Synchronicity

 

A Captain Scarlet Story by Marion Woods

 

 

 Part Three - Identity Crisis

 

Chapter One

 

 

THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS.  WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN.  WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX AND WE WILL BE REVENGED.

 OUR NEXT ACT OF RETALIATION WILL SEE PILLARS OF FIRE DESTROY ALL AROUND THEM WHILST RINGS OF FIRE WILL ENGULF MANY SEAS AND DARKEN ALL THE SKIES. 

 

            Scarlet woke with a start and tugged at his earlobes, believing his ears were deceiving him – or maybe that he was dreaming.  Moments later the yellow alert signal flashed and he knew that the threat had been for real. He glanced at the bedside clock which showed 4:27.  Wonderful, he thought.  At least the last time I heard that threat I was wide-awake and ready for action.   He dragged himself out of bed and groped about for his clothes.  A glance in the mirror showed him he needed a shave and he was thankful he had showered before he turned in last night.  He zipped up the tunic and stamped his feet into his boots, then left the room and, momentarily disorientated, wondered which way was quickest for the Conference Room. 

Along the corridor other officers were starting to emerge, still dozy with sleep, and slowly he realised he might not be expected in the conference room.  He was not one of the colour captains after all.  He wondered where his station was and was on the verge of turning back to his quarters with the intention of checking the duty roster when a gentle voice with the unmistakable lilt of the West Indies came over the tannoy.

            “Lieutenant Scarlet, please report to the Conference Room immediately.”

He was the last to arrive.  A quick glance around the room showed him Magenta and Blue side by side at a distance from Ochre and Flaxen, whilst Grey hovered uncertainly between the couples and Colonel White murmured to Symphony Angel.  Lieutenant Green gave him a cheerful smile as he sidled in and he blushed as he returned it.  Her face broke into a broad grin as she said, “All present and correct, Colonel.”

Blue looked across at him and gave the slightest of nods, whilst Magenta stared at him with a calculating expression. Scarlet guessed that Blue had told him something  about  his claims to be from a different reality – although, meeting the shrewd dark eyes of the Irish-American, he found himself echoing Ochre’s hope that Blue had kept some of it back, as insurance against the ruthless nature of his ally. 

There seemed to be nothing of the genial Patrick Donaghue he knew in the brooding figure across the room.  He swallowed compulsively, as he acknowledged, for the second time in  as many years, that, after all, Pat had been a very prominent member of a profession not known for their people skills, and that there was definitely a core of steel beneath even Pat’s sunny nature.  Surely, this Patrick Donaghue was simply as much an exaggerated version of the original, as Blue or Symphony or even Green appeared to be.  He wondered what choices this man had made to have caused so radical a shift in his character.

There was movement across the room and Magenta turned his penetrating gaze on to Symphony Angel.  As he watched her, his eyes appeared to grow even darker with – Scarlet realised in surprise – an almost desperate yearning. 

Well, Scarlet mused, he knew that, in his World,  Pat  Donaghue had always had a ‘soft spot’ for Karen Wainwright – and had, briefly, held cautious hopes that she felt the same, but he’d eventually  accepted that he was not the man she really wanted and that particular daydream had been laid to rest, or so Scarlet had always imagined.  Since then Pat had escorted several of the young women from the base’s support staff, without ever appearing to get too deeply involved with any one in particular. 

Scarlet studied Symphony, remembering what the colonel had said about her refusal to join the Agency.  There was no way she could fail to be aware of Magenta’s intense look,  but she pointedly ignored it and her bright eyes met Scarlet’s with the merest hint of a wink as she chewed on her ubiquitous gum.  

Feeling surprisingly reassured, he continued his examination of the group. Ochre’s febrile eyes were fixed with obvious animosity on Magenta, until, sensing he was being studied, he glanced towards Scarlet and his tense expression relaxed slightly. Obviously, he now saw the Englishman as an ally, but Scarlet still found it hard to come to terms with the fact that the animosity, between two men he knew to be close friends in his world, was fierce enough to be almost tangible.  But then, Richard Fraser was not one to compromise his standards for purely diplomatic reasons, after all.

Captain Flaxen was sitting beside her partner.  She noticed his astonishing reaction to Scarlet and she stared, frowning, at her compatriot.  Scarlet wished Ochre had had the foresight to warn his partner.  Flaxen was obviously well in tune with his moods, and she recognised the unexpected relaxation of hostilities between the two erstwhile rivals for Claudia’s affections and could not imagine what had brought it about.  She certainly knew that, in Ochre’s private Hell, the innermost circle had been reserved for the triumvirate of Blue, Magenta and Scarlet – with equal venom.

He hoped that Ochre had the sense to hide their new rapprochement from the canny eyes of the Agency bosses.  Whatever else people had told him about Blue and Magenta, no-one had called them stupid, and they were unlikely to miss the development of a new alliance between their opponents.

Colonel White coughed to attract their attention and looked around the room at his warring officers.  He had decided, at the last minute, to include Scarlet in the conference. The chilling words of the Mysterons’ threat had struck a chord in his memory as he recalled the young man’s story of just such a threat and how it had been handled in his World – and its unexpected consequences. So far, he thought, it is additional proof that, however unlikely the facts might seem, Scarlet does appear to be telling me the truth – or at least a version of it.  He speculated that this young man’s inclusion in the forthcoming mission might – possibly – be helpful in bringing down the Agency Bosses, once and for all.  After all, he reasoned, hindsight is an exact science.

 Before his silence provoked comment, he said,

 “I trust everyone heard the Mysterons’ threat?  Good.  I want to know if anyone has any ideas as to just what they could be planning this time.” He turned to his right. “Captain Blue, any thoughts?” Scarlet breathed a sigh of relief, the colonel wasn’t letting on that he had heard tell of a similar threat, or where his prior knowledge might have come from.

Blue gave the merest smile. “It would seem to be targeted at volcanoes, sir.  At a guess,” he added, with a conspiratorial glance at Scarlet.

“I agree with Captain Blue, sir,” Scarlet interjected.  “What’s more, I suggest they mean to start with Etna, where, as you know, the new volcanic pacifier has recently been installed, in an attempt to deter what have been forecast as major eruptions.  Should the Mysterons – or anyone else – succeed in tampering with the pacifier and inducing these eruptions, it would be catastrophic for the region.  I imagine, if the scheme proved successful,  they would move on to other locations; the area is rich with active volcanoes, such as Vesuvius, or they might even take on a wider range of targets… for example, the volcanoes along the Pacific Rim.” He couldn’t resist the temptation to steal Blue’s thunder for once.

“You took the words right out of my mouth, Lieutenant.” There was a hint of amusement in Blue’s voice as he uncrossed his long legs and strolled across to the World map displayed behind the colonel. “Neighbouring pillars of fire – and we know Etna is already active to the point of being a danger to the surrounding area, that was the reason it was chosen to pilot the effectiveness of the pacifiers – or so I believe.  And let’s not forget Stromboli -the latest reports say that volcano has been more active of late, as has Vesuvius… across the bay here, very close to Naples.” He tapped the map with one finger.  “It is just conceivable that a major eruption at Etna would destabilise the area and provoke the other volcanoes into erupting too – with, as the good Lieutenant so aptly says, catastrophic results. Apart from that, sir,” he glanced at Magenta with a satisfied smirk, “I am as much in the dark as everyone else. I really know very little about volcanoes.  Isn’t that the case, Captain Magenta?”

Magenta barely looked up from the folder he was studying and growled, “No doubt, Captain Blue.”

“If you read the daily update reports, Captain, you would know rather more than you claim to. You would know, for instance, about the possibility of a ‘terrorist’ assault on the pacifier.  Warnings have been received by the Italian authorities and that is why Spectrum already has a presence on Etna.” The colonel looked with grave warning at the two Americans.  “I do not want another incident to explain to the World Security Council.”

This time Magenta did look up, and growled, “Your meaning, Colonel?   Are you suggesting we have any connection with this threat?”

Colonel White met the challenging stare with a forthright one of his own.  It was Magenta who looked away, a dull flush on his cheeks as he studied his folder once more.

Blue ignored them and walked back to the colonel’s desk. “How do you propose we combat this threat, Colonel?” 

Scarlet glanced surreptitiously at the colonel, wondering how he would deal with such a leading question. 

Colonel White kept his tone as neutral as Blue’s had been.  “There is already a security cordon in place around Etna – it comprises of a few of our men and a contingent from the local WAAF base. Therefore, as the threat is now from the Mysterons, it would seem prudent to increase our presence – to prevent any Mysteron agents from destroying or interfering with the pacifier.  I also propose to send a second team down, to protect Professor Gaspari – Captain Grey, you will lead that team,” he paused, “and as for the Etna team…”

“I would like to volunteer, sir.”

“You, Captain Blue?” The colonel’s surprise was not feigned.  “I understood you are still on the sick list.”

“Happily, Doctor Fawn has certified me as fit for duty this very evening.  I am sure the paperwork is on its way, as we speak, sir.”

The colonel gave the tall American an icy stare.  Blue worked when he wanted to and if he told Fawn he wanted to be declared unfit, a certificate would duly appear on the colonel’s desk the next morning.  He had no doubt that a certificate of fitness could appear just as readily.

“How fortunate, Captain.  Very well, I think you ought to go along – with Captain Ochre, Symphony Angel and… Lieutenant Scarlet.”

“Do I have to work with him?” Ochre protested, glaring at the smirking Blue with genuine loathing.

“Captain Ochre, now is not the time for personal animosities,” Colonel White said sharply.  “Many thousands of lives will be at risk if we fail to stop this Mysteron threat. I trust you and Captain Blue to work together with all diligence.”

“I have no problem with that,” Blue said, looking hurt.  “I am only sorry that Captain Ochre still finds it within himself to harbour such a grudge against me. I was only doing my duty at the Car-Vu, after all.”

“Oh, can it, you sanctimonious hypocrite!” Ochre snarled.

“Captain Ochre!”  The colonel’s anger was not feigned this time.

Ochre’s dark eyes met the colonel’s fierce blue ones and, after a short struggle, fell.  “I apologise,” he muttered.

“And I accept,” Blue grinned.

I wasn’t apologising to you…”

“Hey, when you two schoolboys have stopped playing one-upmanship games with each other, we have a job to do.” Symphony Angel stood and tugged her uniform jacket down over her ample hips.  “Come on Sky, Oaks – let’s get a move on. Lieutenant Scarlet, can we leave you to sort an SPJ out?  Half-an-hour in hangar two, you guys, and the last one there is a cissy!”

She strolled out of the room with an air of indifference and Flaxen, following her out, was heard to mutter, “Sometimes, I think she’s the only one around here with any balls.”

The men all avoided looking at each other and busied themselves gathering their belongings, prior to leaving the room.

Apparently in a hurry to get to the hangar and perform the pre-take off checks, Scarlet hurried after Symphony. Hearing his call she stopped and waited for him. He saw the gleam of intelligence in her hazel-green eyes as she watched him approach.  Remembering Ochre’s assessment of her, he found himself warming to this woman.  He had always liked Karen Wainwright; they had a lot in common in many ways – quite apart from their friendship with Adam Svenson.

“I need your help…” he began with a quick smile.

“Forgotten if the hangars are in the same place in this universe?” she asked quietly, a sceptical smile on her unusually pallid face.

He grimaced. So Ochre had guessed right and Colonel White had told her.  “Very funny, Symphony.” He returned her smile.    “No, I’m thinking about Lieutenant Garnet… as you are aware of our predicament, you must realise that this may be our best chance to get back through the portal. I have no idea what triggered the switch between my reality and yours, but I’m betting it won’t be there for ever…”

“You intend to use this opportunity to leave us, Captain?”  There was an edge to her voice that revealed her disapproval.

“Believe me, I want to stop the Mysterons any way I can, and anywhere I can.   But, once that part of the mission is over… would you deny that I have the right to seek a way back to my own world?”

She glanced away momentarily. “No, I guess you have the right to do that – after you’ve helped us sort this threat out.   Fair’s fair, after all.”

He smiled at her. “Yes,” he said, thinking that Symphony was not always so level-headed.  “So you must understand that I can’t leave Garnet here. Yet, I’m sure I’m not authorized to sanction her discharge from sick-bay.”

She nodded. “And you assume I am?”  She drew a deep breath and said, “I don’t pretend to understand what game you are playing, Captain Scarlet, but the colonel says you are to be trusted – for now – so… you can leave it to me. I have my orders too.  It would be for the best if only we two knew about this for now.  I wish I had been in time to stop you telling everything to Captain Blue… the Agency may have other plans for the pair of you, and we don’t want them interfering.” She paused and dropped her voice to a whisper. “By the way, you have realised you’re being followed, haven’t you?  Magenta isn’t going to risk losing you or Garnet, if you are from another dimension and if you are our Scarlet, he still wants you dead.  I would advise you to keep clear of Lieutenant Cobalt; he is not a nice man.  I’ll fetch Garnet, whilst you go and get the jet sorted. We’ll meet you in hangar two in ten minutes. If you can distract Cobalt for a while, it’ll make it easier.”

“Distract as in… render unconscious?”

She shrugged.  “Whatever you can manage, Scarlet.  If Cobalt doesn’t carry out his orders he’ll end up having to explain it to Magenta and Patrick will, no doubt, express his annoyance in his usual way.  Still, broken fingers do mend… eventually.”

“Symphony…”

She looked up at him, “Yes?”

“Thanks… for everything.”

“Wait until we’ve done it, Paul, then you can be as grateful as you like!” She suddenly reached out and patted his cheek, winked and resumed her unhurried stroll to the escalators.

Scarlet watched until she had disappeared and the others had pushed past him and gone their separate ways.  He turned towards the conference room, where Ochre and the colonel were still busily discussing something or other and caught sight of Cobalt hovering along the corridor.  With a sigh he turned and walked slowly towards the hangar, planning exactly how he would distract the young Nigerian. 

 

By the time Symphony arrived at the hangar ready to depart, the other members of the away team were already there but, Scarlet grinned, no-one called her a cissy as she threw a holdall into the passenger compartment and moved to the cockpit. 

“If I can’t fly myself, I want to be where I can prevent anyone else crashing the plane,” she said, looking sourly at Captain Blue who was going through the final instrument checks. “I don’t suppose…” she began.

“Quite right,” he replied absently as he reset a dial and then glanced up at her.  “I fly my own plane, Symphony.  Always have done, always will.”

“Don’t I know it,” she replied.  She strapped herself into the co-pilot’s seat and tapped a series of codes into the console as the jet was raised to the flight deck.  “Ready when you are, Sky.  Let’s take her up.”

Lieutenant Green gave them flight clearance and the jet taxied smoothly along the deck and sailed seamlessly into the wide, blue expanse of the cloudless sky. Scarlet gave a slight nod of acknowledgement – Real Adam couldn’t have handled the take-off better – the colonel had been right to say Blue was a good pilot.

The SPJ banked away from Cloudbase, framing the huge craft in a halo of brilliant sunlight before the base disappeared from sight as they headed for the Italian coast.   Sitting next to Ochre in the passenger seats, Scarlet mused on the forthcoming mission with some trepidation. 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Symphony was waiting for Captain Blue as he emerged from the cabin in his wetsuit. Silently she handed him his mask and fins. He smiled his thanks, too unsure of her mood to risk speaking. She threw her arms round him and whispered in his ear, “Take care of yourself and I hope you find Paul.  But if it is a choice between him or you, I am going to be really selfish and hope you make it back.”

He hugged her. “Oh, I’ll be back; someone has to keep you in check…”

She thumped him playfully, and then presented her face for his kiss.  Oblivious to the audience they had acquired, he kissed her and she broke away with a smile. Troy indicated the entrance to the airlock with a gesture that invited the Spectrum officer to go first and, as Blue turned to go, Symphony playfully slapped his backside.

 “No flirting with any pretty mermaids…” she teased, hiding her fears for his safety under levity – as usual.

The divers left Stingray using the sea-bugs. Captain Blue had never used one before and it took him a few attempts to manoeuvre the individual jet-motor correctly and stretch out behind it so that it towed him along through the water.  He could hear Tempest chuckling at his ungainly actions over his microphone.  Having finally mastered the technique, he gave the aquanaut the thumbs up and they moved away from Stingray into the open sea.

 The current was even stronger than Blue remembered and controlling the machine was quite a task initially.  He followed in Troy’s slipstream as the aquanaut led the way towards the jumble of jagged boulders that lay at the foot of the volcanic coastline.  They searched along the sea-bed but saw no sign of Captain Scarlet.

 Suddenly Tempest waved Blue to a halt and, handing him his sea-bug, he dived to the sea-bed, coming back with the underwater map the Spectrum officers had used for their initial search of the wreckage area.  “I’ll give this to Phones, it’ll save his duplicating the effort,” he said over the radio. Blue nodded and watched as Tempest turned his sea-bug around and headed for the sub once more. 

Left alone, Blue decided to use the time investigating his immediate surroundings. He could see how the escarpment seemed to fall away into a precipitous trench, a few metres beyond where he was.  He edged forward to determine the extent of the drop.  He had not moved very far when there was a deep, bone-shaking rumble and the water around him began to seethe.  Huge jets of boiling water exploded from crevices, like some geological Jacuzzi, and his surroundings grew perceptibly warmer, as the sudden flood entered the straits.  Influenced by the rising tides, a strong wave buffeted at him and he began to spin uncontrollably in the undertow.  The sea-bug was torn from his desperate grasp and spun away to crash onto the rocks below. He tried to swim against the insistent pull but made little headway against the increasingly turbulent current. Then the water seemed to heave, as if a giant wave was breaking over him and he was hurled towards the serrated rocks.  Desperately he kicked out and sobbed with relief as he cleared the razor-edged outcrop.  He felt sure he could break clear now, but without warning the current changed and the water, spinning him like a top, dragged him down into the inky depths beyond the ridge.

“S.I.R!” he screamed into his radio mic as he fought the overpowering force of the tide.  His regulator was torn from his mouth and he was slammed against a cave wall, with a force that expelled the remaining air from his lungs. He saw a distant bank of shingle, against which the ‘wave’ was breaking with a force that deafened him, and he struggled towards it, desperate for air.  This was worse than anything he’d experienced in all his years of diving and water sports, and he was as close to drowning as he had ever been.  Bracing himself for the impact, he let the water fling him up on to the bank.   Gasping for breath, he struggled to crawl a few feet away from the drag of the retreating tide but lay too exhausted to move further as the next breaker roared into the cave and pounded him into unconsciousness.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Arriving at the WAAF base on Sicily, the Spectrum away team disembarked and started unloading their equipment from the SPJ, whilst auxiliary ground agents stowed it into the vehicles already waiting for their use.

Captain Ochre was over-seeing the operation, issuing orders in a stentorian bellow.  Scarlet smiled to see that even Captain Blue was lending a hand with the manual labour.  He got the distinct impression from Symphony’s expression that this did not happen very often. 

Whilst everyone was busy, he went back into the plane and knocked briefly on the door of the emergency medical compartment, which he had configured in the adaptable space of the passenger cabin, before they left Cloudbase.

Lieutenant Garnet opened the door and emerged into the main cabin with a tentative smile.   “We’re here?” she asked.  When he nodded, she continued, “Do they know I am here?”

“No, I thought we would let that be our little surprise…” Scarlet winked at her.  “There was no way you were going to be left behind, Claudia,” he reassured her.  “If Symphony hadn’t been prepared to collect you from sick-bay I would have found a way to fetch you myself.  There is no way of knowing if we can ever find a way back, but I am sure as hell that if anyone has a right to be here when we try – it is you.”

“Symphony told me that Colonel White has stipulated we must help deal with the Mysteron threat to the pacifier, before we could begin to look for the portal,” she explained.  She wondered if he knew that the Angel pilot had pumped her for information all the time she was accompanying her down to the hangar bay.  It had been a relief to explain about her captivity and escape to such a sympathetic listener, that she had, perhaps, said more than she should concerning Captain Scarlet’s remarkable abilities.  But Symphony had shown so little surprise on hearing the information that she suspected the captain had told her himself. 

When they had reached the hangar bay, Symphony had noted with satisfaction that Scarlet was alone and had left him to stow Garnet away on the plane – hurrying away to collect her own things before her tardiness became too noticeable.

Now, as she emerged with Captain Scarlet into the bright, Mediterranean sunlight, Garnet wondered if she had done the right thing after all. No-one seemed very pleased to see her, indeed, Captain Ochre’s face showed a mixture of alarm and concern at the sight of her. 

He began to berate Scarlet. “What on earth are you thinking of?  I’m sure Lieutenant Garnet can’t have recovered enough to undertake this mission.  Besides, we don’t have time to make allowances for any officers unable to keep up,” he insisted as he gazed at the young woman.  Garnet blushed with embarrassment, although whether it was caused by his words or his gaze it wasn’t possible to say.

“If anyone has the right to be here when we investigate the possibility of making the return journey to our own dimension, it is Lieutenant Garnet,” Scarlet said calmly, in the face of Ochre’s continuing bluster. “And if you must know, I asked Symphony to fetch her to join us.  She was doing me a favour.”

Ochre turned angrily towards Symphony.    “I was happy to do it,” the Angel pilot commented blandly, with a look at her colleague that should have been enough to calm his agitation.  It didn’t, primarily, she imagined, because he was actually more unsettled by the presence of the woman than he was worried about the consequences to his mission. She pursed her lips and held her tongue realising that, even knowing that this woman wasn’t the same Claudia Vecchio as the one he had been in love with, was not making it any easier for Ochre to ignore her. 

Then, much to everyone’s surprise, Blue echoed Ochre’s doubts. This was one reproof too many for Symphony – she wasn’t prepared to make allowances for this captain’s feelings – and, in response to his reproof; she jerked one hand towards him, the middle finger extended. 

Scarlet smothered a laugh.

Garnet sighed and wondered if Captain Ochre didn’t have a point after all. She was feeling much better than when the rescue team had found them; but she knew she was still weak.  When Symphony had arrived in sick bay with the news that Captain Scarlet was returning to Etna, she had panicked, wondering if she would to be left alone in this new reality.  But now, in the face of Ochre and Blue’s disapproval, she began to doubt the wisdom of her decision and she moved to stand closer to Captain Scarlet.  He gave her a reassuring smile and she felt grateful that he seemed to understand her. 

Ochre continued to look angrily at the Angel and said, “Then I hope you will do me the favour of explaining that to the colonel, instead of expecting me to do it.   He thinks we are all here primarily to stop the Mysterons from carrying out their threat. And, anything that might hamper that aim is to be regretted.  Besides, I don’t believe he expected you to turn this into a chance to go inter-dimensional pot-holing.  At least, not until we have definitely stopped the Mysterons dead in their tracks…”

Scarlet interrupted peremptorily.  “If I can do anything to help stop the Mysterons carrying out their threat, I will, rest assured, Captain. Yet, I am sure you’ll understand if I say, to me, getting myself and Garnet back to where we belong is equally important.”

Ochre shrugged and turned his back on his companions; it had unsettled him to see Claudia and he was fighting hard to stay in control.

Anxious to patch things up with the – at least nominal – commander of this mission, Scarlet moved closer and  glanced surreptitiously at Blue before adding quietly, “I can understand why you are concerned… you doubt his intentions?”

Ochre shrugged.  He did not yet trust Scarlet enough to confide everything to him. Besides, it was too late to do much about it now. Claudia was here and he would just have to make the best of it.  He considered that his mission was already hampered by a team that consisted of an independent and strong-willed woman, a man determined to go his own way and a fellow officer, whose primary allegiance, it seemed, was to the enemy. Now he had the additional burden of a semi-invalid. He knew he was going to have to exert himself to keep command of this eclectic group.

He turned to the SSC the auxiliary had brought across the tarmac.  “It is gonna be a squash in there,” he grumbled.

“Three in the front and then there is still room in the back for the equipment,” Symphony said briskly.  “Who’s going to drive?”

The three men glanced at each other.  “Me,” Blue said firmly and demanded the keys from the hovering security guard.

“Nothing new there, then,” Scarlet muttered and followed Blue to the car. 

 

After a certain amount of discussion, Scarlet and Ochre ended up amongst the equipment in the back seats whilst the women sat with Blue in the front.

 Scarlet noticed that the three security guards who had met the plane followed behind in a second SSC; clearly, Ochre was taking no chances of being outnumbered by others with differing aims on this mission.  Although he knew he shouldn’t have been surprised the colonel had given instructions that the search for the portal must wait until after the resolution of this mission – it was, after all, what he would have expected from his own colonel, if he was honest about it – he couldn’t help feeling worried that any delay in getting back through the portal might jeopardise their chances of ever returning.

 He was cautiously hopeful that they would find a way to get back, but quite how he was going to communicate with his Captain Blue and the rescue team he was sure would be searching for them, was another matter. He could only hope that although he had travelled back in time, when they found a portal it would take them back to the date he had disappeared…. Otherwise they could spend a year waiting for Adam to even be in the right place… always assuming his disappearance hadn’t altered the timeline in his own dimension, of course.  It was a nightmare.

Squashed in the back of the SSC, nursing a kit bag on his lap, Captain Scarlet frowned and tried to look on the bright side of things… before deciding, with uncharacteristic pessimism, that he couldn’t think of any.

 

~oo0oo~

 

At the camp at the base of the volcano, where restless waves crashed against the black shoreline, sending perpetual clouds of steam hissing into the air, Scarlet recognised the outcrop of jagged rocks that guarded the entrances to the interlocking tunnels and caves which honeycombed the mountain.  There were more Spectrum Auxiliary guards around the area and a portacabin not far away – which was obviously their HQ – a far cry from the hi-tech surroundings of Cloudbase, he thought, as he surveyed the area.

Under the watchful eye of the guards they unloaded the ropes, hard hats and powerful flashlights from the SSC.   It quickly became apparent that there were not enough hats to go around.

“You can use mine,” Scarlet said to Garnet, automatically holding out the bright yellow headgear, with its distinctive Spectrum logo at the front.

 She reached to take it from him, but Ochre stopped her and handed her his. “Better that you use mine,” he said brusquely, with a significant twitch of his eyebrows at Scarlet. “I’m not likely to get killed by falling rocks, am I?” 

Scarlet, remembering that Blue – and possibly Symphony – remained in ignorance of his power of retrometabolism, obediently plonked his hat back on his dark hair and winked at Garnet. She cringed at the thought that she might have ‘blown his cover’ with the Angel pilot.  With a sinking heart she put her hat on and watched as the others finished the preparations for their entrance to the tunnels.

The entrance was wide and easy to negotiate but within a few metres, the passage divided.  The wider of the two was almost completely blocked by a rock fall and the other was a mere crevice.  With Ochre leading the way, they shuffled along in single file and frequently had to crawl.   There were frequent clangs as hard hat met rock and Captain Blue was not the only one cursing fluently by the time they emerged into a small, dark cavern. 

Scarlet found it hard to remember the exact route they had taken, but he couldn’t recall the way out being quite so treacherous.

Garnet, already wilting with the heat and exertion, leaned against the rock face and said to him, “I don’t remember much about being carried from the caves earlier, Captain, but it never seemed this bad.”

Ochre turned at hearing her comment, and answered before Scarlet, “No, it wasn’t this way.  We came out before via a more direct route, which was subsequently blocked.  You saw, back there, that wider passage, blocked by the rock fall? We came out through there; it intersects with the passages we used, some way down the tunnel system.  This is now the only way down into the main cavern, and from there we have to climb back to that intersection to link with the tunnel with the pacifier in.   It’s possible that the whole tunnel will be blocked by a fall eventually, so there are plans to drill a secure route through to the pacifier’s chamber but they hadn’t got very far when the tremor brought this roof down.”

“He waits until now to tell us that,” Blue muttered, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Hey, you know what?  I am hoping that whatever happens here, you manage to get trapped inside this mountain until you learn some manners!”

“Oh, now I’m worried,” Blue mocked. He straightened up to his full height in response to Ochre’s aggressive stance.

“Hey!” Symphony moved between them.  “If he gets trapped we’ll all be trapped – so unless you two want to spend your last hours fighting each other, stop it!”

“They won’t be my last hours…” Ochre taunted. Blue darted towards him, but Scarlet stepped next to Symphony and they formed a barrier between the warring Americans. He laid a hand on Blue’s chest and pushed him away. 

“She’s right, Blue.  We all want to get out of here in one piece, and to do that we need to co-operate.  Now, let’s move on again, shall we?  Does anyone have any idea where we go from here?”

Ochre produced a sketch map and waved it under their noses, “This is as good as it gets… Flaxen and I drew this before we left Cloudbase.  We based this on the official charts the authorities produced, when they installed the machine, but of course, since then some tunnels have collapsed and others opened.  We simplified it, to make it easier to follow,” Ochre explained to Symphony as she took the paper and squinted at it under the light from her torch. 

She grimaced, “You failed then, Oaks… this looks like nothing so much as two spiders dancing a jig…”

Sniggering, Scarlet peered over her shoulder.  “I see what you mean, all right, but look, I think you’ll find that…” he turned the map the other way round, “now it looks slightly more comprehensible… that circle must represent the cave we are in now.  The pacifier looks to be over in that direction, through those tunnels coming off from the next large cave, the entrance to which, ought to be in that direction.  The cavern Garnet and I are looking for, to find the portal, is across there and down a further tunnel,” he said to Symphony, who nodded her head in rueful agreement. 

“What is it with women and maps?” Blue murmured to no-one in particular.

“You are coming to check the pacifier with me?” Ochre sought confirmation from his colleagues.

Blue gave a derisive snort. “Are you saying you’d trust me anywhere near it?” he asked Ochre.

“Personally, I wouldn’t trust you anywhere,” came the immediate reply.

“Stop it!” Symphony snarled at them both, “Before I knock your heads together.”

“I will come with you, Captain, although I suggest that Lieutenant Garnet remains here.  Perhaps you would be kind enough to stay with her, Symphony?” Scarlet said.

“Hey, no…” the Angel protested.

Ochre over-ruled her, “Scarlet is right, she can’t traipse about after us… please, Karen, stay with her…” He placed a hand on the Angel’s arm.  Her indecision was clearly visible on her face, but as she glanced across at the exhausted Garnet, she nodded her head.  “Thank you,” Ochre said simply.

“I am sorry,” Garnet said to her.  “I know how much you’d rather be going with them…”

“It’s all right,” Symphony replied. “They’ll need someone to protect their cute butts for them, anyway and you need to conserve your strength for the climb to the other cavern and the portal home.  Let’s move over there and find a better place to sit this out…”  

She shouldered one of the canvas knapsacks and started across the rock-strewn floor in the direction of the far tunnel entrances.  Garnet trailed after. Their progress was slow for the floor of the cavern was littered with fallen rocks of all sizes, many with edges sharp enough to slice the flesh of any unwary person who slipped and fell.

The officers watched the women until they were the best part of the way across the cavern. Symphony stopped frequently to assist her weaker companion and at one point they both turned and waved at the officers. All three men waved back.

“She’s a nice girl…” Scarlet commented. Ochre glared at him and with a smile he explained, “Symphony is a nice girl.  She really wanted to stay with us, but she knew Garnet couldn’t have kept up.”

“Yeah, well, she’s responsible for bringing Claudia along in the first place.  And as I told you – except for one unaccountable weakness – she’s the best of the Angels.” Ochre cast a glance at Captain Blue.

The tall American sighed. “I’ve known far worse women,” he agreed. 

Scarlet’s eyebrows rose as he detected a softening in Blue’s expression.  Maybe this Adam wasn’t as indifferent to this Karen as he liked to make out?

They shouldered the other knapsacks and turned to begin the steep climb to the mouth of the tunnel that led to the pacifier.  They had barely gone a few metres when a gunshot echoed around the cavern and there was a scream from one of the women.

Three heads spun around. Symphony was down, shielding Garnet.  That they were both alive was confirmed as they began to crawl up the slope to the mouth of a large tunnel. Several shots hit the rocks around them, causing them to drop flat again.

Peering in the direction of the shots they were able to make out the figure of a man near the mouth of the first tunnel.  He was armed with an automatic weapon and was firing at the women. To reach him they would have to cross largely open terrain, which would be suicide, but, Scarlet realised, there was a slim chance he could reach the women and try to protect them. 

He didn’t hesitate. Dropping his kit bag and his hard hat, he set off at a run towards Symphony and Garnet, dodging behind boulders and zigzagging across the open ground.    Captain Blue, following close behind, stopped after a few paces, crouched behind a sizeable rock and drew his pistol from his holster.  He fired off a few shots in the general direction of the gunman, which, although he was too far away for them to be very effective, did succeed in diverting the gunman’s attention and drawing his fire away from the women. 

It also put both Scarlet and himself in the firing line.

Pausing to fire off another round, Blue squinted at the distant figure and gave a gasp of recognition.  “Ruffolo!”   That can only mean that Magenta is behind this attack…which could make things difficult, he thought. Doggedly, he followed Captain Scarlet, who was now some distance ahead.

Ochre watched the other officers disappear with exasperation.  His shouts of “Wait!” had been lost in the echoes of further shooting.  Cursing, he began to follow, but a series of near misses from a second – and so far unseen – gunman forced him back towards the tunnels leading to the pacifier.  Realising that this second gunman could easily outflank his colleagues, he drew his own pistol and fired off a blistering hail of bullets in the general direction of the assassins.

Come on, Punk, he thought desperately, you come after me and I will have you!

 He glanced back into the darkness of the cave’s interior and, praying that Scarlet and Blue would be able to protect the women, he darted into the tunnel leading to the pacifier and waited at the first bend, confident that his assailant had followed him.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Oblivious of the drama being played out in the caverns beneath their feet, the Italian security guards on the surface watched with some surprise as an SPV approached their portacabin HQ.  They had had no notification from Cloudbase, or even the office in Naples, to expect reinforcements.  However, any addition to the complement here was welcome.  They all had to spend their thirty minutes in the tunnels close to the pacifier and even with the ear-defenders the noise and unrelenting thump of the machine was unbearable after the shortest time.  The possibility that they would have less time down there was a welcome one. 

So it came as a complete shock when the SPV cannon slid from the front grill and blasted the portacabin to smithereens.  The surviving security man from Cloudbase tried desperately to contact any member of the tunnel party, but there was too much interference for his personal radio to be effective and the base’s powerful radio was in the smoking ruins of the portacabin

Those men who had not been in the building ran for cover.   They watched as the SPV driving seat descended and a tall, dark-haired man emerged from the SPV – a man dressed in a black Spectrum uniform.  With ruthless concentration, he moved across the site, and picked off every surviving agent. As the last man drew his final breath, two pale green rings of light shimmered over the devastation and the ruined building rose once more on its foundations. 

Captain Black watched with an expressionless face as the green rings travelled over the dead bodies and one by one the Mysteron agents clambered to their feet.  They turned their dead eyes on their leader and, in obedience to his unspoken command, dragged the corpses of their human selves towards a gaping fissure that had recently opened in the volcano wall.  With no apparent sentiment, they slung the bodies into the molten rock beneath their feet and watched them incinerate in the primordial furnace.

Captain Black then walked towards the entrance to the warren of tunnels and disappeared inside.  Two of the newly created Mysteron agents followed him.

 

~oo0oo~

 

Once the officers had opened fire against the assassins, and the bullets had stopped flying around their heads, Symphony encouraged Garnet to crawl along towards the nearest tunnel mouth. “We can hide in there, Claudia… it’s not far.”

There was the sound of more gunshots echoing around the cave and they could just hear Scarlet’s voice yelling, “Get under cover!  Hide!”

“The men’ll be coming to help us,” Symphony said with more assurance than she felt.  They edged their way to the tunnel, and as another flurry of bullets bounced around them, Symphony pushed Garnet into a narrow fissure in the tunnel wall.  “Quick, hide in there!” 

The dark-haired American slipped into the gloom and moments later Symphony followed….

 

From the sparse cover of the boulders on the cavern floor, Scarlet saw the women vanish into a slit in the rock face. “Good girl, Karen…” Scarlet muttered.  “Now, what do we do about the gunman?”  He turned to Blue.

“There are two of them; one has just gone after Ochre… he went into the tunnels leading to the pacifier.  Maybe we should go after them?”

“And leave the girls to the mercy of that madman?”

“It’s Ruffolo,” Blue admitted, “one of Magenta’s main henchman … I suspect he’s under orders to kill us all.”

“Carlo Ruffolo is the second in command at Spectrum Naples. He’s a nice guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Scarlet said with some surprise.

“Maybe your Ruffolo wouldn’t,” Blue said sourly.  “That man – that Ruffolo – is a member of Magenta’s agency.  He’s killed several times on command, to my knowledge.  Magenta moved him to Naples when the colonel posted Garnet there.  If he is here, it’s because Magenta sent him – he wouldn’t leave the command HQ without instructions from the Agency.”

Almost as if he had heard the words, Ruffolo suddenly extended his gun arm and fired towards the crouching men.  The bullet went wild and ricocheted around the boulders at the foot of the shingle bank.  The officers dived for cover.  Ruffolo fired again.

“Well, that proves he’s probably been told to kill us all,” Blue called to Scarlet where he was hiding behind a nearby rock.

“Me, sure and even you, at a pinch, but why harm the women?”

“If you are from another dimension, so is Garnet… As for Symphony – Well, Pat’s patience is easily exhausted and she’s been a thorn in the side of the Agency for some time now.  I’m afraid that he doesn’t put his personal feelings before his money making schemes,” Blue explained absently as he busied himself reloading his pistol.  He glanced up at Scarlet. “Besides, she may have told him to go to Hell once too often.”

“Would you care if she’s hurt?”

“Of course I would!” There was a flash of anger in his face.  “She’s my friend.”

Scarlet gave a thoughtful glance. “If you say so,” he agreed mildly. 

He yelped in surprise as another bullet whizzed past.  “He’s not really aiming anywhere,” he snapped. There was a distinct rumble behind them as the noise and the impact of the bullets unsettled the fragile stability of the cavern.  A large boulder rolled ponderously down the slope.  “If he goes on like this he’ll have the roof down,” he concluded.

“What makes you think he isn’t aiming on purpose?” Blue commented, fixing a device to the barrel of his gun.  He shifted his position and rested his arm on the rock in front of him, closed one eye and took careful aim.

“You’re too far away to make the shot count…” Scarlet advised just as Blue pulled the trigger.  The bullet hit Ruffolo’s arm and he dropped the gun.   “Nice shooting,” he complimented with some surprise. “That will certainly win you a goldfish…” He peered at the Spectrum issue pistol, wondering if it was the same as the one he carried.  He doubted that would have made the shot.

Blue’s teeth flashed in the gloom as he grinned. “No thanks,” he said, “I gave up goldfish for Lent… besides, I was aiming for his head…”

Ruffolo, hurt, angered and frustrated, began to spray bullets wildly in their general direction.  More rocks began to tumble down the slope.

 “Let’s get out of here,” Blue suggested.  “We should be able to find another of those crevices to slip into.  Then, if Ruffolo wants to carry on with his assault, he’ll have to come closer and… I’ll have him!”  He led the scramble towards the nearest part of the tunnel and slid into the narrow crevice on the opposite side of the wall from that the women had chosen. 

Following close behind Scarlet edged into the gap too and experienced an unusual crackle of static.   He glanced back and to his consternation saw that the wall seemed to be closing behind them as the tunnel they had entered became indistinct and hazy.  He turned to alert Blue, but the American had vanished.  Now thoroughly disconcerted, he shuffled along until he could see a dim light ahead.  With a gasp of astonished relief, he stepped out onto a paved street.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Captain Blue was standing a short distance away, his hand raised to his head, his hard hat pushed back from his brow as he stared around at their surroundings.    Scarlet remained where he was for a moment and then, gingerly stepped backwards into the crevice… he felt the static electricity spark over his body as the distant light diminished once more.  It seemed that he could move through the crevice unhindered and so he stepped out once more onto the street and looked around him with interest, making good note of just where the entrance to their escape route was.

            The first thing that struck him about their new location was the devastation.  All around, the buildings were in ruins and the streets littered with debris, burning cars and dead bodies. In the distance, sirens wailed and the sound of gunfire was just audible.

            “We must’ve landed in a war zone,” Blue said, wrinkling his nose against the smell.

“Whereabouts do you think we are?” Scarlet asked, surveying the ruined landscape with a frown. “I have to say I don’t remember Adam and me coming to anywhere like this.”

When there was no answer from the man at his side, he turned to look at him.  The colour had drained from Blue’s face and there was a look of horror in his pale eyes.  He was staring at the partially demolished gate of a house across the road and he moved towards it in a kind of daze.  Sensing his companion might have recognised the location, and that it might not be a good idea for them to get separated in this devastation, Scarlet followed him.

After a few minutes of intense silence, he ventured to ask, “Captain Blue, do you know where we are?  Is this a part of your life?” It was a silly question really, Blue was moving with a definite purpose.

He turned and looked with bleak eyes at the Englishman, and nodded.  “Yes, I know where this is.  This is Boston and that,” he pointed at the gutted wreck of the house beyond the wall, “that is what’s left of my home.”

Scarlet turned in shocked alarm to look at the house again.  Now that he was really looking at it, he could recognise what was left of the house he had visited a couple of times with Adam.  The windows and door were blown out and the gardens, which had always been so immaculate, were full of bomb craters and debris.

“Adam, before we go over,” he ordered, “hand me your hat… we’ll leave it just by the tunnel… I don’t want us to get lost here.”

Blue nodded and spun the hat like a Frisbee across the gap between them, and then strode across the pot-holed street.

Scarlet caught him up as he marched up the drive, his hand resting on his gun – Blue was obviously taking no chances.

They pushed their way over the rubble and into the hallway.  From unconscious habit, Blue turned left into what Scarlet remembered as the comfortable main living room. The place had obviously been looted after the bomb damage – broken pieces of furniture and torn fabrics scattered the floor.  He jumped as Blue gave an inarticulate cry and suddenly strode across to the ruins of a picture, thrown down by a marble fireplace.  He picked it up and wiped it with his hand, gently brushing the dust and rubble from the canvas.

 One side was torn from its gilt frame completely and the other side bore a jagged hole in one corner, evidently where someone’s heel had ripped through the canvas.  It was a portrait and Scarlet, coming to investigate, could see enough of the face to recognise the wavy, light brown hair and bright, grey eyes of Adam’s mother.  No motionless picture could really do Sarah Svenson justice – her beauty came from the animation of her features and the particular brilliance of her warm smile – but he could see that this had been a fine portrait, painted by someone who had understood the sitter and striven to give an illusion of her vivacious charm.

He looked at Blue and wondered if he knew the portrait. He had no idea how old Sarah had been when this was painted but he knew that in Blue’s world she had died when he was young.

 “Your mother,” he whispered. “It’s a good likeness.”

Blue glanced at him with a fierce possessiveness in his eyes.  “You said you knew her – is this the woman you knew?”

Scarlet nodded. “Yes, I would say so.  It looks like the Sarah I have met.”

“I have never seen this before.   This woman is older than my momma was when… when I lost her.” There were unshed tears in his eyes as he gazed at the ruined picture. 

To Scarlet, his comments held the proof that they had managed to change dimensions by stepping through the crevice.   He wrestled with the questions that presented.  If Blue doesn’t know this portrait – is this the future of my world?  The thought sent chills down his spine.  He looked around seeking some indication of when this was and how the place had come to be ruined. 

Blue was murmuring to himself, as he cleaned the debris from the picture and gently set it on the chipped mantelpiece.  “She looks…happy.  My poor, darling, momma was never happy. Not after we lost Pete.”  He looked at his silent companion and asked the same question Scarlet had been pondering on.  “Is this the dimension you expected to find?”

“No, when I left my world, Boston, and indeed everywhere else, was very much intact.  Unless…” he paused, “the Mysterons somehow managed to use the pacifier we thought we had destroyed to set the world’s volcanoes into action and… this is the result.  You see, when I arrived in your dimension, the date was a year behind the place I had left…”

“You didn’t think to mention that?” Blue frowned at him.

Scarlet shrugged.  “It never struck me as important until now.”

“So, this might be your future…” He turned back to the picture.  “I wonder if she is still alive here.  I would give anything to see her again.  You see, Scarlet, I never even got to say good-bye.  My father never even went to the funeral and he refused to allow me to go – ‘needlessly parading our private grief’, he called it.  I was twelve years old – I needed someone to notice my grief!  I didn’t care how she had died!”  He looked apologetically at the surprised Scarlet.  “I guess it’s no great secret – it’s a matter of public record, after all – but my mother killed herself.  After Pete’s death and the still-born baby – she suffered a series of miscarriages and it was all too much for her, I guess.  My father was devastated and he destroyed everything he had that reminded him of her.  I have nothing, nothing left of my mother.” He brushed a hand over his eyes and rested his head against the cold marble. 

If that has been festering in Adam’s mind for twenty-odd years, it explains a lot, Scarlet thought.  He rested his hand on the tall man’s bent shoulder, only to have it shrugged away. Feeling like an intruder in such a raw grief, Scarlet turned away. 

Watching them from the doorway, a gun pointed towards them, was an unkempt, bearded figure of a man – a tall, blond man – wearing an ill assorted collection of clothes over a gaunt frame.  His long hair was drawn back from his face in a rough ponytail and Scarlet could see that one eye was useless, cloudy and dead in that stern face. Scarlet moved a step closer and stared in a horrified disbelief as he made out the faint line of a scar along his temple.  

“My God,” he breathed. “Adam….”

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” the man croaked, cocking the pistol.  At the sound of the voice, Blue spun round and stared across the room at the untidy figure before him. 

The stranger narrowed his one good eye and stared back, a fearful terror beginning to flow over his features. “Filthy Mysterons….” he spat.

“No, Adam, wait!” Scarlet cried, stepping into the line of fire as the man aimed the pistol at Blue. 

“Why should I?  Your kind has killed everyone I cared about and destroyed everything good in this World.  I didn’t think you’d bother to come after me after the last encounter we had, but, God knows, your malevolence knows no bounds, does it?”

“We are not Mysterons…” Scarlet attempted to reassure him.  “Please, listen to us and if you don’t believe us – we will go and leave you in peace.”

Svenson’s laugh was heavy with hate and scorn. “Peace?  There is no peace in the world anymore, thanks to your kind!”

“Where is my mother?” Blue asked urgently moving towards the door way. “The woman in that portrait – where is she?”

 “She is not your mother, scumbag!”

“That is a portrait of Sarah Ellis who married John Svenson and she was my mother! Now, tell me where she is, you madman!” Enraged, Blue sprang at Svenson and a gunshot rang out.

“Adam!” Scarlet shouted, although he didn’t know which man he was attempting to reason with.  He rushed to where the two men were grappling.

“Where is she?” Blue demanded, shaking the other man fiercely. He was easily stronger than his adversary and the gun fell to the floor with a clatter. Scarlet picked it up and cocked the trigger himself. He fired at the ceiling, bringing down even more of the plaster around them, but so intense was the struggle between the two Svensons, that neither took much notice.

Finally the newcomer buckled under the physical assault.  “She is out in the garden,” he gasped.  Blue stopped shaking him and turned anxious eyes towards the back garden. “Buried under the rose-trees,” he added, trying to evade the stronger man’s grasp. “She is beyond the reach of you devils!  You can’t hurt her anymore!”

Blue pushed him away with a groan and strode down the long room to the smashed windows that looked out on what had been the rose garden.  Svenson staggered and fell the floor, gasping with pain as he was unable to save himself from landing heavily on his left arm.

 Scarlet slipped the gun into his tunic belt and went over to the injured man. “Are you hurt, Adam?” he asked. 

As he helped the man to sit comfortably he could see that the left arm was virtually useless – at some point it must have been shattered and mended badly.

Svenson turned his ravaged face on the dark man stooping beside him and struggled to focus.  “Paul, is it really you?” he asked uncertainly.  Scarlet nodded. “They told me you were dead – really dead.  I should have trusted my instincts that they couldn’t have got you, Paul. But who is he? Why are you travelling with a Mysteron?” Svenson looked to where Blue was pacing back and forth like an angry lion before the shattered windows.

Scarlet gave a wry smile; grateful Blue was too far away to hear this muted conversation.  “They didn’t get me, Adam.  At least, in my World they haven’t – yet.  That Blue isn’t a Mysteron, trust me.  Before I can explain properly I need to know one thing.  Just answer me this – what’s the date?”

Svenson looked surprised.  “2069 – May, I think.”

Scarlet breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Once again the date was more than a year ago.  This had to be another alternative dimension and not any future part of his World. There was a good chance this horror would never happen to his friends, his life.

“Listen Adam – what I am going to say may sound preposterous….” 

With as little sensationalism as he could, he sketched his recent past history to this new Adam Svenson.  Svenson glanced across at his alter-ego who had ceased pacing and was sitting dejectedly on an upturned bookcase, staring out at the garden beyond the house.

 “He lost his mother at an early age,” Scarlet explained.  “For a wild moment he thought he might see her again…”

Svenson glanced at the portrait, and back at Blue.  “At least I had her with me for most of my life… and I still have my memories of her.”  Scarlet helped him to his feet. The injured man smiled his thanks and continued, “I can’t offer you much, Paul, but what I do have you are welcome to share.” He shuffled across to Blue and placed a hand on his shoulder, “Come on, Adam; let me show just how truly awful the coffee I make can be….”

 

~oo0oo~

 

The three of them sat in the dingy kitchen and sipped the undeniably disgusting coffee Svenson prepared.  The remains of a meal – of a kind – lay on a table, a heel of stale loaf and a half-empty can of cold baked beans with a broken fork emerging from the tin. There were blankets along the wall away from the window which had been clumsily boarded over with jagged strips of wood.  A few candles – some as tall and elegant as those used on superior dining tables – stood around the surfaces.  Scarlet smiled to see a collection of books lying by the jumble of blankets that served as a bed.   All of them were damaged or torn, but had obviously been lovingly salvaged from the ruins of the once extensive library. 

Blue was still in a state of shock and if Scarlet could imagine the emotion being dammed up in that strong frame, Svenson could share it.  He chattered on about inconsequential matters for a while and Scarlet was able to piece together enough to realise that this family was the same as the Svensons in the real world – although, it appeared that Svenson now held out little hope of any of them being left alive.  His brothers and sister had fled Boston at the first attack.  

Blue sat nursing his mug of coffee and listened to the harrowing story his other self had to tell, with a fascinated horror.

“It all started about a year ago, when Symphony Angel’s plane got lost over the desert.  I wanted to go and find her and the colonel wouldn’t let me – the Mysterons had threatened Cloudbase and we were confined to the carrier.  No-one really thought it would happen, until the radar picked up a craft approaching at incredible speed.  Rhapsody went to investigate and her plane disintegrated into fragments.  Then more of the craft arrived, surrounding the base.   Colonel White sent you, Paul, out to investigate in Angel One and that too was attacked. It crashed on the base and they took your body to sick bay.  I went to see you and – they told me you were dead.  It didn’t seem possible, but after that, things went from bad to worse.  The Amber Room was blown up – we lost the planes.  Layer by layer they tore Cloudbase apart.  Finally, there was only Green, the colonel and me left – then it was just the colonel and me.  He ordered me to go – to escape – I didn’t want to and stayed as long as I could.   He made a last report to Spectrum London in praise of his crew and officers, then, as the base spiralled down on to the Himalayas, I pleaded with him to come with me, but he wouldn’t – you know how stubborn he could be – the silly old fool.  There was another explosion and the colonel bought it.  So I was alone on Cloudbase.  I just managed to get into the escape capsule and launch it, but by then we were too low over the mountains and it crashed into a cliff-face.  I don’t really remember much else until….” He paused to moisten his throat with some of the coffee.

 

Scarlet’s face reflected his confusion as he heard the story told in that halting voice. A couple of years ago now, he remembered that his Symphony’s plane had crashed in a similar location.  Destiny, scouring the area in Angel Two, had spotted the burning Angel Interceptor on the initial sweep, but there was no sign of the pilot, apart from some footsteps leading away into the harsh sands of the desert. Colonel White had immediately ordered a search party to find her.  Adam had piloted the Spectrum helijet like a man possessed – squeezing every last ounce of speed from the machine, until he had half expected they would crash as well.

 He had been with his partner when, several hours later, they found the unconscious Angel pilot, collapsed against a sand dune, her lips blistered with the heat.  Adam had stood for what seemed an age, just staring at her as if he feared to discover that they were too late, that the crash and the heat had taken their toll and she was beyond their help. 

Then she had moved slightly and they had heard her murmur …Adam, Adam … like a mantra against fear and pain.

Scarlet had seen fierce elation blaze in the face of his friend as Adam dropped to his knees.  He had stretched out a hand, resting it gently on her thigh, and, speaking in a voice that revealed the intensity of the love he felt for this young woman, he had said – it’s all right, Symphony, we’ll soon have you back on Cloudbase.

Her distinctive hazel eyes, the golden-brown flecked with moss-green, had fluttered open at the sound of that beloved voice, and her surprise and relief at seeing him had been expressed in one more joyous – Adam – before she had closed her eyes, smiling gently.  In response Adam had swept her into his arms, hugging her against his chest for a long minute, his face buried in her hair.   Scarlet thought at the time that he might even have been crying.  However, when Blue finally raised his head and asked for help to stand, there was no sign of it on his face. He had helped Blue stagger to his feet and with Symphony secure in his arms and her arms locked around his neck and her head buried against his shoulder, he had carried her across the dunes to the helijet, refusing further help. 

He had laid her on the emergency medical bench, and moistened her lips with a trickle of cool water, whilst Scarlet reported the success of their mission.  Doctor Fawn, obviously with the colonel in the control room, had given Blue instructions for her immediate care.  

Scarlet had flown the helijet back to Cloudbase single-handed, landing on the medical helipad. As the helijet had been lowered into the hangar, he had gone back to his friends.  Adam was holding Karen’s hand, his eyes fixed on her face, his ears tuned for the slightest murmured word.  Scarlet had patted his shoulder.  “She’s going to be all right…” he had reassured his partner.

 Adam had waved away the gurney and carried her into sickbay, and later, Doctor Fawn had had to chase him from the sick bay, so that Symphony could rest, because he refused to leave her side.  There had been no pretence that day that the couple were merely ‘good friends’.

 A few days later, in the standby lounge, a weak but recovered Symphony had told everyone a tale of the nightmarish dream she’d had, as she lay in the desert fearful of never being rescued.  A dream that covered the very same events that he had just heard recited as fact. It was if somehow, her dream had reflected what was actually happening in this dimension… it made his mind wheel at the possibilities…

 

As Svenson drained his coffee and continued with his story, Scarlet snapped out of his reverie. 

 “…I don’t know how – but I came to in a drift of snow, the fact that the capsule hit the cliff probably saved my life – it must’ve thrown me clear of Cloudbase’s impact, but it did this to my arm.   I managed to crawl away from the blazing wreck of the base.  I couldn’t find anyone else who had survived.  I started to crawl down the mountain and – by some miracle – I was found by villagers who came to see what’d happened.  They patched me up as best they could, but my arm was useless and slowly my sight got worse.  I made my way to the nearest Spectrum base and from there travelled from base to base by whatever transport I could beg, borrow or steal.  After Cloudbase, the Mysterons seemed to have decided to destroy the rest of Spectrum piecemeal.  They started with the major bases first – London, New York… There was nothing I could do.  By the time I got back here they had all but obliterated Boston and the looters were out in force.  I found my parents still here – my mother had been paralysed by a collapsing wall in the very first attack and my father wouldn’t leave her.  We nursed her until she died – it wasn’t easy – we had no medication and no way of easing her pain.  Together we buried her in the garden – near the roses – or what was left of them…”

“I had never seen my father so… apathetic.  When the looters came back – wilder, more desperate than ever – it was almost as if he wanted them to kill him.  Even I had never realised how dependent he was on my mother.  The attacks grew more intense and although I killed a few, there were always more of them.   On one assault they wounded my father.  It took him days to die and it took me days to bury him beside momma… That was about a month ago... maybe two.  I stayed here – where else could I go?  The food will run out soon and when the looters come back I won’t be strong enough to fend them off.” He gave a wry smile.  “I don’t suppose you’d care to stay here long enough to bury me, would you?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that, Adam,” Scarlet interjected.  “Come with us – come to our dimensions.  Fight the Mysterons alongside us and Karen….”

Svenson smiled and shook his head sadly.  “This is my World, Paul, and if it is to die beneath the jack-boot of the Mysterons, I will die with it.  Everything I love and value is here – my family, my friends and the woman I love – buried under the rose-trees, on snowy mountains or in the shifting sands of a desert.  I belong here with them.  Even if I survived long enough in your dimensions – what use would I be?  This arm is useless and I have no sight in one eye and every day there is less in the other.   Why should I intrude on a world where a healthy, happy Karen is living her life with another Adam Svenson?  She might look on me with a kind of pity I would rather die than see in her eyes.” He turned to look at Blue, who was staring bleakly ahead.  “I envy you – but I don’t begrudge you have the chance of a lifetime of happiness with her.  Please, take my blessing with you and maybe something of the happiness my Karen and I hoped for will go with you.”

Blue sprang from his seat and walked away to the window, staring with tear-filled eyes at the grave mounds in the garden.  Svenson looked with some surprise at Scarlet who shrugged, preferring not to distress the other man with talk of Blue’s relationship with Symphony. 

The energy drained from Svenson’s face and he watched his alter ego with compassion.  “I wish you luck with your fight, Paul.  We must never surrender to them, whatever they throw at us. It is comforting to know that, however hopeless the fight here may be, somewhere they are not having it all their own way.”

“No, we are holding our own.  We won’t surrender.”

Blue came back, his face once more a mask against his emotions.  “Is there anything we can do for you, before we go?” he asked brusquely.

Svenson gave a smile and placed his hand on Blue’s arm.  “You have done more than you know already.  You have given me hope.” For a moment the two men stared at each other; one so broken physically and yet, with an indomitable will so strong, that the healthy man seemed weak in comparison.

Scarlet stood. “We can get in some firewood and provisions at least – save you that job.  Come on, Adam, you can show me the best places to look.”

 

They spent several hours collecting supplies for the injured man. It was hot and thirsty work and so when Svenson brewed another pot of his unpalatable coffee, they sat on upturned boxes, sipping at it with something bordering on enthusiasm.

Scarlet asked a question that had been hovering in his mind as they’d searched the other houses for useful items.

“Adam, was there ever a threat here to use machines – which had originally been designed to prevent volcanic eruptions – to produce eruptions?”

Svenson thought for a moment and then nodded.  “Yes, there was.  I wasn’t directly involved – Ochre and Magenta went to sort it out.  It was pretty straightforward, as far as I can recall.  Why?  Has this proved difficult in your worlds?”

“Yes, it would seem that some events don’t happen – or don’t have the same outcome if they do happen – in our differing realities.  For example, what you told us about the Mysterons’ attack on Cloudbase didn’t happen in my world.  And although, Symphony did have a plane crash over a desert, no-one was hurt – including her.  The mission I was involved in when I was pitched into Blue’s world, was concerning prototypes of these volcanic pacifiers.  And we are on a similar mission to protect these machines.  As I explained, circumstances forced us to enter a tunnel under Mount Etna and we found ourselves here.    Each reality is slightly different, or so it would seem, so, whatever you can tell us, about the events that happened here, might prove useful in giving us a clue as to the Mysterons’ intentions in our own realities.  What can you remember about it? “

“Prototypes, you say?  The Volcanic Pacifiers have been in use here for 15-20 years,” Svenson explained with raised eyebrows. They were developed by a Turk – Mehmet Dincerler – the Mysterons’ threat concerned him.  Ochre and Magenta went to Istanbul to collect him, only to find they were too late – he’d been Mysteronised and although they found his human body, Spectrum were unable to trace the Mysteron double… he just vanished.  After that, the machines were carefully guarded, but nothing ever happened.  They’re probably no longer working of course… nothing is any more.”

“Dincerler worked on these machines alone?” Scarlet frowned.

“Yes, he won all kinds of prizes for them… he was considered one of the greatest scientists ever…”

 “Dincerler was involved in our machines… although very much as a junior partner with an Italian called Gaspari,” Scarlet mused.

“I’ve never heard of this Dincerler,” Blue said firmly.  “Our pacifiers were developed by Professor Gaspari and his team.  We’ve had them in trial use for a couple of years now.”

“Wanna bet that somewhere in the team there is a Mehmet Dincerler?” Svenson asked, arching an eyebrow at his double.

“No takers,” Blue replied with a similar gesture.

Scarlet looked at both Svensons.  “Are you seeing a pattern here?” he asked. “Your worlds both seem to be some years behind mine, chronologically… yet we are the last to get these machines…”

“The threat originated here and has spread through the dimensions – is that what you’re thinking?” Svenson asked.

Scarlet nodded.

“But that would mean… the Mysterons can cross through dimensions…” Blue gasped.  He looked up at the others.  “We’re fighting something very much worse than we ever realised…” he whispered.

“They certainly have powers we cannot hope to understand,” Scarlet agreed quietly, thinking of his own remarkable abilities.

“All we can do is fight them – to the last man,” Svenson said vehemently.

“The last man in the last dimension…” Blue agreed emphatically.

The three of them fell silent, each considering the circumstances of their own personal war against these implacable aliens – aliens whose ability to destroy their chosen targets seemed suddenly far more formidable than ever.

 

 It was some hours before they finally left.  Blue was very quiet as they crossed to the side of the road where the portal had opened.  Beneath his tunic, wrapped carefully in a length of torn curtain, was the face of Sarah Svenson salvaged from the ruined portrait.  Svenson had given it to him saying, “I would like you to have this, after all, I shan’t be able to see it for much longer and it seems I have more memories of her than you…” 

  They quickly found the entrance to the portal, thanks to the marker provided by the yellow hard hat.   Before they entered, they turned back to look once more at the house.  Adam Svenson stood at the door of his ruined home, his good arm raised in valediction.  Scarlet saluted, hoping the man’s vision was still good enough for him to see and then they slipped away into nothingness. 

 

Svenson watched the empty street for some time before he turned back into his house.  He went through to the kitchen and stared at the neatly stacked logs and kindling, the crates of bottled water from the inaccessible end of the partly destroyed garages, and the tinned food scavenged from around the neighbourhood.  His inclination was to think he had imagined the whole episode, but he’d never heard of hallucinations that did housework.

 “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” he muttered to himself.

 He went to the nest of blankets and drew, from beneath the pile of pillows, a creased photograph.  It showed an attractive young woman, with short reddish-gold hair, standing sideways in a partially-open doorway, her arms resting against the jamb, looking back towards the unseen photographer.  She was wearing a black halter-neck swimsuit and her provocative expression was one of invitation.

“I wonder if they have ever been to Hawaii…?” he asked with a smile as he remembered happier days.  “Knowing that somewhere in those other realities you are safe and well and happy makes it easier to bear, älskling, but you can’t blame me for wishing it had been that way here…” He kissed the portrait and slipped it into the breast pocket of his shirt.

 Then he lit two small candles and placed them on either side of the door to his kitchen home.  He pulled out the three guns he had, checked they were loaded, wrapped himself in the top few blankets from his bed, and prepared to sit out another perilous night. 

 

~oo0oo~

 

Symphony stepped through the low arch of the crevice and found herself slithering down a bank of shingle.  At the foot of this bank lay a narrow beach of coarse, black sand and beyond that an area of jagged boulders and rocks.  Her head turned at the sound of violent waves crashing on to the beach and she saw Garnet standing near the water’s edge staring down at the figure of a man, lying face down in the sand.  He was wearing a diving suit, and although he still wore two air tanks, his mask seemed to have become detached and the air pipes were spread out like tentacles from his torso.

Symphony hastened over to join her colleague.  Remembering all too clearly what Garnet had told her about the cave she had been trapped in and the unorthodox arrival of Captain Scarlet,  her initial reaction mirrored Garnet’s – she was sure they had travelled back in time to before the rescue.

Garnet turned fearful eyes, full of an unspoken plea, towards the Angel and Symphony crouched down to turn Captain Scarlet.  She detached the air tanks and rolled the body over.  As she did so the hood fell back revealing a shock of blond hair and the unconscious face of Captain Blue.

“Adam!” she gasped and looked up in confusion at Garnet.

“Is he dead?” she whispered, her fingers rising to her lips in bewildered concern.  “Captain Scarlet was almost dead…”

Symphony pressed her fingers against the man’s neck and slowly shook her head.  “No, he’s alive – just unconscious, I think.  It’s not surprising if he arrived in the same way as Scarlet did.” She brushed the long hair back from his face, noticing a thin, pale scar that ran across his brow and temple, close to the hairline.  She knew Sky’s face as well as her own and this face was not his.

“Why is it Captain Blue?” Garnet asked, mechanically moving across to where the mask lay on the black sand and walking to the same sulphurous spring she had used before to collect water.

Symphony hunkered down and stared at the still body of the man.  She considered the possibilities; finally she said, “It would seem there might be an infinite number of possibilities… in an infinite number of universes.  Maybe this Captain Blue even has the… skills Scarlet possesses to recover from injuries.”  She reached up to take the mask and dipped her fingers in it, shaking the drops onto the still face.

Slowly the pale, smoky-blue eyes started to blink into consciousness as the captain rolled over with a choking gasp, to vomit a lungful of water over the sand.  Coughing and spluttering he sat upright and stared at the women watching him.

“Karen?” he croaked in confusion.

“I am Karen Wainwright…” she agreed, “but I am not the woman you may think I am… although I assure you I am not a Mysteron,” she added quickly, intending to reassure him.  Made uneasy by his intense scrutiny, she couldn’t stop her hand moving to tidy her hair as she blushed.

“So, who are you, then?” His scepticism was obvious, as much in his tone as in his expression.

“I am Karen Amanda Wainwright,” she repeated. “My Spectrum codename is Symphony Angel – and I know you are Adam John Svenson, Spectrum codename Captain Blue.  Please believe me when I say I mean you no harm.  I think you will want to talk to me and I really need to talk to you.”

He looked around and stared at the silent Lieutenant Garnet.  “What do you have to say?” he asked Symphony warily.

“Only that if you are looking for your partner, Captain Scarlet – who was swept away from the vessel you were using to search for a volcanic pacifier – then I can help you.   Am I right?”  He nodded warily. “Then let me tell you a story, Captain…”

 

He listened intently to what she told him, casting a bemused glance at Garnet every so often, as if he was checking that she was the woman whose face he had come to know so well, from her service record and ID photographs.  Finally, he scratched his head in wonder and asked, “You mean to say that Paul and Claudia Vecchio were rescued from this underwater cave by people from a different dimension?”

“Yes, and believe me, we didn’t really accept his story either when he told us.  I was the number one sceptic, but now here I am – actually in a different reality – talking to a different Adam Svenson.  I guess I have to accept that Paul was telling us one–hundred-percent of the truth.”

“Is he all right?”

“He’s fine – so is Claudia. Nothing has changed...”

Blue nodded and sat hunched up, with his arms around his shins and his chin resting on his knees, his gaze focused in the middle distance on nothing in particular.  She waited, recognising the familiar way he would think things through. 

She felt entirely at home with this man.  Whereas she guessed that Scarlet found the people in her universe different enough to be unsettling, she found this Adam’s company more than congenial.  It was like the early days of her relationship with Sky – when he had sought out her company and made her love him so much that, even now when she more than enough reasons  to hate him, she couldn’t.  There was something immensely comforting about the presence of this Adam Svenson – he showed none of the brittle edginess or underlying cynicism of the man she knew.

“So, now you have found the way here, you can just go and fetch them, right?” His expression contained an element of wariness that was not surprising, but his body language spoke of an ease in her company that echoed her own.

“It’s not that simple, Adam,” she said rather surprised at the direction his thoughts had taken. “I came through this... crevice because we were under attack from a gunman.  There are people in my World who want to turn the pacifier off, and they will stop at nothing, including mass murder.  I was separated from Sky and Paul and they’ve probably gone through a different portal to avoid Ruffolo.”

Sky ?”

She blushed, “Sorry, it’s just a nick-name… I meant Captain Blue.”

He grinned.  “I’m not telling you what Karen calls me – right now, none of the names are that friendly!”

She joined in his laughter.  “Why, what have you done?”

“Absolutely nothing! She’ll get over it…” he sobered up again and asked, “You mentioned the pacifier – the one you have is still functioning?  We had a Mysteron threat that pointed to their using the machines to promote eruptions – is that not the case with you?”

“Yes, we’ve had a threat; it was why the colonel asked Scarlet to come back here with Ochre, Sky and myself to try to avert their scheme – whatever it is.   It’s a little more complex for us – there are elements on Cloudbase who are… less than vehemently anti-Mysteron.”

His eyebrows rose.  “Then you can take me through this tunnel.  Maybe I could help?  Once it’s sorted we could all come back through the portal.”

“I don’t know, Adam, what if you can’t get back here? I don’t even know if we will arrive in the same reality when we go back.  The tunnels might shift – or anything…”

 “Let me come with you,” he urged, “I’m ready to take the risk.”

“But I am not!”

“Then at least, let Garnet stay here with me, there is no need for her to go back with you.”

Symphony looked at the other woman.  Garnet had not spoken since Blue regained consciousness.  “Claudia?” she asked.

Garnet drew a deep breath, “I don’t want to stay here.  I have no proof this is my world after all.  I don’t know Captain Blue.   I was trapped here before and I was rescued with Captain Scarlet.  I am sorry; I want to go where Captain Scarlet goes… I owe him that much.”

“Lieutenant,” he reasoned, “Claudia…”

She shook her head and turned to sprint for the shingle bank again, scrambling up and disappearing in the shadows of a rock overhanging.

“Aren’t you going to go after her?” Blue asked.

“She won’t go far,” Symphony said.   “You know, I am starting to have doubts about her enthusiasm for returning home,” she confessed.  Sharing confidences with him seemed such a normal thing to do.   “She’s getting rather attached to the Captain Ochre in my World.  He was once engaged to our Lieutenant Garnet… mind you; she ditched him and set herself up with Scarlet.”

He frowned at her.  “You mean that your Scarlet and Garnet are… an item?  Wow, I know a certain Angel who wouldn’t be pleased about that – not at all.”

“An Angel?  Which one?” she grinned at him.

“Well, no-one is supposed to know… it’s not encouraged,” Blue gossiped absently, as he unwound some of the diving belts.  “I mean, no-one is supposed to know about us either – they do… they just pretend they don’t.” He stopped suddenly, and looked up at the grinning woman watching him with amusement.

 “Us?” she asked archly.

“Well, not us, naturally, but Karen and I are engaged – in our world!  Are you and… me… I mean… the me in your world… are you…?”

 “We … we’re close friends.” She looked away and tried to hide the sadness in her eyes, but she knew he had seen her pain.  His own expression clouded and his smile faded. She shrugged and said rather too brightly, “I had better go after Garnet, in case the tunnel doesn’t go back to where it should.  I will tell Paul you know how to reach him. Please, Adam, trust me and wait here.” She placed her hand on his sleeve and looked into his face.

“No-one will ever believe this…” he said quietly

Smiling she leant over and kissed his cheek. “See you later… I hope.” He watched her walk away, following the route Garnet had taken, his unease growing with every yard she covered. Every instinct in his body was screaming that he should not let her go alone. At the foot of the shingle bank she turned once and waved. 

Captain Blue came to a snap decision.  He muttered, “Hang on in there, Paul, I’ll damn well find you… wherever you are.” Scrambling to his feet, he raced across the beach, calling, “Symphony, wait for me…. “

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Symphony had changed into her wet-suit once the men had left, and now she was raging against Captain Tempest’s refusal to allow her to accompany him to the site where they had seen Blue sucked down behind the razor-toothed cliffs.  The aquanauts had been exchanging the map when Atlanta’s voice over their radios had warned them that Blue was in trouble.  Rather than dash across to attempt what would be a difficult rescue, Troy had ordered Phones back into the sub, which was another decision Symphony disagreed with.  It had taken all of Atlanta’s persuasion to stop her rushing out to his assistance then and there, and she begrudged every second the others spent making ready to mount the rescue.

 Stingray was edged closer to the rocks and the autopilot engaged to keep the vessel stationary.  Then Troy and Phones strapped on fresh oxygen tanks whilst Atlanta made up a medical kit.

“You have to let me go with you,” Symphony begged once more.  She was still holding a set of air tanks.

“I don’t have time to argue or to reason with you.  The answer is still no, for the same reasons it was last time you asked.  Stay here with Atlanta, we’ll get Blue back.” Troy’s expression softened as he saw the unshed tears in her eyes. “He may need your help when we get him back here. Help Atlanta get it all ready, will you?  There’s a good girl…”

Normally, the use of such an expression would have unleashed a tirade of objections from Symphony, but she merely glowered at the men as they hurried back into the airlock and the door slammed fast behind them. Somewhere in her mind, the thought arose that she ought to be grateful that no-one on Cloudbase was that patronising towards the women they served with.  The Angels had proved their capability to perform dangerous tasks often enough.

Atlanta took the air tanks from her unresisting hand.  “Don’t worry; Troy is the best man in the World to have on your side in a crisis.  He’ll get your captain back for you.”

“He’d better….”

She watched as the Aquanauts sped across the gap to where they had last seen Captain Blue and slowed down to approach the sheer cliffs.  Troy swam up and allowed the surging tide to pull him down into the darkness, Phones close behind.  “Please… please let him be alive…” she prayed.

 

~oo0oo~

 

In the darkness of the narrow tunnel, Captain Ochre came to a halt and stood listening.  Since his Mysteronisation he had enjoyed heightened senses and his acute hearing had stood him in good stead on several instances. The sporadic shooting coming from the main cavern had died down and once he had despatched the Agency assassin, he had not been followed by anyone else into his bolt hole.  He needed to know what had happened to Scarlet and Blue – not to mention Symphony and Claudia.  If Ruffolo has hurt either of the women there will not be a place on this planet safe enough to protect him from me…

 He began to move back to the main cavern to investigate what had happened to his companions.  Stealthily, he moved out into the wider space and scanned the far side for signs of the others. He could see no torches, either across the cave or near the entrance where Ruffolo had been standing.  He was startled by the rumble of a small avalanche of shingle and he spun towards the entrance, expecting to see one of his party or possibly one of the Agency thugs.  There was a powerful beam of light and out of the tunnel mouth marched the upright figure of Captain Black, followed by three of the auxiliary agents from the surface crew. 

Ochre didn’t need the overpowering wave of nausea that hit him, to tell him they were all Mysterons.   He gasped and darted back, away from view.   He watched with bated breath as Black paused and appeared to be listening.  The somewhat inconsequential question of why the Mysterons’ chief agent should be wearing his Spectrum uniform crossed Ochre’s mind – possibly he had need to bluff his way through the security cordon the colonel had ordered around the approaches to the mountain? 

Black’s momentary hesitation passed and he ordered the others to follow him with a jerk of his head, and marched into the tunnel that led to the pacifier.  They followed obediently.

Ochre pondered on what to do next.  There was no sign of the other members of his party, so presumably they had gone though to the next cavern to avoid their assailants, and – quite possibly – the assassins had followed them.  Either that or all of them had been killed.  He rubbed his hand over his eyes and dismissed the usefulness of going back to the surface to look for help – It was highly unlikely Captain Black would have left anyone alive up there. 

As far as he knew he was alone and it was down to him to stop this threat to the pacifiers… whatever it turned out to be.  Sighing he crept back into the tunnel and cautiously moved in the footsteps of the Mysterons.

He felt a familiar woozy feeling in the pit of his stomach…They are close, he thought. There were sudden, sharp cracks of sound, which echoed around the confined tunnels and his anxiety grew.  With the sound distorted by the thundering thump of the pacifier it was hard to be sure that what he was hearing were shots, but it was enough to put him on his guard and he moved with far more caution and care now.  

He saw the whitewash arrow that pointed to the tunnel that led to the pacifier’s location, and drew his gun. There was no sign of the guards he’d expected to see and the nausea that plagued him in the presence of Mysterons was rising in his throat.

The first dead body gave him a shock, even though he’d been half expecting it. The other two, further along the tunnel occasioned nothing but a feeling of pity.  He edged into the cavern, lit with powerful hurricane lamps and saw in the eerie glow the familiar figure of Captain Black kneeling at the machine.  The front panel had been removed and Black was working on the controls and the circuits within.  Ochre could almost believe he detected a subtle change in the thudding that was making his ears ring.

It came as a surprise when Black said, “It is essential that we move this machine to the new location.  Once I have disconnected the power supply you will transport it.  The Mysterons’ orders must be obeyed.”

The newly created Mysteron agents murmured their obedient confirmation of these orders and Ochre was left puzzling as to why the machine needed to be moved. Whatever the reason, it gave him a window of opportunity to stop it being deployed to complete the Mysterons’ threat.

Unexpectedly, on the edge of his hearing he heard further shots, coming from the direction of the cavern.  Hope sprang into his mind that some of his party had survived and they were still fighting.  Even if it was one of Magenta’s assassins, he might be able to get the man to assist him defeat the Mysterons – surely the Agency couldn’t want them to succeed?  Any human being who knew of their ultimate aim to remove all life from the earth would want them stopped, he thought.  It was a chance and, however slim, he had to take it – he could not do much to deflect this threat alone – and getting himself killed in the process would help no-one. 

He glanced with concern at the Mysterons, but their attention was focused on their dark captain and if they had heard the shots, they were unconcerned.  They didn’t see the Spectrum officer slip away from the entrance and retrace his steps as quickly as he could. 

With luck, he thought, Scarlet and the others will have survived the attack and they’ll come with me to stop this happening – even if I have to drag them at gunpoint from their search for the portal out of here!

 

~oo0oo~

 

Scarlet and Blue edged carefully out into the broader tunnel.  A survey of the area revealed that neither the women nor Ruffolo were anywhere to be seen. 

“Do you think he could have gone after them, rather than us?” Blue suggested.  “If he’d gone through our tunnel, we’d have seen him – wouldn’t we?”

Scarlet shrugged, “With luck he’s roaming the wrecked streets of Boston as we speak.”

“It won’t be lucky if he finds the other Adam Svenson,” Blue commented wryly.

Scarlet rubbed his forehead.  “This is making my brain spin. Maybe he did go through the tunnel after the women.”  He stepped from the wall to cross to the other side where they had seen Symphony slip from view.  From their current position there did not appear to be a crevice to slip down anyway.

He was half way across when a shot rang out, glancing off the tunnel wall a few feet ahead of him and pulling him up short.   He sprang the remaining distance and pressed himself against the wall and a second shot made him edge further into the gloom of the narrowing tunnel.  On the other side of the wall, Blue had edged along to keep pace.  Suddenly he called out, “There’s a crevice here… it’s not a very big one, but we could crawl through.  If Ruffolo follows we can ambush him.  There’s no other choice... we can’t get into the main cavern and this tunnel is blocked.   If we stay here we are sitting targets…”

Scarlet looked back towards the tunnel mouth where he could just make out a shadowy figure, covering the exit.  The crevice that had led to Boston seemed to have disappeared – Blue was right, staying where they were meant they could be picked off like fish in a barrel.   “Go on then, I’m coming with you…” he agreed.

Blue ducked down and Scarlet smiled as he heard the hat clunk against the rock and a muffled curse from the American.  He moved further up the darkening tunnel and sprang across to approach the crevice from the other side.  He dropped to his knees and crawled after his colleague.

 

~oo0oo~

 

At first glance they were in a corridor… a familiar corridor… Blue turned to Scarlet and whispered, “This is Cloudbase…”  Scarlet nodded.  “Yours or mine?” the American added with a raised eyebrow. He removed his hard hat and slipped it back into the tunnel they had just emerged from.  It was too risky to leave it lying on the corridor floor.

Shrugging, Scarlet looked along to his right.  “That’s the Amber Room – at least round the corner is the Amber Room. Shall we take a look?”

Blue stiffened. “No need, I can hear footsteps.”

“Quick, let’s get into that service cupboard!  Leave the door ajar a little and let’s see if we can work out which base we are on and when…”

They peered through the narrow gap, Scarlet crouching and Blue standing behind him. 

            A shapely young woman came round the corner, wearing the distinctive uniform of a Spectrum Angel, but the logo above the golden cuff on her sleeve consisted of two stylised interlocking Ss – the smaller, central S being striped with the colours of the spectrum. 

Scarlet glanced at Blue’s arm as it rested against the door above his head.  Just as I thought, his uniform logo is as it should be – like mine – the golden S against a bull’s-eye of colours….  He sniffed and turned his attention back to the young woman who was within a few feet of them now and still oblivious of their presence.

 She was above average height and her thick, jet-black, wavy hair framed a strong face, with just a hint of a cleft in her chin.   Her remarkably bright blue eyes, framed by delicate black eyebrows, sparkled with good humour. She was humming cheerfully to herself as she strode jauntily along the corridor. 

 “Jesus wept…” Blue muttered. “Is that who I think it is?”

Scarlet did a double take as he recognised his own mother’s features in the set of her face. “I don’t know – but this is not the dimension for you or me….”

            As the young woman continued to walk briskly towards them they heard a distant voice call, “Sonata! Wait!”     

She stopped and turned, waiting for the woman who was strolling along the corridor from the direction of the Amber Room.  The newcomer was even taller, well-built, with broad shoulders and long legs.  Her shoulder-length, blonde hair was caught back from her face with a simple tortoiseshell clasp.  She was also wearing an Angel Pilot’s uniform and swinging a helmet from her hand as she walked along.

            “Cadenza?  I’m sorry I thought you’d already gone.” Sonata’s slightly husky voice betrayed the slightest trace of a Mid-Atlantic twang. 

            “No, I got caught by Pat – you know how she can talk…” There was no mistaking the tortured vowels of Cadenza’s well-to-do New England accent.  Scarlet heard Blue give a stifled groan. He smirked.

            Sonata grimaced, “All that Irish blarney – it took me half-an-hour to get away yesterday, that’s why I skipped away sharpish today, I want to get an early lunch so I can get my hair done.”

            “Why? It looks okay to me.”

Sonata gave her head a brisk shake and ran her fingers through her thick hair with resignation.  “You’re joking!  It’s a mess – again.  It’s like having a mop on your head and I am sorely tempted to go into the barber’s and ask for a short-back and sides at times!  I envy you, Caddie; I wish my hair was straight. Still, I need to get it seen to – have you forgotten it’s the Officers’ dance tonight?”

            “Oh – that thing – yeah…I had sort of forgotten.” Cadenza gave a wry smile and frowned.

            “You are going, aren’t you, Caddie?” her friend asked pointedly.

 “I don’t know.  I haven’t been asked.”

            “Not even by Kevin?” 

            Cadenza smiled at her friend’s arch expression. “I think he’s still working up to it,” she replied. “I’m in his bad books at the moment, so I have to be made to suffer until I’m overcome with remorse and throw myself on his generous mercy…”  She grinned.

            “He’d better get a move on or he’ll leave it too late.” Sonata did not find the man’s behaviour so amusing.

            “I could go on my own – if I feel like it. That’d teach him,” Cadenza mused.

            “You can’t do that, it would be tantamount to saying he’d won,” Sonata argued. “If Kevin won’t ask you, we need to find you another escort,” she asserted.

“This is the late twenty-first Century, Paula.  Women are allowed to go into public places unescorted.  Do you think I’d be refused entry without a male escort?” Cadenza gave a wry smile.

“No, of course not,” Sonata frowned. She couldn’t imagine anyone trying to stop Cadenza doing anything she wanted.  “Don’t you mind about not having a date for the evening?”

“No, but you obviously consider it a grave social faux-pas on my part!”

“A girl needs a man about the place, that’s all.”

“Whatever for?” the taller woman queried dryly and she began to count on her slim fingers. “I am perfectly capable of changing a plug or even a light bulb unaided, should the need arise, and I’m not scared of spiders – even when they are in the shower, Paula Metcalfe…. So, name me anything else I’d need a man for?”  She was grinning at her friend’s serious expression.

Sonata played along and rolled her eyes.  “It was the biggest spider on the planet, Caddie. And it made Julien feel … so brave!” She gave a girlish laugh and winked.  “What else does one need a man for?  Let me think… well, they can be rather decorative and then, there’s always… you know…” She gave another, broader wink.…

“Oh that…” Cadenza said, enlightened. She assumed an expression of innocence.  “I thought that only happened after they catch – what was it? – ‘the biggest spider on the planet.’”

Her friend shook her head with exaggerated sadness. “I worry about you sometimes,” she said and then spoilt it by chuckling.

“You sound like my mother,” Cadenza struck a pose and imitated her mother’s nasal accent.  ‘You’ve turned thirty, Babes, – don’t you long for a home and a family?’” She answered her own question in her normal voice.  “Well, no actually – I don’t.  I want to do what I’m doing, which is why I’m here doing it. Tell me you’re not doing this just to get hold of a man,” she pleaded.

“Of course I’m not!  I never had any trouble finding them before Spectrum arrived on the scene… But… well, if you happen to meet someone…”

“Someone like Julien Pontoin, you mean?” Cadenza asked innocently.

The English girl coloured and mumbled, “Could be.”

“Oh Lord, don’t you go all house-wifely on me, Paula.  I really wonder sometimes what those girls in there are doing here – if their only real aim is marriage and babies.”

“You really don’t care, do you?”

“No, I don’t care.”

“What about Kevin?”

“Oh, he’s a sweetie and every woman should have a pet.” Cadenza gave a rich burst of laughter.

“Kevin Wainwright might object to that statement,” Sonata said reproachfully.

“Oh don’t be such a prude…he’s fun – he makes me laugh – and I like him.  I like him a lot – when he’s not playing me up.  But, as I keep trying to explain to my mother, that does not mean I want to populate a crèche. Besides, can you imagine what this unlikely off-spring would be like?  As my sister says – they’d be the first of a new race of giants!”

Laughing, Sonata pursued her point.  “Does Kevin know how you feel?”

“Of course he knows. Actually, he can’t believe his luck – he never expected to be a toy-boy! – and now he’s in a relationship with a wealthy, older woman and there’s plenty of recreational sex – with no strings attached – he thinks it’s great!”

“Cadenza!” Sonata protested. She mentally cursed the absent Kevin as a cloth-eared ninny – who couldn’t see beyond the emotional defences his girlfriend was hiding behind.  She thought she heard a wistful note in Cadenza’s voice, which belied her cynical statement. If Wainwright would only make the effort, he could have easily persuaded her from her supposed indifference.

 “What?  Have I offended your British sense of decorum now? Really, Paula, you shouldn’t have asked me if you didn’t want the truth…”

 “Yes, well, but…” She stopped in the face of a warning glance and changed tack. “You might think that now – but sooner or later you’ll want a family – ever heard of biological clocks?”

“Oh yeah – every time I go home.  However, I have Doctor Fawn’s considered opinion that it is unlikely to happen any more, which is probably all for the best, considering.”

“He can’t be sure of that,” Sonata reasoned sympathetically.

“No, but I’d rather not presume otherwise. I just wish I could explain it all to my Mom.”  The wistfulness was more than apparent this time.

Sonata remembered that Cadenza had returned from a visit home only yesterday.  “Aah, okay… point taken.”   She changed the topic briskly.  “I’m still looking forward to the dance tonight – I need something to cheer me up after the past hour or so. I never want to spend another session being bawled out by the colonel.  Mind you, I sat there like a prize exhibit most of the time, with Blue on one side of me and Scarlet on the other.  Blue would hardly let me get a word in edgeways – he was so busy trying to convince the colonel that I was a blameless victim – bless him! However, the fact remains that I did overstep my orders and then I crashed that SPV, so he was rather on a hiding to nothing with the ‘little-miss-innocent’ defence.   In fact, I might have got into less trouble if Kevin hadn’t been so ‘helpful’.”

Cadenza’s smile widened. “He means well.”

Sonata rolled her sapphire-blue eyes in response. “You might drop the hint that he should keep his chivalry to himself – or exclusively for you – Julien was well narked afterwards. He thought Kevin had overdone it.”

            “They can talk to each other you know – the guys,” Cadenza said calmly. “I don’t see why I should patch up their squabbles.  Julien is more than capable of expressing his own complaints – in fact; he frequently does so, at some length…”

            “And then Kevin tells you…?”

            “Well, he can never keep a secret,” the blonde smiled.  “Not if you ask him nicely, anyway.”

            “Huh, You can’t trust men… any of them anywhere…. They’re all only after one thing.”

“Well, they are men – so what do you expect?”

            “You’re such a cynic, Miss Svenson…”

            “And you’re too gullible for words, Miss Metcalfe…”

            As they walked through the swing doors together, their laughter floated behind them.

“Right – let’s get out of here. I’d rather face Ruffolo….” Scarlet said emerging from the cupboard and scratching his head.   He watched the women disappear beyond the door.  It was extremely disconcerting – to say the least – to see yourself as a person of the opposite gender.  It had been bad enough when Lieutenant Green had been… changed – but this was something else.

“Yeah, that was well off the weird-o-meter,” Blue agreed.  There was an amused smile on his face and it widened into a grin as he added, “Nice legs – shame about the faces!”

Scarlet sniggered, entertained in spite of his general disapproval of Blue.  Sometimes – just sometimes – Blue reminded him very much of the real Adam Svenson.

They stepped from the cupboard and crossed to the other side of the corridor, searching for the weakness in the fabric that indicated the way back to the tunnel.  They were still feeling along the walls as the door swung back.

            “I wouldn’t mind but these are my favourite earrings,” Sonata was complaining.  “Julien gave them to me for my birthday.  It must be somewhere in the corridor, I know I had it…”

It was difficult to see which couple was the more startled – the young women or the two officers. They stared at each other for a moment and then Cadenza said, angrily, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“Please, do not be alarmed,” Scarlet began, looking from one to the other as he tried to assess which one would be most approachable.

“Too late,” Sonata pressed the intercom by the door and snapped, “Security to Corridor 5C – intruder alert.”

Blue made a move towards her only to find himself held in a debilitating arm lock by Cadenza as her pilot’s helmet clattered to the floor.  He grinned and relaxed. “Take it easy, I’m not going to hurt anyone.”

“Too right, you’re not – because if you try anything, I will hurt you,” she replied using her free hand to draw a pistol from her belt.  She held it against his head. Blue raised his hands in submission. She loosed her hold, keeping the gun trained on them both. “Keep still and keep your hands where I can see them – and no-one will get hurt.”

Sonata looked from Blue to Cadenza and back again.  She frowned and glanced at Scarlet, “Do I know you?”

“Not exactly – in fact – not at all.  If you will let me explain…”

“Explain it to security,” she snapped.  “I don’t want to hear it.”

The door swung back and half-a-dozen men swarmed into the corridor.  Leading the charge was a red-haired man, dressed in an ochre-coloured uniform.  Close behind was a blond in pale blue and another blond in vivid red.

The two men exchanged glances.  “Julien and Kevin?” Scarlet hissed at Blue who raised an eyebrow in silent agreement.

Scarlet examined the other blue clad officer thoughtfully.  He was a little shorter than Blue and hardly taller than his girlfriend but there was no mistaking those hazel-green eyes and the short nose – he was undoubtedly a Wainwright.  The two officers stared at their counterparts and Kevin in particular was struck by the similarity between the faces of the guard and her prisoner.

 “Take them to the brig and alert the colonel,” the ochre-coloured captain ordered.  The security men hustled them along towards the brig.

“Now this should be interesting,” Scarlet hissed to Blue, with an ironic grimace, as they were thrown into the cell and the bars slammed shut behind them.

They didn’t have long to wait before they heard the approach of a considerable number of feet along the corridor.  Scarlet stood facing the bars of the cell, ready to begin his explanation again.  Blue continued lounging against the table, his eyes averted from the corridor.  It seemed he was reluctant to face this new colonel.   The officers who had answered the security call arrived first, the tall, slim-built, handsome, blond-haired ‘Scarlet’ and the chunkier blond in blue.  Then a veritable rainbow of coloured officers arrived, including the red-headed ‘Ochre’, and milled about the cell front.   A pathway opened and Scarlet realised the colonel was approaching.  He stood to attention but his snappy salute died half-way to his forehead and his mouth dropped open in concerned surprise.  He turned to stare at Blue, who had looked up at the silence that had fallen.  His face mirrored Scarlet’s horror-stricken glance.

The colonel was Conrad Turner.

Both of the prisoners knew him instantly. They stared, speechless, at the tall, stern-faced man, with jet-black hair and dark eyes, dressed in an immaculate black uniform. 

 “Are these the men?” he asked.  His voice was a long way from the sepulchral tones of the Captain Black they had grown used to and had a distinctly American edge to it, punctuated by traces of the flat northern vowels of his upbringing in Manchester.  It jogged Scarlet’s memory with a blow that made him gasp.  It was the voice of Conrad Turner before he went to Mars and encountered the Mysterons.

There was a murmur of confirmation from the assembled officers, as all eyes tuned towards him. It was obvious that he could effortlessly command the respect and attention of his officers. 

Neither Scarlet nor Blue had long to overcome their surprise and alarm.  Colonel Black was in no mood for delay and the task of obeying his peremptory order for the prisoners to explain themselves, fell to Captain Scarlet.  He felt as if he were giving a lecture to a particularly sceptical class of cadets.  The officers stood in a semi-circle around their colonel and listened with every indication of not believing a word he was saying.  The two men he now knew to be Kevin Wainwright and Julien Pontoin, were most incensed as he tried to explain that in his world they were women.  Paula Metcalfe did not look too chuffed either. 

Scarlet’s predicament was not helped by Blue’s refusal to participate.  He remained leaning against the table, his long legs stretched out before him, a carefully blank expression on his face.  Scarlet doubted Blue was even listening to his faltering explanation – he recognised the look on his face as one indicating that the American was deep in thought about something.  

As Scarlet finally gave up and shrugged to silence, Colonel Black stood up.  Immediately all eyes turned to him. “I have never heard so much rubbish in my entire life.  Get Doctor Fawn to take a genetic sample and try to match it – we’ll identify them that way.  Oh, and someone get a Mysteron detector and check them out. This might be another of their traps.” He strode away, followed by the entourage of staff officers. 

Scarlet turned angrily and thumped his hand on the table next to Blue. “You were a fat lot of help!”

As usual, Blue was unmoved by his emotional outburst.  He sighed and looked squarely at Scarlet.  “If they weren’t prepared to accept what you were saying, my saying anything would not have made any difference. You were pretty convincing – although I guessed it would be hard to convince them we are who we say.”

“But you accepted what I told you, didn’t you?”

“Yes, eventually.  But if you remember, we had a much longer discussion and you knew things about my family that no-one else did – even if what you knew was slightly askew.”  Blue gave a modest smile.  “Besides, I have the intelligence to see beyond the ordinary – which not all of them,” he jerked his head in the direction of the departed crowd, “do.  I think some of them might have believed you, but if Black doesn’t…. they may not be prepared to cross him.”

“Black!” Scarlet sighed, “How can the colonel be Captain Black?”

How can you be a female Angel pilot – or me either for that matter – how can Juliette Pontoin – of all people – be a masculine Captain Scarlet? This dimension seems to be… almost like a mirror to our own.  You say there are differences between your dimension and mine, but this is different again from both of them.”

“There are differences between all of them,” Scarlet postulated. “In some cases significant differences too, between my world and yours, between both of ours and Boston, between all three of them and here.” Blue shrugged. “I wonder what happened to Colonel White,” Scarlet mused in conclusion.

“Maybe he went to Mars?  Who knows?”

“Look, we have got to get out of here – this isn’t your dimension or mine.  We must be careful not to alter their status quo,” Scarlet reasoned.  He couldn’t tell Blue about his concern at the threat of a Mysteron detector test, as he had never mentioned his retrometabolic abilities to him before.  If the people here were not prepared to accept his story, the evidence that he was a Mysteron would probably be enough to get him – if not both of them – killed forthwith. Maybe I should tell him about it now, he thought, at least then he’ll understand the necessity for us to get out of here, and two heads are better than one at solving these kinds of problems.  Besides, however annoying his is, he’s got brains all right.

 “I think it’s a little late to worry about that now,” the American replied with some amusement in his voice. “You have already told them about the inter-dimensional portals, and how we slipped from a tunnel under Etna to arrive lurking about outside the Amber Room, whilst our female selves buffed their cuticles inside. If this Conrad Turner is half the man Charles Gray is – in either dimension it seems – he’ll launch the Angels and get someone down there quicker than I can explain it.”

“But he didn’t seem to believe me,” Scarlet reminded him.

Blue gave a wry grin. “Nor did he,” he agreed. “You have to admit, it’s a pretty silly story to spin in the first place.  If you asked me to explain logically why I believed you, I’d be hard pressed to justify it.”

“I though you said it was your extraordinary intelligence that gave you the ability to see beyond the ordinary.” Scarlet quoted his words at him, with irritation.

“Quit bitching…” Blue seemed amused.  He had returned to staring straight ahead, gazing out beyond the cell bars. Now he added with some amusement,  “However,  Black wasn’t the only one in your audience and,” he nodded his head towards the cell bars, “unless of course, it is merely down to your undoubted popularity with the ladies, I believe you may have  won us one ally, at least.”

Scarlet turned to follow his companion’s gaze and saw Cadenza Angel standing with her arms crossed and her head on one side, watching and listening to them. She did not move as Scarlet turned to face her, a questioning look on his face. “May I help you, Cadenza?” he said quietly.

Cadenza pouted in indecision and then, making up her mind, she drew a deep breath and said, “You’re right – the colonel does not believe a word of it.”  She unfolded her arms and they could see a cumbersome Mysteron detector dangling by its strap from her right hand.  “We had a little discussion and I volunteered to administer the Mysteron test.  Doctor Fawn is still preparing the auto-analyser to run the genetic scan – but it won’t take her long.  So – you don’t have much time to convince me that I should play my hunch and help you out of here, do you?”

“You’ll help us?” Hope fired in Scarlet’s deep blue eyes and he moved to the bars of the cell. “You believed me?”

“Let’s just say, I too have the intelligence to see beyond the ordinary and that I have an open mind about it.  The colonel tends to be a little dismissive of new ideas. I want to know more about this tunnel.  If I let you out – and it is still an IF – I want to come with you through to the tunnel.”

“No,” Scarlet said immediately.  “That’s impossible.”

Cadenza shrugged and began to raise the detector to her eyes. “Smile please,” she instructed.

“Wait!” Caught on the horns of a dilemma, Scarlet gave Blue a sharp glance and sighed. “Okay – but you have to come back straight away.”

“One final condition,” she said, dropping the detector and moving towards the control key-pad.

“What?”

She stared at the smiling Blue and said, “He keeps his hands to himself.” Blue gave a gasp of exaggerated offence and unfolded his own arms to spread his hands in an appeal for justice. “I wasn’t born yesterday, sunshine, and he hasn’t taken his eyes off my... figure… since we found you.” She remained with her fingers hovering over the keypad. “Well?”

“He’ll behave – won’t you, Adam?” Scarlet said with heavy emphasis. Blue shrugged. Irritated, Scarlet turned to Cadenza and said maliciously, “You have to realise, Cadenza, this dimension must seem like a seventh heaven to him.  It presents him with the only chance he’ll ever get to make love to the one person he has ever really fancied – himself!”

 Outraged, Blue sprang from the table, as Cadenza let out a hearty peal of laughter and punched the number to release the digi-lock, just in time for Scarlet to skip through the door and avoid the irate Blue.

“Come on, you guys – if you are serious about this – you don’t have time to fight,” As they emerged she held out her hand and Scarlet shook it.  “Eva Svenson, pleased to meet you,” she smiled.

He grinned at her and glanced at Blue.  “That’s too wonderful for words,” he sniggered, “an Adam and now an Eve…”

Cadenza snorted with laughter. “I thought it might amuse you when I heard you call him Adam…”

“I will get you for that, Metcalfe,” Blue threatened, as they hurried along to the elevators.

“Oh for heaven sake, Adam – where is your sense of humour?” she said, shaming him with a knowing glance. She waved them ahead of her through the door of the brig and into the corridor.

 “Am I always that objectionable – in other dimensions?” she added, as she strode beside Scarlet on the way to the Amber Room corridor.

“Not really – it is just my luck to be lumbered with the one who’s a complete tosser,” Scarlet replied. He was still rather put out by Blue’s reversion to being so objectionable again, just when he had seemed to be taking things seriously.

“Well, that’s a comfort then,” she smiled.

They moved through Cloudbase unmolested and came quickly to the Amber Room corridor. Cadenza watched them closely as the men began to search for the weakness in the fabric of reality that would lead them back to the tunnels beneath Etna.

 Scarlet’s hand slipped through the wall easily enough and he alerted Blue. “I think I have found it.” He crouched down and shuffled forward on his hands and knees.

The Svensons came and stood either side of him, as he gently pushed his head and shoulders through the suddenly flexible wall. He heard Cadenza’s sharp intake of breath as he disappeared.  Scarlet withdrew and smiled up at them, holding up Blue’s yellow hard hat.

“It’s the right tunnel.  You had better go first, Blue, and see if you can find Symphony and Garnet.   Let’s hope we’ve been away long enough for Ruffolo to have left.”

“Time moves at differing rates through the tunnels?” Cadenza asked sharply.

Blue turned to look at her with barely concealed animosity.  “It appears so from our past… excursion.  We don’t know if it always does.”

She ignored him and turned to Scarlet as he struggled to his feet.  “You never mentioned it traversed time as well as realities,” she accused him.

“Like Blue said, we aren’t sure,” he replied defensively. 

It wasn’t a thought that had appeared to be very important, but her eyes glowed with fascinated enthusiasm. “But that is wonderful!  Imagine – if we can work out how to use the tunnel we could return through time and correct errors – fatal errors – and mistakes!”

“It doesn’t seem to work in a logical way.  What’s the date here?” Scarlet asked.

Cadenza told him; it was a mere matter of months after the return of the Martian Exploration rocket to Earth.  It explained why the Mysteron Detector had been so unwieldy – it must have been an early prototype.  The ones Scarlet was used to using had been refined into a far more compact version over time.

“In the tunnels it is always… now…” he attempted to explain.  “There the time is linear from our departure from Blue’s Cloudbase. The other trip we made took minutes in Blue’s world – but we spent hours in Boston.”

Cadenza glanced at Blue, who was maintaining a show of disinterest so she continued to address her comments to Scarlet. “You could use it to go back through time and save yourself and Lieutenant Garnet – leave a message with your friends or stop something happening – or even make sure you waited long enough for your friend to attach a new, un-frayed, safety rope to your belt.”

“That wouldn’t work,” Blue snapped.

“When time lines cross all futures exist in potential,” she replied shortly.  “Didn’t you see the theories propounded by Professor Bertram Coombs? He published a very interesting paper in a scientific journal about a year ago.”

Blue raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I did, but I am surprised you did.”

“Why should you be – because I am a woman?” Cadenza sighed. “I ought to be used to it by now – but I sort of hoped my other self would be above believing me to be a half-wit.”

“I just meant I am surprised they have already been published here too, given that they were only published recently… back home.” Blue gave an exasperated sigh.  “Besides, there were many scientists who maintained it was all baloney.”

“They did here too, but I wasn’t so sure,” she smiled at him. “I apologise.”

He shrugged. “Considering you have such a low opinion of me, that’s very generous of you. I accept.”

The pair stared at each other with measured wariness and Scarlet was amused to see how similar their expressions were, despite the physical differences between them.   Side by side they might have been brother and sister, Cadenza was hardly more than an inch or two shorter and although of a slighter build than Blue, she was still an impressively built woman. Her hair was longer, but of the exact same colour, her features were more delicate than his, yet her eyes were just as sharp and of the exact shade of smoky-blue.  As he drew a breath to speak, he was suddenly surprised by another voice.

“Very touching,” Sonata said, stepping out from the access corridor beyond the doorway. “What are you doing, Cadenza?”

Cadenza turned to look at the younger woman. “I believe them, and I think they should be allowed to go.”

“You’ll be court-martialled!” Sonata protested. “And they are probably Mysteron spies – or something.”

“I will take that chance – just as I take all my chances.” The American moved to her friend and laid a hand on her arm. “Please, Paula, don’t get involved.  I need to sort this out, just me... on my own.”

“You are going with them, aren’t you, Eva?” Paula Metcalfe accused.  “Have you considered that you may never come back if you go?”

“Of course I will. I have… unfinished business here.  But, yes, I am going through the tunnel – I want to see for myself if what they claim is true.  You can help if you like – but I am not going to let you stop me, Paula.”

“And how will you do that?  I could have security here in seconds.”

“But you won’t – will you?  I think you believe them too – underneath it all.” Cadenza gave a tight smile. “Wait here for me. If what they tell me is true – I won’t be long.   I’ll bring you a present back from the other side!”

“Eva… don’t be so foolhardy! At least, let me get Kevin to go with you…”

“Gentlemen, shall we go?” Cadenza spread her hands, indicating that one of them should go first. 

Blue stepped forward and with a sudden dip of his fair head, planted a kiss on Sonata’s cheek. She gasped and stepped back.  “Just testing…” he winked, and ducked into the wall, slipping from sight. 

Sonata gasped, open-mouthed.  

 “You had better go next, Eva – just in case it seals after me, or something,” Scarlet reasoned. “But be careful, when we left, we were under attack from a hostile gunman… I’ll explain as we go…”   She nodded and smiled farewell to her friend before following the vanished Blue.

“You had better look after her…” Sonata muttered, looking at her double with stern eyes. Scarlet, grinning from ear to ear, reached across and did the same as Blue; Paula Metcalfe gave a wry grimace. “You’re in need of a shave, Mister Metcalfe,” she muttered, but not unkindly as she watched him disappearing into the wall. 

Then she moved across to the other side of the corridor, glanced at her watch and leant back against the wall, determined to remain at her post however long it took. 

The dance would have to wait.

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 4

 

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