This story previously appeared in Issues 113 of The Power Star fanzine, and is posted here without the authorization of the author, with due acknowledgement – C.B.
By Kimberly Murphy
The sign on the door leading to the command suite at Winchester World Army Air Force Base read "WAAF European Command--General Sir Charles Metcalfe, Commander-In-Chief". And behind the dark oak door leading to the commander's office, there was turmoil as usual in the midst of this now-two-year-old war with the Mysterons that Earth found itself embroiled in almost continuously. But the turmoil had nothing to do with battle strategizing.
Sir Charles Metcalfe, a distinguished military man who still had much of his good looks and vigor even as he entered his late fifties, looked out the window and leaned back in his leather chair, stroking his chin thoughtfully. Across his desk were pieces of work untouched since that morning. A cup of black coffee sat getting cold next to a pair of photos in elegant silver frames, one an older one of a dark-haired English beauty with smiling blue eyes, the other of a young man in West Point dress greys who bore a striking resemblence to the woman. They were portraits of the two most important things in General Metcalfe's life, his wife Mary and their son Paul, Metcalfe's pride and joy.
Ironically, thoughts of Paul were what now troubled Metcalfe. It all started a few days ago at yet another of the endless strategy sessions needed in this war against the energy beings from Mars that had first begun when Spectrum agent Captain Black misinterpreted a gesture by the Mysterons as hostile and ordered their complex destroyed. About a year ago, the World Military had joined the elite security organization Spectrum in this fight, a move which pleased Metcalfe because it gave him a chance to work, if somewhat indirectly, with his son, who was now known as Captain Scarlet, Spectrum's number-one agent.
As usual, once the strategizing was over, speculation turned to where this battle with the Mysterons was actually going...which always brought out opinions on what kind of job Spectrum was doing leading this fight...which in turn brought out stories of encounters with Spectrum and their agents, particularly Captain Scarlet. No one knew the young British captain was Metcalfe's son--the senior officers of Spectrum were known only by color-code names, to protect both their identities and their families' privacy--so often it was all Metcalfe could do to suppress his parental pride as people discussed Scarlet's exploits. To be sure, Scarlet had his share of detractors--those who called him a reckless daredevil, those who called him arrogant, short-tempered, and combative--but no one had anything negative to say about his skills, which had been honed first at West Point, then in the WAAF, then through two years of loyal service to Spectrum.
This time the discussion turned to Scarlet's more fantastic exploits, led by the Supreme Commander of Earth Forces' recollection of how Scarlet had saved his life as they'd been trapped in a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle with a Mysteron agent. According to the Supreme Commander, Scarlet, seeing the gun pointed directly at the Supreme Commander's chest, deliberately made a threatening gesture and took three bullets at point-blank range in the chest, giving him just enough time to activate the ejection mechanism and get both of them to safety, leaving the Mysteron to die when the Unitron tank attacked the SPV. The shots should have killed him instantly, yet somehow Scarlet had survived and held out long enough for a Spectrum helicopter to take him back to Spectrum's secret headquarters, Cloudbase. Metcalfe remembered the Supreme Commander's frustration that Spectrum had insisted on Scarlet's transportation to their base for treatment rather than the nearby World Army base where he could receive immediate care. "The doctors on Cloudbase must be incredible," the Supreme Commander had said. "The next time I saw him, you'd have never known he was so close to death. I swear, he looked better than he did before the incident."
That remark triggered Metcalfe's own memories of his son's near-death experiences. There was the time he'd saved his life as he and two other European military commanders were held hostage by Mysterons--that time, Scarlet had been shot in the side but still kept going after the Mysterons' leading agent on Earth, Captain Black. Then there was the time they'd been at a function at Winchester Air Base and a sword-wielding madman had jumped them and Scarlet's shoulder had been sliced open by the sword. And then there was the car crash two years ago which came very close to claiming his life, where he'd been in a coma for twelve hours, during which time a Mysteron had impersonated him and abducted and assaulted the World President...
...and that was when the complete illogic of everything suddenly hit Metcalfe like a brick wall.
Suddenly, the more Metcalfe thought about it, the less sense the entire story made. A week after the car crash, Paul had come home on a two-day furlough and looked perfectly fine, as if nothing had happened to him. Metcalfe had thought that odd at the time but chalked it up to the skills of the Spectrum Medical Corps. But the story he'd been told about the incident--the car crash, Scarlet's falling into a coma for hours, awakening only long enough to call for help, a Mysteron lookalike good enough to fool Spectrum completely--was beginning to sound slightly off in his mind, as ifit was a carefully rehearsed cover-up for the truth.
But what was the truth? That was what Metcalfe intended to find out.
His computer chirped at him as the database scan finished. He looked at the screen.
"TEXT RETRIEVAL COMPLETE--5000 MATCHING ENTRIES."
Metcalfe rolled his eyes. Too many entries on the Mysterons in the World Military Textual Database to read all of them. He reached forward and clicked on the "ADDITIONAL CRITERIA..." button.
Metcalfe started to enter the word "Scarlet" at the prompt, then reconsidered it. With 5,000 entries on the Mysterons, probably a third or more had references to Captain Scarlet—too many to search. He thought carefully, then typed "UNITRON".
The computer whirred for a moment.
"TEXT RETRIEVAL COMPLETE--2 MATCHING ENTRIES."
Metcalfe clicked on the "READ ENTRIES" button.
The first article came up, a story from the TV21 newspaper on the incident with the Mysterons and the Unitron tank. Metcalfe scanned it, then discarded it. Nothing he hadn't seen before.
The second entry produced a password prompt.
Now Metcalfe was intrigued. A quick scan of the header information indicated it was the Supreme Commander's report on the incident. And it was highly classified, requiring regional-command-level access. Metcalfe entered his highest-level password.
The report came up on Metcalfe's screen.
Metcalfe began to read it carefully. Most of the text bored him. The Supreme Commander was in love with the look and sound of his own words, and he indulged this love affair every chance he got. He wondered how much of this prose he'd have to wade through...
...and then he saw it.
There, in the midst of the text, the word "Scarlet" jumped out at him. Metcalfe backtracked and read the section from the beginning.
The section discussed the explosion at Supreme Headquarters, Earth Forces, in detail. Captain Scarlet had narrowly averted disaster by activating the emergency shields just as the Mysterons exploded what was first believed to be a bomb. But then the Supreme Commander divulged the details of a conversation he'd had with Captain Blue, Scarlet's partner. Blue had indicated that it was the Supreme Commander's aide, Major Brooks himself, who exploded as a Mysteron booby trap. The Supreme Commander further noted their discussions of the Mysteron power of "retrometabolism", the ability to reverse-engineer matter, to recreate objects to serve their own evil purposes, and that the charred remains of Major Brooks and Colonel Storm had been found in the Grand Catskill Tunnel later that day, victims of a car crash...
Oh, no, Metcalfe realized. No. No, no, no. It can't be true. Not Paul. Oh, God, please, not Paul.
A car crash...substituted exact likenesses...loyal officers turned into vicious assassins...the similarities could neither be ignored nor denied. It was exactly what had happened to Paul.
Which could only mean that Paul--the real Paul--was dead. And for two years, Spectrum had been passing off a Mysteron clone as "Captain Scarlet"...and the clone had been passing himself off as Paul Metcalfe...
Metcalfe sat at his desk for a long moment, running his fingers from front to back through his hair, as if he was trying to tear it out in clumps. Then, in a roaring rage, Metcalfe cleared everything off his desk with a sweep of his arm.
At the sound, Metcalfe's secretary, Lieutenant Dorset, came running into the room. "Is everything all right, sir?" she said, recovering her composure quickly after seeing the mess.
"Is everyone gone for the day?" Metcalfe snapped in reply.
"Reckon so, General...it's after five..."
"Then you're dismissed for the day. Go home."
"But, sir, I've got the monthly reports to finish, then the notes for your speech at the upcoming interface conference..."
"Does a leftenant outrank a general?" Metcalfe cut her off.
Dorset knew better than to try and reason with the hot-tempered Metcalfe when he was on one of his rampages. "Of course not, sir. Good night, General Metcalfe." She hurriedly left.
Metcalfe opened a desk drawer, and removed a bottle of scotch and a glass. He filled the glass with a healthy-sized shot, then downed it in one gulp. He slowly sank into his chair and held onto the bottle for a long moment, then poured himself another shot.
The electronic door to the Cloudbase Control Room slid open, and Captain Blue walked into the room, then stepped on the moving walkway to take him to the command desk. "Captain Blue reporting for duty," he said as the walkway came to a stop.
Captain Scarlet looked up from the stack of reports on the the circular command desk. "Aha," he said. "My relief has arrived."
"Don't tell me you're getting tired," Blue replied with a smile.
"Just tired of sitting behind a desk." Scarlet initialed the report on the top of the stack. "That's why I left the WAAF in the first place--I was beginning to fly more desks than planes."
"At least you get to go off duty," Lieutenant Green complained from his seat by the communications console. "My relief is late. And I thought a week without the colonel would be easy."
"Well, hopefully when he comes off this golf holiday he'll be more relaxed," Scarlet noted, getting up from the desk as Blue came over and claimed his seat. "If anyone's earned a vacation this year, he has."
"That's true enough," Blue agreed. "I saw in the paper where the World President said he'd have to choose his golf partners more carefully next time--apparently Colonel White's taken several rounds from him."
"The colonel had better be careful," Green laughed. "I watched several employees get fired after beating their bosses on the links when I used to caddy."
"Speaking of fired--find out where Captain Magenta is," Blue indicated. "He's overdue to relieve you."
"S.I.G.," Green said with a smile, reaching for his console.
"And you, Captain Scarlet--you're officially off-duty," Blue said to his friend. "Get some rest. You deserve the next vacation."
"Let's hope this extended lull with the Mysterons lasts until then," Scarlet answered. He donned his RadioCap and headed for the Control Room door.
The outside line indicator blinked on Lieutenant Green's console. Green reached over and tapped the button. "Spectrum Control," Green said into his microphone.
"This is Spectrum London with an urgent telephone call for Captain Scarlet from a Mrs. Charles Metcalfe," the British-accented female voice replied over the loudspeakers.
Scarlet stopped in his tracks. His mother had never called Cloudbase before. She hardly even dared call his father at work.
The same thought must have occurred to Blue. "What's your mother doing calling here?" he asked.
"I don't know," Scarlet said, his voice concerned. "Leftenant Green, transfer it to my quarters. I'll take it there."
Scarlet entered his quarters and locked the door behind him, then tapped the intercom button on his phone. "Scarlet to Control," he said into the air. "Transfer the call now, Leftenant."
"S.I.G.," Green's voice answered.
Scarlet picked up the receiver as the phone rang. "Spectrum Headquarters--Captain Scarlet," he said into the receiver.
"This is Spectrum London with an urgent call from Mrs. Charles Metcalfe," the operator said. "Shall I put it through?"
"Yes, go ahead," Scarlet stated curtly.
"Thank you. You may go ahead, Madam," the operator said.
There was a momentary pause. "Paul?" Mary Metcalfe's anxious voice asked over the line.
"Yes, Mum, it's me," Scarlet replied. "What is it?"
"Oh, thank goodness. Paul, you've got to come quickly. There's something terribly wrong with your father."
Scarlet went cold inside. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I...I don't know." His mother began to cry softly. "He came home yesterday staggering drunk--and you know he never drinks to excess--and he wouldn't talk to me, and he started throwing things yesterday--pictures, trophies, just arbitrary things..."
Scarlet was appalled. His father never acted like this. Charles Metcalfe never took his anger out on his family. "Did he hurt you?"
"No, no...but this morning he just walked out the door as if he were in a trance--he didn't say a word to me, and he's not at work... Paul, you've got to come quickly!"
Now Scarlet was at a loss. "Mum, it's not like I work at an accountancy firm or something like that--I can't just 'take off'. The colonel's away, and we're short-staffed..."
"Please!" his mother interrupted, her voice frantic. "You know I wouldn't ask this of you if I didn't have to..." She began weeping uncontrollably.
"All right, Mum. Hold the line." He put the line on hold and tapped the intercom. "Scarlet to Control," he said into the receiver.
He heard a click. "Lieutenant Green here--go ahead."
"I need to speak to Captain Blue."
The next voice he heard was Blue's. "What is it, Captain Scarlet?"
"My mother's frantic. Something is terribly wrong with my father--he's acting very erratic, and he got violent last night. Permission to go down to the surface."
"You know I can't let you leave," Blue replied. "The colonel's away, Grey's down with the flu..."
"And my mother wouldn't call unless this was urgent," Scarlet reminded him. "Adam, I'm asking this as a personal favor. I need to go down and find out what's wrong."
There was a moment of silence. "Twenty-four hours...no extensions ...be ready for immediate recall."
"I owe you one."
"I'm keeping tabs. Now, get moving before I change my mind."
"S.I.G." He tapped the blinking phone line. "Mum, I'm on my way. I should be there in about two hours. Hang in there just a little longer."
"Hurry," she said, her voice choked with sobs.
Two hours later, Scarlet--now dressed in casual clothes and driving a rental car--pulled up into the driveway of an elegant Tudor home just outside the ancient English city of Winchester. The home had been in his family for generations; he could remember playing in the yards with his grandfather as a boy, fishing at the lake with his father, riding horses through the meadows, practicing camouflage surveillance techniques in the woods as a young soldier. Someday, Scarlet hoped to retire here, to spend a quiet lifetime raising a family, living the life of an English country gentleman. Of course, such dreams--if they were even still possible for him in his present condition--seemed very far away in the midst of the battle with the Mysterons.
His mother hurrying out the side door toward the driveway brought him back to reality. He stopped his car and crossed the driveway to meet her.
Mary threw her arms around her son. "Thank God you're here," she said.
"Any change?" Scarlet asked.
She shook her head. "No one's seen him since early this morning. I'm still trying to clean up the mess..." She looked as if she would cry again at any moment.
"Any idea where he's gone?"
She shook her head again, this time unable to hold back the tears.
Scarlet looked around the large parcel of real estate that surrounded the manor. He could be anywhere, he thought, frustrated.
Suddenly, a large yellow Labrador Retriever came bounding out of the woods and raced toward Scarlet, barking eagerly.
"Humphrey!" Scarlet said with a laugh as the dog barrelled into him, obviously extremely anxious to see his master. "It's good to see you, too!"
The dog happily licked his master's face, then began to pace in circles around him, occasionally giving his legs a nudge, once almost knocking Scarlet off-balance.
"Stop that!" Mary scolded. "Naughty dog..."
Scarlet reached down and gave Humphrey's head a scratch. "Do you want me to follow you somewhere?" he asked.
Humphrey once again gave Scarlet's legs a shove from behind.
Scarlet looked at his mother. "I'm going for a walk," he said. "If Dad comes back, keep him here. I'll be back shortly."
"Hurry," she said softly.
Scarlet headed toward the woods.
Humphrey eagerly bounded ahead, down the trail toward the lake.
Scarlet followed his guide, still puzzled by his mother's description of his father's behavior. Charles Metcalfe was known as a hard, stern taskmaster, and Scarlet himself had incurred his father's wrath on more than one occasion, but irrational, violent anger simply wasn't his normal reaction to anything. In fact, the only time Scarlet had ever seen anything close to what his mother described was when Charles' younger brother Miles was killed during a routine Army exercise. That time, his father had absolutely flown off the handle, raging at the world, wandering around the base where they were stationed for hours, acting cold and distant toward his family.
Scarlet briefly entertained the notion that someone close to his father had died, then quickly dismissed it. Metcalfe never allowed himself to get close to others outside his family; it just wasn't his way. The death of a friend wouldn't set him off in this manner. Now the death of a family member might, but since Grandmother Metcalfe's death five years ago, the Metcalfe family had been rather calm and stable...
...and that was when a horrifying thought hit Scarlet. Oh, no, he thought. Oh, God, no. What if he's found out the truth about me?
Just then, he stepped through the trees into a clearing. Fifty yards away, his father sat on the pier, looking thoughtfully over the lake.
Humphrey trotted back to Scarlet, then nudged his legs again, as if to say go over to him.
Scarlet walked the short distance to the pier and stepped out onto it. "Dad?" he called out as he approached.
The look Metcalfe gave him when he turned his grey-blue eyes toward him told Scarlet his worst fears were reality. The look was harsh, cold, absolutely void of any emotion except anger.
Scarlet forced himself to speak again. "Mum's very worried about you," he said. "What's wrong?"
Those eyes seemed to stare right through Scarlet. Metcalfe looked as if he wanted to spit in Scarlet's face, but forced himself to contain his rage. "I know," he said coldly.
Scarlet went pale. Oh, God, no. Please tell me he doesn't... "Know what?"
"Don't patronize me!" Metcalfe snapped. "I know. I know all about it. I know my son is dead and a Mysteron traitor has been passing himself off as my son for almost two years now. Did you really think I wouldn't find out?"
Every word cut Scarlet to the quick. He'd never felt so vulnerable. "Who told you?"
"No one. I was a very good investigator in my day, in case they didn't program that little detail into your memory. I know how to put clues together to solve a puzzle. And all the clues I needed were in the Supreme Commander's report on the Unitron tank incident, when 'Captain Scarlet' survived three bullets to the chest at point-blank range, saving the day yet again." Metcalfe stood, then threw his arms into the air. "My God, it was so obvious--why didn't I see it sooner? There was no way you could have survived and walked away unscathed from a car crash that killed your partner. There was no way you could have survived an explosion that collapsed a house; there was nothing left of that house for you to have taken shelter in. There was no way you could have survived the kind of wound you received when your shoulder was sliced open; you were bleeding to death by my own medics' diagnosis. Your Captain Blue told the Supreme Commander about this 'retrometabolism' that the Mysterons use to recreate things. What are you--some kind of a...a living robot or something?"
"I am not a robot!" Scarlet burst angrily. "I'm a clone—an exact copy of the original Paul Metcalfe, down to the last gene."
"A copy. Wonderful. I've been fooled by a copy for two years now."
"Only my body is a copy!" Scarlet insisted, coming closer. "My memories, my feelings, my personality... all of that is the original. That's how the Mysterons work--they take the mental and intellectual abilities of the best person for any job and put them into a virtually indestructible physical likeness to do their bidding..."
Metcalfe looked taken aback for a moment and unconsciously drew back from the man standing before him. "Indestructible?"
"Virtually indestructible. It...I can heal from most injuries within hours. I don't completely understand the mechanics, but it's part of the recreation process the Mysterons use."
Now there was a hint of fear beneath the anger in Metcalfe's expression. "And now the Mysterons have an 'indestructible' agent at the top levels of Spectrum," he realized.
"No. I am not a Mysteron agent--their hold was broken when I was shot off the Car-Vu. That Captain Scarlet died--and what revived was the real Captain Scarlet, the real Paul Metcalfe..."
"The real Paul Metcalfe is dead!" Metcalfe interrupted. "He died in a car crash two years ago!"
"Do you think we wanted to deceive you?" Scarlet shot back. "There was no choice! What Spectrum learned about the Mysterons from my experience was so strategically important it had to be protected. Outside our ranks, no one could know. Only the World President was told, because he had a right to know."
"We had a right to know!"
"But you couldn't--that's the whole point! No one in Spectrum knew what to think, or whether I could be trusted again—that 'emergency duty' in London I told you about when I came home was my probationary period, a test to see if I could even still function on the job! I passed their tests, I fought hard for their trust --and I won. But part of the price I had to pay for my new life was the knowledge that I could never tell you or anyone else the truth about what happened..."
"...and so you and Spectrum lied to us rather than allow us to grieve for our loss! What did you do with the body--preserve it for science?"
"It was cremated. I scattered the ashes over West Point. It was the kind of burial I would have wanted." But even as Scarlet spoke, he knew how hollow the words sounded.
Now Metcalfe looked enraged. "You made that decision? That was my son you threw out an airplane window!"
"I am your son!" Scarlet shouted.
Metcalfe slapped Scarlet's face.
The slap produced a red mark, which faded instantly. But Scarlet felt the pain in his soul as deep as if he'd been shot with a machine gun.
"Don't ever say that again," Metcalfe said coldly. "You are trespassing on my property. Now get out of here."
Scarlet looked shocked. "Dad...," he began.
"You are not my son!" Metcalfe bellowed. "Go!"
Scarlet drew back slowly. "I fought for weeks for my colleagues to accept me again," he said softly. "With every mission I undertake, I fight to prove my loyalty yet again. Maybe someday, I can prove it to you as well."
"Don't waste your time," Metcalfe hissed. "I want nothing to do with deceitful traitors."
His words dashed the last of Scarlet's hopes. The young Spectrum captain turned and headed back toward the house, his heart sinking with every step.
Metcalfe dropped down to sit on the pier, then broke down sobbing, completely overcome with grief.
Mary saw the dejected young man and his equally dejected dog approaching her and shivered. This was not a good sign. "Paul?" she asked. "What is it?"
The love and concern in his mother's voice broke what was left of Scarlet's heart. "He sent me away...I'm sorry."
Mary almost broke down again, then saw the grief and anguish on her son's face. "Oh, Paul," she said as she gently put her arms around his broad shoulders, instantly transforming from worried spouse to nurturing mother, "I'm certain he didn't mean it. He loves you so much...I was just hoping he might talk to you when he felt he couldn't talk to me."
Scarlet embraced her tightly, fighting to stay in control of his emotions. "I've let you down," he whispered.
"No, no, it's all right. Your father can be impossible sometimes, so stubborn, so headstrong. But so can you, and that's part of the reason I love both of you so much. You two are so much alike."
Scarlet wanted to hold his mother forever, but knew he'd break down if he did. He pulled back and met her gaze. "I have to go," he said. "There's nothing more I can do here, and I'm needed back on Cloudbase." He kissed the top of her head lovingly. "Always remember how much I love you."
"As long as you do the same."
They embraced one last time, then Scarlet gave Humphrey a reassuring pat on the head and left.
Hours later, back on Cloudbase, Scarlet still could not forget his father's hateful words. He had spoken to no one on his return to the secret flying base, instead heading straight for the gymnasium, trying to take out his anger, pain, and frustration on the exercise equipment. He could still see his father's angry and fearful expression, hear his father's bitter voice echoing in his head, mocking everything he'd tried to do for two years now, destroying his hard-won victory of coming to terms with his new life and sense of identity. The worst part was that Metcalfe had every right to be angry; he had been lied to, betrayed, mocked...
"You know," Blue's New England-accented voice said from behind, "you're going to break that machine if you keep that pace up."
Scarlet stopped pumping the arms of the butterfly weight machine for a moment and looked over at the electronic statistical computer attached to it.
The repetition count read "100".
Scarlet leaned back and blew out a hard, angry breath. One of the mixed blessings about retrometabolism was that his muscles could recover almost as fast as they broke down, which meant his endurance was considerably higher than a normal man's. It was good in the sense that he could keep going through physical stresses that would stop anyone else. It was bad in the sense that it was yet another very visible reminder of how different he was from everyone else, particularly when things like this happened.
Scarlet hit the reset button on the counter and wiped his face on the red towel he'd brought with him.
Blue took a seat at the pull-down weight machine nearby. As Scarlet's best friend and confidante, Blue knew that whenever Scarlet tried to set endurance records in the gym, it usually meant he had something on his mind, something troubling. The Brit had used the gym as a way to burn off frustration even before the accident that had transformed his life. "Want to talk about it?"
"No," Scarlet pronounced harshly, moving to the leg press machine. Then, he softened. "Maybe later." He set the weight level and began to press the weight up and down with his legs, once again beginning an unbelievable pace.
Blue got up from the weight machine and walked over to Scarlet. "No. Now." He locked the weights into the "exit" position when Scarlet pushed them up. "Come on, Paul. This is Adam, remember?"
"Paul," Scarlet repeated, almost derisively. "I don't even know who that is any more." He reached up and unlocked the weights and began exercising again.
Uh-oh, thought Blue. This is serious. I thought he'd conquered all his self-doubt. "Paul...," he began.
"Paul Metcalfe is dead!" Scarlet shouted angrily, thrusting the weights upward with all his might to punctuate his point.
The rage in Scarlet's voice startled Blue. "Who told you that?" he quizzed.
"It's the truth!"
"Who said that to you?" Blue pressed.
"General Sir Charles Metcalfe!" Scarlet snapped back, his voice taking on a mocking, pompous tone as he said the words.
Blue drew back. "Your father?"
"He's not my father...just ask him."
Blue locked the weights again as they reached their apex position. "Paul, what is going on?"
Scarlet sat up and ran his fingers through his dark hair. "He knows," he said quietly.
Blue looked aghast. He hoped what he was thinking was completely wrong. "Knows? Knows what?"
"Don't be naive!"
Blue rolled his eyes heavenward. "Oh, God...who told him?"
"Does it matter?" Scarlet got up from the machine and paced around the room briskly. "He knows the truth. And I was a fool to think that he could ever understand..."
"Did you tell him?" Blue pressed.
"No, I didn't tell him; he deduced it on his own. All I did was confirm what he already knew."
Blue looked puzzled. "How did he figure it out?"
"Because you opened your mouth to the Supreme Commander about retrometabolism. My God, Adam, I thought you were more conscientious than that!"
Blue turned pale. "It's in the official report," he realized.
"And he heard about it somehow and read up on it. Charles Metcalfe is no fool, Adam; he can spot trends and make deductions from even the slimmest of clues. And when he has something that blatantly obvious..."
Blue looked frustrated. "I could kick myself."
"Well, maybe you should."
Blue started to retort, then realized the harsh words were from anguish over the situation, not anger at him. "Does your mother know?" he asked instead.
"No, he hasn't told her. He's not spoken to anyone, as far as I can tell."
"Well, at least that's something. But he won't stay silent forever."
"To me, he will."
"You don't know that." "Oh, yes, I do. My father's a stubborn man." Scarlet shook his head. "Listen to me. I'm still doing it...talking as if I really were still Paul Metcalfe, as if this nightmare never happened."
"You are still Paul Metcalfe," Blue reminded him. "Only the body is different. The man inside the body hasn't changed."
"We all say that, as if the Mysterons turned me into some kind of zombie for six hours. But that's not the case, Adam, and it's time I admitted that to myself. The real Paul Metcalfe died in a car crash two years ago. All that's left now is this indestructible alien clone with another man's memories implanted in its brain."
"Look me in the eye and say that again if you really believe it," Blue snapped.
Scarlet buried his face in the towel for a moment to dry it again, then looked up at Blue. "It's the truth," he told his friend.
Blue grabbed Scarlet's shoulders. "Where were you born?"
"17 December 2036..."
"Where'd you get your training?"
"Who was the top graduate of your class?"
"What's your dog's name?"
"Who was he named for?"
"Who's your best friend?"
Scarlet met Blue's gaze. "Adam Svenson," he said quietly.
Blue's gaze never wavered. "Now tell me you're not Paul Metcalfe."
Scarlet shook his head. "His legacy lives on in my head," he said sardonically.
"Stop that. That's self-pity, and we don't have room for that in Spectrum."
"I hate self-pity," Scarlet snapped back.
"Who hates self-pity?"
"And who are you?"
Scarlet held his ears. "Stop it!"
"Why? Am I making you angry? Or am I interrupting your martyr session?"
"I am no martyr!"
"No, but you're acting like one..."
"I am not!"
For a moment, Scarlet was silent. "I don't know!" he finally admitted, his voice cracking.
"Who do you think you are?" Blue pressed. "What does every instinct tell you about your identity?"
"No, it's not, because it's the only sense of true self any of us have! Now, who do you think you are?"
Again the room fell silent. "Paul Metcalfe," Scarlet finally said quietly.
"Then that's who you are," Blue told him.
"Then why don't I feel like I should be him?" Scarlet said, throwing his hands into the air.
"You're hurt because your father rejected you," Blue pointed out. "As hard as you've tried your whole life to make your own way, you're still trying to live up to that lofty reputation he has. And now you feel you've let him down, and you're angry because there's nothing you can do about the reason."
"He has every right to reject me," Scarlet replied. "We've deceived him--them--for two years now."
"Maybe. But did they ever notice a difference until now? Was your mother's love for you any less? Was your father's pride any less? Was your dog's loyalty any less? That was the first thing I noticed, Paul, the way Humphrey behaved around you. If you hadn't been 'right', he wouldn't have let you anywhere near his family, but he welcomed you with an enthusiasm I'd never seen in any animal. The point is that you aren't really that different. The only differences are physical, and they're invisible unless you're looking for them. I'll never forget how happy your mother looked to see you after the accident, or the pride on your father's face at that reception after you were knighted. I am so jealous sometimes of you and your family. Remember, I'm the black sheep, the disappointing son. Svenson men don't become test pilots, or go off and join paramilitary societies, or fight wars against invading aliens. They work shrewd investment deals, go sailing on yachts, hobknob with the right people, give money and hollow words to the right charities instead of blood and sweat for the causes that matter. My father still won't speak to me about my chosen career. He skipped our commissioning ceremonies, remember?"
Scarlet nodded. "Your mother looked very alone, uncertain, as if she didn't know if she should be there or not."
"That's because my father said that if I was going to give up my name for a color code, then none of my family should be there because it was obvious they weren't welcome. He still doesn't understand why I can't come home for holidays or take vacations with the family. Or, rather, he won't understand. And Mom can't make him understand." Blue sighed. "And then I saw your family at the ceremony--this hard-nosed arrogant general and his oh-so-proper wife--and I thought, 'Boy, I'd hate to have them as parents.' But then they came up to you, and I saw something I never saw in my family--genuine warmth. Your mother glowed when she smiled at you. And your father--if you'd told me that man could crack a smile without breaking his face, I'd have called you a liar. But that look of pride he gave you spoke volumes. I had never been so envious of anybody in my whole life than I was of you at that moment."
"And all that's gone," Scarlet whispered.
"No, it isn't. Your father will come around. And with any luck, he won't tell your mother right away, which will give Spectrum time to do damage control. But you've got to hang in there, Paul. You're needed in this fight--the fight against the Mysterons and the fight to save your family."
At that moment, the loudspeakers overhead snapped on. Then:
"This is the voice of the Mysterons..."
Scarlet tensed instantly.
"I knew it was too quiet around here," Blue complained.
"...we know that you can hear us, Earthmen. Your military command structure will crumble before your very eyes, and there will be nothing you can do to stop it. We will be avenged!"
The speakers went quiet again.
"Damn them!" Scarlet shouted furiously at the ceiling. "Damn them and all the suffering they've caused us all!"
"Control to Acting Commanders Blue and Scarlet," Lieutenant Green's voice called.
"Blue here--go ahead," Blue called toward the speakers.
"Did you hear it, sir?"
"Of course, Lieutenant," Blue said sharply. "Take us to yellow alert. And dispatch a helicopter to retrieve Colonel White. His vacation just ended."
Blue turned to Scarlet. "I'll handle telling the colonel what's happened. It is my fault, after all. But you've got to pull yourself together. We need every man and woman in Spectrum giving everything they've got to figure out what the Mysterons mean this time and stop them before they can pull it off. Before we leave this room, I need to know you're O.K. Are you?"
Scarlet gave his friend's arm a pat. "Captain Scarlet is indestructible," he said with a wry smile.
"Virtually indestructible," Blue corrected. "He still has a very breakable heart."
Charles Metcalfe was not having a good day.
As afternoon approached, Metcalfe had finally made a few decisions. He had decided to go back to the house and clean out Paul's room. His son was dead, after all, despite what that impostor tried to tell him, and there was no sense tarrying and pretending any longer. Arrangements would have to be made for a proper memorial service, one with military honors. Of course, it would have to wait until after this interface conference was over, but it had waited two years already. A few extra days wouldn't make a difference.
Unfortunately, one problem remained: How to tell Mary.
For the life of him, Metcalfe could not figure out how to break the news of what had happened to Paul to his wife. Paul had been the center of Mary's life for many years. They'd never been able to have another child--Mary had miscarried twice in later years, nearly dying the second time, before doctors concluded that her womb was incapable of bringing another pregnancy to term—so both of them had come to treasure their only child. While Metcalfe had been away--at war, on maneuvers, at secret conferences and strategy sessions--much of the child-raising burden had fallen on Mary's shoulders, and the fact that Paul grew into such a fine young man was a tribute to her skills as a parent. A more loyal and loving life mate Charles Metcalfe could not have found.
All of which made his job that much more difficult.
When he'd returned to the house, he had every intention of sitting Mary down and telling her the truth. But what he was greeted with stunned him. She had venomously raked into him, accusing him of trying to destroy their family. What did he think he was doing, she had asked, coming home drunk, destroying their house, distancing himself? And what in God's name did he think he was doing sending Paul away? How could he just dismiss their son like that? Paul had taken valuable time away from his duties because she was worried about him, she raved. For Charles to just send him away like he was just another aide he could order about was inexcusable. Metcalfe hadn't had a chance to get a word in edgewise before Mary had stormed out the door, suitcase in hand, saying she was going to her sister's in London for a few days to try and calm down. "We've been married for thirty-five years, Charles Metcalfe," she'd said as her parting words, "but I'm looking at a total stranger."
Then, with a slam of the door, she'd left.
Now Charles was alone, the house still a wreck from his earlier self-destructive tear. No Mary. No Paul. No one.
Well, there was someone. That stupid dog Humphrey was still there, glaring at him with one of those angry stares only dogs can seem to conjure up. Paul had bought the yellow Labrador Retriever as a pup to celebrate Metcalfe's promotion to WAAF European Commander. Metcalfe had been thinking about retirement, and he'd offhandedly mentioned looking forward to the days of leisurely relaxing at the family home, spending his days hunting and fishing. So, Paul had bought him a "proper" hunting dog. The only problem was that Humphrey took an instant liking to Paul and framed him as "master" in his limited mind, which meant that he only obeyed Paul. Metcalfe had managed to teach him to seek and fetch game, but that was about the extent of Humphrey paying any mind to the general's desires. Mary could occasionally get him to mind, but when Paul was around, it was as if the elder Metcalfes didn't exist.
We'll have to get rid of the dog, Metcalfe decided.
Almost as if Humphrey could read his mind, the dog immediately tensed and growled in a low voice.
"Stop that," Metcalfe said sternly.
Humphrey grew quiet but did not take his eyes off the general.
Metcalfe frowned. There was no sense in tarrying. Maybe if he could get the details done before Mary returned, telling her would be easier. He headed up the stairs to Paul's room.
Humphrey was hot on his heels, then once he realized where the general was heading, he ran to the door and stood in front of it, growling louder this time.
"Get out of the way!" Metcalfe commanded.
Humphrey gave an angry bark in reply.
Metcalfe reached over him and opened the door, then started to step around the dog.
Humphrey hurried into the room and leapt up on the bed, which put him at eye-level with Metcalfe, and barked again.
"This is not your room!" Metcalfe raged. "It's not his any more, either!"
The dog glared at Metcalfe, taking a seat on the bed as if to say “that's what you think”.
Metcalfe shook his head. I've been reduced to arguing with a dog by all this, he realized. Then, he looked skyward. "See what you've done to me?" he shouted to the ceiling.
Humphrey looked skyward, then back at Metcalfe, still distrustful.
Metcalfe stood in the room that had been his son's, filled with a lifetime of memorabilia...and memories. And all of them came flooding back to Metcalfe as he stood in the midst of them.
This was not going to be as easy as he'd first thought.
Metcalfe found himself walking through the room, gently picking up items one by one, remembering what they represented. Trophies from sporting events--Paul had been a fairly good football player, a swift runner who excelled in track and field events, and a crack shot who had won numerous shooting competitions. Photos from school days--a thin, gawky child in numerous base schools; a more mature teen and young adult at Winchester University; a tin soldier look-alike in West Point greys. Photos from a fabled military career--a shot of a wooded area that actually was a photo of a perfectly-camouflaged Cadet Metcalfe; a young lieutenant in the WAAF who shot through the ranks with strategic and analytical skills that many noted had to be hereditary; a decorated veteran receiving one of many honors through his career; a strong, muscular, handsome young colonel who had served the WAAF well throughout his career.
Then there was one of the few photos of Captain Scarlet known to exist outside of Spectrum, a picture of former WAAF Colonel Paul Metcalfe in his new Spectrum dress greys with red accent piping along seams and cuffs. It had been taken at the reception following the commissioning ceremony. Standing beside him were Charles and Mary Metcalfe.
Metcalfe picked up the photo and looked at it sadly. It had been the last time he'd seen his son alive. Due to commitments, Scarlet hadn't been able to get away for his birthday or Christmas that year, 2067. He'd been scheduled for his first furlough in almost a year the first week of May, 2068.
He died two weeks before he could make it home.
Metcalfe put the picture down and kept walking through the room. There were other things to look at--certificates from school, diplomas and degrees, commissioning certificates, citations of valor, the invitation to join Spectrum, the carefully-framed engraved invitation on the desk from Buckingham Palace requesting his presence at the traditional Birthday Ceremony, where Paul received his knighthood...
No, he remembered suddenly. That happened afterward. That was the impostor who was knighted.
Metcalfe turned the invitation face-down on the dresser. He couldn't be reminded of it. And he'd foolishly felt so proud of "Paul", wanting so desperately to embrace him publicly, to shout to the world about his pride in "his son's" achievements...
Grief surrounded him instantly. He couldn't deal with this. He couldn't be in this room. There were too many memories.
He hurried back downstairs, trying to contain his emotions.
Humphrey followed, puzzled by his owner's reactions.
Metcalfe stumbled into the sitting room, searching for a place to escape the memories which now crowded his mind. He dropped into a chair and buried his head in his hands.
His mind reminded him that he'd sat in this chair in a moment of crisis two years ago as well.
Paul, standing by the window, jumped as if startled, then turned toward his father. "Sorry," he apologized. "Didn't mean to wake you."
"It's all right. I'm very bored with sleeping anyway. In the past three months, I've seen that retirement is not all it's cracked up to be. I've been seriously considering returning to duty, if they'll have me back." He came over and sat in the armchair near the fireplace, watching his son carefully.
"What are you staring at?" Paul asked.
"You," Metcalfe answered. "Just wondering how long it will be before you decide you're going to tell me what's bothering you. I left you alone last night, but seeing as your furlough ends tomorrow, I don't think it can wait."
Paul smiled slightly. "I could never fool you."
"No, and don't forget it. A parent knows when something's wrong with his child. Now out with it."
Paul sighed hard. "Twelve hours of my life is gone," he finally said.
Metcalfe looked puzzled, then framed the reference in his mind. "That's how long you were unconscious altogether."
Paul nodded. "I don't remember any of it. Not one second."
"And you're frustrated because you thrive on being in control."
"This is why you came home, isn't it? You weren't really 'still scheduled' for this furlough, not this soon after such a crisis. They told you to take some time off."
Paul nodded again, looking back out the window.
"What was done to you was reprehensible," Metcalfe reminded him. "Your partner lost his life. You were badly injured. And for six hours, someone else lived your life ...committed unspeakable acts..."
"Brown was the lucky one," Paul bitterly pronounced. "He died. He never knew what happened afterward."
"If you believe that, you're deceiving yourself. No one blames you for what happened, or at least they shouldn't. You had no control over what the Mysterons did to the World President, using that impostor." He paused. "Are you being punished for what happened?"
"I don't know. All I know is the way they all look at me now, silently blaming me for what happened, for not being stronger..." His voice trailed off.
"Sit down." Metcalfe pointed to a chair.
Paul reluctantly sat before him.
"You've come through a terrible ordeal," Metcalfe stated firmly. "You now have to live with the knowledge that your partner lost his life and horrible acts were committed using your name, your face, your identity. But none of that is your fault. You could not help what happened. I've been a terrorist target before, Paul, and one of the things you have to accept is that if they want you, nothing you can do is going to stop them from getting to you. There were days I lived in dread that something terrible was going to happen to you or your mother before I came to that realization. I've watched men die, and been threatened with death myself. The reality is that in war, death is a by-product of the struggle. It is often survival that is more difficult to accept."
Paul looked down. "Dad...," he began.
"Let me finish," Metcalfe interrupted. "What you need to understand out of all of this is that there is nothing you can do to change what happened. The past is past. After fifty-five years of life, Paul, that is the only lesson I have absolutely learned, and then only reluctantly. You were a victim. But you cannot remain a victim forever. At some point, you have to pick up your life and go on with it, regardless of what shape it is in. It is the only way you can survive without going mad."
Paul drew back in his chair, pressing a fist to his mouth, trying desperately to conceal his anguish. There were tears threatening to spill from his steel-blue eyes.
Metcalfe reached across and took Paul's hand, holding it for a moment, then got up and embraced his son as he sat in the chair.
Paul broke down sobbing as Metcalfe held him tightly.
The memory faded, and Metcalfe realized he was the one sobbing. He felt a nudge against his hand and looked down at Humphrey, who had crossed the room and rested his head on Metcalfe's lap, looking very sadly up at the General.
Metcalfe stroked the dog's head, taking comfort in the company the loyal animal provided. He now realized there was no way to tell Mary. If Paul--or rather, Paul's clone--could not tell him the truth when he had obviously been at his most vulnerable, how could Metcalfe possibly tell his wife?
"Come, Humphrey," he said softly. "Help me pack. I've got a conference to get to."
"Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Captain Blue stood at attention in the Cloudbase Control Roombefore his commanding officer, Colonel White, who looked anything but tanned and rested after his vacation. Blue was getting a thorough dressing-down by White, who had just been told about the Supreme Commander's report and General Metcalfe's discovery of it. "I take full responsibility, sir," he said quietly.
"That's not good enough!" White bellowed angrily. "I cannot believe you would be so callous with such sensitive information! We are very lucky it was Metcalfe who read it--he, at least, has been sworn to secrecy regarding the command structure and staffing of Spectrum. What if someone else had gotten hold of that information--like Space General Rostokovich or Admiral Ruprecht, two people who would like nothing more than to bring Spectrum down? Knowing as they do that Scarlet is Metcalfe's son, it wouldn't have taken them long to deduce the truth, either. How could you have shown such disregard for Rainbow Clearance materials?"
"I've been asking myself that question repeatedly, sir," Blue noted. "I don't have an explanation. But I've offered my apologies to Captain Scarlet..."
"You'll have to offer him more than that," White interrupted. "I am making you personally responsible for debriefing General Metcalfe. It is imperative that he know the real story—for Scarlet's sake, if nothing else--but no more than that. And I am seriously considering disciplinary action. But right now, we have a more pressing concern than this. There is a Mysteron threat to deal with. What progress have you made?"
"Captains Magenta and Ochre are scanning the military activity schedule looking for possible connections to the threat. Captain Scarlet and I are awaiting orders."
"Your orders, Captain Blue, are to locate General Metcalfe and schedule a briefing for him. Right now, Captains Magenta and Ochre can handle the research. Leftenant Green, you are to find that report in the World Military database, remove it, and reclassify it accordingly. And send Captain Scarlet in."
"Yes, sir," the West Indian lieutenant replied, already reaching for his computer console.
"Dismissed, Captain Blue," White said sharply.
Blue nodded. "Yes, sir," he said quietly, then turned to leave the Control Room.
As he headed for the doorway, it slid open and Captain Scarlet came in. The friends nodded to each other, then Scarlet crossed to White's desk and snapped to attention.
"As you were," White nodded. "How are you holding up, Captain Scarlet?"
"As well as can be expected, sir," Scarlet admitted.
"Captain Blue told me what happened. How much did you tell your father?"
"Enough to confirm what he had already deduced."
"And he took it..."
"...very poorly, sir."
"I see." White looked thoughtful. "Understand, Captain, that on a personal level I have a great deal of sympathy for what you are going through. But I have a military base to run, and a Mysteron threat to consider. I need to know if you can function in your duties."
"My duties will take my mind off this," Scarlet replied. "They always have. What are my orders?"
"For now, nothing. But stay on alert. We must be ready to respond at any moment. Dismissed."
"Thank you, sir." Scarlet turned and left the Control Room.
After he departed, Lieutenant Green looked up at his commander. "Colonel?" he said.
"If I ever implied that I did not believe Captain Scarlet was brave because he was indestructible...I formally apologize," the young man said quietly. "What he is going through now takes more courage than anything I could ever imagine."
"Every person has a personal crisis that defines his or her life," White replied. "For you, it was the death of your parents, leaving you to raise your brothers and sisters alone; for me, it was the untimely death of my wife; for Captain Blue, it was the rejection of his father because of his chosen career. How you deal with such crises can define the entire rest of your existence. In that sense, all men are brave--and no man is indestructible."
Metcalfe straightened his uniform and checked his appearance in the mirror one last time. He'd already called Lieutenant Dorset and told her to forward his speech notes electronically to SHEF in New York and send a driver directly to his home. Better he get out of here now rather than stay and face any more memories. Work would take his mind off them, and a conference in New York would definitely get him away from their source. There was a reception at SHEF tonight, since New York was several hours earlier, and the chance to get away from business altogether beckoned him alluringly.
The WAAF staff car pulled up in the driveway, and the young driver hurried to the front door.
Metcalfe opened it for the young man, who stood at attention and saluted. "Aircraftman Timothy Long at your service, sir," he said.
Metcalfe acknowledged Long with a nod and resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. The motorpool was using younger and younger drivers all the time. This one barely looked old enough to have a learner's permit. Of course, he mused, he could just look young. After all, Paul's got his mother's fine porcelain-bisque skin--never has looked his age...
"General?" Aircraftman Long asked, a puzzled look on his face.
Metcalfe snapped out of his reverie, realizing that he must have suddenly looked very sad. He mentally chided himself for still thinking of Paul in the present tense, then met Long's gaze. "Something wrong, Aircraftman?" he said in the harsh, authoritative tone he had terrified many a soldier with over his career.
"N-no, sir," Long answered, suddenly very nervous.
"Good. Then get my luggage and let's be going."
"Yes, sir." He crossed the room and picked up the suitcase and briefcase.
Humphrey, who had been lying on the rug, jumped up and barked at Long.
"Quiet," Metcalfe said sternly.
Humphrey sat down and looked concerned up at the General.
"Fine dog, sir," Long observed.
"My son's," Metcalfe said casually, then grew silent again.
"Is everything O.K., sir?" Long asked.
Metcalfe shook his head. "I'm fine, Aircraftman. It's just that no one's here to take care of the dog...my wife's away..."
"I'll take care of him, sir," Long offered. "I don't live far--I can stop by every day after work and make sure he's fed and all that."
Metcalfe looked at Long. "What did you say your name was?"
"Long, sir--Aircraftman Timothy Long."
Metcalfe nodded. "Go see my secretary, Leftenant Dorset, when you return. She has a key to the house. Tell her I sent you."
"Yes, sir." Long hurried out to the car with the luggage.
Metcalfe donned his uniform cap, then crossed the room and patted Humphrey on the head. "Keep an eye on the house for a few days," he said. "We'll straighten this whole mess out when I return."
Humphrey hurried to the doorway as Metcalfe headed toward it.
The phone rang.
Metcalfe debated picking it up, then dismissed the thought. The sooner he was away from Winchester, the better.
He stepped outside and closed the door, still able to hear the ringing phone as he left.
Captain Blue frustratedly slammed down the receiver. No answer in Winchester. And Metcalfe's secretary, Lieutenant Dorset, had said that the general hadn't come into work today. No doubt he'd already left for that interface conference she'd spoken of. It can wait, Blue decided. The Mysterons are more important right now. He headed for the Officers' workroom.
He found Magenta and Ochre hard at work, each tackling a portion of the World Military schedule. They both looked up at him for a minute, and the distasteful glances they each gave him spoke volumes.
Blue frowned. Ever since the news broke about the Supreme Commander's report, people all over Cloudbase had been giving him these looks. And he was tired of it. "All right," he said, irritated, "out with it. Let's get it out in the open."
Magenta shook his head. "The Syndicate used to bump off rats for revealing less than you did," the former mobster commented.
"Which makes me very glad you're on our side," Blue retorted, a hint of sarcasm in his voice, then turned to Ochre. "You're next, Ochre. Fire away."
"Man, Adam, if you'd do that to your best friend, what the Hell would you do to the rest of us?" Ochre said. "Why didn't you just go ahead and give him the entire personnel roster while you were at it?"
"O.K., O.K., I slipped up. I apologized to Scarlet, and the colonel's punishing me by making me brief his dad. And I'll get to it once this Mysteron threat is past. Now, what have you found out so far?"
"Not much," Magenta admitted. "World Military's kind of quiet this week. All the bigwigs are at some kind of conference."
"That's what General Metcalfe's secretary said. What is this thing, anyway?"
"Here," Ochre said, handing Blue a printout. "Part of President Younger's new 're-inventing government' kick, as if we haven't re-invented government enough times in the past ten years. You can tell it's close to election time."
Blue read the printout. "New Enemies, New Interfaces: Redesigning Antiquated Military Command Structures To Deal With Modern Threats," he said aloud. "Supreme Commander probably wrote this--it's just his style of pomposity...." Blue's voice trailed off.
The thought occurred to Magenta at almost the same time it did to Blue. "Uh-oh," the Irish-American captain realized. "Our military command structure will crumble before our very eyes..."
"They're planning to sabotage the convention!" Blue shouted. "When does this thing start?"
Ochre quickly pulled up the pertinent information on his screen. "Tomorrow--but there's a reception tonight for the delegates at SHEF in New York," he said, then tapped the intercom button on one of the desks. "Ochre to Control--I think we've got something."
"This is Colonel White--go ahead," White answered over the speakers.
"Sir, there's a convention being held at SHEF starting tonight on redesigning the military command structure. It's the only thing we've found so far that fits the threat."
"Good Lord--who is scheduled to be there?"
"All the military bigwigs--the Supreme Commander, all the regional commanders, Space General Peterson..."
"Take us to Red Alert, Leftenant, and launch all Angels," White interrupted. "Captain Ochre, take Captains Blue and Scarlet with you and head immediately for SHEF. Spectrum New York will be notified. Get moving."
"S.I.G.," Ochre answered, then tapped the intercom again. "Ochre to Scarlet--Spectrum Is Red. Meet us on the hangar deck. We're headed for New York--and the Mysterons."
The WAAF VIP jet landed at the Earth Forces Air Field just outside New York City, and General Sir Charles Metcalfe rode from there in an SHEF staff car to the reception. "Your bags will be delivered to the VIP residence, just across the street," the driver told him.
"Thank you," Metcalfe answered, disembarking from the car and heading into the main headquarters building.
A pair of Earth Forces Security officers blocked Metcalfe's entrance to the building. "Good evening, sir," an aide holding a clipboard at the door said, coming to attention. "Your name?"
"General Sir Charles Metcalfe--European Commander, World Army Air Force," Metcalfe responded.
The aide checked a list. "Ah, yes, General Metcalfe. You're expected. Sorry for the delay, but you can't be too careful at one of these things. They can get explosive."
"Understood. Carry on."
"Don't worry," the aide said with a smile. "I always carry out my orders."
As the reception at SHEF was preparing to begin, the Spectrum Passenger Jet, flanked by two Spectrum Angel jets and led by a third, was already halfway to its destination, Captain Blue at its helm and Captain Scarlet beside him. Captain Ochre joined the pair in the cockpit and knelt between the seats, since there was no third seat in the crew cabin.
"E.T.A. to New York, ninety minutes," Scarlet said, checking the instruments before him.
"Thank you," Blue replied, thankful that Scarlet had the ability to put his personal problems behind him when duty required it. It was a trait that was heavily desired in Spectrum agents, and recruits were carefully screened to make sure they possessed it. "Speculation on how the Mysterons plan to strike?"
"It's not the first time the Mysterons have attacked SHEF and the Supreme Commander," Scarlet noted. "Previously, they used two agents as assassins--one as a time bomb, one as a homing beacon for the Unitron."
"So does that mean we disregard either method as a possibility?"
"Not necessarily. But we must be open to other methods."
"Well, I don't know about you two," Ochre said, "but when the World Police Force used to get threats about structures crumbling, we always thought about bombs."
"An exploding agent," Blue noted.
"But SHEF was reinforced after the last Mysteron attack," Scarlet said. "One exploding Mysteron is not going to take down the building."
"But he could take out a significant number of the commanders," Blue pointed out. "That could also be what they mean."
"Maybe they mean both," Ochre said. "An exploding agent to take out the people--an actual physical bomb to take out the building. It fits the Mysterons' penchant for wreaking havoc on a grand scale."
"Now there's a thought," Blue agreed, lowering his RadioCap microphone. "Captain Blue to Cloudbase--we think we may have figured out a possible approach to the Mysterons' attack. Please relay the following to Spectrum New York."
Metcalfe was starting to believe he shouldn't have come here. All this casual conversation, especially the macabre and ribald humor that often permeated military gatherings, annoyed him. And the constant speculation on what this conference was supposed to accomplish was really getting on his nerves. Metcalfe had been scheduled to speak on behalf of a stronger alliance with Spectrum, even tighter than their current working relationship of sharing information and manpower. Of course, with what he now knew about Spectrum, he wasn't sure he wanted to stand before his colleagues and speak. He wasn't sure he could get through it without breaking down.
"Charles?" he heard a familiar voice call.
Metcalfe turned to find the Supreme Commander of Earth Forces approaching him. Quickly, he came to attention, now not entirely sure he could make it through the reception without breaking down.
"At ease, General," the Supreme Commander said, extending his hand. "Or, should I say, Sir Charles. I keep forgetting you were knighted a few months ago. Belated congratulations."
"Thank you, sir," Metcalfe said, forcing himself to stay calm.
"Glad you could make it. How was your flight?"
"Looks like it. You look drained."
"It's been a difficult day."
"Really? Is something wrong?"
Metcalfe hesitated. Part of him wanted to scream, part of him wanted to cry, part of him just wanted to run and hide. "I'd rather not go into it," he finally said aloud.
"I see. Well, looking forward to your speech tomorrow." The Supreme Commander patted him on the shoulder, then moved on.
Metcalfe pounded his fist against a wall. Now there was no way to gracefully bow out of giving a speech. He was starting to hate being known as Spectrum's staunchest supporter.
A waiter came by with a glass of champagne. Metcalfe took it and downed it like soda water.
The three Spectrum officers arrived moments later in a Spectrum Saloon Car, parking the bright red vehicle in front of SHEF. Scarlet shouldered a electron Anti-Mysteron rifle, while Ochre slung the Mysteron detecting camera over his shoulder. "Spectrum New York's got the area surrounded," Blue noted. "Let's hope they're not needed."
"Wishful thinking," Ochre grumbled. "I've got a bad feeling about this one."
"I thought that was my line," Scarlet replied dryly.
The aide with the clipboard at the door saw them approaching. "Spectrum," he hissed, then walked up to the guard commander, a World Army sergeant. "Detain them," he ordered. "I'll check with the Supreme Commander to see if they're to be admitted. They're not on the list."
"Yes, sir," the sergeant said, then gestured to his partner to block the stairs.
As the trio of agents started to ascend the steps, Scarlet wavered slightly, then stumbled and grabbed Blue's arm, looking pale.
Blue didn't have to ask what was happening. He knew Scarlet's built-in Mysteron detector was going off, his body reacting to the bio-electrical signature of the Mysteron control frequency. "Where?" he asked.
"Straight ahead--and fading fast," Scarlet whispered.
Ochre raised his Mysteron detector and took a quick snapshot of the guards at the door.
The guards pulled their weapons as Ochre used the camera. "Hold it right there," the sergeant ordered.
Ochre popped the photo out. "All negative," he reported.
"I know I felt one," Scarlet said.
"Then it's inside," Blue realized, stepping up his pace up the stairs. "Step aside," he ordered. "I'm Captain Blue of Spectrum. There's a Mysteron on the grounds, and we've got to get in there and stop him."
"Sorry," the sergeant said, "but Lieutenant Miller's orders--you're not on the access list, so you don't get in."
"Where is Leftenant Miller?" Scarlet asked.
"He went inside to check with the Supreme Commander."
The three Spectrum agents looked at each other. "Miller," they said almost simultaneously, then Scarlet stepped forward. "Stand aside," Scarlet ordered. "Your Leftenant Miller is a Mysteron agent."
"I said stay put," the sergeant said, cocking his weapon.
Scarlet stood face-to-face with the sergeant. "Fire if you like," he said firmly, "but I'm going in." He shouldered his way past the sergeant and walked toward the door.
Both guards turned and aimed their weapons at Scarlet.
Blue and Ochre quickly put their pistols to the backs of the guards' heads. "I wouldn't," Ochre noted. "He's not afraid to die. But I'm betting you are."
Scarlet hadn't taken two steps into the main hall before the dizziness hit him a second time. "Scarlet to Blue and Ochre," he said. "Mysteron definitely present. Have you managed to gain entry yet?"
"Right behind you," Ochre returned. "Had to detain our friends. Can you pinpoint a location?"
"No, just in the main reception hall somewhere. Get up here as soon as you can. Scarlet out." He climbed on a chair and looked around the room, trying to let his sixth sense focus more clearly on the source of the bad vibrations.
He saw a scuffle on the floor, then an Earth Forces lieutenant break from the crowd. "He's got a gun!" someone shouted.
Scarlet aimed the Mysteron rifle. "Hold it, Miller!" he shouted.
Miller fired his automatic weapon into the crowd, sending everyone diving for cover. Scarlet fell from his perch and was nearly trampled.
Miller ran from the room.
Scarlet got up holding his shoulder, which he realized had been dislocated in the fall. "Scarlet to Blue and Ochre—Mysteron agent heading for interior of SHEF," he shouted over the commotion, already trying to make his way through the crowd. "Get everyone clear of the building. I'm going after him."
"S.I.G.," Blue answered.
By the time Scarlet reached the elevators, he saw the doors on one close and head down.
Scarlet hit the lift button and jumped into the next available one, then sent it straight down.
Metcalfe crawled out from underneath the table where he had hidden and saw a red-vested streak race toward the elevators. Captain Scarlet, he realized. And he's gone after that Mysteron agent alone.
Son or not, Metcalfe owed Scarlet his life on two separate occasions. And he saw the way the Spectrum agent was holding his shoulder, as if he'd injured it. There was no doubt Scarlet needed help.
He saw a security officer, lying on the floor dying from a bullet wound. Swallowing hard, he took the man's gun and ran after Scarlet.
Scarlet came off the lift into the underground car park and looked around uncertainly, his Mysteron sense making his body almost vibrate. He was definitely not alone, and this would be the ideal place to plant a bomb, but the question was now where to find it...and the agent.
A gunshot that whizzed by him answered the second question. Scarlet ducked behind a support pillar and rolled his shoulder, desperately trying to make it slip back into place. His retrometabolism would kick in within minutes--but he wasn't sure he had minutes.
"It's no use, Captain Scarlet," Miller's New York-accented voice called. "The timer on the bomb's already been set--you've only got five minutes left. Your friends won't be able to get far enough away from here to escape a nuclear blast. Your entire military command structure will crumble before your very eyes—that is, if you can still see after the blast. We will be avenged!"
"I've heard that before," Scarlet said in reply, then whipped out from behind his shield and fired on Miller.
Miller dove for cover. "You're wasting time, Scarlet," he taunted. "You can either have me or the bomb--but not both."
Scarlet looked around. He could see a good-sized device near one of the central support pillars, but there was no way to get there without exposing himself. But if he could get Miller to come out into the open...
He calculated the distance to the next pillar with his eyes, then fired his rifle toward Miller's last position.
Miller flinched as the electron beam struck the concrete pillar with a "pop".
Scarlet raced across the floor.
Miller recovered his composure and fired his weapon.
The burst of gunfire missed Scarlet by inches as he made it to shelter once more.
"Four minutes, Scarlet," Miller taunted.
"I like a challenge." He eyed his next destination, then fired the Mysteron rifle toward his adversary once more.
Miller flinched again and drew back from the pillar.
Scarlet raced across the floor.
This time, Miller was ready for him. His gun spat fire as soon as the streak of red came into view.
One of the bullets caught Scarlet in the lower back, and he dropped like a sack of flour.
Miller smiled cruelly and crossed the concrete floor to where Scarlet lay bleeding. "Prepare to die, Captain Scarlet," he said, aiming his gun at Scarlet's head.
A bullet in the shoulder caught Miller by surprise. He stumbled forward and toppled to the ground, then got to his feet and turned to face his assailant.
Charles Metcalfe, gun squarely aimed at Miller, stood near the stairwell entrance.
Miller raised his weapon to fire at Metcalfe.
Lightning suddenly shot through him. Miller quivered for a moment, then slumped to the floor, dead.
Captain Scarlet, his strength nearly gone, dropped the Mysteron rifle and fell from where he had raised himself up on his elbows back to the floor once more.
Metcalfe hurried over to Scarlet. "Are you all right?" he asked, kneeling beside him.
"Go on, get out of here," Scarlet urged. "There's a bomb about to go off...save yourself..."
"I'm not leaving without you," Metcalfe replied. "Can you stand?"
Scarlet shook his head. "I can't feel my legs," he said softly. "Hurry--less than three minutes..."
"I'd never get far enough in time. Can you defuse it?"
Scarlet gathered his strength. "Drag me over to it," he said, gesturing with his head toward the bomb.
Metcalfe rolled Scarlet over onto his back, then wrapped his arms around Scarlet's chest and pulled with all his might. It was painstakingly slow, but Metcalfe somehow found the strength to drag the Spectrum officer across the concrete floor to the bomb, then sat him up beside it.
Scarlet forced his mind to clear. Under two minutes, he realized. This is going to be close. He pulled off a cover and began studying the bomb. Scarlet was by no means an explosives expert, but years of weaponry training had taught him what to look for in a bomb--timing circuits, primary charge wires, control mechanisms. There wasn't anything terribly complex about this one; it was a matter of doing everything in the right order...and with enough speed. "In my pocket--right leg--there's a Swiss Army knife," Scarlet said. "Find it and get me the scissors."
Metcalfe reached into Scarlet's pocket and pulled it out. Briefly, he remembered he'd given it to Paul as a present when he'd joined Spectrum--"In case they don't issue you proper equipment," he'd joked--then located the small pair of scissors. "Here," he said, handing it to Scarlet. "The proper equipment."
The reference rang a bell in Scarlet's memory and seemed to energize him. He reached for the first wire. "Control mechanism...cut."
Metcalfe for the first time noticed the timer. "Thirty seconds," he said softly.
Scarlet managed to find the second wire and pulled it up. "Primary charge...cut."
Scarlet sought out the timing wire. He knew it would be well-hidden. But he still managed to trace it in the tangle of wires and circuits. "Timing circuits...cut."
The clock went dead.
For a moment, both men held their breath. Then, when it hit them that they had succeeded, they both blew out a sigh of relief.
It was then that the last bit of strength left Scarlet's body. He dropped the knife and slumped backward into Metcalfe's arms.
"Paul!" Metcalfe said, alarmed at Scarlet's condition. The young captain was ghostly pale and barely breathing. In all the confusion, Metcalfe had barely noticed how badly Scarlet was injured; now, as he lay dying in his arms, he saw the pool of blood that surrounded both of them.
Scarlet looked up at Metcalfe. "You called me 'Paul'," he said softly, his voice incredulous.
Metcalfe fought back emotions. "That is your name, isn't it... son?" he replied, his voice catching.
Scarlet clutched his father's hand, then passed out.
The first indication Scarlet had that the healing process was almost complete was the tingling sensation in his legs, indicating the regeneration of nerves that had been damaged by the bullet in his back. The second was that he no longer had an overwhelming urge to sleep. He blinked his eyes to adjust to Sickbay's brilliant light, then looked around.
He saw Metcalfe nearby, looking anxious and unnerved. "Dad?" Scarlet asked quietly.
Metcalfe moved over to the bed Fawn had specially designed for Spectrum's most special patient, a bed pre-wired with monitoring instruments and high-tech internal scanners to help gauge Scarlet's healing process. "How are you?" he asked uncertainly.
"Much better, thanks," Scarlet said, keeping his voice even and calm. "How long was I out?"
Metcalfe looked at his watch. "About five hours. Captain Blue found us and brought you back here."
"And you insisted on coming with them?"
"Actually, they were the ones who insisted. Captain Blue briefed me on what all has happened to you when I arrived." He looked shaky. "Paul... you died. You were dead when they got to you."
"Did he explain that to you?"
Metcalfe nodded. "'Indestructible, not invincible' was the phrase he used." He shook his head in amazement. "It's all so incredible. I can scarcely believe it."
"Now do you understand why I couldn't tell you?"
"Well, I understand why you thought you couldn't. And I suppose I confirmed your worst fears when I blew up at you. It's just... I couldn't bear the thought of losing my only son. But as a general, I should have remembered that there are certain strategic advantages that must be protected at all costs. Winston Churchill had to sacrifice the entire town of Coventry to protect the Allies' knowledge of Nazi war plans during the Second World War. He once called it the most agonizing decision he ever had to make."
"You don't know how many times I wanted to tell you," Scarlet said. "But I couldn't. I was certain you wouldn't understand--there were times I didn't understand." He started to sit up.
"Lie back," Metcalfe urged, gently trying to hold him down. "You need your rest."
Scarlet brushed his father off and finished sitting up. "I'm getting stiff lying in one position," he replied. "My body only rests when it needs to rejuvenate--I only sleep a couple of hours a night now." He smiled slightly. "That's why it always looks like I have insomnia."
"I was wondering about that." Metcalfe returned his son's smile. "Your mother wanted me to get a new bed for your room."
"Mum," Scarlet realized. "Did you tell her?"
Metcalfe shook his head. "She didn't give me the chance. She went to your Aunt Helen's for a few days to try and calm down before I could say a word. I suppose I can't blame her after the way I acted." He met his son's concerned gaze. "We can't tell her," he said. "At least, not right away. Your mother's not military --there are just some things she couldn't possibly understand."
"But one that is so important it must be protected."
Scarlet nodded his agreement. "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want me to come round for a while."
"It's going to take time to adjust," Metcalfe admitted. "But I suppose it all goes back to the age-old debate of what makes a man--this," he said, gesturing over his body, "or this." He pointed to his heart. "I may not completely understand this..." He touched Scarlet's arm. "...but I recognized the other when you took on that Mysteron. I recognized instantly the bravery and intellect of the finest soldier I've ever known, and the finest son any man could ever have...Paul Metcalfe."
"No more secrets between us," Scarlet urged. "It's the only way we can get to know each other again."
"Never compromise Spectrum strategies for me," Metcalfe insisted. "But you're right--we do need to get reacquainted. Maybe we can start on the flight back to Winchester... that is, if you're up for it."
"I shouldn't have too much trouble convincing Dr. Fawn of that," Scarlet said dryly, starting to remove the electrodes which connected him to the recovery bed's built-in monitors. "It's hard to argue with results."
Hours later, a red Spectrum Saloon Car pulled up in front of the Metcalfe family residence. Scarlet and Metcalfe both exited the car, each looking uncertain as they did.
The side door opened, and Humphrey raced out of the house toward them.
Scarlet bent over and gave his dog a gentle pat as the animal eagerly bounded around his master's feet.
Mary Metcalfe came out of the house, looking thankful to see the two men in her life again. She walked toward them slowly at first, then picked up her pace and rushed into her husband's waiting arms as he moved toward her.
Metcalfe embraced his wife tightly, grateful for the opportunity to do so.
"I heard about the attack on the news," Mary whispered. "They weren't releasing any names of the victims...I was so worried."
"I'm fine," he reassured. "Thanks to our son."
Mary looked up and saw Scarlet standing back slightly, then broke her embrace with her husband and came over to him. "I don't care if you are in uniform," she said, throwing her arms around him.
Scarlet hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "I'm fine, too," he reassured in answer to her unspoken question. "We made up."
She broke the embrace and turned to Charles. "What happened?" she demanded. "Why did you act like that? That's not like you at all--I didn't know what to think..."
"I know," Metcalfe interrupted. "I didn't know what to think, either. War is a terrible thing, love. Death and violence all around, tension running high, never quite knowing who you can trust...sometimes, you lose perspective on who you are, what you are, what this whole thing is about. It makes you blame people for things that aren't their fault, cast away those you love, go on self-destructive tears. I suppose all the months of watching brave men die, of struggles against an enemy whose prime weapon is confusion and distrust, of endless rounds of 'restructuring' to react to the ever-changing realities of this war finally got to me. I never expected it to happen, but happen it did, and now I have to come to terms with the notion that none of us are as strong as we think we are." He turned to Scarlet. "And none of us are alone, either, regardless of what we may think."
"None of us are indestructible," Scarlet noted wryly. "It's a hard lesson to learn."
"And one that if I'd learn, I wouldn't have to say I'm sorry quite as often," Metcalfe replied. He looked at Scarlet, then at Mary. "And I am sorry...to both of you."
"You're stubborn," Mary said, a smile playing over her lips. "But you're soft-hearted."
"So are you," Metcalfe said with a smile. "I think that's why I married you."
Mary took her husband's hand, then pulled him over where she could embrace them both.
Scarlet allowed himself a moment to bask in the warmth, then pulled away. "I'm due back on duty," he said. "Take care, both of you, and I'll see you when I can."
Mary kissed his cheek. "Be careful, love," she urged.
Metcalfe came over and hugged his son. "Do come back soon, Paul," he said.
"I will." He released the embrace and gave Humphrey another pat, then climbed back into the Spectrum Saloon and drove away, feeling for the first time in a very long while as if he were not quite so alone any more.
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