A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
“So that’s what happened, Colonel White. Doctor Willard lied to us.”
In the room she had taken with Rhapsody Angel at the Stourford inn, Symphony Angel was seated in front of the portable computer, making her report to her commander, whose image appeared on the screen. Colonel White was at his computerised desk in the Control Room, looking back at his own screen, which was relaying Symphony’s image to him. He looked very attentive, but at the same time rather grim, upon hearing the young pilot’s story.
“As Lieutenant Green discovered when he called Lieutenant Damask at Spectrum London,” Symphony continued, giving a nod toward the lieutenant who was standing in the background, “it was not the body of the Mysteron duplicate that was sent to Spectrum London Mortuary a couple of days ago, but the body of the real Erik Dalton - while the Mysteron’s body was kept in Culver Hospital in Stourford.”
“Yes,” White agreed with a slow nod, “the Mysteron body was to stay in the London HQ mortuary - waiting for Doctor Fawn and Spectrum scientists to have time to examine it properly. As has been standard procedure, since our first encounter with the Mysterons.”
“Well obviously, whoever received the body bag from Stourford at the time didn’t check its contents,” Symphony commented. “Or they would have noticed that the body inside wasn’t the right one. There had been an exchange, while nobody was watching. While the real Erik Dalton’s body was sent to London, the Mysteron agent stayed behind - probably under the identity of the real Dalton himself - revived, and quietly left the Culver Hospital, without anyone apparently noticing that there’d been an exchange. And subsequently there was a body missing from the mortuary. I suspect Doctor Willard to be behind it. He did tell me - and according to his own testimony, he told the same to Captain Scarlet - that the body of the real Dalton had been sent to London yesterday - reclaimed by his family.”
“Which wasn’t true, of course,” Green continued behind her. “That would have been reported immediately to Spectrum - no matter the destination of the body - and entered into the records. Nobody claimed Dalton’s body - as far as Spectrum London was concerned, it was still in the Culver Hospital mortuary. When Symphony told me of Willard’s claim, I called Lieutenant Damask in London, and he confirmed it. Then I played a hunch, and asked him to check on the Mysteron body they were supposed to have there.”
“That was when they discovered that the body wasn’t the right one,” White reflected.
“Exactly, Colonel. It wasn’t difficult to find out, once they opened the body bag - when they saw they had a severely injured body, instead of a gunshot victim…”
White waved aside the rest of the comment. He wasn’t really interested in hearing the gory details. “I will have to talk to Spectrum London personnel,” he muttered. “If the contents of that body bag had been checked as soon as it got there, we would have noticed right away that something was wrong.” He gave it some thought. “We also should have been more careful. We should have realised that it was too easy to kill that Mysteron duplicate. We thought, wrongly, that it had been created solely to either kill or slow down Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue when they came to requisition the SPV. Since his mission had failed, it was reasonable to believe that he would not revive.”
“Then it would mean that the Mysterons had other plans for him,” Symphony remarked.
“We can assume so, yes. But what exactly those plans are is anybody’s guess at the moment. This will have to be investigated.” White rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “How are Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel?”
“Rhapsody has not been harmed - except for a few bruises and cuts. Captain Scarlet took the brunt of it when the car flipped over - and then during his fight with the Dalton duplicate. He refused to be taken back to Cloudbase - so, well, considering that the injuries he suffered had not killed him and would heal relatively quickly, we thought of bringing him back to his room at the inn, until he heals.”
White grunted; his expression showed his deep displeasure with this state of affairs. Probably, he was frustrated that Scarlet was still being his stubborn self. Still, he was diplomatic enough not to make too much of a show of his anger. He contented himself with nodding his assent. “Did any civilians see you arrive there?” he asked.
“No, sir. We’re the only… ‘guests’ at the inn at the moment.”
“Considering the circumstances, you did the right thing,” White acknowledged. He was thinking it was far better not to force Scarlet into coming back to Cloudbase against his will. He certainly didn’t want to elaborate on the subject with Symphony or Green.
“There were no witnesses of the incident on the road, as far as we can tell,” Symphony continued. “It happened far enough away from Stone Point Village, or any other inhabited area. But it’s possible that the explosion could have been seen from some distance away, and maybe someone called the police.”
“We’ll contact the police to inform them that there is a Spectrum operation in the area,” White replied. “If possible, we’ll keep this under wraps until this ‘mission’ is finished.” He sat back in his seat. “What is Scarlet’s status right now?”
“He’s been asleep for the last three hours, resting in his room. Rhapsody Angel stayed there, to keep an eye on him. Making sure he’s comfortable.” And that he doesn’t sneak out on us again, Symphony added inwardly, although she was certain that the colonel had read her thoughts on the matter.
“Right. I want to talk to him as soon as he wakes up. I’m interested to know what it is exactly he’s looking for in that area. You already stated that you think he’s looking for clues to Captain Black’s whereabouts. I think you’re right in your assumption - and I also think that whatever hunch made Scarlet believe that Black was still in the area - despite the fact that logically, Captain Black would have long gone - that hunch was also right. And I’d like to know what that hunch was based on.” He looked squarely at Symphony. “I’m counting on you to try to convince him to call me back, Symphony. As you may have guessed, we’re not exactly on the - best of terms.”
“That makes two of us, sir,” Symphony replied. “I’m not sure he will listen to me but - I’ll try.”
“He’s still angry with you concerning that incident at the atomic centre three days ago?”
Symphony nearly raised a brow. That the colonel should know about Scarlet’s present resentment toward her shouldn’t come as a surprise to her, though. He seemed to know everything that was going on around Cloudbase…
White gave a contemptuous huff. “Maybe he would be more indulgent toward you if he knew all the facts…”
Symphony shook her head. “I don’t think he would regard my father’s death as a good enough excuse for what happened, sir,” she replied. “He might consider that I let myself be distracted in the course of duty.”
“Let me be the judge of that, Symphony,” White grunted. “And I think you’re selling Captain Scarlet short. But that’s not exactly what I was referring to.”
“You mentioned to me that you had experienced trouble with your jet, during that… mission.”
Symphony tensed, seeing the expression on her commander’s face. Yes, she had mentioned that to him. In her report. And he had questioned her privately afterwards. Only Green knew about it, because he had been there, but nobody else knew. White, concerned about Symphony’s report, had asked her not to tell anybody else until the Angel craft that she had piloted had been thoroughly investigated and examined, to find out if indeed there was some kind of technical problem with it. White had his reasons to keep the secret, and Symphony knew of those reasons.
“You… have the results of the investigation, sir?” Symphony said, almost afraid to ask.
She watched as White pulled a paper from a folder in front of him, and consulted it for a second. “I have them, yes,” he said, clearing his throat. “And I think you would like to know what they are…”
Symphony swallowed hard. She exchanged a glance with Green and saw instantly that he had no idea what those results would be. She shifted uncomfortably on her seat before turning her attention back to the screen. She braced herself for the news - bad or good.
“I’m listening, sir,” she replied with as firm a tone as she could muster.
* * *
Dressed in a heavy bathrobe, which was way too large for her, Rhapsody Angel stepped out of the bathroom with a deep sigh of contentment. Now that’s more like it, she reflected with a smile, rubbing her still half-wet hair vigorously with a towel. She had been yearning for a long, relaxing, hot shower for hours, and had only now allowed herself to finally take it. The journey back to Stourford, after all the trials of the day, had been relatively uneventful. Aside from tending to a feverish, half-conscious Captain Scarlet with Green in the back of the car, while Symphony was driving, and then dragging him up to his room in the dark, without the owners of the inn noticing anything, there had been little to worry about - despite the fact that she was rather concerned that yet another Mysteron would show up around any corner and attack them once more. That had not been the case, fortunately, but that didn’t stop Rhapsody worrying. And she was still worrying now.
She went to the window and pushed the curtains slightly aside, looking out cautiously, making sure there was nobody out there surveying the place. The street was empty, dark in the middle of the night. It had stopped raining a couple of hours ago. She checked her watch; it was nearly three in the morning. She let the curtain fall and turned around.
The room was partially lit by a small table lamp standing beside the bed, where Scarlet lay on his back, sleeping. He had been like that since the second they had dropped him there, and had barely made a single move. That had allowed them to get him out of his filthy clothes and to finish cleaning and dressing his wounds without any objection on his part. Then it had been decided that Green and Symphony would have to contact Colonel White to make a full report of what had been going on, relaying at the same time the information that Rhapsody gave to them - and that Rhapsody would stay put to keep an eye on their sleeping colleague, and have a chance to rest a little too. They didn’t expect Scarlet to put up any kind of struggle, in his present state.
Without making a sound, Rhapsody came closer to the sleeping man and looked down with interest, taking notice of the regular rise and fall of his bare chest, indicating that he was sound asleep. The blue and yellowish bruises she had noticed earlier on his body had completely faded, as well as the cuts on his face - some of them were deep enough, she recalled. Yet, she was surprised at not being able to find any trace of them anymore. Delicately, so as not to wake him, she pushed aside the short fringe on his forehead but could only see unblemished flesh. The only real indication that he had been hurt at all was that dressing on his side, where they had had to remove the sharp chunk of metal that had embedded itself there. She wondered how the wound underneath would look now.
She had witnessed his retrometabolism before - well, sort of, when he had pricked his finger on a rose thorn, and that otherwise insignificant incident for him really was her first and only observation of his remarkable power of recovery so far. Aside from that - she had just heard about it. Well, she had seen him alive, whole and in perfect health some number of hours after missions during which she knew he had been injured - seriously - but never until today had she had the opportunity to witness it first hand. She was suitably impressed. And somehow - less intimidated than she would have expected, although she was only now starting to realise the full extent of what retrometabolism really meant for the man known as Captain Scarlet.
And it didn’t only mean he healed incredibly fast and that he could ‘come back from the dead’, to borrow the same words he had once used himself. He also needed far less sleep, except when he was regenerating; and he had more stamina now - he had just told her so himself, some weeks ago. Just as he had told her a few hours ago that he couldn’t get drunk. An interesting side-effect, she reflected, probably due to his speedy metabolism, which probably burned up what alcohol he drank as soon as it entered his system. She was willing to bet that it probably had the same effect with drugs or pain-killers - so it was a good thing then that he slept so soundly when recovering from wounds. Otherwise he might have to endure terrible pain, with no way of relieving it. That made her shiver almost despite herself. Now that certainly wasn’t something to look forward to, she was thinking.
A low moan from the sleeping Scarlet interrupted her reflections, and she saw him shift slightly, moving his head on the pillow as if he was trying to find a more comfortable position. She wondered if he was waking up, and watched to see. He moved again, and muttered something that she was unable to make out, but he didn’t open his eyes. Looking closely, she could see the movements under his eyelids, and the frown lines forming on his brow as he moved again.
He’s dreaming, she realised instantly.
More than that, he was apparently having a nightmare, as he was starting to move more, almost thrashing, raising his arms to brush aside whatever he was seeing in his sleep. The groans became more audible.
A concerned Rhapsody sat down next to him and put a gentle hand on his shoulder, with the full intention of waking him, as smoothly as possible.
She had barely touched him when he suddenly came fully alive, his hand snatching her wrist with strength. “BLACK!”
The cry and the brutal awakening literally froze Rhapsody; she didn’t even have time to react as Scarlet, apparently still drowsy with sleep, shot straight up from the bed and grasped her by the shoulder to push her back. She lost her balance, crashing to the floor, as Scarlet maintained his hold on her. She hit the back of her head on the floor, and gasped, looking up with wide-eyed astonishment as Scarlet, kneeling astride her and keeping her down forcefully, raised his free hand into a fist, ready to strike. She thought for a second that it would come down; but it didn’t.
Scarlet had frozen in position, breathing hard, drenched with a cold sweat, now fully awake and looking in disbelief at who his opponent really was. He gave a dubious frown as his fist slowly lowered and his grip relaxed.
He was about to say something when sounds of hurried footsteps made themselves heard in the corridor beyond the door. Acutely aware of their present awkward position, Scarlet quickly let go of Rhapsody and slumped into a sitting position on the floor, at the foot of the bed. As swiftly, Rhapsody struggled to her feet, adjusting the robe around her, and was standing up when the door burst open and Symphony and Green appeared in the doorway. She turned to face them; both had their guns in hand.
“What happened?” Green asked nervously, looking down at a silent and gloomy-looking Scarlet seated on the floor, wearing only the bottom half of his pyjamas, and then at Rhapsody. “We heard shouting, then the name ‘Black’ and…”
“It’s all right,” Rhapsody said, raising a soothing hand and walking toward them. “It was only a nightmare.”
“A nightmare?” Symphony repeated. She watched as Scarlet slowly got up from the floor to sit on the side of the bed. He did look like a man who just had woken up from a bad dream and was trying to get his bearings back. He was pale and covered with sweat. “We’re lucky we’re the only people in the inn at the moment,” she reflected. “A yell like that would have woken everyone…” She didn’t receive any reply from Scarlet - not that she expected him to say anything. He was looking down, holding his head as if he had a headache. Symphony did notice that Rhapsody was looking in concern at him and she wondered if there was something her fellow pilot wasn’t telling.
“I think he’ll be all right now,” Rhapsody said, gently pushing Symphony and Green out. “He just needs a moment of rest…” She squinted her eyes over her shoulder to Scarlet. “…And maybe a strong cup of coffee. Can you bring us some? I’ll stay with him in the meantime.”
Reluctantly, both Symphony and Green nodded their assent and left as Rhapsody gently closed the door. She turned to face Scarlet. He was still looking down, not daring to face her; he was probably embarrassed by what just happened.
He gave a deep sigh to finally recover a normal breathing rate. “Thank you,” he said at last. “I don’t feel like much company right now.”
“That’s what I gathered,” Rhapsody remarked. “But I’m not leaving you alone.” He didn’t say anything on the matter, and simply looked up at her.
“What are you doing in my robe?” he asked, rather matter-of-factly.
She shrugged, approaching. “I just had taken a shower when you physically attacked me,” she replied coolly.
He looked down, embarrassed again. “Sorry, I… I was dreaming and… it was pretty hairy...”
“I bet.” Rhapsody stopped in front of him and drove her fists into the large pockets of the robe. “Do you often have those kinds of dreams when you recover? Because if so, I tell you, I wouldn’t change places with the nurses in sickbay…”
Scarlet shook his head. “To my knowledge - it’s the first time.” He gave it some thought, as the images of the videotape he had seen of his session with Doctor Weiss came haunting his mind. It wasn’t really a dream that time but flashback images - hidden flashback images from repressed memories that he still couldn’t remember. But the dream he had just experienced was so vivid - it was obviously an unconscious reminder of those scenes he had seen of himself. He grunted. “That dream - it was as if I was… reliving the accident - you know, in New York, when I was with Captain Brown…”
“Oh.” Rhapsody gave him a curious glance. “I thought you didn’t remember it…”
“… My last conscious memories are of the pain I felt - and the flames approaching me.” Scarlet shivered. “Not something I like to reminisce about… But it comes back more often than I would like it to…”
“You shouted Black’s name,” Rhapsody noted. “But Black wasn’t anywhere around there when…”
“He was there, Dianne.” Scarlet raised sombre eyes to the young woman who was standing near him. “Recently, I found out that he was present when I… died, that first time.”
“How do you know?” Rhapsody asked, shaking her head with a frown.
“I saw him.”
“Wait,” she sighed, “how can you be sure of that when you can’t remember…”
Apparently, it’s all here.” He tapped on his left temple with his index finger. “Suppressed memories, you know what they are? They were unlocked during a session with Doctor Fawn and Doctor Weiss. Some time ago. I only found out about it a few days ago. They were using drugs to try to discover if I wasn’t hiding something from what I could recall of my experience with the Mysterons. Consciously or subconsciously. Well, it seems there was nothing there of my time under their control, but they discovered more than I actually remembered about my first death.”
“That Black was there,” Rhapsody reflected.
“And that he killed me.”
Scarlet’s eyes turned darker. He then told Rhapsody about what the session with the drugs had revealed. How he had survived the accident, but was badly hurt, and was trying desperately to escape the flames threatening to consume him. How Black had suddenly appeared, how he had pleaded with Black to help him; how Black had instead pushed him back into the wreckage of the burning car. By the end of his short tale, he could see horror in the young woman’s eyes, as well as something of an understanding of what was going through his mind. She sat beside him, thoughtful, staring into empty space, contemplating what he had told her.
“But you still don’t recall any of it,” she mused after a while.
“I can’t,” he groused in a low tone. “As hard as I try, I can’t consciously recall anything of that time.”
“And the dream you just had…?”
“… It was only a dream,” Scarlet replied, with a shake of his dark head. “Not the memory of what happened. It was probably triggered by that tape I saw on Cloudbase… and by what happened to us tonight.”
“The attack on the road?”
“You must admit it had some similarity with that ‘accident’ in New York. In my dream, the two events seemed to be merged… You were riding beside me in a patrol car - and the Mysteron I fought was…”
“Captain Black,” Rhapsody said, understanding dawning on her.
He nodded. “The ending wasn’t the same, though,” he said in a low voice. “I didn’t win this fight - and Black threw both of us into the flames of the burning car.”
Rhapsody grimaced. “I think you’ve got to learn better eating habits before sleeping, Captain,” she said. “Or better drinking habits. You might find it improves your dreams… As I’m sure you remember, you indulged yourself rather… heavily tonight.” Her tone was good-natured, but it didn’t fool Scarlet. He could feel she was uncomfortable enough. He nevertheless produced a smile, as she rose from his side and walked a few steps in front of him.
Faint knocks at the door attracted both their attention; they saw the door being pushed open and Symphony entering, carrying two cups from which steam was visibly rising. She handed one to Rhapsody, closer to her, and approached Scarlet to give him the other. He graciously accepted it, sniffing the delightful aroma before taking a sip of the hot coffee.
“It comes from the dispenser downstairs,” Symphony explained. “It’s not too bad, and it’s certainly better than Captain Blue’s.” She gave a faint smile. “I kind of remember you take it black, with a pinch of sugar, Captain.”
He nodded, taking another sip. “That’s perfect. Thank you, Symphony.”
She paused a second, pondering on his non-committal reply, before speaking again, taking a more official tone. “Captain Scarlet, Colonel White would like to talk to you concerning recent events. He asked if you would call him back in Cloudbase as soon as possible in order to discuss them.”
Scarlet seemed to give it some thought for a brief instant, gazing into his cup; he took another sip. “Thank you, Symphony. I’ll think about it.”
Obviously, Symphony reflected, that was all he was going to say. She would have to content herself with that. She simply nodded and turned around, rather stiffly, and went quietly out through the door. She didn’t see the inquiring look Scarlet addressed her as she walked out and closed behind her. He turned to Rhapsody.
“She’s rather formal, isn’t she?”
Rhapsody raised a brow. “Maybe she’s still upset about the way you treated her recently,” she remarked coldly.
That Rhapsody should know about this didn’t surprise Scarlet. Symphony might have told her - or anyone else for that matter; it wasn’t as if he had been that discreet about hiding his feelings on that particular subject. A number of people had witnessed his outburst - so they might have mentioned it to Rhapsody.
“You have to admit she was careless,” he replied dryly. “It could have cost her her life.”
Rhapsody bristled at those words. She was always quick to defend her friends to the hilt when necessary. She felt that Scarlet was needlessly rude in the circumstances. “It didn’t. And perhaps you don’t know everything. Perhaps she had something on her mind that distracted her…” She had barely said the words before she realised how weak the argument sounded. Sure enough, Scarlet responded with the reply she expected. It came abruptly, just as she was sighing and kicking herself for giving him that opening.
“You don’t need any distraction during a mission, Rhapsody. Especially when you’re at the helm of an interceptor jet. You know that as well as I do. The danger could be tremendous.”
“You never got distracted during a mission, I suppose?”
“Never! And I hope you don’t either.”
“I don’t think either of us could relate to what Symphony has been through.”
“For God’s sake, what can possibly…”
“She just lost her father.”
That shut Scarlet up instantly. He stared at Rhapsody for a few seconds, unsure whether he had heard correctly or not. “Her father died?”
She nodded. “Not long before she went on the mission. She hadn’t told anyone. Now I agree she should have stepped down from the mission right then, but… I believe she was still in shock and had not fully realised the extent of the news at the time.”
“I see.” Scarlet pondered this new revelation. He put his cup onto the bedside table. “Yes - that could have been a distraction. Why didn’t she explain it to me afterwards, then?”
“Did you let her explain herself, to begin with? I suppose she might also have thought she had been careless. Maybe she didn’t think it was enough of an excuse.”
“When did you find out?”
“A couple of days ago. The day you left Cloudbase, actually.”
“Poor girl.” Scarlet gave a sigh and lowered his eyes. He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. “I remember meeting Harry Wainwright at the commissioning ceremony. Big fellow, as tall as Adam, but bigger built. Kind of a modern-day John Wayne - with the same walk as well. He was everything I ever imagined an American cowboy would be. The only thing that was missing was the Stetson.” He gave a rueful smile. “Karen joked at the time that he had left it at the family ranch in Iowa - not wanting to embarrass his daughter with it!” He grew sombre. “Karen was very close to her father.”
“As you are yourself with yours,” Rhapsody remarked, almost fondly.
“I can only imagine how lost she’s feeling.” Scarlet stared at the young woman who was looking down at him attentively. “Are you close to your parents, Dianne?”
“Not as much as you or Karen, I’m afraid.” She gave a deep sigh. “While I was growing up, they were constantly fighting. Well, they still are today, but it was worse then. Far worse. They were always competing with each other about who would give me the biggest present, the most expensive gift there was. In that respect, I was rather spoiled - I had everything you can imagine. But I often wished when I was a child that they would stop their squabbles and give me more of their attention and love, rather than presents. Oh, I don’t mean they didn’t love me… But they weren’t as ‘attentive’ to me as I would have wanted.” She frowned. “Do I sound like an ungrateful brat?”
“No, you don’t,” Scarlet replied with a doting-enough smile.
“I often envy Karen or you, for your close relationship with your respective fathers,” Rhapsody continued. “I could never be that close with mine.”
Scarlet nodded his understanding. “I should talk to her,” he murmured. “I haven’t been very nice to her.”
Rhapsody raised a brow. “Yes, I think you should.”
“And I should also apologise to you.”
She shrugged. “You already did that.”
Scarlet chuckled briefly, almost uncomfortably. “Only for throwing you to the floor like I just did. No. I mean… for leaving you stranded on the side of the road like that. And… what I said to you afterwards.” He looked up at her. “That was uncalled for. I apologise for all that, Dianne.”
Rhapsody nodded slowly, apparently accepting his apology. She kept silent a moment, meditating; she then cleared her throat and, looking at him squarely, answered, “You know, you were saying earlier that distraction could be dangerous during a mission. Well, I reckon that… obsession can be equally as dangerous as distraction.” Scarlet didn’t reply to that remark and simply looked away, apparently knowing full well what she was driving at. She moved on: “You came back to Dorset looking for clues concerning Captain Black, didn’t you? I think you are obsessed with finding him, or what he might be doing - I wasn’t all that sure earlier, but after that nightmare you had, and the story you told me about your first death…” She nodded slowly. “… I think it’s now very clear.”
Scarlet kept silent again, not deeming it necessary to answer. Slowly, he got to his feet, and turned to the drawers of his cabinet, searching for clean clothes. Rhapsody watched him with a frown, as he threw trousers onto the bed, and then a pale shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“Changing.” Choosing a pair of socks, Scarlet threw them onto the shirt and then, closing the drawer, turned to face Rhapsody. “Didn’t you hear Symphony earlier? I certainly won’t talk to Colonel White only wearing pyjama bottoms.” He looked down at the dressing stuck onto his side and reached to pull at one side of it. Rhapsody made a step forward, alarmed.
“No, you’d better not remove that. It’s…” Her advice came a little too late as Scarlet tore off the dressing, with a grunt. She saw unblemished skin where she knew was supposed to be the hideous wound she had tended to earlier. She stared in wonderment. “…completely gone,” she finished her sentence, with a certain dismay. She sighed, throwing her hands up. Why bother patching him up, then?
“I remember there was something there,” Scarlet recalled thoughtfully.
“A sharp piece of metal,” Rhapsody answered. “We removed it while you were unconscious.”
“Lieutenant Green. That is, he was holding you and I removed it. Pulled it out like a bad tooth, to be precise.”
He gave her an awkward look. “I hope you didn’t take too much pleasure in tearing into my flesh?” He smiled faintly. Of course, she knew he was joking; she might as well answer in kind.
“I kind of regarded it as an acceptable revenge after the way you treated me yesterday…” She smiled in turn. “I couldn’t leave it to rust in there,” she added, in a kinder tone. “No matter how indestructible you are, I didn’t think it could do you any good.”
“I much appreciate your concern, Rhapsody. Thank you.” Scarlet gazed a long minute at the young woman, silently, almost scrutinising her. She felt suddenly awkward under the intensity of his stare and shifted from foot to foot for a moment, unsure what to make of it. He narrowed his eyes at her. “I suggest you go and change too. Not that I don’t find you attractive in that… attire… but certainly, if he sees us both dressed like this - well, we don’t want the old man to… let’s say, get the wrong impression about us now, do we?”
Rhapsody felt the red coming to her cheeks. He thought he had made her ill-at-ease with that half-concealed joke of what people might think of a probable relationship between them, but he was pleasantly surprised when he heard her state what was probably the real reason behind her awkwardness:
He smiled, amused by her coquettish, so feminine reply. “Eye-catching, anyway,” he specified.
That last remark made Rhapsody look crossly at him and he laughed; she probably thought that he was still making fun of her and that he didn’t think she was at all glamorous in that monstrous robe.
She couldn’t be farther from the truth.
* * *
Less then ten minutes later, when Captain Scarlet entered the room occupied by Symphony and Rhapsody at the other end of the corridor, he found Lieutenant Green seated in front of a portable computer, talking with Colonel White whose image from Cloudbase was displayed on the screen. Upon seeing him approach, Green rose from his chair.
“Captain Scarlet, glad to see you’re better.” The broad smile upon the younger man’s face was genuine, so Scarlet could only smile his thanks in return. “You’ve arrived just in time,” Green continued. “We just contacted Colonel White again…” Green offered Scarlet his seat in front of the computer and stepped back as Scarlet sat down to face the screen.
“Captain Scarlet,” White welcomed him with a brief nod upon seeing him.
“Colonel White,” was Scarlet’s equally non-committal response.
“Captain, I’m aware that there are still… problems between us,” White stated straightforwardly, “and that you might feel that now is still not the time to talk about it. But it would seem to me necessary for us to seriously discuss what has happened recently. Can I assume that you might agree to some sort of temporary truce in order for us to do that in a civil manner?”
Scarlet nodded slowly. “Yes, Colonel, I think we should indeed discuss what has happened. I think Spectrum and I have an equal interest in what is currently going on around here - so it might be useful for us to compare notes.”
“Then we agree on that,” White replied. “Lieutenant Green was giving me his latest report on his investigation of Doctor Willard - whom you have met yourself, I believe.”
Green explained about how Symphony had met with Willard earlier that day, not long after Scarlet himself, and what he had told her. Scarlet only gave Symphony the briefest glance, before turning his attention back to Green, who was continuing his report by saying what they had found out earlier, concerning the discovery of the exchange between Dalton’s body and his Mysteron duplicate’s, then how they had come to the conclusion that Doctor Willard had something to do with it, seeing that he had lied to Symphony. He moved on with the rest of his findings, which he had just completed a few minutes ago.
“I contacted the hospital. They have not seen Doctor Willard since about four o’clock yesterday afternoon. He doesn’t seem to be at his home either - or if he is, he doesn’t answer the phone. Nobody saw him leave yesterday. He just… disappeared, apparently.”
“Four o’clock,” Symphony mused. “That’s not long after I met him. Our meeting was interrupted by a nurse that came to tell him his latest patient was waiting for him.”
“That would be his last appointment, then,” Green remarked.
“This disappearance might give more proof that he was behind the exchange of the bodies of the real Dalton and his Mysteron duplicate,” White noted. “Captain Scarlet… may I ask what it was you discussed with the doctor?”
Scarlet shrugged. “I wanted more information on Dalton’s death. The exact cause, when it happened… If anyone had come forward to formally identify or claim his body.”
White nodded. “That corroborates what he told Symphony about his meeting with you.”
“Well, at least we know that he didn’t lie about that,” Scarlet said rather coldly. Apparently, he wasn’t too happy to discover to what extent he had been spied on. But if he glared in Symphony’s direction, he didn’t say anything. His anger seemed to be aimed directly at Colonel White rather than anyone else. “He lied about Dalton’s body to me too - saying it was gone, claimed by his family.”
“Evidently, he couldn’t show it to you - since the exchange had already taken place. When you talked with Doctor Willard, did you notice anything… wrong with him?” Colonel White asked tentatively.
“You mean did my sixth sense pick him up as a Mysteron agent?” Scarlet shook his head. “No, Colonel. But that’s hardly evidence that he isn’t one. As we all know, my sixth sense doesn’t always work efficiently.”
“Too right, unfortunately. Or you would have picked up the presence of Dalton’s duplicate earlier yesterday.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, and probably sooner than when he tried to force my car off the road.”
“You’ve been around those places for the last two days,” White remarked. “What could have motivated him to attack you last night of all times?”
Scarlet tilted his head to one side. “Maybe I was getting too close?”
“Too close to what? I’m sure you knew that would be my next question, Captain: what are you looking for in Dorset? More specifically - in Stourford and Stone Point Village?” White paused a second. “Are you trying to find out where Captain Black has gone?”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes at the screen. “Colonel, is there anything missing from the Culver Atomic Centre?” he asked, instead of answering.
White’s brow furrowed. He didn’t like one of his questions being ignored; but he was able to weigh the importance of Scarlet’s question. He obviously had something in mind.
“To my knowledge, nothing has been reported missing to Spectrum,” he answered.
Scarlet nodded; he could see it was the truth. He saw no reason for White to lie about this. The lies were coming from elsewhere, obviously.
“Then why did employees of the Centre go to investigate Dalton’s garage?” he asked. “Taking samples from the ground, for example? What would be Culver’s interest in that place?”
“Where did you hear about that?” White asked, with an openly dubious expression on his face.
“I heard rumours of it from various people in Stone Point Village. And more precisely, from a eyewitness, who saw them.”
“A man by the name of Giles Hansen.”
“Giles Hansen… Oh yes… According to official Spectrum reports, he’s a drifter. And a known alcoholic in Stone Point Village.”
“He’s also an eyewitness to what happened at the garage, when Dalton was killed,” Scarlet replied. “That’s the man I was interrogating last night, in the pub, where Rhapsody found me. Just before we were attacked by the Mysteron duplicate.”
“So you think you were attacked because you talked to that man?”
“I don’t know - I had seen his name in the report, of course. And Doctor Willard mentioned him to me.” He paused a second, thoughtful. “Why would a Mysteron agent go after me and try to kill me, after I had talked to Hansen?”
“Perhaps he was afraid of what Hansen might have told you?”
“They thought Hansen had something he might have given me.”
“On what do you base that assumption?”
“It’s not an assumption, Colonel. It’s a fact. When I was fighting with Dalton - the duplicate - he asked me if Hansen had ‘given it to me’.”
“Given you what?”
“Damned if I know, Colonel. But I would bet it has something to do with the Culver Atomic Centre. Something Black would have taken from there. The Mysterons obviously don’t have it right now, but they want it - and apparently, Culver wants it too. It’s the only logical explanation for why Culver would have searched the Delta Garage. If they took samples from the ground, it might be they were looking for something radioactive and they wanted to make some tests to find out if what they’re looking for is there - or has been there.”
“Those are pretty nebulous suggestions, Captain,” White replied with a frown. “I can’t go to the people in charge of the Culver Atomic Centre with a theory like that and make… ‘accusations’ that they haven’t told us everything about the break in.”
“Well, I can do it, Colonel,” Scarlet replied, rather wryly.
The colonel’s irritation was starting to show on his face, although he was doing his best to hide it. He was starting to get annoyed with Scarlet’s indiscipline - not to mention his obvious arrogance. He was about to reprimand the young man rather sharply, when Rhapsody Angel, who had kept silent up until now, and had listened with attention to what was said around her, suddenly stepped forward to intervene.
“Colonel, if I may…?” His anger with Scarlet still brewing inside, and not really pleased that he should be interrupted at the moment where he was preparing to berate his unruly officer, White nonetheless addressed a nod - if rather a brusque one - in her direction, inviting her to continue. “I think Captain Scarlet’s hypothesis may contain some truth,” she explained carefully. “It’s true we don’t have relevant proof, but I think we may still have enough indirect evidence. If we accept the suggestion that Captain Black had indeed taken something from the Culver Atomic Centre - and that it was radioactive - then it could have helped Spectrum trace him, just as his own radiation helped us trace him when he became radioactive because of that isotope he came into contact with… Once he had worked out he was radioactive, and that it was allowing us to trace him, he knew that he had to get rid of the radiation, by coming back to the Atomic Centre. But that object he had taken… He couldn’t keep it with him at that moment.”
“It would have continued to serve as a beacon,” Symphony agreed, realising what her colleague was trying to explain. “So he couldn’t take it back with him to the Centre. He hid it somewhere before going back there…”
“And he went back later to pick it up,” Scarlet finished. “When no-one else would be looking for him anymore.”
“Would he have hidden it at the Delta Garage?” Green said with a dubious frown.
“Why not?” Rhapsody replied. “When you think of it, it’s logical enough. Dalton was now a Mysteron. Black could have entrusted Dalton - not only with killing whoever would come to pick up the SPV he had stolen - but with the safekeeping of that precious object. Maybe he didn’t count on Dalton being killed so easily.”
“He was too easy to kill,” growled Scarlet. “We should have known there was something up.”
“We thought that Dalton’s only mission was to kill Captain Blue and Captain Scarlet when they showed up,” Colonel White remarked. “It never occurred to us that he had a second mission.” He nodded his understanding. “Is it because you suspected all this that you came back to Dorset, Captain?” he asked, almost accusingly.
Scarlet gave a sigh. “No, Colonel. I did suspect that Captain Black was still around here, in hiding. Waiting to act on his masters’ behalf. And I wanted to be here to find him. There was a reason why he entered the Culver Atomic Centre and quite frankly - no-one has been asking themselves what it could actually be. And then the chase started, to capture Black, and it looked as if the Mysterons had all but forgotten about the Centre - and whatever they wanted to do.”
“But there wasn’t any Mysteron threat at the time,” Green remarked. “And none so far that might confirm that they indeed want to use the Centre, or something from it.”
“Do you honestly believe that Captain Black went into a nuclear centre just to take a pleasant stroll, Lieutenant?” Scarlet replied. “The Mysterons always have a reason for whatever they do.”
“Maybe they’re waiting to have whatever has been taken from the Centre in their hands before actually stating a threat?” Rhapsody suggested.
“Have all their pawns in place before the first move? That might be like them, yes,” Scarlet agreed. “They have done it before. In London, for example: they stole that lorry transporting that nuclear device before we heard their threat of destroying the city.” He narrowed his eyes. “It’s not like them to let go of a plan that easily, Colonel. Believe me, I can feel it in my bones now: they’re still hoping to carry out their intended plans.”
“I’m not dismissing any of your gut reactions, Captain,” White stated gloomily. “They pay off too often. But why do you think that this Hansen fellow might have that object?”
“Maybe it disappeared from the garage,” Scarlet observed. “And Black and the Dalton duplicate knew Hansen was there, the day the real Dalton was killed. They might suspect he had found it. And maybe Dalton has better reason to believe he had indeed taken it: he knows Hansen well enough to be aware of what he might do.”
“If it is the case, if indeed they suspect Hansen to have this object in his possession, why did Willard mention him to you in the first place? They might have guessed you would go searching for him - and surely, they wouldn’t want Spectrum to find him.”
“Who knows, Colonel?” Scarlet shrugged. “It might have been a slip on Willard’s part?”
“Or we might find the answer to that question later on, too. If Hansen indeed has in his possession an object that the Mysterons want, then he’s in deadly danger.” White gave this a few seconds’ thought. “This is still speculation, but I agree there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation. If only to learn why there is still a Mysteron agent active in the area. However, we should keep a low profile. Considering the events of a few days ago, if that should be followed by a full investigation into a possible missing object from the Centre, and that news becomes known… it could create panic in the local population.”
“People around here do seem to know everything that goes on, sir,” Symphony agreed with a nod. “Half the population seemed to be employed by Culver - in one or another of their facilities. And the employment of the other half depends on Culver’s presence in these parts.”
“So word will get out that there’s something going on if Spectrum’s presence is too visible,” White reflected. “We don’t want to create unnecessary fright if our suspicions should prove wrong. We should make this investigation an informal one, then. Until we have indisputable proof that the Mysterons are up to something. You will be the investigating team, for the time being.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Green answered, echoing the thoughts of both Rhapsody and Symphony, who nodded their acknowledgement. Only Scarlet remained silent, contenting himself with staring at the screen, waiting. White turned his attention back to him.
“Captain Scarlet - I think I’m right in presuming that you have stumbled onto something bigger than you expected…”
“Yes, Colonel, you are right.” White could almost hear his compatriot clearly think ‘as much as it galls me to admit it’. The tone of his voice was enough confirmation of his inner thoughts.
“Since you have already agreed that you and Spectrum have an equal interest in this affair, I think you will also agree that it might be necessary for us to continue to join forces until we know precisely what it is we’re up against?”
Scarlet seemed to consider that offer very carefully for a moment; the others in the room watched him intently and with a little apprehension. White was waiting patiently until his wayward agent was ready to give his answer. He didn’t want to pressure him, but he was feeling that Scarlet was making him wait needlessly on purpose.
Finally, Scarlet spoke: “I will work with Spectrum on this ‘mission’, Colonel,” he replied. “Since we do have to know what is going on and there might be people’s lives at stake. But I want to make it clear that since it’s an informal investigation, my contribution is also an informal one. I’m officially on leave, and it should stay that way. You might consider me a ‘civilian collaborator’, if you will.”
“I could order you back on duty, Captain,” White answered in an almost growling tone.
“But you won’t do that, will you, Colonel?” Scarlet shot back almost immediately, with cold aplomb. “Because you know very well what would happen if you do.”
“You’re out of order, Captain!” White snapped warningly. “So far, I have been very lenient with you, but I advise you NOT to try my patience more than you already have. It is wearing very thin! I will not endure any more of your impertinence!”
“Then I’m afraid you will still have to bear with it for the time being, Colonel,” Scarlet replied in a measured tone. He got to his feet, watching on the screen the image of his commander, whom he could see was fuming with barely-contained anger. He didn’t have to turn to guess the uncomfortable and staggered expressions of Lieutenant Green and the two women with him in the room. He could almost feel their stares drilling holes in him. He nodded to the screen. “I’ll be working with the others on this, but it doesn’t mean that all is settled between us.” He paused for a short instant, almost dramatically. “And it doesn’t mean either that I’ll be back on Cloudbase when this mission is finished. If ever. I do not take too kindly to being spied upon. Nor do I take too kindly to threats, as you well know.”
“I wasn’t threatening you,” White rumbled in a low tone.
“No… maybe not. But don’t you think that this Scarab Protocol hanging over my head is enough of a threat as it is?”
He heard a sharp intake of breath near him and turned in time to see the shocked expression now splattered on Lieutenant Green’s face, as he stared at him with wide-open eyes. Scarlet gave a low, exasperated grunt. “You knew about that ‘top secret’ protocol, didn’t you, Lieutenant?”
“I…” Green shook himself, under Scarlet’s almost accusing stare. “As Colonel White’s aide, I have access to a lot of restricted and top secret files and therefore know of their content, Captain, but…”
“Lieutenant Green does know about the content of the Scarab Project file, Captain Scarlet,” White intervened. “But I’m sure you understand that, by his position as my aide, he’s bound to professional secrecy… He cannot reveal the content of those files.”
“Sure, I understand that,” Scarlet replied, a little sourly. “I don’t envy you that position, Lieutenant. You must feel awful, knowing all those terrible secrets about your… ‘friends’, and not being able to tell them that they’ve been deceived…”
“That’s enough, Captain Scarlet,” White warned with a furrowed brow.
“Quite.” Scarlet addressed a look to the Angels, standing behind. He could see the confusion on their faces; it was obvious they didn’t know anything about what was presently being talked about. With a last glance at the screen, he turned his back on it, much to everyone’s disbelief. How could Scarlet dare do that, without waiting for Colonel White to formally dismiss him? “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some preparations to make for this mission…”
He left the room before anyone could protest; as his footsteps were dying out in the corridor, Green, Symphony and Rhapsody turned uncomfortably toward the computer screen. Except for the fact that it had turned nearly as white as his uniform, the colonel’s face remained impassive, not reflecting any of the turmoil that no doubt was going on in his mind. Knowing his usually fierce temper, that he could remain so relatively calm was remarkable. Almost a major achievement for him.
“DON’T let him out of your sight,” he instructed in a growl, his teeth clenched.
“I’m on him,” Rhapsody replied quickly. She barely noted Colonel White’s nod of acknowledgement, and left in the direction of Scarlet’s room where she saw him enter. She had just arrived at his door when he closed it . She pushed it open and stormed in - slamming the door closed behind her. Scarlet was standing in front of his dresser; he turned an annoyed look at her, as she stood there, stamping her foot.
“What are you, my shadow?” he asked with a scoff.
“What is it with you?” she snapped at him angrily. “I CAN’T believe how you could DARE speak to the colonel like that!”
“He’ll survive,” Scarlet replied. He took a small case from the first drawer, tapped a numeric code on the digital security lock and opened it to produce a small handgun. Rhapsody rolled her eyes at his remark.
“Well, I’m not so sure you will survive next time you find yourself face to face with him. I’ve never seen him so angry. You are in DEEP trouble, Captain.”
“Really?” he replied, sarcastically. “I would never have guessed.”
“I think you have a death wish. And I don’t mean the kind that can be taken care of with retrometabolism. You’re flushing your career with Spectrum down the drain.”
“To Hell with my career with Spectrum.”
“You can’t mean that! You’ve been a soldier all your life! You come from a respected military family! How can you so callously…”
Scarlet turned suddenly on her, his eyes flashing with anger. “Look, it’s not so much the military aspect of Spectrum that’s getting to me. It’s all that political nonsense surrounding it. All those games of hide and seek, all those manipulations, and compromises, and deceptions, that go on behind our backs and that you don’t seem to be even aware of! This is not a sudden whim on my part, Rhapsody, you should know that. I’m just tired of being used. And I cannot trust someone who can’t trust me in return.”
“How can you make such accusations against Colonel White?” Rhapsody protested with a deep, angry frown. “He doesn’t trust you?! That’s news to me! What about when he reinstated you, all those months ago? Wasn’t that showing his trust in you?”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “I swear I just heard the old man…”
“Paul, I realise that the discovery about that secret he kept concerning your first death may have come as a shock to you…”
“It’s not that. Well, not only that.”
“What then? That ‘Scarab Protocol’ you were talking about with him and Green? What is it?”
He hesitated, measuring his gaze with hers. “I’m not at liberty to tell you,” he said in a low voice. He moved to turn around, but she grabbed his arm, forcing him to face her again.
“Oh no, you’re not escaping me that easily, mister. I don’t care if it’s top secret. I want to know what could possibly be so terrible about this Scarab Protocol that it upsets you so much. To the point of sending you into such a flying rage…”
Scarlet gave a sigh. He threw his gun on the bed in annoyance, and turned to fully face Rhapsody. His eyes seemed to be burning hotter now, and the young woman had to make an effort not to step back, when faced with the amount of anger he was keeping bottled up inside of him.
“You want to know what the Scarab Protocol is, Rhapsody?” he seethed ominously. “Fine! I’ll tell you what it is, then! It’s the only condition under which the World Government agreed that I could be reinstated in Spectrum. The only way for them to be absolutely sure that I would stay in line. You see, they don’t trust me not to fall back under Mysteron control. So they took precautions.” He had obviously had enough of this situation and all these questions and was finally about to answer them, giving up out of frustration. His voice dropped, and it was barely above a murmur when he next spoke. “They planted a bomb in me.”
Rhapsody frowned in total incredulity. “What?” she almost whispered, staring him straight in the face, as if dreading that he was making a very sick joke.
But he wasn’t; he was deadly serious.
“They planted a bomb in my body,” he repeated fiercely, detaching each syllable. He tapped roughly with his index finger on his temple. “Here. Or here.” His hand had closed into a fist to hit his own chest. “I don’t know where it is, but you’d better believe it’s been placed where it would cause as much damage as possible, and disable my regenerative powers long enough - perhaps permanently.”
Momentarily distraught by his sudden declaration, Rhapsody shook herself out of her shock; and loudly scoffed at Scarlet’s insinuation, making a show of denying it. “Captain, you can’t really believe that the colonel…”
“The colonel didn’t have any choice in the matter!” Scarlet almost barked, his voice shaking, although it wasn’t obvious if it was out of anger, disappointment or hurt. “He had to follow orders and accept the World Government’s demands. I don’t know, maybe he wanted that ‘indestructible soldier’ that much, or maybe he really acted out of sympathy for me… I can’t be sure anymore. But what I know is: I really was a FOOL to think he could trust me implicitly.” He found himself catching his breath, then moderated his tone. “In truth, he never did…”
“And you really believe he let them put a bomb in you?” Rhapsody asked, still dubiously. “What… Did you talk to him about it?”
“I saw the secret file, Dianne,” Scarlet replied. “I was never meant to see it, but I did. And yes, I talked to him about this ‘protocol’. He didn’t even deny it.”
Rhapsody looked down, thoughtful over the revelation; she was obviously trying to absorb it - and accept it. Scarlet could see she was thinking hard, and shaking her head in disbelief. She wasn’t ready to accept that their commander would agree to those awful conditions - and accept that an explosive device would be grafted inside one of his agents.
“It’s so wrong…” she murmured.
“He didn’t even tell me, Dianne,” Scarlet continued, his voice now calmer. “He kept it a secret from me. I know he could hardly tell me but… it hurts anyway. And I’m not sure the hurt will ever go away.” He looked down in turn and then turned away. “Now, if you’ll excuse me - I need to freshen up a little, before we get to work.”
He passed by her, brushing ever so slightly against her and briskly walked toward his bathroom. Rhapsody turned to follow him with her eyes, distressed by all the pain she had seen on his face. “Paul…”
He didn’t even acknowledge her and simply stepped into the bathroom, closing the door between them.
Slowly, almost mechanically, Rhapsody sat down on the side of the bed, her eyes staring into empty space, lost in her thoughts, and still shaking her head with deep doubts. There was only one question that was coming to her mind at the moment, and no matter how many times she recapped Scarlet’s words, it kept coming back, over and over again.
“How could it be possible?”
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