Synopsis: The sequel to Lady Hawke’s The Shape of Things… Seeking to discover the true mystery of the Mysterons, Captain Scarlet goes against orders to utilize a piece of advanced technology. By experimenting with Professor deRavin’s electrode-studded helmet, Scarlet’s hope is to tap into the Mysterons’ hive mind and discover useful information dealing with a new entity- The Guardians. But will the Mysterons notice Scarlet’s inner wanderings and seize his mind to their control once more? And will the shape-shifter, Ehlora Piper, assist and guide Scarlet to the information which might save his Earth from their shared and deadly enemy? This is Lady Hawke’s 11th Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons story.
Against All Reason
“Shoot, Adam,” Scarlet commanded from beside his makeshift laboratory platform. “It’s the only way to find out.”
“You’re crazy, Paul,” Blue defended, his sidearm still safely stowed in its holster. “The colonel told you to give up this scheme of yours. The risk is too great. I won’t help you.”
“Adam,” Scarlet reasoned even as he slid the electrode-studded helmet over his dark hair. “Somehow, on Phobos II, I was able to tap into another dimension, another world. I can’t explain it. But the answers are there. I have to replicate the circumstances of my exile as best I can if I’m going to learn who these Guardians are, and what they want with Earth. You have to kill me.”
Blue was shaking his kepi-topped head. “Do you hear what you’re saying? Do you know how crazy this all sounds? I can’t do it.”
“Then leave the room. I’ll do it myself.” With a slight twisting of spine Captain Scarlet drew his own pistol. Sidling down onto the platform, just a steel slab with a crowning pillow, he next settled his fishbowl-like headdress horizontal.
Blue was instantly beside him. A solid hand rose to intercept the weapon. “No. I can’t let you do this.” The firearm was wrenched from Scarlet’s determined grip as a forbidden object from a child. When Scarlet only scowled at him and tightened his fists as if for blows, Captain Blue sighed. “Look, Paul. Explain it to the colonel one more time. If you can show him the risk is worth the gain, then maybe he’ll let you do this, but only under Dr. Fawn’s guidance. It’s just too dicey otherwise.”
Scarlet vaulted into a sit and yanked the blinking helmet from his skull. “I’ve tried to reason with Colonel White. I don’t think he believes these dreams of mine are anything but manifested anxiety.” His deep blue eyes bored into his friend’s. “Have you ever believed me to act irrationally, Adam? Have I ever shown even an inkling of erratic behavior when it came to foiling the Mysterons’ plans?”
“Not for good reason, no,” Blue agreed with a grudging smirk. Then the man’s face descended into morosity. “But lately, you haven’t been yourself, Paul. You’ve been moody, distracted and irritable. Even the Angels have said so. Destiny’s urged me to hint at a psyche evaluation for you.”
“A shrink?” Now Scarlet found himself firmly on his boots. “I don’t need a doctor ripping apart my brain. I need a chance to decipher what’s inside it.” He spun on his friend. “Adam. Please. Just go. I’ll be all right. I promise.”
Blue only clenched his partner’s pistol tighter in his fist. He shook it before Scarlet threateningly. “If I leave you alone to your own devices, who knows what’s going to happen? You could drift into permanent psychosis, for all I understand of the human psyche.” Blue scowled at his friend and lowered a resigning chin. “If you think you can truly tap into the Mysterons’ hive-like consciousness, what’s to stop them from sensing your presence as well? Think about it, Paul. They could turn the tide and suck you back to their influence, make you their puppet again. It’s a risk none of us is willing to take, least of all you!”
Scarlet pouted at Blue’s candid concerns. There existed a very strong possibility that if he was able to communicate with the Mysterons, discover what these Guardians were, Scarlet himself could be lost within the sheer complexity of the Mysterons’ plans. “Perhaps you’re right,” he conceded setting the electrode helmet down atop the platform. “Let’s go talk with Doctor Fawn. See what he thinks about all this. Maybe there’s a way to experiment with the helmet before I go all the way.”
“You mean practice with your death?” Adam queried, his own blue eyes squinting in dour cynicism. “Tall order, buddy.”
“Yet the rewards could be boundless, Adam. You know that. I’ve had a glimpse past my own mind, to a greater consciousness. I need to know where it may lead and what knowledge lies there.”
“You could end up losing it all,” Blue warned him even as he handed Scarlet back his sidearm. “Your sanity, your identity. These Guardians might only be in your dreams.”
Now as he re-holstered his weapon, Scarlet raised a challenging brow. “You mean like the shape-shifter, Ehlora Piper?”
Blue nodded and led the way to the laboratory’s exit. “Well, you did just imagine her and an entire adventure while you were away, trapped inside that capsule.”
Over the past few weeks, Scarlet had had time to remember more of his ordeal from Phobos II. He had been stranded on the incoming asteroid once his Mars-bound probe had suffered a coolant leak. To avoid complete engine failure and the explosion of the main rocket, Scarlet had had to jettison the engine, leaving only secondary retro-rockets to maneuver him not to Mars, but toward the asteroid which provided him a free ride home. The trip had taken over a month, however. Scarlet had rationed his air supply and maintained the pod’s temperature controls as best he could. The dead of space had outlasted both systems. By the time Scarlet had been rescued, his frozen, desiccated body had required extraordinary measures in order to heal and recuperate. The journey had left the Spectrum captain with a dual reality – that of his frigid transit and an alternate universe of a Mysteron threat to create a shape shifting army bent on destroying Earth’s inhabitants. Through both scenarios, a common message had floated amidst his shifting consciousness – The Guardians were coming.
The intriguing statement hadn’t left Scarlet alone since. Even in his restful sleep he had been awakened by the voice telling him of their arrival. But who were the Guardians? No computer data search had illuminated the captain of their possible existence or origin. This experiment was the only way he could see past the phantom summons. Through his deathly ordeal in space, Scarlet had communicated to a greater perception. Its avatar, of sorts, had been Piper. Scarlet needed to tap that reality once more, to discover what or who was coming – and why.
“I’ll never know the truth unless I keep asking questions,” he told his partner. “I’ve asked all I can here. It’s time to go inside.”
“Inside your mind,” Blue clarified as they strode through Cloudbase’s corridors toward sickbay. “I’m not sure any of us should know all the secrets of the mind. Maybe this is a crazy idea.”
Scarlet paused in his stride to face Blue. “I need to know, Adam. And so does Spectrum.” With a shrug of an arm he recommenced his journey. “If there’s a way to defeat the Mysterons, to join up with an ally of sorts, then we can’t just turn our backs to the possibilities.”
Blue’s tilted head displayed his continued doubt. “Outer space is still a great big, undiscovered country. I’m not sure our little human minds can encompass it all.”
“I’m not exactly human, Adam. Perhaps I can.”
Together they stepped inside the confines of Dr. Fawn’s world. The chief physician was busy updating his nurses and Dr. Topaz on the world’s latest medical findings – a new drug regimen for bacterial infections, a revolutionary study in the regeneration of lost bone tissue, a new strain of flu virus and its immunology. The pair of captains stood quietly by as Fawn completed his briefing and sent his medical staff off to their respective duties before hailing him for a private discussion. “What can I do for you two, Captains?” Fawn began with a last glimpse at his clipboard notes. Blue and Scarlet followed the physician into his private office.
“I need you to supervise some medical experiments, Doctor,” Scarlet began, entwining his fingers atop his hip holster. “My recent ordeal into space has left me with many unanswered questions.”
His brown eyes scrutinizing his notes, Fawn didn’t even consider the British officer before him. “Out of the question, Captain. The colonel’s already briefed me on your proposal.” Fawn’s dour gaze rose to reinforce his conviction. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Just how do you define ‘dangerous’, Doctor?” Scarlet inquired with a tilt of his dark head. “It was you who first labeled my new condition. As I recall, you claimed that I was indestructible.”
Fawn grimaced at the reference and gently set down his clipboard. Backing up a step, the doctor next settled atop his desk to fold his own hands over his lap. He addressed his younger comrade with the air of a veteran schoolmarm. “You, Captain Scarlet, are indestructible to Earth’s known weapons and mishaps. As far as we know, except for a large dose of electricity, you will physically recover from any such violence with nary a scar.” Fawn twisted to poke at his computer monitor. The viewscreen switched to a heightened view of an isolated laboratory annex, complete with steel table, pillow and electrode-dotted, translucent helmet. “I believe you intend to go where no man has ever traveled – to the inner workings of the human psyche.” The doctor’s eyes shifted from the monitor screen back to the now flushed Scarlet. “This is a journey wrought with mystery and uncertain rewards, Captain. Colonel White has deemed it ill-advised for the possible devastating results.”
Now Scarlet’s brow narrowed at the doctor’s tilted chin. “And what about you?”
There was a tight smirk to the man’s full lips. “I believe there may be some merit in exploring those possibilities.”
Blue gulped loudly beside Scarlet. “You’re going to sanction this? Against the colonel’s orders?”
“Dr. Fawn, you’ll help me?”
Now the physician raised a poignant finger to quell the two captains’ enthusiasm. “I didn’t say that, Scarlet.”
“Then what, Doc?” Blue blurted with a quizzical glance his partner’s way.
Leaning back against his desk, Fawn folded his arms over his light-colored vest jacket. “I know nothing. I see nothing. I hear nothing.”
“But you’ll record everything through that,” Scarlet added with a finger poke toward the doctor’s observant computer.
“I can’t say, Captain. The colonel’s given me orders not to help you.”
“I see,” Scarlet droned. “I think.”
“What about me?” Blue asked with an arched neck of ambiguity. “Where do I fit in with the colonel’s orders?”
Scarlet straightened his spine to grin at his partner. “In for a penny, in for a pound, Adam? Can I rely on your cooperation?”
“To kill you?”
In response, Scarlet laid a reassuring hand atop his friend’s tensed shoulder. “I promise I won’t take it personally. My memory of these events is just bits and bobs still. I have to replicate the conditions. I was dead. I have to be again.”
“No, partner,” Blue insisted. “You were repeatedly asphyxiated and as frozen as a fish stick. There’s a difference.”
Fawn spoke up then to agree. “The conditions within that stranded space capsule helped generate your oxygen-deprived hallucinations, Captain. There’s no saying what you’ll experience through the electrode therapy in a simple inert state.” The doctor jumped an ironic brow Scarlet’s way. “To completely replicate your experiences, you may have to return to those exact conditions.”
Scarlet considered the doctor and the man beside him. With a crooked frown he admitted, “I’m going to need more equipment inside that laboratory.”
“Wait, Paul,” Blue cautioned. “How are we going to explain away your disappearance from the duty roster? It’s not like I can tell the colonel you’re sick with the flu, bed-ridden in your quarters for a few days. He’d never take that blarney to heart.”
“True,” Fawn agreed standing from his desk. “I can’t help, but I could distract.” The doctor chewed his lip for a moment. “Give me three hours to set things up.”
“How?” Blue demanded. “How can you help without helping? Why are you going against Colonel White’s orders to begin with?”
“Because, Captain. Like Scarlet here, I believe he experienced something profound and perhaps even prophetic.”
“You believe in shape-shifters?”
Now pouting, Fawn narrowed his brows to the American captain. “Not that, of course, but the possibility that in Scarlet’s depraved state, he did indeed tap into another dimension of sorts.” The doctor raised a chin in certainty. “Perhaps a parallel universe, one which has some advanced knowledge of the Mysterons and a race called the Guardians.”
To this Scarlet swallowed. He had considered the possibility of another alien race of beings, one which might hold the key to defeating the Mysterons. To his partner he spoke: “The very title of guardian may imply that they are coming to save us, to stop the Mysterons, or even to prevent some as yet horrific catastrophe. I need to know which. The colonel needs to know which. Can I count on you for your help?”
“You’re asking me to risk a court-martial, Paul. If I go against orders, as you’re planning, we could both be hauled outside Cloudbase and dropped from a very precipitous altitude.” Blue shrugged. “You might survive, but me …? Not likely.”
Scarlet shifted his earnest gaze between the two men before him. “I’ve already attained deRavin’s spacesuit from impound storage. I’ll do this on my own, in my own way if I have to. I was hoping someone else would see the merit to help me make the most of my deaths.”
“Deaths? Plural?” Blue growled.
“Yes,” Dr. Fawn agreed. He scrutinized Scarlet for any sign of hesitation. “Your ability to heal will undoubtedly repair any damage you do to your body.” The doctor turned his brown gaze toward Blue for clarification. “As Scarlet recovers, you’ll have to repeatedly kill him, in order for him to maintain contact with this alternate reality.”
“A parallel universe?” Blue groaned. His hand rose to rub against his temple. “I’m no astral-physicist. This is all making my head ache.”
Scarlet found the humor in his friend’s discomfort. He slapped Blue upon the arm. “Come on, buddy. Think of it as yet another adventure, another battle against the Mysterons.” Scarlet straightened his spine and squared his shoulders to announce, “We’ll be saving the Earth again. Heroes.”
“I’ve been hero enough to be burdened by all my medals, Paul. Maybe I’ll sit this one out.”
Fawn watched the two verbally spar for a moment before grunting his accord. “I’ll have the annex ready for you in three hours’ time, Captain. As far as the colonel knows, you’re in isolation pending a full-psychological evaluation.”
“And me?” Blue queried.
“Why you’re his bodyguard, Captain. We all know how combative Scarlet can be about these scheduled psyche assessments. You’re to keep him from hurting his doctor.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t help,” Scarlet argued.
“I’m not, Captain. I’m simply altering reality for a few days.”
“Days?” Blue spouted. “We have to keep this charade going for days?”
“I was stranded on that asteroid for over a month, Doctor,” Scarlet reminded. “I may need more time to find the answers.”
Fawn was shaking his head, even as he strode toward sickbay’s exit. “Best I can do with the colonel watching over me, Captain.” A wave of an arm over his shoulder and Fawn was gone to set up Scarlet’s laboratory for his experiment into self-torture.
A Body in Suspension
Scarlet strode from the laboratory’s storage closet fully dressed for his ordeal. Blue stood by the installed isolation tube to scrutinize the repaired and form-fitted spacesuit. “You sure this suit’ll function properly? We had to cut it off you to save your life. It was as frozen as you were.”
Scarlet grinned at his overseer even as he swallowed against his inner trepidation. “I’ve tested its life-support and electrical systems.” He shrugged his reptilian-like, silver-clad shoulders. “It seems to be functioning normally. Once I have the helmet sealed against it, the suit will provide life-support, my oxygen and temperature controls.”
“But you were freezing in space, and your oxygen was severely rationed, just as you’d set it.”
Scarlet nodded. “To extend my life while the asteroid brought me back to Earth, yes.”
“Now, it’s going to replicate the conditions of my exile, and keep my body cold and deprived of full oxygen. I’ll experience my death again, over and over.”
“And by doing this, you hope to reconnect with what? This Piper woman? These Guardians?”
“I hope so,” Scarlet acknowledged as he strode to the iso-tube and climbed the stool to slide within its translucent confines. “Once I have the helmet in place, Adam, seal the tube and extract all the oxygen from it. I’ll trigger the suit’s functions while you activate the helmet’s electrodes and the tube’s environmental controls.”
Scarlet smiled at his friend and lay horizontal. “I die.”
“And just how long do you stay dead?” Blue inquired, an unsteady hand now poised atop the tube’s domed roof and open hatch.
Head resting upon the slim pillow, Scarlet tugged the fishbowl-styled helmet over his skull and snapped the seals shut. “For as long as the colonel allows it,” he said through the headdress’ inset microphone.
“Have I told you I hate this plan of yours?”
“Did I say I’m sorry?”
“For what, Captain?” Scarlet asked from within the tube.
“For this.” Blue pulled the access door down and poked the button to seal the tube from the outside environment of the laboratory. As he reached to activate the vacuum function on the bio-tube’s control panel, his blue eyes glistened. “I’m sorry, Paul. Good luck.”
From within the tube Scarlet nestled his shoulders and spine further against the thin, foamed mattress. Air was swiftly being sucked away from around him. He smiled at his partner and winked. “See you on the other side.”
“Activating temperature controls. Lowering the bio-tube’s environment to forty-degrees Fahrenheit baseline, to start. Temperature to drop three degrees every minute from there. Absolute zero conditions in approximately three hours.” Blue’s sad eyes swept across Scarlet’s expectant gaze. “Last chance to change your mind, pal.”
From within the quickly frosting tube Captain Scarlet made a point of shaking his helmeted head. “I need to know, Adam. The helmet will keep my brain alive. I’ll be fine.”
“In a pig’s eye. I’m not fine and I’m out here.”
“Good-bye, Adam. You’re my guardian now.”
As the glazing condensation outside the tube thickened in response to the descending temperature within, Blue scowled. “Damn it, buddy. I really hate myself right now.”
Within the capsule, Scarlet could feel his gloved toes and fingers swiftly chilling to numbness. The air within his suit-helmet lasted but a few moments before he was gasping deeply for a lungful. He had preprogrammed the suit, as he had done before, to ration oxygen at ten percent capacity. Until his core body temperature dropped below eighty-five degrees, Captain Scarlet was able to shiver through the freezing process, grit his teeth against the sharpness of the sensation and maintain consciousness. Within minutes, however, all outward sense of the world darkened to black velvet. Captain Scarlet was dead.
A Brave New World
Scarlet shook against the stiffness of residual cold. His hands and feet were like rocks, unresponsive and hard. On his back against the dirt, he groaned a life-reviving breath and gasped awake. “The Guardians,” his raspy throat croaked. “I have to find them.”
Rolling over onto his stomach the captain fumbled with appendages still muscle-memoried to their frozen state within the bio-tube. Yes. He knew where he was this time. His true self was back on Cloudbase. His body was in a state of frozen suspension, in between true death and the barest inklings of life. The reality around him was now confined exclusively to the sparking neurons within his own brain matter. Dr. Emeril deRavin’s fishbowl-like helmet was firing electrical signals into his skull, sustaining brain function. An altered reality. With a final groan of determined muscle contractions, Captain Scarlet attained his knees.
Raising a throbbing, hazy head, he commanded his eyelids to open. Where was he? “Where are you? Guardians? I’ve come to ask you. Why are you coming? What for? Who are you?”
A sweet voice manifested out of the fog about his folded form. “You have a lot of questions for someone who’s just awoken from a long sleep, Scarlet.”
“Sleep?” Scarlet coughed. “No. I’m not awake. I’m dead.” His booted feet curled forward to shove him vertical. His head wobbled threateningly atop quavering shoulders. His body wavered like a windswept reed. The fog was thick about his sight. “Where are you?”
“I’ve been here the entire time, Captain. You remember.”
The voice seemed familiar. He knew this person, far better than anyone from his world. “Ehlora?”
A hand ascended through the mist to grasp his uniformed shoulder. Its solidness steadied him when he would have tilted dangerously back toward the ground. “Hello, Paul.” Golden-green eyes smiled up at him. A wreath of tawny-auburn hair framed a refined face of smooth cheekbones and fine lips. “I’m glad to see you.”
“You’re not really here,” Scarlet tried to reason. “You’re just part of an altered reality, my imagination, my brain making sense of things. You don’t exist.”
“If I don’t exist, then neither do you,” Ehlora mused taking his cold hand in hers. A vital warmth emanated from that touch. Its rising heat rejuvenated Scarlet’s own depleted body. “Come with me. We have a lot to talk about.”
Despite the comfort of her touch, Scarlet planted his boots in the soil beneath them. “No. I have to find the Guardians. There’s not much time.”
“But Paul,” Ehlora countered with a serene smirk, “here, there’s always time. Time has no meaning. A year can pass in a day, a day in a century.” She shrugged. “Your time is what you make it.”
Tugging back his hand, the captain scowled. “This isn’t the bloody rabbit hole, Miss Piper. I have a reason to be here. I need to find what the Mysterons know about the Guardians. If you can’t help me, then I’ll go alone.”
“Alone?” Ehlora’s gaze had turned somber. “Why do you want to be alone? I never liked it. I had to find my way alone. But you have me. I want to help.”
Thrusting out his lower lip at the offer, Scarlet nodded. “Good, because I believe you can help me.” He waved an arm about him. “Where are we now? This looks like a mountain forest.” Indeed, the trees around them were dense, green and smelled of earth and wild growth.
“My new home,” Ehlora answered and took
several steps back to lean against a thick trunk. “
Ehlora nodded and tugged at the strapped, leather bag lying across her shoulder and torso. “Do you remember this?” She next pointed at the rainbow hued sundress draped about her human form and the flat-soled shoes cradling her feet. “These were gifts from you and Spectrum.”
Scarlet smashed his lids shut and grimaced at the memory. “Of course, I bloody well remember them. I remember everything about you, about Dr. Kraven, about the research laboratory you destroyed. I even remember the last time I saw you.”
“Yes,” Ehlora replied her chin dipping in solemn remembrance. “You and Adam reunited me with Luke and Jed. They were alive.” Her gaze then rose from the dirt, burning with vengeance. “Then you killed them.”
“They were Mysterons, Ehlora. Captain Black had taken them over. They were going to kill you,” Scarlet reasoned. “Blue and I had to save you.”
“You left me alone again.” Her voice was low, soft, yet as inflexible as granite in her conviction. “All my hopes for a brighter future, gone.”
“I’m sorry for that, Ehlora. I truly am. I remember seeing you fly away. I … I grieved with you, even as I woke up to my own reality. I was trapped in a space capsule, on an asteroid, headed for Earth, then on to the sun. Adam, Brad and Dr. Fawn. They rescued me and took me home.”
“To your Cloudbase?”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes. I’ll go back there once my mission here is done.”
“Once you find these Guardians.”
“Yes.” Scarlet chewed on his lip a moment, considering his options. “Perhaps I can ask my friends for their help as well.”
“You mean Spectrum.”
“Of course,” Scarlet huffed in his own realization. “They’re here too, in this universe.” With a twitch of his cheek muscle, his Spectrum cap mike swung down before his lips. “Scarlet to Cloudbase.”
“Here, Captain,” the familiar voice of Lieutenant Green hailed. “Have you found the traitor yet?”
Scarlet blinked at Green’s tensed tone and the question. “Traitor?”
“Captain Ochre. Don’t you remember?”
“I …, uh. Remind me, Lieutenant. I’ve been distracted by an old friend.”
Through his microphone, Scarlet heard
Green release a weighted sigh. “Captain Black killed Richard Fraser three hours
ago. You and Captain Grey were sent to find Captain Ochre. His tracking signal
showed he’d retreated to the woods of
“I … I’m here, Lieutenant. In
“Bradley’s here?” Ehlora chimed with a sunshine grin. She rolled onto her toes. “Where?”
“Not certain.” He brought his cap mike into play once more. “Captain Grey, where are you?”
“Just upslope from you,” was Grey’s answer in Scarlet’s ear. “I’m coming down. I couldn’t see exactly where the helicopter crash-landed. The smoke plume’s west of here. We’ll have to proceed on foot through the trees using the tracking monitor.”
“SIG.” Scarlet considered the woman still leaning against the monstrous hemlock. “Will you help us, Ehlora? Gray can’t see where Ochre landed his Spectrum chopper. We could use your skills-”
With a twinkling eye Ehlora Piper shoved herself away from the tree and nodded. “Certainly, Captain.” Before the captain’s eyes, Ehlora Piper slipped from her dress and shoes, melding into the winged form of a tawny eagle. With a screech of promise, she launched into the air and flapped above the tree-line to disappear amidst the forest greenery. Scarlet trotted off in the same direction to keep pace.
His microphone was before his lips. “Captain Grey. I’ve sent Piper to look for Ochre’s helicopter. How far from here do you estimate he landed?”
“Not certain. Maybe a kilometer and a half. The mountains are blocking the tracking signal from the ground. We need more altitude. Hey, did you say Piper? Did you find Ehlora? Is she here?”
“She found me to be exact,” Scarlet confided as he caught a glimpse of uniform through the trees upslope. “I see you, Brad. Ehlora must have flown directly overhead. She’ll let us know where the chopper is.”
“Good,” Bradley called down, scrambling to rendezvous with his field partner as the forest opened to a rugged landscape of abandoned glacial boulders and meadow grasses. As Grey burst through the underbrush a ptarmigan ‘tweedled’ and took flight. Scarlet slowed his pace to watch the flushed bird flap away. “I was wondering where you’d got to,” Grey said as they stood together among the rocks and alpine growth. “I thought you were going to get the SPV and crash your way through.”
“Why would I do that?”
Grey grinned at him. “Typical Scarlet determination, of course. You’d flatten Black if you had a chance.” The man’s hazel-gray eyes rounded at a shared memory. “I still want to flatten him for what he did to Rick.”
“Yes,” Scarlet agreed. “Exactly what did happen?”
Now Grey scowled. “You don’t remember? You were right there. The fire, the ranch house. Rick was shot. He fell off the cliff. Then we watched him steal the chopper. Black got away. Ochre’s now one of them.” Grey grabbed at Scarlet’s sleeve. “Come on, Paul. Don’t tell me you’re having lapses in your memory again. Did you black out?”
Scarlet swallowed. He had to remember more of his trip here, to this reality, if he was to smoothly fit in and complete his mission. “I suppose I did, Brad. I’m sorry. Tired, I guess. Must have tripped and knocked my crown on one of these rocks.”
Grey was scrutinizing his skull, eyes squinting against the sunlight. “I don’t see a wound, or a bump.”
“Gone now,” Scarlet lied. “Healed already.” He had to distract his field partner, redirect Grey to the mission at hand. Then Scarlet had to move on to his true task. “Why did the chopper crash, you think?”
“Because I shot it with an electron gun, of course. Really, Paul. If you’re not up to snuff, I’ll request another partner. Ochre’s got to be stopped before he completes Black’s mission. The Mysteron threat. You know.”
“Yes, of course,” Scarlet stalled. “The Mysteron threat.” He glared at Grey and asked the question he knew might crucify him. “Do you believe the Guardians are involved?”
“I sure hope so,” Grey wished. “We can use all the help we can get nowadays.”
“How do they help?”
“Why, they come and make the agents disappear.” Grey spread his arms in gesture. “Poof, gone. Forever. No pain, no death. They just disappear.”
“The Guardians make the Mysterons leave?”
Grey nodded. “One at a time, yes.” That
skepticism was in the man’s narrowing pale eyes once more. “What’s the matter
with you? You’re acting as if you’ve just been dropped off from the
“I … I apologize, Brad. I’m having memory lapses at the moment. It’ll right itself shortly. I’m sure.”
“Well, it better,” Grey warned. His eyes shifted to the open sky about the meadow. “So, which way did she go? Quite a coincidence, don’t you think?”
“What? That Ehlora is here?”
Grey lowered his sky-gazing to squint at
Scarlet. “That we’re all here together. Again. Remember the bio-engineering
laboratory of Dr. Kraven’s? Ehlora, you, me? We worked together to kill the
Mysterons and destroy the lab outside
“Yes,” Scarlet offered with a determined search of the cloudless sky. A dark shape had ascended from the distant tree-line and wielded about toward them. “There.” Scarlet pointed at the expanding shape. “It’s her.”
Grey’s eyes followed his fingertip into the blue. A flapping form approached, wings beating strongly, a dark object dangling from beneath. “What’s she got in her talons?”
Peering against the sun’s afternoon glare, Scarlet raised a shadowing palm above his clear visor. “It shines like metal. A piece of equipment perhaps.”
“Something from the chopper?”
“We’ll soon find out.” Ehlora was descending into the bowl of the meadow, heading their way. Tawny head down, beak open, the eagle appeared to be straining under the weight of her catch. With a fan of tail and arching of wings, Ehlora landed roughly, beak tilting into the meadow grass with a puff of pollen. Scarlet and Grey rushed to flank her as she melted in a heap to her naked, human form.
“Ehlora!” Grey called. “Are you alright?”
She shoved her bleeding hands into the ground to raise her head above the wavering grass. Smiling up at the Spectrum pair she winked at Grey and panted, “Bradley. I’m so pleased to see you.” Grey was hastily stripping his vest for her to cover-up. “I left my dress back there, but saw you here.”
“What have you brought us, darling?” Scarlet inquired, kneeling beside her, his gaze intent on the twisted and charred rotor blade of a helicopter foil. “This is from a Spectrum chopper. Ochre’s?”
“Ours,” Grey corrected from his stoop beside the downed woman. “We came in the chopper. He stole it from us, remember?”
“No, I don’t,” Scarlet admitted.
“Memory problems,” Ehlora offered, curling into a sit, Grey’s vest about her bare shoulders. Scarlet took notice of the deep scratches along her slender legs as well.
“Ehlora. What happened?”
The woman inhaled deeply to regain her breath before explaining: “I saw the chopper, in among the trees. It was smoldering. Something had brought it down.”
“I did that,” Grey offered. “Electromagnetic pulse.”
“It was all contorted. I tried to look inside to see if anyone was there.” Her eyes crescented somber. “Paul. There was too much smoke. Too much heat from the burning fuel. I’m sorry. I know he was your friend.”
“Rick’s dead, Ehlora,” Grey explained soberly his hand atop her slumped shoulder. He stood beside her to gaze out toward the western horizon. “What stole that chopper was a Mysteron. If it’s dead, good ridden.”
Scarlet climbed to his boots as well. He considered their surroundings, Ehlora’s injuries, and the facts at hand. “If the Guardians took him, we’ll not need to worry about the Mysteron Ochre again.” Despite his attempt at reason, his voice cracked when he continued, “We need to get Rick’s body back to Cloudbase, Captain. You, too, Ehlora. You’re injured.”
“I’m not going with you.”
Scarlet frowned. “Why not?” Then he remembered. “Is it because of what happened before? With Luke?”
Ehlora twisted to stand before them. Vest clutched about her shoulders, her face was serious but calm. “I belong here, on Earth, Captain Scarlet. The Guardians will come to Cloudbase. They always accompany the dead.”
Now Scarlet scowled at the news. “Explain yourself.”
Grey took a step to block him. “Paul, what’s got into you? The Guardians are our friends. They’ve been helping us against the Mysterons ever since they arrived.”
Biting his lip Scarlet decided to be blunt and direct. “I’m sorry, Captain. I have no knowledge of these Guardians. I need a complete briefing. Here. Now.”
“Well, that might take a while,” Captain Grey retorted with a frown. “And we just don’t have the time.” He glanced toward the scantily covered woman beside them. “I’d like you to come with us, Ehlora. Scarlet needs Dr. Fawn’s attentions just as you do.”
“I’m fine, Bradley. I heal quickly. They’re just scratches.”
“Still,” Grey offered with a hopeful smile. “Adam would be thrilled to see you, as would the colonel. It’s been nearly two years since …”
“Since I disappeared,” Ehlora finished for him. “I know. I needed time to forgive.” Her eyes shifted to the other Spectrum captain. “Paul. I do forgive you for what you did. Luke and Jed are dead. I accept that now.”
“I’m sorry it had to be done.” Scarlet’s blue eyes rose once more to his field partner. “Captain, we need to talk. There’s something you need to know about my other mission here.”
Grey blinked against his flinching shoulders. “Other mission?”
Ehlora stretched out a supportive hand to grasp Grey’s sleeve. “He’s here from another place. An alternate reality, he said. He needs to know about the Guardians and he doesn’t have a lot of time.”
“What?” the man’s sight narrowed at the pair. “Have you both hit your heads?”
Scarlet grabbed Grey’s other arm. “I’m not crazy, Brad. Just fill me in on where they came from, how to communicate with them, what and who they are.”
Grey blinked again at Scarlet’s urgency. “If I knew myself, I’d tell you, Paul. All I know is that they come in a large orange light. The bad guys disappear and we get to live.”
“Magic?” Scarlet barked. “That’s the secret? That’s the answer? I hardly believe that. The answers have to be here. I need to know. It’s haunted me ever since I was lost to that asteroid.”
“What asteroid, Paul? You haven’t been into space since you rendezvoused with the Mysterons on Mars two years ago.”
“Two years? It’s only been three weeks since my rescue.”
Grey shook his kepi-topped head and barreled on. “No, Paul. You struggled with that Mysteron being. On Mars. It nearly killed you. Damaged your suit. You found the Mysterons’ communications array and set off that intergalactic distress signal. Then the Guardians came.”
“Distress signal?” Scarlet could feel the tension rising in his chest. His temples were pounding out a chaotic rhythm. “But I never made it to Mars, Brad. Not in my reality.” Lungs constricting against the heavy air around him, Scarlet teetered upon the meadow grass.
“Captain?” Ehlora warned. “Are you feeling dizzy?”
“Can’t breathe. It’s happening again,” Scarlet gasped. “I’m going back.” Muscles solidified into bands of steel. “But … I haven’t found –” The blue sky and sunshine about him compressed to a tight, blackened sphere. Scarlet’s last sensation was of his body falling.
False Start and Consequences
Captain Scarlet heard disembodied voices urging him to breathe from deep within his own head. The hails were remote, muffled. A familiar cheering squad wanted him to return from wherever he had been. The effort was just too monumental, however. A numbing cold paralyzed every muscle, including his lungs and heart. Scarlet was dead, frozen. The deliberate journey back to life took many hours.
Once the environmental controls had gradually brought the iso-tube’s inner temperature back up to Cloudbase standards, the thawing process itself required another twenty-seven hours. Shortly before that, however, Captain Scarlet had shown the first signs of recovery. His nervous system began to independently fire electrical signals to his warming organs. The heart began beating. His blood sluggishly circulated to his extremities. Scarlet’s digits softened from their hard freeze. Then came the moment when air was first sucked into his revitalized lungs.
“He’s back,” Dr. Fawn announced. “Alert the colonel. Scarlet’s alive.”
Drifting back from death was a familiar experience for the Spectrum officer. Memory was the last to return. When he finally sensed his surroundings, consciousness regained, Scarlet opened his eyes.
“Man, that was a scary two days, Paul,” Captain Blue sighed with a vice grip about his upper arm. “You scared three years off my life.”
Clearing his throat to his friend’s concern, Scarlet smiled atop the bed and croaked, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“Bad? I froze you as solid as a –”
“Yeah, buddy. Turns out, Dr. Fawn was monitoring everything. Your brain function attained a deep level of dream state well before I took the bio-tube down to absolute zero.”
Commanding muscles to shove him into a sit, Scarlet groaned at the residual ache and growled, “How is that significant?”
Fawn appeared over him, a stern frown upon his lips. “It means, Captain, that Blue here need not have subjected your body to the full effect of deep space in order for you to reach your required state of retro-metabolic stasis or suspended animation.”
“So,” Blue urged. “Was it worth it? Did you get your answers, Paul? Who are the Guardians?”
Scarlet grimaced at the racing thoughts coursing through his still thawing brain matter. “I didn’t finish, Adam. I was pulled away too soon.” His gaze was determined when he added, “I have to go back.”
“Absolutely not,” Blue blurted. “You weren’t there when Colonel White stormed into the lab. Well, you were there; you just weren’t alive to witness his tirade.”
“Tirade?” Scarlet echoed as he groaned into a stiff seat. His fingers and toes were still icy digits beneath the covers. “He found out. Are we now to be jettisoned with the rest of Spectrum’s refuse?”
“That depends on you, Captain,” Fawn interjected. “Once you’re up to it, the colonel will want a full briefing on your experiences. If he deems the information at all valuable, you may get by with only three years’ loss of pay.”
“Me?” Blue cut in. “I’m suspended.”
“Pending a Mysteron threat,” a deep, authoritative voice droned from the medical stall’s doorway. Colonel White strode in, his arms planks at his side, his fists molded in concrete. White’s steel gray eyes hardened to hematite and bored into Scarlet like carbide-steel drills. “You play me for a fool, Captain? I know this base topsy-turvy. A maintenance engineer registered the energy usage in your makeshift laboratory.” White huffed a calming breath before commanding, “I want to know everything, Scarlet. How could this experiment of yours have provided any reliable evidence of these Guardians?”
Straightening as best he could in his stiffened state, Scarlet cleared his throat once more. “Sir, first I must apologize for my actions. This was my idea, my responsibility. Captain Blue and Doctor Fawn are not to blame for my rashness.”
“No. They are not,” White agreed dourly rubbing at his chin. He spread a finger Scarlet’s way. “You, on the other hand, risked your life for some scrap of a theory about hypothetical and imaginary saviors in our fight against the Mysterons. Wishful thinking, Scarlet. Not in your character at all.”
White lowered his hands to clasp them behind his back. “I need to know what you found.”
“Sir, I … uh. I didn’t discover much. Ehlora was there. She told me the Guardians came to help us.” Scarlet shook his head at the memory. “Somehow I triggered a distress signal from Mars and they came.”
White chewed on this a moment. His silvered head tilted in skepticism. “Not much to go on, Captain. Especially considering you were informed of these Guardians by an imaginary woman who couldn’t possibly exist. In any reality.”
“Colonel,” Scarlet stammered, gathering a quick breath to push his request. “I need to go back. I need to continue the experiment. Find out more. I was pulled away too soon.”
“Out of the question, Captain,” White growled with a darkened stare. The colonel straightened his shoulders and shifted his boots for a wider stance of authority. “I’m considering disciplinary actions against you and Blue both. And a full psychological evaluation for you, Scarlet. As of this moment, both you and Captain Blue are on full-suspension until further notice. You will turn in your uniforms, identi-cards and service weapons to the armory sergeant without delay.” White’s stern gaze shifted to the attending physician. “Dr. Fawn, see to this man’s immediate medical release. I want them both off my base as soon as possible.” White then jerked back his shoulders in finality and spun to leave. There was to be no further discussion as Spectrum’s commander-in-chief marched from the room.
“Yes, Colonel,” Fawn responded to the now empty air. He next lowered sympathetic eyes to his patient. “I’d advise you to take it easy for a few days, Captain. No strenuous activities until all motor and neurological functions have returned.”
Scarlet pouted at his predicament. “SIG,” he grumbled, wiggling his still numb toes beneath the blanket. “I’ll do my best.”
As Fawn pivoted to exit, Blue added, “Uh, me too, Doc.” Then Blue lurched eyebrows at his friend. “Brilliant, buddy. Now what do we do?”
Mouth tight against determined thoughts, Scarlet only shook his head. “I’ll think of something.”
“Now that’s an alarming prospect all by itself.”
Within the hour, the pair were dressed in
civilian garb and issued emergency recall beacons. An SPJ, piloted by Harmony
Angel, escorted them to Earth where they were dropped off at
As Adam navigated the streets of
Seated beside him, Scarlet had remained somber and silent for over three hours prior. Internally, the captain had been weighing the risks and consequences. “Not sure how,” he offered cryptically. “Not sure where.”
Over the steering wheel Blue grinned.
“Well, I have just the place. A sweet little cottage in the country.
“No pigs now, just a few riding mounts. It’s a little inn. Rustic and private.” Blue turned the wheel about a curve. “I’ve rented the entire place for the week. Even kicked the groundskeeper off for a couple days, so we won’t be interrupted.”
“A week?” Scarlet inquired straightening from his brooding slouch in the passenger’s seat. “If I know my colonel right, he’ll have us sleeping rough, subsisting off the land for an entire month before we’re allowed back on Cloudbase. Bangers and stale biscuits for supper every night.”
Blue grimaced. “Not much for your cheery Ol’ English fare, pal. But I hear there’s a quaint little pub up the road that knows something about American cuisine.” He shrugged his sweater-enshrouded shoulders. “Maybe they’ll have hotdogs and sauerkraut.”
From Blue’s left Scarlet smirked sarcastically. “What do you think bangers are?”
“Sounds violent to me. Hotdogs are safer. And what do you Brits call breakfast?”
“Tea and dodgers.”
“See? Now that sounds dangerous too.” Blue shook his blond head. “You’ll be risking life and limb enough. We better stick to less threatening foods like oatmeal.”
“Porridge,” Scarlet corrected. “You’re in
“Porridge. Yuck. Not very exciting.”
“But it’s safe. Your idea.”
“Yeah, about that,” Blue redirected. “I’ll repeat. Are you going to do it?”
“You mean the experiment.”
With a side glance Scarlet’s way, Blue glowered his irony. “What else?”
“I told you. Not sure how.”
“Well, then, I suppose it’s a good thing Julia stashed deRavin’s suit away in my trunk.”
“She did what?” Scarlet’s frown traversed his entire skull. “Why did she risk that?”
Blue tilted his head in contention. “She’s a doctor. She cares about your welfare. And she understands you won’t give up until you’ve completed your experiment.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, I already know you’re a bull dog when it comes to keeping your own promises.” Even as he watched the roadway, Blue’s eyes were compassionately rimmed in sobriety. “I’m your friend, Paul. With me there, I can supervise in case you get in over your determined brain.”
“Funny, Adam.” With a grunt of
frustration Scarlet again slouched down into his car seat. Silence danced
between the pair for some time as Blue drove them beyond the suburbs and
As they neared the
“Adam. I was thinking,” he mused. “We need some kind of a signal. Once I’m dead, my brain being stimulated by deRavin’s helmet, if we receive a call-back order through our beacons, I’ll need to exit quickly from my suspension.”
“How? I understand I’m going to have to kill you again. Not an enjoyable prospect, by the way.”
“I’ll need to be immersed in cold someway, bring my body temperature down to hibernation mode.”
“Not a problem. I can have the pub deliver plenty of ice to the cottage.” Blue chuckled. “They’ll think we’re throwing one hell of a social soiree.”
Scarlet shared a momentary grin, though his concerns swamped the levity swiftly. “I’ll be cold. Even in that alternate reality, I was cold. Perhaps the trigger should be heat.”
“You want me to set your hair on fire?” Blue blurted as he slowed to stop at a crossroad sign. He considered his friend for a moment. “An acetylene torch would work.”
Scarlet shook his head, eyes scanning the deserted landscape beyond their saloon. “Not that drastic. I can’t be incapacitated too long. You’d end up hauling me back to Cloudbase like a sack of potatoes.”
“A heavy sack,” Blue agreed as he accelerated their vehicle onward beyond the intersection.
“No. I was thinking of you burning my hand with something. With an agreed upon signal like that, I’ll have a warning. Know I have little time left. We’ll only get this one chance, Adam.”
Blue nodded. “I understand. Once we’re back on Cloudbase, the colonel will keep you from ever using that contraption again. He’ll have the suit destroyed if need be.”
Scarlet flinched at the news. “It would be a loss of valuable technology. Dr. deRavin wasn’t a Mysteron when he designed that spacesuit and its helmet. It performed most admirably for the task,” he mused. “As a Mysteron, the professor may have sabotaged my probe to strand me in space. But his revolutionary suit design kept me alive, of a sort. It has merit. It would be a shame to destroy the last work of deRavin’s human life.”
“Maybe you’ll prove its worth yet, Paul,”
Blue offered. Then he nodded toward an approaching dirt trail to their right.
“There. That’s it. The road to
Again the pair grew silent as they completed their trip to a new isolation and their one opportunity to complete what they had together started.
A Burning Question
Just inside the estate’s thatch-roofed barn, Captain Blue stood over the elongated pig trough, filling it partially with water from a hose. Beside his hay stand a long-nosed mare overlooked his activity from her adjoining stall. She bobbed her head and nickered, perhaps hoping for a refreshing drink. “Sorry, girl. I have another purpose for this. Private death trap for a friend.” Setting the hose down, he next dragged the first of five massive ice bags to the trough’s bowl. “I could use a hand here, partner.”
“Just a moment,” Scarlet advised from where he was tugging at the old generator cord. The sledged engine finally chugged to life after several more heaves. Tossing their heads, the three barn horses whinnied at the loud noise. The British captain ignored their trepidation and stood back to evaluate the machine’s function. “It works,” he announced. “We’ll have enough electricity out here to run the suit’s environmental controls and lights once it gets dark.”
“I would have preferred the cottage,” Blue admitted tearing open the ice bag with a rusted sickle. “But the bathroom really didn’t have the right ambience of mad scientist. Pink. Too small.” Blue smiled over at his friend. He spread an arm in gesture. “Now this is much more rustic and maniacal.”
Scarlet tugged uncomfortably at the form-fitting spacesuit pressed against his warming body. Its reptilian-like skin sprouted octopus tendrils of life-support cables and conduits. “Humor? Now? You need to keep your day job.”
“Too bad there’s not a computer or tele-vid out here,” Blue offered coming to stand beside his friend and watch the smoking generator sputter. “While your brain’s off in Fantasyland, I’ll be bored out of my skull.”
“Was that a badly disguised pun?” Scarlet inquired with a sideway’s glance to the waiting helmet poised atop a table at the head of the trough. He had already hooked up the leads to the fishbowl-shaped headdress. It was ready to provide the sparking current to keep his brain stimulated and alive. “You already have a job. Here.”
“Sentinel over a dead friend. Not very appealing.”
“Adam, are you getting cold feet?”
“Me? No.” Blue scowled at their makeshift immersion tank. “If we’re really going to do this, it might take a while. I was just thinking a little distraction would be nice.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Scarlet warned. “Come on. Let’s get this sideshow started. I have a date with an alternate reality.”
“And a burning question to answer.”
Blue and Scarlet worked together to complete their preparations. Just before sundown, the weather turned dank, threatening a misting shower beyond the confines of their improvised barn laboratory. “Not exactly a masterpiece, but it’ll perform the task,” Blue announced overlooking the bobbing ice chunks in the trough and kerosene generator now purring nearby. “Water and electricity. Perfect together.”
Slipping on the spacesuit’s gloves, Scarlet stepped up to the steel tub and gazed into its three-quarter meter depth. “Remember, Adam. If Cloudbase calls us back, you’ll have to singe my hand. Here.” Scarlet turned his left palm upward. “If I feel a burning in this hand, I’ll know it’s your signal to come back.”
Blue nodded. “I’ll then start boosting your oxygen level, and heating the water to speed up your recovery.” The barn’s woodstove had already been primed and was even now toastily warming their enclosed space.
Scarlet contorted his lip and nodded. “Shouldn’t take but an hour for me to be mobile again. The water’s only thirty-eight degrees, not absolute zero this time.”
“That’s still cold enough to kill an ordinary man from hypothermia in less than half an hour.”
Now Scarlet raised his chin to his partner. “I’m not an ordinary man.”
“Good thing too, or I’d be conspiring to murder.”
With one last swallow against the anticipated discomfort, Captain Scarlet stepped over the trough’s rim and lowered a booted foot into its chilly depths. A violent shiver congealed his bones and wrenched every muscle fiber, but Scarlet climbed in and sat. Gasping at the frigidness, he next twisted to take the tethered helmet from the table and slip it over his head. The seal sucked shut, encasing his body within the confines of the suit. “Preset controls functioning normally,” he announced through chattering teeth and the helmet’s inset microphone. “Reducing oxygen level to fifty percent, atmospheric.” All his energies now would be to keep his brain alive at the expense of his extremities.
“Good luck, Paul. I’ll be right here.”
The frigid dousing took less than half an hour to kill Scarlet. The increasing oxygen deprivation conspired to speed his fate. Shivering within his self-induced death tub, Captain Scarlet was soon too numb to heave himself to safety, even if he wanted to. Eyes drifting shut, he slumped further into the trough, helmeted head submerging beneath the arctic water. Standing over him, Captain Blue scowled at the sight and began his sentinel duties. Beyond the barn, the misting rain began in earnest. With only the horses for company, Blue’s night would be a long one.
A Reshuffling of Realities
In a rush of air, Scarlet’s lungs filled.
With a gasp of returning consciousness, his eyes snapped open. “What?” The
space around him was enclosed. He was no longer in the
He sat up and swung his crimson boots to the solid decking. “Why?”
“Ah, awake at last,” another voice commented. From beyond the cell’s door a familiar face was framed amid the small window. Captain Blue.
“Adam. What am I doing in here?”
“Sorry, buddy. You were babbling on, a bit off-kilter before you collapsed at Grey’s feet. He brought you back here. The colonel’s scheduled a psyche evaluation once you’re up and talking.”
With a shove of legs, Scarlet was at the door. “Adam. I can’t be here. Not here. Where’s Ehlora? Did she come with us to Cloudbase?”
Blue nodded through the portal. “Yes. She agreed to come only because she was concerned about you. Said you belonged somewhere else. An alternate reality?” Scarlet could tell Blue shrugged against the concept. “What’s that all about? You blaming yourself for Rick’s death?”
“I … uh. Yes,” Scarlet lied. It did in fact bother him to know that a comrade had lost his life here, in this universe. “Adam. I need to see Colonel White. I’m here for a very specific purpose. Miss Piper seems to understand. Let her explain it.”
“She has,” Blue countered. “The colonel’s just as skeptical as the rest of us. If you’re another Scarlet, from another universe, then where’s our Scarlet?”
The British captain blinked at the question. He had never considered this quandary. “Believe me, Captain; I don’t know. Maybe we switched places somehow. Perhaps he’s back in Wiltshire, with my Captain Blue. Maybe we’re both here, my consciousness occupying his body while he’s asleep.”
Blue’s chin jerked backwards. “Asleep? Asleep in his own body? You’ve possessed him like … like an evil spirit? Like a Mysteron?”
“No. Not like that. Adam, please. I’ve come here for answers. In my reality, there are no Guardians. We’re fighting the Mysterons, just as you are, but we don’t have their help.” He splayed his hands pleadingly. “You have to believe me. I just want to know who these Guardians are. Where they came from and how I can contact them in my world. We need their help.” For good measure Scarlet took a step back from the door. “Please, Adam. Let me out of this brig cell to find my answers. Once I have them, I’ll return to my reality. I promise.”
Blue’s eyes narrowed from the far side of the door. “How do I know this isn’t some Mysteron trick?”
Scarlet’s arms stretched in supplication. “Test me. I’m not a Mysteron.”
“That’s the first thing Grey did once he got you back to the SPV.” Blue shook his blond head. “No, Paul. Something’s happened to you. A nervous breakdown or psychological trauma. I’m here to take you to see Dr. Fawn. We have tests to run.”
“That’d take too long. I don’t have much time. Dr. deRavin,” Scarlet urged. “Where is he?”
“deRavin? You mean the astral-engineer on Lunarville 8? He’s the one who sent you off to Mars. Two years ago.”
“That’s right. He designed and built the spacesuit I used to travel there. The helmet is studded with electrodes. It kept my brain alive when the main rocket of the probe, the Phoenix-B, malfunctioned.” Scarlet snatched a breath and his momentum. “In my reality, I never made it to Mars. I never met the Mysterons there. I never sent out any distress signal. On my world the Guardians haven’t yet come. That’s why I need to know who they are and how to contact them.”
Blue had backed away from the cell door. Scarlet stepped to its solidness, pressing his face against the portal to watch his friend’s reaction. “On a certain level, Paul, I can understand your logic. But there’s no way to prove that what you’re saying is true.”
Scarlet’s scrambling brain snatched at any chance to right this. “Wait. There is a way. deRavin’s suit. I’ll need one of his spacesuits, especially the helmet. I’ll wear it. You kill me. Then you can recreate the circumstances of my trance, my trip here.”
Blue’s chin tilted awkwardly. “You used deRavin’s spacesuit to travel, not to Mars, but to here? You’ve come from where, exactly?”
“It’s a long story. Get deRavin here,” Scarlet insisted from his stiff stance by the door. “He’s an astral-physicist and engineer. Ask him if what I say is possible. I’m sure deRavin understands alternate realities and universes far better than I or anyone else.”
“Well, that’s going to be a problem,” Blue assured. With another step back from the door and a jerk of his arm, the American captain wielded his pistol before Scarlet’s constricted sight. “Professor deRavin’s dead. Now step back, Paul. I’m going to open the door and you’re going to exit and walk ahead of me. We’re going to sickbay for those tests.”
“Adam. I’m telling the truth,” Scarlet tried to reason even as he complied with his friend’s orders. Hands raised, he allowed Blue to release the door lock and level his service weapon at Scarlet’s middle. “Any place but here is a start,” he conceded quietly as Blue motioned for him to lead the way into the main cell block.
“You know the way, partner. I’ve got your six, so don’t try anything.”
Nodding slightly, Scarlet stepped from the cell and pivoted left. “Adam, am I indestructible in this universe?” The sudden turn of events had prompted that most unusual question. Scarlet needed to know.
“Yes.” Within moments they were heading out into the open corridors of Cloudbase, on their way to Medical.
“Tell me how deRavin died,” Scarlet probed. “In my reality, he was taken over by the Mysterons. You and Grey went to Lunarville 8 to find me when I didn’t report in. You found him there and killed him.”
“It was an accident,” Blue explained from
behind. “About six months ago, deRavin was perfecting a new engine design. It
was a near light-speed thruster using a very powerful atomic fuel. He tested it
on a deep space probe of his. I believe he called it the
Scarlet pursed his lips at the news. “Then my probe’s malfunction could have also been an accident.” In his trek through the corridor, hands still at his ears, Scarlet twisted to glance Blue’s way. “My probe almost exploded. Perhaps the bugs hadn’t been worked out. It seems deRavin may have rushed his propulsion experiments after all.”
“Maybe in your universe, your deRavin got further along in his research. He got to finish his Mars probe. Here, the Mysterons sent us a message. They specifically invited you to Mars.”
“Yes, that’s it,” Scarlet agreed. “But in my reality, the invitation arrived on Lunarville. deRavin intercepted it through his first probe. He was the only one to hear it. He played it for me only once I’d arrived to head off for Mars. Colonel White knew that I was going to Mars, but he didn’t know why.”
“Convenient,” Blue mused aloud. “In your universe, things went differently.”
“Yes. That’s why I need your help.”
“To know about the Guardians.”
Scarlet stalled in his advance to turn on his friend. “Yes, Adam.”
“Well, we’ll need to see what the colonel says about that first.”
Now Scarlet bit at his lip. “I don’t have time for a committee, Captain. I need the answers now. I don’t know how long I have before I’m pulled back.”
“Into your reality,” Blue finished. He shook his head. “It all sounds so incredible, Paul. Either you’re delusional or something very profound is about to happen.”
They had reached the outskirts of Dr. Fawn’s domain. Scarlet stalled by the door and lowered his hands to face his partner. “Adam. In my world, you’re a good man. You’ve stood by me through all of this. You even risked a court-martial so that I could use deRavin’s suit and come here.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I don’t want you to think that I’ve gone crazy. You need to believe me. I’m just here for some answers.”
“And if we don’t have those answers? Then what?”
“Then I go back and maybe the Mysterons win.”
Blue lowered his chin and tilted his head against the news. “I wouldn’t want to wish that on anyone. The entire planet destroyed, void of all life?” He raised deep blue eyes to his partner. “Ehlora wouldn’t want that either.”
“Then help me. Help her. Tell me who these Guardians are, how they figure into the Mysterons’ plans. Do they know each other?”
“There’s only one man alive who knows everything.”
Now Scarlet blinked at his friend. “Who?”
The doors to sickbay slid open. Inside waiting stood Colonel White, Dr. Fawn and Spectrum’s psychology specialist, Eva St. Laurent. White waved the pair in. “You do, Captain Scarlet,” was the commander-in-chief’s steadfast reply. “You went to Mars. You met with the Mysterons. You asked three questions and were given the answers.”
Captain Scarlet scowled at the news. “But –” He took a stride inside sickbay and was promptly flanked by a pair of security guards who gripped his arms firmly by his side. “Colonel. I … I never got to Mars. I never got to ask –”
“Doctor, if you please.” With White’s nod of approval, Dr. Fawn produced a filled syringe. Even as Scarlet struggled against his sentries, Cloudbase’s chief physician pressed the liquid into the captain’s neck.
Scarlet felt the burning of the drug course through his veins, to his extremities. He slumped against the sedative and was dragged to a chair festooned with conduits and monitors. “What’s this …” His slurred speech told the captain everything. Muscles relaxed beyond action, head woozy and sight hazy, Scarlet had been administered a truth serum.
“Quickly, Colonel,” Dr. Fawn advised. “The serum will wear off rapidly with his retrometabolism. Ask what you will.”
“Dr. St. Laurent,” White addressed. “This is your interrogation.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” the dark-haired French woman acknowledged as she stepped up to the seated and restrained officer. Her large hazel eyes bored into Scarlet’s wavering gaze. “Captain, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” Scarlet found himself mumbling. His security officers now held him steady when he would have slid from the chair.
“Good. I need you to answer some questions. Relax and tell me truthfully. Do you know about the Guardians?”
“Where do they come from?”
“I … I don’t know.”
“Remember back, Captain. Your voyage to Mars, two years ago. You battled with a large green light. It spoke to you. What did it say?”
“I … I don’t know. I didn’t make it to Mars. My probe … crash landed on Phobos II.”
“That’s what he’s been saying all along,” Blue offered earnestly.
“Quiet, Captain,” Colonel White growled. “Please continue, Miss St. Laurent.”
With a nod at Spectrum’s commander, the psychologist returned to her interrogation. “Captain Scarlet. Do you belong here?”
“Yes. No,” Scarlet stammered. The
question was a weighted one. How to respond? In his compromised state his brain
fought against his two realities. “I am Captain Scarlet, Spectrum. Serial
number S700291160.” He blinked at the
glower this information produced. “I’m Paul Metcalfe. I was born in
“No, no, Captain. Tell us where you come from.”
“I was born in
With a shake of her head
Head bobbing between the woman and the floor, Scarlet grimaced against the query. “I … I used deRavin’s spacesuit, its helmet, to stimulate … my brain function. I’m dead.” He could sense his own heart fluttering within his chest. “I came here. I need to know … about the Guardians. I never made it to Mars. I need to know. No time.”
With a deep sigh
With a raised hand, Blue stepped closer. “May I, Colonel?” When White consented with a chin bob, Blue leaned down to stare at Scarlet’s swaying gaze. “Paul. Tell me about Ehlora. How did you meet?”
“Ehlora,” Scarlet rambled. “Shape-shifter. Doesn’t exist … in my reality. She’s here. An avatar. My link to this reality, to the Guardians.”
“When did you first meet her? How did she get here?”
“Old house. Crows attacked you and Grey. She … she was afraid.”
“Colonel,” Blue offered standing again. “It sounds like he remembers what our Scarlet knows. Maybe he’s telling the truth for both of them. Maybe he really is inside our Scarlet. Only he can explain.”
“Then allow him the opportunity, Captain,” White grumbled. The colonel glowered at his seated subordinate. “Captain Scarlet. If you never made it to Mars, then you never asked the Mysterons your three questions. If so, how did you find out about the Guardians?”
“deRavin’s suit. Stranded in space. Dead. The electrodes kept my brain alive. Heard a voice. It spoke to me as my own, like at the edge of a dream. The helmet, sir. That’s how I got here this time, to find out …” Scarlet blinked and shook his head of the drug. It was rapidly dispelling in his system. He swallowed and steadied his wavering skull to focus on his superior. “Colonel White, please. In my reality, I never completed my mission. Have I ever let you down, sir? You know I must complete my mission. I have to go back, but I can’t until I know.”
“Well, Scarlet; now there’s the quandary,” White asserted with a tilted brow. “It was you who told us of the Guardians. Our Scarlet. If you have no way of tapping into his mind, you’ll never know any more than we do.”
“Please, Colonel. Tell me what you do know.”
“I could,” White agreed. “Or you could tell yourself.”
“The suit, sir,” Blue interrupted. “He said it. Scarlet could use deRavin’s helmet to access his own memories.”
“That sounds dangerous,”
“I’m indestructible, Doctor,” Scarlet reminded, his sense returning, as was his muscle coordination. “Colonel. I’ll do it. I’ll prove what I’m saying is true.”
“And what of our Scarlet? If he’s somehow trapped deep within this body, how are we to know if he returns to us?”
“I don’t belong here, Colonel. I have my own universe. When I go back, all will be right. It has to be.”
“Colonel,” Blue reasoned. “Our Scarlet would never play this as a game. He’d be asking the same thing of us if we were in his reality.”
“Quite, Captain,” the colonel agreed with a stoic nod. “Very well. Captain Scarlet, advise Dr. Fawn on the specifics of your experiment. He’ll assist you in your preparations. Security will be on hand at all times. Once you’re ready, I will supervise this test myself.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, Colonel.”
“Release him, gentlemen,” White ordered of the guards. “Blue, stay to supervise. Scarlet has a lot of work to do and not much occasion in which to complete it.”
With that, Scarlet was allowed to gain his quaking feet. Blue steadied him as the colonel returned to his station in Control. The awkward silence of White’s absence followed, weighted in granite. Scarlet swallowed at his prospects and quickly updated Spectrum’s chief physician on the procedures of his demise. There was indeed much to be done and little time in the gamble.
The Journey Inward
Dr. Fawn busied himself preparing a medical stall for Scarlet’s experiment. Professor deRavin’s now familiar suit was produced, from Spectrum’s own evidence locker. The fishbowl-style helmet’s electronics were promptly connected to Fawn’s medical equipment, and a bio-tube was rolled in to simulate the cold and oxygen deprived conditions of Scarlet’s spatial isolation. Within the hour, all was ready.
“You sure you know what you’re doing, Paul?” Blue inquired with a friendly squeeze of the man’s now silver suit-enshrouded shoulder.
“If it’s the only way to tap into my own head, then yes, Adam. It’s the right thing to do.”
“Aren’t you concerned about the consequences?”
“Well,” Blue began with a shrug. “Back in your reality, you’re already hooked up to one of these things. What if you end up even deeper into an alternate reality? A third universe? Or worse, this fries your brain completely and you die, for real? Permanently?”
Scarlet smiled at his partner. “Leave it to you to see the worst in any situation.” He patted Blue atop his uniformed shoulder. “You’re my best friend in both realities, Adam. I’ll be fine.”
“Well, I’m not fine with this, and all I have to do is watch.”
Scarlet found his brow furrowing at the remark. Why had the comment sounded familiar? “I think you said that to me already. Once before.”
“Well, it’s true. There is a gamble that this could go horribly wrong.”
“And if there’s a chance of me finding out how to contact these Guardians and bring them to my Earth, then the risk is worth the reward.”
As Scarlet climbed atop the bio-tube, two new observers strode in to the medical stall. “I trust we’ve arrived at the crucial moment,” Colonel White announced.
Upon his elbow, Ehlora Piper’s arm was draped. “Paul, do be careful,” the woman urged, her golden-green eyes narrowed in concern. Pausing atop the gantry step, Scarlet noticed that she was genuinely troubled. Ehlora, most of all, knew what was at stake and understood his perilous predicament.
From his perch Scarlet smiled down at his audience. “You know, Miss Piper, I’m starting to feel like the tortured hamster of a naughty child.”
Blue suddenly grinned at the tension-dispelling analogy. “You look more like a soon-to-be fried lizard.”
“Frozen lizard,” Scarlet corrected and slid down inside the cylinder’s confines. Sitting, he next accepted the electrode-studded helmet Fawn handed him.
“Good luck, Captain,” the doctor offered and moved to man the bio-tube’s main control panel.
Blue pivoted to close the hatch. “Any last words, Paul?”
Scarlet settled his head upon the pillow and sealed the helmet down against the spacesuit. Through its microphone he answered, “Thanks for trusting me. For believing me.”
Blue only shrugged. “Right now, I don’t believe it myself. I just hope you’re right and that everything will be as it was.”
“As do I.” Scarlet glanced over his constricted shoulder at the attending physician. “Ready, Doctor.”
“Right, Captain. Activating helmet electrodes.”
Blue reached over to slip the bio-tube’s hatch shut, sealing the captain inside. “Removing atmosphere,” he announced with a frown. As he did so, Eva St. Laurent arrived to witness the test as well.
Her stern gaze contemplative, the psychologist crossed her arms and frowned at the proceedings. “I want it stated that I believe this experiment is both pointless and inherently dangerous, Colonel.”
“Duly noted, Doctor,” White rumbled with a squeeze to Ehlora’s slender fingers. “The Mysterons rarely give us opportunities to reflect upon our actions. We are many times too busy trying to outmaneuver their deadly plans.”
From beside Scarlet’s environmental capsule Blue nodded soberly and agreed. “And Captain Scarlet has been at the forefront more times than I can count. I trust him. He’s got a good reason to take this risk. He may very well be making strides to save both our worlds.”
From within the arching dome of the bio-tube, Scarlet saw Ehlora step forward to stand beside him. A gentle hand lay upon the cylinder’s frosting surface. “Paul. Remember me.”
Teeth chattering in the oxygen deprived cold, Scarlet shivered through a violent muscle contraction before stammering. “Hard to forget.”
“Everything is the same between our realities, Captain,” she explained. “Only minor details are different. Maybe that means I’m in your world too. You just don’t know it yet.” But as Scarlet gulped at the last air molecules within his sparking helmet and his consciousness faded to black, he heard Ehlora offer another thought. “I’m a dream. You’re a dream. We’re just sparking neurons in someone’s grand imagination.”
The darkness that met Scarlet was devoid of all sound or sensation. Scarlet blinked then waved hands before those eyes. Nothing. Tilting his head for any possible sense of dimension, he squinted into that void and yelled out his plea. “Guardians! Are you here? I need to speak with you!”
“Metcalfe, Paul Christopher,” a deep
voice bellowed about him. Scarlet hunched against the auditory assault and
smashed hands against his ringing ears. “Born
“I’m here,” Scarlet hollered back. “Captain, I need to know where the Guardians are. Who they are. Can you help me?” Silence was his answer. Cringing at the throbbing in his head, Scarlet tried again. “The Mysterons answered three questions for you, Captain. You called the Guardians to Earth.” Grimacing at the sharpness of his own words, Scarlet likened the sensation to screaming into one’s own skull. “Please. Can you tell me how to contact them?”
A new booming voice responded to his
aching plea. “WE HAVE BEEN HERE LONG. WE EXIST HERE. THERE. WE
Scarlet scanned the emptiness around him. Either his eyes did not function or he was in a place of absolute lightlessness. “Guardians? I don’t understand,” he groaned into the oblivion. “Do you mean you’ve existed for a long time? Are you … Do you have bodies, like we do? Are you non-corporeal like the Mysterons?”
“Guardians. Take what away?”
“You mean the Mysteron reconstructions. My other self called you here, to Earth. You came to save us.”
“NO,” the booming voice exploded. “WE MAINTAIN ORDER.”
“WE COME. THE UNIVERSE WILL FIND ORDER.”
“NON-EXISTENCE TO DISSENTERS. ORDER WILL BE MAINTAINED.”
“I don’t understand,” Scarlet gasped, his mind nearly expanding within the hard confines of his shrinking skull. “I’m just one man.” He swallowed against the chaos in his brain and remembered his original mission. “Guardians? I was invited to Mars, to speak with the Mysterons. I was told I could ask three questions.”
Scarlet stood upon his uncertain ground, hunched against the pressure and pain of this singular sentient voice. What three questions were the most vital? “How do we survive the Mysterons?”
“Peace? The Mysterons don’t want peace.” Shaking the pounding answer from his compressing brain, the captain sought out a second question. “Guardians, who can help us do that?”
“SEEK OUT THE EARTH CHILD.”
“Ehlora,” Scarlet gasped. She had something to do with the Guardians, with thwarting the Mysterons’ plans. Now the chaos was swirling into a more discernible pattern. One more question. His last. “Guardians, we need a weapon. Can you tell me how to defeat the Mysterons’ plans to destroy all life on Earth?”
“I … I don’t understand. Guardians. Is there a weapon we can use? What’s their weakness? How do we survive, defeat the Mysterons?”
“Three questions?” Scarlet’s head was beginning to spin. He felt his center of balance tilting dangerously downward. Was he falling? Had he been hanging in mid air? Where exactly was he and was he about to die?
“Captain Scarlet,” a third voice boomed.
Even in his faint, the British captain recognized that droning summons. “Captain Black? Conrad. You’re here too?”
“This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthman. The Overseers must not be allowed to interfere again.”
“Again?” Scarlet hollered into his own head. Just how was he communicating with the Mysterons? Had it something to do with his deep cognitive condition? Was his brain chemistry saturated with electrical signals from as far away as Mars? “Black. Who are these Guardians? Really?”
“The Overseers manipulate the universe. They take all who do not fit their order. They would interfere with our revenge of Earth.”
Grimacing at the acidic burn of Black’s thoughts in his head, Captain Scarlet doubled over. “Earth would welcome that help,” he groaned.
“Earth would become the hub for their games of stratagem. They would annihilate us all.”
“You lie, Black,” Scarlet gasped into his surrounding oblivion. “The Guardians are here to help. The Mysterons are the ones who interfere.”
“Ask them, Scarlet,” Black’s sepulchral growl challenged. “Ask them how they helped. It was their whim which caused your Conrad to order the missile launch on our peaceful base.”
Scarlet cringed as if his burning brain would explode at the declaration. “No!” The heat of his head snaked along his spine. Yes, heat. Not in his palm, as he had instructed Blue to do in order to alert him. Instead, the burning speared his bowed spine. “I … I need to go back.” Swallowing against that reality, Scarlet knew he had little time. “Guardians! Are you the overseers of the Mysterons?”
“WE MAINTAIN ORDER. WE
The heat of Scarlet’s summons spread to his shoulders, his hips and the back of his thighs. The captain was being consumed in fire. He had opportunity to scream only one more query. “Guardians. How do we contact you?”
“THE GUARDIANS COME.”
A sharp light pierced his sight. “Paul! Captain Scarlet. Wake up!”
The voice was of his partner and friend. “Adam?” Had Scarlet spoken aloud or just thought his reply? On the alternate Cloudbase, he was settled in a bio-tube, chilled and deprived of oxygen. “I’m here.” With a forceful gape of cold air, the British captain drew open his eyelids. “I’m here.”
“No, you’re not,” Blue countered through the frosted glass. Beside his American partner, Scarlet saw another concerned face.
“Paul, remember where you saw me,” Ehlora urged even as Scarlet’s sight of the alternate sickbay faded to a fuzzy cloud of frozen and fiery dampness. “Find me there.” About his chilled space, the air congealed into darkness and Scarlet lost consciousness.
A Moment in Time Squared
At the barn in Wiltshire, a horse whinnied nervously into the drizzling evening. Captain Blue, dozing in his hay bale seat roused at the sudden noise. “What? Paul?”
From behind a tilted stall door, a dark intruder stepped, the slender barrel of a silencer protruding. The hematite glow of the firearm instantly snapped out the singular light bulb dangling over Blue’s head. Before the captain could duck aside into the darkness, however, another shot sparked the demise of the chugging generator.
Blue recognized the shadowy pale face now flickering in the dimmer woodstove’s glow. “Captain Black,” he barked. Bolting to his feet Blue reached for the Spectrum weapon which did not perch at his hip.
“Scarlet must not know,” Black droned.
“Know what?” Blue swiped for his sidearm again, only then realizing his civilian garb had not included a weapon.
“The Guardians must not come.”
“Neither should you,” Blue announced even as he dove for the seclusion of the woodstove’s far side. Another shot pinged into the night. A boom announced the death of the diesel engine running Scarlet’s experiment. “Captain Scarlet!” Blue called out. “Wake up! The Mysterons have breached the gates!” The summons was of course futile. Blue had to first give his dead and frozen partner the agreed upon signal. The American captain decided instead to distract his attendant foe. “Black! I’m warning you. We’re not alone,” Blue lied. “Spectrum will be here any minute.” Even without his Spectrum uniform, Blue still had resources. With a shove of hand into his jacket pocket, the captain pressed the emergency alert button on his Spectrum recall beacon. Onboard Cloudbase, Lieutenant Green would receive the signal and send help. Blue just hoped Grey or Ochre arrived in time.
“We tolerate no interference,” Black assured from his hiding place. “Scarlet must die.”
Blue’s gaze next swept across the nearby barn beams. He remembered one had sported a large rusted nail from which hung an old six-shot wheel gun. Gathering his feet beneath him, the captain gauged the distance to the dangling revolver. With Black lurking in the adjacent horse stall, Blue’d only get one try. A gulp of air and he launched himself from the security of the woodstove, into open space. An eager hand clutched the hanging gun. Then with a flinch of his trigger finger, the American captain swung the firearm toward the shadowy villain. The bullet clipped a stable gate, even as the Mysterons’ chief agent faded from sight.
“What the –” Blinking at the spectral ghost now absent, Blue clambered to his feet. He lowered his gun to evaluate the damage. Along the barn’s wall, the still sparking generator had started a fizzling blaze atop its sledge and in the nearby hay. “Damn,” Blue growled. Holstering the sidearm in his trouser waistband, the captain stomped forward to consider the swiftly spreading flames. Beside the ignited fire source, Scarlet bobbed, still drenched in his icy trough. With the death of the generator, the flashing, malfunctioning spacesuit now threatened electrocution.
Blue swallowed at the sight. “Sorry about this buddy, but your experiment’s been terminated. Time to kill two birds.” Bracing himself, Captain Blue raised a boot and shoved against the trough’s rim, unsettling the container and spilling its contents onto the advancing fire.
So dumped, Scarlet’s pale body flumped onto the barn’s sizzling dirt floor. No longer fueled by the generator, deRavin’s silver suit nonetheless flashed its malfunction and starting sparking on its own. To save his friend, Adam bent to drag Scarlet away from the drenched blaze and tethered electronics. “Not sure Black’s gone for good, Paul,” Blue announced to the flaccid body he settled against the heated woodstove. “This’ll have to do. Wakey, wakey, quick as you can. I need your help.” With that, Blue released the seal which kept deRavin’s electrode-studded helmet attached to its reptilian outfit. The silver suit sucked loose its vacuum, providing air for Blue’s dead friend.
Straightening from his tilt, Captain Blue surveyed his damp and steaming environs. Out beyond the doused fire, the chilling rain misted what remained of the night. Blue drew the revolver from his waist, checked the remnants of his shells, and slid the chamber shut once more. “Five shots. That’s all she wrote.” Determined to defend his partner, Blue slid along the stall wall, ducking beneath a dangling mare’s head before halting at the open barn door. A peek beyond told him the eastern sky was tingeing toward dawn. Black could only hide for so long. Five shots. Captain Blue would make them last.
Scarlet felt the heat radiating along his spine, over his entire body. The signal to stall his journey inward, the Spectrum officer recognized his peril. He was being summoned, drawn from his inner reality, his alternate universe, back to his own world where Blue had dragged him from the trough to the barn’s woodstove. With his back to it, Scarlet was baking. The silence concerned him however, as his frigid body quickly thawed. Scarlet curled against a wave of violent shivers, drawing blued fingers in closer to his chest. With aching determination he peeled the gloves from his burn-cold digits. He had to hastily recover; he was uncertain why.
“Adam?” Scarlet’s strained and scratchy voice croaked. Where was his partner? Chilled eyeballs swung about, scanning the dimness for Blue’s blond-haired frame. Scarlet lay on his side, on the floor, facing the yawning barn door leading into the primal glow of dawn. Yes, the night was waning. A pinkish, foggy flush announced the new day. He was back where he belonged, in his own reality, on the farm in Wiltshire.
The bark of a gun sliced the peaceful mist of morning. Another weapon popped, one with a silencer attached, not far away. “Adam!” Straining stiff muscles, Scarlet yanked the fishbowl helmet from his disheveled head. “Captain Blue!” His partner didn’t answer. Was he out of range? Had Adam been injured? Killed? Scarlet’s legs were next brought into use, his knees jamming into the barn’s dirt floor. The captain needed his feet to seek and pursue. For Scarlet, the process of recovery was painfully slow.
By the time his silver booties were plodding his bent frame into the dawn light, Captain Scarlet was urgently scanning his surroundings for the signs of what had brought the termination of his experiment. A hay blaze had made Blue dump his trough to quell the fire. The generator was dead. His suit conduits lay splayed and yanked free from his abandoned helmet. deRavin’s suit was damaged, but perhaps not beyond another attempt. But for now, Scarlet had to find his partner.
From a barn stall a horse whinnied, causing Scarlet to pause. He needed a distraction. Spinning back to the seclusion of the barn, Scarlet swiped the latches loose of all three horses. The steeds tossed their heads at their liberty and stepped out to pivot for the open air and corral beyond. Scarlet trotted along beside them, using their coursing frames as shields into the brightening day. His gaze scanned the farm for Captain Blue. In the distance, descending against the rising sun, a sleek, propellered bullet approached. “SIG,” the captain murmured in triumph at the Spectrum chopper. The cavalry had arrived.
With a leap onto the closest horse, Scarlet pressed his knees against its flank to steer the mare out beyond the barn’s perimeter. “Captain Blue!” he called into the misty air, eyes scanning. Blue’s future was as yet uncertain.
“Scarlet,” a deep voice growled. “No more.” From behind a spreading tree, Captain Black stepped. The Mysteron’s long-muzzled pistol swung in Scarlet’s direction. But instead of firing the captain’s way, Black popped a round toward the barn. Inside a booming belch announced a small detonation. What had been the catalyst? Had Black somehow planted an explosive? A plume of black smoke announced the blast’s success.
“The helmet!” Scarlet realized. Within the confines of the barn, he had left deRavin’s suit helmet unattended. If it was destroyed, Scarlet would not have another opportunity to descend into that alternate reality where the Guardians kept watch. Vital questions would remain unanswered.
Leaning into his mount’s withers, Scarlet heeled the horse back toward the barn. With a toss of defiance the equine planted its hooves and refused. The captain could not dissuade the animal to reenter a burning barn. Grimacing at his options, Scarlet slid from his mount and bolted for the smoking chaos within.
“Paul, no!” Captain Blue warned from the far side of the widened doors. “It’s a trap!”
Their eyes met. Blue’s dour, pain-wracked gaze was dismal. A bloodied palm pressed against the American captain’s chest. Scarlet’s partner was telling the harsh truth.
“Adam. Get clear!” Not slowing his sprint, Scarlet slid into the barn, swiping for the fiery lump which was the electrode-studded helmet by the woodstove. Flames and choking smoke engulfed him. His burning fingers clutched a melted mass of plastic and steel. The searing pain caused his holler. Scarlet instinctively dropped the mass. His skidding booties collapsed beneath him as another explosion shocked the captain into oblivion once more. Scarlet had failed in his recovery.
The air about his enshrouded body was fresh, clean, chilled. Sterile. The sickbay. Scarlet was back on Cloudbase. “He’s coming around, Colonel.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” There was an awkward pause as Captain Scarlet opened his eyes to a small collection of officers stationed about him. “Explain yourself, Scarlet.”
From his groggy fugue, Paul Metcalfe cleared his dry throat. “Sir?”
“You failed, Captain,” White accused. “I surreptitiously sent you for answers. Instead you managed to nearly have your partner killed, and you destroyed an irreplaceable piece of advanced technology.”
“I’m sorry, Colonel.”
“Sorry won’t stick it, Scarlet. The Mysterons remain a dire threat to all life on Earth. We needed the answers you left to find. Who are these Guardians? How do we contact them?”
Sitting up in bed, Captain Scarlet considered his smocked frame, now healed from its burning trauma in the barn. Placing a palm atop his chest he said, “I’m back to my own reality.”
“Yes,” Dr. Fawn agreed. “And Captain Blue is recovering from his wounds.”
“That’s good to hear.” With a final grunt of adjusted authenticity, Scarlet addressed his superior. “Colonel, I request a return to active duty. I’m prepared to offer my full report once I’ve reestablished myself of a more proper fashion. Sir.”
White glowered down at the demand. “You’re asking for Spectrum reinstatement. I suppose you wish me to forgive you and Blue as well.”
Now Scarlet tugged the blanket down to his cotton-draped waist. “Sir, I’d like my uniform, service weapon and identi-card returned. I need to complete my mission.”
“And what mission is that, Captain?”
“To find the truth of the Guardians.”
“But Scarlet,” Captain Grey cut in. “Blue pulled you away before you had finished.”
“I do have some answers, Colonel,” Scarlet argued, ignoring Grey’s skepticism. “I was able to tap into the Guardians’ consciousness. I’m not exactly clear on it all. That’s why I request an intermission of sorts, to organize my experiences. Please, sir. Right now, it’s all nits and tatters.”
“Very well, Scarlet,” White grumbled grudgingly. “You will report for duty to Control in an hour.”
With a grateful nod, Scarlet was left alone to regain his dignity and his thoughts. When next he stepped out of the lift on Cloudbase’s control deck, redressed in his uniform and active status, Lieutenant Green blinked in anticipated interest. “Welcome back, sir.”
Scarlet simply nodded an acknowledgement and accepted the rising stool before White’s circular dais. “Colonel, I’d like to request one final expedition, to finalize my research.”
“To where, Captain? deRavin’s suit was destroyed. What knowledge you do have is urgently needed. There are plans to be made based on those results.”
“Sir, I need to finish gathering those results. To verify a suspicion.” With a gut-bolstering swallow, Scarlet plowed on: “I … uh. I have a hunch.”
“A hunch about what, Scarlet?”
Scarlet and Grey climbed from Melody’s helicopter with nods of thanks. “I sure hope you find what you’re looking for, Captain Scarlet,” the chocolate-skinned pilot wished with a demure smile.
“Thank you, Melody. We’ll call you back when we’re ready for a pickup.”
“SIG.” Once the two officers had stepped away from the Spectrum chopper, Melody revved the engines and lifted the craft into the sapphire, cloudburst sky.
Captain Grey watched the vessel veer
southward and cleared his throat. “So, Paul. Just when are you going to
enlighten me as to our coming here to
“We’re looking for someone.”
“Yes, a young woman who has the answers we need to contact the Guardians.”
“And who might this young woman be? And what does she have to do with the Guardians?”
Smiling at Grey’s anticipated response,
Captain Scarlet surveyed the medieval, vaulted peaks of white-capped mountains
surrounding them. Below lay the forested hillsides outside
Grey flinched beneath his kepi. “The shape-shifter?” The captain clutched his partner’s arm. “Paul, am I to understand that you believe she really exists?”
Scarlet shrugged and shared another sardonic grin. “She told me so, Brad. Ehlora told me to look for her here.” Scarlet tilted his chin and scanned the sky above the hillside. “Our universes are the same in many ways. If she’s there, then she’s here as well.”
“And just how long are we to stand around waiting?”
“Not sure,” Scarlet conceded with a grip of the leather, fringed satchel draped on one shoulder. “We might have to install a monitoring device.”
“Or perhaps leave her a clue to contact us?”
Scarlet squinted against the high altitude sunlight to grin at his field partner. “Brilliant idea. What clue should we leave?”
Grey’s shadowed eyes beneath his cap
narrowed. “Paul, are you sure you’re OK? Ever since we rescued you from that
“If the Guardians are out there, Captain; if they can help us turn the tide against the Mysterons, then we need to explore all avenues.” Scarlet slid the braided-strapped pouch from his shoulder. “We gave Ehlora this bag for a going-away present in that alternate universe.” He opened the pouch’s flap. “Inside, we included clothes and this.” Scarlet’s finger pointed to the colorful, circular S symbol sewn under the satchel’s flap. “This was to protect her, an emergency alert in case Ehlora needed us.”
“And you’re hoping she’ll recognize this symbol and seek us out?”
“Well, that and with the note I left inside. All she need do is use a phone; punch in the code I left for her. We’ll come and we’ll know for sure.”
“What if someone else finds it?”
Scarlet held the pouch up for Grey. “Bradley, listen. Do you hear the signal?”
“It’s a sonic beacon chip, but on such a frequency that only an animal could hear it.”
“You want to draw in an animal?”
“No, Brad. An animal with the intelligence of a human.”
Scarlet nodded. “Precisely. It’s a gamble, but it’s one we must make.”
Grey smiled grudgingly. “I hope your gamble pays off, Paul. In any other reality, this would all be some fantastical game of make-believe.” The captain shrugged. “But who am I to question Spectrum’s top agent against the Mysterons? Life’s full of mysteries. Why not one more?”
“I hope you’re available to come back here with me, Captain,” Scarlet mused. “It’s fate, I believe. And I’m looking forward to meeting the world’s one and only shape-shifter.”
“Is she, Paul?” Grey’s kepi tilted sideways. “If there exists one, then why not more?”
“Allies exist beyond our knowing, Brad. My hope is that Ehlora and the Guardians are just the beginning. This war of nerves against the Mysterons grows weary for me.” Scarlet sighed at the uncertain future ahead. “We could use all the help we can get, no matter how fantastic.”
Epilogue: Life is But a Dream
Within the walls of his
“Seriously?” Kraven murmured with a clap of his mug atop the desk. “They must be fools.” He shook his dark-haired head and poked the screen to larger type. “They can’t set a trap for me. Surely I’ll not take the bait. Using me to find her? They must think me a madman!” Kraven poked the screen to advance the news stories. Before Kraven read ahead to the next scientific study, however, the geneticist fumed at the screen. “Ehlora is mine. I’ll have her, heart and soul before the month’s out. For the greater good, her children will be the source of all my success.” Kraven lowered his chin and sighed. “Spectrum must be dreaming.”
Copyright Feb. 25, 2013.
Note to Readers:
Lucid dreaming is a state of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep where the dreamer is, on some level, conscious of the dream and can manipulate the events to some degree.
With much gratitude, I dedicate this story to Chris Bishop who’s allowed me to share my word-children for others’ enjoyment since 2002, and to Emma Farrell, who’s just starting out as an author and reminds me so much of myself when I first became a wordsmith, some forty years ago.
Laura J. Kaighn’s (of Lady Hawke Storytelling) debut young adult fantasy novel, Earth Child: The E.D. Piper Chronicles, is available from Amazon.com and Kindle download through this link, and is also available at Amazon.co.uk (no Kindle download). Her sequel, Earth Child II: The Awakening, will be published early 2014.
Visit Lady Hawke’s website: