A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” novel
by Chris Bishop
Coming back to consciousness this time around wasn’t nearly as traumatic as the last, thought Charles Gray as he came to his senses. But the situation, he realised instantly, was now quite different, and had evolved in a way not at all to his advantage.
This time again, he was seated on the floor, but now he could feel the cold bite of the handcuffs secured around his wrists, behind his back. His head felt heavy, and damp; the left side of it was hurting. A strange smell of alcohol pervaded his clothes.
He saw the barrel of a gun aimed at his face.
“I suggest you keep quiet.” That was the red-haired girl, warning him from behind the gun. Her voice had a stern edge, as had the watchful stare she was keeping on him. She was seated right in front of him, on one of the stools, just out of reach.
“Don’t move, or call out,” she continued, ever so quietly. “I don’t want to, but I’ll use this weapon if I have to.”
He stared coldly at her; he didn’t have any reason to believe she wouldn’t carry out her threat. Carefully, he shifted his position to get more comfortable. Her eyes didn’t leave him for one instant. She saw him wince under the effort.
“How’s your head?” she asked.
“What do you expect?” Gray replied roughly. He looked toward the debris of the broken bottle, lying on the floor, not far from him. “Pity. That was a bottle of perfectly fine brandy you hit me with, young lady.”
“Sorry,” Rhapsody answered. “I’ll replace it, eventually.”
White grumbled. “Wonderful. I smell like a damned drunk.” He stared again at the young woman. “So, it seems you have the upper hand,” he continued evenly. “What do we do now?”
“Wait for what?”
Rhapsody did not answer. Gray looked at her sharply. “You can’t have called your friends in Spectrum, now, can you? Not with my communicator…”
She glared at him. “You mean that?” On the table next to her, she indicated the radio transmitter she had found earlier when she searched him. “Now, if I had used that, your men would have instantly picked up the communication and barged in here the second after. Is that the idea you had in mind by… ‘suggesting’ I use it?”
“So you didn’t call your people.”
“I never said that. I had… another means at my disposal.” Rhapsody showed him the tracker. “I used this.”
He nodded. “That was in my pocket,” he noted. “What is it?”
“You mean you don’t know?”
He shook his head of white hair.
“A Personal Tracker, issued by Spectrum,” she explained. “It’s… my commander’s.”
Again, he nodded. “So you may have been right, about me having killed him, eh?” She didn’t answer, but made note of that odd remark. Her prisoner gave the faintest of smiles. “You saw right through me, didn’t you? About the communicator…”
“I may be young, by your standards, but I’ve still had plenty of training and experience,” Rhapsody replied. She leaned toward him. “Don’t you remember who I am?”
He didn’t reply. Obviously, he didn’t recall anything about her. The young woman straightened up, sighing. “Right. How can I expect you to remember who I am, when you don’t even seem to know who YOU are?”
“I know perfectly well who I am, thank you very much,” Gray snapped at her.
“Are you sure about that… Admiral?”
Gray scoffed loudly, but didn’t say anything. The girl shook her head. She wasn’t giving up yet. “Obviously, this man Brighton knows about your past in the Navy. This is not common knowledge. Admiral Charles Gray disappeared from public view some twenty-five years ago, at the same time he retired from the Navy. People my age would not recognize you, or even know who you are if your name came up in a conversation.”
“But YOU know, right?” Gray noted, looking up at her. “As well you should. You should know all about your prey, shouldn’t you? You must have prepared this scam carefully to get to me…”
“I didn’t prepare anything.”
“What’s in it for you, anyway? The price on my head is that good?”
“You think I’m some sort of bounty hunter?” Rhapsody asked, frowning. “I work for Spectrum…”
“Yes, that much I know. What is Spectrum? Some special Government service?”
“To which ‘Government’ are you referring?”
“Don’t play the innocent with me! I’m talking about the British Militarist Government, that’s had this beautiful country in its clutches for years!”
“What?” Rhapsody opened her eyes wide with incredulity and confusion. “That’s crazy… There’s been no Militarist Government in Britain since…”
“Don’t tell me I’m crazy!” Gray growled angrily, leaning toward her. “I don’t know what game you’re trying to play, but I know EXACTLY what is going on in this country! I’ve been fighting for too many years not to know!”
“Oh, dear God…” Rhapsody looked in dismay at her commander-in-chief. “What have the Mysterons done to you?”
“That word again,” Gray mumbled. “First, you accuse me of being one, and now…” he sighed. “What is a Mysteron?”
“You’ve been drugged,” Rhapsody continued. “They did this to you.”
“Oh, really?” Gray scoffed. “Yes, I’ve been drugged. Do you think I’m unaware of that? But it was not done to me by your ‘Mysterons’. You should know that Government agents tried to extract information from me, after you turned me over to them.”
“I didn’t turn you over to anybody,” Rhapsody replied with insistence.
Gray wasn’t listening. His eyes suddenly filled with uneasiness and pain. “They hooked me to that thing…”
“What thing?” Rhapsody suddenly cut in. “You already mentioned a ‘contraption’.” She remembered that from his mad ravings, just before she knocked him out. Knowing now that he wasn’t a Mysteron, she thought it could contain information about what had happened to him.
Gray shrugged. “Still you pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said with an edge of disgust in his voice. “You can’t be THAT innocent… You certainly know about the device they call a ‘dream spinner’… and the things they did to me with it!”
Dream spinner? Rhapsody shook her head. “I… don’t know anything about that, sir. I swear I was not involved in what happened to you. Why can’t you believe me?” He didn’t answer. The bitterness in his eyes was difficult for the young woman to bear. “What did they do to you with that device? Tell me!”
“What does it matter to you?” he grumbled. “Whatever they wanted of me, it failed…”
“Are you so sure it failed?” Rhapsody murmured carefully.
He looked at her angrily. She understood that she had touched a nerve. “Stop toying with me! If not for Shelby and the others, I don’t even know what would have happened. I’d probably be dead!”
“They’ve planted lies in your mind!” Rhapsody protested. “Please, try to remember!”
“What should I try to remember?” Gray snarled. “What are you trying to do, girl?”
“Remember me… Remember Cloudbase, all the people on it… Spectrum. Remember who you are, Colonel White.”
He scowled. “My name is Gray. Charles Gray. I was a captain of the British Navy before receiving the rank of admiral from the World Navy. I’ve never been a colonel. There is no colonel in the Navy.”
That sounded too much like some kind of a fully prepared response planted in his mind…. Rhapsody realized it upon hearing it. He stared daggers at her. “I don’t know what your objective is, young woman, but I’m telling you, you won’t deceive me again the way you already have.”
“When and how did I deceive you?” Rhapsody asked in surprise.
“When you captured me. Yesterday, wasn’t it? How did you do it? First, you earned my trust, and then you seduced me, so it would be easier for you to trap me during that ‘date’ of yours?”
She shook her head slowly. “I told you. You never showed up. You went AWOL all of a sudden. That’s why Captain Ochre and I were looking for you at the house of your friend, Greg Dooley. We had traced you back to there. Only Mister Dooley was a Mysteron and…”
“Spare me. It’s obvious you’re lying. You said earlier that you were looking there for your commander.”
“That’s right. You are my commander. You are Colonel White, commander-in-chief of Spectrum.”
Gray laughed bitterly. “How funny! First, you accuse me of having killed your commander… Then you say I AM him? Can’t you get your story straight, young lady?” He shook his head. “I’m not your Colonel White… And I don’t know anything about this ‘Spectrum’ of yours… Except that it seems to be a powerful enough service in this country.”
“We’re a multinational task force, answerable only to the World President… Don’t you remember?”
“Great, World Government agents. As bad as Militarists. World Government turned its back on the people of Britain years ago, when it decided to let them rot under the Militarists’ heel.”
“Now then, that’s not true…”
Gray feigned not to hear Rhapsody’s plea.
The young woman sighed. Better stop now, I’m not getting anywhere, she realized. I can’t get through to him. I can’t get him out of this influence they put him under. He needs professional help. As soon as possible.
“Tell me something,” Gray then asked her. His voice was calmer now, like that of a man really sure of himself and not the least affected by his situation. He looked Rhapsody straight in the eyes. “You and I… Have we been… intimate?”
She blushed violently. The thought ONLY was embarrassing enough. “No, sir, we haven’t,” she answered, shaking her head.
He seemed to believe her. “Good,” he said, nodding with satisfaction. “I mean, I don’t want to insult you or anything, but… I’m a married man, and I love my wife. And I don’t know how I would have explained that to her.”
Rhapsody stared at him in disbelief.
“Your wife?” she murmured.
“Yes. What? It surprises you that much that I should be married?” Gray frowned. “If you know so much about me, you must be aware of that…”
Rhapsody desperately tried to conceal her trouble and distress. It was too horrible… He actually thought his wife was still alive? She couldn’t believe those monsters, who had done this to him, could have been so cruel as to put THAT thought into his mind… She turned away from him, so she would not give herself away.
He still noticed something was obviously wrong. “What is it?” he asked curiously.
Rhapsody waved her hand, unsettled. “Nothing,” she said. I won’t tell him. I CAN’T tell him his wife has been dead for seventeen years. He wouldn’t believe me. And if he did believe me, that would be too much of a shock for him. Given his present condition, who knows how he would react to the news…
She saw him wince, as if suddenly in pain.
“Are you all right?” she asked with concern. She had noticed now pale he had turned; sweat was covering his face.
“My head hurts a bit… Not surprising, eh?” Gray looked at the girl. “You searched my pockets… You must have found a bottle of pills.”
“Yes, I found it. But those are not headache pills.”
“Well, they may not be headache pills, but they do me a lot of good. I need them to keep myself in check.”
“What do you mean by that?” a puzzled Rhapsody asked. He didn’t care to answer. He looked so pale, so tired… She frowned. “How long since you had a good sleep, sir?” Again, he didn’t answer. The girl shook her head. “I’m sorry, I won’t give you those pills. Not without knowing what they are. That’s a responsibility I won’t take.”
He shrugged, as if he was indifferent to it. “Suit yourself…” he said in a whisper.
Rhapsody saw him wince again, and heard him give a low grown; his head went backward. Something's wrong with him, thought the young woman. To her dismay, he then slid to one side and sprawled on the floor, where he stayed motionless.
A worried Rhapsody jumped to her feet. “Sir? All you all right?”
His silence alarmed her. He must be more badly hurt than I first thought! She swiftly came to him, crouched by his side, and gently touched his shoulder. “Please, answer me. I just want to help you…”
The echo of her words had not faded away when Colonel White quickly sprang up, surprising her. His hands inexplicably free, he grabbed hold of her. He swiftly forced her to let go of her weapon, which clattered to the floor, and then imprisoned her in a thigh lock, putting his left arm across her throat and twisting one of hers behind her back. She struggled, vainly, for he was too strong.
“You’ve helped me quite enough already, young lady,” he said from behind, in her ear. He opened his right hand in front of her eyes and she saw his wristwatch, just beside the free end of the cuff dangling from his wrist. “Next time you want to handcuff a man like me, try to remember to relieve him of his watch.”
“You opened the lock with the buckle pin,” she noted, swallowing hard. “I should have been more careful…”
“Yes, you should have. But it was a commendable effort.” She was still trying to get free. Gray tightened his hold on her and she winced, feeling the pain of her imprisoned arm. “Come, come, now! Stop struggling! You’ll hurt yourself. On your feet, girl!”
Gray stood up, forcing her to do the same, and carried her toward the table. Keeping hold of her arm, he released her throat and took his communicator.
At about this moment, he noticed it was beeping. He opened the channel.
“…Admiral, please respond!” he heard a voice calling to him.
Must have tried to contact me while I was struggling with the girl, he mused, concerned by the tone of urgency he was hearing.
“Gray here!” he barked into the communicator. “What’s going on?”
“Spectrum is coming, sir! They’re almost on us!”
Gray’s features hardened. So, whatever it was worth, the girl had not lied to him about having called her own people… And now, they were about to enter the place.
“Get out of here!” he snapped to the other man. “Avoid capture and rejoin the others!”
“And you, sir?”
“Every man for himself, Mister! We’ll regroup at the agreed point. That’s an order!”
He heard the quick acknowledgment of the man and immediately cut contact. He was putting down the communicator to get a better grip on the girl when she suddenly thrust her head backward and hit him squarely on the face. Groaning in pain, he lost hold of her; she stepped heavily on his toes and pushed him back away from her, with all her weight and strength.
Gray fell to the floor, carrying the table and all that was on it with him.
While he was struggling to get rid of the table which had fallen on him, Rhapsody sprang to the door; she didn’t see her commander grabbing hold of his gun, which was not far from him and taking aim at her back.
“Hold it right there!” he bellowed.
She did not obey and swiftly opened the door to get out. Gray hesitated, his finger trembling on the trigger. Who am I kidding? he thought, a sudden bad taste in his mouth. I can’t shoot her in the back… But how CLOSE I came to doing it!
He angrily tossed the table aside and got to his feet. Rhapsody had just disappeared from his view. He picked up his belt from the cabinet and ran to the door, putting it on. He stumbled against the doorway, upon reaching it and put his hand to his aching head. The wound on the left side of it had reopened, following the girl’s last blow and it was now bleeding again.
He heard hurried footsteps on his right; turning in that direction, he saw the Angel pilot disappearing round the corner of the corridor. Gathering his strength, he set out in pursuit. He didn’t know exactly what that girl knew about the activities of his team, but he didn’t dare take the chance of letting her go back to Spectrum, to tell them something – anything – that might be of significance. Already she knew names, and had heard about the ship – that could be enough to endanger the mission. And on another note, he may have need of her as a hostage to get out of this place and avoid capture…
One thing was certain in his mind: if he didn’t get away with this, there was not a chance in Hell he would let himself be taken prisoner by Spectrum. He would fight to the very end… and would rather die than be exposed again to the same sort of treatment he had received the last time he was captured.
* * *
The two Spectrum helicopters were overflying a disused steelworks just outside of Bristol. According to the onboard computers, the signal from Colonel White’s Personal Tracker was coming from that place. Rhapsody had stopped sending Morse code and simply kept the device activated for Spectrum to follow the signal.
Captain Scarlet, on board Helicopter A04 with Captain Blue, would have given anything to be able to reach the young woman, to tell her that help was on its way. Unfortunately, the SPT was a one-way device, and had by no means been designed as a communication tool: it was to be used in case of emergency, to permit an agent to call for help. This case certainly qualified as an emergency.
Scarlet watched through binoculars as Captain Magenta’s team of Spectrum commandos disembarked from Helicopter A12. Following their leader’s instructions, they were now spreading around the enemy complex, covering all visible exits. Three men standing guard next to a canvas-covered army-type truck, just in front of a garage door, tried to make a break for it in the vehicle. One of them was swiftly shot down; the two others retreated hastily into the garage, leaving their companion and the truck on the spot.
“There’s no telling how many Mysteron agents there could be inside that factory,” Blue noted to Scarlet.
His partner nodded. “At least we know the colonel is in there.”
A few minutes earlier, they had intercepted a radio communication between the enemy agents. One of them was reporting to his superior, with some alarm, the approach of the two Spectrum helicopters. The other man, who at first took some time to answer the message, had given the order to abandon the place. It was the very recognizable voice of the Spectrum’s commander-in-chief, Colonel White. There was no possible mistake.
There were some puzzling things about this conversation, though: the first man had called the colonel “Admiral” and the latter had himself used his own name of “Gray” to identify himself. Scarlet and Blue couldn’t think why.
Scarlet was worried, too. It was clear to him, upon hearing the voice of the colonel, that he had escaped Rhapsody’s custody…What then had happened to the British Angel pilot? Surely, she was in very grave danger now.
However, now was not the time for questions, and useless worries…
It was time for action.
“Magenta’s men have surrounded the place,” Scarlet reported. “They’re about to enter.”
“The roof seems safe enough,” Blue announced in turn, finishing his inspection of it. “There’s a large window at about the centre of it, and a stairway opening not far from it. Maybe we can get in through one of those.”
“Take us down, Symphony,” Scarlet called to the Angel pilot at the helm of the helicopter. “But approach carefully.”
The young American pilot pushed the stick decidedly, taking the helicopter closer to the complex. Scarlet made a gesture toward Blue, instructing him to follow him near the exit hatch.
“We’ll use the cable lines to get down on the roof,” he announced. “Power packs may be very useful, but they have a tendency to hamper movements when you’re on foot.”
Blue nodded his acknowledgment. Scarlet hit the button and the hatch slid open before him, revealing the roof of the factory, a few yards below the hovering helicopter. The Brit dropped down his cap microphone to obtain a better communication with the pilot, over the engine and rotor noise. “You can lower the magnetic hook, Symphony.”
“Helijet steady. Magnetic hook and line ready to go, Captain,” came the answer over the speaker. “In three, two, one…”
In the cockpit, Symphony Angel pressed a button; the line over the exterior of the open hatch, just above Scarlet’s head, was fired toward the roof below. The magnetic hook attached itself to the polished surface. In the meantime, Scarlet and Blue had both quickly strapped a security harness around their waists and were putting on leather gloves to get a better grip on the straps they then secured to the line.
Scarlet hooked his belt to the line and addressed the Angel pilot anew: “Right, Symphony, we’re ready to go. Release the magnetic hook as soon as we reach the roof. Keep hovering up there and cover us with the machine gun.”
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet. Be careful down there. And bring the little sister back, safe and sound.”
“Don’t worry. I intend to do just that.” Scarlet turned to Blue, standing right behind him, waiting in line. “Ready, Captain Blue?”
“When you are, Captain Scarlet,” Blue nodded impassively.
“Let’s go, then!”
Gripping the strap he had previously attached to the wire line, Captain Scarlet jumped into the void and slid down to the roof, closely followed by his partner.
* * *
Up on a hill, at a safe distance from the disused factory, standing next to an inconspicuous car, the man who had been Jason Shelby was using binoculars to spy on the Spectrum attack on the building. Next to him, Brighton was waiting, a bit uncomfortable. He would not be able to say if it was the Mysteron’s presence next to him or the current deterioration of the situation that was making him feel so uneasy.
“Spectrum has almost taken over the complex, Mister Brighton,” Shelby announced blankly. “Who stayed behind?”
“Lemmings, Thorsen and McAllister, sir,” Brighton answered gloomily. “I’m afraid we’ve lost them.”
“No matter.” Shelby put down the binoculars and moved toward the door on the passenger side of the car. “They were expendable.”
Brighton looked at him with perplexity, not sure how he should take the coldness of his tone. “And Colonel White, sir? Wasn’t he still useful to us?”
Shelby glanced at him over the hood of the car. Brighton had to force himself not to step back, seeing the emotionless expression on his face. “Colonel White has already performed his most important task in this mission,” the Mysteron said flatly. “He would have been useful for the next step, but he’s not really essential. And given his present, deteriorating state of mind, maybe it’s better that he should not be involved with the rest of the mission.” He gave an icy smile. “Let him fend for himself. We’ll see if he can get out of this one. Maybe he will rid us of some Spectrum agents, before he gets himself killed by them at the end. And that, Mister Brighton, is an irony even the Mysterons can appreciate.”
He sat down in the passenger seat, and Brighton, getting more and more uncomfortable, took his place behind the wheel.
“And what if he should break free?” Brighton asked.
“We’ll wait to see how things develop, Mister Brighton,” Shelby replied. “Then we’ll decide what to do. In any case, you must realize by now that, even if Colonel White evades capture, he is a doomed man.”
He stared ahead. “Let’s go join the lorry,” he said very quietly. “We still have a lot to do before we achieve the next phase of the mission. And then, we’ll get a chance to truly avenge the Mysterons.”
* * *
Dianne Simms had never been one to scare easily. That was one of the many reasons she had been chosen to be part of the Angel Flight pack. Today, however, she was afraid… more afraid then she would ever care to admit. And it was not only for herself.
She was perfectly aware that Colonel White was hot on her trail, although he was not in view. What was frightening her was the fact that she had no idea what he would do to her. He was not a Mysteron, of that she was certain, but he was even more unpredictable than if he were one.
Somehow, the idea that he was at war with Britain – and the rest of the World – had been put into his mind; in the process, all his memories of who he really was, of Spectrum and what the organisation stood for, were removed. He had become an irrational, violent, and brutal man, capable of extreme acts. He had shot Captain Ochre in cold blood. He had almost killed that man in her cell with his bare fists. He had hit her – even though he felt ashamed of it right after. Now, after she had hit him over the head, cuffed him, and escaped from him, she suspected he would not hesitate to kill her. Especially if he felt he could be trapped by Spectrum.
He could also think of using her as a hostage to buy his way out of this place. Spectrum would never let him do that. He would be shot down at the first available occasion. That was how they stopped Paul, two years ago, she reminded herself. But while Captain Scarlet, having been Mysteronised, revived afterwards, free of the Mysterons’ influence, the same would not happen for Colonel White.
Surely, there was a way to help the colonel get out of that living nightmare the Mysterons had put into his mind. But in order to do so, he must absolutely be taken alive. It was a sure bet the rest of Spectrum believed him to be a Mysteron, as she had thought herself. It would be too horrible if they should kill him, without really understanding what was happening to him. The Mysterons would have the last laugh over that one.
I must inform Spectrum of this, Rhapsody told herself, as she ran through the corridors, trying to find an exit. She looked constantly over her shoulder. The colonel was still out of sight. He couldn’t be far behind, she mused, wondering why he had not simply shot her when she escaped him.
Where am I? she asked herself for the tenth time. It seemed to her this place had only corridors, offices, and iron staircases. Upon climbing one, she pushed a door and found herself in a big, spacious room, brightly lit, about two storeys high. There were wooden pallets lying everywhere.
Must be a storage room, the Angel pilot mused, stepping inside. Empty now. She looked around; not many places to hide… There was another door at the far side of the room. Aside from the one she had just used, it was the only entrance and exit to this place. She moved toward it and stopped suddenly.
The sound of an engine, coming from over her head, had drawn her attention. She raised her head to see, through a large skylight, a helicopter hovering steadily at less than a hundred feet. Her heart beat faster. She had recognized the unique outlines of a Spectrum helijet!
Her attention now fully focused on the aircraft, trying to see more of it and wondering what it was intended to do, Rhapsody made a few steps back toward the door at the other side of the room. She bumped into something. SomeONE, she realized almost instantly, jumping in surprise and turning on her heel. Two strong hands grabbed her by the arms as she gazed into the bright and icy blue eyes of Colonel White.
“You’re not planning on leaving me now, are you, darling?”
There was something of a cruel humour in his deep voice, so unlike him, as he said those words. With a strength suddenly increased by fear, Rhapsody struggled to get away. Not wanting to let her escape him again, the colonel wrapped an arm around her waist and held her close to him, from behind, while trying to control her with his other arm. It wasn’t an easy task; she was kicking and clawing like the wildcat Brighton had described her to be.
“Hold on!” he grumbled in annoyance. “You’re going to hurt yourself!”
He actually succeeded in snapping one end of the handcuffs he had in his hand around her right wrist. Not again! a distressed Rhapsody thought. If he restrains me, I’ll have no chance to get away from him! Despair and frustration overcame her and then, without being able to stop herself, she screamed for help.
* * *
Two storeys higher, on the roof, Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue had touched down and disengaged themselves from the harnesses tying them to the helicopter line. Once they were free, Symphony had released the magnetic clamp on the roof and wound the line back up to the aircraft. Swiftly yet cautiously, the two Spectrum officers had come nearer to the skylight to peer down through it. They found themselves gazing into a large storage room, where the floor was about two storeys lower.
“We can’t jump down there,” Blue remarked. “We’d risk breaking our necks.” He gestured toward a door nearby. “The stairway. Let’s use that instead.”
Scarlet nodded his agreement and was about to follow when he noticed movement inside the room below. A few feet away from the roof window, he saw two figures struggling. One of them was a tall, strong, white-haired man, dressed in commando gear, with combat boots, black trousers, and a khaki T-shirt. The other figure was that of a slender, red-haired woman, who seemed to be losing her fight.
“Dear God… Rhapsody!” Scarlet rasped, the words catching in his throat.
Blue quickly came back to take a look down. He recognized the tall, white-haired figure of the colonel, actually manhandling the British Angel pilot. He also saw the features of his friend, very pale, anger and fear apparent in his expression.
Then the desperate scream of the girl came to their ears. And Blue looked in total dismay as his partner took a step back, a grim determination upon his face. The American instantly understood what he was planning to do.
It was already too late. Taking a run up, Scarlet jumped right through the skylight. Blue’s protests were drowned in a thunderous crash of broken glass.
“Damned, impetuous fool!” he muttered.
He briefly looked down to make sure Scarlet had landed safely and turned around without waiting much longer; he rushed toward the door, then down the iron staircase, aware that his partner would need all the help he could get when facing the lethal peril of a Mysteronised Colonel White.
* * *
Charles Gray had finally succeeded in imprisoning both Rhapsody’s hands behind her back with the handcuffs. He glanced up toward the helicopter he could see hovering beyond the skylight above their heads. It was then that he had the startling surprise of a red-and-black-clad man suddenly jumping through it.
The sound of breaking glass echoed throughout the vast room and the roof – literally – came tumbling down. Although they were already out of range of the falling rain of glass, Gray pushed himself and his captive farther away. As they fell to the floor together, a last remainder of his past life instinctively compelled him to shield her with his own body. Only a few bits of glass came flying around them, but miraculously, neither was cut.
Gray heard a thump, as the crazy man who had leaped through the window landed on the floor, behind him. Almost blindly, he fired one shot in the direction of the sound. He saw the man in red rolling to avoid the bullet. I’m too much in the open, Gray realised grimly. Survivor’s instinct then took total control of his mind and body. His left hand took the knife out of the sheath hanging from the back of his belt and, in the same swift movement, he forced Rhapsody to stand, pulling her close to him.
The movement was so fast that the young woman didn’t even have time to react. She found herself with his arm across her throat again, the blade he was holding grazing her cheek. The colonel’s other arm was stretched out, carefully keeping his pistol trained on his opponent, who was slowly rising from the floor, himself keeping his gun aimed at the alleged Mysteron agent.
Rhapsody’s heart missed a beat when she recognised the grim features of her fiancé.
Gray lifted an eyebrow, hearing the girl’s desperate call. “Paul? So we’re on first-name terms, are we?” He nodded toward the roof, his eyes not leaving the other man. “Nice entrance, by the way. Crazy, but nice…”
Captain Scarlet kept his gun steady with both hands. He had sustained a few cuts and bruises from his leap through the skylight, but nothing serious enough for him to get too concerned about. He was much more worried about Rhapsody’s predicament; that damned blade was too close to her throat for his taste and comfort.
“Release the girl!” he ordered in a firm voice.
“Sorry,” he heard Colonel White answer very quietly. “She’s the only shield I have. If I let her go, there would be nothing to prevent you from shooting me like a dog.”
Scarlet gave a brief glance at Rhapsody’s face. The Angel pilot’s blue eyes were widened in fear and complete despair as she was staring back at him. She swallowed hard. “Captain,” she said in a strangled tone, “don’t shoot. He’s not…”
The words died on her lips and she gasped when the colonel suddenly tightened his hold on her throat. “Shut up!” he told her roughly. “I don’t want to hear one word out of you!”
Scarlet’s face blanched as he saw the young woman wince. He automatically tried to get a better aim at White. The latter cocked the hammer of his gun, still pointed at the younger man. “You’d better be very sure about this, lad!” he told him, in an urgent and sinister tone. “If you shoot me, my hand may slip, and the girl could get badly hurt.”
“The man I knew would never put a knife to a woman’s throat,” Scarlet replied harshly.
“Perhaps. But desperate situations call for desperate measures, ‘Captain’. You’re a soldier, you should know that.”
Charles Gray blinked his eyes several times, trying to keep all his attention on the man in front of him. He had trouble concentrating. That damned headache has come back with a vengeance! he thought savagely. That last blow the girl landed on him a few minutes before was too much. If she tried that again…
“You keep quiet,” he whispered warningly in her ear. “One false move from you, and I won’t be answerable for my actions.”
“Don’t you hurt her!” a furious Scarlet hissed between his teeth.
Gray shook his head. “I won’t if neither of you do anything stupid. I give you my word.”
Scarlet scoffed sarcastically. “And what is your word worth these days? There was a time I wouldn’t even think to question it, but today…”
“Put your gun down!” Gray barked.
“YOU put YOURS down!” Scarlet replied almost with the same tone. “The others have abandoned you! Spectrum has surrounded the place! You can’t go anywhere!”
“We’ll see about that… In the meantime, put that damned weapon down!”
Colonel White had stressed every syllable with insistence. Scarlet narrowed his eyes, carefully gauging him, hesitating.
“What are you waiting for?” the older man impatiently shouted at him. “Do you want me to kill the girl just to make my point?”
The blade got dangerously close to Rhapsody’s throat. Scarlet had to fight to keep a calm appearance.
“All right, don’t panic!” he quickly answered. “I’ll put the gun down…” Cautiously, he let go of the trigger; keeping his left hand well in sight, he crouched slowly to put the weapon on the floor, all the while keeping his eyes on White and the knife.
Curious, he noted. The colonel’s face was awfully pale and covered with sweat. The eyes were looking daggers, but surrounded by dark circles, as if the man had not slept in ages. He seemed sick, and awfully nervous. Mysteron agents certainly didn’t get sick, and it wasn’t often they were nervous. They were usually cold, calculating, in control. The few times Captain Scarlet had actually seen any of them lose their cool was when their plans had been thwarted so close to success… and as he was told, it was probably due to some human trait they had kept from the victim they had been reconstructed from. Which made the present situation here even stranger… Even if it happened in the past that Colonel White let his temper get the better of him, never had he shown any sign of nervousness… So why would his Mysteron duplicate be like this?
He can’t be getting feverish from that head wound, Scarlet mused as he slowly straightened up. It’s far too recent.
He didn’t have time to elaborate more on the question, though.
“Kick the gun away from you,” White ordered him.
Scarlet shoved the weapon aside. “I’ll do what you ask,” he said. “Just don’t hurt the girl…” He tried to sound as calm as he could. “You don’t want to throw away your shield, do you?”
The colonel wasn’t fooled. “Since she called you by your first name, it would seem to me she means a bit more to you than my ‘shield’… What IS she to you, anyway?” he asked roughly.
Scarlet’s eyes met Rhapsody’s. Better not let him guess how close we really are. He could use that against us. “An important member of our organisation,” he said, as evenly as possible. He glared at White as he spoke the next sentence. “Too important to lose like this.”
Some few yards behind the man and his hostage, Scarlet could see the door behind which was the staircase leading to the rooftop. He saw that door opening, as Captain Blue, gun in hand, silently slipped into the room, and quickly went into hiding behind a pile of empty pallets.
Quietly, as discreet as a shadow, the American made his way toward the three people standing in the middle of the room. He made brief eye contact with Captain Scarlet and continued his noiseless progression.
He’s trying to get into position behind the colonel, Scarlet noted, when he saw his partner taking cover behind a large wooden beam. Maybe if I could help him by distracting the old man…
“Why don’t you give up?” he asked White, changing the subject. “You said yourself your situation is desperate…”
“I will never give up!” White replied harshly. “That’s just not in my nature.”
“Yes, I know,” Scarlet almost sighed. “But think about it: maybe we can help you.”
“Help me?” White scoffed. “Frankly, I don’t see what you people can help me with!”
“Please, listen to him,” Rhapsody pleaded with urgency in her voice. “You really need help…”
“Quiet,” White replied. “YOU tried that line, before, it didn’t work. It won’t this time either.”
Scarlet could see Blue some feet to the left, behind White, aiming his weapon at his back; the American shook his head in negation. He couldn’t fire, in fear of hitting Rhapsody, so close to his target. And there’s still that knife to consider, Scarlet thought gloomily. He slowly walked toward his right. White shifted on his feet, instantly following his movement and keeping the gun aimed at the younger man.
“What are you doing? Stay where you are!”
Scarlet stopped, eyeing White closely. Still held as a shield between the two of them, Rhapsody frowned faintly, wondering why the captain had moved. He certainly didn’t do that without a definite purpose.
Then it occurred to her. If Captain Scarlet was here, his partner, Captain Blue, could not be far… And she would have bet her own life that the American officer was somewhere behind the colonel and herself.
“Okay, I won’t move,” Scarlet said roughly. “You see, I’m doing exactly what you ask of me. Now you do something too: let go of Rhapsody.”
That’s it, the young woman thought, anxiously. They’re setting him up for the kill. When he lets go of me, nothing will prevent them from shooting him.
She had to try to stop that.
“Captain,” she said carefully to Scarlet, “please, you’ve got to hear me out…”
“Not now, Rhapsody,” he replied a bit roughly. He was desperately trying to get her out of this mess, so Captain Blue could get a clear shot at her abductor. He didn’t need her to make things difficult.
“I can’t let her go,” White said. “I may still need her.”
“At least, get rid of the knife,” Scarlet suggested. “I’m not armed anymore, and she isn’t struggling. You don’t need to keep that blade on her throat.”
Rhapsody was holding her breath, staring at Scarlet with a desperate look of anguish. Why wouldn’t he listen to her? Why couldn’t he see that there was something wrong here? That Colonel White was not a Mysteron at all? His own capacity to detect the presence of a Mysteron should be telling him that… Or at least, he should have noticed the unhealed wound the drugged Spectrum commander had on his head.
Looking down at the young woman, Charles Gray was presently pondering whether to put down the knife or not. He really had no intention of hurting her. And threatening her with that sharp blade seemed so wrong to him. Still hesitantly, he took it away from Rhapsody’s throat, and slowly slid it back into its sheath. The Angel pilot blew out a sigh, and Scarlet nodded his satisfaction.
“Right, perhaps now, we can have a civilized talk.”
“The only talk we’re going to have is about how you’re going to let me get out of this place,” White replied sharply.
“I can’t let you go,” Scarlet answered. “You’re too dangerous for that.”
“You think I’m dangerous,” White said, aiming his gun right at Scarlet’s head. You don’t have any idea how dangerous I could be… You’ll get me a helicopter and a free passage or…”
“Or what? You’ll kill me?” There was a faint smile as Scarlet looked the colonel right in the eyes. “Much good it will do you…”
“Don’t ask for it!” White hissed ominously.
“I’m not.” Scarlet shook his head. “This doesn’t have to go further. Forget your mission. Stop all of this… before it’s too late and somebody really gets hurt.”
“Don’t pretend to tell me what to do!” White responded with a violent outburst of anger. “I know my duty! And I will do it, no matter what the cost!”
There was sadness in Scarlet’s eyes as he sighed. “And I know mine,” he answered in a low, almost painful but determined tone. “And I’ll do it too, however hard it may be. I’m… truly sorry, Colonel White.”
Gray blinked in confusion, wondering what that was all about. Colonel White? Why had that man just called him by that name, the same name the girl he was still keeping as hostage had claimed was his? And why did he sound so sad, right now?
Rhapsody had understood quite well. Captain Scarlet had made a last attempt to negotiate with the renegade, with no success, and now he had given the final signal for him to be shot down.
“No! Don’t kill him!” With that distraught cry, Rhapsody desperately launched herself with all her strength and weight against the colonel, who was still holding her close.
Her action was so sudden that White didn’t react to it. Unbalanced, he stumbled backward with her, and almost fell to the floor. He heard the crack of a shot, felt the wind of a bullet passing near, and then saw part of a wooden beam exploding under the violent impact of the projectile. Instantly, he understood that he had been set up as a target. His gun searched for Scarlet; the young man had sprung toward him, hoping to catch him by surprise. He dodged the first shot White took at him; Rhapsody managed to spoil the second one. The colonel threw the girl into the Spectrum officer’s arms; the latter caught hold of her and tried to cushion her with his own body as they hit the floor, avoiding the stray bullets that passed over their heads.
Blue had cracked another shot at White, but only managed to slightly graze his left arm. The furious man turned toward him and took several shots in his direction. The American quickly ducked behind the much too fragile pallets. They didn’t offer much of a cover as they exploded all around him in a rain of wooden splinters.
Too many enemies all at once, a feverish Charles Gray realised grimly. The best course of action would be to beat a hasty retreat. Which he did, running toward the door leading out of the room. He was disappearing behind it when Captain Blue’s gun fired again. But the bullet only produced a dent on the wall next to the door, at the exact spot Colonel White’s head had been a second earlier.
Blue got to his feet and rushed toward the spot where Scarlet and Rhapsody had fallen. His partner had straightened up into a sitting position and was cradling the young woman’s body in his arms, staring anxiously at her set face and closed eyes.
“Oh, God!” Blue gasped, kneeling beside them, “don’t tell me she’s…”
“No,” Scarlet cut him off suddenly, with a voice filled with relief. “No, she’s all right…” He gently stroked her head and heard her groaning faintly. She stirred. “She knocked her head when we hit the floor,” the British captain explained quickly. “She’s just stunned.”
“What just happened?” a dumbfounded Blue asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” Scarlet responded. Like Blue, he had seen Rhapsody’s frantic attempt to save the colonel’s life. He couldn’t explain to himself why she had acted that way. Carefully, he put the girl into his friend’s arms. “Stay with her. I’m going after him.”
“Take this, then.” Blue put his own gun into his partner’s hand. Their eyes met. The American shook his head. “Do what you have to, Scarlet.”
“I will.” The bitterness in Scarlet’s tone was palpable. It was obvious he would hate to do it, but that he would do it nevertheless.
Blue gently cradled Rhapsody in his arms as Scarlet got to his feet, checking the ammunition charge left in the gun.
“Be careful,” Blue told him.
Scarlet nodded and hastily left the room, in pursuit of the fugitive. The door was closing behind him when Blue dropped down his cap microphone. “Captain Blue to Captain Magenta. Please report on the situation…”
“Magenta here,” came the Irish accented-voice in reply. “We have entered the premises with no difficulty. Have neutralized three enemy agents. Two of them are dead, the third is badly wounded. The place appears deserted. There seems to be nobody else in here.”
“Looks can be deceiving, Magenta. You and your men better be careful.” Blue looked down as Rhapsody stirred anew in his arms. “Scarlet and I have entered the place too, using the rooftop,” he told Magenta. “We have found Rhapsody Angel. She’s out of danger. Captain Scarlet is presently in pursuit of the Mysteronised Colonel White. He’s extremely dangerous. You must be cautious if you encounter him, and give assistance to Captain Scarlet in apprehending him.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue. We’ll get him.”
Blue cut communication. Rhapsody moved a little more and opened her eyes to see the American looking anxiously at her. “You all right, honey?” he asked her in concern.
“Yes,” she answered in a rasping voice. “I must have hit my head… Ow…” She blinked. “Where… Where’s the colonel?”
“He got away. Scarlet’s gone after him.” Blue sighed uneasily and stared at the young woman with obvious disapproval in his eyes. “In God’s name, what got into you? We had him dead and you just…”
“I couldn’t let you kill him,” Rhapsody replied sharply, straightening herself up, despite the difficulty offered by the handcuffs that still restrained her.
“Rhapsody, I know what you feel, but he’s a Mysteron now… HE would not have hesitated to kill YOU.”
“He did hesitate, Captain… and he’s NOT a Mysteron.”
Blue gave the British pilot a disbelieving look; he frowned.
“Oh, come on now!” he retorted. “If he’s not a Mysteron, why would he act that way?”
“He’s been drugged, Captain.”
“And brainwashed, most probably. You should see his arm. It looks like a railway track.”
“My God,” Blue murmured, pondering that new fact. Things became suddenly clearer. “That’s why we haven’t found his dead body…”
“There can’t be any dead body, because that man is OUR colonel.” Rhapsody nodded. “And he’s very much alive.”
“What have the Mysterons done to him?” Blue added, his voice cracking.
“I don’t know exactly, but he’s quite unstable right now,” Rhapsody replied urgently. “But if he’s still human, he can be helped. That’s why I couldn’t let you kill him.”
“And that’s why you have to contact Captain Scarlet to tell him not to shoot him…”
“Oh yeah?” Blue extended his hand to his right and picked up something lying on the floor next to him, to present it to the young woman. It was Captain Scarlet’s radio cap. “How do you propose I contact him?” he asked dully.
“Oh, no!” Rhapsody blanched, staring at the cap. Then she looked Blue in the eyes. “We must find them before it’s too late.”
Blue nodded. “I have to call Magenta to inform him of this new development,” he said. He glanced over Rhapsody’s shoulder, trying to get a look at her manacled hands. “And we have to find a way to free you of those things.”
She blew out a sigh. “Just hand me your wristwatch,” she murmured dryly. “I’ll remove the shackles myself…”