I’m not made of brick, I’m not made of stone.
Now the damage is done, well, there’s blood in
these veins and I cry when in pain.
And though looks may deceive, make it hard to believe
I'm only human on the inside.
I crash and I burn, maybe some day you'll learn I'm only human on the inside.
I stumble and fall under it all: I'm only human on the inside.
(Taken from ‘Human’ by Jonathan Michael McLaughlin, &, Kevin Griffiths)
Cloudbase, 16 December
“I really envy you,” Symphony said again. “I wish Adam would take me to such exciting places.”
Rhapsody Angel gave her a sceptical glance. “Adam is forever taking you to exciting places,” she protested.
Her friend shrugged. “Oh sure, if you like surfing 24:7 or want to spend the weekend trudging round museums looking at broken bits of ancient carving or artworks that look like the result of finger-painting day at the Kindergarten. But he’s never taken me for a weekend of extreme shopping!”
“Karen, I really hate to disappoint you, but we won’t be spending the entire weekend shopping. At least, I hope not.” She put the last item in her small suitcase and continued, “The Plantagenet Centre is more than just a retail hub, you know? The New Shakespeare Company has a complex there, with a modern theatre and an Elizabethan reconstruction and there is an open museum of English Life and the old Silverstone race track nearby, as well as the Eleanor Tower. I know we’ve got tickets to see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Gaveston and I think Paul’s mother’s got tickets for the traditional Pantomime at the Longshanks. I happen to know that she’s also bought him a day pass for the racing circuit, with open access to the historical racing cars, for his birthday. He’ll probably spend all day going round the circuit in every car he can. I suppose we might be able to squeeze in a few hours of retail therapy in the Eleanor Tower before we’re due back, but that’s about it.”
“You don’t plan to waste the day watching Paul going round in circles, do you?” Symphony cried in surprise. Rhapsody nodded. “That’s criminal! If Adam wanted to spend all day driving round in circles, I’d go and give his credit card one almighty workout in the stores while he was at it.”
Rhapsody chuckled. “Well, don’t forget Mrs Metcalfe is coming with us and I’m certain she’ll want to watch her boy whizzing round the track; I can hardly leave her to do that alone, now can I? This weekend is her special birthday treat for Paul, after all.”
“I would,” Symphony confessed, as they descended to the flight bay in the lift. “But then,” she added, “Sarah Svenson’s not the kind to watch her son doing something boring just for the sake of it.”
“Wanna bet on it?” Rhapsody asked, grinning as her American friend deliberately ignored the question and walked out of the lift towards Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue.
The officers were waiting by the embarkation door to the aircraft bay where the London Shuttle was loading. They both turned as the lift door opened and smiled as the young women walked towards them.
“Hi!” Captain Blue called, raising a hand in greeting.
Captain Scarlet reached out to take Rhapsody’s suitcase. “We wondered where you’d got to,” he said, with an impish smile. “I began to think the idea of spending the weekend with my mother had scared you off.”
“Your mother doesn’t scare me,” Rhapsody replied cheerfully. “I only wish you didn’t feel that we need separate rooms because of her presence, though.”
Scarlet’s face was a picture of embarrassed surprise as she blew him a kiss.
“Tough call, Paul,” Blue said with an air of ready sympathy. “On your birthday too…”
Symphony nodded. “Shame…”
“Cut it out, you two,” Scarlet said, with a wry grimace. “We’ll be tired enough with all the events we’ve got to pack into the weekend without worrying about nocturnal callisthenics – or the lack of them.”
“He’s such a romantic,” Symphony said to her friend, as Rhapsody grinned at her lover.
“Only because I’ve been taking lessons in how to be ‘Romantic’ – with a capital R - from Adam…” Scarlet quipped, looking as innocent as he knew how, and stepped across to deposit the suitcase in the plane before either of the Americans could reply.
Laughing, Rhapsody followed him, turning to wave at her friends as the warning klaxon sounded. The Americans waved back and retreated to the safety of the observation room while the SPJ rose on the launch pad and vanished from sight.
Scarlet and Rhapsody sat together towards the back of the plane and he slipped his hand around hers, interlacing their fingers.
“It might not be ‘a slow boat to China’,” he said, “but at last I’ve got you on the first shuttle to London – all to myself alone.”
She smirked up at him. “Did Adam tell you to say that to me, or did you think of it all by yourself? It’s very good,” she teased.
Scarlet grinned at her, leant back in the seat and closed his eyes, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “And you thought I couldn’t do romantic…”
Mrs Mary Metcalfe was waiting at London airport for the Spectrum shuttle to arrive. She had travelled up from Winchester the day before and spent the night in one of the nearby hotels. Before she’d made her way to the Arrivals Lounge this morning, she’d loaded all her luggage into the boot of what she knew Paul would call the ‘sprauncy’ car she’d hired for the long weekend and driven it the short distance to the terminal.
She could feel her excitement growing; this was the first real birthday weekend she’d shared with her son since he joined Spectrum, and probably for a good few years before that. It had always been a sort of tradition in the family that on the weekend nearest to his birthday, she would take him away for a visit to somewhere – just the two of them. It had originated from the days when his father had been on active service and was rarely able to guarantee he’d be around for the special event, especially so close to Christmas. The young Paul had minded this very much because he’d idolised his tall, handsome, bluff and hearty father. Registering the disappointment on her son’s face, Mary had decided to make her husband’s absence as much of a positive thing as she could and so the concept of the Birthday Retreat had been devised.
Over the years Paul was growing up, they had spent his birthday visiting cities or fun parks, spending quality time together and getting to know each other. Mary had valued the opportunity to spend time with the son she missed so much during the school term times – although she had agreed with her husband that Prep School was the best place for their son, given that they could have been sent overseas at any time.
This year, as Christmas approached, General Metcalfe announced that he would be attending a conference in New York, called by the Supreme Commander Earth Forces, so Mary had taken the opportunity to suggest to Paul that he might like to come for a Birthday Retreat – always supposing he wasn’t on a mission – and to her great delight he had agreed. The only difference was that this time, he was bringing his fiancée with him.
While Mary had been debating whether she should extend the invitation to Dianne Simms, Paul had suddenly looked a little sheepish and asked if she would mind if he brought Dianne along.
“Of course not, darling; I would have asked her straight away but I didn’t like to, in case you thought I was meddling. And you know I don’t like to meddle, Paul.” Mary had beamed at his smiling face on the video screen.
“Mum, you’re an angel,” he replied. “I’ll get it sorted with the colonel, so we can both come, and you just tell us where…”
“Wonderful! I am so looking forward to seeing you both!”
And now their plane had landed and they’d be here at any moment….
“There she is!” Paul shouted and started waving. “Mum!”
He quickened his pace and Dianne struggled to keep up with him. She could see Mary Metcalfe waving back and smiling broadly at the sight of them and, not wishing to hamper the meeting between mother and son, Dianne slowed down and allowed Paul time to envelop his mother in a bear hug and Mary to kiss his cheek and brush the recalcitrant lock of black hair back from his eyes.
“Paul, darling! It’s so good to see you – and looking so well… I know that’s silly of me, but it matters so much – I can’t begin to tell you.” Mary hugged him tightly and felt the comforting touch of his kiss on her cheek.
“I’m fine, Mum – you shouldn’t worry, really. Now, buck up and say hello to Dianne. She’s been looking forward to seeing you almost as much as me.”
Dianne advanced with her hand outstretched. “Hello, Mrs Metcalfe,” she began.
“Hello, my dear,” Mary cried, enfolding the younger woman in a hug. “You must call me Mary; I can’t imagine being called Mrs Metcalfe all weekend… It is lovely to see you, Dianne. You look simply beautiful in that outfit; the colour really suits you. Where did you get it from?”
“There is this fantastic little boutique I’ve found in Chelsea…”
Paul rolled his eyes and picked up the two suitcases he’d dropped. “I can see that you two are going to get on like a house on fire,” he remarked, as Mary smirked at him and led the way to where the car was parked.
They picked up the old M40 road heading north-west towards Oxford and cruised along in the steady flow of traffic, Paul doing the driving while Mary and Dianne sat in the back of the car chatting. The day was bright enough, with a weak winter sun regularly breaking through the scudding clouds and only the odd flurry of rain setting the automatic wipers squeaking as they cleared the windscreen.
Their destination – the Plantagenet Centre - was the latest in a new chain of leisure and retail parks being built across the country. As more and more people had more time on their hands due to the automation of so many processes, a growing part of the economy was founded on the need to provide them with a variety of leisure activities and venues to keep them occupied and amused.
Great Britain had lagged behind most of the western world in this because, in the aftermath of the European Atomic War, the military dictatorship’s policy of independence from the new World Government had led them to concentrate far more on the country’s need to become self-sufficient. After the Civil War of 2046-7, when the World Government had accepted Great Britain into its ranks, it agreed to provide finance to turn the country’s strictly utilitarian economy into one that was modern and vibrant.
The first of the new, all-inclusive Leisure Parks had been the Senlac Centre, in Kent and such had been its success that it was quickly followed by the Regency Centre between Bath and Cheltenham and the Tudor Centre in South Wales. The Roses Centre now served the great conurbations of Lancashire and Yorkshire and the Lindisfarne Centre served the far north. The Plantagenet Centre was the latest to open and was named in honour of the octocentennial of the birth of King Edward the First.
Spectrum had already encountered a similar facility when the Mysterons had threatened to destroy the Athlone Complex in Ireland and Rhapsody’s life had been threatened by the Mysteronised Dr Brodsky and, as they approached the perimeter of the entertainment complex, Captain Scarlet hoped that this weekend would be far more enjoyable than that first visit to a Leisure Complex had been.
“Oh look, there’s the Eleanor Tower,” Mary Metcalfe cried, pointing to the elegant skyscraper that stood in the centre of the complex. “Did you know that it won an award for the best new building in the country when it opened, Paul? That’s why I thought I’d treat us all to rooms in the integral hotel; it sounded so nice on the telecast.”
“And it is right next to the theatres too, isn’t it?” Dianne asked. “I haven’t seen a professional Shakespeare performance for years and I’m really looking forward to ‘Much Ado’.”
Mary smiled. “I was surprised you were able to get tickets; I tried several times and quite a few agencies and they were sold out.”
Dianne smiled. “One of the few perks of having a World Government diplomat as a father is his ability to call in favours when he wants to attend an event of some kind. When I explained it was for Paul’s birthday he was only too happy to pull strings.”
“That was kind of him,” Mary said. “The tickets are in such demand because Jason Todhunter Browne is playing Benedict and he’s very popular at the moment. He’s very good too: Charles and I saw his ‘Hamlet’ at the Barbican last year.”
“Dad sat through ‘Hamlet’? The guy must be good,” Paul remarked, as he slowed down at the entry gate and presented their tickets.
Mary chuckled. “Your father is not the philistine you like to imagine,” she chided her son. “But, because I couldn’t get tickets for the Shakespeare I got them for the Pantomime. We don’t have to go, of course…”
“Not go? Of course we’re going to go!” Paul exclaimed. “It’s really the only reason we came! Isn’t it, Di?”
“Of course; I’m looking forward to it – a proper English Pantomime is a work of art.”
“Oh no it isn’t,” Paul teased.
“Oh yes it is!” his passengers chorused in reply.
All three of them laughed aloud as the car went down the ramp to the vast underground car park and Paul drove around until he found their allocated space. Dianne found a trolley and Paul loaded their luggage – which now included the numerous cases belonging to his mother – onto it, and the three of them made their way to the lifts that would take them to the hotel reception.
The reception area was brightly lit and dominated by one of the largest Christmas trees Paul had ever seen. It was tastefully decorated in silver and gold, with piles of ‘presents’ piled under it, wrapped in the same colours. Above them the floors of the hotel circled the central atrium of the building, each one having a walkway that looked over into the reception area and rooms that radiated out at each point of the compass, the most expensive rooms being at the end of the corridors with huge windows overlooking the landscaped parkland.
Looking around them in impressed surprise they approached the freestanding, circular wooden construction that echoed the shape of the whole reception area and allowed the six staff working inside it to assist guests at whatever the direction they approached it from.
“May I help you?” their receptionist asked. She was a young and attractive blonde, with a smile that seemed glued on to her face.
“I have a reservation,” Mary explained, “in the name of Metcalfe.”
“Mrs Mary Metcalfe and party,” the woman read off a screen. “Welcome to the Eleanor Tower Hotel, Mrs Metcalfe.” She glanced at Dianne standing on one side of Mrs Metcalfe and, for considerably longer, at Paul, standing on the other.
“Your rooms are numbers 37 and 38, which are on the third floor,” she explained reaching automatically for a plan of the building and placing it on the counter, without taking her gaze from Paul.
“Two rooms?” he asked his mother.
Mary tried to suppress a smirk and failed. “They were pretty much full this weekend and I felt sure we could manage with just two rooms between the three of us. I thought if you and Dianne didn’t want to share the double, I could share it with her,” she explained. “I hope that wouldn’t be too much of an ordeal for you, my dear?” She glanced at Dianne with a winsome smile. “Or have I shocked you both?” She turned to her son, noticing the faint flush of embarrassment on his usually pale cheeks.
“I’m not shocked, Mary,” Dianne assured her, “and I’d be happy to share with either of you; so I guess that leaves it up to Paul to decide.”
Shaking his head in exasperation with the pair of them, Paul swept up the keys the receptionist had placed on the counter.
“Given that this is obviously going to be a hen-pecked weekend, I might just take the single so I can escape you two,” he teased.
Mary chortled and slipped her arm through her son’s. “Be careful, or I might hold you to that, my boy.”
The hotel rooms were opulent and the decoration was a shocking change from the understated decoration on Cloudbase. The double room, with ensuite, was decked out in white and gold, right down to the complimentary chocolates on the pillows, while next door, Mrs Metcalfe’s room was white and a sort of peachy-orange. When Paul came into the double room after taking some of his mother’s luggage that had been delivered to their room by mistake, he found Dianne bouncing on the edge of the bed.
“Seems comfy enough,” she said, offering him the chance to select from one of the small box of chocolates that had been left on the pillows.
He took one, on the principle that it wasn’t good for her to eat them all herself, and sat beside her.
“My mother never ceases to surprise me,” he confessed. “I thought we’d be condemned to spending the weekend in separate rooms.”
“Your mother is a sensible and pragmatic woman; I doubt she imagines either of us would be satisfied with a chaste goodnight kiss,” Dianne replied. “We’re both of an age to have outgrown the first flush of romantic love, after all.”
He gave a doubtful nod.
Dianne stretched out across the bed. “Of course,” she continued, “you could always place your Spectrum-issue light sabre between us, in case you feel overcome with some base longings in the night, Sir Galahad.”
“How many metaphors have you mixed in that one sentence?” he demanded with mock severity. “I hope your reports to the colonel aren’t as sloppy…”
“I bet my reports to the colonel are more frequent than yours, however sloppy they are,” she teased.
“As I always tell Adam: it is hard to write a debriefing report when you’re dead,” he retorted. “And the deadline for submissions is not negotiable.”
She chuckled. “Poor Adam, he falls for it every time, I expect.”
“Not every time, but most of them,” he agreed, grinning down at her. For a moment he stared at her, drinking in the perfection of her face and the way her long, red-hair had billowed around her head like a halo. He sighed and ran a finger lightly down her cheek. “Light sabres notwithstanding, I would like nothing better than to spend the next few hours showing you just how beautiful I think you are by kissing every inch of you-”
Dianne beamed encouragingly at him.
“-But, Mum’s last words to me were, the pantomime matinee starts at 2:30 and we really should have a light lunch before we go… so, the kissing will have to wait.”
“Story of my life…” she retorted, with a pout of disappointment. “But hold on that aspiration, Paul, and we’ll try and realise it later…”
By the time the party had returned from the matinee it was dark. The hotel was ablaze with coloured lights and in the foyer a local school’s choir and orchestra was playing and singing carols and Christmas songs. Mary stopped to listen and Dianne and Paul lingered with her, all of them giving generously to the smiling child who approached them with a large plastic bucket already a quarter full of donations.
“I always wished you had been more musical, Paul,” Mary told him, in between songs. “You started playing the recorder at school but you gave up after a term as you still couldn’t do it properly. I suppose I should have known to expect it, you’ve never had any patience.” She turned to Dianne and continued, “Has he ever told you that he came home in tears after a week at school because he couldn’t read yet?”
Laughing, Dianne shook her head.
“That’s a calumny, Mother,” Paul protested good-naturedly.
“I was there, I saw you and I remember, even if you don’t,” she replied, unperturbed. “Mind you, he lasted a whole year learning the guitar, Di. He drove his father to distraction playing the opening bars of the theme from the James Bond films over and over until the Colonel, as he was then, bought him a quad bike to take his mind off it. I was sure he’d kill himself on that thing and the torment of his once seemingly interminable music practice seemed to me like a golden age when he was careering round the garden on his quad bike.”
“He started as a speed junkie very young, it seems,” Dianne commented, hugging Paul’s arm. “And he does sing well, Mary, so there is some music in his soul,” she reminded his mother by way of a consolation.
Mary smiled. “Yes, he has a good voice, and he can put it to use now…” The conductor of the orchestra was inviting the audience to join in with ‘O, Come, All Ye Faithful’. “Come on, Paul, sing along!”
The three of them joined their voices with those of the children and their fellow residents of the hotel. As the carol concluded there was a hearty round of applause from the audience for the excited young performers.
Realising the concert was over the people began to drift away. The atmosphere was one of easy-going camaraderie often engendered by such Christmas-time activities. Paul had booked a table in one of the restaurants in the hotel complex and the three of them decided to change before they dined.
As they approached the lifts it became apparent that there was some problem. People were milling about, the camaraderie quickly evaporating as they were told that no one could have access to any of the many lifts, which were delivering a constant stream of confused and annoyed guests to the lobby. When a small group decided to use the staircase to return to their rooms, they were turned away by uniformed hotel staff.
“This is disgraceful,” one portly businessman announced. “Where is the manager? I wish to make a complaint.”
A murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd, quickly growing to a clamour.
Paul glanced behind him and was not surprised to see that the automatic doors were closed and members of staff were turning away guests who were trying to leave the building.
“Be quiet!” The order came from the blonde receptionist who had registered the Metcalfes on their arrival, only now there was no sign of her previous deference and the bright smile had vanished.
When the crowd did not obey instantly, she nodded to one of her male colleagues and he produced an automatic rifle and fired a volley of shots over the heads of the alarmed guests. In the cries of alarm and fear, the schoolchildren began to cry.
“Be quiet!” the receptionist repeated and this time, gradually, she got her way. “Do as you are told and you will not be harmed.”
“This is outrageous!” the stout businessman, who seemed to consider himself the spokesman, bellowed. “Where are the police? You had better stop this at once, young lady, or you will be in a great deal of trouble.”
“No, you will be a great deal of trouble if you say one more word, old man,” she retorted. “We are the United Front for the Liberation of Tios and we mean business.”
“UFLOT?” Dianne whispered to Paul, “The colonel briefed us about them last week.”
He nodded, but said nothing. Tios was a small, strategically important Island State in the Atlantic, which for many years had been a naval base, used for refuelling and repairs by the American arm of the World Navy. During the European Atomic War, the base had expanded and the work there became more secretive and important, until the islanders, descended from hardy European colonists who had seen the island as a potential haven from the political and religious persecution of their age, had been forcibly relocated. Since then they had been campaigning to regain their homes and land.
There was general public sympathy for the islanders’ plight and it was felt that the elders had conducted their fight with dignity and great restraint, but a younger, more radical wing of Islanders had grown tired of waiting and had recently become militant in their pursuit of their goals. Their cause had been adopted by several revolutionary protest groups and anarchists who had banded together to form a united front. UFLOT had announced its arrival by painting slogans on the public monuments in several European countries and last month, as Americans went to the polls, they had dropped green, blue and brown paint – the colours of the Tiotian flag - from a light aircraft onto the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. It had angered people and brought them public condemnation, but, when all was said and done, no one had been harmed, so this was a definite escalation of their campaign.
“What are you going to do?” someone cried from the back of the crowd.
The young woman’s attitude, as she addressed the assembly, was haughty and defiant. “Across the world dedicated bands of freedom fighters for Tios have taken control of leisure centres such as this,” she explained. “We demand that in exchange for our hostages they remove all naval personnel from Tios and allow the Islanders back to their homes. The world should not be able to turn its back on the suffering of the Islanders and spend their time in luxury venues like this while innocent people are deprived of their homes and livelihoods.”
“But this isn’t going to help your cause.” The new speaker was the teacher who had conducted the young orchestra. “Holding equally innocent men, women and children as hostages can never be right. We understand your ambition to return home, but we can’t make the World Navy leave.”
“No, but the World President can, and when he sees our hostages from all around the world, he will have to act!”
“How long will you keep us here?” someone shouted.
The crowd murmured anxiously until the receptionist replied:
“That depends on how quickly the World President acts.”
“Let the children go,” the teacher demanded. “Let them go back to their families; they’ve done nothing and they don’t deserve to be kept here!”
“No one leaves!” the receptionist shouted. “No one!” She turned to one of the armed men flanking her. “Bring those kids to the front.” Two uniformed men rounded up the frightened children and hustled them towards their leader.
The teacher protested and was pushed aside by the guards. Children cried and fought as they were separated out, begging him to help them. Shouting ‘Police, help!’ he turned and ran towards the door, desperate to escape and find a way to rescue his charges.
“No!” Paul shouted, instinctively moving to head the man off, but he was too late. Two more of the guards brought him down and began kicking and hitting him with the butts of their weapons as he lay curled on the ground.
“They’ll kill him,” Dianne whispered helplessly.
Paul began to fear the same and looked around for any way to distract them, but everything he thought of meant other civilians would be put at considerable risk – and he had his mother to think of.
Having decided that they had made their point to the terrified hostages, the receptionist called her men off and ordered:
“Put him and the kids inside the reception area and keep a watch on them. If any one causes any trouble the kids will suffer.”
“Now that isn’t fair!” Mary Metcalfe exclaimed loudly. “If you harm one hair on the head of one of those children you will forfeit any right to have your demands considered seriously.”
“Sssh,” Paul hissed, but his mother ignored him.
“No politician, national or global, is going to negotiate with a terrorist that targets children,” she continued forcefully.
There was a ripple of approval from the crowd.
“Would you rather we targeted you, old woman?” the receptionist demanded, waving one of the men to single out Mary and bring her forward.
Shaking off the arm that sought to restrain her, Mary marched forward of her own volition.
“Let them go,” she demanded. “There are enough adults for your purpose and the children aren’t even guests here – it’s a fluke they were here at all.” She stood before the UFLOT leader and met her angry stare without fear.
“Mrs Metcalfe,” the receptionist said slowly, “I might have guessed. I know who you are.”
“I make no secret of it,” Mary replied.
“Perhaps your husband will be able to make the World President act quickly, if he sees you in peril of your life?”
“My husband will not be swayed from doing his duty by anything you can do.”
“Go and stand with the children. And if she makes any move to try and cause trouble – shoot her!”
With her head held high Mary walked to the desk, where one of the armed men lifted the counter to allow her to open the gate and enter the circle. Frightened children clustered around her and she gathered two of the smallest to her and tried to soothe their fears before stooping to see what first aid she could give the teacher, who had been thrown into the centre of the reception area and was now moaning continuously.
“Bring the cameras,” the receptionist ordered, and one of her colleagues slipped away to obey, while she spoke to the hostages. “All of you get onto the floor and don’t say a word. We will shoot you if you don’t obey – but your death will not be a quick and easy one.”
Slowly the well-dressed men and women got down onto the floor: some crouching, some kneeling and a few of the more elderly, sitting.
Paul crouched beside Dianne and whispered: “We must alert Cloudbase.”
“I think she’s about to do that for you,” Dianne whispered back, as the cameras arrived and the receptionist prepared to speak.
“Citizens of the World, Mr World President, Members of the European Triumvirate, President Montoya and Prime Minister Singh, listen to the demands of the United Front for the Liberation of Tios,” the receptionist began, as the cameras started to broadcast. “I am speaking to you from the Plantagenet Centre in the heart of England. My name is not important, but you will know me by my codename: Boudicca…”
“One of their leaders,” Dianne whispered and Paul nodded.
“Across the globe the agents of UFLOT have taken hostages from your people. We demand that in order to secure the release of these hostages, who number in the thousands, you order the World Navy to quit Tios immediately and deliver the island back to its people, with compensation of six million International Credits and annual aid of two million until such time as the island is once more habitable and can support the residents. If you do not agree to do this we are prepared to destroy the hotels and centres we have taken into our hands and kill every one of the hostages. We are not unreasonable,” she continued, “we will give you four hours to issue the orders to the World Army and Navy and a further twenty hours to evacuate all personnel. Then, for every hour’s delay a hostage will be shot.”
There was an outcry from the hostages and a shot was fired overhead to quieten them. People were openly sobbing as the noise died away.
“To convince you of the honesty of my claims, one hostage will be killed immediately on live television.”
She turned to the children corralled in the reception centre and said to Mary Metcalfe:
“I will not! You can shoot me first,” Mary retorted, hugging the terrified children closest to her.
“Very well.” Boudicca gestured impatiently to one of her colleagues.
Paul, who had shifted his position to allow himself some freedom of movement for just such an occasion, sprang to his feet and dashed across the foyer towards his mother.
“Leave her alone!” he yelled, and with a flying leap brought down the man with the gun.
With a scream of annoyance, Boudicca snatched the gun from the nearest armed guard and poured several bullets into Paul as he started to get to his feet. Mary Metcalfe screamed and looked away, covering her face with her hands as the impact threw Paul’s body back to the floor, and his head smashed against the mahogany reception desk as he slumped lifeless to the floor, blood seeping from his chest and abdomen.
“Throw that carrion out into the car park!” snapped Boudicca, as she turned to the frightened hostages. “I warn you – just one move from any of you and that will happen to you!” She turned back to the cameras which had been following all of this and broadcasting it to the TV audience. “Believe me, Mr President, I will carry out my threat. Tios must be free again! You have three hours and fifty minutes to comply with our demands.”
Dianne watched in helpless anxiety as Paul’s body was dragged beyond the Christmas tree and out into the darkness clear of the entrance of the hotel complex.
“Good luck, Paul,” she whispered.
Lieutenant Green alerted Doctor Fawn and Captain Blue that Colonel White wanted them urgently in the Control Room. As both men saluted, two stools rose from the floor for them to perch on, while White ordered the lieutenant to replay Boudicca’s broadcast.
“Someone hacked into the Global Press Network and transmitted this on all channels,” he explained. “ Our Media Scrutineers alerted me immediately, so we’ve not lost much time.”
“That’s where Scarlet and Rhapsody went,” Blue remarked, as the replay started.
“Indeed,” White replied. “Watch carefully.”
They watched the broadcast through, until it closed with Scarlet’s death and his body being thrown out of the building.
Doctor Fawn spoke first. “We’ve got to get to him; if the authorities take him to a morgue his secret will be revealed once his retrometabolism kicks in.”
White nodded. “UFLOT have taken over similar sites in Germany and America and the same demands have been issued. The World Security Council is in emergency session as we speak.”
“Surely the President will give the order for Tios to be evacuated?” Blue said. “Even if only to buy us more time,” he added.
“I expect so,” the colonel agreed. “For the moment, Spectrum’s priority must be to rescue Captain Scarlet, Rhapsody Angel and the hostages in England, which appears to be the command centre for all of the attacks. So, I want you two to fly down immediately and work with Scarlet to resolve this issue safely.”
“S.I.G.,” Blue replied.
“Lieutenant Green will give you all the data we have on Boudicca once you are underway. I will contact Prime Minister Singh and the World Police Corps in London to notify them you will be arriving and that Spectrum will be taking control of the operation. Dismiss, gentlemen.”
“We know that Boudicca’s real name is Charlotte Jilks and she’s the daughter of Leon – known as ‘Hereward’ - and Tamsin – known as ‘Medea’ -Jilks, founder members of the banned organisation ‘The Children of Freedom’. Her mother was killed in a terrorist attack on an army installation in Israel when her daughter was a young child, and her father is serving life in a maximum security prison in Siberia for the armed CoF attack on the Russian President over ten years ago,” Green explained, over the SPJ radio.
“That was a major impetus towards the creation of Spectrum as an anti-terrorist organisation, wasn’t it?” Fawn remarked to his companion quietly, so as not to interrupt the lieutenant.
“The CoF is still active, although in a much less prominent role and a weakened capacity to take action…”
“Perhaps they’re running out of suitable codenames,” Fawn commented under his breath, with a cynical grimace towards Blue. The captain gave a dry smile in response.
Green continued: “It seems that they have infiltrated UFLOT and are using that cause as a pretence for continuing their fight against the World Government and its organisations – particularly its military ones.”
“Does Boudicca have any known associates?” Blue asked Green.
“She was married for a brief period to another CoF member, Harry Notley – known as ‘Guevara’. Notley was killed in the terrorist raid on the WAAF armoury at Monte Bianco eighteen months ago. We believe Boudicca was present at that attack, but she evaded capture.”
“Any known weaknesses?” Blue asked, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice.
“Afraid not: her father raised her to believe in his political doctrine that any act was permissible if it led to the breakdown of all centralised authority and gave individual freedom to the masses; she is known to have confirmed that she still abides by his diktat,” Green replied. “But I’ll keep looking, Captain,” he concluded helpfully.
Captain Scarlet gradually became aware of a raging thirst and a gnawing hunger. He didn’t move or try to open his eyes but lay still as his body slowly regained sensation and the fog cleared from his mind.
Where am I?
He struggled to regain his memory and work out where he was lying. The surface was hard beneath his body and there was something covering his face and restraining his limbs.
A body bag; okay, so they thought I was dead. Who are ‘they’?
He heard voices and tuned in to what they were saying.
“The police chief says Spectrum are coming.”
“Let’s hope they bring enough men to storm the hotel and put an end to this.”
“It’s too late for that poor bastard in there, and if they go in with all guns blazing, Jim, he won’t be the only one.”
Memories swept through Scarlet’s mind as he remembered what had happened in the hotel.
If Spectrum aren’t here yet, I’ve recovered very quickly… Good, I have to find a way back in there. At least I’ve got a chance to go over all the possible options before Spectrum arrives.
Blue landed the helijet in the grounds of the Leisure Centre and he and Fawn hurried over to the central control point where the local Police Chief was waiting.
Blue saluted. “Sir, this is Doctor Fawn; he’ll need to see the man who was shot.”
“I’m afraid he’s too late, Captain. The man is dead.”
“Then Spectrum will take the body off your hands,” Fawn said sharply.
“His family will want to give him a decent burial,” the Chief reminded him, frowning.
“They’ll have the chance when the time comes,” Fawn replied evenly. “Now, where is he?”
With a dismissive gesture that expressed his distaste, the chief indicated the ambulance and Fawn set off immediately.
“When will your other men be here?” the Chief asked Blue.
“If and when we need them we can have men here in minutes. Now, I want a full update on what’s happening…”
Doctor Fawn introduced himself to the paramedics guarding the ambulance where Captain Scarlet lay. He was allowed into the vehicle and he closed the door behind him.
“Captain?” he said quietly, “It’s Fawn. Don’t say anything; just move your hand if you can.”
Relief swept through Paul at these words and he raised his left hand as far as he could. He felt someone grasping the zip of the body bag and heard the zip being undone. Light flooded in and he screwed his eyes against the brightness for a moment.
“Hi Doc,” he whispered roughly, as soon as he could make out Fawn’s concerned face. “I need a drink, I’m parched.”
Fawn produced a bottle of water and helped Scarlet drink. “How’re you feeling?”
“I was shot several times and I think I cracked my head against a solid wooden wall… I’m hungry and thirsty, but apart from that, I feel fine.”
Fawn took his pulse. “Hmm, faster than normal, but that’s not unusual after such a speedy regeneration.” He rummaged in his medical bag and handed Scarlet a lunch box. “I brought this just in case: BLT on wholemeal.”
Scarlet mumbled thanks and bit into the sandwich with considerable appreciation. “Who’s here?” he muttered, his mouth still full.
“Blue; he’s getting an update from the police chief. We’ve seen the broadcast from Boudicca: your mother and Rhapsody were still alive when that happened. There’s been no further word from the terrorists and there’s another 90 minutes of the first deadline left before the World President has to respond.”
There was a knock on the ambulance door which opened just far enough for Blue to stick his head in. Keeping Scarlet’s unique retrometabolic abilities secret was second nature to all of the elite officers in Spectrum and they instinctively took precautions to prevent the information leaking out.
“May I come in?” he asked.
“Feel free,” Scarlet replied, with a welcoming smile. “Good to see you.”
“They think you’re dead,” Blue said, with a nod towards the paramedics outside. “I presume you were?”
Scarlet nodded. “The terrorists shot me when I tried to stop them shooting my mother – she’s okay, I take it?”
“No one has heard any more shots and there’ve been no more broadcasts. Rhapsody is with her?”
“They’re both in there but not together. Mum stood up for the children in the orchestra – demanding they should be released. Boudicca had them all rounded up and then threw Mum in with them in the area behind the circular reception desk,” Scarlet explained, then without hesitation went on to say, “We’re going to need blueprints or a plan of the building – there has to be some way in that avoids the foyer.”
Blue nodded and activated his radio mic, which swung down from the peak of his cap. “Lieutenant Green? Please transmit the blueprint plans of the Eleanor Tower Hotel complex.” As the mic swung back, Blue updated his partner on what they already knew. “Our best guesstimate is that Boudicca has no more than a dozen men with her; three of them have been identified as members of the Children of Freedom and, for the moment, we have to assume that the others are Tiotians. Major Russet has taken pictures of the terrorists from the global broadcast to the Tiotian delegation to see if they can identify any of them.”
“Are they likely to help?” Fawn asked dubiously. While the conversation had been going on he had been busy making checks on Captain Scarlet, checking his heart, lungs, blood pressure and senses. “I mean they’d be handing their colleagues – maybe their family members – over to the authorities.”
“The Tiotian Elders have already issued a statement condemning UFLOT’s actions. They say that nothing good can come from such despicable behaviour. They have ordered their own people to stand down.”
“Are the Tiotians likely to obey them?” Scarlet asked.
Blue shrugged. “It’s possible that they might, if they ever get to hear the message. There’s a communication blackout, insofar as we can’t override their censorship.” He paused as a message came through on his cap radio, and then withdrew from his tunic a small palm-sized device. “Here,” he handed it to Scarlet, “the plans you wanted.”
Scarlet squinted at the small screen, and then changed the configuration so that the image was projected onto the smooth side of a medical equipment cabinet on the wall of the ambulance.
“Maintenance shafts?” Fawn asked, pointing to a network of tunnels that honeycombed the building.
“Yeah, and the automatic room service delivery shafts,” Scarlet explained. “Each floor has one waiter who delivers the guests’ orders, but the food and stuff comes from the central service floors in the basements in those delivery shafts.”
“Some of them are not very wide and none of them open to the outside,” the doctor remarked.
“Yeah, and I wonder where the other staff members who aren’t in Boudicca’s group are?” Blue mused. “Presumably she has them under lock and key somewhere.”
“The fact that she hasn’t added them to the hostages doesn’t hold out much hope that they’re still alive,” Fawn remarked sadly, and his companions nodded dourly. “How are we ever going to get in and stop this atrocity?” the doctor demanded with a spurt of angry passion.
“The Panorama Lounge.” Scarlet and Blue spoke almost simultaneously.
Blue tapped the cabinet to indicate where the circular hotel began to taper to its award-winning atrium roof. “A 360-degree glass wall that allows guests an uninterrupted view over the countryside. I doubt it’s being guarded as they’ll need every man on the ground floor watching the guests.”
“How will you get in, assuming you can even get up there?” Fawn asked doubtfully.
“There’s a hover-pack in the helijet and several handy devices for getting through seemingly impenetrable barriers,” Scarlet replied, grinning as he scrambled out of the body bag and swung his legs over the side of the gurney. “You need to brush up on the standard equipment regs, Doc.”
Fawn shook his head. “My standard equipment consists of a variety of headache pills and a mini cafeteria, as far as you’re concerned,” he reminded Scarlet.
“There are two canisters in the helijet – one is smoke and the other a knock-out gas - but that’s all, so I’ll need to know precisely when you want them deployed and where,” Blue said to Scarlet. “I can use the police as cover to get close enough to launch them into the main foyer. If we use the knock-out gas it’s going to affect everyone, of course, but better the hostages wake with a headache than we risk their lives in any armed response from the terrorists.”
Scarlet nodded. “Try the smoke cover first; we need the hostages mobile so we can get them out and the surprise might be enough to give us the edge over the Tiotians. If necessary we’ll use the gas on the terrorists afterwards.” Blue nodded agreement. “I’ll target Boudicca and the guards around the reception area, as that’s where they put the school kids.”
“You may have to shoot to kill,” Blue warned him. “Be careful where you aim; I wouldn’t put it above Boudicca to use hostages as human shields.”
“S.I.G.,” Scarlet said gravely. “If you get the chance… I mean, if I don’t get there first…”
“I’ll get your mom,” Blue reassured him, knowing without the need for more words what his friend meant.
Fawn glanced at his two companions. He was rarely involved in a field mission, but they were so experienced at working together in such situations that the bond between them was almost telepathic. He knew each of them had total trust in the other and that neither doubted the other’s courage and dedication to Spectrum. They were the foremost team amongst an elite force that risked their lives almost daily to defend the Earth from an implacable alien foe, but man’s inhumanity to his fellow man – especially when it involved family and friends – was often the toughest job to do.
He broke the companionable silence to say: “I’m going to say this because I don’t suppose anyone else will: you are only just coming out of a remarkably quick period of extensive retrometabolism, so be careful, Scarlet.”
Scarlet glanced at Blue with an amused smile; the doctor had probably stolen the next words from his field partner’s mouth. “You’re not going to say I shouldn’t go, Doc?” he asked Fawn.
The Australian shook his head. “You wouldn’t listen if I did, so I’ll save my breath.”
“Thanks, Doc. Come on, Blue, we need to get to work.”
“Wait a minute,” Blue cried, as Scarlet moved towards the door. “Get back in the body bag. We need to carry you to the helijet so no one sees you – you were dead, don’t forget.”
Exhaling in irritation, Scarlet nevertheless did as he was told and Fawn and Blue manhandled the gurney across to the helijet, despite half-hearted protests from the paramedics. Once there, Scarlet emerged again and happily changed into the Spectrum uniform Blue had brought along for him.
“Less chance of them realising you and the corpse are one and the same if you’re not dressed in bullet-ridden civvies,” he remarked, as he helped Scarlet into the hover-pack and handed him the tool belt with the cutting blades inside.
“Keep in touch,” he continued. “Timing could be crucial.”
Scarlet left the helijet by the door that faced away from the building and slipped into the darkness of the shrubs and trees that lined the gardens to move around to the side of the building furthest from the entrance. Although the news of the hostage-taking was public knowledge and the police had set up floodlights they had kept the media away. Scarlet could see another bank of lights and hear the distant rumble of voices, so he knew he had range to move about freely as long as he kept away from the perimeter fence. There simply weren’t enough UFLOT guards to watch the outside of the building, given the number of hostages they had to protect inside. Once he was sure he was safely hidden in the shadows, he fired up his hover-pack.
There was a enough wind to buffet him against the building if he went too close, so he rose slowly, keeping a watchful eye on the windows as he passed them, in case there was anyone watching – but he saw no one. The Tower was fifteen stories high, and the Panorama Lounge was on the thirteenth floor, with only a penthouse suite and service floor above it . As he approached it, he slowed even more and took care to keep in the shadows.
Peering through the floor to ceiling window, Scarlet could see the comfortable armchairs, the dimly-lit bar and the low tables that filled the Lounge, but there was no sign of anyone in the room. He alerted Blue to the fact that the Lounge was clear and he was about to start work, then with care he drew two suction cups connected by a sturdy nylon rope from the work belt and attached them to the window; he couldn’t risk the glass falling in and shattering once he’d cut it and this would allow him to lower it without attracting attention. Then he drew out the diamond-tipped drill and started to cut.
It whirred quite loudly, but given his isolation and the gusty wind, he considered it unlikely to be heard from any distance. Progress was slow – excruciatingly slow to Scarlet, and cutting a circle large enough to enable him to get through took a seemingly interminable length of time - but finally he finished and putting the drill away, he was able to push the glass in and lower it to the floor. Manoeuvring in through the gap was difficult, but eventually he was standing in the lounge and no alarm had sounded.
Scarlet exhaled with relief and whispered a report to Blue that he was inside and about to move down through the building.
“S.I.G.,” Blue responded. “The police are still trying to negotiate with the Tiotians without success. I have the canister launcher ready and Fawn has the medical teams ready to deal with any wounded who may need it.”
“I hope to heaven that there’ll be no need for that,” Scarlet said, with a sigh. “I’m going down – I’ll keep you updated.”
The upper floors of the hotel were eerily silent and it was unsettling to be walking from staircase to staircase, past the open doors and deserted rooms, keeping away from the barrier that edged the open side of the walkway and looked down onto the foyer. On the tenth floor he found the dead body of one of the hotel staff and thereafter his progress was slow as he felt the need to check, where he could, that there was no civilian lying hurt in the open rooms.
UFLOT seemed to have made a good job of rounding people up and he didn’t come across any more bodies or wounded people. As he got closer to the foyer he could hear more noise: voices and movement. His hearing, which had always been excellent, was now sharper than ever and he could almost make out the details of conversations. As he turned a corner onto the third floor, he felt a wave of nausea and leant against the wall to regain his balance.
Since his Mysteronisation, Scarlet had been prone to these bilious attacks in the presence of other Mysteron agents, but they did not always happen and given that he had recovered so quickly from a fatal attack, he could not be sure that this indicated the presence of a Mysteron – but it was enough to warn him of the possibility.
He drew back slightly and called Blue.
“I think I can detect a Mysteron agent,” he whispered.
“Do you know who it is?” Blue asked. He was used to Scarlet’s ‘sixth sense’ about Mysterons and trusted it – perhaps more than his friend did.
“No, I can’t see them. If I can identify them, I’ll let you know. Scarlet out.”
He advanced again, straining to focus on the muted conversation ahead. One more step…
“We haven’t heard from the World President – he’s not going to buy it, Boudicca.”
“Of course he will. He dare not take the risk of us carrying out our threat – how would that look in the press?”
“But we won’t carry them out,” the first speaker said and hesitated, “will we?”
“We have to. If the World President doesn’t order the Navy to leave Tios we have to make an example of those bourgeoisie out there or we’ll never be taken seriously again, Tyler.”
“No,” said the man called Tyler. “We never agreed to that. Posturing and threatening is one thing, slaughtering innocent women and children is quite another. Tiotians have always maintained that we hold the moral high ground – we were forced to leave our homes and denied the right to return – but if we kill people, we’re worse than the World Government.”
“You agreed to be governed by what I decided, Tyler, and I say they must die – some of them, at least,” Boudicca conceded, as Scarlet heard Tyler protest again. “Now, go out and make sure everyone knows how much longer the President has to agree to our demands.”
Scarlet could hear someone moving and hoped that the door would be closed. If Boudicca was alone in a room, he stood a good chance of capturing her and using the reluctance of – at least, some of – the Tiotians, to bring the incident to a bloodless end.
He had already started to edge forward when he heard Boudicca speak again.
“If there is a problem with the Tiotians you can rely on the Children of Freedom to carry out the threat and, if necessary, deal with the Tiotians too. Our contract with the Mysterons will be carried out to the letter.”
“Good; the Mysterons will be generous when the mission is concluded, you may be sure.”
The new speaker’s voice brought Scarlet to a dead stop in shock. Captain Black! That accounts for the nausea, sure enough. Does he know I’m here and are all the terrorists Mysteron agents?
He dropped back and contacted Captain Blue over the radio mic.
“Scarlet to Blue: the Mysterons are here; I’ve heard Captain Black speaking. Be careful, alert Cloudbase.”
“S.I.G.,” Blue replied succinctly and the line went dead.
Scarlet glanced at his watch and grimaced. There wasn’t much time left and he’d have to act quickly to prevent the death of a hostage. He hoped that the World President would agree to the demands and buy him the extra time he needed, even if, for once, it appeared he was negotiating with terrorists, but something told him that was unlikely to happen.
While Boudicca remained with Black, he couldn’t risk trying to capture her. He’d have to launch his attack on the guards in the foyer and hope that Blue and the police backed him up with a direct attack, giving him time to get to the children – and his mother. Rhapsody Angel was also there and he didn’t doubt that he could rely on her to start getting the adult hostages out of harm’s way, even though he couldn’t contact her to warn her of the plan.
He moved swiftly and silently away from the open door to the room with Captain Black and went down to the next floor. He risked moving to the banister and looked down into the foyer.
The hostages were slumped in small groups and it didn’t take him long to identify Rhapsody’s red hair in amongst a group towards the exit. He was pleased that she was keeping a low profile and was, presumably, trying to give herself a chance of contacting the forces besieging the Tower. She might even be able to see Blue, if he was inside the arc of the floodlights, and that thought cheered him.
He doubted that the hostages would know Spectrum was involved, and it was possible that Boudicca hadn’t even told her own group. The organisation’s reputation made them a fearsome weapon against all exponents of militant terrorism, and as it appeared the Tiotians weren’t 100 percent certain they approved of Boudicca’s plans, adding the fear of an effective counterforce was unlikely to improve their morale. That would make his entrance even more of a surprise.
He moved around until he was over the reception desk where he could see his mother crouched with the schoolchildren. The teacher still lay on the floor, and it was impossible to tell if he was alive or dead.
There were two guards standing by the entrance to the corral and he calculated that it shouldn’t be too difficult to knock them both out at the same time, or at least before they could react. It would be down to Blue and the cops to create enough of a diversion to stop the Tiotians attacking him immediately after that, and to Rhapsody to ensure as many hostages as possible were got away before they resorted to using the knock-out gas.
He set the control on the hover-pack and prepared to jump.
“Scarlet to Blue… ready?”
“In five. Five, four, three, two…One!” Scarlet launched himself off the balustrade and plummeted towards the foyer.
“This is Spectrum. Give yourself up, you are surrounded.” An amplified voice came from outside as through the glass door whirred a canister which exploded on impact, spewing a sickly orange-yellow smoke into the startled crowd.
Scarlet’s boot connected with the upturned face of one guard and his fist rammed into the face of the other – causing a gush of blood from his nose as he sank to his knees. One more punch laid him out.
“Come on,” Scarlet shouted, as he yanked the wooden counter open. “Get out, kids – quick!” He grabbed the nearest child and dragged him out. “Spectrum,” he explained, “run for the door and don’t stop!”
His eyes met his mother’s and she gave a shaky, but proud smile as she began to encourage the children out of their makeshift prison.
Scarlet glanced down to help a girl who stumbled and heard his mother call out:
“Paul, behind you - be careful!”
He swung round and saw Boudicca with Captain Black running into the foyer to see what was happening.
“Scarlet,” Black snarled. “Leave him to me.”
Boudicca took him at his word and raced over to her second in command, shouting orders to the Tiotians and gesticulating:
“Kill them! Don’t let them get away!”
“You are really starting to annoy me,” said a refined English voice behind her, and she swung round to come face to face with the petite, red-haired woman who had been in Mrs Metcalfe’s party.
“Get out of my way,” Boudicca snapped.
Rhapsody avoided an attempt to club her with a pistol butt and kicked out, swirling away from danger as her booted foot made contact with the taller woman’s arm. The gun went spinning across the floor. One of the hostages scrabbled to pick it up and ended up in a rather one-sided tussle with a Tiotian guard.
Rhapsody hesitated. Boudicca was by no means beaten and yet the guard was laying into the hostage with his fists and the poor man was taking a beating. She was beginning to move towards the hostage when a well-known voice called:
“Mine – deal with her!”
Captain Blue appeared through the crowd and brought the terrorist guard down with a sharp karate blow to the neck.
Relieved, Rhapsody turned back to Boudicca who was staring angrily about her as the hostages hurried outside and her plans began to crumble. She looked at the determination on Rhapsody’s face and her lip curled.
“The Children of Freedom don’t waste their time on lost causes,” she hissed, and turned to leave.
Three armed men emerged from the shadows and came to protect her escape. Outnumbered, Rhapsody stayed where she was, until Blue came alongside.
“Shall I follow her?” Rhapsody asked, taking the gun proffered by her colleague.
The tall American shook his head. “The police should be able to pick her up. There’s enough of them out there.”
She nodded and he saw her sigh out her tension and relax.
“Where’s Mrs Metcalfe?” he asked, looking around. The Tiotians seemed to have surrendered easily enough, there were police officers cuffing them and escorting them from the building, while Fawn and his team of paramedics assisted shocked and weeping hostages to the fleet of waiting ambulances.
Rhapsody pushed a strand of red hair from her eyes and looked towards the reception counter. “She was in there with the kids… wasn’t she with them when they went out? And where’s Paul?”
Blue was already hurrying towards the reception area. The children had all been taken out to the ambulances by willing volunteers, and the area looked empty.
He peered over the counter and groaned.
The teacher had been carried out - ‘more dead than alive’, according to Fawn – but lying on the floor, partially hidden by the wooden counter, lay Captain Scarlet.
Blue vaulted over the counter and glanced up to see Rhapsody trying to see past him to what he’d found.
“Get Fawn,” he said briskly. “It’s Scarlet. He’s dead.”
She gasped in anguish and hurried to obey his order.
Blue looked down at his field partner and asked, “What the hell happened here, Paul?”
Fawn came quickly, with Rhapsody close behind. Blue stood as the doctor approached.
“He’s dead again?” he asked Blue, as he knelt down beside Scarlet.
Blue nodded. “And there’s no sign of his mother – unless you saw her outside?” He glanced from Fawn to Rhapsody.
“I never saw her,” the doctor replied absently, as he began to check the cause of death.
Rhapsody shook her head. “I’ll go and ask the police,” she volunteered. “Surely she’d have made herself known to them if she got out?”
“Please,” Blue agreed. “If you find her, don’t let her come back with you.”
“S.I.G,” she replied, turning to leave once more.
“There’s no pulse,” Fawn stated, frowning as he placed Scarlet’s hand back onto his torso, “but I can’t see a fresh wound.”
“He said he heard Black talking to Boudicca, could this be his work? Something the Mysterons are trying on Scarlet?”
“There’s no sign he’s been electrocuted,” Fawn said thoughtfully, “and if he’d been hit with a Taser or something similar, it’d show. Besides, the Mysterons don’t have an electron-ray rifle, do they?”
“And they are, of course, incapable of developing their own,” Blue said sarcastically.
Fawn raised an eyebrow in token of his offence.
“Sorry, Doc; I’m not mad at you,” Blue apologised.
“I know. I wish I could tell you more, but at the moment all I know is that Scarlet is dead. I need to get him back to Cloudbase – fast. They shouldn’t be far away by now; I’ll call for a medi-jet.” Fawn rose and left Blue with Scarlet.
The American was uneasy; he had witnessed Scarlet’s death or serious injury many times but, he realised, it was rare that no one knew what had caused the wounds. The fact that Scarlet had discovered Captain Black on the scene was also a cause for concern: the Mysterons had already made several attempts on Scarlet’s life and it was generally accepted that they considered him to be a serious thorn in their side, one that they would take any chance to remove.
“What happened?” he asked the dead man again. “What did Black do?”
“I think Black took Mrs Metcalfe.”
Blue nearly jumped out of his skin as Rhapsody answered his rhetorical question. Despite the serious situation she smiled and apologised: “Sorry, Adam, I thought you realised I was here.”
“It’s okay. Black has Mrs Metcalfe?”
She nodded and came through the entrance to join him beside Captain Scarlet’s body.
“The police hadn’t seen her, she hadn’t made herself known to them. I was wondering what to do when one of the children said that after the ‘red soldier’ had attacked the guards, the ‘nice lady who’d been looking after them’ warned him someone was coming and she ran over to him. Then a ‘black soldier’ came up and there was a fight. He grabbed the ‘nice lady’ and threatened to kill her if the ‘red soldier’ fought him any more. The child said that Scarlet stood still and Black put a hand on his head and Scarlet had what the child described as ‘the collywobbles’. I guess it was some sort of seizure?”
Her tear-drenched blue eyes met Captain Blue’s and she blinked several times, causing a tear to run down her pale face. “Paul collapsed and Black dragged Mary away with him – out through the staff offices…”
“Captain Black has Mrs Metcalfe?”
Rhapsody nodded and more tears fell from her eyes. “What’re we going to do, Adam? Oh, what are we going to do?”
Captain Black dragged Mary Metcalfe down through the staff areas of the hotel and out into the car park. She struggled and tried everything she could to slow him down, desperate for someone to see and challenge him, but there was no one there, the police and Spectrum officers were busy at the entrance, rounding up the Tiotians and helping the hostages. He reached a sleek, fast car and threw her onto the back seat, locking the doors and windows as he got in the driver’s seat.
She had recognised Black as the man who had shot both her husband and her step-son one terrible Christmas, and whose murder of her own son was directly responsible for her learning of everything that had led to Paul’s Mysteronisation and his unique alien-given abilities to survive. She had known for years – since the first Christmas he and Adam Svenson had arrived unexpectedly on her doorstep and Paul had paid a dreadful price for the wrong-doings of his ancestor - that there was something exceptional about him; her husband’s fabricated explanation of an alien virus that mimicked death had not convinced her for long. The missions she’d heard about through the Spectrum press-releases and the TV newscasts had suggested that Captain Scarlet was a man with the proverbial nine lives, but no one had told her the truth until she’d witnessed Black gun him down.
Even now, in this situation, she remembered with affection her son’s apologetic explanation of both his remarkable powers and his failure to tell her about them, and determined that she would do nothing to risk her own life until Paul had a chance to effect a rescue.
That he would come for her she did not, for one minute, doubt and some basic instinct told her that Black knew it too, that he was, in fact, counting on it and that for that very reason she was safe - for now.
She kept silent and uncooperative and prayed that whatever had happened at the Eleanor Tower, Paul would come through it unscathed.
Doctor Fawn listened to Rhapsody’s story and grimaced.
“Scarlet had a seizure?” He questioned her closely before trying to make sense of it.
“The child called it the collywobbles,” she explained. “She said he shuddered and ‘went twitchy’. I assumed it was some sort of seizure; I could be wrong.”
“I doubt that,” Fawn reassured her, with a slight smile.
“What can we do, Doc?” Blue asked.
“I could do a CT Scan, but we’d have to go back to Cloudbase.”
“And then?” Rhapsody asked.
Fawn shrugged. “Once I have some data I might be able to extrapolate a prognosis.”
“That bad, eh?” Blue said. Fawn had a habit of retreating into dense language when he was stumped by one of the problems Scarlet’s unique abilities presented.
Fawn glared at him. “I can’t work without information; I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker.”
Rhapsody laid a hand on his arm. “It’s okay, Edward; we understand.” She turned to Blue. “We need to follow Black and Mrs Metcalfe, before the trail goes cold.”
“Hasn’t it already?” Fawn asked, surprised.
“We have CCTV coverage of them getting into a car and we have the registration number,” Blue explained. “The police have them under surveillance for the moment, but we can’t let them get too far away. I asked the local terrestrial base to provide us with an SPV but they can only manage an SSC – the base here is a minor one.”
“Did you ask them to bring a uniform for me? A basic charcoal tunic will do,” Rhapsody said.
“You’re not coming,” Blue responded quickly. “Someone needs to stay with Paul.”
“I can do that,” Fawn remarked, as Rhapsody drew breath to protest.
“Sure he can. Mrs Metcalfe may be traumatised and with all due respect, Captain Blue, your priority will be Captain Black. She’ll need a woman’s company - I’m coming too.”
“Save your breath, Blue,” Fawn advised, with a smile. “You won’t win.”
“I am the field commander and I am ordering you to stay here. Captain Scarlet needs every ounce of support he can get – Doc doesn’t even know what’s wrong with him! Spectrum needs Scarlet. Leave Black to me and I’ll take care of Mrs Metcalfe as well. For Paul’s sake.”
Blue turned to leave them and Rhapsody started to follow him.
“I’m not on duty, so you can’t order me about, Adam, and I’m coming with you…”
Fawn shook his head as he watched them hurry away, still arguing.
Captain Scarlet’s frustration increased with every passing minute. He could see what his friends were doing and hear everything they said, but was unable to communicate with them.
When Black had placed his hand on his head, it was if he had been catapulted into an oblivion. He was fully aware of what was going on but his consciousness was hidden from his companions. He saw Black drag his mother away, saw the anguish on her face as she glanced back at him, saw her struggle to break free, but he could not react. For a man as active as he, it was a living nightmare and in a moment of panic he wondered if this was to be his future: unable to die and prevented from interacting with the living.
He forced himself to calm down, to marshal his resources in order to explore the predicament he found himself in, probing for a way out of his prison.
He considered himself an optimist; it was true that his retrometabolism had disconcerted and, he could admit to himself, frightened him when he’d first realised what had happened, but he had come to understand the opportunities and responsibilities his unique abilities gave him. The Mysterons had threatened ‘all life on earth’ and they had proved that they were capable of achieving their target. Scarlet’s unique knowledge of them gave Spectrum a vital edge in preventing their victory and guarding the lives of those he loved and valued.
If he had ever needed his retrometabolism, he needed it now. He concentrated.
Distant and indistinct.
What’re they saying?
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, CAPTAIN SCARLET. YOU HAVE STOOD IN THE WAY OF OUR PLANS TOO OFTEN AND WE WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE IT. UNLESS YOU SUBMIT TO OUR CONTROL YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF BEREFT OF YOUR CLOSEST ALLIES. WE WILL KILL YOUR ‘NEAREST AND DEAREST’. TO SAVE THEM YOU MUST JOIN US. THE CHOICE IS YOURS. WE SHALL HAVE OUR REVENGE.
Fawn noticed a small tear slip between Scarlet’s closed eyelids and his hopes soared.
“Paul,” he said, remarkably calmly under the circumstances, “Can you hear me? Is there anything I can do for you?”
He took hold of Scarlet’s hand and pressed a finger against the wrist. There was the flutter of a weak pulse.
“Scarlet… do you need anything?” He turned and soaked a tissue with water, pressing it to his patient’s lips. He felt movement as Scarlet tried to swallow.
“Good,” Fawn murmured, recognising the signs of retrometabolism starting to work. He propped Scarlet up with pillows and slowly spooned water into his mouth. “Drink it, Paul,” he urged, “drink it, slowly.”
Suddenly the sapphire-blue eyes flew open and Scarlet gave a huge heave as he drew breath. For a moment his body went rigid and then, gasping, he relaxed back onto the supportive pillows.
“Paul?” Fawn spoke quietly, knowing his friend would be disorientated by his sudden return to the land of the sentient. “Can you hear me?”
Scarlet opened his mouth to reply, but the sudden thought that if he spoke the Mysterons might well be able to hear him, in the same way as he’d heard them, made him pause. Whatever Black had done to him when he’d touched him, it seemed to have established some mental link to the Mysterons. It was possible that they could see through his eyes – he couldn’t be sure – but he felt sure they’d be able to hear him.
He frowned and gestured to Fawn that he couldn’t speak. The doctor looked concerned and moved in to examine his patient, but Scarlet brushed him aside.
“Do you know where you are?” Fawn asked cautiously.
Scarlet nodded and smiled.
“And who I am?”
Another nod, more vigorous, this time.
“I’m going to need to examine you,” Fawn said, concern etched on his face. “Maybe something’s gone wrong with your vocal chords?”
Scarlet shook his head and pointed to himself and gestured in the direction Blue and Rhapsody had gone.
Fawn looked incredulously at him. “If that means what I think it might – that you want to go after them,” Scarlet nodded emphatically, “-the answer is no. I don’t know if you’re fit to go anywhere. You have undergone two bouts of retrometabolism in a matter of hours, both from terminal states, and now you have no voice.”
Scarlet pulled a face and waved his hand dismissively.
“No,” Fawn replied sternly. “And that’s an order, Captain. If you won’t listen to me,” the doctor continued, as Scarlet continued to register his disagreement by pulling faces and shaking his head, “I shall contact the colonel and explain that on my medical authority, I am instructing him to order you to stay where you are. If you disobey a direct order from him, you know what trouble you’ll be in.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. He gestured that he wanted to write something and reluctantly Fawn found him a pen and pad of paper.
Black has my mother, Scarlet wrote, I don’t care if the WP himself orders me to sit on my arse, I am not going to do it. Blue and Rhapsody don’t know him like I do – I am going after them.
He handed it to Fawn and started to sit up, fighting the slight dizziness that resulted from the movement.
“I told you - you’re not fit to move!” Fawn exclaimed.
Scarlet snatched the pad back and wrote:
You worry too much. Please can I have another drink – a big one and something to eat? Quick, before I lose them.
He handed the doctor the paper, and gave a winsome smile.
Fawn caved in. “This is against my better judgement,” he said tetchily, “but I’ll see what I can do.”
While Fawn was away foraging in the hotel kitchens, Scarlet drank all the water he’d had left and tried to focus on the distant image of Black that remained buried deep in his mind. Like a homing beacon he sensed it moving further away – as if the Mysterons were giving him a countdown for making his decision - and he was itching to get off in pursuit.
He had no intention of surrendering to the Mysterons, unless and until there was no other way to save his mother, Rhapsody and Blue, yet he doubted the wisdom of explaining the threat to Fawn. In the early days following his Mysteronisation, Spectrum had doubted that he was a free agent and had kept him under surveillance. He understood their concerns perfectly, but had no wish to resurrect their doubts by telling them of their enemies’ latest threat.
He was feeling much stronger when Fawn returned with some bottled water and several pre-made sandwiches scavenged from the kitchen. Scarlet smiled his thanks, downed one of the bottles immediately and munched a sandwich.
“I radioed for an SSC for you,” Fawn informed him. “It should be here soon.”
Scarlet nodded his thanks, but he had already decided that an SSC would be too slow. He reached for the note pad and wrote:
I’m taking the helijet.
Fawn looked sceptical. “You’re not fit to fly,” he said, “but I know that isn’t going to stop you doing it anyway. I will warn the necessary air traffic control people that there’s going to be a mute helijet in their airspace and they need to take account of it, shall I?”
Scarlet grinned and winked. He finished his sandwiches and gave Fawn a ‘thumbs up’ before hurrying out to where the helijet stood waiting.
Once airborne, Scarlet turned the helijet north-northeast and followed the instinct that was guiding him to where Black had gone. A few moments later he thought to check on the scanner if the SSC Blue and Rhapsody were in was going that way. Their SSC was some miles behind the car Black was driving but moving quickly in dogged pursuit.
Scarlet debated contacting them and letting them know he was there, but once more the fear of alerting the Mysterons to what he was doing prevented him from calling them. He felt that he would be better able to protect them if his presence wasn’t suspected.
He flew low and fast, below the commercial flight lanes and was able to see the headlights of the traffic flowing along the main roads quite clearly – one of them might well be Blue and Rhapsody, but he had to concentrate on Black and the vague, but insistent surety that he knew where he was going.
Beneath him he saw the land drop away and realised that he had reached Rutland Water. He headed across the lake, drawn by his increasingly certain sixth sense that he was closing in on Captain Black. The computerised map on the control panel showed that the lake was roughly a horseshoe shape with a promontory of land between the arms of water. He switched off the helijet’s lights and, setting the autopilot, hovered beyond the distant glimmer of the remote buildings. Scanning the shoreline for approaching car lights through high-powered binoculars, he saw headlights sweeping through the darkness towards the promontory.
Carefully, he manoeuvred the helijet behind the largest building on the promontory, an old church that since the community it had served had been drowned by the man-made lake, was now used as a museum and visitor centre. Satisfied that he would not be visible to the newcomers, Scarlet reset the autopilot.
A dark-coloured car drew up in front of the church and after a short time a man got out from the driver’s seat and went to the rear door, which he opened. Scarlet saw a smaller figure emerge and with a sense of relief he realised it was his mother. Mrs Metcalfe was reluctantly moving towards the church, so it seemed that she was being sent there by Captain Black.
Scarlet had no idea what Black had in mind. He presumed that the Mysterons’ ‘offer’ to him – if you could call it that - was well known to their agent and that until Scarlet had made his decision known, his mother was safe. He believed that Black would be well aware that Blue and Rhapsody were closing in and thought it was likely that Black had decided to lock his hostage in the church and await their arrival.
Scarlet frowned: he faced a difficult dilemma. If he moved too soon he could risk putting his mother in danger before backup arrived, but he hated the thought of her suffering lasting a minute longer than was absolutely necessary. He remembered Fawn explaining that the police were keeping Black’s escape vehicle under surveillance and it might be that even if Blue wasn’t here yet, there were officers close by.
Should I risk trying to contact them – or Blue? Can I risk making Black aware that I’m here?
For a moment he took his eyes off the promontory and gazed into the dark sky. It was getting windier and a wave of heavy clouds was sweeping in from the east, obscuring the moon, apart from momentary glimpses of it wreathed in a thin curtain of silver cloud cover, higher in the atmosphere.
Scarlet sighed. He knew the autopilot would hold the helijet stable in calm conditions, but it wouldn’t cope with turbulence, so he would have to land and that would definitely warn Black he was here. His attention was caught by an approaching light – just one – but he couldn’t see exactly what it was from his current position.
He came to a decision, closed the autopilot and moved further out into the water, edging round until he could see the approach to the promontory. A motorbike – a big, fast model not suitable for novices – was speeding towards the church. There was one rider.
Black emerged from the shadows and waited until the bike skidded to a halt and the rider climbed off. Scarlet’s eyes widened in surprise as he realised it was none other than Boudicca – and she was spitting fire.
She stormed over to Black, gesticulating angrily.
I have to find out what’s going on, Scarlet thought, concerned that due to Boudicca’s interference something had happened to Blue and Rhapsody.
Once his decision was made, he acted quickly, setting the helijet’s autopilot again, even though he was aware that the turbulence had increased enough to affect the machine’s ability to hover safely. Satisfied that he had done the best he could to provide himself with cover, Scarlet carefully opened the sliding door facing away from the promontory. The wind eddied around the cockpit, making the machine rock back and forth as, in accordance with his programming, the helijet descended towards the choppy surface of the lake. When he thought it was at the lowest point of the manoeuvre, Scarlet dived.
The dark water was icy cold and the shock was enough to make Scarlet’s already weakened body black out momentarily. He came to as he rose slowly towards the surface, and instinctively struck out upwards with a powerful kick, gasping a lungful of air as soon as his head broke the surface.
Blinking the water from his eyes, he started to swim breaststroke towards the promontory, ducking below the surface after every breath, while above him the helijet was buffeted by the wind and he could hear the rotors whining with the effort of maintaining its position. The noise was now enough to be heard by the people on the promontory.
“Spectrum!” Boudicca’s voice came howling on the wind across the lake to Scarlet as he approached the bank.
He remained hidden in the shallows, watching as she raced back to the motorbike and grabbed an anti-tank launcher. She braced herself and sighted the helijet through the telescopic lens on the weapon.
Suddenly Mary Metcalfe came screaming like a banshee from the shadow of the church building and threw herself at the younger woman.
“Leave them alone, you murderess!” she cried, pushing Boudicca aside with a strength that surprised her son.
“Get out of my way!” Boudicca paused long enough to strike Mrs Metcalfe across the face and push her to the ground, then she braced herself once more and took aim again, ignoring the pleas and the grasping hands of the distraught woman grovelling at her feet.
The grenade hit the helijet, which exploded in a ball of fire and plummeted down into the lake with another explosion that threw up a tsunami. Scarlet scrambled out of the water and slithered across the ground to avoid being swept back out into the icy depths by the wave.
Mary Metcalfe was crouched on the ground, grieving for the lives she believed had been lost in such wanton violence. There was no way she could know that her son had recovered so quickly and she believed the helijet was being used by either Rhapsody or Blue. Her mind was filled with images of the beautiful young woman her son adored, and the smiling face of his closest friend – the man she credited with saving Paul from the Mysterons all those years ago.
“May you roast in the deepest pit of whatever hell there is for scum like you,” she cursed Boudicca.
“The Children of Freedom are fighting a war against the oppression of the World Government and their forces,” Boudicca retorted, “I glory in the death of every one of those jackbooted thugs.”
“He is not dead,” Black said laconically.
“Who isn’t?” Boudicca said, waving a hand towards the churning water. “No one could’ve survived that direct hit.”
“Except Scarlet,” Black replied. “He is here, I know.”
Mary looked up, rekindled hope shining in her eyes. “But, you killed him, I saw you,” she stammered.
Captain Black did not reply. He turned and looked out towards the debris of the helijet. “He has come, as we knew he would.”
Boudicca glared at Black. “The police tried to stop me leaving - they captured two of my men and the third died in the shooting – but they couldn’t get me. Two Spectrum agents tried to follow me, but I lost them easily enough. Neither of them was Metcalfe.”
“He will not be able to resist the Mysterons’ orders. He is here.” Black took another step forward and shouted: “Scarlet, we have your mother. Give us your answer!”
Mary gasped in alarm as Captain Scarlet emerged from the darkness. He was wet and bedraggled, pale and tired, with dark rings beneath his eyes, but he stood erect and faced his enemy with courage.
“Paul.” Mary scrambled to her feet and made a dart towards him, but Boudicca grabbed her arm and pulled her back beside her, behind Captain Black.
“Let her go,” Scarlet ordered, looking past Black and directly at the younger woman.
“Make me,” Boudicca replied, and twisted Mary’s arm behind her back. Mrs Metcalfe tried to stifle her gasp of pain and surprise, but to her son’s sharp hearing it was loud and clear.
“It’ll be my pleasure,” Scarlet replied. “Let her go and get out of here, before you become one of the casualties.”
“If I go, she comes with me,” Boudicca replied, the slightest hint of anxiety creeping into her voice. “If she means that much to you, she’ll be the best guarantee I can have that you – and Spectrum – won’t follow me.”
“Harm one hair of her head and I will follow you to the ends of the earth,” Scarlet vowed. “Get out while you can and take your chance with the police. Stay here and you’re dead.”
“You don’t scare me, Metcalfe,” Boudicca boasted.
“I don’t mean me,” Scarlet said, with a significant glance towards Black. “The Mysterons are not known for their co-operation, their gratitude to collaborators or their mercy. Besides, your mission has failed – the Tiotians have rejected armed conflict and surrendered. He will kill you, even if I don’t.”
Boudicca looked at Black, whose gaze had never left Scarlet since he appeared, and it was apparent to mother and son that she was weighing this advice. “The Mysterons promised the Children of Freedom would achieve their goals and the World Government would be overthrown,” she said. “We have an agreement…”
“The Mysterons are not dedicated to freeing the world from oppression,” Scarlet snapped, “their aim to eradicate all life from the planet. This man,” he pointed at Black, “was a Spectrum officer. He went to Mars and attacked the Mysteron city he discovered there. His punishment is to serve them in their war against the Earth. They are not human, Boudicca, they won’t spare you, or your ‘army’ once you have accomplished their orders.”
“What?” She was incredulous. “That’s ridiculous. Honestly, Spectrum, even you can’t expect me to believe that…”
“You saw me dead – or as good as – but here I am, fighting fit.” Scarlet stood a little straighter as he spoke and Boudicca frowned as she recalled the events of the recent past. “The Mysterons killed me and recreated me as their slave. Spectrum freed me from that servitude but the Mysteron power of retrometabolism stayed with me and it means I can recover from anything in practically no time at all.”
“It’s true,” Mary said quietly. “They killed my son and now he is indestructible. Hard to believe? Hmm, took me a while too, but I’ve seen it – and so have you. You shot him dead, so who is this man?”
Boudicca shook her head in disbelief. “Nice try, Spectrum, but I’m not going to believe your fantasy. I’m taking Mrs Metcalfe with me and if you want to see her alive again, you’d better call your curs off.” She tightened her grip on Mary, who struggled to break free. Turning to go, Boudicca said, “Black, contact me again – if you get out of this alive.”
Scarlet took a pace forward but he was too slow. Black spun round, a gun in his hand. He fired and the bullet went through Boudicca’s neck, severing the carotid arteries and killing her instantly.
Mary screamed, and jumped away, shaken and horrified by what she had seen. She turned to Paul and was starting on her way back to him when Black cocked the gun and pointed it at her. She froze.
“Your answer, Scarlet,” he said dispassionately. “Your mother’s life is in your hands. Submit to the Mysterons and she will live. Refuse and she ends here.”
There was an intense silence that dragged on for what felt like a lifetime to mother and son.
“Mum?” Scarlet said quietly, breaking the spell.
“No, Paul,” Mary said firmly. “Do your duty.” She looked into her son’s anguished face and smiled. “You’re a soldier; your father’s son - and mine. We brought you up to know right from wrong and to obey your instincts. You can’t turn your back on Spectrum – not for any reason.”
“She will be reborn as a servant of the Mysterons,” Black said evenly. “You will have to kill her.”
The silence grew as Paul wrestled with an impossible decision. He looked at his mother standing stock still, with her hands clasped under her chin and her eyes fixed on him. The years fell away and he recalled his childhood where she had been the most important person in his life. His father was dear to him, but had always been a touch remote – a legacy of his busy career in the World Army – but his mother had always been there: practical, supportive and loving. She’d carried those qualities into his adult life, and he’d dreaded that once she’d learned of his Mysteronisation she would change towards him, rejecting the alien recreation of her son, but he had underestimated her. Mary Metcalfe had risen to the challenge and her love and support had never wavered.
The thought gave him hope that she’d cope with what he felt sure was to come.
He smiled at her and saw her smile back, her lips compressed as she fought back her tears.
“Let her go,” he said, this time to Black. “Let her go now, while I am watching, and I will submit myself to the Mysterons.”
An expression bordering on contempt flitted across Black’s usually impassive face. “Leave, Earthwoman,” he said sharply.
“No, Paul – you mustn’t,” Mary beseeched.
“It’s no good, Mum. I couldn’t kill you – even if they’d Mysteronised you – and they know that. They’ve found the one chink in my armour. Please, go. I don’t want you to be here. Find Adam – he’s bound to have seen that explosion and be on his way -”
“Then wait for him! Fight, Paul!” Mary pleaded with her son, reaching out a hand towards him.
He shook his head. “Black will kill us both long before Adam can do anything about it. Go and find him, Mum, and tell him… tell him from me: to go with his instinct because it is always worth taking the risk.”
“I won’t go!”
Paul’s expression hardened. He stared at his mother with something like anger in his blue eyes. “Go away – you are only making this more difficult!”
“Leave now, or I will kill you both,” Black said, turning his baleful gaze on the distraught woman.
With a barely stifled sob, Mary turned away and began to walk from the promontory into the darkness of the surrounding countryside.
When she had vanished from his sight, Scarlet turned to Black.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, CAPTAIN SCARLET. YOU HAVE STOOD IN THE WAY OF OUR PLANS TOO OFTEN AND WE WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE IT. WE SHALL HAVE OUR REVENGE.
Scarlet gave a wry smile as the deep tones of the Mysterons faded.
“No offer to join with you any longer?” he asked. “I admit that I wondered what you’d do about that; after all, you’ve tried before to regain control of me without success. You can’t kill me – I’d just recover – and you’d never trust me, would you? I’m just a little too human for you to believe I’d follow your orders to exterminate the life on this planet. So, what do you intend for me?”
Black walked towards Scarlet, the gun trained on him all the time. The voice of the Mysterons came clearly from the darkness:
CAPTAIN BLACK WILL RENDER YOU INOPERATIVE. THE MYSTERONS HAVE DEVELOPED A WAY TO GENERATE A MENTAL STASIS THAT WILL LEAVE YOU UNABLE TO FUNCTION AND UNABLE TO RETROMETABOLISE. YOU WILL SPEND ETERNITY AS A LIVING CORPSE, BURIED ALIVE BY THE VERY HUMANS YOU SO WANT TO SAVE.
“I didn’t sign up for that,” Scarlet protested, horrified at what he was hearing.
“You have no choice,” Black replied. He shot Scarlet in the abdomen and then reached out a hand towards his head.
Scarlet gasped with pain through gritted teeth and pressed both hands against his stomach from where blood was already seeping through his clothes. It was mere seconds after the impact of the bullet that his instinct and decades of training forced him to attack Black’s outstretched arm. He knocked it away from him with both blood-stained hands and sweating in agony, moved in to deliver a sharp blow to the chin of his adversary.
Black was surprised by the unexpected move and temporarily backed away, but it was obvious that Scarlet was mortally wounded and that blood loss would render him unconscious in a very short time. Normally, Black would have waited for his enemy to pass out, but he knew the Mysterons could only bring about stasis if Scarlet was conscious. He came back fighting, pulverising the wounded man with a quick succession of blows to the head and one to the stomach that made Scarlet cry out in pain.
He slipped to his knees, curling up so that his head was protected from further punches.
Black leant over his enemy to force Scarlet to his feet so that he could place his hands over his temples, allowing the power of his alien masters to flow through him into Scarlet’s mind, suppressing all life signs and inducing the desired stasis.
As his hand touched Scarlet’s hunched body, he was thrown back by the sudden jerk with which it unwound, like a spring.
Scarlet’s hands were round Black’s throat and squeezing hard in seconds, but his opponent was strong and once the surprise wore off he defended himself and began attacking. They rolled over in the mud, each man focused on nothing but killing the other.
Black had the advantage: he was not injured and he was as much an expert at hand-to-hand combat as Scarlet. During their Spectrum training the pair of them had been evenly matched in the many combat bouts they’d had and they knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Scarlet lunged and a fierce knee to the groin made Black’s head spin, but he got his hands under Scarlet’s chin and was forcing his head back until he had to let go of Black’s throat. They rolled over and over again.
This time, Black pinned Scarlet down and although the younger man struggled to prevent the strong hands from encircling his head, he was rapidly weakening and Black’s fingers pressed into his scalp.
Scarlet’s head swam, his eyesight grew blurred and sound was coming from a long way away. Bright lights flashed behind his closed eyelids and he felt an enormous strain whenever he tried to draw a breath.
It was all too much effort.
His heart thumped, almost shaking his whole body in the effort of pumping the depleted blood around his increasingly feeble and oxygen-deprived body.
Black rose from the apparently lifeless body of Captain Scarlet and stood looking down at it. He knew his Masters were satisfied with his actions and that they were… pleased to see their most troublesome opponent finally subdued, but from deep within what remained of his soul, a small glimmer of residual humanity bewailed the fate of the human race now that its greatest champion had been vanquished.
Paul Metcalfe had been a cocky little upstart in the eyes of his more-experienced training officer, Conrad Turner, but even in those days Turner had recognised the strengths and courage that made Metcalfe the ultimate soldier of his generation.
He felt ashamed that he had been party to such a victory.
“What have you done to him?”
Black spun round, genuinely surprised at the sound of Mrs Metcalfe’s voice behind him.
“You’ve killed him, haven’t you? Just like they told you to. You’ve done the dirty work for those filthy aliens. You planned the whole thing in the hotel, didn’t you? Planned to take Paul unawares and away from all possible backup, so you could defeat him. Because that’s the only way you could defeat him – he had your measure! You make me sick. All those frightened and helpless people; would you have cared if they’d been killed by that crazed woman?” She shook her head in answer to her own question. “No, as long as you managed to defeat my son you wouldn’t care what collateral damage there was along the way.”
She moved one step closer and Black saw the implacable hatred on her face and heard the anger in her voice as she continued: “To think you were once a Spectrum officer, dedicated to bringing terrorism to an end and making this world a better place for ordinary people. Now look at you. You are despicable – a traitor to your species and to your own ideals! You don’t deserve to live, and so, on behalf of the human race, I appoint myself your judge and jury, Captain Black, and I find you guilty. Guilty of treason against the whole planet! I don’t care if you can revive like my son used to, I still sentence you to death.”
For the first time Black glanced down at her hands to see that Mary had found Boudicca’s anti-tank weapon and reloaded it. Now she raised it to her shoulder and pointed it at him.
He opened his mouth in protest as she pulled the trigger.
It was already raining quite hard by the time the SSC skidded to a halt at the narrow entrance to the promontory and its headlights flashed onto full beam, illuminating the gruesome scene before the church.
Blue and Rhapsody scrambled out and raced over towards where Mrs Metcalfe sat on the muddy, blood-stained ground. She was rocking back and forth, nursing Captain Scarlet in her arms, his head against her shoulder and his body across her lap. His clothes were saturated with blood which had seeped into Mrs Metcalfe’s clothes as well. At her feet lay an anti-tank weapon and to one side stood the black car they’d been trying to follow. Some distance away lay the body of Boudicca and, behind the Metcalfes, the wall of the church sported a huge hole at about head height, from which emanated a distinct smell of cordite.
Blue was about to rush forward when Rhapsody laid a hand on his arm and stopped him. She walked on alone and sank down before Mrs Metcalfe, gently laying her hand on the older woman’s cold, blood-caked hand.
“Mary? Mary dear, it’s Dianne. What happened? What happened to Paul?”
Rhapsody turned a worried gaze to Blue, as Mrs Metcalfe gave no answer. She sat hugging her son to her, her blue eyes staring into the middle distance and tears sliding unheeded down her cheeks.
“Shock,” Blue said, approaching the trio and crouching down beside Rhapsody. He placed a hand against Scarlet’s neck and confirmed what was clearly obvious. “He’s dead.”
“We must get them to Cloudbase,” Rhapsody said. “Fawn will need to make sure everything we can do is done for Paul. This is the third retrometabolisation in a short time, Adam.” Her anxiety was all too obvious as she stood and looked heavenward. “He will be all right, won’t he?” she asked.
Blue wasn’t sure if she was asking him for reassurance or seeking it from a higher authority, but he stood and put an arm around her shoulders. “He’s Captain Scarlet,” he said quietly. “He has every chance of being all right.”
“We must get Fawn here,” she replied, leaning against him for a moment in gratitude for his undoubted strength - of mind and body.
Blue nodded and activated the radio mic on his uniform cap.
“Blue to Doctor Fawn, can you hear me, Doc?”
“Fawn here: loud and clear, Captain.”
“We have a code Scarlet-red here, Doc. How soon can you get a medi-jet to us?”
There was a slight pause and then Fawn said, “Three and a half minutes.”
“That’s quick,” Blue said, surprised.
“I had already called for one before Scarlet went off after his mother and we took off in the direction of the explosion as soon as it was reported,” the doctor explained. “Do you have Mrs Metcalfe with you? Is she all right?”
“Yes,” Blue replied. “She’s unhurt, as far as I can see, but she’s in deep shock.”
“Right. Keep her as warm as you can. I won’t be long.”
While Blue had been talking to Fawn, Rhapsody had fetched a metallic-thermal sheet from the SSC, but as Mrs Metcalfe refused to relinquish her hold on her son, the younger woman was forced to drape the blanket around her shoulders.
“They’ll be here soon,” Blue told them both, and went to examine Boudicca’s body, leaving Rhapsody comforting Mrs Metcalfe.
Whatever had happened on the promontory would be cleared by the local terrestrial base, but he wanted to gather what evidence he could about likely Mysteron involvement. Spectrum was well aware that their alien foes did not do anything without reason; however bizarre it might seem at the time there was likely to be some overarching aim behind it.
He reported in to Colonel White and asked if there had been any Mysteron threat that might account for the attack on the Leisure Centre.
“There’s been nothing, so far,” the colonel replied. “We don’t know why they’ve attacked…”
There was a crackle and even over his cap radio Blue could hear the sombre voice of the Mysterons echoing around the Control Room:
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS, WE KNOW YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE HAVE SEEN THE GREED AND CORRUPTION OF THE WORLD IN WHICH YOU LIVE. WE WILL DEAL A HEAVY BLOW TO THE PRESTIGE OF THAT WORLD. THE SPECTRUM ORGANISATION WILL BE TORN APART AND THE WORLD WILL LOSE ALL HOPE. WE WILL BE REVENGED FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX. YOU WILL NEVER DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE MYSTERONS.
“I heard that, sir,” Blue reported. “It could suggest their attack was designed to target Scarlet, after all.”
“I understand your reasoning, Captain, but I have to remind you that Captain Scarlet is not the only weapon Spectrum has against the Mysterons,” White replied austerely. “I shall order a red alert across the organisation and Lieutenant Green will undertake the usual search and report on possible targets.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Blue replied, feeling somewhat chastened by what he felt was a rebuke.
After a moment’s pause, White concluded: “However, you may well be right, Captain Blue. I want you and Rhapsody Angel to make bringing Scarlet and his mother back to Cloudbase your immediate priority. The aftermath at the Eleanor Tower can be dealt with by the World Police and our local base.”
“S.I.G., sir.” The smile was evident in Blue’s voice this time.
As Blue was walking back towards Rhapsody, he caught the approaching whir of the medijet rotors and looked up to see lights in the distance. Quickly, before the medical team and the backup services arrived, Blue fetched the electron ray gun from the SSC and fired one bolt into Boudicca’s body. If she had been a Mysteron that would be enough to prevent her recovering to make more trouble, and if she had not been one of their agents already, they would not be able to make her one. He just had time to return the weapon to the SSC before the medijet landed.
Doctor Fawn had not wasted a moment in getting to the scene of the incident and minutes later he and two paramedics were gently disengaging Mrs Metcalfe from her son and Fawn led her back to the medijet, while the paramedics lifted Scarlet onto a gurney and wheeled him to the craft.
“You two coming?” Fawn asked his colleagues.
Blue nodded. “Colonel’s orders – he wants us back on base as well.”
“More trouble?” Rhapsody asked, frowning.
“Could be. Let’s go.”
Cloudbase was on a high security alert as the medijet approached. Two Angel Jets escorted the jet to the secure landing bay and Fawn, the paramedics, Mrs Metcalfe, Rhapsody and Blue were all checked with a Mysteron detector before they were allowed to enter the direct lift to Sick Bay. There was no point in testing Captain Scarlet, of course: he always showed positive on the scanners.
Colonel White left the Control Tower and came down to Sick Bay to see and hear for himself what had happened.
“Mrs Metcalfe’s been sedated and she’s having a rest,” Fawn announced to his commanding officer, before the colonel could speak. “You’ll have to wait to question her.”
“Very well, but I presume there is no objection to me talking to Rhapsody and Blue?”
“No,” Fawn said thoughtfully. “Only… go easy on her, Charles; after all, he is her fiancé and she’s been through a lot - she was in real danger from the terrorists herself. Oh, I know she’s a trained agent and supposedly as tough as old boots,” Fawn continued, seeing the colonel was about to protest, “but… well, I can’t help considering all of the Angels as vulnerable young women, at least when it comes to the dangers faced and the hurts accumulated by their nearest and dearest. Call me old-fashioned but they’re still sensitive young women to me and they deserve to be cut some slack.”
White gave a dry smile. “Don’t worry, Edward, your secret is safe with me.”
Fawn grinned and waved the colonel through to the waiting room where Rhapsody and Blue were consuming vast amounts of coffee and a plateful of sandwiches while they waited for the latest medical report.
Blue sprang to his feet as the colonel entered, saluted and hastily swallowed a mouthful of tuna mayonnaise on rye, which made him choke.
Rhapsody got to her feet with less speed, saluted and then helpfully thumped her colleague on the back until he stopped coughing.
“At ease,” the colonel said, sighing slightly, as he took a seat and his officers sat down opposite. He waited until Blue’s face returned to its usual tanned colour. “In your own time,” he continued, “tell me what you know about the incident at the Eleanor Tower and, most importantly, what happened afterwards.”
He listened intently to the story Rhapsody had to tell and Blue’s report of the rescue and the chase to catch Captain Black.
“He wasn’t there when you reached the promontory in the lake?” White asked.
Blue shook his head. “The car was there and Boudicca’s body, along with Scarlet and Mrs Metcalfe, of course, but there was no sign of Black.”
“There was a hole in the wall of the church museum,” Rhapsody said, “and a rocket launcher on the ground by the motorbike Boudicca had ridden there. Perhaps she fired at Black?”
“That would assume she wasn’t a Mysteron herself,” White reasoned.
“I used the Mysteron gun on her anyway, sir,” Blue assured him.
The colonel nodded approval. “I can see no reason why she would fire at Black. The evidence indicates that they were working together, voluntarily or not. Did you check the church building?”
Blue shook his head. “Sorry, sir; the medijet arrived almost as soon as I’d spoken to you and you had said-”
“Quite right, Captain,” White interjected. “And if Black was in there then, we can be certain that he won’t be now.”
“I think the Mysterons were in league with the Children of Freedom,” Rhapsody said. “Boudicca stared at Paul for a long time when we booked in; I mean, I thought nothing of it then - he is so good looking - but maybe it was so she’d recognise him later, or even because she did recognise him, after Black had identified him for her?”
“Could be,” Blue said, with an empathetic smile at her.
“Luckily, Mrs Metcalfe is target enough in her own right without us having to mention her son,” White said. “I am anxious to play down Spectrum’s involvement with this, especially while this latest threat is in force.”
“You mean in case someone blames us for the attack on the Leisure Centre?” Blue remarked.
White nodded. “One of the disadvantages of keeping the exact nature of the Mysteron threat to the Earth top secret, is that we don’t have the option of explaining why we can’t always prevent them causing mayhem and injury to innocent civilians.”
“What is the latest news on those who were caught in the fighting?” Rhapsody asked.
“A significant number of minor wounds and injuries, some people are being kept in hospital overnight for observation – mostly due to shock - but nothing major, apart from the teacher, of course. He is critical but stable and expected to make a full recovery.”
“He’s a brave man,” she said, remembering the selfless action of the music teacher.
“Brave, but foolish,” the colonel reasoned. “His actions could have led to a bloodbath.”
“He had those children to protect,” Rhapsody protested. “I think he was acting from what he considered to be the highest of motives.”
“No doubt,” White commented, unwilling to argue the point.
When he saw Rhapsody’s expression grow obstinate in the face of the colonel’s refusal to agree with her argument, Blue quickly changed the subject.
“Has Green come up with any other potential targets?” he asked.
“Not a one,” White replied. He shifted slightly in his chair and looked directly at the two officers. “We have to consider the likelihood that the Mysterons consider Scarlet as the lynchpin that holds Spectrum together and gives us a fighting chance against them and their powers. It appears that, in their estimation, at least, without him we are vulnerable.”
Blue nodded. “Whatever else, Colonel, Scarlet’s ability to retrometabolise gives us the ability to take risks we couldn’t afford to take otherwise. If Spectrum had lost an officer every time Scarlet’s died in the course of a mission, we’d be so depleted there’d be no way we could safeguard the planet from Mysteron attacks.”
“And you think that’s all he is?” Rhapsody cried. “A renewable resource that you afford to risk? A fine friend you are, Adam Svenson!”
“Rhapsody!” The colonel spoke severely. “That’s enough. I will ignore your outburst given the recent events, but I hope you will apologise to Captain Blue when you’ve had time to reflect.”
“It’s okay,” Blue mumbled. He looked slightly abashed. “I guess, like Paul I’m just so habituated to what he goes through that I am rather blasé about it. I know it’s agony for him, I know it is for me when I watch it, but you can’t agonise forever, Dianne. You get used to a level of pain and anxiety and you cope with it – it becomes the norm, so that it takes something horrendous to actually affect you. I’m not proud of it, but that’s the only way I can handle it.”
She laid a hand on his and shook her head apologetically. “I’m sorry, Adam; I know you go through this even more often than I do and I ought to know better than to assume you don’t feel it too. Paul would be lost without you – he’s often told me so.”
“We must wait for Scarlet to recover and explain what’s being going on,” the colonel said. “His mother might have seen something too.” He glanced at the clock. “I wonder why Fawn hasn’t been in to report his recovery progress?”
“I’ll go and ask,” Rhapsody said immediately, and was out of the door before either man could stop her.
She finally found the doctor in his office, across the ward from the room set aside for Captain Scarlet’s recoveries. She knocked tentatively and went in as Fawn looked up.
“Hello, Rhapsody. How are you?”
“I’m fine. I was wondering how Paul and Mrs Metcalfe are?” She stood in front of his desk, unaware that her hands, clasped together close to her heart, made her anxiety at his possible answers so evident.
“Sit down,” Fawn said kindly. “Can I get you anything?” She shook her head. “You should have something to eat, you know? I bet Blue ate all the sandwiches.”
“Most of them,” she acknowledged, with a smile. “But I’m okay, Doc. Please, how are they?”
“Mrs Metcalfe is still asleep and that’s fine by me. I will leave her until she wakes up on her own – assuming that isn’t too far in the future. I have no concerns about her physical welfare, but she’s had a shock and she might still be a little weepy when she does wake up.”
“I’m glad she’s okay. Now, what about Paul?”
Fawn sighed. “There’s no signs of his recovery yet.”
“But… but surely, by now you’d expect something to be registering?”
Fawn havered. “Uhr… well, yes… generally. I mean, retrometabolism isn’t an exact science and we’re learning more about it all the time. All I can do is wait, record and then analyse what data I’ve got.”
“Aren’t you worried?” she cried in alarm.
“Look, Dianne, there really isn’t anything I can do, so I have to wait for him to do it himself.”
“Then can we see him – Adam and me? After all, he’s used to company while he’s getting over these things… Please, Edward.”
Fawn considered her request and with another sigh he replied, “I don’t see why not. You can go and see him if you want to.”
Rhapsody raced back to the waiting room and a little breathless, told Blue that they could visit Scarlet. Colonel White followed them over and saw Blue bring two chairs over and place them at either side of the bed on which Scarlet lay, pale and motionless. Rhapsody took one of the hands that lay on top of the sheet and kissed it gently.
“He isn’t cold, Adam,” she said in some surprise; her face showed her confusion . “I mean, after all this time, if he’s not as cold as you’d expect a dead man to be,, surely he should be showing signs of life?”
Blue took the other hand and frowned. However, his reply was characteristically upbeat. “We don’t know what happened out there, Di, but I’m sure Paul is fine. There’ve been times when he hasn’t come out of things as quickly as we expected, but he’s always come out of them. Don’t worry, honey.”
She nodded, a little tearfully, and sat down, clasping her fiancé’s hand in hers.
“Hello, Paul,” she said gently. “We’re here, waiting for you, my darling. It’s your birthday – but we’re going to save the party till you’re up and about, we wouldn’t want you to miss it, would we?”
Blue glanced at Colonel White before he sat down opposite Rhapsody, and the colonel realised that the American was genuinely concerned at the state his friend was in.
“Welcome back, Captain Scarlet,” White said, from where he was standing by the door. “If you’ll excuse me now, I have my duties to perform, but I’ll drop by again. Blue and Rhapsody can keep you company until then.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Blue said, while Rhapsody gave him a tearful smile of gratitude.
As he walked away, White heard Blue saying: “Your mum’s fine, Paul. She’s on Cloudbase, Fawn’s looking after her. She’ll want to see you when she wakes up, buddy…”
Doctor Fawn appeared in the Control Room later that day and nodded a greeting to Lieutenant Green as he turned from his computer screen to see who the newcomer was. The very fact that Fawn had left Sick Bay while he had critical patients under his care was enough to tell Green that things were not going well, and he was not surprised when the colonel brought down the Perspex privacy wall when Fawn sat down to talk to him.
“I am worried, Colonel. Mrs Metcalfe is still sleeping and there is no sign of life in Captain Scarlet. I have ordered Rhapsody back to her quarters with instructions to get some sleep, but Blue is still with him. We’re used to putting him up on a makeshift camp bed when things are going slowly, so I let him stay.” Fawn shrugged and added, half to himself: “Mind you, I’m not sure he’d have gone if I’d told him to.”
“What can we do about it?” White asked sombrely.
“I think we should contact General Metcalfe and let him come to Cloudbase. After all, it is his wife and son we’re talking about.”
The colonel nodded. “I’ll get Green to speak to him.”
“Uhr… I think you should do it, Charles. It wouldn’t be fair to put the lieutenant on the spot.”
The colonel’s concerned expression deepened. “That bad, eh?”
Fawn nodded. “Mrs Metcalfe will probably wake sooner or later – almost certainly – but…”
Fawn shook his head. “There have been occasions when his recovery has been slow or delayed, and I’m the first to admit, I don’t know for certain why that happens. But I have reviewed my data from those incidents and where they’ve happened Scarlet’s body has shown every sign of being dead – specifically his body temperature has followed the classic pattern of any corpse. This time…” Fawn handed the colonel a graph printed by the robot nurse that monitored every moment of Scarlet’s recovery. “Look, his body is as cold as any body that had recently died would be, but it is not getting colder. There is no sign of rigor mortis or decay, yet there are also no signs of life. You see the red line? – that’s the mean time his recoveries have taken to show improvements. But this time, if you look at the green line, you’ll see that nothing has changed since we got his body back on base. Nothing.”
“You mean he isn’t any deader than he was even though he isn’t alive?”
“You could put it like that,” Fawn agreed, with a raised eyebrow. “At the moment my only conjecture is that before this last ‘death’, he had been killed twice in very quick succession and recovered much faster than I expected him to. Now, we’ve suspected for some time that the levels of adrenalin in his blood might have something to do with this – it’s like his body knows when the danger is still there and he’s needed – but that is pure speculation, of course. Now that the danger’s gone, Scarlet might be paying back a deficit of time taken to retrometabolise. This is also pure speculation.” There was exasperation in the doctor’s voice. “I just don’t know enough.”
“Is there anything we can do to help him?”
“He’s being monitored and nothing I have done so far has made the slightest difference. I will keep trying, naturally, but I won’t take the risk of making things worse, Charles.”
The colonel nodded agreement. “Keep me informed, Doctor.”
Captain Ochre and Captain Grey were sitting in the staff restaurant having just eaten their breakfast, when Captain Blue came in. He looked fairly haggard, unshaven and tousled – a world away from the well-groomed, spruce figure they were used to seeing. He hadn’t left Sick Bay since he’d returned with Scarlet’s body.
When Blue had collected a tray of food, Grey signalled to him to join them and he came and sat beside Ochre.
“How you doing?” Ochre asked, as Blue began to butter his toast.
“Okay. Thanks.” Blue began to eat his bacon and eggs.
“How’s Scarlet?” Grey asked quietly. “We haven’t heard much.”
Blue swallowed his mouthful before he answered. “Not much to tell; there’s no change.”
“No life signs?” Ochre asked.
Blue shook his head and took another mouthful.
“How long are they going to keep on hoping?” Ochre said, giving Grey an apprehensive glance.
Blue put his cutlery down and turned to look directly at Ochre. “As long as it takes. You got objections?”
“Me? No. But it’s been three days, Blue.”
“It’s taken time before.”
“We’re just concerned,” Grey assured him. “It’s not like Paul not to be showing some signs of life by now.”
“Fawn says it could be a cumulative effect. He had two retrometabolic events before he was killed by Captain Black,” Blue said, beginning to eat again.
“How’s his mom?” asked Ochre. The news that Mrs Metcalfe was awake had filtered through to the Officers’ Lounge via the base grapevine, but, contrary to expectations, that had not signalled renewed activity.
“Mrs Metcalfe’s fine. She’s still shaken and her memory of what happened is hazy. Rhapsody’s been trying to help her piece her memories together,” Blue explained. “She wants to see Paul, but Fawn won’t let her and General Metcalfe agrees with him, for now; but I don’t think they’ll keep her away for much longer.” He turned and gave his colleagues a shaky smile. “It might be the impetus Paul needs to get going again.”
“Well, give them all our best wishes,” Ochre said, glancing at his watch. “We’re on duty, so we’d better go. Take care, buddy.”
“S.I.G.,” Blue remarked acerbically.
In Sick Bay, Mrs Metcalfe was also having her breakfast. She was still looked tired, but every day she grew stronger and more like herself. Her husband was beside her at the small table, reading the newspaper much as he did at home. He reached out for his cup of tea and complained about the latest news from Futura City.
“Seems like the Supreme Commander has been targeted by the politicians again,” he told his wife.
When there was no answer he lowered the newspaper and glanced over the top. Mary Metcalfe was walking towards the recovery room. The general put down his paper and followed her. He considered the decision to prevent her seeing Paul to be the wrong one and he was not about to stop her.
The pair of them looked through the observation panel into the room. Captain Scarlet lay on the hospital bed, being monitored by the robot nurse station and dressed in some of the most garish pyjamas the general had ever seen. To one side was an armchair, with a newspaper and a book on the seat, behind that was a folding camp bed on which was a blanket and a pillow.
Sitting with her back to the window was a Rhapsody Angel. She was holding Paul’s hand.
“Do you want to go in, Old Girl?” the general asked.
“Yes,” Mary replied with determination.
“Come on then, but no hysterics – right?”
“Oh, Charles, when have you ever known me have hysterics?”
He smiled and patted her shoulder, and together they went in.
Rhapsody looked up and smiled happily. “Oh, Mary, you’re up – how wonderful!” She embraced Mrs Metcalfe and gave her the seat by the bed.
The general gave Rhapsody a hug and asked quietly, “Any change?”
Rhapsody shook her head. “There’s no change at all. Fawn says we just have to wait.”
“Sometimes that is the hardest thing to do,” Charles Metcalfe said, looking down at his son with concern. “But I’m sure Paul will come back to us, eventually.”
Imprisoned in a body that refused to obey his commands, Captain Scarlet raged against the Mysterons and the cruel twist of fate that had left him in this condition. Even with every atom of his willpower concentrated on making something move, he couldn’t so much as blink an eye. Yet he could see and hear his friends and colleagues as they dropped by to ‘visit’ and he could see the anxiety and concern on the faces of the people he cared most about.
His mother was looking at him with a slight frown on her face. He knew from the conversation Fawn had had with Blue that his mother’s memory of the events by the lake were hazy and that she was struggling to remember anything at all about Captain Black and the threats he’d made.
He felt her stroking his hand, heard her murmured words of comfort and love and railed against his inability to respond. He wanted to – he needed to make someone understand!
There were tears on her cheek and her face was unusually pale.
‘Don’t cry, Mum,’ he shouted in his mind. ‘I’m still here!’
But his mother’s tears continued to flow and Scarlet’s frustration grew even more unrelenting.
General Metcalfe realised his wife was crying and went to her side, putting his hands on her shoulders.
“Come on, my dear; Paul wouldn’t like to see you in this state, now would he? You must be strong for his sake.”
“I can’t, Charles. I can’t be strong when I see my boy lying there like that!”
He took her into his arms and held her close.
Rhapsody’s eyes filled with tears too; she was very fond of her fiancé’s parents and shared Mrs Metcalfe’s unhappiness. It was never easy for her to see Paul after a mission where he had been hurt – especially when he died or suffered some terrible wound. He always played down the amount he suffered, but she knew that Fawn had warned him after his first recovery that he would continue to feel the pain, and she knew that was true. Moreover, she suspected that the only person, apart from the doctor, who knew just how much Paul Metcalfe suffered in the course of his Spectrum duties was Captain Blue – his field partner and closest friend. It was Blue who frequently brought Paul back to Cloudbase and who spent as much time as was practical, or permitted, by his side until there were signs that Captain Scarlet was on the mend.
Blue’s ‘Death Watch’, as Ochre had dubbed it with morbid wit, was something of a talisman amongst the select band that knew about Scarlet’s alien abilities. Superstition, and the fact that they really had no idea why or how retrometabolism worked, had induced a reluctance to change anything, in case it proved to be the vital link between Scarlet and life, and there was no one amongst them who didn’t owe their life in some way or other to their colleague’s self-sacrificing bravery.
Paul had admitted to her once that so much gratitude is a hard burden to bear indefinitely and he was acutely aware of that, discounting his actions whenever his friends grew embarrassed at the one-sided debt they felt they owed. Blue’s admission that he and Paul had both become a little blasé about his retrometabolism was probably true and had, more than likely, resulted from the unwanted gratitude his colleagues insisted on expressing.
She suspected that even Paul’s love for her, which was as deep and real as her own for him, played second fiddle to his sense of duty and - quite possibly – to his reliance on the friendship of Adam Svenson. The pair, who had struck up a friendship very early in their Spectrum careers, had experienced a great deal of hardship together since the Mysterons had targeted the Earth in their relenting quest for vengeance. Rhapsody was experienced enough in the art of war to know that such things counted for a great deal. She was also experienced enough to know that Captain Blue posed her no threat and, indeed, she liked him well enough on his own merits.
She wished he was here now; his calmness and strength would help them all cope with the distress, but Blue was ‘off duty’ and catching up on some well earned rest – no doubt.
“Mrs Metcalfe,” she said gently, “perhaps you had better come into the waiting room? I’m sure that if Doctor Fawn sees how upset this is making you, he will forbid you from coming again.”
“This is my son!” Mary exclaimed . “Nobody should stand between a mother and her child – not even Spectrum! You can not shut me out however hard you try; I have a right to be here and to act on Paul’s behalf. If he can’t make decisions for himself, I am the one who will make them for him and I will take him home – back to Winchester – if anyone tries to keep me from him. I won’t let Fawn or anyone else prevent me from being with Paul!”
“Come, come, my dear,” the general said gently. “There’s no need to take on so; I am sure Dianne never meant to suggest such a thing. You shall see Paul as often as you like, but for now, you need to rest. Come on, let’s go back and you can have a lie down until you’re feeling brighter. By then perhaps we shall have some news? Now, isn’t that worth thinking about?”
Mrs Metcalfe did not look convinced, but she allowed herself to be led away by her husband and, disconsolate, Rhapsody sat beside her fiancé and reached for his hand.
“Oh, Paul, why do I get the feeling things are falling apart?” she whispered.
But try as he might, Captain Scarlet could not answer her.
I never realised before that time is such an elastic thing, Scarlet reasoned to himself. Some days go so fast that you blink and miss them – holidays, birthdays, dirty weekends in romantic venues with a beautiful woman – other days last… interminably. Right now every day is lasting far too long.
He could see Blue sitting in the armchair across the room, reading his book and occasionally looking over towards the bed. Earlier, he had read the newspaper reports of the latest football matches to his friend, but even those held little interest for Scarlet now. Before that, Rhapsody had dropped by on her way to duty in Angel One and kissed his cheek, as she always did.
That was worse than anything.
He could feel her warm lips against his skin, smell her scent and to make matters worse, a long swathe of her red hair had slipped over her shoulder and across his face, tickling him. He wanted to hold her, wanted to press his lips to hers, to feel her soft body against his…
That way madness lies, he told himself sternly and tried to think about something else entirely. It didn’t work and his febrile imagination tortured him with images of Dianne and memories of their past together until he felt he must be sweating all over.
Well, I suppose I ought to be grateful that nothing’s working… he consoled himself.
He tried to remember what day it was… but lost track pretty quickly.
After another day – or week, he wasn’t sure any more – crept by, he was aware of the door opening and saw Symphony and Harmony come in, each carrying a box.
“Hi,” Blue said, getting to his feet. “What’ve you got there?”
“Christmas decorations,” Symphony replied. “It’s Christmas Eve and I’m not going to let Paul miss out on everything. Harmony’s agreed to help and so we thought you could help us put some streamers up for him? It’ll cheer the place up.” She looked compassionately at Paul.
Thanks, Karen! he thought, until she added:
“And even if he can’t see or appreciate them, there’s no reason you and his mom and everyone else who sits here with him should have to sit in such dreary surroundings.”
“That’s a kind thought, girls,” Blue said, taking the box from Harmony and putting it on his armchair. “Now, where shall we start?”
Scarlet quite enjoyed watching Symphony order Blue about, and admired the way Harmony tactfully arbitrated over their not infrequent disagreements and skilfully got her own way with the decorations, which spared him the excesses of some of Symphony’s more over-enthusiastic ideas.
Now I know how a fly on the wall feels, he thought and for a short time he felt almost content.
Then his friends left to get something to eat and he was alone in the room. He stared up at the colourful, shiny garland of stars and bells that ran across the ceiling at his eye level.
I’m going to get heartily sick of the sight of that in the next week or so.
Not everyone on Cloudbase agreed with Captain Blue that the decorations in Scarlet’s room were a good idea. Mrs Metcalfe was one of them and she was outraged when she saw them the next day.
“It makes the place look like a second-rate Santa’s grotto,” she complained to her husband.
Senior Nurse Ingram who was checking the monitors at the time, ventured to explain, “They often do something like this while Captain Scarlet is in here recovering. There’s even a banner which they put up saying ‘welcome back’…” she paused, seeing the revulsion on Mrs Metcalfe’s face. “The Captain likes it – at least, he says he does - and I believe him,” she concluded with some defiance.
“I am sure that, by and large, they do mean well,” Mrs Metcalfe conceded. “However, I consider it to be in very poor taste. My son is lying here – dead – and his friend’s put up tacky decorations and treat it like a joke!”
General Metcalfe was aware of how difficult his wife was finding it to accept the situation. The thought that Paul was indestructible was something she could embrace with relief, but seeing him every day lying corpse-still and yet looking as fresh as the day Black had killed him, was hard for them both. He found himself increasingly trying to reason with her and he did so now.
“Don’t get so worked up about it, dear. You know there are extraordinary circumstances involved which mean Paul’s case isn’t like a normal one.”
“Circumstances that no longer seem to apply,” she retorted. “If he was going to come back to us, he would’ve done so by now!”
Her husband put his arms round her as she started to cry again. He gave an apologetic glance at Nurse Ingram and then looked at his son and sighed. He had to agree with Mary that this was fast becoming a waste of time: there were no indications that Paul was starting to revive and, although Fawn was doing every test he could and trying different drugs and stimulants, nothing was having any effect.
Mary broke away and drew a deep breath. “I want an end to this, Charles. I want to take Paul home and bury him in a seemly fashion in the chapel with his family – a proper Christian burial, not keeping him here, on show like some waxwork. I want to take my son home!”
Nurse Ingram reported back to Doctor Fawn as soon as she could and Fawn, who had seen this coming, spoke to Colonel White. The Colonel called a top level conference.
When the Colour Captains, Destiny and Rhapsody Angels, and Doctor Fawn were gathered in the Conference Room, Colonel White explained their dilemma.
“Mrs Metcalfe has expressed a wish to take Captain Scarlet back to Winchester for a Christian burial.” There was a ripple of unease around the room. “Now, obviously, with anyone else such a request from the family would be approved without hesitation, but I have grave concerns about allowing Captain Scarlet’s body to be removed from Cloudbase or - at the very least - from Spectrum’s control.”
“Is this really it, Colonel?” Ochre asked. “We’re accepting that Scarlet is finally, really and permanently dead?”
White glanced at Fawn, inviting him to answer.
The doctor sighed and stared down at the file he had open before him. “Good question,” he replied. “I wish I could answer it with any degree of certainty. You have to understand that when someone dies, there is inevitably the onset of decay. Scarlet died on the sixteenth of December, the night before his birthday. It is now Christmas Eve – eight days later - and I have to say there is no sign of any decay.”
“What do you mean by ‘decay’ exactly?” Grey asked.
“You want the gory details?” Fawn asked with surprise. “Okay; well, while the body as a whole may be dead, there are things within the body that are still alive, such as the organisms that live in the intestines, and they are what leads to the putrefaction, or decomposition, of the body. A few days after death these bacteria and enzymes start the process of breaking down their host; for example, the pancreas is full of so many bacteria that it essentially digests itself.”
He glanced at his audience and saw the uneasy expression on their faces, but when his gaze met the colonel’s, he got the nod to continue.
“As these organisms work their way to other organs, the body becomes discoloured, first turning green, then purple, then black. Even if you can’t see the change, you’ll smell it soon enough because the bacteria create an awful-smelling gas that causes the body to bloat, the eyes bulge out of their sockets and the tongue swells and protrudes. A week after death, the skin will have blistered so that the slightest touch will cause it to fall off-”
“Non, non, non!” Destiny cried, banging her clenched fist down on the table and putting her other hand on Rhapsody’s arm in sympathy. “This is too much to hear now. We are speaking of our dear friend, Paul.”
“You did ask,” Fawn said laconically. Then he took pity on Rhapsody and continued, “But what I am saying is that none of this has happened with Scarlet. His body temperature has dropped to room temperature and there are no vital signs, but his body is not decaying as I would have expected it to. Whether this is because a Mysteronised body doesn’t decompose, or because of some residual retrometabolism in the corpse, I don’t know. I thought that the process of his retrometabolism could have been delayed by the fact that he recovered from dying twice, very quickly, during the incident at the Eleanor Tower.”
“Yes,” Blue interjected eagerly. “It might just be taking longer – like a flat battery… he needs to recharge.”
“I think eight days is longer than even that would have taken, given the usual speed of his recoveries,” Fawn remarked sadly. “It only took God seven days to create the universe, after all.”
“So what exactly is happening?” Rhapsody said quietly. “Do you think that he will remain as he is now – forever?”
“It is possible.”
“And you’re convinced that he is dead – I mean, that he isn’t going to recover any time soon?” Ochre asked.
“May I ask why?” Everyone looked at Blue in surprise, but his face showed nothing by concerned enquiry.
“I’ve just explained,” Fawn said.
“Yes, but one of the few things we do know about Captain Scarlet is that his body never reacts as we expect it to,” Blue said thoughtfully. “We don’t know why he recovers, but we know he does. We assume that he dies every time we see him killed, but … what if he doesn’t?”
“I don’t follow,” Fawn said.
“What if he just looks like he dies?”
“Captain Blue, please make your point clear,” Colonel White said in some exasperation.
“If I can, sir. I’ve been reading about ‘locked-in syndrome’, where the mind is totally aware but the body can’t react or respond.”
“There’s no brain activity,” Fawn reminded him.
“You sure? He frequently has no pulse but then… suddenly there is a pulse.” Blue shrugged. “I don’t think we should give up on him, just yet.”
“My robot nurses –” Fawn began, but Blue interrupted him:
“– are just robots – they can’t measure a man’s spirit – or his soul.”
“I’m not getting into metaphysics with you,” Fawn declared.
Ochre gave a wry chuckle. “That’s right, Doc – life’s too short for that.”
“Scarlet’s life will be too short if we allow his mother to bury him!” Blue protested. He appealed to Rhapsody: “Surely you understand me, Di? We’ve spent a lot of time with him and he just doesn’t seem dead!”
She looked bemused and shook her head sadly.
Blue tried to explain. “I just feel...if he was really dead, I’d know – somehow. Things would feel different…” He sighed at his inability to describe his vague instinct. “This feels like it always does, and he’s always recovered before. It’s taking a lot longer, but I don’t think he’s really dead – permanently dead, I mean – but if we let him be buried, or worse, cremated, then that would be the end of it.”
“I appreciate your input, Captain Blue,” the colonel said considerately, “and I am sure we all wish you are right, but we have to consider just how long we can legitimately deny Mrs Metcalfe’s request.”
“Who is Scarlet’s nominated next-of-kin?” Grey asked. Every member of Spectrum had to specify someone to take decisions for them, if they became incapable of doing so for themselves.
White sighed. “That won’t help, he nominated his parents and the general will do what Mrs Metcalfe wants.”
“When? If it was before he was Mysteronised it might be argued that the nomination became null and void after Scarlet’s original body was cremated. Splitting hairs, I know,” he said, as Ochre made an inarticulate protest at the idea. “But, sorting it out would take some time – until after Christmas, anyway – and if it should be that our Scarlet did not make a nomination, then by default, the colonel is the next-of-kin, and he can make the decisions about what happens to Scarlet and when.”
“Nice one,” Ochre was quick to acknowledge once the possibility had been explained.
“It would give us time,” Blue agreed eagerly.
“To do what?” Fawn said. “I have done all that I can and nothing’s worked.”
The colonel came to a decision. “I think Captain Grey has raised a valid point and I could not, in all conscience, accede to Mrs Metcalfe’s request until I am sure that the nomination is still valid. I will contact Spectrum Intelligence and ask them to get their legal team on the problem – when they get back from their Christmas break, of course.”
“Thank you, sir,” Blue said to White, as the meeting broke up.
Fawn drew the American to one side and said, “I don’t want to give up on him either, Adam, but I am right out of ideas and if there’s no improvement soon, I will have to sign the death certificate.”
“If we could find out what happened down there, with Black, maybe that would give us a clue,” Blue suggested. “Has Mrs Metcalfe’s memory come back?”
“I don’t know,” Fawn admitted. “I haven’t been pressing her about it – for obvious reasons. You could try talking to her.”
“If she’ll talk to me,” Blue said sadly. “I don’t think I’m her favourite person right now, for some reason.”
“Ask Dianne,” Fawn suggested.
A smile spread over Blue’s face. “Yes – good idea, Doc.”
“And after that he was adamant that was what he wanted to do,” Mary said to Dianne, smiling at the fond memory of her son, “there was nothing for it but that he would be a soldier like his father and his grandfather. I suppose I’d always expected it, really, but you shouldn’t pigeon-hole children or restrict their choices, so I never pushed him that way.”
Dianne smiled. “I can’t imagine Paul as anything else,” she agreed.
“Of course, we wouldn’t have minded what he decided to do, but I know Charles was pleased his family tradition was going to be continued.” Mary’s expression grew sombre. “As a soldier’s wife you tell yourself that you can cope with the anxiety and the danger, but as a soldier’s mother, let me tell you, it isn’t so easy.”
“I suppose that’s why you don’t remember what happened at the lake,” Dianne said carefully. “The mind has a way of shutting out the bad memories.”
“I remember some of it,” Mary said sharply. “That evil young woman shot the Spectrum helijet down with a rocket launcher – I thought you and Adam were in it. I was so angry with her. Then Paul appeared, so it must’ve been him in the helijet.” Dianne nodded. “Then she wanted to take me as her hostage and leave Paul with Captain Black. Black shot her, you know? Without a moment’s hesitation – down she went…” She snapped her fingers.
“The Mysterons don’t waste time with doubts,” Dianne remarked, unwilling to break the flow of the conversation, but sensing that Mrs Metcalfe needed prompting.
“No, obviously. Black then told Paul they would kill me and make me a Mysteron if he didn’t surrender to them. I told Paul to do his duty – I meant he shouldn’t surrender – but he told me to go away and that he would surrender. I pleaded with him, Dianne, but he was so stubborn. He said they had found the chink in his armour – by which I could tell he meant me, the dear boy…”
She started to cry and Dianne patted her hand.
“Paul’s always loved both of you very much.”
Mary nodded. “He loves you too, my dear, I am sure of that.”
“Did he mention me?”
Mary thought and then shook her head. “No, and that is odd, isn’t it? He told me to find Adam, said the explosion would mean he was on his way, but it wouldn’t be soon enough to save me or Paul. Oh – I remember now: he gave me a message for him – and I’ve forgotten to tell him!”
A spark of hope ignited in Dianne’s mind when she heard this. Maybe this would be the clue they needed? “Why don’t you tell me and I’ll tell him for you? I’m sure Adam won’t mind, he understands.”
“Yes, he’s a good boy too – such a good friend to Paul - but I’m afraid I have been avoiding him lately. There are just too many memories…”
Dianne waited until Mrs Metcalfe had dried her eyes and then prompted her for the message.
“He said, ‘tell Adam to go with his instincts because it’s always worth taking the risk’,” Mary said.
“Was that all?”
“Yes. He made me go away, but I didn’t go far. I went and found the rocket launcher. I intended to blow Black to pieces with it and save Paul myself, but before I found it they were fighting and I didn’t dare risk killing them both by mistake. When Black had killed Paul, then I took a shot at him. The recoil knocked me down and when I sat up, he had vanished and there was a big hole in the church wall. I do hope they won’t expect me to pay for its repair,” she concluded, with a flash of her usual humour.
“I’m sure they won’t! Did you hear anything else?”
Mary frowned. “There was a strange, deep voice…I can’t quite remember…”
“Do try, darling,” Dianne pleaded, “it might make all the difference to Paul.”
Mary sat in silence for a long time, re-running the terrible events on the promontory through her mind. She looked at her companion and sensed that she was pinning a great deal on what could be learnt of the events there.
Mary closed her eyes to concentrate then – suddenly - opened them wide in horror. “Oh! Dianne, the voice said something like, ‘we will be revenged and you will… you will spend eternity as a living corpse’. Oh, what have they done to him?”
Several hours later, in the Conference Room, the same group discussed all the information Mrs Metcalfe had finally been able to provide. After the initial breakthrough Rhapsody had made, Doctor Fawn and General Metcalfe had joined them and together they had all helped Mary remember a lot more about the events at the lakeside.
“So they have killed him, after all,” Magenta said gloomily, reading through the transcript of the interrogation.
“No,” Blue retorted, “they said a living corpse.”
“But a corpse,” Magenta reiterated.
“The important word here is living,” Blue reasoned. “A living corpse.”
“How do we know what the Mysterons mean by living?” Magenta said, and Blue glared at him. “Is Black living? You could describe him as a ‘living corpse’, if you ask me. Perhaps when Scarlet does recover – if he does,” he amended as Fawn made a gesture of protest, “he will be a Mysteron agent in the same way as Black is. Have we considered that?”
“We will have to consider it,” Colonel White agreed. “Black obviously plays an important role in the Mysterons’ war against us, and if Scarlet were to become the same, we would be at a double disadvantage: facing two powerful Mysteron agents without Captain Scarlet to fight alongside us.”
“I don’t think they were recruiting,” Blue reasoned. “I think they were out to punish him. Look: ‘You have stood in our way too often and we won’t tolerate it’, that’s what they said.”
“It’s what Mrs Metcalfe recalls them saying,” the colonel corrected him. “It isn’t that we can’t accept her testimony, but it is what a distressed and shocked woman remembers of an incident that killed her son.”
“You just don’t want to believe it!” Blue cried in frustration.
“I understand your misgivings, Captain, but I assure you I do want to believe,” White replied. “Spectrum needs Captain Scarlet and the world needs Spectrum or the Mysterons will wipe us all out.
“So what’re we going to do?” Ochre said, and for a considerable time there was no answer.
Then Rhapsody spoke: “Don’t forget the first thing she remembered, Paul’s message to Adam: go with your instincts because it’s always worth taking a risk. Think, Blue; doesn’t that bring to mind anything you and Paul have said before now? Some mission? A plan? An agreement? Why would he choose to say that to you, at that time?”
“He always accuses me of never playing my hunches,” Blue remarked, “whereas he always does – or so he maintains. But right now, I haven’t even got a hunch about what we need to do.”
“Is Mrs Metcalfe willing to give us time to work through this?” the colonel asked Doctor Fawn.
“Sure, she’s with Scarlet now. She’s a lot happier than she was, but still close to the edge, I think. If something doesn’t happen soon, I can’t be sure she won’t crack. It’s a tough place to be in.”
“If something doesn’t happen soon, I think we might all crack,” Destiny said sadly.
Fawn and Blue went down to Sick Bay together without speaking. Each of them was thinking about the problem of Captain Scarlet and Fawn was considering trying a regime of various new drugs, geared towards mental stimulus in the hope that it would kick-start a recovery.
Captain Blue was pondering the meaning behind Scarlet’s last message to him. Blue had accepted the risk of Mysteronisation when he accepted the role as the retrometabolic Scarlet’s field partner. He’d been well aware that the chances were that whenever the Mysterons made a threat, it would be Scarlet who went out first to try and prevent them succeeding and that would place them both in the firing line.
Both men always insisted that rather than become a Mysteron agent, they wanted their field partner to do everything possible to prevent it and that meant using a Mysteron rifle, or something else, to electrocute the body.
Since Spectrum had learned that electricity seemed to reduce the hold the aliens had over whatever they had taken into their control, they had made the best use they could of it to restrict the Mysterons’ power over the planet.
Now, as he parted from Fawn and walked towards the Recovery Room, Blue worried about Magenta’s remarks. If they did manage to bring Scarlet back, would they simply be helping the Mysterons create a new and even more powerful agent to terrorise the Earth? However strongly he believed in Scarlet’s determination never to work for the Mysterons, could he be sure that that choice was Scarlet’s to make?
Mrs Metcalfe welcomed him back with a rather apologetic smile and Blue responded as warmly as he could, putting his concerns behind him to reassure her that things were okay and he was not annoyed at her for failing to pass on Paul’s message.
“How is he?” he asked.
“Just the same,” she replied, with a sad sigh. Then her manner became far more positive and she continued, “Adam, you think he will recover, don’t you? I know Fawn thinks it is very unlikely, but, what I overheard and the message he gave me for you… well, I can’t help thinking that he knew there was something that could be done. Don’t you agree?”
Blue raised an eyebrow. “I’d like to agree with you, Mrs Metcalfe. I do believe that Paul isn’t beyond hope of a recovery, but the Mysterons never play fair and we’re going to have to work out how to help him make that leap from limbo to life. Right now, we’re still in the early stages.”
“Spectrum are going to help him, aren’t they?”
Blue nodded. “Yes; he’s our colleague and my friend. I’ll do what I can.”
She nodded, apparently satisfied by his pledge.
They sat together beside the bed until the general came to take his wife to the colonel’s sherry party.
“Are you coming, Blue?” General Metcalfe asked.
“No, I’ll stay with Paul. Don’t worry, I’ll look after him, he’ll be okay – enjoy yourselves.”
Left alone in the Recovery Room, Blue addressed his friend directly.
“I wish you hadn’t been so cryptic,” he complained. “Telling me to play my hunches was all very well, but I so rarely have a hunch to play. You might do something to help, Paul – I’m sure you could if you tried.”
There was no sound or movement from the body on the bed, although Scarlet tried hard to answer. I’ve been trying to get through to someone for an age; it’s not easy, believe me. All these people are supposed to be the best the planet has to offer and not one of them is a mind reader…
“Okay; let’s take this one step at a time. Fawn’s dosed you up with just about every medicament known to man over the years, but nothing ever lasts for long in your system: alcohol, drugs, painkillers, all get cleared by retrometabolism so quick the effect is minimal. So, I don’t reckon the answer is a pharmaceutical one.”
He glanced at Scarlet.
“How’m I doing so far?” He looked at the monitor screens above the bed. Nothing.
That’s right, think it through, Adam! Scarlet shouted into the silence of his mental cage.
“Well, I guess I’ll take that as a positive sign; you haven’t reacted as if you think I’m wrong, after all. So, no drugs.”
Get on with it!
Blue took hold of Scarlet’s wrist and turned it over. “The puncture marks from the needles haven’t healed either and they usually vanish in a second or two. Whatever is preventing your retrometabolism from working has to be pretty strong. Something the Mysterons have done to you, or introduced into you…? They’re the only ones who know how the thing works, presumably, after all.”
“But there’s no decay. Fawn said you ought to be a putrid hulk by now and you look okay to me. As much as you ever look okay to me, any way.”
Ha-bloody-ha! Get on with it!
“Retrometabolism is a Mysteron skill… element… facility. Maybe they can switch it off as they switched it on. They have powers we don’t understand – how often have we said that?”
Adam, please… get me out of this…
Blue blinked and frowned as the wisp of an idea flitted across his mind. “Powers,” he muttered, dropping Scarlet’s arm and sitting down abruptly. “Power?”
Blue turned at glanced at the array of machinery that was monitoring Scarlet. He picked up a control panel and switched one of the monitors off and on again. The lines on the screen vanished, reappeared with a jerk and peaked before settling back into a straight line.
Oh-oh… I’m not sure I like the way your brain’s going, Blue Boy, but at least you’re thinking outside of the box. It is awfully good for my ego to know I’d be mourned, but everyone’s been so glum they haven’t applied themselves to the problem.
Suddenly, Blue dropped the control panel and called Fawn over the intercom.
The doctor came into the room at close to a run.
“What? What’s happened?” he demanded.
“I’ve had an idea,” Blue confessed.
“Is that all? I thought something had happened to Paul. Don’t do that again!”
“Listen,” Blue insisted. “I think we should electrocute him.”
What? Now hold on a minute –
“The Mysterons have the power of retrometabolism, and they gave it to Paul. He’s dead but he’s not decomposing and he’s not getting better – ergo, the retrometabolism is still there, but it’s switched off. So, we have to switch it back on again!”
“Have you been drinking?” Fawn asked sternly, although he knew Blue had been fine not that long ago.
“Of course not! I’m serious. Look, Ed, think about it: what stops the Mysterons? Electricity – simple really.”
“Adam – you can’t really be suggesting we use it on Paul? It’ll kill him,” Fawn cried.
“Deader than he already is?”
“Cut it out. He’s not dead in the normal sense – he never is. But electrocuting him could be the thing that ensures he never gets a chance to recover.”
“He told me to trust my hunches,” Blue reasoned.
“And I am telling you to get out of here until you come to your senses. You’re banned, Captain, until I say otherwise! Out, go on! Go and find Symphony and maybe she can talk some sense into you.”
Don’t stop him; I want to hear this. You know, there might be something in that idea…
Blue was backed out of the room by the advancing doctor and once they were in the ward, Fawn activated the security code lock.
“Edward,” Blue pleaded.
Adam? Oh… shit.
Blue did go and find Symphony and dragged her away from the somewhat muted celebrations in the Amber Room.
“I’m flattered that you want my company so much that you’ll make an exhibition of yourself in front of everyone, Sky, but they’ll be handing out the presents soon and I don’t want to miss that,” she complained mildly, as she trotted beside him in an effort to keep pace with his hurried stride.
“I need to talk to someone,” he explained.
“Just ‘someone’, or the someone who is me?” she asked coquettishly.
“Someone sensible enough to have an open mind.”
It wasn’t the answer she’d expected. Realising whatever was on his mind it was not romance, she was nevertheless flattered he thought of her in those terms.
They reached the Promenade Deck and sat in their favourite seat, looking over the runways, where Melody was on duty in Angel One.
“So?” Symphony said, when he didn’t open the conversation.
“Dianne’s too close to it and the others don’t know him as well as you and I do,” Blue began to explain.
Symphony sighed. “This is about Paul, right?”
“Yes. I’ve had an idea.”
She listened in astonished silence as he explained it to her and was sensible enough not to interrupt. She knew that sometimes ‘discussing something’ with Adam was really a case of listening to him while he reasoned it out for himself and occasionally keeping him on track with an encouraging question until he’d convinced himself he was right. When that happened, you got the credit.
“So you see, whatever they’ve done to him, an electric shock could prevent it from doing whatever it’s doing and give him a chance to retrometabolise.”
She nodded. “Dangerous though.”
“The danger is we do nothing and Paul stays like this forever. I think he was telling me to think the unthinkable when he gave Mrs Metcalfe that message for me.”
“Well, this is certainly unthinkable.” He glared at her. “Under normal circumstances,” she added hastily.
“You do see what I mean, though?”
“Yes. The problem is what degree of electricity would be needed to… ‘jump start’ his retrometabolism.”
“Exactly. I’m not talking about channelling the base electricity output through him, although you’d think I was from the way Fawn reacted. He wouldn’t even hear me out!”
“Perhaps he’s just so used to the idea that any electricity is too dangerous?”
Blue gave a snort of laughter. “Like using an electric razor.” He chuckled. Fawn had expressed concern when he’d caught Scarlet shaving one morning and threatened to restrict the Englishman to a wet shave.
Symphony laughed too. “Exactly. How will you decide how much to use?”
He smiled at the way she assumed he was going to act on his idea, however much opposition there was - and she was right, of course.
“Well, I was thinking about a defibrillator.”
“If I need any help?” Blue turned and looked at her quizzically.
Symphony didn’t hesitate. She put her arm through his and linked their fingers together. “I’m ready, if you need me.”
“You told him it was out of the question?” Colonel White asked Doctor Fawn.
“I did; I’ve also banned him from Sick Bay for the moment,” Fawn explained. “Blue isn’t the type to act hastily or without taking due consideration of the risks, but the situation with Scarlet is starting to make everyone edgy and even Blue’s patience has its limits. He might just act out of character from desperation to be doing something.”
“I suppose it really is out of the question?” White asked.
Fawn shrugged. “It will have to be the very last thing I try.” He could see the lingering doubt on his commanding officer’s face and continued, “I don’t know what’s preventing Scarlet’s recovery – and that’s the honest truth – but I don’t think that adding to his woes with a dose of electricity is a good idea, Colonel.”
“Blue’s been right about Scarlet’s retrometabolism before,” White reminded him.
“Yes, and I pray to God he’ll have the opportunity to be right about it again. We don’t know if Scarlet’s invulnerability extends to electricity and we’re not sadistic enough to try to find out. But consider this, if he does recover by whatever means and for whatever reason, and he has become a Mysteron, if he is impervious to electricity we’ll have no way of eliminating him.”
“Yes,” White agreed.
“I guess I’m a little concerned that – as happened with so many of the early antibiotics – little doses can build up a resistance and that resulted in super-bugs that we couldn’t control with the antibiotics we had. If Scarlet survived too many small doses of electricity his body could build up a resistance to it and even if he is – or ever was – vulnerable when he was first Mysteronised, he wouldn’t be any longer.”
White nodded, thoughtfully.
Fawn sighed and said, “I warned Scarlet off using an electric razor for a similar reason. I know he and Blue thought I was over-reacting and found the whole thing hysterically funny, but I was concerned even then about him building a resistance.”
“But we know that whatever has happened to him, Scarlet has never returned to Mysteron control.”
“Yet – they haven’t succeeded in regaining control of him yet. I may be a pessimist, but I take my responsibility seriously. Scarlet may well be around and active long after I’m a mouldering corpse, but I don’t want future residents of this planet cursing me for presenting them with an insoluble problem.”
“Very well, Doctor, I will order Captain Blue to remain away from Sick Bay and to forget his idea. Will that satisfy you?”
Fawn nodded. “I don’t want to get him in any trouble and as an idea goes it is as valid as any, but I do have my doubts.”
“Noted,” the colonel said. “Thank you, Edward; keep me informed about Scarlet’s condition.”
“Has anyone seen Symphony?” Lieutenant Green asked. “Her Christmas present is still under the tree.”
He was the last one to leave the Amber Room after the Christmas Eve party, and was putting his guitar back into its case. His performance of traditional songs and carols had been warmly received by the party-goers and he was in a cheerful mood.
“I think she is with Captain Blue,” Harmony replied, looking up from her magazine.
“That is right,” Destiny said. “I saw them leaving the party some time ago.”
Green gave an amused grin. “Say no more, ladies. I’ll leave this here then, shall I?”
“I think it would be the best idea, Lieutenant,” Harmony agreed. “I am sure she will come to collect it, when she has a chance.”
Green chuckled. “Well, I guess it is Christmas Eve, a time for goodwill to all men.” He gave a suggestive wink
“That is not funny,” Destiny said, although she was having difficulty suppressing her amusement. “I think they will have gone to visit Captain Scarlet.”
Green sobered up. “I guess we should all drop by and wish him a merry Christmas,” he said, “but I have to admit, I’ve been kinda putting it off. I mean, he’s been dead for a long time now – much longer than usual. Besides, one of the nurses told me that Mrs Metcalfe isn’t too happy with us all dropping by and treating him like a ‘peep’ show. I don’t want to cause any offence.”
“Those nurses gossip like the wives of fishermen,” Destiny said, with a shrug. “Madame Metcalfe is always happy to see visitors to her son. She is hopeful that they will encourage Paul to recover. You need not fear her, Lieutenant, she would not be angry at you.”
“Did you hear that Fawn locked Blue out of the recovery room and has banned him from the Sick Bay?” Green asked.
“Non; where did you hear such a thing?” Destiny asked. She was prepared to believe him because Green’s gossiping was usually based on fact.
“The nurse,” Green admitted.
Destiny gave him a warning glance. “You should not spread untruths. Blue would never be kept from visiting Scarlet until the rivers flow back to their source.”
“Yeah, I thought it was a bit unlikely too,” Green admitted. “Oh well, back to work. Merry Christmas, ladies!”
They watched him go, waving cheerful farewells. Then Destiny turned to Harmony.
“Do you think that is why Blue took Symphony away from the party?”
Harmony shrugged. “If it is, then I think he will not be a happy man and we may not see Symphony again today,” she observed, and refused to be drawn further on the subject.
Symphony walked into Sick Bay openly, carrying a small gaily-wrapped present for Dr Fawn.
“I’ll just leave it on his desk, shall I?” she called across to the two nurses on duty, who, used to seeing her come and go, nodded, waved agreement and carried on with their work.
She left the gift on the desk and glancing to see she was not observed, picked the lock on the cabinet in Fawn’s office and helped herself to a passkey. Closing the cabinet behind her, she slipped the slim rectangle into her pocket, left the office and wandered down to the nearest bathroom. She was wearing a long skirt and long-sleeved blouse, and quickly stripped them off to reveal the charcoal uniform of a non-commissioned staff member. She drew her hair up and hid it under the nurse’s cap before slipping on the white medical coat she had also taken from the laundry while Blue distracted the duty staff by delivering the officers’ traditional Christmas gift of chocolates. A pair of plain-glass spectacles completed enough of a transformation to pass muster.
She left the skirt and blouse rolled up in a corner and left the bathroom, heading for the far end of the wards and the storage rooms.
The passkey got her in and she closed the door behind her with a sigh of relief and switched on the light. Quickly, she scanned the shelves and found one of the portable emergency defibrillators and some of the conducting gel. Turning off the light, she opened the door and stepped out into the corridor, turning away from the entrance and walking purposefully, as if she had a legitimate reason to be there. Her heart was beating rapidly with the familiar adrenalin-fuelled anxiety she had grown used to on the USS missions she’d done in the past, due to a half-certain expectation that someone was going to call after you: ‘Hey, you, stop!’ at any moment.
Silence reigned as she carried her prizes down the corridor, past the various side wards and towards the door that led to the emergency medical lift and the morgue. No one questioned her as she opened that door and stepped inside.
The morgue was small, with one wall of stainless steel cabinets and an autopsy table, sink and cabinet of some almost medieval looking instruments. It was, for obvious reasons, cold and Symphony shivered slightly as she put the defibrillator down on the autopsy table. There was a storeroom off the main area and she opened the door, relieved to see a gurney there.
She pulled it out into the light and glanced at her watch.
Any minute now…
Captain Blue made his way from the laundry to the medical hangar bay at the far end of Cloudbase. He nodded a greeting to the technician on duty and wished him a happy Christmas as he went across to the service lift and pushed the button.
“Busy, Captain?” asked the Head Technician pleasantly, emerging from a shadowy doorway.
“Not really, Chief. You working the holiday?”
“No, not after this - I have 48 hours off.”
“I envy you,” Blue said, as he stepped into the lift. “Enjoy!”
“Merry Christmas, Captain.”
Blue allowed his shoulders to sag with relief as the door closed and the lift rose to the level of the main wards and the morgue.
“You’re late,” Symphony said, as he sidled in.
“I had further to go than you,” he replied, smiling at her teasing expression. “Ready to go?”
“Yep. Hop on.”
“Kiss for luck?” He reached out and drew her into his arms. She rested against him for a moment and then tilted her head back for his kiss.
“Hmm… I’ve never been kissed in a morgue before,” she teased, when he released her.
“Hey, any place you want to be kissed, I’m your man,” he replied, smiling.
“Promises, promises… now come on, quick, before they all come back from the parties.” She handed him a patient’s medical cap to cover his distinctive blond hair and he clambered onto the gurney. She handed him the defibrillator and the gel. “Hold tight.” She strained to get the trolley to move. “Phew… you’re some weight, Sky…”
“Don’t be such a wimp,” he replied, chuckling.
“And you’re supposed to be ill…” she reminded him. “Stay quiet.”
Senior Nurse Belinda Ingram looked up from her computer screen at the sound of a gurney squeaking from the far end of the ward. She wondered which patient was being moved, and to where, and changed screens to see if she had missed something in the medical orders. Just then the confidential telephone line rang and she picked it up.
Symphony pushed Blue towards the side ward where Scarlet’s Recovery Room was and as they reached the door, she stopped, pressing her passkey against the electric lock. It bleeped and whirred. Blue slipped out from under the blanket and in through the door.
For once Scarlet was alone. The parties and gatherings across Cloudbase had ensured that those people off duty were occupied. The Metcalfes had been invited to dine with Colonel White in the VIP room and Blue knew that after that they intended to go to Midnight Mass in the Cloudbase Chapel..,.
Blue whipped the patient’s cap off and said, “S’only me, Paul. Merry Christmas, buddy.” He was busily opening the defibrillator as he spoke. “Listen: I think I may’ve found a way to get through to you. It’s a hunch, but you’ve told me often enough to trust them. I won’t have long, so I have to do this quickly. You know Fawn’s banned me from being here? Huh.”
Yeah, he’s always the optimist.
Blue leant over and drew the blanket down, opening the buttons of the garish pyjamas and baring Scarlet’s muscular chest, before smearing the gel over the paddles.
“I’m going to use the defibrillator to try and restart your heart – or, at least, release the dampener on your retrometabolism? I hope it works.”
So do I.
“I know it’s risky, but I can’t see any other way. Fawn pumping you full of drugs hasn’t done anything and if we don’t act soon, maybe the Mysterons will be able to reclaim you by default?”
They seem to have abandoned me too, which is a small consolation. I’m glad you haven’t.
He paused, drew a deep breath and said, rather shakily: “Forgive me, Paul.”
You got it. Go for it!
Blue pressed the paddles down across his friend’s chest.
The pulse shot through Scarlet, and pain ricocheted along every nerve.
Blue stood back and said, “Charging.” Then he discharged the defibrillator through Scarlet again.
The pain grew more intense.
I can feel it… it...hurts…
“Charging!” There was desperation in Blue’s voice as he pressed the paddles down once more. “Come on… come on, Paul,” he pleaded.
There was a commotion outside the recovery room. Symphony was in full flow, her voice strident and passionate, as she argued with the nurses.
“One last chance,” Blue gasped. “Come on, Paul. Charging.”
The paddles slapped down once more and the final pulse went into Scarlet’s motionless corpse as the door was thrown open and someone rushed into the room.
Nurse Ingram pulled Blue away from the body and snatched the paddles from his unresisting hands.
“Captain Blue! What have you done?” she cried.
“Leave him alone,” Symphony ordered, struggling to escape from the nurses who had hold of her arms. “He’s trying to help.”
Nurse Ingram gave the tall American an apologetic glance, but still said, “Call Security and alert the colonel and Doctor Fawn. I’m sorry, Captain, but I have to ask you to consider yourself under arrest.”
Blue was staring down at Scarlet’s motionless body and then up to the flat-lined monitors with an air of defeat. He glanced at her and said, “Sure, Bill. I just wanted to help him…”
“I know,” she said compassionately. “We all want to help him.”
Blue spent the rest of Christmas Eve alone in Cloudbase’s brig, while Symphony was confined to her quarters, pending a disciplinary hearing. Neither the colonel nor Doctor Fawn were willing to listen to their explanations and so, although Symphony wanted to tough it out, Blue went quietly and when he did, so did she.
He spent the time lying on the hard bunk, staring at the ceiling and wondering if he’d done the right thing, or if his actions had condemned Scarlet to death – a full, real, death that would lead to decomposition and decay. He turned his theory over and over in his mind, challenging it with every potential hazard he could imagine and still could not convince himself that it wasn’t a viable alternative to doing nothing, which is what Fawn appeared to be doing.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that he had knowingly disobeyed a direct order and that in itself was enough to merit incarceration. He intended to admit to everything and take all the blame – it wasn’t fair that Symphony should take any of the rap for his idea. She had only agreed to help him because she loved him and, he realised now, for that very reason he should not have asked for her help.
Christmas Day dawned on Cloudbase and the Security Guard brought his only prisoner a breakfast of porridge, a toasted bagel with jam and a large mug of coffee. Blue drank the coffee and ate half the bagel, but hadn’t the heart to eat the rest.
Christmas Day was the only day when the usual rules were relaxed slightly. So many officers had been allowed to take leave to visit families and friends that the numbers on board were reduced to the minimum required for safety. Nevertheless, non-essential chores were left undone and a skeleton crew covered the essential jobs so that the remaining staff could relax and socialise, if they chose. For that reason Blue wasn’t expecting to be called for his hearing today and had reconciled himself to spending the time alone. He asked for, and was given, a newspaper and settled down to do the crossword puzzle with a pencil borrowed from the guard.
That didn’t take him long and he realised that the remaining hours before he could even begin to consider sleeping were still stretching ahead of him and were going to be tedious and depressing. He went back to lying on the bunk until he heard the door opening and assumed it was his lunch arriving.
He sat up and then sprang to his feet with some alarm when he saw that his visitor was Mrs Metcalfe. She looked frail and every day of her age in the harsh overhead lighting of the brig. Her dark hair, once as black as her son’s, was now scattered with grey, but in this light it was still dark enough to make her face seem very pale. Her sapphire-blue eyes looked tired and were ringed with dark circles as if she hadn’t slept for many nights.
“Hello, Adam,” she said, as she approached the cell. “I asked the colonel to let me see you. He’s agreed, but I can’t have more than ten minutes.”
“Mrs Metcalfe… I…” the words trailed away and he spread his hands in a gesture of apology. “I’m so sorry.”
There were three chairs against the far wall and she drew one up and sat in front of the bars. He waited for her to speak.
“Why, Adam? Why did you do it?”
At first he thought she was angry, but when she turned her gaze on him, he could see confusion and pain, but no anger in her eyes. He tried to answer honestly:
“I thought it would help – that’s all. The message from Paul seemed to be telling me to trust my hunches – and, well, this was a hunch. I’m sorry. All I wanted to do was help.”
“Have they told you that he is dead? Fawn’s convinced of it,” she said sombrely and the words struck Blue like a slap.
He sank back onto the bunk and dropped his head into his hands as a wave of grief and remorse swept through him.
They sat there in silence for some minutes, each coping as best they could with a sense of overpowering loss. Finally, Blue looked up, wiped the backs of his hands across his damp cheeks and sniffed.
“I didn’t want this to happen. It was the last thing I wanted. I just thought that - maybe – the electricity would break the Mysterons’ hold, release the dampener on his retrometabolism and give him a chance – if only a chance – to recover. Please believe me, Mrs Metcalfe? I never meant to harm Paul. I was doing what I thought would help.”
Mary looked at him with a perception that seemed to read his soul. They knew each other well, and she had always trusted him because Paul trusted him.
Blue fervently hoped that trust had survived this tragedy.
Finally, she spoke:
“I know, Adam-dear. He always said that he trusted you with his life and I know he’d understand that you were acting as you thought best. After all, no one knows for certain what happened to him at the London Car-Vu, do they? He should have died there – the new Mysteronised Paul - but you saved him and he was grateful for that – I am grateful for that. I don’t know, but perhaps, in some obscure way, these extra years we’ve shared with him were never meant to last? After all, I don’t think anyone can live forever, Adam, not even Captain Scarlet.”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t know, ma’am. I guess I’d got used to the idea that Paul would outlive us all. I do know that I’ll have to live with this for the rest of my life and if I lived forever, I’d never regret anything more than what’s happened here and my part in it.”
The Security Guard knocked on the door, alerting Mrs Metcalfe that her time was up. She stood and reached her hands through the bars to Blue. He took them willingly and she held his tight as she said:
“I have told the colonel that I don’t want any charges brought against you in relation to Paul’s death. I know that he wouldn’t. I can’t stop the colonel from taking disciplinary action for anything else, of course, but neither the general or I will press any charges. Spectrum needs all the brave men it can get, and it needs you, Adam.”
She released his hands and moved the chair away, prior to leaving. “The general and I will be leaving Cloudbase later today with Paul’s body. We will be holding the funeral at Winchester and I sincerely hope you will be able to attend.”
“So do I, ma’am; and thank you – for everything.”
Belinda Ingram decided that she would prepare Captain Scarlet’s body for its final journey herself. She had come to know the captain very well over the years and had grown fond of him. He was an exasperating patient, always fretting to be up and about and looking for ways to circumvent medical instructions, but he was an attractive man, physically and personally, and she would miss having him around.
She fetched a shroud from the morgue and, with a bowl of warm water to wash the body, wheeled a trolley into the recovery room. She had her back to the corpse and was pulling on latex gloves when a well-known and much-missed voice slurred:
“Oh joy of joys – I have to wake up to the prospect of a bed bath.”
Spinning round in shock, she saw Scarlet blinking sleepily at her from his pillows, and stared in amazement.
“Can I have a drink, Bill, and something to eat? I’m famished.”
Sick Bay was in uproar.
“How could he have started to recover without us knowing?” Fawn demanded of his nursing staff, after they’d connected the peevishly protesting Scarlet to the monitors again and someone had been despatched to get his usual meal of steak – medium rare – with all the trimmings, from the canteen.
“You told us to disconnect him, when Mrs Metcalfe wanted us to get the bo…him, ready to leave for Winchester,” Nurse Darrell reminded him. She was holding a large beaker of water and filling the glass Scarlet was drinking from when he held it out.
“Your fault then, Doc,” Scarlet remarked, with a wry grin, as he toasted Fawn with his glass of water. “Is my mum okay? Last thing I clearly remember is telling her to get away from Black.”
“She’s fine and she’ll be even better when she hears the news about you. We were worried that we’d lost you this time,” Fawn replied.
“Small favour?” Scarlet asked. “Can I eat before you tell her, because I’m certain I won’t get a chance after you do.”
The doctor grinned. “Sure, Captain. Anything you want.”
An hour or so later, Captain Scarlet was sitting propped up in bed on a bank of fresh pillows, a pot of tea on the table beside him and a pile of empty dishes on a trolley, waiting to be taken back to the canteen. Nurse Darrell had arranged a circle of chairs around his bed and the colonel, his parents and Rhapsody were expected at any minute.
As his recovery had progressed and his stamina increased, Scarlet had been thinking back over what had happened since his birthday. His memory wasn’t a hundred percent clear, but he had glimpses of incidents and vague recollections of some rather psychedelic episodes.
He had wanted to get out of bed and stretch his legs, but Fawn had forbidden it and for once Scarlet accepted the order without argument. It was dawning on him from the way everyone was reacting that this retrometabolism had been somewhat out of the ordinary and he sensed relief in the air.
He could recall the events at the Eleanor Tower, the couple of recoveries he’d made and the helijet chase to catch Black and his mother fairly coherently. Parts of the fight at the Lakeside were still a blank, and after that anything he could remember had a somewhat dreamlike quality to it, so he wasn’t sure what had generated this general aura of relief.
The door opened and a smiling Doctor Fawn led his visitors in.
Mary Metcalfe immediately ran to her son and embraced him, stopping to gaze into his bright blue eyes and – as usual – brushing the lock of black hair back from his brows.
“How are you, darling?” she asked.
“Doing well, Mum,” he replied, smiling. “And pleased to see you up and about too. I was worried about you, when Black took you with him, but you were so brave out there I realise I needn’t have been.” He glanced up at his father, standing patently behind his wife, and said, “I’d rather face Captain Black any day than Mum in fighting mode.”
Mary blushed and laughed at him. “Oh, Paul! I’m all right, at least, I am now that I can see you’re fit and well again.”
“Good to see you, son,” General Metcalfe reached forward and extended his hand. He shook Scarlet’s firmly for some time, before he cleared his throat and let go. On taking a step away from the bed he was embraced by his excited wife.
Scarlet turned his gaze on Colonel White. “Hello, sir,” he said.
“Captain Scarlet. As usual you have astounded us all. I am glad to see you looking so well,” the colonel said with unusual benevolence.
“Thank you, sir.” He turned to Rhapsody who was waiting beside the colonel and fizzing with a visible impatience. She flew to his side and, ignoring any need for restraint in such company, kissed him, clung to him and fought back her tears of joy.
“How are you?” she asked, as soon as she could speak clearly.
“I’m okay – really - and I’m getting better by the moment after such a wonderful reception. I’m also getting the impression this one was…ah… out of the ordinary? Right?”
“You could say that,” Fawn agreed. “It’s Christmas Day, and you have been – to all intents and purposes – dead for the past nine days. We had just about given up hope.”
“Oh, you should never do that – especially at Christmas,” Scarlet replied, with a grin. He looked around the room at the smiling faces and missed one he’d expected to see. A flicker of concern crossed his face. “Where’s Captain Blue?”
“Captain Blue?” Colonel White actually blushed. “He’s – he’s on his way.”
“I’ll send someone to hurry him along, shall I?” Fawn asked the colonel, with a slight smile.
“Please do, Doctor. I… I don’t think he knows Scarlet is awake, yet.”
“But he was here,” Scarlet said suddenly. “I distinctly remember that.”
“You do?” White asked, one dark eyebrow raised in surprise.
“Yes – yes, I do now. He was … he had a… you know – one of those heart attack things with paddles on?” Scarlet waved his hands about as if he was playing an invisible concertina. “He used it on me. It bloody well hurt…I certainly remember that.”
“A defibrillator,” Fawn supplied the missing word.
“Yes, that’s the thing.”
Mrs Metcalfe glanced at the Spectrum officers, but none of them seemed prepared to give an explanation for Blue’s absence. She said, “I’m afraid everyone thought that Adam had killed you with the defibrillator, Paul. He’s in the brig.”
“Killed me? But I’m as right as rain!” He looked in confusion at Doctor Fawn. “This is going to take some explaining…”
The Metcalfes stayed on Cloudbase until the New Year and during that time, the full story of what had happened was gradually revealed as Scarlet’s memory returned and he was able to tell them about the Mysterons’ threats.
“First of all they threatened my ‘nearest and dearest’ unless I submitted to their control again. When Black kidnapped you, Mum, I was worried sick, but I knew that there was a chance I could save you, if I could get to you and Black. That’s why I took the helijet – and I am very sorry it was destroyed, Colonel.”
“I’ll chalk it down against the mission costs,” White said in a rare display of his dry humour.
Scarlet smiled weakly and continued, “I was looking for a way to attack and perhaps capture Captain Black without getting caught myself. I never intended to surrender to them. But, after Boudicca was killed and I told you to leave, Mum, they said that I had stood in their way too often, so rather than take me back into their control, Black would ‘render me inoperative’ and I would spend eternity as a ‘living corpse’ – unable to retrometabolise or to die.”
“I remembered that part, about the living corpse,” Mary said, into the shocked silence that followed that revelation. “It was like a deep voice coming from far away. It sort of echoed. Was that was the voice of the Mysterons?”
“Yes, it was,” White said. “Spectrum takes steps to prevent their messages from being heard around the world, for fear of the mass hysteria and panic they would cause, but it seems they can communicate without the use of formal communication devices, when they want to.”
“They can when Captain Black is there,” Scarlet agreed and went on, “I’m sure that they’d realised – as I’d done – that they couldn’t be sure they’d be able to control me even if they had control of me; so my guess is that they thought getting me buried alive was the best they could do,” Scarlet said. “I would be both ‘inoperable’ and punished for daring to stand up to them.”
“And they nearly succeeded,” General Metcalfe remarked. “If it hadn’t been for Captain Blue, we’d have had you interred in Winchester by now, my boy.”
Scarlet grinned at his field partner. “Yeah, you finally trusted a hunch, Blue-Boy. Well done you!”
“And I thought I’d killed you by doing so,” Blue said in response. “After that experience, I’m unlikely to trust another one in a hurry.”
Scarlet laughed. “You see, ‘caution’ is his middle name; I’ve always said it was. Nevertheless, I am profoundly grateful that you decided to trust this hunch.”
Fawn was still taking notes. “So, Scarlet, you say you could see and hear while you were in your ‘coma’?”
“Most of the time, but I don’t know how. I kept trying to talk to people – I mean, I thought I was talking to people - and it wasn’t as if it was like an out of body experience and I was standing looking at myself on the bed. I couldn’t see me, I was still me, in my body… if that makes any sense?”
“Not really,” Rhapsody said. “Besides, your eyes were closed.”
He shrugged. “There you go then. The Mysterons have powers we cannot hope to understand and this is another of them. I just hope I don’t come up against it again.”
“Did any of the medication I used make things any better for you?” Fawn asked hopefully, pen poised over his notepad.
“Oh sure. There was one lot that must’ve sent me high as a kite… I think I was stoned for some considerable time.”
“Stoned?” The colonel was incredulous and stared at Fawn in disbelief.
The doctor didn’t notice, he was already hypothesising about this new information. “Ah, now that is interesting. The combination of the drugs would induce hallucinations in a normal person, but I was acting on the fact that all drugs have far less effect on you, Scarlet, both in intensity and the time they remain active in the bloodstream. Of course, this time the blood wasn’t coursing through your veins as it would for a live specimen, but usually, when you are in a similar situation, I mean, they still don’t have much of a long-lasting effect on you. Maybe I didn’t take enough account of the fact that your retrometabolism wasn’t clearing the drugs from your system, as it normally does during your recoveries, before I administered the next dose? Very interesting…”
“You mean, I am human – on the inside?”
“You most certainly are human!” Mrs Metcalfe interjected. “I’ve never heard such nonsense, Paul Metcalfe.”
Scarlet reached for her hand and pressed it to his lips, smiling as he did so. His mother tousled his hair affectionately.
“I shall give it my attention,” Fawn remarked somewhat absent-mindedly. He was already formulating new avenues of research. “It could prove to be a vital clue as to the nature of the retrometabolism we see at work in Captain Scarlet.”
“Glad to be of service,” Scarlet said, with the merest hint of irony, “and glad to be back in service!”
He grinned around at the delighted faces all of his friends and family and felt that, generally speaking, it hadn’t been such a bad birthday and Christmas after all.
My profound thanks go to my beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, as usual. She sorted out the grammar and came up with the best one-liner, which is used by permission. (Thanks, Hazel!) Any mistakes are all mine and I apologise for them and hope they’d don’t spoil whatever pleasure you may get from the story.
Thanks also to Chris Bishop, who will – I have no doubt – astound me, yet again with a stunning presentation of the story on her website, if it makes the grade. She is a marvel and I can’t thank her enough.
The website and the people I have met through my association with it have become very important to me over the past ten years , so that now I can’t imagine not having them around. I also can’t thank them enough for their kindness and support: that’s real friendship and I value it.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ belongs to the company that owns the company that made it and the company that bought them – you get the idea. It isn’t mine, anyway. The concept belongs to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and they deserve all our thanks for gifting such wonderful entertainment to us all from their earliest shows to the very latest. I admire them all, but my heart belongs to Captain Scarlet – or one of the captains, at least….
Have a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year – and thank you for reading.
15 December 2012