By Hazel Köhler
Scarlet edged carefully along the gantry. Below, on the workshop floor, he could see the manufacturing benches and the men working at them. A whisper of sound in his ear from the bug they’d planted on Shady Lady assured him that the meeting was going well – they’d be finished shortly. He flicked his cap microphone down and murmured into it.
"Scarlet to all teams. I’m in position. Shady Lady will be coming out soon, stand by."
"SIG. Are you in any danger of being spotted?"
Scarlet grinned as he recognised his partner’s voice, concerned as always about the safety of the people under his command.
"No problem," he replied. "Lighting’s bad up here, and there’s so much racket down on the floor, I could’ve come in leading a brass band and they’d never notice."
A door opened at the far end of the workshop and three people came out. Scarlet craned forward to see them: Alex Raphael, chief suspect in the Unity City bombing of 2063 and the hi-jacking of a military aircraft last year, and probably responsible for most of the acts of global terrorism over the last five years; Piotr Amasov, computer genius, jailed two years ago for hacking into the control systems of the Bereznik High Command and almost starting another nuclear war – someone had broken him out of prison earlier this year, and Spectrum Intelligence had strong reason to suspect that Raphael had something to do with it. This meeting seemed to be the proof of that. Finally, the third member of Raphael’s team – Shady Lady. The harsh lighting that illuminated the rest of the workshop caught her long, copper-coloured hair, and Scarlet could make out what she was saying in that clear, English finishing-school accent even above the noise of the machinery.
"So, gentlemen, shall we go? I see the three completed devices are waiting for us. I think we should get them loaded onto my private jet and be on our way."
Raphael courteously gestured for her to precede him; behind them, three neutron bombs, each capable of wiping out every living thing in a 150-kilometre radius, were loaded onto trolleys.
"Scarlet to Team Leader. They’re coming out, with three of the bombs."
"SIG. Team 1, follow them. Stay well back, and make sure you’re not spotted. Team 2, on my command, move in and take the building. Team 3, on my command, spread out and surround the building. Stand by."
Outside, the team leaders watched from their hiding places as the terrorists and the bombs boarded the jet. Shady Lady paused before climbing the steps herself, and raised a hand to adjust an ear-ring.
"Tracking signal coming through loud and clear," Symphony reported, as she led Team 1, the Angel flight, some twenty kilometres away. "Well done, Rhapsody."
The jet rumbled down the airstrip and soared into the air.
Team 2’s leader flicked his cap mic down. "Captain Ochre to Cloudbase. Rhapsody’s just taken off from the airstrip. The Angels are maintaining a twenty-kilometre distance, but the bug’s working well, and they’ll be able to close in if she hits trouble. She should be approaching Cloudbase in approximately 30 minutes. Ochre out."
As Cloudbase acknowledged the call, the command came to move in.
Inside the bomb factory was organised chaos. Gunfire, shouting, the bomb-makers running, trying to escape the Spectrum agents who’d invaded their secret factory. The need for silence and caution now gone, Scarlet ran to the far end of the gantry, where he had a good view of the entire floor. "Two coming your way!" he yelled to his partner, who once again proved why he was such an asset to the Spectrum organisation. Two down, nineteen to go. One of them, more reckless than the others, spotted the Spectrum agent high up on the walkway, and hared up the stairs toward him. Scarlet waited until the top of his head appeared over the edge of the gantry, then kicked. With a howl of pain and fright, the man plunged back down the way he’d come.
It was almost over now. Outside, Team 3 guarded nineteen manacled terrorists. Inside, the last two tried to hold off the superior Spectrum force. One of them pulled out a small transceiver. "Raphael! It’s a –" His words were cut off abruptly as Captain Ochre shot the transceiver out of his hand. The other grabbed a hand grenade from a workbench, and threw it. His aim was bad, and instead of landing and detonating among the Spectrum agents, it bounced off a roof support column and hit the stairs leading to the gantry. It was only a small charge, but enough; the corroded supports of the gantry collapsed.
Scarlet hung onto the rusty handrail as the walkway twisted under him, threatening to spill him off onto the rubble-strewn floor, ten metres below. His colleagues were more concerned with getting the last of the terrorists; they’d undoubtedly come back for him, but he wasn’t sure that the groaning, twisting metal he was dangling from would hold out that long. He looked down, and assessed his options. No room to swing out far enough to clear the debris on the floor. He could hang on until the rail snapped, and fall onto something painfully sharp, or he could choose his moment and jump. He chose the latter.
"… all clear now. Rhapsody has Raphael and Amasov prisoner on board her jet, and is bringing them and the bombs to Cloudbase. You’ve arrested the others, and seized the evidence, so I think congratulations are in order all round."
"Thank you, sir. I’ll just pick up Captain Scarlet, and we’ll be on our way back."
"What do you mean, I’ll be off my feet for a couple of weeks? I’m supposed to going with –"
Doctor Fawn silenced his patient with a look. "You’re going nowhere until your knee heals. You wrenched it pretty badly in that fall, and let me remind you that a sprain can be as bad as a fracture. I don’t want you putting any weight on your leg for at least a week, and that’s final."
Scarlet slumped back onto the pillow, acquiescing with poor grace. His mood wasn’t lightened when his partner sauntered into the ward – it just reminded him of the mission they were both supposed to going on, the day after tomorrow. Now he was stuck in hospital, and it was highly unlikely that the mission would be cancelled. His visitor sat down, and frowned forbiddingly at him.
"If you didn’t want to go, you only had to say. You didn’t have to get yourself hospitalised."
"Very funny," Scarlet groused. "Who’s going to keep you out of trouble now? You’ll only have – who are they again?"
"Two lieutenants from the World Space Patrol. I know them both from a few years back – good men, both of them. And as for you keeping me out of trouble – the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ spring to mind."
"Very appropriate. Look, can’t the mission be postponed until I’m out of here and can come with you? I’ve got a bad feeling about it."
"Uh-huh. You and your feelings. What can go wrong? We go to the co-ordinates of the signal, take a look around, report back. Nothing to it."
Scarlet sighed. "All right," he said. "But Conrad – be careful."
"I will." Captain Black slapped his partner’s shoulder, and left for Glenn Field and the Zero-X mission to Mars.
The inspiration for this story came from a notion I always had that Scarlet and Black were permanent partners prior to events in "The Mysterons", and that Scarlet’s partnership with Captain Brown was only temporary. The only grounds I have for believing this are a few references in the annuals, and a line at the beginning of "The Mysterons": Scarlet says to Brown, "Your first big assignment. I wish you luck." Having started to think this way, I wondered why Scarlet hadn’t also gone on the Mars mission. This story is the result.
HK, September 2000