Captain Scarlet was in a cheerful mood as he strode along the corridors and up the escalators towards the briefing room for the morning meeting every senior officer on Cloudbase was expected to attend. The sun was shining, although it invariably did on Cloudbase as it hovered at 40,000 feet above the surface of the Earth, free from the vagaries of the weather beneath the rolling cover of sunlit clouds. Everything had been so quiet of late that he had managed to get in his long deferred furlough; he had taken Rhapsody to the Cote d’Azure and they had spent a weekend at Monte Carlo wasting money at the casino. It had been idyllic - just the two of them - alone for five whole days… and nights.
Scarlet hummed as he jumped off the last escalator and grinned at a startled technician who almost dropped the box he was carrying. He was so pleased with life that he even essayed a few dance steps along the corridor and caused Captain Grey, coming from the opposite direction, to scratch his head in bewilderment.
”Hello, Scarlet,” he said to the young Englishman. “You look pleased with yourself. When did you get back from leave?”
“Late yesterday,” Scarlet grinned.
“Good was it?” Grey smiled in response.
“Absolutely bloody marvellous!”
Grey laughed. “Well, you’d better curb your high spirits for the meeting; the old man wasn’t that cheerful yesterday. I just hope he’s in a better mood today.”
“What has upset him?”
Grey rolled his eyes, “Maybe Lieutenant Green forgot to sugar his tea…”
“The colonel doesn’t have sugar in his tea,” Scarlet corrected automatically, although he sensed there was something more in Grey’s warning than he was prepared to say outright. “Has there been a Mysteron threat? I wasn’t told of any when I got back.”
Grey gave a brisk shake of his dark head. “Who ever knows what upsets the colonel?”
Scarlet sobered up with a sigh and thought, I bet Adam does, for one. It was only then that the thought came to him that he hadn’t seen Captain Blue since his return. He‘d been too hyper last night to notice and this morning he’d just assumed his friend would turn up for breakfast, and when he hadn’t, he’d assumed he’d eaten earlier.
The door slid open to admit them to the conference room and Scarlet straightened his peaked cap and marched in behind Grey with no trace of his former exuberance.
The colonel nodded a welcome to them as they took their seats and Scarlet acknowledged the silent welcome from the others around the table: Ochre, fiddling with a pen, Doctor Fawn reading a report on something, Lieutenant Green at the stenograph and Harmony Angel waiting with her usual patience for the meeting to begin. There was no sign of Blue or Magenta. Scarlet placed his diary on the table before him and fished out his biro. The door opened behind him and he turned, expecting to see the two remaining captains. Magenta nodded a brief greeting and apologised for being last. He slid onto the seat next to Scarlet and opened his folder.
“Now that we are all here, we can start,” Colonel White began.
“Captain Blue isn’t here, sir,” Scarlet said.
“Captain Blue is in Italy, Captain, as you would know if you had read the daily log report.”
“I haven’t received one, sir.” Scarlet accepted Grey’s proffered notes with a grateful nod and scanned down the information.
“Captain Blue reports that there is still no sign of Lieutenant Garnet. The ground staff in Naples have searched everywhere she is known to frequent without success. Her family have been contacted but they have not heard from her for several months. She does not contact them very regularly, apparently. The last report we have from her is the message taken by Lieutenant Claret, saying that she had a lead on some kind of scheme to devastate Naples - and the whole surrounding area - a scheme which, she claimed, involved the volcano Vesuvius. It is unfortunate that she was not more specific, and then we might have had some idea, at least, of what she had become involved with.”
“I don’t believe I have met Lieutenant Garnet, Colonel. Is she new?” Scarlet asked.
Colonel White nodded. “She was part of the last cadet intake to receive their commissions. I posted her to Naples, to replace Lieutenant Henna when he moved to Rome.”
Scarlet’s face registered some surprise. Until now, the colonel had always resisted giving female lieutenants independent commands, although in many respects, he expected the Angels to cope with far more dangerous missions than his subordinate officers did. He could remember Captain Blue getting in an awful tizzy when Symphony’s plane had crashed in a desert whilst she was on a routine patrol, whereas Colonel White had merely ordered the usual search patterns and continued with his work schedule. The fact that the colonel had been quite as relieved as Blue when she’d been recovered unharmed, showed that the old man did, in fact, have a ‘soft-spot’ for his female operatives. In itself that might explain his reluctance to give them commands away from the protective arm of Cloudbase. Even so, he must reckon that Lieutenant Garnet was an exceptional candidate to have given her this job, so soon after she received her commission.
White continued, “She’s an intelligent woman who speaks several languages. She has a scientific background - she worked for an electronics company before we recruited her - and she is not given to flights of fancy. I place some consequence on her report, Captain, and I am, naturally, concerned by her disappearance.”
“Italian-American and a fluent Italian speaker,” the colonel gave a sigh and shook his head. “I am afraid Captain Blue is at a loss to know what else to do.”
Magenta glanced up at the colonel with a hint of concern. “Does he speak Italian?” Colonel White stared at him. “The locals might not take to big, blond Americans asking questions about one of their own - especially if he does it loudly and slowly in English!” Magenta explained.
For once the colonel looked rather at a loss. “I never thought to ask him,” he admitted.
“He speaks a little Italian – but not very much, I’d imagine. His Spanish is much better - he learnt that at school and got plenty of practice with the staff at home.” Scarlet’s information did nothing to lift the overall mood of the meeting. “He also speaks Swedish of course, and…”
“Never mind Captain Blue’s proficiency for languages.” The colonel felt the meeting was in danger of going off at a tangent. “He has the assistance of the base staff in dealing with the locals. The fact remains he has not been able to trace Lieutenant Garnet and she has been missing for over four days now. I fear the worst.”
The atmosphere around the table was one of gloom as they contemplated what might have happened to their young colleague. It was a given that Spectrum personnel were always in some danger, yet every loss, for whatever reason, was always keenly felt.
After a moment’s silence, the colonel went on to the next item on the agenda.
Captain Blue sighed and listened to the unintelligible babble of Italian coming from the three men sitting around the desk with him. He understood about one word in ten and was lost as to the direction the conversation was taking. In a sudden pause, he asked, “Sergeant Ruffolo, what is the Commissioner of Police saying now?”
Carlo Ruffolo smiled expansively and spread his hands. “Ah, Capitano Blu, he is saying he can no more have the men to search for Lieutenant Garnet. We cannot make proof she is gone - pouf! - and he is a busy man. I have said he must make the search more - he says I am una nullita - a no-one and you are….” Ruffolo smiled and shrugged, “I cannot make the Inglese for it…”
“Just leave that to my imagination, Carlo,” Blue said with a sigh. “Tell the Commissioner that Spectrum appreciates his help.” He bowed his head towards the belligerent little man across the desk, who, he suspected, knew more English than he would admit to. “We will carry on looking for his proof and when we find it - not if, Carlo, when - I will personally ram his helmet right up his…”
“Capitano!” Ruffolo waved his hands and the outrage on the Commissioner’s face justified Blue’s suspicions.
“Come on, Carlo, we are leaving. Señor, I can honestly say that I can’t wait to get out of here.” Blue was all smiles as he shook the man’s hand and saluted. “You pompous little asshole!” he said genially.
The man stiffened as Blue stalked out, Ruffolo pattering after him. As soon as the door closed they heard a gabble of voluble Italian break out. Blue gave a self-satisfied nod of his head and headed for the exit. At the foot of the stairs the American sighed and glanced down at his fellow Spectrum officer with regret. “I guess I blew that, didn’t I?”
“Si, Capitano.” Ruffolo nodded a little sadly and then added with some spirit, “But let me say it was worth the breath you use for it - you spik only true of him. He spiks more Inglese than he say to. He is not pleased with Spectrum sending an Americano to search also.”
“An Americano who has just antagonised the local police force.” Blue pushed his cap back and rubbed his forehead. He was not usually so short-tempered, but this impasse had lasted three days and he was becoming increasingly worried about Lieutenant Garnet. “Let’s get back to the base and see what the news there is. Perhaps we’ll have the proof or she’ll have called in.”
“By the Grace of The Virgin, she may have,” Ruffolo agreed but without much hope.
They walked through the crowded, narrow streets of Naples and into the modern air-conditioned building that served as Spectrum’s offices. Blue noticed the way people stopped what they were doing or saying as he and Ruffolo walked across the lobby towards the glass-fronted lift. As they recognised the despondency on the faces of the new arrivals, their own faces reflected the disappointment and they turned away to continue their business. Watching the ground floor slip away as the lift glided up to the second storey executive offices, Blue felt as if the emotion was tangible and he was trailing bad news after him as he moved.
Ruffolo interrogated the young Ensign who was acting as Blue’s PA and reported to his downcast superior that there was no news waiting for them. Blue hated the thought of what his next report to Colonel White would contain. He could imagine only too clearly what his superior’s expression would be when he confessed to insulting the Police Commissioner and how even the colonel would have difficulty hiding his concern that Garnet was still missing.
Walking into the commander’s office, with its picture window view over the Bay of Naples, he removed his cap and reached for a jug of iced water thoughtfully left by one of the support staff. He went to sit at the command desk and tried to compose his thoughts before he made his report. Unbidden, the image of Symphony Angel floated into his mind as he sipped his water and he let his thoughts wander between the two women who were constantly on his mind at the moment.
The old man really worries about all the girls we have posted around the World - but then, I guess we all do to some extent. Even the most progressive of modern men can’t help worrying - I know I can’t - but then Karen would argue I’m old-fashioned about such things! Come on, Claudia - give me a clue… You can’t just have vanished without trace, you have to be somewhere. He looked around Garnet’s desk and bit his lip anxiously. If anything’s happened to her the colonel will shy away from giving them command posts again and that’ll stir up a whole heap of resentment. All the girls want to do the same job as the guys, but they don’t always think things through logically and they can be so impulsive… Captain Scarlet’s face hovered before his mind’s eye, wearing an all too familiar stubborn expression. Okay, so Paul can be just as bad at times, Blue admitted to himself with a grin - but that’s different….
The hours dragged by and there was still no news of the missing Lieutenant Garnet. Captain Blue was recalled to Cloudbase and after a long conference with Colonel White, he returned to Naples to continue the search, without even having the chance to speak to anyone else.
On the base, people were starting to get edgy. After a period of almost constant Mysteron activity, there had been no threat for almost two months, and the general feeling was that when it came, the next one would be big. Initially, Spectrum had been formed to combat all forms of terrorism, and they were still active in that field, although since the start of the so-called ‘War of Nerves’ with the Mysterons, the elite Cloudbase staff were far less involved with the problem of terrestrial organisations. Occasionally, a Senior Officer would lead an operation or mastermind an investigation, and their individual expertise was always available to their terrestrial colleagues, but their actual physical involvement in these matters was becoming less common, as they began to understand more about the true extent of the Mysterons’ capabilities to attack the Earth.
Rhapsody Angel, cuddled in Captain Scarlet’s arms in the darkest corner of the Promenade Deck on Sunday night, reported that Symphony was becoming almost impossible to live with, and that, if something didn’t happen soon, hostilities would break out in the Amber Room. Scarlet nodded thoughtfully, the atmosphere on the base felt as if there was a storm brewing and if something didn’t happen to release the tension, more people than Symphony would get stir-crazy.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX AND WE WILL BE REVENGED.
OUR NEXT ACT OF RETALIATION WILL SEE PILLARS OF FIRE DESTROY ALL AROUND THEM WHILST RINGS OF FIRE WILL ENGULF MANY SEAS AND DARKEN ALLTHE SKIES.
Blue’s SPJ landed on Cloudbase and he hurried through to the Conference Room without even stopping to put his head around the Amber Room door to say hello. The place was humming with activity - Magenta was sorting websites and downloading information, Ochre was consulting the reference books Lieutenant Flaxen had carried in from the research library, and she and Lieutenant Green were scanning indexes for further references. Grey and Scarlet were consulting atlases and maps and the colonel was reading the reports produced by his staff. He glanced up and welcomed Blue back. The American saluted and then gave a quick smirk towards Scarlet, who was grinning affably at him, before paying strict attention to the colonel.
“Captain Blue, I think the search for Lieutenant Garnet is likely to tie in with this threat. The general consensus is that the pillars of fire the message refers to are volcanoes and you are aware, of course, that she sent a message about a possible threat to Vesuvius. This is too great a coincidence to ignore and therefore I have recalled you to Cloudbase. Did you make what enquiries you could in Naples about the civil defence arrangements in the event of an eruption?”
“Yes, sir, and I have left Sergeant Ruffolo to continue the enquiries. Naturally, everyone in Naples is well aware of the danger the volcano represents to the area, and even the Police have had to take the warning seriously.” Blue grimaced as he remembered the frosty meeting with the Police Commissioner. He had ordered the man - in slow and loud English - to co-operate with the local Spectrum officers but it had given him less satisfaction than he’d expected.
Colonel White noted the sallow flush on his officer’s face and left it at that. He knew Blue was annoyed by his own handling of the situation, and he felt sure the man had learnt from the incident. “Very well, Captain. I suggest you assist the others with the research.”
Blue gave a grateful smile and sauntered over to join Scarlet and Grey. There was some huddled whispering between the two friends before they settled down to study the maps.
Some time later, Lieutenant Flaxen went over to Captain Magenta and showed him a paragraph in the magazine she was holding, watching as he input the search terms she suggested.
Magenta gave her an approving nod and said, “Colonel, I think we may have something. Lieutenant Flaxen has come across an Italian professor, Francesco Gaspari, who has been working with a Turkish doctor, Mehmet Dincerler, on the movement of tectonic plates in relation to the eruptions of volcanoes.” Everyone stopped what they were doing to listen to Magenta’s explanation. “There is information on the Net about their latest research concerning the monitoring of all active volcanoes. It has long been known that each volcano has its own … signature of vibrations and pulses that seem to predict when an eruption is imminent. Gaspari has been monitoring Vesuvius and Etna for some time now. Last year, however, Gaspari caused something of a stir by announcing he had made a machine that would harness those vibrations and - in some way that is not readily understandable, sir, because it’s written as an equation about two sentences long – he would be able to cancel out the impetus towards eruption. He claims his machine – which is in the prototype stage - would relieve the pressure on the magma chambers for long enough to at least give time for populated areas to be evacuated, or an attempt made to vent the volcano.”
“That sounds promising, Captain,” the colonel agreed. “Especially given that the professor’s activities have been in the same areas as Lieutenant Garnet predicted there might be trouble. Does the site give any more information?”
“Not that one, sir – it’s a learned Journal – but there is a bit of local gossip here, on a different site. Please bear with me a moment, my Italian isn’t that great….” He sat squinting at the screen and finally said, “I think it says: Gaspari has gone off in a… tantrum? – yeah, basically he’s gone off in a huff… because he can’t get the new money he wants from the Italian Authorities to…perfect his…erm… volcano soothing machine?... yeah – volcanic pacifier . The Authorities say it’s too …slim a chance it would work …and they are going to spend their money on… other things.”
“Does anyone else provide an evaluation of the likelihood Gaspari’s machine would work?” Blue asked.
Magenta skimmed the rest of his screen and shook his head. “Everyone says it would be a good thing if it did work – but no-one wants to fund the development, in case it doesn’t. Oh… wait… Gaspari quit his job and has gone off to live in a villa outside Naples, where he plans to develop his machine. Dincerler too, it seems. So someone has put up the cash…”
Colonel White groaned. “I wonder who that could be.”
“The Mysterons, sir?” Lieutenant Green suggested.
“Yes, Lieutenant, that would be my first thought, although it would be a departure for them to be funding research – as far as we know. Certainly it is suspicious given that we have just received a threat which suggests a connection with that area of research.”
“I’d guess that what could be used to slow down an eruption might be switched over to encourage one, without too much difficulty,” Scarlet said, rubbing a hand over his chin. “We have the link to Garnet’s last report right enough.”
“All we have to do now is track down these pillars of fire,” Grey said, nodding.
Blue looked up from the atlas he was holding. “Well, if Gaspari and Dincerler have been monitoring Vesuvius and Etna – I should think it’s obvious. Both of these are active volcanoes close to populated areas, a major eruption by either would be catastrophic for the region. Oh, I know there are others, but these are not that far apart - globally speaking…” he amended as Ochre began to comment.
“They are close to the sea too,” Grey agreed, “but two volcanoes don’t make a ring of fire, Blue.”
“Oh that’s easy – it’s a name used for a chain of volcanoes along the Pacific Rim – they run all along the Indonesian archipelago, through Japan and Russia – across to Alaska and down the San Andreas Fault to South America. You get them on the Mid Atlantic Ridge too – underwater ones,” Blue said matter-of-factly.
Scarlet hid a smile and heard Flaxen change a snigger into a cough.
“And the prize for Extreme Cleverness goes - as usual – to Captain Blue-Stocking…” Ochre teased mildly. He winked at Captain Blue, whose face, as he became acutely conscious that he was guilty of lecturing them all again, was rapidly turning an unflattering shade of red.
“Sorry,” Blue muttered. He ducked his face back to the atlas and studied the map in front of him with unnecessary diligence. When will I learn to keep my mouth shut? he wondered.
Colonel White suppressed his own smile and said, “Well, we have a lead. It seems to suggest that Italy will be the first target - Vesuvius and Etna, twin pillars of fire - and after that demonstration, the Mysterons intend to turn their machine on to Pacific Rim volcanoes - engulfing the seas. I think you had better return to Naples, Captain Blue, with Captain Scarlet and Captain Grey. You may need to take to the water and Grey can be of most use there.” Colonel White glanced at his English captain, who, whilst he remained immune to many human ailments, still suffered from sea-sickness.
“Don’t mind me, Colonel,” Scarlet grinned, “I’ll sit in the back of the boat with a bag over my head, if it will help.”
“Hey, now that’s not an offer you get everyday,” Ochre teased, “Scarlet offering to hide his ugly mug. Just make sure you have enough paper bags along when you cast off!”
Normally the colonel would have frowned at such levity, but it broke the tension in the room to such an extent that he thought it best to just ignore the remark. Instead he said, “Please be ready to leave in an hour, gentlemen, sooner if possible.”
“No problem, Colonel, we could leave immediately,” Scarlet asserted. “Unless you need to get clean linen, Blue?” he smiled.
“Ten minutes, okay?”
“You can have fifteen if you like, it’ll take me that long to get my stuff together,” Grey informed them as they left the conference room. “I’ll take my new aqualungs along. We might get a chance to test them under field conditions.”
Blue cast a pleading glance at Scarlet, who nodded almost imperceptibly and watched as his friend ran along the corridor, taking the first turn to the escalators on a direct course for the Amber Room.
“Oh,” Grey said, a dull flush on his cheeks as understanding dawned. “I see.”
“Some things are more important than clean socks,” Scarlet informed him with a mock solemnity.
“Not for long, they aren’t.” Grey gave a wry grin at his colleague. “Not for a sub-mariner, anyway!”
Blue was quiet all the way down to Naples. He was so preoccupied he didn’t even quibble when Scarlet offered to fly and normally he hated being the passenger in any journey. Grey noted it too and took the co-pilot’s seat without being asked, leaving Blue to his wool-gathering.
Settling into his seat, Blue accidentally kicked the holdall on the floor by his feet. Scarlet had chucked his overnight bag at him when he rushed into the hangar, at the last minute, to board the SPJ and he knew, without looking, that his friend had packed clean clothes for him.
Paul was the best friend he had ever had, in fact, he would go so far as to say he was now closer to Paul than to either of his younger brothers, especially given his prolonged absences from the family home over the past decade or so. It was Paul he turned to for help during the frequently turbulent hiatuses in his relationship with Symphony Angel. Symphony was not good at hiding her feelings and her mood swings made for an exciting life at times. He was never quite sure himself, from one day to the next, if he was in favour or not. Paul’s talent for distracting the colonel’s attention from their assignations often provided the much-needed opportunity for him to patch up whatever quarrel they were having this time. He felt sure that without these much-needed trysts, the relationship could have foundered many times over during the past couple of years.
Blue had no illusions that their affair remained the closed secret he would have preferred it to be, but he continued to act as though he believed it was. And he did it so well that, apparently, even Paul thought he was gullible enough to believe his colleagues hadn’t twigged. But this pretence did afford them some privacy in the crowded confines of Cloudbase and it gave his colleagues the satisfaction of congratulating themselves on their perspicacity and indulgence towards the couple. Even Colonel White turned a blind-eye - by and large - to their activities, even though Blue knew the old man was not as clueless as he made out.
He sighed contentedly and relaxed back into his seat as he relived the latest exciting episode of his love life, behind his eyelids.
Scarlet glanced back at his distracted friend and grinned at Grey. “You know, for someone as on the ball as Adam, I genuinely think he doesn’t realise what an open secret it all is!”
Grey shrugged. “There’s none so blind as they that will not see,” he said with some amusement. “Mind you, Symphony’s hardly the most discreet of young women.”
Scarlet gave a non-committal shrug and decided not to press the topic - after all, so far Grey hadn’t cottoned on to his affair with Rhapsody, but Brad wasn’t stupid and he could put one and one together as easily as the next man.
Captain Grey glanced at the Englishman beside him and smiled to himself.
Sergeant Ruffolo welcomed them with his usual exuberance. “Capitano Blue, Signores Grey and Scarlet, Buongiorno, benvenuto a Napoli!”
“Hello, Carlo, is there any news about Garnet?” Blue dropped the hand that had been shaking his enthusiastically for several minutes.
“Non, Capitano, we have found nothing.” Ruffolo’s face dropped into an expression of sadness. “Still we look everywhere.”
Scarlet saw an SSC waiting on the tarmac and moved towards it. “Where are we to start, Sergeant Ruffolo?”
“To the base if you wish it, Capitano.”
The three Spectrum officers looked at each other and Grey made the decision, sensing Scarlet and Blue were hesitating because they feared he might feel excluded.
“We’ll go to the base, but via the harbour, Sergeant.”
Blue and Scarlet loitered behind as Ruffolo ushered Grey to the SSC.
“Bloody boats,” Scarlet muttered.
“Did you pack the paper bags?” asked Blue with a wicked grin.
“Very funny, Sinbad, just because you can float about without chucking up every five minutes…”
“What price retrometabolism now?” teased his friend and suddenly sobered, saying, “I wonder if all Mysterons are poor sailors? There’s no water on Mars, after all.”
“Good point,” Scarlet agreed. “But I have to confess, I was always a lousy sailor!”
Blue snapped his fingers. “Damn, another brilliant insight into the nature of the enemy goes down the pan!”
“Karen was in a good mood, I take it?”
“Oh, Karen’s not speaking to me…”
“Why ever not?”
“She was complaining because, in a fit of madness, I had promised to take her to New York this coming weekend, which is my next scheduled downtime. She wants to go shopping -”
“With your money?” quipped Scarlet. Symphony was notorious for always being broke.
“Whatever.” Blue brushed the comment aside. “Well, now I’ve been sent here again so my name is mud.” He didn’t seem too concerned, however.
“Well, I call that unreasonable, Adam.”
Blue gave his slow grin and said with absolute conviction, “Ah, but I can wait till I get back. By then she’ll be feeling guilty and so she’ll want to make it up to me…”
Scarlet roared with laughter, “You old letch...”
“Come on, you two, I want to make sure we can get a boat if we need one.” Grey beckoned them impatiently into the SSC.
Once they had chartered a motorboat at the marina and were back at the base, they started studying the movements of Professors Gaspari and Dincerler. Magenta had tracked Gaspari to a rented address on the outskirts of Naples and they drove across the city to the location. They scouted around and found a suitable place to observe the people coming and going from the walled villa.
“We need to see inside the place,” Scarlet commented, bringing his high-powered binoculars down from his blue eyes with a grimace. “Those walls are too high to allow much of a view.”
Blue nodded agreement and suggested, “Perhaps Garnet thought the same? She might be held as a prisoner in there, if Gaspari or Dincerler caught her snooping about. Remember they are working independently now – someone, if not the Mysterons, has bought the rights to that machine. If they can make it work, they’ll make a fortune.”
“You’re not suggesting this is just a case of industrial espionage, are you?” Scarlet asked.
His partner shrugged. “We’re still acting on a hunch. We don’t have proof of Mysteron involvement.”
But Grey was in agreement with Scarlet. “We‘ll need to watch the place round the clock. The three of us doing turn and turn about with… two local agents on each shift. Sound okay?”
“I hate stakeouts,” muttered Scarlet, rebelliously. His dislike of simply waiting for things to happen was well-known. “I’ll agree from tomorrow, but tonight I want to get into that place and look around - for the volcanic pacifier or Garnet - I don’t much mind which we find.”
“We have no proof that Gaspari and Dincerler are Mysterons,” Blue warned him again.
“You disagree, then?”
“I never said that. If those creeps have Garnet…”
Scarlet nodded. “Grey?” he asked the older man. Bradley Holden was the unknown quantity in the partnership. He was an ex-commander in the WASPs and known to be something of a stickler for the rules. Right now it was impossible to read his thoughts from his expression and Scarlet feared they might have problems with him, if he tried to be too rigid in his interpretation of their orders.
“We’ll have to tell the colonel…” Grey began to say.
The others interrupted him…
“That’ll only complicate matters…”
They came to a halt and swapped glances.
Grey grinned. “Now I see why you two exasperate the colonel the way you do! Let’s go for it - if Garnet is in there, I have some pretty powerful points I’d like to raise with Gaspari and Dincerler too.”
They decided to wait until dark, then Blue and Scarlet would scale the walls and attempt to break into the villa. Grey would keep watch and warn them of any danger. However in the brilliant heat of the mid-morning, as the sun beat down on the countryside, they saw a car leave the villa and head towards the city. The villa showed no signs of life and the gate had been closed behind the departing car.
Exchanging silent glances, Blue and Scarlet moved as one towards the walls, circling round away from the road. Grey watched them go with a wry smile; he had no doubt they would achieve an entry into the villa, but he wasn’t as confident as they were that they would find anything useful in the rooms. He held the more pessimistic view that Garnet - if she had ever been here - was well beyond their help now.
Scaling the walls presented little problem, although the top was studded with glass and Scarlet, going up first, cut his hand badly and swore fluently under his breath. Blue, helped over the hazard by his partner, watched as his friend sucked at the blood and then shook his hand as the flesh sealed itself whilst they watched.
It was a strange aspect of retrometabolism that in moments of great stress the process seemed to happen far quicker on these superficial wounds. Blue had once suggested to Doctor Fawn that the process might be linked to adrenalin and earned a gentle, almost patronising smile from Spectrum’s Chief Medical Officer, who had already come to that conclusion. Noticing Blue’s discomfiture, the doctor had reassured him that his confirmation of a theory was always welcome. After all, Blue was often the only witness to the process in the field.
Annoyed by the cut, Scarlet thrust his hand through a pane of glass in the patio doors and opened them. He sucked at the fresh wound and grinned at Blue, who stood shaking his head at such a display of petulance.
They walked into the room, which was sparsely furnished and dusty from long neglect. There were no sounds within the house - no alarms, no movement - and they quickly moved to the door. It opened into a hall, which was cool and dark with a high ceiling. Scarlet jerked a thumb to the left and went right as Blue swerved in the opposite direction. They quickly checked the rooms, all of which were largely as empty and as dusty as the one they had entered through. They met at the foot of the stairs and crept up to the bedrooms. These too were empty, although two rooms held Spartan furniture and the impedimenta of shaving equipment and dirty washing.
Frowning, they stood at the top of the stairs and scanned the high ceiling for signs of an attic. They could see nothing and went down the stairs with an air of defeat.
“We could try the cellars,” Blue muttered, as they stood considering their next move. “An old place like this is bound to have them.”
“It’s an idea. Where do you suggest we look for access?”
“The kitchen, most likely.”
They returned to the back of the house and in the kitchen Scarlet found a narrow door leading down into a dark cellar. The cool air and the slight echo suggested it might be of considerable size. “Mind the stairs,” he warned as he edged into the gloom. He was about a third of the way down when there was a sharp click and a fluorescent light flickered on above them.
He glanced up at Blue, still standing by the doorway. The American grinned and spread his hands like a magician after a successful trick. “Ta-da!”
Scarlet rolled his eyes and finished the descent at speed, Blue close behind.
This time their luck was in - the cellars were the most lived-in rooms in the house. There were work benches, power tools and odd bits of welded metal lying around. Scarlet picked a few up to study them whilst Blue went around looking for possible hiding places. He soon found what he looking for and tugged at a small door, built into the space beneath the stairwell.
Alerted by the sudden anger in Blue’s voice, Scarlet hurried over and peering beyond his kneeling partner, he blinked at the fetid air coming from the cubby-hole. There was a mound of blankets in one corner, a plastic bucket in the other and a jug, with one dirty plate and a wooden spoon beside it, lying discarded in the middle of the floor. Blue crawled inside trying all the time to control his thumping heart. He yanked the blankets back - there was no body beneath them, but he caught a glint of metal and reached out to pick up an unmistakable Spectrum uniform tunic - in a dull blood-red. He held it out towards Scarlet, who pretended not to see how his friend’s strong hand was trembling.
“So she was here,” he said, as the American crawled quickly from the cramped space and momentarily stood with his back against the stairs, fighting off long-buried terrors of his own. “You all right, Adam?” he asked in concern.
“Fine,” Blue nodded, drawing a huge breath. “A little bout of claustrophobia, that’s all.”
“Must be why you’re a pilot and not a sub-mariner then,” Scarlet said genially, to dismiss the topic. He activated his cap mic and reported to Grey, asking him to alert the colonel and the necessary authorities that they had proof that Lieutenant Garnet had been abducted by Gaspari and Dincerler.
“Paul,” Blue said quietly as the comm. link closed, “She hasn’t been in there for some time. The air... it wasn’t right. No-one has been in there recently.”
Scarlet accepted this statement at face value. He could see the fact that Garnet had been held prisoner in this dark and confined space had affected his partner strongly. He‘s really letting his concern for her get to him. Mind you, Scarlet thought, he’s always been over-protective towards the female agents – it drives Karen nuts at times! Makes him very popular though… Pretending not to have noticed Blue’s agitation, he replied briskly, “Then they must have moved her. Let’s hope Ruffolo’s men picked up the car and followed it as they were ordered to. We will find her yet.”
Quickly now, they raced up the stairs and through to the front door. They sprinted to the gate and opened it, waving to Grey to as he sped to collect them in the SPV.
Once inside, they contacted the base and Ruffolo’s excited voice gave them the news that the car had driven through the city and out towards Vesuvius, before turning towards the coast. The professore had left the car and gone into a boathouse and since then, no one had tried to leave - not by land or sea, Ruffolo assured them proudly - he had men watching both exits.
“Give us the GPS reference, Carlo,” Blue ordered, “and we will do the rest. Alert the police and any coastguards that the area will be sealed off by Spectrum in pursuit of our suspects. And have someone bring our motor launch over from the marina,” he added at Grey’s prompting.
“Si, Capitano Blue.” There was a pause and Ruffolo asked, “Shall we find Signorina Garnet, Capitano?”
“We shall do our damnest to find her,” Blue promised. “And a few prayers can’t do anything but help, amigo.”
“And you shall have them, signore. Happily, you shall have them!”
The link closed and Blue sat quietly for a moment. Sensing his friend was still worried about their missing colleague, Scarlet tried to chivvy him out of his introspection. “You’re not very good at Italian, are you? Do you know the difference between amigo and amico?” he teased. “You keep talking to the sergeant in Spanish!”
Blue gave a grin, the colour returning to his face as he regained his usual self-composure. “Habit,” he confessed, “and well, Carlo’s a forgiving sort of guy…”
The SPV drew up close to the co-ordinates Ruffolo had given and the three agents prepared to leave the vehicle. As Grey’s elevator seat descended and retracted back to collect Blue, the captain stood frowning and in answer to Scarlet’s questioning, Grey turned his head slightly and put a finger to his lips. “Sssh… Can you hear something?”
Scarlet cocked his head and frowned at Blue as the motor whirred to lower him to the ground. All three of them stood listening intently, for several minutes.
“It’s like a rumbling…” Grey murmured.
Blue’s eyes widened in horror. “I don’t know about hear it, but I can almost feel it through my boots!”
“The eruption machine!” Scarlet gasped. “They must have it in the boathouse.”
Blue turned towards the vastness of the volcano, There was a wisp of white smoke crowning its summit. “I never thought they would try to use it so close…”
“Why should they care?” Scarlet said sourly. “I think the fact they are using it all removes any doubt that they are Mysterons…”
Grey was already on the radio to Cloudbase, alerting the colonel to the situation. Moments later Scarlet and Blue’s epaulettes flashed white and the colonel connected them to the conversation too.
“You must get into the boathouse and stop the experiment. We have contacted other vulcanologists and they are mostly of the opinion that the next time Vesuvius erupts it is likely to be a massive pyroclastic explosion, which would send millions of tons of hot ash and lava into the atmosphere. One expert described it as making the eruption that destroyed Pompeii look like a roman candle. Naples would be obliterated.”
“See Naples and really die,” said Scarlet, pushing his cap back from his forehead.
“That was in extremely bad taste, Captain,” the colonel snapped. “I suggest you save your energy for stopping this scheme in its tracks, not for making facetious comments.”
“S.I.G., sir. Sorry.”
The three officers raced towards the boathouse, their guns in their hands. Grey, slightly behind the other two, watched as they diverged around the building to cover each side and on impulse took the shorter route towards the sea, following Blue. As he neared the boathouse the tremors grew stronger. Rounding the corner, Grey saw Scarlet shoot the lock off the door and kick it open. Both men disappeared into the building.
Grey waited as a back-up and cast anxious glances towards the sea. Racing along the coast, he saw the motor launch they had hired and was quietly satisfied to think they had the means of chasing their quarry, should they attempt that means of escape.
After a few minutes of surprising silence, he walked to the open door and peered in, there was no sign of Scarlet or Blue, but a wooden staircase led down beneath the building - presumably to where the boat was moored. At the far end of the building stood a large, heavy, square metal box. It was definitely the source of the vibrations, although the noise was so low that it was on the edge of human hearing. Grey shivered as even the fillings in his teeth seemed to judder.
Suddenly shots rang out, their noise distorted by the pulsating thump of the machine. From beneath the floorboards, there was the roar of an engine and he swivelled back to the door, to see a powerful speed boat race from beneath the jetty and head out to sea.
Seconds later Blue’s head appeared up the staircase and he called, “Captain, we need to turn this thing off - Scarlet’s unconscious!”
“They’ve headed out to sea, Blue. We should follow them - they might create another machine.”
“They won’t have to - they were loading a second machine when we went down. Obviously, the volcanoes are meant to erupt at the same time,” Blue confirmed as he clambered up to the decking.
“Our launch is on its way, it’ll be here shortly. They won’t get far, Blue.” Grey tried to reassure the younger man, who was looking with bewilderment at the machine. There were no obvious control panels and nothing with a helpful on/off label to suggest a course of action.
Blue put his hands to his head and shouted at himself above the confusing pulse of the vibrations, “Think, you idiot! Concentrate!”
Grey knew what he meant; his own mind was being bludgeoned into a daze by proximity to the machine.
Blue came to a decision. He stood back and pulled out his pistol. Rather than aim at the machine he turned to the power source and blew the junction box off the wall. There was a spurt of flame and an explosion rocked the building on its timber foundations. Thankfully the machine slowed and came to a halt. The relentless rumbling stopped and the Americans exchanged weary smiles. Blue holstered his pistol and scampered back down the stairs, calling for Grey’s help; between them, they hoisted Scarlet back into the boathouse. At the top of the stairs, Blue heaved the inert body over his shoulder in a practised fireman’s lift, as in the corner by the junction box flames had started licking at the wooden building and the amount of smoke was increasing rapidly.
“Should we try to take the machine?” Grey asked dubiously.
“Can you carry it alone?” Blue asked, and as Grey shook his head, he added, “Well, I’ve got my hands full and I don’t propose coming back in here again. Those flames are catching too quickly. The place’ll collapse soon. We’ll have to leave it, maybe they can salvage what’s left when the fire’s out…” He coughed at the acrid smoke.
“No, you’re right, let’s get out of here…” Grey led the way out onto the bright sunshine and Blue carried Scarlet a safe distance from the fire before he laid him on the ground and knelt at his partner’s side.
“Did they shoot him?” Grey asked.
“No, I think it was the machine. He suddenly covered his ears and screamed.” Blue looked anxiously at Scarlet, turning his head to one side as he saw a trickle of blood coming from his ear. “His hearing must be more acute than ours; I think his eardrum has burst.” With a sudden intake of breath, Grey turned away.
Their boat was approaching the coast and slowing to moor alongside the jetty. “Let’s get him on board. We have to chase the speed boat and we can’t leave him here. That place is about to blow,” Grey said curtly.
Blue glanced at the boathouse, now burning fiercely. “Well, of course he’s coming with us,” he replied, grabbing Scarlet’s arms and heaving him over his shoulder once more. “He’ll be fine in no time. We may have to shout at him for a while, though.”
If Grey was surprised at Blue’s casual acceptance of his friend’s condition, he was careful to hide it and he swiftly deduced that familiarity with such incidents no doubt made them seem perfectly normal.
On board the launch, Grey took the wheel whilst Blue made Scarlet comfortable in the cabin space. They swung out towards the open sea with the radar searching for Gaspari’s boat. In conjunction with the coastguards’ radar reports, Grey tracked the progress of the speed boat. He did some quick calculations and looked with concern towards Blue, who was sitting beside Captain Scarlet’s body.
“There’s a problem,” he said. His compatriot looked up from his partner and cocked his head in query. Grey sighed, “We can’t catch them in this. The speed they’re making, they will reach Sicily before us and probably have time to land as well.”
“Is there anything closer that could slow them down?” Blue asked, dropping the handkerchief he was using to wipe away the trickle of blood from Scarlet’s ears and coming to the wheel of their launch to study the radar screen.
“Not really. The coastguards are too far away and unless we notify the military or the police on Sicily…” He glanced at Blue with some doubt. “Only that could lead to all kinds of problems afterwards.”
Blue twisted his lips in rueful acknowledgement that he had soured relations with the civil authorities, and activated his cap mic to brief the colonel.
“Are you asking for help?” White asked as Blue finished his update.
“I don’t think we have a choice. I checked on the Net before we left Naples and the latest eruption report has Etna on yellow alert - there’s a good deal of activity in the volcano already. It’s a very complex structure - far more so than Vesuvius - with craters and vents all over the summit. Any one of them could blow and that would mean trouble. Looking back at Vesuvius now, there is a definite increase in the smoke over the summit - we cannot be sure how much damage the machine did before we stopped it.”
“How did you stop it?” White asked.
“I…eh, interrupted the power supply.” Blue grimaced at Grey and shrugged.
“Good work, Captain. Is Captain Scarlet with you?”
“Yes sir, but he’s unconscious. I suspect the noise from the machine burst his eardrums. He’ll be okay in a few hours.”
“Very well, Captain, I will order an Angel strike to sink the suspects’ boat.”
Grey interrupted, “Colonel, what if they have Lieutenant Garnet on board? There was definite proof that they had her held prisoner at the villa.”
Blue’s expression showed he had not discounted this fact as he said, with as much reassurance as he could manage, “From what we could see of the boat, as they were preparing to leave with the other machine, there were only the two men - Gaspari and Dincerler - on board.”
“Then we must hope you were right, Captain. Yet whatever the truth may be, I cannot risk allowing them to force Etna to erupt. The Angels will have orders to sink the ship and then I want you and Grey to get the machine back, if at all possible. Maybe we can use it to calm Vesuvius down again. If it is destroyed completely, we’ll just have to pray that you acted quickly enough.”
“S.I.G., Colonel.” Both men acknowledged their orders and the link closed down.
“Diving will be difficult,” Grey said, glancing at his maritime charts. “It’s dangerous water all around here.”
“We might have to use an automated rover,” Blue mused. “But, I agree with the colonel that we need to stop the machine being deployed against Etna, even more than we need to reverse the effect on Vesuvius. There is a chance that volcano won’t blow - but Etna’s already very active.”
They were both aware that they were avoiding the subject uppermost in their minds with this business-like discussion. It was Grey who finally said, “She might not be on board, Adam.”
It was so rare that Grey used anything other than codenames that Blue’s glance showed his surprise. Grey’s face was a picture of restraint, but there was a deep underlying concern in his dark eyes.
Blue nodded curtly, well aware that his own expression was just as revealing. “I hope not, Brad. She doesn’t deserve what’s happened to her. She may not have been in post long, but no-one has anything bad to say about her and she’d turned the unit into one that functions at maximum efficiency. Henna’s a good guy in many ways, but organisation isn’t his strong point. I dread to think what Spectrum Rome will be like in eighteen months from now!”
Grey grinned, “Oh, he’s got Sergeant Ponti to sort that out!”
They both smiled at the memory of the formidable Italian in charge of the administration at the Rome Office.
Movement in the cabin attracted their attention and they turned to see Scarlet sitting up, rubbing his ears with his hands. Blue grinned and went to him, touching his shoulder to attract his attention.
“Adam, I can’t hear anything!” Scarlet shouted, panicking as he saw his friend’s lips moving.
Blue shook his head and found a pen and pad of paper. I think machine burst yr eardrums - he wrote.
Scarlet nodded and shouted, “I can’t hear you!”
Blue started scribbling again and passed the note across to Scarlet: But I can hear you – there’s no need to shout. Scarlet grinned and nodded.
Blue scribbled another note and passed the pad across once more: We’re chasing the Mysterons’ boat & the col. has ordered Angel strike to sink them. Then we’ll dive for 2nd machine. We stopped 1st one O.K. & Vesuvius hasn’t erupted – yet.
Do you feel O.K. to continue or shall we get you airlifted off?
“You do and I’ll never speak to you again…” Scarlet said in a slightly quieter voice.
Blue gave him the thumbs up and fetched him a glass of water.
All three captains went on to the deck at the approach of the Angel Interceptor Jets. Harmony, as Angel Leader, reported their readiness to attack. In close formation, the three shining white jets flew over the area and climbed, their wings glistening in the late afternoon sun against the smouldering bulk of Mount Etna. With lighting precision, Angel Leader banked and led the attack run against the target, which was still moving at speed through the water. As the planes streaked overhead, the boat had made a sharp turn and headed for the shore; at the last minute it swerved again and Harmony’s missile missed. Moments later, Angel Two fired and hit the stern followed by a direct hit from Angel Three. By now, Harmony’s jet had completed its circular flight path and was coming in for a second shot. The boat was no longer moving under its own power, but was being swept on to some jagged rocks by the current. The missile hit the stricken boat dead centre and the noise of the explosions reached the launch as it ploughed onwards. Through their field glasses the three officers could see the boat break apart and slide beneath the waves.
“Good shooting, girls!” Blue exclaimed as the jets swept above them in formation.
“S.I.G., Captain,” Harmony said. “Angel flight returning to base. Good luck with your search.”
“Thanks, Harmony. See you back at base soon, I hope.”
“We’re going to need that luck,” Grey demurred, returning to study the charts in the cabin. “They’ve sunk it in the straits of Messina – notorious for its strong and dangerous currents.” Grey glanced at Captain Blue and chose his words carefully, not wanting to offend his companion. “This isn’t going to be like a gentle swim around the Great Barrier Reef, Blue. I know you’ve had experience diving, but do you think you can manage? We could always ask the colonel to let us call in the WASPs – they have expert divers.”
Blue opened his mouth to reply, but before he could speak, Scarlet said, “Don’t be so superior, Brad. We’ll both manage.”
Surprised, Grey turned and stammered, “Oh, your hearing’s back to normal is it?”
“Not quite, but it is good enough for me to recognise bull-shit when I hear it,” Scarlet grinned and the Americans laughed.
Grey had been right about the currents. The water was choppy and the boat bounced around when they anchored, as close to the place where the speed boat had sunk as they could. Scarlet was already looking rather green and he was sitting with his head in his hands as the others checked the diving equipment.
Grey was making last-minute adjustments to the new miniature aqualungs he had designed. “You okay, Captain?” he asked.
Scarlet nodded. “Just let me get in the water. At least if I’m under the sea I can’t be tossed about like this.”
“We have to be careful, Paul. This is a pretty terrible place. Its bad reputation goes back into antiquity,” Blue warned, as he sat at the table connecting the breathing tubes of the conventional tanks together with practiced ease.
“Yes, I am aware that this is a dangerous stretch of water…”
“In legend, this is the site of Scylla and Charybdis,” Blue continued. Concentrating on his task, he failed to see the conspiratorial grins between his colleagues.
“Who and what?” Grey asked innocently. He avoided looking at Scarlet whose shoulders were shaking in silent amusement.
“In Greek mythology, Scylla was a sea nymph, who was changed into a monstrous, gigantic creature with six snake-like heads, each of which had three rows of teeth. All because both she and the witch Circe fell in love with the same guy and Circe thought he liked Scylla better than he did her.”
“Hey,” Grey commented, “I’m sure I’ve dated both of those dames in the past. This Scylla lived here, did she?”
Blue nodded and continued, “And every time a ship passed through the Straits, and came too close to the coast where she lived, each of her heads seized a crew member and bit his head off.”
Scarlet sniggered, “Well, she was probably suffering from terrible PMT – at least, that always seems to be their excuse these days for biting a chap’s head off!”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Grey muttered, as each man fell to a silent reverie of personal experiences. “And what about the other one – Cary something – was that a man-eating she-monster as well?” Grey asked, as much to break a silence which threatened to become prolonged, as to continue their teasing.
“No, Charybdis was a guy who had been turned into a whirlpool. He was on the opposite side of the straits from Scylla. Three times a day he swallowed the waters of the gulf and three times he spewed them back again. Accounts vary as to why he did this, but one story has it that he had stolen Heracles’ cattle and this was his punishment. Whatever the reason, it sure made life difficult for the ancient mariners around here. Any boat that missed Scylla risked being sucked under by Charybdis and if they missed Charybdis they had to risk getting eaten by Scylla. It is the classic no-win scenario.” Blue finished his story and glanced up at his fellow American. He closed his eyes and sighed at his own gullibility as he saw the laughter on his friends’ faces.
“You know, I am so pleased you felt the need to share that with us, Adam.” Grey shook his head with a look of sorrowing pity.
“Yeah, it was wonderful,” Scarlet agreed. “All we need are a few sirens or the odd sea nymph and we can have a real party down there!”
“Okay, okay, you guys, I just thought you might be interested, that’s all!” Blue was used to being set up by Ochre and occasionally, Scarlet too, but it wasn’t often that Grey pulled such a stunt.
“Oh, I was fascinated by every word. I thought you explained it very nicely! ” Scarlet assured him and grinned at his friend. He turned to Grey. “See what I protect you others from by partnering this geek?”
“Took your mind off the sea-sickness though, didn’t I?” Blue said imperturbably. He stood and shoved the air tanks towards Scarlet. “And as I’ve just put your gear together, you had better be nice to me!”
“Too late to demand that now – unless you’ve built in a fault anyway…”
“Paul, that’s not funny,” Blue protested.
“No, you’re right and I apologise. Now I guess I have to squeeze into one of those wetsuits, eh?
Grey nodded. “Unfortunately they are all grey. Not intentional, I assure you…” He was beginning to get the feel of the way these two talked to each other.
“Oh, like we’ll believe that!” Scarlet teased and selected a suit from the pile.
Grey insisted on checking all the equipment Blue had put together before he would even consider permitting them to enter the water. Scarlet raised his eyebrows at his partner, but Blue – as unruffled as ever – merely gave a slight smile and shook his fair head. He was not prepared to get shirty over such a practical action.
Finally satisfied that his colleague had done an excellent job, Grey said, “I’d better go first. Fix the safety lead to the winch, Blue.” He adjusted the flashlight strapped to his wrist and the maritime map secured to his belt. Then he checked the radio was working before he jumped from the side and disappeared beneath the rolling waves.
Scarlet peered over the side and watched the flashlight moving further away. Blue kept a watch on the lead, making sure it played out evenly and didn’t snag. It was already drifting away from the boat.
“Grey to base control, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear,” Scarlet replied. “What can you see?”
“Not much, there is some wreckage, I believe it has been scattered by the tides already. That’ll mean a large area to be searched.”
“Shall I come and help?” Scarlet asked, making ready to climb over the side of the boat.
“Not yet. I am going to swim towards the shore; some of the wreckage has drifted that way.”
“S.I.G. Be careful,” Scarlet replied as the link went dead. He glanced at Blue who was frowning as he fed out the line. “Is everything okay, Adam?”
Blue nodded curtly, “But there is a strong current pulling towards the shore. It can’t be an easy job down there.”
It was almost half an hour before Grey returned to the boat. Then there was the tedious waiting around as he surfaced until finally the other two leaned over and hauled him out of the choppy water. Grey removed his mask and unhooked his air-tanks.
“There’s a lot of wreckage down there, some of it quite large, but as yet I can see no sign of the duplicate machine. Did it look the same as the one in the boathouse?”
“Much the same, but bigger, I would have said,” Blue said thoughtfully, recalling the machine he had seen being loaded at the boathouse.
“Then I haven’t found it, although, there is a piece that looks promising, but it’s probably engine parts.” He pointed to a square on the map he’d been using.
“It can’t be safe to swim too close to the shoreline, Grey. There must be a real jumble of rocks down there,” Blue commented, as he examined the map after winching the safety-lead back.
“Rocks and caves,” Grey agreed. “Formed by the volcano, I’d imagine. We will have to try to scour them all if the machine doesn’t turn up soon.”
Blue clipped the safety-lead to his belt and adjusted his regulator as he sat on the railings and dropped backwards into the water. Scarlet grimaced; he had wanted to go next, but Adam had been resolute in forbidding it, insisting that they needed to allow time for his ears to recover before risking a dive. And for once he would not be swayed by Scarlet’s arguments about his powers of retrometabolism. So he tried to wait patiently for another couple of hours as Blue, his tour of the seabed over, sat out the decompression time before returning to the surface.
Divested of his air tanks, Blue gave his report and glanced at Scarlet as he shrugged into his own air tanks in preparation for his dive. “The tide is turning, Scarlet. It’s no picnic in there,” he concluded uneasily. Of the three of them, Scarlet was the least experienced diver, although he was fully trained.
“Yeah,” Grey agreed. “Maybe we should wait until tomorrow. The light’s bad enough as it is.”
“I’m going in,” Scarlet said firmly with a shake of his head. He reached for the map Blue had taken with him, glancing at the crossed off areas that had already been searched by the others. He swung his legs over the railings and clipped on the safety lead Blue had discarded. “If the wreckage is already being scattered, the longer we leave it, the worse it will be. I’d hate to have to try to explain to the colonel why we left completing the search until tomorrow.”
“It’s not worth the risks if you can’t see anything when you’re down there,” Grey reasoned.
But Scarlet had already spent too long waiting about for his own satisfaction and he was not going to be dissuaded from some physical activity now. From the corner of his eye he saw someone moving purposefully towards him.
“Wait a minute, Paul…”
Scarlet gave a slight wave and jumped into the water before anyone could stop him.
“Paul!” Blue yelled, but it was too late, Scarlet was out of earshot. He turned to Grey with a look of horror on his face. “I noticed as I came up that part of the security rope was fraying. I guess it must have caught on a rock during one our dives. I was going to replace it… but there wasn’t time. Call him up, Brad, get him back – that rope could give at any moment…”
Grey reached for the radio and began to call. The only response was a burst of static as away towards the shoreline they saw the changing tides crash and spin, forming a wide gaping whirlpool. The boat lurched towards the deadly spiral, and Grey rushed to start the engines as the anchor broke away from the sea bed.
”We must find Scarlet!” Blue yelled, leaning perilously over the side as he heaved at the safety rope in an attempt to draw his partner back to the safety of the vessel. Suddenly the tension on the line broke and he fell backwards across the slippery deck, a length of rope in his hand. Grey steered the boat out of danger and went to assist his stunned colleague.
“What can we do?” Blue asked him.
“Until that whirlpool breaks – not a friggin thing….”
Scarlet enjoyed his swift descent into the water. It was exhilarating. He felt tugging on the safety line, but chose to ignore it – it was probably just Grey or Blue trying to get him to return. His cap mic crackled and he could just make out Grey’s voice, but the words were indistinct. He began to feel the tug of the currents spinning him away from the boat and he reached to grab the safety-lead to slow his descent, only to realise with a sudden terror that it was not there. A quick glance was all that was needed to show him that the length of rope trailing from his belt was no longer attached to the vessel, now some distance away from him. He struggled against the insistent pull of the water and as he made little headway he tried to strike for the surface. He had some success and could see the breaking waves above his head, when, as if from nowhere, a powerful swirl of water, almost hot enough to scald, caught him and dragged him down and inshore once more.
The force began to subside and he felt the beginnings of hope that he could make the surface again. He struck upwards once more. He had hardly begun his ascent when another, stronger wave caught him and spun him around, tumbling him down into the dark depths. A third wave hit him as he managed to regain his balance and this time he could not withstand its drag. He barely saw the rock that struck his back and gashed his thigh. The pain was enough to almost make him lose consciousness and he was crying to himself in trepidation and pain as the last wave caught him and dashed him onto a jagged outcrop of rock. It picked him up, like a dog with a rag-doll and threw him over the pinnacle. He fell into a roaring darkness and welcome oblivion.
As soon as the whirlpool began to subside Grey attached the main safety-lead to his belt, and with an additional safety-line clipped alongside, he dived into the water, in an attempt to follow the direction of the ephemeral trail left by Scarlet’s air bubbles. There was no sign of him in the open sea and although Grey swam as hard as he could, in an attempt to reach the rocky shore, the treacherous tides were against him and he found himself forced back to the boat. Finally, exhausted, he allowed Blue to winch him in and collapsed onto the deck, breathless and cold.
With an aching heart, Blue contacted Cloudbase. “Colonel, I have to report that Captain Scarlet has been swept away by the tides around the coastline and we cannot find him. It is believed he may have been swept onto the underwater rocks or into one of the many caves that line this promontory. It is not known if he is alive or dead, sir.”
Everything ached. His head and his lungs, his legs and his back. He tried opening his eyes and the light hurt them, so with a weak moan he closed them again. After a time a thought throbbed its way into his conscious mind – the light hurt? Under the sea? Curiosity had always been a large part of Scarlet’s character and he opened his eyes once more – gingerly – and tried to focus on the light. He could see a large domed roof, crusted with jagged stalactites of rock, looking, in the hazy half-light, like over-elaborate, fantastical decorations created by an enthusiastic Gothic stonemason.
A voice murmured something and he tried to understand the words. Slowly they began to make sense: “Captain Scarlet, can you hear me? Oh, please be Captain Scarlet. Captain Scarlet…please, please don’t die…”
He turned cautiously towards the voice, identifying it as female and American. A face swam into view and he blinked to sharpen the focus. She was a young woman, with wavy dark hair and large, deep-brown eyes, set in a heart-shaped face. Her eyebrows were heavier than was fashionable, her nose slightly too long and her mouth too wide, which gave the impression that her features were too large for the dainty shape of her face. She was grubby, her face streaked with the trails of tears and the curls of her hair were plastered to her face by the heat of the cave. She was dressed in a black top, torn into jagged edges at the neck and the armholes. As she saw his eyes focus on her, she gave an open and friendly smile, revealing wide-spaced front teeth.
He coughed in the somewhat sulphurous air and tried to move. She laid a grubby hand on his shoulder and said, “I wasn’t sure the stories were true, but it seems they are.” Her voice was low and slightly husky. She saw his confusion and gave a shy smile. “I heard about your… remarkable abilities at the lectures you gave when you visited the training base I was at – in Koala base. You and Captain Blue came there when there was some speculation about a traitor in the ranks, remember? Captain Blue told us about the incident at the London Car-Vu. It seemed too unlikely for words, and I never thought I’d see it in action for myself. You were pretty badly hurt, Captain, but things are healing up – all on their own.”
“Who are you?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry – you couldn’t know me from Adam, of course…”
“Adam?” Scarlet murmured, “Oh, yes, I’d know you from Adam.”
She smiled. “I guess it is a silly phrase for a girl to use, at that. My name is Claudia Vecchio – I am Lieutenant Garnet.”
It was some hours before Scarlet felt well enough to begin to make sense of what Garnet had said to him. She had tried to make him comfortable, removing the battered air tanks and unzipping the wetsuit against the oppressive heat, but she advised him not to try to move further, as she feared his back was damaged. He knew it was, from the powerful tingling he was experiencing in his spine. His retrometabolism was working to repair the injuries he had received and it was leaving him with a raging thirst. Garnet was able to trickle some water between his dry lips, carrying it across from a spring welling up from between two rocks in the face mask he’d been wearing. The water tasted sulphurous, but he drank it eagerly nevertheless.
Gradually he was able to sit upright and study the young woman sitting across a narrow, coarse-grained beach of black sand. As well as her torn top, which he now realised was the remnant of her charcoal polo-neck uniform; she was wearing black trousers, also torn off just below the knees. She was barefoot, although he could see her uniform boots dumped against a rock not so far away. She cast him shy glances from time to time and asked if he needed anything. He shook his head and gave a dry smile - she had nothing to offer him even if he had needed anything.
Eventually he asked the obvious question, “Where are we?”
Garnet smiled. “Ah, I have worked that one out. We are in a cave formed by the debris of previous undersea eruptions by Etna. It has trapped a pocket of air and a spring of - almost fresh - water in here. The light comes from that crack in the roof, up there. Don’t ask where that light comes from, because we ought to be under several fathoms of water - at least. We must be very close to the foot of the volcano - this place is so hot.”
“Is there a way out?”
She shook her head, “I can’t find one.”
“How did you get here? I was… swept away from the boat we were in.”
“Captains Grey and Blue were with me. We’d been in pursuit of suspected Mysteron agents after they attempted to induce an eruption in Vesuvius.”
“Gaspari and Dincerler,” she nodded her head emphatically. “Did they succeed?”
“No, Blue stopped them.”
She gave a satisfied smile. “I told them they were mad to attempt it. They thought I was joking.”
“How did you get here, Lieutenant?” It seemed possible that she was a Mysteron agent, much as Gaspari and Dincerler had proved to be, although the sixth sense he possessed, that induced nausea in the vicinity of Mysterons, was not reacting to her presence.
“I went to check out Gaspari’s villa - I guess you must’ve seen it? They caught me and shoved in this pokey little cupboard under the cellar stairs. I was there for several days, I guess. They took my radio-cap away, and my Spectrum issue watch. After a few days, they dragged me out and drove down to the boathouse. There was a speed boat at the jetty and they threw me in there and we drove across the bay of Naples. They were planning to set up a machine on Etna - wanted to find a cave or a secluded spot. They were off the boat - looking for a site, I guess, when I managed to slip my bonds and I dived into the sea.” She glanced at Scarlet and shrugged. “I should’ve known better - the tides were too strong and I got caught in a sort of whirlpool that spun me round and dragged me down into a chasm. Then the water changed direction and I was thrown up onto the beach here. It all happened so quickly.”
“Do you mean Gaspari had a third machine?”
Garnet shrugged again. “I don’t know about that, sir. I could only hear so much through the cellar cupboard door and not all of it made sense. There was the Vesuvius machine - set at a frequency they thought would trigger that volcano and an Etna machine at a different frequency to trigger this volcano. There was a suggestion that every volcano would need a machine set at its own frequency. The Etna machine had an internal power source - the Vesuvius one was intended to be used from the boathouse so they never included a power source. But Etna’s machine was much bigger. I can’t tell you much more than that. ”
“We saw them loading a machine into the speed boat when we raided the boathouse. One machine was plugged in and working and the other, they were manhandling onto their speed boat. Could that have been the Etna machine?”
Garnet shrugged, “Might be…”
“We have to find a way out of here. We have to warn Cloudbase…”
“I have been here for some time, Captain and I can’t find an exit - unless you want to risk the sea again.”
“Is there any food here?”
Garnet shook her head. “I suppose you might be able to catch a fish or two, but unless you want to eat them raw…”
“It might come to that, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir, but it hasn’t yet,” she shuddered. “Perhaps Captain Blue and Captain Grey will come looking for you?” There was a pleading note in her voice.
“I am sure they will look, but I doubt if they will ever find us…”
“No, it was a stupid idea really. But when I saw you, I thought you had come looking for me…”
“We were looking for you; it was because of that, that we discovered Gaspari’s plans. Your message and your bravery saved the city.”
She gave a shaky smile. “I am glad the city is safe.” He saw her wipe a tear from her eye with a dirty hand,.
“At-a-girl,” he smiled encouragingly. She looked very vulnerable sitting, hugging her knees, on the black sand. There were unshed tears in her eyes, and impulsively he lifted an arm, wordlessly offering her the comfort of human contact. With a tearful smile she scuttled across and curled up against him. He hugged her as her tears flowed. After a while she slept - a sleep of hunger and exhausted hope. Scarlet’s heart bled for her. She was resourceful and young and, if he couldn’t find a way out, she would surely starve to death and so would he, of course, although - he shuddered at the thought - he would probably revive and starve all over again… getting weaker each time until even his retrometabolism failed.
There had to be a way out.
Scarlet dozed off, his head resting back on a rock, with Garnet asleep in the crook of his arm. He wasn’t sure what woke him, but when he did, Garnet was sitting some way off once more.
“How are you feeling, Captain?”
“Much better, although I could do with another drink of that water.” She smiled and fetched him another mask-full. He sipped it and nodded his thanks. “When I am fit enough, we’ll have another look around for a way out,” he said, keeping his tone deliberately business-like as he sensed she now regretted her emotional display.
“There is something I ought to show you, sir, before we try anything,” she said. “I would have told you about it earlier, but you didn’t seem to be fit enough.”
“What is it?” He placed the mask back on the black volcanic sand.
“When I came to, after I’d been swept into the cave, I tried to find a way out. I couldn’t risk the sea again, unlike you, I had no air tanks. I was exploring the back of the cave,” she pointed at a massive rock fall at one end of the beach, “when I could have sworn I heard voices - over there.” She pointed to the other side of the beach, where one enormous boulder lay beneath a hole in the roof where most of the faint light entered the cave. “I shouted but no-one answered and in my eagerness to reach the people, I rushed my climb down the shingle and slipped. Well, I guess I must have passed out again, because by the time I came to and crossed back to the beach and crawled to the rock… the voices had stopped. But, I found something - well, two somethings - that frightened me. I didn’t explore any further after that and I tried to pretend I had imagined it and hoped they would go away. But I have just looked once more and they are still there.”
“You’re not making much sense.”
“Can you walk, sir?”
“Under the circumstances, I think you can call me Paul - if I may call you Claudia?”
She smiled, “Okay, Paul. Can you walk?”
“I think so, if you will lend me a hand.” She helped him to his feet. He staggered for the first few steps and the numbness in his lower back told him he must have broken his spine in that last crashing fall. They made slow progress along the beach, but under a gap in the roof, where some of the hazy light spilled into the cave, Garnet stopped and pointed to a dark mass huddled in the shadow of a jagged rock.
Scarlet went and stooped awkwardly to investigate. There was a body lying partially hidden by the rock. The face turned up towards the roof. His heart jumped with shock and he sank onto his knees as he stared into his own face, cut and bloodied. Once the initial shock had worn off, he realised there was a second body and he crawled across with sinking heart and lifted the tumble of dark hair from the face of Lieutenant Garnet’s double. Once more the possibility that she was a Mysteron resurfaced and once more he chose to trust to his instincts.
He turned to stare at the face of his companion and frowned, “I don’t understand.”
“Me neither,” she confessed. “I thought they must be Mysterons… there were rumours that the doppelganger of one man had been created whilst he was not actually dead.”
“Yes, Major Gravener,” Scarlet agreed. “But he was as good as dead and it was only the prompt and prolonged efforts of two doctors that saved his life. There are no doctors here…” He knew – but he doubted Garnet did - that Mysteron reconstructs often just keeled over once they had accomplished their tasks – or their services were not longer required by their alien masters. In such cases, ordinary weapons could – effectively – kill a Mysteron. He wondered what these two had died of.
“But who are they?” she asked.
“Well, appearances suggest they are you and me, and although logic suggests they cannot be… us, I don’t have a better solution - unless - these two are Mysteron reconstructs tasked with ensuring the volcano erupted.”
She shuddered, “Are you trying to tell me, I am dead, Captain? I don’t feel… dead - do you?”
“No.” He shook his head and said without thought, “And I’ve been dead often enough to know how it feels…” Garnet gave a slight gasp and stiffened as she looked at him. “I can’t remember exactly what Blue says in his story about the Car-Vu. I’m afraid I’ve stopped listening to him - he gets asked to speak about it at every base we go to and he’s devised a little speech that covers the basic events without giving too much away. The fact is, I can not only recover from injuries, Claudia … I can… recover from dying.” She began to cross herself, stopped and looked apologetically at him. He smiled, “Go ahead, it takes an act of faith for me to believe it too.”
Despite her embarrassment, she did cross herself. “This is what the Mysterons did to you?”
“Yes, so you see, I don’t see how that body could be me - not unless it wakes up anytime soon.”
“It hasn’t moved since I found it - which, I estimate, might be as long ago as a couple of days ago, at least.”
“Then it isn’t going to. It happens quicker than that - at least it always has until now…”
“But why is it here - why is my body here too?”
Scarlet shrugged. “Maybe they can tell us something more about themselves…” He steeled himself to examine the lifeless corpses. “Did you examine them?”
She shook her head and bit her lip. “Not once I saw their faces… I turned him over because he was lying on his front, but she was lying looking up at me. I was too frightened… I left them alone.”
He placed his hand on the red tunic of the man’s body; he felt the rough stiffness of the suede. Instantly suspicious, he bent closer in the poor light and examined the area closely - there was no doubt; the tunic showed a bullet hole - an exit wound, he thought it was. This ‘Scarlet’ had been shot - in the back - by a high calibre weapon, right through the heart. It was unlikely that the fall had killed him. With a fearful premonition, he examined the female corpse and found a similar wound close to the heart.
He turned back to Garnet and said quietly, “They have both been shot, very cleanly. Then it is possible they were pushed through that gap by their murderer. What they were doing here, prior to the fall, is anyone’s guess.”
“Who shot them?” she asked. “And why?”
“Good questions and ones for which I have no answer.”
He became conscious of a deep rumbling noise; it had been increasing steadily for some time and now it should be within the limits of her hearing as well. “Do you hear that?”
Garnet concentrated. “Just,” she said.
“That, in case you don’t know it, sounds very like the machine Gaspari and Dincerler were using at Vesuvius. These two may have achieved their mission and started the machine on a pattern to promote an eruption. It is conceivable that a Spectrum officer shot them. Often, when an agent completes a task – or perversely when they fail completely - the Mysterons don’t bother to protect them. In such cases, normal bullets have been sufficient to kill them.”
“But if Spectrum personnel killed them, they won’t continue looking for us,” Garnet wailed. “They’ll assume we’re dead!”
“Captain Blue won’t assume any such thing.” He tried to reassure himself as much as her.
“It still makes it all academic if that’s the case, doesn’t it? Etna erupts and we go with it.” Garnet turned away and walked back to where they had been sitting.
Scarlet watched her go, and swiftly checked the bodies once more. He unwound a rope from around ‘Scarlet’s’ waist and then, on an impulse, checked the man’s pockets. He smiled to discover a chocolate bar in his tunic pocket. It was squashed but edible. He broke off one row of squares and ate them - his retrometabolism needed something to work on - and continued his search. He found a small leather wallet and inside that was a Spectrum pass made out in the identity of Lieutenant Scarlet. On the other side were two small photographs. One showed his parents - with himself and Lieutenant Garnet – standing in what looked like the rose garden at home in Winchester. The other was again of his parents and himself, and an unknown, yet familiar-looking woman and two small children. He studied them in the hazy twilight and, unable to find any convincing solution to how these had been created, he slipped them back into the wallet and poked it into the pouch at the waist of his wet-suit. Then he wandered back to Garnet, holding the bar out to her.
“Where’s that from?”
“Me – I suppose, I mean…” He glanced at the bodies. “I feel sure he would have wanted you to have it,” he smiled. She hesitated, and then took it, eagerly breaking off three squares and cramming them into her mouth.
“That’s all there is, Claudia, so eat it sparingly,” he advised, smiling as she wolfed another row of squares. He admired the willpower that stopped her from eating the rest. “They also had a rope, which might be of some use,” he explained.
“A hover pack would be of even more use,” she tried to joke.
He smiled and nodded. “This is better than nothing. Let me have another rest and we’ll see what we can do.”
After many frustrating hours even Scarlet had to admit that there did not seem to be a way out - except through the gap in the roof and they could not reach it. Countless attempts to throw a lasso over a rock and secure it in the upper level proved unsuccessful. Finally he dropped the rope onto the floor and flopped beside the tired Garnet.
“We may have to try the sea…” he said with a grim smile.
She shook her head. “You will have to try the sea, Paul. I don’t have the strength and there is only one set of air tanks anyway. If you get out and… don’t survive, you’d be able to recover enough to let people know where I am and they’d come get me.”
He sighed. She was right, of course, and because she was so weak he knew he would have to do it soon - if she was to be rescued. But he hated the thought of leaving her.
Sensing his reluctance, she leant against his arm and sighed, “I’m not scared, Paul. I had long resigned myself to my death before you came. But I am glad you did come and even if I die before you manage to rescue me, I won’t blame you. I feel privileged to have known you - the great Captain Scarlet!”
He hugged her. “The honour has been mine, Claudia; you’re a pretty special person.”
She broke the last squares of the chocolate in half and offered one portion to him. “Please, share it with me.”
He turned his face to hers and she slipped the square into his mouth, he caught it in his teeth and she smiled as he kissed her grubby fingers. Then he caught her chin in his hand and tilted her head back. He bent his head to hers and kissed her lips, gently sliding the chocolate into her mouth and winking as he pulled away. She blushed and chewed it.
Shortly afterwards she began to drift into sleep and he cradled her against his side, tears pricking at his eyes as he stroked her dark hair. There was nothing he could do, except offer what comfort he could. He knew his turn would come and eventually there would be four bodies in this enclosed world. He closed his eyes and rested his head against hers.