In a world in which one of the most bloodthirsty of the World Government’s adversaries – Titan – has finally been vanquished, Spectrum has to come to terms with new alliances and enmities that are beginning to emerge from the remnants of the old order…
A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons & Stingray Story
by Clya Brown
“Symphony – I’m shocked! Is the real news of the day so unbearably dull that you feel obliged to read the stuff that’s made up to titillate bored housewives?”
Symphony peered up at him in mock disdain. “It’s not made up, Captain Scarlet! I’ll have you know that this magazine is a highly regarded and completely trustworthy current affairs journal. You’ve only to read the articles they print about us to realise that.”
Scarlet chuckled. “You mean the ones in which they started providing weekly illustrations of our exploits with cartoons a while back?”
Symphony gave him a look. “They weren’t cartoons – they were high-quality graphical interpretations. The public likes that sort of thing: it helps them to identify with the dangers we face daily on their behalf. They were extremely well drawn.”
Scarlet grinned. “The ones of you certainly were. I’ll wager that half the adolescent boys who bought it on a regular basis had the ones of you and the rest of the Angels all over their bedroom walls – probably with the heads stuck over bodies cut out from other types of magazines…”
“Don’t be juvenile! This is a serious article I’m reading here, so either shut up or get lost, will you?”
Scarlet did his best to wipe the grin off his face, then shrugged resignedly and sat himself down at the other end of the couch on which Symphony had curled up in her classic reading pose, her legs tucked up underneath her.
“So what’s it about – this article of yours?”
“The Titanica campaign. It’s an interview with one of Titan’s sidekicks.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “God – are they still regurgitating that? Why can’t everybody forget that damn war? A lot of people died – mainly theirs – but now it’s over, and we won. End of story.”
“You can’t just forget it, Paul! The public wants to hear about all the heroic acts of bravery that were performed…”
“There weren’t any heroic acts of bravery. It was a bloodbath perpetrated almost exclusively by machines on both sides. We won because our machines were better at killing than their machines. If there are any medals to be awarded, they can be pinned on their control panels.”
Symphony held up her hand in protest. “All right, all right – but you can’t just dismiss the general public’s desire to know all about what happened. They paid for it with their taxes, after all.”
“If they realised what a sordid business the whole thing was, they’d think twice about paying their taxes at all. So what is it all about, then?”
“Human interest. Or perhaps I should say ‘amphibian interest’. Like I said, it’s an interview with one of Titan’s sidekicks – so any resemblance with humanity is entirely coincidental, as the expression goes. Want to read?”
Scarlet forced a theatrical yawn, and Symphony smirked. “Yes, I thought you would. Here it is.”
She leaned over to hand him the journal, which he took, rapidly beginning to scan the article in question as he did so. By the time he’d settled back into his corner of the couch he’d dropped the facetious air, Symphony noted with satisfaction. The next few moments passed in silence as he digested the text…
Scarlet nodded with grim satisfaction. “Nasty piece of work, that one. Good job he’s got his come-uppance. I hope they feed him tuna fish sandwiches every day for the rest of his miserable life.”
“You haven’t finished it. There’s a postscript – just under the advert for ‘Terrorfish Tortellini – the tortellini that taunted Titan!’. I nearly missed it myself for trying not to throw up at the banality of that idiotic little jingle. Read it - it’s quite interesting.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow, then turned his attention back to the article and continued to read…
Symphony waited until he’d tossed the magazine back onto the desk, then looked at Scarlet speculatively. “You met this ‘Lady Marina’ a couple of years back, didn’t you?”
Scarlet hesitated just a fraction too long. “Marina? Yes, I met her during that posting in Marineville with Grey a while ago. Dressed entirely in green and wore a pink flower in her hair – which was also green, by the way. That was before she became better known to the world’s media as Pacifica’s ambassador to the World Government, of course: she was still a serving crewmember in the WASPs at the time. Not too hot as a conversationalist, but she cut a mean tango on the dance floor, and made the best prawn curry I’ve ever tasted.”
Symphony regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, and then pressed on. “So… there’s no truth in the rumours that were circulating on the Cloudbase grapevine a while back that you and she had a bit of a thing going around that time?”
Scarlet looked pained. “None at all. And before you ask, no – there isn’t one shred of truth in what that little weasel asserted in that interview. Marina’s people possess a number of characteristics in common with the Mysterons, including telepathy. She and I discovered we were able to communicate that way – so I’d have known if she’d had any serious grudges against this X20 guy, wouldn’t I? I mean, sure what he’s quoted as saying is about as libellous and insulting as it’s possible to imagine, but that wouldn’t have provoked her into being instrumental in his death, for god’s sake…”
Symphony shrugged. “There’s one little detail that this article neglects to mention. Apparently she visited him alone in his cell the day before he died – they spent just over an hour together. The meeting was bugged of course – Marineville Security would never have permitted it otherwise – but not one word was spoken by either of them. Hardly surprising on her part, of course, but the fact remains that the reason for the meeting is something of a mystery. The following morning he was found dead in his cell.”
Scarlet frowned. “How do you know about this?”
“I have a good memory. You’ll recall that Spectrum vets all press releases from Unity City that bear the World President’s seal, yes? Well, the Titan war crime trials fall into that category because of the importance of the ongoing negotiations with Pacifica for World Government membership. All references to the Pacifican ambassador’s movements were ordered to be expunged from the official records: I was taking notes for Colonel White when the Lady Marina’s solitary visit to X20’s cell the day before his death was mentioned by one of her colleagues at the briefing. The Press had obviously got wind of something fishy – no offence to our new allies intended – but couldn’t print it; hence the implied slur on her character that you’ve just seen. They’re obviously waiting for someone in Marineville to leak something good and juicy so that they can claim the public has ‘a right to know the truth’… you know - the usual excuse for increasing their circulation figures.”
“Then they’re wasting their time. It was obviously a simple act of compassion, that’s all.”
The Angel paused slightly before answering. “Perhaps. But it was a very convenient death, wasn’t it? I mean, the article makes it clear that he was both highly articulate and exceptionally well informed about the politics of the underwater races. The access to the media we provide these days even to convicted criminals would have been a blight on our relations with the Pacificans for years. Far better for everyone that he should simply disappear. The war crimes tribunal clearly didn’t have the clout to demand that the death sentence they gave him should actually be carried out – they obviously knew that the WP would subsequently commute it as a public gesture of magnanimity – but somebody else might have had fewer scruples.”
Scarlet glared at her. “Look, Symphony – I knew both of them, though I’ll admit I didn’t realise who this character here actually was until I saw him on TV during his trial. Marina was a delight to be with, whereas X20 was a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He did a damn good job of trying to kill her while I was there… and he would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for her retrometabolic physiology. I absolutely refuse to believe that anyone as sweet and gentle as Marina…”
Symphony sighed gently. “Paul – they drummed into both of us during basic training that someone’s personal characteristics have no bearing on which side they’re on in a conflict – it was the subject of one of the lectures in the counter-espionage course, if memory serves. Take the Second World War for example: Roosevelt was a compulsive womaniser throughout his married life, and Churchill was rarely sober after ten in the morning, whereas Hitler was single, faithful to his girlfriend – the one he married just before he committed suicide – and hardly ever drank. We make value judgments on peoples’ personal lives after we decide whether they’re friends or enemies – and you’ve already decided that Marina is a friend, haven’t you?”
Scarlet made a non-committal grunt and picked up the magazine again, scanning the article rapidly again before resuming the conversation. “All right… I admit I liked her a lot. Some people are just plain nice – you can’t hide that sort of thing – and Marina was such a person. But just trying to be objective about it for a moment, have you considered the possibility that this character’s death might be just a little too convenient? If anybody did want him removed, the one lasting effect they could be quite certain about is that the press would be speculating about whether it was foul play or not for years – which could be far more counter-productive than leaving him alive. If you look at it in that light you’re forced to conclude that there was no assassin, regardless of how suspicious it appeared at the time. You must have read about that British princess and her lover who died in a car crash in Paris at the end of the last century… and long before that there was the case of Amy Robsart – again, the same scenario.”
Symphony looked blankly at him. “Never heard of her. Should I have done?”
Scarlet grinned. “Probably not covered in the American high-school history syllabus. She was the wife of Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester in the mid-1500s. Found one night at the bottom of the stairs of their home in Oxford with a broken neck – leaving her husband very conveniently free to marry his girlfriend of many years’ standing. Except that now he couldn’t, because the lady in question wasn’t prepared to consider it on account of the tittle-tattle that it would have stirred up – and that bothered her a lot, because she had her reputation to consider.”
“Some girlfriend! You’d have thought that she would have believed his word over that of a load of gossipmongers. Who was his girlfriend, anyway?”
“Queen Elizabeth the First. And it was more than just her personal vanity at stake: she had to be seen to be absolutely beyond reproach. She had a lot of enemies who would have made enormous capital out of the suspicious death of the wife of a potential suitor.”
“If you say so… but it’s not really an exact parallel, is it – because there’s one aspect of this X20 scenario that you haven’t considered yet.”
“The possibility that the cost of not eliminating him might be so high for his killer – if he actually was murdered, of course - that they had to risk whatever consequences his clearly suspicious death might provoke.”
Scarlet looked thoughtfully at her. “What do you mean? What on earth could a convicted war criminal like X20 say or do that could threaten anyone? The Titanican campaign is history now – nobody’s interested in the posthumous rantings of a has-been like him.”
Symphony shook her head emphatically. “I don’t agree that nobody’s interested in what he said. If that was true then this magazine here would never have bothered to interview him at all, much less publish a transcript. But as to whether there’s more to all of this than meets the eye, obviously I don’t know. I’m just saying keep an open mind, that’s all.”
She glanced at her watch and swung her long legs off the couch. “I have to go: Angel One awaits. You can let me know whether she’s really whiter than white – or perhaps I should say greener than green – after you’ve had an opportunity to renew your acquaintance with her.”
Scarlet blinked at her uncertainly. “I beg your pardon?”
Symphony grinned mischievously. “Oh – didn’t I mention that? She’s coming here the day after tomorrow – in her official capacity – to complete negotiations with President Younger for the admission of Pacifica to the World Government. That’s why I was reading this article about her when you turned up.”
“I didn’t know about that!”
“I’m glad to hear it. It’s a secret. Nobody’s supposed to know except the colonel – at least that’s what the incoming communiqué said.”
“So how do you know, then?”
“I saw it on Lieutenant Green’s monitor. Don’t drop him in the soup by telling anyone else, will you: I read it before he realised I was standing behind him. Ciao!” She blew him a kiss and strode off in the direction of the elevator, leaving Scarlet staring at her, uncharacteristically lost for words and with a strange feeling in his stomach that he couldn’t quite put a name to.
“… and so when I asked Symphony if she’d be free for a game of squash tomorrow at 1400, she just laughed and told me that I’d have probably forgotten she even existed by then! Naturally I asked her what she was talking about, and within five minutes I learned that I’m scheduled to be spending the next few days working as a bodyguard for someone who’s been described in the press as the most glamorous amphibian on the planet! So I guess there’s no point in asking you whether you’d like a game instead, Paul. Which is a shame, because I really need the exercise right now. Oh well - looks like we’re going to be busy, eh?”
Scarlet nodded. “Well, I hope so. This current stretch of inactivity by the Mysterons begins to get to you after a while… and you’re right about the exercise. It gets pretty embarrassing when all the Angels can thrash you at squash, doesn’t it?” He peered once more at the emailed summons to a briefing with Colonel White in just fifteen minutes’ time, and frowned. “Not exactly brimming over with detail, is it? Are you sure Symphony’s got her facts straight, Adam? We usually know about our scheduled commitments at least a week in advance; I’d say this looks more like an invitation to take afternoon tea with him.”
Captain Blue made a face. “Jeez, you Brits and your afternoon tea. It’s foul, you know that? Every brand of the stuff from Assam to Zhejiang – and I’ve tried all of them, mainly on the strength of your recommendation. No wonder we threw so much of it into Boston harbour – you guys need to learn to drink coffee like the rest of the civilised world. But no – I never knew her get a fact wrong: if she reckons it’s a diplomatic summit, then it’s a diplomatic summit; and if she says we’re going to be escorting a Pacifican dignitary around the base, then that’ll be a pretty accurate summary of what we’re going to be doing. So precisely how do you reckon these negotiations are going to be conducted, then?”
Scarlet looked blankly at him. “I’m sorry?”
“Well – it’s not as if the WP and the Pacifican ambassador are going to just sit down and have what you’d probably refer to as a little chin-wag over a bottle of seaweed wine, is it? Assuming the recent spate of telecasts about our new allies aren’t all completely misinformed, there’s a small obstacle that the Pacifican delegation will need to overcome before any trade concessions get agreed in either direction. How are they going to resolve it?”
Scarlet’s frown grew deeper. “I’m still not entirely sure…”
Captain Blue closed his eyes briefly, leaned over and tapped him twice on the head. “Hello! Is there anybody at home? She can’t speak, Paul! You spent a good couple of weeks working on the WASPs’ base, not to mention that little excursion with Captain Grey you told me about to that massive shell at the bottom of the ocean where her people live – you can’t have forgotten, surely?”
Scarlet groaned, and then laughed out loud. “Good grief, yes – actually I had forgotten! As I was saying to Symphony only yesterday, she and I discovered during the early days of that mission that we were able to communicate telepathically. It was just like hearing her voice inside my head – it was as clear as a bell, and I had a sense of both distance and direction whenever I heard it. All that was missing was the movement of her lips – and just between the two of us, I wasn’t usually looking at her lips whenever she was around. I forgot repeatedly that I was the only person who could hear her, and after a while when anybody else in the room asked me what was going on I had to bite my tongue to stop asking whether they’d got wax in their ears.”
“So – what are they going to do, then?”
Scarlet shrugged. “I haven’t the faintest idea. Maybe they haven’t considered the point yet, though I’d find that difficult to believe.” He glanced at his watch. “Oh well – I suppose we may as well be on our way, though we’ve got ages yet.”
They made their way to the express elevator, only to find it out of action for maintenance. To add insult to injury the emergency backup elevator was out of commission as well on account of an unspecified fault, necessitating a long walk up the stairs which they took at a leisurely pace, adding another ten minutes to the usual time needed to reach the command deck. By the time they walked into Colonel White’s office, Lieutenant Green was clearly getting edgy.
“Go right in – he’s almost ready. My apologies – I should have told you about the elevators. Most people who have had meetings with him this morning have spent the first five minutes of it trying not to rub the circulation back into their legs.”
Scarlet regarded him disparagingly. “We ran up the stairs, Lieutenant. Not that you’d realise of course, because we’re both incredibly fit and in tip-top physical condition. Isn’t that right, Adam?”
Captain Blue nodded vigorously. “There’s no substitute for it.”
They marched in smartly, and Colonel White glanced up, noting appreciatively the impeccable timing with which they made their entrance.
“Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet: thank you for coming. Please be seated.”
They took their customary chairs and waited in silence while Colonel White finished leafing through the pile of papers on his desk. Selecting two individual sheets from the pile, he rapidly scanned them, then called Lieutenant Green over and handed them to him. “These documents contain the flight plans we discussed earlier. The delegate from Unity City will arrive first aboard an SPJ, and the representative of the applicant community will arrive one hour later. Each will be accompanied by a team of aides. You will transmit the contents of these documents to Spectrum headquarters in the Bahamas and San Francisco respectively at 0800 hours tomorrow morning on a secure channel. Is that clear?”
Lieutenant Green took the documents. “Yes, Colonel. What about the agenda – does that require any further work?”
Colonel White shook his head. “No, Lieutenant: I think we can leave the finishing touches to the delegates themselves. Just make sure that food and drinks suitable for both land-based and underwater species – insofar as we’ve been able to determine them – are available at all times, and ensure that communications facilities to their respective headquarters are fully operational from the start to the end of the meeting, the duration of which we of course don’t yet know.”
Lieutenant Green nodded smartly and left the room, leaving Colonel White and his two captains alone.
Colonel White regarded his two officers thoughtfully.
“Well, gentlemen… you heard all that. In less than 24 hours, Cloudbase is acting as the venue for a diplomatic summit. I need hardly tell you that security will be of paramount importance both during the hours leading up to the start of the meeting and throughout the course of it – which is the reason that no mention has been made of the summit before now. Neither of you will discuss this matter with anyone else until their respective aircraft are actually within Cloudbase’s airspace – is that clear?”
Captain Blue nodded. “Of course, Colonel. May we ask who the delegates are?”
“The President himself is representing the World Government, Captain Blue – hence the exceptionally high level of secrecy surrounding the operation. The other is a representative of one of the many underwater civilisations that have recently become free to determine their own destiny in the aftermath of the Titanican campaign.”
Scarlet nodded. “We gathered as much, Colonel. At what time does she arrive?”
Colonel White took a deep breath. “So… I was right after all! It really doesn’t matter how many levels of encryption I impose on the intelligence that passes through this base, does it? It still finds its way to you two gentlemen before it arrives on my desk! Ask Symphony Angel when you next see her to be more discreet when she reads incoming transmissions on Lieutenant Green’s monitor, will you?”
Scarlet’s face turned the merest fraction of a shade closer to the colour of his uniform. “Er… what makes you think there might have been a security lapse, Colonel?”
Colonel White glared at him. “I didn’t tell you the representative of the applicant community was female, Captain – and Lieutenant Green would sooner commit hari-kari than give away any details of a mission of this sensitivity… because he knows damn well that I’d probably order him to do just that if he did. Come on – out with it. What else do you know? All of it!”
Captain Scarlet took a deep breath.
“Only that the delegate in question is the Lady Marina of the underwater kingdom of Pacifica, and that she’s coming to Cloudbase to conduct negotiations with the World President concerning her civilisation’s application to join the World Government, Colonel.”
“And that’s all you know, is it? You don’t also just happen to know the species of the translator who’s supposed to be accompanying her, do you?”
Blue shook his head vigorously. “Certainly not, Colonel! We don’t know anything else at all – I give you my word…”
Colonel White silenced him with a wave of his hand. “A pity… I’ve been trying to find that out for the last 24 hours. All I’ve been told is that the ambassador will be accompanied by an aide who will interpret her views and wishes. I understand that the ambassador and her father Lord Aphony are the only ones who can communicate telepathically, so this aide presumably isn’t a Pacifican – but the courtiers who are arranging the details of the ambassador’s visit are being almost as silent on the matter as the ambassador herself. If this one’s a different species to the rest of the delegation we’ll probably need to source ingredients that will have to be flown in specially – and time’s running out.”
Captain Scarlet frowned. “We were speculating about that problem ourselves, Colonel. Whoever this interpreter is, he’ll need to be able both to interact with Marina telepathically and communicate her thoughts to us. I was wondering whether I should offer my own services when she arrives.”
Colonel White shook his head. “Thank you, Captain Scarlet, but it’s out of the question. Spectrum is a World Government organisation, answering directly to the World President… who is heading the negotiation team from Unity City. Allowing one of his own senior security officers to act as an interpreter for the Pacificans would run contrary to all diplomatic protocol. No – we have to leave this to the Pacificans themselves to sort out. I just wish they’d tell us what they’re doing, that’s all.”
He paused, referring briefly once more to the documentation in front of him. “The SPJ carrying the World President and his advisors touches down on Cloudbase tomorrow morning at 1100 hours, and the WASP transporter carrying the Lady Marina and her retinue arrives one hour later. You will greet each delegation in turn and escort them to the hospitality suite on Deck Five, where refreshments will have been made available.”
He glanced down once more at his paperwork. “Captain Blue, you will also be in charge of conducting the Pacificans on a guided tour of the base during the first full day of the summit. It’s my understanding that this will be the first time that any of them has ever seen anything as technologically advanced as Cloudbase, so make sure you give them a good show. I suggest you include a demonstration of our communications systems, a tour of the medical facilities and the Room of Sleep, an Angel launch, a walk along the Promenade Deck and a look at the sports facilities, plus anything else that occurs to you. Liaise with Lieutenant Green when drawing up a schedule so we can ensure that they don’t try to use an inoperative elevator or trip over one of the cleaners. Dismissed, gentlemen.”
As they passed his console Lieutenant Green looked up. “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Captain Scarlet – you remember - about the importance of exercise? You’re absolutely right: I don’t get anything like enough exercise myself, but I’m going to make a special effort from now on. Sitting here at this console all day isn’t the way to keep fit, is it?”
Scarlet beamed at him approvingly. “Good for you, Lieutenant – that’s the spirit! Here’s an idea – why not take up squash? That’s a good way to get started on an all-round personal fitness programme. I find the best way to do it is to make a point of playing people who are slightly better than yourself – that way you’ll always find yourself improving.”
Lieutenant Green’s face brightened. “Actually I have played a few games of squash recently. Dr Fawn explained the rules to me about a fortnight ago during my annual check-up, so I thought I’d give it a try. I beat all the Angels easily enough, but that was no big deal as I wasn’t really pushing myself. Could either of you give me a game sometime, please? I’d like to try to move up into the serious league with you guys.”
Scarlet coughed apologetically. “Sounds like a great plan, Lieutenant… of course, Captain Blue and I are both likely to be pretty tied up over the next few days with this summit thing – but do see if you can catch one or other of us when we’re not quite so busy, eh? Come on, Adam, we’ve got work to do…”
Captain Scarlet hugged his arms around his torso and stamped his feet to try to keep warm as the massive transparent hangar doors slid open once more to admit two members of the maintenance team that had already commenced work on the President’s SPJ. He watched them for a few moments going about their various tasks, vaguely wondering how they apparently managed to be completely immune to the biting cold that assailed his limbs. The sound of familiar footsteps behind him caused him to turn as Captain Blue walked out of the access tunnel into the hangar, and he raised his hand in greeting.
“How’s it going so far, Adam? Is everybody happy with the refreshments? Or has one of the WP’s advisors managed to find a spot of grease on the bottom of one of the wine glasses?”
Captain Blue pulled a face. “Apparently Châteauneuf-du-Pape’54 is supposed to be served at room temperature in Nassau – not room temperature on Cloudbase – and oysters are never served with mignonette sauce that’s made with more than forty percent champagne vinegar because it drowns the flavour of the chives. Apart from that, the buffet lunch is deemed to be acceptable – and that’s the verdict of the WP’s official food taster, so we’re pretty much on track as far as the Terraineans are concerned – isn’t that what the underwater races call us?”
Scarlet nodded. “Terraineans – yes, that’s us. I was talking to the chef about an hour ago as the champagne was being wheeled out: he tells me that he’s had to source four different varieties of the stuff because almost all the usual brands taste like dishwater to the Pacificans, and all theirs taste like carpet cleaner to us.”
Captain Blue nodded, chuckling. “So I’ve heard – except that dishwater is actually a euphemism for something far more foul. Old Kurnitz was telling me about it a few moments ago – apparently he’s the only Terrainean on the planet who actually likes the stuff.”
Scarlet blinked at him. “Kurnitz? Do you mean Doctor Kurnitz of ‘Let’s plug this little Mysteron pulsator into Cloudbase’s power system and see what happens?’ fame?”
Blue grinned at the cruel but essentially accurate description. “Yes, that’s him – didn’t you see him arrive? He’s one of the advisors on the presidential team.”
Scarlet shook his head. “I was busy organising the ceremonial handshakes as the WP alighted… I must have missed him. What’s he doing here? I wouldn’t have thought international politics was his sort of thing at all.”
Blue shrugged. “He’s now one of a very select group of consultants to the Unity administration, it seems. Time moves on, and we move on with it. Talking of which, how are things going down here?”
Scarlet pulled his hands out of his tunic, glanced at his watch, and thrust them rapidly back inside again. “They’re late – and if they’re much later they’ll be greeted by a block of ice shaped like a Spectrum captain in a scarlet tunic… ah! That looks like Destiny now…”
They both watched through the doors as the Angel jet which had just soared over the flight desk twisted gracefully in the air to reduce its horizontal movement to a standstill, and then gently lowered itself onto the landing ramp that had emerged from the deck to meet it. As the wheels touched the ramp they were instantly clamped in position, whereupon the ramp lowered itself once more into the deck, returning the jet to its horizontal launch position. Expecting to observe the aircraft’s cockpit detach itself from the fuselage and sedately descend on its injector shaft into the depths of the flight deck, they instead watched in mounting astonishment as its French pilot scrambled inelegantly out of her plane and come running across the deck towards the hangar in which they stood. A few moments later she had reached them, panting for breath.
“Capitaine Scarlet, Capitaine Blue! You will please summon a security detail to this hangar – it is very important! You do this at once – before the ambassador’s plane arrives!”
Scarlet frowned uncertainly. “What’s wrong, Destiny? We can’t just sound the general alarm – not with the World President and his staff on board…”
“There is no time to explain – the carrier will be here at any moment!”
Captain Blue took her by the shoulders. “Destiny – you’re going to have to tell us what the problem is. Paul’s right: whatever we do, we’re going to have to do it without creating a panic. Now – what’s the matter?”
Destiny shook her head furiously. “All right, I try to explain… you remember that we are ordered to maintain radio silence absolu throughout the flight, yes? And that we must not break it under any circumstances!”
Scarlet nodded. “Of course – a standard security precaution whenever the WP is involved. So?”
“I know the pilot of the WASP personnel carrier – he is a friend of mine, oui? He signals to me with his hands from the cockpit when we are in flight – he tries to tell me that he is worried that there is danger!”
Captain Blue frowned. “What sort of danger, Destiny?”
“Parbleu - I do not know! I try to use sign language to ask him myself, but he cannot find the words with his hands – he just says over and over that we must expect much trouble! I try to fly ahead a little so I arrive in time to warn you, but I cannot leave them too far behind – so I am here, but they arrive very soon, non?”
Scarlet glanced through the hangar doors into the sky, and grimaced. “Yes – they arrive very soon, as you put it. No time to summon a security detail now. Is your gun loaded, Captain Blue?”
Blue nodded grimly. “Yeah… but remember this, Paul – we’re supposed to be a formal reception committee greeting a foreign dignitary, and implicitly guaranteeing her safety for every second that she’s on this base. If either of us actually has to draw a weapon in her presence, we’re going to have some serious explaining to do afterwards – probably to the World President in person. So don’t get trigger-happy, okay?”
While he was talking, an enormous shadow fell upon the hangar, closely followed by a blast of hot air from vertical jets as the carrier slowly descended onto the deck outside. A few moments later the hangar doors glided apart, and the jet moved forward, slowing to a halt just after its tail fin cleared the doors, which then closed once more behind it. The two captains looked at one another in silence for a second, then slowly walked forward as a set of steps descended from the plane.
The door opened, and a young woman whom Scarlet recognised instantly appeared silhouetted against the brilliantly lit interior. In one hand she carried a small dark green attaché case; with the other she sought and gripped tightly the support rail of the steps. Standing still for a moment to savour the moment, she gazed in obvious awe at the technology arrayed all about her before beginning her descent of the steps. Momentarily forgetting his forebodings, he stepped forward to greet her as she reached the ground.
“Lady Marina – welcome to Cloudbase. I trust you have had a pleasant flight?”
The young woman smiled with her eyes, speaking with her mind. “Thank you Captain Scarlet – I have. Are you well? There has not been one day that I have not thought of you, and wondered about your life in the sky. I had never thought to see the day when I would see it with my own eyes. What a wondrous sight was this craft to us all as we approached it! But I sense that you are apprehensive – may I enquire as to the cause?”
Scarlet frowned. “Forgive me – I… I anticipated a problem, but it appears I was mistaken. You are certain that your flight was… uneventful?”
Marina nodded, her expression a picture of tranquillity, and gestured to the half-dozen green-haired members of her retinue who had followed her down the steps onto the flight desk, each of them staring with undisguised wonder at Cloudbase. “With my father’s subjects to take care of me, and my translator to interpret my wishes and concerns to the Terraineans throughout my mission, what can there be to fear?”
The reference to the object of Colonel White’s recent concerns provided Scarlet with the excuse he was looking for to solve the problem, which he seized adroitly. “Ah… we were wondering how you would be able to communicate – is your translator a Pacifican? Our commander-in-chief was wondering whether he or she might have any special dietary requirements.”
Marina’s face clouded ever so slightly. “Actually, I have never seen him eat – how strange that I have never thought of it! But no, he is not one of my people. He is a Terrainean who has been a guest of ours in Pacifica for several months, and when we discovered his telepathic abilities I asked him myself whether he would consent to undertake this task as a special favour to the Pacifican people, and after giving it much consideration he agreed. I see he has not yet disembarked, so let me introduce you to him – you can ask him yourself.”
She turned and led the way back into the passenger compartment of the WASP personnel carrier, with Scarlet following. Just one person remained in the compartment, sitting in one of the front seats, the back of his head just visible over the top of the rest. Momentarily assailed by a slight sensation of vertigo, Scarlet shook it off in irritation and walked forward to greet the last remaining member of the Pacifican delegation, unaccountably experiencing difficulty remembering the formal style of greeting he’d memorized earlier that morning.
“Er… good… good morning, sir – and welcome to… to Cloudbase. It seems that almost everyone else has already disembarked, so I’ve come to escort you to the VIP lounge…”
A slow, flat, monotone voice from the front seat interrupted him.
“I appreciate the offer, Captain Scarlet… but I think I can find my own way.”
The occupant of the seat rose and turned to face him – and Scarlet’s jaw literally dropped in shock…
Captain Scarlet exchanged glances with Destiny Angel, and then turned to address Colonel White. “It was absolutely as much as I could do not to shoot him down on the spot, Colonel. I still believe I should have done so, and simply dealt with whatever consequences ensued afterwards. However, it’s a bit late for that now, isn’t it?”
Colonel White nodded sombrely. “Yes, Captain Scarlet – it is. And though I’m tempted to concur with your assessment of the situation, at least on an intuitive level, I think we’ve managed the situation as well as it could have been handled under the circumstances. Where is he now?”
Scarlet grimaced. “Captain Blue and I escorted the entire Pacifican delegation – including Captain Black – to the VIP lounge, where we’ve posted armed guards discreetly on all the exits. Captain Blue is in charge of the operation: he’ll contact you instantly if there’s any change in the situation. If the ambassador has noticed the unprecedented level of security we’ve laid on she hasn’t made any fuss about it – at least not yet. It was as much as we could do to get the Unity City delegation out of there and into the guest quarters we’d prepared for them before the Pacificans arrived, but we managed it with seconds to spare. The World President has refused point-blank to return to his plane however, despite our protestations that we believe an assassination plot may be unfolding, and his aides are now demanding to know why the hell we didn’t deal with any security concerns we might have before the arrival of the President’s SPJ, as opposed to making a fuss after it.”
Colonel White nodded. “I know, Captain – believe me, I know. Lieutenant Green’s communications console has been overheating steadily throughout the last hour on account of the number of calls from the Presidential suite, and is probably going to burst into flames if we don’t provide them with an explanation in very short order. But before we do that, I need to know how this situation came about – and we need an action plan to deal with it. Destiny Angel – you told Captains Scarlet and Blue that the pilot of the WASP carrier tried to warn you of danger. Did he know the nature of this danger?”
The French Angel shook her head. “He says no, Colonel. I speak to him a few moments ago, and he tells me that he thinks he recognises the face of Capitaine Black as he boards the aircraft, oui? He thinks he sees a photograph of the capitaine in a Spectrum security briefing in Marineville many months ago, but he is not sure – so he tries to warn me en route. But he cannot use his radio because he has been told not to, so he cannot check!”
Colonel White rolled his eyes. “Oh well - it wouldn’t be the first time that our own security precautions have caused more problems than they’ve solved. We can debate this later, however. Captain Scarlet – does the ambassador understand the danger she’s in?”
Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t think Marina believes herself to be in any danger, Colonel. She obviously sensed the shock – and anger for that matter – I felt at being unexpectedly confronted by Captain Black, but I believe she regards the obvious antipathy present as a personal matter between us – and therefore something that it would be polite to affect not to notice. At least, that’s what I sensed from her thoughts while I was escorting them to the VIP lounge.”
“What about Captain Black’s thoughts? Can you sense his reaction to this encounter?”
Scarlet frowned. “No – I can’t read him at all. All I can feel there is that sense of nausea I often experience in the presence of a Mysteron. It’s rather like trying to decipher the words on a newscast on a radio that isn’t tuned to quite the right frequency: hard work and liable to give one a headache. I need to spend some time with Marina alone to try to find out what’s going on here – that is, without Captain Black in the immediate vicinity.”
Colonel White considered. “I suspect that may be difficult to arrange, Captain Scarlet – at least in the short term. And I have to believe that Captain Black will endeavour to ensure that you don’t get any such opportunity.”
He looked sombrely around the room at his officers, his eyes resting on each in turn. “The other matter we need to take a line on is that of the World President’s personal safety. The problem we have as I see it is that, as every moment goes by, the question of an assassination plot will become increasingly less credible to his aides. The World President has visited this base many times since the start of the War of Nerves, despite our knowledge that the Mysterons are capable of transforming matter at a molecular level to suit their own purposes. Cloudbase is a phenomenally complex piece of engineering: if they wished to destroy it by such a means there is little we could do to stop them – and the President is aware of this. For whatever reason they have not done so – and this leads me to suspect that the President will take the view that Captain Black’s presence on Cloudbase makes an attack not more likely, but less.”
He glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s time to go and talk to him… there are a number of decisions that must be taken at once. Destiny Angel, you will exchange your tour of duty in Angel One with Melody at 1600 hours: until then you will remain on standby in readiness for a follow-up meeting that I shall endeavour to set up with the President’s staff at the first available opportunity. It may be that relating your experience during the flight here will provide his team with a satisfactory explanation of how this situation came about, in addition to underlining the seriousness with which we are taking it. Captain Scarlet, you will return to the security detail surrounding the VIP lounge, where you will apprise Captain Blue of this discussion and await further orders. Should Captain Black attempt to leave the VIP lounge, apprehend him any means possible.”
Colonel White stopped outside the door to the Presidential suite, took a deep breath, and then knocked. A delay of several seconds followed before he heard the sound of footsteps approaching the door from inside, after which the door was opened to admit him. The aide who had opened the door stood to one side as he entered, his eyes automatically flickering over Colonel White’s uniform to verify the absence of a firearm before Spectrum’s commander had progressed two metres into the room. The World President himself sat behind a desk to one side, flanked by two other men in business suits. The colonel turned to face the desk, stood to attention and saluted smartly.
“Mr President, on behalf of Spectrum I would like to welcome you and your team to Cloudbase. We hope that your journey was a pleasant one, and that my officers and I will be able to make you comfortable throughout the duration of your stay.”
The World President acknowledged the greeting with a nod, the expression on his face unreadable. “Thank you, Colonel White – I appreciate the sentiment – but I’d like better still to understand the reason for this unscheduled change to the program that was drawn up between my team and that of the Pacificans. Events such as these are meticulously choreographed to maximise the likelihood of a successful outcome, as I’ve no doubt you are well aware. This deviation from the agreed schedule is both counterproductive and unwelcome – so why has it occurred, please?”
Direct and to the point – one of the better-known of President Younger’s personal characteristics, and perhaps the one that most differentiated him from his predecessor. Colonel White had already decided while walking to the Presidential suite that nothing was to be gained in attempting to dress up what he had to say in diplomatic niceties.
“Mr President, the reason for the change in the schedule is the entirely unforeseen arrival with the Pacifican delegation on Cloudbase of the Mysterons’ foremost agent on Earth. Since his return from Mars in ’68 he has spearheaded the Mysterons’ War of Nerves against the human race in general, and has proved himself to be an exceptionally dangerous individual in his own right. We have to believe that his intentions are hostile, and that therefore for every moment that both you and he are present on this base, your personal safety is in jeopardy. Ensuring that safety is written into Spectrum’s charter – and I therefore request your authorisation to take him into custody using whatever means might prove necessary with immediate effect.”
One of the aides leaned over and whispered something in the President’s ear. The President nodded in evident agreement, then turned to the other aide with a quizzical expression on his face. The aide looked thoughtful, then muttered something about protocol to the President that Colonel White couldn’t quite catch. The exchange continued for perhaps twenty seconds, after which the President turned once more to address Colonel White.
“My apologies, Colonel: Rufus here is my expert on constitutional matters and public relations – and in view of the high expectation for a successful conclusion to this initiative, both fields are relevant here. Is this individual an accredited member of the Pacifican delegation?”
“Yes, sir, it would appear that he is. He is vouched for by the Lady Marina personally, though it is not clear as yet whether she is aware of his identity as a Mysteron agent. We wish to determine this as a matter of urgency, but clearly would require your authorisation before being able to initiate the necessary enquiries.”
“In what capacity is he attending this summit?”
“He is the Pacifican ambassador’s translator and interpreter, Mr President. You will recall that the Lady Marina is unable to speak. The Mysteron agent has telepathic powers which apparently enable him to interpret her thoughts for the benefit of your delegation – though clearly his status as a Mysteron renders him at best untrustworthy, and at worst…”
“So without his assistance the Pacifican ambassador would not be able to communicate with us effectively other than by resorting to basic sign language. Is that correct, Colonel?”
Colonel White hesitated briefly before continuing. “One of my officers also has telepathic powers that enable him and the ambassador to communicate that way, Mr President. Perhaps if the ambassador could be persuaded to change her translator…”
“Trading her choice for one of your operatives, Colonel?”
“I can think of no other way to proceed, Mr President – unless the summit can be postponed until an alternative can be agreed with the Pacificans?”
The World President turned slightly to his right. Taking in at a glance the expressionless features on his aide’s face and the slight shake of his head, he turned back once more to face Spectrum’s C-in-C.
“Out of the question, Colonel. The Pacificans are here, we are here, and Cloudbase is probably the most heavily fortified venue on the planet right now – to say nothing of the first-rate facilities it possesses for holding discussions such as these. We are here to plan the future of this planet, Colonel – and as I recall from your last briefing to my staff in Unity City a few weeks ago, the Mysterons have been remarkably quiet of late. Perhaps they also have become tired of fighting. If they wish to talk about the future also, I have no objection.”
Colonel White frowned. “With respect sir, we have no reason to believe for one moment that the Mysterons have ceased to wage their so-called War of Nerves against the Earth. Our experience of them to date has been that whenever they are not actually engaged in some hostile activity against us at any particular moment in time, they’re busy planning the next one. It would be naïve in the extreme to suppose that this latest development – bizarre and incomprehensible though it appears to us at the moment – is any different. Every instinct I have tells me the Mysterons are attempting to sabotage the summit.”
“By embedding one of their operatives within the Pacifican delegation? Surely if that were their aim they would have chosen someone who was not instantly recognisable to you? The Mysterons have the ability to create an almost perfect facsimile of anyone at all to further their aims – isn’t that what you told me when all this began?”
Colonel White spread his hands. “Mr President, I cannot pretend to have the answers to such questions as these. All I have right now is a lot of questions of my own… and a wealth of past experience in dealing with the Mysterons – which leads me to believe most fervently that this latest development is not an act of benevolence on their part.”
President Younger looked thoughtful for a moment, and then shook his head. “No, Colonel – it won’t do. I seem to recall that a similar presumption of hostility on our part started this conflict in the first place – and wasn’t it Churchill who once said ‘jaw jaw, not war war’? On the basis of what we have learned this morning it seems to me that I have been presented with an unexpected opportunity to address the one remaining obstacle to world peace. I intend to take it.”
“But sir, concerning the matter of your personal safety…”
“The Mysterons tried to kill me once before, Colonel. Did you yourself not once say that once they have failed in an assassination attempt they do not try again?”
“Mr President, that observation was based on our limited understanding of their modus operandi at that time. They have capabilities that are utterly beyond our comprehension, and thought processes to match. We cannot possibly rely upon precedent to try to double-guess what they might or might not try to do next.”
For the first time, the faintest hint of a smile crept over President Younger’s mouth. “Colonel – your past record of demonstrating a better-than-average capacity for doing precisely that is one of the many reasons you occupy the post of Commander-in-Chief of Spectrum. I hope and trust that you will continue to exercise that remarkable ability… while I attempt to determine whether we can pull off the diplomatic coup of the millennium. Shall we begin?”
Captain Blue walked into Colonel White’s office, where he found Scarlet already seated. One look at his colleague’s face was sufficient to tell him that all was not well: Scarlet looked clearly uncomfortable, and was deliberately avoiding meeting his eye. Blue took a deep breath and stood to attention.
“Captain Ochre is currently in charge of security in the VIP lounge area, Colonel. He’s aware of Captain Black’s presence, and has been ordered to keep his men away from the delegates. I think you should be aware that there is a certain degree of discontent at the situation amongst the security detail, Colonel.”
Colonel White nodded, and waved him into a chair.
“I’d be surprised if it were otherwise, Captain Blue: it’s not every day that the Mysterons’ most dangerous agent on Earth is treated as an honoured guest on Cloudbase. You will tell Captain Ochre to issue his men with explicit instructions not to antagonise Captain Black in any way whatsoever: anyone who does so will answer to me personally.”
He paused, allowing the implications of the instruction to sink in.
“I’ve called you here to make you aware of the outcome of the meetings I have had with various members of the World Government delegation, Captain Blue. The most important is this: that the World President has instructed me to permit his delegation to return to the VIP lounge, where negotiations will proceed at the Pacificans’ convenience, with Captain Black providing assistance in conveying the position of the Pacificans to the World Government.”
Blue’s eyes flashed in anger. “With all due respect, sir…. I request that a fully armed Spectrum security detail be permitted to be present throughout the negotiations. We have absolutely no idea what mischief Captain Black is perpetrating, but whatever it is….”
“Request denied, Captain Blue. These are the explicit instructions of the World President.”
“I said request denied, Captain! The World President not only regards a satisfactory resolution of the question of World Government membership for the Pacificans as central to his policy of global reconciliation in the aftermath of the Titanican wars, but he also considers this to be an unparalleled opportunity for opening a dialogue with the Mysterons.”
Captain Blue shook his head furiously. “Colonel – we tried that before when Doctor Kurnitz plugged that Mysteron pulsator from Crater 101 into our communications system and tried to open a dialogue with them. It blew up in a massive explosion that very nearly took Cloudbase with it! Trying to talk to the Mysterons is pointless… what we’re seeing here is the instinctive reaction of a professional politician with a better understanding of his own popularity ratings than basic military strategy, Colonel. If this goes wrong – and it will – we’re the ones who will have to pick up the pieces…”
“Enough, Captain! You know as well as I do that this conflict with the Mysterons is unlike any other war we’ve fought in the history of this planet. We can’t win it. The best we can manage – if we’re lucky – is to bring it to an end before the human race is decimated and/or reduced to a state of barbarism. To that extent, I concur with the President’s analysis. Captain Black’s presence here may provide us with the means to bring this war to an end. We have to talk to him – it’s the best opportunity we’ve had in years, and we have no choice but to avail ourselves of it.”
Captain Blue was not prepared to be silenced. “And what about all the thousands of people who have died at Captain Black’s hands? What are we going to say to their wives, sons and daughters? That they all died for nothing? How does the President expect to sell that to his precious voters, Colonel?”
Colonel White met his angry glare with unblinking eyes. “Perhaps you can answer that yourself, Captain Blue. Which scenario is preferable? Bringing the war to an end now, and trying to help thousands of people to come to terms with their grief? Or bringing it to an end in ten, twenty or thirty years from now and then trying to help millions of people to do the same?”
“Well, obviously of the two….”
“War is a drug, Captain. You start it because it seems like a clever thing to do – and then you find you can’t get out because the consequences of stopping are too appalling to contemplate. Partly for the relatives of the casualties, but far more so for the people who waged it in the first place. No – the World President is correct: he has to try to bring this war to an end as soon as possible if it can be done – that’s his job. And while he’s doing that, our job is to try to determine – if possible – what Captain Black is really up to here.”
He paused, eyeing his two captains thoughtfully.
“You will not interfere in any way with the negotiations that are currently being conducted between the Pacificans and Unity City. You will socialise with the delegates during the various diplomatic functions that have been laid on for the two delegations over the coming days – Captain Black included…”
Scarlet was on his feet, outraged.
“Sir, this is beyond a joke! You can’t socialise with a Mysteron!”
Colonel White smiled grimly. “How do you know, Captain? When did you last try?”
He cut off the retort that was framing itself on Scarlet’s lips with a wave of his hand.
“Gentlemen, there is to be a reception for both delegations this evening at 2000 hours. I shall be there myself, though I’m likely to be tied up with the World President for most of the evening – and you will also both attend that function, unarmed and wearing dress uniforms. I have asked Rhapsody and Harmony Angel to be present also: Rhapsody because her father knows two members of the President’s entourage through his diplomatic contacts, and Harmony because I’ve observed in the past that she is particularly sensitive to moods and emotional undercurrents. I want to know not only what the delegates are saying, but also what they’re feeling – and I shall instruct Harmony to report back to me her impressions. Captain Blue, you will make a point of trying to engage Captain Black in conversation, irrespective of – sit down, Captain! – regardless of how difficult and/or distasteful you may find that task. You will also conduct the Pacificans on the tour of the base tomorrow as planned… and yes, Captain Black will be invited. I confess I have serious misgivings about this myself, but since he’s already as familiar with the workings of Cloudbase as any of us I can think of no credible pretext to exclude him. It goes without saying, however, that you will report to me at the earliest possible opportunity anything that might cause us to review his status here. I am prepared to incur the wrath of the World President over our treatment of Captain Black during this summit… but only if I have rock-solid reasons for doing so. Dismissed.”
They rose to leave, and were about to exit the control room when Colonel White glanced up as if struck by an afterthought.
“Captain Scarlet? A moment, please.”
Scarlet glanced at his friend, raised a quizzical eyebrow and returned to the desk. Captain Blue considered waiting for him for a second, but thought better of it and continued walking. The colonel waited until he was out of earshot before resuming the conversation.
“Captain Scarlet, your personal task will be to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Pacifican ambassador. Your knowledge of her people and the retrometabolic and telepathic capabilities that you share make you the natural choice. Before undertaking this arduous assignment, however, perhaps you should be aware that some inconsequential gossip concerning your relationship with the lady in question – no, don’t say anything – during your posting with Captain Grey in Marineville has been brought to my attention by Spectrum Intelligence. Now obviously I don’t need to remind you of the rules governing interpersonal relationships between members of World Government security organisations such as Spectrum and the WASPs. Such relationships are explicitly forbidden – and for excellent reasons. Security must not be compromised – not ever.”
Scarlet’s face was impassive. “Of course not, sir. I understand perfectly.”
Colonel White picked up a piece of paper from the top of the pile that littered his desk.
“Excellent. Please sign this form for Intelligence, which makes it clear that you understand and will fully comply with these restrictions placed on interpersonal relationships.”
Scarlet signed the paper with a flourish, and Colonel White took it from him. Placing it back on the top of the pile, he leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“You know, security is always something of a grey area, Captain. Often the best security of all is not to know anything of value to a potential enemy – from which point of view it’s probably fortunate that the Lady Marina resigned her commission with the WASPs six months ago, before returning to her people to prepare for this mission. The WASPs will have changed every relevant aspect of their operating procedures almost before she was off the base, which is probably just as well, given the identity of her interpreter – so I’m slightly less concerned about that aspect of Captain Black’s appearance in Pacifica than I might otherwise be. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that Captain Black just happened to be sailing past Pacifica in a deep-sea submersible looking for somewhere to take a long vacation when the Pacificans took pity on him and invited him to stay over for a while.”
He leaned forward.
“You said earlier that you needed some time alone with the ambassador to find out what’s going on here, Captain. Find some – and use it well. Just make sure you don’t give Spectrum Intelligence anything to bring to my attention this time, will you?”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”
“Thank you, Captain – that will be all.”
Captain Ochre grimaced at the mention of dress uniforms. “Speaking personally, I’ve never liked dressing up – and I’m glad I shan’t be there. I mean, just who does the colonel think we’re trying to impress here? The WP already knows what we wear, the Pacificans won’t notice the difference and Black obviously couldn’t give a damn – assuming he doesn’t ask us to find his for him. And anyway, what’s the point in having your quarters cluttered up with an outfit that only ever sees the light of day once in a blue moon, for heaven’s sake?”
Scarlet chuckled as they walked down the corridor towards the Angels’ standby lounge. “An interesting choice of expression, Captain… when did you last see a blue moon during the light of day?”
Captain Ochre grinned back at him. “My point in a nutshell! It just doesn’t happen, does it? I mean, the damn thing is nothing more than a hibernation module for Cloudbase’s indigenous Lepidoptera population – or it would be if it didn’t reek of mothballs to keep them out of it. You know, Paul, I’m absolutely certain that the only reason I didn’t get off with that dishy little industrial chemist during the security conference dinner in Tokyo last spring was the smell of the camphor. I’ll swear she was itching to give me a private tour of their pilot plant until she got within two feet of me – and then suddenly she couldn’t get away fast enough!”
Scarlet frowned, remembering the incident in question. “Actually, Rick, I think that had more to do with the raw squid in the sushi. She made a beeline for the bathroom immediately after leaving you, and Destiny told me afterwards that she spent most of the next two hours powdering her nose in one of the cubicles… with sound effects.”
Captain Ochre looked at him, brightening. “Really? Well, that’s a relief! I’ll admit I was kind-of bothered about that at the time.”
“Something tells me,” observed Scarlet after a slight pause, “that the relationship probably wouldn’t have lasted all that long anyway… hello – what’s this?”
Marching down the corridor towards them with a face as black as thunder came one very angry Angel. Rhapsody in a temper was a fearsome sight, mused Scarlet. Instinctively he took half a step backwards before opening his mouth.
“Rhapsody! What’s on earth’s the matter?”
She stopped and glared at him. “Oh, nothing!”
Captain Ochre sighed. “Oh dear – this looks to me like the sort of ‘nothing’ that’s going to eat you up until you’ve told us all about it. Would you like to start immediately, or do we have to go through the customary ritual of begging you to unload your troubles on us first?”
She turned to him furiously. “Ooooh, you think you’re so smart, don’t you! If you were the cause of the problem you’d be lying in an unconscious heap in that corner by now, you know that?” She shook her head. “It’s a good job the Angels’ uniforms are all made out of incombustible material: if they weren’t then the one I’m wearing would have gone up in smoke about ten minutes ago - I was that angry!”
She folded her arms and took a deep breath. “It’s my dress uniform. Do you remember that gubernatorial inauguration we attended in Futura a couple of months back when that tipsy advisor spilt some wine down the front of it – and then spent the next five minutes helping me to wipe it off?”
Scarlet suppressed a grin at the memory. “Yes, I can just about remember that incident. Why? If it did leave a stain it was virtually invisible, as I recall.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought too at the time – so I forgot about it. However, when I fished it out this lunchtime it seemed to me that I could still just about make out a faint mark on it, so I thought I’d better get it cleaned.”
“Well, I took it down to get it seen to earlier this afternoon, and now they’ve gone and lost it. Apparently they’ve been inundated with requests at little or no notice for things to be mended and/or altered ready for the reception tonight, and the staff are up to their necks. Even the Pacificans sent down a pile of stuff for minor repairs, together with a request for it to be returned within the hour, for God’s sake – but to lose an entire uniform? I mean, I just can’t believe it!”
Captain Ochre smiled sympathetically. “Can’t you just borrow someone else’s, Rhapsody? I would!”
She looked at him disdainfully. “Of course you would, Rick – you’re a man. I mean, you’d wear odd socks and assume nobody would spot the difference, wouldn’t you? No, I can’t just borrow someone else’s – we’re all different sizes, in case you hadn’t noticed. Harmony’s actually the closest to me all over, but she’s been invited as well so she’ll be wearing hers – so that’s no good. Symphony’s fairly close too, but I, er… how shall I put it... have a slightly fuller figure than she does. I suppose I could just turn up in my flight uniform, but obviously they’d all be comparing me unfavourably with Harmony… and if some smart-arse asked me for a choc-ice I’d scream. No – it’s no good. I’ll just have to turn up in civvies, that’s all. Obviously I’ll have to ask Colonel White for permission, but I’m sure he’ll understand… and anyway, I’ve got just the thing…”
Captain Blue frowned at the dark gelatinous substance on the side of his plate, scooped a dollop of it onto one of the bread fingers laid out alongside it, nibbled at it experimentally and pulled a face. “Jeez, Paul – this caviar doesn’t taste anything like the stuff that got served up at those terrible corporate dinner parties Dad used to drag me along to before I rebelled! Do you reckon it’s okay?”
Scarlet helped himself to a mouthful and rolled it around on his tongue, his eyes widening as he savoured the taste. “This is real caviar, Adam! It’s almost impossible to get it these days: almost everything on the market has been synthetic since the factory farming conglomerates almost went bankrupt during the Titan wars. Fortunately some of the smaller independent outfits based in lakes and inland seas survived – this consignment probably comes from the Caspian. Don’t you like it?”
“No. If this is Spectrum’s idea of a treat for senior officers maybe I should go back to the WAS – at least their hamburgers were edible.”
Scarlet grinned. “You’ll be telling me you prefer Cheez Whiz to Stilton next. Oh well, at least you recognised the stuff for what it is: I once escorted a girl to an officers’ dinner who almost spat it out before announcing in a very loud voice that the blackberry jam tasted of fish… uh-oh, here we go…”
Captain Blue looked up at the sudden change in his friend’s tone. “What’s up, Paul?”
For an answer Scarlet nodded towards the door, through which the all-too familiar figure of Captain Black had just entered. Disregarding completely the perceptible drop in the noise level around the room, he strode over to one of the buffet tables and helped himself to a drink.
Blue scowled, his face darkening by the second. “Do I really have to do this, Paul? If he’d killed Symphony at the Culver establishment he’d be dead already with my hands around his throat – you know that, don’t you?”
Scarlet regarded him sombrely. “I know, Adam – I know. But she wasn’t killed: by a quirk of fate she survived that incident… and we may just have a chance to stop this senseless slaughter if the Mysterons can be persuaded to talk. The colonel’s asked me to be available throughout the evening to make introductions when the ambassador arrives – so in the meantime do your best to find out what this is all about, will you?”
Captain Blue grimaced, steeled himself and walked over to the solitary figure.
The cold, soulless eyes turned to face him. “Yes, Captain Blue?”
Blue’s eyes glared back into them with undisguised loathing. “I’m under strict orders not to give myself any excuse for killing you, Captain. If I weren’t, my hands would be strangling the life out of you by now.”
“You state the obvious, Captain.” Black turned to walk away. Blue swallowed a curse, slammed his plate of caviar down on the table with an alarming crash and moved to block his exit.
“I’ve also been ordered to engage you in whatever conversation I can get out of you, Captain Black – and because I’m an officer who obeys orders, unlike certain people I could mention – I’m going to do my damnedest to do just that… so let’s start, shall we? What the hell are you doing here?”
“You know what I am doing here, Captain Blue. If you have any doubts as to the purpose of my mission, the Pacifican ambassador will confirm it.”
“Bullshit. I want to know the real purpose, dammit – you can’t expect us to swallow this ridiculous tale about helping them join the World Government! Why the hell would the Mysterons provide assistance to an underwater species in their efforts to secure a better future for themselves?”
“The Mysterons are peaceful beings, Captain Blue. They are committed to assisting any race that seeks it in their search for self-advancement, ensuring in the process that it is not achieved at the expense of others.”
“Bullshit squared. You’re a technologically advanced bunch of vindictive, petulant, callous, xenophobic butchers with a talent for creating carnage – a hobby in which you display a morbid delight, I might add. You’re disgusting!”
Not one muscle of Captain Black’s face so much as flickered. “These are all traits with which your race is more familiar with than mine, Captain Blue. You have demonstrated them with monotonous regularity in your own dealings with every species you have ever encountered – including the many different variants of your own. The Mysterons have been watching you for aeons: the only variation in the pattern is the degree of ferocity applied to achieve your ends – which in turn is determined solely by the level of resistance encountered. We viewed your expedition to Mars as your last opportunity to demonstrate that you had at last purged violence from your species. You had not. I repeat – we seek to aid the Pacificans in their quest for advancement.”
“By helping them do a deal with the very people the Mysterons are sworn to destroy? You’re stretching my credulity to the limit, Black – to say nothing of my patience.”
Captain Black’s inscrutable expression flickered for just an instant, betraying the merest hint of irritation. “I did not seek an interview with you, Captain Blue. You sought one with me – and you may terminate it at your will. We will ensure that the World Government does not take advantage of the Pacificans – as it unquestionably would otherwise.”
“The World Government acts in the best interests of everyone! Your involvement in this whole business is the only fly in a very sweet-smelling ointment – so why don’t you just…”
“Your perception is as blinkered as it is biased. The World Government represents the interests of just one of the myriads of species on this planet – namely your own. The Pacifican race will be the first non-human species to be represented within it: an action that they will come to regret unless guided by others who understand your motivations better than they.”
“And the Mysterons consider that they fit that bill?”
Captain Blue’s eyes narrowed. “If that’s really what the ambassador thinks, then all I can say is that you’ve done the most spectacular job of misrepresenting the Mysterons since one of Hitler’s cronies put that ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign over the front gate at Auschwitz. You’re not getting away with this, Black: you can be quite certain that we’ll be putting the ambassador straight on a few facts about your masters at the first available opportunity!”
“I shall not attempt to stop you, Captain Blue. The history of your species speaks for itself: your inability to recognise it is due solely to the perspective from which you interpret it. Your species takes whatever it wants, and the willingness or otherwise of the object of its avarice matters little… a trivial example of which Rhapsody Angel is discovering even now.”
Captain Blue instinctively turned his head to follow the direction of his interlocutor’s piercing eyes. Turning back again, he had barely time to register the back of Captain Black’s jacket as it disappeared into the increasingly crowded melee of guests.
Rhapsody took yet another step backwards, surreptitiously glancing over her shoulder to give herself an idea of how long it would be before the presidential aide with whom she was attempting to converse would have pinned her against the wall. Dammit, she thought, this guy would be compressing her chest by a couple of sizes within thirty seconds if she didn’t keep moving. Maybe her choice of dress wasn’t such a bright idea after all….
“So tell me more about this joint venture in medical research that you’re proposing to undertake with the Pacificans, Mr Benson… what is it that you’re trying to do?”
Rufus Benson gestured expansively with his hands, forcing her to twist her body to avoid physical contact with them.
“Oh, that! We have a particular interest in such collaborations now that the war’s over. It’s a fabulous opportunity – everyone benefits.”
Rhapsody raised a modest eyebrow. “Everyone?”
“Sure! It’s a win-win scenario. Take sickle-cell anaemia for example, which is endemic in many parts of Africa. From what we’ve been able to determine from the limited tests we’ve run on a group of Pacificans killed in action during the Titanican wars, their DNA signatures closely resemble the ones we’ve observed in those African tribes most susceptible to the disease – and yet the Pacificans appear to be completely immune! So… once we’ve sequenced the Pacifican genome and run a series of in-depth medical trials with some of their volunteers, we could well be able to wipe it out within a few years. Like I said – win-win.”
Rhapsody frowned. “I was under the impression that the Pacificans took no part in the war: they’re a peaceful people who hate all forms of violence. How did some of them come to be killed in action?”
Rufus shrugged. “The reactor of one of our submarines went critical in dry dock during shore leave in Pacifica. We got the crew out safely and managed to prevent an explosion, but a block of civilian dwellings adjacent to the submarine pen was exposed to a lethal dose of radiation during the emergency shutdown procedure. About thirty Pacificans died.”
“Ah. You mean we killed them – right?”
Rufus raised his eyes from her chest to stare directly into her eyes. “You did say you’re a Spectrum officer, didn’t you?”
“I did. I’d be in uniform if the cleaners hadn’t lost the damn thing. Why do you ask?”
The aide shrugged. “Just making sure we’re committed to the same cause – and to verify your status with regards the Presidential Confidentiality Protocol. Look, you don’t imagine we did it deliberately, do you? These things happen in wartime – you should know that. Most regrettable, of course, but good news for the DNA data we got from the bodies, even though the report on the incident said the radiation complicated the analysis. Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say.”
She glared at him. “Big cloud. Small lining.”
He shrugged. “Ain’t it always the way? Look – it happened. We learn from our mistakes, and the world moves on, right?”
“Except for the thirty dead Pacificans!”
“Who’d have been dead anyway – along with the rest of their entire race – if we hadn’t been there to protect them.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “And just why did we protect them from Titan, if that isn’t a silly question?”
Rufus grinned. “We’re just real nice people, I guess. Also it looked good on the telecasts during the war – it’s so much easier to justify the cost to the accounts committees when you can claim it’s all in aid of a noble cause. People love being told that we heroically went in to save lives, promote freedom and all that stuff. Not only that, but the WP is up for re-election the year after next. The successful conclusion of the Titanican campaign has boosted his personal ratings to almost unparalleled heights: given his current level of popularity he’ll have no difficulty getting the majority he needs to form the next administration.”
Rhapsody nodded politely. “Do you enjoy what you do, Mr Benson?”
Rufus grinned, clearly enjoying very much the excellent perspective he had of Rhapsody’s ample cleavage. “There’s no other job quite like it. Everything the WP does – and a lot of what he doesn’t do – has an impact on the public’s perception of him. Absolutely everything has a media angle, right down to an insect crawling around on his desk during one of his weekly telecasts. There’s simply no room for mistakes – or rather, there’s no room for perceived mistakes. Making sure they don’t happen certainly keeps the adrenaline running, I can tell you.”
Rhapsody frowned slightly, affecting not to notice his gaze. “What do you mean by making sure that ‘perceived’ mistakes don’t happen?”
Rufus put down his drink and put his fingertips together as he fixed her with a steely gaze, obviously very much in his element. “Well… obviously you can’t prevent all mistakes from being made. We’re all human, including him – but you can, and indeed you must, prevent those mistakes from becoming known to the public. The public likes to believe that he’s omnipotent – after all, that’s what we managed to imply without actually saying so during his election campaign – so that’s the image you have to promote… and to do that you have to manage the media with an iron fist inside a velvet glove. The difficulty is that the public also likes to believe in truly open government – because as you’ll recall, that was the catchphrase he’s most associated with – so you can’t be seen to control the media...”
Rhapsody blinked. “Sorry - are you saying that you do control it?”
Rufus shook his head vigorously. “Oh, good lord, no – we’d never admit to that! We just supply it with what it needs from us, that’s all. It’s a very cosy relationship most of the time: we supply the ‘man of power, peace and prosperity’ image and they disseminate it for us. It worked wonders last time.”
Rhapsody smiled sweetly. “You know, this is absolutely fascinating. Before this conversation I was rather under the impression that the President was elected because he was a good man.”
Rufus looked at her as if she had just given him a chocolate. “Really? Oh, excellent!” The smile faded just a little. “I’ll tell you one thing he’s missing though – and that’s a partner in life. He’s still single – unusually for a President…”
Rhapsody frowned. “Oh, yes of course – the poor man… it must be very lonely for him…”
“Glamorous female partners go down very well with the voters. Provided they’re suitable, of course.”
“Oh. Yes, of course… silly me – I thought you were concerned for his personal welfare for a second just then. So what constitutes a suitable partner, then?”
Rufus touched his fingers together again, whilst simultaneously treating himself to another extensive appreciation of Rhapsody’s bosom. “Well, it depends very much on the image we want to promote – and the image that people expect to see. For example, there was a French president at the turn of the century who married an ex-model – very beautiful, very glamorous… a perfect First Lady… except for the minor detail that she’d also been extensively photographed in the nude on several occasions! Perfect for a French president, you might say, but can you imagine a president of Anglo-Saxon stock publicly associating with such a woman? No, no - we’re looking for someone respectable… loyal… devoted… a little exotic perhaps... someone who could be regarded as a patriot in a global sense. Above all, someone who has dedicated her life to the cause of the World Government and the furtherance of its ideology… perhaps even someone who has served in its armed services, and who is now thinking of settling down to a life of devoted service to the cause of world peace.”
Rhapsody’s smile was becoming a little forced. “Well, I don’t think you going to find any women thinking of settling down here, Mr Benson! The Angels are all action girls…”
“Funnily enough, Miss Rhapsody, I wasn’t thinking of one of the Angels. Not the right sort of image at all – though if you’re fairly broad-minded in your use of the term ‘action’ I’m sure there are quite a few opportunities for…”
The forced look of affability vanished off Rhapsody’s face. “I’m not, Mr Benson. Would you excuse me? I think I could use another drink.”
Without waiting for a reply she turned on her heel and walked smartly off in the direction of the waiter who was distributing champagne to the guests. Snatching one at random, she downed half of it before realising it was one of the infamous Pacifican concoctions she’d been warned about earlier. It was only while she was attempting to recover from the unexpected taste of it that she suddenly realised with a shock the identity of the President’s prospective ‘partner’ that the lecherous aide was contemplating… and suddenly matters became simultaneously a lot clearer and considerably more murky.
Doctor Kurnitz peered in consternation at his exotic companion’s empty glass, and reached over once more for the bottle of seaweed champagne.
“Allow me once more your glass to fill, Miss Angel! Much still we have of this excellent beverage, for the other Terraineans do not drink it, I see! Ach – but their loss is our good fortune, yes?”
Harmony lowered her eyes, partly out of respect to the eminent scientist with whom she was honoured to be invited to converse, but mainly to hide the fact that after three glasses of the ghastly substance with which she was being plied she was starting to feel more than a little sick. “Your attentiveness to the welfare of those about you does you great credit, Doctor Kurnitz – but do not the Europeans have a saying about too much of a good thing?”
Kurnitz chuckled. “I have heard of this saying. It was invented by an Englander – by the great Wilhelm Shakespeare, no less! He writes good plays, yes… but he knows nothing of seaweed champagne, I think!”
He waggled a finger vigorously at his reluctant drinking companion, emptied his glass with relish and reached for the bottle. “The Pacificans, they do not write great plays – but they share my enthusiasm for a good drink! I am much surprised that my colleagues, they do not agree with me on this point.”
Harmony looked at her glass with an unreadable expression. “Doubtless it is an acquired taste, Doctor. Perhaps you might advise them to visit Pacifica where they may learn to appreciate it?”
Kurnitz shook his head sadly. “This I cannot do. Pacifica is off limits to all Terraineans since the Titan war is won. I seek to be admitted because I have much to offer the Pacificans. The President himself, he offers them the benefit of my great technical knowledge!”
Harmony lowered her eyes. “President Younger is known for his benevolence and magnanimity. It is good that he extends to our new friends such goodwill as the scientific expertise of great men such as yourself may bring them.”
Doctor Kurnitz beamed. “Ach yes - I am expert in many things! You know, foremost among these is the art of construction – for there I can offer much. The Pacificans they are great builders – I have heard it said that the underwater city of Pacifica is as tall as the Eiffel Tower, but is constructed entirely of the substrate of seashells! A remarkable technical achievement indeed, but the top of the building lists up to four degrees when the current exceeds eight point six knots – and the deviation from vertical can reach almost twice that when the current reaches eleven point four knots, which is the most rapid recorded to date. I can show them how to modify the shells at the molecular level such that the tensile strength is increased tenfold, that the movement may be completely eliminated! They have but to allow me access to the foundations upon which Pacifica is constructed, and the work may begin at once. I have promised them this, but still they hesitate! I become frustrated, yes?”
While her companion was still in full flow, Harmony had surreptitiously emptied her drink into a nearly pot plant, slipped the empty glass onto the tray of a passing waiter and deftly substituted a visually identical glass of sparkling mineral water. Sipping it with conspicuous relish, she nodded with profound sympathy.
“It seems strange that the Pacificans do not hurry to avail themselves of your generous aid, Doctor. Can it be that they cannot afford to pay for your great knowledge?”
“Pah – we make no charge at this time! All I can, I give them for free – we can talk about cost later. How can this not be a good deal?”
“Perhaps they will come to appreciate your great generosity in time, Doctor Kurnitz. As we say in Japan, money grows on the tree of persistence.”
“Time is money, Miss Angel! The World President himself says to me that he gives me three months to persuade the Pacificans that allowing me to help with these things is greatly to their advantage – but two months, they are already gone! If they do not…”
“If they do not what, Doctor?”
Doctor Kurnitz peered at his drink and frowned. “It is nothing. I seek but to help. Here, I get you another drink, yes?”
He set off in search of a waiter, while Harmony watched him thoughtfully.
“Adam – answer me this, will you? Am I being stupid and gullible when I say that I believe in the political institutions that Spectrum was created to police?”
Captain Blue frowned at her uncertainly, taking in at a glance the English Angel’s uncharacteristically flustered manner. “I don’t think so, Rhapsody – why?”
“Because I’ve just spent most of the last half hour wondering whether the entire system ought to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch, that’s why! And I’m worried about that because what’s started making me think about it is that I’ve been listening to somebody who assures me that he understands it at least as well as anybody on the planet.”
She jerked her head in the direction of the other side of the room. “That ghastly man over there… the WP’s public relations advisor and constitutional expert. He’s managed to make me feel kind of guilty about having taken an oath to protect and uphold the institutions of the World Government with my life, or whatever it was that I said I’d do when I signed up. Apart from anything else, he made it pretty damn clear that the only interest we have in the Pacificans is what we can use them for. Like all that medical collaboration stuff he was talking about – something to do with sequencing the Pacifican genome, whatever that means. It sounded as though he was expecting them to supply volunteers for Terrainean doctors to conduct experiments on – and that they’re receptive to the proposal!”
“If the Pacificans don’t have a problem with that, then I certainly don’t.”
“No? Let’s turn it round for a minute, shall we? Suppose part of the deal were that the World Government had to supply human volunteers for Pacifican doctors to conduct experiments on – would that alter your perception?”
Captain Blue frowned for a second. “Well… obviously as long as there was absolutely no question of coercion…”
Rhapsody gave him a look. “Oh, come on, Adam – how would you know if there were any coercion? I mean, it’s not as if Unity City would put out a press release announcing that a few hundred guinea pigs – either human or Pacifican – were dragged kicking and screaming to take part in scientific experiments, is it? I’m sure they’d be rather more subtle about it than that.”
Captain Blue put down his glass and peered at the English Angel uncertainly. “What exactly are you saying, Rhapsody? Surely you don’t imagine the World Government would ever allow anyone to be used in medical research against their will, do you?”
She met his astonished stare with equanimity. “You mean like the British volunteers who cheerfully consented to be bussed over to a biological warfare establishment in the 1950s believing they were being given ’flu jabs when they were actually being used as the subjects of nerve gas experiments?”
Captain Blue’s face turned a shade paler. “Are you serious?”
“But… but… nobody would do anything like that nowadays! It would be inhuman!”
Rhapsody shrugged. “That’s probably what the volunteers said too. Let’s just say I’d prefer to keep an open mind about the sort of things our esteemed leaders are prepared to get up to in the interests of global peace – and their teams of advisors, like that Benson character I was talking to earlier.”
She shook her head as if to clear it. “God, what a loathsome individual! The sort who undresses you with his eyes, you know what I mean? No, I suppose you don’t… but women have to put up with them all the time. I mean, what’s so fascinating about my boobs, for God’s sake?”
Blue gave her a pained look. “Do you really want me to try to answer that, Rhaps? Sorry, but the male response to a beautiful woman is hard-wired – it’s just that some of us are better at concealing it than others, that’s all.”
She rolled her eyes, grinning inwardly at the slickness with which he’d both delivered the implied compliment and elevated himself above the average male clod within the same sentence. “Not you too, Adam!”
Captain Blue shrugged. “I’m afraid so. But as far as you’re concerned it’s just an occupational hazard, I guess. I mean, you could have come to the party wearing slacks and a thick woolly sweater… but you didn’t.”
She bristled, outraged at the suggestion. “No, I couldn’t! This is a formal buffet – I didn’t have any choice in the matter! Now, obviously I don’t mind you guys appreciating it...”
Blue smiled knowingly. “Ah, well, there you’ve hit the root of the problem, haven’t you! What it really comes down to is whether you fancy the man who’s doing the looking or not…”
“Hey - don’t flatter yourself, Captain! I said I didn’t mind you guys appreciating it – not sticking your noses right down the front of it… Adam? Are you listening to me?”
Captain Blue shook his head and blinked. “Sorry?”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes. “God! Men!”
She tossed her hair and set off to rescue Harmony from the lecture that her drinking companion was expansively delivering on novel applications of hydroponics in the Navajo Desert, leaving Captain Blue gazing once more at the vision that had just entered the room...
Captain Scarlet raised a hand in greeting, beckoning his friend to join the new arrival and himself over a drink… and Captain Blue almost fell over his own feet in his eagerness to comply with the invitation. Despite obviously having seen her disembarking from the WASP transporter from a distance that same morning, his main impression at the time had been merely that of one more traveller among several strange-looking people with hair reminiscent of seaweed. After that, the discovery of Captain Black’s presence on Cloudbase and the subsequent state of near-panic for most of the rest of the day had kept his thoughts elsewhere. Now, in the relative calm of the reception, he was able to appreciate properly a young alien woman in the prime of life, combining in her attire Terrainean haute-couture with a style of mystical alien elegance of a culture only recently witnessed above the waves of the planet’s deepest oceans – and the effect was devastating.
The Pacifican ambassador was wearing a long, clinging, green evening dress, over which the tresses of her similarly-coloured hair fell in ringlets within a short ponytail which was draped over one of her shoulders. Around her neck on a golden chain was hung a single multi-faceted crystal, which appeared to glow gently with a pale inner light all of its own. The overall effect was simultaneously familiar and utterly unlike anything Captain Blue had ever seen before; any stylish young businesswoman with a flair for the dramatic might have dressed similarly, but Blue could sense something more, something indefinable that would have made the ambassador stand out instantly from a thousand Terraineans likewise attired. She’s not human, he told himself wildly… she’s… she’s a mermaid! He closed his eyes for a second at the absurdity of the notion, half-expecting her to vanish in a puff of smoke – and yet when he opened them again she was still there, the jewel around her neck still glowing. Blue contemplated whether, if the room were suddenly plunged into darkness, it would actually itself radiate light. Guiltily, he found himself also beginning to wonder what she would look like when illuminated only by the light of the fabulous jewel…
“Ambassador – may I introduce you to my friend and fellow officer, Captain Blue? Captain, the ambassador and I know each other on account of an encounter with Titan a couple of years back.”
Captain Blue took the hand that she offered him, still trying to work out whether raising it to his lips would contravene the protocol of the occasion. Reluctantly concluding that it probably would, he merely squeezed her fingers gently and bowed his head. “I’m honoured, Ambassador – I really am. Captain Scarlet told me much about your adventure together… is this one of the jewels that he mentioned? It complements the dress delightfully – if I may say so?”
Marina nodded, smiling. Turning to Scarlet, they regarded one another for a couple of seconds, after which he turned back to Blue again.
“The ambassador appreciates the compliment, and thanks you for it. She says she was wondering whether wearing it as a decoration for the occasion would be regarded as inappropriately ostentatious, so I’ve reassured her that nobody would think anything of the kind – and that it’s quite delightful.” He tactfully neglected to add that he’d told her during their brief telepathic conference that the only objection to wearing it that he could think of was that it might possibly have the effect of gilding the lily.
Captain Blue suddenly realised he’d been staring at the jewel – and with it the upper portion of its beautiful wearer’s body – for rather longer than might be considered appropriate. He straightened up instantly and coughed apologetically, though still finding himself inexplicably unable to think of anything to say other than to ask the one question that was on his lips.
“Er… would it be too much to ask if I might feel it? Of course… that is… if you wouldn’t mind taking it off for a few minutes?” he added hastily.
Marina’s eyes twinkled for the merest a fraction of a second before she assented with a smile and a graceful nod of her head. Reaching up, she unclasped the chain at the back of her neck, caught the jewel in her other hand and passed it to him. Experimentally he held it up to the light, turning it this way and that as he did so.
“It’s absolutely stunning… and there are others like this on the ocean floor?”
She nodded. Captain Blue weighed the stone in his hand thoughtfully.
“You know, this reminds me of the Mysteron pulsator we brought back from Crater 101. It’s a lot smaller, but it refracts light in pretty much the same way – and it glows too, though not with the same intensity.”
Scarlet nodded. “That’s probably not a coincidence, Captain Blue. We discovered during our last encounter that Pacifica is built on an area of the sea bed where a meteorite crashed into the ocean thousands of years ago – a meteorite that in all probability originated from Mars. It’s not impossible that telepathic abilities are linked to this rock – and could possibly derive from the same source as the Mysterons. At least, that was the theory that we were exploring at the time. To the Pacificans the crystal has therapeutic properties – isn’t that right, Ambassador? It seems to help to clear and expand the mind… and even appears to impart certain limited telekinetic powers to someone in close proximity to it.”
Captain Blue peered at the stone incredulously. “What – you’re saying that this rock allows people to move objects by mental power? You’re having me on!” He looked at Scarlet uncertainly. “You are having me on, aren’t you?”
Scarlet and Marina glanced at one another for a long second, during which time both of them smiled enigmatically. Scarlet turned to his friend.
“The ambassador is wondering whether you might like to see a small demonstration, Captain Blue. If so, may she have the crystal back?”
Captain Blue handed it back with the anticipation of a small boy at a party who had just been invited to be cut in half by the conjuror. “May I ask what sort of small demonstration, Ambassador?”
Scarlet waited a few seconds before replying. “Look at your drink, Captain.”
Captain Blue looked at him uncertainly. “Why?”
“Just do it.”
He looked down… and stared uncertainly at the olive floating on the top of his Martini as it began to circle slowly around the glass. Clearly perplexed, he tilted the glass back and forth, then put it down on the table in front of him and waited for the movement to stop. It did not.
Scarlet grinned wickedly at the expression on his face. “Or would you prefer your olives to rotate anticlockwise instead?”
Captain Blue watched in open-mouthed silence as the olive slowly came to a halt… and then start moving in the other direction. Looking up, he saw firstly Scarlet smirking at him, and secondly the intense expression on the ambassador’s face as she fingered the jewel, her eyes closed in rapt concentration. Even as he watched, she opened her eyes and relaxed, while in the glass on the table the olive sailed majestically to the side and stopped.
“How the devil…?”
Scarlet grinned. “Interesting that we take such powers for granted when they’re being exercised by aliens from another planet, but we nearly fall over backwards when they’re being demonstrated by someone from Earth, isn’t it? The ambassador told me telepathically what she was going to do just before I told you to look at the Martini. She was able to do something very similar to disrupt some of Titan’s military equipment during our last encounter – without her help we’d probably all have been blown sky-high. Again, that’s not all that dissimilar to what the Mysterons are capable of doing when the mood takes them. Remember the explosion at Bensheba after that pressure release value was inexplicably turned on… and the airliner to Lake Coma that flew itself? To say nothing of the driverless car that drove me to the rendezvous in Greenland after we tried to communicate with them using the pulsator…”
Blue looked at the jewel again, this time rather more uncomfortably.
“Forgive me, Ambassador, but are you sure it’s safe? The last time we encountered a mineral like this…”
Scarlet held up his hand for a second to stop his friend, before continuing. “Marina says that we needn’t be afraid of the crystals: she says they’ve never in the history of her people ever been used as weapons. To the Pacificans they are rare jewels whose properties enable the wearer to think more clearly and to communicate more effectively. They’re instruments of peace, not war.”
Blue held up his hands in resignation with a smile. “Okay, Ambassador – you’re obviously more familiar with them than I am…. ah!”
He stepped smartly to one side as Colonel White and President Younger entered the room and moved to join them. The various introductions took several minutes, and Captain Blue waited patiently until both his C-in-C and the President were providing the ambassador with a brief description of Spectrum’s role in the Unity City political structure before taking the opportunity to pull Scarlet to one side and mutter in his ear.
“I still don’t like it, Paul. What if Captain Black got his hands on one of those things?”
Scarlet shrugged. “Why would he need a piece of Pacifican rock to do his dirty work when he’s already got all the power of the Mysterons themselves behind him? And anyway, unless you’re prepared to demand that we impound the ambassador’s jewellery and throw it off the base, I think we’re forced by circumstances to assume that it is safe – don’t you? As far as we can tell, only Marina seems to be able to use it to perform tricks like that – perhaps because she’s lived with them for most of her life. And anyway, if the light it emits is any measure of the power it contains, these crystals don’t emit anything like as much power as the Crater 101 pulsator.”
He looked around the room, and then glanced at his watch.
“I think things are beginning to wind down here, Adam. Rhapsody’s already left to go to bed – I passed her in the corridor earlier – and I see that two of the security team have left as well, which means that Captain Black has returned to his suite along with some of the other Pacificans. That means I’m going to have to stay on here until the ambassador retires, but there’s no reason for you to stay up. How’s Symphony coping with all of this, by the way?”
Captain Blue hesitated. “Better than I was expecting, actually. I argued very forcibly with Colonel White earlier that she shouldn’t be made to go anywhere near Captain Black while he’s on Cloudbase – which is why she wasn’t asked to attend this evening. I haven’t told her that though… she’d probably scream at me for interfering.”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. “You could be right about that… but I think she’d appreciate the concern anyway. It’s not every day that somebody gets to confront a person who’s tried to kill them – and who would do it again given half a chance. At least the President seems to have forgiven me for attempting to kidnap him just after all this began… but even so I still feel pretty uncomfortable whenever he’s around. Oh well – I suppose I’d better see how they’re getting on. Marina might want to ask a few questions…”
“So what did you make of all that, Harmony?”
The last of the guests had just retired for the night, and Scarlet was walking the Japanese Angel back to her quarters. She considered for a moment before replying.
“It was a most interesting evening, Captain Scarlet. I met many people today – and I felt there was not one who did not seek to conceal something of importance. But of course… this is the nature of diplomacy, is it not?”
Scarlet grinned. “I’d be surprised if anyone here is being completely open about anything – least of all Captain Black, of course.”
Harmony shook her head slowly. “I was standing nearby when Captain Blue attempted to… ah…. engage him in conversation. He is of course difficult to understand. There are contradictions within him that I cannot explain: I feel his intentions and his actions are not always harmonious. I learned tonight that much of the reason he has proved himself to be such a dangerous adversary is that we cannot anticipate his actions because we cannot anticipate his feelings. He may no longer be one of us – but even so, it is my opinion that he is actually one of the more honest of those here.”
Scarlet blinked in surprise. “Are you serious, Harmony?”
“I am always serious, Captain Scarlet. The Mysterons seek to frighten us by playing games with us, but they do not lie. When he speaks, he means what he says. It is when he does not speak that we must be wary.”
Scarlet chuckled. “I can believe that without any difficulty! Hey - if words are such a giveaway, perhaps we should look out for Marina too, eh?”
If Harmony detected the flippancy in his retort she chose to disregard it.
“Perhaps. Words are a window within the wall behind which we seek to conceal our souls from the scrutiny of others. Each of us draws a veil across that window – and only rarely do we truly rend that veil. To do otherwise would be… indelicate. If the veil is rent, then powerful emotions indeed are in play – as was the case this evening.”
Scarlet looked at her closely. “Other than the minor detail that Adam almost exploded out of sheer frustration at not being able to blow Captain Black’s head off, I wasn’t aware of any powerful emotions. Everybody else seemed to be very much at ease.”
Harmony shook her head. “You see only the masks they wear. The Pacifican ambassador and Captain Black may not be versed in the art of diplomacy, but they are nevertheless adept pupils – for they also share this characteristic: that the movements of their bodies do not betray the changes in their moods. But there was more, I think. There was great fear in the room. Great fear. It disturbed me.”
Scarlet frowned: the Japanese Angel was not accustomed to overstating her feelings. “What do you mean, Harmony? Who was afraid – and of what? Was Captain Black’s presence disturbing someone? Can you be more specific?”
Harmony shook her head. “I cannot, Captain Scarlet. Fear is a fog which envelopes us, clouding our vision. Blindly we struggle to feel our way through it – and in our panic we sometimes do foolish things. I shall be pleased to go to my bed tonight to seek the clarity of sleep. Perhaps you will excuse me? I desire time to reflect upon these matters.”
Scarlet smiled. “Of course. Goodnight, Harmony.”
“Goodnight, Captain Scarlet.”
She bowed her head instinctively, then turned and stepped into the elevator to take her up to the Angels’ quarters. Scarlet waited for the elevator doors to close, and then set off in the direction of the Pacifican delegates’ suite.
“Marina? It’s Scarlet – would it be too late for me to have a word with you, please?”
“A moment please, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet waited patiently outside, absently noting the sound of soft footsteps from within, and the faint click of an inner door closing a few moments before the outer one was opened to him. As she stood framed in the doorway, he realised guiltily that he hadn’t thought beyond the moment he would see her alone again – and he therefore now found himself at a loss. Were she to reach out and touch him, or even to smile as she had once before he would have known how to respond, but she did not; instead she merely backed into the room to allow him to enter, which he did.
“I, er… that is…. I wanted to talk to you, Marina. About your mission here…”
“…and about my choice of translator, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet grinned – there was little point in trying to engage in small talk when your interlocutor was telepathic. “Yes – about your choice of translator. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but you’ve caused quite a rumpus on Cloudbase – we almost had the World President’s party evacuated as a security precaution… did you not anticipate such a response?”
The young woman from beneath the waves smiled back at him for the first time.
“I trusted in your ability to handle the situation, Captain. Yes, we were aware that Captain Black’s arrival might cause a measure of consternation here. He himself spoke of your likely response.”
“And it didn’t occur to you to warn us?”
“We realised that the likely consequences of doing so would be that the summit would be postponed or even cancelled. We could not permit that to happen. We reasoned that the most likely outcome would be that the Terraineans – after they had recovered from their surprise – would recognise that an opportunity had been created to solve two problems at the same time… and so it proved. So far so good, as my friend Atlanta sometimes says.”
Scarlet’s eyes narrowed slightly as he considered the implications of her words – he’d hitherto assumed that Marina’s explosive choice of interpreter was the result of a simple misunderstanding, but what he was now hearing implied otherwise. He found himself beginning to view his beautiful friend through new eyes – there was more to her than he’d previously thought, he now realised.
“But why, Marina? What’s going on here?”
She took his hand and touched it gently to her cheek, as if to reassure him. He smiled: not only had she followed his train of thought but also sensed the wavering of the regard in which he held her.
“Captain, you need to understand something of how this situation arose. We had welcomed emissaries from Marineville to Pacifica as our friends in the past, and had encountered only kindness and goodwill from the Terraineans. When my former crewmates visited us they spoke of our need for protection from Titan – and we knew well that they spoke the truth. Many years ago, Pacifica was destroyed by Titan’s shoals of terror fish… and was only saved from destruction a second time by the combined forces of Spectrum and the WASPs, as you well know. Alone, we knew we could not stand against Titan – so when the previously isolated conflicts between Titanica and the Terraineans escalated into open war, we sought the help of the Terraineans in protecting our city – and indeed, help was given. We had assumed however that it would be the WASPs would act as our protectors as they had been in the past – but we were mistaken.”
Marina invited Scarlet to be seated on a nearby couch with a motion of her hand, which he did. Sitting down beside him, she looked deep into his eyes as if to assure herself of his full attention before continuing.
“For the first time we understood that Marineville was a base of what the Terraineans call ‘asymmetric warfare’, and that the WASPs’ designated role within the World Government was to provide an underwater counter-terrorist strike force capability in times of conflict. My Terrainean friends had been trained to operate behind enemy lines, leaving Pacifica to be guarded from Titan by conventional World Navy forces. When they arrived we tried to make them welcome, and indeed they were polite enough at first – though they were unfamiliar with our ways, and doubtless found us as strange as we found them. We realised for the first time how little the Terraineans knew about us. We knew that the WASPs had largely concealed our existence from others of their kind for our own protection, and we were grateful for it, but we did not understand how this might work against us in times of strife. Many Terraineans made no distinction between us and Titan’s forces. In their ignorance they thought we were all the same, and saw no reason why they should help us. We endured many insults from the new arrivals as word of Titan’s atrocities spread.”
Her thoughts took on a new tone – one in which both brooding and suppressed loathing of an intensely unpleasant memory were present in equal measure.
“During the final conflict, both World Navy and WASP personnel were stationed in Pacifica. It was then that we began to realise that there were aspects of life above the waves that we had not seen before. There were fights… terrible fights between the Terrainean submariners of the two organisations, in which much damage was done. After a while we protested. I myself once tried to remonstrate with a dozen drunken submariners after they had all but destroyed one of our antechambers. I should not… it would have been better if I had not have done so…”
She closed her eyes, fighting back tears. Scarlet reached out and laid his hand on the back of her neck, and gently guided her head to his shoulder, while she unselfconsciously placed her arms around his neck. They sat silently together in each other’s arms for several moments, he holding back the urge to smash something in blind fury while she sought to recover her composure.
“Do not grieve for me, Captain Scarlet. I may be a leader of my people now but there was a time when I was Titan’s slave. For many months I was held captive in the torture chambers of Aquatraz where I was subjected to acts of unspeakable brutality at the hands of Titan’s aquaphibians. Words cannot describe the things that were done to me during that time - only by training myself to shut them out of my mind completely was I able to retain my sanity afterwards… you may believe me when I say I am not a stranger to such things. When eventually I was rescued from Aquatraz by officers of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, in the innocence of my youth I believed that Terraineans were… different.”
She paused for a moment before continuing.
“Oh, the submariners were punished for their crimes, and all knowledge of the incident was suppressed. After that, the officers took our protestations regarding the safety of both our property and our people more seriously, and tried to ensure that discipline was maintained – though success was indifferent, especially whenever news of their comrades’ torture and death at the hands of Titan’s aquaphibians arrived. Captain, the woman who stands before you now is no longer the one you held in your arms that night we danced at the Blue Lagoon. Much changed that day. Much. Pacifica was under threat both from Titan’s Terror Fish and from the submarine crews who were stationed there. We could not afford to antagonize the Terraineans, for our very survival depended upon their presence. At the same time we could not allow the situation to continue – for we realised that ultimately they would bring an end to our way of life as surely as if Titan had destroyed us himself. The dilemma was an impossible one.”
Scarlet looked closely at her. “What did you do?”
“We sought an ally to help us solve our dilemma, Captain. And we found one.”
“But… to seek the aid of the Mysterons? They’re the most dangerous species known to Man!”
Marina met his astonished stare with composure. “I cannot doubt that they would regard Man as the most dangerous species known to the Mysterons, Captain. Indeed, I have it on the authority of my translator that such is the case.”
Scarlet frowned at her. “Captain Black isn’t even human any more, Marina. He’s nothing more than a puppet of the Mysterons: they took over his body after he attacked and destroyed their city on Mars. Everything he says is nothing more than a verbalisation of their thoughts – he’s now their primary agent on Earth, coordinating their war with us.”
“Who or what he might be has no bearing on the issue. His words could not be disregarded – and we needed help. His ability to understand our thoughts and his antipathy towards the Terraineans made him the obvious choice.”
Scarlet shook his head thoughtfully. “There’s something I’m missing here, Marina. If you’re so distrustful of the Terraineans, why are you applying for membership of the World Government at all? It doesn’t make sense – everything you’ve said about your recent experience of the land-based races indicates that you shouldn’t want anything to do with them – why not just say thanks for getting rid of Titan and goodbye?”
“Because as the Terraineans say, to the victor go the spoils. While the fleets of Terror Fish posed a mortal threat to the Terraineans’ shipping we were safe from that quarter, even though we feared attacks from Titan ourselves. But Titan is gone. Already the World Government has occupied Titanica and its outlying provinces, and the domains of several of Titan’s allies lie deserted for fear of what will become of them if they are found there when the Terraineans arrive… as are several cities of Titan’s enemies for the same reason, for they also have learned that many Terraineans do not distinguish between friend and foe beneath the waves. We cannot abandon Pacifica – it has been our home since the dawn of time, and we will not leave it. Outside the World Government we would be prey to any Terrainean state possessing the means to enslave us – and there are many that might try if the extent of our mineral wealth became known. Far safer therefore to join the World Government ourselves, in the knowledge that any attempt to dislodge us would have to be approved by all members. We learned during our exploratory discussions that there is sufficient enmity between the various member states to ensure that any attempt to exploit us by one would certainly be made known to the rest by another.”
Scarlet raised an approving eyebrow, a broad grin having crept across his features as he followed and began to anticipate the direction of her thoughts.
“An interesting rationale, Ambassador. Perhaps the Pacificans aren’t such novices at diplomacy as you would have us believe.”
“You flatter us, Captain – and yet I cannot think of any aspect of our analysis of the situation that is not simple to understand. But thoughts are one thing and actions another. We are a direct people, with few skills in the art of securing agreements which work to our advantage. Once before, we believed we had secured an agreement with Titan to ensure peace, only to realise later as we stood in the ruins of our city that, without the ability to enforce that agreement, words mean nothing. We realised that we were ill-prepared to enter into talks with the Terraineans – and yet we had no alternative.”
She paused, remembering. “When Captain Black came to us, we realised from our own experiences that his perceptions of the Terraineans were more than merely the rhetoric of an embittered man. We also recognised something else – that the Terraineans fear the Mysterons. They might think twice about breaking an agreement with us if they perceived that we did not stand alone.”
“What makes you think you can trust the Mysterons?”
“We do not need to trust the Mysterons. We have nothing that they want. Only the Terraineans are interested in that which we have.”
Scarlet nodded. “You’re referring to the mind-expanding crystals – yes?”
If he expected a reaction from his presumption he was disappointed. She merely assented with a nod, her facial expression not changing at all.
“Of course. They feign disinterest in what they dismissively refer to as our ‘pretty stones’, but I have spent sufficient time living among Terraineans to recognise the deceit. They speak of exploration for oil, but that is merely to provide a credible reason for talking to us at all. It is the crystals they want. Only very few have ever been found on the sea bed, but we believe that there are far greater deposits buried beneath the ocean floor. We lack the technology to extract them, but the Terraineans are far more adept at such matters. We require access to that technology – which means that a deal must be struck.”
“So what do you want out of all this, Marina?”
“We require security for our people – for we recognise that we are no match for the Terraineans. Perhaps one day we may take our place as equals on this planet. Until such a day dawns, however, we require guarantees that our lifestyle will not be materially altered other than in ways that we ourselves request. We seek an undertaking by the World Government to conduct research on our behalf with a view to finding cures to those ailments that still afflict our people, and access to Terrainean education facilities to enable us to conduct research ourselves into those diseases that they cannot understand. We intend to transform our civilisation in ways that will allow us to live as we will… but we know that it will be difficult to prevent our lives being transformed in ways of which we do NOT approve. To this end the Terraineans must be kept at bay, with access to Pacifica strictly controlled.”
Scarlet frowned, remembering Rhapsody’s summary of her conversation with the World President’s aide earlier. “You’re going to find it extremely difficult to get them to agree to that, Marina. The World Government will argue that access to their technology is a two-way street – and that to make any deal with your people worth their while they’ll need to construct commercial-scale industrial facilities right on your doorstep…”
Marina slowly shook her head, her face expressionless. “There will be no such facilities. We, not they, will define the extent of the mining – and they will take only that which we permit them to take.”
The frown grew deeper, as Scarlet considered the implications of her assertion.
“But…. why should the World Government agree to this? Why shouldn’t they simply reject your membership application and send in their mining equipment to take what they want regardless?”
Again, she shook her head. “They will agree to our terms. I am confident that they will agree – and with that agreement our future will be ensured for all time.”
“Captain – forgive me, but I grow fatigued, and wish to sleep now. Would you excuse me?”
Scarlet blinked at the suddenness of the dismissal. “But of course – I’m forgetting my manners! Yes, by all means… allow me to wish you pleasant dreams, Ambassador.”
“I do not dream – it is a Terrainean trait that we do not share – but I appreciate the sentiment. Goodnight, Captain Scarlet.”
She waited until he had left, then walked over to her wardrobe, opened it and extracted the green attaché case that she had been carrying when she first set foot on Cloudbase’s hangar deck. Pausing for a second, she reset the combination dials to their unlocked positions, and flicked the catches aside. Opening the lid, she regarded the contents thoughtfully, while behind her the door to her sleeping quarters opened slowly, and Captain Black emerged from the shadows. She looked up without alarm as he approached, and the two of them stood side by side, contemplating the contents of the case together. After a few moments she looked up, and their eyes met as a simple question and its response passed silently between them:
“You know what you have to do?”
“Yes… I know what I have to do….”
Captain Blue was a thoroughly unhappy man, but to his credit the fact was evidently not apparent to the small party of Pacificans plus one Mysteron agent that he was conducting through what Scarlet had referred to earlier in the day as “Cloudbase’s tourist traps”. Acutely aware that Captain Black was as familiar with the technical details of the construction of Cloudbase as anyone, he found himself continually thinking ahead as the tour progressed, trying to remember which modifications and upgrades had been installed since the ill-fated Zero-X mission to Mars. Honoured guest for the duration of the visit the ex-Spectrum officer might be, but Blue wasn’t going to supply him with any information capable of being used against Spectrum if there was any way he could avoid it. Fortunately, although the Room of Sleep had undergone very substantial enhancement since Black’s time, in terms of both the technology employed and the effectiveness of the application of it, it was difficult to see how revealing any of it to the Mysterons could jeopardise Spectrum’s military capability – not that that consideration made Captain Blue any happier.
Consciously struggling to disregard Captain Black’s emotionless stare from the back of the room, he gestured towards the circle of a dozen silvery but semi-transparent capsules which ringed a central console. Each was a fraction less than three metres long, and attached to each was a control panel comprising a complex dashboard of dials and graphical displays. Inside two of the capsules the outline of a human body was perceptible through the translucent shell; one man and one woman, both in uniform. But for the ever-changing luminous patterns on the control panels of the occupied pods, the place could have been mistaken for a technologically-advanced morgue. Captain Blue coughed politely to ensure the attention of everyone in the group, while Doctor Fawn silently entered the room to join him.
“The day-to-day operation of Cloudbase relies upon a relatively small but exceptionally highly-trained core of operatives, Ambassador. Many of the routine functions of the Spectrum organisation are performed by land-based operatives but even so, circumstances dictate that these headquarters are fully operational twenty-four hours of the day, seven days a week. Maintaining the highest standards of both mental and physical effectiveness places induces levels of stress that take their toll on even the most resilient of humans over prolonged periods of time.”
He gestured towards one of the occupied modules, inviting the party to view the device and its occupant at closer quarters: as they approached, it became apparent from the whiteness of the uniform that the woman inside was one of the Angels. Captain Blue stepped up to the capsule, squinted inside for just long enough to verify her identity, and then turned back to his guests.
“The so-called ‘Room of Sleep’, in which we are now standing, provides the mechanism by which we are able to attain the levels of performance that are required to cope with such a demanding schedule. Each of these capsules you see around you is a delta-wave enhancement module. At this moment in time, Captain Ochre over there and Melody Angel in this capsule here are being subjected to radiated streams of pulsed neurological stimulators which resonate with, and then accelerate, the delta waves generated naturally by the brain. This process effectively deceives the brain into believing that it has experienced the effects of a full night’s sleep within the space of just twenty minutes. Now I see from the display on Melody’s capsule that she’ll be waking in just one or two minutes, so if you’ll come with me I’ll now take you to see the…”
“One moment, Captain Blue.”
The tone took Captain Blue by surprise. Stopping in mid-stride, he turned back to the group of Pacificans as slowly as he dared, to give his features enough time to settle into a suitably affable expression before replying.
“Yes, Captain Black?”
“The ambassador would like to obtain a better understanding how the process works, Captain Blue. Perhaps you would elaborate for her benefit?”
Blue frowned. “Unfortunately, I’m insufficiently familiar with the technical details of the process to be able to supply a more detailed explanation of the process than the one I’ve just outlined. A high level of medical expertise is required to understand...”
“In that case, no doubt Doctor Fawn would be able to assist in this matter.”
Momentarily nonplussed at the prospect of revealing classified technical information to an enemy, Doctor Fawn glanced quizzically at Captain Blue, who stiffly replied to the unspoken question with a barely perceptible nod of his head. Somewhat reassured, the Australian doctor adopted his best lecturing pose, deliberately and very conspicuously addressing his answer to the silent Pacifican as opposed to the Mysteron at the back who had actually posed the question.
“Of course, Ambassador. A natural delta wave is a high amplitude brain wave with a frequency of between one and four cycles per second, and is typically associated with what is referred to as ‘slow-wave sleep’, the regular experiencing of low levels of which is of critical importance to a healthy adult. High delta wave activity decreases throughout adolescence, and is not common in healthy adults; indeed, multiple studies have indicated the presence of increased delta activity in adults during states of intoxication or delirium and in those diagnosed with dementia or schizophrenia. To ensure that these undesirable side-effects are not induced in our operatives, the delta wave enhancement mechanism raises the frequency of the delta waves without affecting the amplitude, compressing the total energy activity into a far shorter time period than would naturally occur.”
While Doctor Fawn had been talking, Captain Black had quietly moved to the front of the group and was inspecting the control panel of the sleeping Melody’s capsule. Looking up, he pointedly disregarded Captain Blue’s disapproving glare and addressed himself once more to Doctor Fawn.
“And the power requirements necessary to deliver augmented delta waves throughout a single rest cycle for a typical subject, Doctor – what are they?”
Doctor Fawn blinked in surprise at the technical nature of the question. Were the Pacificans proposing to install a system of their own? Stifling the impulse to ask the ambassador why she wanted to know, he merely reported the requested operating parameters from memory.
“Each twenty-minute period of augmented rest requires a continual supply of 650 kilowatts delivered using the delivery system employed in this facility, Ambassador… though to my knowledge the system has never been used on a non-human subject. At the very least I would strongly recommend that…”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Captain Black returned to the group of Pacificans, apparently satisfied, and Captain Blue breathed a silent sigh of relief. Behind the party, the capsule containing Melody slowly and silently opened to reveal the Angel inside. Swinging her legs onto the floor, she opened her mouth to call a cheery greeting to Doctor Fawn before instantly shutting it again upon registering the presence of the little party of Pacificans. Her expression frozen at the sight of Captain Black amongst them, she nodded politely to the group as a whole, then quietly made her way to the exit and disappeared down the corridor. Captain Blue waited until the door had closed behind her before resuming his tour.
“As you’ve just seen, upon awakening the subject is completely refreshed and ready to return to duty immediately. And now, if you’ll accompany me we’ll next visit the observation deck, from where we can obtain a truly magnificent view of the Earth below us as few have ever experienced it…”
“May I take the opportunity of the Pacificans’ absence to speak to you for a few moments, Mr Benson?”
Rufus looked up from the list of notes he’d taken from an assortment of preliminary discussions with the underwater delegation, paused briefly, nodded and invited Captain Scarlet to join him at the table with a gesture. “Of course, Captain. How can I help?”
“Colonel White has asked me to keep him abreast of how the summit is progressing. I appreciate that the main work lies ahead of you, but we take a keen interest in ensuring that everything progresses smoothly throughout the duration of the visit. Would it be indelicate to ask for your own impressions of how things are proceeding so far? I imagine you’ve been involved in many conferences such as this one, so would you say that that dealing with an alien race for the first time has presented any unforeseen problems?”
Recognising from much experience that Scarlet hadn’t yet raised whatever question was really on his mind, Rufus considered the question for a couple of seconds before replying – and when he did, the reply was characteristically blunt.
“Well, for a bunch of hicks from the woodshed behind the back end of nowhere I have to admit they’re a bit more clued up than I expected them to be – but we’ve still managed to make sure they don’t get above themselves when it comes to the serious work. I mean, we’re doing them a favour by agreeing to talk to them at all – might as well be honest about it.”
He yawned. “There are perhaps half a dozen main possible areas of contention. Access for undersea exploration in the vicinity of Pacifica is central: there’s no way we’re going to promote their application for full membership in the Senate unless they grant us what we want there in full – the major commercial players wouldn’t wear it. We can offer some leeway on the medical stuff they’re after, but only if they don’t start getting touchy about security… on which point the ambassador also wants Titan’s network of torture chambers closed down and dismantled. Apparently she’s not satisfied with it merely being used as a conveniently-situated jail by us for Titan’s followers because it’s not a land-based facility. She also wants a commitment from us that the WASPs will act as final arbiters in the event of a dispute, whereas we’d prefer that Spectrum takes ultimate responsibility: that way we don’t have to waste time going through that cantankerous old devil who runs Marineville as if it was his own personal fiefdom at the moment. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… I’m sure you’re not interested in the details.”
Rufus glanced up at him for confirmation of the assumption, but Scarlet’s expression gave nothing away.
“We’re less concerned with the details of the negotiations themselves as the make-up of the Pacifican team, Mr Benson – which is why I wanted to have a word with you while they were tied up on the tour. We’re concerned about the relationship between the Pacificans and Captain Black – as I understand Colonel White made clear to the WP shortly after you all arrived. We regard him as a security risk of the highest order, not least because he used to be one of our own officers until the Mysterons took control of his mind and reconstituted it in their own image. He’s therefore uniquely positioned to recognise any weaknesses that he identifies here and to exploit them on behalf of his masters on Mars; indeed, were it not for his status as an accredited member of the Pacifican team we’d have thrown him straight in the brig simply to ensure he didn’t find any. President Younger may perceive his presence here as an opportunity to talk peace, but we’re obliged by circumstances to regard it as a threat, pure and simple. Apart from anything else, we don’t understand his motivation for being here: the Mysterons have repeatedly demonstrated their determination to destroy us, and yet here he is, sitting down at a table talking business with you people! Doesn’t that seem strange to you?”
Rufus shrugged vaguely. "Well, I'll grant you that he doesn't say much - and he's not exactly the world's greatest comedian when it comes to sharing a laugh with the rest of us during the coffee breaks, but we’re not going to lodge an official complaint with the Pacificans about him for that. Obviously the straight face goes with the job, eh? I mean, I could make the same comment about that cute little pilot of yours who was so keen in talking to me at the reception yesterday, for that matter... I never did work out what her problem was...”
Scarlet coughed. “I take it then that you’ve seen no evidence of any behaviour from Captain Black that might give you cause for concern on security grounds – is that correct?”
Rufus leaned forward, all pretence at affability gone. “That’s correct, Captain – and to answer your unspoken question… yes, you can tell your commander that he can rest assured I’ll pass on to him any evidence of foul play by the Pacificans’ interpreter that comes to my attention. After all, any advantage we can secure for our side makes it all the more likely that we’ll be able to take these bumpkins for all we can get, doesn’t it?”
Scarlet glared back at him. “That hardly seems a nice way to treat our guests, Mr Benson.”
Rufus shrugged. “I’m not paid to be nice to people, Captain – that’s the President’s job. I’m paid to get results. Talking of which…”
He rose to his feet with a delighted-to-see-you expression on his face as the Pacifican delegation walked into the lounge at the completion of their tour of the base, led by Captain Blue. Within seconds of their arrival, an impressive array of sandwiches and drinks was wheeled in, and the guests crowded around to help themselves to refreshments. Scarlet caught Captain Blue’s eye and nodded his head away from the melee, and the two men quietly stepped to one side.
“Mission accomplished without incident, Adam?”
Captain Blue pulled a face. “Yes, I suppose so. I was sweating blood trying to make sure he didn’t see anything he wasn’t supposed to, but I think I managed it. There was a worrying moment in the Room of Sleep though. The ambassador got very interested in the technical details of the upgraded delta-wave enhancement process, so Captain Black was treated to rather more information on it than I’d have liked – not that I imagine it’s of any use to him. Come to think of it, do Mysterons sleep?”
Scarlet considered the point. “Well… I do – and I assume my physiology is essentially the same as other constructs. But as far as the Pacificans are concerned, Marina’s sleep patterns are…” He checked himself hurriedly. “I think perhaps we ought to have a word with the ambassador herself about what the process can and can’t do. Doctor Fawn does tend to fall in love with each new piece of medical kit we install, and I wouldn’t want risk her being injured just because we’ve presented it to them as one of the marvels of the age.”
They rejoined the party and sought out Marina, who was halfway through eating the wrong end of a stick of celery with evident relish. Scarlet smiled to himself and wondered whether to correct her, but decided against it. Glancing around the room, he noted with satisfaction Captain Black in conversation with Rufus Benson on the other side of the room before continuing.
“Captain Blue has just been telling me about your interest in the enhanced delta-wave equipment, Marina. We were wondering whether he made clear the importance of ensuring that the equipment is calibrated correctly for the species using it. The effect upon a non-human subject is unknown: this equipment applied to a Pacifican might have no effect at all… or it might seriously damage your brain.”
Marina smiled back at him, then with a mischievous expression on her face glanced down at her celery stick and turned it round.
“Three years living in Marineville, and they never once mentioned this to me? I cannot but ask myself what other little errors of etiquette they have chosen to overlook! But with regards the sleep machine, I thank you for your concern, Captain Scarlet – but I cannot imagine any circumstances under which we would want to use such means to help us rest.”
She lightly touched the precious stone hanging around her neck.
“We have the crystals to help us when we are troubled. I have seen so many wonders during my life above the waves in Marineville that I am forever asking questions! Always I love to know how the Terraineans overcome those problems that prevent them from living as we do beneath the seas – but the question relating to the technical details of the sleep machine was Captain Black’s, not mine. Doubtless he is more interested in such matters than are we.”
Scarlet’s expression slowly clouded. “Yes… I daresay he is…”
“Ladies and gentlemen, what am I bid for these two slightly eaten sticks of celery? Do I hear thirty dead Pacificans? Going once… going twice…. Sold! Thirty dead Pacificans to the man at the back of the Room of Sleep… thank you, sir...”
The celery sticks slowly rotated in the air, twisting and bending into two glowing green circles while Captain Black threw down a pile of lifeless corpses onto the floor as he walked away. As Scarlet watched, the circles descended upon the corpses, which began to shimmer and dissolve into an incandescent, silvery crowd of bodies which began to walk slowly towards him….”
Scarlet woke suddenly with a start, shocked to find the concerned face of Harmony looking down at him in obvious alarm.
“Captain Scarlet! What is the matter – may I assist you?”
Scarlet peered at her in bewilderment, then, belatedly realising where he was, he shook his head. “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about, Harmony! I must have been dreaming… God – what a nightmare! What’s the time?”
Harmony glanced at the clock on the wall of the Standby Lounge. “It is 2030 hours, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet blinked, then jumped. “Ye gods… why didn’t somebody wake me up? I was supposed to have escorted the delegates to their quarters when the afternoon session ended…”
Harmony held up her hand to reassure him, and then seated herself down at the other end of the couch upon which he’d fallen asleep.
“Please calm yourself, Captain Scarlet – there is no need for alarm. The delegates have not yet left the conference hall – I believe you would say that they are ‘burning the midnight oil’. Would it be impolite to ask the nature of this nightmare? It appears to have left you somewhat disconcerted.”
Scarlet frowned for a moment, and then grinned. “I’ll say it did! Some of the stories that Rhapsody was telling me about the conversation she had with that Benson character at the reception last night must have given me the creeps. Are you sure you want to hear about it? It was extremely weird.”
“It is my experience that the intensity of a dream is a measure of the extent to which it concerns the dreamer, Captain Scarlet – and you appear to have been most agitated by your experience. Perhaps I may help.”
Scarlet hesitated for a second, and then shrugged with a smile. “Okay, Harmony – but don’t say I didn’t warn you! It concerns two mutating pieces of celery, an auction, a silvery crowd of dead Pacificans and Captain Black…”
Relating the details as best he could remember them took perhaps five minutes, during which Harmony listened attentively throughout. When he had finished she nodded thoughtfully.
“I think Rhapsody told you of her encounter with the World President’s aide in some detail, for she quoted some of the phrases that he used, and you have incorporated these into your dream.”
Scarlet frowned at the memory. “Yes, as a matter of fact she did. She was so incensed at both the flippancy and the level of indiscretion that she quoted him verbatim to me on several occasions.”
He looked at Harmony thoughtfully. “Presumably he thinks that because Spectrum answers directly to the WP he doesn’t need to guard his tongue on Cloudbase. It’s almost as if he doesn’t care what anybody thinks – and that’s the sort of attitude that goes with feeling confident that this assignment is so easy that he can afford to be off-guard. But with the Mysterons on the opposing team, that simply doesn’t make sense!”
Harmony considered the point. “Perhaps he understands the danger that the Mysterons pose, and perhaps he does not – but it is the confidence that which disturbs you, Captain Scarlet. I think your dream offers evidence of this.”
Scarlet frowned. “I don’t see that, Harmony. I mean, most of it is obvious: you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. Marina was eating celery at the reception, so that’s where that bit of it came from. The glowing green rings, too: no prizes there. As to the auction I told you about, Captain Black was in the Room of Sleep when Captain Blue was conducting the tour, so I’ve just woven that into it as well. It’s nothing more than a compendium of irrelevant facts that have been thrown into a blender, that’s all. There’s no way anyone’s going to write a thesis on it, though I admit I don’t understand why it shook me up as badly as it did.”
Harmony shook her head. “You consider only the superficial aspects. On the contrary, your dream was rich with metaphor. The auction represents your perception that Pacifica is for sale to the highest bidder, of course. However, you also spoke of a ‘crowd of corpses’ which began to glow silver – but one does not use such words in real life. Therefore we must seek an alternative explanation for the unusual choice of phraseology. And I think we do not need to look far, for do you not have an expression which says that ‘every crowd has a silver lining’?”
Scarlet’s face creased up in a simulated groan. “Oh come on, Harmony… you just made that one up! Have you considered doing a comedy turn at the Christmas party? You’d go down a scream…”
He checked himself at the patient look on the Japanese Angel’s face, and pressed on. “That’s a coincidence, Harmony. It has to be.”
Once again, Harmony shook her head. “I do not think so, Captain Scarlet. You were contemplating Rhapsody’s disquiet at Mr Benson’s evident disregard for the lives of the Pacificans, and attempting to reconcile that with the beneficial scientific knowledge that their autopsies revealed. Had you been awake you would reject such contemplation as distasteful in the extreme, but when you sleep your mind is liberated from such constraints, leaving you free to explore possibilities that you might otherwise fail to recognise. I think the act of waking while still ‘thinking the unthinkable’ is what caused you such distress – and perhaps because you are unconstrained by reality, you borrow from the myths and legends of your culture to express yourself when asleep.”
Scarlet frowned in confusion. “I’m sorry… are we still talking about the silver crowd?”
Harmony shook her head. “I am referring to the other allegorical reference you failed to recognise, which is the one relating to the thirty pieces of silver. In your dream, you were thinking of the betrayal of the Pacificans – but you could not decide whether Captain Black or Mr Benson represented the betrayer. I think perhaps it was this dilemma that you were attempting to resolve in your sleep.”
Scarlet peered at her closely. “Just how many myths and legends from our culture have you studied in depth, Harmony?”
She lowered her eyes in obvious embarrassment. “At school I neglected my studies shamefully, Captain Scarlet – for I preferred the excitement of martial arts to more fitting pursuits. Even now I waste the hours of leisure between my tours of duty doing cryptic crosswords – for which a working knowledge of quotations from all the classical works of literature is most beneficial. Fortunately such trivial diversions occupy very little time…”
Colonel White looked around him at the two captains and two Angels seated in the Control Room.
“Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue, Harmony Angel, Rhapsody Angel. Thank you all for attending this meeting, which I’ve called for the purpose of reviewing the security aspects of the conference to date. It is now 1700 hours on the third day of the summit, and the delegates have been in closed session since lunchtime. Yesterday morning, Captain Blue conducted the Pacifican delegation on a tour of Cloudbase, while Captain Scarlet at my request spoke to several of the advisors within the Unity City delegation to obtain feedback on their reactions to the progress of the summit. I myself had a brief meeting with the World President this morning, during which I reiterated my concerns concerning the presence of Captain Black, though I will say at once that nothing he has said or done has given me any reason to act on those concerns. On the contrary, everything appears to be progressing remarkably smoothly. The World President spoke of his apparent dedication to the task he has undertaken on behalf of the Pacificans: a reaction which I believe you have also experienced, Captain Scarlet – is that not so?”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, Colonel. I’ve spoken to four of the President’s aides during convenient breaks in the proceedings over the last 48 hours – and all of them have remarked upon both Captain Black’s abilities as an interpreter, his energy and his professionalism. If he were still a serving Spectrum officer I’d be flattered. As it is, I’m simply confused: this makes no sense to me at all. I know he’s working against us – indeed, Captain Blue told me after the reception that he said as much almost in as many words – so why can’t the President’s aides see it?”
Colonel White put his fingers together. “I feel you’ve hit the nail on the head with that question, Captain Scarlet. From what I’ve seen of him, his general demeanour hasn’t changed substantially since our previous encounters: he’s taciturn, morose and introspective, to say nothing of his physical appearance, which is reminiscent of someone who would benefit enormously from several good nights’ sleep. To coin a phrase, he ought to be giving them the creeps… and yet he clearly isn’t. Why not? What do they see in him that we don’t? Harmony – can you offer any insight into this?”
The Japanese Angel paused before replying. When at last she spoke, it was evident that she was having difficulty finding the words she sought.
“I also have observed this, Colonel White – and it has confused me, for I regard him as we all do. It is only when I speak to the World President’s aides that fleetingly I sense their feelings. I cannot tell why Captain Black does not ‘give them the creeps’… I only know that he does not concern them in the same way that he concerns us. It is as if….”
She paused again, searching for the words. “It is as though he is not there. They see him and they hear him, but to them he is merely the ambassador’s voice. It may be that I can describe this only by analogy, but I shall try. Think of a radio. It speaks to us, and when it tells us things we listen – and sometimes we do what it tells us to do. We do not see the loudspeaker from which the sounds come and think it strange that it looks like a metal grille. We hear only the voice that comes from it; we disregard the device from which it came. That is how they perceive Captain Black.”
“But how can anybody not see someone, Harmony? That’s impossible, surely!”
She shook her head slowly. “It is not impossible. We worry about a friend in bed with a cold who will have fully recovered by the dawn, but we condemn a million starving children to death by our failure to take them food. We think nothing of the contradiction because the friend is known to us but the children are not – and yet all of them are real people. Always we prioritise our concerns, and address those which concern us the most – even when our priorities make no sense to anyone else. Captain Black does not concern them; they are only interested in what he says. I do not know why – I only know that it is so.”
There was silence for a few seconds, at the end of which time Colonel White glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Thank you, Harmony – thought-provoking as usual, and more than a little disturbing if he really is capable of altering the way people react to him. Is this yet another capability the Mysterons possess?”
He looked around the little group. “What else have we learned during the last three days? I confess I was intrigued to discover the presence of our old friend Doctor Kurnitz among the President’s advisors, and had hoped to find time during the reception to discuss with him his work since the Crater 101 affair – but I understand he spent most of the evening talking to you, Harmony. Did you glean anything of value from that conversation?”
The Japanese Angel lowered her eyes. “Much was said, Colonel White – though it was my perception that more questions were raised than were answers obtained. In Japan we have a saying: ‘walls have ears and bottles have mouths’. The eminent Doctor Kurnitz was good enough to make me aware that he has never seen Pacifica, and yet he appears to be exceptionally well-informed concerning its tensile qualities. To me this suggests that he has been briefed with intelligence reports of the highest quality and detail. Is it not a little strange that such efforts should be made before offering the Pacificans a gift that they might easily decline?”
Scarlet frowned. “Perhaps the WP considers the success of this mission to be so critical that all the stops have been pulled out.”
“Perhaps. However I also find it most interesting that an expert in construction techniques would apparently not be aware that eliminating the potential for movement risks the immediate collapse of the building when it is placed under exceptional pressure. Anyone who has lived in Japan knows this.”
Colonel White leaned forward. “Harmony - are you saying that the man we’re discussing isn’t Doctor Kurnitz?”
Harmony shook her head. “I am not suggesting that. I am merely entertaining the possibility that he is perhaps not quite the expert in construction techniques that he has pronounced himself to be.”
Rhapsody stirred. “There’s something else too. I spent most of the same evening trying to not to throttle Rufus Benson for making derogatory remarks about the Pacificans – whom he clearly holds in no regard whatsoever. So why would the WP go out of his way to provide them with free scientific advice from someone of Doctor Kurnitz’s standing if his advisors think they’re a bunch of underwater hillbillies?”
Captain Scarlet drummed his fingers rapidly on the desk. “Kurnitz…. Doctor Kurnitz... why is he here? Artificial seashells my foot – he’s an electronics expert, for God’s sake, not a kid building sandcastles on the beach...”
He stopped in mid-sentence, raised his eyes to the ceiling and stared at it for a full ten seconds.
“What is it, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet lowered his gaze from the ceiling and looked around the table at his fellow officers. “Of course… I really have been slow, haven’t I?”
Colonel White coughed. “Captain Scarlet – when you’ve finished contemplating the speed of your thought processes, would you be so good as to share the contents of them with the rest of us?”
Scarlet turned to face him. “It’s the mind-expanding crystals. Everything comes back to the crystals – don’t you see? Doctor Kurnitz is a plant. By supplying him with a cover story about wanting to assist the underwater races in their hour of need and inviting him to embellish his already impressive list of scientific achievements, they’ve tried to provide him with an excuse to get into Pacifica – so he can get his hands on some of the crystals, which are unique to the area of the sea bed in which Pacifica is located.”
Captain Blue frowned. “But why, Captain Scarlet? Why would the World President be personally concerned with some mystical stones that seem to have more to do with magic tricks and reiki healing than…”
Scarlet held up a hand to give him a few more seconds in which to assemble the pieces of the jigsaw in his head. When he continued, it was with a halting tone that plainly indicated the words were only a second or two behind the train of thought that was framing them.
“If I’m right, Doctor Kurnitz is the key to this. He came as close as anyone to devising a means to communicate with the Mysterons… using a technique based around that Mysteron pulsator we brought back from Crater 101 on the Moon. It worked too… the Mysterons agreed to a meeting – but they reneged on that agreement. Instead of acting in good faith, they tried to kill our negotiator – a detail I recall particularly vividly – by exploding a pulsator they’d hidden in the venue they chose for our meeting. It was only when I saw at first hand how much destructive power was hidden inside that tiny piece of rock that we recognised the real threat – namely the pulsator we’d installed on Cloudbase. It was ejected with just seconds to go before it detonated – as I’m sure we all remember only too well.”
Scarlet looked around the room for a few seconds before continuing. “Obviously we all recall that incident clearly, but like all our encounters with the Mysterons, everything about it that could be suppressed was suppressed – which in this instance was absolutely all of it. Nobody outside of Spectrum ever got wind of the fact that this base was within seconds of being turned into the most spectacular fireworks display in history… with one exception.”
Colonel White nodded slowly. “Doctor Kurnitz.”
Scarlet nodded. “He was here when it happened – and though he may be a little full of himself, he’s absolutely no fool. He put six months’ hard work into developing the necessary technology to transform an alien power source into a communications device – so why shouldn’t he have considered the possibility that a communicator might be transformed into a power source?”
He paused briefly, collecting his thoughts.
“However… by the time the incident was over, the only two pulsators known to exist on Earth had both been destroyed. We brought one of them back with us from Crater 101 – but I saw the other one at the venue the Mysterons had designated for our meeting, seconds before it exploded, which raises another interesting question that I remember we speculated about at the time. How did it get to Earth? Was it brought back by Captain Black from Mars on board the Zero-X? Was it artificially created by Mysteron agents on Earth? Or was it here already? Doctor Kurnitz may well have asked himself the same question – which would have further piqued his curiosity when he heard about the mind-expanding Pacifican crystals. I’ll bet you anything you like it was he who first made the World President aware of the possibility that the pretty little glowing rocks that the Pacificans use to cure headaches might potentially possess some – if not all – of the properties of the Mysteron pulsators. The military potential of such a weapon could hardly be overstated: any administration worth its salt would have to be interested in the possibility.”
Captain Blue frowned. “But why would the President’s staff employ such devious methods to get them, Captain Scarlet? Why not just ask the ambassador for a few samples? I’m sure she’d be happy to find some if the President asked her nicely…”
Scarlet shook his head, grinning. “Adam… if you spotted a dusty old painting in a village junk shop that you reckoned might possibly be a genuine Rembrandt, would you ask the owner of the shop whether you could borrow it for a while to check it out? No way! You’d send in an expert on the quiet to confirm your suspicions – and then you’d offer to take it off the owner’s hands for next to nothing on the pretext that it would cover that damp patch in the kids’ bedroom. Which is probably not that far removed from how the WP and his team are planning to deal with the Pacificans if Doctor Kurnitz turns out to be right.”
He grinned at the memory of his earlier encounter with Marina. “Except that I suspect they may have underestimated the Pacificans. The ambassador is well aware of their interest in the crystals and their potential value as a bargaining counter… though just how she intends to proceed with their bid for World Government membership in the light of that I have no idea. She’s playing her cards very close to her chest – and Captain Black’s part in all this is as shrouded in mystery as ever, at least as far as I’m concerned. What do the Mysterons get out of all this, for heaven’s sake? I’m sure I don’t know – does anybody have any suggestions?”
Captain Blue looked up. “Couldn’t it be that they simply want these minerals themselves? After all, if Doctor Kurnitz reckons he can turn them into offensive weapons by applying a little electronic wizardry, such a trick ought to be child’s play to the Mysterons.”
Colonel White looked thoughtful. “Perhaps… but if they did, wouldn’t they simply have sabotaged this summit? As it is, both teams plus Captain Black have been cooped up in that conference room talking for almost two days now – and the Mysterons haven’t so much as sent us a radio message to growl at us! What are we missing here?”
He glanced at the clock. “It’s almost 1800 hours, and our guests will be concluding today’s session very shortly. Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue – I’d like you to go down to the main conference room and meet them as they emerge. Make it simply a courtesy call, but try to find out how they are getting on, will you? I’d like to know just how long we can expect them to be on Cloudbase – because apart from anything else we need to start planning our next move as far as Captain Black is concerned. Do we just let him leave with the rest of the Pacificans? Do we invite him to stay for further discussions with the World President about the conclusion of the War of Nerves? Or do we simply try to arrest him?”
Scarlet frowned. “I don’t see how we can arrest him the minute he’s finished interpreting for the Pacificans, Colonel – neither side would allow it. And yet simply letting him go would be insane: he’d be back to his old tricks in no time. As I see it, we have to try to persuade him to stay for further talks – but then, why should the Mysterons trust us? They didn’t last time.”
Colonel White nodded thoughtfully. “We would have to guarantee him some sort of immunity, I suppose – but that could only be done with the authority of the World President. Again, we need to know how long we’ve got before we have to start making decisions. If either of you gets an opportunity to speak to the World President alone when they come out of their meeting, see if you can get a feel for how he wants to proceed as regards peace talks with Captain Black once the Pacificans have left Cloudbase – assuming that Black agrees, of course. If he doesn’t, well… at least we’ll know where we stand. Thank you for attending, everyone.”
The doors to the conference room flew open as Captain Scarlet approached, to the sound of animated chattering. Scarlet found himself being forced onto the sidelines as the various delegates began to emerge in twos and threes, several of them deep in conversation with their counterparts from the other team. Looking for someone to bring him up to date with regard to progress, he found himself staring into the smug features of the President’s cultural and publicity advisor. Oh well, he thought…
“Mr Benson – everybody seems to be very excited all of a sudden. Would you mind telling me why?”
Rufus grinned wickedly and threw an arm around his shoulder. “We’ve done it! Signed, sealed and delivered… and do you know, it’s a triumph! Everybody’s happy: we’ve got what we want, and they’ve got what they want – it doesn’t get much better than this! Not only that, but Marina’s so pleased with the deal we’ve offered her that she’s insisted that the WP fast-tracks it through the ratification process – and we’ve already got the wheels in motion for that to happen too.”
He leaned over confidentially with a self-satisfied chuckle. “Just between you and me, Captain, they never really wanted that much in the first place – so keeping them happy wasn’t exactly all that difficult! The poor girl doesn’t seem to have realised that we were even more eager to get it all wrapped up than she was! All straight faces and protestations of difficulties left, right and centre of course, but we said we’d do everything possible to streamline the process – under protest of course, since they’d got us over a barrel – you know, the old salesman technique? I can’t believe she fell for it! Oh well – there’s one born every minute, eh?”
Scarlet’s face had been slowly darkening while the ebullient aide had been yet again cheerfully indicating in just how little regard he clearly held the Pacificans, while at the back of his mind he was still trying to square what he was hearing now with the dilemma facing her people as outlined to him by Marina herself after the reception. Surely she couldn’t have been as easily deceived as he was hearing? But then of course Marina wasn’t the one who was doing the talking…
“And Captain Black agreed to these terms on Marina’s behalf, did he?”
Rufus grinned. “Oh, he negotiated them himself for the most part! It was really impressive to see the amount of work he put in to make sure the ambassador was satisfied with every stage in the process. A shame he wasn’t able to be here in person to see the fruits of all the hard work he put in – but I guess he’s one of those people who just shrug the work off as its own reward, eh?”
Scarlet’s eyes narrowed. “One moment – I don’t quite understand…”
Rufus shrugged. “Oh, I know plenty of people like that. They don’t count the hours they put in – all they care about is the cause they serve. Captain Black must be one of those…”
“No – that isn’t what I meant. What did you mean when you said he’s not here?”
“What? Oh… didn’t somebody tell you? Just before lunch he complained of dizziness or something or other and wanted to return to his suite to lie down for a while. By that time we were just making a few cosmetic changes to the final communiqué, and Marina indicated she could probably manage on her own with basic sign language – so we agreed we could probably cope without him for a while.”
“And you haven’t seen him since then?”
Rufus shook his head. “No… perhaps something he ate for breakfast didn’t agree with him, eh? But I saw him talking to one of your guards in the corner just before he left, so I imagine he was escorted back to his room if that’s what’s worrying you.”
“Perhaps… would you excuse me for a moment, please?”
Without waiting for a reply, Scarlet strode out of the room, waited for the door to close and then called the security guard over.
“At what time did Captain Black leave the conference suite, sergeant – and why wasn’t I informed?”
The man blinked in astonishment. “Captain Black, sir? Nobody’s left this room since I’ve been on duty: I’d have reported it immediately, as per standing orders.”
“And you’ve been on duty since what time?”
“Thirteen hundred hours, sir: just before they went in to lunch. He was certainly there then: I remember he called me to one side and told me to fetch some clean cutlery for one of the delegates – damned cheek! What the hell does he think we’re here for? Anyway, by the time I’d come back with it they’d all gone inside again, so I thought I’d better not interrupt…”
“So you didn’t actually see him go back in with them – right?”
The guard frowned. “Well, now that you come to mention it, sir…”
“Thank you, sergeant!” Scarlet turned on his heel and set off down the corridor at a half-run, activating his communicator as he did so.
“Colonel White – this is Captain Scarlet! I think we may have a problem… would you dispatch a security detail to Captain Black’s suite to check on his presence there please? Apparently he excused himself from this afternoon’s session on the pretext of feeling dizzy, and hasn’t been seen since.”
Even over the tiny earpiece implanted in his cap Scarlet could hear the fist coming down on Colonel White’s desk. “How the devil did he manage to do that, Captain Scarlet? My orders were to ensure we knew where he was 24 hours a day….”
“It looks as though he managed to time leaving the meeting so that everybody thought he was somewhere else, Colonel. I could be wrong about this, but I have a nasty feeling we’re not going to find him in his room either. Scarlet out.”
By the time he arrived in the delegates’ suites, he found that Captain Ochre had beaten him to it, and was already at work on the lock. He looked up as Scarlet joined him, shaking his head.
“If he is inside he’s not answering the door, Captain Scarlet: I’ve knocked several times. Shall I override the lock?”
Scarlet hesitated briefly, then nodded. “Yes – do it. We can always claim we were worried about his safety if he turns out to be inside after all and complains; though bearing in mind who he is, there’s probably a greater risk that he’s waiting for us with a gun in his hand – so be on your guard.”
Ochre extracted an electronic sensing device from his belt and waved it over the lock. Muttering to himself, he read the display and frowned.
“Strange… he hasn’t changed the default password we gave him when he first entered the room. That’s a basic security precaution we advise all guests on Cloudbase to comply with – I’d have thought that the Mysterons’ foremost agent on Earth would have changed it instantly…”
Scarlet shrugged. “Maybe he simply doesn’t care who enters his room. Let’s worry about it later, shall we? Is it deactivated now?”
Captain Ochre nodded. “We should be able to just walk straight in.”
He pushed the door gently but firmly, and stepped back as it swung slowly inwards. They glanced at each other, then both drew their guns and stepped inside. Verifying that all the rooms were empty took less than fifteen seconds, and Scarlet swore under his breath. Before he had an opportunity to activate his cap mike to report, however, his epaulettes flashed white.
“Captain Scarlet – progress report, please!”
“We’re inside Captain Black’s suite right now, Colonel… and it’s empty. I think we must assume that he’s hiding somewhere on the base…”
“Acknowledged, Captain – but before I initiate a base-wide search, there’s been a development at this end. While you’ve been getting into his room I’ve had Lieutenant Green reviewing our security footage of the corridors – and we’ve found two sequences of interest. The first is one of Captain Black in the corridor of the guest suite about ten minutes after leaving the conference room – so presumably he did actually return to his room – and secondly, we have a shot of him in the vicinity of Sick Bay shortly after 1300 hours. This reassures me somewhat, because if he were genuinely ill then Sick Bay would be the obvious place for him to go. However we’ve also just discovered that Lieutenant Green is unable to raise Doctor Fawn on the internal communications network. Captain Blue is on his way there now: join him there and check it out at once, will you?”
He cut the communication and turned… to find himself face to face with Marina, who was walking down the corridor towards them, an expression of confusion on her face.
“Captain Scarlet! Is anything the matter? I trust Captain Black is recovering?”
Scarlet coughed apologetically, while behind him Captain Ochre deftly pocketed the electronic key and quietly pulled the door closed.
“We are… that is… we’re actually not sure, Ambassador. Captain Black appears not to be in his suite – but I’ve just been informed that he made his way to Sick Bay earlier this afternoon. It may be that he is more unwell than you were originally aware.”
The beautiful Pacifican’s eyes opened wide with obvious concern.
“I trust that he is not so ill as to be in need of medical attention, Captain Scarlet! Will you take me to see him at once, please?”
A natural enough request under the circumstances… and yet there was just the faintest hint of something in her manner that would have made Scarlet reluctant to accede to it even had it been possible – which it clearly wasn’t. He shook his head decisively.
“At present we’re uncertain of his condition ourselves, Ambassador: indeed, I’m just about to go to Sick Bay myself to determine what is… happening there. If he is ill, you may rest assured that he’s in the right place and in the best possible hands – so I would ask you to remain in your quarters for the time being. As soon as I have any news of his condition I’ll let you know – I promise.”
Their minds touched, and she sensed the sincerity of his reassurance, while simultaneously he sensed her discomfort at the situation. For a moment he felt she was going to insist upon being taken to see her interpreter anyway, but then she inclined her head in apparent acceptance of the current state of affairs.
“Of course, Captain. I shall await developments.”
She turned to leave, but then suddenly swung back round again.
“Oh! But I forgot… when I returned to my suite a few moments ago I discovered that I am no longer able to enter my rooms: my electronic key appears not to be functioning. I thought perhaps Captain Black might be able to solve the problem – he is most adept at such things – but in his absence, could you help me gain access please?”
Stifling the impulse to laugh out loud at the irony of a Mysteron agent being her first choice to pick a lock on Cloudbase, Scarlet merely smiled.
“Yes, of course, Marina. I’m afraid there’s something I need to attend to quite urgently, but Captain Ochre will be happy to help you if I brief him first…”
Captain Blue was awaiting Scarlet’s arrival in the medical wing. Jerking his thumb upwards as Scarlet approached, he drew his attention to a red glowing sign above the door.
“I wonder how long that’s been on? Do you think Captain Black…”
Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t know what to think, Adam. Let’s have a word with the colonel, shall we – though I think I can guess what his reaction’s going to be…”
His cap mike snapped into position. “Colonel White? It’s Captain Scarlet: I’m standing with Captain Blue outside Sick Bay: we’re barred entry by a ‘Positively No Admittance’ sign illuminated over the door. Doctor Fawn only uses that when he’s performing an operation or running some sort of experiment in there – and to be honest it wouldn’t be the first time he’s insisted on being left alone with his test tubes for a few hours…”
Colonel White’s response was immediate. “I’m aware of that, Captain – but Doctor Fawn is supposed to notify me if Sick Bay is going to be out of bounds for any length of time – and I can see Lieutenant Green shaking his head as we speak. Also, if Captain Black did go down there with a genuine ailment, why didn’t he return to his quarters when he found he couldn’t get in? I’m liking this less and less by the second – get inside using any means necessary, starting with a polite knock and resorting to more physical forms of direct action if you don’t get any reply within a few moments.”
Up in the control room, Colonel White cut the connection and turned to Lieutenant Green. “Lieutenant – access Doctor Fawn’s diary and tell me what appointments he has today, if any, will you? I want to know if this activity is scheduled.”
Lieutenant Green turned to his console and punched in a series of commands.
“There are two appointments listed sir – both routine. Medicals for Captain Magenta at 10:00 and Destiny Angel at 15:30. Destiny’s appointment was cancelled by Doctor Fawn – no reason given. She was notified of the cancellation at… 13:26, Colonel – I’m looking at the email now.”
Colonel White nodded, unsurprised. “Just a few minutes after Captain Black was seen in the vicinity of Sick Bay – and of course anyone with access to Doctor Fawn’s console could have sent that message. Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“What could Captain Black possibly want from Sick Bay, Colonel? And whatever it is, why would he have been in there so long? This doesn’t make sense at all.”
Colonel White shook his head and frowned. “None of this makes sense, Lieutenant. I have a very nasty feeling right now that we’re being manipulated… which I know isn’t unusual when the Mysterons have a finger in the pie, but this time I feel that a large part of the problem is simply our own inability to grasp something important here. If we could only identify what it is, we might be in a better position to confront it. As it is, I feel that right now we’re about as much in control as a motorcyclist on a Mysteronised skid-pan…”
He broke off as a red light flashed on the panel in front of him. Glancing grimly at Lieutenant Green, he stabbed at it. “Yes, Captain Scarlet?”
“We’re inside, Colonel – and it’s clear there’s been an assault on Doctor Fawn. He’s lying unconscious over his desk with an injury to the back of his head, and there’s a gas mask over his nose and mouth feeding him something to prevent him from recovering consciousness – and there’s no sign of Captain Black anywhere.”
Colonel White slammed his fist down on the desk. “Find him, Scarlet! Take Cloudbase apart if you have to, but find him!”
“Yes, sir! But there’s something we’re missing here: the door was sealed from the inside, so he can’t have got out of Sick Bay any more easily than we could get into it! So where’s he gone – and how?”
Colonel White shook his head in exasperation. “I don’t know, Captain Scarlet… but what I do know is that if he’s loose on the base then we’re all in danger – so get moving on that search this minute!”
He cut the connection without waiting for a reply, and once more turned to Lieutenant Green, his face grim. “Now I know we’re being manipulated, Lieutenant! Whatever scheme Captain Black is up to, he’s had at least six hours to prepare it and put it into action. Something tells me we’re already waist-deep in trouble and sinking.”
“Do you think Doctor Fawn has been unconscious ever since Captain Black went for that cure for his dizzy spell or whatever it was, Colonel?”
“Of course he has! Dizzy spells be damned – that was obviously just an excuse to get into Sick Bay. Doctor Fawn didn’t activate that sign barring admission to the medical centre – Captain Black did. He knocked out Doctor Fawn, did something he doesn’t want us to know about and made himself scarce. We have to find out what it is that he did there – and fast!”
Lieutenant Green frowned. “But Captain Scarlet is right – how could he have got out of Sick Bay? Have the Mysterons teleported him out, the way that French agent told us he saw him disappear into thin air? If so, we’ll never find him!”
A flashing red light on his control panel caught his attention, and he swung round to open the channel. Captain Scarlet’s voice floated into the air of the control room; this time slightly calmer, though the tension present in it during the earlier communication was still clearly audible.
“It’s about Captain Black, Colonel. He hasn’t disappeared at all – he’s right here… in the Room of Sleep.”
Colonel White blinked, took in at a glance the look of open-mouthed astonishment on his aide-de-camp’s face and then turned his attention once more to the comms panel.
“He’s where, Captain Scarlet?”
“He’s locked inside one of the accelerated delta-wave enhancers, Colonel… the log for the capsule in question indicates that it’s been running on maximum power for almost six hours, which is way beyond our usual safety limits both in terms of intensity and duration. If he was human I’d have thought he’d be lucky to have a brain left at all – though of course what effect the accelerated sleep process might have on him we’ve absolutely no idea.”
“Do you know how he got into the capsule in the first place? Was he forced into it?”
“We’re still trying to establish that, Colonel. The control panel’s been sabotaged – we don’t think we can shut it down without running the risk of injuring either ourselves or him. Captain Blue is inspecting it as we speak: he believes he can figure out how to override the controls given time, but he’s reluctant to touch anything until he’s sure it’s not booby-trapped. It’s likely to take some time before we can attempt to get him out – and we’re probably going to need Doctor Fawn monitoring the revival process if at all possible.”
Colonel White nodded thoughtfully. “What condition is Doctor Fawn in at the moment, Captain Scarlet?”
“Better than we originally thought, Colonel. The injury to his head was largely superficial: presumably the real object of the exercise was to render him unconscious indefinitely with that gas.”
“Will he able to help revive Captain Black when the time comes?”
“One moment please, sir….” There was a click and a few seconds’ pause, after which Scarlet was back on the line again.
“Yes, Colonel. Doctor Fawn is conscious now, and insists that he’ll be fine in just little while. He says the gas is harmless, and is routinely used to keep patients sedated during operations after which he wants them fully awake as soon as possible.”
“Then get a technical team working on that control panel as soon as you can, Captain Scarlet – and as soon as they’re familiar with the problem, I want Captain Blue and yourself up here. We’ve got a lot of questions to which we need answers right now, and I want to see if we can find some of them while Captain Black is still unconscious. Tell Doctor Fawn to warn us before the attempt is made to remove him from that accelerated sleep capsule; in the meantime, I’ll expect you both up here within fifteen minutes.”
Scarlet and Blue walked through the door into the main control room, taking their customary chairs at Colonel White’s desk.
“Right, gentlemen! I want this meeting to be as productive as we can make it in the little time we have. The first question that occurs to me is to wonder if we’ve just seen an attempt by person or persons unknown to kill Captain Black by trapping him inside one of the accelerated sleep capsules after following him down to Sick Bay, and then subjecting him to a potentially lethal dose of artificially augmented delta-waves. Is that possible?”
They exchanged glances, then Scarlet shook his head. “That possibility occurred to us too, Colonel… but this doesn’t look like an assault. All the indications are that he did this himself. The control panel was rigged to fuse itself thirty seconds after anyone entered the capsule – so initiating the process didn’t require anyone else to be present.”
Colonel White frowned. “Not something that just anybody could manage unaided, by the sound of it.”
Captain Blue shook his head emphatically. “No, sir. Whoever did it knew exactly what he was doing. The main power lines feeding the Angels’ standby lounge and Cloudbase’s guest apartments pass through the ducting above Sick Bay – and it appears that one of these has been rerouted directly into the delta wave inducer via the control panel. Overloading the control panel had two side-effects in addition to fusing the controls: firstly it doubled the dose of delta waves the occupant was receiving, and secondly it prevented anyone who didn’t know what they were doing from switching it off without receiving a potentially lethal electric shock. Very neat – and not something whoever was responsible could have done without being exceptionally well-trained in electronics… once again pointing the finger at Captain Black himself.”
Scarlet looked up, frowning. “I’ve just thought of something else, Colonel. Just before I left Captain Black’s quarters, we ran into Marina in the corridor. Apparently the key to her suite wasn’t working: I asked Captain Ochre to sort it out for her just before leaving to join Captain Blue here outside Sick Bay.”
Colonel White glanced up in mild irritation. “Captain, I appreciate your concern for the ambassador’s well-being, but I’m sure Captain Ochre is more than capable…”
“One moment, Colonel. The boosted power supply to Captain Black’s sleep capsule was assembled by cannibalising one of the conduits in the ducting above Sick Bay – and each of those conduits provides power to one of the guest apartments. It was probably Marina’s apartment that had the power cut off – which would explain why her key wasn’t working. As you just said, Captain Ochre will have sorted it out in no time – there’s a backup system that can be activated within seconds – but it’s a remarkable coincidence, wouldn’t you say? I mean, did Captain Black select the power line to her apartment deliberately? Or was it a fluke?”
Colonel White looked at him thoughtfully. “You’re right, Captain – there are over a dozen suites in that section. It is a remarkable coincidence, isn’t it?”
He swivelled in his chair and called across the room. “Lieutenant Green – would you contact Captain Ochre and put him on the main speaker for us here please?”
He turned back to Scarlet and Blue. “No harm in checking, I think…. let’s just make sure he left the ambassador hale and hearty, shall we?”
The loudspeaker on the wall crackled.
“Colonel White? Captain Ochre here… you asked me to call you.”
The colonel turned to face his microphone. “Thank you for responding so promptly, Captain Ochre… I have Captains Scarlet and Blue with me here at the moment – and Scarlet tells me that the Pacifican ambassador’s key apparently malfunctioned earlier. Were you able to determine the reason for that malfunction?”
Ochre’s response was immediate. “Yes, Colonel – there was a power failure affecting the whole suite, including all of the electronic locks, both exterior and interior. I’ve patched in the backup supply until we can track down the source of the fault. There’s still one interior door that refuses to open – even our master key won’t trigger it – but it’s only a cupboard, and the ambassador has indicated that she isn’t in any way inconvenienced by that, so I’ve left it for the time being. We can repair it when we track down the reason for the fault.”
Colonel White nodded pensively to himself. “Thank you, Captain Ochre. We believe we may have already identified the reason for the power failure, but since the auxiliary backup is functioning normally I don’t think we need to be too worried about it for the time being. Did the ambassador seem concerned about the situation?”
“Not in the least, Colonel. She seemed to be in good spirits when I left her… is there any reason for supposing she might not be that I should be aware of?”
Colonel White reached for the microphone. “No, Captain. Thank you – you’ve merely reassured us on a point that might have given us cause for concern, that’s all.”
He cut the connection, and turned to his two officers. “Well, that would appear to be the least of our worries – but you were right to raise it, Captain Scarlet. Let’s get back to our sleeping Mysteron agent in Sick Bay, shall we? Can Doctor Fawn throw any light on what happened?”
Captain Blue shook his head. “No, Colonel. He only remembers hearing a noise while sitting at his desk and looking up… then nothing. Whoever it was must have struck him from behind. But again, we come back to this question of the locked door: if there was a second person involved, there was no way they could have left the room after putting Captain Black into the capsule! As we see it, it must have been Black acting alone.”
Colonel White grunted. “Well, assuming you’re right – and I admit I can see no obvious alternative to the scenario you’ve just outlined – I suppose we ought to consider ourselves lucky that Captain Black didn’t simply kill Doctor Fawn instead, though somehow I don’t feel inclined to thank the Mysterons for their compassion on this occasion. All right then… let’s assume it is Captain Black acting alone. Why? What was he trying to achieve? And at least as important… did he succeed?”
Captain Scarlet shook his head vigorously. “It seems to me that whatever he was up to, Colonel, we’ve put a pretty effective stop to it. We know exactly where he is; he’s unconscious, and we can keep him that way for as long as we like. Not only that, but this attack on Doctor Fawn provides us with a perfect excuse to separate him from the Pacificans for the remainder of the summit. Even the World President can hardly object when we have direct evidence of an assault! What could be better?”
Colonel White looked at him sombrely.
“Captain Scarlet… they should have taught you at the academy always to understand your enemy – because if you don’t, then for every victory you win, you’ll also suffer a defeat. General Sun Tzu wrote that in ‘The Art of War’ over 2400 years ago – so let’s just look at this situation from Captain Black’s point of view for a moment, shall we? He can’t have known exactly how long he’d be able to remain undetected in the Room of Sleep – but he could be quite certain that sooner or later we would find him. What would we do then? Firstly we’d thank our lucky stars that Doctor Fawn wasn’t more seriously injured than he is – so Captain Black knows that we won’t be as harsh on him as we might otherwise have been. Secondly he could be quite certain we would revive him as soon as possible – because he knows we’ll need to question him to establish what happened as a matter of urgency. And thirdly, he’ll be perfectly well aware that his career as a translator for the Pacificans is now effectively over, for exactly the reason you’ve just spelt out – so he knows there’s no turning back. No, Captain Scarlet – we must assume that he’s considered all of these things… and yet there he is, lying completely at our mercy in one of our own accelerated sleep capsules.”
He looked at each of his two officers in turn. “It’s not over yet, gentlemen. Don’t drop your guard for one instant when we revive Captain Black – not for one instant, is that clear? And spend every moment we have between now and the time Doctor Fawn tells us that he’s ready to revive him trying to anticipate what his next move is going to be – because he’s already worked it out. Dismissed.”
“What’s the normal current through the phase rectifier, Doctor? Normal for a human, that is.”
Doctor Fawn joined Scarlet at the console. “Twenty-five milliamps, Captain – though it’s sometimes necessary to increase that by up to fifteen per cent if the occupant suffers from chronic insomnia.”
He peered at the settings on the display in front of him and frowned, absently rubbing the back of his head. “He seems to have left that one alone, I see. Interesting… it’s a pity we can’t spend longer experimenting with the settings while he’s still sedated: we’d learn a lot about Mysterons. Apart from anything else, I’d probably be able to gain a better understanding of your own physiology, Captain Scarlet – though I’d be the first to admit that I’m the least important factor in your healing process …”
Scarlet shook his head. “You can always try experimenting on me after this is all over, Doctor – as long as you don’t raise the voltage too high! As it is, we need him awake as soon as possible – and in the right frame of mind to answer a lot of questions too. The one thing we can be quite certain of is that this base won’t be safe until he’s off it – and I for one will be pressing Colonel White to have him moved to a high-security land-based facility at the earliest opportunity once he’s out of this thing. Is there any way we can resuscitate him with some form of truth drug already in his system?”
Doctor Fawn frowned. “Not without knowing far more about his metabolic processes than I do at the moment. It might get him talking sixteen to the dozen, but for all I know it could just as easily kill him – or it might have no effect at all. I mean, look at these settings for the delta wave inducers! As you said yourself earlier, that they’re off the scale in human terms.”
He rubbed his bruise again thoughtfully. “You know, if we were dealing with a normal person I’d describe something as extreme as this as an attempt to wipe his brain completely clean. A total reboot, you might say… Perhaps he’s trying to purge himself of the Mysteron consciousness – have you considered that? If that’s the case, probably the best thing we can do is to get him out while he’s still got a brain to be purged. How are you doing with that override he rigged up, Captain Blue?”
Captain Blue stepped back from the control panel, which was now sprouting an additional assortment of cables and makeshift devices over and above the cannibalised circuitry that the capsule’s occupant had himself installed earlier in the day. “I’ve rigged up a series of auxiliary filters to bypass his override, and restored the power couplings to their default settings: all I have to do is divert the power from this console and it should revert to its normal mode of operation immediately. You should then be able to shut down the capsule using the standard procedure, Doctor.”
Doctor Fawn peered disdainfully at the morass of cables strewn all over the floor. “You’re quite sure you’ve got this sorted, Captain? I really don’t want to have to extract a smoking corpse from that capsule, even if the number of weeping mourners on Cloudbase at his funeral could probably be counted on the fingers of no hands.”
Captain Blue brushed some of the grime from the cabling off his hands. “I’m as sure as I can be that it’ll work, Doctor – and I really don’t think there’s anything to be gained by going through it again. The mess he made of it when he booby-trapped it was so complicated that I’d risk electrocuting myself if I attempted to disentangle everything.”
He held up his hands, which were black with dirt, and grimaced. “This was just from cross-checking the colour codes of both ends of the wiring – which I’ve gone over three times already. All I should have to do is flick this switch… and control should be restored to the main console – after which he’s in your hands, Doctor. I say we do it. How about you, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet’s cap mike dropped into position, his epaulettes flashing white as the call was routed directly to the control room.
“Colonel White – we’re ready to begin the resuscitation process. Do we have your permission to proceed, sir?”
Up in the control room, Colonel White reached for his microphone. “Permission granted, Captain Scarlet. Keep this channel open throughout the process: at the first sign of any trouble I want to be able to have a squad of security guards in that lab within thirty seconds.”
“Very good, Colonel.” He turned to Captain Blue. “All right, Adam… let’s find out what this is all about, shall we? If anything starts to go wrong we’re both armed. And just to make sure he’s aware of the fact from the second he wakes up…”
He drew his pistol and levelled it at the capsule, then looked at Doctor Fawn. “We can start whenever you’re ready, Doctor. Just give the word.”
Doctor Fawn strode over to the master console and ran his fingers over it. “I’m ready, Captain Blue.”
Captain Blue flicked the switch, then stood back as the lights on the console began to glow. “It looks good from here, Doctor – how about the main console?”
Doctor Fawn nodded cautiously. “I’m getting readings of his vital signs… no sign of his delta wave activity yet, but that’s not surprising after all this… oh, wait a moment… yes – that’s coming back on stream too. I think you’ve done it, Captain Blue! Encephalographic traces are beginning to stabilise… he’s definitely starting to waken…”
The faint high-pitched whine that had been emanating from the capsule since its discovery began to die away as the mechanism began to shut itself down... and the three officers looked at each other in growing apprehension as other sounds began to take its place – a cacophony of distant alarms from somewhere else on the base.
Scarlet strode away from the console, put his hand over his other ear and spoke into the still-open channel to the control room. “Colonel White? This is Scarlet – we can hear something that sounds like warning sirens from where we are: can you tell us what’s happening, please?”
Over the link, the tension in Colonel White voice was also clearly audible. “One moment, please, Captain… we’ve got security alerts coming in here… what the devil’s going on, Lieutenant?”
In the main control room, Lieutenant Green was attempting to assimilate and interpret half a dozen data streams simultaneously. “Colonel – I have indications of a major fire in one of the residential apartments on Deck Five. The smoke detectors in that section have gone crazy, and I'm getting images on one of the monitors too... thick black smoke emanating from one of the rooms...”
Scarlet swore loudly. “Deck Five? That's the Pacifican delegates’ suites! Lieutenant Green - which suite is it? Quickly, man!”
There was a pause, during which Scarlet could hear Lieutenant Green’s fingers tapping rapidly at his keyboard over a backdrop of two or three barely audible radio channels. Then... “It's the ambassador's suite, Captain Scarlet! My board indicates that the power to that section has failed again… she must be trapped inside!”
Scarlet groaned, abandoned the control panel and headed for the door at a run. At the exit he swung round. “Adam! Abort the revival sequence on that capsule and then follow me as soon as you can!”
Captain Blue shook his head. “Wait, Paul! I don’t think we can shut down the program in time! The revival sequence has already been initiated – we can’t just…”
“Well… do the best you can! Just pull all the plugs out if you have to… he’s a Mysteron, for God’s sake – it’s not as if you’re going to hurt him if you get it wrong…”
Scarlet set off down the corridor at a run, while Captain Blue stared helplessly at the flickering display in front of him. One by one the dials were steadily rising to their baseline settings, while inside the capsule Captain Black’s eyes snapped open, blazing with vitality. Meanwhile, Captain Blue was shaking his head in rapidly mounting frustration.
“Doctor Fawn – how do I shut this thing down, dammit?”
Fawn hurried to join him at the console, took in the readings at a glance and shook his head. “It’s not possible, Captain – he’s already awake. All we can do is try to reinitiate the sedation sequence… but I really wouldn’t recommend…”
“Do it! We’ve got an emergency on our hands, in case you hadn’t noticed!”
Fawn paused, nodded, and then hurried over to the master console on the other side of the room and inspected the settings, frowning with concentration.
“Captain Blue! I need you to disconnect that cable from the ducting – there’s nothing at all I can do from this end until that power source has been removed… Captain Blue?”
He looked up from the console, having just enough time to register the sight of Captain Blue’s unconscious body lying on the floor beside the now-open capsule before a faint sound behind him made him turn – which was the last thing he remembered before everything suddenly went dark...
Scarlet came running full-tilt round the corner into the corridor outside the ambassador’s suite, almost colliding with Captain Ochre who had clearly only just beaten him to it by a few seconds. Clouds of acrid smoke were billowing into the corridor from the tiny crack between the door and the carpet. Scarlet glanced at the smoke, then turn his attention to his colleague, who had already ripped the panel from the door’s locking mechanism and was inspecting the circuitry.
Ochre frowned. “Not good. According to this device the lock’s completely scrambled – God knows how! If we had time…”
“We don’t! Is there any other way in?”
Ochre shook his head. “There are two observation ports, but they’re built into the outside hull – and they don’t open because of the rarefied atmosphere at this altitude. We might be able to smash one of them from the outside… but we’d have to get to it first, which will require somebody equipped with a jetpack – it’s going to take too long. The only other possibility is access through the air conditioning ducts, but if the power’s offline they’ll be filling up with smoke too. Best bet is through this door – but they’re built to withstand a direct physical assault…”
Ochre nodded grimly. “It’s the only way.” His cap mike swung into position. “Security! I need two or three axes outside the Pacifican ambassador’s suite on Deck Five immediately – we have a life-threatening situation here and need to break down a door… We also need resuscitation equipment and extinguishers for an electrical fire… I repeat...”
While he was relaying the instructions, Scarlet made himself busy rechecking the state of the electronic lock controlling access to the apartment, but his colleague had been quite right – the device was completely dead. Glancing down at the clouds of smoke emanating from the bottom of the door, he realised that the atmosphere inside was almost certainly unbreathable. Taking a deep breath, he lay down on the floor and shouted under the tiny crack into the apartment.
“Marina! Get away from the door – we’re going to try to smash it down! The smoke should be rising, so lie down on the floor and try to breathe calmly and slowly if you can! Do you understand? Tap on the door if you can hear me!”
Silence was the only reply to his shout. Scarlet repeated the request, and was about to try a third time when a clattering of boots running down the corridor heralded the arrival of two security guards carrying the first of the implements – two hefty axes from the nearest fire station plus a large folded fire blanket. Snatching one of the axes, he tossed the other to his colleague.
“Centre of the door first – she may be lying unconscious on the other side of it!” He raised his voice. “Marina – I don’t know if you can hear me, but if you can, get away from the door! Now, Captain Ochre!”
The two men swung the axes in wide arcs, instinctively coordinating their movements so that the two heads slammed into the door simultaneously. The door buckled and shook, but did not yield.
A second time the axes flashed through the air and thudded into the door, but still to no avail.
A third, fourth and fifth time the two axes flew through the air, each time inflicting increasingly serious damage on the door, but still failing actually to smash a hole in it. The sixth impact fared better: the topmost hinge sheared completely, and the door lurched inward, twisting the other two hinges in the process. The two men glanced at one another, then as one charged the door with their shoulders. The remnants of the door were wrenched off the remaining hinges as the two men impacted with it, catapulting them both into the apartment. Instantly assailed by the pall of thick black smoke which billowed and curled around them, they rolled over and over on the floor, coughing violently while trying desperately to locate the room’s occupant in the darkness.
Scarlet’s earlier concern that she might have been lying unconscious directly behind the door having been proved unfounded, he reached back through the shattered doorframe, grabbed the blanket and began to wave it back and forth to force enough of the smoke to dissipate through the doorway to enable them both to see something of the interior of the room. By now more equipment was arriving outside; two powerful torch beams blazed into the room – revealing for the first time the source of the smoke, which was a cupboard at the back of the room. His eyes streaming, Captain Ochre swore.
“Scarlet – that’s… that’s the cupboard we couldn’t open earlier! What the hell…”
Seizing one of the axes, he strode forward and smashed the door off its hinges with a single downward blow – and stared open-mouthed at the array of at least a dozen dazzling crystals inside as they blazed back at him with brilliant, hypnotic, synchronised lights…
Without pausing for thought, he ripped the leads connecting the alien-looking containing device out of their sockets. Scooping the container into his arms, he wrenched it out of the cupboard and staggered into the adjoining bedroom, where his companion was still desperately searching for the ambassador.
“Captain Scarlet! Blow that window out! Now!”
Taking in the still-glowing array of crystals at a glance, Scarlet instantly rolled over onto his knees, drew his pistol and emptied a volley of shots into the nearest observation port, completely destroying the glass. Aided by the instant removal of much of the smoke from the apartment on account of the sudden decompression, Ochre launched himself at the window, hurling the device and its glowing contents out into the evening sky.
Eyes streaming and coughing violently, he swung round to see Scarlet frantically ripping the sheets and pillows off the bed before evidently concluding that the room was uninhabited. With their last vestiges of strength both men staggered out of the bedroom into the hallway, Scarlet slamming the bedroom door shut behind them to contain the decompression before turning to the bathroom to resume the search. Ochre fell through the shattered door into the corridor, only to be roused once more, seconds later, by the sound of faltering footsteps from the interior.
“Here, Captain Ochre. Stand down…. emergency’s over…”
Clearly on the point of collapse, Scarlet emerged from the bathroom, carrying a very bedraggled Marina in his arms, from whom water was pouring copiously onto the floor in front of them both. Tumbling through the door frame, he laid her down on the floor, then leaned over her, kissed her on her forehead and laughed, with just a trace of hysteria in his voice. “She was perfectly safe – provided we managed to get into the room eventually, as obviously she knew we would.”
“Why? Where was she?”
Scarlet grinned. “Lying completely submerged in the bath.”
Ochre stared at him uncertainly. “She was what?”
“She’s an amphibian, Rick – she can breathe both in and out of water. So when there’s no air for her to breathe, the best place for her to be…”
He coughed violently once more and frowned, peering back into the suite with an expression of puzzlement and alarm on his face. “Captain Ochre… maybe it’s the effect of that rarefied atmosphere making me see things, but it seems to me that that cupboard’s still emitting smoke. You did destroy all of those pulsators, didn’t you?”
Ochre blinked at him. “Of course I did! They were all wired through a central…”
He peered through watering eyes back into the apartment and frowned. “Wait a minute…”
He staggered to his feet, made his way unsteadily over to the wrecked cupboard inside, reached down inside it and extracted a blackened pile of cloth from which a pall of acrid smoke was still being sucked into the apartment’s bedroom through the miniscule gap under the closed door.
“This looks like the remains of a uniform, for God’s sake…”
Scarlet nodded sombrely. “It’s a uniform, all right. It’s an Angel’s dress uniform – or at least what’s left of one. But what the hell’s it doing here?”
Captain Ochre gingerly picked up the blackened garment and spread it out on the floor of the corridor in front of him. Rubbing one of his fingers over the grime, he first sniffed it and then touched his tongue to it, grimacing as he did so.
“Ugh – it tastes like fertilizer! Potassium nitrate, maybe… though it’s got a very sweet taste to it… sugar, perhaps? The whole thing’s obviously been soaked in a cocktail of chemicals, and from the look of this mess, I’d say that something was ignited inside it. This takes me back to my high school days: it’s the sort of thing we used to assemble under the workbenches when the teacher’s back was turned to get the local fire department called out… which would answer the question of why use something like this one to wrap it up in. A dress uniform may be for show, but it’s made of the same material as the regulation issue, which is insulating and porous but almost fireproof – and that makes it ideal for containing the heat and controlling the rate of the reaction. Paul, if I wanted to create an incendiary device that burned a long time and produced a lot of smoke, but didn’t actually do that much damage, I might put together something like this…”
The two captains looked at one another. A good five seconds of silence followed, after which Scarlet elected to voice the thought that was going through both of their minds.
“I have a feeling we’ve been tricked…”
“… Understood, Captain Blue!”
Lieutenant Green swung round in his chair. “Colonel White! Captain Blue reports that Captain Black has escaped from the medical facility: both he and Doctor Fawn were attacked and knocked out a few moments ago, which must be the reason I’ve just been unable to contact Sick Bay!”
Colonel White groaned. “How long ago, Lieutenant – can they be precise?”
Lieutenant Green shook his head. “Captain Blue isn’t certain, though he thinks not more than five minutes. They’re attempting to reconstruct the sequence of events now: the resuscitation program on Captain Black’s capsule should have recorded the precise time of his revival…”
Colonel White nodded curtly. “Keep me informed, Lieutenant – and sound General Quarters immediately: security teams to guard the atomic motors, hangar deck, Presidential suite and this control room; also double the guard on the Pacificans’ apartments, the Angels’ standby…”
Lieutenant Green’s gaze was fixed on the monitors built into his control panel. “Colonel… there’s been an incident on the hangar deck… I have reports coming in of two members of the WASP personnel carrier’s maintenance crew being attacked… and the carrier’s lifting off, Colonel!”
“Belay those orders and launch all Angels, Lieutenant! Stop that plane!”
Lieutenant Green’s chair slid the length of his console, his fingers flying over the comms panel before it had stopped moving. “Angel One – immediate launch! Angels Two and Three…”
A flash followed by an explosive crack from the direction of the observation port looking out over the flight deck made them both glance at one another in alarm. Colonel White swivelled in his chair and strode over to the port, only to see clouds of black smoke rising from the deck below, while above it the WASP helijet was rising steadily into the sky above Cloudbase.
“We’re under attack, Lieutenant! Get Angels Two and Three airborne this second!”
Lieutenant Green swivelled in his chair. “Angels Two and Three – immediate launch!” He frowned as the sound of straining hydraulic lifting gear filtered though the speakers above his console, accompanied by an alarming display of flashing lights from several areas of the console simultaneously.
“I have multiple red indications on my board, Colonel: Angel One launch is negative, repeat negative… Destiny reports a direct hit from an air-to-air missile to the drive section of Angel One. She’s uninjured, but the plane has sustained severe damage…”
“Order crash crews to assist Destiny in extracting herself from that plane at once, Lieutenant - and get those other two planes airborne!”
Lieutenant Green frowned. “I’m also registering a power failure to the elevators from the Standby Lounge, Colonel… we’ve no way of getting the pilots of Angels Two and Three into their planes…”
“Tell those girls to use the stairs, Lieutenant! They had legs the last time I saw them!”
Lieutenant Green shook his head in mounting frustration. “It’s no good, Colonel! My board indicates that Melody and Symphony are trapped inside the elevators – and the cockpits are automatically sealed until the pilots’ seats are locked in position inside the planes, so we can’t board the planes manually from the flight deck!”
“Launch Angels Four and Five immediately!”
Again, Lieutenant Green shook his head. “Not possible, Colonel! Angels Four and Five can’t be raised to the flight deck until Angels Two and Three have cleared their launch positions. There’s nothing we can do until the elevator sequences have been reinitialised.”
Colonel White gritted his teeth. “There are going to be some changes to the Angel launch procedure when all this is over, Lieutenant! What’s the status of the WASP transporter now?”
Lieutenant Green’s fingers flew across the board. “The carrier is flying away from Cloudbase on a bearing of one-three-three magnetic and will leave our airspace in fifty seconds, Colonel… and will disappear from our screens within approximately six minutes. Do you think Captain Black is flying it, Colonel?”
Colonel White nodded grimly. “Who else, Lieutenant! Can we track it from space?”
Lieutenant Green shook his head. “I’ve already tried, Colonel. The WASPs have the same capabilities for protecting their aircraft from enemy surveillance that we do: they can render any plane invisible to satellite detection at will. The pilot must have engaged that system already.”
Colonel White glared at him. “Why am I not surprised? All right, Lieutenant… contact Sick Bay and verify that Destiny is uninjured – and while you’re about it, check that the Pacifican ambassador has fully recovered from her ordeal, though I’ve little doubt that Captain Scarlet is taking good care of her. Secondly, put through a call to the World President’s suite and set up a meeting with him at his convenience – I’m surprised his aides haven’t been up here demanding to know what the hell’s going on already. Thirdly, liaise with Captain Ochre with regard to restoring power to the Angels’ standby lounge so we can release Melody and Symphony from those elevators. And when you’ve done all that… get me a cup of coffee, will you? Unless you just happen to have a tot of rum handy…”
“Now then, Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue … how the devil did this shambles come about? I’m not referring to the fire in the ambassador’s apartment: it’s fairly clear in hindsight what caused that… and of course Destiny’s plane was attacked to prevent it from pursuing the WASP helijet. That’s all clear enough. I’m referring to our inability to launch Angels Two and Three in the middle of a crisis! I want answers, gentlemen – and they’d better be good ones!”
Captain Blue took a deep breath. “From what we’ve been able to establish so far, an overload in the electrical systems took the servo-mechanisms controlling the injection elevators feeding the cockpits of both aircraft offline just over four minutes before we called launch stations. Normally we’d have isolated the fault at once and switched to the backup, but when all this happened we already had an emergency on our hands with the fire that had broken out in Marina’s apartment: every alarm in that section had gone off, and the emergency crews were already converging on it to identify the cause. The doors to the elevators in the Angels’ standby lounge are on a different circuit, and they were functioning normally – but once the launch sequence for Angels Two and Three has been activated they’re programmed not to open again until the pilots are installed in their cockpits and the elevators returned to their docked positions below the lounge. The charred state of the wiring in the ducting above Sick Bay indicates that the overload was caused by the same power surge that started the fire; also several of the key power lines had had their insulation removed – so we probably have Captain Black to thank for arranging that too. Too many things happened simultaneously for us to cope with them all: we were defeated by an unfortunate coincidence….”
Colonel White snorted. “Coincidence? Coincidence be damned! That fire in the ambassador’s apartment started the instant we initiated the shutdown procedure on Captain Black’s accelerated sleep capsule… because the act of diverting the power from Captain Black’s little box of tricks in Sick Bay restored the power to its original route – straight to the Pacifican ambassador’s apartment! But in the meantime we’d activated the backup system… just as Captain Black knew we would.”
Scarlet frowned. “Are you saying that all of this was planned, Colonel?”
Colonel White glared at him. “Every last detail of it was planned, Captain Scarlet! Captain Black arranged for an emergency – and a very specific type of emergency at that – to occur on Cloudbase at precisely the instant he would be revived, even though he himself couldn’t have known when that was going to be. The resulting massive surge of power into the ambassador’s suite had three immediate effects. Firstly, it ignited the incendiary device that he’d thoughtfully wired into the fuse box in the cupboard before setting off for Sick Bay. Secondly, it blew all the other fuses, throwing the apartment into darkness and disabling the doors. And thirdly, it supercharged that array of crystals, deceiving whoever found them into believing that they were within seconds of exploding. And it took no genius at all to guess what whoever found them would do the minute they were discovered…”
Scarlet nodded dumbly, recognising the predictability of their own actions. “Get them off the base by any means possible. Just like we did last time.”
“Yes, Captain Scarlet – just like we did last time… except that this time the crystals weren’t our problem at all. They were Captain Black’s problem...”
Captain Blue regarded Colonel White thoughtfully. “Something tells me that you’ve already worked out what that problem was, Colonel.”
“I’m not certain, Captain Blue – but I’m prepared to speculate. Just ask yourselves this: what do those crystals do? Well, there’s no mystery about that: everyone agrees on the general principle. They expand the mind. We’ve already noted a number of practical manifestations of this. It’s already been suggested that the crystals could be responsible for giving Marina and her father Aphony the telepathic powers they share, and you yourself witnessed the ambassador performing a harmless demonstration of telekinesis a couple of days ago. Such parlour tricks – albeit applied with malevolent intent – are routinely employed by the Mysterons as weapons in the War of Nerves against the peoples of the Earth… and the similarity between these crystals and the two Mysteron pulsators we have encountered has already been noted – so let’s ask ourselves what other capabilities these crystals might have, shall we? Would it be too fanciful to speculate that they could imbue someone who was familiar with their capabilities with the ability to manipulate and/or control the minds of others around them? I don’t think so.”
There was silence for a few moments.
“Colonel – are you saying that Captain Black was using the crystals to manipulate the minds of the delegates of the summit? If so, I don’t understand…”
Colonel White shook his head. “No, Captain Scarlet. I’m suggesting that the Pacifican ambassador was using the crystals to manipulate the minds of the delegates of the summit… with a view to ensuring an outcome that the World President would never have agreed to under normal circumstances. I’m also suggesting that she was also manipulating the mind of Captain Black, whom she needed to convey her terms to the Unity City delegation. Do you recall Harmony’s observation about people assigning priorities to their actions? I believe contact with the crystals enabled Marina to alter Captain Black’s perceptions of his identity and his mission, to such an extent that for a while he genuinely believed he was working for the Pacifican cause. At the same time, the Mysteron control over him must have been constantly struggling to reassert itself. Can you imagine what it must have been like for him with two imperatives fighting for supremacy inside his head? The strain on him must have been almost overwhelming: you’ll remember we ourselves commented on his needing a few nights’ sleep.”
Scarlet frowned, remembering. “What was it that Harmony said to me after the reception? ‘I shall be pleased to go to my bed tonight to seek the clarity of sleep.’ I thought she was simply very tired!”
Colonel White nodded grimly. “She was closer to the truth than she knew, Captain – because that’s the reason Captain Black broke into the medical facility. The artificially-accelerated relaxation process that the Room of Sleep induces allows the user to experience the effects of a complete night’s rest in less than half an hour – and Black needed to clear his head to give him time to think. It must have been his fear that Harmony sensed during that dinner engagement the other night – he was probably terrified. His reason was telling him one thing but all his instincts were telling him another: he must have thought he was going out of his mind. Harmony sensed that too – she spoke about his feelings and his actions being somehow out of kilter. She just didn’t realise why.”
Captain Blue frowned. “But why assault Doctor Fawn to get into the Room of Sleep? Why not just ask, for heaven’s sake?”
Colonel White shook his head. “Because, Captain, he realised that Doctor Fawn would have immediately forwarded the request to me. And even if I had agreed, I would probably have informed the Pacificans as a matter of courtesy – and Captain Black simply couldn’t risk Marina finding out where he was. He had to get away from her for just long enough to gather his wits and formulate an action plan – which he then carried out with devastating effect, tricking us into destroying the Pacifican pulsators which had enslaved him while he made good his escape.”
Captain Blue frowned. “Why didn’t he simply destroy the crystals himself? After all, he obviously had enough free will to set up that booby-trap in the ambassador’s apartment!”
Scarlet turned to him. “Being able to communicate with the ambassador mentally myself, I think maybe I can answer that one, Adam. If he had, Marina would have known instantly that the hold she had over him had been broken. One word from her and we’d have thrown him straight in the brig – assuming that you didn’t throttle him first, that is! No… he couldn’t risk that happening. She could probably sense how he felt about the situation he found himself, and the intensity of his resentment, but not what he was actually doing if he was far enough away from her – and he would have realised that. That’s why he excused himself from the meeting when he did: he knew she’d be unable to leave for the rest of the afternoon – and it also explains why she wanted to see him as soon as we found him.”
Colonel White put his fingertips together and looked around the room for a moment before continuing.
“Rhapsody Angel’s dress uniform must have been accidentally returned to the Pacificans before the reception by mistake: a regrettable but simple enough error to make, given that I understand Cloudbase’s cleaning and repair facilities were placed under intense strain prior to the event. The uniform probably lay unnoticed in a corner of the ambassador’s apartment until Captain Black discovered it and subsequently used it as a component of the incendiary device he’d assembled as part of his escape plan. On that point, Captain Ochre tells me that the principal component of a smoke bomb is sugar – a substance that Captain Black obviously had no difficulty obtaining at all – and that the other components of such a device will have been almost as easy to assemble, given the variety of exotic organic substances to which he has had unlimited access over the last three days. As an interesting corollary to this incident, it seems that three bottles of Pacifican seaweed champagne were subsequently found in his apartment, two of them empty – and since it seems most unlikely that he actually drank them, I await the chemical analysis of that remarkable substance with interest.”
He paused and took a short sip from the glass of water in front of him.
“Gentlemen, I think Captain Black honestly believed he was promoting the interests of the Pacificans. The mistake that both Spectrum and Black himself made was to believe that he was acting on the orders of the Mysterons, when in reality the Mysterons had nothing to do with it. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if it was on their orders that Captain Black first journeyed to Pacifica – to determine whether the crystals could be converted into Mysteron pulsators, perhaps? If so, the newly-signed treaty with Unity City should safeguard us against that possibility. Let us hope that both sides honour it: it’s in everyone’s interests that they should.”
Captain Blue frowned. “But, Colonel – surely the World President will declare the treaty null and void when he realises what’s happened? After all, you can hardly be expected to honour a treaty you’ve been tricked into signing!”
Colonel White spread his hands. “What proof has he that he was tricked into signing it, Captain Blue? For that matter, what proof do we have that he was tricked into signing it? All we have is speculation – much of it generated around this table during the last three days. But look at the situation in which we now find ourselves. Captain Black is gone, the crystals are destroyed, and the Pacificans will insist that the treaty was drawn up and signed in good faith. There isn’t one single shred of evidence that he can produce to indicate otherwise. And on top of that, Marina was careful enough to insist that the treaty be fast-tracked for ratification – so the wheels have already been set in motion. No… even if he wants to, there’s nothing he can do now. If he were to try, then his enemies in Unity City – and he has plenty of them – would exploit it as a clear case of employing strong-arm tactics with the helpless victims of a former enemy’s tyranny.”
“But he’s still bound to realise that he’s been tricked! He’ll have to do something!”
Colonel White shrugged. “Captain Blue, if President Younger were to ask for my advice – something which I might add he has never done before – I’d probably suggest that he pursue the course of action Rhapsody told me one of his aides was contemplating to boost his popularity ratings. He could ask the Lady Marina to marry him – in which case, if she were to accept, he might just possibly manage to get a handful of those crystals as a wedding present…”
“Mr President, allow me on behalf of Spectrum to congratulate you on the successful completion of the negotiations for admission of the first of the underwater nations so recently freed from Titan’s tyranny to full membership of the World Government. I trust that the coming months and years will see many more of the undersea peoples applying for membership, confident in the knowledge that the resulting security and prosperity that this offers will bring a new dawn for all the peoples of the Earth.”
President Younger nodded sagely. “Thank you for those kind words, Colonel – and for the hospitality shown both to my own team of advisors and our new Pacifican friends throughout the last few days. I confess that I am indeed proud to share those noble sentiments that you have just voiced so eloquently, and both honoured and humbled to find myself charged with the great responsibility of ensuring their fulfilment. Today is indeed an auspicious day – let us work together to ensure that it is merely the first of many. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to propose a toast to our new friends and allies, the citizens of the newest member of the World Government, Pacifica! And most especially, to our honoured guest, the Lady Marina, whose wisdom and far-reaching vision laid the foundations of the pan-global confederacy that we shall surely see rise from these humble beginnings.”
He paused for a few seconds, taking the opportunity to read ahead on the autocue and adjust the tone of his voice to accentuate the gravity of the next sentence.
“I would ask the Lady Marina herself to reply, but the terrible legacy of the evil Titan’s tyranny continues to prevent her from enjoying even this basic inalienable right of all the Terrainean nations… and regrettably her translator has been called away urgently for personal reasons, so I shall ask her to join me on this podium, and then read a statement that has been prepared by her team for me to deliver.”
Reaching out and taking the ambassador’s hand, he stood to one side as she stepped up to join him, then holding the piece of paper just high enough to allow the cameras to see it without either of their faces being obscured, he began to read.
“On behalf of my people, I wish to thank the World President and all the peoples of the land masses of the planet Earth for extending the hand of friendship to the citizens of the underwater kingdom of Pacifica…”
While he was talking, Rhapsody glanced round the room at the array of video cameras recording the proceedings – every one of them operated by either a member of the Unity City delegation or Spectrum. They’re certainly not taking any chances of a live foul-up one this occasion, she thought to herself. Maybe Rufus was right: perhaps the whole thing did need to be stage-managed from start to finish when so much was at stake. Talking of whom….
She grinned to herself, slipped her hand inside the collar of her uniform to straighten her bra strap, then marched smartly over to the solitary, wretched-looking man leaning against one of the walls at the back of the conference room.
“Hello again, Mr Benson! You’ll be leaving shortly, I understand? Harmony Angel and I will be escorting your SPJ back to Unity City – not that I imagine you’ll notice, since presumably you’ll be breaking out that case of oysters from the Arafura Sea that the Pacificans gave the WP as a parting gift…”
Rufus stared at her, wild-eyed and clearly slightly the worse for drink. “Are you trying to be funny? He’s absolutely furious – I’ve never seen him so angry! I’m probably going to lose my job over this!”
He peered at the bundle of photocopies in his hand and shook his head in bewilderment. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it! We must have been mad – completely and utterly mad!”
He gestured with a quivering hand at the top sheet of the pile.
“Look at this! Mining rights to be determined by sole decree of the Pacificans… disputes to be settled by arbitration with the Pacificans holding 51% of the voting rights… all extracted crystals to be quarantined within Pacifica for a period of no less than two years from the date of their recovery – and then only released subject to an absolute veto by a committee chaired by Pacifica’s ruler… educational facilities to be supplied on demand for all citizens of Pacifica, with all costs to be borne by the World Government for a period of no less than ten years… credit to be extended to Pacifica via the IMF at preferential rates of interest for a period of no less than twenty years… it just goes on and on!”
Rhapsody raised a modest eyebrow. “Of course I don’t understand these things, Mr Benson – it’s one of the reasons I chose a career in the military as opposed to following my father into the diplomatic arena – but it does seem to me that the World President could well be right when he said he expected more of the underwater races to apply for membership. On the face of it, these do seem to be somewhat generous terms… though I have little doubt that the World Government’s benevolence to a people who’ve suffered so much at Titan’s hands will ensure an unprecedented surge in President Younger’s popularity ratings once the terms have been released to the world’s media. There won’t be much you need to do to put the right spin on this diplomatic triumph, eh?”
Rufus peered at her miserably. “I’m not so sure, actually. We might have to tone it down a bit before it goes out – just in case one of his enemies manages to get him invited onto a chat show with a psychiatrist…”
Captain Scarlet watched with his beautiful green-haired companion from the observation lounge as the World President’s jet, flanked by the two Angel jets, dwindling in size to a tiny dot in the sky, then fade into nothingness.
“I can’t say I’m sad to see the back of them, Marina. Are you sure this is the right path for your people? You’ve fought for it long and hard, I know – but it could be a hollow victory if things don’t turn out quite the way you’re expecting.”
She turned to him, her expression enigmatic.
“There is a poem, its origins lost in the antiquity of your people, which tells of the gift of prophecy being bestowed on a mortal by the Queen of Elfland. It contains the following words: ‘Don’t you see that narrow, narrow road, so thick beset with thorns and briars? That is the road to righteousness, though after it but few enquire…’. I have no doubt as to the narrowness of the road we have to travel, or the thorns and briars that will beset us along the way – but I cannot doubt that it is the right road, for there is no other for us.”
She brushed her hair away from her face, looking into the far distance.
“As to the future, I cannot tell – for I am not the Queen of Elfland.”
Scarlet grinned at her. “You know, somehow I’m not too sure about that, Marina! You’ve already brought us telepathy, mysterious crystals that glow and telekinesis… to say nothing of your own physiology that enables you to breathe either in water or air. My ancestors would have had not the slightest doubt as to who you are: fairies, elves, goblins and demons were as real to them as Cloudbase is to us now. In fact, I sometimes wonder if history is repeating itself, bearing in mind what we’ve learned about Titan and his aquaphibians during the last three or four years. A decade ago we’d have laughed ourselves silly at the notion of a goblin-like tyrant and a race of demonic thugs living at the bottom of the ocean! Nobody’s laughing now… all it took was the realisation of just how dangerous they were for a full-scale war to be organised to get them wiped out – and a good job too. What they’re now discovering about what went on inside Titan’s torture complex doesn’t bear thinking about…”
For the first time he sensed a steely coldness in her.
“The Terraineans must destroy Aquatraz utterly. It must be dismantled stone by stone… not merely appropriated, as it has been. They do not understand how the underwater people feel about this – and their failure to do so damages their cause in our eyes. It was for that reason that I insisted on the right to appeal to the WASPs in the event of a dispute in matters of security: if all else fails, I shall appeal to my friends there to intervene on our behalf – for I know they will come to our aid.”
She turned to him with troubled eyes.
“Captain Scarlet – Aquatraz is even now being converted into what has been termed a ‘correction facility’; under the auspices of the Terraineans but run by some of the underwater races who opposed Titan. During Titan’s reign it was known as a place of unspeakable fear… but that is nothing to the fear that its name now instils in those condemned to spend the rest of their lives within its walls – for they know that they will truly experience terror at the hands of those they themselves terrorised before they die. And there are some who could not face that terror – including the arch-criminal who managed Aquatraz at Titan’s behest during the final war, and who at the end of his life begged on his knees to be allowed to die rather than submit to the ‘humanity’ of the Terraineans.”
The clouds began to clear from Scarlet’s mind. “You mean… Surface Agent X20?”
Marina nodded slowly. “Yes. He smuggled a message to me beseeching me to take pity on him – for he knew I was the only one in Marineville who could understand the unutterable fear that assailed him. Even then I would not have been able to bring myself to do it, but for one thing. There was a time, many years ago, when things were very different between us. It was my memory of those days that gave me the strength to help him walk an easier path than the one prescribed for him by fate.”
She disregarded his interruption with the determination of one who, having decided to reveal a secret, would not now be stopped.
“We were very young. I met Artura on the occasion of my fifteenth birthday. I was accompanying my father at an official reception for a group of dignitaries from the city of Kahzu. He was the son of one of their advisors, and was studying in Pacifica at the time within a small community of Kahzuvian students – he was but seventeen himself, hot-head and impetuous, and intensely interested in the recent discovery that there were races that actually dwelt on the surface of our world – indeed, the question of how the underwater races should respond to the discovery was the purpose of the meeting. His father summoned him to attend the reception, which was where we met. Many there were wary of the Terraineans, and urged that we conceal ourselves from their eyes as long as possible.
“One delegate, already known to all as a loud-mouthed bully but adulated by an easily-swayed primordial crustacoid race, argued forcefully that our discovery was merely a matter of time, and that we should prepare for the bloody conflict that he had no doubt would come. He asserted further that if we did not support him in this then he would prepare for war alone, and that the devil could take us all when the time came. We had little time for him then, but in hindsight perhaps we should have listened – for his name was Titan, and irrespective of how unpalatable his opinions might have been at the time, he has since been proved correct.
“Even though he had no official standing at the reception, Artura alone spoke in favour of the Terraineans. He argued with everyone, including members of his own race – much to his father’s embarrassment, I think. He saw no harm in the Terraineans, and urged that we make efforts to greet them as friends when the first vessels arrived in our domain, as surely they would in due course. His words inspired me with hope for a bright future for all our peoples, Terrainean and underwater alike, and after the debate I sought him out to speak with him. I found him intelligent and articulate, and it was not long before we both began to realise that our interest in each other’s views and opinions was not all that bound us.
“After the reception was over and the delegates had returned to their cities, Artura continued with his studies in Pacifica. We continued to meet, sometimes within and sometimes outside the palace walls. We were necessarily discreet as he knew I was betrothed, but I think that only added to the excitement for him. I soon realised that he had a remarkable talent for disguise – many times he surprised me when I thought I was being approached by a complete stranger, only to discover that it was he. One day he persuaded me to meet him in the evening, away from the palace. I managed to escape from the auspices of my ladies-in-waiting on the pretence of having retired for the night, and after having escaped through a window to meet him we returned together to the house in which he was lodging with the intention of his introducing me to his friends – but they had all gone out…
She turned to face him, her expression unreadable.
“He was my first lover, Captain Scarlet. He was gentle and kind, hard though you might find that to believe now. But fate was to intervene in a way that neither of us could have anticipated – for he had been followed. Even as we lay entwined in each other’s arms, palace guards burst in and apprehended him on suspicion of being a spy. They had learned of his talent for disguise but mistaken his motives for employing them, and evidently considered a clandestine meeting with a palace maid after nightfall one step too far – and had therefore moved to arrest him. By the time they discovered the identity of the ‘palace maid’ it was too late: my father had already been roused from his sleep and the Kahzuvian ambassador summoned to the palace to explain the actions of one of their subjects. Young as we were, even we could comprehend the depth of the embarrassment we had caused.
“I believe even now that all might have been made well between Pacifica and Kahzu despite the gravity of our crime, but it was not to be. I begged my father to forgive Artura, but he could not. My own betrothal was now in jeopardy – and since that betrothal had been forged years previously to secure a political alliance of critical value to Pacifica’s security, the importance of this was deemed to take precedence over all else. Steps were therefore taken to conceal the incident from public knowledge for ever. Artura was banished from Pacifica for espionage, and all of the Kahzuvian students lodging within the city were expelled. No attempt was made to minimize the publicity of the action taken against them, for the purpose was to convince the people of my husband-to-be that any tale they might subsequently hear of my own impropriety was nothing more than a fabrication of the Kahzuvians. I was forbidden from speaking to Artura ever again, or even from looking at him when he and his companions took their leave.
“But there was more to come. A month or so later news reached Pacifica that a terrible disaster had befallen the city of Kahzu. Tales were told of a massive explosion on the sea bed which caused a great chasm to open in the ocean floor, swallowing the city and all its inhabitants within the space of a few moments. The timing of the explosion was such that Artura and all the Kahzuvians we had expelled would have arrived there upon the very day it happened.
“Immediately upon hearing the news we dispatched teams of specialists in the arts of healing to see if there was any help we could offer, but by the time they arrived there was nothing to be found except unrecognisable debris… and Terrainean vessels. Slowly the truth dawned on us: the Terraineans were mining the sea bed – and in their ignorance of the existence of the underwater city had utterly destroyed it. Our teams returned in haste to Pacifica, not knowing what had befallen the Kahzuvians.
“It was to be several years before I found out what had happened to Artura. Doubtless too ashamed to face his father, he had lagged behind his companions – and they entered the city just hours before the disaster, perishing in the inferno. Artura alone survived on account of his shame… and my heart wept for him, realising as I did that having believed himself cruelly betrayed by his lover, he had arrived home in time only to mourn the death of his entire race at the hands of the Terraineans. Captain Scarlet, it takes no great imagination to guess what his next step would have been. Now a humiliated outcast, he turned to the one person who recognised the Terrainean threat for what it really was – and who alone among the underwater peoples offered a practical means to deal with it.
“Whether the tales he told his new mentor of our perfidy were instrumental in bringing about Titan’s decision to destroy Pacifica I know not, but I cannot doubt that they were sufficient to persuade Titan that I should be captured alive and incarcerated in Aquatraz – for Artura himself was waiting for me there. Titan’s curse of eternal silence upon my family prevented me from remonstrating with him… and the revenge he exacted upon me there was terrible. I told you that I was no stranger to such things, Captain – and indeed, my fate at the hands of the Terrainean sailors was as nothing compared with the unspeakable cruelty of the aquaphibians, who would certainly have tortured and killed me had not they been forbidden from doing so by the one man they feared – Titan himself. And you may guess what price he exacted from me for issuing that order...”
She looked away from him.
“Whatever he commanded, I did… and for me those commands were doubly terrible, for I dared not complain nor even give one hint of my loathing for that which was required of me, lest I was betrayed by one of the other prisoners for a scrap of food. That I survived that unspeakable ordeal is testament to my success in deceiving everyone – my own Artura included – into believing that when I was summoned to his room, I went willingly. You must believe me when I say I did not…
“Captain Scarlet – Titan spared my life… but he would not forbid others from expressing their disgust at what they saw as my willing acceptance of my situation. The aquaphibian guards treated me abominably… for they took such orders as they chose to obey from my own Artura, who saw with his own eyes the trifling favours that his master bestowed upon me for submitting to his will, but could not understand my reasons for accepting them.”
She brushed away the tears that had begun to trickle down her cheeks.
“On the night before his banishment to Aquatraz to begin his sentence, I took one of the mind-expanding crystals with me to his cell. We sat together in silence, sharing at first our feelings, and as the night wore on, our memories of our experiences since that time – mine with the Terraineans, and his in the service of his master, Titan. For the first time I grasped the true extent of his hatred of the Terrainean peoples and the reasons for it… and he came to understand the terrible wrong he had done me. At the end, after seeking and being granted my forgiveness, he begged me to give him the poison that he had insisted I bring with me. I stayed with him as he drank it, and I held him in my arms as he died.”
She looked up defiantly into his eyes. “Will you have me charged with murder, Captain Scarlet? I shall offer no defence, and will not challenge the charge should you choose to do so. I would ask only that if you do, then you subsequently use every means within your power to ensure that the Terraineans do not renege on the agreement that we have signed today – for I have no doubt that they will do so if they possibly can. They may not understand how they find themselves at such a disadvantage after taking such pains to try to trick us out of our birthright, but that will not prevent them from attempting to recover the situation at the first available opportunity.”
Scarlet looked at her speculatively. “My fellow officers have ventured the opinion that Unity City delegation’s failure to assess the situation accurately may have been... how shall I put it… augmented to a certain degree. I don’t suppose you’d know anything about that?”
“I? It is true that I did nothing to dispel their belief that the task they faced would be a simple one. My friend Atlanta might have observed that it is substantially less easy to take candy from a baby if one fails to appreciate that the baby has teeth. On that point, suffice to say that I found it advantageous to keep my mouth closed. After all, why should I open it when I cannot speak?”
Scarlet suppressed a smile. “Colonel White recently reminded me of a book that was required reading at the academy: it was written thousands of years ago by a Chinese general. Perhaps when you’re granted full membership of the World Government you might like to download a copy from the Unity City Congress library – though something tells me it won’t contain much that surprises you.”
He took her hand in his own. “As the World President said earlier, we stand at the dawn of a new era for all the peoples of the Earth, Marina. I look forward to seeing you and your people enjoying the warmth of the sun as it rises into the sky. But… er…”
He looked deep into her eyes while squeezing her fingers gently.
“… have a care, will you? People who spend too much time enjoying the warmth of the sun sometimes get burned…”
When I first watched the Gerry Anderson puppet shows as a child during their very first showings during the 1960s with my TV21 comic open in front of me, the shape of things to come was very clear. Obviously there would be a unified world, with a World President – and obviously he would look like the one we saw in the opening episode of CS, because that’s what World Presidents look like. And equally obviously there would be a need for lots of security organisations like the ones whose adventures that so caught our imaginations… though at the time I never stopped to wonder why we’d be needing lots of security organisations if the New World Order was such a desirable thing – and that was what started me writing this story. I mean, what happens if you aren’t a member of the World Government? Can you apply to join? And at least as importantly, would you want to? For a deal to work both sides have to be satisfied that they gain from it, otherwise it just doesn’t happen – so who gains from an arrangement like the one I’ve outlined in this story?
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Surface Agent X20. Oh, I’m well aware he’s known to the world as Titan’s toadie and a thoroughly incompetent little weasel to boot, but I said to myself “Hang on a minute - you don’t get to be a trusted advisor to a ruthless megalomaniac like Titan if you haven’t got what it takes”, so I started wondering whether the tales of his comical bungling had been simply exaggerated by the Terraineans as a part of the concerted media campaign they’d be conducting against the underwater races as a matter of routine to support the war effort. In that light the “Stingray” TV series becomes war propaganda for kids, much as “Spy Smasher” and “Captain America” promoted suitably patriotic values to the younger generation of the US at the height of World War II.
Captain Black’s little scheme for creating a diversion at the precise instant he was revived was based loosely on a Health & Safety film I watched many years ago in which an explosion in a laboratory was found to have been caused by the fact that a letter stating that the gas was due to be cut off for an hour or so that morning for routine maintenance work was still in the manager’s in-tray. This in turn wasn’t communicated to the researchers, who failed to turn off the gas taps properly after trying unsuccessfully to work – so when the supply was restored later in the morning during the resulting extended coffee break the room was filled with gas. When the returning researchers opened the door the gas was instantly ignited, resulting in the hospitalisation of several of them with third degree burns.
Is it possible to have one’s normal priorities so rearranged that the obvious is rendered completely inconsequential? I read a tale some years ago about a contract bridge expert who was asked by his colleagues after the hand they had just finished whether he’d noticed anything unusual about it. He thought for a moment, then replied that the way the club suit had been played out during the hand had actually surprised him a little. He was subsequently informed that the waitress who had served a round of drinks to them all while they were playing it was stark naked. His fellow players had arranged the stunt for a bet concerning the extent of their mutual friend’s powers of concentration – so it seems that such matters are well within the realms of human capabilities, even without the assistance of alien mind-bending tricks.
The imperative to understand your enemy before engaging in battle with him is an adage that is probably as old as mankind, but Sun Tzu was probably the earliest to formalise and expand upon it. “The Art of War” contains not just that particular requirement of a good general but a host of other gems, many of which can be found at http://www.military-quotes.com/Sun-Tzu.htm, including this pearl of wisdom: “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.” The paramount importance of deception is expounded upon at length, including the need to mislead your enemy as to your strength, intelligence, stamina and readiness for battle. Perhaps Marina’s ancestors helped him write his masterpiece.
As with “The Concordian Legacy”, the story to which “Meet the Enemy” is effectively a sequel, I came across several parallels with the situation in Iraq when writing this. For Titan read Saddam Hussein, once all-powerful but now defeated and gone, leaving uncharted territory in his wake in which erstwhile allies in adversity become enemies in the new order and vice versa. My interpretation of Surface Agent X20 suggests to me Tariq Aziz: the public face of his now-deceased master and a well-informed and politically astute individual in his own right, who found himself on the wrong side when the showdown finally came. I also don’t imagine anybody missed the reference to Abu Ghraib in the form of Aquatraz – the enemy’s infamous torture complex that merely changed hands once the war was over – and it should come as no surprise to anyone to learn the true nature of Marina’s brutalisation during the period of her incarceration there. Regimes as calculatingly vicious as Titan’s do not enslave young women merely to get their floors scrubbed.
I’ve also always felt that Surface Agent X20 and Marina probably had a bit of a past that we were never told about in the “Stingray” TV series – probably for reasons of delicacy on account of its being a kids’ show – so I created one in this story, adding in the process the detail that even the gentle Pacificans aren’t immune from the charge of having a few skeletons in the closet.
Marina herself is necessarily an enigmatic character, since the reader isn’t supposed to be able to work out whether she’s a goodie or a baddie until almost the last moment – and not with any degree of certainty even then. The reality is supposed to be something between, with the innocence of her youth destroyed by some horrific experiences, but above which she’s subsequently risen. Now probably in her mid-twenties in Terrainean terms, she’s a woman who understands the world far better than most would ever wish to, and has acquired a ruthless streak borne of necessity in the process – which she’ll certainly need to cope with the task that has befallen her. Anyone she does allow into her life is going to be rather less important to her than she is to them, which is something that Scarlet only belatedly realises, though his obvious devotion to her remains undiminished – because she’s quite simply one hell of a woman.
As to her protestation that she’s not the Queen of Elfland… personally I see her rather better suited to the role of the King of Elfland’s Daughter, who was stolen away from her domain by a mortal prince to become the queen of his earthly kingdom. With the World President as a potential suitor, I’d be interested to find out whether Marina accepts that role one day. Who can tell?
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