A short ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons’ story
by Clya Brown
Seated in his small booth with a computer terminal at his side, the old man with the flowing white hair and beard frowned, perplexed.
“Well, this is most embarrassing, Mr Metcalfe. Most embarrassing. I confess I don’t recall ever having seen the like of it before. You see, according to our records, well… you’re here already.”
Scarlet adopted the patient look of someone prepared to roll with the punches.
“Please don’t let it bother you, Mr…?”
“Is that Mr. Peter, or just Peter?”
“Oh, just Peter, sir. Everyone is on first name terms here – we find that the use of grandiose titles and honorifics tends to mar the atmosphere of peace and universal brotherhood that we strive to encourage throughout the Facility.”
Scarlet nodded affably.
“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about… Peter. Back on Cloudbase this sort of mix-up happens all the time. Flight schedules that get posted on the wrong bulletin boards; dental treatment reminders sent to the wrong quarters, you name it. I’m sure it’ll all get sorted out in the end – it always is. Please take your time: I’ve got plenty of it, I assure you.”
Peter’s brow creased in an embarrassed frown – the very picture of someone whose professional pride has been seriously dented.
“I don’t doubt that’s true, sir, but normally when applicants arrive at the Gate they expect to be let in without delay. Having spent a lifetime striving to live up to their high ideals, most feel that they’re entitled to it – some with justice, others perhaps less so, although we do try to consider each case sympathetically. Might I just verify your details one more time, sir?”
“Of course. Metcalfe, Paul – though I suppose it’s just possible you might have me filed under ‘Scarlet’.
“I’ve already checked both, I’m afraid. Permanent residence or domicile?”
“Does that have a zip code that I could cross-reference?”
Scarlet shook his head. “Unfortunately not. It’s located above the surface of the Earth as opposed to being stationed on the ground, and since it moves around rather a lot, a zip code is somewhat impractical to maintain.”
The old man frowned. “That does rather complicate matters, unfortunately. Zip codes are invaluable when sorting out address-related mix-ups. But we do have a ‘No Fixed Abode’ category in which your reservation might have been accidentally filed, and I’ve already searched that. There’s only the one – and that’s in Winchester, England, at the address you gave me earlier.”
He turned the monitor around to enable Scarlet to see it.
“Here you are, you see. Our records indicate that a Paul Metcalfe of your description and with apparently identical particulars was admitted some years ago. Would you give me a moment to check the details of that admission?”
Peter swiveled back the monitor into the booth to face himself, reached for the keyboard, punched in a password and peered at the screen for a few moments.
“Here we are. Metcalfe, Paul. Admitted at 16:32 on 17th October 2068. Recently killed in a car accident with a colleague; cause of crash not recorded. Vehicle was a red Spectrum saloon, registration SSK 67KU, traveling west at high speed along Interstate 90 towards…”
Scarlet snapped his fingers and broke into a wide grin.
“Of course! That explains it!”
“Explains what, sir?”
“It explains why you have a record of my already being here. That’s my original body – before I was retrometabolised!”
Peter blinked. “You have had two bodies, sir?”
“Yes! My original body was killed in the car crash. It was then reconstructed, and used as part of a plot by Earth’s enemies to kidnap the World President. In an incredible stroke of fate, they lost control of it again as a result of the actions of the organization for which I work – or used to work, rather - and it was returned to me.”
Peter frowned. “Oh dear! That does complicate matters, I’m afraid.”
“In what way?”
The old man glanced at the queue that was slowly growing behind Scarlet, leaned forward through the little hatch and lowered his voice.
“Well – please excuse me my asking a somewhat delicate question – but in which body did your soul reside?”
Scarlet’s left eyebrow rose alarmingly. “I’m sorry?”
“Your soul, sir! Only persons with authentic first-generation souls may be admitted to the Facility. Those whose souls are subject to eternal recycling; have already been taken, or which are committed by pact or bargain to another agency are ineligible. To verify that you do not fall into any of these categories, we need to know where your soul actually is.”
Scarlet’s expression had lost a little of its previous good humor.
“Well, I have to say that I really haven’t the faintest idea – it isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally expect to have to worry about. Is it important?”
Peter nodded vigorously.
“It’s an inflexible condition of entry that we insist upon: one considered so fundamental that our esteemed Creator had it written into our founding charter.”
“The same. The Creator considered it sufficiently central to the concept of public service patronage to deserving persons in the afterlife that our charter refers to it specifically. Chapter 1, Paragraph 2 – immediately following the definition of the Facility in Paragraph 1.”
He squinted at the monitor once more and pressed one of the function keys, then scrolled down the screen and read aloud:
“The individual submitting his or her credentials for admission to The Facility, hereinafter referred to as ‘The Applicant’ shall both now and previously for a period of no greater and no less than one natural lifetime be in possession of an authentic, bona fide and currently accredited soul, hereinafter referred to as ‘The Soul’. The Soul shall not have been bought, bartered or otherwise transferred between individuals prior to being submitted as proof of suitability for admission to The Facility subsequent to and coincident upon the full irrevocable and final separation of The Applicant and The Soul.”
Scarlet’s eyes narrowed.
“I don’t remember ever having been informed of any of these details in any religious service that I’ve ever attended.”
Peter adopted a reproachful expression.
“We regard what you refer to as ‘these details’ as sufficiently self-evident that we don’t feel it necessary to draw undue attention to them, sir.”
“Well, it would appear that under the circumstances it might have been a good idea to have done just that, don’t you think? I mean, if I’d known there’d be a problem, I might have taken a bit more care to find out where my soul was before being sent on that final mission to save the world…”
Peter’s face brightened appreciably.
“A mission to save the world, indeed? But that’s quite different - the success or otherwise of applications for admission often hang upon such events! Could you elucidate on the circumstances of your arrival at the Facility, sir?”
“Rhapsody Angel – that’s a friend of mine – and I were attempting to defuse a 50-megaton neutron bomb that had been planted in the Paris metro. Tens of millions of people were just moments away from annihilation…”
“And you were heroically killed when it went off?”
“Well, not quite. We disarmed the bomb and then decided to go to the Folies Bergere to celebrate, so we went back to her hotel room so she could wash and change first. I was electrocuted while trying to change the voltage setting on her hair dryer. That was about ten minutes ago.”
“Cases for admission to the Facility are often based upon final desperate acts of heroism, it’s true, but certainly not exclusively – and it has to be acknowledged that the longer-term circumstances leading up to your death would appear to warrant serious consideration. Unfortunately the regulations concerning the location of the soul are explicit: we must determine which of your two bodies was in possession of it prior to submitting your claim.”
“But suppose both of us have a soul? After all, the rest of me was duplicated in the retrometabolic process. Wouldn’t my soul have been duplicated too?”
Peter frowned. “To the best of my knowledge that isn’t possible. Either your soul was transferred into your later body – in which case an error would have been made in the case of your prototype, so to speak, and he might regrettably have to be expelled – or he could still have it. If so, then the consequences to yourself would be unfortunate.”
“But if I did lose it when I was retrometabolised, it seems to me that I’ve more than made up for it since! It isn’t as if I sold it, after all…”
“That’s true, of course – throughout history there have been instances of people selling their souls, but in all such cases to my recollection the buyer has been persona non grata around here, so to speak. Your case on the other hand appears to be unique. I believe I may have to forward it to a higher authority – would you bear with me for a few moments please?”
“Of course. Do I understand that you’re going to have a word with The Creator himself about my circumstances?”
Peter looked a trifle embarrassed.
“Well, no… actually such queries are now outsourced. We’re an old-established institution, you understand, and the recent rapid developments in SMT have forced us to rely increasingly…”
“Sorry - Soul Manipulation Technology. But as I was saying, the phenomenal advances over the last few years have forced us to refer the more complicated cases to specialist subcontractors for resolution. One group in particular dominates the field – to such an extent that an entire division of our operations, which includes my own section, has been recently been transferred over to their control. The Facility then hires back whatever services it requires on a time and materials basis. Your case is precisely the sort of thing our management team had in mind when they signed the contract – so I have no hesitation in forwarding your details.”
He leaned over conspiratorially and lowered his voice.
“Just between you and me, sir, I’m not at all happy with the change. I’ve been employed here almost my entire working life, and the corporate culture of our new lords and masters frankly isn’t to my taste. I’m trying to get a transfer back as we speak, though whether I’ll succeed, I really couldn’t say…”
His voice tailed off, and he continued tapping away at his keyboard for a few more minutes before looking up again with an expression of satisfaction on his face.
“There – I’ve forwarded your request for admission to my new section manager at Divisional Headquarters. Let’s see what they’ve got to say about it.”
“Would you like me to come back when they’ve had time to look into it?”
“It shouldn’t be necessary – they’re usually very quick with their turnaround. A few seconds is the norm rather than the exception. Such processes are almost entirely automated these days: it’s quite some time now since I last processed a claim by hand. Of course in my early days here these things used to take weeks, with committees and subcommittees being consulted on every aspect… Ah! Here we are.”
He opened up the email whose flashing icon had just appeared at the bottom of his screen, read it through rapidly and frowned.
“Well? What does it say?”
Peter shook his head sadly.
“Regrettably, it would appear that they’ve rejected your claim, for reasons unspecified. I confess I’m a little surprised, given what I’ve learned about your life from our files, but I’ve discovered that trying to double-guess their reaction to any particular appeal is futile – they have their own way of looking at things, you understand.”
He extracted a small leaflet from the depths of the booth and placed in on the counter where both Scarlet and he could read it.
“You can appeal of course – the procedure is detailed in this little brochure there – but it takes ages on account of your having to turn up in person to present your case – not the easiest of things to accomplish under the circumstances. Although they’re essentially disembodied extradimensional entities not unlike ourselves, they do maintain a small administrative complex within the physical Universe to facilitate such matters. It’s located on the planet Mars…”
Peter looked up from the brochure to gauge the applicant’s reaction – and blinked.
“Now where’s he gone?”
He peered out of the booth, searching the empty space in front of him where a few seconds previously the applicant had been standing. But it was his ears, not his eyes, which solved the mystery for him, detecting a few faint words delivered in a female cut-glass English accent bridging the celestial divide before it closed once more:
“Oh stop fooling about, you big baby – you almost had me worried there! If I didn’t know you better I’d say you faked that just to frighten me into giving you some serious mouth-to-mouth…”
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