WARNING: This story is unfinished and will remain so, unless the author comes back to complete it.
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A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons Multiverse Challenge Story
By Tiger Jackson
As instructed by Captain Ochre, the medics who came to help Lieutenant Olive wore protective clothing and breathing apparatus and had brought kit for him as well..
Instead of sending for another agent to back him up, Captain Ochre chose to check Melody’s suite alone. He was afraid of what he might discover, but he wanted, he needed to know whether — He bit his lip. He’d been attracted to Magnolia Jones for a long time. She hadn’t discouraged his attentions. And lately, he’d begun to hope she was feeling something for him, too. But he knew, for certain, that the other four Angels were dead; at least three of them had been duplicated by the Mysterons. Melody — Magnolia — was the only one unaccounted for. He radioed Captain Grey that he and Lieutenant Olive had found Destiny Angel in her suite, dead, and that he was going to check on Melody.
Captain Grey swore under his breath as he listened to Captain Ochre. “S.I.G., Captain Ochre.” Grey added that although Destiny presumably had a mysteronised counterpart, although so far no one had reported seeing her since last night, and he hadn’t seen her in the shattered room. “Destiny could be there, buried under the debris but we can’t count on that. Melody was definitely seen entering the breakfast room this morning. She’s unaccounted for now. Be careful.”
A “Do Not Disturb” sign hung from the doorknob of Melody’s suite. Captain Ochre used the passkey to open the door. Just like with Destiny’s, he discovered the door’s deadbolts had not been thrown. He stepped carefully into the foyer and looked ahead into the living room. The curtains were drawn and it was dark. Remembering Captain Grey’s warning, Ochre scanned the room for movement, his pistol at the ready. After a few minutes, he decided that the sitting room was clear. He nudged open the door to the bedroom; it was also dark inside. He waited and watched for a while. Nothing moved. There was no sound. Cautiously, he entered. The room was apparently clear. Captain Ochre reached for the curtains and pulled them open. He turned around.
“Oh God, no.”
The warm light flooded over the bed in which Melody slept her lasting, dreamless sleep. Ochre knelt beside the bed and stroked her cheek gently. “Oh Mags. I didn’t get to tell you I’m sorry about last night.” He tried to control himself but his voice was husky with unshed tears. “I never got to say I love you.”
In each of the other Angels’ suites, the investigators reported the same sad discovery. Each woman had died, without apparent cause, in her sleep.
There were no doubts and no hopes left. Captain Grey radioed Cloudbase. When he finished his report, he waited for a response. The silence stretched for more than a minute. “Cloudbase, are you receiving me?”
“Yes, Captain Grey.” There was a heaviness in the Colonel’s voice that Grey had never heard before. “Carry on with the investigation. We must presume that there are two more Mysterons at large. Find them as soon as possible.”
“S.I.G.” Grey signed off.
Lieutenant Green’s jaw had dropped. He could not believe that all the Angels were dead. He had overseen every suggested arrangement for their protection. They had reached their destination safely. And yet they had been killed by the Mysterons. For once, the Mysterons’ cryptic threat made less sense after the attack than it had before.
“Lieutenant Green.” The commander’s brisk, steady voice broke through the young man’s shock. “Recall Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue from Moscow. They are to proceed to Chicago immediately and rendezvous with Captains Ochre and Grey. How long will it take them to arrive?”
Lieutenant Green had worked alongside his commanding officer for several years now. He knew that Colonel White would grieve for the Angels, but his duty to Spectrum would always come first. Concentrating on his task, Green determined how long it would take Spectrum Moscow to prepare an SPJ, then calculated the flight hours and the time of day Captains Scarlet and Blue would arrive in Chicago. It was good to keep busy.
It was almost midnight in Moscow. So far, everything had been quiet but Captain Scarlet was certain that would change very soon. Usually the Mysterons carried out an attack within twenty-four hours but there had been exceptions. It appeared to him that this would be one of them. Spectrum Moscow’s network of agents had found Captain Black’s hideout but, unfortunately, missed the man himself and recovered no weapons or clues as to how he would carry out the attack. Captain Scarlet was double-checking the security arrangements at St Michael’s Cathedral when his epaulets flashed green. As he listened to the message from Cloudbase, his expression was grim. He acknowledged the new orders and radioed Captain Blue.
“What’s up?” asked Captain Blue.
“We’ve been reassigned. To Chicago.”
Captain Blue caught his breath, but when he spoke his voice was steady. “Then the Mysterons carried out their threat.”
“Lieutenant Green didn’t say.” He didn’t have to.
Neither man spoke to the other beyond the necessary exchanges during the long flight. Each wanted to keep his thoughts, hopes, and prayers private for as long as possible.
Captains Grey and Ochre made reports to Cloudbase throughout the day.
The investigation into the cause of the Angels’ deaths began with frustration. There was a lack of overt clues, apart from the same curious maltreatment of the flower arrangements that Lieutenant Olive had first noted in Destiny’s rooms. There were no signs of a struggle anywhere. None of the Angels had ordered a meal from room service or apparently consumed anything from the in-room mini bars. They had each unpacked some of their personal things before changing into nightclothes and going to sleep for the last time. Some of their luggage was missing, including the special bags they carried their Spectrum flight suits in, but the helmets had been left behind. The Mysteron replicants had been wearing the uniforms; but where had they taken the bags and why?
The rooms were all similarly decorated, right down to the disarranged flowers and their vases. The furnishings were removed for testing in a Spectrum laboratory. Samples were taken of the water, the dust, the air, the soap, everything. Spectrum’s scientists were grimly determined to discover how the Angels had died.
Security guards scoured the hotel, searching for signs of the remaining two known Mysterons. They made no progress; no one had seen either of them since the early morning. All day long, search-and-rescue teams combed the debris for survivors and recovered bodies. Nearly one hundred people had attended the breakfast. Only six were found alive.
The remains of the two unaccounted-for Angels, Destiny and Melody, were found that afternoon in the debris. They had apparently been blown to pieces by the bombs, as many others in the room had been. There was little doubt that they, too, had been Mysterons, and that the replicated Angels were the actors behind the catastrophe. When and how the real Angels had been murdered and replaced remained a mystery.
The Angels’ missing luggage had been discovered during the search. The room had been registered to a Mr Black some three days before the conference had begun. A desk clerk immediately identified the photograph of Captain Black as the man to whom she had given the card-key. She was certain she had not seen him again. The housekeeping staff reported that Mr Black’s room had been attended to daily but appeared never to have been occupied before they discovered the pile of suitcases and garment bags belonging to at least five people. On investigating, Spectrum Security found a few blasting caps and bits of fuses scattered on the room’s desk. Doubtless this was where the bombs had been prepared.
“So there was a connection with Captain Black,” growled Captain Scarlet. “He was here before the conference began. Then the Mysterons sent him to Moscow to lead us on a wild goose chase.”
“It seems so,” nodded Captain Ochre.
It was evening before Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue arrived in Chicago. Captain Grey had been anticipating their arrival with a measure of dread, which he had kept well hidden. Captain Ochre had spent some time briefing them about the events of the last two days and the discoveries that had been made up to that point. In the morning, he continued, they would have some test results, as technicians would be working through the night on the samples they had collected from the Angels’ suites. Until then, there wasn’t anything more they could do except plan to continue the investigation based on what they learned from the lab reports.
The briefing concluded, Captain Grey excused himself. Captain Blue made a move as if to follow him, but settled back into his seat when Captain Ochre held up a hand and shook his head. He waited until Grey was out of earshot.
“I know what you want to talk to him about. Take it easy on him. He’s not saying much, but I know he’s having a hard time.” Captains Blue and Scarlet both nodded.
When Grey returned, he said, “I guess you have some questions for me?”
“Maybe we should get some dinner first,” Ochre suggested, but Grey shook his head.
“No, thanks. I’d rather get this over with.” He turned to Blue and Scarlet and waited.
Captain Scarlet spoke first. “Just tell us what happened, Brad.”
He took a deep breath and slowly recounted what had happened. He closed his eyes as he described his encounter with the mysteronised Angels and their deaths at his hands. “I was certain they weren’t human. They’d sustained too many injuries and they were healing before my eyes.”
“But the way they spoke to you before they died. Could they have been like . . . ?” Blue glanced at Captain Scarlet.
Captain Grey’s face was as ashen as his uniform. “I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’ll be wondering for the rest of my life. I’m sorry, Blue, Scarlet. I really am.” There was an awkward silence before Grey spoke again. “I did what I thought I had to.” His voice dropped. “But I don’t know if it was right.”
In the morning, the technicians reported that the mystery of the vases had been resolved. Bits of plastic explosive had been found at the bottom of each one taken from the Angels’ suites. Traces of the same plastic explosive had been found in each of the handbags that the Angels had been carrying when seen, unchallenged, on their odd nocturnal wanderings. Presumably, the Mysterons had told the newly replicated Angels where to find it. The investigators learned that the hotel owned the vases in its rooms, but routinely sent them to the florists when special floral arrangements were ordered. The old arrangements were discarded first by the housekeepers. Because it was possible one or more of them had planted the explosive materials, Spectrum checked all of the hotel’s staff members with the Mysteron detector. Everyone passed. So the plastic explosive could only have been placed inside the vases while they were at the florists.
The flowers were easily traced. Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue obtained a Mysteron detector and a Mysteron gun and immediately drove to the shop that had supplied them. The astonished florist, Mr DiMarco, proved to be human.
“I bid for the contract to supply the Driskill Hotel with all the flower arrangements and welcoming bouquets for the entire Air Mach conference. But I didn’t prepare any of the arrangements personally; the order was massive!” DiMarco explained. Although the temperature in the shop was quite cool, he mopped his brow nervously. There had been a terrorist attack right there in Chicago yesterday. It was all over the news. The Spectrum agents hadn’t told him why they were there, but the florist guessed that his flowers were somehow linked to it. “I designed how the flowers should look and hired a bunch of temporary assistants to do the actual arranging.”
Captain Scarlet showed him a picture of Captain Black, but DiMarco shook his head. “I don’t know him. I’m sure I’d remember a man that distinctive looking.”
“What can you tell us about your assistants?” asked Captain Blue.
DiMarco scratched his head and mopped at the sweat on his face again. If it got around that Spectrum agents had been in his shop because of the tragedy, it could devastate his business. “I asked each of them about their backgrounds when I hired them, but immediately forgot most of it. I am an artist; I care more about the flowers than the people. But all of them did magnificent work. I could look at a picture of an arrangement and tell you who did them.”
Captain Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “Do you have such pictures?”
“I make a picture of every arrangement for my portfolio,” DiMarco said proudly. “Satisfied customers often ask for similar arrangements to be sent to friends and business contacts in other cities.”
“Are they labelled generally with the customer’s name or more specifically?”
“Oh, specifically!” Now that he was explaining his art, DiMarco felt more confident. “You see, people have very strong feelings about what they like in a foyer, or a bedroom, or a living room. I keep meticulous notes about precisely where the customer intends to display the flowers I provide.”
“The arrangements you sent to the Driskill Hotel. Are your notes thorough enough to identify where each one was placed? Those for the VIPs at least?” Captain Scarlet kept his tone even, though he was skeptical.
“Yes!” DiMarco’s answer was unequivocal. “I gave special attention to the flowers for the most important guests and designed each arrangement especially to fit the place it was assigned to. Unless the hotel’s manager changed her mind and put them elsewhere, I can show you exactly what they were like.”
Grimly, Captain Blue produced a list of the suites the Angels had been assigned to. It took DiMarco only a few minutes to find the pictures on his database.
“There they are! Ten arrangements in all.”
“Do you remember who worked on them?”
DiMarco toggled a key. “I have the assistant’s name encoded beneath the picture. Ah! Steven! Yes, him I remember! He was such an unusual applicant; he had plenty of experience in flower arranging but he was a full-time graduate student in history. He said that he was working on his dissertation and wanted the job because it was relaxing to work with beautiful things.” DiMarco readily supplied the young man’s name and address to Captains Scarlet and Blue.
Steven Morrissey lived in a flat at the top of a private house. He wasn’t at home when the Spectrum officers arrived. His landlady was shocked to learn that they wanted to search his rooms; Steven was a quiet, studious young man, she told them. She couldn’t believe he could possibly be connected with terrorism! But in the end, she agreed to allow the Spectrum officers to search his rooms. She led them upstairs, chattering constantly about what a pleasant tenant Steven was, no trouble at all, unlocked the door, and stood aside to let them in. She remained on the landing, watching.
The flat was untidy, with partially filled glasses, empty dishes, and papers strewn about. Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue looked at each other. The young man’s slovenly habits apparently extended to every bit of his life.
Scarlet shrugged. “We’d better get started.”
To their mutual surprise, the search was a short one. While Scarlet began pulling boxes down off the book shelves, Blue chose to begin with the desk drawers. He picked up a shirt that was draped over the desktop and partially obscuring the drawers.
There on the desk, in plain view, sat a white, clay-like lump. A sniff confirmed what both captains suspected; it was plastic explosive.
“Funny thing to use as a paperweight,” Blue commented. He read the page the lump had been sitting on. It was covered with handwritten edits. “Looks like Mr Morrisey’s dissertation has something to do with Italy.”
Scarlet had been scanning the desk, noting the titles of the books stacked on it. Most were about the Italian Renaissance but several were about poisons. All the books bristled with bookmarks. Scarlet furrowed his brow. Why would a history student have books on poison?
“I think we should look at the rest of that paper,” Scarlet said. He looked around at the scattered pages. “You start reading whatever you can find. I’ll try to pull it up on the computer.” He booted the computer and began searching. He found the dissertation files quickly enough but also discovered that they were password protected. He was still working on breaking the password when Blue interrupted him.
“Captain, I think you should take a look at this.” He handed over some pages.
They appeared to be the dissertation’s opening summary. Scarlet scanned the pages quickly at first, then went back and read them over again, slowly. “My God,” he whispered. The dissertation’s theme was a study of Italian Renaissance techniques and devices for carrying out subtle assassinations, including the use of flowers to slowly release fragrant poison vapours into a victim’s room.
Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue looked at each other. The Mysterons had threatened the Angels with “death in the air.” Scarlet radioed Ochre and told him what they’d discovered.
Using that as a starting point, the hunt for an answer to the Mysterons’ riddle soon met with success. The lab techs had already discovered that the air in each Angels’ suite was filled with a deadly airborne poison. Now they pinpointed the source: the flowers in the arrangements that the hotel had ordered as welcoming gifts for the Angels. They had been kept in cold storage until they were delivered. As they warmed up, they had slowly released the sweet-smelling poison with which they had been impregnated. Further tests on the air indicated that the women must have died not long after they went to sleep that night and been replicated by the Mysterons.
It was possible to reconstruct what had followed. The Mysteron replicants had torn apart the flowers and retrieved the plastic explosives. They would not have been immune to the poison, which became more concentrated as time passed, so they couldn’t remain in the Angels’ suites all night. Instead, they had taken what they needed of the Angels’ luggage and met in the room engaged by Captain Black. There they had constructed the bombs, hidden them in their handbags, then gone down to the breakfast room and planted them. Then they had only had to return to Black’s room and wait until morning.
Steven Morrissey, the florist’s assistant, never returned to his job, his flat, or his school. The young man’s body was found floating in Lake Michigan, almost a week after Captains Scarlet and Blue tracked down and destroyed his Mysteron replacement in the university’s library.
The families of the Angels had agreed to a joint funeral on Cloudbase so that their friends and colleagues would be able to attend and say their goodbyes. The chapel was too small to hold everyone, so the service was to be held in the auditorium instead. The Cloudbase chaplain, Father Ivory, gazed down from the podium on the five identical white coffins, distinguished by magnificent sprays of flowers: scarlet roses for Rhapsody, rare ice-blue roses for Symphony, yellow for Melody, white for Harmony, pink for Destiny. Portraits of each woman stood before the coffins. He remembered when, such a short time ago it seemed, the five Angels had assembled on the stage and been formally presented as new members of Spectrum. Perhaps it was fitting to say goodbye to them here as well.
Before the joint funeral began, the grieving families received condolences from the Angels’ many, many friends on Cloudbase.
Captain Ochre had never met Melody’s family and had not planned to intrude on their grief apart from offering his heartfelt condolences. He was more than a bit surprised when Mrs Jones smiled at him. “Magnolia wrote about you often. She said she loved your sense of humour. She said you made her happy.” She wiped her streaming eyes. “I’m so glad to meet you and say thank you, Captain.”
“She was a wonderful woman, Mrs Jones. My life won’t be the same without her.” He bit his lip and ducked his head as he felt tears sting his eyes. Blinking rapidly, he took a deep, calming breath before looking into Mrs Jones’ eyes again. She reached out a hand and patted him on the shoulder in a motherly fashion, offering him the comfort he wanted to give her. As easily as if they had known one another for years, Ochre and Melody’s family found themselves talking for a long time about Melody’s life and, finally, her death. Captain Ochre reluctantly admitted that he had been the one to find her body. His voice thickened as he assured them that Melody had not suffered. “I’d hoped she was only sleeping. She looked so peaceful.”
At that, Mrs Jones’ brave façade finally crumbled. “My beautiful baby girl is gone!” she cried. Captain Ochre embraced the grieving mother, blinking hard to hold back his own tears.
One of Melody’s brothers, his face wet with tears, patted Ochre on the back. “Thank you, Captain. I can see why my sister loved you.” For the first time, Ochre let his tears fall unselfconsciously. When you’re among family, no one minds if you cry.
Captain Blue talked for a long time with Symphony’s parents. He’d visited them with his beloved many times and gotten to know them well.
“We missed you in February, when Karen came home to visit.” Mrs Wainwright’s voice was shaky and her smile trembled.
“I’d hoped to go with her, but I couldn’t get leave.”
Mrs Wainwright nodded. “That’s what she said. That’s why I couldn’t understand why Karen seemed a bit upset when she got your letter. I asked her what was wrong and she refused to say anything. I said, ‘I’m your mother, let me help.’ I told her talking about something can make it better.” Symphony’s mother shook her head sadly at the memory. “I kept pushing. I shouldn’t have, but I was so worried that something was wrong between you two. We, Karen’s father and I, sort of expected you’d, you know, be our son-in-law eventually,” she said shyly. “Karen and I ended up arguing. We both apologised, but I don’t know if she wasn’t still a little mad at me when she left.” She looked at Captain Blue beseechingly, asking for an answer he didn’t have.
“She wasn’t mad at you,” he told her, hoping it was the truth. “We did talk about marriage. We needed to keep it a secret for security reasons, and that’s why she wouldn’t talk about the letter I sent.”
Karen’s father looked tired and careworn. He put his arm around his wife’s shoulders as she began to cry softly. “I told you,” he said gently. “I told you everything was okay.”
Embarrassed, Captain Blue looked away to give Symphony’s parents a modicum of privacy. Not far away, he saw Captain Scarlet speaking to Lord and Lady Simms. There were no tears and no raised voices. They were all very decorous, but, Blue noticed, they all seemed rather stiff, as if they were self-consciously holding up and holding back.
When the formalities began, the families were escorted to the front seats by Spectrum’s senior captains. Father Ivory made a solemn invocation. Led by Colonel White, many people came to the podium to talk about the women they’d known: friends, sisters, daughters. The occasion was marked by both laughter and tears as people shared their memories of the Angels.
Father Ivory finally delivered the benediction, and the long day came to an end. With due honours, the Angels’ coffins were carried onto an SPJ and their families escorted aboard for the return to the surface. From there, individual jets would take them to their final destinations.
After leaving the hangar deck, Captain Grey found his knees turning to jelly. He slumped against a bulkhead and rubbed his face with his hands.
It was difficult to accept that the Angels were gone, more so for some than others.
But Spectrum had to carry on and had done so, with difficulty. Many of the captains volunteered for extra shifts as pilots, and other officers, who were not trained to fly, offered to take on extra duties so the Interceptors could be kept manned by those who were. The arrangements were less than ideal but it bought needed time until better could be made.
Spectrum had relied heavily on its elite pilots and had not been prepared for their loss; there were no auxiliaries who could be brought up quickly. Before the War of Nerves had begun, there had been plans to establish an Angel academy to parallel the field agents’ academy at Koala Base and to station squadrons at Spectrum bases worldwide. But President Pemberton had stymied those plans as unnecessary and wasteful. So there were no reserves to call up to Cloudbase and take over the Angels’ roles. None at all.
Colonel White did not want to hastily replace the Angels, but he also needed an interim solution; his officers could not be expected to continuing as substitutes for much longer. After much argument and discussion, it had been decided that temporary substitutes would be sought to serve on Cloudbase while Spectrum recruited and trained new, permanent Angels to be stationed on Cloudbase and in auxiliary squadrons at earthbound bases. This would assure that there would be reserves to call up, and the present crisis would never be repeated. But the process of finding temporary replacements had been a difficult one.
Colonel White had received the personnel files for the temporary substitute pilots, but had not yet found time to review their qualifications. He was, he admitted to himself, reluctant to look at them. Very soon, he would have to.
They were arriving today, to take up their duties.
Lieutenant Green turned from the console. “The SPJ carrying the new pilots has landed, sir. They’re requesting permission to come aboard Cloudbase.”
“Permission granted. Tell them to come straight to the Control Room.”
* * * * *
Lieutenant Peach watched from behind the thick glass while the Spectrum Passenger Jet was lowered into the hangar bay. It had taken several minutes to pressurize the deck. In another minute or so, she would meet the new pilots. Although she still mourned the loss of the Angels, she was excited to be the first to greet their temporary substitutes. They would have to be amazing women, Peach was sure of that.
The SPJ’s door was opening. The Lieutenant hurried out, then slowed as she took in the first sight of the five new arrivals. What will the Colonel say? she thought.
Chris Bishop first suggested a romantic attachment between Captain Ochre and Melody Angel in her Halloween story, Master of the Night. Thank you, Chris, for letting me play with that suggestion (again) for this story.