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A ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ story
by Lee C. Highway
Colonel White finished reading the personal file of the young woman standing before him. ‘...quite impressive,’ he concluded. ‘And now you’re assigned to be a mission specialist with the code-name Shadow. In a way the name itself separates you from the rest of us because we all have colour code-names, as you know.’ He looked up. ‘So welcome to Spectrum, Lieutenant.’ Charles Grey shook hands with the new agent.
Captains Scarlet and Blue were seated together at the large table in Cloudbase’s recreation room. They were playing poker and Scarlet, as usual, was losing. Blue couldn’t resist teasing his friend. ‘You should be glad that gambling with cash is prohibited; you’d have lost a whole month’s pay!’
‘Give me a chance, Adam.’
Blue grinned; he was feeling generous. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Why not? Today’s my lucky day.’ The tall blond man shuffled the cards again and dealt them out.
Symphony and Harmony, who had both finished their duty some time ago, watched with interest.
Minutes later Scarlet was running his hand through his dark hair in a gesture of frustration. ‘I can’t believe this! We’ve been playing for one and a half hours now and I haven’t won a single game...’
At that moment the Commander-in-Chief of Spectrum, Colonel White, entered the room. He was followed by a young woman in her mid-twenties wearing a light-grey Spectrum uniform with a six inch wide black vertical stripe on its right side. But she was wearing her gun at her left side, showing that she was a southpaw. Blue considered her to be at least as attractive as one of the Angels.
‘This is Lieutenant Shadow,’ announced White. ‘She’s only recently been transferred to Spectrum - you’ll be working alongside her from now on.’
‘Pleased to see you, Lieutenant,’ said Blue, smiling.
One after the other they shook hands with their new colleague. ‘Same here,’ she replied. ‘I hope we’ll have a good working relationship.’ Her soft voice had a slight, unidentifiable accent.
‘Whose team will Lieutenant Shadow be assigned to, sir?’ Captain Scarlet’s question was of interest to everyone, including Shadow herself.
‘Lieutenant Shadow is a specialist - her team assignment will depend upon the nature of the mission in question. But to begin with, so she can familiarise herself with our operational procedures, she’ll be working with Captain Blue and yourself.’
The Colonel smiled reassuringly at Shadow. ‘Well, I’ll leave you with your new colleagues now so you can get to know each other a little.’
Shadow nodded. ‘S.I.G, sir,’ she said, as White withdrew.
Scarlet was curious. ‘Your code-name is Shadow - why that? Why not a colour?’
‘I’ve been especially trained for undercover assignments and certain other, er, special tasks. After my stay here I’ll work undercover again, back into the ‘shadows’ as you might say. The Colonel decided to give me a non-colour name for that reason.’
‘Your original unit and rank?’
‘Major with Special Squad Cobra, sir.’
‘The Special Squad Cobra!?’
The woman nodded. ‘The task force for political and quasi-political emergencies.’
Paul ‘Scarlet’ Metcalfe looked at her in surprise. ‘Why did you leave?’ he asked abruptly.
‘With all respect, sir,’ she replied, ‘I don’t think that’s any of your business.’
Blue, sensing friction, quickly changed the subject and offered Shadow a seat. ‘Do you play poker, Lieutenant?’
The woman smiled, sat down, and said: ‘I certainly do, Captain.’
Two hours later she leaned back, stretched her arms into the air and yawned. Chips were piling up in front of her while Scarlet and Blue were on the verge of bankruptcy. ‘Well, that’s that. If you’d excuse me, I’d like to take a little rest now.’ As she left she was followed by a number of inquisitive glances.
Captain Scarlet gazed thoughtfully at her departing form. This lady was undoubtedly an asset for Spectrum. At least she played a game of poker that was meaner than Captain Blue’s, which was itself a sensation. Even Lieutenant Green was enthusiastic. ‘She’s just right...’
‘For you, Lieutenant?’ Scarlet couldn’t help grinning.
Green blushed. ‘For Spectrum of course, sir!’
Blue began to collect the chips. Scarlet turned to help him, and the others returned to their own business. As he gathered up the cards Blue said: ‘There are two things you have to admit: she can play poker; and she’s a beauty...’
‘I have to agree,’ said Scarlet. ‘At least now I’m not the only one who’s losing all the time.’
Paul Metcalfe decided to find out a little bit more about this ‘specialist’. Doubtless she, like all Spectrum personnel, had gone through the organisation’s tough training programme and was absolutely reliable. Reliable, that was, as long as she evaded the clutches of the Mysterons...
With Captains Black, Brown, and Scarlet three of Spectrum’s best men had become victims of the Martians. Still looking like the originals, the Mysteronised doubles betrayed everything their human predecessors had sworn to protect, and it had been pure chance that Scarlet had been able to free himself from their mental influence. But being physically indestructible didn’t mean he was invulnerable psychologically - apart from his strange powers of recuperation he was still simply a human being.
Two weeks later Spectrum’s best agent had made precious little progress with his unofficial investigations. What he had learned about Shadow through his personal connections with several military departments hadn’t done anything to alter his mood. The young woman was obviously a professional in terms of persuasiveness and cold-bloodedness; she had often operated as a lone wolf, and had a reputation for completing jobs single-handedly.
From his own experience Scarlet knew that such people basically didn’t trust anyone. In an organisation Like Spectrum this kind of ruthlessness could certainly be an advantage, but there were limits: There were rumours about her running through the military grapevine, and not all were positive. The word ‘troublemaker’ recurred constantly; there seemed to be no single unit she’d left undamaged on her way upstairs. (Except the Special Squad. He couldn’t get any information from Shadow’s former unit; his connections were of no use there - her file was strictly confidential. Her departure, though, had not been welcomed; apparently she had done well...) Normally Paul Metcalfe didn’t have much time for rumours, but still...
And to make matters worse she’d almost driven him mad, constantly questioning his decisions, constantly promoting her own opinions over his own. Like the other day:
‘It is not a resistance of 330 Ohms; it’s 3,330!’ Lieutenant Shadow pushed a piece of fused electronic equipment under Scarlet’s nose - it was a circuit board that they were expected to repair as part of a weekly engineering lesson in one of Cloudbase’s teaching rooms. Though annoyed, he had to admit to himself that his new colleague - at least in the subject areas of telecommunications and computers - was always a hairsbreadth ahead of him.
And more: Shadow blocked all his efforts to be friendly; she showed a coldness that couldn’t have been more intense had she been made of solid ice.
Paul gave the resistor another glance - it was coloured pink-grey-pink, clearly marking it as one of 330 Ohms; a 3,330 one would have been marked red- black-red.
Troublemaker. The word passed through Scarlet’s mind, together with a phrase from one of his contacts: ‘She’d do anything to cause chaos!’ He gritted his teeth. ‘It’s a 330 Ohm resistance,’ he snarled, ‘and that’s that!’
With determination Scarlet slotted a spare resistor into the empty spot on the board. Shadow just shrugged her shoulders, dissociating herself from Scarlet’s action. If her calculations were correct then there would shortly be a pretty little firework display. It was basic grammar-school stuff - Ohm’s Law: Electrical current is equal to voltage divided by resistance. Scarlet couldn’t have forgotten it, could he? Conceited Flash-Harry, she thought. Well now we’ll see who’s right - him or me!
Scarlet inserted the ‘repaired’ board into the test rig and flipped the ‘on’ switch. Almost immediately wisps of blue smoke started curling from the board as overloaded components gave up the unequal struggle. Scarlet hurriedly disconnected the power.
In a slightly mocking tone Shadow asked: ‘Any further suggestions, maestro?’
Scarlet aimed a murderous glance in her direction, and maintained a stony silence.
Captains Blue and Scarlet were walking through one of Cloudbase’s corridors.
‘Well,’ said Blue, ‘What do you think about our shadowy friend?’ Adam Svenson had followed the almost permanent quarrels between Metcalfe and the lieutenant with a great deal of interest.
Scarlet was pensive. ‘I don’t know much about her yet, but I suspect she’s going to become a problem.’ He was silent for a moment, before continuing. ‘I know two things for sure: She’s the Academy record-holder for crashing S.P.V.s...’
Blue smiled. ‘Is she indeed?’
‘...and if there’s no-one who can handle her mouth, things look bad.’
‘You know the old saying: barking dogs seldom bite.’
‘If you want to bandy old sayings how about ‘the exception proves the rule’?’
Adam laughed. ‘Captain, I don’t understand your problem. You and the lieutenant make a perfect team.’
‘I’m pleased to hear that, though I imagine the Captain feels rather differently about it!’ The men stopped. Shadow had appeared and was standing behind them.
‘Where did you come from?’ Scarlet was annoyed.
‘Out of the shadows, of course.’ She smiled. ‘How about dinner?’
‘Splendid idea, Lieutenant.’ Blue sounded forthright, but his eyes held amusement. ‘Are you joining us, Captain?’
Before Metcalfe could answer be was interrupted by Captain Grey’s voice issuing from Cloudbase’s address system.
‘Captain Scarlet, report to the Colonel immediately.’
‘So much for dinner.’ Scarlet sighed and turned towards the control room.
Svenson and Shadow continued on to the canteen. ‘Do you have a first name, Lieutenant?’ he asked, conversationally.
Shadow smiled. Of course, she had, but it was strictly against the rules to use each other’s real names, and Blue knew that. ‘I have, but there’s no way I’m telling you, Captain. You might get a totally wrong impression of me...’
...which wouldn’t be surprising, seeing as she had been landed with Scarlet Melanie O’Hara. (Unfortunately her mother had been a passionate Gone With The Wind fan, the antique movie starring Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh which, equally unfortunately, almost everyone still remembered...) The second Christian name, Melanie, was traditional in this branch of the O’Hara family tree, though the origins of the tradition were now forgotten.
Svenson shrugged. Maybe later, it they got to know one another better. They arrived at the canteen; a good agent always knew when it was time for refreshment.
Several days later, in addition to her other accomplishments, the new lieutenant demonstrated her ability as a brilliant pilot. Scarlet later said that she must have been born with a control column in her hands, and this was nearer the truth than he knew: her father had been a pilot with the WAAF and was now leading the Alycia-Base in Northern Ireland. From the moment she was old enough to understand the meaning of the levers, buttons and instruments in a cockpit, he had taught her all the tricks he knew. And when she had gained her pilot’s wings the training had only been intensified.
Scarlet, Blue, and Shadow took their briefing with Rhapsody, Harmony, and Symphony Angels. Tactical air combat. The target was Cloudbase, and the Angels were tasked with defending it.
‘...so the weather conditions are good; there should be no problems.’ The Colonel glanced around. ‘Any questions? No? Then this briefing is closed.’
The small group left the briefing room and split, one half going to the Angel ready-room, the other to the hangars. A short time later the aircraft comprising Scarlet’s attack group - a trio of ageing Mk.IV Firestreaks - were skyborne; they flew to their positions and waited for White’s signal. And then it came:
‘Angels one, two, and three: Immediate launch!’
Within seconds the Angel Interceptors were airborne, and the sky was full of screaming jets, each fighting for supremacy.
For one moment it looked like Shadow would be an easy target for Harmony, but then the lieutenant fooled her opponent. Outmanoeuvring the other machine with a combination of loops, rolls, and dives, she was able to ‘hit’ Harmony directly with a computer-generated ‘missile’. She couldn’t resist, putting voice to her triumph: ‘Gotcha!’
Rhapsody was chasing Blue; he was doing his best to escape her. Meanwhile Symphony had ‘shot’ Scarlet, and was following Shadow. The latter was aiming directly toward Cloudbase - and the Angel had to stop her. Symphony rapidly brought her craft into a position to attack, but it was too late. They had reached the carrier and Shadow launched her ‘missiles’.
Symphony felt a stab of humiliation. Who the hell does she think she is!? Angrily she pushed forward on the Interceptor’s stick; she hadn’t been able to prevent Shadow’s attack on Cloudbase, but she’d sure stop her now...
Shadow saw the Angel Interceptor hurtling towards her on her radar display. She had been lucky that the Angels had fallen for her tricks in the first place, but now the air was becoming too hot for her to handle - there was only one way she could escape.
Lieutenant Green, standing in the carrier’s observation deck, watched with horror as the two aircraft closed. He knew neither pilot could hear him, but he couldn’t help shouting a warning: ‘Watch out Lieutenant! You’re coming in too low - pull up! PULL UP!’
Symphony locked her machine-guns onto the fleeing aircraft. ‘You’re history, Shadow!’
Melanie O’Hara smiled. This was her chance. Pride comes before a fall, her mother bad been fond of saying... She roared over Cloudbase, skimming the flight-deck at near-sonic speed, put her machine into a steep climb, looped at the apex, and then calmly settled herself onto Harmony’s tail. Her smile broadened as she pulled the trigger.
Lieutenant Shadow laid down on her bunk and sighed. She could only hope that the trouble with Scarlet wouldn’t get out of hand. At least he hadn’t beheaded her. Yet. Even if she made friends with the Angels, Captain Blue, and Lieutenant Green, she was still unsure about the Captain. He was a strange fellow. It was said that he had certain abilities… a certain resilience against physical injury.
Everyone seemed to regard him as some kind of superman, a hero, everybody’s darling. And she actively disliked supermen, heroes or not. They had a special ability to attract not only women but trouble as well.
The knowledge had been painfully gained; she had been engaged to a man who had fitted the ‘hero’ mould only too well. His name was Sam Groovy and he had been a member of the Special Squad alongside O’Hara. He enjoyed risk, enjoyed flirting with danger. But heroes weren’t immortal; two years ago her fiancé pushed things over the top and crashed his plane. Mel had survived the loss. Burying the pain and the tears deep inside, she had succeeded in pretending that she had got over his death.
The Mysteron warning came in the early morning: ‘...your main energy supply in Europe will be destroyed. We will be avenged!’
Europe’s ‘main energy supply’ could be interpreted as either the large nuclear facility near the French town of Rodez, or the tidal power plant on the Zuidersee near Rotterdam. It was decided that both should stay connected to the power-net until Spectrum had enough information to determine which installation was the object of the Mysteron threat.
The task of gathering this information at the tidal plant was delegated to Captains Ochre, Magenta, and Grey, while Scarlet, Blue, and Shadow would investigate the atomic station.
Almost immediately things started going wrong. First, the station’s control room became the victim of a mysterious fire; this wasn’t the disaster it might have been since the fire was limited by the extinguisher system, and in any case the building had a secondary control area.
Far more serious, however, was the failure of the primary cooling circuit for the station’s reactor, and, almost unthinkably, a simultaneous malfunction of the automatic release mechanism governing the backup system. It had to be operated manually, and it had to be operated quickly. Shadow and Scarlet were the only personnel stationed near enough to the valve- room to reach it in time...
Blue had ordered the evacuation of the plant and the lowering of the graphite control rods into the reactor, but the danger of a massive - if non-nuclear - explosion was still a real possibility.
Shadow had to hurry. She knew Scarlet was somewhere nearby but she couldn’t afford to wait for him - if the cooling system blew not only would the plant be put out of operation for years to come but a cloud of radioactive vapour could be ejected into the atmosphere and would contaminate thousands of square kilometres of surrounding country.
She entered the valve room and began looking for the release valve. To her horror she discovered a column of steam escaping from a blown connection between two pipes adjacent to the valve she had to open.
She couldn’t allow anyone else to be injured by the hot steam; quickly she threw the locking mechanism of the valve-room’s door before ducking under the cloud of superheated vapour and tackling the valvewheel; the metal was searingly hot, she could feel the skin on her palms start to blister. She ignored the pain and started opening the valve.
‘Shadow!’ It was Scarlet, peering through the door’s view-plate and hammering on the metal. ‘Get out of there! Now!’ He was meant to be indestructible - it should have been him turning that damned wheel!
Shadow, breathing hard, managed to shout: ‘Not yet, not until the valve is open.’ She paused, regaining her strength. ‘Go and give Blue a hand.’
Scarlet balled his fists. Why had he been cursed with this bloody woman?! ‘For the last time, Lieutenant - unlock this door or you’ll be facing a court-martial for disobeying a superior officer!’
Both Shadow’s and Scarlet’s radio transceivers had been active throughout the exchange; Colonel White, listening-in from Cloudbase, interrupted for the first time. ‘What’s going on there, Scarlet?’
Scarlet stopped hammering on the door. ‘Shadow is in the valve-room, sir. She’s locked the door and refuses to open it. I can’t reach her.’
Unseen by Scarlet Colonel White allowed himself a smile. ‘Leave her, Captain. She knows what she’s doing. Go and help Captain Blue with the reactor. And,’ - White emphasised his final words - ‘that’s an order.’
Scarlet spluttered briefly before acquiescing with bad grace ‘S.I.G.,’ he muttered, just remembering to add: ‘Sir.’
Shadow was still trying to open the valve. Slowly, millimetre by millimetre, the wheel moved. The quantity of escaping steam lessened as the pressure found its way into the back-up system.
‘Shadow!’ Scarlet had to yell; the noise in the valve-room was overwhelming. ‘Carry on. I’m going to assist Blue - Colonel’s orders!’
‘S.I.G.!’ Shadow turned the wheel with greater effort. The temperature and the humidity was increasing - she felt a trickle of sweat course down her forehead.
Captain Scarlet sprinted to the auxiliary control room where Blue greeted him with relief - he had been on the verge of losing control of the reactor.
‘Am I glad to see you!’ he said, and then looked past him. ‘Where’s Shadow?’
‘The valve-room.’ Scarlet didn’t amplify and Blue didn’t press him; there was no time now for petty quarrels.
‘Monitor the pressure, Paul; I’ll complete the cooling system crossovers.’
The two men seated themselves before the huge display board. Scarlet indicated a gauge. ‘The pressure hasn’t reduced yet; if she doesn’t get a move on the whole place will go sky-high!’
‘Calm down, Paul - she’ll make it!’ Even as Blue spoke the gauge started to register a pressure drop; they watched as it re-entered the green zone. He flicked a series of switches. ‘Come on, Paul - the crossovers aren’t completed...’
They had to work for another thirty minutes before the danger was past. They sat slumped in their seats, exhausted. Scarlet contacted Cloudbase. ‘Everything’s now under control, Colonel,’ he reported wearily. ‘The plant’s regular personnel can return.’
‘That’s fine, Captain. Is Lieutenant Shadow with you?’ The Colonel sounded concerned. ‘I can’t contact her by radio.’
‘No, sir. She’s not in the control room.’
‘Then make a search. Report as soon as you find her.’
‘S.I.G., sir.’ Scarlet heaved himself out of his chair. ‘Come on, then. Let’s find the little pain in the neck - she might need our help.’ Though somehow I doubt it, he thought sourly.
The corridor outside the valve-room was full of slowly dispersing steam, steam that was condensing on the walls and pooling on the floor. Shadow was sitting in the open doorway; she hadn’t managed to leave the room.
At the sound of Scarlet’s voice she looked up. ‘Yes, Captain?’
Both men were relieved to see that she bore no apparent injuries. ‘Are you all right?’
Shadow caught her breath; the atmosphere in the valve-room had been saturated with vapour, It had been like drowning in air... ‘I’m fine, Captain - just getting my breath.’
Scarlet put out a hand and pulled her to her feet. ‘You shouldn’t have taken such a risk, Lieutenant. You could have been killed.’
Blue raised his eyebrows; Shadow looked surprised too, even if it was for a different reason. ‘It’s part of our job, Captain. You know that. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing.’ Fighting to control her temper and her still shaky legs, she asked for permission to absent herself.
Scarlet nodded; he could see she was in a bad way. ‘And report to sickbay immediately after our return to Cloudbase. Understood?’
Her reply carried an air of insolence. ‘S.I.G., Captain.’ Shadow turned on her heels and left.
Technicians started to pass the two Spectrum agents on their way into the valve-room.
When she was out of earshot, Blue said: ‘You know she’s right - you would have done exactly the same thing.’
‘It would take more than superheated steam to finish me off, Adam; I wouldn’t have been killed - but she might. She shouldn’t have done it.’
Blue shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s her life.’
Lieutenant Shadow angrily typed her written report into the computer terminal. Some days Scarlet could make her see red, and this Friday (the 13th!) seemed to be one of them.
She had spent three hours in the gym, ‘Training With Protective Clothing’, as the Spectrum physical fitness handbook put it. It was hard work, but Melanie O’Hara was used to it and she needed it to regain control over her anger. Her father had taught her never to give in no matter how intractable the problem seemed to be. And Scarlet was one of her problems. They had had a discussion about the power-plant job; he seemed to think that he - and only he - was able to deal with any dangerous situations they might encounter. A typical hero. The Captain’s behaviour was exactly the way it had been described to her at the academy.
The lieutenant struggled with her helmet, found it jammed, and began to swear in several languages. The helmet was not the sole object of her curses; Shadow had no intention giving in to Scarlet quietly. And besides, she thought, practice made perfect.
‘Lieutenant Green, where’s Captain Scarlet?’
‘In his quarters, sir.’ Colonel White got up from his control desk and left the operations room. He was well aware of the apparent incompatibility between Scarlet and Shadow and had decided to provide a little ‘encouragement’. In many ways the lieutenant was a younger version of the captain, impetuous, self- confident, unorthodox, something Scarlet himself seemed unable - or unwilling - to see. And there, thought White, was another similarity: They were both as stubborn as mules.
Both Scarlet and Shadow were due a refresher course in survival training, and White knew that if the two couldn’t establish a viable working relationship during it then he would be forced to transfer Shadow to another department. It was a situation White wanted to avoid.
He knocked firmly on Scarlet’s door.
‘Colonel White.’ He had hardly closed his mouth before the door was pulled open to reveal Scarlet standing at full attention. ‘At ease, Captain.’ Scarlet relaxed. ‘I’ll make this brief. You’ll be aware that you’re scheduled for an annual refresher course in survival techniques?’
Scarlet nodded. ‘May I ask where the course will take place?’
“Dead End’ camp in Borneo.’ Scarlet groaned inwardly - Dead End was infamous throughout Spectrum for its harsh conditions.
White continued: ‘I have decided that Lieutenant Shadow will accompany you.’ Scarlet’s face remained impassive. ‘When you arrive report to Major Lemong. Your Group Leader will be Sergeant Joy - I think you may remember her from your last stay at Daylight Camp in Africa.’ White paused. ‘Captain, the joint performance of Lieutenant Shadow and yourself will be watched very carefully; either you come to an agreement on how you carry out your orders, or I’ll assign Shadow to another team. Understood?’
‘That’s all, Captain.’ White departed.
For a few moments Scarlet remained standing in the doorway, digesting the doubly unwelcome news. Why him?! Not only was he assigned to the most hated camp in Spectrum, he had to go there with Shadow! Dispiritedly he closed the door. Another week of constant quarrels... Metcalfe came to a decision: He would sort out their relationship once and for all. The Colonel was right - they had to come to an agreement or they would end up working against each other instead of with each other.
White found Shadow leaving Cloudbase’s main gym. She was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily as she stood to attention. ‘All right, Lieutenant, stand easy. I’m notifying you of your assignment to Dead End survival training camp.’ He surveyed her sweat-soaked clothing. ‘Though I doubt you’ll find it very taxing.’
‘Captain Scarlet will be joining you.’ The Colonel saw her eyes widen in surprise, but she soon regained control of herself.
Of all the people on Cloudbase it just had to be him, she thought. A perfect team...
White seemed to have mastered telepathy. ‘Take it as a kind of test. If you two can’t establish a rapport I’ll have to assign you to another team. Or give you Green’s job, though I know you’d rather operate in the field. Is that understood, Lieutenant?’
Shadow was masking her emotions, but her shock was obvious. ‘S.I.G., Colonel,’ was all she managed to say.
It was two days later. Melanie O’Hara had packed and was standing on Cloudbase’s hangar-deck, waiting for Captain Scarlet and Colonel White. She and Metcalfe hadn’t talked much about the forthcoming training course, mainly because she had spent most of her time with Lieutenant Green, knocking the bugs out of a new simulation program for the main computer.
Undercover computer operations had been her area of responsibility with her former unit, along with other, equally technical, aspects of intelligence work. This experience had been the main reason for her enlistment into Spectrum, but she had succeeded in keeping it quiet.
The two lieutenants got along well, and Scarlet had watched developments in the Shadow-Green department with increasing suspicion. Why was she keeping out of his way? She hadn’t contradicted him or argued with him for at least twenty-four hours. Just what was she playing at?
But now the time for playing was past. Borneo and Dead End Camp awaited them.
The SPJ was readied; Scarlet would be at the controls with Shadow as co-pilot. Their destination was the city of Samarinda in the eastern part of the island of Borneo; from there they would fly by helijet to the training camp.
Colonel White watched as they boarded the aircraft. ‘Please remember what I told you.’ His mouth curved into a smile. ‘And don’t forget to have fun!’ White was a good judge of character; there would probably be fireworks, but he was confident that, eventually, they’d work out their differences.
Scarlet and Shadow saluted and entered the aircraft. Scarlet settled himself into the right-hand seat and called- up Lieutenant Green. ‘Request clearance for take-off.’
Green’s response was immediate. ‘You are clear to go, Captain. Spectrum Is Green!’
Scarlet released the brakes and the surged forwards. As the wheels left the deck he banked sharply to port and accelerated to normal cruising speed. From Cloudbase’s current position their flying time to Samarinda was a little less than two hours.
For most of the early part of the flight the two officers maintained a stiff silence. Not until the coast of Papua-New Guinea was passing beneath them did Metcalfe risk a question: ‘Have you ever been to Dead End Camp, Lieutenant?’
Well, thought Scarlet, so much for that brilliant conversational gambit.
Shadow was surprised; Scarlet’s attempt at conversation sounded like a peace overture-but then again, he might just have been fishing for a weakness. If so, he’d find Melanie O’Hara to be a particularly slippery eel...
To his own consternation, Scarlet found himself speaking again: ‘It’s Spectrum’s foulest camp; and the delightful Sergeant Joy will make it even fouler.’
Shadow’s curiosity was aroused. ‘He’s a martinet?’
Scarlet snorted. ‘He is a she. And she has it in little for old me.’
Shadow couldn’t prevent the ghost of a smile stealing across her face. ‘What did you do to her?’
Scarlet kept his eyes fixed on the head-up display. ‘It was about two years ago, just after the Hot-Spot Tower affair, when Captain Blue and myself were ordered to the Desert Inn camp in Canada. The name was, of course, one of Spectrum’s sick jokes. Our slave-driver - sorry, I mean troop commander - was a Sergeant May Joy. God, if ever a woman was misnamed it was her...
‘Anyway - this might sound like boasting but believe me it isn’t - she had her eye on me and I, deluded fool that I was, turned her down.’ He grimaced at the recollection. ‘Neither before nor since have I ever - ever! - been through the kind of hell that that woman inflicted on me. Believe me, the Mysterons are pussy-cats compared to dear Sergeant Joy.’
O’Hara was struggling to contain herself. ‘Aha,’ was all she managed to say.
Scarlet aimed a suspicious glance in her direction, but her eyes held no maliciousness, only amusement. ‘No, not ‘Aha’; that wasn’t the end of it. Last year I was sent to Daylight Camp in Africa. And my troop commander was - you’ve guessed it - Miss Joy. I was damned lucky to escape with my life.’
He looked again at his co-pilot; Shadow was shaking with laughter. He threw caution to the winds and joined her.
The Shadow and Scarlet that arrived over Borneo City Airport were not the Shadow and Scarlet that had left Cloudbase two hours’ earlier. The hostility and mistrust were gone, replaced by a growing warmth, a growing comradeship. Scarlet congratulated himself: he had found a way through her protective armour. It had been surprisingly simple: he had offered her a little humanity and had received a little in return.
For her part, Shadow was re-appraising her colleague. She had discovered sides to Paul Metcalfe that she could identify with; for a moment in the aircraft’s cockpit his hard professionalism had dissolved, allowing her to see through to the man beneath. And that man was, she had to admit, disturbingly human...
Her discomfort lessened as they negotiated the check-in obstacle-course that a century of international terrorism had spawned, and by the time they’d passed through the terminal and reached the small heliport on its western side she was feeling more like her old self.
The helijet pilot was waiting for them; he had bad news: It seemed Dead End Camp had been partly submerged by a sudden tropical downpour and the landing area was unusable. He had been instructed to fly them to a point five kilometres from the camp from where they would continue by amphibious surface vehicle, probably an SPV.
But Scarlet wasn’t having any of it. ‘We’ll be seeing this bloody swamp soon enough,’ he snapped. He cast a predatory eye over the aircraft and its increasingly edgy pilot. ‘I imagine this heap is equipped with all the latest hi-tech’ gadgetry?’
The young airman nodded uncertainly.
Scarlet grinned like a naughty schoolboy. ‘So it’ll have a rope-ladder then?’
The man started to protest. ‘I know what you’re thinking, Captain, but the camp is situated on a small island right in the middle of a stand of thirty-metre trees. It’d be risky...’
Scarlet jumped onto the machine’s landing skid and clambered through the open hatch; his voice boomed from within: ‘I’ll take full responsibility. Come on Shadow, get your backside up here and let’s go!’
Shadow sighed. You simply can’t stop playing the hero, can you Scarlet? she thought. And smiled.
As the camp and its surrounding trees appeared beneath the helijet Scarlet began to wonder if he hadn’t been a little hasty...
The pilot was starting to enjoy himself. ‘We’re here, guys,’ he shouted, an evil grin splitting his face. ‘Get by the hatch - I’ll go in as low as I can. When I give the word throw the ladder down and start climbing.’
Scarlet glanced quickly at Shadow, but she just calmly donned her backpack and positioned herself by the exit. It was a long way down.
Finally the pilot gave the okay and the two Spectrum agents commenced their descent down the swaying ladder. When they eventually set foot on the mercifully unmoving ground Major Lemong was waiting for them. ‘Captain, Lieutenant-welcome to Dead End Camp. Colonel White warned us that you were on your way.’ They shook hands. ‘Captain - I must say that our cadets are eager to meet you...’
An attractive woman - Shadow guessed her age at about forty-five -strode across from the camp buildings and Lemong broke off to introduce her. ‘This is Sergeant Joy - your instructor.’
May Joy smiled sweetly as she shook Captain Scarlet’s hand; her voice was equally mellifluous. ‘So, we meet again Scarlet.’ She leaned forwards slightly. ‘You will certainly find this place - how shall I put it? - enjoyable.’
She gave Shadow a brief glance and an even briefer welcome. ‘Have a pleasant stay, Lieutenant.’
She turned back to Lemong. ‘I have to leave now; the cadets are waiting.’ With a final direct stare at Scarlet she withdrew into the encroaching jungle.
Lemong seemed to start breathing again. ‘You’ll want to see your quarters, I guess.’
‘Please; we should change our uniforms.’
Lemong laughed. ‘Yes, the Spectrum uniform is hardly appropriate for this climate.’ He called to a cadet (who had been hovering around the area hoping to get a glimpse of the famous Scarlet). ‘Wilson - show the Captain and the Lieutenant to their rooms.’
The fresh-faced young man accepted the task with alacrity: ‘S.I.G., sir!’
Despite the fact that it was still early morning and relatively cold the two newcomers were sweating inside their thick uniforms. They were both looking forward to changing into their tropical clothing.
‘I’m afraid you’ll have to share quarters with the cadets,’ said Wilson apologetically. ‘Bangladesh camp got in the way of a typhoon a week back, and we’re accommodating its personnel until they can return.’
Wilson’s use of he word ‘accommodate’ was barely accurate - instead of its usual quota of thirty Dead End Camp was now holding over sixty cadets; space was at a premium.
Scarlet sighed; already he was starting to hate this muggy, leech-laden, mosquito-infested hole. ‘How long have you been here, Wilson?’ he asked.
Wilson projected an air of exaggerated weariness. ‘Four months! But I’ll have completed my jungle training soon; then I’m off to the Arctic.’ He laughed. ‘A change is as good as a rest, so they say...’
Shadow commiserated. ‘Brr! Ice Bear Camp could freeze hell - I’ve been there once, and it was once too often.’
Wilson led them past the ammunition stores - kept outside the camp proper for safety reasons -, the storehouses and bunkers, and then into the parade- ground, or ‘limbo’ as the cadets called it. The ground was surrounded by eight huts, two per side. Scarlet and Shadow, aware of the curious glances of the camp inhabitants, followed Wilson into one of the south side huts.
‘These are your bunks. The showers are in the northeast hut; toilets in the red hut at the far end of the camp. Reveille is at six, roll-call at six-thirty, breakfast at seven, dinner at twelve, and supper at eight. When it’s your turn for kitchen and latrine duty your names will appear on the blackboard.’ He stood to attention. ‘I think that’s all. Permission to leave, sir? I’m on guard duty in five minutes.’
As Wilson departed Shadow turned her attention to the beds. ‘Well, Captain, where do you want to sleep - upstairs or downstairs?’
‘Downstairs - I have no intention of climbing up to bed every night.’
O’Hara grimaced. ‘How thoughtful of you.’ The woman extracted her tropical uniform from her pack before dumping the rest of her belongings into one of the empty lockers beside the bunk. She changed - turning her back to Scarlet as her sole concession to modesty - before hanging up her normal uniform and cap. Scarlet noticed several thin scars on her back and wondered at the adventures that had caused them.
The new outfit differed from the military variant only in detail - the coloured epaulettes and Spectrum insignia were the only clues that the wearer belonged to a special unit. A standard piece of jungle equipment that was expected to be worn with the uniform was a survival belt that contained everything from dressings and drugs to fish-hooks; Shadow fastened it around her waist, and then examined herself critically.
After changing the pair emerged onto the parade-ground where Sergeant Joy was waiting for them with the other cadets.
‘Ah,’ she said, her voice heavy with sarcasm. ‘The crème de la crème of Spectrum has arrived! Captain, Lieutenant, get in line - we’re going to start with a little warm-up. And there’s something I want to make clear before we begin: I’m in command here. I don’t give a damn’ what your official ranks are, I wouldn’t care if you were Colonel White himself. While you are here you are cadets, the lowest form of life in Spectrum; any insubordination will be met with immediate punishment. Is that understood by everybody?’
‘S.I.G., sir!’ came the shouted reply.
Shadow couldn’t resist whispering to Scarlet. ‘Warm up? If we get any warmer we’ll melt!’
‘QUIET over there!’ Joy was clearly in her element; with the voice of a born slave-driver she screamed her commands across the parade ground: ‘Forward march! Halt! Twenty press-ups! Stop! March - at the double! Turn! And turn again! Halt! Now, jogging - get those knees up! You’re not here for a holiday!’ Within thirty minutes the whole squad was bathed in sweat. And this was just the warm-up...
Now came an assault course, right through the most impenetrable part of the jungle. But even this wasn’t enough: As soon as the group returned to the parade-ground Sergeant Joy divided them into two teams. ‘To help you unwind before dinner -’ her voice was quiet with menace ‘- we’re going to play a little game of football.’
Scarlet and Shadow were placed on opposing sides; they smiled hopelessly at each other when the ‘pitch’ turned out to be the swamp, and the game, once it had started, turned out to be little more than glorified mud-wrestling.
Mel O’Hara was starting to enjoy herself, she remembered her younger brothers and the happy hours they had spent together playing ‘football’ in similar mudholes.
But Joy was taking the whole thing deadly seriously. And so, eventually, were Scarlet and Shadow...
They were facing each other, caked in mud and dripping wet, when one of the cadets on Shadow’s side threw her the ball and Scarlet tried to grab it; but there was no way she was going to give it up...
‘Let it go, Lieutenant,’ hissed Metcalfe.
‘Over my dead body!’ snarled O’Hara.
‘For the last time - let - it - go!’ Scarlet’s eyes glinted dangerously.
They would have been standing there now, glaring at one another, had not half-a-dozen mud-encrusted savages leapt onto them, submerging them beneath the swamp’s murky surface. Eventually the scrum broke up; coughing and spluttering Scarlet and Shadow dragged themselves to their feet. Metcalfe spat out a mouthful of swamp water. ‘You never give up, do you?’
O’Hara’s eyes flashed white in her mud-smeared face. ‘No, never.’ She smiled, her teeth flashing as white as her eyes. ‘Never say never again, Captain!’
‘James Bond, Lieutenant?’
‘Did you think I was talking about you?’ Shadow laughed.
‘No, of course not.’ Scarlet stared at his colleague; she certainly had some strange ideas sometimes...
He looked around. ‘I think we’d better get back into the game before we’re seen.’
Shadow tilted her head. ‘Too late, I fear.’
‘You there! Yes, you! Stop slacking! This isn’t a tea-party!’
Shadow and Scarlet didn’t even have the energy to groan; wordlessly they turned and waded back into the match.
The torture finally ended and the ‘players’ trudged back to the camp. Sergeant Joy, bone-dry and spotless, grinned evilly. ‘Showers, everyone!’ she said.
A dark figure moved cautiously through the camp, carefully avoiding any contact. He slipped into the empty bunkhouse and searched for two particular lockers...
After showering and donning fresh uniforms the inmates of the camp lined up in the canteen for their daily ration.
Scarlet, his hair still dripping, looked in vain for Shadow before joining a table of cadets. He was shattered and picke4 unenthusiastically at his food; the muggy climate was causing him more trouble than he cared to admit.
He became aware of a whisper running around the table; he was certain he was the object of it, but rumour and gossip was something he had learned to live with. The Koala Base incident surfaced in his mind: He had been accused of sabotaging a hovercraft and killing its crew, and though he had proved himself to be completely guiltless, the episode had left a nasty aftertaste in some quarters. His colleagues on Cloudbase all trusted him implicitly of course, but in the wider world his reputation was not entirely suspicion-free. You can look at someone’s head, so the saying went, but not at what he’s thinking...
A chair scraped and a plate thudded onto the table; Scarlet looked up and saw Shadow sitting down opposite him. He brightened visibly. ‘Well, Lieutenant, you managed to get the mud off’?’
Shadow laughed. ‘Only just, Captain, only just...’
Like Scarlet’s, Shadow’s hair was still dripping from the shower; she shook it vigorously, causing the rest of the table’s residents to take cover. Her eyes sparkled mischievously at the chorus of protests.
Scarlet found her mood infectious, and soon his gloomy thoughts were dispelled.
From a far corner of the room May Joy stood and watched the pair. Her face could have been set in stone. With the air of having reached a decision she set off toward Scarlet’s table, her strides long and deliberate.
Scarlet saw her coming and scrambled to his feet just in time.
‘You’ll take the lead in tomorrow’s twenty-five kilometre night march, Captain.’
‘Yes, Sergeant’ Scarlet stood rigidly to attention until Joy had left the canteen; only then did he relax. ‘I knew it.’ He rolled his eyes at Shadow and sat down. ‘My days are numbered. She won’t let up until I grovel at her feet.’
‘I can’t see you grovelling, Captain. It’s not your style.’
‘Thank’s for your support, but it might be the only way of getting rid of the woman.’
Shadow glanced casually through the canteen window. ‘Well, I think I’ll be getting back to the bunkhouse.’ She turned to Scarlet and smiled charmingly. ‘Stay dry, Captain.’ She got up and left.
Scarlet looked quizzically after her. ‘Stay dry...?’ What the devil did she mean by that? He shook his head, baffled by the mysteries of the human female.
He finished his meal and left the canteen building just as the first drops of rain started hitting the packed earth. A flash of lightning illuminated the cloud-darkened parade-ground; a roll of deafening thunder followed. Scarlet cursed and sprinted for the bunkhouse.
Shadow had made herself comfortable on the upper bed; she lay back and listened to the rhythm of the falling rain, remembering an old song...
A string of obscenities heralded the arrival of Captain Scarlet. Feigning shock at his uncharacteristic outburst Shadow raised herself onto one elbow and surveyed the rain-soaked apparition that stood dripping before her. She hid her smile behind a hand.
Scarlet pursed his lips. ‘I don’t know what you think is so funny, Lieutenant, but I would appreciate it if you could get me some dry clothing.’ The icy sternness in Metcalfe’s voice was unintentionally harsh, but the abrupt change of expression on the lieutenant’s face was no less gratifying for that.
She jumped down from the bunk and saluted. ‘S.I.G., Captain!’ Then she was gone. For a moment Scarlet remained standing; that sudden change of expression... It reminded him of something. It reminded him of... himself, ten years ago. He had been impetuous, ambitious, disrespectful. A troublemaker. Just like Shadow.
He got out of his wet clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He sat on the edge of the bed and ruminated over his inability to handle his errant alter ego.
Thirty metres away in Major Lemong’s quarters Captain Black reholstered his silenced pistol and gazed glassily down at his handiwork: Lemong lay sprawled across the bare floor, a trickle of blood oozing thickly from a neat hole drilled in his forehead. Even as Black watched, the twin circles of Mysteron influence passed slowly across the corpse.
Black looked up. His voice, like his face, was devoid of emotion: ‘You know what you must do?’
The Mysteron re-creation, standing newborn in the centre of the room, answered in the same soulless monotone: ‘Yes,’ it said, ‘I know what I must do...’
Black nodded; he then bent and dragged Lemong out of the hut’s back door. He slung the body over his shoulder and vanished into the driving rain. He left no trace.
Hunched beneath the rain Shadow ran across the parade-ground towards the supplies unit. She entered it and breathlessly requested a fresh uniform from the clerk behind the counter. He eyed her dubiously for a moment, muttered something about opening hours, and dragged a neatly folded uniform from the shelf. It was a female’s.
‘Uhm, I guess I forgot to tell you that the uniform is for a male member of Spectrum, about this size...’ She indicated Scarlet’s height.
The clerk sighed, took back the uniform, and gave her another. It was cadet’s standard issue and seemed to be Scarlet’s size. Shadow grabbed it thankfully and began the return journey to the bunkhouse.
Outside the rain had stopped. The camp was still, silent. Wisps of steam were rising from the sodden soil, and, beyond the buildings, it coiled through the dripping undergrowth, giving the jungle a timeless, ethereal air.
Shadow paused, caught by the unexpected magic. And then she found her feet carrying her to the margin of the trees, her steps light, as if to avoid shattering the fragile moment.
‘Where the hell do you think you’re going?!’
Shadow spun around guiltily and stood to attention, still holding the clean uniform in her hands; she looked absurd and knew it.
May Joy strode up to her. ‘Where were you taking that?’ she snapped.
‘Why? Has that Cloudbase captain been issuing orders?’
Shadow felt an attack of insolence coming on. ‘Well, it’s strange Sergeant, but I just can’t seem to remember.’
Joy looked as though she was about to explode. But her voice, when it came, was dangerously quiet: ‘I think that remark qualifies as insubordination, but I’ll let it pass if you’ll answer the question. Did Captain Scarlet send you out for that uniform?’
O’Hara said nothing.
Joy smiled. ‘All right, cadet. Insubordination it is. Go to the supplies unit - I think you know the way - and ask for an N.B.C. protective suit. Put it on and come back here. You’re going to do fifty laps of the camp perimeter. And you’re going to do it running.’
In the bunkhouse Scarlet was beginning to wonder what new misadventure had befallen his partner; half an hour, and no sign of her...
He waited another fifteen minutes before deciding that enough was enough. His tropical kit was still wet and so he donned his familiar Spectrum uniform and ventured out in search of the missing lieutenant.
The parade-ground was deserted and Scarlet, muttering darkly as he avoided pool after pool of muddy water, set out for the supplies unit. In the alleyway between the two south-side huts he encountered Major Lemong. Scarlet saluted. ‘Sir. May I ask if you’ve seen Lieutenant Shadow?’
Lemong nodded. ‘She was heading towards the ammunition stores, Captain. Though what she’s doing over there in this weather God only knows!’
Scarlet smiled. ‘She’s a law unto herself, sir.’ He saluted again. ‘Thank you - I’ll go and see what she’s up to.’
Scarlet turned and was about to continue on his way when he paused and passed a hand across his forehead.
Lemong appeared concerned. ‘Are you all right, Captain?’
Scarlet nodded. ‘It’s nothing... Just a little queasy - must be something I ate.’
‘Sure; it’s easy to pickup a bug out here, especially if you’re new to the area.’
Scarlet smiled uncertainly. ‘I’ll pay a visit to the Medical Orderly,’ he said, ‘- after I’ve found that damned lieutenant!’
Lemong watched as Scarlet disappeared into the trees, heading towards the distant ammunition bunkers. Though the creature’s face was impassive, it could not keep a note of triumph from its voice: ‘This time you’ll die - Earthman!’
O‘Hara staggered to a halt, sweat pouring down her face.
Sergeant Joy casually flicked a fly from her immaculately pressed blouse and considered her victim. ‘I’ll have an answer, Lieutenant.’
Shadow eyed her tormentor defiantly; she didn’t have the breath to reply, but her expression made words redundant.
Joy sighed expansively. ‘All right. You can start anoth-’
‘What’s going on here?’ Lemong was striding out from between the huts.
Sergeant Joy stood to attention. ‘Punishment for insubordination, sir.’
Lemong’s gaze swivelled towards Shadow. ‘Insubordination, Lieutenant? In what way?’
‘A little disagreement, sir.’
He returned his attention to Joy. ‘Well, whatever her crime I think she’s had enough. Don’t you, Sergeant?’
Lemong smiled at Shadow. ‘Get that suit back to, the supplies unit, Lieutenant, and then get yourself to bed.’
Shadow summoned the effort to salute, and then gratefully withdrew from the officers’ presence. She entered the camp’s changing block, showered, and donned her normal tropical kit before returning the N.B.C. suit to the supply unit’s used clothing department. She then returned to the bunkhouse.
But Scarlet wasn’t there, and his Spectrum uniform was missing from the locker. She took her cap from her own locker and activated the built-in microphone. ‘Lieutenant Shadow to Captain Scarlet - come in please, Captain Scarlet.’
There was no response. She tried again, with the same result. Where the devil could he have gone? Off playing heroes again, she thought cynically. Still, it might be best to make certain... She took a step towards the door - and then turned back to her locker and pulled a small coil of lightweight nylon rope from her pack. She stuffed it in her pocket and left.
Far from playing a hero, Scarlet was at that moment floundering hopelessly in the swamp. The path to the ammunition bunkers had at first been quite obvious, but the further he had got from the camp the fainter the trail had become, until he had found himself hacking his way through almost virgin jungle. And then the trees had ended, opening out onto what had appeared to be a level clearing. Scarlet, unsuspecting, had stepped confidently out - and into a deep pool of viscous sludge. The fluid was already up to his waist and he was sinking deeper every second - and he could feel nothing beneath his feet.
He had been a fool, but it was too late for self- recrimination - he had to get out of here: Indestructibility was all very well, but he didn’t fancy spending the rest of eternity trapped beneath the swamp like a fly in a pot of honey...
He activated his cap radio, thankful that he had swapped the tropical kit for his Spectrum uniform, only to be greeted by silence; even the usual background hiss was absent - the radio was totally dead. Quickly he tore the cap from his head and examined the radio’s internal mechanism. What he saw made his skin crawl. A single resistor - a small but vital component - was missing. And the piece hadn’t simply worked loose: its connecting wires had been deliberately cut!
The need to escape had suddenly acquired a new urgency - Dead End camp was harbouring a saboteur and Major Lemong had to be warned. His one remaining consolation was that Lemong knew where he’d gone…
A cold hand gripped Scarlet’s heart. Lemong... It had been Lemong who’d directed Scarlet into the jungle. He’d been talking to Lemong when he’d felt nauseous...
Scarlet struggled tore-orient himself to this new circumstance. Lemong was a Mysteron. And he, Scarlet, was the only person who knew. He had to get out of this damned swamp!
This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. Two of Spectrum’s agents will die. We will have our revenge!’
Within seconds Captain Ochre - the commanding officer as Colonel White was off-duty - set the carrier on full alert.
Captain Blue strode decisively toward Cloudbase’s Command Centre, a worried frown creasing his face - this time it was a direct threat against Spectrum. Against his colleagues, his friends.
He entered the control room to find Colonel White already in his place, receiving reports, issuing orders, organising Spectrum’s response to the Mysteron move. The Colonel spotted Blue and beckoned him over. ‘The carrier is on full Red Alert, Captain. All duty Officers to report every half-hour. And I’ve ordered that communication with Spectrum ground forces is to be made using codegroup 57.’
Blue nodded. ‘The Mysterons haven’t cracked that yet.’
White glanced at him sharply. ‘As far as we know, Captain.’ He looked past Blue to Captain Magenta, seated temporarily at Lieutenant Green’s position. ‘Captain, cancel all surface leave - effective immediately. We can’t have people swanning off during an alert.’
The Colonel turned back to Blue. ‘Well, Cloudbase is sealed tighter than a drum; I wish I could say the same for our ground deployments.’ He surveyed the arc of coloured lights that rimmed the control desk and started tapping a anxious fingernail on the plastic surface. ‘The Mysterons could infiltrate our depots and camps in a thousand different ways...’ He looked up at Blue. ‘Indeed, they may have already begun.’
The muck was now up to Scarlet’s armpits. At first he had tried reaching back to the undergrowth that bordered the swamp, but to his dismay he found the branches to be beyond his grasp. He had tried lunging towards them but that had simply accelerated his gradual immersion. He had but one option left:
‘HELP!’ His voice rang out across the pool, disturbing a flock of birds that were perched in the surrounding trees; with a flurry of feathers and a babble of protesting squawks they rose into the air and wheeled above the unfortunate Scarlet. He yelled again.
Melanie O’Hara, initially guided by a young cadet who had seen Scarlet passing beyond the camp’s perimeter, had followed his footprints as far as the tangled vegetation would allow; she could see the torn leaves and broken branches that indicated the line of his passage, but now she had lost the trail in the undergrowth.
She paused, temporarily defeated, and listened to the sounds of the jungle: birdsong, the chirping of countless insects, the cries of some distant animal...
Distant animal? She tilted her head to one side, listening intently:
‘Help! Anybody! Help!’
With a fury she hadn’t expected herself to possess after Joy’s ‘training’ she attacked the wall of undergrowth, battering, tearing, pulling herself through it to reach the man she could hear crying desperately for help on its farther side. ‘Scarlet! It’s me! I’m coming!’
A momentary silence greeted her cry. And then, anonymous through the dense foliage, came the heated response: ‘Well it’s about bloody time! Where the hell have you been!?’
Melanie O’Hara stopped in mid-hack. The ungrateful, chauvinistic-! She gave vent to her anger, set her lips in a hard line, and recommenced her advance.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, she broke through the undergrowth. And stopped, taken aback by the sight that met her startled gaze: Scarlet, up to his neck in a pool of glutinous slime, his left arm desperately reaching for help. Even as she watched, the fluid reached his chin.
He was within seconds of going under.
Quickly she pulled the nylon rope from her pocket, uncoiled it, and formed a loop atone end. Then, taking careful aim, she twirled the loop above her head and then tossed it towards Scarlet. It fell precisely on target. He gripped the loop and tried to fasten it securely - but the motion caused him to slide deeper into the swamp.
O’Hara stared at him in silent horror and then slung the rope around a nearby tree and started to pull frantically. She felt a weight on the other end, saw Scarlet tighten his grip. The fury she had felt before returned - she would not let the captain go without a fight. She was tired of losing people.
Like the anchorman in a tug-of-war she leaned back, digging her heels into the soft earth, and heaved for all she was worth. And slowly, so slowly, she dragged Captain Scarlet from the viscid grip of the swamp. She glanced over her shoulder to assess the results of her efforts. Suddenly the swamp released Spectrum’s best agent, causing her to fall headlong into the muddy soil. Free of the swamp’s embrace Scarlet slowly crawled onto more solid terrain.
The two lay exhausted on the soft earth. With an effort Scarlet reached up, tore down a large leaf, and used it to clear his eyes and mouth.
O’Hara tried to wipe the mud from her face, and failed.
Metcalfe, whose uniform was now anything but scarlet, looked apologetically at Shadow. ‘Sorry about my, ah, impatience at the lateness of your arrival.’
Shadow regarded him from beneath lowered brows. ‘The next time, sir, I will leave you to sink.’
Scarlet wasn’t entirely sure if she was joking. He coughed. ‘Where did you learn to lasso like that?’ he asked, changing the subject.
‘Special Squad. I was assigned to rescue an Arabian Prince from his harem.’ Memories stirred; she fell silent.
‘And you needed lasso skills?!’ Shadow didn’t reply, and he didn’t press her. Something had happened during her stay with the Squad; one day he would figure out what it was. Instead he said: ‘What held you up at the Supplies Unit? And, more to the point, how did you find me?’
‘I was on my way back-’ She stopped, her eye caught by a subtle movement. ‘Don’t look now,’ she whispered, ‘but there’s something in the bushes on the far side of the pool.’ Cautiously she drew her gun, keeping it by her side, out of sight of any hidden watcher. ‘I think we’d better make a strategic withdrawal.’
Unhurriedly they stood and carefully pushed their way back through the wall of tangled vegetation.
‘Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet, come in please!’ Captain Magenta turned to Colonel White and shook his head. ‘I’ve been trying to raise Scarlet and Lieutenant Shadow for the last hour, sir. No response.’
‘What about Dead End Camp itself?’
‘They report that Scarlet and Shadow left the camp some hours ago, but no-one seems to know where they went. In addition, Major Lemong has gone missing.’
White’s brows knitted in a deep frown. ‘It looks,’ he concluded bluntly, ‘as though Scarlet and Shadow are the Mysterons’ targets.’ He activated Cloudbase’s address system. ‘This is Colonel White. Captains Blue and Ochre to report to hangar two and prepare for immediate ground deployment. Spectrum is red!’
Shadow paused in the green maze, unsure of the way back to the safety of the camp. Scarlet, immediately behind her, was equally lost.
‘Perhaps that way...’ he suggested uncertainly.
‘That,’ said Shadow with biting sarcasm, ‘is the way we’ve just come!’
Scarlet held up his hands defensively. ‘Okay, Lieutenant, you’re in char-’ His voice trailed off.
Shadow glanced at him, and then quickly followed the line of his stare. Three metres away, standing in an opening in the undergrowth, was Major Lemong. In his raised right hand was a pistol, and it was aimed at Scarlet. Lemong pulled the trigger.
‘Die, Earthman!’ The gun cracked viciously; the single bullet struck Scarlet in the chest, throwing him violently against a tree. He slid to the ground, the front of his tunic a bloody mess.
Shadow’s training saved her life. At the instant Lemong fired she had thrown herself to the ground and crawled on knees and elbows into the surrounding vegetation.
The gun spat again, and something whined savagely over her head. But now she remained perfectly still- she was already smeared in earth and leaf-litter; the chances of Lemong spotting her were slim. She lay on her side, not daring to breathe, eyes darting from tree to tree.
‘I know you’re still here, Lieutenant.’ Lemong was mocking her. ‘Why don’t you stand up and get it over with? You know that I’ll find you eventually.’ But his tone belied his confidence; the earth seemed to have swallowed her. And he couldn’t afford any mistakes - she was armed with an electron-pistol, a single shot from which would be enough to snuff out his life.
But luck seemed to be his. A bird, startled by the movement below it, broke cover, fluttering noisily through the branches. Lemong, nerves on a knife- edge, turned and fired.
On Cloudbase the blue bulb on the Colonel’s control desk began to flash rapidly. ‘Yes, Captain Blue?’
‘We’re going to land at Dead End in fifteen minutes.’ The helijet’s engines droned in the background.
‘Understood. Report as soon as you’ve arrived!’
Red fluid dripped from the bush the Major had hit. A cold smile appeared on the Mysteron’s face. He was quite sure that he had hit the lieutenant, but he had to make sure that the Earthwoman was dead. He raised the barrel of his gun for the last time...
Lieutenant Shadow’s gun spat death. The electric flash hit Lemong right between the shoulder-blades and he crumpled soundlessly.
With her gun still levelled, Shadow emerged from hiding. Cautiously she approached the corpse, but Lemong - or rather, the creature that had assumed Lemong’s identity- was quite dead.
She turned, a single thought in her mind: ‘Scarlet!’
But the captain, too, was dead. His chest had been blown apart by the impact of the projectile. She knelt by his side, unable to release her pain. She wanted to cry, but couldn’t. She had learned to hide her emotions, to keep herself under control; now that ability seemed more a curse than a blessing.
When she realized that the round had been tipped with explosive, the twenty-first-century equivalent of the outlawed dum-dum bullet, anger joined the turmoil inside her. Why would Lemong use explosive bullets, she asked herself bitterly. Wasn’t old-fashioned lead good enough?
She hated to leave Scarlet’s body like that, slumped against the tree, flies gathering about the congealing blood, but there was no alternative. She had to get back to the camp to inform Spectrum about the Mysteron’s impersonation of Lemong. And Lemong might not have been alone. The camp held over sixty cadets -and each one a possible Mysteron! She pulled herself together, gave Scarlet one last look, and set off to find the path back.
The helijet swooped low across the treetops, the Spectrum symbol on its fuselage bright in the tropical sunlight.
Captain Blue scowled down onto the jungle from its passenger cabin; the message he had just received from Lieutenant Shadow lay like a weight on his shoulders. Scarlet was dead; unfortunate, but it didn’t matter-what was really important was the conversion of Lemong and the danger to the rest of the camp. Blue’s scowl deepened.
Melanie O’Hara watched - expressionlessly as the helijet touched down, its floatation skids spreading the vehicle’s weight across the water-logged landing site. The door slid open and Captain Blue stepped out. He half- walked, half-waded towards her, his expression grim.
‘Lieutenant.’ He looked past her to the camp. ‘How many people know what happened?’
She shook her head. ‘No-one. I don’t trust anyone here anymore.’
‘All right. Another machine is on its way with a security troop and a Mysteron detector - the entire complement of this base is going to be screened.’ He looked her in the face. ‘Doctor Fawn will also be aboard; he’ll want to know where Captain Scarlet is - can you lead us to him?’
‘I think so.’
‘Good. We’ll be taking him back to Cloudbase for treatment as soon as possible - you’ll be flying back with him.’
Shadow shook her head. ‘I don’t think you understand - Captain Scarlet is dead.’
Blue smiled. ‘Oh, I don’t doubt you, Lieutenant.’ He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. ‘But I’m pretty sure he’ll be up and about again shortly.’ Still smiling, he walked past her towards the camp buildings.
Melanie O’Hara was feeling increasingly annoyed: Colonel White was wearing the same irritating little smirk as Captain Blue. He looked across his desk at her, a smug, fatherly expression on his craggy face. ‘I gather,’ he was saying, ‘that you believe Captain Scarlet to be among the angels, Lieutenant.’ And if the message had just received from Doctor Fawn was anything to go by that belief was quite justified...
‘I see no reason to be flippant about the death of one of your agents, Colonel.’
‘I’m sorry if I appear so.’ He paused briefly. ‘You may have, ah, heard certain, er, rumours concerning the Captain...’
‘You mean his indestructibility?’
O’Hara’s temper was on the point of flaring. ‘Look, isn’t this all a bit sick? So Captain Scarlet had a reputation for getting out of narrow scrapes. So has the chief of Special Squad Cobra, Denninger. They call him ‘bullet-proof’ Denninger, but it’s just a joke; nobody seriously believes him to be literally bulletproof.’
Incredibly Colonel White’s smile had developed into a broad grin. ‘Report to sickbay, Lieutenant. I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise.’
Shadow opened her mouth to reply, thought better of it, and, fuming, withdrew from the Colonel’s presence. She stalked down to sickbay and swept through the automatic doors.
She stopped short at the sight of Rhapsody, Symphony, and Destiny Angels crowding around the only occupied bed.
Doctor Fawn appeared from the pharmacy. ‘Ah, we’ve been wondering when you would appear, Lieutenant.’ He saw her look of utter disbelief and responded promptly. ‘I think four visitors at once is against the rules, and so, my dear Angels, would you care to leave now? You can pay the captain another visit later!’ He shepherded the protesting Angels out of sickbay.
‘Hello, Lieutenant. It’s nice of you to visit me.’ Scarlet was sitting up, exposing a chest wreathed in bandages. ‘I hear you did all right.’
Shadow’s mouth opened and closed like goldfish’s.
‘Wha- How- Whe-’
Scarlet laughed involuntarily, and winced at the pain.
Mel’s incredulity turned to concern. ‘You’re all right?’
‘It only hurts when I laugh.’ He smiled. ‘So you really didn’t know about my retrometabolism?’
Shadow recovered her poise. ‘No, sir, I didn’t. I’d always assumed that you were just plain lucky.’
‘Ah! If only! Without retrometabolism I’d have been dead long ago.’
‘Damn! I’d been planning on taking over your job, but I guess that’s up the spout now.’
Un-noticed, Colonel White had entered the room. ‘I hope that last comment was made in jest, Lieutenant,’ he said in mock seriousness, ‘or I’ll have to consider your transfer...’
‘Just a joke, sir. When I last saw the Captain he was - how can I put it - a little indisposed.’
‘Sir.’ If it was possible for anyone to stand to attention whilst lying in a hospital bed then Scarlet achieved it. ‘Doctor Fawn considers that I’ll be fit for duty in twenty-four hours.’
White’s eyes sparkled maliciously. He had his own sense of humour, too often hidden and unrecognised. ‘Well that’s fortunate, Captain, because the reason I’m here is to inform Lieutenant Shadow and yourself that you are to report to Dead End Camp in forty-eight hours to complete your refresher course.’
He turned to leave; looking over his shoulder he added: ‘I’m sure Sergeant Joy will be delighted to see you both.’
Scarlet rolled his eyes. ‘Oh, boy!’ was all he said.
T H E E N D
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