A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short story
Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love. - David McCullough (1933 - )
In the beginning…
When Robert Newell caught sight of the advert calling for expressions of interest to join a new security organisation he almost didn’t bother to read the notice until he saw the list of occupations. Tired of the struggle to profitably maintain a small garage and petrol station, and with the possibility of bankruptcy staring him in the face he reached for the advert like a drowning man clutching at a lifeline.
There must be something here I can do, he thought. Robert read the extensive list of occupations, disregarding those of officer rank – maybe he had some of the necessary educational qualifications, maybe not, but he sure didn’t need that kind of pressure! Perhaps he should consider a different technical trade, a desk job, or something completely different. Scanning the list he considered Communications Operator, Administration Officer, Transport Movement Assistant, Operators for Petroleum / Transport / Supply, Cargo Specialist, Fitter and Turner, Plumber, Electrician, Cook, Steward, Technicians for Avionics / Electrical / Communications, Security Guard…and more. Robert Newell resolutely ignored the call for Vehicle Mechanics.
There were enough possibilities to make the request for information worthwhile so he applied for details on several occupations. Back came the results of his enquiry and Robert set about studying the essential requirements needed to apply. He was pleased to see he was within the mandatory age, education and fitness levels for most of the positions that interested him. Training would be provided, the pay levels were excellent (better than what he made at the garage, he thought ruefully), and there were opportunities for travel. With accommodation and meals provided plus a generous medical and dental plan, a job with this organisation seemed like a gift from the gods. He wondered what the application rate was and exactly how many people they were looking for. The contact details made clear this was in government service but oddly enough it wasn’t named. Police or military…or something else? He had some doubts about handling weapons (so there was no point applying to be a guard!)
All things considered he was more than ready to abandon the long cherished ambition of working for himself. It wasn’t all it cracked up to be, being one’s own boss. Robert Newell had experienced disillusionment first hand on that score. Better to have food on the table and a roof over his head, not to mention being able to sleep at night instead of suffering extended periods of insomnia worrying about mounting debts. Business was fine to begin with but he could not have anticipated the highway being re-routed leaving his garage in limbo. With the planned roadworks affecting several businesses, the townspeople had lobbied hard to stop the proposed changes and as recently as two and a half weeks ago it seemed like they had succeeded but… Not for the first time did he wonder if ‘incentives’ were offered to the local council who blatantly went against the wishes of its constituents.
With the paperwork filled out and submitted he went back to work and waited to see if any of his initial ‘expressions of interest’ bore fruit.
Two weeks later he received the call to come in for an initial interview.
The nondescript concrete and steel building in the commercial sector did not give any indication of who his potential employer might be. Interviews were to be conducted in small meeting and syndicate rooms occupying one floor at the top of the building - and they seemed to have been organised with military-like precision. Maybe that was a hint to indicate who was behind this large-scale recruitment campaign, he speculated. Well, he’d find out soon enough … he hoped. Robert gazed in amazement at the rows and rows of chairs in the foyer – all full of hopeful candidates. This may prove to be a lot tougher than expected. His interview was at ten o’clock and he was 12 minutes early. It felt like the longest 12 minutes of his life.
At 1000 precisely he was called into one of the rooms where the interviewer introduced himself as Noel Casey. Casey had that indelible stamp of military bearing, though what service he belonged to or rank he held was a mystery. He had blue eyes, greying hair cut short and slightly weatherbeaten features. Casey was not in uniform but wore a neat grey suit, and his standard government issue briefcase was propped against the small interview table where piles of brochures and application forms had been placed in neat rows. A pitcher of water and two glasses had been placed on a nearby sideboard. After introductions Robert Newell presented his qualifications, trade certificates, employment history and personal references from clients and past employers. Casey studied the paperwork … and Newell. Not a kid, he thought. Mature age entrant, excellent qualifications, brown hair, moustache, looks fit, well dressed, clearly he had taken the trouble to ensure he presented himself well at the interview. There was a level of maturity about Robert Newell that impressed Noel Casey, even when he was candid about the problems he was having with his current work situation. Honest too, Casey noted. He had a hunch that this man was just what Spectrum needed. It was time to fill in the blanks.
“You’ve heard of Spectrum?” Noel Casey asked casually.
“A little. It’s a new security organisation, isn’t it? Is that who you are recruiting for?” asked Robert.
“Yes, and we are looking to recruit the best of the best – in all fields. We are a new multi-national global security and peacekeeping organisation.”
Robert reviewed what he had read about Spectrum. Darn, I wish I’d paid more attention to the news reports, he thought. “It’s a military organisation, right? All that saluting, getting up at dawn and marching around in full packs…” he realised how silly that sounded but all he could think of was an old war movie he’d seen recently.
Noel Casey grinned broadly. “Spectrum is not the Army but yes, there is a basic training component where discipline will have to be learnt and fitness levels maintained. Is that a problem?”
Robert considered the question. “I’m not sure…no, I guess it’d be OK. I suppose I knew at the back of my mind it had to be a military outfit that needed such a variety of occupations, especially the avionics component … and guards.” Robert had a sudden thought. “Would I be expected to handle guns?”
“Whether you are required to be weapons trained really depends on what your job is,” Casey answered smoothly. “I have a list of categories that don’t require weapons training. I must advise you, if you are successful in gaining employment with us there would be some basic training in handling small arms like pistols.”
“Oh. I didn’t realise ...” Robert wondered what would happen if he refused to undertake the training - would it wreck his chances of a job?
Casey considered Newell’s reply. If it does become a problem he’ll be bounced out in the first weeks of training. He frowned. Still, a gut feeling told him Robert Newell was likely to do well in basic training and accept all that it entailed – and he was usually right about these things. What was important was the need to steer Newell towards applying for the job he was clearly already qualified for.
“I see you haven’t applied for a position in vehicle mechanics,” Casey remarked. “Why is that?” he asked.
“I just felt like a change.”
“With an A Grade mechanics licence and supplementary qualifications in electronics and basic business management, I’ll be honest with you, your chances of a job within our organisation would increase tenfold if you chose the occupation you’re already qualified for. And with those pre-existing qualifications you would join at a higher pay level than as an initial entry trainee.”
Robert considered the interviewer’s statement. He shook his head. “I don’t have any dependants and to be honest I am a little tired of fixing cars and trucks. That’s why I’d like a change.”
The interviewer gave Newell a speculative look. “Suppose I was to tell you the vehicles you would be working on are nothing like anything you’ve ever seen before?”
“What, tanks or something like that?” Robert hazarded a guess. “I’ve no experience in maintaining military vehicles.”
“Military vehicles yes, of sorts. Fast, armed with laser cannons and missiles, armoured and bullet proof, even amphibious, but most definitely not conventional tanks or jeeps. Training would be provided of course.” Casey hoped Newell would take the bait.
Robert didn’t miss the level of excitement in the interviewer’s voice. These vehicles must be really impressive to interest this guy, he thought. He’s no mechanic, that much was clear, but evidently there was something about them that could engender such enthusiasm in even a non-tech person. Robert glanced down towards his resume and sundry other paperwork strewn across the table, and on top of the pile was his mechanics trade certificate and licence. He sighed. What the hell … if it’s as interesting as the interviewer has hinted (and the higher initial pay level wouldn’t go amiss either), he might as well sign on and do the occupation he was trained for … if they’ll have him that is. He came to a decision. “OK, where’s the application form for vehicle mechanic? I’ll take a look at it.” He’d kept his tone casual but Casey knew he had succeeded in gaining Newell’s curiosity.
Noel Casey handed him the form and began explaining the recruitment procedures. Once he’d submitted the form, he explained, Robert would be booked in for a day of testing - this would include a medical examination, a written psychological test, a psychological interview and another chat with a recruiting officer. “You have no objection to filling out a security clearance form or consenting to a Police check I hope?” Casey asked.
“No objection at all,” Robert replied.
Noel explained there may be initial trade test, common for direct entry candidates. Robert looked surprised and asked him what a direct entry candidate meant. Casey explained it referred to applicants who were already qualified in their chosen field prior to joining the organisation, and it was natural to test their level of skill for a number of reasons. A major one, Casey explained was to ensure Spectrum didn’t waste time teaching him skills he was already qualified to do. Course subjects were split into sections called modules and a trade test could help exempt him from some of them. Casey warned him the test would not be easy and he was pleased to see that detail didn’t faze the applicant at all.
Robert glanced at the application form. Also part of the pack was information on Spectrum’s conditions of service and the opportunities employment with the organisation could offer. It looked like he had a lot of paperwork to complete and some new terminology with which to familiarise himself.
“If all goes well,” Casey continued, “you will be recommended for a career with Spectrum.”
One month on since he submitted the application form following that initial interview and just when he’d begun to wonder if it all had been for nothing, Robert was called in for a second interview and assessment. Same place, different floor and considerably less people waiting. This time he’d be there the whole day. As for his business, he’d kept the vehicle repair side free of appointments but in the end had shut the garage completely rather than employ a temporary console operator. It wasn’t financially viable anyway.
The second interview went well, he thought. Ditto the Police and Security checks. He knew there would be no problems with the medical examination. He wasn’t so sure he’d given all the right answers in the psych tests. From what he’d heard, some of those questions didn’t have clear right or wrong answers anyway. That was the written test. He didn’t much like the psychologist who conducted the oral interview either but once again he hoped he’d said all the right things. He’d tried to be honest and straightforward in his answers. It wasn’t his problem if the psychologist didn’t seem to get it. Robert suspected the psych had deliberately tried to needle him just to test his reaction to some of the questions. There was also the special direct entry trade test – and he knew he’d breezed through that. It seemed the test results would be used to calculate his initial pay level as well as assessing possible exemptions from the training modules. Robert Newell interpreted the requirement to undertake the test as proof of a genuine interest in employing him.
Robert was very glad to get home and relax. Once he was comfortably settled in the lounge with a drink and a hastily microwaved dinner, he mentally reviewed the previous 10 hours. He felt like he’d been through the mill. The psych tests still bothered him. In his quiet and solitary life he reflected this was one of those rare occasions it might have been nice to have someone to talk to about the day’s activities. Left to his own devices it was difficult not to focus on perceived mistakes, if mistakes they were … he found it impossible to be sure either way. No point in going over it again, he admitted. What’s done is done.
It wasn’t the only fait accompli either. Weeks ago he’d also made the decision to get out of his current job, whether Spectrum offered him a position or not. Thankfully two days before the second interview, like a bolt from the blue a large haulage and storage company made an offer for his business. Not to run as a going concern but ironically, for the land. Newell viewed the impending demolition of his garage without the slightest regret. He’d found temporary work without difficulty. Pleased to be filling in for an old friend who was going on holidays overseas, he had no doubt more permanent work was available if he wanted it. But increasingly what he really wanted was to work for Spectrum. He read all the paperwork he’d been given and had followed up with research of his own – newspapers, the net … anything he could find on the organisation he read. Now all he had to do was sit and wait…
When the letter finally arrived it was good news. Robert Newell was accepted into Spectrum just as he’d hoped.
Robert found the initial training intensive and challenging … and Noel Casey didn’t lie – those vehicles were something else! His favourite was undoubtedly the SPV – a massive bulletproof 10 wheeler capable of speeds in excess of 200 mph, fitted with state of the art radar and communications equipment. He knew the SPV’s specifications by heart. Robert was grateful he could skip some of the training modules because it was hard enough to find the time to study as it was. Accommodation for single personnel was basic but comfortable, the meals were good and he’d made a lot of new friends. It took him time to get used to living in a military environment and obeying orders though. That was probably the hardest thing after being his own boss for so long, but he adapted. He also soon realised his age and experience compared to most of the trainees in his classes meant they often looked up to him for guidance. Robert may not have recognised he had the natural ability to be a born leader, but his supervisors did. They had already earmarked him for future instructional duties and promotion.
The more he learned about Spectrum the more impressed he was. Just the concept of Cloudbase was awe inspiring, let alone it actually existed. “Do you think we’ll ever go there?” he asked fellow student, Joseph.
“Go where?” replied Joseph who wasn’t paying attention.
“Cloudbase! Isn’t that what we’ve been talking about for the last half an hour?” he answered impatiently.
Joseph smiled and replied, “No – that’s what YOU’VE been talking about. I’ve been a sounding board for the last half hour. And in answer to your question, I think the answer is: probably not – because there’s no reason we would need to visit Cloudbase. We’re strictly ground based mechanics. If you’d really wanted to see Cloudbase you should have opted to work on aircraft or something.”
“Huh. You’re probably right,” said Robert regretfully.
Robert considered what else he had learned about the organisation. He found the elaborate secrecy Spectrum had instituted to protect its personnel to be quite curious. “When you think about it, security at our level is … the reverse of how it works for the higher level personnel.”
Joseph shook his head. “I have no idea what you are talking about but I suppose you are going to explain it - and hopefully in the end it will all make some kind of sense!”
“Sorry, that didn’t come out right. I was thinking aloud I guess. I only meant that the elite personnel – you know, like the Angels and field agents…”
“You mean the colour-coded officers like the Spectrum captains on Cloudbase?” Joseph interrupted.
“Yeah. As I was saying, in those uniforms everyone would know they are from Spectrum – but no one would know their real identities. In our case we are exactly who we say we are – but the fact that we work for Spectrum is the secret,” replied Robert.
“Hey, you’re right. That is kinda weird I guess.” Joseph grinned. “Know what, Newell – you think of the darnest things.”
“Don’t I know it,” he replied. “What I have to think about now is finishing that report that’s due in tomorrow. I’ll see you later – I’m off to the library to do some research – on the wonders of fleetonium alloy. There’s a reference book I really need to borrow so I can complete the report.”
“Oh yeah, that book. Great stuff. Couldn’t really grasp the plot though. I thought I’d wait for the movie to come out,” Joseph deadpanned. “See you tomorrow Rob.”
“Sure. See ya.”
Weeks went by and Robert Newell no longer found things strange. In fact so comfortable did the routine of military training, discipline and the camaraderie of his classmates become to him, his life before joining the organisation seemed a distant memory … a period in his life where it almost felt like he had simply been marking time. Robert also found to his surprise that understanding and speaking the military terminology and phraseology unique to Spectrum had quickly become second nature.
Then the incident on Mars happened…
For Robert Newell at the end of his trade training, everything suddenly changed. Spectrum was no longer an international security and anti-terrorist organisation, but had been tasked to lead the battle against a new enemy of Earth - the Mysterons. Security was stepped up and training became even more intensive. There was an air of expectation and more pressure to accomplish things quickly, even in day-to-day tasks. Instead of being posted to a Delta garage as expected, he was sent off for further training – this time in communications and associated electronics. He duties would now include acting as a listening post if required and Spectrum wanted to ensure he was fully trained to use the equipment and effect repairs and improvements if necessary. The garages would receive an equipment upgrade as well. Robert didn’t mind, in fact he quite enjoyed learning new skills. He’d heard there would soon be special briefings to inform Spectrum personnel on all levels everything that was known about the Mysterons. Robert had undertaken the basic weapons training after all and found it was not as bad as he first feared. Though his job was not weapons category specific Robert Newell was asked if he wanted to take further small arms training. He was told it was not compulsory but it was made clear to him it was in his best interests in light of the new threat to Earth’s safety. His first thought was to refuse, but privately in the last few days his resolve was wavering. Maybe he should … though if only a fraction of the rumours he’d heard on the grapevine were true, a pistol probably wasn’t going to be much use against the Mysterons anyway.
On the job…
SW of London
Robert Newell looked at the stack of items to be unpacked and sighed. No one had stopped by for hours, not even to buy as much as a newspaper or a tank of petrol. The day was turning into one of those déjà vu moments … but at least it was without any anxiety about debts. He wanted job security and he got it but sometimes - just sometimes - he questioned the wisdom of remaining a ground mechanic, no matter how much he loved his job. Blame the recruiting officer for talking me into it, he thought ruefully. But then again … it wasn’t all stocktaking, fixing cars and serving customers. Thank goodness he would be back at the Spectrum vehicle maintenance training facility for refresher training in three weeks. Five weeks of learning about the latest in Spectrum’s vehicle improvements. If truth were told he could hardly wait - and if all went well he could be staying on at the training facility as an instructor for six months at least, maybe even longer. Robert glanced across the petrol pumps towards the ‘Swift Removals’ van parked out the front of the Delta Garage. With a red cabin and grey cargo section and basic signage in white lettering it looked like any other furniture removal van. Not quite though, Robert smirked.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a flash of red. A vehicle and coming this way, Robert thought. About time he had some customers. But as the vehicle grew closer he realised it wasn’t just any vehicle but a Spectrum Saloon Car, and he recognised its driver immediately.
“Captain Blue of Spectrum. Pursuit Vehicle A69 please.”
“Pass please.” Newell answered.
Captain Blue showed Robert his pass and he examined it carefully. It didn’t pay to be careless in security matters.
“I see you have expert ratings on SPVs,” he noted. “It must be tricky facing backwards and driving by TV monitor.”
“Oh, you get used to it,” Captain Blue replied.
Robert activated a small switch and suddenly a small explosive charge caused the removals van to burst open revealing the SPV. As the last part of the ramp folded down and Captain Blue boarded the vehicle Robert had been counting the time it took from when he operated the switch to when the SPV was ready to depart. Not bad, he thought, a bit of extra tinkering and I’ve taken nearly three seconds off the whole process. The next thing to improve would be to decrease the sound of that final ramp hitting the ground. It needs reinforced buffers of some sort, he thought. He walked out to examine the van and began setting the SPV’s camouflage to rights. Luckily the van panels were nowhere near as heavy as they looked – except for the ramp which needed to be able to take the weight of the SPV. Robert pictured the van opening again in his mind’s eye – this time with improved buffers. Yep, that might do it. Less noise attracts less attention.
A strange muffled boom bought Robert Newell out of his reverie. He listened carefully but heard no further sounds… but there was something glinting almost on the horizon. Robert hurried back to the control booth and grabbed his binoculars. With a bit of adjusting he could just make out silvery-white shapes along the skyline. Angel Interceptors maybe? Yes. No doubt about it, that’s what they were all right. Something big must be going down, he surmised. Robert Newell suddenly realised he should get moving and return everything to exactly as it was … not to mention he’d better hide the Saloon Car pronto. If there was an explosion of some kind nearby, as the sound he’d heard suggested, his regular customers may decide to drive out and investigate – and that bright red SSC would invite quite a lot of questions as they drove by his garage! In fact he could guarantee he would have visitors – and soon. Things could get brisk for a change.
There should be plenty of time to remove all the evidence of the Spectrum captain’s visit and enter the SPV and SSC’s details in the vehicle log. He’d give the garage a once-over check then – last but not least – settle back in the control booth and await his first customer … ready for a chat and wearing a suitably interested expression that suggested he had no idea what was going on but would appreciate any news his visitors could tell him.
This story is based on characters created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ now owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Robert is of course the mechanic from the first Captain Scarlet episode, ‘The Mysterons’. As far as I’ve been able to tell (after checking reference books) he didn’t have a name so I’ve given him one. Noel Casey and Joseph are my own creations for the purposes of this story.
I could imagine nothing better than belonging to an organisation like Spectrum – and I’m sure I’m not alone in that wish - and it’s just possible not everybody would want to be an elite field operative or an Angel pilot. Personally I think Robert has underestimated the security and safety of his job though. Given the track record of Delta Garage attendants, it was fortunate it was Captain Blue he met and not Captain Black!