A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
It was a peaceful awakening.
Everything around was so quiet, the light dimmed so it would not hurt her still-sensitive eyes, the bed so very comfortable and cool underneath her. The only thing Symphony really had to complain about was that foul and dry taste in her mouth, and the terrible thirst…
… And the stiffness in her side that flared up the second she tried to move a little too quickly in order to raise herself from where she was lying. She gave a low grunt and let her head fall back heavily onto the pillow.
“Easy now,” a very recognisable voice told her softly. “Take it slow. Don’t try to move.” She heard a low, sympathetic chuckle. “Believe me, you want to take it easy…”
She squinted her eyes and saw a tall silhouette, clad in the familiar red uniform, standing right next to the bed, looking down at her with a fond expression in his eyes and a thin smile on his lips. She smiled in turn, very weakly. “Hey, ‘big brother’,” she said in a slurred voice.
“Hey,” Captain Scarlet whispered in turn, reaching for her hand and squeezing it warmly. “Good to see you’re getting better, ‘Little Sister’.”
“If only I wasn’t so thirsty,” she croaked.
Scarlet picked up a drinking cup from the table next to the bed and presented it to Symphony. He helped the young woman raise her head and she sipped cool water through the straw. When she finally finished, she let her head fall back onto the pillow, and gave a satisfied sigh. She looked around, as Scarlet put the cup back onto the table.
“I’m on Cloudbase?” she asked in a weak voice.
Scarlet nodded. “We’ve been rather worried about you, for the past few days, you know?”
“How long was I…?” She left the rest hanging. Scarlet didn’t need her to say any more to understand the question, anyway. He shook his head and started to speak quietly:
“You were taken to the Culver Hospital five days ago, where they performed surgery on you. They kept you there for a couple of days before they deemed you stabilised enough to be transported here by medicopter. You’ve been asleep ever since – waking up briefly yesterday. From then on, Doctor Fawn told us you were going to make a full recovery. You don’t know how glad we were to hear that.” He paused a short moment, to pull a chair close to the bed; he sat down and looked levelly into Symphony’s eyes. “We took turns at your bedside. All of us. The Angels, Lieutenant Green, the other Captains… Blue, of course, and I tell you, it was difficult for me to tear him away! Even the colonel came to see how you were doing.”
“The colonel…?” Symphony murmured, raising a brow. “He was worried about me?”
Scarlet smiled, nodding again. “He called your mother the day after you were brought back here. At first, she was angry he had not called her as soon as you were injured. Then she insisted on coming here – and the colonel agreed.”
“My mother is here?” This time, the surprise made Symphony try to rise from the bed, but she was still so weak, she barely was able to lift her head and shoulders off the pillow. She felt an aching twinge pulling her down. Scarlet gently pushed her back.
“Easy… You don’t want to pop your pretty stitches, do you?”
“I doubt they’re that pretty,” she mumbled. “Paul… my mother? When did she arrive here?”
“Yesterday morning. She sat with you for hours. She only left when Fawn confirmed you were going to be all right. She looked so tired, that the colonel nearly ordered her to confinement in the V.I.P. suite…” He chuckled. “From what I could judge of your mother, she’s not the kind of woman even he would be able to order around. And of course, that didn’t stop her coming back here time and time again.”
“Great,” Symphony sighed tiredly. “My mom clashing with the colonel… I can just see it.” Something of what Scarlet had just said seemed to suddenly register in her mind. “He gave her the V.I.P. suite? Isn’t that like… you know… reserved for important people like… the World President or something?”
“Maybe the colonel considered that your mother was entitled to the honour? It’s not everyone who can stand up to him. From what I heard from Green – when she insisted on coming here, she… wouldn’t accept any compromise.”
“That’s my mom,” Symphony said with a faint, weak smile.
“She’s quite a lady. And her daughter takes after her quite a bit. And the colonel recognises that, too.”
“Paul… I made a mess of things, didn’t I?”
Scarlet shook his head at that remark. “Oh no, Karen… You can hardly say that. What you did – it was truly incredible. That took enormous courage – and a lot of initiative. Thinking of swapping the keys like you did… You really tricked them all. And me at the same time, I must admit,” he added with a faint smile.
“I put myself in danger… And people worried about me…”
“Yes, that’s true. But we’re also very proud of you. That was a true act of bravery.” Scarlet gently squeezed the young woman’s hand. “You saved the day, by doing what you did.”
“I only did half of the job. You were there to shut down the reactor.” She frowned. “How did you know the sequence you needed to do it?”
Scarlet sighed. “Well… that had something to do with what Black did to me – when he tried to regain control of me for the Mysterons. He failed, of course, but – it left something in my mind. I wish it was easy to explain, Karen… But the numbers were part of that something. I just – had to concentrate to reach it.”
“What else did it leave?” Symphony asked. “Paul, I was so worried for you. You looked like you were in so much pain… What else… did you see?”
Scarlet’s expression became pensive. “It left only impressions,” he said in a low but calm tone. “Anger, coldness, despair, loneliness, even fear… I don’t even know if they were mine, the Mysterons’ or Black’s. But it was scary and that nearly got to me. As for what I could see… Darkness. I could see only total darkness, except for two white rings of flashing lights… No colours at all… as if it was totally absent.”
Symphony stared at him with a renewed furrowed brow. “Are you telling me… that the Mysterons are colour-blind?”
Scarlet chuckled openly. “Careful. Mind what you say… or the rumours will start spreading that Spectrum has been chosen to fight the Mysterons because they can’t distinguish colours…” Symphony smiled a very faint smile and he shook his head again, as he stood up. “I know, I still have to work on my sense of humour…”
“I was just thinking… that it’s good to see you back in uniform,” Symphony replied. “You decided to stay with us, then?”
Scarlet shrugged, his fingers fidgeting with his cap. “I reckoned someone had to be around… and keep an eye on you to make sure you stay out of trouble. That applies to all of you.”
“Yeah, right…” she murmured, the smile on her lips broadening a little. “And I’m sure there’s no other reason than that…”
The door behind Scarlet opened before he was able to answer. He looked over his shoulder to see two people standing in the doorway. Symphony’s eyes followed the same direction and her face lit up when she recognised her new visitors. Scarlet turned once more to her. “I took the liberty earlier of calling a few people to tell them that you were waking up. I guess that’s my cue to leave.” He leaned to kiss her brow. “See you later.”
“Paul.” She grabbed his arm as he was straightening up; he looked down curiously, looking into her eyes. “Thanks for saving my life…”
Scarlet appeared surprised. Of course, he had saved her life, by stopping her from bleeding to death, but he thought she was already too far gone to realise that. He nodded slowly and rose before turning to the door. His eyes fell on the woman that Captain Blue was escorting; she looked apprehensive and nervous. Her eyes – the same colour as Symphony’s – were fixed on the young pilot lying on the bed, as she entered fully, clearing the door, and leaving the arm of the tall American captain. Scarlet reflected that she was probably about ten years older than Blue, a beautiful woman that normally wouldn’t look her age – but now, she looked even older than that, her eyes swollen with crying and her face ravaged by worry and pain.
“Mom...” Symphony’s croaked call died on her lips when Amanda Wainwright rushed the remaining distance separating her from the bed and encircled her arms around her daughter. She had the presence to mind Symphony’s injured side as she took her into a strong embrace.
“My baby… I was so afraid for you…”
Scarlet, now standing next to Blue not far from the door, only glanced briefly at the happy reunion. Then, not wanting to intrude, he discreetly walked through the door and left.
He was surprised to realise that Blue was following.
In the corridor, Scarlet turned around, just as Blue was reaching for his arm. He saw the expression of relief on his friend’s face as he stood awkwardly in front on him. All of Blue’s outward appearance indicated that he wanted nothing more than to go back into the room he just had left. And at the same time he looked as if he wanted to tell his English colleague something. Scarlet smiled thinly. Indeed, Blue had looked like a zombie these last few days, since Symphony had been reported injured, and then brought back to Cloudbase. Scarlet had not exaggerated when he had told Symphony how difficult it had been to tear him from her bedside. He wondered how many people now were unaware of the feelings the tall American had for his compatriot. Surely, Doctor Fawn knew now. As well as Rhapsody and Destiny, and probably Green. As for the others – if they didn’t know, well, they had a strong indication then. The colonel? That was always an enigma…
“Go back in there, Adam,” Scarlet offered gently. “You’re dying to be with her, I know.”
Blue gave a deep sigh, releasing his friend’s arm. “I wanted to thank you. For having saved her life.”
Scarlet raised a brow. “You did that already.” After nearly wanting to tear my head off, he reflected with some amusement. For some reason, the first few minutes he had learned of Symphony’s injury, Blue had entertained the idea that – perhaps because of that obsession he suspected his friend still had concerning Black – Scarlet was either responsible for her predicament, or that he had failed to protect the young woman carefully enough and was guilty of gross negligence. The fact that Scarlet’s hands were covered with Symphony’s blood when he had had been brought to Cloudbase – while Symphony had been rushed to the Culver Hospital – wasn’t really in the English officer’s favour. Naturally, Blue didn’t voice his accusations, but the way he was looking at Scarlet, his thoughts were plain enough.
That was before Blue had learned what had exactly happened.
“She would have bled to death if you had not been there,” Blue continued. He looked somewhat guilty. Knowing his friend, Scarlet imagined that he was probably regretting his suspicions. He was obviously struggling to ask for Scarlet’s forgiveness. “I know you were in a bad way yourself, and yet I was pretty harsh with you…”
“Adam.” Charitably, Scarlet patted Blue’s shoulder. “No, you weren’t harsh. You were concerned for Symphony, that’s all. We’ve had this conversation before and I’ve already told you. You’ve done nothing for me to forgive you for.”
“Not even the way I spoke to you before you left for Dorset?” There was a short silence, during which Blue scrutinised Scarlet closely.
“It’s already forgotten. For quite some time.” Scarlet nodded slowly. “You were right to be concerned about me then. I was – somewhat – obsessed with Black.” He looked toward the door behind which Symphony was resting, watched over by her mother. “I guess we’ll all feel that way about him now…”
“Yes,” Blue agreed, following his friend’s gaze. “He was one of us. He started this whole war and now he’s controlled by the Mysterons. He’s our responsibility.” He didn’t voice the rest of his thoughts, which were more personal, and didn’t need to. The anger he was feeling over what happened to Symphony was barely contained in the tone of his voice. Scarlet could easily guess what his thoughts were, as his own were exactly the same.
“Go and see her, Adam,” he offered with a smile. “She’s waiting for you.”
“I don’t want to intrude…” Blue started.
“On Karen and her mum?” Scarlet sniggered. “I doubt you would! Don’t you think Mrs. Wainwright has suspected your feelings for her daughter from your behaviour since she met you?” Blue looked with uncertainty at Scarlet, who pointed toward the door with an insistent finger. “Go. Perhaps it is time that Karen introduced you properly to her mother.”
After a last hesitation, Blue finally nodded his agreement. He turned around and the door opened to let him in. He stepped inside without another look behind, and Scarlet smiled fondly as the door slid closed.
Then the smile disappeared from his face and he left the corridor; he felt the immediate need for a coffee and took it from the dispenser in the waiting room of sickbay. He sipped it, grimacing at the acrid taste. At least, it’s not as bad as Blue’s, he reflected with humour. He always thought that Blue’s coffee was fit only to be used as paint remover. Thank God, he was indestructible. He felt sorry for the others who unknowingly drank the stuff, however.
He turned from the coffee machine, with the cup in his hand, and stopped in his tracks, finding Colonel White standing behind him.
“I heard Symphony Angel woke up?” the Spectrum commander said gravely.
News travels fast around Cloudbase, Scarlet reflected. He nodded in answer. “Yes, her mother’s with her at the moment.” He didn’t mention Captain Blue’s presence. No need to give the colonel further reasons to suspect anything between Blue and Symphony – if he didn’t already have his suspicions.
White simply glanced in the direction of the corridor leading to Symphony’s room, before turning back to Scarlet. “I’ll see her later, then,” he said, deciding it was better to give mother and daughter some privacy. There was a pause, during which the colonel stared at Scarlet intently. The captain started to feel uncomfortable; he knew there was unfinished business between him and his commander and it looked like now was the moment the latter had chosen to settle the problem between them. He shifted on his feet, almost feeling the need to stand to attention. As the colonel remained silent, he reflected that maybe it was up to him to start.
White raised his hand, demanding silence. Scarlet felt compelled to obey. “There are… things… that need to be discussed between us,” the colonel observed coolly. Scarlet simply nodded in answer. “Captain, ever since your return – ever since you presented me with your report of the latest events at Culver – you have been avoiding me. I left it that way, because I thought you would eventually come around and we’d be able to talk – peacefully – and settle this… disagreement between us. Once and for all, I hope.”
That sounds ominous, Scarlet reflected with dread. Still, he didn’t answer. And still, Colonel White kept icy calm, as he continued: “You obviously seem to have cooled off sufficiently. Now are you ready to hear me out?”
“Before you speak, sir… I have something to tell you first.” White gave Scarlet an annoyed look following his interruption, but nevertheless invited him to continue, with a gesture. Scarlet blew a deep sigh. He put down his cup and cap onto the counter next to him and straightened up in front of his commander. “… I would like to present my formal apologies, Colonel.”
“Would you, indeed,” muttered White with a glowering stare.
“Sir… My reaction in the Control Room, a few days ago, was uncalled for. I’m ashamed to admit I acted unprofessionally. I should have considered the strategic importance of what I had discovered.”
“The ‘Scarab Protocol’,” White observed.
“Sir.” Scarlet straightened up again, almost to the point of being at attention. “I see now that the Protocol was a necessity in view of how I… how the Mysterons made me act… when I was under their control. I should have seen it sooner, instead of… throwing that tantrum.” He looked miserable now and White watched, with raised eyebrows, as the young man’s shoulders sagged ever so slightly. “I wouldn’t want that to happen again, Colonel,” Scarlet continued in a dull tone. “I would prefer to die rather than become one of their unwilling pawns again. So if that ever happens, sir, you will need the Scarab Protocol to… put an end to it.”
White nodded thoughtfully. “You’re saying that because of what Black tried to do to you at the Culver Atomic Centre. He didn’t succeed,” he pointed out. “And by your own account, the Mysterons tried hard.”
“Colonel… They obviously succeeded in reaching my mind. The fact that they left those sequential numbers there – that I didn’t know anything about before – isn’t that proof enough? Wouldn’t you consider that a dangerous indication that they can reach me?”
“Captain – that those numbers stuck in your memory after that séance with Black could only be regarded as an accident. Considering their intentions, I’m sure the Mysterons didn’t intentionally give you that fortunate piece of information that subsequently permitted you to shut down the reactor.” White raised a brow. “I can hardly say, in view of your actions, that it’s evidence enough of their control over you. You killed those Mysteron agents, shut down the reactor, saved Symphony’s life…”
“I can’t help having doubts, Colonel. Maybe they didn’t succeed this time, but next time? Should I fail to keep them at bay, then… please, you will have to use the Scarab Protocol to stop me.”
White grumbled and shook his head. “I can’t do that, Captain.”
“Scarlet, YOU said what you had to say!” White suddenly interrupted with a very stern and loud tone. “You had your chance to talk. In fact, I can honestly say that it’s ALL you’ve been doing EVERY TIME we’ve talked to each other since that day you came to the Control Room to ‘accuse me’: TALK, without even allowing me to do the same! Now YOU will listen to me. And I’d be grateful if you will do me the courtesy of LISTENING, for a change, and keep your mouth shut!”
Scarlet swallowed hard, hearing the angry tone and accusation in his commander’s voice. White grunted with satisfaction, on seeing his officer remaining silent. “I should have done that sooner! It was probably a mistake to wait so long. As it was probably a mistake to let you have your way a few days ago, when you decided to leave the carrier to… ‘find yourself’, I think your words were. Maybe I should have followed my first instinct and had you thrown into the brig after that tantrum of yours, until you cooled off enough to hear me out. Maybe I should have yelled louder than you did then.”
“You did yell, sir,” Scarlet offered quietly.
“I should have yelled LOUDER still.” White was keeping calm, but there was still that ill-omened glow in his blue eyes that didn’t bode very well for Scarlet. It wouldn’t take that much for him to lose his cool. “Well, what’s done is done,” the colonel added dully. “We can’t turn back the clock.” He paused a second, and noted how rigidly the young man was standing in front on him. He grunted with irritation. “At ease, Captain, this isn’t an inquiry.” That was a direct order, and right now, Scarlet didn’t dare disobey. “Your reaction in the Control Room, a week ago, was a very human one. I can only start to imagine what it must be like to think a bomb had been planted in you. I suppose you could say I was dreading such a violent reaction from you, if you were ever to learn about the Scarab Project. That’s why I kept it as the secret it was meant to be.”
“Even from me,” Scarlet muttered.
“ESPECIALLY from you,” White retorted, frowning deeply. “I know you too well, you and your blasted impulsiveness. I knew you would fly off the handle.” He gave a sigh. “I didn’t quite count on you finding out about it accidentally. Especially right after I had told you about Black having killed you.”
“It was hard to take, all at once,” Scarlet admitted. He tilted his head slightly. “Did you intend to tell me about the Scarab Protocol… eventually?”
“In truth? No.”
Scarlet nervously shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I appreciate your honesty, sir,” he said, in a tone that indicated that he was anything but happy to hear the statement.
“I didn’t feel it was necessary to tell you,” White pursued, staring sternly at a gloomy-looking and slightly annoyed Scarlet, “because there wasn’t any reason to make you angry over a project that didn’t come to be.”
Scarlet blinked; in the moment of silence that followed he stared at his austere commander, with disbelieving eyes. It was obvious he was unsure if he had heard properly.
“What?” he murmured with a doubtful frown. “Are you saying… there isn’t any Scarab Protocol?”
“Outside the planning stage? No, there isn’t.”
“But… but the file I read… And you said…”
“I never denied it was presented to me,” White cut in suddenly. “AND if you remember correctly, you weren’t willing to LISTEN to anything I would have said, Captain, when you came to me with this ‘discovery’.” If he had expected to see Scarlet lowering his eyes in shame, he was badly disappointed. Instead, he could see the doubtful expression on the young man’s face – after all, White had just said that he would have not have told him anything about such a secret, so why should he accept his word now? White grunted with annoyance, obviously observing that his officer didn’t believe him. “Sit down,” he commanded sternly.
That was another order, one that Scarlet followed without thinking, almost mechanically. It was fortunate for him that there was a chair right behind him at that moment. His eyes didn’t leave his commander for one second.
White came to stand in front of him, glaring down with obvious exasperation. “Have I ever lied to you before, Captain?” he asked abruptly.
Scarlet glared without answering, and White, understanding what he was thinking, pursued, “I admit I hid the truth from you concerning your first death and about this ‘Project’. But can you honestly say that I ever directly lied to you? Or to anybody else, for that matter?”
Scarlet shook his head. He couldn’t say that.
“You have to believe me when I tell you there is no Scarab Protocol,” White continued. He took a few seconds to let his irritation cool down, before continuing his explanation. “Didn’t you notice the title of that file that sent you off at the deep end, Captain?” He paused, leaving Scarlet to ponder that question with hesitation. “It was called the Scarab Project.” White could see he had not made his point. He rolled his eyes. For an intelligent man, Scarlet could be incredibly thick-headed sometimes. “I mean it stayed that way. A project. Didn’t you also notice it had no follow-up? That there was important information missing? That there was no official order signed by the World President, counter-signed by myself, accepted by Doctor Fawn, and no record of an actual surgical procedure performed in order to plant that bomb inside you?”
“I assumed… the rest of the information was elsewhere,” Scarlet replied hesitantly.
“You ASSUMED wrong! Scarlet, I’m surprised at you. Doubly surprised. You should have verified that information more thoroughly. AND you should have realised that I would not have accepted that preposterous proposition. Spectrum doesn’t work that way. And it will NEVER work that way as long as I’m in command.”
“I know you defended me, Colonel,” Scarlet answered quickly, eager to make amends and show his commander that he had misjudged him. “But what else could you do but accept a request from the World Government Cabinet?”
“Scarlet, it disappoints me that you should think so badly of me.” White sat down next to Scarlet, who had lowered his gaze in shame. “Don’t you think I’m quite able to stand up to ANY bureaucrat who thinks he can present whatever ‘clever administrative decision’ that might hinder the work of this organisation? I opposed that decision, and defended you, my command, and Spectrum’s integrity to the hilt. Doctor Fawn also helped me present undeniable arguments of how IMPOSSIBLE it would be to accept such a solution. Putting a BOMB inside one of my agents? Inconceivable! Even if that agent’s importance would not become so significant in this war against the Mysterons. Of course, that alone wouldn’t have any meaning to the Presidential Committee, if I had not presented strong arguments or how ‘impractical’ the use of the ‘Scarab Protocol’ would be.”
“Such as?” Now Scarlet was more curious than anything to know how his commander had countered the World Presidential Cabinet, obviously playing all of those administrative suits at their own game. By the looks of it, White wasn’t displeased with himself.
“There were several arguments. I pointed out how dangerous it would be to plant a bomb in you. For starters – if it was hit by a bullet and detonated accidentally… we might then lose you – and the asset you represent. Not to mention, that it could also injure or kill anyone standing near you at that moment. I refused to put any of my agents – or any civilian bystander – in danger by taking such a risk. Then Doctor Fawn presented an argument that they couldn’t dismiss, when he explained to them how improbable – if not impossible – it would be to put a bomb inside of you. No matter the size of it. Doctor Fawn argued that it would more than likely be considered as a ‘foreign body’ by your retrometabolism and dealt with accordingly... like any other foreign bodies that can be found inside you when you get injured.”
Scarlet closed his eyes in realisation. Of course! He should have thought of that! Whenever he was hit by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel, his retrometabolism would get rid of it – exactly how was still unknown – Doctor Fawn couldn’t really decide if it was absorbed by his metabolism and transformed, or dissolved into nothingness, or if there was any other explanation, scientific or otherwise, to describe how it was ‘taken care of’. It was just one of the mysteries of his retrometabolic powers, taking it one step beyond simple ‘rapid healing’. Of course, depending of the size of the object, it would then take him longer to recover, if it were to stay there, so usually, Doctor Fawn would help speed up the healing process by removing any foreign bodies he found inside his patient when he returned from a difficult mission.
“So it was settled like that?” Scarlet said, looking down at his hands. “They didn’t insist?”
White scoffed. “If you think it was that easy… Some of the members of the Committee certainly argued that Doctor Fawn’s… ‘assumptions’ should be put to the test. I’ve never heard such an assorted array of Australian non-medical terms as when that suggestion was made… In private, of course. The good doctor’s choice of words during the actual hearing was more cautious – if somewhat less colourful.” Almost despite himself, Scarlet did his best not to openly chuckle upon hearing his commander’s statement. Good ol’ Edward… He was a real doctor through and through. Always defending the best interests of his patients – and friends.
“I should have guessed he would have refused to be part of this,” Scarlet remarked, becoming serious again.
White frowned. “He certainly did. As I did, as well. We wouldn’t go along with such a plan. I even threatened the Committee with my resignation if they implemented the Scarab Project.”
“You did?” a surprised Scarlet said, blinking.
“Didn’t I tell you I had defended my point to the hilt?” White waved his hand. “That’s when everything started to turn around. By that time, you had already pulled off a few heroics that weighted the balance in your favour. When you came back from that incident in the Rocky Mountains where you saved the lives of three of your colleagues, the Committee reconsidered its options. There were still a few hardcore members who insisted on going on with the Scarab Project, despite my and Doctor Fawn’s objections, or to go ahead with their… ‘final solution’ if the project wasn’t possible.”
“Meaning getting rid of me,” Scarlet stated coldly.
White nodded grimly. “Their appeals were quickly dismissed afterwards, when the World President himself finally took our side. He and other members of the Committee recognised the benefits that you could represent in the war against the Mysterons. So, by the time that last London incident -- the one involving the disappearance of that lorry carrying the nuclear device -- was over, every demand from the Committee was dropped.”
“It took that long?”
“What did you expect? Did you ever see an administrative or political decision taken by Government authorities in the course of a few days, let alone a few hours?” White rose to his feet. “During all those weeks, while you were unaware of all of these behind-the-scene developments, you put yourself at risk, by saving others’ lives. Your actions were viewed as good points in your defence. Even the bitterest of your detractors couldn’t argue with those kinds of accomplishments. Oh, World President Younger is still a little wary of you – based on… shall we say, personal experience? He won’t agree to meet with you yet, in the foreseeable future. This is an issue we will have to address eventually.”
“Another battle for another day?” Scarlet asked.
White addressed him a thin, almost ironic, smile. “With all the trouble you have given me lately, I sometimes wonder if it was worth the effort.”
Scarlet lowered his gaze. Behind the still pleasant tone in his commander’s voice, he could almost hear the displeasure and disappointment White was feeling over recent events. Scarlet certainly realised now that his suspicions, distrust, and accusations were way out of line. Colonel White had always stood by him, and had defended him against all odds. He certainly didn’t deserve any of the blame his officer had charged him with.
“I… I’m so sorry, Colonel. I misjudged you terribly. I shouldn’t have attacked you the way I did.”
White raised a brow. “Just consider yourself lucky, Captain, that I didn’t put you on a charge of gross insubordination. A less sympathetic commander would probably have done it without thinking.”
“I would have deserved it.”
“Yes, you would. But I had the good sense to put myself in your shoes and consider your point of view. So I understood your frustration. I would have been upset too, if I had discovered a bomb had been planted in me without my knowledge...” He grunted. “On the other hand, putting you on a charge and maybe even having you thrown out of Spectrum would not have been a very strategic decision. Neither would allowing any of what has transpired between us during the last few days to reach the ears and eyes of the World Government Cabinet. Neither you nor I want them to find out what’s happened. We wouldn’t want to risk having them change their decision. So I kept all of this under wraps. And asked everyone who has been involved – directly or indirectly – not to mention anything about it to anyone.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“DON’T mention it. We do need you in our war against the Mysterons. And after the latest events in Dorset, I am now more convinced than ever of your importance – and loyalty – to our organisation. I was right to think you would be a great asset in our fight, Captain. Even the Mysterons seem to believe it. Enough to try to take you back to their side.”
Scarlet shuddered. “I don’t EVER want to go through that again… It was NOT an agreeable experience.”
“I can imagine it was not.”
“And what if they try again?”
White raised a brow. “Captain… I do not think we would need any ‘Scarab Protocol’ or anything similar, to – stop you in the eventuality that they might succeed. You have already proved – SEVERAL times – that you were able to stand up to them.”
“But even though… if the Mysterons should ever succeed in making me one of their slaves again…” He looked meaningfully at his commander. The latter returned his gaze, thoughtfully. He could see in Scarlet’s eyes that it was something crucial – that he would probably take it as a personal favour. White sighed. Of course, Scarlet probably was aware that such a possibility was already being considered. And that his commander had already taken steps in this eventuality.
“Don’t worry. We won’t let them,” he finally promised. “But I doubt they will ever succeed.”
“Captain Black did say that… my will was too strong for them,” Scarlet murmured grimly.
“And I believe he's right... Paul.” White put a hand on Scarlet's shoulder. “That's one of the reasons we wanted you here in the first place. Because you will fight them again. And you will win again.”
Scarlet straightened up. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
“I know you will, son.” White produced one of his rare, but genuine, good-humoured smiles. ”I think we've both made our apologies. Let's put this behind us and get back to what we do best.”
Scarlet responded with his own, if somewhat sheepish, smile. “I’ve been a pain lately, haven’t I, sir? With this ‘outburst’ of mine and… this ‘obsession’ I was entertaining about Con… Captain Black.” His voice dropped. “I was a fool to think he could be saved. Now I can see it is not possible. After what he’s already done in the name of the Mysterons… After the way he shot Symphony…”
White raised a brow again. “For what it’s worth, Captain… maybe there was some truth behind that ‘obsession’ of yours.”
“Truth?” Scarlet frowned deeply. “Colonel, he tried to bring me back to the Mysterons… He shot Symphony! For crying out loud, he almost killed her!”
“And he missed her heart, at the short distance he was standing from her?” Scarlet was stunned to silence as he looked into his commander’s stern face with doubt in his eyes. White shook his silver head. “Conrad Turner… Captain Black… has always been a better shot than that, Captain. From that range, killing Symphony should have been a certainty. She was badly injured, yet she lived. So maybe you were right when you thought that Black could be saved from the Mysterons, that he might still be fighting their influence. And maybe – have you considered that that numeric sequence you needed to shut down the reactor was ALSO a gift from Captain Black? An ultimate chance – to thwart the Mysterons’ plan?”
White saw the eyes of his officer light up with the realisation of that possibility. And also with relief. Perhaps then, the Mysterons had not reached his mind after all… Scarlet simply nodded, very slowly.
“Can we believe that, sir?” he asked serenely.
“At the very least, it’s a possibility we have to consider. Don’t you think so?” His face became graver as he looked once more into his officer’s face. “But that shouldn’t prevent us from trying to stop him, should it, Captain?”
Scarlet nodded again, now displaying a more assured expression on his face. He stood to attention under White’s scrutinising gaze and cleared his throat. “Of course not, sir. Next time – we’ll catch him, Colonel.”
White fought a smile off his lips, witnessing the young captain’s sudden eagerness. He turned around to leave, quietly putting his cap on his head. “Let’s just take it one day at a time, Captain Scarlet. I’m sure we’ll meet Captain Black again in the future. In the meantime… don’t you have anything better to do than languish alone in sickbay, now that Symphony is getting better?” He looked over his shoulder, offering another smile. There was no fooling him. He certainly knew that Scarlet had spent most of his time in here, waiting for the young pilot to wake up. “Do tell her that I’ll come visit her later, when you next see her, will you?”
“S.I.G., sir,” Scarlet answered, straightening again to near attention. “And thank you, sir.”
White only nodded briefly and left, without adding another word.
* * *
When Captain Scarlet entered the fencing hall, less than an hour later, it was to find the person he was looking for, fully dressed in the fencing costume, except for the mask, and practicing against the electronic dummy with a sabre. Like every member of the senior staff, Rhapsody Angel had often visited Symphony during the last few days, and stayed at her bedside while she was sleeping. But she and Scarlet had not met there. In fact, since their return from Dorset, they had met only twice – that Scarlet was aware of. He had certainly seen her very briefly, when they presented their report to Colonel White. But he also vaguely recalled seeing her in sickbay, when he had awakened from his healing sleep, a few hours after their return. But that had been very brief, and she had not mentioned it afterward, when they had met with their commander. Scarlet even wondered if he had not dreamt that whole episode.
Scarlet walked into the hall, toward the young woman who, apparently oblivious to his arrival, was pursuing her training. Reaching her, he stood to the side, putting a foot onto a bench, looking on as she cut and thrust through the unfortunate stuffed dummy. With an expert eye, he studied her moves, noting the concentration in her eyes and the overzealous enthusiasm of her assaults – as if she was attacking an imaginary enemy. If he had to judge by the sweat pearling on her brow, she had been at it for a certain time.
“You know, it’s fortunate that this dummy isn’t a live person – because he wouldn’t be alive for long,” he said softly.
At the sound of his voice, Rhapsody stopped the new assault she was preparing against the training dummy. Keeping her guard up, she glared in his direction. If she saw him for the first time since his arrival, she didn’t show any surprise. “I don’t know,” she said between two breaths, “he might come back to life again just to grate my nerves…” With that, she slashed a vicious thrust into the dummy’s throat.
Scarlet chuckled and left the bench, a smile playing on his lips. “So I take it you’re still angry with me and that demolishing this poor mechanical man is your way of venting your frustration?”
“What makes you say that?” She hit the dummy once again. Rhapsody backed off a step and glanced at Scarlet once more. “How’s Symphony?” she asked, not relaxing her stance.
“Oh, she’s fine… She woke up again earlier, and we talked a bit. She’s seen her mum and now she’s sleeping.” He made another step, his fists driven into his pockets. “Doctor Fawn told me the worst is behind her and that she should make a full recovery.”
A first sign of warm emotion flashed into Rhapsody’s eyes upon hearing his words. She nodded her thanks, and lowered her guard, if only a little. “That’s a relief to hear.”
“Perhaps we could go and visit her later on?” Scarlet suggested.
Instantly, Rhapsody’s expression became grim and cold again, and she turned to face the dummy, putting herself on guard. She didn’t care to answer the question. “I see you decided to stay with us,” she noted instead. “And that you’re in a rather better mood than you have been lately.”
“I did, yes,” he admitted, taking another step toward her as she was attacking the dummy once more. “And I am. Rhapsody… there is something I ought to tell you…”
She nodded, playing with the sabre, not taking her eyes off the dummy. “I can guess what it is. You’ve realised that you’ve been acting like a total jerk lately, and decided to make amends.”
“Yes… sort of. Rhapsody…”
“What about that ‘Scarab Protocol’ you told me about?” Rhapsody asked.
His smile broadened. “Well, that’s the best part of what I have to tell you. There is no ‘Scarab Protocol’.”
“Really?” Rhapsody said coldly. “No conspiracy? No bomb planted in your body? All that angst and antagonism over nothing at all?” She struck the dummy furiously. “You overreacted,” she accused.
“Yes… I did. Apparently.” Scarlet frowned. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“Actually – no, I’m not. Lieutenant Green did tell me you didn’t know everything there was to know about it. And that you wouldn’t be as angry with the colonel, when you found that out.”
“Green told you that?” Scarlet asked, perplexed. “What else did he say?”
“Not much more than that. He takes his job as the colonel’s aide very seriously, you know. He was very discreet.” Rhapsody looked angrily at him. “It would appear after all that you overreacted with the colonel. AND Symphony.”
“I’ve made my peace with Symphony. And with the colonel, as a matter of fact.”
“How nice of him,” Rhapsody remarked icily, turning back to her training. “If it had been me, I would have assigned you to radar duty for life!”
“I’m so glad you are not my commander. Rhapsody…” Scarlet realised she wasn’t willing to listen to him. He noted the fierce strike she gave the dummy and grimaced. He decided to change tactics. “At this rate, you’ll end up with cuts in your salary until you’ve paid off damage done to Spectrum equipment.”
“I’m just perfecting my sabre technique,” she grunted, striking the dummy once more.
“From what I’m seeing, your technique doesn’t need perfecting,” Scarlet said quietly. He made a step forward as she was preparing to attack the dummy for the nth time, and caught her wrist. She stopped her assault and, breathing hard, turned an annoyed look on him. “Please, will you listen to me? I want to apologise to you…”
“To little old me?” Rhapsody said sarcastically. “Whatever for?”
“For the way I acted toward you on the ground. I… ‘overreacted’ with you too.”
“I seem to remember you’ve already apologised for that.”
“And you don’t seem satisfied with that apology. Look, I admit it. This is what you want to hear, right? I acted like a jerk.”
Rhapsody’s eyes flashed. “And a rat.”
“And a rat…”
“And a boor.”
“And a boor...”
“And a complete, self-centred egotist.”
Scarlet frowned. “Don’t you think that’s pushing it a bit?”
Her brow furrowed in turn, warningly, and she made a move to turn toward the dummy once again. He reached for her shoulder and stopped her. “All right, all right. I admit that, too.” He smiled when she looked at him. “I wouldn’t want to lose your friendship, Dianne. It’s too important to me. It seems I pushed it to its limits lately.”
“You did push it.” She lowered her gaze briefly, before looking up at him again, this time with smiling eyes. “But it was far from having reached its limits. You should know that my friendship to you is forever granted.”
“I felt for you when you told me about this ‘Scarab Project’,” she continued. “I’m happy to learn that… it wasn’t true after all.”
“Oh… some of it was true,” Scarlet sighed. “But – it never went further than being a proposition from some… authorities in the World Government. A proposition that the colonel dismissed and fought to the hilt.”
“I’m not surprised he did.”
“I shouldn’t be, either. I should never have doubted him.” Scarlet cleared his throat and looked down. “Anyway, it’s all in the past now, and I would rather not go over it again. I’m not… really proud of myself about what I’ve done, these last few days.”
Rhapsody smiled kindly. “There’s still a couple of things that you did that you can be proud of,” she reflected. “For example,” she added, with a impish tone, “if not for your stubbornness in thinking something wasn’t clear concerning the events in Culver last week, we might not have been able to uncover the Mysterons’ plan this time.”
“That’s small consolation, Rhapsody. We would probably have worked it out anyway.”
“Perhaps. But would we have discovered it in time?” She paused a second, giving Scarlet time to ponder this, then continued, “But most importantly… you saved Symphony’s life.”
Scarlet coyly shook his head, looking down. “Yes, well… She was fortunate you arrived when you did and that Green had already called the ambulance that took her to the Culver Hospital with Kierney.”
“Don’t be modest.” With a new smile, Rhapsody reached for Scarlet’s cheek and stroked it warmly. “What you did counted for something. You stayed next to her, and held her until the arrival of the medics. I couldn’t even convince you to let me take your place.”
“I remember. You were very concerned for her. And… for me too, Dianne?”
“Of course, I was concerned for both of you. You weren’t looking that brilliant yourself, when we found you.”
Scarlet smiled warmly. As if she suddenly realised that her gesture could be interpreted wrongly, Rhapsody removed her hand. She turned away to hide the red coming to her cheeks. Scarlet watched her as she walked toward the sword-rack, making a show of changing weapons. His smile broadened; he had certainly noticed how awkward she had become. He approached her, clearing his throat.
“Is there… something I could do to make myself forgiven for… having treated you so badly during this mission?”
She spun around to face him. All awkwardness had left her. “I already forgave you,” she remarked.
“Well, I feel I ought to do something more than just asking for your forgiveness. How about… we work on that sabre technique of yours?”
Rhapsody raised a brow. “You’re not consistent, Captain. Didn’t you just tell me that my technique didn’t need perfecting?”
“Well – it’s a relative term, of course,” Scarlet replied matter-of-factly. “There’s always room for improvement. Especially when you can learn from a master…”
“I suppose you are the master in question.” Rhapsody crossed her arms, looking defiantly at him. “May I remind you who won our last duel?”
“I wasn’t really at the top of my form, that day,” Scarlet defended himself.
“That’s only your excuse. I can wipe the floor with you again.”
“With a sabre?”
“With any weapon you choose.”
“That sounds like a challenge.” Scarlet grinned. “How about we make it more interesting with a bet?”
“We’re not allowed to gamble on base.”
“That’s only your excuse. Anyway, I wasn’t thinking about money.”
“And what did you have in mind?” Rhapsody asked suspiciously.
He drew closer, his face displaying a broader, boyish smirk. “If I win this duel… you’ll owe me a kiss.”
“A kiss? Is that all? You’ve got nerve…” Rhapsody scoffed mockingly, and looked down briefly, before staring straight into his smiling eyes. “And what would I get if I win?”
Scarlet seemed to ponder the question for a second. “That didn’t occur to me, actually…” Seeing her frown, he chuckled. “Whatever you want, Angel – I’ll meet the bet.”
He saw the dreamy look in the young pilot’s face and that made him consider all kind of possibilities. “There is something I always wanted to have in my quarters…”
“Oh yes?” an interested Scarlet asked.
“I always wanted to have a fish tank…” she finally said.
“A fish tank?” Scarlet opened wide eyes. “You mean, with real fish in it?”
“Isn’t that what you usually put in fish tanks?” She looked at him in mystification. “What did you think I was going to say?”
You know bloody well what I was thinking, Scarlet reflected, the false innocence she was displaying not fooling him for a second. He cleared his throat and considered her suggestion. “A kiss against a fish tank… It seems to me that I have the unfair share of the bargain, my lady.”
Rhapsody produced a smile. By all rights, she should have felt insulted by his remark, and yet, it wasn’t the case. Scarlet’s tone was good-natured; the way he had said ‘my lady’ didn’t bear the same tinge of condescension he often affected when he mockingly called her ‘your ladyship’. And obviously, he did count on her getting angry over his words. He was sadly mistaken.
Waiting for her answer – which would no doubt be a sharp one – Scarlet watched with perplexity as she came even closer to him, so close that he could feel her body brushing against his. Then she put her hand around his neck, stood on tip-toe and kissed him full on the lips. At first, her gesture took Scarlet by surprise; it wasn’t at all the answer he thought he would receive. Yet, he didn’t complain and dutifully answered the kiss, putting his arm around her slender form to draw her even closer.
She slowly broke the embrace, and, her hand resting on his chest, looked up into his amused face. “Conceding defeat already, your ladyship?” he asked with a flash in his eyes.
“In your dreams, Metcalfe.” With a smile almost as mischievous as his, she quietly removed his hand from her hip and turned toward the sword-rack. “That was just a sample of what you’ll be missing when I win this bet.”
“A sample…?” With mystified eyes, Scarlet watched as Rhapsody went to choose a sabre. He started laughing heartily. “Lady, that’s an incentive if ever I heard one!” He winked when, sabre in hand, she turned to face him. “Now I know I’m going to win the bet.”
“Well, go on, then!” she said, with an encouraging frown. “Go and change, and get back in here. Or perhaps you’re not that eager to see me beat the pants off you again?”
A wicked smile played upon Scarlet’s lips as he walked toward the locker room.
In your dreams, your ladyship…
He wondered if perhaps she wasn’t being literal…
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