This story takes place approximately a year after the War of Nerves started, and shortly before Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel became a couple.
A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
Scarlet woke up with a start and quickly rose to a sitting position, a cry mounting to his lips. He sat there, breathing hard and looking into the empty space in front of him. He hugged himself; he was shirt-less, covered with sweat and shivering uncontrollably. In the semi-darkness surrounding him, he could see only a flickering light, coming from an old oil lamp.
He realised he was indoors, seated on a thick blanket spread on a hard floor where he had previously lain half-covered by another blanket, which now lay in a heap across his lap.
He heard a creaking sound that made him swiftly turn his head to his right. Standing not far from him, Rhapsody Angel was activating an old manual water pump set over a large steel basin. When water started to pour, she quickly filled a metal cup and crouched by Scarlet’s side. She gently touched his bare shoulder and offered the cup. He shivered under her touch.
“Here, take some of this, you must be thirsty.” He eyed the cup then the old pump with suspicion and she smiled at him reassuringly. “Don’t worry, the water is good. I think there’s some kind of filter inside the pump system. It’s the same kind of pump inside the cabin.”
He nodded absently, barely taking her words in, and accepted the cup. He drained its contents with one large gulp. Rhapsody took the cup, filled it again and returned to him. He drank half of the water this time.
“Are you all right?” the young woman asked softly, as he put down the cup.
Scarlet shook his head and closed his eyes; he felt nauseous just at the thought that was coming to his mind. The nightmare he had just had was so vivid, he was certain it wasn’t just a nightmare, but instead a very unpleasant memory.
“I killed a kid,” he said between two breaths.
Rhapsody frowned at his words. “Do you mean one of those two boys who attacked us?” she inquired. “You said that one of them had escaped. So the other –”
“… Is dead, yes,” Scarlet confirmed with a brief nod. “But I didn’t kill him. He fell into quicksand and I tried to save him, but… I couldn’t. I’m talking about another boy.” He opened his eyes. “I had another flashback… something new this time. Something… horrible.”
Rhapsody sat in front of him. “Tell me about it?”
Scarlet stared at her for a few seconds, hesitating. He didn’t know if he wanted to burden her with such a story. He didn’t know what she would think of him. He saw her encouraging smile and finally, he nodded, if still reluctantly:
“I was in a war… wearing a uniform, quite similar to those men who are after us. I was isolated, walking in a deserted village; all around, there was only destruction and death. I had a small child in my arms… a little girl of about three years old. I think she was the lone survivor of a massacre. I didn’t know who she was, but I knew my duty was to protect her and see her to safety.” He swallowed hard. “Then someone – a soldier I think – appeared out of nowhere and charged us. He had a sword taped to his rifle, and was trying to use it as a bayonet. I don’t know if he was trying to kill me or the child I held in my arms… In my mind, I know he was part of those who had attacked the village and killed everyone.”
“What happened?” Rhapsody asked softly.
“I got hurt by that blade of his. Not too badly, but I knew it would only be a question of seconds before the soldier would hurt me more seriously, or the child. So I shot him, almost instinctively. And then, as he fell dead at my feet, I saw his eyes, filled with hatred and rage… and I realised he was only a boy.” Scarlet shook his head again, his eyes fixed into emptiness. “He must have been fifteen or sixteen… I can’t say for sure.” He shuddered and turned to face a grim-looking Rhapsody. “Dianne… What kind of a man am I?”
She frowned at his question. “A good man,” she said without hesitation.
“A good man?” Scarlet looked at her fixedly. “Who doesn’t hesitate to kill children?”
“Paul…” Rhapsody sighed deeply and reached to squeeze his hand between hers. “You’re a soldier – you’ve been one all of your adult life, and trained to be the best there is. I know you’ve been in many hot spots around the world. I think the boy must have been a child soldier. Those unfortunate children who’ve been trained, and forced to kill with total ruthlessness in many Third World countries? Many of them can’t help themselves... It’s like they’re brainwashed, used by unscrupulous people, threatened into obeying their orders and making war, and sometimes, they don’t even know any other life.”
“Like the Mysterons do to their agents,” Scarlet said in a bleak voice.
“Well, not quite, but the same results of spreading death and destruction are there, yes.”
“How can people be so cruel as to do that to kids?” Scarlet murmured. “And how could I have agreed to wage war on children?”
“I don’t think you would agree to do this willingly. Paul, the event you’ve described seems to me like an unfortunate chance encounter. I know you well enough to know that, given the chance, you would never have killed that boy. You did it because you probably had no choice.”
He nodded slowly. “He was trying to kill me – I just reacted to save my life, and that of the little girl I carried. When I saw he was just a boy – I was horrified.”
Rhapsody smiled sadly. “That’s the reaction I would expect from you. You don’t talk much about your life as a soldier – actually, you don’t like to talk about it. So I presume there was some experience you don’t even want to think about. You always said that war is hell, and that there was nothing glorious about it. You did what you had to do because of your sense of duty – not because you enjoyed it.”
“And why’s that?” Scarlet asked briskly. “Why would I put myself through it?”
“Because you reckoned someone had to do it – and you were willing and able to?” Rhapsody squeezed his hand. “I don’t know all your motivations, but as I said – you’re a good man, as well as a man of duty. It runs deep in your family. Your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather… They were all willing to do what they believed to be right, for the benefit of the greater good. And from what I understand, the same could be said of either your father’s or mother’s side.”
“My family,” he whispered in a voice filled with regret. “I wish I could remember them right now… But I can’t even remember their faces, or their names. Do I have a large family? Brothers? Sisters?”
“You only have your father and mother. You’re an only child, just like me. But you once told me you have many cousins, with whom you grew up. Your parents… they think the world of you.”
“I suppose that’s a normal reaction of any parent towards their child,” Scarlet commented. “Especially if it’s an only child.”
“Perhaps. But they’re particularly proud of you, and of the work you’re doing. They know you’re making a difference.” Rhapsody smiled reassuringly. “Never doubt you’re one of the original good guys, Paul Metcalfe. Remember what you said yourself earlier – you tried to save that boy’s life when he fell into quicksand, despite all he might have done to you.”
“Not only to me, but to Joe – and to you as well.” Scarlet nodded again, trying to take in all of this new information. Somehow, Rhapsody’s words felt right to him. He could remember the horror he had felt during this terrible nightmarish flashback – how the thought of having killed a boy filled him with such revulsion. He would not have reacted this way if he had been a cold-blooded killer.
He was calming down and his breathing had returned to normal; he shook himself, feeling that it might not be the time right now to feel sorry for himself and to brood over some uncomfortable, past memory, that he could do nothing about. They had enough problems to consider for the moment.
He looked at his surroundings with curiosity. He and Rhapsody were in a small room, with the walls made of half-rotten wooden boards; the piece of blanket they were sitting on had been thrown directly onto a hard, beaten mud floor. In one corner, just by the water pump he had seen earlier, there was a small boat, turned upside down, set on trestles.
Scarlet remembered Rhapsody’s earlier words about the cabin having a similar pump. He frowned.
“We’re not in Joe’s house.”
“No, we’re not,” Rhapsody confirmed. “We’re in the shed, not far from the river.”
“Why not the cabin? Seems to me, we would be more comfortable there than here.”
The Angel pilot raised a perfect eyebrow. “Indeed, we would. But perhaps you recall you lost consciousness just outside this shed? You’re a bit too heavy for me to haul all the way to the cabin, Captain. Getting you in here was easier. And beside, strategically, taking cover inside the cabin would have been an unwise move. We’re much safer here.”
“Either Montgomery or that Jasper boy – when they arrive, they’ll expect to find us in the cabin.”
Scarlet nodded. “I see. They won’t surprise us if they should barge in there.”
“No. And the joke’ll be on them,” Rhapsody said with a faint, mysterious smile.
“What do you mean?”
“I left a surprise in the cabin. Let’s say that if someone does indeed barge in – he might regret it deeply.”
Rhapsody left it there, and Scarlet didn’t pursue the subject. Instead, he looked down at himself. He couldn’t find any injury on his naked chest; his skin was unmarked where the arrows had hit him. There wasn’t even a single scar. “This thing you call retrometabolism… It seems to be working overtime,” he groused. “How long was I out?”
“About four hours. It’s night right now.”
“Our ‘friends’ haven’t shown up yet, I take it.”
Rhapsody shook her head. “No. And I expect we’ll be quiet until morning. But just in case, I took some safety measures.” She pointed towards a thick blanket which was hanging from one of the walls, next to the door. “That’s the only window. I covered it and filled all the cracks in the walls, so that the light won’t get out and give away our position. I also surrounded the place with tripwires, fixed to empty cans and bottles. The noise that will make should be enough to wake the dead, let alone alert us to anyone sneaking up on us.”
Scarlet gave her a fond smile, nodding appreciatively. “You have been busy. Where did you learn these tricks?”
“From you, actually. You were our instructor in survival within enemy territory, when we were training in Koala Base, two years ago. You always told us to make sure our position was secured. Especially when you’re left on your own, and don’t expect any back up to come to your rescue.”
“So I take it – you didn’t find any communication device that you might use to contact Spectrum, then?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” Rhapsody replied, grimly shaking her head.
“Joe must have called the sheriff with a portable or similar device which stayed with him when they took his body back to Les Arbrisseaux,” Scarlet mused.
“At seven tomorrow morning, it will be twenty-four hours since we reported to Cloudbase,” Rhapsody commented. “We’ll be considered missing in action.”
“They’re probably looking for us, aren’t they?”
“Possibly, yes. That is, if they’re not too busy with the Mysterons. I don’t know what their latest threat was all about. However, considering current events, it seems to implicate the microchip we were sent to retrieve in the first place. Normally, if Spectrum knows this, this area would be swarming with agents, looking for us and the microchip as well. I haven’t even seen or heard an Angel jet anywhere around here. And believe me, there’s no way we would miss that sound.”
“So that makes you wonder if Spectrum does know of our situation?”
Rhapsody shifted her position to make herself more comfortable before answering: “Yes, it does. And that’s odd in itself. I wouldn’t think the storm that interfered with our communication in the morning is still raging over the Atlantic. Mind you, it was a monster storm, and it’s still a possibility, however unlikely. In any case, “It looks like we’re on our own for a little while longer.”
She picked up from the floor behind her the knife she had found in the boat earlier that day, the crossbow with its quiver of arrows, and a handgun that Scarlet recognised as Mahoney’s. She put all that between the two of them.
“At Koala Base, you also told us to be prepared with whatever weapons we had to hand,” she explained. “That’s all we’ve got to defend ourselves with. There are still ten rounds in the gun, and I found a full clip in Mahoney’s equipment. Oh, by the way…” She twisted around and picked up a neatly folded shirt that she handed to Scarlet. “Here, put this on. I threw the other one away. And,” she added, taking a small basket from behind her again, putting it on the floor between them, right next to the weapons,” I also have something for you to eat.”
“Thank you, I’m famished.” Scarlet slipped into the shirt, without bothering to button it up, and noticed she was also wearing one, quite similar to his own and far too large for her. He realised she must have taken both from inside the cabin, from Joe’s clothing. “You took the opportunity to change as well, I see.”
She smiled thinly. “My sweater was totally disgusting,” she said, grimacing at the mention of it. “And I also thought that this would be warmer for the night.”
Scarlet opened the basket and peered into it to find small pieces of roast meat that looked inviting. He took one drumstick and bit into it. “Cold chicken?” he asked, chewing vigorously.
Rhapsody shook her head. “It tastes like it, but I doubt it’s chicken. There might not be many running wild in the bayou, if you ask me.”
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
“I ate earlier, while you were unconscious.”
Scarlet nodded. “Which is why you know this tastes like chicken,” he commented, taking another bite. “Not bad, I must say – even if I’m not sure exactly what it might be. Maybe it’s swamp lizard?”
Rhapsody made a face again. “I’m not sure I really want to know.” She watched her companion with fascination, while he devoured the drumstick. He certainly looked like he was starving.
Scarlet swallowed the last bite from the drumstick and fished another from the basket. “How about your arm, Dianne? I trust you changed the dressing on it as well?”
She nodded slowly in answer to his question, and to show him, pulled up her left sleeve to show the new, clean bandage wrapped around her arm. It seemed like an odd coincidence that he should ask, as it was her next topic of conversation.
“I did more than that, actually,” she said, pulling down the sleeve. “I was lucky enough to find a fully-stocked first-aid kit and medicine cabinet inside the cabin… which includes antibiotics. So I took the opportunity to clean my many cuts and bruises properly.”
“Antibiotics?” Scarlet echoed, raising a brow.
“And not the kind of antibiotics you find on the shelves of a pharmacy, either. Rather the kind you would need to have access to a hospital or a doctor to get.” Rhapsody tilted her head to one side, scrutinising Scarlet intensely. “What do you know of this Joe Benson exactly? Was he some kind of doctor?”
“I asked him the same question, actually,” Scarlet said, swallowing his latest bite. “When I first woke up, and discovered how he’d patched me up. Very professionally, it seemed to me. He said he wasn’t a doctor, but… I had the impression he wasn’t being entirely truthful.”
“Well, he might have had some training – and some contacts, certainly, to have the kind of medicine he kept in his cabinet.”
“That seems odd, for a man living as a hermit in the middle of the bayou.”
“Very odd indeed. But useful, when you think about it. I imagine you would be exposed to all sort of illnesses living in here. Or expect to have some dangerous encounters. And I’m not only talking about animals, either.”
“Human as well, yes,” Scarlet grumbled.
“What is it those boys want from him?” Rhapsody added musingly. “The two who attacked us… they mentioned some ‘dough’.”
“Money,” Scarlet realised.
“Yes – they thought we might have been after it ourselves.”
“It’s insane. Joe didn’t strike me as a rich man. He lived very simply here, in the middle of nowhere. He wouldn’t have any… ‘dough’, these boys would want to get their hands on.”
Scarlet threw away what was left of his drumstick and picked another piece from the basket. Rhapsody followed him with fascination as he bit into it.
“How can we say, Paul? You didn’t know that old man very well. You only met him a few hours ago – just before he was killed.”
“True,” Scarlet admitted with a slow nod. “And he wasn’t very talkative about himself. I remember – when he died, he asked me to ‘not let them get it’.”
“‘Them’, the boys – and ‘it’… the money?” Rhapsody suggested.
Scarlet shrugged. “I can only guess, yes. But still, it seems so unlikely.”
“Joe obviously knew the exact reason why he was killed,” Rhapsody commented. “I guess the only other people who know that would be his killers.”
“If I ever get the opportunity, I’ll make sure that little bastard Jasper tells me,” Scarlet promised in a growl. “If I can keep myself from wringing his miserable neck, that is.” He looked straight at Rhapsody. “When you checked Joe’s cabin earlier… I imagine you also searched for the microchip? You haven’t mentioned it yet.”
She nodded, a little hesitantly. Indeed, if she had not talked about it before, it was for a good reason. “I went in there specifically to search for it, yes.”
“Did you find it, then?”
Rhapsody chewed on her bottom lip. “No,” she said after a brief moment of reflection. “I didn’t find it.”
“It wasn’t in the basket where I threw it?” Scarlet asked with puzzlement.
“The basket was empty. The remnants of your uniform weren’t in there either. Oh, I know they had been there,” Rhapsody quickly added as she saw her companion ready to argue. “I found traces of blood on the basket. But I’m guessing someone took them out of there.”
“Well, it sure wasn’t Joe,” Scarlet replied.
“Maybe it was the sheriff, then,” Rhapsody suggested. “They would be viewed as evidence.”
“Perhaps,” Scarlet said pensively. “Masters knew I was wearing some kind of camo uniform when Joe found me. Joe must have told him when he called him. So he actually might have taken the uniform from the basket… and the microchip as well?”
“That’s quite possible,
yes. I almost turned the cabin upside down to find the
“So now we don’t know where it could be. Maybe it’s still in Les Arbrisseaux… at the sheriff’s station.”
Rhapsody shook her head. “That’s possible, but I rather think he might have brought it with him, along with the rest of the evidence, when he was on his way to deliver you to Spectrum – as he imagined he was doing.”
“You mean – it could still be in the car?”
“Very likely. Do you remember seeing anything in the car that might have contained it? A box, a bag…?”
“No, but I was sitting in the back, with the deputy. Masters was driving. If the evidence, as you call it, was there, it was with him on the front seat. Or in the boot.”
“I don’t remember seeing anything like that in the boot. That’s where I found the shotgun I rescued you with.”
Scarlet grunted with irritation. “Talk about rotten luck. We were so close to it… all we had to do was check that car and –”
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Rhapsody interrupted him. “We didn’t really have time, did we? And beside, we have no way to know for sure the microchip was there, to begin with.”
“No… But if it was in there, and still is, and the Mysterons find it –”
“They surely don’t know it could be there,” Rhapsody reasoned. “No more than they would think it could have been here either.”
“But they’re probably still after us, because they think we know of its whereabouts.” Scarlet sighed, shaking his head pessimistically. “This really is a fine mess we’re in, Dianne. What should we do now?”
“For tonight? Nothing.”
Scarlet stared at the young woman questioningly and she shrugged. “For the moment, we shouldn’t worry needlessly. We’re safe right now, with a roof over our heads, and our wounds tended to.”
“Your wounds, you mean,” Scarlet retorted, a little dryly.
“Our location is secured,” Rhapsody continued, ignoring his interruption. “We have food, water and weapons, and we’ll be able to get some rest, by taking turns to keep watch. Just in case someone takes advantage of darkness to sneak up on us. Though I think it very unlikely. Then in the morning – we’ll be able to work out what to do next.”
Scarlet grinned at her, if a little weakly. “You’re an optimistic kind of girl, aren’t you?”
“I certainly am. I’ve always looked on the bright side of things – every cloud has a silver lining.”
Scarlet grimaced at these words. “I’m looking hard, but I fail to see where it could be exactly in this cloud. It seems pretty dark to me!”
“Not that much. We can eat to our hearts’ content, for example.” Rhapsody pointed to the basket between her and Scarlet. During their conversation, he had managed to eat half of its contents. “Pass me some of that bird while there is some left… If it really is a bird. Looking at you eat like an horse is making me hungry again.”
Scarlet chuckled and reached for the basket; but in the same movement, he knocked over the half-filled cup by his side, next to the blanket they were sitting on. The water splashed on the ground, running towards Rhapsody who instinctively shifted her position to escape getting wet.
“Oh, sorry, how clumsy of me –”
Scarlet interrupted himself when he heard the sharp yelp from Rhapsody; he looked at her in concern, and saw the scowl on her face as she squirmed from her sitting place. She seemed in some sort of pain.
“What is it?” he asked. “Were you hurt earlier? Your arm –”
“I wasn’t hurt earlier and my arm is all right,” she retorted promptly. “No, I… sat on something…”
Rhapsody rose to her knees and altered her position again, looking at the spot where she had previously sat. There was a bulge under the blanket, and she pulled back the fabric to check what it could be.
A metallic ring, as large as a hand, all rusted and half-covered with dirt, protruded from the ground where it was half-buried. Rhapsody brushed from it what remained of the dust and tried to pick it up, only to realise it wouldn’t budge. It seemed fixed there, in something invisible.
By her side, Scarlet had knelt as well, and was also looking down at the curious object. “What the devil is this thing?”
That’s when he noticed the spilled water was drawing rivulets in the layer of dirt, before finishing its course, trickling down into a very narrow gap in the ground.
Scarlet narrowed his eyes, as he checked the phenomenon more closely. This crack didn’t seem natural to him. He helped Rhapsody sweep more of the dry dirt aside, digging around the ring. Barely two or three centimetres beneath the surface, they discovered three ranks of old wooden planks, laid out flat side by side.
“Looks like floorboards,” Scarlet commented.
But Rhapsody shook her head. “Not exactly.”
Brushing away more of the dirt, she discovered the boards were not covering the entire floor. There were only five of them, and the ring was fixed to the one in the middle. She swiftly got up and went to fetch the old oil lamp, along with a flashlight, that she had found earlier in her search of the cabin. She returned and put the lamp between them, and kneeling next to her companion, she used the flashlight to highlight their discovery.
“It looks more like a trap door,” she commented. She knocked her knuckles on one of the planks, and it gave a hollow sound. “It seems to cover a hole in the ground.”
“Probably meant to hide it?” Scarlet suggested. “Or something in it? Shall we find out?”
Rhapsody only hesitated a second or two. She was as curious as her colleague to discover what could be beyond these planks. “At this point, why not?” She seized the ring embedded in the middle board, all the while grousing: “I certainly hope it isn’t a coffin, and that we won’t find a dead body in there…”
“There wouldn’t be such an obvious ring to open it if that were the case,” Scarlet reasoned.
His companion nodded, agreeing on this conclusion. She pulled on the ring, but nothing move. “It hasn’t been opened in a long time,” she commented.
She tried again, with no more success. Scarlet moved to her side.
Crouching near her, he seized the ring and pulled on it with all of his strength; the board creaked and shifted slightly. With a second, stronger tug, the ring tore itself from where it was fixed, taking a large piece of board with it. Scarlet nearly fell on his rear, and it was Rhapsody who helped him keep his footing. Both looked down at the large gap in the broken board.
Scarlet threw the ring aside and inserted both of his hands into the hole to pull the broken board out of its place. Already dislodged by his earlier efforts, it came out more easily, breaking at the end on which he was standing. He moved aside to remove a second board, which stood a good four feet long. The third came off effortlessly, and they now stood next to a gaping, dark opening of about two feet wide and four feet long.
They peered into the hole, but it was so dark that they couldn’t even see the bottom. Rhapsody lighted the interior with the flashlight. The light shone on two large, bulky, spherical objects, about three feet down, covered with dirt; at first glance, they looked like huge round boulders.
“There’s something in there,” the Angel commented. “But… I can’t see what it could be.”
Scarlet lay flat on his belly and tried to reach for one of the objects; his fingers only grazed the surface, drawing three streaks in the thick dust covering it. From the texture, he realised it was made out of fabric. They were not stones at all.
He sat up, and swung his feet into the hole before lowering himself into it. Rhapsody handed him the flashlight and he crouched down to ground level, his body entering the hole completely.
The space underneath the remaining planks was narrow, the sides all covered with spider webs, and the air musty, and Scarlet had the impression of being inside a grave. Not wanting to stay in here longer than was really necessary, he reached the same object he had attempted to catch earlier. It was a large bag made of sturdy cotton-like material, plump with its contents, and tied at the top by a rope. He pulled on the object to find it was heavy; dust fell from it as he lifted it to the floor above his head. Rhapsody was waiting for it, and helped him roll it onto the floor. He grabbed the second object – another bag – and brought it up as well. He found a third and a fourth bags at the bottom of the hole, similar to the first two. He lifted them up as well, one by one, and then checked the bottom of the hole with attention, to see if there weren’t more of them. That was all there were.
Scarlet stood up from his crouching position, extricating himself from the hole to join Rhapsody. He was covered with cobwebs and dirt, and he dusted himself vigorously.
Rhapsody was examining the four bags with curiosity. She looked at Scarlet with an inquiring look and he shook his head.
“I wonder what’s in them?” he said musingly.
Rhapsody was sweeping the dirt from the side of the first bag. The thick layer fell to reveal words printed on the fabric:
Property of the World Bank of New Orleans
Both Spectrum officers exchanged glances and out of impulse, simultaneously and hurriedly reached for the rope holding the bag closed. Scarlet undid the knot and loosened it, opening the bag. Rhapsody shone the beam of the flashlight right into it.
They gasped when they saw the contents.
There were literally thousands of World Government banknotes, bundled in thick wads in the bag.
“Oh my God…” Scarlet breathed, attracting Rhapsody’s attention, and causing her to turn the light on him. “This must be Riley’s loot!”
* * *
It wasn’t exactly the first time Jasper Holland had stayed out in the bayou for the night. The danger wasn’t exactly with staying there, as long as you had a fire to keep the predators away, but in trekking through it by night, when you could have hazardous encounters or fall into a bottomless pit. Fond of the fact that nobody would risk coming into the swamp to bother them, he and his gang had set up various rudimentary camps such as this one, all over the area, that they would invariably use whenever they felt like it. Usually, they would settle around a fire, drink beer and other alcoholic beverages, have a smoke or two, even entertain themselves with a couple of girls, when the occasion arose. The camps were well-adapted to their needs: a couple of shelters made from lopped off branches, a thick bed of leaves, dispersed around a fire set in the middle of the clearing and at a safe distance from it, were all the boys needed for their temporary comfort. When they finally settled in for the night, exhausted by their pursuit of fun, that would normally be after they had consumed such a quantity of booze that they could barely feel the chills of the night.
Tonight, it was totally different.
Having downed only a couple of beers each, Jasper Holland and Dallas Fenmore were not inebriated enough to be well-protected against the cold. That particularly got on Dallas’ nerves: Jasper would not allow them to get drunk, as he had the feeling that they might need all their wits in the morning to resume the hunt.
And that was what concerned Jasper the most and made him very bad company that night. The two strangers had successfully evaded him, and he had no idea where they could be, though he felt pretty sure they were still somewhere in the vicinity. They couldn’t have returned to town, and the direction they had chosen with the boat could only get them deeper into Devil’s Bayou and further away from any civilisation. Jasper and his companions had covered all the possible tracks their prey could have used to retrace their steps, and there had been no trace of them.
They couldn’t have gotten very far, and Jasper didn’t dare call off the hunt so that he and his friends could temporarily return to the comfort of their respective homes and start again in the morning where they had left off. Any time lost could give the strangers the opportunity to escape and Jasper couldn’t afford that.
“They probably died in there,” Dallas commented. He was seated in front of the other shelter, sucking on his last bottle of beer, and didn’t seem as concerned as his leader was. That annoyed Jasper, to realise how oblivious his companion was to the menace hanging over their heads.
“Would you really count on it, Dallas?” he asked with only a hint of irritation in his voice. “Maybe they don’t know Devil’s Bayou as well as we do, but they’re not stupid. They wouldn’t roam around the place after dark. So they probably settled somewhere for the night. Much as we’re doing right now.”
“I’m cold,” Dallas complained. “We should have returned to Ol’ McCullen’s place to spend the night there. It isn’t that far, and –”
“Don’t be stupid! You want the freak and the girl to escape us?” Jasper threw a piece of dry wood into the fire. “Damn them,” he muttered darkly. “I’m gonna make them pay for makin’ us look for them for this long.”
“I bet you anything ‘Crow and Jamie are there, with Johnny as well,” Dallas commented. “At McCullen’s, I mean.”
“They better not be,” Jasper growled ominously. “But it worries me that we ain’t heard from them yet.”
Rustling of leaves and snapping of twigs coming from behind the trees nearby startled both boys and they swiftly jumped to their feet, reaching for their weapons. At night, nothing good could come from the bayou, and so they were ready to meet any unwelcome visitors coming their way. They raised their guns in the direction of the noises, fingers on the triggers.
They were surprised to see Scarecrow, springing out of the bushes. He was panting hard, his clothes were dirty and torn in places, and he had scratches all over his face and arms, obviously made by the lashing branches he had run through. He gasped in alarm when he saw the guns aimed at him and he raised his hands in fear.
“Don’t shoot, it’s me!”
Jasper lowered his rifle, imitated by Dallas; he glared with vexation at the newcomer who was stumbling towards one of the shelters. “Where were you, you idiot?”
Scarecrow slumped onto the bed of leaves, seemingly not having heard Jasper, nor recognising how furious he sounded. He was breathing hard, and looked haggard and exhausted. “Thank God I found you,” he moaned piteously. “I ran all the way trying to find this camp… I hoped I would find you here, but I lost the trail… I thought I would go in circles in the bayou until I fell into some pit of quicksand…”
“I’ve been trying to call you all evening on your cellphone,” Jasper snapped, approaching him quickly. “You and Jamie… But none of you answered! Where did you come from?”
Scarecrow reached for the flask of water resting against a stone just within reach and swallowed a large gulp. Feeling he was being ignored and not liking it at all, Jasper tore the flask from his friend’s hands.
“I asked ya a question, ‘Crow! Why didn’t you answer when I called?”
“My phone… must have run out of juice,” Scarecrow answered, his hand reaching frantically for the flask. Jasper pulled it out of his reach. “Please, Jasper, I’m so thirsty,” Scarecrow pleaded, trying to catch it. “Give me some.”
“You’ll answer first, you sissy,” Jasper seethed between his teeth. “Where’s Jamie?”
“I said – where’s Jamie?” Jasper shouted with exasperation.
The exclamation surprised Jasper so much that he stopped making further effort to stop Scarecrow from taking the flask out of his hand. He watched in complete shock while his seated friend greedily drained half of the flask’s contents. Dallas swiftly approached them and came to stand by Jasper; he looked down at Scarecrow with disbelief.
“Dead? How come he’s dead?”
Scarecrow, his thirst satisfied, lowered the flask; he was still breathing hard. “The freak,” he explained. “He must have killed him.”
Jasper tore the flask from his hands again. “You mean you’re not sure?” he asked impatiently.
Scarecrow shook his head nervously. “The last time I saw Jamie, he was up to his waist in quicksand and he was begging the freak to get him out… I ran like hell… I could hear Jamie pleading and crying behind me. And then, I heard a horrible scream… and then nothing.” He looked up at Jasper in desperation. “Jamie’s dead, I’m sure of it.”
Jasper looked down at him with a hard expression. “So you found them. The freak and the girl. Why didn’t you call us? You’re telling me Jamie’s phone ran out of juice too?”
“We didn’t have time. The freak surprised us –”
“You mean he was the one to find you, then?”
“No, we found them. And we tried to get them, and it looked like we had them where we wanted… But everything went wrong suddenly and –”
“You tried to tackle them by yourselves!?” Jasper interrupted him in so forceful a voice that it startled Scarecrow. “You idiots! Why did you need to do something so stupid!? You knew the freak was a handful! I told you, if you should find them, to call us! All together, we could have taken them easily!”
He stood over Scarecrow at his full height, raising the butt of his rifle, obviously tempted to hit him with it. The other boy cowered in fear, raising his arms in a futile gesture of protection.
“I – I’m sorry, Jasper. We thought – that is, Jamie thought –”
“I don’t care what Jamie thought! Jamie was a moron!” Jasper yelled at him. “A complete, idiotic bonehead, who had no business going against my instructions! He thought he knew better and it got him killed! And you’re very lucky I don’t kill you myself, for good measure!”
Scarecrow blanched at the threat. Dallas blinked, feeling suddenly nervous.
“Hey, Jasper, take it easy, man.”
“You shut up, you!” Jasper warned, turning to glare angrily at Dallas. “You’re telling me you’re happy those two morons let our prey escape and that one of them got killed in the process? We’re down one man, and we’ll be lucky to find the freak and the girl now!” He turned back to Scarecrow, eyes glowering. “Where did you two find them?”
Scarecrow hesitated to answer right away. He swallowed hard. “At Ol’ Joe’s place,” he revealed reluctantly.
Jasper narrowed his eyes at him. “Joe’s place? What the hell where you doing so far into the bayou? That’s not exactly the parts I told you to check!”
“J-Jamie had a thought… That maybe the freak was going back there?” Scarecrow suggested. It was obvious he was trying to find a pretext, and he wasn’t succeeding very well.
“Is that so? So why didn’t Jamie tell me about that?”
“I- I don’t know,” Scarecrow said, stuttering.
“Don’t lie to me, ‘Crow!” Jasper roared, standing menacingly over him.
“I’m not lying!” the other boy cried out, in near desperation. “It was Jamie’s idea, I swear! We went there, and… and we did well to go, you see? We did find the freak! And we heard him and the girl talk.” He rose to his knees and leaned towards his friend, to add in a lower, almost conspiratorial voice: “They were talking about Riley’s loot.”
That drove Jasper into silence and he simply glowered down at Scarecrow with a look so fierce murder could easily been seen in his eyes.
As for Dallas, the revelation had astonished him so much he simply couldn’t believe it. “No way!” he countered sharply. “How would they know about that?”
“I don’t know.” Scarecrow quickly got to his feet and stood in front of his companions. “Maybe Joe told his secret to the freak? Remember what the old geezer said to him when he died, Jasper?” he added, turning to address the blond boy directly. “He asked him to not let us get it… Riley’s loot, of course! So he must have told him already! That’s why he went back to Joe’s place with the girl – to get the money for themselves! And they must still be there right now. I’m sure of it!”
“Why would Joe tell a complete stranger about Riley’s money?” Jasper asked with suspicion.
“Maybe he wasn’t a complete stranger to Joe, after all,” Dallas suggested quickly. “Remember, the guy doesn’t remember a thing about himself. Maybe he was already a friend of Joe’s.”
“Doesn’t quite add up,” Jasper grumbled. “But that ain’t important, right now.” He glared again at Scarecrow. “You’re sure these two are still at Joe’s cabin?”
“I’m positive, Jasper,” Scarecrow answered with a nervous nod. “They couldn’t be anywhere else. The freak was wounded – and I think the girl was too. They needed shelter… at least for the night.”
“If they went to Ol’ Joe’s place to get Riley’s money,” Dallas then reasoned, “they won’t leave without it.”
“When we found them, it was already late,” Scarecrow added energetically. “They wouldn’t be able to cross the bayou before nightfall.”
“Especially knowing we were after ‘em,” Jasper concluded ominously.
He mulled over this new information, thinking of what needed to be done now. If the strangers were after Riley’s loot, then it was all the more reason to get rid of them. Not only were they unwanted witnesses, but they also were potential competitors the gang could do without.
He didn’t care about Jamie Lewis’ death; on the contrary, it rather suited him fine. Jamie had a wild streak that had always made him difficult to manage; it was never really certain what he would do next, or what kind of trouble he would get himself into. He was as immoral and vicious as Jasper himself, but he wasn’t very bright, and his lack of scruples made him potentially dangerous. Jasper was sure that one day he would have had to kill Jamie himself, if only to avoid being killed by him.
He rather enjoyed the irony that O’Hara had done the deed for him; this way, he wouldn’t need to dirty his hands. Besides, with Jamie gone, it meant there was one share less to worry about.
Jasper was convinced that Jamie had ulterior motives to go to Joe’s cabin in the first place; it certainly wasn’t because he thought that O’Hara and his girlfriend would be there. Something else was on his mind, and Jasper had a pretty good idea what this something was. And he also suspected that Scarecrow knew all about Jamie’s reasons to go to Joe’s.
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the taller boy, looking deep into his eyes; he could see fear in them, and extreme nervousness. Scarecrow’s mind was far from being at ease.
“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, ‘Crow?” Jasper asked him very slowly, almost sweetly.
“No, Jasper. Of course not.”
“Because I wouldn’t like it if you were lying to me. And if I ever find out you were lying, you wouldn’t like it either, that you can be sure of.”
Scarecrow looked deep into Jasper’s cold eyes and could see the barely concealed threat hanging over his head. He swallowed hard, and tried to present a brave façade. “You know you can always count on me, Jasper.”
He was relieved to see it seemed to be sufficient for Jasper, as the latter gave him the flask of water in an almost friendly gesture. However, there was still the same coldness in his eyes when he spoke: “Good then. ‘Cause we’ll need you, ‘Crow. You, Dallas and me, we’ll go to Joe’s cabin, first thing tomorrow morning. And we’ll kill the freak and his girl and will finally get our hands on Riley’s money. We’ve been working too hard to get it – we won’t let a couple of strangers run away with it.”
“How about Johnny, Jasper?” Dallas asked him. “Shouldn’t we wait for him? We could use his help too.”
“That useless bum ain’t answering his phone either,” Jasper snapped. “I’ve been trying all day to reach him to ask if he had done what he was instructed to do. I hope he didn’t mess things up… ‘Cause he sure will be regretting it. I won’t let him get between us and the money either.” He nodded quietly. “We ain’t got time to wait for him, anyway. We’ll have to leave at first light, if we want to surprise our prey.”
Dallas chuckled. “As you said, Johnny is useless. I rather think he got lost in the bayou.”
“Good,” Jasper said with an evil sneer. “If he fell in the same quicksand as Jamie, that sure would suit me fine. I can do without another bonehead and that’ll make more money to share between the three of us.”
If these last words made Dallas cackle wickedly, it sent a shiver down Scarecrow’s spine, and he felt his throat tightening so uncomfortably that he was unable to take the gulp of water he was about to drink from the flask.
The thought that Jasper’s comments could also include him sank into his mind and suddenly made him feel very concerned about his own safety.
* * *
“Riley?” Rhapsody repeated, frowning at Scarlet’s words. “Hang on a minute… you mean… that thief those murderous young bastards were raving about when they tried to string you up?”
Scarlet nodded slowly, shivering despite himself at he recalled those uncomfortable moments while he was dangling from the rope that was slowly strangling him. “You heard?”
“Some of it, yes. Though I was a little preoccupied in finding a way to help you at that moment. As I understand it – he was found hanged himself in Devil’s Bayou, years ago?”
Scarlet nodded again, as he tried to recall the exact words of Jasper and his friends. Somehow, the clues were now slowly coming into place. “He was killed by an unknown killer – and his loot was never recovered.”
“That would mean…”
“Joe,” Scarlet realised. “Joe was Riley’s killer.” He looked at the bags with disbelief, and then glanced at the hole beside which he and his companion sat. “And he kept the loot under there, all this time.”
“And that’s the ‘dough’, Jasper and the others want,” Rhapsody added in understanding. She looked into the open bag between the two of them, and took a wad out to check it out, shaking her head in wonder. “There’s about twenty thousand in that lump,” she said. “There must a little over a million in this bag alone. How much did this Riley steal exactly?” She looked again into the bag and saw something else that attracted her attention, and made her frown in puzzlement.
“I don’t know,” Scarlet answered to her question. “But if it must be a small fortune.” He was puzzled by the discovery. “But… why? Why did Joe kill that man, only to keep the money hidden and not use it at all? It doesn’t make any sense!”
“Perhaps we’ll have the answer to that question with this.”
Scarlet stared inquisitively as Rhapsody produced from the bag a folded newspaper that she showed him. Together, they looked at the name and the date marked in the corner.
“The Time Picayune, Thursday, July 3rd, 2055. It’s nearly fifteen years old…” She unfolded the paper and took a look at the front page headline. “‘Daring attack on the New Orleans World Bank’,” she read. “‘Three dead. Robber on the run with six million dollars.’”
“Six million?” Scarlet repeated, opening wide eyes. “Wow.”
“A small fortune indeed,” Rhapsody muttered.
“Jasper did say he and his friends were very young at the time of the events,” Scarlet commented dryly. “Too young to have been involved in them. But Joe would certainly have been around when it happened.” Something suddenly occurred to him. “Hang on… Three dead? I remember the boys mentioning two.”
“Apparently, Riley had an accomplice who didn’t make it,” Rhapsody explained, reading the article by flashlight. “He was shot by a security guard just as the two thieves were about to make their escape. Riley killed the guard in retaliation and an employee of the bank got caught in the crossfire.”
“A young woman, if I remember correctly.”
Rhapsody nodded in silence, pursuing her reading. Her eyes alighted suddenly at the discovery of new information, and she quickly put the paper on the floor, between her companion and herself. She pointed at one of the small pictures accompanying the main article. “Here. That’s the picture of the young woman in question. Check the name.”
The perplexed Scarlet looked down at the paper; there were two pictures side by side, those of the two victims of the robbery. One was of a man, dressed in a smart uniform – obviously the security guard. The other was of a young woman, in her early twenties, smiling happily at the camera. “Anita Benson,” he read slowly. The penny dropped and he looked back at Rhapsody. “Benson?”
She stared back at him. “How much are you willing to bet she was related to Joe Benson? She might have been his daughter, perhaps.”
Scarlet was sceptic. “Wouldn’t that be too much of a coincidence?”
“I’ve seen much more surprising coincidences, Captain… either while I worked in FAB as a private investigator or with Spectrum. I think this is highly possible. That would explain why Joe might have killed Riley. He didn’t kill him for the money, since he apparently didn’t make use of it. He killed him to avenge the death of this girl. Whoever she was, she probably meant a great deal to him. And then he hid this fortune. Because the money represented the girl’s death, to him it was tainted with blood.”
“And somehow, Jasper and his gang found out,” Scarlet said with a slow, understanding nod. “They wanted the loot for themselves. They demanded it from him…”
“And when he refused, they killed him,” Rhapsody concluded. “You see, it’s all adding up.”
“I see, yes… and I don’t like what I see, Dianne.” With a deep sigh, Scarlet sat back, a sombre expression spread across his face. “Here we are, without the microchip that we want to find, and that the Mysterons are desperate to get – and sitting on money that we don’t want, and that a gang of murderous young thugs badly want to get their hands on. It’s a toss up between which of these two groups will find us first. And neither of the options is really enjoyable.” He looked back at the young woman. “And I fear you’re in far more danger than I am.”
Rhapsody seemed puzzled by this statement. “What makes you say that? From my point of view, we’re in the same boat.”
“You think?” Scarlet retorted. “I don’t see it that way. Take the Mysterons for example. If they find us, and decide to hurt you to force me to tell them where the microchip is… I might not even be able to save you.”
“You would tell them if you knew, in order to save me?” The young woman asked with a frown.
“Yes. No… I’m not sure.” Scarlet sighed again, this time in desperation. “I know that if I knew, telling them would sign our death warrant just as well,” he said, staring into her eyes. “But I can’t bear the thought of you being hurt… and of me, being totally helpless to stop it.”
“I can take care of myself,” Rhapsody retorted.
“Yes, I think you demonstrated that pretty well. But you’re not like me. You’re not indestructible. You can’t return from the dead.”
Scarlet stared at his companion even more intently. She became ill-at-ease under his intense scrutiny, and now seemed to try to avoid his eyes.
“You remember that too, then?” she asked after a moment’s hesitation. “About you being indestructible?”
“Not exactly. Call it a hunch, if you will. All the clues were there and I worked it out. I, too, can be a good detective when I put my mind to it. Indestructible, you say. So not only can I heal from any wound – I will return from death itself. Isn’t it what it means?”
“Yes,” she admitted reluctantly. “So far... you did.”
“So in truth, I cannot die.” A deeper frown creased Scarlet’s brow. “You left that out when you told me the Mysterons unwittingly gave me ‘healing powers’. What they did to me had a much profound impact than that.”
“I didn’t know how to tell you all there was about you,” Rhapsody defended herself. “I didn’t want to totally freak you out. And I wasn’t quite sure you would believe me either.”
Scarlet grunted. “Yes, well… I suppose you meant well,” he muttered. “But given the circumstances, I think I would have believed you, however odd or preposterous it would have seemed at first.” He turned his eyes away, and fixed the emptiness in front of him. “Let me guess how it works: the Mysterons use dead people and turn them into their agents. Am I right?”
“You guessed that too?” Rhapsody asked in a downcast voice.
“Mahoney was dead, and then he came back as a Mysteron agent,” Scarlet replied laconically. “I might be amnesiac, but I know ordinary people can’t come back from the dead. It doesn’t take a genius to realise it would need an alien influence to do that.” He stared at Rhapsody again. “So if I understand correctly, the Mysterons did the same to me. They killed me to make me one of their slaves, forcing me to do their bidding, hurting people… like they did with poor Mahoney.”
Rhapsody confirmed this with a sad nod. “I’m sorry, Paul,” she said in a contrite voice. “Really, I am. I didn’t want to confuse you more than you were and to cause you unnecessary grief.”
“And they did the same with your Captain Black too. I suppose he was a good man, to begin with. Before the whole affair with the Mysterons, I mean?”
Rhapsody nodded again. “He was. From what I knew of him, he was a man of high ideals, who wanted to make a difference in the world. He was very involved with the creation of Spectrum. The members’ selection, the recruiting, the training… He was Colonel White’s right hand man – a position nobody else has filled since he was taken over by the Mysterons. Although, one might consider that you and Captain Blue are making good stand-ins.”
“And he was a friend?”
“To you?” Rhapsody shook her head. “I guess you were, but not in the sense you are friends with Captain Blue, that’s for sure. It was obvious you respected each other greatly. As for me... well, let’s say that Captain Black and I didn’t exactly get along.”
“Why’s that?” Scarlet inquired with curiosity.
“Mmm… He never took me seriously. I’m the youngest pilot in the Angel flight… Not by much, mind you, Melody is only three months older than me. But I guess that the fact that she had a previous career as an elite test pilot for the WAAF played in her favour. That probably made her worthy in his eyes. I think he only saw me as a thrill-seeking, little rich girl with a title, whose parents had paid for flying lessons at some point in her life, and who couldn’t commit fully to any cause.”
“Little rich girl with a title?” Scarlet repeated with a raised brow.
She chuckled. “Oh, that… That was Black’s perception, I’m afraid. He assumed that, because my father, Lord Robert Simms, has the money that comes with the title. Well… Dad does have some money, and it does give the family some advantage. But we never took it for granted.”
“Lady Dianne Simms, then,” Scarlet said with a slight smile.
“Don’t start, please,” Rhapsody pleaded. “You’ve teased me quite enough with it in the past.”
“I’m not teasing you now,” Scarlet said with a shrug of his shoulders. “Did he realise he was wrong about you? Black, I mean… Before the Mysterons took him over?”
“I don’t know, but you certainly told him off,” Rhapsody replied, smiling fondly at the thought.
“Yes. That was not very long before he left for Mars. You told him that the fact that I had been chosen to be a part of Spectrum should be more than enough for him to realise that I was in my rightful place.” She looked straight at him. “You reminded him that the selection committee didn’t just pick anyone at random. They had very rigorous criteria. Especially when it came to selecting those who would comprise Spectrum’s senior staff.”
Scarlet smiled. “I knew you were an extraordinary woman.”
Rhapsody flushed. “So are you. An extraordinary man, I mean,” she amended quickly. “And that was well before your… encounter with the Mysterons.”
“They took Black as their main agent on Earth, you told me. But to all of their other agents, they normally give specific assignments. What was supposed to be my mission for them?”
Rhapsody hesitated anew, like she did before. Seeing Scarlet’s pleading look, she sighed. “You were charged to kill the World President,” she finally admitted.
His expression became bleak. “Oh wow.”
“But you only had time to kidnap him,” Rhapsody added swiftly. “And you were stopped before you could do something irreparable. You didn’t kill anyone.”
“That’s a relief. But even so, what I did under the Mysterons’ influence was very serious,” Scarlet reasoned. “Even amnesiac, I can realise that kidnapping the World President is an action that would be frowned upon. I’m glad Spectrum stopped me before I could go too far.”
“Captain Blue did, to be specific. He saved the World President and you…” Rhapsody sighed again. “… You were killed in the process.”
Scarlet blankly stared at her. “Oh. Killed twice, then?”
“Well, you were dead when your body was recovered. But you revived afterward, and you were free of the Mysterons’ influence. And we discovered then that you were indestructible. So when you returned to active duty, you became our best asset against the Mysterons.”
“How could Spectrum have been so sure I was free, to begin with?” Scarlet asked bleakly.
“I don’t know how exactly,” Rhapsody replied honestly. “I know you were subjected to tests of various kinds. And the results of those tests said without a doubt that you remained the same man you were before… aside from your indestructibility, and the fact that you couldn’t remember at all what you did under Mysteron influence, that is.”
“I didn’t remember I kidnapped the World President?”
“You remember nothing from the moment the Mysterons took you over, until you woke up in Cloudbase’s sickbay, a few hours after the World President was rescued.”
“You mean – I remember nothing between those two first deaths.” Scarlet became pensive. “So I’ve already had at least one occurrence of amnesia, if I understand correctly.”
Rhapsody mulled that over. “To my knowledge, since that first occurrence a year ago, you never had any other incidence of amnesia. But Paul, I don’t think what happened then and what’s happening now are related.”
Scarlet nodded, very slowly, pensively. “How do they do it?” he asked in a low voice. “I mean… How do they transform a human body like that, taking control of its mind and giving it these incredible powers? I mean, it’s so incredible, that –”
He stopped himself suddenly, as he felt a familiar twinge of pain that made him scowl deeply. His mind seemed to tear open in a flash of light and he saw a man, wearing a white coat over a black and light brown uniform, pacing up and down in front of him and talking to him. The words the man was pronouncing were mostly drowned by the pain, but Scarlet’s mind was able to grasp some of them:
“...Original body destroyed…”
“This new body you now inhabit…”
The memory vanished in a clasp of thunder that reverberated through Scarlet’s skull and he reached for his head with a moan, closing his eyes.
Concerned at seeing him suddenly in pain, Rhapsody reached for him. “You’re okay? You’ve been having a flashback, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he said through clenched teeth. “I think I just saw your Doctor Fawn.” He opened his eyes and looked at her and before she could say anything, he added: “I am not the original Paul Metcalfe, am I?”
He saw her hesitation, and felt his heart sink.
“So that’s how it was done: the Mysterons killed the original Paul Metcalfe and made a copy out of him. That copy is me.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Rhapsody replied quickly. “Technically, it’s only the body which is not original… A body, which is an exact replica of the original.”
“Exact replica, you say,” he repeated with bitterness. “Not quite exact, if you ask me. This body can’t be destroyed. Not like the original.”
“Paul, that doesn’t change anything about who you are,” Rhapsody said with insistence. “The Mysterons made a mistake when they created one of their first agents of destruction, all those months ago.”
“You mean me.”
“They copied the body, gave it retrometabolic powers… but they also, inadvertently, transferred all of what made Paul Metcalfe the man he was into this new body. Your mind, your personality… your soul, so to speak, all of this is now residing inside this new body of yours. You are the same man, the same person you were before the whole ordeal with the Mysterons. Remember the tests I told you about. There could be no doubt left on that question.”
“How do you know, Dianne?” Scarlet replied a little harshly. “How can we know that, without a single doubt? It seems impossible to me to take the measure of a man’s soul. And that raises questions about my current condition. About the fact that I can’t remember a thing about myself.”
“What about it?” she asked with a frown.
“How do we know it isn’t somehow a scheme of the Mysterons’? The mind of Paul Metcalfe might be gone, and it might be an opportunity for them. They created this body – they might try to take it over again. That might explain the amnesia. That might also explain that each time I try to remember, I get those awful headaches. They might be stopping me from remembering. What if –”
“Paul, please stop it.”
Rhapsody reached to touch Scarlet’s face with her hand to interrupt him. That silenced him instantly, and he turned to look straight into her blue eyes, which were now filled with sorrow for him.
“I wouldn’t worry about that unduly, if I were you,” she said in a voice as calming as she could muster. “I know that falling back under the Mysterons’ hold is your worst nightmare, and they did try at least once, to our knowledge. They failed, because of this indomitable will of yours. They probably made that will even stronger, by making you indestructible.”
“Dianne –” Scarlet started.
“I know you feel vulnerable right now,” Rhapsody interrupted, not allowing him to continue. “But you’re far from totally helpless. Your will to live is still there, and you proved it more than once since this assignment turned so bad. Besides,” she added with conviction, “if the Mysterons were really trying to take you back under their yoke, they wouldn’t have been trying to kill you since yesterday morning.”
“That might be beside the point, since I am indestructible to begin with.” Scarlet saw the reproachful way the young woman was looking at him, and he added, quietly: “Forgive me. You’re probably right on all points, but I can’t help feeling confused and worried. I saw how those men who killed the sheriff’s deputy were acting – so mercilessly, and without any remorse. I saw how ruthless young Mahoney was. He was prepared to do anything to get the microchip from me. If I was like that when the Mysterons took me over, and I suppose I was…” He stopped, shuddering at this single thought, and sighed deeply, lowering his eyes. “I guess what I’m trying to say is… the last thing I want to do is hurt you, Dianne.”
“You won’t,” Rhapsody said with a reassuring smile. “I don’t worry about that, Paul. I trust you.”
“You trust me…” Scarlet scowled in deep frustration. “Me, the man who cannot remember his own name. The man who can barely defend himself…”
“That’s not true and you know it.”
“…Am I still a man, to begin with?”
Rhapsody frowned at these last words which were added in a morose voice, more as an afterthought than a real question. “Whatever do you mean?” she asked carefully.
“You know exactly what I mean,” Scarlet retorted bluntly, raising his head to meet her eyes again. “With what I’ve been learning about myself – what the Mysterons did to me… how they transformed me into this… indestructible, unkillable being…”
“Man,” Rhapsody corrected. “You’re definitely a man, Paul.”
“Oh yeah? How exactly can you tell, Dianne?” he challenged her. “Even if inside I’m the real Paul Metcalfe, this body of mine was created by an alien entity. It can’t be destroyed. It can heal itself from any wound. Does that sound human to you?” He swallowed hard, and added in a low voice: “Face it, Dianne. You’ve certainly been wondering about it – just as I’m wondering about it right now.”
“What makes you say that?” she asked with a deepening, suspicious scowl.
“You said it yourself earlier: I don’t have anyone in my life. I know I have feelings… I know I care deeply for you, for instance. Those feelings must have been there before, but, I don’t know, maybe I’m holding back. Maybe I’m stopping myself from acting on them, because I feel like I don’t have the right to.”
“That’s utter nonsense,” Rhapsody retorted.
“Is it?” Scarlet breathed out. “You will tell me that, deep down, you’re not having doubts about it yourself? Not even in the slightest? Maybe it’s even the reason that held you back as well, earlier when I kissed you.”
Rhapsody glared at him with disbelief. “Are you really thinking it would be the reason why I didn’t respond to your advance earlier?” She shook her head dejectedly, an expression of hurt in her eyes. “You think so badly of me?”
“I would never think badly of you,” Scarlet protested in a low voice. “I’m only saying that I fully understand if –”
“Paul Metcalfe,” she interrupted him firmly, “that’s certainly not the reason why I held back and you should know that. And if you believe otherwise, then you’re as dense as any other man I know… Which fully proves, without a doubt, that you are indeed a part of the human race.”
And with that, she kissed him full on the mouth, with such fire that it made Scarlet gasp in surprise. It didn’t take long for him to answer to this ardent kiss, though, and he did it with the same fervour, his hand reaching to stroke her cheek. Then, as a doubt crossed his mind, his palm cupped around the outline of her jaw and he gently pushed her face away from his.
As they both gasped to regain their breath, Scarlet looked deep into Rhapsody’s eyes, searching them, wondering if her gesture was sincere, or if she had only kissed him out of sympathy, without truly meaning it.
He couldn’t see any uncertainty or pretence in these eyes. They were burning bright with barely contained desire, a yearning that he too felt deep within himself.
“What are you doing?” he breathed out, with uncertainty.
“Do I really have to explain it to you?” she retorted in a voice as low as his.
He thought he understood then that she meant for this to be more than a kiss. He shook his head with hesitation. “Earlier, you said it wasn’t a good idea. Are you sure…?”
“That was earlier. Now it’s different.” She tilted her head to the side, resting her cheek in his hand. “You don’t really know me at all if you’re asking if I’m sure.”
He swallowed hard, and shook his head again, very slowly. “That’s right, I don’t know you. But I’d certainly like to know you now...”
Rhapsody’s hand gently touched his bare chest, and he shuddered almost despite himself, as if electricity had passed through every nerve of his body; he felt his desire for this woman mounting in him, and he knew she was fully aware of what this simple touch had awakened in him.
He promptly pulled her lips to his and they kissed again, with deep passion. Scarlet felt Rhapsody’s arms slide under his open shirt to snake around his back and shoulders, as they drew closer to each other. Clumsily, impatiently, his fingers fiddled with the buttons of her shirt; she probably found him too slow, as she came to his rescue to unfasten the remaining buttons. They didn’t even stop kissing as he slipped the sleeves off her shoulders, being mindful of her wounded arm. As she discarded the shirt, she rose to her knees, and Scarlet did the same, to enfold her in a strong embrace.
They broke the kiss only to take breath again. Squeezing her eager, slender body against his, Scarlet nuzzled against her neck, feverishly kissing her bare and tender skin. He heard her sharp gasp of delight and felt her naked breast pressing harder against his chest. She was so close to him that he knew his desire was too obvious for her not to notice, just as much as he couldn’t ignore the plain evidence that she wanted him just as much. And clearly, they couldn’t deny it any longer.
He was still hugging her neck, and it was at this most inopportune moment that he felt it again.
The awful headache pain hit him between the eyes, so agonising, so much worse than any he had felt before. It was a pain such that he had trouble thinking straight. He moaned, closing his eyes, and he desperately clutched the young woman in his arms, like a man about to drown, holding on to a lifeline.
“Dianne…” he whispered into her ear. “I’m sorry…”
Rhapsody heard the deep pain in that hoarse, shaky voice and knew instantly that something was wrong. Scarlet was shivering in her arms and it wasn’t out of anticipation. Gently, she pushed him from her and took his head between her hands to look into his face. It was pale as death itself and was a total mask of pain; his nose was bleeding.
The sight of it tore her heart apart.
“Paul – what is it?”
Rhapsody’s gentle yet anxious voice reached Scarlet’s mind and he made an effort to answer, to explain how sorry he was to be unable to meet her expectations. It was as if his head was filled with cotton, with the pain increasing at each passing second. His ears were ringing and there was a coppery taste in his mouth. His hands let go of her, and he tried to reach his head but found he couldn’t; he was now shaking too much.
“… Headache… Too strong… I can’t…”
That was all Scarlet managed to say before darkness engulfed his mind and his head lowered against Rhapsody’s shoulder. He barely emitted a groan before passing out.
When she felt Scarlet’s arms losing their hold on her to drop seemingly inert by his sides, Rhapsody gently but firmly held on to his limp body which was now leaning against her, and she sat down heavily onto the ground. She looked into his face again, to realise he had lost consciousness. She could feel his heart beating wildly in his chest and knew he was still alive, but in a bad way. A lump formed in her throat and she felt tears pricking at seeing him so helpless.
Fighting off her tears, she cradled him protectively, stroking his hair, kissing his forehead, and rocking back and forth as if he was but a sleeping child in her arms.
It’s so unfair, she told herself with bitterness. Why does he have to suffer so? He’s the last person on Earth who deserves such grief.
“Sleep,” she whispered in his ear. “Get some rest, Paul. You’ll be better in the morning... We’ll get you back home soon, and then we’ll get you sorted out. Don’t worry, you’ll see – everything will be all right.”
Rhapsody promised herself, there and now, that she would guard him fiercely from anyone who might want to hurt him. She would see that he got safely through the night, until he recovered.
And perhaps well after that, even.
* * *
Seated at his desk, Doctor Evers looked up at the two men his secretary had introduced into his office and who now stood in front of him. Like many of the inhabitants of Les Arbrisseaux, Evers didn’t like any strangers in the area to break the peace and monotony of everyone’s quiet life. The events of the last twenty-four hours had certainly proved the townspeople right, and these two new visitors could only mean more bad news.
They looked very solemn in their uniforms, as they officially handed him their credentials. He had never met the likes of them before, and really, he should have been impressed; but somehow, at this late hour of the night, he failed to feel anything but weary. The previous day had been a long and harrowing one.
“Spectrum, huh?” he said, clearing his thoughts and looking down at the identity cards and then the papers displayed in front of him. “About time you finally showed up, too.”
The taller of the two – a blond man with a distinguished accent – tilted his head to one side and looked at him with curiosity. “We’re sorry, sir. We were on red alert, and rather busy with some pressing matters. We didn’t become aware of your call to our New Orleans office until a few hours ago.”
“Really? So in order to attract your attention, maybe we should have reported that we were invaded with terrorists. With these… how do the newspapers call that group? Oh yes, Mysterious.”
“You mean ‘Mysterons’, Doctor,” said the other officer, a dark-haired man, who was obviously an American.
“Mysterious, Mysterons, for me it’s all the same.” Taking a file from his desk, Evers stood up, to eye the two officers more levelly. He was a short man, and both of them were much taller than he was. “The point is, gentlemen, that we expected you much sooner. A lot has happened between the first call the sheriff made to you yesterday morning and the one I placed later in the evening. If you would care to come with me…”
Both men nodded at his invitation and followed Evers out of his office, to stroll down the silent main corridor of the small clinic.
“You’re doing the night shift, Doctor?” the blond officer asked as they climbed a staircase to reach the second storey.
Evers scoffed. “Night shift, you’re kidding me? This is Les Arbrisseaux, son, not a big city. This isn’t a proper hospital, as you can see, but I’m doing my best. When there’s an emergency at night, the attendance nurse gives me a call and wakes me. If it’s a real emergency – something beyond my modest talents – we call Baton Rouge and we have the patient transferred there.”
They walked down another corridor, passing by a series of doors, until they reached the one at the very end, in front of which Evers stopped and turned to his visitors.
“I’m only here tonight because I was told to expect your arrival soon after my call. He glanced at the closed door. “And also, because he’s my oldest friend in town, and I wanted to keep close to him. Now please, be quiet while in there, will you?”
“Of course, Doctor.”
Evers turned the handle and slowly pushed the door open. The three men entered the small room quietly, and then approached the bed, where the patient, a burly black man, hooked to tubes and monitors, was resting with his eyes closed.
A nurse was seated on a chair nearby, reading a book, and she raised her head at the three men’s arrival.
“How is he, Willa?” Evers asked her.
“The same, Doctor,” she said quietly. “He hasn’t awakened yet.”
Evers thanked her with a nod and went to check the information from the machine by the side of the bed, which was beeping constantly and regularly. He nodded with satisfaction, and then turned to address the two Spectrum officers waiting patiently behind.
“This is the town’s sheriff,” he explained in a low voice. “He was found on the river bank a few hours ago – just before sundown. Drenched to the bone and suffering from hypothermia. He had a bullet in his chest, and his clothes were torn. We figured his body had been dragged down the river by the wild currents. Obviously he’s the victim of some kind of attack. He’s very lucky to still be alive. A weaker man would have surely died but…” He looked at the man lying on the bed. “… Leonard Masters is made of sterner stuff. His condition is stable now, and he should make a full recovery. But he has yet to wake up to tell us what exactly happened to him. He’s been unconscious since we found him.”
“Do you know what happened to him?” the dark-haired officer asked.
Evers shrugged. “One can only guess. Last afternoon, he and his deputy, Alan MacGibbons, were on their way to deliver a suspect into Spectrum’s custody, as instructed by your New Orleans office. But of course, you know about this, right?”
The blond officer chewed on his bottom lip, hesitating to give an answer. Evers watched them carefully.
“You don’t have the suspect in your charge, right? Leonard never got to meet with you at all?”
“No,” the blond man replied, and he didn’t seem inclined to extrapolate on the question. “Please, continue, Doctor.”
Evers sighed. The officer’s answer confirmed his suspicions.
“Later in the day, we found MacGibbons dead on the road passing through the woods and leading out of the parish. His body was riddled with bullets. Next to him, there was another dead man, a stranger to anyone in town. He looked like he had been run over by a car. He was dressed in a uniform… You know, those kind of uniforms hunters or soldiers wear when they want to hide in the woods?”
“Camouflage uniform,” the blond man said grimly.
“Yes, one of those. Actually, quite similar to what the suspect was wearing when he was found in Devil’s Bayou by Joe Benson – a recluse who lived there on his own… before the suspect allegedly killed him.”
“Allegedly?” the dark-haired officer repeated.
“The sheriff had his doubt about his guilt. Despite the fact there were witnesses to the murder.”
“Sounds to me like your sheriff didn’t find these witnesses credible,” the dark-haired man continued.
“They might not be, but considering the events…” Evers glanced at his patient. “I’m guessing that the unknown man who was found with MacGibbons was the suspect’s accomplice, trying to help him escape.”
The two Spectrum officers didn’t show any visible reaction to the doctor’s assumption.
“And what makes you say that?” the blond man asked evenly.
“The sheriff’s car was found by the river by fishermen in a boat, a few miles upstream, just at the boundary of Devil’s Bayou. It wasn’t difficult to find, actually: the smoke could be seen from miles around and indicated its position quite clearly.”
The blond officer tilted his head again. “I don’t follow you.”
“The car had been set on fire… by whom, we don’t know. There was a dead body inside, burned to a crisp.”
“A body?” The blond man showed a concerned frown. “The suspect, you think?”
“The body was totally unrecognisable. But no, I don’t think it was the suspect. He’s a tall man, and the body is very visibly that of a much smaller individual. Also, there were three off-road vehicles at the scene, badly damaged. It looked like there had been a war there, by the looks of things. We couldn’t find the riders.”
“And do you know who these riders are?” the blond officer asked.
“Well, we think those vehicles are those owned by some of the boys who were witnesses to Joe’s murder in the first place. Young men who spend their time riding across the county on those infernal machines of theirs. We haven’t seen them around town since around noon, so we don’t know where they could be and what could have happened to them.”
“And the suspect?” the dark-haired man asked. “Where do you think he is now?”
“He must be hiding in Devil’s Bayou. That’s where he would go, after escaping the sheriff’s custody. Prints were found leading in that direction anyway. Multiple prints. They were so muddled up that it was impossible to actually know how many people went through there or what happened exactly.”
“Devil’s Bayou,” the blond man repeated thoughtfully, exchanging glances with his companion.
“The sheriff was found afterwards. It was a relief to realise he had survived whatever happened. Maybe the suspect escaped and the boys, who saw the whole thing, followed him in Devil’s Bayou? They were all over town earlier in the morning, saying how they were big heroes by helping the sheriff arrest him. Maybe they wanted to repeat the exploit?”
“Doctor, please stick to the facts,” the blond man said with a frown which showed his irritation. “It’ll make our job much easier if we don’t have to deal with speculation.”
“You want facts?” Evers said roughly. “I’ll give you facts, officers: the boys’ parents are worried, and the townsfolk are restless at the moment. What, with the thought of a murderer running around freely in the area… I’ve never seen unrest like this for the last fifteen years, since that robbery in New Orleans, when the thief hid out in Devil’s Bayou. If the body found in the sheriff’s car should turn out to be one of those missing boys – I can only imagine how people around here will react!”
“Let’s not get carried away,” the dark-haired officer swiftly interjected. “Doctor, when you called our New Orleans office, you mentioned pictures of the suspect. Can you show them to us?”
“Yes, of course.”
The tone of their voices had risen, and Evers was beginning to feel concerned that it would disturb his patient. He addressed one last look at the still body of Masters, and then gestured in the direction of the door. “I think we’d better leave first,” he said, lowering his voice.
The two Spectrum officers nodded and they left the room; the doctor closed the door behind, and turned to his visitors again. He opened the folder he had in his hands and took out one large picture that he gave to the blond officer who was standing closer to him. “You might not believe it, but those are X-rays pictures we took of the suspect when he was taken into town by the sheriff last morning. He was apparently dead at the time, but obviously… he wasn’t. Scared the hell out of one of my nurses when he woke up in the morgue too.”
The blond officer glanced at him, before looking at the first picture; it showed a clean, regular picture of Captain Scarlet’s face. He handed it to his colleague, who nodded upon seeing it. “I believe you, Doctor,” he said, checking the other pictures. He discovered the first of Scarlet’s proper scan pictures and he carefully checked it out before looking inquisitively at Evers.
“That was taken with one of those newest machines,” the doctor explained. “I’ve always been reluctant to use it – always preferred X-rays. But seems like I didn’t have any choice in the matter. It’s of the suspect, of course. You’ll probably notice the grey mass in the middle of his skull… It’s not clear, but it looks like some kind of projectile. I think it might be responsible for his amnesia.”
“Amnesia?” the blond officer said with a frown of perplexity. “You say this man is amnesiac?”
He exchanged glances again with his companion, who looked just as doubtful as he was. Evers was watching their reactions carefully.
“Why, yes. He said he couldn’t remember a thing… Why he was here, why he killed Joe Benson… He did say his name was O’Hara, but I doubt even that was true.”
“O’Hara?” the dark-haired man echoed, raising a brow.
“Yes. ‘Scarlet’ O’Hara, actually.”
The Spectrum officer shook his head. “Man, and I thought he had no sense of humour…”
“You know that man, then,” Evers then realised. “When I saw the results of the first X-ray scans and after he woke up in the morgue like he did, the sheriff and I remembered the Spectrum communiqué we received some months ago… so we knew we should contact you.”
“Who else has seen these pictures, aside from the sheriff and yourself?” the blond officer asked, while checking the other pictures.
“No-one else. I gave a set of the suspect’s pictures to the sheriff, so he could give them to Spectrum, when he left to meet with them. I guess they must have been destroyed along with the car. Will you tell me what’s going on, officer…?”
“Captain. Captain Blue.” He pointed at a third picture with his finger and showed it to Evers. “This is not your suspect – O’Hara, as you called him.”
“This one? No, it’s a pic of the unknown dead man we found with MacGibbons. The one wearing the camouflage uniform. As you can see, he showed a regular picture under the X-ray scans as well. Which made me think he and O’Hara were somehow related.”
“In a way.” Captain Blue showed the picture to his colleague.
The latter nodded vigorously upon seeing it. “Jack Palmer,” he said matter-of-factly. “According to our files, he was part of Major Montgomery’s team.”
“Right, Captain Ochre. This seems to confirm our suspicions.” Captain Blue turned to Evers. “Were other strangers sighted in the area, Doctor?” he inquired. “Other men dressed like this one?”
“Or a young woman?” Captain Ochre suggested in turn. “Nice-looking, red hair, blue eyes?”
“No, nobody else but O’Hara and that other guy,” Evers replied. He noticed how his answer seemed to cause concern in both officers. “Are you saying there are more of these people around? What’s going on, Captains?”
Blue closed the folder. “I’m afraid I will have to confiscate these pictures, Doctor Evers, and I will have to request that you hand over any copies you might have kept in your files.”
Doctor Evers was looking from one man to the other, with deepening confusion. “Captain… will you tell me exactly what’s going on?”
Blue hesitated, unsure how to answer. “I’m afraid, Doctor, that this is confidential information.”
That wasn’t exactly the response Bill Evers expected; he didn’t like it one bit.
“Confidential information? How can you stand there, and give me such bull? A killer is on the loose, the sheriff is seriously wounded and his deputy is dead! Added to that, there are some kids missing for hours! Why, this whole mess is partly Spectrum’s fault to begin with! If you had come to town to take custody of the suspect instead of instructing Leonard to bring him to you when he called you earlier today, this would never have happened!”
Captain Blue heaved a deep sigh. He couldn’t very well tell the truth to this town doctor – that Spectrum had never received the sheriff’s call to begin with and that it had been intercepted by a Mysteron agent implanted at Spectrum’s New Orleans office – and that Spectrum actually only discovered that very much later.
Since this very morning, Spectrum had been kept on their toes by the Mysterons, answering a threat to Futura City. It was now perfectly clear that it was nothing more than a wild goose chase – Spectrum had never suspected that the aliens were making their move here, in Louisiana, trying to get for themselves the very thing that Scarlet and Rhapsody had been sent to retrieve. The Mysterons had made use of the violent storm that had raged over the Atlantic – effectively cutting contact between Cloudbase and its missing officers. Blue didn’t dare think they had actually influenced the weather itself – he didn’t want to imagine that their powers would extend that far – and instead, preferred to think that Nature had thrown a fluke they had used to their advantage.
As time passed, Scarlet and Rhapsody’s extended radio silence had started to cause concern. Deprived of his best agent, and despite the threat seemingly hanging over Futura City which should have, in all rights, gathered all of Spectrum’s attention, Colonel White had instructed Lieutenant Green to conduct an investigation, to learn what could have happened to the two missing agents.
Green’s research had been relatively swift; he first discovered that Major Philip Montgomery, the leader of the W.A.A.F commando team Scarlet had been assigned to accompany to Louisiana, had not reported to his superiors either, for a long time. Further research by the W.A.A.F at the major’s residence had led them to find Montgomery’s dead body, lying in his bath, with a bullet through the head. The discovery had caused some confusion within the W.A.A.F., because Montgomery was supposed to have left for his assigned mission with his team – and had even signed the flight order before leaving New Orleans, shortly before dawn. Spectrum, of course, understood immediately what had happened.
In parallel to this discovery, Green also found out that a call had been received at the communication office of Spectrum New Orleans, originating from the small town of Les Arbrisseaux, only a few miles off the location to which Montgomery’s team, along with Scarlet and Rhapsody, had been sent. Green only had to check the communication kept on file to realise that it was indeed related to the missing officers’ disappearance – although he didn’t have all the details. Following this, the inter-administrative liaison and communication officer in New Orleans was revealed as a Mysteron agent and disposed of accordingly.
Now guessing that the Mysterons had taken Spectrum for fools with a decoy threat on the capital city of the World, Colonel White had then decided to send Blue and Ochre to investigate in Les Arbrisseaux, all the while keeping the main body of Spectrum forces in Futura, just in case it might yet be another distraction.
It turned out now that it wasn’t the case.
Blue didn’t know exactly what the object of Scarlet and Rhapsody’s assignment was. He could only imagine that it was something very important and potentially dangerous too, if Colonel White suspected the Mysterons wanted to use it to carry out their current threat.
“Doctor Evers,” Blue said in a calming voice, “let me assure you that Spectrum takes the situation very seriously. You do not have to worry about anything. We’ll deal with the situation and will see justice done.”
“That’ll better be the case, Captain,” Evers growled ominously. “Because the people in this area might just do things their own way, if they feel you are not taking care of things. If ever they should get their hands on O’Hara –”
“O’Hara, as you call him, isn’t your concern,” Blue interjected, a little more roughly than he intended. “And I would advise your fellow citizens not to take any action against him or anyone else. It might have serious consequences.”
“Is that a threat?”
“You misunderstand me, sir. It’s just a piece of advice.”
“Hang on…” Evers eyed Blue with suspicion as something suddenly occurred to him. “Scarlet, that’s a colour,” he said, almost accusingly. “That’s not his actual name, it’s a codename. That guy’s one of yours. Isn’t he?”
At first, Blue was reluctant to answer the question. Then finally, he gave a brief nod, staring intently at the physician. “Things are not what they appear to be, Doctor,” he said in an uncompromising voice. “He is indeed a Spectrum officer, and he was here on assignment when we suddenly lost contact with him.”
“In Devil’s Bayou?” Evers said with scepticism. “What could possibly have brought him to that hellhole?”
“I cannot tell you the nature of this assignment, Doctor, I’m sorry. However, what I can tell you is this: it’s likely that very dangerous men are currently roaming around the area. It would be a good idea if people stay clear of these men for their own safety.”
“And report any sighting of these strangers,” Ochre added in turn. “Discreetly and without taking any risk. You should have a town meeting called so that the population is informed.”
Evers was now beyond confusion. “At this time of night? You’re kidding, right?”
“It’s very urgent, Doctor,” Ochre insisted. “And it’s imperative that we go to Devil’s Bayou as soon as possible in order to –”
“Now I know you’re kidding,” Evers interrupted swiftly. “Nobody travels into Devil’s Bayou at night, Captain. No-one in the area will guide you there, if that’s what you’re thinking about. It’s too dangerous. However urgent it might be, you will have to wait until morning.”
Blue scowled. “It might be too late in the morning. Not only for our agent. For those boys you mentioned earlier too.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Evers snapped. “They know the dangers of Devil’s Bayou as well as anyone else around here. If they’re in there tonight, they would have settled down for the night somewhere to wait until daylight. And your officer would be wise to do the same himself. But quite frankly,” he added with a sour accent to his voice, “I must say I don’t care much what might happen to him. Because I still have doubts about his involvement in what happened to Leonard and –”
“Doctor Evers!” The door leading to the sheriff’s room suddenly opened, interrupting him, and Willa the nurse appeared in the opening, all excited. Almost startled by her sudden appearance, the three men turned to her and she addressed the doctor directly, frantically: “You better come, Doctor. It’s Sheriff Masters. I think he’s about to wake!”
For a split second, obviously surprised by the news, Evers hesitated. Then, he turned to both Ochre and Blue, standing behind him. “Wait here, gentlemen. I have to check on my patient.”
Both Spectrum officers nodded and they watched as Evers followed the nurse, carefully closing the door behind him.
“About time he woke up,” Ochre said in a low voice. “And I hope he’ll be able to talk. We might finally understand exactly what has been going on.” He looked straight at his companion’s grim expression. “You’re concerned about Scarlet.”
“I am. I’m still trying to figure out how he can be amnesiac. In any case that explains why he hasn’t tried to make contact with base to begin with. He might be very vulnerable right now.”
Ochre hesitated to voice his own apprehension. “You don’t think, by any chance, the Mysterons might have taken him back under their control? When he came back to us, last year, he didn’t remember a thing about what he had done as a Mysteron agent. That might explain why that Palmer guy might have tried to help him escape.”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t think that’s the case. If there is one thing we know about Mysteron agents, it’s that there’s no loyalty between them. Despite Doctor Evers’ assumption, I don’t think Palmer was there to help Scarlet escape.”
“Then why was Palmer there, with the dead deputy?” Ochre asked. “Kill him? Capture him? Make him tell him and his friends if he found that thing he came here to find?”
“You’re a better detective than I am, Ochre. You might find that answer before I do. For now, I don’t want to jump the gun and think the worst might have happened.”
Both friends knew that ‘the worst’ for Scarlet, was indeed to return to Mysteron control. Neither of them really wanted to think it could really happen.
“Actually, I’m more concerned about Rhapsody,” Blue moved on. “When Cloudbase was finally able to receive the transponder signal from her Angel fighter, it was to tell us that her craft had crashed.”
“She’s a resourceful girl,” Ochre commented. “With any luck, she would have bailed out before it was too late.”
“Let’s hope for that, yes. And if she did, and she’s alive out there, we have to find her - and Scarlet as well. When we do, we’ll also find the explanation for his amnesia, and for all that’s been going on in this area since they came here on assignment.”
Ochre stroked his chin thoughtfully. “The doctor seems to think Scarlet returned to Devil’s Bayou – and we ought to assume Montgomery and his men might be there too. Maybe even Rhapsody.”
“Maybe the object they’re looking for is still there? Maybe that’s why Scarlet has returned there – to complete his mission?” Blue suggested. “That is – if he went there of his own accord. Montgomery and his men could have taken him there by force.”
“To get the object?” Ochre asked. “Do you have any idea what is it exactly?”
“Colonel White mentioned a microchip. But further than that… I don’t know. The colonel wouldn’t tell. It seems it’s highly top secret.”
“It must be something huge, if the Mysterons thought of using it for their current threat.”
Blue nodded thoughtfully. “In any case, I don’t think the Mysterons have it yet. They wouldn’t still be in the area. And we know they’re still around.” He looked at his colleague. “Their helicopter was sighted about one hour before sundown by the W.A.A.F surveillance satellite and according to the signal from its transponder, it’s currently landed somewhere in the middle of Devil’s Bayou… apparently waiting.”
“Might be a good idea to have the Angels pay it a visit...” Ochre commented thoughtfully. “But in the morning, when we start our search, since we can’t count on going into the Bayou tonight. We should contact base to get a helicopter. We’ll cover more ground faster.”
“Good idea.” Blue was now looking straight at the door leading into the sheriff’s room. “If Masters is in any state to talk, I want to speak to him. While I contact the colonel, I think you’d better go get the Mysteron detector from the SPV outside. Considering his current state, I don’t think the sheriff is a Mysteron agent, but –”
“ – As we know Mysterons are not always retrometabolic, it’s something to consider,” Ochre concluded. “Better be on the safe side, yes.” He paused for a second. “The doctor won’t like it at all, Blue.”
Blue’s expression became hard. “Probably not, but you know what? I don’t give a fiddle what that doctor might like or not.”
“No,” Ochre replied, smiling as he turned around to slowly walk down the corridor. “I never thought you would.”