Colonel White was pleased to see that they were taking it seriously – all of them. Cloudbase’s chapel had been decorated to be suitably sober and respectful, rather than the peaceful, relaxing, light room it was wont to be. At the front of the room, where the simple altar stood, two flags ‘flew’ at half mast, one for the World Government and one for Spectrum. There was a beautiful arrangement of flowers on the altar and to the right hand side hung a wall-mounted plaque bearing Spectrum’s coat of arms which commemorated their fallen officers. Beneath it lay a poppy wreath and a few individual memorials.
There was an excellent turnout; the chapel was crowded for this, the first of the three services to be held on board. The colonel was aware that across the globe, in Spectrum offices, there were, had been or would be, similar ceremonies going on throughout the day.
The serried ranks of the non-commissioned personnel, technicians and support staff sat closest to the exits, giving way to the almost indecently gaudy dress uniforms of the elite squadron and the gleaming white and gold of the Angels, who occupied the front seating. The customary chatter and banter that characterised the relationships amongst these dedicated officers had ceased, no doubt out of respect for the sombre overtones of the occasion. The colonel took his place and waited with bowed head for the chaplain to start the intentionally non-denominational service.
Under the cover of the familiar music and traditional readings, White allowed his poignant memories of past comrades to soak into his mind. Not that they weren’t always there, buried in some primeval level of his consciousness: the resilient sailors of his first command, the eager volunteers during the brief Civil War that had forged his reputation for effective command, men with more enthusiasm than ability who had frequently been the cause of their own demise and – unforgivably – that of their colleagues. Time had dimmed the righteous anger he had felt, but not the sadness.
After the war, feeling that whatever else he achieved in the navy would be something of an anti-climax to his brief - but undoubtedly illustrious - career, he took the opportunity that presented itself and moved into the role of a field agent for the Universal Secret Service. For the next few years he was often working alone across a continent riven by faction and mistrust, as the fledgling World Government struggled to resolve the – often centuries-old – wounds and resentments of rival populations. He’d built up a network of trusted agents and seen some of them fall in the fight. Now, the memory of those losses, every one of them as keenly felt as the day they happened, hardened his features and drew down the well-rehearsed, non-committal expression that belied the more tender sensibilities of his character.
It took a special kind of man to live with the responsibility of ordering other men to risk their lives – whatever the cause – and he was not sure that he had ever been that kind of man, but decades of command had provided him with an armour against the inquisitive eyes of others, any one of whom might be seeking for a weakness to exploit.
The swelling voices of the congregation brought the threat of tears to his eyes: many of the people here today were so young and almost innocent as to the true nature of the enemy they now faced.
They had answered Spectrum’s call to fight against man’s evil to his fellow man. All of them were eager to combat the unrelenting hatred that still fuelled terrorists determined to crush anything that differed from their own narrow understanding of what was ‘right’. And now they found themselves fighting an alien foe: an entity to which none of the accepted rules of human-kind could be applied. With every terrorist there was always the hope that this mother’s son – or daughter – had a spark of humanity that could be reached and fanned into the gentle glow of peaceful cohabitation with their erstwhile foes.
We cannot expect such deliverance from the Mysterons, he thought grimly.
The chaplain’s voice broke into his musing. ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.’
That was his cue and he stepped up to the lectern to read the final dedication. He opened the book that lay before him and took a moment to gaze across the chapel at the congregation.
From somewhere came the sharp recollection of a poem he’d read – or had heard read at some similar gathering – and which had, at the time, moved him profoundly.
In many acts and quiet observances you absorbed me:
Until one day I stood eminent
and I saw you gather'd round me uplooking
and about you a radiance that seemed to beat with variant glow
and to give grace to our unity.
But, God! I know that I'll stand someday in the loneliest wilderness someday my heart will cry for the soul that has been,
but that now is scatter'd with the winds,
deceased and devoid.
I know that I'll wander with a cry:
O beautiful men, O men I loved
O whither are you gone, my company?
All of these faces, all of these trusting faces, were looking to him to express their feelings at this poignant moment.
Just as they look to me to provide a solid, immoveable centre for their dangerous, mutable world.
The responsibility overwhelmed him, leaving him voiceless in the face of it, as it had always done. These faces were not so different from those of the crew of his frigate or the cabal of his secret agents.
The dependable Captain Grey – a sailor, like himself - experienced in battles where some of the men he’d commanded had not returned to the comforts of San Diego or Marineville. A man who had struggled, with an almost obsessive determination, to recover from the injury that had threatened to tie him to a desk job and who now took his rightful place amongst the elite squadron of men and women dedicated to saving their planet from their unknown alien enemy.
Perhaps, he is also the one man here who understands what I’m experiencing – that clichéd but inevitable loneliness of command.
For one brief moment, their glances met and the colonel saw a wealth of emotion in that quiet man’s eyes. In that instant he knew that Grey’s thoughts were, like his own, with the long-dead men and women of his past.
Yes, a kindred spirit indeed, the colonel thought, feeling heartened by that fact.
Next to Grey sat the ebullient Captain Magenta, his dark eyes suspiciously bright beneath his black hair and brows. His bottom lip was sucked in and clenched between his teeth. Here, undoubtedly moved by the occasion, was the most unexpected recruit amongst the elite officers: a man who had spent much of his career on the wrong side of the law and who had, as a consequence, witnessed indiscriminate killing for no better motive than money. It was to his eternal credit that he’d rejected the world that lived by such rules for a chance to ‘do something useful’.
And at what personal cost? He can never go back and wherever he does go, he’ll be a marked man if his former associates ever realise what he’s done. He’s still rather like a fish out of water here, although his uniform is certainly dazzling, even amongst the colourful Koi carp in Spectrum’s pond – to over-extend the metaphor, somewhat. But, like the fighter I know he is, he’s striven to fit in and he’s won the respect of his peers.
Next to Magenta was his field partner and closest friend, Captain Ochre. It was singular to consider that Ochre, a former World Police Corps officer, shared some of Magenta’s problems. Spectrum had duly arranged his apparent assassination in order to free their recruit from the attentions of underworld bosses with grudges against him. A man who felt he had much to hide, Ochre buried his past under a believable façade of mischief and cheerfulness. But there was a telling sobriety in him whenever he was faced with danger, to himself or his friends, which spoke of a man of selfless courage. For once, in honour of the occasion, he had dropped the mask that hid him from the world, and the laughter lines that were etched into his hawkish face gave Ochre the gravitas he strove hard to hide most of the time.
It’s almost as if he’s afraid of the damage his forthright emotions might do if he ever turned them loose, but his defences have gradually crumbled and there are moments now when Ochre does give way to his passions. Which is no bad thing. Besides, he’s finally realised that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And there, beside him, sits one of the few men who saw beneath the mask even before Ochre allowed anyone to really get close enough. That calm acceptance of his past life-decisions did go some considerable way to pouring balm on Ochre’s guilt-ridden psyche.
White’s attention turned to Captain Blue.
A well-educated, wealthy intellectual with a well-deserved reputation for caution and perfectionism, Blue was perhaps the most surprising success in the whole squadron. He had turned his back on a life of high-powered business with the prospect of unlimited hedonistic pleasure, to become a soldier.
And a bloody good soldier, at that.
Sitting ramrod stiff, his grey-blue eyes turned attentively to his commanding officer, Blue was a picture of correctness. Notwithstanding the unforgiving puritan-ethics he’d inherited from his mother’s family of well-born New Englanders and the astute, logical mind embodied in his powerful, Scandinavian-blond frame, the colonel knew this officer was a surprisingly emotional man beneath his apparently calm patrician features.
In fact, it had not taken long for White to recognise in Blue that rare empathy that fires a man’s imagination and makes him capable of entering into and – most importantly – understanding, the complexities of another human being’s life. He had also recognised that, while that empathy allowed Blue to judge his friends with a sympathetic leniency, he was not so tolerant of what he perceived as his own shortcomings. In fact, until, like his commanding officer, Blue learned the hard way that any kind of war is a different world from the common experience, he had been not only his own sternest judge, but an implacable critic of any outsider who transgressed against his own moral code.
But once you understand that, it doesn’t take an Einstein to realise there’s no point in trying to apply the cheap and easy moral principles devised in a cosy world of peace and plenty, to the horrors and tribulations every war inevitably brings. We’ve both learned that no one has the right to condemn anyone for doing what they have to do to survive.
That lesson had been given to Captain Blue by his friend and field partner, Captain Scarlet, who now sat beside him. The red of Scarlet’s uniform echoed the centuries of traditional uniforms that had earned the British Army the sobriquet of ‘Redcoats’ and it suited him to a T.
Scarlet had been born to be a soldier; it was in his blood, the inheritance from a family steeped in military tradition. He had hit his military career running, reaching the conventional milestones of success years before his peers even considered the possibility of achieving them.
White considered his young countryman. He rises, like cream, to the top and he is unquestionably the outstanding recruit amongst the elite squadron. Not for him the ‘catch-up-quick’ training on how to fly supersonic jets or what constitutes acceptable military behaviour. Not for him the struggle to adapt to the restrictive life on Cloudbase; he had, in that old phrase, ‘walked it’, but, I’m glad to say, with sufficient modesty and tolerance for his fellow officers to deflect any embryonic resentment they might be reasonably expected to feel.
As usual, Scarlet was sitting at the end of the row, somehow looking slightly apart from the others, and somewhat uneasy. His body was as rigid as Blue’s beside him and his face was expressionless, but his pallor was not from any repressed emotion. Captain Scarlet had experienced at first-hand the malevolence and the power of the Mysterons. He had survived – and no one knew how – their initial shocking attempt to first take control of and then annihilate all life on the Earth.
That was the furnace that had forged the steely resolve that ran like a mantra through Scarlet’s life: protect and defend. He regularly faced injury and death to protect not only the planet they all shared, but more personally, the men and women he now considered as important to him as his own family.
The measureless breadth of the comradeship that existed between Scarlet and – especially, but not exclusively – Blue, had proven resilient enough to overcome innumerable horrors or hardships. It was no real secret from anyone that that comradeship was what made Scarlet’s present life tolerable for him.
And although this bond might be the most significant, all of the elite corps have forged similar bonds between themselves and I don’t doubt that each of them will hold at every critical moment. It’s an extraordinary and magnificent thing to behold in action. It has saved so many lives. And I am profoundly grateful for that.
All of this reflection had taken place in a mere second or two of real time, but the colonel noticed that there was a slight frown on the face of the youngest of the elite officers, sitting on the end of the bench that held four of the five Angel pilots. The colonel had made an exception for the occasion to allow the two standby Angels to join their off-duty comrades for this, the most significant of the services. Normally, only two of the young women were considered off-duty at any one time.
Lieutenant Green was the colonel’s right-hand man on Cloudbase, with a good deal more responsibility than his youth led people to expect. At this moment, however, his almost cherubic face was showing concern at his boss’s unexpected delay.
Colonel White suppressed a smile: Green’s almost as much of a perfectionist as Blue and he must be worrying that something is wrong, that someone did slip a fatuous ‘trashy novel’ onto the lectern. And if Ochre imagines I’m unaware of his ‘threat’, he is very much mistaken.
All of the captains treated Green like an indulged and precocious younger brother, barely aware of the resilience and fierce determination of the young man who had almost single-handedly raised his eight siblings after the tragic death of his parents.
Green tolerated this from a sense of duty; he acted as the colonel’s ears and eyes on the base, an unofficial channel by which concerns could be raised, worrying trends identified and issues resolved before they became real problems. Maintaining easy-going relationships with everyone was a pre-requisite of doing a good job, and the young Trinidadian was not about to fail in his task.
But I know everyone values Lieutenant Green’s integrity as much as I do – with complete justification.
Now, White gave just the merest nod of reassurance towards the young man and drew breath to read:
shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
He looked up at the attentive faces and proclaimed the roll call of the known dead, culminating in, “Andrew Lawrence, Captain Indigo; Alan Stephenson, Captain Brown; Space Navigator Niall Conway; World Space Patrol Lieutenant Victor Dean and-” he paused for a split second and sensed their surprise, and then he said it, as he’d wanted to ever since that ill-fated day, almost two years ago, when they’d lost contact with the Martian Exploration Vehicle, “Conrad Turner, Captain Black.”
The silence lasted just a fraction too long for comfort, and the colonel could almost feel the wave of misgiving that surged through the chapel. Although to many of those present, Captain Black was simply a traitor who had thrown in his lot with the enemy and who co-ordinated and implemented whatever lethal scheme his alien masters demanded, the elite squadron knew the Mysterons’ ability to control the actions of people and things was such that Conrad Turner may have had no choice in the matter.
It was with considerable relief that White heard Captain Scarlet’s clear voice break the tension to say, “Amen.”
As if they’d waited for proof that the inclusion of that name would not offend their friend, the voices of the elite captains, followed with some reluctance a few split seconds later by the rest of the congregation, echoed: “Amen.”
As the last whisper died away, Colonel White nodded his approval of his officers and said in conclusion, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
The chaplain came alongside, beaming her approval at everyone present and the Service of Remembrance was over.
As he led the way out, Colonel White found Captain Scarlet walking beside him. The young man kept pace with him in silence until the crowd had dispersed and White sensed that Scarlet was deciding whether to say anything, so he stopped and looked at his officer with an open expression that invited confidences.
“Can I help you, Captain?”
Scarlet drew a deep breath and said, “You do know the full quotation, don’t you, sir?” and before White could reply, Scarlet recited:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gurgling from froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory
The old lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro Patria Mori.
The colonel hesitated. “Yes, I do, Captain Scarlet. I know my Wilfred Owen quite as well as you, it seems. But did you know that the phrase originally comes from a Latin Ode, by Horace. Roughly translated, it means: it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a great honour. Granted, in this circumstance we are talking about the entire planet, but I think the proposition still holds.”
“Ah, I see, sir – you’re going back to the source; well, if you ask me, those pesky Romans have a lot to answer for,” Scarlet said obliquely, and then abruptly changed the subject. “Goodbye, Colonel. I’m starting my 48-hour furlough. I arranged to leave Cloudbase this afternoon because I didn’t want to miss the service. And I am glad I didn’t; it needed saying, sir.”
White nodded in acknowledgement and was about to wish his premier field officer a pleasant break, when Scarlet added: “Maybe next year, you can add the name of the original Paul Metcalfe, Captain Scarlet, to the list? Sir.”
He snapped a crisp salute and turned on his heel, marching away before his commander could respond.
Colonel White felt the hot blood of embarrassment flood into his cheeks as he watched the young man turn the corner and vanish. There was a slight noise behind him and he spun round angrily to see who had witnessed the conversation.
Captain Blue was standing some way off looking in the direction Scarlet had gone. He turned to the colonel and saluted, presumably in order to deflect the annoyance White knew was apparent in his expression.
“At ease, Captain,” he said, forcing himself to speak evenly.
Blue did relax and moved a little closer.
“Perhaps I should have consulted him?” White mused, glancing up at the American apologetically. He knew he shouldn’t put the onus onto Blue’s shoulders, but sometimes, when it came to Captain Scarlet, he found he needed an interpreter of the man’s moods and he knew of no better one than Blue.
The captain gave the slight moue that indicated he was undecided about something, and then he said, “He sees himself as a pawn in some great, inter-planetary game, unwillingly moved about the board by unseen minds full of malevolence.”
“It never occurred to me – I mean – I know the original Captain Scarlet was murdered along with Captain Brown and Mysteronised, so that there was a replica man under their thrall – a replica so accurate it fooled us all. I thank whatever Providence watches over us that he was freed from their control by the events on the London Car-Vu and restored to us as a comrade-in-arms. But all of that doesn’t seem to connect to that individual. He’s just the same Paul Metcalfe he always was to me.”
The younger man gave a rueful smile. “Yeah, we all tend to assume that, sir; and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s the right thing to assume. Remind him of all that happened and he will get irritated: ‘as if I’m ever likely to be allowed to forget it’ is what he usually complains to me about – especially in the white-heat of his frustration. No offence, sir.”
The colonel smiled and Blue continued:
“It’s all still too new for him, and it’s all too easy to plunge him into contemplating some tormented alternative hell where he never broke free from them.”
Blue glanced at his commanding officer and, as if with a sudden need to confide, blurted out, “I think he feels guilty that he survived and Alan and Conrad didn’t; that he’s free and Conrad’s still enslaved. But don’t worry, sir; I don’t think he’ll do anything stupid – unless you count driving too fast or sampling the local ales at every pub until… well, you know the sort of thing. And anyway, it doesn’t last….”
Blue’s sentence trailed away so that White was left uncertain if he was referring to Scarlet’s anger or the effect of alcohol on his retrometabolised body.
Then the American added, “And he doesn’t bear grudges. As I should know.”
White saw a fleeting expression of guilt and sorrow cross his officer’s face, to be swiftly banished as Blue realised he was being observed. He saluted again and took his leave as if that revealing moment had never happened.
As he watched Blue walk away, following his friend’s route towards the officers’ quarters, White realised that there were two tortured souls in that friendship and he hadn’t even given one of them a thought before now. He cursed himself, not for mentioning ‘the events on the London Car Vu’, but for doing so without any conscious appreciation that he was talking to the man who had been forced to shoot his friend.
At the time, they had not known the extent of the Mysterons’ power of ‘reversing matter’ to recreate an exact likeness of what they had destroyed, and Captain Blue had believed he was fighting the real Paul Metcalfe, who had – for some unknown reason – turned traitor. He had done his duty and saved the life of World President at the cost of Captain Scarlet’s. It was the reason the World Government’s highest medal for courage, the Valour Star, hung on his dress uniform, and the reason Blue hated wearing it.
So presumably, that was earned at some personal emotional cost, White realised.
When his friend’s body had been recovered from the site of the car crash that had also killed Captain Brown, Blue had told Dr Fawn that he dared to hope he had not killed his ‘friend’ after all, but an alien doppelganger. But, the body of the Mysteronised Captain Scarlet had been brought back to Cloudbase for an autopsy, and once there, it had shown signs of returning life and consciousness. This ‘new’ Scarlet had no recollection of his time under the Mysterons’ control, but did have all the memories and characteristics of the original man.
So, although Blue rejoices to have his friend back, there must be a residual legacy from those dreadful events.
He made a mental note to keep an eye on how things went once Scarlet was back on duty and maybe to ask the chaplain if she thought there was anything they ought to be doing to help.
After all, Blue has a deep religious faith and he might well have already spoken to her or be prepared to accept some counselling from that quarter – if we keep it unobtrusive; he won’t thank us if we make it clear we understand his feelings. Still, she’ll know what’s best, I’m sure.
As for Scarlet, even though his personnel form states ‘Church of England’ against the entry for ‘religion’, he’s evidently one of the millions of ‘nominal Anglicans’ who get baptised, married and buried by their Mother Church, but rarely give the faith it represents a second thought.
Or maybe not? White mused, recalling not only the lusty rendition of the hymns Scarlet had given, but also a sudden bright glitter in the surprisingly sapphire-blue eyes of his compatriot as he had listened to that roll call of the dead. Another puzzle for the chaplain…?
He turned into his own quarters and after making a cup of tea, switched on his computer and groaned as he saw 149 new messages in the inbox.
“No peace for the wicked…” he said to himself, as he sat down at the screen. But before he started to read through them, he sent the chaplain an electronic meeting request.
In many acts and quiet observances you absorbed me, taken from ‘My Company’ by Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968)
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old, taken from ‘For the Fallen, by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
Dulce et Decorum est, by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
I’m not sure where this story came from. I was lying in bed one Saturday night, listening to the late night programmes on BBC Radio 4, and I heard most of - I had an ear infection and couldn’t really swear I heard all of – a discussion about Sir Herbert Read’s war poetry. Some of the phrases from the readings, by actor Samuel West, did indeed ‘move me profoundly’ and I immediately turned the light on and wrote what was the first draft of this story.
It has changed and been refined from that first jumbled version, not least by my having read the poems referred to in their entirety. Given that all of them are concerned with the Great War (1914-1918) it occurred to me that a Remembrance Service on Cloudbase might well be an occasion for reflection. I wondered what they would do about including Captains Black, Brown, Indigo and Scarlet, who all fell in the Mysterons’ early attacks, in the roll of the honoured dead. Brown and Indigo might be considered victims, but Black was active on the enemy’s side and Scarlet was still amongst them. After all, the knowledge of Scarlet’s retrometabolism is, we are told, a closely-guarded secret.
The friendship between Scarlet and Blue is well documented in both canon and fanon, and I have myself considered in other stories how the terrible incidents that happened in the first episode of ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ might have affected both men.
I do not mean any disrespect to the fallen soldiers in any war who are commemorated by any service of remembrance anywhere.
My thanks go to my tireless beta reader- Hazel Köhler – who is ever ready with a handy semi-colon or a glass of soave when the plots just won’t work out. Thanks are also due to the equally tireless Chris Bishop, the revered Leaderene of the Scarletinis, without whom many of us would be all alone in our fandom and of whose energy and enthusiasm I am constantly in awe. When I finally work out how she manages to cram so much activity into each day, I shall patent it for myself and retire on the millions it earns me.
Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons™ was devised and created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and brought to life by a talented team in the 1960s. The copyright belongs to a corporation, the inspiration belongs to the creators but the admiration is all mine.
26 October 2011