For the purposes of continuity, I see the events described here as taking place towards the end of the first series of New Captain Scarlet.
Captain Scarlet had decided a long time ago that he did not particularly care for anniversaries. Although far from pessimistic in nature, the course of his life over the past six or seven years had led him to the belief that, excepting Christmas and birthdays, most anniversaries were just depressing reminders of events that should not have taken place.
This particular day was certainly not cause for celebration. He had arrived back on Skybase in the early hours of the morning, having completed an assignment that had ended successfully, but had also resulted in over forty-eight hours of sleep-deprived exhaustion. He was reasonably confident, therefore, that the rest of the day would be spent in the arms of Morpheus, thus allowing him no time to dwell on the cataclysmic events of twelve months ago.
Seven restless hours later, he was forced to conclude that he had been overly optimistic in this assumption.
Despite consuming just under half a bottle of neat scotch, sleep seemed determined to elude him. In a peculiar and irritating way, the alcohol seemed to be seeping into thoughts he usually kept at bay, pushing to the surface emotions he hoped had been carefully buried forever. Memories raced through his brain like fragments of half-remembered dreams, with the lines between reality and imagination becoming distant and increasingly blurred.
It was twelve months to the day since, what should have been, a routine exploration trip to Mars, had descended into a disaster of unimaginable proportions. Twelve months since that terrible day, which had changed life as he knew it, forever. Twelve months that could easily have been years, so much had changed.
He had still not really come to terms with the fact that for him, ‘forever’ might turn out to be considerably longer than what most people would regard as a normal life span. No one really knew what his long-term future held, least of all Scarlet himself, although in his darker moments it sometimes seemed completely unimportant. If the Mysterons won this War of Nerves, there would not be a future for anyone.
Scarlet was a man who was easily at home in his own skin, so the restlessness he felt now was both irritating and disconcerting. He had undressed, got into bed, and an hour later had risen to pull on jeans and a t-shirt. Quite why this might make him feel better, he didn’t know. At any rate, it hadn’t worked. Nor had television, computer games or music. Playing his guitar usually did the trick in the stress-busting stakes, but not today, apparently.
He wandered back to the computer desk, idly picking up games and books, only to discard them again. His eyes alighted once more on the photograph lying beside the console. It had been hidden away in a drawer for the past year, but, for some unfathomable reason, he had been compelled to retrieve it, to gaze unwillingly at an image that brought back a flood of memories. It had been taken two years ago, on a holiday in the Scottish Highlands with his best friend, his then- partner, Captain Black and Black’s girlfriend, Destiny Angel, leader of Spectrum’s Angel Flight squadron. Three smiling people with their arms round each other, pictured at the summit of Ben Nevis.
It had been a carefree holiday, full of laughter and companionship. Black and Destiny had been deeply in love, and their happiness shone through in the eyes that stared back at him as he gazed down at the picture.
We look so young, he thought fleetingly. Then again, maybe it was not youth itself that had been captured by the camera, but the joyous self-confidence that is borne from it. The innocent certainty that nothing in the world can change friendships and loyalties that they believed would last forever. How wrong they had been.
He turned the picture over to read the inscription on the back, words that he knew off by heart. Three Musketeers are we! she had written in her familiar spidery scrawl. Happy Birthday, Paul, love always from Conrad and Simone. She had had the photo framed in mahogany, with the Spectrum logo hand-carved round the edges. They had presented it to him as a gift to mark his thirtieth birthday and it had taken pride of place in his quarters, alongside treasured family portraits.
Now, he kept both photo and frame out of sight, in silent acknowledgement of heartbreak and an amputated life. Destiny’s initial grief and despair at the death of her boyfriend, had given way to uncontrolled hysteria, as the full horror of his fate at the hands of the Mysterons had finally sunk in. She had rampaged through all of their quarters, making it clear that she wanted no reminders of the man he had once been. Scarlet had quietly acquiesced and removed all visible traces of Conrad Lefkon’s presence in their lives.
Wonder what you’re doing now, Con, he thought with a sigh, placing the picture back on top of the drawer. Do you know what day this is? Do you care? Are you thinking about Simone, about what happened to us all? Or are you plotting something, a nice little anniversary present from the Mysterons? He stood stock-still and closed his eyes, willing himself to concentrate, to feel the response.
There was no reply in his head, no sense that his former friend was employing their admittedly tenuous, psychic link. Probably just as well, he thought wearily, picking up the bottle to refill his glass. If he’s up to something, I don’t want to know, certainly not now.
His com-link buzzed to announce the presence of someone outside his door. He had no doubt as to who it would be, or that he had in fact, been waiting for this visit. If she hadn’t come to him, he would eventually have been compelled to find her. He pressed the button to allow the door to open, speculating on just what sort of mood would greet him.
“You look rough.” Destiny Angel was as tart as sour cherries, her usual searching gaze observing his unshaven face and the eyes that were bleary with exhaustion and alcohol.
“Damn, I’d forgotten what a sweet girl you are.” He stood aside to allow her to pass. So, she was her usual acerbic self and there was no visible sign of tears. He felt oddly relieved at this, although he suspected that it was only because of the knowledge that if she had been crying, he would probably have burst into tears himself.
A fine pair we make, he thought. “You should be glad I got back without having to pass through sick-bay. That’s becoming quite a rarity for me.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” She sounded listless and tired. “Guess I should have called before just coming along here. It didn’t occur to me that you might be asleep. I just wanted to, well, you know….” Her voice trailed off, and he caught a sudden flash of uncertainty in the pale blue eyes. He understood. She didn’t want to be alone today, but she was suddenly aware that her assumption he would want the same thing might not be correct. She could be impetuous and hasty in her judgments, but she was not insensitive.
“It’s okay, I’m glad you’re here.” He smiled and held up the whisky bottle. “Drink?”
Head tilted, she surveyed him with the familiar quizzical, slightly mocking gaze he loved so much.
“Paul, it’s ten thirty in the morning.”
“Yep, and I’ve been trying to get some sleep since three. Thought this might help. As you can see, it doesn’t seem to be working.” He refilled his glass and watched as she wandered aimlessly round the room, wrinkling her nose in absent-minded distaste at the ubiquitous clutter. Scarlet was not the tidiest member of Spectrum’s personnel. As she finally perched somewhat awkwardly on the end of his bed, he was suddenly glad that he (or more accurately, the Skybase cleaners), had at least ensured that this was an object-free zone.
She was clad in jeans and a t-shirt, the white-blonde hair that was normally confined in a pony-tail, now hanging loose across her shoulders. Her pretty face was devoid of make-up, giving her pale skin a translucence that defied her twenty-nine years. She looked, he thought, more like a teenage cheerleader than an experienced fighter pilot. Only the shadows, lying like bruises under her eyes, belied that illusion.
She met his gaze with a rueful smile. “If you want to tell me I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, you have my permission. I didn’t get any sleep last night, either.”
You look….” He hesitated. He wanted to say ‘you look beautiful’, but for some reason the words could not make the journey from his brain to his mouth. “You look fine. I was just thinking that I like your hair when you leave it loose.”
She sighed. “I like it too, but it’s not very practical when I’m working. Which is what I should have been doing today, but Colonel White changed the duty roster. I wish he hadn’t.”
“Maybe he thought your concentration levels wouldn’t be at their best.”
“And maybe he would have been right, but I really could have done without so much time to think.”
“To think, or to brood?”
His question was met with a wry smile.
“Whichever one it is you’re doing.”
Scarlet joined her on the other side of the bed, stretching out his long legs and clasping his hands behind his head. “Not sure what it is I’m doing,” he said slowly. “Still trying to make sense of it all, I suppose. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like a year, yet in others…”
He was staring at the ceiling, waiting for her response. When it didn’t come, he glanced across, to realise she had risen to resume her aimless pacing. Before he could move, she had picked up the infamous photo still lying on top of the computer console. Damn.
“Simone, I’m sorry. I should have destroyed it. I know you thought I had.”
“It’s okay, really. I’m way past the freaking out stage. No tranquillisers required today.” As if to prove the veracity of the remark, she moved back to join him on the opposite side of the bed, her blue-grey gaze still firmly fixed on the picture in her hand.
“That was a really great holiday, wasn’t it?” She sounded calm, almost controlled, although her voice contained a note of wistfulness, and something else he couldn’t quite define, something more than sadness. Regret, perhaps? That was entirely understandable, but Scarlet was aware that regret was a many layered emotion, particularly where the events of last year were concerned. He found he didn’t want to dwell on the areas in which her deepest regrets might lie. He tried for a light-hearted answer.
“For you, it was. With all those mountains to run up, you and your competitive spirit got a darned good work-out. You knew there was no way Conrad and I could keep up with you. Thought I was going to die before I got to the top of Ben Nevis. The only thing I enjoyed was getting to the pub at the end of each day.”
“Liar.” She reached across to jab him playfully in the ribs with slim well-manicured fingers. “You loved it, we all did.”
“Yeah, I know. I was just kidding.”
There was a short silence before she said abruptly, “Did you know that Con and I had a row the night before you went to Mars?”
The question startled him. “A row? I had no idea. He never mentioned it.”
“No, well, it’s not as if it was unusual. Conrad has, I mean, had, a quick temper and I don’t often back down. As you know.” Their eyes met and held long enough to acknowledge a silent communion.
He dragged his gaze away. “What was the fight about?”
She hesitated fractionally, and then straightened her back, as if making a sudden decision to confide, although she didn’t look at him. “He thought we should get married. He had it all planned, even down to guests and venues. It took me by surprise. I mean, we’d never really talked about it before and, to be honest, it probably wasn’t the most romantic proposal I could have wished for. In his mind, it was simply a foregone conclusion.”
“But not for you?”
She turned towards him, the photo still lying loosely in her palms.
“I don’t know. I thought we were happy as we were. You know, just being together, enjoying our lives, our work. I wasn’t really thinking very far ahead. I told him that I wasn’t ready, asked him to wait a while. He flew off the handle, accused me of not loving him enough. I flung the same accusation back in his face.” She looked suddenly close to tears for the first time. “It was just a stupid, stupid, row.”
Scarlet felt the whisky burning his throat, threatening to choke him. The bed seemed to be shifting underneath him, for reasons he couldn’t fathom. How had he not known this, not even sensed it? More to the point, why was this sudden revelation so unsettling?
He forced himself to tread carefully.
“You’d been together for a long time, even before Spectrum.”
“Maybe not long enough. There were times, especially that night, when I thought I didn’t really know him at all.”
“So you didn’t make it up before we went to Mars?”
She shook her head. “Not really. We weren’t exactly at loggerheads, but he spent the night in his own quarters, and I didn’t get to say goodbye before you left.”
“Yeah, I remember thinking that was unusual.” He sipped his whisky in the hope that the feeling of having been kicked in the solar plexus would quickly disappear. “You always came along to the hangar deck to wish us luck. Maybe if you’d been there that day, our luck would have been different.”
How many more surprises did she have in store, he wondered.
On reflection, the entire relationship between Destiny and Black had contained an element of the surreal, at least as far as Scarlet was concerned. Conrad Lefkon had been a moody, difficult man, with a chip on his shoulder the size of Manhattan. He came from Greek-American stock, and a family whose wealth was mostly acquired from dubious dealings with the criminal underworld of New York. He had had a cosmopolitan, somewhat rootless, education, which had, nevertheless, been designed to equip him to take over the reins of the family “firm”, when the time was right.
Fiercely intelligent, he had, however, managed to throw off the weight of expectation, as well as the suffocation of his family. He had opted instead for a military career, ending up in U.S. Special Forces, where his friendship with Paul Metcalfe had been forged. Scarlet thought of him as the brother he had never had, despite their differing personalities.
He was not, however, under any illusions. Conrad Lefkon’s taste in women could not have been further removed from his own. The future Captain Black liked overripe, overblown brunettes, with a talent for sex and as few brains as possible. He was generous, good company and unfailingly honest in his intentions. He saw no reason to complicate his life with anything that could be termed an ongoing relationship, and he made sure that the women he slept with understood this.
He had been completely baffled when Scarlet had gently suggested that his high turnover of girlfriends might reduce if he took the trouble to get to know them. “Why on earth would I want to talk to them? Conversations over the cornflakes aren’t my thing, pal. Besides, I couldn’t expect any woman to put up with the kind of nomadic life we lead. If you took a leaf out of the same book, you could avoid all the angst and tearful good-byes every time you have to take off for the other side of the world.” He had slapped an amused Scarlet across the shoulders. “You know it makes sense, Paul.”
Scarlet had not agreed, but hadn’t argued, either. There never seemed much point. So he had been utterly astonished when Black had introduced him to Simone Giraudoux. Slender, blonde and accomplished, she was the exact antithesis of anyone his friend had previously been attracted to. Scarlet could not have imagined them taking the time to have a cup of coffee together, let alone begin a relationship. He had assumed it would last only as long as it took for the novelty to wear off.
He could not have been more wrong. Clever, beautiful Simone, with her sweet smile and basically sunny nature, completely entranced this dark, brooding man. She had smoothed out his rough edges, countered his pessimism with her sparkling wit, and bestowed on him the class and respectability he craved. In return, he had loved her with a passion occasionally bordering on obsession. Scarlet knew the truth of all of this. So why should it prove so disquieting to learn that his friend had intended to make a life-long commitment to this woman?
“He loved you, Sim. You were the best thing that ever happened to him. He told me once that he knew he’d never be that lucky again. Guess he was right about that.”
Her face twisted. “Maybe he was right about something else. Perhaps I didn’t love him as much as I should have. I thought I did, but when the chips were down, I’m not sure that my vision of the future matched his. He wanted to play happy families, have a real ‘House & Garden’ life, with cake for tea on Sundays. I can’t quite see myself in that role, can you?”
Scarlet couldn’t and privately doubted that Black would have, either. He tried and failed to suppress an involuntary grin.
“Well, I’m having difficulty with the idea of you baking cakes, I must admit. Look, we both know that Conrad had a lot of issues, for want of a better word. He hadn’t had the loving home and happy childhoods that we did. Okay, so his parents loved him in their way, but their values weren’t what the rest of us would want to pass on to our kids. Con was bright enough to realise that, and decent enough to want to offer a completely different experience to his own children. Assuming, that is, you would ever have decided to have any.” He cast her a surreptitious, sideways glance, but she stared straight ahead and didn’t respond. “Maybe his ideas for what he wanted out of life were sometimes a little wide of the reality mark, but you can’t really blame him for that.”
“I know, I know.” She passed a hand wearily over her face, pushing back the strands of hair encroaching upon her forehead. “The timing was all wrong, that’s all. I was preoccupied over problems with the new design for my Falcons, and Con was spooked about the Mars mission. It was a subject we shouldn’t have got into that night. We would have worked it out, given time.” She gave him a slightly bitter smile. “Who knows, I might have come to love the whole white picket-fence fantasy. I just didn’t get the chance.”
She looked down at the smiling faces staring back in the photo and abruptly threw it across the room. It didn’t go far, the lightness of the paper ensured that it fluttered just a feet down onto the carpet at the foot of the bed, as if determined to stay as close to them as possible.
“Let’s face it; the bastard doesn’t want to marry me now, does he?” The anger and bitterness in her voice shocked him. “Death and destruction seem to be the only things on his mind, and he’d be quite happy to include me in that.”
Scarlet was fairly sure that death was not exactly what Black had in mind for her, and he suspected that she knew this, too.
“We don’t even know if he’s capable of cognitive thought, let alone of remembering his past.”
“Yes, we do.” She turned a hard, bleak face towards him. “ He can think and he can remember. Don’t try to placate me, Paul.”
“He’s not human any more, honey.”
“Neither are you, but you’re not out to annihilate the entire planet !”
The vehemence of her outburst stunned them both into abrupt silence. She was frozen to the spot, staring at him, the unshed tears turning the pale blue of her irises to watery grey.
Scarlet stood up with a heavy sigh. So, this was the nub of it, the thing that had consumed him, dominated almost every waking moment for the last twelve months. Strange how its essence could be contained in just two little words. Not human. She had never uttered them, not even in the beginning, when everyone had doubted him and she had more reason than most.
He crossed to the cabinet on the far side of the room and pulled out another glass, filling it with a large measure of scotch. He handed it to her without a word and resumed his position on the bed, arms clasped behind his head, his eyes closed.
“I’m sorry, Paul.” She reached out a stricken hand to touch his arm. “That was a dreadful thing to say, I didn’t mean it.”
“Why not? You were telling the truth. After all, I’m a Mysteron too, just like good old Conrad.” He felt the sour taste in his mouth contaminating the words as they passed his lips.
“Not just like Conrad. You’re the same person you used to be.”
He raised himself on one elbow and gazed across at her, his expression unexpectedly bleak. “No, Sim, I’m not. I may look the same, most of the time I might feel the same, but I can’t escape the fact that I’ve been somewhat genetically modified. So I’m not the same. It’s simple, even okay, once you come to terms with it.”
“Have you come to terms with it?”
“Most of the time, yes. Talking to Alex helped a lot. You should have taken up her offer of counselling. Might have done you good.”
Destiny sniffed, dismissively. She had little time for Skybase’s resident psychologist and had consistently broken most of the appointments made by Colonel White on her behalf. “I can’t see how pouring out my soul to a supercilious bimbo is going to help me get through this.”
Scarlet grinned. There you go, he thought, still fighting every inch of the way. “She’s not a bimbo, Simone. She’s a highly-qualified professional”.
“If you say so.” She sounded unconvinced. “Paul, as far as we know, nothing like this has ever happened to anyone before. What use is psycho-babble when you’re dealing with retrometabolism?”
“That’s what I thought at first. Figured if I couldn’t make sense of it myself, how was anyone else going to? But eventually, Alex made me realise the point of the sessions.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“That it doesn’t matter whether anyone else understands what happened to me, just as long as I do.”
“And do you?”
“Not completely, but I’m getting there. Some days are better than others.”
“I suppose so.” She sighed and lay down beside him, the full glass in her hand tilting ominously in the direction of the bedcovers. “Do you think we’ll ever beat them, Paul? The Mysterons, I mean?”
“We have to believe we can. Let’s face it, we can’t just roll over and die, can we? Perhaps we’ll get lucky; maybe there’ll be another Astrid.”
“Astrid?” Destiny looked startled. “Astrid Winters, the head of the training base in Scotland? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Not the original, you idiot!” He looked amused. “Ghastly woman. I meant the replicant. If she’d lived, we might have been able to put an end to this war.”
Destiny frowned. “That’s assuming she had genuine information that could have helped us. I’m not so sure about that.”
“I believed her. She had no reason to stick her neck out for us in the way she did, if it was a trap.” He shifted restlessly on the bed. “I wish I’d had more time with her, Sim. There’s so much we don’t know, so many things she could have told me. We were in the same situation, but in a reverse kind of way, if you like. She said I was a human psyche in an alien body, while she – well, she had to get used to being an alien in a human body. She thought we could help each other.”
“I bet she did”. Destiny’s reply was caustic. “I got the impression she was extremely keen to have you help her explore her human side. Maybe ‘old Astrid’ wasn’t as impervious to your charms as you thought.”
“Do I detect a note of jealousy in that remark?” He had intended it to be no more than an affectionate jibe, so was surprised – and gratified – when her pale cheeks flamed with hot colour.
“Certainly not. I just wasn’t as convinced as you were that she had your best interests at heart, that’s all.” The words were spoken stiffly, but she refused to meet his eyes.
“Well,” he said teasingly, “I’ve always been very protective of my best interests. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them, would we?”
She glared at him, picking up the whisky bottle so suddenly that he was unsure whether she intended to pour another drink, or hit him over the head with it. “You got anything to put in this? It tastes like paint stripper.”
He grinned. “Lady, I’ll have you know that this is a very expensive malt you’re knocking back.”
“Expensive or not, it’s still taking the enamel off my teeth.”
“Okay, okay, you can have soda in it, but I won’t let you ruin it with anything else.”
“Fair enough.” She rose, somewhat unsteadily, and headed for the drinks cabinet, returning with the soda siphon, squirting it into her glass as she went. Since most of it ended up on the carpet, Scarlet concluded that it was just as well that Colonel White had had the foresight to ensure that this was probably the most dangerous weapon she was likely to get her hands on in the next twenty-four hours.
The abandonment with which she threw herself back down on the other side of the bed, confirmed his suspicion that sobriety was about to go out of the window.
His own inhibitions were sufficiently lowered to allow him to move his left arm across, so that it rested lightly on her shoulder. She leaned her head back against him, the silky, blonde hair falling in folds over his forearm.
“Do you think he can come back, Paul? Like you did?”
“Conrad? I don’t know, honey. I wish there was something else I could tell you, but there isn’t.”
“I keep going over it, time and again, trying to figure out why he’s different, why he can’t overcome their influence. You did it, why can’t he?”
“We don’t know that our experiences were exactly the same, Simone. It looks like the electrical charge I got when I fell into the power conduit brought me back, but we can’t be sure of that. Maybe it would have happened, anyway. Maybe their hold on me was never as strong as it is on him. Then again, maybe one day they’ll take me back. I pray to God that never happens, but the bottom line is, nobody really knows, except the Mysterons themselves.”
“Do you remember anything about being dead?”
The abruptness of the question stunned him for a few seconds.
“Boy, oh boy, you really know how to go for the jugular, don’t you?”
“Please.” Her hand came up to touch his cheek. “I know this is hard for you. I need to make some sense of it, that’s all.”
He nodded. “All right, but I’m not sure I can help you with that. Simone, I don’t remember anything about being dead. Nothing at all. I assumed I had just passed out in the Bison. When I came to and looked round, Conrad was slumped in his seat. Took me a minute or two to realise he hadn’t been as lucky as me. I mean, I thought I was okay, although my head hurt and I felt strange. I knew I had blood on my forehead, so I guessed I was concussed. Not retro-metabolised.” He swallowed hard. “Look, you know all this; you read the transcripts of my debriefing. Not to mention my subsequent interrogation after I went off the rails. I can’t see how it helps to rake it all up again.”
Her brow was furrowed in concentration. “Humour me. Do you have any idea of the timescale between being attacked by the Mysterons and starting out for home?”
“No. I don’t know how I actually got us back to Earth. I have no recollection of that. The Bison was pretty badly damaged, but I think they must have retro-metabolised it too, because I had no trouble getting out of the crevasse. The only bit I can recall is not thinking any of it was odd.” He looked at her intently. “I was completely unfazed by what had happened, which now seems ridiculous. We’d made a dreadful mistake, which had cost my best friend his life, and yet I didn’t care. It was like I was numb. I could think, but I couldn’t feel.”
“What about when you got back to Skybase?”
He shrugged. “Doctor Gold concluded I was badly concussed and in shock. I felt kind of disembodied, as if I was two-dimensional. I accepted what he told me. Everyone on Skybase was completely devastated by what had happened to Con, so no-one was acting normally anyway.”
“Especially me.” Her voice was thick with tears and she closed her eyes in an unsuccessful attempt to stop them leaking out of the corners of the lids.
Scarlet felt a sudden rush of pity. She shouldn’t have to deal with this, he thought. It should never have happened. Why, Con? Why couldn’t you have just waited? Then again, if you hadn’t fired at them when you did, maybe I would have.
He pressed his lips to the top of her head, inhaling the scent of apple-fragranced shampoo.
“That was the worst bit of all. It was only when I looked at you that something inside seemed to be telling me that everything was wrong. You wanted me to be there for you, but I didn’t know what it was I needed to do. I tried to say all the right things, but it was as if I was acting a part.”
“Well, soldier, it was an award-winning performance.” She smiled up at him tremulously. “I had no idea anything was wrong. Maybe I was just so wrapped up in my own grief, I couldn’t deal with anything else.” She took another large swig of whisky and held out the glass for him to refill. “You’d better do it, I’ll probably spill it.”
“You’re going to regret this tomorrow.”
“I daresay, but right now I don’t care. Tell me how you felt when the Mysterons…..”
“Switched me on properly?” The words came out with a degree of detachment that he would not have expected. “Like I was in someone else’s body, being controlled by someone else’s mind. I had a vague sense that what I was doing was wrong, but I simply couldn’t stop. Fortunately, Adam did that for me. Then, after I came round in sick bay, I felt completely normal once more, like everything had been a bad dream. Of course, that only lasted until the results of all Doctor Gold’s tests finally came through.”
“Do you believe in religion, Paul?”
This time he laughed outright. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you? Just when I think the conversation can’t get any weirder, you throw me another curve.”
“Well, do you?” She was nothing if not persistent.
“I remember being taken to church when I was a kid in Winchester. We left England for the States when I was six, and I don’t remember that it figured much after that. My dad used to say that religion was at the heart of the world’s troubles, and, when you look at the wars that have been fought in the name of it, I’d have to agree with that. Since it was terrorism masquerading as faith that killed both my parents, I think my dad’s point of view was spot-on. So, no, I don’t think I am a fan of orthodox religion, whatever denomination it is. What about you? ”
“My mother’s family are Catholic and my paternal grandfather was a Methodist minister, so there was a mix of influences going on there. My parents didn’t bother much. I think whatever faith they have is purely in science. They don’t really understand things that can’t be mathematically proved. When we visited my grandparents in Paris, I remember going to Catholic mass sometimes. My sister didn’t like the incantations and rosary beads etc, but I was fascinated by it all. There’s something quite comforting about the ritual and ceremony of church, don’t you think? ”
“Well, I suppose so, I’ve never really thought about it much. Why are we talking about this?”
“Souls”. She opened one eye and gazed up at him in somewhat roguish fashion. “Do you believe we have souls?”
“I believe we are more than the sum of our physical parts, yes. Quite what that amounts to, I’m not sure.”
“What makes every human being unique, then? Is it personality or soul, or are they one and the same thing? And what happens when we die?”
“I have no idea.”
He was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable at the line this conversation was taking. Her ability to get under his skin, right to the heart of him, was in full play, and there were roads he was not yet ready to travel. The effects of the alcohol seemed to be preventing him from doing anything about it. “Simone, where are you going with this?”
She didn’t answer at first, and for a second, he thought she had fallen asleep.
“I have a kind of a theory.” Her voice was slow, and thick with exhaustion and the insidious effects of the whisky she had consumed. “My grandfather died while I was still flying space shuttles. He had been ill for a long time, but when the end came, we thought it would all be over quite quickly. The ISA were really good about giving me leave of absence, told me to take as long as I needed. I flew to Paris and joined the whole family, in what we thought would be a short bedside vigil. He lasted longer than anyone believed possible, so we took it in turns to be with him – just so he wouldn’t be alone at the end, you know? ”
Scarlet nodded silent confirmation, while at the same time giving her free hand a sympathetic squeeze.
“Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was the only one with him when he died. Up to that point, he’d been himself. Desperately ill, in a coma, but essentially, still my grandfather. I went out of the room for maybe thirty minutes while the hospital staff kind of, laid him out, or whatever they do, and then I went back in. And he’d gone, Paul.”
“Gone? What are you talking about?” Scarlet felt hysteria bubbling up. How much had she had to drink? “He got up and walked away?”
“No, of course not, silly!” She tried not to give way to a sudden fit of giggles. “His soul had gone, or that’s how it seemed to me. He was just a husk, an empty shell lying on that bed. Everything that made him the person he was had left the room.”
“How do you know that wasn’t all part of the dying process?”
“His soul didn’t die, Paul. It just left. I knew with absolute conviction, right there and then, that the essence of a person doesn’t die with their bodies. Where it goes, I don’t know, but it leaves.”
“So how does this fit in with your theory?”
She was rambling, and he had begun to be less than interested in what the point of this conversation would turn out to be.
“Well, how about this?” She scanned his face with earnest, slightly bloodshot eyes, as if she was intent on making sure that he realised the import of her words. “The soul doesn’t go straight away. There’s some kind of time lapse. That’s what makes you different from Conrad, why you came back and he couldn’t.”
Scarlet sighed. “Simone, I know I’m tired and inebriated, and it’s making me slow, but I’m not getting the connection here. Enlighten me.”
“I think that you were replicated immediately after you were dead. Your soul hadn’t had a chance to leave your body, so everything that makes you human was still there. Maybe the Mysterons weren’t expecting that. They hadn’t had any experience of replicating humans. They didn’t realise that we’re a bigger force to be reckoned with than they thought.”
“When they lost control of you, they turned to Con, who, by that time, had been dead and buried for a while. His soul had gone, so what they were replicating may have just been an empty shell. That would certainly make him easier to manipulate. He can’t come back like you did, because, basically, there’s nothing of him left except his body.”
Scarlet knew that this notion, however far-fetched, was what she needed to believe to enable her to achieve some peace of mind. Black haunted her like an ever-present ghost. Even in death, or whatever you wanted to call it, he had not let go, keeping her moored in a well of sadness and misery.
But Simone Giraudoux was strong, stronger than anyone had realised. She had eventually cast off her ropes and begun the slow climb back to the sunlight. Only a slight patina of loneliness remained, clinging to her like an invisible cloak.
“Maybe you’re right, honey. And if you are, I guess that’s good for me. Never thought I’d have to wear my soul as some sort of shield to stop the Mysterons from taking me over again!”
He knew she suspected he was making fun of her, but she was too drowsy to protest. He tightened his arm around her, and felt her head drop to his shoulder. She didn’t seem to want to talk any more and neither did he.
Instead, he lay back, reflecting on the changing face of their friendship over the past year. Scarlet had been attracted to Destiny immediately, but had never allowed her to enter what he called his ‘Potential Girlfriend Compartment’. He suspected that although loyalty to his best friend played a part, the real reason was less altruistic. He had seen an inherent danger in their undeniable chemistry. He had needed to hold her just out of reach, for fear of drowning in her and thereby losing himself completely.
Instead, he had distracted himself by dating a sizeable proportion of Spectrum’s female staff. Scarlet liked women and knew they found him attractive, so girlfriends were not usually in short supply. None of the young women who trooped through his bedroom during this undeniable period of promiscuity, had ever understood the real reason they were there. This, he decided, was just as well, since he would not have been able to explain, even if he had understood himself.
Destiny had been puzzled, and disapproving of what she had seen as uncharacteristic behaviour. “Someone will get hurt, Paul,” she had warned, on more than one occasion. And, of course, someone had. The ensuing fallout had left him not only with a burning sense of shame, but also the very real possibility that his career on Skybase could end in tatters. He had learned his lesson and changed his ways.
There was a certain degree of irony, he knew, in the fact that no amount of behavioural modification would lessen the difficulties he now faced in matters of the opposite sex. His sense of honour would certainly not allow him to sleep with any woman without first ensuring she was fully aware of his altered genetic make-up. Yet imparting this earth-shattering information would, he suspected, almost certainly sound the death-knell to any likely candidates. The idea of having sex with a man who was no longer fully human would be enough to send any woman screaming for the hills. Guess this is your punishment for past misdemeanours, he thought grimly.
Destiny murmured something and flung one arm loosely across his chest. She was on the edge of sleep, and he wondered for a second if she had forgotten where she was, or with whom. A wave of tenderness washed over him as he gazed down at her. Their individual tragedies had brought them closer together and deepened their friendship during the last year. They had reached out to one another in the raging torrent of fear, desolation and loneliness, each keeping the other afloat whenever it had been required, and together they had found a way through the murkiest waters. Destiny, who understood more than anyone the magnitude of his isolation, had never doubted him for a second and Scarlet was profoundly grateful to her.
Grateful was not all he was. The knowledge hit him like a freight train. My God, he thought with amused wonder, I’m a victim of the oldest cliché in the book. In love with my best friend’s girl. Except that the best friend was now his enemy and the girl was not his lover.
Do we have a chance, here? Alcohol- tinged possibilities crowded around his consciousness, refusing to be denied. Maybe. Then again, was it what she wanted? He twined his fingers through the silky blonde strands of hair splaying across his chest, and knew, in that moment, that the continued presence of this woman in his life was as necessary to him as the air he breathed.
There was something else there, too. Or someone. Are you listening to this, you bastard? He thought with sudden savagery. Because if you are, know this. I will never let you have her back. Whatever the future holds, she stays with me.
As if reading his thoughts, Destiny opened her eyes. “Are we okay, Paul?” Her voice was little more than a whisper. “You and me. Are we all right?”
“Yes.” The reply came with conviction, for he knew it to be true. “We’re doing fine, Sim. We’ll beat them. We just have to keep going. Okay?”
“Okay.” She closed her eyes again and turned her face into his chest, dozing off once more.
The urge to gather her up in his arms and snuggle them both down under the bedclothes to sleep, was overwhelming. His body waged war with his mind until sanity eventually prevailed. He realised that when she awoke, disoriented and undoubtedly hung-over, the embarrassment factor would be off the Richter scale.
We might have come a long way in the last twelve months, he thought, but I don’t think we’re quite ready for this. He carefully eased his numb arm from around her shoulders and eased her down so that her head was supported on the pillows.
She muttered something, but did not wake, even when he carefully set down a large glass of water and a couple of painkillers by the bed.
Stretching his long limbs somewhat uncomfortably into the adjoining armchair, he took a last slug of whisky from the nearly empty bottle. He knew he would also sleep now and that, when he awoke, it would be to a new day and this anniversary would be over till the next time.
Hasn’t been so bad in the end, he thought reflectively. It also occurred to him that unlike the sleeping woman on the bed, he would process the alcohol through his system at an alarmingly fast rate. He would wake up as fresh as a daisy and no doubt, as far as she was concerned, as irritating as hell.
Maybe there’s something to be said for Mysteronisation, after all, he thought with glee, as he finally drifted off into sleep.
Marion, not only for her excellent beta-reading services, but her friendship and support in my writing endeavours.
My partner, who is unlikely to read this, but patiently gave up custody of his beloved computer for the time it took to complete it.
The Website Mandarin, for her willingness to put it in the public domain.
All members of the forum, who have contributed to this new hobby and have provided so much fun and pleasure.
Finally, Gerry Anderson and the CGI teams, who created these inspirational characters in the first place. I hope this piece of fiction is an affectionate tribute to their work.
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site.