Sojourn

 

A Spectrum Story by Marion Woods

 

 

Cloudbase: making a decision  

 

Symphony Angel and Captain Blue had invested considerable time and effort in obtaining a whole week’s simultaneous ground leave, so that they could spend the time together.  It had been a painstaking task to swap duty shifts and volunteer to cover for colleagues’ absences, but eventually, they managed to achieve their goal: seven nights away from Cloudbase, at the same time, all for the expense of working over Christmas.

They planned to spend the time in New York doing some Christmas shopping and generally having a good time, while Symphony also planned to take a 48-hour pass around the January 6th to visit her home in Iowa for her birthday celebration.  Captain Blue, who every year displayed considerable ingenuity in finding new ways to avoid going home for Christmas, was happy just to explain to his mother that he was obliged to work the holiday – again.

 However, even the best laid plans do not always come to fruition, and the Mysterons had seen to it that Captain Blue was ‘otherwise engaged’ when the designated shopping week arrived and Symphony had to defer her leave, having neither the inclination, nor the finance, to ‘attack’ New York’s department stores as they had planned to do, on her own. 

As Christmas approached, the Mysterons once again took a hand in events and the couple found themselves embroiled in a dangerous mission that centred on an electronics corporation based in Symphony’s home town – Cedar Rapids.(1) Two Mysteron agents attacked Captain Blue and his field partner for the mission, Lieutenant Cerulean, and the young lieutenant had not survived.  Symphony, working with Captains Magenta and Scarlet, rescued Blue from the Mysteron agents and took him back to her nearby home to await the arrival of a Spectrum medical helijet. 

To their astonishment, they discovered that Colonel White, who was taking Christmas furlough for the first time in years, was spending it in the company of Symphony’s mother – Amanda – at the Wainwrights’ family home.    When Symphony was also wounded, Doctor Fawn signed both agents off over Christmas, instructing them to go and recuperate away from Cloudbase.  It seemed natural for the couple to return to Cedar Rapids.

The colonel was still there, and Symphony found it hard to accept that her mother was ‘romantically’ involved with her commanding officer.   During a heated confrontation, in which she had managed to upset everyone, Blue sided with Colonel White and Mrs Wainwright, which amounted in Symphony’s eyes to desertion when she needed his support.  Feeling betrayed, she’d hit out at her lover, accusing him of never allowing himself to ‘feel real emotions any more’ – an accusation that Blue had found particularly hurtful.  After the emotional roller-coaster ride they had both suffered, not long after they’d become lovers, he’d hoped that Karen had finally accepted the validity of his feelings for her, despite his refusal to overtly parade his affection.(2)

 After a further quarrel in the privacy of her bedroom, they had healed the rift between them and buried the memory of their disagreement with tender and passionate lovemaking.  The following day – Christmas Day - Symphony had buried her disquiet enough to be reconciled with her mother and to apologise to Colonel White, who in turn acknowledged that perhaps he could have handled the situation better himself.  With everyone prepared to accept the new status quo, the holiday looked set to be a success after all, even when John and Sarah Svenson arrived by helicopter from Boston - much to Blue’s dismay – having accepted Amanda Wainwright’s generous offer to come and see their convalescent son and spend Christmas with them all in Iowa. 

Amanda and Sarah surprised no one by quickly becoming firm friends, and John Svenson surprised everyone by managing not to bicker with his eldest son during the entire 48 hours of his visit.  The three women spent a day ‘hitting the sales’ in Cedar Rapids, to round off the whole experience, before Sarah reluctantly followed her husband back to Boston.

 

Returning to Cloudbase a week after the colonel, Symphony and Blue were taken aback to be reminded by the Admin Duty Lieutenant that they still had a week’s leave to take and that, in her pragmatic tones,  ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’.

So they had now been involved in protracted negotiations for some weeks. They’d run into the problem of other people taking leave and the days had slipped passed with no dates fixed and no consensus about where to go when they did, finally, take the leave due to them.  As a consequence, they’d had interminable discussions about how to spend their precious time together – which had occasionally descended into bickering and threats from Karen to go on her own.  She rejected out of hand anywhere with surfing – she had previous experience of watching Adam out on a surfboard for hours on end and wasn’t in the mood to indulge his mania this time.  She suggested somewhere warm, preferably with calm seas if it had to be on the coast, but Adam wasn’t too keen on that.  He suggested several European cities, which she rejected as being full of endless museums and over-priced cafés; and not even the prospect of unlimited shopping was worth that.  Besides, Adam in a museum was only marginally better than Adam on a surfboard, because you could at least complain when you were tired of something to a man who was standing next to you. 

He’d offered to go back to her home, and she’d offered to go to his… neither with a really genuine wish to do so. It wasn’t too long since they had seen their parents, after all, and they both wanted to spend a little quality time together, shoring up the damage done to their relationship by the vituperative argument they’d had about the colonel and Amanda Wainwright.  Symphony’s sense of being letdown by the man she trusted implicitly had lingered on, and Blue was aware that he still had some ground to make up.

They continued to debate the matter until Colonel White suddenly announced that they could either both have the next seven days off – starting tomorrow – or they’d have to wait until after Easter when there was no guarantee they’d be able to take the leave together. 

 They sat in the officers’ canteen and discussed it over lunch.

            “Let’s take it,” Karen said decisively, “we’ll decide where to go later.”

            “Later than tomorrow morning?”

            “If we don’t go tomorrow it’ll be months before we can get away – Easter’s late this year- and we might not get away together even then.”

            “Okay; but we have to decide on somewhere,” he said, reasonably enough.

             “D’you know what I’d really like, Adam?  I’d like it to just be the two of us – and not in a hotel.  Can’t we rent somewhere and just be like a normal couple? After all, it’ll be Valentine’s Day while we’re away and it’d be great to spend it just mooching around and lounging about and spending time together, for once.”

            Rent somewhere?  It’s very short notice, älskling.”

            “Couldn’t you get some strings pulled?” she asked with a wry grimace.  The Svensons knew people, who knew people, who’d do anything for a price – or so it always seemed.

            Adam chewed thoughtfully on his mouthful of roast chicken and gave her a doubtful glance. 

            She recognised the significance of that glance as ‘I wonder if it’s worth the hassle of mentioning it’ and deciding not to pander to his habitual caution she asked abruptly, “What?” 

            “Well, I can think of somewhere.  I don’t think you’ll like it though.”

            “Where?”

            He sighed.  “My parents have a place in the Berkshires.  We might get still get some skiing…”

            She gave it a little thought and then shook her head.  Knowing his mother as she did, she expected that she’d find a reason to come over every day - just to see if her son was eating properly, or something.  Sarah Svenson was a charming woman, and Karen got on with her very well; except over the rather nebulous issue of ‘taking care’ of Sarah’s eldest – and indisputably favourite - son.  

Sarah had been worried silly about him over Christmas, once she’d seen for herself the extent of his injury and the crop of bruises and abrasions he’d acquired. Even the fact that Karen was herself wounded had not prevented Sarah Svenson from lecturing the younger woman on ‘how to take care of my son’.  Karen didn’t see why she should ‘take care’ of Adam; after all, he was a good six years older than her, and had been looking after himself ever since he walked out of the Svenson family home – aged twenty.  Besides, he was not the kind of man who took kindly to being ‘fussed over’  - in fact, he was always biting his tongue to prevent himself telling his mother where to get off; not that Sarah would’ve taken any notice. 

            Karen could see his expectant gaze as he waited for the explanation of her response.  Sighing, she said, “That’s too close to Boston – and if it’s your parents’ place…” she paused.

            “You couldn’t keep my mother out of it…?” he finished for her.

            She gave an apologetic shrug.  Well…”

            He smiled.  “I agree.”  He gave an inward chuckle as he saw the relief on her face.  He was aware of the current altercation between the two women who featured most prominently in his life, and, although he sneakingily agreed with Karen – he didn’t think he needed looking after – he would never upset his mother by telling her so. 

Karen pursued her idea.  “Surely there must be somewhere we could go at short notice?  Somewhere private.  It’s all very well stopping in hotels, but sometimes… well, I don’t want to get dressed up for dinner, or fight my way to the breakfast table.  It’d be nice to – you know - to be ordinary for once and not have to be on our guard about what we talk about and where, in case anyone overhears us mention Spectrum.  I want to get away from it all, Adam; just for a while anyway.”  She sighed as if the weight of the world was on her slender shoulders.

 “If you’re really sure you want to be away from it all, there might be another place that would serve.  It belongs to me.”

She heard a slight hesitation in his voice, almost suggestive of a reluctance to mention the place.  Intrigued, she asked, “Where is it?”

            “Nantucket.”

            “An island? Off the east coast?  In February? Are you nuts?” 

            “No chance of my Mom coming there…” he reassured her.

            “No, I guess not; your mother’s a sensible woman… most of the time.  How come you’ve got a place on Nantucket anyway?”

            “I inherited it.”

            “As you do,” she responded wryly.  All she really knew about Nantucket was that the only reason it wasn’t overrun with millionaires was the preponderance of billionaires already resident there. 

            “Well, I did,” he confirmed evenly.

            Karen weighed their rapidly decreasing options.  “Okay – I’ll buy it,” she said eventually.  “We’ll go to Nantucket and spend the week being normal, or at least, what passes for normal in the land of the uber-rich… and we’ll probably catch pneumonia as well, knowing our luck.   I just hope I’m not right when I imagine this place of yours is an austere wooden hut overlooking a smelly fishing harbour…” she said, tongue-in-cheek.

            “Rest assured; it does have heating and lighting as well as indoor plumbing…” he said with an amused twitch of his eyebrow.

            “It’s just as well; this is my long-awaited vacation, Harvard.  I want to have a good time and my idea of a good time does not include having to rough it in some Spartan bachelor pad,” she warned.

            “Oh ye of little faith…You’ll have a good time, I promise you.  We’ll go down to Atlantic on the morning shuttle, fly to Nantucket, load up with groceries and get set up at the Beach House. Then we can play ‘happy families’ all week, if you want.”

            Karen surrendered to the inevitable.  “What sort of clothes shall I pack?” she asked with a sigh.

            “Warm ones.”

             “Shall I leave all my nice bikinis behind then…?”

            “I should, if I were you.”

            She started on her dessert and suddenly looked up with a smile.  “I suppose we might not even have to get out of bed – if the weather’s bad?”

            “And you say I have a one-track mind…”

 

 

Nantucket: taking a vacation

 

            The Spectrum shuttle arrived at Atlantic airport in the middle of the morning rush-hour.  The weather was overcast with a sky the colour of a bruise, the dull yellow sunlight barely strong enough to permeate the dense grey clouds, but - as Adam cheerfully pointed out to a somewhat subdued Karen – for once it was not raining. Dressed in civvies, Blue and Symphony walked across the main arrivals lounge and then crossed the city by taxi to Logan airport and booked on an air taxi to Nantucket.  Karen had spent part of her pre-Spectrum career flying these luxuriously appointed small planes and was perfectly familiar with them, but she was rather surprised when Adam turned out to be, too.  That was until he rather diffidently pointed out the three similar style jets sitting on the tarmac, all painted with the distinctive bright yellow and royal blue logo of the SvenCorp Company. 

It occurred to her that she still had a lot to learn about the life-style her lover had enjoyed.  The Svensons were a wealthy family and even though Adam had chosen to distance himself from them, he had grown up in what most people would consider ‘the lap of luxury’.

            The flight to Nantucket Island was unexceptional; with low cloud obscuring the views of the city and the coastlines there was virtually nothing to see out of the windows.  Nantucket airport was a small, relatively modern building with a nicely informal atmosphere.  The security guard on the ID control desk greeted ‘Mr Svenson’ by name – before he even checked his identification documents.  Karen had a hunch that this might happen fairly often during their stay; because, even if the locals weren’t sure which ‘Mr Svenson’ they were addressing, they’d surely recognise the family likeness.

They walked out into the dankness of the day and across to a cab rank, where Adam hailed the only taxi, gave the driver an address, and they set off across the island.  In the mist it was hard to see much and Karen felt her own enthusiasm for this venue waning accordingly, even as she sensed the growing excitement in Adam.

            The taxi eventually turned off the road and drove along a track between cultivated fields to deposit them in a neat yard, surrounded by a range of farm buildings, in which about half a dozen cars were parked.  Adam unloaded their luggage, piling it on the ground; leaving Karen to fend off the curious, yet friendly, investigation of two sprightly farm dogs while he paid off the taxi.   And then, calling the dogs to heel with a snap of his fingers, Adam quickly led the way into a large, brightly-lit, barn-like farm shop with the dogs frolicking around them. 

            “Ben,” he called out across the almost empty shop to an elderly, grey-haired man, who was restocking some shelves, “how why ya?”  He strode towards the stranger with his hand held out in welcome.

            The man glanced up, pleasure spreading over his craggy features at the sight of that well-recognised newcomer.

            “Well, I’m blessed; is it you, Adam?  Here’s a real surprise.”  He extended a gnarled hand, which the younger man grasped and shook warmly.  “Martha,” he yelled, “come see who’s here!” before calling his dogs to order and shooing them from the building.

            From the back of the store a woman emerged.  She was short, wiry and grey-haired, with glasses on her bulbous nose. Her face was weathered and brown, and her dark eyes sparkled with delight at the new arrivals. “Adam!”  She beamed at him, stepping up to enfold him in a hug.  She barely reached his shoulder.   “How good to see ya; you should’ve have let us know you were coming – I’d have got everything ready.  Still, it won’t take me but a moment to get what you’re needing; if you’re stopping over, that is?”

            “For the week, Martha,” he confirmed. “I’m here on vacation, with my fiancée.” He turned to reach for Karen’s hand and drew her to his side. “The Brownlows look after the beach house for me – just as they did for my grandfather,” he explained.

            Martha turned towards Karen, a friendly twinkle in her canny brown eyes. “Welcome to Nantucket,” she said, extending a hand to the young woman.  “I’m Martha Brownlow, and I’m pleased to meet you, at last.”

            “Karen Wainwright.”

 They shook hands.

            Adam picked up on one point. “At last?” he asked with a small sigh.

            Martha gave him a slightly censorious glance and replied, “Your mom was over this summer.  She was saying you’d finally found yourself a young lady and got yourself engaged.  ‘About time’ – is what she was really saying, of course, and she was right.  I was starting to think I might never live to see you married and settled down, with kids of your own.”

“Well, it still isn’t common knowledge,” Karen volunteered, “and we don’t have a date fixed or anything; so I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath, Mrs. Brownlow.”

            Martha tutted and shook a finger at the red-faced Adam.  “You’ll be the death of me, young man,” she chided and then she suddenly hugged him again, as if she couldn’t bear to let him go, before ushering the couple towards the private rooms beyond the shop.  She gave her silent, beaming husband instructions to ‘fetch the car and get the luggage in before the rain sets in for good’ over her shoulder as they left.

Karen chuckled, glancing at her rapidly colouring fiancé; it was nice to see him squirm a little, for once.  She’d suffered in the same way from the exquisite tortures of embarrassment whenever her mother enthusiastically promoted their affair to her friends and neighbours every time they visited Iowa.  It had slowly dawned on her that Amanda might be feeling left behind in the company of her peers.   Her old friends could talk about their children and grandchildren, whilst her only daughter remained stubbornly unattached.  Adam’s arrival on the scene had given Amanda something to really show off about.

 

The Brownlows lived in a large house that was linked to the shop building by a covered walkway.  As they entered the kitchen, the warmth hit them and a mouth-watering aroma of fresh baking assailed their nostrils.  Karen suddenly thought how long it seemed since their hasty breakfast on Cloudbase and hoped her stomach wouldn’t rumble.

A stocky, liver-brown gundog, its muzzle grey with age, lumbered across towards them on arthritic legs, its tail wagging furiously.  It went straight to Adam, fawning around him until he bent down to scratch the animal’s ears.  “Hi there, Bosun, you mangy old mutt, you still here?”

Martha laughed. “Yeah, we can’t seem to get shot of him.”  She patted the old dog lovingly.

The Brownlows’ style of furnishing was an eclectic mix of old and new – with some obviously antique pieces slap-bang next to an up-to-the-minute TV screen and a powerful computer module perched on an antique writing desk that looked straight out of ‘Little Women’. It was a hotchpotch of styles with a lived-in jumble of papers, ornaments and clutter on every available surface.

Martha invited them to sit down on a well-worn sofa and quickly provided hot, fresh coffee and a plate of tempting cookies, still warm from the oven.  Karen nibbled at one that melted in her mouth in an explosion of taste, and listened in fascination as Martha quizzed Adam on what he’d been up to lately whilst putting together a large hamper of provisions, including fresh vegetables, fruit and home-baked bread; all the time weighing his ambiguous replies with a shrewd expression on her weathered face. 

Occasionally her glance caught the older woman’s and she received an approving smile. 

Oddly enough, Karen felt even more under appraisal here than she’d felt when she’d met Adam’s family – although those meetings had been in the course of performing her Spectrum duties, and there had been little time to spend weighing each other up. (3)

When Martha excused herself and left them for a short time to fetch clean bed linen, towels and tableware, Adam leant back on the sofa, his hands behind his head and his long legs stretched out before him, and visibly relaxed. Bosun ambled across and laid his head on Adam’s thigh, gazing up imploringly at the man until he obligingly petted the animal once more.  Karen smiled affectionately at him, and watched him for a moment.  It wasn’t often that you saw the wariness engendered by the constant expectation of a call to action, leave his face and she was suddenly glad that she’d agreed to come to Nantucket if it was having this effect on him already. 

He grinned at her and winked.

Blushing, she turned her attention to the growing pile of things Martha was collecting together and wondered how they were supposed to get it to a beach house, of which she’d not yet caught so much as a glimpse.  She was about to put the problem to Adam, when the outer door opened, letting a blast of the cold air into the kitchen. 

Ben Brownlow marched in, slamming the door behind him.  He removed his rain-splattered cap and announced that he’d filled the car with gas and it was ready to be loaded.  Hearing the news Adam heaved himself out of the sofa, dislodging Bosun’s head from its chosen resting place.  He stood for a moment to stretch his limbs, like a cat waking from a sleep, Karen thought, a very sleek and well-satisfied cat, at that.   It dawned on her that even at home in Boston, she had rarely seen him look so at ease.  There was always a caginess about him, even in the company of his family.  Whatever the foundation was for that, it had not survived the warmth of his welcome here.

“I’ll give ya a hand, Ben,” he offered, and even his accent was relaxing, sliding into a far more apparent New England twang than was normal for him. 

Martha returned as the two men were organising themselves.   She added another bundle to the stack of provisions waiting to be loaded. 

When Karen wandered over to the door to watch the men, the dog came too, whining.

 The car was a deluxe people carrier – obviously used to ferry the Svenson family and their belongings to and fro on their summer vacations.  Martha explained to Karen, as they watched the progress of the loading operation, that it was normally garaged in one of the many outhouses around the farm.

Adam came back into the kitchen as Ben loaded the final bundle and shook the raindrops from his hair.

“We’re ready,” he said.  “Are you ready to go, älskling?”

Before Karen could reply, Martha interjected, refusing to hear of them leaving without having something to eat.  “It’s not like we see much of you these days,” she told Adam with a hint of reproach in her voice. “Surely ya can spare us an hour or two now?  I’m sure Karen won’t mind – will you, honey?” 

Karen shook her head and Adam, holding up his hands in surrender, agreed to stay for lunch.  

They spent several more hours with the Brownlows – enjoying their hospitality and feasting on the marvellous home-made food Martha placed before them, until, at last, Adam said they ought to make a move – they would have things to do on their arrival before they lost the best of the light.  Ben Brownlow went through the settings for the heating and the whereabouts of the household essentials, whilst Martha insisted on packing additional goodies into their groceries at the last minute. 

Before they left, Adam took Karen into the farm shop and made her try on weather-proof, thermal-lined jackets, essential for the weather this time of year, everyone assured her, as she grimaced with distaste at the rather unattractive garments, before she finally settled on a cream-coloured one, vaguely reminiscent of her uniform tunic.  She shoved it in the back of the car when Adam took the wheel and they headed away, Martha’s invitation to come to dinner one evening before they left the island, ringing in their ears.

            “I’d guess they’ve known you and your family for some time?” Karen asked, settling down after waving an enthusiastic farewell to the Brownlows. 

            Adam nodded.  “I’ve known them all my life.  They worked for my grandfather, but we’ve all grown up with the Brownlows.” He suddenly gave a chuckle.  “I can still remember how, as a very young kid, I asked Martha why she lived on this island when she had one of her own so close by.  She sat me on her knee and thought very seriously about it, before explaining why she liked this island better. I remember feeling that I must be very clever, because here was a grown-up agreeing with me that Nantucket was nicer than the Vineyard…” He shook his head and continued, “I guess she kind of adopted me; they have no kids of their own and I spent a lot of time here with my grandparents at one time.  But for whatever reason, she’s always been very kind to me and put up with my endless – and impertinent – questions over the years, with far more tolerance than my dad ever did, for example.”

            Karen chuckled. “That sounds exactly like the sort of question you still ask… you don’t like not understanding things – or people – do you?”

            He answered with a huge, boyish grin and then nodded in the direction of the coast.  “There – you can just see the house now. This is the south shore of the island, on the ocean side, so we do get some surf…nothing like the best beaches in Hawaii, of course, but adequate. ”

            Karen gave him a disapproving glare, warning him against planning to do any surfing over the coming week, and then she turned her head and saw the ‘beach house’ standing in isolated splendour overlooking a long, deserted beach.   It was a substantial period-style house, with gabled windows leading to a small balcony in the sweeping, pitched roof.  A porch sheltered the front exterior from the prevailing winds, and a small separate outhouse served as a garage at the side of the paved courtyard area.

            “You call that a beach house?” she queried with a surprised glance at Adam.

“Sure,” he said flippantly, “it’s a house by a beach, what else would you call it?” Karen pulled a face at him and chuckling, he continued explaining, “Besides, my parents have a big family house closer to the town, and we have to distinguish between the two places somehow.   My grandfather bought this as a holiday home for my parents when they got married and then swapped it for the town house when Pete was born and we needed more space.  He always liked to imagine that it was the kind of home the first Svensons in America would have had, but, in reality, we’d never have afforded a place like this then. Still, as far as we have records, we know the earliest Svensons in America were whalers… in those less enlightened days.”  He gave her a brilliant smile. “My grandfather always liked to tease the Ellises by insisting that one of his ancestors was amongst the Viking explorers who discovered Vinland - some four hundred years before Columbus even landed in the Caribbean – and over another two hundred before my Mom’s family ever set foot on the continent.”

 “Did you believe it?”

He winked.  “I had to – if I wanted to be welcomed in my grandfather’s house …”

She joined in with his amused laughter.  “Your grandfather sounds like he was a real character.”

“He was.  Heaven knows how it happened; his father and mine were cut from the same cloth: workaholics with no sense of fun.  But you’d have liked Stefan – and he’d have liked you - of that I have no doubt.”

“I wish I’d met him – if only to tell him how much I love his grandson…” She reached across and kissed his cheek.

Adam hugged her and pointed to the house again. “As kids we used to spend hours looking for whales from there. You can still see whales around here, at the right time of the year,” he reassured her, noticing her sceptical expression.

She smiled at him, trying to imagine the boy he had been. A photograph she’d seen on the wall of his mother’s private sitting room came to mind. It had surely been taken on this island, maybe against this very building, for it showed him as a teenager - dressed in nothing but faded, denim shorts and sneakers - smiling, coltish and tanned, his fair hair bleached almost white by long days of summer sun.  He’d been arrested on his flight to the beach, most likely, for he was holding a surfboard.   She could almost imagine that boy was here now, curled against the balcony rail, his sharp eyes gazing out into the vast ocean beyond… 

She felt again as if she was still only beginning to get to know him.  Even though she had been on familiar – not to say, intimate - terms with this man for several years, he still had the capacity to surprise her.   She knew so little about his early life, save what he’d chosen to tell her and that was little enough. Perhaps this week would allow her to ‘fill in some of the gaps’?

            “You okay?” he asked her. “Only you’ve gone all misty-eyed… please tell me you wouldn’t have preferred a hotel in Antibes after all…”

            Karen shook her head, speech having temporarily deserted her.  Finally she said, “I’m going to love it here – with you.” She leant towards him and their lips met in another gentle kiss. “Thank you for bringing me here…”

            He smiled.  “I’m glad you like it – it’s a very special place for me.”

            “You don’t say?” she asked archly, then chuckled. “Let’s go inside, shall we?  We’ll unload the luggage and you can give me the grand tour of your island home…”

                       

To Karen’s surprise her first impression of the interior was that it was surprisingly comfortable and homely.  It was an open-plan design, with the majority of the rooms on the ground floor.  There were polished wooden floors and a scattering of colourful rugs, the windows were shuttered and framed by curtains in bright material that contrasted with the plain-coloured walls.

At one end of the ‘cottage’ was a kitchen and dining area.  The kitchen was well appointed with appliances, and had a view over towards the beach.  The dining table was a robust, rectangular wooden one, with four straight-backed dining chairs.

The living room area had invitingly sturdy furniture – not new but obviously of quality – that was functional, stylish and comfortable.  The only obvious indications that this was the home of a well-to-do family were to be found in the state-of-the-art plasma TV screen and impressive top-of-the-range sound system; although Karen expected the tasteful modern art on the walls were probably all originals too.  But, all in all, it certainly didn’t look much like ‘Bachelor’s Hall’.

All of the main rooms were on the ground floor and once Adam had switched off the burglar alarm, he carried the luggage through into the master bedroom, Karen following behind with the fresh linen Martha had provided. This room wasn’t large, but it had an en-suite bathroom. There were white-painted wooden doors, leading to walk-in wardrobes and the double bed had a white wooden headboard and footboard – which Adam normally eschewed, preferring divans. 

            “Do you like it?” he asked, watching her reactions with anxiety.

            “It’s marvellous.”  She bounced on the edge of the bed and smiled up at him.  “Which side’s yours?”

            He grimaced.  “I’m too tall for it really; I tend to sleep diagonally….”

            “Then you’ll be sleeping alone…” she interjected.

            “…But for you, I’ll straighten up,” he promised reassuringly, barely missing a beat.

Karen laughed.  “You’d better.” She lay back across the bed, which was covered by a quilted bedspread, stretched languidly and smiled up at him.  “Did your mom help you furnish and decorate the place?”

            “No, it was pretty much like this when I inherited it. I haven’t changed much, just moved in a few bits and pieces of my own.”

            “So it was your grandparents who furnished the place?”

            “Well, it’s a mixture really.  They didn’t change much when they swapped it for the big house – so it has a little of all three generations about it – four, if you count Pete’s kids,” he said thoughtfully. She’d noticed the children’s drawings pinned onto the fridge door in the kitchen and smiled.  “My grandparents stayed here a lot – especially after my grandfather retired.  He left the place to me because my grandmother said that without him, she wouldn’t want to come here – the place would remind her of too much – and she was happy for him to give it to me.”

            “You don’t talk much about your grandma…?  Is she still around?”

            “Oh, sure she is. Remember when I took that weekend off and went away alone?  I paid her a visit.   She went back home when my grandfather died, so we don’t see her all that much anymore.”

            “Home – as in – not Boston?  So where’s that?”

            “She does have her own place in Boston and we do see her a lot when she’s here; but she decided to move back to Norway.”

            Karen raised an eyebrow.  Back to Norway?  Now I’m confused.  I thought she was American – or if not, then Swedish, at least?” The minutiae of the Svenson family’s history were beyond her.

            He shook his head. “Uh-uh; my father’s family came from Sweden originally and his grandmother was born in Gothenburg; but my Svenson Grandmother was born in Bergen, and still has family there.  They met when Stefan went over on a trip one summer – she was an archaeology student working on a dig and he was there as a volunteer.  He spent a lot of time going back and forth for the next two years before he asked her to marry him – she’d told him he must be able to converse fluently in Norwegian if he wanted an answer – even though she spoke perfect English.  He spoke Swedish, of course; but my gran’ma once told me his accent was atrocious!”  He chuckled at the memory.  “They came back to live in Boston; - there was no way for him to avoid a life dedicated to SvenCorp – his father wouldn’t hear of it.   But my grandmother always liked to go back to Norway as much as she could.  She’s the eldest of a big family, with three sisters and two brothers.” 

“So Paul is technically right when he calls you a Scandinavian-American?” she said archly, smiling up at him.

“Yeah, I guess so.  I’m a real mongrel – what with my mom’s family having some Dutch in their ancestry, as well as the English.  Paul says I’m so mixed up that I’d almost qualify as proper English.  I think he meant it as a compliment; he can’t imagine any one aspiring to anything higher, that’s for sure!” He grinned and then added pensively, “I often wonder if that’s why my dad tries so hard to live the quintessential American Dream; because he is, in fact, even after all the time we’ve been in America, still a quarter Swedish and half Norwegian.”

            “I never realised that; you all have such ‘English’ names.”

            “My father’s name isn’t really John.  It’s Johan – but only my grandmother ever called him that.  Even my grandfather – who was generally known as Steve outside of the family – even he called his son John.”

            “Are you going to admit to me that your actual baptismal name isn’t Adam now?” she asked with a satirical grin.

            “Oh, it is.  But that was entirely my mom’s doing – and anyway, Adam’s much the same in any language.”

“Is that why she chose it?”

“I don’t think so.  Ask her one day – she’ll probably be delighted to tell you about it.” 

Karen could see that he was not willing to say any more in relation to that particular topic, and knowing that it was all to easy to tread on his toes about his family and his relations with them all, she didn’t press it.  Instead, recalling Sarah Svenson’s ability to manage her husband, despite his often overbearing manner, she said, “There’s a history of strong-minded women in your family, it seems.”

He sat beside her. “Hmm, you certainly wouldn’t be alone.”

            Karen laughed and sat up to rest her head against his shoulder.  “Subtle,” she teased and stood up to plant a kiss on his forehead.  “We’d better get busy.  We still have to unpack the groceries and make the bed… “

            “Yes, ma’am,” Adam said artlessly, obediently following her out of the room.

 

After they had completed the unloading, Adam took her on a guided tour upstairs. This storey, built into the sloping eaves of the roof, was divided into two rooms.   At the rear of the house, the larger room was obviously used as an activity room; an ancient dolls’ house, a well-used train set, and all sorts of juvenilia shared the space with a full-sized painting easel and the paraphernalia for painting in watercolours.  A brightly coloured hammock was suspended from the ceiling, filled to overflowing with a jumble of dolls and soft toys.

 Adam bent down and restored one fussily over-dressed Barbie doll to the pile. “Looks like my mom brought the girls with her this summer…” he said non-committally.

Karen raised an eyebrow and reached to take his hand.  Adam had two young nieces, the children of his younger brother and the only grandchildren – so far.  As the brothers did not get on that well, he saw very little of the two girls.  As she led the way out of the playroom and across the narrow landing, Karen thought it was a shame, because Adam was good with children; she’d witnessed him charming the pants off her friends’ kids, when she’d introduced him to them, back home.  

The room at the front of the house was used as a study.  It had long windows that opened onto the balcony, across from which stood a desk, with a computer monitor on it.  A telescope stood on a tripod, pointing out to sea and there was an overcrowded bookcase and an indubitably shabby and therefore, presumably, comfortable armchair. 

            “Must be nice to sit here and watch the sunsets,” Karen said, peering through the gloom towards the dull smudge of the setting sun. “When there is a sunset to watch,” she added ruefully.

            He nodded and said, “I spent a lot of time here one year… I… I was sent here to recuperate after… an accident. It was about the same time Kitty was born and things at home were noisy and hectic – so, when they decided I needed peace and quiet, Gran’pa and Gran’ma brought me here.  I’d sit out there,” he nodded towards the balcony, “in this old armchair, reading ‘Moby Dick’ and imagining I was searching for the great white whale with my grandfather’s binoculars …”

His voice trailed away and Karen saw his expression cloud over with some sadness as he stared with unseeing eyes into the mid-distance.   There had always been parts of his past that he never revealed – not even to her.  It wasn’t that he consciously kept such information buried, but he was not given to discussing his family, nor his past life.  It had taken him a long  time to tell her about his previous fiancée – the English divorcee with the unusual name - that he’d met during the time he served in the World Aeronautical Society - and of how his father had not approved of her and of how profoundly her death had affected him. (4)

“I guess this place reminds you of your grandfather a lot, doesn’t it?” she asked gently, after he remained staring silently out of the window.  She knew he’d been very close to Stefan Svenson, and wondered if coming to somewhere with such vivid and poignant memories was a good idea

He gave a slight nod, and said in a pre-occupied tone, “But those are happy memories… it wouldn’t bother me if that was all I could remember.”  Then he suddenly snapped out of his reverie and smiled at her, gathering her to his side once more.   With his lips against her hair he continued, in a far less troubled manner, “You are the first person I’ve ever brought here, Karen.   I always intended to bring Soraya but we never made the time… and then – it was too late.  I guess you could call this place my spiritual home… I’ve always come here to recharge my batteries.  I came here when Soraya was killed and when my grandfather died … or whenever I needed just to think things over,” he admitted. “That couple of days when I went ‘missing’ - after the incident at the London Car-Vu, remember? - I was here; trying to get my head round what had happened to Paul and to me because of the Mysterons.”

Karen nodded.  She had a vivid recollection of Captain Scarlet – only recently aware of the full effect of his Mysteronisation - wandering about Cloudbase like a lost soul, haunting the Officers’ Lounge and the Amber Room; too wary of his colleagues to settle anywhere and too mistrustful of himself and the power these aliens might still have over him, to keep his own company for long.  She had not been the only person happy to see Captain Blue arrive back on the base in the evening twilight.

Adam sighed and gave her a shaky smile, seeing the anxious concern on her face.  “Please, don’t imagine this is a sad place – even in this murky wind and rain.  This house was always full of love and it still is – although it’s nowhere big enough to contain my love for you, älskling…”

She hugged him tightly and whispered against his cheek as he held her, “Then it’s definitely not going to big enough to hold my love for you as well… we may just have to commandeer the whole island…”  She raised her face to receive his kiss.

They stood framed by the window, wrapped in each other’s arms.   The last rays of the setting sun broke defiantly through the sullen clouds as it sank below the horizon, and sparkled across the waves to gild their fair heads with pure gold. 

 

It was much later in the evening before the aroma of cooking started to fill the house.   Karen was in the kitchen frying onions and slicing chicken breast into strips, with a view to stir-frying them in a recipe Harmony had once described to her and that had seemed so simple.  However, since she hadn’t got all the necessary fresh ingredients, she was ‘adapting it’ using a rather ancient jar of lemon sauce she’d found in the cupboard.  A saucepan of rice steamed on one of the hotplates.  She’d allowed Adam to mix and toss a green salad, open a bottle of white wine and put some music on the sound system.  He’d set the dining table for two without her permission, after which she ordered him to sit down, with a cold beer, and instructed him to ‘relax and talk to me’ while she cooked the food.  However, his every attempt at conversation had met with a distracted response, so he was now holding his tongue.  He opened his beer and swigged it from the bottle, watching Karen as she moved around the kitchen, searching for what she needed. 

It was unheard of for her to actually cook; when they were in Iowa her mother did all the cooking – and Amanda Wainwright was a damn fine cook too – and on trips to Boston, the domestics at the Svenson house turned out spectacularly good meals.  The rest of their previous vacations had been spent in hotels and she’d never had to prepare a meal for him.  He’d cooked for her - once; she’d bet him he couldn’t and had watched in stunned surprise as he’d made a meal for them in her mother’s kitchen.   He’d learned to cook - by trial and error - through necessity and had found that, as well as becoming reasonably adept at it, he’d grown to rather enjoy it.   He rarely got the chance to do it these days, and tonight he’d been forbidden to take any part  - Karen had insisted that this was going to be ‘her treat’ - and he was growing increasingly thankful that Martha had fed them both so well earlier.

            He swigged his beer again and banished the disloyal thought that the onions were burning…

             

            Karen toyed with the glutinous rice on her plate and fumed inwardly.  Beside her Adam was making a valiant effort to eat the food on his plate.  She slammed her fork down. “You don’t have to eat it…” she growled.

            “Hey…” he said swallowing his mouthful. “It’s fine…”

            “Stop it – it’s awful and damn near inedible.  Leave it, Adam, you don’t have to pretend to like it.”

            He paused, assessing her mood and then placed his fork down as well.  “You’re not used to the kitchen,” he soothed.

            “I’m a lousy cook – that’s the truth of it.” She slurped her wine. “Whatever else I inherited from my mom, it sure wasn’t the ability to cook.”

            He chuckled.  “You’re out of practice, that’s all.  Are you still hungry?” he asked.

            She nodded.  “Not for this though.” She pushed the plate aside.  “I’m sorry…”

            He stood and picked up the dishes.  “Wait,” was all he said.

            She watched as he moved around the kitchen, assembling ingredients before whisking some eggs to produce a ham and mushroom omelette.  They shared it, with some of Martha’s home-baked bread and the salad, and then finished the wine sitting curled up against each other on the sofa.  The music – something from Adam’s classical collection – was intensely sensuous and Karen closed her eyes the better to experience every sentiment it inspired.  Her head drooped against his shoulder and his arm tightened around her, his hand straying down to cup her breast.  She drew in a lungful of air and sighed it out in a husky moan as her body responded to his touch.  He gently pushed aside the hair that covered the nape of her neck and kissed it.  They drifted along in a miasma of sensuality for some time, until he stood suddenly, allowing her to fall back against the cushions.  She felt herself lifted from the sofa and carried in his arms across to the bedroom.

Adam stood her on the thick sheepskin rug beside the bed and turned on a small bedside lamp that provided just enough light to see by.  He smiled at her; that seductive smile he used for no one else and which spoke volumes to her – of love, of longing, of desire.  She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him, whilst his hands gathered the hem of her sweatshirt together and started to lift it.  She broke apart from him, to raise her arms and allow him to draw the garment over her head.  The room was chilly after the cosy warmth of the lounge and she shivered, goosebumps breaking out on her skin. 

            “You’re getting cold,” he murmured.  “Quick, hop into bed.”

            And suddenly their hands were eagerly tugging the clothes from each other until they fell into the bed, laughing and burying themselves under the duvet.  Karen snuggled against him, drawing warmth and a feeling of security from his closeness that was wonderfully relaxing.  In the soft darkness, their mood slowly changed in intensity; now when she snuggled against him, it was with quite another purpose in mind.   Revelling in the sensation of his body against hers, and of his hands running down the smooth skin of her back to pull her hips against his, she reached across to kiss him, inviting him to make love to her. 

Gently he rolled her onto her back and she closed her eyes as he kissed her: lips, cheek and chin, following a familiar path down her neck, shoulder and breast, to the taut nipple.  She stretched languidly as a spiral of sensation spread through her, turning her blood to liquid flame.  She heard herself murmuring his name.

 He threw aside the restrictive covers and raised himself above her, edging her legs apart with his.  He gazed down at her for an entire age: drinking in the contours of the face that enthralled him so much, he willingly subjugated himself to her moods.  The softly rounded chin; the generous mouth, smiling now, but so often pouting in anger or pique;  the short, blunt-tipped nose and the rounded cheekbones and brow that framed what was undoubtedly her greatest beauty – her hazel-green eyes, with their long, dark lashes, surmounted by pencil-thin brows that gave her a look of wry amusement with life.   Her shoulder-length, red-blonde hair lay tumbled across the pillow, looking like spun-gold in the soft glow of the lamplight. 

“Oh God,” he breathed, “did I ever tell you just how beautiful you are?”

            She started to chuckle, revealing small, white teeth, but the laughter died in her throat as her eyes met his and saw the depth of the love within them.   She was thrown by such raw emotion.  Adam – urbane, reserved, self-possessed Adam – had never before been so open with her – nor so vulnerable.  She realised how easy it would be to destroy completely the integrity between them – to belittle his feelings now would be something he would never forgive.   She reached out to touch his face, stroking from cheekbone to chin as she sought for the right words. 

             My dearest love –words that sum up more – happiness – than I believed existed in this life.  I love you, Adam – with every fibre of my being.  You can’t imagine how it feels to be with you and to know you love me.  I’m so lucky…”

            His lips descended onto hers, smothering her words with his passionate kiss.

            As one, their bodies entwined, uniting in an ecstatic rhythm of physical love.  Sensation on sensation, delight upon delight, building to a crescendo of mutual release and a long fall into intimate exhaustion; a weakness that only served to bind them even closer together in a cocoon of dependency and trust.  They lay silent and absorbed in the afterglow of their loving for some time; both acutely aware of their own heartbeat, and the echoing rhythm of the heart that lay so close.

            Gently, still wrapped in each other’s arms, they drifted into sleep. 

           

 

 

Cloudbase: the mission begins

 

            “Launch all Angels!”

            Colonel White’s command reverberated around the Control Room on Cloudbase and Lieutenant Green opened the communication channel and repeated the order.  In the Amber Room, Melody and Harmony Angels dropped whatever they were doing and raced to the elevator seats.   On the main runway, Rhapsody’s plane was already being catapulted into the blue expanse of sky. Moments later Angels Two and Three followed, banking westwards in the wake of their leader streaking towards the dark sky, where night still lingered..

            Captain Scarlet stalked into the control room in answer to the colonel’s peremptory summons and snapped to attention before the circular desk.

The colonel wasted no time in briefing his most experienced field officer.  “The Mysteron threat has resolved into the hijacking of the new WAAF fighter jet. Glenn Field reports that the prototype ‘Recluse’ jet has veered off course during a test flight and isn’t responding to their hails.  It was returning from a 24-hour long-haul test flight, with a crew of three men.  You know, of course, that it’s a stealth plane and invisible to conventional radar once it is cloaked – and, as you might imagine, they’ve lost all trace of it.  I’ve launched the Angels to find it and track it.  As if that weren’t bad enough, not only does the Recluse have enhanced stealth technology, it is powered by a new generation of Promethean atomic engines; and, if anything happens to that engine the progress of the Earth’s advance towards less dependence on fossil fuels will be seriously hampered. Therefore, Captain Scarlet, I want you to take an SPJ and, once the Recluse is located, I want you to gain entry to the plane and attempt to wrest it from Mysteron control without destroying it - if at all possible - and return it to WAAF control. The plane is not armed, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the consequences of those engines crashing onto a populated area?  Captain Grey will act as your pilot.”

            Scarlet’s mouth dropped open.  “Sir?  You want me to undertake a mid-air transfer into a moving plane that doesn’t want me to get inside?”

            Colonel White glanced up, rather surprised at his officer’s display of such a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the mission. “You have a problem with that, Captain?”

            “Err, no, sir, not at all…  I’ll do what I can, but…”

            “Well, get on with it, Captain… this is an emergency, not a picnic outing!”

            “S.I.G.…” Scarlet saluted, turned on his heels and marched stiffly out of the Control Room, his eyebrows furrowed over his clear, blue eyes as he contemplated the implications of his orders.   They had practised plane-to-plane transfers during their training, of course, but doing it for real was a different matter.   If the Mysterons were in control of the Recluse, it could be damn near impossible to get within spitting distance of it, never mind actually gaining entry.  The latest threat had been vague enough as well – so even though they had taken the Recluse, it wasn’t clear what the Mysterons intended to do with it.  He pursed his lips and the frown deepened.  Obviously the colonel expected it to be used as a bomb against some civilian target and therefore, whatever else he did, he’d have to stop that happening. 

He hurried down to Hangar Two where Captain Grey was completing the pre-flight checks on their SPJ.  Grey was a competent pilot and a good man to have at your side, but Scarlet couldn’t help reflecting that what he really wished for was the brilliance and inspirational flying of his usual partner.  Knowing that the reliable and resourceful Captain Blue was at the controls of his SPJ would have somehow made the whole enterprise seem less hazardous.  Nevertheless, he smiled confidently at Grey, who gave him an acknowledging nod. 

            “I guess you could’ve done with Blue being here, right now?” Grey said evenly; he could read Scarlet’s thoughts beneath the unruffled veneer on his face without too much difficulty and he was man enough to acknowledge that he was not the pilot Captain Blue was without rancour.

            “Hey, no one’s indispensable – we’ll manage.” Scarlet said quickly. He added, “I’d hate Blue to think we couldn’t cope without him – can you imagine just how smug he’d get?”  He gave a rueful grin. 

 “Yeah, an ego that big would make him hell to live with,” Grey agreed amiably. They exchanged amused grimaces.  “Let’s get this baby underway.  Is there any special equipment you need to load aboard, Scarlet?”

            “No,” the younger man said and paused, “except, maybe a pair of wings …”

            Chuckling, Grey requested the control room to initiate launch and settled down to fly after the Angels.  

           

            Rhapsody contacted Cloudbase.  “Search pattern delta 2 completed. No sign of the plane, Colonel.”

            S.I.G., Rhapsody.  Initiate search pattern delta 3.”

            “S.I.G.,” the Angel leader acknowledged, before passing the instructions on to the other Angels. 

The Recluse is certainly living up to its billing, she mused, it’s invisible on any damn radar screen. Mind you, the poor visibility isn’t helping matters.  The dense cloud cover’s making it like looking for a needle in a haystack… Rhapsody swerved her plane around and began the new search pattern, staring out across the dour skies looking for any tell-tale signs of the missing prototype. 

Over to the east, the pale sun dragged itself over the horizon.

            The SPJ had reached the edge of the current designated search area.  Captain Grey informed the Angel flight of their arrival and present location.  Rhapsody instructed him to fly in a holding pattern at a central location that would enable the SPJ to move in pursuit of the WAAF plane with the least time wasted, once they had found it. She patched the captains through to the other Angel jets, alerting the others that they needed to keep the SPJ informed of their progress. Then she returned to the search.

            Captain Scarlet was also searching the bleak skies.  He glanced down at the ‘navisat’ display.  They were over the mid-Atlantic, flying round in a circle – just waiting.  This was not his idea of having fun; he’d never been good at waiting patiently. 

He willingly undertook dangerous missions, trusting in the power of his retrometabolism to act as a safety net and drag him back to life from every injury or fatal outcome.   He had come to accept that by doing so he was safe-guarding the lives of his colleagues; the dedicated band of men – and women – who constituted the elite force of Spectrum.  That was how he justified and rationalised the risks he took and the sufferings he endured and he knew the price was worth the paying. .

But what he really hated was the slow, inexorable build–up of tension before he went into action.  Retrometabolism could restore his life, health and vigour, but before that, there were the agonies of pain and suffering to be endured. That was as severe for him as it would have been for any of the other Spectrum captains; probably more so, for his Mysteronised senses were more acute than any human’s.  He lost consciousness only when even his body could no longer stand the stress of what it endured.  His death on any mission was the result of almost unimaginable suffering. 

Colonel White had looked surprised at his hesitation, and he’d been right to believe that his officer would do as he’d been instructed; but Scarlet sometimes wondered if the colonel had the imagination to realise what that obedience so often cost him.  Most of his colleagues joked about ‘Scarlet’s itchy feet on missions’ – but they couldn’t understand… no one understood – except, maybe, his partner.  Captain Blue had witnessed the prelude to every miraculous recovery far too often to dismiss Scarlet’s edginess as mere impatience.

He noticed Captain Grey’s knowingly expectant smile as he went to check the winch, high-performance cables and harness again. I may be indestructible, but there’s no point in risking my neck unnecessarily, he thought, as the checks proved negative once more. Besides, I need to get inside the plane if I am to attempt a rescue – I may survive a fall if the cable snaps, but the mission would fail as a consequence.  He went through the codes for opening the emergency air-lock hatches, reciting them under his breath.  The WAAF are obviously banking on Spectrum getting their plane back intact – or they wouldn’t release this information. Well, I’m not promising anything. There’s no knowing what the Mysterons have planned this time.  Steal the plane, crash it where it can do most damage – more than likely – but I wouldn’t be surprised if trying to get rid of me at the same time wasn’t part of the agenda too.    He couldn’t shake off a foreboding about the whole mission, and he couldn’t pinpoint what it was exactly that was troubling him either.

In his mind he rehearsed what should happen: Grey flies us above the Recluse.  Hopefully, the Mysteron pilot will be too busy watching the Angels as they provide a distraction.  I get winched down and open the rear emergency airlock. Once inside, I overpower the three-man Mysteronised crew – single-handedly – if they are still there – and fly the plane back to Glenn Field.  What could possibly go wrong with that? 

            He didn’t bother to answer his own question. 

 

 

 

Nantucket: Nightmares

 

Karen woke in some confusion, unaware of what had woken her and reluctant to investigate further.  She lay for a moment, willing herself to go back to sleep, but her conscious mind wouldn’t surrender to her drowsy body’s demands.   Intuition told her it was imperative she discover why she was awake.  It was not a need to visit the bathroom… it was not hunger or cold… her mind recognised the sound of another voice and she remembered where she was.  Her eyes snapped open.  Why’s Adam talking to someone this late at night?  And what’s the matter?  He sounds… upset!

Fully awake now she raised herself on one arm, wrapping her half of the covers around her nakedness as the chill of the room seeped into the bed.  She peered towards where her lover lay on his back.  Adam was asleep; at least, he was sleeping - if tormented tossing and mumbling constituted slumber.  There was a fine film of sweat on his face and his restless fingers twisted the bedspread in agitation.

Karen watched for a moment in mystification.  Adam had been happy to come to Nantucket; she’d sensed the excitement in him, seen relaxation taking hold of him and heard the tension fade from his voice.  True, after they’d visited the upstairs room and he’d spoken about his childhood visits here with his grandfather, he’d become a little edgy.  There was definitely some memory connected to that room of this house that’d triggered a sadness in him.  But, with the aid of the beer and the wine and the mutual satisfaction of their lovemaking – he’d relaxed again…

It might just be a nightmare – a coincidence.  She sighed and wondered what to do.  Isn’t it supposed to be dangerous to wake people having a nightmare?  Or is that sleepwalking? 

Adam turned his head away from her and cried out: ‘No, please… let me go.’ His agitation increased and he gave what sounded conspicuously like a sob. 

Karen came to a decision. I can’t leave him like this – I won’t get any sleep and it can’t be nice for him either.

She shifted slightly and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Adam,” she whispered. “Adam, honey… wake up, darling.  You’re having a nightmare.”  She got no response, except that he twisted away from her, and she saw a tear slide down his cheek.  “Adam,” she was more imperious this time, “wake up!  Darling, come on… it’s me.  You’re dreaming.” She shook his shoulder.

He started from his sleep; his blue eyes wide with terror as he stared into the dark room. Karen removed her hand and said gently, “You were having a bad dream and calling out in your sleep.  But you’re here on Nantucket with me and we’re quite safe…”

He turned to her, and for a dreadful moment she saw that he did not know her – his mind was still lost in whatever reality had been disturbing him. He frowned and stammered out, “K-Karen?”

“I’m here.  You were dreaming; you woke me…”

He shuddered and ran a hand over his face.  “I… I haven’t had that dream for years… I never expected to get it here and now… I’m sorry.”

“What dream? And it doesn’t matter, Adam… I’m sure you weren’t doing it on purpose.”

“I used to have it a lot… got so I was too frightened to sleep and, when I did, I woke screaming… that’s why my mom and dad sent me here…” he closed his eyes, shaking his head at the recollection of what he’d seen as his banishment from his home.

“After your accident?” Karen said gently. 

“It wasn’t an accident…” he murmured indistinctly. He stole a glance at her, seeing the puzzled frown on her face and the concern in her eyes as she looked at him. 

 She sensed that he’d come to a decision about something and, as if he was steeling himself to continue, he said, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but I want to tell you, älskling.”  He reached for her hands and she stared at him in some alarm, wondering what on earth this portentous secret could be. 

Adam’s gaze fell from her face, a slight pucker forming between his brows.  “When I was just a kid, the summer Kitty was born, I had one of those stupidly pointless, but incredibly destructive fights with my father and, as always when I dared to stand up to him, I was grounded.  This time I was so fired up that I deliberately disobeyed him by leaving the house.  While I was out on my own, I was grabbed by a man who’d been working for my father – apparently plotting just such a money-making scheme.  He kept me prisoner across town, while he demanded a ransom from my parents.” (5)  Karen’s shocked gasp passed un-noticed, as did the tightening of his grip on her hands as he continued, “When the police were closing in on him, the kidnapper pushed me down a disused well – I have no doubt he was trying to kill me… I guess I was lucky to come away with no more than a long stay in hospital and this scar…” He let go of her hand to flick at the fringe that concealed the thin scar that ran along his left temple.  As his hand came away from his face she took hold of it again, clasping both of his hands to her heart in wordless, yet sincere, sympathy.

“When I came out of hospital, everything was such confusion.  The cops were putting together their case and I had to be interviewed and examined…they wanted to know exactly what had happened to me.”  He shuddered at the memory.  “I grew to hate the very sight of doctors… So you see, I can empathise with Paul’s feelings when he’s in sickbay, far more than he imagines.”   His half-hearted grin faltered in the face of her undoubted anguish and he struggled to be more positive.

 “This house is where I managed to put my life back together and come to terms with the way things were.  My grandparents stayed here with me for months, sitting up with me for nights on end… my gran’pa and I, in the study watching the night skies, walking the beaches… anything to tire me out so I’d sleep.  I feel as if I owe my sanity to him – to them both, really.  My parents had enough to worry about – well, my dad was working on an important deal, and my mom wasn’t well – Kitty was born prematurely because of her anxiety over me - or so my dad told me -  and, well, you can imagine how that made me feel.   I had a tutor come over for the months I was here, so I wouldn’t miss my schooling, and I only went back to Boston just before the trial.  Then I had to go through it all over again.  The interrogations, the coaching, the strangers asking me personal questions and offering me sympathy I didn’t want and they didn’t mean….  When it was over, gran’pa brought me back here again and painstakingly put me back on an even keel once more …”

“It was during the months I spent here that I realised – unequivocally – that I had to do more with my life than just work for SvenCorp making money.  I felt that I …owed something to whatever deity had decreed I’d survive at all.  I’d never had to work hard at school – things always came easy to me - but now I made a real effort, knowing that good results would open far more doors for me when the time came.   My dad thought I’d learned my lesson and that I was going to be the perfect son he wanted…so I had to distance myself from him, if only because - underneath - I always knew how much I was going to hurt him by walking out, and I thought it might hurt him less if he was just glad to see the back of me.  I needed my grandfather so much – I relied on him… and he was always there for me – no matter what terrible thing I’d done this time.  He never judged me; he never pressured me to conform.  He acted as a mediator, most of the time – him and my mom.   But – you understand, don’t you? – I had to be honest with myself and live my life as I saw fit – or why else was I still alive at all?”

Karen said nothing.  She was almost as shaken by the realisation that Adam was seeking some kind of forgiveness for what he had done in his past, as she was by hearing what had happened to him and she felt wholly inadequate to satisfy that need.  There were no words she could say that would do justice to the horror and the anger that was coursing through her; horror that any child should suffer so, and anger that the victim should’ve been the child who’d grown to be the man she loved…  She reached for him, sweeping him into her protective embrace. 

Finally, she moved away from him slightly and cupped his face in her hands, tilting his head so that she might press her lips to his forehead, whole and marred skin alike.  He was still self-conscious about it, moving his head away from her as her lips grazed the narrow scar.  She dropped her hands and searched his face, not daring to even begin to wonder what horrors this man had endured as a defenceless child.

I wish I could DO something…,” she breathed against his cheek. 

He shook his head. “I thought I had it all under control…but coming  here with you has stirred it up more then I imagined it would; but I’m glad you know about it now – know the very worst there is to know about me…”

“It was not your fault…” she began.

“I left the house.  I almost caused my mother’s death and Kitty’s…”

“Rubbish – you were not to blame - you were a little boy… Surely your parents never blamed you - or your grandparents?”

“They didn’t have to – I blamed myself… I still blame myself… if anyone was going to die it should’ve been me…I used to wish it had been…” Suddenly he closed his eyes, struggling to hide the tears that welled up into them.

“Adam… there’s more to this, isn’t there? What happened to you?”  She encircled him with her arms, and held him against her heart.  Like a dam breaking, he poured out the unspeakable truths that still lay, like a malignancy, in the deepest recesses of his mind. 

As his voice trailed away into a fearful silence, he clung to her like a drowning man to a life preserver and she held him until he’d wept himself dry of the decades-old anguish.   Her tears mingled with his and washed away the corrosive blackness in his heart with the solace of her love.  

 

            When the sullen light crept through the windows of the beach house, edging towards the sleeping couple in the bed, Karen gave a muted groan of annoyance and opened her eyes.  She grimaced as she realised they’d never drawn the curtains last night.  It had been so dark the idea hadn’t crossed their minds.  She didn’t want to wake up, so she closed her eyes defiantly and turned her back on the morning, placing an arm across the torso of the man beside her.  Adam gave a protesting moan and turned his back on her.

            She opened both eyes again and stared in irritation at the back of his neck for a long moment.  She wished he would wake, but knew that he needed to sleep and so was reluctant to disturb him.  Then, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, she slipped out of bed and looked around for her robe.  It was hanging on the back of the door.  She slipped it on, visited the bathroom and then padded into the living room. 

 The dining table was still covered with the detritus of their meal and the light on the sound system was flashing, indicating it was ready to play.  She gave a slightly embarrassed smile to remember the sudden urgency that had compelled them from living room to bedroom in such haste.  She switched the sound system off, and walked to the sink.  After filling the coffee machine and starting it; she scraped the plates clean of the disastrous results of her cooking, cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher.

Nursing a cup of coffee she went and stared out at the morning.  The clouds met the ocean in a seamless wall of grey and an intricate pattern of small raindrops decorated the windowpane, melting and merging into larger pools until gravity took a hand and sent them streaming down to join the spreading puddle on the window sill.   It was hardly ideal vacation weather…

There was a lot to consider, after the revelations of yesterday.  It hadn’t taken much imagination to see how emotionally over-wrought Adam had become nor how drained his ‘confession’ had left him.  When he had finally slept again, he’d been dead to the world, whereas she’d found it hard to sleep. 

So now she knew what had been hiding in the depth in his psyche, the part clearly signposted as ‘out of bounds’.  She’d grown to accept that he kept some part of himself secret – even though it piqued her curiosity - she too had secrets she kept hidden, although hers were far more prosaic: mismanaged love affairs and the dubious legality of some aspects of the missions she’d undertaken for the USS.

Everyone had secrets.

What Adam had told her had shocked her.  She quickly discounted his belief that he had in some way transgressed by disobeying his father – a man born to be disobeyed, in her opinion - and that what had happened to him was somehow deserved… he could be a little too guilt-ridden at times… bless him.   What angered her was the mishandling of a traumatised child’s search for unconditional love and forgiveness from his parents.  She could excuse Sarah to some extent – the birth of a premature child coming hard on the heels of the abduction of her belovéd son, can’t have made her life easy just then; and she’d certainly made up for it in later years – and was still doing so – but John Svenson had no excuse for having failed his son so completely.

John’s preoccupation with business when his son had needed him was inexcusable.  It explained a great deal about the way the relationship between the two men had developed and deteriorated and she was only thankful that Stefan Svenson had been a far better man than his son, and had stepped in to give Adam the unreserved love and support he’d needed.

She felt certain that, now Adam’d told her everything about his past, it signified a new, mature stage in their love.  There was now a total trust and honesty between them – for in some profound way – last night had been a spiritual consummation of their relationship – one as vital and as satisfying as any physical one.  It was the start of a new understanding – a commitment to a future together that signified a unity of purpose, thoughts and sensations between them.  He finally trusted her as completely as she trusted him.  It was a significant triumph, she realised, for someone like me, who seeks the total merging of self into any loving relationship.  Now I can be sure my feelings are reciprocated and nothing will ever come between us now…

            She turned her head as the bedroom door opened and Adam emerged, hopping and cursing, and rubbing the toe he’d just stubbed against the doorjamb.

            “Oh, you’re awake,” she said between sips of coffee to hide her amusement at this rapid descent from the sacred to the profane – in an almost literal sense.. 

            “You’re remarkably bright for this early in the morning,” he grumbled, heading towards the coffee with a pronounced limp.

 She knew better than to expect his usual debonair conduct from him until his caffeine level was approaching normal.  “Why shouldn’t I be?  I’ve been up for ages,” she replied with some exaggeration. “And I’m on vacation.” She went and sat on the sofa, curling her legs beneath her.

            “Did you get any sleep last night?” Adam asked guardedly, wrapping the comforting mug of black coffee between his hands and taking a sip.

            “Enough,” she reassured him, sipping her own coffee.  “Did you?  You look dreadful,” she added with heartless accuracy.

            “I feel dreadful,” he confirmed.  He sat beside her and gulped the strong, black liquid with the desperate air of a man in extremis.

            “Want something to eat?”  she asked in concern.

The suggestion made him pull an appalled face. “Later… maybe sometime next week.”

She smirked.  It dawned on her that Adam had never had much of a head for alcohol and part of his problem might, in point of fact, be a hangover – pure and simple. 

There was a long silence as Adam waited for the caffeine to start work.  He was conscious of a slight tension between them and wondered if telling Karen all he had done had changed things between them.  He’d so wanted her to have a good break – away from the stresses of Cloudbase - with a chance to enjoy life a little.  It did him good to see her as relaxed and cheerful as she had been yesterday afternoon; the last few years had been hard for her, losing two dearly-loved members of her family in quick succession.   Not to mention everything that had happened to them all since they’d joined Spectrum.  He hoped he hadn’t ruined that opportunity by dumping his own problems on her out of the blue.

 He’d decided to tell her everything about his past some time, but had been in two minds about the wisdom of doing so whilst she had so much grief of her own to contend with.  Telling her whilst they were here had crossed his mind; and somehow being with her in the room that held so many memories associated with that period in his life, it had seemed the most natural thing to do.  He hadn’t realised that those memories - once they’d come into the open again – would bring the destructive emotions buried deep within him for decades to the surface, and what was worse, revive the debilitating nightmares that had so often disrupted his life before.  When Karen’d woken him from his tormented, sweat-drenched sleep, it had been a real struggle to remember where he was and who he was with; but once she had seen him struggling with his hidden inner demons, the decision was effectively taken out of his hands and he’d had no choice but to tell her – tell her everything… in some primal need for understanding and forgiveness…

Still, he’d found it far harder than he’d anticipated to speak about the events that had left such an indelible scar on his psyche, as well as his face; and he’d felt absolutely emotionally drained afterwards.  That void had quickly been filled by Karen’s unconditional love for him, expressed with more tenderness than he’d ever experienced from her before.  Yet, he knew some of her heightened feelings towards him were symptomatic of her compassionate anguish for the little boy he’d been; and not for the battle-hardened veteran of so many Mysteron attacks he’d become.   Either way, he cherished her all the more for the instinctive way she’d offered him the love and support he craved. 

He said, “I’m sorry if I said anything yesterday to upset you.”  

She turned to him with a surprised expression.  “Adam, I can only begin to imagine what you’ve suffered; but I’m pleased that you felt you could talk to me about it – I don’t want there to ever be any secrets between us…”

“Karen, I didn’t bring you here simply to burden you with horror stories from my past…please, believe me.”

She laid a hand on his.  “I love you,” she said simply.  “Nothing about you is a burden… well, practically nothing,” she added with a teasing smile.

“What did I do that I ought to apologise for before you have a go at me?” he asked with a rueful grimace.

             “Don’t you remember what happened yesterday evening – before you woke me with your nightmare?” she said eventually. She was rather hurt to think that what had been a significantly tender encounter for her might have vanished from his memory in an alcoholic haze.

            “I certainly remember that remarkable meal you made.” He sniggered as she thumped his arm. “And I remember sitting on the sofa with you, listening to Mahler… amongst other things.  Then we went to bed… and that was memorable too.  I  fact, I remember having some ambitious plans for repeating the experience… but I rather think I fell asleep…which must have been the booze, because it’s unlike me and it wasn’t that late…”

            “You did fall asleep…” she agreed, relieved on that score anyway. “And you snored…” she added mischievously.

            “Now, you’re making that up…” he asserted. “But I apologise for being so ill-mannered as to doze off…”

            “Save your breath – so did I. It must’ve been the combined effects of the ozone-rich air, fine food, the wine and… what some would call ‘damn good lovin’…” 

            Some would call?” he protested.  “What would you call it?”

            “Oh, I’d go along with that description… shame we never managed to try again, though,” she teased.

His ruefully apologetic grimace amused her and she relented, somewhat.  “Don’t worry, you’re forgiven.  Every one’s allowed one second chance and as I’m on vacation, I’m feeling generous; so you have the week to make it up to me…”

            “I call that magnanimous,” he said with a weak grin.

            “You should eat something – you’re gonna need to keep your strength up,” she teased.  “How about some toast?” She got up from the sofa and started to walk towards the kitchen, pausing to place a hand on his shoulder.

            “You think you can manage toast without ruining it?” he responded archly, leaning back to catch her eye over the back of the seat. 

            “Hey – I’m not feeling that forgiving…” she warned him playfully. He spread his hands in a gesture of apology.  She chuckled and bent down to place her soft cheek against his rough one, whispering, “Shall I get you a hair-shirt as well?”

            He rolled his eyes in an ironic dismissal of her suggestion and she laughed.

 

            Later, after they’d eaten, showered – shaved, in Adam’s case – and dressed, they went for a long walk along the flat, wind-whipped beach; watching the ponderous grey waves roll in against the sand, to break in a brilliant explosion of white foam.  Karen came from the mid-west, and was used to wide horizons and seemingly endless vistas, and she sometimes felt a little cooped up on Cloudbase.  The views were spectacular, of course, but you couldn’t just walk for miles with the wind in your hair, and she missed that.  Here, the wind spattered them with sharp showers, part-rain, part-spray and the wet sand clung to their sneakers, turning the white leather a tawny-brown, but it felt good to be out in the open. At 40,000 feet, all Cloudbase got was endless sunshine and, for 365 days of the year, even that could get boring.  The winter sun, far out across the interminable expanse of grey water, edged the heavy clouds with gold and poured down in visible streams of light, gilding the choppy surface with a rich veneer.   It was achingly beautiful. 

            Karen watched Adam carefully as they walked hand-in-hand along a narrow beach.  She’d seen him at his home, in Boston; she’d seen him at her own home, in Iowa; on Cloudbase – on duty and off – in various resorts in various parts of the world, swimming, surfing, diving, sailing – but she had never seen him apparently so much at ease.  It looked as if he was already reaping the benefits of his disclosure and she was pleased that was the case.  For herself, she was still pondering the full significance of what she’d learned and, for the most part – except for her own sorrow that he’d ever suffered at all – the consequences all seemed to be positive.

Adam was gazing out to sea, watching the ever changing seascape with endless fascination, and she ventured to ask something that had intrigued her ever since she’d learned of his love of water sports.  “Why, when you obviously love the sea so much, did you decide to become a pilot?” 

            He stopped and continued gazing out into the grey nothingness, treating her question with all seriousness.  “I wanted to be part of that horizon,” he said quietly.  “And, once I was up there, I realised that, of course, the horizon is always out of reach, but by then I was hooked and I wanted nothing more than to be part of the vastness of it all.” He gave a self-conscious snort of laughter. “I couldn’t explain it to my dad either; he thought I was just being ornery.  But don’t you feel it, Karen?  Don’t you get a rush when you’re out in the emptiness?”

            “Hmm, I guess I do understand… I love flying.”

            He went on to try and explain.  “My grandparents both loved this place and I grew to love it too.  For a long time my only ambition was to fly a jet across this stretch of sky…”

             “I think I can see why,” she said with a kind smile.  “It’s a magical place.”

            “You should sit out some winter storms here… it’s not that magical then.”

            “Well, I hope we don’t get any this week.  I want to spend time – just the two of us – enjoying ourselves like any other civilian couple on vacation…”

            He turned to her, and wrapped her in his arms, their waterproof jackets making it hard to get as close as he’d have liked.  He bent his head and kissed her chill lips, their cold noses pressing against each other. 

            “We should get back – or you’ll be spending the rest of the week in bed…”

            “Sounds like a plan,” she interjected.

            “…With a bad cold…” he concluded.

            “Pessimist.”

            He threw back his head and laughed, unaffectedly carefree. “Come on,” he said suddenly, “ I’ll race you back.  Up this bank and turn left.”

            “Huh… that’s not fair.  You’ll beat me easily – I don’t know the way…”

            “Marks, get set, GO!” He let go of her hands and set off at a steady pace, glancing back at her with a teasing smile.

            “Adam Svenson – that’s cheating… wait for me… WAIT!” She raced after him, the sand spurting from beneath her sneakers as she gained speed.

            The weak winter light was passed its zenith as they approached the house, after what had seemed to Karen a far longer way back than they’d walked. Damp, tired and hungry, yet exhilarated by the bracing sea-air, the freedom of the wide-open horizons and the deserted beaches, they walked the last part of the way back arm-in-arm, although Karen threw herself against the door first, claiming victory in their long abandoned race.  Adam opened the door with the old-fashioned key and they tumbled like enthusiastic puppies into the warmth of the house. 

            Stripping off her bulky jacket, Karen went straight to a radiator to warm her hands.  “My fingers are too cold to undo my laces,” she shivered, hopping from foot to foot, shaking sand over the polished floorboards.

            “Here, let me.” Adam had already removed his shoes and so he crouched and fumbled her laces undone, sliding her foot from the sneakers and rubbing the icy toes in his hands.

            “That tickles,” she giggled down at him.

            “Good; that means you’ve escaped frostbite…” he teased as he removed her other shoe.

            “I’m not sure the rest of me isn’t frostbitten, though,” she murmured, when he gazed up at her with a smile on his face and their eyes met.

            “Oh, you’ll live,” he said.  He took his time getting to his feet, sliding his hands up her legs and torso, until he stood, towering over her.

            She slipped her arms around him, pressing against his body.  He tipped her face up towards his and bent his head to kiss her.  Her lips were warmer than they’d been out on the beach and her response was far more enthusiastic.  When she slipped her hands inside the waistband of his jeans, her fingers were still cold, but his own exploring hands discovered her skin to be warm beneath the layers of her sweatshirt.

            “You hungry?” he muttered against her neck.

            “No, that can wait. I have more pressing needs to satisfy, right now….” She felt, rather than heard, his delighted chuckle and continued innocently, “That sand gets everywhere; I want to shower first ….fetch the soap, would you?”

 

 

 

  The Mission continues: the Recluse

 

            Captain Grey entered the navigational co-ordinates Rhapsody supplied and urged the SPJ to maximum speed.  The radar scanner only showed two Angel Interceptors converging on a third but it wasn’t long until he had visual confirmation that the Recluse prototype had been found. 

            “Rhapsody Angel to Captain Grey, our orders were to ‘cause a distraction’ whilst Captain Scarlet attempts to gain entry. I imagine these have not changed?  You’ll need to be extra alert, to avoid anything happening to the winch cables – there may be no time to warn you when we plan a feint attack…Please confirm.”

            “S.I.G., Rhapsody.  We’re ready to make the initial attempt,” Grey said, glancing at Captain Scarlet, who nodded confirmation.

            S.I.G.,” Rhapsody responded, adding with some little emotion, “Take care, Captain Scarlet.”

            “S.I.G.,” Scarlet replied. If his pilot had been Captain Blue he’d have said more – and so would she.  Blue and Symphony both knew of the relationship between the English couple, but the compatriots  preferred to keep their love for each other under wraps and were grateful for the camouflage afforded them by their American friends’ far more public relationship.

            Harmony Angel’s voice cut in over the comm link. “Harmony to Angel leader; I have made several sweeps passed the Recluse, and I cannot see a pilot on board.  The plane looks to be unmanned.”

            “S.I.G, Harmony,” Scarlet said.  “It looks as if the Mysterons have disposed of the crew – as they did with the DT19 that time, but with luck that’ll make my job easier.  I am about to initiate transfer.  Stand by.” 

            The wind hit Scarlet like a punch-bag, forcing the breath from his lungs and making it hard to draw another. Above his head, the winch started to play out the cable and he stepped out of the hatchway into the empty sky.  The violent drag pulled him towards the rear of the SPJ and the winch brake cut in, halting his progress with a gut-wrenching lurch.

“Reduce speed!” he yelled into the radio, as whiplash jarred his neck and shoulders.

S.I.G.,” Grey responded, throttling back slightly too much in his nervous eagerness to get it right.

Scarlet started the winch as the SPJ started to accelerate again and the cable played out steadily, allowing him to drift towards the Recluse’s tail fins.  He struggled to give Grey directions for the minute course adjustments needed to guide him to his goal. 

 He spared the time to glance around and saw the three Angel jets keeping pace with them, watching him drift in the no-man’s land between the planes.   He could almost feel them willing him to succeed.  Several times his feet crashed into the fuselage but the magnetic clamps in his boots failed to take hold. 

The Recluse veered off to port and Grey matched it, careful not to tangle the cables as he manoeuvred the SPJ. Scarlet dangled in mid-air for some time until Grey was able to align the planes once more and lower him towards the Recluse. It was a blessed relief to feel his feet make contact with the fuselage. He activated the magnetic clamps on his boots again and this time he felt them anchor him securely.

            “Cut the winch,” he shouted into the radio. The cables stopped playing out and remained taut in the slipstream.  Scarlet took a moment to catch his breath and steady himself.  Balancing on the outside of a plane at 20,000 feet was not something he’d ever felt comfortable about even when they’d done the training.  If he’d slipped and fallen, he’d have been dead for sure, because the one thing the protective suit did not have was a parachute; no one was expected to remove their harness until the entrance hatchway was open and the occupants of the plane had secured a safety lead.   But he knew he was going to have to jettison the harness, when he finally got these airlocks open, without a welcoming hand to grab him and pull him inside.  Once inside the plane he was effectively trapped – unless he could find a parachute. It was one more added incentive to bring the plane home safely. 

Right now, his main concern was to stay aboard the broad back of the fuselage and manoeuvre himself across to emergency airlocks without coming adrift.  Co-ordinating the magnetic grabs with his movements was a skill he had to perfect quickly.  His erratic progress was watched anxiously by his colleagues and he could hear Rhapsody over the comm link, advising Grey of the course changes necessary to keep the planes in alignment.  He found himself thinking, with all the partisanship born of a long association, she wouldn’t have had to tell Blue how to do it…

Thankfully, the Recluse seemed to be on a fairly predictable course.  Cloudbase’s projections indicated that the plane would eventually arrive back at Glenn Field.  Presumably, the Mysterons intended to crash their hijacked prize into the WAAF’s main base – causing untold damage and a high-profile incident that even the World Government’s stringent security policy wouldn’t be able to hide from the press’s attention.  News of the Mysterons and the threat they posed would leak out – resulting in untold panic.

Scarlet knew that, even if he couldn’t release the plane from the Mysterons’ control, he had to prevent that.   It had always been accepted that Spectrum had to keep the truth about the Mysterons as secret as possible.  A panic-stricken population would just make the defence of the planet more difficult.

 He edged unsteadily across the roof of the fuselage.   As he reached the sloping edge above the airlock, he shouted instructions for Grey to lower him down slowly. The winch played out more cable, but it still took an act of great courage to release the magnetic clamps and allow himself to swing off the relative security of upper surface of this vast plane.  For one dreadful moment as he dropped, he imagined he was going to miss the airlock hand grip, but he managed to swing himself forward and smashed into the door, grabbing a hold of the hand-bar as he did so.  Winded, he took his time before he even attempted to unlock it.  He recited the instructions to release the locks, entering the codes as he did so.  When he yanked in desperation at the immoveable manual release-lock he thought it hadn’t worked, but with agonising slowness it gave and turned.

Forcing the door open was exhausting work and when Scarlet finally scrambled inside the air lock, he was physically drained.   Unfastening the harness he let it fall away before he closed the door behind him.

            He leant against the wall of the air lock and drew in a huge breath, listening to the thunderous thumping of his heart.  “I’m aboard,” he said, his relief apparent to all the listening Spectrum agents.

            Thank God,” he heard Rhapsody mutter.  He heartily concurred.

            He discarded the gloves and visor of his protective suit and, drawing his gun, he started to open the inner air lock door.  When he stepped inside the fuselage, he immediately turned towards the cockpit. 

The interior of the prototype plane was an empty shell, and his footsteps echoed alarmingly as he clanked along the metallic floors in the belly of the plane, his breath condensing in the cold as he breathed out.   He made his way past the empty weapon bays and the protective doors of the newly-designed atomic engines. 

The door to the last cabin before the cockpit was closed and as he reached down to open it, a wave of nausea hit him, bringing him to a standstill for a moment.

            “I’m sensing a Mysteron aboard,” he whispered into his mic, adding; “the pilot may have been Mysteronised and still be here.  The auto-pilot can fly the Recluse to its destination, but it is more than likely that the Mysterons have left someone aboard with orders to prevent an attempt to salvage the plane.  I’m proceeding with caution.”

            S.I.G,” Grey’s voice said.

            Scarlet edged the door open, and stepped into the cabin, his eyes darting around for any sign of the Mysteron.  He wasn’t surprised by the attack that was launched on him, but a sudden lurch of the plane to starboard lost him his footing and caused him to drop his gun, as he fell to the floor.   He still managed to kick out, however ineffectually given the heavy magnetic boots, and he made contact with his assailant, tripping the man up and dislodging the weapon from his hand as well.  Gasping in air – for his fall had winded him – Scarlet managed to twist on to his back, determined to get a view of his opponent, although he was already more than half-sure of whom he would see.

            “Captain Black,” he gasped, mostly to confirm the identity of the Mysteron Agent to his listening colleagues. Captain Black did not respond to Scarlet’s salutation.

The former Spectrum captain was dressed in his usual dark garments, a turtle-necked orange jumper protruding from the neck of his coat.  His face was pale and expressionless as his dark eyes stared fixedly at Scarlet.  The pair of them had come face to face several times and there was rarely any sign of recognition from Black.  Scarlet – who had never been that close to Conrad Turner anyway – still had to fight down an initial surge of pity for the fate of the man who had once been a force for good in the world and a fierce exponent of the peaceful settlement of disputes.   No one had ever really determined if Conrad Turner was a Mysteron replicant, or if he was somehow under the Mysterons’ mind control.   Privately, Scarlet leaned towards the latter theory, for - unlike him and every other Mysteron reconstruct – no one had ever found Turner’s human body.  Captain Blue, who had been partnered with Captain Black at the very start of their Spectrum careers, preferred to believe that Turner was a reconstruct; unfeeling and – crucially – unknowing, of the evil he perpetrated in the service of his alien masters. 

The seconds ticked away and then Scarlet started to edge away, crablike on his hands and feet, keeping a wary eye on the emotionless Mysteron.  He needed to reach something to haul himself upright, as the Recluse was now rocking to and fro as it rushed towards its destination.  

            Black launched a savage attack on the defenceless captain, before he could reach the wall.  Scarlet feinted to the side and grabbed Black’s leg, using his weight and the instability of the plane to pull his former colleague down.   They grappled, rolling across the empty cabin from side to side, neither able to gain the upper hand.  Scarlet was hampered by the bulky protective suit, but it did, in turn, absorb the force of the blows from Captain Black, as well as the jolting of the zigzagging Recluse. 

With an effort Scarlet  knocked Black aside and struggled to his feet, looking for a way to use his momentary height advantage against his adversary.  He lost his balance again as he kicked out and was thrown back to the floor.  Black threw himself at him, pinning him to the floor as he punched. 

Over his radio he could hear the distant voice of Captain Grey urgently demanding he respond to his hails, but he saved his breath, concentrating on blocking Black’s savage blows as he scrabbled to get away from the Mysteron and regain his feet.   It was only when he heard Rhapsody’s breathless plea, “Captain Scarlet, please respond…” that he was concerned enough to attempt it, and consequently misjudged the blow he’d intended, which landed ineffectually on Black’s shoulder.  Taking advantage of his opponent’s momentary distraction, Black was able to land a heavy punch on Scarlet’s eye socket that made him see stars. 

Shaking his head, Scarlet backed off and found his fingers touching the barrel of one of the discarded guns. He grabbed it.

            “You can’t get away now, Black,” he gasped breathlessly, turning the gun on his adversary and pulling the trigger in one swift motion. He fully intended to empty the gun into the Mysteron and kept the trigger depressed.

            Yet, in the micro-second it takes for a bullet to reach its target, Captain Black vanished – the Mysterons once more removing their agent from personal danger.  Scarlet cursed as the bullets tore through the fabric of the plane.

 Depressurisation followed immediately, with a force that dragged Scarlet to the wall and pinned him against the bulkhead.  He struggled to turn, so that his back was against the wall.  From there he could see through the cockpit windscreen that the Recluse was losing height, spiralling down towards the ocean.  There was nothing he could do to recover the craft; without the internal fittings, there wasn’t even a way to seal the un-pressurised section and prevent the plane’s eventual disintegration.  The Recluse was doomed, he realised.  There wasn’t time to even try and find a way to jettison the engines. 

            “Oh, bugger,” he said, fighting to remain conscious.   He decided to devote what little time he had left towards making some effort to save himself from the worst of his now unavoidable fate. 

 

The Angel jets swooped around the Recluse as it lurched from side to side in its plummet earthwards. 

There’s no one in control – the cockpit’s still empty,” Melody reported as she dived clear of the stricken plane.

Where’s Captain Scarlet?” Rhapsody demanded, risking a collision to get a better view of the Recluse.

The fuselage is damaged by gunshots,” Harmony reported.  It must have depressurised. Anyone in there will have blacked out.”

Eject!” Rhapsody pleaded.  Captain Scarlet… Eject!”

The Recluse continued to lose height and spin out of control as Captain Grey’s voice crackled over their radios. “He didn’t have a parachute, Rhapsody…”

There was nothing they could do as the WAAF plane hit the unyielding ocean – the wings were ripped off as the fuselage ploughed into the grey depths and exploded. 

After the initial impact wave had splashed back into the boiling sea, the water slowly closed over its new prize and the ever-expanding circle of huge waves dispersed the energy until an eerie calm returned to the crash site.  Suddenly there was a second, even larger explosion. 

The Angel Interceptors flew low over the area, desperately searching amongst the flotsam of the wreckage for sign of survivors in the choppy water; but they all feared it was a hopeless task.

 

It was left to Captain Grey to report the failure of the mission back to Cloudbase some minutes later.  “I’m afraid the plane broke up when it hit the water, Colonel,” he said sombrely.  “The WAAF won’t get much back even if they do salvage the wreckage but I’m transmitting the coordinates for the search and rescue teams – we’re off the coast of North America.”

What of Captain Scarlet?”  There was anxiety evident in Colonel White’s normally expressionless voice. 

“Well, he wasn’t able to bail out, sir, even if he’d had time.   He went down with the plane. We’ve not seen any sign of him, so far.”

Have the Angels continue the search, and you get over to Atlantic and pick up a helijet, Captain.  We must recover his body; preferably before the WAAF or any search and rescue teams arrive on the scene.”

“S.I.G., Colonel,” Grey said.  He knew the chances were that Scarlet would recover even from such a devastating crash – providing, Grey thought unhappily, that his body remained intact - but he would still need rescuing this time; adrift in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean he might never recover by himself.  

Grey still found it hard to believe a man could suffer as much, or as often, as Scarlet did and yet survive.   He appreciated that the Englishman’s unique bravery was his willingness to undertake tasks that would have meant his colleagues losing their lives.  He felt a sudden surge of sympathy for Captain Blue, who witnessed this type of thing far more than anyone else and who, Grey realised, carried a strong sense of culpability that he could not take the tasks on, in the way Scarlet did. 

 It isn’t surprising that Scarlet’s partner – and his best friend -  always spends hours sitting by the side of his friend’s bed in sick bay, waiting for confirmation that the retrometabolism has worked again.   Apparently, he spends much of the time talking to him - if the nurses are to be believed.  Although, when it’s a long recovery, even Blue runs out of small-talk and resorts to reading aloud… why do I think he might get through ‘War and Peace’ before Scarlet comes out of this one?

Grey glanced at the empty ocean beneath the SPJ and noticed that the diffuse light was beginning to fade.  Wonderful, it’s getting dark. Scarlet’s in the sea somewhere – almost certainly dead – and the currents around here are treacherous.   If we don’t find him soon, he could drift anywhere…”

 

 

Nantucket: flotsam and jetsom 

 

Disinclined to venture out into the drizzle of a misty twilight, Adam and Karen went upstairs to the ‘study’ room.  Karen wanted to email her mother and then they stayed there, watching the rain clouds roll in, and talking.

Suddenly, away on the northern horizon, they both saw a flash of light and a plume of dark smoke, followed a few moments later by a deep, rumbling explosion.  Their eyes locked for a moment and instinctively Adam moved towards the computer.

Biting her lip, Karen said, “Please, don’t turn it on again.  The news services won’t have picked it up yet anyway, and it was probably just a meteor.  It’s not like we can do anything anyway, whatever it was.”

“Don’t you want to know?”

“No.”  She met his surprised gaze and went to his side, entwining her arms around him and looking pleadingly into his face.  “I want it to be just us – just for these few precious days.  We’re going to the Brownlows tomorrow evening – so we can ask them what it was, if you’re still interested.  You promised me, Sky-Blue - you know you did – that we’d be normal people for this one week; and that means no Spectrum for one whole week.  Let the world cope without us.”

He hesitated, and she pressed on, “If it is so damned important, they know where we are.  Please, Adam, I don’t want to share you with anyone.  Let’s both be selfish for once?”

He glanced at the computer and back at her beguiling face; the gentle smile on her lips, the enticing promise in her eyes.

“I guess they do know where we are, right enough.  And it probably was just a meteor.  We all worry too much…”

“We sure do,” she said with a relieved smile.  She reached up and kissed his cheek.  “Now, how about you cook us supper and then we’ll listen to some more of your music collection?  Or – we can play strip-Scrabble; I saw a box in the cupboard next door!  Best of all, we could do both…”   He grinned at her as she added, “Mind you, I’m gonna put my coat and gloves on before we start because you always win.  I’m sure you must cheat; I just can’t figure out how you do it… One day I’ll find out and then I’m gonna win.”

“Don’t bank on it…”

 

The overnight rain finally fizzled out around lunchtime and they decided after being cooped up all morning that a walk along the beach was what was called for.   Karen had found a sturdy, stunt kite in the playroom and suggested they go and fly it along the beach, but they both knew there were underlying reasons for the expedition. She skipped down onto the sand with the kite and was already some way along the beach before Adam finished locking the door.  He ran to catch her up.

They spent some time messing about with the kite, which proved less than straightforward to fly in the gusty on-shore wind.    Adam admitted that he hadn’t attempted to do anything remotely like this for at least fifteen years and Karen’s spirits rose as the vague uncertainty about what they’d seen last night faded.  She watched his efforts with amusement, finally bursting into an ironic song, as the kite swooped low and bounced onto the sand for the umpteenth time.

“Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height

Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring…

Up to the atmosphere

Up where the air is clear

Let’s all go fly a kite!”

Adam grinned at her and ran ahead to catch the kite before it bounced into the water.  He liked to hear her sing and often wished he could join in – but experience had taught him that she did not appreciate his own, distinctly inferior, singing.  Both of the Wainwrights had pleasant singing voices and Karen shared with her mother a love of 20th Century musicals that was far more extensive than his own. 

He caught the kite and was winding the string up as he watched her dancing along the sand when his eyes fell on a lump of twisted debris, ditched by the high tide.  The beach was a frequent final resting place for marine detritus, but he was intrigued as to what this twisted fragment was. He watched it for a few moments, then dropped the string and strode to the water’s edge to peer more closely at the debris bobbing in the surf. 

Karen ran back to rescue the kite from being blown into the water; berating him playfully enough as she started to roll it up.  She noticed the debris and knew that was what had caught his attention.  She had no doubt, when he glanced up at her, that whatever this particular piece of flotsam was, he found it troubling.

He finally left off his examination and apologetically suggested that they walk further along the beach to a distant promontory from where they’d have a much better view of the coastline.  She agreed, not needing him to add that it would also give them a chance to investigate any further wreckage. 

They walked on away from the house, the simple pleasure of a few moments ago banished by the intrusion of a harsh reality into their idyll.

Karen chattered on, about anything and nothing; asking questions she knew he’d never answer,  demanding his opinions of recent blockbuster films she knew he’d never seen, and of her latest outfit, even though she knew he had a stock answer for such questions – ‘You look wonderful in it’ – whatever he actually thought.   It was a valiant attempt to hold the world at bay and preserve their unique Eden – but she could sense it was a hopeless task.  Adam’s responses were becoming more perfunctory and his eyes were on the shoreline and not on her anymore.  He had already ‘returned to duty’ in some characteristically subtle way.

She sighed and her conversation petered to a halt.  It was then that he turned to his attention to her; seeing the resignation in her expression and sensing her despondency.

He stopped walking and wrapped her in his arms with a fierce passion.   “Whatever the future holds, whatever fate the world in general, or the Mysterons in particular, throw at us – I will always remember these few days as something special,” he reassured her.  “You have given me the courage to take back a part of my life and face the demons in my past that have haunted me for decades.  And that is simply because I know I have the love and support of the only woman I love.   You are my life, Karen; because, for me to be without you makes everything shallow and meaningless.”

She buried her face against his shoulder, clinging to him.  He tipped her chin upwards and kissed her.   When they parted he said, apologetically, “But it does seem that, you can take the man out of Spectrum for a time, but you can never take Spectrum out of the man.”

“It is not our problem,” she reiterated in one last-ditch attempt to divert him from his plan.

“I think it is.  Something crashed last night – a plane of some kind – that debris can’t have come from anything else. Remember the DT19?  The Mysterons destroyed that prior to using a reconstruction of it to attack the Asian Director-General.  We have a duty to warn Cloudbase, Karen.  It might be important.”

She nodded reluctantly.  “Let’s do it properly then.  Let’s walk to the promontory and check it all out.  I know you have some binoculars in your pocket – you can’t still be that pleased to see me….”

He gave a snort of laughter and swung her around before pressing his lips to hers again.  For a brief, precious moment, the cares of the day vanished and Eden was restored; but when they parted this time, they parted as Captain Blue and Symphony Angel, with a mission to undertake.

Purposefully, they walked along the beach, albeit still arm-in-arm.

It was Karen who first spotted it, tumbling in the shallows, being sucked back into the deeper water by the ever-hungry tide.

“Look, Adam – what’s that?  A dolphin, maybe?  Oh -” she gasped as the sea threw the object around and an arm became clearly visible, “It’s a body!”

They ran towards it, Blue splashing out into the sea to reach the body and drag it back to the waterline, disregarding the freezing water that soaked into his shoes and jeans. 

“Karen,” he called, “Wait there, whilst I check it out…”

“I will not wait,” she protested and marched towards him. Sometimes he had some very old-fashioned ideas of what it was suitable to allow a woman to see and do, but even off-duty, she didn’t need protecting from the harsh realities of life.

The corpse lay face down on the sand and Adam approached with caution.  He could see that it was a tall, dark-haired man, dressed in a padded protective suit – a disturbingly familiar padded suit - but he was barefoot…  As he knelt beside the sodden mass, disregarding the wavelets that splashed against him, a frown appeared between his fair brows.  He reached out and turned the body over, praying that his initial suspicions were not correct.

“Jesus wept,” he muttered. 

Karen leant over his shoulder to see what was so startling and found herself looking at the dead face of Captain Scarlet.

Paul?  How the hell did he come to be here?”

Captain Blue snapped into the established routine of dealing with the consequences of his partner’s courageous self-sacrifice, grateful that his professionalism was once more deadening the shock and pain of what he was seeing. 

“I don’t know.  I suspect it something to do with that plane crash.  We should let Cloudbase know as soon as we can that we’ve found what they must surely be looking for.”  He brushed the black hair back from the bloated, pale face, looking for evidence of what Scarlet had had to endure. “Whatever happened to him, he must have been conscious when he hit the water, at least for long enough to remove the boots that go with these suits. They’re usually weighted with magnetic clamps and they’d have dragged him under… He must’ve managed to take them off and kick clear of whatever craft he was aboard, because however he came to be in the water, I think he drowned.   The tides around here are strong and dangerous, if he’d been hurt before he went into the sea, he wouldn’t be able to swim against them. He’s been in the water some hours, I’d say. It’s lucky we’re here just now – the tide may well have picked him up again and swept him along the coast or out to sea again.”

He felt Karen shiver with pity and she turned away from the corpse, choking back a sob.  “Oh my God, Dianne will be frantic with worry…” she moaned, imagining the anguish her friend would be suffering at the loss of her fiancé.  It was hard enough for her to see him injured or dead, but to know he was hurt and not be able to recover his body was a situation she had never faced before.

He reached out to pat her arm in a wordless sympathy.  She glanced at him and gave a shaky smile.  Whatever she felt about this unmitigated tragedy, she had to prove to him that she could cope.  It was her continuous assertion that the Angels were the match of any of the colour captains in a crisis, and here was a time when she needed to match his professionalism with her own.  She nodded to show she was over her weakness.

Blue turned back to Scarlet and his voice took on a heartening tone, such as one might use to a sick child. “Come on then – let’s get you into the warm, shall we, Paul?  There’s gotta be some dry clothes at the beach house that’ll be better for you than this soggy suit…”

 

Lost in the primordial darkness, Paul Metcalfe’s embryonic consciousness felt a surge of relief and hope.  Although time had no meaning, there was an awareness of loneliness and that an expected ‘something’ was not present.  Now that uncertainty was resolved.

Suddenly the familiar voice was reaching out to him from the distant and still dim light – reaching out as it always did.  He knew now that all he had to do was keep moving towards that voice and the light would grow brighter and everything would be all right.

One day, he reminded himself, he must remember to tell… his friend how heartening he found his companionship and how much he appreciated the often frivolous conversations – not to mention the comfort he derived from knowing that someone would wait for him as he climbed out of the dark oblivion and back towards the light of the real world – but somehow he always forgot.

Still, it probably wasn’t important – he consoled himself – because his friend already knew – he must do, or why else was he always there.  Always there with a fund of gossip and small talk… and no one could do small talk like… him.  His friend.  His partner.  Yes, he could always rely on his partner – always rely on… Adam – that was it! – he could always rely on Adam to be there. 

He took another faltering step towards the light….

 

“Why are you talking to him like that?”  Karen interrupted his monologue, “He can’t hear you - he’s dead, Adam.” There was uncertainty in her voice as she watched him roll the body back over and expel water from the bloodless lips in preparation to hoisting the dead weight. 

“Is he?” Captain Blue looked down at the bloodless face of Captain Scarlet and winced.  “Then, please God; he won’t be for long…  D’you hear me, Paul?  I want to know what the hell you think you’re doing, gate-crashing my week’s leave.”

 “You don’t imagine he can hear you, do you?” Karen asked incredulously.

“I don’t know; but I’ve always liked to think that he might… be aware of his friends - and their concern for him - when he’s... in this state.  I guess I do it… because… well …because I think it does no harm if he can’t hear me, and it might help if he can.  It sure helps me, anyway,” he concluded stubbornly.

He staggered to his feet, braced himself and heaved the body upright from the wet sand, twisting so that he could lift Captain Scarlet into his arms.   He turned resolutely back towards his home and began to trudge across the sand.

Karen walked beside him, glancing occasionally at the corpse her lover carried and at the carefully controlled, restrained expression on his face.  The familiar wariness was back; the barriers that protected him from too much grief and stress had closed down again.  She sighed, hoping that the magic of the place he loved so much wouldn’t be forever spoilt by another painful memory. 

Then, to her surprise, as he plodded on through the sand, Adam began to speak; his tone was conversational and light-hearted enough, as he told his apparently dead friend all about his vacation – well, the less personal parts anyway.  After a few doubt-filled minutes, Karen joined in, adding her impressions of the Island and explaining about their expedition with the kite and how it had brought them to the right place on the beach.

Maybe, just maybe, it is helping Paul, but I’m certain it’s helping Adam – and that’s good enough for me, she reasoned, seeing the appreciative endorsement of her efforts in Adam’s eyes.  As her conversation drew to a close, he started talking again, and so they slowly made their way back towards the shelter of the house.

Behind them, along the beach, the sea washed away at the indents made by Scarlet’s corpse and then at the footprints of the rescue party. 

 

 

Once back at the beach house they laid Paul on a blanket on the kitchen floor and Adam hastened to change his wet clothes whilst Karen contacted Spectrum.  The relief of their colleagues on Cloudbase was clearly audible in their voices as they acknowledged her news and informed her that a medical helicopter had been despatched to collect Captain Scarlet.  

When Adam returned, they stripped Paul’s corpse of his sodden, bulky suit, wrapping him in a cocoon of warm blankets and towels.   Then Adam carried him to the sofa and sat across from him, continuing to include his partner in their conversation as they waited.

The helijet arrived quicker than they’d anticipated, confirming their expectations that a major search had been underway.  They watched from the porch as the paramedics loaded Captain Scarlet’s body aboard.

Karen watched Adam closely, and, seeing his anxiety, realised how torn he was at that moment.   His instinct was to accompany his partner, but he would never go without her agreement and she sensed he would never ask her for it.  She was aware of the close bond between these two men.   It was a bond that, even on Cloudbase, attracted its fair share of sly winks and knowing glances and which both men endured with resignation and – on Scarlet’s part, at least – surprising forbearance.

She knew it was a friendship born from the dangers and hardships they’d shared and from the reliance they had come to place in each other; a friendship that had solidified and grown into something closer than brotherhood.  It had been Harmony, in her perceptively thoughtful way, who’d come closest to ever describing it; she’d been listening to Rhapsody and Symphony complaining to each other about the captains and bemoaning the fact that they seemed to place their friendship above the relationships they had with their chosen girlfriends.  She’d spoken into a sudden lull to say that, in her opinion, the two captains were ‘equal, opposite and independent men – who together formed a greater whole than the sum total of the individuals’.  Symphony – for one, after she’d thought it through – had had to agree with her.

Like many of the elite officers on Cloudbase who shared in the secret of Scarlet’s retrometabolism, she also subscribed to the superstitious belief in the efficacy of Captain Blue’s ‘death watch’ routine.  Blue made it his responsibility to sit beside Scarlet’s bed for the hours it took his partner to wake up, and even though Adam declared himself to be a sceptic, he never dared risk breaking the tradition when he had the ability to do it and on rare occasions when they had both been injured, Doctor Fawn – that most rational of men – always put them in the same room until Scarlet regained consciousness.    Now it looked as if the routine would be broken: for Scarlet was still unconscious and would wake alone, and Blue wasn’t happy about it, as she had proof of with his behaviour.

In a moment of genuine selflessness - and overwhelming pity for both men – she darted back through the door and returned to thrust Adam’s coat into his hands.  “Go with him; stay with him while you can. I’ll wait here,” she said.

He stared at her in disbelief.  She wondered if he doubted what he was hearing because he thought he was being banished or because he’d never imagined she could be anything but selfish.   Colouring slightly she continued, “I believe you believe it - when you say that he knows when his friends are with him – and, because he needs that comfort right now, he needs you more than I do.   Besides, I think you need to be there – as you always are – for your own peace of mind.  Hurry back to me, when Paul’s recovered.  I’ll be waiting…”

She threw her arms around him and kissed his lips, still parted in speechless surprise, before pushing him towards the medi-jet. 

The necessarily brief look of gratitude he gave her was reward enough, and Captain Blue raced across to the helicopter.

 He turned back to call, “Give my apologies to the Brownlows….”

“Yeah, sure… Just go, will ya?”

“I’ll be back for Valentine’s Day…”

“Yeah…” she called after him, watching as a paramedic opened the hatch and pulled him aboard as the medi-jet started to rise from the sands.

 When the craft was no more than a speck in the luminescent grey sky she walked back indoors to be greeted by a suddenly deafening silence.

 

It was past midnight on the morning of February the 14th when she arrived home from the Brownlows that evening.  She had called the Brownlows to apologise for their unexpected non-appearance, and Martha had heard her lame excuse about Adam’s absence in silence and then insisted she was welcome to come across anyway, so ,faced with the emptiness of the beach house without him, she’d gone.  It had been a pleasant evening, dominated by talk of Adam and his family – and she’d leaned far more than she would have if he had been with her – of that she needed no convincing.

She switched on the house lights and had started to make herself a hot chocolate drink when the Spectrum communicator she had left on the table bleeped.

She grabbed it.  “Hello?” she asked breathlessly.

Karen, älskling, it’s Adam.  Paul’s okay – he’s awake and he’s going to be fine.  I’m about ready to come home.  It’ll take four or five hours, I reckon, so I guess you’d rather I waited until later today?  It’s late already and I don’t want to keep you up – you must need a good night’s sleep.”

“No! No, come now… don’t worry how late it gets.  I’m glad Paul’s okay – give him my love and tell him, and Dianne, I’ll see them both soon. “

Okay.”  He paused and she heard another voice in the background.  There was some bumping and then Scarlet’s voice came over the speaker.

“Karen, I can’t thank you enough for letting him come back with me… I… well… I get a little… disorientated if I don’t see his ugly mug staring at me when I wake up… because I know, after that sight, things can only get better…”

She heard Adam’s laugh and his indistinct riposte.

“It’s okay, Paul; I’m just glad you’re all right now,” she said truthfully.

“I am; thanks to the both of you.  I hope I haven’t spoiled your holiday too much?”

“No, as long as you send him back to me…”

She heard Scarlet laugh and he said, “Stopping him coming back would be the hard part.”

She perked up considerably and when the call was over, set about finding something to do to kill the hours between now and Adam’s arrival, but if time had dragged before, it positively crawled now.

He might be able to get a SvenCorp jet to meet him at Atlantic and fly him over, she mused for the hundredth time, and that’d be about a five hour round trip – call it four and half … if he left Cloudbase straight away, and there were no delays at all, it might only be four … She glanced at the clock and sighed. It was another two hours before she could even begin to expect him, at the very least.

Her ears picked up the sound of a helicopter, flying low over the island.  She raced to the window and watched as a Spectrum helijet, its lights blazing in the night sky, touched down on the beach, the door opened and a familiar, tall figure jumped down and ducked, scurrying away from the spinning blades.   She flung the door open and ran towards him.  He swung her into his arms and kissed her and they both watched as Rhapsody lifted off from the beach, gathered speed and height over the sea and gave one farewell wiggle of the chopper before she vanished into the dark sky.

“I didn’t expect you for hours yet,” she whispered happily as they walked back into the house.  “I’m so pleased you’re back.”

“Not as pleased as I am,” he gave her a bright smile.  “I promised you I’d be here for Valentine’s Day, didn’t I? I’ve only missed a few hours of it and I can make that up to you…”

“You’re the best Valentine’s Day present I could wish for!” She laughed. 

  “Well, whatever happens now, the rest of the week is all ours…”  He closed the door behind them and swept her hungrily into his arms once more.

 

 

 

The end

 

 

 

October 2005 – January 2006

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s notes:

 

The original version of this story was inspired by a picture created by Caroline Smith.  It was a picture of Captain Blue – needless to say – and although this story has very little to do with the original picture it is from that short story that this one developed until it reached its present incarnation. 

The illustrations in this one are my own.

Thanks to Hazel Köhler for beta-reading the story and to Caroline Smith and Keryn for their comments and encouragement.

Thanks, as ever to Chris Bishop for the website, the forum, the chats and all the fun!

I do not own the characters from the TV series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ they belong to Granada and Carlton and goodness knows who else.  The original ideas, and the magic to make it happen, came from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their team of collaborators in the 1960s.

This story is based on the characters and world view of the 1960s ‘classic’ TV series.  The transfer between the airborne aircraft was inspired by the combination of a ‘Thunderbirds’ episode and the Star Trek Movie First Contact’ -and was written before the recent New Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons TV show aired – honest!

Any mistakes are mine – as always.

 

Marion Woods

January 2006

 

 

1  A Busman’s Holiday’ by Marion Woods

2  That is What Friends are For’ by Marion Woods

3  Passengers’ and ‘Seasonal Adjustments’ by Marion Woods

4  That is What Friends are Forby Marion Woods

5 Symphony in Blue’ by Chris Bishop

 

 

Other stories from Marion Woods

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