Captain Scarlet finally drifted out of unconsciousness, and groaned, long and deep, because he hurt. He hurt like blazes. But he was obviously alive. And that meant – sooner or later, that his retrometabolism would kick in and he would heal. With that reasonably happy thought he opened his eyelids and saw –
Impenetrable darkness surrounded him – and dust, thick and choking. He tasted the chalkiness of it on his lips; in his hair and on his eyelids. He coughed involuntarily, and spasms of agony shot along his chest and ribs.
Then he remembered that he hadn’t been alone when the explosion ripped through the Elysium Towers in Unity City.
The sound of his voice echoed around him, and then, a dull, black silence.
Concerned, Scarlet levered up onto his elbows, only now aware that his lower body was trapped by a chunk of masonry. He pulled and pushed, ignoring the fire in his limbs that accompanied his actions, until he had freed himself from beneath the rubble. He lay, panting and coughing, exhausted by the pain and exertion. What he would have given for a drink of ice-cold water to douse the raw fire in his throat. At last, he rolled over, realising he still hadn’t heard anything from his fellow Spectrum agent and he felt a flicker of fear in his stomach.
What if Green hasn’t survived the explosion?
Scarlet wished he could see something – anything – but the tons of concrete that had obviously collapsed on top of them after the explosion, had sealed him in this windowless cave with not a molecule of daylight to penetrate the black shroud that surrounded him. He hobbled to his feet, intent on finding Green, and banged his head against something hard. He let fly with a curse, then immediately recovered his wits to find out what the obstruction was. He felt the smooth coldness of metal under his searching fingers – traced the outline of several more girders above his bowed head, with the roughness of concrete poking through the spaces. By some miracle, it seemed enough of the joists had tangled together to form a roof, preventing the mass of rubble above from crushing and suffocating him completely.
Scarlet returned to a squat position, since the space was barely high enough for him to stand in, and cautiously clambered over several smaller blocks of rubble. Then miraculously, his leading hand encountered a relatively soft object on the ground.
A body – it had to be Green’s.
His fingers blindly fumbled with a sleeve on one limp arm, moving it up so he could feel for a pulse. It was weak and fast – but thank God – the lieutenant was still alive. He continued his explorations of Green’s prone body, and frowned at the large slab of masonry that pinned him from the waist down.
Damn and blast it.
Anger and regret flooded through Scarlet. Maybe if he had stood his ground with Colonel White, the young man wouldn’t be lying unconscious in the dark, quite possibly gravely injured. In Scarlet’s private opinion, Green wasn’t as field-savvy as the other colour-coded officers; too much of his career had been desk-bound. In fact, he thought that Colonel White was far too indulgent towards his aide’s constant requests for field assignments, and that one day Green’s inexperience would cost him dearly.
Today looked like being that day.
Scarlet hunkered down and attempted to heave the block that lay across Green’s body. But no matter how he pushed and strained, he couldn’t budge it, even by a fraction. He cursed several times in frustration, but finally had to give up. He sat back on his bottom, perspiring with the effort.
“Lieutenant! Can you hear me? Green - are you awake? Speak to me, man!”
There was a faint, answering groan, and, almost immediately, Scarlet regretted his harsh judgment. If it hadn’t been for Green, several hundred high-ranking World Government officials would now be dead. As it was, he successfully re-routed the majority of the detonation timers, allowing the occupants of the Elysium Towers time to evacuate. But one bomb had remained, untraceable; even to Green’s sophisticated monitoring equipment. Untraceable, that is, until it went off.
“Say something, Lieutenant, or I’m going to start panicking,” he tried again.
Scarlet exhaled in relief. “Certainly is, you had me worried there for a moment.”
“I can’t see anything… sir.”
“You aren’t blind, don’t worry. I can’t see anything either. But you’re trapped beneath some rubble, and despite my best efforts, I can’t shift it. I’m sorry. Are you in a lot of pain?.”
“Just… a… little bit.”
Scarlet didn’t like the way Green’s breath came shallow with each word. “You’re not a very good liar, Lieutenant.”
“No, I guess not. My legs, they’re… bad.”
Scarlet laid a hand on the younger man’s forehead. It felt cold and clammy, and from his basic knowledge of first aid, he suspected Green might be going into shock. He didn’t want to think of the possibility that the lieutenant’s legs might be broken or crushed beneath that hunk of rubble. Unbidden, a dreadful thought flicked into his head, as he imagined Green flitting silently back and forth in front of his Control Screen, in a hovering wheelchair.
“Does… anyone know where we are?” Green’s soft voice broke into Scarlet’s morbid meanderings.
“They must do. Captain Blue was well clear of the explosion in the SPV.”
My cap mic! He thought suddenly, and dropped to all fours to search the floor of their cave. Suddenly, his epaulettes beeped and began to blink, a couple of tiny blue fireflashes in the dark. Adam, thank God! That man’s a mind reader, he thought, and the knowledge that his partner was trying to contact him intensified his search. After a few swear-inducing minutes his fingers finally scrabbled against the hard polymer surface of his regulation cap. He slapped it onto his head and the microphone swung down automatically.
“Scarlet!” he barked into it.
“Captain Scarlet! Thank Heaven you’re alive!” Captain Blue’s voice, echoed around the black, enclosed space, pure relief evident in it.
“Yep, I’m fine, but Lieutenant Green is pinned under some rubble, and I can’t tell how badly he’s been hurt.” Scarlet lowered his voice so that Green wouldn’t hear him and continued, “He seems to be in a lot of pain, I think he might be suffering delayed shock.”
Blue fell silent for a few seconds, obviously digesting the bad news. “That’s not good. But we’re working as fast as we can. We’ve got one of International Rescue’s Moles, and we’re burrowing a side tunnel to come get you.”
“How long will that take?”
“We should be with you in about an hour. What’s your situation?”
“It’s like the Black Hole of Calcutta down here.”
“That good, huh?”
“And no room service either. I’m not booking into this hotel again, that’s for certain.”
Blue’s chuckle broke the tension. “Glad to see your sense of humour’s still intact. I’ll inform the Colonel about Lieutenant Green, he’ll be glad to know he’s alive, at least. He’s sending Fawn and a couple of med-techs down to personally supervise things once we get you all out, so just hang in there, I’m moving the earth to do it, after all….”
It was Scarlet’s turn to chuckle this time. “S.I.G.” Then, as the contact broke he murmured, almost to himself, “Don’t you always?” He scuffled over to Green again. “Captain Blue is on the job, so we’re going to be all right.”
“If you say so, sir,” Green replied.
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence, and Scarlet cursed not being able to see the expression on Green’s face. He was as good as blind, and in addition, felt awkward, unable to strike up a conversation as easily as he would have with his blond-haired partner up above.
“I know what… you’re thinking.” Green’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“That I’m not up to this….”
“That’s not quite what –”
“I’m not that… dense… sir.”
“Listen to me, Lieutenant. You did a good job – no – a great job, up there. You saved the lives of hundreds of VIP’s by foiling that Mysteron plot.”
“But I didn’t get the bomb that’s… buried us alive.”
“We’re not dead yet.”
“You… won’t die… anyway…”
Scarlet frowned. He didn’t like the way this conversation was going. “And you aren’t going to either, mister.”
A few more pregnant minutes passed, and Scarlet realised he had no idea how much time had passed since the bomb had gone off. He felt the shattered dial of his chronometer. They didn’t even have the comfort of that small glowing light to illuminate their prison.
“I hope you’re still with me, Lieutenant?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Green mumbled.
“You have to stay awake.”
“Well…. it’s probably just better if you do.” Scarlet didn’t want to voice his private concern that if he allowed Green to go to sleep, he might not wake up again.
“Maybe it’s just better if I just…” Green mumbled again
“Hang in there, Lieutenant, we’ll be rescued soon.”
“What if the air runs out…?”
“Don’t even think about it.”
“I don’t have a retrometabolic body like you!” Green blurted out suddenly. “I guess it’s easy to be brave when you’re indestructible…” His voice trailed off, as if his explosive outburst drained what little energy he had left.
Scarlet in turn, was rendered speechless. It actually sounded as if Green resented him – surely he couldn’t actually be jealous of his retrometabolism?
Despite the fact it made him a vital weapon in the war against the Mysterons, Scarlet often felt that he had paid a heavy price for his ability to cheat death, with the loss of his humanity. A flash of anger rushed though him again, but he damped it down almost immediately. This wasn’t like Green at all; he was usually the epitome of calm and politeness, especially when addressing a superior officer. The youngster’s delirious, he thought, nothing more.
And yet, a voice inside him whispered insidiously: No smoke without fire.
Perhaps, Scarlet thought with a pang of guilt, it’s partly my fault. He realised he barely ever engaged in social chit-chat with the Trinidadian, and, as a result, knew little of his personal likes and dislikes, and even less about his family background, other than since the tender age of twelve, Green had almost single-handedly brought up his eight siblings, after their parents were killed in a freak air disaster.
“I’m sorry… Captain, I don’t know what I was saying, please forgive me.” Green’s voice had recovered its familiar softness, and was laced with shame.
“Nothing to forgive, Lieutenant,” Scarlet returned crisply.
“It’s just… I’m cold… and I can’t feel my legs.”
Scarlet felt his heart race. “Sorry I haven’t got a blanket handy. I told Blue the room service was lousy here.”
In the pitch-black, Scarlet had no way of knowing whether his remark had brought even a tinge of a smile to Green’s face, but he knew he couldn’t allow him to continue to drift into a sense of despondency. He had to keep him conscious – keep him talking. Simple conversation, nothing too taxing, but positive.
“I’m sorry that I don’t know much about your family, Lieutenant,” he said, finally and somewhat self-consciously.
“No… reason… why you should, sir.”
“Well, we aren’t going anywhere in a hurry at the moment, so, if you don’t think I’m being nosy, maybe you could tell me a little about them?”
“I’m interested, really. Are they all as musically gifted as you, for instance?”
There was a few seconds of silence in the darkness, then Green replied in slow, halting tones, but with a renewed calm that heartened Scarlet. “My twin brothers, Clyde and Wayne are musicians, they play in a calypso band back on the island… inseparable… always were… they even finish one another’s solos on guitar, now.”
“If they’re as good as you, they’ll wow the audiences.”
“You… like my singing?”
“Just because I got thrown out of the choir at junior school doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate someone who holds all the right notes. The Officers’ Lounge would be a drearier place if we didn’t hear your dulcet tones, every now and then.”
“I… well… thank you… Captain.” Darkness or not, there was no mistaking the embarrassment in Green’s voice, and Scarlet felt unusually grateful that the Lieutenant was unable to see his own discomfiture at the way things had suddenly turned a little too personal.
He swiftly moved back onto the original subject. “Are they identical?
“Excuse me?” Green sounded confused.
“Your brothers,” Scarlet prompted.
“Oh, yes… even Mom and Pop could hardly tell them apart – especially when they wanted to… confuse them… or me. Now they want to look different, so Wayne has short hair like me, and Clyde kept his dreadlocks.”
“Well, I don’t have any experience of siblings, more’s the pity, but I guess when people grow up, they want to have their own identity. Are they the oldest? After you, I mean?”
“No, that’s Talia, my sister. She’s… fifteen months younger than me.”
“Talia… that’s a lovely name.”
“She’s… beautiful. In spirit, as well as in looks. She used to make up all sorts of wonderful stories to keep the younger kids amused, especially when things got tough, which happened a lot.”
“Sure,” Scarlet replied, quite frankly unable to envision what it must have been like for his companion, being a father to eight children under twelve, when he was barely in his teens. “What does she do now?”
“She’s a writer… children’s stories. She lives… in San Francisco.”
“I didn’t get a chance to visit. It looks like a nice place though, all those vertiginous streets and quaint Victorian houses.”
“Yes, it’s managed to keep the old and the new, unlike a lot of cities.”
“Have you been there?”
“Yes, to visit Talia, and when I was stationed in… Marineville.”
“Oh yes, of course, it’s quite close, relatively speaking.”
They exchanged another brief silence, and Scarlet mentally cursed not being able to see the other man’s reactions. He realised how much one relied on facial and bodily gestures to read people’s moods and emotions. How on Earth do blind people cope, he wondered?
“Well, go on,” he said finally. “I’m just getting interested. You’ve given me Talia, Clyde and Wayne, who else is there?”
“You really…want to know all this?”
“I said I did, unless it’s too taxing for you.”
“No… it’s good to talk, takes my mind off…”
“Well,” Green continued, “Nathan’s twenty-three… and he’s going to be a lawyer.”
“Smart young man; that’s where the money is.”
“If… he passes his bar exam.”
“I’m sure he will. Who’s next?”
“Alvin and Vaylee, the second set of twins, they’re at Kingston University.”
“Vaylee, that’s a girl’s name?”
“Sorry to interrupt, who’s after that?”
“Lisa, the baby. She’s fifteen, still at high school…” Green’s voice started to slur. “I’m sorry… Captain… just having a bit difficulty thinking… right now…”
“You’re doing fine, Lieutenant.”
All he received in response was a muffled sigh.
“Lieutenant, are you still with me?” he insisted, unhappy with Green’s continuing silence.
“Sorry, sir… I… was just thinking about Alvin and Vaylee. Their graduation ceremony is in two weeks time and I was hoping to be there for them.”
“And you will be,” Scarlet replied firmly. “We’ll be out of here in no time.”
“I don’t… hear anyone coming to get us, Captain. Let’s face it… I’m going to die down here.”
“You are not going to die, Lieutenant. Captain Blue is on the case, and he’s not going to give up on either of us. You know that, don’t you?”
“If… you say… so… sir.”
“I bloody well do.”
“So thirsty… feel… dizzy…”
Adam – where in God’s name are you?
A sound caught Scarlet’s ears. Faint, like the rumble of machinery , and as far as he could tell, it was coming their way. He held up a hand, then realised the absurdity of the action, it wasn’t as if Green could see it. “I think I hear something, Lieutenant, ” he said aloud.
“Yes, I think I hear it too.”
“See, I told you they were coming for us.”
“You did, sir.”
“Just as I was getting to know all your family, too.”
Scarlet did a quick mental calculation. “Wait a minute, I thought you had eight brothers and sisters, have you missed someone out?”
A silence descended, and Scarlet feared Green was zoning out again.
“Lieutenant!” he shouted sharply.
At last Green spoke up, in a voice so quiet, Scarlet could barely make out the words against the increasing noise levels.
“I had another brother.”
Scarlet’s heart missed a beat. Oh, damn – me and my size elevens.
“S’funny… tried so hard to keep… the family together… nearly did,” Green mumbled.
“You don’t have to talk about this, Lieutenant.”
“You wanted to know, sir.”
“I’m sorry, I had no idea –”
“He was in the WASP too… we were stationed on the same submarine for an assignment. There was an… accident. I can still see the water rising higher in the airlock… and I’ll never forget the way his hands kept banging and clawing against the glass for us to get him out…”
Green’s voice trailed off and there was a pregnant pause as Scarlet felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck, picturing the grisly scene that Green described. For a long moment Scarlet listened to the rumbling sound coming ever closer, aware now of the true depths of the tragedy that had touched the younger man’s life. Many people might have simply fallen apart under the brunt of such adversity, yet Green obviously had great depths of resilience, not only to rise above such misfortune, but to conquer it with success. Despite the death of his brother, for which he seemed to be trying to atone, Green still was obviously a force majeure in the lives of the remainder of his family. And me, how would I have coped if our positions had been reversed? I’ve only ever had myself to consider.
“I’m truly sorry…” he started to say, before Green cut in again.
“I know how you feel about me, coming on this mission… you didn’t think I could deal with it – ”
“Maybe… you’re right. Maybe I am just trying to compensate… trying to prove I could get back in the field after what happened to Audley. But I just messed up… again.”
“Stop it right now, Lieutenant; you’ve nothing to prove to me, or to anyone else for that matter. I believe you’re one of the bravest men I’ve ever met. I’m only sorry I didn’t realise that fact until today…”
Whatever Green had wanted to say was drowned out by the sudden reverberation of noise. If that’s the Mole, Scarlet thought, then thank God we’ll soon be out of here. Unexpectedly, the din stopped and almost immediately Scarlet’s epaulettes flashed blue and his cap mic swung down again.
“Is that you, Blue?” Scarlet shouted into it.
“Yes. The Mole is only a few feet away from your position. Is Lieutenant Green still okay?”
“I hope so. Just hurry, Adam.”
“S.I.G. Blue out for now.”
The intensity of noise increased again, accompanied by a high-pitched whine of metal against rock that set Scarlet’s teeth on edge. He moved closer to Green and positioned himself over the younger man’s exposed upper body, in an attempt to protect him from any rubble that might be dislodged by the entrance of the Mole’s massive drill-bit. He felt Green’s wiry hair against his cheek and grimaced as the whine grew to screaming pitch. He could feel the vibrations all around, heard the awful sound of grating metal and dislodging masonry.
Would the fragile walls of their prison remain intact long enough for them to be rescued?
Disturbed dust rose again and filled his nostrils, choking him and making his eyes water. He shut his eyes, took a deep breath and held it.
He felt the sting of rock chips hit his head and arms as the Mole breached their prison. Almost immediately the whine subsided and Scarlet’s eyes opened, only to be blinded by a stabbing beam of white light. He squeezed his eyelids shut involuntarily, listening to the determined but anxious voices that echoed around the chamber. Still sightless, like the creature whose namesake had broken through their tomb, he felt strong, determined hands pull him to safety.
“Lieutenant Green,” he urged his unseen rescuers. “He’s hurt bad, suffering severe shock, his legs…”
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of him, Captain.” Scarlet heard the calm reassuring voice of Captain Blue, and finally allowed himself to let go a long sigh of relief.
Scarlet’s eyes had almost readjusted when he finally emerged into blessed daylight. He stood blinking, taking in the magnitude of his surroundings – the charred, smoking mountain of grey rubble and twisted metal that had once been a delicate spiral of apartments soaring into a cloudless blue sky. He felt someone grip his arm, and turned, to see Dr Fawn standing beside him.
“Nice to see you don’t warrant my attentions, Captain, just for a change.”
Scarlet gave him a grim smile, as Fawn stepped briskly over to help the med-techs gently removed Green from the Moles cramped interior cabin, and settle him onto the waiting stretcher. Scarlet did a three-sixty and spotted the silver-grey body of the Magnacopter behind him. His heart lightened for the first time that day as he saw the pilot step down gracefully from the aircraft.
Rhapsody Angel strode across to where he and Blue stood together, and gave him a dazzling smile. “Glad to see you’re looking none the worse for wear, Captain,” she said.
“All the better for seeing you, my Angel,” Scarlet replied, with a wide grin.
“Huh, bet you’d say that to all the girls,” she retorted, with a twinkle in her wide, blue eyes. Her bright smile faded when she saw the battered body of Lieutenant Green, and to Scarlet’s surprise, she moved alongside it, and grasped one of Green’s hands gently in one of her own.
The young black man’s eyelids fluttered open and his face wreathed in a smile when he saw the heavenly apparition leaning over him.
“I just wanted to make sure the Lieutenant gets the safest and most comfortable ride back to Cloudbase,” Rhapsody said, loud enough for all of them to hear.
Scarlet wondered if he imagined the look that Green continued to bestow upon Rhapsody Angel as she turned back to him and Blue. He would have described it as the beatific gaze of a man hopelessly and desperately in love.
Then, all at once, it made sense.
Green wasn’t envious of Scarlet’s indestructibility after all.
He was jealous of something else entirely.
This is the fourth in the series of vignettes and short stories for the Challenge of Five.
I originally started this story with Scarlet and Grey as the two protagonists, except by the third page I sensed it was turning out to be more of a contrivance – two people who couldn’t ‘see’ in the dark - but having little point beyond that. Then I remembered that in the TV series, Lieutenant Green makes a comment which suggests he resents Scarlet for some reason. (I admit that this comment is actually spoken by Green in Symphony’s dream as part of the episode ‘Attack on Cloudbase’, but, as Scarlet himself muses in the story, there’s no smoke without fire. Perhaps Blue mentioned Scarlet’s ‘coconuts’ remark to Symphony after the ‘Crater 101’ episode…)
Green also seemed uncommonly distraught (in that same episode) when Rhapsody’s plane is blown out of the sky, suggesting that he feels affection for her. Although, again it’s as a part of Symphony’s nightmare, it implies that the American girl is aware (even subliminally) that there’s a sub-text to Green’s relationship with Rhapsody. Chris Bishop and Ono explored such an idea, in their Halloween story – ‘Curse of the Wolf’. I hope they’ll forgive me for slight plagiarism!
The title was originally to reflect Scarlet ‘seeing’ Green in a different light after their conversation about his family when trapped in the cave. It was only after I’d considered the ending with Rhapsody making an appearance that it took on yet another ‘punning’ aspect. I’m sure there will be some writers or readers groaning….but I’m thinking, what’s the point of writing fanfic unless you can have a bit of fun?
I hope you enjoy.
I’d like to thank Marion Woods and Chris Bishop for their beta-reading and usual insightful comments, and once again, Chris for her wonderful website.