Seasonal Adjustments

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story

By Marion Woods

 

 

Part One: Family Affairs

 

 

Chapter One:   Boston, May 2036

 

            09:45 a.m. and the elevator door slid back with a quiet hum to reveal a tall, fair-haired man, his handsome face spoilt by an expression of petulance.  He stalked across the open plan floor towards the heavy wooden doors and pushed through without speaking to any one of the half dozen employees in the office. Several of them exchanged wary glances and began to calculate how long it was before they could legitimately go to lunch.

            At the far end of the plush, carpeted enclave he had entered, an older man, slightly taller, whose fair hair had turned to a silvery-white, looked up from the conversation he was having with a dark-haired, bespectacled woman, and gave a smug grin.

            “Good afternoon, John.”

            John Svenson glared back and muttered, “Hello, Dad.”

            “Oversleep?” Stefan Svenson asked, noting the dark patches beneath his son’s blue eyes and the bloody nick above his collar from a too hasty shave.

            “Sleep?” John gave a hollow laugh.  “What the hell’s sleep?  Do you know how many times we had to get up to that little… tyrant last night?”

            Stefan plucked a number out of the air. “Four.”

            “Four?  You are joking!  Seven… seven times Sarah went and tried to settle him down.  In the end she stayed in his room and they slept on the divan.  If you think I look bad, you should see Sal.”

            “But I’d guess she doesn’t have a series of important meetings today? Never mind, they say the first three years are the worst…” Stefan commented, successfully hiding his amusement. 

            His son groaned and turned to look at the woman at the desk. “A coffee, Miss Jarrett, if you would be so kind.”

            “Certainly, Mr John.”  She stood and walked towards the small kitchenette.

            “Seriously, Dad, I can’t go on like this for much longer.  I’m just not sleeping nights.” John ran his fingers through his fair hair and grimaced. “No-one tells you about times like this before you have the kids.”

            “Teeth,” Stefan reflected sagely, “are a pain on the way in and a pain on the way out.”

            John Svenson gave his father a look of abject misery and threw his briefcase onto a chair.  “It’s no good, I have told Sarah, we have to get a Nanny – a nurse, whatever…even if the kid won’t sleep nights, we still have to.  So let’s pay someone to do the waking up for us – we can afford it.”

            “And what did Sarah say?”

            “Oh, she went on about maternal instincts and nurturing.  She seems to think she’s failing him if she isn’t there 24 - 7 and it will scar him for life.  I tell her that’s nonsense.  He’s too young to care who’s rocking the crib.”

            “I bet that went down well,” Stefan muttered.

            “She accused me of trying to solve every problem by throwing money at it.” The bewilderment was obvious in John’s voice as he nodded thanks for the coffee and took a gulp.

            “Well, it’s her first and she’s young,” Stefan reasoned. “Why don’t you ask your mom to talk to her?  Maybe we could have Adam over a weekend or something?”

            John looked at him with dawning hope. “Would you?  D’you know how long it’s been since we… had some time alone?”

            Stefan grinned.  “About nine months, at least…”

            His son had the grace to blush slightly. 

            Stefan’s grin broadened.  It had been no surprise to him or his wife that their son was out of his depth with a young wife and child.   John had been bursting with pride when the child had been a boy, but the reality of having a baby in the house had come as a complete shock to the newly-wedded man.  As long as the child - a blond-haired moppet – had lain quietly, gurgling on cue and disappearing whenever he needed feeding or changing, John had had nothing but enthusiasm for the whole business.   Now the boy was teething, making his misery felt throughout the house and disrupting the lives of his parents by exercising his healthy lungs day and night, and John wasn’t so keen.

            “I hoped to get to work on the Tompkins papers today; do you reckon this meeting will last all morning?”

Stefan nodded. “There was an e-mail from Tokyo – but I guess you won’t have seen that.  Take the time to read it – I want you up to speed before the meeting starts.”

John nodded. “Okay.” He glanced at Miss Jarrett. “Would you please get me information on an agency for nursery-maids, or nannies?  I want to get this sorted before I drop with exhaustion.”

“What about Sarah?”

“She’ll thank me for it, once she’s had a good night’s sleep again,” John said.

“You reckon?” Stefan pursed his lips and kept his doubts to himself.  John would have to solve his own problems now.

 

By late afternoon, the meeting was over, and the Svensons – father and son – could feel satisfied that they had made the best deal they could have expected.   Stefan looked across at his son with something akin to awe; John was a tough negotiator and his command of his subject was total.  He had been the driving force in the discussions and it was to him that the majority of the credit for the deal belonged.   He was, Stefan reflected, a natural at it and the thought of leaving the business in his hands gave his father no concern.  Under John’s control, SvenCorp could only grow and thrive.

However, he knew his son, and the man was almost exhausted.  John always put 100% of himself into whatever he was doing – at work or at home – and it worried Stefan to see his son’s tiredness.  Surely, he thought, there must be some way to alleviate the pressure on John? 

As he wandered back into his office, he remembered a letter he had received a few weeks ago, and asked his PA to find it for him.  It had been from the son of his cousin, Nils Svenson, who had finally settled down somewhere in upstate New York and married a local woman.  They had one son – Eric – a few years younger than John.  Stefan had last seen the child when he was about four years old and he had attended his cousin’s funeral.  Nils – always a reckless driver - had managed to get himself killed in a car accident, leaving his wife and young son with a heavy mortgage and a pile of debts. 

Stefan had intended to help the widow and her child, but his offer had been rudely rejected.  Nevertheless, he had set up a trust for the boy – ‘for college fees’ as he told the belligerent widow, and left the door open for a future rapprochement.  He had heard nothing from either of them, although the money from the trust fund had been drawn on when the boy reached eighteen.    He must be about… twenty-three years old now, Stefan thought, as he took the letter from the folder Miss Jarrett gave him, and hopefully, he has more sense than either of his parents and will let bygones be bygones.

There had been a ‘feud’ between the two branches of the Svenson family for the best part of a century and it had been centred - as these things often are – on money.

SvenCorp had always been a family firm, growing slowly but inexorably over the decades from the thriving trading company Stefan’s grandfather had inherited.  Stefan knew his own tenure of the company was a fluke – his father’s elder brother, Carl Svenson, had sold his stake in the company to his younger brother, Henrik, in order to pursue his own, ultimately unsuccessful, dreams in business.   Once Henrik Svenson had absolute control of the family business, he had laid down strict rules designed to prevent Carl’s children from demanding a share in the company’s wealth.  Henrik, who had never seen eye to eye with his feckless brother, was not a very forgiving man – a trait that had, unfortunately, resurfaced in his grandson – John.

In the years that followed, Henrik had turned the company around, moving from trade into finance with a deftness that astounded those who did not know him.  He had made his fortune, and the Svensons moved from a comfortably well-off family into the league of the super-rich, in three generations.  Stefan knew his own limitations; he was a competent and easy-going man, for whom the cut and thrust of the business world held only a minor appeal.  But his father had taught him well and his grasp of business was instinctive and rarely at fault.  He had steered the company through some hard times and it had emerged stronger than ever, becoming an influential player in the world of finance.

 Outside of work, Stefan preferred what he considered to be a modest enough life-style, but it was a ‘modesty’ few could afford.  He devoted himself to his other interests and the welfare of his small family.  He had raised his two children to be hard working, honest citizens, and recognised in John the makings of a businessman who might outstrip even his grandfather’s achievements.  His son certainly had the same single-mindedness so reminiscent of the late Henrik Svenson.

Therefore, it had come rather as a bolt from the blue when his serious-minded, twenty-three year old son had met, and fallen hopelessly in love with, the teenage daughter of the chairman of a small firm SvenCorp was doing business with.  It had been an even greater surprise when – sometime later - John had suddenly announced he was getting married to Sarah Ellis.   Expecting a long period of engagement, Stefan had been astounded to find the date was a matter of weeks away and the news that he was to be a grandfather – which followed hot on the heels of the wedding - had taken his breath away.  But by the time his strapping grandson arrived, some six months later, he was beyond surprising.

He shook his head over the vagaries of family life and turned his attention to the letter in his hand.

Carl’s grandson, Eric, had recently graduated from a reputable business school.   He had contacted Stefan, ostensibly to thank him for his generous support during his education, and to congratulate his cousin on the birth of his first grandson.  He concluded his letter with the statement that he would welcome a chance to become involved in the family firm, should there be any capacity Stefan might think it suitable for him to undertake.  Stefan had been considering the matter, without reference to John – for whom the regulations laid down by his Grandpa Henrik were law – and it now seemed to him that Eric could lift the tedious and the mundane from his gifted son, without compromising the ideal of family.  John could not carry the load alone, and his sister and her husband were not interested in the company.  Until Adam was of an age to assist his father, Eric could be a useful adjutant. 

Stefan resolved to invite the man in for a meeting and dictated the reply there and then.

 

~oo0oo~

 

One week later Eric Svenson arrived at the SvenCorp offices and presented himself at the reception desk.    The security guards looked him up and down with some suspicion; he did not conform to the family blueprint.  He was of average height, stockily built, with a pale complexion liberally covered with freckles and hair which had an undeniably red tinge to it.  His eyes were a strange mixture of hazel-green and grey.  He wore metal-rimmed glasses, a good quality suit and brightly polished black shoes, yet still managed to look a little dowdy and uncomfortable.  They sent him up to the executive offices with benign smiles, which to Eric’s nervous eyes carried more than a hint of amusement.

Stefan was rather surprised at the sight of the man he met at the elevator door and half-wondered if it really was Eric.

“Welcome to Boston, Eric,” he said with a convivial smile, courteously extending his hand.

“It is very good of you to see me… Mr Svenson,” Eric faltered, shaking the proffered hand.

“Call me Stefan – we are family, after all.” Stefan gave the young man another reassuring smile as he led the way into his office. “After I received your letter, I began to think it was time to heal this breach between us all.  What may have had relevance to our parents and grandparents should not carry the same weight with us and I would like to think that we can move on.   I was sorry to hear that your mother had passed away last year… she must have had a pretty bad time of it.  I always hoped she would get in touch with me again, once she had recovered from the shock of your father’s death… I was sorry she did not.”

Privately, Eric thought he ought to be grateful his mother had not contacted them.

Stefan continued, “My son has the day off today – it’s our wedding anniversary, mine and Karen’s - and these things need to be acknowledged – at least they do if you want to avoid an earful from your wife!   However, I expect him here shortly with his family, as we are all going to lunch – Karen  is meeting up with our daughter, Kristina,  and her husband,  and meeting us at the restaurant.  Perhaps you would like to join us?”

“I don’t want to intrude…”  Eric gave a thin lipped smile as he glanced around the office with its understated plush décor of leather chairs and solid wooden desks and the confident assertion of wealth in the modern art on the walls.  He suspected the suit his cousin was wearing cost more than every item of clothing he possessed.  He had spent his last savings on the new suit and shoes he was wearing… shoes that were rubbing his heels raw.  He knew he had no legal claim to any of this wealth, but he couldn’t help thinking that, out of fairness, Stefan ought to give him a good job and a decent salary.  After all, he was a Svenson too.

 Stefan waved the doubts away with an expressive gesture.  “I would like you to meet my son – John - and then, if you like the idea, the two of you might work together?  I know John is in need of some assistance, especially right now, with the youngster disrupting everything so much.  If you and John can see eye to eye, then I think we can sort out the remuneration package to everyone’s satisfaction, Eric.  SvenCorp likes to think of itself as a generous employer.”

“I am sure it is, Stefan. That would give me the greatest satisfaction.  I look forward to it.”

Stefan sat back in his chair and skilfully began to make the young man talk about himself.  Eric could not be expected to know how expertly his cousin used his charismatic personality to gain an advantage over his business associates in the course of brokering deals.  Many a businessman had discovered that what had sounded like a mutually  beneficial contract, when Stefan explained it over a friendly luncheon, was not quite as mutual as he remembered once it was signed and Stefan had moved on to his next business opportunity.  The strange thing was that no-one ever really blamed Stefan for this inconsistency.  It was almost as if they were unwilling to believe that such an open and charming man might be deliberately skating over the less palatable parts of any deal. 

This was partly due to the contrast of doing business with Henrik – and latterly, John – Svenson, where it was more akin to being hauled up before a particularly severe and single-minded headmaster: woe betide you if you did not know your facts.  No-one was ever surprised that a contract with SvenCorp negotiated with Stefan’s father or – increasingly – his son, was weighted in favour of the finance house. 

Between them, the Svensons made a formidable combination, and SvenCorp was flourishing on the strength of it.

Charming the rather naive Eric was child’s play to an old hand like Stefan, and it was not long before the young man relaxed and unwittingly revealed far more than he realised or intended.

It did not take long for Stefan to evaluate the man before him.  He was earnest, not overly ambitious and a little lacking in the self-confidence that had always formed such a solid bedrock in the Svenson psyche.  Accordingly, he had an uneasy feeling that he ought to be of more consequence than he knew himself to be.  He was never going to rival John’s flair for business, but he would be a safe pair of hands and, as such, would probably be an ideal man to manage the long-running accounts that cluttered John’s busy schedules. 

Pleased that he had found a solution to the problem of his son’s heavy workload, Stefan considered that now all he had to do was talk John into accepting the help he had procured for him.  He grimaced inwardly at the thought that he would have to pull rank on his son – John often needed convincing that he couldn’t do everything himself.

They gradually became aware of the distant sound of disruption beyond the heavy doors of the office.   With a genuine display of delighted expectation, Stefan went to open them, beckoning Eric to follow.   Eric trailed after him, trying not to hobble. 

The inner office was full of secretaries cooing over a baby, who was crawling with determination towards the executive washroom. 

“Adam,” Stefan called in delight, and he hunkered down, smiling, as he opened his arms to the child.

Without slowing, the baby changed direction and headed for the familiar voice.  Stefan swept him up and swung him over his head as his grandson chortled and tried to grab his hair.

“Hi Steve, mind him today - he’s in hair-pulling mode. He’s very proud of himself and seems to want to celebrate by yanking everyone’s hair out at the roots.” The speaker was a young woman, who looked coolly elegant in a practical shirt-dress and low heeled court shoes. She was tall and slim and her long, light-brown hair was prudently pinned back in a plait. 

Stefan acknowledged the warning and smiled at her.  He had had profound doubts about the viability of his son’s relationship with the young Sarah Ellis, but he had to acknowledge that, despite her youth, Sarah had made a success of things, notwithstanding the less than ideal circumstances that had resulted in their marriage.  What was more, she managed her irascible husband with a deftness that was not easily apparent. John adored her and was under her thumb to an extent that would have surprised many of the businessmen who only saw the hard-headed tycoon. Stefan liked her immensely and had no doubt that she was good for his son.  Now she came across and kissed her father-in-law’s cheek, rescuing her son from his arms.

“What’s he got to be so proud of?” Stefan asked her with an amused smile, as he caught the baby’s hand and pretended to chew on the fingers, sending the little boy into a paroxysm of giggles.

Sarah Svenson gently opened her son’s mouth and pointed to the tiniest white tooth poking through the gum.  “We have another tooth!”

“Just one?” Stefan laughed.

“I know, after all the aggravation we’ve had you’d expect the full set – but no, just the one.  All the fuss must be because these teeth are going to be just the best teeth we can possibly have, aren’t they, Babes?”  She grinned and kissed her son’s reddened cheeks.

The baby squirmed and when she put him down, he set off again at speed in the direction his father had gone.  As he approached the door to the washroom it swung open and half a dozen female voices shrilled, “Mind the baby!” as John Svenson did a quick double step and just managed to avoid his son.

“Adam,” he growled, as, unperturbed, the baby pulled himself upright by holding onto his father’s trouser leg, squealing with delight as he bounced up and down a few times on his sturdy legs. Suddenly he let go, sat down heavily and rolled over to start crawling away, back to his laughing mother.

“John,” Stefan called, over the murmured admiration for his grandson’s antics, “come and meet Eric.  This is my late cousin Nils’s son.  I’ve invited him to lunch with us all.”

John‘s head went back and antagonism flooded into his eyes, turning them an icy-blue. He gave his father a covert glance and received a bland smile from Stefan.  Unwilling to challenge his father in view of the assembled staff, he obediently shook Eric’s hand, dropping it as soon as he could, as if scalded by the touch.

Feeling very much on the periphery of this family group, Eric studied the men his mother had always insisted were robbing him of his share of the fortune that was his by rights. 

John was an even more impressive man than his father, with a hawk-like face and piercing eyes, currently boring into Eric with a hostility the younger man found unsettling.  He had serious doubts that he would ever be able to ‘see eye to eye’ with such a man.  However, if he was to get a position in the company he would have to work with him – Stefan was quite clear about that – and Eric had every intention of working for SvenCorp, and sharing in the good-life his cousins enjoyed.

Sarah didn’t know the full story of the feud between the Svensons, but she knew enough to deplore her husband’s reaction to the unprepossessing newcomer.  She felt a surge of pity for the stranger. 

Like most people, she had found the Svensons intimidating at first, as had her parents.  They had been delighted when their firm won a lucrative contract from the finance house, and had happily accepted Stefan’s invitation to the company’s Independence Day party, which had accompanied the signing of the deal.  It was there that she had first met John and their lives had become inextricably linked. 

Her parents had not been enthusiastic when John had first asked her out, arguing that, at fifteen, she was way too young to be seriously involved with a twenty-three year old man.  But John was good-looking and sophisticated and she’d been flattered both by his persistence and by his attention.  She had argued that she had the right to date whom she liked and John had promised he would take care of her – so what was the problem?  Her parents, faced with the obstinacy of both the young people, had finally capitulated, and, on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday, John had started taking his young girlfriend for wonderful nights out on the town. 

Rather to Sarah’s surprise, he had behaved with scrupulous self-control towards her and it had not taken her long to realise that she held all the cards in their relationship.   With all the heartlessness that only an egotistical teenager can employ, she had abused this power over him, treating him very casually, until even John’s iron determination had faltered, and reluctantly, he had told her that he was going to end their relationship, because he felt that she did not really care for him. 

Feigning an indifference she did not feel, Sarah had tried to pass the separation off as unimportant, but once he had gone she quickly  began to appreciate how much she missed having him around, and not only because the expensive nights out and generous presents stopped.  She missed his company, the way he made her feel special and cherished in his presence.  It had been a hard lesson to learn, but she was a quick study and soon realised that she might have made a disastrous mistake. 

They had not spoken for six months, during which time she had struggled to concentrate on her school work and spent far too much time moping about at home.  Finally, her mother persuaded her to go out one evening to a friend’s party and quite unexpectedly John had been there – looking rather out of place amongst the carefree party-goers. She had seized the chance to approach him, although she had had little expectation that he would welcome her company.  She’d been surprised at his reaction and the warmth with which he had greeted her and the hope had begun to grow that they might be able to rekindle their relationship.  When he had agreed to ‘give things another try’, she had been ecstatic.

John, who had taken the whole experience very badly, was far more guarded about his feelings this time, so it had taken months before she had plucked up the courage to tell him that she was very passionately in love with him.  Even then, she had not been sure he still felt the same way about her, until he admitted that he had missed her so much he had taken to going to parties where he stood a chance of meeting her, in the hope she might be there and might want to see him again… 

She looked at her husband as he stood beside his father, and sensing her gaze, he turned to her with a smile and a look in his blue eyes that sent pleasant shivers up her spine….  She had first seen that look on the night they had confessed the true depth of their feelings for each other - the very same night that they had… she felt herself blushing and to hide her embarrassment, she turned to their guest and said, with expansive friendliness, 

“Hello, Eric. I’m Sarah - John’s wife – I am very pleased to meet you.”

Her smile was so warm that Eric felt a blush sweeping up from his neck.  He took her hand and shook it in a daze.  The young woman smiling at him was one of the most attractive he had ever seen.   She had a joie de vivre about her that contrasted with her husband’s sombre personality.

How could someone as charming as her ever have agreed to marry a man like John Svenson? he thought and suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the baby on the floor under a desk investigating the electric wires from a computer. 

“Mrs Svenson,” he stammered, “I think you had better stop the baby doing that….”

Sarah swivelled, and with a cry of dismay, rescued her son from under the desk.  “Say hello to your cousin Eric, Adam,” she encouraged the disgruntled child, holding him out towards Eric.  Adam grabbed Eric’s hair and tugged.  “Stop it - you naughty boy!” she chided, and untangled the hair from the surprisingly tenacious fingers.  “Sorry, Eric,” she smiled apologetically.

“It’s okay,” he lied, basking in her approving smile.  “He’s a bonny little chap, isn’t he…?”

Across the room, Stefan was justifying his decision to his still censorious son.   “I hoped you and Eric might work together on all these new accounts we’ve been building.” He turned to draw Eric into his conversation. “Now that the situation in Europe has been resolved, there’s plenty of work there for the shrewd businessman, Eric.  European companies are looking to break into the American markets – and we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of that movement.”

“Steve,” Sarah pleaded, turning to include her husband in her reproach, “we are going out to lunch as a family - not as a business.  The first one that mentions work, from now on, can change Adam next time round - and I mean it!”

“She does, as well,” John said, with obvious pride in his wife.  “And, believe me, that is not a job you want to volunteer for.”

“Let’s go, or we’ll be late.” Sarah hefted Adam onto her left hip and gave Eric another brilliant smile as he stepped forward to take the changing bag from her.  “Why, thank you, Eric.  You see, John, that’s how you could be useful around the place.  Then there would be no need for us to have a nanny…” she added, obviously continuing an ongoing argument

John gave his cousin a sharp glance and purposefully moved to his wife’s side. “Lead the way, Sal.”

Eric Svenson followed them out with a feeling that maybe things in his life were looking up after all.

 

 

Chapter Two:  Boston, March 2053

 

The atmosphere at the breakfast table was edgy.  With their mother away visiting relatives in California, there was no-one to stand between the children and the unpredictable temper of their father.  John Svenson was reading the business pages of the paper as his children ate their breakfasts in wary silence. 

Only Peter, sitting closest to his father and trying to read the sports pages lying beneath his father’s elbow whilst spreading peanut butter on his toast, seemed unaware of the impending storm.  Katherine was wolfing her muesli, hopeful of getting away before the hurricane hit, whilst little David was nervously swirling his spoon around in the chocolate-flavoured milk in his bowl, inadvertently splashing the white-linen tablecloth with brown freckles. 

The door opened and Adam strolled in.  Kate sighed and hoped her father was too pre-occupied with the latest business scandal to notice the time.   Her eldest brother sat down opposite her and poured himself juice from the jug, reaching for a slice of toast with a wink at her. She gave him a nervous smile and rolled her eyes towards their father.  Adam raised an eyebrow in question and Kate made a surreptitious throat-cutting gesture with her hand and nodded towards him.   Her brother grimaced in response and wondered what he had done now to be in the firing line.

“Good morning, Adam,” John said curtly over his paper, “nice of you to join us.”

“Good morning, sir.  Sorry I’m late…”

“You missed the arrival of the post,” John said levelly.  “There is a letter for you.”

Adam nodded and swallowed his mouthful of toast.  “Really?” he made an exaggerated search of his place at the table. “I don’t see it…”  John held up a long envelope and waved it. “Ah, that’ll be why then.  Davy, pass me the letter will you, please?” He nudged his youngest brother, causing the spoon to slip and a whole tsunami of chocolate milk to cascade over the tablecloth.

“David!” his father growled.  The little boy’s face crumpled.

“Hey, it was my fault; I jogged his arm.  S’okay, Davy, use this napkin to mop it up.  It didn’t go on your clothes, did it?  Can’t have you going into school all chocolaty, Mom’d flip!”

David turned his blue eyes on his brother and gave a grateful smile.

“Come on, Davy, let’s get our stuff ready,” Kate suggested.  “Permission to leave the table, please, sir?”

John growled assent and the two youngest Svensons raced for the door as decorously as they could.  The remaining three family members sat at the table in silence. 

Peter took another slice of toast.

“What are you planning to do today, Adam?” John asked.

“I have classes at 2.30 and then I thought I might go over to see Billy Cabot.  He’s got a new car…”

“Before your classes, I want to see you. In my office, here.  10.00 is the most convenient time.  I have an important meeting at 12.30, downtown.”

Peter glanced across with a smug grin.  Adam guessed he knew what was coming – if he wasn’t obliquely responsible for it to begin with.

“May I have some idea what you want to see me about?” he asked with as much composure as he could muster.

John Svenson stood and dropped the letter on the table.  “That,” he said succinctly.  He folded his napkin and walked out of the dining room, calling for his PA as he crossed the hall.

            Adam reached for the letter and glanced at the postmark.  Great, fantastic, I am a dead man walking… he thought as he slit the envelope.  The letter bore the banner of the World Aeronautic Society and invited him for an interview, with a view to entering the cadet training scheme.  The final paragraph informed him that, as he was under 18, a covering letter had been sent to his parents, as he would need permission to begin the course.  He was torn between a desire to whoop with delight and foreboding.   His father must have received his letter at the same time and would, therefore, be fully aware of his eldest son’s disobedience.

            “Are you deep in the shit,” Peter said gleefully.  He wiped his mouth and made to leave the table.  “You were told to drop the idea – you knew he’d go postal about it.”

“Don’t you have a school for the mentally challenged to go to?” Adam snarled.  “You know, I am sure they’ll award you your certificate in stating the frigging obvious any day now…”

Peter gave a derisive snort.  “Well, what do you know?  My big, strong, brilliant brother is about to shit himself over a chat with his daddy…”

“Drop dead, you God-forsaken troll!”  It was too close to being true for Adam to ignore. 

He hadn’t expected so prompt a response to his application and he’d banked on his mother being back before the letter arrived.   Still, he was old enough to know he shouldn’t expect her to fight all of his battles.  He would just have to speak to his father and explain his actions and his intentions.  It shouldn’t be too difficult - man to… whatever his father was….

 

At ten o’clock precisely, John Svenson cleared his desk and sat with a clean blotter before him and the computer screen minimised to avoid distractions.  He knew from past experience that sessions like this with his eldest son were never easy. 

He watched the boy enter the room and walk towards him with an insouciance that bordered on rudeness.  He’d be eighteen this summer and he was starting to fill out.  Already over six feet tall, the broad shoulders and long legs which had made him seem such a gangling youth, now held the promise of strength and stamina. He was growing into an impressive man.  John studied at his son’s face as he approached the desk.  It was reminiscent of his own father’s, with pale blue eyes that verged on grey, a wide mouth,  with a thin upper lip and full lower one so indicative of Adam’s proverbial obstinacy. But he had inherited the straight nose of the Ellis family, rather than the high-bridged nose of the Svensons.   At least the boy is immune to flattery, if his reaction to the panegyric that sycophantic society journalist wrote recently is anything to go by… he thought.

John drew a deep breath and filled his lungs, ready to face his son’s expected defiance.  He loved this boy with a profound emotion he had never recaptured with his other children – dear though they were to him.  He could still recall the surge of pride he’d experienced when they put his firstborn son into his arms.   He’d looked at his young wife, lying exhausted and exultant on her hospital bed, and felt something akin to adoration, so great was his gratitude to her for providing him with this precious link to the future. 

As the boy had grown, revealing a bright, intelligent mind, he‘d made exhaustive plans for his education, for he expected great things from his son.   He’d been pleased with his scheme for introducing Adam to the complex satisfaction to be gained from understanding the arcane world of finance.  Together they’d dissected the annual report of the Daily Planet, prepared Bruce Wayne’s tax return and considered the financial advantages of charitable status for Professor Xavier’s school, despite Sarah’s pleas to ‘leave the boy alone’.  Even now, he recalled those golden hours with pleasure, although he now realised that Adam’s smiling participation had been mere compliance with his father’s wishes, and not enthusiasm for the subject.   Over the years, he had watched with helpless bewilderment as his son had inexorably grown away from him.

Most people would say ‘here is a son any man could be proud of’ and I am proud of him - Heaven only knows how proud!  I’d be only too ready to demonstrate my pride - and my love - if Adam would only conform! How could this most promising of boys have turned out so stubborn, arrogant and selfish?   he thought petulantly.

 

For Adam, this well-trodden path brought memories of a childhood spent trying to live up to his father’s expectations.  He had gladly joined in the exercises about the intricacies of financial management, because it had guaranteed him several uninterrupted hours of his father’s attention.  He knew he had his mother’s unconditional love and that his grandfather understood how he might see a life beyond the confines of the financial markets as more attractive – but it was his father’s approval he wanted, his love he needed to be reassured of. 

With increasing maturity had come the realisation that this deception of compliance was not going to survive the growing surety he had that working for the family business was the last thing he wanted to do.  An apparently limitless physical energy, a boundless curiosity and a love of adventure and change, were hardly the prerequisites of a desk-bound entrepreneur, at least in Adam’s opinion.  Yet despite his attempts to explain this to his father, John Svenson remained wilfully blind to the truth.

He stood before his father’s desk, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his blue denim jeans, an expression of apparent unconcern on his face.

            “Well?” John began, staring down the unspoken challenge.

            “Well what?”

            “What have you to say for yourself?”

Adam feigned ignorance.  “About what?”

“Don’t treat me as a fool, boy!  You have been making enquiries about taking a commission in the WAS – again!”

“So, what if I have?  It does no harm to make enquires.”

“In case you have forgotten, young man, you are still under age, so they have sent me the forms to give my approval.  I see no reason for me to give it, do you?”

“I thought I could do some of the cadet training courses and gain more flying experience…“

“You can fly down at the club whenever you like,” John interrupted.  “That commits you to nothing.”

“Sure, little planes, but if I passed the first level course I could get to fly jets…” A spark of pure exhilaration flashed in his eyes, and his face radiated with an enthusiasm he never showed for financial matters.

“Why would you want to fly jets?  If you need to travel we have the SvenCorp machines...”

“I’m not talking about those piddling, little executive jets – I’m talking of the new commercial jets or the military…”

“No – I will not agree to it.  You will get yourself killed as like as not, and you should be concentrating on your studies anyway, not zooming round the skies pretending to be Lindbergh.”

            Adam tried one last desperate appeal. “Dad, please, just sign the forms.  If they’re not back before the deadline I will miss this year’s intake.  You’ve known I’ve wanted to do this for years and last year you said that if I did well at Harvard you’d consider it this year… I got straight ‘A’s, Dad - and now you are reneging on that promise!  Look, this doesn’t commit me to anything except the basic training, and maybe they won’t want to keep me on.   A lot of kids try for WAS, and most don’t make it, so they’ll probably take one look at me in training and say ‘scram, buster!’  But I have to do this, Dad, I have to try.”

            “No, you don’t.  There is a position waiting for you with the company.  You can join me when your finals are over – as we planned…”

            “As you planned,” Adam protested. “All my life there’s been this unspoken directive that said ‘you will do this, because your father says so’.  Well, this time I want to try something of my own.”

            “It is ridiculous to turn your back on the advantages of working with the company, Adam, just to go flying planes!  I thought it would cure you of that, once and for all, when we got you flying lessons and your pilot’s license.”

            “Yeah, like giving liquor to an alcoholic,” Adam responded sullenly. “Dad, try to understand, please.  I need to do this.”

            “Rubbish.  You need to take stock of your life, young man, and realise - sooner rather than later - that your future lies with your family, not with a bunch of no-hopers flying clapped-out planes.”

            “I want to be a test pilot, Dad.  The planes would be proto-types.”

            “A pure irrelevance,” John snapped.  “I forbid you to do this, Adam.  Why waste the time of those people when you won’t be joining their flying circus anyway?”

            “I will, if they want me to.”

            “You will not!” John reiterated. “Not while you live in this house.” 

            “Oh, right!  You want me to leave?  Sounds great to me – I’ll go!”

            “Don’t be foolish.  Where would you go?”

            “There are hotels.”

            “And what would you use for money?”

            “I have an allowance!”

            “Not if you leave this house, you don’t.”

            “Fine - I don’t care. I can get a job...”

            “Doing what, exactly?” his father asked scathingly. “You’ve never had to lift a finger for yourself.”

            “Whatever someone will pay me to do.” As Adam’s sense of injustice deepened and he struggled to keep his dignity before his father, his voice sank to little more than a hiss.

            “Don’t be so damned stupid!” John said with asperity.

            “I’ll manage.” Adam’s voice was now barely above a whisper.

            “And what will you do when you fail your Harvard courses because you’ve been mucking around with planes?”

            “That would make you happy, wouldn’t it?  You’d like to see me fail.   Then you think I would have to work for you because no-one else would want me.  Well, I wouldn’t work for you – I’d rather sweep streets first!”

            “Oh, stop it, you’re making me weep,” John mocked.

            “You have never cared what I wanted, have you?  Well, now I am a man in my own right…”

            “A man? Hah! Hardly…” 

A man in my own right,” his son asserted with vehemence, “and not just some proto-financier you bred in your own image!  I don’t want to be in The Company – I wouldn’t want it if it stood between me and starvation – can’t you understand that?”

            “No, I cannot!  The company you despise so much has put the gourmet food in your mouth and the designer clothes on your back – not to mention, bought you flying lessons and a plane of your own!” John raged at this unheard of sedition.  “It has given you all the comforts a person could want and a lifestyle few could ever dream of!”

             “I am sick of the company and of hearing about its miraculous prowess! I will make it simple, Dad – pay attention - I do not want to be a financier, a banker nor anything else that deals with pushing money from one place to another.  I want to fly planes and if the WAS don’t want me I will try the airlines or the Air Force or a freight service.  I will NOT work in the frigging company!”

            “Get out of here - before I do something I might regret - you ungrateful, selfish, brat!” John roared.

            Shaking with a frustrated rage, such as he had never experienced before, Adam turned on his heels and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

John sank back into his chair and glanced ruefully at the photograph of his wife, alongside the computer monitor. “Well,” he said, “I think that went well - considering - don’t you?” He dropped his head into his hands. “What am I going to do with him, Sal?”

Miss Lorraine O’Callaghan watched Adam storm upstairs and heard the bedroom door slam.  There was nothing very unusual with that.  Her employer and his eldest son locked horns regularly and she had learned the best thing to do was ignore it.  This occasion, although loud and obviously vicious, had been comparatively brief, given that she could remember times when Mrs Svenson had had to separate the pair before murder was committed.

She continued with her work and only glanced up as she heard the upstairs door slam again, and the sound of feet running down the stairs.  Here we go again, it’s a wonder the hinges on the doors in this house hold out as long as they do, she thought cynically.

 Across the hallway she could see Adam, a camping back-pack across his shoulders, emerging from the coat cupboard with his leather jacket.  He strode over to the main door, flung it open and strode out into the rain, leaving the door open. Moments later, his motorcycle kicked into life and roared down the drive.

John Svenson stormed out of his office.  “Who was that?” he demanded.

“Mr Adam,” she replied as non committally as she could.

“Where was he going?”

“He didn’t mention.”

John Svenson threw a pile of papers on her desk. “I want these ready as soon as possible.” He gazed with some concern towards the door.  “Damn that kid, he won’t listen to sense… when he comes back, tell him he’s grounded – for a month!”

“Mr Svenson, I can’t do that!” Lorrie protested, but he wasn’t listening, and he turned and slammed his office door behind him. She pursed her lips. “Miserable old tyrant,” she muttered

 She glanced through the papers – there were numerous obvious mistakes – quite unlike his usual efficiency. The old man was rattled and that was unusual.  He got angry easily enough, but it was normally a calculated anger, with a cutting edge of sarcastic disapproval that made weaker beings quake.  Obviously, whatever they’d been arguing about had been important – to them both – because, come to think of it, it wasn’t like Adam to flounce around like that, either.

Perhaps my initial assessment of the incident was wrong?  she thought.  After a few minutes consideration, she picked up the phone to dial Los Angeles.

            “This is Lorraine O’Callaghan, from Mr Svenson’s private office, in Boston.  I am really sorry to be disturbing you so early in the morning, but is your sister still staying with you?  I really need to speak urgently with Mrs Svenson…”

             Moments later she was explaining the situation to an increasingly horrified Sarah.

 

~oo0oo~

 

            Sarah’s unexpected arrival back in Boston in the early hours of the next day gave John a momentary stab of panic.  He hadn’t had any sleep, preferring to wait up for the return of his son – who, to his increasing consternation, did not come home. He had rung the local hospitals, but not their friends and relatives – he was too proud to admit his son had walked out - but he took consolation from the fact that the boy was not hospitalised.  He’d not been looking forward to telling Sarah that Adam was… missing, in fact, he’d been deliberately putting it off.   His growing anxiety had caused him to snap even more than was usual at the younger children, so much so that they – including Peter, normally his faithful shadow - had been avoiding him since the evening meal, when the dining table had been dominated by an empty place setting. 

One look at his wife’s face as she marched into his office - just as he was winding up a complex telephone conversation with his agent in Australia - was enough to tell him that someone else had already informed her of the situation.

Her hand reached out to break the connection as she stared with displeasure at her husband.  He pushed her hand away and said, “Well, pursue it, Grocott, and keep me informed.  I’ll expect a report by e-mail.  I have to go, something has cropped up…”

“You’re damned right something has cropped up!  Where’s Adam?”

John hung up the phone. “Hello, Sal, nice to have you back so soon.  Nothing wrong, I hope?”

“Where is Adam?” she demanded, brushing off his embrace.

John frowned.  “He went out on his bike…”

“Yesterday - with a rucksack?”

“I didn’t know he had a rucksack with him.  I never know what he’s doing these days,” John said indignantly.  “Have you tried my parents’ house, or the Cabots’?”

“Yes… and his cell phone.  He’s not answering and no-one has seen him.  Where the Hell is he, John, and what have you done this time?”

“Me?” John protested. “I have done nothing…” Sarah’s face was an eloquent expression of disbelief.  He continued, “He’s always saying he’s old enough to make his own decisions, so I guess he’s taken off for the weekend.  It would be just like him not to say anything.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” she snapped.

The door was partially open and Eric Svenson slipped through, with a soft knock.  Although they had forged an effective working partnership, he and John still did not get on very well and there was little love lost between them. He conjectured that John suspected the nature of his feelings for Sarah, which persisted, even though she had never given any indication that she recognised them for what they were, or given him any encouragement. As he had got to know her well, he’d realised her treatment of him differed very little from her treatment of all her friends. Her devotion to her husband was total.  His one advantage was his closeness to her children and their acceptance of him as part of their family network.  John had never extended that status to him, even whilst he acknowledged his usefulness to the company. 

Therefore Eric was not surprised when John snapped, “Not now, Eric.”

“Hello, Sarah,” he said, ignoring his cousin and surprised to see her there at all. As usual, his heart was pounding so hard within his chest at the sight of her, he felt sure she must be able to hear it.

“Eric.”

Even in her anxiety she can still find the kindness to give me a quick smile, he thought, bless her….  He could see she was really worried and continuing to ignore the obvious annoyance John was exhibiting, he continued, “I have news I think you will want to hear.”

“We are busy…” John grated.

“Adam’s at my place,” Eric stated flatly, his eyes still focused on Sarah.

“What’s he doing there?” John snorted.

“Fuming, mostly.” Eric’s disparaging glance at John went unnoticed as his cousin’s attention was focussed on his wife.

“Is he all right?” she demanded, coming towards Eric, her face full of concern.

“Oh, yes, just very, very angry.  I can’t remember the last time I saw him this worked up about anything.”  Eric scratched his neck, above his immaculately laundered shirt, and tried to explain. “He turned up at about 1.30 this morning… he considered I was the least likely person he knew to insist that he come straight home.   I thought it best to let him stay – he was cold and wet and very hungry.  As far as I can tell, he’s just been riding around on his bike, so wrapped up in his anger he didn’t even think to eat anything except for a few candy bars he bought from a gas station.  He was adamant that he wasn’t going to go home - he wouldn’t even let me call you, John.  He wants to see you, Sarah.”

 “Does he know you are here now?” she asked.

Eric shook his head. “I’ve left him sleeping.  I didn’t know you were here and Adam isn’t expecting you back for several days.  Still, I thought his family ought to know where he was and that he was safe.”  He glanced at his cousin, wondering if John knew or cared about what it had cost him to go against the youngster’s wishes and decide the boy’s father had a right to know his whereabouts.  He considered the fact that Sarah was here as something of a miracle – at least Adam wouldn’t feel as if he’d been betrayed now. 

Sarah put a grateful hand on his arm. “Thank you, Eric.  What would we do without you?”

Turning to her sullen husband, she snapped, “Right - now, suppose you tell me, in words of one syllable, exactly what happened between the pair of you? Then Eric can take me over to his place and I’ll speak to Adam.”

The phone on the desk rang.  Instinctively he reached out a hand towards it, only to draw it back as his wife said coldly,

“Ignore it, John; you are already so far out on a limb, I wouldn’t push your luck….”

 

 

Chapter Three:  Boston, April 2066

 

Eric Svenson knocked on the door for the third time and said, with just a hint of annoyance in his voice, “Adz, open the door.  Adz…?” 

Silence.

“Open the door.  I’m not leaving until you do.  Adam?  Please open the door.” He knocked once more – more loudly this time.

Silence, but the sound of movement was just audible.

“Adam? Come on.   Adam? – oh, grow up!”

The key turned in the lock and Eric pushed the door open and walked through the small study room to the bedroom beyond, where his quarry had retreated.  He paused in the doorway and looked around.  There was a suitcase on the bed with an untidy pile of clothes thrown into it.   A tall, broad-shouldered man was over by the window, his back to his visitor, apparently absorbed in sorting through a drawer of underwear.

“Thank you,” Eric said.  He moved the suitcase and sat on the bed. 

“You’re welcome.”

“You’re leaving then?”

“No, I just like living out of suitcases…”

Eric sighed.  When he was in this mood, Adam was almost as unapproachable as his father. “Yeah, seems like it, from the amount of time you’ve spent away from home lately.”

“What do you want, Eric?” Adam’s tone was exasperated and barely civil.

Eric Svenson shrugged.   He wasn’t sure why he was here, except that Sarah had asked him to speak to her son and he never could refuse her anything.  

For thirty years he had nursed his hopeless passion for his cousin’s wife and because she adored her children, he did too.  He had no other family and these strong- willed, difficult people had come to mean as much to him as any he might have had of his own.  Since their grandfather had died, he had found himself dragged into their lives far more, becoming a refuge for them all, in their day, against the anger of their father.

He tried to answer Adam’s question.  “I don’t know what’s happened between you and John this time – and I don’t want to – but there is no call for you to upset your mother because of it.”

Adam half turned and lobbed two pairs of socks into the open case, but he made no comment.   Eric drew a deep breath and nodded.

“Right, it’s going to be like that is it?  The usual story - you and John have had a disagreement, so everyone else gets hurt in the fall-out.  I don’t pretend to understand the almost permanent state of war that exists between you two these days - but I do know that your mom worries about you – which seems to me a very foolish thing for such a sensible woman to do.  John isn’t easy to get along with,” - Adam snorted –“but by now you ought to have the age and experience to cope with him.”

He was gratified to see a flush suffuse the young man’s neck and cheeks. He was tired of cushioning these headstrong men from the consequences of their own inflexibility. He knew Adam to be an intelligent man, normally tolerant and easy-going, yet after a few days in John’s company the pair of them started behaving like kindergarten children.  He sighed.

 “Sarah told me you were about to change your job and leave the WAS?  I take it this new job is not with the company? I didn’t expect it would be… Look, Adz, you know your Dad always expected that when you left the WAS, it would be to join the company, don’t you?”

Adam turned and glared at him. “I never told him that – I never promised a thing.  He had no right to expect it of me.”

Eric nodded thoughtfully. “Look, I know things have been rough between you…”

“That is an understatement, Eric!” Adam asserted vehemently, adding, “Ever since I could talk I have been told I have to listen to what’s good for me… not that anyone ever asked me what I thought was good for me!   I have done all I can to reason with him… he just gets worse.  Since my grandfather died, he answers to no-one and cares even less about anyone else.” 

Eric paused for a moment.  Stefan’s death three years ago had removed the buffer zone between father and son, and, although both of them had mourned his passing, they were unable – or unwilling - to admit the depth of their loss to each other.  In fact, they had moved further apart, partly due to the fact that Stefan had - unusually for him – badly miscalculated when he left his eldest grandson a substantial percentage of his shares in SvenCorp.  Eric suspected he had hoped it would draw Adam to the family concern, but it had not.   Contentedly pursuing a successful career in the WAS, Adam still declined to accept any responsibility in SvenCorp - and John resented the fact that his father had split his inheritance.

 “Not strictly true, Adam – he answers to your mother – he always has… and you ought to remember that your mom is on your side.  Don’t exclude her from what’s happening in your life, Adz.”

“I’m not the one doing the ostracising, Eric.  My father told me to get out of his house, and I’m obeying his orders, like a good son should.”

“I’ve almost lost count of the numbers of times you’ve left this house ‘for the last time’….Good Lord, Adam; you ought to know better than to take what John says in a rage as serious!”

“Oh, he was serious.  I know him well enough, Eric.  I’ve really burnt my last bridge and I’m out in the wilderness.  You’d better not let him catch you speaking to me or you might be tarred with the same brush.”

“Like I care?  John needs me – not as much as he did, maybe, now Peter’s on the books - but he needs me and he knows it.”

Adam threw himself down on the opposite side of the bed and the floodgates to a reservoir of deeply felt personal injustice opened. “Just once, Eric – just once - I would like my father to understand why I do the things I do, why I make the choices I make, and support me in them.   I came here in good faith, to try to make him understand why I was making this career move and he refuses to listen, or to even try to understand me. I have accepted a job – a good job, a job I know I can do well - and he won’t listen to my reasons. I have a chance, a real chance to make a difference – an important difference - to things.  I’ve spent years trying to convince my father that I’m not cut out for a life in finance, but he just won’t listen.”

“Have you spoken about this to Sarah?”

 Adam shook his head.  “No, I don’t want to make things any worse between them.  If I talk to Mom, she will just have a go at him and that won’t help… besides, I am well able now to fight my own battles – even with my father – and she seems to forget that.”

“She loves you…”

“I know,” Adam cried and went back to stare from the window, “and I won’t leave without speaking to her.   She’ll know as much as I can tell her,” he conceded. “But it has to be as I’m leaving, I don’t want them fighting about me… you understand, don’t you, Eric?”

Eric shrugged. “Not really, but I am sure you’ll do what you decide is right.  Come Hell or high water, you won’t be shifted from your own way.  In some ways, you and John are not so very different, you know?”

Adam gave a rueful smile. “The only person who doesn’t see that is my father.”

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: The Hub

 

 

Chapter One:  Home is where your heart is

Cloudbase, Sunday, 20th December 2070

 

Symphony Angel collected her tray and stood in line in the officers’ canteen.  She glanced around at the diners once more, reassuring herself that her quarry was still there.  She relaxed as she noticed that Captain Magenta was still only eating his main meal and that next to his plate of something lumpy and rice, stood a dish of something else smothered in rapidly cooling custard.   Why the men on the base went for the ‘school dinners’ menu was a complete mystery to her.  She selected a pork chop and mashed potatoes, and went to join him.

“Hi, Patrick, mind if I join you?” she asked cheerfully.

He looked up with a welcoming smile. “No, of course not, Karen, be my guest.”

She put her meal down and settled herself opposite him.  “Rumour has it that you are off to New York on the early shuttle tomorrow… last minute Christmas shopping?”

Magenta smiled.  “Not exactly - I’m going to see family, but if you have any last minute commissions, I’d be happy to oblige.”

“That’s really kind of you, Pat.  For once I am more or less sorted… and as usual I am close to broke – so I better not spend any more till pay day.”

“Pay day?” he frowned. “We got paid early this month, honey, remember? Our next pay day is at the end of January.”

“Uh -huh,” she grimaced ruefully.  “Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me any less broke, Pat.”

He gave a sympathetic shrug and looked down at his plate to hide his amused smile.  He had long thought Karen Wainwright was a wonderful girl: pretty, witty, charming and intelligent.  The realisation that she was a terrible money-manager had come later. 

“Mind you,” she said with almost too casual an air, “there is something you could do for me…”

 “Sure, if I can,” he said rather apprehensively. There were strict regulations forbidding the borrowing and lending of money between Spectrum personnel – and although he was not averse to bending a few rules, he happened to agree with that one.

“A little bird told me that you have found a way to circumvent the video-phone image exclusion protocols?”  she said sweetly.

As part of the rigorous security screen that Colonel White insisted on, only the video-phone links to personal numbers that had been closely vetted by Spectrum Intelligence - usually those of the agent’s immediate family - were allowed to send an image.  The colonel was not prepared to run the risk that civilians might see something secret during the personal calls his staff were permitted to make.  It was something that many of the Cloudbase-based staff had trouble with accepting and there were constant representations to the colonel to relax his ban.

“Rhapsody promised she wouldn’t tell…” Magenta protested.  He had agreed to over-ride the protocols when Rhapsody had pleaded that her dear friend and mentor, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, had not been well recently, and she wanted to see how the grand-dame of British espionage was looking, as well as sounding, these days.

“She didn’t – exactly.  Scarlet let it slip…” Symphony admitted in the interest of protecting her friend. She pressed her attack.  “Well, I was wondering if you would show me how to do it, before you go to New York?  I have a friend who has… recently moved house and I want to see what her new place is like…”

Magenta looked at her with his intense brown eyes.  Symphony blushed; it was hard enough asking him without lying as to why she wanted to know.  Besides, she felt sure Patrick could guess the real reason.

He gave a wary sigh.  “It’s not allowed, Karen.  I shouldn’t have done it for Dianne – I certainly shouldn’t tell anyone else how to do it.”

She dropped her eyes from his and ate some food.  When she looked up again he was still gazing at her.

“No big deal, Patrick, forget I asked,” she said.

He sighed and drew his pudding towards him.  “I can show you – just once – after that you are on your own.  And if anyone finds out – it wasn’t me you asked – okay?  I have enough problems on my plate without the colonel breathing down my neck for security infringements.”

His reward for this generosity was something of a two-edged sword as her whole face lit up.  “Patrick… you are wonderful!” She reached out and squeezed his hand that lay on the table between them.

“Yeah, and I’m a first rate mug as well…”

 

They went along to his quarters and he demonstrated how to over-ride the protocols – without actually doing it.

“You’ll be safer if you do it when Green is off duty,” he advised her.  “I don’t think his deputies notice – or care – as much about internal/external private calls.  Whereabouts is your friend based?”

“East coast – USA,” she replied, committing the sequence to memory.

He gave an almost imperceptible nod, as if his suspicions had been confirmed.  “Well, check the rota on that time frame and go when Green isn’t there.”

“I will.  Thank you, Pat.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.

Captain Magenta waited until she had left before muttering, “You’re a lucky bastard, Svenson.”

 

 

The duty rotas revealed that there was only a short window of opportunity that coincided with Symphony being off duty, a reasonable hour in Boston and Lieutenant Green being out of the communication supremo’s seat in the Control Room.   She began to get ready for her impending duty, taking extra care to fix her hair and renew her make-up before she slipped into a pretty, lacy-edged V-neck top.  She looked at herself in her mirror and bit her lower lip. 

She knew that what she was proposing to do contravened the regulations and that she really had no justification for doing it – at least not one that Colonel White would listen to – except her overwhelming sense of insecurity and need to see and speak to him again.

Him’ was Adam Svenson, of course – codenamed Captain Blue – one of the senior colour captains on board Spectrum’s command centre of Cloudbase.  Along with his friend Paul Metcalfe – Captain Scarlet – he was a vital lynch-pin in the constant fight they were engaged in against the alien Mysterons.  

He was also the man she was in love with.

Karen sighed and flicked through her private address book to find the home-number he had given her.  He was fond of her, she had no doubt about that – but they had parted in the middle of one of the periodic ‘disagreements’ that had peppered their turbulent relationship since its inception and - as he was going straight to Australia after his holiday – she didn’t want the estrangement to drag on….

It had started after the ‘misadventure’ of the antique golden torque that had caused confrontations throughout the senior command, but, most noticeably between Captain Scarlet and his partner - and closest friend – Captain Blue.  After Scarlet had made a physical attack on Blue, Colonel White had decided to split them up for a time – and he had designated Blue as the lead instructor for a new team of standby pilots for the Angel flight based on Cloudbase, and ordered him to go to Koala Base in Australia in the New Year to carry out this duty.  The Angel pilots were all young women, as were their standbys, and her damned jealousy – that gnawing insecurity that dogged her life - had led her to accuse him of wanting to leave her, especially when he had announced that he was going to spend Christmas at home, in Boston.   She had seen red and they had had another vituperative argument. Normally such ‘estrangements’ lasted a matter of days, but Adam had left for a fortnight’s leave the next day and now, a week later, she was desperate to patch it up and gain reassurance that he wasn’t holding a grudge against her.

She laid the book; open at the right page, before the video phone keyboard and, calling up the memory of what Patrick had showed her, she started to enter data.  The machine flickered on and then presented her with a menu.  She carefully selected the options and breathed a sigh of relief as the symbol for a vision-call came up on the screen.  She entered the number and waited; still uncertain that Cloudbase’s protocols wouldn’t spot the error and over-ride the instructions.  The screen flickered and the dialling-symbol flashed.

There was a bleeping noise which was quickly answered by an olive-skinned woman. “The Svenson residence. How may I help you?”  she asked in an Hispanic accent.

            Symphony smiled brightly. “I would like to speak to Mr Svenson, please, Mr Adam Svenson, that is.”

            “Whom may I say is calling?”

            “Karen. Karen Wainwright.”

            “Please hold ,Ms Wainwright, I will try to connect you, but I don’t know where Mr Adam is at present.”

            “Thanks.” She curled her lip. “Gee, talk about grand!” she muttered to herself.

            “May I help you?”  This time the screen showed a woman with light brown hair and sharp grey eyes set in a clear skinned, fine-boned face.  Symphony recognised her at once. Sarah Svenson was much as she remembered her from the time when she and Rhapsody Angel had met her and Captain Scarlet’s mother, after they had unwittingly become embroiled in a Spectrum mission.

            “Oh, hello, Mrs. Svenson - I don’t know if you remember me - but I wanted to talk to Adam...” she babbled.

            Sarah Svenson beamed at her. “Not remember you?  Well, of course I do…hello, Karen dear, how nice to speak to you again!  You’ll want Adam, of course. He was here a moment ago...”  She turned from the screen and called, “David, where’s Adam?  There’s an important call for him.”

            Another face swam into focus beside Sarah’s; it bore a marked resemblance to Captain Blue. “He went upstairs. Can I help you?”  He examined her with great interest.

“Of course you can’t help… she wants Adam – not you,” Sarah admonished. “Don’t be so nosy and go and fetch your brother. Honestly, the men around here are sadly lacking in common sense.  How are you, my dear?  You’re looking very pretty today. I hope we’ll see you here before too long.   I’ve been telling Adam he ought to arrange it but he keeps saying it’s not as easy as I think to arrange time off – for both of you, together – and I hope you don’t think it’s because we haven’t asked you – and thank you so much for your beautiful Christmas card – I sent one through Adam, I hope he passed it on?”

“Oh yes, he did – thank you – and thank you for the present as well.  I haven’t opened it yet, of course.”

Sarah beamed; she had the same radiant smile as her eldest son. “Oh, you are welcome, my dear.  It isn’t much – just a little something I saw and thought you might appreciate… Davy, why haven’t you fetched Adam yet?  I sometimes think I might as well talk to a brick wall, for all the notice anyone takes of me.  I am sure Karen is too busy to have time to waste talking to me… ”

            “Why would she want to waste her time talking to Adz?” the youngest Svenson responded immediately, laughing at his mother’s outraged expression.   “Okay, okay, I’m fetching him – right now….” David gave a bright smile, which emphasised the resemblance to his brother.  He moved away and they heard him yelling, “Adam: video-phone call for you!  A female – and a very pretty one! Move your ass!”  He came back to the screen. “That should do it,” he grinned.

            “I said fetch him – not yell the house down!  I could’ve bawled up the stairs myself,” Sarah reprimanded him. “See what I have to put up with, Karen?  They’re all the same.” She glanced at the younger woman conspiratorially.

            There was a delay, during which Sarah kept up a chatter of inconsequential small talk, without apparently expecting an answer or - Symphony thought – seeming to draw breath. Then Adam's familiar voice, with an uncharacteristically broad Boston twang to it, drawled, “What are you bleating about, Davy? This had better be important, we’re gonna be late enough as it is… I thought Kitty was anxious to make a good impression, but she’s still messing about in her bedroom...”

            Another female for you - very pretty one too. How do you keep track of them all, Bro? Besides, Melissa will forgive you, be you ever so late - she always does.”

            “Here he is,” Sarah said brightly and dragged her younger son away.  Karen could just hear her continued admonishment of him, as Adam moved into focus and peered crossly at the screen.   His frown vanished at the sight of her and he gave her a brilliant smile.  “Karen!  Well, hi! You are a welcome sight…I was just getting ready to go out for the evening – no peace for the wicked as they say…”

            Although her heart lifted at the mere sight of him, she couldn’t stop her first words being: “Who’s Melissa?”  She could have cursed when her tone was sharper than she intended.  Not much use in my pretending to be indifferent to what he’s up to now… she sighed.

            To her surprise he looked taken aback. “Melissa Tyrrell is my godmother’s daughter and I’m taking her to dinner.  I have known her since we were kids.” There was an audible guffaw of laughter from David. “Shut up, Davy,” he snapped over his shoulder at his youngest brother. He angled the screen as far away from the others as it would go.

            Symphony pursed her lips. “Sounds like a serious date.”

            “We go out every time I come home. It’s not really a date – as such,” he reassured her. “Why did you call and where are you?”

            “On base.” She ignored the obvious implied request for an explanation as to how she was able to call through on the video-link.  “I just wanted to wish you a happy Christmas - from everyone here.   I’m about to start working  double shifts, because I have managed to get a forty-eight hour pass to go and see my Mom… and then I’m on double-duty again.” Her expression remained guarded. 

            “Well, thank you.  That was kind.  How’s… everyone?”

            “Fine.  You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

            “Yeah.” He was suddenly cautious. “For a visit home it’s gone okay, for a change; but then, I only got back from skiing in the Berkshires in time for the fancy dress ball, and I can hardly believe I’ll be leaving for Australia at the end of next week.”  His voice dropped. “I have missed you - all.”

            “Not that much it seems, with all these females calling you all the time!” In her desperation not to show her delight at his admission she remained stern towards him.

            “You don’t want to pay attention to Davy - he’s a menace.” Adam glared towards his youngest brother with an expression that promised retribution.

            “Did you enjoy the party?” she asked, fairly stiffly.

“Yeah, rather more than I thought I would.”

“What did you go as in the end?”

“Well, the theme was ‘heroes and villains’ – Mom went as Lucrezia Borgia and she looked fantastic, as always.  My sister went as Wonder Woman – and she looked …” he sighed, “well, let’s just say - she was very popular.”

“And you?”

He grinned. “I found an old costume I’d worn before – didn’t have much chance to get anything new sorted. I went as someone from International Rescue… in one of those blue uniforms, with a pale lilac sash; you know the kind I mean?  Actually, it was lucky I had my uniform boots with me – I had forgotten just how uncomfortable the boots for that costume were.   I had to change them half way through the evening.  I don’t think anyone noticed.” He smiled at the screen.  Symphony was laughing at him, her suspicions forgotten at the mental image of him in an unfamiliar uniform. “What was really funny was that were a couple of Spectrum look-alikes there too…” he added quietly.

“What colours?” she asked, still amused by his story.

“Oh, I don’t like to say,” he teased.  “I wouldn’t want Paul to get a swollen head, now would I?”

Symphony gave a chortle of laughter.

            “Adam, aren’t you ready yet?  We’ll be late!” The woman’s voice was peremptory and rapidly getting closer. 

            “I’m on the phone, Katz.”

            “Katz?”

            “My sister – Katherine, okay? Jeez, you have a suspicious mind, girl.” He couldn’t repress a smile, absurdly flattered at her poorly concealed jealousy.

            Over his shoulder, Symphony saw a stunning blonde approaching the video-screen. She looked taller than the Angel pilot and her long, blonde hair was wound into an intricate and attractive style.  Her make-up was immaculate and she was wearing an expensive dress that emphasised every curve of her – undoubtedly shapely – body. Suddenly, Symphony understood why he’d said his sister was ‘popular’ in the skimpy Wonder Woman costume.

 “Hello,” Katherine Svenson said briskly. “We’re just off out to dinner and we’ll be ever so late, so, please, can you make it quick?”

            Adam was furious. “Go away! What does a guy have to do for some privacy around here?  I am sorry, Karen, ignore her.”

            “I have a date with someone I want to impress even if you are only dragging Melissa along, again.  Please, Adz!”  Katherine moaned.

            Karen chuckled, as much at her own behaviour as at Katherine’s. “It seems like I called at a bad time, I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for being so suspicious, too. Besides, I have to go, myself.  I am about to start my first double-duty shift in a few minutes.  Go and have a good time, Adam, and Happy Christmas!”

            “Thanks, älskling.  I wish you the same – and please, give my warmest regards to your mother.   With a little luck, I might get to see you next week, at least, en-route?  I miss you – all of you….”

            Her heart thumped as the expression on his face told her far more than his words ever would – especially given the attentive audience he had.  It seemed that he was as eager to bury their quarrel as she was.   She replied with a wink, “You too, bye for now.”

            “Bye.” 

The screen went dead.

She sat smiling to herself as she relived the conversation in her head, knowing that she had done the right thing in calling him – even if she did get into trouble for doing so.   Beside her a small alarm sounded, jolting her back to reality and the fact that she had to get on duty in a matter of minutes.  She whipped off her pretty top, and pulled the roll-neck sweater over her head, fastening the leather jacket as she made her way to the Amber Room. 

She was barely three minutes late, but Destiny was anxious to leave and was already out of the door before Cloudbase was rocked by a loud, expressionless voice over the P.A. system.

            “THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS...”

            “Oh great...” Melody Angel breathed.   The other Angels came to a standstill to listen.

            “WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN.  WE WILL CONTINUE OUR WAR OF NERVES IN RETALIATION FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX.  YOUR WHEELS OF COMMERCE SHALL CEASE TO TURN WHEN THE HUB IS DESTROYED!”

            “Huh?”

 

~oo0oo~

 

            Colonel White sat in the revolving chair in the centre of the Conference Room table and looked at his senior officers.

            “Any thoughts on exactly what they are threatening this time, gentlemen?”  Symphony coughed. “And lady,” the colonel added smoothly.

            “Wheels of commerce...  something financial?  They have a penchant for trying to bugger about with the World economy,” Captain Scarlet mused.

            Captain Ochre sniggered. “Translation, please?”

            Scarlet frowned at him. “Use your imagination, Captain.  The Hub...hmm, London - the stock exchanges - Wall Street?  They could be said to be the ‘hub’ of the economic wheel.”

            “Boston,” Symphony said unexpectedly. “They call that The Hub.”

            “It isn’t exactly the centre of financial activity,” Captain Grey said.

            Symphony shrugged. “I thought we were just brain-storming,” she explained.

            The colonel gave her a sharp glance and said, “You could have a point, Symphony.  It is not widely known, but the finance for a good deal of the construction of Spectrum’s technical hardware was handled by a Boston firm.  The sections for Cloudbase were put together in Sweden, as you may know, but the money was dealt with in Boston.”

            “By a firm with Scandinavian connections, by any chance?” Scarlet asked pointedly. “SvenCorp?” he suggested.

            “Precisely.” Colonel White inclined his head towards the younger man.

            “Captain Blue’s father’s company?” Symphony gasped.

            “Indeed, Symphony, the very same.  You may not be aware that your salary is ultimately paid from accounts the World Government holds at SvenCorp,” the colonel continued. “The World Government wanted a firm, large and respected enough, to handle the sums involved, yet outside of the main commercial institutions, where too much information might be available to far too many prying eyes.  It was decided that a company which was privately owned, would offer a far more secure base – and, of the remaining privately owned financial institutions, it was decided that SvenCorp could provide the most appropriate service.  It no doubt helped, that one of John Svenson’s father’s long-term business partners was the former World Senator Robert Harlington, and the company had experience of handling sensitive Government projects from previous commissions.   There were protocols already in existence for contacts between the World Government and SvenCorp, and Harlington’s name was used as an introduction to set up the facilities through SvenCorp and their clearing bank, the Hudson Guaranty Trust of New York.  I have to say, SvenCorp has done us proud; we make a good return on their investments on our behalf.  If the Mysterons attacked the finance house, you could say Spectrum’s wheels of commerce would cease.”

            “Then they are threatening Boston?” Ochre said. “The Hub will be destroyed.”

            “That could also include Atlantic airport - the WAS base - couldn’t it? - where Spectrum’s planes are delivered and collected.  It has to be one of the busiest airports on the eastern seaboard, quite apart from the civilian freight traffic through there,” Grey added.

            “It would seem a distinct possibility.  However, we ought to make sure we cover all options, which means we had better not ignore the other financial centres.”  The colonel spun around and punched a few buttons on his console.  The screens flickered on and he punched a map of North America, narrowing it down to the north east and then to a conglomerate of streets.  He spoke to Lieutenant Green: “Please display the current whereabouts of Captain Blue, Lieutenant.”

            “Yes sir, his personal tracker is registering, but he may not have it with him.”

            “I am aware of that, just show me.”

            There was a flashing light in the centre of the street map. The colonel homed in and punched more buttons. “Hmm, it says here, The Spinnaker Club.”

            “What is that, exactly?” Scarlet asked.

            The colonel read from the screen on his console.  “A nightclub, apparently,” he said in a tone of voice which suggested that if Captain Blue had decided to spend the evening down a sewer, he would have been less surprised. He spun his chair around to face Scarlet.  “You had better get there, Captain; collect Captain Blue from his... nightclubbing, and see what you can do to stop this threat from materialising. Captain Magenta is already in New York, so he can organise things there - I’ll send him to the Hudson when they open on Monday.  Captain Grey and Captain Ochre - London and Tokyo for now, but be prepared to leave for America, if necessary.”

            “SIG,” the captains chorused.

            Symphony spoke louder than she intended.  “And what about the Angels, sir, surely we can help?”

            Colonel White looked at her with only the slightest of smiles. “Yes indeed.  I want the Angels on standby-alert, ready to provide any back-up needed at any of the primary mission sites. But you, Symphony, I would like you to accompany Captain Scarlet, as I think you had better go undercover, Captain.   We do not wish to completely destroy Captain Blue’s cover with his friends, do we?  A little female company should help dispel any doubts about your purpose there.”

            Despite her dismay at being described almost as window dressing for the mission, Symphony stood up with alacrity. “Yes, sir,” she said.

            Colonel White glanced at her as she moved across to join Captain Scarlet.  “I have a feeling this ought to be right up your street, Symphony.   Your experience dealing with industrial espionage in the USS, should make dealing with SvenCorp that much easier. Knowing what I do about John Svenson and his company, I think we may have trouble getting their co-operation.  I want you to work closely with Captain Blue, of course, on this case – he may be our only way of getting into the company to check their security.”

            As they left the room, Captain Scarlet said, “We will be working, remember, we are not going there to party.”

            “Of course, I know that.”  Symphony gave him a sharp glance.  He acknowledged his error with an apologetic smile. “But I shall still take the opportunity to show Melissa Tyrrell she has competition…” she added to herself as she peeled off and hurried to her quarters to fetch the necessary ‘camouflage’ for the mission.

           

~oo0oo~

 

            The Spinnaker Club was hot and incredibly noisy.  It was the most popular night club with the rich and famous in Boston.  There were always paparazzi waiting for the patrons to come and go, and occasionally, one got through the tight security cordon and took pictures inside. It was not one of Adam‘s favourite places, but Kitty had insisted they go on there from their restaurant and he wasn‘t prepared to argue.   He was currently perched on a high bar-stool alongside of Melissa Tyrrell, watching Kate and her date - a lanky young man with spiky hair - prance about the crowded dance floor. 

It was too noisy for conversation and he was getting bored as, he sensed, was his companion.

            He turned to her. “You wanna go?  I don’t think I can stand much more of this.”

            She shook her head, and cupped a hand to her ear, indicating that she couldn’t hear a word.  He bellowed the message again, just as the music subsided into a smoochy number.

            Melissa laughed. “Poor Adz, you are having a wretched time, aren’t you?”

            He shrugged. “I can do without this.” His hand swept across the crowded room.   “But if you want to stay, it’s okay with me.  I thought you were looking a bit bored, that’s all.”

            “Perhaps we should dance?” Melissa said hesitantly.

            “Would you like to?”

            “With you? Yes.”

            He stood and offered his hand to her.  She slipped off the stool. He took her in his arms and, with a practised ease, moved her slowly across to the dance floor and into a circle, to the accompaniment of soaring guitar riffs.

 

~oo0oo~

 

On reaching Atlantic airport close to Boston, Scarlet ordered an undercover car from the Boston base and then they changed into their civilian clothes.

Captain Scarlet was fond of Symphony – they had a lot in common in some ways – but he always thought of her as almost ‘one of the boys’.  She and Melody Angel were rather tomboyish, in contrast to the ladylike Rhapsody, the utterly feminine Destiny and the gentle-mannered Harmony Angels.  Off duty she mostly wore jeans or trousers, and although he had seen her in a dress, it wasn’t often. Now, when she emerged from the ladies’ locker room, wearing a style of dress that he knew - from conversations with Rhapsody - was the height of fashionable chic, he stared at her in amazement.

The dress had a plunging neckline and a tight skirt that was longer on one side than the other, with a slit allowing a glimpse of her long and – very shapely - leg.  It was a rich midnight-blue in colour, with silver beading on the shoulders and at the fitted waist.  The high-heeled shoes she was wearing matched the elegant clutch bag she held and she had arranged her hair in a rather fetching style around her ears, which sported dainty earrings.  Scarlet admitted to himself - with some rather unflattering surprise – that she looked fantastic. 

He had merely donned the well-tailored jacket Dianne had bought him for his recent birthday, over a pair of dark trousers and an open-necked white shirt and consequently he felt decidedly under-dressed.

            “Do I look all right?” she asked a little hesitantly in the face of his stupefied expression. She was carrying the fur-coat that she had received from the fashion-designer André Verdain, at the end of a mission. She waited for his response before starting to put it on.

“Oh, yeah…. you look... great, Karen.  Isn’t that a little grand for a disco?”

“I did some checking before we left Cloudbase.  The Spinnaker club is the most fashionable place – if you’re not worth a fortune you can’t even get in.”

“What about me?” he asked.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter so much for men… and this is all in the name of our cover story,” she assured him. 

 

            They finally did manage to gain access to the club, after a long discussion with the doorman, during which Paul had had to resort to dropping the fact that they were close personal friends of Adam Svenson; which had annoyed him, and amused Karen no end.  Now they stood near the entrance, peering through the gloom at the throng of noisy, excited people.

             “Can you see him?” he asked, trusting her to latch onto Adam’s pheromones far quicker than he could spot him on the crowded dance-floor.

            “Yes.” She pointed. “He’s there, dancing with that woman.”

            Scarlet looked at her. “Symphony, behave.  We are on duty.” 

            They watched the couple dancing until the music changed to a loud, heavy-metal classic.  Then, as Adam led Melissa back to their stools, they moved forward and he saw them.

            “Karen! Paul! What are you doing here?” he called in unfeigned astonishment. He looked at Karen with an expression of pure delight on his face.  She responded, held out a hand to him and he took it, drawing her closer to him.  Neither spoke, lost in the contemplation of each other’s eyes.

            “Hello, Adam.  Just the man I need to talk to,” Paul said with a meaningful glance, as the silence went on just a second too long.

            “Won’t you introduce your friends, Adam?” Melissa asked.  Karen dropped his hand and turned to the other woman.

            Adam snapped out of his surprise and became all business-like again. “Of course; this is Paul Metcalfe and Karen Wainwright.  Miss Melissa Tyrrell.” She was taller and broader than Symphony, with wavy, rich-brown hair and an attractive face.  Her brown eyes sparkled with some private amusement.  

            Paul reached to shake her hand.  “How do you do, Miss Tyrrell.” She’s pretty enough, he thought, but I don’t see what Karen has to worry about. Not that logic will play any part in this, of course…

            “Oh, you are English! How delightful.” She turned to Karen. “And are you English too, Miss Wainwright?”

            “No, American.”

            “Adam, a word with you, please - if you will excuse us, Miss Tyrrell?”

            “Call me Melissa, please, and by all means.”

            Paul smiled his thanks and took Adam aside to relate the details of the Mysteron threat.

            The women stood together in silence, as the men conversed, moving away all the time. Melissa smiled at Karen. “Have you known Adam long?” she asked.

            “About three years, and you?”

            “Oh, it must be more than thirty - we grew up together.  My mother is his godmother. He’s like a kind of honorary brother to my sister and me.”

            “Oh, right.” Karen was unconvinced. “So, is this the kind of place that he would bring his sister to?”

            “Absolutely.  She’s over there, with Martin van Heuson,” Melissa pointed. Karen followed the direction of her hand and saw Katherine Svenson dancing energetically with a young man.  She had the grace to glance apologetically at Melissa.  The older woman smiled.  “Really, Miss Wainwright, you have nothing to fear from me.”

            “I’m sorry?” Karen was indignant.

            “Oh, come now, I am not blind and I have rarely seen such a mix of embarrassment and… delight on Adam’s face.”

            Karen blushed. “You are mistaken, Miss Tyrrell.”

            “Rarely, when it comes to Adz Svenson.”

            “Adz?” She recognised having heard David use the name earlier that evening.

            “He’s never liked the more usual nicknames for Adam.”

            “I know that much, at least,” Karen smiled, remembering his thunderous face when Ochre had teasingly called him ‘Addy’ once - and once only. “We mostly just call him Adam.”

            “Peter called him Adz when he was little and it kinda stuck.”

            Karen found herself warming to this woman, who might just be able to tell her more about her boyfriend than he ever would himself. “We share a love of flying and sometimes I call him Sky, but only when no-one’s listening… he doesn’t like that much either,” she confessed shyly.  She couldn’t explain why, of course, and Melissa Tyrrell couldn’t know about the pale sky-blue uniform.

            To her surprise, Melissa nodded. “Yes,” she said gazing towards the alcove where Adam and Paul were deep in conversation. “Sometimes it can seem as if the sun itself shines out of those blue eyes…”   

            Karen gave her companion a look of sudden understanding.  Maybe Melissa did not pose her a threat but that was not the way she wanted it to be.  They waited in silence until the men re-joined them. 

            Adam took Melissa's hand.  “Lissa, I am afraid I have to go, something has come up, something urgent.  I need to speak to my father.   Marty can take Kate home when they’re ready, but do you mind, hon, if I take you home now?”

            She saw the concern on his face and made no argument. “Just put me in a cab.”

            “I couldn’t do that.  I’ll take you home.”

            “Adz, a cab is fine. Besides, you don’t want to make Miss Wainwright jealous,” she added sotto voce as she slipped past him and walked to the cloakroom to fetch her coat. He watched her go, blushing violently.

            “What’s wrong with her leg?” Scarlet asked. It was impossible not to notice that she walked with a limp.

            “I broke her knee,” Adam said bleakly.

            “What?”

            “We were tobogganing and I crashed the toboggan.”

            “When?” Scarlet asked.

            “I was about twelve,” Adam explained. “I’ve felt responsible ever since, but Lissa never mentions it.  She’s always been great about it.”

            Karen realised, that explains the regular dates, what we have here is a guilty conscience… Aloud she said, “It was an accident, surely you weren’t to blame.”    

“Yes I was, but it wasn’t me that suffered as the result.”  He gave her a rather rueful smile. “I’m a real Jonah, you know.”

            “Yes, so I have always thought!” Scarlet laughed. “After all, you’re always around when I cop it!”

            Adam gave him a forbearing glance and darted towards his sister who had just come into their vicinity.  She glared at him as he stopped her dancing, listened to him and then waved him away, indifferent to his plans.  Adam came back and shrugged – he had done what he could.  When Melissa returned, they went through the exit, to the accompaniment of flash-bulbs as the cameras fired off.

            “I hope you are not wearing one of the ‘photo-foggers’, or it’ll cause a stir when they develop those and I don’t want to have to think of a reason why I’m in the presence of Spectrum agents…” Adam remarked quietly to Paul.  His friend shook his dark head.  Spectrum officers on duty were routinely issued with a small device designed to make any photographs taken of them appear indecipherable.  It was part of the thorough precautions Spectrum took to prevent the identity of their agents leaking out into the public domain.  Despite complaints from newspapers and TV stations, Colonel White insisted on its continued use, by all of his senior Cloudbase officers.  He was only too aware of the potential damage to be done by a cult of personality amongst the general public. 

            Karen and Paul collected their tote-bags from the car, while Adam found Melissa a cab, and then watched as he installed her in it, with instructions and cash to cover the fare.  He kissed her cheek and waved her off, before joining the others.

            “Right, let’s get back home.” He glanced at his watch. “Dad should be there by now.”

            “You're joking,” Karen said.

            “I really wish I was.”

 

Adam’s top of the range, pale metallic-green convertible scrunched up the driveway of the family home, on the outskirts of Boston.  The fascia of the large, modern house was ablaze with thousands of white lights, which extended down the drive to the electronically opened, wrought-iron security gates.  Bushes, shrubs and trees across the spacious garden had lights woven through their branches, making the compacted snow on the ground sparkle.  Scarlet remembered Adam telling him, before he had left Cloudbase, that his family always decorated their home with lights, on December 13th – St Lucia’s Day – as a nodding acknowledgement of their Scandinavian ancestry.

Adam drove round to the side of the house and slithered to a halt before a large brick building.  He flicked a switch on his dashboard and the doors to the extensive garage opened silently.  He drove in and parked his car between his father’s black limo and his mother’s bright yellow, two-seater, sports car.  He keyed in the code numbers to open the security door to the main house, and Symphony and Scarlet followed him as he strode through a utility room and up a flight of stairs into the open plan hallway.  At the far end, stood an enormous Christmas tree, decorated with more lights and streamers.  Nestled around the base was a gaudy selection of parcels, piled erratically one on the other.

There was a narrow strip of light showing beneath a door on the right and the faint noise of a TV set, with muffled laughter.  Adam headed that way, the others following at some distance. He opened the door and stood in the doorway.

            “Hello, Babes, did you have a good evening?” Karen instantly recognised his mother’s voice.

            “Yeah, fine, Mom.  I met a couple of friends, they’re visiting Boston and I invited them to stay.  I hope that’s okay with you?”

            “Well,” Sarah sighed, “I do appreciate a little notice, but if you have already said they can, well, of course....”

            “Thanks, Mom, I knew you wouldn’t mind.”          

            “That’s not what she said.” The man’s voice was deeper than Adam’s and hard edged.

            “No, but it is what she meant.  Dad, I need to talk to you - urgently.”

            “I am watching the TV - at least I was. Can’t it wait?”

            “If I said it was business, would that help you decide?” Adam asked sharply.

            “Your business or mine?”

            “Yours. And mine, as it happens.” He disappeared into the room.

            “How many friends?” his mother asked.

            “Just two – don’t worry about it - I’ll sort it out, leave it all to me.  I’ll sort it when we’ve spoken to Dad.”

            “The royal ‘we’?” his father asked scornfully.

            “No, Scarlet, Symphony and I need to talk to you.”  Obviously this wasn’t incentive enough, and Karen heard the beginning of irritation in Adam’s voice as he continued, “About the RCF accounts.”

            “What do you know about those?  They are highly confidential.  Have you been snooping around my office?” He had John Svenson’s full attention now.

            “I haven’t set foot in the building since I arrived!  I need to talk to you and I need to do it now.”

            Sarah’s voice cut across the bickering of her men-folk. “Symphony? Did you say Symphony… and Scarlet?  Oh, Adam – have you left them in the hallway?  For goodness sake, where are your manners…?”

            The Spectrum officers exchanged glances of wry amusement.  They had both met Sarah Svenson before and had a good idea of what to expect.

            Symphony smiled as Sarah came out into the hall and opened her arms to the pair of them.  “Karen, my dear girl!  What a lovely surprise…and don’t you look so very pretty in that dress? Such a wonderful colour, my dear…” She hugged the Angel pilot and then turned to kiss Scarlet’s cheek.  “And Paul, how nice to see you again… I had a lovely chat with your mother, just yesterday… I really must get over to see her soon – it’s just that I get so busy around Christmas….  Your father has a bad cold, it seems, and poor Mary was at her wits’ end with him… men always make such bad patients…  It was very naughty of you, not to drop me a hint that you were coming – but I’ll forgive you, now you are both here… you know, when we spoke earlier, Karen, I meant to say…”

            “Mrs Svenson,” Symphony interrupted, she really didn’t want the fact that she had called Boston mentioned, “we are actually here… on business.” She smiled pleadingly at Adam’s mother. 

Sarah Svenson’s face grew serious.  “I hope you are not going to take Adam away?   He hasn’t had a Christmas at home for years now…”

“No, Mrs Svenson, I’m afraid the problem is here – in Boston,” Scarlet explained hesitantly. It was hard enough to get a word in when Sarah was in full flow – never mind gauging what to tell her.

Surprisingly, Sarah nodded briskly.  “But you cannot say any more about it, I suppose?  Of course, I quite understand.  And – whatever this is - you need John’s co-operation?” They nodded. “Very well, you shall have it.” She pursed her lips and sighed.   “There was I telling Adam off for forgetting his manners, and here I am doing exactly the same!  Can I get you anything?  Something to eat, Paul?  Or a drink?  No?  You are sure?” She smiled and glanced back to the room where two voices could be heard ‘discussing’ things in loud whispers.  “One moment…”

She went to the doorway and said firmly, “John, please, these young people have come a long way to ask for your help. I am sure they won’t be wasting their time – or yours.   They must have a good reason.”

John Svenson’s deep voice rumbled a reply and moments later Adam appeared at his mother’s side.  He laid a grateful hand on her arm and waved his friends across the hall, towards a door set back from the stairway. 

Behind him, they saw another man appear, also tall and fair.  Although they had never met him, they recognised John Svenson.    As a prominent financier and business guru, his picture was a common sight in the financial newspapers, and his opinion was eagerly sought on almost every money matter that made the news. Not that he often gave it.  A few years older than his wife, he was handsome in an austere way; his fair hair had turned to distinguished silver, his blue eyes were icy-pale beneath his glowering brows.  He was not much shorter than his son, and although he was not as solidly built as Adam, it was quite possible, Karen mused, as he pushed past her, to envisage how Adam would look in his late fifties, so similar were they.

Hopefully, she thought, Adam won’t be such a misogynist as his father always seems to be…

Sarah Svenson watched from the doorway as her husband led the way to his office.  Momentarily, she wondered if she should follow them, but decided not to.  If this was Spectrum business, she had no place there.  She turned and went back to the TV, staring for fully five minutes, before she realised she wasn’t watching and turned it off. She went to stare across the hall, wondering just what was happening behind the heavy wooden door of the office…

 

Karen trailed after the three men and sighed heavily as Adam closed the door behind her and ushered her to a chair.

            “Dad, may I introduce Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel - my father, John Svenson.  Paul and Karen are here because Spectrum has received a threat that may pertain to your company and the accounts it deals with.”

            “Spectrum, eh?” John Svenson studied the couple sitting before him, as if they were unsuitable candidates for a junior position in his company. “I thought you all wore those Ruritanian uniforms all the time and only used ‘codenames’.  At least, so Adam tells me.”

            “We are not in uniform, sir,” Paul began, “simply because we did not want to draw attention to ourselves, nor jeopardise Captain Blue's cover amongst his friends.  It will take a matter of minutes to remedy that situation, if you would prefer.”

            “No,” John growled. “And I don’t want Adam’s mother any more concerned than she already is. And please, Captain Scarlet - or whatever you are called - while you are here, his name is Adam, not Captain Blue, or any other colour you may have in mind!”

            “As you wish, Mr Svenson.  If I may just inform you, that any official confirmation you may require, regarding our visit, will need to refer to our codenames and not our own.”

            “Yes, I understand.  Adam has explained that - to his own satisfaction, if no-one else's - countless times.” John glared up from his desk and asked his son, “Now, you were talking about the RCF Accounts. Explain yourself, boy.”

            “Perhaps, I could?” Paul began.

            “No, Captain, I had rather you didn’t,” John responded. “Adam, what the hell’s going on?”

            “What do you know about the RCF accounts, Dad?”

            “A darn sight more than you should. They are World Government money, which we invest and administer on the WG’s behalf.”

            “There has been a threat; from a ... terrorist group calling themselves the Mysterons, referring to the wheels of commerce ceasing to turn, when the Hub is destroyed,” Adam began.

            “Drivel,” said John sourly. “What does that mean?”

            Karen had had enough of this. She could feel a mounting irritation at her relegation to an incidental participant in this masculine triumvirate. She cut across Scarlet’s opening words to say, “We believe it refers to your company, because SvenCorp, and the Hudson Guaranty Trust, manage a large proportion of the money the World Government has designated for funding Spectrum.  This is held in the Rainbow Corporation Funds – known, to you, as the RCF accounts. It is possible that they will attempt to subvert the account in some way, thus affecting Spectrum’s ability to perform its duties – and that cannot be allowed to happen.”

            “Spectrum?  I fund-manage for Spectrum?” John was incredulous; he looked across at his son. “Well, that is a turn up,” he added coldly.

             Karen continued. “There is also a possibility that they intend to destroy your offices, which would devastate a large part of downtown Boston.   So, it seemed prudent to send Captain Scarlet and myself here to assist Capt.... I mean, Adam, in attempting to avert whatever they had in mind – whether it was a physical attack on the fabric of your company or a more subtle undermining of the finance that secures our organisation.”

            “How would you avert this ‘assumed’ attack?” Svenson asked, looking properly for the first time at the young woman he had rashly dismissed as ‘eye-candy’. He liked what he saw and was impressed by her air of competence.

            Karen returned the older man’s gaze with equanimity. “We will need access to your offices and the computers, to start with.”

            “Impossible.  I am not letting multi-coloured policemen and musical cherubs invade my offices. The confidentiality and security of my business is paramount to the confidence my clients have in the company.  Our systems are constantly monitored and upgraded, we have the best computer security money can buy.  No-one can infiltrate the business that way.  There is no need for you to have access, young lady.”

            “No computers are tamper-proof,” Scarlet insisted.

            “Well, mine are. Lord knows, I pay those computer geeks enough to make sure they are secure.”

            “I know someone who could hack the system,” Karen said quietly with a smile. “Two guys actually.”

            “Rubbish.”

            Karen snapped her fingers at Adam and pointed at the phone.  Suppressing a grin, he handed it over and she punched in a mobile phone number.  Adam took it back and set it on the desk, pressing the conference mode as he did so.

            “Hello,” an annoyed voice responded sleepily. “Who is it?”

            “Patrick,” said Karen silkily, “did I wake you? I am so sorry, but I need a…teensy favour.”

            “Karen?  What are you on about?”

            “Do you have your trusty laptop to hand, Pat?”

            “Never travel without it. Why?”

            “I need you to hack SvenCorp for me...”

            “What?! You are crazy! I thought we were trying to stop that from happening?  Anyway, last time I did something like that, I almost got put away...”

            Adam intervened, seeing his father's patience beginning to ebb. “Magenta, it’s Captain Blue.”

            “Hiya, Blue, are you there with Symphony?  Some guys get all the luck.”

            “Yes, and Scarlet and Mr. John Svenson from SvenCorp.  We need to demonstrate to Mr Svenson that his computer security is not infallible. So, can you hack their system?”

            Magenta demurred. “Certainly I could, given time. It would be easier through a more open intermediary with public access, which I’m guessing the finance house doesn’t have.”

            “So, if you could access… a Hudson account, that had a SvenCorp connection, would that help? Can you use that to break into the SvenCorp computers?” Adam persisted.

            “Sure.  It might take a time to get into the Hudson, but if they deal with SvenCorp, I could trace it.” Magenta suddenly got cautious. “I need a mission code, though, I’m not putting my neck in the noose for you two without one.”

            “It’s all right, Magenta, we are on the level,” Scarlet reassured him. “And it is just to demonstrate to Mr Svenson that the threat is a real one.  The mission code is Viking.”

            Adam let out a snort of laughter and rolled his eyes at that one.

            “Lieutenant Green’s sense of humour, I guess,” Karen grinned as Magenta, still grumbling, began to comply with their request.

            “Pat, if you use my HGT account, will that speed things up?” Adam asked, still smirking.

            “Yeah, much. So fire away, buddy. I’m through to their net banking service.”

            “27712846319….” They could hear the tapping of a keyboard. “Password – music – with a 1 in place of the I” Adam said as the tapping stopped, adding, “PIN - 841411.”

            There was more tapping of keys.

 “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” Magenta carolled, irrepressibly.  ”Yes, indeed....  841… what was it?  411… right.” There was a whistle. “Phew, you are not doing too badly here, my old buddy!”

“I’m not asking for a bank statement, Pat,” Adam snapped. “Can you link to SvenCorp in Boston?”

            “What?  Oh sure, there’s enough links.  Oh, and you have mail.  They want to know if you want to sell the Centuria stocks - shall I say yes?”

            Adam glanced at his father, who nodded sharply and advised, “But not for less than 115.75.”

            “I heard that…. okay, I have done it.  By the way, do I get a commission, when the sale goes through? Now what do you want me to do?”

            “Find the RCF account.”

            “Cinch - it pays you.  Actually, it pays you more than it pays me!” Magenta exclaimed.

            “Never mind, I’ll buy you lunch. Now, can you transfer funds out?”

            “No, I need a password.  Let’s see.”  There was long wait as Magenta ran his program and John Svenson, who had been looking highly uncomfortable, began to relax.

            “There it is!  Come to daddy, my little beauty.” More tapping of keys. “How much of this do you want?” Magenta asked brightly. He really sounded as if he was enjoying himself.

            “Half the balance will do,” Adam said, glancing at his father. “We’ll put it back in the morning.”

            “Well you won’t get interest on it,” John snapped, shaken to find his systems so apparently open to infiltration.  There would be heads rolling tomorrow in the computer department.  Adam gave his father a tight smile.

            “145 million? Okay, there she goes; you are a rich little boy, Blue,” Magenta said.

            “Cheers, Pat, I owe you. Oh, and by the way, I will be changing my passwords as soon as we say goodbye!”

            “Don’t you trust me?” Magenta sounded hurt.

            “Not an inch,” Symphony responded with a light laugh.

            “Goodnight, Symphony, my Angel; watch yourself with those two jokers and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, sweetheart.”

            “Well, that should leave her with ample scope,” Scarlet interjected and Magenta’s deep chuckle echoed through the room as the line went dead.

            John Svenson had fired up his own computer earlier to follow the cash movements and he called Adam over to key in a new password. As his son finished typing, he said, “Now put the money back, and I won’t call the police.”

            “Here goes nothing,” Adam said as he did as he was told, and grinned to see the interest that had been automatically credited to his account.

 

 

 

Chapter Two:  SvenCorp: working for the fat cats

Boston, Monday, 21st December 2070

 

            Monday morning found Captain Scarlet lying on top of the king-sized bed, in the opulent guest room of the Svensons’ home.  He wondered when his hosts would surface, and if he could safely shower yet, without disturbing the household.

            By the time they had parted from John Svenson, it had been almost 1:00am and Adam had busied himself checking that their accommodation, in one of the many spare rooms, was up to standard.  He needn’t have worried – it was obvious that his mother had sorted everything out already.  He had left Paul at the entrance to his room and gone across the corridor to where Symphony was staying. 

Paul had closed the door with a smile on his face as the memory of his friends gawping at each other like love-struck school-kids flashed before his mind’s eye.  He knew a great deal about their relationship, more than they were aware of - or so he suspected.  He’d watched them manoeuvre through countless arguments and reconciliations – even got dragged into a few of them, as an intermediary.

So, who were they kidding by pretending that they were going to say goodnight?  he mused. He walked to the window and gazed out at the blanket of snow that covered the extensive lawns and flower beds at the back of the house.  Adam’s parents?  He conceded the possibility, having heard the low drone of John Svenson’s complaint to his daughter, when she arrived home at 3.20 am.  Perhaps the Svenson offspring are kept on too tight a rein?  But Adam is in his mid-thirties, for Chrissake - and they can hardly expect him to live like a monk, even the colonel isn’t that naive. Having been on some pretty hairy R&R weekend passes with his friend, Paul was well aware that, when the mood took him, Adam Svenson could party with the best.

            He grinned at the memories and hoped the guilty pair had got some sleep, at least. 

Since his ‘accident’, he could function perfectly well on hardly any sleep, and he knew Adam could  last for several days, by dint of taking cat-naps; but he needed them both alert and, preferably, not distracted by the mechanics of what his own father had always coyly referred to as ‘nocturnal exercise’.  

            There was a knock on the bedroom door and he heard Adam calling, “Paul, you in there?”

            He opened the door and, seeing not only Blue but Symphony - once more suitably attired in her uniform - wished he was wearing more than the boxer shorts he slept in. She grinned wickedly, as she pointedly looked him up and down.

            “Good morning, Adam, Karen,” he said, trying to ignore the Angel’s appreciative nod.

            His friend gave him a huge grin. “If you want breakfast, you’d better get a move on,” he advised as he fastened a cuff on his grey shirt. “Dad’s already down there.”

            “What? It’s only 6.15.”

            “He’ll want to be out of the house by seven and we ought to go too, if we want to make it plain at the company that we have his authority to be there.”

            “Fine, I’ll be down as soon as I’ve showered.  Save me some toast.”

            “Is that all? I could eat a horse.”

            “I wonder why?” Scarlet remarked as he closed the door.

He heard Karen laugh as they moved away.

 

            They shared Mr Svenson’s limousine to the offices in downtown Boston.

            John Svenson was on his phone for the entire journey, to the C.E.O. of the Hudson and then a couple of Wall Street brokerage firms. Adam, who had eaten an enormous breakfast, cat-napped in one corner and Symphony stifled a yawn as she watched the passing buildings through the smoked-glass windows. 

Captain Scarlet had already contacted the ground forces for reinforcements and ordered them to collect the car they had left close to the Spinnaker Club.  He had reported their progress to Colonel White, and had been reminded that Ochre and Grey could be with them later that day, if they were needed, but so far he felt there was little need for their support. He would have the ground crew sweep the offices with Mysteron detectors and search the building for explosives as soon as possible, before he made any further decisions.

            Once inside the glass and steel tower block, John Svenson took control.  He waved away the security guards and ushered his party to the executive lift. As he emerged on the penthouse floor, he began barking orders to the startled staff.

             “I want full clearance passes for all areas and to all accounts for my son, Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel.” Even now, his voice couldn’t disguise his contempt for their codenames.  “Issue them with Triple A clearance passwords; and by 8.30 I want Doug MacIntyre in here, with every security update for the past year and the schedule of those planned for this coming year. Following that, I want all triple A holders here for a meeting.”

            He glanced at Symphony. “You will want to go down to the computer rooms, I suppose, and check those programs, that won’t be a problem once your pass arrives - which had better be soon!” He glared at a bespectacled, young executive, watching open-mouthed from behind his desk. The man leapt into action.

            “Is Peter here?” John snapped.

            “No, Mr Svenson, Mr Peter has an early meeting with the C.E.O. from Winston’s.  He’s due in by 11.00, when he has a meeting with Jack Palmer scheduled,” Mrs Lorraine Saunders replied, consulting her desk diary.  She risked a brief welcoming smile at Adam.  He gave her a wink in response; he remembered Lorrie from before her marriage to the accounts executive who ran the British Company Accounts Department – a blunt, good-natured Geordie, whose accent the young Svensons had all found incredibly funny.

            “And Eric?”

            “Mr Eric is due to attend the meeting with Jack Palmer, as well. I have no note of where he’s going to be before then.  I’ll try his office…”

            John glanced approvingly at his PA. “Good. Adam, you’re with me.  Where are those passes?” he roared as he moved towards the door.

            As Symphony accepted a plastic card from the harassed young executive and attached it to the zip on her uniform tunic, Scarlet took his and returned to the lobby, to await his reinforcements.

            “Shall I show you to the computer department, Miss?” the young man asked hesitantly.

            “It would help,” she smiled.

            Adam stuck his head round the door and called, “Lorrie, coffee, please.” He waved farewell to Karen and disappeared back into his father’s office, shutting the door firmly behind him.

            “Yes sir, Mr Adam,” the woman replied to the closing door.

            “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full,” Symphony muttered, to the astonishment of her guide. “Are they all like that all the time?”

            “Not always.  Mr Svenson and Mr Peter do get worked up and Miss Kate gets sarcastic, but Mr Eric is usually okay…” the young man said with some feeling. “I’ve not met that one before.” He waved a hand towards the closed door.

            “Well, now I know where he gets his overweening self-confidence from, if nothing else.” She smiled. “Let’s get a move on; it obviously doesn’t do to keep any of them waiting.”

            “No, indeed not.”

 

            By the time Peter Svenson arrived at the office, there were teams of Spectrum ground forces on every floor, as well as on the main entrance, checking all incomers with a camera device.  Peter was stopped, photographed and searched, despite his protests.  Incandescent with rage, he stormed out of the elevator on the penthouse floor, only to cannon into another stranger, dressed in a bright red and black uniform.

            “Ah, Mr Peter Svenson, I presume.” Scarlet said, with a slight bow.  The man was only a little over average height and his hair was a sandy-brown colour, rather than the true blond of his father and siblings, but there was no mistaking the pale-blue eyes and the narrow-lipped mouth, nor the aggressive self-confidence in his demeanour.  He was a Svenson all right…

            “Who the hell are you?”

            “I am Captain Scarlet of Spectrum; at your service, Mr. Svenson.”

            “Then are you responsible for those goons downstairs who stopped me coming into my own offices?”

            “I’m afraid so.  There is a security alert on, and everyone has to be stopped and checked, every time they enter or leave the building.  It’s nothing personal, Mr Svenson.”

            Peter bit back his angry comment and ignored Scarlet, to call across to Mrs Saunders, “Lorrie, is my father in?  I need to speak to him, urgently.”

            “He is in, Mr Peter; Mr McIntyre and Mr Adam are with him at present.”

            “Mr Adam?  You mean my brother?”

            “Yes, Mr Peter.  They have been in conference for some time now.”

            “What’s he doing here?  Is this to do with you?” he asked Scarlet.

            “Mr Adam Svenson is being very co-operative,” Scarlet answered blandly.

            Peter shook his head and headed for his office.  Before he reached it, the other office door opened and the faint sounds of John Svenson’s voice, raised in obvious annoyance, could be heard. 

Adam appeared in the entrance. “Captain Scarlet, would you join us please?” he called across the office, and only then caught sight of his brother. “Oh… hello, Pete.”

            “Adam.” Peter’s acknowledgement of his brother was equally as off-hand.   “What’s going on?”

            “We’re all rather busy, right now.  I’ll catch you later,” Adam replied, as he hustled Scarlet into the room and, with an annoying smirk at his younger brother, closed the door firmly in Peter’s face.

 

            Inside the room, Doug MacIntyre was suddenly learning that the generous salary he was paid by SvenCorp, to keep their security systems in top shape, was no sinecure.  He had listened to his boss explaining how a man, in New York with a laptop, had been able to breach every security wall they had installed and that, if he wanted to keep his lucrative employment, he would remedy that situation immediately.

            As he reviewed forthcoming upgrades with John Svenson, Svenson’s imposing son held a phone conversation with someone called Green, who persistently found breaches in those upgrades.  John Svenson was getting more annoyed with every failure. Then a second man joined them, in a red Spectrum tunic, and he took over the phone call, relaying instructions from Green to the younger Svenson, who programmed them into the computer matrix. 

Doug MacIntyre saw his job disappearing before his eyes.

            “Lieutenant Green says you had some pretty good ideas, Mr MacIntyre.  He’s incorporated a few of them into the security wall Adam’s just input,” Scarlet said, seeing the man’s obvious unease. “He does have the advantage of some very powerful computers at his command; no hackers would have access to anything half so powerful.”

            “But from what you are telling me, Scarlet, these ...”

            “…Infiltrators…” Adam supplied the word before his father could give too much away. 

            “…Infiltrators, could come at us from anywhere... the World Government have powerful computers, or the defence forces.  I want to ensure our systems can cope with whatever is out there.”

            “Especially if he gets the service for free,” Adam muttered. And, typing a new code into the terminal to encrypt the program, he added, “This is security information, MacIntyre, not for public release.” He continued typing, a slight smile on his face.

            Captain Scarlet’s epaulettes flashed a creamy-white.  “Go ahead, Symphony,” he said as his cap mic swung down.

            “Just to confirm the mainframe has closed to reboot, Captain.  And would you please tell Mr Svenson – junior - that, if he put that message on every terminal, I will personally ensure that the few remaining days of his life are filled with excruciating pain.”

Scarlet laughed and passed on the message.

            Adam grinned and shook his head.

            “He says not,” Scarlet relayed with some amusement.

            “Then I will go to lunch with him,” Symphony replied calmly, and cut the connection.

            “Lunch? After the breakfast you ate?” John Svenson remarked to his son, as he heard the final part of the message. “Where do you put it all?”

 

~oo0oo~

 

Eric Svenson wiped the sweat off his top lip for the hundredth time that morning, and despite the bitingly cold wind, opened the top button of his heavy overcoat.  Around him, people huddled into their clothes and hastened, with their heads down, for the comfort of the office buildings that dominated this part of the city.  In contrast, Eric was ambling along, almost reluctant to reach his destination. His heart was pounding and he felt almost sick with nerves.

How did I get myself in this mess? he asked himself in despair. I’ve never meant any harm to anyone – not even John – and God knows, I have cause enough to loathe my cousin.  After almost 35 years of dedicated service, he wants me out – but he won’t tell me to go – that might cost him – he’d rather edge me out, until I have to swallow my pride and crawl out…. Well, I won’t ‘go gently into this good night’…. But this – this new scheme will do so much damage… It will hit John and Peter, of course, which is what I want it to do – why should I care about them? The problem is it might hurt Kate and Davy and Adam and… he swallowed, Sarah. Could I ever deliberately hurt Sarah? 

A car raced past, spraying him with dirty water.  He stood stock still, shaking with rage.  The rainwater dripped from his hat and splashed his glasses.  He removed them and wiped them on the cloth he always carried in his pocket. 

Sarah…she is the real problem.  Of course, I’ll do what I can to protect her. She won’t suffer – I’ll take care of Sarah and Kate and Davy – Adam will take care of himself – he always does. But John and Peter will be publicly disgraced, humiliated and pilloried.  Legal cases, financial ruin …imprisonment.  The prospect cheered him immensely. Then we’ll see which of us has the real guts, John….

He entered the front door of the SvenCorp building and was accosted by a hefty looking man in a charcoal-grey uniform. 

“If you please, sir, we need to check you over… there has been a terrorist threat and everyone is being checked, on entering or leaving the building.”

A commissionaire rushed over.  “That’s Mr Svenson – Mr Eric – you can’t search him!”

Eric smiled. “It’s okay, Bud, I don’t mind – I’ve got nothing to hide.”

He handed over his briefcase and submitted to having his picture taken by a strange looking device.  A second guard ran a metal detector over him.  He was clean – Eric smiled and collected his belongings.

As he strolled to the lift he heard Bud say, “He’s the best of the lot, is Mr. Eric – always a friendly word – not like the others – too grand to talk to the likes of us…”

Eric pressed the button for the executive elevator and stepped inside, his wet feet leaving a trail on the pale carpet.  Oh, yes, good old Eric – salt of the earth…. he thought and gave a surprisingly sardonic grin.  “Only now, the time has come, John Svenson, for the meek to inherit the earth….”

 

Peter Svenson was not in a good mood; his day had started badly and was getting worse.  He swore he had seen a gleam of mischief in his older brother’s eyes as he explained, with all apparent sympathy, that for the present, everyone – including Peter - was considered a security risk.  Therefore the security programs were being updated, revised and improved.  Once these new systems were functioning, if he needed computer access for any reason, he should ask their father - or himself – to grant that access, because his own security passwords would be invalid.  This new package was currently being installed throughout the network and was controlled from the computer in ‘his office’. 

“Your office?” Peter had exploded – “it’s the executive boardroom, Adam!”

Peter swore he would be damned before he would ever ask Adam for anything connected with the company.  Fifteen years ago his brother had walked away from the family business, without any consideration for the trouble he would cause, nor any apparent regret, and now he expected Peter to kowtow to his authority?  The man was a maverick; he disrupted the family whenever he appeared, making everyone edgy, and now he was interfering with business decisions that were nothing to do with him. Incensed with the injustice of it all, he had gone straight to his father to remonstrate.  His humiliation and frustration had increased tenfold when he received short shrift from John. 

 With a morning’s work to catch up on after all the hours spent shoring up his security systems, John Svenson couldn’t spare the time to soothe his son’s rumpled feelings.   Besides, he was tired of Peter’s constant carping about Adam, which had happened virtually every day since his brother arrived home.

Peter was left more angry than ever and just thankful that the door to his father's office was heavy enough to be sound-proof. He retreated to his office and buried himself in the minutiae of the business papers on his desk, refusing to even look up from his work.

At around 10.15, Eric Svenson looked out from his office.  John’s door was firmly shut; the executive boardroom held Adam and the man from Spectrum and, through Peter’s half-open door, he could see him busily annotating papers.  He went back to his briefcase and opened the lid.  He removed a computer memory disk and applied a SvenCorp label to it.  Then he placed it in a plastic wallet and slipped it in a sheaf of papers about the next meeting.  He wandered casually across the office and up to Peter’s desk.

            Peter looked up as a shadow fell across his paperwork. “What is it, Eric?” he grumbled. 

 “We have a meeting this morning, Pete…”

“Peter…” the younger man corrected.

Eric gave a dry smile, any doubts he retained about the justice of his plan instantly dismissed at this off-hand reception. “With Jack Palmer, remember?  I hope you read the papers I left for you?”

Peter sighed.  “I glanced at them.  Why I have to do this, I don’t know, surely you can handle Palmer?  He’s such a schmuck…”

“Peter, we have discussed this before.  You are well aware that John has asked that every consideration be given to Palmer.  He’s an old friend of your father’s and his father was a valued customer of the company,” Eric reminded him. “Stefan had a lot of time for Leonard Palmer; a good deal of the phenomenal growth SvenCorp made under your grandfather was due to the partnership between the two of them.”

“Spare me the lecture, Eric, I know all this.  Sure, Leonard Palmer was a good man, but Jack’s a liability. He’s gone through virtually all his father left him.   Ah well, I expect he’ll be late again – let me know if he turns up, Eric… in the meantime, I have other things to do.”

 “These are his latest proposals; I did a spreadsheet for you – as a précis … check it out, Peter, please – if only out of courtesy.”

Annoyed, Peter took the disk and shoved it into his computer.  “Okay, I will, I have another twenty minutes yet.  I’ll check it out.  Now please, Eric… go away.”

Eric stood patiently alongside the desk until his cousin snarled at him and grudgingly opened the disk.  The spreadsheet opened and Eric gave a slight smile as Peter’s eyes caught the main column of figures and read them down.

“Is he serious about this?” he murmured.

“I have spoken with him on several occasions, and although I was highly sceptical at first, I do believe that this time he has the kernel of a good deal here.”

Peter glanced up.  “You were right, Eric, this does need looking into. But I’ll need more than this though, to even assess the viability of the project.”

“I told Jack as much.  The meeting today is for him to present a far more detailed breakdown of his proposals.”

“It would be a departure for SvenCorp… outside of our normal business coverage.”

“John has never refused to consider a good proposal – wherever it came from,” Eric said mildly.  “I think he might look favourably on something that put us at the forefront of a new commercial sector.”

“You’re right there,” Peter agreed.  He had longed to bring such a scheme to his father’s attention, from the first day he started in the executive office.  He was overly conscious of the snide remarks he was sure were made about him, behind his back – the younger son – not the preferred one – not the clever one…not the one John wanted to work with him – and he dreamed of pulling off a major business coup to silence them, and prove to his father, once and for all, that he was the right choice for the job and a better man than Adam.

He looked up from the screen.  “Okay, Eric, you can leave this with me, now…”

“I will, Peter, you can be sure of that…” he added to himself as he walked back to his office.  He had done his part, now it was up to Jack.

 

~oo0oo~

 

John Arthur Osgood Palmer (known to everyone as Jack) submitted himself to the Mysteron detector test and to the body search, and strolled over to the elevator, noting the perfect Christmas tree in the centre of the floor and the tastefully arranged decorations around the lobby.  It was typical of John Svenson’s company that even Christmas decorations could look perfect, and yet, make the visitor feel as if their presence was begrudged.

 He was a only a few years older than his erstwhile friend, John Svenson, but his dissipated and hell-raising lifestyle had left its mark and he looked  much older.  He wore his peroxide-blond hair long, and brushed high over his forehead to disguise a receding hairline. He dressed in expensive suits that were always at the cutting edge of fashion – and rarely paid for - and genuinely believed he looked good in them.  He did not.

He had spent his life – and his father’s money – recklessly.  He had almost as many failed marriages behind him as he had disastrous business ventures.  Currently, he was divorcing the present Mrs Palmer and trying to keep the few remaining assets he retained, out of her hands.

He was deliberately late for his meeting with Peter Svenson, but he wasn’t concerned about that. He had just spent an interesting morning with a very persuasive gentleman, who had convinced him that he could solve his financial problems at a stroke, in return for just a little co-operation.  The man was rather intimidating, Palmer thought, and definitely had no sense of humour, but the scheme he had in mind ought to work a treat and  would leave these oh-so-superior Svensons with a huge hole in their company finances and their business in ruins.  He would give a great deal to see John Svenson squirm.

            On his arrival at the Executive Offices, he raised an eyebrow in surprise when he saw Adam and a Spectrum officer lounging by the window, deep in conversation.  Having known the family for years, he was surprised to see the eldest son in the building at all.  Perversely, the presence of Adam Svenson in the building was more unsettling than the presence of the Spectrum personnel. 

            Eric came from his office to meet him, alerted by Reception that his appointment had arrived.  Jack jerked his head towards Adam.  “What’s he doing here?”

            “He’s on holiday.  I think John talked him into keeping these Spectrum people out of his way.  I doubt if he’d have set foot in the building for any other reason, but his presence has still got Peter on edge,” Eric explained. 

            “Well, I hope he keeps his nose out of our business.  Pulling a scam on Peter is one thing… doing it to John - or Adam - is quite a different thing.”

            Eric shook his head.  “He’s occupied with the Spectrum people – particularly a shapely blonde who’s currently working down in the computer department – from what I saw half an hour ago when they all had coffee up here.”

            Jack frowned. “What are the Spectrum people doing here anyway?”

            “A vague threat to financial institutions, apparently.  One of them is causing mayhem at the Hudson too. I’ve had their MD on the phone for about forty minutes.”

“That could work to our advantage.  Keep everyone’s eye off the ball…”

            He turned his attention to the advancing figure of Peter and shook the younger man’s hand, full of ingratiating apologies as he followed him into his office.

            “Peter, forgive me, my tardiness is unpardonable.  I am grateful that you kept the time in your busy schedule to see me.  It looks like you are having quite a difficult time here.  I was all but strip-searched by some Spectrum officers before they would let me in - and isn’t that another one over there - talking to Adam, if I am not mistaken?  Now, what’s he doing here?”

“I have asked the same question myself…” Peter began.

            Jack Palmer listened to Peter’s re-hash of his grievances and made suitably sympathetic noises. He was pleased to think that, in this frame of mind, Peter would be even more inclined to circumvent any security procedures – even the new ones the Spectrum officers had instituted – if they were tarred with the stain of Adam’s participation. He was sure that could be used to his advantage.

            “I am sorry, Jack, you must think it all very unprofessional...” Peter began to calm down and realise that he had said too much to a client.

            “Of course not, Peter, what are friends for?   I can understand that it must be galling to see Adam walking back in - as you say, like the prodigal son - after the years of dedication you have given the company.  I have always suspected that John – admirably fair in so many ways - has a blind spot for the waywardness of his eldest.”

            “Thank you, Jack.  However, I am sure you are here with other matters on your mind.  How may I help you?”

Peter looked across as Eric entered and closed the office door behind him. He waved them both to the conference table that occupied one side of the room.

            “I have an exciting new venture which is tied to a secure re-finance package.  I would like you to look it over and consider the advantages it would bring to SvenCorp and my own company.  It has taken me some time to put it together, the final acceptance only arrived this morning; which is why I am so late....”

            “I understand,” Peter soothed. “Eric has shown me your preliminary proposals, they are… interesting. I understand you have more detailed financials prepared? May I see them?”

            Jack handed over a computer disk. “I am afraid I did not have time to get them printed out, but I’m sure you can download from this and then you have the information to hand for your own spreadsheet analysis.”

            Peter hesitated.  Even in the midst of his annoyance and sense of betrayal, he knew he should not use an imported disk in the mainframe system.

            “Is anything wrong?  I can assure you the disk came from my own supply and has only been used to download the financial data you need to see.  I feel sure it will be acceptable, and I am anxious to allow SvenCorp first refusal, being only too acutely aware of the… parlous state of my company’s balance against its account at the moment. This will amply cover the shortfall in the funds owing to SvenCorp.” Jack tried to keep his voice light, although he could feel a film of sweat on his top lip.  Beside him, Eric coughed nervously. Jack gave him a sharp glance, and said with just a hint of hurt in his voice, “Don’t you trust me, Peter?  I’ve been doing business with your father since you were a boy!  But, perhaps you had better get Adam and his Spectrum friends to check it out, after all,” he added, with emphasis on the name.

It did the trick.

            “Where are my manners, Jack?  Of course I trust you.  I am confident your scheme will cover this temporary financial deficit, if it is as sound as you suggest.” Peter rammed the disk into his computer and clicked the mouse to open the file, before he could have second thoughts.

            He was so busy watching the screen opening, that he did not see the exultant glance between Eric and Jack.

 

~oo0oo~

 

            On Cloudbase, Lieutenant Green informed the colonel that the new security wall was about to become operational in the SvenCorp computer system, and that Captain Magenta was currently installing it in the Hudson Guaranty Trust.  No reports had come in from the ground forces, as to any sign of sabotage of the building, and none of the employees tested had proved to be Mysterons.  Did the colonel want the officers to remain on station?

Colonel White paused from the report he was reading and glanced at the young man seated at the computer terminal.

            “Do you feel that we have as good a security system as we could expect on those computers, Lieutenant?” He wondered if he shouldn’t have sent the boy down in person to input the program.

            “Yes, sir. Captain Blue has input my new security program and, for now, the system is locked down with only John Svenson, Captain Blue and me, as the systems administrator, having access. All other passwords are invalidated. It will mean that, at least for the present, all funds will have to be dealt with by one or other of the three of us. Effectively, SvenCorp is non-operational.”

            “When do the Spectrum salary funds get released?”

            “Well, sir, what with Christmas and everything, we were paid early and the funds went through mid-month.  We got paid last week.  The next ones are due towards the end of January; so there shouldn’t be a problem by then.  There is still a lot to do; but Mr Svenson is understandably anxious that his company be allowed to function as normal as soon as possible.”

            “Then there is no alternative that I can see; Captain Blue will have to return to duty.  I know he is scheduled to co-ordinate the training of the new Standby Angels at Koala Base after Christmas, but, given that John Svenson is one of the few currently able to access the funds, and is obviously the weakest link in the chain, I think he should stay in Boston until the emergency is over.   His father is an obvious Mysteron target.  If, and when, Captain Scarlet is sure there is no obvious danger of immediate attack, he may return to Cloudbase.  Symphony can come back as soon as she’s ready.” Colonel White paused and glanced at the younger man.  “Do you need to be there in person to use the system, Lieutenant?”

            “No, sir, I can do it from here.” The lieutenant sounded slightly disappointed, he would have liked to have spent some time off-base, but he knew the colonel needed him far more than he admitted.

            “Good work, Lieutenant.  Please inform Captain Scarlet and Symphony of my instructions. The ground forces are to maintain a yellow alert at the office building.  Captain Magenta can return to Cloudbase, once he has secured the Hudson’s computers, but I want the New York ground forces on yellow alert at the main offices there, as well.  Ask Captain Scarlet to check out the Atlantic airport security on his way through, will you?”

            “Yes, sir.”

~oo0oo~

 

            Adam waved goodbye as Symphony went through the gates to the Spectrum hangars.  He was sorry to see her go, but you couldn’t argue with the colonel’s direct orders.  He was glad they had had a quiet, unhurried, lunch together before he drove her out to Atlantic and a - somewhat frustratingly - passionate fifteen minutes in the car park on their arrival.  Captain Scarlet had skipped lunch and had driven himself in a Spectrum Saloon and was, even now, somewhere in the terminal building, checking security, prior to his own return to Cloudbase.  Adam wondered if he should try to find him before going back to the office; he didn’t want to leave his father alone for too long. He concurred with the colonel’s analysis of the situation; it did seem that the staff of the company were possible Mysteron targets and his father more than most.  It gave him a desolate feeling to consider his family in danger and - of course - they had no real concept of just how much danger…

            The tannoy interrupted his thoughts. “Will Mr Adam Svenson please come to the information desk? Mr Adam Svenson.”

            He headed there with quick strides, and saw Scarlet waiting.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked as he approached, almost at a run.

            “Nothing, I just thought I would let you know that it all checks out clear here, and I am going back to Cloudbase for now.  Did you expect a problem?”

            Adam shook his head. “I guess I’m here until the all-clear, right?”

            “Yes, go home and play the good little son.” Scarlet smiled. “If that isn’t way beyond your capabilities.”

            Adam grimaced. “I won’t be able to keep it up for long.  Especially if Peter gets on my back at the office.”

“Well, see it from his point of view,” Scarlet argued as they walked towards the gates.  “You waltz in there throwing your, not inconsiderable, weight around and trampling on his carefully built up prestige.  You wouldn’t be my favourite person in those circumstances.”

            Adam shrugged. “Peter’s just a little jerk. He has been for years - it’s all too easy to wind him up.”

            “Then don’t demean yourself to do it,” Scarlet advised.  “I know family Christmases can be a pain in the arse, but, well, just remember you are back on duty – albeit undercover – and pretend he’s some dignitary you have to baby-sit.  I can remember wanting to throttle quite a few of them, in my time.”

Adam nodded and shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right, Paul.  I shouldn’t let him get to me.  Have a good Christmas yourself and give my best wishes to all the guys up there.  Strange to think I’d rather be up there for Christmas these days, than at home.”

Scarlet smiled and punched his shoulder. “Merry Christmas to you too, Blue-boy.  I’ll be happy to ensure that Karen gets her usual quota of kisses under the mistletoe…”

“Watch it,” Adam threatened playfully.

Scarlet laughed. “Look, I have to go or she’ll leave without me!  Take care of yourself and your family.  And try to get a good night’s sleep; you’re looking decidedly grey under the eyes.”

            “Ha-ha, you’re just jealous,” Adam replied in a jovial tone that belied the accusation.

            Scarlet’s expression sobered and he said, “You just pray the colonel doesn’t find out - romancing an Angel is sin enough to get you into very serious trouble indeed – but an Angel who was on duty, as well!” He drew a deep breath, his face a picture of concern.  “It’s a court martial offence – for you both - if ever there was one.  Although, given that the Angel concerned is that Angel… you may have to face the colonel’s wrath alone.”

            “What do you mean?” Adam asked sharply, beginning to take his friend seriously.

            “Have you never noticed how the colonel can always find an excuse for whatever Symphony's done wrong this time? I think it has something to do with her mother.....” Scarlet laughed, delighted to have fooled his friend so effectively.

            “Scandal-monger,” Adam responded with more than a hint of relief in his voice.  Scarlet had really had him worried for a moment. “The colonel’s impervious to feminine wiles - it’s a biological fact,” he added mischievously.

            “Oh sure, and you’re still a virgin!” Scarlet mocked.

            “Not any more,” Adam said, with a huge grin, and then slapped a hand across his mouth in apparent embarrassment at his own indiscretion.

            Scarlet laughed at him, and shaking his head, he laid a hand on his friend’s arm. “Goodbye, Adam,” he said in conclusion.

            “Goodbye, Paul,” Adam said, then added primly, “I’ll be good.”

            Overnight, the company computers at SvenCorp ran the updates, as they always did.  Transaction accounts and debits and credits slipped efficiently through the ether.  Records were amended, updated, accounts slid in and out of credit, new accounts opened and old ones closed.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Then, deep in the computer memory, a little program opened of its own volition and began to spread out through the surrounding records, more information was despatched and received, more amendments made and figures changed on every record the system held.

 

 

 

Chapter Three:  Financial Probity

Tuesday, 22 December 2070 onwards

 

Adam woke up with a groan and pounded the alarm clock into silence.  It was 6.00am and he contemplated staying in bed, but he was on duty – in an odd sort of way - and ought to make the effort.  He slouched into the shower and felt better, if not happier, after an invigorating ten minutes under the powerful shock of the water.

I really should not have drunk so much last night, he thought, surveying himself critically in the shaving mirror.  

It was unusual for his mother to be so lenient towards the over-consumption of alcohol, never mind actually pouring him copious amounts of it, but then, he rather thought she had had one too many martinis herself.  Kitty had been home with her all day, under the guise of preparing a dinner party for the family.  Naturally enough, this had included the purchase of new clothes and lunch at a swanky downtown restaurant.  He grinned – he’d almost forgotten how easy life at home was, most of the time. 

His father had dragged himself home from work early, and shortly after that Peter had arrived, with his wife and two young daughters in tow.   Davy had consented to stay home for the evening and his father had mellowed enough not to find continuous fault with any, or all, of his brood. 

Still, he’d been glad to see Eric wander in, as they were having pre-dinner cocktails, thinking that, at least, that ensured a decent conversation around the dining table.   He had always rather liked Eric, who’d been around ever since he could remember and was a kind of surrogate uncle. An amiable and unassuming man, with far more interests in his life than his father had – or Peter for that matter – Eric reminded Adam of his much-loved and greatly-missed grandfather, in that one respect.  Although, yesterday, Eric had seemed more preoccupied than usual and was more attentive to his mother than his father really liked. 

Yet, even so, it had still been that rare occurrence - a good family evening - especially when you recalled some of the ones in the past. 

He had followed Paul’s advice and had made an effort not to antagonise Peter further, and had even managed to tolerate Cicely’s inane chatter on the subject of her social life, for about twenty minutes over the dessert. It had always bewildered him why Peter who - if he was fair - had a good brain, had married the stupidest woman in Massachusetts, if not the whole of North America.  She must be good in the sack, Adam thought tolerantly, and then got distracted thinking about Karen.  No-one could ever call her stupid - not if they didn’t want their head kicked in, anyway.

He smiled smugly at himself at the memory of the other night, now, that has to be the best Christmas present ever, he thought.  He had not expected it, to be honest. She’d been so angry that he was due to go to Koala Base, to conduct the training for the six new standby Angels, and she refused to believe that the idea was entirely Colonel White’s.  The fact that he had also decided to go away for Christmas hadn’t pleased her either, but when his name had reached the top of the leave allocation chart, he had exercised his option and come home – which had the added benefit of stopping his mother’s complaints that she never saw him these days – but had seemed to Karen like a further instance of desertion.  She had been less than impressed by his reasoning and had said so, long and loud.  He had finally decided that whatever he said in his own defence wasn’t going to do him any good and that she would just have to come out of her sulk by herself.   They had parted on bad terms – so much so that she had not even come to say goodbye when he was leaving.

It seemed, for once, that she had eventually managed to ‘forgive’ his supposed transgressions, because, there had been her call to him and then, later that same night, she had taken the initiative again.

 He grinned - and then cursed as the razor nicked his upper lip - but he didn’t stop the memories flooding back…

 

Adam thought she looked unbelievably beautiful in that dress, as she turned towards him when he entered the guestroom.   He was still unsure of her mood – he knew her her too well to assume she was not rankled by his spending the evening with Melissa.  Erring on the side of caution, he began tentatively to say goodnight.   To his delight she came to stand before him, and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him, very gently.  His response was to lock her in his arms and hold her against him, whilst his kisses grew ever more passionate.

Finally, with a little gasp of laughter, she freed herself from his embrace and asked, rather shyly for her: “Your place or mine?”   He hardly dared believe that he had understood her correctly and, irresolute and tongue-tied, he tried to gauge her mood.  If she was leading him on merely to slap him down, he had no intention of playing along.

Karen began to feel nervous. Perhaps he’s offended by my being so direct?  He has some old-fashioned ideas about the way things ought to be done, at times, she thought.  She smiled uncertainly and said, “Well, I didn’t think it was that difficult a question… but maybe you don’t want to…?   The awful thought that he might have been hoping to spend the night with Melissa wormed its way into her conscious mind and she almost cried out in relief as he said:

 “No, no...... I want to, very much, I mean... if you are sure you want to...”   His arms tightened around her again and when he finally stopped kissing her, he answered her question. “Mine,” he croaked. 

He swept her up into his arms, and heard her throaty chuckle as her hold tightened around his neck and her lips brushed his cheek.

“Don’t drop me,” she whispered.

“Not a chance,” he breathed against her silky hair.

He strode along the corridor and up the short flight of stairs that led to the rooms at the back of the house.

He stopped at a wooden door, and stooped slightly so that she could turn the handle.  He stepped inside, and closed it behind him with his shoulder.  Then, he set her on her feet and switched on the light, irritated when the room was suddenly bathed in a harsh electric glow, guaranteed to destroy the mood.

Karen moved into the surprisingly small room and looked around her with frank interest.  It was no surprise that the room was immaculately tidy; she’d have expected nothing less from him, but this room lacked any sign of a personality.  There was a bookcase in one corner, piled with books and folders, close to a computer on a wooden desk - again nothing unexpected – where Adam was, there would you find books also…

She wandered over to examine them, hoping to discover a clue to the child he had been.  But every one of the books was non-fiction: text books, flight manuals and reference books, hardly the stuff of childhood.

Baffled, she turned to him and cast her eyes once more about the room. “Okay, I give up… where is the bed?”

He smiled. “This is my study; my bedroom is through here…”  He opened a door that led into a large, airy and comfortably furnished bedroom.  The light here was softer and on a dimmer switch, which he adjusted immediately - downwards.

Karen walked past him into the room and looked around. There was a king-size bed opposite the door with a music consol beside it, but, she noticed, no TV.  He was consistent at least!  On one of the doors of what she took to be a large walk-in wardrobe was a full length mirror.

“Ah,” she said, walking further in and turning to smile at him, “so this is your inner sanctum…”  It was more like what she had expected… there was even a battered teddy-bear holding court on a small wicker chair by the window.  She went across to it.

 “Is he yours?” she asked demurely, stroking the crumpled ear, evidence that this had been a well-loved companion.

He nodded. “That’s Lindy,” he confessed with a shy smile.

“You had a female teddy-bear?”

“No, it’s short for Lindbergh…”

She laughed at her own silliness and came to slide her arms around him. “Now that is the Adam I know…”

His lips sought hers and she willingly surrendered to his kiss.

Gradually she broke away from his embrace, and taking hold of his hand, led him towards the bed.  She sat on the end, leaning back on her arms and looking up at him, as he towered over her.  She forgot sometimes just how powerful a man he was – although towards her he was never anything but gentle.   A wave of spine-tingling anticipation washed over her and she unconsciously arched towards him, her head thrown back, exposing the sweep of her neck and thrusting her breasts forward.

She heard a low growl as he looked at her. “Karen… my darling… mine, my angel…” He swooped down, using his weight to push her back onto the bed.

She matched him kiss for kiss, winding her arms around his broad shoulders.  He gently disengaged from her, and began kissing her from hand to shoulder. 

She shivered, as every nerve she possessed responded to his touch. “Aaadaammm…” she purred, intoxicated with sheer pleasure.

He kissed her lips again, leaving her craving for more when he moved on to the sweet-smelling skin of her neck and shoulder. His free hand travelled down her body to stroke her thigh through the open seam of her skirt.  When he raised his head to look at her, she pounced on his lips, drawing him down with her into a spiral of sensation.  They rolled over and over across the bed, wrapped around each other, their hands busy exploring, caressing, teasing and tormenting, until anticipation exploded into an overwhelming need for even closer intimacy.  He lay above her, taking his weight on his muscular arms, and the world around them shrank to no more than themselves and the warm sheets that surrounded them. 

            Sprawled on the bed, too exhausted by the intensity of their coupling to move, she cradled his head against her shoulder, idly stroking his hair.  He roused himself, and gently kissed her before he rolled to her side, encircling her in his strong arm, so that she could curl up alongside him.  

            “I bet that teddy has seen a thing or two in his time…” she teased, as she traced the line of his jaw with one tantalising finger.

            He laughed at her.  “Well, you’d be wrong.  Lindy’s only just discovered why I don’t take him to bed with me anymore…”  She raised her head and looked quizzically at him.  “I always knew it would have to be someone very special to share this bed with me,” he explained, catching her tormenting hand and kissing her fingers.

“Someone like Lindy?” she said with a flirtatious smile.

“Oh, you are far more fun than Lindy ever was…”

Her laughter made him smile and as she gazed down at him, her closeness caught at his throat and he drew her head down to his, murmuring, “Let me show you just what I mean… unless you think it would shock the teddy-bear?”

Her only reply was a deeply satisfied, “mmmm….”

 

Adam snapped out of his reverie with a sigh as he heard a door further along the landing slam.  That had been one of the most fantastic nights of his life - or what was left of the night – he wouldn’t have thought she could still surprise him with her passion… but she had taken his breath away.  He walked from the bathroom to his bedroom, still smiling at the memory. 

Of course, they had had to get up early, as much to blur the truth of what had happened from his sharp-eyed and occasionally censorious mother, as to be ready for the departure to the office, but every minute of that short night had been rapturous. 

We may have fooled Mom, but we didn’t fool Paul, he thought ruefully, as he selected clothes from his extensive wardrobe.  Mind you, he divined my feelings for Karen a long time ago. 

He remembered how Paul had behaved during the incident at the Culver Atomic Power Station; when he had been fretting over Karen’s safety.  When they had discovered her, in a crashed SPV, Paul had tactfully stood aside and allowed him to carry the semi-conscious Angel to the helijet.  For hours afterwards, he had found excuses to hang around sickbay annoying Dr Fawn, until he confirmed that Symphony was basically unharmed.  He squirmed, as he dressed in his most sober suit, remembering how his anxious assurances to the colonel at their Cloudbase debriefing - that Symphony was just a little shaken - had earned him a warning glance from Scarlet, a frown from Symphony herself, and raised eyebrows from the colonel. 

He had tried to be less obvious afterwards and feign a purely platonic interest in her, but he couldn’t pretend, even to himself, that he had made a good job of it.  As for Karen – once she was over her pique at his over-protectiveness – she had made little secret of their friendship, without actually announcing it to the entire base.  It wasn’t in her nature to dissemble about something so important to her. 

They had their differences… she was mercurial and prone to bouts of jealousy, sometimes taking umbrage at the slightest thing – but he had quickly learned to deal with those occasions.  He had no worries now; he knew she felt, as deeply as he, that they had a future together.  He had begun to doubt his own capacity to ever love someone this deeply again… and he was still fearful that something – some awful tragedy – would rob them of their future together.  Yet he could no more stop loving her than he could stop breathing.

He completed dressing, knotting a rich, golden, raw-silk tie and squinted at the mirror, one last time. 

Well, here I am going to the office with Dad for the start of a working day, just as my old man has always wanted. Let him make the most of it, he thought, going downstairs, because at the first chance, I am going straight back to Cloudbase!

His father was waiting in the hallway, obviously already breakfasted.  He watched his son stride down the steps with a lump in his throat.  This is as it should have always been… he thought.

“I’ll drive today,” Adam said, picking up his keys and waving away the chauffeur.

“Why? Let Hewitt drive,” John responded with surprise.

“No, leave it to me, Dad.”  He dropped his voice, “I am armed and better able to deal with any trouble that might arise.”

“This is Spectrum again, I guess?” his father complained grumpily as they walked to the car.

“No, this is the WAS. I survived three assassination attempts – let’s just say, that kind of experience tends to make you particularly cautious.”

John Svenson was speechless and allowed his son to usher him into the passenger seat of his car and start the engine, before he spoke again.

“I never knew...” he muttered in a mixture of shocked self-justification and appalled surprise.  An icy-fear clamped down on his heart as he contemplated the dangers his son had faced – and faced alone - without his support.

“Why should you? You had made it crystal clear you were not interested in what happened to me once I left the family fold.” There was a remarkable absence of rancour in Adam’s voice; it wasn’t worth antagonising his father right now.

“I... I guess I did, at that,” John replied, and Adam knew that that was about as much of an apology as he was ever likely to get.

They turned through the streets, which were just starting to get busy, and headed downtown. They travelled in silence until they halted to turn left into the office complex.

“That girl; what is she to you?” John asked suddenly.

“Which girl?” The response was inattentive, as Adam concentrated on the tricky manoeuvre to enter the underground car park.

“The Angel girl - Karen?”

“A colleague and a friend.”

“I’d advise you to make it a point of honour not to sleep with colleagues and especially not with friends,” John said levelly.

“Meaning?” Adam snapped, swerving into the reserved bay.

“Whoa, back off! You are so prickly these days.”

“I want to know what you mean.” Adam turned off the engine and turned to face him, seeing the indulgent smile on his father’s face for the first time.

“I may be getting on, son, but I am not deaf and you were making quite a lot of noise the other night.” John’s smile broadened as he saw his son’s horrified expression. “Just be thankful your mom was out like a light!”

Adam found himself blushing, much to his fury. John laughed. “Come on; let’s get some work done - if you can stay awake after three late nights on the trot, that is!”

Peter was already in his office, the door open to watch for his father’s arrival. He nodded curtly at Adam and turned back to his computer screen.

Hello to you, too,’ Adam thought and wandered into the boardroom, where they had set up the computer terminal loaded with the Spectrum security programmes and overall access to the systems.  He draped his jacket over his chair, nodded gratefully at Lorrie as she brought him a cup of coffee and gazed out of the window as he sipped it.  He fished out his Spectrum personal communicator and called through to Cloudbase.

“Good morning, sir,” Lieutenant Green’s voice came back brightly.

“Hi, Lieutenant. Did everyone get back okay yesterday?”

“Yes, sir, no problems. Captains Grey, Ochre and Magenta are back too...”

“Lieutenant Green, what are you doing wasting time in small talk?” The colonel’s sharp tones brought their conversation back to business. “I want an hourly update on the situation there, Captain Blue.” 

“SIG, sir.” Blue pulled a face and got down to work, running the overnight back-up diagnostics as the lieutenant instructed.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Captain Blue spent Christmas with his family as he had planned.  His mother pulled out all the stops to make it what she called a traditional family Christmas – although, as Kitty remarked to him, in their house that meant a well-mannered  state of all-out war.   He enjoyed the experience of spending Christmas Day with Peter’s daughters, the eldest of whom - ignorant of the uneasy truce between the brothers - clambered all over her ‘Uckle Adam’ with all the enthusiasm of which a three year old is capable.

Towards evening, he managed to make time to call Cloudbase and spent a happy half-hour talking to the colleagues he was missing.  Karen was delighted with her brooch-pin, which he had bought from the Royal Jewellers in London on a recent trip, and even the colonel unbent enough to wish him the compliments of the season, as he passed through the Officers’ Lounge.

Late in the evening, Sarah found her son in the conservatory, sitting in the dark, pensively watching the stars through the glass ceiling.

“Adam, are you all right?  Davy wants some supper, are you hungry, Babes?”

“No, I couldn’t eat another mouthful, thanks.”

She came to sit beside him and slipped her arm through his.  “Where are they now?” she asked.

He smiled. “Over the mid-Atlantic, near the Azores.  You can’t see them from here.”

She hugged his arm and laid her head on his shoulder.  “Maybe next year, you could bring her here for Christmas?”

“It’s not that easy, Mom.  Cloudbase has to be adequately manned, for a start.”

“I know, you’re forever telling me that when I invite you both to come and visit.  But you cannot intend to spend all of your lives up there…?  Surely, you want a family, someday?”  She had watched him with her grand-daughters.

He shrugged.  “That kinda depends on Karen.  Besides, it’s a hard life to turn your back on.”

“Well, all I know is that I worry myself silly over you. She reached and brushed imaginary dust from his shoulder. “I hope it will all work out, Adam,” she said soberly, all trace of the scatterbrained female banished as she looked at him.  “I know it is what you want to do and I understand why you don’t want to come back to Boston – I guess even the financial markets would seem tame after what you’ve been doing – but promise me - promise me this, because, whatever else I am, I am still just your Mom, and I worry about you – promise that you will be careful.  I guess that sounds dumb, given what it is that you do, but when there is a choice – take the safer way.  Please?”

“Hey,” he tipped her chin up and kissed her cheek, “don’t I always?  Isn’t caution my middle name, for heaven’s sake?” He could see the fear in her eyes, mingled with love and pride, but still there.  He hugged her. “I must be a real trial to you, but I am so glad you understand.”

“Nothing, and no-one, comes between me and my children – not even their father. And if you want the truth – yes, you are a trial, but one I gladly undergo.” She hugged him in return, and to hide the tears in her grey eyes, said smartly, “What does a woman have to do to get a drink around here?”

“She only has to ask, and I go and get her one,” he smiled and escorted her back into the brightness of the lounge.

 

~oo0oo~

 

So many Mysteron threats happened within tight time schedules, forcing Spectrum to act swiftly.  And, once they had dealt with the situation, there was always a period of severe anti-climax, before the next threat arose.  So now the tension was high, following the threat to the wheels of commerce and everyone expected immediate action, but nothing appeared to happen: Wall Street, London, Frankfurt, and Tokyo - all the major exchanges functioned normally.  There were no unexplained fluctuations in the markets - in fact, everything went quiet.

Captain Blue fretted as New Year came and went, Karen’s birthday passed - with only the briefest of video calls possible between them – and, on Cloudbase, Melody and Lieutenant Green celebrated their birthdays with the usual informal parties in the Amber Room.  Having decided that this outstanding threat was more important, Colonel White had postponed Blue’s departure to Spectrum’s  Training Base at Koala; sending Captain Grey down to oversee the arrangements for the arrival of the new team of Angel pilots.  He had explained to his disappointed officer that there would be ample time, after the situation in Boston was resolved, for Blue to complete their training.

 To add insult to injury, Blue suspected that it was supposed to be in the nature of a ‘reward’ for his grudging acceptance of the change in his orders, that the colonel had had the bright idea of arranging for him to give a series of lectures at the Boston HQ.   It was, at least, familiar territory and, as the colonel pointed out - it’s keeping your hand in, for Koala Base, Captain.   But, as he had never enjoyed lecturing much, it was with an air of resignation that he made the journey over to the Spectrum building, several times, to lecture on the various aspects of Spectrum’s organisation and role, and field the inevitable questions about Captain Scarlet and his remarkable capacity for survival.   

This was the only contact he had with Spectrum during this period and he was soon bored with the routine of monitoring the SvenCorp accounts.

Over the weeks, John Svenson had got used to having his eldest son around the office.  It had always been his ambition to have both his sons working alongside him.  He told himself that Adam was getting used to being there and, if he could be made to see how fulfilling the job could be, there might be a chance that he would stay on - forgetting this perverse devotion to Spectrum.  With this in mind, he involved his son in as much as possible, getting him to research projects and analyse balance sheets and business plans, rather than ‘waste his time day-dreaming’. 

Adam did as he was asked - up to a point.  The first research his father  wanted had been on the commercial future of fish farming off the Newfoundland Banks and in desperation, he had called Captain Grey and begged him to check out his WASP contacts and send him the data.  John had been impressed.

And that, Adam thought later, was my big mistake.  More and diverse projects followed, none of which were any more interesting than the fish farming, except for a review of a newly-designed executive jet, in which he quickly found four potentially dangerous faults, in a report that took him all of half a day to complete.

In between these forays into the world of finance, he monitored the RCF accounts and reported to the colonel, daily.  Towards the end of the month, the colonel reduced the ground staff cover of the SvenCorp building to a minimum, but showed no signs of calling Blue back to Cloudbase.  

No-one could work out why the Mysterons had not acted on their threat. 

 

For Captain Blue, stranded in Boston, it was a far more frustrating time than for the officers on Cloudbase.  They could follow new leads and there was an emergency concerning an oil tanker, which had required a joint operation with the WASPs to resolve. 

In the course of that operation, Captain Scarlet was seriously hurt and confined to sick-bay for almost a week.  Therefore, he was more than happy to hear from Captain Blue, when the latter called him on a secure Spectrum channel from his bedroom at home.

“How are you feeling, Paul?”

“Itchy; but Fawn says that’s all to the good.”

“What did you do this time?”

“Burns,” Scarlet said shortly. Blue knew enough about the events that led to Scarlet’s Mysteronisation to understand his partner's terseness.  Paul Metcalfe had seen his partner, Captain Brown, burnt alive in the crashed Spectrum saloon and had only escaped by the skin of his teeth, to fall prey to the Mysterons’ main agent – Captain Black.  Even now that he was virtually indestructible, he hated fire more than anything.

“Gee, I am sorry to hear that,” Blue said, skirting the topic as casually as he was able. “But everything got sorted okay? It said so in the papers.”

“I guess you don’t see the reports these days?” Scarlet teased.

“Don’t see anything anymore,” he moaned in response. “I might as well really be working for my Dad.  The most exciting thing I’ve done in the last week was to transfer the salary money to the Hudson.”

“That’s a vital service, Captain!” Scarlet said with emphasis. “There’d be a riot on Cloudbase if that operation went wrong.  I know at least two Angel pilots who were down to their small change!”

“Let me guess - one of them is Symphony?”

“A perspicacious analysis, Captain,” Scarlet laughed. “Or was it a wild guess?”

“Experience. I’m forever bailing her out the week before pay day.”

“No wonder she’s missing you,” Scarlet said, in amazement at that confidence - Captain Blue had something of a reputation for being ‘careful’ with his money.

“Is she?” He sounded absurdly pleased with the information.

Scarlet couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice. “I’d say so; if her long face and short temper are anything to go by,” he assured his friend.

“I think I might try to call her later.  What shift is she on? ”

“How should I know?  But, I’ll tell you what; if she or Rhapsody comes to visit, I’ll ask her to call you. What time is it down there?”

“No matter, tell her to call me on the Spectrum comm. link. I’ll be here, whatever time she calls.”

“Okay, but remember: ‘calls may be monitored for security and training purposes’,” Scarlet recited with a snort of laughter. “The things I do for you!” he added cheerfully.

“I know - you’re a proper little Cupid,” Blue teased.

“Watch it or I won’t tell her....”

After closing his conversation with Captain Scarlet, and whilst waiting with as much patience as he could for Symphony to call, Blue contacted Lieutenant Green.   “Are you sure, Lieutenant, that you can find no trace of any activity that could relate to the threat?” he pleaded.

“No, Captain, I am sorry, but there is nothing that looks even remotely worrying on the records I’m receiving,” Lieutenant Green said.  He smiled sympathetically at the despondent face of the man on the video link and, taking pity on him, he added, “The colonel was saying yesterday that, if we find nothing in the next week, we’ll have to assume the threat was merely intended to tie up manpower and distract us from a different target.”

“Yes, he mentioned that to me a while ago,” Blue confirmed. “So, it looks as if I can come home soon?”

Green noticed his unconscious use of home. “Yes, sir, seems so.”

“Well, in that case, I hope nothing does happen now!  Speak to you tomorrow, Seymour.”

“SIG, Captain. Goodnight, Adam.”

 

~oo0oo~

 

John Svenson met his son at the breakfast table, as was becoming his habit.  Adam was eating toast, an oversize cup of coffee half-empty by his plate.

“Morning,” John said.

“Hi, Dad,” Adam replied after swallowing. He was wondering how to tell his father about his impending return to duty.

John helped himself to cereal and sat opposite his son. They exchanged awkward smiles.  “I have a meeting with the CEO of Flight Inc today, about that jet you were so unimpressed by.”

“I wasn’t unimpressed, just aware that they’ll never get a commercial permit if they don’t address those faults.  I doubt the regulators have eased any since my day,” Adam explained for the nth time.

“You should come along and talk to him. The finance side is well prepared and, on that, it looks a good bet. You need to be there to talk technicalities with him.”

“Just show him my report and tell him it’s from an independent assessor. He’ll have to take notice and you won’t need to talk technicalities.  Don’t be blinded by science, Dad, those faults are real and it will take time and money to get them sorted adequately. When - and if - they do correct them, I think they could have a viable and profitable product.”

“Come along with me.  The meeting’s at 11.30 and we can do lunch. I want to talk to you about a new venture I’m considering,” John urged.

“No, Dad.  Talk to Peter.  I won’t be around long enough to be involved with new ventures.”

John frowned at his son. “Why’s that?”

“The colonel has decided that I should return to base within the next week, if nothing happens.”

“Has he now?” John asked quietly. “How do you feel about that, Adam?”

“Relieved. I cannot stay here indefinitely.” He refused to acknowledge the challenge in his father's eyes.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult to buy out your commission, if you want to stay.”

“I don’t want to buy out my commission!  I want to get back home... to work.” Adam avoided his father’s severe stare by assiduously drinking his coffee. He could see the annoyance in his father’s face, but he didn’t realise it resulted from the hurt that his unintentional use of the word ‘home’ had caused.

More upset than he cared to admit, John slammed down his spoon and stalked from the room.  He went straight to his office, intent on collecting the papers he needed for the day ahead.  Damn the boy, damn the boy! This is his home – this is where he belongs!  He looked up from the desk and his gaze fell on a photograph on the shelf close by.  It had been taken over twenty years ago – when Adam was about twelve – as part of the company’s glossy annual report.  He frowned uneasily at it, as, for the first time, he saw nuances in it that had never been apparent to him before.  

It showed John, sitting in his square, chintz-covered, upholstered armchair in the elegantly furnished, but comfortable, living room, with his two oldest boys.  The children were dressed alike, in white shirts, striped ties and dark braces, grey trousers and tan loafers - miniature versions of their father, who was wearing his usual sober suit, although the silk scarf, draped casually around his neck, gave the impression that he had just arrived, or was soon to depart from the location.

Peter was leaning across the arm of the chair, his head resting on his hands against his father’s shoulder, his fair hair brushing his father’s cheek, as John’s head inclined slightly towards his younger son. Peter’s face was turned towards the camera, but it was obvious that his attention was focused entirely on his father and that he was content to be included in the photograph – if only for the opportunity it presented to spend time with his father. 

Adam’s image was far less harmonious.  He lounged at the other side of the chair, his head bowed slightly so that his hair flopped over his left temple and almost obscured his eye, but he was looking directly at the camera from beneath lowered brows, with an aversion that was almost tangible.  There was the merest suggestion of a pout on his lower lip, as if he resented being made to go through this banal rigmarole.

The memory of the tussle he had had to get his eldest son’s compliance flooded John’s memory – that Adam had not complied willingly was suddenly overwhelmingly apparent from the picture.  He had one hand shoved deep into the pocket of his grey trousers, whilst the other rested lightly on his father’s hand, seeming to acknowledge his earlier disobedience, and ask forgiveness.  A gesture his stern-faced father was ignoring – his rejection made even more obvious by his incline towards the far more biddable Peter.

His own expression was remote from both the children – focussed, instead, on the unseen photographer in a stern reminder of the expected high standard – and in apparent disregard for both boys’ desire for physical contact.

Now, in the light of this fresh insight, John looked away, disturbed by what he was seeing in a picture which, until now, he had always liked, showing - as it did - what he had believed was the secure succession in the company’s upper management.   

Did his son’s repugnance for the whole lifestyle really go back so many years? And had he really missed seeing what was suddenly so obvious?

Swiftly, he moved across and turned the photograph flat on the shelf.  Damn the boy, damn the boy!  Why did he have to be so stubborn!

 

Adam watched his father leave with a sigh. Why does he always have to get mad at me? You’d think he’d accept me for what I am by now…  He almost wished the Mysterons would do something, just so he could deal with it and go straight home. With another sigh he continued his breakfast.

He looked up again as Katherine came in. She was wearing an impeccably tailored dark-grey suit and her blonde hair was drawn back into a severe French-plait, which had the effect of making her appear older than her twenty-six years and subtly emphasised her resemblance to her father and brothers.  She looked a different person from the fashionable night-clubber and rich wild-child she’d seemed to Symphony and Scarlet, when they had seen her at the Spinnaker Club.  Adam barely registered the change in her, her ability to compartmentalise her life was one he was familiar with and which she had, more or less, learned from him.

“What have you done to Dad?” she asked him in exasperation. “He’s just stormed out of here.”

“Nothing.”

Her face registered an expression of disbelief.  She pulled her chair out and sat down, arranging her crockery before she said, conversationally, “He’s been so much more laid back lately, with you around.” It was Adam’s turn to register disbelief. “It must have seemed like all his dreams were coming true – there you were, at the office, working with him on projects.  It’s very unsettling to have him so genial… I mean, he’s even been tolerant of your singing in the shower every morning… something I don’t appreciate, by the way.” She glanced across at him, catching his eye and making sure she had his full attention before she added, “You must surely realise that all this is driving Peter nuts.”

“I guessed that much. But what can I do about it?  I keep trying to distance myself from the company.  Anyway, no-one will have to suffer me for much longer - with luck, I'll be out of here and back to my real job by next week.” His relief was apparent in his voice.

“Ah, that’s what’s upset Dad, then,” Kitty said flatly and began her orange juice.

“He cannot have expected this to last, it was always going to be purely for the duration of the Spectrum mission,” her brother said defensively. “So it can’t be that much of a surprise that I am to be recalled.”

“People hear what they want to hear and then believe what they heard,” she retorted, spreading peanut butter on her toast.

Adam rolled his eyes. “And which particular fortune cookie did that gem come from?”

“S’true, however trite.” She ate her toast and stared accusingly at him.

He flushed under her scrutiny. “This wasn’t my idea, I came for a holiday – to see Mom and the rest of you – I never planned to be here above a fortnight.  I certainly never expected to be spending the best part of a month in the company offices, and if I ever had any doubts about not working there, they have all been resolved by this experience.  I can’t hack it, Kitty-Katz.  I’ve always known it, even though Dad won’t accept the truth.  I’m just not cut out to be a banker. I’d go mad if I stayed here much longer.”

She studied him carefully.  “Don’t tell me, I know it,” she acknowledged.  Adam had started displaying all the symptoms of restlessness that she remembered in him from her childhood. The relaxed, tolerant man he had become was reverting to the tense, waspish, teenager he had been, constantly battling to get his voice heard. 

“Still, you did leave the rest of us with the unenviable task of trying to realise Dad’s expectations, as best we could,” she reminded him a little sharply.   In her time she too had suffered from the certainty that her father was comparing her unfavourably to the ideal he had of Adam doing her job.  She was not immune to the same feelings of inadequacy that were currently driving Peter insane with jealousy, even though she had more self-confidence than her older brother. 

Her eldest brother met her accusation head-on. “You think I don’t know that? I know how much I owe to you and Pete. I don’t think I could have walked away if I hadn’t known Peter had far more talent for this job than I ever would.   And, whatever any of you think about me, I’m not so heartless that I would’ve hurt Dad so much, if there hadn’t been an alternative.”

Kate sighed dismissively and looked away. There was more to it than the clash of wills between Adam and their father – but he had never really seen that, so intent was he on getting his own way.

Of all of her brothers, he was the one she felt closest to.   She had always adored him - from childhood - and he had always spoilt her. However miserable he had been, he’d always had time for his ‘little Kitty-Katz’.   She, in turn, had trusted him with secrets she wouldn’t even tell her mother and he had never let her down – except in this one big instance: when he had left. Even the relationship between her parents had altered subtly once he had gone; she reckoned she had always known he was their favourite, but it had hurt to see it confirmed.  She could remember sitting alone in his bedroom – a room that had never seemed so empty before - hugging that damned teddy-bear he’d always been so protective of and just wishing he would come back home. 

Sometimes, she thought, he is just as selfish and obtuse as Peter always maintains. 

She finished her breakfast in silence, and then they drove downtown in his car - John having left without them both.

 

~oo0oo~

 

            Arriving at the office they were greeted by an anxious Ken Scott, the Vice-President in charge of Financial Reserves. Scott had worked for the company since (as he liked to say) Adam was a lad.  He followed Adam into the boardroom, shutting the door and without preamble said,

            “Thank goodness you are here.  We have a problem, Adz - almost all of our fund accounts are going into the red.”

            “What?  How?”

            Scott handed over a sheet of paper. “I don’t know. The computer system started registering thousands of transactions on Friday and there is no way we are doing that volume of business.  I traced the drain on the reserves to the Hudson in New York, where, according to the daily reports, the recent trend in their transactions has been sharply upwards.   But it is within the parameters we’d expect for this time of the year, given that people do spend around Christmas and in the sales… so we made the usual seasonal adjustments accordingly – extending their credit until the demand has peaked.  It’s just routine.  But when I got here today, their main accounts had fallen below the acceptable levels over the weekend and consequently they started drawing on their funds with us to bolster their cash reserves.  Nothing too unusual there, but that’s when the trouble started.  Their accounts with us were quickly all but wiped out - why is a complete mystery - but somehow, our system then allowed them access to our organisational accounts – the big corporate and government accounts we fund-manage.  That is where the Hudson is drawing its cash from; effectively they are stealing from these accounts.  If this gets out, we’ll both be in trouble and at serious risk of censure or – at the very worst – closure, until the Securities and Exchange Commission are satisfied they are not in breach of the fiscal regulations, and that SvenCorp remains financially sound. At the moment, I have to say, we would not meet the criteria and we’ll shortly be, in effect, trading illegally.”

            “What? Why haven’t you spoken to John?”

            “I’ve been trying to speak to John since he arrived, but he won’t give me a chance,” Scott said with a shrug.  “He’s gone into conference and I cannot get through to him.  Neither Eric nor Peter are here either.” 

            Adam switched on his computer and waited impatiently for it to configure.  Scott handed him another sheaf of paper printouts. There seemed to have been a great deal of activity overnight, with the transaction reports running to hundreds of pages. 

“Okay, Ken, I’ll see what I can do.  Get on to the Hudson and see if they’ve had any luck tracking down what is causing the cash haemorrhage at their end, would you?”

Scott nodded and left the room in a hurry.

            As the computer came on-line Adam went into the Spectrum account details and his expression froze in horror at what he saw. He pushed the intercom to his father’s office.

“Dad, are you accessing the RCF accounts?”

            “Of course not!” John snapped.

            “Then who is?” Adam asked, “There’s a whole stream of transactions going through the accounts.”

            “Nonsense, Adam. I am busy right now, can’t it wait?”

            “I think not.  Would you come here please?”

            The door slammed open and John Svenson stood in the doorway looking like thunder. “What is it?”

            “Did you give anyone else your password?”

            “No.”  The response was barely civil.

            “Look, the screen shows hundreds of transactions going through, amounting to millions of dollars!”

            John walked across and glanced at the screen.  He gasped, studied the screen intently and then printouts Adam wordlessly handed him.  Father and son stood side by side, identical frowns on their faces.

“So much for your impenetrable security. That has to be a virus,” John said contemptuously, dropping the papers to the desk.

            “I know, but how did it get there?” Adam asked.

            “I have no idea; maybe your hacking friend did it? He said something about hacking the Hudson before now,” John suggested angrily. “It has to be stopped, whatever it is.”

            “I know that too.  The Hudson has drawn on the organisational accounts and they have started drawing on the RCF accounts.  They tap straight into the World Government Funds – and those are linked to the major reserves in Futura and the World Banks. This could bankrupt the Government if it goes on at this rate.”

            “Well,” his father said caustically, “that would certainly stop the wheels of commerce, or whatever that threat was.”

            “Oh, godammit!” Adam suddenly made the broader connection and activated the communicator. “Lieutenant Green, get into the SvenCorp system now - there’s a virus emptying the RCF accounts and tapping into the WG funds.”

            “W-what?” the young man stammered, as he punched console buttons and saw what Captain Blue was watching.  “Oh, no… oh, please… what the…?”

            “I have to ask this - although I don’t for one moment believe it likely - this isn’t Magenta’s work, is it?” Adam said, glancing at his father.

            “No, sir, Captain Blue, it cannot be.  The security program would have found it.  It isn‘t showing up yet on the reports I get here.  It must be extremely localised.”

            “Are you sure, young man?” John snapped.

“It isn’t localised, Lieutenant, it‘s pulling in the Hudson Guaranty Trust accounts too,” Blue stated bleakly.

            “Nevertheless, I am positive, sir.  This has to have been introduced locally - the RCF accounts were, to all intents, isolated from the general accounts and there are only a few terminals that link the two systems. This has gone in locally and spread outwards.”

            “How could it have done that?” Adam moaned. “The place is crawling with ground staff security personnel and every machine is password coded.”

            “Someone who has access as a norm then - that’s the only answer.” Green was only half-listening as he tried to slow down the increasingly paced transactions.

            “You mean you suspect me and my son?” Svenson barked.

            “No, sir, I don’t suspect Captain Blue,” Green replied distractedly. Svenson’s snort of rage made him add swiftly, “Nor you, of course.  I need to get Captain Magenta in here and we need to do what we can - the way the system is drawing on World Government funds, we may have to sever all connections to the WG right now.”

            “If you do that, those transactions will bankrupt us in a matter of hours!” John Svenson cried angrily.

            “Go to it, Lieutenant - as quick as you can.”  Blue broke the connection. “They will do what they can and they won’t let us suffer for it. Right now, I have to find out who input that virus and how.”

            “If they cut the connections, we’ll be wiped out in less than a day’s trading,” John raged. “What the hell happened?”

            “Calm down!  I don’t know - yet. But I will find out, believe me.” Adam picked up the printout from yesterday and began scanning for relevant information. “Part of the security regime Spectrum implemented ring-fenced the RCF funds, blocking connections even to the Hudson, unless they were cleared by the password holders - you and me, or the systems administrator - Lieutenant Green.  In theory, nothing should be going through that account that we don’t know about.  Yet it looks, “Adam gazed at the screen, “as if every transaction is going through those accounts!”

            “What do you suggest?” John asked coldly, watching the numbers tumble in the account balance. The screen flashed a red warning of reaching a critical balance level and explained, somewhat plaintively, that its route to additional funds was not responding, should it try again, or should someone call the systems administrator? Irritated, Adam punched the cancel key and the numbers started to fall again, with the machine making increasingly mournful bleeps as it reached new lows.

            In desperation to be doing something, he sent for a Ground Staff Sergeant and ordered him re-test everyone on the executive floor with the Mysteron detector, including a harassed Doug MacIntyre, summoned back to the boardroom to be thoroughly quizzed on what he had been up to.  Ken Scott came back with the depressing news that nothing the Hudson could do was making any difference.

            They were all watching the final credit balances of the RCF account fritter away, when Lieutenant Green came back on the communicator.

            “What news?” Adam asked, adding bleakly, “Spectrum has just gone into the red.”

            “Not much joy, I‘m afraid.. I cannot trace the virus program, it has to be in one of the local machines. Colonel White has ordered me to fly down and work on it there, with you and Captain Scarlet.  Captain Magenta will man the system here. My ETA is forty-five minutes, so, in the meantime, I need you to run the following diagnostics on every executive floor machine. Is Mr MacIntyre there? Good, I’m sending you the details on the Spectrum laptop, get him to help you.”

            “Very well, but make it soon, Lieutenant, we’re running out of time and money here.”

            The young man said hesitantly, “Every transaction made by any account connected to SvenCorp, however remotely, is now routed through the RCF accounts, and these, unable to cope with the heavy seasonal demand, are drawing on every other account…which in turn draws money from the RCF accounts.   The money is going round in circles, but with every transaction, the amount in the kitty is decreasing. It’s clever stuff.   I hesitate to suggest this, but, if you could get the Hudson to shut down all its computerised transactions, including ATM functions, it might help.  The majority of the new debits are coming through that link.  It goes without saying that you should close SvenCorp down as soon as possible.”

            John Svenson looked as if he would explode. “Every transaction?” He spun round to the intercom and barked into it, “Lorraine! I want the brokers to stop trading now!”

            “Mr Svenson?”

            “NOW!”

            Lieutenant Green signed off, leaving the SvenCorp executives to consider the damage already done to their company.

“How could the general checking accounts of the HGT lock into the RCF accounts?” Scott wondered aloud. “There isn’t any way those accounts could be linked.”

Adam looked up with a bleak expression. “There is one way.  Yesterday I transferred the money from the RCF accounts to pay the Spectrum salaries.  A number of those payee accounts are with the HGT.”  My own, included, he added to himself.

            Ken Scott heard this with increasing anxiety. “I’ll get on to the Hudson and see what I can do. They might be willing to close down for a time, but they won’t want to stay down for long, John.  They’ll have even more problems with the financial regulators than we will - not to mention the public - people need access to their cash.”

            “Fine, Ken, if I can leave you to do that, it would be a help,” Adam responded, as his father seemed distracted by the situation. “Will you deal with the SEC as well? Please don’t say more than you have to about the reasons.”

            “I know; there’s a computer virus affecting the system. Can I suggest we have been targeted by computer terrorists?” Scott suggested.

            Adam nodded. “That’s the kind of thing. Assure them we’re on it with everything we’ve got, but don’t mention the Spectrum connection, or the WG’s involvement.  We need to keep the lid on that for as long as possible.  Can you imagine the consequences if the markets thought the World Government was about to become insolvent?”

Scott nodded. “The 1929 crash would look like a picnic! I’ll see what I can do, Adz.” He glanced at John, and back to the younger man. “I’ll keep you informed.”

            “Thanks, Ken.”

            Scott smiled. “It’s lucky you were here, if you ask me.” He turned and left.

            “Where is Peter?” John asked suddenly, looking around. “And Eric, for that matter?  Why aren’t they here?”

Adam shrugged and asked Lorrie.

            Peter and Eric, it transpired, were due in later – after they had had an early morning meeting with Jack Palmer.

 

 

 

Chapter Four: Doing Business

Boston, January 2071

 

Peter Svenson paid off his cab and looked with distaste at the neighbourhood.  It seemed that every time Jack Palmer changed offices it was to a less salubrious location.  The office blocks in this area were about a hundred years old, products of the early phase of construction with glass and steel, with faded panels of coloured glass highlighting the stairs up the three storey building – many of them sporting spidery cracks.  He sniffed.  This is what you got when people started going on about conservation of the past – run-down buildings that were not at all cost-effective.  It would be much better to bulldoze the whole street and put up profitable buildings.

He entered the narrow door and climbed to the first landing   The door on the right had a laminated notice pinned to it, bearing the legend’ ‘jp enterprises’.  He opened it and looked at the office within.  It did not give him hope that things would improve. The receptionist, a young black girl, smiled blandly and asked, without interest, “Hi-there-can-I-help-you?”   She was chewing gum, Peter noted fastidiously.

            “Peter Svenson to see Mr Palmer.”

            “He’s expecting you, go on in.” She pointed at a door bearing another notice: ‘Jack Palmer President.’

            Peter sighed, knocked and opened the door.

            “Peter, welcome!” Jack cried animatedly, coming to meet him, “Isn’t Charise there?  You cannot get these young girls to work properly. Come in and sit down.  Charise?  Coffee, please. Now. Please.”

            Peter perched gingerly on a rickety chair and noticed, for the first time, that there was another man in the room, standing in the darkest corner.  He looked quizzically at Jack.

            “May I introduce Mr Black, my business associate?  This is Peter Svenson of SvenCorp,” he prompted.

            The stranger moved closer and Peter got a good look at him in the dingy light from the window.  He was gaunt, lantern-jawed and very pale.  He looked half-starved and tired. Irrational thoughts of Bela Lugosi and vampires flashed across Peter’s mind and his unease was not lessened by the man’s deep - almost sepulchral - voice with its clipped English accent.

            “Peter Svenson – the brother of Adam?”

            “You know my brother?” Peter gasped.

            “We have met many times, although only briefly over the last several years.”  The man gave what must be called a smile and a heavy chuckle. “I am sure he would be interested to learn I was here.”

            “So, you are Jack’s business associate in this new venture, the… eh, the Ares Project.  Pleased to meet you.” Peter held out his hand and was ignored.  Affronted, he sat back in the chair and turned to Jack.

            “Yes, indeed,” Jack replied heartily. “Tell me what you think of it, fascinating, isn’t it?”

            “There are certainly some interesting aspects of it all, Jack, however, I have a good many questions that will need resolving before we can progress much further with it. Hasn’t Eric arrived yet?  He said he would meet me here.  He has been doing most of the research into the viability of your project, Mr. Black.  I have merely been examining the financial aspects of the project, which I have to say make encouraging reading.  However, I am no expert, and I’m surprised that you think yourself one, Jack.  Space hardware is a very specialised field and the market is small, even today.  The Lunar complexes ran substantially over-budget for many years, and then there was that devastating explosion at Lunarville 6.  So, I don’t really understand how you propose to construct so cheaply - always given there is a commercial interest in Martian exploitation,” Peter explained testily.  He began to wonder if Eric would show up at all, and felt he had been conned into wasting his valuable time with this harebrained scheme; but doing favours for Dad’s old friends was part of the downside of being the son of the company president.

            “Oh, I agree, Peter.  It is a specialised and small market – at the present.  But, I feel sure I am right when I say this market is set to expand.  SvenCorp would be at the forefront of a new, growth, business, with cutting-edge science.  You see, we have a revolutionary new technique - Mr Black has been working on it for some time - and the money is starting to roll in,” Jack Palmer chuckled. “Plenty of people don’t share your scepticism, it seems.”

            “You have already gone public?” Peter frowned.

            “Oh yes, you could say that, in a big way,” Jack smiled.

            “I don’t recall seeing anything.” Peter shifted uneasily as Mr Black moved behind him towards the office door.

            “You will,” Jack promised, smiling even more as Peter crumpled under the blow delivered by Mr Black. “Now what?”

            “Tie him up. We wait.”

            “For what?”

            “Spectrum,” Captain Black spat.

 

            Captain Scarlet strode back into the Executive Offices with Lieutenant Green in his wake.  Lorrie moved to welcome him, just as the door opened and Adam appeared. “Captain, Lieutenant, in here!”

            “Can I get you gentlemen anything?” Lorrie asked as they walked past her desk.

            “Well, a hot drink would sure be nice, Ma’am.” Green smiled, and then turned to hurry into the room past the waiting Captain Scarlet.  After the comfortable artificial atmosphere of Cloudbase, Boston struck him as a wet and freezing cold place.  Unlike Scarlet, he had yet to remove his gloves, or unbutton his uniform coat.

            “Hello, Paul, Seymour. Set the laptop up here, this machine is the one you need.” Adam indicated his terminal. “Although the readings on it look bad!”

            “Hello, Captain... that is…Mr...eh, sir,” Green stammered, setting his machine up as Lorrie came in with a fresh pot of coffee and three china mugs.  “This is still monitoring the situation?” he asked Adam, who nodded.  The money was continuing to trickle out of the accounts, and although closing the systems had slowed it down, SvenCorp was now trading in the red.

Green nodded his thanks as Adam placed a mug of coffee close to his hand. “I’m going to boost the balances with some WG fund money, which the colonel has authorised,” he explained, adding cream to the steaming liquid.  “We don’t want the Securities Board or the Fed closing you down.” He took a mouthful of the scalding coffee before settling down in front of the computer screen and starting to program in data.

            “Too right we don’t!” John Svenson snapped, coming into the room.  Green made to stand, but Adam waved him down.  “What do you intend to do about this, young man?  And how can we ever recoup our losses?”

            “I have Captain Magenta working on that right now, Mr Svenson, sir.”

            “And?” John asked.

            “And he’s working on it, you heard the man,” Adam said. “We’ll get on much quicker, Dad, if you just let Lieutenant Green do his stuff. He knows what he’s doing.” “You said that before, when he put the new system in, and look what happened.”

            “Ah, yes, well,” Lieutenant Green began, “have you traced the machine that introduced the virus yet?”

            “No.  But it wasn’t this one, Dad’s, or any of the general office machines.  We cannot get into Peter‘s or Eric’s machines.  When we disabled their passwords they were told to enter new ones… and record them in the security log – which is kept in the in the main safe – but somehow they forgot to record them… so we don’t know what the new ones are,” Adam admitted.  “I tried the obvious ones, but no go.”

            “Where is Peter?” his father asked. “He should have been back by now...”

            “Password problems?” Green rummaged in his valise and handed over a computer disk. “Try this in there; it’s Magenta’s code-breaking program.”

            “How did you get it?” Scarlet asked, impressed.

            “I didn’t; the colonel made him hand me a copy,” Green admitted. “It tries hundreds of options per second.”
            “We could have done with this at Base Concord, when we were trying to find the codeword to stop that Variable Geometry Rocket from blowing us to smithereens.” Adam smiled at Scarlet. “Then maybe the colonel wouldn’t have thrown several volumes of the rule book at us, for not leaving when he told us to…”

            “When you were trying the machines, where did you start?” Scarlet asked with interest as he followed Adam out of the door.

            “Zero, of course!” his partner grinned as he went towards Eric’s office.

 

~oo0oo~

 

            Magenta watched the computer working, humming to himself as he did so.  He knew the machine would get there in the end, he just didn’t know how long it would take and the colonel was getting restless. But he consoled himself with the thought that you cannot hurry technology. He heard the door open behind him and hoped it wasn't Colonel White again.

            “I brought you a drink and some sandwiches,” Symphony said. “Ochre said you’d been here for hours.”

            “Why, thanks, Karen - you really are an angel!”

            “Very funny, Patrick.” She put down the tray. “How’s it going?”

“As I told the colonel, you cannot hurry technology.” He bit into the sandwich with relish.

            “Sure, but what’s happening?”

            “This program is looking for the money.  It’s found the internal pathway that was taking the money out, and Blue was right – the link came from Spectrum salaries being paid through to Hudson Guaranty.  Now it’s looking where it went after that. Well, not all of it, because some was cash withdrawals from ATMs and it would take years to find that.  But major cash movements,” he said with his mouth full, “interesting, some of it.  Of course, a lot went through the Hudson and on to other clearing banks around the world.  I have a separate program to check those.” He pointed to a second terminal on the next desk.

            Symphony went across. “It’s stopped.”

            “What?  Has it found any significant payments?”

            She stabbed a few keys and glanced through the data that appeared on the screen.  “No, but it has found thousands of minor transfers into the same account, which amount to millions.”

            Magenta put down his sandwich and came to look. He hummed again and tapped in some instructions; the machine obligingly whirled a little and came up with a name.  “Bingo - it seems every time money went through SvenCorp or the Hudson a charge was generated that went to the same account.  J. A. O. P. Black Ventures. Now, I wonder who Mr J. A. O. P Black is.”

            “Black... isn’t that ominous?” Symphony asked.

            “Some people are called Black, you know:  It could be James Andrew Oliver Paul or John Anthony Oswald Patrick,” he grinned.

            “Or - Just Another Of Pitiless Black’s Ventures?” Symphony suggested with a wry smile at the personable Irish-American.

            Magenta gave a weak grin.  “I think I’d better speak to the colonel and Lieutenant Green.”

 

            “Yes, Colonel White?” Captain Scarlet’s cap mic swung down. Having discovered Eric’s password – justice – Blue had checked the machine through and found nothing suggestive of tampering.  That meant that, if the fault was to be found in one of the executive machines as Green hypothesised, it had to be Peter’s.  They had installed Magenta’s program in the machine and left Doug MacIntyre to watch it search whilst they consulted Lieutenant Green as to their next move.

            “Captain Magenta has found an anomaly with a SvenCorp account,” the colonel reported.  “J A O P Black Ventures, number 664597213. Money has been transferred to that account every time the Hudson or SvenCorp computers made a transaction.  Please check it out.”

            “Yes, sir.” Scarlet turned to the three Svensons now sitting around the table. “Does anyone know of an account in the name of J A O P Black Ventures?”

            Katherine shook her head; John Svenson frowned and then did likewise. “Me neither,” Adam added for good measure.

            Scarlet gave him a pained look. “Could you check it, then, please?”

            Kate ruffled her brother’s fair hair and went to the office herself, coming back with a single sheet of paper. “It’s a new account, started... just over two months ago by Eric - JAOP Black Ventures: a subsidiary of ‘jp enterprises’...”

“Jack Palmer! I thought the initials rang a bell. Jack likes to use his initials – or a combination of them - when he creates his dummy companies.”  John extended his hand to his daughter and took the paper from her. He glanced anxiously at his eldest son. “That's where Peter went this morning.” 

            The door opened, and MacIntyre nervously announced that the password to Peter’s computer had been found – prodigal.  Kate gave a snort of laugher and glanced at Adam.

            “What’s so funny?” Scarlet asked her, as they trooped out to the other office.

            “It’s what Peter calls Adam when he’s mad at him.” she confided. “The -ehm - F-ing Prodigal Son.”

            Scarlet smiled. “And what does he call you when he’s mad?”

            “Daddy’s little princess,” she confessed with a grimace.

            Armed with the password, Lieutenant Green swiftly laid open the contents of Peter Svenson’s computer.  There were hundreds of transaction files, all flashing on and off to show that they were active and, even as they watched, the numbers multiplied.

            “Wow,” Kate said. “Jackpot!”

            “It was definitely this machine,” Green said in confirmation. “Although which one of these files has the main instruction virus in, I couldn’t say as yet.  It is obviously producing clones and copies to hide its trail.”

            “Can’t you just switch the thing off and pull out the plug?”  John Svenson said, moving towards the machine.

            “No!” Green called out in alarm. “Sir, we could lose the blasted thing in the mainframe.  The most sophisticated of these kinds of programs have sensor-files that can detect attempts to disable them.  When threatened, they send out clones to every networked address.   This is undoubtedly a very sophisticated program.”  He glanced at Scarlet and Blue, hoping they got the message that he suspected it had been produced by the Mysterons.  “We have to move carefully, or you might even send it down the links to every mainframe SvenCorp and Hudson’s have contact with.  I promise you, I will have the truth out of this box of tricks, if it kills me, but you must give me time....” He frowned at the machine and gave a sigh.

            “What can we do, Lieutenant?” Katherine asked.

            Green was too preoccupied to answer; he activated his cap mic and on the reply said, “Magenta, we have a real beauty here - a work of art.  I think you need to see this - I really do.”

            “SIG. I’ll be there just as soon as I can,” Magenta replied, a note of relish in his voice. “Don’t put it all right before then, will you?”

            Green grinned. “Is that a challenge, Captain?”

            Magenta laughed and cut the connection.

            “Lieutenant, please,” Adam said, “I am sure this is a fascinating intellectual problem, but we have to deal with practicalities. What shall we do?”

            Green looked up at the Svensons, all three standing together and wearing similarly concerned frowns on their handsome faces.

            “Of course, Mr Svenson,” he smiled. “If you could ask your brother which files he put into this machine, without getting them checked first - as he must have done - that would help enormously.”

            “Where is Peter?” John Svenson growled. “I will have his hide for this!”

            “He was meeting Jack Palmer,” Kate reminded him. “Although why we bother with that dead-beat guy beats me!  I know you’ve known him since the Flood, but he’s a jerk, and he has W.H.T. as well.”

            “What?” Adam asked.

            “Wandering hands trouble,” his sister explained. “He’s incapable of not touching something he shouldn’t.”

            “Jack Palmer made a pass at you?” Adam laughed. “Eeuwgh!”

            “My feelings entirely, Adz.”

            “You never told me that!” her father gasped, shocked.

            “Yes, I did! You told me he was just being friendly and he’s known me since I was knee-high and I was fantasising... as if!” Kate snapped back. “The guy’s a perve!”

            “Who is he, exactly?” Scarlet asked, hoping to stop the heated discussion brewing between father and daughter.

            “Jack Palmer is the only son of Leonard Palmer - the man who founded Janx, the technology company.  When his father died, Jack inherited the lot, but he decided he couldn’t be bothered with technology and that his talents lay elsewhere.  He sold the company to a management buy-out; funded by SvenCorp, and founded his own company – jp enterprises. He has consistently lost money ever since, with hare-brained schemes, dodgy deals, and alimony payments,” Adam replied. John looked at him in surprise. “Just because I don’t work here doesn’t mean I keep my head in the sand, Dad.”

            Kate laughed and then sucked in her cheeks as her father glared at her.

            “So, does the guy owe you money?” Scarlet asked.

            “Oh, yes and then some!” Kate snorted. “Last time Pete was going on about it, he said the debt was now into five figures.”

            “What? Why wasn’t I told?” John roared.

“You really need that explained to you?” his daughter responded with a flash of fire in her clear, blue eyes. “Okay, Dad – listen:  One - because Jack is your old baseball buddy and two - we’re just ignorant children who don’t understand the code of doing business with gentlemen,” she told him aggressively, counting on her slim, well manicured fingers. “Three - because our opinions are not worth the breath we expend on them - and lastly - because we’re not Adam, so we couldn‘t possibly have independent opinions on anything that were remotely relevant anyway!”

            “Hey! Leave me out of this,” her brother protested. “It has nothing to do with me.”

            This opened a floodgate.

            “Oh, yes it does, Adz! You have always been the favourite and nothing we ever did was ever going to alter that!”

            “I do not have favourites, Katherine!” John snarled.

            “You do, Dad, you know you do!  Oh, shut up, Adz – what can you know about it?  You haven’t had to live with comments like – well, Adam understood how that worked, and I never had to explain anything twice to Adam!  Is it any wonder Peter gets mad at you?”

            “Look, I am sure this is a very important moment in the lives of you all, but could you please go and emote elsewhere?  I’m trying to sort out this unholy mess!” Lieutenant Green shouted above the uproar.  As mild-mannered as he was generally, Green had an impressive turn of anger and - as the eldest of nine - he was not hesitant about bringing unruly children to heel.

            John Svenson turned to rebuke this unimportant man, but found himself backing down in the face of the lieutenant’s expression.  He recognised innate authority when he saw it, even in the most unlikely people, and this young man’s whole demeanour shrieked of it.

            “Come on, Miss Svenson, Mr Svenson, Adam; let’s leave the lieutenant to it, shall we?  I am sure we would all benefit from a nice cup of tea,” Scarlet said, trying to hide his amusement. Lieutenant Green had put the experience he’d gained working with Colonel White to good use, it seemed.

            “Tea?” Katherine said, with a shaky laugh. She was staring at the young Trinidadian with wide-eyed surprise, but she looked away as Green caught her eye, and turned to give Scarlet a wry smile.  “Mister, this is Boston - we put your tea in the harbour.”

            “Well then, it should be brewed up nicely by now.”  Scarlet grinned at her and stood to one side, his arm extended, to usher his charges out of the room.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Captain Magenta arrived at the SvenCorp building in record time and was soon ensconced alongside Lieutenant Green in Peter’s office, wrestling with the problem of the invasive virus.

The Svensons, all slightly on edge after Katherine’s outburst, sat eyeing each other warily in the boardroom, the remains of a buffet lunch littering the side tables.   Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel - who had piloted Magenta down to the rooftop helipad on the SvenCorp Building - tried to make themselves useful to the computer experts, but Symphony was fidgeting so much that, finally, Scarlet sent her to join Adam, guessing it was his proximity that was making her so jumpy.

She walked into the boardroom and into a tense atmosphere.  John Svenson nodded at her with unexpected geniality before he turned to look out of the window. Katherine smiled a welcome, and tried to think where she had seen this woman before.  Her brother’s reaction - the way his eyes lit up at the mere sight of this stranger - told her far more than he realised. 

Blue made room for Symphony to sit next to him.  She slipped beside him, pressing her leg against his under the table and returned his smile with one that echoed his own delight. 

            “Why did they let you come?” he asked quietly, although his happiness was obvious in his tone.

            “Patrick never could fly helicopters that well and the colonel wanted him here as soon as possible,” she explained with a smile. “I wasn’t going to argue, as you can imagine.”

            “Well, it’s sure good to see you.  I wasn’t expecting to do that for a while yet.” He glanced across at his father, whose expression of tolerant amusement was unnerving. “Dad guessed about...  what happened,” he confessed in a whisper. “Apparently we were making ‘a good deal of noise’.” He gave a wry smile, only she wasn’t looking at him, but straight at his father, meeting the gaze of the older man with a self-confidence many men couldn’t muster in the presence of that domineering personality.

            Without shifting her gaze, she answered, “Were we?  Can’t say I noticed… must’ve had something else on my mind at the time.”  

            Adam watched as a smile of conspiratorial approval spread over his father’s face, even softening the piercing gaze of his blue eyes before he turned away slightly, breaking eye contact with Symphony.

 “Is he mad at us?” she asked quietly, turning back to her lover.

            “Nah, he doesn’t care enough to get mad.  Mom’s the one who might be expected to make something of it - but he hasn’t told her. So, no problems, mate, as Dr Fawn would say…”

            She smiled at him and, without thinking, brushed a stray hair from his shoulder. “Are you regretting it?” She knew the answer already, but wanted to hear him say it.

            “Never and in no way.” He caught her hand and squeezed it. “You ought to know that.  I meant what I said, I love you to distraction.”

            She smiled into his clear, blue eyes and moved to kiss him, closing her eyes in anticipation.

            John Svenson cleared his throat loudly and said, “Isn’t there anything we can do, Symphony Angel?” his voice softened, “and do I really have to keep calling you by that ridiculous name?”

            The lovers sprang apart and she grimaced ruefully at Adam before answering.  “No, Mr Svenson, my name is Karen and you can call me that, if you prefer.”

            “Under the circumstances, I think you’d better call me John,” he replied and gave her an unexpectedly charming smile.

            “What circumstances?” Katherine asked, looking suspiciously at her father and brother. It was virtually unheard of for her father to be so… friendly to strangers.

            “We spent some time together - when all of this first blew up - checking to see if the computer security was up to date.   You were out gallivanting with the Van Heuson boy, Katherine.  This young lady’s grasp of essentials is impressive,” John said, smiling.  Adam felt himself blushing and walked to the window, his back to the others.  It was embarrassing, sharing a personal secret with his father.

            Katherine took a long second look at Karen and then said, “You’re the girl Adam met at the nightclub – before Christmas - now I understand.”

            “No, you don’t!” Adam replied forcefully. “You understand nothing and will say even less - or you’ll answer to me, Katherine Isolde Svenson!”

His sister held up her hands in mock surrender and Karen gave her a half-smile, in sorrowing apology for her lover’s attitude. Kate moved to sit beside her; and the two blonde heads were soon bowed together in earnest and absorbing conversation.  Adam sighed forlornly - there is no hope of keeping any kind of secret now - and then had to grin at his father’s sympathetic expression.

            John moved to stand alongside his son. He placed a hand on his arm and said “Peter still hasn’t come back.  We can’t raise him on his cell phone or his pager. ‘jp enterprises’ are not answering their phones; all we get is a recorded message.  Lorrie has tried Jack’s home number, and Peter’s - Cicely confirms that he went to work as normal this morning.  She’s trying all his other contacts and the emergency services, in case there has been an accident.  I am getting worried, Adam.” 

            “You think that Peter is involved in this, don’t you?” Adam asked hesitantly. “I mean, you think that he introduced the virus and siphoned off the money?   But, if that is the case, where does Eric fit in?  I can’t see Peter working with Eric and Jack Palmer, and if anyone is working with Jack Palmer, surely it is more likely to be Eric; he was the account manager for years. Besides, we are over-looking the most serious part of all this… the Mysteron threat to destroy the Hub and the wheels of commerce.”

“I don’t know what, or who, these Mysterons are, but I cannot see Peter willingly getting involved in any acts of terrorism.  No, I think that it must be a coincidence, but maybe, your brother is in some kind of trouble.  I blame myself, I should have kept a closer eye on Palmer - I always knew he was a slippery customer - and Eric just doesn’t have the killer instinct you need to be a good financier.  My guess is he let Jack run up too much of a deficit and when Peter stepped in, things got out of hand.”

Captain Blue reserved his judgement and considered the situation.  It was highly unlikely that this incident was a coincidence; he was convinced that somehow the Mysterons were implicated in his brother and his cousin’s disappearance. 

An icy-cold hand of fear gripped his heart – if the Mysterons were involved, the chance that either man was still alive was slight.  The only shred of hope lay in the fact that neither had proven positive on the Mysteron scans that everyone was subjected to, as they entered or left the building.  Up until the last time they left here, both were human.  If he could find them, and find them quickly, there might be a chance they would still be human.

His father was still watching him, hoping for some reassurance.  “Maybe the Mysterons are not involved with this and it is a simple case of Peter planning to take the money and run? Maybe Jack and Eric found out and want a cut of the profits…”  He glanced across to gauge his father’s reaction. John Svenson’s grim face was pale.

            “Has that only just occurred to you?  It was my first thought,” his father admitted quietly. “But why Peter would need this amount of money is beyond my comprehension.  I thought he was happy enough.”

            “Well, life with Cicely can’t be a bed of roses,” Adam reasoned, trying to lighten the gloomy atmosphere.

John gave him a bleak smile. “No, she’s not your cup of tea, is she? But have you thought about his life with me? I push him pretty hard. He’s a good financier - not a great one - but he works at it.” He looked steadily at his eldest son. “He’s always wanted to do everything better than you.”

            “He does so much I couldn’t hope to do!  Working regular hours at routine jobs would drive me crazy.  I could not hold this place together.  I’d be another Jack Palmer! I’m good at what I do, but I know my limitations,” Adam said vehemently.

            John looked at him and, for perhaps the first time, believed what he said.  It was a turning point in their relationship, although neither realised it.   He drew a deep breath and asked, “So, what do we do about Peter?”

            We do nothing.  I go and find him.  We should check the airports – it would be better if you rang, rather than Lorrie. We don’t want anyone to know we even suspect there might be something wrong at the top.”

            “Me?” John looked fazed at the suggestion.

            “Sorry - in Spectrum mode for a minute there!  - Symphony; please would you check if there has been a ticket to anywhere reserved for Peter Svenson?”

Kate looked surprised, but Symphony nodded agreement. She had wondered when the family would cross that particular bridge. “I’ll get them to check for Eric too, shall I?”  She looked across at the two men, deeply amused when simultaneously they each ran a hand through their hair.

 “Yes, thank you, Karen, you had better check for Eric too.” John sat down, suddenly looking every day of his age.  “To think it should even be considered as a possibility that a Svenson would be responsible for doing this.”

            Adam glanced at his father and wished he could think of something to lift his depression.  He continued, “Kate, get Cicely to check if Peter’s passport is at home. It’s not in his safe here, I looked.” He gave his father an apologetic glance.

            “What will you do?” John asked, accepting his son’s authority without question.

            “Get suited and go look for him.” He left the room and, after getting an update from Scarlet on the progress with the computers, slipped into the executive washroom, where he had, fortuitously, left his uniform after his last lecture at the Boston HQ.   He emerged, some minutes later, in full Spectrum uniform and crossed to the boardroom, well aware of the goggling surprise from the office staff still at their desks.  There were some things that were more important than maintaining a cover story and, as far as he was concerned, the safety of his younger brother was one of those things.

            Katherine gaped as she looked up from her call to Cicely; she knew Adam worked with Spectrum in some capacity, and she had heard of the gallant Captain Blue - the man who had saved the World President’s life and was now the partner of the equally dauntless Captain Scarlet - but never for one moment had she connected him with her laid-back older brother. 

Symphony, waiting for Lieutenant Claret to check all  the airline booking records through the Spectrum computers, felt her heart leap with a rush of desire as she saw him, dressed once more in the familiar light-blue tunic, boots and cap.

            “Hello, Captain Blue, good to have you back,” she said softly as he walked past her.

            He gave his perennially boyish grin. “Yeah, seems like I’ve been away too long.  I do believe I’ve put on weight.”   He fingered the edge of the tunic and pulled it down, in a gesture so familiar to her that she laughed.

            John stared across the room at his son. He had never seen him in uniform, apart from on the odd newscast, when Spectrum’s scrambling technology mean the pictures could have been anyone. He felt torn as he looked at him, proudly wearing the uniform his father avowed to despise. There is something new about him, John thought, as Adam returned his stare; he’s even more authoritative and even more imposing.  He gave a slight nod towards his son.  “It suits you.”

            “No, I suit it,” Adam tried to explain. “It gives me the confidence to do the job I’m good at.”

            “And that will include finding Peter?”

            Captain Blue nodded.  He came closer and suddenly John sensed an uncertainty.  He raised his brows in silent query and, after a moment, Adam asked quietly, “Looking at it from his point of view, Dad, d’you think he will thank me for rushing in and playing the bold rescuer?”

            “If he needs rescuing, Adam, he won’t care who does it and you should know that well enough, without me having to remind you,” John said quietly. “Peter doesn’t have your strength; of mind or body.  He can’t take what you’ve had to.  I think we should make moves, son, before something happens to him.”

            Blue shrugged and sighed. “I’m just paranoid: about upsetting him any more than I already do - I mean - just by being here.”

            His father gave him a smile of rare understanding.

            “If this is about what Kate said; I always tried not to have favourites, but you are a hard act for anyone to follow.  To be honest with you, Peter was always on a hiding to nothing, Adz.  But I made it all the tougher for him, because I think I always knew you wouldn’t settle for this,” he waved a hand in a gesture that encompassed the building and the city below, “and I feared that you would move so far beyond my sphere, that I would not be able to help you and, consequently, I would be less important to you.  You see, it mattered very much to me that you needed me.  Now, I can honestly say, that I am proud you didn’t need my help to make a success of your life. What you have achieved you have done by your own endeavours – and that is something every father should be proud of.”

            There was an uncomfortable pause.   Neither of the Svenson men was used to speaking so openly about their emotions. 

With an instinctive knowledge that he might never have another chance, Adam confessed in a low whisper, “If I had ever thought, for one minute, that you were proud of me - of the choices I made - it would make everything so much easier.”

            John’s surprise was palpable. “Good God, Adam - how could you ever doubt I am proud of you? You have always made me fit to burst with pride!   I know I was occasionally unreasonable about some things in the past,” Adam snorted derisively,  “but I always appreciated what it must have taken for you to stand up for your ambitions. In that, at least, Adz, you are one hundred percent a Svenson.” John put his arm around his son’s broad shoulders and hugged him, to the surprise of both.   They shuffled apart, rather embarrassed by their own demonstrative behaviour.  “Now, let’s find Peter, whatever those coloured shirts next door say!” John concluded, with an encouraging punch on his son’s arm.

 Heartened, Adam went back to Peter’s office, where his Spectrum colleagues were busily trying to combat the effects of the virus.

            “Captain Blue?” Scarlet jumped up and came to the door. “What are you doing?” He eyed the uniform and nodded towards the watching office staff.

            “I am going to find my brother - and my cousin. I think it is about time someone actually did something around here. I’m going to try the jp enterprises offices; that’s the last place we know, for certain, they went.  I’m going to take an SPV and if you want to stop me, you’ll have to arrest me, which - as Field Commander - I guess you have a right to do.  But I have to warn you, Captain Scarlet, that if you try it, not only will I never forgive you, but I will fight you, all the way.”

            Magenta and Green looked up from their work and watched the confrontation with anxious interest.

            “No, Captain Blue, I won’t arrest you.  I think, perhaps, you are right.   We have lost sight of the fact that there are civilians involved in this and, possibly in danger.  However, I will say this - and I want you to know that I mean every word of it, Captain - if either Eric or Peter Svenson has been Mysteronised, it will be my duty to kill them.”

            “If either of them is a Mysteron, I will kill him. Understood?”

            “Adam...” Scarlet began to protest.

            “Understood, Captain?” There was no arguing with the stern expression on Blue’s face.

            Scarlet dropped his eyes in defeat. “SIG, Captain Blue,”

            Blue let out a sigh of pent-up tension.  He had said the one thing that really worried him about the affair.  If the Mysterons were holding Peter and Eric, they would surely have been killed by now, to be recreated as the automaton slaves of the implacable aliens.   If that had happened, all Spectrum officers knew there was no alternative to killing them.  No Mysteronised individual – with the exception of Captain Scarlet – had ever been ‘recovered’ from their thraldom. The Svensons were the first members of any agent’s family to be targeted in such a way – and even though the thought terrified him, Adam knew he could never live with the guilt if he allowed anyone but himself to free his relatives from their torment. 

 

Together they went through to the boardroom and Scarlet spoke to the remaining occupants of the room.

            “Mr Svenson, the work on the virus is progressing nicely.  Captain Magenta thinks he will be ready - and able - to devise a program to counteract its effects very shortly.  Lieutenant Green has convinced the Securities and Exchange Commission that everything is under control.  You might care to speak to the Hudson again, as I understand they are getting tired of fielding complaints about the ATMs being out of commission and there is no immediate prospect of them coming on-line, as yet.  From what my colleagues have been able to discover, it seems that every transaction undertaken through any system that has a link to SvenCorp generates a charge on SvenCorp accounts - initially it was just the RCF accounts, but once Green closed the link to the WG funds, the program looked farther afield, and took credits from any account still in balance.  That’s why your own accounts went into the red.   The funds were all transferred to the JAOP Black Ventures portfolio – so Captain Magenta believes that most should be recoverable, in time.”  John Svenson pursed his lips and shook his distinguished head.   Scarlet continued before he could reply, “Meanwhile, Captain Blue and I are going to try to find your cousin and your younger son.  Please remain here, and if you should hear anything from Peter or Eric, let Symphony, Magenta or Green know and they will contact us.”

            “I’m coming with you,” Symphony said, rising from her seat and coming to her lover’s side.

            “No, you’re not,” Blue said crisply. “I need you here.  I need to know you are safe and I need to know that… if I have to... if… the news is not good… someone who understands will be with my family.  Please, Karen, don’t argue - there’s a good girl.”

            “A what?” she gasped, affronted.

            “There's my girl,” he amended and kissed her before she could reply. “Come on, Captain Scarlet.”

            “SIG, Captain Blue.” Scarlet winked at Symphony.

            “Look after him, Paul,” she begged.

            “Don’t I always?” Scarlet teased, hurrying after the rapidly disappearing figure of his best friend.

 

            Captain Blue commandeered an SPV from the ground staff and turned the heavy vehicle out into the speeding traffic. 

            “Do you know where we’re going?” Scarlet asked, punching up a road map on the dashboard computer.

            “Naturally.” Blue threw on the brakes. “Moron,” he shouted, “if you had the brain of a stunned amoeba, you’d know better than to argue with a frigging tank.”

            The other driver blew a fanfare on the car horn. “Same to you, sunshine!” Blue yelled, apparently uncaring that he couldn’t be heard. “The drivers around here don’t get any better,” he said conversationally, as he changed lanes to more blaring car horns.

            “No,” Scarlet said weakly. “You’re usually a much better driver than this, what’s wrong?”

            “This is Boston - I’m just driving like the natives!” Adam laughed.

            “Well, I guess you have more right than anyone else.  Mind that lorry!”

            “Calm down, he can see us - we’re bigger than he is.”

            “I hope we don’t have to go far...” Scarlet murmured and closed his eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Five: Brotherly Love

 

It seemed an age before the SPV came to a halt and Captain Scarlet could open the door and descend to the ground with a thankful sigh.  Captain Blue was already striding towards an office building across the street and with a sigh Scarlet scurried after him. 

It wasn’t often that Blue really got the bit between his teeth, but when he did there was no point arguing – you really just had to go with the flow and hope you could keep up.  They were both experienced field-agents with a complementary array of skills that made them perfect partners, but in certain situations, like this one, Captain Blue reverted to Adam Svenson, head of the WAS Security Department and a one-man task force. 

Captain Scarlet followed him across the street with the rueful thought that, for once, he was very much the ‘Indian’ to Blue’s ‘Big White Chief’….

Overhead, the sky was growing increasingly dark.  Two street lights had already come on, glowing flamingo-pink as the bulbs heated – soon they would turn to the familiar fluorescent amber.  The seemingly perpetual drizzle of sleet was picked out against their glow.  Scarlet grinned. And I used to warn Adam that it rained at lot back home, he thought ruefully, no wonder he was always so blasé about it…

 Along from where the SPV was parked, one office building was ablaze with lights.  Others showed only the glow of sparsely occupied rooms. In the building Blue was heading for, few lights showed, with the exception of the subdued lighting up the central stairwell. 

Blue hesitated before the door and squinted at the name plates in the gloom.  He gave a satisfied nod and pushed against the door which - the electronic security lock being inoperative - opened with a protesting squeak. The general impression was that the building was deserted, or at least, very sparsely populated. 

Immediately on their right was an empty front office; its surviving desk was dusty and covered with scattered circulars and old post.  Along the gloomy corridor were empty rooms, some of the doors locked or padlocked – obviously they were not in current use.

The paint on the staircase was dirty and peeling and the stairwell was lit by a dim and flickering light. A few tawdry Christmas decorations still hung along the corridor.  In the gloom of the winter’s day they only added to the overall impression of dereliction.

Blue led the way up the stairs, his long legs easily taking two of the shallow steps in a stride.  As he reached the first landing he paused, and his hand went to his pistol.

 Coming along behind, Scarlet eased his gun in its holster too.  Some instinct was making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.  He strained his ears for any sounds that might show that there were people in the building.  Somewhere above their heads on an upper floor, a door slammed and footsteps echoed down the stairwell, followed by another slamming door.

Blue glanced across at him and indicated the door on the left of the landing. It bore a laminated paper sign, which read ‘jp enterprises’.

             “Looks deserted,” Scarlet whispered.  He stepped before his partner and tried the door, raising his eyebrows in surprise as it opened easily enough. The small, poky office beyond it was deserted, but bore signs of a more recent occupation than the downstairs rooms - the single desk was covered in an untidy pile of papers. 

Cautiously, and with as little noise as possible, they edged in, taking care that the door did not slam behind them.  Scarlet holstered his gun and went to the desk to examine the papers, whilst Blue moved towards the door of an inner office.  It had a frosted glass panel in the upper part, and he leant towards it, careful to keep to one side, and frowned in concentration as he listened for any movement. 

Scarlet was still reading the documents on the desk.  “Blue,” he hissed, “these papers are talking about something called the ‘Ares Project’.   Now correct me if I’m wrong - which I know you will do anyway - but Ares is the Greek God of War, right?  Their equivalent of the Roman God Mars?”

Blue nodded.

“Well, then, that’s the link to the Mysterons. It seems as if your brother and cousin have got themselves entangled in a Mysteron plot.  I am more and more convinced that whatever has been going on at SvenCorp is part of their last threat. For some reason, the Mysterons have chosen to view your family and their business as legitimate targets. ”

Blue nodded again, but made no other response.  Scarlet looked across as if expecting an answer, but the American placed a finger against his lips and moved slightly away from the door, before suddenly kicking it open with one of his booted feet. The thin door crashed back on its hinges, ricocheting back from the wall and slammed into Blue as he moved through.   He brushed it aside with his elbow as Scarlet dropped the papers and drew his pistol again. 

Why didn’t he wait or warn me he was about to do that? he thought with some irritation, and then he saw what Blue had somehow divined.  At the far end of the room, Peter Svenson was tied to a chair and gagged with tape, his head hanging dejectedly on his chest.

The prisoner’s head shot upright at the noise of the door, and his eyes widened in terror.  His face was grimy with the tracks of tears, and he was covered in sweat, his fair hair clinging damply to his head.  He struggled to say something, shaking his head vehemently, but his brother didn’t wait.  Blue strode into the room, despite Scarlet’s warning call.

“Pete! Thank God you are safe!” he exclaimed.

            As Blue strode towards his struggling brother, Scarlet saw Eric Svenson emerging from the shadows, behind the door.  The gun in his hand was pointing straight at his cousins. 

            “Blue!” Scarlet yelled.  He fired off a shot towards Eric, and raced forward, intent on providing cover for the brothers.

            Although startled, Eric Svenson still managed to dodge the bullet and, recovering his balance, he fired several shots at Scarlet.  One bullet caught the captain in the thigh and Scarlet gasped as, spun around by the impact, he collapsed across the only desk in the room, sending papers flying all around.

Turning back to the brothers, intent on killing them both, Eric’s face momentarily registered shock as, without hesitation, the other Spectrum captain, his instinct and training overcoming his surprise and grief, blasted several rounds at him, each one hitting him in the chest. 

            The Mysteron agent reeled from the impact, a look of complete surprise on his face.  “Adam?” he stammered in confusion, “w..what have you done?” He grimaced at the pain and dropped to his knees.

On the chair beside him, Peter was bleating with fear, struggling to free himself of the ropes that bound him.   Blue holstered his gun and turned to his brother. “This will hurt - believe me, I know,” he said and ripped the tape from Peter’s mouth in one swift movement.

            “Adam, oh, my God - you killed him!” Peter gasped, tears streaming down his face.

            Adam ignored the remark, thinking this has to be Pete – he’s still stating the frigging obvious.  He fished his penknife from his pocket and slashed the ropes binding Peter’s hands. “Are you okay?” he asked.

            “You killed him!” Peter repeated, unable to stop staring at the body lying in the pool of blood.

“Yes, Pete, I guess it must look that way – but I cannot even begin to explain here. Did he hurt you?”

“No, well… yes, they did.  There were two of them – Jack Palmer and another man – Black – he said he knew you.  They… they hit me with something and when I came round, I was tied up. Eric was here – I thought he was their prisoner too, that Palmer had some mad scheme to ransom us – or something – but it soon became clear that Eric was in it with them.” Peter wiped his hand over his face and stared in confusion at his brother. “I asked him what he thought he was doing, getting involved in such a mad scam and he said Dad owed him after all these years – I …I didn’t understand.” Peter’s eyes closed against the painful images that flooded into his mind’s eye. “Palmer started laughing – he said ‘revenge was a powerful enough motive for any actions and that it could be far more dangerous that anyone imagined’.  I didn’t understand – I don’t understand! - but then, he drew a gun and, I thought he was going to shoot me – I really did… I guess Eric did too, because he begged him not to do it… Then Palmer just turned and shot him.  He shot Eric!”

Adam crouched beside his brother, his arms around Peter’s shaking body as jagged sobs tore through him.  “I was scared, Adz – so very scared - I thought I was next!  Palmer dragged Eric’s body out of the room – leaving me with that creep Black.  God, that man was terrifying – I was more frightened of him that I was of Palmer – who is so obviously deranged.” Peter fought to re-establish his self control and drew away from his brother’s comforting embrace.

“You had every reason to be scared of him – Black is just about the most dangerous man on the planet, right now,” Adam said, accepting Peter’s need to be left alone with good grace.  He placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “Where did he go?”

“He stayed here until Palmer came back.  That was so weird – he came back with Eric!  A walking, talking, living Eric!  I couldn’t see the point of that charade – of pretending to kill him – unless they wanted to frighten me?  I mean, I really thought he was dead – he had a huge hole in his chest…” Peter broke down again.

Adam waited until his brother calmed down again.  “Where did Black go?” he asked again.

“He and Palmer, they left, I think, went upstairs.  Black told Eric to stay here, to guard me and to kill me if I tried to get away or to warn you.  He said you were coming with Spectrum and Eric was to kill you and any Spectrum agents with you.  Eric didn’t sound like himself – he said…” Peter barely needed to think to drag the chilling words from his memory, “he said – the Mysterons’ orders will be carried out.  Who are the Mysterons?  What the hell is happening?”

Adam looked with pity at his brother.  Peter was almost hysterical with fear and confusion.  He put an arm around him.  “It’s okay, Pete, looks like you had a lucky escape.” Peter looked at his brother and realised for the first time what he was seeing.  Adam was wearing a Spectrum uniform – a pale blue uniform…

“Why are you dressed like that?”

“I’ve been recalled to duty – I’m back at work,” Adam replied abstractedly.  “Now, let’s take a look at Scarlet.”  He left his brother and went to see if he could help his partner. 

“You’re a colour captain with Spectrum?  Since when?  I mean, I knew you worked with them…” Peter asked as he trailed after his brother.

“Since I left the WAS.” Adam’s curt response effectively ended the conversation and Peter held fire on the other questions he had.

Captain Blue examined the unconscious Scarlet carefully.  The bullet was lodged in Scarlet’s thigh and he suspected the bone might have fractured too.  He turned his partner over, and sent Peter to fetch water from the drinking fountain in the outer office.  By the time his brother returned, the glass was half empty – Peter’s hands were shaking so much. Blue sent him back again, whilst he slowly dribbled water between Scarlet’s lips.

“Come on, Paul, wake up,” he murmured, seeing the colour seep back into his friend’s face.  The intense-blue eyes flickered and opened - pain immediately closing them again with a grimace.

“You okay?” Scarlet asked, simultaneously with Blue’s identical question.

“Yep, we’re both okay, thanks to you.  I shot… what was Eric,” Blue replied.

Scarlet opened his eyes, concerned at the pain he heard in Blue’s voice.  He struggled to sit upright and gave a sharp intake of breath.  He glanced at Peter, who was hovering as close to his brother as he could.

“And your brother?”

“Pete’ll be okay.  He’s in shock, and he’s been bashed about, but he’s fundamentally sound.” Blue’s tone indicated that he wasn’t open to argument on this one. “It seemed they targeted Eric.”

“Nevertheless,” Scarlet said, “we’ll have to get him checked over – can’t be too careful.”

Blue nodded his reluctant agreement.

“I had nothing to do with it,” Peter protested, justifiably misunderstanding Scarlet’s concern.  “Can we go, please?” he pleaded, his eyes returning to the body of his cousin on the floor.

Scarlet looked at Blue.  Something was telling him that this could not be all there was to the problem and the expression on his partner’s face confirmed that he was not alone in his belief.  Whatever he had learned from his brother had not convinced Blue that the mission was over.

“Peter says Black was here,” Blue said, with some reluctance.  He was worried that Scarlet would insist on doing more than it was safe for him to do, given his wounded state.  The capture of Captain Black had become something of an obsession with his friend, and sometimes, Scarlet took too many risks in pursuit of that objective.  The wound in his leg was going to hamper him, and until his retrometabolism had finished its work, Paul was vulnerable – or at least, more vulnerable than usual.

 “You get Peter out of here, into the SPV, at least.  I want to check out the upper storeys, there was movement up there, it could be Black – and even if it isn’t, we can’t leave that other guy - Palmer?  - running around taking pot shots at your family,” Scarlet said decisively.

Blue nodded.  “I’m guessing that Jack Palmer is a Mysteron too.  I’ll see Pete is okay and come back…”

“I’ll be okay.”  Scarlet heaved himself off the desk, staggered slightly as his injured leg hit the floor, but he regained his balance quickly enough and leant back against the desk.

“You need to go to a hospital,” Peter said, with a hint of his usual officious tone.

“Yes, I will… later,” Scarlet responded, gingerly testing his leg for its support.

Blue made a move towards the door.  “Come on, Pete, I’ll let you into the SPV – but you’ll have to promise me that you won’t touch anything…”

“Huh, you don’t need to order me about… I know well enough when to leave things alone.”

Blue’s look of exasperation made Scarlet chuckle and even as the brothers walked out towards the stairwell, he could hear Peter complaining about something and nothing, and Adam’s tone of exaggerated patience in reply. 

I guess he knows him well enough to be sure he’s not a Mysteron; I hope so, for his sake.  There ought to be a Mysteron detector in the SPV… Adam can check him out… if he remembers, of course.  What a day it’s been… he thought ruefully.

Scarlet holstered his pistol and sat on the desk for a while, reading a few more of the documents, until his leg felt able to take his weight without too much discomfort.  He learned how Palmer had set up the business proposal he had presented to SvenCorp.  References to ‘a new construction technique’ made Scarlet smirk with wry humour.  Perhaps the Mysterons are developing a sense of absurdity, he thought, I wonder if their new, cheap technique is retrometabolism?

His attention was drawn to a sudden movement on the floor beside him, Eric Svenson’s eyes had opened and moments later the man was lurching back to his feet.  Scarlet could see through the blood-soaked tears in his shirt that his wounds had healed. He knew better than anyone that Mysteronised agents could never be considered truly dead until they had been subjected to an electrical charge.  Spectrum had developed an electron rifle to deliver that charge and he had been the first to see its effectiveness when he had had to use it on a colleague who had fallen victim to a Mysteron attack.  Ironically, Captain Indigo had been part of the team that had developed the gun, as well as its first victim.

However, it was rare for agents to revive from even a non-electrical death if the Mysterons had decided that the mission was completed, so this was confirmation, if any were needed, that they still expected their agent to complete the mission.   That their power extended to reviving a body already twice-dead was not that much of a surprise, but it was inconvenient – to say the least.

 Svenson sprang at the Spectrum officer, his hands reaching for his neck.

Anticipating the attack, Scarlet slithered off the desk and Eric’s hands met his polo-necked tunic sooner than expected. That simple surprise gave Scarlet all the advantage he needed.  He punched the Mysteron in the stomach, putting all his weight behind the barrage of blows.  Eric Svenson was fit enough for a man of his age, but he was no match for a trained soldier.  He gasped, his hands slipping down from Scarlet’s neck under the relentless punishment.  Finally, a well-aimed uppercut to the jaw made the man stagger back.  Scarlet moved in, landing punch after punch on the now disorientated man.  Eric slipped to the floor and Scarlet kicked at him, his red boot connecting with his jaw with a resounding crack, as the bone shattered.

The Mysteronised Eric Svenson sank unconscious at his feet. 

“And stay there,” he muttered, rubbing his leg, which was pounding painfully with the rhythm of his heartbeat at the exertion.

He wondered when Blue would come back.  More than likely, it would not be until Peter was safely ensconced in the SPV and possibly not until reinforcements from the Boston HQ were on their way.  Meantime, the chances were that Captain Black, if he was still in the building, would be getting away.

Still limping slightly, he left the office, barricading the door with the reception office desk, in case the Mysteronised Eric Svenson should show a further inclination to attack.  When the ground force reinforcements arrived, they could finish the Mysteron off with one of the electron guns. 

After checking out the offices on the other side of the corridor, he began to climb the stairs, ignoring the protesting spear of pain jabbing into his leg with every step.  Although his enhanced healing process worked quickly and enabled him to survive almost any injury, it did not actually remove the pain of those injuries, until the healing was complete.  He wiped the sweat from his face and gritted his teeth.  The nagging unease he was feeling was proof enough, for him, that Captain Black was close by.  Spectrum had been longing to get their hands on Black, ever since he had returned from the ill-fated Martian Expedition that had inadvertently started this war of nerves between the Mysterons and the people of Earth.

Scarlet had more personal reasons to wish for Black’s capture.  His dreams were still peppered with nightmarish images of the car-crash that had killed Captain Brown and led to his own death at the hands of his erstwhile colleague – Conrad Turner.  He knew that Blue thought him too concerned with capturing Captain Black, but even Blue would admit that - as he was the Mysterons’ senior agent – putting Black out of action would be a major step towards defeating their alien foe. The knowledge that his partner would be coming in as back-up bolstered his confidence.

At the second landing he paused and looked out into the street.  He could see that the SPV had been moved further along the street from the building and was now facing the other way, so that its headlights illuminated the frontage.  He smiled.  Obviously Blue was anticipating that, at some point, they might have to use the cannon on the building and raze it to the ground.  As he looked, the off-side door panel slid open and he saw Captain Blue descend to the ground on the hydraulic seat. It was obvious that Adam was still arguing with the occupant of the vehicle and that he was not amused when the headlights flashed off and back on again.

Shaking his head with a tolerant smile, Scarlet moved stealthily towards the offices on this floor.  He could hear nothing – no sound of keyboards tapping, no telephones ringing, no murmur of voices. He halted and relaxed for a moment, concentrating his sharp hearing and waiting to see if anything triggered the nausea he associated with the presence of Mysteron agents. 

Below him, he heard the rusty hinge of the street door protesting as it was pushed open.  Blue’s here, he thought.   He heard nothing else – but he didn’t expect to – Blue could move as quietly as a cat, when he had to.

He went on towards the first office.  He dared not leave them unexplored, yet he resented having to be so cautious.  The first room was identical to the first floor office, except that it was empty.  A fine film of dust covered the floor.  It had been empty for some time, quite obviously, so no need to check the office beyond that.  There was a small washroom, with a crudely chalked matchstick figure on the door, the triangular skirt leading him to believe that it was meant to represent a female.  Sighing, Scarlet pushed the door open… he always hated having to check these places out and - on the occasions when there were ladies in them - he felt like some kind of pervert.  This one looked empty, but he pushed the doors to the two cubicles open – just in case.  He doubted if Captain Black would allow a little thing like gender to stand in the way of a good hiding place.

He emerged from the toilets to see Blue striding up the stairs two at a time. He saw Scarlet and nodded.

“There’s no-one here,” Scarlet whispered. 

“Where’s Eric?”

What?  I left him unconscious in the office.  He revived and attacked me, after you left… so I barricaded the door to prevent him getting out again.”

“Well, he ain’t there now, buddy.”

“Isn’t the door still barricaded?”

Blue shook his head.  “It was wide open…. I expect he climbed over the desk you left there.” He smiled. “Your retrometabolism has affected your brain, Paul, the door opened inwards, remember?”

“Wonderful,” Scarlet grimaced.  It was often hard for him to keep his mind sharp whilst his body was healing itself.  Such was the enormous drain on his energy that usually he would try to sleep, but now he had to keep going. He gave an apologetic shrug, which Blue acknowledged with a smile.  “Is there an electron gun in the SPV?” he asked.

“There certainly should be – remember when Ochre was in Lisbon and the local vehicle he was using didn’t have one?  After the rollicking the colonel gave every terrestrial base about keeping their vehicles in operational order, I’d be surprised if this one wasn’t fully equipped.”

“Did you check Peter with the Mysteron Detector?” Scarlet asked as casually as he could, but Blue still gave him a sharp glance.

“Yes, I’m not that dumb.” He neglected to remark on his brother’s incensed reaction to the test.

Scarlet nodded and left it at that.  He ought to have known that Blue was too thorough not to check his brother, even if his instinct told him he was clear.  He changed tack slightly and said, “You had better fetch the gun.  If Eric has been retrometabolised twice… something major is going on.”

“I should have brought it with me… it’s my fault.” Blue said with an irritated sigh.  He turned away and as he started down the stairs he gave a low moan. “Paul…”

Scarlet hobbled over.  In the powerful glare of the SPV headlights, they could see the unmistakable figure of Eric Svenson moving towards the SPV. Before he could begin to speak, Blue had reacted and started racing down the stairs, two at a time, swinging round the landings on the banister rails.

Scarlet hesitated – should he follow?  He had started to descend when he heard a door slam on the floor above him and footsteps walking away along the corridor.  He activated his cap mic.

“Blue, you take care of Peter…chances are it’s Black up there on the next storey…”

The only answer was the protesting squeak of the street door.  Scarlet turned and raced upstairs, just as fast as his legs would take him.

 

~oo0oo~

 

“… and it just spilled out, all over the floor!  The colonel was furious…” Captain Magenta said, his dark eyes sparkling with amusement at the uproarious laugh that burst from Lieutenant Green.

“I wondered what the story behind that was… I knew Ochre got a right ticking off…”

“Oh yeah, even he had to take it seriously that time.  But, it didn’t last long, he was already planning…” He broke off and his tone changed completely. “Seymour, do you see what I’m seeing?”

Green looked at his screen. “Jumping jelly-beans.  No way can that happen – it’s not possible.  You put so many walls around that thing…”

“Not enough, obviously.  It’s started again…” Magenta started entering instructions into his machine.  He considered the information that scrolled back at him and said, “I don’t think it is quite the same thing.  This time it’s not only attacking the WG funds.  That new link is to the Federal Reserve Bank. It’s breaking out of the confines of the SvenCorp computers and their links. Get onto the Hudson, Lieutenant; see if they have opened their ATMs. Quickly!”

Green staggered from the office and raced across to the boardroom. 

Symphony was still talking to Katherine Svenson and smiling broadly at the family history she was reliving for her amusement.

“I don’t know all the stories,” Kate was saying, “I was too young to take much interest, but I do remember that he was hopeless with girlfriends. He was always getting dumped – but then he never seemed to care anyway.  I think he was nervous of them – the girls at college - he was the youngest in his year – he was only sixteen when he started Harvard - and the girls were all a couple of years older than him.  He never asked them out, I know that.  If he needed a Prom date, there was always Melissa.   And anyway, even when he was supposed to be ‘dating’ someone, they would usually end up going off in a huff pretty quickly - mostly because he’d spend all his spare time under a car or stripping down his Harley Davidson - instead of taking her somewhere nice…but I didn’t mind, because I could sit in with that.” 

Symphony chuckled.  “He hasn’t changed much,” she confided, “he still loves messing about with machines…”

She looked up at Green’s unexpected entrance.

“Symphony, Miss Svenson – the virus has mutated and re-emerged in a new and unexpected quarter - it is now attacking the Federal Reserve.  I need to know if the Hudson has opened any of their ATMs or if anyone here has started transacting business recently.”

Katherine stood.  “Come with me, Lieutenant, I can deal with that… what exactly has started happening?”

“Well, it’s like this, Miss Svenson…”

“Kitty – my name is Kitty…”

“Well, the virus has started drawing from the funds – much as it did before - but with new outside sources. Something must have triggered it and we need to eliminate the possibilities before we can find the source…Kitty.”

“Lorrie – get me Ken Scott – now!”

“Yes, Miss Kate…”

Symphony had followed them to the door and watched as the blonde swept into her father’s office, Lieutenant Green in her wake.  As Lorrie put the call through, she asked,

“You called her Kate – who calls her Kitty, around here?”

The PA glanced at the young woman and pursed her lips. “Well, her brothers do – sometimes - and her father, when he’s in a good mood.  I wouldn’t dare, I know that.”

Symphony shrugged thoughtfully and strode across to the office Magenta was using.  She watched as he typed furiously, grimacing at every failure of his attempts to prevent more damage.  She walked round to watch the screen. It was only then he acknowledged her presence.

“Something has started an even more virulent attack than the initial one.  Every replicated file is attacking another source of funds.  This way, if we don’t stop it, the whole banking system could collapse in hours…”

“Where is the money going?”

“A hidden off-shore account… I suspect.  You know,” he said as he stopped typing and looked up at her, “I’ve done a lot of this myself, in the past... but I’ve never seen something that worked this fast and was so well hidden.  I made my name with tricky financial scams … and I’m flummoxed with this one.”

She rested a hand on his shoulder.  “I don’t believe it, Pat.  You’re the measure of any computer clever-kid…”  She glanced at Green’s screen and frowned.  “What is Seymour checking?”

Magenta leaned across.  He tapped a few keys.  “That’s Eric Svenson’s machine…” His face showed his surprise. “It shouldn’t even be switched on.”   With one accord the Spectrum agents moved across to Eric’s office. On his desk his computer stood bleeping quietly. Magenta reached down and moved the mouse.

Two green rings moved slowly across the screen and dozens of files flashed as they opened and closed, moving the millions of dollars from account to account.

 “This is now the command machine – they’ve switched,” he said.   “Both machines must have been infected and a time delay installed.  This is a far more complex program.” Magenta started inputting commands and trying to isolate the virus, but then he suddenly stopped interfering and they watched, letting the machine run, so that they could track the movement.

Symphony reached over his shoulder and tapped a particularly active file on the desktop with her long fingernail.  “That’s where the money’s going…” They peered at the file and Magenta opened it.  It bore the designation SvenCorp 28067005. “Jeez, Pat, the Svensons are being set up to take the rap for all this,” she said sharply. 

“Not if I can help it,” Magenta said, as a sudden burst of understanding made him smile.  “You’re clever, Eric Svenson… almost too clever… and that is why I now know how to beat you.  You should never have opened up a second front.  Concentrate all your resources on one battlefield – isn’t that what they always tell you to do?  The simplest ideas are often the best…”  He slipped into the chair.  “Now then, my little darlin’, let’s you an’ me play a little game…”

Symphony grinned as he flexed his fingers and started typing orders into the machine, with the rapidity of machine gun fire.  She had every faith that Pat could stop it. 

He’d better.

~oo0oo~

 

Captain Blue raced out into the street, drawing his pistol from his holster as he did so. Panting he stopped and called,

“Eric! Stop right there!”

The man he knew as Eric Svenson stopped and turned towards him.  “Adam? What are you doing here and why are you dressed like that? I came to see Jack Palmer… with Peter. I slipped, I hurt my head…” he raised a hand to his head and rubbed the back of it.  “I couldn’t see anyone inside the offices; I came outside to get help.  Why are you pointing a gun at me, Adz?  What am I supposed to have done wrong?”

“Get down on the ground and don’t make any sudden moves!”

“What?  What are you talking about?  Adam, don’t play silly buggers… I have a headache.  Where’s Peter?”

“Get down!” Adam cocked the pistol. “I will use this…”

“Of course you won’t…don’t be silly.” Eric turned away, calling for Peter.

Adam prayed his brother would stay quiet in the SPV. He fired a warning shot at the ground in front of Eric.  The man turned, his face pale with what seemed to be genuine shock.  “Watch what you are doing! Do you have a permit for that gun?  And what are you doing dressed as a Spectrum agent?  Honestly, Adz, you make me so cross at times.”

“Eric, you have one last chance… get down on the ground.”

Eric shrugged, a sly smile on his face.  “It was one last chance too many, Earthman. You have lost.”

The bullet hit Blue in the back, sending him sprawling, his radio cap went spinning across the wet street and his gun clattered from his hand.   As Peter opened the door of the SPV, Eric picked the gun up.

“Adam!” Peter was yelling. He scrambled from the vehicle before the hydraulic lift delivered the seat to the ground, and raced to his brother.  He dropped to his knees at his side and gently turned the unconscious man.  He looked up at his cousin, tears running unheeded down his face.  “I don’t know what kind of monster you are, but what the hell have you done to him?”

“He is dead, Earthman, as you will soon be.  Move from that spot and you will get the same.” Eric went to the SPV, treading on the radio cap in his haste to reach the vehicle; he heaved himself on board and returned minutes later with a cumbersome looking device.  It had a metal harness, fixed to twin red cylinders and supporting a long narrow barrel.

“I have the Earthmen’s so-called electron gun…” Eric said.  Peter looked up, and turned around, but he could see no-one else on the street.

“What are you blathering about – earthmen?  Adam needs to get to a hospital.   In my jacket pocket is my cell phone – call 911…”

“Forget him, he is dead…” Eric said callously.  “You will come with me.  The Scarlet individual will think twice before he attacks and risks getting you killed.  Earthmen are unaccountably chary of doing what needs to be done.”

Peter started to argue, but Eric waved Adam’s gun at him. “Move, Peter, even the risk that Scarlet might detect you as a Mysteron, isn’t enough to save you if you do not co-operate.  It really won’t take much to make me shoot you… you should think of your little girls and your wife, and do as I say…”

“You bastard!” Peter shouted. “You double-dealing, yellow-bellied bastard!  You’ve murdered my brother…”

“Move!” Eric snapped, kicking Peter to his feet. 

Peter looked down at the motionless body at his feet and drew a shaky breath.  He looked at Eric and spat, “He’s a better man dead, than you are living…” and turned to walk back towards the office block, his head held high and his face set in a rigid expression.  He would not disgrace his brother’s memory by weeping – not here and not yet.  There would be time for that later – he hoped.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Captain Scarlet moved cautiously up to the third and final floor of the building. He could hear nothing, but his unease was growing, along with a woozy feeling that made him feel nauseous and which experience had taught him usually presaged the presence of a Mysteron agent.  A sudden, more violent wave of nausea overcame him, and he stopped, head dropped to his chest for a moment as a cold film of sweat covered his body.  That strength of reaction only happened in a very specific circumstance – the presence of Captain Black.  He shuddered and clung to the banister, waiting for the sensation to melt away.

Somewhere beyond the building he heard a shot. It sounded very loud, but he surmised that Adam had shot the Mysteronised Eric once more.

As the nausea subsided, he drew his pistol and advanced once more, every sense straining for a clue to where his enemy might be.  Suddenly, away at the end of the poorly-lit corridor, an external door opened and an unknown man walked in from the roof, carrying a rifle.  Scarlet ducked below the top stair, out of the man’s line of sight.  The Mysteron – for there was no doubt in Scarlet’s mind that he was a Mysteron – opened the door of the right hand suite of offices and walked in.  The door remained ajar, and Scarlet could just hear the voices of the occupants.

“The Mysterons’ orders have been carried out.  The individual known as Captain Blue has been eliminated.  Eric has retrieved the electron gun from the SPV craft and is bringing the human, Peter Svenson, to the building.”

“Good, we can move onto the next phase of the plan.”  Captain Black’s voice expressed neither sorrow nor pleasure at the news.  He was coldly and single-mindedly focused on performing his alien masters’ will.

Scarlet grasped the banister so tightly his knuckles went white.  He suppressed his gasp of outrage at the news that Adam was dead.  He remembered the shot he had heard… it must have come from the roof - that’s why it sounded so loud.  In the street the headlights of the SPV would have acted like spotlights, making Captain Blue an easy target for the rooftop assassin.

He swallowed compulsively as his throat constricted with the burning desire to scream out his shock and grief. He took long, calming breaths – his military training kicking in even in such circumstances.   Revenge is a dish best eaten cold… he reminded himself, and he would need his wits about him, if Adam’s brother wasn’t to suffer the same fate.  A steel determination gripped his mind.  This time I will finish you, Black, with just as much remorse as you have for ‘eliminating’ Captain Blue… Good God! - the man was your partner and – probably- the best friend you ever had! He was the best friend I ever had…. I swear - this whole place will go up, even if I have to go with it.

In the early days of Spectrum, Scarlet had partnered Captain Brown - an officer without experience of field work – and Captain Blue had been partnered with the experienced Captain Black.  Blue had field officer experience, of course, but he also had the patience of a saint, and Black had rubbed rather too many of the other senior officers up the wrong way, in the days when he had been over-seeing their training.  Given time, their resentment would probably have mellowed, but Black – with his take-it-or-leave-it attitude – didn’t put much effort into ‘making friends and influencing people’.

 Scarlet had actively disliked the man – a feeling that he suspected was mutual – and only the mediation of Captain Blue had kept them on polite, if edgy, terms.

Even after it was confirmed that Black had defected to the Mysterons, it was Adam who, whenever circumstances permitted doubt about Conrad Turner’s evil intent, always made the case for the defence – as Scarlet thought of it.  He had even argued that Black had made a conscious decision not to kill and retrometabolise Symphony Angel when he had the chance at the Culver Atomic Station. Scarlet – more cynical than his friend – preferred the alternative theory that the radiation from the power station had weakened the Mysterons’ hold, reducing their options.

Well, this killing proves once and for all, that you are a heartless killer, Black. Too bad you won’t have Adam to argue your case for you now, he thought. 

The other implication of the overheard conversation gradually dawned on him.  Eric Svenson – another Mysteron agent – was coming up behind him, equipped with a stolen electron gun - the only weapon that could certainly kill a Mysteronised person beyond all hope of recovery.  It had always been a matter of largely academic interest as to whether such a weapon would also be fatal in his own case – for naturally, Spectrum had never attempted to find out.

He was trapped.  Quickly bringing all the force of his military experience to bear on the problem, he assessed his options.  He could storm the two men on the top floor – he might manage to kill them both – although, given the Mysterons’ penchant for teleporting Black out of danger, that was a rather slender certainty.  He could go down and try to rescue Peter and obtain the electron gun for himself.  Again, that was a dangerous option, one which might get Peter killed.  Ambush was a safer option.

The thought had hardly finished formulating in his mind, before he had swivelled round and was heading down the stairs with as much speed and silence as he could.

 On the second floor, he peered over the banister and saw the street door swing open and Peter Svenson stagger through, as if he had been pushed from behind.  Eric followed after him, Blue’s pistol in his hand and an electron gun over his shoulders.  Scarlet slipped back into the ladies’ toilets, propping the door slightly ajar with the toilet roll from the nearest cubicle. He stood to one side, so that he had a view of the staircase.

He could hear the reluctant footsteps of Peter as he climbed the stairs.  There was the occasional sniff too, as the man fought his grief. Scarlet felt a surge of sympathy – I know what you’re going through.  Just keep your wits about you, Peter, and we’ll see these bastards fry for what they’ve done!

Peter’s head appeared around the twist in the landing, Eric following a few steps behind.  Scarlet watched the man slouch past, his every step becoming more reluctant as he marched towards what he could not have failed to realise was his own death.

Once Eric had followed him, past the landing and on to the third and final part of the staircase; Scarlet pushed the door wider and blasted four rounds of ammunition into the older man’s stocky frame.  The Mysteron staggered, as the circles of rich, red blood spread across the back of his white linen shirt.  Peter Svenson screamed, but then, with a commendable presence of mind, kicked Eric’s legs from under him, so that the Mysteron fell down from the steps to sprawl on the corridor floor.  Scarlet flung the door wide and beckoned Peter over, shoving him into the inadequate protection afforded by the toilet cubicle.

“Take cover, lock the door…” he ordered. He thrust his gun into Peter’s shaking hand. “Use it if you have to… and shoot to kill.  Then, if you have the chance – don’t wait – get the hell out of here and don’t stop running till you find a policeman.”

“W -what can I do to help?” Peter squeaked. “There must be something…”

“You can pray, Mr Svenson… because we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Scarlet darted out from the doorway and roughly began to manhandle the electron gun from Eric’s shoulders.  “Give me that, you scum,” he gasped.

Above him he could hear the footsteps of the other Mysteron agents, attracted by his gunshots. He was aware that he was in a direct line of fire from the stairwell, and as he finally managed to get the electron rifle free from Eric’s body and roll the body, with a vicious kick, towards the bottom of the upward flight of the stairs, a bullet whizzed past his shoulder and buried itself in the wall.  He started to move away, without even waiting to straighten up.  A second bullet came close and then, with the inevitability of chance, the third bullet struck his shoulder. 

Then he did straighten up; gasping and staggering as a fourth shot buried itself in his back.  He couldn’t feel his legs and he stumbled, even as his impetus carried him forward another few feet. He clutched the electron gun to his chest and, unable to go further, sank to his knees, leaning into the faint he knew was coming, and ensuring the weapon was covered by his body.  

He closed his eyes, and as he lost his battle for consciousness, his last thought was, I’m sorry, Adam…I really tried.

 

~oo0oo~

 

John Svenson stood in his cousin’s office, watching as Captain Magenta’s flying fingers input row after row of programming into the computer.  There was a slight, yet confident, smile on the man’s expressive lips and his lustrous dark eyes sparkled with the thrill of the chase as he slowly, but inexorably, closed down every loophole the alien virus had created.  The flood of money started to dry up, as it found every avenue in and out of the SvenCorp accounts blocked by an impenetrable wall of counter instructions and loops.

Lieutenant Green had brought his Spectrum laptop across to the office and was on the other side of the desk, busily mopping up the last few remaining links from the original virus. 

Symphony watched in quiet admiration as Spectrum’s premier computer-buffs sliced through the Gordian knot of the Mysterons’ latest plot, with an air of complete mastery.   It is a case of lateral thinking… fighting fire with fire… Patrick hasn’t really destroyed the virus, he’s  merely created a system of ‘firewalls’ that  have forced it back on itself… sending the money round in ever decreasing circles making a virtual spiral  that leads to a secure account, created purely to accommodate the influx.  A dead-end account. 

She smiled across at John. “Looks simple when you know how…” she said.

“I am amazed, Captain Magenta, that you are able to outwit it so easily,” Svenson agreed soberly.  “If ever you want a job…”

Magenta grinned. “Thanks, Mr Svenson, but I have one that suits me just fine.  And besides, I’ve worked in finance before and to be honest – it’s a tad boring at times.”

Katherine Svenson sniggered at her father’s astonished outrage. She was standing at Green’s shoulder, her hand resting on the back of the young man’s chair.  When he leant back with a sigh of satisfaction and, unwittingly, leant against her hand, she did not attempt to remove it.

“You look pleased with yourself, my lad,” Magenta smiled, glancing over his computer screen at the dark-skinned, good-humoured face opposite.

“It’s finished,” Green explained.  “I have closed down every last link from the outside.  The virus has nowhere to go.”

“Good work,” Magenta smiled. “Now, you only have to get it out of the system and you can go out to play…”

Lieutenant Green bristled. “Captain,” he began formally, “I have no intention of leaving a job half done…”

Magenta nodded, too busy with his own task to continue his teasing.

“If you are going to be busy for much longer, I’ll fetch you coffee and some sandwiches…” Katherine offered, slowly removing her hand from Green’s chair. 

The Trinidadian smiled up at her.  “That would be wonderful, Kitty.” He caught sight of John’s eyebrows rising over his light-blue eyes and he turned back to his computer screen with his mouth twitching in uncertainty.  He was flattered that such a beautiful woman was interested in him, but rather alarmed at the same time.  The Svensons lived in a world so far removed from his own that it was daunting to even imagine being involved in it – however fleetingly.

Katherine caught the smile in Symphony’s eyes and blushing slightly, hurried from the room to order refreshments.

“You know, John,” the Angel pilot said, “I think we should leave these two to get on with it…” She deliberately left vague which two she was referring to.  “Didn’t you say you had to speak to the Hudson again?”

“Well… I ought to, but…” He frowned at Lieutenant Green.

Symphony moved to slip her arm under his.  “You know, I’ve always been fascinated by what it is – exactly – that a finance house, like this one, does… perhaps you could explain it all to me?  Adam is always rather vague when I ask him about it.”

“You have asked him about it?” John’s voice revealed his delight and surprise at her words.

“Oh yes… you know, I think he’s really rather proud of all this, although he won’t admit it, of course.”

She steered John Svenson out into the main office, well aware that – like father like son – she might be opening a floodgate to a great deal more information than she ever really wanted to know.   She hoped Lieutenant Green appreciated her sacrifice.

 

 

Chapter Six: All in a day’s work

 

Captain Black followed Jack Palmer down to the second landing.   Stepping carefully over the body of Eric Svenson, where it lay against the bottom step, Palmer examined the body and glanced up at Captain Black, as he stood half way down the stairs surveying the scene before him, waiting for further orders.

“Leave him, he is no longer needed,” Black said tonelessly.  He stared at Scarlet’s contorted body and a fleeting expression – that might have been satisfaction – crossed his pallid face.  “We have already achieved one of our objectives.  Captain Blue is dead, and now, we can eliminate Captain Scarlet with the Earthman’s own weapon.  It is fitting somehow that Spectrum should develop the means of killing the man they have come to rely so heavily on.  Captain Scarlet has thwarted us for the last time.  The Mysterons’ order will be carried out.”

Jack Palmer echoed the last words.  Then Captain Black’s expressionless voice echoed across the bleak stairwell as he intoned, “This is the voice of the Mysterons. Our retaliation for your attack on our Martian complex will be slow, but nevertheless effective. It will mean the ultimate destruction of life on Earth.  It is useless for you to resist.” He remained motionless on the staircase drinking in the sight of Scarlet’s dead body – as if somehow his Mysteron masters were gloating at the defeat of their arch enemy.  Even in death, Scarlet’s body was arched protectively over the electron gun.  “Get the gun,” Black ordered flatly.  “Then we will use it to ensure that Captain Scarlet does not return to get in the way of our future plans.”

“The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out,” Palmer repeated.  He moved towards Scarlet, dropping his gun onto the landing as he bent over the hunched figure.  He knelt down with the intention of turning the body and extended his hand to grasp Scarlet’s tunic.  To his complete surprise, as he turned the body onto its back, Scarlet’s arm shot out and landed a punch on his jaw that sent him reeling.  Scarlet rolled onto his backside, then using his barely functioning legs to push himself across the floor he reached the nearest wall and used it to drag himself upright – keeping one eye on the motionless Captain Black.  As he caught his breath, he croaked, “Shoot him, Peter, shoot him!”

 Peter Svenson moved out from the cubicle at a rush, firing wildly.   As if suddenly aware of his vulnerability from the hail of randomly aimed bullets, Black retreated back up the stairs, using the banisters as a shield.

Peter stopped beside Scarlet and saw Palmer lying unconscious on the floor.  He extended his arm, pointing the gun at the man, and said shakily, “This is for Adam.” Then he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger, jumping with the recoil from the gun.  Several of the bullets hit Palmer’s body.

“Well done. Now go, get out of here, and run!” Scarlet ordered, as Peter turned back to him.

“You are hurt, Captain…God knows, I thought you were dead…not that that seems to stop anyone anymore…” he gasped.  “Come on; let me help you, we’ll go together.”

“Do as you are told and get out of here… I have to go after Captain Black…”

“You are in no state to go anywhere, come with me…” Peter edged his shoulder under Scarlet’s for support, and the Spectrum agent, weakened by his injuries and encumbered by the electron gun, was hard pressed to avoid being carried along by his over-zealous assistant.

Exasperated at the thought of wasting his precious energy, he pushed Peter away, and turned shakily towards the figure of Jack Palmer, which was already stirring back to life.  Drawing in great heaving gasps of air, Scarlet hefted the harness firmly onto his shoulder, and said to Peter, “If you really want to help, let me brace myself against you…”

Obediently Peter made a solid support for the injured man.

“Look away,” Scarlet ordered.

“Why?” Peter asked, as Scarlet, unable to delay any longer, pressed the trigger.  The stream of electrons, concentrated by prisms and projected at the speed of light along the reflective barrel, bombarded the body of Jack Palmer, already half upright and growing stronger by the second.  The Mysteron shuddered as the deadly beam spread through his body.  He convulsed, an inhuman, high-pitched wail escaping from his lips before he collapsed, a rigid and scorched corpse, on the corridor floor.

Peter Svenson groaned and moved away so swiftly, that Scarlet, still using him as a support, staggered. 

He looked over his shoulder to where Peter was being violently sick against the wall. “Because it isn’t nice – that’s why…” he muttered with a sympathetic smile, in belated response to the last question. 

Peter looked up, wiping his mouth on a handkerchief.  “What is that? What does it do?”

“It’s a gun and it kills…Mysterons.  Now, I’m telling you one more time – get out of here…”

“You’re weak, you need my help…”

”For crying out loud, Peter!” Scarlet thundered.   I am not Adam, I don’t have one tenth of his patience – now, will you get the hell out of here? - before I use this thing on you!”

Peter straightened up and vainly tried to recover his lost dignity.  “Captain Scarlet…” he began.

His next words were drowned out by the shot that echoed through the stairwell.   The bullet struck the wall, close to the office door. 

“Get back under cover,” Scarlet ordered, realising that if Peter went down the stairs now he would be an easy target for Captain Black.   For once, Peter did not stop to question but scuttled back into the comparative safety of the toilets.

Scarlet turned to see Captain Black standing at the curve of the last flight of stairs.  He wondered uneasily why Black didn’t just shoot him – his legs were still not working well enough for him to escape.  For long seconds the two antagonists faced each other across the open landing, where the bodies of two men already lay - a testament to the deadly purpose of the Mysterons.  Scarlet shifted the electron gun to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and the idea occurred to him that maybe Black wanted the weapon badly enough not to be willing to risk it being damaged in a rash frontal assault. 

Slightly unnerved by the continuing silence which he somehow felt favoured the Mysterons’ agent, he called out clearly enough to be heard by both Black and Peter, “Now we come to it.  It’s just you and me, Conrad, as it should have always been. If your masters intend to try to use me as they use you, they should know - I will not allow that to happen… I would set this gun to overload first, and blow us all to smithereens.  Believe me; one of us won’t be leaving here…”

Black said, “You think I am scared because you have an electron rifle?  I know how long they take to recharge… you are helpless, Scarlet, and once I have killed you, I will finish you with your own weapon.  There is no one left to help you now, Scarlet.  The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out – there is nothing you can do to stop us.”

Scarlet grimaced - Black was right, the electron guns did take an age to recharge.  He glanced surreptitiously at the gauge which showed its recharge was only about half way there.  It wouldn’t even fire a reduced particle beam until it was three-quarters charged. His only chance was to play for time, as he was still too weak to risk hand-to-hand combat, and Black was armed.

Maybe, he thought, I can keep him talking, at least until I have a slim chance of firing first.  “I know what you have done, Black – I know you ordered the death of Captain Blue.  You are beneath contempt, you filthy scumbag!  You cold-bloodedly ordered the murder of the only friend you’ve ever had…” he goaded the impassive man. 

To his surprise he saw a flicker of – what he could only call – emotion behind Black’s seemingly dead expression.   He pressed his advantage.  “You are such a coward that you couldn’t do it yourself, could you?  You had to send one of your zombies to do it!  What’s wrong, Conrad?  Are you going soft? Surely the Mysterons’ premier agent wasn’t too weak-willed to shoot his best friend – his only friend - in the back?”

            Captain Black’s mouth opened but he said nothing.  Scarlet was surprised to see any reaction – never mind such hesitation. With some slight feeling of hope, he carried on spitting out his venomous words, playing on the emotions he had never believed Black still possessed.   “You probably don’t realise how he defended you, how he made excuses for your heartless actions… how he hoped you have might retained some atom of humanity inside that Mysteronised automaton you’ve become.  Poor Adam, at least he died without knowing what filth his former partner has become…”

He watched his adversary carefully, and saw some flicker of response in the dark, normally soulless eyes as the heavy black brows twitched into the merest frown.  He was about to speak again when Black cut across him.

“Blue had to die,” he said as if reciting a lesson learned by rote.  “You have to die.  You are a threat.   Without both of you, Spectrum will be weakened…” But there was hardly any conviction behind the words – in fact, there seemed to be less assurance in his whole manner.  The frown deepened between his black brows and he blinked compulsively as if waking from some living trance.

Suddenly his hands went to his eyes and he gave a slow shake of his dark head. When he looked up there was a whole new sentience behind the red-rimmed, grey-enshrouded eyes.  He stared at Captain Scarlet with an expression that left no doubt as to the torment he was in.

 “Scarlet?” he continued, but his voice was different, more emotional… more human.  He looked at his foe with an expression that seemed to be pleading for something but Scarlet found it hard to believe it might be forgiveness. He was surprised when Black continued to speak, his words tumbling out in a torrent, his voice sounding tired and hoarse… it was the voice of someone who had been screaming for a long time. “They do this – it is part of my punishment.  They let me see what I have done; they let me understand the full horror of it and the loathing I see in people’s faces because of what I have become!” 

Scarlet remained silent, watching uneasily, too disbelieving to be lulled into any feeling of security.

Black drew a huge sigh and glanced around the landing, as if he saw the dead bodies for the first time.   He looked at Scarlet, and was desperate to win his trust.  “The Mysterons want you dead – any opportunity to make sure you do not revive is to be taken – whatever the cost.  They fear you… They cannot regain control of you nor can they understand why you resist them.”  He continued urgently, knowing his respite from their control would be brief.  He addressed the revulsion he saw in Scarlet’s astonished face.   “You must understand: they see Spectrum as an entity like themselves, made of many, varied parts… the humans who make the whole. They have no individuals – no concept of separateness – one thought is everyone’s thought – there is no silence, no solitude – just the eternal clamour of many minds.   Because we are not individuals to them, the sins of one are revenged on all… my sin in attacking them must be paid for by everyone!

“To them, each human is only a segment of an entity.  You embody Spectrum’s courage, its strength and its determination to fight.  They deplore that in you, for their logic tells them you cannot win – but they respect strength – they understand what it is. Captain Blue … was also a threat, but of a different kind.  He puzzled them – they could not understand his attitude towards me and so they made me aware of his compassion.  They cannot begin to comprehend that… so human of emotions – they are soulless, they have no heart – no pity! So they wanted to understand - through my reaction - what it was, this unknown concept that they saw as a weakness, but there were consequences they failed to expect.  I rebelled.  When they told me to kill Symphony I couldn’t do it - Adam was my friend and her death would have caused him too much pain. So they have come to realise the power of human emotion and…the significance of the concept of friendship.”  Black’s words came in a headlong rush as he anticipated the re-establishment of the Mysterons’ stranglehold.  Desperate to let his former colleagues know as much as he could, he raced on.

“Your mutual trust and loyalty makes you both - and every Spectrum officer - all the more dangerous.”  He grimaced and appeared to be fighting to keep control.  “They do not understand why Spectrum allows its humans to think like this… and always they fear what they do not understand.”   The struggle for Black’s mind was now mirrored in his eyes.  He cried out, “No! Leave me alone! I beg you, let me go….”  He turned once more to his silent companion and hissed in a voice growing ever weaker, “I shall continue to rebel… but I succeed all too rarely in thwarting them.” In one final desperate plea, he looked straight into Scarlet’s sapphire-blue eyes and said, “Kill me, if you can – please - kill me!”

Scarlet watched with growing astonishment.  He was aware that there had been situations when - for some reason - Black had not delivered the final coup de grâce.  Adam had always cited not only the events at Culver Atomic Station, but also the fact that the flight crew of the plane they’d used to accompany Dr. Conrad, from Novena airport to his conference at Lake Toma, had been left unconscious rather than killed.  He had seen these all too rare instances as proof that Conrad Turner was not entirely merciless and that he was continually fighting against the Mysterons’ control.   No amount of arguing could dissuade Blue from that opinion, although his partner had always dismissed the notion.   But… maybe there is something in it, after all, Scarlet wondered.

He had never expected to see this… this conflict, in Captain Black.  There seemed to be an all-too-aware consciousness beneath the hard shell of the Mysteron.  A consciousness, eternally tormented by the very deeds they made him perform.

“Conrad?” he said quietly. The man’s eyes met his and Scarlet saw a fathomless fear in them.  “Fight them - come back to us!” he urged.

“They will win - I can’t fight them for long and if I do, they punish me, I have already said too much and they are displeased.”  He gave a sad smile which ended in a grimace of pain, yet through gritted teeth he continued, “Tell Charles, I am sorry for this war.  I have begged them to be revenged only on me, but they ... they are merciless. I am sorry – for everything – sorry… for Adam…” 

Black’s eyes suddenly hardened and the light went from them, leaving them as pits of darkness in his sallow face.  Scarlet realised that the Mysterons had regained their hold on Conrad Turner and that – once more – he was the pitiless agent of their revenge.   Behind him, the mangled body of Eric Svenson began to raise itself for the third time, ready to obey the instructions of its alien masters.

 

The gauge on the electron gun had crept towards 80% - there would be enough power to fire the weapon, but how effective it would be – especially against Captain Black – was unknown.  From behind him, he heard Peter Svenson, whimpering with a new and, quite understandable, terror. 

He tried once more to reach the man beneath the Mysteron armour. “Conrad, let Peter go – let Adam’s brother go….”  All the time Scarlet was watching the two Mysterons warily, trying to find a way out of his dilemma that might just give him a chance of surviving.  I have one shot with the electron gun.  I cannot kill them both, the electron gun would not recharge in time and the pistol Palmer dropped is closer to Black than to me…  He knew it was his duty to kill Black – even disregarding the appeal Turner had – seemingly – made to him.  And then, he thought with surprising calmness, Eric will shoot me, and finish me once this gun has recharged.  Peter will probably die too.  What a bloody mess…

Even as he resigned himself to his inevitable death, a gunshot rang out, causing Eric to stagger and fall to his knees.  Startled, Black turned and fired wildly in the direction of the surprise attack, the bullet crashed harmlessly through a window panel, making the stairwell ring with the chime of broken glass.  Even the seemingly limitless power of the Mysterons couldn’t stop the exclamation of confused emotion that breathed from his lips. “Blue!”

At that, Scarlet took his eye off his enemy and glanced fearfully at the stairwell. He blinked furiously and stared open-mouthed at the spectre before him. Seeing Scarlet so distracted, Black took his chance and raced back upstairs. 

 At the corner of the staircase rising from the first floor, a pale-faced Captain Blue was standing.  Bare-headed, his Spectrum tunic darkened by the rain, he was panting with exertion and keeping himself upright by virtue of a one-handed grip on the banister. It was impossible to tell if the beads of moisture on his face were the result of sweat or exposure to the rain, but his fair hair was plastered to his face, causing small rivulets to drip from his jaw.  In his other hand his gun pointed at the floor, as if he hadn’t even the strength to raise it once more.  

His eyes met Scarlet’s and saw the bewilderment in them.  “I thought you might need some help…” he explained with a slight smile.

“I thought you were dead…” Scarlet gasped in response.  His body stiffened at the unwelcome thought that Blue had been Mysteronised, but gradually his logical mind reasserted itself – the Mysterons retrometabolised fit and healthy agents – however the poor victims had died.  This bedraggled man was far from fit…

“Now you know how I feel, every time you bounce back like a jack-in the box…” Blue’s tone was mildly facetious and he gave a wry smile at his partner.  He knew there had always been an outside chance that Scarlet would react instinctively to the sight of him and kill him, believing him to have been Mysteronised.  Still he had dragged himself across to the building and up the seemingly endless flights of stairs, driven by his concern for his brother and his friend.

When he had seen his partner’s predicament, he had had to take the risk and kill Eric before his cousin could attack, thereby giving Scarlet the chance to use the electron rifle on Captain Black.  He hadn’t allowed for the fact that his partner’s all too human surprise would permit their enemy a chance to escape.

He stood unmoving, waiting the fatal strike from his friend.

To his relief, Scarlet grinned.  Then as Eric moved again, he turned the electron gun on him. “I’m getting tired of you,” he snarled and fired at the Mysteron.  

At the sound of his brother’s voice, Peter had emerged from his hiding place and now he went to his side.  “Why aren’t you dead?” he demanded, as if Adam was somehow failing to keep a promise.

“Hello, Pete,” Adam said wryly.  “Because.  Now, will you get the hell out of this place?  I have called for reinforcements…  Magenta’s coming with ground staff, but they’ll be hampered if they know a civilian is in here…Go downstairs and wait in the SPV.”

Peter glanced at Scarlet and back to his brother and then, with a quick nod of his head, he began to run down the stairs.

“Go carefully,” Adam called after him, with the inbred authority of his four years’ seniority.  “You’ll break your damn neck at that rate…”

“What about Black?” Scarlet asked. His eyes gazed up to the top storey where the Mysteron had retreated. 

“Well, between us, we hardly qualify as one able-bodied man, and I heal much slower than you do.  I think we should cut and run – or at least, stagger - though it pains me to say it. Besides, even if we crawl up to the next floor, what makes you think he’ll be there? Five’ll get you ten – the Mysterons have already teleported him out of here. Let Magenta and the groundlings search the building.”

It was easy to see that Blue was close to the end of his endurance.  He was now holding the banister with both hands and his breathing was laboured.  Remembering Black’s avowal of the consequence the Mysterons assigned to Blue and himself, Scarlet nodded.  Yet he couldn’t help wondering how much of their conversation Blue had overheard, and whether his friend was still making allowances for his former partner. It was impossible to tell, for the American captain’s head was bowed and he would not meet his companion’s eye.

As if sensing that uncertainty about his motives, Blue added, “We’ll get him next time, Paul.”

Scarlet grinned and nodded emphatically. “Yes, we will.  After all, tomorrow is another day…” he reasoned.

Blue looked up at him, a sparkle in his eyes and replied, “And frankly, my dear Scarlet, I don’t give a damn…”  His face broke into an uncontrollable grin.  “I’ve been waiting years to say that…”

“You’re mental…” Scarlet responded to Blue’s infectious grin with one of his own.  “If I hold you up, and you hold me, do you think we’ll make it down the stairs without collapsing?”

“No, but I want make sure I land on you, when we fall… “

“Huh, come on then… the things I do for you…”

 

~oo0oo~

 

Captain Magenta’s SSC pulled up at the end of the street, about the same time as two squad cars belonging to the Boston City Police Department arrived at the other end. Behind him, a Spectrum transporter disgorged its complement of armed ground-based agents.  They fanned out down the street, as their commanding officer made an announcement over the loudhailer.

“This is Spectrum.  We are in pursuit of suspected terrorists.  Please remain in your buildings… I repeat, do not come out your buildings…”

From the other end of the street the police made an announcement of their own.

“This is the police, you are surrounded… lay down your weapons and come out with your hands up… please identify yourselves….”

“We are Spectrum agents in the lawful pursuit of a suspect.  We are armed and will not surrender our weapons while people may in danger.”

Shaking his head, Magenta left them to it and beckoning two officers to follow him, he led the way to the office block.  As he approached the door, it swung open and Peter Svenson, his hands over his head in surrender, walked out into the evening gloom.

“Don’t shoot!” he shouted.

“Mr Peter Svenson?” Magenta asked.  “Glad to see you safe, sir.  Corporal, please take Mr Svenson to the safety of that SPV… and then go and present my compliments to the cop on the loudhailer and tell him to shut his mouth, would you?  I’d do it myself, but I don’t feel comfortable around the police…” he added elliptically.

Magenta pushed past, into the building.  As he climbed the stairs he heard two voices above him and stopped, pistol raised.  Blue had made reference to several Mysterons in the building – and the possibility Captain Black was amongst them.  Magenta wasn’t prepared to take anyone on trust.  He stiffened, and strained his hearing as the voices became clearer and identifiable.

“Now you…carefully!”

“Tch… that hurt!”

“Lean on me…”

“I’m okay…”

“You are not, you know…”

“But you are, I suppose?  How did you survive that gunshot?  I have to agree with Peter – you ought to be dead.”

“Ah, well… I’ve been shadowing my dad, right?”

“Right…”

“So, I have been wearing body-armour under my shirt… I still had it from my WAS Security Department days… they never asked for it and I thought it might be useful, so I kept it.  Well, I had it on today and when I suited up, I never took it off.  So, I had the protection of my Spectrum uniform as well as the body armour.   Neat, huh?”

“That’s it?  It’s as mundane as that?  You bloody belts-and-braces-man, you,” Scarlet laughed in his relief. “Here was I wondering if some of my retrometabolism was rubbing off on you… and you are wearing more body armour than bloody Ivanhoe!”

“Hey, my mom told me to be careful out on the streets… and I always listen to what my mother tells me…”

“Of course you do - not! … Ouch… be careful, Adam, I have three bullets in me…”

“Sorry, I slipped.”

The pair of them emerged from round the corner to see Magenta leaning against the wall, an amused smile on his face.  “I thought you two were in deadly peril…” he said mischievously.

“We are.  I’m going to drop him any minute now.  You need to go on a diet, Scarlet.”

“Well, you’re not exactly a light-weight yourself…”

Magenta shook his head.  He couldn’t imagine two Mysterons bickering like these two did… however perfect the copies were meant to be.  “Sergeant, give Captain Blue a hand, would you?  I’ll help Captain Scarlet.”

They had just got underway again, when Blue asked, “Hey, Magenta, did you sort out the computers at SvenCorp?  You ought to get back there as soon as possible.”

“Yes, I sorted them out… of course I did!  I left Lieutenant Green showing… Miss Svenson how to… sort things out.”

“Green?  Well, that’s okay then.  He won’t take any crap from Katz…”

Magenta winked at Scarlet.  “Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that …”

Scarlet’s dark brows rose in question.  Magenta nodded and rolled his eyes.

“Damn these Svensons… you so quickly get used to having them around…” Scarlet muttered with a grin.

 

 

 

Part Three: Relative Harmony

 

 

Captain Magenta had called for emergency medical backup as soon as he had received Captain Blue’s radio message from the SPV.  Blue sounded in a bad way and that undoubtedly meant that Scarlet was as bad, if not worse.   Therefore, when the Spectrum helijet landed in the street as close as it could to the office block, Magenta escorted his colleagues to the machine – despite Blue’s agitation about his brother.

“I need to speak to my family – they have to know Eric is dead… even if I can’t tell them how or why… and there is Peter to deal with… and…” his voice trailed into confused silence.  It was only now; when the mission and the immediate danger were over, that the consequences were beginning to make themselves felt.

“Hey,” the Irish-American said with an understanding smile, “I know you’re worried, but leave that to me.   Right now it is more important we handle the security side of things, and you and Scarlet get out of here, before the Boston PD gets too interested in who shot whom… and Peter starts talking too openly about the Mysteronised members of his family.”

Blue started to argue, although Scarlet, rapidly tiring as his retrometabolism started sapping his strength, said nothing and climbed stiffly into the helijet.

Magenta held up an authoritative hand. “Get in the helijet, Captain, before I report you to the colonel for breaching your security cover…”

 

It was against standard operational directives for Captain Scarlet to attend any medical facility other than a Spectrum one – so concerned was Colonel White to keep his officer’s unique abilities under wraps - and the pair were airlifted from the street direct to the medical facilities on Cloudbase.

On the whole, Doctor Fawn found it much easier to patch up the holes in Captains Scarlet and Blue than Colonel White did to deal with the other consequences of the ‘Hub affair’.

Captain Magenta took command in Boston and, in accordance with standard Spectrum procedures, arranged for the bodies of the Mysteron agents to be disposed of before the Boston Police gained access to the jp enterprises offices.  When the real bodies of Eric Svenson and Jack Palmer were found, unceremoniously dumped in an abandoned store room, he handed them over to the civil authorities.

This involved the colonel in discussions with Boston’s Chief of Police, who - left with two dead bodies and Peter Svenson - was busily constructing a case against the young man.   Finally, tired of wasting his valuable time in what he considered needless argument, Colonel White resorted to pulling rank and slapped security notices on the events at the ‘jp enterprises’ office.   Not even the cantankerous Bostonian Commissioner could argue with a World Government ‘D notice’ and the case against Peter Svenson was dropped.  

It was only then that the families were told they could claim the bodies and bury their dead.

Symphony reported that the entire Svenson family was in shock - at the death of Eric, as well as the injuries to Adam, and Peter’s narrow escape – but that, with an unexpected solidarity, they were supporting each other and presenting a universally silent face to the World’s press, currently camped outside the wrought-iron security gates where, on Magenta’s orders, a detachment of Spectrum’s ground based officers were providing additional security.

Magenta was also dealing with the return of funds to the World Government accounts, as well as to the ransacked accounts of the Hudson Guaranty Trust and SvenCorp, with an authority not even John Svenson dared question.   When the Securities Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve began to ask questions, Magenta supplied an answer that - whilst not totally true - was impossible to disprove and which left the regulating authorities without a case to pursue. 

Colonel White was impressed by the quietly efficient way Magenta handled the operation.  He had always considered that the captain was, perhaps, the least experienced in dealing with the nit-picking details demanded by a self-serving bureaucracy - given his former ‘life of crime’ – but, he reflected,  maybe he had done Patrick Donaghue a disservice.   After all, you don’t get to be head of a syndicate – criminal or otherwise – by being quite as ditzy as Magenta sometimes gave the impression of being.

It was thanks to Captain Magenta that the probity and security of SvenCorp and the Hudson emerged unscathed, by and large, with both firms meeting the shortfalls in their customers’ finances, as well as SvenCorp paying Spectrum compensation to cover the delayed payment of their salary funds. Colonel White mused that John Svenson must indeed be in shock to have agreed to that piece of financial beneficence. 

A nagging doubt that, perhaps, Svenson knew nothing about it was quickly squashed, and he concentrated on the competence with which his officer had dealt with the situation.            

He agreed that Lieutenant Green could remain behind for as long as it took to assist Katherine Svenson with a complete overhaul of the firm’s computer security – which the Trinidadian argued was essential - presumably to ensure that such a ploy could never be used again to put the World Government at risk of financial embarrassment.    White thought it would be a small price to be without his right-hand man on the communications desk for a fortnight, if it meant that John Svenson would be out of his hair for the foreseeable future. 

One Svenson at a time is more than enough to have to deal with, he thought, grateful that Captain Blue displayed so few of his father’s more abrasive personality traits.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Captain Scarlet was released from sick-bay before Captain Blue.  Although he had survived the bullet that should have killed him, Blue had several damaged ribs and was – quite literally - black and blue over most of his middle back.  Doctor Fawn insisted on doing numerous test and examinations to make sure no permanent damage had been done to his spine.  Once Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolism had dealt with his injuries, Fawn allowed him to go.

“After all,” Scarlet crowed at his bed-bound friend, “he has you to practise his ‘tests’ on this time!”

Back in the Officers’ Lounge, Captain Scarlet reported, with impish glee, that Blue was hating every minute he was stuck in sick bay and couldn’t wait to get out of Fawn’s clutches.  He cheerfully went to great lengths to return the favour Blue did for him, on the many occasions he had been confined to sick-bay by a Doctor Fawn eager to investigate every aspect of his retrometabolic abilities.   He smuggled his friend a food parcel - and his hip flask, filled from his own single malt supply – only to have Doctor Fawn return it, along with a severe lecture, the same evening.

“You’re not thinking straight, Captain Scarlet!  You may be able to drink and not suffer the consequences, but Blue can’t do that – especially not when he’s pumped full of analgesics!  I am not even sure I should allow you to do it… in fact, in future, I’ll turn a blind eye to the odd chocolate bar but alcohol is not permitted! If I see that hip-flask – or bottled beer - one more time, I’ll go to the colonel and put you both on reprimand.”

For Captain Blue, recovering from the effects of his injury, his time in sick bay was a two-edged sword.  Despite his desire to get back to his family, he knew he needed time to recover, both physically and emotionally, from the consequences of the ‘Hub Affair’, if he was to help them understand and come to terms with what had happened.  Once he was reassured that his family - and the company they owned - was going to emerge unscathed from the Mysterons’ scheme, he began to relax a little.  It was only then that he was then able to reflect on the fate of Eric Svenson.

 He knew within himself that he had not killed Eric – merely his Mysteron reconstruct - but he was still desperately trying to convince himself that he was right to believe that.

Scarlet, listening sympathetically to his friend’s guilt-ridden thoughts, reaffirmed that reasoning. “We know that in order to retrometabolise a person they must first kill.  The first Eric we met at the office was a Mysteron agent, so Eric – the real Eric, the one you knew – must have been dead before then.  You had to consider Peter and how to save his life, Adam; you had to do exactly what you did.”

Scarlet watched the expressions flit across his friend’s face and sighed.  Blue had taken it all rather badly, but then, he reminded himself, Eric was a close relative – one he had grown up with – so perhaps it was not so surprising.

However, it did seem to him that Blue had been avoiding the topic of their encounter with Captain Black and it was something Scarlet felt the need to discuss. He determined to probe a little further into the matter and satisfy his own curiosity.  

“Tell me,” he asked casually, dropping one of the grapes from the bunch beside Adam’s bed into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully, “how long were you standing at the turn in the stairs?  Did you hear all of what Black had to say?”

Blue turned his perceptive gaze onto his partner but did not reply immediately.  “I heard voices as I was climbing the stairs,” he finally admitted, “but I couldn’t understand much of it.”

“How much could you understand?” Scarlet persisted.  He was used to Blue’s evasion tactics when he did not want to answer a direct question.

“Enough,” Blue admitted and fell silent.

Scarlet picked a few more grapes and ate one, smirking at his friend.  He waited. He knew Adam knew he would carry on waiting until he had an answer.  Blue shifted in his bed and sighed.

“To be honest, I wonder now if we were being ‘set-up’,” he said quietly.  Scarlet stopped eating and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his eyes studying Blue’s face as he tried to read between the lines of his friend’s words. “I wonder if the Mysterons realised I wasn’t dead - they do not seem to have tried to retrometabolise me – as far as I can tell, anyway.   Maybe they were testing us both, Paul?   Or trying to drive some sort of wedge between us – knowing we differed about just how much control they have over Conrad.  I wonder if it was all a big double-bluff.”

“Did you believe what he said?”

“I wanted to – I wanted to believe it was Conrad speaking to us,” Blue admitted. 

Scarlet nodded.  “I wanted to believe it too – at the time.”

“The part about their not understanding our emotions might well be true. They may have been pushing to see if we were really capable of killing Conrad – a penitent, human, Conrad - I certainly think they are quite capable of using our emotions against us.”  Blue looked away and shifted uneasily again.  “They may have even deliberately allowed us to see beneath the shell of the man Captain Black has become, in order to engage our compassion.”

Scarlet considered a moment, and nodded slowly in agreement.  “You could be right,” he said. “Can you imagine any torment worse than knowing you have done such terrible things?”

Blue did not answer.  For him, the thought of Captain Black suffering that kind of mental torment was a thought too far. He would prefer to think that Conrad Turner was oblivious to the true horror of his existence – with no recollection of his actions, just as Paul had no memory of his six hours under Mysteron control.   He sniffed.  He could rationalise what had happened until Kingdom Come – but it didn’t make it any easier to accept.

At the moment his main concern had to be his family.  He had postponed speaking to them and gratefully accepted the excuse Doctor Fawn provided, that he needed rest before the doctor would allow the Svensons to speak to their son.

He was profoundly grateful when the doctor did not extend his ban to Symphony, however.  She came to see him on her return from Boston, bearing loving messages from his family – as well as copious instructions for his well-being from his mother. 

“I’m surprised at how well they do all seem to be coping, actually,” she told him, bothered to see his despondency.   “Of course, they’ve been seen by the guys from Spectrum Intelligence now.” She grinned. “I would have given good money to see how SI stood up to your Dad at his most superior!  They didn’t look that pleased when they emerged from that interview.”  She chuckled, “I’d say it must’ve been: John Svenson - one, SI - nil. Your dad is quite a guy…”

His eyes widened in surprise and alarm.  “You like my dad? Jeez, Karen…”

“Let’s just say – we have agreed to co-exist peacefully.”

He gave an ironic grimace, amazed yet again at her ability to charm any man she chose.  Still, it would make things easier if his father was favourably inclined towards the woman he wanted to marry; his mother was already on their side.  He settled back on the pillows she had just finished plumping up, and took her hand.

“How’s Pete?” he asked, not meeting her eyes.

She grimaced. “He had a much tougher time with SI, of course, but I think he came through okay.  His wife and kids are with him and they are all stopping over at the family house, so that they can avoid the press.  John’s jittery to get back to the office, but at the moment SvenCorp is only dealing with essential business while Kate and Seymour are working at putting the computers to rights.  That work should be finished by the end of the week, and then they are going to New York to ensure the links at the Hudson’s end of the system are completely sound… at least, nominally that’s why they are going to New York.”

“What?”

“Your sister’s smitten with our lieutenant,” she confessed.

“Well, what d’ya’ know - poor little Greenie…”

She grinned at him.  “Oh, I think he’s more than willing to run the risk…”

 

Finally, after five days in sick-bay, Blue was released as fit for light duties.  His first port of call, after he had called his mother, was the Amber Room, where the duty Angels threw an impromptu ‘welcome back’ party.

“Well, I won’t be here for long; I have to get down to Koala Base.  Grey has been doing a fine job with the standby Angels’ training, but I have to get the rest of it underway,” he explained to Rhapsody, as she plied him with crisps and fruit punch.

“When do you leave?” she asked.

“The colonel said I could have a long weekend to visit Boston.  I have to talk to my folks….  I was brought up to Cloudbase before I got a chance; I haven’t really spoken to any of them… except my mom on the phone, just now.” He grimaced. 

“What are you going to say to them?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Well, there’s little point in my pretending that I don’t work for Spectrum any more – and in exactly what capacity I work for Spectrum…”   He had had a sober discussion with Colonel White about the consequences of his conduct whilst he was still in sick-bay.  Whilst understanding the motivation behind, and the effectiveness of, his actions, the colonel still deplored that fact that he had breached his security cover even to the limited extent he had.

He continued, “They’ve all been ‘de-briefed’ by Spectrum Intelligence – so I ought to apologise for that at least…”

“That’s hardly your fault,” she soothed. “Besides, my guess is that SI are less fierce with the general public than they are with us.”

“Try telling my dad that.  He’s been complaining about it non-stop, according to my mother.”

Rhapsody laughed.  “Don’t worry, Adam.  My guess is that they’ll be so pleased to see you fit and well, they’ll forgive you almost anything.”

The shift changed over, and Harmony was ready to take her place in Angel One.  Symphony emerged from the hydraulic lift to the welcome sight of her boyfriend, smiling at her from across the room.

Rhapsody tactfully withdrew to engage Destiny in conversation, as the American Angel flew to his side and threw her arms around his neck. 

Destiny smiled.  “It is so sweet,” she said, flicking a glance at the entwined couple on the sofa.

“You shouldn’t be watching,” Rhapsody teased solemnly.  “It’s a big secret…”

Destiny’s peal of laughter went quite un-noticed by the lovers.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Sarah Svenson set about preparing to receive her guests as soon as Adam’s call from Cloudbase finished.   She had been frantic with worry about him ever since Peter had told them about how he had been shot.  No-one could - or would - tell her any more, although Doctor Fawn had called them from the sick-bay on Cloudbase, apparently at Adam’s request, and reassured them that he was going to be all right.  He had refused to let her speak to her son, saying he needed complete rest, but Sarah - remembering Mary Metcalfe’s disparaging remarks about the speed with which Fawn had allowed her own wounded son to go back on duty, the first time they had become involved with Spectrum – took little comfort from his diagnosis and continued to imagine the very worst case scenario. 

Her fears had only finally been set to rest at the sight of him – grinning sheepishly – calling from his own quarters to assure her he was doing fine.  It had been wonderful to hear him say that he and Karen were coming for a weekend’s leave, before he went to Australia on secondment, although - in her opinion – a weekend was nowhere near long enough.

            She was finding it hard to come to terms with the events of the recent past.  Peter had been so badly shaken by what had happened to him that he had withdrawn into himself – refusing to speak about his experiences – which was not Peter’s way.  He had gratefully accepted her suggestion that his family stay with them, rather than go back to their own house, and Cicely had confided to her that Pete wasn’t sleeping very well.   She had tried to get him to open up and talk to her, but after the men from SI had been to see them, Peter clammed up even more.  She hoped that Adam’s visit might loosen his tongue – or at least, that Adam would tell her exactly what happened, so she could help her second son exorcise his private demons. 

She had listened in disbelief to the news of Eric’s death and still steadfastly refused to believe that he could be implicated in this terrible plot. She even defended him against Peter’s damning testimony, arguing that he cared too much about the whole family to ever connive in the imprisonment of one and the shooting of another of her sons.  

The sour-faced men from Spectrum who had interviewed the whole family kept the details of these incidents sketchy, and Peter’s garbled version made very little sense.  She suspected no-one had told her the full story, and that, if she was ever to know the truth, she would have to wait until her eldest son was ready to tell her. That he would not tell her was unthinkable because - although it may take a little time - Adam always confided in her.   She was convinced that he would be able to clear his cousin’s name.

John Svenson watched his wife with concern.  The evidence Lieutenant Green and Kate were unearthing proved conclusively, to his mind, that Eric had been involved in – at the least – a conspiracy to defraud SvenCorp and that, although he may well have found himself unable to withdraw from the wilder schemes Jack Palmer dreamt up, he was an integral player in the plot.  

John admitted to himself that he had never liked his cousin much; he resented the way Eric had been on better terms than he was with his kids, and he deplored what he saw as his cousin’s over-familiarity with Sarah.  He could well credit that Eric had been involved in the disgraceful plot to defraud SvenCorp and he had every intention of initiating a thorough audit of every case his cousin had been involved in from the first day he started working with them – once he was allowed back to work. That Eric had died in the fall-out from the failure of his crime, was nothing more than he deserved, in John’s critical eyes.   Yet, part of him was grateful there would be no criminal case dragging interminably through the courts, exposing his family to the harsh glare of media speculation, and he grudgingly credited Eric with saving them from that, at least.

He was most concerned about how Sarah was weathering the resulting storm of this catastrophe.  She had, as usual, been a tower of strength in the family crisis, providing comfort and unquestioning support for the traumatised Peter.  She had managed to keep her anxiety for Adam hidden, although, in the privacy of their bed, her self-control had slipped and he had found himself in the unusual role of comforter. He suspected Sarah might be the person most affected by these terrible events in the long-term – not only by the proof of Eric’s guilt but in a subtle way she might not even have considered. 

He had had more opportunity than his wife to witness Adam and Karen together and when news had reached them of Adam’s injuries and his return to Cloudbase, he had seen how the colour drained from Karen’s face as her eyes flooded with tears, and how she swallowed down her initial shock and distress.   He’d been impressed with how quickly she overcame that reaction, moving to reassure Katherine and himself that Adam was in the best possible hands and everything would be done for his welfare and comfort.

All in all, he found her a remarkable young woman and he had rapidly come to the conclusion that Sarah’s previously unassailable position – as the most important woman in her eldest son’s life – had finally and irrevocably been usurped by the girl from Iowa.  He recalled with pain how his doubts about Adam’s previously chosen ‘partner’ had led to harsh words and a serious breach with his son, when he had expressed them, so it was strangely comforting to think he had no doubts about this one and could honestly tell his son as much.  That two such indomitable spirits as Adam and Karen should form such a deep and – he hoped - lasting relationship, seemed to him right and proper.  He saw in them a mirror of his own relationship with Sarah – a relationship founded on mutual support, mutual understanding and – if he was any judge – mutual passion.

As long as Sarah felt the same, he could look forward to welcoming Karen Wainwright into their family circle – when Adam finally got round to making it official, that was…

 

~oo0oo~

           

By the following afternoon, Sarah was anxiously watching the driveway.  As the anonymous black car crept up to the house, she rushed to greet it, and threw herself into Adam’s arms with an inarticulate cry of joy as her son emerged from the passenger seat. 

Adam hugged her closely, as moved as she was to be together again.  He glanced up towards the lighted doorway and saw his father leading the family out to greet him.  John nodded a welcome and Kate gave him a wave; behind her, Davy was grinning from ear to ear.   Peter, with Cicely gripping his hand tightly, came out behind the main group and also nodded in welcome.

Sarah finally released him and resorted to her usual tactics to cover her concern.  “How are you?  You look exhausted.  Has that doctor let you out before you are fit?  Mary Metcalfe is not convinced he knows what he is doing, you know?  She was incensed that he allowed Paul back on duty so soon after that incident when we were there.  I am sure you have lost weight, you cannot be eating properly – you never have liked hospital food… I bet you are famished, I made Rosa prepare your favourite meal tonight… I don’t imagine they have proper meals in Australia …all those beach barbecues…”

“I am fine, Mom,” he protested as she drew breath.  “Doctor Fawn’s the best medical man on the planet and if I have lost weight it’s only what I put on over Christmas because you insisted on force-feeding me every day.  Why don’t you say hello to Karen?  And Paul – he got the job of driving us over…”

Sarah let him go and enfolded Karen in her arms with a friendly wink. 

John Svenson came over and held out his hand to his son.  Adam shook it warmly. “Hello, Dad.”

“Hello, son, glad to see you fit again.” 

He moved on to shake Captain Scarlet’s hand, and as Adam went to greet the other members of the family, he paused slightly to turn and watch his father greet Karen.  She took his hand and reached on tip-toe to kiss his cheek.  “Nice to see you again, John,” he heard her say.  Then David grasped his hand and thumped his arm, and Adam cuffed his kid brother’s ear playfully, before wrapping Kitty in a hug. 

“Where’s Seymour?” he whispered. 

She laughed bashfully.  “Indoors, he didn’t want to intrude.”

“Hey, he’s my buddy… he couldn’t intrude if he tried,” Adam replied.  He gave his sister a stern look.  “Remember that, Kitty-Katz, Seymour’s a nice guy, so no messing him about, okay?”   Katherine Svenson actually blushed – something her brother had not witnessed for years.  He grinned and let her go.  Turning to the remaining couple on the steps, he suddenly found himself nervous, and to cover it, he dipped to plant a kiss on his sister-in-law’s cheek.  “Hi there, Cissy, you look as pretty as ever!”  Cicely Svenson gawped at him and was, mercifully, speechless. 

It was only then that Adam’s eyes met Peter’s and the younger man’s fell, giving the impression that he was uneasy in his brother’s company.

“Hi, Pete,” Adam said, his voice betraying far more of his nervousness than he imagined. Peter’s withdrawn expression and body language were making him fear that the tentative understanding he hoped their shared experiences had created were an illusion.

 “Adam, glad to see you up and about…” Peter’s tone was as offhand as usual, but when he raised his eyes, Adam could see the hunger for reassurance in them.  With something of a shock, he began to realise that his brother was expecting to take the blame for what had happened – as if, Adam thought with compassion, he could have stopped the Mysterons from carrying out their threat.  He glanced at his father, and wondered if John had been blaming Peter for the introduction of the virus to the company computers.  Well, that’s between the pair of them and – frankly- I don’t want to get involved.  But Peter must realise that what happened at Palmer’s offices was well beyond his control. 

Adam suddenly knew that it was essential he speak to his brother alone if he was going to stand a chance of having any kind of satisfactory relationship with him in the future.  “Let’s walk…” he said abruptly.   It wasn’t a question, nor yet a request, and although Peter would usually have argued, he stepped into line beside his brother and the pair walked into the house.  When Adam stopped in the lounge, to briefly greet the unaccountably nervous Lieutenant Green, the other family members caught them up and so Adam led the way into the conservatory, with the sort of casualness that, to an observer, only highlights the underlying tension. 

When John began to follow them, Sarah stopped him, shaking her head.  For a moment, both of them gazed after their problematical sons in the mutual hope that the boys would come to some sort of harmonious agreement.  It was only when Adam, accidentally on purpose, pushed the door closed behind them that his parents came out of their reverie and turned back to their remaining family and guests.

Inside the conservatory the brothers stood gazing out into the snow-rimmed garden in a portentous silence.

“What really happened at Palmer’s offices?” Peter asked suddenly.

“I was going to ask you the same thing… why was Eric involved with Jack Palmer? I can understand how Jack might’ve got involved with Black… but Eric?”

Peter shrugged.  “I asked him that, once I realised he was implicated.  He told me that he had given SvenCorp over thirty years of his life and now Dad wanted him out – because he had me and Kate now - he said he was ‘owed’. They’ve told you, I suppose, that all the money was being drained into a new portfolio Eric had created for Jack.  Presumably, they intended to move the money from there to offshore accounts.   Dad has told the internal auditors to go through Eric’s paperwork with a fine-toothed comb, any funds that had already been moved offshore will be found and steps taken to recover them.  Of course, it’ll be easier once your pal Seymour has stopped playing around with the systems and given us back control of our own computers.”

“Money?” Adam was sceptical. “You’re telling me all this was because Eric wanted money?”

Peter shrugged again. “Not everyone is as disinterested in financial remuneration as you like to give the impression you are…” he jibed.

“Don’t start,” Adam warned.  “It just seems odd that Eric would suddenly care so much about money…I mean, I never thought that was why he stayed in the first place…”

Peter turned bewildered eyes on his brother.  “Why else would he stay? He could have moved elsewhere a dozen times… he had a good reputation as a solid businessman.”

“You never realised?” Adam was incredulous, but one glance at Peter confirmed his surprised deduction.  “Oh, well, it’s academic now.”

“Don’t do that!  Tell me, for God’s sake!  I hate it when you go all inscrutable.”

Adam smiled.  “Sorry, Pete, but I always thought it was obvious.   I could be wrong, of course, although I don’t think I am.  It just always seemed to me that Eric was in love with Mom…”

“That’s gross!”

“Why?  She’s an attractive woman and Eric had eyes, didn’t he? Besides, I didn’t say she reciprocated – or even that she realised – although I’d be surprised if she didn’t know.  You have to admit, he would always do anything for her and he was forever annoying Dad by being ‘over-attentive’…”

Peter’s eyebrows almost disappeared under his short fringe.  “Well, I never… I guess it makes sense, in a warped sort of way.  But then, I never saw Eric’s devotion as anything out of the ordinary – Mom has the knack of making people dance attendance…”

 Adam grinned. “She sure does.  I wonder if what really got to Eric was the thought that, if he left the company, he might find himself cut off from the family as well.  The thought of losing whatever relationship he had with Mom, might’ve … pushed him over the edge, so to speak.”

Peter considered the suggestion and grimaced.  “It’s a workable hypothesis,” he conceded.

“Gee, thanks…”

“So what did happen to Eric at ‘jp enterprises’?” Peter insisted.

“What did the Spectrum Intelligence guys tell you?”

“Oh, them,” Peter said scornfully.  “They went on about doppelgangers… ringers, impostors… but it was all so much hogwash.  I saw Palmer shoot Eric and then I saw him walk back into the room without a scratch on him.  And that was Eric – I know my own cousin.  He was shot and then he walked back in, as right as rain.”

“It just looked that way – maybe he wasn’t hurt that much…”

“He was dead… he had a couple of enormous holes in his chest...” Peter looked intently at his brother. 

“You’re making too much of it, Pete.”

“I had a ringside view, remember?  I don’t think any man – any normal man that is - could have survived the wounds he had, let alone stand up and fight again.” He glanced back to the main room, where he could see Paul sitting talking to his mom – or rather – listening as Sarah talked to him. He turned to Adam, who had followed the direction of his gaze and was biting his bottom lip in a rare show of uncertainty. Peter pressed his advantage.  “That creep, Black, he was talking to Palmer, after they had shot Scarlet.  He said something about revenge for an attack on a ‘Martian complex’ and ‘destroying life on earth.’  There’s something fishy going on and I want to know what.”

“Did you tell the men from SI all this?” Adam asked in concern

“Did I heck – they didn’t strike me as the type I should tell anything to – so I didn’t.  I told them Scarlet had hidden me in the ladies’ washroom and I stayed there.  But you,” he turned to his brother and poked an aggressive finger into his chest, “you owe me an explanation.”

“I can’t tell you anything – because I don’t know it,” Adam asserted in the face of Peter’s snort of disbelief.  “The Mysterons turned up and threatened the World President – we stopped that threat - but since then they have made others.  We have tried to negotiate with them – they don’t listen.  So, until they stop their ‘war of nerves’, all Spectrum can do is oppose them.  It isn’t easy and it isn’t safe… you were lucky, you faced the worst they have to offer – Captain Black, a renegade Spectrum officer – and you walked away in one piece.  There are not many men can say that, Pete.  I am telling what I know, because I trust you – as my brother – not to speak of this to anyone – not even Dad and certainly not Mom!  Do I have your word on it?”

Peter nodded. “Sure you do, Adz,” he promised, staring with perplexity at his brother’s stern expression.   Usually such a display of fraternal authority brought out the worst in Peter, but this time, he sensed, Adam would not be forgiving if his orders – which is what these words amounted to – were disregarded. He changed tack slightly.  “Your friend out there, Captain Scarlet, he got pretty badly shot up and he was walking about in no time…”

“Paul’s tough and Spectrum uniforms offer a lot more protection than you think.”

“Yeah, and his middle name is Lazarus, no doubt.” Peter was scathing. “I remember hearing about the man who kidnapped the World President.  They said he was an impostor - the ‘Captain Scarlet’ who was killed by Captain Blue - I take it that was you, by the way?”

Adam nodded.  “I am the Captain Blue who did that, yes.”

 “So, the Captain Scarlet in our living room is not the man who kidnapped President Younger – or is he?” Peter persisted. “Look, Adam, I saw dead men get up and walk – more than once – and you and Scarlet called them ‘Mysterons’.  The man who abducted Younger was called ‘an agent of the Mysterons’… so maybe he could get and walk - as many times as he liked – however dead he was…just like the man in there did…”

“It’s complicated, Pete. All you need to know is that Captain Scarlet is my partner and my friend.  I trust him with my life on an almost daily basis.  You can take my word for it – he’s okay.”

“And he’s not one of these ‘Mysterons’?” Adam shook his head vehemently and Peter grimaced thoughtfully.  “That weapon he had, Scarlet said it killed Mysterons… the people who killed Eric and Palmer and the same ones who make doppelgangers   How could they do that so soon after Eric was killed – and why do you need a special gun to kill them?”

Adam sighed.  He knew Peter too well to believe his brother would stop worrying away at this topic until his curiosity was satisfied.  He also knew that – in spite of everything – he could trust Peter to keep the secret.  He went for the most basic answer he could.  “The Mysterons have an ability to make exact copies of things – working models, if you like.  They aren’t the same as the real thing, but they look, and often act, like it… however, what they create is entirely at their beck and call.”

“Neat,” Peter mused. “Presumably, they could replicate a labour force, which would explain how they planned to do construction work in space at such paltry costs… The technology behind such a process must be very advanced… Is that why Scarlet used that electrical gun on Eric and Palmer… to short-circuit them, so to speak?”

Adam smiled to himself - trust Peter to link everything to business!  Still, it looked as if the answer was enough to satisfy him, and vague enough to have given his brother the wrong impression.  Peter was obviously visualising an android workforce.  He nodded.  “I would imagine they had a replica of the real Eric all waiting to go. Forget the stuff in the business plan, though - that was all so much trash - they don’t use their skills for peaceful means.”

“These are the guys you are up against?”

Adam nodded again. “Spectrum has the task of preventing them doing too much damage, yes.”

“And you intend to keep doing that?  I mean, you are not intending to marry that woman and come back here?”

Adam glared down at his brother.  “Keep a civil tongue in your head when you are speaking of Karen… she’s someone very special – not that I’d expect you to be able to appreciate that.”

Peter grimaced.  “Oh yes, you don’t rate my taste in women much, do you?”

Adam rolled his eyes. “What you choose to do with your life is your own business… I may not understand why you chose to do it – but I would never deny you the right to do as you want.  Consequently, I don’t expect you to comment on what I do, either.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” Peter sniped.  “You’re welcome to your lady-friend, she’s too fiery for my taste, bro; it can’t be very restful around her? What’s the attraction – she good in the sack?” 

Adam suppressed the impulse to punch his brother, remembering, ruefully, that he had used the same justification to explain Peter’s incomprehensible choice of a wife.  Besides, in an odd way, he was grateful that Peter’s attention had shifted away from his awkward interest in the Mysterons - and Captain Scarlet’s relationship to them – to the more prosaic business of provoking his brother.

Rather surprised that he hadn’t received the expected punishment, Peter continued in a more conciliatory tone, “That said, she seems like a nice enough woman… Mom likes her.  I expect they’ll get on like a house on fire.  You still haven’t answered my question, though.  Are you planning to marry her and come back to Boston?”

“Yes and no…”

“And you do not want the company?”

No, I never have.  What do you want me to do?  Gift-wrap it for you?”

“Dad thinks you’ll change your mind…”

“Dad is wrong.  Whatever we do, Karen and I, it will not include pushing paper for SvenCorp… but - before you even ask -  I will not put that in writing, nor will I sell out to you… I care enough to keep an eye on things… after all, who knows what a mess you three will make of it, when the time comes?”

Peter turned on him, his eyes blazing until he saw the laughter in his brother’s face.  He made to punch him, but instinct brought Adam’s arm up to block the blow and the two scuffled, much as they had as kids.   Suddenly, a painful reminder of his recent accident made Adam give a sharp intake of breath.  

Peter stopped immediately, full of concern as he saw his brother tense up, holding himself rigidly upright as the pain took its toll.  “You okay, Adz?” he asked, placing a hand on his brother’s arm.  “Gee, I’m sorry…I never meant to hurt you.”

 Adam gave a faint smile at the notion that Peter could hurt him – however hard he tried.  “I’ve felt worse,” he replied, struggling to keep the pain from his voice, but his face had gone pale beneath his tanned complexion.

 Peter cursed his own forgetfulness and tried to mimic Adam’s stoical nonchalance.  “Yeah, I imagine you have, at that. Maybe, one day, you’ll tell me about it? – what you do, I mean – not how many times you’ve been hurt… because I don’t really want to know about that side of it.  It seems madness to me that anyone would want to do a job that carried so much risk.”

 “It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it,” Adam sighed.

“Someone like you and that man in there?”  Peter mused.  “Rather you than me, Adz.”

“You wouldn’t last a day, Pete, believe me.   Just be satisfied with doing what you know you are good at.”

“You are a real son-of-a-gun, at times,” his brother said, straightening his tie.

“And you are still a God-forsaken little troll…”

There was a silence.

Peter considered just how much of his brother’s life was beyond his ken…and his imagination.  He knew that his brother was – as he had always been – physically much the stronger of the two, but to live every day, knowing that something could happen – something  even worse than being shot and injured as he had been - was …awesome.  It took a kind of courage he could only marvel at with humility, all the more because he had never realised his own brother possessed it.

Just as the silence threatened to become too ominous, Peter said in a much lighter tone, “So, what will you do, when you get married?”

Adam shrugged. “The World is my oyster, Pete…”

Peter snorted.  “I always thought this family was the oyster… and that Mom and Dad saw you as the pearl,” he confessed.

Adam sighed. “I can’t help it if you saw it that way, but I never have. I know I have been a big disappointment - to Dad, at least – and even to Mom in some ways.  She’d like me settled down - with 2.4 kids – even if I wasn’t working for the company.  But I can’t do it, Pete; I am not made in the same mould as you and Dad… I guess you should blame Mom’s genes for stirring things up too much.  I’ve tried for years to avoid everything to do with SvenCorp… despite great provocation. What do I have to do to convince this family I am not interested in playing bankers?“

“Well, that’s okay then,” Peter said with a satisfied intake of breath.

“Of course, who knows if the Svenson genes won’t get the upper hand in my kids…? I can see an Adam Junior muscling in twenty-five to thirty years from now…”  He couldn’t help laughing at Peter’s horrified expression.

“You always have to have the last word, don’t you?” his brother protested, with just a hint of amusement.

“Noted for it, Pete…”

 

~oo0oo~

 

In an effort to ignore what might be happening in the conservatory, Sarah devoted herself to her guests.  “Let’s all make ourselves comfortable, shall we?  Have you met my grand-daughters, Karen?  Come and say hello… oh well, they’ve gone all shy, it seems. Rosa, please would you make us all some coffee – or perhaps Mr Metcaff would like tea?”

            Paul grinned, as he always did when confronted by the vowel-mangling accents of Adam’s family. He nodded confirmation and sternly reminded himself to behave.  Settled in a comfortable chair, with a decent cup of tea (for America) and an enormous sticky bun, Paul listened to the chatter of Adam’s pretty nieces, their mother and grandmother.  Across the room, David was busily wasting his time trying to charm Karen, and John Svenson - Paul suspected under strict orders from his wife - was behaving with rather more geniality than usual.

 It was not hard to see how involved Kate and Seymour were with each other.   They went to sit slightly away from the main group, the fair head and the dark close together in earnest conversation.  Paul wondered how soon after his return to Cloudbase the colonel would realise he had a lieutenant in love to cope with, and resign himself to yet another officer given to periodic bouts of vagueness and regular requests for shore leave…

He glanced up as the conservatory door opened and Peter walked in, laughing over his shoulder at something Adam had said.  His brother followed him, until his progress was halted by his eldest niece, who ran to throw her arms around his legs and who prattled happily to him as he swung her up in his arms.   One glance at his partner’s face was enough to tell Paul that the interview with Peter – which Adam had been dreading – had gone better than expected.

Adam strode across to the sofa Karen was on, and shooing his youngest brother away, sat down beside her, his niece on his lap. 

Captain Scarlet drew a satisfied breath – it could so easily have been so much worse – I guess it’s just another example of the ‘luck of the Svensons’… he mused, surveying the surprisingly harmonious family scene before him.

The dinner Sarah had ordered for them was a magnificent meal – and a welcome change from the fare provided on Cloudbase.  The conversation was good natured and did not stray into any contentious areas.  By the time it was over, Paul was as full as he could remember being for some time, and feeling mellow from the effects of the pleasant company – if not the excellent wines and liqueurs that had accompanied the food.  He was even tempted into sampling one of John Svenson’s Havana cigars. 

When they moved back to the living room,   Seymour and Kate sat together on one sofa, his arm around her shoulder as she leant against him.  Adam and Karen sat together on the other, in a similar pose.   Karen, finally tiring of Davy’s persistent flirting, rested her head against her lover’s shoulder and closed her eyes, giving ill-concealed yawns every so often.  Adam gave Paul a wry glance and rolled his eyes.

            Taking pity on them both, Paul said, “Mrs Svenson – Sarah,” he corrected, in the light of her disapproving glance.  “That was the most wonderful meal I can remember eating in a long time and I am sorry to be such a party-pooper but I do have to go back to base early tomorrow and I ought to get some rest.  So, I’ll go up now, if no-one minds?”

            “Of course, Paul, you must feel free to do as you like here – we don’t stand on ceremony!  I hope you found everything you need in your room?” Sarah smiled.

            “Absolutely, it is extremely comfortable.”  He stood and stretched slightly. “Well, I’ll say goodnight then.” He nodded to Adam. “Will I see you in the morning, before I go?”

            Adam shrugged, smiled at Karen and said dreamily, “That all depends...”

            She grinned up at Paul and held out her hand to him.  “Goodnight, Paul, sleep well,” she said.

            “You too,” he replied with a wry smile and, shaking his head, Captain Scarlet took himself off upstairs.   As he closed the bedroom door, he noticed that the other guest room wasn’t ready for occupation, and grinned broadly.  It looked as if this time, no-one would be trying to conceal anything...

Soon afterwards, he heard footsteps disappearing upstairs to the suites of rooms on the upper level. 

            He could have sworn he heard Symphony’s soft laugh as they passed his door.

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s notes:

 

The initial idea for this story came to me in the summer of 2002 and sat on my computer for a long time, undergoing various alterations and re-workings.  It was in July 2004, after Hazel Köhler had read the remnants of the original story – all that was left after my PC hard-disk had crashed – and encouraged me to finish it, that I turned back to it with renewed enthusiasm.

Because I have written several other stories since I started this one, finishing the story really meant a fundamental re-writing.  I re-set the period of the story and changed the ending.  I now see this story as coming almost immediately after the conclusion of my 2003 Halloween story – A Charmed Life - and before my End Credits Challenge story – A Chapter of Accidents.  There are also references to another story of mine – The Passengers – in which Symphony Angel meets Captain Blue’s mother (Sarah Svenson) for the first time.  None of these have to be read in order to follow this story.

            The characters of John, Sarah, Peter, Katherine and David Svenson are not mine.  They were invented by Chris Bishop, in her wonderful story A Symphony in Blue and she has been kind enough to let me borrow them.  What I have done with them is, I hope, in the spirit of the people she created.

            The technology that protects Spectrum Agents from having their pictures taken was devised by Mary J Rudy in her marvellous story Chance for a Lifetime.

The characters of Stefan and Eric Svenson are my own invention, as is the history of the Svenson family which all stemmed from the slight references made, in several sources, to the fact that Captain Blue’s father disapproved of his son’s choice of career. I have made references to Blue’s close relationship with his mother and his grandfather, as well as his turbulent one with his father, in several other stories. It has no validity, except in my fiction.  

As far as I can discover there are no companies called SvenCorp or The Hudson Guaranty Trust – and if there are – mine are purely fictional and have no connections with any real companies.

The characters from the classic TV series, Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons’, who appear in this story, belong to the companies who own the rights to the series.  I have only borrowed them too, so I hope they don’t mind.

As usual my thanks go to Chris Bishop, for her boundless enthusiasm and encouragement and for providing me with a venue in which to share my enjoyment of Captain Scarlet and his friends, and all their adventures.  Thanks also to Caroline Smith for her insightful comments and to Hazel Köhler for being the best beta-reader imaginable.

I dedicate this to my long-suffering husband and my daughter, who are sick to death of the sound of me typing at a keyboard.  Happy Christmas, sweethearts!

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

            Marion Woods

            August – October 2004

 

 

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