The Spectrum Organization, like many of Earth’s armed forces such as the World Army-and-Air Force, retained the services of a chaplain aboard its CloudBase. This particular chaplain, whose call sign was Father Ivory, was a Roman Catholic priest who was originally from the Italy Peninsula. Yet few others aboard the CloudBase knew much about him--what kind of man he had been before he had enrolled in any seminaries or entered any armed forces corps of chaplains, what his family life had once been like, or even whether he had had any girlfriends or fiancées before entering priestly vocation.
Captain Scarlet was the first to learn the answers, and he left their meeting wishing he had never bothered to ask.
The place where he asked was Father Ivory’s quarters, which were located quite conveniently next to the CloudBase’s chapel. It had been here that the padre had performed the funeral services for not only Spectrum Organization Colonel Steven Charles Blackburn, call sign Captain Brown, after the Mysterons’s likeness of Captain Brown had attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate World President James Younger by literally exploding in proximity to him, but also the original Captain Scarlet, former World Army-and-Air Force Special Forces Colonel turned Spectrum Organization Colonel Paul Stephen Metcalfe, after the Mysterons had released their likeness of him from their control.
That day, Father Ivory had been unusually gloomy and withdrawn, and had not communicated with anyone aboard CloudBase, not even Spectrum Organization Generalissimo-Admiralissimo Charles Mason Gray, call sign Colonel White. Though he was not particularly religious and didn’t especially like chapels that much, Captain Scarlet knew that such despondency was completely unlike Father Ivory, who was normally an unfailingly cheery man.
Man. The word seemed so inappropriate to apply to either Father Ivory, because “the cloth” bound the clergy of Roman Catholicism to an ironclad oath of celibacy, or, for that matter, Captain Scarlet himself, being as he was a Mysteron likeness of the original who retained all of the original Captain Scarlet’s normal personality--but none of his mortality.
So often Father Ivory had joked about Captain Scarlet being a kind of new messias on account of his ability to resurrect himself from the dead within six hours if killed.
And so often Captain Scarlet had shot down that joke as being in appalling taste, seeing as HE had not come from another planet--only his IMMUNOLOGY had.
It was 13:50 hours on Sunday, 24 May, 2071. Less than an hour before, at 13:05 hours that afternoon, Father Ivory had finished one of his weekly services. Captain Scarlet was due for his Sunday afternoon tea with Colonel White, Dr. Fawn, and the Rhapsody Angel in ten minutes, but he had noticed that Father Ivory had been doing a poor job hiding a mien of deep-rooted grief during services. This had been particularly significant in view of the subject of his sermon, which had dealt with finding grace in the deaths of loved ones before their time.
Now, immediately outside Father Ivory’s quarters, Captain Scarlet heard the chaplain sobbing and sniffling. He knocked on the door.
“Enter,” said a mournful voice.
The hatch undogged, and Captain Scarlet walked in. What he found astonished him.
Father Ivory was crying, his eyes red from tears. The rest of his face was buried in an ivory cotton bandanna handkerchief.
But what astonished Captain Scarlet was not the sight of the normally cheery CloudBase chaplain in tears. It was three life-size photographic portraits of a most lovely young woman arranged near where he was sitting. The first portrait showed her from the front, the second from the left side, and the third from the back. In the last, she was looking over her right shoulder with a gentle smile.
But not a one of them showed her wearing a stitch of clothing anywhere on her person!
She was completely naked in all three of them!
Captain Scarlet had to confess to himself that he was more than merely astonished; he was aghast. What was a Roman Catholic priest doing with even one photograph that was so graphically explicit, least of all THREE such photographs? They had to swear oaths of celibacy upon entrance into holy orders, for pity’s sake!
Gasping audibly, Captain Scarlet spluttered in shock, “A-a Catholic priest keeping pornography in his possession?” Other words failed him. “Y-y-y-you?”
Father Ivory turned around to face him, pulling the ivory handkerchief away from his nose and mouth. “No,” said he. “Not pornography. Art.”
“But who shot those photographs?”
“The same woman shown in all three of them shot them of herself,” Father Ivory explained with tears in his eyes. “Her name was Gabriella Panettieri. She made her living as an artist’s model and photographer.” He lowered his head in grief. “She died on this very day in 2055, sixteen years ago, at the age of twenty-two.” He motioned Captain Scarlet closer. “Study her face. Ignore that she wore nothing when she shot and posed for these photographs three weeks before her death.”
Captain Scarlet walked over to the photographic triptych. Examining the first photograph, he did as Father Ivory had instructed and studied her face. It was heart-shaped and framed in Titian-red hair that fell around the head in loose wavy locks. Brilliant green eyes bordering a straight nose seemed to look directly through him from the photographic print.
With a sudden start of recognition, Captain Scarlet realized that he could just as easily have been beholding the Rhapsody Angel’s sister!
“So that was why you almost fainted from disbelief when you saw Rhapsody for the first time,” he whispered. “What kind of person was this Gabriella Panettieri to know?”
“In order to tell you that, Captain Scarlet, I have to explain what kind of person I was to know when I originally knew her,” Father Ivory answered. “I am Italian, that much you and everyone else knows about me. My revered father, Don Dante Giuseppe Bellisario, and my beloved mother, the former Signorina Concetta Maria Verdi, operated an art studio in Turin after they and I moved there from Rome, where I was born. When I was but seventeen years of age, I met Gabriella there for the first time. She was a year my senior, and knew so much more of the world than I did. Our birthdays were but nine days separated; hers was 11 January and mine is 20 January.”
“What kind of person were you to know then?”
“Young...reckless...and so very innocent. I had never before faced death.”
“So you were a carefree rake in those days, eh, padre? A gay young blade? Quite the ladies’ man back in Turin?” Captain Scarlet chuckled in amusement, finding the idea difficult to believe. “Hardly the kind of young fellow who’d want to settle down!”
“I told you that I was very innocent at the time!” The chaplain’s voice clearly reflected the agony he was feeling. “There were several willing young ladies in Turin whom I dated; though they were free and full of life, they knew that I was not the kind to take unfair advantage of them. They were willing to wait for their wedding day to share what so many married couples consider that glorious night.”
Captain Scarlet nodded. He knew what Father Ivory meant.
“We shared so many tarantellas and so much amore, though it was never serious enough to go to the sharing of that glorious night,” Father Ivory went on. “I knew that it was a special night, and I hoped one day to share it with my own bride, as so many of my countrymen do.”
“Years ago, travelers to France or Italy were warned, ’Watch your daughter.’ Those who went to Greece were advised, ’Watch your son.’ And those who traveled to Latin America or Africa were told, ’Don’t drink the water there.’” The retro-metabolic human shrugged. “You must have been one of those Italian men about whom those travelers to Italy were warned.”
“I could have been. Years ago. But during those years, I thought I had all the time in the Universe. That all changed in late May of 2055, when Bereznik invaded Italy.”
Captain Scarlet nodded sadly. That was the unprovoked attack in consequence of which his own paternal grandfather, WAAF Major General Arthur Dale Metcalfe, had been killed in action during the fierce conflict, the Bereznik-Italy War, that had resulted. Though it had lasted only six months, it had devastated many great Italian cities before Bereznik had finally lost, thanks to the intervention of the World Armed Forces. Rome and Turin had been among those.
“How the Bereznikans smuggled themselves into Turin did not become clear till a year later. But smuggle themselves into Turin they did, and over the latter half of May, they waged guerrilla war on the city. Sixteen years ago today, they bombed my parents’ art studio. My parents were there, and so were Gabriella and me. I still cannot forget the sudden explosion of the darkroom in which she had developed and printed the photographs not eight days before. I heard the blast and saw the ball of flames as I re-entered the studio, and I immediately ran to the darkroom, in which I knew Gabriella had been working that morning. She was sprawled on the floor of her own darkroom, bleeding in spurts from where the blast had torn open her arteries. The look of pain and terror in her eyes was agonizing to see. She died in my arms in a matter of hours. My parents were lying near her all that time, dead. The same blast that had slowly killed her had killed them both instantly.”
“But why would you attach so much significance to her? After all, you’ve seen your share of death yourself--men killed in battle, brides killed at the altar when the churches where they were to be married were destroyed, and so on. Why her?”
“Because Gabriella Panettieri was the most special woman I ever knew in my life.” Father Ivory found that he had to pause, wipe tears from his eyes, and clear his throat before he could explain. And even then, he still could not face Captain Scarlet directly as he spoke.
“That woman would have been Doña Bartolomeo Dominic Bellisario had she lived.”
The retro-metabolic human seemed not to understand what Father Ivory was saying for a brief moment. Then all of a sudden, the import of the chaplain’s statement struck him with all the force of a bazooka rocket.
“You wanted to MARRY her?” he gasped. “Is that what you’re telling me? You, the Spectrum Organization’s Father Ivory, a priest in a Christian denomination whose clergy have to swear oaths of celibacy, wanted her to be your WIFE??”
“Yes, I did,” Father Ivory confessed. “We were less than two weeks from joining in holy matrimony when Gabriella died. She meant so much more to me than life itself did...when she still lived.” Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “That bomb that killed her almost drove me to my own suicide.”
“And yet you’re still alive! Why?”
“Because my own confessor bade me travel to Rome, my birthplace. There, he said, I might learn what God wanted me to do. So that was what I did. By the time I reached Vatican City itself, it was full night. Entering Saint John Lateran Cathedral, the bishop’s chair of the Holy Father, I prayed that I might learn what He wished me to become. And my prayer was answered.
“’When you see the next mortal to enter this house of prayer,’ He said within my mind, ’ask that mortal what he or she does, or allow him or her to tell you. Whatever that mortal does is My plan for you.’
“For three days and three nights, I stayed in the Lateran Cathedral, neither sleeping nor eating as I waited for some other person to enter. Finally, on the morning of the fourth day, I saw a man in World Army-and-Air Force dress uniform enter, cross himself, genuflect, and kneel in prayer. I rose from where I had been spending the night in prayer, walked over to him, and studied the devices and insignia that his uniform bore. To my amazement, one of them, which adorned his shirt collar, was a Christian cross!
“He was a chaplain!
“I looked down at his dress shoes. The right shoe was creased from numerous genuflections! He was a Roman Catholic--a son of the Church!
“I lingered in his presence but a minute, then returned to where I had been kneeling. But my study of him had not gone unnoticed. At length he rose and walked over to where I knelt.
“Speaking in Italian, which is my first language, he asked me, ’What troubles you, my son?’
“His Italian was not the best, but I did not care. Responding in the same language, I answered, ’The young woman I was to marry today is dead. I am here, in the Cathedral of the Holy Father, to learn what God wants me to do with my life. For if I have no mate, then I have no direction of my own to take.’
“Switching to the English language, in the speaking of which I am also fluent, he answered, ’Why not join the World Army-and-Air Force Corps Of Chaplains, as I did? It can provide you with some sort of direction in your life. It did that for me.’
“I knew it was impudent of me to ask, but I could not avoid voicing my concerns, asking, ’How do I know you’re not one of Satan’s slaves attempting to lead me into the ways of war and evil?’
“’Have faith, my son. Trust in the Almighty Father and He will be more than willing to welcome you into His holy orders. And don’t be so much like Thomas the Apostle. What we do is greater than any evil associated with war or the fighting of it. Ours, my son, is the faith of the Prince Of Peace.’
“’Faith,’ I repeated. ’How can a native of Rome who grew up in Turin argue with that?’
“The WAAF chaplain left, and so did I. But I was no longer the Bartolomeo Dominic Bellisario who had entered the Saint John Lateran Cathedral. That Bartolomeo Dominic Bellisario had died with his wife-to-have-been. In his stead there was a new Bartolomeo Dominic Bellisario, one who was now determined to dedicate his life to God.
“I notified my confessor, by telephone, that I would no longer reside in Turin. My boyhood home, which, when life had been carefree, had been heavenly to me, was now, in the burdened state in which I still remain even to this day, hellish.
“One return would I make, and one alone: to assist in the funeral of my fiancée. Once that duty had ended, I would quit Turin forever. But with me, I would take one item that reminded me of her as well as every item that helped me to remember why I had made my choice.”
Captain Scarlet nodded comprehendingly.
“And that...one item you took...to remind you of her...is Gabriella Panettieri’s triptych of life-size photographic nude self-portraits. Forgive me for being shocked earlier, padre, but they didn’t seem to make any sense in context of what I know about you. It’s always seemed rather strange to me that a Roman Catholic priest would maintain photographs that almost qualify as pornography.”
“You have to remember, Captain Scarlet, that Gabriella did not view her nudes as being smutty. To her, they were artistic. She was an artist as well as a model, and these photographs were shot as art, not to arouse lust.”
“They also serve to remind you that you willingly sacrificed the company of women when you took the collar?”
Father Ivory nodded.
“Gabriella was buried nude, at her insistence, in an open-coffin ceremony. This intended no sexual impropriety. It was meant to remind the mourners that as we enter this life without clothes, so too, in effect, do we also leave life the same way. The day after the burial, I gathered my personal effects and left Turin forever. With it, I left behind any hopes of ever marrying any woman ever again.”
“But it has been your honor to perform your share of marriages.”
“That privilege I did not gain for four long years after Gabriella died. For that was how long I studied in Il Università Nordamericana Pontifical in Rome before volunteering for the WAAF chaplaincy. I was accepted the very day I took Roman Catholic holy orders. I also earned a Doctor of Divinity degree and a master’s degree in political science on that day--the Pontifical North American College, the seminary where I studied, has also trained many of the Vatican’s ambassadors to other countries. My skills as a diplomat and my high survival quotient, both proven when other WAAF chaplains were being killed in action in frighteningly high numbers, brought me through the ranks more quickly than most, to full colonelship in the WAAF at a very young age--the age of thirty-one. Only you, Paul Stephen Metcalfe, made full colonel at a younger age than I did.”
“That was because I served in the Special Forces as the WAAF’s top weapons expert.”
“Then came the first meeting I had with Conrad Turner.”
"Scarlet, you were his best student when he ran Koala Base - but his entire life, even before he fell victim to the Mysterons, was dedicated to fighting. He got burned in the course of all that fighting; I serve in the Spectrum now because he nearly got himself killed trying to set up that base. Like you, Black did not consider himself particularly religious, even though he had been brought up Anglican, as you were. But when he was near death, it was I who helped him find the strength he needed to survive. Mentioning, offhand, that I was a chaplain in the WAAF with the rank of full colonel, I asked him if he believed the Spectrum needed a Corps Of Chaplains.
“’I can’t think of anyone I would rather have as the Chief of such a corps except you,’ he answered. ’I’ll submit your application to Colonel White once Dr. Fawn certifies me able to return to duty.’”
Father Ivory wiped tears from his eyes as he finished his reminiscences. “I requested and received the call sign of Father Ivory as soon as my application was approved. The two months that followed were some of the most difficult training I had ever taken in my life. The one difference between mine and yours that made any difference was that I was trained without weapons, and any training in fighting that I received was strictly in unarmed hand-to-hand combat – always intended NEVER to kill.”
Captain Scarlet smiled comprehendingly. Chaplains in armed forces tended to be recruited from the ranks of clergy, and since the prohibition on killing was to be found in the tenets of just about every major organized religion that there was, they had never been permitted to carry weapons. That did not mean, the retro-metabolic human knew now, that they were allowed to be completely incapable of defending themselves. They were simply not allowed to attack.
But his smile faded as he confessed, “I always wondered why armed forces tended to give such of their chaplains as you military training, seeing as your main purpose in an armed force, and your intended duty schedule and responsibility list, is expressly not military. Now I know.
“And I’m sorry that you had to lose the love of your life to find its purpose. I have a sense now that you must be feeling as lost as I was for a rather long time after I managed to escape the control of the Mysterons.”
With that, he left the chaplain’s quarters. As he did, he looked back once. In so looking back, he could see that Father Ivory had bowed his head in sorrow, but no longer had tears in his eyes. He surmised that the chaplain, who had once been World Army-and-Air Force Corps Of Chaplains Colonel Bartolomeo Dominic Bellisario and was now Spectrum Organization Colonel Bartolomeo Dominic Bellisario, had finally made at least some measure of peace with his past and his loss.
The indestructible Captain Scarlet wished he had never bothered to ask Father Ivory why he gave so much import to that particular day of the year. But he also considered, as he did, that perhaps if losing a fiancée before you were due to marry could shatter such a man as Father Ivory, then it was only a more painful demonstration that no one--not even such a possessor of the super-humanoid power of retro-metabolism as himself--was truly indestructible.
EDITOR’S NOTES :
The previous story is the author’s own vision of the story of Father Ivory, character created by M.J. Rudy for her stories. The name of ‘Steve Blackburn’ for Captain Brown also has been created by M.J. Rudy, while Arthur Metcalfe mentioned in this story was created by Chris Bishop. These characters have been used without the prior consent of their creators.
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