A “Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons” short Story
By Hazel Kohler
Captain Scarlet shifted position in his chair and frowned as he looked at his watch for about the tenth time in as many minutes. "How much longer are they going to keep us waiting?" he complained.
Dr. Fawn looked up from the folder he'd been flicking through. "It's only been fifteen minutes at the longest," he said mildly.
Used to military discipline and punctuality, Scarlet didn't take all that well to being kept waiting, even by such a prestigious gathering as the Mysteron Research Group. "I feel like a livestock exhibit," he muttered. "I wonder if they'll ask to see my pedigree?"
Dr. Fawn smothered a smile and went back to his papers.
"Why do they want to see both of us?" Scarlet asked.
Fawn put his papers down. "As you know," he said patiently, "they want to see the research I've been doing on you. How you managed to get away from Mysteron control, what reconstruction did to you physically, the long-term effects of retrometabolism..."
"Surely they don't actually need me here for that."
I might be wrong, Fawn thought, but is there just a touch of petulance there? "There's nothing like getting it from the horse's mouth," he remarked aloud. "And don't forget, you did agree to come with me. No one twisted your arm for it."
Scarlet snorted and glanced at his watch again.
Just then, forestalling another round of complaints, the door on the far side of the ante-room opened, and a young man came out. "The committee is ready for you now, gentlemen. Will you follow me, please?"
The two Spectrum men followed their guide down a short corridor and through an impressive set of doors into an equally impressive committee room.
The chairman of the group stood up as they entered, holding out his hand. "Doctor Fawn, Captain Scarlet. Thank you for attending at such short notice, and please accept my apologies for keeping you waiting. I won't introduce you to the committee members--security, you understand."
"Understood," Dr. Fawn replied, and glanced at Scarlet.
The younger man was standing rigidly, staring fixedly at the wall. He seemed to be in a state of shock.
Unaware of anything wrong, the chairman indicated chairs for the two newcomers, then addressed the committee. "Doctor Fawn, as you'll all be aware from your briefing notes, is the Chief Medical Officer of Spectrum, stationed on Cloudbase. Over the last eighteen months, he has been carrying out detailed research on the effects of Mysteronization on Captain Scarlet, whom I'm sure you all know by reputation, if not in person. Captain Scarlet was also asked to attend today, as he is the nearest thing we have to a real, er, live Mysteron." He glanced at some papers in front of him. "To summarize your briefing notes, Captain Scarlet and Captain Brown died in what is believed to be a Mysteron-engineered 'accident' at the very beginning of the War of Nerves. Captain Brown's doppleganger was terminated in an explosion, and Captain Scarlet then took over as the Mysterons' principal agent in the threat against World President Younger. After falling from the top of the London Car-Vu, he escaped from Mysteron control and now appears to be completely free from their influence. He has, however, retained certain characteristics from his time with them, such as the ability to recover from even fatal injury or illness in a very short time, which Doctor Fawn has labeled 'retrometabolism', and he can, apparently, also sense the presence of other Mysteron constructs. We hope to learn more about his escape and these characteristics today. Doctor, you've brought some material with you?"
Fawn opened his briefcase and started to pass out copies of the papers he'd been looking through earlier. As he did so, he glanced at Scarlet again.
Scarlet was still standing, ramrod straight, looking dead ahead. His jaw was set, and his hands, clasped behind his back, were white-knuckled.
Fawn frowned slightly as he continued to hand out the papers, until he came to an elderly man, dressed in a W.A.A.F. uniform that bore the insignia of General. Like Scarlet, the General looked to be in shock, but was less successful in hiding it. He was looking straight at Scarlet, horror in his eyes.
At last, with the first round of questioning complete, the committee adjourned for a much-needed break. "Will you join us for lunch, gentlemen?" the chairman asked.
Scarlet opened his mouth to speak, but Dr. Fawn replied first. "Thank you. We'll be along shortly."
Once everyone was out of the committee room, Fawn grabbed Scarlet's arm and hustled him back into the ante-room, noticing thankfully that it was empty. "What's the matter with you?" he demanded. "I don't think you answered in more than a monosyllable once! There are some very high-ranking people in there!"
"I don't want to discuss it," Scarlet stated flatly.
Fawn folded his arms and gazed at Scarlet thoughtfully. The other man was struggling to maintain his composure. "All right," the doctor said eventually. "I can't force you to talk about it. Come and have something to eat, at least. We've still got this afternoon's session to go, and you won't want to go through that on an empty stomach."
"No, thank you. Give them my apologies. I'd rather be on my own for a while."
"That's not going to look too good," Fawn pointed out.
"I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to eat. Leave me alone!"
Fawn raised his eyebrows in surprise at Scarlet's intensity. "If that's your last word--"
"Then I'll see you back in the committee room at two." With that, Dr. Fawn set off in search of the dining room.
Left alone, Scarlet relaxed at last. His thoughts kept returning to the W.A.A.F. General. The sight of that familiar face had brought back a slew of memories, not all of them particularly welcome right now. Of all the people in the world who could have been on the committee, Scarlet thought, why him? He desperately wanted to get out of the afternoon session with the committee, but couldn't think of a reasonable excuse. A downside of retrometabolism--he couldn't simply plead sickness. There was no way he could get out of it; he'd just have to go through with the ordeal.
Despite what he'd said to Dr. Fawn, Scarlet was badly in need of something to eat. In a place like this, surely there'd be somewhere he could get a sandwich or something. A little exploring located just such a place. He avoided curious glances by taking off his distinctive red tunic and rolling it into an inconspicuous bundle tucked under his arm.
Finishing a rather indifferent sandwich and cup of coffee, he gazed, unseeing, out of the window, lost in thought, and totally unaware of the person standing by his table.
"Do you mind if I join you?"
Scarlet leapt to his feet and stood to attention. "If the General wishes."
"For God's sake!" The General took the other chair and sat down. Scarlet remained standing, his eyes fixed on a point above the other's head. "Sit down and stop this ridiculous behavior."
"Yes, sir." Scarlet sat down, still managing to give the impression of being at attention.
The two men looked at each other for a long moment; the General was the first to break eye contact. "It's been a long time," he said at last.
"Will you stop calling me 'sir'! And relax. You look as if you're about to go in front of a firing squad. Although that wouldn't bother you, would it?"
That got the reaction he'd hoped for. Scarlet shot him a murderous look.
"Why didn't you tell me?" the General asked gently.
"Why not? Security? Secrecy? From me?"
Scarlet took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, in a long sigh. He curled his fingers round the empty coffee cup and gazed into it. "What could I have said?"
"You could have told me the truth. I might've understood."
At this, Scarlet looked up at him. The General winced at the deep pain in the young man's eyes. "How?" Scarlet demanded. "'Hi, Dad, long time no see, how're you keeping, oh, and by the way, I'm dead?' Like that?"
"No, no, of course not. But you can imagine what a shock it was to find out like that, that my only son actually died nearly two years ago."
"Yes," Scarlet replied quietly. "Yes, I suppose it must have been."
General Metcalfe leaned back in his seat, and watched his son carefully. He didn't look any different--hard to believe that he had once been induced to betray everything he'd once sworn to protect and uphold. He remembered his own feelings when the Research Group had been let in on the secret--a senior Spectrum officer had managed to escape from Mysteron control and was now back in a position of trust. He'd been surprised and suspicious--was this officer a "plant", only seeming to have escaped? Would the Mysterons one day reactivate him? A couple of hard-liners in the Group had tried to insist that "this freak" should be exterminated immediately, and the necessary research carried out not on a living semi-Mysteronized body, but a dead one. Metcalfe was now terribly glad that he had not supported that motion.
"I'd heard of Spectrum's own Mysteron, of course. The whole Group knew about you," General Metcalfe finally continued. Oh yes, he thought. We all knew...or thought we did... "I often wondered what he was like, what the experience had done to him. In the Research Group, we heard a lot about you. Of course, we didn't know your name, just as you don't--or rather, you're not supposed to--know ours." He leaned forward, trying to convey his feelings. "You have to understand, Paul, we couldn't afford to think of you as a person. We have to find out as much as possible about the Mysterons to find some way to defeat them, and when we heard that you'd agreed to attend the meeting today, all we wanted was to find out what made you tick--"
"To put me under the microscope."
"Yes. I'm sorry. But now...it must have been terrible for you. I'm amazed you didn't break down over it."
"I very nearly did."
"So Dr. Fawn said." General Metcalfe reached out hesitantly to put his hand on his son's arm, but withdrew it. There was so much he wanted to say, but between them was a barrier, built of years of virtual estrangement, British emotional reserve reinforced by military discipline, and now the knowledge of his son's alteration. "Is it very hard on you?"
"I've got used to it," Scarlet lied.
Metcalfe studied his son closely. He knew that the younger man hadn't told the truth; there had to be deep psychological wounds--how could it be otherwise? All at once, it was as if Paul was a young boy again, and Metcalfe felt a deep need to protect him. "How do they treat you?"
Scarlet shrugged. "As they always have. It took a while, of course, but they trust me again, now. I dare say there were a few who wanted to have me killed, but they didn't get their way, I'm glad to say. Of course, at the time, we didn't know there was any way to kill a Mysteron."
The General was appalled that Scarlet could say something like that so casually. "It's changed you, Paul. You never used to be so hard."
Scarlet slammed his hands down on the table with such violence that other lunchers in the cafe turned to stare. "Of course it changed me! What do you expect? I went through something that--that turned my life upside down and inside out, turned me into a traitor against my own kind, into a killer--" his voice caught slightly on the last word, and he stopped for a moment. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he continued, his voice was softer, calmer. "Of course I've changed. But deep down, I'm still the same person. Deep down."
"Why haven't you come home since the accident?" As soon as he asked the question, Metcalfe mentally kicked himself. It had been no "accident"-- Paul had been deliberately murdered. And he thought he knew now why the limited contact he and his wife had with their son had dwindled to virtually nothing except Christmas cards and the occasional phone call.
"I wanted to. Oh, you don't know how much I wanted to! But I couldn't. No matter how careful I was, there would always be the risk that something would happen, an accident or something like that, and you'd...find out. Or I would have broken down and told you, and that would have broken the secrecy rule that Colonel White put on anything to do with what happened to me. I couldn't take the risk."
Metcalfe nodded. He understood now. It was time to try to fix things. "Don't stay away, Paul. We'd love to see you."
Scarlet nodded. "It's not easy to get away." He looked away, then back. "You realize that Mother must never know." It was a statement, not a question.
"She understands there are things I can't tell her. She's never asked questions of me. And she won't of you, either. All she knows is that you're in a special military unit. That's all I knew until this morning. You can trust me to keep your secret."
There was another awkward silence, broken at last by the scrape of General Metcalfe's chair as he stood up. "The committee reconvenes in ten minutes. Are you coming?"
"I'll be along shortly. Father--"
"Nothing. It'll keep."
General Metcalfe waited for a moment, but Scarlet didn't continue. "I'll see you back there, then," he said awkwardly.
The general gave a nod, then turned to go.
Scarlet watched his father walk away, straight-backed, even after all these years still very much the soldier. He thought about the stiff correctness of the small household of his childhood, all the little troubles and triumphs experienced by every child, but in the Metcalfe family, they'd all been received with the same attitude--don't make a fuss, don't cry, be a man, hide your feelings. For years, he'd misinterpreted his parents' reserve as coldness. Leaving home to go to University had cut the feeble ties that held the Metcalfes together--he'd gone into his own world and they'd stayed in theirs; similar, but so different. He pushed his empty coffee cup around the table, and smiled at his own indecisiveness. Was it too late to try to go back?
He retrieved his tunic from under the table and started back toward the committee room.
As he walked back to the committee room, General Metcalfe thought about the conversation he'd just had with the unfathomable alien who just happened to be his son; back over the years to the disruption that the arrival of a precocious child had caused, and their pride in his achievements--never expressed, of course, that simply wouldn't do. Paul had rapidly out-stripped his father--Metcalfe senior had been in his mid-forties before he'd reached the rank of Colonel, Metcalfe junior had done it before he was thirty. Had there been some jealousy there, Metcalfe wondered, jealousy of his own son? Neither he nor his wife had understood their son's driving ambition to be the best, while all the time pushing him toward that very thing--perhaps that had also pushed them apart. Paul had gone off to University, then the Armed Forces, without a backward glance. Contact with his parents had been sporadic at best; the self-reliance he'd learned away from home, and then his Mysteronization, had distanced him first from his family and now from the rest of humanity. Was it too late to try to get him back?
He glanced back toward the cafe, and saw Paul coming out. He waited for his son to catch up, and they walked back to the committee room together.
Colonel White signed the leave chit that Scarlet had handed him. "So, what are you going to do with your furlough?" he asked.
"Nothing much. I, er, I thought I'd go home for a couple of days. See my parents. It's been years."
White smiled. "Have a good time," he said.
"Thank you, sir. I hope I will."