Security?” Anna Veldes said with a frown. “What can we do for you, Ms. Wallis?”
“Oh come now, Anna,” her companion said, with some irritation in his voice. “It’s obvious why she’s here. She came for Doctor George’s experiments, of course.”
Rhapsody hesitated for only a split second. “I was merely doing a routine inspection when I entered through the door and Binx here jumped into my arms.” Absently, she stroked the little monkey’s head. He ignored her; now very calm, he was still eating his banana. “As you said, I am new and I was rather surprised to see that M.A.T. was using animals for their work.”
“Animals are used mostly for the applications of the technology developed here at M.A.T.,” Veldes explained. “Mostly in the field of cybernetics, bio-engineering and prosthetics. As an example, we have a chimp in the hospital who had one of his arms chopped off in a particularly vicious poaching trap in Africa. Poor fella… He was quite distressed when he arrived here. Now he seems very happy to be able to use his brand new cybernetic and hydraulic arm.” She wiggled her fingers. “He was at lost at first, until he discovered that he could peel bananas with his new metallic fingers, nearly as well as he used to with his real fingers. He likes bananas too, just like our little Binx, here,” she said, affectionately patting the little monkey who had nearly finished eating his meal.
“Once the applications to primates have been proven viable, with no risks of rejection, the technology can then be put to use for human beings,” James said. “Advanced cybernetic limbs, with joints and digits that can recreate each movement to perfection would certainly change the lives of many amputees. Of course, there’s the look… A metallic hand isn’t very aesthetically attractive, but I think M.A.T. is working on that.”
Rhapsody frowned. “I read ‘Advanced Research on Animal Behaviourism’ on the door when I came through,” she commented.
“Yeah. Some the cybernetics and robotic technologies are DNI-based,” James explained.
“DNI…?” Rhapsody repeated.
“Direct Neural Interface,” Veldes translated.
“Mind-controlled,” Rhapsody said, with an understanding nod.
“If you want to call it that, yes,” Veldes admitted.
“I’ve got the feeling you two are not your run-of-the-mill regular vets,” Rhapsody remarked with a faint smile.
“Ah well… Arthur’s too modest to admit he has a Ph.D. in veterinary biomedical engineering,” Veldes answered. “My field of expertise is animal psychology and micro-surgery.”
“But we are still also ‘regular vets’,” James added quickly. And I only received that Ph.D. very recently, thanks to a grant offered by M.A.T. Still waiting to truly put it to work here, though.”
“Seems like only yesterday I was still working at London Zoo…” Veldes reminisced with a deep nostalgic sigh. “Those were the days…”
James cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sure you’re not really interested in our resumés... You were wondering about DNI.”
“That seems fascinating, yes.”
“M.A.T. is making researches in animal behaviour to insure that the brain will correctly transmit the proper commands to the robotic device,” he explained. “That’s why we’re mostly working with monkeys and apes, our close cousins. The applications developed with them will mostly be used by humans, of course.”
“Nerve-controlled technologies for artificial limbs is not exactly a new concept,” Veldes continued. “Oh, it’s about some fifty, sixty years in the making, I think. It’s being applied to external robotic devices as well.”
“So as the name implies, it means a connection to the brain, then?” Rhapsody asked with curiosity.
“M.A.T. is using wired connections to the cortex through carefully-controlled laser surgery, in the case of cybernetic limbs,” James said. “Doctor Veldes and myself do the procedures ourselves, to insure the animals endure the minimum of discomfort – much like in the case of human beings, in fact. Our animals do not have their skulls opened for the sake of science – sorry, technology, in this case.”
“As for external robotic devices, the scientists use external connections,” Veldes continued. “A helmet, or a harness which is worn by the subject, which transfers the ‘commands’ to the device to be controlled. We wouldn’t want to drill a hole in someone’s head for the temporary use of a tool. That can be applied to many fields: construction, aviation, movies… But mostly,” she added in a lower voice, “this research is done for the development of new technology aimed at scientific and medical research laboratories and for remote space exploration.”
“I see,” Rhapsody said with a smile.
“Imagine, being able to explore Mars with a probe that would be mind-controlled from Earth,” Veldes continued. “Or to build a colony there, just with mind-controlled robots, preparing for our eventual arrival. That would be wonderful!”
“I wouldn’t count on a colonisation of Mars anytime soon,” Rhapsody said with a shake of her head, not really thinking of the improbability of such a far-fetched project, but rather of the Mysterons’ objections in it. This mention of the red planet, however, brought her back to her on-going assignment. There didn’t seem to be anything here that warranted further investigation on her part, so with her personal curiosity satisfied, she prepared to take her leave.
“It would seem that M.A.T. treats its animals with proper care,” she declared.
“Well, that was before Doctor George’s arrival,” James muttered.
“Arthur, not now,” Veldes chided him. “You’ll get yourself into trouble. I know you don’t agree with Doctor George’s methods –”
“And with good reason, Anna. And I don’t recall you agreeing with them either.”
Rhapsody frowned. Again, her curiosity was piqued. “Who’s this Doctor George, Doctor James?” she commented. “You mentioned him giving disinhibiting shots earlier? Can you tell me exactly what this is about?”
James exchanged glances with Veldes, seemingly hesitant now. “Well, like Anna said, I might get into trouble, and get someone else in trouble as well… Really, I would rather avoid that,” he said. “What with Doctor George recently being appointed personal assistant to Doctor Gordon…”
“Was he?” Rhapsody asked. She couldn’t recall that information from what she had been provided by Lieutenant Green on the M.A.T. Corporation.
“He must be as new to M.A.T. as yourself,” Veldes said. “He’s been with us, what, less than a week, now?” James confirmed this with a nod. “His name’s Doctor Anthony George,” she continued, and Rhapsody took note of his name on the top of the file she carried. “He’s supposed to be a specialist in animal behaviourism… He is actually, I heard of him often when I studied animal psychology. However, after witnessing the way he treats animals, I have some serious concerns that his expertise might be overrated. But if he’s with M.A.T. now, and if’s he’s Doctor Gordon’s assistant, he certainly must have first-rate credentials.”
James gestured around the room. “This laboratory is actually his domain.”
“It’s Doctor George’s theory that by suppressing the inhibitions in our mostly domesticated animals, they would act more instinctively,” Veldes continued. “And the controls exercised on the robotic devices from the brain would be more complete and would produce better results. Hence the use of disinhibiting drugs – disinhibitors, he calls them – in some recent tests.”
“And that’s rubbish,” James retorted. “Disinhibitors alter the neurotransmitter’s functions and affect the serotonergic neurons. These drugs indeed free the subject’s most basic instincts, but they render the subject’s behaviour erratic, unpredictable, and prone to violence. I could barely recognise poor Binx when Doctor George gave him a shot of his stupid drug yesterday. He was trying to tear his cage apart, attempting to escape. He was literally enraged.”
“Which is why he was afraid of the vaccine shot earlier,” Rhapsody commented.
“That was nothing compared to what the disinhibitors did to Pan, our 150 lb male chimp,” Veldes added. “His guardian considered himself his best friend – and he was scared to death by Pan’s uncharacteristic violence.”
These statements from both doctors left Rhapsody wondering. The wording of the Mysterons’ threat repeated itself in her mind. Could this be a coincidence? In the case of the Mysterons, she never believed in coincidences.
“I was determined to report Doctor George to Doctor Gordon,” James continued. “But… Anna did remind me about Doctor George’s promotion…”
“Him now being Doctor Gordon’s assistant,” Rhapsody said in understanding.
James shrugged. “Seemed like it would be some kind of professional suicide to go to Doctor Gordon, now. Don’t you think?”
“We won’t get into trouble by telling you all this?” Veldes asked Rhapsody, a little apprehensively.
The latter smiled reassuringly. “No, don’t worry. For the moment, this will not go to Doctor Gordon – until there’s an investigation into this affair.”
“I suggest it’s done quickly, Ms. Wallis,” Veldes said. “I wouldn’t like for poor Binx to be put again through the same experience anytime soon. Nor any of the other animals. It’s certainly dangerous for them… And for us as well. It wouldn’t do any good if Pan, or even our little Binx here, attacked anyone.”
“We wouldn’t want that, would we? He does have some impressive teeth…” Rhapsody stroked the head of the little monkey who was now very calm and playing with his banana peel. She addressed the two vets again, a scowl forming on her brow: “You mentioned Doctor George working closely with Doctor Gordon… What is it exactly they are currently working on?”
“Why, they’re in the Development and Applications in DNI Cybernetics Technology department, on the twelfth floor,” Veldes explained. “Didn’t you know? Doctor Gordon is head of that specific department, as well as the director of this complex.”
“Of course, I should have realised that. But do you have any idea of the project they are working on at the moment?”
“Beats me, Ms. Wallis.” James pushed his fists into the pockets of his trousers. “All I know is that in the last couple of days, it became very important, not to mention very top secret… And that the experiment Doctor George conducted on Binx with his disinhibitors has something to do with it.”
“Would this be of any help?” Veldes asked. “For your subsequent investigation?”
“I don’t know yet,” Rhapsody said thoughtfully. “I will have to check with my superior to see if it has any significance... Until then, stay put, in case we need further information. And don’t worry about a thing. I’ll see what I can do.”
* * *
Captain Scarlet woke up to sound of voices echoing through his reeling skull. He felt dizzy and he had a bad taste in his mouth.
“Do you have the satellite’s new coordinates?”
“Yes, Doctor. We’ll be making contact in ten minutes.”
“Good. Make sure everything will be ready by then. The camera must be on as soon as we can make contact.”
Trying to make sense of what he was hearing, Scarlet shook his head, which was hanging heavily onto his chest. It was a bad idea as the dizziness got worse and made him want to throw up. He gave a low grunt. All the fibres of his body were screaming in pain.
The memory of what happened to them slowly came back to him.
Electricity… Blue and me, we walked into the room and were electrocuted. We fell into a trap.
The realisation made him react; his eyes flew open and he tried to move, but found out he couldn’t. He was sitting on a chair, his arms pulled behind the backrest and his wrists bound together tightly. His ankles were similarly secured to the front feet of the chair.
“If we miss that window, we’ll have to recalibrate the signal,” one of the voices he had heard before was saying. “And it could take another forty-five minutes before we’re able to make contact. I don’t have to remind you that time is of the essence, Anthony.”
“I know, sir,” the other voice replied. “We have very little time before Spectrum notice they’re missing two of their agents.”
That was coming from nearby; carefully, so to avoid another sudden headache, Scarlet raised his head and looked around. To his left, there was part of the huge rounded computerised console he had seen when he had entered the room with Blue earlier. Doctor George, and the man he presumed to be Calvin Gordon were busy working on that console, pushing buttons and turning dials, and checking information from pads and screens embedded onto the higher portion of the computer which ran up to the ceiling.
Scarlet checked from left to right, but couldn’t see any trace of Blue – except for his blue radiocap, resting with Scarlet’s next to a large bowl of fruit on a nearby work table…
Along with the American officer’s dark shirt and blue tunic.
Doctor George had turned on his heel and noticed Scarlet looking in his direction. “Speaking of Spectrum, sir,” he said quietly, “it seems our guest is awake.”
Doctor Gordon turned his head and considered the Spectrum officer who was glaring daggers at him. “Check those coordinates again, Anthony.”
Gordon left the console, and took two steps towards their captive. “Back with us already, Captain Scarlet? I fully expected you to be out for the duration of the operation. But then again, that wasn’t taking into consideration your extraordinary metabolism.”
“Where’s Captain Blue?” Scarlet asked, stressing each word. The pain in his head awoke again, and he had to make an effort to hide his temporary discomfort from the man standing in front of him. It didn’t work, as Gordon tilted his head to one side, looking closely at him.
“You don’t look too good, I must say. Doctor George, how much sedative did you give our friend?”
George snorted. “The dose was set to take down a gorilla,” he answered over his shoulder.
Great, Scarlet reflected, shaking his head to regain his senses. Electricity and an overdose of sedative. No wonder I feel so wobbly…
“The satellite will be within range in five minutes, Doctor.”
Gordon nodded at the information from his assistant. “Continue to follow its course, Anthony.”
“You’re Mysterons,” Scarlet declared in a slurred voice.
Gordon chuckled. “Very observant of you, Captain. I wonder what could possibly have given us away?”
“You’re planning to destroy this building?” Scarlet asked again. “So the M.A.T. London offices are really your target?”
“Oh, Captain.” Gordon tutted, shaking his head at his captive’s assumption. “You’re not even close to the truth. But you’re a soldier. I shouldn’t be surprised you lack so much imagination. This building is not our target. Far from it.” He leaned back against the console behind him. “We’re planning on using technology developed within these walls to strike at our real target,” Gordon continued.
“And that would be?” Scarlet demanded roughly. His voice was firmer, and his headache had subsided. But there was still enough of the sedative coursing through his veins to be a nuisance. He wasn’t at his peak. Not that he would be able to free himself from his bonds even if he was. His captors had used heavy-duty Tie-wraps to restrain him. And they were cutting off the blood circulation from his hands; he could barely feel them.
George answered his question quietly. “The M.A.T. Corporation offices in Los Angeles, of course. Where we’ve been informed by your organisation that another Spectrum team is presently checking for a possible attack from within.”
Scarlet shook his head. “It’s on the other side of the world – exactly how are you planning to strike at it?” He looked at the coordinates appearing on the screen just over Gordon’s head. “You’ll be using a satellite… but in what capacity?”
Gordon looked at him, nodding his head thoughtfully. “You like to play the stereotyped hero and try to get me to be a stereotyped villain as well, and expose my plan while it unfolds, Captain?” He seemed to give it some thought. “All right, I’ll play the game, if it pleases you. And because it amuses me, and you’re powerless to do anything to stop me.” He pushed himself off the console. “DNI technology, Captain Scarlet. Direct Neural Interface. The technology that permits the control of an electronic device by direct communication with brain and nerve impulses.”
“Used in prosthetics, I know,” Scarlet said.
“Well, then, you’re not entirely ignorant of the subject,” Gordon continued. “Did you know it can also be used to control some elementary external devices?”
“I’ve heard of that, yes. That’s your field of expertise. I mean – it was the original Doctor Gordon’s field of expertise.”
“The research done at M.A.T. opened a way to extend this technology to more complex devices – and on a more advanced level,” Gordon explained, ignoring Scarlet’s obvious taunting. “The experiments have been conclusive, with primates and humans alike.” He smiled thinly. “And today, for the first time ever, a human being will be performing DNI control of an external device from a distance of over five thousand miles.”
“You want to remotely mind-control a device in Los Angeles?” Scarlet asked incredulously. “From here?” He looked towards the screen overhanging the console. Now the Mysterons’ plans were starting to get clearer, although he still didn’t have all the clues to decipher it completely. “That’s why you need that satellite. You’ll feed the signal to it, and it will reach whatever device you have decided to use in Los Angeles – to destroy the M.A.T. facility over there.”
“I knew you were a brilliant man despite it all, Captain,” Gordon said mockingly.
“What manner of device are you planning to use exactly?”
“A robot, Captain Scarlet,” Gordon explained.
“A robot?” Scarlet echoed, unsure.
“A giant robot, to be exact. The most sophisticated cybernetic machine ever built by humankind. You should be proud of your peers for their accomplishment.”
“A giant robot…?” Scarlet was beyond puzzlement. He dismissed the statement with a shake of his head. “You’ve been reading too many Japanese comic strips, Doctor.”
“Another strategy, Captain? Now, you’re attempting to mock me and make me angry?” Gordon sighed. “That won’t work. I’m not a man easily prone to anger.”
“Two minutes, Doctor,” George said.
“Take your station, Anthony,” Gordon instructed. “I’m taking over from you. This is something I want to do myself.” He turned his back on Scarlet and returned to the console, taking George’s place, as the latter stepped back to move to another set of controls next to the one he had been working on until then.
“You are serious, then?” Scarlet asked, still dubious.
“I am very serous, Captain,” Gordon replied as he watched the information on his screen. Scarlet craned his head as much as he could, but was unable to read whatever was displaying on it. “You may find the idea far-fetched, but M.A.T. has designed such a machine. It’s one of a kind. And most importantly… it works perfectly.”
“In L.A.? I thought cybernetics was London expertise.”
“It is, Captain. That wonder has been designed in these very premises. Here, in London. By yours truly. Well, actually, the human Calvin Gordon, as you so delicately put it yourself earlier. Of course, it wasn’t conceived as… erm… an ‘instrument of destruction’… but we can easily correct that so it will become one.”
Scarlet’s features grew dark. “So now, according to your masters’ plans, you’ll use DNI to connect yourself to this device… this robot, whatever exactly it is… and will strike the facility in L.A. from within.”
“No, not from within, Captain Scarlet. Much too predictable. The robot isn’t within the facility perimeter, but outside.” Gordon gave it some thought. “Outside, but… very nearby,” he added in a mysterious voice. “And… you’re wrong on another count. I will not be connecting myself to the robot.”
“No?” Scarlet raised a brow. “You just said this was something you wanted to do yourself. And really, I would have thought that you would not have forfeited this honour to anyone else but yourself.”
“I want to direct this mission, Captain,” Gordon corrected him. “And for that, I need the full control of my brain.” He chuckled. “Let’s say that in other circumstances, you might have been right. I would have loved to have that experience myself. However, that wouldn’t be according to the Mysterons’ threat.”
Scarlet scowled. “What the devil do you mean?” he asked with irritation. “Stop talking in riddles!”
This time, Gordon ignored him. After checking the information on the screen one last time, he pressed a button on his console. A beeping sound was heard and a green indicator lit up. Gordon turned to George.
“The link is established with the satellite,” he announced. “It’s now waiting for us to send the signal. Is the camera already available, Anthony?”
George checked his data and nodded. “The feed is low, but I think we might see something. Shall I try to put it on right away, Doctor?”
“By all means, my friend.”
He flicked a switch. The three men raised their eyes to the screen overhead which came to life with a dark picture, which slowly cleared itself. Scarlet frowned. The image, still filled with some statics, was obviously a vantage view seemingly from a high ceiling, of two men dancing in perfect synchronization on what looked like a stage, in front of a small group of people, seated on a lower level.
No… one of these men is… a robot? Or a guy dressed as a robot, I can’t say for sure… And what’s that other guy’s wearing, exactly?
“What are we seeing, exactly?” the Spectrum officer asked with curiosity.
“Apparently, an Earthman playing the fool to other Earthmen fools,” Gordon commented casually. He addressed George again. “Our subject is prepped and ready?”
“He is, Doctor,” George announced quietly.
“What subject? Who are you talking about?” Scarlet asked with a renewed scowl. “Is there someone else involved in this apart from you two?”
“The disinhibitor’s flow is steady and constant,” George said, ignoring the Spectrum officer’s intervention and checking his own controls. “Neural activities are under ideal conditions for the experiment. He’s in a state of half-sleep, but will be fully awake when I inject the stimulant drugs. Heartbeat is a little fast, but then, under the circumstance, it’s not unusual. Trapped as he is, anyone would feel fretful.”
Suddenly, Scarlet started to feel very worried. The words pronounced by George made him wonder about the identity of this ‘subject’ of theirs. It didn’t sound as if it was someone willing to do whatever job they wanted of him. A suspicion was forming in the Spectrum officer’s mind. And he didn’t like it one bit.
“Where is Captain Blue?” he asked again, remembering that Gordon had evaded his question earlier. “What have you done with him?”
Gordon looked at him over his shoulder. “Do not concern yourself with your friend,” he stoically replied. “Just be content to know that… erm… he’ll be playing an important part in an experiment for the advancement of human technology...” He smiled coldly, and turned fully around, to lean on the console.
Scarlet’s face grew ashen. That was exactly what he was afraid of. “What?!” he yelled angrily. “You mean… he’s the subject you’re talking about?”
“Ironic, isn’t it? Captain Blue’s mind will be the one controlling the beast that will destroy M.A.T. in Los Angeles.”
“Beast? What do you mean by that?” Scarlet roared, pulling furiously on his bonds. “And you tell me not to be concerned? I’ve got every reason to be concerned! Why would you need Captain Blue for this mad scheme of yours?”
“It is not him I need, Captain. But solely his mind.”
Scarlet shook his head in disgust. “He will never agree to help you, whatever it is you need of him.”
However, as he said these words, a thought crossed his mind, and he suddenly hesitated to continue his harangue.
His apprehension must have been visible to Gordon, as the latter smiled wickedly. “If you’re wondering if your friend has been ‘Mysteronised’, as you Earthmen say, to join us in our fight, I’ll put your mind at rest: no, he wasn’t. He’s very much alive. And… his contribution is an unwitting one.”
“For our plan to work, we don’t need him to be a willing participant,” George said in turn, attracting Scarlet’s attention. “On the contrary, the more reluctant and rebellious he is, the better.”
“We need to access the most primeval, violent instincts, deeply repressed in the recesses of any human being’s mind,” George continued. “In that respect, a Mysteron agent would be useless.”
“Oh, I’m willing to bet the process would probably work,” commented Gordon thoughtfully. “But it would not be according to the Mysterons’ threat.”
“The threat… ‘Most Advanced Technology meeting the most primitive instincts and brute force,” Scarlet recited. “To wreak havoc and destruction. Remotely.”
Gordon nodded. “You see, all the elements of the threat are there, Captain.”
“Captain Blue is not a violent man,” Scarlet challenged. “This won’t work.”
“Within each Earthman, there is a sleeping beast, Captain,” George retorted. “It just needs to be awakened. And with the use of disinhibitors, we will wake that beast in Captain Blue and insure that he’ll remain as violent as we need him to be.”
“Think about it,” Gordon continued. “He finds himself trapped, defenceless… Unable to free himself. He’ll feel anxious, nervous, fearful… angry. All raw, primitive emotions, fed by the disinhibitors... He’ll lose his capacity to think… He’ll only feel those emotions and his mind will revolt and fight back. He’ll be unable to control himself. He’ll be exactly like an animal.”
“You’re monsters,” Scarlet snarled.
“Are we?” Gordon said stoically. “It seems to me that it’s your friend who’ll be one, Captain Scarlet.”
“I don’t get it… How do you plan to control him – if he can’t even control himself?” Scarlet asked with a deep frown.
“We won’t be able to control his emotions, that’s true. Except by feeding them with constant flow of disinhibitors,” Gordon explained. “To keep him on edge. Doctor George will see to that. As for the robot…” He pointed to the screen where the image of the dancing man and of his robotic counterpart was even clearer than it was before. “… We will have enough control to send it in the right direction. And then… Captain Blue’s disinhibited mind will do the rest.”
“And how will these… ‘disinhibitors’ of yours leave him?” Scarlet growled, glaring murderously at the two Mysteron agents.
“You mean, will he still be alive after we have finished with him?” Gordon gave it some thought. “Really, I have no idea. I imagine it depends on the amount of the drugs his system will be able to absorb,” he answered quietly, watching Scarlet’s eyes grow wide with horror. “He could live, or die… Or he could be brain-dead by the time this mission is finished.”
The growl of untold fury that escaped Scarlet’s throat had barely anything human to it; he pulled furiously on his bonds, and was able to heave the heavy chair an inch from the floor – but was still unable to free himself. The anger had chased away the last remnants of the sedative from his blood. He wanted nothing more than to put his hands around the throats of the two Mysteron agents.
“Where is he?” he bellowed at the top of his lungs, as the chair fell back on its feet with a dull thump. “Where are you holding him? I swear, if he comes to any harm, I’ll make you pay, you dirty bastards! I’ll kill you!”
“Oh dear,” Gordon said quietly, apparently untouched by Scarlet’s display of righteous anger. “It would seem the good captain is determined to make a nuisance of himself. Anthony?”
“On it, Doctor.”
Doctor George reached for a syringe that rested on top of his console and strode hastily to Captain Scarlet. He went around the chair and stood behind him, before resting a hand on his shoulder, in an attempt to force him to remain still. He was stronger than he looked, but it didn’t stop Scarlet from struggling to escape, when George tore into the collar of his shirt and exposed his neck.
“What the blasted hell are you doing?” the Spectrum officer demanded. “Get your bloody hands off me!”
“This will serve to calm you considerably, Captain,” George replied in a cold voice. “And just to make sure, I tripled the earlier dose. So you shouldn’t be bothering us for a while… Provided you survive. But then again, we know it’ll only be temporary, don’t we?”
The needle pierced the skin of Scarlet’s neck and George made his injection; he wasn’t very gentle with it, and the Spectrum captain gritted his teeth against the pain. He could feel the sedative entering his bloodstream and already coursing through his veins. In normal circumstances, he knew that his fast retrometabolism would have taken care of the drug in very little time.
But he still felt under the weather because of his earlier electrocution and so, although he fought desperately to cling to consciousness, he knew it was a futile battle.
Doctor George left him to return to his station. Scarlet was gasping, and his head was lowering inexorably to his chest.
“Good,” Doctor Gordon said, after giving him a last satisfied look. “Now we’ll be able to proceed with our plan without interference from your part. We’ll take care of you afterwards, when we have completed our mission.” With his vision blurring, Scarlet watched as Gordon turned back to his console to flick two new buttons. “Remote activation of the MIGHTEC prototype.”
“Link satellite receiving the signal,” George announced. “Feeding about to begin. Countdown… Twenty seconds.”
“Put the sound on, to go with that camera image, Anthony,” Gordon said, still in his very cool voice. “I want to hear those Earthmen fools scream in terror when they realise the danger they’ll soon be in…”
Those were the last words Scarlet was able to hear. Despite his best efforts to stay awake he couldn’t hold on much longer.
His head dropped on his chest and he surrendered to oblivion.