a CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS story
by Mary J. Rudy
"Angels Two and Three--immediate launch," was the command heard from the Cloudbase control room.
A soft French voice flowed over the airwaves, that of Destiny Angel: "S.I.G., Lieutenant--ooh, I'm sorry, Captain Ochre."
"No harm done, Destiny." It was an easy enough mistake to make; Ochre was filling Lieutenant Green's regular post as Cloudbase's communications and flight deck operations officer.
Destiny and Melody Angel jumped into a pair of seats in the Amber Room. As the two female pilots put on their helmets, the seats elevated into the two fighters parked directly above them. Within seconds, they were airborne and joined Symphony Angel, who had been on regular alert in the lead aircraft and had taken off immediately upon a previous order. Ochre waited until the planes assumed their arrowhead formation before he spoke again.
"Angel Flight, you are to set course to 328 magnetic and proceed at normal altitude and cruising speed to the suburban Washington, D.C. area. You will escort the group of vintage aircraft to Bong Air Force Base in the southern part of the city. When the show begins, you are to fly a circular patrol above said aircraft and report on anything suspicious. Spectrum helicopter B21 is already in the area to provide additional air-ground support and emergency evacuation if necessary. Do you have any questions?"
"Captain, I thought the King Convention was the primary target," commented Symphony Angel, Captain Ochre's fellow Midwesterner.
"That hasn't changed, Symphony. The Planes of Extinction's flight plan takes them directly over the convention complex. You'll be overflying both proposed targets."
Melody spoke next, her usual Atlanta drawl subdued by the concern in her voice. "Captain, some of those planes carried more weapons in wartime than our three put together--you'd know that better than any of us. What if the Mysterons have control of the entire flight and are loaded with live ordnance?"
"Andrews Air Force Base is on standby. Just say the word and you'll have assistance in less than one minute. Remember, our planes are much faster."
"Maybe, Captain Ochre, but these pilots are war veterans," replied Melody.
"Oui, and they will outnumber us," added Destiny.
"Don't worry, girls," reassured Symphony. "Captain Ochre is right. There's a fully-operational air base less than ten miles away. Besides, we're not even sure if the Mysterons are in control of the flight."
"That's true," noted Ochre. "There's been nothing unusual so far to report, although a press release did state that one of the planes would do some low-level flying." He stopped and checked the Angels' position on the radar. "Well, Angel Flight, your ETA Washington is one hour. Keep your eyes open and good luck."
"S.I.G., Cloudbase," said Symphony for the trio.
The one-hour mark came and went with the Angel jets still en route to Washington, delayed by a fierce headwind. Captain Ochre was not overly concerned by the delay because there was still plenty of time. Apparently the Planes of Extinction were also behind schedule, for the radar screen was blank. As Ochre radioed course and speed corrections to Symphony Angel, the door slid open. The captain rose to his feet as Colonel White strode in.
"Good morning, Colonel."
"Good morning, Captain Ochre," replied the snow-haired man with the cultured British accent, motioning for Ochre to sit back down. "As you were." The colonel sat at his circular console and rotated it so he faced a huge monitor in back of him. "What is the current location of the Angel flight, Captain?"
Ochre projected the radar screen on the monitor. "ETA Washington city limits is about thirty minutes, sir." At that moment, a cluster of lights appeared on the edge of the screen. "That will be the Planes of Extinction flight. Wind conditions have caused a slight delay. I've calculated a new intercept course for the Angels."
"Good," said White absent-mindedly. He was counting the number of planes in the antique aircraft group. He frowned and counted again.
"What's wrong, Colonel?" asked Captain Ochre.
"They're two short," said the base commander thoughtfully. "Put me in touch with the squadron leader."
Ochre snapped on the radio and nodded.
"This is Colonel White of Spectrum wishing to speak to the commanding officer."
"Good morning, Colonel," replied a nasal American voice. "Colonel Karl Dietrich, acting commander of the Planes of Extinction, at your service."
"Colonel Dietrich, do you require assistance? We have radar contact with you, and we count two aircraft fewer than originally planned."
"Colonel Stone, flying our A-10, returned to base late and was refueling as the main body took off. Our commanding officer, General Moriarty, stayed with him. They should be right behind us, but thanks for the offer."
"Are the missing aircraft important to the air show activities?"
"The A-10 is very important, Colonel White; he's the star of the show. The Mustang piloted by General Moriarty only plays a minor part in the festivities. Request that the show be postponed for fifteen minutes or until all aircraft have assembled, whichever is sooner."
"Understood, Colonel Dietrich. My aide, Captain Ochre, will advise when we have the two aircraft on our radar."
"Thank you, Colonel White. Out."
White rotated the console back to its original position, facing the computers and Captain Ochre. The Spectrum commander sat for a minute deep in thought, his chin in his hand. Then, his face lit up and he turned to his aide.
"Well, I think we've just found some use for that hobby of yours, Captain. What can you tell me about the aircraft?"
"I'm great as far as fighters, sir. The Mustang is probably the best-known fighter of World War II--"
"I think I'm familiar enough with the Mustang," the colonel interrupted. "What do you know about this A-10?"
"Judging by the designation, I'd say it's an American attack plane of the late 20th century. Other than that, Colonel, I don't know anything about it. I'm pretty rusty when it comes to post-1960's aircraft, particularly attack planes."
"Do you have some sort of encyclopedia or reference book where we can quickly find a picture?"
"Yes, sir. I should be able to find a picture in one of the books in my quarters."
"Well, then, let's get cracking. I'll run checks on Stone and Moriarty while you research that aeroplane."
"S.I.G., Colonel," called Ochre from the doorway.
"Good morning, Mr. President," said Captain Blue as the chief executive sat at the breakfast table.
"Good morning, Captain. Do we have time for coffee?"
"Plenty of time for a full breakfast if you like, sir."
"No, thanks, I'm not hungry. Just coffee, please," Roberts said to the servant, who filled the President's cup before clearing Blue's dishes. Roberts spooned sugar into the cup and stirred slowly as he spoke.
"So, Captain Blue, what's the order of the day?"
"Our Maximum Security Vehicle is waiting outside, sir. The motorcade will stop to pick up Space General Perreault and General Murray, and then it'll be a non-stop trip to the Air Force base."
"And the security of the other chiefs of staff?"
"The Secret Service and Spectrum security will take good care of them."
Roberts nodded and took a long sip of the coffee. "What about the air show?"
"As of an hour ago, the Planes of Extinction flight was en route to Washington. If everything goes according to plan, the planes will make their grand entrance shortly after we arrive."
"But what if they're Mysteron planes? What's to stop them from strafing the grandstand?"
"A Spectrum helijet with a cannon in the nose, plus our three Angel pilots. Also, don't forget about that special grandstand."
"And if they fail, there's always Andrews."
"Exactly right, Mr. President. They're lined up for inspection by the Joint Chiefs later today, but they can be alerted quickly."
"Sounds like Spectrum has everything covered."
"You should see what they're doing at the convention center for the King Conference, sir. This is nothing."
"I've heard. Captain Scarlet is as efficient as you."
"More than usual, when he and the lieutenant team up."
"Maybe you'll introduce me to this Lieutenant Green someday, Captain. From what you were telling me last night, he sounds like some type of whiz kid."
The captain laughed. "I guess he is at that, Mr. President." Seeing that Roberts had finished his coffee, he looked at his watch. "Whenever you want to get going, sir."
"Now's as good a time as any-- no, wait." Roberts picked up the telephone. "I might as well call my photographer. One nice thing about this job--I get to enjoy the air show while someone else has to fool around with the camera."
As the President placed his call, Blue said with a smile, "I wonder if I might ask a favor of you, sir--"
"Of course, Captain," interrupted Roberts, holding up his hand and winking at him. "I'll have an extra set made for Captain Ochre. If you don't bring him back a souvenir, you won't hear the end of it."
Colonel White had been a good choice to head Spectrum. Besides his ideal previous assignment with the Universal Secret Service, he was a former admiral in the World Navy. His experience as a captain of a destroyer early in that career had carried over perfectly to the hovering nuclear-powered structure known as Cloudbase. The Spectrum headquarters was practically the same as an aircraft carrier, only without the water and with other modifications to compensate for high altitude operations. The control room was located in the "island" above the flight deck, which now seemed naked and vulnerable without the Angel aircraft in alert position. Although Cloudbase had no need for defensive armament due to its exceptional mobility, it was still a strange feeling not to have the aircraft there.
Fortunately, White had found only one General Moriarty still living in the world, a retired U.S. Air Force general who had headed the Planes of Extinction for several years. With "Colonel Stone," however, there were hundreds. The colonel glanced at the computer printer spitting out sheet after gray-barred sheet of lieutenant colonels and colonels named Stone either active in or retired from the U.S. Air Force, Army and Marine Corps. And he was only beginning. There were still Canada and the other countries to check. White sighed. Sifting through all of these records would be time-consuming.
Although this type of search was tedious, it had proven to be the most accurate when combined with the information supplied from the news media. Colonel White, and Captain Ochre whenever he got back to the control room, would match up names and other data and eliminate all but a few likely suspects.
The problem was that Spectrum had only a few criteria with which to work--Colonel Stone, male, jet pilot. He had been unable to contact Colonel Dietrich again over the radio, for the squadron leader was either transmitting or receiving, and his old type of radio handled only one voice transmission at a time.
Also, Colonel White still could not be sure that they had even identified the Mysteron or Mysterons. The Mysteron agent could be anyone, or even an object such as one of the planes, and there was no way to identify a Mysteron. What if Stone and Moriarty had been the ones unfortunate enough to discover the plot and had been eliminated? That would leave someone in Dietrich's group, and White did not wish to reveal Spectrum's plans to the wrong ears. They still had not stumbled upon the missing link, the one clue which would tie everything else together.
Finally, Captain Ochre appeared in the doorway with five large books cradled in his arms.
"What in the blue blazes took you so long, Captain?"
"Trying to find books that would include the A-10, sir. Most of mine only deal with the 1940's."
"I thought I asked for only one picture. Why do you have all those books?"
Ochre, staggering under the weight of the thick volumes, set them on his desktop with a bang. "In case we need more details, Colonel. It made more sense to bring them all instead of hunting through the whole bunch again." He leaned over the computer console and punched a couple of buttons. "Let me set up the scan of the news and I'll check these books while that is running."
"Very well, Captain Ochre. Get to it. But before you open those books, notify Captain Scarlet, Lieutenant Green and Captain Blue of the situation."
"Well, Captain, Lieutenant," said Mayor Cherry, nodding at each of them in turn, "here's to the success of the King Convention and the failure of the Mysterons." He held up his glass, which was filled with champagne.
"Hear, hear," replied Lieutenant Green as he touched glasses with the mayor, the fine crystal emitting a musical tone that lingered in the crisp early-morning air. The mayor had remembered this time that the Spectrum officers were on duty and had provided them with freshly-squeezed orange juice rather than the champagne. Instead of joining in the toast, however, Captain Scarlet continued to stare at the city skyline to the west.
"Aren't you going to toast the success of the convention, Captain Scarlet?" asked Cherry.
"Hmm? Oh, yes, cheers." He raised his glass and took a quick sip from it. "I suppose I've got a lot on my mind this morning."
"Are you still worried about holding the buffet on the roof, sir?" asked Lieutenant Green.
"Yes, Lieutenant, I am. I don't like the idea of that air group flying directly overhead. It's too risky."
"But they won't get here for some time, Captain," Cherry reminded him. "That was the main reason you allowed this buffet in the first place."
"If you want me to clear the roof, just say the word, Captain," commented Cherry.
"Let the people finish eating, your honor. Another few minutes won't make any difference at this point. I'd rather stretch the time a bit than start a panic."
"Whatever you say, Captain Scarlet. If you'll excuse me for a few minutes, I'd like to chat with Senator Reid." The mayor placed his empty glass on a table and strolled across the rooftop garden.
Shortly after the mayor left, Scarlet's epaulets flashed. The wire rim on his cap lowered to place a small microphone by his mouth.
"Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet."
He recognized the voice right away. "Yes, Captain Ochre?"
"We may have found something. Radar picked up the Planes of Extinction flight two aircraft short, an attack jet and a P-51 Mustang fighter. We don't have a fix on them yet."
Scarlet and Green exchanged glances. Captain Ochre continued, "Colonel White advises you to take minor precautions at this time. We are researching the missing pilots and planes."
"I thought you knew the old planes like the back of your hand, Captain Ochre."
"Not this time, Captain. The star of the show, the A-10 attack plane, is one of the missing ones and I'm not familiar with it. You're to get the guests to safety while I check it out."
"S.I.G." Scarlet turned to the lieutenant. "Well, what did I tell you? Get the mayor and tell him we have to evacuate the roof. We'll send the delegates down to the Metro station."
"Why the underground, Captain? Cloudbase said minor precautions. The Metro station is part of our emergency plan."
"Trust me, Lieutenant. I have a hunch."
"Yes, sir." Green knew better than to argue when Captain Scarlet was on to something. He relayed the message to Mayor Cherry, who took the microphone and persuaded the guests to leave in an orderly yet quick fashion.
As the black civic leaders made their way off the roof, Scarlet stood by the table deep in thought. The aircraft designation echoed in his mind. A-10, he said to himself as he turned the mayor's champagne glass in his hand. I've seen or heard that term recently, within the past 24 hours. But the big question is, where?
"S.I.G., Captain Blue," replied Captain Ochre and turned off the radio. He had moved his chair to the pile of aviation books at the other end of his station.
"What's the situation, Captain?" asked Colonel White without looking up from his work.
"Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green are evacuating the convention delegates to safer quarters."
"And Captain Blue?"
"The motorcade has made its last stop and will arrive at the air base within the half hour."
"Any luck on the names, sir?"
"Only frustration, I'm afraid. There are too many American active or retired colonels named Stone. We're only fortunate he's not a captain or lieutenant, or we'd also be digging through naval records." The colonel flipped to the next page of the printout and rubbed his eyes. "Are you coming up with anything on that aircraft, Captain?"
"Just opening to that page now, sir." He stood the book on end so that White could see the picture. "Sure is an ugly thing, isn't it? No wonder they call it the Warthog."
"Never mind the aesthetic details, man. Give me some statistics."
"Right, sir." Ochre thumbed through a smaller book. "'Attack plane, active duty mid-1970's to mid-1990's. Mainly used for ground attack and close support anti-tank missions, fired 30-millimeter shells through a rotating cannon in the nose'-- Wow!" he exclaimed.
"Just read on, Captain," said Colonel White tiredly.
"…'It could also be equipped with bombs, rockets or missiles, and toward the end of its career an experimental version used a special fitting for additional maneuverability.'" He pointed to a variant with a distinct bulge in the underside and commented, AThe Mysterons couldn't pick a better aircraft for the job, Colonel."
"But how can we be sure--"
"Colonel!" interrupted Captain Ochre. "I've got it! Listen to this." He pointed to a paragraph in the smaller book. "'The A-10 is much better known by the appropriate nickname of Warthog than its official Air Force name, Thunderbolt II.'"
"There's your answer, sir! 'Day of the thunderbolt!'"
At the same time, the computer displayed a newspaper story from that morning, in which the wreckage of Stone's A-10 was positively identified. White enlarged the screen on the main monitor.
"And there's the verification, Captain. Put me through to our people on the closed channel."
Ochre flipped a switch. "Go ahead, Colonel."
"This is Colonel White to all alert personnel," the Spectrum commander announced calmly. "The Mysteron agent is positively identified as--" he looked up at the monitor. "--Colonel Francis J. Stone of the Planes of Extinction. His A-10 Thunderbolt II is not-repeat-not part of the group currently en route to Bong Air Force Base for the air show. Since the acting commander of the aircraft group said that Stone was delayed taking off, we have no idea of his plan of attack or which of the two targets he will engage. The A-10 is a rather slow jet plane with two large engines in the tail and a square-sided body. It will most likely be armed with a full load of 30-millimeter shells and possibly other hardware such as bombs or missiles. Let's just hope that this Thunderbolt does not strike twice, that he will attack only one target as is the Mysterons' usual plan. For now, however, I am putting all of you on red alert. Cloudbase will keep you apprised of the situation. Since so many of you are on this assignment, I'll ask for you to acknowledge in turn, starting with the Angels."
That Thunderbolt could just possibly strike twice, thought Ochre. And if it was the model with the underbelly pod, it could easily strike both targets, the King Convention and the Chiefs of Staff, and get away from anything that tried to stop it without much effort. He hoped it was an earlier variant.
Now Captain Scarlet remembered where he had seen the A-10 mentioned. A convention delegate had been reading a newspaper in the elevator that morning, and he had noticed a grainy photo of a wrecked airplane. He had ignored the rest of the article because the type of aircraft was only speculative at that time. With all the discussion and argument about the rooftop buffet, he didn't have time to think about it.
But now this possibility deserved more thought. As Ochre was researching the airplane in his books at Cloudbase, there was no need for Scarlet to do the same. But there was another way to speed up the search. His cap microphone lowered.
"Lieutenant Green, can you handle the evacuation without me?"
"No problem at all, sir," was the aide's reply, crackling with static. "We've just reached the Metro concourse and everything is going smoothly."
"Good. The mayor and I will be delayed a few minutes. I'll explain later."
"What do you need from me, Captain Scarlet?" asked Cherry, walking alongside the captain into the hotel office.
Scarlet gestured to the telephone. "Ring up the editor of your morning newspaper. There was a story in the early edition that may provide some answers."
Cherry picked up the phone and placed the call. In seconds, he was through to the editor's secretary: "Diane? This is Mayor Raymond Cherry. I need to speak to Mr. Gesualdi right away. It's an emergency." A moment later, "Hello, Dominic? Ray Cherry. I need that fourth-generation-journalist's know‑how of yours."
"What can I do for you, your honor?"
"I have Captain Scarlet from Spectrum here with me. He needs an update on a story from the early morning edition. While you log in to your computer, I'll give him the phone."
Scarlet introduced himself to the editor and began, "In your early edition, I remember a story in the national section about the crash of a small aircraft, possibly an antique military jet, somewhere to the south of here. The type of plane was not confirmed at press time. I need to know if anything has been verified so far."
"Hold on, Captain." There was the sound in the background of fingers rapidly tapping a keyboard. "Ah, here it is. Your news item did get updated, sir."
Scarlet fumbled in his pockets for his notepad. "Lovely. Now if I can find something to write it down--"
Cherry took the receiver. "Put it through on the computer relay like you did yesterday, Dominic. The one in the Independence Hotel lobby. Thanks a million."
"Any time, your honor. Glad to be of help."
Scarlet did not remain for the last bit of conversation but raced to the front desk, his boots ringing on the polished marble floor of the deserted hotel lobby. When he burst through the door of the cashier's office, the article was already printed. Just as he suspected, the wreckage was identified as the A-10 belonging to the Planes of Extinction. Besides the picture from the early edition, the newspaper had printed a photo of the pilot, a Colonel Francis J. Stone, United States Air Force, retired.
Scarlet recognized the name from his military background. A rather tough customer. He was well-known as one of the World Army Air Force's top fighter aces--
Just then Mayor Cherry approached the desk. "Get what you wanted, Captain Scarlet?"
"Precisely that. Thanks."
"Is there anything else I can do to help?"
"No. Get down to the concourse and see to your family. Lieutenant Green and your security people are taking care of the delegates. I have to report my discovery to headquarters."
Cherry held out his hand. "OK, Captain. Good luck."
Scarlet returned the handshake and was about to say the same when his epaulets blinked. Mayor Cherry waved and headed for the elevator as the cap microphone lowered.
The Spectrum officer was about to inform Cloudbase of his success when Colonel White began: "This is Colonel White to all alert personnel..." As the colonel announced the information about the Mysteron agent, Scarlet only half-listened. He was still thinking about Colonel Stone. Besides his flying prowess, Stone was also renowned as an officer with little respect for authority. He often went against orders, right or wrong, didn't like generals in particular--
Generals! He stopped. The Chiefs of Staff--they were the primary target! Stone was the perfect assassin--
"Captain Scarlet, acknowledge," interrupted Colonel White.
"S.I.G., Colonel. Message understood, but I still say the main danger is to the Chiefs of Staff. Request permission to assist Captain Blue--"
"Negative, Captain," the senior officer snapped. Remain at your position. Lieutenant Green, acknowledge."
"S.I.G., sir. I can handle our assignment myself, Colonel--"
"I said negative. Captain Blue?"
There was no answer. "Captain Blue, please acknowledge." Again, nothing.
Scarlet radioed, "Change it to 'receive,' Captain Ochre. See if his radio's dead."
A loud blast of marching band music echoed through Captain Scarlet's receiver, causing him to cover his ears and shout into the microphone, "Turn it off! Quick, before you blow out my speakers!"
"Sorry about that," called Captain Ochre. "Can you read me OK?"
"Loud and clear, save for the ringing in my ears."
"Well, it's obvious that Captain Blue can't hear us," White commented. "What do you suggest, Captain Scarlet?"
"Colonel," he began again, "I remember this Francis Stone. He was probably the greatest pilot in the history of the Air Force. But most importantly, he hated generals, really despised them. He has to make the air show his first target. Captain Blue and the Joint Chiefs will be in grave danger if I don't warn them."
"Very well, Captain. Get going. But be careful."
"S.I.G.," he replied, already out of the building and on his way to the patrol car.
Richard I. Bong Air Force Base was a relatively small military property located at the junction of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, overlooking Capitol Hill to the north, the Naval Research Laboratory directly south, Andrews Air Force Base some seven miles to the east and the former site of Washington's main airport across the Potomac on the west. It was not an active base; ironically, it was established thirty years ago on the site of Bolling Air Force Base, another airfield that had long ago been the victim of defense budget cuts and was sold to a real estate developer. Its primary function in recent years was as an emergency landing field for Andrews. For the most part, however, Bong was a depressing piece of abandoned government real estate. Other than the occasional Reserve unit or disabled aircraft, the permanent population of waterfowl and other wildlife had the installation to themselves.
Not on this particular April day, however. The field had not looked like this since it was crawling with wartime air and ground crews. The facelift the engineers had given the runway, tarmac and buildings in such a short time was amazing. The base not only looked like it had never been deactivated, it was so immaculate it appeared ready for a general's inspection.
It was an appropriate comparison. Not one, but dozens of general officers would be on hand that day for a spectacle unlike any they had ever seen. With the world's largest combined marching band providing musical accompaniment, the U.S. President and the World Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff would watch the air show from a reviewing stand facing the Potomac. This was not an everyday platform; in case of danger, the entire grandstand could be lowered into the ground in 30 seconds. Security was so tight that the base was closed to any civilian spectators, and people in small boats on the river were ordered to turn back.
As the Spectrum motorcade entered the main gate, Captain Blue looked out of the window of the Maximum Security Vehicle and returned the guard's salute. So far, so good, he hoped. President Roberts had originally planned a much bigger exhibition, with demonstrations by paratroops and mechanized infantry. Thank goodness he was able to talk the chief executive out of that. A show by aircraft and pilots both known to be killers was enough for Spectrum to handle at one time.
Blue stepped out of the MSV and checked to see that the security personnel were in position before opening the door again for the President and the two generals in charge of the conference. He saluted the three men and then stood at attention beside them on the dais as the other generals filed past them in a leisurely fashion. It was a long and slow process, but Blue did not move a muscle. Several of the officers, in fact, glanced admiringly at the fair-haired Spectrum agent standing stock-still, almost as if he were chiseled out of granite, as they took their places on the reviewing stand.
President Roberts asked the Chiefs of Staff to be seated and Captain Blue stood at ease, his hands behind his back. He paid no attention to the many speeches that were given but instead pondered Captain Ochre's last radio message. Two of the aircraft were missing and not yet on radar. With these museum pieces, it could be mechanical difficulty. But what gnawed at him was the type of aircraft that were missing, a Mustang fighter and a ground attack aircraft. The Mustang, of course, was a classic, but all he knew about the A-10 was from the designation, that it was a post-World War II plane. A pretty odd pair, he mused. A choice of either two fighters or attack planes would have been more suspicious. The Mysterons usually choose the perfect person or object to do their bidding--
Wait a minute! Captain Scarlet and he had disagreed all along over which event would be the Mysteron target. What if the Mysterons went against their normal attack plan and hit both? An attack aircraft drops bombs on a hotel while a fighter strikes an air base a few miles away-- He shook his head and blinked. It was possible but not likely. If the Mysterons wanted to fire more than one salvo at a time in their "war of nerves," they would have started much sooner. Stop daydreaming, Captain, and do what you've been trained to do, as the colonel would say.
President Roberts introduced Captain Blue to the assembly, and the Spectrum officer snapped to attention and saluted. The President then described the marching band:
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, you are in for a real treat. Never before in the history of the World Government has such a group been assembled. The musicians you see before you come from backgrounds as diverse as your own, mainly because they come from your own countries' military bands. Every musical instrument you can name, from West Indian steel drums to Scottish bagpipes, is represented."
Blue sighed. He couldn't wait to hear the bagpipes. They had the same effect on him as fingernails across a blackboard. He began to wish he'd gone to the King Convention.
The President continued, "When I was deciding on musical background for today, I knew if I selected one nation's marching band over another's, this summit conference would have collapsed." Laughter shook the grandstand. With the heated debates of the day before, such an occurrence was entirely possible. "So, I decided to invite everyone. This was planned well in advance of your visit so that the musicians could practice together. I sat in on a rehearsal the other day, and even to my untrained ears, they sound great. Hold on to your headgear, generals. The planes are due in any minute, so let's start the festivities."
Blue smiled to himself as the bandleader blew his whistle. If Roberts didn't win the next election, he could always be a circus ringmaster. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Snare drums rattled and bass drums boomed as the band entered. An almost endless stream of musicians marched before the reviewing stand and formed in a semi-circle in front of the Chiefs of Staff. There were thousands of them, from every corner of the world, just as the President had said. Rather than some special costume common to all, the band members wore their own uniforms. The result was a multi-colored procession which emphasized the international flair of the conference. Captain Blue couldn't help but notice that the musicians seemed to enjoy it as much as their audience.
President Roberts gestured for a glass of water and Blue picked up the pitcher. As the Spectrum officer poured, Roberts asked, "How are things going so far, Captain?"
"No major problems besides the delayed planes, sir." Blue paused to fill a glass for himself. Taking a sip, he added, "The band certainly looks impressive."
"They sound even better, Captain Blue, although I'll admit they'll be a little loud even with all the aircraft engines competing with them. When I said 'hold on to your hat,' I wasn't kidding."
The bandleader raised his baton, and it immediately, painfully became clear to Captain Blue and the assembly that the President had listened to the rehearsal before the sound system was installed. The fanfare from the wind instruments actually caused the platform to vibrate, and nearly everyone clapped his hands over his ears and cried out in pain. It was too loud to hear even one's own voice. When Blue was unable to get the attention of any of the security guards, he leaped from the grandstand and raced to the building where the sound equipment was located. During the confusion, he had not noticed his shoulder epaulets blinking, nor could he hear Colonel White's message.
Captain Scarlet knew well enough that the high-speed Spectrum patrol car wouldn't do him much good on the streets of Washington, but the SPC was the only way he had of getting to the air base. The Angel flight was searching for the A-10 along the general flight path of the other planes, and the helicopter was on the other side of the city to the north. All of his efforts to contact Captain Blue by radio had been futile. Then his epaulets flashed.
"Cloudbase to Captain Scarlet."
"Go ahead, Captain Ochre."
"Just thought you should know that I ran a check on the radio equipment. I'm pretty sure that the blast of sound knocked Blue's set out."
"S.I.G. I thought as much." He paused to steer the car around a corner. "You said 'pretty sure,' Captain. I assume you're not positive."
"You know I'm not the base electronics wizard. Let's just say that all the evidence points that way."
Captain Scarlet grinned. Ochre had served in the World Police Corps prior to joining Spectrum. "Once a constable, always a constable. Understood, Cloudbase. Out." The microphone flipped back up into his cap visor.
Now all he had to do was get to the bridge and hop on the interstate. Scarlet turned a corner and sped toward the Anacostia River, disregarding traffic signals while leaning on the horn and flashing his headlights. "Why didn't the clot who designed this car put in a siren?" he muttered to himself as he eyed the road map on his display. Good--only four blocks to go for the bridge.
"What the--?" Scarlet jammed his foot on the brake pedal as he came to police roadblock. One of the officers ran over to the SPC, shouting and waving his arms.
"Where are you going in such a hurry, buddy? What's the rush?"
"I'm Captain Scarlet, Spectrum," he replied, showing the policeman his identification. "I must get to Bong Air Force Base as soon as possible."
The policeman, a short, stocky black man, treated him more respectfully when he saw the I.D. card. "I'm sorry, Captain, but there's been a bad accident on the bridge."
"How bad, Officer?"
"A couple of tanker trucks collided and exploded, and then the cars behind them piled up. Nothing is getting through in either direction."
"Nothing at all? What about your motorcycle?"
"Not a chance, Captain. The explosion tore a big hole in the roadbed. What's still there is completely blocked."
"Oh, charming," Scarlet murmured. He noticed the smoke billowing upward in the distance and knew that the policeman wasn't exaggerating. He activated his radio.
"B21, request immediate pickup."
Before the helijet pilot could reply, another voice burst excitedly over the frequency, that of Captain Ochre:
"Attention, all alert personnel! Cloudbase has report of attack on Andrews Air Force Base by the A-10! Angels and B21 to proceed immediately to point due east of Bong for intercept!"
The helicopter pilot acknowledged the message and added, "Sorry, Captain Scarlet. Unable to pick you up at this time."
"S.I.G., B21." Scarlet sighed and looked up at the policeman. "Well, there's only one thing for it. Officer, get on your radio and order your police helicopter to pick me up."
"But sir, I don't have the authority--"
"I'm giving you the authority, Officer. This is a Spectrum priority. You tell them that."
"S.I.G., Captain Ochre. Angels have wings," replied Symphony Angel to the message from Cloudbase. Then, to the other two jet pilots, "OK, girls, follow me in a wide right turn and keep your eyes open for the A-10."
"Symphony," called Ochre after the Angels had set their new course, "give me a description of the aircraft when you have visual contact so I can tell you what type of attack to expect."
"Colonel," said Ochre, reading from his monitor, "Andrews reports that they can get absolutely nothing airborne for some time, at least nothing that would be able to stop him. The helicopters were lined up for inspection by the Joint Chiefs later today, and the A-10 was on them and gone before they knew what happened. The runway and fighter revetment explosions appear to have been sabotage, carefully engineered to keep any remaining aircraft from taking off."
"I imagine we can thank Captain Black for that," Colonel White sighed.
"Angel leader to Cloudbase. I have a visual."
"Go ahead, Symphony," replied Colonel White.
"Aircraft is carrying no external weapons. It has two large engines in the tail section just as you described, Colonel. But the fuselage is of a strange shape."
"Yes and no, sir. I don't know quite how to describe it. It's--, it's--"
"Pregnant!" cried Melody.
Ochre's eyes widened. "Say again, Melody?"
"That's a perfect description of the plane, Captain. There's a big bulge underneath the cockpit; it makes the A-10 look like it's expecting."
"Oh, damn," moaned Ochre. Before the colonel could reprimand him for his language in the presence of the Angels, he continued, "That's the extra-maneuverable one, sir."
The white-haired Spectrum commander shook his head. The Mysterons certainly had the Fates on their side this time. "Has the A-10 changed course, Angel Leader?"
"Negative, Colonel. He's still heading west toward the city and the air base."
Destiny Angel, quiet until now, suddenly gushed, "Why don't we just destroy the airplane now, Colonel? We know he is a Mysteron. He must be stopped!"
"Because, Destiny, you are flying over a highly populated area. The wreckage could fall into a building and kill many innocent people. This man Stone knows it also; why do you think he's not taking evasive action? Attack only when you get to a park or other deserted area. There is still time to stop him."
"Sorry, Colonel. S.I.G."
White turned to the wall behind him. "Switch on the main map, Captain, and give me a magnification of the route to the air base."
"Yes, sir." The desired image was projected instantly. The colonel scanned the map a moment, then spoke directly to Symphony.
"Angel Leader, stand by to attack. There is a construction site ahead. Force him over that area."
White looked up at the map again. "Helicopter B21, what is your time to intercept?"
"Approximately 30 seconds, Cloudbase."
"Good. I want you to make the first pass. Your rapid-fire cannon will be more effective than the Angels' missiles."
"Spectrum Is Green."
"Remember, B21," reminded Ochre, "The A-10 is more nimble than it looks. Be careful."
"Understood, Captain. Starting attack run now."
The Spectrum helijet bore down on the renegade A-10, roaring toward the desert-painted attack plane at full throttle. The pilot knew that the A-10 was in the hands of a seasoned veteran and that simple maneuvers would make him an easy target. Therefore, it was time for some fancy footwork. He was a blur inside the cockpit, putting the craft through moves few other pilots would dare attempt. Nevertheless, the Mysteron anticipated these tactics and blew the helijet out of the sky with one short burst. The pilot did not escape.
"Wow, he's good!" exclaimed Symphony. "That was one of our best chopper pilots!"
"Steady," soothed Colonel White. "You all know that the Mysterons usually select the best person for the job."
"And the best equipment," added Captain Ochre, glancing at the book again. "It says here that the A-10 pilots used to surprise their attackers because the plane appeared very awkward. In fact all the planes, but especially the later variants such as this one, had astounding maneuverability."
"As we've just seen," nodded the colonel. "That, combined with an expert at the controls as Scarlet pointed out, gives us a lethal combination. This calls for some ingenuity of our own." He again addressed the Angel leader: "Symphony, you and Melody come in for attack using that new pincers movement you've been practicing. Destiny, take the cover position."
"S.I.G.," Symphony replied as the formation split up.
The Angel aircraft were designed mainly for supersonic performance, but since the A-10's top speed was under 500 miles per hour, minimum speed had to be maintained. The result was that the jet fighters were difficult to handle, and Colonel White was well aware of that fact. He ordered the pincers move to give the Angels the best possible chance to destroy the plane on the first try. While Symphony and Melody attacked the A-10 from two different directions, Destiny was in position in case the attack plane was able to slip through.
It was a good plan, and it would have worked had Spectrum placed more emphasis on low-speed performance when designing the Angel aircraft. Stone did as they expected, diving away from the two oncoming planes, but the two Angels could not turn away from each other quickly enough and collided. Fortunately, neither fighter exploded and both girls ejected safely.
"Yes, Symphony, he is good," said Colonel White half to himself.
Now it was Destiny's turn. "I will do my best, Colonel," she cooed in her soothing French voice. "I have a few tricks for him."
Frank Stone, unfortunately, still had a card up his sleeve. He flew at minimum altitude and speed, a feat easily accomplished by the A-10. Destiny followed suit and found her controls had turned to mush. A second before she fired, the A-10 executed a sharp right turn. Destiny instinctively tried to do the same, but her aircraft did just what Stone knew it would do--it stalled. The Angel pilot ejected up into the sky seconds before the aircraft hit the ground, losing her helmet and receiving a gash in her leg but nothing more serious.
"Destiny! Come in!" cried Ochre, seeing the light that denoted her aircraft on the map wink out.
Melody replied quickly, "She's all right, Cloudbase. Destiny's waving to us. She has no radio."
"Thank God," sighed Ochre. He looked at Colonel White in desperation. "What do we do now, sir? We have no more airplanes and our nearest helijet is too far away. And since the budget cuts, the other air bases in the area are inactive!"
The colonel looked at the one light remaining on the wall map and opened the radio channel. "Captain Scarlet, what is your situation?"
"I am en route across the river to the air base, compliments of a Washington police helicopter. The Douglass Bridge is impassible. I have visual contact with the runway and the antiques are landing. Unable to make radio contact with anyone on the field."
"Good. Be advised that the A-10 is still approaching the city. All efforts to destroy the plane have failed."
Scarlet exclaimed in disbelief, "What do you mean, failed? Are you saying our aircraft were shot down?"
"Affirmative." The colonel added quickly, answering Scarlet's question before he asked, "The girls are all right, Captain, but the helijet pilot is dead."
"In short, Stone is very skilled and cunning. The helijet was too slow and the Angels could not perform effectively at minimum speed. The same happened at Andrews with additional help from Captain Black. You're our only hope."
"S.I.G. I understand the situation, Colonel, and I have an idea. Let me speak to Captain Ochre, please."
Even with the microphones turned off, the marching band was still loud enough to force Captain Blue to shout his conversation with President Roberts.
"Mr. President, I think the only ones who are enjoying this are the artillery generals. They're already deaf."
"Yes, it certainly is an embarrassment. But once the planes have landed, the musicians will be able to spread out more. That will be a big help."
"Here they come now," said Blue, pointing. AThe first plane's a Corsair, isn't it?"
Roberts nodded. "That'll be Karl Dietrich, second in command. I wonder if Moriarty caught up with them yet."
The World War II replica made a hasty landing and headed for the nearest hangar. "Must have engine trouble," commented Roberts. "What they normally do is line the edges of the runway." Blue nodded in reply as the succeeding airplanes and helicopters did just that.
The helicopters had almost finished landing when one raced in at full speed. "What's that one doing, Mr. President?" queried Blue. "Is that part of the act?"
Roberts frowned. "That's one of the Washington police choppers. I don't know what that's doing here--"
Blue saw the red uniform in the cockpit and knew immediately. "That's Captain Scarlet! There's a problem!" He slammed his hand down on the emergency switch and the grandstand started to descend into the ground. The band musicians, seeing the stand retract, raced from the field in panic and entered the emergency tunnels.
The helicopter approached the platform where Captain Blue and President Roberts were standing. Blue could see Captain Scarlet climb onto a landing strut and drop a rope ladder. As he started down the ladder, Frank Stone's "pregnant" A-10 came screaming across the runway, straight for the helicopter.
"Oh, my God," gasped Roberts.
"Jump! Jump!" shouted Captain Blue as the nose of the mysteronized aircraft sparkled. A split second after Scarlet and the chopper pilot jumped clear, the police helicopter exploded. The helicopter's momentum, fortunately, carried the flaming wreckage away from the platform.
The A-10 moved to its next target, the grandstand's retraction machinery. Another short burst and the reviewing stand stopped its descent halfway into the ground.
"Come on, get under cover!" Scarlet shouted to his colleague and the President. "He's got enough ammunition to stay up there all day!"
"I thought we had air support," snapped Captain Blue as he raced down the steps after the President. He only glanced for a moment at the body of the police pilot, who had broken his neck escaping from the doomed craft.
"We did. He knocked them all out of the sky."
"Oh, God!" Blue stared at him. "Symphony--"
"She's OK, Adam," replied Scarlet, the only one who knew of his friend's feelings toward the Angel pilot. He placed a hand on the blond man's shoulder. "All three of them ejected. We only lost the 'copter pilot."
"How could this happen? Never mind that, where are the planes from Andrews?"
"Forget Andrews. He stopped there for target practice. Captain Black helped out there as well. The only aircraft left in the area are these old-timers." The pair started toward the runway.
"But they're unarmed!" began Roberts--
The President never finished his comment, because the A-10 came around in a tight turn and fired on the antique aircraft lining the runway. The warbirds began to explode one by one as their fuel tanks ruptured, the concussions knocking the three men off their feet. Within seconds, what had once been the pride of the world's past air forces was transformed into smoldering junk.
"Now there's nothing left to stop him!" Roberts exclaimed.
"The Corsair!" remembered Blue. "It went into the hangar! He didn't see it!"
"Right, then," said Scarlet, leaping to his feet. "Get the generals under cover before he comes round again. I'll get that plane into the air. All that smoke should conceal my takeoff."
"Don't you think this is my job, Captain Scarlet? You know I'm a better pilot than you."
"Adam," he replied, glaring at Captain Blue, "you know it has to be me. Now stop boasting and do as you're told!"
"S.I.G.," sighed Blue. "Good luck, Paul."
Roberts watched the scene with a puzzled look. "What was that all about, Captain Blue?"
"No time for that, sir. Let's just get everyone below before that Mysteron plane comes back!"
As Blue directed the evacuation of the Chiefs of Staff, a man covered with sooty grime ran up to the President, shouting at the top of his lungs. "What the hell is going on? First Frank Stone blows up all my airplanes, kills five of my men—I'm not even asking yet where he got the ammunition--and now some yahoo in a red suit steals my last plane as soon as it's fixed! What in God's name am I going to do with millions of dollars' worth of scrap metal?"
"Allow me to explain, sir," said Captain Blue calmly, stepping in front of Roberts. "That 'yahoo' is Spectrum agent Captain Scarlet. The Mysterons, not Stone, strafed your planes. Since the Corsair is the only thing left on this base that can get airborne, and the only type of aircraft that can mix it up with his plane anyway, he had to take it."
Dietrich was nowhere near calming down. "Well, sir, here's another thing your partner should have taken." He threw his parachute at Blue. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some insurance claims to fill out." He stormed away from the pair and down the steps to the tunnel, cursing to everyone who could hear.
"We'd better go below too, Mr. President," said Blue, dropping the now-useless parachute and gesturing toward the tunnel entrance.
"Wait!" Roberts cried, pointing toward the runway. The Corsair climbed into the air and retracted its landing gear. Both men stopped and watched Captain Scarlet's plane disappear behind the clouds of billowing black smoke.
"Does he even have a chance, without any ammunition or a parachute?" asked Roberts, turning toward Captain Blue.
"Don't worry, Mr. President," was the reply. AIf I know Scarlet, he'll think of something."
The President nodded slowly. "I hope so. Godspeed, Captain Scarlet."
The World War II Corsair replica was an excellent aircraft, actually faster and more maneuverable than the original thanks to modern technology. It was a good choice, as if Captain Scarlet had an alternative, with which to do battle against the A-10. It was faster and more agile than the homely attack plane as well, and fortunately it was one of the aircraft that Captain Ochre had recommended to him. Thank goodness it was in the hangar with engine trouble instead of on the field when the Mysteron craft attacked. If that had happened, Spectrum would have been helpless.
Scarlet spotted the A-10 in the distance coming around for another pass over the panic-stricken generals. Merely spoiling the Mysteron's aim or drawing his fire to waste ammunition would be useless, because Stone would only send the plane crashing into the grandstand. There was only one way to kill Frank Stone, but he had to figure out a successful way of doing it without endangering any more lives.
But how to do it? Ochre had said that the A-10 was built to take a lot of punishment. It could fly with one engine or even a good portion of one wing blown off. The pilot sat, very well protected from enemy projectiles, in the equivalent of an armor-plated bucket--
Scarlet snapped his fingers. He saw the solution a short distance ahead. Still surrounded by clouds of black smoke, he waited for the A-10 to approach. When the desert-camouflaged jet was close enough the handsome Spectrum officer made his move.
Frank Stone watched the World Chiefs of Staff scrambling for cover and curled his index finger around the trigger on his control stick. Excellent; it looked like at least half of them were still out in the open. The Mysterons would have partial success, even after Spectrum's attempts to stop him. An evil smile crossed his lips as he leaned forward in the seat. There was President Roberts, with a Spectrum officer, a short distance away from shelter. They would be the first to die--
Fortunately for Captain Blue and President Roberts, Francis J. Stone's Mysteron career came to an abrupt end as the Corsair replica piloted by Captain Scarlet smashed into the cockpit of the A-10. The planes then separated, the Corsair plunging into the frigid river while the Warthog tumbled into the base's gasoline tank farm, killing the Mysteron in the only way possible. Scarlet had done the job perfectly, sending the A-10 into the fireball while keeping his own body from disintegrating in the explosion along with his opponent. The President and Joint Chiefs were safe, and Spectrum would never learn whether the Mysterons also intended to sabotage the King Convention or why they decided not to mysteronize all of the Andrews aircraft.
President Roberts looked away from the spectacle and brushed a tear from his face. "He didn=t even think twice about ramming that jet!" he exclaimed, his voice breaking. He looked over at Captain Blue, who had given up trying to contact Cloudbase over his radio. "He saved all our lives without a thought to his own!"
Blue nodded. He now realized that his radio had been knocked out before the Mysteron's identity was confirmed, and Scarlet had rushed to the air base to warn him. Once again, his best friend had indeed saved his life. He swallowed hard and replied, "Let me know when they find the body, Mr. President. We're all going back together."
"Of course, Captain. It's the least we can do." Roberts looked at the river, where the divers already had begun to search for the Corsair, and again at the blond Spectrum officer. "You two were close, weren't you?"
Blue crossed his fingers. "Like that, sir."
Of course, that wasn't the only reason Captain Blue had his fingers crossed. He hoped the frogmen would find Scarlet before he started to recover. That would be a little difficult to explain.
Dr. Fawn took off the headphones and smiled at Captain Blue. "You're a lucky man, Captain. Your hearing wasn't damaged at all."
"Thanks, Doc." He handed the medical officer his headset and smoothed his hair. "Can I go now? I want to stop and see Captain Scarlet."
"Sure. He's in the next room."
Blue strode into the small chamber. Captain Scarlet was sitting up on the examination table getting dressed. He looked refreshed, almost as if he had awakened from a good night's sleep. One would never suspect what he had been through just hours before.
"I didn=t know Spectrum had a cavalry," the American officer said with a grin.
"Sorry?" asked Scarlet, pulling his uniform shirt over his head.
Blue handed him his vest. "You know, the Westerns. The cavalry always arrived in time to save the day."
The younger man scowled. "Oh, rubbish. You'd have done the same--"
"I mean it, Paul," interrupted Blue quite seriously. "This time I really owe you one. Dinner at the best restaurant in Washington tonight, on me."
"I thought you were going there with Symphony."
"I got to speak to her in private, for once--"
"I can tell," Scarlet interrupted, smiling. "You didn't get all the lipstick off."
Captain Blue reddened and dabbed a handkerchief to his cheek. "Thanks," he sighed, stuffing the handkerchief back into his pocket. "I could just see myself explaining that one to the colonel."
"She must've been glad to see you in one piece."
"Likewise. Anyway, she was the one who suggested the change in plans."
"Well, then, I'll have to go and thank her." Scarlet hopped from the examination table.
"Later. She's resting now. How about a game of chess in the lounge?"
"OK, but only if it's classic. I don't fancy three-dimensional after this day."
"S.I.G., Captain Scarlet. After you."
The pair entered the officers' lounge and stopped in their tracks. Captain Ochre sat before them at the main table, pulling masking tape off a model airplane. The table was completely covered with the modeler's tools and paints.
"Oh, no," groaned Scarlet. "Not again."
Blue pulled his pistol from its holster and held it out to his colleague butt first. "Remember what you were saying the other night about target practice, Captain Scarlet?" he asked with a boyish grin.
"Well, nice to see you too!" remarked Ochre sarcastically. "Just remember who researched that aircraft and helped save your neck."
"Just teasing, Captain Ochre," replied Blue, slipping the gun back into the holster. "We all appreciate your efforts."
Scarlet pointed to the airplane model. "Isn't that the Corsair I flew? It looks wizard!"
Ochre sighed and looked up at Captain Blue. "When is he going to learn how to speak English? I don't know if I've just been complimented or insulted."
"I'll ignore that Yank obstinacy and just say that I like it." Scarlet peered into the cockpit and noticed that the pilot figure sported his Spectrum uniform. He looked up at Ochre and smiled. "Well, what do you know! I've been immortalized!"
"It's a gift for you. Take a look at the port side."
The left side of the fuselage was the usual location of aces' kill markings. Instead of the Japanese flags on the original aircraft, however, there were two black squares--one with a streak of lightning, the other one empty. Scarlet looked up again, this time quizzically.
"That stands for the A-10," explained Captain Ochre.
"Yes, but there are two boxes. Why is that?"
"I did that for two reasons. First, it was a Thunderbolt II. Second, remember what Colonel White said? He predicted that the Thunderbolt would strike twice. Thanks to you, it didn't."
Scarlet smiled again. "Thank you, Captain Ochre. I will put it in a place of honor in my quarters." He picked up the model by its wooden base and strode out the door happily.
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