A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short story
Rhapsody stretched as she left the Amber Room. Even though she was used to it, sitting in a cockpit for four hours often made her feel stiff. She was looking forward to changing into some workout clothes and heading down to the gym.
“Rhapsody Angel,” rang out over the comm system.
She walked quickly over to the nearest comm link and tapped the button. “I’m here, Lieutenant Green.”
“Rhapsody, you have an urgent message from your father in London. I’m patching it through to your quarters,” he replied.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’m on my way.” She ran to her room, wondering anxiously what could have happened that was so important her family would contact her on Cloudbase.
Some time later, Rhapsody entered the Control Room.
Colonel White looked up and noted that the Angel looked agitated. “Bad news from home, Rhapsody?”
“Yes, Colonel. My great-uncle, the Earl of Axethorpe, died yesterday.”
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.
“Thank you, sir. We were very close.” Rhapsody bowed her head a moment, then looked back at the Colonel. “Sir, my father wants me to attend the funeral the day after tomorrow. He also said my uncle’s solicitor has asked to see me about a legacy. The solicitor wouldn’t say what it is, only that it’s very important for me to meet with him.”
“I understand. Make arrangements for leave with Lieutenant Green.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The venerable firm of Tomlinson & Aitken had served the Earls of Axethorpe and the close cadet branches of the Simms family for generations. Its antiquated offices and layers of history had inspired the very young Dianne Simms to read law. After graduating from London University, she’d been offered a position as an articled clerk at Tomlinson & Aitken, but she’d refused, preferring to establish herself in the legal profession solely on her own merits, not on connections. Instead, she’d joined a firm of solicitors in Manchester but quickly become disillusioned; it had not been client — or people — oriented. And when she lost faith with her employers, she lost heart with herself and her own competence for law. Not knowing what she should do with her life, she had drifted into the soul-numbing party life so many of her ilk indulged in. She’d been fortunate to meet Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, who had seen in her a young woman with potential, and recruited her for a much more exciting and fulfilling life with the Federal Agents Bureau. Even though F.A.B. had eventually closed, it had undoubtedly helped to bring her to the attention of Spectrum. Rhapsody smiled to herself. If she’d had a successful career in law, she never would have met and fallen in love with Paul Metcalfe.
When she arrived at the firm for her appointment after the funeral Mr Aitken himself, her great-uncle’s long-time solicitor, greeted her personally. “Lady Dianne, how are you?” he said, stepping forward to shake her hand. “Thank you for coming. Your father warned me you might not be able to get time away from your security duties with the airline. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
Rhapsody smiled sadly. “I wish the circumstances were much happier.”
Aitken nodded. “Indeed, indeed,” he murmured as he led her into a tastefully furnished office. “It was a lovely funeral, wasn’t it? Your uncle, pardon me, great-uncle was very well-liked. Can’t say that about all the nobility these days,” he continued as he offered her a comfortable chair. “I’m sure you’re anxious to know why I asked you to meet with me.” He mirrored Rhapsody’s nod. “But Mr Barrett should be joining us shortly and I can tell you both together.”
“Martin?” Rhapsody said in surprise.
“The Earl left a legacy that concerns both of you.”
Martin Barrett wore a well-tailored, dark-charcoal suit, the typical uniform of the inner London businessman. He was reserved, his greeting perfunctory.
“I hardly need mention,” Aitken began, “that the Earl had no children. Yet that fact is exactly why you two are here.”
Martin frowned. He didn’t like the lawyer’s cryptic, roundabout style of getting to the point.
“The Earldom of Axethorpe was created by royal charter during the reign of King Edward I. It’s a most interesting charter, unique really. In those days, the law essentially guaranteed that the eldest son would inherit his father’s property. If he died before his father or had no children of his own, the land passed to the next closest male relative. Or else it escheated to the Crown. There was no such thing as a will and testament in those days! But the first Earl was a respected knight, and he also had a great reputation for piety and benevolence. King Edward rewarded the Earl by granting him and his successors a unique freedom from the law. Put simply, if an Earl of Axethorpe has no children, he can designate any other relative, male or female, as his indirect heir and also another as backup. But there is a condition attached: the presumptive heir must be fertile and must have children by a lawful spouse.”
“That seems like a rather strange condition,” commented Martin. “Why is it all right for someone who’s born to be the heir to not have children but someone who’s appointed heir has to?”
“That’s exactly the question that makes the grant so unusual. There’s no precedent for King Edward’s grant. He must have had his motives, but unfortunately we can only speculate about what they were. Why did he allow the Axethorpes’ to choose heiresses presumptive in a time when women had few legal rights and fewer career prospects? Legally speaking, women were not much more than chattel. Even a woman with a title in her own right was ruled by her husband; but as the king would have a say in who she married and thus gain her husband’s loyalty and that of his descendants; over the centuries, more than one unwed heiress to Axethorpe became a valuable political pawn. I expect the king wanted to ensure that he and his own successors could use advantageous marriages to rely on Axethorpe’s unwavering support.” He smiled at Rhapsody and a twinkle appeared in his eye. “I don’t think you’ll need to worry about seeking the king’s approval for your marriage, Lady Dianne.”
Rhapsody Angel’s eyes opened wide in shock and her heart began to pound. “My marriage? You mean — Uncle left Axethorpe to me?”
“Yes. Did I forget to mention that? Yes, Lady Dianne, he named you as his principle indirect heir, and Mr Barrett as the alternate.”
Martin was tapping a foot impatiently. “So Axethorpe goes to Dianne, along with a history lesson.”
Rhapsody recalled what the lawyer had been saying. “I gather the history is somehow important to the legacy. You were going to tell us why an indirect heir has to be able to have children.”
“Ah, yes, I got diverted. Do forgive me.” The solicitor cleared his throat and continued. “I believe the condition was imposed as a display of the king’s benevolence.” He nodded at the surprised looks on Rhapsody’s and Martin’s faces. “It’s hard to think of Edward I as benevolent, but in this instance, it’s the only explanation. Consider how often the country was at war, both before and during Edward’s reign. War inevitably results in a shortage of men and an abundance of widows, many of them wealthy and titled. An indirect heir to Axethorpe would almost always be male. If he had to marry a woman who’d been proven fertile, it meant a widow with children was a suitable candidate. The benefits were myriad: the heir would take possession of his new wife’s property, thereby increasing his wealth; the widow gained the protection of a husband and her social status would rise; her children’s prospects were much improved; and the king, by consenting to the marriage, would cement the support of Axethorpe and all the lands the Earldom controlled, which at one time were remarkably extensive. The heir, of course, had to sire a child before he could be affirmed in his title, but he could be a widower with children himself or have sired a bastard or two, or have a living child by his wife. His fertility meant a better chance that Axethorpe would stay in a direct family line, at least for a few generations. And, again, the descendants would have the king to thank for their position and holdings.”
“We have a lot more options today,” Rhapsody pointed out. “What if an heir has adopted children? Or children produced by fertility treatments?”
“That point had occurred to me as well.” Aitken consulted his notes and pondered a moment before continuing. “The charter’s terms clearly state that an heir must produce children, so that language plainly excludes adoption. And the heir’s must have children with or by a lawful spouse, so children produced by donated sperm or eggs would also be excluded; in fact, under the language of the grant, it would be the same as adultery. But I believe those would be the limits of the exclusion. As long as a child’s biological parents are the heir and his or her spouse, the charter’s provisions should be satisfied. Children born by a surrogate would be acceptable. I would think that children born out of wedlock and then legitimated after marriage would also qualify.”
Rhapsody looked thoughtful. “But if an heir or heiress has no children before acceding, how does the legacy operate?”
Mr Aitken smiled. “That was a problem in the past. Fortunately, it’s quite simple these days to discover whether an heir or potential spouse is fertile. A consultation with a doctor is all that’s required. And it’s just as easy to establish the parentage of children so that a disgruntled spouse can’t try to void the inheritance by disclaiming them. Or trying to pass off someone else’s children as their own. Both have happened in the past.”
“Mr Aitken, would that fertility condition really hold up in court today?” asked Martin. “I mean, it’s so ridiculous!”
Rhapsody was also interested in the answer, although she believed she knew it already.
Aitken nodded. “I anticipated your question, Mr Barrett, and did some research. The condition is odd; I’d even call it archaic. But I believe a court would have to uphold it.”
“It would be void only if it completely forbade an heir to marry. But the condition only limits an heir’s choices and then only if he or she wants to claim the inheritance. The heir is free to make a choice, accept the inheritance and the limited pool of spousal candidates, or reject it and marry whomsoever he or she desires without restraint. So the law will uphold the condition, however quaint.” The lawyer shrugged. “The law is damnably hidebound and populated with all kinds of absurd rules and fictions, like the fertile octogenarian woman and the unborn widow, who also serve to foul inheritances. But courts are reluctant to discard them without exceptionally good and farsighted reasons. I think they fear that the reason for a change may prove to be a mere passing trend and ultimately do more harm in the future, even if not changing does harm in the present. ”
Martin looked confused. “So it can’t be fought. But what if the heir never had children? What would happen to the estate then?”
Aitken leaned forward over his desk and thumbed through a pile of documents, finally pulling one out. “I anticipated your question and did some research on it. Only twice in Axethorpe’s history has the appointed indirect heir failed to produce children with a spouse who already had children. In both cases, the Crown refused to confirm the heir in the title, and the alternate heir became Earl in his stead.”
Rhapsody noted that Martin visibly relaxed before he asked his next question. “So the alternate heir would take the inheritance automatically?”
“No, no, of course not. Like the first appointed heir, the alternate heir would still have to prove his or her fertility and parentage of any children who would inherit from him or her. In the past, it was a rather tricky and embarrassing process, requiring testimony about a wife’s fidelity, opinions on a child’s resemblance to its purported sire, and so on. Nowadays, with DNA tests, the task is simple.”
Rhapsody leaned forward. “Mr Aitken, what if the first heir disclaimed the inheritance and the second didn’t meet the condition? Or if neither of the appointed heirs satisfied the condition? What would happen to Axethorpe then?”
“It would escheat to the Crown. Not meaning the royal family, of course. A pity since King George is so keen on preserving historic sites. It would become the property of the government, and it would be up to Parliament to decide Axethorpe’s fate.” He removed his glasses and polished them. His expression was one of distaste, but both Martin and Rhapsody knew it was not something on his glasses that displeased the solicitor. “I expect Parliament would make it into another experimental model city. Or the government might decide to waive its rights and let the land pass by intestate succession, to whoever is the nearest in blood to the Earl.” He shuffled through his papers again. “That would be his sister’s oldest son, John Harper-Wallace.” The lawyer frowned. “The Earl had appointed him as the presumptive heir at one time, but had second thoughts because he strongly disapproved of something John did, something to do with breaking the commandments; I don’t know quite what the Earl meant. He finally changed his will after he learned that John was aware of the inheritance and was planning to have the house pulled down, turn out the tenants, and develop all the land.”
Martin’s face was red. “So there’s nothing that can be done to change the inheritance’s condition?”
“One could try, Mr Barrett, to persuade Chancery to strike it down, but as I said, I very much doubt they’d agree.”
Another concern occurred to Rhapsody. “What about John? He can’t be too happy right now. And he’d never been the type to let go of something he really wants without a fight.”
The lawyer looked grim but determined. “I don’t think you need to worry about a challenge from Mr Harper-Wallace. He doesn’t know yet that he’s been disinherited but I’ll explain the law to him when I see him this afternoon.”
Sensing that the interview was at an end, Rhapsody and Martin got to their feet.
“Dianne.” Martin leaned towards her. “It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. If you don’t have to rush back to your job, would you have lunch with me?”
Rhapsody smiled. “I’d be delighted. But you go ahead, Martin. I need to stop in the powder-room first. I’ll meet you outside.” She waited until she was certain her cousin was out of earshot, before turning to the lawyer. “Mr Aitken, why did my great-uncle choose me? Why not my brother or any other of my cousins? Why me?”
“I believe that of all his eligible survivors he trusted you most of all, Lady Dianne. He saw how you transformed from being a Sloane Ranger,” Aitken smiled at Rhapsody’s wince and blush, “to a responsible career woman, and he believed you have a highly developed sense of duty and honour. In short, he felt you were the best suited to be Countess of Axethorpe and continue the traditions that have made it great. And I believe he chose you because you love Axethorpe. The Earl wanted someone he could trust to preserve it and keep faith with its people insofar as possible, and to improve things as necessary, without ever letting Axethorpe become something less than it is now.”
“And Martin was the next best choice in case I renounce my claim?” she asked.
“No.” Aitken’s smile had vanished and he turned away to toy with an antique paperweight on his desk. “The earl didn’t seem to think he was. Better than Mr Harper-Wallace, but not the best. He didn’t confide his reasons for choosing Mr Barrett, but I gather he had a purpose. What it was, I don’t know.” He continued playing with the paperweight for another moment or two, then put it aside as he faced Rhapsody. “He loved Axethorpe, you know. It was his world.” Aitken paused. “So, will you accept the legacy, Lady Dianne?”
“I’ll need some time to think about it. It’s all rather overwhelming. I have a demanding job and Axethorpe is a huge responsibility.” She smiled sadly. “And I need some time to grieve for my great-uncle.”
“I understand. But the tax man will want to know, so perhaps you can contact me in, say, two weeks?”
Rhapsody nodded. She had much to see to before she could decide what to do.
Lunch at Fifteen was delightful for the food, but dull for the conversation, merely small talk such as any diners might engage in. Rhapsody suspected that Martin was purposefully limiting himself to things of no consequence. Afterwards, Martin suggested a walk along the Thames. Rhapsody agreed, thinking that he had serious things to say that he did not want overheard. She was right.
“I’m not really surprised Uncle chose you instead of me or John to take Axethorpe. I’ll admit I feel a little angry, but I shouldn’t envy you, Diane. The death duties on Axethorpe will be enormous. You’ll probably have to hand over some more of Axethorpe’s art treasures. Pity there aren’t as many to choose from as there were seventy years ago. You’ll probably have to sell off other stuff as well.”
Rhapsody allowed that the taxes were a concern to her as well. She didn’t add that her family could manage them, as Martin obviously was unaware of the extent of her family’s resources. Was that, she wondered, the reason her uncle had named her heir — to ensure that Axethorpe’s treasures would not be lost?
Martin leaned on the stone wall that edged the path and stared out over the river. “Do you remember the summers at Axethorpe when we were children? You were only five and I was fifteen. I led your pony about the grounds and we played at you being a princess and me a knight.”
Rhapsody smiled. “Yes, I do. Those were fun days. I’ve sometimes wondered, though, how you felt at being told to entertain such a little girl and play a silly make-believe game. You never complained to me or made me feel like a burden.”
Martin chuckled and moved nearer to her. “Actually, I was right ticked off at first,” he confided. “I had thoughts of pushing you into the lake to show how incompetent I was at babysitting, but after thinking of all the trouble I’d be in, I resigned myself to it.”
Rhapsody drew herself up with a theatrical gesture of shock, horror, and dismay. “Martin! I never knew you harboured such thoughts! La, sir, should I be watching my back now? Or will you just throw me over the rail and into the river now?” She grinned broadly to take any sting out of her words.
Martin’s laughter was reassuring. “No, no worries, Di. I was won over the vivacious, intelligent little beauty you were. And still are,” he added with a genuine smile. “You really did make a grand princess. And I liked being a gallant knight of the manor, chivalrously protecting his lady and defending the people.” His smile faded. He chuckled, a sound that was both cheerful and sad at the same time. “It’s too bad we have to grow up and learn that chivalry isn’t what it was and we can’t really be knights. We’ll never have times like that again.”
“Axethorpe is unique,” Martin continued as he lit a cigarette. “The house itself is a stately home with thousands of acres attached that doesn’t rely on tourism for its upkeep. And the village is more than that; it’s an anachronism, part of what’s still practically a feudal regime.”
“Feudal? In what way?” asked a puzzled Rhapsody.
Martin drew deeply on his cigarette before launching into his explanation. “Until the first world war, you know, the estate relied on agriculture and most of its tenants were farmers. The war carried off most of the young people, many to the Western Front, others to careers as nurses, factory workers, and other things. The Earl – the Earl that was, then, I mean, not our great-uncle — the Earl himself worked alongside the people who stayed at Axethorpe. He even tended crops and herds. But by the end of the war, it was clear that not enough of the young people who had left would return, and many of those who did weren’t fit for heavy labour; the war had taken too much from them. The estate’s income plummeted because they couldn’t produce enough food and food prices were falling. And then the influenza decimated the local population. It was pretty obvious the estate couldn’t survive much longer as it had been going. But the Earl made big changes. He refocused the agricultural side so it didn’t require as many workers and encouraged more people to set up cottage industries. He made sure a lot of them were run by women who’d been left widowed or had no marital prospects because of the war, and by young men who’d been crippled in the war.”
He’s made quite a study of Axethorpe’s history, Rhapsody mused, as Martin went on with his curt review of the history of the house and village.
Martin recounted how young people were employed and trained in the manor house for lives in service. Later, that training expanded to prepare candidates for jobs as cordon bleu level chefs, butlers to the rich and famous, hotel managers, and other high-paying occupations. “The team leader for Britain’s entry in the world pastry competition, Daniel Forsythe, got his start in Axethorpe’s kitchens. The team finished fourth, Britain’s best showing in years.”
“I remember Daniel! He was an undercook when I was very little. He let me help make the puddings for Christmas. Well, he called it ‘help’ when he spoke to me.” Rhapsody blushed even as she laughed. “My efforts at stirring left more batter on the table than in the bowl. But Daniel was kind and patient and even turned his back while I chose where to hide the sixpence.”
Martin laughed too, as he shook his head. “What amazes me is how the old Earl built up the agricultural and handmade-goods industries in a time when the national economy had long since shifted to industrial production. It was just luck, I suppose, that some herdsman here acquired a flock of Cotswold sheep and developed the Axethorpe breed. Axethorpe was so slow to move with the times, many of the women and girls were still were able to spin and weave. They began producing top-quality, hand-knitted woollens. And the clay pits the children had always played in turned out to be good enough to establish a pottery producing fine china and other wares. It seemed like everything that the Earl touched turned to profit.”
“That was the Earl who established the thoroughbred-horse breeding and racing stables, wasn’t it?” At Martin’s nod, she continued eagerly. “I’ve heard them called the finest in England. The racing stables and stud have been very successful. The top-grade horses are in demand by millionaires and sheikhs.”
“That’s true. But I’d sell it all,” declared Martin. “The stables, the breeding stock, everything.”
Rhapsody was shocked. “But why? It’s produced legendary horses. Two of the most successful jockeys in racing history came from Axethorpe. And five of the country’s current leading trainers all got their start there. It earns a good income; it more than pays for itself.”
“It does now, but you know that thoroughbred horses are very expensive to maintain and the business is risky. Too risky. You can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on colts that may never race or never pay for themselves. It just isn’t smart from a financial viewpoint. You’d be wise to sell out and invest the proceeds.”
“But what about all the people who work with the horses?”
“It’s too bad so many people work in Axethorpe’s horse business, but that’s the breaks. There are other stables, lots of them.”
“I suppose you’d shut down the cottage factories and turn out all the inside trainees at the house as well before having the house itself pulled down for being too expensive to maintain,” said Rhapsody icily.
Martin shrugged. “John would do that. I wouldn’t. But I can understand why John wants to turn as much of the estate as possible into case and see it replaced with something more modern. Right now, the old house doesn’t begin to realise its lucrative potential. Ideally, if you don’t pull it down, Dianne, you should turn it into a hotel.”
“It practically is one already,” Rhapsody pointed out. “The Earl frequently invited guests for extended stays so his butlering, hotel-management, cookery, and other trainees could learn and practice.”
“Then you might as well have paying guests. It will be necessary to demote the trainees to below stairs and hire experienced staff for above stairs, of course. The trainees might not get as much hands-on experience, but they’ll manage in the end. I certainly won’t miss having a bumbling novice for a valet. And the handmade-goods shops will have to go, to make room for the golf course, and other resort facilities.” He drew deeply on his cigarette.
“But what about the people who lose their jobs if the cottage factories are closed? What about the trainees and apprentices who expect to move up into paying jobs?”
Martin shrugged as he exhaled, wreathing them both in smoke, and flicked his cigarette butt into the Thames. “Di, you have to be realistic. Axethorpe doesn’t always pay for itself. There are the infrequent but inevitable expenses, such as death duties, and the unpredictable, such as the world wars. Demand for handmade goods comes and goes with fashion whims and economic slumps. The Earls and Countesses of Axethorpe have tried to carefully husband and invest the estate’s reserves from good times, so they’ll be there to dip into, and help the people to get by, but it isn’t enough. Just think about the treasures that are gone from Axethorpe already, and that you’ll have to give up, just for death duties. The estate just can’t go on in the old ways anymore.” He dropped his head and shook it. “It’s time people learned these aren’t the Middle Ages and they can’t depend on the lord for a living. You’ve got to let go of tradition. Forget those antique notions of ‘family honour’. You can’t afford to be sentimental these days.”
Rhapsody frowned at Martin. “Why not?”
He stared out over the turbulent river and sighed. “Once you have a family of your own, Di, you’ll understand. Things change so much when you have other people to care for. You have to put them first, put their interests above all others, including your own, sometimes.” Martin laughed, a short barking sound without humour. “It’s all pipe dreaming anyway. Even if the old man had named me instead of you, I’d probably have had to step aside and let you have Axethorpe.”
Rhapsody was surprised. “That’s ridiculous! You don’t have to prove your fertility; you’ve got two lovely children already.”
“Do I?” His voice was bleak. “Or am I raising cuckoos?” Rhapsody didn’t know what to say, but Martin went on without waiting for a response. “My marriage was very unstable in the beginning; my wife and I separated several times. During those separations she’d date another man, then we’d get back together. Both of my children were born barely nine months after two of those separations ended. As our marriage finally got stronger, we tried and tried to have another child but we never did.” He sighed. “Don’t get me wrong, I could stand knowing that my son and daughter weren’t really mine. I love them with all my heart and want to give them the best of everything, whether they’re really mine or not. But we, my wife and I, have never told them about our marital problems, so the children have no idea. If it came out that I’m not their father, I don’t know how they’d take it; it could destroy them.” He took a deep breath. “I couldn’t risk that, I won’t risk that, not even to give them Axethorpe.”
“You and your family will always be welcome. Surely you know that, Martin,” Rhapsody assured her cousin.
Martin bit his lip and clenched his fists. “I appreciate that. But I mean if the Earl hadn’t disinherited John, if he hadn’t . . . I know why the Earl did that. I know which commandments John Harper-Wallace broke,” Martin blurted out. “They were the seventh and the ninth.”
“‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’” Rhapsody automatically recited as she had done in her public-school days. “And ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.’” She swallowed a gasp. “Martin, are you telling me that John was your wife’s . . . paramour when you two were separated?”
“Yes.” He practically spat the word out as if it had a bitter taste. “I suspect my children are actually John’s. If I divorced my wife, he could marry her and legitimate the children. If he’d still been the heir, they’d have inherited Axethorpe eventually. And if they’re really mine, I could have divorced my wife and maybe been chosen instead of you. The old Earl despised my wife for her infidelity, and certainly didn’t want her to be Axethorpe’s countess. But a divorce would hurt the children, so I’ve just put up with her.” He bit his lip. “I guess I should be grateful it’s really a moot point. You’ll have a family soon enough and I’ll bring mine to spend the summer holidays with yours. Who knows? Perhaps the glorious days of chivalry will return to Axethorpe, at least while they’re young.”
Rhapsody wondered why Martin was telling her all this when they weren’t especially close. The question must have shown on her face because Martin smiled and shook his head.
“I’m sorry to burden you with all this, Di. It’s just that I’ve been carrying it around for so long and there’s no one I can confide in, at least no one I can trust not to use the knowledge against me personally or professionally.”
But you trust me, Rhapsody thought. And so did Uncle.
Rhapsody phoned her father at his home in Chelsea and told him about her legacy and her decision to visit Axethorpe.
“That’s wonderful news, Dianne! Do you want me to send the car to pick you up or will you come here first?”
“No, thanks, Dad. I’m going to take a train. I’m at King’s Cross now. I’ll be home tomorrow evening and tell you all about it.”
“All right. It will give your mother time to plan a celebration dinner for you.” Lord Simms rang off.
Rhapsody Angel and Captain Scarlet met on the Promenade Deck the evening after she returned from London. She told him that her great-uncle had named her as the heir to Axethorpe.
“But that’s wonderful, darling. I suppose now I’ll have to address you as Countess?” he grinned.
“Only if I start addressing you as ‘Sir Paul’!” Rhapsody laughed, then quickly sobered. She looked away from him.
“Dianne?” Scarlet put a hand under her chin and gently turned her face to his. She kept her eyes lowered. “What’s wrong?”
Rhapsody gulped. She felt slightly nauseated with fear. “Paul . . . the inheritance is conditional. If I can’t meet the condition, my cousin will take over Axethorpe.”
“Would that be so terrible, Dianne?” Scarlet asked. He saw the answer in her eyes. “What’s the condition? What do you have to do?”
“I have . . . I have to prove I’m fertile. And I have to marry a fertile man.” Rhapsody’s eyes began to fill with tears. “Paul, I’m afraid I might not be able to have children . . .”
“Dianne.” Scarlet embraced her. “You’re young and healthy. Why are you worried?”
Rhapsody took several deep breaths to steady herself. “When she was pregnant with me,” she began, her voice breaking slightly, “my mother took a drug that was supposed to prevent Braxton Hicks contractions. Some medical researchers are reporting sterility in the children of women who took that drug!”
Scarlet stood back a little, and gently caught a tear as it rolled over Rhapsody’s cheek. “Talk to Dr Fawn. Tomorrow.”
Rhapsody smiled. “I know I’m probably being silly, but . . .”
“You’re not being silly. You’re concerned. So find out the truth.”
Dr Fawn listened patiently as Rhapsody poured out her concerns about her in utero drug exposure and what she had heard of its effects.
“Yes, that’s accurate,” he told her. “But the odds are in your favour. Only one in four people is sterile.”
“How many women have difficulty getting pregnant?”
Dr Fawn turned to his computer and typed in the search parameters. He had an answer within minutes. “About one in seven. Still good odds for you.” He turned back to his patient, whose anxiety was palpable. “Rhapsody,” he said kindly. “You’re still too young to be worrying. When the time comes, if you do have problems, you can be checked out. There are all kinds of infertility treatments available these days, and other roads to parenthood are available.”
Rhapsody shook her head. “I need to know now, Doctor. You see —” She explained the legacy and its condition, how she could not accept it unless her fertility could be proven.
“I see.” Doctor Fawn furrowed his brow. “I can do tests here on Cloudbase. It won’t be comfortable for you, but you’ll have your answer in about a week.”
Captain Scarlet was awake after midnight, as usual. Occasionally his infrequent need for sleep was beneficial. More often, it meant long, lonely hours in darkness. Tonight he found himself thinking of the future. Rhapsody would have the results of her fertility test the next day. She’d promised to meet him in the evening after her shift to share the results. He hoped her news would be good; he knew and understood that Axethorpe was important to her. And she wanted children as much as he did, but it would not matter to him if Rhapsody couldn’t have them. It would not stand in the way of their marriage.
He couldn’t help thinking about the legacy’s condition, how it required Rhapsody to marry and bear children by her husband. A question began gnawing at the captain’s peace of mind. He’d searched Spectrum’s databases for the answer and found nothing. He hadn’t really expected to anyway, but it left him only one option. He seated himself at his computer and called up the Sickbay duty roster.
Shortly after dawn, Scarlet went to Sickbay and met Dr Fawn who had just arrived for his day’s work.
“Captain Scarlet! Good morning. Please come in.” The doctor stepped aside to let him into the office.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so early. I should have made an appointment.”
Dr Fawn shook off his apology. “I know how you feel about coming to Sickbay at all, so I gather whatever brought you here must be important. I also gather this isn’t a social call. Please, take a chair. I’ve just made a pot of Assam. Can I offer you some or would you prefer coffee?”
“Tea, please.” Now that he was here, Scarlet found it difficult to begin. He sat in one of the deep chairs, directly across from its twin. Fawn fetched another cup, set it on the tea tray that already sat on the small table separating the chairs, and poured. “You take your tea black, right?”
Scarlet nodded and murmured his thanks as Dr Fawn handed him a mug filled with the dark, aromatic beverage. He took a sip; it was very strong.
Dr Fawn took the chair opposite him. “So tell me, Captain, what has brought you here?” He began pouring a cup of tea for himself.
“I’ve begun thinking about having children.”
Startled, Fawn dropped the teapot, which smashed his cup and broke on the edge of the table.
“What is it?” Scarlet asked.
Fawn hesitated, thinking hard, trying to choose his words carefully before shaking his head. There was no way to put it gently or kindly. “Captain Scarlet, you probably can’t sire children. In fact, you shouldn’t even try.”
Scarlet was taken aback. He had not anticipated such a blunt statement. “How do you know that?” he snapped, trying to contain his shock and anger.
There was a knock at the door. “Doctor Fawn! Is everything all right?”
“Yes, yes, everything’s fine, Chester, thank you,” called Fawn as he went to the door and opened it slightly. He stood so that the orderly would not see Captain Scarlet. “I just smashed my teapot to hell.”
“Shall I send someone to help with the cleanup, sir?”
“Later. I’m with a patient just now.”
“Very good, Doctor.”
Fawn shut the door and sighed as he looked at the bits of china. He’d liked that teapot; it had been a gift from his wife. He glanced at Captain Scarlet, then shook his head and went to fix himself a new cup of tea with a tea bag.
Captain Scarlet had begun to collect himself while the doctor spoke with his orderly. Fawn’s declaration had been a great shock. But he had to know, he had to understand. “Doctor,” he began as Fawn reseated himself. “What did you mean? Why shouldn’t I have children?”
“Before I explain, let me ask you a question, Captain Scarlet. What do you know about the Mysterons’ diamond pulsators, like the one you recovered from Crater 101 and the one that was used to attack you in Greenland?”
Scarlet was puzzled. He couldn’t see any connection between the crystals and his ability to have children. “They’re power sources. And they can be overloaded and used as bombs.” A thought occurred to him. “Are you telling me they emitted damaging radiation? Something my retrometabolism didn’t overcome?”
“No, Captain, it isn’t that.” He leaned forward, hands clasped. “Spectrum recovered some shards of the pulsator crystals and has been studying them. I expect you heard about that.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, I remember now. They thought the crystals were only power sources, then accidentally discovered they’re also highly advanced data-storage cells. We were hoping they might contain information about the Mysterons, records of their history, military organisation, society, anything. There were many documents in what looked like several languages on those shards. Most of them seemed to be copies of formal letters, reports, and journals. Back-up records from a master communications centre, perhaps. I understand some data has been successfully recovered, but I haven’t seen any of it yet. Apparently most of it hasn’t been relevant to planning defensive measures.”
The doctor agreed. “I’ve only seen a small portion of the data myself, and only because it was related to my field. Some information about retrometabolism that has significant personal repercussions for you.”
Scarlet sat bolt upright. “Why haven’t you told me about this before? When were you going to tell me?”
Fawn half smiled. “I’ve wanted to for some time. I have asked you to come to Sickbay before now. But you aren’t fond of being studied. As I recall, your last excuse for avoiding me was that you had to be present as a representative at an inter-service competitive event. Later I found you watching the Army vs. Navy American football game.”
Scarlet couldn’t help grinning. “I’m the only West Point graduate on Cloudbase, Doctor. I had to be there to offset the Annapolis contingent.”
Fawn glowered at him, but Scarlet saw the corners of his mouth twitching. “Every doctor has difficult patients. And then there are the banes of existence like you, Scarlet.”
Both men laughed, then Scarlet was serious again. “So, you’ve learned something about me from records stored on the pulsators. Something that makes you say I shouldn’t have children.”
“Yes.” Fawn paused to collect his thoughts, then drew a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation. First Rhapsody Angel, now Captain Scarlet had visited him with concerns about fertility. Obviously their personal relationship was reaching a new level. Well, they had to know the facts, so they could adjust and plan accordingly. A pity, really. They could have produced astoundingly beautiful children together.
“Actually, it wasn’t that long ago that I received the report. Spectrum’s linguists discovered that the data recovered from the pulsators was in more than one language. Some portions have taken longer to decipher than others; some still haven’t been finished. But one piece of data turned out to be a log or report about the Mysterons’ development of retrometabolism. It seems to have been written by an outside observer, a non-Mysteron.”
“Do you believe the report is genuine? How can we know it wasn’t planted by the Mysterons?”
Fawn shook his head. “We can’t know for sure. Personally, I think the record is genuine. It seems that the pulsator diamonds apparently contained much the same data — some of the material recovered from shards of different crystals overlapped, so even if we’d recovered shards from only one, we’d have the same information, more or less. But consider the other facts. The pulsators were designed to explode. How could the Mysterons have ensured that this particular report survived or that anything would be recoverable? Part of the report was, in fact, apparently destroyed. And how could the Mysterons be sure that we would discover the pulsators’ other function, let alone decipher anything that survived on the shards? If the Mysterons had wanted Spectrum to find the data, I’d think they would have found a more direct way to do it.” Fawn fished out the tea bag, sipped his tea, and grimaced; he’d let it steep too long. “They’ve shown their contempt for the limits of human capacity before. And linguistic computers have been working round the clock for years to decipher this report’s language, longer than it took to translate some of the other materials. If it was a plant, wouldn’t the Mysterons have made it much easier for us?”
Scarlet did not reply to that. The Mysterons had set a trap for him in Greenland using a diamond pulsator. If he’d been there when it exploded, it could have resulted in his destruction; in fact, the trap had been set with that specific intent. He wasn’t convinced that the record was authentic, but still, he had to know what it said. Scarlet pressed the doctor for information. “What about the contents? What do you know about the writer?”
“The writer appears to have been an on-the-spot observer. We can’t know for sure how reliable. But even discounting by half, the information in the report is significant. The writer calls himself — or herself, there’s no telling — Jevarn. He mentions arriving on Mars as a member of a gene-trading delegation from somewhere called Lekithia.”
“How could anyone possibly trade genetic material with a race of energy beings?” The captain sounded sceptical.
Fawn shrugged. “That was my reaction, too. But Jevarn— the writer — describes the Mysterons as having corporeal bodies, not quite like Lekiathans — I’m guessing that’s the right name to call the writer’s species. They had physical differences but not so great that they couldn’t mutually benefit from DNA enhancement. What intrigued the Lekiathans was that the Mysterons had recently discovered a way to prevent aging and reverse most bodily damage; even death.”
Fawn nodded. “According to Jevarn, the gene-traders who first learned about it were interested in the possibilities retrometabolism offered, so a scientific team was assigned to Mars to study the process and its effects. Jevarn comments that the Mysterons didn’t completely think out the consequences of continued reproduction. They eventually dealt with it by altering the retrometabolism process to induce sterility.” Fawn leaned back and looked Scarlet in the eye. “Elsewhere the writer mentions that beings of other species underwent Mysteronisation, but if he wrote anything about whether all the process’s effects were the same, that part of the report has been lost. In my opinion, if sterility was part of the process for Mysterons, it’s likely true for all others.”
Scarlet looked thoughtful. “So you’re saying I might be sterile. But it’s only a possibility, not a certainty.”
“Yes,” the doctor conceded. “I can’t be certain.”
The captain leaned back, picking over Fawn’s words. “Jevarn said the Mysterons hadn’t thought out the consequences of retrometabolism. Does that mean overpopulation?”
Fawn shook his head. “He comments that overpopulation was one problem the Mysterons hadn’t planned for, but that it could be controlled by establishing off-world colonies. The real problem, the one no one had considered, is that retrometabolism is genetically transmissible. It’s embedded in the genes of every cell. The retrometabolic factors cannot be sifted out by any means. The Mysterons tried. So did the Lekiathans.”
The captain scoffed. “Not every cell can be affected by retrometabolism. If they were, every hair in my brush, every drop of blood I’ve lost would still be alive. They aren’t.”
“I’ve observed that when small numbers of Mysteronised cells are without a living body, the retrometabolic effects they carry cease to function,” Fawn agreed. “In other words, when separated from a body, the cells die.”
“Then my sperm shouldn’t carry retrometabolism once separated from me,” Scarlet argued.
The doctor shook his head. “Think about it, Captain. Under the best of circumstances, cells, such as blood or bone-marrow cells for example, will not live long once removed from a donor. But under the right circumstances, such as transfusion or transplantation into a compatible living body, they can survive for a time, possibly even flourish, in that body. But their DNA structure does not change. They carry the donor’s genes, not the recipient’s.”
“We’re not talking about cells with double-helix DNA,” Scarlet countered. “Reproductive cells only have a single strand of DNA. Won’t the retrometabolic effect be cancelled out by a second, ordinary strand?”
“The Lekiathan’s report includes some case studies he made of the offspring of matings between Mysteronised and non-Mysteronised beings. Retrometabolism appears to be a dominant genetic trait. In every case he records, matings always resulted in children with retrometabolic powers.” Fawn paused. “There could be exceptions, even though none are mentioned. I can’t say whether Jevarn was an expert on genetics or hybrids or even a very objective reporter; he might have been more interested in sensationalism. But based on all the evidence before me, if you can sire children, they would acquire retrometabolic powers.”
Scarlet frowned. “You said that if I can have children, I shouldn’t. Even if my children inherited my retrometabolism, I don’t see why that’s a problem.”
Fawn leaned forward again. “Tell me, Captain, do you look at yourself in the mirror when you shave?”
“Of course I do.” Scarlet wondered what that question was supposed to lead to.
“Haven’t you noticed, you don’t seem to be aging at all?”
“It’s only been a few years. You’ve hardly changed. You’re still the same handsome doctor you were when we first met.”
Fawn smiled. “Spare me the flattery. It won’t keep me from calling you in to my domain.” His smile faded. “You haven’t changed at all, Scarlet. Literally. Aging occurs on a cellular level even if it doesn’t show otherwise. But a side-effect of retrometabolism is the constant renewal of aging cells. You’ve remained the way you were when you . . .” Fawn hesitated, searching for a diplomatic phrasing.
“When I died,” Scarlet filled in bluntly.
“When you acquired your retrometabolism,” Fawn substituted.
“So?” An idea was beginning to germinate in Scarlet’s mind, but he did not want to examine it.
“While a woman is pregnant, she and the baby live one life. The foetus grows and develops predictably. But, according to the writer, when mother and baby separate, the newborn’s retrometabolism is triggered by the trauma of birth. From then on, the baby will not long suffer injury, illness — or aging.”
Fawn stopped to let his words sink in. Scarlet was visibly shocked.
“You’re saying that babies were born and stayed . . . newborns? Forever?”
“Not entirely. A baby’s retrometabolism would keep on replacing the aging, changing cells with new ones. The body would remain forever infantile; there couldn’t be anymore physical development.” Fawn paused as he recalled the report’s graphic account. “But the mind still matures.”
Scarlet tried to shut out the horrible images the words evoked. He struggled with the knowledge of his own possible immortality, but at least he had the capacities of adulthood. To be condemned to be an eternal infant . . .
“There are ways of delivering a baby to avoid birth trauma,” he pointed out.
“Yes. The Mysterons found ways. But how can you keep a child from injuring itself? What extraordinary measures are you willing to apply?” Fawn looked and felt distressed. “The Mysterons tried; so did many others who’d undergone the process and acquired retrometabolism. The greatest known age a child reached without mishap was three years. Then . . .” He made a gesture that signified an ending. “I can’t imagine that life is much easier for retrometabolised toddlers than for infants.”
Scarlet covered his face with his hands. Fawn picked up Scarlet’s mug and went to fetch a tea bag and hot water. He took his time about it, letting Scarlet be alone with his thoughts. This was not an easy discussion.
“Jevarn stated that the Mysterons corrected the problem of infant immortality by making sterility a side-effect of retrometabolism,” he said softly, handing Scarlet the refreshed mug. “The Lekiathan commented that they didn’t want to inflict reproductive horrors on anyone who chose to undergo the process.” Fawn took a breath. “He believed that they did so out of compassion.”
Scarlet’s jaw was tightly clenched and his knuckles turned white. “Mysteron ‘compassion’ is an oxymoron so far as I’m concerned,” he hissed, and turned away from the doctor.
He sat for a long time, staring into the future. Neither he nor Doctor Fawn spoke until the silence was shattered by the sound of Scarlet’s mug breaking in his hands.
“I didn’t choose retrometabolism! They forced it on me! With all its consequences!” Scarlet shouted as he stormed out of Dr Fawn’s office.
It was late and the lights in the Officers’ Lounge were very dim. Rhapsody Angel could barely see someone, standing in the darkest corner.
“Dianne,” Captain Scarlet said huskily. He held a hand out to her, and she hurried to join him in the darkness, where they embraced and shared a long, deep kiss. The lounge was deserted except for the two of them. He released her reluctantly.
“Did you get the test results from Dr Fawn?”
“Yes. And you were right. He said there’s no question: I can have children,” Rhapsody said, happily. “I can have Axethorpe and you, too.” She felt Scarlet tense up in her arms. “Paul, what’s wrong?” She leaned closer, trying to read his expression in the gloom.
“I . . .” Scarlet stopped, the words choking him. “I have to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about us.” Scarlet stopped again and turned his face away.
Rhapsody’s heart pounded. She knew instinctively that whatever he had to say, it was going to hurt her. “Paul, are you trying to tell me that you don’t want children? That our engagement is over?”
“No! No,” Scarlet exclaimed, taking her face in his hands and kissing her urgently. “I love you. I want to marry you. But . . .” He swallowed hard and blurted out the words. “I can’t have children.”
The shock was so terrible that, at first, Rhapsody didn’t feel hurt, only numb. “You . . . are you sure?” she asked inanely. She knew that Paul never made jokes about anything so serious, but she had to hope.
Scarlet nodded. He told her about his meeting with Dr Fawn and the data recovered from the pulsator. He still wasn’t convinced of the report’s truth or accuracy. But he couldn’t ignore the possible terrible consequences of bringing a new life into the world.
Captain Vermillion had a little time yet before starting her late shift, so she stepped into the lounge to see if there was any fresh coffee. She quietly slipped out again when she heard muffled sobs in the darkness.
It had been a long, tense night. Her shift over, Rhapsody changed into casual clothes. She was tired but also keyed up, so she grabbed a book and headed up to the Promenade Deck to sit and read. And think. Almost two weeks had passed since the Earl of Axethorpe’s death. Mr Aitken was waiting to know if she was going to accept her legacy. So was Martin.
And so was Paul.
Rhapsody decided she needed to talk with a confidential counsellor. Dr Fawn referred her to Dr Verdant, an experienced counsellor and also an old colleague of his. Verdant was normally stationed at Koala Base, but had come to Cloudbase on a temporary assignment.
Dr Verdant was available to meet the Angel that same day. He greeted her with warm Aussie charm and they chatted for a while of inconsequential things until Rhapsody felt relaxed enough to tell him about her dilemma.
“After hearing Martin’s and John’s plans, I went to Axethorpe myself. Mainly I wanted to see whether accepting my inheritance would mean I’d have to resign from Spectrum. I’d wondered if I would have to be there to oversee it.” She smiled wanly. “It quickly turned out that I have nothing to worry about there. My uncle’s stewards are excellent managers; they have years of experience and assured me they would carry on as long as I wish them to, whether I live there or not.”
“That sounds very positive. But you don’t seem terribly happy or reassured. What’s troubling you?”
Rhapsody took a deep breath. This was the hard part. “I’m engaged to a man I love very much. I love him with all my heart and soul. But I just found out he can’t give me children.” She blinked to keep tears from spilling.
“I am sorry to hear that. But you have other options for creating a family,” Verdant began, reasonably he thought.
He was surprised when the Angel vehemently shook her head. “No, I don’t.” She spoke abruptly, explaining the strange condition of the legacy and its implications.
“I see.” Doctor Verdant waited but Rhapsody did not continue. “So now you have to choose between your fiancé and your inheritance.” He paused again to allow the Angel to speak, but she remained silent. “What is the condition really about?” he finally asked. “Why do you think it was created?”
Rhapsody bowed her head. “To keep the property in the family line. To preserve it.” She looked up, her beautiful blue eyes shimmering. “It’s about preserving Axethorpe. And about family honour and traditions.” She paused as her throat tightened. “To my uncle, it was all that and more than that. He truly loved the people of Axethorpe. He wanted to ensure, for their sake, that Axethorpe would go on, because they rely on it so much for their support and for their futures. He wanted an heir who could love and understand Axethorpe as much he did.”
Verdant nodded. “And he chose you to be his heir. But he didn’t foresee how the legal condition would affect you. He surely didn’t mean to hurt you. But now you have to choose between Axethorpe and your fiancé.”
“Yes.” Rhapsody hid her face in her hands. There was a long pause before the Angel looked up at the doctor. “What should I do? Which is the right choice? Please. Help me choose!” she beseeched him
The doctor’s gaze was compassionate. “Rhapsody,” Verdant said gently. “I can’t. Only you can decide.”
After she returned to her quarters, Rhapsody hugged herself for a long time and wept in the darkness.
Another nighttime. Captain Scarlet mused that many momentous events had occurred after sunset in the last few years of his life. It had been nighttime when he had revived after his first death, nighttime when he’d proposed to Rhapsody, and when he’d told her he couldn’t have children. And now . . .
“I’ve got to choose . . . and I don’t want to,” Rhapsody gulped. “My uncle didn’t mean to force me to this, I know. I think he chose Martin to be a spur, to make sure I wouldn’t refuse his gift. He suspected Martin wasn’t eligible to inherit and was sure I wouldn’t let John destroy . . . destroy . . . all those lives.” She put a hand to her mouth, unable to go on.
“You’re going to accept Axethorpe,” Captain Scarlet whispered.
Rhapsody nodded, her misery evident in her expression. “So many people are depending on me to keep Axethorpe going. They’ve depended on it for generations. Maybe it is a feudal anachronism, but it works, and it does so many people so much good! Martin won’t care about them. Neither will John. The people need me.” She sniffed. “In London, Martin said to me, sometimes when you have people who depend on you, you have to put their interests before your own. I love Axethorpe. But I love you, too, Paul. With all my heart.” She choked as her heart broke and tears flooded down her cheeks. “And I can’t have both!”
Captain Scarlet held his beloved tightly as she sobbed in agony, and squeezed his eyes shut to contain his own. He’d always know how deeply Dianne’s sense of duty and honour ran. He respected her for it, and loved her for it as well. But he’d never imagined it could come between them.
Much later, he walked Rhapsody to her quarters and sat with her until she fell into an exhausted sleep. Restless himself, he stood before a window on the dark and deserted Promenade Deck and glared up at the red planet until it faded with the dawn. He had never before hated the Mysterons so much as he did now, before he knew he was condemned to an eternity of lonely nighttimes.
On Retrometabolism, Reproduction, and a Runaway Imagination
In the world of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, much is unknown and uncertain. Many writers have written about the effects of retrometabolism and the human body. What exactly, happens to various natural functions? There are no definitive answers; that’s one of the joys of fan fiction, the myriad of possibilities and the freedom to explore them.
To many of us, retrometabolism sounds pretty desirable. Who wouldn’t want to halt or infinitely slow aging, to heal rapidly, to overcome death? But, as the adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I pondered what the less desirable consequences of retrometabolism might be, and came to focus on how it would affect reproductive ability. The premise of infertility also gave me an opportunity to look into the hearts of two of my favourite characters, even though it meant breaking those hearts, something I hadn’t set out to do, but finally did very reluctantly. It was a difficult story to write, which is why it took almost four years to finish.
Other writers have considered the question of retrometabolism and reproduction, and come up with logical scenarios. One possibility is that Captain Scarlet can have children who inherit his retrometabolism but are able to grow to adulthood (a fine example is Rose Metcalfe, first introduced in Lezli Farrington’s Pride and Joy). Another possibility is that Scarlet may sire children who do not have retrometabolism. And, as in this story, retrometabolism in one’s offspring may not only be unavoidable but carry dire consequences.
The Legal Stuff in a Nutshell — And is the Tale Really Finished?
The legal aspects surrounding Rhapsody’s inheritance are accurate under historic and modern law. Although the Normans introduced the custom of primogeniture (automatic inheritance by the eldest surviving son) and it was the preferred practice, it wasn’t absolute or unavoidable, especially when politics was a factor — kings sometimes found that satisfying a supporter’s goals was more important than abiding by law or tradition. Medieval politics undoubtedly played a role in the terms of Axethorpe’s fictional charter. The charter, by the way, has no exact real-world parallel that I’m aware of; nonetheless, the fertility requirement and the proposed underlying motivation fall within acceptable historical legal parameters.
The particular legal condition that causes all the problems in this story is called a restraint on marriage. In times past, it wasn’t unusual for testators to make an inheritance conditional on the heir’s choice of a spouse. When arranged marriages were the norm, lawmakers and courts had no problem with enforcing the wishes of those responsible for controlling a family’s future, even if it was from beyond the grave. Even in modern times, courts have allowed testators to place some restrictions on whom an heir can marry. The law’s simplistic reason for allowing such restraints is that no one is entitled to an inheritance and testators are free to give their property to anyone they like, with or without strings. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century courts loosened a few of those strings when they decided that some restraints on marriage contradicted important social policies. But usually the restraints have been upheld, no matter how unfair they seem to the heir and the heir’s beloved, because there was some good reason, some social policy that trumped hearts. Based on his knowledge of legal history and precedent, and his speculation about the reasons for the charter’s condition, Mr. Aitken reasonably concluded that even a 21st-century court would probably uphold the fertility requirement. And so Rhapsody Angel was forced into the decision to end her engagement to Captain Scarlet.
BUT WHAT IF — The Possibilities of a Sequel
As a matter of law, Rhapsody’s decision may not have to be final. There are reasons to be uncertain whether a 21st-century court would affirm the restraint. The last time an English court considered an argument against a restraint on marriage was in 1955. Although the court upheld it, several judges strongly questioned whether a future court could justify doing so. And the last American case was decided in 1973; although that court also allowed the restraint, its reasons for doing so were strained to the breaking point. So, if Rhapsody chose to take her case to Chancery, the court might weigh the ancient reasons for the restriction, consider what they are worth in the modern world, and uphold the restraint, leaving Rhapsody where she is now. Or the old, badly decided precedents might lead a modern court to reject the charter’s restriction and allow Rhapsody to inherit Axethorpe and marry whomever she wants. On the other hand, if the marriage restraint is struck down, it could also open up a whole new problem about who is the true heir to Axethorpe under English law: were the deceased Earl of Axethorpe’s wishes expressed with proper testamentary formalities? should a great-niece inherit when a grandnephew is available? I’m sure John Harper-Wallace would have much to say.
And in regards to mysteronisation and human genetics, there are still questions to explore. Although retromatabolism couldn’t be sifted out of Mysteron DNA, I have thought of a way it might be deactivated in humans. Might it be possible for Captain Scarlet to sire children after all?
If there’s enough interest in this story, perhaps I will continue it in a sequel and resolve all these questions.
Diamond Pulsators as Storage Media
The Mysterons’ use of diamond pulsators as data-storage media as well as power sources is not as absurd as it sounds. After all, crystal memory, especially optical crystal memory, is a media-storage form already in use in our time (see, e.g., http://it.asia1.com.sg/newsdaily/news001_20040710.html ) The crystals we have now are nothing like the size of the diamond pulsators, but then neither are we as technologically advanced as the Mysterons. No one has yet managed to use the crystals as power sources; apparently no one’s tried yet. But such a use is not impossible.
Captain Scarlet encounters pulsators at least twice times in the television series, in the episodes Crater 101 and Dangerous Rendevous. Another is mentioned in Chris Bishop’s Parallax View. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn up elsewhere as well.
The Small Stuff
The story of Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel’s engagement was told by Mary Rudy in Moonlight Rhapsody. I recommend you read this beautiful, romantic story.
Fifteen is a real restaurant in London and quite a good one. Check its website at http://www.fifteenrestaurant.com/fifteen/. I imagine it could still be around in the 2070s.
The house, village, and Earldom ofAxethorpe are wholly fictional and aren’t based on any particular thing or place, past or present. The house will appear in greater detail in a Christmas story about Twelfth Night.
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