A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” Story
with certain concepts & characters borrowed from “Doctor Who”
by Clya Brown
I’ve often thought of writing a story to explore the origins of the Mysterons, but always felt it was rather a risky thing to do. That’s because many Captain Scarlet fans have theories on the subject, and in writing a story based on my own ideas, I’m almost certainly flatly contradicting many other scenarios at least as valid, and thereby risking alienating the very people who are most likely to read it. However, I shall appeal to a higher authority to justify writing it. In 1931 the mathematician and logician Kurt Gödel proved that within any formal system, there exist questions that are neither provable nor disprovable on the basis of the axioms defining that system. Now as I see it, “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” is a formal system, defined by the background concepts for the series envisaged by the scriptwriters, and by the episodes based upon those concepts subsequently filmed for television. To my knowledge the question of the origins of the Mysterons was not addressed within that canon, and it’s with that omission in mind that I’ve created the scenario described in this story. According to Gödel (and who am I to argue with Gödel?) it’s neither provable nor disprovable, and can therefore be accepted or rejected with equal validity. Either way, I hope it will entertain – because that’s the reason I wrote it.
In the rotting damp, dark depths of a Theban prison, a slave lay dying. Whether it be day or night he knew not, nor cared. His breathing became ever more erratic as the combination of his rancid surroundings and disease brought on by acute malnutrition slowly stifled the life force within him, inexorably crushing his will to live – he was but a short step from death, and he knew it. He would gladly sleep the sleep of eternity now could he but shake the all-pervasive stench of human waste from his nostrils, but he knew that even this respite would be denied him; he had heard others scream for their jailor to come and release them from their torment, but none answered their call but to laugh and taunt. On his last day alive, in his final hour, he reflected for the hundredth time upon the irony of his situation. Far from his homeland, betrayed first by his family and more recently by the high-born bitch who seduced him in her husband’s own bedroom, he had just a few short months ago been able to reflect that he’d profited greatly from his enforced exile. That it should all end in a fetid hole like this offended his sense of justice.
A flurry of activity in the corner of his cell caused him to stir – the rat was back. The slave glared at it momentarily, but then sank back against the wall again, his will even to be angry at the interruption all but gone. The flicker of a smile crept across his parched lips as he studied the filthy rodent as it busied itself with its daily chores. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company now, my little friend?” he muttered, the words little more than rasping grunts. “Have you come back to see me die? Are you so free of sin that you are deemed fit to live by the gods of this land whilst I am not?” The rat paid him no heed, and set about washing itself in one of the stinking puddles at his feet. The prisoner closed his eyes to brood once more, and to conserve what little strength remained in his body, though to what purpose he knew not.
In between the increasingly frequent spasms of pain that lanced through his body he sensed that he was no longer alone. Forcing himself to twist in the chains that constrained him, he could discern the outline of someone standing a few feet away, watching him in the darkness. Strange, he mused, that he’d not heard footsteps echo in the passageway, but in his delirium he dismissed the mystery with the assumption that he had been unconscious when the stranger arrived. Frowning with concentrated effort, he tried to focus on the other, but save for the vague outline of a full-length cloak he could perceive no detail in the apparition. Barely able to speak, the question that tumbled from his parched lips took the form of a single word.
“You are dying. Do not resist – be at peace in these last moments.”
The stranger’s voice was mellifluous and sibilant, soft-spoken but betraying a strength of purpose that his few words could not conceal. The slave detected no malice in the voice, despite their evident finality. The stranger moved closer, and the slave could now make out the outlines of a gleaming mask about his head, decorated with the symbols of power of the rulers of this land - a stylised eye, a snake and the ankh. Despite the apparent absence of eye sockets in the mask, the slave did not doubt that the stranger could see him, and tried in vain to shrink away fearfully from the intense gaze that he felt rather than saw. But the stranger made no move to threaten him, and presently spoke again.
“How came you here to this place of death, slave?”
Something in the tone of his voice commanded the slave to answer, despite his rapidly failing faculties.
“The wife of my master bore false witness against me. She said…that…I ravished her when I…would not lie with her willingly. He found us…together…”
His words died away in a spasm of choking, and he fell back, trying to regain his strength to continue his tale.
“In my land, I was chosen by my father to lead my people upon his death, but my brothers were jealous, for I was not the eldest. They sold me as a slave, and doubtless told our father that I was dead.”
A sound that the slave took to be a sigh escaped from the stranger's lips.
“To be betrayed by one's kin is the worst perfidy, and the least easy to forgive.”
An edge had crept into the stranger's voice, and the slave wondered at what manner of slight the other might have suffered at the hands of his noble family. Curious to the last, he sought to understand the reason for the other’s presence.
“Why are you here, Lord?”
“I have come for you.”
“Are you Death, then?”
The stranger took a step forward, and leaned over the dying man.
“No. I am Life. Die now, and in dying, live again to serve me.”
So saying he stretched forward his hand, and lightly touched the slave on his temple. A fireball of light exploded inside his head, and for an instant all the pain and torment was taken from him - felt the blood returning once again to his hands and feet, felt his heart pounding in his chest, felt his lungs expand one last time before he sank back into his filthy corner and died.
The stranger regarded him dispassionately for a few seconds, watching inscrutably as two glowing rings of phosphorescence slowly lit the far wall. Floating lazily across the cell, they swept over the body of the slave before fading into the darkness yet again. Once again, all was still. The stranger stood alone in the blackness, waiting. And then he was no longer alone. From out of the blackness walked a man. Dressed as he was exactly like the now dead slave lying at his feet, had anyone regarded them together he would have sworn them to be twin brothers. But there was no-one to compare them save the stranger, and he showed no surprise.
Outside the locked and bolted door of the prison, the guard stamped his feet and yawned: the end of his watch waited two long hours, and he was both hungry and tired. But in an instant his body straightened and the brutal expression etched in the lines of his face faded and was gone. Turning, he mechanically opened the door to allow a masked man and his attendant to walk from the jail, closing and bolting the door behind them as they left. The stranger turned to speak briefly to him, noting without comment the man’s expressionless face.
“A prisoner lies dead in his irons. Take his body and bury it. And you have not seen either my companion or myself. No-one shall know what has happened here.”
In the soporific heat of the late afternoon, the business of the day was drawing to its close in and around the precincts of the Temple of Horus. Street vendors began to count their earnings of the day whilst their wives and children busied themselves with the task of packing away the unsold produce for their return upon the morrow; lawyers and scribes closed their shutters and shared a joke or two with each other over a glass of wine at the expense of their more demanding and idiosyncratic clients. Down the street, their apprentices flirted with the temple harlots whilst negotiating a reasonable price for an hour of closer communion with the gods. In the street a pack of stray dogs chased a flock of lost chickens down the road in a cacophony of howls and yelps, prompting a furious response from the children of a nearby stallholder, who pelted them with eggs in a futile attempt to expel them from their patch.
A bellowed curse from massive soldier who had just entered the square sent them scurrying in the direction of their mother’s protective arms, as she shepherded them into the shadows of a nearby alleyway. Seconds later other soldiers followed the first into the square, causing a frantic flurry of activity as the street was cleared upon the orders from the captain of the squad as his men marched down the road towards the Temple. Those that could not move fast enough were physically thrown aside; stalls whose awnings projected into the thoroughfare were instantly demolished; those traders stupid enough to protest being beaten to the ground. More soldiers, and yet more, then a squadron in ceremonial dress bearing instruments – suddenly it was apparent to the bewildered citizens that this was no ordinary military exercise.
Trumpets blared; harps were played; drums rolled, and the people fell on their faces in the sand and dust that swirled about the ground as the Pharaoh was carried in his golden chariot through the concourse to pray at the Temple. The bareheaded priests likewise fell upon the ground at his arrival. Not by the slightest turning of his head did he acknowledge them as he swept up the steps and through the massive gates, covered in gold leaf, jade and lapis lazuli, into the temple precinct. The high priest stepped forward to greet him, his own head lowered in supplication, and fell upon his knees. Only when the gates were closed again did the great Pharaoh speak quietly and urgently to his chief shaman. And his words were not those of one wielding the absolute power that his office portended. Rather, they were the words of a worried man.
“Why has he summoned me, Pentephres? What does he want?”
The high priest spread his hands, shaking his head in a gesture of evident frustration. His reply was likewise cast in hushed tones, his eyes darting here and there; his fear of being overheard could barely have been plainer, and yet no walls stood near where eavesdroppers might be concealed.
“Master, I do not know. He does not tell me. He has not spoken to me this past month, save to tell me last night that your presence is required. One thing only I know: he returned to the Temple in the middle of the night a month ago bringing with him a young man. I have seen him only briefly and in poor light, but I know that he is not known to me. When he arrived I heard him speak in the tongue of the Canaanites, and yet this morning I heard him utter words as we speak without an accent. I do not know whether to honour him or to kill him – and yet I know that he would kill me if I sought his death.”
The Pharaoh frowned, then nodded slowly in resignation. “It is his way. He does whatever he wills – who are we mortals to seek to understand what is in his mind? Accept my gratitude, Pentephres; you are my loyal servant. Leave us now - I shall speak with him.” With a gesture he dismissed the high priest, and after a brief pause to collect his thoughts and his wits, entered the temple alone. Taking his place at the centre of a square of smouldering incense burners, he raised his arms and spoke out loud. “Lord, it is I, Pharaoh of this land, who stands here. I have come alone at thy bidding. I beseech thee, grant me now an audience!”
The temperature of the air around him dropped markedly, and his body was momentarily bathed in a pale glow of phosphorescence. Then it was gone, and the Pharaoh was no longer alone. A man stepped from the shadows – a man whose head was encased in a metallic mask, decorated with the symbols of the Pharaoh’s own power. When he spoke, it was with a resonating voice – a voice that conveyed both wisdom and strength in every syllable. It was a voice that both enthralled and terrified the Pharaoh every time he heard it. He heard it now, and listened in awed silence:
“For generations without measure have your forefathers sought my council. By their heed of my word have I aided your people in their times of peril. By their heed of my word have your armies smitten the Philistines, the Hittites and the Persians. By their heed of my word have your farmers raised crops, and your people have prospered. By their heed of my word have your forefathers ruled this land and all that live in it. Therefore hear me now.”
“The golden chariot of the sun has crossed the sky one thousand thousand times since the dawn of creation, when began all things. On that unspeakable day the gods cast out Set, the evil one. On that unspeakable day the Temple of Set was destroyed by my brethren with thunder and fire, then raised again in a single night that it might become his tomb. Your people saw this. They cried out, and were afraid. We calmed them, saying these words: ‘Know you by this act the power of the gods. Know you that if any shall enter the Temple of Set, he shall surely die. Know you that if the tomb of Set shall ever be opened, then will the world end. This is the law, and the law shall stand for all time’. Do I not speak truly?”
“You speak truly, Lord”.
“My brethren call to me from the distant fires in the night sky, from whence they watch over you. I go to answer their call now, for my work amongst you is done. I have secured the Temple of Set that none may enter it. Any who tries shall be struck down. I have bound my spirit to it that it can never be opened. It is my will now that none shall ever speak of it again. No carving shall describe it. No document shall bear its likeness. No man, not even the great Pharaoh, shall utter its name. This is the law.”
“Even in my absence shall I watch over you. I bring you a man from afar who shall advise you in my name. Heed him, for he is wise. Heed him, for my will is in him, and his knowledge is my knowledge. His name is Joseph, which in his tongue means he who shall both remove and increase, for he shall take from your people the old knowledge and bring them new wisdom. He has come to aid you at my bidding. Say to me now that this will be done.”
“I swear it, Lord”.
“It is good. This man will live to see your journey to the afterlife, thus he may be assured that your heir will in his turn obey the law that I give you today. Once more I say, heed him, and your people will prosper. If you do not, they will surely die.”
“It is the law, and the law shall be obeyed.”
“Go now, almighty Pharaoh. Even he who reigns majestic in battle and puts what enemies he will to the sword shall not bear witness to the manner of my departing, lest it blast his soul and trouble his mind. Remember me, for I shall be watching over you.”
The Pharaoh bowed low, and turning, strode from the sanctum. The other watched him leave, then walked slowly out into the early evening light to gaze upon his adopted world one last time. He regarded the temples, the statues and the vast tombs that lay upon the skyline, reflecting that the art style of these people now owed much to his companions, so long departed. They are a proud race, and they will accomplish much in the ages to come, he mused. One day they will journey to the stars, and they may yet find us there. If they survive. If they survive… Turning to the east he spoke, though no human ears heard his words.
‘Here me, brother. I take my leave of you now. Forgive me, for I did not want it this way. Mine was the path of light, but you chose the path of chaos and destruction. The paths will not converge again’.
And softly from the air behind him, another voice answered. A voice like his own, and yet unlike. “We shall see, Horus. We shall see. Expect not forgiveness, for you shall find none, even though you seek it throughout eternity. Rather I curse you and all from which you seek solace in the aeons to come. I shall be waiting for you in oblivion – brother.” The word was almost snarled.
Wearied beyond measure, his heart filled with sorrow, he re-entered the temple and strode towards a magnificent sarcophagus positioned against the far wall. Before he reached it, its surface shimmered and dissolved into a maelstrom of dazzling colours. Without slowing, he walked into the portal, his body enveloped, absorbed and finally swept away by the swirling patterns that lay within the structure. Only when his body had faded and gone did the colours die and the outline of the sarcophagus reappear and solidify, leaving not a trace his presence in the room. The last but one of his kind had left the Earth for the last time.
In the years to come, Joseph found the Pharaoh to be true to his word. He was honoured, given a house, a title and much power. Men looked up to him; women admired him. When he married he married well, taking the noble Lady Aseneth, eldest daughter of Pentephres for his bride. At first sceptical, those around him learned first to listen to him, and in time to trust him. Joseph the Dreamer they called him – but always they heeded his dreams, for his dreams portended the future.
Each morning he would awaken, and summoning his scribe, would recall his dreams. Everyday dreams, some of them: what share of the reserves of grain to set aside for distribution; how much to place in store; how many days to gather in the harvest before the great river flooded the plain – for even the exact day, the exact hour of the floods did Joseph foretell. Wonderful and magical were other dreams. The farmers who sought Joseph’s aid in bringing water to their crops on the periphery of the valley wondered perplexed at the drawing of the tilted rotating hollow pipe with the threaded interior that he bid them build, and would have returned in disappointment to their families. Yet the Pharaoh commanded them listen, and it was built – and when their donkeys were harnessed to it and the precious water sprang forth from its top they were amazed. The Pharaoh’s generals sought his wisdom when the Babylonians raided the borders of their land, and shouted with wonder when their enemies’ horses’ fell upon the black pitch that Joseph bid them lay in their path, and all were burned to death in the sheets of flame that leaped skywards from the filthy black slime. These and many other wonders Joseph saw in his dreams. Sometimes he awoke with the voice of his dreams still echoing inside his head – a slow deep, deep voice from far, far away.
Many years passed. The Pharaoh died, and Joseph mourned. By this time the people had learned well the ways that Joseph had taught them, and the new Pharaoh sought Joseph’s aid less often, and then less still. Yet life was good, and the people prospered. The dark secrets of the past were forgotten, and in the new era of plenty Joseph was able to enjoy his last years in peace and tranquillity, praying each day with Aseneth to the God of his own people for delivering him into the hands of the noble stranger so many years ago. But even as Joseph aged, he never once retired for the night without walking out onto the balcony of his manse on the banks of the great river and gazing up at the stars spinning above him in the firmament, always seeking out the red one that travelled its own path through the heavens. Until the day he died, Joseph never understood his fascination with that star; never understood why he felt drawn to it as a moth to a flame. But somehow he knew that his life was bound to it in ways that he could never understand, and that the voice that spoke to him in his sleep resided there.
Through the ghostly halls of his destination, where once had assembled so many of his friends and companions, walked Horus alone. Inspecting one of the glistening panels as he passed, he watched the display as yet another fireball spat across the barren landscape towards the city, impacting on one of the turrets with a massive explosion that tore into the architecture, sending a translucent panel crashing to the ground far below. And even as he watched, a green ray sparkled across the valley through the rising dust cloud. The debris shimmered and faded out of existence, reappearing once more in its original location at the top of the turret.
Horus glanced at the readings on the panel to verify that the turret was again functioning as it should, though he knew already that it was. He nodded abstractedly to himself, satisfied, then turned to another display that was already targeting the source of the fireball. Another green ray illuminated the valley, and the rock snake writhed and twisted in its glow before curling up once more into a docile ball on the mountainside, perfectly camouflaged as a pile of grey stones; its molecules subtly rearranged to assimilate and respond to the will of the city’s defence systems. Why won’t they ever learn, wondered Horus: surely they have accumulated sufficient evidence in their primordial brains by now to recognise that these absurd attacks are futile? And yet still they continue. Still they come.
His footsteps echoing through the empty hallways, he strode from panel to panel, verifying that each was functioning as it should. Passing one of the displays, he noted an unfamiliar configuration of swirling phosphorescence. Concerned, he stopped and frowned.
“Why does this display not show the integrity decay of the complex?”
“Decay recalculating on account of the most recent rock snake attack. Integrity currently estimated at 98.87% nominal. Now 99.12%. Integrity asymptotic at 99.86%”. The sonorous emotionless response intoned the progress of the recovery as the swirling lights dissolved and reformed in their familiar configuration. Horus was however not satisfied.
“Specify reason for momentary loss of display.”
“Reason unknown. Possible damage to central neural conduit by attack.”
One of the neural conduits? Horus was shocked: maximum projected damage from the snake attacks was calculated at a far lower level than this! He considered instructing the network to increase the ferocity of its response to the incursions, but hesitated: the Osirian distaste for needless violence still reigned strong within him.
“Central neural conduit now fully reintegrated.”
“The retrometabolic capability is controlled from the central neural conduit. Explain how the conduit has been reintegrated.”
Horus sighed, but the evident recovery allayed his concern. The complex had displayed capabilities that even he had difficulty comprehending: evidently his long-absent companions had done their work well. The Osirian instinct for complexity and guile was apparent in every aspect of the city’s construction, and casting his mind back to the faces and voices of his fellow travellers of ages past, he felt a warmth towards the complex that he had not sensed in a long, long time.
“No matter. Your voice is that of truly mysterious creations. Realign external transmit…”
The command was never completed, as the building shook once more as a massive explosion ripped into the complex, sending a shockwave through the power relays and scrambling both the unfinished command and the sentence that preceded it. The display blinked but recovered within two seconds, anticipating and interpreting the will of Horus to show yet another pale green ray sweeping across the valley to seek out and pacify the miscreant snake. It was one attack too many. Recovering his balance, Horus swung back to the display.
“Increase intensity of response to external attack. Induce total neural receptivity to the will of the complex in all future aggressors. Signify your understanding of these commands, and your compliance with them.”
“It is done – your commands will be obeyed. This is the law.”
Horus nodded. The heavy-handedness of his directive still weighed heavily with him, but the consequences of a successful attack weighed far more.
It was time. Striding into the central chamber of the complex, he gazed at the massive red pulsating power source that even now held his brother in stasis, millions of miles across space. Bracing himself, he reached forward to grasp it in his hands. A surge of indescribable power arced through his body, hurling it in a direction untraceable by any of the thousands of interlinked machines filling the city. Sensing his departure, their collective consciousness searched in vain for his whereabouts, communicating their confusion to one another until distracted by yet another attack from the mountains. Instantly disregarding the departure of its recent guest, the city returned once more to the eternal task of protecting itself – the second most important function of its creation. Its first was to hold the prisoner – for before leaving it for the last time, Horus had ensured that it understood fully the fate that would befall the universe if ever his brother was released from his living tomb.
Far across the valley, another snake raised its head to spit yet another fireball into the domain of the Osirians. But almost before its flaming payload of destruction had left his mouth its body was bathed yet again in the familiar green ray, and a deep, sonorous echo thundered within its embryonic consciousness, shaking every fibre of its primordial being to the core:
“This is the voice of the Mysterons…”
From a tiny dot in the sunrise, the helijet grew rapidly as it sped towards Cloudbase’s flight deck. Less than five minutes from first sighting to touchdown, absently noted Captain Blue, as he waited first for the plane’s landing pad to descend into the docking bay, and then for his guest to disembark. His pilot for the journey, Destiny Angel, was close on his heels, helmet in her hands and surreptitiously enjoying a much-needed stretch of her superbly-conditioned frame. They walked briskly across the deck towards Blue, who marched forward to greet them, though his greeting to their visitor took the form of a warm handshake as opposed to a salute. “Welcome to Cloudbase, Major – it’s good to see you again. On behalf of Spectrum, I’d like to thank you for accepting our invitation to come and…”
The other waved the thanks aside. “Not a bit of it, Captain: this is my pleasure. It’s not often that people in my walk of life get an opportunity to visit the headquarters of Spectrum. To you people I suppose this base is just as much your office as mine is back at Slaton, but to anyone who doesn’t work here it’s one of the engineering wonders of the world. I’d have given up two weeks’ leave to make this trip.”
Blue acknowledged the compliment with a boyish grin – despite having been stationed on Cloudbase for several years now, he still got one hell of a kick out of working in the place. “Then we must make sure that you’re given the opportunity to explore it properly while you’re here, sir. First things first however: after I’ve shown you to your quarters and given you time to freshen up I’ve been asked to escort you to our conference facility for a working breakfast. The Colonel is looking forward to meeting you.”
It was just fifteen minutes later that the Major emerged from his quarters – perhaps a measure of the extent to which he’s enjoying himself, thought Blue as the pair of them stepped into the lift to take them up to the conference suite. And indeed, the Major clearly was enjoying himself: there wasn’t a control panel or a console that he didn’t take a few seconds to inspect as they walked past. The décor was subject to inspection also, Blue remembering with amusement his own initial reactions to Cloudbase after several years living in and out of military establishments on the ground. He’d find it difficult to adjust to the comparative austerity of such an existence nowadays, he knew. Passing through the anteroom to the conference suite, the Major suddenly stopped, eyeing a gleaming panel embossed with abstract artwork on his right that seemed slightly out of keeping with the more formal paintings on the other wall. He raised an eyebrow. “Electromagnetic scanning field generator, Captain? Mysteron detector perhaps?” Blue’s nonplussed expression told him that he’d guessed correctly, and feeling simultaneously pleased with himself for spotting the disguised security device and embarrassed that he’d wrong-footed his guide by commenting on it, the Major walked on into the suite.
Inside, a number of Spectrum officers had already assembled, one of whom he recognised instantly. The man immediately broke away from his colleagues, a warm smile on his face as he strode towards the door to welcome their guest. The Major took his hand and shook it warmly.
“Captain Scarlet – a pleasure to meet you again.”
“Major Gravener - welcome to Cloudbase. I’m delighted to see you again; may I introduce you to my colleagues and fellow officers?”
“Thank you Captain. And Destiny I recognise also; and… is it Rhapsody too? Forgive me; whilst your own uniforms render name badges unnecessary, I know the Angels only by reputation – formidable as that reputation may be.”
Scarlet smiled. “As you say, Major, the uniforms facilitate rapid introductions at military conferences. Unfortunately, we still have to remember the names of all the people that are introduced to us. Destiny Angel you’ve already met of course, so allow me to introduce Rhapsody Angel, Doctor Fawn and Captain Grey – and the commander-in-chief of Spectrum, Colonel White.”
During the introductions, Colonel White had walked through the door, instantly taking charge of the proceedings as if by magic. It was due to more than simply his rank, Scarlet realised as he instinctively yielded the floor to his superior: just a very few people had the innate ability to command any gathering simply by entering the room, and the Colonel was one of them.
“Major Gravener? I’m Colonel White, C-in-C of Spectrum. Welcome to Cloudbase, Major. I trust you’ve had a pleasant flight?”
“Thank you, Colonel – I’ve had a very pleasant flight, and I’m already having a fascinating day. It’s a genuine pleasure to be here, though I confess I’m still in the dark as to the precise reason that I’ve been invited. That it is in some way concerned with the Mysterons’ abortive attack on Futura City a few months ago I have no doubt at all, but over and above that…?”
The Colonel inclined his head by way of an acknowledgement. “As you say, Major – the attack on Futura is of course at the heart of this. There is however a great deal more that we would like to talk with you about, as you will see. The circumstances of that attack, and the consequences of it, have raised a number of issues that are of concern to Spectrum. They all spring from the remarkable chain of events that led to the Mysterons creating a duplicate of yourself with the clear intention of using that duplicate to initiate the attack. In order to create such a duplicate, the Mysterons have to kill their subject first. They thought they had killed you, Major. In reality, they had not.
“You possess an experience of the Mysterons that is, to our knowledge, unique. We at Spectrum wish to share that knowledge. To that end, I have facilitated a series of meetings between such people as yourself and our key personnel, two of whom all of you met as a direct consequence of your experiences: Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue. I have deliberately waited a little while before issuing the invitation which you have so kindly accepted in order for a little time to pass, enabling us to view the Futura incident in context and with the benefit of retrospect.
“Before we begin however, I feel it is very necessary that we share with you a closely guarded secret known only within Spectrum and by a few very senior personnel in the World Government. During the course of our very first encounter with the Mysterons several years ago, Captain Scarlet was himself killed and reconstructed by the Mysterons, and used as their agent in an attempt on the life of the World President. During that attempt, for reasons that we still do not understand, the Mysterons lost their control over him, and since that time he has continued his career with Spectrum. He has however retained all the physical characteristics that we have observed in other Mysteron reconstructions, including the demonstrable ability to recover from injuries that would kill normal humans outright. He has therefore become de facto one of our greatest assets in the war of nerves in which we have been engaged since that time.”
Major Gravener raised an eyebrow, and involuntarily glanced at Scarlet across the table. Scarlet inclined his head by way of an acknowledgement of the summary of his status. He had learned from many similar experiences that people instinctively became somewhat wary of him in the minutes and hours following the revelation. It didn’t bother him unduly: he had learned to handle it, his military background providing him with a stoic façade behind which to hide his own personal feelings. The Colonel allowed a second or two for Gravener to assimilate this disclosure, and then continued.
“It goes without saying that one of the reasons that we wish to obtain a far better understanding of the Mysterons than we currently possess is that we hope to develop more effective capabilities, both defensive and offensive, for use in that war. There is however a more subtle reason – one that is actually exemplified by Captain Scarlet here. Doctor Fawn?”
The Australian medic shifted in his chair, leaning forward to place his elbows on the table before him. The fingertips of both hands touched in a classic consultant’s pose: unconsciously he provided his audience with a glimpse into the future of his own career.
“Though we do not understand the mechanism by which it happened, ladies and gentlemen, we can draw one very specific inference from the fact that it did happen. We are forced to conclude that it is possible to free what we might call a Mysteron agent from the control of its masters on Mars. Should we succeed in learning how to do this, we would not only have scored a significant victory against the Mysterons, but medical knowledge on Earth would have taken the greatest leap forward since… well, since stone-age man first started eating bits of tree-roots to cure headaches. We need to understand what mysteronised reconstructions really are; how they function; what causes them apparently to regenerate when subjected to apparently terminal injuries – and how they can be freed from Mysteron control. The purpose of this gathering is to pool our knowledge of such reconstructed humans with a view to addressing these questions.”
Gravener stirred. “So what is it that you are looking for from me, Colonel? How can I help you? Although admittedly I unwittingly found myself at the centre of a plot of terrifying proportions, in circumstances that even now I’m finding it hard to comprehend, it seems to me that there is little practical help I can offer you. During the whole sequence of events I never actually met a Mysteron.”
Scarlet leaned forward in his chair. “The passage of time since the incident has allowed us to consider more fully the implications of the sequence of events, Major. You’ll remember that as a direct consequence of your taking the place of your doppelganger in the cockpit of the XK107, Captain Blue and I were able to intercept Captain Black’s instructions to you. Those instructions included the information that he would meet you at a disused airfield some distance from Futura, and transfer the warhead you were carrying to another vehicle. With that knowledge, we set up what used to be called in the gangster days of the last century a ‘sting operation’ – a trap to capture Captain Black himself.”
Gravener smiled and nodded. “I remember it well, Captain – not least because of the spectacular flying that I witnessed from Miss Destiny here during her attempts to prevent Black’s escape with some of the best ground-level precision bombing I’ve ever seen. It’s just too bad that when we inspected the wreckage afterwards we found that Black himself wasn’t at the wheel.”
Scarlet nodded vigorously. “That’s just the point, Major. At the time we assumed that Captain Black’s absence was a result of some ‘sixth sense’ that warns him of danger. Indeed, I remember saying myself afterwards that the apparent inability of the Mysterons to distinguish you from your duplicate constituted a very interesting and potentially useful chink in their armour. However, we’ve been thinking about it quite a lot since, and come to a rather different assessment of the sequence of events.”
Captain Blue swivelled in his chair to take up the story, turning towards Scarlet as he did so, and Gravener could see that the pair of them had obviously been discussing it at length prior to the meeting. “The truck was being driven by your driver, er…”
“That’s right, Harris. Not only that, but Harris was actually dressed in dark clothes very similar to those we’ve seen Captain Black wearing before, as opposed to the ones in which he was killed – and in addition to that, Harris resembled Black physically, being of similar build and facial characteristics. The implication is clear – the Mysterons attempted to deceive us into thinking that the truck was actually being driven by Black himself.”
“Are you saying that the Mysterons knew we were trying to capture Black?”
Scarlet nodded. “That’s exactly what we’re saying, Major. And the question we’re asking ourselves now is, did they only suspect towards the end of the operation – or did they know all along? The premeditated disguising of Harris suggests that they knew all along – in which case the next question we have to ask is how did they know?”
Again, Blue took up the story. “Our first guess was that the Mysterons sensed the death of their agent through some sort of telepathic communication, but that didn’t follow from something else that we learned as a direct result of the Futura incident, which is that the Mysterons actually communicate verbally. If they didn’t, Scarlet and I would have never been able to hear the instructions transmitted to you in the cockpit of the XK107.”
Gravener nodded, remembering. “That’s right. I heard Captain Black speaking from the air behind me. I wondered at the time whether the voice was inside my head, but it wasn’t – there was a definite direction from the back of the cockpit – and as you just said, you both heard it too over the radio link that we left open.”
Scarlet summarised the conclusion, continuing the thought. “So – if that’s the way they talk to each other, why assume they’re telepathic too? They may be, of course, but without more evidence than we have at the moment…” He shrugged, leaving the sentence unfinished, and reached for his coffee.
“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitas.”
Scarlet almost knocked his cup over, looking up with the same expression on his face that would have adorned it had the Major suddenly broken into song. “I beg your pardon, sir?”
“What? Oh, I’m sorry, Captain. Occam’s Razor.” The finality with which he terminated the sentence indicated that he considered the explanation to be self-evident.
Presiding at the far end of the table, Colonel White recognised the reference, though even with the benefit of a Harrow and Oxford education he’d not identified it spoken in the original Latin. Clearly Gravener was a man of many talents. He opted to elaborate. “Occam’s Razor is a basic guiding principle of logic. Essentially it states that one shouldn’t assume more that necessary – or to put it another way, the simplest explanation that fits the facts is the most likely one to be correct – that’s right, isn’t it Major? Though it’s probably worth adding that whenever the Mysterons are involved, it’s often almost impossible to decide what the simplest explanation actually is.”
Ever the practical man, Captain Scarlet pulled the thread back onto track with a practical point. “This still leaves us with an unanswered question however – how did they know that we had killed their duplicate and substituted our own man instead?”
The Colonel held up a file. “Our boffins have come up with an hypothesis, Captain, copies of which I’ll arrange to have circulated after lunch. The details are rather over my head, I’m afraid, but the gist of it is this. Mysteronised reconstructions are clearly near-perfect copies of their original counterparts. If we assume that this duplication extends right down to the subatomic level – and I’m told we have no reason to suppose that it doesn’t – then we would apparently expect a form of ‘interference’ to take place between the original and the reconstruction. Something analogous to a resonance between two nearly-identical sound or light waves – indeed, they’ve speculated that the need to avoid this effect could be the reason why the Mysterons apparently need to destroy whatever or whoever they wish to duplicate.”
Major Gravener had been sitting very still as this foray into theoretical physics was unfolded. No mean physicist himself, he was clearly intrigued. “Or perhaps rather like the need for a platoon of soldiers to break step when crossing a bridge, Colonel – you know, the thing about the resonance build-up being sufficient to destroy the bridge. Yes, I can see where your people are coming from.”
The Colonel paused to take a sip from his glass of orange juice, then continued. “They have asked me to ask you, Major, whether you yourself experienced any… shall we say… strange effects during the time when both your duplicate and yourself were still alive?”
Gravener laughed out loud with a long good-humoured chuckle. “Colonel – I had just been brought back from the grave! I was semi-conscious and full of drugs - doped up to the eyeballs, as you might say! I have to say that I don’t think I would have noticed… and yet…” He paused, trying to remember, then went on. “You know, the doctors told me afterwards that once I’d started breathing again unaided, my progress should have been more rapid than it was. The official diagnosis was that my brain had suffered severe damage, and that that was the cause of the time it took to recover. And yet here I am talking to you with no apparent damage at all – wouldn’t severe brain damage have been expected to be permanent?”
Blue spoke up. “Could your brain have been fighting the effects of the existence of your duplicate, Major?”
Gravener shrugged. “How can I say, Captain? As I said, I wasn’t exactly in a fit state to analyse the cause of the problem at the time. You could try asking the team at Slaton Hospital, but I doubt whether you’ll get anywhere – they’re medics, not theoretical physicists. Their interest in the problem would be limited to bringing me back to life and restoring my health – for which I’ll be forever in their debt, by the way.”
The return from the rarefied atmosphere of subatomic physics to the very down-to-earth observation about life brought about a change of atmosphere around the room. Colonel White glanced at the clock, and set about bringing the session to a close. “I see that it’s coffee time, ladies and gentlemen, and I know that Destiny needs to return to duty. I suggest that we take a short break, if that’s agreeable to you, Major, and reconvene in 45 minutes from now.”
During coffee, Gravener naturally gravitated towards Rhapsody: the common interest in flying aircraft at the cutting-edge of human technology drew them together like opposite poles of a magnet. Observing that – and indeed, having again anticipated it – the Colonel took the opportunity to take himself off to deal with some minor matters of administration, leaving everyone else to socialise on the promenade desk. Harmony joined them shortly afterwards, resulting in an animated discussion with Doctor Fawn about the capacity of the human body to deliver and counter judo throws: a topic upon which everybody seemed to have a view after Harmony – a fourth dan black belt - was reluctantly persuaded to give an impromptu demonstration of a couple of particularly complex throws using Captain Blue – a second dan himself – as a guinea-pig.
“You know, the human capability to do the impossible never ceases to amaze me,” commented Doctor Fawn afterwards. “I see so much damage to human tissue in the line of my work, and yet the physical and mental wonders that humans can achieve using that same tissue when fully repaired defy my understanding. Look at Harmony here – she’s just shown us all a display of strength and agility out of all proportion to her size. By any rights she ought to be a patient of mine by now, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a miracle that she isn’t.”
Harmony smiled the shy smile of someone reluctant to offend. “Forgive me, but you are mistaken, Doctor. Strength is not required. All that is required is that you are agile, and that you believe. It is you who perform miracles, not me.”
It was Fawn’s turn to smile. “Forgive me, but this time it is you who are mistaken, Harmony. What every doctor learns during his or her career is that the art they really have to master is that of showing their patients how to cure themselves. The belief by the patient that he is going to get better is the single most important factor in their recovery. The so-called “bedside manner” is far more critical than most people realise. The only person I’ve ever come across to whom it doesn’t appear to be relevant at all is Captain Scarlet here.”
Scarlet took the opportunity to take up the point. “Then actually you’re agreeing with one another, aren’t you? You’re both saying that faith is by far the most important factor in your capabilities – either the faith you have in yourself, or the faith you can invoke in others. And yet I’m still not convinced. My apparent ability to recover from any injury can’t be just a matter of faith, because I’m more often than not unconscious. It just seems to be a natural process – if any process related to the Mysterons can be described as ‘natural’.”
Rhapsody turned to Major Gravener. “Perhaps it was faith that brought you through your ordeal, Major – faith in your right to exist when your mysteronised double was attempting to deny you that right.”
Gravener smiled. “Maybe. But then, do I have the right to exist at his expense?”
“Well, of course you do!”
“Do I? How do I know that it wasn’t my destiny to be superseded by a creature which by all accounts is superior to me in a number of respects, not least of which is that he is far more difficult to kill? And that the only reason that didn’t happen was a bizarre twist of fate? You could argue that it’s the destiny of mankind to be superseded by mysteronised reconstructions, just as mankind superseded the dinosaurs.”
“But they’re not superior! They’re ruthless automatons who are intent on just one thing, namely killing us!”
Gravener frowned. “That they’re ruthless in undeniable, but that doesn’t mean they have any less of a right to live than us. Perhaps we should be asking whether a mysteronised reconstruction has a soul, whatever that is. If they do, then all the moral arguments become very murky indeed. All I’m saying is that it’s not valid to deny them an existence simply on the grounds that they’re reconstructions. From a military point of view I’ll agree wholeheartedly that there are excellent grounds for denying them an existence on the grounds that they’re a menace to us, but that isn’t the same thing at all.”
“A distinction without a difference, surely,” commented Captain Scarlet, his face impassive – a sign Rhapsody had long ago come to recognise to mean that he was beginning to become irritated with the level of abstraction of the argument. A military man from a military family, Scarlet had little time for points of philosophy when there was work to be done. “What it really comes down to is that one of us has to go, and we’d prefer that it’s them.”
Rhapsody chuckled. “You’ll find no dispute from anyone on that point – or from the rest of the human race, I suspect.” She glanced at her watch. “We’d better be getting back. I have to say, Major, I’m surprised that you can look at the philosophy from such a detached point of view. It’s your life the Mysterons tried to take, after all.”
Gravener smiled. “It’s not that surprising, you know. My career requires me to put my neck on the block every time I take yet another new piece of hardware up for a spin in the sky. When you’re still alive after a few years, it gets you thinking about the universe and your own place in it. It’s probably a variant of the same philosophy that soldiers develop about there being a bullet out there with their name on it. As a fighter pilot yourself, do you find that so remarkable?”
Rhapsody looked at him thoughtfully. “No, I suppose not,” she said – but she could hear the doubt in her own voice, and knew he could hear it too.
“Surely your own situation must give you a unique perspective on the fatalism of the ‘named bullet’ concept, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet had stopped off to collect a cup of coffee from a nearby dispenser, and had just caught up with them. He considered briefly, under the guise of taking a couple of exploratory sips: Rhapsody knew before he spoke that he would find it difficult to put his thoughts into words. His apparent indestructibility was a characteristic that he found it almost embarrassing to discuss, almost as if talking about it was tempting fate in some way. She knew that at the back of his mind was the possibility that one day it would cease to function, and that anything he’d said about it prior to that would be remembered in hindsight rather akin to the pompous utterings of an egoistic politician before he was voted out of office. Nevertheless, she also knew he would never be so impolite as not to respond to a direct question. He would do his best.
“I suppose it comes back to the matter of faith that we were discussing earlier, Major. Since my death, I’ve suffered injuries at the hands of the Mysterons which Doctor Fawn tells me would be fatal in humans maybe thirty times. Each time I’ve recovered. I have no idea how – I just have faith that it will happen again next time, and the time after that, and the time after that. I try not to tempt fate by taking unnecessary risks. Something inside tells me that if I do, then one day the power will be taken away. I don’t know how or why. It’s just something I feel. To avoid tempting fate, I have to work on the assumption that one day I will die. I regard each time I’m brought back from the grave as a reprieve. In a sense I suspect it’s more difficult to live with than your hypothetical named bullet: in that scenario at least death is inevitable, and you don’t therefore need to worry about it. I have to worry about it – I’ve no choice.”
Rhapsody felt a sharp pang of sympathy and warmth go out to her colleague and fellow officer in hearing him talk. He’d revealed more of his feelings on the subject of his mortality or otherwise than he normally would to a comparative stranger, she knew, and all the more so given that that comparative stranger was a man – and a military one at that. He’d had one or two such discussions with Rhapsody herself in the past, but she was both a woman and a close friend, with all the perception and insight that as such she was able to offer him. The first time had been some months after they first met; prior to that she’d found him almost insufferably stuffy, humourless and formal. It was only after the passage of time and the incidental saving of her life on at least two occasions – something that he genuinely found difficult to discuss - that she’d read Pride & Prejudice for the first time only to discover to her astonishment that Jane Austen had already told Scarlet’s life story along with her own some 240 years before either of them was born. A copy of the book had become a fixture on the small coffee table beside her bed ever since.
Major Gravener nodded thoughtfully. “You know, I think it’s all about guilt, Captain. The guilt for having been saved whilst others around you are less fortunate. You feel you have to justify the gift – that to do less would be to an insult to their memory. The death of my driver, Harris, still bothers me like that far more than I’d like to admit. It was me they wanted, but they took him too. Yet I survived, and he didn’t. That isn’t just. You ask why, and there isn’t a reason - you just have to accept it. I suspect that deep down you wish you’d died with Captain Brown – and because you didn’t, you’re going to do your damnedest to make the Mysterons pay dearly for every day of the new lease of life that they unwittingly gave you.”
Captain Scarlet’s eyes narrowed as he considered. “That’s an interestingly convoluted piece of Freudian reasoning, Major. Wouldn’t it easier to apply that logical principle of yours about simpler solutions being more likely, and just assume that I’m as afraid of death as the next man?”
“Ah, but there’s a flaw in that one, Captain. I don’t think you are.”
Scarlet made a non-committal noise in his throat. “Shall we go back in?”
Back in the conference room, the Major had a question of his own. “Colonel White, may I ask you something about the Mysterons that has been bothering me ever since the Futura incident?”
“Of course, Major”
“You have the capability to identify mysteronised reconstructions: the world press reported the development of the necessary technology some time ago, though the details were not released. Do you know how many reconstructions there actually are at large in the world today?”
The Colonel paused before answering. “It’s our belief that there are very few at any given time, Major. Indeed, we’ve no reason for supposing that there are more than a handful – which is actually the reason that the details of the Mysteron detector were not leaked to the press. We were concerned that by providing the general public with the means to detect Mysterons themselves, we would unleash a worldwide witch-hunt in which everybody would be demanding Mysteron detectors to install in their own homes and offices everywhere on the planet. Whilst this might possibly unearth one or two genuine agents, it was felt that the resulting wave of paranoia would more than offset any good done by such a move. We therefore simply released a statement to the effect that Mysterons were detectable by Spectrum – after all, if anyone has a good reason to believe that they know the whereabouts of a Mysteron agent, all they have to do is contact us.”
“So for all you know, there could be thousands – or tens of thousands?”
The Colonel shook his head. “Since the development of the detector, we have had them surreptitiously installed in almost every sensitive site in the world, including on this base, naturally – though evidently not surreptitiously enough, Captain Blue informs me. We also from time to time set up random checks in such places as shopping malls and airport departure lounges, where obvious security measures are unlikely to raise eyebrows. Not once has any of them identified a mysteronised reconstruction, other than in connection with a specific threat. It seems that the Mysterons only create their replicates when they need them to perform some specific task.”
“What about Captain Black himself?”
“We believe that Captain Black is a special case. We have evidence that indicates he is actually not a mysteronised reconstruction, but is the same man we sent to Mars, though there is no doubt at all that the Mysterons are controlling his body and mind. If so, he would probably not register on a Mysteron detector – a serious problem to us, since he apparently provides the Mysterons with a physical link to their operations on Earth. It could even be that they wouldn’t be able to conduct their war of nerves without him, and it is with this suspicion in mind that Spectrum places a high priority on his killing or capture.”
Gravener considered. “It’s a pity that we don’t appear to be able to interrogate Mysteron suspects in the same way as it’s possible to interrogate other prisoners.” He glanced at the Colonel and raised an eyebrow, but the Colonel shook his head.
“Other than when they’re actually engaged in an operation on behalf of their masters, they appear to act perfectly normally. There’s no evidence that they even know there’re agents of the Mysterons, though we haven’t yet been able to prove or disprove that.”
Scarlet leaned forward in his chair. “We haven’t been able to come up with any method of questioning that could establish, even if you had both the original and their mysteronised counterpart in the same room, which was which, since anything you ask to find out would be answered by one of them correctly, and by the other in such a way as to deceive you. It just can’t be done.”
Gravener considered briefly, and then smiled. “Actually, Captain, there is a way. Finding myself the unwilling half of a pair of identical twins for a few hours, and bearing in mind that we could actually have been in that situation, I’ve thought about that problem a lot since the Futura incident, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it actually is possible. It can be done with a single question. Can you guess what that question is?”
Perhaps it was the twinkle in Gravener’s eyes, but the rest of the delegates had realised by this time that he was teasing his hosts with a riddle. Silence reigned around the table as they all waited for him to pull the rabbit out of the hat. He waited for a full ten seconds before obliging.
“You ask your suspect what his counterpart would answer to whatever question you want to know the answer to. For example, suppose you want to know whether a bomb has been planted in the building. You turn to one of the suspects, and say to him: ‘If I were to ask your counterpart whether a bomb has been planted, would he say yes?”
Blank faces all around the table. Gravener decided to explain further.
“Suppose a bomb has actually been planted. Suppose now the suspect you are questioning is the human. He knows that the Mysteron has planted a bomb, and he also knows that the Mysteron will lie, so he says ‘No’. But suppose the suspect you are questioning is the Mysteron. He knows that the human knows that a bomb has been planted. But because he is trying to deceive you, he lies and says ‘No’. Either way, you know that a bomb has actually been planted.”
“Likewise, suppose that no bomb has been planted. The same question will elicit the answer “Yes” from both suspects. And again you’ve established the truth of the matter, without even knowing which suspect you questioned!”
“Unless of course,” began Blue slowly, “the Mysteron realises that by lying he is being tricked into giving you the correct answer, and therefore tells the truth instead.”
Gravener threw him an appreciative glance – clearly this man was no fool.
“Very good, Captain. It really comes down to how many levels of bluff you believe your opponent is going to anticipate, doesn’t it? However, I’m assuming in all this that the Mysterons possess a computer-like intelligence, causing them simply to negate the truth when they wish to deceive you.”
“But suppose what you actually want to know is which suspect is the Mysteron?” asked Rhapsody.
Gravener nodded. “No problem. Just ask one of them, ‘If I were to ask your counterpart if he is a Mysteron, would he says yes?’. If you’re talking to the human, he knows that the Mysteron will lie, so he says ‘No’. But if you’re talking to the Mysteron, he knows that the human will say ‘No’, so he lies and says ‘Yes’ instead. You’ve now forced a different answer from them, and you can use it to make a decision. The practical upshot of that is that if your suspect says ‘Yes’ then you shoot him. If he says ‘No’ then you shoot the other one. QED.”
Rhapsody clapped her hands in delight as the sheer elegance of the solution came home to her. “It’s brilliant! And I understood it – after all these years, I actually understood it!”
Captain Scarlet looked up with a questioning eyebrow, and Rhapsody settled back in her chair to fill in the details of the missing reminiscence.
“When I was a little girl, my cousin and I used to spend many of my school holidays staying with Grandma Sarah up in a village called Moreton Harewood in Gloucestershire while my parents were away on diplomatic business. She lived in this rambling old farmhouse on the outskirts of the village. It was the highlight of the year, and I used to look forward to it for weeks. We’d sit in front of a huge log fire, and she’d tell us these fabulous stories – wonderful, mystical stories of her life when she was young. Sort of Alice-in-Wonderland style: you know, once upon a time, I was walking along in a mediaeval forest, and who should I come across but this dirty great troll carrying a ray-gun, so I took my bow-and-arrow and shot him – that sort of thing. And her attic! Stuffed with the most amazing collection of junk you could imagine. Electronic wizzits, funny-shaped crystals, carved animals, bits of computers, you name it. She was very old by that time – well into her nineties – and completely loopy of course, but great fun, and she really was a first-rate storyteller – we believed every word she told us.
“Well anyway, once when it was pouring outside, she told us this riddle. She put it like this: she’s trapped in a glass jar which has two buttons on the outside of it, only one of which lets her out, and her friend on the outside has to ask one of two robots dressed up like ancient Egyptian mummies to answer a single question to find out which one it is. One robot always tells the truth, and the other one always lies, but you don’t know which one is which. And the question is – what is the question?”
Scarlet nodded, seeing the connection. “Yes, the question would have been ‘If I were to ask the other robot which is the correct button, which one would it say?’. And whichever one it says, I have to pick the other one. That’s right, isn’t it?”
Rhapsody gulped down the last dregs of her cup of coffee and nodded. “That’s it. I think Grandma called it ‘The Riddle of the Sirens’, or something like that. I don’t think she ever said why. It’s something I’ve often wondered about. Major – do you know why it would have been called that?” But Gravener shook his head.
“No, I’ve not come across that name before, though the riddle takes many forms. One of them involves an anthropologist wanting to find out which of two roads leads to a village on an island where there are two tribes, one of which always tells the truth and the other always lies. A man stands at the fork of the roads, but the anthropologist doesn’t know which tribe he belongs to. In answer to your point about double-bluffing, Captain Blue, an alternative strategy is described: walk up to the man and say “Did you know they’re giving away free beer in the village?” A man from one tribe will say ‘Yes’ and set off for the village, with the anthropologist following. A man from the other village will say ‘No’ and set off for the village, again with the anthropologist in hot pursuit….”
Colonel White cleared his throat. “We have much to discuss this morning, everyone. Perhaps it would be useful if we were to review what we have learned from the operation in which Major Gravener was a key player. Major, perhaps you would describe to us in your own words the sequence of events from the time you were revived in the military hospital?”
The meeting continued all day, the question of the apparent need for the Mysterons to destroy an object or person in order to recreate them recurring several times. This in turn pushed the conversation into the area of defining what precisely constituted “destruction”. As Gravener himself put it:
“It isn’t enough simply to accept that the Mysterons have to destroy in order to create a replicate. Destruction means a completely different thing when applied to a human as opposed to an object. You tell me that the Mysterons have recreated, amongst other things, three of your own aircraft following a fire that completely engulfed them in their hanger shortly after their manufacture – aircraft that they subsequently used to instigate an attack upon one of your Angels. So – the question I have is this: how much damage needed to be done to those aircraft to enable the Mysterons to recreate them? Did they have to be burned to a cinder? Would it have been enough to toss a bomb into each of the cockpits? Or could the Mysterons have simply arranged for a bullet to be shot into each of the fuselages? Do you see the problem?”
It was clear from the blank faces that they didn’t. The Major decided to spell it out.
“We understand – or at least we think we understand – what is meant by the destruction of a human being. It means termination of life. But that doesn’t apply in the case of an inanimate object – which has no life. Destruction can be minimal, partial or total. In the case of those Angel aircraft I gather the destruction was effectively total. But could the Mysterons have recreated them if the damage had been minimal? From what you’ve told me about mysteronised cars and other vehicles that have been forced off the road but not exploded, I think they could.”
Scarlet frowned. “I’m afraid I still don’t see what the point is that you’re making, Major.”
“The point is this. It could be that the Mysterons don’t actually need to destroy inanimate objects to recreate them at all. It could be that they’re just playing games with us. It could be that the destruction of humans to recreate them is a necessary part of the process of ensuring that they have created a perfect copy – rather like not being able to copy a file on your computers whilst somebody is still running it. The physical destruction clearly isn’t a prerequisite – my own presence here proves that – so perhaps all that is required is to ‘stop’ it in some sense – for example to freeze it. Whatever that definition might be, inanimate objects don’t qualify. So why destroy them? It could be simply an act of bloody-mindedness, of course, but perhaps we have a possible answer to that one now, eh, Colonel?”
The Colonel looked up. “You mean that hypothesis about subatomic interference?”
Gravener nodded. “That’s right. Could it be that the existence of the original interferes with the functionality of the duplicate, and vice versa? There’s something else to support that idea too – it could be nothing at all, but it did set me wondering. During my recovery after the XK107 incident, I watched a video recording of Slaton’s attempts to stop my mysteronised counterpart from taking off from the base. Now I know that I could have got the XK107 airborne in time to overfly the blockage on the runway that was set up to stop the plane – and I remember wondering at the time whether mysteronised reconstructions aren’t as proficient as their originals in some way. In the light of today’s revelations however, I have a hunch that your subatomic interference idea is very close to the mark – in which case it could actually have been my being brought back to life that was responsible for the duplicate’s destruction.”
The day ended with everyone feeling at least as exhausted as if they’d been engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a squad of Mysteron agents for several hours. And despite the jokes and the riddles, everyone came away feeling just a little more sober about their common enemy than they had at the start of the day. Colonel White for one considered that the exercise had been a great success.
Rhapsody had been obliged, by the scarcity of officers, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Captain Scarlet had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Captain Blue, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.
“Come, Scarlet,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable.
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Blue, “for a kingdom! Upon my honour I never met with so many delightful female fighter pilots in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only attractive fighter pilot on Cloudbase,” said Scarlet, looking at Symphony.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful Angel I ever beheld! But there is another member of the pack sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you!”
“Which do you mean?'' and turning round, he looked for a moment at Rhapsody, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not attractive enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to fighter pilots who are slighted by other Spectrum personnel. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Rhapsody awoke with a start; the vision of Symphony admonishingly uttering the words “One cannot wonder that so very fine an officer in a red coat with manners, bravery and indestructibility in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”
The hell he does, thought Rhapsody with a grim smile. She quickly arose, showered and dressed; scanned her daily schedule and decided that she had just about enough time to check out something she’d been chewing over since the Major reminded her of it the previous day. Breakfast first however, she thought. Picking up a small carrier case containing her laptop and a couple of peripherals she set off for the mess hall, where she found herself joined by Captain Blue, also just starting his shift. “Rhapsody! Lovely day! Have you seen the dawn out there to the east? The cloud formations are absolutely spectacular out there at the moment.”
She grinned back at him instinctively - his boyish enthusiasm was infectious. “No Captain, I’ve only just got up. Could you pass me the waffles please?”
“Sure – there you go. Chocolate sauce?”
Rhapsody feigned a horrified expression. “Chocolate sauce, Captain? On waffles? For breakfast? Thank you, no - it would be quite insupportable.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, nothing. Sorry.”
Blue shook his head in amused disbelief. “If I manage to spend a lifetime with you Brits, I’ll never master your idioms. Though I guess you have pretty much the same problems with ours. What are you up to now?”
Rhapsody had pushed the plate to one side and was setting up the laptop that she’d brought with her down to the mess hall. She then set about logging into the network with one hand whilst continuing to work her way through her plate of waffles with a fork in the other. Glancing up a few moments later she caught the expression on Blue’s face and almost choked with laughter: he was a caricature of quizzical confusion, his eyebrows having ascended almost to his hairline.
“Something that the Major said yesterday reminded me of something my grandmother said to me many years ago, Captain. I’d like to know after all these years what on earth it was that she was talking about.”
Wolfing down the last remnants of the final waffle, she keyed in the address of an online recreational mathematics forum she visited occasionally, signing herself in a “Supersonic Shrimp” – an action that she typed without a second’s thought until heard a stifled guffaw and glanced round to Captain Blue, looking over her shoulder and doubled up with silent laughter.
“Rhapsody… why are you called ‘Supersonic Shrimp’? I ask merely for information, you understand”. She could see that it was absolutely as much as Blue could do to keep a straight face, and in consequence she redoubled the effort to keep her own. It wasn’t easy.
“Well Captain, since you ask, it’s something that Destiny once said. Apparently when I first met her I reminded her of a photograph she once saw of a fashion designer from London during an era they called ‘The Swinging Sixties’ called Jean Shrimpton. I’ve looked her up since, and I’ll… concede that there is a slight resemb...” It was too much to keep the straight face, and the pair of them simultaneously collapsed in a fit of giggles, much to the amusement of the other breakfasting personnel who had since started to congregate. As much to recover her dignity as to get on with the task in hand, Rhapsody rapidly scanned the long list of other members currently online. Pausing for a second, she typed:
“Information please – has anybody heard of the ‘Riddle of the Sirens’?”
Within thirty seconds back had come three requests for further details: “Potty Polynomial,” “The Cybernaut” and “Max Factorizer”. She rolled her eyes at the ludicrous handles – despite having logged in herself as “Supersonic Shrimp” - and continued with a brief elaboration of the problem.
“The riddle is apparently a logical paradox, supplying the means to elicit an accurate response from one of two people, one of whom is known to be always truthful and the other always untruthful. This is done by asking one of them how the other would respond.”
There was a brief pause. The Cybernaut was the first to reply:
“This paradox is well-known in mathematical circles, but I’ve never heard of it referred to as ‘The Riddle of the Sirens’ before. Maybe called that by someone who couched the riddle in a format related to truthful or untruthful sirens. Can you supply any further information about the context?”
Rhapsody considered for a minute, then typed:
“A story my grandmother told me when I was a little girl. All about two robots – one truth-teller and one liar – and a death chamber with two buttons, one of which would kill the prisoner, and the other would release her. The prisoner is allowed to ask one robot one question, and from the reply has to decide which button to press.”
Back came a reply almost instantly:
“Yes, that’s the one all right. But I still don’t get the bit about the sirens.”
Rhapsody sighed, and glanced at Blue in resignation. ‘Oh well – I tried.” She swivelled the chair to get up, but Blue held up his hand. “One moment: there’s another one coming in. Somebody calling himself ‘Anabolic Steroid’ – ye gods, where do they dream up these names?”
“I may be able to help with this one. Tell me a little more about the context.”
She raised an eyebrow to Blue, shrugged, and turned to the keyboard again.
“There’s very little more. Grandma told me a fairy story of two robots dressed up as ancient Egyptian mummies, and a race to save the world.”
Far below, and two thousand miles away across the surface of the Earth, Anabolic Steroid sat immobile at a computer terminal in a café in Piccadilly, London. Egyptian mummies and a word that sounded like sirens. A coincidence? No - not possible: no figures could express the odds. And yet he had to be sure – and the only way to do that was to provide a piece of information that he would prefer to withhold. No matter: if he was wrong, nothing would be compromised. But if he was right…
“Is it possible that your relative actually called it ‘The Riddle of the Osirians’?”
Rhapsody closed her eyes and considered, attempting to throw her mind far back across the years. Now that he came to mention it… Yes, it could have been that. Not a name that her anonymous correspondent could have dreamed up, either. It looked distinctly hopeful. She typed rapidly.
“Yes, it’s possible – I’m not certain. Does the name mean anything to you?”
Another man might have taken a deep breath at that point, but not this man. A brief pause followed, during which he evaluated his options. Returning to his keyboard, he replied: “One moment please. I need to find a book which might help.”
Far from scrabbling around for a book, not a muscle of his body moved. Even his piercing eyes had temporarily lost their sharpness, for much of what remained of his soul was far from his body at that moment. Inside his head, sensations of fleeting electronic impulses swept through his psyche, as a rail traveller might glimpse stations from the window of a speeding train. His consciousness subtly remoulded to function as an extension of the network, in his mind he followed the path as it twisted and turned through cyberspace:
Direct connection with University of London computer centre, Malet Street…
Landline link to Manchester inoperative, by-passed via Madley telecom centre…
An arrogant-looking young tough carrying a plate of fish and chips sat himself down in the other chair at the table. “Hey mac, pass the salt.” Not by so much as the twitch of a muscle did the other acknowledge his demand.
Rerouted on shortwave radio transmission to GeoComSat D31…
Received by ITT Central Communications Headquarters in Seattle…
The tough decided to liven things up a little. “Hey – YOU! You deaf? I said pass…”
He stopped in mid-sentence. The object of his verbal assault had turned his head and was studying him. Something in the cold emotionless eyes brought home the realisation with full force to the bully that he was trying to annoy someone who would not cower to his hectoring. Would not try to placate him; would not even bother to warn him before doing… something. What that something might be he could not have put into words, but deep in his subconscious he registered terror of a kind and on a scale the like of which he hadn’t ever felt before. He mumbled an apology, got up from the table and fled the café without another word. The other turned back to his screen, the interruption already forgotten.
Rerouted to scrambled waveband, probably a military channel...
There was a new message on his screen – the girl was back, asking if he was still there. He needed more time. Taking a second to phrase a stalling question in the vernacular, he typed: “Sorry Shrimpy – wasn’t where I thought it was. I’ll try again – can you hang on a few more minutes?”
Scanning known frequencies…not World Navy… not WASPs…
He needed to give the girl something to think about to gain himself the few extra minutes that he needed. Rapidly he typed:
“Ancient Egyptian mummies? What have mummies got to do with robots?”
That should make her think for a little while, whilst at the same time opening up the possibility of additional confirmation of his suspicions.
Not World Space Patrol…switch to military intelligence… not ISS… try Spectrum…
The girl was back. “Dunno. That’s just what Grandma said. Said they were controlled by a magic ring that was nicked off the finger of a dead Egyptian – called it a ‘slave relay’.”
Spectrum confirmed… encrypted radio link from Seattle to Cloudbase. The girl is on Cloudbase.
No possible doubt now, and with Spectrum involved too the situation was potentially critical. Cloudbase and a female - he decided to try a long shot.
“A slave relay? That explains a lot. You’re an angel.”
Back came the reply he’d anticipated:
“More than you’ll ever know! But why do you say that explains a lot?”
He evaluated the evidence rapidly. English slang indicated in the phraseology, eliminating two of them. Additional use of “nick,” meaning to steal: not generally understood by Americans. That leaves just one – attempt to confirm:
“Oh, just a hunch that slaves would turn up somewhere in a fairy story about ancient Egypt. The book’s not here – sorry I can’t help, Dianne.”
“No problem – thanks for trying.”
Rhapsody had already logged off the system before she thought to ask the obvious question – but by that time Captain Black was long gone.
At 1500 hours the following afternoon, Melody vacated the cockpit of Angel One at the conclusion of her shift and descended to the Amber Lounge. Moments later Rhapsody took her place at the start of hers, and radioed a one-sentence message to Lieutenant Green to confirm her presence in the cockpit. And in a boathouse on the North Sea coast far below, someone else also heard the confirmation – someone who had been patiently listening for it since the previous day, using a receiver that anyone from Cloudbase would instantly have recognised as one of Spectrum’s own, though some of the modifications inside would certainly have made them pause for thought. The listener rose from his chair and walked to the window to look at a distant helijet flying out to sea from the nearby airbase. Taking out a pair of field glasses he brought it into focus, and watched.
On board the helijet, the lone pilot stretched lazily as he settled into his seat for the short journey out to one of the many oil rigs over the horizon. With a favourable wind he could confidently expect to have arrived at his destination in time for afternoon tea. The joystick responded to his mildest touch, and he began to play a little game with it: try moving it with just three fingers… now try just two… now try just one… Nope: can’t move it with just one. Back to two again. Can’t move it with two either – strange… could do it a second ago. Back to three. Can’t do that either. He was wide awake now: taking the stick in the palm of his hand and pressing hard on it, he sought to correct the increasingly erratic course that the helijet was taking. No response. Both hands - still no response. Altitude dropping dangerously: reaching for the radio, he switched it on and started gabbling rapidly into the microphone.
“Norwich airfield… Norwich airfield… this is Brent Transporter NS1186H … mayday, mayday: have lost control of aircraft and am ditching into the sea. Please log current grid reference from GPS and effect rescue: am about to eject from aircraft – acknowledge please…”
In the boathouse on the coast a few kilometres from Great Yarmouth, Captain Black had also picked up the transmission. Though the equipment he had in his possession would have enabled him to jam it, he made no attempt to do so: it suited his purpose that the mayday should be received and acted upon. Indeed, the pilot’s survival was most important to the plan. He sincerely hoped the man was sufficiently coherent when the rescue services arrived to pick him up that he would be able to give them a comprehensible account of the events leading up to the crash – and of those that would follow it.
Back in the air, the helijet had just seconds left. With the waves now just a few metres below it as it spiralled towards its doom, the door opened and the pilot tumbled downwards into the sea below, his lifejacket inflating in mid-air as he fell towards the waves. The empty helijet began to twist in mid-air as it spiralled away, then exploded in a massive fireball as it hit the water. The pilot felt a searing blast of heat wash over him as he struggled to keep his face above the waves, and then there was silence but for the acrid crackling of burning petrol on the surface, accompanied by clouds of billowing black smoke.
Had the pilot been watching the scene of destruction more closely, he might have seen two ghostly rings of light pass through that smoke, and glisten upon the devastation floating in the water – but he wasn’t watching. Instead, he was listening intently to the sound of another helijet as it sped nearer and nearer to him from the direction of the shore. He knew it couldn’t be the rescue crew – they wouldn’t have left the base yet – so who? He wondered whether they’d be equipped to winch him out of the water, though he knew it was unlikely. But the new arrival didn’t stop – didn’t even slow down as it passed over him and onwards out to sea, gaining altitude rapidly as it did so. He got a good look at it though as it flew directly over him – such a good look that he was able to read the serial number on the side. The helijet was his own.
As a matter of policy, Spectrum did not go out of its way to keep the general public informed about the capabilities of the Mysterons. The matter had been decided at the highest level of the World Government in the aftermath of the attempt on the World President’s life, and was endorsed by the President himself. It was nevertheless considered essential that senior military personnel should be able to recognise the enemy’s calling cards whenever they were played, and for that reason the pilot’s account of his experience was relayed to Cloudbase within minutes of his rescue. Lieutenant Green recognised the signs also.
“Colonel, I’m receiving a report relating to a helijet crash over the North Sea that I think merits our attention, sir. Pilot ditched in the water after an inexplicable jamming of the guidance systems. Immediately after the loss of the aircraft, pilot reports seeing an identical machine flying out to sea directly over the scene of the crash.”
“It certainly sounds like the Mysterons, doesn’t it Lieutenant? Do you have a bearing on the direction the helijet took following the crash?”
Green sent his chair speeding to the other end of his console. “Forwarding the request now sir”. Within thirty seconds he had it. “Helijet is now being tracked from Kings Lynn air traffic control and by two Spectrum satellites, sir. It is gaining altitude rapidly and flying on a course that will intercept Cloudbase in… approximately 43 minutes, sir.”
The Colonel nodded, somehow unsurprised. “Not the first time, eh, Lieutenant? No doubt we’ll be hearing from them soon. And yet I feel that this time fate may be on our side. But for the report from that helijet pilot, we would have had no idea how they plan to carry out their attack. As it is, we are forewarned. Lieutenant, instruct Angel leader to launch immediately. Order her to locate and shoot down that helijet.”
Green leaned towards his microphone: “Rhapsody Angel – immediate launch. Proceed at speed ultimate to Spectrum grid reference 3531.6 by 2298.5. Locate a transport helijet of the North Sea Oil Rig Conglomerate, registration code NS1186H, which is believed to be in the hands of the Mysterons. Verify this and if confirmed destroy it by any means necessary.”
“Secondly Lieutenant, get Captains Blue and Scarlet up here on the double. This is almost certainly the opening salvo in a new campaign, and they may as well be present as it unfolds.”
“Captain Scarlet is currently in the Room of Sleep, Colonel: he retired thirty minutes ago. Do you still want me to wake him?”
“Yes, Lieutenant. I have no doubt that he would wish to be here.” The lieutenant didn’t bother to ask his superior why - he understood fully Scarlet’s personal concern for the Angel about to go into combat, and knew that the Colonel did also. In the event, Scarlet was in the control room within ten minutes, and by the time both he and Blue had been briefed on the developing situation, Rhapsody had just radioed in to announce that the helijet had been spotted, and that it had failed to respond to repeated demands that it should return to its base. A fly-by confirmed that there was nobody at the controls. Colonel White sat down at his desk and picked up his microphone. “Rhapsody?”
“Shoot it down.”
“SIG Colonel. Starting attack run… now!”
The sound of the jets’ surge of power could plainly be heard over the loudspeakers as the fighter started its dive, building up into a ear-splitting scream that had Scarlet biting his lip as they waited for the sound of the missiles streaking from their firing pads. But no sound came from the speakers – only a muffled gasp that obviously had come from Rhapsody’s lips.
Scarlet jumped out of his chair at the sound of her voice. “Rhapsody! What’s the matter?”
“Don’t know! Missiles have failed to fire - controls are jammed. I can’t break the missile lock on the target. The plane is going to crash into the helijet!”
“Rhapsody! Get out of there!”
“I’m trying! Ejector seat has malfunctioned… I’m trying again…”
Blue groaned with exasperation – this was a scenario with which they were all only too familiar when the Mysterons had their fingers in the pie. There was another muffled scream over the speakers… then silence.
“Rhapsody! Respond please! Rhapsody – have you…”
There was a burst of static, followed by the sound of Rhapsody’s voice, once again calm and collected. “Have ejected successfully, Colonel. Both the helijet and the plane have been destroyed. Am coming down in the sea: no sign of any craft in the immediate vicinity as yet, but I am still at least 1,600 metres up. Are you tracking me, Lieutenant Green?”
“SIG Rhapsody: I have you on my screen. You are 100 km north-east of Norwich, and drifting slightly towards the English coast. Nearest Spectrum operatives are Lieutenants Cyan and Auburn, currently driving the VIP transporter from Lowestoft to Edinburgh in readiness for a naval conference.”
Colonel White rose from his chair and joined Green at the console. “Rhapsody? We are diverting Lieutenants Cyan and Auburn in the Tanker to Norwich to await further instructions. Angels two and three will be launched immediately to overfly your current position whilst we get seaborne rescue craft launched to pick you up. Is your situation acceptable until these measures have been implemented?”
“Perfectly sir. I’m probably going to get a little wet in the short term, but I can live with that. It’s a long time since I went for a good swim.”
“Very good, Rhapsody. We’ll be ready with a warm towel. White out.”
Floating down slowly towards the waves in her ejector seat, Rhapsody scanned the immediate area of the sea for possible rescue craft. She could now see three ships far below her, but knew that all of them were too far away to provide help. A smoke canister was fitted to her seat for use in such situations, but she decided to keep that in reserve until such time as she knew it would be seen. And indeed, peering directly down she could just make out the shape of a small speedboat skimming over the waves towards her landing position. What luck! She reached down for the canister and activated it, sending a plume of red smoke into the sky. Yes, he’d seen it: the speedboat changed course slightly to intercept her, and slowed down markedly, losing the frothing wake that had heralded its arrival on the scene.
The ejector seat hit the waves with a soft splash, and Rhapsody scrambled to dive out of it into the sea lest it capsized, or the parachute collapsed on top of it. Marking the position of the speedboat, which had come to a standstill no more than a hundred metres away, she struck out with measured strokes and swam gratefully towards it, grabbing the hands of the boat’s sole occupant as he helped her out of the water and over the side. Collapsing into the bow, she started to gasp out thanks to her saviour – and stopped short when she realised she was looking at the barrel of a squat pistol.
“Welcome aboard, Rhapsody Angel,” said a familiar deep voice. A dart thudded into her uniform just above the waist, and she had just enough time to realise that it was a tranquillizer before she collapsed into unconsciousness.
Far, far away, Rhapsody felt herself falling. A sharp pain in her back penetrated the deep black haze, and she felt the ground move beneath her, vaguely aware that she was being dragged through rough undergrowth. Then another jolt as her head fell backwards onto grass – she felt plant life brush her face as she was turned on her side, and an insect flitted across her cheek. From somewhere a voice called “Here! She’s here!,” and the safety catch of a gun was released nearby. Then shots, and running footsteps as she began to drift away again. A hand touched her face, and she tried to open her eyes, but the effort was too great; the last thing she heard was a voice from the darkness. Occasional words: “drugged… too far… maybe two hours… they’ll come…” And then she fell into the bottomless pit of her own subconscious as the blackness swirled around and enveloped her once more.
“I have Lieutenant Auburn on line three, Captain: they’ve found her – she’s barely conscious, but she’s going to be okay.”
Scarlet’s taut expression broke into a broad smile, and he rose out of his chair to march smartly across the room as quickly as protocol would permit to join Lieutenant Green at the console. “That’s great news, Lieutenant.” He turned to the microphone, not bothering to conceal the concern that had not quite yet evaporated. “Lieutenant Auburn – this is Captain Scarlet: why ‘barely conscious’ please?”
“We’re not certain yet sir, but we think she’s been shot with a tranquilliser. There’s a mark on her abdomen that looks like it’s been made by a dart gun – there’s no exit wound, and the hole is too small to be a bullet, though if it was a dart it’s been removed. Cyan’s helping her into the Tanker now; we’ll have a better idea once she’s regained consciousness.”
“Very good Lieutenant. Please inform us when she’s in a fit state to talk. Do you have any leads on who it was in the boat?”
“We’re not absolutely sure sir, but from the few glimpses we got of him it looked like Captain Black. We found ourselves under fire almost from the second we stepped down from the Tanker’s cab, and the weapon he was using on us sounded like a DS44, which is standard Spectrum issue. Whoever it was, he got clean away, I’m afraid. Do you want us to initiate a search?”
“No, Lieutenant. If it was Black it would be both futile and dangerous – you haven’t got the manpower, and the Tanker’s needed at the conference. We’ll arrange to send in a properly equipped security team, though I very much doubt whether we’ll find anything – he’s far too good at making himself scarce. We’ll arrange to pick up Rhapsody upon your arrival. And get her a change of clothes as soon as you can, will you – we don’t want to lose her after all this to a bout of pneumonia.”
“SIG, sir. Auburn out.”
Her first sensation was that of movement as Rhapsody began to stir: the vibration of an engine and the gentle swaying of carefully negotiated turns in the road. Far away, seemingly from the depths of her consciousness, she heard a voice say “She’s beginning to wake up. Where’s that coffee?” Trying hard to ignore the splitting headache that she realised was the cause of her disorientation, she tried to twist her head in the direction of the voice, and winced at a sharp pain in her stomach. That began to bring it back… she’d been shot, hadn’t she, by… by… Captain Black! She tried to open her eyes, and failed. She waited a few minutes and tried again, this time successfully, though focussing was still difficult. She struggled to get herself upright, realising for the first time that she was lying on a couch, covered with a couple of blankets. Her uniform, still sodden but beginning to dry out, clung unpleasantly to her body.
Satisfied of her immediate personal safety, she rapidly took in her surroundings. Clearly a vehicle of some kind, but the unashamed opulence of it momentarily confused her: the walls were padded and the floor was covered in a carpet with an extraordinarily deep pile. Glancing towards what she perceived to be the front she could see two doors, one open, the other closed. Through the open one she could see a small but well equipped kitchen. To its left, the sign on it proclaimed it to be the entrance to a bedroom. It was the cylindrical shape of the side walls and roof that finally solved the mystery for her – she was in one of Spectrum’s VIP transporters, camouflaged as an oil tanker. Familiar with the spec of this remarkable piece of hardware, she’d nevertheless not actually been in one before, and found herself quite taken aback by the sheer luxury of its interior. While she was still taking it all in, a man dressed in the uniform of a Spectrum lieutenant entered her field of vision, carrying a cup of coffee.
“Here, Miss Rhapsody – drink this. You’ll feel a lot better for it.”
She recognised the voice she’d heard a few minutes earlier, and struggled to get herself upright. “Thank you.” She took the cup automatically and took several rapid sips. It was strong and slightly bitter, but it did the trick. “Thank you, Lieutenant… Cyan, it must be, yes?”
“Yes, ma’am. Lieutenant Auburn and I were driving the Tanker up to the security conference in Edinburgh when we were diverted to the east coast on account of your ditching in the sea. We’re travelling north; Captain Scarlet’s asked us to ensure that you change into something warmer whilst your uniform is drying out. We’re quite well stocked with casuals, and these look as if they’ll fit you. Will they do?”
He held up a pile of assorted light-coloured garments, which Rhapsody accepted gratefully, stifling her amazement at meeting a man capable of accurately assessing a woman’s size, and noting with interest that the entire pile, including the underwear, was of a quality that even she couldn’t afford to buy on a regular basis. Perhaps she’d forget to change back out of them once they arrived… Another sharp pain in her stomach made her wince, and brought her back to the matter in hand.
“So how have I come to be here? The last thing I remember was ejecting from my aircraft just before it collided with a helijet, and being picked up by Captain Black in a speedboat”.
“Your channel was still open when you ejected, ma’am. Cloudbase was able to get a fix on you, and diverted us to intercept his boat when it landed. He got away, I’m afraid.”
“I’d like to get dressed. Would you excuse me for a few minutes?”
“Certainly ma’am. There’s a bathroom just over there.”
Rhapsody got up slowly and carefully from her couch, and scooping up her new clothes, made for the bathroom. Ye gods, she thought, these VIPs we move around the countryside don’t want for much, do they? A presidential suite could scarcely be better equipped. She decided not to hurry, and spent the next quarter of an hour in the shower before getting dressed. Folding up her filthy uniform, she noted with irritation that her epaulettes were inoperative. Weren’t these damn things supposed to be waterproof, shockproof and god-know-what-else proof? She mentally shrugged, and after pausing to arrange a towel around her still-drying hair, she left the bathroom and walked back over to her companion for the journey.
“Lieutenant, I need to talk to Cloudbase, but my personal communicator is out of commission. May I use your radio please?”
“Of course, ma’am. But could I ask you to keep the transmission fairly short, and to avoid discussing operational details? We’ve good reason to believe that the Mysterons have eavesdropped on at least two of our communications with Cloudbase over the last few hours, and your interception by Captain Black so quickly after having ejected after the crash is suggestive, to say the least.”
Rhapsody nodded. “No problem. Open me a channel please.”
Moments later she was talking to Colonel White.
“Rhapsody! Good to hear from you – are you all right?”
“SIG Colonel. I’m alive and well, and have been rescued by Lieutenants Cyan and Auburn in the Tanker. Am being driven… north as per that vehicle’s original schedule. Are you able to send transportation to collect me once we arrive?”
“It’s already being arranged, Rhapsody. Do you have an ETA in Edinburgh?”
Rhapsody raised an eyebrow at Cyan, who in turn reached out to flick a communicator switch and repeated the question to his colleague. Rhapsody could hear the clicking of keys at the other end as a projection was calculated, then the sound of a filtered voice that she took to be that of Lieutenant Auburn: “About four hours, Cyan – we’ll be on the M47 in ten minutes, and there are no projected delays after that.”
“Four hours, Colonel. I’ll brief you on recent events when we get there.”
“Very good, Rhapsody. Look after yourself until then. White out.”
Rhapsody unwound the towel around her head and shook down her hair, which by now was almost dry. Glancing around for a brush but failing to spot one, she walked over to the bedroom door and tried to open it, but it was locked.
“Lieutenant, do you have a hairbrush I could borrow, please?”
Cyan looked up from the computer console against the rear wall at which he was sitting. “Oh, sorry ma’am. One moment – I’ll see if I can find one.”
“Wouldn’t there be one in here?” She indicated the bedroom, but he shook his head.
“That’s the VIP bedroom, ma’am: it’s kept permanently locked unless we actually have dignitaries on board, in which case we’re given an access code - and that changes each trip. I’m afraid we didn’t know we were going to have the pleasure of your company for this trip, otherwise I’d have certainly have got its use authorised.”
Rhapsody glanced up and looked deep into his eyes in search of any hint of a double-entendre in his words, but found none: the Lieutenant appeared to be perfectly sincere. She suppressed a smile, thinking of at least one Captain up on Cloudbase who would have made a point of obtaining the access code on the off-chance. Cyan had in the meantime been busying himself going through a chest of drawers built into one of the side walls; moments later he returned with a brush and comb, which Rhapsody accepted gratefully. Returning to the bathroom, she emerged a few moments later looking every bit the fashionable socialite that her borrowed clothes proclaimed her to be.
She settled back into a chair to drink her coffee. She found Lieutenant Cyan attentive to her comfort to a fault, and remarkably inquisitive: he was apparently fascinated by her personal history prior to being recruited into Spectrum, and was intrigued to discover that she had spent many holidays in her youth just a few miles from his own home town of Evesham. Asking him for more details, she discovered that actually he’d left at the age of six, leaving him with only vague memories of the town – memories that she did her best to help him bring back. She spent a good hour telling him anecdotes about her summers in Moreton Harewood, adding many reminiscences about her grandmother and her insane fairy stories, which evidently fascinated him. More than once he asked about location of the house and the collection of artefacts in the attic. Rhapsody found the years falling away in her mind as she thought back to those marvellous times, recalling details that she hadn’t given thought to in years. When I’m next on leave, she thought, I’ll make a point of scrambling up into that attic once more, and sorting it all out. Personal storage space on Cloudbase was at something of a premium, but a few small items of memorabilia wouldn’t go amiss…
“How are you feeling now, ma’am?”
She considered. “Hungry – and my throat is parched. How are we on food, Lieutenant?”
“None, I’m afraid – we’re scheduled to stock the kitchen with fresh produce when we arrive. Auburn’s got a large bar of chocolate in the cab up front, I believe, but we can’t get that off him without stopping the Tanker, as the two sections don’t communicate.”
“Any chance of doing that? I’m starving.”
The Lieutenant shook his head sadly. “We’ll be on the motorway at the moment, so we can’t. But we’ve plenty of coffee in the kitchen – can I make you one?”
She started thumbing through a pile of magazines while the Lieutenant retired to the kitchen. By the time she’d worked her way through the third one he still hadn’t reappeared, and the dry taste in her mouth was becoming unbearable.
“Lieutenant? Where’s that coffee?”
There was a scrabbling noise from the kitchen. “Sorry, ma’am. It’s just coming.”
Seconds later he was back, carrying a tray with two cups. He smiled apologetically as she handed one over to her. “Temperature control is playing up again. I took a sip out of mine in there and found it was stone cold. Had to do them again – sorry.”
Rhapsody chuckled – it might be the most sophisticated piece of technology ever built into the shell of an oil tanker, but it still wouldn’t make a proper cup of coffee. Where’s that coffee? Now where had she heard that before? A couple of minutes went by as she closed her eyes, replaying as much of her recent experience as she could dredge from the depths of her mind: the shock of the cold water as she jumped from her ejector seat; the sharp pain of the dart; her slow return to consciousness; the constant sound of the Tanker’s engine; the message of goodwill from the Colonel. Opening her eyes again following her little reverie, her face had lost some of its recently restored colour.
“Miss Rhapsody? Are you feeling unwell?”
She started, and then returned an apologetic smile. “Sorry Lieutenant – I was miles away. Actually, I’m dreadfully tired. Would you mind awfully if I took a short nap?”
“But of course – here, let me get you another cushion.”
He picked one up and puffed it up into a makeshift pillow which he handed over to her, then turned the lights down before returning to his console. Rhapsody thanked him, curled up with her head on it and within ten minutes was breathing slow, measured breaths punctuated with the occasional gentle snore.
The Lieutenant watched her closely for a few minutes longer, then quietly stood up and crossed over to the bedroom door, which slid open as he approached to reveal another man in the uniform of a Spectrum lieutenant. As if by an unspoken command the Tanker slowly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. The two men then walked to the rear, pressed a button to lower the door and walked down the ramp, closing it behind them. The instant the door was closed again Rhapsody threw back the blankets and jumped out of the couch. Darting over to the far wall, she opened the armaments compartment, extracted a Mysteron gun, rapidly checked it over and returned to the couch, concealing it under the blanket. She then walked back to the rear of the Tanker and stood silently, listening at the door, despite guessing that the exit was probably soundproof.
Five minutes went by before she decided to risk opening the door. Returning to the couch she scooped up the gun and turned the lights down as far as she dared whilst still leaving enough illumination for her to see, then walked back to the door and pressed the button. Slowly the door lowered, and she peered out through the widening gap, but saw nobody. Jumping out, the first thing she saw was a glowing device attached to the exterior wall of the vehicle over the petrol tank, ticking faintly. Without pausing for thought she sprang away from the Tanker and sprinted across the road, diving into the ditch on the other side that materialised in front of her. She had not hit the ground before a massive explosion tore the Tanker apart, sending a brilliant searing sheet of flame in every direction.
Rhapsody took her time before daring to look out of the ditch, though the setting of a five-minute time delay gave her good reason to believe that the two Mysterons intended to be well away from the explosion when it came. Scrambling out, she picked up the gun and set off down the road in search of civilisation, keeping within the shadow of the trees as far as possible. It was not long in coming: just around the next twist in the road she found a crossroads with a signpost. Reading it, she got just the latest of many surprises that day: she discovered that she was just two kilometres from Moreton Harewood.
Rhapsody considered. This was obviously no coincidence. Her captor had clearly been quizzing her for information about her youth for a reason – and whatever that reason was, it had to be in some way related to her grandmother’s house: the house in which her parents now lived. The house in which her parents now lived… Rhapsody felt her stomach slowly turning to ice. There was no possible doubt that the Mysterons were headed towards her parents’ house: for what purpose was still unknown, but she could not doubt that her parents were in immediate and very real danger. And as yet she still had no idea where she was: dusk was falling, and it was many years since she last walked these lanes.
She seized upon the only clue she had – the direction indicated by the signpost, and began to run. Could the Mysterons have passed this way also? Or had they identified and taken a shortcut to the village through the woods? She had no way of knowing, but either way they were ahead of her, and therefore likely to reach her parents’ house before she could. She had no choice. She increased her pace, trying to make as little noise as she could by running on the grass by the side of the road, even though this slowed her down slightly. On the gravel of the road and dressed in her light clothes she would be an easy target if they were ahead of her and chanced to turn round.
Through the trees to the right she glimpsed the lights of a cottage at the end of a winding lane. It would have to do, she thought. Turning into the lane, she ran down the drive and rang the doorbell. After what seemed like an age she saw through the frosted glass a figure ambling towards the door, then listened as two bolts were drawn back. The door opened a fraction, and an old man peered out. “Yes?”
Completely breathless now, Rhapsody’s words tumbled out in gasps.
“Please help me!… I need to use your videophone urgently… someone is in great danger… may I come in please?... It’s very important…”
But the old boy was unimpressed, and clearly suspicious of Rhapsody’s unkempt appearance. “Now just a minute, young lady. I think we’ll just call the police to deal with your little problem, shall we? Now if you’ll just wait here, I’ll see what we…”
I’ve no time for this, thought Rhapsody. Raising the Mysteron gun, she fixed the occupant with a passable imitation of a furious glare. “I need to use your phone. Now!” she barked. She saw a flash of fear pass across the old man’s face, but he remained firm. “You can’t frighten me with that toy, young lady. I think it’s absolutely disgraceful, the way young yobbos think they can just barge into peoples’ homes - I fought the war for people like…”
Obviously a retired military type, she realised, and evidently seriously short of imagination. She aimed the gun at an expensive-looking vase in the hall and fired. The vase exploded in a sparkling shower of pottery shards. She turned back to the man and aimed the gun at his head. “Your videophone please?”
There was no more resistance. The old boy silently pointed towards the device in the corner of the living room, whilst eyeing her warily. She strode over to it and rapidly keyed in her parents’ number, whilst keeping the gun firmly trained on the owner – whatever else he was he was no coward, and obviously looking for an opportunity to jump her. In less than five seconds her father had answered, and she started talking instantly.
“Dad? It’s Dianne. Yes, it’s me! No – don’t talk – just listen! This is really urgent. I’m in a house a few kilometres from you. No… I don’t know exactly where… just listen please! Some men are coming to your house. They’re almost certainly coming to kill you, do you understand? To KILL you! Yes – that IS what I said! They’re wearing Spectrum uniforms, but they aren’t Spectrum officers – they’re Mysterons – have you got that? Mysterons! You can’t argue with them and you can’t fight them, Dad: you and Mum have to get out of the house as quickly as you can. Yes, NOW! Get out of there now – immediately! Go to a neighbour’s house at once and stay there – have you got that? Dad? Are you there Dad? Dad? Oh God…”
The line had gone dead, and Rhapsody had no difficulty guessing why: the communication lines to the house had just been cut. There was nothing for it – she’d have to go there herself. She turned to the old man. “How do I get to Lord Robert Simms’ house from here?” she demanded, wondering whether to threaten him with the Mysteron gun again. In the event it turned out not to be necessary. The old boy had straightened himself up, and answered her formally, if a little gruffly.
“Simms’ girl, are you? Yes, now that I come to look at you – your photograph’s on their sideboard, isn’t it. Had tea with them last Sunday. Mentioned that you were working for the military. Mysterons, is it? Nasty blighters. At least all our enemies were human. House is at the other end of the village, off the lane immediately past the church.”
Rhapsody gestured at a set of keys on the table. “Are those the keys to your car?”
“Yes. Since you obviously intend to take it anyway, I’ll say now that I’d appreciate it if you’d return it in one piece. Now you listen to me, young lady - in my day we didn’t go gallivanting around the countryside waving guns at civilians left, right and centre. I shall certainly be making a formal complaint to your…” He gave up as Rhapsody ran out of the house with the keys, and seconds later heard a screech of tyres as she drove the car down the drive and through the open gates at the far end into the road.
The five minutes that it took to drive through the village gave Rhapsody a much-needed opportunity to assess the situation that faced her: too much of her recent experiences had been a result of reaction and instinct, and she knew that there was no faster way for her luck to run out than for her to continue along that course. She had two advantages – the enemy almost certainly didn’t know that she was alive, and that her parents had already been warned of their coming. They might have escaped, but she couldn’t count on that – and despite the explicit warning that she’d been able to give her father about their intentions, she realised that he would find it difficult to put aside a lifetime’s experience of taking apparent authority at face value. Having said that, he’d spent his whole career in the service of his country – and that had involved having to deal with some very dangerous people.
She had almost arrived now, and was able to recognise the immediate vicinity of the house. She briefly pondered hurtling into the drive at full tilt and running down anyone who might get in the way, but dismissed the notion out of hand: without knowing in advance whether the enemy had gained access to the house it was simply too dangerous. She drove past the house and parked fifty metres further down the lane. Opening the door as quietly as she could, she got out and closed the door sufficiently to turn off the interior light, then cradling the Mysteron gun under her arm she lightly ran back up the lane and into her parents’ drive.
The front door was ajar – probably a bad sign. Keeping to the shadows on the edge of the lawn, she made her way towards it, watching constantly for any sign of movement at the windows. There was none, and she edged her way along the front of the house, ducking beneath the front windows, then sidled through the door into the house. At once she could hear voices coming from the living room, recognising one of them as that of Lieutenant Auburn. She could make out the occasional phrase: “… asked by your daughter to take all her belongings into safekeeping with immediate effect …,” and her mother’s replies: “… of course Lieutenant, I fully understand … perhaps if Spectrum would be so good as to supply us with an inventory …”.
She was so intent upon making out the words that she failed to hear the telltale sound of someone creeping up behind her until it was too late. Suddenly her arms were pinned from behind and simultaneously a hand clapped over her mouth. Struggling furiously she twisted to see her assailant – and found herself face to face with her father. Putting his finger to his lips, he released her and silently pointed to the pistol that he’d placed on the floor at her feet before grabbling her. She nodded – good old Dad! Picking it up, he pointed urgently upstairs. Rhapsody understood: one of them had gone to find the loot whilst the other was keeping her mother talking.
Obviously they had to be tackled almost simultaneously, or the noise of one being attacked would bring the other – but then, perhaps that was the best stratagem, thought Rhapsody. Her father’s pistol wouldn’t kill either of them, but it should immobilise one long enough for her to bring the Mysteron gun to finish him off. She pointed to herself and then the staircase, and her father nodded. Rhapsody took up position at the bottom of the stairs, with the Mysteron gun covering what was visible of the upper storey.
Her father waited until she was ready, then cocked the pistol and marched into the living room, holding the pistol in both hands ahead of him. Taken completely by surprise, Auburn had just enough time to draw his own weapon half out of its holster before Lord Robert shot him down, to the accompaniment of a blood-curdling scream from his wife. Instantly Lieutenant Cyan’s face appeared at the top of the stairs, only to be struck with a bolt of high-voltage electricity from Rhapsody’s Mysteron gun. Cyan uttered an inhuman cry and tumbled down the stairwell. Pausing just long enough to verify that the Mysteron was indeed dead, Rhapsody ran into the living room and fired a second bolt at Auburn. His body writhed in the glow of the ray, then lay still. Sobbing with joy, Lady Simms ran into her husband’s arms, but Lord Robert pushed her away. Giving his daughter a brief hug, he spoke quickly and urgently.
“Dianne – there’s another one. He went up the back stairs at the same time as the chap in the bluey-green uniform went up the main staircase. We haven’t seen him for maybe ten minutes, but we heard him scrabbling around in the attic just before you showed up. There’s no way down other than the back stairs, but he must have heard us just now. Nasty looking piece of work, he is – unshaven, cold eyes…”
Rhapsody had heard enough. “Is he armed?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then let’s get him – and quickly. He has a habit of… disappearing when he’s in a tight spot.” She smiled grimly, and scooping up the Mysteron gun again, she lightly ran towards the back stairs. And there he was at the top, slowly making his way down from the attic, one-handed. In his other hand he was clutching something. But even as she trained the gun on him, she sensed an indescribable, oppressive pulsing force close in around her, pushing her away. And even as she watched helplessly, their quarry vanished into thin air.
Captain Scarlet accepted yet another scone from Lady Simms, hoping that nobody was counting. Unfortunately Rhapsody was, and she gave him an appropriately black look. Scarlet looked suitably embarrassed, considered putting it back, decided that that would be too impolite and scoffed it anyway. Hurriedly he decided to get the conversation going again before anyone else noticed. He posed the question that had been on his lips since they had arrived.
“But how did you know they were Mysterons, Rhapsody? From what you’ve told us, they didn’t put a foot wrong.”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes. “Captain! I’m astonished at you! Can’t you count?”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow.
“As I was beginning to regain consciousness in the Tanker, I heard somebody ask someone else where the coffee was. I realised shortly afterwards when I met him that the voice I’d heard was Lieutenant Cyan’s. After that, Cyan spent the best part of the next two hours talking to me in the back of the Tanker. He told me himself that there’s no way to get from the Tanker section to the cab without stopping the vehicle, and throughout that entire time the Tanker never stopped moving.”
“So who was Cyan talking to when he asked where the coffee was?”
Scarlet groaned, shook his head and reached for another scone in an attempt to conceal his embarrassment.
Blue looked up with a sudden thought: “Couldn’t he have been speaking over his radio to Auburn in the cab?”
Rhapsody shook her head. “His exact words were ‘Where’s that coffee?’. That isn’t a request for information – it’s an attempt to hurry someone up. That person had to be in the back of the Tanker with us – but he wasn’t there when I opened my eyes a few minutes later. So whoever was in the cab, there must have been someone else there too – and it wasn’t exactly difficult to guess where he was! As soon as I realised that I had no choice but to play along and hope they wouldn’t realise that they’d tripped themselves up. I didn’t dare try to confirm it by asking any leading questions: if I had they’d probably have killed me immediately. In the event I got confirmation by the simplest of tricks – by pretending to fall asleep – though it was quite a dangerous thing to do, as subsequent events demonstrated. I had to get away from them, and couldn’t think of any other way to do it.”
She took a deep breath, remembering. “By that time I’d also realised that they sabotaged my personal communicator even before I’d regained consciousness, to prevent me from getting information from any other source. In hindsight that would have been to prevent me learning from Cloudbase that the Tanker wasn’t where it should be, since obviously it was being tracked.”
Scarlet nodded. “That’s right – the only reason we were able to get to Moreton Harewood so quickly was that we’d been following the Tanker’s progress across England and couldn’t raise it on the radio – Blue and I were already on the way. But wait a minute - they did allow you to talk to us, didn’t they?”
“They had to allay your concerns about my radio silence immediately after being picked up out of the sea – and also they knew that nothing else had happened to make anyone suspicious at that time. Also, if I’d radioed in later, I might have learned that your security team had discovered the bodies of the real Lieutenants Cyan and Auburn. That was the reason for Cyan telling me that Cloudbase suspected the Mysterons were monitoring communications, and for asking me not to discuss operational details. No doubt if I’d asked them to make another call to Cloudbase later I’d have been told that Colonel White had ordered a radio blackout. They slipped up there, coming to think of it – when I told the Colonel that we were heading towards our northern destination, he replied by asking me how long it would take to get to Edinburgh – something he never would have done if there really had been security concerns over our radio transmissions. I should have thought of that at the time, damn it.” She made a face.
Captain Blue smiled, and raised his hands in protest. “Hey – you weren’t exactly 100% compos mentis at the time, you know. I don’t think anybody’s going to be reporting you for gross negligence on this occasion.”
Scarlet was still considering the organisation of the scam. He looked up. “They couldn’t have planned for the arrival of the Tanker though, could they?”
Rhapsody frowned. “I imagine they already had other plans to get whatever information they wanted out of me by using truth drugs or something like that. The arrival of the Tanker was a lucky break for them - and me, for that matter – since they didn’t need to use them.”
“Why not just kill you, mysteronise you and get it that way?”
“Too risky - they might have needed the real me, possibly drugged or brainwashed, to do their dirty work for them – and judging from the mysteronised Auburn’s conversation with Mum earlier this evening, that dirty work appears to have been the acquisition of Grandma’s collection. If things had gone wrong and Spectrum got here first, a mysteronised Rhapsody would have been detected instantly and shot down on the spot.”
“You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you?”
She shrugged. “I’m guessing for the most part – but it seems to hang together.”
Captain Blue had been quietly pursuing a line of thought of his own.
“Lord Robert – this apparent attempt by the Mysterons to remove certain articles from your house is extremely interesting. From what Rhap… - sorry, Dianne – has already told Captain Scarlet and myself about her journey here, it’s beginning to look as though she must have told them something that interested them enough to want to stage a robbery. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered about why they tried to kidnap Rhapsody in the first place, but let’s put that aside for now - what I want to understand right now is why some articles in your house should interest the Mysterons. Have you any idea what it was they could have been after?”
Rhapsody’s father shook his head in obvious bafflement. “No idea whatsoever.” It can hardly be something we brought with us – we’re retired, for heaven’s sake. I took great pride in not bringing anything out of the office when I left it for the last time. As to what might have been left in the house after my mother died, anything that looked interesting was moved into one of the spare bedrooms. We’ve been meaning to sort it out one day, but…” His voice trailed away.
“What about Captain Black’s apparent interest in the attic?”
“Ah yes – the attic. You’ll need to talk to Dianne about that – she’s probably got a far better idea of what’s up there than we have.”
Blue turned to Rhapsody, who shrugged at the implied question in his quizzical look. “Nothing over and above what I’ve already told you. It’s junk – fascinating junk to be sure, but scarcely fascinating enough to interest the Mysterons. Just an old woman’s memorabilia spanning a lifetime.”
Scarlet considered. “Well, something here has interested the Mysterons. It seems to me that we need to understand a lot more than we currently do about Rhapsody’s – sorry – Dianne’s grandmother’s past. That is, your mother’s past, Lord Robert. Can you tell us what she did for a living?”
“She was a journalist, Captain. She worked for Metropolitan magazine for many years – between about 1975 and 1995, I believe. She never discussed it in any great detail with me however.”
“She must have talked about it a little, surely?”
Lord Robert laughed. “I believe there may have been a security aspect to her work, Captain. Just like me in my own chosen career, and now Dianne also, we tend to keep what we do for a living separate from our private lives, even from our nearest and dearest. I’m sure you understand.”
Scarlet smiled. “Of course, sir. All of us understand perfectly.”
He exchanged a surreptitious glance with Captain Blue: each knew what the other was thinking. Lord Robert was probably speaking the truth when he said that he knew little more than what he’d already said, and to quiz him further would only raise his hackles – and anyway, there were other, probably more efficient ways to find out what they wanted to know. Scarlet put down his half-eaten scone.
“I’ve left some equipment in the MSV. Would you excuse me?”
He walked briskly out to the vehicle, snapping his cap mike into place the second he was out of earshot, and putting through a call to Lieutenant Green on Cloudbase.
“Lieutenant – can you check something for me please?”
“Would you access Rhapsody’s personal biog and find me the name and main career details of her paternal grandmother please?”
“SIG Captain - one moment please.” Scarlet could hear the sound of Green’s fingers tapping on his keyboard over his comlink – several feverish bursts of activity, each punctuated by a few seconds silence as the lieutenant digested each screen of information and formulated the next series of questions. Within less than two minutes he was back. “I have them, Captain.”
“Rhapsody’s father’s mother’s name is listed as Sarah, Countess of Stockbridge. Prior to her marrying the Earl, she was a journalist for Metropolitan magazine for her entire working life – no other employers recorded.”
“That’s the one. Lieutenant, I need to know everything there is on record about her working life. Would you call me when everything that’s readily accessible is online? Make it a private communication, will you – we’re with people I don’t want to insult by letting them know we’re asking for this, even though I imagine they’ve probably already guessed.”
“No problem, Captain – I should have it all within an hour.”
Scarlet returned to the impromptu midnight tea party, bringing back a few pieces of equipment to justify his trip out to the MSV. Around the house, recent events in Moreton Harewood were beginning to acquire a momentum of their own, with police sirens heralding the discovery of the burned-out Tanker, and their equally rapid silencing as Spectrum ordered them away from the area. The retired commander at the other end of the village had been as good as his word, and had got as far as ringing up the Chief Constable to complain about the heavy-handed tactics of some lunatic girl in a dirty but expensive-looking set of clothes and carrying a futuristic ray gun before being informed that the incident had never happened.
The local press had also got wind that something was afoot, and silencing them as well occupied the captains for the best part of an hour. Things were just beginning to return to normal when a small flashing light inside Scarlet’s visor told him that Lieutenant Green had something to report. He and Blue excused themselves and returned to the MSV to see what it was.
From the videolink on the vehicle’s control panel Green took them rapidly through the main findings. There wasn’t much. Rhapsody’s grandmother had indeed been a journalist in her early twenties, progressing to editor-in-chief of Metropolitan in 1985 at the age of 28; met Edward Simms, Earl of Stockbridge at the age of 37; married him aged 38; first child Charles Edward born two years later, after which with a second child on the way she left the magazine to care for her family. From the time of her accession to the editorship her daily routine was computer-logged on almost an hourly basis. There was nothing at all there to suggest a connection with the Mysterons.
Green had in the meantime however turned up an anomaly in her earlier life. In her early twenties, the magazine had no record of her assignments covering a period of approximately eight years. During this period she filed very few articles, most of them related to cutting-edge science, and was listed in the records at that time as working freelance. Payment for these was minimal however – clearly insufficient to support her inferred lifestyle at that time. No other magazines had any record of her working for them however, and a rapid check of alternative sources of employment revealed nothing at all.
“Lieutenant?” chipped in Scarlet, “Are we able to access details of her bank accounts during that period?”
“No problem sir,” came back the reply. “Spectrum has access to every computer system in the world, one or two Bereznik defence systems excepted – and we’re working on those. Something we don’t tend to advertise, you understand, but we can do it.”
“Please proceed, Lieutenant.”
But a few moments later Green was back.
“Captain – I’ve hit a snag. I’m being denied access to the future Countess’s financial details between the years 1976 and 1985 inclusive. World Government security order, code triple-A one.”
Scarlet’s eyes gleamed. That was more like it! “Lieutenant, please ask Colonel White if he can get that security block rescinded. I have a feeling that the content of those files is going be extremely interesting.”
It was a further thirty minutes before the reply came, and when it did, it was White himself on the line.
“You were right to ask for the removal of that security block, Captain. Rhapsody’s grandmother was between those dates seconded to a high-security intelligence taskforce under the auspices of what was at that time called the United Nations – the loose affiliation of nation states that preceded the formation of the World Government. Indeed, I recall from early in my career that UNIT, as it was called, was a direct forerunner of Spectrum, being charged with the responsibility of investigating amongst other things extraterrestrial phenomena of potential threat to the human race. We have therefore inherited its files – which is the reason I’ve been able to discover all the information you’ve been seeking, now that we know where to look for it.
“Between 1976 and 1985 Sarah Jane Simms – or Smith as she was prior to her marriage to the Earl of Stockbridge, was a confidante of UNIT’s scientific advisor. About him we still have almost no information – not because we are denied access to it, but because it appears not to exist. Nevertheless we do have all the files relating to UNIT’s operations between the late 20th century and the outbreak of war in 2028, when UNIT was disbanded. Spectrum Intelligence is scanning those files as we speak, looking for any reference to anything remotely connected with the Mysterons. I have to tell you however that so far they have found nothing that appears to be relevant.”
Scarlet stifled an expletive. So near! And yet…. “I can’t believe that we’re not on the right track here, Colonel. There are too many coincidences. There has to be a link somewhere.”
“I agree, Captain. But let’s try turning the problem round, shall we? We may not know what the link is, but it would appear that the Mysterons do. Take a look in that attic, Captain: I have a feeling that what we’re looking for could be in there.”
“Oh look! Here’s Grandma’s bracelet – the Italian one. Grandma told us that she’d been given it by a mediaeval Count as a token of his love after she saved his life from an intergalactic energy whirlpool or something. Oh, the stories she used to tell!” She sighed, tossed it down the hatch into the bedroom below and dived back into the chest to emerge a couple of seconds later having extracted a silver beetle about half a metre long. “Here’s the cybermat too – Grandma said he’d been deactivated when we wanted to play with him, so we tied him on top of an old toy railway carriage, whizzed him up and down the corridor and pretended he was an alien monster.”
Scarlet grimaced, took the toy bug out of her hands and tossed it down after the bracelet. “Rhapsody, I hate to interrupt your nostalgia trip – really I do - but this is serious. We’re looking for notebooks, diaries, computers – anything at all that looks as if it could have been used by your grandmother to keep records of her dealings with UNIT. Now then, what’s that over there?”
He pointed to a crate the size of a tea chest against the far wall. Rhapsody frowned, then caught her breath, her eyes shining in anticipation.
“I don’t know. We asked Grandma many times what was in it, but she would never tell us. Said it was her ‘guardian’, and that one day when we were old enough to be able to look after it she would give it to us – but then she died, and we forgot all about it. Oh, Paul, please can we open it now? Please?” For a few seconds the female fighter pilot with nerves of steel was transformed into the bubbly schoolgirl that she used to be. Then reality returned, and she straightened up. “This could be relevant, Captain. I suggest we open it and find out.”
Scarlet suppressed a grin. He nodded, and the pair of them manhandled the case into the light streaming up through the attic’s hatch. The chest was just light enough to allow them to lower it slowly down the ladder to the ground, albeit with difficulty, after which Scarlet walked off in search of a jemmy, whilst Rhapsody sat down on top of the case to contemplate the mountain of trinkets that had piled up at the base of the hatch during the search. The majority of them were ornamental, with one or two looking quite valuable, now that she could see them through the eyes of an adult. A large chunk of mineral – ye gods, it looked like pure gold, though that was plainly impossible. She wondered whether Cloudbase’s forensic laboratory could identify it. An ancient Egyptian embalming jar, with the head of a ram with a disk between its horns adorning the lid: surely that ought to be in the British Museum? She gathered up several items and took them out to the MSV, returning just as Scarlet emerged carrying the jemmy. Inserting it between the lid and the front panel, he leaned hard and prised them slowly apart.
Inside was a metal dog. A sleek terrier-like head sporting a red visor extended from its body, and an antenna protruded from its rear, generating the illusion of a tail. Despite lacking any legs, for which were substituted a pair of tank-tracks, there could be no doubt as to the form of creature upon which the robot – if indeed it was a robot – was stylised, for upon its flank were emblazoned two hyphenated embossed characters:
Spectrum had never been an organisation to let the grass grow under its feet, reflected Rhapsody: the advent of the Mysteron menace so soon after its inception had caused it to avoid the tendency towards bureaucracy that befalls most intelligence organisations. Having been summoned to a briefing with the Colonel within twelve hours of their return to Cloudbase, she now joined Captains Scarlet and Blue in the main conference room where Colonel White was awaiting their arrival. Other men found it amusing to keep their subordinates waiting after having called a meeting; but not this one. When he said 2000 hours he meant it literally, and fully expected the briefing to have begun in earnest ten seconds after that time. As indeed it was on this occasion. Listening to him, Rhapsody marvelled anew at the orderliness of his mental processes: he combined the precision and thoroughness of a soldier with the open-mindedness of a trained scientist, and could, had he wished it, have made his name in any number of fields that would benefit from the fusion of those capabilities.
“Rhapsody Angel, Captains Scarlet and Blue, we now have the results of our experts’ initial examination of the artefacts found in Rhapsody’s grandmother’s old house. The analyses are necessarily incomplete, but what we have learned already has been sufficiently revealing to require me to throw a security cordon around Moreton Harewood, and to post armed guards on the farmhouse. Rhapsody’s parents have been invited to remain in the house until further notice. They are sufficiently familiar both with matters of state security in general, and the nature of Rhapsody’s work in particular, that I do not feel I need to initiate the procedures that are normally enacted in such circumstances.”
Rhapsody understood that White was telling her that he felt it would be unnecessary to use drugs to erase her parents’ memories of recent events, and she was grateful for it. Though the procedure was entirely painless and without after-effects, she did not relish the thought of having to deceive her parents in this matter.
“Each of the items returned to Cloudbase has generated enough scientific data to keep our boffins busy for months. The piece of rock that Rhapsody brought back has been found to consist almost entirely of gold – but has also been found to contain trace elements that do not exist naturally on Earth. One of the Zero-X missions to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter returned with similar samples a few years ago, before the missions were curtailed following the discovery of the Mysteron menace - but those missions took place after the death of Rhapsody’s grandmother. Rhapsody however remembers playing with the nugget as a child, so unless the rock actually fell to earth – which our astrophysicists consider to be impossible, since it should have burned up in the atmosphere - we cannot explain its presence here.”
“The Italian bracelet has been examined by two world authorities in mediaeval jewellery, who were flown to Cloudbase a few hours ago. Both are prepared to swear that it is genuine, having been manufactured in the San Martino region of Tuscany between 1380 and 1410. It is in immeasurably better condition than that of any such bracelet ever found, and it is therefore worth a small fortune.”
“The metallic beetle is built around an infrastructure of complex electronic circuitry that we do not understand. It also incorporates a biological element however, and minute traces of a potentially lethal virus were found inside it. It is currently being held in quarantine pending further investigations by our microelectronics team. Whatever it is, it is not a toy.”
“The cybernetic dog is perhaps the interesting object to assess at this time. It is a mobile computer, probably built in the image of a domestic pet for aesthetic purposes. It is voice-controlled, reacting to human commands, and was, as we suspected, owned by Rhapsody’s grandmother for a number of years prior to its deactivation as a result of a severely diminished power source. This much information has been gleaned from the last few watts of power left in its cells. We have been able to supply an alternative source of power - to ‘recharge its batteries’ so to speak - and aim to have it fully functional again within the next six hours, after which you, Rhapsody, will interrogate it verbally. The configuration of its system unit is of a type entirely unknown to us, and I consider that the risk of not being able to reassemble it correctly after having dismantled it is too great: the information that it may contain could be of crucial importance to us, and that must be recovered before any attempt is made to understand the mechanics of its operation.”
“The ancient Egyptian jar has provided our experts with their greatest challenge to date, and for reasons that will shortly become apparent has become an object of the most intense scrutiny. From external appearances it is a burial jar – fashioned to contain the eviscerated organs of bodies that were mummified by the ancients – and indeed to the cursory glance it is indistinguishable from many such examples dating from the first dynasty of the Pharaohs now on display in the National Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Radiocarbon dating confirms that the jar is about seven thousand years old. However it is evident that this particular artefact was never intended to contain human remains, and that its outward appearance is nothing more than a disguise to deceive the ignorant. The jar contains a device – expertly designed to fit precisely within the jar - whose function appears to have been some form of force-field generator. We cannot confirm this hypothesis, because it is clear that at least one key component has been removed. However our microelectronics division tells me that the remaining circuitry bears a remarkable similarity to that developed recently by their colleague Doctor Kurnitz at the Nash Institute of Technology… when building a communicator around the crystal power source recovered by Captain Scarlet from the Mysteron complex in Crater 101 on the moon.”
Colonel White stopped, to give his audience time for this information to sink in. For at least fifteen seconds nobody spoke, and when they did, all three tried to speak at once. The Colonel held up his hand to silence them, then motioned for Scarlet to begin the debate.
“Sir, are you saying that this antique jar was manufactured by the Mysterons?”
“I don’t know, Captain. What I do know is that there is something that has to be explained here.” He turned the pages of a set of notes prepared for him by the archaeologists. “Putting aside the circuitry contained within it for a moment, the jar is apparently genuine – or at least was manufactured during the early pharaonic age – the first dynasty, to be more accurate. Its symbolism is authentic: the lid depicts the god Osiris in the form of Khnemu-Ra, displaying the head of a ram, the horns of which are surmounted by the solar disk and by four knives. On the side of the jar, the gods Horus and Set are depicted in battle. These were brothers who represented light and darkness respectively, Horus being associated with life, whilst his brother Set was associated with…”
“Excuse me sir,” interrupted Captain Blue quietly, “but did you say ‘Osiris’?”
“Yes Captain. Why do you ask?”
“Osiris - one of the ancient Egyptian gods. Rhapsody’s grandmother spoke of the ‘Riddle of the Osirians’. I’d say that’s a remarkable coincidence, wouldn’t you?”
“Perhaps, Captain – though I can’t see where the connection might lie. Do you have any ideas?”
Blue frowned. “Not yet. I’m noting only that we have a very similar word from two different sources – one from the recent past and the other from the distant past. And a connection between the recent and the distant past is exactly what we appear to be trying to find right now. But as to a meaning…” He shook his head.
The briefing continued well into the night, but reached no conclusions, either definite or tentative, and the Colonel eventually ordered everyone to take a few hours’ sleep before resuming. Rhapsody however found herself unable to sleep a wink. Interrogate a cybernetic dog! What fun! This was one task she was very keen to embark upon, not least because she understood that this was to be the enactment of a scene foreordained but long delayed – the last contact with her beloved grandmother, now passed away for over a decade.
But Rhapsody could not have anticipated just how much fun her task would prove to be. The little robot was a delight. Entering the Microcircuitry Section at dawn to begin her interrogation, she found it trundling around the room, inspecting its surroundings just like a real dog, to the evident amusement of the technicians attendant upon it. She seated herself on a stool in the middle of the room and peered down at it: at once it swivelled and rolled itself towards her, as if sensing at once that her presence was important to it in some way – as indeed it was.
It spoke! It actually spoke! Rhapsody jumped, and nearly fell off her stool in surprise. Its voice was high-pitched and slightly mechanical, but very precise and formal, rather like a slightly stuffy schoolgirl. Swiftly Rhapsody recovered her composure and addressed it in the slow, measured loud tones that some English still considered necessary to adopt when talking to a foreigner:
“What… are… you?”
The mechanical dog replied instantly.
“I am K-9. I am a mechanical construct, third generation, incorporating a databank, automotive functions and offensive capability; built by The Doctor from the original blueprints of K-9 Mark One and subsequently given to Mistress Sarah Jane as a present. You are not my mistress. Please inform me of my current location.”
Rhapsody instantly dropped the tone she had used previously to address the little robot, recognizing that it was clearly both unnecessary and inappropriate.
“You’re on Cloudbase – er, that is, you’re on board an airborne command station belonging to Spectrum. Sorry – that’s a security organisation of the World Government.” She stopped, self-consciously aware that her answer was woefully inadequate, but it seemed to satisfy K-9, who executed a 180° turn on the spot and trundled off to look out of the window. Rhapsody watched him in amazement, not having missed the significant detail that in answering her question the little robot had thrown back one of its own. Clearly this was no ordinary computer. She cleared her throat and tried again.
“Your… mistress is dead.” Rhapsody watched astonished as an antenna at its rear, stylised to resemble a tail, drooped as an evident mark of respect, as did its head. She shook her head in amazement, and continued. “She died of old age about fifteen years ago. I am her granddaughter – my name is… that is, my codename in this organisation is Rhapsody Angel. Do you… er… want a new mistress?” This is ridiculous, thought Rhapsody, I’m actually asking it if it needs a new owner! But it seemed the logical first step in her relationship with the robot dog if she was to probe its memory banks for any information about Sarah Jane’s past – and besides, the poor little thing looked rather lonely…
“K-9: do you know the meaning of the phrase “Riddle of the Osirians”?”
“Riddle of the Osirians: logical paradox permitting truthful answer to be obtained from source whose veracity or otherwise is unknown.”
So far, so good. She cleared her throat. Now for the big one.
“K-9: do you know why the paradox is called the Riddle of the Osirians?”
“Previous mistress Sarah Jane forced to submit to life-threatening riddle by service robots guarding the Pyramid of Mars in Earth year 1911. Life saved by The Doctor correctly answering the riddle. Paradox is called The Riddle of the Osirians because the riddle was first created by the Osirians, who built the Pyramid of Mars.”
Rhapsody sat dumbfounded on her stool, a shiver running down her spine as she recognised in the robot dog’s words the fairytale her grandmother had told her as a small girl. But wait a minute… had Sarah Jane simply fed her fantasies into K-9’s memory banks?
“K-9: do you have personal experience of these events?”
“Negative. Events took place prior to my existence. Data downloaded from Tardis log at time of my creation.”
Rhapsody blinked. K-9’s answer meant nothing to her. She decided to try again.
“K-9: where is the ‘Pyramid of Mars’?”
“Planet Mars, Valles Marineris, 12.6° South of Equator by 84.4° West of Meridian.”
Scribbling down the figures on a scrap of paper, Rhapsody suddenly became aware of another presence in the room. Glancing up she saw that Colonel White had entered, and was quietly standing a few feet away from her. She straightened up and started to rise, but he waved her back onto her stool.
“Well, Rhapsody, you really do seem to have got to the heart of the matter with that one single question, don’t you?”
“I don’t need to check that map reference with Spectrum’s databases. Those coordinates are etched on my memory. That is the site of the Mysteron complex.”
It took no great genius to predict that K-9 would be an instant hit with the Angels. Within the space of two duty periods he had been introduced to the remaining four of them, and had taken up permanent residence in their quarters less than four hours later, evidently recognising with all the intuition of a real dog that he was going to be very well looked after there. Despite the urgent requirement to probe K-9’s memory banks, Colonel White allowed the girls to assimilate him into their routine, recognising that the situation effectively put five highly trained and dedicated interrogators onto the task of debriefing the little robot instead of just one.
Biding his time with a number of other lesser tasks therefore, he allowed K-9 to settle in for a few hours before inviting himself down to the Amber Lounge for a cup of coffee. Every one of the Angels understood his actions and therefore knew the purpose of his visit without being told, and with the exception of Destiny, who was in the cockpit of her aircraft, were assembled ready to summarise their findings when he arrived. The object of their research sat at Symphony’s feet, peering upwards at the Colonel as he sat down. Rhapsody set the ball rolling by introducing him to K-9, and explaining to K-9 who the Colonel was. K-9 duly extended an antenna from his muzzle, scanned him and then retracted it without comment. Ranks and titles evidently didn’t excite him very much.
“We have all been asking K-9 questions about his, er… life… prior to being reactivated here on Cloudbase,” began Rhapsody. “Most of the questioning has been conducted by me, on account of his relationship with my grandmother, but all of us have been chipping in to a greater or lesser extent. Melody’s been cross-referencing our findings with any supporting documentation that we’ve been able to find, though we’ve had little success on that score: the only useful information we’ve extracted concern K-9’s life with my grandmother after she parted company with UNIT’s scientific advisor.”
“Prior to that time, K-9 – or rather his most recent prototype - was owned by the latter. The tales that we are getting from that period simply defy belief. Indeed, to be perfectly frank, sir, if it weren’t for the undeniable fact that K-9 clearly knows the location of the Mysteron complex on Mars, I’d be inclined to dismiss the whole database as the product of a fantasist lunatic.”
“K-9 seems to believe he’s the creation of a Professor Marius, who was living on Titan – one of the moons of Saturn – some time in the 26th century. He’s been to Pluto, where an intergalactic conglomerate had enslaved the whole human race at some time in the far future. He’s fought an army of potato-headed warriors called, er, Santarians…”
“Thank you K-9: a bunch of whatever they were called on a planet in the constellation of Kasterborus. It just goes on and on. Just once we managed to find something that we were able to check: there’s a record of an encounter with some sort of intergalactic criminal in Cornwall around seventy years ago. K-9 apparently met an archaeologist called Amelia Rumford, who was surveying a ring of ancient megaliths at the time. The details are extremely confused, including references to a person called Vivien Fay who was working as Professor Rumford’s assistant at the time, a mythical creature called the Cailleach and a hyperspatial prison spaceship amongst other things, but Professor Rumford clearly did exist: we tracked down three papers of hers in the International Journal of Celtic Studies, one of which details the survey that K-9 has described to us. All very dull stuff – makes a lot of fuss about inconsistencies between her own survey and a previous one conducted in 1935 and that sort of thing – but we decided to see if we could find anything to bear out K-9’s version of events, so we spoke to Professor Rumford’s old college at Cambridge University, which was listed as her contact address in the paper. They were able to find her original notes, which have been gathering dust in the archives of her college for over half a century, and sent us copies about an hour ago. Symphony’s been reading through them. Symphony?”
Since the start of the meeting the American girl had been sitting quietly in the corner working her way through a wad of photocopied sheets. Now she stood up and addressed the group. “This is incredible stuff, Colonel. I can’t say I’m surprised that the Professor limited the content of her paper to the survey she was conducting – she’d have been thrown out of the Royal Archaeological Society and probably certified as well if she’d tried to publish any of this. It reads like a very bad sci-fi novel from the pulp fiction era – and I’ve read enough of those to know what I’m talking about! But anyway, to get to the point, in addition to several references to Vivien Fay, whom she claims actually was the Cailleach, she also records details of a man she identifies only as “The Doctor” and an alien silicon-based life-form from Tau Ceti called the Ogri that looks like a stone – and claims that the Cailleach was finally brought to justice as a direct result of the actions of a mobile computer with the external appearance of a dog… called K-9.”
There was silence for a full ten seconds. Colonel White eventually broke it.
“Ladies, it’s beginning to look as if K-9 is the most likely object of Captain Black’s raid on Rhapsody’s parents’ house, though we must keep an open mind on that, in view of the extremely peculiar nature of the collection of artefacts that we recovered.”
“I don’t pretend to understand this. I don’t pretend to understand any of it. What I do understand is that if I’m right, then this…” – he pointed to K-9 – “…computer has in its memory banks data which the Mysterons have been prepared to spend a great deal of planning, time and effort to obtain. We must – I repeat, must learn what it is, and quickly. They have tried once, and they will probably try again.”
“One more thing. This whole business is beginning to look like little more than a device to enable the Mysterons to kidnap you, Rhapsody, since it cannot be a coincidence that Captain Black just happened to be passing in that speedboat when you ejected from your plane.
“In hindsight, it is also apparent that Captain Black considered that by the time he and his agents had reached Moreton Harewood, Rhapsody had outlived her usefulness. So during that journey Rhapsody must have inadvertently given them whatever information they needed to carry out their plan. Rhapsody, please try to remember everything you told the mysteronised Lieutenant Cyan during your journey – I’d like a report on my desk by the end of the day containing everything you can remember about what was said, both by you and by him.”
Colonel White paused, and gazed abstractedly at the ceiling. “You know, I’d give a great deal to know exactly what started all this. For no apparent reason the Mysterons suddenly develop an interest in Rhapsody’s parents, who just happen to have in their possession a collection of artefacts – of which they themselves are barely aware - in their loft that have been left there by Rhapsody’s grandmother. How did they become aware of this in the first place? Why on earth…”
He was cut short by a sharp intake of breath and a stifled shriek.
“Sir! I know! I know what it was! It was the riddle!”
“I know what it was. Do you remember Major Gravener’s logical paradox – the one he told us about the truth-teller and the liar – the other day?”
“I remember it, though I can’t see what…”
“Bear with me, sir. When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me a very similar story. I didn’t understand it at the time, but the Major’s tale reminded me of it. My grandmother called it ‘The Riddle of the Sirens’ – or so I thought she said at the time – and I posted a query on one of the bulletin boards that I visit regularly to ask about the origin of the name. A number of people responded, though none of them were able to tell me anything I didn’t already know. One person suggested that it could have been ‘The Riddle of the Osirians’, and asked for extra details. I told him about my grandmother and her fairy stories. That must be the link – it has to be!”
“Did you identify yourself?”
“Of course not, sir! Everybody uses pseudonyms – I’m ‘Supersonic Shrimp’.” She ignored the giggles that spontaneously erupted from almost every chair in the room, including the Colonel’s, though he managed to transform it into a clearing of his throat rather better than his subordinates. “He was ‘Metabolic Steroid’ or something like that. No – it was ‘Anabolic Steroid’. Beg pardon.”
“Hah! More appropriate if he’d been ‘Retrometabolic Steroid’, by the sound of it. Rhapsody – could your correspondent have identified you as a Spectrum officer from anything you said?”
“I can’t see how, sir – but I can check the log of the conversation easily enough.” She crossed to a console nearby, extracted a file and printed it twice, handing a copy to the Colonel and keeping one herself. Ten seconds later she groaned.”
Colonel White smiled grimly. “Yes, Rhapsody – I’ve seen it too. A potent reminder of the extent to which we have to conceal our identities from the public at large. Even so, I would have thought that he would have needed a better justification than a single joke like that to link you with Spectrum. But then we have to conclude that he was a Mysteron – and their capabilities are….”. His voice trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished, then brought himself back to the business in hand.
“So. A Mysteron agent – probably Black himself, since he obviously knew your real name – saw a posting on a bulletin board and responded to it. This is actually very suggestive, because – correct me if I’m wrong, Rhapsody – he would initially have seen only the title of the posting. I think we can assume that even the Mysterons cannot read every posting on every bulletin board in the world! The title is the key – and the title was “The Riddle of the Sirens”. Seeing that, your correspondent suspected that you were in possession of a piece of information. Confirming that by suggesting the true name of this riddle, he proceeded to kidnap you for reasons we still don’t fully understand. We have one additional clue in all of this: for reasons that we have yet to determine, K-9 knows the location of the Mysteron complex on Mars. From this we have to unravel the reason for this sudden burst of activity from the Mysterons. Dismissed.”
“K-9: please explain to us how it is that you know the location of the Mysteron complex on Mars.”
“I am unfamiliar with the term ‘Mysteron complex’, Mistress. Please explain.”
“The alien structure for which you gave us a grid reference yesterday.”
“The Pyramid of Mars.”
“Very well then, the Pyramid of Mars.”
“Previous mistress Sarah Jane visited the Pyramid of Mars with the Doctor in Earth year 1911, as has previously been explained.”
“But that’s impossible, K-9! My grandmother wasn’t even born then!”
“Not impossible. Visit was made in the Tardis.”
“The what?” The irritation was beginning to creep into Rhapsody’s voice again.
“Tardis. Acronym of Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. Type 40 time travel capsule manufactured on planet Gallifrey, galactic coordinates ten zero eleven zero zero by zero two from galactic zero in constellation of Kasterborus.”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes and turned to address the group. “See what I mean? Every time we get close to the nub of the matter he comes up with this study about my grandmother flying around the universe in a time machine.”
“Perhaps it’s a defence mechanism of some kind - to prevent us accessing his critical memory banks,” opined Scarlet.
Captain Blue shook his head. “More likely to be simply a matter of corrupted data. He’s been starved of a power source for half a century – it seems to me we’re lucky he’s working at all.”
Colonel White looked thoughtful. “Perhaps we’re being too hasty with our judgements. In the last five years we’ve had to accept the reality of retrometabolism, which is effectively the ability to reverse the laws of entropy as we understand them, by an extraterrestrial race whose very existence we could not have imagined prior to Captain Black’s ill-fated mission. Perhaps I should add that having had time to read them in some detail, I have found the contents of UNIT’s old files to contain material that is no less incredible than this, despite some of it being almost a century old. Who can say what else we may have to assimilate before this is all over? Perhaps we’re approaching this the wrong way.” He turned to address the little robot directly.
“K-9: can you supply any physical evidence to us of… your… previous mistress’s presence in the year 1911?”
“An Osirian force-field generator retained as a souvenir by previous mistress Sarah Jane still exists. A slave relay transmitter was also brought by previous mistress Sarah Jane to present-day Earth.”
“A force-field generator? Where is it now, K-9?”
“In the forensic section of Cloudbase.”
“It is disguised as an ancient Egyptian burial jar.”
Captain Blue smacked his forehead. “Of course! The urn! But that doesn’t prove anything, does it – I mean, it could have come from anywhere…”
The Colonel interrupted him. “That may be true, but remember our own initial findings, Captain. The circuitry it contains – the presence of which itself is nothing short of incredible - bears distinct similarities to that which we ourselves developed from the pulsator recovered from Crater 101.”
Rhapsody looked up. “What was that about a ‘slave relay transmitter’, K-9?”
“Device for conveying commands to Osirian service robots.”
“What does it look like?”
“It is disguised as a ring with a large emerald.”
“Yes! Grandma’s ring – she promised it to me when I was little. Said she would give it to me on my twelfth birthday. I haven’t seen it for years, and often wondered what became of it. Do you know where it is, K-9?”
“Negative. It was not one of the artefacts brought back to Cloudbase.”
Rhapsody turned to Scarlet. “Could we have left it in the attic, Captain?”
Scarlet shook his head. “We took everything we could find, Rhapsody. I suppose we could have missed it, but I don’t think so – we searched the place very thoroughly. Perhaps your grandmother kept it on her person, or somewhere else in the house.”
“Or perhaps Captain Black didn’t escape empty-handed after all.” She paused, replaying the scene in her mind. “In fact, coming to think of it, he was clutching something in his hand. I remember because he was descending from the attic very slowly – it was because he only had one hand to hold the ladder. It must have been quite small, or I would have seen it. I can’t think of anything else amongst Grandma’s paraphernalia that was small enough to hold in a clenched fist.”
The Colonel had been listening quietly to the discussion as it unfolded. Now he spoke up. “Something tells me that Rhapsody may not have been as successful in foiling the Mysterons’ burglary – for that is how we must now view it - of her parents’ house as we thought. Let us suppose that Captain Black actually found what he was looking for. Why would he want it?”
Captain Blue stirred. “Presumably to command ‘Osirian service robots’, whatever they are.”
Scarlet snorted. “And where is he going to find them, after seven thousand years?”
“I don’t know, Captain, but I think Captain Blue could well be right.” The Colonel turned to K-9 again. “K-9: please tell us everything you know about the circumstances that resulted in this ‘slave relay’ device coming into the possession of your previous mistress.”
“Previous mistress Sarah Jane used the ring to prevent an attack by a service robot upon herself in the house in which she was located at the time. The ring was retained by her upon returning to present-day Earth.”
“I need more, K-9. Where did the ring originally come from?”
“Previous Mistress stated that the ring was taken from the hand of an Egyptian in the service of an extraterrestrial called Sutekh.”
“Sutekh! But Sutekh was another name for Set, a god of the ancient Egyptians: we were talking about this just yesterday in connection with the burial jar! K-9: what do you know about this Sutekh?”
“Native of the planet Phaester Osiris. Also known as ‘Sutekh the Destroyer’, Set, Sadoc and Satan. Imprisoned on Earth seven thousand years ago by brother Horus. Frozen in permanent stasis by force-field projected from the Pyramid of Mars. Destroyed by the Doctor and previous mistress Sarah Jane in Earth year 1911 by being caught in space-time vortex with exit point projected beyond the Osirian life expectancy.”
“What is a ‘space-time vortex’, K-9”
“Interdimensional corridor linking two discrete points in space-time, permitting instantaneous travel between the entrance and exit points.”
“Dematerialising from one location and rematerialising in another, in fact?”
“And just what was Sutekh’s life expectancy?”
“Approximately twenty thousand years.”
“But Sutekh was destroyed, yes?”
“Affirmative. Or to be more precise, will be seven thousand years from now.”
“What do you mean, ‘will be’?”
“The exit of the temporal corridor was projected into the distant future. By the time he reaches the end point, Sutekh will be dead.”
“Suppose someone were to open the door through which he started the journey, and let him out?”
“Then he would not be dead.”
“Are you trying to be facetious, K-9”
“Negative. I am stating a fact.”
“K-9: could someone open the door though which Sutekh began his journey?”
“Affirmative, if the entrance to the temporal corridor still exists.”
“Does the entrance to the temporal corridor still exist?”
“What would the entrance to a temporal corridor look like?”
Captain Blue raised his hands in a gesture of despair. “Colonel, this is sounding more and more like the search for Schrödinger’s cat. If I’m following the gist of this correctly, we are talking about looking for the entrance to something that we don’t understand, in case an extraterrestrial god who may not exist went in first and might get out again. I can’t believe that this is a serious…”
Colonel White stopped him with a raised hand. “I appreciate your frustration, Captain, which to an extent I share. And yet there is one fact from which we cannot escape. The Mysterons went to a great deal of time and effort to obtain one or more of those artefacts in Moreton Harewood - almost as soon as they found out about them, in fact. We may have been fortunate enough to prevent them from getting whatever it is that they want – and we may not. We do however know from past experience that anything the Mysterons are trying to do probably means trouble for us. If Captain Black is trying to find something or someone, then we have to find it or them before he does.”
He turned to K-9 once again. “K-9: you said that this… Sutekh was imprisoned by his brother Horus. Where?”
“A pyramid in Sekkara, Egypt. No further data available.”
The Colonel reached forward and opened a channel to the control room. “Lieutenant Green – I need anything you can find on the discovery of a pyramid in or just before the year 1911 in or around Sekkara, Egypt. As quickly as you can please.” He closed the channel.
Blue stirred. “Can we try to establish some facts about Sutekh that would allow us to assess whether he is a risk to us? It seems to me that all we have so far is some nebulous warnings that sound like the sort of tales mothers tell their children when they won’t go to sleep at night. Also I’ve got at the back of my mind that old expression that says the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Since the Mysterons are evidently so keen to investigate this, it seems to me that we ought to be wondering what their motivation is.”
Scarlet nodded vigorously. “It’s not as if they need any help with their War of Nerves, after all. I agree: it’s possible that they realise that he would make a powerful ally to us and/or a dangerous opponent to them.”
Rhapsody raised an eyebrow. “With a name that’s apparently synonymous with Satan? Pacts with the Devil tend to backfire, as I recall.”
Scarlet shrugged. “This isn’t a morality play we’re talking about here. Good and evil are relative terms, usually applied to friends and enemies respectively. We are fighting a war, and we need to know whether Sutekh could be a potential advantage or a potential threat in the waging of that war.”
Rhapsody leaned forward to address the little robot dog. “K-9: this Sutekh who was imprisoned by Horus. If he were alive, would he constitute a danger to us?”
“Sutekh was convicted of crimes against sentient life in seventeen star systems. Eight destroyed utterly; four sterilised; remaining five reduced to states of barbarism by near-destruction of planets’ biospheres. Destruction of Earth prevented by intervention of the 760 Osirians who imprisoned him.”
Captain Scarlet’s features remained immobile throughout this unfolding catalogue of carnage. Now he spoke up. “I think we can take that as a ‘Yes’, don’t you, Colonel?”
“Yes, Captain. I think we can. I also think that we can assume that the Mysterons know most, if not all, of this already. Suddenly the whole business has taken on a rather more urgent tone.”
The intercom burst into life, and Lieutenant Green’s voice filled the room. “I have the information you asked for, Colonel. A pyramid was discovered in late November of 1910 by a Professor Marcus Scarman. The Professor disappeared a few months afterwards however, and was believed to have been killed in a massive fire that engulfed his home – an old priory - in England during the early autumn of 1911. All other members of his household at that time were also killed in the same fire, which also destroyed all of a collection of artefacts recovered from the pyramid by Scarman and sent to England ahead of him in the safekeeping of an Egyptian man in his employ. The remaining relics recovered from the pyramid were taken into safekeeping by academic colleagues of Scarman following his disappearance, and are now held in the British Museum in London.”
Rhapsody had been fidgeting throughout Green’s report; now she interrupted, a tone of urgency in her voice. “That’s it Colonel! My grandmother told me about a great fire that engulfed the priory from where she acquired the ring. And I’ll bet that K-9 can confirm that Marcus Scarman was the name of the owner of the priory – is that right, K-9?”
Colonel White stood up, a look of grim satisfaction on his face. Rhapsody recognised that look: the time for debate was over, and a plan of action was in the making – a plan that he would have completed by the time he spoke. “Then we had better find that pyramid and those relics, hadn’t we? Since we do not know which, if either, is the object of Captain Black’s attentions, we are going to have to split our forces. I think we can assume however that the pyramid is less likely to be Black’s goal: it will have been a tourist attraction for most of the last 160 years, and therefore unlikely to contain anything of relevance to the Mysterons now. Nevertheless I could be wrong about that – and we cannot afford to miss a trick.
“Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody: you will therefore fly directly to Sekkara and find that pyramid. You will travel as civilians, posing as tourists – if Black is there I don’t want to raise any suspicions unnecessarily until we know what we’re up against. Captain Blue, you and Captain Ochre will fly to London and liaise with the British government to place a discreet security cordon around the museum until we have identified the relics recovered from the pyramid and brought them back to Cloudbase. You will command a unit of plain-clothes Spectrum security officers within the museum itself until the relics have been positively identified and removed. That is all. Dismissed.”
14. Pyramid Power
The sun was rising on a scene unchanged for thousands of years, as Paul Metcalfe and Dianne Simms walked arm in arm amongst a cosmopolitan group of tourists demonstrably serious about viewing the marvels of Egypt in their best possible light – the brilliant light of the Mediterranean dawn. Ahead of them lay three of the largest pyramids, their peaks sharply visible against the horizon; all of them subjects of a several thousand photographs every day of the year. But to their guide’s surprise, two members of the group were very much more interested in a far less imposing structure that was also visible from the vantage point at which they had all congregated following the short bus journey from their hotel. It lay perhaps a kilometre off to their right, and gave the impression of being partially buried in the shifting sands. The facing stones were all but destroyed now, and it gave the impression of being little more than a small mountain of rubble.
And yet this, if the literature was to be believed, was the site of the burial chamber discovered by Professor Marcus Scarman some 160 years earlier – a fact which their guide was able to confirm after a short call to the company for which he worked. The young man asked whether they might perhaps be able to go inside it, and his lovely blonde companion added her voice to his to urge the guide to permit it, but no – regrettably the chamber was off limits. Had been for the last two days, actually: an archaeological team was working within the chamber, and their work would continue until the end of the week.
The long-haired blonde girl pondered this. “Really? I was under the impression that archaeological digs took place over a matter of months, if not years. What can they hope to discover in so short a time?” The guide was able to supply a few details, but not many. It was not a dig. A recognised authority on ancient Egyptian construction techniques had approached the Minister for Tourism just three days earlier, asking for permission to conduct a survey of the building, intimating that he considered that parts of the massive stone frieze of sculptures and hieroglyphs that comprised the central exhibit in the burial chamber were in danger of collapse, and might no longer be sufficiently safe to allow tourists inside the chamber. Some preventative maintenance would take a few days, and he recommended that tourists be kept away for the duration. The Minister had naturally agreed, and the survey begun later that very day. Had the guide seen the members of the team? Yes indeed – they had themselves travelled to the site in the same bus that today’s group had used. Would the guide please take a look at this photograph that the young man happened to be carrying? But no, when the young man showed the guide a photograph of a man wearing a black uniform of the Spectrum organisation, he shook his head. All three of them are Egyptians, well known both to the Minister and the tourist industry, he added.
Scarlet wasn’t satisfied. He drew his companion to one side and spoke quietly. “I don’t like it. It’s too much of a coincidence. They could easily all be Mysteron agents, Captain Black or no Captain Black. We need to scan all of them with the detector back in the bus when they arrive for work – and in the meantime I think we ought to take a look inside, don’t you?”
Rhapsody nodded. Scarlet drew out a small communicator from his pocket and spoke into it for some time while Rhapsody joined the other tourists who were busying themselves arranging and posing for photographs against the backdrop of the rapidly illuminating skyline. By the time Scarlet had finished talking she had taken a good fifty photographs herself, been asked to take perhaps twenty more of various members of the group so that they could send pictures of themselves against the skyline to their loved ones back home, and been photographed herself at least half a dozen times – something she had grown accustomed to, and didn’t mind in the least. Had she ever grown tired of flying, she knew she could have taken up any of half a dozen different careers, including modelling, without difficulty. She smiled at the thought as she walked over to join Scarlet and the guide, who wore a perplexed expression on his face. “I have been instructed by my director to take you to the burial chamber you were asking about earlier and to escort you and your companion inside, madam. Would you therefore follow me please? We can drive over there in the jeep that we keep here to ferry tourists between the pyramids.”
The trip was relatively short, and the guide kept up an informative banter of facts and figures as the structure grew nearer. Their earlier impression of it having been partially buried by the sand turned out to be correct – it was apparently estimated by experts that perhaps four-fifths of the original building was now buried beneath the dunes, with the original entrance vanished forever. The current entrance was via a service duct that had been drilled into one of the upper storeys by modern archaeologists.
As the jeep stopped outside, Rhapsody flung open the door and lightly skipped out onto the sand. Scarlet however took a couple of seconds to move, and when he did, it was with deliberate slowness.
“Anything wrong, Paul?”
“I don’t know. It’s that feeling I get sometimes – you know. Quite faint this time, but I don’t think I’m mistaken. Have you got the… equipment?”
Rhapsody understood him perfectly, and nodded, patting the bag that she’d taken from the bus before joining the two men for the jeep ride. The bag contained both a Mysteron detector and a Mysteron gun – and Scarlet’s apparent dizziness was a good indication that they’d probably be needing one or other of them. Slowly panning the horizon she swept the area with her field glasses for anyone, but apart from their guide – whom she’d scanned with the Mysteron detector at the first available opportunity that morning – there was nobody in sight. She mentally shrugged and rejoined the two men, who were walking towards the padlocked entrance, whilst surreptitiously opening the top flap of the bag and closing her hand on the butt of the gun. It took little imagination to work out where any trouble would be found – and if it was in there waiting for them, they were as ready to meet it face to face as they’d ever be.
Once the gate was opened, Scarlet thanked the guide, who returned to her party of tourists, and relocked the entrance. The air was cold inside the stone structure, and became colder as they walked slowly down the passageway towards the inner chambers. Their footsteps echoed back to them out of the shadows, but no other sounds reached their ears as the passageway twisted and turned ever towards the centre of the pyramid. At least we don’t have to worry about being shot down by someone hiding in the darkness, thought Rhapsody: the place had been wired for light many years ago, and save for a network of small tunnels dug into the walls, which were too narrow to conceal an assassin, they could see perfectly well. Scarlet’s mild attack of nausea had not worn off however, and Rhapsody could see that he was fighting it down with an effort. She tightened her grip on the butt of the Mysteron gun and sidled up to him to speak quietly, out of earshot of their guide. “Do you know where it’s coming from, Paul?”
He shook his head. “It’s all around. Recently I’ve come to recognise some sort of sense of direction, but not this time. It’s almost as if the whole building is mysteronised – which for all we know it might be.”
Rhapsody shivered – whether from the cold; Scarlet’s affinity for the presence of his former masters or simply his turn of phrase she herself didn’t know. Although Scarlet had proved his loyalty to Spectrum countless times since the Mysterons relinquished his soul, she remained conscious of the alien presence within him, and hadn’t yet found a way to come to terms with it. Remembering the dream from which she had awakened a few days previously, she found herself musing briefly upon the interpretive capacity of the sleeping consciousness. Before she had time to pursue the thought any further however, she realised that the tunnels were becoming lighter, and that their arrival at their destination was imminent.
After following the passageway around what seemed like an interminable maze of corners and junctions, they presently emerged into what was clearly some form of inner sanctum. The surveyors’ equipment was stacked up neatly against the left-hand wall, upon which were inscribed an incomprehensible array of glyphs. Stepping back, they could see that the whole wall constituted one massive frieze of carvings, with sections missing here and there – evidently the work of the archaeological team. A solid stone sarcophagus faced them from the far wall, clearly too heavy to be removed by the many teams of archaeologists that had visited the site since its discovery, was the sole remaining artefact in the room. Scarlet strode over to inspect the tools, but found nothing to arouse his suspicions amongst them and he left them to inspect the gallery that ringed the room.
Rhapsody walked over to the sarcophagus and ran her fingers over it: it seemed dryer than she felt it ought to be, but otherwise found it unremarkable. She kneeled down to look at the symbols close to the floor, better preserved from the countless hands of the tourists that had touched their counterparts around and all over the lid, recognising several of the symbols from the decorations on the burial jar. A man with the head of a jackal featured in many of them, and reaching into her bag she fished out and opened up the guidebook, turning to the page that described the massive artefact.
“The tableau depicts Horus and Set, fighting over the fate of the world. Horus wears the head of an owl, whilst Set is shown with the head of a jackal. In the first image, Horus points to the sun, which is the symbol of life. Set faces away from the sun: Set was seen as the antithesis of life. In the next image, Horus casts Set into the underworld, symbolising the triumph of life over death. But here, we see Set living on in the underworld, showing death as the ultimate the victor. This culture saw life and death as two sides of the same coin, with each following the other as the seasons do. In life the people serve one god, in death they serve another.”
Rather like the Mysterons, mused Rhapsody. She called over to Scarlet, who by now was inspecting the gallery that ringed the room, effectively constituting an upper storey to the chamber. A stone wall, a metre high, acted as a guard to prevent anyone falling onto the floor below.
“Paul, come and take a look at these hieroglyphics close to the floor of this… this thing down here.”
Scarlet grinned. “Loweroglyphics, eh? One moment – I’ll be down in a second.” He strode over and descended the stairs from the gallery. As he crossed the floor towards her however, she could see from the pained expression on his face that the nausea was affecting him with renewed vigour. “Paul – what is it? What are you sensing?”
“It’s that! It’s the sarcophagus! Rhapsody - is it my imagination, or is that thing glowing slightly?”
Rhapsody turned to look at the sarcophagus. It was certainly not just Scarlet’s imagination: there was unquestionably a dull emanation from the stone box. Scarlet walked briskly over to the entrance to turn off the lights, but before he reached it the glow faded and died. Inspiration struck him: turning the lights out, he walked back towards the sarcophagus. Back came the glow. Rhapsody spoke, voicing both their thoughts. “It’s reacting to you, Captain, isn’t it? But why?”
Scarlet opened his mouth to speak, but before any words came out she was interrupted by a familiar soft, slow deep voice emanating from the sarcophagus:
“The device responds to the presence of the Mysterons, Rhapsody Angel.”
A sound behind them made them whirl. Intent on solving the puzzle that lay before them, they had neglected to keep an eye on the entrance to the chamber – in which now quietly stood two men. The survey team had returned, and one glance at their faces rendered the use of a Mysteron detector quite unnecessary.
Scarlet calculated rapidly. The men in the doorway were unarmed, having evidently not suspected that Spectrum was as hot on their trail as it actually was. He could probably shoot them both down with the Mysteron gun in Rhapsody’s bag before they had realised what was happening – but Captain Black’s presence made that a precarious option: Black had demonstrated powers beyond Spectrum’s comprehension on several occasions, any one of which could be enough to tip the balance of the outcome of a conflict in the Mysterons’ favour. He could jam the gun, dematerialise it, change its molecular structure… anything that would render it useless in the coming fight. And if the gun fell into his hands, both Rhapsody and he were as good as dead. But then, could he seriously believe that Black would neglect to order his henchmen to search them both for weapons? No. The whole sequence of thought had taken less than half a second.
“Rhapsody! The gun!” Scarlet broke into a run towards the Angel, noting with satisfaction that the girl had already half-drawn the weapon before he’d finished speaking: obviously he hadn’t been the only one with his wits about him. Rhapsody felt the tingling of a force building up around her, and recognising it instantly as the same device Black has used to immobilise her in her parents’ house, she hurled the gun away from her towards Scarlet. Her aim was impaired by the build-up of the field, and she threw it short: with a flying leap that would have done credit to any rugby tackler Scarlet caught it as it fell to earth. Rolling as he landed, he scooped it up, armed it and had lined it up on the nearer of the two Mysterons by the time he regained his feet. The muzzle flared, and the man went down in a crackling blaze of projected energy, his body momentarily glowing with phosphorescence as it fell.
The other Mysteron had moved with unanticipated speed as his comrade met his end, running full-tilt towards the sarcophagus. Even as Scarlet tried to bring the rifle to bear a second time, the air around him seemed to begin to solidify as surface of the stone shimmered and dissolved in a swirling riot of colour as the Mysteron approached… and leaping into the centre of it, he faded out of existence as he did so. Immediately conscious of the increasing difficulty with which he was handling the weapon, Scarlet deliberately smashed it on the floor. Not an instant too soon – a second later he was rooted to the spot like Rhapsody, a few metres away. Frozen together like a pair of statues, they watched as a figure materialised from the vortex of energy occupying the space where the sarcophagus had stood. It stepped out of the light and regarded them both coldly.
“So. Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel. We appear to have underestimated you. But perhaps it is for the best. The Mysterons have work for you, Captain.”
Drawing a squat gun from his pocket, Captain Black took up a position a few metres in front of the pair, aiming the gun at Rhapsody’s head. The force-field faded away, and both of the humans found that they were able to move their limbs again.
“Walk into the vortex, Captain Scarlet. If you attempt to do anything other than this, the girl will die.”
Scarlet instinctively estimated his chances of successfully tackling Black, and dismissed them as non-existent. Had Black intended to kill his female companion he could have done so easily by now, therefore she was probably safe for the immediate short term. He had to await another chance. He curtly nodded, and walked forward into the radiating colours, fading from sight as he did so.
“Now you, Earthwoman. Walk in front of me into the vortex. It is convenient to us that I should keep you alive for the time being, but I will kill you instantly at the first sign of treachery. You are sufficiently familiar with the Mysterons not to believe this to be true.”
He turned the gun momentarily in the direction of the shifting fluorescent space previously occupied by the sarcophagus, indicating that she should start walking. She did so, stepping into the light after a moment’s hesitation, fading away like her companion before her. Captain Black waited for her to disappear, and then strode into the colours without a second glance. As he faded from view, the surface of the energy whirlpool hardened and solidified, taking on once more the external view of the sarcophagus, leaving just the body of what was once a man lying in the sanctum and the smashed remains of a weapon of futuristic design to confound the authorities when they found them several hours later that day.
From out of the swirling colours before Scarlet there sprang up a tunnel of solidity, widening to fill his vision as he approached it. Stepping into it, he found himself standing in front of the man he saw leaping into the vortex a few moments previously. The man held a gun pointed directly at him, and was positioned further away than Scarlet could ankle-kick him. Despite recognising that this could be the only chance he was going to get, Scarlet again forced himself to bide his time. Moments later the question became academic as Rhapsody emerged from the vortex with Black seconds behind her.
Taking in his immediate surroundings, Scarlet realised that he was in a windowless room full of ancient Egyptian artefacts. Several sarcophagi lined the wall and a collection of small stone statues was arrayed on a table in the corner. A standard office filing cabinet of at least 50 years’ vintage had been jammed between two of the statues, and the amount of dust covering it proclaimed it not to have been used for years. Turning to see where he had come from, he saw only another sarcophagus – but a closer look revealed that its surface was shimmering slightly, as a moiré pattern of blue lines rippled slowly over its surface. Experimentally he took half a step backwards, noting that the pattern instantly became more vibrant. He filed away the fact in his head for future reference, then turned back to the business of trying to determine where he was. Glancing at the labels on the drawers of the filing cabinet, he noted that they were written in English. So intent had he been upon inspecting the surroundings that he only belatedly realised that Captain Black had been watching him making his observations.
“You are in one of the basements of the British Museum, Captain Scarlet. The artefacts around you were recovered from the burial chamber that you have just left, a few years after the turn of the last century.”
He took a length of cord from his pocket and gesturing each of them into a chair, he rapidly bound Rhapsody’s wrists with it, then repeated the exercise with Scarlet, while his assistant covered them both closely with the pistol. With both of them secure, their captors seemingly lost interest in them, busying themselves with an assortment of tasks, apparently related to the calibration of a number of electronic instruments, the purpose of which was completely obscure. Rhapsody waited until both of their captors were turned away, then caught Scarlet’s eye, glancing upwards and nodding her head in the same direction. Scarlet returned the glance, recognising both the unspoken warning and the gesture indicating the possible source of help. Let him talk, it said – they’re evidently working along very similar lines to us, but they probably don’t know that Spectrum is here too. Let’s see if we can get him to tell us what they’re doing here: it may be that Captains Blue will be able to get us out in due course. He spoke up.
“Why are we here, Black? What do the Mysterons want with us?”
“The Mysterons have an interest in archaeology, Captain. Yours is not the only civilisation with a past.”
But that was the extent of Black’s propensity to provide information. For the next hour he and his taciturn mysteronised Egyptian assistant pointedly ignored all further questions from both Scarlet and Rhapsody, and they both eventually gave up trying. Eventually it was Black himself who broke the silence.
“The Mysterons are going to enlist your aid in an enterprise of theirs, Captain Scarlet. The powers of recovery that we gave you may enable you to complete the assignment with which you will be charged.”
Scarlet raised a quizzical eyebrow and adopted his most sarcastic expression. “And why would I want to perform a task for the Mysterons, Captain Black?” But even as he said it he could guess the answer – and was already weighing up the cost of Rhapsody’s life against the consequences of the as-yet unspecified task. But Black’s reply was not the one he’d anticipated.
“Because the fate of your planet depends upon it, Captain”
“During the dawn of your civilisation, Captain, several hundred members of a space-travelling race visited the Solar System in pursuit of one of their own kind. The deeds of that criminal were legion. His name, Sutekh the Destroyer, entered the mythology of that civilisation. His pursuers imprisoned him on Earth seven thousand years ago in ancient Egypt, and secured him beneath a pyramid, held fast by a force-field of almost unimaginable power. As an additional precaution to ensure that the ancients never succeeded in releasing him, the source of that power was located on Mars. Sutekh’s brother Horus remained alone amongst the ancients for long after his companions returned to the stars, taking whatever steps he could to prevent future generations from discovering the secret of the tomb.”
“Sutekh remained imprisoned until just 160 years ago, when an misguided man called Marcus Scarman broke into his tomb, setting off a radio warning to mankind from Mars that continues to this day. It was the belated detection of that signal by Spectrum a few years ago that resulted in the expedition that started the war between us. It is to be regretted that they were unable to interpret the message: we would have explained its significance, had you asked. When the tomb was opened, only by the intervention of an extraterrestrial and an Earth girl was Sutekh prevented from resuming his trail of destruction.”
Rhapsody stirred. “The girl…”
Captain Black turned to regard her with soulless eyes.
“Was your grandmother, Rhapsody Angel. By chance I came across a question posed by you that indicated amongst Earthmen the knowledge of past events that the Mysterons had believed long dead. From this discovery we came to understand that the danger posed to the cosmos by Sutekh is not yet over. Your presence in Sutekh’s tomb proves this.”
“We do not know how you came by your knowledge. We do know that your species’ interminable capacity to meddle and destroy will, if not checked, result in the destruction of not only your own planet but many others also. The Mysterons are not prepared to let that happen.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Wait a minute. Now that we know about the risk, we can take steps to ensure that Sutekh is never released from his…” He stopped in mid-sentence, realising that he had said too much. But Black merely nodded.
“It is as we suspected. Spectrum knows of the space-time vortex in which Sutekh is trapped. Our analysis of the situation included that possibility, and projects a high probability of an attempt by earthmen to release or control the prisoner. No, Captain - it is not sufficient to leave him there. The corridor must be destroyed, and Sutekh with it. And it is this that you are going to do for us.”
Captain Black turned to his assistant. “We are ready to commence. Bring the cytronic induction relay online”. The Egyptian nodded and flicked a switch, causing a barely audible hum to emanate from the console. Black returned to the desk, swept aside a sheaf of calculations and picked something up from beneath the pile. Placing it onto his finger, he walked over to one of the sarcophagi against the far wall, and held out his hand in front of him, muttering a command in a tongue that neither Scarlet nor Rhapsody recognised, though both caught the word “Sutekh” amidst the unfamiliar syllables. Rhapsody leaned over excitedly. “Captain - that’s Grandma’s ring. I recognise it from years back. We were right - he did escape with it.” Scarlet held up a hand to silence her: something was happening to the sarcophagus. At first the lid began to shake slightly, then moved forward to reveal a pair of white bandaged hands pushing out from the inside. Then the whole lid was suddenly lifted into the air and thrust against the adjoining wall to reveal an occupant. Resembling an ancient Egyptian mummy, it was nevertheless instantly recognisable as a machine of some kind – a fact immediately confirmed by Black’s next words.
“This is an Osirian service robot. It, and two others like it, will accompany us on our journey.”
“Journey? Where are we going?”
“To Mars, Captain.”
Repeating the procedure that his two captives had already witnessed, Captain Black activated two more robots from their timeless hibernation within the sarcophagi with the aid of the glowing ring. Each of them well over two metres tall, and displaying a massive girth they silently towered over Black and his taciturn companion as if they were dwarves. Black belt or no, Harmony wouldn’t throw one of these characters very far, thought Scarlet grimly. Any chance they might have had of turning the tables on Black was clearly nothing more than a pipedream at this moment. And yet he continued silently to struggle with the ropes that bound him, noting with satisfaction that Rhapsody appeared to be making some headway with her knots.
Black was evidently preparing for departure: whilst he and his companion busied themselves assembling a boxful of complex components the purpose of which Scarlet and Rhapsody couldn’t begin to guess, they became aware of a quiet electronic hum building up in the air around them. Picking up the box, Black strode over to the sarcophagus. As if on cue, the surface of the sarcophagus though which they had been transported from Egypt once more shimmered and dissolved in a dazzling display of swirling colours. Two of the servicers stepped forward into the tunnel of light and were swept away into the vortex; the third waited silently whilst the Egyptian strode over to Scarlet and cut the ropes that bound him, Captain Black having first drawn a gun to cover him. Once again they’re taking no chances about this, thought Scarlet.
His immediate concern was for the girl at his side. “What about Rhapsody, Black?”
“The girl remains here.”
“How do I know that she won’t be harmed?”
“You don’t, Captain.”
It’s pointless arguing with him, thought Scarlet – he has all the cards. He chanced a final glance at Rhapsody’s wrists – a few more moments and she’d be free. Best to get Black out of the way as quickly as possible, he decided: with him gone, she’ll be in a better position to deal with the Egyptian, should the opportunity arise. He stood up, his arms and legs a mass of pins and needles as the blood supply was restored. With one final reassuring glance at Rhapsody, he walked into the dazzling whirlpool and vanished, closely followed by Captain Black, and then by the third servicer. The lights faded and died, leaving just Rhapsody and the mysteronised Egyptian alone in the room. Rhapsody eyed him closely, but didn’t attempt to start a conversation with him: she was too close to slipping the knots that bound her wrists to want to attract his attention at this precise instant. In the event it seemed that fate was on her side in this regard: he seemed to be completely preoccupied, standing quietly in the corner of the room, staring vacantly into space. Scarcely able to believe her luck, she violently shook her wrists free of the rope and started flexing her muscles. Now then, she thought – how are we going to deal with him? The most obvious way is probably the best…
“Excuse me? Do you speak English?”
Nothing. Not with so much as a flicker of an eyelid did the mysteronised Egyptian acknowledge her question. She repeated it, a little louder. Still nothing. Puzzled but encouraged, she glanced at his hands and confirming that he was definitely unarmed, she had already begun to rise quietly and slowly out of her chair before she realised that she had spotted a wisp of smoke emanating from one of his sleeves.
In that instant it all came together – a vision of the video recording of Captain Brown in the maximum security building with the World President flashing before her eyes. Too late to run: she had seconds, and one chance only. She hurled herself out of the chair at the smouldering Mysteron, sending him staggering across the room towards the sarcophagus. Sensing his presence, the surface once again dissolved as he stumbled towards it, falling headlong into the vortex. Seconds later the vortex erupted in a massive explosion, sending a shockwave back out of the portal. The force threw Rhapsody clean across the room, colliding with the filing cabinet against the far wall with an impact so powerful that it caused the drawers to buckle under her weight. She had just long enough to realise that those drawers had probably saved her life before she lost consciousness.
“Rhapsody? Rhapsody, are you okay? RHAPSODY! – wake up!”
Gradually and painfully but inexorably, Captain Blue came into focus in front of her eyes. She attempted to smile, winced and then tried again – this time it worked. Captain Ochre came into her field of vision on the right, directing a team of Spectrum security officers in their attempts to stabilise a precariously-balanced beam that had fallen across the doorway.
“I’m all right, Captain. I’m all right. Really I am. How did you find me? No, never mind… I remember now. You were already here, weren’t you. Let me guess – you heard the explosion?”
“I guess half of London must have heard it! Yeah, we heard it all right – the museum has been sectioned off and is swarming with police and fire crews – we haven’t even had time to establish a Spectrum security cordon yet. Rhapsody – what are you doing here? You and Scarlet were in Egypt, for heaven’s sake!”
“It’s a long story, Captain. Look, would you mind helping me up? I’m not sure I haven’t broken anything yet, and it looks as if we’ve got a lot of work to do.” She glanced around that what remained of the basement storeroom. Several of the artefacts had been destroyed by the blast, and the computer consoles at which Black and his companion had been working prior to their departure had clearly been damaged, though one or two lights still flickered deep into the circuitry. The entrance to the space-time vortex appeared to be intact, though there was no sign of activity emanating from its surface, which had reverted once more to the likeness of an Egyptian Pharaoh. She took a deep breath, and looked steadily into Blue’s eyes.
“Captain… I don’t think you’re going to believe this…”
Half an hour later, Captain Blue was reporting back to Cloudbase. “The centre of his activities appear to have been here, in the basement of the British Museum, Colonel. Rhapsody’s story indicates that Captain Scarlet has been taken prisoner: the reason appears to be that the Mysterons want to use him to carry out some task on their behalf. That task concerns this Sutekh character – it seems that the Mysterons believe he is still alive. They want him dead, and they intend using Scarlet to kill him – we don’t know how. Now if Rhapsody is right, Scarlet’s been transported to their complex on Mars by means of this so-called ‘space-time vortex’ that Black has set up. The problem we have is that the explosion has damaged it, and we’ve no idea how to set about repairing it. The technology is right out of our league, I’m afraid. The only clue we have is a phrase that Rhapsody remembers Captain Black using – ‘cytronic induction relay’.”
“I’ll get our technical teams onto it at once, Captain – though I have to say that even if we were able to repair it, there’s no guarantee that sending anyone after Scarlet would achieve anything. With the Mysterons at the other end of that tunnel, we could easily be sending a rescue party to their deaths.”
Captain Blue nodded sombrely. “I know, Colonel – but we can’t just sit here. At the very least we have to make an attempt to get it working again – apart from anything else, it’s almost certainly Captain Scarlet’s only way back.”
The Colonel considered briefly. “Very well, Captain – let’s see what we can do. Please transmit images of the equipment directly to our microelectronics experts: in the meantime I’ll arrange to have a team flown to London shortly. White out.”
The Colonel cut the connection, paused, then flicked a switch on his console. “Microcircuitry section – this is Colonel White. Captain Blue will shortly be transmitting photographs of some damaged equipment of Mysteron origin to Cloudbase. We need to understand its operation as a matter of urgency with a possible view to making it functional again. I want Captain Grey plus anyone in the section with any knowledge of a technology apparently called a ‘cytronic induction relay’ to assemble in the Amber Lounge at 1400 hours for immediate aerial transfer to our scene of operations at the British Museum, London. For further details of the equipment or the phrase I have just used, contact Captain Blue directly. That is all.”
At 1350 hours the Colonel descended to the lounge. Grey and his team of two, both of whom the Colonel recognised as world authorities on microelectronics currently on secondment to Spectrum were already present, taking advantage of the few minutes left before their departure to avail themselves of a cup of coffee with Destiny and Melody, the two Angels currently on standby. K-9 was also there, sitting immobile by the coffee machine. Declining the offer of a cup himself, the Colonel turned to Grey. “Well, Captain? Can anyone in your team throw any light on the images that Captain Blue sent you?”
Captain Grey shook his head. “My people have never seen anything like it before, Colonel. The men I’ve brought with me are absolutely the best, but this is a new one to them. I’ve also spoken to Doctor Kurnitz at the Nash Institute, in case something from his work for us on the Mysteron pulsator might be relevant, but he doesn’t think so. Doctor Kurnitz has however offered to help in any way he can, so I’ve arranged to have him flown directly to central London by Spectrum helijet. He isn’t familiar with that term ‘cytronic induction’, but he says that it could be simply a Mysteron description for something he’s seen during the course of his work.”
The Colonel nodded approvingly. “It sounds like the best we can do. Better get going, Captain. Good luck.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Melody rose to escort the team to their aircraft, and the group set off for the launching bay, leaving the Colonel and Destiny alone in the lounge. One look at the Colonel’s face was sufficient to reveal his doubts about the likelihood of a successful conclusion to the mission.
“I think this is not a good situation, sir, no?”
Colonel White smiled. “No, Destiny, this is not a good situation. I have no doubt that everything we can do is being done – but something inside me says that it isn’t going to be enough. Still, where there’s life….” He forced a reassuring smile at the French girl, then turned on his heel and left to return to the control room.
Destiny took another sip out of her cup of coffee, grimaced at the temperature to which it had sunk whilst they had all been talking and walked over to the sink to pour the remainder of it away. She then returned slowly to her chair, deep in thought. The faint momentary whine of a hydraulic motor broke her concentration: K-9 had raised his head and was looking at her.
“Eh bien, K-9, what is it that you think, eh?”
“I do not think. I am a computer.”
“Pah! A distinction without a difference, as the Capitaine Scarlet is so fond of saying! I ask you what you think, and you tell me you do not think! How do you answer the question if you do not think to answer it, eh?”
“Response to interrogation requires the activation of an automotive process of database search and retrieval…”
“Oh, tais toi! You are useless - your database does not contain the data we need, yes?”
“Specify query please”
“Parbleu, tu es sourd ou quoi? We want to know what a cytronic induction relay is!”
“Cytronic induction relay: mechanism for reconfiguration of mental projection sequences formatted by a cytronic particle accelerator into psychokinetic protocols.”
Fighting back the urge to scream at the top of her voice, Destiny compromised by swearing copiously in French instead. “K-9! Are you saying that you know what this cytronic induction relay is?”
“So why did you not TELL us, eh?”
“I was not asked.”
Groaning, Destiny shot out of the chair, grabbed her flying helmet and activated the communicator. “Melody! This is Destiny here - have you left Cloudbase yet?”
Back came the lazy southern drawl that rarely changed its pitch even when Melody was under the sort of pressure that would render most people incoherent. “Just a few seconds from taking off now, Destiny. Is there a problem?”
“Melody – delay your take-off for a few moments please. I will need to speak with the Colonel first, but I think that I will have another passenger for you.”
The arrival of Captain Grey’s team in the museum compound preceded that of Doctor Kurnitz by just seconds; his helijet descending into the museum’s forecourt as Grey’s transport swept away back into the sky following their disembarkation. Kurnitz himself was halfway down the steps even before the rotors had stopped turning, jumping down into the tarmac to shake Grey’s hand warmly before turning his attention to the little robot dog that was trundling across the forecourt to meet the new arrival. The expression on his face made questions quite unnecessary.
Captain Grey stepped aside to allow K-9 to join the little gathering. “Doctor, I’d like to introduce you to your new assistant.” Catching the expression on Kurnitz’s face and realising that he had perhaps not chosen the best of introductions, he hurried on. “I know what you’re thinking, Doctor, but please allow me to assure you that this is not a joke. This machine is…”
Kurnitz stopped him with a wave of his hand. “Captain, I appreciate your consideration in bringing what I assume is a mobile computer from Cloudbase to assist me, but I can assure you that my own equipment is by far the most advanced in existence, and is perfectly…”
“Please bear with me, Doctor. K-9 is very considerably more than a mobile computer. The technology from which he himself in constructed is far in advance of anything we have on Cloudbase. We’ve been interrogating K-9 during the flight, and are convinced that he has a positive contribution to make to our understanding of the Mysteron technology that you are about to examine.
Doctor Kurnitz considered. “Indeed? I would be most interested to know the history of its manufacture. I was not aware of anyone working in this field unknown personally to myself.” His tone contained a hint of reproof, which Grey recognised to indicate that Kurnitz suspected that Spectrum was keeping something from him.
Grey spread his hands with an apologetic look on his face, aware that what he was about to say would sound painfully inadequate. “To be perfectly frank, Doctor, we don’t ourselves know the history of K-9’s manufacture. He… well, he turned up in the attic of a house, to be perfectly honest.” Grey affected not to notice his guest’s raised eyebrow, and hurried on. “One thing we do know about him though is that the Mysterons themselves initiated a raid on that house almost as soon as they discovered his whereabouts. For that reason alone, I think you’ll find him an invaluable member of the team.” Grey deliberately neglected to add any information that suggested that K-9 was the product of another era completely. Let Kurnitz get used to him first, he thought. Let’s keep it down to one surprise at a time.
Doctor Kurnitz inclined his head. “Very well. With what methods of data retrieval is it equipped?”
“Verbal, sir. K-9 understands speech and responds likewise. Would you care to try?”
“Thank you Captain.” He turned to the little robot. “K-9 – what is the value of the mathematical constant pi?”
“The mathematical constant pi is a transcendental number: expressing it numerically would take infinite time. Please state the number of decimals required unless a formula would prove more useful.”
An invisible rag wiped the slightly supercilious expression off Doctor Kurnitz’s face, and Captain Grey suppressed a grin. The next question was a little longer in coming.
“Disregard the previous question. Does your programming extend to an appreciation of relativity?”
“So! We shall see. You will state the Postulate of Equivalence please.”
“The Postulate of Equivalence constitutes a central tenet of the General Theory of Relativity. It states that it is impossible to devise an experiment that will establish whether a coordinate system is at absolute rest; only whether it is in motion relative to a second system.”
“Thank you K-9, I think we have establ…”
“The Postulate is however incorrect.”
“Was hast du gesagt?”
“The Postulate is incorrect.”
“A dimensional interphase transducer negates the mutual curl of two synchronous masses within the same space-time continuum, resulting in the nullification of gravity. This contradicts a corollary of the Postulate of Equivalence.”
“Indeed? What is a ‘dimensional interphase transducer’ please?”
“Spectrum report 2072/A/04 concerning assault upon the Mysteron complex in Lunar Crater 101 indicates existence of a functioning dimensional interphase transducer prior to destruction using atomic device.”
The Doctor peered at K-9 through his spectacles as if seeing him for the first time. “Mein Gott! The antigravity shaft! But one moment please - to do that would require the streamlining of the curl through the temporal axis…”
Captain Grey cleared his throat. “Doctor, forgive me for interrupting, but I’m afraid time is pressing. Could I ask you to come with us to the scene of the explosion and make your preliminary assessment?”
“Er, yes, of course, Captain.” Kurnitz’s voice sounded strangely detached, as he allowed himself to be led into the building. K-9 brought up the rear, breaking away from the main party as they approached the main steps to seek out a suitable ramp.
Doctor Kurnitz and K-9 together constituted a classic case of love at second sight. Within an hour of his helijet touching down on the museum’s forecourt, Kurnitz had installed himself at a makeshift bench in the corridor adjoining the wrecked storeroom and was busy sketching out a succession of rough circuit diagrams to K-9’s specifications. For its part, the little robot had buried its forward sensor array into the mass of charred wiring and components, rattling off a non-ending stream of instructions to the Doctor as he deciphered the circuitry, suggesting alternatives and modifications whenever part of the equipment proved to be unsalvageable. Captain Grey and his team were soon reduced to organising the coffee and running round trips to the microelectronics shops scattered on and around the Tottenham Court Road with a never-ending stream of shopping lists that emanated from Kurnitz’s workbench. The initial displeasure of the local shopkeepers at the abrupt termination of their trade by the closure of Oxford Street turned to delight as it became apparent that a sales bonanza was unfolding; the upper range of their wares being in constant demand, with all items chargeable directly to Spectrum.
Dusk fell, and the work proceeded into the night. A schedule of hourly reports to Cloudbase initiated by the Colonel was soon dropped when it became clear that the preparation of these was impacting upon the speed with which the repairs could be undertaken, but the Colonel nevertheless retired to the Room of Sleep in a considerably happier frame of mind than the one he had presented to Destiny earlier that day.
By the middle of the following morning the storeroom had been transformed. A network of relays and bypasses surrounded the main console, which was connected to several arrays of microcircuitry plus a makeshift power supply that drew its primary energy from the national grid, then fed it through a complex system of filters to render it compatible with Captain Black’s equipment. Looking it over with a critical eye for the twentieth time that morning, Captain Grey still had his doubts as to whether it would function at all, let alone correctly – but both Doctor Kurnitz and K-9 appeared to be satisfied with it, so he kept his reservations to himself.
In the event, Doctor Kurnitz was the first to speak on the subject. “Captain? I believe we are now ready for an initial test of the primary circuits. I recommend that all non-essential personnel be cleared from this section of the basement, and that we aim to begun the test – shall we say fifteen minutes from now, K-9?”
“Final adjustments will take eight more minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes until first test it is, then. Captain, I would like only K-9, you and myself remaining in this area when we begin.”
“Very good sir: I’ll ask Captain Blue to vacate everyone else.” Captain Grey set off to organise the evacuation, leaving just Doctor Kurnitz and his robotic assistant. The Doctor sat down to take a sip from his coffee. “Well, K-9! Is it going to work?”
“Probability of successful test estimated at 89.3% plus or minus 3.2%”
Kurnitz frowned. “That low? What factors are most likely to result in failure?”
“The three most likely causes of failure are human error, power outage fluctuations and unstable transient conditions within the vortex, in that order.”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow, allowing a ghost of a smile to cross his lips. “K-9 – you are aware that the only human involved in the test procedure is myself?”
“So you are saying that a mistake made by me is the most likely cause of a problem?”
“In that case, K-9, I will venture to suggest that your probability figure for success is an underestimate! I see no reason for further checking once your final adjustments are complete - the test will commence in fifteen minutes as planned.”
The section cleared, Captain Grey returned to the storeroom, where Doctor Kurnitz and K-9 were awaiting his arrival. Kurnitz acknowledged his return with a brief nod, then turned to the makeshift control panel laid out in front of him on his workbench.
“Primary power is now at nominal level. The first sign of a response is likely to be a visual emanation from the portal to the vortex, so would you dim the lights please, Captain? K-9 – is the secondary linking sequence online?”
A faint whine began to fill the air, indicating a slow build-up of power, rising to a mildly uncomfortable pitch before stabilising. Despite all eyes being fixed on the sarcophagus however, there was no sign yet of the glow that Rhapsody had described to them earlier.
“K-9 – would you introduce an additional filter into the main power coupling please?”
“Filter is now online.”
Despite a subtle change in the audible pitch, there was still no sign of a glow. Kurnitz frowned. “I need to know whether the sound we are now hearing is an integral part of the activation procedure of the vortex. Captain Grey, would you ask Rhapsody Angel to join us please?”
Grey nodded and slipped out of the door, returning a few minutes later with Rhapsody. As she entered the room Doctor Kurnitz smartly rose out of his chair to greet her, and Rhapsody found herself wondering for a split second whether he was going to kiss her hand as well. He didn’t, but smiled a charming smile instead.
“Miss Rhapsody – thank you for coming. I have asked you here because I would like you to tell us if the sound that you can hear at the moment is to be expected from the portal. I do not wish to increase the power being supplied to our instruments unless we have clear evidence that we are on the right track, so to speak.”
Rhapsody nodded, and walking up to the sarcophagus, listened intently. “Yes. It’s definitely very similar to the sound that Captain Scarlet and I heard earlier. Possibly fractionally quieter and a little lower in pitch, but essentially the same.”
Kurnitz made a noise in his throat suggestive of a sense of satisfaction. “Very well. We will increase the power. K-9 – is your filtering board prepared to accept a 10% increase?”
The Doctor’s hands flew over his console, and the audible pitch rose once more. A stifled gasp from Rhapsody made everybody turn to see the surface of the sarcophagus begin to shimmer and dissolve, revealing the luminous maelstrom beyond. Kurnitz rubbed his hands – an unselfconscious picture of delight, apparently oblivious to the whine that had caused Rhapsody and Grey to raise their hands to their ears.
“This is good, yes - we appear to have opened the door. I will now reduce the power to ascertain the threshold level.” Again his hands flickered across the board, but the whirlpool continued to swirl. He turned in his chair to look at the robot dog. “K-9: why has the entrance to the portal not closed?”
“Conditions within the vortex are fluctuating - our instruments are unable to compensate. Power required to maintain stability of the portal is now 78% of that which we are supplying.”
“Can we cut the power to compensate, K-9?”
“Controlled power-down of 12% will take 25 seconds.”
“Initiate immediately please.”
Intent on watching the Doctor and K-9 attempting to remedy the situation from her position next to the sarcophagus, Rhapsody had turned her back on the vortex. The next instant she felt herself being pulled backwards, causing her to lose her balance…
“Rhapsody!” Glancing up from his console, Kurnitz was just in time to see Rhapsody beginning to fall back into the whirlpool of light. Throwing himself out of his chair, he sought to grasp her hand as she fell, missing by millimetres – but found himself being sucked into the vortex also. Already the papers on his desk were being whipped up into the maelstrom like piles of autumn leaves as the vortex began to extend beyond the confines of the sarcophagus into the room. With Kurnitz fighting to regain his balance, it was left to Captain Grey to try to recover the situation in the only way left.
“K-9 – cut all power - NOW!”
The little robot dog’s response was as dramatic as it was unexpected. Swivelling to face the power supply, the barrel of a weapon emerged from his muzzle, and a blast of energy seared across the room. The power supply exploded in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics, sending a cloud of acrid smoke rising into the air. Secondary explosions instantly wrecked several more boards of components. The whine died away, and with it the swirling lights faded, to be replaced once more by the image of a Pharaoh long dead.
Recovering his balance, Doctor Kurnitz collapsed back into his chair, ruefully taking in the situation. Rhapsody gone, and much of their work up in smoke. Unconsciously echoing the words of an astronaut almost exactly a century earlier, he summed up the situation in concise understatement.
“I think we have a problem…”
“What went wrong, K-9?”
“An instability in the vortex caused an imbalance in the required power signature from the primary relay.”
Doctor Kurnitz ran his fingers through his silvery hair, his mind racing. “Do you know what caused the instability?”
“An object traversed a parallel corridor during the period that the portal entrance was active, causing interdimensional resonance.”
“An object? What sort of object?”
“Insufficient data. Approximate mass ninety-four kilogrammes.”
Having just returned from an impromptu briefing with Captain Blue at the entrance to the section, Captain Grey walked across the room to join them, a thoughtful frown on his face. “That mass K-9 estimated is about the weight of a man, or a woman. Could the object have been Rhapsody herself?”
“Negative. The power balance was disrupted prior to Mistress Rhapsody’s entry into the vortex.”
“What effect would the presence of an object in the vortex have upon Rhapsody’s passage through the vortex?”
Kurnitz turned to Captain Grey, he face grave. “We start all over again, Captain. Much work is to be done. Much work.”
Captain Black contemplated the task ahead of him whilst Scarlet stood quietly between two of the servicers, a few metres away, his eyes darting around the technology, attempting to determine its purpose. Here and there he recognised superficial similarities with technology encountered during the expedition to Crater 101, but this helped not at all, since the purpose of almost all of it had remained a mystery. Only the closest of examinations of the captured pulsator had enabled Doctor Kurnitz’s team at the Nash Institute to decipher one of its functions – the communication facility - and even that had taken months of intense work. The explosive function had escaped Kurnitz completely: Scarlet’s eyes narrowed slightly as he remembered both his escape and that of Cloudbase from that little surprise.
Black turned to his captive. “You are to be confined until we are ready for you, Captain. The servicers have much to do before that happens.” He bound Scarlet’s hands and feet, leaving the servicer to push him onto the floor in a corner of the room. He then turned to walk away, but Scarlet called him back.
“What is all this about, Black? I can hardly help you with this task of yours unless I understand something about it, can I?”
“Your help does not require your understanding, Captain. When the time is right, you will do what is required of you.”
“Look - you told us earlier that the Mysterons needed to confront a menace that threatens both Mars and Earth. Surely it’s obvious that the people of Earth must be as much concerned about that as the Mysterons are? Why won’t you let us help?”
“Humans are perfidious and ignorant savages. They meddle and destroy without attempting to understand the universe in which both they and we live. They do not respond to reason. They must be coerced into impotence. It is regrettable but necessary.”
Scarlet considered, then shook his head. “I don’t accept that the Mysterons regard their war as ‘regrettable but necessary’ at all. All the evidence points to the Mysterons positively enjoying the suffering that they’re causing.”
“We are not concerned with emotion.”
“Which is precisely why your masters misinterpreted the attack on their complex – the attack that YOU ordered, Black! You panicked, didn’t you! That’s an emotion!”
“The Mysterons understand actions, Captain. The motivation leading to them is irrelevant.”
“The motivation is not irrelevant! The attack was a mistake – something we’re not the only ones capable of making: your masters’ inability to recognise a mistake is itself a mistake…”
But Captain Black had lost interest in the debate. Turning on his heel, he walked over the nearest of the three servicers, which he reactivated with the ring on his index finger. Reeling off a list of instructions, he then turned his attention to the second servicer as the first lumbered away to commence work. Scarlet caught the occasional phrase, but understood almost none of them. Despite that, he formed the impression that a substantial programme of work was being undertaken.
Casting his eyes around the room again, he realised that some of the chamber’s décor was less unfamiliar than the technology that lay cluttered around its floor – and now that he looked harder at it, he realised that it bore little resemblance to that of the other rooms through which Black had taken them both following their materialisation within the complex. One wall was adorned with hieroglyphics; its centrepiece being a massive carving. With a start he realised where he had seen it before - it was an exact duplicate of the one that adorned the far wall of the pyramid in Sekkara. The conjunction of the words “duplicate” and “Mysteron” were well-rooted in Scarlet’s consciousness: had the Mysterons destroyed the original and reconstructed it here using their unearthly powers for some unfathomable reason? But then he realised that the carving was incomplete: here and there, complete sections were missing. As if in confirmation of his observation, one of the servicers lumbered over to the wall, carrying the missing section in its massive arms.
“Redecorating the Mysterons’ home in the classical Egyptian style, Black?”
Had Captain Black still retained a vestige of humanity he might have spared Scarlet a contemptuous glance in answer to the deliberately facetious question. As it was, he simply ignored it. Scarlet continued observing the activity around him. This is the real article, he told himself. They’re obviously taking it to pieces in that pyramid, and reassembling it here – probably using that sarcophagus device to transport it to Mars in sections. But why? He decided to try again.
“Is there something wrong with your retrometabolic capabilities that you need to use robots to do the manual work, Black?”
This time he got a response. Black turned to face him. “No purpose would be served by duplicating it yet again on Earth, Captain. We cannot create a simulacrum this distance from the original. Your discovery of the artefacts in Moreton Harewood has enabled us to undertake a task that we have been unable to carry out for the last 160 years. We can now complete the project.”
“Project? What project?”
“The destruction of the space-time vortex in which Sutekh has been trapped since the Earth year 1911. The exit of that vortex was destroyed in that year, but the entrance remained within his tomb. We realised many years ago that it was only a matter of time before humans discovered it and would attempt to reactivate it. Attempting to destroy it on Earth without the help of Osirian technology on Mars carries an unacceptably high risk of Sutekh’s escape. The entrance to the vortex is the mural carving that we are therefore now reassembling in this complex. Once the work is complete, we will destroy Sutekh by introducing a fissionable construct through the portal into the vortex and detonating it.”
“So why have you brought me here? Do you want me to plant a bomb for you?”
“No, Captain. You are the bomb.”
“You are one of us, Captain: the self-destruction of a retrometabolised construct is one of its capabilities. It is fitting that by your own choice you should both save your planet from annihilation and be prevented from interfering further in our revenge upon your species.”
Scarlet shook his head. “This is insane! You’re telling me that by my death I can both save humanity and make it that much easier for you to continue your vindictive little war? That would suit you very nicely, wouldn’t it - I don’t think I’m overstating the case if I say that I’m a serious thorn in your side. And anyway, what do you mean, ‘by my own choice’?”
“You are no longer subject to our will. Your purpose is not ours. Only by your own choice can you bring about the disintegration of the protective field that binds the virtual matter from which your reconstructed body is created. When that happens, your body will instantly dissolve in an uncontrolled exothermic reaction, and you will cease to exist.”
“Then I refuse!”
“In that case your planet will be destroyed when we open the portal.”
Scarlet forced himself to take his time replying. “Actually, Captain, I think there’s a little more to this than you’ve told us.” He paused to take a breath, then began to speak slowly and clearly to ensure that his words came out as he wanted them to. And also because at that precise moment he was thinking very quickly indeed. Much depended on his getting it right.
“I believe we know rather more about Sutekh than you think, Black. You failed to recover all the artefacts from the Rhapsody’s parents’ house – there were others there that added to our knowledge of Sutekh. We’ve learned that he is not merely an enemy of Earth: he’s the enemy of all sentient life everywhere – and that would include the Mysterons. If I understand this correctly, you’ve been charged with the responsibility of preventing Sutekh from ever regaining his freedom. In fact, I’ll go further: I’ll guess that you were created to serve that very purpose – and that would put the Mysterons right at the top of Sutekh’s list of scores to settle. No - I don’t think you dare open the portal unless you are absolutely certain you can destroy Sutekh in the process. I’m calling your bluff, Captain. If the Earth is to be destroyed, then Mars will be destroyed first - and the Mysterons with it.”
Every second that he was speaking, Scarlet was watching Black’s face for the slightest sign that he had guessed correctly. There was none. For a few seconds the two of them stood silently and impassively face to face. Black’s eyes had momentarily lost their intensity, and Scarlet realised with a flash of inspiration that he was awaiting instructions from his masters. They were not long in coming: Black’s head turned slightly as a voice that only he could hear spoke deep within his brain:
“The logic of the argument has been analysed. The captive is correct. An alternative stratagem is being formulated. In the meantime, you will seek to persuade him that his death is in the interests of his people.”
Black’s eyes blinked, and his stare resumed its former intensity. “The Mysterons are capable of destroying your species, Captain Scarlet. We offer you the opportunity to lessen their suffering by sacrificing yourself to the common good.”
Scarlet’s eyes narrowed. He was one step ahead of his enemy, and had his answer ready. “That’s not enough. The Mysterons will declare an end to the war. They will broadcast a message to Earth announcing that there will be no further attacks on our planet as of this time. When this has been done I agree to help you destroy Sutekh in the manner you have described.”
“We do not trust you to speak for authorities of Earth.”
“As you just said, Black, the Mysterons are capable of destroying us should they choose to do so. We are already perfectly well aware of this. You are possibly not aware that Spectrum acted to prevent an attack on your complex during your campaign of sabotage against Earth’s frost line defence system for precisely that reason. The world government will authorise a message stating unequivocally that the people of Earth will not initiate any further attacks on the Mysterons, in the full understanding that the Mysterons will retaliate if their word is broken. As I see it, that provides you with the guarantee of our good faith that you need.”
“We know of Spectrum’s actions in the matter you mention. They serve to demonstrate that humans do not speak with a single voice. Your guarantee is therefore worthless.”
“Damn it Black! That’s at the heart of all this, isn’t it? The Mysterons can’t understand that humans are individuals – you regard us as a collective entity, which we’re not. A mistake by an individual – namely you – started this war, and yet you make all of us suffer for it. That view makes a truce with humanity absolutely impossible to negotiate, doesn’t it? Very well – suppose we agree that the Mysterons reserve the right to punish any individual human who breaks the truce. Will that suffice?”
Black’s eyes had again resumed their faraway air. Again the voice spoke within his brain:
“The reasoning is correct, but simplistic. Humans employ chains of command to carry out acts of aggression that prevent culpable individuals from being identified. Absolute priority must however be given to preventing Sutekh from regaining his freedom. We agree, but will continue to seek an alternative solution.”
Black’s head moved slightly, and his eyes reconnected with Scarlet’s. “It will suffice. If you forfeit your life in the destruction of Sutekh, the Mysterons will agree to a truce with the condition you have stated.”
Scarlet took a deep breath. “You will need to allow me to contact Spectrum at once. The terms must be relayed to the World Government as soon as possible…”
“We have agreed because matters are pressing. Spectrum has discovered the technology that imprisons Sutekh. They may attempt to duplicate it. Any such attempt could allow Sutekh to regain his freedom. That cannot be allowed to happen. Sutekh must therefore be destroyed at once. The truce will be negotiated after that has been done.”
“Why should I trust you to keep your word?”
“The Mysterons do not break their word.”
“How do I know that?”
“We have never lied. We have never stated that we will do something whilst intending to do something else.”
Questionable, thought Scarlet, but I’ll let it pass. This is too important – if we can pull this off then the potential benefits can hardly be overstated. Aloud he merely said: “Very well. How do we proceed?”
“We will continue with the work necessary to reassemble the portal, Captain.” Black walked away to continue overseeing the work by the servicers, leaving Scarlet to ponder his fate alone.
In a dimly-lit but garish hall of shifting shapes and fleeting images, an apparition solidified into existence, accompanied by a fleeting whirlpool of multi-coloured lights that faded and died as rapidly as they had appeared. An apparition that was female humanoid, with long blonde hair, dressed in the uniform of a member of the Spectrum elite fighter strike force known as the Angels. The girl stood silently in the shadows for a few moments longer, slowly turning her head this way and that as if to get her bearings, then purposefully strode across the hall, in casual disregard of the unearthly instrumentation that noted her presence and reported it to the central neural consciousness at the heart of the complex. That consciousness in turn considered, analysed, decided.
“Captain Black. An Earth girl of the Spectrum organisation has followed you through the vortex to this location. She is following your passage through the complex. Leave the captive in the charge of the servicer whilst you retrace your steps and destroy her. By her death she may help us find the alternative solution we seek.”
With the two servicers not guarding Scarlet now occupied with their newly allotted tasks, Black returned to Scarlet. “The work will be completed within three hours, Captain, after which we will be ready to activate the portal. You will remain here for that duration. I have a task to perform.”
Captain Black walked slowly from the chamber, leaving Scarlet under the supervision of the third servicer, which towered motionless above him. Free of his presence at last, Scarlet permitted himself the smallest of self-satisfied smiles. He would have been less pleased with himself if he had known the nature of his enemy’s task.
Rhapsody walked on, heedless of the activity that her arrival had precipitated. An intricately-patterned door barred her way; she stopped, stood back and inspected it, then after a delay of a few seconds stepped forward again and touched three symbols in rapid succession. The door slid silently back to reveal a chamber beyond; the girl stepped inside without a backward glance, and the door closed again behind her. Only then did she register the man standing in the open doorway beyond, a gun in his hand, his face impassive – but she made no move either to approach him or to escape back through the doorway. Like Captain Black before her, a voice spoke to her within her mind. A quiet, calculating voice that radiated unimaginable power – the power to create and to destroy on a scale that blasted her consciousness. Honoured and content to reside within that power, she awaited its command.
“Do not be concerned, girl – the sentinels of Horus act out their parts in this play as has been foreseen. It suits my purpose that we should play their tedious little game. Stand and wait.”
Intent upon the voice that spoke within her head, she sensed no fear at the scenario unfolding before her. For a few seconds the tableau held. Then with slow deliberation, Black raised the gun and shot her down with two bullets to the heart, fired in rapid succession. Rhapsody’s body was blown backwards by the force of the shots; then collapsing to the floor in death, it lay still. Black walked quietly across the room to regard the dead girl impassively, then stood back as the Mysterons’ duplication process was initiated. Two ghostly green rings floated lazily across the body, then faded away as a movement in the shadows heralded the materialisation into existence of a second Rhapsody a few metres away. Superficially identical in every respect to the girl so lately shot down, save for the pool of blood that even now was forming an ever larger stain on the dead girl’s uniform, she quietly walked forward to stand at her assassin’s side. The two of them left the chamber without a backward glance, the door closing silently behind them.
Left in the chamber, Rhapsody’s body lay still and alone, the expression on her dead face unreadable. As during the final few moments of her life since her arrival in the complex, her countenance was devoid of expression; during that time she had lived and died confident in the protection of the master whose future depended upon her, and whose will comprised the sole reason for her existence. A trickle of blood dripped from the fatal wounds in her chest and began to wend its way across the floor. In time it stopped – and then slowly, little by little, it began to retreat back towards the body, leaving not even a trace on the floor of ever having been there. Simultaneously the red dripping stopped, as the globules began to float up from the floor to rejoin the stain that still besmirched her uniform. Presently the stain itself started to diminish in size, eventually vanishing altogether. A tiny blur of motion that marked the passage of the bullets out of her uniform brought about the abrupt culmination of the process; a momentary flash a few centimetres from her body indicting their annihilation as they impacted with the invisible field that surrounded her body.
Rhapsody’s eyes flickered into life, and she rose awkwardly to her feet, her movements constituting a perfect reversal of those by which she had fallen in death just a few moments previously. Backwards she walked across the room to the spot where Captain Black had shot her. Coming to a halt and remaining motionless for a few moments, the field dissipated as her personal timeframe resynchronised with that of her surroundings, and she now resumed her forward motion across the room, reaching the door through which Black and her mysteronised double had passed. With calculating eyes she contemplated the embossed decorations that covered it, forming an artistic frieze not unlike the hieroglyphs that she had interpreted for Scarlet in Sekkara a few days previously. The voice spoke again – she sensed amused disgust in its tone, and the ghost of a smile flickered across her features in sympathy with it.
“I counter your every move with ease, Horus. Stand still, girl – scan the panel. The chamber beyond it is an inhibitor to prevent entry by an unaccompanied simulacrum. The symbols provide the key by which the bulkhead can be released. Touch the symbol in the second row from the top, third from the left.”
The voice spoke again within her head. Her mentor could sense the freedom within his grasp now, and she shared his anticipation; felt his joy; exulted in his power. She obeyed.
“Now two rows lower, first from the left.”
Again she did as directed. The door slid open, and she walked through. Again she felt her master’s satisfaction as yet another obstacle was overcome. She sensed his approval of his own forethought: “Always your infantile tricks and stratagems, Horus! I was wise to permit you to retain your worthless life, Earth girl. In human form you serve me truly – as a simulacrum you would have been disintegrated on the threshold.” She felt the hardening of his resolve as the moment of his deliverance approached, and her eyes gleamed in anticipation.
In the next chamber, an array of visual displays met her gaze. Yet more sensors registered her presence, but this time they disregarded it. This reconstruction was not a threat; its body print already having been registered in the databank. Let it pass. She spared them a glance as she walked past, her facial features deliberately impassive but her eyes bright with amusement as she sensed the logic of their reasoning process. Fascinating how Earthmen feared this race, she thought, reflecting that just a few days ago even she herself had demonstrated the ability to count to more than two.
Back in the vortex chamber, Scarlet started from the sound of yet another distant explosion shook the room – the third since his arrival – and he had devoted much time since the start of his captivity to contemplating their cause. Could the Mysterons be testing explosives? Ridiculous idea. What, then? Had Spectrum instigated a missile attack on the complex? No, that was impossible – any form of projectile would take months to reach the Red Planet. But the notion of an external attack remained with him, and presently the memory of one of the details of the first Zero-X mission a decade earlier came back to him. Something about rock snakes that spat balls of fire: he’d read the reports soon after Captain Black’s ill-fated mission returned to Earth, and wondered at the time whether they were connected with the Mysterons in any way. Perhaps the Mysterons have enemies rather closer to home, he wondered. Another image sprang into his head – the video recording of the obliteration and subsequent reconstruction of the Mysteron complex in the immediate aftermath of Black’s attack. Was that why the Mysterons developed their retrometabolic technology? To protect themselves from rock snakes?
All further idle speculation was put aside, as at that moment Captain Black returned from his task. Instinctively Scarlet’s brain was functioning on overdrive: like every other Spectrum officer that had encountered Black since his return to Earth, somehow he knew that it was in reality the collective consciousness of the Mysterons that he heard whenever he spoke. He chose to speak now.
“There will be no truce, Captain. We have discovered the means to undertake our mission without your assistance. You will be destroyed once that mission has been completed.” The door behind him slid aside, and a figure entered the room behind him. A blonde, long-haired female figure wearing the uniform of a Spectrum Angel.
The expression of delight and relief on Scarlet’s face evaporated in an instant as he caught the coldness in her almond eyes. His shoulders slumped.
“Oh, Rhapsody! Not Rhapsody. Please, not Rhapsody...” He shook his head in bewilderment. “Why did you come here, Rhapsody? Why?”
“I was swept into the space-time portal as the result of a malfunction, Captain. Doctor Kurnitz was able to repair the damage caused by our attempts to destroy it - proof if any were needed that the time of the final reckoning with Sutekh is approaching.”
She began to turn away, but stopped suddenly, looking around the room intently as if conscious of another presence. Out of the corner of his eye, Scarlet saw that Captain Black also had stopped his work and was looking at her. Their faces both remained as impassive as ever, but he was as certain as it was possible to be that he sensed confusion in both of them. What it might be he had no idea – he’d heard nothing. Then suddenly it was gone, and they both returned to their previous tasks. The mysteronised Angel turned to the servicer. “Continue to guard him. We may find his technical expertise to be of value when testing the circuitry.”
“What the hell makes you think I’ll help you now?”
“The threat to your planet is real and immediate, Captain. You will help us because of your sense of duty to your species.”
“Don’t count on it. You ought to be aware that humans are emotional creatures – and when they’re angry they do irrational things. And right now I’m extremely angry.”
“As we are, Captain. And we shall be avenged.” She walked away to join Captain Black at one of the consoles.
It may have been that Captain Black and his mysteronised companion took Scarlet at his word, or it may have been that they found their task easier than anticipated, but either way no call was made upon his time during the following hours. Occasionally the surface of the massive sculpture adorning the wall would shimmer for a few seconds, but always returned to its former state within a few seconds. Once the room shook slightly as another distant explosion could be heard above the humming of the apparatus. By that time Scarlet trusted himself to ask in a relatively civilized manner what it was. His question was ignored.
Black and Rhapsody each left the chamber several times to fetch components from other parts of the complex, but never both together. Each time Scarlet considered the plausibility of attempting to making a break for it, but dismissed the thought instantly. Even if he could get his hands free he would be struck down by one of the servicers before he could hobble across the room: any of them was obviously perfectly capable of breaking his neck with either mechanised hand, and whilst the injury would heal in time, he would be incapacitated for hours – leaving the Mysterons ample time to return him to his corner, or worse. It was the ‘worse’ that dissuaded him from trying.
Matters were apparently coming to a conclusion. A faint constant glow was now discernible from the sculpture, and the consoles surrounding it were all evidently functioning in some measure. Black’s current task evidently complete, he activated the console, raising the pitch of the ever-present hum by a fraction of a tone. He glanced at Rhapsody, who flicked a switch on her own console. Instantly there was a flash, accompanied by a small explosion from within the morass of glowing power conduits underneath. Scarlet smile grimly – not by a flicker of their features did either of them show a reaction to a situation that would have caused any human to have sworn copiously.
As if to an unspoken command, Rhapsody gathered up the loops of fused wiring and carried them out of the door. Unhurriedly she walked through the complex to a section on an upper level where she quietly and competently disassembled a device what would have baffled any human on Earth. Gathering up an armful of replacement components, she made to stand up again. It was the last thing she did before a crushing blow struck her back down onto the floor. Momentarily stunned, she was powerless to prevent a loop of the luminous cabling being snatched up from the floor and wound around her throat.
Scarlet glanced up as Rhapsody returned to the chamber, carrying a replacement set of components. Without a word to her taciturn companion working on the other side of the room she returned to the console from which wisps of smoke were still rising, and started to reassemble it. She worked quickly, pausing every few minutes to consider the next phase of the repair – something that Scarlet noted she seemed not to have needed to do before the explosion. Once bitten, twice shy, no doubt. The repair completed, she stood, glanced at Captain Black and nodded. The other turned to his console and flicked a switch. The result was spectacular: a blinding flash momentarily dazzled Scarlet. The effect upon Black was far more profound – he was thrown physically across the room by the force of the blast. Almost before he landed, Rhapsody was on him, raining a devastating sequence of kicks and blows down on him. Before Scarlet’s astonished gaze she picked him up once more, hurled him against the console with terrific force, then instantly clubbed him down to the ground, unconscious. Reaching for the remains of cabling she had brought back with her, she rapidly tied his feet and hands, then ran over to where Scarlet lay and started work untying the cords that bound him.
“Rhapsody! How the dev…!”
“Never mind that! Help me with these – as fast as you can. His masters might be able to snatch him away the way they usually do when he’s in trouble – I don’t know. We’ve got to work fast – here, pull this – now stand up if you can; we’ve got to get your feet free. Now listen – I said listen! - we have to activate that portal, do you understand? It’s our only way out of here: Doctor Kurnitz has the other end working again, so all we have to do is step into it when it’s working and we can go home.”
“But do you know how?”
“Of course I do! Don’t ask stupid questions – just do what I tell you, okay?”
Scarlet shrugged, still in a daze at the speed of events. “All right – what do you want me to do?”
“Get over to that control panel that I was fiddling with before Captain Black’s blew up. I fixed the original fault before booby-trapping his end of it, but I still have to repair the damage that my diversion caused. With your help that’ll take about ten minutes – but I’m still worried about what the Mysterons might be able to do to counter us once they realise what we’re doing. And it’s possible they know already.”
Scarlet held up his hands in a gesture of resignation. “It’s your show, Rhapsody. Just tell me one thing – how is it that you’re still alive?”
“Tell you later. They thought they’d killed me, but they hadn’t. Just like Gravener. Now activate the phase rectifier – not that one! - the blue one on the right! I need you to realign the phase angle to synchronise the field density at the exit point with that of the vortex at the following space-time coordinates…”
“Rhapsody – what are you talking about?”
For a split second Rhapsody’s eyes blazed. Then just as quickly the fires dimmed, and with an effort she started again. “Watch the panel in front of you. Let me know when sections of it become active again as I fix this problem over here, and then read me the outputs and key in some digits when I tell you to, okay?”
“No problem – I think.”
Scarlet gave a tight smile. “SIG, I mean.”
The next few minutes were a blur of action. The lights on Scarlet’s board came on with almost magical speed, and he scarcely had time to ponder the obvious question of how it was that Rhapsody managed to master the alien technology in so short a time after his abduction from the storeroom. Had he been unconscious since his arrival in the complex? He didn’t think so. Was there a discontinuity in time between Earth and Mars? Perhaps – he knew enough about relativistic physics to understand that the apparently instantaneous transmission of Black and himself across the intervening several million miles of space would stretch the established laws of physics to the limit at the very least. Another display blinked into life, and he rattled off the displayed coordinates back to Rhapsody, who acknowledged their receipt with a barely audible thank-you. Coming to think of it, wondered Scarlet, how do the Mysterons apparently manage to project that retrometabolic ray of theirs instantaneously across space? But then, does it travel across space? Or is it something that Captain Black causes to happen? So many questions to which we don’t know the answer. A shout from the other side of the room brought him out of his reverie. “Captain! He’s gone! They’re on to us – quickly! - what’s the biphasic displacement on the gravimetric compensator?”
“The blue display close to the floor!”
“Er, one five six decimal four six one. Sorry.”
He shot a glance at the spot on the floor where Black had fallen. He wasn’t there. Scarlet tried to remember how long ago it was that he had looked, and realised that it could easily have been several minutes ago. Quickly he scanned the room – no sign of him. Probably been teleported out of harm’s way by his masters: a bad sign. “How’s it going Rhapsody?”
“Very nearly there, Captain. Is the secondary damping relay back online yet?”
“How do I know?”
“Display in the lower right on the board behind you. Should be showing a sequence of twelve digits.”
“Yes – they’re on. Do you need to know what they are?”
“Nine, seven, four, zero…”
“What’s next, Captain? Captain?”
The lack of a reply caused Rhapsody to glance up from her monitor. Scarlet was backing away from the console with his hands raised slightly, as Captain Black advanced into the room holding a squat pistol at arm’s length ahead of him, motioning him to retreat. The pistol was aimed directly at Scarlet’s head. Behind him, a second person was slowly walking into the chamber, the door of which had evidently slid silently open to admit them whilst Scarlet and Rhapsody had been absorbed with their tasks. Her face was still hidden in the shadows, but Scarlet had no difficulty recognising the walk. Involuntarily he glanced at his companion – it was unquestionably the same girl. The mysteronised Rhapsody advanced into the room, instantly spotting her original, who walked forward to intercept her. They stopped in the middle of the chamber, a few metres apart, sizing each other up; their expressions identical combinations of wariness and ruthless determination. The Mysteron spoke first.
“You must abandon this insanity, Earth girl. At once.”
“Then we will kill you.”
“Haven’t been very successful yet, have you?” She lithely stepped back, stooped down and snatched up one of the heavier components that littered the floor. Advancing once more on her simulacrum, she drew back her arm to throw it, and the Mysteron began to raise her hands in instinctive self-defence. Twisting, Rhapsody hurled the component with unerring accuracy – but not at her counterpart. Flying across the room, it struck Captain Black’s arm with a glancing blow, causing him to drop the pistol that was covering Scarlet, who instantly hurled himself upon him. Delaying only a second to verify that Black was both disarmed and fully occupied, Rhapsody turned her full attention to the duplicate, delivering within seconds a devastating sequence of kicks and blows that would have instantly incapacitated anyone but an expert in unarmed combat. The other however was of the same proficiency as the original, and gave every bit as good as she got: within less than a minute both of them were dishevelled and panting heavily, at least as much from the mental effort of trying to outwit each other than physical exertion, though one was sporting a cut on her lower lip, and the other a welt on her cheek.
Still attempting to incapacitate Captain Black, Scarlet was strangely unsurprised as he felt the air around them both begin to solidify. Struggling to maintain his grip, Scarlet found himself unable to prevent Black’s body from being snatched away from him once more as it dissolved from underneath him. Glancing up, he watched helplessly as the pistol also faded away, and swore. Unarmed, he struggled to his feet to help the human Rhapsody – but how? He no longer had any idea which was which. Watching them closely, he tried to distinguish them from the manner of their fighting; their features; their movements; anything - but it was impossible.
Round the chamber they circled one another again and again, each seeking an advantage over the other; across the floor to Scarlet’s console where one of them glanced down at the final sequence of digits that was interrupted – realising instantly that that must be the human he sprang at the other, only to be hurled backwards across the room by a furious kick at his stomach as she also recognised its significance. Doubling up in pain, by the time he was on his feet again they were locked in each other’s arms, indistinguishable yet again, and tumbling over and over towards the display that the human Rhapsody had been repairing when the Mysterons returned.
Watching them locked in each other’s arms, Scarlet suddenly realised that he was having difficulty focussing on them - that they appeared to be slightly less than solid. He blinked and tried again, but it was unquestionably so – the space around them was slowly beginning to dissolve. He was reminded of his first view of the exterior of the Mysteron complex in Crater 101 as Blue, Green and he had first seen it from their vantage point on the ledge: was he watching the start of an attack by the Mysterons? He could also see that the two combatants were starting to have difficulty – their kicks and blows were becoming less precise, less coordinated. As if sensing it in themselves but failing to recognise it in the other they fell apart, each rolling away from the other before regaining their feet. With one on each side of the console, each waited for the other to make a move.
One shook her head. “I can’t allow you to stop me, Mysteron. Stand back, and I’ll consider not killing you.”
The other glared back. “Clever, but it won’t work. Your masters through that door won’t be allowed to prevent me from completing this task. You’ve lost.”
Scarlet took a step forward, and swung towards the one on his left. “You! If I were to ask your double whether she was a Mysteron, would she say yes?”
The girl’s face dissolved in a broad grin. “Oh, nice one, Captain! No, she wouldn’t. Does that help?”
“Yes, it does.” It was the grin far more than the answer, he realised. Instantly he leaped on the other and dragged her away from the console, as his newly-identified ally strode up to it and rapidly keyed in the remaining digits. His captive struggled violently but to no avail: Scarlet had her in an unbreakable arm-lock. The fleeting sensation of proximity to a Mysteron swept over him, belatedly confirming the decision he’d made, and he tightened his grip. The face of the sculpture began to dissolve in a mirage of fleeting colours, and the electronic hum emanating from Rhapsody’s console began to rise steadily in both pitch and volume. His captive struggled feebly, and twisted her head to speak.
“Captain – stop her! You must stop her! We cannot permit this…”
Her head fell back as a vicious kick landed on her neck, and she slumped unconscious to the floor. Scarlet glanced up in surprise – it was the last thing he saw before a second kick sent him sprawling. Through blurred vision he managed to stay conscious long enough to hear the voice he knew so well, but with an edge to it that he was unable to place – a blend of amusement and disgust.
“Thank you, Captain. You’ve really been most helpful – but we no longer need your aid.”
Rhapsody ran back to the console and flicked one last switch, then slowly walked to the centre of the room. Facing the dazzling aurora with shining eyes, she watched, breathless with delight, as a shape began to materialise through the vortex. A shape that resembled a man, but with the head of… something else. Falling on one knee, she lowered her head in supplication, and spoke aloud in tones that betrayed her awe and joy.
“All powerful Lord, oh great Sutekh, your servant welcomes you!”
The creature that stood before them resembled something of the worst type of nightmare. Of approximately the size and shape of a man, the resemblance ended there. Possessed of a jackal-like head with its jowl fixed in an apparent snarl, it looked down from the portal with faintly glowing yes. It turned its head slowly this way and that, as if assessing its surroundings; as its eyes passed over Scarlet, he felt the nausea previously uniquely associated with a Mysteron presence magnified a dozen fold sweeping over his body, and he barely managed to keep himself from passing out.
“So. My servant and my enemy greet me together. It is of no consequence.”
If Scarlet had expected some form of barking sound to emerge from those impossibly alien jaws he was disappointed – the voice he heard was human. Despite coming unmistakably from inside his head, he nonetheless could tell from the body language of the other occupants of the room, both Mysteron and human, that the creature’s words could be sensed by all. The tone of the voice was sufficient to send ice through his veins. Not the barking roar he expected, but a mellifluous, precise statement that by its instant acknowledgement of the speaker’s unconcern for any attendant danger managed to convey indescribable menace. Unbidden, an ancient African proverb surfaced in Scarlet’s head: Talk softly and carry a big stick. How big a stick do you need to be able to dismiss all the incomprehensible powers of the Mysterons in a single sentence?
Slowly Sutekh advanced into the chamber. Again, Scarlet detected no apprehension, no wariness in his movements - this was the walk of a creature that had no cause to hurry. The creature’s eyes fell upon the slowly recovering form of Rhapsody’s mysteronised reconstruction, and Scarlet sensed both amusement and malice in Sutekh’s gaze, but could not have put his reasons for thinking so into words. The glance flickered to the human Rhapsody, still kneeling with her head bowed low.
“An original and the simulacrum together - one who serves me, and one who does not.” His voice hardened. “A fitting start to my vengeance. Stand, proud simulacrum! Look now into the eyes of your former prisoner and new master!”
Rising from the floor as if dragged, the mysteronised girl got to her feet. Straightening up, she turned to face Sutekh with defiance written in her features. Instantly a blast of energy flared from Sutekh’s eyes, physically sweeping the girl off her feet. With a pitiful howl of pain she crashed backwards into the equipment behind her and rolled on the floor in agony. A peel of laughter sounded inside Scarlet’s head.
“How well are these simulacra made, that they can survive such torture! And what exquisite irony, that I can have the pleasure of inventing infinitely many ways of bringing about their deaths!”
Again the blast of energy, and again the girl emitted a lung-bursting scream, writhing with pain on the ground. Sutekh continued to regard her with amusement for a few moments longer, and then evidently having lost interest turned his attention to Scarlet. Again the wave of nausea; Scarlet suddenly understood that it was the act of communication between mysteronised reconstructions that caused it, as opposed to merely their presence. Was Sutekh also a reconstruction, he wondered? Somehow he knew that the creature had heard his unspoken question but had chosen to ignore it. Once more he sensed Sutekh probing his mind.
“Curious. You are also a simulacrum, yet you do not think the thoughts of the sentinels of Horus. What are you?”
Scarlet felt his response to the question being torn from his consciousness. Any attempt to dissemble was futile, he realised.
“I was under their control once. I was killed, and their control over me was lost.”
“I do not know.”
Sutekh straightened, as if smelling the air. “There is another here also. He is their slave, as the human girl is mine. Both shall accept Sutekh’s gift of death when I destroy this planet. But not until the sentinels of Horus have paid one thousand times over for imprisoning me.”
The tone of his voice had changed subtly: a note of brooding had crept in where previously there was only glee at the anticipated carnage. Scarlet felt sufficiently confident of his rationality – though not his sanity - to ask a question.
“What do you hope to gain by punishing these creations, Sutekh? They are nothing more than automatons, programmed to carry out a task by your real enemies!”
“They oppose me. All who oppose Sutekh shall suffer the most exquisite torment before they die. Death shall come as a welcome release only when I wish it. Only when they beg upon their knees for an end to their suffering shall I bestow my gift.”
“You’re mistaken. The Mysterons are your enemies, not these reconstructions!”
An insane peel of laughter echoed within Scarlet’s head. “You refer to the consciousness that directs the actions of this complex? What is that but the embodied will of Horus? Yes… the will of Horus!” The voice had hardened as Sutekh brooded upon his vengeance. Now it had taken on the tone of a bestial snarl. “Horus! These mindless puppets are your creations – made to enforce your will throughout eternity! Save them now if you can, my BROTHER!”
Yet again the brilliant flare emanated from Sutekh’s eyes, and the mysteronised girl screamed once more as the force threw her bodily through the air into the vortex. The eyes brightened yet again as she fell into the swirling whirlpool of fluorescence, and her body exploded in a dazzling burst of light. Sutekh watched the unspeakable death with evident amusement, then turned back to face his captives.
“So shall all my enemies perish! Now let the will of Horus be snuffed out forever: this last domain of the Osirians shall suffer the same fate as I long ago wreaked upon the rest of this mud speck in space! Then perhaps the star of this system: Horus professed a fondness for it. I prefer to see it lifeless – all that shall remain will be darkness and dust…”
The ghost of a shadow passing across the wall provided the only suggestion of a change in the vortex, but it was sufficient to cause Sutekh to whirl.
“So you are free, my brother. Savour your freedom, for it is short-lived.”
A figure slowly stepped out of the vortex - a figure indistinguishable from the one that now advanced menacingly upon the entrance to the portal, his eyes blazing with energy. Indistinguishable save for the voice, within which wisdom and calmness sounded in equal measure.
“Long ago you said we would meet in oblivion, my brother. I did not doubt then that you spoke truly. That time is now upon us. Through the cosmos I sensed your presence again within this frame, and have come to you. Even now the resonance builds - there is no escape.”
Once again the insane laughter reverberated through Scarlet’s consciousness. “Horus! Dearest brother! Do you dare to threaten ME, oh brother? Leave this place now or I shall destroy you – pathetic prototype of Sutekh! Enjoy what little time remains to you and flee!”
“Much time has passed since our last meeting, Sutekh. I am now as you. This day was foreordained long ago, and I am ready. You will destroy no more, for this day I die, and you shall die with me.”
“Never!” The air crackled with raw power as an energy blast radiated from Sutekh’s eyes; an equally powerful blast was returned by Horus, hurling Sutekh across the room.
Quickly Horus turned to Rhapsody, still kneeling but now looking around herself in amazement and barely concealed bewilderment. “Human, you are free. You and your companion must leave this place at once. Go now to the place of your arrival – I sense that your companions on Earth have reactivated the portal through which you were sent here, and you can return whence you came.”
Rhapsody looked at Scarlet urgently. “Captain – what about…”
“No time! Run!” Scarlet threw himself on Rhapsody to push her out of the way as a mass of masonry detached itself from the massive frieze and crashed to the floor centimetres from where seconds previously she had been kneeling. Turning, they both ran for the entrance as an incessant vibration began to build up in the chamber, the walls and floor of which had begun to dissolve in blurred streams of light. Through the complex they both ran, back to the anti-chamber from which Scarlet had emerged with Captain Black: there in the shadows incongruously stood an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. As Scarlet ran towards it the surface dissolved, and they both jumped into the swirling vortex one last time. Seconds later almost half the Mysteron complex vanished in a massive explosion as the disintegration of the vortex chamber spread to the adjoining corridors and halls.
For perhaps twenty minutes afterwards the smoke and ash filled the valley so utterly that nothing was to be seen. Then as the debris began to settle once more, camouflaged hatches buried deep in the foothills slid back to reveal sleek, tall alien projectors as they rose high into the rarefied atmosphere…
An eerie silence met Scarlet and Rhapsody as they stepped out into the storeroom. Doctor Kurnitz lay motionless on the floor with an expression devoid of emotion, and K-9 was nowhere to be seen. Rhapsody ran over to tend to the Doctor; turning him on his side, she snatched up a glass of water from his desk; poured some onto a cloth and started to bathe his face. His eyes flickered, slowly bringing her into focus. “Miss Rhapsody? You have returned, yes?”
She nodded and smiled. “What happened?”
He frowned, trying to remember. “We… had just re-established the link… when someone came through the vortex. I looked up, thinking it must be one of you, but it was not. And then – something strange happened. I cannot remember…” His voice trailed away, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. Rhapsody and Scarlet looked at each other, their faces pictures of resigned disappointment: words were unnecessary.
A familiar motorised whine made them turn, as K-9 trundled into the room. Rhapsody’s face creased into a broad grin and she crossed the room to greet him.
“K-9! Where have you been? Why weren’t you here when Doctor Kurnitz activated the entrance to the vortex?”
“You are mistaken – I was present when the vortex was activated.”
“But that means you must have seen Captain Black!”
“Affirmative. I have been assimilating new orders.”
“What new orders, K-9?”
The sleek barrel of the little robot’s blaster slid out of its muzzle and he swivelled to face the now dormant sarcophagus. Even as Scarlet opened his mouth to shout a warning, a bolt of blue energy bathed the portal in an unearthly light before the device exploded in a massive ball of flame.
“Everyone out! Get out now!” Scarlet grabbed Doctor Kurnitz’s legs and dragged the unconscious scientist out of the room, whilst Rhapsody cradled his head in her arms, trying to protect it from colliding with the paraphernalia scattered about the floor. K-9 surveyed the destruction, and evidently deciding that it wasn’t sufficiently comprehensive, fired two more devastating bolts of energy into the equipment before retreating with the others into the corridor.
“K-9! What the hell did you think you were playing at?”
“Why did you destroy the portal? You’re damned lucky you weren’t shot down for a Mysteron agent, you stupid dog!”
“I was obeying orders from Master Captain Black.”
The pitch of Rhapsody’s voice ascended into the stratosphere. “But K-9! Don’t you know that Captain Black is working for the Mysterons?”
“Negative. That information is not recorded in my memory bank.”
Rhapsody closed her eyes, not trusting herself to speak until she had finished counting to ten. It wasn’t enough – she added another twenty. Having completed the count and taken several deep breaths for good measure, she opened her eyes again and struggled to keep her voice on an even keel whilst filling in K-9 on a few little facts about working for Spectrum that he might find it useful to know….
Captain Scarlet leaned back in his chair; his coffee as yet untouched on account of his still savouring a superb meal. “In hindsight, I suppose K-9 may have done us a favour, though it certainly didn’t seem like that at the time. In addition to trying either to kill us or maroon us on Mars, Captain Black presumably also wanted to prevent Spectrum from using the Osirian technology to establish a means of getting to Mars, even though he’s effectively cut himself off physically from his masters in doing so. At least this way it means that the Mysterons can’t establish a physical contact with him either.”
“Unless of course he’s got other one somewhere else.” Major Gravener put down his glass of wine and stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “What about the portal in the pyramid in Sekkara – the one through which they transported the pieces of the frieze?”
Captain Blue nodded. “We sent in a security team as soon as we realised its significance. It’s gone. So maybe he has still got a physical link to Mars somewhere. Either way, the subject isn’t closed yet. We still have K-9, and he’s now working with Doctor Kurnitz at Nash to recreate the system from scratch as an earthbound travel device – on secondment, so to speak. If they succeed, the potential benefits for mankind can scarcely be overestimated. Poor K-9; we still don’t know exactly what Captain Black did to him, but whatever it was, he clearly thought he was obeying a direct order.”
Scarlet considered. “Perhaps we really did forget to tell him. It’s possible, isn’t it?”
Rhapsody shook her head. “No way. He’d found the network access point in the Amber Lounge and helped himself to half the files on Cloudbase within an hour of his being turned over to my custody before I caught him at it. He must have known.”
Scarlet took a sip from his coffee. “The encounter that Rhapsody here and I witnessed between Sutekh and Horus raises a number of questions to which we’d love to know the answer, but probably never will. Were they really brothers? Or was there something in that phrase ‘pathetic prototype’ that Sutekh used to describe Horus? Could it be that Sutekh was what we would recognise as a mysteronised recreation of Horus? There are parallels there – a normal original, and a fanatically twisted duplicate with apparently supernatural powers.”
Gravener considered. “Do you remember what Colonel White said about two virtually identical structures causing a subatomic resonance? It sounds to me as if he may have hit the nail on the head there – you said earlier that Horus told Sutekh that he’d sensed his presence when leaving the vortex. Also something about ‘the resonance building up’, or something like that. That must have been across untold light-years of space. It’s a great shame that Rhapsody here can’t remember anything about her experience. As in my own case, she’s a victim of circumstances.”
Rhapsody shook her head sadly. “I’ve tried remembering, but it’s no good – everything is a complete blank from the moment I fell into the vortex. I can only assume that Sutekh was controlling my mind from then until the time that Horus freed me. Captain Scarlet tells me that I acted perfectly normally throughout that period, but that I had inexplicably acquired an understanding of Osirian technology – obviously Sutekh was supplying the necessary information when it was needed.”
The Major looked thoughtful. “You know, I’m wondering if what you’ve witnessed is the outcome of an experiment that went wrong, thousands of years ago. The Osirians tried to develop a technology for duplicating their own kind. Something happened to cause a mutation that ran amok, resulting in a desperate chase across the galaxy to minimise the damage. The Osirians couldn’t bring themselves to destroy their creation, so they attempted to confine it in perpetuity. To do that, they created the sentient computers that we have come to know as the Mysterons – but at some later time the Mysterons used the Osirians’ own technology to duplicate themselves. Now suppose there was a basic fault in the duplication process, and that the Mysterons changed their own nature without realising that they had done it. From the intelligent and peaceful machines that Horus created, they were transformed into the vicious and vindictive reconstructions of which Sutekh was the first example – and those traits have been faithfully copied into their reconstructions here on Earth. What do you think?”
Scarlet nodded slowly. “It sounds plausible. Of course, for all we know it could have been Captain Black’s own attack on the complex that resulted in such a flaw becoming apparent, but I’ve got an idea of my own about that. Whilst we were being held in the complex, several unexplained explosions took place, and when we returned to Cloudbase I had our most recent satellite photographs of the Valles Marineris region enhanced. The whole region is littered with rock snakes, and at least one of the photographs shows considerable recent damage to the complex – presumably before the Mysterons had had time to reconstruct it. I suspect that the retrometabolic capability was installed by the Osirians to counter those rock snakes – in which case the Mysterons could have been using it on themselves for thousands of years. Who knows what mutations could have been introduced into them by repeated duplication over such a long period of time?”
Gravener leaned back in his chair, remembering a cutting from a newspaper almost a year previously – the significance of it had been lost on the general public, but amongst the scientific community there had been rumours. “Didn’t our attempts to obtain satellite photographs ended with the destruction of the K14 observatory in the Himalayas, Captain?”
Scarlet shook his head. “We equipped at least half a dozen other facilities to receive transmissions from the Phobos lander in the aftermath of that fiasco. The lander itself was undamaged, and is still transmitting. Since it’s almost certain that the Mysterons would sabotage it if at all possible, we’ve concluded that for some reason they can’t. Just one more little piece of information that may come in useful one day. The Colonel thinks it may be another indication that Captain Black’s physical presence is in some way essential to their ability to apply their powers, since there’s no obvious way he can get to Phobos.”
“Captain Black does seem to be central to most, if not all, of the Mysterons’ plans, doesn’t he?”
It was Scarlet’s turn to look thoughtful. “Yes, he does. You know, there’s something else I’ve just remembered. Sutekh was able to sense Captain Black’s presence. ‘There is another here also. He is their slave, as the human girl is mine.’ Those were his exact words. But Horus was able to free Rhapsody from Sutekh’s mind control – I’ve no idea how, but he simply negated it in some way, presumably by mental power. However he did it, it’s a pity there wasn’t time to get him to free Captain Black as well. Perhaps one day we’ll find a way to do it ourselves.”
Rhapsody stirred. “Are you sure you’d want to do that, Captain?”
“What do you mean?”
She lowered her eyes. “I think he’d prefer that we killed him, Captain. I don’t think he’d be able to live with the guilt.”
A silence descended around the table. A little enforced jollity was needed to break it, Rhapsody realised. She chose to be the one to do the honours.
“Major – we have a little present for you. In recognition of the central role played by you in the events that took place during what has become known on Cloudbase over the last few weeks as ‘The Osirian Incident’. It’s not much, but we hope it will remind you of our gratitude to you.”
“To me? But… well, I mean, what did I do?”
Rhapsody laughed. “Do? Major, you introduced us to the Riddle of the Osirians. Indirectly it gave us the first insight we’ve ever had into the Mysterons’ past. It unearthed an episode of human history that ranks alongside the building of the pyramids – and could for all we know have been responsible for even that. It resulted in my being the first woman ever to set foot on Mars – except for my grandmother, that is, if K-9 is to be believed! Oh yes, and it also saved my life.”
She leaned across the table and kissed him. Then picking up a bulky parcel from under the table, she ceremonially presented it to him. The Major raised an eyebrow, and unwrapped it. Inside he found an ancient Egyptian burial jar. His face broke into a delighted smile as he inspected it closely. “It’s fabulous. Thank you. Thank you all.”
Captain Scarlet filled everyone’s wine glasses. “Our pleasure, Major. It’s a reproduction of the jar upon which Sutekh’s force-field generator was based. Except that this one doesn’t contain a force-field generator - or eviscerated organs either, come to that! Rhapsody and I found it in Cairo during a few days leave after supervising the security operation that Captain Blue mentioned earlier. The decorations are particularly interesting – and appropriate to the situation, I think you’ll agree.” He pointed to an area of the surface, where two ancient stylised figures fought out their ritual battle throughout eternity.
This story draws on the mythology of the Osirians created in the Doctor Who story “The Pyramids of Mars” which was broadcast on BBC television the 25th October and 15th November 1975. The parallels between the mind-control and limited time-shifting capabilities of Sutekh (as exemplified by his reversal of the linear time stream to prevent Scarman’s death after being shot in the back by Ernie Clements) and those of the Mysterons struck me quite forcibly at the time, and the writing of a crossover story to explore the origins of the Mysterons was an obvious next step – even though it’s taken me 28 years to get around to doing it. I’m surprised that nobody else seems to have thought of it before: if they have then I’ve missed it, and I can only offer my apologies. “The Pyramids of Mars” has been published in book form by Wyndham Publications, ISBN 0 426 11666 6 (irony there – the number of the beast), and a résumé of the story can be found at http://www.drwhoguide.com/who_4g.htm.
K-9 had not yet joined the crew of the Tardis when the events related in “The Pyramids of Mars” took place, but being an inquisitive little fellow he would certainly have taken the opportunity to download the relevant data files, including the coordinates of the Osirian complex on Mars to which the Doctor travelled with Sarah Jane Smith and one of the servicer robots whilst held in Sutekh’s power. The arrival of K-9’s Mark III counterpart at Sarah Jane’s flat in South Croydon is documented at the start of the spin-off story “K-9 and Company”, a summary of which can be found at http://www.drwhoguide.com/K-9_cie.htm. I have assumed that Sarah Jane inherited her Aunt Lavinia’s farmhouse in Moreton Harewood, and this is the house where the young Dianne Simms spent her summers, and to which at the time of this story her parents have themselves retired. Such picturesque country villages are magnets for retired military officers, and the old boy whom Rhapsody reluctantly terrorised would have been one of these.
Earlier in his career (and strictly speaking during a previous life, so to speak) K-9 accompanied the Doctor with Leela, and subsequently Romana, on many adventures, including to Cornwall during the “Stones of Blood” adventure in the “Key to Time” series: the details of this encounter with Professor Amelia Rumford can be found at http://www.drwhoguide.com/who_5c.htm. Professor Rumford was generous enough to cite both Vivien and Romana as co-authors of the paper that she subsequently published on the more mundane details of her most recent survey of the stone circle: no doubt the Professor reasoned that Vivien’s nefarious contribution to the mystery could not simply be disregarded. For further information on the details of the actual survey see Rumford, A.S.; Fay, V.L. & Dvoratrelundar, R. (2007), “Squaring the Circle: An Examination of Anomalies in Successive Surveys of the Megaliths of Boscawen,” Int. J. Celtic Studies, 42, pp. 34-61.
The Riddle of the Osirians is a well-known logical paradox, though not by that name, of course. Details of it can be found in, for example, “Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions” by Martin Gardner in the section entitled “Nine Problems” where the problem is discussed in depth, and includes Major Gravener’s facetious example of the free beer. My copy does not have an ISBN printed on it, so I’m unable to provide a more detailed reference, but Martin Gardner’s books are all widely available in bookshops. They’re all great fun, and strongly recommended to anyone with a penchant for mathematics and a sense of humour.
The connection between an antigravity device and the Postulate of Equivalence as described to Doctor Kurnitz by K-9 is taken from a short story entitled “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones. I recently cited it on Chris Bishop’s Spectrum Headquarters bulletin board at http://spectrumhq.proboards20.com/, which has been the source of several of the concepts explored in this story. “Noise Level” is well worth reading: a list of Jones’s works, (the best known of which is probably “This Island Earth”) can be found at http://kingofeolim.future.easyspace.com/. The story itself is a classic, being at least as much a credible study in applied psychology as a work of science fiction; the message it delivers being that nothing is impossible if you have enough faith – a message that Harmony and Doctor Fawn echo in this story.
Finally, the possible consequences of a subatomic interference being created between two almost identical structures springs from a recent posting on Chris’s board by Siobhan Zettler a.k.a. Doc Denim, with whom I’ve exchanged several e-mails on the subject, both on and off the board. I’ve assumed in this story that the physical consequences of such an interference would normally take place only with the original and the duplicate construct in extremely close proximity, but that each could sense the other’s presence at a substantial distance – and in the case of the Osirians, at a virtually unlimited distance. Considering the case of Major Gravener in “Treble Cross,” it seems reasonable to assume that his mysteronised reconstruction became aware of his counterpart’s restoration to life and transmitted this information to Captain Black, who acted accordingly to foil Spectrum’s plot to trap him. In this story, the mysteronised Rhapsody appears to have sensed Sutekh’s time-reversal of the original’s death in the moments after her creation, but may have been unable to understand exactly what it was that she sensed.
I don’t know how long K-9’s secondment to the Nash Institute will last. It goes without saying that Rhapsody will miss him dreadfully, and will want him back on Cloudbase when his work with Doctor Kurnitz is complete – and I’ll guess that just about everybody else will be looking forward to seeing him again, even though his presence could be something of a two-edged sword, given the Mysterons’ capacity for commandeering human technology when the fancy takes them. We’ll see.
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