A Captain Scarlet Short Story
The subdued lighting of Cloudbase’s medical bay at night, coupled with the muffled noise of the sleeping invalids, could be unnerving unless you were used to it, but to Edward Wilkie it was merely an indication that everything was normal and satisfactory. He walked along the main corridor of his domain and congratulated himself on another successful day. He pressed the key on his hand-held computer to record the completion of his round, and handed it to the nurse on night duty at the desk.
Then he walked through to the intensive care ward and the room set aside for Captain Scarlet.
He looked in through the observation port on his most frequent patient with a furrowed brow. It was taking far longer than he’d expected for Scarlet to regain consciousness. Of course, the head trauma had been substantial: the occipital lobe and the left optical nerve had been crushed, the whole left side of the skull fractured right across and the jaw broken in several places. Any normal man would have died instantly.
He sniffed meditatively. Well, Scarlet had died, of course; in that he was perfectly normal. Shoot him, blow him up, crush him - and he died, it was only by the miracle of retrometabolism that he always recovered; a phenomenon that still baffled, intrigued and perplexed the experienced head of Spectrum’s medical services.
Test after test proved inconclusive; theory after theory withered in the glare of the undeniable proof of a living Captain Scarlet. One day, Fawn reassured himself, he would decipher the puzzle – if only for his own intellectual satisfaction – for he knew he would never dare reveal the truth about Spectrum’s premier agent to a populace that would be initially sceptical, progressively more incredulous and, possibly after that, fearful of the ‘alien’ entity in their midst.
His gaze left his patient and roamed the room. Captain Blue was still there in the armchair, his long legs stretched out – his arm in a sling, his head lolling back against his seat at an uncomfortable angle as he dozed.
The book on his knee slipped down and Fawn heard the thud through the intercom as it fell onto the floor. Blue stirred and sat up, running a hand over his face.
He leaned forwards to stare at Scarlet.
“Paul, you with us yet, buddy? You’re sure taking your time this time. What’s wrong? You’re back in sick bay and, what’s more, Doc Fawn isn’t even doing any tests on you – so you should count yourself lucky. You know…you’re starting to worry me, buddy. But I don’t suppose you’re doing it on purpose though; can’t accuse you of that. I wish I knew what goes on in your head when you’re like this. Can you even hear me? I will tell you this - if you don’t wake up soon, Paul, you’re going to miss all the excitement. The Angels are doing the Amber Room decorations today – Rhapsody’s got the job of crowning the tree with the star. She’ll want you there.” There was no response. Blue sighed and shook his head. “Listen to me; I must be going mental,” he muttered to himself.
He stood and stretched as best as he could. Standing by the bed looking down on his unconscious partner he said, “It’s no good, I gotta take a leak, but I bet you good money you’ll wake up while I’m away – you ornery guy, you.”
Fawn met him as he came through the door and asked, “No change?” Blue shook his head. Fawn realised his other patient was also looking the worse for wear – there were dark rings under his pale-blue eyes and stubble on his chin. “How’re you doing? You’re due another painkiller shot. I’ll fetch it and administer it when you come back.”
Blue grimaced, but nodded again and went into the closest bathroom. Fawn ambled away to the pharmacy.
Captain Scarlet stirred and tried to open his eyes. The one eye that opened sent excruciating brilliant flashes of light stabbing into his brain. He was transfixed by the pain as his injured brain throbbed in protest. He groaned, and closed his eyes again, sighing with relief as the pain slowly ebbed away. He swallowed.
“Adam?” he croaked.
Moving his head was agony, so after the tiniest twitch had taken his breath away with the pain, he gave it up and waited.
He could feel the retrometabolism flowing through his veins like an adrenalin rush. He knew it would work its magic and he’d be okay, but right now, as every nerve-ending screamed its protest into his thudding brain – he wished he was dead – for good.
He heard the door crash open and heavy footsteps stomping across the uncarpeted floor.
“Scarlet?” Fawn’s whisper reverberated through his head. He struggled to open his eyes again, but all the effort resulted in was a mere fluttering of the long, black lashes, as the eye refused to open.
Fawn moistened his patient’s lips with water and was relieved to see his tongue lick the lips thirstily.
He glanced back at the door as Blue came in.
“He’s awake?” the American asked. Fawn nodded. “Thank God, he had me worried.”
“Me too,” the doctor confessed.
This time Scarlet’s good eye slowly opened. “Adam?”
“I’m here, buddy. I told you you’d wake while I was away. But none the less, it’s good to have you back.”
“Adam, I can’t see.”
“Your left eye was very badly damaged,” Fawn explained trying to allay the panic he heard in Scarlet’s voice. “The whole of your head was, if I’m honest. It may take awhile for your sight to recover – your eyes and the nerves are probably badly swollen. Your head is bandaged,” he added as Scarlet’s hand reached up to explore his damaged face. “I know whatever medical treatment I give never seems to make a difference to your recovery, but it makes me feel better – like I’m not entirely redundant - yet - so you’ll have to bear with it.” He glanced at his notes and frowned; Scarlet generally woke fully recovered, except this time, although he seemed to have recovered from the broken bones much as expected, his visible eye was still in a mess – heaven alone knew what state the other was in beneath the bandages – and the fact that he was blind was worrying. Fawn didn’t expect it to last – once the retrometabolism had cured the faults – everything should work again – but Scarlet was obviously distressed by the loss of his vision.
“I’m thirsty,” Scarlet muttered.
Blue stepped in and started slowly to give the water to his partner, while Fawn watched warily, only starting to regain his confidence that his patient was recovering his strength as he saw Scarlet drinking thirstily.
The Englishman opened his right eye – still bloodshot and puffy.
“Boy, do you look a picture,” Blue teased, seeing his friend glancing up at him.
“I can’t see you,” Scarlet wailed and reached a hand up, grasping at air until Blue caught it and held fast in his good hand. “Are you okay, Adam?” Scarlet asked.
“Sure; I fractured my arm, but the doc says I’ll be fit for light duties over Christmas – if I’m lucky – or should that be unlucky?”
Scarlet gave a weak smile. “For a workaholic like you – that’s classed as lucky,” he croaked.
Blue grinned in response, then realised his expression couldn’t be seen and squeezed the hand that clung to his.
Fawn interrupted them with some brisk orders. “You need to get some rest, Scarlet, give your body time to do its stuff. And you too, Blue, in fact, you can go back to your quarters if you promise to go straight to bed and rest – that way there’ll be less temptation for you two to tire each other out talking. Talking of temptation, I’ll give you a mild sedative, Blue, and there are to be positively no visitors – not even angelic ones, do I make myself clear?”
“As crystal.” Blue blushed. “See you tomorrow, Paul. Sleep well.”
“You too,” Scarlet murmured, already drifting away to sleep as his partner laid his hand back on the bed.
The Amber Room had been set up with its Christmas decorations and lights some days ago, but today a new banner was being strung across the room by Captains Grey and Ochre. Melody was supervising, while Symphony and Harmony were putting the finishing touches to a table groaning under the weight of party food and soft drinks. Rhapsody sat on the sofa, wearing a pretty, electric-blue evening dress, her red hair twisted into a complex arrangement on her head and her slender neck sporting a pearl choker.
“I’m sure it won’t work,” she said glumly. Melody shook her head and Symphony went over to pat the younger girl’s arm.
“I bet you it will.”
“I spoke to Doctor Fawn and he said Paul’s sight still hasn’t returned but he doesn’t know why. Physically, everything’s working, but Paul complains the light hurts his eyes and he can’t see anything. Paul’s so miserable; he won’t even talk to me. ” Rhapsody explained sadly. “Every time I go down there, he just refuses to see me.”
“He’s not a doctor.”
“He said,” Symphony continued ignoring the comment, “that Paul was starting to talk to him now. He spent today with him and he told me when we were having lunch – I saw him, just by chance, when I went to get my lunch after finishing in Angel one – anyway, Paul told Adam that he’s tired; that’s what Adam told me. He reckons that it might just be that Paul’s been in so many ‘accidents’ recently, he’s just fed up with it all? I think it’s what Fawn reckons too – psychosomatic – that’s what Adam called it. So, Dianne, all we have to do is cheer him up and he’ll be fine – you’ll see.”
“We believe you,” Melody remarked. “That it was ‘just by chance’, I mean.”
Symphony grinned across at her.
“But it isn’t like Paul to be like this – so defeatist. He’s always been such an optimist,” Rhapsody reasoned.
“Not always,” Symphony said thoughtfully. “He had a bad time after the London Car-Vu, don’t forget.”
“Yes, but he got over that, Karen, and he’s reconciled to his Mysteronisation now.”
“Everyone’s entitled to an off-day,” the moody American reasoned. “No one can be a Pollyanna all the time and stay sane.”
“Well, you should know,” Melody chipped in.
“I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time getting ready. It won’t work,” Rhapsody repeated, before the volatile Symphony could respond to that quip.
Diverted from arguing with Melody, Symphony said, “Dianne – I bet you a month’s salary it will.”
“Don’t be silly, Karen, you don’t have enough money to bet a month’s salary. You told me you were broke after doing your Christmas shopping.”
“I have that much confidence in Paul’s ability to recover, if he wants to, that I’m willing to take the risk,” Symphony responded. “And besides, I am broke, so your money’ll come in handy.” She winked at Melody whose face was wreathed in smiles.
Captain Ochre clambered down from the stepladder and walked across. “Hey, Scarlet wouldn’t miss this sight for the world,” he said, taking the English Angel pilot’s hand and giving her an encouraging smile. “I’m telling you, no red-blooded man would.”
“You haven’t told him about the party, have you?” she asked with a frown. “It was meant to be a surprise.”
“Me? My lips are sealed – I never reveal secrets.”
“Unless someone makes it worth his while, financially,” Grey interjected, coming to join the others. Ochre chuckled. “What time does this shindig start?” Grey continued. “Do I have time to go and change into my party clothes?” He smiled at the young women; Symphony was wearing a fetching green dress, although Harmony and Melody were in Uniform.
“You have party clothes?” Harmony asked her dark eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
Grey grimaced. “Is that such a surprise?” he asked a little forlornly.
“I do not recall seeing you without your uniform on,” Harmony said, “and I am sure I would remember.” She gave Ochre a puzzled glance as that irrepressible individual gave a burst of laughter.
“You go and get smartened up, Brad,” Melody said. “Ochre here can finish off the jobs that need doing.”
Captain Grey left them and the others glanced at the clock.
“P-time minus ten,” Symphony said. “I hope Blue’s arm is good enough to allow him to do some dancing…he needs the practise before the Christmas Party.”
“Are you wearing protective shoes under that dress, Symph?” Ochre asked with an air of innocence. “200lbs of prancing Bostonian landing on your toes must be painful, or so I’d imagine, not having danced with Blue myself.”
“He’s not that bad a dancer,” she protested and, still squabbling, the pair of them wandered off to the buffet table, Symphony vainly trying to stop Ochre picking at the spread before it was time.
“You look very nice, Rhapsody,” Harmony reassured her friend. “Symphony made a fine job of your hair style.”
“What’s the point if it can’t be seen?”
“Everyone else can see you,” Melody protested, “and we’ll take pictures, if you like.”
“That is no consolation, Nolie.”
The door opened and Lieutenant Green sauntered in, a square parcel under his arm. Soon after that the colonel put in an appearance and an elegant Captain Grey and Captain Magenta arrived as the hands of the clock swept round to 1900 hrs.
Melody turned from watching the security screen she’d trained on the approach corridor. “They’re coming,” she hissed in a stage whisper. “Places everyone.”
People stepped back against walls and behind cover. Melody switched the speaker onto ‘conference’ and the tinny sound of the conversation was heard over the tannoy. Blue was doing the talking, in the annoyingly, ‘determined to be cheerful’ tone used to motivate moody children and invalids. That was guaranteed to get on anyone’s nerves and accordingly Captain Scarlet was looking fractious.
“…Fawn thought you’d enjoy a little trip out, Paul. Cheer up, buddy. We’re almost there, can’t you smell the flowers?”
“No, I can’t and if I can’t see them either what’s the point of dragging me to the Promenade Deck? I don’t want to go and sit in the sunshine, Adam. I’m not a frigging invalid, I just can’t see anything. Why do I have to sit in this wheelchair?”
“So you don’t fall over obstacles, of course. You ought to be grateful – you’re being pushed along after all – you don’t have to do anything. You look the picture of cool in those black-out shades. Doc Fawn’s expecting the orders to flood in from the guys. They suit you.”
“I wouldn’t wear them if the light didn’t hurt my eyes, you flaming great burke; they’re a medical necessity not a fashion accessory.”
“Magenta says they’re much cooler than the ones he’s got,” Blue continued relentlessly, “he’s going to see about acquiring a pair.”
“What’s he got planned? Asking Ochre to punch his eyes out?”
“Tsk,tsk – don’t be such a misery, Paul.”
“Stop treating me like an imbecile then. I can still hold an adult conversation, Adam.”
“Sure you can…. And here we are!”
The Amber Room door slid open.
Captain Scarlet’s frown deepened. “I still don’t smell any flowers and didn’t you say the gardenia was out?” he asked suspiciously.
There was silence.
“Adam? Where are you? Adam? This is a fine time to play hide and seek. Where are you?” Scarlet squirmed round in the wheelchair.
Doctor Fawn, who had been pushing the chair while Blue walked beside him, his arm still in the sling, looked at the people in the room and nodded.
The colonel stepped forward and cleared his throat.
“Surprise!” everyone shouted and immediately broke into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to you!”
“What the f…” Scarlet stammered. “Get me out of here. Adam?” They could see a faint blush spreading over his pallid cheeks.
As the singing came to a ragged halt, Colonel White stepped forward. “Captain Scarlet, your friends had been planning a surprise birthday party for you in the Amber Room before your last mission took place. Doctor Fawn thought it a reasonable request to allow it to take place anyway. They’ve put a great deal of effort into the event and I hope it will lift your spirits as a consequence. Let the party begin!”
As the party went on around him, Scarlet stubbornly remained in his wheelchair, which Fawn had placed in the middle of the room beneath the banner which read, ‘Happy Birthday Captain Scarlet’. He was miserable; sulky and irritable by turns when anyone came to talk to him and everyone tried. He refused to open any of the presents they’d bought him or partake of the excellent refreshments. Gradually people drifted away from him – although, Symphony had to literally drag Captain Blue towards the buffet table - and left him alone with his self-pity.
Doctor Fawn began to think his diagnosis was wrong and this idea might not work after all. He stood by the colonel and the pair of them looked despairingly at Captain Scarlet, who was sitting in moody isolation, his head propped in his hand, away from the social interaction. At his own insistence his chair had been moved in front of the Amber Room’s large windows, with their stunning outlook over Cloudbase’s decks and the vast sky beyond, although Scarlet had his back to the view, as if he was rejecting the very light itself.
Finally, Rhapsody went back to him and reached down to place a hand on his shoulder. Her familiar, delicate perfume identified her to her fiancé before she spoke.
“Happy birthday, Paul.” She leant down and kissed his cheek.
“Dianne, I didn’t want you to see me like this. I didn’t want anyone to see me.”
“Like what? In need of a shave? That’s not unusual,” she teased.
“Dianne, this isn’t funny. I can’t see anything - I can’t see you… and I want to,” he confessed.
“Then try, Paul – all your friends are here – look at them, my dear.”
She reached out to slip the glasses from his eyes. They were still red and puffy, but the sapphire-blue irises were crystal clear. Scarlet raised a hand to shield them – from the light or her inspection she wasn’t sure. She caught his hand and held it.
“Fawn thinks you can do it, Paul – he thinks your mind is just refusing to allow you to, maybe because it hurt so much when you tried before. Look at me, Paul. Look, my love.”
He turned his head towards her voice and stared, the frown deepening between his dark brows. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he strained desperately, willing his mind to accept the images from his eyes. Rhapsody kept hold of his hand, squeezing the strong fingers and whispering encouragement.
Slowly, dimly, a shape formed before his eyes. A beautiful face, red-hair piled around it, large, gentle eyes smiling into his.
“Dianne…” he breathed and reached out his other hand to touch her cheek. “If you aren’t the most beautiful sight a man could see, I don’t know what is. I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful birthday present.” The tears that had pooled in her eyes tipped down her cheeks and he wiped them away with gentle fingers.
The music had started up at a signal from Doctor Fawn and Symphony was cajoling Blue out onto the small area that had been designated as the dance-floor, when Dianne pleaded:
“Dance with me, Paul.”
He rose unsteadily to his feet; his legs were numb from being sat still for so long – not something his powerful body was wont to do – and swept into his arms and out into the select group of dancers.
Captain Blue, concentrating on leading Symphony round the dance-floor, backed into them.
Scarlet turned and said with a beaming smile, “Watch where you’re going, Blue-boy.”
Blue’s laugh was tinged with genuine relief. “I’m sorry, Paul; you know me and my two left feet, I shouldn’t be allowed on a dance-floor, but you can’t gainsay Karen when she’s determined. Happy Birthday, by the way, it’s a great party! Oh, and like I always say – it’s good to have you back.”
Another (unplanned - in that it came to me rather suddenly.) birthday story for ‘The Man in Red’, Chris has warned me that two of anything makes a tradition!
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler for an emergency-speed beta-read, and to Chris Bishop and Mary J Rudy for their inspirational help in finding a suitable title at the eleventh hour.
The characters from the classic TV series ‘Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons™’ who appear in this story, belong to the companies that own the rights to the series. They were originally devised in the 1960s by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their talented team. I have only borrowed them, so I hope they don’t mind.
Happy Birthday, Mr Metcalfe!
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