This story previously appeared in Issue 90, of The Power Star fanzine, and is posted here without the authorization of the author, with due acknowledgement – C.B.
[The Mysterons...sworn enemies of Earth, possessing the ability
to recreate an exact likeness of an object or person--but first,
they must destroy. Leading the fight, one man fate has made
indestructible. His name: Captain Scarlet....]
A “CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS” Short Story
By Kimberly Murphy
A peaceful day in the midst of war.
As the bright sun shone in through the many windows of the flying military base known as Spectrum Cloudbase, calm pervaded the atmosphere of the station. Other than the active duty officers, the rest of Cloudbase's complement of personnel took the time to enjoy the respite.
Some, however, enjoyed it more than others.
"Your move, Adam," Captain Scarlet chided his slow-playing chess partner as they sat on either side of a table in the officers' lounge, engaged in yet another round of their favorite pastime.
"Yeah, yeah," Captain Blue replied irritatedly. "I'm thinking."
"You've been thinking for the last five minutes. There is a time limit, you know."
"I don't see a clock at this table."
Captain Magenta came into the lounge. "You two at it again?" he asked.
"Still," Captain Ochre replied from next to the window, looking up from his newspaper.
Magenta looked at his watch. "Weren't you at this two hours ago?"
"Same game, too," Ochre laughed. "Blue's stalling ‘cause Scarlet's beating the pants off him."
"I am not stalling," Blue protested. He made a move. "There."
Scarlet swept his knight to take Blue's newly-uncovered pawn. "Check," he announced.
Blue frowned. "I hate playing chess with a military strategist."
"I am not a military strategist. I am a historian...Winchester University, class of ‘57."
"Of course, Captain First-In-His-Class-At-West-Point." He went back to studying the board.
Magenta stood behind Blue to see his perspective on the game. "Want some good advice?" he offered.
"Couldn't hurt," Blue noted.
Blue frowned at Magenta. "Your faith in my skills is most reassuring."
"Listen, if I can beat you, you haven't got a prayer against Scarlet."
"You only beat me because he helped you."
"Yes, but you were due on duty," Scarlet interjected, smiling wryly as he remembered the time he gave Magenta the winning move in a prolonged chess game with Blue. "Now quit gossiping and move. You're in check."
"O.K., O.K." He moved his king out of the way of Scarlet's knight.
The room's loudspeakers hummed, as if someone had activated them. All four men looked up at the ceiling.
Then came the voice that spelled the end of their respite:
"This is the voice of the Mysterons..."
Ochre threw his newspaper across the room. "Go away!" he shouted at the ceiling.
"...we know that you can hear us, Earthmen. We have observed your futile attempts to defend your world and we warn you that it is useless to oppose us. Our next act will be to cut off the head of your European defense force. We will be avenged!"
The voice silenced. For a moment, the room was still. Then, Lieutenant Green's voice relaying Colonel White's instructions sounded. "Attention, all Spectrum personnel. Cloudbase is now on yellow alert. Captains Scarlet, Blue, and Ochre, please report to the Control Room immediately."
"Well, old buddy," Blue said to Scarlet as he rose from his chair, "guess we'll have to finish this game later."
"No, we won't," Scarlet corrected. He slid his rook onto the back row, where Blue's king sat unguarded. "Checkmate."
Blue looked carefully. Indeed, all avenues of escape were cut off, for he was fenced in behind a row of three pawns, and the only other square took him back into the path of Scarlet's knight. "I hate playing chess with you."
"You always say that." Scarlet rose from his chair. "Same again later?"
Ochre suppressed a laugh as the three of them exited the lounge together.
The trio of captains walked into the Control Room and stopped before Colonel White's round console, snapping to attention. "Reporting for duty, sir," Blue announced for the trio.
"At ease, gentlemen," White replied, depressing three buttons on his console.
Three stools rose from the floor. The captains doffed their RadioCaps and took their seats before White.
"Well, you've all heard the latest Mysteron threat," White stated. "I take it you all know to what they are referring."
"Yes, sir," Scarlet replied. "The conference with the European commanders of the World military forces."
"Right, Captain. The World military forces have finally decided to comply with the World President's directive of a joint defense with Spectrum against the Mysterons. All that remains is to work out region-specific details. And this conference with the European commanders of the World military forces is the first step in that process."
"There's a lot that can go wrong, sir," Ochre pointed out. "Not only are there three powerful military leaders involved, but you as well. Has any thought been given to relocating the conference from Geneva?"
"Already in progress, Captain Ochre. Spectrum Headquarters Geneva has located a suitable secure facility deep in the Alps, a former ski lodge now used as a winter retreat by the World President. It is isolated and will be relatively easy to defend."
"So what is our assignment, Colonel?" Blue asked.
"Your assignment, gentlemen, is to ensure the safe transport of the three commanders to Cloudbase. From here, we will all proceed together to the conference site."
"Why not just hold the conference here, then?" Ochre queried.
"Too great a risk. If there is to be a Mysteron attack, I will not endanger any more Spectrum personnel than absolutely necessary. Spectrum ground forces will support us at the conference center. Now then...Captain Blue, you will leave for Moscow and escort Space General Rostokovich. Captain Ochre, you will leave for Berlin and escort Admiral Ruprecht. And Captain Scarlet, you will leave for Winchester and escort General Metcalfe."
Blue cast Scarlet a sidelong glance.
Scarlet did not acknowledge the look. "When do we leave, sir?" he asked instead.
"Immediately. Leftenant Green will notify the commanders of your impending arrival. Good luck, gentlemen. Dismissed."
A half-hour later, Captain Scarlet entered the command suite of the World Army Air Force base at Winchester, England. As he walked into the room, the lieutenant working as a receptionist immediately stood and came to attention.
The sight was odd indeed. Although Spectrum captains were equivalent in rank to World Army colonels, it was rare to find a serviceman or woman below the top ranks who actually knew that. Part of the reason was that Spectrum uniforms bore no rank insignia, making it difficult to tell at a glance how highly ranked a Spectrum agent was, though captains and higher-ranking lieutenants wore color-coded uniforms as opposed to the charcoal-gray uniforms of ground personnel. The other problem with getting proper military respect was that those who knew of Spectrum's command structure often did not understand it; Scarlet had heard more than one remark about how Colonel White was so high-ranking--equivalent to a five-star general or full admiral--yet still "just a colonel". Few realized that the structure was designed that way to avoid indicating the exact importance of high-level leaders, leaders whose identities were already protected by color-code names.
But then, General Charles Metcalfe, European Commander of the World Army Air Force, was no ordinary serviceman. A long-time supporter of Spectrum, Metcalfe had schooled his command well on dealing with Spectrum, including giving its officers proper respect and complete cooperation. The result was that, out of all the services, the World Army Air Force was the easiest to work with, something Scarlet always appreciated.
"As you were," Scarlet told the young lieutenant.
She relaxed her stance slightly. "May I help you, sir?" she asked.
He pulled out his I.D. "Captain Scarlet, Spectrum. Here to see General Metcalfe."
"Of course, sir. He's expecting you. One moment, please." She dialed a number on her intercom. "Sir, Captain Scarlet of Spectrum is here to see you." She paused. "Yes, sir." She hung up and gestured toward a doorway just beyond where they were standing. "This way, sir."
"Thank you." Scarlet followed her to the door, where the young lieutenant knocked.
"Come," a deep, authoritative British voice called from the other side.
The lieutenant opened the door. "General Metcalfe, may I present Captain Scarlet of Spectrum," she announced, standing at full attention.
Scarlet also stood rigidly.
Metcalfe nodded to the pair. "As you were," he said, then approached Captain Scarlet, right hand extended. "Captain Scarlet...good to see you again."
"And you, sir," Scarlet replied, accepting the handshake.
"Leftenant...two coffees, please." He turned to Scarlet. "Black, as I recall?"
"Yes, sir," Scarlet nodded.
"Two black coffees...yes, sir," the lieutenant said, hurrying away.
Scarlet watched her go. "New, isn't she?"
"Very observant," Metcalfe answered. "New indeed. But efficient. I could use a whole platoon like her. Too many young people today have forgotten the meaning of military discipline."
The lieutenant returned with a tray containing a thermal urn and two elegant china cups, each already filled with black coffee. "Two black coffees," she announced. "Sir, Mrs. Metcalfe is on line one. Shall I take a message?"
"No, I'll take it. But hold the rest of my calls."
She nodded and retreated from the room, closing the door behind her.
"This will only take a moment," Metcalfe noted to Scarlet, then picked up the phone. "I'm just about to go into a meeting," he said into the receiver. "No, that's all right. No, I believe we're leaving in a few minutes. My escort is already here. No, I don't know when I'll be back. Yes, I'll be careful. I always am. Yes, I'll be certain to tell him. I love you, too. Goodbye, Mary." He hung up.
"Trouble?" Scarlet asked.
Metcalfe shook his head. "She always worries when I go somewhere and won't tell her where. And the fact that this meeting is with Spectrum doesn't ease her worries." He paused. "Your mother sends her regards."
Scarlet smiled warmly at Metcalfe.
Metcalfe returned the smile, then embraced his son tightly. "God, it's good to see you, Paul," he whispered.
"Good to see you too, Dad," Scarlet replied softly.
They broke the embrace. "Please, sit." Metcalfe gestured over a chair, then took his own seat at his desk. "How are you?"
Scarlet sat down and picked up a cup of coffee. "Fine. Keeping busy."
"I should say so. Every time I open the papers, I see where Spectrum and Captain Scarlet are saving the day. Your mother has a whole scrapbook of cuttings that I make her keep under lock and key." He chuckled slightly. "Of course, I can't blame her. Often, it's all I can do to keep from shouting to the world how proud I am of you. You've made quite a name for yourself."
Now Scarlet was embarrassed. "Just doing my job," he said quietly.
"And doing it well. But then, you always did." He took a sip of his coffee. "I shouldn't say things like that when you're on duty. After all, as far as the world knows, Colonel Paul Metcalfe received an honorable discharge from the World Army Air Force and went into quiet retirement two years ago...and I should know. I signed the discharge papers."
"And a fine retirement it is," Scarlet smiled.
"It must be. I've never seen you look so happy. Or so healthy. The air on Cloudbase must be incredible."
"I swear, you look ten years younger than you did when you retired. I'd have thought all this nonsense with the Mysterons would have at least grayed your temples."
Scarlet looked down at his cup. His father had unknowingly touched on a delicate area. The reason Scarlet was always saving the day, the reason he looked so healthy, the reason his age seemed frozen in time, was one of Spectrum's most classified secrets...one so protected that only the World President could access it outside of Spectrum's closed ranks.
The secret was that Scarlet himself had once been a Mysteron agent.
Less than a year ago, Scarlet and his partner, Captain Brown, had been en route to protect the World President from a Mysteron threat when their car was attacked by the unseen energy beings and forced off the road and over an embankment, killing both men. But then the Mysterons replicated the pair, making perfect copies who were in every way--physically, mentally, everything--like the originals, except that they followed Mysteron orders blindly. Brown died in service to his Mysteron masters, exploding as a human time bomb, almost killing the World President. Scarlet survived by a fluke: Shot at the top of the London Car-Vu by Captain Blue, he fell 800 feet to certain death, only to wake up hours later on Cloudbase, in perfect health and free from the Mysteron influence. He was exactly as he had been before the incident... but with one exception:
He was now indestructible.
Scarlet's Mysteronized body had retained what had since been dubbed "retrometabolism"...the Mysteron property of spontaneous regeneration, enabling him to make a complete recovery from even fatal wounds within hours, as long as his body remained more or less intact. Retrometabolism had some interesting side-effects, some of which they were only now beginning to discover: Mysteronized tissue was impervious to x-rays but vulnerable to high-voltage electricity. Recovery from very minor injuries—small cuts, scrapes, bruises--was so quick as to be nearly instantaneous. And the physical deterioration associated with the second law of thermodynamics--the signs of physical aging--simply did not occur because Scarlet's DNA was capable of making perfect copies of itself, as evidenced by his complete recovery from any injury.
All of this, of course, was a secret not even his family could know. All he'd ever told his father about the incident was all he could remember: The car crash, then waking up hours later on Cloudbase after it was all over. The official story, a version of the truth, was that an impostor had kidnapped the World President and was shot dead off the Car-Vu. But no one--not even his family--could ever know more than that.
"I've embarrassed you," Metcalfe observed.
Scarlet looked up at his father. "No," he reassured. "I was just thinking that the only time I'll truly be happy is when this war with the Mysterons is over."
"Right. Which brings us to the topic at hand." He took another sip of his coffee. "I haven't told your mother about this threat. She knows I'm meeting with Spectrum, which is enough to worry her. No need to bother her with this."
"Good. She worries enough about both of us without the Mysterons adding to her concerns. How is Mum?"
"Blissfully happy since I returned to work last year. This way, she doesn't have to think of things for me to do all day that will keep me out of her hair."
"Yes. I believe the way she phrased it was that she married you for better or worse, but not for lunch."
"It did turn out for the best. I was getting very bored just puttering about the garden anyway. I'm from the old military school, Paul--as long as there is something to fight, I want to be fighting."
"I know what you mean. And the Mysterons are certainly something to fight."
"Right. Which again brings us back to the topic at hand...what is the Mysteron interest in all of this? I'm not naïve enough to believe it's simply an excuse to off three commanders. They could strike any time for that."
Scarlet fought the urge to show his relief at the change of focus away from personal matters. "Spectrum believe it's an opportunity to drive a wedge between the World military and Spectrum. To `cut off the head of the European defense force'--that is, to kill three commanders while they are under Spectrum protection--would severely damage Spectrum's reputation and give hard-liners an excuse to further distance themselves."
"Clever. Of course, they may not have to work too hard at driving a wedge."
Scarlet nodded. "Rostokovich at it again?"
"Isn't he always? Ever since Space General Vasily passed away last year, Rosty's been acting like his service is the only game in town. Why Vasily couldn't have had the good sense to make a moderate his second-in-command is beyond me."
"Compared to Rosty, anyone would be a moderate."
"True enough. I don't envy Colonel White. He's got to convince Rosty that the days are long gone where the services could afford to work independently. We need each other. And we need Spectrum as our first-strike force."
"What about Admiral Ruprecht?"
"What about Admiral Ruprecht?" Metcalfe threw up his hands. "Cooperating one day, resisting the next. I almost had him convinced it was in his best interests not to oppose Spectrum when Rosty decided to bend his ear. Now I can't get a firm commitment on anything from him. I hope your colonel can do more."
"We'll soon know. Ready to go?"
Metcalfe finished his coffee. "Ready."
Both men stood. Metcalfe looked at his son for a long moment.
"I'm placing my life in your hands, Paul."
"Your safety is my responsibility," Scarlet responded. "And you always taught me to take my responsibilities very seriously." He hesitated a moment, then reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a small metal disc, about a half-inch thick and the size of a small keyfob. "Take this."
Metcalfe did so. "What is this?"
"A Spectrum Personal Tracker." Scarlet indicated the raised red spot on the disc's surface. "We use it in emergencies. It emits a homing signal specially tuned for each officer. If anything happens to one of us and we can't use our radios, we activate the tracker and a Spectrum relay station picks up the signal. That way, a rescue party can find us. If anything happens to you or to me, push that button."
"What about you?"
Scarlet looked his father in the eye. "You put your life in my hands...which means I must be ready to give my life to save yours. And I am ready. As I said...you taught me to take my responsibilities very seriously."
Metcalfe pocketed the device. His eyes shone with pride. "Let's hope neither of us needs it. Shall we go?"
Scarlet gestured toward the door. "After you, General Metcalfe."
Metcalfe sighed. It was time once again to assume the roles expected of each of them. "Thank you, Captain Scarlet."
With that, they left.
"Captain Scarlet and General Metcalfe have arrived," Lieutenant Green announced to Colonel White as the door chime to the Control Room rang.
"Thank you, Leftenant," Colonel White answered. "Send them in."
Green depressed a button on his console, and the Control Room door slid open.
Scarlet and Metcalfe rode the moving walkway to White's console as the commander stood.
"General Metcalfe," White greeted. "Welcome to Cloudbase."
"Thank you, Colonel," Metcalfe nodded respectfully, mindful that technically White outranked him, though such minor differences in rank were usually ignored at the upper levels. "Good to see you again. It's been a while."
"Yes...since the commissioning ceremonies, I believe."
"Has it really been that long? That was almost two years ago."
"Yes, though it hardly seems that long ago. I trust you had a good flight?"
"Yes, I did. I've been looking forward to visiting Cloudbase. It appears as if the money the services invested was put to good use."
"We believe so. Would you like a tour?"
"I would indeed."
White turned to his aide. "Leftenant Green, notify me when the other two commanders arrive and send them to the conference room."
"S.I.G.," Green replied.
"This way, General," White said, gesturing toward the doors.
Metcalfe and White walked out the door and onto the elevators. Scarlet followed respectfully behind.
A short elevator ride later, the trio arrived at the Promenade Deck. The three men stopped in front of the long bank of windows. "Magnificent view," Metcalfe observed, then turned toward Scarlet. "No wonder you like it here."
"It's very practical, too," White noted. "At this height, we are immune to most weather conditions. Our aircraft can operate 24 hours a day and reach any point in the world in a matter of a few hours. And the base can be moved to a different location within a few hours as well to improve our security and to ease the stress on our aircraft on long flights."
"Like a flying aircraft carrier. Amazing. A pilot's dream." He turned to Colonel White. "I see you've been taking good care of my son."
"And he of us," White responded. "One of the finest officers I've ever commanded... and one of the bravest."
"Not too impetuous for your taste?"
White turned an amused glance to Scarlet. "Only at times."
It was all Scarlet could do to keep from rolling his eyes. He felt like a child being patronized by his elders.
"I suppose I should apologize," Metcalfe continued. "It seems he has inherited his father's stubborn tenacity."
"I believe, though, at the higher ranks the term is ‘using your initiative'."
"Is that what people mean when they say that about me?"
White smiled. "I suppose it means the same as it does when they say it about me."
Now both men were laughing slightly. Even Scarlet found himself amused, though he realized much of the other men's amusement was at his expense. But it was also oddly comforting to realize that all three of them were alike in many ways.
"You certainly have initiative, coming out of retirement to head up the WAAF's European Command," White noted.
"Yes, well, retirement was definitely not my cup of tea," Metcalfe replied with a smile. "I found I missed the daily challenges of military command...and this business with the Mysterons was the perfect excuse to return to what I do best." He turned a proud gaze toward Scarlet. "I suppose in that sense I take after my son, the ‘retired' Colonel Paul Metcalfe, who also couldn't stay retired for very long."
"As you said, the term is ‘using your initiative'," Scarlet remarked in a deadpan tone.
"Well, you'll need all the initiative you can get, Colonel," Metcalfe observed. "I'll be the easiest person you'll deal with through this whole exercise. Space General Rostokovich, on the other hand..."
"Yes," White agreed. "I've dealt with Space Generals before. Why they all can't be like Peterson and support our efforts is beyond me."
"Territory infringement. You're battling an outer space menace. They feel that's their job. The fact that you seem to be doing an effective job under the circumstances isn't the issue."
"What's Admiral Ruprecht's problem, then?" Scarlet asked.
"His problem is that he doesn't understand Spectrum or this battle against the Mysterons. While he's willing to give lip service to Spectrum, he truly doesn't understand what it was designed to do. That's why he won't commit one way or the other. If you can get agreement from those two, Colonel, you'll have my utmost admiration."
A Spectrum officer's transport landed on the deck, and another circled, waiting to land.
"Looks as if Captain Blue and Captain Ochre are back," Scarlet noted.
Moments later, Green confirmed Scarlet's observation. "Colonel White, Captain Blue and Space General Rostokovich have arrived," the Caribbean-accented voice announced over the deck's speakers. "Captain Ochre and Admiral Ruprecht are awaiting landing clearance."
"Well, then," White stated to the two men beside him, "our task begins. The rest of your tour will have to wait, General Metcalfe."
"There'll be plenty of time later," Metcalfe replied. "Shall we?"
"Right." White led the way back to the elevator.
The door to the Conference Room slid open, and Captains Blue and Ochre came to attention as their superior and their other guest entered, with Scarlet close behind.
"As you were," White stated. "If you will all take a seat, we'll meet briefly before leaving for the conference center."
Space General Ivan Rostokovich looked over at General Metcalfe as he took a seat. "I should have known the Spectrum puppet would be with his masters when we arrived," he said disdainfully.
"Hello, Rosty," Metcalfe replied evenly. "Lose any more Frost Line bases lately?"
Blue had to look away to keep from laughing. He'd been working the communications post the time the Mysterons had attacked the Frost Line bases--jointly manned by the World Army and World Space Patrol--and knew that it was only Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green's quick action that saved the world from a larger-scale war with the Mysterons by thwarting their agent before he attacked the Frost Line Headquarters.
"Gentlemen," Admiral Gunther Ruprecht interjected, "this is neither the time or place for this. I, for one, am interested in what Colonel White has to offer us."
"I am interested in nothing that is said here," Rostokovich stated. "I thought this conference was to be held at a neutral site."
"And it will be," Colonel White said calmly. "But the latest Mysteron threat has necessitated moving the conference to a different location. Rather than chance a security leak, I had the three of you flown here so that we could all go together. An Angel escort will accompany us to the Alpine Conference Center near Gstaad, Switzerland. Spectrum ground forces will be guarding the facility, and the Spectrum Angel Flight will patrol it regularly as long as our conference is in session."
"I would feel safer with support from my own troops," Rostokovich said.
"Absolutely not. No one but Spectrum is to know of our whereabouts. Security for this conference must be top priority."
"Are you saying my men cannot be trusted?"
"Of course not..."
"Rosty," Metcalfe interjected, "even you know that the fewer people there are who know a secret, the more secure the secret is."
Rostokovich stared daggers at his WAAF counterpart. "There are too many secrets about Spectrum," he muttered.
Blue and Scarlet exchanged glances.
"This argument gets us nowhere," Ruprecht snapped. "I too would feel safer surrounded by my own guards, but we all agreed to this meeting under the terms the World President spelled out." He turned to White. "All of us. I suppose you intend to leave behind your staff just as we left behind ours."
White sighed. He knew this was going to come up. "I understand your concern, Admiral Ruprecht, but the World President has agreed that it would be best to have additional guards on the three of you since you were the direct targets of the Mysterons' latest threat. And Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue, and Captain Ochre are three of our finest."
"You see?" Rostokovich said. "We cannot even trust them to live up to their end of a meeting agenda!"
"And I suppose your officers have any more experience fighting the Mysterons, Rosty?" Metcalfe retorted.
"Gentlemen!" White interrupted. "As Admiral Ruprecht said, this argument is pointless. The fact remains that the Mysterons have threatened your lives and the World President has authorized Spectrum to initiate tighter security. And that is the end of the discussion. Now, if you are ready to proceed, we should be getting along." He activated the intercom button on his chair. "Leftenant Green, have Captain Grey report to the Control Room. He will take charge of Cloudbase in my absence. Launch the Angels to escort the Spectrum Passenger Jet."
"S.I.G.," Green replied.
White turned to Scarlet. "Captain Scarlet, prepare the Spectrum Passenger Jet for takeoff."
"S.I.G.," Scarlet replied as he rose from his seat, relieved that he did not have to sit in the back with the bickering commanders. Diplomacy was never one of his strong suits.
White stood. "This way, gentlemen," he said, gesturing toward the door.
The three commanders followed White out the door of the Conference Room.
Blue and Ochre looked at each other. "Scarlet has all the luck," Ochre groused.
"Tell me about it," Blue replied. "So which of us gets to join him up front?"
Ochre pulled a coin out of his pocket. "Flip you for it."
Blue rolled his eyes. "Come on," he said, leaving the room.
Scarlet was powering up the controls of the SPJ when Blue entered the cockpit and took the co-pilot's seat. "Everyone's on board," Blue reported.
"Good," Scarlet replied. "How did you and Captain Ochre settle who was to be my co-pilot?"
"I cheated. I told Ochre your father's an old airplane buff. He conceded right away."
Scarlet smiled. Old aircraft was Captain Ochre's weakness; he was also an aviation buff who loved building models. "Better he than I. Raising landing pad." He depressed a button on his console.
The landing pad raised on hydraulic jacks to the bottom of a glass shaft that extended some ten feet below the ceiling of the hangar bay and completely surrounded the SPJ and the landing pad, creating a mini-airlock.
"Equalizing pressure." He pressed another button.
The hiss of air indicated the draining of pressurized air from the chamber. A light on the console blinked green.
"Opening outer doors." He pressed another button.
The doors above them opened to reveal a clear blue sky. The floor beneath them rose through the glass tube until it locked seamlessly in place with the outer level.
Scarlet lowered his RadioCap microphone. "Scarlet to Control--request launch clearance."
"Spectrum is green," Lieutenant Green's voice replied. "Have a good flight, Captain Scarlet."
Scarlet fired the jet's engines, then taxied the short length of the flight deck and took off.
Once airborne, the SPJ rendezvoused with the Angel Flight and fell into the middle of their formation, heading toward Switzerland.
"What's our flight time?" Scarlet asked.
Blue looked at his computer readings. "ETA seventy-five minutes," he replied. "We'll be in Gstaad for lunch."
"Good. Let's hope there aren't any fatalities before then."
Blue looked at Scarlet oddly. "You sensing something?"
"No, no. I was referring to the quarreling commanders."
Blue chuckled slightly. "Tell me about it. I don't know how I'm going to survive the weekend."
Scarlet smiled wryly. "Why, Captain Blue, I always thought you had the patience of five saints."
"I do, and I'm praying to all of them for deliverance. How'd you get so lucky and end up with General Metcalfe?"
"Because Colonel White wisely put his most diplomatic officer with the commander requiring the most diplomacy, and the most impetuous one with the only commander who could tame him."
Now it was Blue's turn to smile wryly. "Your father's looking well."
"He looks tired," Scarlet replied. "I worry about him. He pushes himself so hard."
"So that's where you get it from."
Scarlet shook his head and laughed slightly.
"You are a lot like him," Blue noted.
"People have always said that. The older I get, the more I notice it." He frowned as he finished speaking.
Blue noticed the change in Scarlet's expression. "I say something wrong?"
"My father commented on how young I'm looking."
Blue nodded. There was no need for either man to elaborate. "It's not going to get any easier to deal with."
Blue looked at Scarlet for a long moment. They'd been friends since the beginnings of Spectrum, and the friendship had only gotten stronger since the incident with the Mysterons. Blue knew that Scarlet felt he owed his life to him, and Scarlet had returned the favor countless times. They'd confided their hopes, dreams, and fears to each other. But it was moments like this when Blue knew there was nothing he could do to help Scarlet deal with the turmoil inside him. He had nothing to compare it to, no way of ever truly understanding what it was like to have your life turned completely around like Scarlet's had been. "I envy you," he finally said.
Scarlet looked over at him. "Sorry?"
"I envy you...because you handle this so much better than I could ever hope to."
"I mean it, Paul. Maybe it's that ‘stiff-upper-lip' you Brits seem to always have, or maybe it's your military upbringing. But the way you've dealt with everything that's happened to you... I know I couldn't do it. I couldn't be you."
"No, you'd be Adam. And you'd deal with it as Adam, not as Paul. There's nothing special about the way I deal with life, Adam. Sometimes I don't deal with it well. But I have to deal with it, because the only alternatives are madness and death, neither of which I find terribly attractive."
"I suppose you're right."
A moment of silence passed before Scarlet looked at his friend. "Thanks."
Blue smiled. "What are friends for?"
Both men then returned to their flying duties.
Spectrum ground forces met the SPJ at Gstaad airport, where the seniors and their guests exchanged their jet for a Spectrum Maximum Security Vehicle and a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle. The MSV and SPV proceeded to the Alpine Conference Center, accompanied by ground troops in Spectrum Patrol Cars.
Rostokovich climbed out of the MSV in front of the conference center. "Like riding in a sardine can," he complained.
"Why, Rosty," Metcalfe commented as he followed him out, "a Space General doesn't like enclosed vehicles? How did you ever get through astronaut training?"
"Metcalfe," Ruprecht interjected as he joined the pair, "I commanded submarines for six years. That doesn't stop me from hating vehicles like them."
Ochre got out of the MSV's driver's seat and looked at Scarlet and Blue, who had followed in the SPV, and White, who was the last out of the MSV. "This is going to be a fun weekend," he groused.
"We are not here on holiday," White reminded him. "I am here to conduct negotiations. And you three are here to protect our guests."
"Yes, sir," Ochre replied.
The four Spectrum senior officers and the three European military commanders walked toward the conference center.
No one seemed to notice the mysterious black-clad man in the distance, watching intently with binoculars.
The seven men entered the lobby, where a Spectrum lieutenant in a color-coded uniform stood at attention before them, saluting White.
White returned the salute. "As you were," he said. "What's the situation, Leftenant Peach?"
"Only essential staff has been retained for this weekend, Colonel White," the lieutenant reported, nodding at the four people standing to the rear of the lobby. "The manager, Mr. Giuseppi Quadrini, his wife Laura, their son Gianni, and their daughter Debbi. They've all been checked with a Mysteron detector, and they're clean."
"At all entrance ports and throughout the center. Say the word and a platoon will be dispatched here within minutes."
"Thank you, Leftenant. That will be all."
The lieutenant nodded and left quickly.
White approached Giuseppi Quadrini. "Mr. Quadrini?"
"Yes...Colonello White, is it?" Quadrini replied in a heavily Italian-accented voice.
"Yes." He nodded to the men behind him. "Spectrum Captains Scarlet, Blue, and Ochre; General Charles Metcalfe, Admiral Gunther Ruprecht, and Space General Ivan Rostokovich."
"Pleased to meet all of you." He nodded to his family. "We are at your service. When would you like lunch?"
"In an hour." White turned to his men. "Captains, escort your charges to their rooms. We will eat, then reconvene after that in the main conference room."
"S.I.G.," all three men replied.
Giuseppi turned to his son and rattled something in rapid-fire Italian, then rattled a different Italian phrase to his daughter. Both nodded, then jumped to action; Gianni hurried to retrieve the luggage deposited at the door by Spectrum ground troops, while Debbi handed seven keys to the officers, who nodded their thanks and walked away.
It had been a long afternoon already.
That was all Laura Quadrini could think of as she stood on tiptoe on her stepstool and put away the dishes from lunch. The three military commanders had argued non-stop through the meal, each taking every opportunity to snipe at the other. The elder Spectrum officer in white had the patience of a saint in her opinion not clocking each of them in the side of the head. And the other three Spectrum officers looked as if they'd just received engraved invitations to a firing squad. She began to wish they'd never agreed to sell this resort to the World Government. She hated politics.
Without looking back, she reached down for the next pot on the counter.
Her fingers brushed against it for a moment, then it seemed to move away.
She swore under her breath in Italian, then looked down for the pot.
Holding the copper pot she had been reaching for was Spectrum senior-turned-Mysteron agent Captain Black.
She gasped and started to call for help.
The words never left her mouth as Black clubbed her in the side of the head with the pot, knocking her off the stepstool.
Laura hit her head against the side of the stove as she fell, trembled for a moment on the floor, then grew very still.
Two greenish circles of light swept over her body, then traced another area nearby.
Seconds later, a perfect replica of Laura Quadrini stood before Captain Black.
"Get rid of the body," Black ordered in the ominous voice of the Mysterons. "We have much to do. And we will need help."
She nodded. "Mysteron instructions will be carried out," she replied.
Gianni Quadrini placed a new pitcher of ice water and four fresh glasses on the table as the three commanders and Colonel White continued their negotiations. He also left a fresh pitcher and three glasses for the three Spectrum seniors, who were seated by the door.
Ochre nodded his thanks, then took the pitcher and a glass and questioned the other two men with his eyes.
Blue and Scarlet both nodded in reply.
Ochre passed a pair of filled glasses.
Blue gulped his eagerly, wiping his brow after the drink.
"You look terrible," Scarlet noted. "Are you all right?"
"The cioppino," Blue remarked.
Scarlet nodded his understanding.
"Cho-what?" Ochre questioned.
"The Italian fish stew we had at lunch," Blue explained. "It must have had some kind of shellfish in it—and I'm allergic to shellfish."
"The blue-blood from Boston--home of the world's best clam chowder--can't eat shellfish?" Ochre quipped with a wry smile.
"I can eat a little," Blue retorted. "I love shellfish. But more than about half a cup of it and I feel like death warmed over."
"Just don't get sick on my uniform," Scarlet ordered. "This is my last one. I haven't gotten my uniform allowance this month."
Blue handed his glass back to Ochre for a refill. "Lighten up, Captain Scarlet. Your uniform allowance per month is more than any of ours for the whole year."
Ochre chuckled as he passed the filled glass back to Blue. "I think the Colonel's patience is wearing thin."
"What gave you that idea?" Blue muttered sarcastically as the volume of the voices at the table increased.
"Possibly the deepening frown lines on his face," Scarlet replied in a deadpan tone.
"I think we need a break," Ochre sighed.
"The problem is, we don't get a break," Blue reminded him. "We're stuck with them."
"It could be worse," Scarlet noted.
"Yeah," Ochre sighed. "Captain Black could walk in."
Both Scarlet and Blue shot him a frown. "Don't even joke about that," Scarlet warned.
Ochre looked interested at Scarlet's sharp retort. "You know something we don't?"
"I'm not sure. There's just something here that doesn't feel right. But I can't pinpoint it."
"Probably the idea that your dad is here is putting pressure on you," Blue pointed out.
"Maybe you're right. But I'll be very glad when this is over."
The other two nodded their agreement.
"Mama?" Gianni called as he entered the kitchen. "I need some fresh glasses--are the dishes done yet?"
"Almost," she replied. "Come help me put away the silverware."
Gianni set the dishpan with the empty pitchers and glasses down on the countertop and headed for his mother. "What do you want me to put away?"
"The knives." With that, she jabbed a long carving knife into her son's abdomen.
He looked incredulous for a moment, then dropped to the floor, dead.
Two circles of light passed over him.
Moments later, there were two Mysteron agents in the midst of the conference.
The pop tune Debbi Quadrini was humming echoed through the basement laundry room as she pulled a load of wet linens out of the industrial-sized washing machine and began stuffing it into the dryer.
Heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs behind her startled her. She turned around.
Gianni stood at the foot of the stairs, looking at her intently.
"Don't just stand there," she sighed. "Give me a hand with this laundry."
He walked over to her and scooped up a handful of wet linens out of the washer.
She reached for them.
He shoved them hard into her chest, throwing her partially into the dryer drum.
"Hey!" she screamed.
He shoved her the rest of the way into the drum and slammed the door, then turned it on full.
Her screams were just barely muffled by the sound of the dryer running.
Moments later, the screams silenced.
Two circles of greenish light shone through the plexiglass dryer door.
A knock on the door of the conference room interrupted the loud argument within. "See who it is," White commanded to the three Spectrum officers next to the door.
Ochre stood up and opened the door. "Yes?" he asked Giuseppi Quadrini, who was standing in the doorway with a Spectrum sergeant behind him.
"Sorry to interrupt," Giuseppi replied. "Dinner will be served in a half-hour."
"I'll tell them," Ochre said. "Thanks."
Giuseppi nodded, then left.
The sergeant closed the door, and Ochre turned toward the table. "Excuse me, sir, but Mr. Quadrini wanted to remind you that dinner will be served in a half-hour."
"Thank you, Captain Ochre," White said.
"When I meet with my staff," Rostokovich grumbled, "we have dinner brought in."
"Fine," Metcalfe noted. "I'll be certain to call a delivery service on my way to the dining room."
Rostokovich started to retort, only to be cut off by a gesture from Ruprecht. "Rostokovich," Ruprecht snapped, "even you have to admit we need a respite from these talks. Our discussions are
The volume of argument rose at the table once more.
Blue turned to Scarlet. "Even if I wasn't sick, all this bickering would spoil my appetite," he complained.
"They're even starting to turn my stomach," Scarlet agreed.
"Oh, God," Ochre whispered, rolling his eyes. "We're all in trouble."
Giuseppi Quadrini walked into the kitchen. "They will be down to dinner soon," he told his wife. "Is everything ready?"
She turned to him, flour-coated rolling pin in hand. "Almost," she replied.
"Well, hurry up. Put that rolling pin to work, woman." He turned toward the wine cellar.
The last thing he heard was the crack of the wooden rolling pin on the back of his head as he toppled down the cellar steps.
"We have been over this before, Rosty," Metcalfe sighed. "The WAAF has different needs from your service. To restrict the situations where we share resources with Spectrum inhibits our ability to work with them effectively."
"You would want unconditional Spectrum access to your facilities," Rostokovich replied. "They're primarily an air support service."
"That's your perception. Certainly their record says otherwise."
"Yes," Ruprecht snapped. "Their bombing of Atlantica Base certainly speaks volumes about them."
Blue and Ochre both cringed. They were the ones who had bombed Atlantica's outer perimeter while under the influence of a "non-alcoholic" champagne that had been tampered with by the Mysterons and tainted with a nerve gas that caused symptoms of intoxication. Black had slipped a phony map into their navigation pack that led them over the Atlantica Defense Post instead of over the drifting wreckage they were supposed to bomb.
"That was an accident," White noted, somewhat impatiently. "We have already offered our full apologies for that incident and given much to the reconstruction of Atlantica. Our men were off-course as a result of a Mysteron attack that disoriented them."
"And I suppose that is also your excuse for your Captain Scarlet's abduction and attempted assassination of the World President last year?" Ruprecht retorted.
Scarlet tensed noticeably. He had not expected this to come up.
Metcalfe looked incensed. "That was an impostor," he snapped.
"Oh, really?" Rostokovich said sharply. "Is that what your Spectrum masters have told you, puppet? How do you know? Have you ever seen any evidence?"
"Spectrum has no reason to lie."
"Don't they? Ask your friend Colonel White about his man Captain Black, now the most wanted man in the world, a known Mysteron terrorist. I find it very suspicious that an entire incident involving two top Spectrum agents and the World President was suddenly closed with a tersely-worded report that the two men involved in two nearly-successful attacks on the World President were ’impostors' and was never spoken of again."
"The report on that incident is the most highly classified secret in the world," White stated. "It contains detailed knowledge of the Mysterons and their methods of attack and operation... knowledge we cannot allow to be freely bandied about. The pertinent facts of the matter have been fully disclosed to all concerned parties."
"So you say," Ruprecht said. "But that report is just one of many things protected by the ‘Rainbow Clearance' that we as World military leaders have no access to. We have no way of knowing what else Spectrum may be concealing about the Mysterons."
"Or its membership," Rostokovich added.
Blue looked at Scarlet. Despite the younger man's reputation for impetuousness, Scarlet had incredible discipline that his years of military training and his strict upbringing had built into his personality. But Blue could see that it was taking every bit of Scarlet's discipline to stay controlled. His knuckles were white from gripping the chair's armrests in an effort to keep his anger in check.
Scarlet's anger was contageous. One look at Ochre told Blue some of the same tension was flowing through the other man, as Ochre's jaw was clenched tightly. And even Blue found himself wishing Rostokovich would shut up and drop the subject.
"Gentlemen, I have bent as far as I can bend," White stated firmly. "What more is it that you want from us?"
"Full and unrestricted access to Rainbow Clearance material," Rostokovich responded.
That was it. Scarlet could take no more. "Impossible!" he snapped angrily.
White shot Scarlet a silencing glare.
Metcalfe also turned a disapproving glance toward his son, then turned back to the table. "You don't know what you're asking," he told Rostokovich.
"I do indeed," Rostokovich replied. "I want full disclosure from Spectrum before I will agree to discuss anything else."
"General Rostokovich," White said, trying to keep his voice even, "there is much that is protected by the Rainbow Clearance...information that is vital to the way Spectrum operates, vital to the safety of our agents. What you are asking would damage our ability to operate beyond repair."
"But is it right for you to keep such information from us?" Ruprecht interjected. "If we are to work with you, we need full unrestricted access to your intelligence--just as you need full unrestricted access to ours. You must understand our position."
"But they do not," Rostokovich snidely remarked. "They're too busy trying to cover their trails for their past mistakes—the death of the Director-General of the United Asian Republic, the destruction of the desalinization plant at Najama... did I miss any of the higher-profile ones, Colonel White?"
"The fact that those are the only two you can name should speak volumes," Metcalfe countered. "If you weren't so busy trying to cover your own backsides because you can't even hope to fight the Mysterons on your own..."
"And I suppose the WAAF has been a shining example of efficiency during all this?" Rostokovich returned.
"Enough!" White finally snapped. "This is getting us nowhere. The fact is that I could not give you the access you seek even if I wanted to. Only the World President can grant access to Rainbow Clearance material. Now...I suggest we adjourn for dinner and reconvene after I've had a chance to consult with the World President." He looked toward the door. "Captain Ochre, ask the sergeant outside the door to escort the Generals to dinner."
"S.I.G.," Ochre said, standing and opening the door.
"So, we are no longer good enough to be protected by Spectrum's finest?" Ruprecht remarked.
"I need to consult with my officers," White returned. "My ground forces will accompany you to the banquet hall."
Three Spectrum sergeants entered the room, then stood at attention before White.
Rostokovich and Ruprecht reluctantly left with their escorts, grumbling to each other as they walked out of the room.
Metcalfe stayed behind for a moment. "A word with you, Colonel?" he said.
White nodded to the Spectrum sergeant, who closed the door to the room for a moment.
Metcalfe looked White in the eye. "I had no idea they would bring any of this up," he told his Spectrum counterpart.
"It certainly was an unexpected snag," White admitted, trying to calm down.
Metcalfe looked at the three Spectrum captains standing behind him, then turned back to White. "Colonel, I understand why the Rainbow Clearance material must remain protected. As a family member of a Spectrum officer, I was briefed on some of what I know is protected under that umbrella. I know some of the most significant things that clearance protects are the identities of your officers and the locations of your many bases. So I understand in a way that neither of the others can. But I have to warn you that there is nothing more I can do to help you. When Rosty gets like this, there's no negotiating with him. And the fact that Ruprecht appears to be on his side makes this situation all the more difficult. I'll see if I can make Ruprecht see reason. But I must warn you that there is only so much I can do without compromising your security."
White nodded. "Thank you for your candor, General Metcalfe."
Metcalfe sighed. "I'd better go join the others before my position is even further eroded by spending too much time with my `puppetmasters'." He left with his escort, closing the door behind him.
White sighed as Metcalfe left. "A wise man," he noted. "Unfortunately, he's right. There is only so much he can do."
Scarlet looked askance. "Surely you're not even going to consider giving them what they want?" he said, his voice incredulous.
"It's not my decision, Scarlet. I must consult with the World President."
"But, sir...the security of that information must remain intact! If my father were ever to find out the truth about what happened with the Mysterons..."
"Personal considerations have no place here," White cut him off.
For a moment, Scarlet was silent. "It's not your life that's at stake," he replied frostily.
"And not just yours," Ochre pointed out to his red-vested counterpart. "There are lots of criminals who'd love to know World Police Commander Richard Frazer is alive and well and living in Spectrum as Captain Ochre... and lots of mobsters who'd love to get their hands on turncoat Patrick Donaghue once they find out he's wearing a magenta Spectrum uniform."
"Not to mention the potential harm that could come to the family members of Spectrum agents," Blue added. "We've been fortunate so far... the Mysterons haven't tapped Captain Black's knowledge base to wreak havoc on Spectrum personnel and their families. But if this information suddenly became widespread..."
"You all make valid points," White interrupted. "And I agree with all of them. But again, it isn't my decision. I must consult with the World President before I can go any further in these talks. Now, I suggest we all get some dinner and reconvene possibly in the morning. I'll need time to discuss this with the World President. He, too, has a significant decision to make." With that, White left the room.
For a moment, the other three Spectrum officers stood quietly, the weight of White's words pressing down on all of them.
Finally, Scarlet spoke. "I'm sorry," he said. "I was thinking only of myself... I should have realized we all have a stake in this."
"Forget it," Ochre stated. "Sometimes I forget that you have more at stake than the rest of us."
Blue patted Scarlet on the back. "Don't worry about it," he told his best friend. "We're all in this together. We have to back each other up."
"Let's go get some dinner," Ochre suggested.
Blue groaned. "Let's hope they're serving chicken soup."
"If they're not, I want you on the opposite end of the table from me," Scarlet replied. "I can't afford to have you getting sick on my only uniform."
"You can borrow one of mine," Ochre noted. "Think he'd look good in gold, Blue?"
"Nah," Blue remarked. "Skin's too pale. Azure blue'd look better."
Scarlet's blue eyes turned icy. "Very funny."
All three chuckled as they left the room.
The first course had already been served by the time Scarlet, Blue, and Ochre reached the dining room. The tension in the air was thick enough to cut with even the dullest butter knife. White and Metcalfe were on one side of the table, Rostokovich and Ruprecht on the other, and no one was saying a word.
Scarlet quietly took a seat between White and Metcalfe, while Blue and Ochre sat on the other side of the table next to their charges. Blue looked at the bowl of soup before him. "Minestrone," he complained. "Wonderful. Just what my stomach needs."
"Think of it as vegetable soup," Metcalfe responded. "It's good for you."
"You sound like my mother," Blue sighed, taking a sip of the soup.
"I've got a son your age. I scold him the same way when he's home."
Scarlet quickly looked down at his bowl of soup and took a bite to keep from rolling his eyes. There were times he wondered if he'd still be "General Metcalfe's son" when he was 100.
Ochre dug into the soup eagerly. "Mm-m-m," he remarked. "Delicious."
"Hm-m-m," Rostokovich grumbled, taking another bite. "Somewhat bitter."
"Spices are stale," Ruprecht remarked.
White shook his head in disgust, then yawned.
Metcalfe did the same, then rubbed his eyes.
Scarlet looked at his father. "Are you all right, General Metcalfe?" he asked.
"I feel sleepy," he noted, his words sounding slurred.
The clatter of silverware caught Scarlet's attention. He looked across the table.
Ruprecht had fallen out of his chair and was now lying sprawled out on the floor, and Ochre and Rostokovich were looking dazed.
White fell forward next to Scarlet, barely missing falling into his soup.
Rostokovich wasn't so lucky as he pitched face-first into his bowl.
"The soup--it's been drugged!" Scarlet realized, quickly standing to lift the Russian general out of the bowl and keep him from drowning. He heaved Rostokovich's head up and pushed him sideways.
Rostokovich fell into Blue, and both men fell to the floor unconscious.
Ochre soon followed suit.
Metcalfe slumped in his seat, and the chair tipped sideways and dumped him to the floor as well.
It was then that the wave of dizziness and nausea hit Scarlet. He looked toward the kitchen.
All four Quadrinis were now standing in the dining room, looking intently at the only officer in the room who was still conscious.
"Mysterons...," Scarlet whispered before the combined effects of the sedative and the pain from his Mysteron-detecting prescience overcame him.
The last thing he remembered was the sight of the white tablecloth coming toward him.
It was like someone had thrown a switch.
That was the impression Captain Scarlet got when he awoke as suddenly as he had fallen asleep less than ten minutes after the drugged food had taken effect. It was much like the effect he used to have after drinking alcohol--a period of intoxication that made him disoriented and sleepy that would suddenly wear off and leave him completely sober and wide awake. Of course, those days were long past him now; retrometabolism had made him practically immune to such intoxicating substances. He stood up slowly, stretching the kinks out of his back, then looked around.
There were times Scarlet hated what the Mysterons had done to him...the way they had taken any chance for a "normal" life away from him, the way they had turned him into some kind of freak of nature with their retrometabolic recreation of him. This was not one of those times. Scarlet said a quick prayer of thanks for his body's ability to neutralize invading organisms and foreign substances within minutes, then made a quick assessment of the situation.
Except for White, Blue, Ochre, and himself, the room was empty. The Quadrinis were gone--apparently completely, as his internal Mysteron sensors were not detecting anything--and so were the three commanders. And the conference center was unnervingly quiet.
Quickly, Scarlet ran for the door and looked in the hallway. Two Spectrum sergeants lay dead in the hall, shot in cold blood.
Scarlet returned to the dining room and took the pulses of the other three men. They were all thankfully still alive, though their pulses were sluggish. All three needed medical treatment, and someone had to find the Mysterons and their hostages. He needed help.
He picked his RadioCap up off the table and donned it, then lowered its microphone. "Scarlet to Cloudbase," he said. "Priority One transmission. Codeword: Shadow."
"This is Lieutenant Green," the Caribbean-accented voice replied. "Go ahead, Captain Scarlet."
"I have a medical and operational emergency at Alpine Conference Center. Colonel White, Captain Blue, and Captain Ochre have been poisoned, probably by a powerful sedative slipped into their soup, and are unconscious. General Metcalfe, Space General Rostokovich, and Admiral Ruprecht are missing and most likely have been abducted by the Mysterons. Suspected Mysteron agents are the Quadrini family--Giuseppi, Laura, Gianni, and Debbi--who are the staff here. At least two ground forces sergeants are down and I would suspect at least one of our vehicles is missing. Request immediate Angel Flight support and a medical team."
"This is Captain Grey," the acting commander's voice replied over Scarlet's speakers. "Angel One is already patrolling the area; we'll launch the others immediately and send a medical helicopter. Which vehicle is missing?"
Scarlet headed for the windows and looked out. He could see the SPV and patrol cars--and two more dead troops. "MSV 021," he reported. "There are two more officers down near where it was parked. They can't have gotten far--I'm going after them in the SPV."
"S.I.G. Cloudbase out."
A groan from across the room attracted his attention. He looked behind him.
Captain Blue was trying to sit up, looking dazed and disoriented.
"Adam!" Scarlet called, hurrying over to him.
Blue held his head as Scarlet knelt beside him. "Wh-what happened?" Blue asked unsteadily.
"The soup was drugged," Scarlet replied. "How did you come out of it so fast?"
"Must not have eaten enough of it," Blue replied. "I remember Rostokovich falling over on me..." He looked around. "The generals..."
"The Quadrinis are in the hands of the Mysterons--and they've taken them. Stay here--I'm going after them."
"I'm coming with you."
"You're in no condition to go anywhere."
"You're going to need help--even you can't fight four Mysterons alone. I'll be all right. I think I hit my head when I fell over, and that's what's making me groggy, not the drug. I'll be fine." He struggled to his feet.
"You're too stubborn for your own good, Captain Blue," Scarlet said, assisting him as he stood.
"I learned that from my partner," Blue retorted. "Now, are we going to argue or go after them?"
Scarlet sighed. He could use the help. And Blue was looking a little more steady. "Come on," he said exasperatedly.
Charles Metcalfe stirred slowly from what felt like a drunken stupor and looked around.
He could see the Quadrini family standing across the room, each holding a gun trained on him and his fellow commanders. They were all obviously in some kind of country farm house, as he could make out farming implements in corners of the room. And now that he had moved, he could tell his hands were bound behind his back.
He gave Rostokovich, who was lying next to him, a nudge with his shoulder. "Rosty," he whispered, "wake up."
Rostokovich, his face still stained with soup, groaned and opened his eyes. "What's going on?" he asked in a weak, raspy voice.
"I believe we've been kidnapped."
Now Gunther Ruprecht stirred, then looked over at the pair of generals next to him. "So much for Spectrum protection," he noted sarcastically.
"Quiet," Giuseppi Quadrini said, kicking Ruprecht in the side.
Ruprecht fell down, groaning in pain.
"In case you haven't deduced it yet," Metcalfe continued, "we were drugged. I imagine our Spectrum counterparts are also unconscious."
"I thought they cleared the staff," Rostokovich groused.
"I said quiet!" the senior Quadrini snapped, giving Rostokovich a kick as well.
Rostokovich fell back down next to Metcalfe, trying to suppress any show of pain.
"They did clear the staff," Metcalfe told his companions. "These are impostors... just like the incident with the two Spectrum officers and the World President."
For his explanation, Metcalfe also got a kick in the side from Gianni Quadrini. He gasped for breath, then forced himself to sit up and look firmly at his captors. "Didn't your mother teach you any manners?" he said in his best ‘haughty British general’ tone.
"Shut up!" Laura Quadrini snapped.
"Metcalfe, what are you doing?" Ruprecht whispered. "You are going to get us killed!"
"No, they don't want to kill us," Metcalfe observed. "We'd already be dead if that was their aim. They want something else from us."
"You are correct, Charles Metcalfe," an ominous voice intoned from across the room.
All three men looked up.
Captain Black was now standing with the Quadrinis, looking like a walking corpse.
"Who is that?" Rostokovich asked.
"That is the man you said was the most wanted man in the world," Metcalfe replied. "That is Captain Black."
"Very good," Black stated.
"It's been a long time," Metcalfe said.
"You know him?" Ruprecht asked.
"He used to be a pilot in the WAAF. I remember him well. His lifelong goal was to see world peace." He looked at Black. "Grow tired of waiting, Conrad?"
"Your arrogance is not amusing," Black retorted. "It will be a great pleasure to kill you."
"So do it," Rostokovich snapped. "I would prefer to die quickly than be toyed with like this."
"You're missing the point," Metcalfe noted. "They have no intention of killing us quickly. They want something from us."
"Information," Black added. "Full details of your strengths and weaknesses. We will use your own plans and strategies to destroy your world."
"I will never tell you anything," Ruprecht vowed.
"Then you will suffer greatly."
The coldness with which Black delivered those words chilled all three men to the bone. It was now clear that death, when it finally came, would be merciful.
"Not even Spectrum can help you now," Black continued.
Spectrum... Metcalfe suddenly realized that there might indeed be a way out of this. Surreptitiously, he began to work the hem of his uniform jacket with his fingers until the bottom of the right-hand pocket was in his grasp.
He squeezed the pocket tightly until he felt something click.
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," Metcalfe said to the gaunt man standing before him. “Spectrum are very… resourceful.”
Finding the MSV had been the easy part.
Destiny Angel had spotted the abandoned MSV just a few miles up the road from the Alpine Conference Center. But it was obvious from the air that a second transport vehicle had been used to take the commanders on to their final destination. And the tracks ended when the vehicle re-entered the main roadway. Now Scarlet and Blue were trying to follow what little tracks were left in the SPV while Destiny, soon joined by the other two Angels, were doing aerial reconnaissance.
A blip showed up on Destiny's radar screen. Seconds later, a Spectrum identification number came up on the target. "Angel Leader to Cloudbase," the French pilot spoke. "I have radar indication of a Spectrum Personal Tracker being activated."
Scarlet and Blue, listening over the SPV's speakers, looked at each other.
"Tracking signal confirmed," Green's voice stated. "Captain Scarlet, your personal tracker has been activated. Is there a problem?"
"My father!" Scarlet realized. "Leftenant, I gave my father my tracker. He must have activated it. Get a fix on that position and relay the coordinates here--fast!"
"Processing now," Green reported. "Angels One, Two, and Three, please relay fix on position of tracker signal for triangulation."
Seconds later, the coordinates had been run through the Cloudbase computer and a map reference returned. The grid flashed up on the display screen on Blue's side of the SPV.
"Got it," Blue said. "Angel Flight, seek and report."
Overhead, the sound of a fast Angel aircraft roared into their ears. "I have visual contact with a farmhouse approximately two miles from your present position that is in the range of the coordinates," Rhapsody reported. "There is a large vehicle outside. Take the right hand junction just ahead."
"S.I.G.," Scarlet replied, making the turn. "Have visual contact with farmhouse on our monitors. I think we've found them. We're going in."
The sound of low-flying aircraft overhead startled the cabin's occupants. Debbi Quadrini looked up. "What was that?" she said.
"Spectrum Angels," Black realized, recognizing the sound. "How did they find us?" He turned to his minions. "Search them--one of them has a homing device."
Giuseppi, Gianni, and Debbi began searching the commanders' pockets.
Metcalfe tried to resist, but was held down by the stronger, younger Gianni Quadrini. He now knew it was only a matter of time before the secret was discovered.
Gianni found a round disk in Metcalfe's right pocket and carried it over to Black.
"A Spectrum Personal Tracker," Black said angrily. "Scarlet's SPT." He threw it into a corner, then looked at Metcalfe coldly. "Kill him."
Gianni aimed his gun at the WAAF general.
From behind, a beam of high-powered electrons struck him in the center of his back. He dropped dead to the floor.
Black and the remaining Quadrinis whirled around... and saw Captain Scarlet aiming the anti-Mysteron gun straight at them.
Laura fired her pistol at Scarlet.
Scarlet dove for cover.
Another shot rang out, and Laura dropped to the floor, a bullet through her heart.
Giuseppi Quadrini turned around to see Captain Blue on the other side of the room, Spectrum pistol trained on him. He fired at the Spectrum officer.
Scarlet zapped Laura with the Mysteron gun to finish the job Blue started, then fired a ray of electrons at Giuseppi.
Giuseppi joined his wife and son dead on the floor.
Debbi fired at Scarlet, catching him in the left side.
Scarlet cried out in pain and fell to the floor.
Debbi came over to finish him off. A bullet caught her in the upper shoulder. She turned back to Blue and fired at him.
Scarlet regained his control and put the Mysteron gun in Debbi's back, then pulled the trigger.
She shook from the electrical burst, then fell face-first to the floor, dead.
Black raced from the room.
"Get the commanders out of here--I'm going after Black!" Scarlet ordered, already running from the room.
"S.I.G.," Blue responded, heading over to untie the three commanders.
"Is he insane?" Ruprecht said, incredulous.
"No," Metcalfe said, smiling slightly. "He's doing the job a Spectrum officer is trained to do." He looked at Captain Blue. "But he's been hurt. Just untie us, Captain Blue, then go help him."
"I have my orders," Blue replied. "My first priority is to get the three of you to safety. Captain Scarlet can handle himself."
"Forget your ‘orders'!" Rostokovich snapped. "Metcalfe is right--you cannot leave him alone against that monster!"
"I don't intend to," Blue responded. "But all of this is meaningless unless I can get you three to safety. Now quit arguing and come with me!"
The three reluctantly agreed to follow Blue, but not before Metcalfe looked back in the direction Scarlet had headed. "Be careful," Metcalfe whispered. "For God's sake, be careful."
Black had overturned furniture and thrown everything that wasn't nailed down in Scarlet's path, and still the Spectrum super-agent was hot on his trail. Several beams of electrons had scarred the walls as the pair ran through the kitchen to the cellar.
Suddenly, Black found himself in a corner, near the furnace. There was no way out. And Scarlet stood on the stairs, Mysteron gun aimed squarely at him.
"Give yourself up, Black!" Scarlet ordered. "You're trapped--there's no escape. Surrender and we may be able to help you."
"Never," Black sneered. "It is you who are trapped, Scarlet. And there is indeed no escape."
With that, he vanished into thin air.
Scarlet lowered the gun and looked at the spot where Black had been standing. "I don't believe it," he hissed angrily.
It was then that he noticed the furnace smoking heavily.
"Oh, no..." He hurried back up the stairs.
As he stepped onto the main floor, the furnace exploded.
The explosion shot a fireball into the air and shook the SPV, where Blue and the three commanders had taken refuge.
Metcalfe watched the display on Blue's monitor in horror. "No!" he screamed.
Blue just stared at the screen in shock. Once again, Scarlet had saved all of their lives...and pushed his abilities to their absolute limits. I could never do it, Paul, he thought. I could never be YOU.
Metcalfe buried his face in his hands and shook visibly.
"Metcalfe, what is wrong?" Rostokovich asked. "You have surely seen this before--a brave man dies in the line of duty..."
"You don't understand," Metcalfe responded, looking up at them, his face anguished and his voice shaky. "That man was my son."
For a moment, the interior of the SPV was silent. "Mein Gott," Ruprecht finally said.
Rostokovich's eyes widened. "That is why you support Spectrum so strongly," he realized.
"I support Spectrum because I believe in what it stands for," Metcalfe snapped. "It stands for the future of world security, for brave, dedicated men who are willing to give their lives in defense of this world...even to protect three pig-headed, arrogant commanders..." He grew silent again, pressing a fist against his mouth to help stifle his building emotions.
Blue steeled himself. It was hard enough to explain to the average person Spectrum dealt with that such incidents didn't necessarily mean the end of Captain Scarlet. But now he had to face Scarlet's father and explain that fact without giving away Scarlet's secret. He dropped his RadioCap's microphone. "Blue to Cloudbase," he said. "The commanders are safe. Mysteron agents have been neutralized. A bomb exploded in the farmhouse, however, trapping Captain Scarlet inside. Send rescue squad to search the wreckage for Captain Scarlet."
"S.I.G.," Green responded.
Blue turned to Metcalfe. "We'll find him, sir," he promised. "We won't give up until we do."
Metcalfe fought to keep his emotions in check. "I want to stay and help," he said.
"I'm afraid not, sir. It would be better if you didn't."
"He's my son, Captain..."
"Which is why it would be better if you did not stay," Rostokovich interjected. "I watched a rescue squad pull my son's body out of the burned hulk of a crashed space capsule. It was an experience that will forever haunt me."
Metcalfe nodded, still in shock.
"We'll notify you as soon as we know anything, General Metcalfe," Blue promised. "If there is any way for anyone to have survived that blast, Captain Scarlet did. Just keep believing he'll be all right."
Metcalfe looked at the younger officer. "I suppose I don't have a choice."
There was nothing more for Blue to say. He put a reassuring hand on Metcalfe's shoulder, then drove the crowded SPV away from the scene.
It had been an agonizing six hours.
Charles Metcalfe paced the floor in the sitting room of his elegant English country home, unable to sit still or stay calm. His wife, Mary, sat near the fireplace, every now and then weeping softly as a fresh wave of sorrow or fear came over her. Even their yellow Labrador, Humphrey, looked sad and confused at his masters. Not since the car accident a year ago that they thought had claimed their son's life--a confusing day that first seemed to indicate Paul had turned traitor, then became an even more confusing story of impostors attempting to kill the World President--had the Metcalfes had so much uncertainty in their lives.
Metcalfe had heard the report before he left the conference center that Paul's body had indeed been found, and that he was being rushed to Cloudbase. But Metcalfe wasn't naive. He'd seen the building blow up. If Paul survived at all, he knew it would be weeks or months of agonizing recovery before he could even hope to live a normal life, if such were even still possible...
The phone rang.
Both Metcalfes looked at the phone anxiously. Neither seemed to want to answer it...to hear the news they had been dreading.
It rang again.
Finally, Charles picked it up. "General Metcalfe," he said into the receiver, his voice shaky despite his best efforts to stay calm.
"Dad?" came the reply.
Metcalfe nearly dropped the phone. No. It can't be..."Paul?" he said, his voice now incredulous.
Mary Metcalfe looked stunned, then anxious.
"Paul?" Metcalfe repeated. "Is it really you?"
"Yes, Dad, it's me," Scarlet replied.
"It's him," Metcalfe whispered, still not sure he wasn't dreaming.
Mary ran into the next room and grabbed the kitchen phone off the wall. "Paul!" she cried out. "Oh, thank God...are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Scarlet reassured. "I was very lucky. I'd just managed to get upstairs before the bomb exploded, so I escaped most of the blast."
"But the building collapsed...," Metcalfe pointed out.
"Yes, but I fell into the fireplace, which remained more or less intact. I escaped with only minor injuries. It looked worse than it was, I'm certain."
"How's your side...where you got shot?"
"Also not nearly as bad as it looked. Dr. Fawn thinks that with a short rest and recovery period, I should be right as rain in no time. What about you--are you all right?"
"Fine, thanks to you." He paused. "You saved my life, Paul. You saved all of our lives."
"I take my responsibilities very seriously," he reminded his father. "We all do at Spectrum. Maybe someday Rostokovich and Ruprecht will see that."
"I think they already have. We had a long talk on the way back to the conference center, and I think Rosty and Ruprecht are going to drop their demands for Rainbow Clearance access. I think they now have a clearer understanding of just how great a threat the Mysterons truly are."
"That's great," Scarlet said, relieved.
"Stop talking shop," Mary snapped. "When are you coming home?"
"Not for a while, unfortunately. Once I'm fully recovered, it's back to active duty. Maybe I can make it home for my birthday."
"That's six months away!"
"The life of a Spectrum agent, Mum. I'll see what I can do about a weekend pass sooner."
"You'd better. That colonel of yours should give you a medal."
"I've already got too many of those." He paused. "I have to go--Dr. Fawn's come in to check on me, and I think he wants to run some more blasted tests. I love you both. Take care."
"We love you, too, son," Mary said, her voice breaking with emotion.
"Take care, Paul," Metcalfe responded, having trouble keeping his own emotions in check. "Let us know when you can come home."
"I will. Goodbye, Mum...Dad."
"Goodbye." Charles hung up the phone.
Mary rushed into her husband's arms and broke down sobbing with relief.
Charles held her close, then finally joined her tears with his own.
Scarlet hung up the phone and turned to Dr. Fawn, who had come into the hospital ward to check on his almost-recovered patient. "There are times I wish I had told them the truth early on," he sighed. "I don't like lying."
"Well, you didn't exactly lie," Fawn told him. "You were lucky you weren't caught in the wake of that explosion--you'd have been blown to pieces--or killed when the Mysteron gun was damaged in the blast. And you do need a little more rest and recovery time." He looked at his watch. "I'd say about a half-hour from now, you should be ready to report back to work."
Scarlet grimaced. "It still makes me uneasy to lie to my father."
"Human relations are by their very nature uneasy relations. If they were easy, we wouldn't have to work so hard to get along. Besides, your father knows the important truth...that you love him and would do anything for him. And that's all any parent can ever ask."
Scarlet smiled slightly. "In the citation I received with my discharge papers, my father said that if I had not been his son, he would have wished I were. It was the single highest compliment I had ever been paid...and worth more to me than all the medals ever minted." He sighed. "Maybe someday..."
"Maybe someday," Fawn agreed. "Now--quit stalling. You know the drill. Lie back and let's get this `fitness-for-duty' exam started."
Scarlet lay down on the examination table. "I can't return to duty," he complained, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I destroyed my last uniform in the explosion."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Fawn joked. "You and Magenta are about the same size, and the color's close enough..."
Scarlet shot Fawn a withering look.
"Just a suggestion," Fawn smiled.
Both men laughed as Fawn turned on his monitors and hooked up his equipment to his special patient.
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