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A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons Multiverse Challenge Story
By Tiger Jackson
The Angels, all five of them, were dead.
Dead twice over.
The roots of the tragedy had been planted almost three years ago when the Mysteronised Captain Scarlet had kidnapped World President Younger. Captain Blue had tried to save the President when he was trapped, along with his kidnapper, atop the teetering London Car-Vu. Blue had shot the Mysteron, causing him to lose his grip on the structure and fall to his death. But it was too late. Before Captain Blue could reach Younger, the tower had lurched, then broken and fallen to pieces, taking its victim down with it.
After the World President’s death, the flaws in the World Government’s organization had immediately become apparent. The government was based on traditional forms, so the World Vice-Presidency was an office of high honour and relatively little power, used to reward someone who had given long, if undistinguished, service or to render someone powerless. And, in keeping with tradition, the vice-president was first-in-line to become World President if anything should happen to the incumbent. Critics of the system suggested that element was meant to be a form of insurance against a leader’s assassination, as few rational people would want to see an unqualified successor in charge of the world. But the model was not foolproof, they warned, and had failed repeatedly throughout history on national levels. Nonetheless, the designers of the World Government had adopted the flawed model, trusting that nothing would ever happen to its president.
So the inept Augustus Pemberton, the World Vice-President, was poorly prepared for the responsibilities of his new office. No one, of course, had ever imagined that he would be called upon to serve as World President. But when the worst had happened, Pemberton had become the most powerful man on the planet and commander-in-chief over all the world’s protective forces, including Spectrum. But Pemberton had not revealed any unexpected gift for command. Not even some small ability. Worse, he was an egotist who would not acknowledge his inexperience and shortcomings and rarely sought or accepted advice or input, preferring to trust in his own judgement.
He didn’t learn from his many mistakes. When the Mysterons had threatened to destroy the World President within twelve hours, Pemberton had accepted Spectrum’s offer of protection. But when Spectrum had deciphered the riddle’s true meaning and tried to send agents to the colossal ship scheduled to be christened The World President, Pemberton refused to believe he wasn’t the Mysterons’ intended target. In his mind, he was far more important than the ship, and if the ship was damaged, it could be repaired. Angered by Colonel White’s objections and arguments that an attack by the Mysterons would go far beyond merely damaging the ship, Pemberton exerted his power as commander-in-chief and ordered Spectrum to stay away from the launch, declaring that the security force’s presence would cause unnecessary panic. When the ship was christened with an undiscovered bottle of explosives, the force of the blast destroyed the ship and damaged structures for a half kilometre around it. Many important people in the reviewing stand were killed, including the newly installed World Vice-President and the British Crown’s representative, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward Tracy. Thousands of spectators suffered injuries. But even that catastrophe had not convinced Pemberton that Spectrum’s counsel was wise.
The President learned nothing from two more years of attacks by the Mysterons. And a slight majority of the world’s voters were not convinced that a change in leadership was called for. By the narrowest of margins, President Pemberton was elected to his inherited office in 2069. Soon after, his supporters, anxious to keep the malleable puppet in office and themselves in hidden positions of power, managed to persuade an increasingly divided World Legislature to amend the government’s charter and extend the world president’s term of office from two years to “however long the world’s state of emergency lasts.”
When Pemberton had first contacted Colonel White and ordered him to send the Angels, all five of them, to the Air Mach Conference in Chicago, the Colonel had refused. He knew that Pemberton not only had no true grasp of the Angels’ role in Spectrum, he didn’t care about it. That they were Spectrum’s elite pilots, valuable fighters in the War of Nerves, and would serve as ambassadors for the organisation was only a minor consideration. White was aware that the President, notorious for his roving eye, wanted the Angels to go to the Conference because they were beautiful women; Pemberton expected them to charm the foreign dignitaries who would attend and sway them to support Pemberton’s goals.
Colonel White had argued against sending his pilots — any of them — to the Conference to serve in such a degrading capacity. But Pemberton threatened to relieve White of his command for disobeying an order from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and replace him. White knew that anyone who replaced him would have only political patronage as his or her chief qualification for leading Spectrum. White had had no real choice but to yield and give the order for the Angels to attend the Conference.
They were en route to Chicago from Cloudbase when the Mysterons issued their cryptic threat: ANGELS WILL MEET DEATH IN THE AIR AND BE GROUNDED FOREVER. THE FALLEN ANGELS WILL GRIEVE MANY.
Spectrum had scrambled to decipher the riddle. The obvious meaning was that the SPJ carrying the Angels would be attacked while in flight so it made an emergency landing in Quebec. Captain Ochre suggested that the Mysterons’ message could also apply to bridges that were high in the air, so the Angels began making their way slowly overland from Montreal, uncomfortably packed with their luggage into a maximum-security vehicle, hours away from their rendevous with a mini-submarine that would carry them across Lake Michigan to Chicago.
“The Angels have just left the city, sir.”
“Thank you, lieutenant.” He turned to his four senior officers, seated on stools before his desk.
“Colonel, now that the Angels are safely on the ground and will be staying there, how can they be in any more danger?” asked Captain Grey.
“I’m not convinced they were ever the Mysterons’ target,” put in Captain Scarlet.
Colonel White raised an eyebrow. “Explain.”
“Spectrum Moscow reported a possible sighting of Captain Black in the heart of the city yesterday. We know that he’s often been spotted near places that were attacked by the Mysterons.”
“That’s true. So you think the target is somewhere in Moscow?” asked Captain Blue. “What’s the connection with angels?”
“There’s the Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel Cathedral in the Kremlin: the Archangelsky for short. Besides being decorated with frescos featuring angels, it’s a major museum now. And it’s currently hosting an exhibition of icons featuring angels. The cathedral is an important site in Russian church and secular history, and an attack would destroy centuries of irreplaceable religious art and architecture.”
Captain Ochre nodded. “That certainly fits the Mysterons’ promise that the angels’ fall would ‘grieve many’. But what about meeting ‘death in the air’?”
“Probably a metaphor for the means of attack,” suggested Grey. “Maybe a missile of some sort, or a bomb carried by a radio-controlled drone.”
“The cathedral is very vulnerable to such attacks. It stands in the open with nothing to impede an aerial attack. I’m certain it’s the answer to the Mysterons’ riddle. They intend to destroy the Archangelsky Cathedral,” declared Captain Scarlet.
“Lieutenant Green, contact Spectrum Moscow and tell them what Captain Scarlet has deduced. They are to begin securing the area and presume that Captain Black is in the city. Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue, you will prepare to leave for Moscow immediately.”
“S.I.G.,” the two captains replied in unison as they rose to leave the Control Room.
“Captain Ochre, Captain Grey, I want the two of you to proceed to Chicago and the Air Mach Conference. Double-check the security arrangements.”
“Sir?” Ochre was puzzled.
“I’m confident that Scarlet is right, that the Mysterons will attack the Archangelsky Cathedral. But the Conference must also be a tempting target to the Mysterons. We must be prepared for any possibility.”
The Angels had been exhausted by the time they reached the Driskill Hotel, where the Air Mach Conference would begin in the morning. All they wanted to do was check into their rooms and get some rest before they had to appear at the Conference’s exclusive VIP breakfast reception. They were shocked when the hotel’s desk clerk informed them that the hotel had been overbooked and they would all have to share a room.
“That’s ridiculous!” gasped Symphony. “You can’t pack five of us and all our bags into one room! We’ve already spent an entire day being treated like sardines.”
Rhapsody tried to reason with the clerk. “We are here at World President Pemberton’s request,” she told him. “Can’t you split us up into two rooms, at least?”
The clerk shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. We haven’t got as much as a broom closet to spare.”
Symphony snorted in exasperation. “Maybe three of us should try to find another place to spend the night and take a taxi back here in the morning.”
“I’m afraid you won’t find anything else in Chicago,” said the clerk. “Everything’s been booked for weeks.”
A tired and cross Melody had had enough. All she wanted was a shower and a soft chair all to herself. She insisted the clerk call around and find them other accommodation. He demured, which made Melody even angrier. While she was arguing with him, she heard a man’s familiar, boisterous laughter.
“It’s all right,” Captain Ochre said, grinning from ear to ear as he stepped up to the registration desk. “I think they’ve had enough. Give them their keys.”
The clerk smiled and beckoned to the bellboys, giving them instructions to start loading the Angels’ luggage and convey it to their rooms. Swiftly, he produced the keys to five private suites.
“You!” roared Melody. “You set this up!”
Ochre, still grinning, raised his hands in surrender. “It was just a joke. No need to get so upset about it, Mags!”
Melody stalked up to the dark-yellow-vested captain and stood inches from his face. “We have been through hell today, Captain,” she snarled. “We’ve had our lives threatened. Then we had to ride hundreds of miles in an MSV. Did you know its passenger compartment was meant for only four people, not six, and there isn’t enough trunk space for five women’s luggage and helmets? And I just want to forget the ride in the mini-sub. We couldn’t even get into the hotel without having guards paw through our bags and check us repeatedly with the Mysteron detector because someone wasn’t supervising them to see that they handled it right. I am NOT in the mood to put up with one of your stupid schoolboy pranks.”
Ochre made a futile attempt to rally her good humour. “I suppose this means a late dinner with me is out of the question?”
Melody turned on her heel and marched away. “Just you wait, Captain Ochre!” snapped Rhapsody, in a Cockney accent. “Just you wait!” The other four Angels shot daggers at Ochre before following their comrade.
Ochre released the breath he’d been holding. He recalled that when Liza Doolittle had said something similar to Professor Higgins, she’d been visualising a firing squad. “Well, I’m in for it now,” he muttered. “It was just a joke!”
Despite their exhaustion, none of the Angels slept well in Chicago that night. Captain Ochre saw Melody walking through the lobby. He started towards her, hoping to apologise, but she tossed him a cold look that said clearly she was still furiously angry with him. He decided to leave her alone for now.
At various times during the night, several Spectrum security agents saw Melody and the other Angels on the hotel’s ground floor. One female agent noticed that each one was carrying a handbag. She’d assumed that the handbags contained the sort of personal articles every woman carries at all times, things that are too bulky to slip into pockets. While it seemed a bit odd to see the Angels wandering around, none of the agents felt any concern. The Angels, like everyone else at the hotel, had been checked with Mysteron detectors when they arrived, and besides they were Spectrum personnel. If they were restless, they were also harmless. No one paid particular attention to where the Angels went or what they did that night.
In the morning, all five Angels arrived for the VIP breakfast reception wearing their Spectrum flight suits. As President Pemberton had instructed, they were flirtatious and charming. They quickly attached themselves to the highest-ranking Conference attendees, engaging them in chat and steering them with their laden plates to tables in the centre of the room.
When the bombs beneath those tables went off, many of the VIPs were among the first to die.
Spectrum immediately went into action. Some of the security agents set about effecting an orderly evacuation of the hotel while others went directly to the aid of victims.
The reception room had been largely destroyed within but its outer walls were intact. One inner wall, a thin partition that had been used to reduce a ballroom to a suitable size for the breakfast gathering, had buckled and warped, although it still stood. Most of the screams and cries came from there, where the force of the blast had been weakest.
On hearing the blasts, Sergeant Meikko had hurried to be the first on the scene. He had been disappointed when, on graduating from the Spectrum academy, he had not been made a colour-coded lieutenant. As a sergeant attached to Spectrum Security, Meikko had hoped for an opportunity to be present at a disaster, to show his mettle and win advancement. Now was his chance. He ordered his team to follow him.
They tried the main door into the Driskill’s ballroom, but discovered it opened inwards. Sergeant Meikko guessed that the door was blocked by debris; it took the combined efforts of himself and Corporal Edwards to shove it open barely enough for one person to slip through. It wasn’t totally dark inside, but the emergency lighting was weak and diffused.
“I’ll go in with the flashlight, Corporal Edwards. We’ll need more people with flashlights, first-aid kits, the whole nine yards. Serrante, Jones, you go with him.”
“Are you sure you should be going in alone?” Edwards asked hesitantly, as the other security guards started off. “What if there’re terrorists waiting in there?”
“Don’t question my orders, Corporal,” growled Meikko. He frowned at Edwards’ retreating back before stepping inside the breakfast room.
Part of the ceiling had fallen in, raising a cloud of chalky dust. Meikko coughed twice as he futilely tried to wave it away. Even with the emergency lighting and his torch, he couldn’t see too well. He shone his light around the room a few times before seeing a table lying against the far wall begin to move as someone trapped beneath it pushed upward.
“Hey, wait, let me help you!” he shouted
Meikko stumbled gingerly but eagerly over the debris, anxious to make the first rescue of a survivor. He hoped Edwards would send someone else in shortly with a powerful torch to witness his heroism. With a grunt, he tipped the heavy table up and thrust it away, then turned back to see who had been beneath it. It was one of the Angels; he thought her name was Symphony, although he wasn’t certain. She tried to stand, but reeled and fell forward, catching the sergeant around the waist. He caught and held her briefly, trying to steady her.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you. You’re safe now.” He felt an upwelling of pride in his ability to use a calm, comforting tone with the undoubtedly frightened woman.
To his surprise, she pushed him away with an unexpected show of strength. He had only a few seconds to register that she was holding his gun and pressing it against his stomach.
“Thank you, Earthman.” Symphony shot Meikko before he could react. The sound was muffled by his body.
On some level, Meikko knew he was horribly injured. He knew he should call for help, shout a warning. His lips moved as he tried to speak, but it was suddenly too much effort. The Angel showed no emotion, not even an academic interest, as the Spectrum sergeant fell dead.
Rhapsody emerged from the debris as Symphony rolled her victim’s body out of sight behind a pile of rubble. Together, she and Symphony found Harmony. Unlike the other two, who had been standing by the buffet against the partition wall, Harmony had been heading for the door to leave the room and thus been closer to the tables when the bombs had exploded prematurely. She’d sustained a compound fracture of her femur and could not stand. Destiny and Melody were nowhere to be seen.
There was no time to look for the missing Angels. They could hear other people beyond the partially open doorway. With a nod to Symphony, Rhapsody went to meet the young grey-and-white clad man forcing his way past the door.
“Meikko! Meikko!” he shouted before the Angel appeared. “Thank God, you’re alive!” gushed the young Spectrum security guard. “More help is coming. Captain Grey will be —” He gasped as the Angel seized him around the throat, cutting off his flow of words and air. She yanked him into the room before breaking his neck and taking his pistol. Casually, she tossed his body aside against the far wall, out of sight to the next person who came through the door. She then slammed it shut and, with Symphony’s help, leaned a table against it to hold it closed.
Many of the bombing’s survivors had begun moaning or crying weakly for help. Harmony listened for them and pointed to where they were. The two armed Angels quickly began methodically killing all the survivors they could locate, making the most efficient use of every bullet.
Someone hammered on the door. “Meikko! Edwards! What’s going on in there?” a muffled voice shouted. The hammering became the steady rhythmic pounding of some heavy object. The door, already weakened by the blast, began to splinter.
“Take your places, ladies,” said Rhapsody grimly. “They’ll break through any second.” Harmony carefully arranged herself where she lay near the door, her obviously injured leg outstretched. Symphony lifted a table and slid behind it. Rhapsody took cover behind a large section of the fallen ceiling.
The broken table they had propped up to wedge the door shut split and fell to pieces, throwing up a cloud of dust. A woman clad in the distinctive grey-and-white of Spectrum security was the first one through the opening this time.
Before she could look around for her colleagues, Harmony cried out, her voice filled with pain, “Help us! Please, help us!”
“I’ve found one of the Angels!” the woman called to whoever else was outside the door and made her way carefully through the dust and debris toward the Angel. There were no signs of life in any of the other victims she encountered.
“Please, help me,” moaned Harmony as the rescuer bent over her.
“Easy, now. We’ll get you out. My name’s Corporal Davies.” Davies knelt to examine Harmony’s leg as the Angel reached up with one hand, accidentally slicing it on a shard of wood. Davies gently seized Harmony’s wrist.
“Just lie still now, you’ll just hurt yourself more if you keep moving about,” Davies soothed the injured woman, but her words trailed off as she stared at the wound, momentarily unable to believe she was seeing it begin to close and heal. For a long moment, her eyes locked with Harmony’s.
“Mysterons!” Davies shouted. “The Angel’s a Mysteron!”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Harmony’s free hand cutting sideways towards her neck. Instinctively, she moved but not nearly fast enough. There was a loud crack; Davies felt her collarbone shatter as time seemed to slow down. There was no pain at first. I hope someone heard me, she thought before the excruciating pain began and shock overwhelmed her consciousness.
Her leg almost healed, Harmony rose to her knees and prepared to dispatch Corporal Davies with another karate blow.
A blue bolt of energy flew in through the door and struck Harmony squarely in the chest. She screamed horribly before collapsing, smoke rising from her body.
Still crouched in their hiding places, the two surviving Mysterons exchanged glances. Spectrum had brought up a Mysteron rifle. Symphony nodded. Together, the two Angels assumed stances and trained their guns on the doorway.
It was like a foretaste of Armageddon. A Spectrum security guard dived through the partly open door, his automatic rifle spraying bullets across the room, forcing the Mysterons to take cover. Another guard followed and another. The Angels tried to keep the doorway secure, anticipating what was coming, but the growing number of Spectrum guards kept them pinned down with steady gunfire. Eventually, Rhapsody fell before the barrage, then Symphony. The attackers waited a long time, straining to hear the smallest sound of an enemy’s movements. Eventually, they approached slowly, suspecting a trick, but there was none. Both of the Angels had sustained multiple wounds, too many for a human to survive. But they were healing as the Spectrum agents watched, healing unnaturally rapidly. Rhapsody drew a deep breath and opened her eyes.
“Captain Grey? What happened? What are you doing here?” She sounded puzzled.
Grey took a step back as Rhapsody sat up. He saw a pistol not far from her hand. It wouldn’t take much effort on the Angel’s part to grab it. He raised the Mysteron gun.
Rhapsody gasped and brought a hand to her mouth. Not the one near the gun, Grey noticed. “Brad, no! You’re making a mistake! Please, don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!” Her face became a mask of terror and tears spilled out of her huge, beautiful eyes. She wiped at them with one hand, smearing dust over her cheeks. “Please, Brad, put the gun down.” She began to shift to a kneeling position. Her free hand moved over the gun.
Captain Grey had to make a decision. “God forgive me,” he whispered as he raised the Mysteron gun and fired. He wished he could close his ears against her dying scream.
“Captain! Behind you!” shouted one of the security guards.
A woman moaned. Grey turned to her. It was Symphony Angel.
“What have you done?” Symphony made an attempt to creep toward her friend. One hand closed around a broken table leg big enough to wield as a club.
The club would have been too heavy for the human Symphony, Grey knew. But he had witnessed the unnatural speed and strength that a Mysteronised woman could have. Thinking he saw her hand tightening, he raised the Mysteron gun again. Catching his motion from the side of her eye, Symphony turned her head towards him. Grey saw her eyes narrow and her mouth twist for a moment before her face settled into an expression of shock. “But I’m... Tell Adam, I...” A muscle in her arm jerked. The club shifted slightly.
Grey had no time to decide if Symphony had just flinched or if it was something else. He fired.
Unlike the other two, Symphony folded up without a sound and lay still.
With the death of the last Mysteron, the Spectrum agents realised how very quiet the room was. Focussed on destroying the Mysteronised women, they had been only peripherally aware that they were climbing over and around human bodies. Now, they were all too conscious of the silence of death. No one felt anything but empathy for the young sergeant who staggered for the door, retching. Captain Grey wished he could lift the Mysteron gun off his shoulders and follow.
A bead of sweat ran down into Grey’s right eye. He blinked and swallowed hard. He realised that he was shaking and his knuckles had gone white. Grey loosened his grip on the Mysteron rifle and felt an uncomfortable tingling in his hands.
His epaulets flashed and his mic lowered. “Go ahead, Ochre.”
“What’s happening in there? Why’s it gotten so quiet?”
“It’s over. We need medics in here and others to help find the wounded.” Grey reported. He was glad to find that his voice was steady. “Ochre, I don’t know how, but the Mysterons got to at least three of the Angels. I had to kill them.”
“Harmony. Symphony. Rhapsody. There’s no sign of the others. I’m sure they both came in here this morning.”
“I’ll assign Security teams to start hunting for them. I’m going to check the Angels’ suites.”
While the hunt for survivors got underway in the ground-floor ballroom, Captain Ochre tapped one of the female lieutenants. “Lieutenant Olive, you’re with me. You’re going to chaperon me while I barge into ladies’ rooms.” His words were light but he wasn’t smiling. Olive heard the tension in his voice.
They reached Destiny’s suite first. Using a passkey, Ochre immediately discovered that the door was locked but unbolted. He opened it cautiously. A soft, sweet odour of flowers drifted out. No lights were on, but the curtains had not been drawn and the outer room was flooded with sunlight.
“Destiny!” he shouted. “Destiny! It’s Captain Ochre!”
The captain and the lieutenant strained their ears, but there was no reply, no sound at all.
“She could be sleeping, sir,” suggested the young lieutenant, trying hard not to let doubt creep into her voice. “I understand the Angels arrived late and were very tired.”
“It’s also possible she’s in the shower. Destiny’s famous for being fashionably late to fancy dos.” The lieutenant glanced at Ochre as he spoke. She couldn’t hear water running, and she was certain he didn’t either.
“Maybe I should go in alone, sir, just in case. She could be towelling off.” At a nod from the captain, Olive entered the room, alert to any sound or movement.
It was a beautifully decorated room but the large fresh-flower arrangement had for some reason been more or less neatly removed from its vase and left scattered on the table. Olive hardly glanced at the flowers before moving to the bedroom door. Standing to one side, she opened it with care and waited before looking in, then entering. Again, Olive discovered that someone had maltreated the fresh flowers. But that didn’t matter. She was more concerned with the blonde woman lying motionless on the bed. Destiny Angel looked so relaxed, so serene, that Olive first thought she was only deeply asleep. But on looking closer, she saw the Angel’s waxen pallor, and the slight sinking of her features that said she had died hours before. She felt for a pulse anyway and was not surprised to find that Destiny’s skin was cold.
Lieutenant Olive felt her throat tighten. At least the Angel apparently hadn’t suffered. She could see no signs of trauma. But it was the first time Olive had seen death up close and the shock was making her dizzy. She tried to take a deep breath to clear her head. And discovered she couldn’t. The air seemed too heavy for her lungs to force in and out. Her vision began to swim as the room spun faster. Turning, she stumbled blindly, groping for the door. She knocked over a chair and kicked a rubbish basket before she ran up against a glass wall. Vaguely, she recalled that glass walls were usually sliding doors. Stretching her arms out, she felt for the edges and ran her hands down along them. She found a handle and pulled. As it slid open, she lost her balance and fell through the opening onto a small balcony.
“Olive! What’s wrong in there!” shouted Ochre. “Why are you bashing about?”
Unable to shout back, Olive activated her radio cap. “Angel . . . dead,” she gasped. “Can’t . . . breathe . . .don’t . . .come in . . . yet . . . close . . . door.” She quit speaking as she tried to gulp the fresh, lighter air. Feeling as if something was slowly squeezing her chest, she forced herself to consciously think of drawing each breath in and pushing it out again. She could smell the room’s air flowing out past her as the automatic air-circulation unit kicked on, and dragged herself out of the stream. Olive concentrated on breathing the fresh air. The constriction in her lungs seemed to ease as she did so. Her epaulets flashed ochre.
“Olive, are you all right? Do you need help?”
“Yes, but . . . can wait,” she croaked. “’m on . . . balcony. The room . . . the air . . .” Her voice failed again.
“Understood. Stay where you are!” Ochre signed off.
Even as he called for a medical team’s assistance, Ochre felt a tightness in his chest. Neither Destiny nor Melody had been seen in the wreckage of the breakfast room. He didn’t realise until now what he had hoped, that their absences meant they had survived, maybe even that they had not been Mysteronised. But now he knew that even though Destiny had been seen entering the breakfast room only hours ago, she had never left her suite. Four of the Angels were dead, then. Only Melody’s status was still uncertain. Ochre pushed his growing fear aside. He had work to do.