As a consequence of three captains being involved in the Volcano mission - and Captain Scarlet’s consequential disappearance whilst on active duty - everyone was facing additional duty shifts back on Cloudbase. Yet Captain Blue detected nothing but concern for their missing colleague from the personnel that he encountered as he made his way to the Control Room.
Colonel White had decided to debrief Blue and Grey immediately on their return. As he listened to his officers’ reports, he quickly realised that whilst Blue’s report laid the blame for the accident that led to Scarlet’s disappearance on himself, Grey’s report indicated strongly that Blue was no more or less to blame than the rest of them.
Finally satisfied that he knew as much about the whole mission as he ever would do, he dismissed them, but as they reached the door he called out, “Captain Blue, a word if you please.”
Blue returned to stand before the desk, obviously expecting to be reprimanded. The colonel looked at his officer with some concern. He was well aware that Blue tended to assume the responsibility for Scarlet’s ‘mishaps’ a little too readily at times. He suspected the American felt some guilt that his partner was always the one to take the risks – often with fatal consequences. Even knowing the unusual circumstances attached to Captain Scarlet, it would be a natural enough feeling; especially as the two men had become close during the years they had worked together.
“Sit down, Captain.” White invited. “I have heard your reports and drawn my own conclusions – which we do not need to discuss. What we do need to discuss, however, is how we are going to get him back…”
Blue’s relieved grin lit his face and he looked more optimistic than he had since he returned to the base. “Yes sir, Colonel.”
“You believe we can retrieve him?”
“Absolutely - even if the initial accident killed him, he’d revive and he must be holed up somewhere. Whilst I was diving, sir, I saw the entrances to several caves along the foot of the volcano – it is conceivable that there maybe a pocket of air trapped in one. I would like to go back and investigate the possibility. If he is in there, we have to try to get him out, sir.”
“Hmm, well, this time we’ll do it my way, Captain. No sneaking off to… what was it Green told me? – biological research establishments in Maryland...”
Blue squirmed at this reference to the time Scarlet had – apparently -- been thrown out of Spectrum for gambling debts. Determined to discover where his friend had gone, and why his behaviour had been so out-of-character, Blue had left Cloudbase armed with his cheque book and without permission, to try to find his friend and solve the dilemma he was in. The colonel had been surprisingly good-natured about it afterwards - largely because his plan had banked on the fact that Blue would try to help his friend – but Blue knew such incidents of insubordination did not get forgotten.
“Yes sir…” he mumbled.
White’s lips tightened as he fought his smile. “We still need to find the remnants of the volcanic pacifier if possible; I don’t like the idea of its being found by anyone but Spectrum, Captain. We don’t know who was financing the scientist’s research, but the machine’s potential for misuse is too great for us to ignore. However, Spectrum is not really equipped for such a job and I propose to request the assistance of the WASPs in retrieving it. I cannot let Captain Grey handle the matter – he is too well-known by members of the service and it would jeopardise his cover – but you are the next most accomplished diver we have and you also know what they’ll be looking for. Whilst they are scanning the sea bed for the machine, you can look for Captain Scarlet.”
“Yes sir, thank you, Colonel.”
“You will need an assistant, I think. That, in itself, could present a problem. With you and Scarlet away from Cloudbase, I will need all my other senior officers here. I am still not convinced this Mysteron threat is over and done with. I may be a pessimist, but it seems to have been dealt with far too easily. However, there are few Lieutenants with much diving experience, and none of them are entirely familiar with Captain Scarlet’s… abilities. That only leaves the Angels…” White was having a damned hard job not to grin at the expressions flitting across his officer’s face. “I’m not sure if any of them are experienced divers…are you aware if any of them have the necessary skills? Captain Grey speaks very eloquently on the dangerous nature of the tides in that area; it won’t be an easy job.”
“Well sir, I have been giving Symphony some lessons… in diving,” Blue stammered.
The colonel raised his eyebrows. “Have you? That must explain why you two keep having the same furloughs then…” Blue flushed. “Perhaps you had better take her along… to lend a hand.”
“Yes sir, Colonel.”
“You should call Marineville and speak to Commander Shore and ask him for a crew to help with the search… Dismiss, Captain Blue and … good luck with your search.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Captain Scarlet wasn’t sure what woke him, but he heard voices, in the distance - quite definitely voices. Angry voices… Gently he laid Garnet on the sand and crawled towards the opening in the roof above the dead bodies. The voices became clearer.
“We’ve gone far enough…this is a wild goose chase.” It was a man’s voice, American and vaguely familiar, despite the distortion of the echo.
“Just to the next cave, please? It can’t hurt to try a last one.” A woman’s voice this time, English, by the accent, and less familiar.
“You’re too soft-hearted, Flax,” the man said.
“You wouldn’t want her to die, now would you? Well, would you? Oh no, you wouldn’t! Now, shift that rock - there’s a dear.”
“I am not a dear!”
“How right you are…”
Slowly the rocks above them moved. A few fell onto the sand, crashing onto the narrow beach.
“Watch it!” Scarlet yelled.
“We’ve found them! I told you we would. Scarlet, Garnet! Are you there?”
“Yes, we’re both here, but Garnet is weak. She’ll need help.”
The voices faded slightly although he could tell the female was shouting, “Get ropes, quickly - and a stretcher. Alert medical we have incoming wounded! Yes, we’ve found them both! Tell the colonel!”
Scarlet crawled back to Garnet and shook her awake, encouraging her to crawl towards the hole. “We’ve been rescued, Claudia! Just a little way and they’ll save you.”
Waiting impatiently for their rescuers beneath the hole in the cave roof, he knew there would be questions about the other bodies. Perhaps the rescue squad would know more? After all, he couldn’t be sure that the Mysterons hadn’t been trying to accomplish their threat by an alternative means whilst he’d been incarcerated here. They’d want to use the Mysteron detector on Garnet, sure enough… he glanced at Claudia, there was renewed hope in her tired face and she was staring at the ceiling with wide eyes.
Eventually he saw movement and a rope was dropped into the cave, then a tawny coloured boot appeared and he recognised the strong figure of Captain Ochre and the identity of one voice was resolved.
“Ochre - am I glad to see you!” Scarlet stood to grab the rope Ochre was sliding down.
Captain Ochre turned his dark eyes on him and said coldly, “Well, I guess even I am a better option than dying down here.” He looked at Garnet, who was sitting, trembling, by Scarlet’s feet. His glance at Scarlet was heavy with reproof. “They’re sending a sling; we’ll have you out of here soon enough, Claudia.” He stooped to her side and reached a hand to touch her face. She turned away, alarmed at his familiarity.
Scarlet stared in uncertainty. As far as he knew, Ochre had never met Garnet and here he was addressing her like some long lost friend. Perhaps he knew her from his pre-Spectrum days, but if so, why hadn’t Garnet mentioned it? He waited, watching as unseen people in the cave above sent down a canvas sling. Ochre carried Garnet to it, fastening her in with such a solemn tenderness that it was obvious, even to the bemused Scarlet, that he had deep feelings for her. Both men watched as the sling rose in a series of jerks into the cave above and several pairs of arms bent to assist Garnet to safety.
Once she was safe, Scarlet turned to Ochre and said, “There is something you ought to see, over by the rocks there… I think they may be Mysterons…”
Ochre peered into semi-darkness and squinted. “What exactly am I looking for? There is nothing there, Scarlet.”
Scarlet peered into the gloom. He rubbed his eyes. He knew his night-vision was better than average – another result of his Mysteronisation was enhanced senses – and even he could not see the bodies. He moved a little closer to get a better view of the dark niche and could not prevent a gasp – all he could see was the imprint in the sand where the bodies had been.
Ochre heard the gasp and turned cold eyes on him. “Have you got a problem, Lieutenant?”
Lieutenant? Scarlet’s tired mind reminded him of the identity pass in the name of Lieutenant Scarlet. He’s pretending we’re the people whose bodies we found. Why would he do that, unless this is part of some elaborate hoax? he thought angrily. Damn you, Richard Fraser, just you wait till I get back to base and get some rest – I’ll make you pay for this!
“Mind you, after all of this, you’ll be lucky if White doesn’t bust you down to private,” Ochre continued. He looked up as the rope descended again. “Get up there, if you can, before I change my mind and leave you here.”
Too confused to argue, Scarlet made a stirrup in the rope and slid his foot into it, allowing the unseen officers in the cave above them to pull him upwards. It had been an exhausting regeneration and he was hungry and extremely thirsty. He certainly did not have the strength to shin up the rope unaided. For once, he thought, I might not even protest about Doctor Fawn’s tendency to cosset me when I get back to Cloudbase – right now a long sleep in a comfortable bed seems like a wonderful idea.
A pair of arms grabbed him and heaved him into a cave very similar to the one he had just left. He rolled away from the edge as the rope was thrown down once more and glanced around at the people there. He didn’t recognise most of them, they must be local agents, he thought, but he did know the only woman amongst the group. Lieutenant Flaxen gave him a rueful smile and turned anxious eyes on the emerging Captain Ochre, but before he looked at her, the expression had changed to one of tolerant reproof.
“You okay, Captain?” she asked him in an off-hand tone that belied her previous concern.
“Never better, Flax, how about the Scarlet Pimpernel here?” Ochre scrambled upright and stared with irritation at Scarlet.
Flaxen smiled. “‘That damned elusive Pimpernel’” she quoted with a grin at the American officer. When she looked at Scarlet it was with a much less tolerant gaze. “Well, Lieutenant Scarlet, I guess we can wait until we’re back on Cloudbase before we hear your explanation for all this. You are lucky we carried on looking for you - and you can thank Lieutenant Garnet that we did. If you’d been alone, we’d have gone home hours ago. Can you walk?”
“I think so,” Scarlet muttered sourly. If this was their idea of a joke, he didn’t think much of it.
“Come on, then,” she urged. “I’ve had enough of this place to last me a lifetime.”
He struggled to his feet and stood unsteadily as a tremor rocked the mountain. As he looked downwards, through the roof of the cavern, the distant floor beneath him distorted and shimmered as he heard the powerful pounding of the waves on the shingle beach and the rattle of stones as they were sucked back into the turbulent waters. The air crackled with a static electricity that gave him goosebumps. He blinked in disbelief as, for a split second; he thought he saw Adam, sprawled on the shingle. Before he could draw breath to call to him, the image vanished.
A firm hand grabbed his arm and he turned to see Flaxen‘s face at his side, “Steady Scarlet, you might not survive another fall down there.”
“Thank you, Flaxen,” he stammered. He saw a small frown form between her eyebrows.
Ochre’s voice cut in, “That is Captain Flaxen to you, Lieutenant. And before we go any further, Flax, I think they should both be tested with a Mysteron detector…”
Scarlet turned angry eyes on Ochre – this wasn’t something he should be making a joke about. Garnet had nearly died down there and she’d been through a lot since she disappeared. Even though they knew he would pull through, they ought to be able to see he wasn’t his normal self yet. He liked this prank less and less with every passing minute.
Scarlet was about to argue the point when Flaxen snapped, “Don’t be silly, we haven’t got one with us.” She gave Scarlet a withering glance but her tone softened slightly, “Besides, if they were Mysterons, do you think they’d be looking quite as feeble as they do? Garnet was covered in cuts and bruises and Scarlet looks washed-out. You know a Mysteron never looks like that!”
“We’ve just never seen one look like that,” Ochre argued. “If it was part of their scheming plots they could probably look like death warmed over. I want them tested, Flax, just as soon as we can!”
“Let’s get them back to Cloudbase and sort it out there,” Flaxen sighed. “I don’t like this place, it gives me the creeps.”
“It’s not the place, it’s the company,” Ochre muttered and started his walk across the boulder-strewn cave.
Flaxen stared with some exasperation after the captain. She glanced at Scarlet who was looking in confusion at them both. “Ignore him, Lieutenant. He’s just being his usual grumpy self. Can you walk? Take my arm if you need to…”
Scarlet declined her offer of assistance with some haughtiness and he set off after Ochre, determined to make the journey under his own steam.
As he staggered across to the distant exit, he could see entrances to many more tunnels all around this enormous cavern. There were holes leading into further caves beneath this one and above him the roof was laced with dozens of apertures of various sizes, many opening to a bright, sunlit sky beyond. The light filtered down through them, highlighting the rocks and crevices and throwing grotesque and somehow threatening shadows on the floor and distant walls. Even as they walked, they could feel the ground trembling, and the echoes made by distant rock falls combined with an almost subliminal rumbling to make the heavy, sulphur-drenched atmosphere disturbingly menacing. The air was bitter with the smell of volcanic gases mixed with rotting seaweed… there must have been occasions when even this cavern was under water.
Captain Scarlet shivered despite the excessive heat. The whole place is as unstable as a house of cards, he thought. It won’t take much to make the whole network of caves and tunnels collapse in on itself.
His mind, tired and bemused as it was by his tough recovery, was struggling to make sense of recent events. Either someone had orchestrated a pretty pointless practical joke - and the nature of this joke wasn’t typical of Ochre - or something very strange was happening. He wondered why Ochre was leading the rescue party, where Blue and Grey had gone and why Flaxen was there. If anyone had been with Ochre it ought, by rights, to be Captain Magenta – because those two were as much a team as he and Blue.
As they climbed slowly upwards towards the main exit, he registered the increasingly powerful pulse of the vibrations he had first noticed when he’d been alone with Garnet. The nature of the pulse and the fact that it was rhythmical led him to believe his first deduction had been correct and that this was the signature of a third volcanic pacifier. His alarm increased as neither Ochre nor Flaxen seemed unduly worried by the fact that the machine was working. Given what they had learned about the Mysterons’ threat and Gaspari’s plans, he felt sure an attempt should be made to deactivate it as soon as possible.
“Is someone going to stop that machine?” he asked. It is possible that’s where Blue and Grey are, he thought, rather irritated at being kept in ignorance of events.
Ochre gave a disparaging snort and turned to him, his dark eyes bright with anger, “I thought better of you, Scarlet, I thought you at least had held out against the Agency and their scheming. If I had had my way, when we found out what you were trying to do, I would have left you here to rot!” Flaxen tried to calm him but to no avail. “How dare you involve Claudia in the Agency’s foul schemes? She quit Cloudbase to avoid that filth and you drag her back into the mire!” he railed.
Flaxen laid a restraining hand on Ochre’s arm. “You have no proof he’s with the Agency, you know you don’t! The colonel told us Scarlet was convinced that the machine had to be switched off – he wouldn’t even explain it to White. Now, if he was out to do the Agency’s dirty work, would he have told the colonel where he was going? And, in all honesty, would he have involved Claudia? Well, would he? You’re letting your personal emotions cloud your judgement, Richard…. It’s really not like you.”
Ochre turned away, shaking her hand off. With a sigh she spoke to the mystified Scarlet in a far more conciliatory tone, “Lieutenant, the machine is preventing the biggest eruption forecast in a decade. There is no way any one of the Spectrum personnel down here would let you get within spitting distance of that machine, given your stated aim is to destroy it! We are here to protect lives by protecting that machine. I’d advise you not to pursue it any further and then maybe you’ll have a job at the end of all this.”
“Huh, catch Whitey throwing out another Brit!” Ochre glared across at him. “Personally I would like to see you booted out of the whole organisation, but I suppose the old school tie will come into play again and you’ll get off with another reprimand. You Brits infest the place like ‘roaches.”
“Shut it, Ochre! Or have you forgotten that I’m a Brit too?” Flaxen spoke with considerable vehemence. “You make me sick! All of you Yanks think you are so damned superior and without any good reason too! Just remember what nationality Magenta and Blue are before you cast stones at the English! Sometimes, of all the Americans on the base you are the worst, Richard Fraser!”
“Did I ever tell you how pretty you look when you’re mad at me?” Ochre laughed. “Sorry Audrey, I don’t think of you with the rest of them.”
He strolled on ahead and Scarlet, standing close to Flaxen, heard the sadness in her voice as she murmured, “No, you don’t think of me at all, more’s the pity…”
Nothing had become any clearer by the time the SPJ arrived at Cloudbase. Scarlet spent the flight back trying to make sense of the last few hours. Ochre’s belligerence towards him continued and Flaxen was too preoccupied with the plane to curb his antagonism. Garnet was sleeping on the emergency medical bed, an intravenous drip attached to her arm. It was noticeable how frequently Ochre came back to check on her; although how he could possibly know her remained a mystery. Scarlet tried his best to ignore him, consoling himself with the thought that when the colonel debriefed him, he could use the opportunity to complain about his colleague’s erratic behaviour. He rather hoped Doctor Fawn would insist on his remaining in the peace of sickbay for the night, so that apart from his usual visits from Blue and Rhapsody, he needn’t see anyone until he felt better.
The SPJ landed on the hangar nearest to sick bay. Usually, if he was conscious and able, he insisted on walking to his medical check-up, but this time he climbed onto the gurney Fawn had sent with a feeling of relief. He lay back and charted their progress along the corridor by the numbers of ceiling lights that passed overhead. Once in sick bay, Fawn chose to deal with Garnet first, and Scarlet lay quietly, his mind still puzzling on the strangeness of his homecoming. Staring distractedly at the wall of the men’s ward, it gradually dawned on him that the wall calendar was from last year and no one had bothered to update it. He’d have to remember to tease the ultra-efficient Fawn about it later.
That set his mind off on a trail of memories and he recollected an instance - a couple of years ago now – following Black’s return from Mars, when the Mysterons had made an attempt to trick a senior officer into betraying Spectrum. They had tried to make Captain Blue believe that he was being interrogated by Spectrum Intelligence after an unauthorised absence from duty. Blue had grown increasingly suspicious and finally, desperate to avoid the threat of being subjected to a truth serum, he had trusted his hunch that this place was not what it seemed, and thrown himself through the glass of the ‘Control Room’s’ observation tubes. He had only fallen a few tens of feet, landing on a huge screen, where a sky-scape of clouds was being projected to create the illusion of height. Dazed and shaken by his fall, Blue had staggered from the warehouse he was being held in, to discover Scarlet had just arrived in a SPV. His partner had tracked him down, after his disappearance from the waterside restaurant where they’d shared a relaxing off-duty meal. Blue’s coffee had been drugged with a powerful sedative, presumably by a Mysteronised waiter, and the unconscious officer had been spirited away when Scarlet went to collect their coats.
He had been fortunate in picking up the trail quickly and having collected an SPV he’d driven to the semi-derelict warehouse, determined to rescue his friend. Once Blue was safely clear, he had destroyed the fake Cloudbase.
Afterwards, back on the real Cloudbase, he had gone along to sick bay, delighted to be the one doing the visiting, for once. Blue had been tucked up in bed, his dislocated shoulder bandaged against his chest and the wooziness created by the abductors’ sedative quite worn off. Unusually for Adam, he had questioned the decision to destroy the warehouse, arguing that they might have interrogated the men to some advantage. When Scarlet had finally pointed out that once a plan failed, Mysteron agents tended to - quite literally - drop dead as their masters removed their control from the replicas, the invalid had sunk into a moody silence.
The incident had unsettled Blue profoundly and Scarlet could remember the earnest way his partner, in his de-briefing, had explained just how he had become increasingly distrustful of the unfriendly man pestering him to reveal the cipher codes.
It was rare for the Mysterons to repeat a scenario from their ‘war of nerves’, but what if this situation was another such elaborate attempt, this time to get him to reveal classified information - or much worse - to betray him into the Mysterons’ control once more? He vowed to stay alert and on guard until he understood why things seemed so… different.
When Fawn arrived to do his medical he was surprisingly off-hand and what was more, he too maintained the pretence of calling him Lieutenant. Scarlet was more irritated than ever and - especially as Fawn usually refused to take part in Ochre’s tricks - he resented that the doctor saw fit to join in now, when his most frequent patient was really not feeling as well as he expected to. After his examination Fawn signed him off-duty for forty-eight hours, telling him to go to his quarters and rest. Scarlet was surprised - it wasn’t like Fawn to pass the opportunity to run tests on his retrometabolism. Too tired, and too offended, to argue, he dressed and left the sick-bay without saying good-bye.
Walking along the corridors he began to wonder if it would not be wise to check where exactly his quarters were supposed to be… as this ‘joke’ seemed to be wide-spread maybe he was being set up for some ‘surprise’ or other. Besides, all this uncertainty was starting to unsettle him.
He wandered into the library and called up the assigned quarters file on the computer – relieved to see his passwords still worked. If he was supposed to be a lieutenant he wouldn’t be entitled to a room on Captain’s Row - as it was called informally – and he couldn’t believe Ochre would have dared to tamper with the base records just for a joke. He punched in his name and code number and was amazed to see that his room was listed as being on the lower deck rather than in the control towers where he expected it to be. With increasing alarm he checked the allocation of rooms on Captain’s Row and found Blue was in his usual room, with Ochre next to him on one side and Grey on the other. Across the corridor where he expected his room to be, sandwiched between Magenta and Fawn, was Captain Flaxen. Good job I didn’t go home then, he thought ruefully. With no heart for this confusion any more, he wandered miserably to his allotted quarters – half expecting Ochre and his co-conspirators to leap out at him when he opened the door.
His password released the lock and cautiously he walked inside. The furniture in the narrow, windowless room was familiar enough. He spent some time wandering around looking for the things he expected to have in his room – and everything was there – although the book on his bedside table was one he remembered reading some time ago. With an air of resolution he turned to his diary - not his duty diary, of which he could find no sign - but the personal one he had started keeping after his encounter with the Mysterons. His mother had given him the diary when he started Spectrum and it was really just a heavy leather-bound book. He had not bothered to write in it until after the events at the Car-Vu, when he found it helped him come to terms with the strange circumstances of his new life. Somehow it formed a kind of compensation for the missing six hours when he could not recall what he had been doing.
The diary was where he kept it and a quick glance at the pages showed he had been writing in it. If this is anything except an elaborate hoax by everyone in Spectrum this will explain it, he thought.
He settled down to read it and after the first few pages he looked up in surprise and disbelief. He didn’t remember writing this and the date given was the same year as the calendar in sick bay. Some incidents were the same as he remembered, but not everything by a long chalk. He switched on the Spectrum computer on his small desk and checked the date on that…. It was last year!
Unnerved, he stooped automatically to the bottom shelf of his bookcase and moved one volume to reveal his malt whisky. He poured himself a small glass and settled down once more with his diary. Several hours later, the whisky was untouched as Scarlet finished the diary entries - which stopped about a week ago. He couldn’t believe what he’d read, but he knew it was his writing and that – however determined he was to play one of his pranks – Ochre would never have stooped to actually violating another person’s privacy.
Once his mind had recovered from its surprise, Scarlet allowed himself to start thinking the unthinkable. Over the years he had seen countless Science Fiction films and TV programmes about alternative realities and pan-dimensional universes, and he was not unaware of the theories the concept had spawned. In fact, it hadn’t been so very long ago that he, Blue and Doctor Fawn had been talking about just such a possibility.
Blue had walked in to the Officer’s Lounge, carrying a magazine and with his habitual courtesy he had returned to the doctor.
“What did you make of it” Fawn had asked. He was paying one of his rare visits – Scarlet suspected it was a way to check up on his recovery after a nasty incident with a chemical spillage.
“He makes it sound… plausible,” Blue had replied. Then, for his partner’s benefit, he had explained that the article in question was by an eccentric physicist exploring the possibilities of parallel universes. “Doc leant me the magazine to read, whilst I was waiting for you to….wake up, yesterday. I hadn’t finished it by the time you surfaced, but I managed to read the rest while I was duty officer last night. It’s quite thought provoking - not only does Professor Coombs believe these alternatives exist, he believes they can be accessed and – possibly – exploited to our advantage.”
“And you think that is plausible?” he had scoffed.
“I have an open mind about it,” Blue had confessed. “It is fascinating to think that there might be countless alternative Worlds out there. Hundreds of Paul Metcalfes, dozens of Cloudbases and regrettably, even a couple of Richard Frasers!”
He remembered how Adam’s laugh had been rather forced – he had been the butt of Captain Ochre’s pranks rather a lot lately. He rather regretted bursting Blue’s enthusiastic bubble, but he had had to say it:
“And hundreds of Captain Blacks?”
The lively, good-natured and largely pointless discussion that had ensued had lasted until suppertime. At the end of it all, Scarlet remained sceptical – especially about the possibility of gaining access to these unlikely Worlds - but here he was in the classic situation of being a stranger in his own life.
Scarlet caught sight of his reflection in the plain wall mirror. “What was it Sherlock Holmes said?” he asked his frowning reflection. “‘When you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?’ Well, okay then, Sherlock, let’s put it to the test."
He placed the book on the table and walked to the tiny shower-room. He found a razor blade, steeled himself and made a cut cross the middle finger of his left hand. The stinging pain made him wince and he watched the blood welling up from the deep incision. Seconds later, the bright red blood splattered onto the brilliant-white ceramic sink, and he sucked at his finger before he ran it under the cold water tap for a moment. Then he waited. As he expected it to, the blood stopped flowing almost immediately and the scar tissues formed across the cut. Minutes later the cut was virtually healed. He sat on the bed and stared at his hands.
His entries into the diary had spoken of how the Mysterons had murdered Captain Ochre – Spectrum’s security expert - and his partner, Captain Brown, and how Ochre had subsequently kidnapped the World President. Captain Blue had trailed the fugitive, and his prisoner, to the London Car-Vu where, after a vicious gun battle, Ochre had fallen to the ground. The body had been brought back to Cloudbase – he had flown the plane with Blue and the World President in the passengers’ seats. Ochre had recovered from the fall – Ochre had been restored to Spectrum – Ochre was the one with the ‘gift’ of retrometabolism!
He found it hard to assimilate the information - and impossible to reconcile with the fact that his finger now looked as if it had never been cut. He knew he still retained his retrometabolic skills but he had to come to terms with the fact that - here and now – it seemed as if Ochre shared that accursed gift. Although, he had no proof that this was true, beyond the diary entries. Ever since the start of his retrometabolism he had experienced a feeling of nausea and shakiness in the presence of other Mysteronised objects – like a sixth sense warning him of their presence. It was not always accurate, but given his proximity to the man and the time he had spent in Ochre’s company, he’d have expected some twinge. But he had felt nothing. Perhaps that sense would not function if he was in another dimension?
At least the diary explained why Doctor Fawn had shown no expectation that he would see signs of retrometabolism. Scarlet pulled off the plasters and bandages - which prudence had made him retain - from the cuts and bruises Fawn had dressed. The skin beneath them was unblemished.
He knew who he was and he knew who Garnet had said she was – and he believed her. He had certainly not experienced the dizziness of his ‘sixth sense’, whilst they had been in the cave together. Of the people he had met since his rescue, Ochre, Flaxen, Fawn and everyone else he had met looked and behaved much as he expected them to - or almost. There were subtle differences if you thought about it - Ochre was moodier than expected, stroppy almost and apparently romantically involved with a Lieutenant he shouldn’t even know. Flaxen was a calm, efficient officer, who had flown the SPJ without a qualm. Garnet had been in charge at Naples - that was the same - and he had recruited her help.
There were copious references to her early in the diary, when she must’ve been on Cloudbase. He recalled Ochre’s comment about her leaving to avoid the Agency’s schemes - that rang true at least, even if he didn’t know which schemes she was keen to avoid. He shifted uneasily as he remembered how the diary had spoken of Lieutenant Garnet in glowing terms and, eventually, with much affection. It seemed that his ‘other self’ was very much in love with the young American, so much so that they had become engaged before she left for Naples. It might even explain the impulse he had had to comfort her in such a physical way in the cave, and the pleasure he had taken in kissing her. He thought guiltily of Rhapsody Angel; there was no mention of her in this diary, apart from a few casual remarks about ‘The Angels’ in general and one complaint that she was a snob.
As for himself - Spectrum’s Premier Agent, as the media insisted on referring to him – he was an ordinary Lieutenant. Scarlet frowned, from his reading of the diary; his other self sounded a somewhat self-important man, full of his own concerns and with an arrogant assumption that he knew better than his colleagues. He knew that some people thought of him as pushy, people who didn’t know of his ‘unique’ circumstances, and couldn’t understand why he got assigned to so many missions. He wasn’t unaware of the - not uncommon - belief that he was deliberately hogging the limelight and that Blue was being overlooked because of it. It wasn’t the case, he knew that and so did Blue. He couldn’t find a logical explanation for the situation he was in – or any explanation at all - other than this ‘parallel world’ theory.
What was even more frustrating was that, in situations like these, he invariably turned to Captain Blue and together they’d brainstorm a solution to fit the known facts. Here, he was not sure what to do because it was likely Blue would be as different as everyone else. There were no references at all to Adam and fewer than he’d expected to Captain Blue, even though they seemed to have had some contact during and immediately after the World President’s abduction. From this evidence it would appear that he and Adam were not the good friends they ought to be.
He lay on the narrow bed and stared moodily at the ceiling, his mind reviewing the known facts. Basically, as far as everyone here was concerned, he was not the person he knew he ought to be and no one, except him, was surprised. After a time he sat up, this was getting him nowhere. He glanced at his reflection. The face that looked back was the face he knew, black-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed, cleft chin - in need of a shave again – but it was looking tired and dispirited.
He stripped and stood for an age under a hot shower, and then he shaved, and brushed his teeth. He felt better physically, looked much better but still felt as confused as ever.
Damn it, he thought, purposely dressing himself in the smartest uniform in the wardrobe. I don’t care if it isn’t the Adam I know it ought to be… I have to talk this through with someone… and it isn’t going to be Ochre!
As he walked along the corridors, he nodded at familiar faces and was largely ignored for his trouble. At the end of ‘Captain’s Row’ he hesitated and sent up a quick plea to the Fates that Blue would be the same. Then he rang the bell and waited.
He could hear movement in the room and shifted from foot to foot as the delay dragged on. He was about to knock when he heard the internal lock being activated and the door started to slide open. His jaw dropped as he saw a tall, blonde woman smiling quizzically at him.
“Captain Blue?” he croaked as his heart sank.
She turned with a languid grace and called, “Adam, honey, it’s for you.”
Scarlet breathed again. He glanced into the room to see the familiar broad-shouldered figure of Captain Blue emerging from the bathroom, buttoning a shirt.
The blond man glanced at the open door with a slight frown, which deepened noticeably as he saw who was waiting to speak to him. His head went back and he drew himself up, with an almost defensive air.
“What can I do for you, Lieutenant Scarlet?” he asked sharply.
“Please, sir, I need to speak to you - privately. If that is convenient,” he added, made acutely aware that he was the subordinate here by Blue’s reaction.
The American shrugged. “Sure, come on in. I’ll see you tomorrow, Heidi.”
The woman, who Scarlet now noticed, was wearing a white medical uniform but extremely impractical shoes, nodded briskly, “And make sure to do those exercises I’ve shown you - or the shoulder muscles will seize up again.” She massaged his right shoulder. “You are a naughty man, Captain, I expect my patients to do as I tell them and to behave themselves. Even I can only do so much for you without your co-operation and I can’t tell Doctor Fawn you are fit for duty unless you exercise.”
Blue grimaced as he tucked the shirt into the top of his denims. “Yeah, well, I can’t promise - but I’ll try to make the time. I have a date tonight.”
“You should not have time for dates if you can’t do my exercises! You are the very limit, Adam!” She stood on tiptoe and kissed the tall man’s cheek. “Who’s the lucky girl?”
“Oh, it’s just Rhapsody Angel.”
Scarlet froze - Rhapsody! Oh no, please not that!
“That’s the second time this week, isn’t it?” Heidi said with a wink.
“Yeah, she’s on a crusade to get me to take her to Glyndebourne - they’re doing ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and she wants me to meet her folks there.” Blue gave a heartfelt sigh and assumed an expression of patient suffering.
Heidi laughed, “What it is to be the answer to a maiden’s prayers, eh, Adam?”
Blue sighed again and lowered his blue eyes modestly.
Scarlet watched this by-play in astonishment. Adam never flirted like this and he knew how deeply Rhapsody loathed doing what she called ‘the whole opera-as-a-social-event-scene’.
Well, HIS Rhapsody did… he thought ruefully.
“Well, enjoy yourself and if you can’t be good - be damned careful!”
“Heidi, you know I am always good,” Blue leered as he ushered her out. He turned his back to the closed door and gave an exasperated sigh. “Thank goodness, I thought she would never go. I owe you one for your timely intervention, Scarlet.” He glanced at his visitor and moved away to his desk, to stand looking at him with some wariness.
“Your shoulder is giving you trouble?” Scarlet asked with an assumed air of casualness. Blue did not move like a man in pain, nor was he favouring his ‘injured’ shoulder.
“Yeah, some. I think she enjoys pummelling me too much to let the shoulder actually heal up.”
“Is she new?”
“Heidi? Goodness no, she’s been here for ages - I thought she must’ve got her talons into everyone by now. I guess you’ve been lucky, Lieutenant, if you’ve avoided ‘Heidi, the Hanoverian Crusher’ until now. The Waffen SS would have turned her down for being too brutal.” Blue seemed amused.
“It must be doing you good if it’s hurting that much,” Scarlet suggested cagily.
“That’s what Heidi says…” He waited a moment and then said briskly, “What can I do for you, Lieutenant? I really do have that dinner date.”
“I would like you to listen to what I have to say - without interrupting me – and see what you make of it.”
“Scarlet, if this is about the volcanic pacifier…” Blue snapped.
“No, it isn’t - well not directly,” Scarlet interrupted. “Please Adam; I need your advice…” He cursed himself for using the man’s Christian name, but Blue seemed unperturbed. He gave a brisk nod and sat himself down in a comfortably upholstered armchair but his body language revealed a tension not apparent in his words.
“You have my undivided attention, Metcalfe, at least until I have to change for dinner.”
“Thank you… well it’s like this….”
By the time Scarlet had finished speaking Blue was leaning forward in his chair with an expression of disbelief on his handsome face. “Have you seen Fawn since you got back from Etna?” he asked making no attempt to hide his scepticism.
“Yes I have, so don’t go making out you think I’m going crazy - although much more of this and I think I will be! “ Scarlet bristled. Then to his surprise, Blue fired off a series of detailed questions which proved that not only had he been listening, but he had cut to the very nub of the problem. Scarlet did his best to answer honestly, knowing better than to bluff Captain Blue. It was reassuring to find that this man’s mind was as sharp as that of the man he knew as Adam Svenson.
Finally the American leant back and dragged a hand through his hair with a gesture so familiar to Scarlet that he had to smile.
“You have to admit it’s hard to believe,” he said. “A parallel existence - another you and another me and,” he spread his hands, “all of this…” Blue sprang up from his chair and began to pace around his quarters.
Feeling drained, Scarlet sat back in the other armchair and let tiredness wash over him. I shouldn’t be feeling like this so long after the accident, he thought. I might have to speak to Doctor Fawn, however risky that seems. But, now he had explained his predicament and his fears and shared the problem, he felt a little better and the fact that it was Adam who had listened was, somehow, comforting - even though he knew this could not be the right Adam.
He was not unduly worried by his companion’s silence. He was used to his friend’s propensity to withdraw into himself when he was wrestling with a knotty problem, and, as he waited for the response, he amused himself by glancing around the room - playing a version of spot the difference…
Real Adam’s room was decorated in a style that Scarlet classified as ‘unpretentious luxury’. Whilst he had retained Cloudbase’s standard issue furniture he had, by the addition of a few select objects, managed to turn his quarters into a personal sanctuary from the sometimes harsh realities of life within Spectrum. But whereas the real room only had few touches of expensive chic, this room was opulent. There were heavy Persian rugs on the floor and a variety of pictures around the walls. Yet there were still enough similarities for Scarlet to feel at home - for instance - the sound system was the same, an expensive example of the engineers’ art with maximum technology tastefully housed in minimalist design. There were scores of books on the crowded bookcase and a sophisticated personal computer on the desk, as well as the Spectrum issue machine. One object conspicuous by its absence in either room was a TV. If Adam watched any broadcasts he did it in the Officers’ Lounge with everyone else. This fact annoyed Symphony immensely, as she openly admitted that she enjoyed watching TV in bed at the end of her shift. Scarlet smiled to himself, he remembered the look of mortified forbearance on Adam’s face as she had continued to complain that she frequently missed her favourite programmes, just because he refused to install a set.
Cheered by this memory of his friends, Scarlet turned his attention to his companion. He was much as expected, although - Scarlet frowned at the pacing man and concentrated - this Adam was ‘sharper’ somehow. As he stared, concentrating only on identifying the differences, he realised, with a slight sense of shock, that the hair style was different. It was the same shade of blond, which Adam always referred to, disparagingly, as straw-coloured, but it was slicked back from his high forehead and emphatic eyebrows. Scarlet hid a grin. Unless he was very much mistaken, this man’s eyebrows had been … shaped.
Captain Blue was wearing a plain white shirt; open at the neck and with the discreet logo of a top designer on the breast pocket. The sleeves were rolled back to his mid fore-arm and his left arm was encircled by a gold wristwatch, rather than the usual Spectrum issue one. As he turned once more, the light caught three plain gold rings on his long fingers. Scarlet was in little doubt that his fingernails would be well-manicured, in that, at least, the tastes of the two coincided. His denim jeans were the latest ‘must-have’ brand and were fastened by a crocodile leather belt - that was, almost certainly, real crocodile. His trainers were the latest word in casual footwear that probably cost more than it was decent to contemplate.
Even accepting he is off-duty, that is pretty dressy, Scarlet mused. He came to the conclusion that, whereas Real Adam took care never to flaunt his wealth, this Adam didn’t even attempt to hide the fact. He wondered if there were any other changes in his friend and examined the man’s face once more as he walked past.
This time Blue noticed his stare and asked, “Is something wrong?”
“No, of course not. I just realised - the scar - it’s not there.”
“Real Adam, I mean the one I know… I knew…?” Blue waved the confusion away. “He has a scar along his forehead and he wears his hair forward to cover it. You don’t have the scar… did you have plastic surgery on it?”
“I have never had a scar!” Blue replied scathingly, adding, with a note of suspicion in his voice, “Did he say how he got it?”
“Hmmm, he fell down a disused well.”
“He fell down a well?” Blue stopped pacing and stared long and hard at Scarlet before saying with obvious anger, “That is not funny, Metcalfe - you are going too far! “
“He told me himself when I asked him how he came by it. He never went into details, but then he doesn’t discuss personal matters with any willingness.” Scarlet defended himself with some asperity. Why should Blue get so shirty over that long past incident?
“Then you have it wrong - this ‘real Adam’ has tripped up! It was my brother – Peter – who fell into a disused well, not me! He went missing while we were on holiday in the countryside and that is where they eventually found his body - at the bottom of a well. I was nine years old and he was five.” Blue’s eyes narrowed.
“See – it’s happening again!” Scarlet cried. “Things are all skewed! You say it was your brother and not you- but I know it was you! You survived the ordeal and Peter’s now grown up and married with a daughter and another baby expected any day now…”
“Peter survived?” Adam sat on the armchair as if his legs wouldn’t support him any longer. “He was just a little kid.” The light-blue eyes dropped to his hands and he whispered almost to himself, “I still kinda miss not having him around.”
“Adam doesn’t get on with him at all…” Scarlet confided with a rueful smile. “They argue like cat and dog.”
“No, not Pete and me… we never argued.”
“He gets on much better with his sister.”
“I don’t have a sister.”
“Kate,” Scarlet insisted.
The colour had drained from Blue’s face. “Oh my,” he breathed. “Around the time Peter died, my mother lost a baby - a little girl. They called her Kate. It was as if everything went wrong after Pete died.”
“Your kid brother - Davy…”
“Metcalfe, if you’re yanking my chain, you will pay dearly for it!”
Seeing the anger in Blue’s eyes, Scarlet didn’t doubt he meant his threat and he hastened to defend himself. “No, this is the you I know.”
Blue stood and began pacing again, glancing at his visitor every so often. Suddenly he asked, “You claim to have met these people? You know them? “
Scarlet hesitated; he did not want to lie to this man. “Adam has spoken of them and I have met his mother several times and his sister and youngest brother once, in Boston. I haven’t met Peter or his father, but all of the family that I have met have spoken of him. I swear to you - on all I hold dear, I am not lying to you, Captain.”
“You have met my mother? Do you expect me to believe that? My mother died when I was twelve years old – as is well known!” Blue spoke with a suppressed rage and turned away from the surprise and pity in the Englishman’s perceptive blue eyes.
“I did not know, I swear it. She is very much alive – where I come from - and it is not long ago that she visited my parents, at their home.” Scarlet felt a surge of sympathy for the stricken man standing before him, for he knew how close Adam was to his mother - and besides - he liked Sarah Svenson.
“And you? What about your family - are they the same ‘here’? What about your sister and her kids?” Blue had no intention of speaking further on the subject of his family; in fact he regretted showing even so much weakness.
“I don’t have a sister…” Scarlet was conscious of echoing Blue’s declaration of a few minutes ago. He frowned.
“So who did I meet at the commissioning ceremony? She said she was your sister.”
“Well, I can’t tell you her name - as far as I know, I have never had and do not have a sister. I am an only child. It is something I have always envied Adam for – his brothers and sister.” In his mind’s eye he saw the photograph from the other Scarlet’s wallet. Perhaps the unknown woman in that had been his sister?
Blue drew a deep breath and continued his pacing for several minutes. Scarlet sank back into the supportive cushions of the armchair and tried not to show his anxiety that Blue might yet reject his story.
Finally the captain stopped his pacing and said, “All right - I’ll believe you - I must be mental, but I’ll believe you! Somehow it would seem you have been ‘transported’ here from another dimension - a parallel universe - call it what you like. It must have something to do with the caves at Etna - that’s where you first started to notice things were different. What do you propose to do?”
“I hoped you might have an idea about that. But ultimately I want to get myself and Garnet back to the reality we belong in.”
“It is likely that the two of you will die, if you manage to get back there. You have no guarantee that you will be rescued. Given the time since you ‘slipped through’, your friends may have stopped looking.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Adam wouldn’t stop until he found a body.” With a sudden attack of goosebumps he remembered the bodies Garnet had discovered. Would Adam see them and, if so, would he realise they were not him and Garnet? He knew that in his world Blue would be looking for a man in a wet suit, but would it be enough to alert him that all was not as it should be? He had to hope so. He continued aloud, as much to reassure himself as to answer Blue. “He doesn’t give up easily. But I suspect you know that! Besides, neither Garnet or I belong here - in fact I think we may both already be ‘dead’ in this reality.”
Scarlet told the rest of the story about the bodies.
“Murder?” Blue seemed genuinely shocked at the information.
Scarlet shrugged. “There were two dead bodies in that cave before I arrived. All I can tell you is, as we left the cave the bodies vanished. I don’t know why that happened and I don’t pretend to understand what is happening to me now. I know I would like a chance to investigate it further and try to get back to where I belong. All things being equal, I would like the man I do this investigating with to be you – as it would have been. I accept that you may feel I have no right to ask for your help, and no right to call on a friendship which you may not wish to acknowledge. In which case, I would ask only that you respect my confidences and refrain from telling my story to anyone else on the base - for now.”
Blue gave the slightest of smiles. “God, I just don’t understand you Brits – you have such stiff upper lips I wonder you manage to eat at times! “ He looked steadily at the younger man and said, “And yet, you came here, to me, using the emotional rationale that the man you would have turned to - wherever you come from - was me.” The thought seemed to amuse him and he smiled, turning away from the Englishman’s scrutiny. He gave a rueful laugh and continued, with increasing bitterness in his voice.
. “I know people say I am just playing at this job - that I have no real commitment to Spectrum or the fight we are in - but they really know nothing of the choices made by a private individual. I have always been honest about my choice, Scarlet, I do not have to work - I chose to become a test pilot and Spectrum chose to ask me to join them. I do my job the only way I know how – and I am not prepared to be bound by the petty-fogging regulations of a military bureaucracy. If Spectrum really objects, it can dismiss me… who knows - I might even go!” There was a snort of laugher and the expressive eyes flashed towards his frowning guest, as if inviting him to share in the amusement.
Scarlet made no comment and as swiftly as it had appeared the amusement died in Blue’s face. He continued, “If you have found some way through to alternative dimensions - fluke or not - this needs to be investigated.” He could see the relief on Scarlet’s face and his smile returned. “Is there anything else you ought to tell me…Paul?”
Scarlet would have gladly told him everything then, such was his relief at finding an ally in the strange world he found himself inhabiting. Yet something - a small something - warned him that this man was still unknown and - however comforting the illusion of his being Adam Svenson was - he was not the man Paul Metcalfe knew and trusted, for he had been shaped by a different past. His words had the sound of an apologia and did not strike Scarlet as reflecting Real Adam’s thoughts and beliefs.
He drew a deep breath and, making a snap decision, shook his head.
Captain Blue demurred, sensing, perhaps, that the other man was withholding information. Then he gave a slight smile and nodded his head in acceptance. “Have you spoken of this to anyone else, Scarlet?”
“No, although, of course, Lieutenant Garnet knows as much as I do about the situation but I’m sure she is not in any state to be holding forth to anyone on how we got here.”
“Garnet? She’s in sickbay I understand? Hardly in much of a position to help you with your quest to find the way home…” Blue didn’t hide his amusement this time. “Why, do you think, do I have an overwhelming urge to say, ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas, Toto’?”
Scarlet’s grin was quite as broad. “I know what you mean and now I am back in full uniform I even have the ‘ruby slippers’.” He clicked his heels together and both men laughed in a moment of perfect camaraderie.
The rapprochement was interrupted by a ring of the door bell. Blue glanced at his watch and cursed, “Look at the time … damn it!” He hastened to open the door.
“Hi Sky,” Scarlet recognised Symphony’s voice. “I hope I’m not interrupting?” She walked in anyway, swinging a hairdryer in one hand. She looked searchingly at Scarlet and then acknowledged him with a curt nod. “Would you take a look at my hairdryer? I can’t get it to work and I want to wash my hair before I go on back on duty.” She held it out towards the affronted Blue.
He goggled at her, astounded by her request. “What? You want me to… whatever for?”
“If I take it to maintenance they’ll take weeks to do it. And you are so good with your hands,” she added waspishly.
“Well, yes, I guess I could fix it,” he agreed, choosing to ignore her barbed comment. “But I can’t do it now! I’m supposed to be taking Rhapsody to dinner and I’m late as it is.” He glanced at his other guest and suggested, “Maybe Scarlet could do it for you? Excuse me…” He grabbed a clothes hanger of clothes from the wardrobe and stalked into the bathroom closing the door firmly behind him.
With a shrug, Symphony handed Scarlet the machine. “Can you fix it?”
“I can try.” He sat at the desk and asked, “Screwdrivers?” She shrugged.
She’s doesn’t seem to know her way around this apartment as well as the Karen at home does, he thought, and after a moment’s hesitation, dived into the bottom drawer. Sure enough, there was the set of expensive screwdrivers and the neat array of useful bits and pieces, just as he had expected there would be. It seemed as if this Adam was a much of an inveterate ‘dismantler’ of machines as his counterpart back home It explains why Symphony has come, given that Blue seems to be ‘involved’ with Rhapsody… He grimaced again at the very thought and began to examine the hairdryer whilst Symphony perched on the arm of a chair.
He glanced across at her. If Adam had appeared sharper, Symphony seemed… almost blowsy. She still had the long hair she’d had when she joined Spectrum, and which she had subsequently cut shorter. It was back-combed into a style that he did not think suited her pretty face. She wore a vacant expression and was mechanically chewing gum. The Angel uniform, which had always fitted her like a second skin, now seemed too tight and therefore less attractive, somehow. She bit at a finger nail and hummed to herself. This woman was not much like the Karen he knew, who always took such care over her appearance. Scarlet ducked his head back to the dryer as she sensed his scrutiny and turned towards him. He started to dismantle the plug.
When the doorbell rang Symphony ambled across to open it.
“What are you doing here?” a familiar voice hissed brusquely. Scarlet’s heart thumped uncomfortably as he tried to see past Symphony to the newcomer in the doorway.
“Getting my hairdryer fixed,” Symphony replied slowly, unperturbed by the obvious annoyance in Rhapsody’s voice.
“Well, I am here to collect Adam, so your hairdryer will have to wait! He’s taking me to dinner and he’s late. I do not appreciate having to wait about for my escorts,” she said fretfully as she swept into the room past her vaguely smiling colleague.
Rhapsody’s hair was piled high, the shining copper-coloured hanks interwoven with green ribbon and a diamond-studded comb. She wore a long, shimmering, pale turquoise-green evening dress, with a low neckline and narrow straps, which clung to her slender figure and swirled around her feet in an ocean of movement. It did things to Scarlet’s tormented libido that he didn’t even like to think about.
If I ever get back to the real World I am going to buy my Dianne a dress just like that one… he promised himself.
Ignoring her complaint, Symphony moved across and adjusted the ribbon in her colleague’s hair, twisting a frond around her finger to make it curl, “That’s better, hon,” she said.
Rhapsody brushed her hand away and noticed Scarlet for the first time. He became aware that he was staring, open-mouthed, at her and gave a wry grin. She ignored him and began to complain again. “I swear this place gets more like Clapham Junction Station everyday. Why Adam allows it baffles me.”
Muffled by the closed bathroom door, Scarlet could hear the sound of someone singing in a light tenor. His eyes widened and he tilted his head to hear better - was that Adam?
“He sure sounds in a good mood, anyhow,” Symphony commented blandly, returning to her perch on the armchair.
“The way your smile just beams…
The way you sing off key,
The way you haunt my dreams…
No, no, they can’t take that away from me…” The door opened and Captain Blue came out, changed into a smart evening suit and still singing as he fastened a cuff link. He saw Rhapsody and stopped mid-chorus. “Hi.” His voice took on a suave tone Scarlet had only rarely heard him use and then only sarcastically.
“Hi,” she replied, simpering up at him. “You are so late I came to fetch you - and I find all these people here just ruining our plans.” She slipped her arm through his and steered him towards the door. “Now, where shall we go tonight?”
Symphony watched them depart with a rueful smile. Scarlet, putting the last screw back into the plug, watched her closely. She seemed resigned to their departure. He reached across and plugged the machine in - it whirred into life. “Here you go, Symphony Angel. There was a wire loose in the plug…”
“I know, I loosened it myself, I thought it would give me enough excuse to drop by, but thanks anyway, Paul. They sure make a fine couple, don’t they?” She was still gazing at the open door full of abstraction as she stared after the departed couple.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said waspishly, “They can’t have much in common.”
She turned to him, her hazel eyes sparkling with laughter. “Oh sure they do… money! He’s got it and she wants it. It’s the greatest common denominator in the book!”
“What do you mean?” he glared at her with sudden dislike.
“Only that Dianne is desperate to save her family estate from bankruptcy and Adam - well, he has so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it. She’s willing to make it worth his while to spend some of it on the things she wants,” Symphony winked suggestively.
“There’s a name for women like that,” Scarlet said, profoundly shocked.
“Yeah, and the word you’re looking for is desperate – just as I said.” She saw his disapproval and added with a startling vehemence, “You have no right to judge her so harshly, Lieutenant, you don’t understand half of what goes on around here, so take that look off your face! That’s the worst thing about you, your damned smugness. I don’t suppose you’d accept that, because she’s being leant on by her people to save the day with a rich husband, she has as much right as anyone to try to attract the one man around here who could solve her family’s financial problems at a stroke? I also happen to think she could do a whole heap worse for herself - Adam Svenson’s a nicer guy than most people give him credit for. And he takes good care of his possessions. She would never know whose bed he was in at any given time, but if she could stand that, he wouldn’t make her too miserable and she’d get all the money she wants.”
“I always thought you liked him - don’t you?” he asked, surprised at her cynicism.
Symphony blushed slightly. “Yeah, I guess I do at that,” she admitted. “I think we’ve made a good team when we’ve worked together.” Her attention drifted momentarily and then snapped back. In a sterner tone she added, “Not that it is any of your business, Lieutenant, and it doesn’t mean I am another of the notches on his bedpost!”
“No ma’am,” he agreed. “I just wondered. You seem at home here, somehow.” But not as much as home as I expected you to be….he added to himself.
Symphony drew herself up. “Yeah, well… what happened between me and Old Sky-Blue-Eyes was… nice - while it lasted. But you don’t expect a guy like that to commit to one woman; he’s not capable of it, if you ask me… Mind you,” she mused as if she had forgotten he was listening, “I reckon he’s under some pressure from home as well, right now.”
“In what way?” he asked, managing to suppress his instinct to explain that his Blue was very much a one-woman-man, and just who that one-woman was.
“Oh… it’s just me reading between the lines, but I reckon he’s being told that he’s sown enough wild oats, and that buying into Dianne’s family would give his people the respectability all their money can’t buy!”
“Respectability? I thought they had bucket-loads of the stuff?”
She gave him a pitying glance. “After that last banking scandal, John Svenson was lucky to walk away a free man. Sky was busy distancing himself from the whole confused mess for weeks before the investigation ended!”
“I didn’t think he had anything to do with the family business. Surely the regulations…”
Symphony gave a hearty laugh. “You Brits crease me up! Bleating on about the regulations - when did that make any difference? You’re not going to stop the likes of Adam and Pat from making money any way they know how…”
Scarlet was surprised again at the linking of Blue with Captain Magenta – especially in the field of making money. The Magenta he knew had been a participant in organised, white-collar crime, before he joined Spectrum and he knew Patrick Donaghue had ‘acquired’ a sizeable personal fortune during this time. What had happened to that fortune was something he did not know. Donaghue had been given a ‘pardon’ for his time as a criminal, but whether it had been dependent on his handing over the proceeds of his crimes was a moot point. Either way, he couldn’t see the men he knew joining forces to make money – legitimately or otherwise.
She stood and gave a wry smile. “Thanks for fixing the plug, Scarlet. I’d better get back on duty and you’d better leave too…”
“Right, I can’t stay here whilst he’s out, can I?” he said by way of a reminder to himself. He and the Adam he knew, thought nothing of nipping in and out of each other’s apartments - but this wasn’t the same Adam… indeed, from what he had just heard, it was a very different Captain Blue altogether, in very many ways.
“Not really,” she agreed. “By the way, Lieutenant, the colonel wants to see you – whenever you can spare him the time, of course…”
Captain Blue watched the elegant silver, yellow and blue submarine glide gracefully into the Naples dockyard. Captain Grey had often rhapsodised over the ‘sublime beauty’ of the Stingray submarines, and now, this close up to one for the first time, he understood what Brad had meant. It was a superb piece of engineering.
He smiled. The crew had made good time and, with luck, they would be able to get their mission underway that afternoon. He strode across to the mooring point and waited for the sub to dock. To his surprise, a hover-bike came out of the conning-tower hatchway and skittered across to land a few yards from him. Blue’s frown lifted as he recognised the aquanaut. The driver alighted and stepped forwards, a grin on his handsome, good-natured face.
“Hello, Captain Blue, how nice to see you again,” he said, his hand extended towards the Spectrum officer. “I haven’t seen you since we both attended the World President’s medal ceremony at Futura. What a week that was, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever drank so many martinis or eaten so many canapés before or since!”
Blue smiled in return and shook the hand warmly. “Hello, Troy! I wasn’t expecting it to be you in command. Aren’t you usually patrolling the Pacific coasts?”
Captain Troy Tempest nodded and gave a shrug. “We are on a routine exercise over here – once every so often they like to keep us on our toes by getting us to dodge the shipping in the northern Atlantic and the Med.” He grinned. “And when Commander Shore said it was you in charge of the mission… well, I had to come, didn’t I? I seem to remember that I promised you a ride in Stingray…several dozen times.” Blue gave an affirming nod and looked beyond his companion to where the submarine now rode at anchor. Tempest followed his gaze and gave a proud wave of his hand towards his vessel. “So here we are - at your service! What are you doing messing about with boats anyway? I thought you Spectrum guys were strictly sky-jockeys?”
Blue’s smile faded. “You were briefed on the mission?”
“Sure, we’re to look for a box of tricks lost in the straits of Messina. What it’s all about they didn’t make too clear, nor why we should expect such an important guy as you to be leading the search.”
Blue shrugged. “I’m no more important than any other colour captain, Troy. I just happen to be one of the two people who saw what the … box of tricks looked like and the other… well, he was lost overboard during our initial search.”
“That’s harsh,” Troy said, his expressive face showing genuine sympathy. “Was he a friend of yours, Adam?”
“He’s my partner and yes, he’s my friend,” Blue nodded. “I want to find him, if I can, while we are looking for the machine.”
“It’s a big area to search for one body.”
“I am betting he is still alive. We saw underwater caves all along the shoreline whilst we were searching beneath the volcano, and I’m hoping he may have found an air pocket in one of those – that whole part of the coast is honeycombed with rocks and tunnels. Besides, his body hasn’t turned up anywhere else,” Blue replied. It was going to be hard explaining much more to Tempest, if he asked.
“Well, I hope you’re right,” Troy said, rather dubiously. He could see that the taller man was pinning a great deal on this hope and he added, “You know, I have been in underwater caves where there have been pockets of air. It’s not impossible, so your pal might have got lucky.”
“Yes, I guess you could call him a lucky guy...”
“Right, well, if you’re hoping to find him alive we had better get started as soon as possible. Come aboard and meet the crew. Lieutenant Sheridan – Phones - is my communications man and he’ll do most of the sonar searching for your machine and Lieutenant Shore – Atlanta, she’s here as one of Stingray’s crew – it’s part of all WASP training – service at sea.”
“Atlanta Shore, the daughter of Marineville’s Commander?” Blue asked. He had heard about the personnel in Marineville’s control tower from Lieutenant Green and Captain Grey, both of whom had served in the WASPs before joining Spectrum. Grey had made the effort to speak to him before he left Cloudbase, bemoaning the fact that he was too well-known in the service to risk going on the mission. Blue rather suspected their recent boat trips and diving experiences had awakened a longing for the sea Grey thought he had under control.
“You’ve met her? Atlanta is a great girl,” Troy said stoutly almost daring to Blue to make something of it.
“No, I haven’t met her, but I know someone who… has connections with Marineville. They have spoken of her – she sounds, as you say - a great girl,” Blue explained reassuringly. Green had been very forthcoming on the relationship between his commander’s daughter and the most celebrated Aquanaut in the service.
By now Phones had extended the walkway to the entry hatch and Blue could walk across to the submarine vessel. He was half way across when an SSC arrived at the dockside and he stopped to watch Ruffolo get out. The Italian waved to him enthusiastically and kissed his fingers towards the passenger seat of the car, from which Blue could just see Symphony emerging. He grinned and continued his way carefully across the wobbly walkway.
Troy had brought his hover-bike back inside and was there to make the introduction. Blue shook hands with Lieutenant Sheridan and received instructions to call him ‘Phones’. “Chances are I wouldn’t know who you meant otherwise, Cap’n,” the man drawled genially.
Blue had never spent much time below the Mason-Dixon Line, but there was no mistaking Sheridan’s accent for anything but a Dixie drawl. He acknowledged the instruction with a polite smile. The discipline amongst the WASP personnel seemed far more easy-going than that expected by Spectrum – he wondered how Green tolerated it – but then, the colonel always seemed more lenient with the young West Indian than with his other ex-military personnel, just as he frequently made allowances for his non-military officers.
Lieutenant Atlanta Shore was a petite brunette with a round face, wide mouth and sparkling eyes. She gave Blue an appraising stare, her eyes travelling up the whole length of him until she met his amused glance; Blue was several inches taller than Tempest, who was in turn taller than Phones. Atlanta blushed prettily and said, “You’ll have to be careful Captain Blue, or I’m afraid you’ll keep banging your head on the ceiling.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, Lieutenant.”
They turned towards the hatchway at the sound of another voice, “Give a girl a hand here, Blue. I’m not sure how I’m going to get down there with all this stuff to carry.” Blue grimaced and spun on his heel to assist Symphony. She handed him two kit bags – both hers, he noted ruefully – and then waited to be lifted down. She put her hands on his shoulders and slid off the hatchway so that she came to rest close to him, her hands around his neck. She smiled up at him as he frowned warningly at her. Then she turned to the watching WASP officers with a bright smile, extending her slim hand to Troy saying, “Captain Tempest, what a pleasure to meet you. I have read so much about your exploits.”
Troy, slightly dazzled by her smile, took her hand and shook it. “Thank you, erm…”
“Symphony Angel. Didn’t Captain Blue tell you I was coming?” she gave him a glance from beneath her lashes and added, “He never remembers the important things.”
Blue grimaced. He realised that she still hadn’t forgiven him for not taking her on the shopping trip to New York and that this was how she had chosen to make him pay for it. Well, so be it, as long as she didn’t allow her retribution to get in the way of her work.
However, he thought with a mischievous glee, Karen hasn’t whiled away the hours of the dogwatch in the control room, listening to Green’s stories of life at Marineville, and she is so intent on making an impression that, for once, she’s neglected to weigh up her entire audience.
Blue had seen the possessive jealousy fire-up in Atlanta’s eyes as Symphony flirted with Captain Tempest and he knew that, for once, Symphony wasn’t going to get it all her own way.
Before he obeyed the colonel’s instructions and made his report, Scarlet returned to sickbay and asked to see Garnet. He needed to clear some points before he submitted himself to Colonel White’s incisive questioning, and anyway, he was still unsure about what he was supposed to have been doing at Etna. It was possible that Garnet might have learned more about their situation and he felt an obscure need to confirm that he wasn’t imagining all this in the first place. Fawn glanced up from his pile of papers and nodded absently. “If she’s awake you can, but not for long. And any upsetting her and you will find yourself on another charge, Lieutenant.”
“Understood, Doctor.” He was now so wary of what to expect from these people, that almost nothing could surprise him any longer. As he wandered to the room Fawn indicated, he reminded himself to get a look at his service record. That might explain why everyone expected him to be in trouble all the time.
He pushed the door open and peered in. Garnet was lying back on a bank of pillows still looking pale and tired, but better than she had done. She turned her eyes towards the door and gave a genuine smile when she saw him.
“Paul, how nice to see you - come on in.” She patted the bed beside her, offering him a seat.
Not wanting their conversation to be overheard, he sat close to her and took her outstretched hand in his, patting it gently. “Hello, Claudia. How are you feeling?”
“Much, much better, thanks to you. You saved my life down there, Paul. I’ll never forget it.”
“We saved each other… if you hadn’t been there, I might still be lying in a tangled heap of air tanks and broken bones.” He smiled at her. “I don’t want to rush you, Claudia, but I need to know - if you realise what’s happened to us?”
She blushed unhappily. “Is there an ‘us’ for things to happen to?”
He gave her an uncertain look and continued, “I’ve been looking around Cloudbase and speaking to some people… things are not as they should be, Claudia…”
“I know… but perhaps if you can talk to the colonel again, he’ll see the validity of the concerns you have about the volcanic pacifier…”
“I am talking about what happened in the cave… how you came to be trapped there and how I got swept in by the whirlpool. You do remember, don’t you? Please try to remember, it is important!”
A look of relief came over her face and she gave a shaky smile. “Thank God you remember it to! Everyone’s been talking about how we’d been trying to stop a project to prevent Etna erupting,” she lowered her dark eyes. “And Captain Ochre seems to think he and I have been ... intimate friends. Yet, the nurses have been speaking of you and me… as a couple… and I thought I was losing my mind!”
“Did you know Captain Ochre - before you met him in the cave?”
“I don’t think so…” Garnet’s frown deepened. She shook her head, “I must’ve got concussed; my memory’s all over the place, but I am sure I would remember something like that. At one point I thought… you and I… well, I thought… but we haven’t been and we aren’t now – are we?”
“I thought the same for awhile,” he smiled at her. “I can assure you – nothing happened between us. I think I know what might be happening. It’s a long story, listen carefully and if anyone comes in, I’ll change the subject…”
For the second time that day, Scarlet recited his theories concerning what had happened. Garnet listened intently, frowning with concentration. Several times she shook her dark head and almost began to argue with him, only to stop and bite her lip, waving a distracted hand for him to continue.
“So, you see, Claudia, we have to get out of this place and try to find our way back to the cave in Etna and continue our search for a way home,” he concluded.
There was a long silence, and as he watched her eyes filled with tears, one of which stole down her pale cheek. “You mean… leave here and go back to where we are most definitely going to die?” she whispered.
“We won’t die, Claudia. Our own Captain Blue won’t give up on finding me - we’ll be rescued by our own people.” He tried to reassure her seeing that she was genuinely frightened of the suggestion.
“He might find you, Paul, but me…? I wouldn’t have survived there for much longer. These are our own people too. Our friends and colleagues, they don’t want to harm us. Is it so wrong for us to stay here?” Her voice was trembling and the tears really started to flow. Scarlet cursed his own insensitivity. Claudia had been through a lot lately, and the fact that she had held her nerve as well as she had, spoke volumes for her strength of mind and character. However, he could see that he wasn’t exactly helping.
There was no point pressing for her agreement and if Fawn heard her crying he might ban further visits. He reached and took her hand. “Rest now,” he said, softly. “Don’t worry about it - leave all the arrangements to me. I will find a way to solve the problem.”
He sat quietly as her sobs turned to sniffs and she dabbed at her red eyes with tissues. She was trying to regain her composure, he could see that, and he smiled in encouragement at her.
Suddenly she asked in a small and still uncertain voice, “How will we get home, Captain?”
“If there’s a way, it lies at Etna and this Blue will help us find it.”
She turned to look at him with some alarm, “Do you trust him?”
“I have trusted him with my life more times than I can count…” he tried to reassure her.
“No,” she surprised Scarlet by saying thoughtfully. “If what you believe has happened is true, then this is a different Captain Blue and not a man you can trust. The nurses gossip all the time and he is one of their favourite topics. They tell me that no woman is safe from him; he seems to be working his way through the female staff list. At least, they hope so - most of them are still waiting their turn!” She gave a speculative grin, her dark eyebrows arching over her brown eyes. “They also say that he and Captain Magenta run the base as if it is their personal fiefdom…”
“Do they indeed?” Scarlet frowned. Here was unwelcome confirmation of his worst fears about the differing circumstances he was discovering about the base. “Perhaps it is time I paid a visit to Colonel White. Get plenty of rest, Lieutenant, and don’t worry – everything will all come right in its own good time.”
“Yes, I am sure it will,” she smiled again and squeezed his hand.
Ruefully, he kissed her cheek and left. He knew she would do her best, but it did not look as if he would be able to rely on much useful support there for sometime yet.
Scarlet strode purposefully to the Control Room. There were things he needed to know and would only find out there. Passing a technician he knew well by sight, he gave the man a cheerful nod of acknowledgement only to receive a dismissive stare in return. It dawned on him that he was starting to dislike this new life. Okay, since his Mysteronisation he had deliberately withdrawn from associating with the majority of the personnel on Cloudbase and had consequently ceased to be a contender in any Mr. Popularity contest, but everyone was invariably polite if - he grimaced – often somewhat over-awed by his presence. But, here there was a definite feeling of animosity towards him and he had no idea why. His diary had not spoken of events before the first Mysteron attack and since then, he could see nothing to account for his obvious unpopularity. Maybe – he blushed at the thought – maybe this Scarlet was just an unpleasant character?
The automatic door before him snapped open, revealing the nerve centre of Cloudbase – the Control Room. In contrast to so much of the base, where the necessarily small windows only let in a glimmer of the sunlight outside, and many interior rooms never saw the sun at all, but only light refracted by a relay of mirrors to give the impression of daylight - this room was naturally light and airy. Beyond the colonel’s circular desk, one of the observation tubes stretched out into the infinite blueness of the clear sky. Stepping into them was as close to walking in the air as any human was ever likely to get. The transparent banks of computers winked their subtle red and green lights as they performed the incessant adjustments needed to keep this floating miracle safe and inhabitable. It was always an impressive sight, however familiar you were with it, and Scarlet’s heart lifted, as it always did, when he entered the room. This was one of his favourite places on the base. It was, he liked to think, the very heart of Spectrum.
At the end of the automatic walkway was the colonel’s desk and sitting at it the familiar figure of Colonel White, as upright and authoritative as ever. Scarlet sighed with relief - that was a tonic to his battered mind right now. Moving towards the desk, he glanced towards the long computer control desk, as was his habit, and nearly fell off the end of the walkway in surprise. Sitting in the communications chair was a dark-skinned figure, clad as he expected in the familiar rich green, but as the face turned to acknowledge his arrival he saw it was a woman!
His attention snapped back to the colonel as his commander asked, “Lieutenant Scarlet? How are you feeling?”
His salute was scrappy as his mind tried to come to terms with this latest shock. “I am fine, sir…” He glanced at Lieutenant Green again and muttered, “At least I was…”
“I was expecting you to come straight to report to me when Doctor Fawn released you,” the Colonel said evenly. “I accept that you might have felt the need to… freshen up… but I would not have expected you to go to speak with Captain Blue. I wanted to hear your explanation of what happened at Mount Etna, Lieutenant, if you have one, that is.”
“My apologies, sir. I needed to try to understand something that happened down there and I find myself a little…disorientated at present. I would like to speak to you - about several matters. In private if I may?”
Colonel White gave a curt nod, and pressed two buttons on his desk. A stool rose from the floor, followed moments later by the Perspex privacy curtain that descended and snapped around the desk to create a secure and soundproof environment.
Scarlet perched on the stool and studied his Commander–in-Chief. He looked and sounded the same as the real colonel, although on closer inspection, his face showed the strain of his responsibilities far more than he expected. There were deep lines between the man’s brows and his blue eyes had a patina of wariness. Scarlet knew enough now to know that he must be careful because it seemed that the differences in these people were not always immediately apparent.
It was the colonel who broke the silence. “What have you to report, Paul? There is still a good deal of confusion around at present. Tell me; was our intelligence correct in thinking that Etna is one of their targets? So far, we have been successful at stopping the Agency damaging the volcanic pacifier. Surely your examination of the situation must’ve proved to you that it is in our interest to keep the machine functioning? I remain to be convinced by your vague argument that the machine is dangerous, Paul, and I hope you did not do anything down there that you will come to regret.”
“The volcanic pacifier was still operating when we left,” Scarlet said cagily. “Captain Flaxen made it clear it was our job to protect it. Yet I have a distinct impression that its use was as likely to cause the eruption, as to subdue it…”
“I should imagine that is possible, although I doubt the local Agency operatives have the technical skills to alter the machine. As neither Blue nor Magenta have left Cloudbase recently, I think we can assume that that has not happened. I imagine they are the only two who might have the technical skills to tamper with the machine. Maybe our source can investigate if that has been discussed between them.” He made a note on a single sheet of paper. Glancing up he added, “I had heard there were rumours that you and Lieutenant Garnet were to be… eliminated. I am pleased to see that it is not the case.”
Scarlet drew a sharp breath in alarm. This was the first time anyone had made any reference, however oblique, to the bodies in the cave. It threw a new light on the situation and might prove dangerous. “May I ask how you heard we were to be eliminated, sir?”
“Through Lieutenant Cerise, of course - he is proving an invaluable source of information.”
“Cerise, oh yes, of course.” The Cerise he knew was a gangly, bronzed, young Australian, taller even than Captain Blue. One lazy, off-duty afternoon on Cloudbase Scarlet recalled finding the pair of them talking interminably about surfing. He had quickly found the subject soporific, and wandered off alone. Blue turned up hours later when their duty shift started and, even then, he had still been full of the topic.
It was rare for Captain Blue to be so garrulous and, quite frankly, if all he could talk about was surfing – Scarlet preferred him taciturn. He had ruefully considered that, if even such a short exposure to the conversation of Lieutenant Cerise had this effect on his partner; it would not be long before he was going to start wishing the youngster had been posted elsewhere. Scarlet had been relieved when the Australian was moved into the IT directorate Captain Magenta headed and onto a shift pattern that meant he was rarely around when he and Blue were off duty.
Presumably Cerise was employed on similar tasks here…
He decided it was time to try and find out more about this Agency people kept referring to in terms of such disapproval. And, if possible, just what Blue and Magenta were up to together here…
“Is there something wrong, Captain?” White asked, his body tensing with uncertainty at his officer’s pre-occupation.
Scarlet’s head snapped up. “You called me Captain!”
“Force of habit, I’m afraid,” White sighed. “Although I assure you, Paul, when I have rooted out this canker in Spectrum, I will ensure you are reinstated with all your seniority.”
“So, I was a captain, and now I’m a lieutenant. What on earth did I do to get cashiered?” he muttered more to himself than to his companion.
“Are you all right, Paul?” The colonel’s continued use of his Christian name was confusing Scarlet even more – Colonel White was always so formal towards his officers.
“Things are slightly… hazy, sir. I must have lost some of my memory in the accident.”
White relaxed a little. “What is it you are ‘hazy’ about exactly?”
“You could start with who, what, when and where, and there is one big gap on the whole topic of why,” Scarlet admitted with an apologetic smile.
Colonel White frowned at him. “Do you remember anything?”
“Not much, sir, to be honest.”
“Did you report this memory loss to Doctor Fawn?”
“No, sir, I wasn’t really aware then that I had lost my memory… I remember the recent past, very clearly.”
“Well, do you remember how Ochre kidnapped the World President a couple of years ago and how Captain Blue rescued him, shooting Ochre in the process?” White said with some irritation.
“Vividly, sir,” Scarlet reassured him.
“And how Blue was awarded the Valour Star by the grateful President and how since then, he has been - let us say ‘a law unto himself’?”
“It’s coming back to me as you speak…” Scarlet said with a sigh. Yet that hardly makes him ‘a law unto himself’.
Captain Blue had been awarded the medal for conspicuous bravery by the grateful World President, much against his wishes, and the fact still caused him a great deal of embarrassment. Colonel White had insisted he go to Futura for the award ceremony and Blue had spent a week there, enduring parties and receptions and making the acquaintance of the only other recipient of the award -so far – Captain Troy Tempest of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. On his return to Cloudbase, Blue had only reluctantly displayed the medal to his admiring friends, feeling, that by accepting the award he was somehow celebrating the fact that he had shot Captain Scarlet. As soon as he decently could, he had buried the award at the bottom of his desk and only ever wore it when etiquette demanded a full dress uniform.
Scarlet glanced up from his musing to see Colonel White watching him with narrowed eyes, in which the suspicion was growing stronger. He gave an apologetic shrug and waited for the colonel to begin again.
Colonel White continued his explanation. “With a grateful World President in his pocket - and his maternal Uncle now the World Senator with responsibility for defence procurement – Captain Blue was in an ideal position to… make use of Spectrum for his own financial ends. On his return to Cloudbase, he joined Magenta’s Agency. They make a formidable partnership, one which combines Blue’s influence with Magenta’s criminal connections and… muscle. I had hoped at one time that Svenson would hold out against the Agency, but it was always a slim chance once it became known that his father’s company was laundering the gang’s money.”
By now Scarlet’s face must have shown the astonishment he was long past even trying to hide. It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that the Magenta here would have lapsed back into his old ways, given that these personalities seemed so much more …undisciplined… than the people he knew. Yet his mind could hardly conceive of an Adam Svenson who not only condoned, but participated in, organised crime.
Watching the young man carefully, White continued, “Whatever scam they organise – even when we have proof that they were involved, no-one will move against them – they are effectively above the law. I have tried innumerable times to have them both dismissed from Spectrum – at the very least - but it has all been in vain. Blue simply calls in favours from his Uncle or if that fails, from the President. Recently, they have been using the powers invested in Spectrum to extort money from the individual Governments around the World…”
“A protection racket! You’re telling me Captain Blue is running a protection racket?”
“Blue and Magenta in tandem. Why should that surprise you?” The colonel’s suspicion was obvious now. “Your original mission to Etna was to ensure that none of their operatives gained access to the volcanic pacifier machine during its installation. Surely you remember how Cerise warned us that they had sent a message to the Italian Government, threatening that unless they met their financial demand, the machine would be turned off and the volcano left to erupt?”
Scarlet, trying to assimilate the information, could only give a weak nod of his head.
White sighed, his frustration over-riding his suspicions. “If only the courts had accepted our proof that their money is being laundered though the SvenCorp banking organisation, we might have been able to, at least, restrict their activities. It was a complete travesty of justice that John Svenson walked a free man from that trial.”
Scarlet pushed his hand through his dark hair, dislodging his cap in the process. “Symphony implied the family were… less than scrupulously honest,” he muttered in agreement with the colonel’s analysis.
“So, you have been speaking to Symphony Angel?” Colonel White raised an eyebrow interrogatively.
“She came to Blue’s quarters,” he explained.
“I sent her, to find out just what you were doing there,” White snapped.
Scarlet shook his head in confusion and shrugged at his commanding officer, “Sir?”
“You should have come straight to me, Paul. I don’t know what good you thought you’d achieve by talking to Blue – of all people.”
Scarlet flushed as the thought of what he had revealed to Captain Blue hit him like a sledgehammer. “Oh sh….shoot! I may have put my size ten feet right in the muck, sir!”
“You had better explain yourself, Paul,” White was his usual peremptory self again and his suspicions were growing.
“Well, I will try, sir, but I don’t think you’re going to find it very easy to believe.” Once more Scarlet explained his theory concerning the situation he found himself in, although, as yet, he revealed nothing to the colonel that he had not already told the apparently sympathetic Captain Blue.
“Lieutenant Scarlet, have you gone completely mad?” Colonel White was aghast at what he was hearing and he looked at the young man with every sign of annoyance – as if he now felt he was the butt of some preposterous practical joke.
“No, sir, at least I hope not. Believe me; I would like nothing better than to find myself waking up in the Officers’ Lounge, with Blue laughing at me for having dozed off. But everything is odd and rearranged – and now Lieutenant Green is a woman!” he wailed.
“What should she be?” White asked in surprise.
“A man – Seymour Griffiths – he came to Spectrum from the WASPs. It should be Seymour at the controls, not some dolly-bird!”
“I’ll tell her that, Serena will appreciate the irony of it!” The colonel’s voice was edged with a harsh irony. “She did come from Marineville, as the best computer operative they ever had – I was damn lucky to get her. Serena Seymour-Griffiths is an invaluable member of my command, Scarlet.”
“I’m sure she is, sir… I never meant to suggest otherwise. But how can you explain the fact that I know with absolute certainty, that Lieutenant Green is a man? And why do I expect Blue to be both my partner and my friend – except - that in my reality Blue and I are partners, as well as good friends! It never occurred to me for a second that he would be involved in criminal activities and… treason.” He looked in helpless confusion at his commander. “How could such men ever be accepted into Spectrum? This cannot be the same organisation as I know…”
White returned his stare with intense scrutiny. “And exactly what sort of organisation do you know, Scarlet?”
Realising that he was in danger of making the colonel angry and mistrustful, Scarlet calmed down and forced himself to give a measured run-down of the situation he had left. He took pains to emphasise the fact that his mission - given to him by his Colonel White - had been to destroy the pacifiers, as they were the subject of a Mysteron threat.
At the end of his explanation, Colonel White drew a deep breath and looked rather sharply at the intense young man sitting before him. Scarlet’s face showed nothing but an earnest desire to be believed and to understand what had happened.
Charles Grey hardly knew what to believe. He had known Paul Metcalfe from his earliest youth – and it was becoming increasingly apparent to him that this individual was not that man. Even his closest friends would have to admit that Metcalfe was an arrogant man. As the only son of a family with a long tradition of high military command, he’d excelled in his chosen profession as a WAAF officer, yet had found it more difficult than he’d expected to adapt to the low-key hierarchy of Spectrum. Colonel White had never underestimated just how great a risk they had taken in creating an organisation staffed with people from both military and civilian backgrounds, and, in his bleakest hours, he had to admit to himself that it had not been a one-hundred percent success. Now this - stranger - spoke of an organisation where the venture had succeeded and against all odds, five men – at the pinnacle of their varied professions – lived and worked together, bound by friendly rivalries, implicit trust and undivided loyalty to their commander.
A veritable paradise, White mused, but is it a fool’s paradise? Metcalfe does not look deranged. I have to make up my mind – do I trust this man and can I believe the unlikely tale of the events that had led to his being here? He glanced at him once more.
Scarlet had not spoken for some time now. His darkly handsome face remained carefully neutral, showing no sign of the inner turmoil he was experiencing. He knew that if he failed to convince the colonel – he would be condemned to incarceration, interrogation and, once they discovered his retrometabolism, possible death. He doubted that even Captain Blue would be able to help him – always assuming that the man here had any intention of keeping his promise. The awful realisation hit him that if he had condemned himself, he had, by implication, also condemned Garnet. He raised his hand to his forehead and brushed his short fringe back. The sigh that accompanied the action trembled on the edge of weeping. He squared his shoulders and clamped down on his inappropriate emotions. This regeneration had left him very weak and badly shaken.
Ironically, it was that show of such human emotion that swung the colonel’s decision in his favour as he decided to rely on his instincts and accept this unlikely visitor from another world, at least, until he was proven to be a threat. He drew a deep breath, “It was against my better judgement that both Donaghue and Svenson were accepted into Spectrum. There was less reason to deny Svenson a commission – he is at least a damn good pilot and not as tarnished by his father’s business shenanigans as you might expect - I did hope he might prove an asset to the service. But Donaghue,” he shook his head in exasperation, “what had he to recommend him? I see now that it was a set-up to give organised crime a foothold at the very inception of Spectrum. World Senator Thomas Ellis – Svenson’s uncle – argued that his criminal past should be overlooked as both his computer talents, and his insight into organised crime, could be useful to an organisation such as ours. Our original brief was to counter terrorism and its unlawful off-shoots – that’s the same, I take it?” Scarlet nodded.
White continued, “Ellis used the only arguments that could possibly justify Donaghue’s inclusion and he managed to convince the World President to grant a pardon and Donaghue was shoe-horned in. Once here, he set about perverting the whole ethos of Spectrum. It began slowly enough and many of my senior officers resisted it – including Captain Blue - but once they had drawn SvenCorp into their orbit, they had their hold over Svenson. It was after the first Mysteron attack that he joined the Agency –I don’t know if that was willingly or not. I have to say, objectively, they make a great team – they don’t miss much and Magenta is absolutely ruthless in dealing with any opposition.”
Captain Scarlet listened open-mouthed to this. He knew all about Captain Magenta’s shady past – well, as much as anyone knew, Pat was quite open about it, if asked - but he also knew that Magenta had made a determined decision to leave that life behind him. He had, necessarily, retained a certain… hardness; but it was normally buried under his boundlessly enthusiastic good-temper. It had not been easy for him to gain the acceptance of his colleagues – Captain Ochre being his sternest critic – but gradually even the former World Police Commissioner came to recognize that Patrick Donaghue had reformed – and now the pair were almost as fixed a partnership as Blue and himself.
White stood and moved away from his desk slightly, to stare out of the Control Room through the clear observation tube into the never-ending sky-scape beyond. “You asked what you had done to be demoted to Lieutenant, well, I can tell you – nothing. You were accused of an assault on a young female technician… but there was no proof beyond her statement. I was positive she’d been persuaded to make the claim by Magenta, or one of his henchmen. They were most displeased when you refused to join their ‘agency’ and they insisted you were tried for the alleged crime, and they wanted you dismissed from Spectrum. But, for once, President Younger stood firm with me, I suspect he was being lobbied by other interests, probably your Father. It was agreed that you should be demoted to Lieutenant and denied your seniority. It was all I could do in the face of the whispering campaign they used against you all over the base.”
“Did everyone get invited to join the ‘agency’?” Scarlet asked feeling anger welling up inside him as he listened to this tale of corruption and deceit. At least it explains my unpopularity, he thought.
“Not everyone, but all of the senior captains and most of the colour lieutenants on Cloudbase were invited,” White revealed with a sigh. “The band of Refuseniks is a small but select one. You, me, of course, Symphony and Ochre, a few colour lieutenants, including Green and Garnet and Cerise - who works as our spy in the Agency and supplies much of our information.” It was too late to hide Cerise’s importance now, he realised with a fatalistic sigh.
“The other Angels?”
White shook his head. “Melody and Harmony have been convinced it is in their interests to join and Destiny does what the others do. Rhapsody is too busy chasing after Blue’s millions to care what is happening elsewhere,” his voice sounded tired.
“You say Captain Ochre is one of the Refuseniks? I find that rather hard to believe given that he was so unpleasant to me when we met at Etna. I take it all of the Refuseniks do know each other? And yet, I would not expect the Ochre I know to join in with any kind of criminal activity – he was a policeman and he’s the most honest man I have ever met, if you ignore the odd illicit betting incident – but then again, he and Magenta are as much good friends as Blue and I…” Scarlet was too pre-occupied with this conundrum to notice the colonel’s eyebrows rise in sceptical surprise. “Are you sure he is loyal to Spectrum?” he concluded in some confusion.
“Oh, they wanted Ochre – very much indeed - but the main problem is his intense hatred of Captain Blue.”
“Whatever for? I know Blue saved Ochre from the control of the Mysterons.”
“Well, that’s just it. Ochre cannot accept his ‘invulnerability’, he hates his life and he blames Blue for his fate.” White sat down again and sighed. “Mind you, he isn’t friendly with Paul either, but that’s a different story.”
He glanced at the bemused young man opposite. He was still having trouble coming to terms with what he had been told, but he could see no reason why his officer should want to spin a web of such palpable lies. Whatever the truth of the situation, Scarlet obviously believed his story to be genuine and he would play along for now, whilst making sure his agents kept a close watch on the young man.
“It might be best that you know the whole situation, so I will have to tell you about Claudia Vecchio. She and Captain Ochre knew each other before they joined Spectrum. Indeed, they were engaged and lived together in Chicago, which is one of the reasons she accepted a commission with us. After his ‘death’, Claudia could not accept what had happened to him and she broke it off. As if that wasn’t enough for Ochre to contend with on top of his Mysteronisation, it was not long afterwards that she started ‘dating’ you… I mean Paul Metcalfe of course. Ochre doesn’t know if he should blame her rejection of him on his fate, or on her preference for Paul. Either way he has found it hard to deal with the loss of the woman he loved. ”
Scarlet heaved a sigh and pulled a face. “Oh boy – it sounds like an episode of Peyton Place. I always thought my colonel was too severe in his insistence that his officers’ friendships remain on a platonic level – but maybe the old man is right after all?” He glanced up with a horrified expression. “I am sorry,” he apologised. “No offence meant, sir.”
White grimaced. “I’ve been called worse, so I expect your colonel has too. Maybe I should ask you for some pointers as to how he manages to control so many egoists and their rampant libidos?”
“Why did Symphony refuse to join the Agency?” Scarlet asked, hurriedly changing the subject.
“She’s an ex-USS agent who worked for me before Spectrum was started. And,” White said with a gleam of his dry humour, “I suspect she discovered that her relationship with Blue was not an exclusive one… not on his side of it anyway. Hell hath no fury…”
“Like Symphony with a grievance,” Scarlet finished for him and nodded. “In that much at least she is consistent in both Worlds.”
White gave a silent chuckle and a not too disapproving glance at the younger man. “Can you shed any light on what has happened to ‘our’ Scarlet and Garnet, Captain?” he asked with some hesitation.
Scarlet drew a sharp breath and told the story of the bodies in the cave. He saw the colonel’s expression harden as he heard him out in stony-faced silence. As he came to the end of his tale, White’s pale face showed considerable pain.
“They were both dead?”
“Yes sir, Garnet and … Scarlet.” He shrugged and sighed, things were getting too complex for words.
“He is my wife’s nephew; did you know that?” Colonel White asked bluntly.
“No, sir! I mean I am not my colonel’s nephew!”
“My wife is his father’s step-sister. I watched him grow from a boy…”
Scarlet shuddered; the idea of growing up with an Uncle Charlie who was Colonel White was mind-boggling. “I am sorry, sir. This must be a shock for you.”
“His family will be devastated. I am not looking forward to telling them.”
“You accept that what I have told you is the truth?” The hope in his voice made White smile.
“I see no alternative but to believe you, Captain Scarlet. What you have told me about the murders ties in with the report I had from Cerise too closely for me to doubt that you saw the bodies exactly as you said you did.”
“Did Cerise say who was supposed to have killed them?”
The colonel nodded. “Captain Magenta has plenty of hit-men at his disposal - some of them in Spectrum. It was one of those - Sergeant Ruffolo - from the Naples branch where Garnet worked.”
Scarlet groaned. He wanted more than ever to get out of this frustrating world and back to the everyday irritations of his own reality. Never again, he vowed, would he complain about the annoying characteristics of his friends and colleagues.
Colonel White applied his mind to the problem. He had a young man, who although he looked like his officer, claimed he was not. If this was the truth, then he and his companion ought to be returned to their own reality with all despatch, before Blue and Magenta found some devious way of exploiting the couple or their … inter-dimensional portal. He shuddered at his own choice of words – it was hard enough to come to terms with what had happened without making it sound like something from a second-rate Sci-Fi movie – but he had no other terminology to describe the situation.
Scarlet too was considering his situation and reviewing the mistakes he had made since his arrival. Going to Captain Blue seemed to have been a major error on his part, although anyone who had seen the misery on Adam Svenson’s face as he spoke of his dead mother and brother would have been hard pressed to imagine him as a hardened gangster with no principles. Surely, the Adam here couldn’t be so different from his counterpart in the real world?
He glanced at the older man and seeing his distinguished face set in an expression of sadness, he spared a thought for this man who had lost a favoured nephew and wondered if this colonel had any family of his own… his cousins! He speculated about his father’s half-sister the colonel had married… a woman who, like the sister Blue said he had, did not exist in his own dimension.
The colonel looked up and caught the young man’s eye. “We have to see about getting you back to your own home, Captain. There will be people worrying about you, I expect.”
”Yes, sir, there will be.” Impulsively he reached across for the colonel’s arm and laid his hand on it. “I just want to let you know, how sorry I am about…Paul and Claudia …”
“Understood, Captain,” White nodded and changed the subject brusquely. “Although, in all honesty, I can’t even understand how you managed to survive the initial fall through the water to the cave, let alone how you came to be here.”
Conscious that he needed to be honest with the colonel, Scarlet replied, “Well, you see, Colonel…” and as dispassionately as he could he told the colonel the story of the events concerning the World President the way they had happened to him. White listened with growing surprise as Scarlet revealed his history.
“Are you telling me, Captain Scarlet that you – you have the same ability as Captain Ochre? You can survive any injury?”
“I have the ability to retrometabolise and my body can recover from most injuries. As far as I know, I have not lost the ability in this reality. Although so far it has not been put to any great test,” he added reflectively. “All I can say, in support of my claim, is that I can’t even show you the bruises I had… it’s been long enough for them to clear up. But if you ask Garnet, she can tell you that the fall broke my back, as far as I could tell, anyway.”
“Did you tell Blue this?” White asked urgently.
Scarlet shook his dark head. “I must’ve had some of my wits about me, after all. Something made me stop before I had gone that far.”
“Well, we must be thankful for that, at least. Heaven knows what the Agency would try to make you do if they knew.”
There had always been parts of the lower decks of Cloudbase given over to recreational facilities and now, as part of an uneasy truce, the colonel had reluctantly acquiesced to the creation of several restaurants, bars and ‘lounges’, administered by the Agency and allowed to provide the staff with expensive alcohol, cigarettes, the opportunity to gamble and the dubious joys of ‘negotiable affection’.
It was in one of these restaurants that Blue wined and dined Rhapsody Angel, and then they strolled along the wide corridor towards the most luxurious of the Agency bars. The young Englishwoman cast scornful glances at the group of provocatively clad young ladies who were strolling aimlessly up and down the thoroughfare and, a good many of whom, called friendly greetings at her escort. Blue seemed to know several by name and was completely unabashed by his companion’s obvious revulsion.
Dianne Simms was out of her depth and she knew it. Her upbringing had been a sheltered one, far from the harshness of the reality of life on the inner city streets of mid-twenty-first century London. She knew such women existed, was fairly sure that some of the elegant creatures she had met at cocktail parties and social functions were - more or less - involved in the same trade, but at the other end of the scale of financial rewards. Her father had been involved in a sordid scandal when she was in her teens and her parents had separated for a time, until Lord Robert had convinced his aristocratic wife to return to the family fold for the sake of appearances. Now Lady Susan lived in the country and rarely came to London, where her husband pursued his diplomatic career and kept a ‘companion’ younger than his daughter.
Only one thing united her parents these days – the need to save the family estate from being repossessed by an implacable bank - and they both urged Dianne to find a husband with the resources to accomplish this laudable aim. If she was unable to do this on Cloudbase, they were insistent that she return to London and try her fortune amongst the wealthy young men of the City firms. It was not something she wanted to do, and the thought of it made her feel as if she was no more than a commodity for her parents to barter to the highest bidder. It was the main reason why she was so assiduously, if anxiously, encouraging Blue to provide her with a way out of her dilemma.
She glanced up at her companion as he strolled beside her with an arrogantly casual air. In his favour, she reasoned, he was both good-looking and good company. His family had money to burn and he spent it freely when he wanted to. He regularly bought her presents, the value of which astounded her, and he seemed happy to indulge her. Against that, he was totally self-centred, dedicated to his own pleasures and had the morals of an alley cat. She was not so naïve as to believe marriage would change him. She was not even sure that she cared whether it would or not. But sleeping with Adam would be… much less of a bind … than sleeping with some unknown chinless wonder from the City, with less money and all the personality of a stale biscuit. Besides, she believed that, after the obligatory production of a couple of blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies – what her father always called ‘the heir and the spare’ - Adam would be more than willing to let her retire to the country, much as her mother had done, whilst he pursued his own …eclectic pleasures.
As they entered the plush lounge-bar, the waiter led them to a central table and brought a bottle of champagne without being asked. Blue poured two flutes of the fizzing liquid, winked his eye and tipped his glass against hers,
“Here’s looking at you, Kid,” he smiled, in the worst impression of Humphrey Bogart she had ever heard. He drained his glass and filled it again, encouraging her to do the same.
As she sipped her second glass of champagne, he chattered on about inconsequential matters, whilst all the time he was checking the other occupants of the room. He is rather good at making it look natural, the only thing is he forgets I know when he is doing it, because I can do it too, she thought scathingly. I wonder who he’s looking for.
Blue had finally found his target. At a table set back amongst the heavy drapes and subdued lighting across from the door, he saw Captain Magenta accompanied by a young blonde and a bottle of bourbon. He smiled at Dianne and said, “I am sorry, sweetheart, will you be okay for a time? I have to speak to Magenta, something’s come up and he ought to know about it. I promise I will make it up to you… later.” He tipped her chin upwards and kissed her lips gently.
In your dreams you will! she thought as she smiled with fluttering eyelashes at him. “Well, all right then, but don’t be too long, Adam dear,” she said with a pout.
He kissed her again as he prepared to leave the table, “Order what you want and charge it to me.”
Sure, she thought, just like those girls out there probably do! But she just waved coyly at him as he strolled across the lounge.
Captain Magenta had seen his partner come in with Rhapsody Angel and he watched them billing and cooing at each other with a superior distain. ,Donaghue was honest enough to admit that he heemulate. Hethat would always bemaster, whereas
knew he -his, in addition, theoffshoot , a fact which meant he now had more power than ever amongst the secretive cabal who ran the Syndicate. Perversely, he was also far more vulnerable to treachery amongst his peers than he had ever been before. He did not have the traditional power-base of the other bosses, and if he failed to improve on his results he would not last long amongst the elite of the Syndicate.
- duringan human rights violations - ,yet thoughhonour;His expertise with computers meant that he was finally able to get a job – any kind of police record was still a barrier to employment - and hforlowly histracks; h
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It had been a majority vote of the Syndicate that decided to draw the powerful SvenCorp organisation into their orbit. Although Donaghue had been providing Senator Ellis with ‘perks’ for some years, he had deliberately steered clear of the senator’s brother-in law - the formidable John Svenson – whose financial chicanery within the letter of the law, was a source of inspiration to the younger man. He had agreed to the plan with reservations, especially when he found that he was expected to work with Svenson’s son – a man whose reputation as a wastrel was in sharp contrast to his father’s.
,him Although Svenson frequently , he had to admit the man had brains and a gift for making money. his surprise, asmoney simply
realjust But both men had soon developed a wary respect for each other’s abilities; Magenta had learnt never to underestimate this foppish dandy and Blue had witnessed too many examples of Magenta’s unrelenting ambition and unforgiving brutality to risk pushing the other man too far.
Now Magenta watched his partner approach with a cynical expression on his dark features. There could hardly be two men more physically disparate than these two. Blue was the taller by a couple of inches and of a broader build, his shock of blond hair and smoky-blue eyes contrasted with the abundant, sleek black hair and intense dark-hazel-brown eyes of the older Irish-American, whilst his regular, clean-cut features and tanned skin made Magenta’s complexion look pale and his high-bridged nose hooked.
“Evening, Pat,” he drawled lazily, spinning a chair towards the table and sitting astride it, leaning with his forearms on the back as he gazed across the table at the bored blonde sitting by his partner.
Seeing the direction of Blue’s eyes and the blush mounting on the girl’s cheeks Magenta growled, “Go powder your nose,” and the young woman obediently scuttled away, but not without giving the newcomer a shy smile under her lashes as she squeezed past him. Blue watched her walk away with a calculating smile.
“Don’t you ever think of anything else?”
He turned back to the man opposite and accepted a glass of bourbon from the bottle between them. “Not often…and not for long,” he admitted. “She’s new.” He nodded after the young woman.
“Uh-huh, and for once you can wait your turn,” Magenta snarled grumpily.
Blue laughed, “Oh I have my hands full with her ladyship…”
“Haven’t you had her yet?” taunted Magenta adding as if in sympathy, “You must be losing your touch.”
Blue turned his gaze on to him, his eyes icy with disdain. “The day I do that, Padraig, you can shoot me.”
Magenta squirmed – Blue knew how that name annoyed him. “The pleasure will be all mine, Mister Svenson. And I just hope she’s worth it - but I doubt that – all Brits are frigid anyway.”
“Boy, have you been dating the wrong girls,” Blue responded, filling his glass again. “Be nice to her ladyship, my friend – or I won’t invite you to the wedding.”
Magenta gave a snort of laughter, “You cannot be serious?”
“Wheels within wheels, Paddy-boy,” Blue drawled.
Magenta’s dark eyes flashed with irritation, but he needed Blue too much to allow a breach with the annoying sonofabitch.
Blue watched closely for a long minute and saw the flush on his partner’s sallow cheeks. He was adept at pushing Donaghue to the brink of anger and then backing off, and every time he played the game he pushed that little bit further and that little bit harder. “But enough of this witty repartee, Padraig, I want to know what you know about the return of Scarlet and Garnet. Just what has gone wrong with your foolproof plan? And, when you have told me all there is for me to know, I will tell you something that will make your Irish eyes smile like a million dollars in gold….”
Across the plush lounge Rhapsody Angel was still alone at her table and she beckoned the waiter to bring her another bottle of champagne. She was getting angry now and when the man placed a fresh bottle before her she snapped at him and waved him away. Turning to look across the room she could see her escort sitting at the table with Captain Magenta, the fair head bent towards the dark as he listened to whatever Magenta was saying. How could he be such a … peasant as to leave her whilst he plotted with Magenta? By rights, after the time and energy she had put into making him like her, he should have been dancing attendance on her and dropping subtle hints about a future commitment. Instead, he was wasting time, spending their precious hours together with Patrick Donaghue! Men, she fumed. You can’t trust them!
She filled her glass again, sloshing at least half the bottle over the table in the process. Then, fired by her righteous anger, she stood and made her way unsteadily towards the pair of them. As she reached the table next to theirs she almost lost her balance and grabbed a chair for support. She sat down heavily and gulped at her wine. Snatches of their conversation wafted back to her.
“And you believed him, Svenson? You know what a tricky customer Scarlet can be – they might be up to another of their ineffectual plots aimed at destabilising our control.”
“That was my first thought, right enough. But he came to me: Mr Holier-Than-Thou-Metcalfe came asking my help! He genuinely seemed to think we were still friends – as if I am ever likely to forget, or forgive, the things he said to me when we formed our little partnership, Padraig. I don’t believe he knew how things stood around here. Maybe he got a bump on the head and has lost the plot – but he seemed coherent enough. Besides, you told me Ruffolo would ‘deal’ with them at Etna, and Metcalfe said there were two dead bodies there, which looked identical to him and Garnet. And that these bodies vanished when Ochre and his team of interfering do-gooders arrived. At the very least, you should send Ruffolo down to check if the bodies are still in the cave.”
“If Ruffolo has been lying to me about doing the job properly he won’t live to regret it,” Magenta said sharply. “I will not tolerate being lied to.”
“Forget it, Padraig; no-one would dare lie to you.”
Magenta gave a snort. “No-one has ever tried to do it twice, that’s a truth.” He twirled the liquid in his glass and drank it in one gulp. “I will send someone to check – not Ruffolo though. Now, you thought we might make use of this ‘portal’ - if it exists, which I still say is a pretty big ‘if’ – what did you have in mind?”
“If I really need to spell it out you’ve had too many bourbons, me boyo.” Blue leant back, putting his hands behind his head and grinning impishly. “What if it not only opens the possibility of moving between dimensions but also through time? That would give us the possibility of whole new worlds to conquer…the final frontier, indeed.”
“It is not me who’s drunk…” Magenta taunted. “You’ve been watching too many re-runs of Quantum Leap.”
“Theoretically, if it moves between dimensions it should also open the time continuum,” Blue said reasonably, ignoring the jibe.
“I love it when you talk dirty.” Magenta couldn’t resist needling his partner. Blue gave him a belittling grimace.
Magenta sighed. “Okay, Svenson, just to please you, we’ll take a look at Mr Metcalfe’s fantastical portal. Oh, and by the way,” he added with considerable satisfaction, as he watched the final collapse of the unsteady Rhapsody Angel, “I think your date’s so drunk, that she’s just passed out.”
Blue swore. This was really not his day.
Stingray cruised back and forth across the choppy waters of the Straits of Medina, with Captain Tempest and Phones Sheridan at the controls. In the passenger bay, Atlanta Shore and Symphony Angel were, surprisingly, gossiping like old friends whilst Atlanta painted the Angel pilot’s fingernails in a selection of the latest fashionable colours.
Captain Blue was leaning on the rail that edged the forward command section, scanning the horizon with a powerful pair of binoculars. In theory he was looking for wreckage of Gaspari and Dincerler’s boat or the volcanic pacifier, but in reality he was hoping against hope for some indication that Scarlet had survived his fatal dive. His body will do, he thought miserably. He was sure that, even if Scarlet hadn’t recovered from a watery death due to the prevailing conditions, back on Cloudbase Doctor Fawn would be able to kick start his retrometabolic process and they would get him back. He was desperately trying to ignore the nagging logic in the back of his mind that kept repeating the possibility that a dead Scarlet might be trapped beneath these treacherous waters, his corpse a banquet for the local crabs and lobsters.
Now I know why I don’t like seafood, Blue thought distractedly.
“One more sweep ought to do it, Skipper,” Phones drawled. “By then we’ll have as good a picture of the seabed as we’re going to get.”
“Have you been able to identify any anomalies?” Blue asked.
“It’s hard to say, Cap’n,” Phones said reluctantly. “The coast around here is a mass of boulders and outcrops. It’s like the Rocky Mountains down there…”
Tempest turned to his friend. He was still concerned at Blue’s continuing insistence that they would find Captain Scarlet alive. “If anyone can find what we’re looking for, Phones can. Stingray is equipped with latest equipment. It is more sensitive than anything you would get on a navy ship, but even so, not even Stingray can detect a heartbeat down there, Adam.”
Blue sought reassurance. “But you said there were caverns… under the surface?”
“Oh sure, Cap’n Blue,” Phones agreed. “The whole side of the coast is honeycombed with ’em.”
“And you’ve had experience of underwater caves with air pockets in them, haven’t you, Troy?”
“Well, yes… it has happened. But those caves have to be the exceptions to the rule…”
“If there is one, Scarlet will have found it,” Blue said firmly and closed the conversation by lifting the binoculars to his eyes again.
The two WASP officers exchanged doubtful glances.
An hour later all of the crew were studying the detailed 3-D sonar maps Phones had produced.
“The co-ordinates supplied by Harmony Angel indicate that the boat sank here…” Symphony pointed at an area on the map with a frosted-pink fingernail.
“And from what you can remember of where you and Grey searched… the wreckage covers this area, all leading towards this stretch of coastline.” Troy ran his finger along the jagged indents of the map. “It would seem the best place for us to start searching. Any ideas about how you would like to play this one, Adam?”
Blue ran his fingers through his hair and leant back in his chair. He had been considering this matter for some time. “I was hoping that maybe you and Phones would search for the wreckage whilst I tried to get into one of those caverns…”
To his surprise both Troy and Symphony said, “No!” simultaneously.
“I can’t agree to that,” Tempest said with a bright smile at the pretty Spectrum pilot, whose face was rapidly turning bright red. “If you are planning to do anything so hazardous, one of us should really go with you.”
“And I can’t agree to that,” Blue sighed. He couldn’t take the risk of someone outside of Spectrum learning about Scarlet’s retrometabolism – however trustworthy a guy he might be.
“This is my ship, I am in command, Captain, and if you want to go searching near the rocks, you will not go alone – so make your mind up to that fact.” Tempest’s dark eyebrows sank in a frown.
“For reasons I cannot elaborate…” Blue began his customary explanation for non-Spectrum personnel.
“No,” Tempest interrupted firmly.
“Captain Blue, I have to agree with Captain Tempest here,” Symphony said. Overcoming both her embarrassment and her determination to be severe with her errant boyfriend she continued, “If he says it is too dangerous for you to go alone, I should come with you…”
This time it was Captain Tempest and Captain Blue who rejected the suggestion in unison.
“Certainly not,” Tempest smiled at her. “I know Adam’s a good diver, I’ve seen him, but I don’t know how competent you are, Symphony, and I am not prepared to let you take unnecessary risks.”
“I am pretty good,” she asserted.
“But inexperienced,” Blue reasoned. “I’d only end up watching out for you and that would waste the limited time I have underwater.”
“So, I’m a waste of time now, am I?” she bridled even though she knew she was being unreasonable.
“Please, Karen, not now.” There was real steel in his voice, despite the polite words.
Atlanta gave a derisive snort and placed a sympathetic hand on Symphony’s arm. Her next words came as something as a surprise to all three men present. “I hate to say it, Honey, but they’re right. Even I wouldn’t volunteer to go out there right now.”
Symphony’s expression showed just how betrayed she was feeling, but she said nothing and contented herself with fuming in silence – for now.
As the silence deepened, Phones spoke up. “Well, it seems to me that if we’re hoping to find Cap’n Scarlet, that search had better be our priority, so Troy and Cap’n Blue had better go together and I’ll do the investigation of the wreckage site. Atlanta and Miss Symphony can man Stingray and maintain radio contact.”
“Absolutely…” Tempest agreed.
“There are reasons why…” Blue began one final attempt to divert the aquanauts from searching for Scarlet.
“Take it or leave it, Captain. We go together or you don’t go at all. I am serious. I’ll have you charged with mutiny and slammed in the brig.” Troy was only partly teasing as he stood and stretched. “We’ll take Stingray down and closer to the site, to avoid the tedious decompression time. Do you have all the necessary gear, Captain, or can we supply you with anything?”
“No, I have all the things I’ll need, thanks.” Blue was not pleased, but he knew this was probably the only logical way to proceed. “Let’s get out there as soon as we can.”
Captain Ochre slammed down his beer glass and threw some coins on the bar. He was sick of the taste of the damn stuff – and as watered down as it was, the chance of it making him even remotely tipsy was slight. He turned to leave and saw Scarlet sitting at a table watching him intently. Annoyed and not a little self-pitying, he walked across and said fiercely, “What are you looking at, Metcalfe?”
Scarlet shrugged. “A man in need of a decent drink, I’d say. I have some Scotch whisky… if you are interested.”
“If you bought it from these crooks, it is probably watered down paint thinner.”
“No, this was a birthday present from my father – a man who knows his single malts as well as you know misery.”
Ochre bristled and glared at the Englishman. “Watch it, I am still the superior officer,” he growled.
“And I can drink you under the table any time you want to try.”
“Sure – come with me and we’ll see who collapses first.”
Ochre gave a mocking smile. “Maybe you haven’t heard, Metcalfe, but I can drink any stuff I want for as long as I want and I don’t even get tipsy. You’d lose.”
Scarlet shrugged again. “If you’re too frightened to try…”
Ochre grabbed him by the padded collar of his tunic and hauled him upright. “Okay, Limey… lead on.”
Scarlet shrugged his hands away and led the way back to his corridor, Ochre walking just behind him and not speaking even in reply to his opening gambits. Eventually he gave up and walked in silence too.
In his quarters, Scarlet fished out one of the whisky bottles his father had sent him. He always sent three, every December – one for his birthday, Christmas and the New Year - knowing his son often enjoyed a slug of whisky before turning in. He found two small tumblers, uncorked the bottle and offered it to Ochre, who poured himself a generous measure and sniffed it appreciatively. Scarlet fought to curb the smile that rose to his lips; the Ochre from his world liked his whisky too.
The colonel was very strict about enforcing the regulations forbidding alcohol on the base and he only made an exception for these bottles - which Scarlet was sure he knew about - because he trusted his officer to behave sensibly with them. One of the perks with retrometabolism was the inability to get really drunk – alcohol had only the minutest of effects on his body and before it could become a problem, his immune system cut in and wiped it out of his blood stream. It was great for parties and, on the rare occasions he and his friends actually got to a party, he was always the designated driver.
He poured himself an equally generous slug and tilted his glass in Ochre’s direction, “Slainte Mhor,” he said with a wry grin.
“Cheers,” Ochre said, speaking for the first time since they left the bar. He tipped the glass back and drained it.
Scarlet matched him and emptied his glass, although he thought it a waste of good malt to drink it like that. He pushed the bottle across, inviting his guest to help himself. Ochre filled his glass again, but this time he sipped at it and Scarlet followed suit. They went on this way until the bottle was three-quarters empty. Ochre eyed Scarlet in some doubt; he expected the guy to be showing signs of drunkenness by now, but the Englishman remained as relaxed and coherent as he was himself.
Scarlet returned the stare with a wry grimace and said, “I have another bottle… but it’s the last one, I’m afraid.”
Ochre put the glass back on the table and said curtly, “Okay – what the hell is going on here? What have you done to this stuff?”
“Nothing. It’s the finest single malt – you saw me break the seal on the bottle. Doesn’t it taste right? You’re used to Bourbon, I know, but you’ve always appreciated a good malt before.”
“Before? I have never drunk malt with you until now,” Ochre protested. “In fact I’ve never drunk anything with you before… not even Bourbon.”
“Well, strictly speaking, you are right, I guess. But I have had the odd wee dram with Richard Fraser before now. In fact, on your last birthday I gave you a bottle of the stuff…”
Ochre stood and stared down. “You have never given me anything, Metcalfe – in fact you only take things from me!”
Scarlet shrugged and emptied his glass, “You mean Claudia? You may not want to believe this, but she means nothing to me. I have been involved with another woman for some time now…”
Ochre’s punch landed squarely on Scarlet’s jaw, taking him by surprise, lifting him off his seat and sending him toppling backwards over the chair.
“What do you mean – another woman? Are you two-timing Claudia? If you have done anything to hurt her, I’ll thrash you within an inch of your miserable life, you bastard!” He advanced with every intention of carrying out his threat and stood towering over Scarlet who was struggling to his feet.
Well aware of just how much force to expect from the beating Ochre was threatening him with, Scarlet braced himself. His own strength had been enhanced since his Mysteronisation and every time he retrometabolised his stamina returned unimpaired. He flinched as the first strike landed on him and each subsequent one, yet he refused to defend himself. He felt sure that Ochre would only believe his story if he had seen the proof for himself.
“Calm down, if you will just hear me out…” he panted as he winced under the power of the blows.
“Fight me, you craven coward!”
“No,” Scarlet mumbled through cut and bruised lips.
With a scream of frustrated rage, Ochre spun away, dropping his head into his hands and drawing in great gulps of air. However angry he was he could not continue to thrash this man who refused to make even the smallest attempt to defend himself. He was well aware of his ability to kill him with his bare hands, if he wished.
Thankful that he had not misjudged his opponent and that the men in both realities shared a fundamental decency, Scarlet manipulated his aching jaw and waggled a loose tooth with his tongue. “Feeling better?” he asked walking to the bathroom sink and filling and refilling a glass with water, which he drank in great draughts.
Ochre’s head came up and he turned to look at his opponent, surprised he was still standing at all. He had not pulled any of his punches. As he stared at Scarlet he could see the swelling go down on his lips and the bruise around his eye fade through yellow to the normal skin tone.
“What the hell…?” Ochre’s face was a picture of confused surprise as his hand went automatically to his holster. He drew his pistol and pointed it at Scarlet. “You are a Mysteron!” Scarlet struck out, knocking the gun from his visitor’s hand, sending it spinning across the narrow room. Ochre dived for it, but he was no match for Scarlet in a fair fight and found himself quickly subdued.
“Listen to me, Ochre,” Scarlet panted, twisting the American’s arm higher behind his back. “I am no more a Mysteron than you are.”
He pushed the man away and picked up the gun, throwing it with some contempt across the table so that Ochre could pick it up if he wished.
“I don’t understand…”
“I tried to tell you, but you had... different priorities. And, may I just say, that if you try that again I will defend myself and you won’t know what’s hit you, Fraser. I have always been the better soldier – and you know it.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Paul Metcalfe… sit down and I will try to explain.”
With a sigh, Scarlet began to go through his remarkable story yet again. I ought to get a tape recorder and just let them listen to that…. he thought ruefully.
As his story came to its conclusion, he glanced across at the silent Ochre to see that the man was crying. His dark head was buried on his arms, resting on the tabletop. He hadn’t expected this kind of reaction. He had seen the scepticism on the American’s face as his tale unrolled, but still, he had turned away with considerate tact as he began to speak about finding the bodies of Lieutenants Scarlet and Garnet. The unnatural silence only gradually dawned on him and now, as he turned, he could see Ochre’s shoulders shaking.
At a loss, he poured another glass of malt and placed it by the man’s head. If it had been the real Adam this upset, he would have put an arm around him – but he had never been that close to Ochre and he didn’t know if this mercurial man would appreciate it – in either dimension. He patted his shoulder vaguely and moved away to allow him some privacy. Whatever he thought of this Ochre and his persistent antagonism, the man had obviously been deeply in love with Lieutenant Garnet, and he couldn’t help feeling sympathy with his shock and misery at hearing of her death. He must have believed he had saved her when they discovered the cave, and maybe even losing her to Lieutenant Scarlet was preferable to a World without her at all. He felt that way about Dianne.
Eventually Ochre regained his composure and muttered with some embarrassment, ‘I apologise.”
“Don’t. I am truly sorry about Claudia – but whatever happened between the three of you was nothing to do with me - you do see that, I hope?”
Ochre shrugged. “She couldn’t cope with all the implications of what happened at the Car-Vu – I’m not sure I can myself even now -so why should I blame her?”
Scarlet sat opposite and poured himself another drink. “I’ve had it easier than you on the whole, I think, and even I feel like howling sometimes. I was not involved with anyone when it happened to me, and I was fortunate enough that when I did fall in love, she reciprocated my feelings, despite my … condition.”
“Then she must be an exceptional woman.”
“Yes, I happen to think she is.”
“And Garnet, the woman we brought out of the cavern with you?”
“The first time I met her was when we were marooned in that cave and - if it helps any – she has never met the Captain Ochre in our World and never been stationed on Cloudbase, either.”
“You are sure they were dead? You couldn’t be mistaken?” Ochre pleaded.
“No, Rick, no mistake. I’m sorry.”
Ochre nodded. He drew a deep breath and said, “What do you propose to do? I take it you are not planning to stay here?”
“I am no expert, Rick, but everything I do know suggests it would not be a good idea. Besides, I have to get back to… my duties – and my friends.”
“Am I one of them?”
“For my part, I have always considered you a friend – but I guess it is fair to say we have not always seen eye-to-eye,” Scarlet smiled. “You can be an annoying practical joker at times – and frankly - at first I thought all this was one of your pranks.”
Ochre grimaced. “Oh, I’ve had my moments. But I don’t feel much like joking these days.” There was a prolonged silence which was broken by his sudden desolate cry: “How do you bear it?”
Scarlet shrugged. “What choice does either of us have? It was hard to get used to, I felt like an outsider, a freak. But it seems I was luckier than you have been, I had - I have - good friends. I owe them more than I can ever repay. Without Adam and Dianne and the others, I would feel much as you do, believe me.”
“Adam? You mean Blue? He’s the man who got me into this nightmare!”
“That is where we see it differently,” Scarlet mused. “To me, he is the man who released me from a possible eternity as the slave of the Mysterons. He would say he was merely doing his duty – which is also true – but I see myself fortunate that he had the strength of character to shoot his friend when he had to. Above all, once I was fully recovered he believed in my redemption – when others doubted. We are partners, we work closely together and he has never faltered in his support, or his friendship.”
Ochre gave a sceptical look at the Englishman opposite and saw nothing but honesty in his expression. “And Dianne is the woman you love?” he asked quietly.
Scarlet nodded. “She’s my hope for the future and my sanctuary from the horrors of the present,” he said simply.
“They must be very different to the people we have here,” Ochre spat. “Those two are a waste of space.”
“I wouldn’t say that exactly. From the little I have been able to discover, circumstances have just made them react in different ways to similar problems.” Ochre’s sceptical expression returned, but Scarlet pressed on positively. “You have friends here – people willing to support and… care for you – if only you would let them,” he reasoned, remembering the look on Flaxen’s face as she had watched Ochre climb from the cave.
The American gave a vehement shake of his dark head. “Nah, most of the people here have been corrupted or were corrupt anyway. I wouldn’t let them near me.”
“Most, not all,” Scarlet replied significantly.
“The colonel means well, but he hasn’t got the authority to stop the Agency. Whenever we think we have struck home, Magenta’s hit-squads move in or Blue calls in the big guns. After all, his Uncle is a World Senator and the World President is so grateful that he pulled him off the Car-Vu, he won’t hear a word against him!” Ochre shook his head despondently. “Symphony’s okay – the best of the Angels, anyway – she’s a bright girl under all that dumb-show. Her big weakness is Blue. God knows why, but she cares for that creep.”
“Yes, I thought as much. It seems to be universal truth,” Scarlet smiled.
“Your Symphony does too, eh? Poor kid.”
“Not at all – she runs rings around him most of the time,” Scarlet’s tone was affectionate as he thought of his friends. “They make a damn-near-perfect couple – it’s so sweet it’s nauseating.”
Ochre gave a snort of laugher. “No wonder you were confused. Blue is a sleaze-ball! You cannot trust him on anything.”
“Unfortunately before I knew all of this, I told him what had happened…”
“You did what?”
“I went to ask his help, as I would have asked the Adam I know.”
“Quite. It was fortunate that I had the nous not to tell him everything. He doesn’t know about my retrometabolism. ”
“You had the what?” Ochre frowned.
Scarlet blinked in surprise. Adam had quickly grown accustomed to his use of British-English – and indeed his own speech was occasionally peppered with words and phrases that had caught his fancy. “The common sense,” he explained with a sigh.
“Does anyone else know?”
“Only Colonel White. Oh, and my Lieutenant Garnet, of course. She may have spoken to Doctor Fawn, but I haven’t.”
“If the colonel knows then, it’s my guess that Symphony will know,” Ochre said confidently. “He confides in her, far more than he does in me. And if Blue knows, the chances are Magenta also knows, at least as much as Blue wants to tell him. You have made a dangerous mistake.”
“Then I must live with the consequences and attempt to ensure whatever they plan to do goes awry.” Scarlet studied Ochre and added, “Can I rely on your help, Rick?”
Ochre nodded. “Of course, all the more if it shafts Blue and Magenta!”
Scarlet smiled and passed the malt across once more. It was probably as much enthusiasm as he was going to get from his companion. Now all that remained to be done was to find a way for him and Garnet to get home.
Child’s play, really, he thought ironically as he drowned his fears in a large malt whisky.