A Captain Scarlet Story by Marion Woods
Following Cadenza Angel through the portal, Captain Scarlet stepped out into the darkness and sauna-like heat of the main volcanic tunnel. He called out to the tall figures of the Svensons, whom he could just make out standing some distance away. Blue turned and gave him a warning glance. Instantly on the alert, and with an absurd feeling of protectiveness towards Cadenza, Scarlet moved to stand alongside her. She hardly glanced at him, but indicated a distant light. It was approaching them slowly.
“Is it Ruffolo?” Scarlet hissed at Blue.
“No,” he replied, stepping aside and revealing a crumpled body on the floor beside a discarded hurricane lamp. Scarlet stooped to examine it, even though he had little doubt as to who it would be. Sergeant Ruffolo had been shot.
“Do you think Symphony did this?” he suggested under his breath.
Blue shook his head. “No, my guess is that it was one of the Agency’s henchmen and Ruffolo has merely paid the price for his earlier, apparent, inefficiency in failing to kill Lieutenants Scarlet and Garnet. Patrick was already exasperated with him when you and Garnet turned up on Cloudbase – his failure to kill the away party was his death warrant.”
“Magenta? We left him on Cloudbase. How could he know Ruffolo had failed again, let alone give orders to anyone here to execute him? The radio links around here are crap,” Scarlet asserted.
Blue nodded towards the advancing light. “Because Magenta doesn’t trust anyone, especially anyone who has already failed him. Someone would have been watching Ruffolo – and he probably knew it – it would explain his eagerness to kill us all. My guess is… Magenta isn’t on Cloudbase anymore, he’s over there. I rather suspected he’d follow us - he has too much at stake to do otherwise. Now he is coming to see for himself what’s going on here… It’s likely that he’s got Lieutenant Cobalt with him, at the very least, and maybe Lieutenant Mauve as well.”
“You seem very certain of yourself,” Scarlet remarked dubiously. “Why would Magenta bring witnesses with him?” If there was something going on between the Agency bosses he wanted to know about it - right now.
“He’d have to bring at least one – he can’t pilot a plane alone.” Blue’s tone was scathing. “And normally he doesn’t leave the safety of Cloudbase without two bodyguards. Patrick doesn’t have many friends – even in the Syndicate.”
Irritated by their baffling conversation, Cadenza asked, “What is he doing in Spectrum if he cannot fly a plane?”
“Patrick Donaghue is the leader of an international crime syndicate, a very powerful man and a dangerous adversary,” Blue explained succinctly. “He has a number of prominent politicians in his pocket – or at least, in his debt. The problem was keeping him out of Spectrum when he chose to apply.”
Scarlet glanced thoughtfully at the enigmatic Captain Blue; his manner had veered to one of conscientious professionalism and all indolence had disappeared from his demeanour, which was suddenly reminiscent of the real Adam he knew. This was Captain Blue at work and taking it seriously. It felt… comforting – almost like home.
As he watched the approaching lights of the other party, Blue frowned. He had never doubted that Magenta would follow him, or that his intentions towards himself – and probably the entire away party - were neither friendly nor honourable. He sighed and cursed under his breath. He was confident that he could deal with the situation and he trusted that Scarlet could do the same – but Cadenza was the unknown in the equation. Presumably she would have had the same training as all Spectrum Angels, but, as he knew only too well, that did not always mean the women were capable – or willing – of putting what they had been taught into action. The only good thing was that Garnet and Symphony were still out of the way, and hopefully safe enough in the other tunnel. With any luck they would remain there until this was over. He found himself wishing that it was Symphony at his side, instead of this unsettlingly familiar blonde.
Cadenza had been musing over his words. “Patrick Donaghue? Well, we are running true to form, guys. I know a Patricia Donaghue. But you said this guy is dangerous?” They both nodded emphatically. “Well, Pat isn’t – except that she’d talk you to death, given the chance…”
Blue gave her a brief smile and reasoned aloud. “I suspect one of Magenta’s henchmen tailed Ruffolo. And, when Ruffolo failed to complete his mission, he followed his orders and he shot him – but only after Ruffolo had shown him where we had disappeared. Now Pat is on his way to see for himself.” He chewed his lower lip and continued as if to himself, “I may have made too much of the business possibilities of time-travelling and dimension-jumping tunnels, but he would not have come otherwise, and he was too well protected for me to tackle him on Cloudbase.”
“You planned this?” Cadenza asked sharply.
“Not quite like this,” Blue admitted. “No-one bothered to tell me that Lieutenant Garnet was coming, for a start,” he glanced reproachfully at Scarlet, “and I never expected you to be here.” He nodded at Cadenza with a doleful stare.
“That makes two of us, Adam – I never expected to be here either,” she responded with a proud tilt of her head.
“What game are you playing, Svenson?” Scarlet’s inquiry made his companion smile.
“Haven’t you heard, Captain Scarlet? This isn’t a game – this is real life - and it just got a whole lot more dangerous.”
“That is very inscrutable of you, Adam – Readers Digest has a page for aphorisms like that.” Cadenza sighed. “Do you have time to explain?” He shook his head. “Then just tell us what you want us to do,” she conceded with a shrug.
“You should keep out of the way, Cadenza,” Scarlet began before Blue could answer.
“Don’t worry about me, Captain; I can take care of myself.” She smiled at him. “Besides, has it occurred to either of you that your pistols got left behind on my Cloudbase? I am the only one of us with a gun.” She drew her Spectrum gun. “I’m assuming this will still work, even though it is a weapon from a different dimension. In this case, it is to your advantage to make use of me, because – fond though I am growing of the both of you – I do not intend to hand this over to either of you. Moreover, whoever Magenta expects to find here – it won’t be me.”
Realising she was right, and that both he and Scarlet were weaponless, Blue glared at her. “Look, both of you keep out of this. I can handle Magenta alone. I have done so far.”
“But you’re outnumbered and all of them are going to be armed, which makes you extremely vulnerable,” Scarlet reasoned. “You need my help.”
“Our help,” Cadenza amended.
“You’ll just get in the way and you might get hurt,” Blue protested angrily. “Please, I won’t ask again – stay out of this.”
“You need help…”
“We can help…”
Then in perfect unison, they concluded, “You know I’m right, Adam.”
Blue turned in amazement. “Now you’re talking in frigging stereo!”
He couldn’t repress a smile at the astonishment he saw on the faces of his colleagues, as they exchanged sheepish glances. “Okay, you win; I don’t have time to argue with you both. Fan out and keep me covered. I will try to get Magenta away from his minders. If either of you can deal with one or both of them, it would be a help.”
They nodded and started to comply with his order. Quietly he added, “And thanks – both of you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Cadenza replied softly, glancing back over her shoulder, “We Svensons always stick together.” Blue gave her a long, searching look as she moved into the shadows of the rocks by the tunnel mouth.
Scarlet melted into the background on the other side from Cadenza, and watched as the unknown party moved closer. One of them was definitely Captain Magenta, and he glanced at Blue in time to see his expression change. The seriousness evaporated, to be replaced by his usual expression of irritatingly patronising ennui. He lifted his hard-hat and ran a hand through his fair hair, tousling it in the process, and then he replaced the hat on the back of his head at a jaunty angle.
Once the newcomers were in earshot, he called out to them with all of his usual hauteur. “Patrick, you sure took your time. What kept you? Couldn’t find a pilot?”
Magenta’s reply was too mumbled to be audible clearly, but the tone was one of annoyance. Gradually, he became intelligible. “You were supposed to wait at the mouth of this hell-hole. I had to send Cobalt in with Ruffolo to discover where the frigging hell you’d got to.”
“Yes, I found Ruffolo.” Blue prodded the body with his foot and sniffed fastidiously. “You were not happy with his standard of work, I take it.”
“He had his orders, and he knew the penalty for failing was likely to be… terminal.” Magenta left the nature of those orders vague, and as he finished the climb over the shingle at the mouth of the tunnel he was breathless, and looked hot and annoyed. “I will not tolerate disobedience or treachery amongst my workforce…”
“Quite right too,” Blue interjected.
“Or my partners,” Magenta finished ominously.
“You can’t get the hired help these days,” Blue said lightly and gave the looming figure of Lieutenant Cobalt a cheesy grin. Lieutenant Mauve – a hard-bitten New Yorker – gave an insulting snort of laughter and spat. Blue grimaced and moved away slightly, as if he felt contaminated.
Magenta frowned at his men and asked sharply, “Where are the others?”
Blue gestured vaguely in the direction of the tunnel stretching away behind him. “Ochre went off to protect the pacifier, he took Symphony with him. Scarlet’s looking for the right cavern to get back to the portal he came through. He’ll come back for me when he’s found it.”
“You let him go alone?” Magenta growled. “He may not come back!”
“He will… Garnet isn’t with him. This Scarlet is the type who doesn’t feel happy running out on a partner – especially a lady – he’ll be back. Besides, I have no desire to go traipsing about in the darkness… these are new boots.”
“Oh, what a shame,” Magenta mocked. “You might get all dirty!”
Blue’s lips curled in a smile that held no amusement. “Padraig, you do your side of things your way and I will do mine.”
“One of these days, Svenson – you will pay… for everything.”
Blue’s smile widened and his voice went dangerously quiet, “One day, Padraig, so will you.”
“Are you threatening me, Svenson?”
His partner gave a brittle laugh. “Oh Padraig, you are so paranoid. Haven’t you realised by now that I don’t give a toss what you think about me, or what you would like to do to me. You need me, Paddy-boy, far more than I need you.”
“I could break your family with a few well chosen words. If you want to see your old man and your Uncle gaoled for thirty years, Pretty-boy, you just keep needling me.”
“If my old man’s been dumb enough to give you a hold over him, well, that is his look out! But remember, if my Dad goes, I am the only person on this planet who can access your money. And I might not do it, if I feel threatened. Kill me and you’re several tens of millions worse off. I doubt even you could make the Syndicates swallow that, Donaghue.”
Magenta ran a handkerchief over his sweating brow. He was not prepared to discuss the state of his relationship with the Syndicate with Svenson. He changed the subject. “This had better be worth it. I don’t take kindly to being dragged all over the globe chasing your fantastical theories.”
As if accepting that the opening hostilities were over, Blue shifted his stance slightly and released his tension with a huge sigh. “It will be worth it, Patrick. I am almost certain now, that these tunnels bend time as well as dimensions. The opportunities for fraud are limitless, once we know how to take advantage of the portals.”
“So you said.”
“We could use them to change history – even to abort that Martian expedition, if we wish.”
Magenta looked up and frowned. “Why would we do that? Things have worked out well, ever since Spectrum started chasing aliens and lost interest in us. You know yourself that we have made far greater profits since those bug-eyed monsters arrived. You could say the Mysterons are good for business.”
“You are out of your mind, Donaghue! They are callous, murdering brutes! I saw what they were capable of – at the Car-Vu.” The memory of the fateful day he had shot Captain Ochre came back to him in vivid detail. His voice dropped and he murmured, “I had never had to kill a man before… never had to deliberately shoot a man I knew and liked. It does things to you… leaves a stain that nothing can eradicate.” Blue drew a deep breath and forced himself to concentrate on Magenta, who was regarding him with a patronising smile. “Whatever I may do, as part of the Agency, I will not do anything that assists the Mysterons and you shouldn’t even speak of such a thing in the terms of financial gain! Besides, what good would all the money in the World be, if there is nowhere left and nothing to spend it on? You have heard their threats – they want to wipe us all out! I have seen what they could do to this planet if they chose, and believe me, that is not a world you want to find yourself in! ” Blue bit back his words, at the realisation that he had revealed far more than he intended.
But Magenta did not seem to have noticed. He gave a supercilious smile, delighted that he had finally provoked Blue into making unguarded statements. “I never thought you scared so easily, Svenson,” he said. “Quite frankly, you made a right mess of the biggest opportunity you’ll ever have; you should have shot President Younger and blamed Ochre. Okay, so you weren’t to know he would revive, but it would still have been your word against his and no-one would have believed him. Your Uncle stood a good chance of becoming the World President in Younger’s place, and that would have benefited us, far more than even the present regime does. If we decided to take advantage of the potential you claim is offered by these tunnels, that is what we would change, and if you won’t shoot the President, I am sure we can find another operative to take your place on the Car-Vu, one who would do the job properly.”
Scarlet listened to this exchange with a growing fury. Magenta was far more callous than he’d imagined, and far more dangerous. He had to remind himself that this man was not the good-natured, enthusiastic Patrick Donaghue he knew and - whereas there were touches of the Adam Svenson he knew in Blue – Magenta seemed entirely ‘alien’.
He began to wonder if the captain had been Mysteronised by some chance. He had no Mysteron detector and he was too far away from Magenta for his ‘sixth sense’ to warn him, although - given that he felt nothing with Ochre - it might not recognise a Mysteron in this dimension at all. Ochre had not sensed his presence, so it was conceivable that the effect of an ordinary Mysteron reconstruct nearby would not set his nerves jingling enough to make him feel nauseous. Still, it was worth a chance; if Magenta was a Mysteron, Spectrum would have the reason it needed to remove him. He began to edge forward and his boot dislodged a stone which clattered down onto the sloping shingle before the tunnel entrance.
He froze, cursing under his breath, as Magenta’s head came up and he listened intently. He waved Blue’s latest protest to silence and gestured Cobalt and Mauve to move further back so that they could cover the tunnel exits and provide him with protection in event of an attack. “What was that – Metcalfe coming back?” he demanded, sharply peering into the gloomy tunnel, which Blue’s body effectively shielded from his line of sight.
“Nah, this place is quivering like a jelly,” Blue improvised. “It was just another tremor.” He was striving to regain his normal insouciance.
“He had better not be too long, or someone may just have to go through those tunnels without him and see what comes of it,” Magenta threatened.
“Be my guest, Padraig, but if you think I am going to risk my neck attempting an unproven portal, you can think again.” Blue edged slightly back into the shadows, reducing his chances of being hit by Magenta’s henchmen whilst pretending to search for Scarlet. Magenta moved towards him and actually took hold of the taller man’s arm to stop himself from slipping. Blue continued to move further back, intent on separating Magenta from his bodyguards. “I think he went through one of these cracks…” he volunteered, to divert the gangster’s attention away from his companions. He could see Cadenza and Scarlet, edging around the rocky outcrops on either side, with the intention of coming up behind the henchmen, who were watching their boss with glum dedication.
Seeing Blue and Magenta fade into the murky tunnel, Cadenza moved round until she was behind where Lieutenant Cobalt was standing. She peered into the gloomy distance and, because she expected to see it there, she just caught sight of a flash of red as Scarlet edged into place behind Mauve. With a grim smile, she stepped forward and knocked Cobalt out cold with the butt of her pistol. Startled, Lieutenant Mauve turned in alarm and found himself staring down the barrel of a pistol, in the hands of an unknown woman who was pointing it straight at him. Seconds later he too hit the ground as Scarlet’s karate blow connected with his collar bone. Scarlet shook his hand theatrically and grinned at Cadenza.
Magenta heard the noise and turned to see two figures standing over his unconscious men. Recognising Scarlet’s red tunic and dark hair, he spun back and savagely pushed Blue away, causing the blond man to go sprawling on the unsure footing and disappear from view down a steep slope. Then he dived for the cover of a narrow aperture in the rock face and drew his pistol. He glanced over his shoulder to where Blue was stumbling to his feet.
“Sell me out to Scarlet and his fancy women, would you? Get over here, Svenson. You can’t even manage a double-cross with any skill, you scum.”
Dazed and cursing, Blue staggered across the shingle. “What are you talking about, Magenta? What did you go and shove me like that for? I don’t know what he’s been planning and I don’t know who that great big draft horse of a woman is, either!”
“Who are you calling a draft horse, you dumb ox?” Cadenza shouted.
“And if I choose not to believe your protestation of innocence?” Magenta snarled, his gun pointing straight at Blue’s head as the taller man made a show of brushing the dust off his uniform.
“Then I will think you are crazy. Why should I side with Scarlet and his ilk? They want to turn Spectrum into some glorified boy-scout organisation. I outgrew the boy-scouts decades ago. I am with you in this, Pat – remember we are partners?”
“Yeah, that’s as may be,” Magenta snarled. “But someone has taken your gun away, Svenson, and my guess is they got the drop on you – which is no surprise.” He turned to shout at Scarlet. “I have your patsy here, Scarlet and I won’t hesitate to kill him if you make just one false move. In fact, it will give me great pleasure to do so! It may be the only thing we have in common, Metcalfe – a wholesome contempt for this ponce! Now is your chance – I will gladly put a bullet in his pretty head for you and you can blame me for it… all you have to do is move away and let me out of here. I’m not interested in your dimensional portals… I just wanted to make sure Svenson wasn’t playing me false.”
“Why would I want to see Captain Blue dead?” Scarlet called back, watching as Cadenza secured the two minders with their own handcuffs.
“You might not want to see him dead,” she commented wryly, straightening up and pulling a face at him, “but after that dig about draft horses – I sure do.”
His amusement was short-lived as he heard Magenta’s voice, answering his question.
“He set you up – he got that technician to accuse you of raping her… It was his idea. One of his better ones, I have to add. If the President hadn’t interfered, you’d have been out on your ear.”
“Oh, come on, Patrick, is that the best you can do?” Blue scoffed, rolling his eyes.
Cadenza looked across at Scarlet’s annoyed expression and pursed her lips. “My other self is not exactly covering himself with glory,” she commented, handing Scarlet Cobalt’s gun and pocketing Mauve’s herself.
“My guess is that it isn’t even true… at least, I hope not,” he replied before shouting back. “That doesn’t merit you killing him, in fact, if you do, there will definitely be no way out of here for you – except under arrest or dead… and I don’t mind which it is, Donaghue. With Svenson alive, we might be able to come to some deal.”
“I want to walk out of here with my men and an hour’s start…” Magenta called. “And I will take Svenson with me. There are a few little jobs I have for him to do before I let him go.”
“No deal – if you go, he stays… I am sure with some persuasion he would turn state’s evidence against you.”
“In that case I have nothing to lose – I might as well have the satisfaction of killing him…” Magenta snarled back.
“Would you mind not trying to save my skin, Scarlet?” Blue sounded querulous. “I was doing rather better on my own…”
“I am quite sure, Magenta, that one call to Cloudbase would have dozens of armed men down here – the colonel has been looking for an excuse to throw the book at you for some time, as I understand it. You’ll never get out of here a free man,” Scarlet reasoned.
“You seriously under-estimate me, Scarlet.” Magenta’s voice held the confident ring of a man sure of his power. “To get anything off Cloudbase you have to launch the planes and my men have control of the launch systems. Nothing leaves that base without my authority. I left strict instructions; in my absence not even Blue’s orders are to be obeyed.” He cocked his pistol and pointed the gun at Blue’s head. The taller man stiffened, his head thrown back away from the barrel of the gun.
Magenta explained coldly, “You see, I never trust anyone – even my partners.”
Symphony kept an anxious vigil through the wide sweep of Stingray’s windows as the aquanauts searched the area where Captain Blue had vanished. It was obvious, even to her inexperienced eyes, that they were having trouble manoeuvring in the turbulent waters around the cliff face. The radio links between the divers and the sub were being affected by a persistent interference and were of very poor quality, they could only hear snatches of conversation between the partners. Atlanta had tried to reassure her, as best she could, that Troy and Phones were a close team and a lack of direct communication between them would not necessarily hamper the search, and she had taken some comfort in that. She was aware that, sometimes, Blue and Scarlet knew instinctively what the other would be doing, and what would be needed by way of support. It even happened with the Angel flight sometimes – as one pilot anticipated the orders of the Angel Leader by a fraction of a second. Team-work, she thought distractedly.
Atlanta watched her visitor with sympathetic concern. It had not taken her long to realise that the attractive American girl – however much she flirted with the aquanauts – was really not interested in any man except Captain Blue. It wasn’t Atlanta’s idea of devotion - she would never torment Troy like that – but Captain Blue had appeared less than disconcerted by Symphony’s behaviour. And nobody witnessing the Angel’s distress at his disappearance could doubt where her affections lay. In a gesture of silent support, she made them both a cup of coffee, and stood beside the Angel pilot, watching until the men began to return to the submarine. That they had not found the Spectrum officer was obvious – and Atlanta pretended not to hear the smothered sob from her companion.
She moved to the airlock, leaving Symphony to regain her composure as best as she might.
As Troy emerged, he reluctantly glanced at the grief-wracked face of his passenger and said with as much reassurance as he could, “We need to replace our air tanks, we’ll go out there again as soon as we can.”
Symphony nodded, and looked away, reaching up to brush the insistent tears from her eyes. “If your air is exhausted…” she began, and her voice slurred into incoherence.
Troy spoke briskly. “It would seem there is a cave mouth behind that cliff face… I am certain that Captain Blue was sucked in by the force of that whirlpool. There is no sign of him anywhere else. It’s impossible to approach it at the moment – the tide is just too strong and it isn’t safe to even try to take the sea-bugs through the gaps. When the tide turns, in the next hour or so… we’ll try again. I am sure that we’ll get access to the cave then. It is very possible there is an air pocket in there or even that the cave extends through to the surface, with a negotiable way out. Maybe Blue is standing somewhere up the volcano’s side now – unable to contact us directly. The radio interference is not getting any less; it must be connected to the volcanic activity we’re witnessing. I hope Adam’s taking the opportunity to top up his sun-tan…” he joked feebly, trying to elicit a smile from the young woman.
Symphony nodded bleakly. “I must report to Cloudbase… Colonel White’s probably hopping mad already at our missing the last check-in.” She sighed and her voice quavered. “Although, how I am going to tell him that now Blue has disappeared as well…. I don’t know…”
“If it gets too hard – just pass him over to me,” Tempest said with a grim smile. “I don’t frighten easily…”
In the cavern beyond the cliff-face, where he had been thrown by the whirlpool, Captain Blue raced to catch up with Symphony Angel. She waited for him at the top of the scree bank by a narrow crevice in the rock face. She didn’t bother arguing over his decision not to wait in the cavern, but gave him a friendly smile as he scrambled up the last few feet, and directed his gaze to the tunnel entrance.
“Garnet has already gone though. I know I can get in there, do you think you can?”
Blue eyed the gap with a rueful grimace. “I’ll have to, won’t I?”
“You’ll need to be a contortionist, Captain, it’s not exactly… roomy in there, and it’s a matter of crawling once you are in, but if you’re determined, nothing I say will deter you.” She gave him a thoughtful glance as she estimated his breadth. “I’d say you are a little chunkier than Sky… but here goes! You go first, then if you do get stuck, I can always push…” she sniggered.
Blue ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. There was no alternative but to try. He ducked down and squeezed sideways through the opening with some difficulty, noticing with relief that it widened – albeit not by much – a few feet in. Symphony slipped in after him and they moved along a rough tunnel, which climbed steeply. Blue winced as outcrops of rock grazed his shoulders and elbows and razor-sharp shards dug into his knees as he crawled.
“Careful, we’re getting close,” Symphony urged, after they had covered some distance in silence. Blue raised his head, ducking it again as he hit his head on the roof. Ahead of them, he could just see the sullen glow of what he assumed was daylight. “We left the cave we were in because someone was shooting at us. I hope Garnet’s had the sense to keep under cover, in case he’s still there,” she explained in a whisper. “In a few feet it should open out and we’ll be able to stand.”
A dark shape emerged from the gloom ahead of them, and they heard Garnet whispering, “I waited here, I can hear voices I don’t recognise…”
With a sigh of relief, Blue staggered to his feet, surveying the tears in the knees of his wet-suit with rueful eyes. He turned and gave Symphony a hand to get to her feet. She was looking done in, he noticed with concern. Before he could ask her if she was okay, Garnet came and stood beside him, looking at him with the same wariness she’d displayed in the cave. He smiled at her, reminding himself that, although he thought he knew her pretty well, after the days he’d spent searching for her, she had never met him – apart from a lecture she’d attended at Koala Base, and as he didn’t remember her from there, it was unlikely they had even spoken directly - so perhaps her wariness was justified in the light of what she’d experienced lately and he ought not to take it personally.,
He pressed himself back against the wall and breathed in as Symphony squeezed past. He tried to ignore the faint, yet familiar, scent of Karen’s favourite perfume, which teased his senses as she passed by. Acutely conscious of the feel of her body brushing against his, he gazed abstractedly at the far wall, whilst reminding himself, this is not my Karen, and even if it was, I should be concentrating on this mission, not acting like a love-struck idiot and wasting my time fantasising …. I’d forgotten just how much I liked it when she wore her hair long….it’s only that she brings back memories… that’s all. Concentrate…..
“Oh great… just what we need. Magenta’s here…” he heard her murmur. “Looks like I am going to have to dig you out of another hole of your own making, Sky. This is getting to be a habit….”
She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled forward to listen to the conversation. Glancing at Blue, Lieutenant Garnet followed her and went to listen as well.
From his place behind the women, Blue could hardly hear any of the actual conversation, although he could make out voices that sounded familiar. He gazed at the women in front of him and found his mind wandering back to Karen on Stingray. He was sure she’d be frantic about him… but he hoped Tempest would stop her from doing anything stupid. It was just possible that she would listen to his advice, as she really wasn’t that accomplished a diver – good and getting better all the time, of course, he thought loyally – but if she was honest with herself, she’d admit she wasn’t up to the conditions in the straits. Good Lord, he reasoned, I was barely able to keep off those rocks…
He became aware of a juddering in the wall he was leaning against and moved away from it. Ahead of him, the women had felt it too.
Symphony turned and hissed, “Another tremor, they’re getting more frequent.”
A crack appeared across the tunnel floor and the shingle began to slither into it. There wasn’t room for Blue to cross the divide unless the women moved out into the larger tunnel, but they showed no signs of being ready to do that and, if it wasn’t safe for them to go, he would not even suggest it. Garnet looked back over her shoulder, surprise on her face at the rapidly widening crack.
“I’ll have to go back, Lieutenant, this side isn’t that stable,” he hissed, feeling the shingle moving beneath him.
Garnet nodded and whispered to Symphony. She turned again and looked in alarm at the considerable crack between them. “Go back, Adam,” she urged, “before you get pulled in…I will tell Captain Scarlet you are here.”
He raised his hand in acknowledgement. “Be careful, Karen… and you, Lieutenant.”
He began to make his way back along the tunnel. If - when - Stingray’s crew found him, he’d bring them here with ropes and follow the women across – he would find Paul!
Symphony watched him go with a surprising sense of loss; she had experienced a comforting reassurance from his presence. From the little she had heard of Scarlet’s world from Colonel White, it had sounded almost idyllic, and maybe part of that idyll was an Adam Svenson you could rely on? However, right now she had enough to worry about, and he had to be the least of her worries; from what she’d heard was going on in the cavern, things were coming to a head between the opposing camps.
She concentrated on events beyond their hiding place and edged forward cautiously, peering into the tunnel and cavern beyond, trying to ascertain what the situation really was. Her initial impression was that Blue and Magenta were confronting Captain Scarlet and an unknown woman… her eyebrows rose in puzzlement as she recognised an Angel uniform… of a sort.
Maybe the new Captain Blue isn’t the only person from Scarlet’s universe who’s found a way through? she wondered. Her attention was drawn back to the events beyond their hiding place, when Captain Magenta shouted to Captain Scarlet. He and the unknown Angel were guarding two men, easily recognisable by their coloured uniform tunics as Magenta’s most trusted henchmen, even in the gloom.
“Don’t be such a fool, Scarlet! What we have is a once-in-a-lifetime’s opportunity. I can make you richer than your wildest dreams – and your lady friend. The ruling council of the Syndicate – of which, I have to tell you, I am an important member – has struck a deal with the Mysterons through their representative. Where we have been of assistance to them, they are happy for us to take the profits from the schemes they introduce, and they are not so unsubtle as to make every threat obvious. It suits them to keep Spectrum occupied, running after bombs and assassination attempts and such crude red herrings. It is almost amusing to see the satisfaction with which White, and his happy band of do-gooders, congratulate themselves on yet another nuclear plant saved, or worthless politician protected. The Mysteron schemes that are really doing the damage are far more insidious – they are in carefully chosen strategic venues around the World - aimed at disrupting industry and undermining confidence in the World Government’s financial probity. There are massive profits accruing from these schemes and we – the Syndicate – are reaping the benefits. We are making money hand over fist. So much so, we have been able to broaden the scope of our operations merely using the funds they’ve generated. Currently we still need the SvenCorp organisation to launder this money but, in the not too distant future, we will be able to function without the Svensons… all of them!” he crowed with obvious glee.
He continued, unabashed by the heavy silence that followed his revelations. “Don’t think you can stop the Mysterons, Scarlet. They have extraordinary abilities and weapons at their disposal, weapons the Syndicate will be allowed access to, if they continue to be happy with the services we provide. Our agents are proving invaluable at destabilising organisations and commerce and, of course, they are undetectable by anti-Mysteron security devices. Why, even here and now, I could call on the Mysterons for their help and you would all be so much dead meat!”
Magenta smiled, recalling the devastation he’d seen as he’d driven up to the tunnel-mouth in the wake of Black’s SPV. He had received the agreed warning from Captain Black that the Mysterons were about to carry out their latest threat, and that, along with his suspicions concerning Captain Blue’s trustworthiness, had been enough to prise him from his airborne fastness on Cloudbase. As he understood it, Black would destroy the pacifier so that it could be reconstructed by the Mysterons and duplicates made, for use at Vesuvius and other strategically sited volcanoes. His satisfaction increased as he thought, that should boost the Agency’s bank accounts very nicely, once the frightened Regional Governments pay up to avoid the threat of disasters in their territories. He guessed the Mysterons’ chief agent was, even now, hard at work on the pacifier, and with any luck, he would have dealt with the tiresome Captain Ochre too – the game was far from being lost!
His reverie was interrupted by Scarlet’s outraged shout. “You must be insane, Donaghue! You cannot trust the word of the Mysterons! Their stated aim is to destroy all life on earth – what makes you think you will be spared when they achieve their aim? It is every man’s duty to stand against this threat and do what they can to thwart their plans.”
“Spare me the lecture – I’ve heard the colonel’s interminable pep talks too,” Magenta retorted.
During Magenta’s revelations, Blue had been slowly edging away from the weapon pointing at him. Now he felt his feet slithering from under him on the shingle and he suddenly slipped backwards down a slope, saving himself from falling only by throwing himself forwards and coming to a stop resting on his hands and feet.
Coldly, Magenta ordered him back. As Blue made a great play of trying to walk through the unstable shingle, Magenta began to threaten and ordered him to hurry, but the sudden touch of the cold muzzle of a gun pressed against his neck silenced him. Distracted by Blue’s antics, he had not heard Symphony emerge from the tunnel in the wall behind him, although she had been perfectly visible to Blue for some time, as well as to the others further away in the cavern.
Symphony said with an exaggerated reasonableness, “Now, now, Mr Donaghue, we don’t want things to turn nasty, do we? Throw your gun over there…” Reluctantly Magenta threw the gun across the shingle.
Listening with growing horror to Magenta’s revelations, Symphony had decided he must be stopped and, sliding her pistol from its holster, she had crept close enough to place the gun at his throat. Behind her, she could hear the scrunch of shingle as Garnet emerged from the portal.
“Well done, Symphony!” Scarlet called, and started to scramble up to the tunnel mouth, with the intention of collecting Magenta’s gun. Cadenza walked close behind him.
“Yes, thanks, Symphony,” Blue said affably, relaxing and moving towards her.
“You stay where you are, Svenson,” she snapped, frowning at him. “I can just as easily shoot you too. I don’t know what all this is about yet, but I heard enough to know that you are as suspect as Donaghue.”
Blue gave an irritated smile and protested vehemently. “Come on, Karen, I may not be your exact image of a knight in shining armour, but I’m not a frigging traitor either! You heard him admit that the Syndicate is working for the Mysterons, and you know me well enough to know I would never willingly do that!” He lurched up the slope, intent on beating the living daylights out of his enemy.
Angrily, she turned the gun on him. The memory of the other Captain Blue, and the almost instantaneous rapport she had felt with him, only served to fuel her exasperation with the slippery character of the man she loved.
How can they be so different if they are the same man? she wondered, and why did I get the louse? Aloud, she said, “What makes you think that? I am not sure I know you at all, any more. I’m sick and tired of making excuses for you and watching you strut about, as if no one and nothing mattered but yourself. You have made my life a living hell over the past few years, Adam Svenson, and - believe me – revenge would be sweet. Besides, I don’t really want my baby to grow up knowing its father is one of the lowest forms of pond-life! So, I might just take any excuse you give me, Sky, to blast your brains all over the walls. If you’re feeling lucky – keep moving and let’s just see what happens.”
Scarlet’s advance came to a sudden halt. “A baby?” He looked at the young woman with fresh eyes and realised just why her uniform seemed to fit so badly.
“Why so surprised? It was the first thing I noticed,” Cadenza said dryly. She gave Blue a withering glance, but from the look of utter surprise on his face it was clearly news to him as well. She shook her head and relented slightly, merely adding, “Who got careless then?”
“Who the hell are you?” Symphony turned to stare at Cadenza, and Magenta took his chance. He grabbed at the gun trying to knock it from her hand. A shot fired across the tunnel, ricocheting amongst the rocks and causing an echo that reverberated around the cavern. Away in the distance, they heard the rumble of falling rocks.
Garnet started forward as Magenta’s grip tightened on the struggling Symphony but, with a powerful sweep of his arm, he sent the young woman flying into the path of the advancing Scarlet. As they disentangled themselves, Blue’s advance suddenly halted and he raised his hands. Magenta had pulled Symphony’s pistol from her hand and had it at her temple.
“I am prepared to kill her - and as many of the rest of you as I can – if any one of you makes a false move,” Magenta panted. “Get back, Scarlet - and you.” He nodded at Cadenza. “Now we have a whole new scenario, don’t we? You can keep Mauve and Cobalt – they were dead men anyway, once they’d got me out of here - I have a far better pilot now.” He turned his attention to Symphony who struggled, without effect, in his grip. “I am sorry it has come to this, Karen. I always hoped that you and I would be friends; we have so much in common and I never could understand what you saw in Svenson – he’s not the man for you – he doesn’t deserve you. I am a reasonable man and, if you give me your word that you will not join with these losers again, I will accept it. Once we are out of here, there will be nothing and no one to stop us. I can call on the world-wide resources of the Syndicate and even Spectrum won’t be able to touch us. Now is the time to start calling in the favours the World Senators owe me. Between us, we can hold the reins of power in the World Government.”
Symphony’s expression was one of loathing as she stared at him, but Magenta was too occupied with his new plans to register this fact. He continued. “How would you like to be in supreme control of Spectrum Cloudbase, Symphony? There is no need for you to worry, it’ll be easy enough to get rid of that… embarrassing little inconvenience you’ve acquired… and start afresh. I expect the colonel will quickly come to see the wisdom of taking early retirement, after I have had a little chat with him.”
She struggled in his hold and gasped out her revulsion at his very suggestion. “You must be out of your mind, Donaghue! I wouldn’t let you touch me if you were the last man on this planet, which, if the Mysterons get their way, you may well be!”
Annoyed at her rejection of him, his attitude changed and he glanced down at Garnet who was still struggling to her feet. “You will come too – just to ensure Miss Wainwright’s attention stays focused on her work. You,” he looked at the rigidly motionless Blue, “you will go to Boston and transfer the Agency’s money over to the Syndicate’s accounts – unless you want to join your father in jail for the next thirty years? I am sure there’d be plenty of sex-starved men in there who would appreciate your boyish charms, Svenson!”
“Oh, perleese…” Cadenza drawled, shattering the aura of shock. “What is it with you, Donaghue? You have a real problem with him, don’t you? A little jealous, are you? Or maybe it is only such a bugbear because you can’t admit that you’d like a taste for yourself?”
Captain Blue’s horrified eyes were not the only ones that swivelled in the direction of the tall blonde, as she advanced up the shingle bank towards the stunned Magenta. She reached up slowly and removed the clip, so that her luxuriant blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders.
“Well,” she continued, her voice low and a little husky, “if Symphony is dumb enough to reject your offer, Patrick, perhaps we can come to some arrangement…” Magenta stared, fascinated, as she provocatively began to unzip the jacket of her Angel uniform, moving closer all the time. “You see, I came through one of those portals, and in my dimension, I am Adam Svenson…” she chuckled, “if that makes any sense. I work alongside a Paula Metcalfe and a Patricia Donaghue. The Captain Blue I know is a sweet young man called Kevin Wainwright and I can see a definite resemblance to your Symphony Angel. Although, Kevin has more… class, shall we say? So, what is it to be, Patrick – the shop-soiled and knocked-up tramp or the female equivalent of your darkest fantasies? They call me Cadenza, by the way…”
She struck out suddenly at the rapt Magenta, with a fierce spinning kick. As he recoiled from the impact, Symphony pulled away and collapsed at his feet. Scarlet’s shout echoed around the cavern as he dived to Cadenza’s support. Blue sprang towards Symphony, covering her prone body with his own. Another shot rang out and Garnet screamed. Scarlet’s fist connected with Magenta’s jaw and the American staggered. A second blow landed and he crumpled to the ground, leaving Scarlet standing triumphantly over his fallen enemy.
There was a moment of utter stillness as the echoes of the gunshot died away. Then Scarlet glanced at Symphony, who was in Blue’s embrace. He saw Svenson’s hand move to brush the hair back from her face and wipe a lone tear from her cheek, with a tenderness that made him smile. Maybe there is hope for him yet, he thought. Then he heard Garnet whimpering and he turned to the other side, where the lieutenant was kneeling beside Cadenza. The blonde was lying unconscious on the shingle, blood seeping into her uniform from the gunshot wound under her left breast.
“Eva!” Scarlet bent to her and lifted her gently. She was still breathing.
Meanwhile, Blue was helping Symphony to her feet.
“Was it true – what she said to Magenta? Is she you from another dimension?” she asked him.
“Yes and no,” he replied. “I think she is probably a far better person than I will ever be.”
“I doubt that – she needs lessons in good manners for a start! Who is she calling a shop-soiled tramp? ” Symphony gave him a wry smile. “Besides, you saved my life.”
“Well, I have to agree with the lady. She reminded me earlier that we Svensons always stick together.” Hesitantly, he placed a hand on her abdomen and gave her an apologetic half-smile.
With great deliberation, she removed it. “I see, so you’d have let him shoot me if I hadn’t been carrying your child?”
“No, I would not … I’d have killed him with my bare hands if I could’ve.”
“There you go again… mystifying me.” She gave a heartfelt sigh. “I wish you’d be straight with me, Sky, just for once. I know it ought to be possible for us to get along just fine – we used to. I met another Adam Svenson through that tunnel – the one Scarlet is looking for – and he wasn’t, in the least, like you have become. Whatever happened to Ochre on the Car-Vu quickly became apparent to us all, but something, less obvious, happened to you to, didn’t it? You changed… and not for the better.”
He flushed, but chose not to answer her most pertinent question. “I met another me, from yet another dimension - that was a male ‘me’ too - Cadenza was a bit of a shock, I’ll tell you that much!” She raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Would I be wrong in guessing you liked other Adam better than you do me?” he added dejectedly.
“Yes, I did, Sky. That Adam made me feel like I used to when we first met each other, before you turned into such a complete bastard. He told me he is engaged to the Karen in his world. Isn’t that amazing?” She looked at him, her expression dripping with sarcasm.
“Not really, I sort of intend to get engaged to the Karen in my world too – if she will ever agree to have me, that is?”
“I’d have to think about that. It’s too late for you to pretend that everything is as it used to be. So, don’t imagine for one minute that I’m in a forgiving mood, Sky. ” She was determined not to relent towards him.
“We don’t have the months and months you usually take to make your mind up,” he reminded her. “So, your time’s up….”
She grimaced at him, yet only struggled briefly when he bent his head and kissed her.
“When you two love-birds have finished billing and cooing…. we could do with some help,” Scarlet snarled in exasperation. He shook his head as they stepped apart with alacrity and came to where their colleagues were trying to deal with the serious matter of Cadenza’s injuries.
Garnet gently opened the leather uniform jacket and lifted the tunic beneath to reveal a messy wound.
“That’s far enough, Lieutenant…” Cadenza opened her blue eyes and gave a pinched smile. “A girl likes to keep some secrets.” She stared pointedly at the two Captains.
Instantly Symphony shooed the men away with a critical expression. She knelt beside the injured woman, shielding her from prying male eyes. “I think they only wanted to help, if they could,” she explained.
“Huh, I don’t need their help. I’m fine…” Cadenza stated in the face of the obvious evidence to the contrary.
“You are wounded; we need to staunch the wound…” Garnet reasoned. Then she looked disbelievingly at the bullet hole, which was already looking less severe. She turned her astonished eyes to Symphony who was watching with equal surprise.
“I’m fine,” Cadenza reiterated, heaving herself into a sitting position with a gasp and resting on her elbows. She grimaced and then sat upright, tugging her clothes back into place, intent on covering the injury. She looked at the women watching her with ill-concealed wariness. “I heal very quickly,” she began to explain. “It’s a legacy from an unpleasant encounter with the Mysterons. I was, for several hours, under their control - but please don’t worry - I was freed from their control after Captain Scarlet – my Captain Scarlet, I mean – shot me and I fell from… a considerable height. When I revived, I was myself again.”
. “You mean it was you who tried to kidnap your World President?” Symphony asked with some surprise.
“That incident happened here too?” Cadenza gasped. “Then someone here has… experienced the same thing as me…” She looked across at Captain Blue with a thoughtful expression.
“In my world it happened to Captain Ochre,” Symphony said, correcting her obvious assumption. “In Garnet’s world... it was Captain Scarlet – but that isn’t generally known here - and, as with Scarlet’s ability, I suggest we keep your talent to ourselves for now, as well. I am not sure how certain people would react.”
“You mean Adam, don’t you? You still don’t trust him, which is strange, because I kind of expected that you would give him the benefit of the doubt – if anyone would.”
Symphony looked away from the other woman’s penetrating gaze and gave a dismissive shrug. Cadenza finished re-arranging her clothes before she asked, “Who does know about Scarlet?”
“Well, Garnet, of course, and you and me, but I was told by the colonel, so Scarlet may not know that I know about him. Ochre knows about Scarlet – but not about you – obviously...”
“Not everything is the same in our worlds, so I did wonder if this had happened to anyone else. I always imagined I was unique, and there was nothing to suggest Scarlet was any different from Blue…” Cadenza mused with a shake of her head. Something was obviously puzzling her. “Yet, there are enough similarities between our worlds to make it likely to have reoccurred, I guess. It is all very confusing. Give me a hand up, Symphony.” The Angel pilot obliged. “Tch, another uniform ruined. I’m going to have fun trying to explain this away to admin….” the tall blonde moaned.
Symphony smiled. “It sounds as if some things don’t change, whatever the dimension…”
Having effectively been banned from helping with Cadenza, Blue and Scarlet moved across to where Magenta lay, still unconscious, on the cavern floor.
“What do you propose to do now – with Magenta and his cronies?” Blue asked briskly. He had no desire to get involved with the care of his injured doppelganger - in fact, even being around her, now he was back in his own dimension, was making him edgy. Neither did he intend to discuss Symphony’s announcement with Captain Scarlet, he needed time to come to terms with that information himself.
“Hand them over to the colonel, I guess.” Scarlet said, with a speculative glance at the dark man who was starting to come round from his faint. “Then there would have to be a trial…”
“No, you can’t do that. Magenta has too many ‘friends’ in high places – he’d walk free from any trial Spectrum could stage,” Blue asserted. “Whatever happens will have to be done by other authorities than Spectrum and preferably by someone who is virtually above the law.”
Scarlet misunderstood the American’s meaning and Blue could see the mounting indignation in his face, as he prepared to face down what he saw as his companion’s unwarranted aggression. “Well, I am not going to kill, him, Captain, nor will I stand by whilst you do,” he stated vehemently.
Obviously, he is still unsure that my interests are not bound up with the Syndicate’s in some abstruse manner, Blue thought.
“And nothing – and no one – is above the law, Captain Blue,” Scarlet added. “We are all answerable for our actions.”
Blue’s answering glance was sceptical. “It would be nice to think so,” he said, “and maybe, in your world that is the truth, Scarlet, but I tend to doubt it myself.”
Magenta gave a groan and started to pull himself onto his hands and knees. Blue watched him struggle for several minutes and then with a callous shake of his head, kicked his erstwhile partner in the ribs and watched him collapse again.
“Tut, tut, tut, Captain Blue,” Symphony admonished him, but without sincerity. She was walking towards them, leaving Cadenza and Garnet whispering together.
“How is she?” Scarlet asked.
“She’ll live… we Angels are made of stern stuff, and don’t either of you forget it, Captains.”
Blue shrugged and petulantly aimed another kick at Magenta. “Yeah - Angels without hearts – the whole lot of you!”
“That’s rich, coming from you,” she snapped back.
“Its not his fault you two have fallen out – whatever else he’s guilty of – so stop kicking him!” Scarlet ordered.
“This is nothing compared to what he has had done to people in the past, Scarlet. Good people, honest people. Even on Cloudbase there have been beatings and unexplained ‘accidental’ deaths. And don’t forget Sergeant Ruffolo, you heard him say he was responsible for that death yourself.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you cared about any of that,” Scarlet remarked coldly.
“Well, I do. Whatever you may believe of me, I am not as bad as you imagine, Scarlet.” Blue’s gaze was directed at Symphony, even though he was apparently speaking to Captain Scarlet. She sniffed and turned away.
“Oh right – I keep forgetting - you’re the good guy in all this,” Scarlet answered. Blue’s eyes swivelled back to him and Scarlet met the taller man’s indignant gaze with indifference.
They broke off their bickering to look with some astonishment at Cadenza, who was on her feet, moving towards them. She was mopping ineffectually at a patch of blood on her uniform jacket. She stopped as the silence permeated her conscious mind and then deftly swept her hair back into its band once more.
“It was just a graze, really,” she said to the men by way of an explanation. “I was winded, that’s all. Or are you telling me your uniform tunics are not bullet-proof too?” The captains shared embarrassed glances. “Anyone got a water bottle handy? I could do with a drink,” she added.
Obligingly, Garnet went to scrabble amongst the discarded back-packs for a water bottle.
Scarlet stared at Cadenza for some time, a suspicion beginning to form in the depths of his mind. However, his instinct was to reject it – he had felt no nausea in the company of Eva Svenson. I’m getting paranoid, he thought critically, and yet… Ochre has been retrometabolised, and he made no impression on me. Still, the idea that a woman might have suffered the same fate is too outrageous to be given any credence.
Cadenza noticed his serious expression and, as his eyes met hers, his fears melted away in the warmth of her charming smile. In fact, he found himself grinning back at her like a gauche teenager, and, starting to feel uncomfortable with that fact, he turned away. Damn these Svensons – both of them - they are too unsettling for words, he thought. I wish they were as straightforward and honest as Adam… a chap knows where he is with Adam…
Symphony had caught the interaction between the two retrometabolic individuals and realised Cadenza thought Scarlet had twigged about her ‘abilities’. She was not so sure and she turned to Cadenza. “What you said about Donaghue…?” she began, determined to avoid the subject of the woman’s recovery.
Cadenza’s surprisingly girlish giggle echoed around the cavern. “You should have seen the look on your faces!” She glanced over at Captain Blue, who was not looking amused. “It worked though – it startled Magenta so much, he wasn’t really paying attention.”
“Patrick wasn’t the only one it startled,” Scarlet agreed, with a grin.
“It was completely ridiculous…” Blue protested. “As if…”
“Oh sure, as if…” she agreed, fighting the desire to laugh at his discomposure. She offered an explanation. “In my world, Patricia Donaghue has ‘a thing’ for Kevin Wainwright – and, because Kevin prefers me - she’s not really my best friend on the base…she has a nice line in put-downs … if you follow my meaning. When I heard Magenta’s offer to Symphony and his derogatory remarks about you,” she glanced at Blue, “it was obvious that there was a similar situation here. I hoped I might be able to use it to cause a distraction and get close enough to attack. That’s all.”
“Well, it certainly did that all right,” Scarlet agreed. “Just as long as you weren’t seriously hurt? It was quite a risk you took, Cadenza.”
“I’m fine, Captain, I’m tougher than I look, believe me.”
. “What the hell has been going on here? I’ve been looking for you!” Captain Ochre sounded really angry. “Now, don’t anybody move until I find out what’s going on - or I will put you all under arrest!”
Scarlet sighed. “Here we go again….” he muttered to the grinning Symphony.
When Ochre had scrambled along the last few yards of the tunnel and into the large cavern where he had parted company with the others, he had seen, over on the far side, a large group of people. He had no idea who some of them were, nor where they had come from, but recognising the red of Scarlet’s tunic and the blue-clad blond, he yelled at them and staggered as fast as he could across the intervening distance. The others turned and watched as he ran over the rough ground, tripped and collapsed.
Lieutenant Garnet, making her way back with Cadenza’s water bottle, changed direction and went to his side to help him up, marvelling as she saw the cuts on his hands disappear almost instantaneously.
He gave her a grateful smile, and took a drink from the water bottle she proffered shyly. They walked back together to join the others. Garnet handed Cadenza the bottle and the Angel gave a grateful nod before drinking it dry.
Ochre expressed his satisfaction at seeing Cobalt and Mauve under restraint and threw his handcuffs to Scarlet, so that Magenta, now stirring again, could also be secured.
“Are you going to cuff Blue as well?” he asked.
“No, not this time,” Scarlet replied, catching the handcuffs. “He’s on our side… for now.” He cuffed Magenta and hauled the dark-haired man to a sitting position.
Ochre looked sternly at the others. “I need help - I am asking you all for help,” he said directly.
“What’s wrong?” Symphony asked.
“I’ve found the pacifier… but the Mysterons are already there… the guards are all dead and Mysteronised. I can’t handle them alone.”
“Right, let’s get down to business,” Scarlet said briskly, unconsciously dusting his hands after touching Magenta. “All of us here are Spectrum agents; we all know that our ultimate duty is to defeat the Mysterons.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. Ochre looked at them all, nodded at Cadenza and frowned, “Who are you?”
“Cadenza Angel, Spectrum,” she replied with a crisp salute.
Ochre looked at Scarlet, “From…?”
“Elsewhere? Yes. She’s okay – she’s on our side.”
“Yours or mine?” Ochre said sourly.
“Ours,” Scarlet reiterated. “Do you want our help, or not?”
Ochre accepted the rebuke with an ironic smile. “Symphony, you and Garnet can keep an eye on them.” He nodded at the prisoners.
“You’d prefer to take her with you rather than me?” Symphony protested, indicating Cadenza with a gesture.
“I trust you…”Ochre left the sentence hanging. “Let’s go…” Then he turned and led the way once more across the cavern to the exit.
They devoted their stamina to moving as quickly and silently as they could through the tunnels towards the pacifier. The fact the tunnels were deserted lent credence to Ochre’s description of the worst possible state of affairs: The Mysterons were here and the pacifier was in danger.
As they approached the junction that led to the only entrance to the pacifier, Ochre flagged them down and as they gathered round him, he whispered, “The next branch of the tunnel is to the left… about twenty metres along. It widens out into a sort of natural alcove…and the machine is in there. I checked on the surface agents and all of them are under the control of the Mysterons, so we are on our own. Luckily, the group in there were too busy doing something to the machine to notice me and I was able to get away.”
“How many men are in there?” Cadenza asked quietly.
Slipping her pistol from its holster, she checked the cartridge chambers. Ochre watched as she produced Mauve’s gun and did the same again with a detached professionalism that went some way towards reassuring him.
“There were four of them, unless more have joined them since I left,” he replied. “But, we ought to remember that more may come down if they sense a danger of failing in their mission.”
“Four shouldn’t present a problem,” Scarlet commented, as he checked the firearm he had acquired from Lieutenant Cobalt. To his surprise he saw Blue also had two pistols – somehow, he had acquired Ruffolo’s pistol and taken Magenta’s as well.
Ochre, noticing the same thing, gave a wry smile. “I never thought I’d be glad to see you armed to the teeth, Svenson.”
Blue’s smiled response was partly surprise, partly acknowledgement of a depressing fact. He caught Cadenza’s eye and raised his eyebrows in exasperation. She pulled a face – as if to say ‘what did you expect?’
“What’s the best – just go in with all guns blazing, or try to pick them off? “ Ochre continued. He glanced at Scarlet, automatically deferring to his military experience.
“Well, I think we’d stand a better chance if we hemmed them in there - but as this isn’t the Wild West, we don’t shoot unless we have to. Remember, a ricochet could just as easily kill one of us and we can’t risk starting a rock-slide or alerting other Mysteron agents in the vicinity. Cadenza, will you watch our backs? If anyone tries to get to the pacifier, you’ll have to kill them, I’m afraid.”
“Sure, I have no qualms about killing Mysterons, Paul.” She twirled the two pistols around her fingers, like a gunslinger – echoing his cowboy reference – and winked conspiratorially at Blue.
Ochre looked at her in surprise. “Can we trust this girl to watch out for us?” he asked sceptically.
“This Girl is perfectly trustworthy and more than capable, Captain,” she replied sourly. “Don’t you worry your cute little head about it.” She cocked a pistol and stared Ochre’s dark eyes down. He glanced at Blue and back to her with a slight frown of surprise. “Save it for later,” she advised.
Scarlet led the way forward, and Cadenza took a position across from the entrance where she could see both the entrance and the corridor, and which was partly sheltered by a rough boulder. Blue slipped into Scarlet’s shadow and Ochre, with one last look at this unexpected Angel, followed him.
It was claustrophobic in the cave. There were already four men around the pacifier and not much room for manoeuvre. Scarlet winced as the vibrations from the pacifier assaulted his hearing. He detected that the pitch of the machine was different from the one he remembered at Gaspari’s boat-house, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. A quick glance at the other two showed that they were also being affected by the proximity of the machine – and as he expected, Ochre was suffering far more than Blue. There wasn’t much time if they were to avoid the ear-splitting consequences he’d experienced before.
He cocked his pistol and the three security auxiliaries spun round, almost in slow motion. For the first time that gave them a clear view of the man closest to the pacifier. Kneeling at the machine was a Spectrum officer dressed in black.
“Black!” Scarlet gasped.
Captain Black stood up and turned with imperturbable languor. He looked at the three Spectrum agents and a slight smile crossed his pallid features. Ignoring Scarlet and Ochre, he said, almost conversationally, “Captain Blue, I was wondering where you had got to, I know Captain Magenta was looking for you… “
Ochre turned on Captain Blue, anger flashing in his dark eyes. “You’re in league with them - you and your buddy, Magenta!” he accused.
“Of course I’m not!” Blue snapped.
“Shut up!” Scarlet ordered. The pressure in his ears was becoming almost unbearable and he knew his tolerance of the pacifier was reaching its limit. The longer they argued, the more likely he and Ochre, at the very least, would pass out, and he doubted Blue could defeat the four Mysterons alone. “He’s trying to sow distrust and gain time to trigger an eruption. Well, it won’t work. We have you this time, Conrad… you have three of us to deal with.”
Black smiled. “And what a trio, it is – if you are the best the dimensions can offer, you might as well surrender now. You, Captain Scarlet, are still as much the impetuous hot-head as ever, I see. The censorious Captain Blue - all fired up with zealous righteousness, again - and you, Captain Ochre - what can I say about you? - except that you are unable to forget - or forgive – and far too scared to trust. What a collection of would-be heroes… it needs three of you to face me.”
“I know what you are trying to do, Black and I won’t let you…” Scarlet raised his pistol and aimed at Black’s head.
Unperturbed, Black shifted his dark gaze beyond Scarlet and spoke to someone in the entrance. “Are you going to let him kill me?” he asked in a measured tone.
Ochre and Blue turned to see Cadenza staring with horrified eyes at the scene before her. She had recognised Black’s voice and been irresistibly drawn to see what was happening.
“Conrad?” she asked in some confusion. “What are you doing here? You never said you would follow me, didn’t you trust me, Colonel? None of these men are Mysterons – I am sure of it, although ...”
“Conrad? This is Captain Black – he’s the Mysterons’ chief agent on the earth… he’s never been a colonel – at least not in Spectrum,” Ochre snapped, his eyes narrowing with re-emergent suspicion.
“Don’t let him confuse you, Eva, he is not to be trusted.” Blue added his voice to Ochre’s warning. He could read the hurt in her face.
Scarlet said nothing. His eyes had never left Black’s face and his determination to kill him increased with every passing second. He cocked his pistol and moved to a better stance for firing, he didn’t want a stray bullet to hurt any of his companions. This time Black would get what he deserved.
None of the Mysterons moved, and Black continued to look at the woman by the entrance. Ignoring the others, he spoke exclusively to her.
“Of course I trust you, Eva – I always have, you know that. Is this how you repay me? I fought long and hard to have you reinstated and you know how honestly I have always dealt with you. Would you trust these strangers more than me? I am your commanding officer and your friend - you know what I feel for you, and how dear you are to me.”
Bewildered, and more than a little confused by the pounding of the pacifier, she looked from one man to other, “Scarlet…can’t you see? It’s the colonel…” she pleaded. Scarlet shook his head and began to pull the trigger but Cadenza fired first. “I can’t let you…I am sorry,” she cried in anguish.
Scarlet felt the searing pain as the bullet entered his body, smashing his ribs and piercing his left lung before it came to rest under his breast-bone. Staggered by the impact, his own shot went wide and Black watched with an almost clinical interest as the man sank to his knees, his eyes glazed in excruciating agony and red froth bubbling from his mouth as he slowly drowned in his own blood.
“You are a Mysteron!” Ochre raged, seeing his worst fears confirmed. He turned and shot the woman behind him at point-blank range. The impact of the bullet lifted Cadenza off her feet and she crashed to the floor, banging her head against the rough hewn walls of the cave.
“Are you crazy, Rick? What are you doing?” Blue yelled. He turned both of his guns on Black and fired them simultaneously, but in the split second it took for the bullets to travel across the cave, Black vanished and the other Mysteron agents collapsed to the ground.
Captain Blue surveyed his fallen colleagues with exasperation. “That was bright of you, Fraser,” he snarled. “You played right into Black’s hands – fighting amongst ourselves has allowed him to escape.”
“You heard what he said to her and what she said – they were in league!”
Blue sighed. “I doubt it, you see, she was telling the truth. In her dimension the colonel in charge of Spectrum is Conrad Turner and he wears a black uniform. Whoever she knows to be the Mysterons’ premier agent on this planet - it is not Black.”
“Well, you might have said something…I’m not a frigging mind-reader,” Ochre complained.
Blue walked across and crouched to examine Cadenza’s body.
“Is she dead?” Ochre asked.
“She’s not far off it; I doubt anyone could survive a shot at that close range,” Blue replied in some distress. “What about Scarlet?”
Ochre glanced that way. “He’ll be okay…Once we get him away from this damned machine.”
“I know he will, but you could at least make him as comfortable as you can in the meantime.” He looked at Cadenza. “We should call for medical help anyway, although it probably won’t get here on time.”
“You know about Scarlet?” Ochre asked distractedly; the noise of the pacifier was making his ears ring and his head felt fit to burst.
“I thought it must be the case – after what he described about his… arrival here – he hardly had a scratch on him. It didn’t take a genius to work it out.”
“Why didn’t you ask him about it?”
“I figured he didn’t want me to know,” Blue shrugged.
He turned to Cadenza once more and opened her jacket before lifting her blood-soaked jumper. Wincing as he examined the wound made by Ochre’s powerful bullet, he knew that without a proper medical kit there was nothing he could do and she’d have bled to death long before a medical team arrived. Ochre came over and peered down at her, grimaced and moved away with a shudder.
A vague suspicion began to form in Blue’s mind as he looked at her and he lifted the tunic further to examine the earlier wound – discovering nothing except a fading scar. Her face had a healthier look than it had moments earlier and her breathing was getting stronger.
“Well, I’ll be…” he breathed with a sense of relief. “Rick, come here… look at her. I think we may have hit the jackpot…”
Reluctantly Ochre peered down once more, seeing a wound where the blood flow had stopped and the jagged, bruised edges were already starting to heal over. He had seen it too often in himself not to realise what was happening.
“Good God,” he whispered.
Blue sat back on his heels and started to laugh. “I’m feeling outnumbered…” he chuckled to himself. Then he crawled over to Scarlet and stretched his body on the floor, in an effort to make him more comfortable. “Come on, Captain, now it’s your turn, so let’s be having you. Wakey-wakey…”
Scarlet opened his eyes and frowned. He coughed, leaned over on his side and spat out a mouthful of congealed blood.
“There is a canteen of water next to you,” Ochre said from where he was watching the two invalids.
“Thanks…” Scarlet heaved himself upright and reached for the canteen. With the first mouthful, he swilled his mouth and spat it out onto the floor. Then he drank most of the canteen in one gulp. He looked towards the pacifier, which was mercifully silent.
Captain Blue was kneeling before the open control panel, working intently on the connections and circuit boards. Sensing the scrutiny, the American turned and nodded affably at the Englishman. Scarlet reckoned Ochre must have told him about his retrometabolism and he felt himself blushing.
He looked away and saw Cadenza lying by the entrance. He looked at Ochre. “Is she…?”
Ochre shook his head. “Any minute now, I’d say.”
“You shot her?”
“Yes, I thought she was a Mysteron… with all the others around here, my senses were all at sixes and sevens. Blue told me afterwards that Conrad Turner is the commander-in-chief of Spectrum in her reality. I just hope she’ll understand. I don’t think I want to come up against the cutting edge of her temper.”
Scarlet frowned; everyone in this dimension seemed so callous. “She’s dying, Ochre…” he chastised.
“No, she’s not – it seems that there are three of us indestructible types here. Only Blue is not so …gifted.”
Cadenza shifted and opened her eyes. “Oh, my head aches…” She raised a hand to the back of her head and examined the sticky blood on her fingers before wiping them on her uniform. “Great, now I need to wash my hair again…Anyone got any water?”
“Drinking water, or hair washing water?” Ochre teased.
“Hand it over, Captain, before I do you serious damage.”
Ochre grinned and passed a second canteen across. She drank it thirstily and then turned to Scarlet. He grinned at her; she blushed and then smiled back.
“What happened, after I shot you?” she asked him.
He shrugged and glanced towards Captain Ochre.
“I shot you, Cadenza,” Ochre admitted. “Apologies and all that – Blue didn’t tell me about your colonel being Conrad Turner until too late – and I thought you were a Mysteron.”
“That’s right, Fraser, make it out to be all my fault,” Blue muttered, but his tone was friendly enough.
“Tell me, Cadenza, do you usually experience …a feeling, when there is a Mysteron about?” Ochre asked her. She nodded. “Yeah, so do I, but I didn’t have one about you, or Scarlet, come to that. If I hadn’t seen him recover from a beating, I wouldn’t have believed him either,” he concluded with a wry glance at the Englishman.
“Me neither… I didn’t get a feeling with either of you. Perhaps, for some reason, our instinct doesn’t work out of our own dimensions?” Scarlet speculated.
The three of them looked in bewilderment at each other, still trying to come to terms with the fact that all three of them had the power of retrometabolism. Unique though they might be in their own realities, they knew now that they were no longer the only human beings to experience the sensation.
Blue looked across from the pacifier. “Hasn’t it occurred to any of you geniuses, that the reason you may not get ‘the feeling’ with each other is because none of you are Mysterons – in the true sense of the word as we understand it?”
In the almost deafening silence that followed this suggestion, he came to stand beside Scarlet and smiled at the hope he saw in the sapphire-blue eyes. Ochre’s mouth was half open in shocked surprise at the thought, and there was a dull flush on Cadenza’s cheeks, which indicated that she shared the same reservations as Scarlet and Ochre.
Pulling herself together, she looked up at Ochre and held out her hand for assistance to rise. As he helped her to her feet; she staggered a little, but straightened up quickly. “Well, Captains... this is interesting. Perhaps we could have an annual get together here and compare notes.”
Blue placed a hand on Scarlet’s shoulder and helped him to his feet.
Scarlet had been dreading this and he gave the American an apologetic glance. “I am sorry I never told you about my retrometabolism, Captain Blue. I wanted to at the start – when I first came to see you on Cloudbase, it never occurred to me not to tell you – but as we spoke, I began to wonder if I would be wise to reveal everything. Once I learnt of your involvement with Magenta and his mob, I knew I couldn’t tell you. Only the colonel knows and Captain Ochre…”
Blue bowed his head in some amusement. “No sweat, Paul. I can understand that you might not want to trust me, besides, I’d kinda figured it out for myself.”
“You had?” Cadenza was surprised. “And me, did you guess that too?”
“No, but then, I never have been able to read women very well…I just don’t understand them,” Blue admitted with a wry twitch of his eyebrows.
“You don’t have to be indestructible to do that, you have to be omniscient,” Scarlet remarked to general amusement.
Colonel White glanced at the clock on his console. His concern for the safety of his officers was growing. Lieutenant Green had reported difficulty with communications to the away team ever since they had reached the outpost at the entrance to the tunnel system – and once they had gone underground, even that link had been broken - now she couldn’t raise the terrestrial personnel either. He looked across at his communications expert as she used her extensive knowledge to attempt to boost the signal to Mount Etna. He saw her annoyed grimace as another idea proved unsuccessful.
“Lieutenant,” he called, “I think we can assume you aren’t going to be able to reach Captain Ochre or any member of his mission. The time has come for a more direct means of communication.”
“Sir?” she asked, for once failing to catch her commander’s train of thought. Does he expect me to open a porthole and shout? she thought sceptically, behind the impassive expression on her face.
“Where is Captain Flaxen?”
Green glanced at her status screen. “She is in the Officers’ Lounge, sir.” Where she has been moping ever since we discovered Lieutenant Garnet had slipped away with the Etna team. Green and Flaxen were close friends and the lieutenant knew far more about the tangled relationships amongst his senior command than the colonel did.
“Ask her to come here, would you, Lieutenant? Something tells me that Captain Ochre might need reinforcements.”
“SIG, Colonel,” she replied brightly. That will cheer Flaxen up, and no mistake!
Soon afterwards, Captain Flaxen found herself piloting an SPJ carrying a second ‘away mission team’ to Mount Etna. Besides herself, there were six of the colonel’s most trusted agents on board, led by the experienced Sergeant Bob Harcourt, which in itself was confirmation of just how seriously White took the situation. He would never willingly deplete the loyal forces on Cloudbase, for fear of a coup by the Agency men.
In his briefing, Colonel White had told her an improbable story about people from alternative dimensions which, quite frankly, she found it difficult to give much credence to. What was far more unsettling was the indisputable fact that Etna was on ‘red-alert eruption status’ and only Professor Gaspari’s machine was preventing the whole volcano from blowing its top and taking half of the island with it. Given that the latest Mysteron threat was also believed to be directed at that very volcano – it was imperative that Spectrum did not fail in its task to protect the pacifier and prevent an eruption. Flaxen bit her lip… it was unlike the colonel to have sent such a ragtag of officers down on such an important mission. Everyone knew you couldn’t trust Captain Blue as far as you could throw him… and if Scarlet and Garnet were from a different dimension – they might not be trustworthy either. She checked the control panel and squeezed a little more speed from the SPJ.
Trouble started as soon as they approached the base camp from the WAAF landing strip further across the island. Their arrival was greeted by a hail of bullets from the local security agents. Flaxen cursed – these men were supposed to be loyal to Spectrum – and she set about deploying her meagre force to best advantage.
“Captain, what is that SPV doing here?” Sergeant Harcourt shouted across to the pre-occupied Captain, as she dodged behind a lorry to avoid the bullets raining down from the camp.
Flaxen frowned. “I don’t know – the others had the two SSCs… look, they’re over there. Check with Cloudbase, Bob.”
Harcourt contacted Lieutenant Green, and, although the reception was bad, he managed to get the information that SPV 316 had been reported ‘missing’ earlier… after the terrestrial agent had been found shot dead with a Spectrum pistol. He shouted the news to Flaxen.
“Wonderful… that means it could be one of two things… Magenta and the Agency, or Captain Black,” Flaxen groaned.
“The Mysterons threatened the pacifier, remember? Where there is Mysteron activity there is usually Captain Black.” Flaxen waved her men forward. “We have to get inside those tunnels…”
“Do you want to leave anyone here to protect the vehicles?” Harcourt asked.
“I don’t think we can spare the men… besides, I’m hoping that once we get in the tunnels, we’ll find that Captain Ochre has all this sorted out already.” She gave the older man a brief smile. No point worrying him with the rest of the information about the away team, or the fact that Black didn’t need an SPV to escape from Spectrum…
Harcourt nodded agreement, then turned his attention to the problem of reaching the tunnel entrance.
They fought a protracted battle to gain access to the tunnels – which resulted in one death and several minor injuries amongst the party. As they approached the tunnel entrance they could feel the low-pitch vibrations of the pacifier, regularly thudding out the signature the scientists had calculated would soothe the volcano and delay – or even stop – the otherwise inevitable eruption. Flaxen was lining up a shot to ‘take out’ another Mysteron when their assailants faltered and began to lower their weapons in confusion.
Gratefully seizing the unexpected opportunity, Flaxen led the remaining members of her party at a dash into the tunnels and although their pace slowed in the narrow and frequently uneven tunnel, they made good progress into the interior.
When they reached the junction of the main tunnel with the large cavern, the noise of the pacifier stopped. Flaxen glanced around quickly and then led her team up to the narrow tunnel that led back towards the pacifier’s location, ordering them to quicken their pace.
They reached the corridor to the entrance of the pacifier’s enclave and skidded to a halt. Indicating that Harcourt and his team spread out and protect the approaches, Captain Flaxen edged forwards, her back to the wall and approached the opening.
She peered in round the corner, her gun ready to blast any suspicious characters she encountered. Not usually so martial in her approach, she was fired up with worry – both for the pacifier and its mission, and for Captain Ochre’s safety. Her gasp of surprise attracted Ochre’s attention and he smiled a welcome. Scarlet, and an unknown blonde woman, were standing on either side of the machine as Captain Blue fiddled with the controls.
“What on Earth are you doing? Why have you turned it off? Don’t you know the dangers in doing that?” Flaxen demanded, her hand going to her pistol.
“Relax, Flax,” Ochre said. “It’s under control. Blue is trying to reverse whatever Captain Black did to it. We figured that it wouldn’t have been a useful adaptation of the machine, so we switched it off and once we’ve fixed it, it can go back on again.”
There was a flash of brilliant electric-white light and Blue cursed, sucking at his burnt fingers.
“You want me to do it?” the woman asked, exasperated by the incident.
“No…. most of the women I know are terrible with electronics,” he muttered.
“I am not most women and you are a male chauvinist pig!” the woman asserted.
“Quit bickering and just fix it, will you?” Scarlet reprimanded them. “Honestly…you two, you squabble like kids.”
Blue sat back on his heels and smirked. “That’s it… it should work now. Try to switch it on, Rick…”
Ochre flicked a generator switch and the machine hummed and gradually the deep resonating thump started again. It was noticeable that the frequency was set at a slightly less nerve-shredding pitch
“Am I good or am I good?” Blue congratulated himself.
“Careful or you’ll never get your head through the tunnel, Svenson.” Ochre’s taunt was surprisingly good-natured.
Flaxen frowned at him. “What’s been going on?” she asked with a sigh.
“You wouldn’t believe me, Flax…”
Leaving two of the security guards to watch the pacifier - and ensure that the de-activated Mysteron agents did not spring back into action the moment the Spectrum officers left - Captain Ochre led the officers and three security guards back towards the main cavern. His brief explanation of the train of events left his partner rather confused – although she quickly grasped that Captain Magenta and his henchmen had been overwhelmed and were under restraint – and she spent the journey at Ochre’s side. They spoke continually, taking the opportunity to update each other on events, both on Cloudbase and at Etna, in a whispered conversation.
It is likely that Flaxen has new orders from the colonel, Scarlet thought, hoping that these would not prove to be likely to delay the search for the portal back to his reality. He glanced across at Cadenza, who now appeared to be as fit and reinvigorated as he was himself. He’d had quite a few surprises since he found himself ‘away from home’, but the knowledge that – in Blue’s opinion anyway – he and his fellow retrometabolic officers were not ‘true Mysterons’ was a comforting one. He had often worried that, somehow, his actions were still dictated by the cold, obsessive intelligence that threatened the Earth with annihilation – especially when a mission failed and people were hurt. He guessed, from Ochre and Cadenza’s demeanour, they experienced similar doubts from time to time as well.
Cadenza saw his preoccupied expression and moved closer to him. “Problems, Paul?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Actually I was just thinking about what Blue said – about us not being Mysterons, as such,” he confessed with a wry grin.
She nodded. “Yes, and you know, it is also kind of comforting to realise that… in some ways, I’m not as unique as I felt I was. Even though we’ll probably never see each other again after this mission is over.”
“If we can find the ways back to our own dimensions, Eva,” he reminded her soberly.
“Hey!” She gave him an upbeat smile and punched his arm playfully. “There are enough bright sparks in this party to ensure we do find the ways home. You know I’m right, Paul.”
He laughed. “I know enough never to argue with a Svenson who’s made his… or her… mind up on a subject!”
“I’m glad you added that feminine pronoun…. I’m starting to feel a little got at, with all these masculine Svensons about the place.”
“Now you know how we felt, seeing you and Sonata for the first time.”
“At least, you’ve only had to get used to seeing one of your alternative selves as the opposite gender. It keeps happening to me!”
“I shouldn’t worry about it, Eva. You’re far prettier than they are…”
She roared with laughter. “Well, for that small crumb of comfort – many thanks, Mr Metcalfe!”
He joined in with her amusement. She was far more like the Adam he knew than Captain Blue was turning out to be. It was the next best thing to being back home, he decided.
As soon as she saw them approaching, across the enormous underground cavern, hazy with a miasma of the vile gasses which continuously escaped from fissures in the pumice and rocks, Symphony called a welcome and Garnet climbed the rock she was resting on and waved.
Scarlet noticed that both Ochre and Blue quickened their pace and reached the women ahead of the main party.
Blue immediately went to Symphony’s side. She was still looking pale, as the heat was obviously taking its toll on her, and he slid his arm around her shoulders, offering her his support. Scarlet watched as the Angel pilot brushed the wayward strands of her hair away from her face and deftly twisted it back into a top-knot, securing it with a few pins. She turned to glance at Blue, who was staring at her with concern on his face. She said something to him and, flushing, he dropped his arm from her, but stayed close beside her, nevertheless.
Ochre had checked Magenta and his cronies were still secure and received a mouthful of abuse from the captain for his pains. Then he went to where Garnet was waiting – watching him with open admiration. He began to speak to her, as solicitous for her welfare as Blue seemed for Symphony’s.
On her arrival, Captain Flaxen took control of the situation, ordering Sergeant Harcourt to remove the Agency members to the secure fastness of an armoured truck they had noticed, parked down the mountain side.
As he was being led away Magenta haughtily reminded his captors he had powerful friends and that everyone here was going to regret their involvement in this.
“Actually, Padraig,” Blue replied with a flash of his habitual arrogance, “I think you might find that when your sort loses their control, they lose their friends as well. No-one likes a loser, Paddy-boy.”
“Must be why you are so unpopular then,” Magenta growled back. “You will pay for this, Svenson. I swear I’ll make it my priority to see you begging for your next dollar…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Blue dismissed him airily.
“Can he do it?” Scarlet asked as they watched Magenta being hustled away.
“He can try, but he underestimates me - he always has - for some reason.”
“Jealousy,” Flaxen volunteered. Several heads turned her way and Symphony raised an interrogative eyebrow. “It can’t be a complete surprise to everyone,” Flaxen reasoned. “He’s had the hots for you, for ages, Symphony.”
“I told you so,” Cadenza murmured to no-one in particular, as she flopped down on the shingle close to Captain Scarlet.
Flaxen looked at the crowd of officers standing around, noticing with some dismay that Lieutenant Garnet was standing much closer to Captain Ochre than she was to Captain Scarlet. “Well, you have made a fair fist of wrapping this one up, Rick,” she said, seeking to cover her feelings. “I’ll take over now.”
“I don’t think so,” Blue interrupted. “You are not the senior officer here, Flaxen.”
“You shut your mouth. You ought to be under arrest too and unless you want to be handcuffed – and gagged, if I had my way – you’ll keep quiet.” Flaxen glared at Blue, defying him to argue.
He stared the young woman down. “Under arrest - what for?”
“How about: conspiracy to blackmail the Italian authorities by causing this volcano to erupt, for starters.”
“I did no such thing!”
“Tell it to the judges at your court martial, Captain Blue,” she retorted.
“I have made no attempt to extort money from any civil authorities. In fact I have – on several occasions – been the reason why attempts at extortion have failed,” he asserted. Then, as if aware he was wasting his breath he changed the subject, adding, “Over there, Captain Flaxen, you will find the body of Sergeant Ruffolo – shot by Magenta’s henchmen for failing to stop the volcanic pacifier, as well as for failing to kill the away team members.”
“I don’t doubt that Magenta had him killed, it would be his style,” she agreed. “You can say what you want to about your part in the Agency, Captain – thankfully I don’t have to decide if you are lying. Although I am damned sure you are.”
“You seem certain of your facts, Captain. I wouldn’t be so positive, if I were you,” the tall, blonde woman said.
“Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?” Flaxen snapped. Ochre’s explanation of Cadenza’s presence had been sketchy.
Cadenza scrambled to her feet, brushed herself down and extended her hand to Captain Flaxen with a bright smile, “Allow me to introduce myself, Captain, as none of these… gentlemen, seem to be prepared to do so. I am Cadenza Angel – Eva Joanna Svenson – and I am pleased to meet you, Captain Flaxen.” She looked closely at the surprised captain and said conversationally to Captain Scarlet, “Things are starting to diverge – I don’t recognise her at all.”
“Cadenza? We don’t have a Cadenza,” Flaxen snapped back.
“It’s rather complicated…” Cadenza smiled.
“You said your name was Svenson – are you related to Captain Blue?” Flaxen persisted.
“Intimately...” Cadenza laughed. “As I said, it’s rather complicated.”
Scarlet hauled himself to his feet and stepped forward. “Captain Flaxen, allow me to introduce the alternative Adam Svenson…” The two Svensons exchanged glances and Cadenza went to stand alongside her duplicate. The newcomers looked from one to the other in confusion.
“You mean she’s from your dimension, Scarlet?” Flaxen hazarded.
“No, my Adam is … well, is an Adam. Cadenza is from a third dimension. It seems there are multiple realities and almost every crack in the tunnel wall holds its own brave new world…”
“You mean there are more of him…?” Symphony grimaced.
“Yes, just as there are more of you, Symphony, and Flaxen and Scarlet,” Blue responded, more than a little offended by her remark. “An infinite medley of identities – all slightly different – or in this case the complete opposite,” he nodded at Cadenza. “All these realities hold a kernel of truth, which we can recognise but it would seem that at different points in history they divided, when someone made a different decision or the chromosomes got twisted, as in this case.”
“And just what is she doing here?” Flaxen asked.
“Ah, when Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue were arrested in my dimension, my colonel sent me to see if their story was true…”
“The colonel sent you?” Scarlet asked in surprise. “You kept that quiet.”
Cadenza shrugged apologetically. “I have to follow orders too. Besides, I really did want to see if you were lying.”
“Did you think we were?” Blue raised an eyebrow at his other self.
“I thought you might be,” she confessed. “You were hiding something – I am sure you still are, except I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly – but Captain Scarlet … well. I felt sure he was being as honest as he felt he could be, under the circumstances.”
“How could you tell?” Ochre asked, with a touch of his usual cynicism.
“Oh, Scarlet’s conduct is transparent, don’t you think so?” Ochre shook his head. “Well, I can read him like a book.” Cadenza smiled at the somewhat embarrassed Scarlet.
“And Blue?” Ochre prompted.
“He’s not so open, but I guess I have an advantage over you all there. I know how I would act if I was lying.”
“How do we know you aren’t lying now?” Flaxen asked sharply.
Cadenza looked at Scarlet and then gave Blue a slight smile. “If they can’t tell you – I guess you won’t know - for sure.”
“Well, I would have said you’ve been honest with us – until you just told us you were acting under orders,” Scarlet admitted with a wry grimace.
“But I wasn’t lying – I just didn’t tell you everything there was to tell,” she reasoned.
“Oh my God, she’s a Svenson all right…” Symphony commented wearily. Blue glanced down at her with some consternation.
Ochre looked pointedly at Cadenza. “So, now you had better tell us everything there is to tell, about what happened back there, when you shot Scarlet. It seemed to me that… well, I mean, are you and your colonel – well, are you … umm…?”
“No, we are not ‘umm’, Captain Ochre,” she smiled, adding a little forlornly, “at least, not any more.”
“But you were?” he persisted.
“We were… friends, for awhile… close friends. But I doubt it ever meant that much to Conrad…”
“Conrad!” Flaxen gasped. She was roundly ‘shushed’ from several directions.
“Conrad Turner is a very private man and totally dedicated to his work with Spectrum. We met, originally, several years ago, before Spectrum was created. I had been sent on a space flight orientation course, intended by the WAS to distract me from… personal problems. My fiancé had recently been killed when a jet he was testing exploded on take off. We were both test pilots and I was scheduled to take that job – but I was running late and Ed took my place. I guess I was more than a little guilt-ridden and Conrad was… kind. He was lonely too – he always seems lonely - and for a little time, we were both a lot less lonely. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot – about flying, you moron!” She rolled her eyes at Blue’s sniggering.
“We grew very close and I thought we might make a go of it – but then the Spectrum job was offered to him and Conrad left me – of course, I didn’t know why he left at the time. I never thought I would see him again. It is a measure of the man that he drafted me onto his staff, despite our history… So, I hope you can see why I felt I had to stop you shooting him, Paul? Some loyalties last a long time and you can’t ignore an appeal to them…”
Scarlet laid a gentle hand on her arm and she gave a shaky smile in response.
“How long were you together?” Garnet asked quietly. Her ready sympathy had been touched by Cadenza’s halting admission.
“Three years,” she replied, adding almost to herself, “all bar four months, and sixteen days.” She glanced up. “And will you stop grinning, Adam? I am not blind, you know!”
“But you are not…together now?” Ochre repeated.
“He’s the commander-in-chief of Spectrum and I am an Angel pilot. It wouldn’t do…” There was a hint of repressed anger in her voice.
“And Kevin Wainwright?” asked Scarlet gently.
“Kevin doesn’t know… Oh, he may suspect a great many things – but he doesn’t know anything.”
Well aware of Karen Wainwright’s incisive intuition, Scarlet wondered if that was indeed the case. Kevin Wainwright might well be equally as adept at reading the undercurrents between people. If that was the case, he was, obviously, also more adept at keeping his insights secret than the Karen at home. Scarlet could see that Cadenza was upset by the whole subject and in an attempt to reassure her he said, “That wasn’t your Conrad Turner, in that cave, Eva, – that was Captain Black – in most dimensions he is the man who led the expedition to Mars and – ultimately – you could say he got us all into this mess.”
“Who went to Mars in your World?” Ochre asked.
Cadenza grimaced. “It should have been Conrad, of course, but General White refused his permission – saying Spectrum was still too new an organisation to function without its commanding officer. I don’t think Conrad has forgiven him for that – even now. In the end, an officer from the Space Corp was given a courtesy rank in Spectrum – as Captain Zircon – for the duration of the mission. He piloted the Zero X craft; and whilst a group of officers were exploring in a Mars Rover, he panicked and fired at the Mysteron City – as far as we know. He was the only survivor amongst the crew, but he disappeared when the craft returned to Earth. He seems to be closely involved with whatever attacks the Mysterons launch on us. There are always reports of his being seen close to the scene of the crimes. It was a young guy called Stephen Kalinski – although the papers took to calling him Steve Zodiac once his mission was announced,” she shrugged – “I guess it amused them.”
“General White? You mentioned a General White…” Flaxen said.
“He’s our voice on the Joint Committee for Chief of Staff. An Ex-Admiral – quite a martinet by all accounts – Conrad’s known him for years.”
“That figures…” Scarlet muttered. He was struggling to put his finger on a tantalising aspect of their confrontation with the Mysterons’ principal agent, something which suggested it might reveal a fact of immense importance. “Captain Black seemed to know about each of us, didn’t he? In fact, he made a point of listing the… flaws he chose to ascribe to each of us,” he mused aloud. “He wasn’t at all surprised to see four individuals from different dimensions, was he? And, what is even more amazing when you think about it – he knew we were from different dimensions… we never told him that.”
“Maybe each of you can be described the same way, whatever the dimension?” Garnet suggested.
“No.” Scarlet shook his head decisively. “There are similarities between us all, right enough – but you’ve seen it, Adam - we are not the same in every dimension.” Force of habit made him turn to Blue for the prompt his mind needed.
For once they were on the same wavelength and without hesitation the American said, “Maybe, in every dimension of our world – we are fighting the same enemy.”
Scarlet nodded emphatically as the theory started to gel in his mind. “We know almost nothing about the Mysterons, let’s face it. It looks very much as if they can hop from dimension to dimension at will – trying out their revenge on each of us. They did say their goal was the ultimate destruction of all life on Earth. “
“That’s a bit far-fetched,” Ochre said doubtfully. “Far more likely that Black was just bluffing to throw us off the scent. If we are duplicated in other dimension – he must be too…”
“Yes, I suspect he is,” Cadenza said thoughtfully, “but remember –according to string theory there are up to eleven dimensions and countless parallel universes. Quantum mechanics explains that every outcome in every universe is possible, therefore every possibility must occur somewhere – we just can’t determine where. Improbable things happen everyday at the level of quantum mechanics – you could say our universe depends on them happening. So, the same things do not result in the same things happening to the same people in every dimension – we three are prime examples of that – and Conrad never went to Mars in my dimension… in others he may not even be in Spectrum, but living happily with a family somewhere.”
“So, the Conrad Turner that did go to Mars may be ‘spread through’ the dimensions?”
Ochre scratched his head. “Life used to be bad enough without all of this…”
Scarlet had been concentrating on pinning down his elusive idea and now he turned to Blue and asked, “Adam, do you remember what Svenson said in Boston? …. About the pacifiers being established technology in that dimension, and how the Mysterons might be manipulating the technology from a world they have subdued, to affect the worlds in other dimensions that they have not been able to subdue?”
“What had Black done to the pacifier when you examined it?” Scarlet asked sharply.
“He had reduced the frequency pulse and there were several disconnected circuits – I have no idea what they were intended to do. Maybe Black was dismantling it?”
“No, wait – could he have been disconnecting it from its stationary power source – or replacing that power source with something that would allow the Mysterons to transport a working machine through the dimensions?” Scarlet’s excitement increased with every idea that came to him.
Ochre interrupted, “Well, now you mention it… I remember hearing him tell the other Mysterons he had with him that the machine had to be moved to a new location, after he had disconnected it. I took it to mean that he wanted it moved to somewhere on the island – or another volcano.”
At these words, Scarlet looked at Blue and two pairs of blue eyes met – one pair a deep sapphire-blue, the other, pale enough to appear grey in certain lights. A flash of inspiration fired their intellects, and with a familiar ease their ideas sparked off each other.
“It is possible; I saw some shards of a crystal in the base of the machine near a group of wires that looked like later additions. Black might have been rigging a power source of some kind…” Blue looked at Scarlet frowning, “If they transport the machines at will across the dimensions, we’ll never stand a chance of stopping them…”
“True,” Scarlet conceded, then he reasoned, “but this may be the last working machine. There were two of them - at home - and Blue destroyed the one at Vesuvius, now the remaining one, in my world, is in pieces at the bottom of the sea after the Angel strike sunk Gaspari and Dincerler’s boat…”
“Then, might the Mysterons still be able to recreate it?” Cadenza interjected.
“No, I don’t think so. It seems to me, that whatever is causing these inter-dimensional portals to open is also restricting their options, and limiting what they can do. Rather like the interference with our communication systems… at least I hope so,” he concluded honestly.
“But, if they can still transfer things through the dimensions, it hardly seems much of a restriction…” Ochre moaned.
“Our machine might have come from Svenson’s world. We have no way of knowing for sure,” Blue mused. “It seems a likely possibility, because - even if Dincerler was Mysteronised and moved across the dimensions – chances are it would take him decades to influence research and development in other worlds…unless, of course, he turned up with a working machine and convinced - a less than scrupulously honest - Professor Gaspari to pass it off as his own research. Gaspari had been investigating the possibilities of a similar machine for several years; don’t forget. The working machines we have here are still fairly new and considered the cutting edge of technology…”
“They must’ve been rolling them out across the dimensions,” Scarlet reasoned. “Having discovered them in Svenson’s world, they have been gradually moving them into the other dimensions…”
“But, you can’t be sure they won’t just go and get another one – if we destroy this one.” Symphony pointed out.
The two men were startled from their intense theorising by the interruption, and Scarlet said slowly, “I don’t think they can… I think something is affecting their ability to move between them through the dimensions… otherwise why was Black bothering to salvage this machine?”
“That could be it; it would explain why they are in a hurry to copy or transport this machine…” Blue agreed. “Or it may just be something as prosaic as the fact that all the working machines from Svenson’s world have been used – remember, we don’t know how many other dimensions this has happened in already…”
“Surely, given their technical abilities, they can make more machines,” the Angel persisted.
“It might take time and … they seem in a hurry,” Scarlet reasoned.
“And why would the Mysterons be in such a hurry?” Flaxen asked sharply.
That stopped them for a moment until Cadenza suddenly snapped her fingers.
“The window of opportunity…” She pointed at Blue as if he was negligent for not thinking of this earlier. The men looked at her in mild confusion. “I think I can answer your question, Captain Flaxen. Conrad told me a few months ago, that there is a particular alignment of planets coming up this year… one that would add significantly to the gravitational forces acting on the Earth. There has been some discussion in the media, about whether it might effect communications and navigational equipment and all sorts of peripherals, but he said he had seen a report from the World Environmental Agency, speculating that it might also increase the risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and such like phenomena.”
“So, if that is true…” Scarlet gasped, as the enormity of the possibility began to become obvious.
“Any volcanic event would be magnified by the conditions resulting from the planetary alignment,” Blue concluded with an identical snap of his long fingers. “It is an ideal opportunity for the Mysterons to get the most destructive power from their machines.”
“Our next act of retaliation will see pillars of fire destroy all around them before rings of fire engulf many seas and darken all the skies.” Scarlet quoted with a hollow ring to his voice. “They were being quite literal – all the skies of every world…all the seas…”
“You mean our own dimensions could all be under attack at the same time?” Ochre asked, as what he’d heard began to make sense.
Blue nodded. “We have to destroy that machine before they can get it back!”
Flaxen had been listening to the conversation with a frown on her face. “I’m still not sure I believe all of this time-warping stuff, but, I agree that if you feel we should shut down the machine, we’d better get on with it, before Black comes back with more Mysteronised agents.”
Captain Ochre led the main party back to the surface in search of suitable tools to destroy the pacifier. Scarlet’s warning about ricocheting bullets was still valid, and the job would have to be done manually rather than with an explosive charge, which might carry the risk of blocking the portals and preventing the return of the visitors to their home worlds.
Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue and Cadenza started back to the pacifier to attempt to switch it off again, and make sure there was no further Mysteron activity before the machine was finally destroyed. Their journey was uneventful and the lifeless bodies of the former Mysteron agents were still where they had fallen – cold and motionless. Flaxen’s security agents reported no further incursions and, conscious that what they were about to do might trigger a tremor, Blue ordered them back to the tunnel entrance, to assist the wrecking party’s search. A little uncertainly, they left, after Scarlet had emphatically backed up his colleague’s orders.
Captain Blue sighed deeply as he watched them walk away. This constant mistrust of his motives was wearing his patience.
Scarlet and Cadenza guarded the entrance as, once again, Blue squatted before the bulky grey machine and unscrewed the fascia with the screwdriver attachment on his pen-knife. He glanced up momentarily, after some minutes, to see Cadenza, her hands over her ears, grimacing at Scarlet, who was also suffering from the pressure build-up of the low frequency pulses. In consideration of their discomfort, he adjusted the frequency and toned down the force of the pulses as much as he could.
“Thanks,” Scarlet said, as the pressure lessened. “When I first encountered that machine in my dimension, it burst my ear-drums in less time than we’ve been standing here.”
“Can you switch it off?” Cadenza asked, coming to crouch beside Blue and frowning in at the complex electronics.
“Yes, I can, but what if that triggers an eruption or a rock-slide? We’d be trapped in here. Now, I know the thought might not fill you two with trepidation, but it sure as hell scares me,” he replied with exaggerated reasonableness.
“Well, you go and I’ll switch it off,” she offered. “You can dig me out later…”
“No way,” both men said in unison.
“Besides, Sonata made me promise I’d take care of you and I know what a temper she’s got when thwarted…” Scarlet grinned.
“I can take care of myself,” she protested, shaking her head at their misguided chivalry. “I thought we’d agreed that this could be more important than one person’s continued existence anyway…”
“No,” Blue snapped decisively. “This is my dimension and I’m in charge – at least I was when all this started. If anyone’s responsible for switching it off, it’s me.”
“They might accuse you of working for the Agency – if an eruption happens,” Scarlet warned.
“If an eruption happens, I’ll be too dead to care what they accuse me of,” Blue said dryly.
“In which case, I’ll be relying on you two to clear my name.” He looked at their bleak faces and grinned as his flippant humour reasserted itself. “It may not have much credit with the rest of the world, but I am kinda proud of my family name… no real idea why… I’d hate to see it dragged through the mud, especially unfairly. My Dad does a pretty good job of alienating people all on his own – but that vilification is, at least, justified.”
Cadenza looked searchingly at him. “You don’t like him much do you?”
“It’s mutual,” Blue shrugged. “Still, he is all I have and I won’t let anyone except me demonise the old curmudgeon.”
She sighed. “Yes, we’re like that at home. My sisters and I fight like cats and dogs – but woe betides the outsider that’s mad enough to pick a fight with a Svenson – the ranks close tighter than a clam.”
Blue disconnected a few wires and pulled a circuit board from the machinery. The thumps slowed and stopped.
“Now what?” Cadenza whispered in the unaccustomed silence.
“”We hold ourselves ready to run like the blazes if a quake starts,” Scarlet replied sardonically.
Blue rubbed the end of his nose thoughtfully. “Maybe there is a way to send it back to Svenson’s dimension?”
“So the Mysterons can patch it up and use it again? Use your loaf, Blue-boy,” Scarlet retorted.
“Blue-boy?” the American grinned.
Scarlet flushed. “Sorry, forgot you weren’t the right one for a moment there…”
“You’re right, Paul,” Cadenza said. “We’ll wait for Ochre to arrive with the crowbars and then we’ll do a demolition job to end then all.”
“Symphony said she met him – your ‘real Adam’ in the tunnel they hid in. You were right, he is looking for you, and now he knows how to find you – and that you are to be found,” Blue volunteered.
Scarlet grinned. “Good old Adam – I knew he wouldn’t let me down.”
“Tell me about him… and about what’s happened to you in your World,” Cadenza pleaded as she settled back against the cave wall.
“Yeah,” Blue seconded, as he too flopped against the wall. “Let’s see what he’s got that I haven’t….” he added wryly to himself.
“How long have you got?” Scarlet teased, and began to explain the way things were in the real world….
Captain Ochre scanned the horizon with his binoculars as Flaxen and Garnet scoured the site for shovels, wrenches and crowbars. He smiled as Flaxen exclaimed cheerfully and waved a metal cutter aloft as she emerged from the store-room. The injured security lieutenants – patched up from the medical kit - were occupied making the base secure and the others were lower down the mountain, keeping an eye on the Agency prisoners. Symphony sat a few metres away on a prominent boulder, keeping watch on the approaches to the site. He’d seen her reporting back to Cloudbase – the epaulettes on her uniform had flashed green briefly and then turned to a clear light – indicating that she was talking to the colonel. He half expected his own epaulettes to flicker into life as a result, but they remained silent. Whatever Symphony had told the colonel, it had been enough to reassure him that the mission was on course.
He wished he could believe that himself. It had been hard enough to believe that Scarlet was from a different dimension but then the Angel had turned up – a woman who shared the same affliction as Scarlet and himself - if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he’d have doubted the truth of it. Yet, the fact that there were others experiencing the same traumas and confusion as he somehow made it easier to accept. He knew Scarlet had made a far better job of coming to terms with it and it looked as if Cadenza had found a way to live with it too.
He stirred and smiled encouragingly at the foraging party. Only Garnet smiled back, colouring slightly as she met his eyes. A flash of anger flared up in him - it looked as if the other two had the love and support of their chosen partners to help them – whilst he – well, Claudia had ditched him and run straight into the arms of another man – another Scarlet. He saw Garnet shy away as she saw his expression change and he cursed to himself.
No, that isn’t what I want to happen, no, not now, not ever… his heart protested. But it is hopeless, she’s got to go with Scarlet – I’ll lose her twice…. his rational mind reasoned.
“Are you okay, Lieutenant?” he heard himself ask her. “You mustn’t overtire yourself.”
Garnet gave him a shy smile, “I’m feeling fine, Captain, and I want to do what I can to help. I feel I have been nothing more than a hindrance so far.”
“I am sure no-one thinks that,” he reassured her. “But you must pace yourself – after we’ve finished with this; you and Captain Scarlet still have to find the portal to take you back to your own dimension.” Did his eyes deceive him, or was her expression one of sadness?
“I know, and I guess it is important that we go – we could mess things up here if we stayed.”
“Would you mind it so very much, if you couldn’t find the way back, or if whatever Scarlet and Blue seem to think is affecting the portals, meant you couldn’t get back?”
She gave him a nervous glance and then shrugged. “I’m not sure. It’s not so bad being here…” She drew a breath and said in a rush, “I don’t know how she could have left you… I mean, Captain Scarlet is a nice man… he’s very kind, but…well, I mean, I don’t understand it. I hope you don’t blame me for what she did to you?”
Ochre’s smile was bright with the resurgent hope that sprang into his very being. “No, Claudia, I don’t blame you…” His hand moved to her arm and her hand covered his. Their eyes locked and in that moment a complete understanding blossomed between them. “He’ll argue you should go…” he reminded her.
“I know and he’ll probably be right. But, Richard, if fate sent me here, maybe fate will find a way to keep me here.”
“Fate isn’t often on my side, Claudia.”
“Nonsense, fate doesn’t keep score… sooner or later everyone gets a turn and receives … an unexpected gift...”
Ochre smiled. “You would be the most welcome and unexpected gift I could imagine. But you must have a life back where you came from – friends, family… lovers?”
She blushed. Intuition told her that she had to take this opportunity to say what she felt – that fate was offering her this one chance to declare her wishes – her unexpected gift.
“My folks are both dead and I was an only child. I never met anyone who makes me feel as you make me do, Richard,” she confessed.
“Did you ever meet the Richard Fraser from your dimension?” There was a hint of jealousy in his question.
Claudia shook her head and said shyly, “Even if I had done, I doubt it would have felt like this.”
“How do you feel, Claudia?”
“Excited, happy…needed.” Her dark eyes met his and she saw again the pain behind his hard-pressed emotional defences.
“I guess I can relate to that,” he said gently. “I just wonder how we’ll convince Scarlet you have the right to stay…”
Her heart skipped at his words, even as her features hardened and he recognised the flare of temper in her dark eyes.
“He can’t force me to go, Richard. After all – what can he do? He can court-martial me until Kingdom Come – back there – what do I care, if I am here with you?”
Ochre’s face lit up with an indescribable joy. Maybe life isn’t so bad after all, he thought.
“You ready to go?” Flaxen said sharply. She had been watching the inter-play of gesture and expression between the two of them with a sinking heart as she approached them.
“Sure, lead on, Flax.” Ochre slapped her shoulder with an excess of good humour as he went to alert Symphony to their departure.
Flaxen sighed and handed Garnet a bundle of tools to carry. “Come on, Lieutenant… the sooner we get this finished the sooner you can go home…”
Garnet watched the other woman walk away with a new and unexpected insight into the situation. It made her wonder if she would be doing the right thing by staying here… should the chance arise. It seemed that even this wonderful, promise-filled new world would be no bed of roses. But, she thought assertively, I have as much right as anyone to strive for my own happiness and I can think of nothing I’d miss so much it makes me want to leave here… leave him. She corrected herself with her usual honesty.
So resolving to leave it all to fate, Garnet followed the procession back towards the tunnel entrance.
As they clanked along the tunnel approaching the pacifier, they could hear laughter echoing back from the cave. The vibrations had stopped some time ago and as they neared the entrance they caught snatches of animated conversation
“They really blew it up? You’re telling me that your Blue and Ochre blew up the entire Atlantica naval base?” Captain Blue’s gleeful laughter rang around the walls. “And they still have their commissions? Oh boy, I should get so lucky! If I ever totalled so much as one insignificant SPV, I guess Whitey would throw every volume of the book at me! ”
“Well, the colonel reasoned that the Mysteronised champagne was really to blame, and he could hardly punish them any more stringently than he punished the rest of us for drinking it. But he was down like a ton of bricks on the pair of them, at the slightest sign of misbehaviour, for months afterwards, and they both had to write detailed – and very apologetic – reports. Adam wouldn’t show me what his said – I’d have given a month’s salary to read it too!”
“Your colonel sounds quite a man…” Cadenza said cheerfully.
“Yeah, they don’t come much better than Colonel White,” Scarlet admitted with a wry smile. Who would have ever thought I’d miss the old martinet?
The conversation ceased as the foraging party entered the cavern and Ochre distributed the tools. Everyone took part in the systematic dismantling and destruction of the pacifier. Blue and Cadenza removed much of the internal electronics and picked it apart, Ochre disconnected the power relays and the amplification system, whilst Scarlet and the others slashed and hacked the framework into unusable lumps of metal.
Finally Scarlet dropped the hammer he’d been using to smash a rod of metal that had penetrated deep into the surrounding volcano. “Well, I don’t think even the Mysterons could reconstruct this in a hurry,” he said, wiping his brow. “It looks pretty thoroughly dismantled to me.”
“Just to be sure, I suggest we take some of this and drop into the sea. Some components can be taken back to Cloudbase for analysis and evaluation,” Blue suggested, as he examined a particularly complex piece of circuitry. “Who knows, Lieutenant Green might be able to make some use of it – she’s a dab hand at computers.”
“Can I take some of it back with me?” Cadenza asked. “I did promise Sonata I’d take her a present from ‘the other side’ and if the parts are scattered through our dimensions, surely that will make reconstruction beyond even the Mysterons?”
“Don’t see why not,” Blue agreed.
The others nodded. “How will you explain what has happened?” Symphony asked. She had played little part in the more physical destruction of the machine and was obviously suffering with the heat.
Cadenza shrugged. “I shan’t – well not in detail anyway – except, maybe, to Conrad, if he asks.” She smiled across at Scarlet. “I will tell Sonata about you - and some of the things the pair of you got up to – you and the Adam in your world.” She grinned. “It makes the trouble we get into seem mild by comparison.”
Scarlet returned the grin. “Oh, come on now, I bet you don’t do that badly yourselves.”
“Well,” she teased, “if we get time, I might be prevailed upon to regale you with a few of the wilder doings of the Metcalfe-Svenson branch of the Angels’ Hell-fire club…..”
“Good grief - do you think my delicate psyche could survive the shame?” Blue asked artlessly.
“You? You have no shame….” Symphony said curtly.
Blue looked at her and dropped his eyes in the face of her challenging stare.
Scarlet sighed. That was one problem Blue would have to deal with on his own.