This story previously appeared in Issue 75 of The Power Star fanzine, and is posted here without the authorization of the author, with due acknowledgement – C.B.
A CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS Short Story
By Kimberly Murphy
One thing that can be said for floating 40,000 feet over the North Atlantic: The view is always spectacular, whether it be twelve noon or twelve midnight.
It was the midnight view--or, rather, the 10:00 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time view--that Colonel White took in from the observation deck adjacent to the Control Room on Spectrum Cloudbase. Normally the Spectrum Commander-In-Chief would be asleep at this hour, but with Mysteron activity on Earth increasing almost daily, restlessness had become part of the job. Most of Cloudbase was asleep, save Rhapsody Angel on the flight deck in Angel One, Harmony Angel in the Amber Room, and Captain Magenta working the night shift at the Communications console. Colonel White had been in his quarters as well, but an odd sense of foreboding kept creeping into his forethoughts, interrupting any urge he had to sleep. So now he stood quietly before a long bank of windows, gazing at a black sky filled with twinkling, silent stars.
"Wondrous, isn't it?" a British-accented male voice said behind him.
White turned around to find Captain Scarlet standing at the edge of the observation deck, barely visible in the subdued lighting of the Control Room this time of night. "Indeed," the Colonel replied in deep, cultured British-accented tones. "Like floating in a sea of black velvet and diamonds." He paused. "Odd to see anyone else awake at this hour."
Scarlet stepped further onto the observation deck and now stood next to his commanding officer. "I was having difficulty sleeping, sir." He gazed out the window at the calm night sky.
The simplicity of that statement intrigued White as he looked at the red-jacketed officer next to him. Captain Scarlet, one of Spectrum's finest, was a remarkable man who had led a remarkable existence. Scarlet had been killed in a car crash almost a year earlier, then recreated by the Mysterons as a human robot, an assassin with the deadly accurate skill of a trained Spectrum agent, and ordered to kidnap the World President. But then, a fluke of fate occurred: Scarlet, shot and fatally wounded by Captain Blue while attempting to escape, fell 800 feet from the top of the London Car-Vu observation tower...and lived to tell the tale. The fall had broken the Mysteron hold on him, freeing his suppressed memories of his true self. But then something even more amazing happened: He recovered completely from the fall, without even a scar, thanks to his Mysteronized body, which had retained the property of retro-metabolism, or spontaneous regeneration. As a result, Scarlet had become virtually indestructible; bullets would wound him, falls would hurt him, but even a fatal injury--short of a high voltage electric shock, fatal to both humans and Mysterons would heal completely within hours. Scarlet had a reputation outside Spectrum as a fearless wonder among his supporters and a cocky daredevil among his detractors, but all agreed he was unfazed by anything--as only a man who cheats death regularly can be. But those who knew him knew better.
White certainly knew. Putting Scarlet back into the line of duty after the initial Mysteron incident was a risk--no one knew how he would react; no one could even say conclusively whether he was truly free of the Mysteron influence--but a risk that White had no choice but to take. The Mysterons had already claimed two fine officers--Captain Black, missing since the Zero-X mission to Mars that first encountered the Mysterons, and Captain Brown, who'd been Mysteronized in the car crash along with Scarlet and had been their first walking time bomb--and White was determined that they would not claim another. The life of the Director-General of the Asian Republic had been threatened by the Mysterons, and he needed every man he could get. He had to send Scarlet back out, to see if he could still perform his duties...to see if there was any hope of defeating the Mysterons.
It was a decision he would never regret.
In many senses, the mission was a failure. The Mysterons took over commercial flight DT19 and turned it into an instrument of death, sending it on a collision course down the runway at London International Airport toward the Director-General's plane...and not even Scarlet's heroic efforts to stop the plane by destroying its landing gear with the SPV, an effort which cost the young officer his life, were enough to stop the Director-General's plane from crashing into the booby-trapped jet. The Mysterons had succeeded in murdering the Director-General, his staff, and almost 100 innocents onboard DT19, which was destroyed in order to turn the jet into their weapon. Spectrum had failed.
But Scarlet had succeeded...succeeded in proving his worth to Spectrum. He had shown a kind of sixth sense in being able to detect the Mysteronized jet as it landed in London, their first clue that something was wrong. He had shown a willingness to push his indestructibility to its ultimate limits--death itself--if it meant he could stop the Mysterons. And he had shown his loyalty by making certain Captain Blue and anyone else was out of harm's way before attempting to stop the Mysterons. Scarlet had succeeded in showing Spectrum that he was back...and that he was genuine.
Scarlet took the mission's failure personally, despite being awarded Spectrum's highest honor, The Spectrum Cross, for his outstanding bravery and willingness to sacrifice for his fellow Spectrum officers. But with each new fight against the Mysterons, the Brit regained more of his confidence...and slowly gained confidence in his newfound indestructibility. It was a confidence that was contageous, for every member of Spectrum began to feel that as long as they had Captain Scarlet on their side, they would defeat the Mysterons in the end.
So anything bothering Captain Scarlet enough to interrupt his sleep had to be significant.
"Care to elaborate, Captain Scarlet?" Colonel White finally said aloud.
"Sorry?" Scarlet said, turning toward his superior. "Oh, nothing, sir. At least, nothing I can pinpoint."
"I know what you mean." White looked out the window once more. "It's almost as if something is waiting to happen."
"I know. And I don't like playing the waiting game."
"The Mysterons wage a war of attrition...and a war of nerves."
Scarlet nodded his agreement.
The two men looked out the window in silence.
The static of the Spectrum radio leaping to life nearly sent Captain Magenta skyward out of his chair. It was almost time for the nightly status reports from each of the Spectrum worldwide offices--reports were required within one hour after every shift change--and Magenta cursed himself silently for being so lax as to let the time slip up on him. He hurriedly reached for his keyboard to enter the latest statuses into the logs.
Then he heard the tones--tones that sounded like the voice of death--that he and every other member of Spectrum dreaded:
"This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. You will pay for your unprovoked attack on our Martian complex. Our revenge will be slow, but nonetheless effective. Our next attack will be against the gold standard. We will destroy the gold standard!"
White and Scarlet were racing off the observation deck and into the Control Room even before the slow, deep-voiced threat had ended. "Cloudbase is now on Yellow Alert," White barked to Magenta. "Captain Magenta, I want Captain Blue and Captain Ochre here immediately."
"S.I.G.," Magenta replied, already reaching for the general intercom button on his console. "Attention, all Spectrum personnel. Cloudbase is now on Yellow Alert. Captains Blue and Ochre, please report to the Control Room immediately."
"Well, Captain Scarlet," White said, turning his attention to his top agent, "it looks as if the waiting game is over."
Scarlet nodded. "And the war of nerves has just begun."
Asleep and quiet only moments earlier, Cloudbase was now abuzz with activity, with nearly every person on base now awake and moving about. Lieutenant Green had rushed immediately to the Control Room, even though he was not due back on duty for almost another eight hours, to take over the Communications console from Captain Magenta. White felt oddly better about the familiar sight of the young black man with the lilting Caribbean accent taking his usual place in the Control Room, even as he regretted that the Lieutenant hadn't been able to fully enjoy his time off. Green had not been his first choice for Communications Officer and personal aide--White had felt him far too young--but now he couldn't imagine the chair occupied by anyone else for any length of time. And in the heat of a crisis, he didn't want to.
"I owe you a shift," Magenta said as he got up from the console and sent the chair down the conveyor belt to Green.
"Don't worry, Captain Magenta," Green replied in a deadpan tone. "I always collect on my debts." He settled into the chair and started it back down the conveyor to the main section of the console, reaching for several buttons further up the line even as it moved. "I passed Captain Blue and Captain Ochre in the hallway, Colonel," he said to White as the chair moved into position for him to scan the readouts across his console. "They should be here any minute. And Symphony Angel is returning from her shore leave and will be landing momentarily."
"Thank you, Leftenant," White replied, taking his own seat at his circular console and depressing four buttons on its surface.
From the floor, four round stools rose in a semi-circle around White's command chair. Scarlet and Magenta each took a seat, and they were soon joined by a sleepy-looking pair of Captains, Blue and Ochre.
"Sorry I'm late, Colonel," Blue remarked as he took the seat next to Scarlet. "I would have been here quicker..." He looked back at Green. "...but I almost got run over in the hallway by a speeding Lieutenant."
"Some of us wake up faster than others," Green smiled.
"The Mysterons have great timing, don't they," Ochre groused. "I had just gotten to sleep."
"None of us will be getting much sleep with the Mysterons about," White stated crisply. "You've all heard the latest threat. What do you make of it?"
"Well, sir, it sounds like a threat against the world economy," Magenta suggested.
"But that doesn't make sense," Scarlet interjected. "No country's been on the gold standard for centuries."
"He's right," Blue added. "The gold standard was given up long ago as a monetary base. Money now is backed up by the government, through the use of bonds and such."
"But there are some countries that maintain stockpiles of gold," Ochre pointed out. "And they use it as securities for obtaining necessary financing from world banks."
"And the Mysterons did once try to destroy `the heart of New York' by demolishing the Second National Bank, one of the largest gold reserves in North America," Magenta reminded them.
"Surely, though, the Mysterons can't hope to steal or destroy all the gold in the world?" Scarlet wondered aloud. "Such a feat is out of even their broad scope."
"Maybe they don't intend to destroy it all at once," Blue mused. Magenta suddenly looked startled. "And they wouldn't have to," he realized aloud. "If the Mysterons have the power to recreate anything, it wouldn't take more than a few good bars of gold replaced with a few bad bars of gold to start people doubting the validity of all gold..."
"...and start a panic the likes of which hasn't been seen since the World Depression of the 1930s," White finished, blanching at the thought. "Loans would be called into question, banks would fail..."
"...and the world economy as we know it would collapse," Scarlet realized.
"So how do we stop them?" Ochre asked.
"By protecting the world's major stockpiles of gold," White concluded. "Leftenant Green--send a message to all Spectrum offices. Tell them to provide extra protection to all the major gold depositories in their regions. We will be sending senior officers out to work with the major banking establishments."
"S.I.G.," Green answered, already punching in the necessary codes to bring up the required frequencies.
"We'll spread out at world banking capitals for maximum efficiency," White told the four seniors before him. "Captain Ochre, head for Moscow. Captain Magenta, Rio de Janerio. Captain Blue, you'll take New York. And Captain Scarlet, you'll take London." He looked across his desk at them. "You all have your orders. And I don't have to tell you what's at stake if you fail. Good luck."
"S.I.G.," all four said in unison.
Several things in life only seem to happen at night. Babies become inconsolable. Major appliances break down. Pipes burst. And time-sensitive computers come to a crashing halt.
It was that last nocturnal activity that Ken Kinnon perversely enjoyed. A field engineer for Aurelius Computers, Kinnon made his living--and a financially rewarding one, at that--by solving midnight computer crises. Kinnon was an operating system guru who could read a hexidecimal computer dump like English and could listen to a spinning disk drive and know just where in the code the program was executing. There was something about being in a computer lab at night, users depending on your skills, your talents, your abilities that made him tick. It's a real power trip, he mentally noted as he pushed the button to rewind the tape from the 9-track tape drive before him, and a better high than any drug--legal or illegal.
The large round magnetic wheel of tape containing his latest object code masterpiece finished rewinding, and the clear plexiglass door descended to allow him access to the tape. This is it, Ken...this is the big time. Tomorrow, your genius goes worldwide.
Putting the protective plastic band around the circumference of the tape spool, Kinnon carried the valuable code over to his briefcase and set it inside, then snapped the lid shut. He took a moment to reflect on the activities of the past few months. Ever since Aurelius Computers had won a major worldwide contract to install the world's largest computer network, every engineer in the entire company had been on major overtime. Even field engineers whose last programs had been the computer student's simple first-step program "Hello World"--where you have to prove you can read enough of the book to find the I/O statement that will echo eleven characters of text, he laughed silently--had been called in to help write the code that would drive the entire network operation. Now, as a reward for being the top field support engineer the past year, it was Kinnon who would get to load the code onto the very first machine in the net.
Thus, the need to come into the lab and take one last dump of the object code. Nobody would remember the dozens of anonymous programmers who slaved 16-hour days under grueling deadlines. But the papers and the TV cameras would get a good shot of the proud engineer who typed in the start-up commands in front of the press tomorrow morning.
Actually, the whole thing with the press was a formality, normally the kind of thing Kinnon hated. The real work would be done tonight, at the site, where the code would be installed and a set of diagnostics run to make sure everything worked tomorrow morning as planned. But a reward was a reward, and Kinnon never turned down opportunities to score points with the boss.
The one thing he did regret about this whole experience was the fact that his counterpart in the hardware world, Mike Carlson, wouldn't get to see it. Mike was, like him, a night owl, an on-call technician who could make even an abacus crunch numbers faster than the fastest supercomputer. Mike had been gone a lot lately, going out to each and every site that would be brought on-line as part of this supernetwork to check out the installations for himself. Kinnon had thought that odd--even he never took on that many site visits--but Mike had always been a loner, the classic hardware guy who blamed everything on the software guy. Of course, I always blamed everything on Mike, too, he chided himself. That fire in his apartment building that killed all those people must have really affected him. He was even more private, insisting on doing everything himself the last few weeks. No wonder he accidentally electrocuted himself during a routine hardware check. I miss him. People used to say he was a real piece of work, but I got along well with him--as long as we didn't spend too much time working together.
He dismissed his memories. Plenty of time for regrets tomorrow, he reminded himself. Tonight, you've got code to install.
Picking up his briefcase, Kinnon left the lab and headed out of the building.
Maybe it was the geography. Maybe it was the location. Or maybe it was his imagination. Whatever, Kinnon took one look at the clear night sky and thanked God for yet another beautiful British night. Something about England lent itself to picturesque landscapes, incredible architecture, and wondrous starry nights. As he got into his car, he made sure he opened his sunroof to let the moonglow enter freely, then started his engine and drove out of the parking lot, heading onto the small two-lane road that led toward the highway--and back toward London.
Country roads in Britain were always tricky, and tonight was no exception. An earlier rainfall had left the air fresh and crisp--and the roads very slick. Kinnon tried to watch his speed as he drove down the curving lane.
He passed under a tree.
On the seat beside him, something came through the roof and landed with a "thud" on his briefcase.
He looked over at it. "What the...," he began.
He never got to finish the phrase. Within seconds, the car was filled with choking smoke, and even though some of it was going back out through the open roof, enough of it was swirling around Kinnon's face to make it impossible to breathe, impossible to see, impossible to steer...
Kinnon's car left the road, careened across a field, and slammed headlong into a tree, crumpling the car into a twisted block of metal that soon exploded into flames.
From the darkness, two circles of greenish light passed across the car...and across Kinnon's dead body.
Spectrum agent-turned-Mysteron terrorist Captain Black descended from the tree further up the road that had given Kinnon its smoky fruit, then casually walked toward the wreckage.
Any passersby would have been stunned to see Ken Kinnon standing next to his apparently undamaged car, holding the valuable briefcase in his hand even as the remains of a fancy sports car behind him continued to burn.
Black walked over to him. "You know what you must do," the pasty-faced man with the heavy five-o'clock shadow said in the ominous voice of the Mysterons. "Tonight, you will destroy the gold standard."
"Yes," the Mysteronized Kinnon said in a robotic reply. "I know what I must do." He gave the briefcase a pat.
One would have sworn the emotionless Captain Black smiled.
"Don't the Mysterons ever sleep?"
The man who was yelling the outraged statement to Captain Blue was Glen Albert, Chairman of the World Bank's American division, as he paced around his New York City office. It was 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, two hours after the Mysterons had issued their threat.
"No, sir, I'm afraid not," Captain Blue replied. "I don't even think it's night yet where their base is located on Mars." He offered Albert a wry grin.
The banker smiled at the deliberate attempt to lighten the atmosphere. "Be that as it may...Wall Street just shut down for the day--a particularly skittish one at that--and already we're looking at another crisis. Destroying the gold standard? Don't those idiots know anything about American history?"
"Yes, sir, I know the gold standard was abandoned as a monetary base long ago. But Spectrum is quite sure the Mysterons also know this and may be after a different target. If they can devalue gold in any way, they can wreak havoc on the entire world economy. After all, gold is still used to secure many types of loans . . .including some of the loans that back budgets in many countries worldwide."
"Yes, you're right, of course. And it couldn't have come at a worse time."
"What do you mean?" Blue remarked. "It's been our experience that no time is a good time for a Mysteron attack, but what's so special about today?"
"Not today--tomorrow. The World Bank SuperNet gets turned on tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. GMT."
"Oh, come now, Captain, surely you Spectrum people keep up with the latest technology. The World Bank SuperNet. The world's largest non-military computer network. It'll turn the World Bank into a true world bank, not just a bunch of branch offices all bearing the same name."
A very bad thought hit Captain Blue like a bolt of lightning. "So someone could control, say, all the world's gold reserves, from one bank's computer, spreading the information along the chain to all the other branch banks?"
"Something like that. I don't pretend to know all the technospeak the Aurelius Corporation's engineers use, but that's the basic idea. Kind of like that `information superhighway' that was proposed back in the 1990s before the Atomic Wars disrupted technological progress."
"And this thing goes into operation tomorrow?"
"Actually, the individual computer systems have been running for weeks now. An Aurelius hardware techie came out here three weeks ago to make the final adjustments to the machines, then told us to put all our databases onto them and start running with their beta-version code. It's been smooth as silk. I've never had a computer upgrade go so well."
Blue frowned. "So what's left to do tomorrow?"
"Well, the final production version of the software's supposed to get loaded into the main computers at
World Bank London, which'll be the first computer on-line with it. Then, when the market opens in London tomorrow morning, the rest of the computers on the net will get the code and start running as if they were one big computer, all tied together."
Blue frowned even harder. Now the Mysterons could destroy all the gold in the world without ever having to touch it, he realized. Word about bad gold spreading along this net could disrupt the entire banking community within minutes..."I need to pass this information to our central command," he told Albert. "Our field agents need to know this so they can be on extra alert."
"Go ahead," Albert agreed. "Need a phone?" He gestured over his executive desk.
"No, thank you," Blue said as the wire rim of his RadioCap dropped down next to his mouth to form a headset-style microphone. "Captain Blue to Cloudbase," he said into the receiver.
Lieutenant Green leaned back in his chair at the Communications console and rubbed his eyes. Despite his willingness to come back to duty when required, Green began to wish he'd stayed in bed when the Mysterons issued their threat. He'd only been off eight hours and had just settled in for the night when the crisis started and Captain Magenta had ordered Captains Blue and Ochre to the control room. One of Green's skills was reading the subtext of radio transmissions, and not hearing Captain Scarlet's name called meant he either was already in the control room or off-base...and either one meant that only one other senior wasn't accounted for: Captain Grey, who'd just come off shift at 10 p.m. Spectrum had rules about taking at least four hours off between shifts to keep each officer at peak efficiency, and Grey had been on duty almost fourteen hours if one counted the six hours he'd spent investigating what turned out to be a false Mysteron alarm at a munitions plant in Germany. So the only one who could work the Communications console and give Spectrum four seniors to send out on any necessary assignment was him. Green began to wish Colonel White didn't consider him so indispensable.
A blue light on his console blinked twice. "Captain Blue to Cloudbase," the New England-accented male voice stated over the radio.
Green tapped the button below the blue light. "Lieutenant Green here--go ahead, Captain Blue," he replied.
"We've got a problem, Lieutenant. Is Colonel White around?"
Colonel White looked up from his own circular console and tapped the button below the glowing blue light in front of him. "Go ahead, Captain Blue," White announced.
"Sir, Mr. Albert of the World Bank America says that there's a massive computer network about to go online tomorrow morning that the Mysterons could exploit," Blue explained.
Green immediately looked attentive. "The World Bank SuperNet?" he asked.
"How did you know?"
"I've been reading about it in technical journals. It's an amazing technical achievement, if everything they say about it is true."
"Never mind the admiration, Leftenant," White interrupted impatiently. "What about it can the Mysterons exploit?"
"Well, sir, what it's designed to do is connect all the World Bank offices all over the world together. They'll be able to share accounts, resources, anything and everything."
"And that's the problem, sir," Blue stated.
"I see what you mean, Captain Blue," White realized. "Misinformation or bad information about bad gold routed on the net could seriously damage the stock markets and economies of the world."
"I thought Captain Magenta, Captain Ochre, and Captain Scarlet should be told, sir."
"Agreed. Take care of it, Leftenant. Captain Blue, stay prepared. This information means we must be ready on a moment's notice to act. The gold reserves in the various depositories around the world are even more vulnerable now."
"S.I.G.," Blue replied.
The Jaguar corporation would have been impressed. The Mysteron copy of Ken Kinnon's black XJ-6 was built exactly to factory standards, an exact replica.
So was its driver. The copy of Kinnon looked exactly like the identification badge photo that was hanging from the rear-view mirror of the Jaguar. Less than an hour after the Mysteron switch, he was pulling up to the World Bank Headquarters building in London, parking next to the curb. Kinnon straightened his tie, put on his badge, picked up his briefcase, and headed up the front steps to the glass doors.
The doors were locked, as to expected after hours. Kinnon depressed the buzzer on the intercom adjacent to the door.
"Yes?" came the reply momentarily.
"Ken Kinnon, Aurelius Computers," he said into the intercom. "Here to make the final adjustments on the SuperNet."
Kinnon looked for a camera and held his badge up toward it, hoping silently that the camera didn't have an x-ray filter that would give away his true self, as Mysteronized tissue was impervious to x-rays, a fact Spectrum often exploited. He hoped Spectrum hadn't had time to get here yet. No sense in spoiling the surprise right away.
"Proceed, sir," the guard's voice announced.
He heard the door buzz loudly.
With a smile, Kinnon pulled the now-unlocked door open, then headed inside.
The door locked behind him, providing a false sense of security to the building's occupants.
Captain Scarlet was no fool.
Four Spectrum fighter planes had left the flight deck of Cloudbase and fanned out in four different directions, each containing a senior Spectrum officer assigned to protect a possible Mysteron target. But as Scarlet left his jet at Gatwick Airport, driving off in his bright-red Spectrum Patrol Car, he knew which target White felt was the most important...
...his destination, London.
By now, Scarlet had grown used to the drill of sending "the indestructible man" to the site most likely to be targeted for destruction. And truthfully, he didn't mind. These were assignments that no one else could take, assignments that could realistically result in serious injury or death to the Spectrum agent involved. And Scarlet was nothing if not loyal to his fellow officers. Captain Blue had often joked that the reason Scarlet always recovered from fatal injuries was because he was trying to collect on all those lives other officers owed him.
Driving along, he remembered the first time he'd realized he could take risks other agents couldn't. He and Captain Blue were at London International Airport, trying to stop the Mysteronized flight DT19, a jumbo jet on a collision course with the Asian Republic Director-General's private jet that was trying to taxi down the runway and take off...
"We're in range," Captain Blue announced as their Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle sped down the runway, chasing the renegate jumbo jet. "Firing...now." He expertly maneuvered the SPV just behind DT19's tires, fixed one of them in the crosshairs of the SPV's gunsight, and depressed a button.
Blue looked astonished as he pressed several buttons repeatedly.
"What are you waiting for?" Scarlet snapped impatiently.
"It's...it's jammed!" Blue realized.
Scarlet fought the urge to slam the steering controls angrily. This Mysteron booby trap in front of them was on a collision course with the Director-General of The United Asian Republic, blocking the runway, and there was nothing they could do to stop it, nothing...
No, wait. There was something they could do. Or rather, something he could do. "I'm going to ram the wheels," Scarlet announced.
Blue looked aghast. "That'll be suicide!" he said incredulously.
"For you, yes. For me..." Scarlet let the sentence stay unfinished as he reached for a red handle next to his seat. "See you later." He pulled hard on the red lever.
Before Captain Blue could voice an objection, his seat exploded out of the roof of the SPV, ejecting the blue-jacketed officer safely away from the situation.
Scarlet checked the SPV's rear cameras to make sure Blue's automatic parachute opened, then returned to the front view of the vehicle. Driving facing backwards, using only TV monitors for guidance, had always been tricky even for the most skilled Spectrum agent. Now, faced with the reality that he had to ignore any urge of self-preservation, it was even more so.
Scarlet took a deep breath, then dropped down his RadioCap's microphone. "Continue aerial attack," he said in a firm voice to Destiny Angel, who was flying overhead. "That's an order!"
The acknowledgement came as he heard Destiny swoop over him and fire off yet another shot at DT19, striking the tail section of the plane.
Scarlet hit the SPV's accelerator as hard as he could and headed straight for the landing gear of DT19.
The impact of the SPV against the spinning tires shook him hard. It took every ounce of strength he had to hang on to the steering controls and stay on the runway.
The plane continued its relentless trek down the runway.
Scarlet got the SPV under control and once more headed straight for the tires. This time, prepared for the impact, he held on much more securely and kept the pressure on the plane's wheels.
It was working. DT19 was beginning to shudder.
Scarlet backed off, then hit the accelerator one more time.
The hard impact against the tires burst one of them. The struts of the landing gear above him began to shake.
Scarlet drove alongside the plane and up onto the wheel with the flattened tire.
It came off underneath his SPV, sending the vehicle careening out of control across the infield.
Scarlet struggled with the steering column in vain, then braced for the impact of hitting the radar station he saw in his path ahead.
The SPV crashed headlong into the small concrete building.
Almost as soon as it hit, Scarlet knew he'd been injured badly. His head felt like it had split open. Breathing suddenly became much harder as the realization hit him that the steering column was pressed hard against his rib cage. He looked up at the TV monitor, now showing the view of the runway.
DT19 had collapsed into a burning heap on the runway. But the speed of the smaller jet told Scarlet that his efforts had been in vain.
The Director-General's jet tried to ascend over the wreckage, only to collide with the tail as it stuck up in the midst of the flight path, sending the smaller jet spinning out of control and smashing hard against the runway. It exploded on impact.
Scarlet felt his heart sink as pain and unconsciousness washed over him like a wave.
Of course, he'd recovered from the accident, waking up on Cloudbase about six hours later, seeing a relieved Captain Blue standing over him in Sickbay. "Don't do that to me again," Blue had told him only half-jokingly. And Colonel White had presented him with The Spectrum Cross for putting Captain Blue's and the Asian Republic Director-General's lives before his own, a moment that brought both pride at being honored by his command and embarrassment at the idea that he'd gotten a medal for bravery for doing something that, quite simply, no one else could have done. But it had been that whole incident that taught him that "indestructible" didn't necessarily mean "invincible".
And it certainly didn't mean "immortal". Scarlet had killed his share of Mysterons, usually by making sure their bodies were completely destroyed, long before Spectrum learned that high voltage shocks could kill a Mysteron as easily as they did a human, a principle they built into the Spectrum Mysteron gun. It was both sobering and reassuring to learn that Mysterons weren't completely indestructible--sobering in that it meant that he could be killed, reassuring for oddly the same reason.
The sight of the sign reading "Welcome To London" on the highway in front of him caught his attention.
Back to the task at hand, he told himself.
His destination would be the World Bank headquarters, off Trafalgar Square. He'd tried to get hold of World Bank President Nigel Christopher before leaving the airport, only to be told by Mrs. Christopher that her husband was at the office, supervising last minute preparations for their new computer system's debut tomorrow morning. Should have Lieutenant Green with me, he mentally noted. He'd love this sort of thing. Computers are useful contraptions, but I'm more concerned with how the Mysterons plan to carry out their threat than whether or not some blasted computer comes on-line on schedule...
The epaulets on his uniform flashed white and the voice-activated microphone dropped down into "talk" position. "Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet," Lieutenant Green's voice said over the RadioCap's speakers.
"Scarlet here--go ahead, Cloudbase," he said into the microphone.
"What is your ETA?"
"Just entering London. I should be at the World Bank headquarters in twenty minutes."
"Be on extra alert. Tomorrow morning, the World Bank SuperNet goes on-line."
"Is this that computer upgrade I've heard about?"
"More than a computer upgrade, sir. It's a way for the World Bank computers to share information about everything...including their gold reserves."
"Do you think the Mysterons plan a computer crime of some sort, Leftenant?"
"It's entirely possible, Captain Scarlet," Colonel White's voice chimed in. "If what Leftenant Green tells
me about its capabilities is true, then deliberate misinformation from the Mysterons can be sent around the world at the speed of light. And the computer in London will be the first to go on-line with this new system."
"So the Mysterons could destroy the gold standard with false information entered in just one computer,"
Scarlet realized. "I'll notify the World Bank President. Scarlet out."
Twenty minutes later, Scarlet was in front of the World Bank Headquarters building. He parked his Patrol Car behind a black Jaguar XJ-6 that was, he noted, parked illegally. Where's a constable when you need one? He thought, annoyed. It's just after midnight--what the devil is that doing here? He briefly considered putting in a call to the local police, then got his temper under control. You'll feel foolish if that's Mr. Christopher's car, he mentally chided himself. And with the SuperNet going on-line tomorrow, there are bound to be all sorts of people here tonight. Still, though, you'd think it'd be parked in an employee lot...
Shaking his head, Scarlet got out of the car and took a deep breath of the fresh night air. One of the few things about being stationed on an aircraft carrier floating 40,000 feet up that Scarlet didn't like was the inability to step outside for a breath of fresh air. Even through his career with the World Army Air Force, he'd always been able to take breaks outdoors, using the brisk air to clear his head and aid his thought processes.
After taking the breath, though, Scarlet winced and rubbed his sinuses. Of course, being 40,000 feet above sea level does have its advantages, he noted. I almost never get the sinus headaches I used to get constantly.
He walked up the steps to the front doors of the bank and pressed the buzzer, rubbing his eyes again, thankful that the momentary dull ache was fading.
"Yes?" the voice over the speaker queried.
"Captain Scarlet, Spectrum," he said aloud. "Here to see Mr. Christopher."
Scarlet unzipped one of his uniform pockets and retrieved his I.D. badge, holding it up to the camera.
A momentary pause. "Thank you, Captain Scarlet. Your London office said to expect you. Mr. Christopher is down in the basement. One moment, please."
The door buzzed.
Scarlet took that as a signal to pull on it.
It opened easily, and Scarlet stepped inside.
Across the elegant marble-floored lobby, an elevator opened, and a middle-aged gentleman, short and stocky, with salt-and-pepper hair and round wire-rimmed glasses, stepped out of the lift. "Captain Scarlet?" the man said, walking toward him.
"Yes," Scarlet answered.
"Nigel Christopher." The man extended his right hand toward him. "Nice to meet you."
"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Scarlet replied, accepting the handshake. "I wish it were under different circumstances."
"Agreed. Your London office called to tell us you wanted to see me, and so did my wife. This must be important."
"That it is, sir. But it is most unusual to meet with a bank president in the lobby of a bank in the middle of the night."
"That's because it's a most unusual night. I'm certain you've heard about the World Bank SuperNet."
"Yes, our Technical Specialist was just telling me about it. That's why we need to have a talk immediately."
"Well, then, shall we go up to my office?"
"By all means."
Christopher gestured toward the elevator.
Scarlet nodded, then gestured in the same direction. "After you."
"Thank you." Christopher led the way to the lift, pressing the "UP" arrow. "One thing about being the World Bank President...I've an absolutely splendid view of London this time of night from my 20th-floor office. This building used to be an embassy, and some of the offices still have balconies--including mine. You can see practically the whole city from there."
Scarlet closed his eyes and rubbed his sinuses again. That dull ache was back.
"Something wrong, Captain Scarlet?" Christopher asked.
"I don't know...my head..." Scarlet winced noticably. The pain was increasing as the sound of the elevator rising got louder, growing so intense he began to feel nauseated. A cold sweat beaded up on his forehead.
The sound stopped, and the door opened.
Ken Kinnon stepped out of the car. "Just getting a cup of coffee while the download's running," he said with a smile.
"Take all the time you need," Christopher laughed slightly. "After all, you're in charge tonight." He blocked the door open for Scarlet to step inside.
Scarlet took a deep breath to try and clear his pounding head, then stepped into the lift.
It was only after the doors closed that he felt the pressure begin to ease.
In a park across the street from the World Bank, Captain Black lowered his binoculars and frowned angrily at the sight of the red-coated Spectrum superstar agent getting onto the elevator with Nigel Christopher. Scarlet had once been his slave, his prize catch for his Mysteron masters. Now he was the Mysterons' worst nightmare ...a living example that the Mysterons could be defeated. It was time to warn Kinnon...and to take care of Scarlet once and for all.
Kinnon shot a look of death at the elevator. Spectrum, he thought. Damn!
"Ken Kinnon," the Mysteron tones of doom sounded in his head.
There was no need for Kinnon to ask where the voice was coming from. That part of his mind was like a radio, tuned to a frequency only he could receive...and only the Mysterons could transmit.
"This is Captain Black, relaying instructions from the Mysterons on Mars. The Spectrum agent who is on the lift is Captain Scarlet. He has been especially troublesome to us. If he interferes, you are to use any means necessary to kill him."
Kinnon nodded. "Mysteron instructions will be carried out," he replied robotically. He looked inside his suitcoat.
The only thing that was noticably different between the former Ken Kinnon and the Mysteron copy was that the real Kinnon never carried a replica of Captain Black's Spectrum-issue pistol in his left inside suit pocket.
Transmission failure. Please check satellite settings and try again.
This was the part of Lieutenant Green's job he hated the most. Ironically, it was one of the things that showcased his unique talents the best.
This was the third time he'd tried to reach Captain Magenta, and the third time he'd gotten this message on his screen. He'd tried the Spectrum coded channel satellite, the Spectrum general use satellite, and the "hot spare" backup that did double-duty for both satellites, and nothing was getting through. A quick scan of the weather report from the British Meteorological Service showed him why: A nasty storm over the South Atlantic was interfering with communication traffic in the entire region. Normally, Green would sit back and wait for the weather to clear, then try the transmission again later. But this was too important.
"Have you gotten through to Captain Magenta yet?" he heard Colonel White ask.
Green shook his head. "The weather is interfering with Peacock I, II, and III, sir," he replied respectfully, even though he wanted to put his fist through the console in frustration.
"Well, keep trying, man," White urged. "This is too important to ignore just because some daft piece of equipment decides it doesn't like rain."
Green resisted the temptation to once again explain the intricacies of satellite communication to his superior. The last time he'd tried, White had threatened to send an Angel to "blast the thing out of the sky", a clear indication that White wasn't interested in how something worked as long as it worked. And right now, none of their satellites were working to either man's satisfaction.
Green rubbed his eyes, then decided he was tired of looking at his tiny screen on his console. He typed in a quick command at the keyboard, then turned toward White's command console.
Behind White, on the large screen, the display Green had been studying appeared.
White saw Green turn toward him, then spun his own round console toward the projection screen. "What are we looking at, Leftenant?" White asked, now genuinely curious.
"The large land mass is South America," Green replied. "The gray area in the South Atlantic is the storm the Peacocks can't penetrate. The white dots are communication satellites in orbit above the southern hemisphere."
"Can't you just choose one of those?"
"It's not that easy, sir. It has to be a satellite capable of handling our transmission rate. We're using a military system, sir, much more sophisticated than most commercial comms links."
"Well, blast it, man, if we can't communicate, how is the World Bank going to do it tomorrow?"
Green's jaw dropped open, and he smacked himself in the forehead. "Of course! Why didn't I think of it before?" His fingers fairly flew across the keyboard.
Now White was thoroughly confused. "What are you doing, Leftenant?"
"Reaching Captain Magenta, sir." He waited a moment for the screen to give him a reply.
Relay test complete. Standard D'Or IV On-Line.
"What did you do, man?" White asked.
"I tapped into the the World Bank SuperNet's southwestern quadrant satellite," Green said proudly. "It's designed to military specs by the same French firm that designed the Peacocks. We should be able to get through now." He pressed the button under the purplish light on his console. "Cloudbase to Captain Magenta--come in, Captain Magenta."
Captain Magenta loved Brazil.
As the former leader of the U.S. crime syndicate, the dark-haired Irishman had certainly had reason and ample opportunities to visit South America many times before. There was something about Brazil, however, that captivated him and drew him back time and time again. His reformation and subsequent posting to Spectrum had cut into any free time he might have hoped to enjoy by getting out from under the mantle of the Syndicate; still, he loved getting back to some of his favorite haunts in Latin America when he could, enjoying the sights and sounds and exercising his linguistic skills. Right now, for example, his working knowledge of Portuguese was getting a real workout in an animated conversation with the Chairman of the World Bank's South American division. The two men were discussing baseball, soccer, Carnival...
Magenta's epaulets flashed white and his microphone dropped into place. "Cloudbase to Captain Magenta-- come in, Captain Magenta," Lieutenant Green's voice called out over the RadioCap's speakers.
Magenta held up a hand to halt the conversation. "Magenta here--go ahead, Cloudbase," he replied.
"Have you spoken with the World Bank director there yet?"
"Yes, I have, Lieutenant Green. In fact, he's right here now. Is there anything new I should know about?"
"Captain Magenta, this is Colonel White," the British-accented voice that appeared next over his speakers replied. "We have reason to believe that the Mysterons may try to use the World Bank SuperNet to spread disinformation and wreak havoc on the world economies."
"Thank you. That's good to keep in mind. Although I suspect our hosts won't want to hear that piece of news--they're worried enough about going on-line tomorrow with this bad storm off the coast that could interfere with network communications."
"I think I can reassure the South American director," Lieutenant Green chimed in. "Tell him this very conversation is on the SuperNet satellite Standard Door 4."
Magenta scowled. The way Green's Trinidad accent tended to exaggerate even the most familiar-sounding words was often frustrating, but Magenta could have sworn he said..."Standard Door 4, Lieutenant?"
"How is it spelled?"
There was a pause. "How did you know I thought it was spelled wrong? I mean, naming a comms satellite `Standard Door' is a great concept, but I think I would have checked the spelling before I put it in an echo statement for the whole world to see..."
Magenta lost patience. "S-T-A-N-D-A-R-D-D-apostrophe-O-R?" he interrupted.
Another pause. "Yes, sir..." Green's voice trailed off. "Sacre bleu!" he suddenly said in Caribbean-accented French. "I speak some French--how could I have missed it?"
"If you weren't looking for it, easily," Magenta replied. "Standard d'or...gold standard. Colonel White, I think the Mysterons have something bigger in mind than just a campaign of misinformation. To destroy the Gold Standard..."
"I'm with you, Captain," White interjected. "They're thinking of destroying the satellites and crippling the banks on the eve of SuperNet..."
Miguel Fernandez, Chairman of the World Bank South America, had been mouthing the words "standard d'or" ever since Magenta had spoken them. Suddenly, he looked horrified. "Captain Magenta?" he said in Portuguese.
"Just a minute, sir," Magenta said into his headset, then turned to Senor Fernandez. "What is it?" he asked in the other's native tongue.
"Standard d'or--that's the name that's on our computer system downstairs...and at all our branches."
Magenta blanched. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. I can show you if you like." He pulled out a user's manual from his desk drawer and skimmed through it, then pointed to a page.
Magenta grabbed the book from him. "Colonel White, it's even worse than we thought," he said in English into his microphone. "I'm reading from the user's manual, the hardware specifications page. This model of Aurelius Corporation computers is the `Standard D'Or' model. And according to this, it's currently running at every site on the SuperNet, down to the smallest branch bank."
"Then the Mysterons don't intend to destroy the gold standard," White realized. "They intend to destroy every last one of the World Bank's computers!"
"Sir, London is due to be the first site to go on-line on SuperNet in less than eight hours," Magenta stated.
"Stay alert, Captain Magenta. We'll put Captain Scarlet in the picture. Be ready for action at a moment's notice."
"S.I.G.," Magenta replied.
White and Green looked at each other. "How could the Mysterons use the SuperNet to destroy a computer?" White asked.
"Any number of ways, sir," Green responded. "From as simple as sending a virus, or destructive code, across the net to disable every piece of equipment to triggering other devices to do other things, such as a bomb tied into the net. And all done from one location and transmitted at the speed of light."
"Get me Captain Scarlet right now," White stated firmly.
Green punched the button below the red light on his console. "Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet--Spectrum Is Red. Repeat--Spectrum Is Red."
Scarlet found himself agreeing with Christopher's statement as they were waiting for the lift downstairs: His view was magnificent. It had been years since Scarlet had spent any appreciable--i.e. non-mission-related--time in London, but he was surprised about how much of the city he still recognized as he stood on Christopher's 20th story balcony and took in both the view and some much-needed fresh air. His headache had faded to a vaguely-perceptible pain, and even that was starting to ease.
"It's such a beautiful world," Christopher said as he came out to join Scarlet. "Why do the Mysterons want to destroy it?"
"Not it--us," Scarlet corrected. "Their war is against humanity. But they will use any means necessary to achieve their ends, even if it means destroying everything in their path."
"I've heard rumors about what Mysterons do to people," Christopher said quietly. "They turn people into robots, into time bombs, into suicidal mercinaries...can you imagine what it must be like?"
No, in all honesty, I can't, Scarlet found himself thinking. As many times as Dr. Fawn has tried to stimulate my memory, I can't remember one second of the six hours I was...one of them.
"I'd rather die," Christopher concluded.
"Then they could use you to their own ends," Scarlet heard himself say, a bitterness to his tone. "That's how they work. They find the perfect person for the job, kill them, then substitute a programmed likeness in their place. And when the job is done, the clone is expendible. No, Mr. Christopher. You wouldn't rather die. You'd rather live, so you could thwart their vicious schemes."
Christopher looked at him oddly for a moment. "What was your friend's name?" he finally said aloud.
Scarlet turned to him. "Excuse me?"
"Your friend the Mysterons killed. I recognize that kind of bitterness. Your quest against the Mysterons is personal."
Scarlet met his gaze. "You're very perceptive," he said.
"You don't get to be president of the world's largest bank without being a good judge of character."
Scarlet looked away for a moment. Emotional outbursts were not his usual public reactions. Those were reserved for moments on Cloudbase, when the only friends he had in the whole world were around..."Captain Brown. He and I were partners. The Mysterons attacked our car...I was driving..."
"...and you survived and he didn't. And the Mysterons got him."
Scarlet couldn't decide whether saying "yes" would be a lie or not. He decided to remain silent and let Christopher draw his own conclusions.
The flashing of Scarlet's epaulets saved the two men from any further awkward conversation. "Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet--Spectrum Is Red. Repeat--Spectrum Is Red," he heard Lieutenant Green say.
Scarlet stiffened. "Spectrum Is Red" meant that there was immediate danger. And the fact that it was addressed to him meant the danger was in his area. "Scarlet to Cloudbase," he said into the drop-down microphone. "Acknowledge S-I-R. Clarify Mysteron target."
"The entire World Bank SuperNet, Captain Scarlet," White replied. "Every nut, bolt, and silicon wafer, starting with World Bank London."
Scarlet and Christopher exchanged disbelieving glances. "Are you serious?"
"Very serious, Captain. Has there been any evidence of Mysteron activity in the bank tonight?"
Scarlet started to say no, then slammed the balcony railing in sheer frustration at his own stupidity. One of these days, I'm going to learn to listen to my own body and the signals it gives off..."Sir, the Mysteron agent is in this building, right now."
"What?" Christopher practically shouted.
"Are you certain, Captain?" White asked.
Scarlet was already racing off the balcony toward the office door. "Absolutely, sir. I've had this annoying sensation I couldn't trace until now. The Mysteron agent is here. And I know exactly who it is. Will relay more information as it becomes available. Scarlet out." He turned to Christopher, who was right behind him. "Where's your main computer?"
"Basement," Christopher replied. "But who is it? And how did you know?"
"I can't explain how--I just know," Scarlet said as he ran toward the elevator and slapped the "DOWN" button. It wouldn't do to try and explain his extreme sensitivity to the Mysteron presence and why it manifested itself more acutely sometimes than at others; there wasn't time, and Christopher wouldn't understand. Scarlet was barely sure he understood the thing but knew that if he would allow himself to be more aware of it, he could prevent situations like this from happening. I should have known, he mentally cursed. I've had this blasted headache ever since I got here...
The doors opened, and Scarlet held them for Christopher, who was already out of breath. "But who is it?" Christopher repeated.
"That man who got off the elevator when we were coming up here."
Christopher looked shocked. "But that's Ken Kinnon--the field engineer from Aurelius who's downloading the final release of the SuperNet code!"
"Oh, no," Scarlet said, the realization of just how bad the situation was suddenly hitting him. He dropped the RadioCap microphone down immediately. "Captain Scarlet to Cloudbase--this is a Priority One transmission. Come in, Cloudbase."
"Colonel White here--go ahead, Captain."
"Sir, suspected Mysteron agent's name is Ken Kinnon, with Aurelius Corporation. He is the engineer responsible for downloading the software that will run SuperNet. I am on my way to his last known location … the basement of the World Bank Headquarters building."
"S.I.G., Captain Scarlet. Do you require assistance?"
Scarlet thought for a moment. "Yes. Send Leftenant Green with an Angel here immediately. I may need his help. Have him bring a portable computer. Will keep you apprised of further developments. Scarlet out."
Green was already out of his chair and donning his RadioCap. "Angel jets don't seat two," he noted, scanning the flight deck's inventory. "And the passenger jet is being repaired."
"And with all the officers' transports gone, that leaves only one type of passenger-capable aircraft," White realized. "And with Destiny and Melody having only come off-duty a few hours ago..."
Green was one step ahead of him. "Lieutenant Green to Symphony Angel--meet me at the helicopter launch pad," he announced over the Cloudbase public address system. "Attention all Spectrum personnel: Spectrum Is Red. Repeat, Spectrum Is Red. Captain Grey, report to the Control Room immediately."
"S.I.G.," came the feminine acknowledgement.
"S.I.G.," Grey's sleepy voice followed.
"Do you want me to wait for Captain Grey, sir?" Green asked his commander.
"No, Leftenant," White replied. "Get moving--Captain Scarlet needs you down there now. I can handle a Comms console for a few minutes until Captain Grey arrives."
"S.I.G." Green started to leave the room.
"Leftenant?" White called after him.
Green quickly spun around and snapped to attention. "Sir?"
White rose to his feet. "Godspeed, son."
Green saluted crisply. "Spectrum Is Green."
White returned the salute. "Let us hope."
Green nodded, then quickly left.
The Mysteron was definitely still in the World Bank Headquarters building.
That was the signal Captain Scarlet was getting from his internal Mysteron-detecting prescience. Unfortunately, it was sending that signal through a headache that built in intensity the lower the elevator descended. Scarlet closed his eyes and leaned weakly against the wall.
Christopher came over to him. "Are you all right?" he asked the red-suited Spectrum agent.
Scarlet forced himself to nod in the affirmative. In truth, he felt as if his head were about to burst, and that was nothing compared to the nausea that was growing stronger as the pain increased. It was a sensation that he'd described to Dr. Fawn many times, but Spectrum's chief medical officer could find nothing physiological about the symptoms. Fawn's hypothesis was that it was probably caused by Scarlet's suppressed memories of his six hours as a Mysteron assassin manifesting themselves as severe pain or tension whenever another such assassin was near. Fawn didn't understand why it didn't always happen, nor could he explain the occasional psychic vision Scarlet had reported experiencing when the prescience manifested itself strongest. Just another part of this blasted Mysteronizing process we'll probably never understand, Scarlet found himself thinking. Dr. Fawn will have a job for life.
The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened to reveal the basement...and the guard whose voice Scarlet had heard earlier when he'd arrived. "Hello, Mr. Christopher," the guard greeted. "You've been gone a while--is everything all right?"
"No, it's not," Christopher replied. "Is Mr. Kinnon from Aurelius still here?"
"Far as I know, sir."
"He's here," Scarlet said with a voice of certainty, drawing his badge out of his vest pocket. "Captain Scarlet, Spectrum," he said, showing the guard the I.D. "We have reason to believe the Mysterons have infiltrated this building and are attempting to destroy the World Bank SuperNet from this location. Absolutely no one is to get in or out of here without my approval. I'm expecting two other Spectrum officers, a man and a woman; they should arrive momentarily and should be sent down here immediately. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." The guard offered him a sloppy salute.
Scarlet returned it crisply, thankful that most of the time he dealt with military forces who knew the proper way to convey respect, then turned to Christopher. "Which way to the computer room?" he asked.
"This way," Christopher said, starting down the hall.
Scarlet grabbed him from behind. "If he's been ordered by the Mysterons to destroy the World Banks, he's been ordered by them to kill anyone who interferes." He drew his gun. "Just tell me where the room is and stay here."
"That way." Christopher pointed. "End of the hall, last door on the right."
Scarlet nodded his thanks, then quietly snuck down the hall. The throbbing in his head was getting worse, and it was getting harder and harder to concentrate. He forced himself to stay focused on the task at hand and wished silently that Green would hurry up and get here because he could use an armed back-up...and even with Green's relative inexperience in the field, he knew Green was a better choice because he could tell just from practical experience that the guard at the door probably hadn't fired his weapon at a real person in years.
The door to the computer room was standing open. He could see Kinnon's shadow moving and tried to mentally calculate where the person causing the shadow would be standing. It was an exercise all Spectrum agents were taught during training, and Scarlet was the best at it. He tried to be as precise as he could because he knew he'd only get one chance to get this right.
Seconds later, he burst into the room, gun aimed straight at Kinnon--a perfect guess. "Kinnon!" he shouted. "Move away from that computer--now!"
"You're too late, Earthman," Kinnon sneered. He hit the ENTER key, then drew Captain Black's gun and fired at the doorway.
Scarlet dove into the room and rolled away from Kinnon's line of fire, then immediately began looking around. Stop the damage first--the agent second, he reminded himself. There's an exposed power supply in here somewhere--I can smell the ozone being generated. There has to be an emergency breaker somewhere in here ...ah, there it is...He reached for a large red button on the wall.
"Go ahead, Earthman," Kinnon said menacingly. "Kill the power...and kill yourself. If the power is interrupted for more than ten seconds, this entire room will self-destruct--and take the building with it. You've lost, Captain Scarlet." He fired again.
Scarlet ducked behind a rack of equipment, mindful of the rack's power supply with its high voltage that was dangerously close to him, and tried to take a quick assessment of the situation. Obviously, Kinnon doesn't care if he lives or dies, Scarlet realized. He's set the net up to self-destruct if anyone tampers with it...which means there's a bomb in here. And I thought I saw a clock on the screen counting down the time to full network operation. If I can just eliminate him, I can get the building evacuated and find some way to defuse the bomb ...He started moving slowly behind the row of racks.
Soft footsteps on the other side of the racks indicated that Kinnon was moving with him, trying for a better shot. "Captain Scarlet...I have orders to kill you," Kinnon announced to the air. "And Mysteron orders must be obeyed!"
Scarlet reached the end of the racks. There was no turning back now. The indestructible man, sent to the site targeted for destruction...
He tried to gauge Kinnon's location by using his shadow again, then burst out into the open and fired on that spot...
Kinnon fired back...and didn't miss.
Scarlet was thankful that the Mysterons had chosen an engineer and not a marksman. The bullet had struck his left shoulder--not even his shooting arm. Of course, it didn't make the bullet wound hurt any less, but it did give him a second chance.
Scarlet dropped Kinnon with his second shot, a bullet clean through Kinnon's heart.
Kinnon stumbled backward, then collapsed against the SuperNet computer's CPU.
Sparks flew everywhere.
Scarlet realized with horror that the CPU was the source of the exposed power source he'd sensed when he first entered the room. His horror grew even more intense when he realized the clock on the screen had quit ticking off seconds.
Scarlet grabbed the liner bag out of a nearby barrel garbage can and shoved both hands into it, then used it as an insulating glove as he grabbed Kinnon's arm and yanked his body off the CPU.
The clock resumed running. A brief message flashed on the screen:
Resynchronizing Primary and Secondary clocks--done.
Scarlet breathed a sigh of relief, then looked at his hands.
He'd just gotten Kinnon away in time...in both senses. Before it had reset, the clock was only eight seconds off the time differential needed to reach 9:00 a.m. by the international standard clock. And the reddening and blisters on both palms bore evidence that the flimsy bag he had been using to protect him from the deadly voltage had almost melted through.
Scarlet took Kinnon's pulse. As he'd expected, there was none. He'd killed a Mysteron in the only way possible without destroying the body. But now they had no clue as to how deep this Mysteron plan went...
Scarlet's epaulets flashed green and the microphone dropped into place by his mouth. "Captain Scarlet?" he heard Lieutenant Green's voice call out over his speakers. "Captain Scarlet? Can you hear me?"
How long has Green been attempting to contact me? Scarlet found himself wondering. "Leftenant!" he replied. "Where are you?"
"In a Spectrum helicopter with Symphony, less than a mile from your current position. Be advised that Captain Ochre reports finding a bomb in one of the disk arrays of the SuperNet computers in World Bank Moscow."
"I know, Leftenant. There is one here as well. And it's been armed. Mysteron agent has neutralized."
"Are you hurt, Captain?" Symphony's voice called over the airwaves.
Scarlet looked at his left shoulder. It was bleeding, but it was the kind of wound that left to its own would be healed by his retro-metabolism in about two hours. His main concern now was concealing that fact from Nigel Christopher, who had peeked his head in the door once the gunfire had stopped. "Yes, but not badly. Proceed to the basement of the World Bank Headquarters immediately. Bring a first aid kit. Leftenant, did you bring your portable computer?"
"Yes, sir," Green replied.
"Good." Scarlet looked at the clock on the screen. "We've now less than seven hours to stop the Mysterons from destroying the gold standard."
Lieutenant Green had a reputation in Spectrum circles as an electronics whiz kid, with the emphasis on the word "kid". Green was in his late twenties but looked easily ten years younger, with an engagingly pleasant manner and a "gee-whiz" appreciation for life. But behind the winning smile and sparkling hazel-green eyes was an extremely intelligent, extremely intense computer engineer who'd never met a computer he couldn't operate, never met a comms net he couldn't penetrate, never met a circuit diagram he couldn't read. His reputation for working miracles of magnetic media magic was almost as renowned among his Spectrum colleagues as Captain Scarlet's reputation for miracles of survival.
That reputation was now about to be put to the test.
"Lieutenant Green to Cloudbase," Green said into his RadioCap as he knelt before a half-size bay of equipment whose access door he had opened by using a pair of electrician's insulated gloves. "Have confirmed Captain Ochre's report of a bomb in drive bay two of secondary SuperNet computer. Detonator has been set and will explode upon removal of power source or timing signal."
"Understood, Lieutenant," Captain Grey's voice replied over the RadioCap's speakers. "How much time do you have?"
Green looked over at the computer screen next to him, which was continuing to tick off the seconds until 0900 GMT. "It would make no sense to detonate the bomb exactly at 0900," he reported. "There wouldn't be time for the code to download to the rest of the World Bank branches along the line, and with Captain Ochre finding a bomb at his location, it's a safe bet that this code contains a self-destruct sequence that gets passed to the other computers when the code gets downloaded. My best estimate is anywhere between 0905 and 0915 GMT for detonation time."
"Leftenant, this is Colonel White," the commander's distinguished British-accented voice intoned over the radio. "Is there an easy way for the other sites to remove their bombs?"
"Chances are good that if they can touch their computers, they can probably remove the bombs," Green noted. "I believe the same sequence that armed the bomb also triggered two small power sources hard-wired into the casing of the racks that are putting a fairly substantial charge around the racks, essentially creating a force field."
"Why isn't the charge blowing out the computer components inside the racks?" White asked.
"These are military-standard racks, sir, designed to withstand extreme conditions. The struts inside that support the bays of equipment are non-conductive material, but the racks themselves are metal and highly conductive; the casings are usually connected to a ground source under the floor with what's called ‘ground wiring' to carry away stray charges. But the ground wiring's been removed, so the charges stay on the racks themselves."
"Could Kinnon have done all this himself?"
"Unlikely, sir," Scarlet replied. "According to Mr. Christopher, this is the first time Kinnon's been here in several weeks. Our candidate for his accomplice is Mike Carlson, the Aurelius engineer who was here last week making final adjustments to the equipment. His name was found on a maintenance log record inside the secondary computer."
"We'll send an Angel to Aurelius Corporation to check on Carlson. How are you, Captain Scarlet? Were
you badly hurt?"
"Just finishing patching him up now, sir," Symphony reported, smoothing a piece of adhesive tape across a large dressing on Scarlet's left shoulder. "Inform Dr. Fawn that Captain Scarlet has a severe graze wound on the left upper arm and what look like second-degree electrical burns on both hands."
"Electrical burns?" White's tone sounded alarmed.
"Yes, sir," Scarlet said calmly. "Kinnon fell across the primary computer when I shot him. Apparently touching the electrical field and providing a path to ground stops the clock temporarily; if it had stopped more than ten seconds, the bomb would have exploded. I had to get him off. I used the waste can liner wrapped around my hands to remove him, but it almost melted through as I pulled Kinnon free. Thus, the burns."
"Was the pulse he received strong enough to kill him?"
Scarlet could hear White's sigh of relief and worry--relief that the Mysteron was dead, worry that now the dangerous situation could be fatal to all three of his personnel...even the indestructible Captain Scarlet. "Do what you have to do to get the situation under control," the Colonel finally ordered. "We will attempt to persuade Space General Peterson to launch an immediate strike at the four Standard D'Or satellites to disable them and prevent the bombs at the other sites from becoming armed. In the meantime, none of you are to risk your lives on this. If you can't disable the bomb, get out of there. Understood?"
"S.I.G.," Scarlet replied.
"I mean it, Captain Scarlet," White's stern voice ordered. "Not even you are to take any unnecessary risks. I will not tolerate wanton disregard for anyone's safety on this mission--not even your own. Am I making myself clear, Captain Scarlet?"
Scarlet looked over at Symphony, then cast his gaze at Green. The former was giving him that look of worry that Captain Blue often gave him when he felt Scarlet was pushing his luck; the latter had stopped studying the interior of the computer rack and turned to him with a look of curiosity over whether Scarlet would defy Colonel White's direct order. White had often threatened to discipline Scarlet severly over Scarlet's penchant for disobeying direct orders, even once sentencing him to death for striking White and locking him in a closet in order to save his life by posing as him as the Colonel was being stalked by the Mysterons. "As you are indestructible, it would do little good to stand you up in front of a firing squad," White had noted wryly at the time. Still, though, his message was clear: Disobeying direct orders would not be tolerated from any Spectrum officer...not even Captain Scarlet.
"Spectrum Is Green," Scarlet finally said, his emphasis on each word in the expanded acronym indicating that he was agreeing only under protest.
His reply seemed to satisfy White. "Keep me apprised. Cloudbase out."
Scarlet looked at his two counterparts, then at World Bank President Nigel Christopher, who was standing back, staying out of the way but paying close attention to what was happening to his multi-billion-dollar computer system. "Colonel White says we are to take no unnecessary risks--to abandon the site if we can't get the situation under control," he said coolly. "So let's do everything we can to get the situation under control. Leftenant, bring us all up to speed."
Green smiled. This was the kind of challenge he couldn't resist. "Come over here," he said, gesturing with his head at the racks.
Scarlet, Symphony, and Christopher stepped in behind him. "What is all this?" Christopher asked.
"This is the heart of the SuperNet," Green explained. He pointed to the pair of machines sitting side by side. "According to the user's manual, these two computers are, essentially, identical. The big console on top of the one on my left is the control monitor. It has two leads into it, one to the primary," he pointed to the left, "and one to the secondary. The secondary computer is this one here." He pointed to the open rack in front of him. "Each has three drives: A boot drive, a program drive, and a data drive. The boot drive starts the operating system and handles communication between the two computers, the program drive runs the SuperNet program, and the data drive contains a directory to each bank's inventory on the disk farm over there." He pointed to the tall case that had several boxes like the ones Green was indicating were disk drives. "The only real difference between the primary and the secondary computers is that the primary computer has the tape drive attached to it. But that is strictly arbitrary; it does not affect functionality of the two computers in any way."
"Get to the point, Leftenant," Scarlet said.
"I'm getting there, sir. When these computers are brought on-line, they each send out a signal that essentially asks the other `Who is Primary'. Their answer comes from checking a data flag on the other's data drive known as a `health check'. If one of them cannot write to the flag within ten seconds, it presumes that it must be Primary and starts the rest of the SuperNet computers, namely the network interface boxes." Green pointed back at the three racks of computers Scarlet had hidden behind earlier. "After Primary is established, he continues every two seconds to try and check the health check flag until he can write to it; that machine then becomes Secondary. Each one then checks Secondary's flag every two seconds--Primary on the even-numbered seconds, Secondary on the odd-numbered, most likely. When they check the flag, they see if it's been flipped to the other machine's advantage. If it has, they flip it back. But if it hasn't, they increment a counter that starts at zero and gets reset to zero after every successful health check. When the counter reaches five--ten seconds after receiving the first negative acknowledgement on the health check--the computer presumes it has lost its so-called `hot spare' and functions on its own. In the case of this one with the bomb in it, what will probably happen shortly after 0900 GMT is that Primary will simply stop acknowledging the health check after downloading the necessary code through the network interface boxes to the other sites. Ten seconds later, Secondary will try to take over as Primary--and when it tries to access its program disk, will detonate the bomb."
"Fiendishly clever," Christopher noted.
"Indeed," Scarlet added. "And you got all that from the user's manual?"
"Well, no, sir," Green admitted. "It's how the Peacocks--our three communications satellites--work together. But the basic concept of a hot-spare configuration doesn't change just because the machines are dealing with money and not Mysterons."
"So how do we neutralize it?" Symphony asked.
"We have to somehow keep the health check coming even after Primary stops acknowledging it," Green said. "As long as Secondary thinks there is still another computer there, it won't detonate the bomb."
"But that won't stop 0900 GMT from coming," Scarlet stated. "It won't keep Primary from trying to send this destructive code out to all the other sites that are set up the same way. And it won't defuse the bomb. Kinnon said if power is removed from the room, the bomb will go off."
"Absolutely, sir. If power to the bomb's timer ceases, the bomb will take that as a signal to detonate. The bomb has its own internal power source that will activate the explosives."
"But aren't computers like this normally on redundant power supplies?" Symphony asked.
Green nodded, then beckoned them all behind the secondary rack. "That is what this is," he said, pointing to an empty socket on the back of the computer. "And, as you can see, the cabling has been removed, so removing power to Secondary would absolutely trigger the bomb. Primary also has had redundant power supply cabling removed. Most computers like this keep about ten to fifteen seconds of power in a battery, during which time it attempts to bring the second power supply on-line. But since there is no power supply, tripping the breaker or any other power interruption to the computer for more than ten seconds will set off the whole thing."
"Perfect," Christopher sighed. "So at 9 o'clock, the entire building blows up no matter what we do."
"0900 may not be as large a worry. I can check out the network racks and see if the Mysteron program has affected them. If it hasn't, the connection to the outside world can be removed. It still doesn't solve the problem of what to do then, but it prevents this large-scale virus from infecting the rest of the World Bank's branches."
"So what do we do?" Christopher asked.
"We have to get the bomb out of here--get it to someplace where it can explode and not hurt anyone or anything," Scarlet decided.
"There was a construction site a few blocks east I flew over on the way here," Symphony noted. "They had excavated a large hole for a deep basement and structural supports. We could explode it there. But how are we going to disconnect it and get it there fast enough to keep it from exploding here?"
"If we could only fool the computer into thinking we hadn't disconnected it," Christopher sighed.
"We can," Scarlet said, snapping his fingers. "Leftenant--do you think you can write a quick program that will do nothing except flip that health check flag?"
"Probably--but the Mysterons have probably built anti-tampering switches into the code on Primary," Green said. "Where would I put it?"
"I had you bring your portable computer because I thought you could maybe write a neutralizing program," Scarlet smiled. "But I think we just found another use for it. If we could manage to disconnect the real Primary and substitute the portable with its stub routine..."
"...we could then move Secondary out of here as long as we could keep power to it," Green realized.
"The portable has its own power source, so all we have to do is find a small emergency generator that we can hook Secondary to."
"I'll bet Spectrum London has one," Symphony added. "And I could be there by air in less than five minutes."
"We'll need network cables to pass the signals back and forth," Green noted.
"There are probably some left over from when Aurelius laid the cables for this building," Christopher piped up. "I could show you where they are--they stowed most of that sort of stuff in the parking garage."
"Then let's get moving," Scarlet ordered. "We've now less than six hours to go."
Scarlet, Symphony, and Christopher left the room, leaving Green to set up his portable and start digging through the SuperNet technical manuals in earnest.
"Cloudbase, this is Captain Blue," the Boston-accented voice called over the Spectrum radio speakers in the Control Room. "Have removed the bomb from SuperNet computer at World Bank New York and given it to Spectrum police for defusing. What's the situation with the rest of the net?"
"Unfortunately, time is not on our side, Captain Blue," Colonel White reported. "Destiny just returned from Aurelius Corporation. Our second Mysteron suspect, an Aurelius field engineer named Mike Carlson, apparently perished last week in Paris, electrocuted during the installation of the electrical field generator into the rack at a branch bank. Amazingly, no one thought this suspicious enough to report to Spectrum. But he is logged as doing the final check-out of all the hardware at every single branch. There are too many bombs for anyone to possibly get all of them before the markets in Europe open, let alone the ones in the rest of the world."
"Wonderful," Blue noted sardonically. "What about the Standard D'Or satellites? Is there any way to bring them off-line before 0900 GMT?"
"No, Captain. Space General Peterson reports worldwide storm activity is interfering with his ability to launch effective missile strikes against the four satellites. There will be no way to knock all four of them out before the deadline."
"How is Captain Scarlet progressing in London?"
"The last report we received was that Leftenant Green had identified the tack that the Mysteron plan will take and was attempting to write a program that will enable the two computers to be disconnected. Then the bomb can be safely removed. Captain Scarlet's last radio report said that he and Symphony were going after supplies for the Leftenant. But we've heard nothing for over an hour, and time is getting short. It's now after 0400 GMT. They're our only hope. The fate of the world economy is in their hands."
"If anyone can do it, sir, it's those three," Blue said confidently.
"Let us hope so, Captain Blue," White said, a fatherly concern to his tone. "Let us hope so."
Lieutenant Green stopped typing for a moment on his portable computer's keyboard and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the stress. It had been a frustrating hour-and-a-half, digging through manuals, attempting to read some of the on-line code that was resident on the Primary without tripping some hidden Mysteron booby trap, and attempting to write a routine that would send the right kind of data packet to Secondary to make it believe Primary was still there even after they substituted the portable computer. Fortunately, Green had found an Interface Requirements Specification document that laid out the data packet formats down to the bit count. But Green knew that manuals in "revised preliminary" format, as these were marked, were often inaccurate...and there was no way of telling what the Mysterons had altered when they created this extremely clever trap. When this is over, he told himself, I am not going near a computer for a week.
"Everything all right, Leftenant?" a deep, clipped-British-accented voice asked behind him.
Green nearly jumped out of his skin before he recognized the speaker as Captain Scarlet. "Fine, sir," he reported. "I've almost finished the echo routine. But I have no way to test it."
"Understood, Leftenant. That is the risk we all take."
"Did you manage to find any more electrical gloves?"
Scarlet held up two pairs. "Yes. Aurelius had a workshop here where they could do hardware repairs during the installation process--Mr. Christopher showed me where it was, and that's where these were. They'll come in handy as we try to move this thing out of here." He handed Green a long fiber-optic cable with metal connectors on each end. "All Mr. Christopher could find was raw cable, so we had to put on the connectors ourselves...is this what you wanted?"
"Perfect." He looked at the ends of the cable carefully. "Nice soldering job," he complimented. "No extra metal showing."
"You're not the only one who knows something about electronics, Leftenant," Scarlet replied with a wry smile. "I've soldered a few connections in my time. What now?"
"Now we see if it fits." He plugged one end into the back of the portable's network jack and attempted to wiggle it a few times. "Good. Nice and tight. Now all we need is the generator."
"And Symphony should have been back with that by now." Scarlet dropped his cap microphone down. "Scarlet to Symphony Angel...come in, Symphony."
A moment's hesitation, then Scarlet's epaulets flashed a shade of off-white to indicate a connection had been made. "Symphony here," the Midwestern-accented feminine voice replied. "Go ahead."
"Did you manage to get a portable generator?"
"Yes, sir. Spectrum London had loaned their more durable one to the World Army Air Force base at Winchester. I went to go pick it up. Sorry for the delay."
Scarlet allowed himself a smile at the mention of his hometown. Next time I get furlough, I'll have to go back home for a few days..."What is your ETA?"
"I will be overflying the World Bank Building in two minutes. Will need assistance in getting this thing from the roof down to a level with an elevator."
"How are you carrying it now?"
"It's on the winch, dangling below me."
"Approach the west side of the building. Mr. Christopher's terrace is on the 20th floor, one floor below the roof. Mr. Christopher and I will be waiting on the terrace with a dolly to cart the generator downstairs. Lower it down to us, then land and come down to join us."
"S.I.G. Symphony Angel out."
Moments later, Christopher and Scarlet arrived on the 20th floor, pushing the dolly--really a heavy-duty
handtruck that American movers often called a "reefer" because it was used to move heavy appliances like refrigerators. The pair headed through Christopher's office to the terrace, stepping out on it to wait for Symphony and the approaching Spectrum helicopter.
It was then that Scarlet's head began to bother him again...only slighly, but enough for him to notice.
It must have been painful enough for Christopher to notice as well, for the World Bank President immediately asked, "Are you all right, Captain Scarlet?"
"I'm not sure," Scarlet admitted. He looked around the room. Kinnon was dead, and surely Christopher wasn't a Mysteron, too, but the ache didn't make sense unless the Mysterons had left some booby trap around that he was especially sensitive to in his current state...
Scarlet dismissed the sensation. You're imagining things, Paul, he chided himself. You were shot in the arm a few hours ago, and even you know you're still a little weak from loss of blood. You're probably just sensing that blasted Mysteron code Green's trying to break. Quit daydreaming and do what you've been trained to do.
"Symphony Angel to Captain Scarlet," Symphony's voice said through his RadioCap. "I have you in visual range. Awaiting further instructions."
"Get the generator as close to the balcony as you can," Scarlet replied through the drop-down microphone. "Mr. Christopher and I will do the rest."
Seconds later, Symphony was directly over them, lowering the generator to the balcony with the power-assisted winch.
Scarlet and Christopher both reached for the surprisingly compact but nonetheless powerful generator and eased it onto the balcony. "Got it, Symphony," Scarlet reported. "Release the power hook and then head for the roof. Meet us in the basement."
"S.I.G.," she answered.
The winch's power hook released, and Symphony quickly flew off.
Scarlet and Christopher lifted the generator onto the dolly and strapped it down with restraining straps.
"How's your arm?" Christopher asked.
"Sorry?" Scarlet said, tightening the straps securely.
"Your arm. I notice you're using it rather well. And your hands are looking better as well."
Scarlet looked over at the bandage on his left shoulder. There was indeed blood on it, but it was obviously older, darker, and dry. And of course a sharp man like Nigel Christopher would notice the relative ease with which Scarlet was now using his arm, thanks to the healing properties of his retro-metabolism knitting the damaged area back together within hours. And anyone would have noticed that the blisters on his burned hands had disappeared, despite the fact that they were caused by an electrical pulse, which interrupted the bio-electrical retro-metabolism process...which was how Dr. Fawn theorized electricity killed Mysterons, by disabling the retro-metabolism long enough for fatal cellular damage to occur. "The human body responds remarkably well to stress," Scarlet replied. "I suppose I'm able to use them because I have to be able to use them. Unless, of course, you fancy lifting this generator by yourself."
His explanation seemed to satisfy Christopher. "No, I suppose not," the banker admitted.
"Good. Then let's get this downstairs. Hopefully, the Leftenant will have some good news to report."
"Are you ready, Leftenant?" Scarlet asked as the quartet gathered around the secondary computer, the portable generator and the portable computer now sitting by it on a documentation table.
"Ready, sir," Green said, sounding confident.
"Start the generator."
Symphony pumped the choke a few times on the portable turbine, then turned on its engine.
The generator roared to life.
Green checked its readings. "Generator voltage output will reach acceptable levels in ten seconds," he reported. "Five seconds...four...three...two...one...voltage at acceptable level."
"Stand back," Scarlet ordered, stepping back away from the computer. "Leftenant...disconnect the secondary's power source."
"S.I.G." Green knelt down and pried up the floor tile to access the power coupler whose position he had determined by tracing the cord from the back of the computer, then took a deep breath and pulled his insulating gloves on tightly. "Disconnecting power...now."
He unplugged the cable from the coupler.
The whine of Secondary's disk drive came to a stop, indicating its power had ceased.
Scarlet looked at his watch. "Ten. Nine. Eight."
Green pulled the cable up out of the hole it had been threaded through to reach the under-the-floor power supply.
"Seven. Six. Five."
Green grabbed the connector cabling from the generator.
"Four. Three. Two."
Green plugged the connector cabling and the Secondary computer's power cords together.
The lights on Secondary lit up once more.
The screen on Primary displayed a brief message:
Resynchronizing Primary and Secondary clocks--done.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Scarlet looked at his watch. "I don't fancy cutting it that close again," he observed wryly.
"I never realized ten seconds was so short," Christopher noted.
"It all depends on your perspective," Green replied. "To me, it felt like an eternity."
"Next?" Symphony asked.
"Start the portable computer," Scarlet ordered.
Green flipped on the laptop's power.
The machine booted up. Green typed a command on the keyboard, and the machine began beeping.
"What's it doing?" Scarlet asked.
"Emitting a time signal," Green stated. "If it receives no response on its data line, it beeps as a warning. I thought we needed some kind of indication that this wasn't working if we had a problem."
"Good thinking, Leftenant. Disconnect Secondary network connection."
"Disconnecting...now." Green removed the ethernet from the back of Secondary.
Scarlet looked at his watch. "Ten. Nine. Eight."
Green grabbed the connection from his portable and plugged it into the backside of Secondary.
The laptop was still beeping.
"Seven. Six. Five."
"There's no locking clamp on Secondary's network port," Green reported. He forced the connector on firmly.
The laptop stopped beeping.
"Connection made," Green sighed. "See if you can find me some electrical tape."
"There was some on the workbench in Aurelius' shop," Christopher said, already running from the room.
"Hurry," Scarlet called after him. "We haven't much time."
"Lieutenant?" Symphony asked.
"Yes, Symphony?" Green answered.
"The screen is flashing red and green."
"Good. That was exactly what was supposed to happen...a visual indication of the flag being flipped every two seconds."
The laptop started beeping again.
Green quickly grabbed the network cable and shoved it back into place.
The beeping ceased.
"Gravity's pulling this heavy cable away from the port," the Lieutenant noted. "I need that tape now to secure the connection."
"Christopher!" Scarlet shouted toward the doorway. "Bring that tape--now!"
Christopher ran back into the room. "Sorry," he reported. "Couldn't find it at first." He held up the roll of black plastic tape.
"Hand it here," Green requested.
Scarlet took the tape and handed it to Green.
"I need someone to hold this cable in position," he indicated.
"I'll do it," Symphony volunteered.
Scarlet handed her a pair of insulating gloves.
She donned them, then knelt down beside Green.
"Hold it just like this," Green indicated, putting her hand on the cable.
"Like this?" she asked, holding the cable so that the portion that connected to Secondary was parallel to the ground.
"Right." Green began wrapping tape around the connector, tearing off pieces to secure to the backplane occasionally. "Now...let it go."
Symphony released the cable.
The laptop's screen continued to flash red and green as seconds ticked away.
"That should hold it long enough to get it out of here," Green said.
"What about the monitor?" Christopher asked.
"The monitor is not even reading a signal from Secondary," Green replied, then unplugged the monitor's cable from Secondary's backplane. "Computers can function without monitors--the monitor is simply there as a courtesy to the human user."
"O.K.," Scarlet said. "Now to kill the power to the rest of these computers."
"The best way is to kill the circuit breaker." Green got up and started toward the circuit.
"Stay here in case something goes wrong," Scarlet said. He donned protective gloves, then headed over to the red button on the wall. "Stand by," he called back to his counterparts, then depressed the button.
The room went dark. Only the flashing red-and-green from Green's laptop could be seen before the emergency lights kicked on and provided spotty-but-effective illumination.
"Lieutenant Green to Cloudbase--separation successful," Green sighed with relief into his RadioCap's microphone. "Primary computer disabled. Network connections disabled. Secondary computer now functioning standalone."
"Good show, Leftenant," Colonel White's voice replied. "Now get that bomb out of there at once. Cloudbase out."
Green looked across the room at Scarlet. "Do I get a coconut?" he joked.
Scarlet couldn't resist a smile at Green's standard joke about being rewarded for doing the impossible as easily as scaling a palm tree. "Leftenant, after we get this thing out of here, I will personally fly you to Trinidad for a coconut," he stated. "But first things first--let's get the bomb out of here."
"But how do we get it out of here?" Christopher asked. "It's still charged--we still can't touch it. And the dolly's made of metal."
"But the bottom of Secondary isn't," Green noted. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to stand on these floor tiles. We'll have to insulate the back of the dolly with something like plywood or plastic."
"What about drywall?" Scarlet asked. "I saw some lying in the hallway."
"That would work."
"The bottom of this generator is insulated, too," Symphony reported. "We could stack it on top of Secondary so we could move both of them together. And then someone could carry the laptop."
"Good thinking, Symphony," Scarlet praised. "Then we can take it up to the 20th floor and airlift the whole lot out of here. Symphony, watch the computer to make sure that connection doesn't come loose again. Mr. Christopher, get everyone left in this building out of here and get as far away from here as you can. Leftenant, come with me."
The three men headed out into the hallway while Symphony knelt beside the cable.
Moments later, the secondary computer and generator were strapped together on the insulated reefer—its backside protected by a large sheet of drywall--and Scarlet, Green, and Symphony had finished wheeling it upstairs to Christopher's 20th-story balcony. Green had grabbed a wheel of magnetic tape to use as a makeshift rope to get the laptop into the hovering helicopter without disconnecting it from the bomb-filled computer rack. Now all that was left was to decide how to get it all off the balcony so that the helicopter could fly it away to the construction site where it could be safely detonated.
"The only way to get the dolly off the balcony is to reel it in with the winch," Symphony stated. "But that network cable on the laptop doesn't look like it has a lot of slack to it."
"No," Green agreed. "Unfortunately, it's going to take some real skill to get all this off the balcony without disrupting any of it."
"It's not the skill that worries me," Scarlet remarked, rubbing his eyes as yet another nagging feeling seemed to come over him on the balcony. "It's the detonation. How are we going to detonate it?"
"Well, the easiest way would be to just set the reefer down at the bottom of the pit, then disconnect the cable from the portable," Green noted. "The problem is that there's only ten seconds of leeway afterward."
"Then that settles it," Scarlet pronounced. "I'm on my way up to the roof."
"You'll need a skilled pilot--I'll go with you," Symphony said, starting to head back into the office.
Scarlet stopped her. "Absolutely not. Too risky. A copter with one person will fly faster, and every second counts."
"It would be easier if someone else was in the helicopter to handle the computer," Green pointed out.
"No, Leftenant. The two-man operation is down here, to help guide the dolly off the balcony. You and Symphony are to stay here."
"But, Captain Scarlet...," Green began.
"Leftenant Green, that was an order!" Scarlet interrupted.
Green was taken aback by Scarlet's tone. Scarlet never pulled rank unless he had to, and the intense look in the British officer's piercing blue eyes told Green he definitely felt that way now. Green found himself involuntarily snapping to attention. "S.I.G.," he said, sounding subdued.
Scarlet looked Green in the eye, the intensity of his gaze never fading. "Leftenant, you've done your job... and done it well." He looked over at Symphony. "You both have," he indicated. "Now, let me do mine."
All three stood on the balcony in silence as the sun began to peek over the horizon and London began to come to life.
"S.I.G.," Symphony finally said to break the silence. "Be careful, Captain."
"I will." He took the wheel of tape from Green. "I'll throw this back down to you, Leftenant. Reel off enough to tie a sturdy knot around the portable, and I'll use it to pull it up into the helicopter."
"S.I.G.," Green replied. "Be careful, sir."
Scarlet nodded, then left the office.
Up on the roof, Scarlet climbed into the Spectrum helicopter and started the motor, then turned on the rotors. Soon he was airborne and leaving the rooftop, maneuvering to hover above the west side of the building, where Symphony and Green were standing on Christopher's balcony awaiting further instructions.
It was then that his head began to bother him yet again. There is something right below me that is just not right, he realized. This has been happening all night. But what is it? All the more reason to get that thing off the balcony...
"Lieutenant Green to Captain Scarlet," the Caribbean-accented voice said over his radio. "Ready when you are."
Scarlet shook himself out of the trance. "Right," he called back. "Get ready to catch the tape reel." He leaned out the side of the helicopter and tossed the reel to Green, holding onto one end of the magnetic rope.
Green caught it easily, even wearing the insulated electrician's gloves.
"Good catch," Scarlet observed.
"No harder than catching a coconut," Green quipped, then spooled out more tape before cutting it off the roll. He wrapped one end several times around the circumference of the portable computer as Symphony held it steady for him, tied a tight knot, then let go of the line. "Take up some of the slack," Green said into his microphone.
"S.I.G." Scarlet began to take up some of the slack in the tape line.
"Hold it," Green instructed.
Scarlet stopped reeling in the tape. "Now for the tow line," he said. "Get ready."
The winch began lowering the power hook on the steel cable.
When it reached Green, he dragged it over to the dolly. "A little more," he requested.
"That's the end of the line. I'll come down a bit." Scarlet moved the helicopter lower.
"That's got it," Green reported. "Take it up slowly."
Scarlet activated the winch, carefully pulling up the tape line as he went to keep the portable computer from either getting too far ahead or falling too far behind.
Once the portable was in his hands, Scarlet brought it into the cockpit of the helicopter. "I've got it from here," he reported. "Both of you get out of there now--I can't shake the feeling the Mysterons left us some sort of surprise we haven't found yet."
"S.I.G.," Green replied.
"Construction site is approximately one mile due east," Symphony directed over her pen-radio. "You should be able to see it from your height."
"Have visual confirmation," Scarlet responded. "See you on the ground."
"S.I.G., Captain Scarlet."
Scarlet watched both Symphony and Green leave the balcony, then turned and flew away from the World Bank Building.
His headache subsided.
There is something back at the building, he realized. He dropped the cap microphone. "Scarlet to Green," he said into it. "Where are you now?"
"Just coming off the elevator in the lobby, sir," Green's voice replied.
"Get clear of the building as fast as you can."
"Is there something wrong, sir?"
"I can't explain it, but I think there is. I believe we may have missed a booby trap. Take no chances—head for that park across the street."
Scarlet let the cap microphone retract as he flew onward. He could see the site just ahead of him...
A high-pitched rhythmic "beep" began sounding.
Thinking it was his radio, Scarlet waited for the cap microphone to drop into place...then realized with horror what it was as he looked at the portable's screen.
The screen color was bright red. And the piercing tone indicated the dangling network cable with strips of black electrical tape flapping in the breeze that he could see out of the corner of his eye.
No time for a graceful set-down. The second he was over the site, Scarlet released the power hook.
Two seconds afterward, the dolly exploded in mid-air.
The concussive shock wave sent the Spectrum helicopter out of control, slamming Scarlet's head into the glass in front of him.
Green and Symphony heard the explosion from the park. "That was too high," Symphony realized. "Something must have happened."
Green smacked his hands together angrily. "I should have checked the connections," he berated himself.
It was then that Symphony saw the helicopter gyrating wildly. "My God, he's going to crash!" she said, moving onto the sidewalk almost involuntarily.
Green stepped out of the park toward the street for a better view.
At that moment, a second explosion sent another concussive wave into the air, throwing both Green and Symphony back onto the grassy lawn of the park.
Both Spectrum officers shook off the explosion's effects, then looked toward the World Bank Building.
The front doors had been blown inward, and the marble front steps had been reduced to rubble. Kinnon's Mysteronized Jaguar had exploded.
"The Jaguar...sometimes called `the gold standard' of sports cars," Symphony whispered.
"They were synchronized with each other," Green realized, incredulous. "One for the machines...one for the people."
Symphony slowly sat up, then looked around. "Look!" she shouted.
Green turned to see what Symphony was seeing.
A gaunt figure, dressed all in black, hurried away.
"Captain Black!" Green almost swore. He drew his seldom-used pistol and clambored to his feet, then ran after the traitor.
"Lieutenant Green!" Symphony called after him.
If Green heard her, he did not acknowledge it. Instead, he was concentrating only on catching Captain Black...the man who had started this whole unholy war with the Mysterons...the man responsible for hundreds of unnecessary deaths...the man who carried out this scheme that had nearly killed them all...
He was across the park and into the street before he realized it. Only the squealing of tires and the sound of a roaring engine brought him back to reality.
Green dove out of the way seconds before Black's saloon could run him over at full speed.
Black slammed on the brakes and fishtailed the car around for a second pass at Green, who was now lying shaken in the roadway.
Green looked up at the bright headlights coming toward him. He tried to struggle to his feet.
Suddenly, something swung into his line of vision. Something on a rope...Green grabbed at it and held on for dear life.
Captain Scarlet swooped the Spectrum helicopter away, with Lieutenant Green dangling from its tow rope, seconds before Captain Black's car drove through the spot where Green had been lying.
Black spun the car around once more, then looked up at Captain Scarlet as if to say, "Until next time." Then he and the saloon both vanished into thin air, as if they had never existed.
Scarlet, a series of bruises and bad cuts across his forehead from the shattered glass cab in front of him, shook his head in frustration as Black once more escaped his grasp. Someday, Captain Black, he found himself thinking, then remembered something more important. He found his RadioCap on the floor of the cab and flipped down the microphone. "Leftenant Green!" he called. "Are you all right?"
"Leftenant, can you hear me? Are you all right?"
Another moment of silence. Then, a slightly shaken voice answered, "That flight to Trinidad you promised me...can we leave now?"
Scarlet found himself smiling. "Let me get us both on the ground first," he replied. "I don't believe I'm in any condition to fly anywhere right now."
Back on Cloudbase several hours later, Colonel White convened a meeting of his senior staffers. "Members of Spectrum," he reported, "we have just received a message from World Bank Chairman Nigel Christopher thanking us for all our efforts on behalf of all the World Bank directors. Thanks to the combined work of all of you, an economic catastrophe of immeasurable proportions was averted. I would like to offer special thanks to Captain Scarlet, Leftenant Green, and Symphony Angel, who put their special talents to good use at World Bank London and saved potentially hundreds of lives there and millions of lives worldwide. We have won the latest battle with the Mysterons...but there will be more. And we must remain ever vigilant. That is all. Dismissed."
Everyone rose from their seats and stood at attention as White left the room, then relaxed slightly. Captain Grey turned to Lieutenant Green. "I'm glad you're back, Lieutenant," he said. "The computer on the Communications console was acting a little funny last night..."
"Oh, no," Green said. "No more computers for at least a day or two. Besides, I'm overdue for shore leave . . . and a fresh Trinidad coconut." He turned to Captain Scarlet, who had made a complete recovery from his injuries, as usual. "Ready to go, Captain Scarlet?"
"I believe so, Leftenant," Scarlet replied. "I understand Helicopter A16 has been repaired and the winch is in perfect working order."
Green looked at Scarlet's expressionless face for a moment, unsure of whether or not he was kidding.
A wink of one of the Brit's blue eyes soon told him the truth.
Everyone around started laughing, enjoying a rare moment of relaxation in the never-ending war of nerves against the Mysterons.
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