a Captain Scarlet story by Fred Walker
Earthman. Earthman? Had she really said that? No, no, what she said was Secret Agent Man, the nickname she'd been using for him all night, since she didn't believe he was really Captain Scarlet. But the moment of terror saved him. He put down the dice.
"No," he said. "I don't think so."
Then he quietly headed for the doors.
Lauren Bacall was miffed for a while, but her mood improved when her luck did. She was doing quite well when she was tapped on the shoulder by a young, attractive lady in a smashing green cocktail dress and with long, blonde hair. The girl was frantic. Either she had "the fever," or she was looking for someone.
"A .. tall man," said the blonde with the phoniest-sounding Parisian accent she'd ever heard. "Dark hair. Very good looking. I want to find him."
"Don't we all."
"He is dressed in black. He has a fresh haircut, very chic."
"He told you his name!"
Lauren sneered. "Paul Metcalfe, or so he says. Captain Scarlet himself. Who are you, Symphony Angel?"
"Sure, sure ... oh, I get it. You're role-playing, to spice it up. I'm sorry, I'll play along. Symphony Angel, you have missed your rendezvous with Captain Scarlet. Agent Scarlet has proceeded to the terrace, to reconnoitre for Mysterons. Is that better?"
"Much better. And it is Destiny. How much did he lose?"
"He beat the house!"
"Nobody beats 'zee house,' Blondie. He wouldn't gamble. Just drank and watched." She told her the whole story.
"Thank you so much." Destiny headed for the terrace.
"You go, girl! He's too cute to lose. Square, but cute."
She found him under the floodlights, looking out at the Ottawa skyline from across the river. "Paul, are you all right?"
"No. I'm drink. I mean ... drunk. I'm an ass. I'm sorry. I don't know why I said what I said."
"Because it was true. I was arrogant. I was trying to change you. But not into ... into who you think. It is true. Evil can be attractive. Nobody ever said our enemy wasn't a good looking man. Sometimes I think about him, purely as a man. But he is evil, and you are good."
"I'm square. I know. I've got no right to think you could think of me the way you think of him." He sighed deeply, and looked at the moon. "It's not easy, Julie."
It was the first time he talked about it. Maybe it was the liquor. Maybe it was the starlight. More likely, it was the girl.
"I didn't ask to be indestructible. I didn't ask for retro-metabolism. At the time, I didn't even know such a thing existed. I didn't want the Mysterons to take over my body for 6 hours! Everyone calls me a hero. I feel like a freak. Things that would kill or cripple another man just knock me down, and I bounce back. But I still feel the pain, even if I recover in minutes or hours. How many times have I been shot? I've forgotten. Would you believe it? I don't even recall the number of times hard lead slugs have ripped through my flesh."
She couldn't say a thing.
He went on.
"And because I'm indestructible, I'm always first in line for a dangerous assignment ... and they're all dangerous. So it's always 'You go first, Paul, and see if it's safe.' Colonel White said to call this a 'working vacation.' What other kind do I get? And I daren't refuse. I can never say, 'Gee, Colonel, I'm beat. I've been running all over the Solar System fighting alien invaders for 2 straight years, and I'd really like to take just one week of honest-to-goodness furlough, and turn on my HDTV or read a book. Could you send Captain Magenta?' Certainly not! Captain Magenta might get killed. I can't be killed except by 100,000 volts of electric shock, which you’ll admit is a rather unlikely event. So I can't very well shirk my clear duty by letting somebody else go. So it's ‘Captain Scarlet to the rescue,’ again and again and again ..."
He paused for breath. "I hate this, Julie. This gene, or virus, whatever it is the Mysterons gave me without my knowledge or consent. A dozen times a day I say simple little things like 'I'd kill for that promotion,' or 'Boy, that girl's to die for,' or 'This stupid project will be the death of me yet.' And everyone looks at me like, yeah, you'd know. I never get sick, I never get taken care of, I never get sympathy. I'm just the biological robot drone that was captured from the Mysterons and 'turned around.' Do you remember what Colonel White said when I recovered from my 800 foot fall from the Car-Vu lookout? 'Captain Scarlet may well prove to be out most valuable weapon against the Mysterons.' Weapon, Julie. Not agent, or man, or friend. Weapon. Ever since they did what they did to me, that's all I've been. I know I'm ungrateful. 99 out of 100 men and women would give anything to never have to worry about injury or disease. The gods have been kind to me. They've made me a Great Man. They just didn't know how much I liked being an ordinary man."
Paul wasn't thinking clearly, she realized. There was no way he should by saying these things in possible earshot of civilians. Fortunately, it was a cold night, and the casino's patrons were all happily losing their money indoors.
But she couldn't think of anything to say.
He leaned over the railing and looked at the frozen water in the darkness. "They have doubts. Yes, Julie. Everyone wonders. Why did the Mysterons give me this wonderful, incredible power? ... And why did they let me go?"
"Nobody thinks that. No!"
"Why not? I do. There was a charge on last month's phone bill. A twelve minute call from my Winchester flat to Boston. At 2 am. I complained to the phone company. They admitted it was a mistake, and they didn't charge me. But was it a mistake? I live alone, Julie. Nobody watches me as I sleep. How do I know he wasn't in Boston that night? How do I know that in the middle of the night I didn't get up at a prearranged time, go to the phone, and ..."
"You certainly did no such thing!"
"It's far from certain, Julie. There is a spy within Spectrum. The Mysterons always seem to know far more about us than outside surveillance could have told them."
"Captain Black ..."
"Cannot be used to explain everything. There's a lot of debate about Captain Black. Some think the first Conrad Turner is dead, and this 'Captain Black' is just a duplicate, made when the Mysterons had no other model for the human form -- the same reason they presumably use his voice as their model for spoken English. Others think it's the real Captain Black, but he's hypnotized like I was, and could only answer direct questions, if they already knew what to ask. A small minority, myself among them, think he's a flat-out turncoat, that something happened to his mind when he realized what a genocidal blunder he'd committed, and now he's thrown in with the other side. But even if I'm right, Turner could only tell them things he knew before he quit Spectrum in disgrace. And the Mysterons know things he couldn't have told them. Do you remember the Monte Carlo Affair?"
"Take it as a warning about me. The Voice of the Mysterons threatened the life of Andre Something-or-Other, that well-known French designer. Only he was really our top counter-intelligence man in Europe. Black didn't know that!"
"I went undercover as a model. Silly, insipid creatures ..."
"Then there was that time in America. The casino."
"You were on special assignment."
"I almost blew it. Colonel White knew about my problem and decided to use it as a cover. I was to gamble on duty, and lose a few credits, a small sum. He would have his excuse to 'fire' me, so the Mysterons, thinking I was bitter and feeling hard done by, would attempt to recruit me."
"They did. It worked like a charm."
"It wasn't as smooth as you think. I started at the roulette wheel that night. I dressed like James Bond and tried to make as big an impression as I could. There had to be witnesses who would remember me. I'm sure they did. I couldn't stop. I lost 5,000 Earth credits that night. More than my life's savings. Colonel White was entirely justified in canning me. No cause to complain. I had to go to mobsters to cover the debt. Fortunately, those mobsters were fronting for the Mysterons. And fortunately, the Mysterons were so desperate to back-engineer a Spectrum Persuit Vehicle that they didn't look too closely at the motives of the disgruntled ex-agent who was offering to sell them one."
There was a long pause. Then, a long, deep breath.
"How do I do it, Julie? What do I have to do to convince Spectrum and myself that I'm really loyal? If I succeed, then of course he succeeded, he's a superhero. He could just be setting us up to betray us later. And if I fail, or almost fail, knowing glances are exchanged. If we hadn't been watching him closely ... What to do? How do I prove my courage when everybody knows that I'm never in any real danger?"
She held him closely and whispered in his ear. "Your lady gambler told me everything."
"How I chickened out?"
"How she practically forced dice into your hand, and you didn't play. Courage, my friend? There it is. There are worse things to face than physical harm. In America, you faced the thing you most fear, to serve your government. It is not that you succeeded or failed, but that you did it. You are loyal and brave, Paul Metcalfe. You are a man, not a monster."
A man in black came into the casino. Sometimes he thought about dressing in other colours, but as black was now the fashion, he knew he wasn't causing too much of a stir. There was a lot of nostalgia these days for the Black Helicopters of the 20th century, now recognized as the first generation of Angel aircraft in the days when the New World Order was still a clandestine organization, before openly declaring itself as the World Government. Besides, he liked the gamble of maybe being spotted. And what better place to gamble than the Casino de Hull?
Conrad Turner saw that the lady at the mahogany bar was busy, so he pretended interest in a dull game of 21 til she was free --what he needed to discuss with her shouldn't be overheard.
Then he drifted over to Tuxedo Lady, ordered beer, and pulled up a barstool. As he had a good, long sip she said, "He's here."
"Of course he's here. He's Captain Scarlet. Where else would he be but the only world-class casino in 100K? Is he alone, or is he with that blonde Norwegian?"
"She's blonde, all right, but I don't think she's Norwegian. She stopped by and asked about him soon after he came in."
A look of concern came over him. "Cheap French accent?"
"The accent was cheap," she told him. "The woman looked considerably more expensive."
"Damn." He took another swig. "Destiny Angel. I wasn't counting on her. We may have to change our plans."
She smiled. "How sweet. You like her, and you don't want her caught in the crossfire."
"Not quite. I hoped he'd bring Blue, who's as thick as a post. Julie has enough brains for both of them. Did you make the drop?"
"Natch. It wasn't hard, I just got him talking about the future of the space program after ..."
"I don't need details." Turner took out a silver cigarette case, which was really a palmtop computer. He surreptitiously tapped a couple of buttons, and a light lit up on the tiny screen. "There he is -- big as life." Satisfied that the trace was working, he slipped the palmtop back into his pocket.
"What I don't understand," asked Tuxedo Lady, "is why he's here so openly. He was wearing different clothes, but he didn't have a false moustache, and he was using his real name."
"That would be the good Colonel's idea," Turner explained. "Hide in plain sight. Spectrum field agents always use their own real names. The cover isn't that Metcalfe isn't in town, it's that he's in town for some innocent reason."
"We make bloody well sure it works. If the good Colonel ever caught on and started putting his agents in disguise, we'd never be able to find them!" He laughed and drank. "That's the reason for the tickets. We know Spectrum is up to something in Ottawa, and we've got a pretty good idea what it is. But we can't just make our move Sunday night -- that would tip them off that hiding in plain sight doesn't work. We needed something to lure Metcalfe into town a few days early, so we can pretend he was spotted by accident. Since it's Grey Cup weekend ..."
"The game is sold out. How did you get tickets?"
"Who do you think printed them in the first place?"
"The CFL is run by ..."
"Don't use the word."
"... by our kind of people?" She thought it over. "You know, that explains a lot."
Turner finished his drink and paid.
Tuxedo Lady smiled at him, coyly. "I don't suppose you have any to spare?"
He smiled warmly and reached into another pocket. "You're well ahead of me, my dear. A pair of them, right on the 55 yard line. On the opposite side of the field. I'll use my binoculars -- we'll be directly across. They will be looking at the game, and they won't suspect a thing. Assuming you like football. And assuming you're willing to go with me."
Both were accurate assumptions.
Paul and Julie killed the evening at a Hull restaurant called the Cafe Henry Burger. Julie was relieved to see "Henry Burger" was the name of an early settler. Instead of a fries and hamburg joint, it was an elegant French bistro.
After tourenados Rossini and crepes Suzette they sampled an unusual Niagara wine, which tasted like the smoke of a fine cigar.
"A wonderful idea, the Canadian vintners have," Paul quipped. "Sure to wean young people off smoking. Now, they can all die of kidney failure instead of lung cancer."
Julie looked around her furtively. "I wonder if any of these people are Mysterons?"
"We can only hope."
"It's Colonel White's idea. It's called 'Hide in Plain Sight.' I hope there is a Mysteron watching us right now. He or she will duly report that Captain Scarlet and Destiny Angel are in Ottawa, but they're making no effort to conceal themselves. Kiss me."
"Someone might be watching us. Lean over and kiss me."
She got his point and did so. He didn't mind at all.
"This works?" she asked suspiciously.
"Of course it does. Never fails. They always fall for it."
The band struck up Paul's favourite song, "I'm Your Puppet" by The Drifters. He didn't know why, but that old song always got to him. He asked Julie to dance, and they took a turn on the floor.
When they returned to their table, Julie explained to him that she had her suspicions regarding "that casino woman."
"No, not her. The other one. The lady selling the drinks ..."
"Tuxedo Lady. Why?"
"The bartender is one to whom men tell their affairs, or so they say. And, well ..."
"You can say it Julie. And the only casino in town is the place I'm sure to be found. It can't hurt me, it's only the truth."
"What did you think of her?"
"She's no Mysteron. She didn't ask me a thing about Spectrum. She spent the whole evening telling me about her organization. Where the devil's that card?"
Paul fumbled in his pocket. At last he found what he was looking for, and produced it with a smile of success. "Here it is. Her card. She made me an honourary member."
"Oh no. Paul, what have you joined?"
"It's just a club, an advocacy group. She and her friends support the idea of putting a permanent manned space colony in a stable orbit between Earth and the Moon."
"No no no."
"Yes, I think it's a great idea! These stable points are called Lagrange Points, and are numbered 5 and 7..."
She ripped the card from his hand. "No Paul. You didn't join the L7 Society!" She looked at the card, her worst fears confirmed.
The L7 Society
"Hey, good guess. You've heard of them?" Paul was vaguely aware that their conversation had been overheard, and women at all the surrounding tables were breaking into laughter.
Julie turned red and told him, keeping her voice as soft as she could. "L7 means square, Paul. Square. Four corners. A real L7. Women give these cards to square men, to mark them for other women. She was laughing at you Paul. She was laughing."
But not as loud as the fashionable ladies at the next table, who were now openly pointing at Paul and sharing the joke!
He pretended he didn't see them, pretended it didn't hurt.
"At least ... at least it proves she wasn't a Mysteron."
"Give me that stupid thing." She took the card and put it in her purse, never suspecting that the word "society" was dotted with a Mysteron microdot. "Let's pay and go."
And so they did, to howls of feminine glee.
"Welcome once again to Masters of the Unknown, the show where we meet interesting people who claim to know the awful truth about the paranormal! My guest is a member of the Society for Radical Scepticism, and author of Absence of Evidence: Why You Shouldn't Believe in the So-Called Mysteron Threat -- Sir Randolph James!"
"Please turn off the HDTV Paul. I cannot bear that idiot."
"I just want to hear what he's going to say, Julie."
They were back at the hotel, drinking cola from the machine down the hall, and sitting on the bed in his room.
Paul peered at the set as the ascotted Longfellow Hall interviewed his equally dapper guest.
"So you see, all this nonsense goes back to the flying saucer fad of the 20th century."
"There are those who suggest that the flying saucers may have represented primitive contact with the Mysterons."
"Poppycock and piffle."
"But the World Government tells us ..."
"I suppose you believe everything the government tells you. Have we learned nothing from the conspiracies of the past? Governments always lie to the people to prop up their own shaky claim to power. There is, no longer, any external enemy to fight. So one was invented, by the super-secret outfit known as Spectrum. The Mysterons are a government hoax!"
"I'm going to shower." This was Julie, as she closed the washroom door, running the water.
Paul turned up the volume.
Julie's shower and Sir Randolph's rant both went on for quite some time. The man's essential point was that interstellar travel is impossible, so there are no such things as UFOs. His two favourite sayings proved to be "It can't be, therefore it isn't," and "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," the latter a quotation from Carl Sagan.
By the time Julie exited the washroom, towelling her long blonde hair and wiping moisture from her eyes, the set was turned down and Paul was on the phone. She quickly realized he had called the phone-in portion of the program, and was now debating James on live HDTV. She wondered if this was a good idea.
"A pleasure to have you on the air at last, Mr. Metcalfe," said the host, "we've invited you a number of times."
"I'm not at liberty to make personal appearances."
"No doubt," sneered James, "you're much too busy battling evil alien invaders. Or maybe you're just afraid to face your critics."
"I'm not scared of anything."
"I forgot what a Great Hero you are ..."
It was difficult to follow the argument, with Paul having his back to her and talking into a telephone, and his opponent on a tiny screen at the other end of the room with the volume low. So she snuck back through the connecting washroom to her own side, closed the intermediary doors, and clicked on her own set to watch it "on the tube" like the rest of Canada.
It was a depressingly one-sided affair.
The first question from James had been something like "What does a Mysteron look like?" To which Paul had been forced to answer "We don't really know." It didn't get much better. Paul could not explain how the Mysterons had conquered the light speed problem. He could only insist that Mysterons had indeed been encountered on Mars. James wondered why there was so little proof. Paul cited Turner's report and the deaths of two good men. James pointed out that the only living witness for First Contact was a man now denounced by Spectrum itself as a traitor. Paul cited the mission's gun camera film. James sneered that it only showed some sort of scientific centre in a rocky landscape being blown up by a missile, and could be stock footage from Desert Storm. The reformation of the base, according to James, was a simple matter of running the same film backwards. "Even low-budget kiddie shows in the 1960s had such effects." James called for photos of Mysteron craft in flight, and was told they duplicate ours when on Earth -- an argument that sounded lame even to Julie, who knew it was true (she had once been fired on by an exact model of her own plane.) But Sir Randolph reserved his greatest scorn for Paul; specifically, his survival after the Car-Vu incident. Paul could only claim a "miraculous recovery," as his lips were sealed. The fact that Paul himself had somehow acquired Mysteron powers was a closely guarded secret that he was not at liberty to reveal. Sir Randolph mused aloud about Billy Bishop, an ordinary airman of WWI whose exploits had been outrageously exaggerated by the RCAF as, in wartime, the people needed their hero.
Julie clicked off the set, almost in tears. There was no point to watching a debate in which only one side was free to speak.
Instead, she dug in her suitcase, fished out her nightgown and changed for bed. Lying under the covers in the dark, she worried herself to sleep by thinking of their mission. What were they supposed to do? Who would contact them? When? At the football game, she presumed. What was Colonel White afraid of? A spy in Spectrum? Who could it be? Surely not Paul, surely not! And what did it mean, that NAFTA would be "cradled by the waves?" Mysteron threats were often literal, extremely literal. "Cradled By the Waves" ... it sounded like a name. The name of ... a ship? Yes, a ship, a big, beautiful ship, full of happy travellers, ploughing its way through the ocean waves, cradled, cradled by the waves ... She fell asleep.
Somewhere in North America, the Mysterons affixed a time bomb to something called Cradled By the Waves, and set it for 24 hours.
END OF PART 2