[The Mysterons...sworn enemies of Earth, possessing the ability to
recreate an exact likeness of an object or person--but first, they
must destroy. Leading the fight, one man fate has made
indestructible. His name: Captain Scarlet....]
A 'Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons '
by Ralph Ferreira
"This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. We know of your pathetic attempts to stop us, and we will show you how useless they are. Soon you will be tasting your own poison."
Colonel White was with Captain Blue in the cabin of a Spectrum Passenger Jet, his face denoting some anxiety and preoccupation. This could hardly be otherwise; he was going personally to a summit meeting with Earth authorities, including the World President, the Supreme Commander of Earth's Forces, and so on. Having heard the most recent threat of the Mysterons, he knew that the crisis was worse than he could have thought.
"Request launch clearance," stated Captain Blue.
"Spectrum is green," came the voice of Lieutenant Green from the flight compartment speaker.
After being catapulted into the stratosphere, Captain Blue made a 30-degree curve and the SPJ headed to New York, where the conference was to take place.
Colonel White had left Captain Scarlet in command of Cloudbase during his absence. He knew that although Scarlet was a little impetuous, he was the best choice to do the job, and he felt tranquil with his decision. Besides, with the Mysteron threat hanging over all of them, he could think of no one else he would want in the command chair than the indestructible Captain Scarlet.
Inside Cloudbase, everybody performed their usual tasks, although there was a bit of apprehension in the air, due to the menace verbalized by the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet watched the radar indication of the S.P.J. heading off toward its destination as communications officer Lieutenant Green came up behind him.
"Do you think Colonel White will convince the WAAF to stop Operation Panther?" Green asked.
"I don't know," Scarlet answered, "but I hope so, although it will not be easy. General Osbourne, the man who's commanding that operation, is a tough nut to crack."
"Colonel White told me about him," continued Lieutenant Green. "He knew Ronald James Osbourne when he was young. He said General Osbourne always was very obstinate and also very ambitious."
"And that is the worst part!" Scarlet frowned. "I think he's trying to use the whole thing as a political maneuver. He used to state that he would like to be a World President one day, and I suppose he's thinking about the popularity he would gain if he were successful with this operation."
"It's sad to see that even today there're still people who put their own ambitions above anything."
"Unfortunately, it's true," said Scarlet. "People like him always existed and will exist for a very long period yet. Mankind has had a big technological evolution, but it still has a long way to evolve in terms of morality. I fear that the Mysterons will try to use our weaknesses against us again."
"Me, too," Lieutenant Green agreed with a worried voice.
The council chamber was already full of people from several of Earth's special security forces, such as the World Army Air Force, World Space Patrol, World Navy, World Aquanaut Security Patrol, and others, along with leaders of the World Government. Everybody there knew that a battle between Spectrum Commander-In-Chief Colonel White and WAAF North American Commander General Osbourne was going to be waged there that morning. All of them were seated around the outer curve of a huge table in the form of a horseshoe, its extremities terminating just a few feet from a separate table where World President James Younger was seated. After the usual formalities, the conference began with the World President asking General Osbourne to explain in detail Operation Panther.
Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green were watching the conference via the screen behind Colonel White's desk. Like everyone in the meeting, they knew what Operation Panther was, but did not know its details.
Scarlet had dealt with men like Osbourne before. A lifetime in and around the WAAF, first as the son of a famous general and then as the service's youngest and most decorated colonel, had brought him in contact with fanatic hardliners on more than one occasion. They were usually brilliant strategists, some of the military's most intelligent men--which made them especially dangerous.
Osbourne was a very gruff man, and his eyes reflected that brightness of crazy fanaticism that Scarlet was all-too-familiar with. Being more than six feet tall and very strong, he looked like a bull. Before beginning his explanation, Osbourne asked his assistant to give some brochures to all the conference guests and then to turn on the big viewscreens located on each side of the chamber, distributed in a way that each guest was able to see the pictures related to the subject he was going to explain.
"As all of you know, the Mysterons are sworn enemies of Earth," stated General Osbourne with a voice that demonstrated the excess of self-confidence he had. "For a long time, they have been attacking us, killing innocent people and spreading terror everywhere. They like to despise us, saying always that we are weak and stupid. Our plan is simple: Fight fire with fire."
Green scoffed. "That old fox is speaking like a demagogue politician in a public speech," he commented to Scarlet as they watched the secure channel broadcast of the meeting.
Scarlet nodded. "All the more reason he has to be stopped."
Osbourne clicked up another slide onto the hall's giant projection screen as he continued his presentation. "We just finished the construction of the first ballistic interplanetary missile, the YK-1, which contains the most powerful proton ogive even created by the man. We intend to launch a direct attack against the Mysterons to give them a demonstration of power, to show them that we're not afraid of them like some rat who's afraid of the hungry cat that's chasing it!"
"But we don't know the exact location of the Mysteron complex on Mars," World President Younger commented. "How will this missile get to the right target?"
"The YK-1 is an intelligent missile!" Osbourne answered proudly. "It has the latest-generation computers which will allow it to navigate by itself when it leaves the Earth's orbit. We'll just monitor it from the launching base. When it arrives on Mars, it will orbit the planet, scanning its surface looking for power sources, and once it locates them, the computer will select and set the target and turn on the engines. Some seconds later...farewell, Mysterons!"
"And what about the power the Mysterons have to reverse the disintegration of matter?" inquired Colonel White, deviating the attention of all conference guests to his person. "Yes, it's true this missile can reach its target on Mars, but it will not be effective--as Captain Black found out when he first discovered and attacked their complex, the Mysterons will simply recreate it from the rubble. This attack will only increase the hate they feel for us, and the consequences could be chaotic!"
"Even Mysterons cannot survive a nuclear blast, Colonel White," insisted General Osbourne in an angry voice. "The power of this missile can devastate an area equivalent to this state!"
"We don't yet know the full extent of the powers of the Mysterons, General," Colonel White replied. "You cannot be certain they're going to be destroyed with the YK-1."
"Maybe!" Osbourne's voice was getting louder. "But I'm sure they'll understand this message and will think twice before attacking us again. In a war, Colonel, the best defense is a strong offense! Don't you know that?"
"This is not a usual war," Colonel White said with self-control that seemed to make General Osbourne more and more angry. "They aren't humans, and you cannot suppose they're going to react like humans. Yes, we have to stop this war, but this is not the right way to do this. We have already made a mistake during the Martian expedition, and this would be a mistake much bigger than that."
"The people of Earth are tired of your blah-blah-blah!" roared Osbourne. "All Spectrum attempts to stop this war have failed—all your actions are just defensive reactions. It's time to act effectively!"
"We have to be responsible and cautious--we don't want to make this war to be more bloody than it is now," continued Colonel White, the tone in his voice calm but firm. "I know that we failed in our attempts to make peace with them, but we will never give up--we'll go on trying to find a way to stop this war of nerves,
but we want a peaceful resolution. And you have failed to address your operation's primary flaw: The Mysterons already know about it. Their last threat was clear about that."
"Impossible!" shouted Osbourne while socking the table. "We've taken every possible security precaution; the launching base, 'Hell Cowboy', is virtually impregnable! Currently, we're at Phase-1; that means stand-by condition. Phase-2 means alert condition, and Phase-3 is launching condition. All this
information is classified; the press and the public will be notified only after the successful conclusion of this operation. If--if--the Mysterons know about it, they're now shaking with fear."
"And of course the people will know that you're the great hero who saved the world from the Mysterons."
White's sarcasm was so blatant that even Captain Blue, who was seated beside him, almost let a laugh out before he regained his self-control. Everybody in the chamber reacted in the same manner--some with less success than others.
Green laughed out loud, and even Scarlet found himself smiling at White's pointed commentary. "That was a real torpedo!' joked Scarlet. "The old fox didn't anticipate something like this. Look, he's losing his control. Good show, Colonel!" Scarlet shook his right fist as if he was supporting his favorite team in a soccer game.
"Good thing the colonel isn't here to see you do that," Green remarked.
Scarlet realized what he was doing and got his reaction under control. "Thank you, Leftenant," he said firmly.
Green merely smiled in reply.
General Osbourne had bolted up and was screaming like a lunatic. Colonel White's subtlety was bad enough, but now the pointed mockery made him even more crazy, and he was demanding an apology from the Spectrum commander even as his colleagues found amusement at his expense.
"Settle down, folks," World President Younger urged, deciding it was time he intervened in the quarrel before things got out of hand. "General Osbourne, I believe you are owed an apology from Colonel White. And I suggest, Colonel, that you offer it on our next break--which I'd like to take right now."
With that, the conference took a recess, Osbourne still fuming and White smarting from the verbal reprimand.
The heavy and tiring conference finished at the end of the day, and Captain Blue brought the S.P.J. skyward once more to return Spectrum's commander to Cloudbase. "Interesting day," Blue remarked.
"Indeed," White replied. "Despite the World President's insistance on an apology for out-of-place remarks, I am fairly satisfied with the results. I believe we have been able to stop, at least for a while, all that insanity."
"Good thing, too," Blue replied. "Considering everything that happened after Captain Black attacked the Mysterons, the idea of launching a direct attack on Mars is idiotic."
Blue looked at his commander. "Beg pardon?"
"Like General Osbourne, you have my intentions completely wrong. In fact, my interest was not in canceling Operation Panther, but in modifying it to something similar to Operation Sword. Instead of making an insane attack on the Mysterons on Mars, I would prefer to use the immense capabilities of the YK-1 to observe the Mysterons, take pictures, and then send them back to Earth to gain a better knowledge of their secrets and the actual reasons against a direct attack. Also, an attempt could be made at direct contact, to prove to them that the Earthmen are capable of coming close enough to make a surprise attack but instead would prefer to communicate with them peacefully, in an attempt to remedy the mistake made by the Earthmen in that fateful first encounter. Our first effort to make peace with them through that rendezvous in Greenland failed, but we must keep trying. We must do anything to find a way to finish this war of nerves and restore the peace. It is the only hope any of us have for stopping this madness permanently."
Blue nodded, once again reminded of the wisdom of choosing the diplomatic-minded White as Spectrum Commander-In-Chief as he returned his full attention to his flying duties.
General Osbourne and one of his personal aides, Colonel Schenker, were comfortably seated in the back of a WAAF Limousine on its back to their hotel. It had been a hard day, and Osbourne's head was simply killing him. As it was late at night, the traffic was light, and their driver was going fast but carefully. Suddenly, he saw in the rear-view mirror a big truck approaching fast. He accelerated, but realized that the truck was getting closer and closer. He went to the right lane, but the truck did it also and was going even faster.
"Trouble, sir!" said the driver anxiously, watching the huge truck going after them like a wild African elephant running to face an enemy.
Osbourne looked toward his driver anxiously. "What's happe--"
Before Osbourne could finish his phrase, the truck hit the rear of their car, shaking them violently. Osbourne and Schenker looked backward to see who was driving, but were blinded when the truck turned on its powerful lights.
"Come on, soldier!" shouted Schenker to the driver. "Call for some help immediately! Hurry, hurry!"
The four-wheeled monster went on hitting them in the rear and also in the left side, trying to force the car off the street. Their situation was critical; they were completely desperate and still alive only because their skillful driver had been able to control the car under those conditions.
But the situation got worse when their limousine was forced to reduce its speed due to serious damage. At the same moment, the truck also reduced its speed, then accelerated at its maximum rate, giving them the finishing stroke. The shock was so violent that the car lost control, left the street, went up on the sidewalk, and crashed into the wall of a building. The truck was traveling so fast that it hit three cars which were stopped at the red light at the intersection, causing sheer mayhem.
As they were in a residential area, lots of people had already awakened with all the noise and came to their windows to see what was happening. The scene at the intersection was something simply terrible; more than five cars were now involved, as well as that huge truck, still maneuvering among them, smashing everything in its way.
"Come on! We have to get out of here!' screamed Osbourne after recovering his composure when the car had crashed. He saw that the truck was coming back in their direction.
"We can't!" answered Schenker. "I can't move my right leg, and look at him." He pointed to the driver. "He's unconscious--probably dead--and trapped in the wreckage."
All seemed to be lost for them, when suddenly they heard the sound of sirens. Some police cars were arriving. Osbourne looked around and saw the truck coming toward them again.
The smashed limousine looked like a poor animal with its leg captured in a trap, waiting for the hunter to arrive to kill it. Its hopeless occupants were inside watching that motorized dinosaur come in their direction.
To their surprise, the truck did not hit them; it stopped just a few feet in front of them. Osbourne was able to see the driver, a pallid man dressed in black, whose coldness intimidated even Osbourne. When that iron-faced man saw two police cars coming, he immediately steered his truck at the arriving cars and hit the
"Hey, that man is crazy!" said one of the police officers in alarm to his partner. "He's going to kill us all!"
Both cars swerved, and one of them was able to avoid collision. The other one was hit on its right rear side and then whirled and crashed into some parked cars.
One hour later, some miles away from that place, the truck was found abandoned.
Captains Scarlet and Blue stood in front of Colonel White's desk, the atmosphere heavy due to the latest news. "The situation is critical now, gentlemen," stated Colonel White. "Operation Panther has now gone to Phase-2, and General Osbourne is using the outrageous attack against him as a justification for pursuing his theories. He sincerely believes that the Mysterons tried to kill him because they want to stop this operation, because they're afraid of it!"
"What does this man have in his head?" said Scarlet, his voice slightly angry. "To me it seems that the Mysterons want to make him believe that. He's being used by them!"
"I think so as well, Captain Scarlet," White agreed. "I'm certain the Mysterons will try something in the next few hours, so the two of you will fly immediately to the Hell Cowboy base in Arizona. In the meantime, I'll go on trying to convince the World Government that the Mysterons are just playing a game with the whole operation."
"We'll leave at once, sir," Blue responded.
"Captains, I cannot stress enough how vital it is you delay this operation," White reminded them. "It would seem that for once, both we and the Mysterons have the same goal--to stop the madness of this plan as it stands now. We must succeed on our terms before they succeed on theirs."
The end of the day at the Hell Cowboy base saw Major Hetfield, security chief and also right hand man of General Osbourne at the base, leaving the base. His day, too, had been tiring and stressful ever since the base went on alert due to the Phase-2 of Operation Panther. The short blond man had a 45-minute drive ahead of him before arriving at his house in the mountains. After checking out at the main gate of the base, he got on the highway going above the speed limit, as was his custom.
After almost thirty minutes driving, Hetfield noticed that the lights in his rear view mirror had been following him for about ten minutes. Knowing what had happened to General Osbourne, he imagined it could be another Mysteron attack, so he reduced his velocity to see if the other car would pass him. The grey car which was following him passed and positioned itself in front of Hetfield's car, increasingly slowing its speed. The grey car was really old and in very bad condition with points of rust everywhere and an engine making so loud a noise that it seemed it was going to break.
"Get this piece of junk out of my way!" shouted Hetfield.
The old car braked suddenly, and Hetfield could not avoid his car impacting, with a little jolt, the rear of the other vehicle.
Indignant, the small, humorous-looking Major got out of his car and went in the direction of the other driver, angry like a caged tiger. Everybody at the base hated him due to his arrogance and his way of talking to other people, always looking down on everyone. "What the Hell do you think you're doing, man? Where did you get your driver's license?" he inquired peremptorily. "Look what you've done driving so bad, you animal! Now, you tell me who's going to pay for this?"
The driver quietly got out of his old car and stood in front of Hetfield, looking at him with a sinister smile on that pale and unshaven face, his black hair being a good match for his black clothes.
"You don't need to be so angry, Major Hetfield," said Captain Black, whipping a gun out of his pocket. "We will repair your car, Earthman!"
Hetfield had no chance to try to defend himself or to run away. Captain Black fired at him implacably, being efficient and quick with his assassination as usual. The man who before was so proud and arrogant was now lying lifeless on the ground under the cold look of Captain Black, who then took the body, put it inside the car, released the parking brakes and shoved it down the mountainside.
Hetfields's car went down the cliff, crashing at the bottom.
Captain Black stood there on the cliff edge looking at the wreckage, and he could see when the thin green rings came from the sky and swept silently over all the destruction, vanishing then as mysteriously as they had appeared.
Some minutes later, a Mysteronized car with Major Hetfield inside drove up and stopped near Captain Black. The Mysteronized man was looking to Captain Black, waiting for the instructions of his new masters.
Captains Scarlet and Blue were already at the Hell Cowboy Base in the launching control room, talking to Major Tipton, the technical supervisor. The tall, dark-haired officer was giving the Captains all the assistance they needed and was also explaining all the YK-1 systems. "Hard to figure how the Mysterons are going to stop all this," Tipton concluded. "Our security's really tight."
"No security is impenetrable," Scarlet replied. "Even the tightest security depends on the human element--and the Mysterons look to exploit that weakness."
"This is a Mysteron detector," said Blue, showing the large device he was carrying. "It's very simple to use. When we point it at a person and activate it, it produces x-ray photographs of normal humans. In the case of Mysteron agents, it produces normal photographs. With your permission, Major, we'd like to start our work here checking all essential personnel."
"O.K., Captain Blue," answered Tipton agreeably. "You can begin with me!"
Blue snapped the detector, then pulled out the picture and showed it to Scarlet. "Negative," he reported.
"Good," Scarlet said. "One down...many to go."
Captain Blue pointed his detector at one of the technicians, but before he could use it again, one of the security guards came in his direction and stopped him. "Excuse me, sir, but you cannot do this here without official permission," the guard replied.
"Why not?" asked Scarlet angrily. "We have access to all areas here!"
"We have orders to watch both of you all the time," answered the security guard. "We also have orders to prohibit any activity which is outside the usual activities of this base, sir."
"That's absurd!" replied Scarlet. "We're not interfering with the work of anybody. If you stop us, you'll only be wasting precious time."
"Sorry, sir," continued the young soldier, "but I have my orders."
"And who gave the orders?" inquired Major Tipton.
"Major Hetfield, sir."
"I knew it!" raged Tipton. "That . . .!"
"O.K.," Blue interrupted, trying to cool everyone's tempers. "Looks like we've reached an impasse. There's no sense in taking it out on the guard; he's just following 'official' procedure. So it looks like we'd better get 'official' permission." He turned to the guard. "How do we get this 'official' permission, soldier?"
"Only from Major Hetfield, sir."
"So, take us to him now," said Scarlet with a voice which demonstrated that he was already tired of the stupid discussion.
"I...I cannot, sir," answered the poor soldier nervously, so frightened in having to face superior officers that he was pale and in a cold sweat, looking like he was going to faint. "He's working at the computers sector now and gave orders not to be disturbed until finished with his work there. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until he comes back to his office. I'll let you know, sir."
"I don't believe this!" said Scarlet, barely making an effort to hide his contempt. "And what about General Osbourne?"
"He can do it, sir, but he has not arrived yet. Only after 9:00 a.m. Sorry."
"Of all the..."
"We'll wait," Blue pronounced firmly. He knew Scarlet's patience was wearing very thin; the former WAAF colonel was not used to such open defiance by enlisted personnel, and one thing guaranteed to set Scarlet off faster than almost anything else was a disobedient lower-rank. "We can use the time to scope out other possible weaknesses in this area...right, Captain Scarlet?"
"Right," Scarlet replied in a frosty tone. Blue was right; there was no sense in losing control here. It would be exactly what the Mysterons wanted. "Let's start with the launching platform."
The YK-1 was quite huge, looking like a terrible combination of a Saturn V and a German V-2 of World War II. Painted in black and white, it carried on one of its sides the inscription "Deathbringer". Everyone who looked at that big rocket with its antiquated design could not imagine that the terror machine contained latest-generation computers, complex navigation and autoflight systems, self-defense systems, etc. It was certainly the ultimate among Earth's weapons. If it had been developed in the 20th century, mankind probably would not have reached century 21. In case of war, before reaching the target, the missile could defend itself from attacking aircraft like a conventional plane, using its defensive weapons, air-to-air missiles and cannons.
"Impressive," Blue noted.
"Indeed," Scarlet replied. "And dangerous. I shudder to think how the Mysterons could turn this against us. Remember that renegade rocket at Base Concord?"
"All too well. I'll never be able to say 'amen' again without thinking of it."
"Let's hope we're not faced with the same situation here."
"Amen to that," Blue replied.
The guard came up behind them nervously. "Sirs?" he said to get their attention.
Scarlet and Blue turned around to face him. "Yes?" Blue replied.
"General Osbourne will see you now."
"Finally," Scarlet sighed.
"This way, sirs." The soldier led the way.
Finally, Scarlet and Blue arrived at General Osbourne's office to ask for that crucial permission. Scarlet was fuming already even before the door opened. "It is ridiculous to have to ask for a permission to perform a work that would be of assistance to the base itself," he said to Blue.
"I agree," Blue replied. "I'm getting tired of this, too. It looks to me that some people in that base are more hostile than the Mysterons."
The soldier opened the door to Osbourne's office. "General Osbourne," he said, "Captains Scarlet and Blue of Spectrum to see you."
Osbourne barely nodded an acknowledgement and returned to talking to Major Hetfield about the usual problems of the base. Hetfield was so calm that it was as if the base and the whole operation were not in danger due to the latest threat from the Mysterons. Osbourne was not calm, but tried to demonstrate that he was not nervous when he greeted the captains.
"I'll be direct, General," said Blue calmly. "We need to check your personnel with our Mysteron detectors, just to be sure that there's no Mysteron agent over here yet."
"I was just informed about it, Captain Blue," answered the blustery general. "You can go ahead; Major Hetfield will inform his men about it so you'll not be interrupted again."
Blue was just about to thank Osbourne for his assistance when Scarlet swayed with that nausea and dizziness he usually suffered when there was a Mysteron in the vicinity. "Here?" Blue asked his partner, almost incredulous.
"Here," Scarlet responded, trying to fight through the sensation as Mysteron emissions clashed violently with his retrometabolic energies.
Blue nodded. Scarlet's internal Mysteron detector was at times undependable, but when it went off, danger was near. He raised the Mysteron detector and started to focus it on Osbourne.
When the paranoiac general saw Captain Blue preparing his detector, he jumped up from his comfortable chair, furious and screaming like a madman. "Who do you think is a Mysteron? Me?" Osbourne was so out of control that he was almost frothing with saliva like a dog with rabies. "This is an insult! Get out of my
office right now, or I'll lock you in the brig. I'm not a Mysteron--I'm the one who will rid Earth of them!"
"We're not playing here, General," answered Scarlet shakily. "The Mysterons can try to sabotage this operation anytime, so we don't have time to lose!"
"I said out!" answered the megalomaniac general, looking past the stares of the Spectrum officers and pointing to the office's door.
To avoid more problems with that insane man, the captains left hurriedly. "I've never met anyone as over-reactive as that man," Blue protested.
"And dangerous!" continued Scarlet.
"You're sure there was a Mysteron in there?"
"Absolutely. I'll contact Colonel White right now. If necessary, we'll get a direct order from the World President to check everybody on this base. I'll go to the highest possible rank to get the right authorization to do anything necessary to protect this base and stop the Mysterons. That last demonstration of idiot pride and egotism should be enough for anyone to believe Osbourne is dangerous..."
"Captain Blue! Captain Scarlet!"
The Spectrum captains turned around to see Major Tipton running desperately to meet them in the middle of the long corridor they were standing in. "Come on, something is happening!" he was shouting. "We've got to get to the control room. Come on!"
When they got there, Blue and Scarlet saw many red signs and alert lights indicating that Phase-3 was activated. All the engineers and technicians were working at their consoles, and a big screen at the end of the control room showed an image of the launching platform. Above it, an image of a timer was counting backwards.
"Who gave the order for this?" Captain Blue asked Major Tipton.
"Nobody. The computer did it by itself. We're trying to figure out why. I was going to call General Osbourne when I met you. I tried to call him three times but didn't get any answer."
Tipton was typing anxiously on the keyboard of the main computer control console. Scarlet and Blue were just behind him watching attentively. Suddenly, the young security guard who had talked to them in the early morning came to break their attention.
"Major Tipton!" he called with an expression of confusion on his face. "We were just informed that the body of Major Hetfield was found in the middle of the wreckage from his car, 35 miles away from here."
"What?" Tipton asked, astonished. "That's impossible. He's still on the base--Captains Scarlet and Blue saw him just minutes ago."
Scarlet and Blue looked at each other and left the control room immediately, running as fast as they could to Osbourne's office.
They arrived there with their guns in hand and positioned themselves on each side of the closed office door. Slowly Captain Blue touched the lock and began turning it, then threw the door open.
Scarlet jumped into the office, prepared to take the brunt of whatever attack the Mysterons might have in store.
Osbourne was slumped in his chair, blood running everywhere.
Captain Scarlet took his wrist. "He's still alive," he told Blue. "Call for help, then put security on alert. I've got to apprise the Colonel of the situation."
Even as the Spectrum captains were finding Osbourne's body, Hetfield was at the main gate, calmly checking out to leave the base. "Are you leaving early today, sir?" asked the entrance guard to his superior officer.
"Oh, yes. I worked almost all night long, so I need a little rest."
The soldier came to attention and saluted Hetfield. "Have a good day, sir."
Easily the Mysteronized major left the base, traveling to an unknown destination. Being the security chief and right arm of the commander of the base, he had knew he would have no trouble leaving that place.
Inside the control room, Major Tipton was ready to enter the final sequence to abort the countdown. When he pressed the "enter" key, all systems went down. Everything in the control room turned off: the big screen, all console displays, the counter; only the room lights remained on. After five seconds, a single message appeared on the monitor where Tipton was working:
"YOU WILL NEVER WIN, EARTHMEN!"
Desperately, Tipton tried to abort the countdown again and again, but nothing happened; only the single message appeared on the screen. All the engineers and technicians were standing there as if their hands were tied, since no console was operating, nothing worked.
"Dammit!" cursed Tipton. "Someone inserted a virus into the system. We've lost all programs and the control of the YK-1! In 30 minutes it will be launched to an unknown target!"
"Hetfield," Scarlet realized.
"We've got to find a solution," Blue frowned.
"What about the YK-1 inboard computers?" suggested Scarlet. "Could we not access them directly?"
"It's possible," confirmed Tipton.
"We could try to abort the countdown from there," suggested Blue.
"No, it's too complicated. We wouldn't have enough time. But we can try to access the navigational computers," said Scarlet.
"Let's go!" said Blue. "We can't lose any time."
The three men left the control room, running down the corridors that led to the subterranean launching platform. They opened the 20-inch steel door and got into the YK-1 silo and climbed a long, vertical stepladder until reaching a hatch on the second stage of the powerful missile, opened it and got inside that huge doomsday weapon. Five minutes were gone.
The compartment they were in was so small that they could barely move, but as they did not have much time, they had to work as a synchronized group. Tipton oriented Scarlet and Blue about what they had to do. Captain Scarlet was removing some specific control cards, Captain Blue was turning off some hard access circuit breakers, and Tipton was trying to get access to the YK-1 computers.
Scarlet removed the last card he had to remove, cutting the communication between the YK-1 computer and the control computers, making it possible to access the missile computer directly from the little console Tipton was working on. Just above the console screen was a little LCD display which was in place to help the computer user. It was enabled with an appropriate password.
"The target is Bombay!" screamed Tipton desperately. "They want to kill millions of defenseless people! Oh, God, why? And look, we only have 10 minutes, we won't do it! No, no, we won't!"
Tipton was so nervous that he was unable to type anything more on the keyboard with his badly-trembling hands.
Captain Scarlet put his right hands on Tipton's shoulder to soothe the scared man. "Let me take your place, Major. You're too nervous," the British captain urged, trying to show some tranquility in his voice. "It's not necessary for all of us to stay here now. Captain Blue, go and take Major Tipton with you. I'll complete the sequence to change the flight plan program."
"Come on, Blue. I can stay here for a little longer, and you know why. Now hurry up!"
"S.I.G." Taking Tipton by the arm, Blue encouraged him out of the cramped quarters.
The pair clambered down the ladder and soon arrived at the entrance door, where they stopped to wait for Captain Scarlet. "He'll never make it!" Tipton said nervously. "He'll be killed!"
"He knows that," Blue said. "That's why he has to stay. He works best under pressure."
Captain Scarlet was sweating a great deal, but was managing to reprogram the autoflight computer. He was racing against time, but was confident of his skills. He had been under pressure before, and his self-control was almost perfect, as usual. A useful side effect of retrometabolism was the ability to work through difficulties a normal man could not handle due to physical limitations--and the cramped quarters made every muscle ache as he attempted to make precision moves in a very tight space.
"O.K.," Scarlet said, as if he were talking to the computer. "And here goes the final sequence."
Scarlet entered the final sequence, having three minutes still free. He was still biting his lips hard when the computer gave him complete access to the flight plan.
"Wizard!" cried out Scarlet while entering a new destination to the lethal missile. "This has got to work!"
After finishing the reprogram, he felt that the floor was vibrating softly. That meant that the engines had been activated, so he had only minutes to leave the place. Scarlet went down on the step ladder so fast that he looked like a spider. Once on the ground, he started running with all his will, seeing his partner and Tipton at the entrance door of the silo.
At that moment he had only a few seconds, as the powerful missile engines were starting the ignition process.
The vibrations shook the entire room, and just 15 feet from the door, Scarlet stumbled and fell down on the ground. He attempted to stand again, only to have his left leg buckle under him.
Behind him a huge cloud of hot gases was beginning to billow outward from the big engines' exhaust.
Blue immediately ran back in the silo to help his partner.
"What are you doing?" Scarlet shouted in alarm. "You could be killed--get out of here!"
"And leave you to burn up? No way!" Blue answered while helping Scarlet up. "I know what I'm doing! Trust me!" He draped Scarlet's arm over his own shoulder and they began to run as if in
a three-legged race.
The fiery gases had almost reached them when Blue lifted Scarlet and jumped toward the door in a steep dive.
As soon as they were safely out of the silo, Tipton pressed the button to close the heavy door.
It slammed quickly, though not quickly enough to stop some of the hot gases from reaching them, a quantity enough to dirty all of them and to cause some very small but superficial burns.
Scarlet made sure his partner was all right, then turned an angry gaze on him. "That was too risky, Adam!"
"Piece of cake," Blue joked. "I knew I could do it with no problem, and I also knew the alternative would be too painful for you. I couldn't stand to see a friend become a barbecue. Just say 'Thank you.'"
"You're impossible!" said Scarlet exasperatedly even as a smile crossed his face. "Now, let's go back to the control room to see if my reprogramming worked."
"Can you walk?" Tipton asked. "I can call for help..."
"No time," Scarlet interrupted. "I've only turned my ankle. It's feeling better even now. And we have better things to do then wait for medical attention."
Blue knew better than to argue with Scarlet when lives were on the line. "Then let's check the skill of your handiwork," he replied, draping Scarlet's arm over his shoulder once more. "I'll call the colonel."
"This is Cloudbase--go ahead, Captain Blue."
"The Mysterons have made their move," Blue told Lieutenant Green as he, Scarlet, and Tipton reached the control room. Scarlet was trying to walk out the stiffness in his ankle, skilfully concealing the full extent of his initial injury while his retrometabolism accelerated his healing process. "Is the colonel there?"
"We've monitored that the YK-1 was launched, Captain Blue," said Colonel White in reply. "All Earth forces are on red alert. What is the situation?"
"The Mysteron agent programmed it to hit Bombay," Blue answered while watching a radar screen on a tracking console. "We reprogrammed it directly on its computers, since the control ones are out of order. There's nothing more we can do now, Colonel, except wait."
"We'll keep on monitoring, Blue. More than twenty million people hope you did the right thing with that missile."
The activity at the control room had literally stopped as everyone's eyes fixed on the radar screen, a tremendous anxiety in the air. Some people had their fingers crossed. Others were praying, and there were those who were biting their nails. Sweat was breaking out on all their faces.
All watched as the YK-1 left Earth's atmosphere, then changed its heading and went toward outer space leaving Earth orbit in minutes. The danger was gone. Everyone in the control room took their first breaths in several moments when they saw the missile going far away from Earth.
"I didn't have time to ask you, Captain Scarlet, but what was the new course you set for the YK-1?" Tipton asked with a little smile on his tired face.
"To a place where it won't cause any trouble," Scarlet answered, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe the sweat off his brow. "Let's just say that it will only increase the fuel of the Sun."
Suddenly, the guard who had stopped the Spectrum officers from doing their jobs earlier came into the control room. All looked at him to see what he had to say.
"Well, soldier, I hope you have good news this time," Blue smiled to the young guard.
"Oh, yes, sir, oh...well...I don't know...I think..."
"It's all right. Go ahead," said Blue patiently.
"General Osborne would like to see you before you leave the base, Captain Blue. And you, too, Captain Scarlet." The scared boy was trying to relax, but it wasn't easy.
Scarlet and Blue looked at each other. "Feel up to a walk to the infirmary?" Blue asked.
Scarlet flexed his ankle. "As long as they don't try to strap me to a bed," he answered. "Let's see what Osbourne wants now."
When they reached the medical facility, the big General was ready to go into surgery to have the two bullets in his stomach removed. "I just wanted to thank both of you in person for what you've done," Osbourne whispered. He had lost a great deal of blood and was very weak. "I'll be asking the World President to give you the highest possible commendation, for the both of you and for Colonel Tipton."
"That's our job, sir," Scarlet answered modestly. "We try to do the best we can. What about you? What do you intend to do when you go back to work?"
"I'm a man of the old school, with antiquated ideas. This World is not for me anymore." Osbourne said with sadness in his voice. "It's time for me to retire. Now I'll have time for an old project: To write my memoirs."
"I'm sure it'll be a best-seller, sir," Blue said, trying to raise the General's morale.
"Thank you, Captain," Osbourne said, too tired to go on with the conversation. As the surgical nurses came to wheel his pallet to the surgery center, he looked up at the pair of Spectrum officers one last time. "When you go back, tell Charlie he was correct. I'm a fool and didn't see what he saw. You have a great
leader. Always remember that!"
Under the dwindling light of the sunset, the SPJ took off, the red rays of the sun reflecting on its fuselage and accentuating the beauty of its modern lines. Blue steered the plane off toward Cloudbase's secret location far above the surface of the planet. "That's a hard way to learn a lesson," he said.
"Yes, it is," Scarlet answered. "But everybody has to learn things in his life one day, sooner or later, and this can be hard or easy. It depends on the individual."
"By the way, Osbourne gave me an idea." Scarlet was trying to change the subject to something less depressing. "Maybe one day I'll write a book with my memories."
"Well, you know, Paul, if you did something like this one day," Blue said jokingly, "it wouldn't be a book--it would be an encyclopedia!"
Both of them had a good laugh and went on contemplating the beautiful red sky on their flight back to Cloudbase.
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