This story previously appeared in Issues 91 of The Power Star fanzine, and is posted here without the authorization of the authors, 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 whom Fate has made
indestructible. His name: Captain Scarlet....]
A CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS Short Story
By Kimberly Murphy And Richard A. Spake
The silver and blue Spectrum Passenger Jet soared high above the European continent on its way back to Cloudbase. At its controls was Captain Blue, Spectrum's finest pilot and a former member of the World Aeronautic Society. Blue was a handsome man, a blond Bostonian in his early thirties, with classic Scandinavian features and eyes the same rich robin's-egg blue color as his uniform. But those eyes looked tired as he guided the plane toward its destination, Spectrum's secret headquarters, 40,000 feet above the Earth's surface.
Blue and his fellow officers, Captain Magenta and Captain Scarlet, were returning from a steelworks in Leningrad that had been targeted by the Mysterons because an experimental metal being forged there would be used in the next Martian mission. The Mysterons had taken over a crane operator and attempted to destroy the whole works, only to be thwarted by quick thinking on the part of the three Spectrum officers and extraordinary heroics by Captain Scarlet--heroics which cost the brave young British agent his life.
But with Captain Scarlet, things were never quite what they seemed...not even death.
Spectrum had been at war with the Mysterons for over a year now, having first incurred the wrath of the race of energy beings on Mars during a routine expedition. The Mysterons had tried to take a closer look at the human exploration team, led by Spectrum agent Captain Black, but Black misinterpreted the aiming of their surveillance cameras as the aiming and arming of a weapon. Black ordered his men to open fire--and the complex they had discovered was destroyed. But the Mysterons immediately recreated their destroyed city by simply shining an eerie green beam over it...then vowed revenge for this wanton act of aggression. Vowing to destroy all life on Earth, the Mysterons claimed as their first victim Captain Black himself, who was turned from loyal Spectrum officer to the embodiment of Mysteron terrorism. Black was the only one of his team to return to Earth--but he vanished before Spectrum could debrief him. From that moment on, the Mysterons had begun their war of attrition with the Earth, systematically killing key individuals and destroying key objects, then using their power of retrometabolism to recreate them as exact copies to do their dark bidding. Spectrum had lost some battles in this war, but won many more, thanks to the bravery and resourcefulness of the men and women that made up its core...and the special abilities of one particular individual.
Captain Scarlet was Spectrum's secret weapon, its trump card in the high-stakes war with the Mysterons. A year ago, Scarlet had been like any other Spectrum agent--brave, loyal, dedicated, and very mortal. Then came the attack by the Mysterons that forever changed his life...a car crash that claimed the lives of two Spectrum captains, partners Scarlet and Brown. The Mysterons cloned the pair and turned them into killing machines--Brown became a walking time bomb, while Scarlet became an ice-cold assassin. But the Mysterons' plans went awry when Brown exploded too soon to carry out their threat against the World President, and a clever Spectrum net trapped Scarlet atop the London Car-Vu observation deck, where Blue shot him and caused him to fall 800 feet to certain death.
That's when Spectrum discovered what retrometabolism REALLY did.
The Scarlet clone not only survived the fall, he healed completely, without even a scar, and recovered his memory of his former self--and lost all memory of the Mysteron influence. After extensive testing and observation, Spectrum Medical Officer Dr. Fawn determined that the man who had fallen 800 feet to certain death and lived to tell the tale could truly be called the REAL Captain Scarlet...and was now virtually indestructible.
But the caveat "virtually" always bothered Captain Blue, which was why Captain Magenta was in the back of the plane now with their fallen comrade. He'd seen Scarlet through this ordeal numerous times...shot, crushed, drowned, almost any way of death someone could imagine, and the man had always come through unscathed. But Blue knew his best friend wasn't invincible. Scarlet, like all Mysteronized humans, had a vulnerability to high voltage electricity, which disrupted the bioelectrical retrometabolism reaction. And almost everyone in Spectrum had seen or heard of at least one Mysteron's death in a violent explosion or similar destructive force where the body was completely destroyed...with no recovery. Scarlet could survive almost anything...but it was that word "almost" that kept him and everyone around him cognizant of the very real possibility of taking one too many chances one day.
The door of the cockpit opened, and Blue turned his head to look.
Captain Magenta walked in and took a seat in the co-pilot's chair. "Still out of it," the dark-haired Irish-American reported.
Blue glanced at his watch. "STILL?" he repeated. "It's been almost two hours."
"Maybe this is it?" Magenta asked, his voice uncertain.
"I doubt it." Blue snapped on the plane's intercom. "Come on, Paul," he said, "snap out of it. Remember, I owe you a steak dinner from that last chess game."
Magenta looked at him oddly. "Think he can hear you?"
"Who knows? Makes ME feel better, though."
"Cloudbase to Captain Blue," a lilting Caribbean-accented man's voice called through the SPJ's radio system as Blue's RadioCap microphone dropped down to "TALK" position.
"Captain Blue here--go ahead, Lieutenant Green," Blue replied.
"What is your ETA?"
"Approximately ten minutes. We've had some headwind."
"Understood. What's the latest on Captain Scarlet's condition?"
"Still pulseless--and has been for the last two hours."
"We'll apprise Dr. Fawn. Notify us if there's any change."
"S.I.G. Blue out."
Magenta looked back toward the passenger cabin. "Sure there's not something seriously wrong with him?" he asked.
"He's been out longer than this before," Blue reminded him. "But I didn't think his injuries looked that bad at first. He must have broken his neck in that fall."
"Well, he certainly saved OUR necks. That Mysteronized steel worker was ready to make US a permanent part of the works. If he hadn't climbed into that crane..."
"I know. Sometimes, what he'll do to stop a Mysteron amazes me."
"You? I'd have thought you'd be used to this by now."
Blue shook his head. "I'll NEVER get used to it."
"Good. Then I don't feel so bad."
Blue sighed. He'd been in this position before. He and Scarlet were regular partners--they went on most missions together- -so it was less frequently that other Cloudbase personnel had to go through one of Scarlet's extended recoveries. Magenta and Scarlet had been on missions together before, but unless Blue missed his guess..."First `death watch'?"
Magenta shuddered at Blue's use of the term. "I never realized...Blue, the man is DEAD. I mean, REALLY dead. No pulse. No life. Nothing. I'd always pictured it as a coma of some sort..." He looked visibly shaken.
"I know," Blue sympathized. "He's my best friend...it's tough to see him this way."
"How do you stand it? You see this more than the rest of us ...how do you handle it?"
Blue forced himself to look straight ahead. "I say a lot of prayers until he wakes up."
For a moment, both men sat in silence.
"I'll go check on him," Magenta finally offered.
Over the horizon, the sleek form of the flying nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Cloudbase appeared. A white streak suddenly shot off its deck and swooped through the air toward him.
Blue blinked his landing lights at the jet. Hello, Karen, he thought to himself as the Angel jet carrying his beloved Symphony Angel, one of Cloudbase's five female interceptor pilots, began its alert patrol. Sorry I missed you.
Angel One did a barrel roll as it passed by, then headed off on its usual flight pattern.
Magenta came back into the cockpit. "Was that Symphony?" he asked.
"Yeah," Blue replied, getting his happiness under control. "Always showing off. Any change?"
"Yeah. He's alive. He stirred a little, then got quiet again. But he's got pulse and respiration."
Blue breathed a sigh of relief and cast his gaze heavenward for a moment. "Perfect timing," he observed. He flipped down the microphone on his RadioCap. "Blue to Cloudbase--Captain Scarlet has just regained vital sign activity. Request landing clearance."
"Spectrum Is Green," the Lieutenant replied. "Dr. Fawn will meet you in the hangar. Welcome back."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Blue out."
Admiral Gunther Ruprecht, a proud German officer in the proud tradition of the German military and European Commander of the World Navy, walked out of the command center at the World Navy base at Manchester, England, and headed for his limousine. Returning the salute of the Ensign who had escorted him, he climbed into the back seat of his limousine and let the Ensign close the door. "Winchester Air Base," he barked to his driver. "Mach schnell."
The limousine shot away from the curb and practically flew down the base road to the main highway.
Ruprecht clung to the armrest. "Lunatic!" he shouted. "What are you trying to do?"
"You said `mach schnell'," the deep German-accented voice of the driver responded.
Ruprecht stiffened. "You're not Kaufmann."
"Very good, Admiral. Care to venture another guess?"
"Who ARE you?"
"Come now, Admiral. You wanted to see me and you don't know who I am?"
For the first time, Ruprecht looked at the dark-haired, dark- eyed man's reflection in the rear-view mirror. "Blackheart?" he asked incredulously.
"Major Rainier Blackheart, to be precise."
Ruprecht looked around uncertainly. "Where is my driver?"
"Sleeping peacefully in the trunk. By the time we get to Winchester, he should be fine. And I promise to return the uniform. Now, Admiral, stop stalling. It is a long drive to Winchester, and I can make it as comfortable as the situation warrants."
Ruprecht took a deep breath. I had heard you were a lunatic, Blackheart, he thought. Now I believe it. "The World President is holding a reception at the Officers' Club at Winchester Air Base tonight."
"Social events bore me."
"I do not care about your disdain for social amenities. The event is to formalize the new working arrangement between Spectrum and the European Commands of the World Military. It is too good an opportunity for unsavory elements to pass up."
"So you want a babysitter."
"I want the best strongarm in the world...and the most discreet."
"It will cost you."
"You will find the appropriate funds in your account later today."
"Untraceable, of course."
"One question. Is Spectrum in charge of security?"
"I do not know. I would presume so."
"You would presume. In my business, you never `presume' anything. Your lack of knowledge has just made my job more difficult. And it will cost you. Ten percent more, to be exact."
"Perhaps you would care to remember who was driving."
With that, the limousine swerved hard.
Ruprecht clung to the armrest, then looked back at the madman behind the wheel. "All right. A ten-percent fee will be added."
"Good." The chaotic driving eased back to almost a normal ride. "I am certain you understand my concern. It is obvious you trust Spectrum even less than I do."
"What makes you say that?"
"Why else would you hire me?"
Ruprecht hated insolent hired help...especially when they were right. "I trust, then, that we have a deal?"
"So it would seem. What time is the reception?"
"I will be there. Now, relax, Admiral, and enjoy the ride." He raised the tinted glass privacy barrier.
Admiral Ruprecht warily leaned back in his seat.
As he did, smoke began emerging from the ashtray.
Before he knew it, his eyelids were getting very heavy.
Ruprecht opened his eyes slowly and looked around.
The limousine was parked by the side of the road near a sign that read "Winchester 10 mi". World Navy Lieutenant Kaufmann was leaning over the seat into the passenger compartment, looking very concerned. "Are you all right, sir?" Kaufmann continued.
Ruprecht sat up slowly. "Fine," he said, still looking around.
"I looked for the man who abducted us, sir, but he's gone. Shall I notify Naval Security?"
Kaufmann looked startled.
"Lieutenant," Ruprecht continued, a little calmer, "NOTHING happened. It was an old friend playing a rather sick joke. Nothing to worry about. Now, turn around and drive on as if nothing unusual happened...because nothing did."
Kaufmann looked suspicious for a moment, but realized that a lieutenant did not question an admiral. "Yes, sir," he said, starting the engine.
An hour and a half after his return to Cloudbase, Captain Blue finished his report to Colonel White on the Mysteron incident in Leningrad, picked up a fresh uniform out of Captain Scarlet's quarters for his fallen friend, then headed for Sickbay to check on his progress.
He found Scarlet, dressed in a hospital gown because his uniform had been badly damaged in the incident, awake and lying on the special recovery bed Fawn had designed for him--a table pre-wired with monitoring instruments and imaging scanners, necessary because x-rays could not penetrate Mysteronized tissue--looking much better than when he had left him. Standing next to the table was Cloudbase's chief medical officer Dr. Fawn, checking the readings on the monitors and frowning slightly.
"How's the patient?" Blue asked, setting the uniform down on an adjacent bed.
"Ask him," Fawn replied, sounding exasperated.
Blue came over to the table and looked down at his friend. "Well?" he asked.
"I'm fine," Scarlet stated.
"No, he's not," Fawn countered.
"Aha," Blue noted, somewhat amused. He knew how much Scarlet hated the entire medical ordeal he had to go through after every mission that resulted in serious injury. "We have a doctor/patient conflict."
"No, we don't," the Australian doctor said. "We have a stubborn patient who doesn't know when to slow down."
"Doctor, I know my own body," Scarlet protested.
"And it should be telling you what my instruments are telling me--you're not through healing yet. There's still a considerable amount of unresolved trauma. Your vitals are irregular and there's still some evidence of toxic elements in your bloodstream that haven't been neutralized yet. What the Devil happened to you?"
"Well," Scarlet said, "I remember fighting with the Mysteron agent in the cab of the crane as it hovered over the vat of by-products. He knocked me out of the cab...I caught the edge of the crane and grabbed his leg, then pulled him out with me...he fell into the vat...I jumped for the crane's line to swing away...and
that's the last thing I remember clearly."
"You got splashed as he fell into the vat," Blue explained. "It made you lose your grip on the line. You just barely missed falling into the vat yourself--you hit your head and fell outside the vat, and I think you broke your neck when you hit the ground. You were dead by the time we got to you."
Fawn frowned. "WONDERFUL. Scarlet, there are times I wonder if you've hit you head once too often and gone completely mad."
"We all have our jobs to do, Doctor," Scarlet reminded him. "Mine is to stop the Mysterons at all costs."
"And mine is to make sure you don't pay the ULTIMATE cost," Fawn countered. "I don't know what I could do for you if your retrometabolism ever failed to respond. There's so much about the process we don't understand."
"Then I'll have to keep coming back, won't I? Now, Doctor, about my release..."
"Absolutely NOT. If I can't do anything else for you, I can at least make certain you don't hinder your OWN recovery. You're staying here until these readings are closer to normal."
Scarlet frowned. Fawn, like him, was a Captain, but though they were technically equal in rank, Fawn was in complete command of the Sickbay. Even Colonel White had to obey his directives when he was a patient. Scarlet looked up at his doctor. "I do believe you're enjoying this."
"No, I'm merely trying to get you to behave like my other patients. Now, relax and let yourself HEAL."
Blue chuckled. "Bet he doesn't say THAT to his other patients," he said to Scarlet.
Fawn pricked Scarlet's finger for a blood sample, then pressed a gauze pad against the minor wound. "You've never heard of holistic medicine?" he said with a slight smile as he slipped the mini-tube into the auto-analyzer.
Scarlet held the gauze pad in place for a moment, seemed to count to five in his head, then removed the pad.
The wound was completely healed. Not even a red spot remained to indicate where the needle had pierced his skin.
Blue shook his head. Scarlet's powers of recovery never ceased to amaze him. "I believe Christ once quoted the proverb, `Physician, heal thyself'," he remarked.
"I doubt He was referring to retrometabolism," Scarlet replied.
Fawn took the gauze pad and tossed it into the medical waste disposal container. "Enough parlor tricks," he deadpanned.
All three shared a brief laugh until an ominous voice sounded over the loudspeakers:
"This is the voice of the Mysterons..."
"Good Lord!" Fawn swore. "At least give us a moment to catch our breath!"
"...we know that you can hear us, Earthmen. Spectrum will find out whose heart is blackest when we resolve unfinished business. We will be avenged!"
The speakers went silent.
"Don't say it...," Fawn whispered.
"Attention, all Spectrum personnel," Lieutenant Green's voice announced over the intercom. "Cloudbase is now on Yellow Alert. Captains Blue, Ochre, and Scarlet, report to the Control Room immediately."
Scarlet began removing the electrodes that tied him to the table's instruments. "Duty calls," he noted.
Fawn immediately put a hand on Scarlet's chest to keep him from sitting up. "I'm NOT releasing you," he reiterated. "You are NOT ready to return to duty."
Scarlet removed the hand from his chest and sat up. "Doctor, we BOTH know that in an hour, this argument will be a moot point."
Fawn frowned. Scarlet was right, of course. But it went against everything he had sworn as a doctor to do for his patients. "If anything happens to you in that hour, it could seriously hinder your recovery," Fawn reminded him.
"I'll keep an eye on him," Blue promised.
Fawn raised an eyebrow. "Now THERE'S an idea." He walked over to his computer, typed a couple of quick commands, then waited for the printout. He made a quick note on the page, then handed it to Blue. "Sign here." He indicated a spot in the middle of the page.
"What is this?" Blue asked.
"Scarlet's release...into YOUR care."
"For the next hour, you're responsible for him. Keep him out of trouble until the healing process finishes."
Blue looked at Scarlet, then at Fawn. "You've GOT to be joking."
"It's the only way I'll authorize his release. Take it or leave it."
"Control to Sickbay," Green's voice called over Fawn's intercom.
Fawn tapped the intercom button on the wall. "Fawn here—go ahead, Leftenant."
"What is the status of Captain Scarlet?"
Scarlet cast Blue a questioning look.
Blue took Fawn's pen and signed the form.
Fawn added his signature and handed the release to Scarlet. "He's just been released," he said into the intercom. "Tell Colonel White that Captains Scarlet and Blue will be up momentarily. Sickbay out." He turned to Scarlet. "You're free to go, Captain. Just remember to obey your caretaker for the next hour."
"Thank you, Doctor," Scarlet replied.
Blue handed Scarlet his uniform. "I'm supposed to watch over YOU?" he complained. "I'd almost rather chase Mysterons."
Scarlet began dressing. "Oh, I don't know. You can't buy me a steak tonight if you're chasing Mysterons."
Blue looked askance at Scarlet. "How did you know I said that?"
"What do you mean? You owe me dinner because I beat you two straight yesterday. When did you say anything about it?"
"While you were out of it on the plane."
"Oh, come now, Adam. You don't think I can HEAR you when I'm
in that state, do you?"
There was just enough of a twinkle in Scarlet's eyes to make Blue ask himself the same question. "Get dressed," he said to change the subject. "The colonel awaits."
Moments later, Scarlet and Blue, joined by Captain Ochre, were standing in the Cloudbase Control Room before Colonel White's circular desk. "Captains Scarlet, Blue, and Ochre reporting for duty, sir," the Brit announced for the trio.
"At ease, gentlemen," White depressed three buttons on his console to raise three stools from the floor.
Scarlet, Blue, and Ochre sat and doffed their RadioCaps.
"You're looking peaked, Captain Scarlet," White noted. "Is something wrong?"
"It was a difficult recovery, sir," Scarlet said.
"Looks like it," Ochre cracked. "You still look about half-dead."
White cast Ochre a stern look, then returned his attention to Scarlet. "Were you FINISHED recuperating?"
"I was released for duty," Scarlet stated.
Blue said nothing. He hoped that the early part of their assignment would involve sedate research work on Cloudbase. He knew HE was exhausted; one look at Scarlet told him that Fawn's concerns about releasing him too soon may have been valid. Scarlet was pale, and there was a tiredness in his eyes and on his face that Blue hadn't seen in a very long time.
White also realized that something wasn't quite right with Scarlet. "We all do what we must in this fight," the Colonel finally said. "You've heard the latest Mysteron threat. Reactions?"
"It's hard to say, sir," Ochre answered. "There are so many things they could mean."
"The part about `whose heart is blackest' could be referring to Captain Black," Scarlet noted. "And `unfinished business' almost certainly refers to an attack that Spectrum thwarted. But beyond that, it's difficult to know what they intend."
"It's doubtful they mean the steelworks," Blue pointed out. "The Mysterons almost never hit the same target twice in a row."
"True, but a perfect opportunity to complete `unfinished business' is tonight," White reminded them. "The reception at Winchester Air Base to formalize the European portion of the new joint defense initiative is this evening at seven p.m. And the Mysterons' efforts to sabotage negotiations on that working arrangement failed, as you are most certainly aware."
"What is our assignment, sir?" Blue asked.
"Your assignment, gentlemen, is to shadow the three commanders whose safety you were responsible for during the first stages of our negotiations. Admiral Ruprecht arrived at Winchester this afternoon. Space General Rostokovich is expected to arrive within the hour. And of course General Metcalfe is the commander of Winchester Air Base. You will be a discreet additional presence at the reception, a supplement to our ground forces who will be providing security along with a joint military force."
Ochre rolled his eyes. He knew what "discreet presence" meant at a formal reception, but he hoped he was wrong..."Does this mean we have to wear dress uniforms, sir?"
"Absolutely. You must fit in with the dignitaries who will be present. The World President and some of the ministers of the World Congress will be there, in addition to the military dignitaries."
Ochre sighed. "I HATE dragging out that monkey suit," he complained.
"Can you even FIND yours amidst all those model airplanes in your quarters?" Blue said with a smile to Ochre, whose hobby of model airplane building often drove the other officers to distraction, especially when he did it in common areas like the Officers' Lounge.
"I think so," Ochre returned. "The problem is when Scarlet puts on all his medals, he's going to make Cloudbase list as he walks the hallways."
Scarlet resisted the temptation for a sharp retort. Ochre was always making wisecracks about the number of medals and citations Scarlet had received throughout his military and Spectrum careers. "I am hopeful the Colonel will authorize ribbons only for the reception," he remarked instead.
"With the exception of the Spectrum Cross, I will do just that," White stated. "We will reconvene at the hangar at promptly 1755 hours to leave for Winchester Air Base. That is all, gentlemen. Dismissed."
The three captains stood, came to attention, then donned their caps and left the room.
Outside the Control Room door, Scarlet and Blue waved to the departing Captain Ochre, then looked at each other. "I owe you one, Adam," Scarlet remarked to Blue after Ochre had left. "Thank you for not saying anything to the Colonel about the circumstances of my release."
"Forget it," Blue replied. "As you told Fawn, in an hour any objections he has will be a moot point. But there IS something you can do for me."
"Spend the next hour in the Room of Sleep. You look TERRIBLE, Paul. It's the worst I've ever seen you look when you were still conscious. And you can't let your father see you like this."
Scarlet grimaced at the reminder that he had never told his parents--one of whom, WAAF European Commander General Charles Metcalfe, would be at the reception tonight--the truth about what had happened to him. He couldn't; not only was it a security risk--Scarlet's abilities were among the most classified secrets in Spectrum, accessible only by the World President outside Spectrum's closed ranks--there was no easy way to explain to his parents that their son was dead when his Mysteronized clone was standing before them. "You're right, of course. He'll ask too many questions. And we can't have that."
"So get some rest and let yourself finish healing. That way, he won't have anything to question."
Scarlet snapped his friend a quick salute. "S.I.G., Captain Blue."
Blue returned the salute and grinned wryly. "Get out of here, Captain Scarlet. And don't let me see you anywhere but in the Room of Sleep for the next hour."
Scarlet smiled warmly at his friend, then left for the Room of Sleep.
Getting to Winchester was the easy part.
Rainier Blackheart, after returning the World Navy uniform to Lieutenant Kaufmann and leaving Admiral Ruprecht and his driver by the roadside, had redressed in his normal clothes--a black German Army uniform and long black duster that helped conceal a couple of exotic weapons, including a well-used short sword--and hiked up the road to a nearby rest area.
Once there, Blackheart had used his set of universal passkeys to abscond with a black saloon car and simply disappeared into the highway traffic. He worried not about how to explain the missing car; his sponsors would simply transfer the necessary funds to replace the car into the owner's accounts once he sent them the license plate number.
There was very little Major Rainier Blackheart worried about. Being told you are dying at age 30 of advanced lymphatic cancer has a way of putting everything into perspective. Blackheart had refused treatment and kept his condition from his superiors, wanting instead to serve out his last days leading his military unit. That was when he was Captain Blackheart... six months ago.
Then came the most confusing incident of his life.
Blackheart and his men, training in the German mountains for their part in a World Army exercise, were devastated when a hand grenade was thrown into their weapons store in the early morning hours, causing a massive explosion. Those who weren't killed immediately were attacked by a walking corpse of a man, dressed all in black, who was firing a machine gun that never seemed to run out of bullets. Blackheart himself remembered being shot through the chest...
And then, about twelve hours disappeared from his memory.
When he came to, he was in a military hospital, a guard standing over him, military intelligence questioning him non-stop, asking who he was, what was the last thing he remembered, what in the world he thought he was doing at the exercise taking shots at the German Chancellor.
As near as Blackheart could piece together from stories he had later been told, apparently his men had gone mad at the exercise, shooting indiscriminately into the crowd of onlookers. According to reports, Blackheart himself had taken the Chancellor hostage until a quick-thinking security guard had called organized a resistance force from the confused army troops. His men had been destroyed. Blackheart himself had been shot, and he fell backward off the dais and grazed a portable generator, then rolled onto the ground.
But he had survived. Not only that, he had thrived.
Test after test revealed the same thing: No bullet wounds. No scars. No bullets inside the body. No trace of the cancer.
It was as if he had been completely reborn.
There had been an official investigation, of course. Spectrum had shown up to investigate the incident for Mysteron involvement. But they had been told that there was no Mysteron involvement, that the attack had come from a group of soldiers devoted to an insane officer who would be dealt with in the proper fashion.
It was a lie. A complete lie.
Blackheart was publicly drummed out of the German Army, declared a traitor, sentenced to death. Privately, however, things were quite different. Blackheart was promoted to Major and given free rein to do what he wished.
Of course, the brass didn't have much choice. Blackheart, always an unstable type, had gone off the deep end after the incident. He'd escaped from the military and found a group of wealthy financiers who were interested in his services but made certain he kept his distance from THEM as well. He was considered uncontrollable by his handlers, who spent much of their time trying to cover his trail. But he was THE best soldier of fortune in the world. And his legend spread among the military brass...a legend of an unstoppable man, immune to any sort of attack, loyal to anyone--for the right price.
And now, that price was being paid by Admiral Gunther Ruprecht.
Leaving his car by the roadside, Blackheart walked into the woods surrounding Winchester Air Base and took an assessment of the base's security.
A simple fence stood in his path. Blackheart removed a device from his hip pouch and held it near the fence.
The needle on the device's face sat perfectly still.
Good. No electricity. This was going to be easy.
He quickly scaled the fence, jumped to the ground, then strolled the grounds on Winchester Air Base.
He watched as the young sentry at the main gate was relieved of his duties by two armed Spectrum sergeants. Their charcoal-grey uniforms with white sashes and white-and-grey RadioCaps were dead
Good. He'd gotten here just in time. It looked like Spectrum was just now getting into position for tonight's event. Now, all he had to do was beat them to the Officers' Club.
Casually, he strolled over to a jeep whose driver had gone into a building to deliver a message, climbed into the driver's seat, used his passkey to start the engine, then drove away.
Captain Scarlet finished adjusting the large cluster of ribbons on his dress uniform as the door chimes to his quarters sounded. "Come in," he called toward the door.
The electronic door slid open, and Captain Blue walked into the room. "I haven't seen that much fruit salad since my brother's wedding," he wisecracked.
"Fruit salad?" Scarlet returned. "Oh, yes. That quaint Yank expression referring to clusters of military ribbons." He and Blue constantly ribbed each other about their respective accents and/or use and misuse of the English language.
"Don't give me that. You heard that sort of thing all the time as a cadet at West Point. Anyway, what do you Brits call it? Marmalade?"
"No, we call them HONORS." He looked at his friend, resplendent in his charcoal-grey dress Spectrum uniform with its discreet piping along the trouser seams and jacket cuffs in the color of the officer's code name. "You've got quite a collection yourself."
"That's because I go on missions with you all the time...and I've STILL got a long way to go to catch you."
Scarlet looked embarrassed. The reason he had so many medals, of course, was because his unique ability to cheat death made him capable of taking risks other men could not. And his cluster WAS twice the size of Blue's, filled with ribbon after ribbon representing a medal won for meritorious service or extreme bravery or some other such nonsense. Scarlet tried to refuse most of the medals, but often the best he could do was simply cite Spectrum duties and get out of attending the medal presentation. Usually then, the medal arrived via Spectrum courier and was presented by Colonel White in a private ceremony... again much to his embarrassment.
Both men were wearing Spectrum Crosses strung from rainbow-striped silk ribbons around their necks, Spectrum's highest medal of honor. But the similarities ended at the ribbon. Blue wore a bronze medal with two smaller clusters on either side of the medal on the ribbon itself, symbolic of his being awarded the citation three times. Scarlet's cross was a larger gold one, presented in a special ceremony after he won the medal for the sixth time a few months ago. It seemed the clusters denoting repeat awards were beginning to wear too heavily on the silk ribbon, so a special edition was minted for Spectrum's number-one agent and authorized as the symbol of receiving the citation more than five times.
Blue remembered the first time Scarlet had won the award. It was for his part in a mission to stop the Mysterons from killing the Asian Republic's Director-General, Scarlet's first mission after his emergence from the Mysteron influence. Scarlet had literally given his life to stop the Mysterons, ejecting Blue to safety from the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle they were driving, then using the SPV to destroy the landing gear of Mysteronized flight DT19, which was heading down the runway at London International Airport on a collision course for the Director-General's private plane. The SPV downed the jet, but the vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a radar station, killing Scarlet. But the effort had been in vain, for the smaller private plane could not clear the wreckage in time and crashed violently into the runway, killing all on board.
Scarlet's outstanding bravery, however, had not gone unnoticed. Blue's report on the incident—and Scarlet's putting everyone else's lives before his own--led to Scarlet's being awarded the Spectrum Cross, one of the first recipients of the organization's new medal of honor. Blue remembered how embarrassed Scarlet looked at the ceremony, but remembered more vividly how angry he was afterward...
Blue followed his friend back to his quarters. The look in Scarlet's eyes after the award ceremony told him something was seriously wrong. "Paul?" he asked, trying to get Scarlet's attention.
Scarlet was not listening. He removed the ribbon from his neck as if he couldn't get it off fast enough, then hurled the medal angrily at his dresser.
The sheer rage in Scarlet's actions shocked Blue. He knew Scarlet usually suppressed his emotions until he could stand it no more. "Hey, hey!" Blue said. "What did you do that for?"
Scarlet threw his RadioCap into a nearby chair and ran his fingers through his dark hair. "I didn't earn it," he said, his voice filled with anger and anguish.
"What are you talking about? Of COURSE you earned it. The citation was for bravery above and beyond the call of duty, for putting others' lives before your own..."
"It wasn't enough. I failed. The Director-General is dead. His staff is dead. Two hundred million people are without a leader. Over one hundred passengers on DT19 are dead. And I received a medal for this?"
"You received a medal because you did the bravest thing I've ever seen any man do. You threw yourself into the path of that plane to stop it, in complete disregard of the danger you faced."
"In case you've forgotten, I'm `virtually indestructible'. Where is the bravery in THAT?"
Blue was silent. It was the first time either of them had brought the subject up in conversation. They'd talked around it, hinted at it, but never discussed outright the Mysteron incident that had changed Scarlet's life forever. And now, Blue thought he knew why this brought so much anguish to Scarlet. Paul Metcalfe was a very proud man, a man who'd worked doubly hard for everything he'd gotten out of life so he could not be accused of riding his famous father's reputation. Top of his class at West Point, decorated Special Forces hero, youngest colonel in World Army Air Force history...Blue knew of Scarlet's reputation before he'd joined Spectrum. But now, things were very different...or were they? "So you're saying that you wouldn't have tried to stop the Mysterons had you not been indestructible."
"That's not what I meant," Scarlet replied sharply. "I would have done whatever it took."
"But you probably wouldn't have sent me flying out of the SPV."
"Nonsense. I would NEVER have endangered your life."
"Or your own. After all, there's only so much one man can do ...no sense in dying for the cause..."
"I said I would have done whatever it took."
"Even if it meant dying for the cause."
Scarlet fell silent.
Blue looked his friend in the eye. "You would have and you KNOW you would have. And THAT, my friend, is where bravery comes in. You didn't act any differently than you would have a few weeks ago. And you can't tell me that you knew for certain you'd survive. I heard that note of uncertainty in your voice when you ejected me out of the SPV. But you did what you had to...even if it meant dying for the cause."
"But I FAILED, Adam. It was all in vain."
"Was it? Trust me, Paul, nobody has any doubts about your loyalty any more. What you did took a bravery, courage, and dedication that wouldn't have been there in a Mysteron clone. And I personally owe you my life for getting me out of there. Yes, the Director-General is dead. But this is WAR, and one of the realities of war is that people die--you, of all people, should know that. And the other major reality, unfortunately, is that no one can change that...not even an indestructible man."
Scarlet stood quietly, lost in thought.
Blue picked up the medal off the dresser and handed it back to his friend. "Believe me, I'm glad I'm not going through this, because I don't know if I could handle it. But I do know all of this is going to take some getting used to. Give yourself the time to get used to it. And recognize that all of us are trying to say `welcome back'."
"Penny for ‘em," Scarlet said to his daydreaming friend.
Blue smiled. "Just remembering how much you hate medals."
"I don't hate medals. I hate the formality of receiving them." He ran a finger along the high neck of the formal uniform. "And I hate dress uniforms and formal receptions."
The Boston blue-blood rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it. Reminds me of the tuxedos my mother used to bundle us into to take us to the opera or the country club."
"Being a General's son isn't any easier. I wore my WAAF dress blacks more times than I cared to keep track of to one occasion or another."
Blue nodded. "You're looking much better."
"I'm feeling much better. I hadn't realized how much more healing I had to go."
"You're still a little pale...probably due to all the toxic chemicals you were exposed to. It HAS been only five hours. Usually you need about six or so to completely recover when you..." He hesitated.
"Die?" Scarlet finished.
Blue shook his head. "I STILL have trouble saying it. Sometimes I even have trouble believing it. But you definitely look much better. Your father ought not to ask too many questions."
"Good. I'll need to be at my best tonight."
"We all will. Thought you might like to hear Fawn signed your formal release a few minutes ago." He handed Scarlet a slip of paper. "I told him you behaved yourself for a change."
"He didn't ask to see me again?"
"Even Fawn knows when to concede defeat."
Scarlet smiled, then looked himself over one more time in the mirror. "Ready to go, Captain Blue?"
"Ready when you are, Captain Scarlet."
Scarlet donned his grey-and-white RadioCap, trimmed with discreet red piping to match the uniform, and left with Blue for the hangar.
"About time," Ochre noted, joining them in the hallway.
"So you DID find your uniform," Blue returned.
"Yeah. And I even found a few medals to put with it."
"Really?" Scarlet said. "I thought those were spare model airplane decals."
"I wondered why a couple of those ribbons looked like USAF markings," Blue joked.
"Very funny," Ochre complained. "I'd feel better about this guard duty if I was wearing a sidearm instead of decorations, though."
"I think we all would," Scarlet agreed. "But the colonel's orders--discreet presence only."
Ochre snorted derisively. "Since when do YOU obey orders without question?"
"Relax," Blue noted. "There'll be more firepower there from Spectrum and the World Military than the three of us could hope to carry."
"I only hope we need none of it," Scarlet remarked.
"I heard that," Ochre agreed.
"Amen," Blue concluded.
The dignitaries floating around the grounds of the Officers' Club at Winchester Air Base reminded Blackheart why he hated social occasions. Everyone here was so phony, so artificial. Most of these so-called military men wouldn't know how to fight for their lives if you paid them. And Ruprecht was the worst of the bunch. Blackheart hated Navy men as a class, and Navy officers even more. Most Navy men he'd run across couldn't handle hand-to-hand combat at all, much less the kind of fight that Blackheart was often asked to give.
Worst of all, he'd heard through the conversations that the World President had been delayed and might be up to an hour late. That meant he had to spend an extra hour or more here, hiding in the bushes, moving discreetly through the shadows. Not that he couldn't do it, mind you. It was just that the longer he was here, the greater the chance someone would catch him. And he hated the idea of getting caught. It cramped his style and hurt his reputation. At least the night was cooperating, he reminded himself. The moon was high, the sky was clear, the weather pleasant, which meant that much of the reception could be held on the patio outside the club. It was a security nightmare for Spectrum...but a boon for Blackheart because it gave him more places to blend in with the darkness.
Time to move again. A Spectrum guard was heading his way. And Ruprecht was headed for the bar again.
Blackheart moved from the bushes to the shadows on the veranda, then eased inside.
A WAAF staff car pulled up to the entrance of the Winchester Air Base Officers' Club, and Colonel White, Captain Blue, Captain Ochre, and Captain Scarlet climbed out of it.
A Spectrum sergeant came to attention and saluted his commander-in-chief. "Sergeant Robert Graham, Spectrum London, on duty, sir," he said.
White returned the salute. "Good evening, Sergeant," he stated. "What's the situation?"
"Spectrum ground forces are stationed throughout the base, sir. Leftenant Plum and two others are at the airfield awaiting the World President."
"Yes, we saw them there. What precautions have been taken regarding the Mysterons?"
"Sentries with Mysteron detectors are at all entrance points. Corporals Carson and Jacobs over there," he said, gesturing with his head, "are screening incoming guests to the reception. The World President has been delayed and will be here about an hour from now."
"Thank you, Sergeant. Carry on." The quartet of Spectrum senior officers approached the entranceway.
Corporal Carson raised his Mysteron detector to screen the officers.
His partner, Corporal Jacobs, quickly elbowed him in the ribs. "Captain Scarlet," he hissed under his breath, coming to attention.
Carson lowered the Mysteron detector and looked apologetic as he too stood rigidly. "Sorry, sir," he said, realizing belatedly that snapping Scarlet's picture with the Mysteron detector—a special x-ray-emitting camera that indicated a Mysteron by producing a normal-looking snapshot, due to their inability to absorb x-rays--would endanger Spectrum's greatest secret.
"Quite all right, Corporal," Scarlet said. "Diligence should never be regretted. Carry on."
Once the four officers entered the room--already bustling with social activity--they spotted an older distinguished British general looking their way. "Ah," Colonel White observed, "one of our charges is making our job easier."
Scarlet, Blue, and Ochre came to attention as WAAF European Commander General Charles Metcalfe made his way across the room. "Good evening, gentlemen," Metcalfe greeted, nodding respectfully to Colonel White, then to the other three men. "Captains...as you were."
"General Metcalfe," White replied. "Good to see you again. You remember Captains Blue, Ochre, and Scarlet?"
"Of course." He exchanged handshakes with all three men. "Good to see you again as well."
"Hello, General Metcalfe," Ochre said.
"Good evening, General," Blue remarked. "Have you seen Admiral Ruprecht or Space General Rostokovich?"
"Rosty was queuing up at the buffet," Metcalfe said with a slight smile. "And Ruprecht was parching his thirst."
White turned to his men. "You have your assignments," he said.
"S.I.G.," Blue and Ochre acknowledged and headed into the Officers' Club.
"I'm going to speak to Minister Olafsen," White noted to Scarlet, indicating one of the highest-ranking World Government Ministers, who was standing across the room. "Keep an eye on General Metcalfe, Captain Scarlet."
"S.I.G.," Scarlet replied, finding it hard to suppress a smile.
White headed into the thick of the crowd.
Metcalfe turned to Scarlet, attempting to keep his paternal pride in check as long as they were in front of others, so as not to compromise his son's cover. "Have you been here since they finished the upgrades to the club, Captain?"
"No, sir," Scarlet admitted.
"Well, they've done some marvelous work. There's a new walking path out by the veranda that leads to the lake. I remember my son used to run back there and play by the lake during stuffy social events when he was a boy."
Scarlet smiled slightly at the memory. "It sounds marvelous. Lead the way, General Metcalfe."
Father and son headed toward the patio.
This was maddening, Blackheart decided. Not only was Ruprecht refusing to cooperate with surveillance--almost deliberately making himself hard to track--now Spectrum had practically taken over the gathering. Blackheart recognized the charcoal-grey dress uniforms with their rainbow "S" patches on the sleeves. The man who had approached Ruprecht was obviously a senior officer, though it was difficult to tell exactly how senior since Spectrum uniforms bore no rank insignia. But the mustard-colored piping on the trousers and jacket told Blackheart that the officer was color-coded, which meant he was a senior lieutenant or higher...and probably on Spectrum staff.
Upon closer inspection, Blackheart recognized the officer. He'd seen him in Germany a number of times, mostly investigating Mysteron incidents. In fact, he'd been the agent Spectrum had sent to check out the whole "Blackheart Affair". Ochre, he remembered finally, Captain Ochre. He reminded himself that his superiors had done him a favor by managing to convince Spectrum that this was not a Mysteron incident. Blackheart was certain he'd now be spending the rest of his life in a Spectrum prison or whatever else Colonel White could cook up had this Ochre gotten hold of him.
Blackheart hated Spectrum with a passion. To him, Spectrum was nothing but a front for traitors. No matter how fervent their rhetoric was against the Mysterons, to him they would always be the organization whose star agent, Captain Black, was leading the enemy on earth. It didn't help matters that he'd been rejected for induction into Spectrum--too unstable, they said, too emotional, too dangerous.
Whatever the reason for Spectrum's presence in this great a capacity, it was now obvious Blackheart could not stay indoors. He would have to conduct his surveillance outdoors.
Quietly, he moved out of the shadows of the stairwell and through the crowd to the veranda, then into the night.
Outdoors, a cool breeze suddenly seemed to wrap itself around him. He shivered to the bone. Every part of him tingled...a feeling he only got when danger was near. The sensation seemed to come from the lakeside trail adjacent to him.
Quickly, he moved off down the trail.
Scarlet suddenly stopped walking down the lakeside trail and shook as if chilled.
General Metcalfe looked at him. "Paul?" he asked his son. "Are you all right?"
Scarlet looked around for a moment. His encounter with the Mysterons had left him with not only an indestructible body, but also with a built-in Mysteron detector; he could often sense their presence before a Mysteron detector could see them. What he was feeling now was not exactly what he normally associated with Mysterons--usually, their presence made him nauseous and disoriented--but instead a strange coldness, as if a breeze had suddenly swept off the lake.
"Just a little jumpy," he apologized. "I've been a bit on edge lately. Let's move on." He began walking again.
Metcalfe joined him, their strides falling in unison. "You look tired," his father noted, "and a bit pale. Is there something you haven't told me?"
Scarlet tensed slightly. "What do you mean?"
Metcalfe looked at his son for a long moment. "You were injured recently, weren't you?"
Scarlet looked straight ahead. "Part of the job," he said simply.
Metcalfe stamped his heel on the ground. "I knew it. There was just something that wasn't right."
Scarlet looked embarrassed. "I never could fool you."
"No, and don't ever forget it. A parent knows when something's wrong with their child." He reached out and stopped Scarlet in his tracks. "You ARE all right, aren't you? You didn't return to duty too soon?"
"I'm fine, Dad. I think I need a holiday more than anything. But the Mysterons won't give us one, so I have to keep going."
Metcalfe shook his head. "You young people think you're indestructible. When you get to be my age, Paul, you'll realize how precious life is. I just hope you live long enough to realize that."
Scarlet met his father's gaze. "None of us know what tomorrow will bring. This battle with the Mysterons has taught me that." He looked out toward the lake, seeing the pier. "Do you remember the night I came out here and made a paper boat out of my place card?"
Metcalfe smiled. "We were at an honors dinner. You were six. I was General Seward's aide, and a major...and didn't think I'd ever see another promotion. You took General Seward's speech notes and made paper airplanes out of them."
"I was trying to land them on my aircraft carrier."
"Yes, well, they didn't fly very well."
"Yes, I remember. Not terribly aerodynamic. Paper was too flimsy."
"That's what you told General Seward. Even then, you had initiative to spare."
"People have always said I take after my father."
Metcalfe patted his son on the back, and both men laughed as they walked onward.
Blackheart stopped on the path to get his bearings. Whatever had rattled his nerves, it was definitely still around. The question was WHERE.
There was a reason Rainier Blackheart had a reputation as an unshakable bodyguard. It was the same reason he was considered a lunatic. He could see a greenish aura around Mysterons, making them stand out in a crowd. And he would kill twenty people to get at that Mysteron if he had to. Blackheart had only two loyalties: Himself and whoever was paying his salary. And if the employer was standing between him and destroying a Mysteron, loyalty went out the window.
Ruprecht could fend for himself, he decided. This was too important.
He started down the path toward the lake again.
Rounding a corner, he suddenly got a blinding headache. His eyes blurred and swam, and he staggered backwards. Forcing his eyes to clear, he looked around for the source.
There. Straight ahead. Next to the WAAF general. The color of the glow was a little off, but there was no mistaking the source ...a Mysteron.
Blackheart fumbled for his hip pouch and his short sword.
The father-and-son casual conversation came to a sudden halt when Scarlet gasped and grabbed his father's shoulder for balance, holding his head.
His father quickly moved to support him. "Paul?" he asked, concerned. "What is it?"
Scarlet couldn't answer. Every cell in his body seemed to vibrate in a discordant frequency, like an out-of-tune piano string. Mysterons, he realized, it HAS to be. And I have no weapon...He reached for his cap and flipped down the microphone. "Scarlet to Blue and Ochre," he said, forcing the words out through clenched teeth in a pained voice. "Codeword comet. Mysteron on grounds. Repeat--Mysteron on grounds..."
Suddenly, a flash pellet exploded in front of him, sending a blinding light and cloud of smoke straight at him.
"Run!" he shouted, shoving his father away...then felt a presence near him and leapt away from it.
Major Blackheart just missed running him through with a short sword.
For a moment, Blackheart seemed stunned that he missed. Scarlet took advantage of his disorientation and karate-kicked him in the jaw.
Blackheart stumbled backwards, then fell to the ground, dropping his sword.
Scarlet dove for the weapon.
Blackheart backhanded him across the face, knocking him onto the pier, then grabbed the sword. He swung it at Scarlet.
Scarlet managed to elude the blow, then kicked Blackheart's feet out from under him.
Blackheart fell onto the pier.
Scarlet got to his feet and tried to step onto Blackheart's sword hand.
Blackheart grabbed Scarlet's leg and took him off-balance as well, and the Spectrum captain fell backwards, narrowly avoiding falling into the lake.
Blackheart wildly stabbed the sword toward Scarlet.
It barely missed Scarlet's chest but dug a deep gouge into the top of his right shoulder. Blood immediately soaked the dark uniform and covered the rainbow Spectrum Cross ribbon. Scarlet cried out in pain and rolled onto his right side to protect the injury.
Blackheart got to his feet and raised the sword high above his head, preparing to decapitate the helpless Spectrum agent.
Three shots rang out from behind. Blackheart felt his chest explode, then the world went black.
Spectrum Corporals Carson and Jacobs watched as the violent lunatic who had trapped their number-one agent toppled face-first into the lake, barely missing Scarlet with the sword as he fell.
"Carson to Sergeant Graham," one of the corporals said into his RadioCap. "Suspected Mysteron has been neutralized. Request Mysteron gun to finish the job."
"Good work, Carson," Graham's voice replied. "Jacobs, go fetch one from the SPV. I'll notify Leftenant Plum to keep the World President away until after the all-clear."
White, Ochre, and Ruprecht pushed their way through the gathering crowd to the site of the struggle. "Good Lord," White remarked, then lowered his own RadioCap microphone. "Colonel White to Cloudbase. Notify Dr. Fawn to prepare the Sickbay for Captain Scarlet. Launch Angel One and have her overfly Winchester Air Base. Tell her to look for any evidence of a car crash or other obvious situation the Mysterons could have taken advantage of."
"S.I.G.," Lieutenant Green's voice replied.
General Metcalfe rushed out onto the pier and knelt by his son's side.
White hurried to join him. "Are you all right, General?" he asked.
"He saved my life," Metcalfe said, still in shock. "That madman came out of nowhere and attacked us..."
Scarlet's eyes fluttered as he fought to stay awake. "Dad?" he whispered, weak-voiced but still surprisingly coherent. "Are you all right?"
"Sh-h-h," Metcalfe urged, pressing a handkerchief to Scarlet's bleeding shoulder--a meaningless gesture in light of the massive size of the wound. "Don't try to talk. We'll get you to hospital soon."
White dropped his RadioCap microphone. "Colonel White to Captain Blue," he called.
"Captain Blue here," Blue's voice returned. "What's going on out there?"
"Mysteron has been neutralized. Scarlet's been injured badly. Get Sergeant Graham to take General Rostokovich to safety, then prepare the Spectrum Passenger Jet for immediate takeoff. We will rendezvous with you in five minutes."
"S.I.G. Blue out."
"Five minutes?" Metcalfe repeated. "We can have him in the base hospital here in less time than that..."
"Cloudbase has state-of-the-art medical facilities and one of the finest doctors available," White interrupted. "He'll stand a better chance..."
"Colonel, he is bleeding to death! He will die before you can GET him to Cloudbase!"
"Then call your base medics to stabilize him," White said, his voice assuming the same no-nonsense tone he always used when he did not want his orders to be questioned.
Metcalfe looked hard at Colonel White. Technically, White outranked him, and his orders carried more weight in this setting than the WAAF European Commander's did. He turned to a lieutenant, who had come running at the commotion. "Call the base hospital," he ordered the junior officer. "Have them dispatch an emergency team immediately."
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant said, hurrying away.
At that moment, the body of Scarlet's assailant floated to the surface of the lake.
"Get him out of there," White ordered Carson.
Carson and Ochre headed over to the lake and lifted the water-logged body out of the water, lying him on the shore.
Incredibly, the man coughed and gasped for air, then grew silent again.
"What the...?" Carson remarked.
"Blackheart!" Ruprecht suddenly said, startled.
Ochre looked at the black-clad man lying at his feet incredulously. "BLACKHEART?" he said.
"Blackheart," White whispered to himself. "Oh, Lord..."
Jacobs came running toward the pier brandishing the Mysteron gun. "Stand back!" he called, aiming the gun at the body.
"Put that gun down!" White ordered.
Jacobs looked at his commander-in-chief as if he'd lost his mind. Wasn't he SUPPOSED to destroy the Mysteron? Why was White stopping him?
White turned to Ruprecht. "You know this man?" he asked in a demanding tone.
"Only by reputation," Ruprecht lied.
"Sir--that's the man who kidnapped us earlier today," Lieutenant Kaufmann, Ruprecht's driver, reminded him as he pushed his way through the crowd to check on his boss.
White looked intrigued. "What's your name, son?" he asked the lieutenant.
"Kaufmann, sir--Lieutenant Emil Kaufmann, World Navy."
"And you say you were abducted earlier today?"
"Yes, sir. That man there...he knocked me out and apparently stole our car as we were leaving Manchester. Admiral Ruprecht said that he was an old friend playing a sick joke."
"Is that so?" White turned to Ochre. "Captain Ochre, escort Admiral Ruprecht to the SPJ for a visit to Cloudbase. Corporals, get a stretcher and get Major Blackheart to the SPJ as well. Do whatever it takes to secure him, but I want him to be taken alive to Cloudbase."
"S.I.G.," three voices replied in unison.
The young lieutenant who had run to call for help returned with two paramedics dragging emergency equipment and a mobile stretcher as the Spectrum agents departed with Ruprecht and Blackheart. "My God," one of the medics whispered. "What happened here?"
"He was cut with a short sword," Metcalfe informed them.
The medics knelt down next to Scarlet. "He's lost a lot of blood," one of them remarked, taking his vital signs. "He's going into shock. He needs to get to hospital right away."
"Get him stable enough to transport," Metcalfe ordered. "His commander wants him taken back to their base."
"Yes, sir," the other medic answered.
White nodded his thanks to Metcalfe.
"Leftenant Plum to Colonel White," a Welsh male voice called over White's radio as his microphone dropped into place.
"This is Colonel White," the commander answered. "Go ahead."
"The World President has just landed, sir. What shall I tell him?"
"Tell him to stay put. I'll brief him later personally. Has Captain Blue arrived yet?"
"Yes, sir. He's boarding the SPJ now."
"Good. Notify him we are en route. White out." He turned to the paramedics. "Is he ready for transport?"
"We've got the bleeding under control," one of them remarked. "But he's lost a lot of blood, and his vitals are very shaky. I don't know if he'll survive a long trip."
"He'll have to. Get him to the air strip immediately. Our jet is waiting."
"Yes, sir." The two medics gently lifted Scarlet onto the gurney, then wheeled it toward their ambulance.
"We'll notify you as soon as we know anything, General Metcalfe," White said.
"I know you will, because I'm going with you," Metcalfe insisted.
"General Metcalfe, it would be best if you were to get to a place of security..."
"What could possibly be more secure than Cloudbase? Colonel White, I have acceded to your request to transport Captain Scarlet to your base instead of to a hospital where he could get immediate attention. My own medics say he might not survive the trip. If he IS dying, I want to be with him. Colonel, he's my son...my only child..."
White thought for a moment. Security-wise, it was a risk to bring General Metcalfe to Cloudbase; it would be too easy for him to overhear conversations or see something he was not supposed to as it pertained to Scarlet's powers of recovery. But better to have Metcalfe on Cloudbase where the situation could be controlled than down on the surface asking too many questions. Besides, no one knew for certain that the Mysterons were finished with their threat. "All right, General," he agreed. "But we must leave immediately."
Metcalfe turned to the lieutenant who had summoned the ambulance and led the paramedics to the scene. "Have my car brought round immediately," he ordered.
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant answered, already racing toward the parking lot.
Two hours after his arrival on Cloudbase, Charles Metcalfe paced the floor of the officers' lounge anxiously. A career military man, Metcalfe had seen his share of death and dying, of wartime injuries, of acts of bravery. But never had such acts affected him so strongly.
Paul was his pride and joy, the son he'd raised to be a fine British soldier in the grand Metcalfe family tradition. It had not seen easy to be General Metcalfe's son, he was sure--just as it had ot been easy for HIM to be the son of a famous general a generation earlier--but Paul had always made every opportunity count. It was all he could do at times to keep from bursting with parental pride at his son's accomplishments.
But his duties with Spectrum...now that was something else altogether. Metcalfe believed strongly in Spectrum; to him, it was the next logical step in the evolution of the World Military structure to bring the elite into a first-strike force like Spectrum. But their work by its very nature was extremely dangerous, and now even more so because of their role in the fight against the Mysterons. Metcalfe knew that much of what Paul did and saw now he could never discuss with anyone outside of Spectrum's closed ranks. But what Metcalfe knew of his son's work ...the car crash a year ago that had nearly claimed his life, the many close shaves he'd had since, the many medals that adorned his dress uniform indicating noteworthy accomplishments, including that gold Spectrum Cross that was now bloodstained...
Metcalfe caught himself shivering. The sheer bravery that Paul had shown, taking on that Mysteron in hand-to-hand combat, amazed him. He'd always known Paul had a kind of sixth sense that he was being watched--indeed, Metcalfe himself had often experienced the same phenomenon when he was in combat--but his uncanny accuracy in realizing a Mysteron was near stood out in the General's mind. Paul had been willing to die for him, and had only been concerned with whether or not he'd succeeded in protecting his charge when it was all over. That fact kept repeating itself in Charles Metcalfe's mind.
Somehow, Paul had survived the trip back to Cloudbase. He'd even remained conscious, though just barely. But immediately upon the SPJ's arrival on the secret flying base, they'd been separated -- Paul and that man they called Blackheart were taken away by a medical team, and he and Ruprecht had been taken to separate areas. Ruprecht, he was sure, was being interrogated by White for his role in this attack. But it was almost as if they'd forgotten he was here after they brought him to the Officers' Lounge and told him to wait for word from Sickbay.
The door to the lounge slid open. Metcalfe turned toward it anxiously.
Captain Scarlet, his shoulder heavily bandaged and his arm in a sling, leaned on Captain Blue for support as both men entered the lounge. Blue was carrying a satchel with what looked like a damaged Spectrum dress uniform in it.
Metcalfe gasped. Paul's face looked like five miles of bad road, bruised and swollen. He looked pale and tired. But he was up and about, and even dressed in pajamas bottoms and a robe instead of a hospital gown. And Metcalfe had never been so happy to see anyone in his whole life. "Paul!" he whispered, grateful to see his son alive yet anxious over his weakened condition.
Scarlet forced a pained smile. "Hello, Dad," he returned.
Metcalfe came over to his son and reached to embrace him.
Scarlet held him at arm's length. "Sorry, Dad," he mumbled. "My shoulder..."
"Of course." Metcalfe reached out and patted Scarlet's good arm, taking care to avoid the bad shoulder. "Thank God you're all right," he whispered. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again."
"I'm fine--thanks to your medics stabilizing me for the trip here."
"I was beginning to wonder if anyone was going to tell me anything...or if I was going to find out you'd died alone in that medical center."
Scarlet laughed slightly. "I was hardly alone. There was so much security around Blackheart that no one was out of anyone's line of sight."
"That's why you couldn't come in there, sir," Blue explained. "Blackheart still posed a threat."
"Why was he brought here in the first place?" Metcalfe demanded.
"It's always been Spectrum's goal to try and save the Mysterons' victims," Blue pointed out.
"And Blackheart is as much a victim of their mind control as we were of his attack," Scarlet finished.
"You mean the impostor," Metcalfe reminded him.
Scarlet nodded, remembering that the way he had explained his survival of the car crash to his father was that the Scarlet who'd done the traitorous acts of kidnapping and assaulting the World President was an impostor. "Yes...the impostor. They don't know what they're doing. It's like hypnosis. They have no control over their actions. Bringing them out of Mysteron influence is the key to helping Spectrum understand how the Mysterons work."
"Well, whether he knew what he was doing or not, he almost killed you. I'm surprised Dr. Fawn let you walk out of there."
"Well...he didn't exactly let me."
"Paul insisted on coming to see you," Blue explained. "Since you couldn't come back there, he wanted to show you he was all right. I'm taking him back as soon as you've gone."
"What happened to you down there, Paul?" Metcalfe asked. "The way you acted...getting sick right before that madman jumped us... what happened?"
"I get this...odd feeling around Mysterons," Scarlet explained, carefully phrasing his words so as not to reveal too much. "I think it has something to do with the car accident. Ever since then, I've had this sort of violent reaction when one is close by." He shook his head. "Maybe it has something to do with the fact I can't remember anything after the car went off the road. Maybe I saw one of them and simply don't remember it."
Metcalfe snorted derisively. "Psychobabble. You've got the Metcalfe psyche, Paul. We can always tell when we're being stalked. I got this odd feeling we were being followed myself. Why, I remember during the British Civil War..."
At that moment, Destiny Angel came walking into the lounge. "Pardon," she said as she entered, realizing she was interrupting.
"That's quite all right, Destiny," Scarlet said, relieved that someone would stop his father before he got on a tear telling his old war stories. "Come in."
"How are you feeling, Captain Scarlet?"
"Much better, thank you. You remember General Metcalfe?"
"Of course." She extended her hand. "Good to see you again, sir."
"Good to see you...Mademoiselle Pontoin, isn't it?" Metcalfe noted.
"Oui, sir. I served with your son for two years."
"Yes, I remember. The charming French pilot who swept my son off his feet."
Scarlet rolled his eyes. It had been a brief but passionate relationship between Captain Paul Metcalfe and Lieutenant Juliette Pontoin, a relationship that met with the disapproval of the senior Metcalfe but one that had the pair talking marriage until the military sent them their separate ways. But that was long ago; the fire of passion had long since been replaced by the glow of lasting friendship.
Destiny turned to Scarlet. "You sent for me, Captain Scarlet?"
"Yes," Scarlet said. "Would you deliver General Metcalfe to Winchester? I'm quite certain he's anxious to return home."
"I'm not leaving yet," Metcalfe protested.
"They're getting ready to lock down the base because of Blackheart, and they've already taken Admiral Ruprecht back to Berlin," Blue interrupted. "You have to leave."
"Besides, there's nothing more you can do here except worry, and you can do that just as easily at home," Scarlet pointed out.
"At least let me take you home with me," Metcalfe urged.
"Sorry, Dad. Dr. Fawn wants me to stay here where he can keep an eye on me." He reached out his good arm and patted his father's shoulder. "I'll be fine with a little rest, really. I heal fast."
"You young people think you're indestructible," Metcalfe said with an ironic smile. "All right, I'll go. But promise me you'll do what the doctor says and get well before you go off saving the world again."
"I'll do my best." He paused. "Don't tell Mum how bad it was, please?"
Metcalfe rolled his eyes. "All right. For you." He clutched Scarlet's good hand. "For God's sake, Paul, take care."
"You too, Dad."
Metcalfe let go of his son's hand, then left the room with Destiny.
Blue waited until he was sure the hallway was clear, then gave his partner a round of mock-applause. "And the Academy Award for best actor goes to the indestructible Captain Scarlet, playing the role of an injured man."
Scarlet stood up straight and removed the sling from around his neck. "This charade is getting harder and harder to maintain," he sighed.
"Well, we both know it HAS to be this way. There's no way you can tell your parents the truth. What would they think?"
"I don't know." Scarlet tossed aside the bloodstained bandages to reveal an unmarked right shoulder, perfectly healed. "There are times I'm not certain what I think about this whole thing." He spat out a wad of gauze that had been inside his right cheek.
"Amazing what brown camouflage makeup and strategically-placed gauze will do to a man's appearance," Blue remarked, reaching into the satchel he had been carrying and retrieving a jar of cold cream and a washcloth. He handed both to Scarlet. "If I hadn't seen you put it all on, I'd have sworn you'd just gone ten rounds with the heavyweight champ."
"Don't think it didn't feel like it for a while." Scarlet returned, dabbing the cleanser on his face and wiping away the "bruises" to reveal unblemished facial features. "Blackheart is quite the fighter. Obviously well-trained in hand-to-hand combat. There's something to be said for World Army training."
"Save the admiration. The Colonel wants us ASAP in the Control Room." He tossed Scarlet a fresh everyday uniform, buried in the satchel underneath Scarlet's bloodied dress greys. "How's your shoulder?"
Scarlet rolled his right shoulder, massaging it as he did. "Loosening up. What I wouldn't give for an hour in the weight room, though, to stretch out these new muscles."
"Maybe later...if you can stay out of trouble. Of course, with your track record today..."
Scarlet gave his partner a withering look. "VERY funny."
Spectrum Sergeant Robert Graham breathed a sigh of relief as the Maximum Security Vehicle carrying Space General Rostokovich departed Winchester Air Base for the Spectrum Safe House in London. This night had definitely been more than he'd bargained for. A Mysteron attack on General Metcalfe, thwarted by Captain Scarlet... rumors of World Navy involvement in the attack...word that the Mysteron had been taken alive to Cloudbase...it had been an incredible night. And Graham wanted as much sleep as he could get. But Lieutenant Plum wasn't satisfied that the grounds were clear yet, so the search for Mysterons continued.
Graham stepped away from the others and pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, then tried to light it with his sputtering disposable lighter.
A lit flame appeared from the darkness and touched the tip of the cigarette.
"Thanks," Graham said, drawing on the cigarette.
"You're welcome," a voice that sounded as if it was coming from the depths of a crypt responded.
Graham looked up at the man standing before him.
Before he could react, Spectrum agent-turned-Mysteron terrorist Captain Black shoved his pistol hard into his chest and fired.
Graham dropped in a heap to the ground.
Black extinguished his lighter, then watched the body expectantly.
Two greenish circles of light traced the body, then traced the air next to it.
A clone of Graham materialized next to the corpse.
"I need transportation to Cloudbase," Black ordered. "Arrange it."
"Mysteron instructions will be carried out," the newly- Mysteronized Graham replied robotically.
"All right, Doctor," White said as he turned to Dr. Fawn, seated before his desk, "let's have your report."
"Well, our patient is DEFINITELY Rainier Blackheart," Fawn reported. "Thanks to Leftenant Green, we managed to find a set of personnel records with fingerprints in the German Army's computers that hadn't been erased yet."
"A smart hacker knows how to find almost anything," smiled Green from his seat at the long bank of computers in the Control Room.
"Duly noted, Leftenant," White said. "Continue, Doctor."
"The interesting thing is that he is also definitely a former Mysteron," Fawn continued.
"How can you be certain he is `former'?" Scarlet asked.
"Because his readings don't track with an active Mysteron. But they track very close to yours, Captain Scarlet."
"Explain," White stated.
"Well, sir, one of the most significant findings by the Spectrum Medical Center recently is the analysis of the bioelectrical emissions of Mysterons. As you may know, every living creature has its own bioelectrical signature--the frequency with which its cells move and divide. But all humans fall within a certain range of frequencies which can clearly be identified. When Mysterons tried to take over the transmission tower of the
World Television Network recently, we were able to identify two additional sets of frequencies from spectral analysis of the interference their activities caused. The first is an intense energy wave that surrounds the normal human frequency; this appears to be the bioelectrical signature of retrometabolism, as it is also present in Captain Scarlet's body. The second frequencies are just atop the highest band of retrometabolism emissions; these are not present in Captain Scarlet, so we can only assume that they have something to do with whatever mechanism the Mysterons use to control their agents. The signal strength of the second band seems to rise and fall erratically; presumably, it gets stronger when direct orders are being given and weaker when the Mysteron agent is carrying out those orders. That second frequency is what Captain Scarlet detects when he `senses' Mysterons; because it is not present in him, it clashes with his retrometabolic energies and causes disorientation and illness. It also explains why Scarlet doesn't always detect a Mysteron right away; if the signal strength is low, it may not cause enough interference with Scarlet's bioelectrical signature to register."
"But I FELT Blackheart's presence," Scarlet reminded him.
"Because his frequencies don't exactly match yours," Fawn explained. "They're fairly close--close enough to be in the same family--but just as no two normal signatures are the same, no two retrometabolic signatures are the same. And his was just enough out of synch with yours to cause a disorienting reaction. No doubt yours caused the same reaction in him."
"Like two computer terminals side-by-side," Green realized. "Sometimes, turning on one monitor causes the other to vibrate with interference, even though they are supposed to be the same type of computers."
"Exactly," Fawn agreed.
"Talk about your bad vibes," Blue said wryly.
"Actually, scientists discovered long ago that there was something to that old expression, considering how easily the touch of a finger can short-circuit a computer board," Fawn noted. "But that second control frequency isn't in Blackheart, which is why I can say conclusively that he is a ‘former' Mysteron."
"But I investigated that case six months ago," Ochre protested. "The German Army told me that they had examined all the evidence and determined that there had been no Mysteron activity."
"Did you use a detector on Blackheart?" White asked.
"No, they wouldn't let me near him. So I demanded recent x-rays. They gave me a set, but they were normal."
"Obviously an old set," Blue remarked.
"Easy to say that NOW," Ochre retorted. "But there'd been so many false alarms that month that I guess we were all more than happy to accept their story."
"Indeed, Captain Ochre...that is, until recently," White stated. "Spectrum Intelligence had reported stories of a mercenary working the European continent, an insane former World Military officer. The man was called Blackheart, the officer who was reportedly sentenced to death and executed a few months ago. I've had them on the case trying to track him for two months now, but he's very elusive. It doesn't help that he appears to be protected by the German military establishment, who have been very uncooperative in providing any information on him."
"That explains Ruprecht's reluctance to cooperate with us," Blue noted.
"And he admitted such when we questioned him. He had hired Blackheart through underground channels to act as his bodyguard tonight."
"Does Ruprecht know the truth about Blackheart?" Fawn asked.
"Apparently not. He said he had heard Blackheart was fearless, and was seemingly indestructible, but no one knew why. His guess was that he was some escapee from a military experiment."
"In a roundabout way, he is," Scarlet remarked softly.
Blue cast his friend a sideways glance.
"Why did he attack Scarlet?" Ochre asked.
"He thought I was a Mysteron," Scarlet realized. "Just like I thought he was."
"Right, Captain," White said. "Apparently, Blackheart has a passionate hatred for Mysterons. Ruprecht said he'd heard a story of Blackheart killing or badly injuring four World Police officers to get to a Mysteron threatening one of his employers."
Ochre tensed. "I read about that in the paper," the former World Police Commander muttered. "They said it was a madman who appeared out of the crowd. Just let me get my hands on him..."
"What are you going to do, Captain Ochre--kill him?" Scarlet noted ironically.
Ochre shot Scarlet an angry stare.
"Scarlet is right," White said, glaring at Ochre. "Short of electrocuting him, there is nothing we CAN do to him."
"Where is he now?" Blue asked.
"We moved him to the brig," Fawn replied, "and jury-rigged a power source to electrify the bars on one of the cells. He's finishing his recovery down there. Corporals Carson and Jacobs are down there keeping an eye on him."
"We can't keep him there forever," Ochre snapped. "What do we do when he's finished healing? Throw him back on the surface and hope he forgets he's ever been here?"
"I don't know," White admitted. "But we shall have to figure out something. We can't just leave this as unfinished business."
Scarlet looked alert suddenly. "Unfinished business!" he said sharply. "That's it!"
"What do you mean, Captain Scarlet?" White asked.
"Sir, Blackheart wasn't a Mysteron. Dr. Fawn confirmed it."
"So that means the Mysterons' target was never the European Commanders. It was Blackheart himself."
"Remember the wording of the threat--`Spectrum will find out whose heart is blackest when we resolve unfinished business'? We presumed it meant Captain Black, and that the unfinished business referred to something we had thwarted. But now that Blackheart has come onto the scene..."
"...he is the obvious target," Blue realized. "And since he survived their attack and recovered his senses..."
"...HE'S the unfinished business," Ochre concluded. "They want to kill him."
"Then we must protect him," White realized. "And we must convince him it is in his best interest to let us."
"That won't be easy, considering he thinks we're harboring a traitor," Blue reminded him. "Remember, he tried to kill Captain Scarlet."
"Then let me talk to him," Scarlet stated.
"YOU, Captain Scarlet?" White asked.
"I'm the only one who can possibly understand what has happened to him. Logically, I'm the only one who can convince him to let us help him."
"He hates you," Blue told his friend.
"Because he doesn't know the truth. In order to protect him, we have to tell him."
"He's not cleared," White stated firmly.
Scarlet looked at his commander. "With all due respect, sir, Mysteron physiology is part of the reason the top levels of the Rainbow Clearance were established in the first place."
"Scarlet's got a point," Fawn noted. "If we don't tell him, he'll soon guess the truth. Better that the truth comes from us than from inside his own mind."
White weighed the options carefully. What Scarlet was proposing was dangerous. But they had already taken that risk by bringing Blackheart to Cloudbase rather than killing him at the scene for having attempted to murder one of their own. "All right, Captain Scarlet. I'll leave it in your hands. But be very careful what you say to him. It is crucial he know no more than absolutely necessary to trust us."
"I'll begin immediately." Scarlet rose from his stool, came to attention, then left the Control Room.
Lieutenant Plum, a dark-haired Welshman, arrived at the Winchester Air Base Officers' Club moments after getting the World President off the ground and en route to Futura City. He was exhausted. The Mysterons had made a shambles of this reception, and he was quite certain it was deliberately done to make Spectrum look bad just as the European branches of the World Military was ready to join forces with them. And there was no indication that they were done here yet, so his men were busily combing the grounds...
...all of them, that is, except Sergeant Graham. Plum looked around for his second-in-command, determined to give him a thorough verbal thrashing. Probably off smoking a cigarette again, he grumbled mentally, heading out onto the veranda and onto the lake path.
"Leftenant Plum," Graham greeted, casually strolling into view as he walked up the lake path toward the field commander.
"There you are," Plum said, his tone harsh. "Where have you been?"
"Checking out the site of Captain Scarlet's attack. Quite a mess."
"Yes, well, we can't have that," Plum admitted. "Send someone out to clean it up." He started to walk away.
"I imagine they took Scarlet back to Cloudbase," Graham continued, sounding slightly more sinister.
"That's the usual procedure, Sergeant. You know that." Plum started to leave again.
"Some of our men are up there with that man who attacked him," Graham reminded him.
Plum turned around. "Yes, Sergeant, I know that. They're carrying out orders. As YOU should be."
"I intend to carry out my orders." With that, he pulled his pistol and shot Plum through the heart.
Plum collapsed in a heap to the ground.
Seconds later, his Mysteron clone stood before Graham.
Black came out of the darkness and walked up to the two of them. "You are flight certified," he said to Plum. "And your men are on Cloudbase. It is time we retrieved them."
"Yes," Plum said robotically. "We must retrieve them. We must fly to Cloudbase."
Scarlet headed into the depths of Cloudbase toward the brig, his mind running miles ahead of his stride. What do I say? He asked himself. What CAN I say?
Certainly Scarlet had a good idea what Blackheart had experienced over the past six months. Scarlet himself had run the gamut of emotions--despair, anger, pain, fear, isolation—before finally coming to terms with his new life and his new role in Spectrum. It was not a role he would have chosen. But it was a role he was forced to play, and he played it with all the vigor that he had always shown for his duties. Blue had always commented that a lesser man would have broken under the strain.
Perhaps that was what had happened to Blackheart.
Jacobs and Carson snapped to attention as Scarlet approached the entrance to the brig.
"As you were," Scarlet instructed. "How is he?"
"Apparently still out of it," Jacobs reported. "He's been very quiet."
"Good." Scarlet swiped his I.D. card over the electronic lock, and the bolt in the door slid back.
"Is he...like you, sir?" Carson asked, his voice uncertain.
"That's what I'm here to find out," Scarlet replied. "I'm going in. Be alert in case I need any help."
"S.I.G.," both guards replied.
Scarlet stepped through the doorway and into the holding area.
There was no need to ask which of the four cells in the brig belonged to Blackheart. Scarlet could smell the ozone being generated by the live power source connected to the hinges of the bars. As modern as everything on Cloudbase was, its brig was every bit the primitive jail of the old days, with only insulated modern electronic locks to show its invention in the 2060s.
Besides, he could still feel the vibrations from Blackheart's bioelectrical signature. The room spun for a moment, and Scarlet put a hand on the wall to catch his balance. He took several deep breaths, trying to force his head to clear. It was like being surrounded by an incredibly loud sound, one so loud it could be heard AND felt. Not one part of him was immune.
But gradually, he adjusted to the sensation and was able to move again. He walked the rest of the short distance to Blackheart's cell and stood in front of it.
Blackheart was lying on the cot in the cell, still in his bloody uniform. But through the bullet holes in the cloth Scarlet could see unblemished skin. Blackheart's healing process was obviously in full swing. No wonder I felt him so strongly, Scarlet mused. His retrometabolism must be VERY active right now. "Blackheart," he said aloud, his voice carrying a commanding tone.
Blackheart stirred, then held his head. "Ach," he said, pained, then looked toward the cell bars.
An off-color greenish glow surrounded the red-vested Spectrum agent before him.
The German officer roared angrily and lunged for Scarlet.
Scarlet stepped back. "I wouldn't," he said firmly. "The bars are electrified."
Blackheart caught himself just before touching the metal. For a moment, Scarlet thought he saw fear in the other man's eyes, then Blackheart stared daggers at Scarlet, fury in his expression.
Scarlet met the piercing brown-black eyes of his attacker with an icy blue-eyed stare of his own.
"I knew it," Blackheart hissed. "Spectrum is nothing but a den of vipers."
"Not true," Scarlet insisted. "We're here to help you."
Blackheart laughed maniacally. "Help? From YOU? Nein, nein. Your kind of help I do not need."
"Listen to me," Scarlet urged. "Your life is in danger. The Mysterons have threatened to kill you."
That made Blackheart laugh even harder. "So my assassin warns me before carrying out his orders. And they say I am crazy."
"I'm not your assassin."
"You are a Mysteron demon," Blackheart said, his tone cold as ice. "I have killed fifty like you. And I WILL kill you."
"If I'd wanted you dead, I'd have let you touch those bars," Scarlet responded harshly.
Blackheart scoffed. "Insignificant voltage. I would have had blisters for a little while. But I would hold you against it and run you through if I had a weapon..."
"...which is precisely why you do not." Scarlet kept his distance from the madman just in case, however. "Blackheart, listen to me. The Mysterons have directly threatened your life. We know you survived them once. We want to help you survive them again."
Blackheart drew back slightly. "I do not know what you are talking about," he lied.
Scarlet smiled. He'd hit a nerve. "You're a former Mysteron." He unzipped his vest pocket and held up a scan from the Mysteron detector taken in Sickbay, where Blackheart's face could clearly be seen next to the x-ray of Dr. Fawn's hand for reference. "It's a good thing we have more sophisticated detection techniques than this nowadays. We don't fancy wasting time when Mysterons attack our agents."
Blackheart began to pace the cell. "You are a liar...this is a Mysteron trick..." He turned to Scarlet. "You are a Mysteron! I can SEE your demonic energies!"
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. "So you can SEE the retrometabolism signature. Fascinating. I was wondering how you detected me."
"Aha! You ADMIT it!"
Scarlet smiled slightly. "Yes, you've found me out. I was a Mysteron once."
Blackheart scoffed again. "Once a Mysteron..."
"...always a Mysteron?"
Blackheart looked suspicious. "Your shoulder..."
Scarlet unzipped his vest partway, then pushed back the neck of his dark uniform shirt to reveal an unblemished right shoulder.
Blackheart met Scarlet's gaze. "How do I know you are not STILL a Mysteron?"
Scarlet's gaze never faltered. If Blackheart can see the retrometabolic emissions, he mused, there MAY be a way to convince him..."Do I LOOK like a Mysteron?"
Blackheart stepped back and allowed his eyes to focus not on Scarlet, but on his aura. He COULD be telling the truth, the German realized. The color is just not right...
Scarlet zipped his vest back up again. "Like you, I survived a Mysteron attack. Like you, I can sense the presence of a Mysteron--not quite the same way, but the same principle. And like you, I can return to fight again and again."
Blackheart seemed to soften slightly, though suspicion still filled his gaze. "Who are you?"
"Captain Scarlet...Spectrum agent."
Blackheart acknowledged the introduction with a nod. "How did it happen?"
There was no need for Scarlet to ask what Blackheart meant. "Car accident. That's the last thing I remember before I came to in Sickbay."
"How did the spell break?"
"I fell 800 feet to my death...or so I've been told."
"So you do not remember any of it."
"Frustrating, isn't it?"
Blackheart stepped back slightly. "How did you know..."
"...that you couldn't remember either? Just a guess."
Blackheart looked at the British officer in his brilliant red uniform. "Why did they take you back?"
"Because they realized I did not know what I was doing."
The German snorted. "If you believe that, you are easily deceived. They took you back because now you are a weapon. They have no more regard for you than they would for a pistol or tank."
"Then why are you down here?"
"Volunteered to talk to the lunatic? To persuade me to not resist? And, while I am waiting, to be examined by your scientists for whatever knowledge they can glean from this new specimen? Nein, nein--if THAT is the kind of help you are proposing, I can take care of MYSELF, danke."
"If that's what the German Army did to you, I can assure you it won't happen here."
"Ah, so they have never held you in a lab against your will. Never performed experiments on you. Never studied you like some sort of lab rat."
"I've always been treated well."
"And I suppose everything you've let them do to you has been to further the cause." He laughed. "We are freaks of nature, Scarlet. We are dead men who somehow came back to life...former enemies now somehow reborn. They have no idea what to do about us, so they humor us with reassurances that we are still `part of the team' while they strategize about putting us on the front lines. But I fooled them. I showed them that only Rainier Blackheart can control Rainier Blackheart now. Of course, slitting that doctor's throat helped get their attention quickly..."
Scarlet looked aghast. "You murdered a scientist?"
"He wanted to ‘test my limits'. I was to have been injected with enough poisons to destroy an entire village. That was when I grabbed the nearest scalpel and sliced. Of course, he would have died anyway once the drugs from the needle he was going to stab me with finished entering HIS bloodstream..."
Scarlet turned away. "My God..."
"Come now, Scarlet. Do not pretend YOU have never wanted to escape your tormentors. They only have control over you because you allow it. They are terrified of you."
"That's not true."
"Ah, but it is. And they have every right to be. If you wanted to, you could have every one of them at your mercy. It was Darwin who spoke of ‘Survival of the Fittest'...and WE are the fittest. The only gratitude I have for what the Mysterons did to me is that they gave me a graphic demonstration of that truth."
Scarlet tried to recover his composure. "You're mad. You're utterly mad."
"Who is the madman? I take care of myself, and show everyone who is in control. If they want my cooperation, they must beg for it. You are their puppet, their trained watchdog, completely under their control."
"And I suppose you are free to do as you wish."
"So you do what you like...go where you like...see whomever you like..."
Blackheart's expression hardened. "My life is my own."
"And a lonely one, at that."
Blackheart said nothing.
Scarlet smiled coldly. Another nerve had been struck. "It's difficult having no one to share this with, isn't it? No family, no friends, nothing you can truly call your own."
"My LIFE is my own," Blackheart reiterated.
"Your family believe you are dead. Your military career is finished. All that is left for you now is this burning hatred for the Mysterons that you can never satisfy."
Blackheart held his ears, pretending not to hear. "Stop this foolish game..."
"I never play games when lives are at stake. And neither do the Mysterons. If they've sworn to kill you, that is precisely what they are prepared to do. Now, you can let us help you, or you can spend the rest of what is left of your life looking over your shoulder."
Blackheart gestured over the cell. "And your help consists of keeping me in this cage?"
"For now," Scarlet admitted.
"And what then? You cannot keep me here forever, behind electrified bars. What do you intend to do? Unless I am mistaken, what you have told me is classified. And I cannot be allowed to freely leave with that information, can I? So what do you intend to do?"
Scarlet let out a hard breath. "My mission is to persuade you to cooperate with us during this crisis. After that, I cannot say."
Blackheart snorted. "You ARE nothing but a trained watchdog. And I know how to deal with watchdogs."
Both men stared at each other coldly as Blackheart's threat hung heavy in the air.
Lieutenant Plum--or rather, his Mysteron clone--piloted a Spectrum transport aircraft, a small four-person jet, through the skies toward Cloudbase as the Mysteronized Sergeant Graham and their current master, Captain Black, looked about anxiously.
"They will not let us on base if they detect Mysterons aboard," Plum stated in a monotone. "We will be screened upon arrival."
"They will not have a chance to screen us," Black responded. "We will strike first. Radio Spectrum Control that we wish to land."
Plum reached for his radio.
A white light on Lieutenant Green's console blinked, indicating an outside radio transmission coming in. "Spectrum Transport A-63 to Spectrum Control," Lieutenant Plum's voice said over the loudspeakers.
"Spectrum Control, Lieutenant Green here--go ahead," Green responded into his microphone.
"This is Leftenant Plum of Spectrum London. I understand two of my men are still there."
"That is correct, Lieutenant Plum. They are performing guard duty for the prisoner."
"I am here to return them to the surface. They're needed for cleanup at Winchester Air Base. Request landing clearance."
Colonel White looked up from his reports at his young green-vested aide, then tapped the button below the outside line indicator. "This is Colonel White," the commander intoned. "On whose authority do you come here?"
There was a moment of silence, as if questions wereunanticipated. "Spectrum London, sir," Plum finally replied. "Major Ferreira ordered me to retrieve them."
"We believe we have the Mysteron plan well in hand," White informed him. "There is no need for further activity at Winchester Air Base."
"With all due respect, sir, the major believes there is. There was some suspicious activity about thirty minutes ago that requires investigation. Major Ferreira is recalling all personnel."
White looked up at Green and mouthed the words "Close channel".
Green nodded and closed the microphones to the outside listeners.
White tapped one of the buttons below the silvery-white light indicating Angel One on his desk's color-coded radio panel. "Colonel White to Angel One," he stated. "Survey approaching Spectrum Transport. Report on reconnaissance sweep."
"S.I.G.," Harmony Angel's voice replied.
Harmony Angel turned her sleek Angel aircraft in a tight circle and swooped toward the approaching Spectrum Transport. She checked all windows from all sides and could only see a Spectrum lieutenant in a dark purple uniform. "Harmony Angel to Cloudbase," the young Oriental woman said in heavily-accented English. "Spectrum Transport A-63 contains one passenger, apparently a Spectrum officer. Uniform color--plum."
"S.I.G.," Colonel White replied. "Thank you, Harmony."
If Harmony Angel had been able to put her plane directly next to a window, she might have detected the slightly-ajar doors to two small cargo compartments...but it would be doubtful if even then she could have spotted Captain Black's sunken dark eyes watching every move carefully.
White turned to Green. "Bring them in," he ordered the lieutenant, "and get me Major Ferreira immediately. Send a security team down to the hangar--I want Plum watched carefully until this mess is sorted out."
"S.I.G.," Green replied, flipping on the microphone once more. "Spectrum Transport A-63, you are clear to land. Landing pad 3 has been lit for your identification. You will taxi forward upon landing to Elevator two and await further instructions."
"Thank you, Spectrum Control," Plum answered. "Plum out."
Green hit the intercom button. "Captain Ochre and Security team A, report to hangar entrance immediately. You are to apprehend Lieutenant Plum when he exits the transport and keep him under close surveillance until further notice."
"S.I.G.," Ochre's voice replied.
"This is getting us nowhere," Scarlet said in disgust to Blackheart. "You're still not convinced your life is in danger, nor that we are not your enemies."
"All who are not my friends are my enemies," Blackheart retorted. "And I HAVE no friends."
Scarlet frowned. "I'll be back to deal with you later," he said finally, then started to walk away.
Just before he reached the doorway, a wave of nausea suddenly seemed to surround him. He grabbed the wall and gasped for breath.
This time, there was no mistaking the sensation. Scarlet had been through this too many times not to recognize what was happening. Mysterons...HERE?
"Mysterons," he heard a pained German voice whisper.
Scarlet turned to find Blackheart rubbing his temples. "You felt it too," the British captain observed.
"My eyes hurt," Blackheart responded. "There is a Mysteron on this base."
Scarlet hit the intercom button on the wall. "Scarlet to Control," he said. "What the blue blazes is going on? I'm sensing a Mysteron..."
"THREE Mysterons, Captain Scarlet," White corrected. "Captain Black and two Mysteronized Spectrum officers--Sergeant Graham and Leftenant Plum from Spectrum London--overpowered our best security
team; one of our men is dead, and the others were badly wounded. Captain Ochre has also been badly injured. He's on his way to Sickbay."
"Where are they now?"
"They appear to have split up. Obviously, this is part of the plan to destroy Blackheart. And if they can destroy Cloudbase as part of the bargain..."
"I'm on my way." Scarlet gathered his composure and started out of the brig again.
Scarlet turned around to find Blackheart standing next to his bars, being careful not to touch them. "Take me with you," Blackheart stated.
"Absolutely not," Scarlet replied. "Stay here where you'll be safe."
"Captain, if they know I am a prisoner, they will come straight here. Electrified bars will not keep me safe for very long. Besides that, you need me."
"I can see Mysterons. You can only feel them."
"You are a danger to yourself and everyone around you," Scarlet stated.
"Because I want to survive. If I am going to die here, I want to die like a man...not like a caged animal. You would want the same."
Scarlet thought for a long moment...then took a calculated risk. He reached down to the nearby power supply next to Blackheart's cell and flipped its switch.
The generator came to a halt.
Scarlet swiped his I.D. card across the cell's electronic lock.
The invisible holographic code on the card was read, and the lock snapped.
Scarlet pulled the cell door open. "No weapons," the British captain ordered, "and you will obey every order given you. Understood?"
"Understood," Blackheart promised.
The two Mysteron survivors headed for the exit together.
Moments later, Spectrum security teams led by senior officers were spread out throughout the base, armed with Mysteron detectors and Mysteron guns. "This is Captain Blue to all security squads," Blue stated into his RadioCap's microphone. "All leaders report your positions."
"Magenta on deck B," the Irish-American captain responded. "Nothing to report."
"Grey on deck D," the Midwestern-accented voice of Captain Grey stated. "Negative sighting."
"Scarlet on deck E," came the clipped British accent of the number-one agent. "No activity."
"I'm on deck C," Blue responded. "Keep your eyes peeled. They could be anywhere. Blue out." He turned to his team and nodded, then the group moved in a block throughout the deck.
The sound of an elevator moving stopped them. Blue flipped open an emergency access panel, then swiped his I.D. card across the electronic reader on its face and hit the "SECURITY OVERRIDE" button on the panel.
The elevator came to a stop and the door opened.
A hail of automatic weapon fire greeted the security team, who dove for cover.
Sergeant Graham reached out and tried to disengage the override signal.
Blue took aim with the Mysteron rifle and fired it at Graham.
The beam of electrons struck the wall instead, shocking Graham but not killing him. He turned and fired on Blue.
Blue barely avoided being shot by the wave of bullets as he once more dove for cover.
One of the security team members nailed Graham in the shoulder.
Graham staggered backwards.
Blue recovered his composure and fired the Mysteron rifle a second time.
This time, he didn't miss. Graham went rigid for a moment, then slumped to the floor of the lift, dead.
"Blue to all squads," the New Englander said into his radio. "Mysteron agent Graham is dead on level C. Any other signs?"
"Plum was just here," Grey reported. "We engaged him in gunfire but he managed to escape back into the stairwell. Scarlet, he may be headed your way."
"Approach confirmed," Scarlet's slightly strained voice replied. "I'm ready for him. Concentrate on finding Black. Scarlet out."
It took a second for Scarlet to adjust to the sensation of the approaching Mysteron agent, but he soon regained his equilibrium and fixed his Mysteron rifle's aim on the stairwell door. Behind him stood Blackheart, while two other security officers flanked the corridor with traditional firearms to slow the Mysteron's approach should Scarlet's first shot fail.
"He has stopped moving," Blackheart stated softly.
"How do you know?" Scarlet asked.
"The glow." He pointed toward the window in the doorway. "It is holding steady. He knows he will be ambushed when he comes through here."
Scarlet peered through the Mysteron gun's sights, his expression firm. "I can wait as long as he can."
"But I cannot." With that, Blackheart bolted past Scarlet and ran for the stairwell door.
"Blackheart!" Scarlet hissed.
But it was too late. Blackheart whipped open the door, and gunfire spat into the hallway, sending everyone diving for cover.
Blackheart jumped Plum, knocking both of them backward into the stairwell. Plum's gun went skittering across the floor.
"Stay here!" Scarlet ordered his men, then raced for the stairs.
Blackheart and Plum, meanwhile, had rolled down a flight of stairs and were now struggling on the landing, each intent on killing the other.
Scarlet aimed the Mysteron gun at the pair, but could not get a clear shot. "Blackheart--MOVE!" he shouted.
Blackheart looked up at Scarlet.
Plum knocked him backward down the next flight of stairs.
Scarlet fired the rifle and shot a beam of electrons straight through Plum's heart.
Plum toppled down the stairs.
"Blackheart!" Scarlet shouted. "Are you all right?"
Scarlet heard a loud groan, then Blackheart ascended the stairs. "Dummkopf!" the German swore. "You could have killed me!"
"You could have gotten yourself killed," Scarlet retorted. "I told you to obey my orders!"
"I never obey orders that make no sense! Waiting accomplishes nothing..."
"Shut up!" He dropped his cap microphone. "Scarlet to security teams...Plum is dead. Any progress on finding Black?"
"No, Captain Scarlet," Blue replied. "We've searched every room on this floor. He's not here."
"Negative here," Grey added.
"Deck B S.I.G.," Magenta reported. "Control, anything to report?"
There was a moment of silence. "Spectrum Is Red!" Lieutenant Green's voice suddenly shouted over their microphones, then all communication with the nerve center of Cloudbase was cut off.
"Oh, Lord...," Blue whispered over the radio.
"Black's in the Control Room!" Scarlet called back. "Prepare for emergency evacuation--I'm on my way up there!"
"I'm coming with you!" Blue replied.
"No--you have to protect the others. Black could send this base out of control at any moment. Now do your job--and let me do mine!"
"Spectrum Is Green," Blue reluctantly answered. "I'm releasing the hold on the elevators now. Godspeed, Captain Scarlet."
"S.I.G." Scarlet turned to Blackheart. "Are you coming or not?"
Blackheart's eyes narrowed. "Let me at him," he hissed angrily.
Scarlet gestured with his head, then the pair headed back into the fifth floor and toward the elevators.
When the elevator opened on the Control level, Scarlet and Blackheart stepped off and looked around anxiously. Scarlet punched the door lock. No response.
"Blast it open," Blackheart remarked.
"It's a pressure door," Scarlet stated. "It's made to withstand much more than my pistol OR this electron rifle." He dropped his RadioCap microphone, and his epaulets flashed white to indicate a connection to the Control Room. "Black," he said into it, "I know you're in there. Unlock this door now."
"VERY threatening," Blackheart grumbled. "I'M scared."
"May I remind you that my commander and his aide are in there as well," Scarlet snapped.
"Probably dead," Blackheart pointed out.
"Doubtful. He would have already sent this base spiraling out of control if that was his aim. He wants me."
"He wants ME," Blackheart corrected. "Wasn't that the point of our little talk earlier?"
Scarlet realized Blackheart had a point. He thought for a moment, then dropped his microphone again. "Black," he said, "I've got Blackheart."
"What are you doing?" Blackheart snapped.
"You said you wanted a fight," Scarlet reminded him.
With that, the door slid open.
Inside the Control Room, Scarlet and Blackheart could see Black standing behind Colonel White with an automatic rifle pointed at the Colonel's head. Lieutenant Green was lying on the floor unconscious, a bad head wound clearly visible.
Scarlet slowly walked into the room. "Let him go," he stated firmly, the Mysteron gun's aim fixed firmly on Black.
"I want Blackheart," Black responded.
White looked at Scarlet. "Don't give in, Scarlet," he ordered.
But Blackheart had other ideas. He pushed past Scarlet to step in front of him. "I remember YOU," he said coldly.
"Get over here," Black ordered.
"Nein, nein," Blackheart taunted. "You come HERE."
Black cocked the rifle and held it closer to White's head.
"That does not intimidate ME," Blackheart scoffed.
"No," Black admitted. "But it intimidates HIM." He put a hand on White's shoulder and looked Scarlet in the eye to make his point.
Scarlet kept the electron gun trained on Black, fully aware that as long as Black was touching White in any way, any shock that would be enough to kill Black would fry White. "Back off, Blackheart," he ordered.
"Never," Blackheart hissed in reply.
The tension was so high that no one noticed Lieutenant Green quietly reviving. The West Indian lieutenant slowly reached up to his console and carefully tapped a sequence on his keyboard, then hit the "RETURN" key.
White's circular console suddenly spun on its base, throwing Black off-balance, crashing him into Blackheart.
Black struggled to his feet.
Scarlet aimed the Mysteron gun at his arch-rival.
Black fired his automatic weapon throughout the room, spraying bullets and sending Scarlet and White diving for cover, then raced out onto one of the observation deck tubes.
Blackheart scrambled to his feet and ran after him.
"Seal the doors!" Scarlet ordered, running after the pair.
The moment Scarlet stepped through the doors onto the cylindrical observation deck, Green sealed the pressure doors, trapping the trio on the deck.
Black reached the end of the deck and found nothing but a window...and Scarlet at the other end with a Mysteron rifle. Blackheart stood between them.
"Give yourself up, Black," Scarlet ordered. "Maybe we can help you..."
"Nein!" Blackheart burst angrily. "He deserves no help! He deserves worse than the death he has given hundreds of his victims!"
"Killing him is not the answer!" Scarlet replied. "He's as much a victim as you or I."
"I am NO man's victim! If you will not kill him, I will!" With that, Blackheart lunged at Scarlet and struggled with him for the Mysteron gun.
Their struggle was interrupted by a hail of bullets from Black's gun. Scarlet caught one in the leg, Blackheart in the shoulder, and a third cracked one of the plate glass windows on the deck.
A hissing sound filled the air.
"Pressure leak!" Scarlet shouted, lunging for the hand holds on the wall.
Blackheart quickly followed suit, accidentally kicking the Mysteron rifle as he did.
With that, the window burst, decompressing the room.
Black grabbed the Mysteron rifle before it escaped from the deck and put it to Scarlet's head, tightly gripping a nearby hand hold as he did. "Farewell, Captain Scarlet!" he shouted.
Blackheart quickly kicked Scarlet's hand.
Scarlet lost his grip on the hand rail and shot toward the window, drawn out by the pressure differential.
Momentarily taken aback, Black quickly regained his composure. "It does not matter!" he shouted. "Now, Blackheart--you will learn whose heart is TRULY black!" He aimed the gun at Blackheart.
Blackheart swung his legs up and kicked the rifle away.
It flew out into the atmosphere.
"What the...," Black began.
Blackheart wrapped his legs around Black's waist and let go of the hand railing.
The suction pulling on Blackheart was too much for Black's grip. He released the wall railing, grabbing at the window sill as they shot toward the open space.
He just barely managed to hang on.
"Let go!" Blackheart shouted, trying to reach up and pull Black off the railing.
Neither man noticed a dark-sleeved arm reaching up and getting a firm grip on the railing next to them...until a red boot kicked at Black's hands.
Black released his grip on the window sill, and he and Blackheart went flying out into the airspace around Cloudbase.
Captain Scarlet reached his other hand up to grab the window sill firmly, trying to pull himself inside. He could feel his ribs breaking and his lungs collapsing as the air pressure was pulled out of them. His vision began to blur...
Suddenly, he felt two firm hands grasping his wrists and pulling as hard as they could.
Captain Blue, breathing through a respirator and tethered to the wall railings by a maintenance rope, pulled the wounded Captain Scarlet back through the windows and into the depressurized Control Room, where Captain Magenta was breathing deeply into his own respirator and holding onto the armrests of Lieutenant Green's chair for dear life. "Seal the room!" Blue shouted, hurriedly throwing off his security line and placing a respirator on the very pale Scarlet.
The heavy pressure doors resealed the Control Room, and pressurized air began to fill the room once more.
"Oh, God...," Scarlet cried out as the pressure began to restore, pain etching his features as the weight of the air pushed on his shattered rib cage from all sides.
Blue went cold inside. For Scarlet, whose pain threshhold was far higher than most men's, to cry out in agony, the pain must have been excruciating. "Easy, Paul," he soothed. "I know it hurts. We'll have you in Sickbay soon. Rest now."
Scarlet gripped Blue's hand tightly for a moment, then mercifully passed out.
"How are you feeling, Captain Scarlet?"
Scarlet opened his eyes at the sound of the Australian-accented voice to see Dr. Fawn and Colonel White standing over him. The clock on the wall showed four hours had elapsed. "Curious as to whether or not there is a limit on the number of retrometabolic recoveries per day," he replied dryly.
"Well, whatever it is, I'd say you've probably exceeded it," Fawn admitted. "You've given me quite a workout over the past few hours."
"Every Spectrum agent needs to keep up his skills." He sat up slowly, feeling a slight twinge from the still-healing musculature around his rib cage. "How are Ochre and Green?"
"Green's fine. I released him a little while ago. Nothing more than a mild concussion. Ochre's going to take a little longer. He took a bullet to the chest, and we nearly lost him. He's recovering well, though. He'll soon be complaining like all my other patients."
"Good. What about Black and Blackheart? What happened to them?"
"We found Blackheart's body in the lake below," Colonel White replied. "Harmony reported that they were still fighting even as they fell through the atmosphere. She followed them through the clouds...and that was where she lost Black. Only Blackheart emerged from the clouds to fall to earth."
"The Mysterons guard Black jealously," Scarlet observed. "I assume Blackheart is..."
"Yes, Captain. What was left of him was hardly recognizable as a man. Dr. Fawn has him in the operating room now."
Scarlet turned to Fawn. "You want to do an autopsy," he realized.
"It's the only way we're ever going to learn," Fawn reminded him. "This is a valuable opportunity to study the Mysterons' handiwork that we cannot afford to pass up."
"Are you certain he's dead?"
"Scarlet, you didn't see the body. Not even YOU could survive a 40,000-foot fall through storm clouds back to Earth."
Scarlet nodded. Fawn was right, of course. But something about it still bothered him. "I want to pay my last respects," the British captain said aloud.
"Whatever for?" Fawn remarked.
"He saved my life. Black had me dead to rights with a Mysteron gun to my head, and Blackheart kicked me out of the way. If nothing else, I owe him that last gratitude."
Colonel White nodded his approval. "A fitting gesture," he pronounced.
Fawn shrugged, then handed Scarlet his robe and stepped aside.
Scarlet left his hospital bed and headed for the operating room. White followed.
"Do you mind if I prepare for the autopsy?" Fawn asked as he entered the room.
Scarlet shook his head.
Fawn walked over to the supply cabinet and began removing medical instruments.
Scarlet and White looked at each other for a long moment. Then, Scarlet pulled back the shroud.
Blackheart opened his eyes and stared up at both men.
Both Scarlet and White jumped back. Scarlet cursed himself for not distinguishing Blackheart's retrometabolic signature from the other sensations he was feeling sooner.
Blackheart sat up. "Ah, Herr Doktor," he observed, "it is impossible to do an autopsy without a dead body."
Fawn dropped his medical instruments in shock and whirled around to see the German sitting up, perfectly healthy and perfectly healed. "You should be dead!" he said.
Instantly, Blackheart took advantage of the situation, grabbing one of Fawn's scalpels and leaping off the table toward Colonel White, quickly taking the startled commander as a hostage. "I have survived far worse," he replied. "Now...stay back, both of you."
Scarlet stepped closer. "Let him go," he said firmly. "Take me instead."
Blackheart laughed. "You are useless as a hostage," the madman replied. "Nein, you are WORSE than useless. You would fight back, and if you could not escape, your security dogs would have no hesitation to shoot right through the indestructible Captain Scarlet. Nein, nein, Captain. I have what I need to bargain with. All I want are my clothes and my weapons, and transportation off this flying prison. When I am safely off, you may have your precious colonel back."
Scarlet moved to position himself between Blackheart and the doorway. "You're not leaving with him."
"Then I will kill him right here. THEN I will kill your good doctor. THEN your friend in Intensive Care. And then anyone else I have to until you get out of my way. And there is nothing you can do to stop me...or WILL do. You will not endanger your commander, even though he would not hesitate to throw YOU to the wolves. That is the way it is with us, Scarlet. We are nothing but weapons in their arsenal, toys they want to see how they can use and abuse. But I will not allow it anymore. They cannot hurt me. They cannot control me. They cannot kill me!"
White, seeing he had to do something or risk dying, took a desperate chance. He scraped the heel of his boot all the way down Blackheart's bare shin.
"Ach!" Blackheart shouted, drawing back.
White quickly wriggled free, but not before getting cut on the cheek. Scarlet caught him as he stumbled forward.
Fawn hurriedly smacked a pair of electro-cardiac stimulation paddles onto Blackheart's back and discharged them.
Blackheart shook violently for a moment, then fell dead to the floor.
Fawn caught his breath. "Sorry, sport," the Australian physician observed, "but ALL men can be killed. Some are just easier to kill than others."
Captain Scarlet stood quietly near a window sill amidst the lush plant life of the Promenade Deck, listening to Chopin. The rich piano melodies filled the air, helping to soothe his turbulent thoughts.
"Penny for ‘em," Captain Blue's Bostonian accent called.
Scarlet turned toward his best friend, who was standing in the doorway. "A very odd day," he noted aloud.
"You're telling me?" Blue crossed the room to join Scarlet by the windows. "This has been the most bizarre twenty-four hours I've ever known."
Scarlet looked back out the window. "I can't help but think about it. We struggled so hard to save him from the Mysterons and ended up doing their job for them. And the worst part is that there, but for the grace of God, go I."
Blue rested a reassuring hand on Scarlet's shoulder. "He wasn't like you at all."
Scarlet turned to Blue. "Wasn't he? A military man, killed in the prime of life, reborn into the service of the Mysterons, released from that service for some unknown reason--where was the difference?"
"In here." Blue tapped Scarlet's chest. "There was nothing in Blackheart but hatred, bitterness, anger. He fought the Mysterons not out of a sense of duty to humanity, but out of a need for some form of revenge for what had been done to him. The true tragedy of what happened to Blackheart was not that he was a victim of the Mysterons, but that he never recovered his humanity. Blackheart fought to destroy the Mysterons because he hated being one. You fight to destroy the Mysterons because you want to save humanity...including yourself."
Scarlet sighed. "In that sense...perhaps death is his ultimate victory."
Blue nodded. "And life is yours," he added softly.
Scarlet said nothing as they both stared out into the starry evening sky.
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