Chance for a Lifetime
a CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS story
by Mary J. Rudy
Captain Blue checked that the World President was holding on to the power jetpack and floated away from the London Car‑Vu. He had thought about returning to the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle parked on top of the observation tower but decided against it. The tower was in danger of collapsing any second, its structure weakened so severely by the helicopter that had crashed into it a few minutes ago. The blond American officer resolutely gripped the jetpack's controls and started a slow, easy descent, all the while trying to find some explanation for the crazy events of the past couple of hours.
What was going on? Blue said to himself. The World President was supposed to be inside the Maximum Security Building in New York, guarded by two Spectrum field officers. It was supposed to be a routine escort mission to thwart a terrorist attack. Instead, one of those officers assigned to New York had very nearly killed the President. Here, on the other side of the Atlantic, on top of the observation tower built for the Hastings Millennium celebration. The helicopter that had shot at him was probably coming in to pick up the World President and his abductor, Captain Scarlet.
He didn't believe the message from Cloudbase when he first received it. Stop Captain Scarlet at all costs? He would have suspected Captain Magenta, with his background of organized crime activity, without hesitation. He would have even suspected Captain Black, Spectrum's top field agent who had disappeared shortly after the announced assassination threat. But this man? Scarlet was not only his fellow field officer but also his friend. He'd known him ever since they were selected for Spectrum training. They worked so well together, in fact, he thought for sure they'd be selected as field partners. After receiving their commissions, however, they were separated. They'd remained good friends throughout the short history of Spectrum, and Blue figured he knew Paul pretty well. That was part of this jigsaw puzzle that definitely didn't fit; why would Scarlet suddenly turn traitor? Why would someone he considered his friend try to kill him?
Traitor or not, Paul was now dead. And I killed him, Blue reminded himself. He shuddered as he remembered the man's pain‑contorted face and bloodcurdling scream as he fell mortally wounded from the tower. Blue had faced kill‑or‑be‑killed situations many times before, but the others had not left him with the same sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt as though a part of him had plunged that 800 feet along with his friend.
A sharp beeping sound in his helmet quickly brought him out of his trance. "Captain Blue, come in please," said a distinguished yet anxious British voice. It was Colonel White, the commander‑in‑chief of Spectrum.
"Captain Blue here, Colonel."
"What's the situation? Is the World President safe?"
"Yes, sir, he's unharmed. We're currently descending to the surface via SPV jetpack‑‑"
"Jetpack?!" White repeated in surprise. "Captain, your orders were to retrieve the World President and secure him in either the SPV or Helicopter A42. Why the devil are you out in the open?"
"Colonel, Helicopter A42 was hostile. I ordered Destiny Angel to shoot it down. The wreckage fell right into the Car‑Vu and damaged the tower‑‑"
Blue stopped in mid‑sentence as he heard a loud cracking sound coming from above. He turned and saw the top section of the London Car‑Vu tilting precariously toward him. The car Captain Scarlet had commandeered and the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle slid across the cloverleaf‑shaped observation deck as if they were toys.
Blue opened up the jetpack's throttle and sped away just ahead of the tons of falling concrete and steel. "Hold on!" he shouted to the World President as the air displaced by the collapsing tower slammed into them.
After they had reached a safe distance, Blue radioed Cloudbase back. "Colonel, if we'd gone to the SPV we'd be under that observation deck right now."
"Good thinking, Captain." There was a short pause. "Scarlet, I assume, is‑‑"
"Yes, sir," Blue sighed. "He's dead. I had no choice."
"Pity. I wonder what I shall tell his father."
Blue swallowed hard and cleared his throat, quickly changing the subject. "Request rendezvous with Maximum Security Vehicle."
It took but a few seconds for Lieutenant Green, the colonel's aide, to retrieve the proper information. "An MSV will arrive at the London road viaduct in approximately five minutes," the young black man replied.
"Your orders are to hand the World President over to Spectrum London personnel at the viaduct and return to the Car‑Vu. The colonel wants Scarlet's body brought back to Cloudbase."
"Doesn't Spectrum Medical Center usually handle an autopsy, Colonel?" queried Blue.
"Yes, Captain, they do. But I want Dr. Fawn to do the post‑mortems this time."
Blue noticed that the Spectrum chief spoke in the plural. "How many bodies do we have up there, sir?"
White did not answer the question, but instead he turned the frequency back over to Green. "Helicopter A38 has been dispatched to the Car‑Vu. You will be debriefed upon your return to Cloudbase. Out."
I repeat, said Blue to himself, what is going on?
Captain Blue, mentally drained and physically exhausted, sank into his usual chair in Cloudbase's officers' lounge. A pot of strong coffee bubbled invitingly on the other side of the room, but that wasn't what he wanted. A good stiff drink maybe, but that was against regulations‑‑not that anyone would blame him after this morning's events. What Blue wanted most of all right now, however, was just to relax and collect his thoughts.
He'd just found out that not one of his friends, but two, were dead. Captain Grey had told him about Captain Brown at his debriefing. According to Grey, Captains Scarlet and Brown were in a patrol car heading for New York when the car went out of control and crashed. Scarlet, who had been driving, was able to escape uninjured but Brown was killed.
Blue sighed and rested his face in his hands. First Paul and now Steve. While he had become good friends with the former upon joining Spectrum, he'd known the latter much longer. Steve Blackburn had also been a World Aeronautical Society test pilot. He was a great pilot, even better than himself, and the two had a friendly rivalry when it came to breaking speed and altitude records. The rivalry eventually grew into a warm friendship; not only was Steve a crack pilot, he was a good tennis player and surprisingly an excellent cook. Then Adam was transferred to the security department, and Steve stayed on to become head of the Flight Test Division. They didn't come in contact with each other too much after that until being individually selected for Spectrum.
Blue was actually surprised to see his friend again. He always figured Steve would take one chance too many one day and plow himself and his airplane straight into the ground. Either that, or the smoking would eventually kill him. It was ironic that he died in a simple car accident.
But was it that simple? Moreover, had it really been an accident? Maybe Scarlet got rid of Brown because he knew too much about the assassination‑‑
That was another thing. This terrorist group‑‑what did they call themselves, the Mysterons?‑‑had threatened to assassinate the World President. Why had Scarlet kidnapped him instead? He had every chance in the world to kill him before Blue was even alerted. This was no normal terrorist operation. Something was missing, something big. Maybe they'd find out the rest from Spectrum Intelligence's investigation.
If Intelligence was going to tell them anything, that is, after they turned Cloudbase inside out and interrogated the entire complement. Right now they weren't trusting anybody, least of all the senior staff. The officers weren't being confined to their quarters‑‑yet‑‑ but all two‑way radios were confiscated and certain areas of the hovering base were off limits. The tightest security was not in the control room but rather in the temporary morgue set up in Sick Bay where Scarlet's body had been brought.
Blue had noted two other white‑shrouded corpses in the morgue as he left. One was most likely Captain Brown, but who was the other unfortunate victim? Judging by what was left of Helicopter A42 after it crashed into the tower, he doubted if it was the pilot. Maybe Captain Black had been found after all and Grey just forgot to tell him in the commotion.
Blue ran his fingers through his blond hair and rose from his seat. There was something he could do while he waited to be questioned. He picked up a pen and a few sheets of Spectrum letterhead from one of the other tables and sat back down.
"Dear Mrs. Blackburn," he wrote, "It is with deep regret that I inform you of your husband's death‑‑"
Blue grunted and wadded the paper into a ball, tossing it unsuccessfully at the wastebasket. This was one job he could never get used to. Lord knows he'd written enough next‑of‑kin letters during his tenure at the World Aeronautical Society, and just two months ago he'd written to the widow of his partner Captain Amber. Starting the letter was the hardest part.
The wastebasket was half‑filled before the letter to Steve's widow was completed. Sighing heavily, Blue tucked the letter into an envelope and sealed it. "And that was the easy one," he muttered as he addressed the envelope.
Like Colonel White earlier that day, Blue had absolutely no idea what to say in his letter to General Metcalfe. Scarlet came from an old service family, a line of military heroes that went back for generations. The first and only time Blue had met Paul's father was just after the two Spectrum officers had received their field commissions.
General Metcalfe was every bit the sternfaced curmudgeon Blue expected him to be, but the Spectrum officer could tell immediately that the man had a soft spot for his son. It would be difficult enough to tell the general that Paul was dead, but how on earth was he going to tell him that the son he had brought up and trained to be a loyal military officer had died as an enemy?
"They're never easy, are they?" a soft female voice said, causing Blue to jump. He turned around to see Symphony Angel standing behind him.
"Karen," he sighed, taking her hand in his. "You are a sight for sore eyes. I really need someone to talk to."
The Angel pilot looked at him in surprise. "Seems to be a lot of that going around. I just spent the last hour calming Destiny down."
"What do you mean?"
"Destiny had strained her wrist during the mission, and she went to Sick Bay to have it looked at. Dr. Fawn asked her if she would do him a favor while she was there."
"What kind of favor?"
"He needed a witness to sign Captain Scarlet's death certificate. Boy, just let me get near that doctor. What an insensitive‑‑"
Blue stared blankly at Symphony, not even hearing the second half of her tirade. "Destiny did this an hour ago? Are you sure?"
"Positive. She's still pretty upset."
"But I only got back here with Scarlet's body a half hour ago."
Now it was Symphony's turn to stare at him. "She wouldn't make a mistake like that, Adam. Are you sure it was a half hour ago?"
"Yes, I signed the log when I came on board. That explains a lot."
"I don't follow you."
"Well, if Destiny identified Scarlet's body, and then I came on board with another body matching Scarlet's description, that means that there are two of them in Sick Bay right now. No wonder the guard wouldn't let me in."
"Two Captain Scarlets?"
"Yes, and that must mean only one thing. One of those men has to be an impostor."
Symphony nodded slowly. "Somebody killed him and put in a ringer, and you must have killed the ringer."
"Well, his marksmanship was sure identical to Scarlet's. I'm lucky to be alive."
Symphony nodded again, her eyes expressing silent agreement as well as relief that he was safe and sound.
"It's the only thing that would make sense," he went on. "Scarlet would never have behaved the way he did out there."
"And he certainly is no traitor like everyone is making him out to be. That has to be it."
Blue nodded and picked up the pen again. "Well, one thing's for sure, and that's that Paul is dead, and someone should break the news to his parents." He scribbled the date on top of the page, then looked up at Symphony again. "At least now I can tell General Metcalfe his son died in the line of duty."
Colonel White sat silently as what was left of his senior staff filed into the conference room. The Spectrum chief hoped he'd given himself enough time to prepare his speech. He'd called the meeting the moment the transport carrying the contingent from Spectrum Intelligence cleared the flight deck. It was necessary to get all of the officers together before they left Cloudbase for their next assignments. That way, they could inform their subordinates truthfully and avoid the spread of rumors.
He waited until the four men and the four off‑duty Angel pilots were seated before he spoke. "Members of Spectrum," he began with his customary greeting, looking at each of them in turn, "I'm sure you'll all be pleased to know‑‑Cloudbase has been returned to fully operational status upon completion of Spectrum Intelligence's investigation."
"I thought they'd never leave," Captain Magenta grumbled.
"I believe all of us feel the same way, Captain, but a full‑scale inquiry is always conducted after a major incident. The good news is that they've ruled out a conspiracy and reactivated the base." A collective sigh of relief was heard.
White paused and sipped from a water glass. "In the meantime, I've called you all here to fill you in as to what has been going on." He radioed the Control Room. "Lieutenant Green, will you run the videotape from Spectrum Information Center, please?"
"Yes, sir." The curtains on one wall of the conference room parted and a monitor appeared. The first pictures on the videotape showed Captain Black and several other men seated in a vehicle.
"This first portion is from the camera inside the Zero‑X Martian Exploration Vehicle," the colonel said as the tape began. "By now you all know about the Martian complex, the one that Captain Black and the Zero‑X crew destroyed in what they thought was self‑defense‑‑"
"‑‑and the one that reappeared out of nowhere," interrupted Captain Grey.
"Precisely, Captain. And then the men reported hearing this." The assembly listened as a slow, unnaturally‑deep voice filled the room. It identified itself as the voice of the Mysterons, a peaceful race that had interpreted the Zero‑X crew's actions as belligerent. The Mysterons went on to say that they vowed to avenge this "act of aggression" by assassinating the World President.
"Ooh, that voice gives me the creeps," remarked Symphony Angel, cringing. Blue shot a concerned glance across the conference table, hoping no one else would notice. Fortunately for him, everyone's eyes were riveted to the monitor.
One section of the ominous transmission caught Magenta's attention. "'Ultimate destruction of life on Earth'?!" he exclaimed.
"Calm down, Magenta," Captain Ochre said tiredly. "They also said their retaliation would be slow but effective. It's just a typical terrorist threat."
"But not from your typical terrorists," commented Blue. "Do you think these Mysterons kidnapped or killed Captain Black, sir?"
"We can't be sure. All we know is that Captain Black hasn't been seen since the Zero‑X returned from Mars."
"What do we know about the Mysterons, Colonel?" Ochre asked. "The transmission said something about reversing matter."
White radioed Lieutenant Green to pause the videotape. "The Mysterons, first of all, apparently do not possess bodies as we know them. We can obviously hear them, but we cannot see them. We do know, however, that they possess a unique ability. They rebuilt their city, exactly the way it was, before the eyes of the Zero‑X crew with less effort than it took to destroy it. This must be what they meant by reversing matter."
"OK, so they can re‑create objects. How about people?"
"At first Spectrum Intelligence thought Captain Scarlet and Captain Brown were traitors, paid assassins. But then when they saw the second Scarlet in the morgue‑‑"
Blue and Symphony exchanged knowing glances and nods as a murmur emanated from the officers.
"‑‑they ordered both bodies examined and found them to be completely identical," continued White. "Roll the videotape, Lieutenant." The next scene was a highway embankment. The video camera panned to the wreckage of a Spectrum patrol car.
"The bodies of Captain Scarlet and Captain Brown were found here, after the first attempt on the World President's life."
"First attempt, Colonel?" asked Blue.
"Yes. While the second Scarlet reported the 'accident' to Cloudbase, the second Brown went with the World President to the Maximum Security Building in New York according to plan." White paused as the videotape showed Brown seated and facing the World President in a sealed room.
Grey leaned forward in his seat and squinted at the screen. "Is that smoke coming out of his collar, Colonel?" That quickly, there was a flash and the screen went blank.
"Was that the explosion?" asked Destiny.
White nodded to both agents. "Apparently Captain Brown was a walking booby trap. He had a bomb on his person, we think some sort of trigger for a larger bomb that destroyed the building." He turned back toward the monitor and continued. "The World President, thankfully, was unharmed. His quick thinking saved him. But then the second Captain Scarlet took over."
The Spectrum commander at this time read from Blue's account of his gun battle with Scarlet. The videotape that followed showed the aftermath of the carnage‑‑the remains of the London Car‑Vu, the SPV and Spectrum Helicopter A42.
"This helicopter is also a Mysteron duplicate," White noted. "The wreckage of the original was found several miles away from its pickup point. Somehow the pilot survived, and his report states that all the controls went dead simultaneously."
Ochre whistled. "Colonel, how can we be sure the World President is safe right now?"
"We can't. As nothing else has happened in the past few hours, we can only hope the Mysterons are finished."
"A better question would be, how can we stop these Mysterons before they clone a whole army?" remarked Captain Grey.
"An emergency meeting of the World Government is being held later today, at which time we will discuss our plan of action. I will put you in the picture when I return." White reached for the glass again, his voice growing hoarse. "Before I leave, however, there will be a short memorial service for our three men in the base chapel. That should start in about fifteen minutes. I trust all of you will attend." The colonel gathered up his notes and rose from his seat. "You are dismissed, ladies and gentlemen."
There was a murmur of voices as the eight officers stood up and headed for the door. The colonel called out, "Captain Blue, will you please remain behind? I'd like to have a word."
"Yes, sir, of course."
White waited until the others had left and the door to the conference room was closed before he spoke. "I have a special request, Captain."
"Name it, sir."
"It has been brought to my attention that our deceased officers' next‑of‑kin have not yet been notified. Spectrum Intelligence ordered that information withheld until after they finished the inquest."
Blue pulled from his vest pocket the letters he had written in the officers' lounge. "I'm way ahead of you, Colonel."
"That's not what I mean. I want you to visit the survivors."
Blue stared at his commanding officer. "Sir?"
"I'm asking you to perform an unenviable task, Captain Blue. As you are returning to Spectrum Headquarters London today, I want you to deliver my‑‑our‑‑personal condolences to Brown's widow and Scarlet's parents before you report for duty. I'd do it myself but for that World Government meeting."
"Colonel, I never know what to say to these people."
"Neither do I. I chose you because you're the only other one on base who has done this sort of thing before." White quickly added, "It's not an order, Captain."
"I understand, sir. I'll do it, of course."
"When do you want me to leave?"
"Straight away, if you could."
"In that case, Colonel, I'll ask one favor. Since I won't be here for the memorial service, I'd like to be able to pay my last respects before I leave. I was friendly with both of them."
White placed his hand on his junior officer's shoulder. "Of course, son, how thoughtless of me. Take all the time you wish."
Dr. Fawn, the chief medical officer on Cloudbase, swung open the door to Sick Bay and greeted Captain Blue. The doctor, clearly exhausted, stifled a yawn and said, "Has Colonel White finished the meeting?"
"Then you know about the duplicate Captain Scarlet. I'm sorry, but I couldn't say anything to you when you brought the body in. Spectrum Intelligence ordered me to keep my mouth shut."
"Yeah." The younger man shifted nervously. "I figured they had something to do with it based on the amount of security down here."
Fawn motioned down the corridor. "The colonel said you wanted to get one last look at 'em."
Blue nodded as they walked. "Yes, I'm going down to the surface in a few minutes. I got volunteered to deliver the bad news to the families."
"Better you than me, mate," replied Fawn, patting him on the back. He gestured toward the temporary morgue. "Do you want me to stay outside?"
"No. I might need you to hold me up."
"I rather doubt that, Captain." The Australian officer smiled slightly and unlocked the door. Blue winced at the blast of refrigerated air that hit him as the door opened. He shivered, more from the thought of the job before him than from the cold.
The bodies were still there, in the same state as when Blue saw them last. Fawn approached the slab nearest to them and reached for the sheet, then stopped. "I have to warn you, Captain, it's not a pretty sight. The Spectrum mortician hasn't got here yet."
"I did this two months ago, if you recall."
"Yes, too right." The physician pulled back the sheet. "This one is Captain Brown."
"Yes, Captain Blue. There wasn't much left of the duplicate after the Maximum Security Building‑‑"
"I get the idea, thanks." Blue rearranged the dead man's hair over the bloodless cut on his temple. "Did he suffer, Doc?"
Fawn shook his head. "Broken neck. Most likely he didn't know what hit him."
"Thank God for that. At least that'll be some comfort for his wife."
Fawn nodded and covered the body, then removed the sheet from the next one. "This is Scarlet number one, the other victim of the car crash. He wasn't so fortunate. The saloon was already afire before he was thrown from it. You can see the burn marks on the back of his neck."
Blue sighed heavily. "Why did you ask Destiny to identify him then? I realize she's known him longer than any of us, but‑‑"
"I didn't make her do it, Captain. I just mentioned it in passing. When she offered, I tried to talk her out of it. But she insisted, and I made certain I only uncovered his face, but she still got rather upset."
"No matter how tough you think you are, it's difficult to do when it's an old friend." Blue pointed to the other shrouded corpse. "Can I see the impostor again? I want to compare the two."
"Sure." Fawn crossed to the other side of the room. "It may be a bit difficult to see, you know, with the beating he took in that fall."
"I brought the body back, Doc. I know what it looks like."
The blond American officer stared incredulously at the body of Captain Scarlet number two, the man he had shot through the heart and the man who had fallen 800 feet to a grisly death. The bruised and broken body he had brought into Sick Bay hours before was almost completely unmarked; only a nasty cut, strangely still bleeding, remained on the forehead. The skin was supple and pink where it should have been bloated and discolored.
"What the‑‑?" Blue gasped. Fawn, who had turned back the sheet without looking at the body, now saw what had startled the young field officer. The doctor said nothing but placed his fingers on the man's throat.
"My God," he whispered. He stared at Blue in disbelief. "Blue, this man is alive!"
Blue's jaw dropped. "But‑‑but that's impossible! There's no way he could have survived that fall!"
"Well, he apparently has." Fawn put his stethoscope to the man's chest. "I definitely have a heartbeat and shallow breathing."
"I'd better get the colonel."
Fawn shook his head. "We first need to hook him up to a monitor. Go and get an orderly‑‑then get Security down here."
"Captain, this man came very close to killing both you and the World President. We don't know what will happen when he regains consciousness. I only hope that bed restraints and an armed guard are enough."
"Yes, I guess you have a point." Blue turned toward the door of the morgue. "It's just that putting a guard on Scarlet doesn't feel right."
"I understand, Captain Blue, but you know that's what the colonel would have us do. Now let's get that orderly in here."
"Good God," gasped White as he entered the recovery room. He looked first at the unconscious man on the bed and then at Blue, who had come in behind him. "Captain, please forgive me for having doubted you."
"It's all right, sir. I didn't believe Dr. Fawn myself," the junior officer replied. The doctor nodded silently in agreement, listening as he adjusted one of the many pieces of equipment in the room. "It's not every day that one of his patients falls 800 feet and recovers without his help."
White turned his attention to the Spectrum medical officer. "Is this body healing its own wounds then? Internally as well as externally?"
"Yes, Colonel. We've been scanning him every few minutes."
"Aren't frequent doses of X‑ray radiation dangerous, Doctor?"
Fawn smiled. "Colonel, you're behind the times. The only doctors I know who still use X‑rays are brain surgeons. Dr. Magnus, the top man in that field, swears by them, won't use anything else in fact. What we use up here is much more sophisticated." The doctor handed White two pieces of film. "These were taken only ten minutes apart."
White's eyes widened. "That fracture's completely healed!"
"That's correct, sir. I estimate he'll be right as rain within the half hour."
"Will he have regained consciousness by then?" White continued.
"He's already got full brain activity, Colonel. He can wake up any time he wishes, but I can't predict his actions when he does."
"I don't understand."
"Last time this guy was conscious he was trying to kill me, sir," Blue reminded him.
"Yes, quite." White smoothed his silver hair. "I trust all necessary precautions have been taken?"
"Yes, Colonel," Blue replied. He nodded at the armed Spectrum security guard standing in the doorway. "Besides Jarvis outside there, we have heavy‑duty restraints on the bed, and Dr. Fawn has prepared a strong sedative just in case."
"Good." White turned to leave. "I'll tell Lieutenant Green to recall Spectrum Intelligence. If there are any developments, I'll be up in the Control Room‑‑"
Suddenly the unconscious man emitted a loud groan, stopping the colonel before he reached the doorway. He whirled around to see Fawn beckoning to him, Blue standing expectantly over the body. "He's coming round, Colonel!" the medical officer exclaimed.
The security guard stared at the scene from the other side of the instrument table, a tight grip on his weapon.
The man's eyelids fluttered and slowly opened. He blinked several times, his eyes adjusting to the bright light of the room, trying to focus on the faces above him.
"Dr. Fawn!" he finally said, attempting to move against the restraints. His voice was weak but coherent. "Am I on Cloudbase, then?"
Fawn nodded, not knowing how to react.
His patient looked up at him blankly. "Why the long face, Doctor?" He paused and then frowned. "How's Brown?"
"Captain Brown. Did he survive the crash?"
Fawn and White exchanged glances. This man was behaving exactly as they would have expected a loyal Spectrum officer to act, not at all like the homicidal maniac Blue had described. "Er‑‑no, he didn't make it," Fawn finally replied.
"He was a good man," the patient sighed. "Did the rest of the mission go smoothly?"
"Not quite," answered Blue. "But I did deliver the World President safely."
"You?" the man said in surprise. "The President was in New York, but you were in London‑‑" His voice trailed off and he passed out.
"Me and my big mouth," grumbled Blue.
Fawn shook his head. "No worries, Captain. It's better if he rests."
"It's better if we let Spectrum Intelligence question him," White added. "Our primary concern is to find out whether this man is our own Captain Scarlet before we make our next move." The colonel turned toward the door again. "Until then, Doctor, keep your patient comfortable. He should be afforded the same treatment you give to all our other officers."
"You sent for me, sir?"
"Ah, yes, Captain Blue. Do come in." White pressed a button on his console and a stool rose from the floor. "I wish to discuss Spectrum Intelligence's findings with you and Dr. Fawn before this evening's senior staff briefing."
Blue smiled at the Australian medical officer as he sat down, but the smile was uneasy. "Me, Colonel?"
"Yes. I'll explain in a moment." White picked up the report on his desk. "Spectrum Intelligence have concluded that the man in Sick Bay is definitely our Captain Scarlet. Senior Agent Wade, who questioned him, could find no evidence of his being anyone other than whom he claims to be."
"I knew it was him!" Blue exclaimed, smacking his right fist into his left palm. Now he was grinning from ear to ear in his usual way. "When he asked about his partner, I had no doubt."
"Yes, Captain, but we had to be sure," continued the colonel. "That's why I insisted upon the lie detector test."
Dr. Fawn nodded. "And according to Agent Wade, Scarlet was none too pleased about taking it either."
"That's typical for him," agreed Blue. "And if I know Scarlet, he probably turned Agent Wade's questions around and started grilling him."
Fawn smiled. "That's exactly what he did. I'm convinced that he's telling the truth, that he knows nothing about those six hours when he was under the Mysterons' control."
"Are you convinced, Colonel?" asked Blue.
"You have to admit it's possible, sir," added Fawn. "If the Mysterons can duplicate the human body in such detail, surely they've done the same to the brain. Perhaps this Mysteron presence is similar to hypnosis or amnesia and this trauma has broken the spell."
"I'd thought of that myself, Doctor. But no, I'm not totally convinced. I would still advise caution."
Blue nodded slowly. The colonel was right; they couldn't take any chances at this point. "What do you suggest, sir?"
"He shall have to be watched constantly, by someone who has worked with him for quite some time and understands the way he thinks. The ideal candidate for that duty would be his field partner."
"Who is dead," noted Fawn.
"Right." White put the report down on top of the pile on his desk and stared at Blue. "My next choice would be you, Captain."
The younger man smiled again. "I was hoping you'd say that, Colonel. I always thought we'd make a great team."
"I agree. That's one reason I want you for the job." White picked up his silver pen and tapped the report with it. "The other reason is that I know I can trust you not to let personal feelings get in the way. You proved that to me at the Car‑Vu."
"Do you mean‑‑"
"Yes, Captain, that's exactly what I mean," White interrupted. "If you feel he's a threat, do what you have to do. That's an order."
"Yes, sir," Blue replied heavily. "I just hope it doesn't come to that."
"Well, he won't be much of a threat for a while, anyway," interjected Fawn. "I want to run some more tests before I release him from Sick Bay, and then the psychiatrist from Spectrum Medical Center wants to have a go at him."
"Where do I come in, Colonel?"
"For now, Captain, just observe his actions while the tests are going on. You'll be informed of any developments."
"Yes, sir. How long should the tests take?"
"No more than a few days for the first set," began Fawn. "If all goes well, I'll recommend that he go home for a 48‑hour furlough. Then he's to report to Spectrum Headquarters London for duty as a non‑essential ground agent for a few weeks."
Blue cocked his head and looked askance at Fawn. "You mean a desk job?"
"I know what you're thinking, Captain. That's Spectrum Intelligence's recommendation, not mine. The only way Senior Agent Wade will allow him to come back as a member of senior staff is if he goes through a trial period on the surface and a final series of tests here in our Sick Bay. I don't like it any more than you do."
The junior officer gritted his teeth. "Then you explain it to him, Doc."
"Don't worry, I will," interjected White sharply. "If he doesn't accept these limitations, he'll be court‑martialed for treason based on his actions at the Car‑Vu."
"You're willing to trust him on the surface, Colonel?"
"Yes, Captain Blue, but to a limited extent. You'll continue your surveillance as you've been ordered the whole time he's down there."
"That won't be easy," Blue sighed. "He always knows when he's being watched."
"I should think that he would expect it, Captain, if he is his old self. In fact, I would be more worried if he doesn't suspect something."
Blue reddened. "Of course, sir. Will that be all for now?"
"Yes, until the briefing this evening. I'll let the rest of the staff know at that time that Scarlet has returned to life and we feel he may be useful against these Mysterons once he's cleared for active duty. I won't tell them, however, that he is under surveillance. No one is to know of your assignment."
"S.I.G., Colonel." The American officer rose from the stool and took his cap from the crook of his arm, then stopped. "Oh, sir, one more thing. Has a decision been made yet about‑‑uh‑‑"
"The body?" offered Fawn. Blue nodded.
"Not yet, Captain," sighed White. "How in blue blazes can I tell General Metcalfe his son is dead when he isn't?"
"A suggestion, sir. Why don't you leave that up to Captain Scarlet?"
"Scarlet?!" Colonel White straightened in his seat.
Blue shrugged and held up his hands. "Let that be his first test of character."
The colonel nodded slowly, a faraway look in his eyes. "That's a good idea, Captain Blue. I suppose I could ask him‑‑"
"No offense, sir," Blue interrupted, "but it'll be better coming from his field partner and friend. That's why you picked me, isn't it?" He smiled and saluted, then exited the Control Room.
"Spectrum Jet Charlie‑One‑Two, you are cleared for takeoff," a pleasant female voice crackled over the radio.
"Roger, New York Control," Blue replied, releasing the brakes. The silver and blue passenger jet trundled down the runway, gathering speed, and climbed into the heavens effortlessly. He tapped the brakes again to stop the spinning wheels and raised the landing gear.
Once he had set the course, Blue relaxed and glanced toward the copilot's seat. The other occupant of the cockpit sat quietly, staring directly ahead, clutching a small cardboard box in his lap. He appeared uncomfortable although he was dressed in loose‑fitting civilian clothes.
"You all right? You haven't said a thing since we left Spectrum HQ."
Scarlet sighed. "It's just that-‑well‑‑" He shifted uneasily in his seat. "I just wonder if I'm doing the right thing. It didn't hit me until we picked up this parcel from the Medical Center."
"I thought you made up your mind before we left Cloudbase. Didn't you discuss it with Dr. Fawn and Dr. Weiss?"
"Yes, and the base chaplain as well."
"The chaplain?" Blue managed to suppress a smile, just barely.
"I may not be the God‑fearing, churchgoing man you are, but yes, I do occasionally seek Father Ivory's guidance."
"Then what aren't you sure about?"
"Keeping this a secret from my family." He picked up the box as he spoke. "Don't they at least have a right to know what's happened to me?"
"Do you think they'd understand what happened?" Blue replied quickly. "Listen, would you want to put your father‑‑or maybe your mother‑‑through the grief of losing their only son? Especially when they wouldn't know how to act because that same son is standing there in front of them?"
Scarlet bowed his head. "No, of course not," he muttered.
"Look, pal, I know how hard this must be for you, because I'm glad I'm not the one going through it. But you have to pull yourself together. If you don't have that usual stiff‑upper‑lip attitude when your parents see you, they'll know you're keeping something from them." Blue gazed at the radar display. "We're just coming up on West Point now. Are you ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," his colleague sighed. His grip on the box tightened.
"10,000 feet and minimum speed. Internal and external air pressure equalized."
Scarlet slid open the copilot's window and flipped up the lid of the cardboard box. As he held the box out of the window, the ashes of his former self trailed slowly into the slipstream and diffused into the atmosphere above his alma mater. When the box was empty, he crumpled it and flung it downward angrily.
As he relaxed and closed the window, Scarlet noted that the jet was turning around, but not in the usual smooth way its pilot handled her. He turned and saw that Blue only had his left hand on the yoke. His right hand was at his brow, in rigid salute to a fallen comrade. Scarlet was about to mumble his thanks when he saw the tear running down the American's well‑tanned cheek.
Blue eased the red Spectrum patrol car to a stop in front of a large Tudor‑style home just outside of the ancient English city of Winchester. He automatically checked his appearance in the rear‑view mirror, even after his partner had exited the vehicle and retrieved his suitcase.
"Well, come on," called Scarlet impatiently. "What are you waiting for?"
"If your father notices one hair out of place, I'll never hear the end of it," he grumbled in reply, polishing the clear visor of his uniform cap with his handkerchief.
"Right you are," Scarlet laughed. "He'll have a go at me as well for being out of uniform. I'll probably have to remind him straight away I'm off duty."
Blue picked up his friend's red‑and‑black suitcase, then looked up at the rustic building before him. "Any chance he's not at home?" he groaned.
"Afraid not," Scarlet replied, shaking his head. "He's got nothing better to do, has he? He's retired now."
"How does your mother stand his being at home all the time?"
Scarlet smiled. "Fortunately, the garden needs a lot of work this time of year."
The pair approached the front door of the house, Blue finding himself wishing he was doing something‑‑anything‑‑else. He put down the suitcase and reluctantly reached for the door knocker, trying to think of a way to get out of a visit with General Metcalfe. "Are you sure you need me?" he asked one last time.
"You know more of the story than I do. Now get on with it."
Blue nodded in defeat and rapped on the door. Shortly, a middle‑aged but still beautiful woman appeared, smiling as soon as she saw Scarlet.
"Hello, Mum," the younger man said, kissing her on the cheek and embracing her affectionately. He gestured toward his partner. "You remember Captain Blue, don't you?"
"Yes--Adam, isn't it?"
It was easy to see where Scarlet got his good looks, Blue mused. He found himself breathing a bit easier that it was Mrs. Metcalfe who answered the door rather than his father. "It's good to see you again, ma'am," he answered with his customary smile and a warm handshake.
Mrs. Metcalfe waved the pair into the library. "Shall I put the kettle on?" she asked over her shoulder. "I'm sure you'll want to relax for a bit before your father comes home. We weren't expecting you this soon."
"Thank goodness‑‑" muttered Blue, gasping as his partner poked him in the ribs. "‑‑everything in England stops for tea," he continued without hesitation. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Scarlet smile contentedly.
The dignified woman promptly returned with tea and scones. "We were ever so glad to hear you were all right, Paul," she began, glancing at her son with obvious concern. "All the news reports said that you were killed."
"There was a lot of confusion, Mum. I would have phoned you sooner."
"Your father was most upset. He started ringing all his connections, but no one could tell him anything."
Good, thought Scarlet. He had acted in time.
The young officer knew for a fact that his father had no direct contacts in the Spectrum organization‑‑it was indeed one of the reasons he had volunteered for the group. Before he left Cloudbase, he persuaded Dr. Fawn and Colonel White to assign the highest security clearance to any reports about him. No one outside of Spectrum, other than the World President, would have access to them without the written approval of White.
The grandfather clock in the hall chimed a quarter hour, and Blue automatically looked at his watch. "Please forgive me, Mrs. Metcalfe," he blurted, smiling at her and reaching for his uniform cap. "I really must get going--"
Just then a yellow Labrador retriever bounded into the room, its joyful barking drowning out Blue's words. The canine jumped into Scarlet's lap, nearly knocking his chair backwards, and licked his face repeatedly, the young officer laughing as he tried to pet the dog while avoiding its affections.
"Stop that!" Mrs. Metcalfe scolded, clapping her hands at the dog. "We're all glad to see him, not just you!"
"I was wondering where you'd got to!" said Scarlet, still laughing as he gently shoved the retriever to the floor. The dog, not quite sure how to take his master's rejection, promptly returned to licking his master's face. Blue, who had been trying to avoid being lashed by the dog's rapidly switching tail, found it all quite amusing, but not so his partner's mother.
"Humphrey!" she cried to no avail. "Paul, can't you please stop him?"
"Right, Humphrey, get off," said Scarlet. The animal immediately sat on his haunches and put his head on his master's lap. "That's a good boy," the captain said as he scratched the dog behind the ears.
"He only listens to Paul, you see," she finally explained. "He's been that way since he was a puppy." Blue nodded slowly, but he had already made a mental note of just that fact. She continued, "Humphrey also seems to know when something's wrong with Paul, even when he's not home. This is the first time he's been his old self since we heard the news."
The American officer smiled as he watched the pair. He'd heard about dogs' "sixth sense" before. This dog apparently didn't sense anything different about his "master," however. "Humphrey?" he finally asked.
Scarlet held up one of the dog's ears as he spoke. "Same color as Bogey's mac, wouldn't you say?"
Blue paused. "I guess so, but of course the movies were in black‑and‑white." Remembering the cap in his hand, he turned back toward Mrs. Metcalfe and grabbed the arms of the chair. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I really have to leave‑‑"
"Nonsense," a stentorian voice bellowed from the hall. Its owner, General Charles Metcalfe, strode into the library and offered his hand to Blue. "You've only just arrived!"
The American leaped to his feet and returned the handshake. "Good afternoon, sir. It's a pleasure to see you again."
"The pleasure is all mine, young man. I'm rather surprised to see you here; I surmised that Colonel White would need every last man on duty at a time such as this."
"I'm still on duty, General. I was just dropping your son off on my way to Spectrum Headquarters London." Blue glanced again at his watch. "Not meaning to be rude, sir, but I have to report there by 1800 hours‑‑"
"But surely you have time for another cup of tea." The general gestured to his wife, who started pouring before Blue had a chance to protest. He continued, "I've been reading and watching all of the news reports about these Mysterons--"
Scarlet, who had been amusing himself watching his partner's dilemma, sat back in his chair and smiled wryly. "Told you he wouldn't let you leave without pumping you."
"Paul!" His mother glared at him.
"Well it's true, isn't it?" Scarlet retorted. "You'd never know he's been retired for three months."
"It's all right, Mary. He's got a point." General Metcalfe nodded toward his son. "But it's also the result of good military training, my boy. Just as I'll never stop pumping' people for information, you'll still be warning your colleagues of possible risks, security or otherwise, when you're my age."
Scarlet lowered his head. "Yes, sir."
His friend thus chided, Blue relaxed and sipped his tea. "Oh, I don't mind answering a few questions, as long as they're unclassified."
"I can get those answers from the newspapers. I want to know what the media aren't telling us."
"With all due respect, sir, we haven't been told very much either. Spectrum Intelligence is still asking questions‑‑"
"If that were the case," the general interrupted, "you'd both still be restricted to base and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Nice try, Adam," muttered Scarlet.
General Metcalfe settled into his favorite chair, rubbing his chin slowly. "Now then, are you two going to let me in on some gossip or do I have to go through the old boy network?"
Blue grimaced. "I thought only my father did that."
But both of the Spectrum officers were prepared for him. They launched into the story they had rehearsed during the flight from West Point to Winchester, that Captains Scarlet and Brown were ambushed on their way to New York. Their patrol car was forced off the road, killing Brown instantly and knocking Scarlet unconscious. By the time Scarlet came to and requested assistance several hours later, the whole thing was over. It was the "official" account, similar to Blue's first assumption, except that the men who replaced Scarlet and Brown were Mysterons rather than paid assassins.
Scarlet's parents sat motionless, listening intently to the young men's narrative. His mother, not surprisingly, was the first to speak. "But you are all right now, love?" she asked, her voice revealing deep concern.
"Yes, Mum, I'm fine. It's just that I was already scheduled for furlough, and Colonel White thought it a good idea under the circumstances to release me from the emergency duty."
General Metcalfe nodded at his son's words. "Your Colonel White is a wise man. Better to rest at home for a few weeks than in some base hospital‑‑"
"Not that long, Dad, just two days. Then I'm to report to Spectrum Headquarters London for my next assignment‑‑"
"I thought your posting was Cloudbase," the general interrupted, a note of suspicion evident in his voice.
Blue stepped in to explain. "The normal procedure is to go back up to Cloudbase for briefing and orders. In times of emergency, however, the agent is to report to the nearest Spectrum facility." He stood and picked up his uniform cap. "Which is what I must do now, sir, if you'll excuse me. As I said, I'm supposed to be there by 1800."
"I hope I haven't delayed you too long, young man. Do drive carefully." General Metcalfe shook hands with Blue, then gestured to his son. "I'm sure Paul will see you to the door‑‑"
"With pleasure, Dad," Scarlet replied eagerly. He sprang from his chair, Humphrey following on his heels.
Blue bade goodbye to Mrs. Metcalfe and let out a tremendous sigh of relief once she shut the door. "Thank God that's over. You don't know how hard it is to lie to your father."
His friend, gesturing toward the car, replied with a knowing smile, "Of course I do. Thanks."
"Any time, pal. What are partners for?" Blue shook hands with him, then knelt and petted Humphrey roughly, thumping the dog's flanks. "Isn't that right, Humphrey? Happy your partner's back?" He received a loud bark in return.
Blue opened the door of the patrol car and sank tiredly into the seat. "Remember, I'll be back in two days to pick you up."
"I'm sure I'll see you before then. I'll make sure I have an extra sandwich for you."
"Don't worry, I remember you Americans don't like your bread buttered." Scarlet laughed reassuringly. "Oh, come now. You are supposed to shadow me, aren't you?"
Blue glared at him. "Who told you that?"
"No one. It's only common sense, considering what you've been telling me about my 'missing' six hours. Why else would Intelligence let me off base?"
The American grinned and shook his head, then slammed the car door and started the engine. "Well, you didn't hear it from me. I'll see you on Thursday."
"S.I.G., Captain Blue," Scarlet called out as the car sped away.
Captain Scarlet, looking refreshed and relaxed in khaki hiking clothes, adjusted the shoulder straps of his backpack and looked to his right. Off in the distance, he could hear leaves rustling. A yellow patch appeared in a clump of bushes.
Scarlet laughed and shook his head. "Come on, Humphrey," he called. "That rabbit's long gone. Let's get to the lake." The dog, looking dejected, emerged from behind the largest shrub and followed his master down the forest path.
Blue, sitting in the crook of a small tree not ten feet from where the dog had been digging, exhaled slowly. That had been close.
Scarlet might not have recognized him anyway, he reassured himself. The blond American officer was dressed head to toe in a camouflage battledress uniform, complete with woolen cap and painted face and hands. He had wisely left his azure Spectrum uniform behind, taking his surveillance very seriously as he felt he had something to prove.
The irony of it was that Scarlet had helped him through this very exercise during Spectrum training. Blue had never been very good at camouflage; Ochre often teased that "the rich kid doesn't want to get dirty." But Scarlet had taught him many things‑‑how to attach leaves and branches to break up the body's outline, how to keep applying fresh leaves before they dried out, even to stay downwind of his quarry whenever possible. Under different circumstances, he was sure Scarlet would be proud of him‑‑
Catching himself daydreaming, Blue shook his head and peered through his binoculars. There was a clearing ahead, and a lake with a pier jutting out into the middle of it. He could just make out Scarlet, sitting on the edge of the pier, fishing pole in hand. His dog lay next to him, still worn out from unsuccessfully chasing the rabbit. Blue descended from the tree limb and inched his way to the edge of the clearing for a better vantage point. Good; he still hadn't been spotted‑‑
"Well, I see you've come down at last. Hungry?"
Blue started, almost dropping the binoculars, but did not move.
"Oh, for pity's sake, Adam, don't you remember the picture on my desk? Come on out here and get something to eat."
The American sighed. The photograph to which Scarlet was referring was one taken while he was a West Point cadet. At first glance, it looked like an uninhabited woodland scene, but it was actually a picture of a perfectly camouflaged Cadet Metcalfe. It had taken a few minutes for Blue to discover him in the photo.
Frowning, Blue emerged from the wood and joined his British counterpart on the pier. "How long did you know I was out there?"
"For the past half hour or so." Scarlet smiled and pointed to Blue's forehead. "We don't have yellow leaves in these woods this time of year."
Blue reached up and felt his straw‑colored hair protruding from under the watch cap.
"Next time, remember to keep pulling your cap down. They always ride up with wear." He reached into the backpack and pulled out a sandwich, changing the subject. "Ready for lunch?"
"Actually, what I could use the most right now is a cold beer. Don't you have one of those in your bag?"
"Yes, but not as cold as you Yanks like them."
"Yeah, I know. I'll take it anyway."
Scarlet smiled in mock amusement. "But Captain Blue, you're on duty. You know the regulations."
"I won't tell if you won't tell. Now come on, I'm thirsty."
"The colonel won't like this--"
"It's your word against mine, and I think he'll believe me sooner than he will the suspected traitor‑‑"
"Don't call me that," Scarlet replied abruptly. "You know very well I would never do what everyone says I did."
"Sorry, I was only joking. But I really am parched. Please?"
Scarlet grinned and pulled up a rope tied to the pier. The rope was attached to a bucket full of beer bottles, nicely chilled in the waters of the lake. "I was only joking as well." He handed his friend a jar of cold cream and a towel. "Now wash that muck off your face and have something to eat‑‑and drink." He paused, and then said, "By the way‑‑good camouflage job. If I hadn't been looking for you, I might not have seen you. It appears I've taught you well."
His friend looked up at him and smiled.
Blue took another sip of black coffee and looked at his watch, making a face as he discovered the coffee had gone cold. Where was he? he asked himself, shoving the mug away in disgust. Major Canuso said he'd send him right down, and that was nearly twenty minutes ago‑‑
With that, the door to the officers' lounge slid open and Captain Scarlet entered. He was certainly not his usual self, Blue thought. Although he presented a neat personal appearance, the confident spring was gone from his step and he looked like he hadn't had a good night's sleep for some time.
As soon as Scarlet saw his partner, however, all traces of fatigue and frustration disappeared. He strode into the lounge and welcomed Blue warmly. "Hello, Adam! Have you come to rescue me from this grind at last?"
The American shook his head. "No, sorry. You don't get time off for good behavior, after what Major Canuso has told me about your work."
Scarlet sighed and picked up the coffeepot. "But isn't there something else I can do? This paperwork is sending me spare."
"I sympathize with you. I've pled your case so many times to the colonel he's threatened to transfer me to the Law Department." Blue shook his head at the offer of more coffee. "But in this case, unfortunately, Spectrum Intelligence has jurisdiction. You'll just have to stick it out another couple of weeks."
Scarlet's mug stopped halfway to his lips. "A fortnight?!" he exclaimed. "I thought this probationary period was over in three days!"
"Calm down, it's only Agent Wade's recommendation," Blue replied quickly, beckoning him to come closer and lowering his voice. "I think he's just playing it safe. Apparently Canuso has put your petulance and aversion to paperwork in his report to Intel, which of course will be going up to Cloudbase along with Wade's comments." He smiled. "Somehow, I don't think Canuso's going to want you down here for another two weeks."
"Good," Scarlet spat. "I'm about ready to ask my father to recommend a good brand of whisky for my desk drawer."
"Well, this might cheer you up. I've got an idea that may be able to help you get on Colonel White's good side. Promise to keep a secret?"
"Anything to get back on duty sooner."
Blue reduced his voice to a whisper. "You know this terrorist threat to assassinate King George?"
Scarlet nodded. "The Alliance for World Justice again. Their last target was Prime Minister Rixham."
"Right. Well, his majesty is going to dedicate a new wing at the World Museum of Art at the end of this week and I'm in charge of security."
"What's that have to do with me?"
"Spectrum's in desperate need of manpower. Thanks to those Mysterons, we're short three field officers."
"Don't remind me." Scarlet paused and frowned. "But surely you're not suggesting‑‑"
"No, of course not. Disobeying the colonel's direct order and letting you go out would mean a court‑martial for me and a death sentence for you in your current situation." Blue paused and filled a fresh mug for himself. "You know, maybe I will have some more of this‑‑"
"Well come on, man, out with it!" Scarlet snapped.
Blue looked up and smiled at his colleague's impatience. "One of the ground agents from the Security Division here at London HQ will be going with me. That'll leave his post open for the time being."
"Oh, charming. You're offering me a lateral move?"
"Not exactly. The major wouldn't allow that. But before he was transferred, the agent was piecing together all the information we've obtained about the Alliance through surveillance, infiltration and interrogation of prisoners. From what the major tells me, he got pretty close to uncovering the operation."
"And you want me to finish the job," Scarlet interjected, rubbing his chin slowly. Just like his father, Blue said to himself.
If you're successful, it could be a real feather in your cap. It certainly couldn't hurt your chances for reinstatement."
"Quite. This sector has been troubling Colonel White for months." Scarlet drained his coffee mug in a huge gulp. "But the question is, will this transfer be approved? You don't know the major‑‑"
"I've already checked. Canuso is willing to approve it, but only because of the emergency. He's insisting that you be confined to HQ for the duration of the alert."
"Oh, he's all heart, isn't he?" Scarlet said icily. "And I'm sure he isn't taking one bit of responsibility for any of this."
"You got it."
"Typical," Scarlet muttered. "According to the rest of the staff, Canuso never wants to put any policies in writing either. How did he ever get through leadership training?"
"Maybe the same way you got through the SPV course," Blue replied with a sly wink.
"You mean the way you got through camouflaged surveillance," his dark‑haired partner replied without missing a beat. He quickly changed the subject. "Well, I suppose it's all I can do to help under the circumstances."
Blue nodded and stood. "Well, Captain, you have your orders. I'm off to the museum to supervise the transfer of the art to the new wing."
"I wish I could go with you."
"I know, but just help me out here and I promise you, you'll be having tea with Colonel White on Cloudbase this time next week."
"I sincerely doubt that."
The British officer grinned and looked up at the wall clock. "It's 1100. He doesn't have tea at 'elevenses.'"
Blue gave him a dirty look and departed. Well, at least he's getting his sense of humor back, he mused.
Captain Scarlet gazed from the massive pile of reports and photographs spread out before him and smiled tiredly. "And I thought I was through with paperwork," he sighed. "It's no wonder Captain Russet wanted a transfer."
Lieutenant Lynn Stephens, a fresh‑faced junior ground officer, looked up from her side of the table. "I don't know if Russet wanted it as much as the major wanted to get rid of him, sir. They didn't always get on."
"Is that the reason? I thought his transfer was strange, what with him so close to cracking this case‑‑"
"Close?" Stephens put her papers down and stared at him. "We've still got months ahead of us, Captain. Who told you that?"
"Captain Blue. Major Canuso told him."
"That's not surprising, sir. This division has had three different senior officers since the major took over the base six months ago. I've heard similar stories from all three."
"So have I, and that's one reason I accepted the job. It may have something to do with all the terrorist activity in this sector." Scarlet swept his hand across the expanse of the cluttered table. "Have you made any progress with this lot?"
Lieutenant Stephens pointed to several piles of photographs at the other end of the table. "In all the surveillance pictures we've taken over the past six months, these four persons seem to appear the most."
"And do you have names for them yet?"
"On three, sir. We're checking on them. But this last one‑‑" The lieutenant picked up a fuzzy photo of a dark‑haired man on a beach and handed it to him. "This is the only clear shot we have of him. The rest didn't come out."
"Bad camera angles?"
"No, sir. Russet had the surveillance cameras checked. The rest of the photo develops, but every time this chap has his picture taken, he comes out as a silhouette‑‑"
"Silhouette?" Scarlet leaned forward in his seat and snatched the photo from her hand. "Lieutenant, there's only one device in the world I know that can do that. We use it."
"Spectrum? I've never seen one, sir."
"It exists, but only in the testing stage so not too many people know about it yet. We're only issued them when we go on special assignments, to protect our identities. Whoever that is, he's either a Spectrum field officer or he's nicked it from one."
"If he is an officer, do you have any idea who it could be?"
"No, but I doubt if it's any of the Cloudbase staff. Spectrum Intelligence would have found something when they confined us to base."
"A senior ground officer, then?"
"Possibly a very senior one. These devices are so secret that the officer in charge of a Spectrum facility must both approve the requisition and verify that the device has been returned when the agent is finished with it."
"Do you know if any of them are in use now?"
" Blue has one, and also probably your Captain Russet. Check with the Procurement Center and see if any are in use besides those, or if any have gone missing recently."
"S.I.G., Captain Scarlet."
"And get me his photographs‑‑all of them. Perhaps there are other bits in the photos that we can identify."
Scarlet sat back in the swivel chair and rocked slowly, his chin in his hand. The soft creaking of the leather seemed to help his thought process. Right now, he needed all the help he could get.
Lieutenant Stephens apparently shared his thoughts. "I just can't believe the major is one of them, sir," she said ruefully.
"Well, he is, that's certain. We've got more evidence here than Spectrum Intelligence were able to come up with on all the Cloudbase staff. Now all we have to do is find a way to use it." He eased himself out of Major Canuso's chair and crossed to the other side of the office. "What else can you tell me about the man, Lieutenant? I mean personal information, what wasn't covered in your background check."
"Not very much, I'm afraid. As you know, the major is a very private person."
"Which makes him even more suspicious. Does he have any unusual interests, any hobbies?"
Stephens thought for a long moment. "He does like sport, sir, but not our usual games. His interest is in American football and baseball‑‑"
"Not much unusual there, since he's from the States. What about hobbies? Does he collect stamps, or coins? Does he make things with his hands, like artwork or restoring antique furniture? Come on, we've got to explore all the possibilities."
"Artwork‑‑" Stephens' eyes lit up. "Just a minute...." she murmured, deep in thought. "Come to think of it, he asked me to draw a sketch once, for a piece of pottery he wanted to make--"
"Pottery?" Scarlet interrupted. "You mean like clay pots, cups, that sort of thing?"
"Yes, sir. This was just a few months ago." The lieutenant smiled. "It was a smashing piece, too. All done in mosaic tiles; he said it was a lost Italian art."
The senior officer turned to the bookcase and nodded toward a pitcher on the topmost shelf. "You mean that one up there?"
"Yes, that's it."
Scarlet stood on a chair and reached on tiptoe for the pitcher, grunting from the effort. "How the devil did he get this up here?" he grumbled. "He's a good six inches shorter than I am."
"Here, try this." Stephens pulled a large book down and placed it on the side of the chair. He slid it over with his foot and climbed back up, then reached the pitcher effortlessly.
"I'll pass it down. Don't drop it‑‑" Scarlet paused. "Strange‑‑"
"Something wrong, Captain?"
"This pitcher‑‑it's all cracked."
"That's a firing technique‑‑"
"No, I mean large cracks and chips, like it was broken and reassembled." He stepped down from the chair and examined the pitcher closely. "Are you sure this is the one he made?"
"Captain, I know my own drawings."
Scarlet shook his head. "It's discolored, too. For something he made only a few months ago, it looks as if it's five hundred years old‑‑"
"Let me have a look." He passed the pitcher to Stephens. "Sir, this isn't the same pitcher."
"I didn't think so‑‑"
"No, you don't understand," the lieutenant interrupted. "It's the same design, but a different pitcher. This one is from the World Museum of Art!"
"How do you know?"
"I did volunteer work there while I was an art student. The museum puts this mark on everything in the collection." She pointed to a series of numbers printed on the bottom, then grabbed a file from her briefcase. "And according to these numbers, it's one of the pieces that should have been transferred to the new wing." She paused, then flipped a few more pages. "In fact, it's one of the ones inside the podium."
"Check the inventory list. Was it packed away for transfer?"
Stephens handed the pitcher back to Scarlet and paged through another folder. "Yes, it was accounted for."
"Then that means an identical pitcher is at the museum right now. They've been switched."
"But what's all this have to do with terrorist activity, sir?"
"Didn't your background check say that Canuso was a World Army demolitions expert?" Stephens nodded. "Well, if he can do this with clay, why can't he do it with that plastic explosive that went missing last month?"
"But wouldn't the dogs pick up the scent?"
"Not if it's in a sealed case, Lieutenant," interrupted Scarlet. "If it's completely sealed, no scent could escape. And since our dear major is so industrious, it should be a piece of cake for him to make the case as well, out of regular, non‑safety glass."
The lieutenant stared at her superior. "Then when the explosive goes off, everyone near is cut to pieces by flying glass!"
"Just like some of the first hand grenades," added Scarlet. "They consisted of explosive inside a glass ball. The charge itself was very small, but their glass casings did much more damage than the explosives."
"So what do we do now, Captain?"
"First, we have to find some way to warn Blue."
"But how, sir? You don't have a radio and you can't leave headquarters."
"What about you? Are you rated for field work yet?"
"No, Captain. I've only started training."
"Blast!" Scarlet slammed his free hand on the desk. "There must be some way!"
"Can't you send one of the agents who is field rated?"
"No, I can't. I'm only here on probationary status, aren't I? Canuso ordered them not to trust me‑‑"
"And rightly so!" came a tough American voice from the doorway. Scarlet and the lieutenant spun around to find Major Canuso training his gun on them. "Just what the hell are you two doing rifling my office?"
The younger man waved the pitcher at Canuso. "Finding evidence to have you arrested for international terrorism, Major."
"And just who are you going to get to listen to you?" The major jabbed his gun into Scarlet's chest. "Everyone thinks you're a Spectrum traitor, and finding your dead body with a stolen work of art will confirm their deepest suspicions‑‑"
Suddenly Scarlet bashed Canuso in the face with the pitcher, dazing him and shattering the artifact. "Run, Lieutenant!" he shouted to Stephens, who took off down the corridor at a sprint. The single shot that rang out from the major's office after she left only caused her to run faster.
Lieutenant Green, Cloudbase's communication officer, took another bite of his sandwich and put it back on its plate without looking up from the printout in his other hand. He often remained at his station during his lunch break, eager as he was to familiarize himself with the new equipment. The colonel didn't approve of the practice, but Green usually made sure he was finished before the Spectrum commander arrived in the Control Room.
Before him was the nerve center of the hovering base, the huge computer with all its controls and flashing lights. At Green's fingertips was any information that he desired from around the world. The computer could display detail maps or scan the week's newspapers in a fraction of the time other systems took. Determined to become the base computer expert, the young black man spent every spare minute studying technical manuals and working on ways to improve the hardware's performance even more.
The door to the Control Room slid open and Colonel White entered. He was about to greet his aide when he spied the lieutenant's lunch still on the console.
"Lieutenant Green!" he shouted, the veins on his neck beginning to appear. "How many times do I have to tell you not to eat in here?"
"B‑but I'm always very careful, sir," the junior officer stammered, pointing at the napkin neatly spread under the plate. "I try not to leave a mess--"
"Do I have to make it an order, Lieutenant?" the colonel snapped.
Green knew better than to argue with him. "No, sir," he replied in resignation, bracing himself for the inevitable lecture.
"I know you're keen on studying this equipment, son," White began, "but for heaven's sake get away from it for half an hour! You'll be much better off‑‑"
Suddenly a light flashed on the console, indicating an incoming message. The aide, much relieved, leaped into his swivel chair and flipped a switch.
"Cloudbase. Lieutenant Green."
"This is Spectrum Headquarters London with an urgent message for Colonel White."
The colonel reached over Green's shoulder and pulled the microphone toward him. The lieutenant rose from his seat but White shook his head at the offer. "This is Colonel White. What is it, London?"
"We've got a problem down here, sir. Captain Scarlet's gone missing."
"What?!" Green spluttered, nearly choking on the last of his sandwich.
At first taken aback, White recovered his composure quickly. "Tell me everything you know so far."
"We found Scarlet in Major Canuso's office. He'd been shot, sir."
"Scarlet shot Major Canuso?" White exclaimed.
"No, no, Colonel. Captain Scarlet was the one who was shot. The major wasn't in his office."
"I thought you said Scarlet was missing."
"I'm coming to that, Colonel. Scarlet was taken to the infirmary where he was treated for his injuries. It's strange, sir‑‑the doctor said he should have died almost instantly from that gunshot wound‑‑"
"Never mind that for now. Go on."
"When the security chief came in to question him, he told the chief that Major Canuso is involved in the terrorist operation at the World Museum of Art. When Scarlet tried to arrest the major, he shot him."
"Did the security chief believe Scarlet?"
"No, sir. He ordered an armed guard put on him."
"Then how the devil did he escape?"
"The lieutenant who was assisting Scarlet distracted the guard and locked him in a cupboard. We discovered a car stolen from the underground car park."
"Here we go again," muttered Green.
The colonel glared at his aide but said nothing. "Do you have any idea where he could have gone?"
"Our best guess is the museum, sir. The major went there to assist Captains Blue and Russet at the ceremony."
"But Canuso has no business being there!"
"Yes, Colonel. That's when we radioed you."
"Good thinking. Alert the museum staff to the situation immediately."
"And our people, sir?"
"We'll alert Captain Blue from here. If there is a possibility of treachery by a Spectrum officer, we can't risk telling anyone else."
"S.I.G. London out."
Green closed the channel and looked up at his commanding officer. "Does this mean that Scarlet was faking it, sir?"
"I'm not quite sure, Lieutenant," the colonel replied thoughtfully, walking back to his circular desk. "The old Scarlet would do exactly what he has done. That bit about Canuso going to the museum also gives me my doubts."
"But what about the gunshot wound, sir? He apparently was killed, but he came back to life! The first time this happened, our men became these Mysterons. What if Scarlet goes back that way?"
"As I said, Lieutenant, we can't be sure. But one thing I do know‑‑Blue can take care of himself. Don't forget the Car‑Vu."
"Then it's up to Captain Blue now?"
"Right. Put me through to him, and let's hope he's as sure of his partner as he says."
"S.I.G., Colonel," whispered Captain Blue. He removed his personal radio receiver and quickly tucked it into his pocket, but not before Captain Russet noticed.
His new partner, a German with sharp gray eyes and hair almost the color of his rusty‑brown tunic, eyed him expectantly. "New instructions, Captain Blue?"
The American sighed. "Looks like your 'easy' first assignment just got a lot more complicated. Something's going on that I'm not supposed to discuss with you London people."
Russet frowned. "It's Canuso, isn't it?"
Blue whirled around and stared at him. "How did you know that?"
"When you showed me that photographic jamming device, it confirmed my suspicions. I knew then why he had me transferred to a non‑essential office."
"Which would also explain why he was so shocked when he found out who I chose. I gave him no idea from which office I'd get a partner." Blue paused and then smiled. "OK, OK. I think you're on my side."
"So what do we do about Canuso?"
"Actually, it's Scarlet I'm more worried about."
"Captain Scarlet? But he's confined to HQ."
"Not any more. He took off from there about an hour ago."
Russet frowned again. "Is he also part of the major's plot?"
"I'm not sure. Colonel White said something about Scarlet coming here to stop Canuso."
"You are right, Captain Blue. This is becoming more complex." The junior captain folded his arms. "So, what do we do? Do we trust Captain Scarlet, or Major Canuso?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, Captain Russet‑‑" he stopped as a trumpet fanfare blared. "There's our cue. Keep your eyes peeled."
A silvery Spectrum Maximum Security Vehicle pulled up in front of the museum and King George VII exited. It seemed odd to Blue that there were no cheering crowds, no groups of schoolchildren waving tiny Union Jacks at the monarch. They had cordoned off the museum area to all but the press; the Alliance's previous attacks had left many innocent people injured.
"Good morning, your majesty," said Blue, nodding in respect to the king. As an American, he did not bow as the British around him did. Blue gestured to King George to follow him, while Russet remained at the rear of the king's entourage.
The procession approached the entrance to the new wing. A white satin ribbon was stretched across the archway. There was a podium set up just outside where King George was to deliver a proclamation before cutting the ribbon. The podium was made of glass and held several of the smaller art objects that would later be placed in the new wing.
King George had read his proclamation and was about to cut the ribbon when a scuffle broke out in the press area. The sovereign stood slack‑jawed as two reporters traded punches, an older man and a younger, more athletic one. The younger man had a clear advantage and knocked his opponent to the floor.
Blue was the first to spot the red boots under the younger "reporter"'s overcoat. "Hold your fire!" he exclaimed to the security guards, motioning to them to bring both men forward. He stared first at the darkening bruise on Canuso's face, obviously from an earlier struggle, then at Scarlet's bulletholed and bloodstained uniform. He wondered why the colonel hadn't mentioned anything about his partner's injuries. "What happened to you?"
"Arrest him!" Scarlet cried, pointing frantically at the major. "He's got a detonator under his coat!"
"He's lying!" shot back Canuso, opening the coat as if inviting a body search. "I've got nothing to hide. What about you, traitor?"
Scarlet bristled at the word. "Who are you calling traitor?‑‑"
"That's enough!" an exasperated Blue shouted, startling both detainees with his outburst. He took a deep breath. "Let's start with you, Major. Why are you here anyway?‑‑"
Suddenly Canuso wrenched himself free of the security guard. "Long live the Alliance!" he shouted, slipping his right hand into the inner pocket of his overcoat.
"Adam!" yelled Scarlet, lunging at the terrorist. He tried to wrestle the major's gun away from him but it went off in the process. The bullet meant for Captain Blue tore into Scarlet's left shoulder instead. Scarlet then hit Canuso squarely on the jaw. As the major fell, a remote control that was in his other coat pocket clattered to the marble floor.
Blue wiped the perspiration from his brow and checked behind him. Russet was escorting the king, apparently unharmed, to the MSV. Blue turned to the security guard who had handcuffed Canuso and helped him to his feet. "Take him away," he snapped.
Once the MSV was safely underway, Blue examined the detonator that had been in Canuso's coat. "Where's the bomb?" he asked matter‑of‑factly.
Scarlet brought the gun up and slammed it butt‑first into the top of the podium, smashing the glass into a thousand pieces. "The pitcher; plastic explosive. Only a little thing, but all this glass would have killed the three of you easily."
The American whistled. "Guess I owe you one. Thanks."
"Pleasure." Scarlet handed the gun to Blue. "Now do your duty and arrest me."
Blue handed the gun to a security guard and applied a field dressing to Scarlet's shoulder. "Not unless it's for car theft. Let's get back to Cloudbase."
Colonel White glanced again at the three officers standing at ease in front of him, then returned to reading the report in his hands. He finished and scrawled his signature on the report, closing the folder. "Lieutenant Stephens‑‑"
"Sir!" she shouted, snapping to attention.
White sighed. "At ease, Lieutenant. You're not at the Academy now." The young woman relaxed. "May I commend you, Lieutenant, on trusting your instincts and assisting us on this last mission. Were it not for your faith in Captain Scarlet, Britain would be mourning the death of her monarch and Spectrum would have lost another two fine officers."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"As we do not have an official Spectrum decoration for valor yet, I cannot present it to you. Be assured, however, that as soon as the World Government approves it you will be one of the first recipients."
Scarlet silently watched the lieutenant. She was slowly turning the color of his vest in embarrassment.
"I believe you have, moreover, earned a change of assignment," the colonel continued. "We have an opening on Cloudbase for a junior lieutenant as Captain Ochre's aide. Will you accept?"
"Will I?" Stephens gasped, her face wearing a grin nearly as big as Captain Blue's. "Yes, sir!"
"We'll sort out the necessary paperwork. Welcome aboard and good luck."
The colonel and both captains shook her hand, Blue adding, "You're gonna need it."
"Do you like the smell of model airplane glue?"
Stephens looked at him curiously.
"You'll find out later."
White cleared his throat loudly. "Yes, quite. Dismissed, Lieutenant." Stephens came to attention again, executed a precision about‑turn and left the Control Room.
"Don't you think you should make her a senior lieutenant, sir?" asked Scarlet after she had gone.
"Not just yet. As you know, she's still young and inexperienced, but she does show a lot of promise. That's why I want her up here. Now, as for you, Captain Scarlet‑‑" the Spectrum commander picked up the report folder again. His usually stern voice had an ominous ring to it.
"Here it comes," Scarlet muttered. "I've had it for sure."
"Just keep your fingers crossed," his partner whispered.
"Well, Captain Scarlet," White began, "I would say that you have regained my trust, albeit in a rather unorthodox way. King George VII and the World Museum of Art are safe, and the Alliance for World Justice broken, all thanks to you. I shall put a commendation in your personnel record along with my report, and you'll join the queue for that Spectrum Cross right behind Lieutenant Stephens." The colonel smiled. "You know, there's even talk of honors being bestowed upon you by His Majesty himself."
"Just doing my job, sir."
"Yes, of course. Well, anyway, according to Captain Blue's report and my own observations, I can see no reason not to accept you back as a member of senior staff."
"Thank you, sir. I'm awaiting your orders‑‑"
"Oh, you're not ready for reinstatement just yet. I'm only releasing you to Dr. Fawn. If you remember Spectrum Intelligence's stipulations, you were to report back to Sick Bay for more tests before being put on active duty."
"Yes, Colonel, I understand." He unsuccessfully tried to hide his disappointment.
"Very well. Dismissed." Scarlet nodded, turned on his heel and departed. White turned his attention to the one remaining officer standing before him. "So what do you think, Captain Blue?"
The blond American shrugged. "He'll be OK. He's got his partner to look after him."
Indeed he has, and a fine one at that, thought the Spectrum commander‑in‑chief as he closed the report folder.
This was a story I had wanted to write ever since watching the original series back in the early 1970s. I thought the simple fact that the series episodes were only a half-hour long left gaps of unspecified length between episodes that the writers could not possibly elaborate on in the time allotted them. This was especially needed between the first and second episodes. By writing “Chance for a Lifetime” I attempted to answer the following questions:
l Two high-ranking Spectrum field officers have attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate the World President, and a third – the organization's top field agent – has been missing since before this chain of events started. Is it a conspiracy? Is anyone else in Spectrum, specifically Cloudbase, involved? Is anyone willing to trust Spectrum, let alone Captain Scarlet, after this? Was an investigation held?
l Captain Scarlet was shot through the heart and fell 800 feet from a tower onto solid concrete, with a car, an SPV, a helicopter and what was left of the tower crashing to the ground all around him. His body must have experienced severe trauma, to say the least. While his body is rejuvenating itself, why isn't he X-rayed? (continued use of X-rays in the 21st century was established in the episode “Operation Time.”
l What are they going to do with him once he recovers? Considering that the “owner of the body” was a homicidal maniac before Captain Blue killed him, Spectrum certainly can't release him for active duty immediately. Should they stick him in a desk job for a few months? Should someone shadow him at all times, with orders to kill him if the agent sees anything unusual? How does he win their trust in him back?
l What happened to the “real” Captain Scarlet's body?
l Captain Scarlet's father, according to the annuals, is or was a top military officer. He must have dozens of unofficial “connections” throughout the various World Government organizations. How does he react to the news that his “son” has committed an act of treason? Does he find out that his son is in fact no longer alive?
Hopefully I have answered them in this story.
As for characters, most of them of course are from the original series and are under copyright. The characters of Charles and Mary Metcalfe (and Humphrey of course), Captain Russet, Major Canuso, Lieutenant Stephens and King George VII are mine. The character of General Metcalfe has been based on the background of Captain Scarlet in the 1967 annual, where he is said to come from a military family.
Thanks to everyone who has read this story; it consistently has a ranking in the top 20 stories read on Spectrum Headquarters' Fan Fiction section. It's nice to be appreciated even after all these years.
Mary J. Rudy
Any comments? Send a E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site.