A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
“This is the voice of the Mysterons… We know that you can hear us, Earthmen… We have not forgotten your unprovoked attack on our Martian Complex. Our next act of retaliation will be to destroy one of the Seven Kingdoms. Before the day is over, fire will destroy the Realm of the Great Ruler. Earthmen… You have been warned.”
The announcement had come unexpectedly, at the end of the afternoon, and it took everyone on Cloudbase by surprise. Now on his feet, Colonel White looked up to the speakers on the wall, waiting in anticipation, wondering if there would be more; but the speaker was now silent. The Mysterons had made their point; their voice was now silent, until the next time they chose to pronounce a new threat. White sat back, blowing out a dejected sigh.
“I hate riddles like that,” he grumbled, looking into empty space, past Captain Magenta, who was seated at Lieutenant Green’s usual place in front of the computer, looking at his commander with probing eyes. White was thoughtful, looking particularly gloomy, as he contemplated what it was the Mysterons intended to destroy this time.
So, they have made their move, he reflected grimly. One of the Seven Kingdoms. The Realm of the Great Ruler. That could have been difficult to pinpoint if Spectrum had not known about the Mysteron activity in Dorset, concerning that isotope that had been stolen from the Culver Atomic Centre by Captain Black.
That was obviously where they intended to strike.
‘One of the Seven Kingdoms…’ That could only be in reference of England’s old Heptarchy of centuries ago… The Realm of the Great Ruler…
Alfred the Great. King of England. Ruler of Wessex – which comprised a vast territory, from the southern coast of England to the Cotswolds – from the frontier of Cornwall, nearly to London.
‘Destroyed by fire’. The Mysterons could mean they were planning to use a nuclear weapon to carry out their threat.
And there was a perfect place where they would be able to do that.
“That means they must have the isotope now,” White reflected sombrely. They had probably acquired it very recently, then. That was all the delivery of this threat could mean. Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel had not given any sign of life since they had left for Stone Point Village to try to find Giles Hansen and possibly retrieve the isotope. It was all too obvious that their mission had failed.
The Mysterons had not waited a moment to voice their threat. Probably, they were confident. “They surely know we’re on to them,” the Spectrum commander continued. “ ‘Before the day is over…’ They intend to strike swiftly. But maybe they don’t realise that we might be ahead of them…” He raised his head to address Magenta. “Captain, launch all Angels. Set coordinates for the Aldermaston Naval Development Centre. Contact Captain Blue there and instruct him to have his team ready for a Mysteron attack.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Magenta replied, swivelling his seat toward the communication controls.
“And put me through to Lieutenant Green and Rhapsody Angel,” White continued. “I want to know if they’ve heard anything from Captain Scarlet and Symphony.”
He wasn’t really expecting that would be the case. But he had to give his agents the benefit of the doubt that they might make themselves heard soon.
White feared that their silence meant that they had struck trouble
* * *
Since the Spectrum officers’ departure, director Alan Kierney had been working uneasily in his office, ordering his secretary not to let anyone disturb him under any circumstances for the rest of the day. He was anxious about the consequences his recent inapt ways of dealing with the latest inconvenient situation would have on the Culver company, the contracts he had gained for it, his position, his entire career. He had had no choice but to talk to Spectrum, he reasoned to himself. Those officers already knew more than enough to work out that Culver had been hiding things from them. So he told them just what they needed to know. Enough to keep them off his back. No more than that.
At least, I hope it was enough, he mused, putting down his pen next to the report he was busy composing. Surely they didn’t need to know everything about that isotope, and how, and where it could be used. It was bad enough that it had been developed here, in Dorset, surely there would be a whole lot more serious trouble if it was to be found that it could also be utilised in the nuclear reactor of this plant.
Kierney rubbed his temple, groaning. No, if Spectrum was involved, and if it meant any danger on a large scale – and God could bear witness that Kierney KNEW it could be the case – he couldn’t very well not tell them. They had to know. He would have to contact his superiors on that particular subject, ask for their instructions, try to convince them, if they should fail to see the urgency, that he had to talk.
He reached for his phone and was about to dial a number when his door opened and a uniformed man entered. Kierney’s brow furrowed when he recognised one of the centre’s security guards – one of those who had been the most closely involved with the break-in a few days ago, and who had even been wounded by the culprit.
“Harris, what are you doing here?” he asked. “I thought I had told Mrs. North that I didn’t want to be disturbed…”
Harris looked through the open door, toward the empty desk he had just passed. “Mrs. North is gone, Mr. Kierney,” he announced courteously. “It’s rather late, you know. Haven’t you noticed the time?”
“Mmm?” Kierney checked his watch. It was indeed very late, and the regular personnel must have left for the day, including his secretary, obviously. He gave a sigh and put the phone receiver down. “So it is,” he remarked, watching Harris as he closed the door behind him and entered his office. “What can I do for you, Harris?” he asked, as Harris stopped in front of his desk, staring down at him. The man was one of the company’s most devoted employees, totally reliable in his work. Indeed, he had returned to work much earlier than expected after receiving treatment for his head injury, claiming to have made a full recovery. Truthfully enough, Harris didn’t seem to be suffering any after-effects from his ordeal; his head injury seemed to have totally disappeared. A thought came to Kierney’s mind and, not waiting for Harris to answer his previous question, he suddenly said: “It is a good thing you came in, actually. We may have to increase security around the Centre for a time. Would you arrange that?”
“Increase security?” Harris queried, tilting his head to one side with curiosity. “Do you expect another break-in, sir?” He gave it some thought. “I heard Spectrum paid you another visit today. Did they ask you to do that or…”
“No, no,” Kierney replied, with a dismissive gesture. “Spectrum has nothing to do with it.” He rose from his chair, tiredly, and walked to the window to look outside, thoughtfully. “I just thought that, considering the circumstances, we ought to keep on our toes. Preventing any risk of another surprise, like that first time, you understand?”
“I understand, sir,” Harris said coolly.
Kierney smiled to himself. With increased security around the Centre, he would feel better – until he had reached his superiors in London and spoken with them concerning the present situation. “So I can count on you to arrange that as quickly as possible, Harris?”
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that, sir.” That quiet answer from the security guard stunned Kierney. He frowned, unsure if he had heard properly. He turned on his heel to face the man, making ready to ask him what he meant by that. He froze upon seeing that Harris had taken his gun from its holster and was now threatening him with it. “You see, Mr. Kierney, I have other orders…”
“Harris…” Kierney swallowed hard. All the colour had drained from his face. “What’s going on… Is this some kind of joke?!”
“It’s not a joke, Mr. Kierney.” Harris’s tone was very cold. He extended his free hand in a demanding gesture. “I want the key.”
“The key?” Kierney repeated, hoping he was mistaken in his assumption of what it was that Harris was asking for. “What key?”
“You know very well what key I’m talking about, Mr. Kierney,” Harris seethed between his teeth. “THE key you keep in your security safe. The one I need to access the reactor.”
“W-what do you want to do with it?”
“JUST give it to me!” Harris cocked the hammer of his gun, and Kierney became even paler, if it was possible. “Or else…”
“All right, all right!” Kierney urged him, very nervously. “I’ll give it to you.” His hands well in view, he left the side of the window and rushed to the nearest wall, where he nervously removed an awful still-life painting hung there. It crashed at his feet, but he took little notice of it, as his fingers worked feverishly on the dial of the safe embedded in the wall. “Just… just let me open the safe… It… it won’t take long.” It took him double the time it normally would to finally get the lock to click. Harris had silently approached him from behind, keeping his gun steadily trained on him.
Kierney opened the safe door and reached for a little metallic box inside; when he turned around, it was to discover Harris close behind him. The security guard snatched the box from Kierney’s trembling hand and opened it to give a somewhat detached look inside. A small, half-metallic and half-plastic key was resting on the velvety interior of the box. Harris gave a brief nod, his features otherwise not displaying any of the satisfaction he was experiencing from having put his hand on the object he wanted to acquire. His fingers slowly closed the box, as his eyes rose to stare coldly at a nervous Kierney.
“Thank you, Mr. Director. This was the last missing piece for our plan to work....” With those words, he implacably pulled the trigger of his gun twice. At point blank range, Kierney never had a chance to escape the bullets. With a low grunt, he fell at Harris’s feet and lay there motionless.
The security guard briefly looked down at his victim before re-holstering his weapon. No-one would have heard the shots. This wing of the building was empty. And there soon would be so few personnel at the Centre that there would be no risk of the plan failing. Only six other security guards were working on the premises tonight. Two were at the entrance, and two others patrolling the grounds. One other was standing watch in front of the monitors of the various security cameras, unaware that they had been tampered with. And the last guard was patrolling the other section of the building.
“The Mysterons’ orders must be carried out,” Harris murmured callously.
He turned around and left the office, turning off the lights and closing the door on his way out, ignoring the faint glow coming from the small desk lamp that Kierney had left on earlier.
* * *
“No, Colonel White. No news from Captain Scarlet or Symphony Angel yet. They should have called two hours ago.”
Lieutenant Green was seated in front of the portable computer, with Rhapsody standing behind his chair, both of them watching the screen where they could see their commander. Colonel White sat back in his chair; his expression was grave, but didn’t seem to display any emotion as he registered the news.
“If they missed their last check-in call, then we might conclude that they encountered trouble,” he answered to Green’s report. “Well, we have no time to wait for them. We have a Mysteron situation, and we might not have much time to resolve it. If the Mysterons have announced their threat, then it must be because they have got their hands on the isotope and are ready to make their move. They did say that they will strike before the end of the day. I have already dispatched Captains Blue and Grey to Aldermaston – which is most likely the Mysterons’ actual target to carry out their threat. The isotope was created for the nuclear reactors built there – but in its present volatile state, introducing it into those reactors would cause a catastrophe of unthinkable magnitude… The whole south of England might be wiped out in a nuclear explosion, and the radioactive fallout would be even more devastating.”
“Is there another target that might interest the Mysterons, sir?” Rhapsody asked with a frown.
“According to the information on our database, only Aldermaston corresponds to the criteria necessary for the Mysterons to destroy the whole area that used to be known as Wessex. Of course, we’re still checking it out. Just in case something might have escaped us.”
“What about Rhapsody and me, sir?” Lieutenant Green asked. “What are our orders?” He was obviously eager to go into action – and probably he was thinking that now would be his first chance in a long time to actually be in the middle of it. The colonel’s answer disappointed him greatly.
“You’re to stay where you are,” White declared, much to Green’s annoyance. “You’re on stand-by, should we need back-up for this operation. In the meantime, I want you to retrace Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel’s steps. By finding out what has happened to them, maybe we’ll also find out where to find the isotope, and thus stop the Mysterons before they can strike.”
“Of course, sir,” Green agreed with a slow nod, trying hard not to show his dissatisfaction.
“Should we go in search of them?” Rhapsody asked in turn.
“No. If you find anything of interest, contact us right away.”
“…If the Mysterons have the isotope, and Scarlet and Symphony were close on its trail, then they are certainly in trouble. And if they are in trouble, Rhapsody, I don’t want either you or Lieutenant Green attempting some kind of heroics that would also put you in danger. Our first priority is to find the isotope, and stop the Mysterons. We can’t afford to get distracted by missing agents. If you do find out where they are, you only need to contact me with the information and I’ll dispatch a ground team to do the rest.”
“But Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel could still report in, sir,” Green proposed.
“Let us hope so, Lieutenant,” White replied. “But frankly, I’m beginning to doubt that very much. They did miss their last check-in. Either something did happen to them, or Captain Scarlet’s still so angry with me that he blatantly ignores mission protocols.”
“That would surprise me, sir,” Rhapsody then swiftly replied, in defence of her absent compatriot. “Captain Scarlet knows how serious this mission could be, and how dangerous it could become if the Mysterons are involved.”
“And Symphony is with him, too,” Green added. “Surely, she would follow protocols and make the check-in call…”
Rhapsody nearly scoffed. “Even without Symphony, Captain Scarlet is too much of a professional to let himself be distracted by whatever personal feud he might have with…” She stopped herself, when she noticed the hard stare White was addressing her through the screen. She lowered her head uncomfortably and shuffled her feet. “Anyway, I do think they are both in trouble, sir…”
“Indeed,” White replied slowly. “That seems to be the logical conclusion…” He leaned toward his screen. “What did Scarlet tell you about this ‘personal feud’ he has with me, Rhapsody?”
The young woman looked directly into the screen, her eyes bright with something akin with defiance. Yes, White realised. Scarlet had talked to her… And it was obvious where her sympathies lay. He gave a low, disgruntled mumble. “He told you about the ‘Scarab Protocol’… How unfortunate.”
“Sorry, sir… ‘unfortunate’?” By her tone, Rhapsody obviously didn’t want to sound brazen, but the words she had pronounced were only one step away from it. “It’s unfortunate that I should know about it?”
“He shouldn’t have told you,” White said with a frown. “He knew that the ‘Scarab Protocol’ was top secret information.”
Rhapsody felt a wave of rebellion hit her. Sure, there were good reasons to keep that information secret! “Maybe he needed to confide in someone,” Rhapsody answered promptly. “I can certainly understand how upset he must be by the thought that a bomb may be planted somewhere in him. I would be upset too.”
“Rhapsody.” White gave an almost tired sigh. “Now is not the time to discuss it. We have a Mysteron threat to attend to. When this is settled, I will have a talk with Captain Scarlet and defuse this situation between us. Whatever he told you, Rhapsody, I can assure you, it was not complete. Captain Scarlet doesn’t have all the data.”
Rhapsody lowered her eyes, to encounter those of Lieutenant Green, who had turned to look at her. That was exactly what he had said himself earlier. The young man had a faint, but encouraging, smile on his face.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, returning her gaze to the screen. “It’s just that this… ‘Scarab Protocol’ seems so unfair on Captain Scarlet. After all he’s done to prove himself over the past few weeks…”
She left the rest hanging. White kept silent a short moment, before nodding briefly. “Your concern is noted,” he said. “And your loyalty to Scarlet is appreciated. But this will not be discussed again – not until I settle things with him.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Rhapsody murmured.
“Good. Now let’s concentrate on this Mysteron threat, shall we? We have a job to do, don’t forget that. Countless lives are at stake and that takes priority over everything else.”
Rhapsody nodded grimly, and Lieutenant Green with her. White signed out, the image on the screen turning black when he pushed a button. Green turned to the young woman, almost making a face.
“Legwork,” he muttered. “I finally get a chance to be on the ground, where the action is and I’m ordered to do legwork, while the Mysterons plot to destroy an entire area. I could do that on Cloudbase…”
“The difference is that we’re stuck dead centre in the danger zone,” Rhapsody retorted. “So we’re really in the thick of it, Lieutenant.”
“You sound upset, Rhapsody. Still angry at the colonel about Captain Scarlet?”
“Yes – and no, Lieutenant.” Rhapsody hesitated. Of course, she was upset. Upset that Colonel White could show himself so cavalier regarding Scarlet’s situation. Upset that he seemed ready to abandon both Scarlet and Symphony if they were in danger, and would not allow her and Green to get more involved in this mission.
And upset because something else was bothering her deeply.
“Isn’t Aldermaston too obvious a target for the Mysterons this time?” she asked Green. “Surely, they won’t go there, if they know all of Spectrum’s forces will be present to stop them?”
“Who knows, with the Mysterons? If they want to destroy the target they designated, using that isotope they stole from Culver, then Aldermaston is the only place they can go. You heard the colonel.”
“I know but…” Rhapsody frowned, thoughtful. “What about Culver?”
“What about it?”
“They developed the isotope there. Don’t they have a reactor the Mysterons might use to trigger the meltdown they plan?”
“Not according to our data,” Green said, shaking his head. “Their reactor is certainly not powerful enough to destroy the intended target.”
“What if the information in our databank is wrong?” Rhapsody reflected. “What if indeed there might be another place around this area where the Mysterons can use that isotope?”
“You want to tell the colonel that the Spectrum databank is incomplete?” Green asked with a frown. “He wouldn’t like to hear that…”
“Maybe all the right data has not been given to us,” Rhapsody remarked with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“Yes… that’s what he wouldn’t want to hear!”
“You want to take the chance that I might be right, Lieutenant?”
Seeing the stern expression on the young woman’s face, Green permitted himself a smile. “I’d swear I’m hearing Captain Scarlet,” he said with a sigh. “All right. Let’s suppose that you are right. That we don’t have all the information and that there might be a possible target, other than Aldermaston… What could it be?”
“I don’t know – but maybe someone can tell us? How about the director of the Culver plant?”
“Kierney? Well, he probably knows where all the atomic installations are around these parts…”
“And he did already lie to us about the disappearance of the isotope,” Rhapsody noted. “He only came clean with it when we discovered it ourselves. What if he is hiding something else from us?”
“Careful, Rhapsody… we don’t want to make groundless accusations. We would need more than hypothesis right now. Mr Kierney certainly realises that he’s in deep enough trouble as it is right now. So we have to assume he came clean with his earlier statement.”
“I don’t like to assume anything, Lieutenant.”
“We have to make sure before telling the colonel.”
“Sure. Simply talking to Mr Kierney should provide the answer.” Rhapsody grabbed the phone. “So do I call him or do you?”
Green hesitated a little; then the smile reappeared on his face, with fondness and amusement obvious in it. Rhapsody was in ‘detective mode’ and there was no stopping her now. She might as well indulge in it. Besides, hearing the young woman’s pleasant voice might put Kierney sufficiently at ease to open up to them, if, as she suspected, he was hiding something.
“Be my guest,” Green answered quietly. He watched with attention as Rhapsody keyed the number of Kierney’s office at Culver.
* * *
When Captain Scarlet awakened, he could feel his shoulders ache. The ache wasn’t from his recent injury; it was something else. His now-healed muscles were sore and cramped, from having kept the same position for too long. His arms felt heavy, as if his whole weight was pulling on them. And indeed, he realised almost right away, that was the case.
He was standing, slumped against an irregular surface he could feel grating against his back, his feet barely touching the floor. He could hardly move his arms; they were outstretched on either side of him and shackled to the surface he was leaning on; his hands were so numb he could barely feel them. When he shifted to get a better position on his feet, he felt a fiery pain shooting through his wrists, and heard a rattling sound.
He opened his eyes and assessed his situation. The surface against which he was resting was a large metallic mesh fence, and each of his hands was secured to it by a strong pair of handcuffs; the metallic bands were so closely encircling his wrists that they bit into his flesh, cutting off his blood circulation and causing that painful numbness in his hands.
It took Scarlet a few seconds before he actually recalled his last conscious thoughts, in a flash of memories. Mysterons… They had trapped him in Dalton’s flat, where he and Symphony had thought to find Giles Hansen.
Giles Hansen, who had been killed and Mysteronised…
He looked around and saw her immediately, seated only a few feet away from him, on a low stool, with a grim-looking face. She was apparently unharmed, and she wasn’t restrained, but behind her was the Mysteron duplicate of Doctor Willard, aiming a gun close to her head, with Giles Hansen, his expression cold, standing only a couple of feet behind, keeping a close surveillance on her. That was as effective in keeping her subdued as if she had been physically restrained. Neither of them seemed to have noticed he had awakened; they were too busy looking in the same direction, to their right. Scarlet followed their gaze.
The room in which he was being held prisoner was very large, dimly lit, and he could see electronic devices on almost every wall. Straight in front of him, on the far wall, he could see a very complex computerised control panel, in which a few lights were flashing regularly. This section of the room was presently inaccessible, as it was protected by a wall of Plexiglass-like bars. A small console was set next to those bars, and a man dressed in black was presently standing in front of it, operating the controls with silent attention, turning dials and pushing buttons, his back turned on Scarlet. A shiver ran up Scarlet’s spine when he recognised that man.
Whatever he was up to, he didn’t seem to have noticed that his prisoner was awake – or maybe he didn’t care, since he was so busy at the moment. The panel in front of him was slowly coming to life with more flashing lights; a humming that didn’t sound like a good omen in Scarlet’s ears made itself heard. It was coming from behind him; he twisted in his bonds to look over his shoulders, gritting his teeth against the pain in his wrists. Through the mesh fence, he could see what looked like a large engine steadily coming to life.
The humming increased and seemed to propagate through the room. Scarlet looked up front. Now a different humming was coming from a large, lead container set to his left, standing almost in the middle of the room, beyond the Plexiglas bars. It looked like a huge tube, at least ten feet in diameter, that seemed to pierce the floor and roof of the room. Rings of multicoloured light were circling around it, with a regular, very quiet beat that seemed to follow the humming cadence.
Scarlet watched silently, as Black made a step back, all his attention still set on the controls he was working on. That was only at that moment that Scarlet realised that Symphony was looking in his direction, apparently having noticed he had awakened. He looked straight at her and addressed her a silent nod, very slowly mouthing the question ‘Are you all right?’ She answered with a brief affirmative nod of her own. She looked as if she was indeed all right, but deeply worried if he was to judge by the look in her eyes. Which was normal, considering the situation. That reassured Scarlet. But with both of them subdued as they were, he was wondering how they were going to get out alive from their present mess.
A door at the far side of the room slid open, and automatically, both Scarlet and Symphony turned their heads in that direction; so did Willard and Hansen, as a man, dressed in a uniform, entered the room. Only Captain Black ignored the newcomer’s arrival. Scarlet’s eyes narrowed as he recognised the uniform of a security guard from the Culver Atomic Centre – and the man as being the guard who had been attacked that first night, when Black had broken into the plant. Harris… Considering that neither Black, Willard nor Hansen seem distressed by the man’s presence, and seeing that he didn’t look too bothered by their presence, he was obviously a Mysteron too.
Is this the Culver Atomic Centre? Scarlet wondered. It certainly looked like it, although he had not visited this section personally. Then it would be here that the Mysterons intended to carry out their threat this time – whatever it might be, as Scarlet had no idea what they were preparing. He simply imagined that since they had found the isotope, the Mysterons had voiced their threat and were now acting on it. He just was very aware that it could only be something terribly bad, if they were dealing with nuclear energy.
And if he didn’t miss his guess – then that huge object in the middle of the room could only be encasing the centre’s nuclear reactor. It was much bigger than he had been led to believe it ought to be. Of course, Kierney had not mentioned that Culver could be a liability in view of a possible threat from the Mysterons. None of the information Spectrum had on the Centre mentioned anything that would lead to that conclusion. Scarlet knew, he had checked that information a few days ago, when they were looking for Black, wondering what could have brought him here – and still yet again recently, when it had appeared obvious that the Mysterons wanted to use the isotope for their misdeeds.
No doubt it meant trouble…
With his eyes, Scarlet followed Harris’s progression toward Black. The latter had turned around to face the approaching Mysteron agent, and Scarlet was able to finally see his face. He could see it was definitely Captain Black… yet, even from a distance, it was obvious that there was something different about him. His face was ashen and unshaven, without any expression at all, as hard as if it had been carved from a piece of white marble. A new chill ran along Scarlet’s spine. That was exactly the face Symphony had described a few days ago, and that seemed to have made quite an impression on her. He could see why. Scarlet wondered, if Black was a Mysteron agent, like Harris, and as Willard and Hansen now were themselves, why he looked so different from them.
So different from any other Mysteron agents Spectrum had encountered so far.
Harris had stopped in front of Black; there wasn’t a single word exchanged when Harris gave something to the ex-Spectrum officer. Scarlet recognized it as some kind of key, attached to a red ribbon. Black turned to the small console, inserted the key into a lock and turned it. The Plexiglas bars started to rise steadily. Black entered with Harris, and the two Mysteron agents made their way towards the now accessible larger console.
Under Scarlet and Symphony’s scrutinising gaze, Black started working on the new console. He inserted the key into a new slot, and a small panel opened up, to reveal a blue lighted keypad which rose from the console. Harris came to type a series of numbers, as Black walked toward the huge encased nuclear reactor. A small panel was sliding out of it, following Harris’s command on the console, and a small, rounded, empty compartment appeared. Black took something from his shirt pocket; it was a small lead case, that he opened to reveal a short metallic tube, of about six inches long. With his gloved hand, he carefully took it out of its box. The isotope, Scarlet realised, watching with growing anger as Black slid the object into the small compartment and snapped it into place. The panel slid closed, hiding the isotope from view. Black stepped back, as Harris keyed a new series of numbers onto the keypad and turned the key once more. Above the console, for everyone to see, the checking monitors came to life. A horizontal gauge marked ‘coolant water temperature’ was brightly illuminated, with a multicoloured measurement line starting from green, and going all the way through yellow, orange and finally red. A monitor set over the gauge was displaying the words ‘temperature normal’.
Scarlet had a feeling that it wouldn’t stay that reassuring for very long. The temperature was steadily rising on the line, going slowly toward the yellow.
As Black turned to Harris and the two of them started talking in tones so low that they couldn’t be heard, Scarlet and Symphony exchanged worried glances. They didn’t have to strain very hard to imagine what would happen in a short while…
They had to do something – but what?
Scarlet’s head shot up at the sound of that sepulchral voice addressing him. He saw Black now looking toward him, leaving the controls to slowly walk in his direction, followed by both Harris and Hansen. Scarlet stood up straight, meeting the cold gaze of the Mysteron agent with a determined face of his own. Even Black’s eyes were without any expression, other than dark and total iciness. During his time in Spectrum, Captain Black hadn’t been the most expressive of men, but this new ‘incarnation’ of his was completely different. There was something alien coming from him, even at this distance, that Scarlet could feel in the marrow of his bones. That was definitely unsettling.
Black stopped in front of Scarlet, merely a foot away and stared at him with something akin to logical, scientific curiosity in those alien eyes.
“You are an enigma…” Black continued, his voice retaining the same aloof, unemotional tone Scarlet had heard previously. It certainly wasn’t Black’s real voice; it was tainted with the Voice of the Mysterons, that Scarlet had heard through the radio, more often than he would care for.
“Am I?” Scarlet replied in an abrupt tone. “Well, we know who we should thank for that, don’t we, Conrad?” Beyond Black, he could see that Symphony was watching the exchange with growing unease. Yet, she made the effort to stay as apparently composed as she could, mimicking his own defiant attitude.
“You tell me, old friend. And then I’ll be able to tell you.” With affected coolness, Scarlet pointed a finger toward the nuclear reactor, the best he could, considering his restrained position. “What are your masters up to now? Looks like they’re planning something big…”
“The Mysterons’ next act of retaliation will be to destroy the area once known as Wessex…” Black’s answer sounded like one of the Mysterons’ announced threats. It was as if he was reciting a learned mantra. Scarlet took note of this only for a second, before starting to compute the extent of the threat. It was huge. A dubious frown appeared on his brow.
“Wessex…? That would take an enormous amount of energy…”
“The Culver Atomic Centre provides us with all the tools needed to carry out our plans,” Harris then said, attracting Scarlet’s attention while Black stood silently contemplating him. “They were using that clandestine nuclear reactor over there to test the efficiency of the isotope they had created for Aldermaston’s subs. By itself, because it is protected by this lead casing, if it were to overheat, or meet ‘unlikely problems’ that might cause a nuclear accident, the reactor would devastate the surrounding neighbourhood only.”
“What’s a few villages, when the Mysterons could destroy the whole area?” Scarlet retorted sarcastically.
“But if you introduce the special isotope they created into the core of the reactor… the results would be far different. The reactor temperature will increase, and the coolant water will overheat beyond the point of no-return.” Harris smiled thinly, seeing Scarlet’s grim expression. “Of course, you surely know now that the isotope is a very powerful component – and that it is highly unstable… That’s why the people responsible for security equipped the reactor with enough failsafe security measures to prevent the eventuality of a meltdown – or so Culver is convinced.” Scarlet looked down at the key dangling at Harris’s belt, understanding, by what he had just witnessed, that the ‘security failsafe’ resided in it. He looked beyond the two Mysterons toward the temperature gauge. The line was now in the yellow, with the words ‘Temperature increasing’ displayed on the monitor.
“In two hours, there will be nothing to prevent the reactor from exploding, wiping out the entirety of the surrounding area,” Black pursued. “Nuclear fallout will take care of the rest of Wessex.”
Scarlet’s doubts turned into utter shock – and anger. “Black, that would mean millions of deaths and suffering… including my parents in Winchester. You can’t really want to have that on your conscience!”
“What I want is irrelevant. The Mysterons’ orders must be carried out.”
“You son of a…” Angrily, Scarlet pulled on his restraints, attempting to make them give way, so he would be able to reach for Black. Of course, they held, the metallic bands of the handcuffs biting deeper, more painfully, into his wrists. All he could do was stare at Black with a fiery contemptuous glare. A glare to which Black was responding with an icy stare of his own. “Killing me wasn’t enough for you,” Scarlet spat. “You have to go and kill millions of other to satisfy your masters’ bloodlust.”
“The Earthmen started this war.”
“No, ONE man started it. YOU, Conrad. And you intend to finish it properly for your new masters, don’t you?” A growl emitted from his throat. “Damn it,” he added in a low tone, “where is your much-vaunted will of iron, Conrad? You should be able to break free from these monsters’ influence! Fight them!”
“Your protests are meaningless.”
“So you will sacrifice yourself in a nuclear explosion for the Mysterons? Is that how they intended to punish you?”
“My punishment… is beyond your comprehension.”
Scarlet thought he heard a note of regret in the monotonous tone. Was it his imagination? He was about to continue his harangue, when a contemptuous scoff coming from Harris interrupted him. “Do not concern yourself with Captain Black,” the Mysteron agent said in a mocking tone. “He will be far gone and out of reach when the explosion occurs.”
“… And so will you,” Black added, still staring coldly at Scarlet.
“Oh, I’m touched, really, that you should look after me,” Scarlet retorted with a thin, unhappy smile, “old friend.”
“Friendship is an unknown concept. It has nothing to do with your fate.” Black came a step closer, to look even more closely into Scarlet’s angry and grim features. “You and you abilities can be useful to us.”
“Is this a job offer?” Scarlet scoffed mockingly.
“I offer nothing. You were created by the Mysterons. You’ll be brought back under their control. Where you belong.”
The fire in Scarlet’s eyes grew hotter with burning rage and revolt. There was no way he would allow the Mysterons to take him back under their control. He would gladly prefer a definitive death over such a fate. Outraged, he pulled on his restraints once more. He felt his muscles strain painfully, his shoulders almost snapping under the effort. “Never! You hear me, Black?! I will NEVER go back under their control! You can go straight to HELL with your Mysteron masters!”
Black remained unemotional, but Harris, stepping forward, violently backhanded Scarlet, sending his head sideways. From where she was watching the confrontation, Symphony jumped to her feet. That was more than she was able to endure. “Leave him alone!”
She made a step forward, as if she wanted to intervene, but Willard’s hand caught her by the arm and she turned back angrily to him. He shoved the barrel of his gun into her side, making her gasp. Enraged at seeing the young woman manhandled, Scarlet turned to Willard specifically, ignoring Black and the other two Mysteron agents closer to him. “Don’t you hurt her, you…”
Black’s hands suddenly grabbed hold of Scarlet’s face; almost despite himself, the Spectrum officer found himself staring straight into the inexpressive features of the Mysteron agent. Gritting his teeth, he first tried to pull back, but Black’s hold was like iron.
“As you were once of the Mysterons, so you will be once more. It’s just a matter of re-establishing contact.”
Scarlet felt a cold sweat running down his spine. Even as he tried to escape, he suddenly discovered that he couldn’t detach his eyes from the cold, deep darkness that was Black’s stare, so alien in that human but impassive face, so – enthralling. A feeling of panic clutched Scarlet’s soul and mind, as coldness started to engulf him.
“LEAVE HIM ALONE, BLACK!”
The voice of Symphony reached Scarlet, and for a brief instant, he felt free and drawn by the sound of her angry tone. With an obvious, but fleeting expression of frustration on his otherwise aloof face, Black briefly shouted over his shoulder. “Silence the woman!”
Harris swiftly came to Willard’s side to help his fellow Mysteron agent, who was apparently having trouble keeping the Angel pilot in line. He caught Symphony, wrapping his arm around her and pinning her arms against her body. She struggled, but he was holding her in a iron-like vice hold. She was about to shout again, when Harris’s hand clamped on her mouth, smothering her cry. Black turned his attention back to Scarlet.
“Look into my eyes and you’ll see what I see.” At first, Scarlet tried to escape, but after a few short seconds, Symphony saw his eyes opening wide; despite his best efforts to visibly resist the urge, once again he gazed deep into Black’s eyes. He shivered, trying once more to pull away, but to no avail. Black had him within his clutches and wasn’t about to let go. Whatever the Mysteron agent was trying to do to him, Scarlet seemed powerless to avoid it.
Reduced to silence and helpless to help, Symphony watched with horror and growing concern for her fellow Spectrum agent, wondering what terrible fate the Mysterons could have in store for him.
* * *
For Scarlet, there was nothing to see at first. Black’s face was still without any trace of emotion, and that chilling image was but a weak reflection of what he could see in his eyes – a deep dark abyss devoid of all feelings, so cold it was freezing him to the bone. It was a total blank, where no feeling, no passion, could find a place. It felt as deep and cold, empty and vast, as space itself – in the darkest recess of it, without any star to illuminate it.
He felt nauseous. The kind of sickness he had felt often when he was in the vicinity of a Mysteron. Only this time it was even worse. As if the presence was closer. Very much closer.
He started feeling a pull on his mind… an irresistible pull, that wanted to draw him into the deepest part of this darkness. Black’s face slowly faded from his view, until he could only see his sinister eyes. Then even those eyes disappeared, first appearing as two weakening stars, that finally died out. Now the blackness was total, and continued to fill his mind, slowly but irremediably emptying it of all thoughts, except of that deep darkness itself – and that terrible pull.
No… there was still a single thought, a unique feeling left in his mind beside that.
He heard a murmur at the limit of his hearing. Barely audible, with words unrecognisable to him. It was a deep, low voice, that sounded like the hush of a powerful wave. He tried to force himself to close his mind’s eye but that didn’t stop the wave from growing more powerful with each passing second, crushing into his brain, invading it with despair and helplessness. The words were still indistinguishable, but he just knew, deep inside of him, what they were and who was speaking them. He was all alone to face them, and he almost despaired.
He saw the first white light as a beckoning star in the darkness. Hope, he thought, desperately clinging to it. A single sign of hope in all that blackness.
Then the second appeared, very similar to the first, seemingly detaching itself from it. They approached him, as the rhythm of the crushing wave grew in intensity. With eyes wide-opened with dread and horror, he saw the stars transforming into rings of pure light, pulsating as if they were animated by their own true life, and coming straight at him. He then realised that both rings were pulsating at the rhythm of his own heart, pounding with an unknown terror. Hope dispersed from his heart as he realised these lights were anything but salvation.
They exploded into a blinding light, engulfing him totally, making him gasp as if he was out of breath.
The nausea was becoming worse. The presence was overwhelming… as if coming from inside of him.
The murmur clogging his mind was still intensifying, pervading his thoughts. He desperately tried to close his mind to it.
Keep fighting! Resist! Do not LISTEN! Don’t let yourself be drawn to them!
Why? Why keep fighting?
Scarlet pulled in a short intake of breath. Those words in his mind were not pronounced with what he knew as the Voice of the Mysterons – but with his own voice, as if coming from far, far away, from an intangible, nearly unreachable corner of his mind.
They do not trust me… They think I could turn on them.
He closed his mind’s eyes again, frantically arguing the point, knowing full well to whom the ‘they’ referred.
But that was before… I’m not under the Mysterons’ control anymore. Didn’t I show them I could be trusted?
They planted a bomb in me – they could detonate it at any time…
If I turn on them, they will… Better death than a becoming a Mysteron drone again – The Mysterons can order me to die in their service any time.
So can Spectrum…
Panic was threatening to overcome Scarlet, as he kept fighting to keep control of his own fears, the turmoil brewing inside of him, as the nausea was still mounting and his self-defences were eroding, giving way to doubts, that were slowly instilled into his mind. He struggled frantically, refusing the argument.
The Mysterons are evil – they want to destroy all life on Earth…
Who started the war?
It was all a mistake – a terrible mistake. Now we must suffer the consequences…
Why do I care?
Scarlet’s determination wavered ever so slightly, and he marked a second of hesitation.
Because I’m human?
That was a pathetic argument.
I was created by the Mysterons.
Am I myself or the shell of a man who died weeks ago? I can’t believe that…
Maybe it is my fate to serve the Mysterons…
I can’t believe that…
Who am I?
I am Paul Metcalfe…
I was a Mysteron agent.
Scarlet’s mind rebelled. He knew he shouldn’t listen to this voice – he was unsure if it was his own inner self, trying to argue the point of his existence, or if these doubts presently assaulting him were coming from the Mysterons, trying to break his will, in order to take control of him again. Yes… it was the Mysterons. They wanted to weaken him – and they were enhancing his own doubts about himself, about his life and his whole world in order to obtain that objective.
I am a Spectrum officer…
I am Captain Scarlet.
I am Captain Scarlet.
Why do I resist?
Because I’m human.
I have to believe that.
He struggled again, desperately pulling away from the Voice and the blinding light. He felt pain. Real physical pain, as if his arms were dislocating from his shoulders, and his numbing wrists seemed to crack. He had the impression that something hot was trickling down his arms. He grunted loudly. The beating of his heart increased, as did the rhythm of his rapid breathing, and that awful nausea. He called on every reserve of will and strength he still had within himself to make one last stand of resistance against the invading thoughts threatening to break him.
I can’t resist…
Yes I can! My mind is my own. I MUST believe that.
Why do I continue to fight?
Because I choose to. I can make the choice. I am free. This is the right thing to do. They can’t control me.
They will never control me again.
They are strong… Their commands await.
My will is stronger… I can’t answer. I must NOT answer.
I WILL not surrender!
So hard to resist…
The light exploded again, more intensely, and all thoughts left Scarlet’s mind, as darkness engulfed him yet again and he plummeted completely into it.
* * *
For what seemed like an eternity, Symphony Angel had witnessed with utmost dread the battle Captain Scarlet waged against Captain Black’s attempt to take control of his mind. For most of it, it had been a silent fight, with neither of the opponents saying a word, punctuated only by Scarlet’s laborious gasps and grunts. He was in pain. Whatever Black was doing to his mind, it was hurting him badly. His face was pale, as if he was sick, covered with sweat and contorted with the efforts he was obviously displaying to resist. Gritting his teeth, he was writhing and pulling so hard on his restraints that the metal bands encircling his wrists were cutting deeper into his flesh, and blood had slowly started trickling down his forearms.
He was fighting with a strength born of desperation to escape the horrible fate promised to him by Black – and Symphony, unable to do anything to help him, feared that it was a hopeless battle, as she watched the fight becoming fiercer, sapping Scarlet’s energy as the seconds – the minutes – passed, and he grew obviously weaker.
Symphony’s blood curdled in her veins upon hearing the terrible scream that escaped Captain Scarlet’s throat at the end of the intense session. He then muttered a low groan and collapsed, his restrains keeping him upright.
Only then did Captain Black release his hold on him and back away a step, his eyes gauging the half-conscious man hanging against the mesh fence in front of him. Symphony, only a few feet behind, was also watching, deep worry obvious in her green eyes. Paul… Did those monsters get their hands on you again? She could only imagine how horrible that would be for him if it was the case. Finding himself back within the Mysterons’ clutches probably was his worst fear – and now… she was fearing it had come to pass.
“It is done,” she heard Black say, and the words froze her blood and sent a shiver down her spine. “Contact has been re-established. Free him.”
Hansen came closer to Scarlet and released the shackles, one after the other. The Spectrum officer crumpled to the floor with a loud huff, directly at Black’s feet. He stayed there, breathing hard, apparently too weak to move, his face unseen by the witnesses surrounding him. Symphony swallowed the lump forming in her throat, a faint sob escaping her. Harris had let go of her to take one step forward, and Willard was barely holding her by the arm. All their attention was drawn to the man lying on the floor, slowly starting to get his bearings back.
Black looked down at Scarlet, with the same coldness his eyes had displayed all along. He had no emotion, no second thoughts concerning what he had done. Just the inner certainty that he had served to do his masters’ bidding.
“Get on your feet, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet did try to obey, but obviously, he was still very weak from his experience; his breathing still irregular, he succeeded in raising himself on his hands and knees, with great effort. Black addressed a brief nod to Hansen and the latter crouched down, to grab Scarlet’s arm and pull him up. Slowly, the Spectrum officer rose, his body shivering. His face was still very pale, haggard and covered with sweat, and he was still struggling to stand up straight with Hansen’s help, when Black addressed him again, stepping forward to grab his shoulder.
“Now, you are back under the Mysterons’ control, Captain Scarlet. You will follow the Mysterons’ orders. As you were meant to. You know what you must do.”
What followed next happened very fast. As he was leaning against Hansen and straightening up, Scarlet’s hand suddenly shot straight out and hit the Mysteron’s throat with a forceful karate jab, making him wheeze and stumble backward. Then Scarlet grabbed Black’s jacket with both hands, and jerked his shoulders forward, striking him with a vigorous headbutt that took Black completely by surprise and sent him reeling onto the floor. Half stunned by the attack, his nose bleeding, Black looked up, to stare at Scarlet. The latter was still staggering on his feet, but managed to look down at Black with fierceness and defiance all too obvious on his face.
“Drop dead, you bastard!” Scarlet yelled in a strained voice.
He still felt nauseous, and his mind was still reeling from the mind torture he had suffered and the effort he had just displayed – okay, a HEADBUTT wasn’t REALLY the best of ideas under the circumstances… – but he could still detect the total surprise in Black’s eyes – as well as another emotion. They weren’t as cold as they had been before. They seemed… fearful…
It was only a brief observation, as a second later, Scarlet saw Harris diving on him like a raging bull. The Mysteron tackled him furiously, pushing him against the meshed surface behind him, while trying to subdue him. At the same moment, Willard had raised his gun, aiming it at Scarlet, completely dismissing Symphony.
It was a mistake that the young woman quickly used to her advantage. Grabbing Willard’s fist, her hand swiftly pushed his arm upward, forcing his shot to go wide, and the bullet lost itself in the ceiling. In the fraction of a second that followed, her kneecap had risen to hit Willard’s groin with force, forcing his knees to bend and his fingers to release the butt of the gun that she took effortlessly. Symphony Angel wasn’t a woman to do things by halves when on a job: as soon as the weapon had changed hands, she used it – before he could get his bearings back, she shot the half-kneeling Willard between the eyes with one clean shot, without batting an eyelid, almost dispassionately.
She briefly watched as the Mysteronised doctor fell on his back, like a rag doll, then turned her immediate attention to the fight in which Scarlet was involved. She squinted her eyes as she raised the gun, trying to get a shot at Harris, but she hesitated; she was a good shot, but the battle was just too confused for her to be sure of her aim; she might hit Scarlet instead of the Mysteron agent.
Black was slowly getting back on his feet, wiping his bleeding nose, when Scarlet, in a supreme effort, finally managed to pull free from Harris. He violently pushed him into Black’s path, momentarily throwing both of them off, stunning Black and sending him back on the floor, while Harris struggled to keep on his feet. Scarlet quickly turned in Symphony’s direction; she was stunned to see how sick he looked.
“Symphony!” He threw something at her, and instinctively, she caught it with her free hand. She only glanced briefly at the contents of her hand, but she had already guessed it was the key that Scarlet must have taken from Harris. She raised her eyes and met Scarlet’s wary but definitely human gaze. “Go! Shut down the reactor!”
Symphony’s slight moment of doubt and hesitation disappeared instantly at that order. Her heart filled with relief that Scarlet was still himself and somehow had successfully resisted the Mysterons’ attempt to take him back. She turned on her heels and ran toward the large main control console, trying to ignore the fact that Scarlet had stayed behind to cover her – and was presently fighting off the attack of both Harris and Hansen. Each of them had a task to accomplish, and hers was of the utmost importance.
She stood in front of the console and quickly assessed it. She wasn’t an expert, but she had watched Black’s action very closely earlier, when he had entered the sequential commands he needed to initiate the operation, so she had a good idea of what needed to be done.
Except… According to what she was reading, the command was accessible after entering a numeric code. One that she didn’t know. And she also had to remove the isotope from its compartment in the reactor before shutting down the whole system and stopping the reaction – or whatever she would do would be useless. She looked up at the temperature gauge. The line had crossed the whole of the yellow section and was now starting to enter the orange one. The words ‘Temperature increasing to danger level – caution’ was displayed on the monitor overhead.
Okay, first things first then. I’ll worry about the shutting down later. It wasn’t as if she had any time to spare to study this panel too closely.
She pressed the command sequence and moved in front of the lead-encased reactor, watching expectantly as the small compartment opened. She waited nervously as the isotope rose from it – too slowly, for Symphony’s taste. When it finally came into a stop, she eagerly reached for the isotope and snapped it out of its stand. A series of indicators died out on the panel and Symphony breathed a sigh of relief.
One step done. Now to shut down the reactor.
Quickly coming back in front of the central controls, she glanced over her shoulder. Scarlet had his hands full fighting off Hansen and Harris; he was so busy that he had not noticed Black finally getting back to his feet and sneaking up on him from behind, holding a gun. Symphony felt her heart miss a beat when she saw him raising the weapon high. “Captain! Look out!”
To her dismay, her call arrived too late: the butt of Black’s gun violently crashed down on Scarlet’s head and he sank to his knees, with a grimace and a loud groan. With a brief last glance at the fallen captain, the Mysteron agents turned their attention to Symphony. While both Harris and Hansen were leaning over the half-stunned Scarlet, pulling his arms behind his back and holding him down, Black started walking toward the Angel pilot, with a decided step. Alarmed, she briefly looked down at the panel in front of her, and slammed a protruding red button. The Plexiglas bars started descending between her and the others. Black quickened his pace; but he arrived too late, just as the bars snapped into place, preventing him from reaching Symphony.
She only glanced once at him before turning to the panel, intent on finding a way to stop the nuclear reaction now threatening to begin.
She realised she didn’t quite know what to do next…
She turned on her heels. Black was standing just on the other side of the bars and was watching her intently; he had his gun in his hand, but held it down by his side. Yet, she could feel the inherent threat emanating from him. She tried to ignore him and turned again toward the controls.
“You can’t find the right sequence to stop the reaction. Open that door.”
She turned a fierce glance at Black. Like Hell I will…Did Black think her so stupid?
Behind Black, she could see Hansen and Harris forcing Scarlet to his feet and dragging him forward. He still looked stunned, weakened by his recent experience, the nauseating Mysterons’ presence and the knock he had sustained to the head. A new patch of blood was staining the collar of his shirt. Yet, he was still struggling to break free from his opponents’ clutches.
He was pushed down at Black’s feet and forcibly held there; coldly, Black cocked his gun, and pointed it at Scarlet. “Open the door, or I’ll kill him where he is.”
Symphony shivered; still resisting and trying to get up onto his knees, Scarlet raised furious eyes toward Black, before glancing at Symphony. “DON’T give in!” A violent blow to the back of his head silenced him and made him groan; he fell to the floor. Symphony stiffened; she addressed an outraged look at Black.
Scarlet was roughly pulled to his knees and a strong forearm suddenly pressed against his throat, while a hand pushed against the back of his head. He gasped, nearly strangling in the strong hold, and still fighting to free himself. His arms were firmly held behind his back, his wrists twisted almost to breaking point. He heard the voice of Harris hiss close to his ear, “Shut up, Earthman!”
“You don’t know how to choose your hostages, Black,” Symphony said swiftly, trying to render her voice as cold as possible. “You can’t kill him…” It was hard trying to sound callous about it. Knowing that Scarlet was indestructible and would likely revive after being struck by a bullet was one thing. But looking on as he was killed in front of her eyes, because she refused to obey, was quite another. Yet, it didn’t look as if she had any choice but to refuse. She was just hoping that Black wouldn’t see how uncomfortable the situation was for her. The fact that Scarlet chuckled despite himself at her remark helped comfort her in her position.
“You always were a poor strategist, Conrad…” he said under his breath.
Black pressed his gun against Scarlet’s temple. The latter gritted his teeth. “I can injure him badly…” Black declared, still looking coldly at Symphony. She was glaring at him fixedly, trying not to show any of the emotions that were going through her mind. Then, as if he had reconsidered his options, Black raised his gun and aimed it at Symphony. “…Or I can shoot you.”
She stiffened. Black was a good shot; he couldn’t miss her at this distance. She had no doubt he would pull the trigger, but she had no intention of surrendering to his threats and allowing him access to the reactor to replace the isotope. She nervously and briefly glanced at the still increasing temperature gauge. The line was halfway into the orange section… There was little time left. At least, she reasoned, now that the isotope had been removed, when the reactor overheated, the lead case would be sufficient to contain the full strength of the explosion. The Culver Centre would be obliterated, of course – and she’d probably die – and there would be fairly extensive damage to the immediate area. But the Mysterons would have failed to destroy the larger region of Wessex, and countless other lives would be saved.
“Open that door and you’ll live. Or you’ll die – and we will enter anyway.”
Symphony blinked. Now what was that supposed to mean? Her eyes were set on the gun aimed at her; Black’s hand was still, not the slightest shudder in it – and the cold expression on his features left little doubt that he would indeed kill her. To what purpose, she considered? For revenge? She suddenly contemplated, in a fraction of a second, that he might kill her, and that she would be recreated as a Mysteron agent for the sole aim of putting the isotope back from where she had taken it. She shivered with horror at the thought; she would become the Mysterons’ instrument of vengeance, and there would be NOTHING she would be able to do to prevent it.
“Conrad…” The protest emerging from Scarlet died on his lips when Harris tightened his hold on his throat. “Don’t hurt her…” he managed to finish in a strangled groan. His eyes were looking straight at Symphony, with obvious worry and distress.
“I’m giving you one chance, Symphony Angel.”
That sounded suspiciously like what Black had told her, only a few days ago, when he had put her in that SPV and sent her as a decoy to make good his escape. He had used her then, for his own purposes. It wasn’t a generous gesture, she knew that – just as she knew he would not be magnanimous this time either.
Symphony’s eyes briefly fell on the still obviously concerned Scarlet, then moved to stare at the control panel, where the key was still inserted into its lock. Then she noticed the electronic waste incinerator unit embedded in the front of the console. A solution instantly imposed itself to her mind; she knew exactly what to do.
She casually put the isotope down on top of the console, leaving her hand to rest next to the disposal unit control button; then she turned to Black once again, her eyes burning with defiance, as her other hand grabbed the key and removed it from the lock. She kept it inside her hand, as if to protect it from the Mysteron agents’ view. Black held out his hand in a demanding gesture. Perhaps he was thinking she would give him the key so he could open the barred door himself?
He was deadly mistaken.
“We played this game once before, Captain Black,” Symphony remarked icily. She showed her hand, the plastic head of the key protruding from it, a tiny metal part of it shining in a almost tantalising way. “Do you think I would give in to your demands?”
“Give me that key or…”
“…You’ll shoot me? Right…” She pressed the small button, opening the waste disposal, and then, with one swift movement, tossed the key into the unit. The door closed and a faint humming made itself heard. Black watched the red light over the machine, announcing that the object tossed into it was being disposed of. No emotion appeared on his face as the light turned green and he turned to face Symphony again. She was looking at him, her chin up, still standing defiantly. “Go ahead,” she challenged. “Like Captain Scarlet said earlier… drop dead.”
A heavy silence followed her gesture and words. Scarlet had opened his eyes wide with amazement at what Symphony had dared to do. He felt proud, and at the same time terribly concerned about what would happen next. He watched apprehensively as Black lowered the gun. Nothing seemed to pass through the former Spectrum agent’s facial expression, except for some kind of a ominous flash in his eyes. He made one step forward towards the bars separating him from Symphony and stopped. Scarlet struggled again, his eyes riveted on Black, his concern growing.
Through the distance separating them, Back was looking straight into Symphony’s composed expression. She stayed where she was, not moving, staring back with a brave façade. “Without the key, you won’t be able to stop the meltdown.” That was a statement, more than anything else.
“And without it, you won’t be able to enter or to insert the isotope back into the reactor,” Symphony answered back sharply. “The reactor may still explode – but the damage will be considerably less.”
“You are trapped. You sacrifice yourself needlessly.”
“Perhaps. But if this is the price to pay to stop you… No matter what you do, your masters’ plans won’t succeed now. You lost this round.”
Black was still looking straight at Symphony, his lips pinched. Briefly, they were taken back a couple of years into the past, during an exercise assignment – where Black had played the part of the enemy agent on the loose, challenging all the recruits under his charge to catch him. Symphony had found herself facing his gun – daring him to shoot her, without even knowing it was loaded with blanks, or what his reaction would be. The situation now was somehow similar – and yet, so deadly different. Black shook his head briefly. “This isn’t a game anymore, Symphony.”
Was it Symphony’s imagination? She thought his tone had something melancholic in it…
He raised his gun. Symphony’s eyes widened. “This is war, and I play to win.”
The next second, his index finger had pulled the trigger. The single detonation echoed loudly into the large room.
With a brief and muffled cry, Symphony swivelled under the violent impact and crashed roughly onto the floor.
* * *
The first call to the office of Alan Kierney being fruitless, Rhapsody Angel had tried to reach the man at his home in Stourford, to learn from his wife that he had not come back from work yet, and that, in all probability, he was still at the office – where he would often stay late to work. However, a further call to the Culver Centre still remained unanswered. Considering the events of the day, it was conceivable that Kierney wasn’t that eager to talk to anyone – especially Spectrum – so he could be avoiding answering the phone. Neither Rhapsody nor Lieutenant Green had reason to believe that Kierney’s wife had lied about her husband’s whereabouts. So the two Spectrum agents had decided to check for themselves if he still was at the Centre.
Green and Rhapsody presented their Spectrum passes at the gates of the Culver Atomic Centre and entered the premises without question from the guards at the entrance. Then Green drove the car to the almost empty parking lot and parked next to the only luxury car presently there. A check on its license plate indicated that it was Alan Kierney’s. They had confirmation that the director was still at the Centre, probably in his office.
They left their car there and entered the principal building. It was deserted that evening, much quieter than it had been earlier in the day, when they had come for the first time. Almost all the workers had gone back home, and only a handful of security guards were now left to make sure the place was secure.
“It’s so silent, it’s creepy,” Green noted, addressing Rhapsody, as their steps echoed down the darkened corridor they had taken to access Kierney’s office.
“Yes,” she agreed with a brief nod. “It’s exactly like walking in a tomb.”
They had reached the door leading to Kierney’s office. The door was closed, but there was a faint light inside. It seemed that Kierney was there all right. Rhapsody knocked quietly on the door.
“Mr Kierney?” Receiving no answer, she tried the handle; it turned in her hand, so she pushed it. “Mr Kierney?” she called again, glancing about. “It’s Lieutenant Green and Rhapsody Angel…”
She opened her eyes wide when she almost immediately found the man, lying on the floor next to his desk, in a pool of blood. Hurriedly, with an impending sense of doom, both Spectrum agents entered and rushed to Kierney. They gently turned him on his back, to find the gaping hole in his chest.
“He’s been shot, nearly point-blank range,” Rhapsody said urgently.
“You were right about a tomb earlier,” Green muttered dryly.
Rhapsody checked for a pulse on Kierney’s neck and frowned. “My God, he’s still alive!” She barely had said the words when Kierney gave a low moan, and his lips started moving slightly. Green rounded the desk to reach for the phone. “I’m calling for an ambulance – and security. Then I’m contacting the colonel. There’s something going on in here – and I would bet my next pay it has something to do with the Mysterons.”
Rhapsody didn’t take the bet. She busied herself to make Kierney comfortable, putting a cushion under his head and trying to staunch the flow of blood pouring from his wound.
“Hang on, Mr Kierney. Help is on the way.” He moaned louder, hearing the gentle voice. Then he muttered something, so faintly that Rhapsody had to lean her ear over his lips to make out what he was saying. He was struggling to speak, and the words were stumbling hesitantly out of his mouth, pronounced with great difficulty.
“Freeze!” The call from the door made both Rhapsody and Green look up. A man in a security guard’s uniform was standing in the doorway, brandishing a pistol in their direction. He looked a little taken aback to find both of them there, with Rhapsody leaning over the wounded director. “What happened here?” he demanded angrily. “What have you done to Mr Kierney?”
“Oh, be serious!” Green called sternly. “We’re Spectrum officers and we just found him…” He held out his ID card. The guard, still warily keeping his gun aimed at the young black man, approached cautiously to take a look. Green raised a brow. “I’ve got the hospital on the line and I’m asking for an ambulance. You want me to hang up?”
“Spectrum? Yes, I was told by security at the entrance that you were coming here… But…” He finally lowered his gun and, with eyes filled with obvious shock, looked down at Kierney, lying on the floor. “What happened to Mr Kierney? Who did that to him?”
“He just said a name,” Rhapsody answered. She was still listening intently to what Kierney was trying to tell her. She raised inquiring eyes toward the guard. “…Harris…”
“HARRIS?” the guard repeated, obviously not believing his ears. “No, you got to be mistaken. Harris would never…”
“H-Harris…” Kierney then repeated, his voice quivering but clearer than before. “He… he shot me…”
“I can’t believe this,” murmured the guard.
“Quiet!” Rhapsody enjoined him. “Mr Kierney, what did Harris want? Where is he now? Do you know?”
“Key… Key to the reactor…”
“… Test reactor… Key for… for controls…”
“The reactor at Aldermaston?”
“N-no…” Kierney shook his head to the negative. He was shivering violently, in obvious shock. “H-here… the test reactor here…”
“Oh, Hell… I knew there was something wrong. Lieutenant, you’d better hurry with that call to the colonel.”
“S.I.G.,” Green replied. His call for the ambulance finished, he was already using his communicator.
Rhapsody shot to her feet and walked towards the guard who was still looking down with incredulity at Kierney. “Where’s that test reactor?”
“I-I’m sorry, ma’am,” the guard said hesitantly, surprised by Rhapsody’s outburst. “That’s a restricted area, and…”
“If you don’t cooperate with Spectrum, you may very well be charged as an accessory to a terrorist crime,” the young woman snapped at him in a stern voice. “You WILL tell me WHERE that reactor is, and then you will gather a team of your colleagues to escort me there RIGHT NOW! Every minute counts, mister. We have to STOP a disaster such as you can’t begin to imagine from happening!”
Impressed despite himself with Rhapsody’s authoritative tone, the guard nervously nodded his agreement. He didn’t know how much truth there was in the Spectrum agent’s assertion, but she sure as Hell sounded serious enough… and definitely angry.
And he didn’t want to cross her any more than he already had.
Symphony’s limp body had barely reached the floor and the echo of the shot from Captain Black’s gun was still echoing when a cry of utmost rage rose from Scarlet’s throat. Somehow, his strength multiplied tenfold, and he finally broke free of the hands now struggling to keep him down. His right hand grabbed Harris’s gun in a vice-like hold and twisted the hand holding it, almost effortlessly, just as the Mysteron was pulling the trigger. The bullet meant to strike Scarlet missed him by a hair, the powder burning the skin of his neck, and, at point blank range, struck Hansen, tearing half of his face away. In the fraction of a second that followed, the still fury-driven Scarlet wrapped his arms around Harris’s neck and snapped it in a sickening crunch. As the two Mysteron agents slumped to the floor, dead, Scarlet was rising to his feet, with the full intention of throwing himself at Black.
Disposing of both Harris and Hansen had taken him barely a few seconds, but Black had already turned on his heels and taken aim. Scarlet had but two paces left to reach him when the first bullet caught him in the left thigh, halting his furious charge. Unable to stand, he was already falling forward, when the second bullet hit his hip. He hit the floor, and was lying on his back, grimacing with pain, and clutching his heavily bleeding thigh when Black casually walked the remaining distance between them…
And put a third bullet in his right leg.
Scarlet cried out in pain and frustration. He was pinned to the floor, bleeding and unable to rise, with Black standing over him, his gun trained on him, ready to pull the trigger at any moment. There still wasn’t any emotion apparent on the former Spectrum officer’s face as he looked down at Scarlet, seemingly considering whether to shoot or not.
Blinded by hate and pain, Scarlet turned his eyes toward the body of Symphony, lying face down on the floor, on the other side of the bars. He could see a patch of blood starting to form underneath her, and slowly enlarging. “How could you?!” he raged addressing Black. “How could you shoot her like that? She wasn’t any threat to you! What kind of sick satisfaction did it give you?”
“This is war, Captain. She knew the risks of her trade. As do you.” As Scarlet was trying to raise, albeit unsuccessfully, Black pressed his foot to his wounded hip and pushed him down; he ignored the muffled imprecation Scarlet directed at him and looked around at the dead Mysteron agents surrounding them. “Impressive display of strength, Captain Scarlet,” he said in a casual and dispassionate tone. “You would have made a great asset to the Mysterons in this war against Earth…”
“GO TO HELL!” Scarlet barked, surmounting the pain he was enduring. His eyes momentarily left Symphony to stare up with hate at Black, beads of sweat covering his face. He felt hurt and sick at the same time. “I SWEAR to you, Turner, when I get my hands on you…”
“You were created by the Mysterons,” Black continued, seemingly not hearing Scarlet’s threat. “How it is they were unable to re-establish contact with you?”
“Don’t you GET IT?” Scarlet yelled with frustration, on the verge of losing his senses against the pressure on his open wound. He bit his lip, grunting. “There’s NOTHING left for them to make contact WITH! I am NOT one of those droning replicates they create! I have my OWN FREE WILL!”
There was a short moment of silence, during which Black seemed to look thoughtfully down at his downed opponent. They held each other’s gaze, Scarlet’s flashing with obvious disgust and antagonism, his teeth clenched tightly. If he had had the chance to jump at Black’s throat, no doubt he would have done it. When he shifted ever so slightly, Black pressed his foot harder against the officer’s wounded hip to force him to stay put. A loud groan escaped Scarlet’s throat, and he fought hard to cling to consciousness. He could see Black’s expression through a haze – and his voice seemed to come from farther away.
“Indeed, your will is strong, Captain Scarlet. And the powers you have retained from your experience make you a dangerous foe for the Mysterons. You shall be destroyed.”
Realising Scarlet was within an inch of losing his senses before being able to hear all he had to say, Black removed his foot; the Spectrum officer gasped with relief at the release of pressure. The pain continued, though, and his lower limbs were numb.
“Because of the Angel’s interference, the ultimate aim for this mission may be lost for the Mysterons,” Black continued in his dolorous tone. “Spectrum has succeeded in saving Wessex. But the reactor will still explode. And I doubt, Captain Scarlet, that you will survive this.” He moved away from his victim, keeping his eyes and gun on him. Scarlet followed him with his gaze, barely able to move from his spot, as Black was backing away toward the exit. “You are welcome to try and escape,” Black continued. “But wounded as you are, you probably won’t get far.”
“We will meet again, Black!” Scarlet promised fiercely. “And I’ll make you pay… For everything you’ve done. To me, to everyone… To Symphony...” His voice broke as he turned his gaze to the downed Angel pilot lying in her blood on the other side of the bars. He thought he saw a faint movement of her arm. He blinked; surely, he had dreamt…
“The future will tell us if you’re right in your statement. Good bye, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet’s head shot back in the direction of where he had seen Black last; the former Spectrum officer had disappeared from his view, and the door leading out of the room was slowly sliding closed. Scarlet was able to hear the echo of hurried footsteps decreasing in the distance. The sound died out when the door slid closed. Scarlet looked around. He was alone, in the room, with three dead Mysteron agents, abandoned by their masters after their failed mission…
… And Symphony.
“Symphony!” he rasped. His attention returned beyond the bars where Symphony lay. He thought he had seen her move earlier. That meant she could be alive… He couldn’t see any movement now.
“Symphony!” he called again, his voice stronger, hoping that his assumption was right. “Please, wake up! Answer me!”
Getting to his feet was nothing short of a torture, with his two legs barely responding to his commands; yet, he tried, gritting his teeth under the renewed pain. He couldn’t stay up very long; the first tentative steps he made toward Symphony sent him falling forward. He fell against the bars, gasping, and hung on to them, as he sank to his knees. Nearly blinded by pain and salty sweat, his eyes were riveted on Symphony’s motionless form.
“Symphony!” he bellowed desperately at the top of his lungs. “Karen, for God’s sake, wake up!”
He was starting to believe he had imagined things earlier and despair started to fill his heart at the realisation that Symphony was really dead, when he heard a faint moan from the young woman. He watched with renewed expectation. He saw her moving and trying to rise from her spot. She succeeded in rolling to one side; he saw her beautiful face, deadly pale, deformed into a painful frown, and covered with sweat that was matting her hair on her brow. The grimace accentuated when her right hand reached for her side, just under the right breast, where blood was pouring profusely. Scarlet shivered at the sight of the wound. She was badly injured.
“Karen,” he said, his voice tainted with a strange mix of joy and deep worry, almost stunned to realise he had been right. “You’re alive…”
“Just…” she croaked, glancing with concern at her wound. She looked at Scarlet, noticed the expression of distress and helplessness on his features, and the bars separating them. She blinked several times, trying to get her mind and vision in focus, searching around for the control panel.
She was lying just at its foot. Grunting at the effort, she rose to her knees, hauling herself up on the console. Once she reached the controls, her hand produced a key; Scarlet’s eyes opened wide with astonishment when he recognised the one she had supposedly thrown into the waste disposal.
She struggled to insert it into the lock, turned it and pushed the button. The bars started to rise toward the ceiling; Scarlet didn’t wait to pass underneath them, as soon as there was enough space; as quickly as his wounds would allow him, he crawled the distance separating him from the young Angel pilot sprawled against the console, nearly out of strength. He reached her as she was slowly sliding back to the floor.
“Karen!” He turned her on her back and she gasped. Her closed eyes fluttered and she looked up at him. “You had the key…” he whispered, almost unbelieving. “I thought… you had destroyed it…”
“Do you think I’m… stupid?” She gave a faint smile. “It was the car key… Black bought it, right?”
“He bought it all right,” Scarlet said with a smile of his own, totally impressed by the young woman’s initiative and dedication. He frowned when he saw her grimace of pain. “Karen…”
“Can’t stop the reactor…” she whimpered, looking toward the console. “I don’t know the sequence…”
Scarlet looked up to the gauge monitor. The indicator was now well into the red zone. The words ‘Critical condition’ were flashing on the screen overhead. There wasn’t much time left, before everything blew up around them. He had to do something to stop it… But how?
He frowned deeply, as something came nagging at him from the deep recesses of his mind.
A series of odd numbers… Which were now flashing in quick succession… seemingly coming out of nowhere…
Could it be…? No, it was impossible…
And yet… what other meaning could those numbers have?
It could very well be their last chance.
“I… think I know it,” he murmured in answer to Symphony’s last remark.
Symphony addressed him a questioning frown, wondering how he could know the sequence. She didn’t ask and simply watched with anguish as he raised himself to his knees and stood in front of the controls.
Keeping himself upright and grimacing under the effort imposed on his wounded legs, Scarlet lifted feverish eyes, and looked up again to the displayed message on the monitor and on the gauge. Temperature was still rising toward its ultimate goal. There was a fair chance he could be wrong, he reflected apprehensively. That the Mysterons had again been playing with him, deceiving his mind… But what did he have to lose?
They were minutes away from death.
He closed his eyes and concentrated; he searched through his mind, trying to get a grasp on that elusive memory, amongst his most recent ones, pushing away all outside thoughts, trying to dismiss all distraction.
By trying to reach for his mind, to bring him back into their grasp, the Mysterons had opened themselves to him through Black – or was it Black’s mind he had been in contact with? Amidst the coldness, he had seen nothing – except now there was that series of numbers, apparently without any meaning. He didn’t know where exactly they could be coming from, but he could only suppose that, unknowingly, the enemy had left, lingering in his mind, the key to defuse the present situation. Or that they hadn’t anticipated that he would ultimately break free to use that key.
Either way, he had to use it to his advantage.
He just had to remember them correctly now…
They appeared in his mind’s eye, at first flashing through a thick haze; they became more precise after a moment. There were nine numbers. With the assurance that they were the right sequence he needed, Scarlet started typing them. At the end of the sequence, he hit the enter button. He looked up to the monitor.
For seconds, it seemed as if nothing had happened. The ‘critical condition’ message was still flashing ominously. Then it stopped. And with it, the moving indicator on the gauge.
Slowly, it started diminishing. The message changed on the monitor.
‘Temperature decreasing toward normal. Danger prevented. Reactor shutting down.’
Scarlet blew a deep sigh; strength left his legs and he allowed himself to slowly slide to the floor, right next to Symphony, who was looking straight at him with obvious confusion on her face.
“You did it,” she said in a near whisper. “How…?”
“Never mind how for now…” Scarlet moved to her side and took her up, resting her head against his shoulder. She grimaced under the stress imposed on her wound. Scarlet assessed it quickly; it was still bleeding, and she was threatening to bleed to death. “Hold on…” He pressed his palm firmly against the open wound, staunching the flow of blood. She gasped in pain; Scarlet addressed her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to hurt you. And I’m not trying to be too friendly with you either. I have to keep the blood in…”
She blinked, and shook her head in acknowledgment. Her face was showered with sweat, and she was obviously in terrible pain. Scarlet was looking down at her, trying to present a reassuring façade.
“Karen, what you did… it was incredibly courageous…”
“It was incredibly stupid…” she groaned. “…but what else could I do? I was so afraid… that I would be Mysteronised and be forced to do what they wanted…” She weakly lifted her hand and grazed Scarlet’s cheek, offering a very faint smile. “I’m glad you were able to resist them… That must have been terrible… You looked in so much pain…” She groaned, her hand falling to her side, then she laid her hand over his as it pressed against her wound. “He isn’t Conrad, you know?”
Scarlet gave an almost imperceptible nod. “No,” he admitted in a very low tone. “He wouldn’t have shot you…”
“He shot you too… You look fit to fall…”
“I’ll be all right… But you… you have to stay calm…”
Symphony coughed, and that sent a shooting pain through her body; Scarlet felt the blood rushing through the wound and pressed his palm firmer. The young woman grimaced again. “Ouch… Now that hurts…”
“Don’t try to talk,” Scarlet urged her. “You need your rest… I’ll get you some help… somehow…” He didn’t quite know how he would do it, actually. He couldn’t leave Symphony. He couldn’t even remove his hand from her wound without leaving her to bleed to death. He felt weak himself, from his own loss of blood. He didn’t feel in as much pain as previously. He felt rather numb, feverish – in shock, obviously. It wouldn’t take much for him to give in and let unconsciousness take hold of him. But he wouldn’t allow it. He knew he had to hold on, for Symphony’s sake. As long as he needed to.
He held her close to him, comforting her, shielding her shivering body with his own, trying to pass to her what little was left of his own warmth. God, she was so light… Her heart was beating against his chest, regularly, if somewhat quickly. She was afraid. She whimpered, closing her eyes, and leaning against his shoulder. “Paul… If … I die… would you tell Adam…”
“I will tell nothing to Adam that you won’t tell him yourself,” he cut in suddenly, and he was almost surprised by the sudden strength of his response. “I won’t let you die, little sister… I promise you that.”
Symphony felt so tired, but she blinked again, this time in surprise, as Scarlet’s choice of words registered in her mind.
“I always wanted to have a big brother…” she slurred weakly.
“Well, we are so much alike, we could be siblings…” Scarlet replied in a nervous chuckle, stroking Symphony’s damp hair. He noticed she was about to lose consciousness. “Hang on in there, Karen … You hear me?”
She nodded weakly, her eyes still closed, her head so heavy. His mind desperately seeking a solution, Scarlet’s head suddenly rose in alarm when he heard hurried footsteps approaching the closed door. He looked with apprehension as it began to slide open, and hope flared up in his heart as he saw Rhapsody Angel, followed by four security guards from the Culver Atomic Centre, enter into the room hurriedly, guns drawn and looking around in dismay at the bodies lying on the floor and the two people prostrated in front of the reactor. Rhapsody motioned sternly in direction of the three dead bodies.
“Keep your eyes on these ones and if they move, you shoot!”
“But they’re already dead…” one of the guards started to protest.
“Don’t argue with Spectrum, mister!”
The guard looked at her as if she was out of her mind, and muttered something; she ignored him – the important thing being that he was following her instructions, and was now standing guard over the dead Mysterons. Without so much as slowing her pace, Rhapsody approached Scarlet and Symphony, concern splattered on her face, another guard from Culver in tow. She had to be blind not to notice the blood surrounding them, and the sorry state in which both were. She shivered.
“Call an ambulance!” Scarlet shouted to her, his voice weak and cracked. The demand was unnecessary, as Rhapsody didn’t need any incentive, and had already taken her personal communicator out to call Lieutenant Green and urge him to call for medical help. Scarlet leaned toward Symphony, cradling her closer to him, in a protective way. “Don’t you dare leave me, Karen… You’re going to be all right soon… But you’ve got to hang in there… You hear me? You’re going to be all right…”
Symphony heard his voice, filled with concern, through a deepening mist, as if it was coming from far, far away. She could hear his comforting heartbeat against her ear, beating strongly and wildly over the fear he was feeling for her. She gave the faintest of nods in answer to his request. She wasn’t about to give up. Not after they had beaten the Mysterons at their own game. She wouldn’t give them that satisfaction…
That was the last thought in her mind, as she slowly drifted into sleep, unable to keep awake much longer.
Any comments? You can e-mail them to the Spectrum Headquarters site