A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop
“What horrible weather!” Captain Ochre announced, as he entered the officers’ lounge, soon after leaving his duty in the Control Room. “I tell you, guys, it’s raining cats and dogs outside!”
“We noticed,” Captain Blue replied, thumbing in the direction of the nearest porthole. Heavy rain was crashing against the pane, and it was only because of the thickness of the glass that no-one could actually hear the drumming sound it no doubt was causing. “We don’t often see that kind of bad weather at such an altitude… I’m guessing the sight was worth it, from the observation tubes?”
“You’re guessing right,” Ochre confirmed with a nod. “It’s quite an experience, standing in the tube and watching that kind of rain fall all around you. It’s also very unnerving. I found the need to enter the control room after two minutes – I felt like I was soaked, despite the fact that not a drop of rain touched me.” He approached and addressed Captain Scarlet, who was seated at the place of honour, eating a piece of the large chocolate cake set on the table in front of him. “Hey, Paul, happy birthday! Sorry I’m late. Looks like I missed the cutting of the cake.”
Scarlet swallowed his latest bite and welcomed his friend and colleague with a large grin. “You’re still in time for the party. As for the cake… we just cut it.”
“Who baked it this year?” Ochre asked, eyeing the cake with a critical eye. He thought he recognised the red writing on top of it, which looked suspiciously like the same on top of Captain Blue’s cake, a few months back. He smiled knowingly. “Ah, Symphony, apparently. Your mom’s recipe as always, Karen?”
“Of course, Rick,” Rhapsody Angel, who was seated on the armrest of Scarlet’s chair, said with a chuckle. “You know I couldn’t bake a cake if my life depended on it. I can manage just about anything… just not cake. Symphony is the expert in that field.”
Symphony, who sat on the sofa near her boyfriend, flashed her a big smile. “Why, thank you, Dianne. You want some of it, Rick?”
“Is that a trick question? Your mom’s cakes are always the best, hon – especially when they’ve been baked with your tender care.”
Ochre sat down on the sofa, on the other side of Blue. “Adam, ol’ buddy, when you marry that girl, you’ll have one Hell of a personal cook.”
Ochre watched as Scarlet cut him a large piece of cake and put it on a small cardboard plate, before handing it to him. He nodded his thanks and took a bite. The cake was so light and moist, it was as if the cake was melting in his mouth. He sighed in deep appreciation, before addressing Blue again:
“Boy, how I envy you – nice little meals lovingly made every evening when you return from work… You’ll gain some weight, I tell you.”
Symphony glared at him unbelievingly. “Who do you take me for, Betty Crocker? How retrograde you sound, Mister Fraser. You should know I’m not really cut out to be a regular housewife. And just so you know, Mom might be a wonderful cook, that doesn’t mean she stayed in her kitchen, while Dad ran the affairs of the ranch. She had her own say in the matter too.”
Ochre waved his hands at her. “I didn’t mean to sound condescending or something like that,” he said. “My apologies if it came out that way. I know you’ve got your own career to think about, Symph.”
“And I wouldn’t have her any other way,” Blue said with a smile, reaching to take his fiancée’s hand.
“I just wanted to say she’s a wonderful cook.” Ochre took another bite out of his piece of cake. “Mmm… Really, such a wonderful cook,” he added admiringly.
There was laugher all around at his words.
A flash through the porthole and a low rumble made him frown, and he looked through the porthole. “Looks like it’s getting worse out there. Probably would be a good idea for the base to gain some height to avoid those stormy clouds.”
“Don’t worry,” Scarlet said. “Cloudbase can certainly take more than this. If there’s need to move, they’ll take the right decision in the Control Room, I’m sure. I take it the colonel is back there?”
“No, Magenta took my place. The colonel called us a little earlier to say he would be late.”
“How unusual of him,” Scarlet commented.
“I know. But from what he told me, he was still busy running some errand or another with the security team.”
“I bet,” Blue mused. “That upcoming visit from the World President is obviously putting him on edge. Maybe he’s thinking it isn’t always a good thing, when the big boss comes around to inspect the place. He wants things to go smoothly.”
“I hate flying in bad weather,” Ochre said thoughtfully, as he watched through the porthole and a new flash of light appeared. “Who’s on Angel One duty at the moment? She must have a hell of a show on deck.”
“Destiny,” Rhapsody answered quietly. “She relieved me, just minutes ago, so I would be here in time for the cake cutting. Nearly missed that too,” she added, patting her fiancé’s arm in a patronising way. “Mister Sweet Tooth here nearly didn’t wait for me before blowing the candles.”
“I was hungry,” Scarlet complained.
“You’re always hungry,” she said with a chuckle. “That’s the problem with you these days… And you don’t gain one pound, and I hate you for it. As I hate Symphony, for that same reason.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault if I have been gifted with a wonderful metabolism,” Symphony answered good-humouredly. “I get that from both my parents. Dad could eat a horse – and Mom’s nearly the same.”
“Knowing your mom, and with her figure,” Scarlet retorted, raising a brow, “I find it very difficult to believe she could eat a horse!”
“Looks like I missed the gift distribution as well?” Ochre commented, spotting various opened packages and piles of torn wrapping paper covering the floor around Scarlet. He plunged his hand into his pocket and took a thin envelope out of it. “Here’s for you, Paul – hoping you’ll make good use of it on your next furlough.”
“What’s that?” Scarlet reached for the envelope and opened it eagerly, before taking a birthday card from it. A small card fell on his lap and he took it to read it. His eyes became bright. “Would you believe it… a certificate for a two days and three nights stay at the Crowned Victory Palace. Rick, that must have cost a fortune!”
Ochre shrugged. “Pat and me got together to buy those. We figured that you didn’t get the chance to benefit from your stay there last year, with all that’s been going on at the time.” He grinned. “Now you’ll have a better time, I’m sure. You’ll notice that’s a certificate for two…”
“I’ve noticed, yes,” Scarlet said with a raised brow. He glanced in Rhapsody’s direction. “I wonder with whom I’ll be sharing this,” he said with a mischievous smile.
“Choose carefully, because you might find yourself in trouble if you don’t,” the young woman warned playfully with a wide smile.
“As if I would go with anyone else but you,” he said chuckling.
“Well, I guess that means that I’m the last one to give you my gift, I believe.” Rhapsody handed him a small gift-wrapped package, decorated with a beautiful red ribbon. “Happy birthday, darling.”
Scarlet took the package, smiling up at her, and quickly tore into the paper to open it.
Rhapsody rolled his eyes. “Why do I bother wrapping that up so neatly, I wonder… You barely take any notice of all my hard job.”
“I’m just too eager to see what you offer me, love,” he answered with a smirk. He discarded the paper to the floor and found himself holding a book upside down; he quickly turned it over to read the title. “Hey, an old edition of my favourite novel!”
Blue was trying to look over Symphony’s shoulder to read the cover. “What is it?”
Scarlet presented the book. “The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy.”
“Say what? You gotta be kidding me!” Ochre took the book from Scarlet’s hands and flipped through the pages. “Really, your favourite book? That makes the hero your favourite too? With the similarity in names, that makes quite a coincidence, no?”
“You might think that, but it’s true that it’s my favourite novel,” Scarlet said, taking the book back. “I read it for the first time when I was still a boy… My father gave it to me, on my… why, I think it was my ninth birthday.”
“Quite a read for a nine year old boy,” Blue commented. “I’ve read it too, a very long time ago.”
“They seek him here, they seek him there,” Rhapsody quoted.
“Those Frenchies seek him everywhere,” Blue continued.
“Is he in Heaven or is he in Hell, That damned elusive Pimpernel,” Scarlet and Rhapsody finished together.
“Hey, not bad!” Scarlet said laughing, nodding appreciatively at his fiancée.
“Oh no, enough with the English poetry, please,” Ochre groaned. “Or that’ll cut my interest in borrowing that book, Scarlet.”
“You’ll like it, I’m sure. The hero is rather roguish, quite like you. When I was a boy, I couldn’t put the book down. I read it so many times that I came to know some of the dialogue by heart. I read the many follow ups that were written afterwards, but the first was always the best in my heart.”
“Aren’t they always?” Rhapsody said with a fond smile.
“Thanks, Angel – that’s really a very nice gift.” Scarlet was flipping through the pages and stopped suddenly, when he discovered two small cardboard tickets, stuck between the cover and the first page. He took them, curious as what they could be. He grinned again at Rhapsody. “Two tickets to the musical?”
“The Scarlet Pimpernel is on an international tour, and is presently in London, until after the holidays,” Rhapsody told him. “I figured that we might be able to catch it when we go on a furlough there… between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.”
“You’ve already chosen the dates, according to our furlough, I see. That’s wonderful.” Scarlet chortled. “Well, Rick, it might be that we’ll be able to make good use of those certificates of yours.”
“Oh, I believe you will,” Ochre said nonchalantly. “Dianne told us of your expected furlough between the Christmas and New Year’s Eve. So Pat and I, we went ahead and made the reservation, should you want to use the certificate for the occasion.”
“Did I say earlier it must have cost you a fortune?”
“That’s the least we could do for you, Paul… You certainly deserves it – and much more than that, actually. Just say ‘thanks’ and enjoy it.”
“I certainly will. Thank you so much, Rick. And I’ll take the opportunity to thank Pat properly as well later on. Speaking of proper thanks…” Scarlet leaned towards his fiancée and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you again, my love, this is a very nice gift, indeed.”
“The best you ever had?” she asked.
“Well…” He smiled, a little hesitantly. “Close second, at least.”
“Close second?” Rhapsody raised a brow. This wasn’t exactly the answer she expected. She wasn’t disappointed, really, but maybe a little curious as to know what it was exactly that her fiancé considered his ‘best present’. “So what is it you received exactly that could possibly top this?” she asked him. “As well as a romantic stay at the Crowned Victory Palace.”
Scarlet hesitated. He could see all eyes were turned to him with curiosity. “Well… it wasn’t exactly a material gift,” he said.
“What was it then?” Blue asked, in turn.
“Was it from a lady? An old lover?” Ochre asked more directly. He received a warning glance from both Blue and Symphony.
“He said it wasn’t material,” the young woman commented.
“Well, some ladies are pretty good at giving non-material gifts,” Ochre said with a teasing smile.
Rhapsody sighed. “You’re incorrigible, Fraser.”
Scarlet laughed, amused by his colleagues’ antics. “It wasn’t anything like that,” he said. “I was still a child at the time… It was both a birthday and a Christmas present, actually.”
“You probably received a lot of those,” Symphony commented. “With your birthday so close to Christmas. Believe me, I know that.”
“It was a really special gift,” Scarlet continued, musingly. “It came from my father. I was ten at the time… And although I did receive some amazing gifts before and since then – I don’t think anything could actually come up to that particular gift.”
“What is it?” Ochre asked with a grin. “A trip to Disneyland? I know I dreamed about that when I was ten – actually never went there before I was twenty-five… It was impressive, but the magic wasn’t there anymore for me.”
“Now that’s surprising, coming from a big kid like you,” Symphony shot back. “Me, Mickey scared the living daylights out of me. Well, to be honest, I was five, when I met him face to face – Mickey Mouse, in the flesh, so to speak… but so big, with such a huge head… Never was so afraid in all my life! I still remember it, very vividly. But obviously it wasn’t a trip to Disneyland for Paul. He did say it wasn’t material.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Scarlet answered with a shake of his head.
“Ah, it must indeed have been something really, really special, then,” Blue commented, reaching for a his mug of coffee, which was cooling down on the table in front of him. “What was it then, Paul? You’re killing us here. Won’t you tell us what it was all about? Obviously it made quite an impact on you. What did your father give you, when you were ten?”
“He offered me the gift of freedom,” Scarlet said soberly. “And the choice to do whatever I wanted with my life.”
Blue, who was about to take a sip of his coffee, stopped in his movement and looked with perplexity at his friend; he noticed that everyone around was doing the same, wondering what exactly Scarlet could mean by these strange words. Whatever it was exactly, Scarlet seemed very solemn about it.
Blue frowned. “Paul, what –”
He was suddenly interrupted by a blinding flash of lightning, which came from all the portholes, seemingly crossing the room. It was followed quickly by a low, yet loud rumble, coming from beyond the external wall making them look up in surprise. The ambient light then flashed briefly, and they felt a tremor shaking the base.
Silent fell in the room, and they looked at each other with concern.
“What was that?” Symphony murmured, squeezing Blue’s shoulder in anxiety. “Felt like an explosion…”
“It wasn’t an explosion,” Scarlet replied swiftly. “It was something else.” He jumped on his feet and reached for his cap, before striding towards the door, followed by both Ochre and Blue. Both Rhapsody and Symphony stood up as well. “You Angels, you’re staying in here,” he said over his shoulder. We’re going to the Control Room.”
“What makes you think you’ll be needed there?” Rhapsody asked.
Just at this moment, the speakers came to life, with the urgent voice of Lieutenant Green: “Captains Scarlet, Blue and Ochre report to the Control Room. Immediately.”
“A wild guess?” Scarlet answered his fiancée as he put on his cap. “I’m guessing we’ll learn what just happened.”
“And us?” Symphony asked.
“Scarlet told you,” Blue answered as he followed his two colleagues through the door that had slid open in front of them. “Stay here, until you’re ordered otherwise.” The door closed on the three of them.
“I hate when they play the big, strong, macho type,” Symphony grumbled, dropping onto the nearest seat. “You would think we’re not able to hold our own in time of trouble.”
“Yes, you would think so,” Rhapsody sighed, seating in turn. “I wonder what could be going on…”
As soon as the door to the Control Room slid open, Colonel White hurried in, to find Lieutenant Green already busy in front of his communication station, with Captain Magenta leaning over his shoulder.
“What just happened?” the colonel asked as he strode to the two men.
“Cloudbase was struck by lightning, sir,” Green answered quickly. “Many times in quick succession. Apparently, it momentarily affected our stabilisers, but fortunately, it only last one or two seconds. They’ve returned to their full efficiency and compensated quickly…”
“We tried to get away from the storm,” Magenta continued, as White frowned at the news, “but it was faster than us, and grew in intensity very suddenly.”
“We can’t expect to be faster than lightning, can we?” White grumbled.
“We’ve rarely come across such violent weather before,” Magenta continued. “We’re trying to bring Cloudbase over the storm. Captain Grey is already in the wheelhouse to supervise the operation.”
“Carry on,” White said as he quickly went to his control desk. “I want a full report on any damage that might have occurred.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Green answered. He noticed a blinking light on his desk. “Destiny Angel in Angel One is contacting us, Colonel.”
“I’ll take her.” Still up, the colonel flicked a switch. “How is it on deck, Destiny?”
“Like Hell, sir,” the French-accented voice answered with a definite edge to it. “This is really bad weather. I saw lightning hit the lower deck. Like a huge ball of light. I felt the base shake.”
“We seem to be okay for now, but we’re checking possible damage,” White answered. “In the meantime, I want you to leave your station, and come down to the Amber Room immediately. In such weather, you’re like a sitting duck out there.”
“What if there’s an emergency, sir, and Angel One needs to take the air quickly?”
The door to the Control Room slid open again and White raised his eyes to see Captains Scarlet, Blue and Ochre enter and approach him. “I’ll take the risk,” he said in answer to Destiny. “I prefer to have you safely inside the base, rather than see you struck by lightning. Stay in the Amber Room until further notice. You can always return to Angel One in less than a minute, if there is a need for it.”
White cut the communication, and turned to his officers, who were sombrely looking at him.
“If you are bringing the Angel One on-duty pilot inside, that must be bad, sir,” Scarlet commented.
“A simple safety measure, Captain,” White answered. “I wouldn’t want to lose one pilot because we were overly confident. Cloudbase might be a sturdy structure and we should be safe, but… better safe than sorry, as they say.”
“Lightning struck Cloudbase repeatedly,” Magenta, still standing next to Green, explained to his colleagues who turned to him. “Our magnetic lightning conductors appeared to have been completely ineffective when it happened.”
“How come?” Blue asked.
“No idea. But as I told the colonel, we’ve rarely found ourselves inside such bad weather before.”
“Any damage reported?” Ochre asked in turn.
“None so far.” A beeping sound interrupted him, and he turned his attention back to the computer controls at the same time as Green. “I might have spoken too soon,” he added in a murmur.
“What is it?” White asked with a frown.
“Captain Grey’s calling from the engine room, sir,” Green announced. “The emergency channel.”
“Emergency,” Ochre muttered. “Not good…”
“Put him on speakers, Lieutenant,” White requested.
Green immediately flicked a switch. “You’re on, sir.”
“Captain Grey, what is it?” White called out loud.
“We have a problem, sir,” the voice of Captain Grey immediately answered. “The check instruments detected a fracture in the external layer of one of the anti-gravity generator’s containers. The coolant is slowly escaping.”
“I knew it was bad,” Ochre said in a low voice. Scarlet shushed him briefly. White didn’t appear to have heard him.
“Which of the generators, Captain?”
“The variable mode generator, sir. So far, the fixed-mode generator is working without any trouble, and keeps Cloudbase perfectly aloft. But if the variable mode generator overheats, and the force fields drop, it might affect the first generator.”
“That means the stabilisers might fluctuate or go altogether,” Magenta explained, when White turned to him. “And then we’ll be in trouble.”
The colonel thanked him with a nod. “Repairs are already in progress, I take it, Captain Grey?”
“We didn’t waste any time, sir,” Grey answered. “They should go smoothly enough, but Lieutenant Beryl advises that we should lower altitude, and reduce our power consumption to the minimum, until repairs are completed.”
“How much time does the repair crew need?”
“Lieutenant Beryl says that at the best, it’ll be a couple of hours. But it could take up to six, should there be any trouble.”
“Lowering our altitude would take us straight into this storm,” Scarlet commented.
“I know,” Grey answered. “But hovering at a lower altitude will impose less stress on the generators and stabilisers. And we do need to spare them as much as we can.”
“Flying through that storm will certainly put enough of a stress on the stabilisers – not to mention Cloudbase,” Blue commented in turn. “How are our lightning conductors? Any ideas why they failed us earlier?”
“According to Lieutenant Beryl, it seems it’s due to a temporary malfunction,” Grey explained. “However, they seemed back online right now. Beryl suggests to increase their magnetism capacity if we are to enter the storm. That might provide for a better protection.”
“It’s still risky,” Blue mused.
“Do we have any choice?” White groused. “Captain Grey, we’ll do what Lieutenant Beryl suggested. Set a course to get the base to a lower altitude – while trying to avoid as much as the storm as we can. Tell Beryl that his team should go on with the repairs and have that generator safe and functional as quickly as possible.”
“S.I.G., sir. Grey out.”
“I should go down there and join the technician crew for the repairs, Colonel,” Lieutenant Green suddenly suggested, as the communication concluded.
Everyone turned to him with curiosity, and the younger man blushed slightly.
“They might need me if there’s any trouble with the generator’s computerised readings,” he explained. “If the electronic system gets unstable, they will need someone to fix it, so they can understand the readings.”
White nodded slowly. “Anything to get out of this chair of yours, isn’t it, Lieutenant?” he asked quietly. “Even if it means putting your life at risk?”
“Sir, seeing how things are going, I don’t imagine there will be any trouble. I was there when the computerised controls were set to the generator. I don’t think I’m being boastful by saying that no-one understands it better than me, and could fix it as quickly as I could, should there be a need for it.”
Green’s logic was without fault. If anyone knew the most about Cloudbase’s computer systems, it was certainly him. Even Captain Magenta couldn’t hold a candle to him. White glanced at the Irish officer and found him nodding approvingly at the lieutenant’s statement with a thin smile on his lips; he obviously shared his commander’s opinion on the subject.
“I have to agree with you, Lieutenant,” White then acknowledged. “Right then, go ahead.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Green answered, beaming and standing up from his seat.
“Captain Ochre, you’ll be taking his place at communications,” White continued. “Captain Magenta, you’ll keep a close eye on the Control Room computers’ readings.”
“Two of us to take up the lieutenant’s job, sir?” Ochre said with an amused grin.
“Let’s say that considering the situation, the three of us won’t be too many in this room,” White replied. “Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue – you’ll go with Lieutenant Green, to provide security, if need be. I’ll contact Captain Grey to tell him of your arrival. Keep me informed of new developments, whatever they might be.”
The three officers acknowledged their orders and turned around to hurriedly leave the Control Room.
While Lieutenant Green proceeded directly to the floor of the engine room – situated at the very lowest level of Cloudbase – and joined the repair crew already working on the variable mode anti-gravity generator, Captains Scarlet and Blue went to the Engine Control Room, from where they would be able to observe the repairs’ progression. They found Captain Grey there, along with Lieutenant Beryl, the onboard chief technician, who were presently checking through the observation window, and discussing between themselves, while checking blueprints set on a nearby table. Both of them welcomed the newcomers.
There was also someone else in the room, standing in front of the large glass-enclosed balcony of the control room, at little aside from Grey and Beryl.
“Doctor Lavender.” At the sound of his name, the head of Cloudbase’s R and D department stopped taking notes on his digital notepad, turned from the observation window and faced Scarlet as the latter approached, Blue in tow. “We didn’t expect to find you here.”
“And nice to see you too, Captain,” Lavender said quietly enough.
“What are you doing here, Doctor?” Scarlet asked again. “As far as I know, you’re not a specialist in anti-gravity. What exactly could be so interesting that it would haul you out of your office? A disaster waiting to happen? And in that case, should we be worried you are here?”
Blue scowled at Scarlet’s choice of words; he knew that his friend didn’t like Lavender that much – the English officer had been all too frequently at the receiving end of the research Lavender conducted in order to better understand the various powers he had inherited from the Mysterons. While he was recognised as one of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet, Lavender lacked social skills, and seemed to regard Scarlet as some sort of guinea pig whenever he came to R and D. This was in total contrast with the attitude displayed by Doctor Fawn who, although sharing Lavender’s curiosity about Scarlet’s retrometabolism, remained sensible and friendly in his dealings with the man he considered his ‘most unusual patient’.
But in Blue’s view, it wasn’t a reason to be unnecessarily rude to Lavender.
However, Lavender didn’t seem to take too much offence at the remark, and simply offered a derisive smile. Blue imagined that he was well accustomed to Scarlet’s brazenness to show any concern about it.
“That just shows you how little you know me, Captain. I may not be an expert, but I do know a lot more about anti-gravity than you think. Enough to provide advice should things go wrong. That’s why Lieutenant Beryl called me here.” Lavender addressed a nod to Beryl who stood by his side, before continuing to a still scowling Scarlet: “And just to reassure you: it doesn’t look like things should go from bad to worse.”
“Really now?” Scarlet replied icily. “Well, let’s hope it’ll stay that way. Because every time you’ve been around during a delicate situation –”
“Scarlet,” Blue interrupted quickly, “we can hardly hold Doctor Lavender responsible for what happened in the past.” He gave it some thought. “Maybe for one occasion, and even then…”
“Thank you, Captain Blue,” Lavender said with a sigh as he returned to his notepad. “Your… ‘support’ is much appreciated.”
“How are things so far?” Blue asked, very much willing to change the subject.
They came closer to the large bay window overlooking the engine room; they had a perfect view of the two huge anti-gravity spheres. A team of men wearing anti-radiation suits were working with electronic instruments on the surface of the sphere closer to them. At a short distance from there, in a glass-encased airlock serving as an isolation cabin, Lieutenant Green, very recognisable in his colour-coded uniform, was in the process of putting on a similar anti-radiation suit, so he would be able to join the repair crew.
“So far, so good,” Grey said in answer to Blue’s question. “The breach is nearly closed, and the repairs seem to be holding.”
“We diverted nearly all power to the fixed mode generator, until we are finished with the repairs,” Beryl added.
“You didn’t shut down the generator completely?” Blue asked with curiosity.
“No, we need to keep it on for the analysis. But it’s on idle now, running on the minimum of power. Our main concern is that it might overheat. There’s barely any coolant left between the security layers.”
“Do we have any coolant stored somewhere to replace what we lost?” Scarlet asked.
“We have more than enough coolant in a reserve tank, constantly connected to the generator,” Beryl answered. “The automatic system normally pumped whatever’s necessary between the layers, but the rupture occurred very close to the conduit.”
“Meaning coolant isn’t fed properly into the generator,” Scarlet observed, with an understanding nod.
“Yes, we have no choice but to keep the feeding to a minimum,” Beryl confirmed. “We’re keeping a close eye on the heat gauge right now. It doesn’t seem to want to budge, fortunately.”
“So far, we’re still keeping well over security limits,” Grey continued. “We don’t expect anything to go wrong, but if it does, the second generator can work on its own.”
“But for how long?” Scarlet muttered.
Beryl smiled. “As long as we need it. Captain, you must realise that one generator is enough to keep Cloudbase aloft. The additional generator was installed as a security measure, so that there would not be too much stress on the first one… and in case of events like today. And to put your mind to rest, just in the unlikely risk the two generators should fail, we also have a secondary unit, ready to take over. Everything was thought of when we built Cloudbase.”
“You were there when they built the base, Lieutenant?” Blue asked.
“Yeah. I was part of the team directly under Captain Black’s command when the base was being put together in space. Many of the engineers of that time are still with us – two of them amongst the repair crew down there.” Beryl nodded in the direction of the team of workers they could see through the window. “They know their stuff, so we shouldn’t worry about a thing.”
That confirmation seemed to fully satisfy Captain Blue. However, Captain Scarlet didn’t feel quite the same way. Something was still nagging him, but he couldn’t say what exactly. It was telling him that nothing would truly go as well as Beryl seemed to think; he had that feeling, deep down in the pit of his stomach, that something wrong was on its way. And normally, when he felt that way, it generally involved the Mysterons.
Or was he just concerned they might take this unhoped-for opportunity of a malfunction onboard Cloudbase to make a move against Earth – or Spectrum directly?
I might be getting paranoid, he told himself, shaking his head.
He kept his dark thoughts to himself, so not to worry his companions needlessly, and hoped he was wrong.
At the same moment, in the Officers’ Lounge, Scarlet’s feelings were shared by his fiancée who, leaning against the wall next to a porthole, was looking at the bad weather and passing clouds outside with growing edginess. Symphony, seated on the sofa behind her, was eating her third serving of cake, while checking the book that Scarlet had left on the table before leaving.
“I can’t believe Paul was only nine when he read this book,” she said, turning another page. “It’s not really easy reading for a kid of such a young age.”
“This coming from the whiz kid who read ‘The Iliad’ when she was barely older than that,” Rhapsody commented quietly. “Or so you told me.”
“I never said it was easy,” Symphony replied, closing the book. “Remind me to ask Paul to lend me this book when he’s done reading it. It looks interesting.” She looked up as her colleague didn’t reply to her and found her still looking in concern through the porthole. “You okay, Dianne?”
“I am. I’m just like Rick: I hate flying in bad weather. And I don’t like the way Cloudbase shook earlier. I don’t remember it ever reacting that way in the past.”
“It’s true it’s always pretty much stable,” Symphony agreed.
“I hope nothing’s wrong.”
Symphony waved away her friend’s concern with a flutter of the hand, before standing up to join her. “I don’t think we should worry that much. If there was something really serious going on, we would have been told already, don’t you think? I mean, imagine that we would need to evacuate…”
“I don’t find it really comforting,” Rhapsody cut in with a frown.
“Well, you should, really! Think about it: if there was a real problem, everyone onboard would be informed to keep on standby in case we would need to. That didn’t happen. So it must not be that serious?”
Rhapsody shook her head. “I guess you must be right…”
Symphony grinned. “Of course I am.”
“…Unless the colonel wouldn’t want to create a panic.”
Symphony sighed. “Oh come on, we’re all professional onboard. Military people and civilians alike. We’re not really the kind to panic in a crisis.”
“I was pulling your leg.” Rhapsody smiled lightly. “Yes, you’re probably right. But in the meantime, the men have not come back.”
“Yes, so something has their attention. A repair of some kind, I expect. They would be busy. And in case it should develop into a more serious situation, they would have to be ready.”
Rhapsody nodded at this comment, her eyes still riveted outside, looking absently in the direction of the upper runway where the three Angels were decked. Earlier, Destiny had called the officers’ lounge from the Amber Room, in the hope of wishing Scarlet a happy birthday, and had informed both Rhapsody and Symphony of the Colonel’s decision of not having a pilot on stand-by in Angel One until the storm was through. It was an exceptional decision, and thinking about it was making Rhapsody even more ill-at-ease than she probably ought to be.
A flash of lightning suddenly passed through the sky, illuminating the whole deck of Cloudbase. It was followed by a low rumble.
“That one didn’t come from very far away,” she murmured.
Almost immediately after she had spoken, there was another lightning bolt – much brighter, almost blinding, which seemed to entirely fill the sky with a very unusual colour. The crack of thunder that came with it had barely any delay; it was terrifyingly loud and powerful.
Instinctively, Rhapsody took one step back from the porthole and bumped into Symphony, standing behind her.
“Whoa! That one was even closer!” The American pilot commented.
Rhapsody opened eyes wide with bewilderment as, still watching through the porthole, she distinctly saw a streak of lightning seemingly coming down from the sky to violently strike the deck, with a crashing sound.
The English pilot blinked, just as sparks flew from the site of impact and Cloudbase shook briefly. The lighting inside the officers’ room fluctuated.
“Oh my God,” she gasped. “We’ve been hit again!”
“Take it easy,” Symphony said, reaching for her friend’s shoulders. With wary eyes, she looked around as the lights stopped flickering. She waited to see if something else would happen. Cloudbase was steady again, but she almost expected to hear something from the speakers; a warning, alert klaxon announcing some disaster.
Symphony blew a deep sigh of relief. “Okay, it doesn’t seem to have been as serious as before. Cloudbase is stable. We –”
“Didn’t you see that?” Rhapsody suddenly interrupted, turning to her. Symphony was stunned to see how pale her face was and the deep concern in her eyes. “Symphony, didn’t you notice? That last lightning flash… it was green!”
“Are you sure?” a doubtful Symphony asked her.
“Quite sure. It was green… Mysteron green…”
“Now, let’s not jump to conclusions.”
Rhapsody scowled. “Have you ever known me to jump to conclusions?”
“I mean… it might simply be a trick of the eye.”
“Trick of the eye or not, do you really want to take the chance?”
Symphony’s hesitation was only brief. Rhapsody was right. “Of course not,” she agreed. “We have to inform the Control Room.”
Rhapsody was one step ahead of her as they quickly moved to the comm.link controls embedded into the low table, right next to the half-eaten cake.
“Let’s just hope I’m wrong and that last flash won’t spell more serious trouble for us,” she muttered as she pressed the contact button.
When they felt the floor shaking under their feet, everyone in the Engine control room looked at each other in concern, realising that yet again, Cloudbase had been hit by lightning.
And then, a sizzling sound made itself heard from the console in front of which they were standing, and they instinctively stepped back –just in time before sparks flew from under the electronic panel.
Lieutenant Beryl became pale. “Electric surge,” he swiftly said, returning to his previous place. His finger swiftly pressed an insulated red button embedded in an isolated control panel. “Transferring all variable mode generator power to auxiliary generator now!”
He looked expectantly through the glass bay, in the direction of the twin generators; concern was so obvious on his face that the men standing with him in the control room followed his gaze with their eyes…
...Just in time to see a flute of flame emerging from the variable mode generator, bursting into a violent explosion that threw back all the men working around it.
A loud siren instantly blared through all the engine room, punctuated by sounds of security door sliding tightly closed on various accesses of the room. A red light started flashing wildly. The fire extinguishers came into play and white foam was sprayed over the flames, swelling almost instantly as soon as it came into contact with air.
“Dear God!” Standing with his stunned colleagues, who were watching with the same horror as flames and smoke quickly filled the room below their feet, Scarlet turned to Beryl, who was busying himself on the isolated control panel, pressing buttons, turning dials and checking the information relayed through it by the various sensors from the Engine Room.
I knew it, I knew it! There was no way this was going to go smoothly. Why am I not surprised at all?
Captain Grey was already lowering his cap mic to report the situation to the Control Room.
“The transfer has been done safely and Cloudbase will remain stable,” Beryl informed quickly, the relief obvious in his voice. “The area sealed automatically so that the fire will not spread to the rest of the engine room.”
“The fire is contained, but what about the fumes?” Scarlet asked hurriedly. “Aren’t they toxic?” He already suspected the answer.
“Yes.” Beryl’s face seemingly turned ever paler as he watched the now closed area beneath their feet. It was now filled with smoke and fire – and thickening foam fire-extinguishing foam. The repair crew was scrambling in a desperate attempt to escape and reach the exit leading to the airlock. “The coolant produces deadly fumes in contact with the extinguishing foam – air will run out soon. Those men –”
“–Have to be saved!” Scarlet interrupted quickly. “Grey, tell the colonel what’s happening. Blue, come with me!”
With Blue in tow, he rushed to the small lift linking the Control Room to the Engine Room. They quickly reached the Engine Room level, and the door opened to a short, narrow corridor, leading to a sealed airlock, which they entered. Two technicians were already inside; they had removed their protective helmets, but were wearing respirators over their sweat-covered faces. They were watching helplessly through the glass and sealed door leading directly into the Engine room, which they were frantically trying to open. One of the men turned around as the two captains entered the airlock and looked at them with desperation.
“We just escaped in the nick of time, before the door sealed behind us,” he explained. “Four others have made it to the other airlocks… But there’s still two men trapped in there!”
“Is there any radiation?” Blue asked as he approached.
“None so far, but the fumes will kill them in minutes, if we don’t get them out in time.” The man paused. “I think one of the trapped men is Lieutenant Green.”
Blue exchanged grim looks with Scarlet, who quickly lowered his cap mic, as Blue joined the two men in their efforts to force the door open.
“Beryl!” Scarlet shouted. “Can you override the security system and open that door?”
“I’m trying, Captain! It doesn’t work. The explosion seemed to have damaged the override command…”
“Great,” Scarlet muttered.
He looked at the two men working with Blue, their faces stressed with effort. It didn’t look like they were getting anywhere. Grunting, he drew his gun out of his holster and pushed the two men aside to stand beside Blue.
“Step back, everyone!”
“You’re not going to shoot the command panel?” Blue protested.
“Just watch me! Pull on the door as hard as you can!” With Blue stressing against the door, Scarlet put his gun close to the opening panel and pulled the trigger. There was a detonation, and sparkles flew around the mouth of his weapon. The door shuddered and opened a crack under Blue’s efforts. Smoke instantly started seeping through the small gap. Closer to the opening, and pulling with all of their weight to open the door as wide as they could, Blue and Scarlet gasped and coughed as a horribly acrid smell filled their nostrils.
“You’d better get some breathing masks,” one of the technicians told them. “These fumes are highly toxic.”
“No time for that,” Scarlet grunted. “Blue, keep the door open!”
Before his colleague could protest further, Scarlet stepped into the smoke-filled area, holding his breath as much as he could.
He quickly found the first man, sprawled on the floor, not that far from the door, which he obviously had been trying to reach when the explosion had occurred. It was Green and he looked unconscious. His helmet had flown from his head, and the side of his protective gear was blackened by fire.
Scarlet crouched down next to him, and didn’t waste time checking his vitals to make sure if he was alive or not; he pulled him up, and dragged him towards the door; in his effort, he took a mouthful of the acrid fumes and gagged, before coughing loudly. His eyes started watering.
He reached the door, and pushed Green into the waiting arms of the two technicians. Blue, now wearing a respirator, was still keeping the door open.
“Take him,” Scarlet croaked, overcoming the nausea that threatened to take him. He coughed again. “I think he’s still alive...”
“Get back here now,” Blue told him, in a strained voice. “Scarlet, those fumes are unbreathable.”
“There’s still one man in there,” Scarlet replied. “Where can I find him?”
“Lambert was close to the generator when it blew up,” one of the technicians said quickly. “He might be seriously wounded… if he’s not dead. I lost sight of him.”
Scarlet nodded gravely. If there was a chance that the man might still be alive, then he had to find him. Blue watched in dismay as Scarlet turned hurriedly.
“Wait, Scarlet,” he called, “take a respirator at least!”
Scarlet was already disappearing into the smoke without answering. Either he didn’t hear Blue, or he thought he didn’t have more time to waste in finding the last survivor.
Blue muttered under his breath, annoyed by his friend’s impetuousness. He shifted his position, trying to find a way to jam the door in order to follow Scarlet, but his hold slipped, and he found himself struggling even more against the hydraulics to keep the door open. Sparks suddenly flew and, struck by an electrical discharge, he yelped and let go, falling backward onto the floor. With no force to oppose it anymore, the door slid closed.
One of the technicians went to Blue, but the latter was getting back on his feet to rush to the door. “Damn!” He tried to open it again, but couldn’t find a hold. “Damn!” he repeated, removing his respirator. He slammed the intercom button. “Scarlet, come back here!” he roared.
Only static answered him.
Blue quickly changed channel and called the Engine Room Control Room.
“Grey, can you see Scarlet in there? He’s gone back, we can’t open the damned door and he won’t answer my calls!”
“Communication has been completely cut from the isolated section, Blue,” Grey answered him swiftly. “Beryl thinks it was damaged during the initial explosion... The smoke is so dense, we barely can see Scarlet.”
“Wonderful,” Blue muttered.
“We have another problem too,” Beryl added in turn. “This last explosion damaged the coolant distribution to the generator, which is presently overheating.”
“What does it mean?” Blue asked with a frown. “It already exploded…”
“No it didn’t. Not completely that is. The generator is still whole. The earlier blast caused a crack in the outer shell. If it overheats, the sphere might indeed be destroyed in the next explosion.”
Blue didn’t like the sound of that. “What would be the implications?” he asked.
“Although there won’t be any risk to Cloudbase itself, as we successfully transferred all powers to one of the auxiliary generators, to contain the explosion and protect the rest of the engine room from further damage, anti-radiation shields are presently lowering around that part of the room. The fixed mode generator will be safe… and us as well.”
Blue could indeed hear a soft humming, and he looked up through the porthole to see the thick metal sheets forming the anti-radiation shields sliding down from the ceiling on the other side of the glass airlock.
He swallowed hard.
“What about the isolated area, then?” he asked.
“That would be the problem, sir. Whatever and whoever is in that area will be caught in the explosion… And might be exposed to the radiation…” Beryl’s voice trailed off.
Blue didn’t need more explanation. “We have to get Scarlet out of there.”
“How?” Grey replied. “We can’t contact him, neither you or us, and the door is jammed. Furthermore, we won’t be able to enter before the anti-radiation shields are raised again.”
“Stop them, then!”
“Impossible, Captain Blue,” Grey answered grimly. “Once in motion, there’s no way to stop those shields. That’s part of the security feature. We’ll have to wait until the danger is past.”
Defeated, Blue turned around and watched with dread as anti-radiation shields moved into complete position.
He cursed under his breath.
“Then,” he said, looking worriedly through the slowly narrowing gap which still permitted him to watch into the isolated section of the engine room, “we’ll just have to hope – and pray – that Scarlet’s retrometabolism will be able to stand the full blast of a radioactive explosion.”
The shields clasped close with a loud snapping sound.
Through the thick smoke filling the enclosed isolated section, Captain Scarlet heard more than he could see the anti-radiation shield as they set into place. Immediately, he understood that something serious was about to happen – he could only imagine that it would be the generator about to explode. But it didn’t waver his resolution to find the missing man and to bring him back to safety – if the man was alive and if there was time to make it back.
Through the smoke, he could distinguish the spherical form of the generator, shimmering with a pale orange glow. Coughing, his eyes filled with burning tears caused by the acrid fumes, he made his way to it. The extinguishing foam had stopped falling from the ceiling; there was no flame anymore, so they had done their job well. It was also possible that the closing of the protective shields had stopped the flow, but of that he couldn’t be sure.
It wasn’t important anyway.
“Lambert!” he called in a hoarse voice. “Lambert, can you hear me? If you do, answer me! Give me your position!” He coughed again; his throat felt like sandpaper, and his mind like it was filled with cotton-wool. He had no idea how much longer he would be able to bear it. A couple of minutes, perhaps less…
He was very near the glowing generator. He could see the long tear on the surface, the soldered joint having given up under the building pressure; there was a yellow liquid spraying out from the gap in great quantity, and flowing to the floor. Scarlet hoped it was the coolant Grey and Beryl had talking about, and not some kind of radioactive substance that he should worry about.
His right foot bumped onto a mass sprawled on the floor that he had not seen and he nearly stumbled forward; he looked down and saw the body of a man, wearing a protective gear, lying there, very still. He crouched down. The man’s helmet had been torn from him, and he had a massive head injury. His eyes were wide open and empty. There was no doubt he was dead.
Scarlet sighed and slowly rose to his feet, shaking his head in sorrow. All this for nothing, he reflected with bitterness.
A beeping sound attracted his attention and he raised his eyes in the direction of the generator; a red light blinking wildly from a panel attached to its surface…
… And standing right to that panel was the figure of a man, all dressed in protective gear, except for his head, which had nothing on. His head was resting on a big red lever next to a big blinking red warning light.
Wasn’t there supposed to be only two men trapped in here? Scarlet thought at first. He couldn’t see the face of this man through the surrounding fumes, but the sudden wave of dizziness that hit him instantly told him of the true identity of this man.
It was no wonder he shouldn’t be there…
Scarlet felt his heart rate increase as the movement from the fumes soon gave him the opportunity to clearly distinguish the face of the man standing in front on him.
Or rather, Lambert’s Mysteronised duplicate.
Scarlet couldn’t say he was really surprised.
“Do not worry, Captain,” the man’s low voice told him, as a thin smile start to spread on his lips. “This will be quick. You won’t suffer…” His hand lowered the lever, and the red light stopped blinking, to stay on. “… Much.”
Scarlet stepped back quickly. It was too late.
There was a deafening blast as the generator’s spherical form opened up like an overripe fruit. Flames and light tore through it, and filled the confined room, engulfing the Mysteron agent, who seemed to disintegrate from existence.
Scarlet turned on his heel and made a desperate dash to escape. He barely managed two steps; the shockwave hit him in the back with such force that he was blown off his feet and thrown clear over a control console, before his body slammed violently against the nearest wall.
Sprawled on the floor, the console offered very little protection; the heat was scorching. He yelled in agony, as he felt every fibre of his being seemingly burned and torn apart, atom by atom.
However, the Mysteron agent had not lied to him. The pain was mercifully brief, and his mind quickly fell into oblivion.
The protective anti-radiation shields had also been lowered over the large bay window of the engine control room, so the only way its occupants could know what was going on in the engine room was through the security cameras, which were relaying the images to the monitors set atop the now closed window.
The smoke around the defective generator was dense, and they couldn’t see much with the three cameras positioned in that area, but they still could clearly distinguished Scarlet’s red tunic as he was making his way closer to the generator. They lost sight of him, as he stepped deeper into the fumes… and then, the generator reached its breaking point and exploded into a shower of flames and lights, filling the isolated section between its now restrictive walls.
One of the cameras was instantly destroyed by the blast, and momentarily, the two remaining ones went offline. As Captain Blue’s voice was ringing through the speakers, asking what was going on, Lieutenant Beryl worked frantically to get the cameras back online. When they finally answered to his commands and the picture returned, the three men in the room held their breath.
The anti-radiation screen had held against the blast, although they now sported scorch marks and there was a visible dent in one of them. Everything within the confines of the secured section was destroyed, with wreckage all over the place, and the generator now presenting all the appearance of a broken giant egg, with yellowish liquid spilling from it. The smoke was now forming a mist at floor level, hiding most of it; there were small fires in two or three places, burning brightly.
In the middle of this scene of devastation, there was also a most astonishing sight.
“Sweet Mother of God…”
Captain Grey turned around to see Captain Blue standing in the opening of the lift. Not receiving any replies from the control room, the Bostonian had obviously returned to find out what was going on. His eyes wide opened, he approached slowly, watching the image relayed from the cameras to the monitors with the same sense of wonder as his colleagues standing by his side.
“Central Command to Engine Room,” the voice of Colonel White rang through the speakers. “Situation reports, please.”
Grey shook himself and lowered his cap microphone. “Colonel?”
“We felt that last tremor on the bridge. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, sir. Well… sort of. The variable mode generator exploded, but Lieutenant Beryl successfully transferred all its power to one of the auxiliary generators. Cloudbase seems to be out of danger.”
“Seems? You don’t sound that certain, Captain.”
“I mean… yes, sir, we’re not in danger, but…” Grey sighed. How to describe this to Colonel White, he had no idea. “You should see this, Colonel. Lieutenant Beryl, relay the image to the Control Room.”
“S.I.G.,” Beryl answered. He immediately pressed a button and waited for their commander’s reaction. It didn’t take very long.
White was now seeing exactly the same as they all did. And it was a most curious sight.
There were multiple dots of light seemingly suspended in mid-air in the secured area, blinking, and moving, and dancing, one after the other; they were similar to tiny, bright stars, hanging in a clear night sky… Except they were blinking much faster. To the naked eye, they seemingly disappeared from view, trailing a long, thin tail of light behind them, to suddenly reappear at the other side of the room. In more than one instance, some of them appeared to separate in two, like the yolk of an egg, and each new dot then moved away from each other, trailing the same fine tail between them, like a line that would thin into nothingness… before they would completely detach from each other, and fade.
“What the blazes are those?” White asked.
“Tachyons,” Lavender suddenly murmured, his eyes suddenly opening wide.
“What?” Blue said, turning to him.
“Don’t you see? They could only be tachyons!” Lavender excitedly pointed to the screen.
“Tachyons?” Beryl repeated with doubt. “How can you know they’re tachyons? We don’t even know if tachyons really exist!”
“Of course they do, look at it!” Lavender’s excitation was growing by the second, but none of the others seemed to fully understand the importance of what they were seeing. They were all looking with either doubt or ignorance of what he was talking about. He thought it best to explain, turning to Blue and Grey: “Tachyons are subatomic particles that, according to theories move faster than light. And therefore cannot be seen.”
“I know what tachyons are,” Blue said with annoyance. “Or rather, are supposed to be. But I thought they didn’t really exist – that science was unable to prove their existence.”
“Well, the whole problem is that science was also unable to prove they didn’t exist,” Lavender said. “Experts who built the anti-gravity generators speculated that the anti-gravity force field might be creating tachyons… I think now we can see that theory is exact.”
“Exactly how can you see that they’re tachyons if they supposedly move too fast to be seen?” Grey asked with scepticism. “By the way they blink?”
Lavender sighed deeply. He had to remember that these men, however intelligent they might be, didn’t possess as brilliant a scientific mind as himself.
“They’re not blinking, Captain. They’re moving so fast that your eye cannot follow them. Look at them go.” He pointed directly to one of the ‘stars’ which was starting to separate in two. “There! Here’s your proof. That’s a very unique signature. One of these two dots is the tachyon moving forward in time, as it is caught by the camera. Its sister – the other dot – is seemingly going in the opposite direction. In reality, it is but a past reflection of the same particle. The camera and our eyes can see both reflections at once, from the point where both images seemingly separated… That point would ‘the present’ for the particle, the micro-second when we caught sight of it – because an image is a reflection of light, and that particle moves faster than light!”
“Since when can we see particles with the naked eye?” Grey reflected.
“In normal time, we shouldn’t. But those are obviously charged with the radiation from the exploding generator. Which probably rendered them ‘bright’, for the micro-second we can see them. What we are currently seeing is ‘tachyonic radiation’.”
“Whatever it means,” Blue said impatiently. “We’re losing precious time. Scarlet is still trapped in there.”
“Captain Scarlet might be dead as we speak, Captain Blue,” Lavender reflected.
That had the effect of making Blue bristle, as if he had been physically attacked. He glared menacingly at Lavender. “Like it wouldn’t be the first time, Doctor,” he said in a very glacial voice. “And you know that even then, we cannot count him as completely lost. We have to go in and get him out. Whether he is dead or alive.”
“What are the effects of tachyonic radiation on human beings, Doctor?” Colonel White asked from the speakers.
Lavender shook his head. “I hope you don’t expect me to know the answer to that question, Colonel? This is a brand new discovery we’re making… We’ll have to analyse this, see what we can learn from it –”
“I don’t have to remind you that at least ONE man has been caught alive in this tachyonic radiation of yours, Doctor,” White replied with some irritation. “Captain Blue is right: we have to get him out of there. Whatever you could give us as information might be of the utmost importance.”
“I’m sorry, Colonel. Truly, I am. But that doesn’t change the fact that, as far as we know, Captain Scarlet could have been vaporised by that explosion.” Lavender noticed the dangerous glare in Captain Blue’s eyes, but he ignored it, and added quickly: “I really don’t know what a tachyonic blast could do to a human being.”
“But Scarlet isn’t entirely human,” White observed. “Lieutenant Beryl, make a survey of the place. See if you can find him.”
“No need to, Colonel,” Beryl answered almost immediately. “I’ve already found him.”
As everyone turned to him, Beryl nodded in the direction of the central screen; he turned a dial on the control panel in front of him; the camera zoomed in to a specific point in the room. “There, look…”
Through the mist, among the wreckage, they discerned the red of an otherwise dirty tunic which was covering a body sprawled between a half-destroyed console and a scorched wall. They couldn’t see more than that.
“Well, at least we know he hasn’t been vaporised,” Blue commented, glaring Lavender’s way. “I’ll get an anti-radiation suit and get him out of there.”
“Captain, I would really advise against going in there, even with an anti-radiation suit,” Lavender said, his words stopping the American officer from leaving the room. “As I said, I don’t know what the effects of tachyonic radiation on a human being could be. As Colonel White said, Captain Scarlet isn’t exactly human, but you certainly are.”
Captain Blue’s anger grew one more degree. “Are you suggesting, Doctor, that I should abandon my friend to his fate?”
“No… Only that you should wait until the radiation has faded. For your own safety. You might still want to have children with that Angel of yours, one of these days.”
“Listen, you –”
Blue took a threatening step towards Lavender, whom he considered had gone too far; Grey stepped forward with the intention to interpose himself between the two men, but it was really Lieutenant Beryl’s words which defused the situation:
“There’s no need to argue that much, gentlemen. The radiation is already fading.” Everyone turned to him and he shook his head: “And it’s fading very fast. It won’t be long before it’s completely gone from the area.”
“Ah! So the problem is resolving itself,” Lavender said with satisfaction. “I shouldn’t be surprised, actually. Considering how fast these tachyons travel, the radiation they’re carrying would disperse just as fast.”
“Then why didn’t you just say so right away, instead of riling Captain Blue?” Grey almost snapped at him.
“Gentlemen, that’ll be enough,” the voice of Colonel White then sternly intervened. “This is no time for further argument. Lieutenant Beryl, in how much time do you estimate we should be able to send someone in there to get Scarlet out?”
“At the rate it’s going,” Beryl answered, “I’m thinking… about a half-hour before it would be completely safe.”
“A half-hour?” Blue said in disbelief. “But it’s still –”
“We’ll wait that half-hour, Captain,” Colonel White interrupted swiftly. “I understand your concern, but we must still be careful not to endanger anyone else. And that includes you.”
“No ‘buts’, Captain Blue. Captain Scarlet might have survived what just happened, but as Doctor Lavender so… indelicately put it, there might be consequences for you stepping in there while it’s still radioactive. You’ll stay put, until Lieutenant Beryl says it’s safe.”
Blue sighed, defeated. “S.I.G., sir.”
“And as we know so little about this type of radiation, even if there’s no trace of it left,” Beryl said, “I suggest that whoever will be going should wear an anti-radiation suit, all the same .”
Blue nodded his understanding. “Of course. I’ll get ready then.”
A half-hour later, Captain Blue and Captain Grey were back in the airlock, finishing putting the anti-radiation protective gear on, while waiting for Lieutenant Beryl’s last authorization to go. They were almost ready to go, and Grey was about to fix the helmet on Blue’s head, when the door to the lift slid open, and Lieutenant Green, dressed in similar gear, appeared, his helmet tucked under his arm. Both Blue and Grey frowned at seeing him; the younger man still sported a large bruise on the side of his head, and a dressing over a cut on his cheek.
“You looked you had a bout with the local boxing champion, Lieutenant,” Grey commented.
Green shook his head sombrely. “That would be Captain Scarlet,” he replied. “And we all know where he is.”
“And what are you doing here, exactly?” Blue asked. “Shouldn’t you be resting in sickbay?”
Green shrugged. “Doctor Fawn released me.”
“Like we would believe that. It’s more like you sneaked out, unnoticed. You were knocked about pretty badly, Green. You should go back.”
“Actually not that badly, Captain Blue,” Green retorted. “And Doctor Fawn did release me…”
“… Telling you to rest in your quarters, right?” Blue insisted.
Green lowered his eyes. “You guessed?”
“Easily. Scarlet is pretty good at doing that sort of thing.”
“I’m here for him.” Green nodded towards the door leading into the isolated section of the engine room. “I want to go with you, Captain.”
“Green…” Grey started.
“Sorry, Captain… But Captain Scarlet was the one to get me out of there before everything exploded,” Green interrupted. “Now he’s the one who’s trapped in there, because he returned to save another. Now it’s my turn to help him. It’s the least I could do for him.”
Still a little hesitant, Blue exchanged glances with Grey. The latter shrugged. “I’m against it, but it’s your call, Blue.”
“I don’t want to have to drag both of you back in here, Lieutenant.”
“It won’t happen, sir,” Green replied with assurance. “Please? I really want to go with you. I promise, after that, I’ll return to my quarters and get some rest. Doctor Fawn will never know.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Blue grumbled. “And I’m not as much worried about Fawn knowing this than the colonel.”
Green smirked. “I won’t tell him if you don’t, Captain. He won’t know.”
“He’d better not or there’ll be hell to pay,” Blue commented quietly. “You’re his favourite.”
Green openly laughed at that remark. “No, I figure it would be you or Captain Scarlet, sir.”
“The way he sometimes puts us through the wringer… I would doubt that very much, Lieutenant.” Blue grinned. “Or I really don’t want to know what it would be like if he didn’t like us.” He became serious again. “All right, then. You can come along.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Grey, you’ll stay here as back up. If we need your help…”
“I’ll come running in, don’t worry.”
“Are we okay to go, then?”
Grey lowered his cap mic. “Lieutenant Beryl, the rescue team requests permission to go.”
“Permission granted,” came Beryl’s answer from the speaker. “The radiation level is at satisfactory level... Good luck.”
Blue and Green put their helmets on, and Grey gave each of them an encouraging pat on the shoulder before stepping out of the airlock, closing the door behind him. The second door opened in front of the two men, and the walked into the devastated room.
The mist on the floor was about knee high, and was so thick, they could barely see through it. There wasn’t any ‘blinking stars’ anymore – the tachyonic radiation having nearly completely died out, but dust hung around, darkening the room reflecting back the dim red hue of the security lights. All the fires had been extinguished and the destroyed generator wasn’t glowing anymore, or seeping with coolant. However a thick vapour – or smoke, it wasn’t very clear what it was exactly – was escaping from it, adding to the surrounding darkness.
As both men walked purposefully into the room, Blue powered up his torch, and shone it at the destruction surrounding them. He couldn’t see anything, the light reflecting only on the thick mist.
“Captain Blue to Lieutenant Beryl,” he called into his mic. “Can you direct us to where we can find Captain Scarlet? We cannot see him from where we stand.”
“Straight ahead of you, Captain, nearly at the other end of the room,” Beryl’s voice said in both Blue’s and Green’s helmet speakers. “The mist has thickened significantly and I can’t see him anymore, but I still can see the console behind which he was lying, when we saw him earlier. Can you see the console, about ten feet in front of what’s left of the generator?”
Blue looked in the indicated direction, and discovered the console in question. He could see the wall beyond; Scarlet lay between that console and that wall. He patted on Green’s shoulder, and pointed to it.
“We see it, Lieutenant Beryl,” he said into his mic. “We’re now progressing towards it.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue.”
“Stay close to me, Green,” Blue advised his companion.
“Don’t worry, Captain. I don’t intend to stray around. I hope that Captain Scarlet is not too seriously wounded.”
“You and me both, pal.”
Despite his words, however, he doubted very much that Scarlet would be okay – or even alive, for that matter. Knowing his friend however, he still hoped that he would recover the way he normally did with any other injury from the explosion and this very unusual ‘tachyonic bath’ he had been exposed to.
They approached the position designated by Beryl; they progressed slowly and cautiously, debris impeding their steps, making sure that the floor was not damaged and that they would not fall through a hole they couldn’t see through the mist. Fortunately, it seemed solid, if a little bumpy. Blue made a mental note to recommend that a repair crew check the foundations as soon as the crisis was over.
They reached their destination and rounded the console; the light of Blue’s torch pierced the darkness between the console and the wall; through the mist, it shone over a dirty red patch, half-covered with debris, barely two feet in front of them.
“We found him!” Blue announced victoriously.
“Is he alive?” the voice of Grey asked into his speaker.
“Checking that… Scarlet, can you hear me?” Blue called out loud.
He didn’t have much hope of receiving any answer, but to his surprise, he saw a slight movement coming from the still, half-buried body. Heart pounding, he and Green rushed forward, both hoping, without really believing it, that their colleague would be alive – and well.
They fell on their knees at his side, and started digging him out; pieces of half burned metal and molten plastic, mixed with a thick of grey dust layer was nearly covering up entirely. Scarlet had been fortunate; the debris over him was not too heavy, and so had not crushed his body underneath their weight.
“Scarlet, buddy, are you okay?” Blue called again. “Can you answer me?”
Blue suddenly stopped as he discovered the end of a sleeve – disturbingly empty. There was no hand protruding from it, and the sleeve was hanging loose and flat. Blue’s heart started beating faster. He didn’t like finding his friend’s broken body after a very violent death, and the thing he feared the most was to find him in pieces – literally speaking. What if Scarlet had been seriously hurt in this explosion? He couldn’t see any blood around – but then again, it was so dark, because of this mist of microscopic debris hanging in the air, he couldn’t be all that sure.
“Paul? Can you hear me?”
Blue reached for the uniform; he could feel his friend’s body underneath it. He scowled; Scarlet’s uniform seemed oddly loose over his body. He heard a moan… and again, Blue froze. That didn’t sound at all like Scarlet’s voice – it wasn’t deep enough to even be the voice of a man. But it was definitely coming from the person wearing that uniform.
“Green,” he said, handing his companion the electric torch he was holding, “light him, please, while I dig him up.”
Green took the torch and directed the ray as he was ordered; an anxious Captain Blue pulled on Scarlet’s arm, finally extracting him from what was left of the debris. Scarlet emerged into the light, and the American captain caught him in his arms before he could fall back.
Blue nearly dropped him, out of complete shock. He heard the gasp of surprise coming from Green, crouched by his side.
Lit by the dim light of the torch, instead of his friend’s face, Blue was seeing the dust-covered face of an apparently unconscious young boy, of about ten or eleven years old. He was hanging loosely between Blue’s arms, wearing over his thin body the tattered uniform of Captain Scarlet, way too large for him.
Except for a short cut on his brow, he didn’t seem hurt in any way.
Blue was without a voice; he was trying to make sense of what was happening – of who this young boy could be, and where he could come from. He couldn’t find an explanation; it was as if the child had appeared out of thin air.
… Wearing Scarlet’s uniform.
And where the devil was Scarlet?
His heart pounding, Blue looked intently at the child’s face; the hair, covered with dust, lighted by the light of Green’s torch, was either black or a very dark brown. He was a strapping boy, with handsome features... which strikingly resembled those of Scarlet himself.
As if the boy Blue was holding in his arms was the English officer’s young son.
Green gasped in surprise, and Blue’s jaw dropped to the floor; the boy opened tired eyes – deep blue eyes, Blue noticed, just like Scarlet – blinked several times, and frowned as he looked around, as if he was totally lost.
His eyes focused on the man holding him, and he opened them wide, and recoiled at the sight of his barely visibly face through the transparent mask of his protective helmet. He wasn’t exactly terrified, but he obviously wasn’t really reassured.
Blue finally found his voice. “Who are you?” he managed to exclaim.
The haggard boy looked directly at him, frowning as he did so. “P-Paul…” he breathed out, and Blue had to strain his ears to actually hear what he was saying. The boy swallowed hard, seemingly with great effort. “Paul Metcalfe, sir…” he answered in a weak voice, and that answer sent a shiver down the American’s spine.
“What the devil,” Green said under his breath. “It can’t…”
Blue couldn’t speak again; his eyes were fixed unbelievingly onto the boy’s face. He shook his head in negation.
The child’s eyes were slowly dropping. He gave a low moan and said, very tiredly: “And… and who are you…?” The boy’s voice trailed off and his chin lowered onto his chest, and his eyes closed.
Blue was still shaking his head. Suddenly, a doubt about who this boy could actually be was insinuating in his mind.
It was impossible, totally illogical… but the proof – the fact that the child was wearing Scarlet’s uniform, that he looked so much like Scarlet – seemed irrefutable.
“It can’t be,” he whispered. “How could this have happened?”
“Sir?” Green said with confusion. “Wh-who is this kid? And… where is Captain Scarlet?”
“Don’t you see, Lieutenant?” Blue almost snapped at him. “Haven’t you guessed? This boy is Captain Scarlet!”
“I… I was afraid you would say that.” Green shook himself. “But it’s impossible!”
“I know it is but… Do you have a better explanation? I don’t know what’s going on, but… ” Blue looked intently at the young boy in his arms and shook his head despondently. He breathed out deeply, letting go of as much stress as he could. “He’s unconscious,” he said, trying to sound reasonable. “He’s only a boy, we ought to get him out of here, considering he might still be in danger if he stays too long in this place.” He shook his head slowly. “We can always figure out what happened when we get him somewhere safe.”
Green nodded, agreeing with his senior officer’s suggestion, and stood up.
Blue got up to his feet too, carefully gathering the unconscious boy into his arms – he felt so light, and his whole body was floating in the Spectrum uniform. One of his red boots fell from his foot and landed on the floor with a dull thud. Blue looked down distractedly at the unconscious young face. He still scarcely believe it, despite his words to the contrary to Green earlier.
Could this really be possible? Could this young man be Paul Metcalfe?
No… it was too incredible. And yet –
“Captain Blue, what is going on?” the voice in the speaker this time was that of Colonel White. Obviously the Spectrum commander was getting impatient to learn what exactly was going on. Blue couldn’t imagine how exactly he would be able to explain the latest events to him. He wondered if he would even believe what he had trouble even conceiving, himself.
The first thing would be to make sure of the identity of this boy – to check if he really was who he claimed he was.
He ignored Colonel White’s call and turned to Green, who was standing by his side, his eyes still riveted on the unconscious child.
“Have the place searched entirely, Lieutenant,” Blue ordered in as firm a voice as he could muster. “If Scarlet is still here…” He doubted even himself, as he said those words. Scarlet couldn’t be there. There was no-one else but Green, himself…
… And the unknown child who claimed he was Paul Metcalfe.
“You think we’ll find Captain Scarlet in here, sir?” Green asked, unconvinced.
Blue shook his head. No, he didn’t think so. But he didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“Sir?” the confused Green asked insistently.
“Have everything checked from top to bottom. I don’t want a single piece of debris to be left unturned. Inform me the minute something – or someone – is found.”
“S.I.G.,” Green answered in a low voice. He wasn’t fooled by Blue’s words. By someone, his superior officer certainly meant Captain Scarlet, but he obviously didn’t believe that Green would find something other than what they already did. The lieutenant’s eyes were not leaving the small body Blue was holding in his arms. It was obvious that although the American captain was suitably dumbfounded, he still had a very strong belief as to where Scarlet could be.
Blue briskly walked towards the door, carrying his precious charge with great care.
“I’m taking… this boy… to sickbay,” he said in a low voice. “He needs medical treatment.”
Whether this boy was Captain Scarlet or not – he would see that he was well taken care of.
And then he would be able to provide some answers to impossible questions…