His choice of language wasn’t exactly becoming of a Spectrum officer.
Surprised, she looked up from her report, as he dashed inside and slammed the door shut.
“Paul, what on earth is the matter?”
To Rhapsody, it seemed as if the man she knew and loved, Paul Metcalfe aka the fearless Captain Scarlet, had gone AWOL and that someone had taken his place, looking exactly like him, but with an attitude that led them into uncharted waters. As this was not the first time such a thing had happened she didn’t quite know how to react.
He turned to her, for a moment, then spoke:
“Snake,” he said.
If Rhapsody had expected elaboration, she wasn’t going to get it. Really though, any explanation was unnecessary; it was obvious to anyone that Scarlet was utterly terrified and in a state of hyper attention at the window of Spectrum Headquarters London.
“Was it an adder?” she asked gently.
“How the hell should I know!” he retorted. “I wasn’t particularly inclined to stick around long enough to check.”
“Wouldn’t make much difference anyway,” he admitted. “I, umm, don’t like snakes much.”
“I can see that,” Rhapsody walked over and rested a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right, darling, really. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone gets scared …”
“I am not scared,” Scarlet stated. “That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? After all they’re not going to kill me, nothing can. Except electricity perhaps, but I certainly don’t have a complex about that.”
“Yes, but phobias don’t always make much sense.”
“I do not have a phobia,” Scarlet insisted. “I’m just not really a fan of snakes that’s all. They’re cold and slimy…”
“Actually their skins feel rather like a coat of gloss paint,” Rhapsody corrected him. “And they’re cold-blooded so they take on the temperature of their surroundings.”
“If you say so, love; but still that whole slithering thing is a bit creepy. Not to mention the fact they are often poisonous and always have sharp teeth. Not really the nicest creatures around.”
“Well I find them fascinating,” Rhapsody said. “I was talking to Rick about them recently. He’s interested in them too, even had a few as pets at various points.”
“That’s just lovely,” Scarlet said bitterly. “Why don’t you run off with Ochre then, and go start a snake farm or something?”
“Oh don’t be so silly, I’m not going anywhere, and certainly not with Rick.”
“Why, you both get along, and I thought that a while ago …”
“That was a long time ago, and it wasn’t even anything to write home about back then,” Rhapsody insisted. “I’m with you now, and perfectly happy.”
“Yes, but…” Scarlet sighed. “Don’t you sometimes want to be with someone… normal?”
Rhapsody gave a slight laugh.
“If I wanted normal, then Rick would be about the last person on my list.” She leant closer and kissed Scarlet. “Normality is hopelessly overrated anyway. I love you because you’re you, whatever that entails.”
Scarlet managed a smile.
“I love you too,” he said, reaching for her.
“That snake’s still there,” Scarlet said after a moment.
“You’ve been watching it the whole time,” Rhapsody noted, gently breaking away from his embrace. “Look I’m going to go and check on it, or we’ll never get any peace.”
“What if it is an adder?”
“That’s not terribly likely you know, and there aren’t any other native venomous snakes. So odds are I’ll be fine.”
“I really should be the one to go,” Scarlet insisted.
“Oh really,” Rhapsody replied with wry amusement, “are you going to be a knight in shining armour, some heroic figure rescuing the fair lady from such unimaginable peril?”
“Course not. It’s just that, well, if you love someone then you should be able to protect them.”
Rhapsody opened the door, and was about to step outside but turned to him.
“Paul, you can’t save me from everything. Even Superman had kryptonite.”
“Is it dead?” Scarlet asked, rather hopefully, observing from over Rhapsody’s shoulder.
“No, just sleeping… well she was until you startled her.”
“You can tell it’s a she?”
“Umm no, not really,” Rhapsody confessed, “but it seems impersonal to say ‘it’.”
The snake lifted its head, and Scarlet almost went backwards twenty feet via a vertical take off.
“Oh, hello there, little sweetheart,” Rhapsody cooed to the creature.
Scarlet paid more attention to the sound of approaching footsteps. He spun around, and felt his heart sink. Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse; well they could, but not by an awful lot.
“Hey, people,” Magenta greeted them with a slight wave, ambling over to stand beside where Rhapsody had crouched down.
“Hi, Pat,” Rhapsody said. “We’ve found a snake. Well, Paul did really.”
“Yeah, so I see.” Magenta hunkered down, and reached toward the snake.
“You shouldn’t touch it,” Scarlet said automatically. “After all, it might be dangerous or something.”
“It’s a grass snake,” Rhapsody said. “So actually not remotely dangerous to humans, at all, ever.”
Magenta turned to Scarlet, with that sardonic expression Ochre had almost trademarked, and noted, “Well maybe if you’re scared of snakes, then they might make you pee your pants, yeah, but that’s about it.”
“I knew that,” he insisted, “but in this line of work we really shouldn’t be complacent.”
“Oh, to be sure,” Magenta nodded.
“You know anything much about snakes?” Rhapsody asked him.
“Thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life,” Magenta intoned to the snake, then grinned at his colleagues. “Genesis 3:14. A Sunday school teacher of mine would bribe us with cookies to memorise Bible verses. Beyond that I must confess to not being too au fait with the critters. Ireland isn’t exactly teeming with them… So my knowledge is more academic. For example; in Ancient Greece snakes were said to have the ability to heal. That's why the Caduceus, two snakes embracing a winged sceptre, is used today as the symbol of medicine.
"Oh yes," Rhapsody added. "Not to mention the Caduceus was originally the symbol of the God Hermes, who was father of Asclepios - the patron of doctors."
“Fascinating,” Scarlet muttered dryly.
Magenta gently took hold of the grass snake and held it safely, smiling at Rhapsody as she lent close to pet it.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find a suitable new home for the snake,” he reassured them. “Though am sorely tempted to drop it down Ochre’s shirt beforehand.”
“You have my blessing there,” Scarlet said. “Those two deserve each other.”
Rhapsody shot her fiancé a disapproving look, but Magenta merely shrugged and went off in the direction he had appeared from.
“You really do learn something new every day,” Scarlet said, making an effort to sound carefree.
“Yes, quite.” Rhapsody pondered for a moment. “I take it you didn’t get around to finding us some decent coffee after all?”
Scarlet shook his head.
“I suppose I did get a little sidetracked.” He offered his arm. “But we still have a little time before the briefing, if you’d care to accompany me in a heroic quest to find the nearest coffee shop.”
“I would be delighted to.” Rhapsody took his arm. “Lead the way, Indiana Jones.”
Original artwork by Ron Embelton.
Thanks to Chris for beta reading, and the trivia about the Caduceus.