Future Conditional

A "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" Story

By Sue Stanhope

 

Following the death of the Director General of the United Asian Republic, as predicted by Colonel White, fighting had broken out all across the Republic and had escalated rapidly, each country blaming its neighbour for the attack. Officials of each nation, desperate to quell the hostilities, stressed constantly that their leader had been a target of the Mysterons and total responsibility lay with them. It had soon become apparent, however, that the fighting was not a result of civil unrest, but was in fact the widespread and cleverly orchestrated tactics of one group of activists, determined to bring down the present system and install their own brand of chaos and disorder for their own ends. It had taken almost a year, but a new Director General was elected and peace had finally been restored. However, nobody fooled themselves that the underlying problems had gone for good. Occasional skirmishes with local troops abounded in numerous Middle Eastern nations, but it was at least kept under control and peace maintained. At no point since then had there been any suggestion that anything could disturb that balance and tip the scales into disorder and chaos once more.

 

In a camouflaged tent in the An Nafud desert in the Northern Provinces of Saudi Arabia a tall, muscular man in combat fatigues sat in front of a low table, poring over a relief map of the area. His hair would have been a mid brown colour, but it was difficult to tell, given the rather severe but functional style. He looked up, staring wordlessly as the tent flap was pushed back and a blond man, clearly out of place in the robes of one of the nomadic tribes, stooped to enter. The blond man quickly cast a keen eye around the interior of the tent. From outside, the encampment appeared as any temporary military site, but inside, he was astonished to see the wealth of equipment and gadgetry that almost filled the large tent. He sighed, thankful for the relative cool of the tent; a welcome haven from the harshness of the midday sun. Despite needing his help, he eyed his host with a touch of resentment. His instructions had been to approach by jeep to meet a sentry almost a mile from the camp; from there he would receive his final instructions. They had not been what he had expected. Forced to walk the final mile to the camp, alone and without water, at this hour, had, he knew, been to ensure that he would arrive exhausted and dehydrated. It seemed that they were taking no chances with him, and yet, they had allowed him to remain armed; it seemed a strange paradox.

"Colonel Frieden?" he asked with the low gravelly tone of a man in dire need of a drink of water.

"Mr Forrest?" Frieden replied to the blond man as he closed the map and waved his hand casually. "Take a seat," he offered.

Forrest glanced around; there were no chairs, the only place to sit was, as Frieden himself demonstrated, on the tentís groundsheet. Forrest lowered himself to the ground and stared expectantly at the man sat before him. Frieden regarded him with a harsh appraising stare for a few minutes before reaching to his left and pulling a water jug from a nearby stand and placing it on the table in front of him. If it were possible, Forrest could almost feel his mouth drying even further.

"What can I do for you, Mr Forrest?" asked Frieden, looking alternately between Forrest and the water jug.

Forrest, for his part, had tremendous difficulty in looking away from the jug. It had been kept cool in a corner of the tent and glistened with condensation. A single bead of cold, clear water trickled from near the spout down the front of the jug.

"Well, for a start," he replied, trying hard not to lick his dry lips, "you can offer me a glass of water."

Frieden smiled.

"Certainly, Mr Forrest. Perhaps youíll excuse the ploy. I like to know the type of man Iím working for."

"You could just ask me, Iím not squeamish about such inconsequential details."

"Oh, Iíve done enough research on you to know what youíd be prepared to tell me. Although I am a little curious as to why you want to hire me - from what Iíve discovered, youíre more than capable of handling almost any situation."

Neither man paid much attention to the man who entered the large tent with two rather battered tin mugs and proceeded silently to pour out the water from the jug.

Forrest responded with an uncomfortable frown.

"Really?" he asked, picking up the mug nearest to him and draining it eagerly. "Well, Iíd like to know a little more about you myself."

"You want to hire me, Mr Forrest, shouldnít you have done your research earlier?"

"Perhaps I couldnít find out too much information on you."

"Thatís how I like it," Frieden replied, also downing the contents of his mug. "But I can be generous, Iíll answer a question, what is it you want to know?"

"For a start, what turns an ex-WAAF Colonel into a mercenary and what brings you to this part of the world?"

"Thatís two questions, but the answer is the same anyway. Profit, pure and simple. I no longer hold the high ideals of youth. It pays well, Mr Forrest and when itís paid enough, life will be sweet and powerful."

"At least youíre honest, but for all that, you know little about me, yet you let me walk in here armed. Your security is slack, Colonel Frieden. Iím not sure this job is for you, if it were to go wrong, it would be my head on the block too."

"You may be armed, but you are no threat to me," replied Frieden with a smugly confident smile.

"Is that so? You have a pretty low opinion of me, Colonel," Forrest scowled with distaste at the suggestion.

"Not at all, it is quite the opposite in fact. You underestimate me significantly. Let me show you. I am unarmed, and none of my men will draw their weapons on you. Now, shoot me."

"What?" Forrest queried with surprise.

"Shoot me, Mr Forrest, if you can."

Forrestís pride was stung by the sneer that followed Friedenís last three words. Reaching into the recesses of his robes, he pulled out a small pistol. Seconds later, in just the blink of an eye, with a short yelp of pain, Forrest had relinquished the gun, letting it tumble uselessly to the floor. He now sat nursing a small but painful burn on his hand and the gun now rested in the hands of Frieden.

"How did you do that?" asked Forrest sullenly, still holding his abraded hand.

"Look about you, I donít keep such sophisticated equipment in here for mere decoration you know. Your gun was detected, and dealt with."

Forrest merely scowled and offered a begrudged nod of respect for the Colonelís ingenuity.

"Now that we understand each other better, Mr Forrest, perhaps we can continue? My contacts advise me that you want to carry out a bullion robbery? Now forgive me, Mr Forrest, but I am aware that you are a fine safecracker and explosives expert; you are more than capable of carrying out this operation yourself. Why do you need me?"

"I donít want to break in to any gold reserves, Iíd much rather take it before it gets there, so much easier. My contacts tell me of a bullion shipment about to be transported through this very area. Of course itís supposed to be in the strictest secrecy, and will be disguised as a geological outfit looking for oil deposits."

Frieden smiled. "And you need us to help you hijack the unit and relieve them of their cargo?"

Forrest stared at the man sat before him. His last few words had echoed in his ears and the tent interior was starting to move in and out of focus. He pulled at the already loose clothing as if it had started to grip him. Sweat beaded on his forehead as his senses swam.

"I...I donít feel...too good." Having realised that the speed at which he suddenly felt so ill meant that it was almost certainly not sunstroke, he looked suspiciously at Frieden, who seemed suddenly to be suffering in a similar way.

"What is this, Frieden?" Forrest demanded as he tried unsuccessfully to stand.

Frieden ignored the question, himself struggling to concentrate. He tried to speak but was suddenly unable. Looking up, he saw the dark-haired, deathly pale man who had brought the mugs. He wasnít one of his men. Gripped by terror, Frieden realised that they had been drugged, possibly fatally. As both men collapsed to the floor, the man stood and watched, cold and emotionless, as circles of green light passed over both corpses. Within moments, copies of both men stood by his side.

"You have your instructions," he spoke with a deep monotone voice that was not his own.

The two men merely nodded.

 

***

 

"How is he?"

Magenta opened his eyes and looked up at Scarlet who had spoken. Rubbing his eyes, Magenta sat upright.

"Sorry, I didnít mean to wake you," Scarlet apologised, passing a steaming coffee mug to the Irish captain.

"You didnít," Magenta sighed.

Aside from Scarlet and Magenta, the Officersí Lounge was empty. That was unusual in itself but this was no ordinary day. The whole of the senior staff were subdued. In only a few hours time, Ochreís nephew, Ryan Fraser, was to be buried. Magenta accepted the mug of coffee gratefully.

"You look like you need it, Pat! Have you had any sleep the last two nights?" Scarlet asked, his voice edged with concern.

Magentaís face was drawn and his eyes dark and sunken. With a casual flick of his wrist, he waved away Scarletís concern, whilst offering a crooked grin.

"Sleep? Who needs sleep?" Magenta joked in reply.

Scarlet frowned deeply, prompting Magenta to offer another reply.

"Yes, Mother, Iíve had some sleep."

"But not much by the look of you!"

"Some, Iíve had some." Magenta took a sip of the coffee and smiled appreciatively at its strength. "More than Ochre."

"I doubt heís had any at all."

"I know." Magentaís expression darkened. "Have you seen him?"

Scarlet shook his head and sighed. "No, not since you got back, heís barely left his quarters."

Magenta murmured something faintly in reply. Now staring intently at the rim of the mug, he gave the impression of mulling something over in his mind.

"You know Fawn tried to give him some sedatives?"

"Did he take them?" asked Scarlet.

"No," Magenta replied with a faint chuckle. "You know what heís like."

"Stubborn. Like you!" offered Scarlet.

Magenta looked down, smiling at Scarletís comment - he was hardly one to talk! Magenta turned the mug in his hands thoughtfully; his mind made up, he placed the mug on the table in front of him and stood up.

"Where are you going?" asked Scarlet, surprised at his sudden departure.

"To a funeral," Magenta stated with determination. "Heís not going on his own."

"I thought he didnít want anyone to go with him."

"Well, like you said, I can be as stubborn as he can." Magenta took a deep breath that almost became a yawn. "Maybe more than him."

"Good luck."

"Thanks, Scarlet."

 

***

 

Matt Riordan shoved the laptop to one side with a grunt of frustration. It had only been two days so far but it seemed to him that they had both been spent fruitlessly searching for Donaghueís elusive passwords. He remembered it hadnít been easy last time either. After Donaghue had disappeared, left to join Spectrum as it had turned out, Gabriel James had taken over leadership of the Syndicate. Riordan knew then, that, merely to stay alive, he had to become invaluable. Jamesí lack of ability with computers was surprising to him, but Riordan had used it to retain his senior status and, more importantly, to stay alive. Riordan had learnt almost everything he knew from Pat Donaghue and whilst he knew that Donaghue had withheld many of his tricks and skills, back then he knew enough to satisfy James that he could perform an indispensable service that could not be trusted to just anyone. Riordan took care of the accounts. Donaghue had set up so many seemingly genuine, legal accounts, all with a specific purpose and usage. No money had time to lie idle in one account for long enough before it was moved on to another and then another. Fraud, money laundering and robbery all handled smoothly, efficiently and, apparently, legally. Not even Commander Stewart of the World Government Police Corpsí New York branch had been able to pin anything on them. Donaghue had set up the system, and Riordan had handled it to perfection. But now? Now was different. Three years apart had instigated a significant difference in Donaghueís and Riordanís style of programming. Spectrum standards and security processes had changed it still further. Riordan felt again like a complete amateur. But he had to crack it. He had promised Fisher he could reinstate his and Abbottís millions. Money lost in an attempt to force Donaghue to pull off a grand scale robbery for them. The now rehabilitated former mobster had, instead, emptied their accounts. An attempt at revenge had backfired to the point that both Abbott and James had lost their lives. Now Ben Fisher had sole control of three of the largest Syndicates in New York. The only way he was going to maintain that hold was with money and he had made it abundantly clear to Riordan that speed was of the essence. Time was not on his side, but it was the one commodity Riordan needed the most. Drawing his lips into a thin line, Riordan consulted his watch. He still had a few hours yet.

 

***

 

Captain Ochre sat in his quarters. He doubted that he had had a single momentís sleep in the past two days. He didnít feel tired in the traditional sense, just drained, physically and emotionally. Walking over to the mirror, he checked his appearance once more. It was a long time since heíd worn a suit and it felt strange, constricting. Fidgeting with the knot on his tie, Ochre frowned to himself and closed his eyes. He wanted to look smart, to do his nephew proud. Proud. Magenta had said that before Ryan died, he knew that Ochre had been proud of him. It was small consolation. They had at least had the opportunity to get to know each other again; even understand each other. They had even laughed together, Ochre recalled with a faint smile. Growing up as a child, a young Rick Fraser was often told by his parents that everything happened for a reason, even the bad things would prove to lead to something positive. It was something he had always wanted to believe, but recent years had seemed to prove him wrong. The death of his brother, guardianship of his delinquent nephew, Ryanís imprisonment for drug dealing. He knew that his giving evidence against his own nephew at his trial had in all likelihood contributed to his approach by Spectrum. But so what? What good had come from that? Ochre opened his eyes once more and turned as he heard the knock on the door. Briefly glancing at his watch, he knew it was about time to leave. With a tired sigh he opened the door. Before him stood Captain Magenta, wearing a dark suit and tie. He looked tired.

Magenta drew a deep breath, he would fight the stubborn fool if he had to, but today, of all days, he wouldnít let his friend be alone.

"Iím coming with you."

There were no words for how he felt. Ochreís friendship with Magenta was as strong as if they were brothers. The man standing before him had risked his life for him only a few days earlier. What more proof did he need that his parents had been right?

"Thanks, Pat." Throwing his arms around him, Ochreís voice cracked as he spoke.

Magenta was somewhat taken aback, it was a response he was unprepared for. Relieved, he patted Ochreís back and steered him back into his quarters.

"You look tired, Pat," Ochre offered, taking a seat once more.

Magenta shook his head, he had no idea on what energy reserves Ochre was running but he felt sure they would soon run out.

"Iím tired? Rick, have youÖ?"

"Donít go there, Pat," Ochre interrupted, shaking his head. "Iíll sleep when this is done, I know I will."

Magenta cast a concerned eye over his friend. This had hit him a lot harder than anyone would have imagined. Almost as if he read Magentaís thoughts, Ochre sighed and spoke again.

"I promised Iíd look after him. I didnít do a good job, did I?"

Magenta took a deep breath. So that was it?

"Did you take him in, in fact, fight to take him in when your brother died?"

"Yes, butÖ"

"Did you let him run riot or did you try to keep him within the law?"

"You know I didÖ"

"Did you try to protect him, even when heíd had you kidnapped?"

"Well, yesÖ"

"Then, how could you have done a better job?"

"I let him down, Pat. He turned into a criminal, I should have prevented that!"

Magenta looked down, contemplating his next question; he drew his lips into a thin line and swallowed hard. Even before he looked up again, Ochre knew what was coming and felt wretched.

"I was a criminal too. Would you say that my parents let me down?"

"No," Ochre said quietly, "of course not."

"Then what makes you so different? And you werenít even a parent! You did a good job, Rick. HE chose what he did, not you."

"But now heís dead," Ochre replied quietly.

Magenta nodded. "I know. Come on, letís say goodbye."

 

***

 

Not guilty! Reece had done it again. Lawyer and client pushed their way through the gathered crowds and pressmen to a flood of questions and flashbulbs. Questions flew at them from all directions. At the foot of the stairs to the Court House, Reece held up his hands theatrically to quieten the swarm of people gathered around him. As the air became suitably hushed, he lowered his arms and began.

"This has been a clear cut case of yet another innocent man, framed by the World Government Police Corps. Thank goodness for our fair and honest justice system where a man is tried by the evidence, not by the desperation of a few individuals to clear a rap sheet. My client, Mr Harper, is innocent and looks forward to returning to a normal life. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen."

The roar of questions commenced once more. Above them all, Reece frowned slightly as he heard one asking if there was any truth in the rumour that several of the jury had been threatened. Pushing through the crowd with no further comment, Reece and his client stepped through the open door of Reeceís Mercedes. Several more bulbs flashed as the driver slid behind the wheel and pulled smoothly away from the sidewalk.

"I had no idea that my trial was so important."

"It wasnít." Reece frowned again as the car entered the busy Manhattan traffic.

"But all those people?"

"Yes, I know," Reece mused, "quite puzzling."

 

***

 

Ben Fisher slammed down the phone and pushed a hand through his dark hair in frustration. Looking up, he frowned as a man in his late twenties entered the room.

"Josh, give me some good news," Fisher almost begged.

Seeing Josh Kirbyís expression made him sigh heavily and slump back in his chair.

"Iím sorry, Mr Fisher, thereís been no sign of Mr Riordan since yesterday."

Fisherís eyes narrowed. He had hoped that he knew enough about Riordanís temperament to warrant allowing him a great deal of latitude and trust, but his sudden disappearance was stretching his already strained patience very thin. He doubted that Riordan would double cross him; he had assumed that Riordanís highly developed sense of self preservation would see to that. But of course he couldnít be one hundred percent certain and they were talking about significant sums of money.

"Okay, Josh, keep trying, but do it discreetly, I donít want word getting out."

"I...well..." Kirby shifted awkwardly in front of the Syndicateís new boss.

"What?" growled Fisher almost certain he knew what the reply would be.

"Thereís someone to see you, Sir," Josh explained apologetically.

"Who?"

"An old friend, Ben," came a deep voice from the doorway. "An old friend," he repeated with a barely disguised look of malice on his face.

"Iím busy!" snapped Fisher, rising to his feet and leaning menacingly across the desk.

"So I hear," he laughed as he approached Fisherís desk. "Tell me, Ben, just how many people are you going to let run off with your money? This is the second time, yes?"

"I donít know what you think youíve heard but..."

"Come on, Ben, give me some credit," he continued as he pulled up a chair and made himself comfortable. "Josh, I take my scotch with ice and a twist."

Kirby glanced from the newcomer to Fisher, not knowing quite what to do. He knew the man; there was hardly a mobster in the States who didnít. Anton Carlotta fronted a successful property development business, but was infamous for his underworld dealings. Carlotta controlled the activities of most of the syndicates in Illinois, but in recent weeks his name had been mentioned much further afield. There was no question over what had brought him to New York; he was ready to expand his empire.

Fisher nodded to Kirby as he rounded his desk.

"Take a seat," Carlotta grinned as he casually waved his hand to indicate the seat opposite.

Fisher bristled.

"You donít have control just yet, Anton."

"Control?" he smiled innocently. "I donít know what you mean, Ben. Iím just here to help."

"Help?" Fisher snorted. "I know what a take-over looks like, Iíve done enough of them!"

Carlotta gave a small laugh. "Youíve come a long way, Ben and youíve changed quite a lot, I almost didnít recognise you."

Kirby placed two drinks on the table with a degree of unease. The conversation was tense and electric. He was aware of the restlessness within the Syndicate. Talk of a take-over had abounded within the group; some members had even spoken openly about whether or not to offer their allegiance to Carlotta now, before being forced to.

"Sometimes change is good, and sometimes itís not," Fisher replied pointedly.

Carlotta smiled faintly, finding Fisherís discomfort a source of amusement.

"You donít think we could work together again, Ben?"

"Iím happy here, you keep Illinois, and Iíll stay here." Fisher took a sip from his glass.

"As you say, sometimes change is good," Carlotta taunted.

"It can be bad for your health," Fisher returned bluntly.

"Are you threatening me, Ben?" Carlotta asked as an amused sneer formed slowly.

"Just a piece of advice, Anton." Fisher leaned forward; still holding his glass, he pointed at Carlotta. "Friendly advice."

"I heard," Carlotta leaned back in the deep comfortable armchair, "that you have no money. How do you pay your men?"

"I thought this was a social call?"

Carlotta tilted his head and smiled unpleasantly. "I said I wanted to help."

"Well you can help by keeping your operations in Illinois and staying away from mine."

Carlotta turned the glass in his hand. "Your Syndicate is vulnerable, Ben. Ripe for the picking, Iíd say. Wouldnít you rather it was by an old friend, whoíd let you live?"

"Like I said, your information is inaccurate."

"Good, Iím so glad to hear that, Ben. I was worried. So, youíll be interested in my proposition? A little investment Iíd like you to make. Just two million, a drop in the ocean to you, eh, Ben? You wonít have any trouble raising the money, will you?"

"What is it?" asked Fisher, eager to maintain the pretence that all was well.

"Well, itís a computer fraud. I thought it would be a good idea if Riordan were here. Heíd know more about what was possible. Where is he, by the way?" Carlotta asked, sitting forward in his chair.

"Heís not here," Fisher frowned, irritated by Carlotta apparently holding all the cards and knowing it.

"I see that." He spoke with feigned surprise. "Now if I were a cynical man, Iíd wonder if the rumours about him and your money were true."

"Theyíre not!" Fisher snapped, leaping angrily to his feet.

Carlotta pushed himself slowly into a standing position. Stepping to within inches of Fisherís face, he drew his lips into a cold sneer.

"You seem distracted right now, Ben. Iíll come back tomorrow and I expect you to be ready to talk business." Momentarily he turned his head away as it appeared he would walk away. Turning back only a second or two later, he continued: "One way or another."

Fisher watched silently with a look of distaste on his face as Carlotta exited the office.

"Ciao, Ben," he called with a casual backward wave.

After a few minutes, Fisherís temper remained no closer to being under control, but at least he could be relatively certain that Carlotta would have left by now.

"Josh!" he yelled. His tone translated itself into the speed of Joshís response. The word had no sooner died on his lips than he burst into the office, quite taking Fisher by surprise.

"Yes, Sir?" he asked almost breathlessly.

"Is there any news from Reece yet?"

"Yes, Sir, just arrived when Mr Carlotta was here. He did it again, Sir, not guilty."

Fisher smiled, it was the only thing that had gone right sinceÖhe paused, what WAS the last thing that had gone right? It had been the attempted take-over of Gabriel Jamesí Syndicate, but that was when everything had started going wrong. That man was like a plague, infecting everything and everyone that came near. Now James was dead. Fisher had hoped that was the starting point of everything improving. But the Syndicate was still without a cent to its name; his business partner, Mark Abbott, was also dead; a take-over was on the cards and Riordan had disappeared. This first single piece of good news seemed like a life raft and Fisher was clinging to it gratefully.

"Get them here, Josh, I need to speak to them."

 

***

 

Doctor Fawn smiled with satisfaction as he checked Captain Greyís chart.

"Youíll be out of sickbay in a few days, Grey." Fawn extended his smile in Greyís direction.

"Back on duty?" asked Grey hopefully.

Fawn laughed as he lowered the chart and attached it to the foot of the bed. "Weíll see, shall we?"

"Oh, come on Doc, Iím fine, you can see that!" Grey pleaded.

Fawn shook his head. "Grey, do you think Iíd make a good field agent?"

"WellÖ" Grey paused, trying to find the right words to let him down gently. It was only then he saw Fawnís real point, and nodded with a crooked smile. "About as good as I make a doctor."

Fawn returned with his own knowing grin.

"Okay, you made your point," Grey admitted finally.

A pair of sparkling blue eyes followed by a broad grin peered around the door of the small room.

"Someone told me some malingerer was in here and I came to see for myself!"

Grey looked up with some relief; Sickbay could be very dull.

"Come in, Scarlet. I could do with cheering up," Grey sighed.

"Apparently Iím making things worse," sighed Fawn with a wry smile.

"Hey, Doc, you know him, never wants to stay. Awkward customer!" Scarlet laughed, as he sat beside Greyís bed, placing a file on the bedside cabinet.

Fawn laughed. It was ironic that of all the senior staff, it was probably Captain Grey who had the most patience when it came to putting up with a spell in Sickbay.

"Iíll leave you to it, I have a couple of things to attend to."

Scarlet nodded and Grey offered a lazy wave as Fawn left the room to return to his office.

"Why do I get the feeling that this isnít entirely a social call?" asked Grey with a slight frown.

"Because youíre naturally suspicious?" returned Scarlet with a grin.

"Yeah, that and Iím right arenít I?"

Scarlet raised his eyebrows and nodded after a short pause.

"How did you know? Itís not as if I wouldnít just visit." Scarlet asked with a quizzical expression.

"I heard Fawn tell the old man that I was fit enough to talk. I guess, looking at the file you brought, that youíve come to collect my report?" Grey replied with a slight shrug and attempted to hide the grimace as the pain of the movement hit him.

"It still hurts that bad?" Scarlet asked sympathetically.

"Scarlet, I swear, if this happened to you, even youíd still hurt!" Grey shifted uncomfortably as his tired muscles started to ache.

"Here, let me help you," Scarlet offered, lowering Greyís bed slightly so that he lay back a little more rather than trying to hold himself in a sitting position. "Better?"

Grey nodded. "Thanks, Paul," he croaked.

Scarlet gazed down at his friend, his emotions a confusing mixture of relief, pity and anger.

"How many attacked you?" Scarlet asked with a frown.

Grey looked away and gave a short embarrassed laugh.

"One," he replied quietly, looking up at Scarlet once more. Grey searched Scarletís expression, looking for his reaction. Would it, as he felt himself, be acute embarrassment?

"One? What with?" Scarlet was stunned by the revelation. "Fawn said it was two or three with maybe baseball bats."

Grey looked up and sighed. He too would have been astounded if he hadnít seen and felt the sheer strength and brute force of his attacker.

"Believe me, thatís what it felt like! Iíve never met anyone so strong, so big. Honestly, Scarlet, I think I was lucky to hold out as long as I did. He threw me around like a rag doll. At one point he had his hand around my neck and, as crazy as it sounds, it felt like his hand could encircle my entire neck. He was huge." Grey shook his head and sighed again. "Oh, I donít know, Scarlet. I knew something was wrong; it wasnít as though I didnít see it coming. He was unarmed and he nearly killed me!"

Scarlet was lost for words. It was clear to him that Grey was ashamed of being overpowered by an unarmed man, even one so physically strong and obviously dangerous.

"Come on, Brad, donít be so hard on yourself. It would have been his job to take you out, you know that. You canít win them all."

"He was unarmed, Scarlet!" Grey stressed. Heaving a sigh, he looked away. "I have to put in my report that I was jumped and beaten to a pulp by an unarmed man."

Scarlet frowned, he knew how tough this was for Grey; heíd feel the same if it were him. Reaching for the file, he opened it at a marked page.

"Was it anyone here?" he asked softly, handing over the file to Grey.

Grey glanced through the ten photographs that Scarlet had marked, stopping briefly over one photo, he continued.

"No," he shook his head, "heís not there, but this looks like the other guy. I didnít get a good look at him and it was dark, but I think thatís the guy."

"Thatís Fisher, I thought it would be. He was at Abbottís place with Riordan when we got there."

Grey looked up at Scarlet and smiled briefly; at least his eyesight was up to scratch.

"I wonder who the other guy was," Scarlet pondered, as he took the file from Grey once more.

"Riordan called him Ox," Grey recalled.

"Ox? As in Ďstrong as aní?" Scarlet queried.

Grey laughed quietly to himself. "I guess," he nodded.

"Maybe Pat can shed some light on it?"

Grey nodded. "Youíre right, if Riordan knew him, thereís a chance that Pat might know him."

 

***

 

Captains Ochre and Magenta had walked all the way from the officersí quarters in the Command Tower to the helicopter hangar in the heart of the carrierís main platform in almost total silence. As they approached, Ochreís pace slowed significantly. Magenta frowned as he surmised that as much as Ochre wanted the whole ordeal over with, he was also quite reluctant to face it.

"You okay, Rick?" Magenta asked kindly.

"Hmm? Iím sorry, Magenta, I was in a world of my own there," Ochre admitted with a slight shrug of his broad shoulders.

"Iím with you every step of the way here, Rick. If thereís anything I can do, you only have to say, you know."

Ochre gave a half-hearted smile and patted Magentaís arm.

"Youíre a good friend, Pat. I appreciate it, I really do. I guess weíre just waiting for Rhapsody now?"

Magenta shook his head. "No, Iím flying. Itís all sorted."

Ochre smiled briefly once more as he climbed aboard.

"Pat?" he looked down with a questioning glance. "You did get permission to come with me didnít you?"

Magenta laughed as he slid into the pilotís seat in front of him and fastened the harness. "After last time, I think Iíd be pushing the envelope just a little too much to go AWOL again, donít you think?"

"Is that a yes or a no?" asked Ochre suspiciously.

"Itís a yes," Magenta replied, raising his eyebrows. "You think Iím going to get us into trouble?"

"It wouldnít be the first time," replied Ochre with a faint, tired smile.

"Or the last!" replied Magenta with a mischievous grin; pleased at last to get a response from his friend.

Ochre raised his eyebrows and with them, the corners of his mouth. Sighing, he shook his head; the impression was one of disbelief but he knew all too well that, with Magenta, anything was possible.

"I know you mean that too!" he finally replied with a smirk.

Magenta waited as the powerful hydraulic lift raised the helicopter level with the main platform. The formalities of requesting clearance for take-off dealt with in moments, he then flipped a couple of switches and glanced up as the rotor blades started to turn, slowly at first, but rapidly picking up speed.

"Weíll be landing in Detroit in about an hour, maybe a little more. Iíve arranged for a car to meet us," Magenta informed Ochre as the vehicle lifted gently into the air.

 

***

 

Riordan checked his watch again; it was about time to leave. He slowly turned the cell phone in his hand. It had rung several times since he had suddenly disappeared. If they had known his intentions, they would perhaps have tried to change his course of action. He wasnít sure, but for now, he wanted the breathing space to try his own ideas. He nodded slowly to himself. He didnít know how exactly he was going to convince him, but he knew he had to try. Leaving the laptop behind in the hotel, he headed for his car.

 

***

 

Ryan had been a handful right from the moment Captain Rick Fraser of the World Government Police Corps had taken him in, possibly even before that. Yes, certainly before that. Ochre couldnít help but cast his mind back to the occasion of his brotherís thirty-fifth birthday. He had travelled back to Detroit, where his brother still lived with his wife and son. Ryan had been one of the topics of conversation that night, and as usual, it was not a happy conversation.

 

Rick Fraser placed a jug of ice-cold beer and two glasses on the table and slid into his seat with a satisfied sigh. The bar was dimly lit, the seats comfortable and above the bar on a large screen the Lions were beating the Bears by two touchdowns.

"Happy Birthday, Will," Rick grinned at his brother as he poured out two glasses of beer, passing one to his brother and raising the second in a toast. "Thirty five, eh. Youíre getting old, bro! And, oh! Is that a grey hair I see?"

"Less of the old, thank you, Rick! Youíll be thirty five before you know it!" Will Fraser shook his head with an amused sigh as they clinked glasses. "You got a jug? Are we settling in then?"

Rick jabbed his thumb at the screen as he downed half of the contents of his glass.

"I thought you were buying me dinner," Will queried with a cheerfully wicked glint in his eye.

Rick settled the drink back down on the table and turned his eyes from the screen to his brother, sat opposite him.

"I ordered some wings too," he replied with an almost identical expression.

"Youíve got real class, Rick, you know that, donít you?" Willís words were heavy with sarcasm.

His reply was a desperately contrived innocent grin. A noise dragged their attention back to the screen. The bar was suddenly in uproar as Donovan Stokes, the Lionsí Running Back, broke through the Bearsí defence and tore down the sideline, earning himself and the team a forty-yard touchdown. With a whoop of delight the two brothers grinned at each other once more as a waitress brought a large plateful of spicy chicken wings.

"Now you canít tell me youíd rather be in a stuffy restaurant eating a shrimp cocktail," Rick announced as he selected a couple of juicy looking wings for his plate. "I wouldnít believe you!"

"Hmm, well, perhaps not," Will agreed, refilling their glasses. "So whatís with supporting the Lions? You should be a Bears man now youíve moved to Chicago."

"Maybe next year, Will, I havenít settled yet. I still think of this as my home, itís still all new to me, it has only been a few months."

"Mmm, yeah, I guess so," nodded Will, licking his fingers. "Hey, these are good wings," he added appreciatively.

"Only the best for my big brother," Rick chuckled, nodding with approval as the Lionsí kicker floated the ball with ease through the posts for the extra point. "Theyíre going to the Super Bowl this year."

"Yeah well, after last season, you donít mind if I donít get too excited just yet?"

"Will, youíve got to believe in them." Rick waved a chicken bone at his brother. "Anyway, howís Carol? In fact, whereís Carol?"

"Sheís fine." Will offered Rick a broad smile, even the mention of his wife was likely to produce that response. Rick had only been eighteen years old when his older brother Will had met Carol. It was to be a whirlwind romance that had them married within a year of that first Ďhelloí. Rick, in a moment of touching sensitivity, had said on the day that Will had met Carol that he should never let her go.

"So," Rick stared at him, "where is she?"

Will sat back, his good humour gone. "Sheís at the hospital."

"What! What are we doing here then? We shouldÖ" Rick was already reaching for his wallet to leave a tip.

"Relax!" Will cut in sternly. "Sheís okay."

"ThenÖRyan?" Rick looked at him questioningly.

"He got into another fight," Will explained with a deep exasperated sigh, "the police were called in. He was a real mess; we had to take him to the hospital for stitches. Carol insisted that I didnít cancel. There really isnít much point us both being there but she doesnít want to leave him at home on his own." Will downed his beer. "What am I going to do with him, Rick? Heís getting worse!"

"Hey, maybe he should come stay with me for a bit. If I showed him some of the things I have to see in my line of work, itíd soon set him straight."

 

The words were prophetic. After that night, Rick never saw his brother alive again. A house fire claimed both him and Carol only six weeks later. Ryan had survived by the lucky chance of him being at a friendís house that night. Days of arguing about his future had turned into weeks, then months. Finally, Rick got his wish of Ryan staying with him at his apartment in Chicago. Leaving all his friends behind, new belongings needed, a new school to find and grieving bitterly for the sudden and tragic loss of his parents, all contrived to make the already rebellious teenager simply uncontrollable. Rick Fraser was in a demanding career as a Captain in the World Government Police Corps. Suddenly he was also a parent, with all the restrictions and responsibilities that brought. Both uncle and nephew were plunged into a world they didnít understand and were either unable or unwilling to share their concerns with the other.

 

Perhaps, Ochre thought to himself as he gazed unseeing out of the window, they were doomed to failure from the start.

 

***

 

"Captain Scarlet?"

Scarlet looked up to see Destiny Angel as she entered the Officersí Lounge.

"Destiny." Scarlet rose as she entered, looking up from the report file in front of him on the table.

"Ah, Captain, ever the gentleman," she smiled, half approving, half mocking the English captainís automatic response to a lady entering the room.

Scarlet smiled back, almost shyly. The response had indeed been automatic and he had barely noticed he had done it. Now she stood facing him as she poured herself a cup of coffee. His actions had been noted; he could hardly sit down before she did. He hovered awkwardly, half way between standing and sitting as she stared at him with an expression of amusement.

"Would you like some coffee, Paul?" she asked with a smile.

"ErÖyes please," he replied awkwardly.

"Paul," Destiny laughed, "please sit!"

Scarlet smiled and took his seat once more. Closing the file, he looked up once more as Destiny placed the steaming mug of hot coffee in front of him.

"Not finished your paperwork, Captain? That is most unlike you!" Destiny chuckled.

"Not mine, Iím writing a proxy report for Grey. Heís not up to it yet, but he can sign his name," Scarlet smiled.

"Poor Brad." Destinyís eyes darkened. "I saw him after he was brought back to Cloudbase, he took quite a beating."

"Yes," Scarlet murmured thoughtfully. "From one unarmed man," he continued distractedly.

"Are you serious?" Destiny queried. "One man did that to Grey? How is that possible?"

"I donít know," admitted Scarlet. "I need to speak to Magenta about it."

"How will he know?" asked Destiny, taken aback by Scarletís comment.

"I have a feeling it may have been someone he knows," Scarlet explained with a sigh. "Grey heard a name and got a good look at him. Apparently heís not someone you forget in a hurry."

"WellÖ" Destiny turned the cup in front of her. "Youíll have to wait to be certain. Heís left Cloudbase."

Scarlet looked up, surprised. "Please tell me he had permission this time!"

"Yes," Destiny smiled. "He wonít get into trouble this time."

Scarlet raised his eyebrows. Nothing was ever that clear-cut with Magenta. "Heís gone with Ochre?"

"Yes, he spoke to the Colonel, who was more than happy for him to go, provided of course, Captain Ochre was agreeable. Pat went to Ochreís quarters a little while ago, it must have gone well as they just left."

Scarlet smiled faintly at the use of Magentaís first name. Was this the sort of thing people had noticed about Blue and Symphony, possibly even himself and Rhapsody, or was he just imagining it?

"What are you smiling at?" asked Destiny with almost an air of guilty indignation.

"Nothing," Scarlet beamed at her as he reopened the file, "nothing at all. Iíll wait for him to come back to ask him."

"Ask him what?" Destiny queried in a quiet uncertain voice, which was most unlike her.

"About the man who attacked Grey of course. What else?" he asked teasingly.

"Of course," replied Destiny as she picked up her book from the table where she had left it earlier. Settling down on one of the sofas, she heard a muffled chuckle behind her and decided it was best to ignore it.

 

***

 

The cemetery was beautiful. Clean, well kept and stunningly landscaped. From the high, grey stone archway at the entrance to the beautiful age-old monuments and mausoleums all kept in pristine condition. Well-manicured lawns showed off to marvellous effect the polished marble headstones and crosses that adorned countless graves. Following the path around to the left, Ochre and Magenta approached the chapel. It was obvious from the mixture of textures and masonry that a large part of it dated back hundreds of years, and either a rebuilt section or an extension reached away to the right.

"Reverend." Magenta held out his hand as he approached the vicar who stood solemnly in the doorway. The slight, dark haired man was dressed simply in a long black cassock, white surplice and a long purple scarf draped around his neck. "We spoke earlier."

"Mr Donaghue." The vicar took his hand in a hearty shake before looking beyond him to the distant, tired-looking man behind him, and nodded. Stepping forward, he slipped an arm around Ochreís shoulder. "Mr Fraser," he continued, "Iím the Reverend Ian Thomas, perhaps youíd care to follow me?"

The hair prickled on the back of Magentaís neck. Stopping, he frowned and waited as Rev. Thomas led Ochre inside the chapel. Turning slowly, he scanned the area carefully. He had the nagging sensation of someone watching them, but he could see nothing. Turning to follow Ochre into the chapel, he reached under his jacket and unhooked a safety strap on the shoulder holster he was wearing. Just to be on the safe side, he told himself.

 

***

 

"Theyíre here, Mr Fisher," Kirby announced as he entered Fisherís office after a brief knock at the door.

Fisher frowned; this was, in all probability, going to be fairly tricky. He just hoped that Reece would be amenable to his offer.

"Okay, thanks, Josh. Show Mr Reece in," Fisher replied absently.

"Sir?" Josh closed the door fully and took a few steps into the office.

"Yes, Josh?" Fisher regarded him with a questioning stare.

"Can I be straight with you over something?" he asked a little hesitantly.

Fisher clasped his hands together so that his fingers, though straight, were interlaced slightly and rested his elbows on the table. Leaning forward, he balanced his chin on the tips of his fingers and stared up expectantly.

"Go ahead."

"Sir, I donít like that Harper guy," Kirby frowned, "I donít trust him, I think heís out for what he can get for himself."

Fisher smiled maliciously and nodded. Kirby had met Jack Harper only minutes earlier and already he had the measure of him. Fisher, himself, was more than familiar with Harperís attitude. It was probably why Gabriel James liked him so much; he was like a younger version of himself Ė arrogant, over-confident and undeservingly self-assured. He thought back to his first meeting with Harper several weeks earlier. It had been in Matt Riordanís apartment shortly after Pat Donaghueís kidnapping. He was nothing but a violent thug, who mirrored Gabriel James in every way he could, possibly believing it would gain him favour. Well, now, James was dead, but like it or not, Fisher needed him, if only temporarily. The truth was that Jack Harper reminded Fisher of James, of everything heíd lost and consequently the troubles he was now facing. He didnít like him either, but he was ruthless, scheming and violent and perhaps most importantly, for the time being, he was useful.

"Youíre probably right, Josh," he admitted, "but I need him."

"You need him?" Kirby was astounded. "Heís nothing but aÖ"

"Josh, heís the only guy I have who Gabriel James dealt with on a regular basis. He knows Jamesí contacts and quite a lot about his dealings."

"What about Mr Riordan?"

Fisher shrugged.

"Josh, you never met Gabriel James, did you?"

"No, Sir," Kirby shook his head.

"The guy was a fool," he sighed. "He excluded most of Donaghueís men from the decision-making, regardless of their expertise, and he alienated Riordan; the man who could have done most for him. Harper was one of the few guys he brought in himself and he trusted him. God knows why!" Fisher rolled his eyes at the idea. "Iím not about to make the same mistake, but if thereís one thing I DO know, I donít trust him one little bit and I want Jack Harper here, where I can see him. Keep a close watch on him, Josh. I have no doubt that he wants my job eventually, but first," Fisher unclasped his hands and pointed a finger at Kirby, "heíll try for yours."

"Yes, Sir," Kirby nodded, with an expression that was a strange mixture of anger and determination.

"Now, show Mr Reece in, please."

Fisher watched with a sly smile as Kirby left the room. Despite the fact that he trusted Josh, if there was one thing heíd learned over the years, it was that in this business, you didnít impress your will upon people by telling them what they could gain from a situation, but by threatening them with what they could lose.

"Ethan!" Fisher rose to his feet, extending his hand in greeting, as Reece entered the room. "Itís good to see you again."

"And you, Ben," Reece replied, returning the gesture, and paused for a firm businesslike handshake before continuing: "I was hoping you could quash the rumours Iíve been hearing," he replied with a meaningful stare.

"Rumours?" asked Fisher indicating a chair near the window, only recently vacated by Anton Carlotta. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Cognac. I hear, and Iím sure itís nonsense, that you canít pay me," Reece looked up with a forced polite smile as he looked up at the uncomfortable expression offered by Fisher.

"Ethan." Fisher poured a large measure of cognac for his lawyer and another for himself before sitting down opposite him. "How long have we been working with each other? Six years maybe? More? When have I ever let you down?"

"SoÖ" Reece swirled the glass and watched the warm liquor dampen the sides of the glass with its viscous flow. "You can pay me?"

"I need your indulgence for just a few days." Fisher raised a hand in a pleading gesture.

"Fisher -" Reece leaned forward menacingly "- you know I have enough on you to put you away for many lifetimes?"

Fisher glowered as he turned his own glass gently between his palms. He couldnít help but notice the switch from Reeceís use of his first to last name, as if to emphasise the seriousness of his words.

"I know that and you donít have to threaten me!" Fisher snapped back.

"Whoís threatening?" asked Reece in an innocent tone. "Merely stating a fact."

Fisher smiled, but it was one of frustration more than anything.

"Ethan." Fisher put down his glass and leaned forward. "You know itís just a temporary glitch. James left us in a mess. We used up most of what we had in old accounts to fund his last scheme, which, of course, failed miserably. I have just under twelve million dollars altogether, potentially more. Ethan, I can pay you, I just need some time."

"You knew when you asked for Harper that you couldnít pay me," Reece took a sip from his glass; smiling as the warming liquid slipped comfortingly down. "I take that as a betrayal of confidence."

"Thatís not true, Ethan! I didnít know that. I asked you weeks ago, before James was even bailed. I didnít know this was going to happen. Come on, Iíve got someone onto it, right now as we speak. Just a few more days."

Reece rubbed his forehead and sighed as Fisher raised his glass once more and took a nervous gulp.

"Again, Ben, thatís not what Iíve heard."

"I donít know what youíve heard, orÖ" Fisher rested his glass back down on the table a little roughly so that it clinked loudly as it touched the glass table top, and sat back in his chair with an air of frustration and irritation, "actually I probably do, and Iíve got a pretty shrewd idea where you heard it too." Fisher turned a pair of accusatory eyes on Reece. "Found yourself a new client, Ethan?"

Reece offered Fisher a superior and knowing smirk.

"Got to pay the bills, Ben."

"The money Abbott and I have paid you over the years should pay off a lifetime of bills!" Fisher slammed his hand down in frustration on the arm of the chair.

"Payment for services rendered, Ben. Keeping you and Abbott out of jail didnít come cheap!"

Fisher rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked down to the floor briefly before looking up once more, taking on an almost pleading expression.

"Ethan, youíve done great work for us, Iím not denying it. But, Iím just asking that after all this time, that you do just this one thing for me. Iím only asking for a few days. Please!"

Reece downed the last of his brandy and smiled smugly at Fisher as he settled the empty glass back onto the table. Standing up, he nodded.

"I might as well," he announced with a tired sigh. "Iíll give you a week, but I suspect that thatís more time than Carlotta is prepared to give you."

Fisher was on the verge of losing his temper, but he somehow managed to keep it under control; acutely aware that otherwise he could very well lose everything. He had negotiated some breathing space from Reece, but he was right - the Chicago gangster was moving in fast. Carlotta was currently able to offer much more than Fisher could, and in this business, loyalty came at a price.

"So," Fisher sighed, "you do have a new client?"

"Carlotta approached me with some interesting new figures, which, incidentally, we should discuss after youíve paid my fee." Reece paused, then offered Fisher a broad grin. "Plus an extra fifty percent. For the inconvenience."

Fisher took a deep breath as he counted to ten, his eyes narrowing. Speaking through clenched teeth he nodded: "Of course, fifty percent extra."

"Iím glad youíre agreeable. Iíll see myself out, shall I?"

Fisher watched as Reece left the room. His temper was about to snap as he pressed the intercom button.

"Josh, has Mr Reece left?" he asked with forced calm.

"Yes, Sir," came the reply.

"Get in here!" he yelled.

The door flew open almost immediately and Kirby stood nervously, framed in the doorway.

"Mr Fisher?" he asked hesitantly.

"Josh," Fisher spoke with a tense, angry voice, "I want Riordan found. I donít care where he is, or how you get him, but I want him back here. NOW!"

 

***

 

The funeral, as expected, was a sombre affair. The small group comprising of the vicar and only two mourners was, in itself, a sorry sight, not much to show for his twenty-six years. Magenta allowed his eyes to roam as the vicar completed the service. The cemetery was truly beautiful, landscaped and immaculate. The Fraser family plot was situated to the rear of a large and magnificent white stone mausoleum. Magenta saw the names of Ochreís brother and his wife in the plot next to Ryanís. To their right Ochreís parents. Magenta couldnít help but notice, with a surprising amount of discomfort, that there appeared to be room for just one more grave. The service now complete, Magenta snapped to, to see Ochre, unnervingly calm, thanking the vicar for the kind words.

"Iíll leave you for a while," the Reverend Thomas said quietly, as he rested his hand comfortingly on Ochreís arm. "Please, come into the Chapel before you leave."

Ochre and Magenta watched as the Reverend Thomas walked slowly back down to the path heading for the Chapel. Ochre sighed and managed a weak smile.

"Thanks," he said looking at Magenta.

"What for?"

"You told him to say all that, didnít you? You called him before we took off."

Magenta shrugged. "Was there anything in what he said that wasnít true?"

Ochre thought back to the vicarís words. He had spoken at length about Ryanís fortune to have a loving, caring uncle following the death of his parents; how he had grown into an intelligent and determined young man, tragically cut down in his prime. But most of all how he had earned the respect of his uncle and those who knew him. It was a cleverly worded sermon that left out the years of misunderstanding and Ryanís criminal activities.

"No, he didnít lie, he just left out a lot of the truth," replied Ochre with a sad and distant gaze.

"The truth is, Rick, that when the chips were down, he came through for you. He was a true Fraser, and you have every right to be proud of him."

Ochre dropped his head so that his chin almost touched his chest. Closing his eyes tightly, he felt certain that the lump in his throat would choke him. The pain of holding back his emotions was greater than any pain he had previously endured.

Magenta looked on awkwardly, not knowing whether it was best to stay or go. Receiving no reply he decided it was best to give Ochre some space.

"IíllÖ" he began uncertainly, "just take a look around for a few minutes, yes?" Magenta paused, still no reply. "Youíll be okay? Rick?"

His reply was a simple nod, without even looking up; the anguish on Ochreís face was plainly visible.

"Okay, Rick." Magenta was at a loss to know what to do for the best. He felt self-conscious, uncertain whether to comfort his friend or to leave him alone to grieve. Deciding on the latter, he gently squeezed Ochreís shoulder as he passed him. "Iíll beÖ" he waved his hand vaguely indicating the immediate area, "Iíll be around if you need me."

"Thanks, Pat," Ochre whispered as Magenta walked away.

Heading towards the mausoleum, Magenta briefly turned, to see Ochre, crouched at the graveside, arranging some of the flowers and apparently talking. Magenta smiled sadly; Ochre was saying his goodbyes, he had made the right decision by leaving him. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled again. Turning sharply, he caught sight of a figure moving to hide behind the mausoleum. Taking a quick look behind once more, satisfied that Ochre was alone and with his back to Magenta, and so couldnít see him, Magenta drew his gun and slowly headed for the mausoleum.

As he approached the corner of the impressive building, he heard a shuffling sound, which he recognised as someone walking on gravel. He had recalled earlier, seeing a gravel path leading from the main pathway to the mausoleum entrance. This placed the mysterious stranger about twenty feet from the corner of the building. Turning sharply around to the front of the mausoleum, Magenta held his pistol hidden, but at the ready.

"What are you doing here?" he gasped in pure astonishment.

Before him stood Matt Riordan, possibly the very last person he had expected to see. He appeared edgy and nervous. As Magenta stood staring at him, he saw him pull out a quietly ringing cell phone and sigh heavily. Magenta replaced his gun in its holster and frowned. It struck him as unlikely that Riordan had come to pay his last respects to Ryan Fraser; to his knowledge the pair had never even met. This could only mean one thing, Riordan wanted something from Magenta.

"Would you believe Iím waiting for you?" he replied with a shrug, as he walked back towards Magenta.

"I believe it, but how did you know I was coming? How did you even know where weíd be?"

"Oh, come on, Pat, Commander Fraserís nephew? There are only so many cemeteries in Detroit, it didnít take long to find the right one."

Magenta shrugged. "It could have been Chicago," he suggested.

"I checked there too," Riordan admitted.

"And me?" Magenta prompted him.

"I was taking a chance that youíd be here. From what Fisher had said, I guessed that you and Fraser were probably friends and given that, you might be here. Itís ironic really, donít you think? You and Commander Fraser, friends?"

"Yeah, yeah, itís incredible," replied Magenta dryly, "now what do you want?"

"I had to find you, Pat, Iím in trouble," Riordan answered with a guilty frown.

Magenta sighed and shook his head. "I canít help you, Matt, not if itís what I think it is."

"What do you think?" asked Riordan with an air of curiosity.

"You want the passwords, donít you?"

Only a few weeks earlier, whilst held prisoner by Mob bosses Fisher, Abbott and James, Magenta had been ordered to perform a grand scale computer fraud, involving the theft of millions. He had, instead, used his programming skills to empty both Fisher and Abbottís Mob Syndicate bank accounts and freezing Jamesí. Funding a later attempt to reinstate the money had only served to use up what was left in Fisherís and Abbottís private accounts. With James and Abbott now dead, Fisher had inherited the largest Syndicate in New Yorkís history, made up of Jamesí, Abbottís and his own. It would have been the perfect scenario for someone as ambitious as Fisher, had the Syndicate not been presently penniless and extremely vulnerable to a take-over. Riordan had accepted the task of reinstating the money but had been, as yet, unable to decipher the encryption codes used by Magenta to seal the program, making it irreversible without them. The task, he knew, would be a long and arduous one, Donaghue was the best, but it wasnít impossible. But he didnít have time; Fisher was facing a take-over from Chicago mob boss, Anton Carlotta. Fisher had made certain that Riordan knew the penalty for failure and it was fear of that horrific penalty that had forced Riordan to seek out his ex-boss.

"I need them, Pat, Fisherís gonna kill me if I donít get him that money back," he pleaded.

"Youíre asking me to give you the information so you can fund the Syndicate?" Magenta shook his head. "You have managed to remember that Iím with Spectrum, I take it?"

"Well, yes, butÖ"

"Then you know I canít do it! Just like I wouldnít do the robbery in the first place," Magenta replied, hardly believing what he was being asked to do.

"Look, Pat, how about I just reinstate the money they had in the first place, you know, not actually do the robbery?"

Magenta sighed and rolled his eyes. "I canít, Matt, not even that. Besides, once youíve opened up the program, do you think Fisheríll be satisfied with that?"

"Heís gonna kill me, Pat," Riordan repeated with a begging tone.

"I can protect you, but Iím not going to give you the passwords to make him rich. Fewer criminals in New York, can that be bad?"

"It wonít come to that and you know it! Anton Carlottaís moving in and you know what that means?"

Magenta frowned deeply. Carlotta was an internationally known gangster, extremely violent and deadly.

"Rock and a hard place," he grumbled.

"Please, Pat, you canít do this to me!"

"Matt, why not take this as a sign to get out of the business? Youíre good with computers, you can get a new life, leave it all behind."

"Like you, you mean?" Riordan snapped sarcastically.

"What are you saying?"

"You left us in a mess!" Riordan complained bitterly.

"I didnít know James was going to take over! How could I have known that? He killed a good friend, do you think I would have just let him do that?"

"But he did, didnít he! And where were you?"

"They wouldnít let me keep in touch, not with anybody from the Syndicate. Youíre all known and wanted, there was no way I could have got past their scrutiny on that. Besides, he had his eyes on me the whole time!" Magenta explained with a nod in Ochreís direction.

"Well, you seem pretty chummy now," Riordan retorted.

"Yeah, well, a lot can change in three years."

"Youíre not kidding! The Pat Donaghue I knew would never leave a friend to cope alone if his life was in danger."

"Iím not leaving you alone! Like I said, I can offer you protection, but thatís all," replied Magenta sternly.

"I saved your life, Pat! And Sarahís! And this is how you repay me?" Riordan snapped. "Or am I only your friend when YOUíRE in trouble?"

"Iím trying to help you, but you donít want it. And I donít appreciate you trying to blackmail me, Matt!"

"Pat, Iím desperate, please!" Riordan begged him. "I donít want protection and I donít want out, I just want those passwords. You KNOW Iíll get them in the end, well, if Fisher doesnít kill me first, so you might as well tell me now!"

"Listen to me, Matt. Thereís a Spectrum HQ here in Detroit. Go there, and ask to speak to Captain OíHara. Tell him Magenta sent you, and that you need protection. Heíll sort you out. Itís the best I can do and the best thing you can do too."

"A friend in need, Pat. Youíre gonna just let Fisher kill me? Some friend!"

Something inside Magenta snapped, his expression darkened visibly and he glared at Riordan.

"See that man down there?" he asked as he swung his arm behind him, to point in the direction of Ochre, still stood at the graveside, but now watching them intently. "That man is my best friend."

"Commander Fraser?" asked Riordan incredulously, almost mocking.

"Heís no more Commander Fraser now than Iím Mob Boss, Pat Donaghue. Heís Captain Ochre, a Spectrum officer, and a damned good one at that!" Magenta paused to try to bring his temper and volume back under control; succeeding only to reduce the volume of his fury, he continued: "Fisher kidnapped him, very nearly killed him. And today? Well, today he buried his nephew; killed because of Fisherís greed. Fisherís even had me on the business end of a thirty-eight twice and you want me to reinstate that bastardís money? Thereís no way Iíll help him and if youíre determined to stand by him, then thatís your business, but youíll get no help from me!"

Riordan closed his eyes, his face set in an expression of bleak despondency.

"Youíre right, I do only have one option," he muttered with a sigh.

"I have to get back. Think about it."

Riordan nodded as he watched Magenta walk back to the graveside. Turning before Magenta reached Ochre, Riordan headed up the path towards the entrance to the cemetery.

 

***

 

"There you are!" cried Blue in surprise as he walked into the Officersí Lounge. "Iíve been waiting for you at the squash courts for the last twenty minutes!"

Scarlet looked up blankly. Slowly, a flicker of a jolted memory formed on his face and he glanced quickly at his watch.

"Sorry, Adam!" he replied with a genuine air of remorse. "I completely forgot."

"Thatís okay," Blue shrugged, "I guess we did arrange it a few days ago. Thereís been so much going on, itís not difficult to see how you forgot."

"Yeah, poor old Rick. Heís been through a tough time," Scarlet agreed.

"And Grey too," added Blue. "I just dropped in on him, heís having to postpone his furlough in Amsterdam, seemed pretty cut up about it too."

"I think weíre all on edge right now," Scarlet nodded, "but weíve still got time for a match, eh?" he continued, standing up.

As he rose, an all-too-familiar deep, booming voice echoed across the communication system.

 

THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US EARTHMEN. WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR COMPLEX ON MARS. OUR NEXT ACT OF RETALIATION WILL BE TO BRING PEACE TO WHERE IT IS LEAST NEEDED.

 

Stunned by the message, both Scarlet and Blue were lost for words.

"If it werenít the Mysterons saying it, Iíd assume it was a joke," commented Scarlet.

"Youíre right, but they never joke! Weíd better get to the Control Room straight away," agreed Blue.

 

***

 

"So?" asked Ochre as Magenta arrived back at his side.

"Well, thatís up to you, if youíre ready we can go back to the chapel.

"I am, but thatís not what I meant."

Magenta looked at him blankly, Ochre returned the look with a suspicious frown.

"Riordan," he stated simply. "What did he want?"

Magenta looked back to the mausoleum. Riordan was long gone, but the view from the graveside was unobscured. Ochre had seen everything, possibly even heard some of it.

Magenta sighed. "You saw then?"

"Yes, I saw. Seemed pretty heated." Ochre replied with some concern in his voice. "What did he want?"

"He wanted the passwords to the code I used to empty Fisherís and Abbottís accounts. Apparently theyíre in some financial difficulty."

"Good," snapped Ochre harshly, as he stared intently down at his nephewís grave.

Magenta gazed with pity at his friend. He understood his bitterness; Fisher was one of the reasons they were stood there now. Ryan had died, prematurely and needlessly all in the name of greed and power and it felt like poetic justice that Fisher should suffer financially for it now. After a moment or twoís thought, Ochre looked up once more, taking hold of Magentaís arm as he did so.

"You didnít tell him did you?" he asked finally.

"No!" Magenta gasped, surprised by the question. "What do you take me for?"

Ochre frowned in embarrassment. "Sorry, Pat, I wasnít thinking."

"Thereís no way Iíll help them get their money back, or do anything to help them. Not before, not now, not in the future. Donít worry."

Magenta considered the irony of Riordanís situation. It was true what heíd said; with the right tools and enough time, Riordan would most certainly discover the passwords but would that impatient fool, Fisher, allow him the time?

Ochre nodded and managed a brief smile, cheered by his friendís absolute loyalty. "Letís go to the chapel and get back home."

Magenta nodded with a smile. Home. Cloudbase was more than work; the people they worked with so closely every day, more than just colleagues.

 

***

 

"Of course, Mr Fisher, we have a number of contacts out looking for Riordan as we speak," Kirby nodded with his typical polite efficiency. "They have orders to bring him back alive and unhurt."

"But?" asked Fisher, sensing there was more.

Kirby smiled, Fisher knew him well. Thankfully this wouldnít, Fisher hoped, be bad news.

"Mr Reece has left, but Harperís still here," he advised him.

Fisher took a deep breath.

"Right," he sighed. "Okay, letísÖ"

Fisher broke off as the phone rang; raising his finger, he indicated for Kirby to wait. "Fisher." he stated, on picking up the receiver.

"Mr FisherÖ"

"Riordan!" he yelled, getting to his feet in a mixture of anger and frustration.

Kirby raised his eyebrows. Riordan was possibly the very last person he expected to hear from again.

"What have you done with my money?" he demanded.

"N-nothing, Sir, Iíve been working on it," Riordan stammered. He knew that they had tried numerous times to contact him and very probably believed him to have disappeared with the money. But he had not expected such a reaction. He would soon realise that his expectations were naÔve to say the least, but for now he had some serious damage limitation to attend to.

"You disappeared! The word is out that Iím penniless and youíve stolen my money!" Fisher continued to yell.

"Sir! Please! Listen to me. Iím in DetroitÖ"

"Wonderful! Iím fighting off take-overs and you take a vacation!" snapped a still furious Fisher.

"No, Sir," Riordan snapped back irritably, surprising even himself. It had been a long, tiring day and finally he was making some progress. "If youíd check your bank account, youíll find three million in there."

"Whereís the rest?" asked Fisher angrily.

Riordan felt like hurling the phone against the wall. Heíd worked hard to get that much in there and not a penny of it was Fisherís.

"Itís borrowed money, Mr Fisher," replied Riordan, in a voice that begged Fisher to understand his meaning. He had not wanted to refer to stolen money over the telephone.

"Borrowed?" asked Fisher, his voice suddenly calmer.

"Iíll explain everything when I get back," Riordan answered with a heavy sigh.

"No you wonít!" Fisher snapped. "Youíll explain yourself now! Whereís my money?"

"I havenít got the passwords, not yet, it takes longer than you can give me. But I think I can keep you solvent in the meantime," Riordan explained.

"Youíd better! What are you doing in Detroit?" he asked much calmer now.

"I had to see someone," Fisher replied cryptically.

"Who?"

"Iíll tell you in person. Iíll be back tomorrow," Riordan insisted.

"First thing! Understand?" Fisher snapped.

"Yes, Sir," sighed Riordan, pressing the disconnect button on his cell phone and throwing it down onto the bed in frustration.

Whilst it was true to say that James had never trusted Riordan, at least James had never treated him like this. Riordan flopped down onto the bed. Yawning, he rubbed his forehead with both hands. Still open on the desk in front of him lay his laptop computer. Looking up at it, he gave a half smile. He had temporarily managed to get Fisher off his back, but this couldnít last long. He knew that to keep the hounds at bay, Fisher would be forced to spend and spend big, just to prove a point. Three million wouldnít last the week.

"Iím sorry, Pat," Riordan murmured to himself as he rose from the bed and closed the laptop, "but it was your choice."

 

***

 

Captains Scarlet and Blue approached Colonel Whiteís desk and quickly took their seats. Closing the file he was reading, White looked up.

"The video link, if you would, Lieutenant," White requested.

At the press of a button, Green set up a video link between Sickbay and the Control Room. Captain Grey, though officially unfit for duty, had requested, most forcefully, to be included in the meeting in the event that he would be able to offer assistance in some capacity.

"Well, gentlemen, you have all heard the Mysteronsí latest threat, what do you think?" asked White hopefully.

"Well, Colonel," began Scarlet, "I think we can be certain that itís not meant to be taken literally. It seems almost inconceivable that peace can be introduced where itís not needed."

"Quite so, Captain. Have you drawn any conclusions?" White prompted.

"I think weíd need to do some research, Sir, but, at any rate, my starting point would be to check for the possibility of sabotage to any peace conferences either in process or in planning."

White nodded. "Captain Blue?"

"Yes, Sir, I see that, but it troubles me that they say they will bring peace. Sabotaging a conference would be to destroy it, not bring it. Iíd be more inclined to check out whether or not the parties involved were genuine in case it was merely a ploy to gain the trust of their opponent."

"Could it be literal?" asked Grey quietly.

"What do you mean, Captain?" asked White.

"IÖI donít know, Colonel," Grey admitted. "Thereís something nagging at the back of my head. Something that screams at me that weíve seen this before, but I donít know why."

"The Mysterons rarely make the same move twice," White advised them.

"I know, Sir," insisted Grey, "but, Iím not suggesting the target is the same, just something about the way they phrased it. If I could just do a little research, Sir?"

"Out of the question, Captain Grey, Doctor Fawn was extremely reluctant to allow you to take part in this meeting."

"But, ColonelÖ!" Grey pleaded.

"Absolutely not, Grey. I need you fit for duty as soon as possible. Allowing you the chance to work yourself into the ground cannot be described as the best way to achieve that, can it?"

"But, Sir!"

"Can it?" White repeated firmly.

"No, Sir," Grey admitted with a heavy sigh.

"Thank you for your input, but I suggest you get some rest now, Captain," White said, nodding towards Green as he spoke, who immediately shut down the video link.

"Well, gentlemen, Captains Ochre and Magenta are already on their way back to Cloudbase. Under the circumstances, for the time being I will be insisting that Captain Ochre remains off duty. That leaves the pair of you and Captain Magenta."

"Captain Ochre isnít going to like that, Colonel," Blue advised him.

"I am aware of that, Captain Blue, but he will simply have to accept that it is my decision, and one made in his and all our best interests."

Blue and Scarlet glanced briefly at each other; it was not a decision that Captain Ochre was likely to accept easily.

"Sir, you know what heís like, he prefers to be active, he will challenge your opinion," added Scarlet.

"It is Doctor Fawnís professional opinion that he rest, Captain," replied White sternly, his gaze clearly indicating that he would accept no further discussion on the matter. He continued: "I want a thorough search of all the data banks. Anything of any relevance, no matter how seemingly insignificant, must be found."

"Yes, Sir," Blue nodded, "weíll get onto it straight away."

"Good luck, Captains."

"Thank you, Sir." Scarlet and Blue spoke almost in unison as they rose from their seats.

Blue entered the Information Centre first, closely followed by Scarlet. Scarlet was shaking his head.

"Well we should hear the fireworks from here!" he quipped.

Blue smiled. The Colonel was insistent but Ochre could be equally stubborn, it could be an interesting match.

 

***

 

"Whatís that?" asked Grey with suspicion.

"Donít worry, Captain, Iím not about to poison you, you know!" pronounced the bubbly West Indian nurse.

"I donít want to sleep, Nurse Simpson..." began Grey before being cut off by her cheerful laugh.

"Tell me, Captain, how many times do I have to ask you to call me Martha. I donít like all this formality, itís not healthy! Now then..." she paused meaningfully, staring at him with raised eyebrows and a slight smile. "You know I can look on your file if you prefer?"

Grey sighed.

"Brad."

Offering him a broad smile, she continued: "Now then, Brad, why donít you want to sleep? Sleep is good for you when youíre not well."

"But itís not so good for you if youíre trying to work," he explained with a frown.

"No, neither is pain," she countered, "this will help with the pain."

"Oh," Grey brightened, "sorry, I just assumed..." his voice trailed off as she held out the tablets once more with a glass of water. Taking both of the tablets in one swallow, Grey eased them down with a few sips of water.

"Hey, Martha! Howís it going?" Captain Magenta called cheerfully, entering the room as Grey handed the glass back to Nurse Simpson.

"Oh! Itís my favourite Irishman," she replied, much to Greyís surprise. "Iím fine, Patrick, and you?"

"Couldnít be better," he returned cheerfully.

"Huh! Look at you!" the nurse exclaimed running a critical eye over him. "You need sleep, young man!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Soon, I promise, okay?" he replied, waving his hand in a gesture that suggested that she should make less fuss. "Howís the patient?"

"Brad? Heís doing just fine!"

Magenta grinned. Grey was naturally a quiet man; although very friendly, and hardly shy, the word outgoing could never really be used to describe him. Marthaís insistence on the use of his first name would, no doubt, have come as quite a surprise to Grey.

"I knew heíd be safe in your hands, Martha," Magenta offered her a warm smile.

"Now then, Patrick, if you need to speak to him, you had better be quick. Heíll be asleep in no time at all."

"But you said they were pain killers," spluttered Grey.

"You fell for that one?" Magenta snickered.

"I did not say they were pain killers," she explained, waving an admonishing finger at him, "I said they would help with the pain. Youíll be sleeping like a baby, you wonít feel a thing."

Grey sighed, irritably.

"You wonít get me with that trick again!"

"I have lots of tricks, young man, now get some rest. Donít keep him awake too long, please, Patrick."

"Just five minutes, Martha, thatís all."

The nurse nodded and left the two Captains alone in the room. Resting his cap on the cabinet, Magenta took a seat at the side of the bed.

"When did you get back?" asked Grey, determined to try and fight the effects of the sedative.

"How did you know Iíd been anywhere?" asked Magenta with mild surprise.

"It wouldnít be like you to take no for an answer, especially where Ochreís concerned."

Magenta nodded and laughed softly. "Turns out he did want some company after all. I was ready for a battle too."

"What did you get instead?" asked Grey solemnly.

Magentaís features and shoulders fell in one smooth movement as he remembered how desperately and visibly upset Ochre was when he called on him. Before he had a chance to utter a word, however, Grey patted his arm gently.

"I know," he added in a comforting tone.

"Anyway," Magenta brightened forcibly, "Iíd better get on before you fall asleep."

Just as he was about to continue the door opened once more and Martha entered with a glass in her hand.

"Now, itís not much, Patrick, but you canít work in the state youíre in, so I whipped up a little tonic for you. Now drink that and youíll feel much better."

Magenta took the glass and smiled knowingly at her as she stood watching, waiting for him to drink it.

"I havenít got all day, Patrick and neither has Brad, look, heís half asleep now."

Magenta turned and, sure enough, Greyís eyes had started to droop. Placing the glass on the cabinet next to his cap, Magenta laughed.

"Iíll be quick, Martha, donít you worry and Iíve fallen for your Ďjust a tonicí trick once before. I learn fast."

"Well learn this fast, Magenta," began Doctor Fawn, now standing in the doorway, "you may have just about convinced me three days ago that you were fit, and I mean barely, but now? If it werenít for the Mysteron threat, Iíd have you straight in here. Thereís nothing wrong with you that a good sleep canít fix."

"I can use the Room of Sleep," Magenta complained. "Two hours, no problem."

"I said Ďgood sleepí!" replied Fawn, in a thoroughly disapproving manner. "Now, believe it or not, that really is a tonic. The Colonel needs everyone fit and healthy and thatís as healthy as I can get you for now, so drink it!"

"Heh! Now whoís fallen for it?" laughed Grey with sleepy, slightly slurred words.

Magenta downed the slightly unpleasant tasting draught and handed the glass back to Martha with a frown.

"Iíll let you get on," she replied with a cheerful grin, leaving the room once more.

Magenta turned back to face Grey, he was blinking and struggling now to keep his head upright.

"Youíd better be quick, Pat," Grey advised sleepily, "Iíll be asleep before you know it." Grey finished his sentence with a yawn as if to emphasise his point.

"Sure," replied Magenta sitting forward in the chair and resting his arms on the bed. " This guy, who jumped you, the Colonel said I may know him, what did he look like?"

Grey frowned deeply, his brow creasing with the memory.

"He was huge, hands like clubs, with the strength of two or three men. He barely said anything, and when he did, it was so matter of fact. He didnít seem to get pleasure from it; it was just a job to him. Riordan knew him, thatís why the Colonel thought you might know him. He called him Ox."

Magenta closed his eyes and nodded knowingly.

"Yeah, I know him and donít worry, Brad, with him, no offence, but you wouldnít have stood a chance."

"Who is he?"

"He was my chief enforcer in my mob days," Magenta explained, with more than a hint of embarrassment in his voice.

"Enforcer?" Grey asked tiredly.

"Muscle to keep people in line. He very rarely had to do anything, his mere presence was often intimidating enough and of course, his reputation went before him. Iím sorry, Brad."

"Itís not your fault, Pat and I do feel a little less embarrassed, I guess, now that I know that."

Magenta smiled and stifled a yawn. "Iíll let the Colonel know and Iíll get out of your way."

"Pat, the threat, I have a gut feeling that itís reminiscent of something weíve seen already," Grey said as he eased himself down onto the pillow.

"Iíll bear it in mind, your gut feelings are usually right," Magenta smiled in return. "Now get some sleep, you need it."

"So do you," murmured Grey.

"Oh, Grey, your furlough? Do you need me to contact anyone, tell them youíre not going? A woman, perhaps?"

"Ha," Grey replied sleepily, "nice try, Pat!"

Magenta threw up his hands in defence. "Just an offer," he answered with a cheeky grin. "Wouldnít want the little lady worried about you."

Magenta looked down; Greyís eyes were closed and his breathing became suddenly shallower. Laughing quietly to himself, he picked up his cap and headed back to the Information Centre.

 

***

 

It was a question of who to pay first. Three million sounded like a lot of money, but to Ben Fisher it was just a drop in the ocean. He had to use it wisely; everything had to appear as if he had all the money he needed at his disposal. He now ran the largest Syndicate New York had ever known. The prestige alone was worth the agony, but he knew that loyalty depended solely on money. It was important that he kept his men, especially those of his inner circle of most trusted members. Carlotta had already approached some of them; if they hadnít already gone over, they were surely thinking about it. Some sort of gesture to retain their loyalty was now necessary. The truth was, he didnít really have much of a choice who he paid, word would still get out that heíd been unable to pay someone and heíd be right back where he started. He would start with Reece and his men, at least that way the threat closer to home would be diminished. Carlotta and his Ďinvestmentí could wait; not wanting to pour money into a scheme run by a rival was not automatic proof of fiscal problems. Fisher stared at the cold cup of coffee on his desk for a few moments but was stirred from his reverie by a buzzing from the intercom.

"Yes, Josh?" He sighed as he looked at his watch; it was late.

"Sir, Mr Carlotta..."

Fisherís ears pricked up at the name and stood furiously as he heard the light crash of items falling from Kirbyís desk as he was swept aside. The door swung open to reveal Anton Carlotta flanked by two tall, broad and decidedly menacing looking bodyguards.

"I-Iím sorry, Mr Fisher," Kirby stammered as he pushed past the small group.

Fisher merely smiled and waved his hand casually. Writing a few instructions and figures on a slip of paper, Fisher then glanced up at Carlotta. Nodding to himself, he looked back down at the paper and made a few amendments to the figures before handing it to Kirby.

"See to this, Josh."

Kirby looked at the paper in his hand and appeared at first surprised then pleased at some of the figures he saw.

"Straight away please, Josh," Fisher added, without taking his eyes off Carlotta.

"Yes, Sir," replied Kirby, as he headed for the door, this time space was made for him.

"Youíre early, Anton," Fisher stated simply, trying to appear unthreatened by the impromptu visit. "I thought we said tomorrow?"

"I said tomorrow, Ben, now Iíve changed my mind, weíll talk now."

Fisher narrowed his eyes at the interloper. It wasnít wise to antagonise such a powerful rival, but he was certainly not about to roll over and play dead either.

"It makes no difference to me, Anton, what do you have to interest me?"

Carlotta laughed, it was a quiet menacing laugh, designed to intimidate.

"Youíll be lucky to stay alive."

Okay, thought Fisher, the gloves are off. This was suddenly easier, no more polite pretence was called for.

"I donít take kindly to being threatened in my own office, now unless youíve got some business to put my way, you can leave." Fisher walked from behind his desk; his tall, broad frame would normally be intimidating enough on his own, but Carlottaís henchmen were unimpressed.

"I donít think you quite understand, Ben," Carlotta spoke, oozing malevolence.

"Actually, Anton, I think itís you who doesnít understand. My Syndicate is not about to become yours, not now, not tomorrow. I suggest you leave."

Right on cue, the door to the office opened once more, revealing the huge frame of Robert Oxbury. Taller, broader and considerably stronger than most men, certainly when compared to Carlottaís men, Robert ĎOxí Oxbury knew how to handle himself in a fight and was more than a match for the two men accompanying Carlotta.

"Ah, Ox, good to see you," Fisher smiled. "Was there some business, Anton?"

Carlotta frowned; he knew he would now have to leave. He had felt certain that his timing was right and that Fisher was on the ropes, but it could wait for a day or two. He would certainly cave when all his men deserted him.

"I know youíre struggling, Fisher. I know you canít pay anyone, not even your own men, never mind your lawyer. When they get tired of your lies and delays, theyíll come to me and when they do, youíll fall, Fisher! And now, Iím not inclined to be there to catch you. Do you understand me?"

Fisher smiled in reply. "I think you should check your sources, I donít owe a penny and as for my men, I donít think I need worry. They know Iíll take care of them, right, Ox?"

"Yes, Sir, Mr Fisher," Ox agreed enthusiastically.

"Now, get out!"

"Iíll be back tomorrow," Carlotta promised. "We still have business to discuss and now, the investment required is four million!"

"IF Iím interested, youíll see my money; now, I have business to attend to."

Fisher watched as Carlotta and his men left. He sighed, grateful that heíd managed to hold him off for the time being, but it was going to take a great deal more than that to see him off permanently.

"Would you like me to see them from the premises, Mr Fisher?" asked Ox, loud enough for them to hear as they left the office.

"No, Ox, that wonít be necessary," Fisher replied with a tired sigh. "But the bonus that Josh mentioned to you, consider it doubled."

"Thank you, Sir." Ox nodded his appreciation.

"Ox?" Fisher stared pensively out of the window as the first few spots of rain began to fall. It was the end of a long and very trying day; Fisher was feeling reflective. "Would you work for Carlotta?"

"No, Sir, I wouldnít," Ox replied immediately, without even needing to contemplate the question.

"Why?"

"Everyone knows what heís like, Sir. Heís a killer."

"Huh," Fisher frowned, "but you know how I do business? You know that sometimes, when the Syndicate is threatened...?"

Almost out of habit and fear of a bugged room, Fisher stopped short of actually admitting that he had killed people. It was true to say he had never resorted to indiscriminate killing, in the way Carlotta had done on countless occasions, but he was certainly not one to shy away from the act if he felt it would improve his situation.

Ox frowned uncomfortably. "It was never necessary under Mr Donaghueís leadership, Sir, but Iíll do what you ask -" Ox paused "- except, I wonít kill anyone for you."

Fisher bristled at the reference to Donaghue. If only they knew where heíd really gone, perhaps then they wouldnít be so absolutely, unquestioningly loyal to the ex-mobster turned Spectrum officer.

Riordan, mindful of the fact that Donaghue needed to keep his Spectrum identity a secret from the underworld, had managed to convince Fisher not to reveal what he knew. Riordan had argued that, for the struggling-to-survive mob, supposedly having links to Spectrum would destroy all their credibility, might even expose them to the risk of being viewed as informants. Take-over bids were inevitable anyway, but the additional question mark of the men believing that Spectrum could move in on them any day with the knowledge that Donaghue held, would be enough to drive any man into the welcoming arms of a rival syndicate. If they were to hold onto their status and indeed their very lives, they must remain silent on the subject. Fisher had agreed, albeit with a degree of reluctance and frustration.

"Thatís okay, Ox, so long as I know youíre loyal to me. Thatís all I ask."

"Are you going home now, Sir? Itís late."

Fisher smiled and sighed. "Yes, I am. You and Josh should get off too, itís been a long day."

"If you donít mind, Sir, Iíll escort you home."

Fisher tilted his head to one side, then nodded gratefully. "Thank you, Ox, I think you may be right."

 

***

 

"You didnít tell him, Colonel?" Lieutenant Green asked. It was more of a statement really, given that he had heard the entire conversation.

"No, Lieutenant, you heard Scarlet and Blue. If Iíd have informed Captain Ochre about the Mysteron threat, heíd have fought to remain on duty. I donít think anyone would begrudge him a good nightís sleep, do you? Besides, I have four very competent men working on the problem already."

Lieutenant Green nodded and turned back to face the main computer to continue trying to solve the Mysterons' latest puzzle.

 

***

 

Captain Ochre finally found the sleep that had eluded him since the death of his nephew, but it was a fitful, restless sleep, filled with nightmares and high emotion. Waking with a start only an hour after leaving the Control Room, Ochre found his body and the sheets soaked with sweat. He felt drained and exhausted. Pushing away the clinging sheets he made his way unsteadily to the bathroom. There, in the mirror, he saw two dark, sunken eyes staring back at him as he drew a glass of water.

"Ugh, Fraser, you look terrible!" he told his reflection with a frown.

Resigning himself to a trip to Sickbay to get something to help him sleep, Ochre first took a quick shower.

 

***

 

The sun had already risen and it promised to be another blisteringly hot day in the An Nafud desert. The area was sparsely populated, very few towns or settlements and even fewer businesses. One lone oil refinery stood high on the horizon. A joint British and French operation, it was the only oil refinery for just under four hundred miles and certainly one of the largest in the entire area. It supplied almost all of the oil required in the neighbouring cities and also a local Naval Defence Port amongst its many other commitments. The days normally went by in a long dull haze for the employees performing their three-month-long shifts, quite literally stuck in the middle of nowhere, but this morning would prove to be different.

Approximately five miles away, two men sat in a jeep watching the refinery intently, one of them through binoculars. Frieden lowered his arms, and both men hopped down from the jeep and headed towards the rear. Lowering the jeepís tailgate revealed a large black box with a number of switches and dials; some were lit, indicating that they were in use.

"This morning, before daybreak, my men placed the explosives as you directed. They went undetected, I expect complete success," Frieden remarked to his companion.

Having buried the original bodies of Frieden and Forrest beneath the groundsheet of Friedenís tent, not one of the soldiers of fortune had any inkling that their commander and his current employer were in fact both in the hands of the Mysterons. They had been asked to destroy an oil refinery and that is exactly what they intended to do. Having gained access to the refinery shortly before dawn, a small group of the mercenaries had laid radio-controlled charges at strategic places around the refinery, as previously instructed by Forrest. That done, all that remained was detonation. From their vantage point, Frieden and Forrest were close enough to see the result of their work, yet far enough away to be safe from the ensuing blast. One by one, Frieden threw the switches. Several columns of flame tore upwards into the clear blue sky; behind them, billowing, choking black smoke rushed upwards and outwards. The sounds of the blasts followed with a series of deafening roars, setting off a chain reaction within the refinery resulting in several more ferocious explosions ripping what was left of the sprawling complex-apart. The screams of fear and pain of the hundreds of men and women caught in the terrible inferno were drowned out by the savagery of the destruction all about them. Standing beyond the danger zone, Frieden and Forrest could, nevertheless, feel the heat from the raging refinery. Not a soul or a single building would survive, their first mission was accomplished. Satisfied that they had achieved their objective, the two Mysterons took their seats once more and headed back to camp.

 

***

 

Captain Ochre entered Sickbay and smiled as he saw Doctor Fawn busy with an inventory.

"And you tell us WE donít get enough rest," Ochre remarked, looking at the large quantity of supplies spread out on the counter.

Fawn looked up at Ochre, his already present smile quickly changed to a deep frown. Placing the clipboard he held down on the only free space available, he approached Ochre, eyeing him with a stern countenance.

"In your case, Iíd say Iím right!"

Fawn pulled down one of Ochreís lower eyelids, at the same time checking his pulse. Ochre pulled away irritably.

"Iím alive," he grumbled. "Stop fussing!"

"Barely! And remember Ochre, if I choose, youíre off duty."

Ochre sighed and shrugged. "Look, I just woke up, nobody looks their best just after they wake."

"Ochre, Iíve seen dead people in better shape than you," Fawn scolded.

"Donít exaggerate. I just want something to help me sleep, thatís all. Can you help me out with that?"

Fawn looked at him for several seconds; he looked exhausted, there was little doubt a good sleep would help considerably.

"Youíre very run down, Ochre, have you been eating?"

"Are you going to help me or not?" Ochre snapped.

Fawn frowned. The behaviour was most unlike him; Ochre was, in all probability, going to make himself very ill if he kept this up. The best thing, Fawn decided, may very well be to help him sleep, to at least ease some of his tension, perhaps the rest would follow naturally.

"Sure, Iíll get you something, wait here."

Opening a cabinet in the far corner of the room, Fawn withdrew a bottle, then changing his mind, he reached for another.

"Why the switch?" asked Ochre suspiciously.

"Donít panic," Fawn sighed; Ochre really wasnít himself, "these have fewer side effects, less likely to give you a headache," he explained.

"Oh," Ochre replied sheepishly. "Sorry."

"Thatís okay, Ochre, here, take these," he offered Ochre two of the tablets and poured him a glass of water.

"Take them now?" asked Ochre surprised.

"Sure," Fawn smiled, "theyíll take a while to work, they go slowly around your system, itís a more natural effect. Youíll probably start to feel a little sleepy by the time you get back to your quarters."

Ochre nodded gratefully and took the tablets, swallowing them with the help of the water.

"Why not drop in on Grey before you leave? Do you both good," Fawn smiled again.

Ochre nodded. "Yeah, I think I will, thanks, Doc. Sorry if I messed up your inventory."

"Donít mention it," Fawn replied as he picked up his clipboard once more.

Ochre knocked gently on the door to the small ward. Inside, Grey, the only patient, was dozing lightly. Waking on hearing the knock, he beamed as Ochre entered the room.

"Hey, Rick, good to see you!" he called cheerfully.

"Hi, Brad, just you, eh? Canít be bad," Ochre commented, taking a seat at Greyís bedside, as he looked around the empty ward.

"Are you kidding? Itís really dull in here, boy could I do with some company!"

Ochre nodded, stifling a yawn and forcing his eyes to stay open.

"You look real tired, Rick, are you on duty?" asked Grey with concern.

"Iím under orders to get some sleep; I guess you know I havenít really had any since..." Ochreís voice tapered off and Grey nodded sympathetically.

"But you canít?"

"Hmm, I think I can now, Fawn just gave me something, he said Iíd start to feel sleepy by the time I, er, by the time..." Ochre shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts, "I think they were stronger than he let on. Anyway, how are you?"

"Frustrated! About as much as you must be I guess," Grey sighed.

"Why? Come on, Brad, Sickbay isnít all that bad!" Ochre gave a sleepy smile.

"Normally, no, but it is when thereís a Mysteron threat and they wonít even give me a laptop!"

"A threat? When? What? Nobody told me!" Ochre fumed, suddenly waking despite the drugs.

"Ah," Grey frowned worriedly, "and nobody told me not to say anything."

"I should have been told! How could they keep that from me?" Ochre was suddenly angry at what he saw as a deception. As his adrenalin flowed, his quickening pulse sent the sedative coursing around his bloodstream, countering the initial effect of fighting the drug. Standing quickly, intending to confront Colonel White, Ochre found himself unexpectedly staggering, struggling to remain upright.

"Damn that Fawn!" he cursed, realising that heíd be lucky to leave Sickbay. "He lied to me too!"

"Doctor Fawn!" called Grey urgently as Ochre fell back awkwardly into the chair.

Almost immediately the door opened to reveal Fawn wearing a troubled expression at the sight of Ochre fighting to remain conscious and half slumped in the chair.

"Ochre!" Fawn cried. Despite Ochreís far-fetched certainty of a conspiracy against him, Fawn had sounded genuinely surprised at the sight before him. "Grey, what happened?" he asked, trying to settle the American captain more comfortably in the chair.

"Iím sorry, Doc, itís my fault, I told him about the Mysteron threat, he didnít know. Iím sorry," Grey explained.

"Itís not your fault, Grey. I didnít know that he didnít know either."

"Oh, yeah, right," Ochre mocked, his words slurred and difficult to understand. "Just like those tranquillisers were mild and natural."

"They are! That is, until you get upset and they speed around your system as if jet propelled!" Fawn snapped. "Youíre not fit to be on duty, Ochre, but no-oneís out to get you!"

Ochre slumped, almost slipping from the chair. Fawn sighed as he settled the troubled captain into what he hoped was a more comfortable position.

"Iím sorry," Grey repeated, his face etched with concern.

"Donít worry, Grey, itís a good thing really. Heís been without sleep so long, heís not himself. When he wakes, heíll feel a lot better and at least I can keep an eye on him here," Fawn smiled reassuringly. "Iíll get someone to help me get him settled. And you should be resting too!"

Grey nodded and eased down onto the pillow.

 

***

 

"Colonel White," Lieutenant Green spoke with a mixture of professional urgency and horror in his voice.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" asked White, looking up, picking up instantly on the distressed tone of the young officer.

"Sir, thereís been an apparent terrorist attack on the AFNT Oil Refinery in the An Nafud Desert. Itís been completely destroyed."

"Casualties?" asked White with a worried frown.

White could see the troubled expression on Lieutenant Greenís face as he read the full details of the report on the screen in front of him.

"Lieutenant?" White prompted, with a sympathetic tone edging his voice.

"No survivors, Sir. Eight hundred and forty two civilians, Sir, and seven military technicians from the Northern Territories Naval Base."

The room fell silent for a few seconds as the horror of the situation sank in. There had been no warnings. No reason to believe that an attack was imminent.

"You said Ďapparent terrorist attackí, Lieutenant." White found his voice once more. "Why apparent?"

"Itís very odd, Colonel," Green sighed in puzzlement. "Almost simultaneously, the four major terrorist organisations known to be active in the United Asian Republic all claimed responsibility for the attack and then within fifteen minutes all of them issued denials. It just doesnít make any sense."

"Did the claims and denials emanate from the same source?" asked White as he considered the possibilities.

"I donít know, Colonel, Iíll check. Do you suspect something, Colonel?"

"For that to happen, perhaps whoever is responsible is playing, not just with us, but with the terrorists. Refer it to Captains Scarlet, Blue and Magenta. Work with them to see if there is a possible connection that may tie in with the Mysteron threat. In the meantime, get me Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh."

"Yes, Colonel."

Green busied himself with his tasks and searching the databanks for a possible link.

"Sir, I have Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh, for you," Green advised, getting back to the screen.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. This is Colonel White, Commander in Chief, Spectrum. I understand there has been a terrorist attack on the AFNT Oil Refinery."

"Yes, Colonel, that is correct," the voice of Captain Ahmad replied gravely, "We are almost at the location now. We will investigate and report on our findings."

"Thank you, Captain. Is there anything else you can tell us apart from the last Spectrum despatch?" asked White hopefully.

"Yes, Colonel," Ahmad began tentatively. "The reports stated that it was a terrorist attack, despite the fact that four groups both claimed and denied responsibility."

"You have more information, Captain?"

"Yes, Sir, well, that is, I believe so."

"Get to the point, Captain," White snapped as the Captain inexplicably hedged.

"Yes, Colonel. A report has just come in of a rumour of a Government plot."

The captainís discomfort was now more than understandable. He neither wanted to give credence to the rumour, nor could he ignore it.

"I see," replied White, thoughtfully. "Do you believe it?"

"No, Colonel, of course not!" The captain appeared surprised to even hear the question asked.

"It seems unlikely, certainly," White appeared to agree. "Keep me informed of your findings, Captain. White out."

"It must be impossible, Colonel," Green surmised.

"Nothing is impossible, Lieutenant," White replied staring ahead at nothing. "How are your investigations proceeding?"

"I was about to meet with Captains Scarlet, Blue and Magenta to discuss that, Sir," replied Green gathering a small file together.

"Good, keep me informed, Lieutenant."

 

***

 

Matt Riordan turned the key in the ignition of his car and the engine silenced. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes. The drive had been a long one, especially on so little sleep. Fisher was a slave driver. Life under the leadership of Pat Donaghue, the good times, had been fun and exciting. Donaghue had been universally respected; even Commander Stewart of the New York branch of the World Government Police Corps held a sort of grudging respect for him. He was intelligent and he had flair and audacity; but perhaps most of all, he was good and fair. Okay, he was no Robin Hood, what they stole, they kept, but there were no killings under Donaghue, not even any unnecessary violence. Riordan sighed; he realised a slight smile had formed as he thought back to the days before Gabriel James had brought real terror to the mob, for those within it as much as those who felt their presence. James had never shied away from killing; it had been James who had killed the man who should have taken over after Donaghue left. That one killing had marked the first of many. He hadnít seen it, but James had been little more than a puppet, used by Abbott and Fisher as they themselves moved in for the kill. They had planned all along to take the Syndicate from him; he had seen it too late. Ironically, neither Abbott nor Fisher had allowed for Jamesí greed and sheer incompetence. Jamesí last scam had left them all out of pocket and Abbott and James dead in the process. Now Fisher was in charge. Not a man to be argued with, and yes, he was a slave driver. Riordan stepped from the car and headed for the elevator, slipping his jacket on as he walked.

A soft ping announced the arrival of the elevator. As the doors opened, Josh Kirby looked up.

"Morning, Josh," Riordan called. "Is he in?"

"Are you kidding? If it werenít for what I heard from Ox this morning, Iíd swear he hadnít even gone home last night."

"What did Ox have to say?" asked Riordan perplexed.

Kirby leaned forward on the desk and grinned. "It seems that Carlotta sent two of his goons around to Mr Fisherís place last night. They were waiting for him when he arrived home."

"Is he okay?" asked Riordan suddenly concerned.

Kirbyís grin got suddenly broader. "Oh, yeah, heís fine. Seems as though Ox saw it coming and accompanied him home. Theyíre in hospital now!"

Riordan laughed despite himself. Ox may not be the brightest guy youíd ever meet, but he was good at his job, there was no denying that.

"Thatíll put him in a good mood then?" Riordan asked hopefully.

Kirby gave a half frown and sat back. "Youíd think."

Riordanís shoulders visibly dropped. Facing Fisher in a good mood was often difficult enough, but in a bad mood? He shook his head despondently.

"Heís expecting you, I think youíd better go in." Josh looked at Riordan with a sympathetic smile. Kirby knew that despite how it had seemed earlier, Riordan was working hard to restore the Mobís money, but Fisher was impatient and still very angry. The incident at his home had served only to remind him that, whilst they struggled financially, he, personally, was in danger. Ox couldnít keep fending off attacks, the problem had to be solved and that problem lay at Riordanís door.

The intercom buzzed followed by Fisherís clipped and impatient voice.

"Josh, is he here yet?"

"Just arrived this second, Sir, heís on his way," Kirby replied, looking at Riordan whilst nodding at the door.

"Good!" replied Fisher, the irritation in his voice clear.

"Good luck, Mr Riordan," Kirby added gravely as Riordan headed for Fisherís office, offering him a wave of thanks as he approached the door.

After a polite knock, Riordan turned the handle and entered the room, trying as best as he could to do so with confidence. The glower on Fisherís face was enough to brush away most of his bravado.

"Mr Fisher?" he said finally.

"Who were you meeting in Detroit?" he demanded angrily.

Riordan sighed; he had no idea how he would take this.

"Pat Donaghue."

"You arranged to meet Donaghue and he agreed?"

"No," Riordan corrected. "I found out where Ryanís funeral was to be held and went, hoping heíd be there."

"Oh really, and why is that?" Fisher queried, his eyes glowing with anger.

"I wanted the passwords!" Riordan snapped back. "I can get them, but itís taking too long," he admitted with a downcast expression. "I thought if I met him, talked to him, begged him even!" Riordanís voice tapered off with a sigh.

"And?"

"No go," he replied with a tired shake of his head.

"What did you tell him?"

Riordan looked up; Fisherís expression was difficult to read. Whatever he said, Fisher was likely to be angry. Riordan opted for the truth.

"I told him about Carlotta, that Iím desperate, scared for my life even. Nothing worked."

"You told him all that and he still refused? Some friend!" replied Fisher, furious at the response.

"He just pointed to Fraser and stressed what youíd done to his nephew."

Fisher offered a condescending frown. "Then what?"

"He told me to get protection and left."

"Oh donít worry, Matt, it wonít be you who needs protection, believe me!"

"Mr Fisher, no," Riordan replied hurriedly, raising his hands in front of him in a calming gesture. "Iíll do it, Iíll find the passwords. I know there are three of them and Iím working on what they are."

Fisher grunted. "I have faith in you, Matt, but I need it quickly."

"I know, Sir, thatís why I went to Donaghue. I really thought..." Riordan shook his head.

"Donít worry, heíll regret that mistake! Now, where did you get that money from?"

Riordan laughed; he seemed almost embarrassed. "Pat had some private accounts in his mob days. I took a guess that he still had them. I donít know how many heís got, but I found four of them. I cleaned them out."

Fisher grinned widely at Riordanís audacity.

"Very good, Matt, very good! He has more, you say? You can get me more?"

Riordan shook his head. "Iím sorry, Mr Fisher, theyíre all empty and I donít know the locations of the others, or even if there are any."

Fisherís eyes darkened. "Then, maybe, we have to take more drastic action?"

"Mr Fisher...?" began Riordan with a degree of alarm in his voice.

Fisher draped an arm over Riordanís shoulder, shepherding him out of the room.

"Matt, I donít want you to worry about a thing. You just carry on finding those passwords and Iíll... well, you just leave everything else to me."

Outside the door to the office, Fisher gave Riordan a firm nudge toward the outer door.

"Josh, get me Jeff and Jack."

Jeff Tyler was one of Fisherís original mob, a trained engineer, and quite an expert with all manner of gadgetry. He had spent five years in prison for armed robbery, but decided upon his release that the safety of a mob syndicate was worth sharing his spoils for. Jack Harper had been one of Gabriel Jamesí men before Jamesí demise; he now worked for Fisher for whatever personal reward he could glean.

Riordan knew what this meant; they were violent and ruthless, the pair of them. Whatever Fisher wanted, he expected trouble.

 

***

 

Lieutenant Green headed towards the observation tube to Colonel Whiteís left, shuffling the last of his papers into order. Before reaching the end of the tube, which opened out onto the beautiful vista high above the clouds, Green stopped and entered the Spectrum Information Centre. Inside, Captains Scarlet, Blue and Magenta sat, either staring at one of the many computer screens that lined the wall, or hunched over files. Tables and wastebaskets were littered with used coffee cups from the dispenser in the corner. At the sound of the door sliding back, Blue, sitting nearest to the door, looked up and behind him.

"Got something?" he asked hopefully, as Green pulled up a chair at his table.

Seeing the expression on the young Lieutenantís face drew Scarletís and Magentaís attention. As they both joined Blue and Green at the table, Magenta was the first to comment.

"You look worried, Seymour, whatís happened?"

Green gave a sigh and recounted the report of the attack on the oil refinery and the unusual circumstances regarding attributing responsibility for the attack.

"A Government plot?" Scarlet frowned in disbelief. "That doesnít seem likely to me. For what purpose? They HAVE control!"

"Maybe someone wants sole control?" suggested Magenta.

"If that were the case, wouldnít they have seized control before re-establishing the Government and electing a new leader?" queried Blue.

"Not necessarily, what if they just werenít in a position to do so before?" Magenta argued.

"Well, itís a possibility, certainly," admitted Scarlet, "but does it have any connection with the Mysteron threat or is it a separate issue?"

"Well," began Green, "they said they would bring peace to where it is least needed. This is hardly an act of peace."

"And the United Asian Republic is already enjoying peace again, for a long time in fact. I donít see a connection."

"That may depend on the Mysteronsí definition of peace," grumbled Green.

"No," Scarlet mused, "if we know one thing about them, itís that they say exactly what they mean. They may talk in riddles, but they donít twist definitions."

"Then itís not connected?" asked Green.

"Grey seemed sure that this threat had similarities to another weíd had, and you know what his hunches are like," Magenta added, reluctant to dismiss the possibility of a connection so quickly.

"The Mysterons never attack the same person twice," Blue reminded him.

"Itís not the same person," Magenta frowned, "the last Director General died."

"Yes, but the role is the same," Blue argued, "I find it hard to believe theyíd even do that. Besides, how does it fit the threat?"

Magenta shrugged. It didnít seem to make sense to any of them, all they could do would be to continue searching for answers.

"Well," sighed Green, "Spectrum ground forces are down there now. If they find anything relevant to the Mysteron threat, weíll know soon enough."

 

***

 

Captain Ahmad watched with bitterness as the torrent of flame tore upwards toward the sky. Five fire crews were currently battling the fire, some having been flown in to assist with the seemingly impossible task. Despite their best efforts, the vast quantities of oil stored there continued to blaze relentlessly, raging out of control.

The refinery lay in close proximity to the main road leading into the Northern Territories. The fire had not only destroyed the regionís oil supplies, but had effectively cut off access to the country from the north. Supplies needed desperately in the area would be temporarily either cut off or delayed. A nearby hospital without fuel would be in dire straits if assistance could not be offered quickly.

"Chief?" Ahmad approached the fire-fighter in overall charge of the operation.

"Yes, Captain?" Fire Chief Edmund Troyer yelled above the deafening roar of the flames.

"What can you tell me?"

"Not much, not yet," he admitted. "Not till we get in there. Itíll be a day or two yet, but if you want to know my gut reactionÖ"

"Please."

"Sabotage. This is DEFINITELY not an accident. It was too sudden, too quick and too destructive to be an accident.

"Thank you, Chief. Good luck and be careful!"

"You too, Captain," the Chief nodded in return.

Ten miles away, their camp dismantled and packed up in a series of jeeps, Frieden and Forrest seemed satisfied with the first stage of their plan. Climbing aboard the lead jeep, Frieden gave the order to head for the capital, Riyadh.

 

***

 

Fisher glanced up as the office door opened once more. Josh Kirby stood framed in the doorway still holding the door handle.

"Yes, Josh?" asked Fisher.

"Jeff and Jack are here, Sir," Kirby replied with his usual courteousness.

"Show them in, Josh, this shouldnít take long."

"Yes, Sir," Kirby nodded as he allowed Jeff Tyler and Jack Harper to walk past him into the room.

Glancing at the clock on the wall, Fisher got to his feet as the door closed once more behind them. It had taken them just under two and a half hours to arrive; Fisher snorted his disapproval. Gesturing towards a table in the corner of the large office, Fisher offered the two thugs a seat.

"I have a job for you." Fisher spoke in tones that suggested more a personal favour than a typical Syndicate job. "Jack, I think youíll like this one."

"Yes, Mr Fisher?" replied Harper, his eyes narrowing and a cruel smile forming on his lips as he wondered about the possibilities.

"You want to get back at Donaghue, Jack?" asked Fisher, certain of the reply.

"More than anything, but heís in de Wittís isnít he?" asked Harper, puzzled over how any retribution would be possible. Shortly before Harperís own arrest, he had been led to believe that Donaghue had escaped from serving a life sentence in the de Wittís terrorist prison and would be returning following his recapture.

"No Jack, heís not in de Wittís." Fisher knew exactly where Donaghue was and had been all this time but had agreed with Riordan that, for their own safety, discretion on the subject was required.

"He escaped again?" asked Harper with disbelief in his tone. "Thatís not possible!"

"He never made it to de Wittís," Fisher replied, "Donaghue appears to have friends in high places."

Fisher had to restrain himself from laughing; it was the truth, but it suggested something completely different in Harperís mind.

"Dirty politicians?" he asked with a scowl.

"I donít know, Jack, but heís free and I want my money back. Weíve tried to be subtle, but now I think we need -" Fisher paused and gave at the two men before him a callous grin "- a little more persuasion. I think James had the right idea, but he was incompetent. This time, thereíll be no mistakes."

"His sister?" Harper asked with a sneer.

"His sister," Fisher confirmed with a slight nod. "Now, youíre to tell nobody about this, do you understand?"

"If you say so, Mr Fisher," Jeff Tyler spoke for the first time. "But why the secrecy?"

"Because last time, Riordan let her go!" snapped Harper with a spiteful ring to his voice, remembering the vicious blow to the head Riordan had given him at the time.

"Jack, youíre working for me now," Fisher began almost sweetly.

"Sir?" Harper queried.

"Youíll speak when youíre spoken to and youíll refer to senior members of this Syndicate with respect!" he yelled, rising to his feet and leaning across the table.

"Yeah, butÖ" Harper began, only to be cut off by Fisher grabbing his collar in his left hand and dragging him half way across the table.

"No Ďbutsí, Jack. I donít care what James let you get away with, here you do what I say, when I say! Got it?" Fisher continued, his face within inches of Harperís.

"Yes, Mr Fisher," Harper replied somewhat meekly.

"Good!" Fisher threw Harper back into the chair as he released him. "Now, only you two, myself and Josh are aware of this operation and I want it to stay like that."

"Not Mr Riordan then?" asked Harper slyly.

"Jack, Iím warning you," replied Fisher with a harsh stare. "Take my car and when youíve got her, take her to property number three, got it?"

"What if sheís difficult?" asked Harper maliciously.

"Why donít you just ask the question you actually want to ask?" asked Fisher with distaste.

Harper shrugged. "Probably for the same reason you number properties; you donít like to be overheard saying something you donít want repeated in court."

Fisher smiled, grudgingly impressed. "Do whateverís necessary, but I want her very much alive."

With a nod, the pair rose and headed to the door. Harper turned back to Fisher as he opened the door.

"Weíll keep you informed, Mr Fisher."

 

***

 

Captain Ochre shifted awkwardly in the bed and woke with a start, shouting something incoherent as he did. Sitting bolt upright he looked from left to right quickly, he appeared disorientated and confused.

"Rick?" Grey began, concerned for his friend.

It was as if he hadnít heard him, Ochreís eyes appeared wild and unfocussed as he looked about in a jerky, bewildered manner.

"Rick! Itís okay, youíre in Sickbay!"

The noise of Greyís shouts drew Doctor Fawn who entered to find his patient in, what appeared to be, a confused state.

"Rick!" Grey yelled.

The shout finally penetrated the fog around Ochreís still semi-sleeping mind. Turning his head he saw Grey, then Fawn, then the room. Flopping back exhausted onto the pillow, Ochre took several long shuddering breaths before sitting up once more. By the time he did, Fawn was at his side.

"Sorry about that, I guess I was dreaming," Ochre offered by way of explanation.

"Donít worry about it," Fawn spoke reassuringly. "How do you feel now?"

Ochre nodded. "Fine." He frowned. "Thirsty, but fine."

Fawn drew him a glass of water and passed it to him, pulling it away from his lips when he drank too fast.

"Sip it!" he chided him.

"Yeah, okay," Ochre replied pulling the glass back to his mouth. After draining the glass, he looked up as if in sudden remembrance. "The Mysteron threat!" he cried pushing the bedclothes back and swinging his legs out. "Where are my clothes?"

"Youíre not fit to be on duty, Ochre, now get back into bed," Fawn ordered.

"You told me there was nothing wrong that sleep couldnít put right. Iíve slept."

"Four hours is not enough!"

"I have to do my job!" Ochre yelled irritably.

"And I have to do mine!" Fawn yelled back.

Ochre sighed, he knew this was not the way to gain Fawnís approval.

"Look, okay," he began in an appeasing tone, "if itís just sleep, I can sort that out after the threat, yes? Come on, Doc, Iím fine!"

Fawn sighed heavily and Ochre grinned. Fawn smiled wistfully, it was the first time heíd seen Ochre genuinely happy about anything in days. Maybe work would help. Certainly chalking up a win over the obstructive Doctor seemed to have helped on its own.

"Alright, Ochre, if you can make that much fuss, I guess youíre okay. Your clothes are in the closet."

Ochre retrieved the small pile of garments and his boots and headed to the bathroom to change out of the pyjamas he was currently wearing.

"So, Doc?" Grey smiled up at him, hoping to earn the same level of favour. "Iím feeling much better now."

Fawn sighed and shook his head. "Youíre not fit enough to leave that bed!"

"Yes, but with a laptop, I canÖ"

Grey stopped as Fawn glared at him. "No!"

"Donít worry, Brad," Ochre spoke as he emerged from the bathroom, still with his tunic unfastened. "Iíll keep you up to date."

Fawn smiled, there certainly had been a considerable improvement in Ochre, just from that short sleep. He needed more, but, like the others, he was as stubborn as he was brave.

"Iíll let the Colonel know," Fawn advised him.

"Good, Iíve let the guys know, Iím on my way."

"Take it easy Ochre," warned Fawn.

"Sure, Doc, sure," Ochre replied with a genuinely cheerful smile as he left Sickbay. "Catch you later, Grey."

 

***

 

"Yes!" Riordan cried in triumph, punching the air with a clenched fist. "And about time too!"

His success had been a small one, but it was a significant start, showing that he was at least on the right track. He had tried almost every way he could think of to crack the code and whilst he still had a long way to go, he knew that this latest attempt would, in the long run Ė although he hoped not too long Ė give him the answers he needed.

"Oh, Pat! You are a tricky one, but Iíll say one thing, you taught me well!" Picking up a pencil, he pulled the paper closer and started to write. "Three passwords of length, seven, six and five characters." Tapping his pencil on the desk for a moment, he continued. "Seven character code begins with A. Well, itís not much, but itís a start."

 

***

 

Jack Harper pulled up across the street from Sarah Donaghueís house. Sarah lived in the leafy suburbs of Westchester County, New York. It was a large house for just one person, but she had fallen in love with it on sight and had lived there happily for six years, with the exception of only two incidents. The first had been a personal attack when Gabriel James, a former associate of her brotherís, had tried to force himself on her, and a second when the same man had ordered her kidnapping in an attempt to compel her brother to perform a computer fraud for him. On both occasions, the men had forced their way in after she had answered the door to them. Aside from requiring a stronger door chain, Sarah had, at no point, had cause to doubt the security of the house, until today.

"You ready?" asked Harper, not taking his eyes from the house.

"Yeah, Iím ready," replied Tyler, lifting a small device about the size of a screwdriver from a small but well stocked toolbox in the trunk of the car.

Harper, standing next to him, finally looked away from the house to face his accomplice.

"Are you sure that thingíll work?" he asked with a disparaging tone.

"Yes, Iím sure," Tyler scowled, "I know my job and Iím good at it! See these?" He pointed to protrusions on the shaft of the device. "Theyíll manipulate the tumblers as quick as a key would, without damaging them. Itíll get us in and sheíll be none the wiser."

"And the alarm?"

"Thatís what this is for," he replied smugly, fishing a small grey box from his pocket. "Like I said, Harper, I know my job. The question is, whatís yours?"

Harper frowned. James had hired him as an enforcer. Despite already being able to rely on Ox for sheer muscle, James had wanted someone who could also assist him with the day-to-day running of the Syndicate and who could blend in easily in a crowd. Despite his youth, Harper was eminently suitable for Jamesí needs. Reasonably intelligent, agile, fit and capable of handling himself in a fight, Harperís only major shortcoming was his arrogance; something that James, with his misplaced self-confidence brimming over, was unable to see. Now, without James, Harper had no real role under Fisherís leadership. But this, somehow, didnít prevent him believing that he remained indispensable and was blind to Fisherís loathing of him.

"Fisherís got brains enough to see he needs me, even if you donít! Now letís get in there, sheíll be home soon."

Having crossed the street, it took only moments for Tyler to gain access to the house and disable the alarm. To the casual passer by, it appeared perfectly natural; as though the two men had entered using the key. Tyler flipped the gadget triumphantly in his hand and slid it into his pocket as they hid, awaiting Sarahís return from work.

"So, what makes you think youíre so special then?" asked Tyler, smirking slightly, fully intent on irritating Harper for sheer sport.

"Fisher got his own lawyer, Reece, to get me off. He doesnít come cheap. You donít do that for just anybody, you know!" replied Harper smugly.

Tyler raised one corner of his mouth, reluctantly accepting that Fisher had indeed gone to some considerable effort to keep Harper on the payroll, though why was another matter entirely.

"Well, I guess anyone can make a mistake," he retorted.

"Why youÖ!"

"Ssh! Thereís someone outside," whispered Tyler. "Sheís coming."

Tyler and Harper retreated into the shadows as Sarah turned her key in the lock, oblivious to the earlier break-in. Closing the door behind her and flipping the light switch, Sarah gazed, puzzled, at the alarm; she felt certain that she had set it that morning. With no more time to consider it, her eyes flew open in terror as a gloved hand was clamped over her mouth and her left arm pulled behind her.

"Not a sound!" warned Harper as he hissed the words in her ear.

Sarah stamped her foot behind her, jamming a sharp heel into the centre of Harperís right foot. He pulled back in agony, releasing her as he did. Turning, she gasped in surprise as she recognised Harper from her previous encounter with him only a few weeks earlier. The other man loomed quickly forward, grabbing her arm as she headed back toward the door. Pulling frantically to release herself from his grip, Sarah screamed loudly for help, stopping only when Harper turned angrily and viciously swung the back of his hand across her face. The force of it drove Sarah out of Tylerís grip and spinning to the floor. Severely dazed and reeling from the blow, she found herself unable to stand or even to push herself upright, such was the severity of her disorientation. Harperís voice rang in her ears as he barked an instruction.

"Tyler! Get the car! Quickly!"

Inside his shoe, Harper could feel his foot swelling rapidly, putting weight on it was proving impossible. Dropping to his knees, he dragged Sarah forward till she lay face down on the carpet.

"Iíll kill you for that!" he threatened as he pulled her hands behind her back, trying to hold them with one hand as he tried to pull a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket. Growling in frustration as one half caught on the lining and refused to budge.

Sarah had gathered her senses enough to fight back once more. Twisting onto her back, the action alone was sufficient for her to pull out of Harperís one-handed grip. Raising her left leg, she kicked with all her might, catching Harper in the groin. Falling onto his hands and knees and gasping for breath, Harperís eyes watered with the acute pain. He found himself only able to watch as Sarah scrambled backwards away from him. Pulling herself to her feet, Sarah still found herself reeling from both the shock and the earlier blow, but she was not about to give in, and fought back the panic threatening to grip her. She quickly considered her options; the door to the yard was locked and bolted, leaving by the front door, though only feet away, she ran the risk of encountering the other man. She realised that she had no choice, besides her car was there, she had more chance of escape that way. Pushing past the still incapacitated Harper, she fled. Ahead of her, Tyler had swung the car around, blocking the driveway, she glanced from him to her car and back again. He was grinning, partly at her and her reduced escape options and partly behind her as he now saw Harper standing almost upright in the doorway behind her, his face bright red with agony.

"I still donít know what your job is, Harper!" Tyler laughed as he raised the gun he held into plain view. "Now, Miss Donaghue, if youíd get in."

Harper seized her arms as she froze at the sight of the gun levelled at her and pushed her towards the rear passenger seats.

"Get in!" he barked, shoving her roughly and slamming the door behind her.

Sarah scrambled across the seat and stared disbelieving, running her hands along the door as she realised that the mechanisms to open it from inside had been removed. As if to further emphasise the point, Tyler flipped a switch, locking the rear doors. As Sarah heard the hollow pop of the locks she realised with horror that there was no escape. Even the rear seats had been separated from the front with a solid perspex-sheet in the style of a taxicab. She could only watch helplessly as Harper hobbled as quick as he was able toward the front passenger seat. The commotion had started to draw people out into the street. Firing a couple of warning shots, Harper slid unchallenged into his seat and the car sped away.

 

***

 

"Very well, gentlemen, I think that concludes our meeting." The Director General of the United Asian Republic drew the crisis meeting over the recent attacks to a close. "We must put in place the plans we have drawn up immediately."

The Director General rose and nodded his gratitude to his ministers who rose with him, with a slight bow from each. Leaving the room, the Director General headed with his personal bodyguard to his car. There was much to do, see and organise. First and foremost, supplies had to be issued and calm had to be re-established. Behind him, as he left the room, it became a hive of activity as his ministers set about putting their plans into action, intent on restoring order to the Republic.

The Director Generalís car had not even turned into the next street when the explosion ripped through the building. Debris and shattered glass burst out and covered the road and surrounding buildings. Passers-by, caught in the blast, lay either dead or severely injured. The entire middle section of the building had been blown away, revealing crumbling rooms, hanging precariously by twisted girders.

"Stop the car! Go back, go back!" yelled the Director General as the horror of the scene met his eyes.

"Lock the doors, keep going, stop for nothing," instructed the bodyguard.

"My ministers!"

"Theyíll have no leader if thereís an assassin out there. Trust me, Sir, thereís nothing you can do. Leave it to the professionals to get them out."

"There are dozens of innocent people in that Embassy," the Director General protested.

"We have to assume that you were the target, Sir. Iím sorry, we have to get you to safety."

It felt like an agonisingly long drive back to the palace, though, in reality, probably only twenty minutes had passed. By the time the Director General had returned to the palace, he was happy to receive the news of the surprising number of survivors of the appalling attack. A happy statistic that was impaired by the terrible fact that seven of his twelve ministers had perished.

"Sir?" the voice belonged to Hassan Musa, one of his closest advisors.

"Yes, Hassan?" the Director General looked up sadly from the report on the attack.

"Iím afraid chaos has erupted in Riyadh. There are riots and demonstrations all over the city."

"Riots? Why?"

"There is a rumour, Sir." It was clear from his demeanour that Musa was uncomfortable with what he was about to impart.

"A rumour?"

"Sir, somehow a rumour has spread that the recent attacks have been the work of someone trying to bring about a return of the dictatorship," he looked down before continuing. "Someone from the Government itself, Sir."

"I see," the Director General pursed his lips. "And do you give any credence to this rumour, Hassan?"

"IÖ" he began uncertainly.

"Go on."

"I have your and the Republicís interests at heart, Sir. I donít believe it, but I cannot dismiss the idea that you may have a traitor in your Government."

"I appreciate your honesty, Hassan. Then weíll see what Spectrum has to say."

"Spectrum!" Musa almost spat the word. The previous Director General had been a close personal friend of Hassan Musa, and he had died under Spectrumís protection. Following his death, chaos had reigned for almost a year and he was not about to trust them easily now.

"I know how you feel, Hassan, but we must remember that they are not infallible, no one is. We must give them one more chance."

 

***

 

Lieutenant Green returned to his seat at the main computer and began by checking the communications received during his absence.

"Is there any more news from Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh, Lieutenant?" White asked almost immediately on his return.

"Iím just checking, Colonel," Green paused as he quickly sorted the communications and found what he was looking for. "Yes, Sir, but only to say that they had been delayed by a sandstorm and that they have found two bodies, which they are taking back to HQ with them."

"Bodies? From the refinery attack?" asked White with some surprise.

"No, Colonel. It appears that these bodies have been uncovered by the sandstorm. They appear to have died only very recently. They will be able to provide us with more details as soon as they have them."

"Good, keep me informed, Lieutenant. We have to know if this is connected with the Mysteron threat."

"Colonel, Iím receiving a report on another attack. This time on the Embassy where the Government were holding a crisis meeting."

"Casualties?" asked White grimly.

"Seven ministers, Sir, Iíll find out all the details for you."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." White interlaced his fingers and prayed that some information would be forthcoming soon in order to stop these atrocities.

 

***

 

Sarah touched her right cheek, wincing as her fingers traced an outline around the swollen area from her eye right down to the corner of her mouth. Although scared, inside she raged with anger. She knew why they had taken her, Pat had explained what had happened only a few short weeks ago. The thought hadnít occurred to either of them that Fisher may try to use her to exact his revenge. Now, with hindsight, Sarah realised that this had been somewhat naÔve. That, however, didnít mean that things had to continue in that vein. Sarah steeled herself for a confrontation, determined that Fisher would see that bravery and sheer stubbornness didnít only manifest itself in the male Donaghues. Sarah had made the virtually the entire journey in silence; the dark smoked glass of the windows ensuring nobody could see her pleas for help; a blaring sound system set on almost full volume emanating from the driving compartment ensured that nobody heard her either. The music was only switched off as Tyler swung the car around and headed down the ramp into the buildingís parking lot. Although the building looked like a small but impressive office block, which must have been capable of housing several hundred staff, Sarah was surprised to see only two other cars. The car came to a halt near to the elevator, and Sarah took a deep breath to steady her nerves as she saw Harper step from the car and swing around to pull open the rear passenger door on his side. Still obviously placing all of his weight on his left foot, Jack Harper glared angrily down at his unwilling passenger.

"Out!" he barked. After a momentís hesitation on Sarahís part, he yelled again, seizing her arm and dragging her through the open door. "I said, get out!"

Slamming her roughly back against the side of the car, Harper leaned in threateningly towards her.

"Mr Fisher wants you alive. I want you dead. When heís done with you, thatís when I get my wish!"

Sarah held her gaze, unflinching, unmoved, whilst inside she felt as though her legs had turned to jelly. Frustrated by the lack of fear in her eyes, Harper raised his fist once more only to have it pulled down by Tyler.

"Alive, he said," Tyler snapped. "So, thatís your job is it, Harper?" he continued with a sly, condescending sneer. "Beating up women. Yeah, thatís about your level."

Harper turned a furious glance in Tylerís direction, finally pulling his hand out of Tylerís grip. He was not about to freely admit that it was Sarah who had earlier got the better of him. Without another word, he pushed Sarah in front of him and indicated to the elevator. Tyler barely disguised his amusement as Harper limped in obvious pain, following her.

Taking the elevator to the fifth floor, Sarah could almost feel the tension and sheer hatred in Harperís stare burning into the back of her neck. She was almost relieved when the doors opened and she was pushed through into the corridor. Directed at gunpoint to a door only a short walk away, Sarah paused as Tyler opened the door and nodded, indicating that she should enter the room. Following his direction, Sarah walked slowly into the room, uncertain about what she would find within. Inside, she found a well-furnished anteroom leading to another office beyond, where two more men waited. One tall, broad and dark haired, the other much younger, slightly shorter than the first, with dark wavy hair. She got the impression, based solely on body language, that the older of the two was in charge. This was probably Fisher, but she had no idea who the other man was.

"Mr Fisher?" Sarah spoke as clearly as she was able.

Fisher laughed. It was a patronizing, arrogant laugh.

"Well done, Miss Donaghue, then I presume you know why youíre here," Fisher replied. "Thank you gentlemen, that will be all for now, please wait outside." Fisher paused thoughtfully. "You too, Josh. Iíll call if I need you."

It was unusual for Fisher to want to be left alone in this way, all three men drew their own conclusions as they left the room.

"Now then, Miss Donaghue, we can talk freely here, you and I."

"Thereís nothing to talk about," she replied in a brusque manner. "Whatever you want, forget it. I wonít let you hurt Pat."

Fisher nodded as he walked over to the table situated in the corner furthest from the door, pulling out a chair he indicated that she should sit.

"Please," he added to emphasise his request.

Slowly Sarah made her way over to the table. As she approached, Fisherís jacket fell open revealing the gun in its holster. She wasnít sure whether or not it was a deliberate ploy to intimidate her, but the casual ease that Fisher displayed did more to scare her than all of Harperís threats. Taking a seat, Sarahís breathing became rapid and shallow as Fisher moved around the table and headed for the bar.

"Can I get you a drink?" he asked evenly.

"No, thank you." Sarah held her voice steady. "You can take me back home."

Fisher sighed theatrically as he poured two drinks. "Sadly, Miss Donaghue, that wonít be possible. You see, I expect my guests to accept my hospitality. Itís a little ungracious of me, I know, but I really do feel that you should stay."

"Donít patronise me! This is no more hospitality than I am your guest!" Sarah fumed. "If I were a guest, I could leave. Can I leave?"

"Of course you can leave, I wonít stop you," he replied, placing a drink in front of her.

Sarah narrowed her eyes at Fisher before rising from the seat. She had reason enough to be suspicious, having been dragged at gunpoint from her home, but she had to try.

"I said I didnít wantÖ" She paused as she looked down at the glass. A shot of whisky with a slice of lemon and a single ice cube. "How did you knowÖ?"

Fisherís laugh unnerved her. It was clear he had been watching her; the idea made her flesh crawl. With increased determination, she headed for the door. Opening it, ahead of her she saw the man he had called Josh seated at the desk, Harper, to his right, sat near the outer door. Tyler stood leaning against the frame of the door to Fisherís office. As the door opened, Tyler swung his arm across the opening blocking her exit.

"Excuse me, I wish to leave," Sarah spoke quietly, desperately trying to maintain her composure.

Tyler offered no reply, merely holding his position. Sarah tried to duck under his arm, only to find it moved swiftly to block her path once more.

"Let me leave," she insisted, with a still quiet but firm voice.

Tylerís response was to turn to face her. Gently pushing her back into the office, he began to close the door. Seeing her only escape route being closed to her, Sarah gripped the edge of the door and tried to pull in the opposite direction. With strength borne of desperation, Sarah managed to pull it wide again, only to receive a rough shove propelling her back into the room, returning to the door too late as Tyler turned the key in the lock.

"Some guest!" she spoke as she turned back to face Fisher.

Fisherís face was dispassionate; he merely waved an arm in the direction of the seat she had occupied earlier.

"Now, Miss Donaghue, as youíve decided to stay, please take a seat. We have things to discuss and not much time."

Reluctantly taking a seat, Sarah looked up at Fisher. "What now?"

Fisher sat opposite the petite woman, his face showing a mixture of grudging admiration and steely determination.

"Are you aware of the difficulties placed upon us by your brother?" he asked coldly.

"Yes," she replied simply. "He mentioned it."

"Well, heís going to put it right, or the price heíll pay will be high. Do you understand me, Miss Donaghue?"

Taking a nerve-steadying breath, Sarah replied: "And that price is?"

"Youíre a charming young lady, Miss Donaghue, donít spoil it by pretending to be stupid," Fisher replied coldly. "But, you know, it neednít come to that, if you co-operate. Itís that simple."

"You still havenít said what you want," she replied, cursing herself for allowing the growing shake in her voice to be obvious.

Fisher smiled. She was brave, but definitely not stupid.

"I want my money, simple as that."

"And if I refuse to help you?"

Fisher sighed. "You know, Miss Donaghue, I donít have time for your games." He paused, reaching into his jacket. Sarahís eyes grew wide with terror, only relaxing as he pulled out a cell phone. "One call is all it will take."

Sarahís brow furrowed in puzzlement at the statement.

"I have a man in Ireland, not far from your parentsí place, Miss Donaghue. Would you like me to call him?"

Sarahís confused expression transformed itself instantly into one of horror at Fisherís words.

"No!" she cried, terrified.

Fisher placed the phone on the table and pushed it towards her.

"Then I suggest you call your brother, now."

Sarahís hand edged to and from the phone several times before she picked it up. Staring at Fisher with bitter resentment she prepared to dial.

"YouÖ" she began, her lips curled in loathing.

"Now, now, Miss Donaghue," Fisher scolded with an amused tone to his voice, "thatís not ladylike."

"Neither is this!"

A well aimed kick beneath the table, left Fisher gasping in pain; his eyes tightly closed, they watered slightly as he fought the violent shooting pains that seemed to permeate his entire body. Through the agony inflicted by the sharp point of Sarahís shoe heel, Fisher heard the chair opposite him being pushed backwards and seconds later felt his jacket being pulled open. With a determined grunt, Fisher opened his eyes and reaching up, was in time to seize Sarahís wrist before her hand closed on his gun. Regaining his composure, but still livid with pain and anger, he rose uncomfortably from the chair and threw her back violently towards the seat that she had just that moment vacated. The power behind the action propelled her forcefully into the chair, almost toppling it in the process. Her shoulder-length dark hair momentarily fell across her eyes. By the time she had pushed it back, away from her face, enabling her, once more, to see, Fisher was by her side. Reaching down he grasped her neck in a choking grip. Sarah gazed up in panic; Fisherís eyes were wild with fury, his lips drawn into an enraged snarl. As his hand closed slowly around her throat, she clawed frantically at his fingers, desperate to pull them away. Fisherís carefully controlled grip, a product of years of practice, allowed Sarah just enough air to remain conscious and aware. Enough to feel the horror and realisation that he could kill her anytime he wished, without hesitation or regret. His grip momentarily tightened as he dragged her out of the chair onto her knees. Still struggling, tearing at his fingertips, though considerably weakened, Sarah watched in horror as Fisher silently drew his pistol. Relaxing his grip slightly, he ran the cold barrel slowly down her cheek and neck, pausing momentarily as it reached the top button of her blouse. At a determined push, the button gave way. Sarah closed her eyes in fear and dread, and gave an involuntary whimper as he traced a line under the material with the barrel of the gun. Gazing up once more at Fisher, her eyes communicated her distress as he brought the gun up to her cheek yet again. His hand tightened for a second time and she gasped desperately for breath. Taking advantage of the reflex-action, Fisher forced the barrel into her mouth.

"Miss Donaghue," he growled through clenched teeth as he stared mercilessly down at the terrified young woman. "If you ever, EVER try anything like that again, I will not hesitate to pull this trigger. Do you understand me?"

Sarah, too petrified to reply, merely stared upward, her eyes wide with shock.

"Do you understand me?" Fisher yelled, closing his fingers even tighter around her throat.

Sarah choked out a muffled reply, while tears formed and streamed down her face as the nightmare consumed her.

"No? Did you say no?" asked Fisher with a sadistic smile as he slowly cocked the hammer of his gun.

Panic had, by now, taken hold. Sarahís voice, what could be discerned at any rate, had risen dramatically in pitch and seemed close to hysterical. Her cries mixed with her sobs as, with a cruel, hollow laugh , Fisher returned the hammer to its safety position, all the while the barrel remained lodged dangerously inside Sarahís mouth.

"Good," replied Fisher, satisfied by her reaction, and content that, when contacted, Pat Donaghueís response to his sisterís terrified voice would bring about the desired result. As he withdrew the gun from her mouth, he shoved her pitilessly backwards against the chair. Drawing up her knees, she quickly wiped the tears from her cheeks with shaking hands. Fisher raised the gun once more as if to hit her across the face with it, watching with a perverse delight as she shied away, suitably cowed.

 

***

 

"Iím standing, here in Riyadh, outside what is left of the largest electricity generating station in the entire United Asian Republic." Bryan Cooper, the anchorman for one of the biggest networks in the United States, stood before the burning hulk of what had once been the areaís chief source of power. "As you can see, there is nothing left. A blazing inferno, which has plunged Riyadh and its surroundings into pitch darkness. There is chaos on the streets of Riyadh. With no lighting, no traffic control, and no alarms, looting is rife and rioting is breaking out all over the city."

The alarming report played all over the world did not need to be sensationalised.

"As local terrorist organisations deny responsibility, the rumour of a plot within the Government to return to the dictatorship of former years continues to gain credence. Public demonstrations, marches and riots are taking place across the United Asian Republic but with no-one to aim their grievances toward, things are starting to get a little ugly."

Cooper paused for a few moments before continuing.

"Iím just getting reports of a second bombing this evening. It seems that an irrigation plant supplying the entire central region of Saudi Arabia has been completely destroyed. As with the attack here and previous attacks, no warning was given and it will have devastating effects to the area and people. One final, unconfirmed, rumour is that one of the men found dead after the Embassy attack is connected with the bombing and may provide some answers. More news as it comes in."

Frieden and Forrest listened to the report with interest. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Almost everything.

"Can they get anything? We must not be discovered until our mission is complete," Forrest asked his companion.

Frieden shook his head with certainty. "Not from a dead man. None of the men carry any insignia or identification that would lead a trail back to this group. We are quite undetectable."

 

***

 

"Colonel," Lieutenant Green began, " I have Captain Ahmad of Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh, for you."

"Put him through Lieutenant," replied White, eager to hear the most recent report, and hoping for some definitive information.

"S.I.G., Colonel."

"Colonel White? I think I have news that will confirm a connection to the Mysteron threat."

"Go ahead, Captain," White leaned forward on his desk, listening intently.

"As you already know, on returning to HQ we found the bodies of two men in the desert. These have now been positively identified as Colonel James Frieden, an ex-WAAF officer, believed to have turned mercenary and Peter Forrest, a known safecracker and explosive expert."

"Do you have a cause of death, Captain?" asked White with curiosity.

"Yes, Sir, both poisoned with Lanosin. Itís fast acting, virtually no flavour and dissolves completely in almost any liquid."

"What else can you tell us, Captain? How is it connected with the Mysteron threat?"

"Iím coming to that now, Colonel. We captured one of the mercenaries from the bombing incident at the Embassy. We announced to the press that he was found dead in order that we may question him without his companions going into hiding or mounting an assassination attempt to prevent him talking."

"Good thinking, Captain, but how is he associated with the Mysteron threat?" White prompted, keen to establish the facts as quickly as possible.

"Well, Colonel, itís a difficult one. We checked him with the Mysteron detector and heís human and we have yet to connect him positively to Frieden. Colonel, heís reluctant to talk, but he has spoken about how no one will be able to stop Ďhis commanderí. Itís just a hunch, Colonel, but I believe heís one of Friedenís men and he spoke about him as if he were still alive. I think Frieden and Forrest are in the hands of the Mysterons and these men are working for them unwittingly."

"From the evidence youíve presented, Captain, Iím inclined to agree with you. Iíll send two officers to you straight away. Continue questioning the man, establish as much as you can."

"S.I.G., Colonel."

"Lieutenant, call the Senior staff, I want to discuss this with them," White instructed, "and put a map of the area on the screen with all of the strike areas marked up."

Lieutenant Green contacted Captain Blue, still sitting with the rest of the senior staff, in the Information Centre. On being summoned, it only took a few brief moments for them all to arrive. Scarlet, Blue, Ochre and Magenta took their seats at Colonel Whiteís rounded desk and awaited his briefing.

"Good news, gentlemen, Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh, have made a breakthrough and have positively identified the bodies of two men, believed to still be alive and leading the terrorist attacks on the United Asian Republic."

"We considered that, Colonel. But we didnít see how it connects with the threat," Scarlet stated with a frown.

"I think you will, when I give you the final piece of the puzzle, Captain. The Mysterons said that they will Ďbring peace to where it is least neededí. You may recall also that Captain Grey had a feeling that it was reminiscent of something we have heard before. I have just learned that a known mercenary ex-WAAF Colonel James Frieden is almost certainly involved."

"Frieden?" replied Scarlet in astonishment.

"I was going to ask if you knew him, Captain," White nodded.

"I doubt thereís a solder in the WAAF who hasnít at least heard of him. Heís an electronics expert and I mean Ďexpertí, there was nothing he couldnít do. He was supposed to be working on an advanced defence system, but was found to be selling sophisticated explosives technology to the highest bidder. He was arrested, of course, but somehow managed to escape. Heís never been seen since, but it was widely believed heíd become a mercenary with a small army for hire, at the right price," Scarlet explained. "I find it hard to believe heís working for the Mysterons though."

"His body, and that of the man who presumably either hired him or another man working with him, an explosives expert, have just been found in the An Nafud desert. I believe their Mysteron doubles are leading the attacks."

"But the threat?" repeated Scarlet.

"Grey was right," confirmed Blue. "We have seen this before. Frieden means peace in German. The United Asian Republic has only in the last seven or eight months settled down to what was hoped to be a lasting peace, but as yet itís fairly unstable. Rumours are increasing that this is somehow a Government plot. This is the very worst time for this to happen, it could destroy everything theyíve worked so hard for."

"Exactly, Captain. The Mysterons have indeed brought peace, or Frieden, to where it is needed least. Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet, I want you to head for Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh, immediately. They have one of the mercenaries captured during a raid. He may be your only link to finding them before they completely destroy all that remains of order there. Captain OchreÖ" White paused as he considered which of his two remaining officers would serve as immediate back up. Aware that neither Ochre nor Magenta had had much sleep lately, but also certain of Ochreís determination to remain on active duty despite the pain of recent events. Ochre seemed ready and almost eager to take whatever task the Colonel asked of him. White continued. "Captain Ochre, I want you to remain in readiness to act as immediate back up for Captains Scarlet and Blue, Captain Magenta, I want you off duty and rested, ready to relieve Captain Ochre. Dismissed."

Each of the Captains saluted and headed off; Scarlet and Blue for their assignment, Ochre and Magenta to the Officersí Lounge, wishing Scarlet and Blue luck on the way.

 

***

 

"You know he told you to rest," Ochre said after a brief silence. "That places you in your quarters or the Room of Sleep."

"Thereís a really comfy sofa in the Officersí Lounge and if you carry on like that, Iíll be asleep in no time," replied Magenta with a grin.

Moments later, Magentaís epaulettes flashed white, lowering the microphone he heard the voice of Lieutenant Green.

"Captain, I have a call for you."

"Iím on my way to the Officersí Lounge, Seymour, Iíll take it there," Magenta replied cheerily.

"Itís your sister, Captain, she seems upset," Green advised discreetly.

Having now arrived at the Lounge, and seeing that they were the only occupants, Magenta replied.

"Thatís okay, Seymour, thereís no one else here, just Rick and me. Iíll take it here."

"Okay, Magenta, Iíll put her through," replied Green.

"Whatís up?" asked Ochre with concern.

"Itís Sarah, Green said she sounded upset," Magenta answered with a worried frown.

At that moment the phone, located in the corner of the room, rang and Magenta, already waiting beside it, picked it up.

"Sarah? Are you okay?" he asked with obvious concern in his voice.

"Pat?"

Magenta could hear the shake in her voice after only one word, he could almost see the tears in her eyes and knew that something was most definitely very wrong.

"Sarah? Whatís wrong? Is it Pappy?" asked Magenta alarmed as he heard her taking shuddering breaths, trying to calm herself.

"FisherÖ"

It was all she was able to say before the phone was snatched from her hand.

"Good evening, Donaghue," Fisher greeted him frostily.

"You bastard, Fisher! If youíve hurt herÖ!" Magenta slammed his hand onto the table in frustration. Ochreís head turned in surprise at the words, realising instantly what had happened.

"Youíll do what?" snapped Fisher. "Listen to me Donaghue, and choose your words carefully, whatever you say will have a direct result on Sarahís health. Do you understand me?"

"Perfectly," Magenta snapped between gritted teeth, "but you understand me, Fisher, if you harm her in any way, Iíll find you and Iíll kill you!"

Fisher laughed, it was an arrogant, disdainful laugh. "Provided you do as I say, that wonít be a problem. Itís very simple, Donaghue. You ruined me, Abbott and James; now theyíre dead and I donít intend for the same fate to come to me. I want my money and theirsí back in my account and more besides. All I need from you are the passwords you used to seal the program that cleaned us out. I get those passwords and you get Sarah, itís THAT easy."

Magenta physically shook with anger. Glancing at Ochre, he remembered his promise made at Ryanís graveside. How could he give him the passwords? How could he believe heíd even keep his word and release her? Fisher was an evil and violent man, it wouldnít be the first time heíd killed out of spite.

"Itís not that easy, I put in all kinds of traps in that program, I canít explain, Iíd have to reprogram it myself."

"You expect me to believe that?" scoffed Fisher.

"Iím telling you itís not straightforward, if it were donít you think Matt would have sorted it by now?" he yelled in return. "Let me talk to Sarah," he added his voice slightly calmer.

"No, that wonít be possible," Fisher replied heartlessly.

"Let me talk to her!" Magenta bellowed once more.

Fisher laughed in reply. "Youíre not calling the shots here, Donaghue, I am. Very well, you have to do it, but youíll do it with Riordan watching everything you do. When will you be here?"

"Five hours, maybe six."

"Make it five," replied Fisher impatiently.

"I donít have much choice over how long it takes, Fisher. Be reasonable!"

"There will be some instructions for you at the JFK Airport Information Desk. I suggest that you stop wasting time arguing and get here fast or youíll be an only child."

The phone went dead in Magentaís hand and he slammed the receiver forcefully onto the cradle. Turning, he noticed for the first time that Ochre was at his side.

"Fisherís got Sarah?" he asked, knowing already what the reply would be.

Magenta nodded silently, agitated and still shaking with rage. "Iíve got to go."

"You canít!" Ochre replied, even though he was aware that there were few options.

"You heard enough of that conversation to know whatíll happen if I donít, Rick. Do you have any other ideas?"

Ochre frowned and opened his mouth to speak only to be interrupted by Magenta.

"Look, Rick, Iím sorry, I really am. If I find a way to get her out without restoring the money, I will, you know I will, butÖ"

"Will you just shut up for a second!" yelled Ochre finally. "I donít care about the promise you made. It wonít bring Ryan back, but it may lose you Sarah and I canít bear that on my conscience, just for the sake of a promise. But, Pat, if you go AWOL again, you know whatíll happen. Youíll be out of here so fast, the soles of your feetíll be smoking!"

"What choice do I have, Rick? Tell me!"

"Go and see the old man, Iím sure heíll let you go," Ochre reasoned.

"During a Mysteron threat? I doubt it!"

"Blue and Scarlet are down there, and thereís still me, Green, the Angels and the whole of the Riyadh HQ. Youíre just one man, Pat and right now, youíre off-duty and assigned back up for the back up."

Magenta frowned, put like that it seemed likely that the Colonel would allow it.

"Okay, Iíll go see him, but, Rick, if he says no, Iím going anyway."

Ochre nodded. "I know. Good luck, Pat and take care, eh? No heroics!"

Magenta forced a smile. "Yeah, you too!"

 

***

 

"Well now, I thought that went well, didnít you?" Fisher asked with a smug, superior air to his voice.

"Patís more than a match for you!" she spat in reply. "Donít think youíllÖ"

"Get away with it?" he finished for her with an arrogant smirk.

"I was going to say, Ďmake him crawlí, but no, you wonít get away with it either!"

"I can see that you need to be taught another lesson, youíre getting above yourself again."

The words made Sarah shudder and shrink back into the chair. She had found it hard to hold her temper as he had threatened Pat and now it bubbled to the surface with a reckless disregard for her own safety.

Walking slowly to his desk. Fisher pressed the intercom button and leaned over the microphone.

"Jeff, Jack, get back in here." Standing up once more, he returned to stand beside Sarah, producing a pair of handcuffs from his jacket pocket as he neared her. "Miss Donaghue, youíll be staying, of course."

Hauling Sarah from the seat, he turned her to face the door and with surprisingly little resistance, secured both hands behind her. Holding her shoulders, he leaned in closer, whispering into her ear. "Now, if youíd just slip off your shoes."

Reluctantly, Sarah did as she was ordered, watching with concerned eyes as her two kidnappers returned to the room. Without her shoes, the young woman seemed so much tinier, her trembling frame as delicate as porcelain.

"Take her downstairs, make her comfortable and stay with her," Fisher ordered.

Taking one arm each, Harper and Tyler led Sarah away, back towards the elevators. Kirby raised his eyebrows as she was marched past him. From the distressed and exhausted expression on her face, it was clear that she had suffered at Fisherís hands. Kirby didnít know how, and neither did he want to ask.

"Josh," Fisher called over the intercom once more, "get Mr Riordan up here, will you?"

 

It only took a few minutes for them to reach their destination. Sarah paled visibly as she saw the strongroom door. The solid six inch thick steel door was the entrance to what used to be a storage vault. The building had belonged to Mark Abbott originally, but since his demise, Fisher had claimed it as his own. Abbott, acutely aware of its value as a cell, had had vents added to the vault to allow a flow of air, although in accordance with his sadistic streak, he had made sure that they could be shut off, effectively rendering the vault airtight once more. Unaware of this gruesome detail, Sarah was pushed inside by Harper. Turning, she could only watch with distress as the door was closed and locked. To her right, in the dimly lit room, lay a battered old mattress, which, she suspected would offer little comfort. Lowering herself down carefully, she leaned against the wall behind. Suddenly feeling desperately alone and frightened, Sarah fought the painful lump in her throat as she tried hard not to cry.

 

***

 

"Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue," Ahmad greeted them on their arrival at Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh. "Colonel White said you were on your way."

"Have you managed to get any further with your questioning of the man you captured?" asked Scarlet quickly.

"Yes, but not much Iím afraid," he replied, leading the way to the cells. "Weíve established that he is definitely part of Friedenís group and he believes his commander to still be alive. We havenít corrected him on this as we were unsure of the approach youíd want to take."

"Thank you, Captain, but I think weíll have to shock him if weíre to get the information we need out of him," stated Blue. "Do you agree, Captain Scarlet?"

"Absolutely, Captain Blue," Scarlet agreed with a nod. "Captain Ahmad, Iíd like you to arrange for the bodies of Frieden and Forrest to be placed in the cell next door to the prisoner. I think weíre going to need him to identify the bodies."

"Certainly, Captain," Ahmad stopped outside a cell and unlocked the solid steel door with a voice command. "Itís been programmed to respond to your voices too, Captains. Good luck."

The man seated on the bunk looked up as the door opened and the two captains entered. Silently he stared up at the two newcomers, then finally spoke, his tone derisive.

"Are you the big guns then? They gave up."

"Whatís your name, soldier?" asked Scarlet abruptly.

"I donít do Ďname, rank and serial numberí - we donít have them."

"You have a name," Scarlet replied.

The man shrugged. "Itís not important."

"You got that right!" Blue stepped forward. "I donít see any of your guys stepping up to help you."

He shrugged again. "Iím not going to tell you anything."

"We know you worked for Colonel James FriedenÖ" Scarlet began.

"Work for," the mercenary corrected. "Donít write me off just yet."

"Itís not you weíve written off, itís Frieden. Heís dead," Scarlet explained.

"Yeah, right! You expect me to believe that?" the man laughed at Scarletís statement.

Scarlet and Blue glanced briefly at each other and nodded. Blue seized the mercenary by his arm and dragged him towards the door. Scarlet took his other arm as the man began to struggle.

"What is this?" he cried, surprised at suddenly being manhandled.

Scarlet pulled the man through the cell door, despite his best efforts, and pushed him into the adjoining room. There on portable medical tables, in the centre of the cell, lay the bodies of Frieden and Forrest.

At first he stood, merely only able to stare.

"How didÖ" he began.

"Theyíve been dead at least twenty four hours," Scarlet added, to the manís confusion.

"Thatís not possible! I saw them only hours ago. What is this some kind of trick?"

"Sort of, but itís not of our making," Scarlet replied coolly. "Youíve been duped by very clever look-alikes. Someone wants to bring down the government and restore the dictatorship. Terrorists have their own agenda, better to hire a group of mercenaries. But even then, could be risky. Much better to become the mercenaries. Theyíre not the people you knew and theyíre working with their own agenda. You think they care that youíve been captured? You think you were even going to stay alive once theyíd achieved their objective?"

Their prisoner looked from Scarlet and Blue, to the bodies and back again, a look of profound confusion on his face, but there was no denying that even under the closest scrutiny, this was the body of Frieden and even though he had only glimpsed Forrest, it seemed reasonable that this was him.

"What do you want?" he asked quietly.

"Everything. Where the camp is, their next planned strike, numbers, defences, everything," Blue replied.

"And what do I get?"

"You get to live," Blue snapped back angrily.

"Not enough, Iíll tell you everything you need to know in exchange for my freedom. Nothing less than that."

"Very well, but weíll do it this way, you tell us everything, we stop them, THEN you get your freedom," Scarlet declared.

"Thatís no good to me! What if you donít manage it?"

"Then you had better make sure you give us enough information, hadnít you?"

 

***

 

Magenta paced outside the entrance to the Control Room. Nervously, he clasped both hands together and drew them up to his mouth. He had to get this right; for Sarahís sake, for Ochreís, for his own. Raising his hand to the coded lock he was about to swipe his pass through when a voice made him turn.

"Magenta, wait."

"What? I really donít have time to wait, Ochre," Magenta frowned, angry with himself for stalling even these few minutes.

"Colonel Whiteís sent for me. I told him you were on your way to see him too. He wants to see us both."

"Oh great!" Magenta protested. "Heís going to assign me to a mission isnít he?"

"We donít know that. Calm down, Pat, if he sees you like that, heíll send you straight to Sickbay!"

Magenta exhaled deeply and rubbed his forehead distractedly. "Okay! Letís go in."

The door slid open and the moving walkway was automatically set in motion as the Captains entered.

"Colonel," began Lieutenant Green, "Captains Ochre and Magenta to see you, Sir."

White looked up briefly as they approached, returning his eyes to the file before him as they made their way towards his circular desk. Briefly nodding his acknowledgement as they arrived, he continued to muse over the file. In his peripheral vision he caught the occasional glimpse of Captain Magentaís hand as he flexed and unflexed his fingers restlessly.

"At ease, gentlemen," White ordered, finally closing the file and looking up. "Captain Ochre, how do you feel?"

"I feel fine, Sir. Iíve rested and Iím fit for duty," Ochre replied impassively.

White nodded, more reflecting a measure of curiosity than acknowledging the truth of Ochreís statement.

"It seems that Doctor Fawn reluctantly agrees with you," White commented on his reply.

"Iím pleased to hear it, Sir."

"Really, Captain?"

"Sir?" Ochre asked with a degree of uncertainty in his voice.

"He advises me that you are barely fit, Captain."

"But fit, nonetheless, Sir?" Ochre added assuredly.

"Yes, Captain," White smiled but it was short lived. "Captain Magenta! Will you please stop fidgeting? Whatís the matter with you, man?"

"Sir, I have something urgent that I must discuss with you," Magenta replied. He could tell from the fleeting glance that Ochre had afforded him that his voice sounded strangled with concern and worry.

"Very well, Captain," White turned a concerned glance in Ochreís direction. "Captain Ochre, as you are so obviously keen to resume your duties, and I believe it may help you, you may continue as per your previous orders. You will remain as back up for Captains Blue and Scarlet, but until you are needed I want you to rest. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Colonel," Ochre nodded his agreement.

"Thank you, Captain, dismissed." White watched as Ochre saluted and headed out of the Control Room. "Captain Magenta, what is wrong?"

"Sir, itís my sister." Magenta licked his dry lips and continued. "Sheís in a bit of trouble, Sir."

"What kind of trouble, Captain?"

"I canít really say, Sir. She could only make one phone call."

Magenta knew as he said the words the suggestion the statement made. To White, Sarah was in some sort of difficulty with the police and whilst Magenta hadnít lied, he knew perfectly well that the suggestion was, in effect, a lie.

"You seem very agitated, Captain," White observed.

"Sir, she was very upset when I spoke to her, itís seems pretty serious," Magenta replied, trying very hard not to lie to his Commander in Chief.

"And yet you donít know what the trouble is, exactly?"

"With respect, Sir, I would prefer not to go into detail," Magenta hedged.

White nodded; it was a very personal matter and seemed a reasonable request.

"I have to ask, Captain, given recent events. Has your sister been arrested in connection with your old Syndicate?"

"No, Sir, she hasnít," Magenta replied firmly. Well, not arrested, anyway, he thought.

White sighed deeply.

"Sir," Magenta continued before White could refuse, "Iím the off-duty back up for the back up. This is really important to me, Colonel. You know I wouldnít ask unless it were."

Magenta was clearly distraught. There was no way he was faking his emotions; Sarah was in very definite trouble. Reluctant to probe further, White nodded gravely.

"Very well, Captain, but I want you to remain on immediate recall. We cannot take a chance here."

"No, Sir, I understand. Thank you, Colonel, thank you!"

 

***

 

"Matt," Fisher walked behind the chair that Riordan occupied in Fisherís office. "I have a surprise for you. Iíve got you some help for finding those passwords."

"You know, Mr Fisher, Iím doing okay with that, I think someone else would just hold me up now," Riordan replied cautiously as Fisher moved around to sit, perched on the front of his desk facing Riordan.

"Not somebody who actually has the passwords though. I imagine that would speed things up tremendously."

"But only PatÖ" Riordanís voice trailed off as he saw Fisher grinning at him.

"Heís agreed to help."

"Thereís no way. But Fraser?" Riordan shook his head in disbelief. "You havenít? You couldnít have!"

"Donaghue just needed a little persuasion, some incentive, thatís all. I provided that."

"How? Or," Riordan sighed hopelessly, "should I say, who?"

Fisher smiled; Riordan was smarter than he had given him credit for.

"Yes itís true, we have a guest. But sheíll be fine, provided Donaghue does what I ask of him," Fisher shrugged indifferently.

"She?" Riordanís attitude changed and he grew pensive and agitated.

"Oh, yes," Fisher laughed, "I forgot, you have a soft spot for the little lady."

"Youíve got Sarah?" Riordan clarified with a sharp, angry tone to his voice.

"All neatly tucked away. Sheís fine and sheíll remain fine, provided he does what I tell him. Now, youíll be working with him to reprogram the code that cleaned us out. He gets it right, or Sarah is fish food. Make sure he understands that, Matt, itís quite important."

"I donít think heíll need telling," Riordan replied with an expression of distaste for Fisherís scheme. "Where is she?"

Fisher laughed, a short arrogant laugh and shook his head. "Iím sorry, Matt, but your track record on that score is far from impressive. I donít want a repeat performance of you letting her go again, so I think itís best not to tell you."

"Mr Fisher, Iím not going to do thatÖ"

Fisher sighed and offered Riordan a deep frown. "No, Matt youíre not. Iím making sure of it. You see, Matt, I could blame you for the mess weíre in right now. If you hadnít let her go, we could probably have forced him to do the robbery and weíd have avoided all of this." Fisher spoke slowly, deliberately. He could see Riordan growing paler, almost with each word. Determined to secure Riordanís absolute loyalty, he continued: "Now, I donít give too many second chances. In fact, the last person to be granted that luxury was Gabriel James. He let me down, Matt and now heís dead. Do you follow?"

Riordan nodded gravely.

"Good." Fisher nodded his approval. "I knew you would." Handing Riordan an envelope, he continued: "These are Donaghueís instructions, I want you to leave them for him at JFK Airport Information. Hereís a copy for you. I want them adhered to, to the letter, Matt. No foul ups or weíre all dead, understand?"

Riordan nodded. If there were two things he could honestly say he was good at, they were theft, usually, but not solely, by computer fraud, and keeping himself alive. Friendships and loyalties were things he valued, but to him, nothing was worth dying for. If this made him a coward, then so be it, but at least he was a live coward.

 

***

 

On the information supplied by the captured mercenary, Spectrum ground forces descended upon the Director Generalís palace, initiating a full-scale evacuation. The men and women of the Spectrum Headquarters in Riyadh heading the evacuation knew they had only minutes to complete the operation and worked with smooth efficiency, managing through their training to keep panic to the barest minimum.

Checking their watches, they knew time was tight and stepped up the urgency of their instructions. With everyone clear of the palace, the commander of the evacuation team, standing at a safe distance, lowered his microphone to report, just as the first bomb tore through the upper floors. The noise was deafening, debris and dust peppered the area immediately around the palace but no further. It appeared that the bombs had been designed and placed to cause an implosion in the building and so effect much greater destruction to the building itself. Two more huge explosions could be heard deep inside the building as the lower floors collapsed bringing the whole edifice tumbling down to a barely recognisable pile of broken rubble and twisted metal.

 

"Colonel, I have the Director General of the United Asian Republic for you, Sir," Lieutenant Green spoke, high above the disaster in Cloudbaseís Control Room.

"Put him through, Lieutenant," White replied grimly as he read the report before him.

"Colonel White, I want to know what Spectrum are doing. Riyadh is in chaos and that chaos is spreading fast across the whole of the United Asian Republic."

"Your Excellency," White began, "we have identified the cause and those responsible and are now in a position to end the atrocities being carried out."

"With respect, Colonel, youíve made assurances before to the last Director General and he died under your protection. Now I donít know who or what is the target now, but I can see that you are far from handling the situation!"

"Sir, I have two of my best men in Riyadh now, Captains Scarlet and Blue. It was through their work that we established that your palace was the next target."

"Captain Scarlet?"

"Yes, Sir," replied White.

"He risked his life to save my predecessor," the Director General said, his voice now considerably calmer. "Very well, Colonel. But I must stress that if an end is not found soon, the United Asian Republic could fall."

"Weíre aware of that, Your Excellency, weíre working hard to prevent that, believe me."

"I do, Colonel, I do."

 

***

 

Riordanís head had slumped forward so that his chin rested almost on his chest. Jerking his head up suddenly as he almost fell from the chair, and taking a deep breath, he rubbed his tired eyes. It was almost morning and he had continued to work through the night. Soon, he thought, according to the instructions Fisher had given him, Donaghue would be arriving, at which point he would be expected to watch him reset the program to restore the Syndicates finances. He didnít believe for a moment that heíd do it, but it was what Fisher expected. He stifled a yawn as he consulted his watch. It was early, he needed coffee. Heading for the kitchen, Riordan gave an appreciative smile as he spotted the half-full pot of steaming hot coffee waiting to stir him from his lethargy. Having poured himself a cup, Riordan raised his eyebrows as he heard the knock on the door. Placing the cup down on the counter, Riordan headed into the hall. A quick check of the screen linked to an external camera, mounted outside his door, showed him that Donaghue had arrived almost thirty minutes before he had expected him to.

"PatÖ" he began as he opened the door.

It was all he was able to say before two strong hands seized him by his shirt and slammed him against the wall.

"Where is she?" Magenta yelled kicking the door shut behind him.

"I-I donít know!" stammered Riordan, surprised by the ferociousness of the unexpected attack.

"Iíll ask you one more time, Matt, and if I donít get an answer, Iíll beat it out of you! Where is she?"

"I donít know!" Riordan yelled in return.

"Donít give me that!" Magenta slammed Riordan once more into the wall, glaring with unforgiving eyes at his former associate. "You said at the cemetery that you had Ďonly one optioní. I thought you meant getting protection, but I guess you had something else in mind, eh, Matt?"

"No! This is Fisherís doing! How could you think Iíd do this? Especially after last time?"

"Because I know you, Matt! If this were the only way to keep your sorry little life intact, youíd do it, without blinking!"

Riordan bristled at the insult and pushed Magentaís hands from his grip on his shirt. However hurtful the words were, deep down he suspected they were fair. Fixing Donaghue with a resolute stare, he offered his simple reply.

"I didnít do it, but like you, Iím stuck with it! But if you do what you came for, sheíll be okay."

Magenta stared back, his chest heaving with anger, he tried forcibly to calm himself.

"ĎWhat I came forí was to free Sarah. I will not help Fisher if I can get away with it."

"And me?"

"I offered you help and you refused it," Magenta snapped.

"Spectrum protection? No thanks, I prefer to stay alive."

"I know you do!" The bitterness in Magentaís voice stung like a thousand bees.

"Look, Pat, you know how I feel about Sarah. IÖIíve never said it, but I know that you know. If I knew where she was, I wouldnít be standing here now!"

Magenta sighed heavily; it was true. Riordan cared for his sister, heíd always known, but out of respect, Riordan had always kept a discreet distance from her and kept his feelings private.

"Itís just the money?" Magenta asked, calming a little.

"Yeah," Riordan nodded. "When he heard youíd refused to help, he went crazy. Heís desperate, Pat. I know you donít care, and I donít blame you for a second, but Fisherís close to being killed by Carlotta. Heíll do anything. He really will."

Magenta closed his eyes and nodded.

"Okay, if itís just the money, if memory serves, Fisher lost just over three million. I have some private money that should cover it."

Riordan fidgeted nervously on the spot. "Actually, Pat, thatís what I meant by Ďonly one optioní. I knew about those accounts. I found all four and drained them already."

"You did what?" Magenta yelled, seizing him angrily by the shirt front once more.

"I had no choice, Pat! Carlotta was going to kill us!"

In frustration, Magenta released him with a heavy sigh, pushing him back against the wall.

"Three million! And thatís not enough for him?"

"James left him with debts you wouldnít believe! That moneyís gone already."

"Hang on," Magenta stared puzzled at Riordan. "You said you found all four of my accounts?"

"Yes, thatís right," Riordan nodded.

"In New York?" Magenta queried.

"Yes." Riordan wondered where the questioning was leading.

"Matt, I donít have four accounts in New York. I only have three."

Riordan frowned. "That explains it."

"What does?" Magenta asked with a scowl.

"There didnít seem to be all that much in one of them," Riordan admitted with a sigh.

"Matt, you robbed a guy who happens to share my name! You have to put that back!"

"I canít! Itís all gone!"

"Find it!" Magenta rubbed his forehead. "Anyway, I have more, but it wonít be enough." Magenta paused. Riordan watched nervously as Magenta paced, finally, after a few minutes, reaching a clearly agonising decision. "I donít really have a choice, do I?"

"Iím sorry, Pat," Riordan added feebly. "Iím supposed to take you to Fisher."

"Oh, no! No way!" Magenta shook his head. "There is no way thatís going to happen. Fisher might think he has all the cards, but I do have one and I will not put myself in harmís way. Heís had me before, and if I walk straight into his hands again, heís got no need for Sarah. Sheíll be in terrible danger. At least with me out of reach, he HAS to keep her safe."

"He wonít like it."

"But heíll expect it. Itís the compromise he knew heíd have to make. If I meet Fisher, itíll be on my own terms," he finished with a growl.

"HeÖ" Riordan paused, grimacing at the memory of Fisherís earlier words. "He did say that I was to watch you or SarahÖI think you should at least stay here, Pat."

"You want to help Sarah?" Magenta asked.

Riordan nodded. "I really donít know where she is though. After last time, Fisher refused to tell me."

"You can help her another way, cover for me. If Fisher asks, tell him Iím hard at work."

"What are you going to do?"

"Iím sorry, Matt, but the less you know, the better. That way, no one can say you betrayed them. As far as youíre concerned, Iím going to a hotel to do the reprogramming from there, and heís just going to have to accept that."

Riordan frowned slightly, then offered a short nod.

"Good luck, Pat. Oh!" he exclaimed as he remembered something. "Even though I donít know where sheís actually being held, I suspect youíll find Jack and Jeff guarding her. Just something I overheard."

"Jack? He was arrested," Magenta pointed out, puzzled by Riordanís statement.

Riordan shook his head. "Fisher needed him, for Jamesí contacts. Reece is a VERY well paid lawyer, if you catch my drift."

"Reece?" Magenta shook his head. "That crook? If I had a dollar for every threat and bribe that manís made, Iíd have more than enough for Fisher!" Magenta paused. "Okay, I know Jack, but whoís Jeff?"

"One of Fisherís men. Heís older than Jack, not so hotheaded, but just as nasty," Riordan explained.

Magenta nodded, now more determined than ever to find her. "Thanks, Matt. Take care, eh? And if things get nasty, get out."

"Donít worry, Pat, Iíll keep my Ďsorry little life intactí."

Magenta grimaced guiltily. "Iím sorry about that."

Riordan shrugged. "No more than the truth."

"I gotta get going. Take care, Matt, I mean it!"

"I will, donít you worry. Now go."

Riordan watched him leave before heading back to the kitchen to pick up his coffee. It was going to be a long day.

 

***

 

From a rise overlooking the desert road, Captain Black watched as Scarlet and Blue sped towards the camp set up by the Mysteronised Frieden and Forrest. Lowering his binoculars, Black contacted the pair.

"This is Captain Black relaying instructions from the Mysterons. An SPV is on its way to you, travelling north on the desert road. You are to destroy it and its occupants."

In the camp, approximately three miles from the current position of the SPV, Frieden and Forrest prepared themselves for attack.

"An SPV? Theyíre heavily armoured," noted Forrest. "What do we have to repel an attack and destroy it?"

"We have a state of the art defence system that can defeat anything they care to try. Around the camp is a ring of mines that will explode on contact or can be triggered by radio control. We have a wide array of rockets and shells and by far the most technically advanced missile targeting defence ring. There is nothing they can throw at us that we cannot repel and nothing they can do to prevent being destroyed."

 

"Colonel, we are within a mile of the Mysteron camp now," Blue informed him. "We have visual contact, they appear heavily armed and equipped."

"Thank you, Captain, the Angels are airborne, you should have visual contact any moment now. For the moment, I want you to stay where you are and try to establish contact. We have to be certain that this is in fact the Mysteron camp."

"Yes, Sir," Blue replied returning his microphone to his visor.

"The Colonel wants us to establish contact with the camp."

"Announce our arrival?" Scarlet couldnít believe his ears. "Why?"

"In case Ahmadís prisoner was leading us a merry dance and this is a rival group of his," Blue explained with a shrug. "Though I agree, if it is the Mysterons, advertising our presence isnít something I relish."

"Very well," Scarlet sighed opening up a general communication channel. "This is Captain Scarlet, Spectrum to unidentified camp, respond please."

"You will not prevent our revenge, Earthmen," a voice replied.

"Incoming!" yelled Blue urgently as he pushed the SPVs engines for all they were worth, trying to escape the worst of the blast as the rocket impacted on the exact spot that the SPV had occupied only moments before. The explosion rocked the SPV, even from the distance it had managed to reach in the short time they had, but it remained intact and fully operational.

"I think we can safely say theyíre hostile," remarked Scarlet with a wry smile. "Angel leader, destroy the camp."

Destiny swung around and approached in a diving attack designed to get as close as was safely possible. Releasing the rockets from the interceptors nose cannon, Destiny pulled out of the dive with ease expecting to record a direct hit. To her and everyoneís astonishment, the rocket disintegrated in mid air high above the desert.

"What the..?" Scarlet stared with surprise, then cursed under his breath. "Friedenís defence system! He really did it! He always said he could design a system that could repel attacks from even the most advanced weaponry.

"And now the Mysterons have it?" asked Blue with concern.

"It looks like an added bonus for them, that wasnít even what they were after!"

"Iím going in for another sweep," Destiny announced. Scarlet and Blue could hear the irritation in her voice. The French Angel was proud of her attack record and was frustrated to have been outmanoeuvred in her first attempt. Destiny dived once more, her thumb poised, ready to press the launch button.

"Iím hit!" she cried in surprise, as the tail of her sixty-foot craft burst into flame.

"Destiny!" came the voice of Symphony in Angel Two. "Can you hold it?"

"No," she replied as she struggled with the controls. "I must eject. Good luck, girls," Destiny announced shortly before hitting the eject controls.

Scarlet and Blue watched as the Angel floated safely to the ground whilst in the distance her Interceptor plunged to the ground in a plume of flame and smoke.

"Iím coming round for attack," announced Symphony.

"S.I.R., Symphony, stand down," Scarlet ordered.

"Captain Scarlet?" asked Blue and Symphony almost simultaneously.

"If his defence system is anything like he said it would be, heíll shoot you all down before you even get one missile to ground. I have an idea." Closing the communication channel, Scarlet turned to Blue. "If I can distract him, draw his fire, then both Angels can come in and attack together. It could work."

"If itís fully automated, no amount of distraction is going to stop it," Blue countered.

"Iím guessing that it wonít be. I know Frieden, he always preferred a hands-on approach. Yes, heís reliant on technology, but only to a point, he always liked to keep control.

"You think heís controlling it now?"

"Itís worth a try."

"You could get yourself killed, how do you know he doesnít have something thatíll finish you off once and for all? This could be exactly what he wants you to do."

"Iím prepared to take that chance." Scarlet reached for the eject controls and watched as Blueís seat hurtled out through the open hatch.

Turning the SPV around, Scarlet headed at full speed back towards the camp. All about him mines and shells exploded as he weaved the SPV across the sand, all the while edging closer to the mercenariesí camp. One explosion was so close, it rocked the SPV to the core. It shuddered suddenly to a halt, a sitting duck, before incredibly starting to move once more only moments before a second strike would have recorded a direct hit. Firing rocket after rocket, Scarlet watched intently as every shell was destroyed before reaching its target.

"Now," Blue whispered into his microphone.

Scarlet, now within five hundred yards, could see the camp in uproar. All the jeeps were loaded with men and equipment, ready to move off in a variety of directions. Within a few more seconds they were heading off, leaving only one tent, which, Scarlet assumed, must house the Mysteronised Frieden and Forrest. He had little time to think about it as beneath the SPV a cluster of mines exploded. The SPV took the full force of the blast under the right side wheels. The force lifted the huge tank-like vehicle and it rolled several times before bursting into flames.

Only seconds after, Symphony and Harmony released a barrage of rockets onto the camp. Scarletís plan worked perfectly as, distracted by the SPV, the defence ring allowed the Interceptor rockets to slip through, hitting home and destroying what was left of the entire camp.

Forced to watch at some considerable distance from the camp, Blue squinted to see, through the flames surrounding the upturned SPV, a figure crawling through the now opened side of the vehicle. Even from this distance he could make out the red and black uniform; Scarlet was definitely hurt but at least alive.

"Thank God," he sighed with relief.

"Captain Blue," Symphony began. "The camp is completely destroyed. I can see Captain Scarlet, he seems to be alive, but hurt. Iíve radioed for assistance, Captain Ahmad is on his way with Mysteron guns, a medical team and transport."

"S.I.G., Symphony," Blue responded. "Iíll inform Colonel White."

 

***

 

The underground grapevine was, Magenta found, as good as it had always been, for those who knew how to operate it. Finding Anton Carlotta was never going to be the hard part, convincing him to help would be the challenge. But Magenta had little choice, Sarah needed him. Having easily shaken the tail Fisher had put on him, he headed to the top floor of a luxury hotel. Magenta confidently rapped three times on the door of the penthouse suite. After only a few moments, the door opened slightly, Magentaís brow furrowed as nobody appeared to be there. Having built up a sensitivity to danger over the years, Magentaís internal radar was on full alert and something inside told him to duck. Obeying his instincts, Magenta missed the blow aimed at his head and spun around in time to grab his assailant by his shirt. Flinging him up against the wall, it was a simple matter for Magenta, with all his training, to disarm him.

"Let him go!" came a voice from the now half-opened door.

Out of the corner of his eye, Magenta could see the silhouette of a man, a glint of metal told of the gun pointed directly at him.

"Let him go and hand over your weapons."

Magenta stood back from the man he held up to the wall. Flipping the small, but deadly cosh in his hand, he turned slowly and passed it to the man standing in the doorway.

"Not his, yours."

"Iím here to see Mr Carlotta, heís expecting me," Magenta replied, making no move for his own weapon.

"Hand overÖ"

"Thatís alright, Danny, Mr Donaghue can come in, he wonít try anything." The door opened fully to reveal Carlottaís tall frame. The statement sound more like an instruction for Donaghue than reassurance to his associate. The man called Danny lowered his pistol reluctantly and stepped to the side to allow Donaghue into the room. As he stepped through the doorway Magenta could feel the eyes of the man who had tried to attack him burning into the back of his neck. These were dangerous men, he knew, but his own reputation left him in good standing. Carlotta smiled as he entered. It was clear from the expression behind the smile that he was curious about Donaghueís reasons for a visit. Certainly, he had his own theory, but he wanted to hear for himself. Leading him through the hotel suite to a sitting area, Carlotta weighed up Donaghue with a critical eye.

"What brings you here, Donaghue?"

"I have a business proposition for you," Magenta began, stopping as Carlotta gave a mocking laugh.

"Yes, I thought as much. Iím sorry, Donaghue, you are wasting your time and mine."

"You havenít heard it yet!" Magenta replied, astonished by his quick reply.

"I donít need to. You have come to reclaim your Syndicate, yes? Well, forget itÖ"

"No, thatís not what I want," Magenta stated simply.

Carlotta cocked his head to one side, pausing for a moment as he poured two generous measures of malt whisky. Handing one glass to Donaghue, he continued:

"So, what DO you want?" he asked, intrigued by the statement.

"Fisher wants me to restore his money." Magentaís reply made Carlottaís expression darken. He continued: "But I donít want to. It serves me well to see that bastard flat-broke and floundering."

Carlotta shrugged and smiled lightly. "So the answer is obvious, donít do it."

"Heís got my sister," Magenta replied through clenched teeth, his grip on the glass tightening noticeably.

"That is, indeed, unfortunate. But it has nothing to do with me," Carlotta replied casually.

"I thought youíd say that," Magenta sighed. "Youíre a cold-heartedÖ"

"Donaghue," Carlotta began in a warning tone, "if you have nothing further to add then I will ask you to leave."

"If I canít count on your help, then Iíll restore his money. One way or another, Carlotta, Iíll get her back, with or without your help, but if itís without, youíll lose out too!"

Carlotta laughed. "Your reputation goes before you, Donaghue, but even you arenít good enough to hold off the inevitable."

"Then maybe you need a little extra incentive?"

"And that is?"

"Your property business. Itís not quite what it should be, is it?" Magenta played his hand.

"It is exactly as it should be," Carlotta corrected.

"You canít fool me, Carlotta. You just canít help yourself can you? Itís supposed to be a legitimate front, but youíve been embezzling, dodging taxes, insurance fraud and more besides."

"Now you really are showing yourself as desperate."

Magenta smiled with amusement. "I have proof and Iíll use it if necessary."

Carlotta sighed. He stared hard at Donaghue, as if to decide if he meant what he said. "It seems that your reputation is well deserved. Now, what do you want?"

"I want to know where she is, thatís all, Iíll do the rest," Magenta replied, his face set in a concerned frown.

Carlotta nodded. "Iíll have the information for you by -" Carlotta consulted his watch, it was already just after seven "- lunch time."

"You canít do anything that will put her in danger."

"Go about your business, be as visible to Fisher as youíd expect to be, leave the rest to us. If you canít be blamed, neither can your sister."

"Thank you."

 

***

 

Josh Kirby didnít pay too much attention to the two men smoking near the entrance to the building. One held an open map in his hand, just like any other hopelessly lost tourist in the area.

"Excuse me, Sir!" called the man without the map, as Kirby approached the ramp into the parking lot, waving his arm to attract the driverís attention.

With slight irritation, Kirby pulled up to give directions. Lowering the window, Kirby looked out.

"Yeah?"

Lowering the map, the second man revealed a gun. "Keep your hands on the wheel, Kirby, weíre all going for a ride."

As the man spoke, his companion slid into the passenger seat and settled the barrel of his own gun under Kirbyís ribs. "Now," he spoke as the other man climbed in the back seat, "give me your gun, slowly, and letís go."

"Youíre Carlottaís men?" asked Kirby, his voice showing a mixture of anger and frustration as he handed over his pistol.

"Just drive."

The man shoved the gun harder into Kirbyís ribs, making him flinch. Taking a deep breath, Kirby continued:

"Where to?"

"Go three blocks then make a left," the man instructed him.

Kirby frowned, they appeared to be heading for the docks.

"What do you want?" he asked a little nervously.

"Information."

"On what?"

"Just drive, thereíll be plenty of time to chat when we get there."

Kirby continued in silence, following the directions given to him. Within a quarter of an hour the car drew to a halt inside a warehouse. Kirby was dragged from the car as the other man approached a panel situated on the wall to close the huge doors. Inside the dimly lit warehouse, Kirby stood at gunpoint as the other man approached from behind. Without warning, Kirby suddenly found himself dropping to his knees in sheer agony from the pain of a gun butt slammed into his back, near his spine. An inch to the left and maybe he would have been paralysed, but as it was, he was gasping against the searing pain with his eyes screwed up. He felt his hands pulled behind him and one half of a pair of handcuffs close tightly around his right wrist. Struggling to free himself, he felt the stinging pain of a gun barrel as it made swift contact with his right cheek. His head wrenched to the left only to be forced back as the gun was whipped back across his left cheek. The second band of the handcuffs closed around his left wrist and he was pushed to the floor.

"Where is she?" one of them demanded.

"Who?" asked Kirby opening swollen, puffy eyes to stare up at the two men in time only to see the boot of one kick him squarely in the stomach. The other from behind kicked with the flat of his shoe, catching partly Kirbyís back, but mostly his left arm. "Who?" he insisted.

"Donaghueís sister."

Keeping her was the only way they had to force Donaghue to restore the Syndicateís finances. If that failed the Syndicate would become Carlottaís in the blink of an eye.

"Go to Hell!" yelled Kirby defiantly.

With boots, fists and even a length of chain, the two men launched a savage attack on the young man until another voice called from the darkened corner of the warehouse.

"Enough."

Anton Carlotta stepped from the shadows and approached the small group. Kirby lay at his feet, severely bruised, his clothing torn and bloodied. His breathing was shallow and awkward, it seemed as if some internal damage had also occurred.

"Now then, Josh, tell me where she is and you live."

He could see Kirby trying to speak, although his voice was now little more than a hushed whisper. Nodding to one of the men, Carlotta waited as the man listened intently to what Kirby was saying. Carlotta smiled as the man nodded in return, taking down an address on a piece of paper. Kirby, Carlotta thought, had been admirably loyal to Fisher, but he had got what he came for. Now holding the piece of paper in his hands, he reached for his cell phone to contact Donaghue.

 

***

 

"Lieutenant, have you managed to contact the Director General?" Colonel White asked the communications officer.

"Iíve reached his office, Colonel, theyÖ" Green paused as he received another communication. "I have him for you now, Colonel."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Your Excellency, I have good news for you," White announced.

"Iím pleased to hear it, Colonel. Can we expect an end to the attacks?"

"Yes, Sir, my men have eliminated the threat and Spectrum Headquarters, Riyadh, will assist you in any operational issues to re-establish order."

"Thank you, Colonel and Iím sorry we doubted you," he replied, relief evident in his voice.

"I understand, Your Excellency. But one good thing has come of this, itís obvious that the people of the United Asian Republic did not welcome the possible return of the dictatorship. At least peace should be restored relatively quickly."

"Yes, Colonel, I think youíre right. I want to thank you and also Captain Scarlet, who, I believe, risked his life for us a second time."

"Heís a very brave man," White agreed.

"He certainly is, Colonel. Thank you all."

 

***

 

Matt Riordan was no fool. Pat Donaghue had told Fisher that he would do the reprogramming, but not all that long ago he had told Riordan himself that he would never do it. Okay, now his sisterís life was at stake, but if Riordan knew Donaghue, heíd find a way to free her without performing the task so abhorrent to him. Riordan kept hard at work, he knew he was making progress, it was just a matter of how soon he would succeed. He had relatively little information to show for all his hard work, but as with most tasks of this nature, the bulk of the time taken was on setting up the procedure. Once he had the right program, the rest would come comparatively quickly. Still working on the seven-letter character, Riordan broke through the coding once more and with an elated expression of triumph, discovered that the second letter was B.

"Hmm, A. B.?" Riordan thought out loud. " I wonder."

Before progressing his search, Riordan stopped to try the possibility of a simple alphabetic series, noting without too much surprise that the attempt was unsuccessful.

"Oh well," he sighed, resetting his program. "I thought that would be too easy!"


***

 

Tyler moved away from the strongroom door and headed back to the table where a large half-eaten pizza took up most of the surface.

"Canít hear a thing, reckon sheís asleep?" he asked as he raised the beer bottle he held to his mouth.

Harper shrugged. "Itís probably soundproof, the doorís thick enough."

"Howís your foot now?" asked Tyler, with a distinct chuckle in his voice.

"Better!" snapped Harper. "But Iím still going to get her back for that."

"Yeah, I know," Tyler sighed. "Youíre going to kill her. What if Fisher says no?"

Harper frowned and took a swig of beer. "Well, maybe I should get my fun another way."

"Oh yeah? And Fisherís going to approve that, is he?" asked Tyler.

"Whatís it to him? You saw her blouse. I reckon heís had some fun of his own. Buttons donít undo themselves, you know."

Tyler merely smirked in reply.

Harper slammed the bottle down on the table. "You donít think so? Give me the key."

Tyler laughed and tossed the key to Harper.

"What are you laughing at?" he snapped in return.

"Nothing, just wondering which bit of you sheíll kick next," Tyler grinned at him.

Removing his belt and folding it in half, Harper grinned maliciously. "She ainít gonna get the chance!"

Tyler lost his grin. "Alive, Jack. Donít go crazy in there."

Holding the folded belt at both ends, he yanked them apart making the two middle sections snap together with a loud crack. "Thatís up to her, isnít it!"

"Itís your head, Jack."

Harper laughed quietly. "Relax, Iím only using it to tie her feet," he explained as he headed for the cell.

Tyler shrugged lightly and settled back with another slice of pizza. "Have fun!"

As the door opened, Sarah, now lying down, squinted up in the sudden bright light from the room beyond. Seeing Harper she shifted herself, with some difficulty until she sat upright, all the while eyeing him suspiciously.

"What do you want?" she asked finally.

Harper closed the door behind him and allowed the belt to unroll itself in his hand. Sarah stared up at him her eyes wide as he stepped forward purposefully. Pressing herself back against the wall, Sarah tried to stand.

"Oh no you donít!" cried Harper suddenly leaping forward and grabbing one ankle.

Sarah slammed her free foot into Harperís arm, trying to get him to release her. It worked, but only served to infuriate him all the more. She felt a terrible stinging pain as he swung the belt across her face. Luckily for Sarah, he still held the buckled end in his hand or the pain and damage would have been much more severe. Snatching up both her legs, and holding them with one arm, Harper looped the belt around her ankles three times before pulling it tight and fastening it firmly with the buckle. Almost as an afterthought, he threaded the end through the coils twice to secure it further.

Sarahís breathing quickened as she gazed up at Harper, squirming as he ran a hand along her leg.

"Get away from me!" she screamed at him, trying to pull away, only to find herself backed up against the wall with nowhere else to go.

"Shout all you like," Harper gestured around the room. "Itís soundproofed. Not even Tyler can hear you!"

 

In the room beyond, the outer door opened slowly. Silently, a figure crept into the small room. Taking in the layout and content of the room in seconds, the figure moved with stealth towards the only other occupant. Too late, Tyler, his ear pressed hard against the door listening intently, heard a whisper of sound behind him. Without even time to turn, he felt a hand grip a clump of his hair and pull back his head before driving it with great force back into the door with a sickening thud. Tyler fell limp instantly and was thrown to one side.

Inside the strongroom, Harper had moved to sit astride Sarahís knees. Holding her behind the neck and by her left arm, he pulled her up sharply, planting his lips firmly, even painfully on hers. Unable to pull away, she writhed in his grip all the while trying to scream. Pulling back, he laughed loudly and mockingly at her distress as he moved his hand to unbutton her blouse. With an expression of utter animosity and disgust, she spat directly into his face. It cut his laughter in an instant and she could see his attitude change dramatically. Swiping the back of his hand across her right cheek, he threw her back onto the mattress. Dazed and stunned, Sarah stared up with barely focussed, tear-stained eyes as Harper wiped his face. The look of determination mixed with anger and resentment on his face left her in no doubt of her fate.

Harper turned suddenly as the door was pulled open.

"Get out, Tyler! Iím going to teach her a Ö"

He stopped in mid sentence, realising, as the man was almost at his side, that it was not Tyler. Seizing Harper by the collar with strength born of pure fury, the man quite literally picked the thug from the ground and flung him with a furious grunt to the opposite wall. The power behind the attack was surprising, even considering that Harper was shorter and considerably lighter than the newcomer. Raising him once more, he swung a fist into the young manís jaw, sneering with satisfaction as he heard a distinct crack. Harper fell to the floor, barely conscious, but the man reached down once more.

"Pat! No!" came the fretful voice of Sarah behind him.

Allowing Harper to drop to the floor once more, Magenta turned to face her. At first, all the anger drained from his expression as he saw her lying on the mattress, her swollen cheeks stained with tears. She looked so small and fragile. Then, in a moment, she saw his face change once more as he considered how they had hurt her, how Harper had intended to hurt her if he had not arrived when he did.

"No!" she cried again.

Magenta rubbed his eyes, hiding his anguish at seeing her in this sorry state. Stepping forward, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her out to the adjoining room. Placing her momentarily on a chair, he hauled Tyler from his slumped position near the door and threw him unceremoniously into the cell before closing the door and locking it.

"HeÖyou didnítÖ?" Sarah tried to voice the question without saying the words.

Magenta sighed. "No, but heís going to have one hell of a headache later today. Did heÖ?" It was Magentaís turn to ask the awkward question. "Did he hurt you? Well, you know?"

Sarah shook her head. Magenta gave a quiet sigh of relief and bent to free her ankles. He frowned as he saw the deep welts left by the belt following her struggles to get free. Reaching behind her, he set to work on removing the handcuffs.

"You can pick locks?" she asked, with a mixture of surprise and admiration.

"Iím getting quite good at it," he replied with a shy smile. "Now, letís get you out of here. Iím going to get you to safety, Sarah, but Iíve got to get back to Cloudbase straight away."

"I understand, Pat," she replied, throwing her freed arms around his broad shoulders.

"Iíll take you to Spectrum HQ," he whispered into her hair.

It took less than three minutes for Magenta and Sarah to reach the safety of his rented car and head off into the streets of New York.

"They donít know youíre here do they?" she asked knowingly.

Magenta sighed. "They know where I am, but they donít know exactly why, not exactly."

"If you take me to Spectrum HQ, youíll get into trouble wonít you?"

Magenta shrugged.

"Oh, Pat, you havenít changed a bit! You canít take me to Spectrum. Take me to Alisonís place."

"Alison is not equipped to keep you safe," Magenta warned.

"And just how long can Spectrum keep me safe? Pat, I canít stay with them forever."

"Donít worry," Magenta nodded, "Iím going to make sure they never go near you again."

"Pat?" Sarah frowned. "What are you going to do?"

"Nothing for you to worry about, sis. Nothing illegal," he reassured her.

"Take me to Alisonís place, Pat. If you have to go back, I want to be with a friend." Sarahís voice shook slightly at the words.

Magenta nodded sadly. "Iím sorry I have to go."

"I understand, Pat," she replied squeezing his arm, a smile spreading across her face.

 

***

 

It was quite a wrench having to leave his still very shaken sister with her friend, but Magenta took comfort in the fact that Alison was a nurse. It helped too that, unexpectedly, Alisonís husband, Ken, had also been home. Magenta had no idea how, or even if, he could handle himself in a fight and deep down, he knew it wasnít really an issue, but somehow he felt better knowing someone was there to protect her. Content that Sarah was safe, Magenta set his face into a stern, determined scowl as he set off in the direction of Fisherís office building.

Pulling up outside, Magenta first reached for his cell phone; dialling the number, he waited for a reply. On answer, Magenta could feel himself smiling down the phone.

"Mr Carlotta?"

"Donaghue."

"Thank you, sheís safe."

"Good. And your information on my business?"

"Consider it destroyed, Mr Carlotta, I keep my word."

"Good luck, Mr Donaghue."

Magenta stared for a few moments at the cell phone in his hands as the connection was cut from the other end. Sighing, he ran his hand upwards from his eyes towards his hair. Closing his eyes, he thought of his next task; all his animosity and anger returned, merely at the thought of Fisher. Stepping from the car, he headed into the building.

Fisher looked up urgently as the door burst open. He reached quickly for his gun, stopping with his hand still closed around the gun butt as he stared down the barrel of Donaghueís own pistol, held as steady as a rock at armís length.

"Oh, please, Fisher! Give me a reason to pull this trigger!" Magenta implored him, as he held the mobster at gunpoint, almost begging him to draw his weapon.

Fisher grimaced at the situation. Donaghue was approaching fast, his aim and stare never wavering. Drawing alongside Fisher, Magenta reached into Fisherís holster and coolly removed his pistol.

"You can kill me, but if you do, you wonít see Sarah again," Fisher promised coldly.

"Youíre a little behind the times, Fisher. Sarahís safe." Magenta seized him roughly by the shirt front, pushing him backwards, causing several items of furniture to be upturned on the way. Slammed brutally into the wall, Fisherís head sustained a violent blow, enough to make it bounce forward again but was immediately forced backwards, as Magenta pushed the barrel of his gun under Fisherís jaw.

"You listen to me, Fisher and listen well. I could cheerfully blow a big hole in the top of your skull, but, you know, I think itís much more sporting to let Carlotta do it. I donít give a damn what he does to you, but if by some miracle he does let you live, Iím warning you, donít you EVER set foot near my family again! If you so much as think of them, I swear, Fisher, Iíll kill you! And Iíll enjoy it too! Do I make myself clear?" Magenta stared, unblinking at Fisher, awaiting a response. The wait seemed an eternity, but finally, he spat out a reply.

"Abundantly." After a short pause, Fisher unexpectedly continued. "But you forget, Donaghue, I know you and I know you work for Spectrum now. You canít kill me, youíre all talk!"

"This is family, Fisher," Magenta snarled, pressing the gun barrel a little harder into Fisherís neck. "Donít push me, or youíll see a side of me that you wonít live to see again! And Spectrum?" Magenta shook his head. "They donít know Iím here now, they wonít know if I come back again and they sure as hell wonít care about you! This is your first and last warning, Fisher; stay away from my family and friends. Got it?" He yelled the final two words within inches of Fisherís face.

Fisher regarded Donaghueís expression. He didnít think heíd ever seen a more determined and serious demeanour. It was time to admit defeat.

"Yeah," he agreed, with the slightest of nods, all that was possible with the gun barrel buried deep in his neck. "I got it."

"Iíll leave you to face Carlotta then," Magenta smirked as he backed from the room and pocketed Fisherís pistol. "You wonít be needing this."

 

***

 

Fisher rubbed his neck as the door closed. Damn it! he thought. Where was Josh? There was no way Donaghue could have taken him by surprise like that if heíd have been there. It was so unlike him. And where were Harper and Tyler? If Donaghue had released Sarah, where were they? He would have to check for himself. Quickly straightening the disturbed furniture, Fisher reached for his jacket.

"Going somewhere, Ben?"

The artificially polite voice at the door belonged to Anton Carlotta. Fisher offered a look of resignation as he threw his jacket over the back of a nearby chair.

"A social call, Anton?" he asked, his voice heavy with dulled contempt.

Carlotta stepped through the door revealing four other men accompanying him. Two of them held the sagging, limp figure of a man between them. Walking into the centre of the room, they threw him forward at Fisherís feet. Fisher looked down shocked to see the still handcuffed and viciously beaten and bloodied form of Kirby.

"Josh?" Fisher crouched to check for signs of life. They were barely there; Kirby needed urgent medical attention. Standing once more, Fisher turned a furious glance in Carlottaís direction. "What is this?" he demanded angrily.

"That was over another matter," Carlotta waved a hand dismissively. "Iím ready to do business with you now, Ben. Are YOU ready?"

"I have whatever I need, but that doesnít mean I want to do business with you," Fisher bluffed, playing for time he didnít have.

"You must appreciate my position, Ben. There has been a lot of talk, much speculation. I need to know if you can back up what you say. If you refuse me, I can only assume that you cannot. My associates here have very firm opinions on liars."

Fisherís heart quickened and a cold sweat formed on his forehead. He knew this was it, he had no choice but to access his account. Carlotta would see it empty, the Syndicate would be his and Fisher would be lucky to get out of this with just one bullet inside him. It appeared that Donaghue would get his wish after all. Silently he approached the computer and accessed his account. Beads of sweat running down his forehead stung his eyes, turning away, he waited for the inevitable.

"That double-crossingÖ..!"

Carlotta was furious. Fisher looked down at the screen and was speechless to see in excess of thirty million dollars in the account.

"Matt?" Fisher whispered almost inaudibly.

"You may well thank Donaghue, heís worked well for you," Carlotta fumed, mishearing Matt for Pat. "When did he do this?"

Fisher saw an chance to open a chasm of blame for Donaghue and leapt at it eagerly.

"Today," Fisher stumbled to think, "the last few hours."

"You had his sister," Carlotta narrowed his eyes at Fisher.

"I donít know what you mean. Pat was doing me a favour. He did say he might have to buy a little time though. I guess you know what that means more than I do."

Carlotta turned, absolutely livid to have been denied so great a prize.

"Danny! Patrick Donaghue, five million, dead or alive. Now!" Turning back as his henchman left to make a call, Carlotta straightened his shoulders and stared Fisher squarely in the eyes. Fisher was suppressing a smirk and making a poor job of it. It was a double triumph for Fisher; he was to keep his syndicate and Donaghue had a price on his head, all in the same afternoon. It was highly satisfactory. Without a further word, Fisher watched as Carlotta swept ungraciously out of the office.

"Iím sorry, Josh, but at least weíre still alive, yes?"

 

***

 

Matt Riordan approached Fisherís office, surprised to find the door open. At the window, he saw Fisher staring out, swirling a very large glass of whisky. Knocking on the open door frame, Riordan tried to assess Fisherís mood.

"Mr Fisher, I saw the ambulance leaveÖ"

Fisher turned. Far from anything Riordan expected, Fisher seemed jubilant. All the lines of stress, which had accumulated on his face over the past few weeks, seemed to have lifted. Fisher appeared simply euphoric.

"Matt!" Fisher called as he saw Riordan still standing in the doorway. "Come in! Come in! Have a drink. I feel like celebrating!"

Riordan walked in slowly. "Sir, the ambulance?"

Fisher frowned briefly. "Josh," he replied with a sigh. "But heíll be all right, the doctorís sure of that. Carlotta had his men beat him up."

"Carlotta? Heís been here?" Riordan paused. "And gone? The money? Was I in time?"

"You donít know?" Fisher grinned at him. "Yes you were on time. I thought it was the end, I really did, but you came through, Matt! And the best bit? Carlotta thinks Donaghue double-crossed him!"

"Heíll kill him!" Riordan replied, concerned.

"Anybody will! Heís put a price on his head so high that even youíd consider it!"

"How much?"

"Five million."

Riordanís eyes grew wide at the sum. "You didnít tell Carlotta about Pat being with Spectrum, did you?" he asked, suddenly concerned.

"No, unfortunately all the reasons that were there for saying nothing before are all the greater, thanks to this. Itís not a Spectrum connection any more, it would be Spectrum involvement. Even the slightest investigation by Carlotta would reveal that I lied to him about the account. Heíd think we were controlled by Spectrum and Iíd be dead." Fisher sighed and grinned again. "But this is a celebration! Weíre back in business, thanks to you, Matt," he continued, pushing an equally large measure of whisky into Riordanís hands.

"He got Sarah out."

Fisher raised his eyebrows. "That sounds more like a statement than a question."

Riordan gave a short laugh. "I got a call from Tyler just as I got here."

"Where is he?" asked Fisher. "Keeping out of my way?"

"Out of everyoneís way," Riordan laughed again. "He and Harper are locked in the strongroom. I said Iíd go round and let them out."

"Let them stew!" Fisher snapped.

"Iím in no hurry," shrugged Riordan. "But it seems that Harperís jawís broken," he added with a smile.

Fisher grinned on hearing the reply; well aware of Riordanís extremely low opinion of Harper.

"Out of curiosity, Matt," Fisher paused as he took a sip from his glass. "What were the passwords?"

Riordan smiled. "Would you believe, Abbott, Fisher and James?"

 

***

 

Magenta placed the receiver back on the cradle with a satisfied smile. Back on Cloudbase, with the Mysteron threat over, Magenta had contacted Sarah and was overjoyed to hear that she was well and not letting the trauma of her ordeal affect her too much.

"Sheís okay," Magenta confirmed with a relieved smile.

Ochre sat at the table in Magentaís quarters absently turning the coffee mug in front of him. "Genuinely okay or ĎDonaghue okayí?"

"Youíre suggesting we lie?" asked Magenta with an amused smile.

Ochre shrugged. "Youíre suggesting you donít?"

"We gloss the truth a little, perhaps," he grinned.

"AnywayÖ" began Ochre.

"I knew it!" Magenta cut in. "Youíve been playing with that cup for ages, I knew there was something on your mind."

"Yeah, well," Ochre replied uncomfortably.

"Come on, out with it!"

You remember, when James had you?"

"Iím not likely to forget that in a hurry," Magenta sighed.

"Well, Scarlet and I went to Spectrum HQ pretending we were trying to track Pat Donaghue, the criminal."

"Charming!"

"We had to find you, Pat. We didnít have much to go on."

"Okay, so why tell me this now?" asked Magenta giving in to the logic.

"We never got round to telling them that weíd found you, so anything with your name on it is being passed to us," Ochre explained.

"Oh yeah? And whatís got my name on it?" asked Magenta suspiciously.

"This."

Ochre handed Magenta a folded sheet of paper. Opening it, Magenta read its contents with astonishment.

"Carlotta wants me dead? Five million! I donít get it, IÖ" Magenta paused as realisation dawned. "Matt broke the code, he must have done. Fisherís got his money and Carlotta thinks I betrayed him!"

"Well," Ochre tried to be positive, "it shouldnít be a problem. Youíre Captain Magenta now; youíre not likely to be easily mistaken for a mob boss now, eh?"

"I bet Fisherís delighted!" Magenta snapped angrily, ignoring Ochreís words.

"Yeah, well, you gave him a run for his money, Pat," Ochre tried to cheer him. "And Sarahís okay too."

"I wanted to see him fall," he replied broodily.

"I know. So did I," Ochre reflected. Rising, he patted Magenta on the back. "Come on, letís go."

"Where?" asked Magenta.

"Sickbay. I hear Greyís still bored and as if to rub it in, Scarletís been and gone already."

"Poor old Brad!" Magenta smiled mischievously. "Yeah, letís bug him!"

 

THE END

 

 

This story is based on characters created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

 

Some events and characters Copyright © of all trademarks materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, Stingray, all characters, vehicles, crafts, etc.), owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.  Information of the series are all been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V.  media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.

 

OTHER STORIES BY SUE STANHOPE

 

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