A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop
Daniel Younger woke up with a start; someone was insistently shaking his shoulder.
“Daniel… Eh, Daniel! Wake up!”
With a start, Daniel straightened in his seat. He had not even realised he had fallen asleep. His neck was sore; obviously, he had slept in an awkward position. Stroking the back of his neck, he looked around in confusion, saw the interior of the cabin and remembered where he was.
Paul Metcalfe was standing by his side and looked very excited.
“We’re practically there,” Paul informed him. “You’d better wake up. We’ll be landing soon.
Sorry, dude,” Daniel said with a slurred voice. Through the windshield of the cockpit, the blue sky had made way to the dark of the night. “We’re already there? I slept long, then?”
“Nearly all the way through… S’not important, Georgina took care of everything.”
“And you, you didn’t sleep?”
“Nah… Too excited I suppose.” Paul grinned. “Want to see my city? We’re just flying over it. We’re just low enough to see the lights.”
Daniel leaned to the side and looked down towards the ground; he almost made a double take when he realised how low their craft actually was. Not only could they see the lights brightening the city below, but also, the outlines of the roofs from some of the largest buildings.
“How high are we, anyway?” Daniel asked.
Paul checked the instruments. “Some four thousands feet,” he answered. “And we’re getting lower as we are approaching the landing zone. Georgina put the cloaking device on ten minutes ago. Doesn’t mean we can’t be seen by eye, though.”
“It’s dark. I’m betting no-one will notice one planes amongst all the others,” Daniel reasoned. He pointed to a very large cross-shaped construction below, brightly lighted from all sides. “What’s that down there?”
Paul came to his side and looked down. “That’s Winchester Cathedral,” he explained. “One of the largest churches in England. You know it’s nearly a thousand and a half year old?”
“Yeah?” Daniel said, failing to appear suitably impressed by the statement. “Are we going to land in one of those empty spaces close by it?”
Paul scoffed. “You’re joking, right? It’s Christmas, dumbwit, so that means there’s a lot of activities around the Cathedral tonight. There’s the Christmas Market, and the ice rink, and the choristers… And the services for the Mass, of course. There will be lots of people all around the place. We wouldn’t be able to land there without a lot of people noticing us.”
“Good point, mate.”
“Beside, this isn’t exactly close to my home. My parents’ house’s is more in the outskirts of the city. Plenty of places to land there without being noticed.” Paul left the window and went to sit back in the pilot seat. He checked the instruments again. “You’d better buckle up, Daniel,” he informed his companion. “We will be there shortly.”
“I’m starting to get excited too,” Daniel admitted as he snapped his belt around his hips. “Imagine that we actually escaped Cloudbase and got all the way to here, in England! My dad’s sure gonna flip!”
“I expect mine will too,” Paul reasoned.
“He doesn’t know you’re coming, is he?” Daniel asked. “Perhaps Spectrum informed him?”
“Perhaps,” Paul murmured thoughtfully. “Or maybe they have not. Contacting my father might be risky, I think.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe the government might intercept the communication?” Paul suggested. “That would be dangerous for my family, don’t you think?”
Daniel shook his head in confusion. “I’ve got no idea what you mean, mate. Why would it be dangerous for your folks exactly? They’re criminals or something?”
“No, of course not,” Paul swiftly defended them. “But being in contact with the World Government… Don’t you think that wouldn’t suit well with the Militarists in England?”
“Uh… Now you’ve lost me, kid,” Daniel said with a shake of his head. Being an Australian, and not particularly interested in politics in general, or even in modern history, especially when it didn’t specifically concern his own country, the teenager didn’t understand at all what the younger boy was telling him. When he had met Paul in the hangar the day before, Daniel had made fun of the fact that he had mistaken his father for former World President Nikita Bandranaik, and seemingly didn’t know the name of the actual World President. The truth was that Paul was almost completely right when, in retaliation, he had told Daniel that if the World President wasn’t his own father, he would not even have known that information himself.
For Daniel, the concept of Militarists in England was almost totally alien. He had heard the term already in school, when it had been mentioned there was a political regime by that name in Britain years before, and that there had been a short insurrection that chased them from power, when the country had joined the World Government. But he had not paid proper attention to all that had been said, and so beyond that, he was almost completely lost.
“I thought there was any Militarist left in Britain,” he said thoughtfully.
“You thought wrong,” Paul said darkly. “They’re here all right, and they’re not kind.” He looked at his companion, as a thought crossed his mind. “Maybe you being with me isn’t such a good idea, after all,” he declared.
“What do you mean, mate?”
“You might be in a greater risk than I could be, if they find you.”
“Oh, please, dude…” Now Daniel dismissed Paul’s concern with a wave of the hand. The boy was simply acting too paranoid now. He surely was exaggerating. “I think you worry for nothing. What are the chance of these so-called ‘Militarists’ finding me and doing me some wrong? Don’t you think they would play with fire if they do? They can do nothing to me! I am the son of the World President… ”
“And that’s what worrying me, you know,” Paul retorted, broodingly.
“Hey, I wager I look like any other kids in your little country,” Daniel said, annoying Paul with the use of that epithet. “How can you expect them to spot me amongst the crowd? Contrary to my dad, my picture isn’t in the newspapers much!”
“You may look like any other kids in England, Daniel, but I bet they could easily spot you anyway.”
“Oh yeah? And how’s that, smart boy?”
“By your accent, of course.”
Daniel was about to protest, but was unable to, as right at that moment, the female voice of the auto-pilot resonated through the speakers:
“We are now approaching our landing zone and will be starting landing procedure in five minutes. Estimated touchdown in ten minutes. Please fasten your seatbelts for descent.”
“Computer,” Paul then instructed in a loud voice, “please make sure that the landing zone is deserted and that there isn’t any witnesses around.”
“Additional instructions received and acknowledged.”
“You really don’t want to take any chances, do you, mate?” Daniel remarked. “What are you so afraid of, anyway?”
“I don’t know exactly,” Paul muttered with a gloomy voice. “But I’ve got that feeling we are being watched… And that someone is waiting for us to make a false move to get their hands on us as soon as they’ll get the chance…”
If Paul had seen the Angel aircraft flying at some distance over SPJ P010, he probably would have realised that he was perfectly right in his assumption that they were being watched.
Harmony Angel, at the helm of Angel One, had caught up with the hijacked plane a good thirty minutes before, and, had been watching its progression, making sure to keep out of sight from the pilots.
“Angel One to Cloudbase Control,” she said in her microphone. “P010 has started its approach for landing procedure in the outskirts of Winchester, following the coordinates the computer sent to Spectrum. It will reach ground in five minutes.”
“S.I.G., Harmony Angel,” Lieutenant Green replied. “Continue to observe P010, while still keeping out of sight. Angels Two and Three are patrolling the area and have created an exclusion zone around the landing area.”
“S.I.G., Cloudbase Control. Will inform you as soon as P010 has landed.”
His car parked under the shadow of the trees, with its lights off, a man stood on a sturdy branch, watching the approaching airplane with a pair of binoculars. There was not a single doubt in his mind as he recognised the outlines, which made the craft easily recognisable.
It was a Spectrum SPJ, which was coming for vertical landing.
He lowered his binocular and narrowed his eyes, his hand resting on his badly shaved chin as he considered the distance, speed and height of the plane. He knew enough of the area to figure out where it would land almost exactly. It was a field nearby, easily accessible through this small road.
The Mysterons had kept a close eye on the events as they unfolded, and they had foreseen what would happen. Just like so many times before, they had been right.
That was unfortunate for those who were currently piloting the SPJ.
“The lost boys have arrived,” he said in a low, monotone voice. “The operation is proceeding as planned…”
He jumped from the blanch he stood on, landing on the roof of his dark car which gave a dull thud under the impact. Then he leapt to the ground, which was covered by a very thin layer of snow. Opening the door on the driver side, he threw his binocular onto the passenger seat and removed his leather coat, before opening the back door and reaching out for the tunic, cap and sidearm belt that lay onto the back seat. Slowly, he put them on. He had not worn them in ages it seemed to him, and so, he couldn’t help noticing the mustiness pervading the velvety fabric of the tunic. It didn’t matter much anyway. The illusion would do perfectly.
Fully attired, he took the wheel of his car and checked the direction taken by the plane; he could hear in the distance the sound of the activated retrorockets. The craft was landing. It wasn’t far; and it sounded like it was exactly the place he had anticipated.
He powered up the engine and his car slowly moved along the snow-covered small road, its lights still off. He wasn’t in any hurry; he had all the time in the world to arrive and carry on with his instructions.
In any case, he was well aware of the pilots’ ultimate destination, once they will leave their craft and set out on foot. There was only one place they could go – at least for one of them. For the other… what could he do but follow his companion?
The Mysterons, this time, were sure to have their revenge.
Lieutenant Green swirled his seat around to address Colonel White, who, seated at his desk with his back turned on him, was watching the large electronic map of the area of operation displayed on the wall screen. Captain Grey was by his side, marking information on an electronic pad. A large illuminated rectangle had been formed around an area in the outskirts of Winchester where the runaway SPJ was set to land. That was the exclusion zone, created by the patrolling Angels, to make sure no other aircraft, would approach too closely from P010. Spectrum wanted to avoid an attack from the air against the stolen craft, either by missiles from a military aircraft… or by a fast-approaching civilian plane which might attempt to ram it in midair.
From the Mysterons, Spectrum expected anything to happen.
“The Winchester W.A.A.F Airbase has been informed of Spectrum manoeuvres inside the area, sir,” Grey informed his commander. “Captain Forest is now posted at their air traffic control tower. The radars had not even picked up SPJ P010’s approach. It seems the onboard computer has put the cloaking device to perfect use. There wasn’t even a glitch.”
White nodded at the information. “When is the SPJ carrying Captain Ochre and Captain Magenta scheduled to arrive, Lieutenant?” he asked over his shoulder.
“SPJ A05, E.T.A. forty-five minutes, sir.”
White grunted with irritation. SPJ P010 had a good head start before Spectrum had even realised what was going on, and with a good tail wind, it had reached destination in record time. While the Angels craft, with their superior speed, had been able to catch on with it, the SPJ with Ochre and Magenta onboard was still way behind. And the wind having turned, it had been slowed down.
“These boys will be out of their aircraft well before Ochre and Magenta arrive,” White muttered.
“Should we inform Captain Forest to move to the landing area, sir?” Grey inquired.
“No. Forest needs to stay at the airbase,” White replied. “He and his unit have to check the base personnel with Mysteron detector and make sure some trigger-happy W.A.A.F. surface-to-air missile operative will not take P010 as a target. Either accidentally or because he would have been taken over by the Mysterons.”
“For now, the Angels must continue patrolling the exclusion zone,” White continued. “It’s dark right now, and any unauthorised aircraft, especially a small one, could enter the area, practically unnoticed, in order to make an attack.” He looked at the screen, thoughtfully. “I suppose we will have to rely on Captain Blue and Melody Angel then,” he reflected.
“But they’re under lock and key,” Grey remarked. “The door’s too strong and the lock is magnetic. They can’t force it open.”
“Can’t they?” White replied with an even voice. “Once they will reach ground, I believe this will change everything…”
As SPJ P010 gently lowered itself to the ground, Daniel Younger sat into the co-pilot seat, his fingers curled around the armrests. If he had properly learned any of the prayers his mother had taught him when he was a boy, he would gladly have recited one. Landing procedures had always made him nervous. He wasn’t sure he cared much for VTOL landing; this was the first time he ever experienced it, as even landing on Cloudbase with the W.A.A.F. passenger jet had been done ‘the proper way’.
However, he found out that landing this way was smoother than he ever had thought possible, and that made him wonder why all the planes were not landing in a similar fashion.
As the retrorockets powered down, Daniel noticed Paul quietly unfastening his seatbelt, and he did the same, making a show of appearing casual. He looked outside through the windshield and despite the darkness, noticed the white ground.
“Snow?” he asked, seemingly surprised.
Paul rolled his eyes. “It’s December, Daniel. It happens sometimes.”
“Not in Australia, it doesn’t. In December, it’s summer, and we often have a scorching sun. Especially in Melbourne. And in Bermudas, it never snows.”
Paul shrugged dismissively, as if the question didn’t interest him, and opened the door to leave the cockpit. He crossed the passenger cabin towards the exit hatch, closely followed by Daniel. He placidly ignored the banging on the door of the kitchenette and the calls coming from the other side, which seemed to have started all over again.
“Paul! Daniel!” Melody called. “This plane has landed now. Let us out of here!”
“Come on, kids!” Captain Blue said in turn. “You don’t know what risks you are running now! You have to let us out! You’re in terrible danger!”
Daniel scowled at these words, perplexed by the urgency they seemed to convey. In danger? What could these Spectrum officers mean exactly? That didn’t make any sense.
He addressed an interrogative glance at his younger companion, as he pointed to the door. “Shall we –?”
“Certainly not,” Paul interrupted before he could go through with his question. “Are you nuts or what? As soon as they’ll be out, they’ll turn this plane around and get us back to Cloudbase, you know that.”
“Not if they don’t have enough fuel, they won’t,” Daniel retorted.
That was reasonable enough, but Paul wouldn’t hear about it.
“They still wouldn’t let me see my parents,” he replied. “And I’m so close now, I certainly won’t let them stop me.”
“Tell me again why they wouldn’t let you see your folks?” Daniel said with doubt. “Sounds unnecessary cruel to me. Is there something you don’t tell me, soldier? I hope you’re not carrying so contagious mortal disease or something…”
“Don’t be stupid! If it had been the case, you think they would have let me run free on Cloudbase? They would have put me in quarantine!”
“Then what’s the deal?”
Paul hesitated, unsure how to answer. The voice of Captain Blue rang again through the door:
“Paul! Daniel! It’s vital that you let us out! You’re in danger!”
“Lame, Adam!” Paul called out suddenly. “You’ll have to do better than that!”
“I’m not kidding!” Blue replied desperately. “You really are in danger! The Mysterons have targeted the both of you! They meant to kill you!”
“The Mysterons…?” Daniel wasn’t really reassured.
He was now having second thoughts about their escapade. Perhaps it wasn’t as safe as he had first assumed.
“You hear what they’re saying?” he asked Paul. “They said the Mysterons are after us!”
“So?” Paul asked with a shrug. “Who are these Mysterons?”
“Have you been living under a rock these last two years? These guys are terrorists… Deadly terrorists! Two years ago, they started by threatening my father! They could have killed him, if not for Spectrum!”
“Your dad, uh?” Paul shrugged again, dismissively. “Don’t you see, Danny? They’re just trying to scare us into opening the door for them. They’d try anything! They know you’re scared of these Mysterons because of what they did to your dad, that’s obvious! Don’t let that impress you. These Mysterons are not interested in kids like us.”
“Oh yeah? And how about earlier when you said that, because I was the World President’s son, there might be some risks for me out there?” Daniel reminded him. “Because of the Militarists? Don’t deny it, you said it!”
Paul gave it some thought. “Well, it’s true it might be safer for you to stay in the plane…”
“Oh, great…” muttered Daniel.
“... But only until I had seen my father,” Paul added quickly. “I’ll go talk to him, and he’ll know what to do to make sure you’re okay.”
“Wouldn’t it be safer if we let Captain Blue and the Angel pilot go free instead?” Daniel retorted with insistence. “They would protect us. It was Captain Blue who saved my father two years ago. He’ll know what to do. Your father… I don’t know.”
Paul sighed deeply. He had had about enough of this discussion. He was inches to get through that door and run to his parents’ house. He wasn’t about to delay this any further. Certainly not because of Daniel suddenly having cold feet.
“Look,” he said, “I’m going out of here and will run straight home. I’ll talk with Dad and we’ll be back for you. In the meantime, you stay in here, keep the door close and you don’t get out…” He pointed to the kitchenette door, which Melody and Blue were still banging on.
“Paul, Daniel! Open that damn door!”
“… And you don’t let them come after me,” Paul finished, this time warningly. “If you do, I’ll never forgive you, Daniel.”
He ignored the look of dismay on the older boy’s face and turned around to press the opening button. The hatched opened in front of them with a hissing sound. The bottom part lowered towards the ground below and steps emerged from it, forming a stair which permitted to leave the plane.
The air outside was very cold, possibly around zero, and the two boys shivered when a draft hit them in the face. Daniel hugged himself. He wasn’t used to that kind of weather.
Slowly, both boys went down the steps; Paul reached the ground, but Daniel stayed on the last steps, and looked around fretfully. They were in an empty, almost flat field, which ground was covered with a thin layer of snow, with some patches of frozen grass appearing here and there. In front of them, the field was bordered by trees, completely bare of their leaves, which gave them strange and disturbing, almost menacing shapes.
Daniel shivered again, and this time, not only because of the cold.
Further down the line of trees, at some distance from there, and accessible through a small road, he noticed the outlines of a big dark house. He nodded in that direction.
“Looks like nobody’s home at your place, mate,” he muttered, his teeth chattering inside his mouth.
“Paul shook his head. “That’s not where I live. My house is a little further down, beyond the trees, bordered by the woods. Maybe… one kilometre away. That,” he said, pointing to the dark house, “is Follett Mansion. The home of Old Major Follett.”
“Military man, by the sound of it. Friend of yours?”
“He’s a friend of my father,” Paul confirmed. “At least, he was… I don’t know anymore.” He shook his head sadly. “Except for the youngest, Billy, he lost all his sons to the army… So he’s very protective of his last son… ” His voice trailed off, and Daniel failed to notice the obvious sorrow in which Paul had said these last words.
“So you think you might go there and ask for a ride to your folks’ home?” the older boy suggested.
Paul had no intention whatsoever to ask for Old Follett’s help. As far as he knew, Billy could be there, and if he was, he might denounce them to the Militarists. That was certainly something the young boy wanted to avoid. He shook his head at the suggestion.
“No. We shouldn’t to go there. Old Follett’s has friends within the Militarists. His son Billy is one. He would report us… As I said, I’ll run home and get my dad.”
“You said it’s one kilometre away,” Daniel remarked.
“So?” Paul shrugged. “That’s not that far. I’ll do that in no time.”
“Paul… Be reasonable. It’s freezing out here. There’s that snow, it could be slippery, especially with those shoes you’re wearing. Where did you get them anyway? They look like they had three owners before you. And you don’t have a proper coat for that weather…” He shook his head. “You’ll never make it to your place. One kilometre, it’s a long way in those conditions.”
Paul turned to his companion, snorting with deep contempt, and glared at him angrily. “Look, if you haven't got the guts 'cause you're too soft, Danny-Boy, don’t think I’m the same. At least, one of us is doing something, instead of whining all the time.”
Stung by this unexpected attack, Daniel started to protest: “Now wait a minute…”
“I’m through waiting,” Paul declared with irritation. “Now you stay in the plane, lock the door, and let me do what I have to do. I'll be back soon.”
And with that, Paul darted down the field.
Left alone, Daniel looked at him go for a short moment, until, shivering and rubbing his cold arms with his hands, he hurried up the steps and returned to the relative warmth of the SPV.
Inside, he was welcomed by Captain Blue’s loud calls through the kitchenette’s door:
“Paul! Daniel! For the last time, open that door! I’ve been authorised to use any means necessary to get out of here, and when I do, I swear to you, you’re going to regret it!”
Daniel was about to reply that Paul wasn’t there and that he was gone already to join his parents at his home when he stopped himself and grunted in annoyance. He turned his back on the door; he would not open it. Paul was probably right – he had been since the very beginning: these Spectrum agents would say anything to regain their freedom. So the better course of action was to continue to ignore them.
He walked to the open hatch and looked outside, ruminating on Paul’s departing words. They were harsh words and they had touched a raw nerve. At ten year old, the kid had dared tell him things that no-one else had ever dared saying before. Daniel’s pride was deeply wounded.
“So I haven’t got the guts?” he mumbled angrily, glaring into the darkness, in the direction Paul had taken barely two minutes before. “That’s what he thinks of me, then?”
Daniel walked away from the door slightly, getting out of the cold draft; he passed by a narrow closet and stopping in front of it, opened it with curiosity. There were various pieces of equipment in there: a box marked “Fist-aid”, a variety of tools, blankets, six rescue flares hooked inside the door, helmets of various colours…
… And coats. Also of various colours.
“So I’m soft too, uh?”
Without even thinking about it, Daniel seized the first coat within reach – a grey one – and started putting it on, while he strode determinately towards the still open door.
“I’ll show that little shrimp who’s soft,” he muttered under his breath.
He was about to cross the doorway, when he heard a gunshot coming from the kitchenette door that made him jump in shock. His heart beating faster, he turned around just in time to see fragments of fleetonium-plastic being torn from the door and fly against the far wall in front. There was another gunshot and more pieces of the door flew around.
Bloody hell… they’re shooting at the door to get out! These guys are nuts!
Without waiting any longer to see if they would success, Daniel dashed through the open hatch and out onto the snowy field, closing his coat around him. He only took a few seconds to take his bearing and started running in the general direction Paul Metcalfe had taken a few minutes earlier.
With his second shot finally destroying the lock, Captain Blue impatiently pushed the door open and almost stumbled into the passenger cabin, closely followed by Melody Angel. In once glance, the two Spectrum agents could see the plane had been deserted; except for themselves, there was no-one about. The hatch was wide open, letting the cold air getting inside.
“Damn!” Blue lashed out in frustration, walking in long strides towards the hatch. They’re already gone!” He looked outside, narrowing his eyes to find any traces of the two runaways, but to no avail. It was too dark to see.
Melody took an electric lamp from the closet and came to stand next to him, powering up the lamp and shining its light into the distance. They found two sets of footprints in the snow, following a similar course.
Blue evaluated the direction. “They’re going to Paul’s home,” he reported to Melody. It’s about half a mile from here.” He turned to the closet Daniel had left open and grabbed his blue coat. “I’ll go after them. They cannot be too far already, and with some luck, I’ll catch them before they reach destination. Call Cloudbase and inform them of what happened. Tell them I’ll get them back.”
“You sure you don’t want back up?” Melody offered.
“You have to stay here in case of them decides to return. You’ll be able to handle them if that happens?”
She snorted. “Oh, yes… If they return, l’ll give them a piece of my mind, before throwing them into the holding cell,” she declared ominously. “Head over heels.” That said, she added in a softer voice, just as Blue was about to leave: “Don’t be too hard on them when you’ll catch them, okay?”
He shook his head, looking at her over his shoulder. “Right now, I’m more concerned about who might find them out there if I don’t find them first,” he answered. “Hold on the fort in the meantime.”
“S.I.G.,” Melody answered. But Blue was already gone before even hearing her acknowledgement.
“The boys have left the plane and are now proceeding on foot towards the Metcalfe home, Colonel,” Green reported to Colonel White after listening to Melody Angel’s call. Captain Blue is giving pursuit. He expects to catch them before they arrive to destination, and to quickly return with them to the SPJ. Melody is waiting for them.”
“Put Melody Angel on speakers,” White ordered.
There was barely a second, before the deep South-accented voice of the young woman was heard through the Control Room’s speakers: “Colonel White, I’m sorry we didn’t get out in time to stop the boys. But we were trying to get them to free us before resorting to shoot the lock, and –”
“Never mind that, Melody,” White interrupted her. “Captain Blue will get these two rascals. Was there any damage to the craft when the lock was shot? Will you be able to use it to get back to base?”
“I’m not sure, sir. The bullets went right through the door and might have compromised the cabin’s hermeticity. I do not suggest using the plane again, until it has been thoroughly inspected.”
“Very well,” White answered. “Captain Magenta and Captain Ochre should be arriving in about twenty-five to thirty minutes in their own SPJ. You’ll use that one to get back to base as soon as our two runaways are found.”
“Lieutenant Green, call SPJ A05,” White continued turning to Green again. “Inform Captains Ochre and Magenta that they should join Captain Blue in their search of Mr Metcalfe and Mr Younger.”
“Yes, sir,” Green answered. “Captain Forest just called to notify that all the personnel at Winchester Airbase have been secured. None of them is a Mysteron.”
“Tell Captain Forest to take five of his men and to converge towards the landing zone,” White said. We have to secure the area to insure the boys’ safe return. And Lieutenant, remind everyone that there might be Mysteron agents in the vicinities, waiting for an occasion to get at their targets. It’s Christmas Eve tonight, and it’s already late enough in England for people to visit each other’s houses for the festivities. Our agents must be extra-careful to recognise Mysteron agents from innocent bystanders.”
“You’re sure this is a useful recommendation, sir?” Captain Grey asked then, causing the colonel to swirl his seat towards him. “Without meaning to contradict you, I think we can safely assume that everyone is greatly aware of the importance in the success of this operation.”
“I’m aware of these people’s competence, Captain Grey,” White retorted. “But we’re already in deep with the World President right now, without adding a gross mistake to our current problems. I just don’t want to take any chances right now. One single mistake… and this operation could turn into a disaster.”
It didn’t take very long for Daniel Younger to realise he was thoroughly lost.
If Daniel had been able to see more clearly, he would have followed the footprints Paul certainly had left in the snow behind him, but there was barely any light around. But there was no lighted house close to this field, and the stars and half-moon from the sky above were partly hidden by passing clouds, and so provided little light of their own.
The only indication that he might be in the right path was the line of trees he had been following since he had left the SPJ, and that big dark house that Paul had pointed to him earlier.
How did he call it already? Oh yeah… Follett Mansion…
He was approaching a small road leading up to that house. He stopped in his tracks, and stared at it, considering getting there, and asking for directions. But he didn’t even know where to go exactly. Strangely enough, he never got to know what Paul’s last name was, nor where he lived exactly. He only knew his given name and that his home was at about a kilometre from where they landed.
Maybe that would have been enough to get where he wanted to go, but looking at the house, he had to admit he wasn’t really tempted to go knock at its front door. It looked very ancient, presented an ill-omened facade and seemed completely deserted… It was quite like one of those old haunted houses he sometimes had seen in movies and that people swore existed all over England.
No, he would not go up that small, badly taken care of road, marching between these trees with their threatening branches in order to get to that house, even if his life depended on it. It was far better to move on. Perhaps the next place would be where he needed to go.
He resumed his walk, and had barely strolled past the road leading to Follett Mansion, that he heard something that made him stop again. Crunched snow under heavy footsteps… that was coming from very close by.
He turned on his heels and listened carefully. That was coming from that road he had just passed by…
He saw a figure emerging from behind the shadow of the trees and calmly walking towards him. Daniel narrowed his eyes with uncertainty. He couldn’t see much more of the newcomer than his silhouette, which was disturbingly familiar.
“Who’s there?” he called, trying to render his voice as calm as possible.
The man approached closer. “Do not run away, young man. You wouldn’t go very far.”
Daniel groaned, seeing him more clearly. A Spectrum officer. He clearly recognised the uniform now. This one was very dark, looking as if it was black in the night.
The man was right; he wouldn’t go very far. All he would achieve was to get himself lost again.
He gave up.
Quite frankly, all things considered, he wasn’t unhappy to see the man there. There was no shame in surrendering now and to concede defeat; he had made it this far – much further than he even expected, and that was a new record for him, after his escapade to Rainbow Bay.
If ever he was to tell this story to his buddies in Melbourne, he was sure they would never believe him.
Sighing, he approached the Spectrum officer, who stood there, looking intently at him. “All right, sir, you’ve got me. I’ll go with you peacefully and won’t oppose any resistance.”
“That is very wise of you,” the Spectrum officer declared in an even tone.
Daniel scowled. That man certainly had the freakiest voice he had ever heard. “What’s with the voice, man? You had an accident that damaged your vocal chords or something like that?”
“It was an accident,” the man answered briefly.
“Must hear that one often, do you?”
“Yes…” The Spectrum officer approached closer. “Where is Paul Metcalfe?”
“So that’s the shrimp’s full name,” Daniel reflected. “Thanks, man, he never told me. Erm… And what is your name? Lieutenant? Captain...?
“Captain,” the man answered. “Obsidian.”
“Captain Obsidian,” Daniel echoed, nodding.
“Where is the Metcalfe boy?” the Spectrum officer repeated in the same tone as before.
“Well, back at his home already I suppose,” Daniel answered with a shrug. “Don’t be too rough on him; he’s just a little kid, really… He wanted so much to be with his folks… Me, I just tagged along to make sure he’ll be safe,” he added with a grin.
Daniel could see by the man’s cold expression that he didn’t believe any of this. Frankly, the lie was so lousy, he didn’t believe it himself.
“You are coming with me,” Obsidian told him, his voice as chilly as the wind lashing against them and with a poker-faced expression that gave Daniel goosebumps. He took the young man by the arm, in a gesture that was totally unexpected. “We are going to get your friend and then, the both of you will be coming with me.”
“And then what, Captain, you’ll be bringing us back to Cloudbase?” Daniel asked, glaring at him. He shook his arm, freeing himself from the man’s hand. He had the impression the man had not even tried to keep his hold on him. “Don’t worry, I won’t try to escape again. But put your hands on me again, and I’ll be sure to have my dad sacks you out of Spectrum.” Obsidian tilted his head to one side, considering him with attention. “You do know who I am, do you?” Daniel asked with a scowl.
“Yes. I perfectly know who you are, Mr Younger.” The man said, with a glow in his otherwise cold eyes. He pointed in the direction Daniel was following up until now. “Move along and keep close to me. I’ll be keeping my eye on you.”
Paul Metcalfe had always been quick on his feet; the fastest runner on the track or in the field at school, he was the champion of the previous year’s cross country competition between all primary schools of the Winchester District, when he had demonstrated both his swiftness, stamina and agility. The deep military tradition of his family certainly encouraged the practise of physical activities, and Paul had learned from a very young age to engage in exercises of all kinds. He loved sports, whatever they could be, as long as they presented a fitting challenge for him.
One kilometre wasn’t a very long distance, and in normal circumstances, he would have covered easily and swiftly. But this time, it felt so very long. He had never found himself running or competing in conditions as difficult as tonight before. Daniel had been right on many accounts. He didn’t wear the proper clothes to protect himself in such a cold temperature, he could barely see where to put his steps and he was wearing used shoes slightly too large for his feet, which let the cold through and which kept slipping on an icy and unsafe surface at every other step.
Yet, he kept going, shivering under the cold wind and saving his own strength as he ran down the distance separating him from his home.
His heart was beating fast and he was breathing hard, but it wasn’t only because of the cold or the exertion; it was also because of the anticipation. He couldn’t wait to be home, to stand in front of his parents whom, he was sure, after the first minutes of surprise passed, will take him into their arms and squeeze him tight. All these efforts will have been worth it; all the risks he had taken, stowing away into that plane, that enormous gamble with the auto-pilot, putting up with Daniel Younger… All this was behind him now.
Recruiters and Spectrum officers didn’t exist anymore. He would be home soon. Home for Christmas.
Long minutes after he had left Daniel as the SPJ, he finally saw the lights of his house. His heartbeat increased. There was someone’s home.
His first impulse was to present himself at the front door, but he quickly reconsidered it. He thought it wasn’t very safe – What if someone was checking the place?
He quickly rounded the house, and climbed over the fence bordering his mother’s garden and the back lawn and landed on his hands and knees, the thin laying of snow crunching underneath his weight. He barely took a second to regain his breath, raised to his feet and darted to the back door. He stopped in front and stood there, with his fist raised, ready to knock…
… And he stopped himself.
He lowered his fist, slowly. He was hesitant again. Were his parents alone? Would there be anyone in there with them, who might represent a risk to all of them if he were to show up there, standing in front of the door? He mused over the possibilities. If his father truly had sent him away for his own safety, then he was better to be very careful before getting inside…
Had he been too hasty in coming here after all? Did he do something that might put his whole family in peril? Maybe he had been a fool after all, and should not have left the safety of Cloudbase… If only one Militarist should find him here, what would happen then? He would be taken away from his home, for good this time, maybe to that hateful military school that he wanted to do nothing with… or elsewhere, who knew? That would break his mother’s heart. That would disappoint his father, who had made so much effort to keep him from harm.
And what about his family? What would become of them if it was discovered that they had sent him away so that he would evade military school?
Was I a fool after all? he pondered, now unsure of what to do. Did I put everyone in danger, just for selfish reasons?
Paul stepped back from the closed door; from beyond he could hear sounds; soft music, singing… A Christmas song. Even in the cold of the night, that warmed his heart. But at the same time, it broke it.
He looked around, making sure there was nobody about who could see him. But he needed not to worry; the back lawn was empty, and he could see the small tool shed by his mother’s garden. Beyond that, there was the wood, bordering the back of the Metcalfe home.
It would be easy for someone to hide there, he reflected, and watch him.
I must be getting paranoid, he thought with annoyance. There’s no-one there, it’s obvious.
There was a window nearby, with light coming from it; that was the living room window. Paul had not seen any cars parked in front of the house, so that possibly meant his parents were alone. Unless neighbours had come for a visit. However, he couldn’t hear any sound indicating that there was a large company in the house. No voices, no laughter. Only the Christmas music.
I’ve got to see them, he told himself with determination. I’ve got to know if they’re alone.
Taking great care not to make any sound, Paul moved towards the window. He crouched beneath as he reached it, moved slightly a little further… and then, carefully raised his head, so that his eyes would be at the window sill’s level; he looked inside, through the flimsy curtains.
There was the Christmas tree set in one corner of the living, fully decorated as he remembered it; but the furniture he could see inside was not those he knew. They were different; the TV set, the low table in the middle of the place, the coach and the two seats set on each side of a small wooden table… He wasn’t familiar with any of it. He didn’t recognise most of the decoration either, except for a few vases he knew were coming from his mother’s side of the family.
He could see two people in those two seats... a man and a woman. Much older than his parents. At first, he thought he didn’t know who they were…
And then, he recognised them.
He gasped in horrified surprise and thought he would choke over the sudden realisation. A cry mounted from his throat… but was swiftly stifled when a hand, appearing from nowhere, came to clasp on his mouth.
His heart beating so fast Paul thought it would burst, he struggled, as a strong arm rolled itself around him and held his arms firmly against his body, and he was pulled away from the window. He didn’t know who his assailant was, but he was desperate to escape this strong hold imprisoning him and taking him away from his family again.
Warm tears of despair and fear rolled down his cheeks; there was nothing he could do to free himself, as the man – it could only be a man – picked him up from the ground and effortlessly carried him away from the house, avoiding the light and keeping into the shadow, and reached the garden shed, where no-one from inside the house could see them.
Hiding there behind the shed, Paul’s assailant kneeled and put the boy’s down. He still didn’t let go and Paul kept fighting.
“Sshhh... Keep it down, please. You want to wake the entire neighbourhood?”
Although the words were said in a whisper, Paul instantly recognised it and stopped his struggling. The hand left his mouth and the arm let go of him; he turned around, to come face to face with a grim-looking Captain Blue.
“A-adam?” he murmured, stammering.
Blue looked at him with a concerned frown. He could see the despair in the deep blue eyes looking levelly at him. “Are you all right?” he whispered.
The Spectrum officer didn’t quite expect to see the young boy throwing himself into his arms; suddenly feeling awkward, he held him close, alarmed by the anguish he could hear in Paul’s voice as the latter, swallowing his tears, was gasping against his shoulder, in an oppressed and faltering voice:
“Adam, what’s… what’s going on? My parents… What happened to them? Why do they look so old…? What…”
“Ssshhh, calm down, calm down, now…” Blue detached the small arms from around his shoulders and holding them down, pushed Paul slightly away from him and forced him to look levelly at him. The boy was panicking. Nothing was making sense to him and he didn’t know what was going on. For him, it was obviously a very horrible nightmare.
That was certainly the worst-case scenario Blue had imagined if ever Paul were to learn what had happened to him.
“Calm down, please,” Blue said in a soothing but firm voice. “Paul, listen to me… There is nothing wrong with your parents…”
Paul started to protest: “But I saw them –”
“You saw them, yes,” Blue interrupted. “But they’re all right. Paul, please listen… I want you to understand what I’m trying to tell you…” He took the young face between his hands and looked into his eyes. “There is nothing wrong with them. It’s not them who have grown old…”
He saw a flash of comprehension pass into the deep blue eyes. “It’s me, then…” the boy unexpectedly said in a low voice. He swallowed hard, and he nodded, numbly. “It’s something about me…”
Blue released him. “Yes,” he whispered with a slow nod. “Yes, Paul, it’s you…”
“What… what’s the problem with me, then?” Paul asked, his eyes wide. “What’s wrong with me?"
“I am not… who I think I am, right?” Paul suddenly asked.
Blue was shocked to hear such a question. He didn’t expect that one. He didn’t know where it could come from.
God, is he remembering something?
“You are who you think you are, Paul…” Blue reassured the boy. “You are Paul Metcalfe…”
“And these people in there?” Paul insisted. “They’re my parents as well?” How is it possible?”
“It’s… complicated to explain,” Blue said, no knowing what to say.
“Tell me,” Paul urged him. “Please… I want to know…”
“Paul, I…” Blue looked at the boy. He was pale, and his panic was mounting.
I have to calm him down, the American captain told himself.
He then noticed how Paul was dressed and that he was shivering; he swiftly removed his coat to wrap it around his shoulders. “Look at the state you’re in… You’re freezing…”
“I’m not cold,” Paul whispered. “I’m… I’m too numb to be cold...” As he was saying these words, his teeth were clattering inside his mouth.
Blue tutted at him. “We have to get you back to the SPJ,” he declared firmly. “But first, tell me… Where’s Daniel?”
“Daniel?” Paul repeated as if the name didn’t have any meaning to him.
“Yes, Daniel Younger… He’s not with you? I knew you would come straight here, so I went directly… I thought of finding the both of you here. Where is he? You went your separate ways?”
Paul shook his head bleakly. “I left Daniel at the plane,” he answered. “It’s not him who got you out, then?”
“Not likely,” Blue snorted. “I shot the lock to get out. Once on ground, there was no risk of depressurisation if a bullet would pierce the hull or smash a window. So you don’t know where Daniel had gone to, then?”
“No… He must… have left the plane after I went. I told him not to and to wait there for me.”
“Are you surprised he hasn’t listened?” Blue declared in an irate voice. “I will have to look for him. The others are about to arrive. They’ll help me find him.”
“Magenta, Ochre… and a few guys from Spectrum London. We’re all looking for you two, pal. You have no idea in what kind of trouble you are right now… And I’m not talking about the World President… The Mysterons have set their eyes on you and Daniel.”
“You weren’t kidding then?” Paul was beyond confusion. His voice was slurry, and he sounded as if he was suffering from a concussion. Too much all at once, Blue reflected with deep concern. He doesn’t understand what’s happening to him… That’s certainly not surprising…
“I… I don’t understand, Adam,” Paul said, shaking his head in incomprehension. “Why would they go after me? What’s happening to me? Please, tell me… What…”
His head was reeling as if he was going to faint. His stomach was now churning so much, he had the urge to vomit.
“I… I don’t feel too good…” he whispered.
Blue recognised the signs. “Lower your head, quick…” It was about time. As soon as Paul did what he was told, he retched all over the place, splashing Blue’s boots in the process; the American officer grimaced. Mrs. Metcalfe will think that some drunk had celebrated too much tonight and had been sick in her garden if she comes over here in the morning…
He helped Paul straighten up; under the feeble light of the half-moon, the boy looked even paler than before. “You’re not in any state to hear any explanation, right now,” he said soothingly. “Can you walk?”
“I… I think so…”
“Come on then, get up. I’ll get you back to the SPJ, then I’ll go find Daniel.” Blue forced the boy to his feet and stood by his side, supporting him. “Come on now, walk. That’ll help you warm a little. Please, Paul, we can’t stay here… Someone might see you… We have to get back.”
“You mean, my parents might see me,” Paul realised, still confused. “And you don’t want for them to see me, right?”
“No, no I don’t want that. And you don’t want either… Come on, Paul, walk with me. Help yourself a little.”
Blue gently holding him by the shoulders, Paul let himself be guided out of the garden, and then through the back fence door. He was walking like a robot, his steps unsure, his expression one of deep confusion. It wasn’t as if his mind was a blank, no… Rather, it was filled with alien thoughts and unknown impressions. He was desperately trying to make sense of what was happening to him.
They walked away from the Metcalfe house and he looked back with uncertainty; he felt a hole in his heart to leave his home behind, but now he was realising that he never should have come here in the first place. Whatever he might have thought before, he now came to understand Spectrum had good reasons to have kept him on Cloudbase. They were protecting him. Against himself, more than anything else.
His head was clearing, and the bad taste in his mouth subsided; his pace became surer. They had walked some distance from the Metcalfe home, and were now in view of Follett Mansion when Paul gently freed himself from Blue’s helping hands. He didn’t need his support anymore to walk.
“Feeling better?” the American asked him.
Paul nodded. “Much. My head’s still muddled up a bit, but my heart doesn’t beat so fast and I don’t feel like throwing up anymore. Sorry about your boots.”
Blue chuckled. “Think nothing of it.”
“It all started in the engine room, right?” Paul asked with a puzzled frown.
Blue looked at him. His friend’s voice was not only much firmer than it was before, but he seemed his brain was regaining its capacity to think clearly. He nodded at the question. “Yes, it did.”
“The explosion… it did something to me.” Paul stopped in his tracks and Blue did the same. The American watched as the young boy, his eyes fixed into emptiness, continued: “I just remember waking up there, and seeing you… and seeing Lieutenant Green…” He turned to Blue. “I didn’t just appear there, that’s obvious… You never told me how I ended up in there…”
“No, we didn’t,” Blue said in a low voice. He saw the boy reach for his head with his hand, as if he was feeling a headache coming. “Slow down, now,” he suggested. “You’ll get yourself sick again…”
“… I was doing something, before that explosion happened…” Paul replied, obviously not listening to him and digging into his memories. “I was… looking for something…” His eyes went wide. “No, I was looking for someone,” he corrected himself swiftly. He turned again to face Blue, with an interrogating look. “Am I right?”
The latter nodded briefly and gently took him by the shoulder, compelling him to move on. “You’ll have all the time to sort it out later. Right now, I have to get you back to the SPJ…”
They barely walked three paces that Paul stopped again, brusquely; Blue did two more steps before realising his companion had been left behind and he turned on his heels, almost at the same time the young boy called to him, with an agitated voice: “Adam!”
They stared at each other for a moment. In the moonlight, Paul’s eyes were wide with mixed-up emotions. “Captain Scarlet…” he said in a low voice. His hand went to his head, which was threatening to split. Somehow, he didn’t care about the pain. “I’m Captain Scarlet, right?”
Blue quickly crossed the distance separating them and his hand fell on his young friend’s shoulder. He looked deep into his eyes. He could see in them an understanding that wasn’t there before. He was still confused, unnerved and uncertain, but he looked like he believed what he had just said.
A smile tugged at the American’s lips. “You’re starting to remember,” he said with relief in his voice.
Still slightly hesitant, Paul was about to reply, when he was suddenly interrupted by a voice coming from straight ahead, which was calling his name; that made him look up, just as Blue’s hand reached for his sidearm.
“Paul! Hey, Paul! That’s you, mate?”
That voice was unmistakable. Paul frowned. “Daniel?”
Daniel Younger emerged from the darkness, jogging in their direction. He had a grey coat, too large for him over his shoulders, and looked out of breath. Blue relaxed slightly, but kept on his guard, as the young man stopped in front of them and leaned forward, putting both his hands on his laps, and tried to regain a regular breathing. He looked up at Paul and grinned.
“Boy… I find you now… What a relief…”
“I thought I told you to stay in the plane,” Paul reminded him with a scowl.
“Yeah, yeah…” Daniel said, waving his hand dismissively and straightening up to walk the short distance still separating them. “All that talk about Militarists around wanting to get to me… That was a whole load of bull, so I wouldn’t leave the plane, wasn’t it?”
Paul scowled. “Are you calling me a liar?”
“Mind your language, Mr Younger,” Blue advised him sternly. “It might not come from Militarists, but be assured there very well might be danger around.”
“Oh… the Mysterons, right?” Obviously, Daniel wasn’t taking this very seriously either. He casually approached and came to lean on Blue’s shoulder. “Paul was right… you would say anything to get the both of us begging to go back to Cloudbase… I’m betting they exist no more than Paul’s Militarists.”
The American officer glared at him ominously. He didn’t appreciate the boy being so friendly with him. “I can assure you they do exist, Mr Younger,” he replied dryly. “And they have marked the both of you as targets.”
“You really weren’t kidding, then?” Paul said with a scowl, just as Daniel removed his arm from Blue’s shoulder and the smile on his lips fell.
“I never kid with the Mysterons,” Blue retorted. “You’re both in danger.” He turned to glare at Daniel. “And now that I found the two of you, I have no intention of letting you out of my sight until you are both safely back onboard Cloudbase.”
“Oh, but you didn’t find me, Captain Blue,” Daniel corrected him then. He thumbed in the general direction behind him. “Your colleague did before you.”
Blue scowled. “My colleague?”
“Yeah, he’s over there...”
Blue didn’t expect Magenta or Ochre to have arrived yet – not before a good ten minutes at the most. There was Captain Forest of course, who was supposed to arrive from the Winchester Airbase with a team of men to bring their support in the search for the two missing boys, but at this point, the American officer had no idea how long it would take for them to be there. Perhaps they had already arrived?
He narrowed his eyes in the direction Daniel had pointing to them; he could hear footsteps in the snow, but with the moon half-hidden behind clouds, it was still too dark for him to see clearly further than a certain point; all he could distinguish was a shadow approaching them, very quietly. It did look like this person was wearing a Spectrum uniform.
Possibly, whoever it was who was coming towards them, he couldn’t see them clearly either. Blue’s hand rested on his sidearm.
“Who’s there?” he called loudly.
The shadow made one more step and stopped; the clouds moved and Captain Blue finally was able to see who it was.
Captain Black… wearing his old Spectrum uniform.
Blue’s eyes grew wide and his hand firmly grabbed the handle of his gun and un-holstered it “Run, kids!” he shouted.
He didn’t get the chance to aim at the other man properly; a shot rang and a bullet rammed into his right shoulder, driving him down onto the snow, and causing him to lose his weapon.
“Adam!” Paul called fretfully. But Blue was already down and visibly out of action.
The young boy wanted more than anything else to run to him and help him, but that would have been suicidal. Blue’s order had spurned him into action, while Daniel Younger, frozen by surprise, was rooted into place and didn’t seem inclined to move. Paul seized his arm and pulled him along.
“Come on!” he urged him.
There was a new shot, and he felt the wind of the bullet pass by him.
“Come on!” he repeated more insistently, pulling harder on Daniel’s arm. The other boy, then seemingly emerging from his petrified state, followed him, stumbling as he did. It was not a moment too soon, as another shot rang, and the bullet hit the ground at about the place he stood a second earlier.
As he dragged Daniel along, Paul gave just a fleeting glance over his shoulder in direction of Captain Blue, sprawled into the snow. The American wasn’t moving and there was no way to know if he was alive or dead. Paul felt a lump forming in his throat, and he had to force himself to detach his eyes from his fallen friend. He and Daniel went behind the trees line bordering the field and started running as if they had the devil after them.
Captain Black lowered his gun; attempting to fire while he could only see shadows moving amongst the branches was a waste of ammunition and time. He watched the two boys go, listening to their hurried footsteps and their exchanged whispers of encouragement.
He could see the direction they were taking.
He wasn’t worry; the boys would soon die, he was confident of it. Upon reflection, perhaps he should have killed the Younger boy upon finding him, but at the time, he had decided to let him live momentarily, thinking the teenager would lead him to the other boy. And he had been right, in some way. Daniel Younger had taken him straight to his most important target.
He moved forward, ignoring Captain Blue as he walked close by him; he gave him a fleeting look, as he saw him stir and heard him moan, already regaining consciousness.
The initial shock of the pain in his shoulder passing, The American officer was attempting to raise himself from where he lay, but his right arm, now totally unusable, was dangling loosely by his side.
“B-Black…” he called with an oppressed voice.
Black stopped in his tracks and turned to him; Blue could see the gun with the black handle levelled at him, the index finger gently stroking the trigger. He swallowed hard and lifted himself a little higher to look into Black’s eyes. All he could see was the coldness in them; the total lack of emotion that sent a shiver down his spine.
“You can’t… kill them,” he pleaded. “They’re only boys…”
He distinctly heard the low scoff coming from Black. “That is where you are wrong, Captain Blue,” he heard the cold and dispassionate voice tell him. “You have forgotten: one of them is not really a boy. All of you have forgotten… even himself. And that is why Spectrum will fail this time.”
With these words, he brutally kicked Blue over the side of the head. The impact knocked the Spectrum officer instantly and he slumped back onto the snow. Black looked down at him for a moment, saw that he would pose no threat for the rest of his assignment and decided it was not worth wasting a bullet on him.
He resumed his march, knowing exactly where the boys were going.
They would not escape the Mysterons now.
Breathing hard and his heart beating fast, Paul Metcalfe was running as fast as he could. He was hindered in his progression by Daniel Younger, whom he was urging forward, making sure was keeping up with him. Both boys were stumbling on the uneven and slippery ground, and zigzagging between the trees, doing their best to avoid being impaled by low branches cutting their way.
“Quick!” he called to Daniel. “Faster, Daniel! Follow me!”
“Where to?” Daniel asked between two breaths. “Do you even know where you’re going?”
“Yes.” Paul pointed to the dark house that stood a little further ahead of them, beyond the lines of trees; it was the closest place where they could find some safety in a hurry. “Follett Mansion,” he informed his companion.
“That place?” Daniel breathed out, stunned. “But you said we shouldn’t go there. If what you said about the Militarists is true –”
“Never mind what I said!” Paul snapped at him. “We go there or we die, Daniel! Do you understand that?”
“But that guy… he was a Spectrum officer…” Daniel moaned. “I thought he was there to protect us… He shot at us…”
“I reckon he isn’t a Spectrum officer then,” Paul replied.
“He shot Captain Blue!” Daniel added, his voice close to panic. “Do you think… do you think he’s dead?”
“I don’t know!” Paul lashed back. “I hope not…” The vision of Blue, lying very still onto the snow was haunting him. He didn’t want to think his friend had been killed. He knew that if it was the case, he would be blaming himself for his dead forever. He shook himself, thinking of the very last thing Blue had told him. “We can’t help him for now, Daniel. You heard him, we have to get away! Now stop talking and run, for God’s sake!”
Both boys ran the remaining distance to Follett Mansion in silence; it wasn’t that very far, but they were out of breath when they finally arrived in front of the main door. Paul had barely stopped that he already was using the knocker. It resonated loudly against the hard surface of the door and both boys looked frightfully behind them, as they waited to be answered. They almost expected someone to come and surprise them.
They could see no-one after them yet, but they just knew the man who had fired at them couldn’t be far behind.
Paul was about to use the knocker again when he heard a heavy lock being pulled and saw the handle move. The door slowly opened up, creaking loudly as it did.
An old man stood in the doorway; he was all stooped, the little hair he had left on his head was all white, and he looked unkept, with a slight musk smell pervading him; with one hand, he was leaning on a cane and in the other, he held an electric lamp, which was fashioned like an old oil lamp. He approached it to the two boys standing apprehensively before him. He seemed somehow puzzled to see there them.
“Yes…?” he asked with a hesitant voice. “What can I do for you, lads?”
Paul looked at him with uncertainty, tilting his head to one side. That old man… It couldn’t be…
“Major Follett?” he asked with hesitation.
“Yes… That’s me,” the old man answered, causing a shock to the young man standing in front of him.
Paul already remembered Major Follett as an old man, but to see him like that… even after having seen his parents earlier, looking much older than he remembered… That was totally unexpected.
“And who might you be, young man?”
“Sir… It’s me… Paul Metcalfe,” Paul breathed out. “You know? Billy and I… we used to be friends?”
The man’s brow furrowed as he looked intently at Paul. “Paul Metcalfe?” he repeated in a low voice. “Little Paul Metcalfe? You can’t possibly be…”
“Sir, please,” Daniel then said with urgency. “There’s a bad guy after us… He wants to kill us!”
“Kill you?” the old man repeated, scoffing, seemingly doubting that notion very deeply. “Confound it, boy, what’s this –”
“Sir, it’s true,” Paul quickly confirmed. “He’s after us… He already shot someone…”
“A Spectrum officer,” Daniel specified.
“A Spectrum officer?” Follett looked at both boys’ fearful expression, his eyes resting a little longer on Paul. “Are you pulling my leg, lads? It’s Christmas, not Halloween.”
“We’re not kidding you, sir!” Paul said urgently. “We’re really in danger. Please, can’t you let us in? He’s close behind, he could be here at any moment!”
The old man clicked his tongue in annoyance… and then, unexpectedly, he opened his door more widely. “Oh, all right, all right… Don’t know what’s true in this, but you can come in…”
“Thank you, Major,” Paul said with relief.
“Thanks, sir,” Daniel echoed behind him.
They both hurried inside and Follett immediately closed behind. The boys stopped in the hall, wrinkling their noses almost in unison. The place looked like it had not been dusted in ages, and there was a very odd smell in the air... Mildew and something that reminded Paul of rotten eggs.
A loud sound behind them startled them and they swiftly turned on their heels; it was only their host, who was pulling the heavy lock back.
“Young Paul Metcalfe,” he repeated, in a pensive voice. “My Billy’s little friend? I remember you well… Such a nice boy…” He left the door and walked very slowly towards the two boys. “Haven’t seen you in years… Look at you… What happened to you?”
“Never mind, sir,” Daniel said urgently. “We need to call the police for that man who’s after us…”
“Daniel…” Paul started trying to get his companion to calm down.
“I know what you’re gonna say, Paul,” Daniel replied. “Never mind the Militarists now, we have to –”
“Militarists?” Repeated Follett. He chuckled with some amusement. “There’s not been Militarists around for donkey’s years… And even if there was any left, I wouldn’t be good enough with them to let them cause you any trouble. After all, I have lost all my boys to them…”
Daniel looked at Paul sideways. “So I was right then,” he said in a very low, almost accusing voice. “You did lie to me about those Militarists!”
“No… I didn’t lie… I was only confused,” Paul defended himself. “I still am a bit… There are so many things I still don’t understand…”
“Looks to me like you ought to sit down and take it easy for a while, lad,” Follett said with a slow nod. “All that nonsense about Militarists and a man trying to kill you…”
“No!” Paul turned desperately to him. “This part’s true… There is a man trying to kill us. He was in the field, he shot Adam… Captain Blue, that is. Here,” he added, showing the large coat he was wearing. “That’s his coat… Captain Blue’s, that is. It’s from a Spectrum uniform. Don’t you see those epaulettes? They’re part of their communication device!”
“I’ve got the same,” Daniel confirmed, looking at his own coat. “Can’t we use them to alert Spectrum?”
“No,” Paul answered with a desperate sigh. “They work only with the microphone imbedded in the Spectrum cap… They’re useless on their own.” He didn’t even try to figure out how he knew that exactly. He had seen the Spectrum officers using their cap mic and epaulettes on Cloudbase, but from what he recalled, they never explained to him how they worked exactly. “We have to find a mean to contact the authorities.” He looked straight into the old man’s eyes. “We’re not kidding you, Major! We really are in danger. We need your help!”
Follett looked at them, gravely, pondering about their words. Then, he nodded towards a large opening surmounted by an archway across the hall, which led into another room. “There’s a phone in there. We can call the police.”
“Thank you, sir!”
The boys rushed through the opening, Follett following them as a slower pace.
Captain Blue woke up with a start, when he felt a hand reaching to him and shaking him gently. His vision at first a blur, his eyes cleared quickly and he saw the face of Captain Magenta leaning over him, with Captain Ochre standing above. They both were looking at him in concern.
“Good to see you alive, Blue,” Magenta said with relief. “How do you feel?”
Without answering, Blue pushed himself into a seated position so fast that it made him dizzy; he groaned, and hung his head down.
His right arm was killing him from the shoulder down. And that was saying nothing of his throbbing head, where Black had hit him.
“Easy, Blue,” Magenta told him, gently helping him so he would keep his balance. “You’ve been shot at.”
“Yeah, I know that…” Blue moaned. “It was Captain Black.”
“Black’s here?” Ochre asked with a frown.
Blue looked around, concern in his eyes. “The boys… He’s after them. He’s meant to kill them.” Instantly, he pulled himself to his feet, ignoring Magenta’s protests. He staggered, and his colleagues kept him up.
“You might have a concussion as well,” Magenta commented.
“Never mind that,” Blue grunted. “We need to find the boys before Black get them!”
“Where are they?” Ochre asked.
“I’m not sure… When Black appeared, I told them to run… I…” He looked at his watch. “I’ve been out ten minutes… They cannot have gone that far.”
“Maybe they have headed to Paul’s place,” Magenta reasoned. “You think we could find them there?”
Blue shook his head – and instantly regretted it. He didn’t think Paul had gone to his parents; after the shock he had received upon seeing them earlier, Blue just knew that Paul would prefer to avoid meeting them. He seemingly had understood that any contact with them could have serious consequences.
“No, he must have gone elsewhere…” He looked beyond the lines of trees in front of them, and narrowed his eyes at the dark shape of the big house he could see beyond. “There,” he said. “That’s the closest place he could go.”
“All right, there’s a road leading to that house a little down the field,” Ochre said. “We passed by it on our way here… Let us handle this.”
“Don’t kid me,” Blue mumbled, hurryingly starting in the direction indicated by Ochre. “I’m coming with you. I’m seeing this through, even if it kills me.”
Magenta and Ochre exchanged quick glances and dashed after their colleague, who was already taking some distance from them.
“Wait for us, you pig-headed Bostonian,” Magenta called after him. “You’re not tackling this on your own…”
Blue permitted himself the faintest of smiles. “About time you showed up, you two…” he said under his breath. “Your help will be greatly appreciated…”
Paul and Daniel found themselves in a living room, which was nearly packed solid with odd furniture - there were at least three sofas, which didn’t even go well together, bookcases, tables, sculptures – classical and modern – books lying all over the places and floor lamps that were barely throwing any light into the place. Heavy drapes were drawn on the windows, and there were no chance to see anything outside. The smell in here was even more obvious, and Paul and Daniel had to make an effort not to gag.
They looked around, but locating the phone amongst these shambles wasn’t easy; at the other end of the room, Paul spotted a large unused fireplace, in front of which stood a rusted fires screen; there something that looked exactly like what he was looking for on top of the chimney shelf. He went around the furniture, closely followed by Daniel, and went there to pick the object up… However, it wasn’t a phone, like he hoped for, but a small model car.
“Young Paul Metcalfe…” Both Paul and Daniel swivelled around; Follett was standing in the doorway, nearly directly under the large arch, his lamp held high in his hand. He was considering them with a calm expression. He put his lamp on the table closest to him. “Seems so long ago… You were Billy’s favourite friend…”
“Major Follett, sir…” Paul made a few steps towards the old man, Daniel still glued to his heels. He stopped suddenly, his eyebrows knitted in perplexity at the old man’s apparent composure. Maybe he still didn’t believe them… “Where’s the phone, please?”
“It’s right here…” With calculated slowness, Follett took the phone lying on the table right next to his oil lamp and showed it to the two boys. Then, he put it into his pocket; Paul and Daniel followed his gesture with dread. “We’ll call the police in a moment… There’s no need to hurry, you know…”
“No… We should call the police right away,” Paul insisted.
He had a bad feeling about this. Something wasn’t quite right. He watched Follett as he slowly round one of the sofas to approach them, his cane thumping on the floor until he reached a carpet covered section. Instinctively, Paul stepped away, pulling Daniel behind him. The older boy was too much in shock to even resist or protest.
“This guy’s nuts,” he heard Daniel’s whisper in his ear.
“I can hear you fine, young sir,” the old man then said, much to Daniel’s embarrassment. “I might be old, and I might appear crazy to you… but I still have most of my head.” He looked directly at Paul. “My lad, it’s so good to see you again… You know I’ve always liked you very much? You were such a good friend to my Billy… Where have you been?”
“What do you mean exactly, Major?” asked with a perplexed frown, unsure he understood the question.
“One day you were there and then… you were gone. You stopped hanging around with Billy. I never saw you around the house anymore. Why did you stop coming?”
“You know why,” Major Follett,” Paul answered, more harshly than he really intended to. “You know it was all Billy’s doing.”
“Paul, what are you doing?” Daniel whispered. “You’re antagonising him…”
“No… no, it wasn’t Billy’s fault,” Follett replied with a hurt expression. “You know it was that school… What it did to him… It changed him… It made him a different person. It broke my heart, Paul…”
“Major Follett, sir…” Paul sighed and closed his eyes. Daniel was right. Follett was crazy. He never imagined the day he would see him as a snivelling old man. He wondered what had happened to him.
When he opened them again, it was to find the old man right in front of him, barely two feet away, looking down at him with intensity. That made him feel very uncomfortable and he swallowed hard.
“I’m very sorry for what happened to Billy at that school, sir, but it wasn’t my fault…”
“Did I say it was?” Follett retorted. “I know it’s not, my boy…”
“Can we have the phone, please?” Paul requested. “Sir… we must not wait for that man to come in. He might… hurt you as well.”
“How considerate of you,” Follett said with a thin smile. “You would protect me as well, Paul? Like you’re obviously trying to protect your cowardly and snivelling companion?”
Daniel started to protest. “I’m not cowardly –”
“Well, if you’re not, you’re making a very good impression of it!” Follett thundered so loud that it made both boy jump with alarm. He returned his attention to Paul. “Why wasn’t Billy made of the same stuff as you were, Paul? He might still be with us today…”
Paul scowled. “Sir?” he asked in puzzlement. He didn’t understand what the old man was saying.
“If you came to renew your friendship, dear boy, you’re just a little too late. My Billy’s gone. Just like his brothers before him. The army took all my boys from me, you see. Billy’s brothers died in service to their country… But my little Billy… That school destroyed him. He didn’t know anything but what the Militarists taught him. When the Militarists were thrown out, it was as if he was lost. He tried to go on for years, to find his place in the world, but he couldn’t…” He shook his head sadly. “In the end, he killed himself.”
“Billy did… what?” Paul murmured.
“Well, you did know that,” Follett retorted. “You were there, at his funerals… It was, what, ten years ago?”
“That guy’s definitely nuts,” Daniel observed, in a voice even lower than before.
“You were different back then, of course,” Follett continued, his voice carrying more of an edge. “Older… You were just on your way to West Point, I believe…”
“Was I?” Paul asked scowling.
“You don’t remember, of course, dear boy,” Follett noticed. “For you, it’s like nothing of what I’m telling you have happened yet.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Follett smiled lightly. His voice then changed, and became firmer: “Search into your soul, my dear lad, and maybe you’ll find out. If you had time, all would become clear… But unfortunately, time is just a commodity you can afford anymore.”
Paul swallowed hard as a sudden realisation hit him. His expression became hard. “You’re one of them,” he said.
“What?” Daniel murmured, his voice carrying an edge of panic.
“You’re one of those Mysteron guys,” Paul accused Follett.
“Oh, geez…” Daniel whispered. “Paul, how would you know? He’s just a crazy old guy. He’s not a Mysteron terrorist...”
“Is that what they say about us, Mr Younger?” Follett harshly addressed him, his features becoming suddenly severe. He made a step forwards and Paul backed up, forcing the now frightened Daniel to do the same. “Terrorists, really?
“You… know my name,” Daniel whimpered.
“Of course I know,” Follett replied. “Your friend was right about me. I am a Mysteron agent. But I’m not a common ‘terrorist’… The Mysterons are much more than that, believe me… You really should ask your father more about us, you might be in for a big surprise…”
“Stay away from us,” Paul demanded.
Follett’s eyes became cruel as he looked down at the two frightened boys. “Oh that’s right… I have no intention of letting you go and ask him… So I guess you will die like the worthless, ignorant little fool you are!”
Suddenly, he stood up straight and raised his cane high over his head, with the obvious intention of using it as a weapon against the two boys. Daniel cowered and cried out in fear, stepping back to escape his fate. But Paul, instead, with a ferocious war cry, threw himself into the old man’s stomach, tackling him like a rugby player with all of his strength. His attack was so fierce that it took Follett by surprise; his cane struck only air above the boy and knocked a lamp down a table. Paul thrust forward, until his attacker stepped back, entangled his feet into the carpet and fell roughly to the floor, bringing the boy down with him.
“Run, Daniel!” Paul shouted.
“I can’t leave you –”
“Get the bloody hell out of here!”
Stunned by the use of such words in the mouth of a ten-year-old, Daniel didn’t hesitate a moment more and swiftly ran off, while Paul, striding Follett, was attempting to keep him down as long as he could, to give his companion time to escape.
Heart beating fast, Daniel ran out of the room and crossed the hall as fast as his feet could carry him; he didn’t dare look behind, as the sound of the continuing struggle pursued him from the living room.
He reached the door and pulled the heavy lock, before turning the big handle with both hands. He pulled the door wide open, and it slammed against the wall, bouncing back. Daniel was out before he could even realise it, his steps carrying him down the landing and down the steps, and onto the lawn beyond. Already out of breath, his shoes slipping against the icy surface, he ran down the small road, towards the field where SPJ P010 had landed earlier. He desperately wanted to reach the jet, to inform Melody Angel of what had happened… to get help for Paul who was in danger of being killed by that madman inside Follett Mansion.
He had already ran a good distance from the house that he saw shadows emerging from behind the trees and coming to seize him by the shoulders; that made him stop and scream in total terror. He had completely forgotten that man he knew as Obsidian, who had chased them down to the house to begin with.
But it wasn’t Obsidian; instead, the man holding him tight was one of Colonel White’s officers whom he had met on Cloudbase.
And with him, there was another officer, wearing a uniform of a reddish hue… and Captain Blue, keeping slightly behind.
“Captain Blue!” Daniel said with relief, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart. “You’re alive!”
“Take it easy, son,” Ochre told him. “You’re safe now.”
“No, I’m not! That is… Me, I’m okay, but Paul… That madman is gonna kill him!” He looked back in direction of the house, all fretful. “You gotta save him! Please!”
“They’re in there?” Blue asked.
“Yes, in that house! Follett Mansion… That Follett guy living there… He wants to kill Paul! They’re in the living room… Please, go! Go! Don’t wait!”
“Stay with him, Ochre!” Blue ordered. “Magenta, with me!”
“Hang on, Blue…” But Ochre’s words fell in deaf ears: Ignoring his wounded arm, and with Captain Magenta hot on his heels, Captain Blue was already rushing to Follett Mansion, calling for his missing friend.
“Paul! Hang on! We’re coming!”
However valiant Paul Metcalfe’s efforts proved to be, he was only a ten-year-old, trying to fight off a crazed Mysteron agent; he quickly found out he wasn’t up to the task. Like the possessed man he was, Follett pushed him off him and sent him flying against a low table that broke in pieces under the impact. Paul felt a pain in his lower back and cried out, just as his assailant grasped him once more and pinned him to the floor. He felt hands seizing him by the throat and keeping him down and he moaned, opening eyes wide with fear to look into the distorted face of his would-be killer.
“Your friend has escaped,” Follett told him, his voice dripping with venom. “But you won’t, Scarlet, not this time, not while you are vulnerable.” He smiled wickedly, seeing the incomprehension in Paul’s fearful eyes. “You were right about me being a Mysteron agent, but the Younger boy was also right… It wasn’t a show earlier. I am as well a crazy old man. Since the death of his last son, grief and sorrow slowly drove Herbert Follett to madness. He had lost everyone he held dear. When Captain Black killed him earlier, it was a mercy killing of a sort, and that put an end to his misery...” Follett’s smile twisted into a cruel, evil one, as his hands started to tighten around Paul’s throat slowly but steadily, and the boy gasped, trying to find the breath which was escaping him. “… While I was created, inheriting Follett’s madness as well as my desire for vengeance for the Mysterons. Because as you know, young Metcalfe… Mysteron agents are exact replicas of their former human selves, and that includes their state of mind… however deplorable it might be!”
Paul didn’t try to make any sense of what the man gradually strangling him was saying; Follett was taking his sweet time squeezing the life out of him, and he knew he had to take the most advantage possible of that to find a way to escape his fate. He had to be quick; Follett was sat on his chest, forcing the little air he had in his lungs out, and his throat was now compressed uncomfortably. The boy’s arms and hands were free but he didn’t have the strength to push his assailant off him. His eyes flew around, in search for something, anything that might be of help. From the corner of his left eye he saw the lamp Follett’s cane had knocked down earlier. It looked just like it was within his reach.
“You being turned into this kid,” Follett muttered, “it was not on purpose… All the Mysterons wanted to do was to turn the clock just enough to remove any trace of retrometabolism in you… Then they would have been able to get rid of you, definitely… But that got out of hand, as you see… And instead of killing a powerless, very normal man, the Mysterons now have to deal with a puny and totally defenceless boy. That will be even easier.”
Follett squeezed a little more, cutting the flow of air completely. Paul couldn’t breathe anymore; his arms flailed desperately about, his left hand reaching for the lamp.
His fingers curled around it.
“I have last one confidence to tell you, before I snuff the life out of you, lad, Follett continued with an evil sneer. “As mad as he was, Old Follett liked you… He admired you and would have wanted you as a son. It killed him when his own son mistreated you like he did twenty years ago, and he would have done anything for that to never have happened. How ironic that it should be his hands around your throat which would put an end to your life…”
The words barely made it to Paul’s fogging mind; his vision was starting to blur, and it was with desperation that he lifted his left arm, calling on all his reserve of strength… and brought down the lamp with great force against the side of Follett’s head. That shattered the reflector and the light bulb, accidentally exposing the conductors inside. The impact of the lamp against his head made Follett release his hold on his victim’s throat, and the sudden jolt of electricity surging from the broken bulb surged through him and made him shake and yell in pain, sending him off-balance. Paul took a much needed gulp of air and pushed the old man off of him.
Follett fell to the floor missing the boy by an inch, his body shuddering involuntarily. Paul pulled himself away, crawling on his back; gasping, coughing and trying to find his breath back, he looked with horror at the man lying by his side; the body stopped shaking and it remained very still.
Shocked, Paul let go of the lamp, realising that he had unwittingly electrocuted his attacker. He struggled to pull himself to his feet, stumbled and caught himself against the sofa to keep his footing. He coughed again; his throat hurt, but he was already breathing better.
He looked with incomprehension at the dead man, scarcely believing what had just happened… and believing even less what he had just done.
He heard a voice, coming from the distance, urgently calling his name: “Paul! Hang on! We’re coming!”
That startled him, and he straightened up, turning towards the opening leading out of the living room. It sounded like…
“Adam?” he whispered, his voice catching in his sore throat.
Blue was alive? He could barely believe it! With a grateful smile on his face, he made one step to leave the room…
… And stopped suddenly, when he saw the shadow of a man, dressed in a black Spectrum uniform, standing there under the arch, with a gun in his hand and looking at him with very cold eyes.
Fearfully, Paul backtracked. This was the man who had shot Captain Blue earlier.
“Daniel Younger may have escaped the Mysterons, Paul Metcalfe,” he said in voice that sent a shiver down Paul’s spine. “But you, you will finally be destroyed by the very thing that just saved you…”
Paul looked at him with an interrogating look. What did he mean by that? He fully expected the man to use his gun.
Yet, he didn’t even raise it, and simply stared at him.
Then, Paul heard it… a sizzling electrical sound coming from behind him, that made him turn slowly; he looked down at the broken lamp, lying next to the dead body of Major Follett, and saw the electrical sparks it was making.
He turned back to the man who had addressed him, but found the entrance to the living room empty. The man had gone… silently, without a trace.
As if he had disappeared into thin air.
Paul returned his attention to the electrical sparks made by the lamp.
And suddenly it hit him… he knew the danger he was in.
The smell… the distinctive smell of rotten eggs…
Gas! All over the house!
Knowing that he would never have the time to get out of the house, that it might catch fire and explode any second now, ignited by those electrical sparks, Paul’s eyes spotted the empty fireplace, with the fire screen half pull before it.
He desperately darted in that direction…
… Just as behind him, the sparks transformed into flames which enlarged at exponential speed, engulfing the whole room.
Blue and Magenta were getting closer to the house when suddenly, flames emerged from all openings and an enormous blast blew it out into the sky. The shockwave knocked both Spectrum officers off their feet and they roughly landed onto their back, their breath driven from them. Still mostly conscious despite the strength of the impact, Magenta crawled to Blue, who seemed to have been half-stunned by the blast and covered his head so that he would not sustain other injuries from falling debris. As for Ochre and Daniel Younger, they were at a safe enough distance from the explosion to only be startled by it.
“No!” With a roar of anguish, Daniel darted in direction of the now half-destroyed and burning house. Ochre swiftly caught him by the arm and didn’t let him go.
“What do you think you’re doing, kid?” he said in a stern voice. “You cannot go in there!”
“He was still inside!” Daniel wailed, turning to Ochre with eyes filled with despair. “Paul…” He looked back at the house. “He… was still there… He sacrifices himself to save me…”
He fell on his knees, suddenly feeling very weak. Ochre looked down at him, suddenly feeling deep sympathy for him.
“Stay here,” Ochre instructed, before darting towards Magenta and Blue.
“No… I’m coming!”
Daniel was on his feet and joining the Spectrum officer. Ochre didn’t care enough to make him turn back; he was too concerned for his colleagues.
Magenta and Blue were already rising from where they had fallen; obviously, Blue wasn’t as injured as Magenta had thought, because the Bostonian was quick to shove his colleague’s helping hands aside, as he struggled to his feet. His eyes, wide open with horror, were set on what was left of Follett Mansion.
“No…” he whispered.
He made a step forward, but Magenta put his hand on his valid shoulder.
“There’s nothing you can do, Adam,” he said gently.
Roughly, Blue freed himself. “You come with me, Pat, or you let me go,” he told him warningly. “But you do not get in my way.” He didn’t wait for a reply and jogged to the house. The front door had been blown clear out of its hinges by the explosion, leaving the entrance open.
Magenta shook his head in dismay as he watched Blue, stepping through the doorway to disappear into the heavy clouds inside. Shrugging, he turned to address Ochre, who was approaching his position with Daniel.
“Stay here with the kid. I’m gonna help Blue.”
Ochre stopped in his tracks and nodded his acknowledgement.
“Be careful in there,” he said.
“Sure… who do you think me for?” Magenta replied with a grunt. “I’m not indestructible…”
And he went into the house, the same way Blue did before him.
“Paul… Paul… Wake up, lad…”
Paul Metcalfe shook his head and groaned. He felt light-headed, and very strange, but he didn’t feel any pain at all. He remembered being caught in that explosion, just as he had leapt into the fireplace. He had hoped that the narrow space, with its thick walls of stone, and the sturdiness of the fire screen would be enough to protect him from the explosion and the flames. It was an instinctive decision, and he didn’t even have time to think it through. For him, it was obvious it was his only chance of survival, and he had taken it. He didn’t really know if it would really work.
“Paul… Wake up…”
The gentle voice drew him out of his slumber and he opened his eyes. He was sprawled in the fireplace, his head resting against the stone wall, in an odd position. He wasn’t hurt. The fire… the explosion… he had escaped them. There were smokes all around, but he didn’t seem to have any trouble breathing.
“Get out of there, lad. You’re safe now.”
The voice calling him was calm, soothing. He wasn’t sure where he had heard it before, but it was also very familiar. Awkwardly, Paul stood up, pushing the fire screen aside to extirpate himself from the fireplace. He looked around in confusion. The living room had disappeared completely. There was nothing left of it. The walls themselves seemed to have been blown away. There wasn’t even any fire. There were only piles of rumbles everywhere… and that heavy smoke, enveloping everything, making it hard to see beyond only a few feet.
Paul made a few steps, making his way through the rubbles, looking around, searching. There were no other sounds but calls from the distance, people coughing… But it seemed to come from so very far…
“Hello?” he called, his voice echoing into the emptiness. “Is there anyone about? I’m over here!”
“And I’m over here.”
Stunned by the proximity of the voice, Paul spun around, gasping. Just there, in front of the fireplace he had just left, stood a tall man who was looking at him quietly. He was about the same age as Adam, and wore a Spectrum uniform, and cap and boots just like him. Except, it was of a different colour...
It was a vivid red.
Paul approached the man tentatively; he had dark hair and bright lively blue eyes.
“Who are you?” Paul asked, his brow furrowing.
The man shrugged slightly. “You know,” he said. “I’m the man you will become, Paul.”
Paul narrowed his eyes at him, pensively. “You’re Captain Scarlet,” he declared.
“Got it in one, kid,” the man replied, smiling affably and bowing slightly.
“What are you doing here now?”
“What do you think?” Captain Scarlet’s smiled broadened. “I’m here to tell you how much I’m proud of you. You did well, Paul. You did very well indeed.”
“Did I?” Paul asked doubtfully.
Captain Scarlet sighed. “I’ve got of admit… I wasn’t quite sure at the start. My, hijacking a SPJ to get back to Winchester… Well, that’s extremely cocky, and potentially dangerous… Even from me. And bringing Daniel Younger into this, well… Not the brightest of ideas.” He tutted, shaking his head.
“He wanted to come,” Paul defended himself. “I had no choice.”
“Well, keep on telling yourself that, and possibly you’ll convince yourself. But that doesn’t convince me.” Scarlet shrugged again. “Anyway, it’s not important now. As I said, you did very well. You saved Daniel’s life, by risking your own. Somehow, I expected no less of you.”
“Well, if it was my fault he had been put in danger…”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Don’t you see, Paul?” Scarlet interrupted his younger self. “Whatever happened… Even if things had gone differently, he – and yourself – would have been put in danger anyway. The Mysterons had chosen you as target, and when they have chosen a target, they go after it. That’s how they do things. There was no way that could have been avoided.”
“Don’t you think we made it easier for them, by taking that plane?” Paul suggested.
“Maybe… But then again, maybe not. With the Mysterons, everything is possible. They are masters at making the most of every situation, believe me.”
Paul nodded slowly. “You know so much about these Mysterons, then?”
“More than you can imagine.”
“So you the Mysterons were behind all this then?” Paul asked with a dubious tone.
“I’m not sure if they were there every step of the way,” Scarlet mused. “But they definitely were watching to take advantage of the situation. They have been known to give a little push here and there…” He made the movement with both his hands, “… To make sure things would be happening to their advantage.”
“My presence on Cloudbase,” Paul said pensively. “Their doing, right?”
“You heard them. Follett said it was accidental. But nevertheless… they were obviously behind it.”
“They’re not all responsible for what I did,” Paul insisted. “Adam got hurt because of me.”
Scarlet shook his head. “I know, but he’ll be all right,” he said softly. “He’ll forgive you. That’s what he does. That’s how he is.”
“And I took advantage of his trust,” Paul continued. “Him, and Melody… and the colonel. And I was mean to Ochre…”
“Don’t beat yourself up, kid.”
“And I possibly made Rhapsody cry.”
“Now that last part, I shall forgive you myself,” Scarlet retorted with a thin smile. “None of them will hold it against you, don’t worry.”
“That’s right… They’ll say I’m just a kid, right?”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “You are not just a kid,” he said. “You are a kid… with a little bit of me inside of you.” He looked at the boy with amusement. “Do you really think any ordinary boy could have done what you did, all on his own? Come on, be realistic… I think it’s not only the Mysterons who gave you a little push here and there these last days…”
“You as well?” Paul suggested.
“Possibly unwittingly.” Scarlet chuckled. “Because if I had been able to stop you doing something foolish, I would possibly have done it…”
The voices echoing in the distance seemed to come closer now, and Paul distinctly heard them. They were calling his name, insistently. People were searching for him, and he recognised the voices – one in particular.
In front of him, he saw Scarlet raising his head as well at the sound of those voices, and listening to them.
“Adam,” Paul said. “He’s looking for me.”
“I hear him,” Scarlet said simply.
“They’re calling for me.”
Scarlet shook his head. “But it’s not you who’ll answer that call, Paul,” he said gently. “I’ll be taking over from here. Everything will go back to normal now.”
Paul blinked. “What will become of me?”
“You?” Scarlet left his position and walked nonchalantly towards the young man who was looking at him with curiosity. “Well, you… you will return to you ten year old games and plays… You’ll go back to your home, in Winchester…”
“Back to my parents?” Paul asked with uncertainly.
“Yes… Back to your parents,” Scarlet reassured him. “Like you remember them to be.”
“And… will I go back to that awful military school?” Paul asked again.
Scarlet shook his head. “Your father promised you would never go there. Trust him in doing what is needed to keep his promise. You’ll never set foot in that awful place, Paul.”
“West Point, then?”
“Ah… not before you are twenty-one.”
“And I will become… you?”
Scarlet chuckled. “Eventually. If you’re good.” He pointed a warning finger at the boy. “But not TOO good. I’ve got a reputation to maintain, kid.” It was Paul’s turn to snigger and Scarlet smiled fondly. “Just… be true to yourself, Paul. And trust your instincts. They will never fail you. And everything will turn out all right.”
“If you say so...” Paul shrugged and smiled up to the tall man standing in front of him. His eyes were twinkling mischievously. “Hey, if I can’t trust myself, who can I trust, right?”
“Right.” Scarlet smiled at him again and turned on his heels, taking a few steps towards the fireplace.
“Hey, Paul… Captain Scarlet?” Scarlet stopped and gave one last look behind him at the boy whose silhouette was starting to fade into the smokes and clouds surrounding them. The voices coming from the distance, calling both their names, were even closer than before.
“Be careful out there, will you?” the young Paul advised, raising his hand in farewell. “You’re my future, after all…”
“I will,” Scarlet promised. “And you, be careful as well.” He rose in his hand as well. The boy was slowly disappearing from his view.
“I promise. I’ll be good…” The silhouette of the boy was almost all gone. “… But not TOO good,” the disembodied young voice echoed impishly.
Captain Scarlet smiled knowingly and turned to walk towards the fireplace.
“Paul! Where are you?”
Captain Blue was trying to see through the smoke and flames surrounding him, calling for the boy he knew might still be somewhere in this inferno, trapped, maybe wounded. If he was still alive, he needed to find him soon; without the retrometabolism of his adult self, he could die in here… or if he survived, he could be permanently injured.
Captain Magenta had gone through the door to join him; Blue barely paid his presence any attention, too busy to scan the area with his eyes.
“Daniel said they were in the living,” the Irish captain said. He coughed, the smoke filling his nostrils. “Do you see where it could be?”
Blue grunted with irritation and shook his head. There was nothing left from the interior of the big house, the explosion having destroyed most of everything inside. There were only piles of debris everywhere, smashed beyond recognition, still burning.
“I’ve no idea where he could be,” he murmured, shaking his head in desolation.
“We cannot make a thorough search of this whole place, Blue,” Magenta reasoned. “It’s still burning, threatening to crumble on us… We’ll get trapped in here if we don’t –”
Blue heard a cough.
“Sshh!” he requested from Magenta.
The Irish captain shut up instantly and seeing Blue listening with attention, did the same.
They heard a new cough, and then a low moan. Blue was able to pinpoint the direction from which that was coming. He pointed to what remained of a large archway, just in front of them. It certainly looked like a likely entrance for a living room. “In there!” he exclaimed.
The two Spectrum officers crossed what remained of the hall, going around debris and fire, checking the floor as they progressed in fear it would collapse under their feet. They passed the archway to enter a new, large room, filled with so much destroyed rubbish they struggled getting through. In here, smoke appeared the heaviest, and the flames the brightest. Blue reflected it could very well be the centre of the fire.
“Paul!” he called again forcefully. “Can you hear me?”
“Paul! Magenta called in turn. “Where are you?”
They coughed together, swallowing smoke, and almost missed the moan that followed their calls; it was louder now, seemingly coming from a close location.
But it wasn’t a child’s moan; it belonged to a man.
They anxiously looked around. The fire inside that room was throwing shifting shadows against piles of debris and what remained of the walls. But obviously, none of these shadows belonged to a human being.
Magenta heard a sound that was neither cough nor moans and turned towards the far side of the room; there was a stone wall there, and a fireplace, not exactly intact, but still standing, with pile of stone rubbles, standing in front it, and a distorted fire screen, almost driven into the opening.
He opened his eyes wide when he saw some of the rubbles rolling down from the top of the heap, and a hand appearing in a narrow gap, obviously trying to push the debris away.
“Over there!” Magenta barked, almost making Blue jump.
He rushed in direction of the fireplace, through the rumbles, closely followed by his colleague. When they both arrived, they saw the hand disappear behind the rubbles trapping the fire screen against the fireplace. Magenta set out to push all those rocks out of the way and despite his wounded shoulder, Blue did his best to help him out. They heard coughing just as Magenta’s hands reached for the half-freed fire screen, and they exchanged apprehensive glances. That cough definitely didn’t come from a child.
Magenta pulled on the rusted fire screen; it creaked under his efforts, the bottom of it still stuck under the rubbles, but it finally gave way and both Spectrum officer tore it away and threw it aside.
They nearly fell on their rears at the discovery they made.
Half-buried under rubbles and all covered with dust, Captain Scarlet was sprawled into the empty space of the fireplace, his head leaning against the surface of the side wall, his eyes closes. He was bruised, covered with various wounds more or less extensive and by the look of it mostly caused by the debris in the midst of which he lay; he had a large gash on the side of his head, and his right leg and left arm were at an odd angle, both visibly broken.
He still had on him the tatters of the clothes he previously wore as a ten-year-old, his adult body having obviously outgrown them.
Magenta tentatively reached for him, and a deep moan escaped Scarlet as he moved his head to the other side, without opening his eyes.
“Great Scott,” the Irish captain breathed. “He’s back… and he’s alive!”
“Paul?” Blue called in a low voice. Receiving no answer, he called louder: “Paul! Can you hear me?”
He saw the head move again, and the eyelids fluttered. Deep blue eyes looked haggardly around, before finding Captain Blue, crouched in front of him.
“Paul, can you hear me?” Blue repeated.
Scarlet moaned softly. “‘Course I can hear you, Blue Boy…” he said in a weak, slurred voice. “My ears’re ringing… But I’m not deaf yet…”
A large smile spread on Blue’s lips. “You’re back…” he said.
“ ‘S good to be back…” Scarlet slurred again, his reply an echo from the first mission he had shared with Blue after his release from the Mysterons. His eyes closed and his head drooped to the side, slowly. “Tuck me in, will you, Bro…” he moaned. His voice trailed off into a deep sigh.
Magenta checked for a pulse and nodded with satisfaction. “He’ll be okay, I think… We have to get him out of here before this old place comes crashing down on us.”
He looked around, took note of the torn out windows and of the large breach in the wall behind them, offering an exit directly onto the lawn.
He nodded in that direction. “We’ll go faster going that way… And we’ll avoid Daniel, who’s waiting in front. He wouldn’t understand that we came in here to look for his young friend and got out, carrying Scarlet with us.”
“That’ll only be a temporary respite,” Blue retorted. “What next?”
Magenta shook his head. “Don’t worry. I’ve got it all covered already. Call Ochre, while I dig Scarlet out of this mess. Tell him to take Daniel back to our SPJ. Me, I’ll take care of you and Scarlet.”
Blue nodded, acknowledging his colleague’s taking charge of the operations. He lowered his cap microphone, while Magenta set himself to work.
Magenta’s plan worked flawlessly, although getting out of Winchester after the events of that Christmas Eve were not really that easy for Spectrum officers involved.
The explosion which destroyed Follett Mansion had been heard from some distance around and many bystanders came to just watch the subsequent fire which was consuming what was left of the once large stylish house. That made for many unwanted witnesses, but Spectrum insured the help of the local fire-fighters and policemen to insure that they would be kept at a safe distance. Captain Forest had been the first to arrive, before everyone else, and had made sure to arrange things with the police officers for Spectrum to complete its job and evacuate their people as quickly and discreetly as it was possible.
Well before the arrival of the first onlookers, Daniel Younger was escorted back to SPJ A05 by Captain Ochre, who took the teenager and Melody Angel directly back to Cloudbase. Daniel, who was worried sick over the fate of his young friend Paul Metcalfe, was told that the ten-year-old had actually been saved from the Mysteron agent threatening his life and taken out of Follett Mansion before the explosion even occurred. Consequently, the boy had suffered no harm, and considering there was no need anymore to keep him under surveillance onboard Cloudbase, he had been granted his deepest wish, and had been returned to his family… in time for Christmas.
Followed by Captain Blue, Captain Magenta had carried Captain Scarlet out of the burning house, through the gap in the living room’s wall, which led them directly to the back lawn. Magenta then requisitioned one of the Spectrum Patrol cars that Forest and his team had arrived in, and drove the two wounded men to Winchester Airbase. There, he took the SPJ left by the London Headquarters party to fly to Cloudbase, while a Spectrum medic onboard offered first aid to Blue and Scarlet. Upon touchdown, a team from sickbay was already waiting to take charge of the two injured officers. Scarlet, who had not regained consciousness yet, was wheeled into his private room, where Doctor Fawn himself was to take care of him.
Diagnosed with blood loss due to his gunshot wound, a dislocated shoulder caused by the impact of the bullet and a slight concussion, Captain Blue was swiftly but carefully treated by one of Fawn’s assistants, and sent to one of the recovery rooms. He refused to take any medicine that would make him sleep, until he learned what was happening with his colleague. It was Doctor Fawn himself who came to visit him and informed him that Scarlet would be all right from now on, and that he wasn’t in any life-threatening danger… And that, more than likely, he wouldn’t be for a long foreseeable future. It wasn’t as much Fawn’s words than the wide smile on his face that reassured Blue that everything was now back to normal. Reassured, he allowed the doctor to give him a sedative, and he plunged into a deep, much needed slumber.
It was only the following morning that Blue woke up, to find that, while he was sleeping, his room had been decorated in a Christmassy fashion, with garlands, a gold and red banner saying ‘Happy Christmas’ hanging over the door, and a basket of white and red poinsettias set on the table by the side of his bed. There was even a sprig of mistletoe hanging just overhead of him and that made him smile, thinking about who might just have put that there.
He reflected that the drug Fawn had injected him had to be very strong stuff for him to sleep all through the decorating process without even awakening. I could almost imagine his favourite Angel, standing atop of a stool, stretching dangerously to hang that sprig, while following one of the other girls’ directions. That made him smile with deep fondness. Dear Karen… He knew he had good reasons to love that girl.
As he was thinking of her, he saw the door of his room open, and saw her blond head leaning through the opening and carefully looking in his direction. When she realised he was awaked, a large smile spread of her lips and she entered fully, coming directly to him.
“Hi, there, Big Blue… Merry Christmas.” She leaned to kiss him quickly on the mouth; he barely had time to taste her lips that she broke the kiss and pointed to the twig over his head. “Had to do that,” she said. “Tradition.”
“I only get a kiss out of tradition?” he protested. “How about one because I nearly lost an arm?”
“Awww… Poor baby.” She kissed him again, this time more fervently, taking good care not to hurt his shoulder.
“Merry Christmas, honey,” he told her as she straightened up. “I’m sorry I missed the party…”
“Well, I think we all were a little too busy to actually have a proper celebration,” she reflected. “But don’t worry about that, Ochre made the vow to prepare something for New Year’s Eve… We expect you will be on your feet by then. And Paul as well.” She showed the decorations around the room. “In the meantime, we thought you were entitled to a little Christmas spirit. You like it? My idea. And my doing.”
“I guessed as much,” Blue said with a knowing smile.
“Dianne and me, we did the same in Paul’s room. He was like you, he never moved as we hanged the decoration over him. Dianne even kissed him… and was rewarded when she saw him smile in his sleep.”
“And you didn’t do the same?” Blue asked her.
“Kissing Paul?” she asked innocently.
He scowled. “Kissing me, you dimwit,” he retorted teasingly.
“Say that one more time and I’ll never decorate your sickbay room again.” She answered with a smile of her own. “Of course I did… But you never smiled.”
“Fawn’s stuff was really strong if I was even too conked to appreciate your very special ministering, darling…”
“Awww… good save,” Symphony laughed. “I forgive you, then.”
Blue thanked her with a new smile. “So you’ve seen, Paul,” he said softly. “Can you tell me how he is?”
She shook her head. “All right, I suppose. I didn’t get to talk to him, he was asleep the only time I saw him. “He’s back to normal, as you know, and resting in his usual room… But Fawn said he would be staying there a little longer than usual.”
“How’s that?” Blue asked with a scowl.
“Well, since you’ll be told soon, I imagine…” Symphony sighed, and sat on the side of his bed. “I might as well tell you myself… Doctor Fawn had a talk with us early this morning to brief us about Paul’s condition. Oh, his retrometabolism is back, all right, and Fawn imagines, along with Doctor Lavender,” she added, her voice taking a sharper edge when she mentioned the name, “that it’s possibly because he had been seriously injured in that explosion that it actually kicked in… And brought him back to normal, so to speak.”
“What do you know…” Blue muttered.
“Fawn doesn’t know if Paul actually had actually been ‘killed’ in that explosion, in order to trigger the process,” Symphony continued. “There was no way to tell if he had died or not…” She scoffed lightly. “Ochre joked that, had we known that before, we might have settled the problem by throwing him off Cloudbase through an airlock.” She shook her head. “Sometimes I despair of him… Melody just wanted to strangle him.”
“She didn’t,” Blue said with a knowing smile. “I’m about sure he was just aiming at riling her… and she just wanted to demonstrate her affection to him.”
“She certainly has a strange way to demonstrate it! Anyway, apparently the whole experience of returning back to his normal self has taken a lot out of our Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolism...”
“It worked overtime, certainly,” Blue commented.
“… So it has slowed down a bit. More than a bit, actually. He’s mostly healed – bruises and superficial wounds are gone already – but he has broken bones and a commotion that might take a little longer than what accounts as normal for him to heal.”
“And what is a little longer for him, at the moment?”
“Three… four days, Doctor Fawn estimates.”
“Paul’ll go ape,” Blue chuckled. “He’s not used to stay in sickbay for long periods. I guess we’ll be neighbours for a few days, then.”
“You might be neighbours, but you won’t be allowed to visit each other,” Symphony told him.
Blue scowled “How come?”
“At the moment, Paul’s not allowed to leave his room – or to even receive visitors.” As Blue stared at her with an interrogating look, she pursued: “Right after Dianne and I finished decorating his room, we’ve been told to leave, and let him rest and not disturb him until further notice. That order was repeated to everyone this morning, during our meeting with Fawn. There’s even a guard standing in front of his door right now, as if to insure that directive is followed.”
“Sounds like they’re keeping him under watch,” Blue commented dryly. “One guess where that comes from.”
“The World President?” Symphony suggested.
“Who else? I suppose the colonel had to tell him the identity of the boy who ran away with his son yesterday…”
“And everything else,” Symphony confirmed. “He had to, Adam. He had no choice.”
“I know,” Blue sighed. “But knowing how Younger feels about Scarlet, I imagine the revelation wasn’t very well received. Paul could be in deep trouble.”
“I’m confident the colonel will know what words to use to calm the World President’s ire, Adam,” Symphony.
“I hope you are right, Karen.”
“One thing for sure,” Symphony added with a roll of her eyes. “Scarlet is not the only one in trouble. Boy, I wouldn’t want to be in Daniel Younger’s shoes at the moment…”
“Do you know how irresponsible you have been, young man?”
Daniel Younger lowered his head; his father’s words might not have been as loud as he expected them to be – to the contrary, they have been spoken in a low, very soft voice. But that didn’t make them any less harsh. He could certainly recognise when he was being told off and he knew that he fully deserved it this time.
He looked up to meet his father’s disappointed and disapproving eyes. “Dad, do we have to do this in front of someone else?” he asked, almost pleadingly.
He gestured to Colonel White, who was standing near the conference table, at some distance from them, with his arms crossed on his chest, waiting in silence. The World President had requested the use of the Conference room to have a talk with his son, and had asked for the Spectrum commander’s presence. That didn’t exactly please White to stand there, while Younger berated the boy, but the man was his boss, and he imagined he had a good reason to do so.
Perhaps he didn’t trust himself not strangling his son? Daniel had certainly been a pain in the neck since his very arrival, and that last escapade with his young companion had been the definite last straw. If he had not been the World President’s son, White would have refused his return to Cloudbase without any hesitation. The colonel was convinced that without Daniel’s assistance – and especially influence – Paul Metcalfe would not even have left base to begin with.
If they had not left, the Mysterons might not have taken them as targets, White reflected. Of course, if they had stayed, maybe Captain Scarlet would not have returned back to normal…
Don’t tell me I will end up thanking that little jerk. That would be too unfair…
“Colonel White has every right to be here,” Younger told his son a little more sternly. “I believe you owe him an apology for what happened, Daniel.” As his son looked at him with a seemingly incomprehensive look, Younger thought it best to explain to him what he meant: “You ran away from Cloudbase, stole a Spectrum SPJ, put two of the colonel’s officers under lock and key… flew that jet, without proper clearing to England… Daniel, do you realise what you have done?”
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said, lowering his eyes again. “Please, don’t be angry at me, Dad…”
“Angry at you?” Younger approached him and took him by the shoulders. Startled, the boy looked up and met his father’s eyes; he noticed the fear and pain in those eyes, as well as the way his father’s hands where shaking.
Younger swallowed hard. “Daniel, of course, I’m angry at you… But more than that, I was so very afraid for you. Son, you don’t realise… The Mysterons threatened you. You could have been… killed.” He shook his head, fearfully. “I’ve lost your mother already, Daniel… I might not survive it if you were taken from me.”
And before the astonished Daniel could utter a word, his father drew him against his heart and held him there in a bear hug. The boy’s felt tears pricking as his eyes. “It’s all right, Dad,” he said with a catch in his voice. “I’m okay, now… These Mysteron guys… They did nothing to me.”
White felt slightly embarrassed at the scene and discreetly diverted his eyes, waiting for this to finish. Quite frankly, he thought that the Younger boy was getting off easy. What he had done could have had serious outcomes to himself and to his accomplice. And that wasn’t mentioning anyone else who might have been hurt in the process. Captain Blue had been very lucky to come out of it with only a concussion and a dislocated arm.
However, the colonel found himself wondering what he would have done himself, had Paul Metcalfe been returned to Cloudbase still his young self. Would he had been as lenient to the boy as Younger was with his son? He doubted it seriously. However, considering it was the adult Captain Scarlet who had returned, it was rather difficult to hold him responsible for what he had done as an immature, irresponsible and undiscerning little boy. The experienced, fully-trained and disciplined officer that was Scarlet would never have done something as reckless and dangerous as what that child did.
No, of course not… But Scarlet does have his hot-headed and daredevil moments when he puts his mind to it…
“You’re grounded,” Younger told Daniel.
Now that’s more like it, White reflected approvingly.
The World President detached himself from his son. The look in his eyes alleviated the severity of his words.
“You’re grounded, on account on all the trouble you caused,” Younger continued quietly. “I want you to realise how serious consequences what you have done could have had. For you and for everybody else. Now if you had not followed that boy and ran away like you did –”
“I didn’t follow him, Dad,” Daniel interrupted suddenly. “We went together.”
Younger snorted. “He did take you off Cloudbase, didn’t he?”
“Take me?” Daniel shook his head. “Are you saying you’re holding him responsible for us getting away like we did?”
“Well, he might not have forced you, but he surely influenced you…”
“Since when do I need influence from someone else to do something foolish?” Daniel interrupted his father.
Those words made Colonel White listen more closely.
“Dad, you’re getting it all wrong. Paul’s just a ten year old kid… Do you really think a boy that age could influence me in doing stuff I wouldn’t want to do in the first place?”
“Are you saying that escapade of yours wasn’t his idea?” Younger asked with a scowl. “Daniel, this… operation was too well-prepared for me to think you were the mastermind behind it.”
“Mastermind?” Daniel snorted. “Now that’s funny. Do you think Paul a… military tactician, or something?” His father said nothing and simply stared at him, without answering. Daniel moved on: “Paul’s brilliant, of course, I’ll give him that. But a little kid like him – he would never have made it all this on his own. He wanted to go, and I wanted to go… The pig-headed kid… he wouldn’t have me. He was gonna try it all alone, and surely, he was gonna fail. So I… I told him we were going together or else, I would tell on him.”
“You blackmailed him?” His father said with a doubting frown.
“It was my ticket out of here – I couldn’t let a kid spoil it for me.”
Younger narrowed his eyes at his son. “And he didn’t force you?”
“Of course not, Dad! What do you think? We did it together. Like Batman and Robin.”
“Batman and Robin, no less,” Younger sighed, rolling his eyes.
“And I was nobody’s sidekick, Dad. I planned most of it.”
“Oh you did, did you?”
“Well, we did it together, but I came up with most of the plan… Paul helped a lot, of course. He had some ideas, and gave me the information… Like about that auto-pilot testing… And I thought: ‘well, there, that’ll be easy. We’ll let Georgina fly the plane’.”
“Georgina?” Younger asked with puzzlement.
“That’s the auto-pilot’s name. It’s fitting too, it has a woman’s name.”
“And the choice of Winchester… Where your young friend actually wanted to go… That was your plan too?”
“I didn’t care where we were going as long as we got off Cloudbase,” Daniel said with a shrug. “So it might as well be Winchester. But if I had known it was so cold over there, I would have headed to somewhere down south. New Zealand might have been nice.”
Younger narrowed his eyes to his son, with deep suspicion. “I found all this very hard to believe, Daniel. You, planning this escapade…”
“You prefer to think it was all planned by a ten-year-old? Dad…” Daniel smirked. “We called it ‘Operation Rainbow Bay’, you know?” He saw the light of understanding in his father’s eyes. “You remember, right?” he asked.
“Yeah, I remember…” Younger said. How could he forget that time when his son had taken the high speed monorail from Brisbane to Melbourne, on his own, and without a ticket? It was a long seven hours trip, and the way he understood it, the boy had the time of his life.
And he was only twelve year old.
“Why are you telling me all this now?” Younger asked. “Why are you coming forwards and confess this to me?”
Daniel shook his head. “You’re always telling I ought to take responsibility for my actions. So I thought it was about time I started by coming clean with you.”
White couldn’t believe it. Daniel Younger – the one obnoxious child he would have throttle gleefully and without a single afterthought – was doing the right thing, and taking the entirety of the heat over his own shoulders. The Spectrum commander was astonished, but had the good sense not to show any of his surprise as he continued to watch, with growing interested what was going to happen.
Younger was still dubious, but obviously he wasn’t dismissing all of what his son was telling him. He stood there, in front of Daniel with an expression that seemed to indicate he was totally ready to believe his son, but at the same time, that he was still slightly distrustful.
“So you decided that so suddenly?” Younger asked. “Coming clean with me… Like it was an epiphany?”
Daniel sighed. “You’re right, what I did might have had serious consequences… Those Mysterons… they meant business. Captain Blue was shot, trying to protect us… And Paul… Well, when I saw him jumping that crazy old guy, shouting at me to run away… That was the craziest, bravest thing someone ever did for me. That kid was willing to buy me time… And when that house exploded, I thought he had been killed.” He shivered and shook his head. “I left him behind, Dad. I thought he died because of me. It would have been my fault… I felt so relieved to learn he got away.” He stared at his father, looking determined. “I don’t ever want to live that again. I promise, I’m gonna change. From now on, I’ll be a new man.”
Younger nodded, very slowly. He couldn’t help smiling. “Well if you have decided that, then it seems that something good might have come out of this whole ordeal, then,” he said softly, as he squeezed his son’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you, for reacting that way, son.” He scowled at him. “But you’re still grounded. You’re not going off that easily.”
Daniel chuckled and nodded his acknowledgement. He turned towards Colonel White, who still stood in the distance, waiting patiently.
“I’m sorry I caused you and your men that much trouble, Colonel,” the teenager said, almost taking the Spectrum commander by surprise by the sincerity of his words. “And… I want to thank you all for what you did to save Paul and me, against these Mysterons.”
White bowed to him. “We were only doing our work,” Mr Younger.
Daniel smiled at him. “I think you all did more than that, sir. You put up with me from the moment I arrived on Cloudbase.”
“Yes… we did that too.” White permitted himself a teasing smile.
“Can I ask a favour, sir?”
There was but the slightest hesitation in White, before he gave his answer, not as reluctantly as he had expected: “Name it.”
“I’d very much like to… talk to Captain Scarlet, if it’s okay by you.”
Younger scowled. “Captain Scarlet? What would you want with him? You haven’t met the man, I believe.”
Daniel turned briefly to his father. “I heard he was the one who saved Paul,” he explained. “Captain Ochre told me, as he brought me back here to Cloudbase. But I heard that Captain Scarlet had been hurt in the process, Colonel?” he asked, turning back to White with an inquiring look.
“What else did Captain Ochre tell you?” White asked him.
“Not much… Only that Paul was a relative of Captain Scarlet… a little cousin of a sort?”
“Of a sort,” White said grumpily. He would need to have a serious discussion with Captain Ochre. The least the American could do was talk to him, when he came up with lies like that. If only to make that lie stick.
Captain Scarlet is currently recuperating in sickbay,” White answered, without committing himself. “He’s expected to make a full recovery.”
“Is it possible to talk to him? I mean… he’s not that hurt that he can’t receive visitors, I hope?”
White addressed a look in direction of the World President, checking his reaction. Daniel seemed to have noticed that, as he turned to his father. “I want to thank him, Dad. For having saved Paul. This is something I need to do, you see?”
Younger gave it some thought. He glanced briefly at White who only stood there, waiting. Finally, he gave his consent: “All right. Go talk to him. But don’t tire him too much. He might need his rest after his ordeal in Winchester. Colonel?”
“Captain Magenta is waiting at the door,” White said. “He’ll take you to sickbay, Mr Younger.”
“Thanks, Colonel,” Daniel beamed. He turned to his father. “Thanks, Dad.”
He jogged towards the exit.
“Don’t be too long,” his father called after him. “Your sister is waiting for you in the V.I.P. suite to give you your Christmas gift! Join us there.”
“I will, Dad. See you later!”
Daniel was out the next second. His father followed him with his eyes.
As the door was about to close, General Peterson stepped in, looking behind at the departing boy. He cleared the entrance and strode briskly towards the World President, while Colonel White left his position near the conference table to approach as well.
Peterson didn’t look very pleased.
“What just happened?” he inquired, addressing Younger. “I swear, I saw a smile on this young rascal’s face… You didn’t go soft with him, I hope, James? After what he had done, he deserves at least to clean Cloudbase’s landing strip with a toothbrush!”
White chuckled. That was actually a very funny picture.
“Oh, I’m sure Colonel White has a more humane way to discipline his personnel,” Younger mused. “What is it you do to punish people around here, Charles?”
“Assign them to radar duty,” Colonel White answered.
“Radar duty?” Younger repeated. “Doesn’t seem like much of a sanction, if you ask me.”
“Would you care to try, Mr President?” White deadpanned. “I’m sure that after three days of that regiment, you will change your mind.”
Younger cleared his throat. “No, thank you. I’ll pass, I think. And don’t worry, Brian,” he added with a smile. “Daniel will receive a proper punishment.”
“I should hope so, sir.”
“Seems like your man is off the hook, Charles,” The World President then said, addressing Colonel White again, his words causing General Peterson to beam in total approval. “Frankly, I’m kind of glad it ends this way, especially considering he risked his life to save my son’s.” He paused, looking back towards the closed door. “I suppose I should say he really risked his life, considering he wasn’t retrometabolic at the time.”
“I suppose you should indeed, sir,” White approved.
“We cannot really blame Captain Scarlet for the actions he did, while he was that irrepressible young boy, can we?” Younger continued nonchalantly.
“I was thinking along the same lines, sir,” White answered. “Of course, if you should request it, I can see to it that Captain Scarlet will be doing radar duty for a month, from the moment he’ll be able to leave sickbay.”
“Oh, that sounds rather harsh on the man,” Peterson protested, furrowing his brow, as he saw Younger thinking about it.
“You wanted my son to clean the landing strip with a toothbrush,” Younger reminded him.
“Oh, but that’s not the same,” Peterson replied dismissively. “I’m more thinking on the line that Captain Scarlet had suffered enough as if it… What passing that whole time with that little scoundrel of Daniel…”
“You’re threading on dangerous waters, Brian,” Younger warned with a – falsely – stern voice. “Be careful not to find yourself doing some radar duty of your own. I am still your boss, you know… I can order the colonel to keep you onboard for some time…”
“Beside,” Peterson continued with a smile, “If he wasn’t responsible, why punish the man?”
“And excellent point, of course,” White agreed, noting the World President’s slow nod.
“And you did find he was a friendly little chap, when he was a boy, James…” Peterson then unexpectedly chuckled, causing the two other men to turn an inquiring and perplexed look at him. “And that… he had a good influence on your boy…” Peterson laughed, looking at each of them in turn. “That’s kind of ironic, don’t you think?”
That made Colonel White smile despite himself. As for T. James Younger, he scowled, unsure whether or not he should find the joke funny.
He decided it was.
Captain Scarlet was feeling miserable all alone in his private sickbay room, with no-one to keep company with him. Even the Christmas show on the small TV screen set on the wall opposite his bed didn’t provide enough entertainment to be anything more than a boring loss of time. He couldn’t believe people paid for such a production to be made. Someone probably lost a lot of money with it.
He wasn’t accustomed anymore to keep his bed for a certain amount of time in order to recuperate. In most cases, he was on his feet after six hours. Sometimes eight. Rarely more than that. In the worst scenarios where he had needed to rest much longer, he didn’t need to stay in bed, or even in sickbay. He was released and sent to his quarters, or put off duty for some times until he would feel totally fine.
Now he still had to mend a broken arm, a broken leg, four cracked ribs, a dislocated clavicle and a commotion. According to Doctor Fawn, that amounted to four days of healing, minimum. It wasn’t that bad, when he considered that for a normal human being, the healing process would take several weeks.
Fawn had explained the situation to him – about how his rejuvenating powers, after working so hard to restore him from child form back to his normal, all grown-up, adult self, now needed some time to return to its own expected pace. Scarlet could certainly easily imagine that the experience had imposed a tremendous stress on his retrometabolic power – not to mention his own body – and he readily accepted it. After all, it was only for a few days.
In the meantime, his broken limbs were in casts, each breath was a torture and his head felt like it was filled with cotton… At least, his momentarily condition made it possible for his body to accept painkilling drugs, so that he wouldn’t be too uncomfortable. But even with a reduced retrometabolism, they weren’t having the whole effect they would have on a normal human being. They certainly didn’t last as long.
If they could at least make him sleep, that would certainly make all this waiting more bearable.
What Scarlet needed was some company to lull away the time, but that was not going to happen for now.
He had seen the guard standing by his door, and could certainly understand the reason why he was there. His memories of what had happened might be something of a fuzz, but he still recall them enough to realise that some of his foolhardy exploits as a young boy had likely landed him in more trouble than he really was looking for.
He was back to square one – if not with Colonel White, at least with the World President. The latter certainly didn’t appreciate that he had ran away with his own son in a daring escapade that had put the boy in deadly danger. He thought it unlikely that he would be forgiven that easily this time.
When Scarlet had inquired Fawn about Blue, and how he was doing, he had been relieved to hear that his friend was very fine, recuperating in his own room. But when he had asked if he could see his colleague, the English officer had received a strict order that for the moment, it would be better if he’s stayed put… And that he shouldn’t wait for Blue to leave his room to visit him either, despite the fact that he was well enough to do so if he wanted to. No-one was allowed to see him for now.
Fawn had not told him as much, but it was obvious to Scarlet that he had been put, if not under arrest, at least under surveillance, with no-one being authorized to visit him, or him being allowed to leave his room.
Oh, well… I suppose I had it coming, Scarlet reflected as he looked thoughtfully at the Christmas paraphernalia adorning his room. Someone had visibly had the time to decorate it, before the persona non grata order fell on him. It could have been the work of some of sickbay’s nurses, but somehow he doubted it was the case. The collection of assorted items and ‘Get well soon’ cards set on his table bed while he was asleep were just too personal for him to imagine that someone other than his closest friends and colleagues had provided for the festive mood of his room.
There was the book Rhapsody had given him, with a note saying that she will be waiting for him for the Pimpernel show… amongst other things. The model he had worked on as a boy was there, too, with a card with Ochre’s handwriting saying ‘No hard feelings, buddy’. There were a basket of red poinsettias and other flowers, a box of chocolates – from Destiny’s favourite make – a bag of Japanese almond cookies and a few small boxes, neatly wrapped with Christmas paper that he needed to look at when he would be able to move more freely from this bed.
“Excuse-me… Captain Scarlet?”
The young voice almost startled Scarlet and he turned to face the door. Daniel Younger was standing awkwardly in the doorway, staring at him with an interrogative look. Scarlet could still see the Spectrum security guard standing by the door outside, seemingly indifferent to the young man’s presence.
Daniel had visibly received permission to be there.
“You are Captain Scarlet, are you, sir?” Daniel asked, stepping into the room, offering a somewhat unsure smile. “I’m Daniel Younger.”
“I know who you are, Mr Younger.” Scarlet shifted in his bed, straightening for a better position to receive his visitor. He immediately regretted it, as the pain from his recently replaced and still sore collarbone awakened and made him grimace and grunt.
Daniel looked at him in concern, as Scarlet, white with pain, lowered himself gently back onto his bed. “Are you okay, sir?”
“I will be,” Scarlet said in a stressed voice. “Don’t worry about me, I’m normally a fast healer and I really just need a few days’ rest.”
“Sure,” Daniel said with a shake of his head, visible unconvinced. “I didn’t know you had been that seriously hurt, Captain. I’m sorry.”
“Whatever for?” Scarlet asked, uncertain why the boy would be so apologetic.
“It’s partly my fault if you were hurt, that’s why I’m sorry.”
“Yeah… if I had done what I should have in order to help your cousin, then you would not have needed to do it yourself and get hurt in the process.”
Scarlet sighed with some exasperation. “Mr Younger,” he said, “I don’t know if it’s because I have a concussion, but I don’t get at all what you are trying to tell me. What is it that you should have done that got me to get hurt?”
“Well, it’s about your cousin, of course.”
“Cousin?” Scarlet repeated, still at a loss.
“Paul.” Daniel tilted his head, looking at Scarlet carefully. That guy certainly got a big thump over the head if he can’t remember that, he reflected.
Scarlet nodded carefully, finally understanding what he was driving at.
“Boy, you do look like him,” Daniel continued. “I mean, a lot. It’s obvious the two of you are related.”
“Really now?” Paul said almost indifferently. “What can I do for you, Mr Younger? Except obviously accept your apologies, which you seem to want to offer me…”
“I wanted to thank you, Captain,” Daniel said.
That put Scarlet somehow ill-at-ease. To his knowledge, Daniel wasn’t aware that he, Captain Scarlet, was that same very young boy who had run off with him from Cloudbase the day before.
“Thank me? And why should you thank me exactly?” Scarlet asked cautiously.
“Well, for saving Paul, of course,” Daniel explained. “I know he’s your cousin and you’ll probably just say, like your colonel, that you only did your work… But I’ll tell you the same thing I told him: you did far more than that. Especially considering…” he waved at Scarlet. “… The outcome.”
“Well, that does come with the job, Mr Younger,” Scarlet answered with a thin smile. “Tell me… you and my… cousin… I didn’t realise you were such friends. From what I understood of it, you weren’t getting along much, to start with.”
“To start with, that’s true,” Daniel admitted. “But I came to respect him. And he truly impressed me. I’ve never met someone so brave before. You know, he was trying to protect me? Did he tell you that?”
Scarlet didn’t answer and contented himself with staring at the young man. It was more a statement than a question anyway.
“He protected me,” Daniel continued, “against that madman who turned out to be a Mysteron. Old Follett was crazy, no doubt. What he was saying didn’t make any sense at all… Paul stood between him and me. And I let him,” the young man said, in a low voice, filled with embarrassment.
“Mr Younger…” Scarlet started.
“And worst still,” Daniel continued without letting him interrupt, “when Follett came in for the kill, Paul held him back, and told me to run. And again, I let him. I abandoned him and ran. He was the kid. It should have been my job to protect him.”
“You did come back,” Scarlet noted.
“Yeah,” Daniel scoffed. “After I found the other captains. And it was almost too late. If not for you –”
“You did what you had to. You found help and you brought it back. Daniel…” Scarlet tried to lean towards the boy, but the pain of his collarbone and cracked ribs pulled him back down. He grunted with annoyance, as Daniel looked hat him with some apprehension. “Yourself are only fourteen,” Scarlet continued, when the pain subsided. “What do you expect you would have done, if you had stayed behind?”
“I’m still four years older than Paul is,” Daniel retorted. “I could at least have tried… Like Paul did.” He lowered his head. “When I thought, for a brief moment, that he might be dead, I couldn’t forgive myself. It would have been my fault if he had died. That’s why I’m so grateful to you for having saved him in my stead.”
“Listen to me, Daniel…” Scarlet said, in an imperative voice, causing the young man to raise his head and looked back at him. “You have nothing to feel ashamed of. You did exactly what you had to do. Paul knew you risked your life staying there. You had no choice but to go, and he didn’t give you any other option. I’m sorry to say, but if you had stayed, you might not have survived what he did.”
“You think so?” Daniel asked with uncertainly.
“It’s not given to everyone to do what Paul did. My family… Paul’s family… is one with a long military tradition. We were raised… bred, I should say, for one day become soldiers. We were taught to do exactly what’s needed to be done, to do our duty, to protect people, to keep them from harm. No matter the outcome, and even if it means… risking our lives. It’s innate within us, it’s like we cannot help it. Paul acted instinctively, when he protected you and permitted you to save yourself... And certainly, he could do no less than that…” Scarlet smiled. “… especially for a friend.”
“You reckon he thinks of me as a friend?” Daniel asked with a grin.
“Oh, I’m sure he does,” Scarlet confirmed with a large smile of his own. “So don’t beat yourself with all those thoughts, Daniel. You survived. Paul survived… And that’s what counts.”
“I guess you’re right, Captain. I wish I had been able to see him one more time, though… To make sure he was okay.”
“He is. Don’t worry about it. He’s in perfect health, and very happy now.”
“He’s back in Winchester, then?” Daniel insisted. “With his family?”
“He’s with his family,” Scarlet answered. Which was true, in some way, he reflected. He was with his Spectrum family. Though he imagined he might currently be considered the black sheep of that family…
“Well, I’m glad he’s got his wish, then,” Daniel said jovially. “He wanted so much to be with them for Christmas.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “Don’t I know it,” he sighed.
“He won’t be in too much trouble, will he?”
Scarlet considered this; his eyes again caught sight of the guard standing beyond his door. He narrowed his eyes pensively. “That, I am not so sure of,” he replied.
“Awww… Don’t be too hard on him, Captain.”
“That’s really not up to me, Daniel.”
“Why was he kept up here, anyway?” Daniel asked again. “And why wasn’t he allowed to return home?”
“Sorry… I can’t tell you anything about it, I’m afraid. For –”
“I know, I know…” Daniel interrupted him. “For security reasons. Don’t know how many times I heard that, around those U.S.S. bodyguards surrounding my father. But I think you Spectrum guys are the worst in that regard.” The boy grinned. “But you’ve got more style, that’s for sure.”
Scarlet chuckled. “Thank you, Mr Younger.”
“In fact, you might all have me to consider embracing a career with you, guys. But… When I’ll be old enough,” he added, laughing, as he saw Scarlet’s smile fall. “I promise, I won’t pilot any Spectrum SPJ until the time I reach twenty-one years old!”
“That seems like a very wise resolution,” Scarlet noted. “I approved wholeheartedly.”
“I should be leaving you, Captain Scarlet,” Daniel declared as he started towards the open door. “I was told not to tire you too much… Beside, it is Christmas and I have presents to open with my little sister.”
If Father Christmas is fair, he’d have left coal in your socks, young man, Scarlet reflected inwardly, not without some dry humour.
Daniel rose in hand in salutation as he was about to leave. “I hope you’ll get better soon – and when you’ll see your cousin again… give him my best… And my thanks. And tell him… I’ll be seeing him one day.”
“I’ll make sure to tell him,” Scarlet answered. “Happy Christmas, Daniel.”
“Happy Christmas, Captain Scarlet.”
And with that, Daniel crossed the doorway and disappeared from Scarlet’s view.
Left alone, the English heaved a deep sigh. One good thing done, he thought. And somehow, after that unexpected and very awkward visit, he felt drained.
Daniel Younger seemed to have matured considerably since the end of his misadventure in Winchester. It was as if he wasn’t the same obnoxious teenager who had arrived on Cloudbase two days before – the spoiled brat that would have everything his way and who had made life a misery for everyone around him. Perhaps, having been so close to death, thinking that another might have been killed because of him, that had made him realise how selfish and brainless he had been.
Of course, Scarlet couldn’t cast him any stone – his younger self wasn’t that much bright in that respect… well, perhaps a little more, all things considered. The troubling thing was that, thinking about it all now, he didn’t feel like it was him who did all these things – although he remembered doing them.
He felt exactly like any adult would when he looked back at his past experience, and wondered how the hell he could have been so careless and unconscious.
What I did could have had dreadful consequences. Daniel was put in danger, Adam was shot… Major Follett was turned into a Mysteron…
I keep telling myself I was only a kid – but that doesn’t really mean I should not feel responsible for anything that happened.
If Colonel White and the World President locked him up and threw away the key, he wouldn’t blame them.
Scarlet felt his belly growl. He was starting to get hungry; which was, he considered, a good sign, as it probably meant his retrometabolism was working its magic on him; he always felt very hungry after a retrometabolic sleep. Only this time, he was fully awake.
He turned his head to the bed table, and his eyes rested on the box of chocolates he had spotted earlier. No sense in worrying on an empty stomach, he told himself. It was slightly out of reach. Cautiously, he shifted his position, trying to approach himself from the table, and ignoring the twinge of pain coming from his injured clavicle and his ribs. His left arm being in a cast and totally useless, he bent on his side, trying to get the box with his right hand.
“I think you have become my son’s hero...”
The voice, suddenly ringing from the doorway, startled Scarlet so much that he swiftly lay back down onto his bed. The movement was so brusque that the pain of his collarbone became even more vivid.
“Colonel White… Mr President…” The words came out with a strangled sound, his voice catching in his throat. He grimaced, and he reached for his shoulder with his free hand.
“… In both your incarnations,” World President Younger finished casually, as he slowly walked from the doorway with Colonel White. As the Spectrum commander stood by one side of the bed, Younger rounded it to go to the other side and stood by the small bed table. He made a show not to seem too much bothered by the obvious expression of pain on Scarlet’s now blanched face. “I hope you haven’t strained yourself, Captain?” he said, matter-of-factly.
“No, sir,” Scarlet replied, forcing the words out. “I’ll be okay.”
“Mmm… Good, then.” Almost distractedly, Younger took the box of chocolates Scarlet had been trying to reach and opened the cover to look inside.
How considerate of him, Scarlet thought gratefully. He’s going to get these for me.
“The colonel and I came to tell you there won’t be any charges held against you, Captain Scarlet.”
“There won’t?” Scarlet asked with a blink of surprise.
In all appearances, it looked like Younger was about to give him the box, so Scarlet outstretched his hand; however the World President fully turned on his heels, seemingly not seeing his gesture, rounding up the bed again to come and stand beside Colonel White while he chose himself a piece of chocolate and popped it in his mouth. Scarlet followed him with his eyes.
“Although some of your younger self’s misconducts could be seen as answerable in front of a juvenile court…” Younger presented the box to Colonel White. “… Ah, try one of those, Charles. They’re filled with orange cream.”
“Why, thank you, Mr President,” White said taking the piece Younger was pointing at. Seemingly playing along, he took the box from the World President’s hands, while the latter continued to address Scarlet:
“… I don’t really imagine their jurisdiction would extend to pass judgment on a thirty-something year old man,” he finished. “So Colonel White and I had a short – well rather a long – chat concerning you…”
“Mr President,” Colonel White then interrupted, after taking a new piece of chocolates. “You should really try one of these. They have blueberries inside.”
“Blueberries, really? Well let’s just taste how they are...”
Scarlet scowled. The more he was watching them, the hungrier he felt. Were these two making fun of him and taking pleasure in seeing him squirm?
And will there be any chocolates left when they have finished? At this rate, it didn’t seem very likely.
“The colonel made me realise that considering your… mmm… ‘young age’, at the time of your mischief…” Younger chose himself another piece of chocolate and put it in his mouth. “…You, as an adult, couldn’t be held accountable for it. So I imagine that makes you… free to go, as they say.”
Scarlet felt relief wash over him. “That’s very generous of you, Mr President.” He said gratefully.
“I am not generous, Captain,” Younger quietly replied. “After you have saved my son’s life, it seems to me I would be an ingrate if I was to insist charges would be pressed… Especially considering there isn’t much of a case against you.”
He took another chocolate, and passed the box back to White. Scarlet’s eyes covetously followed the box passing from one man to the other. His stomach growled louder, and he put his free hand on his belly, as if attempting to calm it. He hoped nobody had heard.
“I heard you talk to my son, Captain,” Younger added, unexpectedly.
“You did, sir?”
“We both did,” Younger said, nodding to White. “I thank you for the words you told him. I think that this experience, however dreadful it had been for him, had made Daniel grow a little. He might not be exactly the same boy he was, when he hijacked that SPJ with you yesterday.”
“He seems to be different, yes,” Scarlet agreed.
“He is,” Younger confirmed. “He tried to take the full blame of what happened, minimising your younger self’s involvement, so he… well, you… wouldn’t get in too much trouble.” He nodded slowly, seeing Scarlet’s surprised expression at that revelation. “I know some of what he told me had some truth to it, but I couldn’t decide what was real, and what was not. I’m content enough with the fact that he was willing to take responsibility for his actions, and that he was ready to take the fall to protect a friend… Something I don’t believe he would have done for anyone two days ago.”
“All children grow up, Mr President,” Scarlet reasoned. “Some faster than others, he added, with a touch of irony.
“Oh, that’s a good one, Captain,” Younger conceded, chuckling. He tilted his head to one side, and considered the Spectrum officer intently. “I’m curious, Captain,” he said. “Tell me: How was it, exactly? It’s not given to every man to have the chance to relive a part of his childhood, the way you did… What do you remember exactly of this experience?”
“First of all, Mr President, I wouldn’t exactly call it a chance,” Scarlet replied. “It was more like a nightmare.”
“I understand you weren’t exactly happy finding yourself here on Cloudbase – not remembering who you were,” Younger commented, crossing his arms on his chest.
Scarlet nodded. Obviously, the World President had been thoroughly briefed by Colonel White.
“I felt trapped in a world I didn’t understand, with people I didn’t know,” Scarlet explained. “I know I acted like a brat –”
“Yes, you did,” White confirmed, glaring at him over the chocolate box.
“So you remember everything, then?” Younger said.
“More or less, sir. But… it’s unlike any normal memories… For me, it isn’t as if all this happened during the last week. They are like those distant memories, impressions, of events that happened a long time ago… Twenty-odd years, to be precise. I don’t know if that makes sense…”
“I think it makes perfectly good sense,” Younger said with a slow nod.
“When I was this child, I didn’t remember who I truly was, who my colleagues were, or what this place meant to me,” Scarlet continued. “But even during all that time, there was that adult part in me in that child, who witnessed all he… I… was doing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop myself.” He shrugged, trying to find the right words. It wasn’t as easy as he would have expected. “It was as if I was seated in the passenger seat of a car,” he said, “while this kid was driving it wherever he wanted to. And I was powerless to stop him. You know what I mean?”
“Oddly enough?” Younger raised his eyebrow at him. “Oh, yes… Captain, I know exactly what you mean.”
Scarlet felt himself reddening around the ears. Wrong choice of metaphor…
“We saw Doctor Fawn on our way over,” Colonel White said as he put the box of chocolates at the foot of Scarlet’s bed. “He confirmed that you should make a full recovery in a few days, and that, by that time, your retrometabolic powers would be back to normal. In the meantime, he recommends that you do not leave your bed, that you get some rest… And that you eat healthy food,” he added, pointing to the chocolates, the smell of which was tantalizing Scarlet. “That won’t do. I’ll tell the good doctor to order something for you at the restaurant.”
“Thank you, sir,” Scarlet said with a genuinely grateful smile. “How you can find in yourself to forgive me, with all I put you through…”
“Well, as Mr Younger said, you were not responsible.”
“And if I didn’t believe that, you would be in trouble,” Younger quickly added.
“And I guess that, all things considered, you might be worth it. When you are not turned into an insufferable brat of ten, a figurine-sized Lilliputian, or a savage Viking warrior –”
“Now that one sounds interesting,” Younger breathed out with a smile of amusement.
“… You’re still one of Spectrum’s best agents, Captain Scarlet,” White finished, stifling a chuckle. He pointed a warning finger at the smiling Scarlet, noticing the younger man reddening a little more. “But don’t let that go to your head.”
“I won’t, sir,” Scarlet promised.
“Now we will take our leave,” Colonel White said. “I believe Mr Younger wishes to pass some time with his now reunited family. Oh… speaking of which, you might like to give a call to your parents. Your father contacted us earlier, inquiring about… How did he put it exactly…”
“What the bloody hell was that Spectrum operation that went on in Winchester that caused the house of one my neighbours to go up in flames?” Scarlet suggested with a raised brow.
“That’s almost exactly that,” White confirmed with a sly grin. “I think he suspects you’re behind it. I reckon he knows perfectly that when a house is completely destroyed, you usually are involved.”
“More or less, yes… I’ll call him back, sir. It is Christmas, after all.” Scarlet hesitated slightly. “Sir… Since it is Christmas, and I’m not detained anymore… Is it possible for me to pay a visit to Captain Blue, who’s currently residing in another room here in sickbay… and can I receive visitors as well? I’m bored to death, staying here on my own.”
“See that with Doctor Fawn,” White replied. “But I don’t think he’ll say no, as long as you don’t strain yourself.”
“We went to check on Captain Blue before seeing you,” Younger said. “He made about the same request as you did. In fact,” he added, “before he actually learned there wouldn’t be any charges against you, he was pleading your cause… very fervently, I might ask. You have a good friend there, Captain Scarlet.”
“That’s him, all right,” Scarlet said, with a fond smile.
“I’m sure the two of you will have a lot of catching up,” White said. “So with that, Captain… We’ll wish you a Happy Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Captain,” Younger echoed.
“Happy Christmas, sirs,” Scarlet answered. “Ah, and please… One of you, take that box of chocolates with you. It’s simply too tempting. Consider it a Christmas gift.” He sniggered. “I might suggest you avoid giving some to Daniel, though.”
“Yes, he’s had enough excitement recently,” President Younger agreed, picking up the box. “Thank you, you, Captain. And Merry Christmas again.”
He was the first to walk out of the room, with a very lively step; he was obviously very eager to join with his family for the Christmas celebrations.
Colonel White followed behind, but as he was about to leave, he seemed to consider something and stopped in the doorway, and turned one last time to address his officer:
“Ah, Captain Scarlet…”
“About that… confidence that Daniel Younger made you earlier… That he might consider joining Spectrum when he’s old enough… Do you think he was serious?”
Scarlet shrugged, a little perplexed by the question. “I don’t know, sir… But considering what happened these last days… Anything is possible.”
That was what Colonel White obviously was afraid to hear. “Oh, well,” he said in a mumble, “hopefully, I should have retired by that time. I guess it’ll be your problem, to you and all the others then. Not mine.” He curtly nodded to Scarlet. “Good luck with that.”
He briskly walked out of the room, leaving Scarlet to fight the urge to chortle too loudly at his comment.
First of all, I want to offer my most grovelling apologies for posting the last parts of this story – which were scheduled for this year’s Christmas Challenge – after the end of the said Challenge! I did my very best to make the deadline, but obviously, even that wasn’t good enough, and so, I ended up posting the end of this story in early February.
I hope you’ll forgive me the extra time I put in it, and that you have enjoyed the story nonetheless. If not, well, I did have fun writing it anyway, and it became a personal challenge to finish it this year.
That said… On with the notes.
“Tin Soldier” started a few years ago – in 2008, in a little MSN Group that had been set for Spectrum HQ as a temporary forum, when our first forum crumbled down into a pit of oblivion… Some participants to this group there sometimes wrote ‘plot bunny’ scenes, most often out on a whim, and just for the fun of it – without even thinking that it might led to something. Talk about “Kids living on Cloudbase”, and how unlikely it would be was one day the subject of discussion, so I wrote a scene of about ten lines (yes, I can do short…) which showed Captain Ochre running after a young boy through the corridors of Cloudbase, until the said kid bumped into Rhapsody who protected him against the irrepressible captain. Only at the very end would we learn that this kid was Captain Scarlet, who had regressed to that young age. Bits of that original scene found their way into the story you just read.
Wanting to write a whole story out of this premise, I wrote assorted scenes through the years, more or less attached to each others, but I never was truly satisfied with them, or how the story should unfold. This year, with the whole story almost all mapped in my head, I decided it was about time I write it.
And as always, it ran longer than it originally should have… Although it followed almost to the letter the plan I had made for it. You know how these characters are when you write about them and they don’t want to shut up. Well… when the characters are kids, it’s even truer!
I want to acknowledge that this idea is not original – not by a long shot! – and that something of a similar premise was used in ‘Rascals’, the 7th episode of the 6th season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Check out this page from the Memory Alpha Wikia site for summary of that episode. As far as Captain Scarlet fan fiction goes, I want to also acknowledge that the same premise has also been used long ago, in a story entitled ‘Child’s Play’, written by Kelly H. and Ono, as part of a series of stories called ‘The Angels Saga’, which was once upon a time hosted on a Gerry Anderson-based MSN Group Community Fansite. When MSN discontinued their MSN Groups service, the fansite disappeared into oblivion, possibly following a dreadful act from the Mysterons… I give a nod to Kelly and Ono – If you have read this, ladies… know that it’s partly meant as a tribute.
Nods to past stories I wrote: for the 3D game Captain Blue mentioned to young Paul and the Viking warrior reference, check ‘Twilight of the Gods’. For the story where Scarlet is turned to a ‘figurine-sized Lilliputian’, check ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’. Captain Blue’s reference to his upcoming marriage with Symphony Angel can be traced back to ‘A Symphony in Blue’ and has been mentioned since in many other stories… And Colonel White finding out about Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel’s relationship comes from ‘Spectrum is White’, while Blue learned that White knew about this in ‘Heartless’…
The characters that got a mention: Paul Blake is a character from the TV series ‘Secret Service’, and has been named by some semi-official sources as Captain Scarlet’s grandfather. I made him his maternal grandfather and used him in some of my stories. Names for Scarlet’s uncles George and Miles (Metcalfe) have been created by Mary J. Rudy (for Georges) and Kimberly Murphy (for Miles) for their respective stories. I didn’t get to name Scarlet’s parents in this story, but they are inspired by Mary J. Rudy’s own creations of Charles and Mary Metcalfe.
For all their encouragements throughout the years: Marion Woods, Caroline Smith, Skybase Girl, Lezli Farrington, who had been around during some of the chats in which I exposed my ideas and provided their comments at one point or another, Hazel Köhler, who did the same, and who has been patient enough to beta-read this story, Keryn, who managed to find invaluable information about the Younger family – World President T. James Younger (the Theodore, I came up with), his young daughter Sahra and his son Daniel – in issues 175 to 177 of the TV21 magazine… and who revealed to me that Younger was Australian.
A personal nod as well – for the one Daniel in my life who passed away last year, at too young an age.
To all of you, a very, very belated Merry Christmas. And the most wonderful of year for 2015.