By Flic City
The Kingdom of Aorth had long been curious about the nearby Marsh, which lay close to one of its borders. Was it inhabited? Were there valuable resources available there? Could humans even survive there?
In the year 2068, however, things became more serious. Something within the Marsh was broadcasting signals to Aorth – signals which were hard to understand, and seemed unnatural in origin.
Preparations were finally made to explore the Marsh. A team of three men were chosen –
Steven Zodiac, a young knight whose interest in the Marsh was almost as high as his commendations for this mission.
Arthur Dean, a wizard who was trained in battle magics – although they hoped such would not be necessary.
And Conrad Turner, better known as the Black Commander. He was chosen as the obvious leader of the expedition, due both to his training as an officer of Spectrum – an elite force whose sole duty was keeping the peace within the many counties of Aorth, and whose High Commander was answerable only to the King himself – and the fact that he had lead many other explorations of the surrounding lands.
Perhaps, if another leader had been chosen, things would have been different…
The three men halted their winged mounts at the lip of the ridge, and exchanged glances. “We’ve almost reached the edge of the Marsh,” commented one, shifting uncomfortably in his saddle. They had been riding for hours, and the leather armour they all wore made the sun’s heat almost unbearable – especially in this strange land, with its humid air and alien plants.
“Yes,” agreed their leader, “But let’s just see over this rise before we return to Aorth. We have yet to find the cause of the disturbances our warlocks reported.” Although his armour was black, and therefore drew in more heat, he managed to look perfectly at ease.
“They did say the cause might be natural,” the third pointed out diffidently, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“And if we find nothing worth exploring here, I promise we’ll return to our camp for the day.”
The two knights looked at each other, and then back at their commander. “Very well.” They continued guiding their steeds between the ferns and bracken that obscured the mud underfoot.
In the valley the three knights were about to enter, a huddle of black-robed figures studied their image in a dark pool. “THE MEN FROM AORTH HAVE ARRIVED,” one of them announced in dolorous tones.
“THEY SHARE AN INTEREST IN THE WORLD ABOUT US,” another noted. “SHALL WE PREPARE TO WELCOME THEM?”
The mass of sorcerers nodded in unison.
“WE ARE AGREED. PREPARE TO CONTACT THEM.”
None of the scouts could think of anything to say. Coming as they did from the magically suspended fortress known as Cloudbase, they had thought themselves well-acquainted with rare and powerful magics. But the glowing buildings before them were outside any of their previous encounters.
“It scarce seems real,” breathed the youngest man in awe.
“With power such as this, let us hope they are friendly,” muttered the commander. “We had best make amiable contact,” he added, starting his hippogryph down the ridge. His men followed unquestioningly.
As they approached the alien settlement, a pair of strange artefacts appeared to either side of it. The knight-commander froze, finding their design all too familiar.
“They’re attacking!” cried Conrad Turner. He turned to the mage under his command. “Destroy their base!”
The mage hurled a bolt of destructive energies at the glowing complex. Within seconds, the ground it had stood on was an empty plain.
The third scout breathed a sigh of relief, and turned to speak to the commander. He stopped at the look on his face, and looked back to see a beam of light passing over the ground – leaving the settlement rebuilt. When everything had been recreated, the artefacts reappeared. They focussed on the scouts, but instead of harming them, they broadcast a message into the knights’ minds: MEN OF AORTH, WE ARE PEACEFUL BEINGS AND YOU HAVE TRIED TO DESTROY US, BUT YOU CANNOT SUCCEED. YOU AND YOUR PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR THIS ACT OF AGRESSION.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, MEN OF AORTH. OUR RETALIATION WILL BE SLOW, BUT NONETHELESS EFFECTIVE. IT WILL MEAN THE ULTIMATE DESTRUCTION OF ALL LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF AORTH. IT IS USELESS FOR YOU TO RESIST, FOR WE HAVE DISCOVERED THE SECRET OF REVERSING MATTER, AS YOU HAVE JUST WITNESSED. ONE OF YOU WILL BE UNDER OUR CONTROL. YOU WILL BE INSTRUMENTAL IN AVENGING THE MYSTERONS.
OUR FIRST ACT OF RETALIATION WILL BE THE ASSASSINATION OF YOUR KING.
The voice fell silent. The younger scouts turned to each other in shock. “Peaceful beings? What kind of peaceful beings would do something like that?” Steven demanded.
“It’s the threat to use one of us that scares me,” Arthur admitted frankly. “What should we do now, sir?” he added, turning to their commander.
Conrad Turner didn’t respond. He sat staring blankly ahead, his hands clenched on the reins.
“Sir? What should we do?” repeated the mage, unease coiling in his stomach. The youngest urged his steed closer, reaching out to his commander’s shoulder. There was a blur of movement, and he found his wrist gripped tightly.
“Leave,” the Black Commander breathed, his voice almost inaudible.
“Not without you,” the knight said staunchly.
The Black Commander seemed to close his eyes in defeat – then opened them suddenly with a chilling expression on his face. He opened his mouth, but to the horror of his companions the voice that issued forth was that of the Mysterons.
“THEN YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES AGAINST US, AORTH’S MAN.” There was a pause, and then the Black Commander forced his men down to the Mysteron Complex in the Marsh.
In Aorth, within the magical fortress known as Cloudbase, the White High Commander scowled at the table before him. Every scrying device in the kingdom, be it state-of-the-art magic or a simple bowl of water, had given the same message from the unknown sorcerers calling themselves the Mysterons, threatening to kill every living thing in Aorth, starting with the King.
“Green knight!” he snapped suddenly. “Have the Angels prepare for immediate flight!”
“Yes, sir,” replied the dark-skinned knight from his station, pressing the symbol upon the dais before him that invoked the communication spell.
“Angel One, prepare for immediate launch!”
The beautiful rider urged her steed from the outer courtyard where they were kept in readiness into the air.
“Angels Two and Three, immediate launch!”
The next two riders ran into view, and vaulted onto their steeds’ backs.
“Angels Four and Five, immediate launch!”
The final pair of the elite team mounted up and took to the air. The blue and silver dragons, specially bred for Spectrum and considered untameable by anyone other than their officers, moved into formation.
The High Commander watched from his window as they flew past, thankful that the traditional styles of building with narrow windows were unnecessary for Cloudbase, then signalled for the communication spell to be resumed.
“Angels, you are to form an overhead patrol for the King’s retinue.”
“S.I.G,” the leader acknowledged.
“Get me the Scarlet Commander’s group,” The White High Commander ordered.
“Scarlet Commander, the Angels are overflying the King. Are there any signs of difficulty?”
“No, sir,” came the prompt response. Scarlet patted his horse’s neck as the beast sidled away from the voice, aware of the edge of the road they were on. The mountain road they were travelling was a very useful shortcut, but if the horses had been less well-trained, no power in Aorth could have made the Scarlet Commander risk taking it.
“Good. Brown Commander, can you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” said the Brown Commander, giving Scarlet a curious glance.
“You are in charge of this operation. Scarlet Commander, once the rendezvous has taken place, you are to return to Cloudbase.”
“S.I.G,” the Scarlet Commander acknowledged. Immediately, the faint hum that signalled that the communication spell was active vanished.
The Scarlet Commander turned his head to look at his companion. “So, your first big assignment. I wish you luck.”
“I thank you,” said the Brown Commander, bowing mockingly. He straightened. “Do you think that this is really necessary, though? Is the King truly in danger?”
“Well, judging from what we know of the expedition to the Marsh, these Mysterons seem to have the abilities to carry out their threat,” said Scarlet thoughtfully.
Brown shivered, his stiff armour knocking against itself with the motion of his body. “If only we were fighting something we understood; something in three dimensions,” he said, half-aloud.
“I know what you mean,” agreed Scarlet. “We only hear them when they wish it, but I have the feeling they watch us constantly…”
Suddenly, Brown’s steed reared up, unseating him. The horse kicked at Scarlet, spooking his own mount into bucking and trying to flee.
Scarlet dismounted hastily and came around to the head of his mount, reaching to gather the reins and calm the beast down – but the horses crushed him between them. He caught sight of the body of Commander Brown, trampled in the dust, before the horses both raced off the edge of the road – dragging him with them…
Two rings of green light passed over the scene of the disaster. On the road, a blank-faced Scarlet and Brown stood, holding their horses’ heads as they studied the ruined bodies beneath them. They moved together to bury them, hiding the traces of what had happened.
The Mysterons had made their first move…
Later on Cloudbase, the Scarlet Commander stood at attention before the White High Commander’s desk as he finished reading a report. “May I congratulate you on your escape. You’re a very lucky man, Scarlet Commander,” White commented. “Now, your report?”
“Thank you, sir. Everything is happening as planned. The King is being escorted to the Citadel as we speak.”
“Good. Well, you might as well have some rest, Scarlet Commander,” said the High Commander.
“S.I.G.” The Scarlet Commander saluted and left the Control Room.
King Robert the Younger cast his escort a nervous glance as they rode into the city, surrounded by a selected troop of guards in the broad street. He trusted Spectrum wholeheartedly, but… something seemed wrong with this officer. “I see Spectrum is taking no chances,” he commented, trying to draw the man out.
“No, sire. If you look to the roofs, you will see that we have guards posted, and the Angels are flying overhead.”
King Robert nodded, impressed. “I am grateful for these precautions. Still, I will feel better once we are inside the Citadel itself. The Mysterons have powers that we cannot understand…” he trailed off, shifting his gaze to the Brown Commander.
The Commander nodded silently, keeping his thoughts to himself.
The Citadel was Spectrum’s most secure building, designed to be the ultimate stronghold. The sheer walls could be seen rising above the town buildings from fifty feet away, and its outer walls were three feet thick. It was commonly believed that it would take five sorcerers working within the building to bring it down, and the odds of their surviving such a use of magic were almost nonexistent.
When the King and the Brown Commander entered the Citadel, they were greeted by armed guards waiting for IDs. The guards recognised King Robert immediately, and looked to the Brown Commander, who showed them the Spectrum insignia which proclaimed him a senior officer. The two men walked through the first room, and into a corridor – and a spell to identify any hidden weapons.
The siren began to wail as the Brown Commander walked through it. The guards brought their weapons to bear on him, as the air solidified to form a shield between him and the King.
“There is no cause for alarm,” the Brown Commander said quickly. He reached into a pocket to remove a metal case. It fell open as he tossed it away, revealing a neat set of cigars.
The guards relaxed, and the shield vanished. “I was concerned, for a moment,” said the King as Brown came to walk behind him again. Brown did not respond.
The next door they walked through led them to the apartments where they would be staying. King Robert noted the faint tingling which meant that the doorway was spelled, but the Brown Commander didn’t seem to notice. ‘From what I know of Cloudbase, most of the doorways there are probably spelled,’ reflected the King silently. Out loud, he said, “These are our quarters for the next few weeks.” He looked around. “Tell me, Commander, do you play a good game of chess?” he asked, noticing a board already set up.
“I play a very good game, sire,” said Brown after a slight pause, coming over to sit opposite him.
King Robert pretended not to notice the pause, but secretly he was growing more suspicious of this man by the second.
“What are those?” he asked, seeing marks upon the wall.
“Scrying panels. They focus the spells our mages use, to allow them to see what happens here.”
“Well, I have no need to worry with Spectrum guarding me, do I?” asked the King, pretending to be jovial – but he cast a sharp glance at the Brown Commander as he spoke.
There was no response. King Robert sat up, watching his companion closely as he repeated, “I said, I have no need to worry…”
Surely that was not smoke coming from the man’s clothes? And he was so silent…
King Robert activated the spells of protection, moments before the Brown Commander exploded – taking the entire Citadel with him.
“The Mysterons have made their first attempt,” said the White High Commander grimly. “Fortunately, it was unsuccessful. Let us consider what we know of it.”
“I do not understand,” King Robert muttered to the Scarlet Commander.
“The scrying panels in the rooms sent images of what was happening to be stored. Luckily, our records are kept in another building, and so are still available for us to view.”
The White High Commander ignored their conversation, turning to the giant mirror that hung on one of the walls. “Display the records,” he ordered.
The mirror lit up with a picture of the King and the Brown Commander walking into the Citadel. “No, we want to see later,” the High Commander ordered. The image blurred, then cleared to show the two men in the corridor. “In the secure room, please,” sighed the High Commander. Again, the image blurred, and then changed to show Brown sat in his chair – with smoke rising from his collar. The men watched in silence as he destroyed himself and the room, the King vanishing mere seconds before the fatal blast.
The White High Commander turned back to face the others, his face lined with a frown. “The first thing that record shows is that you barely survived.” He looked grim. “The next is that the Brown Commander somehow managed to carry a destructive spell through the corridors. Possibly one designed to break through our defences and allow a stronger spell to be worked on the building.”
“Are you saying that your man was somehow a part of this?” asked the King sharply.
The White High Commander refrained from answering directly. “One of the few things I am sure of is that the Brown Commander was one of my finest men, and I willingly trusted him.
“There have been some very peculiar happenings, since the expedition to the Marsh,” he continued. “The Black Commander, who was leader of that expedition – again, one of my most trusted men – has vanished shortly after his return. The two men sent with him have not returned at all. And now – this.”
There was silence for a moment, and then he continued in a voice filled with determination. “Scarlet Commander, you are to take the King to London, with the escort of the Angels. I know that I can count on you to protect the King with your life.”
“S.I.G,” said the Scarlet Commander. “Rest assured, sir, I will carry out my orders.”
After they had left, the White High Commander allowed himself to relax slightly. ‘The Scarlet Commander is more than a match for whatever these Mysterons have planned,’ he thought.
The signal telling the Green Knight that there was a message for him activated. He listened, and frowned in puzzlement at the information he was receiving. “Sir, Spectrum agents report finding the body of the Brown Commander.”
“Indeed?” asked the White High Commander in surprise. From what he had just seen in the records, he would have thought that the body was too damaged to be found, let alone identified.
“At the point where the Scarlet Commander reported difficulties with their mounts,” the Green Knight continued.
The High Commander stared at him. “What!” he barked. “Are they sure?”
“The Ochre Commander himself identified the body.”
The High Commander sat back, trying to understand what he had just been told. The Green Knight looked at him. “Sir? How could he have been with the King if he was dead? And why didn’t the Scarlet Commander tell us that something had happened to him?”
“Something must have happened during that accident that we do not understand…” the White High Commander murmured. “The Brown Commander was somehow replaced by an impostor –” he stopped, his eyes wide with realisation. “And so might the Scarlet Commander have been! Green Knight, put me through to the Scarlet Commander immediately!”
The young man tried, then turned back to his commander with a worried expression. “I can’t seem to reach him, sir,” he reported.
The Angels looked at the gryphon carrying Scarlet and King Robert. Why had the Scarlet Commander ignored the High Commander’s orders?
“Scarlet Commander! Return to Cloudbase!” Destiny Angel called through the communication spell.
The Scarlet Commander gave no response to her order. “Scarlet Commander!” she repeated, watching carefully for any sign that he had heard her. “You are to return with us at once!”
His eyes narrowed, the Scarlet Commander urged the gryphon he was riding to move faster.
“Sir, the Scarlet Commander is not responding,” Destiny told the White High Commander, trying to keep the tension out of her voice.
“Green, put me in contact with the Angels and the Scarlet Commander!” the High Commander ordered back in Cloudbase. “Angels, you are to force the Scarlet Commander’s dragon to land.”
“S.I.G,” responded Destiny. There was a change in the tone of the hum, and the High Commander continued, “The Scarlet Commander is excluded from this contact. Do not harm them. Make sure that you miss when you move to attack. Understood?”
“S.I.G,” repeated Destiny more cheerfully. She guided her dragon carefully, then ordered it to flame.
A ball of fire narrowly missed the wingtip of the Scarlet Commander’s mount. The King turned to him. “Scarlet Commander, they almost killed us. Stop what you are doing, and return –” He was cut off abruptly, as Scarlet backhanded him.
The Angels stared at the two men. The King turned and yelled in a voice trained by battle, “Angels, do your duty and stop this madman at all costs!”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes, and slammed his hand into the King’s stomach. As King Robert gasped, he grabbed the man and threw him off the gryphon’s back, jumping after him.
“Cloudbase!” called Destiny, her voice urgent. “The Scarlet Commander and the King have both dismounted from the gryphon!”
“Track them,” came the response. “Do not let the Scarlet Commander or the King out of your sight for a moment!”
The Angel nodded sharply, her eyes fixed on the two men who were falling towards the earth. The Scarlet Commander was breathing one of the incantations all of the Cloudbase personnel knew – a levitation spell. Both of the men slowed in their fall, until they drifted onto the ground.
The King immediately tried to escape, but the Scarlet Commander cocked an arrow to his longbow and took aim. “One move and I will shoot you,” he said, his voice completely unemotional. The King studied his eyes, and held still at the empty iciness he saw in them.
The Scarlet Commander walked over to a horse that someone had ground-tied nearby, and removed the saddle. He forced the King to mount up, and then vaulted on behind him. The horse pranced slightly, uneasy at being ridden bareback by two unfamiliar men.
“Quiet,” the Scarlet Commander ordered it. He urged it forwards, onto the road. Once on the hard surface, the horse broke into a gallop, which the Scarlet Commander made no attempt to restrain. The King held still, his back pricked by the knife that the Scarlet Commander was holding on him as the jolting motion of the horse threw him forwards and backwards.
“The Scarlet Commander and King Robert are now both riding a skewbald stallion, standing perhaps fourteen hands tall. They are going down the 27th road,” Destiny reported.
The White High Commander considered the news. “Green Knight, put me through to the Blue Commander.”
The Green Knight activated the spell almost before the High Commander had finished speaking.
“Blue Commander, you are to collect SPM 69 and follow the M27 until you catch up with the Scarlet Commander.”
“S.I.G,” said a man with a Bostonian accent.
The White High Commander scarcely paused in his next order. “And when you reach him, you are to stop him by whatever means necessary without harming the King.”
This time the response was a few seconds longer in coming. “S.I.G. I will stop the Scarlet Commander.”
A man rode into a small outpost stable on a Spectrum horse – specially bred and ensorcelled to be the fastest steeds on the road, and the least inclined to panic or misbehaviour.
“I come for the Spectrum Pursuit Mount 69,” he told the stable hand, holding out the insignia that marked him as a senior member of Spectrum.
The man nodded, and walked to a large and seemingly abandoned storage area. He threw the doors open, to reveal a creature that seemed a cross between a horse and a snake.
“How do you handle such creatures?” he asked curiously as he watched the Blue Commander mount up.
“Practise,” smiled the Blue Commander, before racing off towards the 27th road.
Destiny frowned as she considered the scene playing out below her. “Rhapsody, do you see the two routes that the Scarlet Commander may choose between? I want you to place a firewall over the one leading towards London.”
Destiny changed the focus of the spell.
“Blue, the Scarlet Commander is trapped. His only route is towards the London View,” Destiny told the Blue Commander, naming the cliff that overlooked the nearby city.
“Understood, Destiny. I should see him any moment now.”
“White High Commander, may I request one of the aviators join us?” asked Destiny, switching her communications back to Cloudbase.
“A good idea,” agreed the White High Commander. He signalled for the Green Knight to connect him to the Aviary where the giant birds were housed, and ordered, “Roc 42, you are to fly and help in the rescue of our King.”
“S.I.G,” came the acknowledgement.
The man hooked his legs around the gigantic bird’s neck, and smiled grimly. “Up!” he shouted. The bird flapped its wings and left the ground. The rider wondered absently about the situation he was riding into, when he noticed that his mount was sinking. “Up!” he repeated, looking for a sign of what was troubling his mount. The bird squawked a protest, as its wings continued to strain. In desperation, the rider recited the levitation spell – and felt the shock as it refused to work. He clung onto the roc’s neck as they both fell to their deaths.
A pair of glowing rings passed over the bodies. Overhead, a roc flew towards the London View – and no one could have drawn close enough to see that there was no one guiding the beast.
The Scarlet Commander forced his mount up the winding paths that led to the top of the London View. The King leaned forwards, wondering grimly how long he would survive once they reached that destination. He had long since given up on trying to argue some sense into his captor.
From a tree in the nearby forest, the Black Commander watched the pair. “ROC 42 IS UNDER THE MYSTERONS CONTROL. YOU ARE TO TAKE THE KING TO THE TOP OF LONDON VIEW, AND THEN ON ROC 42 TO THE ISLAND. THE KING MUST BE KEPT ALIVE,” the Black Commander intoned. His face was ghastly in the dim light, and his eyes black holes as the Mysterons used him to guide their communication spell.
‘The Mysteron instructions will be carried out,’ came the slightly disjointed response from the Scarlet Commander.
Deep inside Black, Conrad Turner cried silently, Why Paul? Are you not satisfied with me as a traitor, that you must take my partner as well? But there was no answer, and Black’s face showed no sign of Conrad Turner’s pain.
“Blue Commander, I am almost in position,” came the voice of Roc 42’s handler.
“Good! Move quickly. I cannot strike until you are in position!” said the Blue Commander, studying the layout of the ground as his mount started flowing up the cliff-face. The Roc flew closer, a dark shadow overhead.
King Robert turned to Scarlet as they both dismounted and started to climb up the remainder of the path, which was too steep and narrow for their horse. “Surely you must realise that you have no chance?” he asked with utter certainty. “Give up, Scarlet Commander.”
The Scarlet Commander gestured silently for him to start climbing. His eyes promised that the King would live to regret any disobedience.
“Roc 42, you are the best positioned to stop the Scarlet Commander without harming the King,” said the Blue Commander, watching as the giant bird swooped over the cliff. It would be far easier for the Roc to take the Scarlet Commander by surprise than it would for the Blue Commander, and he would have less time to react if plucked from the cliff than if challenged from nearby. “I await your move.”
There was no response.
“Roc 42, respond!”
The giant bird was coming down to land – on top of the Blue Commander! It missed, and turned in the air, shrieking its rage to the heavens.
“Angels, shoot down the Roc! It must be considered hostile!” Blue ordered quickly. Symphony Angel quickly guided her dragon after the bird, and ordered it to attack before the creature could turn and fight. The fireball her dragon spat burnt the creature’s wings, so that it fell to the earth with a shattering cry.
One of the outstretched wingtips brushed the London View. The Blue Commander watched with wide eyes as the top of the cliff disintegrated slowly, threatening to fall in an avalanche of rocks and boulders and crush the two men who were still climbing it.
“Scarlet Commander!” he shouted. “You have no choice any more! If you wish to survive, you must surrender!”
The Scarlet Commander calmly drew one of his shuriken, the throwing stars which every Spectrum officer was trained in using, and threw it at the Blue Commander. It sped past his head, barely missing him.
The Blue Commander released a breath at the realisation of just how close he had come to dying. “As you will. It is now down to you and me,” he muttered grimly, before casting a hasty levitation spell. He flew towards the Scarlet Commander, hovering occasionally to throw one of his own shuriken.
One of them hit its target. Scarlet clutched at his chest, and screamed as he stepped away – onto thin air. Blue stared in horror as his former ally fell to the ground, but he could not afford to go and help him – not when the King was still trapped on the London View.
Picking King Robert the Younger up, the Blue Commander soared away from the cliff, and called through to Cloudbase. “I have the King safe,” he reported tiredly. “Will be able to report fully once on the ground.” He cut off, ignoring the signal that the High Commander wanted to talk to him.
“Is something the matter?” asked King Robert, noticing the way his rescuer kept glancing down to the ground.
“Before this happened, the Scarlet Commander was my friend,” Blue told him simply.
King Robert stared at him in surprise. “Friend? He tried to kill you, just now!”
“I know. That is the matter,” answered Blue. The two men landed in silence.
The Blue Commander started reporting again, as he had said he would. “High Commander, Roc 42 was hostile. It attacked me, and so the Angels shot it down. It damaged the cliff as it fell, and so I had to use the levitation spell to collect the King safely. The Scarlet Commander is dead,” he continued with a sigh. “I – he was attacking me, and so I threw my shuriken into him. The impact knocked him from the cliff.”
There was a pause. “I see.” The White High Commander sounded understanding, if grim. “The body will be collected. Good work, Commander.”
After a shower in his quarters, the Blue Commander decided to go and see Dr. Fawn, hoping that visiting him would somehow give a sense of closure.
“Hello, sport,” said the doctor. His voice reflected the fact that he came from one of the more remote counties – a place called Australia. “Anything I can do for you?”
“Tell me that it wasn’t the Scarlet Commander who I just killed on London View?” suggested Blue, with a grimmer humour than usual.
To his surprise, Dr. Fawn looked edgy. “How about if I tell you that it might not have been?”
“What? Fawn, I’m too tired for games…” Blue began.
“No game, mate. I wish it were,” the doctor said glumly. “Come here.” He led the Blue Commander into the morgue, where there were three bodies under sheets. “Tell me who this is?” he asked, taking the sheet from the first one.
“The Brown Commander,” said Blue without hesitation, recognising the man’s face instantly.
“And this?” Dr. Fawn stripped the sheet from the next body.
“The – Scarlet Commander?” Blue was surprised by the wounds visible on his old friend, bruises and cuts that he didn’t remember seeing on the London View. And the shuriken wound seemed to be absent…
Dr. Fawn scowled. “And this?” he repeated, removing the final sheet.
“The… Scarlet Commander,” breathed Blue, staring at the man he had faced on the cliff. He recognised the jagged tear in the man’s leather jerkin as the one made by his shuriken.
“This man here is the one you faced,” Dr. Fawn confirmed. “The other two bodies are both from the pass where the Scarlet Commander reported an accident.” He noticed Blue’s puzzlement. “That was before the Brown Commander met with the King, by the way.”
Blue stared at the three bodies in disbelief. “But – how –?” he stuttered.
“No more idea than you. As far as I can tell, the two men are identical – and I mean more identical than twins!”
Blue shook his head in disbelief. “So one of them is an impostor?” he asked, looking between the two Scarlets. He ignored the question of the Brown Commander for now, sensing that the answer to the mystery with the Scarlet Commanders was the answer to the Brown Commander as well.
“I have the nasty feeling that explanation’s too simple,” sighed the doctor.
They both stood and stared at the unexplainable bodies. Looking closer at the one he had faced, Blue saw that the wound he had dealt the man was less serious than he had assumed. ‘Strange,’ he mused. ‘It doesn’t seem to have touched the skin at all.’ He shook his head – where else could the blood staining his jerkin have come from? He bent forwards to study the man closer – and jumped back.
“Doctor, that man is breathing,” he said, eyes wide.
“What!” Dr. Fawn pushed him aside and leaned over the man – then rested his fingers on his neck. “Pulse is strong,” he gasped. “Skin is warm – this man is alive!”
“How?” asked Blue, profoundly unnerved.
“I wish I knew,” answered Dr. Fawn honestly. “Help me get him through to the medical bay,” he added, fetching a stretcher which had been leaning against the wall.
Blue hesitated, when the man on the table sighed and shifted his position. ‘Paul?’ he thought. ‘Could he – maybe…’ he gently lifted the man onto the stretcher, and took the handles willingly.
They settled the man on the nearest bed. “Uh – Doctor – I hate to say it, but maybe you should have some restraints on him. Just in case,” said Blue reluctantly.
Dr. Fawn looked at him, then nodded slowly. “And I should certainly report this to the High Commander,” he added as he did so.
The three men gathered around the bed. “And you say he’s healing from all the injuries he sustained?” asked the High Commander.
Blue stayed silent, watching the patient as the two men conversed in low tones. Suddenly, the stranger’s eyes opened.
The question made all of the men in the room stare at him. “What are you doing here?” asked Scarlet, looking puzzled. “And where is here?” He started to look around.
“Calm down, sport,” Dr. Fawn told him, moving to check his health.
“Dr. Fawn? I’m on Cloudbase – Brown!” he suddenly exclaimed, his eyes wide. “The horses – they were trampling him – is he alright?”
Everyone stared at him in silence. ‘That tells us what happened to the original Brown Commander,’ thought the White High Commander grimly.
“I’m afraid not, mate,” said Dr. Fawn sympathetically after a pause to get over his shock.
The Scarlet Commander’s eyes closed, and he looked pained by the news. “And the King? Is he well?” he asked after a moment.
“Fine,” said Blue before either of the others could stop him. “Safely home – I made sure of that!”
The Scarlet Commander stared at him. “But – you were nowhere near the King!” he protested. “He was in America, while you were in London! Those counties are too far apart – we can’t travel between them that quickly…”
“Don’t go distressing yourself just yet, mate,” said Dr. Fawn soothingly. He cast the officers beside him a significant look. They both nodded their goodbyes, and walked out of the room together.
“He sounded just like the real Scarlet Commander,” said Blue wonderingly.
“Hmm,” replied the White High Commander.
“Do you think it’s possible, sir?”
The White High Commander looked grim. “Where the Mysterons are concerned, I am beginning to believe that almost anything is possible.”
After hours of testing, the results were conclusive – whatever had happened to him during his time under the Mysterons’ command, the man who was currently in Sickbay was the ‘real’ Scarlet Commander. And so the White High Commander announced to the senior officers as soon as the report arrived.
“There is only one difference between this man and the one we knew before. He has retained a unique ability – retrometabolism. The Scarlet Commander is now virtually indestructible!”
I do not own the characters I have used (or misused) in this fanfiction. They all belong to Gerry Anderson. The plot is an altered version of the first episode of Captain Scarlet, written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
The extra scenes where the Blue Commander visits the morgue and where the Scarlet Commander revives in Sickbay are based on Mary J. Rudy's story 'Chance For A Lifetime'.
Please let me know what you think of this story.