Author’s notes ….
A novelisation (after a fashion) of the episode ‘Manhunt’ [written by Tony Barwick]. Though I have taken a few liberties with the dialogue and made, in some cases major, embellishments.
Eternal gratitude to Chris Bishop and Marion Woods; for being such excellent, tactful and thorough betas.
The title was Marion’s suggestion.
By Sage Harper
We found out today that the Mysterons too can make major mistakes.
Captain Black had been spotted after breaking into the Culver Atomic Centre, though we had no idea why he’d be there, and ended up becoming exposed to a short life isotope. So it was up to us to find him by tracking him as a radio active source.
It was probably the biggest break we would ever get, a chance to capture Black. So we listened very attentively to what Colonel White had to say, completely psyched at the challenge. Would like to say I gave it my undivided attention, but, umm, well, that’s not strictly true.
I tried to, of course, but I just couldn’t help stealing glances at Symphony. She was right next to me, so close I could smell her perfume. It was so gloriously intoxicating. Good thing we weren’t there too long or I may very well have been compelled to do something very unprofessional, if you see what I mean.
“Guess we’ll have to take a rain check on the coffee,” Symphony said as we walked back from the officers’ lounge.
“Yeah, oh well, some other time, eh?”
“Sure, I’d like that.”
We had to split off at that point; her to Angel One, Scarlet and I to the hangar.
“See you later, Symphony,” I called by way of goodbye.
I nearly always call her Symphony. It’s not like I don’t know her real name or anything. It’s 'Karen' by the way, which is nice enough but just so mundane. Such an exceptional person needs a name to suit, and 'Symphony' fits the bill. I really should explain that to her sometime. In case she has the wrong idea and thinks I’m being impersonal.
When we got into the SPJ, Scarlet gave me a knowing look.
“Yeah, you know, hot caffeinated beverage?”
“Oh, that’s what it is … hope you don’t make it yourself, you wouldn’t want to scare her off.”
“Right, thanks for the tip, buddy. Here’s one for you: butt out.”
“All right. Sheesh… no need to be so touchy.”
Good thing he’s indestructible or I’d have beaten him to a pulp. Okay, he’s my best friend and everything, but God, sometimes he can be so annoying.
“I was just making conversation. You’re not angry, are you, Adam?”
“Nah… course not.”
“Good. I can’t have a field partner who won’t speak to me.”
Obviously not, it was more than that though. Sure we had our bickering and disagreements but ultimately we get on too well for any bad feeling to last.
Our first task was to go to Stone Point Village to pick up an SPV. Black had been spotted in that area, and tracked by the Geiger counters in the observation vans. A few local personnel were manning those, with Grey over seeing the operations. Everything seemed to be going so well; which of course is never a good omen.
When we reached the gas station where the SPV was stashed, there didn’t seem anyone around at first. Then the mechanic appeared. He said he was expecting us and also said some other stuff that didn’t seem quite right. I just dismissed that as me being paranoid; after all, Scarlet was giving no hint of the guy being a Mysteron. He has this whole sixth sense for detecting them.
The mechanic went off to get the key behind a counter, and I was about ready to follow him. Scarlet stopped me though, and it all fitted into place. It seemed like watching a movie as the mechanic pulled out a gun and Scarlet shot him through the glass.
The whole thing was all over in a few seconds. The look on Scarlet’s face will always stay with me, though. It was almost identical to the expression he had while shooting at me, at the Car-Vu not so long ago. He was one of them that day, and even though I don’t doubt he is completely back with us now, he still gets that cold look, like his humanity has evaporated. Though I guess maybe that’s just the soldier in him.
“Guess you knew it was a trap,” I said.
“I suspected it,” he retorted.
“How?” I asked, having pretty much figured it out but wanting to get his perspective too. Helps to clarify we’re thinking along the same lines.
“He didn’t ask for our identification,” he said, simply.
Yeah, that’s what I’d figured.
I know how that must look to some people, like he’s the super-hero and I’m just the sidekick. Ochre often teases about me being Scarlet’s puppy or something. It’s really not like that, though. We’ve just figured out a dynamic that works; Paul works best when he’s in charge, and by taking the ‘sidekick’ role, I can temper him. It doesn’t bother me what the others say and think. You can’t truly understand how a relationship works from being an outside observer.
We checked everything out. We found the mechanic’s body – the real one. This never gets any easier. Even if it’s not really our job – cleaning up, after the incident, I mean. We just got running round saving the day, and looking all dashing in our uniforms, while Spectrum’s ‘civilian affairs’ department work in sorting out this stuff. Don’t know how they do it. Must just switch off any emotion and not consider that only hours ago that body was an actual person, with family and friends who will grieve for him.
I’ve seen death so many times before and it’s not pretty or peaceful. The look of pain and fear in the eyes of the dying says as much. Paul still has that look when he gets mortally wounded, even though everyone is confident that by the next day he won’t have anything to show for it. The doctors can bang on about the ‘amazingness’ of retrometabolism, but they don’t see him dying. It’s so crazy to think that. He’s like a weeble toy: he gets knocked about but never stays down.
Of course I’m the one who sees everything. Who sits and comforts him far beyond the point when he couldn’t even tell I was there. It just makes me feel better, probably serves as a comfort to Paul as well, never thought to ask. “Don’t get your prints on anything,” I absentmindedly told Paul as he wandered around snooping. “We wouldn’t want to mess up the evidence.”
He rolled his eyes, insisted that ‘he knew’ and carried on.
We realised Black had been here, but was long gone with the SPV. Killing the mechanic to get it, obviously. This apparently wasn’t going to be a simple mission after all – but then when do we ever have those?
Finally, some proper action. Brad – I mean Captain Grey – managed to get a fix on Black. So the chase was on, trying to find Black after he’d apparently left the road with that stolen SPV. I let Scarlet drive; he’s better at all this hot pursuit business. And if he drives, then I’m spared him giving me a running commentary of how I should handle the car. Sometimes I feel like grinding to a halt and announcing that, ‘actually Paul, I do know how to freaking drive’.
Would be a bit hypocritical though, seeing as I can be just as bad.
We drove past a field with a broken fence, and I saw fresh tire tracks.
“Hey, that could be it,” I said.
So Scarlet stopped and reversed back. There was no one else around, they must know Scarlet is on the road and have decided to leave it to him. Not that Scarlet isn’t a good driver; at least he can get from A to B without crashing… most of the time. I just think that sometimes he forgets that we are driving ordinary civilian type vehicles on normal roads, rather than haring around in a tank or something.
Well obviously, Black had been there. Fresh SPV tracks are pretty distinct. They neatly looped through, then went out to the road.
Having clearly been too late to stop Black, I could tell Scarlet was steaming. Most people get the impression he is emotionless when on duty. Which is kinda true compared to other officers, but having worked with him for such a long time already, I can pick up the subtle changes in his mood.
“Come on, we’d better head back,” he said, grudgingly walking back to the car. He can’t handle near misses very well; he always takes them way too personally.
It was then I saw something glinting in the grass and picked it up.
“What have you got?” Scarlet asked, still eager to get back.
“A medallion,” I said absentmindedly, taking in its familiarity, which was so at odds with the setting. “It’s Symphony’s.”
He came over to have a look.
“Are you sure?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Of course, it’s hers; I gave it to her for her birthday. Remember?”
He seemed distracted by something in the distance.
“You’re right. And look over there.”
We looked at each other and gave wry smiles, for being so dumb for not noticing the freaking great plane until now.
Then it truly dawned on us that the plane was Angel One, which had come to rest in a grove in the corner of the field. For a moment I couldn’t bring myself to consider what that must mean.
There was no sign of a struggle or anyone around.
“He must have taken her, as a hostage,” I said, feeling a total numb shock wash over me.
“That seems the most likely thing. She must have attempted to intercept him.”
Scarlet reported the situation to Colonel White, while I walked back to the car. Still with the medallion in my hand.
For that moment, I hated Symphony. It came as such a surprise, having done quite the opposite for so long. I hated her for disobeying orders, and ruining the plan. For being her typical Capricorn self: charging on ahead, stubbornly, and not thinking.
Most of all, though, I hated the way it made me feel; the worry curdling in my stomach, making me want to throw up. It felt like Black had taken part of me hostage too.
Grey radioed through, to give us the latest development concerning the chase, just before Scarlet got back to the car.
“Grey says that Black’s gone back to Culver,” Scarlet said.
“Yeah, I heard.”
So he started the car and we headed back to the road, the way we came.
“Black must have realised he was radio-active and be attempting to disguise his own radiation by going back at the Centre,” he hypothesised.
I just carried on looking out the window, lost in my own thoughts.
How stupid could she be? Was she trying to reason with him or something? Well, sorry, Doll, but it’s probably a bit far gone for that! Him being possessed by evil aliens and all… God, that sounds like something from a B movie! Is that why everything is secret, because anyone outside the organisation would just laugh at the absurdity? Or be totally freaked out, I suppose.
Then all the worst case scenarios started to play over in my head.
“The radiation is good for another twenty-four hours; he can’t have got far,” Scarlet said. “Come on, Adam,” he added, perhaps a little too bluntly.
His voice seemed so disconnected and far away. Even though I was right next to him.
“Adam,” he said again, this time his voice softer. That finally snapped me out of it.
“Better not let the colonel hear you call me that,” I teased.
He grinned, as if to say, ‘welcome back, buddy’.
“Yes sir, Captain Blue.”
I smiled back; couldn’t help it.
“SIG Captain Scarlet. Let’s go get him.”
And after all that, we sat around waiting at Culver, for hours. We knew Black was hiding there – we could see the SPV in the compound. Seriously though, the only plan of action was to wait it out in the security guards’ office, just sitting there; though for a bit of variety, we could always pace the floor.
Well, this sure as hell wasn’t in the job spec.
“Are we just going to sit around looking at each other?” I demanded.
“Our orders are to wait.”
Oh great, now even the super-impetuous Scarlet was against me.
“I’m going in,” I announced, because, hey, I can be rash and stupid too.
“No, you are going to wait with the rest of us. Playing the hero will do no good.”
“What about Symphony?”
There was a twinge of hysteria in my voice, unsurprising considering that I’d been imagining the worst, over and over, for hours. Scarlet put a hand on my shoulder, whether to comfort or restrain me was impossible to tell.
“I just hope she’s all right.”
Well, gee, Paul, that’s so comforting. Symphony could be dying somewhere but you won’t do anything about it because for once in your damn life you want to go by the book?
So of course I sat, waiting some more, stewing it over. Giving Paul the worst evils, which he never saw, having his back turned on me, playing solitaire the whole time. That and tea is his usual essentially British response to a crisis. Oddly comforting I guess, but not a fat lot of help in practical terms.
At last, something happened. Reports came that the SPV in the compound was starting to move. There was really no need for comment, but a babble broke out as everyone had their say and the adrenalin started pumping. Action, at last! We all headed out to the gate. There was probably no reason for us all to be there, but we were all desperate for a piece of the action. Maybe we should have realised the mistake of deserting the other posts, but at the time our only concern was capturing Black.
Disjointed voices I didn’t care to identify came in bursts;
“He’s crashed the gates.”
“Blue and I will follow.”
“Alert the roadblocks, he’s heading straight for Ochre’s.”
“SIG … Stand by, Captain.”
All things considered, I love these moments. When everything swings together and the action flows, with us keeping our heads, but feeling the exhilaration bubbling in our gut. It’s the kind of thing you dream of as a kid. But this time was different; all I had felt was a leaden dread, turning my blood cold at the thought of what might happen next, to Symphony. They really should have written something into the training manual about how you’re supposed to deal with these things.
The driver of the SPV, noticing the roadblock, swung off the road, and, misjudging the tightness of the necessary turn, ploughed straight into a tree.
Can’t imagine the maintenance department being happy about that. Come to think of it, the Forestry Commission won’t be best pleased either.
Cars screeched to a halt and the flood lights kicked into life; but the SPV door stayed shut.
Hmm… OK, a stand off; that was covered in the training manual, can totally deal with that.
Scarlet grabbed the megaphone (Spectrum issue; compact but effective, according to the brochure) and acted out what could only be described as a cop movie cliché.
“Captain Black, you are surrounded. Come out with your hands up.”
Everyone waited, almost not daring to breathe; Scarlet was of course the ring master of our little circus. What are they all waiting for? We needed to get in there, to save Symphony. That was why we were there, right?
The standard procedure is to wait for a minute. Though obviously being nearly as impatient as me, Scarlet only managed thirty seconds.
“All right, we’re coming in.”
Then he looked to me for moral support.
“Don’t look at me, you said it,” I muttered.
Well honestly, would you march up to some guy possessed by evil aliens with even a second’s hesitation? Nah, didn’t think so. Besides we needed a strategy. We couldn’t just barge in. Anything could go wrong; Symphony could be used as a shield for a start. If she was still alive, of course… but I couldn’t bring myself to think that. I had to believe this would all turn out fine.
What the hell was wrong with me – I’m a trained officer, why couldn’t I just do what I knew I should? Scarlet was starting to give me pitying looks… I really hoped no one else had noticed.
“It’s too quiet,” Scarlet noted.
There was a hint of fear in his voice; having got so wrapped up in my own thought, I had almost forgotten he was even there. I started to feel bad for snapping at him earlier. Of course he cared about Symphony. She was like a kid sister to him.
“Well, go find out why.” My impatience was making me flippant. “You did just say you would.”
“We would.” He gave a knowing look. That he understood my response had as much to with my feelings about Symphony as doing my duty.
“Yeah, ‘course, after you, my indestructible comrade.”
Captain Scarlet did go first, stepping into the dark interior of the SPV. We both braced ourselves for coming face to face with Captain Black - once Spectrum’s best asset, now its most feared enemy. Scarlet checked his gun and I tried to suppress my twitching nerves.
He shone his torch around inside. It was deathly quiet; I was so tensed up and oddly out of sync it felt like everything was underwater.
“Symphony!” he exclaimed after a moment.
He stood aside and I passed, not caring about anything else, just needing to see her.
She was slumped against the far side, apparently unconscious, in the driver’s seat.
No sign of Black, but right then I truly didn’t care. I was just so relieved to see her.
After what seemed like an eternity, but could only have been a moment, Symphony murmured softly and her eyes flickered open. Remembering where she was and probably her recent ordeal, her eyes widened in terror.
“It’s okay, honey, it’s over now.”
She looked to me, and recognising me, knew she was now going to be all right, then burst into tears. Instinctively I closed the gap between us and held her.
“Hey, come on, it’s all right … I’m here … he can’t hurt you anymore.”
Scarlet pretended not to have seen or heard anything ‘unofficial’, stepping away discreetly to give us a moment alone.
During the journey back to Cloudbase, Symphony said very little, which was a contrast to her usual good-natured banter. She was withdrawn, leaving a vulnerable scared shell, and pulling the thermal blanket tighter round herself; not because of the cold, but of the still present fear that Black would appear and inflict more damage. I didn’t want to think what he might have done to her, my blood boiling with impotent rage at her suffering. It hurt so badly to watch her like this, but I couldn’t leave her.
The silence ended up being oppressive. Obviously, I was going to have to say something, anything, the first thing that came to mind. Which happened to be a dirty joke. So I told it to her, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, she laughed. Possibly just with the sheer exhilaration of the mood lifting, but it was me that prompted it. That was better than any sweet nothings.
The colonel called us to the control room for a debriefing as soon as we touched down. We had to be serious and sensible for that, which was a shame. By that point Symphony and I, giddy with relief, had been telling progressively more obscene jokes. Really hadn’t expected her to have such a repertoire; she always seemed such a clean-cut country girl.
Just like I’m a high-class, super-rich Bostonian. Hmm… touché.
“How are you feeling, Symphony?” the colonel asked. His voice, usually void of emotion, showed great concern for her. He really does care about the girls. They’re like surrogate daughters to him – or something.
“She’s fine, Colonel, just badly shaken,” I answered on her behalf, reaching across under the table and giving her hand a gentle squeeze. It was almost a reflex.
Then she found her voice.
“I’m sorry, Sir; I feel I let you down.”
“It’s all right, Symphony,” White reassured her. “But remember, initiative should never clash with discipline.”
I thought that was a fucking cheek. If we followed all the rules we would never get any work done. He should know that from me and Scarlet.
“Yes sir,” Symphony bowed her head slightly, reprimanded.
Between the three of us, we filled Symphony in. Explained how Captain Black had made her radioactive and let her escape as a diversion while he removed his own radiation and left through the unguarded gate. To be honest, it made us look really stupid, and I know everyone was really pissed about Black slipping by.
The colonel then dismissed us.
“Symphony, one thing puzzles me,” Lieutenant Green said as we were about to leave.
“Why didn’t you stop the SPV just outside the gate?”
With a hint of a smile she replied, “Don’t tell anyone this, Lieutenant: but that’s the first time I’ve ever driven an SPV!”
I made a mental note to bring that up at the next meeting, in such a way that wouldn’t embarrass her, of course. She probably didn’t even know I’d overheard.
Scarlet was walking with me, and could tell I was riled about something.
“Go on, out with it, I’m ready,” he said.
“What does the colonel mean: ‘initiative should never clash with discipline’?” I ranted. “How’s that supposed to work? Anyway, what about all the times we did just that and got praised?”
“He does have a valid point. Symphony was reckless, landing and following Black like that,” Scarlet tried to pacify me. “You can’t seriously expect him to say ‘oh that’s fine, but be more careful in future’. There has to be some kind of reprimand, for the record. Anyway I think she got off rather lightly.”
He was right, but there was no way I was going to back down.
“That is no excuse for him to lay into her, anyone could see how shaken up she was; she learned her lesson,” I insisted.
“So Karen can do the most stupid things imaginable and you will rush to her defence?” Scarlet queried. “How sweet!”
Argh! That was tough to answer.
He looked thoughtfully for a moment.
“You really do love her, don’t you?”
Whaaat? Where’d that spring from? … God, I must have been carrying on like a love-sick kid for him to notice! That was even worse than anything he could say.
I didn’t answer, and luckily he let it drop. The answer was obvious, for me at least. Still, I couldn’t say anything. It was none of his business, and anyway he probably had it figured out already.
He didn’t give any indication of taking my silence as confirmation.
“Well, I am going to go write my report, then head for the gym,” he said to change the subject. “Fancy coming along?”
It was one of our long standing jokes; I hate the gym. Anything is better than trundling along on the treadmill like a hamster. Not that I don't keep in good shape, you have to for this job, but I only put in the bare minimum there. Would rather be water skiing any day.
“No thanks, pal, I’m gonna get something to eat… See you later.”
By the time I had finished my own report, the alarm clock’s luminous screen read 23:15. It had taken longer than I’d expected. So much had happened I had to figure out what was right to say in an official document.
Behind the clock is a photograph of Symphony in a silver frame. Couldn’t really see the details of it but didn’t need to - I knew it so well. The picture was of Symphony riding a horse when she was staying at her mother’s ranch just before joining Spectrum.
The whole light and atmosphere of the photo made it so perfect. It was obvious how happy she was and her smile warmed even within a picture. It was nothing like how fragile she appeared after today.
I got up and decided to walk without figuring out a destination.
Symphony was on the promenade deck. The haunted look still on her face as she watched a solitary cloud drift across the sky.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
I so badly wanted to do something; reassure her, hold her, make everything all right.
Well anyway, I just couldn’t get up the bottle to do anything more than stand beside her, watching the sky.
“No, I couldn’t sleep.” She was going to say more, but held back. “Guess you couldn’t sleep either, right?”
“I haven’t actually tried, had to finish my report. Then I wanted to check you were okay, because, well, you know.”
“Hmm… You know Ads, I don’t think I do.”
In my head, the words came in a flurry. The most obvious screaming out above the rest. I couldn’t say that, though. It wouldn’t be right to. She was vulnerable and might think … then there were all the other doubts.
“I, umm, care about you … a lot.”
Oh, for fuck sake, Svenson… That the best you can do?
“Ah! So that would explain you wanting to march in and rescue me,” she grinned, her normal self breaking though.
“Yeah, Black probably would have killed both of us if I had. Good thing Scarlet talked me out of it, all things considered.”
You’re babbling, shut up.
“I think it’s real sweet you wanted to save me. Got my very own knight in shining armour.” She gave a coy smile.
“Well, I don’t know about that. I didn’t actually save you.”
“It’s the thought that counts.”
Symphony gave a yawn, and that started me off too.
“We really should get to bed,” I said. “Come on, I’ll walk you back.”
She started to protest, as the Angels’ quarters were about as far out of my way as possible. Then she smiled, knowing I wasn’t going to back down.
“That’s real nice of you,” she said, taking my proffered arm.
We didn’t say a word until we reached her door, too engrossed in our own thoughts.
“You’ve been really great, thanks,” she said.
I nearly told her, right there and then; but of course, I found an excuse not to. Same as all the other times.
“It wasn’t a big deal or anything.”
“Well, it was a big deal to me,” she gently insisted. “So thank you.”
“Ah, ever the perfect gentleman,” she smiled.
Then I remembered something.
“Here’s your medallion, I guess you’ll be wanting it back.”
“Oh Adam, thank you! I thought I’d never see it again.” She leaned in closer and kissed me on the cheek.
“It’s no big deal… Well, umm, good night,” I managed to splutter.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk to her without morphing into a babbling moron.
“Yeah, night, Ads. Sweet dreams.”
I don’t think I’d fooled her for a moment – her smile was far too knowing and her eyes sparkled with a light that had been missing since Culver.
Strolling back toward my own quarters I replayed the kiss. It wasn’t the first time she had ever kissed me. Karen was pretty and demonstrative, ‘touchy-feely’ I guess, with her friends. Almost always in the company of at least one of the guys; I get the feeling Pat has a crush on her, but don’t think the others do. They haven’t noticed the way I feel about her, or at least I hope not.
So really I was probably making way too much of it.
Still, I smiled remembering how I could smell her scent as she leaned closer, feel softness and warmth of her lips. My desperate desire to reach for her, prolong the bliss of it. Not that I actually did, of course.
For all my despair of Ochre’s behaviour, I do envy him sometimes. How he can be so open with his feelings, and near effortlessly charm into bed almost every woman that takes his fancy. Why do I always have to be ‘the perfect gentleman’ when the opposite looks so appealing?
As for sweet dreams … oh, they would be, that was a given. I tried not to read too much into it. I couldn’t anyway, with sleep rapidly catching up with me.
Figure it out in the morning.
Seems like a good plan. I’ll go sit with her some place quiet, and talk, over coffee.
Which, no, I won’t make myself.
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