THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. THE SINGERS UNDER THE SEA WILL STRIKE A WRONG NOTE AND BE SILENCED FOREVER. WE WILL BE AVENGED.
“Whales sing,” Blue suggested.
“Yeah,” Grey agreed, “but remember the bit about the wrong note? Doesn’t sound like whales to me.”
“No,” Ochre said, “but it sure sounds like…” He looked sideways with a wicked grin, and everyone burst out laughing as Blue protested:
“Hey! I resent being stared at every time the subject of bad singing comes up! I sing bad. I know that.”
Colonel White smiled to himself. He and Captain Grey, as ex-mariners, had been the early focus of attention, but neither of them had found anything conclusive. This brainstorming session had been going on for some time with no useful results, although there were a few lines of enquiry that looked almost promising. A break in the tension was always welcome.
On the far side of the room, Magenta was busily inputting search criteria in collusion with Lieutenant Green, who was using the far more powerful computer in the Control Room. The two experts were having a muted web-conference, which ended suddenly with Magenta’s exclamation of “I think you’ve got it, Lieutenant!”
That got everyone’s attention.
“The Eurovision Song Contest?” Grey wondered. “What the hell is that?”
As he spoke, the conference room door hissed open, and Captain Scarlet hurried in. “Sorry I’m late,” he apologised. “Doctor Fawn’s only just let me out.” He noticed the little huddle around Magenta’s computer screen, and peered over White’s shoulder to see what they were all so interested in.
“Eurovision? The Mysterons have threatened the Eurovision Song Contest?” he exclaimed. “Blimey… Let ‘em, I say.”
“Captain!” White sounded scandalised. “I sincerely hope you’re not being serious?”
Scarlet muttered something about oh yes I am, and Rhapsody winked at him. “The Mysterons, striking a blow for music lovers everywhere,” she whispered to him. Scarlet turned his snort of laughter into an unconvincing cough as Colonel White glared at his two compatriots.
“I always rather enjoyed watching the Contest, as a young man,” White continued. “I’d often get together with a few friends, watch the show, have a few drinks, see if we could predict the winner…”
Rhapsody and Scarlet fell suddenly silent, regarding their commanding officer with expressions of polite enquiry. White made a small snort of dismissal, and turned his attention back to the screen.
“Last year’s Contest was a tie between France and England – what was that, sir? Sorry, sir, the UK – so this year the contest is being staged jointly by the BBC in Britain and ORTF in France,” Magenta read from the screen. “The Contest is forming part of the celebrations for the opening of the Channel Stadium. In two days’ time, all the contestants except the UK will meet at Paris Gare du Nord, and travel together on the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel to the Stadium for a video shoot,” Magenta said. “It all fits – singers, under the sea… and it’s a prestige event, apparently…” He looked and sounded doubtful on this point.
“Well, expensive, anyway,” Scarlet commented. “And look – it also ties in with the 25th anniversary of the UK not only rejoining the contest, but also re-opening the Channel Tunnel, after the fall of the Militarist government. A triple whammy… couldn’t be higher-profile if it tried! A perfect Mysteron target, I’d say.”
Gerard Dumont of the European Broadcasting Union was a fairly phlegmatic man. He’d spent his entire working life in television in some way, shape or form, and reckoned he’d seen everything. But this was new…
The security surrounding the contest was always tight – a lot of money rode on the winner, and vote-fixing was hardly unknown. The performers were cosseted and pampered for the whole of the time they were under the jurisdiction of the EBU. This year, though, things were even more manic. Dumont gazed doubtfully at the man in the blue uniform standing on the other side of his desk.
“Run that past me again, Captain? The filming of the Song Contest postcards has been threatened by terrorists? Do they, and please forgive me for saying this, have nothing better to threaten?”
Captain Blue manfully managed to keep a straight face. This was something they’d discussed ad nauseam on Cloudbase before finally coming to the conclusion that this was the Mysterons’ target, unlikely as it might seem.
“The Mysterons always have reasons for striking where and when they do, Monsieur Dumont. All we can do is try to counter them. Your video shoot shouldn’t be adversely affected – we’re used to keeping a low profile while we work.”
While Blue was busy in Geneva with the representative of the EBU, Scarlet was in Paris, checking on security for the shoot itself. He could find no fault with it – his contact at Eurostar, a pleasant, middle-aged Scandinavian by name of Sonderlein, had covered all bases.
“The contestants from the United Kingdom and Ireland will travel from St Pancras International on a chartered train. At Paris Gare du Nord, the contestants from the rest of the competing countries will board, and travel to Le Stade de la Manche to complete the shoot. Security guards will travel on both legs of the journey. The television crews from the BBC and ORTF all have security clearances, and there have been no requests for substitutions.” Sonderlein gave Scarlet a slight smile. “We at Eurostar International are taking this very seriously, I can assure you, Captain. You know about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Channel Tunnel reopening, of course –” Scarlet nodded “- and the contest is a wonderful way of celebrating the Grand Opening of Le Stade de la Manche. Believe me, we have taken every precaution.”
After leaving Sonderlein’s office, Scarlet drove his saloon car through the service tunnel to the Stade. This was an amazing technological achievement – an entertainment and conference complex built on the seabed exactly halfway between Folkestone and Calais. Unsurprisingly, there were no car parks, so Scarlet left the SSC beside the mouth of the service tunnel, and walked under the illuminated bilingual sign welcoming him variously to the Channel Stadium and Le Stade de la Manche.
Powerful floodlights mounted on the exterior of the building threw attractively rippled shadows through the water and the massively thick glass ceiling of the approach to the main hall, and Scarlet stopped for a moment to gaze, a little apprehensively, at the smooth curve of blast-proof glass. Although, like everyone else, he’d followed reports of the construction of this underwater building with avid interest, he’d not yet had the occasion to visit, as the Mysterons, amazingly enough, had left it alone. He took a few minutes to look around.
The building wasn’t enormous – the problems of withstanding the pressure of billions of tonnes of seawater had limited its size – but there would be room for the performers, an orchestra, the associated technical support, and an invited audience of five hundred people.
Spectrum already had a considerable presence there, checking every square centimetre of the complex and scanning all comers with Mysteron detectors; Scarlet went over to talk to the field commander, Lieutenant Amber.
“No problems at all, Captain,” Amber assured him. “There’s no sign of Mysteron activity at all.”
Scarlet frowned. Security was water-tight on all fronts – so had they got the wrong target?
White steepled his fingers and gazed levelly at his officers. “So, nothing happened at all?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Blue confirmed. “Not a single shred of evidence of any Mysteron interference with the venue, the contestants, the trains… nothing.”
“The filming went off without a hitch,” Scarlet added. “They all got off the train at the Stadium, simpered at the camera for a minute, then went into the hall. Then they all got back on the train, and went back to France. They’re all staying at the Champs Elysées Plaza, near the Eurostar terminus at Gare du Nord, until the day of the contest proper.”
“And the hotel?”
“Checked and double-checked,” Grey said. “Colonel – there’s nothing.”
White sighed. He hated it when investigations into a threat were so inconclusive.
The day of the contest arrived.
Kate Kestrel, the British joint winner of the previous year’s Song Contest, sat in one of the many luxurious leather armchairs in the foyer of the St Pancras Midland Grand Hotel, sipping coffee and chatting amiably with Katie Zitte, this year’s British co-presenter. Kate glanced at her watch and yawned, running a hand through her curly, bubble-gum-pink hair. “Mr Sonderlein is late,” she remarked. “If we have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to meet him at such an appalling hour of the morning, the least he can do is be on time.”
Katie smiled reassuringly. “We’ve got plenty of time,” she said. “It’s only half-past four.”
As she spoke, the main door at the far side of the foyer opened, and a slightly harassed-looking young man hurried in. He spotted the two women, and came towards them, with his hand held out.
“Miss Kestrel, Ms Zitte? I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting. I’m Terry Aspel, Leif Sonderlein’s assistant. I’m afraid Mr Sonderlein’s been called away to deal with an urgent matter regarding the Tunnel – nothing at all for you to worry about – and he asked me to escort you to the Stadium instead. He will meet us there.”
As they left the hotel and approached the official Eurostar limousine that had been sent for them, a man in a Spectrum uniform got out, and opened the doors for them. “Lieutenant Saffron, Spectrum London,” he introduced himself. “I’ll be your driver and bodyguard for the day.”
In the foyer of the Champs Elysées Plaza in Paris, Captain Ochre’s cap mic flicked down to acknowledge a call from Captain Magenta.
“The Angels are ready,” Magenta reported. “I’m at the International concourse of the Gare du Nord – everything’s good here. Grey’s been checking the train – everything’s SIG there too, apparently. As soon as the train leaves, Symphony and Destiny will follow the route until it goes down into the tunnel at Pas de Calais. Scarlet’s there with an SPV – he’ll keep pace with the train in the service tunnel. Blue’s on the train coming in from the British end – the British presenter and the British joint winner from last year are on board. Rhapsody and Harmony are following that one – looks like we’ve got it covered from all angles.”
“SIG,” Ochre responded, then looked round as voices attracted his attention. “Looks like we’re off,” he remarked, as several of the contestants emerged from the lifts. “See you on the train.”
As the contestants travelled from their hotel towards the underwater venue, the various Spectrum agents entrusted with escorting them checked over their schedule for the day. The final dress rehearsal was due to start at midday, and the show would begin live transmission at 20:00 BST. The final song would be performed at about 22:00, then there would be an entertainment interlude while each of the competing countries cast their votes.
“What’s the entertainment?” Grey asked, as he greeted his two colleagues. The train had already left the Parisian urban sprawl behind, and was heading at high speed towards the entrance of the tunnel at Calais.
Ochre consulted his running order again. “A dance number, and a performance of the two winning songs from last year: ‘SOS’ by Kate Kestrel, and ‘Anges Déchus’ by Les Quatre Plumes.”
“Fallen Angels, eh?” Magenta remarked, gazing idly up through the window to where the Angel Flight were overflying the route to the coast. “Appropriate…”
He stopped suddenly. “We did check the entertainment, didn’t we? Please tell me that we checked the entertainment…”
The British train plunged into the France-bound tunnel. Blue’s epaulettes flashed deep pink, and his mic dropped down from his cap visor.
“Yes, of course I checked Miss Kestrel and her party,” he said, a little testily, in reply to Magenta’s urgent enquiry. “All clear, and I’ll remind you that the French band is on your train. What’s your ETA at the Stadium?”
There was a slight pause while Magenta checked the scrolling display that kept the passengers updated about the status of the service. “Forty five minutes,” he said.
Blue acknowledged, and ended the call, then looked thoughtfully towards the small group of people who were under his protection.
Lieutenant Saffron – a rookie, straight out of Koala. He looked a bit star-struck, but Blue knew he’d get over that in due course. The young man from Eurostar – Sonderlein, was it? – also looked a bit dazed at being in such august company.
Kate Kestrel – American-born, but living in the UK since marrying a British citizen several years ago. She was rumoured to have had a rather interesting past, over and above her undoubtedly successful singing career, but Spectrum Intelligence, if they knew, weren’t telling. Blue hoped that SI weren’t withholding anything vital to the mission…
Katie Zitte – a popular television personality, who had presented the UK Eurovision vote for several years. This would be her first time actually presenting the contest. She looked relaxed enough, though, and was apparently urging Kate to do – something or other. Blue strolled closer, to hear the conversation.
“Come on, Kate! Do your party trick!”
“Katie – not on a train! I’ll do it at the party tonight.”
Kate Kestrel narrowed her eyes. “If you think I’m going to smash a glass when we’re miles underwater, in a train, surrounded by more glass, you’re sorely mistaken. What do you say, Mr Aspel?”
Blue stiffened. Aspel? That wasn’t the name he had on his schedule! Quickly, he drew the list out of his pocket – sure enough, the name of the Eurostar representative who was supposed to be here was Sonderlein.
He moved back, out of earshot of his charges, and called Cloudbase.
“Lieutenant Green, will you check with Eurostar for the name of their rep? I’ve got a Mr Aspel here, instead of Sonderlein.”
Green took just a couple of moments to come back with the information Blue needed, and once he’d finished with that call, Blue contacted Scarlet.
“Apparently, Leif Sonderlein was called to deal with an emergency in the service tunnel. Have you seen anything?”
“Not a thing,” Scarlet replied. “One of the easiest drives I’ve ever had. Did anyone say what the emergency was?”
“No, not a word. No-one from Eurostar or the Tunnel Consortium has any knowledge of a call being made to anyone about the service tunnel – they know we’re using it, so any calls about it are routing through Spectrum Paris and Spectrum London.”
“Looks like an avoidance tactic to me, Blue.”
“Yeah, sure does… keep your eyes peeled. I’m going to search the train, and alert Ochre and Magenta too.”
“SIG. I’ll call you if I see anything.”
“Me too. Blue out.”
But there was no sign of Leif Sonderlein on either train, neither was he to be found anywhere in the service tunnel. The trains pulled in on either side of the wide platform at the Stadium, and the passengers disembarked, to be escorted to their dressing rooms by solicitous Eurovision and Eurostar staff, under the watchful eyes of Lieutenant Amber’s security squad. The French train, being specially chartered, was shunted onto a side track to stand by for use during the day and to take the contestants to the after-show party, while the British train, after another thorough search, was allowed to continue on its scheduled run to Brussels.
Five colour-captains sat in the auditorium, watching the dress rehearsal. They were, despite themselves, impressed with the precision with which the event ran, and the smoothness of the linkup with each competing country’s jury for the rehearsal of the vote. They even enjoyed the entertainment, when both winners of the previous contest performed lively, well-choreographed versions of their winning songs.
As Kate hit the high notes of the final phrase of her song, Blue winced at their resonating frequency, and Scarlet nudged him. “Bet you wish you could do that, eh, Blue-Boy?”
Blue glared at him, but in the face of his colleagues’ amusement, didn’t dignify Scarlet’s remark with an answer.
As the rehearsal drew to a close, a radiation-proof compartment under the driver’s cabin of the French train slid open, and someone climbed out. Despite being cramped inside the small box for several hours, he didn’t stretch, or limp, or show any sign of discomfort. Instead, he moved quickly and quietly across the deserted mouth of the service tunnel towards the Stadium, and the artistes’ dressing rooms.
There was no room for the Spectrum captains in the audience for the show itself, so they dispersed around the hall, covering all the doors. The contest had been going on for nearly half an hour now – there was still not the slightest hint of how the Mysterons planned to strike, and they were all getting edgy with nervous anticipation of a blow from an unexpected direction.
The final song was greeted with rapturous applause, and Katie Zitte, resplendent in a glittering silver dress which reflected the auditorium lights much like the watery shadows outside, took the stage once again to announce the commencement of voting.
Blue, watching from the wings at stage right, next to the sound mixer desk, suddenly became aware of a woman with a pink bubble-perm – Kate Kestrel – standing close beside him. He nodded to her.
She barely acknowledged him (nervous, I suppose, he thought) instead staring at the stage where Katie was concluding the brief reprise of all the competing songs. To deafening applause, Katie introduced Les Quatre Plumes, for the performance of their song. It was a good song, Blue thought, tapping his foot to the infectious beat, and watching as Katie left the stage on the opposite side, to be escorted away by Captain Scarlet.
The applause that greeted the end of the song was so loud that Blue almost missed the terrified scream that issued from the direction of the dressing rooms.
Leaving Lieutenants Amber and Saffron to guard the stage, Blue sprinted down the short corridor to the dressing rooms, to find Katie Zitte sobbing in Scarlet’s arms. Scarlet looked over the top of her head as Blue came into view, and jerked his head towards the open door of Kate Kestrel’s dressing room.
The first thing Blue saw was a mop of pink curls on the floor. He’d always assumed that Kate Kestrel’s ever-changing hair colour was due to wigs, and indeed there were a couple on stands on the dressing table. But this hair on the floor was still on the head of its wearer. Kate Kestrel was dead…
“Scarlet…” Blue’s voice sounded suddenly loud, and strained. “Kate’s got a party trick. She can break glass with her high notes… there’s a high note at the end of this song…”
Suddenly, everything dropped into place. The prestigious event… the reopening of the Tunnel… the glass ceiling of the Stadium, shattered by a Mysteron-enhanced soprano… Scarlet could hear the song coming to its final chorus. She’d be hitting the high note any minute now.
Scarlet bolted back to the wings, and dragged the sound engineer off his chair just as Kate started on the last chorus. “Which one is her mic?” he demanded of the stunned engineer, who just stared back at him, open-mouthed.
Scarlet cast a swift glance over the desk – he’d never make sense of the cryptic, hand-written labels in time. Instead, he just swept an arm over the whole desk, slamming shut all the open channels, and simultaneously grabbed a handful of connectors in the jackfield next to the desk and yanked them out.
Immediately, the sound-feed died. Unamplified, Kate’s Mysteron-enhanced high note was piercing, but not lethal, and the glass ceiling held. The audience broke into enthusiastic applause, which died away in confusion as the Mysteronised Kate Kestrel ran from the stage – straight into the waiting arms of several Spectrum agents.
“We found Leif Sonderlein’s body in a dumpster a couple of miles from St Pancras,” Magenta said. “He’d been dead for about a day. Presumably, the Mysterons transported him onto the French train – he should have been in London to escort Miss Kestrel and Ms Zitte. Of course, the shielded compartment under the drivers’ cabin was why none of us spotted him… and he had to be on the French train, because the English one wasn’t staying at the Stadium.”
“It was still a hell of risk, though,” Grey said, “seeing that almost everyone was travelling on the French train. Surely he knew there’d be more security on that train than on the English one?”
White nodded. The actions and motives of Mysteron agents were often baffling and seemed to make little sense at the time. No sense in trying to fathom it afterwards, though. It was enough that once again, Spectrum had managed to thwart their threat.
As always, grateful thanks to Marion Woods for beta-reading, and for the online conversation that inspired this story in the first place!
The Eurovision Song Contest is a European institution, and has been running since 1956. All countries who are members of the European Broadcasting Union are entitled to take part. The show is broadcast live across Europe and elsewhere on a Saturday in May every year, and is wildly popular. Everyone takes it very seriously, except the British, who find it a never-ending source of hilarity. http://www.esc-history.com/
Each year, the contest is staged by the principal broadcasting company of the country that won the previous year’s contest. It’s colossally expensive to produce, each country trying to outdo the previous one, and rumour has it that in 1994, Ireland deliberately entered a terrible song to avoid the ruinous cost of mounting its fourth consecutive contest. This rumour provided the basis for an episode of the popular comedy series, ‘Father Ted’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Lovely_Horse
The ‘postcards’ are short videos, sometimes depicting elements of the host city, sometimes representing the contestant who is about to perform. The content of the postcards is up to the host broadcaster.
While an employee of the BBC, I was the foreman of the UK Jury for 10 years, primarily responsible for checking the votes and assigning the points. I must’ve done something really bad in a past life… The attitude of Scarlet and Rhapsody towards the contest mirrors my own fairly closely. White’s, on the other hand…
Eurovision parties are popular in the UK gay community, and at their most basic, follow the rough outline that White describes. Not that I am implying anything about Spectrum’s commander-in-chief. Perish the thought…
Kate Kestrel: ‘Terrahawks’ is my least favourite of Gerry Anderson’s creations, so I know virtually nothing about it. I do know that Kate Kestrel is a pilot and agent of some sort, and has a successful singing career as a cover. This YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kLk3wrAxyc is a promo for Terrahawks. Yikes…
Finally: although I would very much like it to be otherwise, I make no profit from this story, and claim no rights to the concepts, characters and vehicles created by Gerry Anderson and partners. A bummer, but what can you do…? Also, I apologise unreservedly to the EBU for nicking their Eurovision logo for my title art. Really, really sorry. Please don’t sue…