The exterior of the premises in the narrow backstreet looked unprepossessing; there was no shop front or sign to indicate the owner’s name or the use. Nevertheless, the well-dressed, sprightly gentleman walked up to the door and rang the discreet doorbell without hesitation.
Above his head a CCTV camera whirred into action and a crackly voice spoke over the entry-phone asking for identification.
“Monsieur Pontoin to see Monsieur du Pres,” the gentleman replied. There was a louder whirr and a click as the automatic lock was released and the door swung open.
Monsieur Pontoin stepped into the narrow, brightly lit hallway and saw a young man emerge from a door about half way down.
“If you would come this way, Monsieur,” he said politely.
With an affirming nod, Joscelin Pontoin walked briskly into a large, opulently furnished room, where, behind an overlarge, dark wooden desk, sat a small, grey-haired man wearing thick, black-rimmed glasses that dominated his sharp, lined features.
The man rose and extended a hand towards his visitor. “Monsieur Pontoin, how delightful to see you again. Please, do make yourself comfortable.”
He gestured towards the large windows at the rear of the building that overlooked a neat courtyard garden, where two well-upholstered armchairs stood either side of an ornate marble-topped coffee table, before turning to the young man to say, “Louis, coffee for our guest.”
They chatted politely about the weather and the state of business and the regrettable level of taxation until the young man had delivered the refreshment and left them alone again.
“Now, Monsieur, how may I be of assistance to you?” Monsieur du Pres asked, as he carefully placed his delicate china cup back onto the silver tray.
Pontoin was in no hurry to discuss his business; he finished his coffee and then settled comfortably in the chair before he replied.
“Monsieur du Pres, your company has dealt with my family for many years; my late father trusted your father and yourself implicitly and you have never failed us.”
“You do me honour, Monsieur, but you know I do not undertake many commissions now.”
Pontoin gave a secretive and almost excited smile.
“I have a special commission, Monsieur; one I am sure you will want to undertake. Indeed, I cannot think of anyone else I would be prepared to entrust this to.”
Intrigued, Monsieur du Pres leaned forward as his visitor drew a dark blue velvet pouch from his inside coat pocket and handed it across the table that stood between them.
Carefully, Monsieur du Pres opened the drawstring and drew out the roll of velvet inside. He laid it on the table and opened it.
“Mon Dieu,” he exclaimed in a soft whisper.
Pontoin’s smile became a self-satisfied grin. “Are they not magnificent?” he asked.
Du Pres looked up. “Indeed. I had heard rumours that they were on the market, but… I never thought I would have them in my hands, Monsieur.” He picked up the large and heavy brooch and held it close to his face, peering at the gemstones. “‘Les Larmes de la Reine’, the fabled diamonds of Marie-Antoinette… but, Monsieur, what do you wish me to do with them?”
“Tell me; is it possible to have them re-set? That brooch, it is not truly elegant and my daughter – well, I know she would want something less… pedestrian?”
“Mademoiselle Juliette? You have bought these for her?”
Pontoin nodded. “She has always had an interest in this tragic Queen and when I heard that the jewel was for private sale, I knew I had to have it for her. Sad to say, my friend, she is thirty this year – although you must never admit that I have revealed this, or I should not be forgiven! Her maman and I are despairing of ever seeing our grandchildren…”
Monsieur du Pres shrugged sympathetically. “Ah, the youth of today… They cannot imagine that life is not eternal, Monsieur. Marriage and families are something they will do tomorrow and then, all too often, they discover that tomorrow is a mirage and they have left it too late.”
Pontoin nodded gloomily. “Juliette lives her life as if she were unassailable by time and destiny alike. We do not know what she will do next.” He gave a satisfied smile. “But she is my eldest daughter and I am proud of her beyond the measuring. For her, not even a Queen’s Tears are good enough.”
Du Pres smiled and returned to studying the brooch in his hands. After a while he said:
“For the setting, although it is gold, it does nothing for the stones. I understand the diamonds were reset following the Revolution for an English aristocrat to whom the stones were smuggled by the Queen, as a surety for the future. Alas, she could not have known there was to be no future for her or her family. I believe it has been reworked again, since then… I would say by someone with skill, despite his lack of sympathy for the stones. Les Anglais do not have the heart and imagination of a true French artiste… These smaller diamonds are of good quality also, but part of the later redesign.”
He drew out a magnifying lens and peered through it.
“The three royal diamonds… superbes, absolument superbes… I believe they could be reset, with care.” He looked sternly at Pontoin. “I would not counsel that you split them; to do so would be an act of sacrilege. The man who made the original jewel for the Queen knew his business, Monsieur; these are matched to perfection.”
“I did not consider that they might be split. I hoped it would be possible to make a discreet and elegant brooch with them, one that could be worn as a choker, perhaps? Juliette has such a pretty neck.”
“Three diamonds of this quality would need a fine setting, Monsieur.”
“Strands of pearls?” Pontoin suggested.
“Possibly…” the jeweller murmured in a tone that expressed his dislike of the idea. “You will permit me to keep the brooch and to think of a design that will present the diamonds to their best possibility and suit your charming daughter also?”
“You will do it? I am content, Monsieur; I know that you value the beauty of the jewels and of my daughter also. The diamonds will be in the safest of hands.”
Du Pres wrapped the brooch back into its velvet and the men stood, Pontoin making preparations to leave.
“One thing, Monsieur Pontoin,” du Pres said. “The fee?”
“For my daughter, there is no price I will not pay. Consult me with your designs and we will agree the price then, my friend.”
“Avec plaisir, Monsieur. Au revoir.”
Cloudbase, August 2070
“So, do we treat it as a special birthday?” Captain Scarlet asked the assembled Angel pilots.
The four young women glanced at each other reflectively.
“No,” said Melody at the same moment that Symphony said “Yes, of course!”
They grinned at each other.
“You know Destiny as well as we do,” Melody said to the captain. “What do you think?”
“Better than we do probably,” Rhapsody amended quietly, and gave a sweet smile.
“If we treat it as special but don’t actually say why, then I think we’ll be okay,” Scarlet reasoned carefully.
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about; there’s nothing wrong with being thirty,” the other officer in the room said. He was standing by the coffee machine, pouring himself a drink.
“Nothing wrong with a man being thirty, you mean!” Symphony exclaimed. “It’s a milestone for a woman that men don’t have to worry about. People start to ‘tut’ and say ‘don’t forget your biological clock is ticking, girl’ – and similar helpful hints.”
“How would you know?” Captain Blue asked. “You’re nowhere near thirty.”
Symphony grimaced. “But I do know women who have turned thirty before now…” she said as if explaining something to a mentally challenged individual.
“And probably said as much to them yourself,” Melody chipped in, rolling her eyes significantly. “I’m with Blue. I can’t see why it matters; I mean biological clocks and all that. Not every woman wants babies.”
“Does Destiny?” Blue asked, moving to join the others who were sitting around the central space in the Amber Room. Harmony and Symphony were in uniform and Melody and Rhapsody were off duty and dressed in casuals.
“Who knows?” Melody replied, with a careless shrug.
“Do you, Paul?” Rhapsody asked innocently.
Captain Scarlet suppressed a smirk. “No, it has never come up in conversation,” he lied.
“I do think she would,” Harmony remarked quietly. “She said something to me when she told me her younger sister was becoming engaged to her boyfriend. She considered it would delight her parents as they hungered for grandchildren and despaired of her to supply them in the close future.”
“Oh, parents,” Blue muttered, and drank deep. “If hers are anything like mine they’ve been counting the days since she hit sixteen,” he announced, after swallowing.
“You must be a continuing disappointment to yours then,” Rhapsody remarked, with a teasing smile at the handsome American.
“More or less,” he agreed affably. “I leave all that to my younger brother and I think they’ve sort of given up hope with me.”
“I know I have,” Symphony muttered and Captain Scarlet smothered a snort of laughter.
Melody leant back against the couch, stretching her arms along the top. “Huh, it’s unfair that women are seen as failures if they don’t put their life on hold to produce a screaming, puking brat, while it’s okay for a man to sow his wild oats with impunity for as long as he likes. I have no desire to get married, never mind have a baby, even if I get called an old maid – that’s if anyone dares say it to my face, of course.”
“I wouldn’t,” Scarlet said promptly. “Indestructible I may be, suicidal I am not.”
This time the others chuckled and Melody grinned at him.
“So, we’re going for a not-specifically-special-birthday, and hoping Destiny won’t be cross?” Rhapsody summarised. “What’re we going to get her that is not specifically special?”
“Isn’t that the dilemma we started this discussion with?” Blue asked.
“Uh-huh,” Melody agreed.
A chime sounded, announcing a change of shift in fifteen minutes.
“Damn-and-blast, look at the time,” Scarlet said cheerfully. “Come on, Blue-boy, we’re on duty. It looks like we’ll have to leave it to you girls to decide after all.”
“Cowards,” Symphony teased, as the two men gathered their uniform caps and headed for the exit.
“I never know what to buy girls anyway,” Scarlet remarked in response. “Too much and they read volumes of significance you never intended there to be into it...”
“Too little and you’re a ‘miserly creep who wouldn’t know how to be generous if you were given lessons’,” Blue concluded, as the door opened and they left the room in a hurry.
“What unmitigated cheek!” Rhapsody said, trying not to snigger when she realised from the look on Symphony’s face that Blue had been quoting.
Monsieur du Pres had prepared his workroom carefully. After numerous discussions, Monsieur and Madame Pontoin had chosen a design they both liked for the diamonds and he was now ready to begin work. He would have to free the diamonds from their current setting and polish them before creating the new setting. There were three large diamonds flanked by a galaxy of smaller stones set into the heavy gold of the brooch. Each ‘royal’ diamond was shaped like a teardrop, which had given them their popular name.
Monsieur du Pres frowned and studied the brooch once more before he began to dismantle it. It seemed to him that the royal diamonds reflected the harsh light of his work lamp like so many miniature rainbows.
“Eh, bien, mes amis… now we shall begin to restore you to your true glory…”
As he prepared to work, from the centre of the middle diamond came an unearthly green glow. It increased until the room was bathed in a pulsating neon-green light that coalesced into two distinct rings.
Monsieur du Pres fell to the floor with a strangulated gasp and after a brief struggle he lay still. Moments later the recreated Monsieur du Pres dragged the human body outside and stored it in the tool shed. By the time it was found, he would be long gone.
Into his mind came a heavy, uninflected voice:
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS; YOU KNOW WHAT YOU MUST DO.
“The Mysterons’ orders shall be carried out,” said the replica of Monsieur du Pres.
Cloudbase, 22 August 2070
Destiny Angel’s face registered complete astonishment as she stepped into the Amber Room to be greeted by all of the Angels, except Symphony, who was on duty in Angel One, and the colourful array of elite captains. Lieutenant Green was also there, guitar in hand to strum along as everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’.
On one table was an ample buffet surrounding a cake, iced to show an Angel Interceptor Jet flying under the arch of a rainbow, while the other was piled with cards and presents. As the singing stopped, Destiny clapped her hands together and launched into a rapid flow of French, expressing her overwhelming delight.
“She’s pleased,” Rhapsody translated for Captain Ochre, who was looking slightly bewildered.
He grinned. “Even I could understand that much,” he admitted, and stepped up for his turn to hug and kiss the birthday girl.
“This is too, too much the magnificent… ah, chocolats! Merci, Capitaine Magenta!” Destiny threw her arms around the genial Irish-American and planted a kiss on both cheeks. “There is yet more? Truly, I am the luckiest woman on Cloudbase today… ah, parfum?” Her smile never faltered as she considered the latest eye-watering ‘celebrity scent’ that emerged from the wrapping paper. “Et dans un si joli flacon! Oh, merci, Capitaine Grey.” Her tact was rewarded by the delighted expression on the quiet American’s face as she kissed his cheeks. “Another gift, what can it be? Oh, a lovely silk scarf… from you Capitaine Ochre? Then for you I have the biggest kiss of all!”
“What did the Angels get her in the end?” Scarlet asked, peering around Blue to where Destiny was tearing paper off the main present on the table.
“A hand-bag?” Scarlet repeated in his best ‘Lady Bracknell’ imitation.
“It’s not just any old handbag,” Blue explained. “They clubbed together for the latest ‘must-have’ designer handbag with added bling… or whatever it is that handbags must have.”
“How do you know?”
“That weekend I was away with Karen? We went to Milan… shopping.” He sighed. “Three pairs of shoes - well, three pairs out of the three hundred she tried on and one handbag from a truly innumerable collection - later, we came home.”
“Okay, I’ll buy it. Karen did a good job though, she must’ve chosen the exact model of every woman’s dreams because the other three are green with envy and Juliette looks as if she’s about ready to … eh… well, she’s obviously pleased.”
Blue sniggered. “You should know, buddy.”
“Shut-up-shut-up-shut-up! Someone might hear you.”
“No, she’s over by the table with Destiny.”
Blue rolled his eyes. “Cute, much,” he muttered. Scarlet had the grace to look a little sheepish.
When Destiny had exhausted the pile of gifts on the table she came across to where Scarlet and Blue were standing eating.
“I must thank you both for my charming presents! The leatherwork belt is magnificent, Capitaine Blue, and just the right size – see how it becomes me!” She gave them a twirl. “And Paul, the charm for my bracelet is delightful. You are both such wonderful men!” She grasped Blue by the arm and he stooped to receive the obligatory kisses and then she embraced Scarlet, with much enthusiasm.
“Do you have plans for tomorrow, Juliette?” Scarlet asked, once freed from her arms.
“I depart on the last London shuttle tonight, en route to Paris. My family have arranged a meal for us all in our favourite restaurant, and I believe my mother has tickets for the ballet the next day. I have not seen a performance for such a long time; it will be wonderful to see a real company dancing. Then, we go to Monte Carlo and I return to Cloudbase on the first day of September.”
“With a topped-up tan and – I hope – a topped-up bank account,” Scarlet said, with a grin.
She grinned in response. “I too hope for that. Mais je suis désolée for missing your birthday, Blue.”
“Not to worry,” Blue replied. “I don’t expect it’ll be nearly as exciting as this one.”
“I have got you un petit cadeau; I give it now to you with warnings you shall open it only on the true day!” She handed him a neatly wrapped rectangular box.
“Thanks, Destiny; I promise I’ll save it until my birthday.”
Scarlet shook his head and remarked, “He will as well… I have never known anyone with so much self-control.”
“You could not promise so much, Paul,” she agreed, with a wry glance at Scarlet. “Ah, bravo, Harmony, musique… Allons, before I depart I shall have one dance with each of you lovely men!”
With wry smiles of reluctance, both men prepared to comply with Destiny’s imperious command.
Paris, August 23 2070
As one of the most chic Parisian suburbs located on the right bank of the Seine, life in Neuilly-sur-Seine was calm, quiet, and full of pleasure, thanks to the beautiful architecture and open green areas. The family home of the Pontoins was situated in one of the highly sought after quiet residential streets off the Bois de Boulogne and Juliette always got a frisson of excitement as she approached it. The taxi pulled up and she paid the fare, tipping with characteristic generosity, before she sprang up to the door and pressed the bell, leaving her finger on it until she heard someone approaching.
Madame Simone Pontoin threw her arms around her eldest daughter and hugged her. “Bienvenue à la maison et joyeux anniversaire, ma chérie!”
Laughing together, they dragged Juliette’s luggage into the house.
“You are looking well, my dear one,” Madame Pontoin said, as she brushed her daughter’s platinum blonde hair away from her face and studied the beautiful face intently. “Are you in love?” she asked tenderly, with a confidential smile.
Juliette simpered in response, but then shook her head. “Such a question! I am happy in my work and I have many friends on Cloudbase. There are a lot of attractive men there and I love them all – as friends! If one becomes more important to me, you will know of it.” She smiled. “Oh, I am so happy to be home today; why shouldn’t I look well?” She skipped away towards the main living room. “Where is everyone?”
“Monique is due back any moment; she had to go out today. Then we will have a little lunch? Your father will be home at his usual time. He’s been very excited at the thought of your visit.”
Juliette flopped down into one of the comfortable cushion-covered armchairs and stretched her legs out. “I think he is planning something. I can always tell, you know. Will you tell me what it is?” she beseeched her mother.
Madame Pontoin shrugged. “I do not know; and if I did I would not tell you. I care too much about the future of my marriage to spoil your father’s treat.”
“A treat! Ah, good – I thought it would be more of those ‘where are my grandchildren?’ conversations.”
Her mother smiled. “There will also be some of those, I am sure. Do not worry, Juliette…”
Juliette gave a slight sigh. “I just knew that there would be.” She glanced at her mother and started laughing merrily. “Poor Papa – I am such a disappointment to him!”
But Joscelin Pontoin did not consider himself to be a 'poor papa' when he returned home to his wife and daughters and Juliette threw herself into his embrace and hugged and kissed him.
As his wife had done earlier, he studied her carefully.
She was a little under average height, slender but shapely. Her clear, tanned complexion was framed by the long swathes of straight, platinum-blonde hair she customarily tied into simple bunches but was able to weave into sophisticated designs when the mood took her. Her features were regular and if her mouth was a little too wide and plump to be considered classically beautiful, he doubted anyone would fault her for that. But it was her large, expressive, amber-coloured eyes, fringed by dark lashes, that were her best feature, and Juliette knew that well enough to use them to her advantage.
Proud and fond as he was of both his attractive daughters, he had to admit that Juliette was his favourite. How he would have loved it if she had decided to remain in Paris, working in the family business until she married a suitable husband and retired to a life of child-rearing and domesticity, as exemplified by her mother. But he had always suspected, and now knew, that that scenario was never likely, for Juliette had inherited his ambition and drive, although perhaps not his diligent application.
When she had chosen to study in Rome, he had provided her with a generous allowance and she had enjoyed herself in a whirl of social gatherings. For a while he had harboured hopes that some Italian nobleman would win her heart, and consoled himself with the thought that Italians were often shrewd businessmen. But after she had finished her education with degrees in weather control and telecommunications, she returned home – unmarried - to consider her options. Her decision to join the World Army Air Force had surprised all who knew her, but despite his early reservations she surprised him by showing a definite aptitude for the service, and he had swiftly acknowledged that she was born to the role.
Her liaison with the darkly-handsome, English WAAF Major Metcalfe, who she met in Paris, had not been something he had welcomed. Life as a military wife would be sure to keep her away from Paris and her family, and he had been delighted when the couple had broken up - although he was wise enough not to show it.
For a while he had continued to hope she'd settle down in Paris until she had announced that she'd taken a post with the World Government and left home once more. Now that he knew her new job was as an Angel Pilot for Spectrum, he worried constantly that he might lose her in some aerial dog-fight.
He frowned to see the fine tracery of lines at the corner of her eyes.
"You need a good rest, my girl," he said, "to ensure you look your best."
"I am not looking my best? In what way?" she challenged. She pirouetted around in front of him and then pouted. “Papa, am I not looking my best?”
“To me, both of you are always the most beautiful girls in Paris – non, in France, or even the world! I merely think that at your age you should be considering the future and taking steps to find the right husband to settle down and start a family. Men do not always like career-minded women.”
“Papa, you are from another age! These days women can do what work they want – and I would not want a man who would not want me as I am! Besides, I do not want to start a family,” Juliette said confidently. “I am doing a job of real importance and for me that is satisfaction enough. If I meet what you call the right man – if, Papa – then it is the time to consider what future we may have together and if that should include children.”
“So, amongst all of the handsome Spectrum officers you still have not met the right man?” Monique asked. Seven years younger than her sister, she was petite and elegant and employed as an office manager in one of the prestigious fashion houses and her fiancé was an up-and-coming designer who had done some work for the family’s textile firm. Although the sisters were close they were not alike and Monique was looking forward to giving up work after her marriage and found Juliette’s reluctance to do the same perplexing.
“Non. It is possible to work with young men without thinking of them as husbands in the making, Nikki. They are, as I am, dedicated to the aims of Spectrum and we do not consider each other as future marriage partners. Well, most of us don’t: there are two Americans who are very much in love and I do not see them moving on to new partners.”
“I do not want you to marry a Spectrum officer,” Joscelin muttered darkly. “I want you here, safe in Paris.”
“I have signed on for the standard tour of duty, Papa, and maybe when that expires I shall consider if I wish to stay in Spectrum. If I had to make that decision today, I would stay.” Juliette looked at her father and felt a surge of pity for him. “Oh, Papa, do not worry for me! I am happy; I am safe, I am surrounded by good friends who care for me. I love you and Maman and Nikki, but I feel there is a job I can do and I want to be the best at it. To do that is important to me – just as the success of the factory is important to you.”
“Of course, I understand,” her father replied. “I just wish I had you at home; I miss my girl.” He reached out to her and she hugged him. “Now, go and get ready; the restaurant is booked and I want the beautiful ladies of the Pontoin family to shine brighter than the stars tonight! Vite, vite!”
Juliette dressed with care. Although the Angels had received gifts of beautiful couture gowns from André Verdain after they had saved him from a Mysteron threat in Monte Carlo, she chose to wear a dress by the rival house of Lemaire, of midnight blue, shot through with silver threads. It was cut in a princess neckline, emphasising her round bosom and long neck. She piled her hair high on her head, weaving blue silk ribbons through the silver blonde tresses. Once satisfied that she had achieved the result she had wanted, she slipped into silver evening shoes and hurried downstairs.
Her mother was wearing a classic white satin evening gown, encrusted with tiny crystals and her usual mink coat, while Monique was in a bright-red, irregular cut dress with only one sleeve, designed by her fiancé who was striving to make a name for himself in the fashion world.
“Eh bien!” Joscelin cried when he saw Juliette. “We have the red, white and blue of France on the three most beautiful Frenchwomen.”
Monique laughed gaily. “Oh, Papa, you are so silly sometimes.”
“Are we all ready to go?” Madame Pontoin glanced significantly at her husband.
“In a moment, my dear. Juliette, I have for you a present that should become you – for it will match your beauty with its own. From us all, my dear daughter, with our love and affection, on your birthday.” He handed her a box wrapped in plain silver paper.
“Merci,” she whispered and carefully opened the parcel. Inside was a black velvet box with a small gold clasp – and inside that…
Juliette lifted the diamonds on their strands of intricate silver chains out of the box and held them up to the light.
“How wonderful,” Monique gasped, moving closer to have a look.
Juliette looked at her father. “They look like… like ‘les Larmes de la Reine’? Papa?”
“Yes, they are indeed les Larmes de la Reine. I heard they were for private sale and I wanted them for you.”
“The diamonds of Marie-Antoinette?” Monique reached out to touch one and smiled as it flashed in the electric light. “Oh Juliette, you are so lucky!”
“You must wear them tonight,” Joscelin demanded, “so that everyone may see how even such magnificent stones as these cannot outshine a truly beautiful woman.”
He took them from her hands and fastened the clasp around her neck.
It was close to two in the morning by the time the family returned home. The restaurant, which knew them well, had been closed to the public and was full of family friends and relations and the meal had been superb; so they were in no hurry to leave. The diamonds had been much admired and were a great topic of conversation amongst the guests, who were fascinated by the way they caught the light.
Proud to have received such a magnificent gift from her parents and confident that she could carry them off, Juliette wore the necklace with great self-assurance. Nevertheless, towards the end of the evening she was becoming a little tired of playing second fiddle to some lumps of rock – however beautiful they were - and she was relieved to get home and take it off.
She laid it back in the velvet box for her father to secure in the family’s safe.
“I do not know when I shall have occasion to wear them again,” she said a little sadly, as her father spun the combination lock. “But I thank you from the depths of my heart for such a wonderful gift, Papa.”
“For my girls nothing is too much,” he replied, and kissed her cheek. “And I think I can promise you an occasion to wear them again very soon. I have been invited to an official reception at Versailles tomorrow and I need a beautiful lady to accompany me. Would you come with me, Juliette?”
“To wear the Queen’s diamonds at Versailles?” She gasped with surprised delight. “But what about Maman? Surely she will be going with you?”
“Your mother has made it quite clear to me that it took her a lot of effort to acquire the tickets for the ballet and she prefers to attend the performance. We would have gone as a family, but when this invitation arrived yesterday, I considered whether it would be better for me to go to the reception. The invitation is from Madame Thibault, who, I am sure you know, is the newest member of the Triumvirate of Europe, and not a person it would be wise to offend. The members of the Triumvirate will be there along with many important people from politics and business. Such occasions happen rarely these days and they present an opportunity for us to make the services we can provide known to the very people who may need them. Shall we go together – the proud father and his beautiful daughter?”
“Of course, we must not miss the opportunity to promote our company amongst such influential people,” she agreed, although not without some regret for missing the pleasure of the ballet.
Her father smiled at her in delight. “Wonderful! Thank you, my dear. Now, let us both get to bed, or we shall sleep the day away!”
Cloudbase August 24 2070
On Cloudbase, things were moving like clockwork through the daily routines: the Angels completed their regular patrols, the colour captains busied themselves with the administrative aspects of their posts that kept them occupied between Mysteron threats, and Colonel White read and annotated reports, considered strategies and tried – as ever - to balance the books.
Cloudbase was stationed over the Gulf of Berbera, where a new oil pipeline was nearing completion and it was felt that it presented a likely target for terrorist – or extra-terrestrial – attack. However, at present there was no indication of any potential trouble and Captain Scarlet was not the only member of Spectrum who was coming to the conclusion that they were wasting their time; but he was one of the few who voiced it.
“Where else do you think we should be then?” Blue asked, as his friend complained for the nth time about their location.
“I don’t know; I have a gut feeling that it’s all too quiet, Adam, but I can’t fathom where the Mysterons might launch their next attack.” He threw down the document he was working on and left the desk to stride about the room like a caged animal. “We should be doing something!”
“We are,” Blue said calmly. “We’re keeping a watchful eye out for anything suspicious. The Angels are patrolling and the ground agents have guard posts set up at every strategic point. Magenta’s in the research library and Ochre’s on radar duty. Grey is… somewhere doing something, I’ll be bound. We are supposed to be trying to evaluate these reports from ground bases about potential sightings of Captain Black-”
“Huh,” scoffed Scarlet, still pacing.
“– but you… you prefer to complain, when you should be helping,” Blue finished mildly, with a shake of his head.
“Paperwork!” Scarlet exclaimed, flicking the pile of documents on the table dismissively. “I didn’t join Spectrum to do paperwork!”
“No, I am well aware of that,” Blue muttered, “because, somehow, it is always me that gets the paperwork to deal with.”
Scarlet flushed guiltily and sighed out his frustration. “Sorry, Adam. Want a coffee?”
Blue glanced at the half-empty mug of stone-cold liquid beside him and nodded.
Scarlet went to the coffee machine and was busy pouring out the second mug when the base wide tannoy crackled and the well-known, deep and ominous voice of the Mysterons filled Cloudbase once more.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE
MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN
Captain Scarlet swore as the hot coffee overflowed the mug and scalded him.
“A dead queen’s tears? Do we have a list of monarchs anywhere?” Ochre asked in general, as the captains and duty Angels assembled in the conference room waited for the colonel to arrive.
“Europa is a Greek myth,” Rhapsody Angel mused, “but there is no reigning queen in Greece.”
“There’s a royal family though,” Magenta replied. “And branches of the Greek royal family married into many of the European royal houses, so that doesn’t really help us.”
“Were any of the ones that married into other royal families given to crying much?” Ochre asked his field partner while he scrambled to his feet as Colonel White came in.
White acknowledged his officers and demanded, “Your thoughts, ladies and gentlemen?”
“A European queen is being threatened somehow?” Ochre began.
“Why should anyone’s tears, even a dead queen’s, mean that someone else doesn’t get something from a certain place?” Scarlet asked.
“There are places everywhere named after queens, or called Queen so and so, or Queen’s this or that,” Rhapsody remarked. “The Queen in the threat needn’t be a person, it could be a place.”
“An attack on Queens in New York, for example?” Magenta exclaimed. “The Mysterons might plan to attack Queens somehow in a way that the US might blame on Europe.”
“Is there a place called Sheba’s Sands?” Grey asked. “It sounds like a casino in somewhere like Las Vegas, to me.”
“And what bounty does it have to offer?” Harmony said suddenly. “I think the threat implies that not receiving the ‘bounty’ will harm Europe.”
“True; why else would the Mysterons try to stop this bounty from reaching Europa?” Scarlet mused.
“Shame there isn’t a modern Kingdom of Sheba,” Rhapsody said, with a sigh. “It’d make things so much easier.”
“Could the queen in question be the Queen of Sheba anyway?” Ochre suggested. There were several murmurs of agreement that this sounded a likely suggestion. “I mean, she’s already dead - well, the one everyone’s heard about is - and the threat speaks about ‘reflections of a dead queen’s tears’ – so maybe … there’s something – a lake? – known as Sheba’s tears or bounty or- something.”
“Please check those suggestions in the computer databases, Lieutenant Green,” the colonel instructed.
As he was speaking, Captain Blue came into the Conference Room and leant across the table to hand the colonel the newspaper he was carrying.
“Sorry I’m late, Colonel. I wanted to check something I saw in the paper the other day.”
“Go ahead, Captain,” the colonel replied, glancing at the uppermost page of the tabloid Blue had handed him. He knew Blue’s excellent track record at solving the more cryptic of the Mysterons’ threats and was willing to forgive the tardiness if it led to an understanding of the likely target for the Mysteron attack.
The captain addressed all the officers. “There’s a grand reception in Paris, tomorrow, where the Triumvirate of Europe will sign a contract with the executives of ‘So-Co’ for supplies of oil via the new Berberan pipeline.”
“Yes,” White said slowly, “and you think this is relevant?”
Blue nodded. “I think it might be, sir, given that ‘So-Co’ is the popular name for the Sheban Oil Company.”
“Goddamit, so it is,” Magenta exclaimed, annoyed with himself. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because you don’t go to sleep counting the ‘Footsie 500’ rather than sheep?” Scarlet suggested, grinning at Blue, who flushed slightly and went on to explain:
“I only happen to know something about this because SvenCorp was part of the conglomerate financing the setting up the company, and my father and brother talked about little else for months. However, I do know that because the Ethiopians, Eritreans and Djiboutians haven’t always seen eye to eye, the name ‘Sheban Oil’ was chosen as a way of avoiding upsetting political sensitivities in the region, rather than because of the Queen of Sheba, so that part doesn’t gel with the Mysteron threat. The high cost of producing the pipeline, which has had to employ the very latest flexible tunnelling technology to counter potential earthquakes in the region, is partly being borne by the World Government and partly by the Triumvirate of Europe, with commercial capital completing the funding. The economic gains from the new pipeline should be significant once it is fully operational, if only because it will reduce the losses due to piracy in the Gulf.”
“Is there any pie your father doesn’t have his finger in?” Ochre commented to Blue.
“I doubt it, apart from humble pie,” Blue retorted.
Colonel White suppressed a smile, although everyone else was grinning. “Thank you, Captain Blue, for that succinct précis,” he said, quelling Ochre’s intended wise-cracking response with a glance. “The oil contract that’s going to be signed is extremely important, because without the fuel supplies from the Sheban fields, Europe could face a bleak winter. I think this is our best guess yet,” he added.
“But what about the Queen’s tears?” Rhapsody asked. “It must mean something; the Mysterons aren’t given to poetic flights of fancy.”
Ochre nodded and said, “And why are they signing it in Paris? I mean the Triumvirate’s main base is Brussels.”
“The French were a major colonial power in the region until the last century,” Scarlet explained. “Maybe the ‘Shebans’ like the symbolism of saving their old colonial masters from shivering by signing a contract in their capital?”
“Whereabouts in Paris is the reception to be held?” White asked.
Magenta had already called up the information on his hand-held computer. “Salle des Glaces, Versailles,” he replied. “That ought to be ‘royal’ enough to satisfy even the Mysterons.”
“Yes,” Scarlet said. “And we ought to allow for their attempts to mystify us with their more cryptic threats. Maybe they deem poetic flights of fancy to be part of the game?”
“This is no game, Captain Scarlet,” Colonel White responded sternly. “Spectrum must ensure that Europe’s winter fuel supplies are not disrupted. I want you and Captain Blue to ensure everything is secure at Versailles, while Captain Ochre and Captain Grey will join the Sheban executives and accompany them to Paris. Captain Magenta, I want you and Lieutenant Green to monitor all communications from the Triumvirate’s offices and the Sheban Oil company. I want a report on anything that suggests there might be a cause for concern. I also want a list of everyone invited to the reception – whether they have accepted or not. The Angels will patrol the length of the pipeline from the rigs to the port and on to the refineries.”
He paused and glanced around at the young men and women under his command. “I want this thing sewn up tighter than an oil drum,” he continued. “Dismiss.”
Blue and Scarlet flew down to Paris immediately. They picked up an SSC from the airport compound and, with Blue driving, they headed towards the city.
“Ever been to Versailles?” Scarlet asked, looking up from the guide book he’d bought at the airport.
“No.” Blue admitted, rather to his friend’s surprise. It always seemed to Scarlet as if Blue had been everywhere.
Sensing his friend’s reaction, Blue explained, “My father had a business falling out with… a French company that my grandfather had loaned money to on favourable terms – unduly favourable, in my dad’s opinion.”
“You mean your grandfather warned your father not to meddle with his decisions?”
“Hell, no,” Blue retorted quickly. “My grandfather trusted my father’s business acumen implicitly. However, I think he was friendly with the company’s senior management and my father can be rather… abrupt at times.”
“You don’t say?”
Blue ignored that comment. “The aftermath of the European Atomic War made it tough for many European companies and quite a lot of our business came from the reconstruction work at the time. Stefan probably just asked my dad not to put too much pressure on his friend. That’d be enough.”
“Enough to keep your father out of the entire city?” Scarlet found that hard to believe; in fact, he firmly believed that John Svenson lacked enough imagination to ever be scared of anything.
“I’m sure he could imagine having to explain to my grandfather why he was there and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.”
“So, your father imagined that even his presence in Paris would be considered too much pressure by the French, who would go bleating to your grandfather and bring him grief? I’d say that was an unlikely story, if I didn’t know your father’s ego could flatten whole city blocks.”
Blue sighed and shook his head. “I don’t imagine the thought ever crossed his mind. Besides, if Mom had wanted to go to Paris, to Paris Mom would’ve gone. Come to think of it, I remember my parents did take a trip here one year, so Mom could do the galleries and go shopping, but none of us kids went with them.”
“I bet you were grateful for that?”
Blue’s answering smile was relaxed. “Yeah. I rather think my father combined business with pleasure – as usual – and I think that’s when he and… the Frenchman fell out over how to get the business on a sound footing again. When my grandfather retired and left all his business concerns in Dad’s hands, Dad put business managers in and turned the French firm around his way. I doubt he did it with much tact, and his high-handed manner didn’t exactly endear him to the French owners, nor, when they protested and had the gall to argue that they knew better, did the French owners endear themselves to him. After that, Paris was never mentioned as a holiday spot again.”
Blue nodded. “Against an entire country this time.”
Scarlet chuckled. “I am so glad I haven’t done anything to upset your father.”
“Yet,” Blue replied cryptically, with a slight smile.
The guards at Versailles were expecting them and waved them through with the minimum of identity checks. Scarlet made a note to tell the site commander to tighten up on security.
The site commander was a dark-haired young woman, with large brown eyes and a mouth that, even in repose, seemed to smile. She stood to attention and saluted as the captains got out of the car.
“Welcome to Paris,” she said, as they acknowledged her salute. “I am Lieutenant Rose. I have been instructed by Major Almond to attend to you while you are here and to provide any services you may require.” She glanced at them both from beneath long, dark eyelashes. “But it would have been my pleasure to do so without any orders, Capitaine Scarlet and Capitaine Bleu.”
“Thanks, Lieutenant,” Scarlet replied, looking around the small courtyard they were in. “Before we go any further, do you have anything to report or questions for us?”
She shook her head. “Non, sir.”
Scarlet turned on her, his sapphire-blue eyes flashing with annoyance. “Well, you should have, Lieutenant. Your security guards waved us through without checking that we are not Mysteron agents and you’ve made no attempt to check our ID cards either! Forget that you were ever told that this is merely a cushy number checking that VIPs don’t get too drunk to drive home – this is a serious mission to protect the Triumvirate of Europe and ensure the Sheban Oil contract is signed without any Mysteron interference. Get your act together, Lieutenant, or you and Major Almond will be checking IDs in Siberia this winter!”
“S.I.G, sir!” To her credit the young woman had quickly overcome her alarm at Scarlet’s sudden attack and was at attention for the majority of his rebuke.
“Now, would you like to see our credentials?” Scarlet asked.
“Sir,” she replied and stretched her hand out for their Spectrum cards. She took them both and went into the small office to swipe them through a reader.
“That was a bit mean,” Blue remarked casually, once the lieutenant was out of earshot. “If they had tested you with a detector you’d have been arrested.”
“If it means they remember to test everyone else, I’m not sorry for it,” Scarlet snapped.
“Oh no, you were quite right and well within your authority to give her a rollicking,” Blue agreed. “You aren’t usually so tough with ladies of the opposite sex, though.”
Scarlet grinned. “Ah, but I have my reasons; in fact, I bet she makes sheep’s eyes at you all day now and leaves me to get on with my work.”
“Thanks, Paul; that’s just what I need.”
In fact, Lieutenant Rose left them both alone and assigned Corporal Lebrun to show them round the Salle des Glaces and the other rooms being used for the reception. The corporal was a stolid, middle-aged man who remained resoundingly unimpressed by the English and American captains, if his demeanour was anything to go by.
“So you see, Messieurs; we ‘ave already made secure all ze points of entrance and of vantage for a sniper. The guards will ‘ave Mysteron rifles and detectors if zay are alarmed or if zair is a character of suspicion. When zay enter, all guests will be awarded a badge zat will allow us, shrough a transmission, to monitor where zay walk and with whom zay are talking at all times. In ze parking zair will be constant monitoring and patrols to prevent any attack on a véhicule. Not any Mysteron shall have ze chaunce to approach ze reception or ze guests.”
“Good work, Corporal,” Scarlet replied, looking up from the diagram they’d been given to study.
“Where will the command centre be?” Blue asked briskly.
Corporal Lebrun jabbed at the diagram with a stubby finger. “In zis leetle room that can see over the guests where they will be arriving, Capitaine. It connects to ze main passages shrough ze ozzer room and accesses to ze parking.”
“So I see. Thank you, Corporal. We’ll walk the layout with the map on our own.”
They watched Lebrun amble away.
“Now, Adam, if you wanted to find a vantage for a sniper zat gave a chaunce at ze guests and had accesses to the parking, where would you go?”
When there was no immediate reply Scarlet glanced up at his partner to see the American struggling to suppress his amusement. When the Englishman raised a inquiring eyebrow, Blue couldn’t contain himself any more and laughed.
“I don’t know why I’m laughing, my French is execrable…” Blue admitted.
Scarlet smiled and patted his arm in a show of sympathy. “You can’t even speak English like what she ought to be spoke so your abysmal French is no surprise.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment. “You know, I think we might need a little local assistance: someone who knows the lingo, someone we can trust and someone who isn’t ‘entirely devoid of elegance and charm’…”
Blue smiled. “And someone who won’t have left for Monte Carlo yet?”
“Exactly! Contact the colonel and ask him to contact Destiny at home and assign her to the security mission. After all, she’ll only miss 48 hours of her leave – at most – and that’ll leave her plenty of time to break the bank at Monte Carlo…”
However, Colonel White had other ideas, and made them clear over the radio link:
“I don’t think you need Destiny to lend a hand; I understood that your French was at least adequate, Captain Blue, and yours, Captain Scarlet, is more than adequate. No; she deserves a break and I forbid you to contact her. You have the resources of Spectrum: Paris at your disposal, make use of them.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Blue said, with a wary glance at the rather grumpy expression on his partner’s face. He closed the connection and shrugged at Scarlet.
“Oh well,” Scarlet said, “It was a good idea and I bet Juliette would have loved being part of a mission so close to home. Still, you can’t argue with the Old Man when he uses that tone of voice. Let’s get on with it and hope your ‘adequate’ French is up to the job.”
Major Almond was overseeing the preparations in the Salle des Glaces when the Spectrum officers returned. Lieutenant Rose introduced the two captains to her commander. He was shorter and probably a few years older than either of the colour captains and Scarlet classed him as ‘a typical dapper Frenchman’ in appearance.
“Charmed to meet you,” Almond said in French, his dark eyes sweeping over the young officers in a glance.
“Thank you, Major,” Scarlet replied. “We’re here to be of assistance keeping the reception safe from the Mysterons. Please make such use of us as you need.”
“Cloudbase are certainly taking every precaution to protect the dignitaries,” Almond said. “Please be assured that here in Paris, the ground forces share your concerns. We may not have dealt with the Mysterons as often as the elite squadrons, but we are fully briefed and well-trained. The Mysterons will not be able to infiltrate the security cordon we have placed around the venue.”
“I’m sure that’s true, Major, if the Mysterons try to get in once the build up to the reception has started,” Scarlet replied. “But they can recreate a person or an object and use it for their own ends. So, if there’s been any breakage or incident, any parcels that have arrived – even something as mundane as a delivery of cleaning equipment – it needs to be tested.”
Major Almond raised one dark eyebrow and gave a very Gallic shrug. “Of course, Captain Scarlet, but how do you test a box of table linen? It has no x-ray to show it is not Mysteronised.”
“Table linen?” Blue repeated. “Has any been delivered?”
“Certainly, there has. The guests will be served refreshments in the next rooms and they will be served from a flat-pack trestle table,” Lieutenant Rose interjected. “It will be covered by the finest linen and there are matching serviettes for them to use. It is all new and has come direct from the supplier.”
“Has it been checked here?” Blue asked. “The Mysterons will use anything they can to achieve their aims.”
“It is simple table linen…” Rose objected. “How can it be dangerous?”
Blue appealed to Scarlet as Field Commander. “It is something that’s not usually here and it will be handed out to every dignitary - for that reason, if no other, it needs to be checked,” he urged.
“I think you might be getting a little carried away with the notion of killer serviettes,” Scarlet reasoned quietly to his partner, but he turned to the others and said, “Captain Blue is right in so far as we must make sure the delivery man was not a Mysteron and that he only delivered the linen.”
“He was checked; I did it myself,” Almond explained.
Scarlet nodded and turned back to Blue. “You take Lieutenant Rose and unpack the delivery. Check the box isn’t booby-trapped and take all the usual precautions.”
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet; je suis sur la valise…” Blue said with suspiciously gleeful enthusiasm. He gave the somewhat surprised lieutenant one of his brilliant smiles and gestured for her to lead the way.
Scarlet sniggered as he watched them go. Almond was looking mystified and he thought he knew why. “He doesn’t speak much French,” he explained.
“Perhaps that is a blessing to be grateful for,” Almond replied ruefully. “For I do not think my poor language would survive so much… Trans-Atlantic originality. Allons, maintenant au travail. Il faut être sérieux, Capitaine!”
Juliette spent the afternoon in a state of excitement. It was true that she had grown bored with the seemingly endless rounds of cocktail parties and polite receptions she’d been invited to whilst a student in Rome, but the thought of wearing her new diamonds in such company and in such a magical place as Versailles was exhilarating.
Even so, she was also pragmatic enough to realise that her father wasn’t doing this just for the pleasure of seeing her dressed to the nines. The family’s textile company was finally flourishing again after a considerable period in the doldrums and last year the company had won a lucrative contract to renew the furnishing fabrics in several important government buildings. This had involved the purchase of new machinery and the taking on of a number of skilled workers, so to make sure the investment was justified, the company was in the process of tendering for another contract to work on some of the grand apartments and historical buildings all over France.
This visit to Versailles would give them both a chance for some polite lobbying and allow her father to size up the competition and the scale of the project.
She was in no doubt that the diamonds were the real hook to catch the interest of the politicians her father wanted to impress and she was merely the added attraction. Nevertheless she was determined to do justice to her jewels and she tried on most of the dresses from her collection before she settled on a spectacular antique designer dress of a pinky-mauve silk chiffon. The elaborate fitted bodice, narrow straps and neckline, inspired by the Art Deco movement, were decorated with sequins and cut-away flesh-coloured panels that gave the dress a racy air, while the full skirt created a small circular train at her feet.
It would, Juliette felt, attract attention in the first instance and then people would see the diamonds… With great care she took them from their box and fastened them around her neck. She had worried that the sequins might detract from the brilliance of the gems, but she realised that was unnecessary concern; even in the light of her bedroom the diamonds reflected the colours of the dress and sparkled with an intensity that was dazzling.
Satisfied, she carefully applied some perfume to her wrists and ears and picked up her mink stole and evening bag, ready to accompany her father to the most important event Paris had seen for many years.
Scarlet and Captain Blue watched the first of the
“Looks like it’s going to go smoothly,” Scarlet muttered.
“It’s early,” Blue reminded him, “and none of the real bigwigs are here yet.” He glanced at the timetable Rose had printed out for them. “Thibault should be here first and then Olafsson and finally Henderson. I wonder if Henderson will remember us?”
Scarlet raised one eyebrow. “I expect we’re engraved on his memory; after all, we saved his life when the Mysterons were after him.”
Blue turned his back on the window and perched on the wide sill. “That makes me wonder just what the Mysterons are out to get, exactly. I mean, they don’t go after the same target twice, do they?”
“Well, they haven’t done so until now,” Scarlet agreed. “But Thibault was only elected this year, so she’s a bit of an unknown quantity and she wasn’t part of their first threat.”
“True,” Blue agreed. “You think she’s their target then?”
Scarlet shrugged. “There will be the three European leaders, the top officials from the tri-state-owned Sheban oil company, numerous important guests from the business world, politicians and media types all rubbing shoulders at an internationally-known venue. Take your pick.”
“That’s what worries me,” Blue grumbled. “The Mysterons usually single someone out and they haven’t. We’re fighting in the dark!”
“Maybe the War of Nerves just moved up a notch?” Scarlet remarked thoughtfully. “And they aren’t always that specific,” he added, seeing that Blue really was on edge.
The American swivelled round and stared down at the courtyard where more cars were arriving. “We should be down there, keeping an eye on things, not up here watching.”
“The colonel didn’t want us to be too conspicuous and the ground forces are there already along with the French police and the security forces. Flipping heck, Adam, the security guards will outnumber the guests at this rate.”
“I don’t like it, that’s all,” Blue confessed, and strode across the room, pent-up energy making it impossible for him to sit still.
Scarlet turned and looked down at the scene outside. The floodlights had just come on, although it wasn’t dark yet. For once he felt less anxious than his friend and it wasn’t often that happened.
Maybe there is something in what Adam says? he thought. He doesn’t often ask me to trust his hunches…
Coming to a decision, he looked over his shoulder. “Do you know of anywhere you can order a tuxedo at such short notice?”
Blue shook his head, flushing slightly. “There’s no need, I ordered one earlier. It arrived while Rose and I were checking the killer serviettes. I got one for you too, just in case. I won’t put them on my expenses,” he said apologetically, a smile twitching at the corner of his wide lips.
Scarlet gave his friend a look of pained surprise. “You were taking something of a risk that I’d agree to play your hunch, weren’t you? But even so you don’t have to be such a martyr; I’ll sign the expenses chitty. Go on, get down there and mingle with the great and the good. I’ll stay here, for now.”
“S.I.G, Captain Scarlet!”
The Pontoins’ limousine drew up into the floodlit courtyard in a convoy of smart cars. A uniformed security man opened the door for Juliette to get out of the car; she took her time and, wary of any potential threat to the diamonds, waited until her father had walked round to help her out.
The paparazzi were there in some numbers and the flash cameras fired, temporarily blinding them both. Monsieur Pontoin guided his daughter across the red carpet towards the entrance, where he presented the embossed invitation card to another uniformed flunky. They were ushered inside the building and yet another security officer took their pictures with what Juliette realised was a Mysteron Detector.
Once the pictures had developed they were admitted to the first of the reception rooms adjacent to the Salle des Glaces. A neatly-dressed waitress approached them with a silver tray containing champagne saucers and offered them one. Juliette noticed that she had a communication earpiece in one ear and wondered if the elaborate frill of her starched, white apron hid a gun holster.
Monsieur Pontoin handed his daughter a glass of champagne and remarked:
“I read somewhere that these were designed to resemble the breast of Marie-Antoinette.”
Juliette looked objectively at the glass in her hand. “Poor woman,” she replied, causing her father to smile.
“Appropriate in such a place though, don’t you agree?” he said, and took a sip. “Hmm, it is a good vintage. They are not sparing the expense, Juliette.”
She nodded rather absent-mindedly. Since they’d entered the ante-chamber she had become increasing aware that there were numerous uniformed personnel standing to attention around the room and closed-circuit TV cameras in the corners, scanning the guests. Her Spectrum training had given her an expert grounding in security measures and practices and she was acutely aware that however unobtrusive the security was here, it was extensive.
First, there was the Mysteron detector and no attempt made to disguise it, she thought, and now we have more than enough staff to assist… there must be something going on! I should have brought my communicator then I could have checked in with Cloudbase…
Her father was chatting to a vaguely familiar man standing next to them and so with a careful glance at him, she moved towards one of the security guards interspersed amongst the waiters and waitresses.
How am I going to ask what is going on without revealing I am a Spectrum agent? she thought, and stopped midway across the room. As she looked towards the door, wondering if she could discover where the command post might be, she did a double-take at the tall blond-haired man, impeccably dressed in a tuxedo, who had just walked into the room.
I knew it! Spectrum are here in force!
She glanced back at her father and saw that he was still engaged with his neighbour and so she crossed the room and walked towards the newcomer. She had the pleasure of seeing him notice her and give an astonished smile.
“Juliette!” he exclaimed. “How… amazing to see you here.”
“Ah, Adam, for me the surprise is also very much a delight.” She held out a hand to him and when he raised it to his lips, she blushed slightly before standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheeks in greeting.
As she slid from his embrace she saw his eyes travel over her with admiration. “You look stunning,” he said with smiling sincerity.
The attractive blush which suffused her cheeks was evidence of just how much she appreciated the value of the compliment. She considered Captain Blue to be something of a connoisseur of style: after all, his mother and sister were the frequent focus of the fashion pages and ‘International Fashion Monthly’s’ ‘The Svenson Style Book’ was something of a Bible for a certain tribe of well-heeled Fashionistas. It had been in the top 50 bestsellers list ever since it had been published eighteen months ago and she had borrowed Rhapsody Angel’s copy several times to pour over the pages when looking for inspiration for a special event.
“What are you doing here?” she asked him quietly.
“The real question is what are you doing here? Did the colonel get in touch with you after all?”
“Non, I have not spoken to Cloudbase. Was it thought I could be of assistance on the mission?” She felt a surge of pride when Blue nodded.
“But the colonel said you deserved to spend your furlough without interruption from us,” he explained. “We had hoped he’d let you join us.”
As Blue turned and took a glass of champagne from the waitress who was staring at him in some confusion, he said: “Scrub up well, don’t I, Lieutenant?”
Destiny smiled at her, noting that it was the same woman who had served her and her father earlier. “If there are so many security personnel here, what are you doing here?” she asked again.
“Scarlet thought we needed someone amongst the guests – undercover, you might say,” he explained. “We weren’t expecting you, of course.”
“Scarlet? Paul is here also?”
“Uh-huh; he’s field commander. There’s been a Mysteron threat against the signing of the Sheban oil contract, Destiny. Spectrum: Paris is here in force, as are the police and some of the national security forces.” He sniffed the champagne and took the tiniest sip so that Destiny was reminded of the dangerous ‘non-alcoholic’ champagne that had arrived on Cloudbase from ‘a well-wisher’ and resulted in Blue and Ochre blowing the World Navy’s Atlantica Base to smithereens in drug-induced innocence.
“It is safe,” she commented, with an impish smile. “Mon père commented that it was a good vintage also.”
Blue gave a woeful grimace. “You can call me over-cautious if you like, but I need to keep my wits about me and, however safe it is, I don’t want this champagne to go straight to my head.”
Destiny gave a trill of laughter. “Symphony often tells me that she believes ‘Caution’ is your middle name, Capitaine. Myself, I can see why you would not wish to indulge on a mission but it is a shame, for the champagne is very good.”
He smiled. “Why are you here, Juliette?”
“I am here with my father; he received an invitation from the newest member of the Triumvirate of Europe, Madame Thibault.” She waved a hand in the direction of her father.
“I didn’t see your name on the list,” Blue explained, a frown appearing between his fair brows.
“I understand that the invitation only came the day before my birthday. We had all planned to go the ballet, but my father has made business dealings with Madame Thibault’s government departments before now and seeks to make another. He does not wish to offend her by not attending. My mother is less circumspect, she has gone to the ballet. So, I am here also.” She sipped her drink and asked, “What was the sort of threat that brought you and Scarlet here?”
“A specific threat to this ceremony. The oil deal is important for ensuring there is enough oil for the winter across Europe, so we couldn’t ignore it.”
“Of course,” she agreed somewhat distractedly. A frown drew her elegant brows down over her nose. “I do not like to hear this, Capitaine. Should I take my father home, do you think?”
“What excuse could you give him for leaving before the ceremony?” Blue asked her soberly. “If he asked why you needed to leave you’d start a panic if you mentioned the Mysterons were targeting the gathering, as well as revealing our identities as Spectrum agents. Besides, getting everyone out of here might prevent the Mysterons’ strike, but it’s also likely to prevent the contract being signed – which is what we think they want. You know the Bereznians are also anxious to prevent the deal going through because part of it is for military support against them after they tried to move in and take control of the pipeline?”
She nodded. “Of course I know. Is Capitaine Black here?”
“There’s been no reported sighting,” Blue admitted. “Look, Juliette, I’d say you and your father are as safe here as anywhere. This place is sewn up tighter than a drum.”
“For myself I have no concerns.” She sighed. “I know that Spectrum is always most thorough, but when a threat places a family member in danger…”
Blue was nodding in understanding when: “Juliette?” Monsieur Pontoin’s voice cut across the conversation as he approached them, with a resolute expression on his face.
She spun round to greet him. “Yes, Papa?”
Joscelin Pontoin gave a polite bow towards his daughter’s companion. “Excusez-moi, Monsieur. Juliette, I wished to introduce you to Monsieur Broussard but you were nowhere to be found.” He glanced at Blue and the suspicion of a frown appeared on his face. “Will you not introduce me to this gentleman, Juliette? I have seen that you converse like old friends.”
Juliette hesitated for a moment and gave Blue a warning glance. She knew this was going to be difficult.
“But of course, Papa. We are old friends and I am delighted to see him amongst us. May I introduce you to Mr Adam Svenson of Boston –”
“Svenson!” Joscelin Pontoin spat the name like a curse and drew himself up to his full 5 feet 10 inches in front of the 6 foot 3 inch American. “But, of course! I should have seen that for myself; the family resemblance is strong, Monsieur.”
“So they tell me, Monsieur Pontoin,” Blue said evenly. “I am very pleased to meet you.” He extended his hand. Juliette held her breath.
Joscelin Pontoin looked at the American’s hand for what felt to both of the Spectrum agents like an eternity, before he gave another curt little bow and declined to extend his own.
“You will forgive me, Monsieur Svenson? I am sure you are aware that between your family and mine lies very many animosities that have not been resolved.”
“Yes, sir; I am aware that my father’s business decisions were not popular with you…”
“You are John’s son?”
“Yes – and Stefan’s grandson. However, the company has nothing to do with me…”
“Adam does not work for the Svenson’s company, Papa,” Juliette tried to explain, but her father wasn’t interested.
“Nevertheless, I am sure Monsieur Svenson has better things to do than to associate with the Pontoins this evening, Juliette. We say ‘goodnight’ to you, Monsieur Svenson. Come, Juliette.”
“In a moment, Papa; I need to speak to Adam-”
“I forbid you to speak further to a member of that family. Do I make myself clear, Juliette? I know no ill of this gentleman for himself, but his family and ours are not sympathique.”
Several people looked in their direction when Monsieur Pontoin raised his voice. He gave them and Blue a proud and determined glance before he turned smartly and began to walk away.
Destiny glanced apologetically at Blue, who gave the merest nod to confirm that she should go with her father and said: “Stay alert, Destiny. I think we should be safe here, but remember: the Mysterons don’t play by any known rules.”
“S.I.G., Capitaine. Pardon, Adam; now I must go with my father,” she said, momentarily placing a hand on his arm. She turned angrily to follow her father across the room.
In the earpiece of the micro-communicator in his right ear Blue heard Scarlet’s voice asking: “Where the hell did she come from and what the hell was that all about? No – tell me later – here come the Triumvirate!”
Scarlet was right; out in the floodlit courtyard the official limousines were drawing up and the members of the Triumvirate and their entourages – which included additional security officers – were alighting and making their way towards the Salle des Glaces. The flashguns blazed and the newscast cameras rolled. The limo carrying Madame Thibault had been specially adapted to take her wheelchair, which was motorised and made of the latest lightweight materials. She was able to drive herself out of the rear of the car and up the ramp to the reception point, her secretary and security guards surrounding her as she moved.
Watching from the command point window, Scarlet considered how on earth he would be able to discover if anything - or anyone - had tampered with the wheelchair, and came to the conclusion that he’d get his face slapped if he tried to examine it too closely. Madame Thibault did not look like the kind to welcome too close an inspection of herself or her belongings.
She had been injured in the same Paris-Monte Carlo Monorail crash that had resulted in two of André Verdain’s models being Mysteronised in order to carry out their threat to attack the man who headed the undercover European spy network. It was more than likely that the wave of sympathy for the brave politician who was determined not to let her disability restrict her, had been instrumental in getting Thibault elected to the Triumvirate when Mancini’s term of office expired.
Scarlet noted from the reports he had before him that Spectrum: Paris had done a thorough check of her and everything that pertained to her, and her official office, after Verdain had been saved by Scarlet and Blue on their undercover mission.
I really hope they were on the ball, he thought, as the wheelchair vanished from his sight and into the protection of Major Almond’s men.
Olafsson’s ’s car was right behind, but there was a short delay until the final member of the Triumvirate arrived.
Henderson was the oldest of the three and was approaching the end of his term of office. A silver-haired, benign-looking man, he appeared relaxed as he got out of the car and waved to the press. His security guards were alert and surrounded him as he made the short walk to the building.
Along with Olafsson and Mancini he had been the target of the Mysterons’ attack, but Scarlet did not know them, as Captain Ochre had been responsible for protecting Olafsson and Grey had been with Mancini. He knew that the colonel had warned all three politicians about the latest threat and that checks would have been made at every stage of their journeys to Paris.
Now it is down to Spectrum to ensure this goes off without a hitch, he thought, as Olafsson joined his colleagues and vanished from his sight. I better get down there and see what’s going on, but before I do I’ll check with Grey and Ochre where the Sheban oil representatives are.
“Yes, Captain Scarlet?” Grey’s voice came loud and clear over the radio.
“The Triumvirate have all arrived safely,” Scarlet reported, “and Blue’s undercover in the reception rooms.” He paused and added, “Destiny’s here too, for some reason, and I wondered where you were?”
“In the Yellow Fox driving from the Sheban Oil offices to Versailles,” Grey replied. “Ochre says we’ll be there in about five minutes.”
“I had rather you didn’t drive the tanker to the entrance,” Scarlet warned. “It won’t stay much of a secret for long if you do.”
“I thought of that,” Grey assured
him. “I’ve arranged to have a limo waiting for us in the secondary car park,
It has come straight from the secure car park with an
“Good man,” Scarlet said. “I am going down to the reception rooms and I’ll rendezvous with you there. Scarlet out.”
The three members of the Triumvirate were talking together in the brightly lit Salle des Glaces before the guests were allowed in and with their teams of officials and the security guards out of earshot.
“I shouldn’t worry, Hortense,” Henderson said, “Spectrum are old hands at dealing with Mysteron threats. They saved my life when Vandon Base was attacked.”
“I know this,” Madame Thibault said. “But it remains that Spectrum destroyed the Atlantica Base and there were the unfortunate incidents when the World President was abducted and the Director General of the Asian Republic died while they were ‘protecting’ him.”
“President Younger has accepted that the danger only arose because of a doppelganger of their Captain Scarlet,” Henderson explained. “He told me that the fake Scarlet was killed by the same Captain Blue who rescued him from the London Car-Vu. He’s of the opinion that Spectrum are trustworthy and he considers Blue to be a very brave man indeed. He awarded him the Valour Star, after all.”
“And where is this Blue tonight?” Hortense Thibault asked. “I do not see him.”
“Doesn’t mean he isn’t here,” Olafsson reasoned with her.
“Actually, he is,” Henderson said quietly. “I can see him from here – he’s out of uniform, mingling with the guests.”
Madame Thibault moved her chair so that she had a better view of the guests milling close to the entrance to the elaborate salon. Just as she gained a clear view, Captain Scarlet crossed the doorway and moved out of sight.
“I will accept your word, John,” she said to Henderson, “but all I saw was a Spectrum officer in red.”
“Scarlet’s one of their foremost officers. Younger’s exonerated him from everything that happened at the Car-Vu and, don’t forget, Spectrum had stopped the plane that was trying to kill the Asian Director-General, it was just unfortunate his private plane didn’t gain enough height to miss the tail of the crashed jet. That wasn’t Spectrum’s fault,” Henderson tried to reassure her.
“I shall be content when this is all finished with,” Hortense said. “I know we must make a grand statement, but I still think this is one step too far.”
“The Shebans were most insistent,” Olafsson reminded her. “And we cannot afford to upset them; the Bereznians would love for the oil contract to remain unsigned so they could deny us the fuel we will need to keep our power stations running this winter. To ensure we keep our power supply running I will dress up in a monkey suit and parade myself like a jackanapes in public any number of times.” Thibault smiled up at him. “Although, I would prefer not to be killed while I’m doing it,” he added, smiling back.
One of the officials approached the politicians.
“Excuse me, Madame and Sirs: the Sheban Oil delegation is here. The security people want to let the guests in so that the ceremony can begin. If you’re ready?”
“Send them in,” Henderson replied. He turned to his colleagues. “Time to get this show on the road.”
The six delegates from the Sheban Oil Company made an imposing sight: they carried themselves with great dignity impressing every one of the talkative guests with the gravitas of the occasion, so that a silence fell on the assembly. The chamber orchestra who until now had been largely unnoticed, struck up with the first of the three national anthems and all conversation ceased. Once they had finished the unfamiliar tunes, they played La Marseillaise and a few of the guests sang along. Finally, they played the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth, which had been adopted as the European anthem in the 20th century. As the stirring music died away, John L. Henderson moved to the podium to address the assembly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests and friends, may I, on behalf of my colleagues in the European Triumvirate, welcome you to the majestic palace of Versailles, truly one of the most breathtaking places in the world to hear the immortal music that Schiller’s words inspired in Beethoven: music that reverberates through to our souls so that those words still speak to us today:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen! –
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt! –
Alle Menschen werden Brüder –
I embrace you, all you millions,
This kiss is for the whole world!
All men are brothers.
And it is in such a spirit of brotherly friendship that I particularly welcome our honoured guests from the Sheban Oil company – a company that in itself embodies the spirit of fraternal co-operation and a determination to work for the common good of their peoples while seeking to overcome the hostilities of the past by extending the hand of amity towards Europe herself.”
There was a smattering of genteel applause which grew in volume as the dignitaries from the oil company stood and bowed their thanks towards the podium.
Henderson returned the bow and continued with his speech.
Captain Scarlet, who was still near the entrance to the hall, glanced around to reassure himself that the security guards were in place and remained on the alert. Outside the sky had grown dark and there were isolated large drops of rain splattering against the ornate windows.
The last of the good weather then? he thought.
He saw Blue standing at the back of the seated guests, and for a moment their glances met. The American gave a brief nod, indicating that everything looked okay from where he was.
Maybe we were wrong after all? Scarlet mused. This looks like it’s going to be a breeze; everyone’s on their best behaviour and there’s been nothing to suggest the Mysterons have come within a hundred miles of the place. Still, something doesn’t feel right…
There was another burst of applause. Several men were on their feet applauding Henderson, who was well known as an effective demagogue. The standing ovation spread through the guests like a genteel Mexican Wave and Scarlet was irresistibly reminded of the comment from John Lennon when the Beatles had performed before royalty: "Those of you in the cheaper seats—clap your hands; and those of you in the more expensive seats—just rattle your jewellery."
He saw Monsieur Pontoin and Juliette get to their feet with the others, smiling and applauding…
It had grown even darker outside the hall and at that very moment there was an ominous rumble of thunder and the brightest flash of lightning that Scarlet had ever seen split the clouds and illuminated the sky. The heavens opened and torrents of rain lashed the gilded doors and window frames.
There was a sharp intake of surprise from everyone present, followed by an embarrassed titter of laughter as people realised it was just a storm.
But Scarlet wasn’t laughing: he had checked the weather forecast and there was no mention of rain, let alone a downpour of the magnitude he could see.
As the guests started to sit down again so the ceremony could continue, the lights flickered all along the salon. Scarlet glanced up at the numerous ornate chandeliers interspersed along the richly-decorated ceiling. He had thought they held candles, but he saw now that they were electrical bulbs, specially designed to give the warm light of a candle.
Well, I guess the fire risk would be too great for them to use the real thing, he thought inconsequentially.
As he stared upwards the lights flickered again, thunder rumbled overhead and a vivid jag of lightning split the darkness once more. The lights went out and the hall was plunged into a darkness that was made more profound by the irregular brilliance of the ongoing storm.
“Spectrum is red!” Scarlet shouted into his communicator. “All personnel to the salon – evacuate the civilians immediately!”
On the furthest side of the podium, he could see that Grey and Ochre had mounted guard on the Sheban delegates and they and the other Spectrum officers were fending off anyone who dared to approach too close. Blue was pushing through the guest seating and heading for the dais where the Triumvirate were sitting.
Some of the guests were milling about in surprise and concern, but the majority were still sitting in their seats waiting for the lights to come back on and although the atmosphere was tense, there was no panic – for which Scarlet was grateful.
If Almond’s men get here quickly, we should avoid the danger of anyone getting hurt in the crush.
Scarlet started to move to join Blue and it was then that he saw Destiny Angel. She was in a heated discussion with her father and whatever was being said was not to her liking, for she raised her hands in exasperation and instructed him to wait while she joined her comrades to see if she could help. As Blue moved past her she touched his arm to let him know she was there.
Blue half-turned and acknowledged her presence, without slowing down and she hesitated, unsure if she should follow him. Then she saw Scarlet and hurried to join the captains.
The three of them reached the Triumvirate at more or less the same time and Scarlet said:
“Please stay where you are, Madame Thibault and gentlemen. Spectrum: Paris have the building surrounded and one of our technicians will be fixing the lights; however, I think it might be wise to relocate you….”
The rest of his words were drowned by a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning struck the flagstones outside in the courtyard. The mirrors and crystals on the walls flashed with the same intense light, which ricocheted around the room, its intensity magnified by the mirrors. Everyone shielded their eyes with their hands or arms.
“This isn’t natural,” Blue shouted to Scarlet, who had already reached that conclusion for himself.
The lightning flashed again, blinding light filled the salon and now people were starting to panic and several were screaming in fear. The next fork of lightning crashed through a window to earth itself in the wooden floor of the hall. The screaming increased and now panic mounted amongst the guests as they dodged to escape the deadly electricity that bounced off the mirrors and chandeliers.
Shielding his eyes from the glare, Scarlet tried to make himself heard:
“Stand still! The Security guards will escort you all safely from the hall! Do not all try to leave at once! STAND STILL!”
He looked to where Grey and Ochre were trying to calm the oil company delegates and noted with a spark of amusement that Ochre was wearing sunglasses – which, no doubt, he had had stashed in his uniform pocket.
How cool is that? he thought.
Beside him, he heard Blue gasp in alarm and turned to see what had so shocked his partner.
A little distance away, Destiny, who had been facing towards the windows, trying to calm the panicking guests, was caught in a shaft of lightning. Her body shook and staggered with the shock.
Over the guests’ screams of fear Scarlet could hear Joscelin Pontoin screaming: “Non, mon Dieu - non! Ma fille, ma pauvre fille!” as he struggled to reach his daughter.
Instinctively Blue sprang forward and thrust himself in his path, forcing him away. “It’s too dangerous!” he shouted, ignoring the pounding he was receiving and the wild punches Joscelin was swinging at the man who stood between him and his child. “You can’t help her!”
Scarlet shook himself from his initial shock of disbelief and approached Destiny, amazed that she was still standing after the flare of the lightning had faded. There was a powerful smell of burning and her platinum-blonde hair had uncurled from the elaborate style she had created for herself and now writhed around her head like Medusa’s hair, but she didn’t seem to notice. He watched as with slow grace, she turned her back on the milling crowds and looked towards the VIPs.
All of her attention was focused on the delegates and the politicians. The diamonds at her throat were still sparkling with the reflected lightning and even as he watched, from deep within the stones came a tiny pulse of neon-green light. It grew in intensity and power until, from her fingers of the hands that hung limply at her sides, a constant stream of green light flowed down towards the wooden floor. Then, slowly she raised her hands, clenching her fists as if she intended to hurl a green lightning bolt towards the Sheban delegates.
“Destiny!” Scarlet lunged towards her.
Intent on diverting the potentially lethal blast of energy from the VIPs, Grey and Ochre pushed the delegates to the floor and jumped aside as the bolt flew above their heads and shattered into a thousand will-o’-the-wisps of green light in one of the chandeliers.
The diamonds flared again, their brilliance searing the retinas of anyone unwise enough to be looking at them. Scarlet crashed into Destiny with a rugby tackle, confident of bringing the slight woman to the ground, but it was like running into a brick wall; Destiny was rigid and immoveable. He fell to the floor, gasping at the shock and the pain of what he knew must be a broken collarbone.
Her eyes now reflecting the brilliance of the diamonds, Destiny turned her head slowly, her right hand beginning to point in Scarlet’s direction, while around her fingertips the green light intensified. As if the Mysterons had a taste for melodrama, the thunder rumbled deafeningly overhead and lightning flashed, but it was a feeble flicker compared to the intense light streaming from the diamonds.
Scarlet was struggling to his feet when he realised that Destiny had him in her sights.
“Juliette,” he gasped. “It’s me, Paul – Julie! Fight it! Fight them!”
But he might as well have saved his breath, for the slender fingers pointed to him and in a blaze of silver-white light the power of the Mysterons hit him squarely in the chest. Along the conduit of the lightning bolt, the pulse of green light pumped into Scarlet’s pain-racked body.
Transfixed by the glare of the mirrors and chandeliers as they multiplied the beam innumerable times around the hall, no-one moved. Scarlet’s body jerked and shivered as the pulse increased and his flesh started to burn. He screamed in agony as his hair and eyebrows caught alight and the skin on his face blistered and peeled under the bombardment.
Joscelin Pontoin was exhausted and had crumpled to his knees at Blue’s feet, weeping. Hearing the screams and cries of the guests, Blue turned from the Frenchman to witness what was happening to his partner.
Ochre ran up beside him and was wrestling his gun from his holster.
“Destiny is a Mysteron,” he yelled, but in his agitation he dropped the gun and to his astonishment, Blue kicked it away. “That won’t help,” he said. “We can’t use a Mysteron rifle either, in case we hit Scarlet –”
“What’s left of him,” Ochre snarled. “You’re mental – we have to stop her!”
“I’m going to,” Blue snapped, and pushed Ochre to one side.
“Come back, you crazy Swede!” Ochre roared, as Blue strode towards Destiny.
She was oblivious of everything except the burning man before her and the intense power draining from the diamonds that flooded through her veins and out into her enemy’s body.
“Get a fire blanket and be ready to wrap Scarlet in it!” Blue yelled at the base staff hovering near the door. He saw one officer dart away to obey.
Drawing a large handkerchief from his pocket, he wrapped it around his hand and closed in on Destiny. She ignored him. Reaching out, he grabbed the three largest diamonds at the centrepiece of her necklace from which the green pulse of light emanated, gasping at the blistering heat that scorched his hand. Only when his hand was around the necklace did she react, turning her angry gaze on him.
“Play nice, Juliette,” Blue whispered hopefully, and tugged with all his strength.
The necklace resisted for a moment, and then the thread broke scattering the small, lesser diamonds and the platinum wire around her. Ochre sprang forward to catch her as she crumpled senseless to the floor. Major Almond and one of his officers rushed forward to wrap Scarlet in the fire blanket as Blue, grimacing with pain, staggered into a run towards the closest arched window and crashed through it. Once he was as far away from the building as his pain-wracked body would take him, he drew back his arm and, like the quarterback he had used to be, threw the diamonds out into the stormy sky.
The three stones, no longer joined together, flashed with an unearthly brilliance, the green glow ebbing away as they spun into the darkness. There was a flash of fork lightning that seemed to spear each one separately, shattering them into a dust which sparkled intensely for a moment before it vanished in the wind.
Blue sank to his knees, cradling his right hand against his chest and fighting tears as his flesh blistered into three teardrop shapes across his palm. The rain lashed down soaking him to the skin as he knelt. He had no idea how long he was there for, but gradually he realised Captain Grey was beside him, helping him to his feet.
“Come on, Adam; you need to get out of those wet clothes and back into uniform,” Grey said calmly. “The medijet will be here soon to ferry us all back to Cloudbase.”
“Where’re the others?”
“Destiny and Scarlet are with the medical officer and Ochre’s with Monsieur Pontoin, who will be escorted home. The salon has been successfully evacuated and Almond and Rose have escorted the VIPs back to Paris. The contract will be signed tomorrow in private at the Élysée Palace. The Mysterons have lost.”
Blue looked distraught. “Have they? What about what they’ve done to Scarlet and Destiny? I’d say that makes Spectrum the loser – big time.”
Grey shook his head. “We checked Destiny with a Mysteron detector and she’s … she’s human – thank God - but right now, she’s out for the count. Let’s wait till we hear what Fawn has to say, shall we? Scarlet’s amazed us before and Destiny…” His voice faltered. “Well, we’ll just have to hope and pray you were in time, won’t we?”
Somewhere in the distance a clock chimed midnight.
Grey smiled. “Come on, Adam,” he said, as Blue leant on him to walk to the rendezvous point.
Cloudbase August 25 2070
Back on Cloudbase, after a medical examination and treatment by Doctor Fawn, Captain Blue slept the clock round in Sick Bay. On Fawn’s instructions, the medical staff threw every prospective visitor out without listening to any argument. The only person allowed into the Sick Bay was Colonel White and even he was not allowed to see the invalids.
“I can’t make head or tail of what happened,” Fawn confessed. “Grey and Ochre told me everything they witnessed, and from that it seems there was an almighty electrical storm, and that somehow started a chain reaction inside in the gallery. It is possible that Destiny was hit by lightning, and, if she was, she’s incredibly lucky not to be dead.”
“How is she?” White asked in obvious concern.
“Concussed and exhausted, but apart from a burn around her neck, she appears to be unharmed,” Fawn declared. “I don’t mind admitting, Charles, that I have been baffled before by the Mysterons and their powers, but this time, I don’t even know where to start.” He gave a wry shrug. “Perhaps when Blue wakes up he’ll be able to shed a bit more light on it.”
“How’s his hand?”
“Fine – apart from second degree burns on his palm. They’ll heal and I’ve dosed him with antibiotics, so I don’t expect any infection. He might end up with a small scar, but it won’t hinder him.”
“That’s good news,” White said, relief obvious in his voice. “And Captain Scarlet?” There was also no disguising that he felt the good news had come to an end.
Fawn shook his head. “Fourth degree burns to his head, neck and hands. Multiple organ failure.” He stood from his desk and paced the small office with frustrated energy. “I have him in an ICU recovery capsule: quarantined, hydrated and on a high-protein liquid diet.”
“Nothing. No sign of brain activity, no pulse. I am considering ventilating him – although I have no idea if that’ll help or hinder!” He slammed his hands palm down on his desk. “If only I could get a handle on this retrometabolism I would be able to treat him – or at least, avoid doing anything that hampers his recovery! As it is, I feel like a bloody witchdoctor out in the jungle – and about as effective! Shaking a stick and sprinkling him with holy water might be as much use as anything I’ve done or might do – I just don’t know!”
Colonel White shared his friend’s frustration at the feeling of helplessness Scarlet’s frequent injuries and deaths engendered, but he sensed that what Fawn needed now was not empathy, or even reassurance, but clear concise orders that he could follow. He drew a deep breath and said: “Captain Scarlet has proven his remarkable abilities many times, Edward. Just keep him comfortable and let him do the rest.”
Cloudbase August 26 2070
When he finally woke up, Nurse Ingram brought Captain Blue a bowl of clear chicken soup and a small bowl of strawberries and ice cream. He surveyed the meal with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
“When Scarlet wakes up he gets steak with all the trimmings,” he grumbled.
“Scarlet has the constitution of an ox,” she retorted.
“I hurt my hand, Bill, not my digestion.”
“’A light diet’, Doctor Fawn said, and that’s what you’re getting.”
“Can I at least have a cup of coffee?” he asked pathetically, surveying the freshly-pressed orange juice with distaste.
She plumped up his pillows and took pity on him. “If you eat all of your breakfast, I will see what I can do. Mind you, you’d feel better for cutting back on the amount of caffeine you take.”
“Bill, I will feel like crap if I don’t get some caffeine,” he reasoned, then amended it to: “Even more like crap …”
She ruffled his hair. “Poor little Blue-boy…”
He shied away, protesting: “Hey, I’ll take that from Scarlet, but not from you!”
She laughed. “Eat up, there’s a good captain.”
Blue was chasing the last strawberry round the bowl with a spoon held in his left hand, when there was a knock on his door.
Ochre’s head peered round and he grinned. “I wasn’t sure if The Gorgon Belinda was in here with you,” he explained, slipping in and approaching the bed. “News went round you were awake, so I thought I’d drop by and say ‘hi’.”
“Hi,” Blue said, giving up on the spoon and picking the strawberry up with his fingers. “I think I’m out of bounds,” he remarked, as Ochre pulled up the chair.
“Yeah, but I’ve been in Paris and I didn’t know and you didn’t tell me,” Ochre explained.
“Remiss of me,” Blue agreed. “Must be the effects of my painkillers.”
“They can’t expect anyone drugged up to their eyeballs to think clearly,” Ochre reassured him.
“What happened in Paris?”
“They signed the contract,” Ochre replied. “Everyone was shaken and the rumours were flying around, although because the colonel slapped a D-notice on what happened, they’ve had to come up with a cover story. So now, apparently, we are told that the storm hit an electrical substation and blew the works at Versailles. In the confusion, people thought all sorts of things happened, but they didn’t because they wouldn’t be possible in the real world. So, basically, it’s a non-story.”
“And Monsieur Pontoin?”
Ochre’s expressive eyebrows rose. “Colonel White had a chat with the family on the secure video-phone link. He has assured them that Des… Juliette is okay and will be back with them as soon as she’s been debriefed and given a clean bill of health.”
“And when will that be?” Blue asked gloomily. “Nobody will tell me anything!”
“Fawn seems confident that she’ll be okay,” Ochre assured him. “He said that she just needs to rest.”
Ochre shook his head. “There I can’t help you – to tell you the truth I was hoping you’d be able to enlighten us.”
Sighing in exasperation, Blue grimaced. “They won’t discuss it with me. I don’t know why; I mean, I have seen just about every damn thing that’s happened to him over the years. I don’t scare easy any longer. What can be so bad this time round they think I can’t cope?”
“It didn’t look good,” Ochre remarked dejectedly. “But he’s known worse, I guess, only this time… well –”
“Oh dammit, Rick! I know that was electricity and Mysteronised electricity at that! I know the threat that it must’ve posed to Paul. But why wouldn’t they let me see him in the medijet, or when we got here? Did you see him?”
Ochre shook his head. “No one has.” He didn’t mention that Fawn, in a rare moment of confidence had told the other captains that Scarlet was ‘not a pretty sight’. The captains had therefore deduced that this was the reason that all visits were forbidden.
“They don’t think he’s going to make it, do they?” Blue muttered.
And even Ochre – the eternal optimist – had no real answer to that.
Although Nurse Ingram chased Captain Ochre out of Blue’s room with every show of annoyance, she was still willing to let her patient have a cup of coffee. She even bought him a chocolate biscuit.
Blue lay propped up on his pillows, drinking the weak, milky coffee – the antithesis of what he preferred - while idly flicking through the channels on the TV network screen and wishing he could get up and leave sick bay. Such was his distraction, that he failed to notice that the news channels were all locked out. He watched part of a space soap-opera movie set on Mars which he remembered from his childhood, and marvelled that his critical faculties could ever have been so flaky that he had thought it was a good movie.
Irritated at finding he could no longer appreciate even mass entertainment that made no pretence of being realistic or truthful about the planet of the Mysterons, he switched the screen off and lay back to stare at the ceiling for a while.
But that was marginally more boring.
Now I can really appreciate why Paul hates being confined to bed in Sick Bay when he’s feeling fit and well.
He turned over and screwed his eyes shut trying not to think about his friends and their injuries. Instead, he wondered what Symphony was doing… and if she was worried about him… whether she’d tried to come and see him… and… whether… Ochre… would… say… he’d… seen… him…
He drifted off to sleep.
“Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday dear Adam!
Happy Birthday to you!”
Blue woke with a start and sat up. Standing around the bed were Nurse Ingram, Symphony, Colonel White, Captains Magenta, Grey and Ochre, Doctor Fawn and Lieutenant Green – his guitar ready to hand for the community singing.
“What’s going on?” he muttered, brushing the hair from his eyes and blinking himself awake.
“Doctor Fawn said we might visit to wish you many happy returns,” Symphony explained. She was out of uniform and the sight of her gladdened his heart and his eyes. But even Symphony at her sunniest was not enough to banish his anxiety.
“Happy returns?” he muttered. “Hardly, with Destiny and Scarlet probably lying at death’s door close by.”
Symphony moved to the side and behind her, sitting in a wheelchair, was Destiny Angel.
“Destiny!” Blue cried in delight. “You’re okay!”
She smiled at him. “I am, thanks to you, mon cher Adam. Doctor Fawn says I should have one more day of resting and then I can go and enjoy mes vacances. I am happy it is so, for it has meant that I am here to wish you joyeux anniversaire, mon ami.”
She blew him a kiss.
“And as far as I’m concerned,” Captain Scarlet said, as the colonel moved aside, “you ought to know by now that Death’s door is a revolving one!”
“Paul!” Blue grinned in delight. “You’re okay too!”
Scarlet inclined his head in confirmation. “More or less,” he agreed. He was also in a wheelchair and there was an intravenous drip attached to his arm. His hands were encased in soft gel-packed bandages and on his eyebrow-less face the skin tone was pinker than usual, where the new skin had yet to mature to his usual pallid complexion. His bald head was a patchwork of raw patches of suppurating burns, although here and there were signs of dark hair beginning to grow back.
“I was worried about you, buddy,” Blue admitted. “I mean, I generally am when something happens, but this time – well, it was electricity.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yeah, even old Fawn was a bit edgy about this one.”
“Of course I was concerned – I am always concerned about my patients – all of them. However cranky and ungrateful they are,” Fawn interjected, adding pleasantly, “ And less of the ‘old’, if you please, Captain.”
Scarlet gave a weak smile and then closed his eyes at the pain the movement caused.
It was easy to see that he was far from fully recovered, but the fact that he was still alive was enough for Blue to give thanks for.
“You take it easy, Paul,” he instructed firmly. “Don’t overdo it, will you?”
Scarlet opened his sapphire-blue eyes and glanced at his friend before replying dryly, “You worry too much, Blue-boy.”
“Someone has to! You push yourself too hard, Paul…”
Symphony stepped forward before the conversation got any more fraught and handed Blue a card and a small package. “Happy birthday,” she said forcefully. “Stop talking shop and open your present.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Blue said, and he struggled with only one hand to rip open the envelope. Finally, Nurse Ingram took pity on him and ripped it open for him.
He grinned at the comic design and caption and read the messages inside. “Thanks guys,” he said, looking up with a smile.
One of the orderlies bought in the obligatory birthday cake and Fawn gave his permission for all three of his patients to have a slice.
Symphony handed Destiny a generous portion.
“Just the very littlest piece,” Destiny protested. “I do not want to acquire middle-aged weight! I am not as young as I was, myself, any longer.”
“Hey, that’s just a sliver – look at my piece,” Symphony reasoned.
“Yeah, but Symph, you could eat the whole cake and still not put on any weight,” Scarlet interjected.
“Vraiment,” Destiny replied. “I have the deep jealousy of Symphony’s metabolism,” she confessed, much to her friend’s delight.
After they had eaten their cake, the colonel, the colour captains and Lieutenant Green went back to work, and on Fawn’s instructions, Captain Scarlet was wheeled back to his recovery room; his protestations that he felt fine convinced no-one.
The other two invalids and Symphony were left alone.
“So, what did happen in Paris?” Symphony said. She was perched on the end of Blue’s bed, picking up the crumbs of cake from her plate. “Grey and Ochre’s accounts haven’t made a lot of sense.”
“I’m not sure any account will,” Blue replied. “I can’t really explain what happened. It looked to me as if Destiny was struck by a bolt of lightning and then she went all… elemental on us.”
The young Frenchwoman shook her head. “I was looking towards the windows as I tried to keep the people calm,” she said carefully. “I did not see the lightning, although I remember a very bright light and a shock that went through me. My hair is still full of static; I shall need to borrow Melody’s straighteners to make it smooth once more. The next that I know, Blue had ripped my diamond necklace from my neck and mon pauvre Scarlet was on fire! Then I think I fainted dead away.”
“I am sure that the diamonds were channelling the lightning and there was a green light…” Blue dragged the details from his memory. “Pulsating light… I reckon the diamonds were in some way acting like the crystal power source we found on the moon and maybe focussing Mysteron power. See what I mean?”
“But the diamonds were antique,” Destiny protested. “My papa gave them to me for my birthday. Always I have been interested in the life of Marie-Antoinette and these three large diamonds were reputed to have been belonged to her. They were known as ‘Les Larmes de la Reine’ – how would you say? – the tears of the queen.”
“But that’s it!” Symphony exclaimed. “The Mysteron threat – word for word – was ‘reflections of a dead queen’s tears shall ensure that Europa never receives the bounty of Sheba’s sands’. We all thought it was a real queen – we never thought about jewels or belongings.”
“You mean that the diamonds were made by the Mysterons?” Destiny gasped.
“Who knows?” Blue replied. “They could have replicated them any time over the last 300 years or so – or even way before that. I think,” he added slowly, in a tone that made it clear he had solved the problem to his own intellectual satisfaction, at least, “that the lightning was attracted to the diamonds and it hit them – not you, Destiny. It is just possible that the storm wasn’t something the Mysterons ‘arranged’ – but it’s more likely that they did. Anyway, the storm triggered off the power the Mysterons had stored in the diamonds and you, Juliette, became for that brief time, under their control. Maybe,” he looked across at her, “maybe that’s why the lightning didn’t kill you? You had the power of retrometabolism while you wore the Mysteronised diamonds.”
She stared at him in amazement. “This may be so. It is most often fatal to be struck by lightning, n’est-ce pas? ” She gave a shaky smile. “Perhaps I too have been in the thrall of the Mysterons, but I am sorry that I attacked Paul, even so.”
“Don’t let it worry you.” Blue smiled and reached out to take her hand. “I’m sure he’s as glad as I am to know that you’re safe and well.”
“But, even if Juliette was a Mysteron agent while all this was going on, why didn’t the electricity kill Paul?” Symphony asked.
“Yes, why didn’t it?” Destiny repeated.
Blue shrugged. “We don’t know for sure that electricity will kill him,” he reasoned. “It kills Mysteron agents, but we know Paul isn’t a Mysteron agent. We’ve never taken the risk of finding out for sure and I don’t think we should pin too much on this as evidence that electricity provides no threat to him. After all, maybe they wanted to recover control of him, rather than see him dead?”
“And how can we test to see if they succeeded and he’s a Mysteron again?” Destiny mused. Then she sighed and shook her head. “That idea certainly is going to make everyone edgy for a while, isn’t it?”
“No,” Symphony retorted. “We know Paul Metcalfe when we see him – we should by now.”
“Agreed, Karen,” Blue replied, adding dispiritedly, “I just hope everyone’s as confident as you.”
She grinned at him. “You may not know it, but while you were laid up here, Fawn got Rhapsody to sit with Paul. I know that she knew he was our Paul Metcalfe, and I trust Dianne’s judgement on that one-hundred percent!”
Paris August 27 2070
The next day Symphony flew Destiny and Blue down to the WAAF airbase closest to Paris. After some discussion, the colonel had agreed that Blue should be present at the Pontoin family’s reunion to help Destiny field their questions about what had happened to her, and what had happened to the diamonds.
“I feel sure Monsieur Pontoin will understand that the diamonds were destroyed by an act of God,” Colonel White had explained. “I certainly don’t want Spectrum involved in any insurance claim for their disappearance and I am relying on you, Captain Blue, to explain the matter to his satisfaction.”
Blue only wished he was as confident in his ability to ‘explain’ as the colonel appeared to be.
Symphony drew the SSC up outside the Pontoins’ house and switched off the engine.
“We’re all going in, right?” she said briskly. “Two Spectrum agents, in full uniform and in a Spectrum vehicle, are escorting Miss Pontoin back to her family after she was injured in the incident at Versailles.” She glanced at her silent and reluctant companions. “Right: let’s go… come on, get out of the car!”
Blue extended his good arm for Juliette to lean on as he escorted her to the front door, with Symphony walking behind.
The door was opened by Madame Pontoin as they approached. She flew down the steps into Juliette’s arms, crying:
“My darling, how are you? How are you feeling? What happened? Where have you been?”
“Maman, I am fine, there is nothing to worry about. Spectrum have taken great care of me!”
“Your father is inside with Monique, he has not been to work since that fateful day, Juliette. Come in, come in,” Madame Pontoin cried, beckoning Blue and Symphony to come forward. “Please, Monsieur, Mademoiselle, step into our home.”
When she entered the living room Juliette ran to her father’s arms and he held her tight against his chest, profoundly relieved to see her looking so well.
When he released her, she went to hug her sister and left Blue and Symphony to introduce themselves.
“We meet again,” Monsieur Pontoin said to Captain Blue, recognising him as the man Juliette had tried to introduce him to at the reception. This time he extended his hand to the American before Blue had a chance to speak, although he half-expected him to refuse to shake it in the light of their previous encounter.
But he had underestimated his man. Blue saluted and, apologising for the fact that he was unable to use his right hand, which was still bandaged, he offered Monsieur Pontoin his left. Joscelin smiled and encased the strong hand in both of his, shaking it firmly.
“I am pleased to see you were not harmed by the incident at the reception, Monsieur Pontoin,” Blue said cordially.
Joscelin studied the face of the younger man with some scepticism, but he could see nothing but a genuine expression of relief on the handsome face.
“I owe you an apology, Captain Blue, and I hope none of your injuries were caused by me, when… when…”
“When you were trying to get to Juliette,” Blue concluded, saving Monsieur Pontoin’s face. “No, sir, my injuries were not of that kind.” As Joscelin released his hand, Blue turned to the young woman at his side and asked, “May I introduce Symphony Angel?”
“Enchanté,” Joscelin said, and when Symphony held out her hand to shake his, he raised it to his lips and kissed her knuckle. She gave a girlish giggle and blushed, glancing up at the man at her side with a coquettish smile.
“Pleased to meet you, Monsieur Pontoin,” she said, withdrawing her hand. She looked across at Destiny, who was smiling broadly at her friend’s embarrassment.
“Symphony is one of my colleagues in Spectrum,” Destiny explained and added, as if it in some way explained everything: “She comes from Iowa.”
Madame Pontoin returned to the room pushing a trolley with a coffee pot and china cups on it. There was a plate of dainty cakes on the lower shelf.
“We thank you for bringing Juliette back home,” Joscelin said, once everyone had a cup of coffee and the cakes had been passed round. “Your Colonel White did contact us to assure us she was not greatly harmed, but only to see her is to know the truth of this.”
Before either of her companions could leap to the colonel’s defence, Juliette said: “J’ai été très traumatisée, Papa, and the doctor – who has great experiences with the injuries of a mission – thought the best was that I did not speak to you until I had fully recovered myself. I gave my agreement, for I feared you will be more worried about me if I do otherwise. It was then that Colonel White – un homme très intègre – offered himself to speak to you and assure you I was in no danger. For this, I am grateful to him.”
“And so are we,” Madame Pontoin said quickly. “But we still wondered what had happened? Your father could not see all that was around him.”
“We cannot answer all of your questions, Madame,” Blue responded, “Partly because the matter is top secret and partly because – to be honest – we still don’t know exactly all that did happen.”
“Honesty would be much appreciated from you, Monsieur Svenson,” Joscelin muttered.
Juliette turned on her father when he said this and in a voluble flow of rapid French left him in no doubt that she did not appreciate his continued antipathy to her cher ami and – what was more – to the man who had saved her life!
Joscelin stared at her in speechless surprise.
Unsure how much of the rebuke her guests had understood, Madame Pontoin smiled apologetically at the Americans and said: “Please accept my apologies, Capitaine, my husband is a very proud man and he considers that in the past he was wronged – you understand? But I understand that, as is our daughter, you are a member of Spectrum and that is all we shall consider now. What past there is between your family and ours is of no consequence any longer –” She broke off as her husband gave a strangled cry of protest, but one sharp glance silenced him. “The unfortunate transactions between l’enterprise Pontoin and the Banque SvenCorp are no more the responsibility of yourself than of Juliette. In the young generations this hostility should be buried and for us, it now will be.”
Blue smiled. “Thank you, Madame. I know that my father has his way of doing business and it doesn’t suit everyone. I… I do not always agree with what he does either; however, he is my father and families should stick together, they say. I can’t apologise, because I had nothing to do with any of it, but I will say that my grandfather was a different kind of man and conducted his business affairs with far more tact than his son.”
Simone Pontoin smiled at him again, this time with a warmth and sincerity that were disarming, and he saw in a split second where Juliette got her undoubted charisma from. The shrewd mind and steely determination that was camouflaged by her beautiful face, was surely inherited from her father, but without a doubt her ability to captivate came from her mother.
“I would think that in your inheritance you are more Stefan Svenson’s grandson than John’s son, eh?” Simone remarked. “I had the pleasure to meet him only once, but I liked him.”
“Did you ever meet Adam’s mother?” Symphony commented, one delicate eyebrow raised interrogatively. “Charming birds off the trees is peanuts for Sarah Svenson.”
“I have not had that pleasure,” Simone replied. “But I think I would like her too, if she is like her son. But, Capitaine, we would hear whatever you are able to tell us of the incidents at Versailles.”
“Spectrum had been asked to ensure that the signing of the contract went smoothly, after there had been a terrorist threat to the deal. Therefore, Captain Scarlet –” Blue began.
“Ah, the poor man in red who was so badly burnt?” Joscelin interjected.
“Yes, that was Captain Scarlet, but I am pleased to say that he will recover – given time, of course,” Blue replied.
“I am very pleased to hear you say so; to me he seemed to have been so badly hurt by the fire,” Joscelin said.
“The uniforms have flame resistant properties and Scarlet’s tougher than most,” Blue explained. “Spectrum’s medical teams are world class and have vast experience to call on. They can treat almost anything.”
“Please convey our kindest wishes to the captain,” Joscelin said, adding, “Please continue.”
“Captain Scarlet and I were sent to assist Spectrum’s Paris office with the security…”
The Pontoins listened attentively as Blue explained what had happened up until the ceremony had begun and the storm had broken out overhead.
“I think there was a lot of static electricity in the air,” he said, and Juliette nodded.
“My hair was full of it and it took many hours to calm it all down once more,” she explained to her mother and sister.
“Somehow, by some fluke of nature, a bolt of lightning struck inside the Salle des Glaces, and hit – we think – Juliette’s diamond necklace-”
“Ah, mon Dieu,” Simone gasped, clasping her hands together under her chin.
Juliette went and sat beside her, taking her hands in her own and holding them while Blue continued with the story.
“As I said, we think that’s what happened but with the reflections and ricochets of the lightning around the room, it’s impossible to be sure for certain, Madame. I could see that De… Juliette went rigid with shock after it happened. I went to see if I could help. About that time, Captain Scarlet was also hit by lightning, although he wasn’t so lucky as Juliette and he did begin to burn.”
Simone drew her hands from her daughter’s and covered her face. “Le pauvre homme… C’est terrible.”
“I shouted for someone to get a fire blanket and wrap him in it and I tried to help Juliette. I could see the diamonds sparking – I can’t describe it any other way – and I thought the best way to help her would be to take them off her.” He looked at Joscelin and spread his hands apologetically. “I had to break the necklace; I grabbed the diamonds and yanked as hard as I could. The chain broke and I went outside and threw the diamonds as far away as I could. I think they were struck by lightning again and I’ve been told they disintegrated.”
“They were destroyed?” Monsieur Pontoin gasped.
Blue nodded. “That’s what I was told; but by then I had stopped looking.”
“He was injured,” Symphony broke in. “His hand is still bandaged because of the burns he got from holding the diamonds.”
“But they were diamonds! They cannot have been ‘destroyed’ like that!” Joscelin protested. “Someone must have them – they must have found them and kept them! I will demand that the police search everyone who was there – even the Spectrum officers!”
Blue shook his head. “I doubt the police would be allowed to search Spectrum for the gemstones, and I also doubt that any search – however thorough – will find them, Monsieur.”
“Then Spectrum must be responsible for them! They were not only antique gems of great cultural importance but also of great expense.”
“Papa!” Juliette exclaimed. “It is not Spectrum’s fault the diamonds were destroyed.”
Joscelin started to protest again, but Symphony interrupted. “Perhaps if, as you say, Monsieur Pontoin, the diamonds should not have been destroyed by the lightning, they were not the real diamonds?”
“Not real? How dare you suggest I would make a deception of this kind?”
“I didn’t mean that you did deceive anyone,” Symphony snapped. “Juliette’s told me about them and how they were reset for her when you bought them. Maybe the jeweller wasn’t as honest as you thought and he swapped the diamonds for fakes?”
“Monsieur du Pres was the most respected jeweller in Paris!”
“Was?” Blue interjected before Joscelin could say any more. “He was the most respected jeweller?”
Monsieur Pontoin drew a deep breath. “This is so; it was on the newscast yesterday that his body has been found. He had been dead for many days, it seems.”
“Long enough for the murderer to have swapped the real diamonds for good imitations?” Symphony suggested.
“It is possible, Papa,” Juliette said. She had seen the quick glance between her Spectrum colleagues when they’d heard about the jeweller’s murder and, like them, she felt sure it was the work of the Mysterons and that was when the diamonds had been Mysteronised, but of course her father could never be told the truth.
“I do not believe it,” Joscelin said stubbornly. “I would have noticed and, besides, Monsieur du Pres was there to give me the diamonds.”
“Or someone who looked like him gave you the diamonds,” Symphony said.
“Young lady, I am not so far into my dotage that I cannot tell when someone is not who they say they are!”
“Papa, there is a group of criminals – known to the authorities as… the Nebula – who specialise in being able to act as someone they have killed to cover their tracks and allow themselves time to get away. Many frauds and crimes have been undertaken by these criminals and their agents and Spectrum is deeply involved in tracking them and stopping them making more crimes,” Juliette explained. “I tell you this although I should not, for the Nebula and all their crimes are classified as secret information. I have to ask you all to swear you will never speak of them to anyone – even to each other! – for fear that the knowledge will leak out into the population and people become panicked by the knowledge that they may be at any time dealing with a criminal doppelganger.”
“Will you be in trouble for saying even this much?” Monique asked wide-eyed, after she had solemnly given her word to keep the information secret.
Juliette looked interrogatively at the other two.
“I’m not going to say anything,” Symphony said. “I reckon your family have a right to know as much of the truth about the diamonds as we can guess.”
“I agree,” Blue added, impressed at Destiny’s quick thinking; should her father ever look for information about the Nebula he would discover that they were, in truth, a global criminal network. He continued: “The fact that Monsieur du Pres was murdered makes it almost certain, to my mind, that the Nebula were after the diamonds.” He looked directly at Joscelin with an expression of honest concern. “It could be that they were working to order: after all, the gems were unique and, therefore, much sought after. If it was a speculative theft, they have enough contacts to have disposed of them to an unscrupulous collector: no questions asked and no record of any money being paid over. I have seen their modus operandi many times.”
“And cannot the authorities – cannot Spectrum? – protect us from such evil men?” Joscelin exclaimed.
Blue replied, “Monsieur Pontoin, you have my word that Spectrum is dedicated to making sure that the terrorists that were responsible for what happened to your diamonds do not succeed in bringing the world to ruin.”
Joscelin did not reply immediately. He appeared to be deep in thought. Blue risked glancing at Symphony and then at Destiny. ‘Nice one,’ he mouthed. She smiled.
Monsieur Pontoin stirred in his seat and looked across at Captain Blue. “So, if as you suggest, they were stolen and the proof that what we had were copies only and could therefore be destroyed by the lightning storm, then we are covered by our insurance, I think?”
“Papa…” Juliette said reprovingly.
Blue’s tone was far less disapproving. “Certainly, sir; and Spectrum would be prepared to add their weight to the contention that, in our opinion, the jewels were stolen and replaced with copies before you took possession of them.” He felt sure the colonel would accept that promise as the lesser of two evils.
Joscelin nodded his thanks and turned to his disapproving daughter. “Oh, ma chérie, I do mourn for the loss of your beautiful jewels, but one must be practical.”
“Indeed, you should never ignore the practicalities,” Blue said. “That’s the first principle of a successful businessman.”
Joscelin Pontoin looked across at the American. “There speaks a true Svenson,” he remarked, but this time as he said the name there was no animosity in his voice.
Blue gave a slightly apologetic, rueful shrug and Joscelin smiled.
Rhapsody, Symphony, Scarlet and Blue were lunching in the officers’ restaurant together a week or so after Destiny returned to Paris. It was Blue’s delayed birthday treat for his closest friends and money was no object, so they had the pick of the menu and – for once – the best of the wines onboard. Colonel White had given them permission to arrange on-board leave for the time it would take for the alcohol to clear their systems – and they’d swapped and exchanged duty shifts accordingly.
“Of course,” Symphony had said enviously, with a roll of her eyes, “in your case, Paul, that means about 20 minutes.”
They relaxed over their meal and discussed the recent Mysteron activity.
“The Sheban oil contract was signed then?” Rhapsody said.
“Uh-huh,” Blue replied. “Grey and Ochre managed that one, with Spectrum: Paris in attendance, of course.”
“I wonder how Ochre got on with Lieutenant Rose?” Scarlet mused, smiling at the idea.
“Like a ‘maison en flambée’ – apparently. He’s taking her to dinner next week,” Blue replied. “He asked me if I knew of any decent Parisian restaurants or nightclubs that didn’t cost a fortune. He was going to ask Destiny for a recommendation, but she’s in Monte Carlo, of course.”
Scarlet looked amused. “Sounds like a typical Ricardian night out to me, so I expect she’ll enjoy herself. You have to hand it to him, he’s a bloody quick worker, our Rick.”
“I thought you didn’t know Paris?” Rhapsody remarked.
“I don’t; I told him to ask Magenta. Pat spent some time there in his ‘previous incarnation’. If he doesn’t know where to go, he’ll know where not to go.”
“Maybe we could go to Paris one day and see the sights?” Symphony suggested.
Blue shifted uncomfortably. “Only if you promise faithfully that we won’t go into any shops.”
Scarlet and Rhapsody both chuckled at the indignation on Symphony’s face.
“You reckon Monsieur Pontoin will allow you back into Paris?” Scarlet said, raising a curious eyebrow. His hair was now back to its usual luxuriant state and slightly longer than the colonel would have liked. However, when White had mentioned the possibility that he should get a hair cut, Scarlet had been able to explain that he had a medical chitty ordering him to avoid rigorous washing of his scalp until Fawn was happy that the skin was back to full fitness.
“Very well, Captain,” the colonel had replied evenly. “I will ask Doctor Fawn to keep me up to date with your recovery and look forward to seeing you back to your usual military smartness in the near future.”
Scarlet brushed a stray lock from his eyes as Blue shook his head in amusement at the thought that Joscelin Pontoin had any right to deny him access to Paris.
“Yes: what did happen between your father and the Pontoins?” Symphony suddenly demanded.
“I don’t know –” Blue replied.
“You must!” she insisted. “You know everything.”
“She’s got you there, Blue-boy.” Scarlet grinned at his partner and took a sip of his brandy to hide his amusement.
Blue sighed. “I don’t know it all and if you ever breathe a word of this to Destiny…” He looked sternly at the others and they all agreed to keep it confidential. So Blue began:
“My grandfather was a dedicated Europhile and he wanted to help restore the commercial side of things after the Atomic War ended. Juliette’s grandfather, Armand, wanted to crack the American textile market as a way to make money to reinvest in the firm, so he went to SvenCorp for the finance – mostly, I think, because he had met Stefan before the war at some social event or other. Stefan was delighted to hand over the money, but for once, his business acumen let him down and the project failed. The American market wasn’t interested in ornate French fabrics - even the top end of the market where you can often sell anything as long as it expensive and exclusive. Stefan did what he could to help; we still have a set of armchairs in Pontoin fabric and I remember some curtains… anyway – the loan went sour and Armand couldn’t meet the repayments.”
“Did your grandfather foreclose?” Symphony asked in outrage.
“No he didn’t!” Blue snapped back. “He kept the firm afloat and rescheduled the debt after Armand Pontoin died. By then my father was involved and he was the one who wanted to cut our losses. Stefan slapped him down every time. Then it gets murky. Dad went to Paris with my mom and while he was there he had an argument with Joscelin – I don’t know about what. When Stefan retired and handed everything over to Dad, my father came down heavily on the Pontoins. He stripped out the top-heavy management and reorganised and refinanced the firm. It needed to be done and my father was certainly the man to do it. Once he’d got it shipshape, he announced that he intended to sell the company out from under the family, despite their objections. I’m sure that he did it with all the tact of which he’s capable – which is generally none at all – so there was a huge row about it that rumbled on for a couple of years. In the end, there was a management buy-out led by Joscelin Pontoin who had scraped together the finance from somewhere. Dad pocketed the cash and walked away: end of story, as far as he was concerned. It’s only over the last few years that the company’s become highly profitable again. There – that’s all I know. Apart from the fact that Joscelin Pontoin blames every business problem he’s had on my family.”
“Does Destiny know all this?” Rhapsody asked.
“As much if not more than me, I expect,” Blue replied. “We’ve never discussed it, as such.”
“No wonder Joscelin got hot under the collar when he saw you and Juliette all hugger-mugger at the reception,” Scarlet reasoned. “He must’ve thought she was sleeping with the enemy…”
“Sleeping?” Symphony turned accusing eyes on her fiancé.
“Madame Pontoin said that animosity shouldn’t be carried into younger generations, and I agree with her. Juliette and I get on fine – we work well together and I’d trust her in a crisis, as I hope she’d trust me.” Blue gave a dry smile and sighed. “I do my damnedest to distance myself from SvenCorp, but it hangs round my neck like an albatross. I always hoped that Captain Blue would never have to account for anything from Adam Svenson’s life.”
“Nor do you,” Rhapsody said quickly. “You and Paul are Spectrum’s premier agents, you have nothing to answer for.”
“Apart from making your friends worry about you,” Symphony added, smiling at Scarlet and reaching for Blue’s hand. “As long as everyone in Spectrum knows that we can rely on each other when the need arises, what more is there to need to know?”
Blue smiled and raised her hand to his lips. “The colonel is a wise old bird; he knew what he was doing when he insisted we walk away from our past lives and keep our identities hidden.”
Scarlet nodded. “That’s true and I guess even he knew it wouldn’t be easy to prevent some information leaking out. But as long as what is known is controlled and contained, Spectrum can remain an effective answer to anything the Mysterons throw at us.”
Rhapsody took his hand and stretched out across the table towards the Americans. Blue and Symphony joined their hands with the English couple’s.
“Friends across the water,” Symphony joked, smiling.
“Certainly,” Rhapsody agreed. “But someone – a Frenchman too - said it even better than that. How about: ‘all for one and one for all’?”
Captain Scarlet nodded emphatically. “I’ll settle for that any day,” he said.
Spectrum birthdays often come in clusters. January contains three birthdays: Symphony’s, Melody’s and Green’s; Captains Grey and Black were both born in March, while Colonel White and Doctor Fawn have birthdays in July. In August, Destiny Angel and Captain Blue have birthdays that are just three days apart. Then there is a long gap until Scarlet’s birthday just before Christmas.
The idea of writing ‘a birthday story’ started with one I wrote for Captain Scarlet and, after a few years of celebrating just that birthday, I also wrote a series of short back-stories about the colonel’s, Lieutenant Green’s, Symphony Angel’s and each of the captains’ birthdays. Some of those have been expanded into stand-alone stories and some still languish in the ‘potentials’ folder on my PC. However, I suppose all that is an irreverence as this story had nothing to do with that original idea at all, except that I thought Destiny’s birthday made a suitable ‘hanger’ for the story.
My thanks, as ever, go
to Hazel Köhler, my imperturbable Beta-Reader and co-conspirator in finding new
ways to make Captain Scarlet suffer in the line of duty. This time, my gratitude to
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ does not belong to me, nor does any of the credit for the invention, creation, and realisation of that concept. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, with a team of skilled craftsmen and women, produced the TV show of the same name in the late 1960s and opened this exciting, imaginative world to a generation of children. For me, it is a world that can still inspire and thrill in 2012.
Any comments? Send an to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site