Copyright 2000, Revised Copyrights 2001, 2012
NOTE: This story takes place following, and is based on, the aired TV episodes from Century21 and Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s 1967 supermarionation series “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”. The characters and situations, too, are based on the TV series. Any discrepancies are due to this author’s ignorance and lack of information, and are not intentional changes to the Andersons’ craft. Please accept my apologies in advance and enjoy the ride!
Captain Blue stuck his blond head inside the Cloudbase lounge. “Come on, Old Buddy,” he said to the red-uniformed man seated at a couch. “Time to go.”
Captain Scarlet’s dark-haired head was bowed over a magazine. With a sigh, he set the publication down and rose from his seat. Silently the man gathered his scarlet kepi from a table and tucked it under an arm.
“What’s the matter?” Blue asked as his friend moved to follow him from the lounge. “Not excited about this assignment? It could make a real difference in our defenses, you know.”
“Don’t mind me,” Scarlet declared in his deep, British accent. “I’m not thrilled with being a guinea pig for some university scientists. Their forwarded request to the colonel states that I’m to cooperate fully. All the while, I’m not to give any of Spectrum’s secrets away. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope with my eyes blindfolded.”
“Gee,” Blue acknowledged, blinking. “I had no idea. But think of it; a Mysteron detector that can scan an entire city block at a time. It’ll be a big help when we need to quarantine an area.” Blue tilted his head and shrugged in resignation. “And as you’re the only Spectrum officer with the unique ability to trigger a Mysteron detector, I guess my being there as added security is just icing.” He finished with a grin, “You’re their cake.”
“Always the optimist,” Scarlet groaned as he followed his blue-uniformed friend through the corridors of Spectrum’s Cloudbase to the airbase carrier’s launching deck.
Colonel White was sending Captains Blue and Scarlet to observe a new wide-band Mysteron detector installed at Long Island University in New York for tests. The detector, designed to sweep an enlarged area as compared to a single individual, would be a boon for Spectrum. A device able to discriminate a Mysteron reconstruction from a normal human was one of only a few defenses the Spectrum organization and Earth had against this alien enemy.
Since their inadvertent discovery and the accidental destruction of the Mysteron base on Mars, this invisible, alien force had issued a vengeful ultimatum against Earth. All life on the planet was to be destroyed, slowly and by one nerve-wracking target at a time.
Now, some scientists had expanded the capabilities of the existing Mysteron detector, adapting its sweeping camera-like readout to analyze a much larger area. No longer would the enemy have to be within sight and aim of a detector. Now powerful but harmless X-ray photons could be emitted and sent out over a perimeter the size of a football field. Scarlet himself was crucial to the testing of this new device. During the last weeks in August, the university’s summer hiatus, there were no students and only minimum staff. With few other bodies present to be exposed to the radioactive photons, the calibration of the device would be maximized. Upon their arrival, the two Spectrum officers were to oversee these trial experiments, using Scarlet as the test subject.
The two Spectrum officers met the scientific team which had developed the device at their science laboratory complex on the far side of the main campus. They shared handshakes with Doctors Hanson, Daugherty, and Terrell. Blue and Scarlet were then given a tour of the detector room.
“Wow,” Blue breathed when he saw the size of the machine. “It’s not exactly portable, is it?” He strolled alongside the eight foot high casing that housed the detector’s working parts. “How will this be practical in the field?”
“Eventually, we’ll be able to reduce its size,” assured Dr. Dougherty sweeping back gangly, non-professorial bangs from his wide-rimmed glasses. “Then it can be installed in a specially designed vehicle and driven to a site for deployment.”
“It’ll be most effective in scanning city streets and metropolitan areas,” Dr. Terrell told them reaching a dark hand over and opening the control panel. “Once we’ve calibrated the machine to your special qualities, Captain Scarlet, we can work on fine-tuning the detector for widespread use.”
Scarlet nodded peeking inside the intricate casing of wires and fiber-optic filaments. “Spectrum is eager to make use of your machine here, Doctors. In our encounters with the Mysterons we’ve been sorely handicapped. A Mysteron reconstruction of a person is almost totally complete. There’s no telling who is a Mysteron and who isn’t without the detector.”
“Well, then,” Dr. Hanson spoke up with just a twist of an eager smirk, “shall we get started?”
Scarlet sucked in a slow breath. “What do you need me to do?” The scientists explained their intentions. Scarlet was to flank out over the campus in a glorified game of hide and seek. Once hidden, the detector would be activated, scanning the area for Scarlet’s unique Mysteron-like signature. It was Captain Blue’s job, then, to keep in radio contact with the scientists and physically locate his comrade to verify the accuracy of the device.
“Well, then,” Blue chimed in enthusiastically clapping and rubbing his palms together. “Let’s go. I’m the cat hunting the mouse.” Again there was the American’s cheerful grin.
“At least one of us will be enjoying this mission,” Scarlet uttered under his breath. He adjusted his cap atop his head and straightened his wide shoulders. “Just call me Mickey.”
“One thing first, Captain,” Terrell urged waving Scarlet to an adjoining room. “We need you to submit to some physiological tests. We require blood and tissue samples before we send you out.”
Scarlet blinked. “I… I thought Dr. Fawn forwarded samples to you three weeks ago.”
Terrell nodded. “That’s true, but we require fresh samples with which to calibrate the machine. Colonel White did tell you we would require your full cooperation.” The doctor tilted his dark, curly head at the Spectrum officer as if in challenge.
Frowning Scarlet could not protest. Colonel White had insisted he comply fully with whatever procedures the scientists deemed pertinent. “I’ll cooperate, of course, Doctor.” With a reluctant glance his partner’s way, he followed Terrell into the adjacent lab where the doctor’s medical equipment sat waiting. Stoically the British captain hopped atop a diagnostic bed and allowed Terrell to take both skin scrapings and blood samples from his bared left arm. When the doctor turned away, Scarlet quickly rolled the sleeve down to hide the already healing injury. After some medical history questions about childhood illnesses, he was finally dismissed. Dr. Daugherty then sent him out for the first trial.
Within the hour Captain Scarlet was strolling the campus, his blue eyes scanning the silent buildings and swaying trees. A dark curtain of clouds was roiling in from the southwest. It seemed a summer thunderstorm was brewing. Perhaps the day’s tests would be abridged.
Scarlet pondered the darkening sky and released a decisive sigh. For his initial destination he chose the first floor lounge of the university library. Blue soon found him. “Looks like I’ll need to be more challenging,” Scarlet contended from a cushioned chair. He raised his scanning eyes from the book propped on his lap. “So, the machine works?”
Blue plopped down on the arm of the chair beside him and rubbed the back of his neck. “Actually,” he admitted, “the scientists were using infrared this time. They had the detector on, but they wanted to double-check using the heat sensors. I’m afraid to say; we cheated.”
“Some cat you make,” Scarlet harangued smacking the book’s cover shut. He rose from his chair with a disgruntled huff. “Next time tie a string to my waist and just follow that.”
In response, Blue’s head snapped back. “What’s that supposed to mean? Do you really feel like a guinea pig? This device is crucial in our fight against the Mysterons, Paul. You can’t deny it."
Scarlet scowled. “Turn off your mike first,” he advised. When Blue tugged off the borrowed university headset, Scarlet released a tensed breath before continuing. “I understand what we’re doing here, Adam. I just don’t think these doctors need to know everything about me.” He paused to spread his arms in emphasis. “About my … condition.”
Blue tilted his head. “What else did Dr. Terrell want from you besides your blood? Was he too inquisitive?”
Scarlet swung a limb in dismissal. “No more than his curiosity allowed, I suppose,” he admitted. “It’s just that I’ve got a feeling they’re going to insist I disclose classified data. The Colonel made it implicit that I only reveal as much as a low level clearance Spectrum officer would have access to.”
“That’s not much. Even Spectrum police know more than that about your special recuperative abilities.”
“Yes, but they’re not aware that I’m indestructible. These scientists have no need for that information.” Scarlet counted out the details on his fingers to his comrade. “Yes, I was taken by the Mysterons. Yes, I regained control of my body and mind. Yes, I have retained certain Mysteron traits, such as being impervious to X-rays. That’s all that’s required to assist these men with the wide-band detector. No more.”
“Well, then,” Blue defended, “that’s all you give them. If they push any harder, have them contact Cloudbase themselves to confirm your orders.” Scarlet nodded silently and together they returned to the science building and Dr. Hanson’s lab.
“Very good, Gentlemen,” Hanson congratulated as Blue slipped the headset back onto his cap. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you just how we were able to find you, Captain.” Hanson went into a long-winded explanation of his prized machine. The speech was far more suited to a board meeting proposal than a review of procedure. Both Blue and Scarlet endured the lecture stoically; they then prepared to repeat the test. Once again Scarlet was left to wander the campus grounds in search of a hiding spot.
It was during this second venture that Scarlet was to meet his true destiny on this mission. As he strolled the tree-lined walkways he caught sight of a single jogger coursing around the campus’ athletic field. The figure’s round hips and swaying golden braid immediately gave the woman away. Who was she? Scarlet had been under the impression the campus was deserted except for the scientists conducting their experiments. Perhaps she was a town resident who made free use of the campus facilities. She was obviously unaware of the trials being governed by the university staff. Torn between warning her she may inadvertently be interfering with the scientists’ work and finding his hiding place, Scarlet chose the latter. He would, however, advise the doctors of her existence once back in the lab.
It took Captain Blue longer this time to find and confirm for the doctors Scarlet’s new location. As they stood together atop the Liberal Arts building watching the approaching storm from the windswept roof, Blue offered, “Maybe we should have some rules about your chosen hiding places, Captain. Climbing sixteen flights of stairs and two utility shafts isn’t my cup of tea.”
“I prefer Earl Grey, myself,” Scarlet ventured scanning their heightened horizon.
“Hey, food. That sounds like a plan. It must be nearly five-thirty.” Blue turned his attention to the remote microphone hooked to his Spectrum cap. “Dr. Hanson, are there any dinner arrangements for us?” Blue listened for a moment then frowned. “He says the campus cafeteria is available, but the area restaurants are better fare. What’s your fancy?”
Scarlet sighed tasting the ozone of the now rumbling thunderstorm against his dry tongue. “I’d prefer we stay on campus if possible. There’s little need to advertise our presence here.”
With a grudging pout Blue agreed. “If I’d thought about it more, I would have brought along some civvies. These uniforms are rather conspicuous.”
“Official business. Yes,” Scarlet mused and turned to descend the utility ladder down from the roof.
Once they had returned to the campus courtyard, Blue continued his verbal wandering. “You know this could be a new venue for our military drills,” he offered as they headed back toward the science building. “A college campus no doubt has thousands of maintenance sheds, generator bunkers, and storage closets.” He swept his hand wide. “It’d be a boon for mock battle and search and rescue games.” Scarlet silently remained non-committal.
As they stepped around the corner of the science building, however, Scarlet suddenly flinched and ducked aside as a woman strode into him from the opposite direction.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Gentlemen,” she stuttered her arms raised defensively. “I … I was in a hurry to get back to my bungalow. It seems I’m cooking you dinner. You don’t really want what slop the students are willing to pour down their gullets.”
“Excuse me?” Scarlet inquired his hand sliding from her arm where he had moved to cushion their collision.
“Oh, how awkward of me,” she said brushing aside a stray golden hair before raising her right hand in introduction. “I’m Dr. Laurel Tighor. I’m a resident here. Psychology professor. Almost tenured, I might add. I’ve been helping the scientists during the summer holiday.”
Captain Blue took her hand when Scarlet hesitated. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Tighor,” he said in his most charming voice. “I’m Captain Blue and this is Captain Scarlet of Spectrum. We’re here to assist the scientists as well. You know of their work?”
The medium-built woman shrugged her slender shoulders as she grabbed to shake Scarlet’s hand. “Mostly I’m their gofer. It pays the extra bills: running errands, fixing coffee. It’s not glamorous, but better than finding a cheap summer job in town.”
Blue blinked beside his stoic partner. “Did you say something about dinner?”
“Well, yeah. I heard you ask about the food facilities. Since you’re here on official duty, I figured you wouldn’t want to go into town, so I’m making dinner. How’s corned beef and cabbage sound? I can have it ready in an hour.”
“Fine,” Blue answered slowly. “Unexpected, but appreciated. Thank you.”
“Sure,” the woman chimed with a cheerful grin. “My bungalow’s on the edge of the athletic fields.” She pointed out past the Liberal Arts building. “Over there. I’ll see you in about an hour? If it’s OK with your superiors, I’ll even have a little Chablis cooled. I don’t often get such distinguished guests.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Blue answered with a charming smile. “We’ll check in with Dr. Hanson and see you in an hour.” Touching his cap visor, Blue gave her a little bow as Dr. Tighor trotted away to make their meal possible. Her swinging braid waved them good-bye. Blue next hooked a hand around Scarlet’s arm steering him toward the science building’s entrance. “Come on, Old Buddy. We have a dinner date.” The two Spectrum officers strode in to report to their overseers.
After a lengthy debriefing and a preliminary calibration for the next morning’s run, the three scientists excused the officers for the evening. “We’ll reconvene at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. By then the storm will have cleared out. All that electrical energy, unfortunately, confuses our locator. We’re contemplating ideas on how to overcome this limitation. Tomorrow should be a better day, sunny and cooler.”
After saying their good evenings, Scarlet hesitantly followed Blue out into the drizzly rain of the arriving thunderstorm. “Do you think this a good idea?”
“What do you mean? Aren’t you hungry? How often do you get a genuine, home-cooked meal?”
Scarlet paused in his trek. “It’s just that we weren’t properly invited,” he contended. “We don’t know this woman.”
Blue turned to consider his friend with a cock-eyed glance. “She’s psychology professor, Laurel Tighor, almost tenured. And she can cook. She’s also rather pleasant to talk with, and look at. What else do you need to know?”
“What exactly is her involvement with these experiments? I saw her jogging around the track this afternoon, while I was looking for my second target. She could have been assisting the scientists with my surveillance.”
“You sound paranoid, my friend,” Blue attested, laying a hand atop Scarlet’s shoulder. “Do you really think the scientists have some hidden agenda?”
“I’m not so sure,” Scarlet admitted. “But I’m going to find out. One way or another.”
“Then,” Blue countered cheerfully patting his companion’s shoulder, “start with Dr. Tighor. She seems genial enough. Ask her what’s on your mind and see how she answers.”
Scarlet nodded slightly. It was possible the woman knew very little, therefore his suspicion would be unfounded. Besides, he was hungry, and it wouldn’t hurt to discuss some things regarding the university with someone more direct and less loquacious than Dr. Hanson.
At her campus bungalow on the perimeter of the football fields, the college professor waved them in with a greeting smile and offered the hospitality of her petite dining room and kitchen along with a home-cooked meal. The smell of the traditional Irish fare wafted about the home like a welcoming hug. Dinner was ultimately to be accompanied by Nature’s symphony as thunder drums rolled and percussive rain tapped out its rhythms upon the windowpanes of the little house. At the table Scarlet graciously finished his plate but declined a second helping. Blue, however, fawned over Tighor’s culinary skills and cheerfully took another plateful. Dinner was indeed more enticing than the prospect of using the cafeteria passes the campus administrators and scientists had provided. Conversation, however, was less hearty. Prof. Tighor was polite and prudent in her questions. Mostly she inquired about their work and home aboard Spectrum’s Cloudbase.
“It is an unusual home,” Blue admitted between mouthfuls, “but it’s where we’re stationed most of the time, when we’re not on a mission.”
“And the Mysterons choose targets which take you all over the globe,” Tighor surmised. “Your jobs sound exciting, but dangerous. Have you ever worried about being killed or taken over by the Mysterons? Don’t they brainwash you or something?”
“Something,” Scarlet offered dabbing his napkin over his lips.
Blue was more forthcoming. “The Mysterons are a threat to Earth. It’s our job to thwart their plans when we can. In securing the safety of our planet, we’re willing to risk our lives. It’s our job.”
Tighor’s hazel eyes shifted to the silent man in scarlet. “How about you, Captain? Do you feel the same way about risking your life?” She scooped into her cabbage for another dainty bite.
Scarlet took a sip from his wine glass before answering. “My dedication to Spectrum and its purpose is unfailing, Miss Tighor. It’s vital we not relax our vigilance.”
Blue stabbed his jaw in his friend’s direction. “Always on duty, I’m afraid. But enough about us. How is it you’ve come to live here on campus? Are you the only professor who does?”
“Actually, no, but the others are off on sabbaticals, research excursions, or extravagant vacations. As a junior professor, I can’t afford to fly off to such exotic destinations. This is my home.” She stared into her glass and fell silent.
“Well, it’s a nice home,” Blue offered quietly. “Cozy.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Tighor said with a slight blush. “I’m glad you could join me tonight. It’s been pleasant to share the quiet. How long will you both be here?”
“Once Dr. Hanson has completed his experiments,” Scarlet explained, “we’ll be returning to Cloudbase.”
“They’re using you to calibrate their Mysteron detector,” she surmised. “There’s something special about you, isn’t there?”
Scarlet swallowed his last drop of Chablis then rose from his seat. “I’m sorry, Dr. Tighor, but that’s classified.”
The woman leaned back in her chair as if to rise also. “I didn’t mean to pry, Captain. It’s just that I get the feeling you’d rather be somewhere else. They’re using your skills somehow, and they don’t really appreciate those gifts. I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable. That’s why I offered dinner. We’re not all competitive stodges here in the states.”
“We thank you for your hospitality. Dinner was excellent,” Scarlet acknowledged placing his napkin atop the table. “And now we will say good evening.”
“Wait, Captain,” Blue interrupted rising also. “It’s turned into a pleasant evening. The clouds have cleared and the sun’s just setting. I’d like to offer our host a walk about campus. She could probably offer you some pointers on some good hiding places.”
“That would be nice,” Tighor agreed. “With the storm passed, it’s cooling nicely outside. There’s a good place to watch the sunset just out past my garden.” Scarlet only nodded and moved to let her up. The two men followed her outside. Guiding them out to the football field fence, she slid through the entrance and showed them to the bleachers. “From up here the color changes are silhouetted against the technology and science buildings. It’s really quite dramatic with the sycamore trees framing the field.”
From their perches Blue and Tighor pleasantly discussed the history of the campus and her teaching duties. Beside them Captain Scarlet silently allowed himself the satisfaction of watching the cloud-framed sky transform from shades of gray to vibrant pinks, oranges, and purples. “An entire spectrum of colors,” he mused to himself.
“Yes,” Tighor agreed. When he turned his head to consider her dreamy countenance she blushed. “I’m sorry. I guess you were talking to yourself.”
“I … uh, enjoyed dinner very much,” Scarlet heard himself say. The woman’s corn-silken hair was aglow in the remnants of the day. Twilight stars seemed to glisten in her bright, intelligent eyes. “Thank you again for your hospitality, Miss Tighor.” He rose from his seat and offered her his hand up. She took it and smoothly stood to escort them down from the bleachers to the damp grassy field.
“There are many places where you could hide to test the detector, Captain,” she offered once they’d rejoined her. “Don’t worry. I won’t tip you off to Dr. Hanson either. If you’ll follow me, I’d be happy to show you a few choice spots.”
“In that case, maybe I better head back to our dorm rooms,” suggested Blue. “I wouldn’t want to fowl the test results by knowing your plans, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet hesitated. “I… I think perhaps we could arrange for such a tour in the morning,” he countered. “Miss Tighor seems a little tired.”
“I guess I am,” she agreed, “but I’ve survived all-nighters before, especially around grading deadline. Some of those sophomore papers are grueling to read.”
Blue chuckled. “From what you’ve been telling me, you seem quite capable of tweaking your students into shape. They could learn a lot from you, Doctor.”
Tighor smiled brilliantly at the blond man then returned cooler eyes to Scarlet. “If you want to wait until morning, I understand, Captain. I’ll say good night, then.” She offered her hand again to the tall, dark-haired officer. This time Scarlet took it in his and bent to kiss her smooth skin. She breathed only once he was finished his bow.
“Good night, Doctor Tighor,” he said and straightened to consider his partner.
“Good night, Dear Lady,” Blue chimed with a broad smile. Tipping his cap he then stepped to join Scarlet on their trek across campus to the four-story dormitory which was their temporary home. As they matched steps Blue ventured, “She was taken by you, I think. Every chance she got across the table she stole a glance.”
“I didn’t notice,” Scarlet stated his eyes keen on the darkened path. As they neared the lighted buildings he cocked his head to admit, “She was rather pleasant company. The sunset suited her well.”
Blue only smiled knowingly and said nothing as they pivoted toward the dormitory and scaled the steps to their first floor rooms. They exchanged not another word until morning.
The next day Captain Blue received an early call from Cloudbase. “Return here for a new assignment, Captain,” Colonel White ordered through Blue’s cap mike. “You and Captain Grey are to set off on another mission.”
“What is it, Sir?” Blue asked tugging on his boots. “I thought I was needed here.”
“Not any more, it seems. Dr. Hanson has asked to retain only Captain Scarlet for the next several days. You’ll report to Cloudbase immediately. I’ll brief you once you arrive.”
“SIG, Colonel,” Blue replied as his cap mike swung back to his visor. “Well,” he mumbled. “Paul won’t like this either.” The Spectrum officer finished his grooming and strode next door to Scarlet’s room. When he knocked on the door, his friend stepped out ready for the day. “You’re not going to like this,” Blue warned. “I’ve been recalled to Cloudbase. You’re to remain here to finish the experiments.”
“Was this the Colonel’s idea?” Scarlet asked turning to exit the building with Blue in tow.
“Not sure. I don’t think so,” Blue confirmed. “The Colonel said something about Dr. Hanson’s request that you stay on. I’ll find out more once I get back to base. I’m being reassigned with Captain Grey.”
“Well,” Scarlet breathed as they stepped out into the cool morning mist. Several feisty chickadees were popping from perch to perch in the lower branches of the nearest maple. The sun was slowly peeking through the dampness, promising a vibrant August day. “I’ll see you later then.”
“SIG,” Blue answered pausing at the base of the steps. “Please send my regrets to Dr. Tighor. I was looking forward to another home-cooked meal.”
“And another pleasant conversation?” Scarlet challenged with a smirk.
“Of course,” Blue quipped. With a wave he headed off toward the parking garage where sat their Spectrum saloon. In effect Scarlet was now stranded on campus.
Captain Scarlet returned to the science lab where he found Dr. Hanson half engulfed by his monstrous machine. “Reporting for duty, Doctor,” he announced. Hanson withdrew from the massive casing three tools in his hands.
“Very good, Captain. I’ll be sending you out shortly. There’s a bit of adjustment due to the storm last night. We’ll be ready to go in an hour or so.”
Scarlet’s eyes creased in concern. “Does the device require such adjustments often, Sir?” An unreliable machine was a lost investment.
Hanson only shook his head and bent back inside the casing. “That isn’t your worry right now, Captain. Dr. Tighor will be accompanying you. She told me this morning she has some suggestions for you. I trust her judgment.”
“Then, if you’ll excuse me, Sir. I need to update my superior.” Scarlet moved away to a more private corner and hailed Colonel White. “Sir,” he began, “Dr. Hanson has arranged for more drills this morning. Captain Blue has left as per your orders. I was wondering if there was anything else required of me here.”
Colonel White reminded, “You are to assist Dr. Hanson and his team with whatever exercises he deems crucial to the peak operation of the detector. That seems clear-cut to me, Captain.”
“But Sir, Dr. Hanson is not exactly forthcoming with his analysis. I was under the impression Captain Blue was to remain as added security.”
“Do I need to remind you of the importance of this new device?” White asked irritation evident in the older man’s terse exchange.
“I’m ordering you to cooperate with the campus scientists. When Dr. Hanson is finished, you will be granted return to Cloudbase. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Sir.” Silently Scarlet scowled at the turn of events. He was alone now, with a group of scientists who were not members of his organization and yet currently held pre-eminence.
Dr. Terrell soon arrived to order more tissue and blood samples for further fine tuning of the machine. Scarlet disliked the scrutiny, and he deflected some of the scientist’s many questions by quoting Spectrum security requirements. Because of the man’s curiosity, however, Scarlet felt there was definitely something amiss. His sixth sense many times warned him to be cautious around the Mysterons, yet that inner warning system had never been specific enough to indicate the cause of his worry. For now, it was a creeping itch behind his ears that alerted him to continue his vigilance.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tighor met him in the medical lab. “Good morning, Captain,” she greeted with a cheerful smile. Scarlet hopped from the table and nodded his greeting pressing the bandage over his already scabbing needle mark.
“Good morning.” Tugging down his black turtleneck sleeve the Spectrum officer reached for his vest jacket.
“I don’t suppose Dr. Hanson offered you any breakfast.”
“No,” he had to admit zipping up his vest.
“Well, we have time. How about I treat you to an American staple?”
“A staple? Is it edible?”
“Only if you don’t look at it.” Tighor chuckled. “It’s called an Egg McMuffin.” She offered her arm. “Do you drink coffee, Captain?”
Scarlet hesitated before holding out his elbow. “I’ve been known to accept such a lesser fare,” he said with a crooked smile.
“Good. I know you don’t want to be conspicuous, so we’ll use the drive-thru.” They took her VW Beetle into town and were back within the hour having partaken of a simple meal and strong coffee.
Scarlet sipped the potent brew and knew the caffeine would kick in soon enough. Dr. Hanson then sent him out to choose a new hiding place. Dr. Tighor strolled at his side. “Do you know why Dr. Hanson’s changed his plans? Recalled Captain Blue to Cloudbase?”
Innocently Tighor shook her head and sipped at the remainder of her breakfast. “He doesn’t tell me much. I’m just a helper. But I do know Dr. Terrell is very interested in his test results of the blood samples he’s taken from you.” Her hazel eyes were earnest when she stated, “There’s definitely something special about you, Captain Scarlet. Why else would they be using you to calibrate a Mysteron detector?”
Scarlet knew she wanted him to offer an explanation, but he couldn’t indulge her. Instead he said, “Forgive me, Doctor, but I’m not authorized to inform you of my qualifications on this mission. Suffice it to say, I’m the only one who could assist Dr. Hanson with these drills.”
“I see,” Tighor mused with pursed lips. “I can respect that. I’m just a pre-tenured prof trying to earn a few extra dollars to pay for my jalopy. What do you Brits call a car? A saloon? How charming.”
“You’re patronizing me,” Scarlet accused his chin dipping toward his chest.
Tighor smiled. “I’m sorry. You’re just so damned proper. I can’t tell if it’s your Spectrum training or your English upbringing.” She paused upon the brick path. “I don’t even know your first name, and we’ve had two meals together now.”
“I’m here on official business, Doctor-“
“Please, call me Laurel,” she interrupted. “I don’t have to be proper. They don’t pay me enough, and I don’t even have a title during this drill, as you call it.”
Scarlet hesitated before countering in earnest. “I … I uh, don’t feel it proper to disrespect your title, Doctor. After all, you earned it.”
“I see, Captain. And I suppose you traded in your given name when you joined Spectrum? Seems dehumanizing.” She took in a deep, refocusing breath before suggesting, “There’s a storage bunker behind this maintenance building. It’s as good a place to hide as any.”
As the next two days passed, Tighor continued to bring Scarlet meals. She was also asked to assist the scientists from time to time as a human indicator for the Mysteron detector. Together she and Scarlet walked the campus, Tighor helping him find even better hiding places in their game of cat and mouse. She showed Scarlet little-known storage bunkers and underground maintenance tunnels. The added and varying material barriers were good indicators of the detector’s limitations and true field value.
Soon Scarlet knew the campus almost as well as Tighor did. He was also beginning to know this kind and intelligent woman better. Despite her forced coolness, Scarlet enjoyed her company and conversations. She was still curious about his work, though she was not as persistent in expecting his answers. Scarlet relaxed enough in his trust by the third day to pleasantly share what he could with her, including some non-classified highlights of his missions with Captain Blue.
Within the week, Spectrum received a communiqué from the Mysterons. Colonel White contacted Scarlet to inform him of the ultimatum. “Regrettably, it seems the aliens are aware of this new technology,” he said through Scarlet’s cap mike. “We believe they’re planning to destroy the site and all the personnel involved. You are therefore ordered to assist the scientists in removing and relocating the detector and all relevant data to a more secured site. A Spectrum transport truck will arrive within two hours. This is now a Spectrum operation, Captain Scarlet. I’m putting you in charge. Captains Blue and Grey will be en route to you shortly.”
“Yes, Sir,” Scarlet answered pausing from his trek across the campus square. “We’ll get to work immediately making the machine as portable as possible.” As his cap mike swung up to his visor Scarlet looked down at his watch. It was now nineteen-thirty hours. Scarlet moved to inform the scientists and Dr. Tighor of the grim news. He next busied himself with the dangerous job of first securing, then hoisting and maneuvering the monstrous detector over a pallet for transport. Within the adjacent medical lab, Dr. Terrell and his small medical team scrambled to collect all their data and pertinent equipment for the move. They had less than two hours now to pack every bit of evidence of their hard work.
Scarlet was just checking the overhead winch for stability before lowering the four ton machine when he heard a door fly open and a gunshot from the medical lab. When Tighor yelped in alarm Scarlet ducked behind the dangling machine, instinctively drawing his gun. He slunk forward toward the medical lab’s door. Peeking low, he saw a campus guard holding Tighor hostage. “Come in, Captain Scarlet,” the man said. “We have a job for you as well. Drop your weapon, or the woman dies.”
It was clear several of the campus security guards had been taken over by the Mysterons. Scarlet scanned the room to assess the situation. Guns drawn, the agents had apparently stormed the room from an outer access-way. Dr. Terrell had fallen to a shot immediately. The man was curled into an immobile ball before the diagnostic bed at the lab’s center. The other scientists and assistants were being guarded at gunpoint along the far wall.
Scarlet had been caught off guard. Now he had little choice.
Cautiously the Spectrum captain stood and stepped into the room, wary that there were four guns against his one. He was stalled from taking action. Raising his hands defenselessly, Scarlet let his weapon drop to the floor with a solid clatter. The Mysteron agents, then, confidently prepared to set their shoebox-sized bomb. When two of the four moved into the adjacent detector room, Scarlet saw his chance to rescue Tighor and the scientists. “What do you want?” he asked hands still in the air.
“Your detector and everyone here will be destroyed, Earthman”, the security sergeant assured from behind the still captive Tighor. “Only you will survive to tell of the tragedy.”
So, this man was Scarlet’s target. He had to get Tighor away so he could dive for his gun and take the man out. Furiously his mind fought against his greater objective. The young professor was but one life. The wide-band Mysteron detector could save millions.
The Mysteron agent with Tighor pointed his gun toward the Spectrum officer. “Step inside the detector room, Captain. Don’t worry. Dr. Tighor and I will be right behind you.”
Cautiously, Scarlet complied, hands up and eyes over his shoulder to see that the woman psychologist was still unharmed. “Why don’t you let the woman go?” he offered to the shadowing Mysteron agent. “She has nothing to do with these trials. She’s an innocent, Sergeant. Release her and I’ll cooperate.”
The security sergeant just smiled assuredly. “Oh, you’ll cooperate. You have no choice.” As they stepped past the winch control panel, however, Scarlet dropped his arm to smash the release button with one balled fist. The heavy, clawed winch released its burden and the Mysteron detector dropped the remainder of the distance to the floor with a pallet-smashing crash.
“Move!” Scarlet ordered shoving Tighor aside as the sergeant was distracted and the two agents setting the bomb found their feet agonizingly trapped beneath the four ton machine. In the chaos Scarlet swung his fist low and doubled the sergeant. In the next movement he grabbed for the man’s gun. “Laurel!” he hollered as the sergeant rose to continue their hand-to-hand battle. “Take the scientists. Get out of here. Now!” Scarlet shot the agent twice; he then turned to dispose of the two trapped bombardiers. All the while, the bomb, attached to the detector’s side casing, clicked down its timer. Scarlet glanced at the digital screen. He had two minutes to deactivate the explosive or get clear.
Tighor suddenly shrieked from the other room. “Captain!” Scarlet’s feet slid indecisively upon the cold tile floor of the detector room as another shot echoed from the medical lab. If the Mysteron detector was destroyed, many months of work would have been wasted. If the scientists survived, those months would not have been in vain. They could always build another machine. Human life was more precious than any mechanism.
Therefore Scarlet scrambled for the adjacent medical lab. He found Dr. Hanson struggling with the remaining Mysteron agent, gun swinging wildly in the air between their clutched fingers. Dr. Daugherty was slumped in a corner bleeding from a wound to his side. “Help us!” Tighor demanded, her own feet scampering forward for a break in the struggle to assist the doctor with his assailant. Scarlet aimed his borrowed gun and hit the Mysteron fully in the back. The struggle was stalled.
“Now get out of here,” he ordered. “I’ll try and disconnect the bomb.” Scarlet turned back to the detector room.
“I’m coming too,” Tighor stated, following him into the larger, dimmer space. Her hand gripped his arm with surprising determination.
“No.” Scarlet jerked free from her grasp. “There’s less than a minute to go. Get to safety, Laurel.” With a shake of her head, she continued her retreat with him. There was no time for further argument. But as they approached the machine, an explosion rocked the medical lab. They were both thrown to the ground.
“My God,” Tighor gasped from the floor. “Drs. Hanson and Daugherty.” As they climbed back to their feet Scarlet clutched at her arm and shoved her away.
“Leave. There’s no time.” The captain turned to remove the detonator casing from the attached bomb. As he clutched it, however, he was met by a jolting shock. Scarlet was not even aware of his body being tossed like a rag doll. He hit the ground with a lung-crushing thud. Nearly knocked unconscious he felt hands frantically tugging him up off the floor.
“No time left,” Tighor groaned in his ear. The counter was clocking down quickly. “Follow me.” As he awkwardly stumbled after the woman, Scarlet was only aware of the squeaking of a heavy door. In the next moment, the detector bomb detonated.
Debris and shrapnel flew everywhere. Beside Scarlet Tighor screamed and a heavy weight fell upon him. It was many moments before the captain could move, and then only with the sharp agony of injury. All around him rubble was falling. A thick dust blacked out all light and air. If they stayed where they lay, they would be suffocated, buried alive. The bomb had nearly destroyed the room. The entire building might even collapse next.
“Dr. Tighor?” His voice was hoarse from dust and pain. In the hazy light, Scarlet knew she had fallen on top of him, perhaps saving him from further injury. As it was, his left arm was gashed and bleeding. It wouldn’t respond to his commands to gently push the woman from him so that he might drag her to safety. With determination, he wriggled free and stumbled to his feet. “Laurel?” He checked the crumpled woman’s pulse. She was still alive, but there was no doubt to her injury. Scarlet’s eyes scanned the wreckage of the room. Beside him a steel door lay open. A storage bunker? Was this where she had been guiding him? Taking her arm in his good hand, Scarlet dragged Tighor further inside the steel and concrete vault. Before the rest of the building could be destroyed, he kicked aside debris to drag the door shut with a loud clank. They were sheltered for the moment.
From inside the hidden bunker, no larger than a walk-in closet, Scarlet heard more explosions. He was sure there was nothing left of the detector now or of the scientists. He wasn’t sure, however, if the Mysteron threat was over. More agents could be outside the science building even now looking for him and the woman. Blearily, the captain made Dr. Tighor as comfortable as possible, gritting his teeth as he tugged his jacket vest off to cover her limp form. In the blackness, Scarlet could not tell the extent of her injuries. When he tried to call Cloudbase for assistance, he realized his cap was missing. Somehow it had fallen from his head in the scramble. He didn’t have his gun either; and when he clambered back to his feet in the cramped space, he couldn’t open the door again. His good hand pressed against the cold metal, the Spectrum captain could feel through the barrier the vibrations of more falling debris. They were trapped, perhaps even now running out of air inside the cave-like vault.
Within this steel sanctuary, Scarlet fought to stay conscious. As he awkwardly ripped at his sleeve to bandage his mangled arm, part of him wanted to dig out and stop the Mysterons. Part of him had accepted his defeat. He stayed vigilantly by Tighor’s side. He dared not try to attend to her wounds. He might complicate any internal injuries she had sustained. With a scrap of sleeve and gentle pressure, he could only hold back her bleeding side. In her drifting consciousness and pain Tighor mumbled unintelligibly. Scarlet carefully wiped her slack face of dust and blood. Verbally he assured her, “Someone will report the explosions to the authorities. A rescue squad shall come for us soon.” Somehow his promises sounded hollow, more to appease his own guilt. Captain Scarlet would, after all, survive.
It seemed an hour had passed or more when, dozing, he was jolted awake by Tighor’s groan of pain. “I’m here,” he told her fumbling in the darkness for her hand. “We’re safe. The Mysterons can’t hurt you.” He was just able to make out in the dimness her head moving and eyes opening. Finally she was conscious.
“I … I don’t want to die,” she croaked. Coughing harshly Tighor gasped against her injuries. “Are you afraid too?”
Scarlet thought quickly. He was indestructible. No matter what injuries he had sustained since regaining his body and memory from the Mysterons, he had healed within hours or days. “I fear many things,” he admitted truthfully.
Weakly her hand rose to brush past his arm. Scarlet grunted and jerked his injury away. “You’re hurt too,” Tighor whispered. “You … you saved my life, Captain. Thank you.”
“Paul. Call me Paul. And you saved me, remember?” Scarlet squeezed her hand with his good fist. “Don’t worry. Someone will be here soon to help.”
Even in the darkness, he could tell she was smiling. It was something in her voice. “I knew you were a good spirit, Captain. Paul. From the time I bumped you.” Tighor groaned in obvious discomfort and tried to adjust her legs upon the cold concrete floor. “I think it was your eyes.” It seemed she was pondering incoherently. “They captured me … from that first moment.” As she drifted back to unconsciousness Scarlet frowned. He was well aware of the mortality she was experiencing. He was also painfully alert that, because of his singular negligence, the scientists were dead and Tighor would probably follow. Why hadn’t he anticipated the attack? His guilt-wracked mind tried to discover just where he had gone wrong in allowing the Mysterons to storm the lab without his knowledge.
As minutes ticked by, however, Scarlet knew Tighor was losing her battle with death. Where the hell were the rescue teams? Where were the ambulances? Weren’t there any police scouring the wreckage for survivors? Shoving himself to his feet in the cramped space and darkness he again pressed his weight upon the unyielding barrier to their bunker. Though he contemplated the futility, Scarlet pounded the cold metal with a wavering fist.
No one had come for them. Perhaps no one would have known where to look. He leaned heavily against the door feeling his knees give way beneath him. Scarlet, too, was finding defeat against his injury. It drained his strength. Though he had bound the massive gashes to his left arm with his sleeve, they were still hemorrhaging. His arm was unresponsive, a mound of pounding flesh useless at his side. He needed sleep, rest, in order for his wounds to heal and his body to fully recover. Yet, his guilt held him alert to Laurel’s suffering. He would not let this woman die alone. The captain allowed his quivering knees to return his body to the dusty floor.
Tighor drifted in and out of consciousness. “We’re going to die here. Together,” she murmured with a dry swallow. “You can escape. Find help for yourself, Paul, before you bleed to death.”
Scarlet shook his head sliding himself back to her side. “I won’t leave you, Laurel,” he vowed squeezing her hand once again. “My cap is gone, lost somewhere in the debris out there,” he explained. “I can’t contact my superiors. The bunker door’s jammed from the outside. We’re both stranded.” Though she was unconscious again, Scarlet mumbled on until he, too, was barely cognizant. Through the conflicting evening his arm healed as he dozed in his exhaustion.
Sometime later Laurel awakened to see Scarlet removing his bandages. “What … what are you doing?” she asked weakly. “Your arm is healed?” Even in her apparent delirium it seemed she had strength to be amazed. Scarlet declined to explain. There seemed little point, now. All was silent outside the bunker. There were no more rumblings of falling debris and collapsing walls. Scarlet, weary of waiting, renewed his efforts to dislodge the door. Having regained his strength, Scarlet repeatedly shoved his shoulder into the unyielding barrier, yet to no result. He was soon in need of another break and he collapsed in a disheartened heap. “I’m sorry, Laurel,” he murmured to the unconscious woman beside him. Failure seemed his true companion.
Cloudbase had received the local police report that told of the accident at the university. Campus authorities were reluctant to move in as this was now a Spectrum operation and all evidence pointed to massive explosions and total destruction of the science center. Colonel White grudgingly accepted the police precinct’s neutrality, acknowledging the possibility that the Mysterons had just outflanked them. After a quick briefing with his officers via communications, White sent a rescue team ahead with Spectrum police to intercept Captains Blue, Grey, and Ochre.
When they arrived the Spectrum team found the science center in shambles, the labs a wreck, and the building where the Mysteron detector had been stored a heap of rubble. They began combing the debris for any sign of life. That entire quadrant of the campus, it seemed, had been demolished. “When the Mysterons say they’re going to destroy something, they don’t kid around,” noted Grey somberly.
“Come on,” urged Blue. “We’ve got to find Captain Scarlet. He may be the only survivor. He’ll be able to tell us what happened, and what exactly they were after.” Together, with the help of the Spectrum search and rescue team, they explored the remains of the Mysteron detector building and adjacent science labs. Though they believed the Mysterons had left, Ochre carried a portable Mysteron detector and gun, scanning every crumbled room before they entered. Two crushed Mysterons were soon found. They seemed dead. Captain Ochre made sure with a quick blast of the Mysteron gun. The electrical charge guaranteed these two would set no more bombs.
As the small crew of rescue experts removed debris and cleared the way, a familiar item was uncovered. Blue took the dusty find from one rescue team member. “It’s Scarlet’s kepi,” he announce to Ochre. Grey strode over with another find. He had retrieved Scarlet’s pistol. “It’s his all right,” Blue agreed grimly noticing the red-coded sight on the weapon beneath the obscuring grime. “He was here, but there’s not much left of the building.” Blue considered the collapsed room. Only one concrete support wall remained erect, jammed with debris. With a determined grunt Blue clutched his friend’s cap and called out. “Captain Scarlet!’” Just perhaps his partner was alive and conscious somewhere under the rubble. They continued their search.
Inside the crumbling, creaking concrete bunker, half covered in dust and debris Scarlet heard the muffled call and awoke from his dozing slumber. Propped against the cramped wall, arms wrapped around his bent knees, he raised weary, dust-filled eyes to call back, “Adam?” His gruff, dry voice seemed harsh and loud to his own ears. Had Blue heard him? In the blackness he reached down to feel for the pulse of his charge. Had she died some time during the hour while he had dozed? No. A faint pulse answered his probing fingers. Somehow Dr. Tighor was still alive. “In here, Captain Blue,” Scarlet yelled.
Outside Blue silenced everyone. “I think I heard something.” Gathering a breath he called again. “Paul?” There was a muffled answer from the remaining erect partition. Blue zeroed in on the sound, a dusty concrete and steel re-bar filled corner. “Captain Scarlet,” he called again.
“We’re inside this concrete bunker,” came Scarlet’s muffled, but distinctive British accent.
Blue straightened and turned to his rescue team. “In here, People. I want them dug out. Quickly but carefully.” He stood back and anxiously watched as the rescue team slowly removed the cinderblocks and steel support bars from around the half-hidden steel door. Soon the two were dug out.
Coughing at the dusty but fresh air Scarlet stooped from the concrete bunker and thanked Blue for the hand out of the cramped space. Clearing his throat he urged, “Dr. Tighor’s in there as well. She’s barely alive. We’ve got to get her medical attention.”
With a nod Blue assured, “We’ll get her to a hospital right away. How are you feeling?” Blue was scrutinizing his friend’s dust-encrusted turtleneck and torn sleeve. Scarlet was in one piece. He was also adamant.
“No, Adam,” Scarlet insisted squeezing Blue’s black sleeve with a determined fist. “We’ve got to take Laurel to Cloudbase with us. There’s something going on here besides the detector drills. She’s still alive.”
“She’s a lucky woman,” Blue agreed.
“It’s more than that,” argued Scarlet as the medics eased Dr. Tighor out on a stretcher. “She was dying. Her injuries were far more severe than mine. She should be dead.”
“What are you saying?” asked Captain Grey handing Scarlet back his jacket.
Scarlet leaned against a wall fragment before answering, “Only Dr. Fawn will know for sure. We’ve got to get her back to Cloudbase. Immediately.”
“Are you sure you’re all right, Captain? You’re not making much sense,” Blue argued reaching out to brace his friend as Scarlet slipped his now healed bare arm through the vest’s armhole.
“You’ve got to trust my instincts, Adam. I’ve been here a little longer than you. I … I think the scientists had more than one agenda.”
“All right,” Blue agreed. “Let’s get you two home.” With the help of the local police cordoning off the area, a Spectrum medical helicopter soon landed at the football field. Blue stood outside the vehicle’s hatch as Scarlet helped Ochre maneuver the stretcher carrying Tighor onto the aircraft. “Take good care of these two,” Blue said to the pilot. “Captain Grey and I are staying to finish our investigation.” Melody Angel nodded at her associate then piloted the helicopter swiftly to Cloudbase leaving Captains Blue and Grey to continue their search of the wreckage for clues.
In flight, Scarlet slumped in a seat beside Tighor’s stretcher, not interested in the aerial view. The journey seemed interminable. Upon landing he flanked the two nurses who transferred the woman to a gurney and rolled her through the carrier, directly to sickbay and Dr. Fawn. Captain Ochre squeezed his arm halting him outside the medical lab. “I’ll inform the Colonel of our status,” he said. “I’ll check in with you later.”
“Thank you, Richard,” Scarlet replied then stepped in to the medical facility. Once inside, Dr. Fawn’s locum tenens, Dr. Topaz, insisted on attending to Scarlet’s arm. With only minimal protest Scarlet hopped awkwardly onto a medical platform as Topaz tugged her medkit out from beneath it. She palpated the still reddened skin for swelling, cleaned and disinfected the area, and checked for fractures. As a precaution she then wrapped his arm in a stabilizing bandage. With a nod of approval, Topaz let Scarlet slide back to the deck. Meanwhile Tighor had been placed in the ICU in critical condition while Dr. Fawn rushed to stabilize her vital signs. As Scarlet moved to stand outside the sealed room he urged, “Dr. Fawn must run blood and tissue analysis on her.”
“Is there a reason for your demand, Captain?” Topaz asked, repacking her medical kit and tucking it back into storage. She came to stand beside him.
“She’s alive, Doctor,” Scarlet told the younger woman. “She shouldn’t be. Laurel took the full brunt of that explosion, saving me from serious injury. In a way she saved me to save her, though there was little I could do once inside that cramped, dark place.” His eyes never left the window through which he watched Dr. Fawn working to diagnose his new patient. “I’ll be in the Command Center, reporting to Colonel White if she needs me,” he told Topaz. As Scarlet spun and marched from the room, he didn’t see the auburn-haired doctor watch him leave with a concerned frown. He needed only brush his hand through his dust-encrusted hair and pick up a clean shirt before requesting an audience with his superior.
The Spectrum captain joined his commander and chief on Cloudbase’s control center bridge deck. From the ICU Dr. Fawn was consulting Colonel White via video conference. “Considering Dr. Tighor’s internal injuries, I’m amazed she survived the night in that cramped and cold bunker.” The doctor’s face furrowed with concern from the large monitor screen. “I’m stumped. I suspect, as Scarlet does, that something mysterious is happening. Dr. Tighor could be a Mysteron agent.”
Colonel White ordered caution. “Test her, Doctor. We must know immediately if she’s a Mysteron agent. Use the detector. I’ll post a round-the-clock guard to assist you until she’s healed.”
“Yes, Sir,” Fawn’s replied from sickbay. The doctor’s face faded from the screen.
Captain Scarlet, standing by his superior, nodded silently to himself. This was necessary, though Scarlet had few doubts about Tighor’s loyalties. He had seen her face in the darkness of that destroyed bunker. Laurel had been afraid to die. No Mysteron he had ever encountered showed fear before his or her impending death. The agents had all been too intent upon their missions of destruction. Something different had happened to Dr. Laurel Tighor. What exactly, Scarlet was unsure, but it was Dr. Fawn’s objective to find out. Scarlet snapped from his internal wanderings. Colonel White was scrutinizing him.
“I’m ordering you to your quarters to rest, Captain,” White said with a tilted silver head and pale eyes softened to cool turquoise. “Clear your head, Man. Your next duty shift begins in two hours. At that time, you’ll report here for your next assignment.”
“Yes, Sir,” Scarlet replied. Scarlet was grateful for the distraction. Once inside his cabin, he flopped down on his bunk and churned the information of the past several days into the beginnings of a theory. Before his scheduled duty shift, he arose to check in on Cloudbase’s new visitor.
“Ah, Captain, come in,” Dr. Fawn greeted from his office. He rose from his desk chair carrying a data folder. When he joined Scarlet outside the ICU cubicle he offered an update. “I’m happy to report; Professor Tighor is not the enemy. The Mysteron detector’s confirmed it. I’ve already reported the good news to the colonel.”
Scarlet was not so jovial. “The scientists kept requesting blood and tissue samples from me, Doctor,” he reminded. “They never explained why. Dr. Terrell was killed almost immediately when we were attacked. There must be a connection.”
Fawn released a sober breath and tucked the folder under his arm. “I’m beginning to agree with you, Captain. I’m running more tests. Right now Tighor’s in a mild coma,” he informed with a bewildered pout. “However, she seems to be recovering rapidly from her injuries. Severe injuries, I might add.” Again that perplexed frown. ”Once I’ve had time to analyze the data, I’ll need to update the colonel.” With a decisive nod, Fawn cleared his throat before adding, “Now if you’ll excuse me, Captain, I believe we both have other duties.” The doctor strode through the ICU doors. They hummed shut behind him.
Scarlet could only watch through the glass as Fawn set his data folder down on a metal side table and moved to draw blood from Tighor’s limp arm. This new information only fueled Scarlet’s suspicions. Before he could contemplate further, Colonel White called him up to the command center. Scarlet left the doctor to his patient.
“I’m sending you on another mission with Captains Blue and Grey,” White explained once Scarlet had settled upon a stool beside his returned comrades. “It seems the Mysterons may be involved in another university crime. We have a hostage situation, this time at the main campus of New York’s State College at Albany.” White considered the three men before him. “I need you to investigate and report your findings as soon as you’ve determined the perpetrators. By Spectrum helicopter you can reach the university in twenty minutes. Local police have cordoned the area, and they inform us that the scientists and their perpetrators are being detained within the science building.”
“Science building? Not again,” Scarlet declared.
“Any evidence that these university scientists were also working on a wide-band Mysteron detector, Sir?” Captain Blue inquired. The big man’s blue eyes exchanged a shared urgency with Scarlet. Not again.
“No, Captain,” White answered with a hesitant sigh. “That is also what I need you to determine. If indeed so, the Mysterons are more informed of civil ventures than we. A rather disturbing prospect considering our responsibilities.” He nodded to his staff. “I want answers, Gentlemen. You are to leave immediately. Dismissed.” Scarlet rose from his stool and silently followed his compatriots to the carrier’s tarmac for their ride to Albany, New York. Within the hour they were to know the truth.
In sickbay, Dr. Tighor affected a miraculous recovery. Within the hour she was weak but conscious. Opening her eyes she scanned the room and asked dryly, “What hospital is this?”
A man in a cream jacket and piercing eyes moved with a smile to stand by her side. “You’re on Spectrum’s Cloudbase, Ms. Tighor. I’m Dr. Fawn.” His voice compassionately calm, the doctor assured her. “You’ve made a rapid recovery, I’m pleased to say.” Fawn made her more comfortable, fluffing her pillow and raising the head of the bed. After providing her a drink of water through a straw, he then drew more blood. “Forgive the discomfort, Miss,” he said gently inserting the needle into her forearm. “I need to run some tests on your metabolism, bone density, blood sugar, among others. You’re under excellent care here. You’re also completely safe.”
Tighor wriggled to get comfortable. With a weary sigh she mumbled, “Safe.” Then with hazel eyes clearing to the reality of her recent past she jerked from her stupor and grabbed for Fawn’s retreating arm. “Doctor. What about the brave Spectrum captain who saved my life? Is he here? Is he well?”
Fawn smiled again and patted her hand. “He’s fine, Dear. Not to worry.” Fawn turned to gather a digital thermometer to check her temperature. As the doctor laid the patch atop her forehead he added, “He’s currently on duty, but I’m sure he’ll stop in to see you when he can.”
“His arm,” she began her weariness returning like an engulfing ocean wave laden with heavy sand. “His arm was torn and bleeding.” Laurel fought to recall the events, to reclaim the facts from her dark, recent past. Again she stiffened and reached for the doctor’s arm. “He was injured badly. But … How was he able to heal his terrible wounds … so quickly? How long were we in that bunker?”
“Only a few hours,” Fawn told her. He gingerly dislodged her hand from his sleeve and replaced it upon the bed with a pat. “Please be calm. You’re doing well. Captain Scarlet is away on another assignment. He should return within a day or so.” Fawn offered no more.
Excusing himself to his office, Dr. Fawn once again contacted Colonel White. “Sir,” he said to the coalescing visage on his desk intercom monitor. “Ms. Tighor is conscious. She’s weak, but otherwise, she’s making a full recovery.”
“Good news, Doctor,” came White’s stoic reply. The older man’s mouth was chiseled in granite seriousness. “What of your test results?”
“I’ve almost completed my physiological comparisons,” Fawn conceded eyeing the open folder atop his desk. “Except for a second metabolism analysis and a few other monitors.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “Colonel, I’m beginning to suspect we may have here the replication of a unique phenomenon. Dr. Tighor is not a Mysteron, Sir, but she does, it seems, have the same retro-metabolic abilities as Captain Scarlet.”
White frowned deeply. “What you’re saying, Man, is that this woman is-“
“She’s as indestructible as he,” Fawn finished with a confirming nod. “And yet different.” Fawn shook his head at the monitor. “I can’t understand it, Sir. On a whim I took her photograph while she was unconscious. It came out normal.”
“Normal?” White argued with a head jerk. “But a photograph of Scarlet develops only as a silhouette. Are you sure your equipment is functioning properly, Doctor? We must be absolutely certain that this woman is not a Mysteron agent.”
“Colonel,” Fawn assured, “Tighor’s not only safe, she’s an extraordinary woman. In fact, this phenomenon may indicate a next step in human evolution. Those scientists did something to her. Dr. Terrell must have understood Scarlet’s abilities. Somehow, he’s replicated it. Think of it, Sir. An invincible army of Spectrum officers.” Fawn pounded his desk with a fist. “Those scientists were working on more than a wide-band Mysteron detector,” he accused. “Captain Scarlet told me Dr. Hanson and his team were fascinated in his blood and tissue samples. Perhaps they were affecting a duplication of Scarlet’s abilities, using genetic engineering.”
“But how could they have known?” White argued. “Only chief Spectrum personnel and choice government officials are aware of his retrometabolistic abilities. We may have a double agent within our midst, Fawn. And genetic engineering … This could have global implications.” White paused as if allowing his alarm to calm to authority once more. “Does she know yet?”
“No,” Fawn admitted. “She’s not even aware of how long she’s been here. But she is asking questions. How much should I tell her, Sir?”
“Only as much as will appease her curiosity, Doctor. Once Scarlet returns, we’ll hold a staff conference and discuss the implications.”
Within the day, however, Cloudbase was to receive yet another epiphany. Scarlet’s team had returned with news. The New York State College hijacking was no Mysteron operation. It was in fact a Spectrum false alarm. Yet the thieves had been real. Though not Mysteron agents, the criminals, equipped with automatic weapons and lethal intentions, had fought back their freedom with deadly accuracy. Along with several local police, both Grey and Scarlet had sustained injuries.
Laurel Tighor found out her rescuer was back when Dr. Fawn was hailed via intercom. The man stepped away from her bedside where he’d been monitoring her vitals to address the call. “What is it, Dr. Topaz?” he asked over the open comm.
Sitting up in her bed, Tighor watched as the red-headed female doctor approached from the hall shoving a gurney bearing a scarlet uniformed figure into an adjacent ICU cubicle. “It’s Captain Scarlet, Sir,” Topaz answered through the glass partition. “He’s suffered two bullet wounds to the shoulder. Severe hemorrhaging. I recommend immediate removal of the bullets to speed the healing process. He’s already been given an anesthetic.”
Fawn nodded and glared at the young woman watching from her bed. He must have seen Tighor’s concern. He smiled reassuringly. “I’ll do it, Julia,” he answered the doctor on the other side of the glass. “Get the nurses to prep him for surgery. You take care of Captain Grey. His injury is reportedly not as critical.” Fawn stepped away from Tighor’s bed and began scrubbing his arms at the disinfecting basin along the far wall.
In fear of her rescuer’s life Tighor urged, “Will he survive, Dr. Fawn?” Her hands clutched the blanket about her like a lifeline.
Fawn nodded over his shoulder. “He’ll bounce back. He always does,” was his simple reply.
Tighor watched as the curtains to the adjacent room were quickly drawn. She wasn’t to witness the two Spectrum nurses gather to tug the clothes from the injured officer, preparing him for surgery. “I want to see him as soon as he’s able,” Tighor insisted. It was merely an hour after that she was granted her wish. Bracing herself with a cane Dr. Laurel Tighor entered the neighboring cubicle to find Captain Scarlet weak but well. He was sitting up in bed, sipping coffee, his shoulder bandaged and arm in a sling. Surprised at his rapid recovery Tighor leaned into her cane and gasped, “I don’t understand. They said you were hemorrhaging.” She swallowed then admitted, “There’s something about you, Captain.” With those words she sank into the chair beside his bed. She held her swimming head in her hands.
“What’s wrong?” Scarlet asked, setting down his coffee mug and rising from his pillows to stand beside her in his hospital pajamas.
“My… my head. It’s the dizziness. Dr. Fawn said it should go away with time. He’s kept me off my feet until now. I insisted on seeing you.” She raised pain-creased eyes to him. “I was worried.”
Scarlet blinked. “Does your head ache, like there’s a hammer against your forehead?”
“Yes,” she agreed as the pain began to subside. “How did you know?”
With a confirming nod Scarlet knelt beside her and admitted, “Because I experienced the same thing … three years ago … when I was …”
“What, Captain?” Tighor asked when he paused.
“I … uh … Dr. Tighor, I think you’ve experienced something very unique. Dr. Fawn told me when I awoke from surgery. He’s confirmed what I suspected.” Again Scarlet paused. With a pout he released a determined breath and offered, “You are now indestructible. You can be injured, even killed, but your body will heal itself, no matter what the physical damage.”
“What?” Tighor sat back in her chair. “That’s impossible. How…?”
Scarlet regained his feet. His apparent awkwardness was illustrated by his kneading hands. The captain was obviously hesitant to explain these new circumstances. “I’m not sure how,” he admitted to her. “Neither is Dr. Fawn. Somehow Dr. Terrell and the scientists at the university changed you. We believe it has to do with their experiments, with my blood. Somehow they created a serum from it.” Scarlet leaned forward and urged, “Did you receive any injections recently, within the past week?”
Tighor fidgeted in her chair. “Why, yes. But they were just allergy shots. I received three of them. I was called to the campus medical center. Campus maintenance had just installed new carpet in my bungalow, and it was suggested that I get prophylactic allergy treatments to alleviate any irritation from the fumes.”
“I believe that was their alibi,” Scarlet attested leaning down to help her back to her feet. He braced her in his arms, steadying her for his next words. “Three years ago my body was taken over, possessed if you will, by the Mysterons. That was why I was called in to help with Dr. Hanson’s experiments.” He swallowed again before barging ahead. “Three years ago the Mysterons had control of my actions for several hours. I was to kidnap and kill the World President. I almost succeeded.” Scarlet took her hands in his. His eyes were ice blue yet gentle as he slowly explained, “The Mysterons must first destroy their victims before they can reconstruct them, Dr. Tighor. My original body, my first self, was killed … murdered in an automobile crash caused by the Mysterons.” Lowering his eyes from her searing, uncomprehending stare, Scarlet seemed compelled, however unwilling, to admit, “I have never had the courage to visit the … my grave, though Captain Blue says it’s quietly beautiful, beneath a willow tree by a fish pond.”
Tighor’s hands tightened around his. “What are you saying? You … you’re a copy? A zombie? A demon?” In her horror she gasped and pulled away from his supporting arms, turning toward the door.
“No, Laurel!” Scarlet insisted, not releasing her. “Not a demon. Just a man. Somehow I was given back my life, the one here with Spectrum. I’m not a Mysteron anymore, Laurel. I’m just-“
She broke from his grip and stumbled toward the door. Dr. Fawn caught her before she fell. “He’s a very extraordinary man,” the doctor finished gripping her shoulders and halting her retreat. “This is how he was able to recuperate so quickly from his wounds, how his arm was able to heal within a few hours.” Fawn entered the room and relaxed his grip to rest a supporting arm around the woman. “It’s how you were able to live when you should have died from your injuries, Doctor.”
Tighor shook herself loose from the doctor’s grasp. She teetered upon quivering legs. “This can’t be true. This is a nightmare. You’re both lying to me. If I’m like you,” she argued to Scarlet, “then I must be a monster too, a Mysteron.”
“No,” Fawn countered in his calming voice. “My tests have proven. You are you, Dr. Tighor. Somehow your metabolism has been changed. You share Captain Scarlet’s healing abilities. That’s all. All my other tests say you are who you were, who you have always been.”
“But this ability to heal,” Tighor tried to reason her own voice sounding like the quavering of a beaten drum head. “This ability comes from the Mysterons, right?”
“It came from me, Laurel,” Scarlet corrected in his most soothing British manner. “I’m no monster.” He half-smiled. “You, yourself, said I had a good spirit. Don’t you trust me?”
“I … I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything right now. That Mysteron at the university. He said you would be the only one to survive. He knew you were like him, a Mysteron.” Tighor’s rising tensions were interrupted as she reached for her head again. That thundering pain had returned. She was barely aware of Scarlet rushing forward to catch her in his sturdy arms as she collapsed.
Later, back in uniform and released from Fawn’s care, Scarlet met his fellow Spectrum officers to discuss those extraordinary circumstances with Colonel White. “We must discover what the scientists had in mind,” Dr. Fawn insisted from his stool. “If this ability can be replicated in anyone, then we can use it to combat the Mysterons. We’ll be able to recover from our wounds like the captain here,” he argued with a chin jerk in Scarlet’s direction. “It might even be protection from a Mysteron takeover, Sir. We won’t lose good officers like Captains Brown and Indigo.”
“I understand your enthusiasm, Doctor,” White agreed from behind his command dais. “However,” he warned, “we don’t know exactly what the university scientists did to Dr. Tighor; nor do we know the long term consequences. Both Captain Scarlet and Spectrum were violated. There was no authorization given for such experiments. For all we know the wide-band Mysteron detector was a fabricated decoy just to get Scarlet within their hands.”
“Then the Mysterons may not have been there for the detector, Sir?” Blue asked.
With a heavy sigh White admitted, “At this point, we don’t know for certain. What we do know is that someone within Spectrum or the world government leaked information regarding Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolistic abilities to those scientists.” The colonel scanned his officers with a grim eye. “Gentlemen, we have a mole in our midst that may or may not be a Mysteron agent, and is sharing perhaps classified information with civil agencies.”
“Sir,” Scarlet interrupted. “If I may? What is to become of Dr. Tighor? Is she our test subject now?”
With a scowl, Colonel White snapped, “That is undeserved, Captain. She will remain on Cloudbase for her own protection. She may very well have been the Mysterons’ target.”
“What then are her alternatives, Sir?” Scarlet pushed.
Captain Blue stepped in, perhaps to ease the tension. “Colonel, she may not wish to remain on Cloudbase. Do we have a legal right to hold her here?”
White pierced the two officers with an arrow-tipped glare. “Again, Captains, she is not my immediate concern, nor should she be yours. As Spectrum personnel, our responsibility is to protect the free world from the Mysteron threat. I shouldn’t have to remind either of you of our purpose,” he harangued. “Dr. Tighor will be held in private quarters once Dr. Fawn clears her from sickbay. Meanwhile, I’m authorizing a Spectrum-wide inquest. All Spectrum personnel will submit to a Mysteron detector scan and a full report of their every movement during the past several months.”
Scarlet exchanged comprehending glances with his nearest officers before nodding at this daunting but necessary task. White soon dismissed them to their adjacent duties. Some were to leave for other Spectrum sites to gather the results of the inquest. Scarlet, officially still on medical leave, was allowed to stay behind on Cloudbase. He decided to use the time to visit Dr. Tighor in her guest quarters.
“Guest quarters,” Tighor chided, reluctantly allowing him entry and backing away. “More like a prison. And why are you here? Come to convert me?” Defiantly she plopped down, straight-backed atop the bed end.
“No,” Scarlet started, stepping inside the petite cabin. “Actually, I’m here to answer any of your few thousand questions.” He moved to pull out a chair and sit. “Questions like: are you going to be able to return to the university?”
“From what I hear,” Tighor countered clasped hands atop her lap, “I won’t be teaching there for a year or more. It’s going to take that long for reconstruction of the science complex.”
Scarlet smirked from his seat. “Funny you should use that term,” he murmured. He changed the subject. “What, then, do you want, Laurel?”
“I want to return to my life,” she stated, open-armed upon her perch. “I won’t tell anyone about this condition, if that’s what you’re afraid of. I never asked for this, Captain. What am I supposed to do now?”
“You could join Spectrum,” Scarlet offered with a shrug, leaning to cross a booted leg over the other. “We could use a psychology specialist here. Someone to analyze Mysteron strategies, human errors and the like. You could train to be an officer, like myself. With your ‘gift’, you’d be invaluable.”
Tighor gawked. “You’re kidding, right?” She rose from her seat and swung an arm in his direction. “How useful would I be in another firefight like the one we were just through? I felt the fear. I felt the pain, Captain. I felt it like I was dying.” She illustrated her point by grabbing at her chest with one fist. “You were injured too,” Tighor accused with an open palm toward his chest. “Even in the darkness, I saw the agony in your eyes. Am I supposed to accept a job where I’m expected to volunteer for suicide runs, like you, just so I can survive to be tossed to the Mysteron wolves again? No way!” She spun away from him, her spreading appendages like the desperate attempt of a frightened bird to escape its cage.
Scarlet straightened in his chair, dropping his leg back to the carpeted deck. “It’s not like that at all, Laurel. We’re a team here, fighting a threat which would have every life on Earth destroyed, simply because of an impetuous mistake three years ago. The Mysterons are your enemy, not we.”
“Yet that’s what you’re asking,” she accused turning to confront him again. “You want me to choose sides. Is this a personal request, for me to join Spectrum? Or did Colonel White send you down here to break the news?”
Scarlet stood from his seat. “I know you’re frightened of these events,” he conceded with widened arms. “I know you want it to go away, but it won’t. I was a victim as much as you, but I’ve always had my loyalties. My life is here, my duties here. I’m just asking you to consider the possibility of staying with us, making a difference in protecting our world.”
Tighor planted her feet in the short-pile carpet. “I once applied to Spectrum, Captain. When I was younger, impetuous, idealistic. I thought my degrees would help in the fight against this new threat. These … Mysterons.”
“My application was turned down,” she spat. “Just out of college, I was too young and inexperienced, they said.” She shook her head. “No, I tried that route once. I like my job at the university. It’s my home now. Since then I’ve grown to detest the … the killing.”
“Spectrum only defends, Doctor,” Scarlet affirmed raising an unconscious hand to rest it upon his hip holster. “We’re against violence if it can be avoided.”
Cocking her head at him in challenge Laurel stabbed a finger at his waist. “Then why do you carry a gun?”
“You know why,” Scarlet countered. Then he smirked. “You’re an idealist, Dr. Tighor. You’ll find your new niche, just as I have.” The British captain pivoted to leave, but stopped in mid stride to consider her indecisive stance. He offered her a genuine smile. “I’ll help you in whatever you decide, Laurel. You can trust me.” He left Laurel Tighor breathless and uncertain.
As he exited her quarters, however, Captain Scarlet frowned. She was trapped in a cage of sorts, a unique prison of high impact glass and steel surrounded by miles of open air beneath her feet. Scarlet’s scowl deepened. It was uncertain if the Mysterons knew of the scientists’ alternate experiment. Because of this, Colonel White surely wouldn’t allow Dr. Tighor to just waltz back to the university. She was a security risk and possibly a new target for the Mysterons. Laurel Tighor was now as indestructible as he. If indeed this metabolic change could be duplicated, Tighor was the one remaining piece of evidence. The university scientists had been the first, their test results the second. With their data and lives gone, the scientists’ test subject was now the last threat to the Mysterons’ deadly intentions.
Yet Laurel’s feelings and concerns were genuine. Scarlet, himself, at times had felt expendable. Because of his retrometabolistic abilities he had been ordered many times to carry out the most dangerous of assignments. He had also volunteered for them willingly, unable to risk the loss of his more vulnerable Spectrum officers and friends. He was used to the risk for the sake of Spectrum’s cause and the lives of his comrades. That was his choice, even if the circumstances of his special abilities were beyond his comprehension. Scarlet sighed his assent. He did have a choice. He was living his life as he had planned, in the service of Spectrum.
Dr. Tighor, however, had no alternative. Dr. Fawn, in an attempt to duplicate Tighor’s miraculous circumstances, was even now researching possible avenues. The Spectrum doctor had taken blood and tissue samples from him and Tighor, and was already running another comparative study. The fates of Tighor and perhaps every human on Earth were in the hands of medicine now. Scarlet trusted Fawn, but could he trust Spectrum to do what was right for the ill-fated woman? Would others so changed be given the freedom of choice?
When he next confronted Colonel White, the commander in chief scolded him on his brashness. “You had no right to offer her anything, Captain. For now, she’s under our protection. She cannot leave Cloudbase.”
“But, Colonel, she’s agreed to keep her abilities a secret. She never asked for this. She just wants to return to her life. We could help her, give her a new identity. She could join another university. We could ensure the Mysterons would never find her.”
With a critical stare White accused, “Do you have feelings for this woman?”
Scarlet stalled. “Sir, I was taken by the Mysterons. They made me follow their orders. I almost succeeded in killing both the World President and Captain Blue. When I first realized I had survived the ordeal, I was glad to have the chance to repay the Mysterons what they had done. It is my duty to serve Spectrum. That was my life before and after. Dr. Tighor is more a victim than I. She only wants to choose.”
“I see,” White conceded lowering his ice blue eyes to consider the data folder on his command desk. “Your opinion is noted, Captain. However,” White contended raising his glance to reconsider the British captain, “if the Mysterons were to capture her, be assured their intentions would be far more sinister. They would turn her against us.” White shook his silver head. “No, Captain. She can best serve the world from Cloudbase. We are unprepared to release her at this time. That is all.”
With that incontestable dismissal, Scarlet returned to Tighor’s quarters to apologize. He found her contemplating the clouds drifting by her high altitude window. “I’m sorry, Laurel,” he began. “The Colonel won’t let you leave. I tried to reason with him,” Scarlet informed as she came to stand before him, her hazel eyes softened to gray despondency. The captain lowered his glance from her pain. “For now, you must consent to Dr. Fawn’s tests.” Scarlet only blinked when she slapped him hard across the cheek.
“I guess you’ve chosen your loyalties,” Tighor confirmed with finality. She turned her back on him. “Leave me alone, Captain. This is my battle.”
With nothing with which to bolster her resolve and agreeing with her contempt of him, Captain Scarlet returned to his duties aboard Cloudbase.
It wasn’t for several hours that she had another visitor. The door slid open and the security officer let Captain Blue enter. “Care for some company?” he asked poking his blond head inside Tighor’s quarters.
“Are you here to recruit me too?” she answered from the chair where she had been reading a book by the window.
With a smile Blue said, “No. I’m here to see how you like the view. See if there’s anything I can get you.”
“My freedom would be nice,” she harangued flopping the book closed onto her lap with a deep, tension releasing breath. ”I’m starting to feel like an endangered species,” she admitted. “A very special, fragile specimen.” With a pout she added, “Oh, Dr. Fawn is very kind and apologetic, but he’s got his objectives. I’m his guinea pig,” she announced with a rising chin and smug frown. In the impending silence between them her eyes drifted to the expanse of sky beyond the portal.
Blue wandered over, hands clasped behind his back, to the wide window overlooking the high cotton clouds. Seemingly ignorant of her sarcasm he ventured, “You’re lucky. My room doesn’t have one of these.” Then he paused in his admiration of the scenery to turn to her. “Would you enjoy a walk about the carrier? Security’ll have to follow, but you can stretch your legs a bit and our conversations will be private.”
With narrowed glare Tighor questioned, “Are you insinuating that my cabin’s bugged?”
“No, of course not. I just thought you’d like to rave awhile longer, in public this time,” Blue answered pleasantly. “I always enjoy the view from the arboretum. Come on.” Blue approached her and held out his hand. Reluctantly she exhaled her frustration and took it. Rising from her slump in the chair Tighor followed him out the door. Captain Blue escorted her by the arm through Cloudbase, pointing out interesting and pleasant places such as the recreation room, the library, and finally the arboretum. “If we wait here a moment,” he offered patting her hand nestled in the crook of his elbow, “Symphony Angel’s due back from her duty run.” He pointed out beyond the plant-framed window. “She’ll be landing her aircraft right out there. Not many people are privileged to witness a Spectrum Angel up close.” Blue had been acting as tour guide since they had left her quarters. “I could even arrange for you to meet the pilot. She’s a close friend.” A distant roaring increased and a sleek, white vessel with swept down wings and vertical stabilizer before a narrow cockpit glided in as the runway ramp rose to berth her.
Tighor was spellbound, eyes wide and mouth shaped into an O. Unconsciously she reached a hand out to press against the high impact glass pane, leaning in to close the distance to her fascination. “How does it even fly? It doesn’t even look very aerodynamic.”
With a shrug and smug grin Blue offered, “Trade secret.”
Tighor turned on him with a fiery glare. “One I’d only know if I joined Spectrum, right?”
Blue’s blue eyes hardened to steel points. He ventured another shrug. “That’s one alternative.” His pleasant demeanor ossified as well. He dropped Tighor’s arm. “Look, Doctor. Captain Scarlet doesn’t know I’m with you. He’s been brooding in the radar room his entire duty shift and I know why.”
“Am I supposed to be concerned?” Tighor asked with an ironic brow.
“He believes he’s responsible for your predicament. I was hoping you’d try to understand his perspective a little better. Give him some credit.” Blue gathered a decisive breath before continuing. “The captain’s a lonely man, one-of-a-kind, isolated. But he’s dedicated to Spectrum and our cause. He’s saved more lives than all the other Spectrum officers combined. He’s saved my life, too. Many times. He would never force you into servitude. You must realize your options are limited. You’re a risk now and a target for the Mysterons. Paul’s trying to protect you. He just thought you might want to consider giving us a chance. Giving him a chance to find you some options.”
“So you are here to recruit me. How do I know Scarlet and the colonel didn’t send you to assist in their slavery mission?”
Blue visibly flinched. “Slavery? Are you really that offended by the idea?” He took a step back from her. “I … I don’t know what to say, Doctor. I’m sorry you feel that way.” Blue swallowed his shock. Then with voice cracking he suggested, “Perhaps it’s time I return you to your quarters.” Silently Blue escorted her back to her cabin in the clouds. With a somber bow he excused himself. Tighor was again alone.
When Blue reported the incident to the colonel, White was adamant and unconcerned regarding Tighor’s perceptions. “I will not back down on this, Captain. The security and integrity of Spectrum are far too important. Dr. Tighor is both a potentially valuable asset and a dangerous threat to that security. She must remain here for the unforeseeable future. Her training as a Spectrum officer will begin in the morning with the assistance of Captains Ivory and Ebony. Destiny and Rhapsody Angels will be instrumental as well. Perhaps the allure of flying an Angel aircraft will turn Dr. Tighor to the cause.”
Blue disagreed, “Captain Scarlet told me of her aversion to violence and killing, Sir. I don’t think recruitment’s the answer.” No matter what he offered in the woman’s and Scarlet’s defense, however, all of Blue’s arguments failed.
That night there was a stiff knock at Tighor’s door. Awakened by the sound of something sliding along its solid surface, Laurel bolted from her bed. Bare-footed and draped only in a cotton nightgown, she grabbed a heavy book from the courtesy library shelf and wielded it like a bat. She stood at the ready to swing at the next shadow that entered. The door hummed open. “Wait!” Scarlet urged quietly, ducking the makeshift weapon. “I’m here to take you home.” Gathering her shoulders in his gentle grasp, he pushed Laurel back into the room. “Get dressed,” he instructed his voice no more than a whisper. “I have a plan.”
“Is this part of your subversive brainwashing, Captain?” she accused secretively, still gripping her book. “Am I supposed to go along with you so that I can be arrested and thrown into jail for attempted escape?”
Scarlet smiled at her in the dim starlight from the window and gently brushed a hand through her hair. “Will you stop being the professional shrink for a moment, please?” He braced her arms in his long fingers before informing, “I don’t like it that you think we’re coercing you. I’m breaking with Colonel White’s orders and taking you home. Now get dressed. I’m telling the truth, but we don’t have much time.” When she considered his sincere expression, she felt her cheeks blush. “Don’t worry. I won’t look.” He averted his eyes as she slipped into the Spectrum jumper provided her.
“Now what?” she asked coming to stand beside him near the door.
“Stay close, and don’t say anything. I’ll do all the talking. At this hour, the corridors won’t be fully occupied. We shouldn’t run into much security. Colonel White went off-duty two hours ago and only minimal duty officers are on post.”
“What about my guard?” Tighor asked. As they exited her cabin, her question was answered. The man was crumpled in a heap beside the door. “You didn’t-“
“I only knocked him out,” Scarlet explained. When she scowled and hesitated at the threshold of the cabin, he sighed. “I asked you to trust me.”
To Laurel Tighor, it seemed the Spectrum officer was sincere. She silently followed him to a lift. They were soon standing at the threshold to the wide passenger jet tarmac. Scarlet took a high altitude flight helmet from a nearby hook and handed it to her. “Put this on. It’ll protect your ears.” The captain next slipped his thumb across the ID pad set into the wall beside the sealed hatch, then waited for it to clear.
“Clearance code, please,” the pad requested.
“Code clearance Zodiac 842,” Scarlet announced. “Captain Blue.”
“Acknowledged,” the machine chimed. The door beeped and began to slide open.
“Take a deep breath and hold it, Laurel. At this altitude, the air’s thin and very cold. Your ears will pop too. But we’ll be inside the pressurized jet in a moment.” She followed his instructions and allowed him to take her hand and guide her to the silver and blue and red trimmed Spectrum passenger jet sitting on the tarmac. Once inside he helped her out of the sealed helmet and into the copilot’s seat.
“I’ve never flown a plane before,” Tighor protested shivering at the frost clinging to her shoulders.
“Don’t worry,” Scarlet assured securing the safety harness over those shoulders. “I’ll do all the flying. You just enjoy the scenery. The sun should be coming up over the starboard horizon in twenty minutes.” Once she was strapped in, Scarlet sank into the pilot’s seat and began the launch sequence.
“How are we going to get clearance from Cloudbase Command?”
Again Scarlet smiled. “What clearance?” He hit the accelerator. The sleek passenger jet jolted forward and glided along the runway before diving off the carrier’s deck and into open air.
Tighor gasped in wonder. With an unrestrained yelp, she exclaimed her joy at this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Her excitement soon cooled, however. She was still suspicious. Her eyes searched the cabin behind their cockpit, at the empty air behind them. “I guess I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she explained in response to Scarlet’s concerned glance away from his flight instruments. “Waiting for Cloudbase to call you back, or for those Angel jets to shoot us down.”
“I programmed Cloudbase’s radar computers to perform some minor malfunctions,” Scarlet offered. “While I was at it, I switched the officers’ clearance codes. That’s how I was able to use Captain Blue’s with my finger DNA. I also switched off all internal communications. Right now they’re all rechecking their internal diagnostics. Lieutenant Green’s racing to solve the problem, and Colonel White is ranting about being awakened by a banging at his door. They won’t even notice a jet is missing for an hour or so. Just enough time for me to drop you off and return to a court-martial summons waving before my nose.”
“I disobeyed orders,” Scarlet explained, blue eyes upon the brightening horizon. “Last night I was ordered to keep my distance and let Captain Blue handle your training. You were to begin Spectrum training drills at daybreak.” After a few moments’ silence he asked, “So, now that you’re on your way home, what will you do? The fall semester’s been cancelled for sure at the university. You may not teach again until next year.”
Tighor shrugged. “I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical. I’ve always wanted to write a paper on the effects of free choice versus obligatory careers.”
Scarlet laughed, the first she had ever heard from this proper British officer. “You’re joking, of course,” he chuckled.
“Yes,” she assured with a grin. Then somberly she conceded, “I know I’ll have to keep my new ability a secret. I’ll need to avoid being hit by a car or run over by a skateboarding freshman on campus. I guess I’ll even have to hide a paper cut. Someone might question how it can be there one moment and gone the next.”
Scarlet nodded as he continued piloting the plane. “Your life may be in danger if you reveal your ability for retrometabolism. And you’ll want to avoid dangerous situations. Don’t be a superwoman if you see a car crash along the highway. There is the risk, and there is the pain.” He was silent for a moment. Finally the man admitted in a deeper, more serious tone, “I put myself in danger as part of my job, Laurel. Yet I do not relish the pain. And there is a … a fear.”
Tighor considered his honesty. “I can’t imagine you would fear anything.”
Scarlet shrugged within his safety harness. His piercing blue eyes were upon the distant horizon when he ventured, “Part of me has still not accepted that I’m indestructible, I guess. It’s an irrational feeling. What if my body is damaged beyond my metabolism’s ability to repair itself? I could still die, permanently, forever. So far there’s only one thing I’m ceratin would do that.”
“Kill you permanently?”
Scarlet nodded. “High voltage electricity. It’s what’s harnessed in our Mysteron guns. So far only high voltage electricity has been found to cancel out a Mysteron agent and any Mysteron facsimile. Even their mechanisms are affected.”
“Why, then, would you continue to risk your life, to face this … curse?”
Scarlet hesitated, drawing in a deep breath before answering. “My first self was killed by the Mysterons. I was then made to do their bidding, like a robot.” He shook his head. “I can never let that happen to anyone. I’m determined, Laurel,” he stated turning sincere eyes to her. “Determined to protect my fellow officers and my friends. That’s what keeps me volunteering for the dangerous missions. That’s what helps me fight my fear.”
Tighor reached over to lay her hand upon his arm. “You’re a hero. A good man, Paul. And I’m glad I met you.”
“Even if it’s because of me that you’re now in this situation?” There was a hint of remorse in his deep voice, in the shadowed eyes beneath his visor.
“This wasn’t your choice,” she conceded. “We were both used. I’m grateful you understand, glad in fact you do. Who else could I spill my frustrations on?”
Scarlet smiled. “Adam has always been a good listener.”
“Yes, but I was never entranced by his eyes,” Tighor countered with a smile.
Scarlet felt his cheeks warm at the unexpected compliment. He was unsure how to evade his embarrassment when, in the next moment, his epaulets blinked and beeped. “Captain Scarlet,” Colonel White called through the tiny earpiece set into his cap’s rim. Scarlet twitched a facial muscle and the cap mike swung down to his determined lips. “I order you to return that jet to Cloudbase, with yourself and Dr. Tighor aboard,” the Spectrum commander insisted.
“I guess they know we’re missing,” Tighor murmured beside him.
All good humor forgotten Scarlet had to reply to his superior. “Colonel, I regret I cannot follow that order. I’m … helping a friend to freedom.” The two jet passengers exchanged sardonic glances before he continued. “I will be returning to Cloudbase shortly. Alone.”
“You leave me little alternative, Captain,” White threatened. “Lieutenant Green, launch all Angels. Order them to intercept Captain Scarlet’s jet and escort him back here immediately.”
“Yes, Sir,” Scarlet heard Green reply.
“Captain Scarlet. You’re jeopardizing Spectrum security. This is your last chance. Return to Cloudbase with Tighor or face a court-martial. I’ll rip the epaulets from your uniform myself.”
“I’m sorry, Colonel. I can’t, in good faith, comply.” With that he removed his cap and tossed it behind him onto the cabin floor.
“You’re going to be roasted alive by the colonel because of me.”
“It won’t be the first time,” he mused. Then Scarlet heard a noise behind him. With a smooth motion he placed the plane on autopilot and silently slipped free of the seat restraints. With a finger to his lips for Tighor’s benefit, Scarlet drew his gun and rose from his seat. As he turned to confront their stowaway, Captain Blue slid out from a storage cabinet with his hands up.
“You wouldn’t hurt a friend, now would you?” Blue entreated.
“What are you doing here?” Scarlet demanded.
“Let’s just say I know how your conscience works. I had a feeling you might slip away. You did, after all, use my clearance code to obtain the jet, didn’t you? The computer had already locked yours out as per the colonel’s orders.”
Scarlet lowered his gun. “I suppose you’re here to force a turnaround.”
Blue straightened in the cabin, lowering his arms. “No. I’m here as a friend. I thought you two might like a chauffeur.” Blue swung his eyes to the occupied co-pilot’s seat. “Where would you like to go, Dr. Tighor?”
Tighor tilted her head back at him in curiosity. “You mean besides my home at the university?”
Blue nodded as he passed Scarlet and moved to take the pilot seat. “Is there someplace you’ve always wanted to go? Someplace where Spectrum won’t think to look for you? Remember, I’m a good listener as well as a competent pilot.” Scarlet threw him a knowing look. Blue had been listening in on their conversation since takeoff.
“Well, I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. You know. Ride the mules down and camp out. Can you take me there?”
“Of course,” Blue answered jovially tugging the safety harness down over his chest and clicking the latch. “We’re in a Spectrum jet. We can go anywhere, and with our Spectrum passes we can requisition the supplies for a dream vacation.” Blue disengaged the autopilot. “Now, why don’t you two get comfortable in the back, and I’ll let you know when we’re there.”
Scarlet slowly sank into a passenger seat behind the cockpit. His firearm still gripped in his fist, he considered the back of his friend’s head. Blue had sounded sincere. Why was he jeopardizing his career to aid in Scarlet’s mutinous activities? “Why are you doing this, Adam?” he finally inquired.
Blue only shrugged. “I believe in free choice too. Now, will you re-holster that weapon? We’re not the enemy, Paul. A Mysteron wouldn’t think about the person he’s about to replace. Spectrum would.”
Grudgingly, Scarlet slid his gun back into its protective holster. “You’re saying Colonel White authorized your intervention. Why?”
“I asked him to give you a chance to discover your options. We’re talking about a life here. She deserves that much.”
“Thank you, Captain Blue,” Tighor said as she too sank into a passenger seat across from Scarlet. “Or shall I call you Adam?”
“Adam’s fine, if we can drop the doctor title,” Blue requested.
“Laurel it is, then,” she answered and switched her gaze to Scarlet who took her hand. “I’m definitely glad I met you. Both of you,” she added with a sunrise smile.
It was Captain Blue, however, who was glad these two people had found each other. Given the current circumstances, it seemed Scarlet was no longer one-of-a-kind. The lonely man’s heart was opening to this intelligent and kind woman. With a quick, two-toned tap of the jet’s communicator, Blue had silently informed White of his status, and the Angels were recalled.
Within the hour Blue landed the jet at a Spectrum base near the Grand Canyon. There Scarlet watched as his friend rented a small aero-jet helicopter complete with petite airfoils for added stability in the canyon’s crosswinds. From there the three flew to the canyon’s private airfield beside the eastern rim. Now in civilian clothes, Blue exited the craft and rented the supplies needed for a two day stay in the canyon, including three horses and two pack mules. Scarlet left his uniform in the borrowed chopper while Blue’s seemed to have disappeared.
The trip down to the campsite was hot and arduous for Tighor. Scarlet kept a protective eye on her while Blue led the way. By sunset they’d set up two tents near a cliff which dropped to the Colorado River. Conversation lagged though as Scarlet built their campfire.
Alone inside the men’s tent Blue used his cap mike to contact Colonel White. “We’ve set up camp along the eastern rim of the river, Sir. Dr. Tighor seems to have relaxed some. She trusts Captain Scarlet, and she’s warming to me as well.”
“Very good, Captain. Keep them under surveillance. Their only exit is by horseback?”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll know if they bolt. Tomorrow we’ll return to the helicopter and Cloudbase as ordered.” Blue swallowed hard before adding, “Sir, what if this little taste of freedom only entices her away?”
“Not to worry, Captain,” White assured. “Spectrum has much to offer Dr. Tighor. We had hoped she would choose to become an officer. If not, there are other capacities in which her abilities could be instrumental against the Mysterons. We need her, Captain. Don’t you agree?” White’s voice oozed suspicion.
“I have my orders, Sir. Don’t worry. I’ll have them both back tomorrow.” He shut off his cap mike and glanced out the door of the tent with a frown. “Some friend,” he murmured to himself. With a shove he returned his Spectrum kepi to his backpack.
Out by the fire Scarlet shared a mug of coffee with Tighor, who was slumped upon their log couch her flannel-sleeved arms crossed against the chill. He sat beside her and wrapped his free arm around her shoulder. “There. Is that better?”
With a smile she took the offered mug and leaned in to him. “Yes. This is just as I imagined it, Paul. Firelight, a warm arm.” She gazed above them. “Millions of twinkling stars.” With a sigh she added, “Now this is heaven.”
“I agree,” Scarlet murmured as she cuddled the warm mug in her palms. “I guess that’s why I bought my Montana cabin last year. I needed a place like this to unwind and reconnect when I wasn’t out saving the world or as Blue says, partying hard off-duty.”
Leaning away so she could see his blue eyes in the firelight, Tighor asked, “You have a mountain cabin? I’ve always dreamed of having a haven like that, a life of freedom and adventure away from civilization. How often do you get away to it?”
With a shrug Scarlet swatted the dust from his denim-clad knee and answered, “Not as often as I’d like. My job keeps me pretty busy. But I’m sure you don’t get a chance to enjoy the quiet much either with your profession.”
Tighor nodded. “My salary isn’t extravagant enough to allow me that much free time off campus. I can usually take a couple weeks off to visit my sister in Florida. She has three kids and a little house not far from the beach at Fort Myers. After I teach the summer semester, I usually pack my Bug and head down there. It’s just so damned hot this time of year, though. I decided to take holiday during the Christmas break this time. That’s why I was on campus for the science team’s experiments. As their assistant I was making a little extra money for my niece’s and nephews’ Christmas gifts.”
“Sounds nice,” Captain Blue commented as he approached and settled onto another log on the far side of the fire from them. He poured himself a mug of coffee from the spitted pot over the flames. “In our line of work, we’re given leave every two months. We can spend it wherever we want. Monte Carlo. Hawaii. Paris. The Mysterons don’t always stick to our schedules, though. Our work’s a little less predictable than yours.”
“Is your sister older than you?” Scarlet asked to divert the conversation away from Blue and his implications. He threw his blond friend a warning glare.
“Three years,” she agreed glancing away from Blue with her own suspicious brow. “She’s my mother’s pride. Gave her the grandchildren she wanted.” Tighor shrugged. “I’m not ready for a family, myself. Haven’t met the right man. Love my freedom too much, I guess.” Then her hazel eyes returned to Blue. “What about you, Adam? Ever thought of leaving Spectrum for a wife and house in suburbia?”
Blue smiled into his coffee. He had obviously noted that Laurel had seen through his intentions. “If I did, I’d have to submit to a memory flush. All cipher codes and Spectrum sites would need to be deleted to prevent my being a security risk.” He stretched his back upon the log and groaned. “I do have someone in mind who might be interested in starting a family with me.”
“They’re both in Spectrum,” Scarlet informed lowering his arm from her to rub his chilled hands together before the dancing flames. “They could get married, but one would have to resign. Or they’d have to agree to be reassigned to separate bases.”
“She’s the Angel pilot you once mentioned,” Tighor asserted to Blue.
“Yes,” Blue contended. “Her call name is Symphony.”
“And her real name?”
“Karen,” Blue offered. “She’s American, too, from Iowa.”
“Sounds restrictive, working for Spectrum. All work and no freedom.”
“But there is the adventure,” Blue contended raising his mug to sip his coffee with an alluring grin.
Tighor rose beside Scarlet and shivered. “I need a walk. If I just sit here, I’ll be too stiff in the morning to hike down to the river.”
“I’ll go with you,” Scarlet offered rising also. Together they moved away from the firelight. They didn’t see Blue’s smile fall and his sad eyes consider the darkness of his coffee.
As Laurel Tighor rubbed at her arms Scarlet cuddled her to his side. “I’m sorry for that,” he said. “He’s obviously under orders to sway your thinking. I’ll have a talk with him before we turn in.”
“He’s right, you know,” Tighor countered glancing back toward the fire as they strolled past the tents. “I really have no more freedom than you. My job, anybody’s job, has consequences. If I were to marry, I’d have to leave the campus. If I were to start a family, I’d probably have to quit teaching, at least for a while. If I switch universities, I lose my tenure.” She shrugged within his grasp. “Life is full of learning experiences and adaptations. Maybe I’m just fighting the inevitable.”
In response to her uncertainty Scarlet hugged her to him. “I’ve got a feeling you’ll do what’s right for you no matter what you decide. I said I’d help you in whatever choice you do make.”
Gently she pushed herself from his grip. Their eyes met in the starlight. Their kiss was contractual and sincere. “Thank you,” she murmured and returned his embrace. Together they drifted back to camp and into Scarlet and Blue’s tent. Side-by-side they sat upon his cot. “What about you, Paul? Ever think about a family, a wife and kids?”
Scarlet hesitated in his answer his eyes unfocused on the face before him. “Ever since I joined Spectrum I knew my life would be different from most. I don’t know if I’d be capable of a family, of leaving Spectrum now that I’m … different.”
“What do you mean; different?” She caressed his cheek. His hand rose to grasp hers. His lips turned to kiss her palm.
With her hand in his Scarlet breathed his confession onto her skin. “When I was killed, taken over by the Mysterons, I’m sure I lost a part of myself, Laurel. It haunts me.” He gathered a convicting lungful of the chilled canyon air and lowered her hand to his chest. “I’m a man in all ways but one.”
“Your ability for healing,” she surmised spreading her palm flat against the soft flannel of his shirt.
“No.” Scarlet released her hand. He stood and turned his back on her. “I … I don’t think I can explain it to you. I’m sorry. My true self is long dead, Laurel. In a way I am a ghost, just like you said.”
“Then … then what does that make me?” Tighor’s voice was coarse with her alarm. “Did I somehow lose my humanity too? Could I be a Mysteron monster after all? Maybe … maybe your detectors are lying. Maybe, once you’re killed you really aren’t you anymore. Dr. Fawn said I did die, briefly, right on his operating table. My heart stopped. For five minutes, I was dead.” She bolted to her feet. “I am like you!” Her feet took her from his tent and into hers. Scarlet didn’t follow. Ultimately this was her life with which she must come to terms. Silently he returned to the campfire. Plopping down on his log, he stared into the wavering flames, unaware that Blue was considering his faraway gaze and frowning.
Captain Blue rose to toss the rest of his coffee into the fire. He set down his mug and retreated to their tent. He found his Spectrum cap and contacted Colonel White. “It’s not going well, Sir,” he informed. “There seems to be a conflict regarding Captain Scarlet. I think he’s questioning his own loyalties because of Dr. Tighor.”
“Don’t let him lose perspective, Captain,” White warned. “And don’t make me regret giving you this chance. Spectrum is taking a terrible risk leaving you three in the open with no protection.”
“SIG,” Blue acknowledged. “I won’t disappoint you, Sir.” He replaced the cap to its hiding place. It was many minutes before his thoughts and heart agreed, and Blue could return to his friend. He sat across the fire turning his abandoned mug in his hand. “Paul,” he began, seeing his friend’s blue eyes were lost in the brooding, flickering flames. “I’m sorry if I seemed coercive. You do realize I’m under orders to supervise you two. I felt you’d rather have me around than a squad of Spectrum police.”
Eyes still not focused on the blond man sitting opposite him, Scarlet only shrugged. “I’m fooling her, myself,” he admitted. “I have my duties, and I have my life. At the moment they both seem to be with the same organization. But she’s right, Adam,” Scarlet conceded raising his icy gaze to his friend. “This is about choice and freedom. Do either of us really have what she’s afraid of losing?”
“Spectrum is all that stands between Earth’s safety and the Mysterons. Don’t you feel rewarded in what you’re doing?”
“I did,” Scarlet agreed. “But I’ve given everything for almost four years. I see what she’s trying to protect. It’s something I can’t even remember having myself.”
“Now that doesn’t sound like the Captain Scarlet I know,” Blue argued. “I’m hearing self-pity in your voice, Paul. You’re far too selfless for that.” Blue cocked his head in conviction. “You’re a good man. You’ll make the right decision for yourself. There’s too much at stake for you to ruin your career over this. Spectrum needs you.”
“Do you know she asked me if I had ever wanted a family?” Scarlet informed.
“What did you tell her?”
“I … I couldn’t answer,” Scarlet explained sitting up straight and slapping his thighs. “How can I think of such things when everyday is a struggle to keep Earth safe from the Mysterons? Perhaps with me they’ve already won their war of nerves. The day they created me, this … this reconstruction you call Captain Scarlet, they won.”
“Now you’re talking nonsense,” Blue argued shoving the empty mug in Scarlet’s direction. “They may have created you, but you regained your identity. You’re not under their control. You do have free will. You’ve proven that many times over.”
“But that’s just it, Adam. I’ve not given it a true thought until now. I’m a reconstruction of my first self. I’m a copy, a hundred times over. Don’t you see?” Scarlet jammed his feet into the dusty rock plateau beneath him launching himself vertical. He shoved an arm at the fire before him. “Like the phoenix I keep rising from the ashes. But in that first resurrection, I lost something, something vital that Laurel’s lucky to still have.”
“What?” Blue rose from his seat as well.
“My soul.” Scarlet sucked in a ragged breath. “I’m a man condemned, with nowhere to go. No heaven, no Hell. That’s why I have no true death, no final rest. I can’t love her, Adam, knowing what I almost stole from her. I can’t knowingly let her take the same risks. If her loyalty is forced, for her it would be imprisonment. I can’t expect her to have the same dedication, the same reasons I have for defeating the Mysterons. She has everything to lose.”
Captain Blue smiled and joined his friend by the fire. With a slap to Scarlet’s shoulder he announced, “Now that’s the altruistic Captain Scarlet I know and care for.” He nodded. “You’re going to be just fine in the morning, Paul. You just need a good night’s sleep. Go on. I’ll secure the fire. Get some rest.”
“You really think so?”
With a single nod Blue waved his friend away and watched as Scarlet wandered back to his tent.
Inside her own tent, unable to sleep, Laurel Tighor had of course overheard the men’s conversation. So, that was what he had meant. “Not a monster,” she murmured to herself clutching her petite pillow. “Just a man.” What Paul had told her was true. Tighor was no monster. She was just different now, with one disparity from the dark-haired captain. She still had her original body, and her soul. Her heart aching for this troubled but noble man, Tighor shoved her face into her pillow and wept. Scarlet wanted only for her to have free choice, to be happy, with or without him by her side.
When the rising sun lit her tent wall, Tighor awoke to the chilly canyon air of morning. She was next aware of a muted conversation out by the fire. Climbing from her cot Laurel clutched her blanket about her flannel-draped shoulders. Barefoot she exited her tent and shuffled over to the smoldering remains of last night’s blaze. Scarlet and Blue were sitting together sipping coffee. Their warm breaths smoked from their lips in a cloudy haze. Scarlet, his elbows resting atop his knees, cup between his palms, straightened at her approach. “Can I talk to you? In private?” she asked.
“Of course,” Blue agreed. “Go ahead. I’ll get the horses ready for our return.” Blue stood and walked away from the two.
Scarlet cleared his throat and set down his coffee mug. Tugging at his plaid hiking vest the captain rose to his booted feet. “I … I didn’t mean to frighten you last night,” he ventured.
Sliding her hand out from her blanket Tighor placed it gently against his lips. “Shhh,” she murmured. “It’s all right, Paul. I think I understand now. Let’s walk.” Turning her back on him, she knew he followed as she wandered toward the rushing river. They were both silent for some time, their eyes taking in the dew-coated morning, their lungs breathing in the crispness of the chilly air. “It’s so beautiful here. Thank you for bringing me.”
“It was you who took the plane. It was you who risked your commission to set me free.” Tighor paused in their trek to take his hand. “And it was your concern for me that let me fall in love with you, no matter how extraordinary or cursed you see yourself.” Tighor raised her other hand to caress his cheek. “Thank you for caring, Paul. For caring more than anyone has ever cared for my welfare.” She swallowed. “You may think you have no soul, but your actions speak of a kind spirit and a dedicated human being.” Tighor wrapped her arms around him. “I’m ready to explore my new life, Paul, as long as you’re in it.”
“I … I don’t know what to say, Laurel. I thought you’d hate me.”
Her face against his padded chest she chuckled. “You’re the only one I trust implicitly. You proved it last night. I overheard your talk with Adam. He’s a good man,” she informed pulling away far enough to lock eyes. “I know he’s just following orders, but he trusts and cares for you. That speaks of his character. I … I guess I trust him too.” She shivered and let him go to face the river.
“Are you cold?” Scarlet asked. He moved to unzip his vest. “We should return for your clothes, your shoes.”
“No. I’m fine, Paul. I want to feel the Earth beneath my feet, feel the cold air against my bare skin. It may be a long time before I’ll be allowed to again.”
“Then you understand we’re going back to Cloudbase. All of us.”
“Yes,” she replied as they continued their walk along the cliff edge. “Maybe I’ve been too selfish, thinking only of myself, and what I’ve possibly lost. The Mysterons-“
“Are Spectrum’s concern,” Scarlet clarified taking her arm to stall her thoughts and wandering feet. Tighor shrugged away but turned on him.
“They’re all our concern,” she said with a sweep of her arms. “This is my planet too.” She poked her finger in his gut. “I pay your salary, Mister. I … I was just being pig-headed and difficult.”
Scarlet smiled. “You were soul searching. In your place, I would have needed the same.” They continued their trek.
“Perhaps, as a psychologist I can help you unlock the puzzle of the Mysterons, learn how they think in hopes of negotiating a peace treaty. Maybe I can be something more than just a psychology professor at a New York University.”
Together they paused by a set of boulders. “You would be willing to join Spectrum?” Scarlet asked hopping up onto a rock perch.
Watching the swirling water below Tighor pictured her uncertain future in every tumbling cascade. “I … I’m still afraid, but maybe I’m willing to try.” She turned to Scarlet and smiled though her eyes no doubt mirrored her ambiguity. “The risk is worth that much.”
With a sympathetic smirk Scarlet offered her a hand up onto the boulder. She took it and heard a rattling hiss beside her. The rattlesnake struck out with a flash of scale and fang, hitting Scarlet’s boot. Deflected, the viper’s poisonous teeth sank into the exposed flesh of Tighor’s bare calf. With a gasp she grabbed for her leg as the snake recoiled into its rocky den.
“Laurel!” Scarlet leaped down from his perch to support her as Tighor fainted. Gathering her in his arms he carried her quickly back to camp where there was but one tent still erected.
“What is it?” Blue called from the horses as Scarlet ducked into the shelter his arms laden. Blue was at the tent flap the next moment. “What happened?” he demanded stepping in as well.
“Rattlesnake bite,” Scarlet snapped, laying Tighor onto the cot and undraping the wound from beneath her flannel gown. Two puncture marks seeped blood along her left calf. The skin there was already swelling, darkening to an angry purple. “She’s experiencing a toxic reaction. She must be highly allergic to the venom.” Scarlet squeezed the wound. “She’s dying, Adam.”
“I’ll get the medical kit,” Blue stated and disappeared. Beside Scarlet Tighor jolted awake and grabbed for his hand.
“It’s all right, Laurel. We have antivenin with us.”
“What … what if it doesn’t work?” she panted her face contorted against the neurotoxins coursing through her bloodstream. “I … I don’t want to die.”
“You can’t die,” Scarlet assured wiping the wound with a clean cloth to clear the blood. “You’re indestructible, remember?”
“How can I be sure?” She grabbed for his arm again, the grip was like a badger’s, relentless yet desperate. “Paul, I need to be sure. If I’m going to take that risk … I need to know.” Scarlet raised worried eyes to watch helplessly as Tighor drifted into unconsciousness once more.
Blue shoved himself into the tent, the med kit in his hands. “We’ve got to get her to the hospital, Paul,” he urged kneeling beside his partner. Scarlet opened the offered kit and dug for the snake bite packet.
“We have to stabilize her first. She’ll never make it up on horseback like this.”
“Then I’ll go. Bring down the chopper.”
“No!” Scarlet insisted. “I’ll handle this.” He inserted the syringe into the antivenin vial and drew out the liquid. Then, holding the needle poised over the wound, Scarlet faltered.
“What are you waiting for?” Blue demanded.
“No,” Scarlet informed. “No. This is a test. It’s fate. Laurel would want this.” Scarlet slammed the syringe against the rock floor of the tent. With a shattering crack the needle casing dispelled its liquid onto the bare earth. Scarlet barely registered the bite of glass into his palm.
“What’ve you done, Captain? She’s dying.” Blue clambered to his feet. “You’re going to let her die.”
“No,” Scarlet reminded ice blue eyes meeting his partner’s. “She’s like me. She can’t die. As much as I’ve wanted to have my soul returned, to be myself again, I can’t die either. Now there’s a chance I’m not alone, not the only one of my kind. She must live.”
“You’re crazy!” Blue declared. “You’re risking her life, against your earlier convictions. Paul!” Blue reached down and grabbed his arm shaking it. “This is just what you wanted to avoid.”
Scarlet twisted free and glared at his friend. “This isn’t my call, Captain,” he vowed. “I didn’t do this to her. Those scientists did.” Suddenly the argument was moot. Tighor went into convulsions and Scarlet was too busy holding her down. Blue rushed out to the pack mules for their water. Tighor was soon running a fever, delirious and unresponsive to their urgings.
As they cared for the woman through the warming morning, Scarlet kept Laurel swabbed down with cooling water. Blue, however, fumed, pacing as Tighor’s breathing became shallow. When he overheated the American captain flopped down onto the floor of the tent, cursing Scarlet. “This is madness. If I didn’t know you better, I’d accuse you of being a Mysteron agent. No better than Captain Black.”
After a moment, his eyes focused on the woman’s slack face, Scarlet murmured a reply, “Maybe I’ve always been, Adam. I’m a copy, remember? I’ve been robbed of my life. I won’t let that happen to her. She’s wrong. It’s not worth the risk.”
“So you deny her the only antivenin we have?” Blue argued, swinging an arm at him. “Damn, you-” Just then Tighor took in a deep breath and sighed, eyes fluttering. Her flushed countenance paled to normal as did her breathing.
“Adam, stay with her. I’m going to get the helicopter.” With that Scarlet rose and stomped out. Blue soon heard the thundering of hooves as Scarlet rode up the cliff trail to their waiting chopper.
Fighting to return to consciousness, Tighor’s eyes flashed open to see the concerned face of Captain Blue over her. “What? The snake!” she recalled and bolted to sit. She immediately sank back onto her pillow with a groan.
“Easy, Laurel,” Blue consoled bracing her slumping chin. “Remember, weakness and light-headedness were common for Captain Scarlet at first.” He settled her more comfortably on her cot.
“Where is he?” Laurel asked through her dizziness. “Was he bitten too?”
“No,” Blue contended with grim irony. “He’s gone up the canyon trail to bring the chopper down for us.” Blue paused then decided to continue. “He, uh … He tested the scientists’ theory. You really are indestructible. He said you’d want to be sure, as he did, so he didn’t give you the antivenin. In fact, he destroyed it.”
“Destroyed it?” Her head seemed to clear for her hazel eyes narrowed in fearful concern. “He let me die? He risked my life on a theory?”
“Yes, and I’ll have him up on charges for threatening your life, once we’re back on Cloudbase,” Blue promised. “I’m sorry, Laurel. None of this was meant to happen.” With that Blue took out his Spectrum cap. “Colonel White,” he announced, “I have Dr. Tighor. Captain Scarlet and I are returning to Cloudbase shortly. He’s gone up the canyon to retrieve our private helicopter. He’ll be bringing it to our campsite within the hour.”
“What’s happened, Captain? I expected an update from you hours ago,” White scolded. “Has Scarlet tried to escape with Tighor?”
Blue paused. “No, Sir,” he finally admitted. “It’s a long story. I’ll fill you in once we’re back to base.”
“I’ll be awaiting a full report, Mister, from both of you. Cloudbase, out.”
Blue lowered his cap and turned to Tighor. “This isn’t over yet, I’m afraid. Dr. Fawn will want to check you out; and the Captain may still face that court-martial for dereliction of duty,” Blue admitted with grim certainty. “I like you, Laurel. I don’t like what we’re forcing on you anymore than Paul does, but we can’t risk the security of Spectrum.” Blue sighed in his weariness. “Now, I’m going to finish packing our equipment. I want your word that you’ll rest here while I do that. Do I have it?”
“I promise, Captain,” Tighor answered quietly. Blue climbed to his feet, taking the medical kit and his backpack with him.
Soon there was a deep vibrating roar in the sky. Tighor, now on her feet and clothed in her hiking outfit, stood beside the horses. Captain Blue, redressed in his Spectrum uniform, watched as the private aero-jet hovered over their campsite sending dust devils swirling about his feet. Once Scarlet had settled the vehicle on the nearest flat area large enough to accommodate it, the British captain popped the hatch and poked out his head. “Right. Let’s get our gear aboard. Someone’s coming down for the mounts later.” Quickly Blue dislodged the packs from the horses’ saddles and tossed them up to the waiting Scarlet who stowed them atop the unoccupied passenger seat.
“You better get onboard too, Laurel,” Blue advised handing Scarlet the last of their packs. “Get out of this sun while I secure the horses near that little waterhole we found. They might be down here awhile. Wouldn’t want them to get heat stroke.” With a nod Tighor stepped up into the chopper and sidled past the returning Scarlet. Blue noticed how she kept her eyes low, perhaps unable to look at the man so much like herself.
“Captain Blue,” Scarlet informed from the open hatch, “once we drop off this gear and the heli, you can fly the Spectrum jet back to Cloudbase.” In reply Blue only nodded noting how at least outwardly, Scarlet hadn’t seemed to notice Laurel’s distance. Blue turned back to gather the horses.
Once the American captain had led their mounts away, Scarlet silently withdrew into the helicopter and slid into the pilot seat. Flicking switches he restarted the engines. Tighor, already settled into her chair, gasped as the chopper lifted off.
“What are you doing? You are a Mysteron!” she accused scrambling to unlatch her safety harness. “What do you want with me?”
Scarlet watched his stranded friend below drop the horses’ reins and bolt for the already airborne aero-jet before answering over his shoulder. “I’m taking you home, Laurel.” Scarlet pivoted the craft about, setting an eastward heading up the canyon wall. “You won’t be happy at Spectrum. You never really agreed with Colonel White’s arrangements. That’s my life. I’ll see to it you’re given a new identity, a new tenure at another university.” Scarlet turned in his chair to share a promising smile. “Perhaps the University of Tucson would suit you.”
Speechless, Tighor’s tight jaw and roving eyes told Scarlet she was unsure he was being honest. He contemplated trying to verbally soothe her fears when a call came in over his cap mike. His uniform was where Scarlet had left it on a back seat wedged beside their camping packs. Setting the chopper’s altitude to auto-hover, he rose to answer the call. “Scarlet,” Colonel White fumed over the opened mike. “What do you think you’re doing? You abandoned Captain Blue. You high-jacked a private aircraft, and you’ve kidnapped Dr. Tighor. You’ve gone too far this time. I’m ordering the Angels to seek and destroy unless you land that helicopter immediately.”
“What are you going to do now?” Tighor asked as Scarlet hesitated in his reply.
“Only one thing,” Scarlet acknowledged. With his uniform in hand he stepped to the portside hatch. Dropping the bundle to the deck he stomped on the cap microphone and shoulder epaulets, crushing the devices beneath his hiking boot. Then palming the airlock button, Scarlet watched silently as his uniform was sucked out over the desert. Without another word, he closed the hatch and returned to his pilot seat.
“They’ll shoot us down,” Tighor warned. “They’ll do it. They can’t kill us, remember?”
“They can’t shoot what they can’t find,” Scarlet assured.
“But Spectrum won’t give up. You’ve gone AWOL. They’ll court-martial you then ship you off to the most desolate post they can find. Make you scrub toilets the rest of your life.”
Despite the gravity of their dilemma, Scarlet chuckled. “You have a delightful imagination, Laurel. Soon you’ll be home. I promise. Don’t worry about me.”
They both fell silent, though Tighor was surely worried. She was no doubt wondering if Scarlet was lying and if he really was a Mysteron agent. Her imagination could have him taking her to some alien complex where she’d be dissected or worse. Inwardly Scarlet saw little humor in his own mental wanderings. He was an alien, in a way. His special abilities certainly made him not quite human.
By late afternoon, the aero-jet was descending over her New York University. Tighor leaned forward to see out beyond the windshield, obviously recognizing the campus. As she unstrapped herself, Scarlet set the chopper down in the football field near her bungalow. Flipping open the hatch remotely from his seat, Scarlet turned to consider Tighor’s uncertain stance. “Goodbye, Laurel,” he murmured. “I’ll forward your new identity as soon as I can have it forged. I expect to face some heavy charges once I return to Cloudbase. Keep your ‘gift’ always a secret or you’ll endanger yourself and those around you. Remember. The Mysterons are a real threat.”
Tighor nodded, her arms wrapped about herself in uncertainty. “I know,” she answered her voice quavering. “I’ll remember.” Tentatively she stepped to the hatch. With a deep, dubious gulp of air she hopped down landing on the field with a forced exhale. She glanced back in time to see Scarlet had followed her.
“Wait!” he called jumping down before her. She flinched at his closeness. She seemed ready to run, perhaps thinking he’d changed his mind about setting her free. “Laurel, please,” Scarlet urged grabbing her arms. “One last thing. You must stay away from high voltage. Remember that. A strong electrical shock can kill you. It’s the only thing that can.” Shaking her shoulders in emphasis he demanded, “Do you understand?”
She nodded within his grip. “Yes, Captain. Thank you.” Her voice sounded mechanical. With an echoing nod Scarlet released her and turned to reenter the aero-jet. “Paul,” Tighor called. He paused in his retreat and faced her. Laurel reached up to stroke his cheek. “Thank you for my freedom.”
Nodding again, Scarlet then leaned down to kiss her. They embraced for a moment longer before Scarlet withdrew. There was nothing more to say to her. Laurel Tighor was free. Reentering the helicopter, Captain Scarlet piloted it into the reddening sky and back to his former life with Spectrum.
On Cloudbase, Dr. Fawn had finished his comparative study of both Scarlet’s and Tighor’s physiologies. He shared his findings with Colonel White. “Captain Scarlet did indeed unknowingly cooperate in the university scientists’ attempt to create a new human genome, Sir. But my tests indicate it may have been a failure.” The doctor passed his telling printout to his superior. “This alteration to Dr. Tighor’s genetic code is unstable. It may not be permanent. In fact, Colonel, it may even now be breaking down.” Fawn pointed to some test results on the paper. “Her immune system is highly active, as though it’s fighting off a virus. Scarlet’s genetic material is still free-floating within her bloodstream, and it looks as though her own antibodies are gathering in number to combat it.”
“You’re saying she could eventually return to normal?” White inquired.
“I’m insinuating, Sir, that she may successfully fight off these foreign invaders or she may burn up her immune system trying. Dr. Tighor may be dying, Colonel. Really dying.”
“Blast it,” White cursed thumping his control dais with a hardened fist. “And we’ve lost contact with Scarlet and Dr. Tighor.” White bit at his lip before deciding, “I’m ordering a full-scale search of all possible destinations, starting with Tighor’s university home. We’ve got to find her.”
Over the Atlantic Ocean, Captain Scarlet navigated the private helicopter eastward toward Cloudbase. Just as his fuel gauge whined on empty, the vehicle’s onboard communicator barked to be answered. It was an air traffic controller requesting his flight plan. The East Hampton Airport’s radar had picked up the jet helo, and wanted his identification flight number. Scarlet reached out to the instrument panel and punched the radio with a solid fist. The signal went dead. He was now a renegade officer, due for court-martial and disgrace. At present his only recourse was to ditch the chopper and become a phantom, just like Tighor.
Scarlet set the jet’s trajectory to descend over the empty ocean. With its airfoil abilities, the chopper’s plunge would be swift, but not quite as sudden as a rock from the sky. With the overheated engines already sputtering, however, he had but minutes. Scarlet rose from his seat, grabbed up his padded hiking vest, and opened the passenger hatch. Watching the churning ocean rise in the darkening twilight, the British captain zipped up his vest and waited. At the last moment before impact, in a whisk of rushing, roaring wind, Scarlet jumped clear of the coursing blades and dove into the chilling, undulating waters. Scarlet was instantly knocked unconscious by the concussion. With the help of his vest he floated. He awoke some time later, shivering and many miles from Long Island. He began paddling west, with the now rising moon. Aware the effort would tax his retrometabolistic abilities; Scarlet nonetheless cared little for his discomfort. His thoughts were only of helping hide the woman which shared his gift, his curse.
Once Captain Blue had returned to Cloudbase, he confronted Colonel White with his report. White was incensed. “Why would the man act so irrationally?” he demanded.
“Because, Sir, I think he’s in love,” Blue admitted with a dour frown.
“Damn it, Man. That’s no excuse.”
“But, Colonel. For the first time since he was taken by the Mysterons, his loyalties are in conflict. If we’re just patient, I’m sure he’ll return here, and with Tighor.”
White leaned menacingly forward in his chair. “I don’t agree, Captain. Our time’s running out. A Mysteron communiqué arrived early this morning. It seems both Scarlet and Tighor are targets now. And time may be running out for the woman. Dr. Fawn reports her immune system is fighting her genetic alterations. After a time, she will no longer be indestructible. In fact, she may be fighting a losing battle. I’ve already authorized a Spectrum-wide search for her.”
“Let me take lead, Colonel. I think I know Captain Scarlet best of anyone.”
“Yet you didn’t anticipate him dumping you by the river’s edge,” White reminded.
“No, Sir,” Blue confessed. “But I have a few ideas where they may have gone.”
“Very well, Captain. Lead the search. But if I get the impression you’re holding back information or abetting these fugitives, it’ll be more than Scarlet’s head I’ll have on a platter.”
Blue snapped to his full six foot three frame. “Yes, Sir.” The captain silently vowed to get to the bottom of this wild Scarlet chase.
From Cloudbase’s computer center Captain Blue immediately consulted the Spectrum ground troops searching for the pair and their progress so far. Reports showed that Tighor had indeed been to her campus bungalow, but had left before the Spectrum police had arrived. “Been there and gone,” Blue sighed at the computer screen. Captain Magenta entered the center then and came to stand beside him. “Damn dead end.”
Magenta glanced past Blue’s shoulder at the display. “The campus? That would have been too obvious anyway.” The younger officer pointed to a new location on the geo-map. “Perhaps they doubled back to your campsite in Arizona?”
“Not likely,” Blue contended. “Captain Grey’s exploring that possibility, all the same. He’s expanding his search to the surrounding desert and plateau in case Scarlet switched vehicles locally.” The captain mused on their recent trip out west. “There’s one other place Scarlet might have gone,” Blue posed for his curious partner.
Blue leaned over to poke and drag the map to highlight a section of the American Rocky Mountains. “If he refueled the chopper, he could have taken it to a little cabin in Montana. Paul once told me he’d purchased the property there for a vacation home.”
“But he’s gone on vacations in lots of places. What about Hawaii or Miami?” Magenta suggested scrutinizing the wilderness area displayed. “They’re two of his favorite locales.”
“No. I think he’s looking for a little more solitude.”
“Those mountains look isolated, all right.” Magenta pressed the control button to magnify the display. “You know, if Scarlet had requisitioned a Spectrum saloon at any point,” he reminded, “we’d be able to track him. By now, I think he’s ditched the helo. He must be in a civilian vehicle.”
Blue nodded soberly. “They could be anywhere.” The blonde captain released a frustrated gasp to cross his arms. “We’re left with my hunch. Scarlet’s got fewer options for a speedy transport now. He’s already been to New York. If we leave now we might just beat him to the cabin.”
Captain Blue took Magenta with him and, via a Spectrum jet; they headed westward. In updating Colonel White, Blue informed his commander of their plan to investigate Scarlet’s mountain home.
“Agreed,” White answered. “I’ll forward ground troops to that location to assist you Captain. They can surround the area.”
“No, Sir,” Blue argued into his cap mike as Magenta piloted the SPJ. “This is something I believe his fellow officers should handle. We’re like his family. Magenta and I’ll take care of it. If he sees armed troops he may bolt or worse.”
“What will you say to him to bring him back, Captain?” White inquired.
“Not sure, Colonel. I just have to reason with him, friend to friend. His sense of duty will bring him back. He knows he’s our best man against the Mysteron threat.”
“Very well, Captain, but time is urgent. The Mysterons must not find them first. Make sure you check Scarlet and Tighor both with Mysteron detectors before getting too close. Cloudbase, out.”
“Sounds serious,” Magenta mused. They set a heading for Montana.
En route, Blue received an update from the Spectrum police stationed in New York. Another search of Tighor’s home had revealed a new clue. A discarded New York Times newspaper there had reported a helicopter crash off the Atlantic Coast. Blue consulted the news article displayed within the SPJ’s cockpit computer terminal. “A private jet helicopter crashed twenty-three miles east of Montauk Point, Long Island last night,” he summarized aloud for Magenta’s benefit. “A Coast Guard search team’s combing the ocean for survivors. The aircraft didn’t have a registered flight plan.” Blue’s eyes drifted from the page to the younger captain’s intrigued face. “It’s Paul. I know it, Pat. He’s avoiding us, but why? We’re his friends.”
“Perhaps he’s been compromised,” Magenta offered.
“Oh, he’s in a compromising position, all right. That’s why we have to find him and Laurel before the Mysterons do.” With a grim scowl, Blue poked off the newsfeed display. They’d arrive at Scarlet’s Montana homestead shortly.
Dr. Tighor visited her second local hospital that morning. “You haven’t taken in anyone from a helicopter crash, have you?” she asked the duty nurse. Having sneaked off campus with just a bag of belongings, Tighor was checking hospitals for Scarlet. Concerned for his safety, she checked all the hospitals nearest the harbor where the Coast Guard would have brought in any survivors from the reported helicopter crash.
Had Scarlet purposely crashed the aircraft to hide himself from Spectrum, or had something gone wrong? Had the Mysterons something to do with it? She remembered what Scarlet had said about strong electrical charges. Was Scarlet really dead this time?
She left a story about a missing person and her cell phone number at each hospital she visited, hoping a nurse would call her if Scarlet was brought in. A disturbing thought taunted her, however. What if Scarlet had ditched his chopper and was avoiding even her?
Meanwhile still adrift in the ocean, Scarlet realized his folly in swimming to shore. He had come ten miles closer to Long Island, but with no rescue boat searching the waters so far from the crash site, there was little chance he’d find assistance getting to dry land. Perhaps, if only a fishing trawler would happen by…
Blue and Magenta searched the Montana homestead of Paul Metcalfe. There was no sign that even Scarlet had been there for over a month. Magenta found mummified flowers in a vase on the kitchen counter. “This doesn’t look good.” Something black in a plastic bag had once been a partial loaf of bread.
“No way to contact him either,” Blue regretted. “Another dead end.” The American captain pounded the wall in his frustration. “I was so sure we’d find them here.” Then his epaulets beeped and blinked a dark gray. “What is it, Captain Grey?”
“I was using our new tracker unit in a Spectrum all-terrain vehicle,” Grey informed over Blue’s cap mike. “I just found Captain Scarlet’s uniform and kepi. They were left in the desert about twelve miles east of the canyon.”
“That explains his silence,” Blue confirmed. “He must have jettisoned them after the Colonel ordered him to land.”
“I’ve got his ID folder here too,” Grey added. “He even destroyed the cap mike and sender epaulets. He was serious about laying low. I’m concerned he may betray us.”
“To whom, Brad? The Mysterons? I should hardly think so,” Blue argued. “He was just trying to protect Dr. Tighor from us.”
“Well, so far he’s doing a good job. I heard about the helicopter crash off New York. Did they recover any bodies?”
“No, not yet,” Blue answered. “The Coast Guard’s widening their search.”
“The hospitals would contact the news media, either way,” Grey observed.
“The hospitals!” Blue gasped. “Of course. What if Captain Scarlet dropped Tighor off first then ditched the chopper? They could have separated. In that case, Tighor might be hanging around the hospitals waiting for word. Where do you hide a couple of indestructible people?”
“Where no Spectrum personnel would ever expect to find them,” Magenta agreed with a smile. Blue and Magenta headed back to New York to investigate the local hospitals and Coast Guard reports. When Blue updated White along the way, the colonel ordered Scarlet arrested on sight.
“Don’t hesitate to use lethal force, Gentleman. The injury won’t be permanent.”
Blue exchanged a knowing glance Magenta’s way. “Now this is serious,” he assured.
Out in the Atlantic Ocean, twelve miles offshore, a fishing trawler pulled in their first cast of the new day. One fisherman was aghast to find a human body clinging to the netting. When the net was hauled on deck, the men found the victim amazingly alive. Weak from the chilling ocean water, the stranger wouldn’t give his identity past one name: John.
John was offered dry clothes, warm blankets, and hot coffee. Appreciative, the man nonetheless ignored the fishermen’s many questions. The trawler captain regretted he could not afford to take the lost man back to shore. They were in the midst of a fishing run. John accepted the news with silent stoicism, but declined an offer to call the Coast Guard for a pickup. It seemed to the crew that this man wanted to avoid being found. The trawler captain soon suspected the stranger was an escaped prisoner.
Before the boat captain could inform the authorities, however, John climbed from his offered bunk to the ship’s deck. He slunk along the far side of the navigation control cabin to the vessel’s lifeboats. There three zodiacs leaned, lashed to the bow gunwales. With stealth the ship’s stowaway removed the secured riggings of one and heaved the zodiac overboard. With a measured leap, John vaulted after it and landed with a splash beside the bobbing craft. Scrambling into the zodiac he ran a damp hand through his dripping dark hair, shook the chill from his clinging clothes, and tugged the engine to life.
Captain Scarlet headed toward Montauk Point. Soon, his courage had returned as had his resolve to find the woman he must protect. Something told him Laurel Tighor was in trouble. He should never have left her at the university. Perhaps Colonel White had been right about keeping her on Cloudbase.
A few hours later, Scarlet landed the stolen zodiac upon an isolated strip of New York shoreline. Climbing onto solid sand, the Spectrum officer continued his return to civilization.
On Long Island, Captains Blue and Magenta had found a compelling clue. A young woman had visited several hospitals looking for a helicopter crash victim. More importantly, she had left her cell phone number. As the two men returned to their parked Spectrum saloon, Captain Blue suggested, “Let’s give her a call, shall we?” He reached into the car retrieving a digital locator device from the side door compartment. Dialing the phone number, Blue placed the device to his ear. “It’s ringing,” he informed Magenta. When a woman answered, Blue hit the abort button. Glancing at the instrument’s screen, the captain quipped, “Got her.” He checked the miniature map locator on the face of the device. “She’s nine miles from here. Looks like a park off Route 27, near Hampton Bays and the Coast Guard station. We can be there in twenty minutes.” With a triumphant smile, Blue announced, “Let’s move.”
Magenta agreed with a smirk and climbed behind the steering wheel. What the two Spectrum officers didn’t realize as they started the saloon’s engine and pulled away was that a hospital nurse had been watching and listening from behind a tree beside the hospital’s parking lot. Once the two had driven to the lot’s exit, she climbed into her car to follow the Spectrum vehicle.
Scarlet followed his instincts, knowing the woman he was searching for would not be at her home on campus. She was too smart to remain where Spectrum and the Mysterons were sure to look. But there were thousands of places, just within a few miles where the psychology professor could blend in. Dressed in the heavy flannel shirt, water-resistant workpants and rubber boots given him by the fishermen, Scarlet seemed the odd sight to the socialites and corporate commuters heading out for their lunch breaks along Route 27. He was only able to secure a ride into town from a sympathetic college student because she showed signs of physical attraction to his plight. The young woman was late for her first sorority pledging, she informed. “I’ll never be accepted in, at this rate, anyway. We start the semester in two weeks, and I can’t even make it to the sorority house on an off day,” she complained. “What’d you say your name was?” the brunette asked flipping her bangs back from her well-tanned face.
“John,” Scarlet offered from the seat beside her. “John Newman.”
“Your ship leave without you, huh? Sounds like a parallel to my life. I should be a senior this year, but I haven’t been able to afford a full schedule. Tuition, you know.”
“The cost of living rises each year,” Scarlet agreed ducking his head to see out the cramped car’s slanted windshield.
The student dropped him off at a roadside park at the crossroads of 27 and 24. “I’m sorry I can’t take you further,” she apologized. “I’m heading north to hop onto 495. It’s faster into the city. Maybe you can get a ride to the airport if you wait here.”
“Thank you for your kindness,” Scarlet asserted and turned away from the older-model vehicle. He didn’t see the young woman give him one more enticing look-over before driving away. As Scarlet surveyed the park, his mind strategizing his next move, he saw the harbor out through the trees. A Coast Guard frigate was just sliding in to the station. It blew its horn upon arrival, probably switching duty shifts. A woman on a bench facing the water bolted to her feet at the sound. Scarlet thought it odd until he considered she might be a wife, come to pick her guardsman husband up from work. He turned back toward the road and another ride. Then he froze. “Laurel?” He had only seen the woman from behind, and yet … Scarlet turned back toward the bench. The woman was heading for the frigate. Scrutinizing her hesitant gait, Scarlet followed. Trotting up behind her, he called out. “Laurel!”
The woman flinched to a halt, her arms nearly dropping her clutched handbag. Her corn-silken hair fluttered before her face. Scarlet took another step. She turned to answer. Hazel eyes expanded with recognition. “Paul!” she cried and fell into his spreading arms. “How did you …”
“Never mind,” Scarlet breathed into her hair. “I’ve got to get you to safety. Something tells me you’re in grave danger.”
“Captain Scarlet, halt!” a familiar voice called. It was Captain Blue. He and Magenta were approaching from the road where they had parked their Spectrum saloon. Their weapons were in their hands, leveled at his middle. “You’re under arrest for the kidnapping of the doctor, here, and for disobeying orders. We have to take you in.”
“No! Don’t shoot!” Tighor cried, spinning Scarlet around within her grasp to cover his body with her own.
“It’s too late, Doctor,” a woman’s voice assured. A gun fired three times before Magenta pivoted to shoot the nurse standing to his left, her gun aimed at the reunited couple.
Tighor screamed and, arching her back at the impact, collapsed against Scarlet. Aghast, Scarlet clutched her in his arms. “No!” he cursed. Blue rushed forward to help support her limping body. “You were followed, Captain,” Scarlet accused. “This is your fault.”
“I’m not the one who let her go,” Blue reminded soberly.
Kneeling beside the downed woman Scarlet wasn’t through with his ranting. “Why did she do that? Surely she knows by now I’d live.”
“Lover’s instinct,” Blue ventured, then frowned. “But she may not, Paul,” he warned. “Dr. Fawn has figured out just how she’s gained your ability. It has to do with the Mysteron genetic material in your blood. He also says her body shows signs of rejection.”
“Then we must get her to Cloudbase, immediately,” Scarlet urged. He scooped Laurel into his arms to rise.
Blue snatched at Scarlet’s wrist, halting him. “Rhapsody’s on her way in a Spectrum chopper,” he asserted standing. “Meanwhile, I have orders to place you under immediate arrest, Captain.”
Glaring up from his place beside Tighor, Scarlet scowled. “Is this really necessary? Laurel may be dying. Truly dying.”
With a stolid shake of his blond head Blue assured. “My orders are clear. Colonel White insisted. I’m sorry, Paul. Don’t worry. We’ll do all we can for Tighor.”
“Once she’s in the medical chopper,” Scarlet challenged his arms about the woman supportively, “I’ll do as you say.”
“Captain Blue,” Magenta huffed, joining them. “That nurse was a Mysteron. She must have followed us from the hospital, knowing we had a way to track Dr. Tighor’s cell phone. She’s dead.”
“Are you sure, Patrick?” Scarlet demanded. “Mysterons are hard to kill. Better use a Mysteron gun on her if you don’t want her to follow you again.”
“That’s enough, Captain,” Blue snapped at Scarlet. “Don’t push your luck. You’re in enough trouble already.” The muffled sound of a helicopter announced Rhapsody’s approach. Soon the four were aboard. Blue handcuffed Scarlet as per his orders, though he allowed the man to sit beside Tighor’s gurney. Once back on Cloudbase Blue silently escorted Scarlet to the brig. There, he was handed a gray jumper, his captaincy, for the time-being, denied. Without protest Scarlet entered his cell and allowed Blue to lock the door. “I’ll make sure you’re sent regular reports from Dr. Fawn,” Blue promised.
“Thank you,” Scarlet murmured as he settled onto his cot, bundle of clothes in his arms. He was soon up and pacing, though. Tighor had been rushed to the sickbay with two bullet wounds to the back. Injured enough times himself; Scarlet knew they were in vital areas. The one had probably punctured a lung. The second had hit her square in the spine. There was no doubt spinal damage. If indeed Tighor was no longer indestructible as Blue had implied, she would at most survive with permanent paralysis. In the least, she would not survive at all. Scarlet pounded the wall with a fist. If there were only some way his strange blood could reverse the damage once more.
In the sickbay Colonel White visited Dr. Fawn for an update on the woman’s condition. “Unfortunately, Colonel,” Fawn reported, “her immune system is too busy fighting the retrometabolistic cells from Scarlet’s genetic material to heal her wounds. She’s far too weak for surgery.” Fawn had no need to recheck his data file. “The one bullet is lodged in her lung tissue. All I can do is suction the blood and keep the lung inflated. The other bullet has left her paralyzed from the waist down.” Fawn shook his head and tossed the folder onto his desk. “There’s not much I can do, Sir. Her condition can only worsen.”
“The end result being death.” White surmised.
Fawn could only shrug soberly. “Probably, unless we can reactivate those cells to repair the damage.”
Captain Blue strode in to hear that last statement. “Wait, Doctor,” he interrupted. “Why don’t you just re-inject her with more of Captain Scarlet’s genetic material?”
Fawn shook his head. “Her body doesn’t know what to do with what she’s got now, Captain. I can administer antibiotics. If I can stabilize her, we can try removing the bullet from her lung. That’ll be something.”
“Do what you can for her, Doctor,” White ordered. “Keep me informed.” The colonel spun on the exit to return to his post on the command deck.
With a scowl, Captain Blue insisted, “There’s got to be something more.” When Fawn only shook his head Blue huffed in frustration and stomped out to inform his friend in the brig.
Scarlet glowered at the news. “What do you mean there’s nothing Fawn can do? He’s the Chief Medical Officer of Cloudbase.” Throwing up his arms Scarlet paced the brig cell in his fitted jumper. “He’s the best doctor Spectrum has, for pity’s sake!” Scarlet glared at his impotent partner. “There’s got to be something else he can do. Laurel shouldn’t have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She deserves so much more than that.”
“You love her, don’t you?” Blue asked.
“I…” Scarlet paused in his pacing to turn away from the uniformed man at the door. With a sigh he admitted, “I guess I do, though I don’t know when it happened.”
Blue smiled sardonically. “I do,” he assured. “The night we had dinner together in her bungalow. You commented on her hair in the sunset light. You were hooked then.”
Scarlet pivoted back to scowl at his friend. “It’s far more complicated than that,” he asserted. “She’s like me. She’s a part of me. We’re … two of a kind.” Before they could exchange further, a Spectrum security officer stopped beside Blue.
“Colonel White has asked to see Mr. Metcalfe, Sir,” the policeman announced. “I’m to escort him to the colonel’s conference room.”
“Any chance of my attending, Corporal?”
“No, Sir. The colonel requested a private meeting.”
“I’m ready,” Scarlet offered stepping to the locked door. The security guard let him out though the corporal rested a hand on his weapon. Scarlet led the way, leaving Captain Blue alone beside the empty cell. Once inside the conference room, two security police stationed themselves outside as the door slid shut leaving Scarlet alone with his superior. “You wanted to see me, Sir?”
White, sitting at his circular desk, raised his ice gray eyes to consider the man standing stiffly at attention just inside the door. “Yes. Have a seat, Mr. Metcalfe,” he said waving Scarlet toward a chair along the perimeter of his desk. “I’ve read Captain Blue’s report on your conduct. I must say, this is certainly a first for you. Disobeying orders against the better judgment of your superior and our organization. This constitutes treason, Mister, and you know it.”
“Yes, Sir,” Scarlet contended stiffly sinking into a chair.
“I want your side of the story. All of it. Begin with your stealing a Spectrum jet. Don’t delete the parts regarding your hacking Captain Blue’s authorization code or the negligent destruction of a private aircraft in the Atlantic Ocean either.” White sat back in his seat and crossed his arms to listen.
Clearing his throat, Scarlet explained, “Well, Sir, I can only express my regret at endangering Dr. Tighor’s life. My time adrift in the ocean helped me realize I could not protect her alone. I was wrong to take her from Spectrum’s sanctuary. If I am to be court-martialed, I’m prepared to face any consequences.”
With a heavy sigh, White leaned forward onto his desk. He plopped his elbows atop the surface and entwined his fingers. “I need you to fully explain to me your rationale, Captain. You’ve served Spectrum unquestioningly for nearly four years, the World Army Air Force before that. God sakes, Man. You were a colonel. I don’t understand this sudden change of character. Why is this woman’s freedom so important to you?”
Shifting in his seat and lowering his blue eyes from White’s scrutiny, Scarlet fumbled with his words. “I, uh … Colonel, have you ever been in love?”
“Love?” White spouted He straightened in his chair, his spine a timber of defiance. “Love with a woman? Of course.” White seemed to hesitate before offering, “My wife died six years ago in an aircraft mishap. I was meant to be on that plane,” he informed. “Instead, I lost half my life.”
“Then, Sir, you understand how I wanted to protect Dr. Tighor,” Scarlet explained locking eyes with his superior. “She was frightened. She didn’t feel she could trust anyone, not even me. Spectrum gave her no choice but to run. I wanted, no, needed to give her that choice, because I … Because I love her, Sir.”
“You willfully ruined your career over a woman?” White challenged.
“Not just any woman, Colonel,” Scarlet defended. “She’s been changed, altered. She’s like me.” Lowering his eyes again Scarlet added, “Was like me. I wanted to protect her, but instead I’ve endangered her life. I’ve killed her.”
“As I, in a way, killed my wife,” Colonel White admitted lowly. “We were to transfer to a new military base in Australia, a division of the Universal Secret Service. Our bags were packed, treasured belongings we could never bear to part with. All our memories, in a sense were on that plane. Then, just before takeoff, I was called away to secure a terrorist threat to the airport.” With an ironic brow White concluded, “Little did I know I was the target of that terrorist threat, and that a bomb had been installed on the landing gear of my plane. The timer was set for just after takeoff. Because of the delay, the jet exploded on the runway. Everything was consumed in flames, including all physical traces of my life before that moment. Yes, Captain. I understand love and how it can consume you … like a fire. It can cloud your judgment and your perspective of reality.”
“And duty, Sir,” Scarlet agreed soberly. After a moment of shared silence Scarlet ventured, “If I may ask, Sir, what your rank was six years ago?”
With a contemplative pout White admitted, “I’d just been promoted to Major General, in line for Supreme Commander to the USS.”
“Then, Sir, as a mere captain, am I forgiven my misguided emotions? I will face all charges as stands. My emotional state was not one of treason, you must believe me.”
“And what of the expenses accrued from your little escapade? I believe you not only destroyed an aero-jet helicopter, but you also stole a fisherman’s zodiac and clothes.”
“Yes, Sir,” Scarlet accepted with a resigned nod. “I suggest the reimbursement come from whatever salary I earn from the menial labor I must no doubt employ from now on. I’ll pay every penny.”
“You certainly will, Mister,” White assured with a slamming fist. “With interest. Spectrum has already reimbursed the involved parties. You owe Spectrum now, quite a considerable amount, based on your present salary.” White tilted his head. “What form of manual labor would suit you, do you think?”
“Well, Sir,” Scarlet ventured. “As I am indestructible, perhaps some dangerous profession, where no other man would need put himself at risk. Mining, deep sea oil drilling. I will respect and follow whatever assignment you recommend, Colonel.”
“Then I have the perfect, dangerous assignment for you, Mr. Metcalfe.” White reached under his desk to retrieve a folded bundle. “I want you to try these on for size.” He passed a pressed and mended scarlet uniform and cap to their hesitant recipient. “And if you ever find your judgment compromised because of love again, I want you to have a deeply serious conversation with your colleague, Captain Blue. I believe he has more experience and wisdom where that subject is concerned.”
“Yes, Colonel,” Scarlet replied gathering the uniform into the crook of one arm and rising from his chair. “Will there be anything else, Sir?”
“Just one more thing, Captain,” White began. “As you are indestructible, I must remind you, you are our greatest asset in the fight against the Mysterons. If I ever have an inkling your loyalties have been traded, I will not hesitate in executing you myself. You are not completely indestructible. Remember that.”
Saluting his superior Scarlet snapped, “Yes, Sir.”
With a nod White added, “You’re a good man, Scarlet. Spectrum’s glad to have you back on its side. You may return to your duties.”
“SIG.” With a twist of a stiff back, Scarlet marched out of the conference room. Quickly he traded his military scrubs for his familiar wide-shouldered vest and straight trousers. Contemplatively he rubbed the crystal epaulets at his collar. “SIG,” he murmured to himself. Scarlet knew he owed Colonel White a great deal. They had just shared personal confessions and had understood each other on a far less professional, more personal level. Scarlet vowed to keep that confession a secret between himself and his commanding officer. White, over the years, had garnered much respect from his many Spectrum officers, this one most of all.
After checking the duty roster, he realized he was due in to the radio room in half an hour. Until then, he was free to roam the carrier. Immediately his red-booted feet took him to Dr. Fawn. “How is she, Doctor?” he inquired, his cap under one arm.
With an exhausted sigh Fawn leaned back in his office chair. “I’ve successfully removed the bullet from her lung and repaired the damage to the surrounding tissues, but I dare not touch her spinal injury. She’s far too weak.”
“She’s not responding to the antibiotics?”
“It’s against my better judgment to increase the dosage for fear of weakening her further. Her own immune system is killing her,” Fawn declared rising from his chair to shove Tighor’s chart at the captain for his scrutiny. “Those scientists at Long Island University certainly hadn’t planned on this experiment backfiring like this,” Fawn continued. “Their efforts were wasted. Genetically altering the human body’s immune functions is fighting millions of years of evolution. I’m considering destroying all my notes on the subject, to prevent this tragedy from reoccurring.” Taking the chart from Scarlet, he tossed it onto his desk.
“Wait, Doctor,” Scarlet urged. “You said her immune system is killing her. Can’t you shut it down somehow?”
Fawn gawked. “Her immune system’s also the only thing keeping her alive at the moment. Her spinal injury will eventually take her life. She’s too busy fighting off your genetic material. She’ll burn herself out. The human body can only deal with so much.”
Scarlet was undaunted. “Her body thinks my Mysteron genes are a virus, right? What if we could fool her body, give it something else to battle?”
“Like what, Captain, a common cold virus?”
“Why not?” Scarlet challenged. “Then perhaps the retrometabolistic cells can address her injuries and heal her. Within a few hours.”
Dr. Fawn shook his head resignedly. “It’s no use. There may not be enough time or active retrometabolistic cells left to heal her at this point, even if we introduced her to a cold germ.”
In response Scarlet yanked up his sleeve and offered his arm to the doctor. “Then produce more cells. Take my blood and inject her with more genetic material.”
“No,” Fawn refuted with a dismissing wave, “it would take too long for them to coagulate in her system and search out the …” The doctor paused, his brown eyes narrowing at another thought. “Wait a minute. What if I were to do as you say and inject your cells directly into the wound? In your body, your Mysteron genes zero in on your injury and begin to rebuild almost immediately. We can skip a step by showing them the way.”
“Do it, Doctor. Laurel has nothing to lose.” Scarlet allowed Fawn to withdraw several blood samples and experiment with them to isolate the Mysteron DNA. Within the day he had reduced the cells to a few true retrometabolistic components. Later, now off his duty shift, Scarlet watched, mask over his face, as Dr. Fawn first injected Tighor with a virulent strain of cold virus. “How long before her immune system’s too busy fighting off the cold to notice the DNA injection, Doctor?” he asked as Fawn and he exited the ICU cubicle.
“Perhaps a few hours,” Fawn estimated tugging off his mask and gloves.
“Yes, but does she have those few hours?”
“We’ll soon know, Captain.” Fawn turned to the man and suggested, “Go get some rest. I’ll call you when I’m ready to give her the second injection.”
“I … I can’t rest, Doctor,” Scarlet admitted. “I want to stay by her side, if I may. I have until Oh-eight hundred before I’m due in to Command Control.”
With a sigh Fawn agreed. “All right, but keep that sterile mask on. She doesn’t need any more battles at the moment.” Fawn left and Scarlet settled into a chair beside Tighor’s bed. Three hours later, Fawn analyzed a blood sample to see if the cold virus was being attacked by Tighor’s white cells. With a smile he announced, “Complete system-wide warfare, Captain. This just might work.” Taking the syringe with Scarlet’s Mysteron DNA components, Fawn allowed Scarlet to gently roll Tighor onto her side. He then injected the liquid as close to the weeping wound as he dared. “Now we wait,” the doctor informed with a supportive squeeze to Scarlet’s arm. “Stay as long as you can.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Scarlet said and resettled himself into his chair, one hand atop Tighor’s bent arm. The waiting continued through the night, with Scarlet never leaving the woman’s side.
Colonel White checked in on Tighor at the end of his duty shift to find Scarlet slumped and breathing noisily in the chair. Smirking at the sight, the commander-in-chief pulled aside an on-duty nurse. “Wake the captain in an hour for a briefing,” he instructed the woman. “The Mysterons have announced their next objective.” Without disturbing his junior officer’s slumber, Colonel White left the sickbay for other duties.
Tighor woke him before the hour, however, with a squeeze of his limp hand. Scarlet stirred and straightened in his seat. Rubbing his eyes and yawning he smiled broadly and asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Tired, like I just ran a hundred mile marathon,” she whispered with heavy lids.
“That’s understandable. In a way you just did.” Standing he pulled his hand from her weak grasp. “I’ll go get the doctor. Don’t go away,” he urged with a wink. Fawn was eager to check her vital signs, and after a quick examination of Tighor’s back, announced her wound was almost completely healed.
“Amazing, Captain,” Fawn announced beaming. “This isn’t something I’d recommend again, but all indications are she’ll be completely recovered within the day. I’ll need to monitor her immune system,” Fawn warned, then turned to Tighor. “You may soon be suffering again from a depressed immune system, Laurel. You’ve got one crikey of a head cold, and you’ll most probably be fighting off Captain Scarlet’s’ genetic material again. But,” the doctor added with a proud grin, “he saved your life.”
“A third time,” Tighor mused.
“Third?” Scarlet asked, jerking his chin in confusion.
With a weak smile Tighor explained, “You gave me a chance to redefine my life, show me some excitement. You showed me love. That’s worth at least one life.”
Fawn stepped in, then. “Captain, I believe you’re due in at Command Control for a briefing. I want Ms. Tighor to rest.” The doctor again addressed his patient. “Laurel, I have some tests to run, but I have a feeling you’re going to need some drug therapy to get through this. The sooner we start ..."
“Of course, Doctor,” Scarlet agreed. He bent down to kiss Tighor on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.” Scarlet headed up to the command deck to meet with Colonel White and the rest of his fellow officers. His mind considering the consequences of Tighor’s recovery, the British captain only half listened to the meeting. If she could fight off the Mysteron genes, Tighor would be human again, and Scarlet would again be alone in his uniqueness. Would Tighor choose, then, to return to her university, knowing it had been a place of death and her suffering? Would she decide to join Spectrum, after all? Would Colonel White rescind his offer? Would the Mysterons continue to threaten her, even though the experiment had ultimately been a failure?
Scarlet blinked back into his present. Colonel White was speaking, glaring right at him as he did so. “The Mysterons are far more willing to pit humans against humans as we have recently seen with Captain Scarlet. This time they’ve decided to target man’s greed and financial ambition. They’re using our own human nature against us. This makes the Mysterons far more dangerous than we originally predicted.
“Though their method of infiltration is uncertain, the Mysteron’s new target is the main Eurodollar storage facility in Meadows, France.” White returned his gaze to Scarlet. “As there is a definite chance of an explosive device, I’m sending you, Captain Scarlet, into the facility alone. You’ll make use of the complex’s infrared cameras and motion detectors to locate any booby traps, bombs, or Mysteron agents.”
“Yes, Sir,” Scarlet answered with a nod.
“I’m also sending Captains Blue and Ochre to lockdown the security perimeter, so no one gets in or out without our knowledge. In case of a large scale assault, I will have heavy, armored vehicles and troops standing by and the Angels ready for immediate launch.” With a serious glare White considered Scarlet and warned, “The on-site security system consists of a highly sophisticated series of laser beams and remote cameras. There is also the danger of high voltage triggers, if one were to break a storage seal, so you must be extremely cautious, Captain. High voltage is the one element which can kill you, permanently.”
“I understand,” Scarlet agreed. “Will there be site security assisting us?”
“A minimum staff of volunteers has agreed to stay behind to help with the search. The rest have already been evacuated. You’ll also be provided with a remote viewer unit so you can monitor the entire base.” White considered his officers. “Greed, gentlemen, usually doesn’t concern us. However, the financial security of a quarter of the world’s population is. We must make every effort to avoid this facility’s destruction. I’ll expect updates from you all at every juncture.”
“Yes, Sir,” they snapped in chorus. With the briefing over, the captains rose and headed for the Spectrum passenger jet and departure clearance.
Scarlet paused at the lift. “I’ll … meet you at the jet in a moment. There’s something I need to do.”
“We leave in ten minutes,” Blue reminded.
“I’ll be there,” Scarlet promised and headed for the sickbay. There he found Tighor asleep. He watched her for a moment, unwilling to awaken the woman just to tell her he was leaving once more for a mission.
From behind him a familiar Australian accent offered, “I’ll tell her you stopped by, Captain.” Scarlet turned to Dr. Fawn and nodded his gratitude before exiting to join his fellow officers for their trip to France.
The flight was uneventful and broodingly silent for Scarlet. Blue seemed to notice and didn’t push his friend into conversation. They landed at the nearest airstrip to the Eurodollar storage facility. Arriving at the outer gates in an SPV they found that though security had already been strengthened and the facility locked down, it seemed the remote monitors had failed and the electrical fences and security triggers had been deactivated. “The Mysterons have beat us here,” Blue surmised from the security control center. “We may not have time to prevent the complex’s destruction.”
“We’ve got to try,” Scarlet insisted. “I’m going in.” He took the remote viewer from a security officer and slipped the petite video unit onto his cap. He next flipped the tiny monitor down over one eye. The security chief also handed him an override key card which would allow him complete access to the complex. “Captain Blue, see if you can get the facility’s remote cameras working again. Until then, I’m blind to everything but what’s in front of me.”
“SIG,” Blue answered. “Be careful and take these.” Blue handed him a Mysteron gun. Then, pinning a tracker disc onto Scarlet’s lapel, he added, “If you need us, we’ll have a fix on your position with this.”
“SIG,” Scarlet said, tucking the key card into his jacket pocket. “Stay safe.” He entered the facility, gun at the ready. As he combed the corridors looking for opened doors or broken seals, he reported back to Blue who stayed in the security control center while Ochre had positioned himself at the outer gate with the SPV to prevent escape. “No sign of forced entry so far,” Scarlet reported through his cap mike. “I’m proceeding to the main storage vaults. How’re those cameras coming along?”
“Still working on it,” Blue answered from his own microphone. “Whoever shut them down entered an encrypted lockout code. We’re using the computer files to run a diagnostic and a reboot of the entire security system. If we can reset it, the whole complex will be back up and running, including the infrared monitors and electrical charges. You’ll have to be careful you don’t set one off.”
“Understood. I’m not far from the first vault. The override card should let me in without tripping the alarm.” Scarlet slipped down the long corridor. Suddenly his remote viewer fizzled to life. He could now see a rotating view of the monitoring cameras throughout the facility projected onto the tiny lens before his left eye. “Great job, Adam. I can oversee the entire complex. Right. No one in corridors A through C. No movement in areas Delta through Gamma. It looks as though the place is deserted. I’m at the first vault. If a booby trap was set, I’ll need to find it quickly. Any suggestions, Chief?” Scarlet asked of the security sergeant.
“The currency is all secured in canvas satchels within large wooden crates, Captain,” the security chief explained through Scarlet’s earpiece. “If someone intended to set an explosive charge, he might affix it to one of the crates, start an incendiary reaction.”
“Understood,” Scarlet answered his vision ever vigilant between the remote camera views and his own location. “I’m about to enter the first vault,” he announced. “Swiping key card … now.” Scarlet’s cap mike buzzed.
“Captain Scarlet,” Blue called. “Are you inside the vault?” Only silence answered him. “Captain Scarlet?” Blue turned to the security sergeant. “Can you get a fix on his location using the tracker disc? Something’s jamming his cap mike.” When the sergeant only shrugged, Blue insisted, “Is there a device or material within the vault which might be affecting the transmission?”
“No, Captain. He should be inside the vault, no problems.” The sergeant checked the tracker monitor superimposed atop the complex virtual map. “Looks like you’re right. Something must be jamming the tracker. I’m not getting a signal.”
“Unless,” Blue surmised, “The key card was a fake. He could have set off the security alarm, the electrical security field. We turned the entire system back on, remember?”
“That was my own override card,” defended the security chief. “It worked for me.”
“It would,” Blue confirmed, “if you weren’t already a Mysteron reconstruction.” The sergeant backed up, his hands raised as Blue drew his pistol. “Take me to that vault. Now,” Blue insisted. “I’ll have a look myself, if you don’t mind.”
“Believe me, Captain. I don’t know what happened to your partner’s microphone. The security cameras should locate him. Let’s check.” The chief pointed to the bank of monitors along the far wall.
“All right. You have thirty seconds to find him; then we’re going in together.” The chief marched to the monitors and poked the keyboard controls to switch cameras. The monitors flipped from one view to another as Blue stood behind him, gun at the ready.
Though the views changed, showing various angles throughout the complex, including within the vaults, there was no sign of Scarlet. “I … I don’t understand it. He couldn’t have just disappeared,” the security chief insisted. “This doesn’t make sense.” Feverishly he adjusted the camera angles toward the floor both within and outside the first storage vault. “He’s not there, Captain Blue. He must be somewhere where there’s no remote monitor.”
“And where would that be?” Blue inquired with dwindling patience.
“There are several places,” the chief confessed. “Private offices, storage closets, security stations, restrooms. There are others.”
“Then we’re wasting time standing here. Come on,” Blue ordered.
“I … I can’t leave my post,” the chief reasoned.
“Then you won’t mind me doing this.” Blue reached over and smacked the sergeant on the shoulder with his pistol. As the security chief collapsed to the floor, Blue apologized. “I can’t take the chance that you’re not really who you say you are. Sorry, Buddy.” Blue slipped another remote monitor over his cap, swiveled the eyepiece into place, and strutted from the security control room out into the bowels of the complex. En route he hailed Captain Ochre. “Captain Scarlet has disappeared,” he informed. “I’m going in to find him. Contact Colonel White and have the Angels keep surveillance outside. I need you in the security control center to monitor the complex.”
“What about the security chief?” Ochre asked.
“He showed a conflict of interest. You might want to secure him yourself. I just knocked him out.”
“SIG, Captain. I’m on my way,” Ochre replied. With a confirming nod, Blue proceeded along the corridor, heading for the location where his friend had disappeared.
Captain Scarlet poised the key card above the security slot and slid it through. In response he was assaulted by a stinging shock which overloaded his cap mike and tracker disc. Scarlet doubled over in pain, his entire body on fire. When his world darkened to unconsciousness, Scarlet collapsed. He didn’t see the vault door open or the dark figure that reached down and grabbed him by the arm. Captain Black quickly dragged the Spectrum officer to the nearest cargo elevator. The Mysteron agent had little time before Scarlet’s companions came looking for him. The arriving black helicopter would be conspicuous sitting on the roof should one of the Spectrum Angels fly over.
Taking the Mysteron gun from the crumpled officer, Black hit the elevator button for the roof. The lift rose. As it slowed, Scarlet stirred with a groan. When he was aware enough of the pallid face before him he cleared his dry throat and asked, “Why didn’t you just kill me? And where are the bombs?”
Black’s lips curled in irony. “The Mysterons knew you would come. There are no bombs. Get to your feet, Captain; we are leaving.”
Slowly Scarlet climbed to stand and shakily exited the elevator as Black kept the Mysteron gun aimed at his back. “You were never after the Eurodollar stores, were you?”
Black pointed him toward the arriving helicopter. “You will not be allowed to help your fellow humans, Earthman. You have made yourself evident a true threat to our intent. The Mysterons once used you for their own means. Now we shall use you again.”
Scarlet stalled upon the roof just short of the helipad, the Mysteron gun aimed at his middle. The approaching helicopter nearly stole his words in the violent downdraft. “I won’t cooperate, Captain Black. You’ll have to kill me,” he admitted his hands raised and empty.
“Where is the woman who is as you?” Black asked. The Mysteron agent was obviously going to ignore Scarlet’s challenge.
“She’s not like me,” Scarlet countered. “The experiment was a failure. She’s just as mortal as anyone. As you once were, when you still had a soul.” In that, the Spectrum officer hatched an arguing point. “There is compassion in you, Captain,” Scarlet reasoned. “You’ve not killed everyone you’ve used. Symphony Angel’s still grateful for that. Leave Dr. Tighor alive. She’s no threat to you. Believe me.”
“And you, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet lowered his arms to reply. “I’m working to save the lives of Earth. We all are. Spectrum doesn’t attack the Mysterons. We only act in self defense. We’re sorry for what happened on Mars. It was a misunderstanding. Your cameras looked like guns. The real Captain Black knew the truth. You must have that memory. You know the truth.”
With tilted head Black waved him toward the now waiting helicopter. “Do you reason for your life, Earthman?” Just then an Angel fighter jet roared overhead. Scarlet, standing in his bright Spectrum uniform, knew he’d been spotted. Captain Blue and the security team would be rushing up to the roof in minutes. He needed only to stall further and there would be a chance to capture Captain Black.
“I reason for yours, Conrad,” Scarlet countered taking a calculated step toward the man. Black leveled the gun but didn’t reach for the trigger. “Surely there’s some part of you which regrets the killing. There’s some bit of humanity left in you that we can help. It happened to me.”
Black backed up one step to answer. “The Mysterons are my masters. It is their will I follow, their voice I hear in my head. Your words will not sway me.”
“Then know this, Mysteron agent,” Scarlet attested with a determined exhale. “Killing me will not stop the fight. This is our home. We intend to keep it.”
Black waved the gun toward the idling helicopter with its invisible pilot. “Get in,” he grumbled.
“And if I refuse?”
Black reached for his holstered pistol. Raising the barrel he shot Scarlet twice in the shoulder. Scarlet grabbed for the injury, teetering with the concussion. “We know you will not die, Earthman. Get into the helicopter.”
Fighting to stay conscious against the pain, Scarlet assured, “I won’t let you use me again. I’ve already lost my soul. You’ll just have to kill me.”
“Very well, Captain,” Black admitted. “We will find another such as you.”
Scarlet laughed painfully, slumping to his knees. Blood trickled over the hand covering his wounds. He coughed and tasted blood, a punctured lung. “There is no other,” he gasped. “I’m one of a kind.”
Just then Captains Blue and Ochre burst onto the roof, their pistols aiming for the two men by the helicopter. Black and Scarlet were both hit by the gunfire. Stumbling toward his only escape route, Black nearly dropped the stolen Mysteron gun now dangling from one injured hand.
Ochre, bracing for the resultant electrical pulse, aimed his own Mysteron weapon in Black’s direction. Blue grabbed his arm. “No, Rick! You’ll kill Paul too at this range.” The helicopter rose from the pad a dark figure within. Black was no longer on the roof. Despite being riddled with bullets, he’d somehow slunk into the craft. “Melody Angel,” Blue ordered into his suspended microphone, “Captain Black has taken the helicopter. He has a Mysteron gun in his possession. Shoot him down.”
“SIG, Captain Blue,” Melody drawled from his inset cap brim headphone.
As the helicopter pivoted and headed for the nearby forest and freedom Melody swooped overhead. She fired her first rocket and missed. Black swerved and increased his speed of retreat. “Come on, Melody,” Blue urged as he moved to kneel beside the downed Scarlet. “You’re a better shot than that.” As two more Angel fighters arrived to defend the complex, Melody shot again. The helicopter burst into a fireball falling from the sky. Within the fiery crash, Black had to be dead. Carefully Blue collected his injured comrade as Ochre called for a Spectrum chopper to return them to Cloudbase.
Later, while recovering in Dr. Fawn’s sickbay, Scarlet awoke to find Tighor at his bedside. Weakly he smiled. She returned it with a cheerful grin. “You’re too brave for your own good, Captain,” she told him.
“Laurel. You’re well?” he inquired gruffly his punctured lung only now mending.
“I’m just homesick,” she admitted with a shrug. “I’m better, but I don’t think I’ll ever be well enough to earn a permanent position at the university now. It’s like the old HIV virus, that blood of yours. It … it will eventually kill me, I suppose.”
Scarlet battled his weariness and the painkillers to murmur, “I’m sorry, Laurel. I never meant to-“
“It wasn’t your fault.” She squeezed his limp hand. “We were both used by the university scientists. The good news is this won’t ever happen again. Spectrum has confiscated all the medical records and notes not destroyed in the blast. With the scientists gone, there won’t be any more like me … or you.”
“One of a kind,” Scarlet mumbled to himself as he drifted back to his healing sleep. Several hours later, when he awoke, Scarlet remembered only a warm, tender kiss upon his lips. Sitting up stiffly he asked the supreme medical commander of her condition. “How is Laurel, really, Doctor? What will she need to endure?”
“I found a compromise,” Fawn explained offering an arm for Scarlet to swing his legs down off the bed. “By giving her immune depressants, I can slow the rate of her immune system’s degradation. But her body’s battling a constant enemy now, the Mysteron genetic material in her bloodstream. And because of the drug therapy, she’ll be more susceptible to earthbound illnesses.” Scarlet frowned and opened his mouth to protest, but Fawn raised a hand to stop him. “She’ll have to stay on the therapy for the rest of her life. She’ll be weak, but she’ll be able to return to teaching, at least part time.”
“I’ve left her with half a life,” Scarlet cursed gripping the bed sheets beneath him with two guilty fists. “Laurel never wanted that. She wanted an adventurous life, one filled with challenges and opportunities.” He leaped down from the medical platform to dress into a waiting uniform. “I’ve got to see her, Doctor. Where is she?”
“Not here, I’m afraid,” Fawn answered. “Colonel White can explain.” When Scarlet’s scowl threatened to transform into a sneer Fawn reluctantly continued, “I’m releasing you from sickbay early, Captain. Report to Command Control.” Scarlet grunted his reply. Once dressed he marched straight for Cloudbase’s command center.
White greeted him with a satisfied nod. “Good to have you back, Captain. The last twenty-four hours have been unnervingly quiet. We need to know what Captain Black’s intentions were.” White waved him to a stool as it rose from the floor.
“It seems the Mysterons were still after Dr. Tighor, Colonel. They wanted to use me to get to her. I was uncooperative, as you know.”
“Yes, that’s why I’ve called Captain Blue to fill in the blanks of your perspective.”
Scarlet turned in his seat to see Blue approaching to sit upon a second rising stool. “Glad to see you back on your feet, Captain,” Blue offered grasping his partner’s black-clad arm. “That was a vicious firefight you got caught in the middle of.”
“I’m fine, now, Captain,” Scarlet replied. “Just a little tired.”
“Very well,” White interrupted. “As you were saying, Captain Scarlet. Captain Black wanted to take you hostage in order to …”
“To force me to hand over Dr. Tighor,” Scarlet finished. “Colonel, the Mysterons had no interest in the Eurodollar storage facility. They deceived us.”
“Yes,” White ventured gravely. “That is my greatest concern. They have experienced the full gamut of human emotions and motivations through their reconstructions of us. I’m afraid they’re learning to be like us, adopting all the lesser qualities we humans try to combat in our daily lives.”
“Did Captain Black get away?” Scarlet asked leaning forward in his seat.
Blue cleared his throat and offered, “We searched the fiery wreckage of the helicopter after Melody shot it down. There was no sign of Captain Black or your Mysteron gun, Captain.”
“Then he’s escaped. He’s still alive.”
“Yes,” Blue ventured. “The fight continues.”
“With the Mysterons and with Captain Black. Two of a kind,” Scarlet contended. Then with a comprehending blink he urged, “They could still be interested in Laurel. I told Captain Black she was no longer a threat to the Mysterons, but I don’t think he believed me.”
“That’s why she’s been taken to a safe house,” Colonel White explained. “There’re only a chosen few who know the location. As you once suggested yourself, Captain, she’ll be given a new name and identity.”
“She’s gone? She’s no longer on Cloudbase?”
With a nod White defended, “While you were still recovering she agreed to be relocated. She knew that if you were aware of her new placement, it might put you in danger once more."
“She … she left without … Sir,” Scarlet admitted, “I request permission to visit Dr. Tighor at her safe house. There’s something we left unresolved.”
With a solid head shake White disagreed, “She wanted it this way, Captain. I respect her privacy and her concerns for your safety. She shall remain anonymous.”
Scarlet realized then there was no arguing with his superior, and he mechanically finished his report of what happened to him at the Eurodollar facility. Secretly Scarlet battled the fact he would probably never see Laurel Tighor again. When he’d finished his recitation the captain fell silent.
After a moment Colonel White offered, “I believe you’re due for 72 hours’ leave, Captain Scarlet. I suggest you take the time to finish your recovery and contemplate on your most recent experiences. We’ll expect you back on Cloudbase to resume your duties in three days.”
Understanding he was being dismissed, Scarlet rose from his seat. “Yes, Colonel,” he acknowledged and turned to leave.
When Blue moved to follow he was stalled by White’s negation. “He needs to be alone, Captain,” the colonel told him quietly. “I’ll authorize a passenger jet for him to leave Cloudbase. He need only inform us of his final destination.”
Staring at the closed door where his friend had disappeared, Blue murmured, “I think I know where he’ll be headed.”
The mountaintop was breezy most of the time as the Montana winds channeled down into the valleys. It was hot down there; Scarlet observed, as he adjusted his black, leather jacket over his turtleneck sweater and gazed from his rocky perch on the edge of his little property. Below him were more woods and just the peeking edge of a lumber road where the western quarter of the mountain had been cleared of timber for the nearby mill. This place was quiet, except for the rattling of the aspens in the wind. It was peaceful; so much so that he couldn’t stop thinking of the last time he had felt such a crisp summer breeze. It had been morning then, as it was near sunset now. And the vista had been far different: the Colorado River with Laurel. Scarlet knew she would have liked this place. They could have both been alone to more fully explore their feelings. Could she still love him, now that she understood the price for her few moments of indestructibility? Did she ever really love him, or was that just his perception from a frightened woman who saw him as her only familiar in a strange and uncertain new reality?
As Scarlet leaned out over the bluff to more fully appreciate the changing shadows of the valley in the kaleidoscopic light of the sunset, he had to admit to himself he might never be able to answer those questions. Then he heard a shuffling footstep behind him. Someone had come to join him in his solitude. “Adam?” he asked straightening himself to turn back toward his cabin. No one answered. Had Captain Black somehow followed him? Snatching for the pistol beneath his jacket, Scarlet drew and spun around to shoot. He flinched, sending the shot into the trees as Laurel Tighor jolted away. She stumbled backward over rocks, landing hard amongst pine needles. Quickly Scarlet re-holstered and scrambled to help her up. “Laurel. I’m sorry. I guess I’m still trigger jittery. Captain Black was never found in the helicopter wreckage.”
“No,” Tighor agreed sliding her arm into his jacket and cupping her hand firmly over his gun. “But he did find me, Earthman.” Withdrawing the weapon she aimed it at Scarlet’s middle.
Scarlet raised his hands. “This is an awful joke, Laurel. If you’re angry with me, I understand. I never intended to be a part of hurting you. Never.” Taking a tentative step backward, Scarlet knew the rocky, near sheer drop into the valley was behind him.
“It’s too late for your Laurel, Captain,” the woman announced in a voice as emotionless as a desert. “She’s dead, and I’m here to see that you follow.” Tighor closed the gap between them keeping the pistol leveled.
Scarlet realized, then, the truth. Somehow the Mysterons had found the Spectrum safe house. The woman he had loved was dead. As a Mysteron, this copy was only a facsimile. “But you must still have feelings for me. You’re still Dr. Laurel Tighor, even if you’re a reconstruction. Please. Tell me why the Mysterons wanted you, why they want to destroy us all. Isn’t there some way to negotiate … to end this war?”
Tilting her head at him Tighor asked, “Are you tired of fighting, Captain?”
“I’m tired of seeing people I care for hurt, of innocent people killed,” he reasoned sliding another booted foot back toward the bluff edge. “Isn’t there some way we can live together peacefully? What is it you really want from us?”
Tighor chuckled humorlessly waggling the gun at his middle. “Haven’t you figured that out yet? This world is filled with life. Our energies can thrive here, be free to grow within this paradise. As a Mysteron you should know this.”
Scarlet blinked at the allusion. “I’ve told you, I don’t remember anything from that time. I’m not a- Wait!” Scarlet froze atop the bluff hands in suspension beside his head. “Does that mean you’ve always intended to attack us? Was the base on Mars a stepping stone to conquest all along?”
“Enough of this,” a deep voice droned. Captain Black stepped from behind a thick spruce, his own pistol drawn. “Come down from there, Captain, and we will show you our true intentions.” The Mysteron agent showed no signs of injury from his previous brush with death.
Two against one, and Scarlet was unarmed. He glanced over his shoulder at the darkening valley. With a stiff breath of chilled air, Scarlet challenged, “Come and get me.” With a twist of boots and shove of legs, he dove over the ridge and into the forest. Shots followed him, but as he rolled past trees and prickly underbrush, none found flesh. Then an intruding aspen broke Scarlet’s tumbling fall, smashing him full in the arm. He heard and felt his limb crack and shoved his feet into the shifting leaf litter to halt his descent. Gasping in discomfort Scarlet scrambled to stand. He had to continue his retreat. No doubt the two Mysteron agents would not relinquish their quarry that easily.
Fortunately, Scarlet had spent time wandering these woods. He knew a deer path led to a stream downhill. Beyond that was the timber road. If he could just make it to the ranger station two miles away. There he could contact Spectrum.
Aboard Cloudbase Colonel White received a disturbing update from one of his ground forces. With grim certainty, he asked Lieutenant Green to contact Captain Blue. When Blue and Captain Grey entered command control White began his briefing. “I have some bad news, Gentlemen. I’ve just received a report from Flagstaff, Arizona. It seems Dr. Tighor’s safe house has been broken into. Our surveillance police found her body not thirty minutes ago. She’d been killed by what looks like an intense, localized electrical field. And yet there are no high-powered lines in the immediate vicinity.”
“Does Captain Scarlet know yet, Sir?” Blue asked resting a fist upon the colonel’s circular command dais.
“No, I haven’t contacted him. He’s on leave at his Montana property. I felt it best one of his close associates deliver the sad news. That is why I asked you up here.”
“Wait, Colonel,” Captain Grey interrupted. “Did the Spectrum police positively identify the cause of death? What you’re describing sounds suspiciously like a Mysteron gun. Only Spectrum personnel have them.”
“Yes,” White agreed grimly. “And that means one of two things. We have a Mysteron mole within our midst who knew of Dr. Tighor's location, or Captain Black has somehow found his target despite our efforts to protect the woman."
“His body and the stolen gun were never found,” Blue acknowledged. “Colonel, does this mean Dr. Tighor’s now a Mysteron agent? If so, what would be her target, her purpose?” The American captain’s baritone voice rose almost a scale as he continued, “She had free roam of Cloudbase, Sir. She knows the layout. I gave her a tour myself.”
“We cannot be certain what the Mysterons’ next move will be,” White contended, “but we can also not expect them to warn us. With time they’ve found their war of nerves is far more effective if they keep Spectrum in the dark. We must contemplate all possibilities.” White raised his eyes to his younger aide seated at the computer/communications station. “Lieutenant Green, contact all off-duty personnel and order them back to Cloudbase immediately. From this moment, Cloudbase is on full alert.”
“Yes, Sir,” Green answered and turned to his station to recall off-station officers.
“What if Captain Black has a purpose for Dr. Tighor that involves her special circumstances?” Blue inquired. “She’s still carrying genetic material from Captain Scarlet.”
Colonel White shook his head. “We cannot be certain. Perhaps Scarlet will have some new insight regarding this. He conversed with Captain Black.”
“Colonel White,” Lt. Green declared. “I get no response from Captain Scarlet’s transmitter. It’s either not in his possession or he’s unable to respond.”
“He may be in trouble, Sir,” Blue urged. “We should send a team down to find him.”
“Captain Black seemed to show an interest in him,” White agreed. “If so, you’ll need ground troops and a Mysteron weapon. Captain Grey, go with Captain Blue. Be careful and keep me informed.”
“SIG,” the two officers echoed rising from their stools to head directly for the flight deck. Shortly the two were flying to the nearest airbase to pick up an SPV and head for Scarlet’s mountain retreat. When they reached the cabin along the narrow dirt trail from the timber road, they found Scarlet’s private saloon parked alongside the building. No friendly lights greeted them from within, though in the dimming twilight, the illumination would have been needed. “Could he have turned the transmitter off and gone to bed early?” Grey asked. “It’s only 8:15, local time.”
“Let’s find out,” Blue suggested stepping away from the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle to approach the cabin’s front door. After knocking and calling his friend’s name, there was, however, no response. “I’m going in,” Blue informed Grey, drawing his gun.
“Wait,” Grey urged from beside the SPV. “I found another set of tire treads. Someone else has been here.”
“Whoever it was may have kidnapped Captain Scarlet,” Blue realized. “I’ll check the cabin. You take a look around the property while there’s still some light, Brad. Maybe we can find a clue. Meanwhile, I’ll contact Cloudbase and get a search team combing the area. We know this happened within the past hour. Captain Scarlet could still be near.”
After alerting his superior and requesting assistance, Blue searched Scarlet’s cabin. He found dirty dishes from dinner in the sink and a suitcase opened upon the dresser still holding folded clothes within. “Well, he was here,” Blue murmured to himself. “Something happened shortly after dinner, I’d say.” Finished his search, Blue wandered out onto the property to find Grey by the bluff edge glancing down into the darkened valley below. “What is it?” he called.
Grey pointed past the rocky ledge to the forest below. “Here, Captain. Look,” he said. Joining his companion, Blue gazed down the precipice, following Grey’s finger. “It’s a dirt slide. Someone slid or rolled down here. Recently, too.”
“You’ve got good eyes, Brad,” Blue contended just making out the disturbed leaves and dirt of a possible struggle. “Great job. Captain Scarlet was probably trying to escape someone, maybe Captain Black himself. Let’s hope he got away.” Blue contemplated their next actions. “Come on. We’ll take the SPV down there. I think the timber road winds around the mountain in this direction. With luck we’ll find Paul and Captain Black.” Once back inside the SPV Blue pulled the Mysteron gun from its storage locker. “We’re going to need every defense we can muster,” Blue acknowledged as Grey backed the vehicle for a tight turn back down the mountain.
Blue decided to contact Colonel White and activated his cap mike to swing into place with the flinch of a facial muscle. “He’s not at his cabin, Sir,” he told his superior. “Captain Grey and I are joining the search along the timber road. Local maps indicate a half-dozen other residences within a three mile radius. We’ll create a perimeter and close in.”
“Very good, Captain,” White answered into his cap earpiece. “I’m sending Symphony Angel to assist you. She’ll be piloting a helicopter equipped with a night scope and infrared cameras. Your search team has reported no other vehicles on the road leading up the mountain. You just may have him trapped.”
“If we arrived in time. SIG, Colonel. Wish us luck.” Blue turned to Grey as his cap mike swung back up to his visor. “Use the night scope instead of our searchlights, Captain. We might have a better chance. Symphony’s on her way in a chopper to conduct an aerial search.”
“SIG,” Grey answered as he drove the vehicle into a small clearing where sat two Spectrum domed transports and a red saloon. “There’s our team. We’ll update them and set up a roadblock.”
Agreeing Blue nodded. “The noose tightens,” he murmured hopefully.
Captain Scarlet gazed back down the shadowed dirt path that was the timber road. No wider than would allow two vehicles to pass tightly together, the road nonetheless would lead him to the ranger station and a phone. He had followed the path so far, well hidden among the trees. Following the stream he had stayed to cover rather than risk a trek out in the open. Captain Black’s car had already passed by twice, searching for him. Scarlet estimated it was near eight o’clock. The night ranger would have been assigned an hour before. As he continued his trek, Scarlet soon saw the brick and log building which was his goal. Chancing a sighting he scrambled the last several hundred yards to the station, and with his good arm knocked on the door. A shadow approached the glazed top door panel. Scarlet held his breath that Captain Black had not thought of this first. When the door opened the earnest face of the young ranger greeted him. “Mr. Metcalfe. Did you lose your way on a hike?”
Scarlet sighed his relief. “No, Officer Johnston. My … my phone is out. Could I use yours to contact the sheriff?” He stepped inside when the younger man waved him in.
“Sure. Hey, did you hurt your arm?” The ranger had noticed how he’d held it tightly to his side.
Scarlet strode to the man’s desk and reached for the phone receiver. “I fell in the darkness,” he told the ranger settling the receiver against his ear. As he moved to tap the buttons on the phone’s base, however, Scarlet neglected to notice the ranger’s pistol as it crashed down onto the back of his head. The ranger downed him with a single blow, and Scarlet’s world went black.
Captain Black stepped out from the shadows of the building to collect his prize. “You know what to do, Officer Johnston,” Black droned. “Start a forest fire near the crossroads. The Spectrum officers will have to withdraw, and we will be free to leave.”
Johnston nodded. “I will do as I’m ordered,” Mechanically, the Mysteron ranger helped Black haul the unconscious Scarlet to the waiting car parked behind the larger ranger vehicle. Together they tossed the Spectrum officer into the trunk. Silently Black bound Scarlet’s arms behind him with duct tape, shoved a piece over the man’s mouth, and threw the Mysteron gun in beside him to hide the conspicuous weapon from their searchers. As Black slid into the passenger side, Tighor started the engine and turned the vehicle toward the timber road and freedom. Slowly they followed behind the ranger’s Jeep, as Johnston revved off to create the distraction he’d been instructed to do.
As Black and Tighor approached the end of the timber road, however, they noticed the abandoned Jeep in a ditch and no forest fire to camouflage their escape. “Spectrum and their Mysteron detectors,” Tighor offered. “They’re sure we are here now.”
“We must hide until morning. We will be recognized,” Black said.
“There was a driveway two miles behind us. We can wait there until morning.” With a nod from Black Tighor steered the car around, and they retreated down the narrow drive that led to a sturdy cottage half hidden among the trees nearly a quarter mile in from the timber road. As they stopped the car before the closed garage, however, a woman appeared at the cottage door. Silhouetted by the internal lights of her house, she hesitated to come out.
Standing within her sanctuary, the woman asked from her screened door, “Can I help you?”
Black climbed from the car to step toward the front entry. “Our car is malfunctioning. Do you have a phone we may use?” He stood before the woman who withdrew from his pallid visage and death dark eyes. When he raised his gun Tighor, now beside him, grabbed his arm.
“Compassion, Captain Black,” she reminded. “I remember it well. We need only her garage to store the vehicle and her silence until morning.”
“Very well,” Black growled. They pushed their way inside. Tighor secured the woman and sat her in a chair, covering her mouth with another piece of duct tape. “I will move the car and check on Scarlet,” Black announced and retreated to the darkness outside once more. In the trunk he found his captive still unconscious. Black removed the Mysteron weapon to the passenger seat and rechecked Scarlet’s bindings. “Sweet dreams, Captain,” Black droned. “Tomorrow you will meet your true purpose.” He closed the trunk and drove the car into the opened garage, closing the door again before returning to the cottage. Now they need only wait for Spectrum to call off their search. A helicopter battered the air above him, making a slow sweep over the trees. Black considered the invisible, but noisy visitor before closing the cottage door. “They are not sure we are still here,” he announced to his female partner.
“They will not give up so easily,” Tighor countered. “Captain Scarlet is as valuable to Spectrum as he is to us Mysterons.” Beside her the young woman’s eyes expanded. It was clear the owner of this mountain home realized her peril. Did she understand the extent of Earth’s struggle for survival, however? Tighor considered the bound captive and smiled. “You will not be harmed today, Earthwoman. But be assured. Your time will come.”
In the cool confines of the car trunk Scarlet awakened to the realization his ranger acquaintance was now a Mysteron. The vehicle he was trapped within was most likely Captain Black’s, yet the car was stationary, the engine quiet. They were stalled, perhaps waiting for his comrades to leave the area. Scarlet estimated he could not have been unconscious for very long. He must still be somewhere along the timber road. Could Black have taken refuge with one of his mountain neighbors? Could someone else be in danger besides himself? Scarlet could not afford to squat idly within the darkness. He had to free himself somehow. Blind as he was he felt around his surroundings for a sharp edge of metal. Though his broken arm ached to move it, Scarlet discovered a ragged piece of fender and slid his bound wrists along the protrusion until the sticky bindings gave way. With a gasp, he likewise ripped the tape from his mouth. Then, feeling for the emergency release, Scarlet lifted the trunk door and climbed from his prison. He was in a closed garage. The car parked within the darkness, Scarlet could nonetheless discern the Mysteron gun laying upon the passenger seat. Carefully he opened the car door and removed the weapon. If Black and Tighor had taken the resident of this home hostage, he must be prudent with the deployment of such a deadly device. Silently he lifted the garage door enough to creep under the barrier and began to search the night for his quarry.
Captain Blue studied the road surface through his night goggles. “They’re the same tracks, all right,” he agreed with Grey. “Whoever was at Captain Scarlet’s cabin is down here as well. That ranger wasn’t the only Mysteron. If it’s Captain Black, he’s still here. No one’s gotten past our roadblock.”
“Then he’s along the timber road, maybe hiding out,” Grey suggested standing beside the SPV in the darkness.
“Right.” Blue’s epaulets just then bleeped white. “What is it, Symphony?”
“I have found four heat signatures at a house about a mile and a half from your present location,” the French pilot informed. “Three are inside a structure. One is roaming along the back side. A vehicle inside the garage section is showing a still warm engine.”
“Great work, Symphony Angel,” Blue chimed. “We may have one hostage and three targets. We’ll proceed with caution. Withdraw for now. We don’t want them spooked into taking drastic action.”
“SIG, Captain Blue,” Symphony answered.
Blue turned to Captain Grey. “Right. Let’s get down there. We’ll crash through the trees if we have to.”
With a nod, Grey climbed back into their vehicle, waited for Blue to join him, and then drove the SPV along the narrow path to the opening in the trees which was a resident’s driveway. “Like hounds to the scent,” Grey prompted and navigated, via his video monitor, around the perimeter stones bordering the property and down the gravel-lined driveway. The wider pursuit vehicle clipped several thin trunks and branches from the wooded path as it roared along the trail to the darkened cottage at its winding end. “There!” Grey announced and hit the brakes. The SPV skidded to a stop at the edge of the grassy yard.
Blue tapped his cap then flicked a switch on the control panel before his passenger seat. “Captain Black,” he announced into his lowered cap mike. His voice echoed into the darkness around the SPV through the onboard public address system. “Come out with your hostage, hands over your head. We have our rocket canon trained on the house and our SPV blocking your exit. You can’t get away.”
Captain Grey hit the button that opened the canon’s hood hatch. Meanwhile Symphony Angel returned to her overhead surveillance. The buzzing of the helicopter blades roared above the scene. Blue continued his monologue. “Captain Black. You’re trapped. Come out or we’ll resort to using lethal force.”
The front door of the cottage widened. Two shadowy figures stepped out into the yard. Grey flipped the SPV’s headlights on. “It’s Captain Black and a woman,” he said looking through his monitor.
Blue disengaged his microphone before informing, “That’s not Dr. Tighor. She must be the homeowner. Black’s taken her hostage.” Blue rose from his seat. “Open the hatch, Brad. I’m going out there. Don’t. Repeat. Don’t fire the SPV rockets. We won’t be a party to an innocent’s murder.”
“SIG,” Grey answered and allowed Blue to step past him and swing down to the ground. Blue turned toward the front of the vehicle, his pistol drawn.
“Let her go, Captain,” Blue ordered when he saw that the pallid faced Mysteron had his own pistol poised against the woman’s head. Her hands were obviously bound behind her, and her mouth was covered by a swatch of silver tape. She was totally defenseless. Just as Blue moved to cover Black with his gun and offer his ultimatum once more, a roaring vehicle crashed through the garage door and onto the yard with shrieking, dirt-spitting tires. Blue ducked back against the protective bulk of the SPV as the car skidded to a stop not four meters from where he had stood.
“You Earthmen have such compassion for your own comrades,” Captain Black announced from the far side of the damaged car. “Yet you think nothing of threatening a stranger. Would you risk this woman to get to me?”
“No!” Scarlet’s voice challenged. The British captain stepped out from the far side of the debris-strewn garage. Blue could see that on his shoulders perched a Mysteron gun. “Let her go, Captain Black. You can’t get away. Let’s end the killing right here. Right now.”
“Captain Scarlet,” Blue called. “Do you have a clear shot?” He held his own pistol against his shoulder, ready to roll out from the protection of the SPV and take his best aim in the glare of the headlights.
“Don’t shoot,” Scarlet ordered. “I’m removing the Mysteron gun,” he told the dark man whose arm clutched about his neighbor’s neck. Scarlet set the weapon down onto the grass and slowly stepped toward the two.
“Don’t leave yourself open,” Blue warned peeking around his shield to see Scarlet approaching from the far side of the abandoned car his arms spread in appeasement, himself as defenseless as Black’s hostage.
Scarlet ignored his friend’s warning. He, alone, must face the once Spectrum officer. An innocent was about to be killed because of him. “You once told me you’d reveal your true intentions,” Scarlet told the Mysteron agent. “Are the Mysterons willing to talk peace, or do you really intend to conquer us?”
“Our intentions are not for their ears, Captain Scarlet,” Black droned jerking his head toward the waiting SPV. “Come with me. I will tell only you.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Not on your life,” he swore. “Not unless you let the woman go.”
Black’s pallid lips curved into an ironic smile as he swung his pistol from his hostage and toward Scarlet’s chest. “Then it is a stalemate,” he said and dissolved before their astonished eyes. Scarlet launched himself forward to catch the young woman who, left unsupported, found her knees too weak to hold herself up in the face of such horror.
“Are you all right, Miss Darrows?” Scarlet asked his neighbor, helping her to stand and gingerly peeling the duct tape from her mouth.
She nodded then focused past Scarlet’s concerned blue eyes. “Look out!” she yelped.
Following her gaze Scarlet saw the figure of Tighor slink from the abandoned car and gather the downed Mysteron gun onto her shoulders. He shoved his neighbor out of the way. “Go! Quickly,” Scarlet urged then faced his enemy. “No, Laurel,” he pleaded. Standing within the protective shadow of the car, Tighor was out of range of Blue’s pistol. Only the SPV rockets would take her out. Yet such a weapon would also jeopardize Miss Darrows, Captain Blue, himself, and the house at this close range. Scarlet needed to reason with her. “You’re not like Captain Black,” he told her, arms spread to illustrate his sincerity. “His soul was taken long ago, but you remember. Remember how you feared becoming one of them. You won’t kill me.”
“Paul,” Tighor murmured, blinking into focus as if from a dream. She lowered her hand from the trigger.
“Give me the weapon. We can help you,” Scarlet promised offering his hand.
Laurel shook her head. “The voices, Paul. They’re in my brain.” She took two steps toward him, the Mysteron gun still resting atop her shoulders.
Grey hopped down beside Blue, his own pistol held at the ready. “Shoot her, Adam,” he urged his companion who was closer to Tighor. Blue shook his head never shifting his gaze from the woman. “We can at least wound her,” Grey suggested quietly. “That gun’s the only thing that can kill Scarlet, and it’s aimed right at him.”
Blue raised a halting palm. “Give him a chance, Captain,” he insisted. “This is the woman he loves.”
Scarlet watched Tighor press her fingertips over her temples. “I… I can’t hear you over their commands,” she stuttered eyes cringing as if in pain.
“I don’t know how to silence the voices, Laurel,” he admitted sadly. “I had to die a second time before I lost contact. We’re not sure it would work again.”
Tighor tugged the weapon from her shoulders tossing it to the ground. Sinking to her knees she spread her arms before him “Then … then do it. Kill me, Paul,” she groaned face twisted in conflict. “I want to be free. Like you.”
“Like me,” Scarlet murmured to himself. Could it work, he wondered? Could Tighor become indestructible like himself, more importantly, free from Mysteron control?
“Here, Captain!” Blue tossed Scarlet his own blue-coded pistol.
Catching it, Scarlet turned the gun on the woman teetering before him. “Just one shot, Laurel,” he murmured, his eyes glazing before his target. “You won’t feel much pain.” Aiming at her heart he pulled the trigger. The sound echoed hollowly in the forested night, like the dusty collapse of an Egyptian tomb.
Tighor gasped, clutched at her chest with a cringing wince and crumpled into a fleshy heap. Scarlet let the gun slip from his fingers as he knelt beside Tighor and cradled her head in his trembling hands. He was unaware of the movements around him as Blue stepped forward to remove the discarded weapons. Grey moved to use the Mysteron detector dangling from his neck to check Miss Darrow’s identity before cutting the tape binding her hands.
Blue let his cap mike swing down before his lips. “It’s over, Colonel,” he announced simply. “Captain Black got away. He really can disappear. We all saw it.”
“And Dr. Tighor?” White inquired in his ear.
“She’s here,” Blue informed soberly glancing down at the woman within Scarlet’s arms. “She’s … she’s dead, Sir. Captain Scarlet … I’ll … give you a full report, Colonel.”
“I’ll be expecting it,” White replied. “I want this operation recalled to Cloudbase, Captain. Make sure Scarlet returns with you. I want a full report from him as well.”
“SIG, Colonel.” Blue turned to wave the approaching Spectrum saloon away. “We’re done here. Return to base,” he called to their backup police. The vehicle blinked its headlights in understanding as the driver reversed back to the timber road. Blue considered Captain Grey who took the stolen Mysteron gun from him. “Get everything back into the SPV. We’ll be there in a moment,” he told the brown-eyed captain. Grey only nodded once and complied. Captain Blue’s eyes them lowered to the two people upon the cold grass. Scarlet still had Tighor’s shoulders wrapped in his arms. “Paul?” he asked tentatively. “Are you all right?”
Scarlet bowed his head over the limp, bloodied body beneath him. “Physically, I’m fine, Adam.” Gathering Tighor in his arms he rose. With a grunt, he added, “Let’s get her to Cloudbase. We’ll know in a few hours if…” Scarlet fell silent, unable to finish his hope.
“Right,” Blue answered and led the way back to the SPV. Without another word, Scarlet followed and carried Tighor’s body up into the vehicle. The British captain cradled her in his lap all the way to the closest air base where Captain Blue requisitioned their jet. Within two hours the three captains and their special cargo were stepping onto Cloudbase. Colonel White met them inside the hangar.
“Dr. Fawn’s preparing sickbay for Dr. Tighor, Captain,” White informed. “Meanwhile, I want to see you in my conference room, immediately.”
“Yes, Colonel,” Scarlet answered quietly. Blue watched as a medical gurney rolled Tighor’s body away. Scarlet’s back was timber stiff as he followed his superior to the lift and command control’s conference room.
“I’m going too,” Blue announced to an uncertain Captain Grey.
As Blue’s booted feet headed for the lift, Grey called after him, “I don’t think you were invited, Adam.” Blue ignored his friend.
In the conference room Colonel White paced about the circular table. “That was an unprecedented risk you took, Captain,” he berated. “You had access to a Mysteron gun, and yet you declined to destroy both agents when given the chance.”
Stepping in through the yawning door, Blue heard White’s accusation and defended his friend. “But Colonel,” he cut in. “They had a hostage.”
“I’m not interested in your perspective at the moment,” White snapped in his direction before returning his wrath to Scarlet. “I realize you cared for the woman, but you left yourself vulnerable to the one weapon that could kill you, and Tighor held it in her possession.”
“That’s just it, Colonel,” Scarlet defended. “She didn’t kill me. She was confused. She wasn’t under their full control. There was a chance she-“
“Colonel White!” Lt. Green called through the central control dais speaker. “Emergency in sickbay, Sir. Dr. Tighor has revived and has taken Dr. Fawn hostage. She demands to see Captain Scarlet. She also wants a Spectrum jet readied on the tarmac.”
“Lieutenant, get security down to sickbay immediately to surround the area,” White commanded. “Keep them outside the doors until further notice. I won’t risk Dr. Fawn’s life, until we’re sure of Tighor’s exact position.”
“SIG, Sir,” Green acknowledged.
“Colonel,” Scarlet prompted. “Let me go down there. If she wants me-“
“You are not leaving this base, Captain,” White warned him stabbing a finger at the younger man’s chest.
Scarlet bowed his eyes in agreement. “I know what must be done, Sir. I… I won’t fail you again.”
“No, Captain. You won’t, because if you do, I’ll have you both hunted down with Mysteron weapons. Is that understood?”
When Scarlet nodded, Blue cleared his throat. “I’m going too,” he demanded.
“No, Adam. It’s too dangerous,” Scarlet insisted sidestepping to leave without him.
“Go with him, Blue,” White ordered. “Make sure Dr. Tighor is confined, destroyed if need be.”
“Yes, Sir,” Blue answered and spun to follow Scarlet from the room. Together they approached the security officers outside the sickbay doors. “Stand back,” Blue told them. “Captain Scarlet and I will go in first. Give us one minute, then follow.” Scarlet took a Mysteron gun from a junior officer and stoically slipped it onto his shoulders. Then, taking up positions astride the door, Blue stated, “On three. One. Two. Three.”
The two captains spun on the opening door and slipped inside to find Dr. Fawn pressed against a defensive Tighor who stood with a pistol aimed at the doctor’s head.
Scarlet raised his hands away from the Mysteron weapon. “Wait!” he urged. “Laurel, why are you doing this? And what do the Mysterons want from me?”
“We want your knowledge, Earthman,” Tighor explained tightening her grip on the unresisting Fawn. “We want your alliance against your comrades.”
“Laurel, please. Let us help you. If you don’t release the doctor, I’ll … I’ll have to kill you.”
Chin rising in defiance Tighor challenged, “You forget, My Love. I’m already dead.” With that she turned her gun on the blond man beside Scarlet and pulled the trigger. With a grunt, Blue spun away hitting the wall and collapsing to the deck. Blood flowed from the man’s forehead.
“No!” Scarlet bellowed. Dr. Fawn took the advantage to twirl away from his captor. As he wriggled free Scarlet activated the weapon at his chest sending an intense and focused beam of electrically charged electrons at Tighor’s torso. With a scream Tighor crumpled to the deck with a solid thump. Scarlet ripped the gun from his shoulders and fell to his knees beside his partner. “Adam!”
Fawn came to kneel beside him. Sliding aside the blue kepi, the doctor examined the head wound. “Looks like a graze to the temple. We’ll get him taken care of, Captain. He’ll be all right.”
“He’s not indestructible,” Scarlet reminded the doctor grimly.
“No, just lucky this time.” Together they gathered the downed captain in their arms and placed him on the nearest bed. Fawn called for a nurse to assist him and began his ministries as the security team rushed in to cover their fellow officers.
“The area is secure,” Scarlet informed glancing down at the woman he had once loved. With a heavy sigh he spoke in somber certainty. “I’m sorry, Laurel. I guess I’m destined to be alone. One of a kind.” Though the possibility had arisen, the chance had failed. Tighor was gone. Yet it had worked once. Scarlet had been saved from the influence of the Mysterons. If one of his comrades were to ever be taken, could he find the strength to give them this one chance? Would it too fail? What had been the exact circumstances of Scarlet’s salvation and recovery? Could it happen again? Did he want it to? Scarlet frowned and considered the unconscious and bleeding Captain Blue upon the medical table. The battle, both with the Mysterons and within himself, it seemed was far from over.
COPYRIGHT 9/20/00; REVISED 9/25/01, 12/31/11
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