Captain Scarlet exhaled and flopped down into the vacant armchair with an involuntary moan.
Captain Grey looked up from his newspaper and smiled. “You sound knackered,” he commented.
“That’s one word for it,” Scarlet agreed. He closed his eyes, hoping that Grey wouldn’t ask any questions.
“Tough assignment?” Grey asked, folding his paper and settling down to hear the latest gossip. Scarlet definitely looked the worse for wear, his uniform was grubby, he had several days’ growth of beard and he smelt quite disgusting!
Scarlet nodded and said nothing, still hoping Grey would get the message.
“Where was it this time?”
Scarlet opened his eyes reluctantly and gave up. “We started in Brazil.”
Scarlet nodded, was it less than a week since he left Cloudbase? He’d quartered the globe since then.
“Well?” Grey prompted.
“There was a Mysteron threat to poison the largest Amazon water treatment plant and the Colonel sent us over to check it out.”
“Us?” Grey asked, he knew all the senior Captains were accounted for.
“Yeah, you know Blue’s away training the Standby Angels – the lucky … Bostonian; well, the Colonel had the splendid idea that it would be a perfect opportunity to send me out with a rookie – to give one of them a taste of the cutting edge of Spectrum’s work. Just a simple bombing of a water treatment plant – what could go wrong?”
“So who was it?”
“Oh boy!” Grey sniggered. “I thought she was confined to the Cloudbase Research Library for crashing that SPJ?”
“Colonel White decided to give her another chance and I was the muggings who was supposed to supervise her rehabilitation!” Scarlet groaned. He ached from top to toe and even his retrometabloism wasn’t helping him deal with the sense of grievance he felt towards his commanding officer.
“So what happened? Where’s Flaxen?”
“Oh she’s fine! I swear that woman has a charmed life!”
“What happened in Brazil?”
“I flew the SPJ down to the nearest airstrip and we drove to the plant. As the Colonel thought, it was routine enough – a quick check with the Mysteron detectors flushed out a couple of Mysteron agents and after we dealt with them, we found the bomb and it was defused easily enough. It was then that Flaxen decided she ought to check the computer records to make sure it really was that simple. I thought nothing of it and just let her get on with it whilst I was having a decent cup of coffee with the Plant Controller.”
“If you can’t get decent cup of coffee in Brazil, where can you get it?” Grey grinned.
Scarlet frowned at such levity and continued, “Anyway she comes bustling in, announcing that one of the technicians has taken sensitive information from the files – about a potential food source they were working on. Some sort of microbial stuff that can be grown by the metric tonne in fresh water and used to feed domestic animals or fed to people, disguised as chicken – or beef burgers or whatever. The Plant Controller got all excited and demanded we arrest this technician and recover the documents. I didn’t see that it was really Spectrum business – no obvious Mysteron connection, but Flaxen had got the bit between her teeth. She said she’d okayed it with the Colonel and he agreed with her supposition that the Technician was a Mysteron agent. Then she rushed off to the SPV, you know how she gets all super efficient whenever you ask her to do something.”
“I rushed after her – she was likely to leave me behind otherwise. She had already started the engine when I got there and before I was strapped into my seat and it had retracted into the body of the SPV, she turned the bloody machine about as if she was driving a dodgem car in a fairground and out I go! I slid from the seat and landed in the most disgusting, stagnant pond I have ever seen! Or smelt.” he added, conscious of the aroma still clinging to his uniform.
Grey tried to hide his smile and went to make himself a cup of coffee. Scarlet merely glowered at him when he offered to prepare him a cup too, and so he returned to his seat nursing the mug, eager to hear the rest of the story.
“The bloody pond was so deep I had the hell of a job getting out – damn nearly drowned. Flaxen must have realised what had happened because she came back and threw me a rope just as I was about to go under. She’d have knocked me out, if she hadn’t been such a lousy shot – she chose just about the heaviest rope in the equipment boxes! Anyway, she tied it to the SPV and dragged me out – smelling to high heaven – it has to be said. Serves her damn well right – she had to sit in the SPV with me until we got back to the plane and I could change for the spare.”
Grey tried to look sympathetic, but he was laughing too much for it to be convincing. “It can take some getting used to, driving an SPV. Remember how Symphony drove that one straight into a tree at Culver? Perhaps women just can’t handle sitting backwards.” Scarlet said nothing in response to this as his own driving record with SPV’s was not beyond criticism. He usually let Blue drive when they were together.
“Anyway, you went after the technician?” Grey asked, sipping the coffee.
Scarlet grunted an affirmative. “New York – that’s where we went – with me looking like something the cat dragged in.”
“You let Flaxen fly the SPJ?” Grey asked in surprise.
Scarlet sighed, “Couldn’t stop her,” he admitted. “She’s just doesn’t listen! I used to think Adam was bad enough, but she takes the biscuit.”
“Did you recover the information?”
“There’s more?” Grey was delighted.
They both turned as Magenta came into the Officer’s Lounge. He gave them both a bright smile and collected his cup of coffee before coming to sit opposite Scarlet.
“Nice to see you back, Captain,” he said cheerfully, and then frowned at his friend’s bedraggled appearance. His frown deepened as he sniffed the air and he said with a grimace of distaste, “What’s that funny smell?”
“Me,” Scarlet admitted ruefully.
Grey quickly told the story of the Brazilian pond and Scarlet’s subsequent flight to New York.
Magenta sniggered. “So that’s what it was all about,” he said cryptically.
“What?” Grey asked.
“Well, the New York networks have been reporting stories that hundreds of people have reported seeing someone, dressed in red, flying in the skies over Manhattan. Some reports are speaking of a remake of the Superman movies!”
“What!” Grey choked on his coffee and looked at Scarlet for clarification.
“It wasn’t like that,” Scarlet sighed.
“What was it like?” Magenta asked.
“Well, we trailed this technician to the offices of the finance company whose headquarters were in Manhattan. Apparently, according to Flaxen, this company is none too choosy about who they deal with and they have a multinational food production company as clients.”
“See, her time in the library wasn’t wasted,” Grey said soberly and Magenta nodded sagely.
Scarlet grinned malevolently at them. “I just wish she’d bloody well stayed there! Off we go to the Manhattan Offices and demand to see someone in charge of dodgy deals. Needless to say – we didn’t get treated very seriously. We spent some time arguing with the reception staff and then Flaxen got permission to go to the ladies room and she never came back – so I had to find her, didn’t I? I tried my cap mike, but I guess the dip in the pond had done something to the electronics and all I got was an ear piercing whistle! I left the building and walked around to the rear, where the service entrances are. I went up the waste-chute and managed to get from that into a lift – it went straight up to the penthouse without stopping and disgorged me into a conference of top financiers and the wanted Brazilian technician. There was a rumpus and I had to run to get away from a couple of goons with trigger-happy fingers. I went up onto the roof and saw Flaxen coming up the outside of the building in a hoverpack. Left with the choice of re-enacting the gunfight at the OK corral or jumping and hoping Flaxen could catch me – I jumped.”
“Is it a bird, is it a plane?” Magenta recited, “No, it’s Captain Scarlet!”
Both Captains giggled at their unfortunate companion’s scowling face.
“I could understand you taking the risk if it had been Blue on the hoverpack – but Flaxen?” Grey reasoned. “She caught you, I take it?” he added.
“Yes, she caught me - eventually - and we went back to the ground away from the main street. She had apparently heard someone talking in the ladies room about the meeting in the Penthouse and because she couldn’t find me and my cap mic wasn’t working so she couldn’t get any further orders, she decided to go up in the hoverpack and see what she could find out,” Scarlet explained.
“A reasonable call,” Magenta said, “especially if Cloudbase couldn’t raise you either.”
“So what happened to the technician?” Grey prompted.
“We were just in time to see them hustle him into a limo and head for the airport. We followed in the SSC and trailed the company jet to India.”
Scarlet nodded. “The multinational has a major production plant there and the food would have a ready market in the region.”
“More of Flaxen’s research, huh?”
“That woman is a fount of information.”
“She’s something alright,” Scarlet muttered.
“You caught the guy in India?” Grey asked, almost hoping they hadn’t.
“Well…” Scarlet sat up and sighed. “We were pretty hot on his trail and then Flaxen got lost.”
“Yes, there were an awful lot of people milling about the factory complex and one minute she was there and the next, she’d vanished.”
“You went looking for her?”
“I did not! I meant to complete the mission before trying to find her. I didn’t think she could come to much harm with so many people about and I thought I’d be better working alone, given her performance record in the mission so far. Anyway, you know regulations state we shouldn’t let concern for other officers interfere with our duty…” he said stoutly.
The two Captains howled with laughter, this particular regulation was the one Scarlet flouted the most!
“Oh yeah, just like you and Blue always do!” Magenta gasped.
“This wasn’t Blue,” Scarlet said meaningfully.
“So, you caught the thief, saved the secret formula and came home?” Grey said archly.
“Not exactly,” Scarlet sighed again. He decided to come clean. “I accidentally triggered an alarm getting into the offices and got caught by the security guards. The men we’d trailed from New York were not pleased to see me and ordered the guards to ‘dispose’ of me, in some way that could be called an accident. They had the brilliant idea of taking me to the wild life garden and leaving me tied up near the cobra’s lair.”
“Yikes!” Magenta had gone beyond caution now and he was creased up with laughter.
“I am really not very fond of snakes,” Scarlet admitted. “Nasty, slimy, slithery things.”
“Actually they are not slimy at all…” Grey began, but Magenta hushed him up.
“Well, I was there, desperately trying to get free of the ropes when this cobra came towards me spitting venom.” Scarlet went pale; he really did have a phobia about snakes and would never voluntarily go anywhere near even the most harmless ones.
“What happened?” Magenta asked sobering up fast enough as he saw his friend’s unease.
“Flaxen appeared from behind a tree and came over with a long piece of cleft stick to pin the beastly thing down whilst she cut through the ropes and we made our escape.”
“She saved you- again!”
“Where had she been?”
“She’d borrowed two of those yashmak things women wear that covers everything up...”
“A burqa.” The three men turned to see Symphony Angel walking towards them, with a bundle of post in her hand. She smiled and handed Scarlet two letters. “A yashmak thing that covers everything up – a burqa.”
“You and Svenson spend too much time doing crosswords,” Magenta grinned.
“It’s a good word for Scrabble,” she smiled back. “Why should you need a burqa, Paul?”
Grey brought her up to date with Scarlet’s misadventures and she sat on the arm of his chair, laughing gaily.
“You wait until Adam hears this!”
“Karen, Adam is never to hear this!” Scarlet half threatened, half pleaded.
“Well, maybe I won’t tell him all of it, but only if you let me hear the rest.”
Scarlet groaned and nodded. “Okay. Well, we got out of the complex, dressed in these… burqas.” Magenta hooted at the thought of Captain Scarlet creeping around in drag. “Whilst the goons had been busy with me, Flaxen had managed to infiltrate the offices, pushing a tea trolley, and she had lifted the briefcase with the stolen papers in. We took the papers, chucked the briefcase and tried to make our escape. The security people were surrounding the SSC and so we left with a crowd of workers and headed for the train station.”
“We got on the express to Calcutta and chucked the burqas under a seat. I thought we were safe then; once in Calcutta we’d get another SPJ and come back to base, leaving someone else to return the papers to Brazil.”
“I sense a but coming here…” Grey smiled.
“We were being trailed by the security men – it seems we hadn’t been as undetected as we’d thought.”
“So what did you do?” Symphony asked.
“Well, we had to protect the papers, so Flaxen hid them in her… underwear.” Scarlet’s hands hovered at chest height.
“Bra – it’s called a bra, Paul,” Symphony said. “Gee, your clothing vocabulary could do with some improvement.”
“Yes, well, that’s where she hid them. She said the security men would never dare to strip search a woman – even a Spectrum officer. Besides, if they did catch her she’d tell them I had the papers and they’d most likely think that was true – rather than a woman having them.” Scarlet grimaced at his male colleagues.
“Male Chauvinist Pigs!” Symphony muttered.
No-one was sure if the comment was intended to include them, so they all looked sheepishly at each other and then Magenta said, “Did they catch her?”
Scarlet nodded and went to fetch himself a cup of coffee. “She told them I had the papers and just looked helplessly feminine at them – or so she told me afterwards - and they just left her under the guard of this young chap and came after me. I was standing by the carriage door, planning to climb out onto the roof of the train, when Flaxen pulled the emergency chain and the train shuddered to a halt, the door opened and I fell out down the bank into this… very… muddy… field!”
“What happened next?”
“The transport police came to arrest Flaxen for maliciously pulling the emergency cord, but she said her husband had fallen out of the train and they let her go with a caution. They came and collected me and let us stay in their guard van until we reached Calcutta, largely because I was all smelly again and they said the first class passengers would complain, but at least the goons couldn’t get at us.”
“She told them you were her husband?” Magenta said, laughing again.
Scarlet blushed. “It served to get us to Calcutta,” he said reluctantly.
Symphony leant to whisper, “I won’t tell Dianne.” He looked balefully at her and she had to look away to hide her laughter.
“What happened in Calcutta?” Grey asked.
“We got an SPJ and were flying across to rendezvous with Cloudbase over the Atlantic when it developed engine trouble and we were forced to land in Mombassa. At least there we could get the documents micro-dotted in the Spectrum Offices and Flaxen didn’t have to keep them in her… bra – Okay Karen?” She nodded with a bright smile. “Then we took a helicopter and headed for Cape Town to collect a new SPJ. Whilst we were flying overland, we received a distress call from some miners. There had been a tunnel collapse and several people were trapped behind the fall of rocks. We landed, to see if we could be of assistance and Flaxen ferried several wounded back to the nearest hospital in the helicopter whilst I helped with the rescue attempts.”
“There was one part of the tunnel that was barely accessible, but the miners said they had been planning to detonate a charge and they thought the long delay fuse had been lit before the roof fall happened. If it went off in the new confined area the whole mine would go and there was no way the trapped men would survive. I managed to get through a narrow opening in the rock fall and I could see a bundle of dynamite in a clearing ahead, with the fuse still burning. I just couldn’t reach it, so I had to wriggle out and get something long and thin to try to knock the fuse out with. That didn’t work either. All the time the fuse was getting shorter and I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to try again.”
“The miners said we should all get out whilst we could, but then Flaxen, who was back from the hospital, suggested using a hose pipe to pump water through to drench the fuse. We rigged up a jerry built hose and she kept pouring water through it. I was just in time and managed to extinguish the fuse and drench the explosive – and myself.”
Symphony kissed his forehead. “You are a perfect hero sometimes, Paul.” she smiled and ruffled his dark hair.
“Unhand that man!” Rhapsody Angel challenged playfully as she came into the room, adding quietly to the pair of them. “Just because your Gentleman Friend is away playing flying instructor to a bunch of dolly birds, there’s no excuse to pinch mine!” Symphony laughed and vacated her perch on the arm of the chair, so that Rhapsody could sit there. “I heard you were back and thought I’d come to see how you were doing – there are some funny stories doing the rounds of the canteen,” Rhapsody explained to Scarlet with a warm smile.
“There are some funny stories around here too,” Grey smiled. “Although I have to agree with Symphony that you do have your moments, Scarlet.”
Magenta nodded and toasted Scarlet with his half empty coffee cup. Scarlet smiled, embarrassed by their praise. “It was Flaxen’s idea really,” he said gruffly.
“What happened after the mine rescue?” Symphony asked as she drew up another chair.
“We carried on to Cape Town and landed at the airfield to get a SPJ as intended. Only, the company goons had got there first. They grabbed Flaxen and bundled her into a car. One of them bashed me over the head with a cosh and I passed out – for awhile. When I came to, I could just see their car pulling away from the airport, so I pinched a car from the parking lot and followed them as best I could. They headed for the marina and threw Flaxen into a motor boat and off they went. I hijacked a jet ski and just preyed they weren’t going far.”
“What happened to ‘not putting Spectrum personnel before duty’?” Grey said mischievously.
“Well, she had the formula microdot – about her person.” Scarlet justified himself with asperity.
“Where about her person?” asked Magenta cheekily.
“I didn’t like to enquire – before you accuse me of being a novice in ladies clothing again,” Scarlet teased Symphony, who shrugged good-naturedly.
Rhapsody looked in confusion from one to the other. “You will explain that to me later, in private,” she warned him.
“Oh good,” he sighed, sensing that she might have got the wrong end of the stick with his comments. “Well, I followed the motor boat out to a yacht and when everyone was on board, I climbed aboard as well. They had Flaxen in a small room and from the racket she was making they weren’t being very gentle with her. Seems like they were far less gentlemanly than the Indian goons and they were intent on strip searching her. I burst into the room and made them stop. She had to get her uniform back on before we could leave and whilst she was doing that, someone came up behind me and clouted me – again! I remember Flaxen jumping over me and running through the door as I fell and then when I came to again I was trussed up and there were two huge, round boulders attached to the ropes. They dragged me to the side of the boat and dropped me into the sea.”
Rhapsody gasped with alarm and clutched his arm. “What happened?”
“I was eaten by sharks,” he said flippantly. She thumped him, none too gently as Magenta gave a nervous chuckle.
“I was trying to get free as I sank, and there were sharks around, attracted by my thrashing about, I guess. It was a toss up whether they attacked before or after I drowned.”
Rhapsody gave a gasp of horror.
“Paul, that’s not nice,” Symphony said with a sympathetic smile at her friend.
“Well, I obviously didn’t get eaten or I wouldn’t be here,” he said reasonably. “I doubt if even my retrometabolism can work with partly digested fragments.”
“So, what did happen?” Grey asked.
“Flaxen had found some scuba equipment in the cupboard where she had hidden and she saw them throw me overboard, so she crept around to the other side of the boat and she dove in and shared her oxygen supply with me. She shot one of the sharks – the farthest away from me, and fortunately the others turned on it whilst she cut the ropes. We surfaced close to where I had moored the Jet Ski, which fortunately the goons had not disabled, so we were able to get away and reach the marina without being followed. It began to look as if there was a mole somewhere in our organisation who was tipping off the company as to our whereabouts, so we decided to take a commercial flight out of Cape Town. The first one was to Cairo, so we took it and landed there without incident.”
“What did the Colonel have to say about all this gadding about?” Rhapsody asked.
“Well, we contacted Cloudbase when we got to Cairo – hardly had the chance before that, what with the explosions and the sharks – okay, okay, I’m sorry, no more talk of flesh eating fish!” He placated Rhapsody with outstretched hands as she glared at him, grim faced.
“What did the Colonel say?” Symphony asked in turn, coming to stand alongside her fellow Angel.
“Turns out the Plant Controller in Brazil had been on to the World Government and they had asked the Colonel to get us to deliver the formula to their laboratories in Geneva for evaluation. So not only were we on the run from the company goons, we now had to get to Geneva as well.”
“That can’t have been too difficult,” Grey said.
“Easy for you to say, Captain, you weren’t the one lumbered with Lieutenant Flaxen as a partner. It might have been a darn sight easier if she hadn’t decided to go sight seeing before we left. She’d never been to Egypt and she just had to see sunrise over the pyramids, or some such rot.”
“Not everyone gets your opportunities to travel around, Scarlet,” Symphony said sharply.
“Well, she went out early and I had to go too, to keep my eyes on her, because of this microdot. We were the only ones there, it was so blessed early. Not that the pyramids by moonlight isn’t romantic, but I could think of someone else I’d like to experience it with, rather than Flaxen!”
“What’s wrong with Lieutenant Flaxen? I rather like her,” Lieutenant Green said, coming into the officer’s lounge with a pile of reports. He smiled beatifically at Captain Grey and placed them next to him on the table.
“Oh Lieutenant, have a heart,” Grey moaned. “I did hundreds of annual reviews last month.”
“You did twenty-five, actually. There’s another forty to go before this round is over,” Green corrected him. “Then the Colonel starts on you, ladies and gentlemen.”
“Have you had yours?” Rhapsody asked. The Lieutenant nodded cheerfully. “And?” she continued.
“Damn near perfect, I bet,” Symphony laughed as Green looked slightly abashed. “How do you do it, Seymour?”
“I’m dreading mine,” Magenta said to no-one in particular. “Last year I got ‘could do better’ – but no-one ever tells you how!”
“Doesn’t anyone want to hear what happened at the pyramids?” Scarlet asked in an aggrieved tone.
“I thought you didn’t want to tell us,” Grey said. “But, yeah, go ahead. What happened at the pyramids?”
“I bet Scarlet raised the curse of the pharaohs,” Magenta teased.
“Flaxen thought she had seen someone following us and so we ducked down this narrow entrance in the side of the pyramid. We waited and there were definitely footsteps approaching. There were two tunnels either side of this entrance, so she slunk off down one tunnel and I went down the tunnel on the other side. That way we could cover each other if the suspects came down after one of us. It turned out to be quite a long tunnel and I went quite a way in, to see if there was another exit, but it just ended in a brick wall. Someone was in the entrance and they were talking, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. After a time, they left and I thought it was safe to come out, but as soon as I moved, the walls juddered and then spikes came out from between the blocks of stone. Every time I moved forward they came closer, so as long as I stood still I was okay, but I couldn’t stay there forever!”
“I tried to call Flaxen on the cap mic, but it wouldn’t work under the pyramid structure, so I just had to wait. I was standing there, hardly daring to move for almost an hour, before she had the sense to come to the tunnel looking for me and realised my situation. She’d seen that the suspects were just two Egyptian tour guides and had gone off to see the sights with them! I was not amused by that, I can tell you!” he said as his friends all sniggered. “I sent her to look for some way of getting me out without the spikes closing on me and she found a mechanism back in the main tunnel. She obviously decided to try it because the walls started to move closer, even though I was standing still. Luckily, she came back to see how I was doing and thankfully had the sense to return and push the lever the other way before I got skewered!”
“Indiana Metcalfe and the Temple of Kebab-amun!” Magenta intoned impressively as Symphony giggled.
“Lucky for you Lieutenant Flaxen had the sense to go looking for you,” Green said.
“If it hadn’t been for Flaxen I would have been tucked up in the hotel’s comfy bed!” Scarlet protested.
“Yes, but Scarlet, you were okay and it was Flaxen that saved you – again,” Grey reasoned.
“Did you stay any longer in Cairo?” Rhapsody asked quickly, seeing Scarlet preparing to argue with his friends.
“No, I made her come with me straight to the airport. We had booked a flight to Geneva and there were a few hours to wait. I thought it best we keep out of trouble and away from the busiest areas, so we went out to the cargo bays.”
“You might as well have stayed at the pyramids until the flight was due.”
“No, I wanted to be at the airport so we could get on the flight to Geneva.”
“What on earth did you find to do in the cargo bays?” Symphony continued, thinking that she would not have been as biddable as Flaxen and would have insisted on a shopping spree at the very least.
“We sat on a couple of crates and ate some figs.”
“What an exciting life you lead,” Rhapsody said, happier now he was somewhere safe from sharks and explosions.
“Yes, it was nice and peaceful until Flaxen needed the ladies…”
“The ladies what?” Magenta asked.
“He means the loo, Patrick,” Rhapsody explained.
Magenta nodded in understanding. “Too many figs, I expect.”
“She went off looking for the loo and I sat on the crate and waited. After about fifteen minutes, I thought I’d better find her.” Scarlet shifted uneasily in his seat, trying to ease his aches and pains. “I walked through the cargo bay back towards the offices and the main terminal, expecting every minute to see Flaxen coming back, but there was no sign of her. I was getting worried and I could hear voices on an overhead gantry. Suddenly four crates came falling down right towards me and it was sheer good luck that I was able to jump out of their way.”
Rhapsody shook her head in disbelief at his misfortune .
“I did get hit, but I was able to walk after an hour’s rest, so it could have been worse. Flaxen was very sorry about it when she found me afterwards.” Scarlet reassured her.
“Flaxen was sorry? Why?” Green asked.
“It appears that her search for the loo had taken her to an office where a ‘gentleman’ was only too happy to oblige and allowed her to use the office facilities. He then insisted on seeing her back to her ‘escort’ – which seems to mean me! You know, I sometimes think Flaxen is a little naive, because it never occurred to her – she said – that Mr Helpful was going to make a pass at her! This, of course is just what he did.”
“The bastard,” Lieutenant Green said stoutly.
“Well said Lieutenant,” Symphony agreed. “I hope she decked him.”
“She did. With such ferocity that he lost his footing, cannoned into the crates and knocked them down on top of me,” Scarlet said with a rueful sigh.
“Well done Lieutenant Flaxen, a woman after my own heart!” Symphony Angel said jubilantly punching the air.
“What about me, with a broken leg?” Scarlet remonstrated.
“What do you want, a medal?” said Magenta, scathingly. “You just said you were walking again in an hour.”
“Yes, but it hurt.”
Rhapsody stroked his hair. “Never mind, Paul, Its all over now. You got on the plane to Geneva okay and here you are.” Pulling a disgusted face, she surreptitiously rubbed her hand clean on her uniform trousers.
“Not exactly,” Scarlet admitted again.
“I don’t believe this – it’s like The Perils of Pauline,” Magenta said happily.
“What?” Green asked.
“Early twentieth century cinema – silent movie era, where they made a serial to be shown every week in the cinema of the adventures of a girl called Pauline. Every week the episode finished with her tied to railway tracks as the train approached, or something equally exciting.” Magenta was generally acknowledged as the supreme movie buff on Cloudbase. Scarlet sniffed and appeared to be sulking.
“Come on Paul, you can’t leave the tale half told,” Rhapsody chivvied him. “What happened in Geneva?”
“Well, wouldn’t you know it, when we got to Geneva, it turns out the World Government’s labs are in the mountains, close to a World Army base. We drove out there in an SSC – I didn’t trust Flaxen with another SPV! Anyway, I have to say that that decision was probably a mistake, because we were forced off the road by a black limo – the company goons had found us again, it seemed. They opened fire and Flaxen dashed off into the trees but I wasn’t so fast. I could walk, but my leg was still painful and I was hobbling after her when the goons caught me. They decided to interrogate me there and then.”
“Interrogate you?” Green looked surprised.
“Yes, that’s goon speak for beating people up a little,” Scarlet sighed. “You know, I had just about had enough of all this and I wasn’t being very co-operative. They were getting annoyed with me, but at least I could honestly say I hadn’t the faintest idea what Flaxen had done with the formula.”
“You knew she still had it though?” Symphony asked.
“Oh yes, she still had it. I made sure she kept it safe.”
“Poor Paul,” Rhapsody sympathised, putting her arm around his shoulders. He winced.
“Still a little sore there, Rhapsody,” he said and she looked all concern as she removed her arm.
“Never mind,” Magenta said teasingly, “she can kiss it better later!”
“Patrick!” Rhapsody chided him and winked.
Scarlet blushed until he was almost the same colour as his tunic and shifted in his seat.
“So, how did you escape the attentions of the goons?” Lieutenant Green asked.
“Well, the first thing I noticed was a large World Army tank coming along the road from the direction of the camp. It was making a rather erratic progress and I began to have my doubts. The goons were so busy with me they didn’t realise their car was in the way and the tank rolled straight over it then swerved towards us and flattened the SSC as well! Boy, were they mad! They fired their automatics at the thing, but of course that had no effect. The gun barrel swung round towards them and a shell whizzed over their heads and burst in the trees. They scattered faster than I have ever seen people run! I was watching from the side of the embankment and as the tank came towards me the hatch opened and Flaxen looked out, waving like a lunatic. In fact she was so busy waving that she forgot to stop the thing and it came straight at me and pushed me over the edge of the embankment before it stopped, causing a minor avalanche in the progress.”
“Is that why you are still so black and blue?” Rhapsody asked.
He nodded. “It took Flaxen half an hour to dig me out. I’m afraid I lost my temper with her and called her some very impolite names – which I rather hope she either didn’t hear or didn’t understand. I’m not usually given to using … language to a lady.”
“Woman,” Symphony corrected.
Scarlet grimaced; it would appear that Symphony was on another of her girl power campaigns. The sooner Blue came back and took her mind off such nonsense the better! He decided not to rise to the bait.
“Once she had dug me out and I was capable of movement, we climbed back into the tank and not having any other transport, we completed the journey to the Labs in the tank. Very impressive we must have looked, driving up to the main entrance in a World Army combat tank.”
“We were expected and they provided Flaxen with a private room so that she could … unload the microdot, from wherever it was. I waited in the lobby and tried not to notice how everyone was giving me funny looks and pinching their noses as they went past! I had been dunked in slime, thrown into a paddy field, crawled through a muddy mine shift, chucked into the sea and finally buried by an avalanche – I wasn’t the prettiest sight you ever saw.”
“Nor the sweetest smelling either.” Green pinched his nose.
“You try maintaining personal hygiene under those circumstances, Lieutenant.” Scarlet bristled.
“You could have showered on your return to Cloudbase,” Rhapsody suggested gently.
“I still have to report to the Colonel, he decided to debrief Flaxen first.” Scarlet was obviously put out by his commanding officer’s unaccountable decision.
“Well, you did what was asked and delivered the microdot,” Grey said, standing and straightening his uniform, in the assumption that the story was over. “Did you pick up an SPJ at Geneva?”
“Eventually,” Scarlet growled. “We had to take the tank back first - which was a little awkward because they didn’t know Flaxen had borrowed it - and borrow a car from the Army to get back – remember the SSC was so much squashed metal by now?”
“That can’t have been a problem, surely?” Magenta said, sensing that Scarlet’s tale of woe was not yet complete.
“I should never have let Flaxen drive…” Scarlet muttered.
“What happened?” Green cried, his eyes bright with amusement.
“She managed to get it through the perimeter fence okay and across to the hangers without too much mishap – just a few bollards, that’s all. However, she misjudged the hanger doorway and crashed it into the side of building. That caused an electrical short circuit, which started a small fire.”
“The sprinklers would have dealt with that, surely,” Grey said with a frown.
“Yes, they came on okay and we climbed out of the tank and were walking to an emergency exit, when… I tripped over a plank and crashed into some fuel drums, and the fire caught and the roof timbers came down.”
“What about the fuel?”
“Flaxen rushed over with a foam extinguisher and managed to dampen the fire around me down. Some of the Army personnel joined her and they brought it all under control after a time. However, most of the hanger was destroyed… and three jeeps… and even the tank itself wasn’t unscathed.”
“Sounds…expensive,” Green muttered.
“Yes, it is, and the Colonel isn’t going to be very pleased when the Army invoice arrives on his desk.”
“But – after all you’ve been through, he can hardly blame you!” Rhapsody cried in defence of her boyfriend.
“Well, it was me that tripped over.”
“And Flaxen that crashed the tank,” Rhapsody reasoned.
“But I was the mission commander; I was responsible. And she’s the rookie; I was supposed to be taking care of her.”
“Sounds more like she was taking care of you,” Symphony grinned.
“Sounds like they should never be let out together again!” Magenta amended with a laugh. “What a trail of mishaps.”
“Well, we’d better wait and see what the Colonel thinks about it all. There’s no point in trying to second guess the old man,” Grey agreed grimacing at the files Green had left for him. “I think I’ll have lunch before I start that – anyone hungry?”
Just then the communication panel bleeped and Green answered it. “It’s for you Symphony Angel, Captain Blue, apparently,” he grinned.
Symphony ambled across with a nonchalance that fooled no-one. The men exchanged knowing glances as her face lit up when she exchanged smiles with Captain Blue on the screen. “Hello Captain, how are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks. How’s everyone up there?”
“Alright, although Scarlet’s just had some pretty hair-raising misadventures.”
“Is he okay?”
“A bit smelly and bruised, but he’ll live – as always!” she laughed.
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the Colonel, with Lieutenant Flaxen by his side.
“Ah, Captain Scarlet, I have just finished hearing about your mission with Lieutenant Flaxen. It seems that you might be in need of a visit to sickbay for a check up. You really should be more careful, Captain. Despite your unique abilities, it doesn’t do to be careless when on a mission.” Scarlet was dumb-struck; he stared open mouthed at the Colonel, who continued, “I am very pleased with Lieutenant Flaxen’s performance; she has acted with courage and intelligence. Her quick thinking provided solutions to some of the problems you encountered and ensured the success of your mission. I am sure you will be the first to congratulate her, Captain, when you hear that I have promoted her to a junior field officer. And, until Captain Blue returns from Australia, I have assigned her to work alongside you.”
“What? Oh no, I mean … congratulations, Flaxen,” Scarlet mumbled, and as everyone clustered around the blushing Lieutenant with their congratulations, he sidled over to the video phone and said to Captain Blue, “Did you hear that, Adam?”
His friend shook his head, but Scarlet wasn’t looking at him, he was staring horror-struck at his new field partner.
“How much longer do you think you’ll be skiving amongst the standby Angels?”
“I reckon another six weeks should do it,” Blue said.
His friend shuddered. “Do you think you can fast track them through the course and get back here really quickly? Otherwise I’m not sure even my retrometabloism will be able to cope with my new field partner for long!”
“Well,” said Blue with a grin, “it’s sure nice to be appreciated, at last!”