a Captain Scarlet story by Fred Walker
Paul Metcalfe of the UK stood at attention in uniform before his superior officer. All were gathered in the command centre, Cloudbase. It was 2069, and the War of Nerves with an unseen extraterrestrial enemy was now into its 2nd year. Bomb plot after bomb plot, assassination attempt after assassination attempt ... the terrorist attacks from the race called the Mysterons were unrelenting; and, maddeningly, were always preceded by threats, cleverly worded to leave out the one clue needed to thwart them, a clue Spectrum always had to race against time to find ...
Now the latest threat, broadcast, as per usual, in English, at a random time interval, on all Spectrum channels, from an impossible-to-trace source. The latest threat? That the Mysterons would sink the economy of NAFTA til it was "cradled by the waves." Nobody knew what that meant. But that wasn't why he was nervous.
No, the reason Captain Scarlet was nervous was that on this morning, Paul Metcalfe's face was the only thing scarlet about him. The aforementioned uniform was a somewhat lighter hue.
"Colonel White," our hero at long last managed to stammer, "make Destiny Angel stop picking on me!" The assembled captains and lieutenants of Cloudbase howled with laughter. Except for Paul's best friend Adam Svenson. The tall Norwegian-American officer known as Captain Blue merely looked at his feet in embarrassment. Female agents exchanged high-fives.
Spectrum agents came in both genders. Men were code-named after colours, and wore spiffy uniforms with high boots and black pants, zippered jackets brightly done up in their code-colour, flashy epaulets and miked caps with the Spectrum logo, a stylized letter S over a rainbow field. The ladies looked more conservative, in dull coverall flight suits, but they were permitted by rank to wear their hair long if they chose. Most did. All the current Angels were attractive, leading to the joke that Cloudbase was HQ because Spectrum men had died and gone to Heaven.
Colonel White was dressed the same as the other male agents. His only insignia of office was his uniform's dominant colour, which consisted of all colours combined, as all functions of Spectrum were ultimately his personal responsibility.
"Let me see if I understand correctly. You came back dirty and dishevelled last night from your dangerous mission in the sub-Sahara, and Destiny, being a typical woman who knows her place, offered to wash your uniform for you. Naively thinking this meant she really likes you, and is just too shy to say it, you decided to give the girl a break and let her scrub your clothes. Whereupon Destiny, sort of accidentally on purpose, washed it at too high a temperature setting, and the colour faded. All morning long your professional colleagues have been calling you 'Captain Pink,' striking effeminate, limpwristed poses and blowing kisses as you pass on the walkway. Does the preceding summary about cover it?"
Paul tried not to look at the floor. "Yes, sir."
Colonel White glared at the offender, who set her own jaw and glared right back. After a tense moment of silent defiance, it was the Colonel who first showed a hint of a smile. "Good one, Destiny. I enjoy a little joke, as long as it's at somebody else's expense.”
“Now then. I've called you all here to discuss a pressing matter concerning the Canadian Football League."
Puzzled glances were exchanged around the room. Captain Blue spoke up for all of them. "Excuse me, Colonel, you did say Canadian Football League?"
"Yes. CFL for short. Their championship match is this coming weekend. League attendance is down, so it's good public relations for them to donate a pair of tickets -- right on the 55 yard line, I might add. Ordinarily, I am instructed to decline free offers from our grateful public. I was never prouder of that policy than the time our friend Captain Pink -- so sorry, I meant to say Captain Scarlet -- accepted the anonymous donation of a case of champagne. While you lot all got blotto, the Mysterons attempted to sabotage our Atlantica base, and they very nearly succeeded."
They all had the decency to look embarrassed. It had been Spectrum's worst hour, the lowest point of morale.
"However," the Colonel said in a more promising tone of voice, "it seems that this year's Grey Cup game is to be played in Ottawa, the NAFTA capital, where we have some legitimate Spectrum business to conduct, 'on the QT.' The sort of thing where standard duty dress, a convoy of SPVs and a brass band would attract attention. Accepting these tickets is heaven-sent cover." More kindly. "Captain Scarlet. I'd say you've earned a few days leave. Do you follow the sport?"
"I do, sir." He turned to Blue with a thumbs-up, as if to say, hey bud, we're going to the game.
"No, not with Adam."
"I agree," Destiny piped up in her thick Parisian accent, which the cattier gossip said was fake. "Captain Pink and his special friend have been seeing far, far too much of each other lately. Why, people are beginning to talk."
The Colonel turned to her. "When I want your opinion, Destiny, I'll ask for it. Scarlet, you and Captain Blue have had too many highly-publicized adventures, side by each and one with t'other. The sight of the two of you together in public would raise awkward questions. It looks more innocent if you bring a date."
"You mean a girl. At a football game?"
"Yes, a girl," explained Destiny. "You know, one of those soft, lumpy, squishy things that you have never held ..."
"Destiny, that's more than sufficient. Captain Scarlet. You and a female agent will shuttle down tomorrow to Mirabel Airport. From there, commercial transport booked by Lt. Green will take you to your hotel in Ottawa. You may amuse yourselves as you please on Saturday. On Sunday you will attend the game. Afterwards, you will rendezvous with other agents, who will give you your assignment. Think of this as a working vacation."
"Excuse me, Colonel," Paul ventured to ask, "but I must enquire ... who is the female agent going with me?"
"I thought that I might leave that selection to you, Captain. Whoever you choose will be posing as your girlfriend. She must be seen with you, holding hands and letting you kiss her. She has to laugh at your little jokes and pretend to be interested in your conversation, even when you're talking about football. Now then," he added, "does any qualified agent come to mind?"
One was doing a slow burn in front of them. Without looking at her, Paul pretended to ponder his choice. "I was just thinking that Destiny Angel is highly qualified for a mission of this sort."
The Colonel struck his forehead at how obvious it all was. "So she is. Couldn't have made a better choice myself. By the way, It's an outdoor stadium. Lt. Green, do you have a forecast?"
"Yes, Colonel, I do. High winds from the west, 40 degrees below zero, Celsius, and 80% probability of snow. A beautiful day for football," he added with a smirk.
Riding along the moving walkway back to quarters, Paul heard scurrying footsteps behind him and looked back. It was dark-skinned Melody catching up to him.
"Colonel White," she lisped teasingly, in her wimpiest voice, "make Destiny Angel stop picking on me!"
"Oh shut up," said Captain Scarlet.
So she put him in a headlock, stole his cap, and tossed it to the other Angels. It took him a while to get it back.
After the lot of them left, the Colonel turned, businesslike, to the work in front of him. The long, curving desk that filled half the room was covered with paperwork, and the huge multicolour banner behind it gave the airy chamber an atmosphere of grandeur. A wide screen provided a better observation of the interceptor launch area than did the Angel lounge, the Amber Room, which was located directly below the tarmac, and connected to it via a lift. For all that, it wasn't the high-tech, expensive surroundings that made the command centre important, nor was it the numerous mobile computer workstations built onto sliding panels in the flexifloor beneath their feet. It was the supremely controlled and vastly powerful figure of Colonel White himself who always made any room he was in the most important room in Spectrum. "You'll notice," he mentioned to his right hand man, "I didn't tell them to 'carry on.' In their present state, they were liable to take me literally."
The Trinidadian communications specialist grinned, pressing a button and sliding his chair a few metres closer.
"By the time they announce the MVP award, those 2 will either have killed each other or fallen in love."
The Colonel sighed romantically. "Ah yes. I rather hope it's the latter, don't you?"
Lt. Green made all the arrangements with his usual efficiency. Paul spent the Friday more or less by himself. He knew he had just pulled a dream assignment, in the opinion of most other officers, and he didn't want to be seen strutting around Cloudbase as though he were trying to rub it in. He had his meals sent to his quarters, and devoted the day to resting up from the sub-Sahara, picking out things he would need for his new trip, and watching a little HDTV. He was disturbed at the time devoted to Sir Randolph James, a scientist with the Society for Radical Scepticism, who seemed to be on every talkshow and newscast promoting his new bestseller Absence of Evidence: Why You Shouldn't Believe in the So-called Mysteron Threat. It was true, Paul was forced to admit as he listened to the book-touting author, that physical evidence for the Mysterons was slender at best ...
Cydonia. Planet Mars. 2068.
The Mars Expedition Vehicle crawled over a rise, and 3 astronauts enjoyed a panorama of the red surface. Conrad Turner was seated at the controls, with two other capable men on either side. Their mission was to investigate unaccountable but clearly artificial radio signals in this uncanny region, known to Earth astronomers for its regular, rectangular rises, pyramidal hills, and what was regarded by all observers as the weirdest feature in the Solar System: the apparent image of a helmeted humanoid face, visible only from above, and under certain lighting conditions. Previous missions had long ago decided that the surprises in Cydonia were natural wonders, nothing more. Professor Quatermass had proved that the only intelligent life form Mars had ever evolved had been a kind of large inspect, believed extinct for 5,000,000 years. Had someone else landed on Mars? Turner and his crew had been sent from Lunarville 7 to find out. Taking no chances with their astronauts' safety, the Lunarville rocket and the MEV were both armed to the eyeteeth with low-yield nukes. Turner was just about to turn back when an astonishing sight came into view: a functioning space complex, with domes and rovers.
One of the men cried out, "We didn't build that!"
At this point a cannonlike device began to swing over in their own direction. Some sort of scanner, trying to take a look at them? Or something more sinister? Turner didn't wait to find out.
"They're obviously hostile! Let 'em have it!"
Spectrum rockets levelled the strange base. Then --
It reformed, building itself back up in seconds before them!
It was then a deep, masculine Voice broadcast to them in their own language, sounding more than a little like Turner himself.
"THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX WILL BE PUNISHED. WE WILL TAKE OUR REVENGE SLOWLY, WITH A WAR OF NERVES, ENDING IN THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF YOUR PLANET. WE WILL USE ONE OF YOUR OWN MEN AS OUR CHIEF AGENT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED."
Shortly after his return to Earth, Captain Black resigned from Spectrum and openly took the Mysteron side. He was now the most wanted man in the world . . .
As he watched Sir Randolph fulminate on the tube, Paul knew it was a Hell of a tale. But he himself had battled the Mysterons, or at least their agents and booby-traps. He wished he could debate Dr. James on HDTV, and set him straight. But that was impossible. Paul Metcalfe, despite his world fame, had not been photographed, filmed or videotaped for any reason for almost two years.
After rising Saturday morning, Paul breakfasted, packed his suitcase and met a decidedly unfriendly but still quite gorgeous Destiny on the windswept launchpad. With nary a word exchanged, they took a Spectrum Passenger Jet (an SPJ) to Mirabel, where they then boarded an LRC for the NAFTA capital. Paul disliked trains, but as they were supposed to be off-duty, a Spectrum Patrol Car would send the wrong signal. A short, uneventful trip pulled them into Ottawa Station, where Paul again passed up an SPC, hired a gull-wing job (Oshawa made) and drove them to their downtown hotel. Scoring decent hotel accommodation in Ottawa during Grey Cup week was one of Green's minor miracles.
The rooms were on an upper floor, but high buildings all around made for an uninspiring view. Card-keys provided security, an essential in any Spectrum mission. The beds were small and cheaply made up, and the chairs and writing tables little more than adequate. He was sure he'd seen reproductions of "The Lonely Land" hanging in other hotels, and the HDTV on the plywood stand was an old model. It worked. That was the first thing he checked. But he didn't like the connecting washroom. And they still hadn't spoken.
That all changed when Paul plunked his suitcase down on his bed and began to unpack. There was a knock on his side of the washroom door. He stopped unpacking and answered it.
It was Destiny. "I heard that, Metcalfe."
"Heard what?" All innocence.
"You are unpacking a check jacket, aren't you?" she asked him rather more sternly than the situation warranted. He didn't really mind though. She was beautiful when she was angry.
"You heard checks?"
"I'm French. Out of my way."
She shouldered her way past our dauntless hero to the suitcase on the bed, and began to dig in -- in shock and horror, that is.
"As I suspected. Checks. Big checks. With wide lapels."
"They're nice and warm on my chest. Well, for polyester."
"Oh No! O God in Heaven no!"
"What is it? A bomb?"
"Worse. Horizontal stripes. Were you actually going to wear this shirt with checks?"
He waxed philosophical. "What are checks, but stripes in 2 different directions?"
"I can see why they call it retro-metabolism. I could strangle you with your own paisley tie. But alas, you are indestructible."
Then, our dauntless heroine, drawing on her national heritage, turned her gaze heavenward, and stated the following: "Faced with the impossible, what would General Charles de Gaulle have done? Given up? No! He would have surmounted the odds, to final victory. As a Frenchwoman, can I do less? I myself will make the sow's ear into the silk purse. This night, I will take you out on the town, and the heads of the Canadian women will turn in envy, not mockery. This I swear, or my name is not Destiny Angel!"
"Your name isn't Destiny Angel. It's Juliette Pontoin."
"Details. Come with me."
"Where are we going?" He stood, having listened to most of this from the foot of the bed.
"They must have shopping malls here. They are natives, not barbarians. To the front!"
The makeover of Captain Scarlet began and ended at a downtown megacentre called the New Rideau Complex. Destiny built his new look from the ground up. Plain oxfords with toe-caps were junked for jet-black clunky Cons. Brown slacks with cuffs gave way to designer stone-washed jeans, held up with a wild west buckle.
"How about a muscle shirt? I'd look cool in one of those."
"First, you would have to grow some muscles."
He refused her first choice of shirt, an oversized tee with the slogan "NEW WORLD ORDER: If you're not part of the solution -- the Black Helicopters are on their way!" So she had to put him in a pewter turtleneck.
"Hey look. Velcro bowties are on sale."
"Don't even think of it."
Over all, a knee-length, hideously expensive black leather coat, unbelted. She refused to let him wear shades, because, she said, "those sweet, innocent eyes of yours are your best feature."
"I thought my best feature was my manly, cleft chin."
"No. It is the eyes. Now, the hair."
The next stop was Pierre's House of Haute Coiffure. Destiny introduced herself to Pierre, and the two of them conferred quietly in French about the problem for some time, occasionally glancing at their subject, shaking their heads and murmuring "tête carrée." Finally, under her direction and instruction, Pierre banished the over-fullness on the top, and shaved the sides. The front was tousled for that sexy and harassed look, then, bowing to realism, she let Pierre wave it in layers instead.
Destiny: "should we use gel or mousse?"
Pierre: "You are in Canada, chérie. Zis is mousse country."
Outside the salon, Destiny put him through his paces. First she had him point down with both hands. Then she told him to fold his arms on his chest, and lean against a pillar.
"Now pout," she said. He did so. A gaggle of tween mallrats squealed with delight. "I don't suppose," she thought aloud, "that you would permit your ear to be pierced?"
He snorted defiance. "I suppose you think I'm chicken."
Sitting on her bed while she fussed over him with a safety pin, a cotton ball and a bottle of rubbing alcohol, our hero nervously asked, "Are you sure it's the right ear? I thought it was an earring in the left ear that was a sure sign of macho, and an earring in the right that was a sure sign of ..."
"Trust me," she told him. "When you return to Cloudbase with a lavender costume earring in your right ear, it will make a fashion statement that will not be subject to misinterpretation!"
But piercing Paul Metcalfe's ear proved an impossible task. Retro-metabolism interpreted ear-piercing as an injury, and every attempt of Destiny's healed up within seconds. Just as well, thought Paul as he went back to his room. He didn't entirely trust Destiny to put his earring in the correct ear.
Paul flaked out in his room, reading his favourite novel, The Puppet-Masters by Robert Heinlein. He didn't know why, but that particular story always gave him the creeps. A few chapters down, he remembered the time and dressed for dinner, which consisted of combing his new do, washing his hands and slipping the new leather coat back on from its lump on the corner of the bed.
One last look in the mirror on the back of his room's door, under the rates and checkout info. He could get used to it, maybe. He missed his long sideburns, but on that point Destiny had put her foot down, the sideburns must go. Paul thought about a quick shave, but Destiny said not to. The 5:00 shadow was sexy, she said.
He'd never considered himself a sexy man. He turned now, 3/4 to either side, adopting the kinds of come-hither poses male models always used in menswear catalogues. Was it an improvement, or was Destiny a little crazy? He wasn't the handsomest man in Spectrum. But he still wondered if he might have a chance. Adam was better looking than he was -- women liked blonde men, especially ones with warm, winning smiles. Paul knew he was the more serious type. Colonel White must have been a striking fellow in his younger days, with his steel grey hair, strong features and ramrod poise. And as much as he hated the man, there was no denying their enemy had always been a favourite with the ladies. Long and lean, with a pale, languid complexion, ink black hair perfectly styled, and now, his "dangerous fugitive" mystique ...
Paul decided he'd given his own ego enough of a beating for one night, so he took a deep breath, double-checked his watch and stepped out, locking up his room and going around the long way to knock on the front door like a gentleman for his date.
When Destiny opened the door, it was hard to recall that she was a soldier and trained killer. She'd done nothing special with her hair -- she didn't have to. Her freshly-washed golden streams looked great just the way they were. But her makeup was perfect, her high-heels gave her another three inches of statuesque hight, and her lime green cocktail dress was simply smashing, as an Englishman like Paul would put it. Even in the dingy hallway light, her zirconia necklace blazed. A faux-fur coat over her arm and a basic black purse over her shoulder completed the ensemble.
"Remember," she said, "fine French cuisine tonight, my treat. Tomorrow, at the big game, you may buy me a buffalo burger, a beer and a beavertail. That is our agreement."
He took her arm and led her to the elevator.
They found the hotel lobby crowded with strange young people in bizarre, colourful uniforms, not unlike Spectrum's.
"'Birders," Paul explained. "You know. Fans of that old TV show, Thunderbirds. They dress up as their favourite characters, and go to conventions. Probably all going to the game tomorrow."
The 'Birders gathered at the elevator. Destiny almost spat with contempt. "I hate those geeks. Hey, you losers! Get a life!" The 'Birders didn't seem to hear her. Paul widened his eyes, aghast. "Oh no," she groaned. "Not you too!"
"You don't understand," he tried to tell her. "It's not just a puppet show -- it's, why, it's supermarionation!"
She grabbed him by the arm and was about to haul him out to the cabstand, when 2 more teenage 'Birders, both girls, came in the front door. They looked at Paul, and liked what they saw.
"Isn't he cute?" one said.
"Yes," girlfriend agreed. "He looks just like Captain Black! You know, that drop-dead fugitive they show on the news!"
Paul turned to Destiny. He looked truly angry for the first time in her memory, and softly said, "So that's what this romantic escapade is all about. I'm a life-size action figure. You dress me up like him, so you can pretend you're with the Enemy of Mankind. Juliette Pontoin, you are a sick woman."
The tears came after he left.
The worry came hours later, when he didn't come back. As the hotel clock stuck ten, with no sign of Paul, her 1st thought was, the Mysterons have him. Her 2nd thought was even worse.
The Casino de Hull, located in the wilder and more liberal of the twin cities that comprised the NAFTA capital, had been in operation for almost 100 years. It was famous as a place to lose money in honest games and tasteful surroundings. Bilingual signs advertised the pleasures to be had within, and bilingual staff showed Paul in and offered to take his coat. He declined, he wasn't planning to stay long. He just needed to clear his head. He rubbed his reddened hands, an enjoyed the warmth of the foyer. He was here for one reason. To blow as much of his own money on mindless fun as Destiny had just blown on his "makeover."
Our hero considered the possibilities. Cards. 1-armed bandits. And his all-time favourite, the big roulette wheel. But first, there was a good-looking lady in a tuxedo jacket, serving drinks behind a mahogany bar, or she would be, if she had any customers. He resolved to help her with that little problem right away. So he drifted over and caught Tuxedo Lady's eye.
"My name is Metcalfe. Paul Metcalfe. And I like my martinus shaken, not stirred."
Tuxedo Lady was really built. But cold. She looked like she could chill the wine by holding the glasses against her skin.
"Don't you mean martini?"
"Dammit, bartender, if I want 2 drinks, I'll order them."
She didn't laugh. She just poured.
Several martini later (martinis? martinae?) he still wasn't feeling better. The conversation was confusing. Something about the future of the space program, once the War of Nerves was won.
A tug on his sleeve. He whirled around, fuzzily. "Julie?"
No, it wasn't Julie. It wasn't anyone he'd ever seen before. Unless it was Lauren Bacall, that actress from the 20th century.
"No," she purred, "but you can call me Julie if you want. What's your name, handsome?"
"His name is Metcalfe," said Tuxedo Lady to Lauren Bacall. "Paul Metcalfe. And he likes his martinus shaken, not stirred."
They laughed. He wondered if he should be insulted.
"Well, Secret Agent Man," said Lauren Bacall, "it doesn't look like Mr. Kuryakin is going to make your rendezvous. I haven't seen you here before. Civil servant? Military?"
"Spectrum," he stupidly told her. "Field agent."
"Oh," she said with a wink to Tuxedo Lady. "That Paul Metcalfe. I don't know why I didn't recognize the famous hero Captain Scarlet. Especially in your trademark jeans and leather."
More laughter. At him, somehow? Why? Another tug.
"Come, Secret Agent Man," she coaxed him gently. "I have a special assignment for you."
He let her lead him. He didn't really like Tuxedo Lady anyway.
"My luck has been really lousy tonight," she said as they walked through the crowded room. "And I suddenly remembered how in all those old movies, the hero's luck changes when a beautiful woman watches him play, or blows on his dice. Since I'm a woman, I figure I should have a handsome man to watch me play. And you, 'Paul Metcalfe' are the handsomest man in the house. Or would be, if somebody hadn't done a real job on your hair."
They arrived at her table. Everyone looked at him.
"I found my good luck charm. Let's rock and roll."
She rolled and lost.
And again. And again.
Lauren Bacall thought it over. "Maybe you should blow on my dice. For luck."
She handed him the dice, having to lift his right hand from his side to do it, and folding his fingers over them. He looked stupidly first at her, and then at his own raised hand. He could feel the dice within. Small, cubic, hard-edged. Dice in his hand. Like before. Like many times before. But something had happened the last time, something bad ...
"You blow on them, handsome. You know how to blow don't you?"
More laughter. He blew. She rolled again and lost.
So she traded places with him, and handed him the dice again. "We'll try it one more time. Let's do it the Hollywood way. You roll the dice, I look beautiful."
He thought about it. Her money, her risk. Why the devil not? He looked around the table and saw her friends. Happy people. Successful people. Men with wives, women with husbands. People with normal jobs and normal problems, people who didn't have to worry about hiding all their lives, people who were just themselves.
That's when he could have sworn he heard her say, "Go ahead, Earthman -- roll the dice."