A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
(This story takes place directly after the events of the TV episode “Manhunt” and bring a conclusion to the plotline started in the fan fiction story “The Secret”.)
Standing at the counter of the Officers’ Lounge, slowly stirring a cup of strong coffee poured directly from the coffee maker, Captain Ochre stifled a yawn and pinched the bridge of his nose. He grunted with annoyance as he felt a headache coming. The preceding day had been long; the night too. And he had the feeling this new day wasn’t starting very well either.
He knew this failed mission had been getting on everybody’s nerves.
“You don’t look like you’re at the peak of yourself today, Captain.”
Hearing the richly-accented voice from behind him, Ochre looked over his shoulder and saw Destiny Angel comfortably installed on the sofa, her feet up, an open book in her hands. Upon entering a couple of minutes ago, and walking directly toward the counter without even looking around, Ochre had not noticed her. There was a glint of curiosity in her honey-coloured eyes as she stared intently at him. He gave her a very faint smile, before becoming gloomy again and walking toward her.
“Hello, Destiny, I didn’t see you. Sorry if I appeared rude…”
“No harm done.” The French Angel pilot offered her kindest smile and removed her feet. “Here, take a seat…”
“The invitation is appreciated,” Ochre responded with a smile of his own. He sat down next to the young woman, putting down his mug on the low table in front of them. Then he rubbed his eyes tiredly, groaning. Destiny was staring at him with an enquiring look. She knew the reason behind his apparent fatigue. Or at least she thought she knew.
“The night was long, wasn’t it?”
Ochre sighed and gave her a strange look, before reaching for his mug. Destiny shook her head. “You should take a few hours in the Room of Sleep,” she suggested.
“I’m not tired,” the American captain replied. He rolled his eyes. “If only it was just that…” he mumbled, taking a sip of coffee. He grimaced. It tasted awful. He turned to Destiny, frowning. “Has Blue made the coffee again?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Destiny stared at Ochre with a slight frown of her own. “You’re feeling bad because Captain Black escaped the net last night?”
“Yeah, well… It’s frustrating,” grumbled Ochre.
He shrugged. Spectrum’s most recent operation – trying to capture Mysteron agent Captain Black – had failed miserably. That was a once only opportunity, and it had blown up right in their faces.
Black had broken into the Culver Atomic Centre and had been exposed to a special radioactive isotope. Instead of making him sick, it had made him, for a too-short period of twenty-four hours, radioactive himself. Seeing in this a chance to get their hands on the renegade captain, Spectrum had sent teams to cover the area where Black had last been seen, using Detector vans equipped with Geiger counters in order to track him down. And track him they did, successfully, forcing the man that had been one of their best agents to take refuge back in the Culver Centre, taking Symphony Angel as hostage with him. And there he tricked them. Proving once again that his already well-earned reputation was not over-rated.
“We were lucky to find Symphony safe and sound,” Ochre murmured, taking a gulp of coffee. “When I think of what he could have done to her…”
Destiny nodded her agreement. She too had been very worried when she had learned of Symphony’s ordeal. She couldn’t understand, however, how her American counterpart could have been so careless as to set her craft down in the area where Black had last been seen – and let herself be captured by him. The French pilot promised herself to have a little chat with Symphony. A good, stern lecture, if only to remind her that she had to be more careful and that in their line of work, a mistake like that could very well be fatal.
“I can understand how that could upset you,” Destiny remarked quietly.
“Yeah,” Ochre mumbled again. “Although I can think of other people who are more upset about it than me.”
“Oh, I should think the colonel is pretty upset,” Ochre sighed. “I haven’t seen him, though. And I wasn’t really referring to him right now. I was mainly thinking of Scarlet and Blue. More Scarlet THAN Blue, actually.” Ochre took a sip from his mug, while Destiny gave him an inquiring look. He shook his head, in a disgruntled way. “You should have seen him in the SPJ, during the return to base. He was furious. He was pacing around the cabin for most of the flight, not talking to anyone. Especially Symphony.”
Destiny gave Ochre an odd look. From what she had learned, Symphony had lived very dreadful hours in Black’s company. He could easily have killed her, without any remorse. But instead, he had used her as a decoy, after exposing her to the same radioactive isotope to which he had been exposed himself, and putting her in the SPV he had previously stolen in his attempt to escape Spectrum. Believing they were still following Black’s radioactive trail, the Spectrum agents that had him surrounded then unknowingly went after Symphony – while Black was left free to decontaminate himself from his radioactivity and to quietly walk away from the Centre now left without Spectrum surveillance.
“He was angry with her?” Destiny asked with a frown. “You mean to say he holds her responsible for Black’s getting away?”
Ochre sighed a second time and nodded. “She certainly did wrong when she put down her interceptor to go after clues for Black on her own – no matter how good her intentions were. But I do think the kid’s been through enough as it is. She certainly doesn’t need for anybody to ostracise her.”
“Well, I’m sure the colonel will tell Symphony the error of her ways,” Destiny replied. “And I do want to have a small talk with her but… Paul ostracising her? Now that’s strange, coming from him… He isn’t usually the kind to hold such grudges.” Stranger still, she added inwardly, considering that Captain Scarlet had always been very fond of Symphony. She was so much like him, that he almost viewed her as some kind of little sister.
Ochre knew that too, and he obviously had read Destiny’s mind as he added, in a sombre tone, “Wait, you don’t know the best part yet.” Destiny arched a brow, intrigued. He nodded. “I told you Blue was also upset.”
“At Symphony?” a surprised Destiny remarked.
“At Scarlet. Amongst other things, because he’s not talking to Symphony. You get the picture now? Scarlet is angry with Symphony, and Blue is angry at Scarlet. I tell you, that flight back to base WASN’T a happy one! It was like World War Four in there. And it hasn’t been resolved yet, so I’m afraid we haven’t heard the last of it.”
Destiny nodded. She wasn’t really surprised that Captain Blue would defend Symphony. Even against Scarlet, his partner and his best friend. Between Blue and Symphony, ever since the moment they had met more than a year ago, there had been an affectionate bond that had never stopped deepening. Destiny knew about this, and she had a feeling that some of the other senior staff officers also knew – even though Blue and Symphony were trying to keep it to themselves. It wasn’t that they were particularly demonstrative about it or careless – they simply were too attentive to each other. That gave them away.
“Captain, I’m sure you’re overreacting,” Destiny replied with assurance. “Those three can’t stay angry at each other very long, you should know that. Why, Paul and Adam – they couldn’t be closer if they were brothers. Each of them would lay down his life for the other. As for Karen – Paul won’t be able to hold a grudge against her for too long. He likes her too much.”
She had hardly finished speaking when the Lounge door slid open, and Captain Scarlet suddenly entered, walking very quickly, a grim expression upon his face. He was closely followed by Captain Blue, who looked unusually angry. He strode behind Scarlet, as if he were chasing him.
“Now wait a minute, Captain! I’m not finished with you!” Blue was saying, forcefully.
“If it’s still on the same subject,” Scarlet replied in the same tone, “you certainly are, Blue! I said I didn’t want to talk about it anymore!”
“Oh yes, we WILL talk about it! You won’t get away that easily!”
Destiny opened eyes wide in dismay at the two men who had stopped right in the middle of the room, and who were now facing each other with blazing eyes and almost threatening postures. They looked like two bucks ready to fight it out. Ochre, also looking at his two colleagues, leaned toward the young woman. “Wanna bet?” he asked in a whisper. She was about to admonish him, until she noticed how depressed he was himself. He didn’t like this any more than she did.
“Blue, I said, leave it alone,” Scarlet told his partner with a sigh filled with annoyance. “It’s finished.”
“No, I won’t leave it alone,” Blue protested angrily. “Not before you do yourself.” He pointed an accusing finger at the red-clad captain. “You said it’s finished. But it’s not. Not by a long shot. Not until we talk this over! And I DO want to talk this over NOW. Whether you like it or not!”
“Oh please, you don’t have to be so melodramatic!”
Destiny shook her head in dismay. “Oh, that’s bad!” she murmured. “That’s really bad.”
“You understand now what I meant earlier?” Ochre said in the same tone.
Their presence seemed to suddenly become known to both Scarlet and Blue; the latter turned toward them, furrowing his brow in an annoyed expression. “Ochre, Destiny, would you mind leaving us alone for a minute?” He had moderated his tone while addressing them, but not by much, so it was obvious that his anger at Scarlet wasn’t about to cool down.
“I don’t know,” replied a stoic Ochre. “Is that really safe to do that?”
Scarlet faced them in turn. “Please, you two,” he said in an even tone. “Leave us. We have things to discuss.” He glanced toward Blue. “And we prefer to do it privately.”
Ochre sighed deeply, and rose from his seat. “All right, then,” he grumbled. “Have it your way. I hope I don’t have come back later to pick up the pieces.” He glowered at his two colleagues. “Do remember however that THIS room is supposed to be the officers’ lounge – and not a boxing ring. And that the two of you are supposed to be best friends.” He nodded toward Destiny, who left her seat to stand by his side. “Come on, honey. I’ll buy you a bite at the cafeteria. I’m sure it’ll be quieter there.”
“I’ll accept the offer,” Destiny answered. “But I’ll have to leave you in about half an hour.” She tapped her watch. “Amber Room duty. Then Angel One shift.”
“Then you’ll need all your strength. Come on.”
Destiny turned a slightly worried look toward both Scarlet and Blue, who were still standing in the middle of the room, silently, waiting for them to go. She wanted to say something, but, seeing their expressions, she realised that there was little that she could say that would help in their argument. She gave a heavy sigh, shaking her head, and then followed Ochre out of the lounge.
As soon as the door had slid closed on the departing officers, Scarlet turned toward Blue, eyeing him with a troubled look. “All right, we’re alone,” he said quietly, trying his best to keep his emotions in check. “You wanted to talk to me, so talk.”
Blue’s eyes were still flashing heatedly. He was, usually, a calm and composed man, and those who knew him very well had seldom seen him losing his temper. Of the two men, Scarlet was the hothead, much more liable to fly off the handle. But looking at them at the moment, it wasn’t that obvious; Blue apparently wasn’t any closer to calming down. And as people had learned, he ALSO could be as stubborn as his friend.
“Your behaviour towards Symphony is inexcusable,” Blue said in a tone as level as his colleague’s, narrowing his eyes dangerously.
Scarlet’s brow furrowed. “My behaviour?” he scoffed loudly. “Well EXCUSE me for acting professional!”
“What are you talking about?” Blue replied icily, not sure what Scarlet was implying. “You think it’s professional to give her the cold shoulder like you have since we found her?”
“All right! All right!” Scarlet said, raising his hands in an attempt at a calming gesture. “You’re right! Maybe that was a little extreme.” He turned around to take a step toward the counter, and threw his cap down beside the coffee dispenser. Obviously, his friend was missing the point of his remark. Maybe it was for the best; being angry with Symphony for her incommensurate carelessness was one thing. Getting into a fight with Blue was another. At this precise moment, he really preferred to stop the argument right here and now.
“A little?” Blue repeated disbelievingly behind him.
Scarlet spun around, his good intentions of ending the hostilities gone as quickly as they had come, only seconds earlier. “But you have to admit I had a RIGHT to be angry with her!” he continued more forcefully. “What do you make of HER behaviour!? THAT was unprofessional!”
Blue sighed. “Paul, she had been held prisoner by Captain Black. He could have killed her. Don’t you think that counts as enough punishment?”
“She should have known better than to go down there after him!” Scarlet replied hotly. “What could she have been thinking of?”
“Paul, it was a mistake… She admitted that herself.”
“Mistakes like THAT should not happen!”
“Don’t you ever make mistakes? Or are you so perfect yourself?”
“Oh please, don’t start with that! That’s hardly the point!”
“What IS the point, then? What’s eating at you?”
“What’s eating at me? The mission failed, Adam! It failed and it was probably a ONCE ONLY chance! The one and only opportunity we’ll probably ever have of capturing Captain Black! And it failed…” Scarlet smashed his fist against the counter behind him. “Damn it! It FAILED!”
The resounding crash didn’t startle Blue one bit; he didn’t move, narrowing his eyes at Scarlet. He nodded knowingly, after witnessing his outburst. “Since this mission began,” he noted, “you’ve been obsessed with capturing him…”
“I wasn’t obsessed,” Scarlet started to protest.
“Oh, please, Paul… I noticed. I saw the glitter in your eyes during the first briefing, when the colonel showed us that picture of Black taken at the Culver Atomic Centre. I heard you talking when we left the room. You were so eager, you could hardly keep still. I was working with you closely during that mission. I watched you. You wanted to capture Black so much…”
“I wanted to help him,” Scarlet corrected swiftly.
“Help him?” Blue’s tone was now betraying his surprise.
“Yes, I wanted to help him…” Scarlet was obviously upset by this inquisition. Damn it, Blue should understand what he was feeling. Why did he need to ask all these questions?
“Really?” There was a cold edge to Blue’s voice, that he would have trouble to explain. There was the spark of a doubt in the back of his mind. “That bad?” he asked with a new, disbelieving frown.
Scarlet gave a sigh, filled with deep annoyance. “Of course, Adam! Why else would I want to capture him?”
“To put a stop to his work for the Mysterons, perhaps?” Blue growled.
“Yes, Adam, I wanted that as much as you, or anybody else!” Scarlet frowned, glaring ominously at his dubious friend. “Stop looking at me as if you don’t believe me, Svenson! Why would I lie to you? Isn’t it obvious what I wanted?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“Adam… I was in Conrad’s position, a few months ago. I was saved from the Mysterons. We were so close to him last night! If we had been able to bring him in, maybe we would have been able to reverse the control the Mysterons have over him.”
Blue could feel a headache coming. He removed his cap, to let it fall on the sofa next to him, in a gesture betraying his annoyance. “You were saved by a fluke, Paul. We don’t know why the Mysterons lost their control over you. I can’t see how we’d be able to reproduce that for Black.” Blue’s tone lowered a degree, as he apparently tried to get back in control of himself. He shook his head, looking at his partner. “And I’ll remind you,” he said in a softer voice that cracked slightly as he spoke, “that I had to shoot you, in order to stop you.”
Scarlet sighed deeply. “I know, Adam. I don’t bear any resentment toward you for that, you know that. You were only doing your duty…”
“Then you should know that the same duty could call for us to do the same to Conrad.” There was a deadly silence following that declaration. Scarlet glowered at his friend, who shook his head a second time. “I did it for you,” the American captain said very calmly. “Without any hesitation. You were my friend, but you had become dangerous, and you had to be stopped, before you did something irreparable. You can be sure as Hell that I would not hesitate to shoot Black too, if it should come to it. Because he is now even more dangerous than you were yourself.”
“You think I don’t know all that?” murmured Scarlet sombrely. He remembered far too vividly the sight of that mechanic in the Delta Garage in Stone Point Village. He and Blue had come to collect a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, only to be greeted by the man’s Mysteron replicate, who had tried to kill them. But he was the one who was killed, and Scarlet and Blue had discovered the real mechanic. Crushed in a car, against the roof of his own shop. A quite horrible death.
The SPV was gone, stolen by Captain Black. It didn’t take many more clues to learn the identity of the mechanic’s assassin.
“Now Black’s on the loose,” Scarlet said gloomily. “Conrad is still under the control of those monsters – and Lord only knows what they’ll make him do next. Or when we’ll have to shoot him to stop him. We were unable to take him alive this time, because…” He stopped, not wanting to continue.
“… Because of Symphony, say it,” Blue offered icily.
“Oh, please, will you STOP with THAT?”
“YOU started the argument just now, Paul!” Blue pointed out. “Okay, you’re frustrated that Black escaped. I understand that. We were ALL frustrated. Symphony more than any of us…”
“For obvious reasons…” Scarlet muttered under his breath.
“Now, listen to yourself! You keep hitting her, and she’s already down! She doesn’t need for any of us to come down that hard on her. And apparently, even the colonel agrees with that…”
“Oh yes,” Scarlet muttered, his eyes disappearing under his brows. “Looks like it, doesn’t it? Considering that he DIDN’T reprimand her for that mistake.”
“I can’t believe this! You know, I’m hearing you, and I’m growing more and more grateful that YOU’RE not our commanding officer, instead of the old man! I can’t believe I just said that,” he added in a mumble.
“Adam, you’re far too tolerant…”
“You used to be yourself!”
“…ESPECIALLY concerning Symphony!”
It was Blue’s turn to furrow his brow to the point of concealing his eyes. He nodded his head, knowingly. “So, we’re back to that, then,” he muttered. “That’s what you meant earlier, about being unprofessional… It’s not only about Symphony, it’s also about me.”
“Adam…” Scarlet sighed deeply. “Let’s not get into this now, okay?”
“No. Let’s get into this. You started it, I’ll remind you. And anyway, I want to talk about it. In case you haven’t noticed, I still have a lot more to reproach you for than you seem to be aware of. I swear, Paul, I never thought I would see the day where you would become such a cold…”
“Now, just WAIT a minute!” Scarlet interrupted suddenly. “Since when am I cold? I’m the one who wanted to capture Conrad to help him, you were the one who talked about killing him!”
“YOU stopped me from going to Symphony’s rescue in there!” Blue barked. “She was Black’s hostage! He was hurting her! He could have killed her!”
“Oh, please, Adam, you know as well as I do WHY I stopped you from barging in there!”
“Explain it to me, then!”
“Adam, at the Culver Atomic Centre, you were acting with your heart instead of with your head… and you KNOW THAT. If you had barged in there, it could’ve had terrible consequences!”
“For who? For Black?”
“You’ve heard Karen’s report of what Black did to her, Paul! He didn’t hesitate to expose her to radiation – he nearly killed her!”
“He DIDN’T, though, did he?” Scarlet snapped angrily.
“Because he needed her as a diversion! He would have killed her if it had served his purpose!”
“I don’t think he would have, Adam. I really don’t think he would.”
“Permit me NOT to share the same opinion,” Blue scoffed, with hatred in his voice.
“Now WHO’s the cold one, of the two of us?” Scarlet barked abruptly. “Why won’t you give Black the benefit of the doubt, Adam? Like you did for me?”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“WHAT isn’t the same thing? He’s in the hands of the Mysterons! He’s controlled by them! Like I was! Doesn’t he deserve the chance to be saved from them?”
Blue stared at his friend incredulously. Suddenly, he sounded like a broken record. That wasn’t looking good at all. “You really are obsessed with capturing Black, aren’t you?”
Scarlet sighed with annoyance. “How many times do I have to tell you that I was not…”
“Yes, you WERE obsessed,” Blue cut in sharply. “And you still are. Damn it, Metcalfe, you don’t EVEN seem to realise it! You were ready to do anything to capture Black. Were you so ready to ‘save him’, that you were ready to endanger Karen’s life?”
The accusation hit Scarlet like a ton of bricks; he stared at his friend with incredulity. “How in Heaven could you say a thing like that?” the British captain asked, with shock obvious in his voice. “You know I would NEVER endanger her life. Or anyone else’s! I thought you knew me, Adam.”
Blue bit his lip. He hadn’t really meant what he had said to Scarlet. The words had just flown out of his mouth before he had been able to stop them. Now they were out, and he could see that they had hurt his friend more than he had meant to.
“I’m sorry I said that, Paul,” he said, lowering his gaze.
“Are you now?” mumbled Scarlet, his eyes flashing. “Maybe it really is what you think of me?”
Blue was staring back at him, at first unable to answer. Then he opened his mouth, but he didn’t have time to say anything in reply, as the door slid open behind him to let Symphony Angel enter. She stopped in her tracks upon seeing the two captains standing in the middle of the room, a few feet from one another, the expressions on both their faces so challenging and grim that she had not a single doubt of what was going on. Blue greeted his compatriot with a somewhat uncomfortable, even worried, expression, not the faintest of smiles apparent on his face, as he usually had. As for Scarlet, as soon as he had seen her, he had turned his back on her, and walked the remaining distance separating him from the counter. He leaned on it, and stood there, as still as a statue, brooding.
“What’s going on?” Symphony asked, looking straight at Blue’s gloomy face.
“Nothing,” the American captain answered, glancing briefly in Scarlet’s direction. “We were having a discussion.”
“You were having a fight, I can tell,” Symphony corrected. “And it was about me, right?”
Blue kept silence, but the expression on his face was an answer in itself. Symphony sighed. She didn’t want Blue and Scarlet to be angry at each other because of her. They were best friends; field partners. They didn’t need ill-thoughts between the two of them. And to think that she could be the cause of their dispute, it was really hard for her. She was fond of both of them – especially Adam, of course, but in her heart there was a special place for Paul’s friendship. The way he had acted towards her earlier had been very hurtful for her. She knew she was at fault and she couldn’t bear to think that, because of her own foolishness, she might have jeopardized her friendship with him. Oblivious of Blue’s worried expression, she carefully walked toward Scarlet.
“Paul?” she called tentatively. She didn’t see him react. He kept his back turned on her, and ignored her as she approached. “Paul, I’m sorry… I know you’re angry at me, but…”
“You blew it, Karen.”
There was such bitterness in Scarlet’s low tone that it stunned Symphony to a halt, her hand only inches away from touching Scarlet’s shoulder. He spun around suddenly. She found the expression of utter hurt in his eyes even more shocking, and she nearly stepped back.
“It was probably the one and only chance we had to capture Conrad alive,” Scarlet said in a cracked voice, trying to deal with the mixed feelings that were threatening to overwhelm him. He picked up his cap from the counter with a brusque gesture, his accusing eyes not leaving the young woman. “And you blew it.”
“You’re overreacting, Scarlet,” Blue tried again, seeing the distressed expression suddenly appearing on Symphony’s face.
“Am I?” Scarlet snapped in his direction. “Because of this failed mission, Conrad may be trapped forever as a slave of the Mysterons. But we really can’t be sure of that, can we?” He glared at Symphony. “None of us will ever know. Especially not me.” He put his cap on, and nodded at each of the two officers briefly, a cold stare in his blue eyes. “Now if you’ll excuse me… I’ve got an important date to attend.”
He all but shouldered his way past Symphony and walked briskly toward the door. Both Blue and the Angel pilot called after him, but he ignored them. The door slid open and he walked out, not looking back.
As soon as he disappeared, Symphony turned to Blue; she was very pale, and it was so obvious that Scarlet’s accusation had struck home, but there was also a querying expression in her golden eyes that didn’t escape Blue.
“Don’t mind him, Karen,” Blue sighed, approaching her. “He’s pretty upset, but I’m sure he’ll come around eventually…”
“I don’t doubt it, Adam,” she replied, with an almost painful tone. “But I know he’s right… I blew it.”
“Now, stop talking nonsense!” Blue protested.
“No, it’s true,” Symphony insisted. “I blew this mission. It’s my fault Black got away. He used me to make good his escape.”
“He offered you a chance to escape death, and you took it. You shouldn’t feel any regret for that.”
“But he would NEVER have captured me if I had not gone after him to begin with.”
“Karen…” Blue took her by the shoulders and forced her round, to look him in the eyes. She lowered her head, and he gently forced her chin up. “We all make mistakes,” he noted in a gentle voice. “You can’t expect to be perfect all the time – contrary to what some of us may believe,” he added, in a dissatisfied tone.
“Mistakes like that could be fatal, Adam,” Symphony murmured. “It nearly was for me.”
He nodded slowly. A thought crossed his mind, as he looked at the young woman with apprehensive eyes. “When you were his prisoner… Did you… have any doubt he wouldn’t… kill you?”
She seemed surprised by the question. It didn’t take her more than a few seconds to offer her answer. “No. I didn’t doubt he would. Adam, you didn’t see him. It’s not the Conrad we knew. Granted, he never was a very expressive man – he always kept his feelings to himself – but this… man… he was so cold. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel any emotion from him. When he was looking at me, it was just as if he didn’t know me – or care about me. I was a stranger he would have to dispose of, or use eventually.” Her eyes trembled a little. “Adam… Was that… what Paul looked like, back then? You were the only one to see him up close, at the Car-Vu… Did he look like Black?”
“At the Car-Vu, I had the impression of facing a stranger myself,” Blue admitted. “And he was acting as if he didn’t know me, too – and was only concerned about his mission.” He nodded slowly. “You told us about Black’s appearance. How pallid he was… And his voice?”
“Not his voice,” Symphony said, shivering. “It was the Voice of the Mysterons… It was their voice I was hearing from his mouth…”
“Scarlet had none of that,” Blue murmured. “As far as the World President could tell us, his voice was his normal self – if not his behaviour. And physically, he hadn’t changed. So I guess there is something different about Black that we have yet to figure out.” He gently stroked Symphony’s cheek. “It was a terrible experience for you, darling. You must have been terrified.”
“Oh, I certainly was,” she answered. “And it was so difficult to try not to show Black how scared I really was.” Symphony lowered her eyes. Blue could tell she was so close to tears. Which seemed so odd to him. His compatriot was such a strong woman, normally. But lately…
“Hey,” he said softly, gently raising her chin again. “What’s up? What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head, not willing to look him in the eyes. Blue knew right there she was lying to him. It was so obvious she was fighting hard not to break down in tears.
“You’re sure?” he insisted.
“Yes, Adam, I… I’m fine. I… It’s just, so many things are happening to me lately, and…”
Blue nodded, finally realising what she meant. It wasn’t just Scarlet’s outburst. It wasn’t Black either. It was something that had hit her closer to home. Something she had told him a couple of days ago.
“I know it must be hard for you, honey,” he murmured. “I still think you should take a few days off. The colonel would understand…”
“Work helps me cope, Big Blue,” Symphony replied swiftly. “If I don’t move on, I will fall apart.”
She was keeping up a strong façade. As always. Blue could see she didn’t wish to elaborate on her earlier problem. She wouldn’t talk about it any more. She hadn’t wanted to earlier, either. But she would have to, very soon. Of her own accord. Or he was afraid she WOULD fall apart.
“I realise that, but… I’d feel better if you would just take it easy a bit. You’re pushing yourself too hard. Look at you, you’re so stressed out…”
She almost chuckled. “Well, if you had been a captive of Captain Black for hours, I’m sure you would be stressed out afterwards, too!”
Blue nodded. Still, she was avoiding the real problem.
“I’m sorry,” he said, deciding not to push the subject. “I wanted so much to get in there and free you from his clutches. But I couldn’t.”
“It’s a good thing you DIDN’T,” Symphony murmured. “He had me under such close surveillance… If anybody had surprised him in there, I’m about sure he would not have hesitated to kill me, right there.”
The words had the effect of stunning Captain Blue. He stared at the Angel pilot for a few silent seconds, letting the revelation sink in. Then he realised fully the extent of what she had just said, and his eyes shone with understanding. He sighed deeply and let go of her, to turn and lean against the counter nearby.
“What an idiot!” Symphony stared at him with perplexity, as he thumped the counter, angrily, and scoffed, with annoyance against himself. “Paul was so right when he said I was thinking with my heart instead of my head. I should have realised…”
“What is it?” Symphony asked with a furrowed brow.
“I just said the most terrible thing to Paul,” Blue murmured. He closed his eyes and took a very deep breath. “Oh, I’m really such a jerk!” he admonished himself. “I told him that he was obsessed with capturing Captain Black…”
“Well, maybe he was… A little,” Symphony conceded.
“… To the point of endangering your life.”
Symphony opened her eyes wide with astonishment. “You didn’t tell him THAT? Adam, what on Earth could have compelled you…”
“…Because he actually stopped me from barging in to save you,” Blue admitted piteously. “I… Well… I suppose in the heat of the moment, I figured he was more concerned with capturing Black than getting you back alive.”
“Adam.” Symphony’s look was now filled with reproach. She glared at him with a very concerned and sad look. “I’m surprised at you. For you to say such a thing… You should have known better than that.”
“I feel like I could kick myself,” Blue sighed. “By stopping me from coming to your rescue, he probably saved your life.” He shook his head in dejection. “Stupid! I’m so stupid! Now what am I gonna do? I hurt him pretty badly!”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Symphony murmured. “That you, his friend, should think so badly of him…”
“I know, believe me, I know. I’ll have to talk to him. Try to make amends, anything.”
Symphony drew closer, and gently forced him to turn around and face her again. She tenderly stroked his cheek, smiling faintly. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you,” she said. “Like I hope he’ll forgive me, someday.”
For a moment, Blue kept silent, following her declaration. Then, he drew her close to him, and nodded slowly. “He’ll come around,” he murmured.
“I don’t know, Big Blue,” she murmured. “I can only hope. He’s REALLY upset at me for blowing this mission.” She nodded in turn. “I think you were right, when you said he had been obsessed with capturing Captain Black. Or he wouldn’t feel this failure so badly.”
“That’s certainly true,” Blue had to agree, staring into space. “He entertains thoughts that we may be able to save Conrad from the Mysterons’ influence. The way he was freed himself. That worries me. Who knows if it won’t hinder his work, next time we run into Black?”
“Should you worry about that, Adam?” Symphony asked with a deep frown. “Paul is too much of a professional to let himself be influenced by such thoughts. He’ll do what he has to, if it should come to it.”
“I wonder,” murmured Blue. “Considering his own experience… And it could depend on how deep this obsession of his is…”
Symphony could see in Blue’s eyes that there was something deeply bothering him. She couldn’t figure why he was so concerned. After all, he should know Paul better than any of them, seeing how closely they’d been working lately, since the colonel had teamed them as field partners. They were more than partners, in fact, they were best friends, almost like brothers. But still, there was doubt in Adam’s features. Something he obviously could not escape. With obvious regret, he let her go, and turned to pick up his cap from the sofa. She watched as he put it on.
“I’m sorry, Karen, I will have to leave you for now, I’ve… There’s something I’ve got to do.”
“You’re going to talk to him right now?” she said with an approving nod.
“I have to talk to the colonel first,” Blue declared, sighing deeply. “I think there’s something Paul needs to know. And I guess only the old man can talk to him about it.”
“What is it?” Symphony asked.
He shrugged. “I can’t really tell you about it, sorry. Not now.”
Symphony frowned with curiosity. “It’s that important?”
“I promise, as soon as I can...”
“It’s okay, Adam,” Symphony said with an understanding nod. “You’ll tell me later.”
Blue was feeling torn between leaving her alone to deal with her personal problems, and staying by her side to comfort her. He felt like a complete heel. “I feel like I’m abandoning you,” he whispered. “You need me and…”
“I can manage for now, Big Blue. Paul needs you more at the moment. I understand. Go.”
Blue nodded reluctantly. “I’ll be back shortly,” he said, turning round to direct his pace toward the exit. “Please, stay here.”
“I’ll wait for you,” Symphony whispered, looking on as the door slid closed on him.
* * *
Cloudbase sports centre was equipped with the best physical training equipment that could be found. A variety of facilities had been installed for every military and civilian use – depending on each person’s aptitudes and skills. Of course, there were areas strictly reserved for military training, like the shooting ranges where officers and security guards often went to improve their aim and shooting capabilities, under firm, secure surveillance, but in general, all equipment and services were available to all.
The fencing hall was one of those areas. Although it was seldom used, there were still some who found themselves going there regularly to exercise themselves in this particularly fine martial sport. Fencing required acute concentration, composure, discipline, sharpened reflexes. A good match between two equally strong and accomplished opponents was often a delightful show. There weren’t that many people on base able to attract a small crowd when it became known that they were to engage in a bout. Two of them were presently using the hall, all by themselves, having taken especially good care not to let the word out that they would be there. As it was, they always preferred to engage alone. Whether it was for their personal pleasure or for better concentration during the duel was an arguable question.
Today, however, one was feeling increasingly frustrated, as the match was moving on and the score remained exasperatingly one-sided.
After a new salute, preceding yet another bout, the shorter of the two opponents launched forward, attacking as aggressively as before, the foil trying to reach the other fencer. The latter started by putting up a valiant resistance, but it was far too obvious he was losing ground. His attacker found a breach in his defence and the foil struck swiftly. A buzzing sound made itself heard as the buttoned point made contact with the plastron and the thin, flexible blade bent into a curve. The fight stopped automatically.
“Touché!” There was no enjoyment whatsoever in the victor’s loud announcement. Irritably, Rhapsody Angel removed the full-face mask hiding her features, and shook her head of red hair, before glaring with furious blue eyes at her opponent. “What is the matter with you?!”
“Touché? Are you sure?” Captain Scarlet said, removing his own mask to look down at his compatriot with perplexity.
She gestured with her foil in the direction of the machine counting the score. “Look for yourself,” she grumbled. “Fifteen to five. You’ve hardly scored a single point!”
Scarlet stared blankly at the final result. Rhapsody moved on. “Okay, that’s the third time. So what’s up?”
At another time, maybe he would have found this almost humiliating, but at the moment, he didn’t seem to care that much. He sighed and gave Rhapsody an apologetic look. She didn’t seem that happy with him.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “I don’t quite know what happened…”
“I’ll tell you what happened,” Rhapsody replied. “You’re not concentrating hard enough, it’s as simple as that!” She shook her head. Her anger cooled down, seeing the almost lost look on her opponent’s features, as he stared again at the score before turning his attention back to her. Surprisingly, his brow was drenched with sweat – more then hers was. And apparently, he was having trouble finding a normal rate for his breathing. She smiled mockingly. “You normally give me a better run for my money, Captain. Am I getting too strong for you? Oh, perhaps you’re getting old?”
“In your dreams, your ladyship,” he mumbled in a very low tone. He sighed deeply, finally finding his normal breathing rate, and looked down at the foil in his hand. “It’s the weapon,” he said almost matter-of-factly. “It’s not a proper sword for a gentleman…”
“Whoever said you were a gentleman?” Rhapsody mocked him, moving towards the rack of swords by the side of the piste. “And using a foil has never hindered you before…” She felt more than saw the furrowed brow he was turning on her. She shrugged negligently. “But if it makes you happy, we’ll change weapons, then. Epée or sabre?” Her hand was touching, almost caressing, the handle of one of the weapons racked side by side near the wall. Scarlet’s frown deepened.
“That’s a man’s epée,” he stated, turning toward the other rack, taking one himself and putting his foil back. “It may be too heavy for you…”
“Oh, really? Well, you should know. You’re supposed to be a master of arms…” Rhapsody’s cheery voice now seemed close behind him and Scarlet turned around… only to stop short when he found himself with the buttoned point of an epée not a inch away from his throat. Beyond the blade and the extended arm, he could see Rhapsody’s smiling eyes looking straight at his hardened face. “En garde, mon capitan,“ she announced with an exaggerated false accent.
“That’s not funny, Rhapsody,” Scarlet declared icily. With his gloved hand, he pushed the blade aside, a little roughly, and went to take his position at the on guard line, half-turning his back on her. “You could hurt someone waving a sword like that!”
She looked at him with mystification. “I hardly think so,” she said with assurance. “Look, it’s not as if it’s the first time I’ve handled this kind of weapon!” He didn’t respond, and she frowned at his silence. “What is the matter with you?” she repeated, walking towards her position. “Haven’t you ever seen any Zorro films?”
She was surprised to see him bristle at the remark. He turned toward her with a deep frown.
Why did she have to mention Zorro? Captain Scarlet thought with annoyance. That was the code-name Captain Black had used in training, when all the Spectrum senior staff had first met at Koala Base, Australia, more than a year ago. It was during a training scenario that Black himself had initiated for them, testing them to see if they could use their initiative, were capable of acting under pressure, and were able to work together. He still remembered vividly how Black had played the part of a bad guy, without letting them know what was really going on. A man full of surprises, Conrad was. There were not really many ways about him: either you liked the guy, or you hated him.
Now Captain Black wasn’t playing anymore. He was the bad guy whom Spectrum had to stop. And at all costs. And that was frustrating Scarlet. A lot more than he would ever have admitted freely, even to Blue.
“Is that where you learned fencing? From films? That would explain everything.” Perhaps, Rhapsody reflected, Scarlet was simply trying to make a joke. Admittedly, a rather bad joke, as he often did, but somehow she doubted it; the tone wasn’t up to it. Rhapsody noticed that it was irritable enough, cold and almost without humour. She let it slide, stoically.
“Now don’t get smart, Captain,” she said elegantly, presenting her newly acquired weapon. “Or I may tell my teacher that you’ve been criticizing my fencing.” She raised an eyebrow in mock seriousness. “I don’t think that Lady Penelope would take kindly to that kind of offence to her star pupil. You could learn a thing or two from her, you know?”
Scarlet grunted, hearing that. “Come on, you don’t think I’d fence with a woman older than my own mother?”
"Oh, NOT very tactful, Captain! I might repeat that to her. She’d challenge you so fast, you wouldn’t know what had hit you!" The ghost of a smile appeared at the corner of the young woman’s lips. "How much are you willing to bet she’d beat the pants off you, despite her age?”
Scarlet frowned again. “Stop being ridiculous,” he mumbled. “Let’s get back to serious business.”
“All right. You asked for it.”
Rhapsody put on the mask and got into position, while Scarlet was doing the same.
As they saluted and crossed swords, they didn’t notice that, a few feet away, the door of the hall slid open, letting a man wearing a black and white uniform enter briskly. Colonel White, commander in chief of Spectrum, stopped in his tracks after clearing the door, and watched with curiosity as the new bout began. Cautiously, he approached, neither of them noticing his presence, and took position against a wall, arms crossed, checking the contest with a scrutinizing gaze, waiting.
The first few seconds passed with sounds of blades clashing loudly in the hall, as the opponents exchanged strikes at a rapid pace. The assault, however, was brief, as Rhapsody saw an opening and swiftly took advantage of it, feinting to strike her opponent on the side. A red light appeared on the scoreboard; at the same time a buzzing sound was heard.
“Touché!” Rhapsody announced.
Scarlet took a step back, apparently not reacting to the news. He put himself on guard again. A new bout engaged. A little fiercer than the preceding one. Rhapsody disengaged swiftly and landed a cutting strike. The buzz was heard again.
“Touché!” She stepped back, playing with the sword. Her tone seemed to betray her good mood. “Had enough?”
“Another try,” Scarlet demanded, taking position.
White watched on as the third engagement took place. This one was certainly more ferocious, with Scarlet pressing the attack. White had no doubt that the man was trying to gain back the points he had lost and was trying to take advantage of his size and strength. In normal occasions, he would show himself more chivalrous while fencing with Rhapsody – probably the only person on base able to stand her ground against him in a fencing match. But today, it seemed that Scarlet was fighting with all he had, with the very intention of winning. The strikes were swift and brutal, but somehow gauche compared to what the colonel knew of Scarlet’s fencing abilities. Despite the fact that she was forced to back away, Rhapsody was resisting the furious assault and deflecting every blow attempted against her. She stopped backing off, and in an attempt to nail her, Scarlet launched forward. Rhapsody crossed and parried the attack; Scarlet’s sword slid against hers and he found himself nearly losing his equilibrium, leaving him vulnerable to Rhapsody’s next attack. Her blade came to rest on the mask bib, right where his throat would be, and Scarlet froze. No buzzing sound, but the fight nevertheless stopped instantly. Slowly, Rhapsody removed her mask, not moving her sword out of the way.
“I suppose we can safely assume that one was touché?” She was breathing hard, and her face was drenched with sweat, her red hair matting her brow. Scarlet had just given her a real work-out, she had to admit. She lowered her sword, allowing Scarlet to straighten up. Sighing, he removed his mask too, and looked crossly at her. He didn’t like to lose, and she knew it. She shook her head. “You nearly had me there, Captain,” she said quietly.
“Yeah,” he grumbled icily. “Nearly. But not quite.”
She tilted her head to one side. “We should be working on that lack of concentration of yours.”
He didn’t care to give an answer. He could have taken that as an insult, but he knew that it wasn’t Rhapsody’s intention to offend him. So he ignored it. He turned round brusquely, and went to slide the sword into the rack, in an almost brutal gesture. “Training finished,” he announced.
“What?” Rhapsody retorted with a frown. “But we’ve just started this match with the…”
“I don’t feel like continuing,” Scarlet cut her off abruptly. “I think that’s rather obvious, isn’t it?”
His tone was really disagreeable, and was really starting to get on Rhapsody’s nerves. “What I find obvious,” she replied, rather dryly, to his turned back, “is that you’re in a bloody awful mood. I don’t know what’s bothering you, but I think it’s probably the cause of your bad performance. You might as well not have come to this session; that would have saved us both a lot of hassle!”
Scarlet scowled. He hated to admit it, but she was right. Since his return from that last mission, he had been venting his frustration on just about everybody – Blue, Symphony, and even Rhapsody herself, at the moment. They were all victims of his bad temper.
“Sorry,” he murmured in an almost inaudible tone, without turning around. She didn’t hear him.
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘sorry’,” he retorted with impatience, turning on his heel to look at her. “I’m sorry I was such a hopeless case. I’m sorry that I made you waste your time, and I’m sorry I snapped at you!”
“You’re doing it again,” she replied harshly, her eyes flashing as much as his. “You’re not sorry at all!”
It was only at that moment that Scarlet noticed Colonel White, standing only a few feet behind the young woman. Automatically, he straightened himself up. Rhapsody, for her part, had not yet seen their commander, and was about to launch into a voluble harangue, undoubtedly intended to tell her compatriot just what she thought of his behaviour.
“I don’t know what your problem is, Captain,” she started, in a voice that was anything but calm, and pointing an accusatory finger at Scarlet, “and you know what? I don’t bloody care! Next time you have a problem you can’t leave behind when you do anything with me – fencing or anything else – just damn' well say so from the start. And we won’t waste our bloody time like we just did and get on each other’s nerves!” She suddenly noticed how rigid Scarlet was standing before her – almost as if he was standing to attention. She felt rather than saw the presence behind her. A second later, she heard someone clear his throat.
“Rhapsody, would you leave us alone for a minute?”
Rhapsody kept herself from scowling, at the sound of Colonel White’s tranquil, yet firm voice. She almost wished that the Earth would open up before her feet to swallow her; she felt very fortunate to have her back turned to her commander, because she knew her embarrassment was very apparent on her face – and so plain for Scarlet to see. He was keeping as impassive an expression as possible, but she could see by the glitter in his eyes that he was finding some enjoyment at seeing her so discomfited. She could have kicked herself for allowing herself to give him this spectacle. She could have kicked him too.
By the time she turned around, she had quickly regained her composure to face a quiet-looking Colonel White.
“Sir, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you arrive…”
“Obviously.” He gestured swiftly when he saw her coming to attention. “That’s not necessary,” he added courteously. “Please, can you leave us? I have to talk with Captain Scarlet for a moment.”
“Of course, sir.” Rhapsody addressed an old-fashioned look toward the man standing behind her. “Captain Scarlet and I had finished our ‘exercise’ anyway…” she muttered between her teeth.
She sidestepped to slide her sword into the rack along the wall, then left, without so much as looking over her shoulder. Both Scarlet and White watched as the door closed behind her. Then White turned to his younger compatriot, who felt the need to snap to full attention.
“At ease, Captain,” the Colonel required, his voice still calm. He gave but one glance toward the closed door as Scarlet was relaxing, obviously curious about what he had just witnessed. Believing his commander might be upset, Scarlet cleared his throat, sensing he had to explain.
“Sir, about what just happened here, it wasn’t Rhapsody’s fault. I…”
“I’m not overly concerned by that… argument, Captain.” White shook his head. It wasn’t the first time his two compatriots had clashed over one subject or another – there were plenty of disputes as far as they were concerned. And considering each of these two officers’ fiery tempers and personalities, the sparks flew high and strong. But always, they extinguished very quickly. White even suspected that they both took pleasure in making the other fly off the handle.
White walked around slowly, turning towards the rack of swords. He took one in his hand and examined it closely, before putting it back. “Rhapsody was right, you know? You were lacking concentration during that fencing match with her. She was practically wiping the floor with you.”
Scarlet scowled. “I know, sir. I was… distracted.”
“Distracted. Yes.” White turned a grave look upon Scarlet. “The problem goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?”
The young officer frowned, understanding what he was implying. “You talked to Captain Blue, Colonel?”
“Yes, I did. He told me of the other argument you had with him.” White nodded slowly. “Now that one, I AM concerned about.”
Scarlet sighed. “Sir, if I may say so, I fully intend to settle this dispute with Captain Blue as soon as possible. You know we won’t let this hinder our work.”
“I don’t doubt it for an instant. But there is something else he told me that give me greater cause for concern.”
Scarlet nearly grumbled, but caught himself just in time. “Sir, if it’s about Symphony Angel…”
Scarlet frowned. “About Captain Black, then.”
White nodded. “Yes, about Captain Black.” He nodded again, ever so slowly. “Captain Blue told me that he thought that during this last mission, you had become obsessed with capturing Captain Black. And that this obsession was still very present.”
Hearing those words, Scarlet became agitated, and started to protest. “Sir, that’s b…”
“…And,” White continued, cutting him off before he could say more, “seeing how ‘distracted’ you were just now, I suspect that Captain Blue might just be right in his assumptions.”
Scarlet closed his mouth automatically. He could see little point in arguing with his commander’s comments. The latter examined the solemn features of the young man standing in front of him. Then he gestured toward a bench set against the wall, next to the rack of swords.
“Sit down, Paul. We need to talk.”
It wasn’t often that the colonel would call one of his officers by his real name. Even off duty, he abided strictly by the rule of using the code-name that had been given to them on their recruitment to Spectrum. Something serious was going on, and Scarlet wasn’t really sure he liked it. Almost reluctantly, he obeyed the invitation – that sounded so much like an order to his ears. White stayed on his feet in front of him. That was making the younger man feel uncomfortable. Scarlet cleared his throat.
“We nearly had him, sir,” he told him with a grim tone.
“I know,” White answered pensively.
“He slipped right through the net we established for him,” Scarlet continued.
“He always was the clever agent, Captain,” White reminded him. “We should have been more careful.” He paused a second. “We all made mistakes during this operation. Symphony wasn’t the only one. You should not blame her for this failure.”
“I…” Scarlet sighed again, very deeply, and closed his eyes. “You’re right, we all made mistakes,” he admitted. “I was in charge of the ground operation. When we went after Black, I didn’t think of leaving someone to keep an eye out at the Culver Atomic Centre. Black took advantage of the fact there wasn’t any surveillance there to escape. I blame myself for that.”
“As much as you blame Symphony?”
“Probably more,” Scarlet replied in a grim tone. “I know I’ve been unfair to her, Colonel. But…” He hesitated a second, unsure how to present his argument. He didn’t seem to be able to, and lowered his gaze. “I can’t help myself, I feel so frustrated. We HAD him within our reach,” he repeated emphasizing the declaration by clenching his fist on an invisible target. “And he escaped us.”
White nodded his understanding. The latter sighed and looked at him. “I’m sorry, sir.”
The question seemed to surprise Scarlet. “He was your friend too,” he explained. “You’ve known him far longer than any of us. I thought that, of all of us, you’d be the most eager to see Captain Black…”
“Apprehended?” White offered, seeing that Scarlet was again searching for his words. He raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I want him captured. As quickly as possible. His running free is a risk to Earth security. He must be stopped, before he does too much damage on behalf of the Mysterons. And if he can’t be captured alive, then…” White left the rest in suspension. There was little point in finishing the sentence. Scarlet knew what he was implying. Like all other Spectrum officers, he knew where his duty lay. But obviously, he still had some uncertainty within himself. Perhaps because of his own situation in regard of the Mysterons. The colonel glared down at him, before adding, “Captain, if it had come to it… If you had been forced to face Captain Black, and you had had no other choice but to shoot him… Would you have done it?”
Scarlet slowly nodded a positive answer, glaring at his commander. “I would, sir,” he said without hesitation. Especially if it would have meant saving another’s life, he added inwardly, thinking that he would have done it without any hesitation to save Symphony’s life. He straightened himself on his seat. “I know my duty, Colonel,” he said, in a tone that was almost challenging. “You shouldn’t have to ask that question.”
“I felt that I had to,” White replied, nodding. “You’re a good officer, Captain Scarlet. But I had to know to what extent you were prepared to take risks, in order to take Captain Black alive.”
Scarlet’s features became hard. That sounded awfully like a reminder of Blue’s earlier accusations. The thought of it was still very painful.
“Not to the point of endangering a mission, Colonel,” he said, a little dryly. “Or another’s life. And you can be assured, that if fate ever permits us another chance to apprehend Black – I won’t hesitate then, either.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Captain,” White answered, not without satisfaction, sitting down on the bench next to his junior officer.
Scarlet stared at his commander with an inquiring look. White had a good idea what question was now burning the younger man’s lips. “Sir, I must add this, though: What if we were able to capture him alive? Don’t you think there’s a chance that we’ll be able to free him from the Mysterons’ influence?”
“And how would we be able to do that?” White asked pointedly.
“Sir, I was freed from them.”
White arched a brow. “Do you suggest we throw him off an 800 foot high building and hope it’ll work?”
“Of course not!” Scarlet protested.
“You had A LOT of luck, Captain. Maybe one chance in a million, who knows? Can we expect that would happen to Captain Black? And how can we be so sure that it’s not already too late for him?”
“Too late? Too late for what?”
“You were stopped before you could carry out the Mysterons’ threat,” White reminded Scarlet with a very gloomy tone. “Before you actually killed on their behalf. Even if you had been freed from them afterwards, do you think you would have been accepted back so freely, after killing the World President? As hard as I might have tried, I doubt the higher authorities would have agreed that you’d retain your freedom – let alone be reinstated in Spectrum.” White shook his head. “I’m afraid that, in the case of Captain Black, he’s already gone too far…”
“And what if there were still enough of him to be saved?” Scarlet declared.
White narrowed his eyes at him. “I’m not so sure,” he replied. “With what he’s done so far…”
“I have received many reports from Intelligence, regarding the Mysteron incidents we have had to face since the beginning of this war,” White interrupted subtly. “The atomic bomb in London… Captain Black was reported in the vicinity, when the van transporting the bomb was hi-jacked on the night it disappeared. Granted, Intelligence doesn’t know how he was involved, but certainly, he had a hand in that Mysteron operation.”
“Sir, if you’ll pardon me for being blunt,” Scarlet replied, “nobody was killed during that affair. We succeeded in thwarting the Mysterons’ plans.”
“But London was almost blown to smithereens, with only seconds to spare,” White objected pointedly. “Yes, you’re right… Nobody was killed that time. But there have been other times.” The Spectrum commander sighed and stood up. “The DT19 that was taken over by the Mysterons when the Asian Director General was killed? Hundreds of people onboard, sacrificed to the Mysterons’ plans of vengeance, just so they could take control of that plane and try to ram it into the Asian Director’s craft.” His expression became bleak. “Captain Black was sighted at New York Airport. The liner took off from there some hours earlier.”
Scarlet paled, hearing the words and their implication. “You don’t mean to say he sabotaged that liner?” he murmured.
“I have to admit,” White pursued, “the investigation that followed the crash of the original DT19 showed not a single trace of sabotage had been performed on it. But the two black boxes recording both the crew conversation and the technical data concerning the flight showed that something peculiar happened then. Something that definitely involved the Mysterons.”
“Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that in anybody’s mind, sir,” Scarlet declared sombrely. “But to think that Captain Black… Conrad… might have been involved in the deaths of so many civilians… That’s not like him at all. He dedicated his life to protecting innocents.”
White nodded. “What about Erik Dalton?” he added. “That’s the Spectrum agent posing as a mechanic at the Delta Garage in Stone Point Village. Do you have the slightest doubt it was Captain Black who killed him?”
Scarlet lowered his gaze. “No, sir,” he murmured. “I will never forget how horrible that man’s death must have been.” Scarlet looked up again, as a thought imposed itself in his mind. “What about Symphony?”
“He nearly killed her.”
“He didn’t, Colonel. He let her live. You’ve heard Symphony’s report. What he told her…”
“…is of little consequence. Captain, he ONLY let her live because he NEEDED her alive, to act as a decoy. It was only a question of strategy for him to let her live or die. And if you’re honest with yourself, you would admit that you thought the same – that you also were as afraid as any of us that he might kill her.”
“I was, yes,” Scarlet agreed reluctantly. “I was afraid for her life, and I was hoping she would be all right.” He grunted and ran his hand through his dark hair, tiredly. “I was hoping that he wouldn’t hurt her… on the basis that he knew her… That he would somehow remember her and… let her go.”
“Considering how YOU acted yourself when under the Mysterons’ influence – taking shots at Captain Blue, regardless of the fact that you knew him as your friend and colleague… do you really believe THAT?” Scarlet only glared at his commander in silence. White sighed deeply and shook his head of silver hair. “Symphony was very lucky that he needed her alive to make good his escape. In any other circumstances, I believe he WOULD have killed her. Without any hesitation.”
It was impossible to read any feelings on White’s set face. It was as if there weren’t any. That was getting on Scarlet’s nerves. His brow furrowed deeply.
“How can you be so sure of that, sir?” he remarked, bristling and narrowing his eyes at White, with obvious discontentment. “It’s as if you don’t even WANT to allow him the benefit of the doubt!”
White certainly noticed the aggressive tone in the younger man’s voice, and the anger glittering in his eyes. He could have reprimanded him for talking to his superior officer in such a way. Not that it would have had any effect on Scarlet, or achieved any results, considering the circumstances. White could easily deduce what was going on in the captain’s mind, after having heard Captain Blue’s earlier report, and now having talked to him, and adding to that Scarlet’s own painful experience with the Mysterons. The captain was feeling frustrated that a friend, a colleague, was being discarded that way, that any apparent hope had been given up on him. That he, Captain Scarlet, seemed to be the only one left to hope that there could be a chance for him. It was probable that Scarlet was putting himself in Black’s place, because of that apparent similitude there was between them.
But the similarity between Scarlet and Black ended with the fact that both men had been taken over by the Mysterons. Even the way they were taken over was different – although it was unsure how it had happened with Black, White knew very well that it couldn’t have been in the same circumstances as Scarlet. The British officer himself didn’t know as yet of all the details of what had been discovered about his ‘first death’, Mysteronisation and later ‘resurrection’ – as Doctor Fawn had called it himself, on a couple of occasions.
Now was the time to come clean. After those months of silence, Scarlet needed to know the truth. Maybe it would hurt him. Surely, he wouldn’t like hearing it. But it would certainly put his mind to rest – and help him to see this new Captain Black in another light.
White took a deep breath, then looked Scarlet right in the eyes.
“Captain, I would like to give Black the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t. Because I know what he’s now capable of. If I’m so certain that he would have killed Symphony without any hesitation – it’s because I know he’s already killed a Spectrum agent he knew well – and was friends with.”
“You’re talking about Dalton, sir?”
White shook his head again. “No. Not Dalton,” he said grimly. “As far as I know, Black and Dalton didn’t know each other. I’m talking about someone else.”
Scarlet frowned, obviously curious about his commander’s mysterious statement.
“Someone I know?”
White nodded slowly. Scarlet quickly stood up.
“Who?” he asked again.
White gravely pointed his finger to the young officer. “You.”
Scarlet’s eyes went wide with incredulity. His mind blanked for a second. He could only stare, wondering what kind of sick game was being played on him at the moment. He shook his head, not understanding, not wanting to believe.
“Me…?” he said almost inaudibly. “W-what do you mean? I…” He shook himself, trying to regain his composure, and found his voice again: “What are you talking about?”
White shook his head one last time. He put a calming hand on Scarlet’s shoulder, and, his eyes not leaving the young man’s troubled features, invited him to sit down again with him. “There is something you still don’t know,” he said in a lower tone. “Something that I feel is now time for you to learn, Captain. And I’m sorry to say… It won’t be easy for you to hear it…”
Any comments? You can e-mail them to the Spectrum Headquarters site.