A ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ story
Paul Metcalfe glanced over his shoulder one more time to be certain he was not being followed, then slipped into the bar.
His attempt to find somewhere secluded where there was no chance of recognition seemed to have succeeded. He was in a less than salubrious part of the old town, where the occupants were too interested in keeping themselves out of trouble to take any notice of a stranger.
The bar was small, dimly‑lit and half empty. He bought a drink and leaned on the end of the counter, intent on keeping his own company. He was no longer in pain, but the residual shock seemed to be taking longer than usual to wear off. He still felt a little weak. Although he had easily fooled Doctor Fawn into pronouncing him fit. He had needed to get away from the clinical oppression of the sickbay, and from Cloudbase itself. Even from Captain Blue.
Paul downed the drink, feeling it bum his throat and settle warmly in his stomach. It was unlike him to drink alone ‑ he knew the dangers of too many solitary sojourns with a bottle ‑butjust this once he really didn't care. How many times was it now he had died and been remade? He wanted to forget.
He subjected the hand holding the glass to close scrutiny. It bore fresh, new skin, still faintly pink and smooth. It had not yet re‑assumed the light tan of his other hand, or formed its natural lines and creases. The newly‑grown, fine, black hairs were just beginning to show on the backs of his fingers. But it would soon match the rest of him. In a few more hours he would be complete again, as if no tongues of fire had ever taken the flesh off his bones.
He glanced over his shoulder, but no one was watching him, He had given Blue the slip, but he knew his partner would find him eventually. Blue was nothing if not determined.
Inconspicuous in his turtleneck and black jeans, his identity was easily disguised; but he could do nothing about his dark good looks. One or two women had eyed him appreciatively, but when he kept his eyes averted they lost interest. All he needed was a few hours solitude, before he put back his duty‑face and resumed the burden of being Spectrum's number one; the legendary, indestructible, Captain Scarlet.
A sudden wave of nausea swept over him and his hand tightened on the glass, almost breaking it. He closed his eyes and leaned against the counter until it passed, then took a deep breath and straightened up. He felt a prickle of sweat break out on his body. Mysterons? He looked round quickly, but nothing had changed. It had been a long time since he had felt that premonition. So long, he thought the effect had entirely disappeared.
With assumed casualness, Paul walked to the juke box and pretended to read its contents, his eyes examining every corner of the bar. There were several dimly‑lit, secluded booths. One was unoccupied, one held a couple oblivious to their surroundings, and in the corner booth was someone he could hardly see. It looked like a man, dressed in dark clothes, sitting well back in the shadows. The candle on the table had been blown out.
Paul turned and walked Past slowly, assuming indifference while his keen, blue eyes searched the recess.
'Captain Scarlet?' The voice that spoke his name quietly from the shadowed corner was immediately familiar
That voice! He stopped dead, adrenalin washing away his former lethargy. He had no weapon, no Mysteron gun, not even a communicator. He tensed, ready to defend himself.
Captain Black's hands were on the table, and he 'made no move. 'I mean you no harm, Captain Scarlet. I request a truce.'
'A what?! Paul almost laughed. 'You must be mad.'
It had been some time since he had seen Black at close quarters, but the man appeared unchanged from their last encounter. Still hollow‑eyed and pale as death; his sunken cheeks shadowed by dark stubble
Black's emotionless voice was slow and deep. 'Sit, Captain. I cannot kill you here, it would take more than my hands, and that is all I have. The Mysterons have a proposition for you.'
Scarlet snorted. 'The Mysterons want me dead, that's all there is to it.'
'You must listen to me. I risk detection to speak to you.' Without its customary style of oratory, the Mysteron voice was less harshly alien; more human. Scarlet approached the table warily and remained standing, anticipating a trap. A bomb? Certainly not a simple conversation. It was hard to look at Black objectively. There was so little left in the cold, ravaged face of the charismatic man he had once known so well. 'I don't understand. What do you want with me?'
'To talk. For the sake of what we once were. Sit with me, Paul.'
The look in Conrad Turner's eyes took all the strength out of Scarlet's legs. He sat down suddenly. 'You remember my name?' There seemed to be an edge to Black's voice that had not been there before. Was there a change in him?
'I remember.' The voice was still toneless, but Scarlet was sure there was a difference.
'You can't do; I don't believe you.' Paul struggled to rationalise his feelings. 'You're not the real Captain Black. You're not Conrad Turner; you're a Mysteron copy of his body. The real Captain Black is dead. You killed him on Mars. You don't know anything about his past.'
'Are you so sure of that?'
'Yes.' Scarlet's affirmative sounded more certain than it felt.
'We were friends. Colleagues. Surely you remember that?'
'I might,' Paul said tightly, 'but I doubt that you do.' He fought to suppress the memories of working with the real Conrad Turner, but the past was too clear. The sight of his resurrected body sitting opposite was intolerable.
'I have come to warn you.'
'Warn me? About what?' Despite his inner conflict, Scarlet knew he must hear more. This was the first time he had ever engaged the Mysteronised Captain Black in conversation, or even been this close to him for any length of time. He had to find out the truth.
'Your life is in danger.'
'I know that. The Mysterons want me destroyed.'
'That is not what I mean.' Black's level intonation displayed no emotion, but he seemed to be speaking of his own volition. His eyes were fully alive, fixing on Scarlet's with dark intensity. 'I want to help you. You are not human, you are a Mysteron.'
That knowledge stirred a cold core of hatred. 'No I'm not!'
'You still have the body we gave you, which you believe to be immortal and indestructible. But you are wrong.' Conrad's eyes were dense, black shadows in his pale face. 'Captain Scarlet, you do not have long to live.'
Scarlet's dark brows drew into a frown. 'What are you talking about?'
'Your Mysteronised body will not last forever. Your regenerations will become slower. Quite soon now, you will begin to die. Your retro‑metabolism will fail and you will age, swiftly. Your body will decay.'
'I don't believe you,' Paul said levelly.
'Why should I lie? You suspect it already.' Black's eyes were cold and searching.
Scarlet felt as if they were looking deep into his soul. He forced his secret fears back where he could not be tempted to examine them. 'Why do you expect me to believe all this?'
'Because of the past.'
Scarlet reached out cautiously and touched his arm. 'Conrad?' The name was hardly fitting for the stranger wearing Turner's body. He seemed real and solid, but the pale flesh of his hand was like ice. This was no real human. But while there was the faintest hope, he still had to try. 'What do you remember about the past?'
'We were colleagues, and friends. Our first mission was to foil the terrorist attack on the Glenn Field plutonium barge.'
'That's not enough. Anyone could tell me that. If you're really Conrad, you can remember other things.' Paul searched for something no one else could have known that would not betray any secrets. 'Tell me why you chose the colour black.'
'To be invisible to my enemies.' The answer came easily, but without conviction.
Scarlet leaned closer. 'No, the words. Tell me what you said. And tell me why I chose scarlet.'
Conrad. There were too many memories he had put away with his grief. He thought he had convinced himself utterly that Conrad Turner was lost forever, but a remnant of hope was still buried deep within him, where no amount of common sense could stamp it out.
There was not a flicker of recollection, and Scarlet's faint hope withered. Conrad Turner's familiar wide grin painted a bright picture in his memory as he held out the colour‑chart to Colonel White. 'A guy like me, with a job like this, it's best to blend in with the shadows. I'll take black. 'There was no resemblance between him and the cold, caricature of the man who sat opposite Scarlet now.
'Scarlet is the colour of blood, and you chose it to identify with death. Let us help you. Become ours again, and we will renew your body indefinitely.'
'Become yours?' Paul said suspiciously.
'You have no loyalties to the Earthmen, you are not one of them. Give me your promise not to hinder us further, and we will help you. We will renew your life.'
Scarlet's mouth thinned. 'So that's what all this is about. You've given up trying to kill me, so now you're trying to buy me off instead. It won't work, Black. I pledged my life to destroying the Mysterons, and nothing you or anyone else can say will change my mind. I'd rather die right here and now than join you. You must know that.'
'You are already one of us. You are a Mysteron reconstruction.'
'No I'm not,' he said intensely. 'You made a mistake with me, I came back to life with all my memories and my own personality intact. There's nothing in me that belongs to the Mysterons except my regenerative powers, and I can't do a damn thing about that except use them against you. You murder innocent people, and subject the world to terrorism and wanton destruction; and for what? Revenge for our attack on your complex? Because we made one mistake on Mars all that time ago? Humans may not be perfect, but we know how to forgive and forget. We're a damn sight better than you bastards will ever be, with all your powers.'
Black's toneless reply contrasted starkly with Scarlet's emotion. 'Our power is invincible and our revenge will be complete. We shall destroy the Earth, with or without your help.'
He was nothing more than an alien invader, wearing Conrad's body like a shroud.
An uncharacteristic surge of hatred fired Scarlet's words. 'And I can tell you that you won't. Not while one single Earthman is left alive. I advise you to leave right now, Captain Black, before someone else from Spectrum finds you here and uses a Mysteron gun to blast you back where you belong. Unless you intend to kill me first.' Paul tensed, ready for anything.
'There is no need. You are already dying.' Black's haggard, dark eyes fixed on something over Scarlet's shoulder, but his expression remained unchanged. He did not even blink as the man he had seen approach stepped quietly to their table and aimed a handgun at his head.
'Don't move. I know who you are. One move and I'll blast a hole through you, and even if it doesn't kill you, it'll sure slow you down.' Even out of uniform, Captain Blue could command attention without raising his voice.
Scarlet looked round slowly, his voice quiet. 'Put the gun away, Blue.'
'Put it away, there's no point. You can't touch him.'
'Well I'm sure as hell not going to let him go on sitting there as if he owns the place,' Blue said hotly. 'He's a Mysteron! What's he doing here?'
'He's not here to kill me. He came to talk.'
'Talk! About who they're going to massacre next? Get out of the way, Scarlet.'
Black stood up slowly, ignoring Blue's weapon.
'You disappoint me, Captain Scarlet. All Earthmen are fools. If this man had the means, you would not even allow him to kill me. You have too much humanity.' It might have been intended as sarcasm, if the Mysterons possessed a sense of humour. But Scarlet knew they had none.
Black's voice lost its faint tinge of expression as he abandoned his failed mission. 'Remember my warning, Earthman. You will die, sooner than you expect. The Mysterons will be avenged.'
'You're not going to let him leave?!' Blue's fingers tightened on the trigger, but a swift chop of Scarlet's hand knocked the gun aside.
'Not in here, you fool.'
Black vanished. One moment he was there, standing at the table, and the next he was simply gone.
Blue gasped, unaccustomed to seeing the Mysterons' strange power demonstrated right in front of his eyes. 'We've lost him!'
'We never had him in the first place. He's a reconstruction. They can make him and remake him ‑ do whatever they want with him.' Scarlet knew the vast Mysteron computer complex could transport their copy of the body that had been Conrad Turner, anywhere they wished.
Blue was still furious. 'My God, I could at least have stopped him long enough for us to get hold of him and call Cloudbase. Maybe we could have got him back there. Why did you stop me shooting him?'
'You can't kill him. Don't you understand? No more than you can kill me.' Scarlet sat down again, passing a hand across his eyes, as if he could wipe away the whole incident. 'Adam, you know as much as I do, which is nothing at all. We don't know how they reconstruct people, or even what they're composed of. They look solid and real enough, but they're not. Black was real, I touched him, but he's not made of the same matter that we are. Or you are. I don't know about me.'
A cold shiver ran down his spine. He had always known that his indestructibility might be a fleeting thing. Each time he died he clung to life grimly, never able to fully convince himself that he would wake again. Black's words had been calculated to stir his hidden fears, and despite that knowledge, they had succeeded.
Blue took the seat Black had so recently vacated and looked hard at Scarlet. He could see the confrontation had affected his friend and partner deeply. He lowered his voice. 'Paul, what's going on? What were you doing here with him in the first place? Why did you go off like that?'
'I needed some time alone.'
'In a dump like this?'
Scarlet shrugged. 'It was as good a place as any to be inconspicuous.'
'Come on, pal, you're not exactly inconspicuous, even out of uniform. I had no trouble following your trail.'
Scarlet was not sure if he really welcomed the blond man's appearance, or his obvious concern. 'You shouldn't have bothered.'
'Dammit, what am I supposed to do when you vanish into thin air without so much as a word? Is that why you came here, to meet Black?' Blue sounded incredulous.
'No. They must have been watching me. He had a proposition for me, he wanted to make a deal. He wanted me to go over to their side.'
The American laughed shortly. 'They must be crazy. Why would they try something like that?'
'He wanted me to believe he was still Conrad Turner. He pretended he remembered who he used to be.'
Blue understood some measure of Scarlet's pained expression now. 'But he's not, is he? You knew him well enough to know it was a trick.'
'Yes. He knew some things, but not enough.' Paul could not even admit to himself that the Mysteron lie had almost succeeded.
'Was that it? I don't understand what they could offer you as an incentive. There's got to be more than that.'
Blue was too sharp. But the whole truth was more than Scarlet wanted to reveal. He had an image to uphold, even before his closest friend, and pride would not allow him to reveal the two real fears which lay beneath his tough facade. A premonition of the kind of death Black had predicted, and an abhorrence for the alternative. Eternal immortality. Living on alone while 0 his friends aged and died. He had never been able to decide which fate would be the worse.
Those secret fears belonged in the place where he hid the feelings which conflicted with his duty, and the hatred he harboured for the perfect body that was no longer truly his own.
'What else do you need?' His voice was brittle. 'I sat here talking to a dead man animated by a power we don't even understand.'
'And he couldn't fool you could he? You knew him too well.' Blue's calm, grey‑blue eyes held a wealth of unspoken understanding. 'Black really got to you, didn't he? You thought he could be Conrad again. You should have let me put a bullet in the bastard's skull, just for my own satisfaction.'
'Forget it, Adam. The real Conrad's dead and that's the end of it.' Scarlet passed a hand over his face again, running his fingers back through his thick, black hair. 'If I ever forget what we're fighting for, I'll only have to remember today. The war goes on.'
'For how long?' Blue sounded weary.
'As long as it takes. As long as I live. I don't know how long that's going to be, Adam, but it's all I have. I think perhaps I should have let you shoot him, even if it was a meaningless gesture.'
'I'm glad you see it my way, buddy. But I still don't know why you're here.'
'I told you. Being inconspicuous. Losing myself just for once in a place where no one gives a damn who I am.' The clipped English accent betrayed no hint of emotion, but Blue could read him better than that. There was something else. A basic instinct told him there was something more than the reappearance of a ghost from his past and the memories it unleashed.
He lowered his voice, although no one else was showing the slightest interest in their dimly‑lit corner. 'Paul, is anything else wrong? Is your regeneration all right? Have you healed like you always do? This is me, Paul. Come on buddy, give.'
Scarlet refused to be drawn. 'My retro‑metabolism is working perfectly. Nothing's wrong.' He unconsciously rubbed the new skin on the back of his hand. His attempt at a smile was strained. 'Everything else is fine, Adam.'
Blue looked unconvinced. 'Well, you could have fooled me, pal.' He was still concerned by Scarlet's aura of inner conflict, and the unexplained reason for his disappearance. Perhaps some time he would persuade Paul to talk about what really went on behind his impenetrable facade of hard efficiency. Now was obviously not the time.
He still found it difficult to look at Scarlet without remembering the last time he had seen his friend; a broken body whose charred skin had come off on his hands as he tried to move him. It still made him feel sick to think about. 'At least you look like yourself again,' he said thoughtfully. 'Until the next time you get trashed.'
'Until the next time,' Scarlet echoed. 'Whenever that is, I'll be more than ready, believe me. I'm fit for duty as soon as we return to Cloudbase.'
Blue spread his hands on the scratched, plastic table‑top. 'All right, forget I asked. So what now? We've lost that slippery bastard and there's no point looking for him around here. Do you want a drink?'
'No. I think your description was correct, Adam; this place is a dump. Let's get back to civilisation.'
'Whatever you say, buddy.' Blue stood up to leave, missing the brief flicker of apprehension in Scarlet's eyes as he rose to follow, glancing around the shadowed room. It was gone before he took another step.
There was no premonition this time, nothing to prepare Scarlet for what happened next. If any residual Mysteron perception remained, it was blocked by his active thoughts of when and where their next mission might occur.
Before they had walked more than a few metres along the darkened street the bar exploded in a thunderous ball of fire. The flare half‑blinded Scarlet, and the blast snatched at him like a giant hand, hurling him into Blue and throwing them both to the ground. Debris showered them and something struck Scarlet hard in the back, sending a sharp pain through his body. He blacked out momentarily, dimly aware of a background clamour composed of mingled shouts and screams, shrill alarm bells and the crash of failing masonry.
He lifted his head, choking on the fine dust that filled the air, his heart pounding wildly. When he managed to focus his eyes, the first thing he saw was Adam, lying motionless, face down in the debris, ash settling slowly across his fair hair.
He tried to get up and collapsed on his face again, searing pain washing over him as soon as he moved. He drew a deep breath, milling his body to begin its accelerated healing. If he had ever needed it to be fast, he needed it now.
He tried again, gritting his teeth as the effort almost blacked him out again. He dragged himself painfully to his knees and crawled to Blue, touching the back of his grey sweater.
'Adam!' He gently turned him over, feeling under his jaw for a pulse. There were abrasions on his face and his nose was bleeding, but he was alive.
As Scarlet raised Blue's shoulders and supported him in his arms his eyes opened. He blinked dazedly. 'Paul?' whispered. 'What happened?'
'A bomb. Black left a bomb.' Scarlet coughed, his mouth thick with grit.
Blue looked up dazed, hardly registering the tragedy. 'That's stupid. He can't kill you.'
'He can kill you. And everyone else.'
'The people ‑ in the bar?'
Scarlet did not even have to look behind him. 'There's nothing left.'
Men and women were spilling from the buildings around them, panic‑stricken and shocked, while the sirens of the emergency services bit through the night air. Scarlet wanted to join the rescuers digging at the pitiful remains of the building they had just left, but he knew he was incapable of taking more than a few steps. He stayed where he was.
Blue groaned as he shifted in Scarlet's arms and tried to sit up. Pain flared across various points in his body, concentrating in his left ankle.
'Don't move. Are you badly hurt?'
'Don't think so. My leg hurts.' Adam sat up slowly, painfully, running a hand down his leg. 'I think my ankle's broken.' He felt another stabbing pain in his chest and tried to breathe shallowly. 'Maybe lost some ribs. Nothing serious.' He registered his surroundings fully for the first time, seeing nothing but devastation, smoking ruins and the milling of shocked people in the shadowed twilight.
All the street lamps had been shattered except one, which sent a dim shaft of light through the cloudy air. Blue could see that Scarlet's hair was powdered with grey ash, and there was blood on his face, and on the flesh which showed through the bums and rips in his sweater. It dawned on him that Scarlet must have taken the full blast on his back, sheltering him from the worst. Probably the only reason he was still alive. 'You must be hurt, you were right behind me.'
'It's nothing. It'll pass.' Scarlet's back felt as if it were on fire, but he knew the pain would soon diminish; it was already dulling to a bearable level. Blood had stopped flowing from the gashes in his arm, already congealing and closing up, and he could feel the underlying itch of the skin knitting itself together. It gave him no satisfaction; knowing how many real human bodies lay in bloody shreds, victims of the same power that was remaking him.
'Why?' Blue asked again. 'What's the point in doing this?'
'It never makes any sense. Their logic doesn't work like ours. If they're trying to wear me down, they've got to know they'll never win. I'll die first. What hurts me most, Adam, is how many others are going to die as well. Just because of me.'
'Less than if you weren't around to help us fight them.' He saw that Scarlet could not believe that, and caught his arm. 'Paul, you make a difference. Don't ever let them make you think otherwise.'
'If you say so,' Scarlet said heavily.
'I say so, buddy.' Blue pressed a hand to his chest, feeling the stab of splintered ribs each time he drew breath. 'You gotta believe it.'
Scarlet was still holding Blue when two harassed paramedics reached them, picking their way through the jagged rubble.
'We'll take care of him now, leave him to us.' They swiftly eased Blue onto a stretcher and threw a silver blanket over him. One of them tried to assist Scarlet. 'You're hurt yourself, sir. Can you walk?'
'I'm perfectly all right, I don't need help. Save it for the others.' Scarlet fended him off, and bent over the stretcher. 'Adam, I'll call Cloudbase and get us picked up. You'll be back before you know it.'
He motioned the concerned medic away. 'Take him and I'll follow you.' He wanted no curious observers of the miraculous properties he possessed. He had to get them both back to Cloudbase at the earliest opportunity.
Why? Adam's question nagged at him. The Mysterons' reasoning was as incomprehensible as their alien powers. Why they should choose to kill a handful of strangers as a warning which had no chance of success, was beyond his power to reason. Or why Black had been charged with the role of messenger when his appearance would only serve to alienate Scarlet still further. And why had Black sounded, just for a moment, as if he were really accessing some of Conrad's mind? Was there still a hope that somewhere, somehow, a part of the long dead agent's mind did remain? Stored like a forgotten recording in some remote part of the alien computer complex on Mars? Scarlet forced the thought away, harshly stamping it into oblivion. He must never allow himself the weakness of that kind of speculation again. That way lay madness and despair.
There was a hard, cold anger in his eyes as he stared up at the night sky, looking beyond the dark clouds to the vast reaches of space. He had pledged his life to fight them, and every atrocity they committed only strengthened his resolve. Black and the Mysterons would pay for their acts of inhumanity, and their futile attempts at revenge.
They had not succeeded in killing Adam. The strength of Spectrum was still complete. They would go on fighting the Mysterons, the two of them together, until the threat was beaten back to its alien home.
The will to succeed was a steel inside him that set his face in the cold expression of duty which had long become second nature. The only face he could present to the world, and to the Mysterons. Even without the uniform, he was still Captain Scarlet, and the enemy's attempts to subvert him only served to emphasise their fear of his own personal contribution to their final destruction. A subtle change came over him, pulling his pained body erect and hardening his blue eyes to sapphire ice.
Paul Metcalfe drew a deep breath and forced himself to ignore the burning deep across his shoulders and the backs of his arms and legs, where the blast had scared his flesh. He knew that by the time he reached Cloudbase Doctor Fawn would have little repair work to do.
He limped slowly to the operations vehicle that had just drawn up, knowing that his Spectrum pass would gain instant access to Cloudbase communications. Motivated by a determination which owed more to the basic tenacity of his character than the magic of Mysteron retro‑metabolism, his walking became slightly easier with every step.
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