Original series Suitable for all readersAction-oriented/low level of violence



The Dungeon of Dragons


A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” Story

by Lady Hawke

Copyright January 31, 2003, Revised 2/2/12


As a folklorist and storyteller, I was inspired by my fascination with the mythology of dragons to write this most unusual entry into Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's universe. I can't say this story is my best work, but it was truly a labor of love. I hope you will share my flight of whimsy and forgive me my journey into the fantastic!

Thanks! Lady Hawke




An Explosive Dilemma


            With the Mysterons, it was always kill or be killed. This, their latest threat, had ended in a bit of a stalemate, however. Though the Siberian Institute of Astral Technology had been destroyed in a massive explosion and all its scientists killed, the important data the astral-physicists had been gathering was now safely in the hands of Spectrum. Captains Blue and Scarlet drove away from the expanding fireball with just seconds' clearance. Even within the protection of their SPV, the heat and roaring blast could be felt as the craft pitched and jostled upon the collapsing roadway. Car-sized chunks of debris pelted the domed roof like monster hail.

"My God, Paul. Look at it," Blue ventured checking the vehicle's rear monitor as his partner drove the SPV away at break-neck speed. An area seven miles in diameter had just been obliterated, leaving nothing but charred wreckage and homeless residents. "The entire town of Yeminsk just went up with it!"

            Beside him Captain Scarlet steered wildly. A pothole the size of a bus and the depth of an in-ground pool had just opened to swallow their SPV. He replied through gritted teeth. "It's a good thing we thought to evacuate the town before going in there. The Mysterons' Dr. Treikharnov completed his mission as planned, I'm afraid."

            "Well, at least the data on the deep space surveys survived. Spectrum can now analyze the information to see if we really have discovered the Mysterons' homeworld."

            From his driver's seat Scarlet kept his eyes on the trembling road and agreed, "With such determination to destroy this isolated facility, the Mysterons must have thought those Russian scientists had something right. They don't usually bother with falsified data."

            "Unless," Blue argued allowing a grunt of discomfort to escape his lips. "Unless this was all a Mysteron ploy to throw us off. Let us think the data was valid, only to leave us chasing a golden goose."

            "Let's hope not. I would like to think those scientists lost their lives for a worthy cause," Scarlet mused, then checked his friend. "Adam, are you all right?"

            With a gloved hand braced over his dislocated shoulder, and his aching back jammed in against the rear-facing seat for stability, Blue could only smile through his pain. "I think that first explosion did me in," he admitted through closed eyes. "Adrenalin's wearing off. If you hadn't pulled me away from that bank of computers, I'd probably be well toasted by now."

            "Well, we'll get you back to Cloudbase as quickly as possible. I want to check on the townspeople first. Make sure they have enough supplies before we leave. Can you hold out for a little while longer?"

            Blue grimaced. "If you can pop this shoulder back in place for me and pass me an ice pack from the medkit, I'll be ready to do it all again."

            Smiling at his friend's attempted humor Captain Scarlet offered, "The tremors are starting to subside. I think we've survived the worst of it. We'll take care of that shoulder in a few minutes." He drove on.

            The mountainous region of the Central Siberian Uplands held many dangers and many shelters from winter's frigid cold. It was here, just three hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, that the residents of Yeminsk had taken refuge. In a caravan of snowmobiles, dog sleds, and snow tractors, the town had drained its inhabitants into the nearby mountains. There a network of glacial caves and catacombs had kept them safe from the Institute's demise.

As Scarlet pulled up to the first of the refugee camps, he quickly parked the bulky SPV beside a massive snowcat bus. Then he hastily unlatched his safety harness. Standing the captain considered his pale partner. "Adam?"

            Opening his eyes Blue smiled. "I'm still here, buddy. Just dozing, trying to ignore the jostling you've been giving me."

            "We've arrived at the first camp. I'll get a medic to look at your shoulder right away." With that Scarlet stepped around his friend and reached into the overhead bulkhead where the emergency medical kit was stored. "Here," he said retrieving a gelpack from the case and squeezing it to activate the chemical coolant inside. With a vigorous shake to mix the ingredients, Scarlet handed the pack to Blue. "Put this on your shoulder meanwhile. I'll be back as soon as I can."

            "I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere." Blue grunted and slid the gelpack gingerly inside his heavy coat and against his bulging shoulder blade.

            "Oh," Scarlet added as he pulled his parka’s fur-lined red hood up over his ears. "I'm sorry for the jostling. But it seems the road had other plans."

            Blue nodded and waved his friend off with a flick of a stiff hand. "Just make sure you close the door behind you. It's cold out there, you know."

"Right." With that Scarlet slid the SPV's door panel outward and stepped down into the deep snow of an early Siberian spring. "Cold?" he murmured to himself. "Polar is more like it." He closed the hatch behind him. Then, tucking his hands into his coat pockets, Scarlet cursed the loss of his gloves in their hasty retreat from the Siberian Institute and stomped to the nearest cave entrance. Here, a makeshift community had been fashioned from salvaged boards, blankets, and bedding. Children squatted at their parents' feet, playing games of tops and dice, too young to realize their real homes were now a flattened and dirty smear in the white landscape.

            "Ah, Captain Scarlet," a deep accented voice announced as he ducked inside the heavy tarps. These secluded the frigid outdoors from the living quarters within the spacious cavern. "I trust you and Captain Blue are well."

            "We're fine, Mayor Kobienski. My partner needs a medic's attentions, however. He dislocated a shoulder and wrenched his back in our escape. The Institute-"

            "We know," the mayor sighed lowering his dark eyes to the truth. "We felt the tremors of the explosion. I assume the Institute's scientists are all dead?"

            "Yes, Sir. I'm afraid so."

            The mayor extended an arm to welcome the Spectrum officer deeper into their natural rock enclave. "Come, then. I will send a medical team out to your friend immediately. Meanwhile, please accept our deepest gratitude for your foresight." With a pause the paunch-bellied Russian spread his thick arms in triumph then announced in loud proclamation, "We are all here!" A cheer rose up around them from the people of Yeminsk.

            Scarlet only nodded his acknowledgement of their thanks and cleared his throat. "Sir, I can't stay. I have an important package to deliver to Cloudbase." For emphasis, he tapped the breast of his Spectrum cold-weather coat. Within its inner pocket nestled the two disks which held the astronomical data for which the Institute physicists had died. "Captain Blue and I just wanted to tell you how sorry we are that the Mysterons' plan was a success. We did everything we could, but the Siberian Institute and ... and your entire town, Sir, are gone. Spectrum will do all it can to assist in relocating your people, but that may take some time. Until recovery teams can get those efforts underway, is there anything my partner and I can do? Is there anything you need?"

            Mayor Kobienski smiled a rosy-cheeked negation. "We of Yeminsk are accustomed to severity, Captain. We have wood for fires. We have food and shelter. With the snow and ice within the back chambers of the cave, we have more water than Noah. And," he concluded with a vigorous squeeze to Scarlet's arm, "we have each other. Our homes, we can rebuild. Our lives, well. They are preciously preserved."

            "Well, then, Sir," Scarlet replied with a nod of understanding. "If there is anything you need, you can contact Spectrum Headquarters through our consulate in Moscow. I'll be leaving the contact frequency with your radio operator."

            "Very good, Captain. And thank you again. If we hadn't left our homes, we too would now be Spectrum statistics. These Mysterons you speak of are very bad men. I am glad you are here to keep up the good fight."

            "Thank you, Sir. If you'll just point me to your communications station, I'll give the operator that frequency code."

            "Right this way," the mayor agreed, guiding Scarlet further into the dimness of the ice cavern.

            When he had passed along the information to the young man stationed at the bulky, fifty-year old HAM radio, Scarlet graciously took his leave and ducked back out through the tarps covering the cave entrance. As he stomped through the snow toward his transport, however, a vibration beneath his booted feet made him pause. "What?" It felt like an earthquake. Then, moments later, a rumbling of disturbed air washed over him. With the biting sting of a blizzard, windswept snow sandblasted his exposed cheeks. "Another explosion." The trembling earth shook for another moment, then stilled. Scarlet bolted for the SPV. "Captain Blue!" he called out reaching up to smack the door release. The SPV opened and he vaulted up into the cab. "Did you-"

            "Shhhhh!" cautioned a young woman dressed in the traditional white of all medical staff. "He's resting," she continued pushing the perplexed Scarlet back from his friend who sat slumped in the copilot's seat eyes closed.

            "You drugged him?" Scarlet demanded though with subdued volume.

            "We gave him something for the pain. He needs better facilities than we have here, I'm afraid, Captain. You are leaving?"

            "Yes," Scarlet attested. "But ... did you feel that aftershock? There's been another explosion. Somewhere close. I'll need to investigate the Institute site right away." He backpedaled to the pilot's seat and slid behind the controls. "And I'll need to contact my superiors, Miss..."

            "Doctor," she chimed in, her voice as velvety smooth as chocolate mousse. "Dr. Katrina Zalianoff, Captain." She sighed her acknowledgement of her team's dismissal. "Very well. We will go." The doctor spoke briefly in Russian to her two male nurses and the trio exited beside the seated Scarlet. Swiftly he moved to again close the hatch and restart the SPV's engines when a deep voice was heard calling across the sound-swallowing snow.

            "Captain Scarlet! Come quickly!" that dark figure pleaded. Squinting into the drifting flakes Scarlet could just make out the rounded shape of Mayor Kobienski.

            With an apologetic glance toward his unconscious partner, Scarlet released his safety harness and leaped down from the SPV. He closed the hatch behind him and jaunted off to rejoin the Yeminsk townsfolk. "What is it, Mayor?" he asked as the man grabbed Scarlet by the arm and yanked him back toward the cave entrance.

            "There has been an accident. Within the cave. That last tremor, whatever it was. It has caused a cave-in. We are missing several people. Can you help us?"

            Scarlet hesitated. "My partner is injured, Mr. Kobienski," he reminded the politician. "I shouldn't leave him out here in the-"

            "My people. They could be injured or dead, Captain," Kobienski interjected as he nearly shoved the Spectrum officer inside the cave. "You. Your people. They have wondrous machines and vehicles. No? Surely you have something, some miracle machine which can dig them out."

            In reply Scarlet only sighed in his singular inadequacy. "I'll contact Spectrum Headquarters and get a rescue team here. But this locale is so isolated; they may not arrive in time."

            "Then, Sir," the mayor pleaded, unwilling to accept Scarlet's impotence. "There must be something you can do in the meantime. There are children down there as well. My ... my niece's son is missing. Pavel went with some boys down to the ice caverns to collect water for our evening meal. When the tremor hit, somehow it caused a collapse of the entrance wall into that part of the caverns. There is only a narrow passage, but that too may collapse. We have little time."

            "What are your people doing to rescue the children?"

            "Everything we can. But we have brought with us only what we could carry in our vehicles. There is nothing more. You once offered your help."

            With a decisive huff Scarlet nodded. "Of course. I'll do what I can. Show me the way."

            "Thank you, Captain!" Kobienski quickly guided the Spectrum officer deeper into the twisting cavern. It was then that Scarlet realized their peril. The cave ceiling was raining debris. Tiny dust particles and chunks of ice-enshrouded gravel were sprinkling the inhabitants of Yeminsk.

            "This cavern, Mayor. How cold is it in here?" Scarlet asked as they traveled.

            Kobienski threw him a creased brow. "Why, it is normally nearly the same temperature as outside, minus 15 degrees Celsius."

            The British captain halted in the midst of the dust-fall. "You said normally. What temperature is it in here now?"

            In reply Kobienski stalled as well to shrug. "We have tried to make it comfortable for all. The cave is very chilly and damp, is it not?"

            "Yes," Scarlet agreed, "but warmer than it's meant to be. Mayor, you're melting the very foundations of this cavern. The rock is held within a matrix of ice. That last explosion only helped it along. If there were to be another such disturbance-"

            "My God. You are right," Kobienski gasped. "We could bring the entire cavern down on our heads."

            Now Scarlet grabbed the man by his coat sleeve and squeezed his urgency. "Sir, you must have your people put out the fires. The cook stoves. Go back to the main chamber and tell the townsfolk, they must prepare to evacuate once more. This place isn't any safer than Yeminsk. Hurry, Man. I'll get the children."

            "Ye ... yes, Captain." With speed of which the man's stout frame seemed incapable, Mayor Kobienski scuttled away toward the cavern entrance to warn his people of their chilling reality.



A Darkness Enfolds


            Scarlet surveyed the dimness ahead. If he were to find the missing Yeminsk residents, he needed more light. He could go back to the SPV and break out the emergency light kit, but that would waste precious moments. Along the wall, the townsfolk had dug in torches, burning kerosene for illuminating the trail down into the ice caverns. These torches were another factor in the crumbling strata about him, but for the moment the potential for success outweighed the risk. Scarlet plucked a torch from the ice wall and flared it above his hooded head. Now he could see the very matrix of the cave. Here, rock and ice merged. The surface of the wall was as smooth as glass, most probably attributed to the annual summer warmth which no doubt wafted in on the incoming breeze to melt the ice layer formed the previous winter. When the colder temperatures resumed a short two months later, the thawed cave ice refroze forming another entombing layer over the rock wall.

The ultimate power of ice, however, was not in its melt, but in its refreezing. Ice expanded between any crack and crevice, creating fissures in the very foundations of the cavern. Now, Scarlet was witnessing the release of the ice's labors. Crumbling chunks of wall, liberated from their glacial matrix, were falling all about him. Beneath his booted feet shifted the work of countless centuries of Siberian winters. Why hadn't the citizens of Yeminsk realized their peril? They of all people had lived beside these mountains for generations. In their haste to find shelter, the townsfolk had simply made use of a local resource, and made it fit their needs without thought to the mechanics of the beast.

            As he tramped further along the narrow passage, the level of the cave fell away. Scarlet estimated he was now over two hundred meters into the mountain, perhaps twenty meters below the surface.

            "Hello?" he called. There was a buzzing of activity up ahead. He must be getting close. The rumble and crackle of falling rocks beat at his eardrums and echoed around his head. If the racket grew any louder, the very act of liberating the trapped could entomb the rescuers. Scarlet increased his pace. He soon found the source of the noise.

Five burly men were busy transferring handfuls of rock and ice away from the partially blocked passageway. A young woman's arm was waving at them through the opening, her desperate voice a stream of Russian pleas for freedom, no doubt. Evaluating the efforts with a critical eye, Scarlet saw the bloody hands of the rescuers and realized they had neither pry bars nor excavation tools. This rescue was being powered by sheer brute force alone.

With grim certainty the Spectrum officer strode forward. "Step aside. Please," he ordered handing the torch to one rescuer and drawing his side arm from its holster. It was a calculated risk, Scarlet knew. He could bring the rest of the cave down upon all their heads. As the Russian men backed away Scarlet waved at the woman as well. "Get the children back," he instructed, showing her his pistol. Even if she didn't understand his words, the gesture and the weapon were enough to have the woman nod then disappear deeper into the shadow of the crack. From within Scarlet could hear her giving brief instructions. "All right, then," the captain mused, scrutinizing the largest boulder for its weakest grip of the wall. A well placed charge could obliterate the rubble holding the rock in place, allowing it to fall away. "Be ready to run," he warned the men behind him. With grim resolve, he wedged the gun's barrel in against the boulder and wall. Aiming it slightly downward Scarlet squeezed the trigger.

            The blast sounded like a tinny cannon in the narrow passageway. The backlash of the concussion sent rock shrapnel flying in all directions. With a growl Scarlet wrenched back his damaged hand, letting the charred pistol fall from his grip. Then, pressing his shoulder into the boulder's side he shoved with all his strength until the obstruction creaked. Smaller stones slipped away or popped against the boulder's weight. Nearly falling with it Captain Scarlet recovered his feet as the massive rock rolled aside. In its collapse the stone pushed others away with it, to reveal the now open passageway. "Now, people!" he demanded, clamping his bleeding hand tight in against his chest. "Out! Get out of here, now!" The scrambling adults and children fled swiftly past him for the surface.

            As a drizzling of dust and ice crystals fell upon his head Scarlet tensed to follow them. Then a desperate voice called for help. Coughing in the precipitous cloud Scarlet paused. Why hadn't everyone clambered to safety over the rock pile beside him? Leaning against the relative stability of the cavern wall Scarlet called back, "Who's there?" There was no immediate answer, but then a frightened sob echoed from the opening where the obstruction had been. Someone had indeed been left behind.

His face dour with determination, Scarlet scooped up the abandoned torch still spitting with life against the drizzle. He next stepped over the rubble pile and deeper into the cavern. There, in the fading torchlight, the Spectrum officer could see the huddled shape of a boy, perhaps nine years old. He seemed unhurt, but remained in his crouch against the crumbled wall. "Come on," Scarlet entreated with a grimace and wave of the torchlight. "The cavern may collapse at any moment."

            "I ... I cannot move," the boy answered sniffling. "My foot. It is caught."

            With an impatient sigh, Scarlet set down the torch and used his good hand to gently pry the child's shoe free of the collapsed rock wall. "Why didn't you get clear?" Scarlet demanded. "I told everyone to get back."

            "I ... I tried, Mr. Policeman. I was knocked down by someone. A man I think. He pushed me out of the way."

            Scarlet nodded his understanding. "All right, then. You're free now. Let's go." A sudden downpour of dust announced the inevitable. The unstable cavern ceiling was giving way. "Move!" Scarlet hollered shoving the boy to his feet and back over the rubble toward their only exit. Behind them a sucking whoosh of chilled air told all. The passage inside which they had previously stood was now gone. As the pair stumbled over fallen rocks and debris a rumbling and quaking commenced. Another explosive aftershock?

In the dimness of the still glowing wall torches the two were hit by a blast of debris-laden air. Coughing at the assault, the pair could just discern their peril.

Between them and their freedom the route ahead was again blocked. A huge section of the cavern wall had buckled, leaving only the tiniest of glowing slivers to show the way through. Once the dust had cleared Scarlet approached the barrier. He reached up to run a hand along the crack. "You can fit through this, young man. Come ahead. Get to safety."

            "What about you, Mr.-"

            "Scarlet. Captain Scarlet," the Spectrum officer corrected with a tired grin back at the lad. "I'm an agent for Spectrum. It's sort of like being a policeman."

            "I am Pavel," the boy replied with a tap to his dusty sweater.

            Scarlet nodded at the acknowledgement. "Don't worry, Pavel," he said as the boy came to stand beside him. "I'll be fine. You go ahead. Your uncle is waiting for you outside. He'll need a big hug from you. You must let him know you're all right."

            Scarlet watched the boy scowl up at his bloodied hand and dirtied, scratched face. Pavel's eyes drilled into the Spectrum officer as if trying to memorize every dusty crease and pore of the captain's existence. "You're very brave, Mr. Scarlet. You saved all of us. Even me."

            "Not everyone. Not until you're far away from here. Now get moving."

            With a determined nod the boy allowed Scarlet to boost him up against the opening. He stretched his arm out through the space but paused. "I ... I can't," Pavel protested with a groan. "It's too narrow."

            "Nonsense," Scarlet argued setting the boy back down and reaching through himself with his good arm. He could barely pass it beyond the crack. "You're right," Scarlet sighed. "My side arm," he wished with the next breath, his injured hand instinctively descending to the empty holster. No. Even if he could find the weapon, left somewhere behind them, he wouldn't risk using it again. "Step back, Pavel," the Spectrum captain instructed instead. "I'll try to widen the opening." With that Scarlet braced his palms against the rock fall and pressed his entire weight in opposition to their prison. Only a few crackling pebbles were heard tumbling down from the pile. His own feet, too, lost their grip. Scarlet nearly stumbled along the slanted obstruction to the floor. Only by jamming his bare hands into the debris with a thick grunt did he halt his fall.

            "Wait!" the boy chimed in. "My axe!" That said, Pavel reached down to his belt loop and withdrew by its protruding head a pickaxe. "Here. Try this."

            "Good lad." Scarlet beamed his approval in the dusty glow of the sputtering torches. He returned his attention to the passageway.

            "I brought it with me to get ice for supper," Pavel explained as Scarlet began prying away at the looser rocks securing the blockage. "We melt it for corn stew. It is very good stew. My mother makes it herself."

            Realizing the boy's loquaciousness was Pavel's way of coping with the imminent collapse of more of the cavern, the British captain quickened his efforts. He forced his injured right hand to grasp the axe handle for better leverage. Time was running out. Once the wall torches were completely extinguished by falling debris, the two would need to rely on feel alone to escape their prison. Another sizable chunk of the obstruction broke loose, leaving a breach nearly a foot in width. "There," he announced, lowering the pickaxe from the hole. "Now you can escape."

            "But, Sir. I don't want to leave you behind," Pavel protested.

            Now Scarlet scowled. "Don't argue with me, son. Go. I'll catch up." When Pavel's feet scuttled in indecision, he growled, "Now! Before the cave comes down on both of us."

            Flinching at the order, Pavel swallowed any further arguments to scramble up the rock fall. With a grunt he slipped through the aperture to freedom. Once on the other side, the boy reclaimed his feet and glanced back to see Scarlet eyeing him through the hole. "I will send someone back for you. I promise!" Pavel called and spun to scurry up the crumbling passageway.

            "I wish you luck, young man," Scarlet murmured from behind his prison wall. With a tired sigh, the British captain leaned for a moment against the ice-covered barricade. It was then that his sparking torch spittled out completely. Next followed the twin wall torches. They had finally succumbed to the dripping cave debris. In the impending blackness, Captain Scarlet literally could not see the nose before his face. "So much for that," he mumbled, and closed his eyes against the darkness. He wanted to rest, allow his hand to repair the damage done by the rock shrapnel. Within an hour, it would be as good as new.

Then there was a sensation beneath his shoulder, a trembling of the cave wall. "No," he grumbled eyes instantly open and attentive. Somehow the Institute site was still active, with more explosions rocking the region. With a grunt he was again upright. There was no time to lose. With the ice pick in hand Captain Scarlet hacked away at the pile of rubble blocking his escape. A few well placed concussions and a chair-sized rock shifted enough that he could claw away more loose rubble. Using his scraped bare hands to feel the opening, Scarlet sensed the size was good enough. To reduce his own width, he swiftly discarded his heavy coat and squeezed through the hole to freedom. Beyond the rock fall all was plunged into darkness. His own boot falls sounded like hammers smacking against the slippery cave floor. Hands out beside him he slid along the walls, sensing the angle of the ground with his feet. Yes, he was ascending, but would he reach the exit before another avalanche of debris buried him?

            "Mr. Scarlet?" a young voice called from up ahead.

            "Pavel? Why haven't you left?" Scarlet demanded. Slowing, he could hear the boy's choking sobs from the floor.

            "The way out. It is blocked. I could go no further," he explained snuffling. "I tried, but ..."

            "There must be a way," Scarlet growled and stumbled forward to collide with a solid boulder. Clearly half the passage had tumbled away in one piece. "Damn," he cursed feeling along the edges to evaluate their chances. "You're right, Pavel. We're trapped." Silent now, the captain listened along the edges of the barrier. No breeze, no draft, just deathly silence. "I'm afraid we may be sealed in."

            "Sealed? You mean like a pickle jar?"

            Despite the seriousness of the situation, Captain Scarlet had to smile. The child's analogy wasn't that far off. "Right," he agreed gravely. Within the confining ramparts of their ice jar, the pair would either suffocate or freeze to death. If only Mayor Kobienski had thought to radio the Spectrum consulate in Moscow. Rescue teams could soon be on their way, complete with boring machinery and oxygen pipes.

Coughing again at the inhaled particulates of the cave, Captain Scarlet paced within their space, every so often placing his ear once more against the barrier which blocked their exit. No sound issued from beyond its bulk.

            "Mr. Scarlet? How did this happen?" Pavel asked from his bent crouch upon the floor. "What were those ... vibrations?"

            Realizing the youth needed the calm authority of an adult, Captain Scarlet explained as best he could. "Some bad men destroyed the Institute of Astral Technology outside your town, Pavel. The explosives they used were very strong. I believe they, and your mayor's attempts to keep your townsfolk warm, have compromised the integrity of these walls."

            "You mean the tremors coming through the ground are shaking the cave up like a pop bottle."

            Again a child-like analogy. "Precisely, Mr. P-"

            "Zalianoff. Pavel Zalianoff. My mother is-"

            "A doctor. Yes, I met her," Scarlet admitted as he lowered himself to the floor alongside the boy. "She is a dedicated woman. I'm afraid I was rather brusque with her earlier. When we return to the surface, I must remember to apologize for my rudeness."

            "When? You think we'll leave this place?" The trembling, hesitant tone spoken exposed the child's fears. He knew they might not live to see his mother again.

            "When, Mr. Zalianoff. When," Scarlet assured placing a soothing palm atop the boy's bent knee. He was hesitant to promise more. Ultimately, Captain Scarlet would survive, but would the child?

            As the pair sat there in the silent blackness, more tremors and falling debris assaulted them. The heavy, swift breathing of Pavel divulged the boy's mental state. Then a rumbling of rock announced another cave-in. Scarlet vaulted to his feet. "Pavel! Get clear," he commanded as the barrier beside them began to crack. In the blackness the Spectrum captain scooped up the youth and bore him back, away from the crumbling wall of rock and ice. Something hard smacked against his skull and Scarlet went reeling. There was no more perfect blackness to his reality after that.



Dire Straits


            Captain Blue shook off the heaviness of his eyelids to focus on the sound echoing throughout the hollow SPV. Someone was knocking, no, drumming on the hull. "Coming," he called and released his safety harness to climb to his feet.

It was a mistake. The sling securing his injured arm stalled his efforts, and he flumped back into the chair. Next a sharp pain shot up his spine. He groaned, almost blacking out. But the pounding upon the SPV's flank couldn't be ignored. "All right, all right." With a grunt Blue was standing, reaching out his good arm to steady himself against the steering panel. "Paul, did you forget your keys again?" he tried to joke, groggily tottering toward the sliding door panel. When he opened the tuna-canned assault vehicle's portside hatch a blast of frigid air slapped his cheeks. Now he was fully conscious and aware that it was not his partner waiting at the door.

            "Captain Blue, we have a problem," Mayor Kobienski bellowed over the Siberian winds. Beside the politician stood the slight woman doctor Blue remembered had treated him for his dislocated shoulder. She had even apologized in perfect English, for the discomfort she was about to employ. Then, a true gentleman, Blue had fainted on her. Now she stood outside in the blowing snow, her frosty cheeks too pale for the weather.

            "What is it, Mayor?" Blue asked. Gingerly he climbed down from the SPV, trying not to jar his already bruised spine and aching shoulder. With his free hand he yanked his hood protectively over his chilled ears and zipped his coat up closer to his chin.

            "I'm afraid your partner has not yet returned," Kobienski droned. "He and my niece's son are still missing."

            "Whoa, Mayor. Back it up a little," Blue advised holding up a halting gloved palm. "Missing? Where did Captain Scarlet go?" As swiftly as he could, Mayor Kobienski related the incidents leading up to Captain Scarlet's disappearance. Blue, listening more intently to the story as the minutes ticked by, scowled at the unhappy ending. "How long ago was this, Mayor? How long have they been missing?"

            "Nearly seventy-five minutes, Captain. We've been trying to wake you for the past fifteen."

            "Please, Captain," Dr. Zalianoff pleaded. "We have tried to contact your headquarters, but our radio seems to be malfunctioning in this interference."

            Now Blue's frown deepened to annoyance. "What interference? What's been going on? How long was I out?"

            "I'm sorry, Captain. That was my fault, I'm afraid," Zalianoff conceded. "I thought to administer a sedative to keep you comfortable for your trip back to Spectrum Headquarters. However, the Mysterons seemed to have had other plans."

            Mayor Kobienski cut in explaining, "We have been experiencing additional tremors, possibly caused by more explosions from the Institute."

            "How can that be? The facility's nothing but a pile of crumbled concrete and molten steel," Blue argued. "I saw it collapse myself, and we were almost too close for comfort, to boot."

            "There have been rumors," Kobienski ventured with a nervous blink, "that cold war munitions were being stored in vaulted bunkers beneath the main complex. If these rumors are true, then perhaps the heat and debris have burned through to them ..."

            Blue nodded. "Causing the munitions to explode and send shockwaves through the underlying strata and EMPs across the local airwaves."

            "We are blind and dumb, as you say, Captain," Kobienski informed, his round face flushed both with frustration and the cold.

            "Well, first we need to contact Cloudbase. I'll try the SPV's transmitters." Blue turned back toward the vehicle then paused. "How long since the last tremor?"

            "About ten minutes, Captain," Dr. Zalianoff admitted. "I am worried for my son, Sir. Within the caverns there were falling debris and at least two cave-ins."

            "Any clue that Captain Scarlet is with him, Ma'am?"

            Now the woman's pale complexion showed the true weight of her worry. Shoulders slumping within her fur-lined collar she sighed heavily and shook her raven-haired head. "We only know that your partner was able to free the trapped people down in the lower caverns, but he and Pavel never came out. I don't know if they're together. If they are hurt. If they are ... dead." That last statement ended in a muffled sob which Zalianoff quickly stifled with her mitted hand.

            "All right, then," Blue acknowledged. "Let's see what Spectrum can do." He climbed back into the SPV and activated the onboard comm. unit. "Cloudbase, this is Captain Blue. Do you read me, Cloudbase?" His answer was a fizzled hissing. "Oh, no you don't." He boosted the gain and increased the volume to listen through the static. "Cloudbase. Come in, Cloudbase. This is Captain Blue. Do you copy?"

            Suddenly there was a whining whistle and the melodious voice of Lieutenant Green burst through the interference. "Captain Blue. This is Cloudbase. Your transmission is very faint. Can you boost your gain?"

            Pouting, Blue answered back in a louder voice, "Got it all the way up already, Lieutenant. I'm parked about fifteen miles north of Yeminsk. In need of assistance. There have been more explosions. Captain Scarlet is trapped in a cave-in within the town's mountain refuge. Did you get that, Lieutenant Green?"

            "Copy. Captain Scarlet stranded underground. We can provide a recovery crew within the next six hours. A Spectrum jet can be dispatched to you in two."

            "Not good enough, Lieutenant," Blue hollered back over the hissing. "He's not alone. There's a Yeminsk child with him. Injuries possible." There was no answer from Cloudbase. "Green, did you get that?" Nothing. Then a rumble shook the SPV. "Damn, another EM spike," he realized aloud.

            Doctor Zalianoff, climbing up to join him had obviously overheard that last. "Will you keep trying, Captain?"

            Blue sighed. "Not my first choice, to sit here and man the comm., Doctor. If I can't get through to Cloudbase, I'd rather be inside that cave helping to find my partner ... and your son."

            Zalianoff's dark eyes softened. "Thank you, Captain," she murmured. "Perhaps I could man this comm. unit for you."

            "Won't you be needed to care for the injured, Doctor?"

            "Please, call me Katrina, Captain. I feel guilty that this has all gone so wrong. I should never have let Pavel go with those boys into the back caverns. I knew how dangerous it could be. And if I hadn't tranquilized you-"

            "Stop right there, Ma'am. Katrina. Nothing's your fault. If you must blame anyone, then blame the Mysterons. They started this. And together, we'll finish it. Is there a radio operator within your community?"


            Blue nodded. "Then get him up here. He can man the comm. unit. You and I are going to find our missing people."



Rescuer's Revival


            All was quiet. It was as if being wrapped in heavy cotton batting. The silence was so thick Pavel's sobs seemed like rushing ocean waves to his own ears. The boy sat crouched, knees up against his trembling chin, confined within his rock tomb. There had been no more tremors, and only a slight raining of dust still coated his head and the exposed torso of the man prone beside him. Without the luxury of sight, Pavel had had to rely on his senses of hearing and touch to evaluate his rescuer's condition.

            The man was dead, for sure. No breath escaped his parted lips. No pulsing thump greeted the boy's probing fingers at Scarlet's throat. The now cold wetness upon the man's skull and the debris half-burying his body were tribute enough to Captain Scarlet's demise. Pavel Zalianoff was now utterly alone, facing his own mortality with the courage of a nine-year old. And so with that dim view of life, Pavel cried into his knees.

            He didn't understand the passage of time. In the total blackness about him, Pavel had even refrained from searching his perimeter. For all he knew his tomb was no larger than an Egyptian sarcophagus. But when a faint inhale not his own rattled the air beside him, Pavel Zalianoff shrieked and clambered to his feet. Back against the frosted wall he slid away from that sound.

Could Pavel have somehow been wrong? Though his mother was a doctor, she had never overtly encouraged her son to follow in her footsteps. Instead, Dr. Zalianoff had strived to keep the rigors of working with the ill and debilitated to herself, protecting young Pavel from the realities of a harsh life in northern Russia. Ironically, it was young Pavel who had taken the first steps toward the medical profession. Secretly, while his mother was away at the clinic on late evenings, Pavel would waste away hours, his nose in the technical manuals, searching for the gross and obscure. Through this perusing, young Pavel had inadvertently gained a basic knowledge of human biology.

One thing he definitively understood was this: once dead, people didn't revive unless medical attention was applied, and then only with the utmost urgency and care. Pavel had done nothing but sit beside the man and pray they could both be as far away from this cold place as Siberia was from tropical Africa.

            The rasps emanating from the half-buried corpse certainly sounded like breathing. Had Pavel succumbed to what the medical journals called dementia, caused by his recent trauma? No. Captain Scarlet was alive. Pavel could hear the man stirring upon the rock-strewn floor. "But you can't be," Pavel accused into the darkness where he knew the man lay. "You were dead!"

            Scarlet cleared his throat of dust and croaked, "Pavel? Is that you?"

            Before he could question further the illogicality of the situation, the boy answered, "Yes."

            "What happened to the lights? I can't see anything."

            "We're ... we're still inside the cave. We're trapped. You're trapped."

            As if understanding Scarlet observed, "I can't move my legs. Was there another cave-in?"

            "Yes," Pavel answered. "We ... You can't get up. The wall fell on you. But ... but you were dead. You should be dead!" The boy's voice pitched upward in confused panic.

            In the darkness of the cave floor, Scarlet coughed, then groaned. "I'm not dead, Pavel. I'm injured. And I'm trapped. Can you get some of these rocks off me?"

            Pavel's mind whirled like a pinwheel in a storm gale. What to do? "I ... I can try," he mumbled taking one step closer.

            "Good lad," the Spectrum captain sighed from the floor. "Once you get me free, I'll be good as new. Promise. Then we'll get out of here." Pavel stepped forward and knelt down to feel for the man's head. Yes, he was moving, and he was warm. The wet blood atop his scalp had dried. His free hand took the boy's and squeezed it for reassurance. Pavel yelped and drew away. "It's all right, Mr. Zalianoff. You're a brave lad. It's your turn to save me."

            "But ..."

            "Just get the loose rock off me. I'll see what I can do after that."

            With quiet determination Pavel began his task of exhuming his companion. When he tried to make conversation, there was no answer from the Spectrum officer. Captain Scarlet had drifted back to unconsciousness. Pavel was glad, though, to hear the continued breathing of his new friend.



Excavation Plans


            Within the mouth of the cavern, Blue grunted in his stiffness and tried to relax in the wheeled armchair someone had thought to evacuate from the now demolished town of Yeminsk. "There's got to be another way down there," he argued. Blue shivered at the drafty breeze whistling through the hanging tarps. Because of the danger of melting ice, only a few fires or heating units were allowed. The internal temperature of the cave was now only slightly more comfortable than an unheated igloo. The nearly fifty Yeminsk residents were careful to keep their comfort level in balance with the threat of melting ice. "Hasn't anybody done a geological survey of these mountains? Found other entrances? Connecting tunnels? At this rate, we'll be pounding rock for weeks trying to shift the rubble for a way through."

            "Our apologies, Captain," Mayor Kobienski appeased. "The Institute was filled with scientists, but they were all too busy-"

            "Looking in the opposite direction. Yes, I know," Blue sighed. "Well, I can't just sit here, waiting for my people to arrive." With a decisive grunt he instructed, "Keep your men digging at the tunnel, Mayor. The sooner we get to them, the sooner we'll have them back with us." That last he said for Dr. Zalianoff's benefit. Her haggard countenance had been ever present over his shoulder for the past two hours.

The captain had just finished arranging a second and third shift of excavation crews. Relieving the first team, they were to carry what makeshift tools they could to continue with the rescue efforts. As Captain Blue sighed in weariness and rolled the chair back to its accompanying desk, he heard the urgent call of a young man. "What now?"

            "Capitan!" It was a teenager by the name of Lazaro. Katrina had sent him out to the SPV to operate the communications unit. Vaulting over scattered furniture and personal belongings which had been hastily stacked just inside the mouth of the cave, Lazaro came to a crashing halt against Blue's desk. His splayed gloves smacked against its smooth surface. In broken English he blurted his report. "Capitan, I am contacting SkyBase."

            Blue nearly vaulted from his chair, but the spasm in his back stalled him halfway. "Cloudbase," Blue corrected through clenched teeth. "Go back. Tell Green, I'm coming." Slowly he followed after the young man. Blue noticed Dr. Zalianoff shadowing him. Was she concerned for his well-being or for news of Spectrum's rescue team? Probably more the latter, the American captain agreed. A nine-year old trapped within the frigidness of a Siberian cavern was scary enough when it wasn't your own. Being a medical professional and understanding the consequences of that peril, made the ordeal far worse for the young mother. Blue limped painfully to the still parked SPV and with sheer will hauled himself inside. The snow had gratefully stopped falling, but now an icy wind howled about the Spectrum tank. For both comfort and practicality, the captain again closed the hatch. "Cloudbase," he called, bent over the comm.  Blue was sure if he sat down in the vehicle's high-backed safety seats, he would not rise again from his fatigue.

            The static-laden accent of Lieutenant Green answered with noticeable cheer. "It's good to hear your voice, Captain. How are you doing?"

            "Getting more irritable by the minute, Lieutenant," Blue grumbled. "What's the status on that rescue team? We'll need boring equipment and seismic scans of the region in order to find a safer way down to Captain Scarlet and the boy," he advised with an eye to the hovering Zalianoff. "Time's running short."

            In response, it was Colonel White's voice that explained, "We have the mountain rescue team en route to you now, Captain. They're being airlifted from southern France and should ETA with you in twenty-seven hours. Severe weather conditions at your locale warrant a landing in Novosibirsk, 1250 kilometers southwest of you. The team will be arriving via Arctic snow crawlers and sledges."

            "But, Colonel," Blue argued at the unexpected turn of events. "That's too long! If they’re trapped somewhere without a fresh oxygen supply, they could be dead in a matter of a few hours. Not to mention the cold, Sir. Plus we'll need time to get to them once the equipment does arrive. Can't they be air-dropped over the site? The snow's stopped here."

            The colonel's answer was deadly serious. "I'm afraid it's the high altitude winds that concern me, Captain. I'm hesitant to risk a battalion of highly skilled and trained rescue personnel for one lost child. I'm sorry, Blue, but it comes down to a numbers game, and Spectrum will need all of us against the Mysteron threat. Scarlet can wait for the team."

            Dr. Zalianoff choked back a scream and shoved herself into Blue's injured back. "You can't be human!" she accused the disembodied voice from the communicator's speaker. Blue grunted as he tried to hold the woman back. "My son is down there! You'd let him die?"

            "Captain Blue!" White admonished. "Why do you have the child's mother present? This is a secured transmission. Spectrum ears only."

            "I'm sorry, Colonel," Blue contended his free arm across Zalianoff's abdomen, "but the child's mother is also the town physician. She's already saved my life. And she would like to go on practicing her medical training. Sir," he repeated for emphasis. The lie would get lost in the paperwork, he knew. Blue's life was never really in danger once he and Scarlet had gotten clear of the Siberian Institute. His partner's and the child's life, however, were in dire straits. "She's been my counsel in this rescue mission."

            "Well, kindly dismiss her of her duties, Captain," White ordered with growling certainty. "Presently Spectrum's affairs have little place for one grief-ridden doctor. The rescue team will be there as soon as humanly possible. In the meantime we need those data disks before the Mysterons set their fall back plan into play. As of this moment, you're ordered to leave Yeminsk's vicinity, and report directly to our consulate in Moscow with those disks. Is that clear?" Then the colonel cooled for his next utterance. "Look, Captain. The rescue team has emergency supplies and severe weather shelters for the Yeminsk inhabitants. They'll be well cared for, I assure you."

            Blue's lips twisted in irony. "That's gratifying to know, Sir. But ... um, I'll have to respectfully decline your order to leave." He paused for emphasis; sure his commanding officer was fuming again on his end. "It seems, Colonel, that those astral data disks we need so badly are lost somewhere in the caverns below."

            White nearly roared in his reply. "Scarlet has them? Why in hell did you let him go down there with those disks?"

            Even with his wrapped and swollen shoulder protesting the American had to shrug. "I was unconscious at the time, Sir. If it wasn't for Captain Scarlet's swift action in leaving the Siberian Institute, I'd be dead. And those disks would be vaporized along with Yeminsk, Sir."

            There was an ultra long moment of hissing silence from Cloudbase. No doubt White was rethinking his strategies. "Understood," the colonel finally consented, though the man's grudging reluctance was evident in his taut tone. "I'll have the Spectrum transport plane prep the team for an equipment air-drop. They'll do a flyover to confirm wind conditions and attempt the drop within four hours. Just Scarlet's damnable luck to find himself so far from civilization," the C in C contended with a resigned sigh. "Cloudbase out."

            Blue wasn't prepared for the desperate hug he received from Dr. Zalianoff. With a groan the captain almost lost consciousness along with his balance. Together the pair collapsed into the SPV's co-pilot's seat. Behind them young Lazaro giggled delightedly at their compromising positions. "SIG," Blue gasped even as his vision threatened to black out.

            Mumbling her apologies Zalianoff shoved herself again to her feet and considered the Spectrum officer's dour face. "You need more rest, Captain," she advised. "Lazaro. Help Comrade Blue back into our shelter. We'll make him comfortable there."

            With what strength he had left, Blue raised a gloved hand and suggested, "How's about I stay right here? The environmental controls in the SPV will make me far more comfortable than in that drafty ice box you're calling home, Madam." The exhausted captain's eyes were already beginning to drift shut.

            Smiling at him Katrina Zalianoff nodded and leaned down to recover the blanket she had brought earlier. After draping Blue within its bulk, the doctor turned to the attentive young man. "Lazaro. Go. Bring warm coffee in a thermos for Captain Blue. And some food. He'll be hungry by the time the rescue plane arrives."

            "And then?" the teenager queried.

            This time Zalianoff shrugged. "We pray for the safety of his friend and dear Pavel, my boy. We all pray. And we keep digging."



Dungeon of Ice


            Captain Scarlet shivered in the void of their lightless tomb and awoke to the silence of impending death. His injuries were healing, he realized. But because of the severity of their environment, the Spectrum officer was still weak and listless. Pavel had helped him to remove the last of the obstructing rocks from his shattered legs. Painfully, Scarlet had then slid and shoved his useless appendages into a straightened stance, and his aching back against the more solid cave wall. There he had drifted again into oblivion.

Now the reality of his and Pavel's circumstances shocked him from his slumber with an icy thumb. "Pavel?" he gasped, clearing his throat of dust and fowl air. A deep, strength rejuvenating breath swiftly revealed their danger. The pocket within which they were trapped was not only confining but also inexorably sealed. The air about him was growing stale. Soon it would grow thin. "Pavel?" Scarlet inquired again. When there was still no answer the British agent tested his legs for stability. With a grimace he muscled them beside him, then rolled onto his knees. Next Scarlet attempted to stand. The tortured bones within his legs, however, were unwilling yet to support his weight. The best he could muster was a grueling, exploratory crawl.

            Where was the boy? Sleeping? Unconscious? During the captain’s coma-like stupor had there been another earth tremor? Another cave-in? "No," Scarlet wished aloud and doubled his efforts to inspect their space with probing hand swipes. "Mister Zalianoff? Are you here somewhere?"

            Then what sounded like a crumbling of rocks was quickly followed by the tramping of footfalls. "Mr. Scarlet!" a young voice acknowledged. Pavel kicked more of the debris aside as he collided against the kneeling captain in his rush to return. The two fell flat against the cold cavern floor. Gasping Pavel scrambled back to his feet and apologized. "I'm sorry, Mr. Scarlet. Hey! You moved! That is very good," the boy agreed, his voice again beside the man. Pavel was kneeling.

            With a grunt Captain Scarlet shifted into a sit upon the floor and reached out a hand to feel for the lad. "Yes," he confirmed. "I'm feeling much better. Thank you." With a ruffle of Pavel's dusty mop of hair in the blackness Scarlet smiled at his bravery. "You saved my life."

            Even though the captain could not see the young hero, Scarlet knew he was smiling proudly when he answered in his Russian accent, "Now we are even."

            "Where did you get to?" the captain asked stretching his complaining back with a groan. "I heard you running from somewhere else."

            "There is a little opening into another part of the cave," the boy informed. "Here. I found this."

            Reaching out to fumble his grasp, Captain Scarlet's fingers brushed against the chilling solid steel of Pavel's ice pickaxe. "Good show, lad," Scarlet praised. "You found it further back? Then we have more air than I first thought. How long have we been down here?" That last question ended in another violent shiver. Scarlet needed to move about their prison, get some circulation going again. The boy, too, was no doubt chilled. If only Scarlet hadn't discarded his coat to fit through that last barricade.

            Though his shrug of uncertainty went unnoticed, Pavel's guess was filled with doubt. "Maybe three or four hours. Maybe longer. I am not sure."

            "You're a brave and smart young man, Pavel. I'm glad you're here with me, but we have to find a way out. Have you noticed how stale the air is getting?"

            "Yes," the boy contended. "It is like inside that pickle jar we spoke of."

            Scarlet smiled. "Complete with refrigeration," he added. "It means we'll eventually run out of air to breath. Do you understand what that means, Pavel?"

            The boy's response was quiet and final. "We'll asphyxiate."

            Scarlet blinked into the blackness. "How do you know that term?" he challenged.

            Again an invisible shrug. "I like to read. I read my mother's books. I speak good English. Don't you think?"

            Scarlet nodded vigorously then added for the child's benefit, "Exactly so, young man. Bravo. Then you know we have to make use of this ice axe to open another chamber. Get some fresh air into this burrow." Now he hesitated. "Pavel, my legs aren't good enough to stand on yet. You'll have to start without me. But as soon as I can get up, I'll take over. I promise. All right?" When young Zalianoff didn't answer Scarlet almost pushed the issue. But then the pickaxe was lifted from his grasping fingers.

            "I will do what I can, Mr. Scarlet." Footfalls behind him led the lad to their rocky barricade. A tentative whack of steel against stone announced Pavel's brave effort. As he continued swinging away with his tool he asked over his shoulder, "Mr. Scarlet. Are you afraid of the dark?"

            In answer Captain Scarlet scooted back against the support of the icy wall and chuckled. "I've never been. No, not of the dark. I'm afraid of drowning, though."

            The child stopped hammering, no doubt to consider the adult's comment. Pavel giggled. It was high-pitched and stress-releasing. "You don't have to worry about that down here, Mr. Scarlet. The ice is too cold and too little to drown you."

            "No, I suppose not," the Spectrum agent agreed quietly, closing his tired eyes and leaning back against the frigid wall. "But the ice isn't much more comforting. If I had my coat again, it might help keep us warmer," he wished. Scarlet rested as Pavel again took up his task of excavating their prison. The British captain's thoughts drifted to warmer things. His friends. His partner. The comfort of the waiting SPV and the long drive back to the former Soviet airbase outside the nearest city of Markovo, east along the ice-packed Yenisey River. The happy pats and hugs of his companions once he was again on Cloudbase.

            Reports. Colonel White would no doubt have him and Blue file an extensive report as soon as they were back. The mission to retrieve the astral data disks was a vital step toward possibly discovering the Mysterons’ homeworld and the transmission source of Captain Black's power. Data disks ... Coat ...

            Scarlet jolted awake. "Great Space!" he stammered.

            Pavel gasped. The sound of the ice axe hitting the stone floor echoed for moments in their cramped space. "What?" the boy yelped.

            "The data disks," Scarlet muttered his boots scrambling to stand. "I left them in my coat pocket! Damn. I have to find them. They're why we came here."

            "You need something in your coat?" Pavel was obviously trying to comprehend his companion's ramblings.

            Shoving himself vertical in the oblivion of their hovel Captain Scarlet winced when his bare skull impacted the ceiling. When had the roof been lowered? "Pavel. I must go back. Find my parka. The one I was wearing before. It should be somewhere near where you found the pickaxe. Can you help me?"

            "What about asphyxiation?" the boy reminded. "Shouldn't we try to get out of here first?"

            Scarlet sighed at the child's logic. "Of course. You're right, lad. We'll get you out first. I haven't felt a tremor lately. Perhaps the cavern is stable for now." Limping aside he felt for the boy and found him standing before their barrier to freedom. "I'll take the axe now. You should rest. I'll get us free." Even as he said this, however, Scarlet's knees buckled and the pain of still healing and chilled bones caused him to sink again to the ground.

            "Mr. Scarlet!" Pavel's concern was thick in his voice. "Are you all right?"

            Gasping to catch his breath, the captain scolded himself silently for his haste. "I will be," he rumbled and rolled onto his buttocks. "Damnable carelessness," he swore then grew silent. Small hands probed his torso, followed the extension of his arms to the fallen pickaxe. Pavel silently took up the tool again and returned to his vital duty.

Fuming against his impotence Scarlet warmed himself with his regret. Time was of the utmost importance now. Would he face death with courage or frailty? Young Pavel's safety was what saved Scarlet from accepting defeat. Once his legs were again functional, Captain Scarlet vowed he would get them both to freedom. Alive.

            It was nearly another half hour, Captain Scarlet estimated, before the ache in his tortured legs had forgiven him his earlier haste. Rested and in no more discomfort save the bone chilling stiffness of his confinement, he rose to his feet. Only minutes before, poor Pavel Zalianoff had collapsed beside him, too tired to lift his arms any longer.

It was at this moment that the British officer was most torn. Did he first go to search for his lost coat and its vital contents? Or did he expend energy and their critical air supply to continue the boy's seemingly fruitless excavation? The space about them was even staler than before, the air as still as within a sealed coffin. When Scarlet called down to the exhausted boy at his feet, Pavel's only response was a listless groan.

"Bloody Hell," Scarlet growled. His duty, he knew, was to retrieve those data disks. Even if there was another cave-in, the Spectrum captain would eventually be found. The data disks had to be on his person to do Earth any good. The child, Pavel, was ultimately expendable.

            Yet, Captain Scarlet remembered another child lost in the shuffle of the Mysterons' War of Nerves. Killed in an industrial accident at the Timberland Power Complex, she had died despite all his efforts. Cheryl Adams had not survived to grow up in this or any other brighter world.

Captain Scarlet sighed and considered the slight weight of Pavel's bent elbow upon his one boot. The warmth of it was alive with hope. The British captain recalled the promise made to the young man. Leaning down in the blackness, Captain Scarlet found the abandoned ice axe. It too was still warm from Pavel's determined hands. "I won't let you die, brave Zalianoff," Scarlet affirmed and faced the wall with renewed determination. The boy curled at his feet was worth all the data disks in the world. He and the now deceased Cheryl were Earth's future. This was what Scarlet and Spectrum were, after all, fighting for.

            He strode to the rock fall. Then testing, the pickaxe clanged against the solidness of their prison. Banging away at random was pointless, Scarlet realized. He must find a loose spot in the barricade and work from there.

With probing hands Captain Scarlet searched the rock fall for hope of a way out. He soon discovered a collection of smaller stones high up on the pile where gravity and momentum would have left the thinnest barrier. This was his goal. The pickaxe was then employed with blind accuracy and the continued vigilance of the captain's ears, listening rather than seeing the results of his labors. Soon he had a small pile of debris at his feet and decided to gently move the dozing boy further away from his work, so as not to endanger him with collapsing rubble.

Pavel gave no protest other than an exhausted groan. Scarlet made him comfortable but paused at the feel of the child's clammy flesh. With no protective covering save his heavy sweater and no gloves, young Pavel could soon succumb to hypothermia from the frigid condition of their confining enclave. He, himself, found it increasingly hard to keep feeling in his fingers. Though he held tightly to the axe handle, the sensation of gripping their only tool was more like a battering ram with each concussion. Several times he had even nearly dropped it during a swing against the rock. Scarlet had to find his coat, if only for Pavel's benefit. It would be the warmth and protection Pavel would need to survive.

            "This is my mistake," he told the sleeping boy. "I'll be back as soon as I can." So, with a guiding hand along the cavern wall, Captain Scarlet back-tracked to where he had first rescued the boy. It was slow going. The passage was narrow in many places. Only the help of the pickaxe allowed him any leeway. Many times the captain stubbed his boot upon an obstruction, or nearly tripped over a fallen piece of the cave wall. Once he had even walked straight into a partially collapsed overhang, smashing his nose painfully against the rock. As blood trickled to his lips, the Spectrum officer swiped the discomfort away and plodded blindly on.



Hope Flies High


            Captain Blue slowly became aware that an outside roaring was not the Siberian wind. Roused from his peaceful slumber by the ruckus, he listened intently as the rumbling of frigid air began to die away. "A plane," he realized, then. "The rescue plane!" In the next instant, the American captain was surging to his feet. With an accompanying groan he protested the ache and stiffness of his jarred back. "Damn. Wish I hadn't hurt myself," he cursed even as he stumbled for the SPV's exit. The discarded blanket fell from his shoulders as Captain Blue smacked the hatch release button.

            Outside the bitter gale slammed him against the vehicle's bulkhead before he could brace himself. Blue squinted into the swirling snow to see the fuzzy silhouette of a transport plane lumber off toward the horizon. "No!" he hollered into the wind. "You have to come back!"

            "Captain Blue," someone whispered. Had he imagined the call in his still confused state between oblivion and wakefulness? He turned toward that tiny voice to see a figure wrapped in a heavy hooded coat running toward him in the stinging flakes. "Captain Blue!" This time the voice was more clear and discernable. Dr. Katrina Zalianoff jogged up to the armored tank and waved toward the vanished plane. "They will try to land?"

            Blue's memory of his last conversation with Cloudbase came rushing back like a snowball to the face. "It's a flyover," he hollered against the weather. "They're testing the wind speed and direction, hoping to triangulate a drop zone for the equipment. They'll send it down first, before the rescue team." His blue eyes again squinted up into the blizzarding snow swirling about his head and drifting into the opened SPV. The wide-bodied plane was slowly arcing around for another pass. "They may have to circle a few times before they can attempt a drop. Wouldn't want to land the equipment up on the mountain or too far away for us to access."

            Just then the comm. unit within the SPV sputtered awake. As Blue moved to answer it, Dr. Zalianoff climbed up to join him at his shoulder. "This is Captain Blue. Come in transport."

            "Captain, this is Spectrum Transport D715. We have flown over your location, and have determined the weather is too severe. Crosswinds are bucking us about up here. We can't risk a drop of the team. Casualties are a guarantee."

            Blue's still weary mind fought for an alternative. "Wait! What about the equipment? We need digging tools and an excavator. At least drop us down something that could help. These people evacuated their town with only the clothes on their backs."

            There was a hissing pause before the transport's comm. officer answered. "We'll make another pass, Yeminsk. Then see what we can do. We'll need to configure a safe drop zone for the excavator. It's a delicate piece of machinery."

            "Acknowledged, Transport. Thanks for your assistance, and good luck. We'll be waiting."

            In the following silence, Zalianoff queried, "Do you know how to operate an excavator machine?"

            Reassuringly, Blue presented a cheery smile. "I'm a quick learner." Inwardly he hoped the thing's control panel was labeled. Blue didn't want to bring the mountain down on top of everyone. He only wanted to extricate his friend and Katrina's lost son.

            Shortly, after three more lower altitude passes, Transport D715 radioed that they would indeed be dropping three cargo containers of tools and one sonic excavator. Swiftly the plane's comm. officer cautioned, "Make sure you set the thing for low vibrations first. Too high a setting and you'll collapse the strata around you. Sorry, we can't risk anyone down there with you. The front's moving swiftly, but so's our depleted fuel. If we can land in Markovo, we can be back here for another attempt in three hours."

            Blue took this information stoically then turned to the skeptical Katrina to interpret. "The sonic excavator is a tricky thing. It uses sound waves to crumble rock. The problem is the collapsed debris is already unstable enough. We might make things worse using it."

            Dr. Zalianoff's smile was encouraging. "I trust you, Captain. You and your less civil comrade did not abandon us. For everything, we are eternally grateful."

            With a grimace of uncertainty Blue countered, "I'll be happier with your thanks once we have your son back with you." And my 'less civil' partner back inside this SPV, he added to himself.

            Minutes later the transport plane was back. Captain Blue and Zalianoff stood beside the Spectrum tank to wait as a maw was opened in its belly. Soon tiny parachutes with equipment crates attached were unfurling in the twisting blizzarding sky. As Blue watched them descend and grow larger, he soon scowled. The westerly gale, skirting along the northern mountain ridges, was taking the parcels too far into the plains beyond the highlands. "Damn it," the captain cursed. "I better follow them in the SPV. We might lose them in this blizzard."

            Determined to help, Zalianoff confirmed, "I'm going with you. You're hurt, Captain."

            Blue was quick to disagree, however. "You're needed here, Doctor. Run inside and grab a few strong backs for me. They can sit on the floor. I won't guarantee them a smooth trip in this tundra, but they can brag about it later." Zalianoff spread her pale lips in a knowing grin and nodded. Swiftly she was away and into the cavern. A trio of young Russian men were moments later trotting up to join the Spectrum officer in the rescue mission. Blue nodded at them. "You three understand English?" he ventured hitting the hatch release to allow them entry.

            One of the youngsters, not much older than eighteen, nodded and raised his mitted hand. "I spek good," was all he admitted with a toothy grin of pride.

            Blue sighed. "Great. You'll be my interpreter. Tell them to sit on the floor and hold tight. This is going to be one bumpy ride."



A Gasp in the Dark


            Captain Scarlet panted as he stumbled yet again over a hidden chunk of debris. He would have cursed at his clumsiness had he not already been trying to conserve air. Their prison was swiftly closing in. While regaining his breath, he estimated that they had been entombed in this section of the Yeminsk caves for over six hours. It had taken him forty-five minutes or so just to clamber around in the blackness to recover his discarded coat. Now, at least he had it, and with the garment Scarlet was trying to find his way back to Pavel. All totaled, he had figured their tomb was approximately the size of two Cloudbase conference rooms. Most of that space was taken up by rubble and the fallen cave wall.

In his recovery effort, many times Scarlet had had to squeeze and scramble his way over piles of sharp and half-frozen rock. It had been by sheer misfortune that he had even found his lost piece of clothing. Having plunged headlong down the far side of a steep rock fall, his already bruised face had smacked hard against a sudden softness in this underground world of irregular rigidity. As Scarlet had climbed back to his feet, his probing fingers had gripped something far more pliant than granite- the remains of his cold weather coat. With the Spectrum parka half-buried beneath the rock pile, it had taken him nearly twenty minutes more to extricate the garment without the benefit of one iota of illumination. Now he gripped the battered coat against his tightening side, gasping for fresh air. His knees were torn and bleeding. His hands were raw and slashed. But none of that mattered. Given time and rest, Scarlet's minor injuries would heal. It was the boy about which the captain was most concerned.

Pavel lay exposed to the chill of the cave and the thinning air of their confinement. Unless Scarlet could get back to the boy and open up an air chamber for them, brave Pavel Zalianoff would never get the chance to hug his mother again. He'd never grow up; never share the story of his heroism. Lurching back to his booted feet, Captain Scarlet urged forward in his quest.

            "Pavel?" he called. "Pavel, make a sound ... so I can find you, lad. Don't let me ... Make me stumble around in circles." It was true. The Spectrum captain was starting to wonder if indeed he were lost within their rocky dungeon. He didn't remember making more than two arcs around debris, but a couple of his falls may have unwittingly disoriented him.

The boy had not answered him. Panting in his weariness and the thinning air, Scarlet shuffled onward. Then his boot kicked against a less painful and more yielding obstruction. Instantly the captain was on his knees. "Pavel," he gasped. The boy was cool to the touch. Unresponsive. Scarlet held his more sensitive wrist up against the boy's slack neck. Yes, there was some warmth still there, and a heartbeat, faint and thready. Scarlet hauled the boy up into his arms and cradled him against the thickness of his torn coat. Scarlet's own body heat would help revive him. But, then, who would hack away at their barricade and supply fresh air? "First things, first," he agreed with his conflicting conscience. Pavel needed warming. There was still oxygen to breathe, at least for a little while longer. And, so, wrapping his arms around Pavel and tightening the coat about the boy's torso and head, Captain Scarlet sank to the cold cave floor and silently pressed the boy against his own chest. Time, that great plodding controller of eventuality, would ultimately reveal their fate.



Lost Luggage


            Captain Blue steered the SPV to yet another blip on his indicator, searching for the transport's dropped supplies. "Just like them to lose our luggage," he cursed as all indication of day dropped into blackness behind him. The short Siberian spring afternoon had come to a close. From now on, he and his three Russian companions worked in the dark.

            This, their third crate was found shattered against a snow-shrouded outcrop. Pavlov, Yuri, and Malcolm had scrambled down from the armored tank to gather the store of shovels and pickaxes. Returning with their horde they happily dumped the tools at Blue's feet. "More?" Yuri chimed.

            Blue nodded and jerked his chin toward the floorboard. "Settle in, boys," he instructed, then shoved the SPV forward again. So far they had recovered equipment ranging from the shovels to hard hats, lanterns, and even a box of C-4 charges. Yet the promised sonic excavator had still not been found. "Here, kitty, kitty," the Spectrum captain murmured scanning between the headlighted horizon and his inboard metal detector for the item. Though he had tried to estimate the possible landing sites for the dropped equipment, the shifting winds across the tundra had made his calculations moot. His onboard scanner bleeped again. "Bingo!" Blue called and pivoted the SPV into a hard right turn.

            "Ieeeh!," one of the young men hollered as a propped shovel toppled solidly onto his head.

            "Bingo!" Yuri laughed at his friend's discomfort.

            "Sorry, boys. I'm in a bit of a rush, here." He slowed to a halt as the tundra suddenly opened up into a windswept chasm. All indications were that the last crate was straight ahead. But ahead meant a rift in the snowy landscape. "Damn," he cursed again. "Now what?"

            "No bingo?" Yuri inquired with obvious disappointment.

            "No," Blue tried to explain simply. "The crate is down there." He pointed to the rear facing monitor before his driver's seat. "It's in that hole."

            Though all three young men had originally been fascinated by the odd and seemingly illogical way Blue drove his Spectrum monstrosity, Yuri nonetheless glared at the SPV's screen and nodded. Climbing to his boots he assured, "I get it." Yuri puffed out his chest with pride. "I am spelunking champion of Yeminsk."

            "Good for you," Blue agreed. "But I better go. I won't risk your life out in that mess." He reached up to unharness himself from his seat. Yuri stopped him.

            "No, Capitan Boo. Doctor. She told me. Keep you inside SPB. My job. I do it."

            Captain Blue wasn't sure whether to be angry at Katrina for her caution or laugh at Yuri for his verbal stumblings. Finally he resigned to the obvious. "All right. The world needs more heroes." He nodded his consent but insisted, "Be careful."

            "Yes, Sir," the young man chimed presenting the Spectrum captain with a stiff military salute. Blue didn't have the heart to tell Yuri that members of Spectrum seldom addressed each other with such awkward flare. Yuri zipped his heavy jacket up to his chin, accepted the rope Malcolm handed him, and stood ready as Blue remote-operated the exit hatch. The boy was gone into the darkness a moment later, reappearing before the headlamps, smiling and waving his confidence.

            "Be careful," Blue murmured again. Then he sighed at the wasted time. They had been out here searching for the dropped equipment for over an hour. There was no telling how much air or warmth Scarlet and the boy had remaining. The pair could already be dead. Blue would have liked this to stay a rescue rather than a recovery mission.

            The minutes ticked away once Yuri had set his rope about the SPV's auxiliary hitch and disappeared over the icy edge of the crevasse. Just as the captain was about to insist he go after the absent waif, the SPV's nose was given a slight tug. Yuri's companions began gibbering in Russian, rising to their feet and gesturing at the door. "What?" Blue asked. His harness was released in the next instant.

            "Out!" Pavlov insisted. He pointed to the exit.

            Understanding that much Blue hit the release lever. The two young men were out in the swirling snow before the American captain could stop them. "Wait!" he called to no effect. Was there something wrong? Then through the wind he heard a chorus of cheers. Blue checked his forward monitor. In the headlamps the three junior Russian adventurers stood. Beside the slack rope, each clutched eager hands about a battered but still intact wooden crate. "Well, I'll be ..." Blue stammered. He re-belted himself and joined in their triumph as the three young men hauled the last crate onboard. "Whooopee! Now back to base, you three," he acclaimed.

            The return was swift. The ever eager Dr. Zalianoff greeted them at the cavern entrance. "We are so pleased to see you, Captain," the woman explained with a tired smile beneath her heavy hood. "We did not expect you gone so long."

            "Me either," Blue grunted, the crate containing the sonic excavator cradled in his straining arms. "Let me put this down. We've got to get it running right away."

            "First I must check your shoulder," Zalianoff suggested.

            With a huff Blue set the bulky crate atop the old desk and slid roughly into the wheeled chair. "I'm fine, Doctor. Just tired. And sore. You look like you could use some rest yourself."

            Zalianoff shrugged in agreement. "I cannot sleep, not knowing about my Pavel. Your partner, too. He was ... grumbly with me, but he is a good man to save my people. I share your concern, Captain."

            "Adam, please. Call me Adam." Blue sighed and let the doctor unzip his coat and tunic to have a look inside his shirt. Her nibble fingers were gentle yet probing. The captain flinched at a tender spot. "You mean Scarlet was grumpy." When Zalianoff smiled and nodded slightly, still intent on her examination, Blue chuckled. "Auw, he's like that all the time when on duty. He was probably just concerned for me and those data disks."

            Katrina Zalianoff paused. "What exactly is so important on those disks?"

            "The astral-physicists were doing some research for us," he answered simply. It seemed that, by all indications, they had found a good candidate for the Mysterons’ homeworld. If so, Blue considered silently, Spectrum might be able to devise a way to block the Mysterons' transmissions, their commands. To the doctor he admitted, "If they were successful, we could perhaps end this Mysteron war. Try to talk peace." Spectrum could send a long-range probe to discover their true nature, he added to himself.

            "What if these Mysterons are just mind-controlling machines, like what was found on the moon? How do you reason with machines? What would you do then?" Zalianoff inquired. She, of course, didn't know the whole story behind the Mysterons' war of nerves. Most of the Mysteron data was classified, for Spectrum use only. But it was sometimes comical what theories floated across political boundaries.

            Even so, Blue stiffened at her question. "Those are unofficial rumors, Doctor," he dismissed. "I'm afraid Spectrum's plans are our own. The less you know, Katrina, the safer you'd be. The Mysterons have an uncanny way of turning our best against us. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you, or to your son."

            Katrina simply nodded once and removed her hand from Blue's chest. Standing again she offered, "I believe I understand your caution, Adam. Come, then. Let us get this 'circus onto the street', as you Americans say."

            With a strain of overworked muscles and a groan Captain Blue rolled himself forward onto his feet. "That's 'show on the road'," he corrected with a twisted smirk. "I hope you don't mind if I lead." The crate was pried open and the well-cushioned sonic excavator was slid from its berth. "It's a lot smaller than I thought," Blue observed discarding the layers of Styrofoam and bubble-wrap which had safely secured the slender tool. Gingerly Blue slipped the rifle-like device over his shoulders and nestled it down against his chest. In many ways, the excavator looked much like Spectrum's own Mysteron gun. The stabilizing handles, which in contrast faced upward, held the sonic controls and the depth indicator, along with the hand grips which would help accurately aim the device. "Reminds me of our hover pack controls," Blue ventured, scrutinizing the machine. "Well," he added with a sigh. "Should we test it first? Perhaps outside where nothing but snow'll be falling on our noggins."

Zalianoff and Mayor Kobienski followed him out into the freezing night. Meanwhile, below in the collapsed cavern, the other rescued tools were already hard at work, taking over where bare hands had been hard pressed to make any progress.

            It took Captain Blue several tries to adjust the sonic waves emanating from the excavator. He was searching for just the right frequency in order to shake solid rock loose from his intended target, a huge rocky outcrop not far from the cavern entrance. Vibrating within his hands, the device issued a silent pulsing beam of ultra low frequency sound which acted to destabilize the granite sitting before it. Blue's first try had resulted in nothing but a shifting of snow cover. His second try had blasted a hole the size of a football in the boulder. Now, with minute increments, the captain had learned to adjust the sonic output to where he was shaving rock from the outcrop in slices half an inch thick at a time. "I think I finally have the hang of this thing."

            Kobienski stood with his hands clasped and resting expectantly atop his bulging belly. "It is a godsend, Comrade Blue," the mayor agreed with a bounce to his paunchy stance. The politician reminded the captain of a Russian St. Nicholas draped in his long overcoat and red suede schapska.

            Shutting the device down, Blue swung it back to his watching companions in the floodlights Pavlov and Yuri had hastily erected for them. "Glad you approve. Let's get inside before my toes freeze permanently to this ice shield, shall we?" Within the cavern Blue had previously noticed the absence of children and entire families. Save for the remaining adults conducting the rescue efforts, the majority of the Yeminsk residents had moved on to a smaller, more distant cavern, one without the hazards of falling ice-encrusted rock. Blue was glad to see the Yeminsk mayor had finally come to his senses about the dangers within this one particular shelter. "Yuri can show me the way down," he suggested eyeing the now exhausted Zalianoff who for once had settled into the desk chair. "He can be my gopher if I need anything, or if there's any news."

            "Wonderful, Comrade. We will wait here," Kobienski affirmed his concerned bulk lowering onto an abandoned crate of cooking oil.

            "Good luck," Katrina urged. "Bring my Pavel back to me." It was her only wish.

            "SIG," Blue chimed and followed the young Yuri down into the still crumbling chambers below.



Quest for Air


            Perhaps he had dozed off in the thinning oxygen of their prison, Scarlet was not sure. In any case, movement upon his lap roused him from his inner oblivion. "Pavel?" he murmured opening his eyes to see nothing but the confining blackness.

            Wrapped in the Spectrum captain's coat the boy stirred and lifted his slumped head. "Mama?" he inquired, his thready voice not much beyond a rasping whisper.

            "I'm sorry, Pavel," Scarlet corrected. "It's just me. We're still in the cavern."

            "Cold," the boy murmured.

            "Yes, it is." And yet with the two of them in close contact, even Scarlet's fingers were no longer numb. Finding the coat had been worth every scratch to the captain's pride. "But you're better now. Can you sit up?" In response the child arched his back. Spreading his arms out from the confines of the coat Pavel shivered violently at the cooler air beyond the garment's warmth and drew himself again into a ball. "It's all right, Pavel. I'm getting us out of here now." Gently Scarlet slid the boy from his lap and set him down against the cave wall. Then the British officer drew his knees up and stood.

            For a long moment the darkness swirled about him like the resultant punch of a double shot of hard liquor. Oxygen deprivation, the captain guessed. Physical exertion right now wasn't his best course of action. It would have been wiser to conserve his air. And yet beyond the solidness of their hovel, no sound of hacking picks or shovels had announced the arrival of their saviors. So far, the pair's only chance to survive seemed young Zalianoff's ice axe. Scarlet slowly bent to retrieve it from the floor, staying careful not to faint in the dizzying environment. Come now, Captain. You're far tougher than this. Save the boy, he admonished himself. His willpower was more feisty than his need for creature comforts like oxygen. So, with pickaxe in hand, Captain Scarlet attacked their barricade anew.

            His will lasted almost fifteen minutes before he was near collapse, gasping at the thin air, his knees buckling beneath him. On hands and knees, every fiber of his being was screaming for relief. "Can't give up ..." he gulped at the barrier. "Mustn't give ..." The captain clambered to his boots again. Leaning against the rock fall he felt for any weakness that might afford him better results. Then, gathering his strength Scarlet swung the petite axe once more. This time rock cracked, pebbles fell and a coolness whistled in at him. He gasped at the biting wisp of air. Yes, it was fresh. Somehow, by sheer luck, Scarlet had struck a vital spot and broken through. "Thank the stars," he sighed sucking in the revitalizing draft. It was only a crack, and yet, the thin aperture would extend their lives, perhaps until the Yeminsk residents and Spectrum's rescue team could fight their way down to the boy and him. By pressing his face against the stone wall beside the breach, Captain Scarlet quickly regained his vigor. Next it was Pavel's turn. Pivoting back to the floor Scarlet scooped up the languid youth and held his face by the crack. The cool whiff rejuvenated the boy after only moments. It had been a close call.

            Pavel coughed then squirmed within the captain's grasp. "What? What are you doing?" he stammered, suddenly aware that he was being suspended above the invisible ground.

            Scarlet smiled broadly at the question. He chuckled as the youth fought to be set down. "Forgive me, Pavel, but I didn't have a long enough straw."

            Pavel Zalianoff stood beside the man and clutched the drooping coat about his still chilled shoulders. "Straw? As in a snorkel? You found us some air, did you not, Mr. Scarlet?" Even in the blackness the captain could tell the boy was smiling.

            He shared the child's levity. "I did indeed, young Zalianoff. And I have you and your axe to thank for that." Scarlet's hand fell upon the boy's shoulder and he squeezed it in congratulatory support. "You're my new hero, Pavel. Your mother will be very proud of you."

            That gave the child pause. His next utterance was filled with trepidation. "What if they cannot find us, Mr. Scarlet? It is still cold and we have no food or water. How ... How will we survive? It is like a ... a dungeon down here. No light. No food. No door. No key." Scarlet heard the quake in the child's voice. Even though they had gained renewed hope with their crack of fresh air, the pair's predicament was indeed still dire.

            After a moment of thought the British captain sighed and decided on a new course of action. "We'll wait for them to find us right here, by our little window. We dare not risk sealing ourselves in again with more hacking. It'd be too dangerous. But you can use your axe to make a noise against the rock fall," he suggested to cheer the young man. "They'll hear it and know just where we are. You can still save us both, Pavel."

            "But, Mr. Scarlet. I am just a boy. It was I who got us trapped down here. How can it be me who gets us out?"

            "Come close, Pavel. Sit with me," Captain Scarlet proposed. "We'll stay warm together. Here's your pickaxe." The Spectrum officer held the axe out for the boy to grasp with his searching fingers. As they settled together against the slanted and poking rubble of their dungeon, Captain Scarlet admitted a secret. "I was once young and afraid. I was about your age when I found myself trapped inside my parents' meat locker. It was huge to me, a great place to play. I always thought of it as my castle. My father would once a year fill it with venison and mutton for the winter, but by spring it was empty and ready to become my castle again."

            "How did you get stuck inside it?" the boy asked at his side. Scarlet made sure the coat was snug around Pavel's shoulders before continuing.

            "I had invited a cousin of mine to play knights and horses with me. I was the white knight. My mum had made me a hobby horse just for my castle. My cousin, Derek, was the black knight. I had given him an old branch from the oak tree to use for his horse. He had wrapped a kerchief about it for the horse's head and a rope for the bridle. Then we chased each other about the yard for hours playing." Scarlet closed his eyes and pictured the scene from so long ago. He could relive the joy of the moment, but the terror had faded with time and maturity. "I had taken refuge from the black knight within my castle, never thinking Derek would close the box's door on me. He braced his horse against the door so that I could not release the latch. Derek was always playing tricks on me. He's still at it, actually. Whenever he gets the chance."

            "How did you get out?" Pavel inquired. The boy's voice was quiet, but the shaking had left him. Scarlet's ploy was working. Pavel was completely distracted.

            Smiling at his success, Captain Scarlet continued his story. "I banged on the door and pleaded with Derek, of course. I was fine for a stretch. More mad than upset. But then, the air started to smell funny inside that meat locker. My parents were somewhere in the house, at the time. My castle was in a storage shed out back. They knew I was always careful not to close the door on myself. They had used the same word you did earlier."

            "Asphyxiation?" Pavel remembered.

            Within their dark prison Scarlet nodded. "Quite right. Yet, I didn't know what it meant, as you do. I just knew I'd be in big trouble. I was afraid my father would punish me and not allow me to play inside the meat locker anymore."

            "So? How did you get out?" the boy asked again.

            Again Scarlet closed his eyes to relive the event. "When I realized I couldn't even hear Derek laughing at me, I began to realize that the locker was probably sealed. Just like a-"

            "A pickle jar!"

            "Or like a plastic bag over my head. I wouldn't be able to breathe. I had to find a way out."


            "So I felt around in the dark and found the steel storage rack my mother used to set out the bundled meat. It was heavy, but by pushing it along the ground on my hands and knees I was able to slide it closer to the door. I was tired and hot, and I was having a hard time breathing by then. But I planned to use the shelf as a battering ram, to break Derek's branch outside the latch. I climbed to the top of the rack, near the ceiling of the locker, and started to sway back and forth."

            "Like swinging on a swing," Pavel related.

            "Yes," Scarlet agreed. "Once the shelf started teetering, I leaned forward and it toppled over against the door. I came crashing out into the daylight again and landed right on top of Derek. I was free. The white knight had triumphed yet again. But Derek had broken his arm in the fall, and I was grounded for a month for hurting him and breaking the meat locker door. Dad never did let me play in it again."

            "But you didn't start it," Pavel reasoned. "Your cousin, Derek. He is the one who played unfairly."

            Scarlet nodded his consent. "Perhaps he didn't understand what danger he had put me in."

            "And you're not afraid of the dark or closed spaces, Mr. Scarlet?" Pavel challenged. There was a slight crack to the question. No toppled storage shelf would free them from this rocky prison.

            "Pavel," Scarlet started hugging the shivering boy closer. "I was only a boy then, and I was lucky. We'll be lucky this time too, and when you're my age, you won't be afraid anymore either."

            "But, Mr. Scarlet. You're ... You're like a policeman. It's your job to be brave and save people."

            At that Scarlet chuckled. "We have that in common, Pavel. Remember? You saved me. And we have something else in common." The captain smiled at the irony before admitting, "You see, my first name is Paul. In Russian, that would be-"

            "Pavel? You mean you have my name?" the boy's voice was incredulous, almost shocked.

            "Yes. And my partner's name is Adam. We're just real people who meet with dangerous situations. And Adam's doing all he can to find us. I trust him. And I trust your bravery, Pavel. We'll get out of this."

            Pavel shivered and scrunched up his legs beneath the coat. "I'm cold, Mr.- Paul. I hope they come soon. I'm hungry too."

            "I know. We just have to keep warm and be brave. We'll be all right. I promise."

            In his weariness Pavel sighed. Then, stifling a yawn he asked, "I liked your story. My Mama tells me bedtime stories every night. That's why I like to read. Mr. Scarlet, could you ... Could you tell me another story?"

            Silently adding up the hours they had spent trapped within the cave, Captain Scarlet figured the time was close to twenty-hundred hours. Nearly the boy's natural bedtime. But if he were to keep the child alive, Scarlet needed to keep Pavel awake and alert. He smiled down at the boy in their blackness. "What kind of story would you like to hear, Pavel?"



Rock Solid


            Captain Blue was quickly gaining a working knowledge of the sonic excavator. So far he had demolished three tons of crumbling rock and two shovel handles. The Yeminsk residents making up the Russian rescue team had promptly learned to give the Spectrum officer a wide berth. Instead they busied themselves with clearing away the rubble left behind by his experimentation with the device. "That's it," he hollered over the scraping and shuffling of shovels. "I think we broke through to the next chamber. Let's see how far this one goes."

            To the moment, the rescue team had removed crate after crate of collapsed ice-encrusted rock. Now that the sonic excavator had arrived, they were hard-pressed to keep up. Even so, they had only opened two such chambers. Neither, it seemed, contained their lost comrades. As an entrance was cleared to allow the men and equipment entry, electric lanterns quickly discerned the absence of human remains. "Nobody," Yuri groaned. The young man was tireless and hadn't stopped for a moment since he had led the Spectrum captain down into the tunnels.

            "We'll keep going until we find them. No matter how far in they are," Blue assured his assistant. "Yuri. Make sure they shore up the walls behind us. We're moving on."

            "Yes, Capitan."

            Blue smiled at the enthusiastic young Russian. Hero in the making for sure. "We're coming, buddy," the captain murmured for his own benefit as he clambered forward into the opened chamber, taking care not to jar or whack the delicate instrument he had slung over his shoulder. The excavator had effectively increased their speed and his partner's chances. Now, if only Scarlet and the boy were together, and with enough air to survive the next grueling hours. No matter how far ...



Here Be Dragons


            "Once upon the future," Scarlet started. Thus began a truly unique and fantastic adventure for the Spectrum officer and his eager listener. Between the chilling air and hardness of their rock prison, within the surreal state between wakefulness and dreaming, weary Pavel joined the captain's fictional adventure. In his mind the boy was to experience all the amazement and pleasure, all the horror and suspense.

Pavel's nine year-old imagination drew the pictures within the blackness of the cave, thus experiencing the story firsthand. He listened intently while his fears were quelled by the magic of the journey. "When worlds were still filled with hope, and good fought against evil," the captain explained. "Here, there were dragons. They were dangerous and frightening creatures, but the white knight was ready to defend the Earth from such calamity."

            "Not white," Pavel suddenly cut in, breaking the spell. "It's the red knight, Mr. Scarlet. I can see a red knight. With a shining sword and cloak."

            Smiling down at the receptive youth the Spectrum captain nodded. "All right, then. The red knight." He began again. "The red knight had a special power, a gift. A special ability that no other in the kingdom had."

            "Was the red knight tall and brave? With dark hair and bright eyes just like you, Mr. Scarlet?" the eager lad asked in the blackness.

            Hesitating, Scarlet nodded once more. "Yes, Pavel. I guess he was brave. He had to save an entire city, a very special city in the clouds, from a great danger, the black dragon, Fahrgon." Scarlet paused to gather his thoughts. He was, after all, making the tale up as he went along. It was, however, based loosely on an eighth century epic poem his father had shared with him upon reaching the mature age of fifteen, so many years ago. "Of all the knights in this Sky City, the red knight was the only one who knew a dragon's weakness. But Fahrgon had also heard of the red knight. And he wanted to possess the knight's special power."

            "And what was that?" the boy inquired, though not as eagerly. No doubt the youth was becoming lost in the story already, unable to completely break free from its enchantment.

            "Ah, my young lad. That secret will come to pass. You see, the dragon is a suspicious beast by nature. Greedy and devious. In guarding his treasure or his life, he is most protective and cunning. But first, on with the story." As Pavel shifted position closer against Scarlet's side, the captain wrapped a warm arm about the boy and dove back into his tale.


*       *       *


            Sky City was a beautiful white palace floating in the clouds. Its towers seemed made of sugar glass and crystal. One could walk among those clouds by stepping out within the shimmering arched walkways which stretched from building to building. And atop the roofs sat slender Angel-winged planes which could launch at a moment's notice to defend the city from harm. This was where King Charles, Lord of the White, and his knights dwelled, defending Earth from the terrible dragons of Mystery Island somewhere in the Titan Sea far below.

            Many of King Charles' knights had already been lost to the saurian horde. The dragons had a terrible ability, you see. They could spit both fire and ice, either burning or freezing their hapless victims. The red knight had seen the dragons do this to his friends before, and he was very angry. He didn't want any more of the knights to be killed. And so he took his special power, concealed it within an acorn, and set out to defeat the king of the dragons- Fahrgon. Fahrgon, above all other dragons, despised the humans. He was distrustful of their love and their passion for family. Fahrgon wanted all who loved to perish. Fahrgon hated the emotion. He felt it made men selfish and weak. So he bade the other beasts to do his bidding, to kill all who loved above all else.

            And though Fahrgon, the black dragon, had spared the lives of those whom he saw had no love, his vision for the world was bleak and desolate. He scorched forests and set oceans to ice. Fahrgon wanted no life to be happy, no one to be prosperous.

What humans he did spare, he had work his farm where he raised horses. Not to ride, of course, since dragons can fly. No. These horses were the favorite food for the creatures. A dozen were seared and eaten every day at the dragon Fahrgon's table.

            Now, the red knight saw that Fahrgon and his dragon horde were slowly winning their war against Earth. Soon the remaining humans would be powerless to defend themselves. Sky City and its knights were all that stood between the people and Fahrgon's ruthless domination. And so the red knight pleaded with his king to spare his companions and send only himself out to destroy the horde. King Charles, of course, did not agree.

            One man against an army of monstrous reptiles was suicidal. The knight could not survive such a battle. That's when the red knight shared his secret knowledge with the King. For he knew that of all emotions, compassion was the one which could tame a dragon's heart. The red knight pledged to discover Fahrgon's one failing and use it against the beast. Only then would the evil Fahrgon be vanquished. King Charles understood the danger of this and again refused the red knight his quest.

            "But my fellow knights have fallen to this dreadful beast," the red knight argued. "If we continue to fight as we've done, we will lose more of our fellowship. There will be no others to protect the people. No others to train more Knights of the Clouds. Earth will fall prey to the fires and freeze of Fahrgon and his dragon horde. You know of my special power, Sire. I alone must go."

            King Charles thought this argument through and finally agreed to risk one more knight. The red knight was to set out at sunset for a far away island where lived a precious holding of the king himself. For on this island of grass and hills lived Destiny, the winged mare, queen of all horses. She had the gifts of flight and foresight. She would take the red knight swiftly to Mystery Island, to the very lair of Fahrgon. To the cave where dwelled the dragon horde.

            Bowing to his wise and trusting king, the red knight thanked him for the gift of Destiny. He knew that to risk the loss of the queen of all horses was a great sacrifice. The red knight vowed that he would not only defeat Fahrgon, but that he would return to Sky City riding atop the fabled mare. "I will not fail you, Sire," he promised. "I will return and the world will be safe, the dragons tamed."

            Though no one in attendance understood the red knight's promise, all awaited expectantly for the man's return. They prepared for that day by gathering food for a feast and special gifts for the brave hero. If he were to survive, the red knight would become a king in his own right. King Charles secretly promised to give the red knight his beautiful mare Destiny as tribute to his courageous deed.

            The red knight rode within the dome of an Angel aircraft to the grassy island known only to King Charles. The place had no name, and was only a lump of grassy hills and swaying apple trees set to float upon the sea. But the pilot of the sleek plane had been told by the king himself where she might find this island now. Rhapsody Angel dropped her aircraft down upon a green field. As the red knight climbed from her jet she kissed the valiant knight good bye. Then Rhapsody gave him a charm of good luck. It was a pendant: a crystal angel with wings of iridescent jewels. It shined in the setting sunlight with a spectrum of colors.

Bowing deeply in gratitude, the red knight kissed the lady's hand and slipped the pendant over his dark head. Upon his chest the crystal angel glistened like a tiny sun. "May this tribute of your love bring me the courage and strength I see within your eyes, my angel." He then tucked the pendant safely beneath his tunic before saying, "Take word back to our king that all will be well in the future."

            The red knight watched Rhapsody leave, a silver streak across the deepening twilight, and he sent a prayer skyward for just such a fortune. Then the knight turned to the rolling hills of the island and called out into the wind. "Destiny! Come to me! A journey I have planned for thee!" These were the very words King Charles had once spoken to capture the unbridled mare so many years before. Destiny could not refuse the chance for adventure, it seemed. Soon a thundering of hooves raced across the moonlit grass. A winged horse the color of sun-dappled snow galloped to his side and whinnied.

            She was magnificent! Covered in the softest of fine fur with wings that spread past her flowing tail. As tall as a stallion with the spirit of a wild hawk, Destiny tossed her head then lowered her silken flank and allowed the red knight to climb upon her back. "I am Destiny," she said, for the creature's gifts were more than just her ability to fly. "The Lord of the White has sent you, young knight. What shall I call you on this, our quest?"

            Honored that the mare had asked him for his given name, the red knight answered. "I am Bronson, your ladyship. You may call me that if you wish. I am the red knight to my lord, King Charles."

            "Very well, Bronson the Red Knight. What is this journey you have brought us to?"

            "One of great peril, I'm afraid," Bronson told her. "Dragons have come to power, and they kill the sons of men until soon there will remain none to stand in your beauty." To this the royal mare lowered her stately head in sorrow. "We are to travel to Mystery Island and confront the dragon king, Fahrgon," Bronson continued. Then he bowed his own head. "Yet, I do not wish to risk your life. I would grieve more than my king for the loss of your splendor. Therefore I will release you at journey's end. You may return to the Lord of the White with news that I live only to fulfill my destiny upon this Earth."

            The winged horse tilted her silken head and emerald eyes to stare at her rider. "You go to your death?”

            "I go to meet my fate, my lady. Fahrgon must perish. I know this. I also know that he will ask a great price of me. I may never again see my king."

            "Then I would not abandon one so brave as you, Bronson the Red Knight. We go together." With that Destiny, queen of all horses, spread her wings and rode into the night sky, like a feathery star amidst the darkness. By her own fairy light she flew across the great wide ocean to the Titan Sea and to the black rise which was Mystery Island. By the first glow of dawn the two had landed upon its dark sand beach. They hid in amongst the twisted and deformed trees of a dark wood to make their plans.

            "Fahrgon's cave is on the far side of the island," Bronson told his companion. "We are safe here until midday when the warmth of late morning brings the beasts to take wing. Then they will fly about and seek their next victims."

            Destiny lowered her head. "Then should we not attack now? While they are still cool and sluggish from the night?"

            The red knight disagreed. “I go alone, your Ladyship.” He took only his sword and the magic acorn hidden within his scarlet cloak across the island to confront the dragons. On foot he would challenge their dragon king alone. For if Fahrgon held any honor, he would forbid his fellow saurians to help in the battle. Only in this way did the red knight have any chance to succeed.

Destiny he made vow not to interfere, as he had already made a promise to King Charles for her safe return. Secretly, though, as the red knight headed off through the woods, the mare launched into the wind to seek help. She had grown to love the man and his courage, and she refused to abandon him.

            Onward through the twisted forest the red knight strode, slashing branches from his path. He could almost imagine that the trees squealed in discomfort at his trespasses. Mystery Island it was indeed.

One brooding glen of hardwood he came to bent low to block his path. When the red knight drew his sword and made ready his first swing, the trees shrieked mournfully and cowered from his blade.

The red knight gasped at the strange sight. "Forgive me, enchanted weald," he said. "I did not think to ask for my safe passage." He sheathed his weapon and bowed low to the glen. "May I indeed walk unharmed within your boughs?"

In answer the trees raised their branches to the warming sun and Bronson marched forward. He thanked the weald by dropping crumbs of his travel cake in tribute. Behind him the hardwood's roots rose from the ground like greedy fingers to grasp the food for their own. In this way, Bronson the Red Knight traveled safely to Mystery Island's furthest shore.

            There he found a gaping mouth in the rocks, a cavern so deep and so wide, that it must be the lair of the dragon horde. As Bronson hid amongst the last branches of the weald, the beasts were seen draped upon the rocks beside the cave. They were sunning themselves, warming their bodies for the day's bloody business. Bronson checked his cloak. Yes, the acorn was still there. It was his singular power, his one chance to escape death. Then, gathering his courage, he stepped from his shelter and strode into the sunlight.

            "I am Bronson the Red Knight," he announced to the watching beasts. "I have come to challenge your king to a duel. You will not interfere."

            The horde of scaled creatures grumbled their discourse, smoke fuming from their wide nostrils. Would they belch flames and burn the knight down where he stood?

            “Hold!” From within the mouth of the cave a horrible monster rose. Its scales were as black as the farthest night. Its eyes were glowing red coals. Fahrgon, the dragon king, spread his ebony wings and in warning belched a fireball amidst his roused minions. "Let him speak," Fahrgon roared. "A challenge you say, puny one? What do you offer in tribute to Earth's new ruler?"

            Bronson threw back his shoulders. "I forfeit my life if I lose to your might, Dragon King."

            Fahrgon stretched his long, spiked neck forward until he could glare beside the man. Bronson was no taller than the dragon's embered eye. "You give me your life?" Fahrgon asked. "I have taken many men's lives without so much as batting a wing. Why would I accept your challenge, Earthman?"

            "Because there is one secret I own that no one else possesses, mighty Fahrgon. That too will be forfeit if I lose."

            The dragon king seemed perplexed. A wisp of gray smoke rose from one huge nostril. "What is this secret you possess, Earthman?"

            In answer the red knight drew his sword and held it before the beast's glowering eye. "I know your one weakness. By my death, your secret will die with me. You will be safe to rule Earth and all who you spare to live on it."

            The dragon's head rose to its full height. It blocked out the sun and left Bronson chilled in the creature's shadow. From within Fahrgon's deep throat a gurgling laugh issued. Bronson shivered. One fiery breath or cold draught would seal the knight's fate. "You know my weakness?" Fahrgon chortled deeply. "How do I know this is true?"

            Bronson raised his sword in defiance. "You must fight me for your answer, Fahrgon. You and I alone."

            The dragon showed his long fangs in a toothy grin. "I will end it here, then, puny Knight of the Clouds." With that Fahrgon drew in a rumbling breath as if to expel another fireball.

            In an instant Bronson threw down his sword. "I fight without my weapon, Fahrgon. Will you do the same?"

            The dragon king swallowed his fire and blinked, bewildered at the tiny man's courage in the face of such peril. "How do you expect to win without your sword?" one of the other beasts asked. It was a green dragon with eyes the color of copper coins. "He thinks he can win without his sword. We want to see this fight, my lord Fahrgon."

            Fahrgon sneered and shot an immense ice crystal from one nostril at the insolent creature. The green dragon fell over paralyzed, frozen as an emerald jewel in the glittering sunlight. "Do you all wish for me to accept this puny one's challenge?" Fahrgon growled. In response every other dragon rose up onto its rear legs. They folded their scaled arms across their chests and lowered their horned heads. This was dragon-sign for acceptance.

In truth, Fahrgon's minions were eager to see their ruler fight this battle. They had done his cruel bidding far too long while Fahrgon sat and grew fat upon seared horse flesh.

The dragon king huffed at his scaly horde. "You would also agree to the consequences of the victory?" The other dragons then spread their claws and exposed their vulnerable breasts. It was the gesture for compliance, a vow of obedience to the victor. Sure he would succeed, Fahrgon snarled at his minions. "Then I will accept the knight's challenge. And you will choose which one of you we feast upon in my triumph!"

            To this Bronson the Red Knight sighed his relief. There was still a chance he would see his king again, celebrate the victory with his fellow knights and friends. A chance that he would again see the splendid Destiny and ride the winds upon the spirited mare's silver back. "Then hear me, Lord Fahrgon," the red knight announced. "Ours will be a war of nerves. We will fight with no other weapons than our words."

            "What?" Fahrgon spat, a stray ice crystal nearly colliding with the brave knight where he stood upon the rocks. Instead, an ancient and gnarled hemlock toppled to the ground, never to raise its branches to the sun again. "Words cannot kill!"

            "This is not a battle for blood, Dragon King. No," Bronson explained. "My challenge is to defeat your will and you mine. The victor shall have his spoils. I will accept death by your fire, or you will be vanquished willingly by my blade. Whichever is the loser."

            Fahrgon spread his wings and trumpeted a whistling call to the sky. It was a sign of his frustration. "I did not agree to this!”

            "But you did, my lord," a dragon the shade of a crimson sunset reminded. This was Bernoth, Fahrgon's second in command. "Before us all, you accepted his challenge." It was true. The method of the combat had never been discussed.

            Fahrgon fumed. Thick black plumes puffed from his nose, like the chugging of a great locomotive. "I do not see how there can be a victor of words," the beast growled. "But upon my honor as dragonkind, I comply." With this Fahrgon swept his scaly arms aside to expose his glistening chest. Next he sat upon the rocks and pointed a claw at the tiny human. "You, my red knight, may go first."

            Bronson breathed deeply and began to compose a story. His dulcet words floated about the attendant reptiles and danced among the swaying trees. The story echoed off the rocks, whispered within the crevices, and seethed upon the very swells of the Titan Sea. The tale was one of tragedy and triumph, of a life left forlorn by the death of a father. Bronson the Red Knight spilled out his words in an epic tapestry that lasted well into the evening. Then, as the sun's light shrank into darkness, and the now spellbound dragons shivered in the chill of twilight, Bronson the Red Knight finished his tale. "In such a way, the young prince Gareth fulfilled his destiny and reclaimed the stolen jewelstar of his father. He carried its brilliance back to his home. Gareth then became king and ruled wisely. And from that day on, no man was ever lost to the jewelstar's magic light."

            There was silence among the dragon horde for long moments; then Bernoth spoke up. "Indeed it is an epic tale of long ago, my liege," he said to his king. "This young human has a great gift for words. Though I am chilled to the scales I would gratefully sit upon these cold rocks and hear a thousand more such tales."

            Fahrgon shook his head free of the story's enchantment and blinked. "I too was moved by the words," he said with a pointing claw. "But what does this prove but that this puny human can weave a bewitching realm with his voice. It proves nothing. How does one defeat another with a story?"

            "It is your turn, Sire," Bernoth reminded. "You must tell the greater tale."

            The red knight watched Fahrgon stew on this for a moment. "A better tale? Then I will tell you my story." As Fahrgon began to recount to the assembled dragons the story of his own life, Bronson listened intently. This was just the fuel he had been waiting for. To confirm Fahrgon's one failing would lead to the creature's demise.

            The dragon king spilled out the news of his birth from a speckled egg, of his father's death at the hands of a greed-thirsty human while Fahrgon was still a young hatchling. The murder of his beloved lairmother when Fahrgon was still too young to contest his father's place as king of the dragons. How Fahrgon had had to hide from the usurper, a ferocious and ambitious dragon named Grendel. Fahrgon had then discovered Mystery Island, and with it, he had gathered other dragons who hated Grendel's strict rule. Fahrgon had then defeated Grendel with his army and returned the title of king to his family, claiming leadership of all dragons. "I am now the most powerful creature alive," he concluded. "The world will soon be mine. Mine and my horde’s." Fahrgon finished with a claw swing toward his minions. "We dragons shall inherit the Earth!" There was a hesitant and fang-chattering cheer from the other dragons. Bronson could tell the creatures were very tired and cold. They had not hunted that day for they had sat to hear his tale. And now, as the night wore on, their bodies grew chilled. It was time for Bronson to make good his challenge.

            "Such a sad tale, Lord Fahrgon," the knight said. "Do you hate us humans for the death of your father? Do you kill us for retribution? Or for the sport of it?"

            Fahrgon curled his lips, baring yellowed fangs at the knight. "You humans leave a bitter taste in my jaws. It is why I prefer horseflesh. I have known nothing but grief from your kind.”

            "Yet, you enjoyed my story. We two species aren’t that different. We both share a commonality in our nobility and a thirst for justice. Our stories proved it. So far we are even. I will start again with a second tale."

            "It is late, Earthman," Fahrgon argued with a single shake of his spiny head. "The warm sun has lapsed into night. We dragons must sleep when it grows cold."

            "But, Sire. What if I were to say that there were many more enchanting stories to tell? Would you still wish to sleep? Would you still wish to condemn us humans to death? For with our demise, the tales would die as well."

            "Nonsense," Fahrgon argued. "We will not speak of this now. It is time to dream, time to rest. Let the challenge continue in the morning."

            Bronson paused. If he could not defeat the beast tonight, the battle would have to begin anew in the morning. He had one last chance. "My lord. As I have entertained you all so with my first tale, and you have depressed us with yours, may I ask one favor before we say good night?"

            Fahrgon fumed a moment, but his smoke had cooled to nothing but a gray wisp of its former fury. "Very well."

            "I would very much enjoy your company on a flight into the night sky. To touch the stars. Glorious, are they not?"

            Fahrgon grinned a toothy grimace. "The stars are of no consequence to me," he said waving a claw at the brilliant sky above their heads.

            "But, have you ever touched a star, my lord? What about an actual jewelstar? They do exist, you know. They are magical things. I have one captured within an acorn, here. Would you like to see it?" With that Bronson reached within his cloak and withdrew the seed. "This acorn contains a jewelstar. I have made my wish upon it, and it awaits my beckoning to fulfill that wish. If you were to also capture a jewelstar, you too would be granted a wish."

            "This is utter nonsense, Earthman. It was but a story. Besides, the stars are far too high for anyone to grasp. How could you have attained one in the first place? "

            "Ah, but that is another story, Lord Fahrgon. I am, after all, from Sky City. We have many secrets and abilities there. You would do well to join us rather than defeat us. We would be willing to share our secrets if you would agree to a truce."

            Fahrgon seemed to stew on this information for a moment, then sighed. "I am too chilled to decide on anything but sleep, young knight."

            "But what of the stars? A brief flight will take us to their brilliance. They would warm your heart, my lord." Bronson's time was running out.

            "If you must go," Fahrgon rumbled, "then take Bernoth. He does not so much mind the chill of evening."

            "But, my lord," Bronson stammered. He needed Fahrgon to go. His plan depended on it, indeed his very life. "Only the King of Dragons should possess a jewelstar. I will help you navigate, to find one in the multitudes."

            Dual curls of black smoke puffed from Fahrgon's nostrils. "This is pure folly, Red Knight. Why should I trust you?"

            "Simply, your lordship. For I have everything to lose if I were to betray you."

            "I will take him, Lord Fahrgon," Bernoth offered. "He has enchanted me with his stories. If a jewelstar awaits, I would gladly own it, for I have one wish above any other."

            Fahrgon turned on his second in command and snarled. Ice crusted upon his upper lip, but the dragon king did not spit his freezing breath upon his companion.  "You would see my death, no doubt, Bernoth," he growled. "You have admitted growing weary of killing the humans for me."

            Bernoth drew himself up beside his king and revealed his vulnerable chest in honesty. "I have been yours to command, Sire. But the humans are no danger to us. They are small and weak, though this one has proven to be entertaining. Why not make peace with them? We need them not for food. Only sport. Why not a new game?"

            "Game?" Fahrgon bellowed with a dangerous jut of his steaming chin. "You think this a game? I have been challenged by a Knight of the Clouds to a duel. If I fail, I will die."

            "Then take me to the stars," Bronson the Red Knight spoke up, taking the opportunity to re-enter the conversation. "A jewelstar could be your salvation."

            Fahrgon sneered at his smaller opposition. As he did so, an ice crystal the size of a chair dripped from the dragon king’s smoldering nostril. "Why give me that opportunity, Earthman?"

            Bronson spread his arms to expose his own chest in a copy of the dragon-sign.  "Because I am just a puny human and you are King Fahrgon."

            Bernoth's violet eyes narrowed at the tiny human then at his king. "A jewelstar would be a great prize, my liege," he assured. "If he is telling the truth, you would be foolish not to go."

            Now the dragon king’s dark eyes narrowed to simmering slits. Would Fahrgon blast his second-in-command for such insolence? "And if he lies?"

            "I die," Bronson answered. "I can not fly, for I have no wings such as yours." The other dragons knew this to be true and chuckled hoarsely in their frigidness. The human would fall to his death with one jostle of Fahrgon's angered wing.

            "Very well, Earthman," Fahrgon conceded silencing his horde with a fiery glare. "Leave your sword and climb upon my back."

Bronson used the beast's scales as handholds and scrambled atop the dragon's withers. Clutching a neck spike as he would a saddle horn, Bronson the Red Knight rose into the darkness upon the back of the dragon king. Swiftly they ascended into the night sky.

Fahrgon grew warm with the effort despite the chill, and dark smoke wafted back to nearly choke the creature's rider. "How far is it, Red Knight?" Fahrgon asked.

            "A league or twenty at least," Bronson confided. "But I was thinking, my lord. What is it you would wish for? You have treasures, for sure. You have power. You are soon to be ruler of the Earth. Or so you say. What, then, could a dragon need?"

            "Need?" Fahrgon echoed as he pumped his leathery wings higher into the star-filled sky. "I suppose, I would want the return of my father. Telling my story tonight has brought memories back of his gleaming scales and his kind, warm breath."

            "You miss him," Bronson observed clutching tightly to Fahrgon’s neck. "But is he not dead? Do you believe one can be brought back from the dead who has been gone all these long years?"

            "I would try, puny human. I would wish it."

            Bronson smiled to himself. This was just what he had hoped Fahrgon would wish for. "To bring back the dead would indeed be a great power. But you would need compassion beyond reckoning, my lord. Love beyond reason, for this wish to come true."

            To this Fahrgon huffed a fireball which lit up the night. Below, the other dragons saw the blast and grew concerned. "Love is a weak emotion. I would destroy anything which held it dear." With that Fahrgon roared into the sky.

            "I see. You would wish the world to be miserable as you are." Bronson recalled yet another tale. "There is a story, Fahrgon, about a great king who wanted only riches. He was granted his wish. Everything he touched turned to gold. His food. His beautiful roses. Even his beloved daughter was changed to a golden statue. The king grieved so bitterly for her loss, that the Gods felt pity and took back Their gift. King Midas regained his daughter and gratefully never wanted riches beyond her company again."

            "Another story? Is this one true too, Knight?" Fahrgon challenged to the rider atop his withers.

            Bronson smiled. "All stories are factual in a sense, my lord. Within each is a universal truth. One which rings sincere for man or dragon."

            "You test me, human," Fahrgon warned. "You stoke my anger with insults."

            "Yet our stories are of that same truth, Lord Fahrgon. Are they not?"

            The dragon fell silent in thought as they flew farther into the night toward the distant dawn. Soon they were beyond the realm of Mystery Island.  The air grew thin and frigid. Fahrgon had flown high toward the stars. Bronson felt the cold and clutched at his cloak, straining for breath. The knight was running out of air and time. From beneath his tunic he pulled out his crystal angel charm and thought of Rhapsody Angel's deep caring eyes. Could he turn this dragon's heart? Could the dragon's hate be cooled?

            Gasping in the thin air Bronson spoke once more. "Fahrgon. The stars ... A jewelstar awaits you. Grasp ... Grasp one and make your wish." Even as he said this the knight grew faint and lost his grip upon the dragon's neck. The icy wind of his falling clutched at his face as Bronson slipped from Fahrgon's back. The dragon watched from the sky as the knight plunged toward the ocean below. Bronson would fail in his quest. He would die. Yet he had said Fahrgon was close to the stars and a jewelstar. But which was which?

            "Bronson!" Fahrgon called. Something glittering and bright followed the man in his deadly descent. A jewelstar? Fahrgon dove after the knight. In a great swoop the dragon caught the man in one curled, clawed foot. But the jolt was terrible, and Bronson flopped like a rag in the beast's grasp. "Red Knight. Speak to me." The knight was hurt, barely conscious. "Red Knight. Show me the jewelstar. You've caught one." The knight did not answer. Fahrgon flapped amid the stars and poked at the glittering jewel at Bronson's throat with a singular talon. "A jewelstar," the dragon sighed, his ember eyes wide with avarice. Fahrgon shook the man and Bronson moaned. "Please, brave knight. Give me the jewelstar. Then you can tell me another of your stories. Another truth."

            The red knight stirred within Fahrgon's claws. He coughed and cleared his throat. Then he opened his eyes. "Fahrgon," the knight rasped. "Your father. Killed by a man. But I was not the one who wielded that sword. Nor did anyone alive here do so. Are you not tired of hating? Do you not grow weary of waking to a new day in misery? Acting as your enemy Grendel did so many years ago?"

            "You tempt my wrath again, human," Fahrgon growled. With one flick of a talon the knight's jewel was free of its chain and in the dragon's grasp.

            Bronson coughed and gasped against his tortured body. "My lord. I am dying. Take me home. You have won."

            Fahrgon paused. His scaled claws curled tightly about the injured man. "I have won? What powerful words did I say, fair knight?"

            "Not words," Bronson groaned. "I die by your greed. Just as a man once killed your father. Your ... Your golden touch, Fahrgon ..." The man's eyes closed then.

            In silence the dragon descended toward the ocean and Mystery Island. There he laid the knight upon the cold rocks of his home. In his claw the dragon king held the tiny angel pendant with its iridescent wings up to the brilliant starlight. "Why, this is no star!" he roared. Fahrgon melted the charm with one hot gust. The crystal cracked and crumbled into a powder under the heat, sprinkling down upon the limp knight as stardust. "Bronson. I have failed," Fahrgon howled. "I have nothing. No father. No jewelstar. No kingdom. No truth. I have even lost you. My friend."

            Bernoth and the other dragons came to stand beside him. "My lord," Bernoth said. "There is another jewelstar. The knight has it. Remember? You may still make your wish."

            "Yes," Fahrgon said and reached inside the man's cloak for the acorn. "But it was Bronson's to wish upon." The dragon gripped the tiny seed and crushed it between two talons. From its ashes a mist arose about the beastly horde. In fear they gasped and drew back.

            "Make your wish, my lord!" Bernoth urged. "The jewelstar will escape."

            "Then I wish for the red knight to recover. He has shown me the truth in heroic tales, and for that I owe him his life." Before the dragon horde, the strange mist wrapped itself about the body of Bronson like a comforting blanket. Fahrgon watched as Bronson drew breath and warmth once again colored his pale flesh. "Red Knight," the dragon king said as the man's eyes opened. "You have returned. I am glad." Carefully Fahrgon lifted Bronson once again into his taloned grasp. "King Midas learned his truth. And so did I."

 Thus, Fahrgon showed compassion for his enemy and his heart was healed. Gently Fahrgon carried Bronson within the dragons' lair. "I will find a place for you to rest." The king set the man down upon a shimmering rug of purest silk. About the knight glittered the jewels and gold of the beast's secret treasure.

            Bronson looked about him and goggled. "Do I have your assurances, Lord Fahrgon, that you will not now roast me in the night for your supper?"

            Fahrgon grinned a dragon's smile. "I will promise, if you will promise to tell us another tale, brave knight Bronson of Sky City."

            Bronson stood and bent low in supplication. "Of course, Sire. I would be honored." And so, Bronson the Red Knight soon recovered with the help of warm dragon breaths and company. They sat about him, amid the horde's treasure, marveling at Bronson's tales of bravery and sacrifice, of good deeds and happy endings.

            Fahrgon then agreed to take the knight home to Sky City. "Before we go, young knight, I was wondering ... What would your wish have been?" Fahrgon's cooled eyes lowered at the thought of denying the man his jewelstar.

            Bronson stood among the contented beasts and answered. "I had but one wish, my friend. To see the day when dragons and men lived in peace together. Through your actions, Lord Fahrgon, you have made that wish into truth." The dragon king, Bernoth and the others then arose to take Bronson home. In the brilliance of the warming sun, the knight rode atop Fahrgon's withers once more, this time in triumph. The sky was soon filled with the flapping wings of mighty reptiles.

            But upon the horizon rode another flight of winged beings. In the distance, Bronson saw Sky City's Angel fighter jets soaring toward Mystery Island. Before them flew the shimmering mare Destiny, returned with hope of victory. "I believe they have come to rescue me," he told Fahrgon. "They will fight your legion, my lord. We must openly draw our truce." But the dragons were unsure how to show their peaceful intentions. Bronson waved to the approaching squadron, but was unsure if the pilots would even notice him atop the monstrous creature's wide back. "I have an idea. Where do you keep your horse holding, my lord? We must free all the beasts and men which you have captured there. It will show your wish for peace."

            "What then would we do for food?" a brown speckled dragon growled. They were reluctant to sacrifice their lives for Fahrgon's loyalty.

            Bernoth spoke up in his king's defense. "Follow me.” And the legion of dragons turned in unison to soar against the rising sun. Destiny and the Angel jets followed. Soon they swooped down upon a great land of grass and trees. Here, herds of horses ran wild among the hills. To the swirling pounding mass of frightened stallions and mares Bernoth called, "In Fahrgon's name, you are all free!" The dragons then dove on Bernoth's orders. They demolished the fences which held the horses captive with great swipes of their spiked tails and fiery blasts. From atop Fahrgon's back the red knight watched as the horses whinnied and stampeded loose upon the plains, scattering to all four directions. They were freed.

            In the sky Rhapsody and the other pilots roared past the spectacle, astonished by the dragons' actions. Perhaps it was all a trick. But then the company of beasts rose again into the sky and surrounded the fighter fleet. Fahrgon soared among the jets, in an aerial dance with the planes. He expelled streams of smoke upon the air, twisting and turning as Bronson the Red Knight held tight. In his dance Fahrgon, the black dragon, spelled out the letters P-E-A-C-E. The pilots were amazed. As Fahrgon and Bernoth flanked Rhapsody, Bronson waved from atop his saurian mount and smiled at his cherished angel. "Peace!" he shouted into the chilled air. "The dragons are tamed."

            Again overwhelmed, the Angel fighter jets turned toward the dragon horde and readied their rockets in suspicion. Rhapsody called out to the beasts. "Come with us, Dragon King. Surrender to our sovereign, The Lord of the White, King Charles. Release the red knight immediately."

            "They are wary," Bronson warned his saurian friend. "Do no evil upon them, or I fear they may retaliate."

            But then one of Fahrgon's horde, the brown speckled beast, flew too close to Rhapsody's angel-winged plane and roared, "We will now starve! We have lost everything!" And in his anger the dragon spat an ice ball at the jet. Covered in this thick shroud, the angel-winged plane plummeted toward the ground.

            "No!" yelled Bronson. "We must free her, Fahrgon, before she perishes." Fahrgon and Bronson dove to the rescue. Before the other pilots, the dragon king scooped up the plane just moments before it crashed. With Fahrgon's heated breath the pilot was freed from her icy tomb. Inside the frightened woman waved her thanks to the dragon king and opened the ruined plane's escape hatch. Rhapsody Angel climbed out to join Bronson atop Fahrgon's massive shoulders. "Your charm has saved us both this day," Bronson told her. Together they flew to Sky City, and before King Charles announced their intentions to marry.

            Bronson the Red Knight was crowned king of the dragons. Fahrgon and his legion were allowed to return to Mystery Island in peace. There they vowed to share their treasures and their might in defense of Sky City and all the humans of the Earth. In return, King Bronson shared his gift of story with the tamed beasts. He reigned wisely over the island and was the dragons' brave guardian for many years hence.

            The flying mare, Destiny, was given charge of the escaped horses and told to care for them, allowing only the weak and old to be sacrificed for the dragon's food. To this day the land of Equine is guarded by the beautiful Destiny and her herd. It is said a few have even grown wings and have been seen flying among the clouds, as they do still.


*          *          *


            Captain Scarlet grew silent from his storytelling and shifted uncomfortably upon the cold hardness of the cave floor. In their confinement puddles had formed around them. Their body heat had melted the trapped ice. Yet, though their pocket in the dark was above freezing, the two prisoners were both still risking the threat of hypothermia. Beside the captain, even wrapped in the heavy coat, poor Pavel shivered uncontrollably. "Mr. Scarlet," the boy asked with a chattering of teeth. "What ever happened to Fahrgon and the red knight?"

            "They both lived a long life," Scarlet rasped, his throat dry and hoarse from the lengthy tale. "And there was peace for many generations." In the darkness of their dungeon the captain closed his eyes and rested his weary head back against the hard stone.

            "Love and forgiveness won out over hate," Pavel mumbled, his own voice but a whisper.

            Scarlet smiled at the hopeful truth of it. If only the Mysterons could be so tamed. "Yes, Pavel."

            "Are we ever going to get out of here? Maybe they have given up."

            Scarlet shivered in uncertainty. He was colder than he had ever remembered being. Chilled and sluggish, like a dragon at first light. But he assured Pavel the rescue team was still searching for them. "You see, we have something very important Earth needs." Tucking his numbed hand inside the cold-weather parka, Scarlet checked to find that the data disks were still there. "My partner will be doing all he can to recover these disks. The information on them is more important to Earth than even you or I. And we'll be here waiting when he comes for it. We're its guardians, just like Bronson was of the dragons."

            "Your partner. Adam? He is your friend. Right? Like the dragon and the knight?"

            With a nod into the darkness Scarlet explained, "Adam's my best friend. And he's just as worried about you. Don't fret, lad. He'll get us out." Soon though, the boy had stopped shivering beside him and grown quiet. Time was running out for young Pavel, Scarlet realized. But there was nothing more the Spectrum captain could do. Gathering the cold youth once again into his arms, Captain Scarlet silently awaited their happy ending.



Hope Never Surrenders


            Captain Blue's arms felt like putty from the sonic excavator's resonant vibrations. His aching shoulders seemed ready to detach. With a weary sigh he shut down the dust-encrusted machine for a respite. The man's strength and patience were wearing anorexic. "Time's running out for all of us, I think," he croaked to Yuri and the rest of the Yeminsk team. Despite a filter mask, the drifting rock dust had long ago made him hoarse. The group had been at it for well over two hours breaking down rock barriers and clearing away debris. Blue's injured shoulder and strained back ached from the weight of the device as well as from his dubious responsibility. Coughing yet again at the fine aerial assault Blue paused to catch his breath. Leaning back against the cave wall he tugged off his protective goggles and wiped the sweaty grime from his forehead. "If they're not beyond this barricade, we'll have to call off the search until Spectrum can get a real rescue crew down here."

            "But Capitan Boo," young Yuri argued a shovel in his gloved hands. "Dr. Zalianoff's son. He will be dead by then."

            With an exhausted exhale Blue shook his grimy head. "I'm sorry, son. I'm only human."

            "We cannot give up. Your Capitan Scarlet. He would not give up. He might still be alive." Behind Yuri the other men nodded in hopeful agreement.

            Tiredly Blue huffed and shoved his bulk away from the wall. "That he might," the captain contended. "But I'm doing this for Pavel and Katrina." He swung the seemingly elephantine excavator toward their rocky obstacle yet again and reactivated the controls. It was only minutes later when its sound-waves had broken through to reveal an arcing corridor of stable rock. "Yuri," Blue gasped tugging the excavator device from his slumping shoulders. "Go on ahead while Rurik, Lev and Mikael clear this debris. Let us know if you find anything."

            With a stout nod, the young man squeezed through the opening in the rock fall and jaunted off, his lantern sweeping along the dusty cave tunnel. In moments Yuri's hollow echo called back, "Nothing. But here. Another wall!"

            Blue nearly crumbled. "Damn," he groaned. "I don't know if I can keep going." The teenager was back in an instant shining his lantern through to the team. The woeful crease to the boy's bright eyes made the American captain jut out his lip in some deep-set determination. "All right, people. Let's start again. It's not breakfast time yet."

            "Captain Blue!" someone hollered from behind them. Turning the Spectrum agent discerned a blinding brightness approaching. Suited engineers, their arms laden with excavators, safety gear and high powered lanterns trotted forward. "Need a hand?" one of the men offered with a smirk. At their lapels shined the Spectrum rainbow badge.

            With a dry chuckle the captain croaked, "I’ll take a hand, an arm, a few thousand body parts. Glad to see you finally braved the weather."

            "Let's get to business, people," the Spectrum rescue team coordinator ordered. The man waved his company on through the cave opening then turned back to the exhausted Yeminsk crew. "I'm team leader Berkowitz. We'll be taking over this job." Smiling, he handed Blue and his group bottles of water and clean towels with which to wipe their filthy brows. "Glad to see you're still standing."

            "Barely. Here. I'll trade you." Blue handed the excavator over to the rescue leader. That said, Blue stumbled through to the newly opened tunnel and found a smooth spot upon the floor to plant his buttocks. He guzzled down the water and melted against the cold rock wall.

            "We've brought a stretcher and gurney to take you back up," one of the replacement crew offered the captain. "You look beat."

            "But not beaten. And I'm not leaving," Blue countered. "Yuri and I'll stay and supervise, if you don't mind." The Yeminsk teenager had plopped down beside him with a sigh.

            "Suit yourself," the man said. He handed the two each a blanket. "I'm Jarvis, a medic. This'll help keep you warm. I'd advise against sleep, though. Dangerous habit down here in this cold."

            "As tired as I am," Blue contended, "I'm even more concerned for Pavel and my partner. Don't worry. We'll be right here." With that assurance, Jarvis nodded and trotted off to assist the rescue team already busy attacking the cumbersome wall of fallen rock blocking their way to the victims. The rescue effort was perhaps still far from over.



A Happy Ending


            Captain Scarlet was roused from his stupor by strange sounds infiltrating his tomb. Voices? Slowly his consciousness became aware of human voices filtering in through his tiny air passageway. Shouting. Then the clanging of metal. Shovels? The British officer sucked in a revitalizing lungful of frigid air and tried to rise from his slouch. Something weighed him down, however. "Pavel?" The boy was unresponsive. Dead weight. "No you don't," Scarlet groaned and shook Pavel with what little strength the captain had left. "Pavel. Wake up." Nothing.

            Freeing his hands from around his precious bundle Scarlet slid the boy from his lap and rolled awkwardly onto his numbed knees. A quick check at Pavel's throat indicated a weak pulse. The captain could see, though, that the boy was unconscious and pale. Yes. Scarlet could also discern some details of their environment. A thin beam of brilliance punched through the slitted opening of their prison to illuminate the space. He glanced around their cold vault. The coat, wrapped about the child's body was battered, bloodied, and torn. But it had preserved the two most precious items in the room: Pavel and the data disks. "We're getting out of here, Pavel. Just as I promised. Captain Blue's here to rescue us."

            With the encouragement of Scarlet's voice the boy stirred toward wakefulness. Sluggish as he was Pavel smiled faintly in the filtered light from the barrier and mumbled, "The red knight and angel. They've come."

            Scarlet exhaled in grateful release and smiled. Perhaps Pavel had just finished a pleasant dream. "Yes, son," he assured. "There are indeed heroes and happy endings in this world too." With great care the Spectrum captain slid the boy safely away from the obstruction then bundled him snuggly in the coat again for their wait.

            Within an hour, the rock fall crack had been widened to a doorway. Medic Jarvis and his staff clambered into the pair's little prison bringing water and a stretcher to cradle the injured boy. Shakily, Scarlet got to his feet but refused the support of his rescuers. "Just get Pavel back to his mother. She's also his doctor."

            "Mr. Scarlet?" Pavel mumbled as Jarvis and another helper lifted the boy's stretcher up off the cold cave floor.

            "I'm right here," the captain affirmed, beside the boy in an instant, though he leaned heavily against one medic.

            Pavel's bright eyes opened and he smiled weakly. "I do believe in miracles, Mr. Scarlet. I do."

            The Spectrum captain shared the young man's dusty but grateful grin. He squeezed Pavel's shoulder in reassurance. With a simple nod, Scarlet agreed, "So do I, Pavel. So do I." He let the rescue workers hoist the boy toward the opening into the larger cavern and his freedom.

            As the excavators continued to clear away the gravel, the captain squinted past the blinding lamps and caught sight of a dark haired woman in a white coat rushing forward. She shoved herself between the rescue workers and toward the opening into the rock pocket. "Pavel?" she called. "Pavel. Are you all right?"

            "I'm here, Mama," the boy called out to her. He tried to raise his hand, but he'd been strapped down at the elbow to the stretcher.

            "Thank the stars." She tramped past Jarvis to reach out for her son. His smaller hand, scratched and dirtied, grasped back. Then, stepping from the mouth of their former prison, still clutching the battered coat, the Spectrum captain joined them. The woman watched the tall man in scarlet approach. She scrutinized his weary face, dusty but unscathed, with the critical eye of a physician. Fawn had many times studied him in the same manner. He must look a sight, the captain realized. His uniform was bloodied and ripped, but Scarlet was otherwise whole. "Captain," the woman sighed. "Thank you. For saving my son."

            "Dr. Zalianoff," Scarlet recognized. "It was your courageous son who saved me." Then a memory tickled his sluggish brain. "How's Captain Blue?"

            "In worse shape than you ought to be," Blue's familiar voice chided. From beyond the bright lanterns limped the powder-coated form of his partner. "Man, you look absolutely pale, Captain. Can I offer you a mug of hot coffee?"

            "That sounds wonderful," Scarlet contended, "but ... I'll only accept it once we're well away from this dark death trap. It's still not safe in here."

            Blue nodded his understanding. "Don't worry. Its appeal has worn thin on me too. It seems," the American captain explained, "the cave-ins were caused by other explosions from a secret weapons depot, hidden within the institute's vaulted basement. The heat from the first explosion triggered a chain reaction which set off the volatile stuff. You're both lucky to be alive."

            "Pavel was very brave." That said, the two turned to follow the retreating rescue team. Scarlet took two shaky steps and leaned against his swaying friend. Together they both nearly tottered to the ground. "Sorry," he apologized. "Must be a bit tired."

            "I know the feeling," Blue agreed. Bracing each other with a free arm, the two captains stumbled to the exit. "What a pair we must make, eh?"

            The dirtied and weary Yeminsk citizens all patted their shoulders in congratulations as they limped past. Their fumbling steps took them out into the swirling snow and iciness of a Siberian night. Scarlet took one squinting glance out into the darkness and sighed. "Didn't we just leave this place?"

            In response Blue offered a brotherly pat to Scarlet's shoulder and chuckled. As they tramped toward the waiting SPV, he teased, "You know. The colonel only authorized this emergency excavation to get those data disks back. Your rescue was just a fringe benefit, my friend."

            Scarlet feigned indignation. "So, the risk to your hide was worth another cave-in to recover them, but not me?"

            Blue grinned at his failed joke and let loose his partner to smack the hatch release on the SPV. "In any case, it's good to have you back, Paul." Then Blue waved Scarlet in ahead. "It must have been hard to keep the boy calm for all those hours," he ventured as his partner climbed inside. The American hauled himself up out of the cold wind as well, and settled into the tank's driver's seat. "So, how did you keep Pavel optimistic, anyway?"

            Gratefully Captain Scarlet slumped into the navigation chair and reached to strap himself in for the journey back to Markovo. With a tilted smile he answered, "I told him a story."

            Hitting the ignition button Blue scowled at his partner in disbelief. "A story? Which one?"

            Scarlet closed his eyes and laid his aching skull back upon the headrest. "Beowulf, of course."

            "Ah, great heroes never die! Well, then," Blue chimed in throwing the vehicle into forward drive, "do you mind if I call you Captain Scheherazade from now on?"

            Sharing his partner's good cheer, Scarlet smirked and replied, "Come on, Adam. Let's get moving. I want to be 'Far-Gone' from this place. For some reason, at the minute, pickle jars, shaken pop bottles and small airtight spaces make me a bit nervous."





            At the Soviet airbase outside Markovo, the two Spectrum captains were finally allowed to relax, handing over their SPV to another agent and boarding a plane for the bumpy ride back to Cloudbase. With hot coffee and a ham sandwich in hand, Scarlet was quickly returning to health. His extremities had already regained their warmth, and his rapid retrometabolism had done the rest to restore his vigor. His ordeal behind him, it was the British officer who assisted his American companion into their waiting Spectrum Passenger Jet. "Come on, old man," he chided. "Let's get you off to bed."

            "Very funny, Scarlet," Blue grumbled. "I'm the one who came to your rescue, if you forgot. And I also brought us here so you wouldn't be driving our SPV over any icy cliffs on the way back. Can't help it, you bounce back like a rabbit at Easter."

            Scarlet scowled as his irritable partner sank into one of the SPJ's passenger seats. "Sorry, Adam. I don't mean to take my special circumstances for granted."

            Blue slumped into his chair and strapped himself in with a heavy sigh. "Don't worry about it. It's what kept you and Pavel alive down there." After a thoughtful pause he added, "But I do have a special request."

            Sliding into a seat opposite Blue, Scarlet sipped at his coffee and smiled. "Anything, your lordship. Your wish is my command."

            Chuckling at his partner's change in attitude Captain Blue suggested, "For our long trip back, I could really use some sleep, so keep it down will ya? But first, I want a bedtime story, Captain Scheherazade."

            Grinning over the remnants of his ham sandwich Scarlet quipped, "Why not? It saved my life once. What kind of story would you like me to tell?"

            Blue's eyes were already drifting shut as their Spectrum pilot sauntered past, heading for the cockpit. "A short one, preferably," he groaned. "Oh. And one with a happy ending."

            "Why of course, Captain," Scarlet agreed. "Those're my favorite kind." With that, the British captain leaned back in his chair, finished chewing his food and began his tale of steadfast heroism and of evil vanquished. The main character was a blond-haired guardian angel that had the special talent of always being in the right place at the right time. But before three sentences were out of the Brit's mouth, Blue was already deeply breathing, fast asleep. Glancing toward his slumbering friend with a knowing and grateful eye Scarlet grew silent. Then, as an afterthought he skipped to the ending. With a compassionate smile Scarlet whispered, "And they lived happily ever after ..."



The End

Copyright January 31, 2003, Revised 2/2/12

Dragon drawings by Lora S. Irish

I'd be grateful for any feedback and comments. Please contact me at ladyhawkestorytelling@comcast.net

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