A Captain Scarlet Story by Marion Woods
Symphony arrived, deep in whispered conversation with Lieutenant Garnet, to say her goodbyes before they left Cloudbase. She was rather thankful that Doctor Fawn had refused to allow her to go back to Etna, insisting that she rest rather than face another gruelling climb in the overwhelming humidity of the tunnels. She turned first to Cadenza and reached out to hug the taller woman.
“I hope it goes okay and that you find your way home,” she smiled.
Cadenza thanked her, taking her hand and adding, “What can I say to you? Except he doesn’t deserve you and you make sure he remembers that fact!”
“Believe me, Eva, if I ever do marry Adam, he’ll discover that he is the most married man ever. Things will change – I promise you that.” There was a look in her eye that spoke volumes to Cadenza.
“Look after that baby, I just hope you realise what you are letting yourself in for! It’s a Svenson, after all, so it’s bound to be a handful. That, at least doesn’t change,” she warned mischievously.
Karen laughed. “If it’s a girl I’ll name her after you…”
“Don’t you dare lumber the poor thing with such an awful name!” Eva laughed and hugged the young woman once more. “Take care of yourself, Karen.”
Symphony turned to Scarlet and kissed him. “Goodbye, Paul. Say ‘hello’ to the Adam in your world for me.” She smiled and hugged him. “I wish you every joy with your Dianne.”
He hugged her in return, kissing her cheek. “You know, I will miss you, Karen. Of everyone here, you come the closest to the woman I know and like at home. I wish you every happiness.” His tone revealed that he doubted she would achieve so much.
She smiled. “Oh, I’ll be all right. After all, I have the one thing money cannot buy him and he will have to learn to pay my price before he gets his own way, this time.”
Scarlet’s eyebrows rose. “Do you think he will ever learn? He’s always seemed such an unregenerate chauvinist to me. There are occasional flashes of potential, mind you...” he added in fairness.
“There is potential and, trust me, I will develop it. I have every incentive to do so.” She rested her hand on her stomach and smiled.
“What will you name it if it’s a boy?” he teased, raising one eyebrow at her. He had over-heard her conversation with Cadenza.
“Stefan,” she replied, her straight face dissolving into a grin as he pouted.
“Huh, that’s not fair…” Scarlet grinned – wondering if she was aware that he knew it was the name of Adam’s beloved Grandfather. It looked as if negotiations had already started between the couple.
Symphony watched them all embark and waved from the control room as the hangar depressurised and the SPJ rose to the runways. His last sight of her was as she blew them all a kiss.
Captain Blue flew the SPJ down to Etna for the last time. The group consisted of a rather subdued Lieutenant Garnet and Captain Ochre, Cadenza and Captain Scarlet. Both Scarlet and Garnet were in diving suits and carried breathing gear for their return through the water.
They disembarked. There was plenty of activity on the site, as local agents cleared away the debris from Captain Black’s attack and erected a new, smaller portacabin HQ. With the pacifier dismantled there was no apparent reason to have a permanent base on the volcano, but Colonel White and the World President had agreed that some guard should be maintained – to limit access to the tunnels and the portals beneath them. They were still considering what use, if any, to make of these phenomena. Before they left Cloudbase, Captain Scarlet and Cadenza had been briefed with several messages to deliver to their commanders, concerning mutual defence against any future Mysteron activity that might make use of the portals. Scarlet was sceptical that his colonel would believe him though. After all, as far as he knew, apart from Lieutenant Scarlet’s brief visit to Stingray, no-one had visited his dimension. Still, he shared the concerns of the two men. Cadenza promised she would do her best to alert Colonel Black to the dangers – although how she was going to tell him that, in every other universe, he was a hunted and dangerous Mysteron agent, was something she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Even in the short time they were on the surface there were several short, sharp tremors, and the volcano was throwing ash and smoke far into the sky above their heads. A continuous shower of fine dust rained down on them, along with the occasional lump of pumice. The sergeant in command handed Captain Blue a sheaf of papers showing the frequency and strength of the quakes.
Cadenza read them over his shoulder. “Looks promising,” she commented. “This must be the build-up to the big tremor that should flip the dimensions back to Captain Scarlet’s World.”
Blue nodded. “We must make sure we get there before it is due, the time scale isn’t that precise so we may end up with quite a wait, but we daren’t miss the rendezvous with Dull Blue.”
She nudged him. “Don’t call him that,” she protested jovially. “Or I shall have to start calling you Libidinous Blue…”
He laughed, “I can think of worse names…”
“So,” she said significantly, “can I.”
“Oh … point taken.”
“Well,” Ochre interrupted them, “do we have the green light? Is it all on track?”
“Yes, Rick, I would say it is,” Cadenza smiled. She stretched and gazed up at the dusty sky. “Time to go home,” she murmured.
Armed with ropes and torches and a variety of other useful items, the five of them began the arduous descent into the labyrinth of tunnels. There were new falls of rocks and they passed several new and unexplored crevices and tunnels. At each slight tremor, Blue noted the time on the sheaf of papers and urged the others on.
Finally, they came to the fissure that led back to Cadenza’s world, and an uneasy silence fell.
She started to remove the equipment she was carrying, smiling as she checked that she had the twisted metal she’d saved from the pacifier – ostensibly for Sonata.
“Well, I guess it is goodbye,” she said with a sad smile as she finished.
“I’ll come through with you, check it’s okay...” Scarlet offered, preparing to dump his equipment too.
“No, it’s all right, Paul, and besides, Adam’s worried that you won’t get to the rendezvous in time.”
“You cannot go through alone! What if it’s shifted?”
“Tell you what, wait a few minutes, and if I don’t come back, you’ll know I’m okay,” she reasoned.
“I’ll do no such thing… anything might’ve happened to you!”
She smiled at him and took his face in her hands. “You are a sweetie and I’ll be fine. Go and get back to your Dianne – don’t worry about me.”
“Eva…” he protested.
She shook her head and turned to the others.
Ochre was the first to extend his hand. “Goodbye Cadenza… Eva. Hope it all works out for you.”
She leant across and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Richard. I wish the same for you.” She gave a significant glance at Garnet and smiled sweetly. “Just remember, we’re none of us as unique as we once thought and we’re all lucky enough to have good friends willing to help us cope – with whatever fate throws at us, whenever we need it.”
Garnet saluted and then shook the hand held out to her. Eva smiled at her and hugged her. “Take care, Claudia. I am sure you will go far in Spectrum – although maybe not as far as some expect,” she added in a whisper to the young woman. Garnet blushed.
She turned to Blue and spread her arms. “Come on, one kiss won’t hurt you,” she teased and wrapped him in an embrace. He smiled and returned her kiss, hardly needing to bend his head to meet her lips. “Goodbye, Adam, I wish you all the best for the future. Try and stay out of trouble and look after your family.”
“I sure will. You take care too and… I hope it all works out.” She was more than a little disconcerted by his knowing smile, but there was no time to question him now.
Finally, she turned back to Scarlet. He reached for her hands and smiled into her smoky-blue eyes, pulling her gently forward to kiss her cheek. “Give my love to the ‘real’ Adam,’’ she teased. “Maybe you were right and we would have been friends, I’d like to think so anyway.”
“I will miss you,” he said simply.
“And I will miss you, but neither of us will have to look far … Sonata will still be around whenever I need a friend and I figure Adam will be there when you need him.”
“That’s the way of it,” he agreed. She kissed his cheek and turned to wave at the others before slipping into the fissure and disappearing.
Cadenza stepped out into the corridor and smiled. Sitting cross-legged on the floor opposite was Sonata, with a cushion at her back, a blanket over her shoulders, a magazine in her lap and a pile of sweet wrappers, apple cores and a flask of coffee by her side.
She looked up and grinned “Oh, you’re back… that wasn’t so long. If we hurry we can be in time for the last waltz…”
“Don’t you want to know what happened?”
“Of course I do, and when we’ve got the time to spare you can tell me all about it. Right now, I want to make sure no-one gets that last dance with Jules but me….especially not that tarty little piece from Navigation.”
“Oh sure, got to get your priorities right,” Eva smiled and extended her hand to help her friend up.
They collected Sonata’s things and walked together towards their quarters.
“So,” the dark-haired woman asked as they pushed through the swing doors, “was it fun?”
Cadenza gave a wry shrug. “I wouldn’t call it fun, exactly, but it was certainly an eye opener. Look, Paula, you go to the dance…I really need to speak to the colonel.
“What about Kevin? He’s been frantic about your disappearance…”
“Yes, I imagine he would have been. Tell him… tell him, I’ll see him later – but right now, duty calls.”
Sonata gave her friend a perceptive glance and nodded. “All right, but … well, just watch yourself, okay?”
Cadenza grinned and patted her friend’s shoulder. “The colonel sent me on this mission, Paula; he can hardly crucify me for obeying his orders.”
“That isn’t what I meant…” Sonata muttered as she watched her friend stride away.
Colonel Black looked up from his circular desk and barely acknowledged Cadenza’s presence. She saluted and accepted his invitation to sit on one of the stools that rose from the floor at a touch of a switch. The Perspex surround came down, creating a sound-proof environment. She glanced at the communications desk beyond the raised dais. A young woman in a pale cream tunic was busily entering data. She raised an interrogative eyebrow.
“The new communications lieutenant, she arrived yesterday. Lieutenant Flaxen. Given a decade or two, she might make the grade,” Black said with the driest of smiles.
“Yes, I rather imagine she might,” Cadenza said, placing the shard of the pacifier on the desk between them. “Well, Colonel… it’s like this….”
Black listened intently, not asking any questions until she concluded her report. Then he picked up the metal and examined it. “We must investigate this thoroughly, and it won’t do any harm to introduce security procedures to protect the World Government’s financial interests,” he said briskly.
Cadenza nodded. “Will you investigate if there are any such tunnels under Mount Etna here, sir?”
He glanced at her. “I sent Blue and Grey down there once you had… gone AWOL. They were unable to make any definitive search… the volcano is erupting and a huge flow of lava is currently coating the mountainside. I should imagine that any internal ‘tunnels’ will be plugged.”
“Undue gravitational force from the astral alignment?” she asked quietly.
He shrugged. “The boffins are debating it. I expect they’ll find an answer that suits themselves, eventually.” He put the shard of metal down and looked straight into her eyes. “We, on the other hand, know better…”
She could feel a flush creeping up her face, and said rather breathlessly, “If that is all, Colonel, I’d like to get some rest…”
“Eva… this Captain Black – this other me… he is hated and feared in all these other dimensions?” he asked quietly, as she stood.
“Yes, he is. Because of what happened on Mars.”
Black swallowed and gazed into her pale blue eyes. “Then, for the first time, I am glad I did not go on that mission, for that would have irrevocably placed you and me on opposite sides in this war.”
“Yes, it would have,” she agreed quietly.
“You risked your life to save him, because you thought he was me…?”
“I made a mistake – I should have got the full information and not jumped to conclusions,” she admitted, chastened by what she saw as a rebuke.
“Thank you,” he said. She looked at him in confusion. “I am sure I don’t deserve such loyalty, in the light of my … neglect of you.”
“Conrad, don’t… please. I can cope if you just leave me alone.”
“Do you love Kevin Wainwright?” The stark question was a complete surprise.
“I don’t know… possibly.”
“Do you still have … any feelings for me, Eva?”
“No, Conrad, you ordered me to forget the past, remember?”
“And if I tell you that I cannot follow my own orders? That your absence – and the possibility that you might never be able to return - brought it home to me – without you here, Cloudbase is just another posting on another base. I am glad you are back…my dear.”
“Con, this isn’t fair… “
He reached out and took her unresisting hand. Gently he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “In your own time, Eva, and whatever you decide…”
Lieutenant Flaxen swivelled her chair around and tried to remember which switch was the connection to Spectrum’s Berlin office. She swivelled it round again in surprise as she saw the colonel gently take Cadenza Angel in his arms and kiss her. The Angel pilot’s arms rose to encircle his neck.
“Flaming Nora….” she muttered and whooshed down to the other end of the console. Life in Spectrum’s control room had just got a whole lot more interesting….
The atmosphere in the tunnels was tense for some time after Cadenza vanished into the crevice.
“We should have gone with her,” Scarlet repined, “made sure she got back okay.”
“If she hadn’t, she would have come back,” Blue reassured him. “Besides, the local agents have been monitoring the tremors carefully – it should have been a straightforward walk for her.”
“Should have been, oh yes, should have been… like when we ended up in Boston.”
“Paul, you don’t have time to follow Eva. The time-frame for the next big quake starts in less than one hour… you have to be there. God knows what might happen if you miss your Blue this time. Since the pacifier was closed down, the tremors have been far stronger even though they have been – more or less - as predicted.”
“That shouldn’t affect the portals,” Scarlet frowned, “should it?”
Blue shrugged. “I don’t know, but I feel sure it is your best chance to get out of here. And – don’t forget, Ochre and I would like to get out of here before the next big tremor closes the tunnels or drops a roof on top of us.”
Scarlet gave an apologetic grimace. “You are right; I just can’t help worrying about her.”
“Look, Eva’s tough enough to look after herself – wherever she ends up – but I bet she’s bopping away at the Officers’ Dance as we speak.”
“She thought you didn’t like her much,” he confided as he followed Blue across the cavern towards the next exit.
“To be honest… she reminded me of my mother and that was unsettling, in more ways than one.” He sighed. “It might go some way towards explaining why my Dad couldn’t stand the sight of me after she died, though. I never thought I was much like her, until I saw Eva.”
“Did you show her the portrait Svenson gave you?”
“Yes, she said it was her mother, and it was done for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.” Blue smiled shakily. “Sarah’s presence obviously made a big difference to the man I became… and the woman too,” he added.
“But now you have Karen – don’t you?”
“Oh, she’ll come around. I’m sure she will. She knows how much I need her…and she’s not the kind of person to refuse to help someone in genuine despair.” He flushed slightly. “You see, I…I am in love with her, I have been ever since we first met. The hardest part of the whole mission was having to hurt Karen.”
“I know, it is never easy hurting the one you love,” Scarlet sympathised. “With you two it’s the old irresistible force meeting the immovable object – something’s gotta give. Take my advice, Adam, and let that something be you.”
Blue smiled at him. “I have no intention of losing her, Paul, but I know her well enough to understand that I’ll have to take my punishment before I get forgiven. I reckon I’m man enough to grin and bear it. There is too much at stake for me to louse this up…”
They passed a narrow, crevice and a gust of surprisingly cold wind blew across their path. Scarlet hesitated.
“Wasn’t that was the Boston portal?”
Blue nodded. He saw the expression on Scarlet’s face and replied, “We don’t have the time…”
“I just hope he’s okay…”
The house was in total darkness and the fitful light from the sliver of a new moon was barely enough to cast a shadow. A tall, dark-haired man rose from where he had been crouching by a freshly dug grave and surveyed the simple wooden cross he had just erected.
He bowed his head in a mark of respect and then wiped the dirt from his hands as he turned to where a slender, blonde woman was waiting, leaning for support against a damaged trellis. Two battered shovels lay at her feet.
“I don’t really know what to say… I’ve always avoided funerals…” he confessed. “But I feel sure he would have liked someone to say something.”
“It was enough for him that we both survived, Paul.” Karen Wainwright stood upright and moved towards him. She looked at the anguish on his handsome face, realising how much he needed the comfort of knowing he had performed the rituals as his best friend would have wanted. If it helped him to come to terms with the situation, she was content to let him do as he wished.
For herself, beneath the numbness of unbearable loss, her over-riding emotion was relief. It had taken all of her courage to hold that once strong and athletic body, now wasted and worn out by the mental and physical torment he had endured, without showing him her grief. It had broken her heart to see Adam like that. Through the long hours of darkness when they had lain together in the makeshift bed and she had felt the tears seeping from his sightless eyes onto his gaunt cheeks, she had experienced waves of pity that almost threatened to drown her love for him. Now Adam’s ordeal was over and in the final days of his life, he had had the happiness of knowing that his closest friends had both survived. Paul had sworn to his dying friend that he would look after her and, reassured, Adam had drifted peacefully into his final sleep.
When Metcalfe reached for her, she willingly clasped his strong hand and allowed him to draw her to the graveside.
He cleared his throat and said:
“I don’t even know where to start, I don’t have a prayer book and I can’t remember the proper words to say. All I can say is - I will miss you, Adam - and you should know that whilst there is any strength in me, I won’t stop fighting. There is one quote I can remember and I can’t think of anyone it would apply to more than you: ‘a faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: He that hath found one hath found a treasure. There is nothing so precious … and no scales can measure his excellence.’ Rest in peace, my friend.”
Karen’s tears started to flow once more and she buried her face against his rough sleeve. Desperate to calm her, he explained, “I read it in my family’s old bible; it kind of stuck with me. I hope it was a suitable thing to say…I certainly meant every word.” She nodded, still speechless. He continued, although he wasn’t sure if he was talking to Karen or to his late partner. “If only I had got here sooner. When Cloudbase crashed, it took a long time for me to recover. Whatever that weapon was that the Mysterons used against my plane, it was very nearly the end of me. After I managed to reach a village, I began to hear rumours that another Spectrum officer had survived. But by the time I found the people who had nursed him and realised that it was Blue – he had started his journey. I was always several days behind him and there were so many calls for help from the devastated communities I encountered, I never made up those few vital days. I would to God that I had. ”
“You did what you had to – what you thought was best, Paul. Adam knew that. You guessed he would come here, much as I did.” She smiled.
“It seemed the only obvious place,” he agreed with a wry smile in return. “And at least I got here in time to speak to him.”
She nodded, remembering the hope that had shone in Adam’s face as he heard that familiar clipped accent. Her eyes filled with tears once more and she bit her lower lip.
“Yet, given the choice, I’d say he was better pleased that you survived and made your way back to him, Karen,” Metcalfe said gently, sensing the depth of her misery. It was still less than twenty-four hours since Adam had died, cradled in her arms, his good hand grasping his friend’s.
“Not at the first he wasn’t. He took some convincing that I wasn’t a reconstruct. He couldn’t really see me - he was already virtually blind by the time I arrived - and it was days before he would relax in my company.”
She obviously needed to talk, and Metcalfe wrapped an arm around her. “Then, on the third night I was here with him - when he had obviously decided that if I was a reconstruct I would have attacked him before this - he reached out to me, held my hand and told me such a strange story, about visitors he believed he’d had from a different dimension. A dimension where the Mysterons had not triumphed over Spectrum and where another Adam and another Paul were still fighting, still believing they could win. He asked me if I was another one – another visitor - I told him I was the same Karen he’d always known. I told him - I was his girl, as I have always been - that I survived the plane crash and when I heard Cloudbase had been destroyed, I made my way to Boston knowing that, if he had survived, he would come here when all else failed him.”
She blinked back another surge of tears and continued, “He touched my face and my hair, as if he wanted to match their contours to the memories he carried. He never said anything and I still wondered if he thought I was a Mysteron. But by the end, I believe he knew I was telling the truth – I have to believe that when I lay in his arms – when he made love to me - he knew I was truly his Karen; for my own sanity, Paul – I have to believe he knew that.”
Her tears started to flow again and Metcalfe tightened his embrace, stroking her hair absently. “Adam knew,” he reassured her. “There is no way he could ever have mistaken you – even for your own doppelganger...”
When her tears subsided he continued, “Now I guess we have to decide what we’re going to do next. We can’t stay here, however much we want to. I have heard that there are pockets of resistance in the far south. I plan to make my way there and see what can be salvaged. It is just possible that, having torn the Earth apart, the Mysterons will leave now and what few of us remain can try to build a kind of life for ourselves in the debris. Will you come with me, Karen?”
Karen Wainwright looked at the newly dug grave and the two more established mounds alongside. She gave a brief nod of her head. “Yes, Paul, I’ll come. There is nothing else I can do for him – except to keep fighting as he did.”
She knelt beside the grave and laid her hands on the wet earth for a long moment. “Goodbye, my love. Wherever I am, my heart will be here with you and to the last breath of my soul I will love you. Wait for me…” she whispered as her tears fell unheeded to the ground. “I won’t be long.”
Captain Scarlet swallowed compulsively as a lump formed in his throat. He now had no hope that one day he might be able to lay down the burden of a life that was becoming intolerable. He had survived the very worst the Mysterons could throw against Spectrum and seen everything he cared about destroyed. Outside of the all too fragile life of this grief-wracked woman, he had no-one. The one woman he had truly loved had been blown from the skies, before he ever took to the air to investigate the numerous ‘flying saucers’ that had brought the Mysterons to the Earth. Half of him hoped that Adam had been right, that somewhere beyond the destruction of this world, he fought on alongside the finest friends and comrades a man could have. He looked down at the wooden cross and whispered,
“So long, partner. See you around, mate…”
It took them longer to reach the entrance to the waterside cavern than Scarlet had remembered it taking before. He noticed that Lieutenant Garnet and Captain Ochre were in no hurry to reach their destination. They had been very quiet together ever since they left Cloudbase.
Part of him understood their feelings and sympathised. He knew it would be hard for Ochre to lose his darling a second time, yet he could see no alternative. The thought that Garnet might be allowed to stay was preposterous, even though he knew almost everyone had given it some thought. Besides, however much she thought she loved the man - Claudia barely knew Captain Ochre and could have no concept of what it would mean to her life if she remained here. She’d be better off at home, with her friends and family. and there was always an outside chance she might meet the real Captain Ochre and things might develop from that. He couldn’t risk skewing the time lines.
He was so busy with his own thoughts he bumped into Captain Blue, who had stopped and was looking back to where Ochre and Garnet were dawdling across the cave.
“Sorry,” Scarlet muttered.
But Blue wasn’t concerned. He said, “You know, I’m having serious doubts about those two.”
“In what way?”
“I don’t think she wants to go back with you.” One glance at Scarlet’s face told him more than enough. “Neither do you, it seems,” he added.
“Look, I can sympathise; it’s tough on Ochre and obviously Garnet feels flattered by his attention and all, but she can’t stay here. Think of the consequences…”
“One happy Ochre…one happy Garnet…” Blue made to count on his fingers.
“One bone of contention with Lieutenant Scarlet,” the Englishman reminded him. “And one rocket for me, from my colonel, if I leave her here.”
“Who’s to know you ever found her?” Blue mused.
“She met Adam, don’t forget.”
“And he’s so heartless he’d insist on making her leave?”
“He may have reported finding her to Cloudbase. Colonel White was worried about her.”
“Look, in your World she’s deemed to be as good as dead anyway,” Blue reasoned. “She doesn’t expect to be greatly mourned either, from what she was saying over dinner yesterday. I am sure you could convince Adam not to say he’d seen her – or if he already has - to say she didn’t make it back. My guess is he’s just as soppy as the rest of us, if you ask him nicely.”
“Get thee behind me, Satan,” Scarlet muttered. “I daren’t risk it, Adam.”
Blue shrugged. “No, I guess you are right, but it seems a shame, especially when you know they both want her to stay….” He jerked his head towards the approaching couple. Then he turned to start his trudge towards the portal again.
“Contrary to what you seem to expect – we can’t always have everything we’d like. Life isn’t like that,” Scarlet panted as he strode after him.
“Very profound of you, Captain,” Blue grimaced. He walked on for some minutes and then stopped suddenly. “I think we’re here…”
When Ochre and Garnet joined them, they all peered down into the hazy gloom of the water cave.
Garnet sighed, “It is the right place, there’s the rock fall where I found… the bodies.” She shook her dark head and rubbed her eyes. “It is so hard to believe what’s happened over the past days. I felt so sorry for her and Lieutenant Scarlet, and then he came back – saved by Captain Blue – but Claudia didn’t. Somehow I can’t help feeling I owe her a life – here in this dimension, I mean, since she was deprived of her second chance by Captain Magenta’s assassin.”
“Whatever happened to Lieutenant Garnet in this world is not your fault,” Scarlet insisted. “Claudia, you have to understand that Lieutenant Scarlet’s survival may well have been a fluke anyway – Adam’s presence in the cave at the time must’ve altered the timeline – and we don’t know if that was for good or bad. We have to leave here, every moment we stay we risk contaminating their future…”
“And what if, by leaving, we are doing just that?” she wailed.
“What about your family and friends? Surely you don’t want to leave them?”
“I have no family – I was an only child and my parents died in a car crash when I was fifteen and I stayed with my father’s cousin until I was old enough to leave for college. It may sound strange, Paul, but I feel more at home here!” She reached out to grab hold of Captain Ochre’s hand. “I want to stay here – with Richard!” It was the first time she had openly spoken of her growing dream to remain behind.
“Lieutenant Garnet,” Scarlet snapped, “pull yourself together – and that is an order!”
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet,” she sniffed, but she held on to Ochre’s hand, nevertheless.
“Don’t bully her, Scarlet,” Ochre said belligerently.
“I’m not! Look, we have to go home – I thought we were agreed on that?”
There was no response from the other three. Even Captain Blue said nothing in support of the argument, despite Scarlet’s unspoken plea to him. Scarlet looked away from the couple. Somehow Claudia had always seemed more at home in this dimension than he ever could hope to be.
“Claudia, if you don’t come now you may never have another chance to get back – if all this … doesn’t work out for you.”
Sensing that there might be a chance she could convince him, however slight, Claudia looked at him with renewed hope.
“There is nothing here that could harm her,” Ochre said gruffly. “I will see to that, you have my word on it, Scarlet.”
“It might do irreparable damage to the fabric of space-time…” he said, failing to convince even himself by his tone and making Blue snort with derision.
Scarlet sighed. “Do as you like, I wash my hands of it,” he said with gritted teeth.
“You really mean that, Captain?” Garnet asked, her expression one of uncertain hope.
“I’m out-numbered, aren’t I? And you obviously all think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill over this. I don’t know what’s right, Claudia – any more than I know that Cadenza got back safely – I’ll just have to take it on trust. If you want to stay, and … the others …want you to as well, who the hell am I to say that they are wrong?”
She came to his side and threw her arms around him, kissing his cheek. “You are the nicest man…” she gushed.
“Yeah, so I keep being told,” he said with some ambivalence. He wondered just how unpopular Lieutenant Scarlet had made himself in this dimension. He was further surprised when Ochre grasped his hand and shook it fervently.
Even Captain Blue was grinning. “Aah, gee,” he drawled, “I love a happy ending…”
Scarlet sniggered. “Shut up, you,” he threatened genially.
Ochre prepared the rope for Scarlet to shin down and dropped it down into the cavern below them. They could hear the waves pounding on the shoreline and another slight tremor shook the floor. Behind them, rocks crashed down from the walls and the echo bounced around the enclosed space.
Blue glanced at his watch. “They’re getting more frequent. I suspect the big quake will come sooner rather than later, you may not have long to wait, Paul.”
Scarlet nodded and moved to say his farewells.
Once more, Ochre shook Scarlet by the hand. “Goodbye, Paul. It’s been… interesting.”
“Say that again,” Scarlet grinned. “It’s been a revelation. Somehow, knowing I am not the only one the Mysterons… altered, makes it all seem less extreme.”
Ochre nodded thoughtfully. “And maybe what Blue said is true – we don’t react to each other because we are not ‘proper’ Mysterons, after all.”
“Yes, he occasionally gets a few good insights…” Scarlet lowered his voice. “I hope you will try to give him the benefit of the doubt in the future.”
“He’s an annoying s-o-b,” Ochre growled, “but he’s not as bad as all that.”
Scarlet grinned. “At least he can sing….” Ochre’s eyebrows rose in surprised enquiry. “Get Blue to tell you all about it,” he suggested.
He turned to Garnet. She smiled sheepishly at him and then threw her arms around him. He hugged her. “You are sure about this?” he asked her.
“As sure as I have ever been of anything in my life, Paul,” she reassured him. “I told you in sickbay that I felt comfortable with these people, didn’t I? I am sure I can make a good life for myself and Richard here. Don’t worry about me, Paul. I will never forget you…”
“I hope you’ll be happy here, Claudia. You’ll have to deal with Lieutenant Scarlet,” he reminded her.
“I am not the Claudia he loved,” she reasoned. “Just as you are not the same man he is… he’s the one who will have to deal with it.”
He acknowledged the truth in that with a wry grimace. “Good luck, Claudia.” He kissed her, and after a final hug, turned to Captain Blue, who was watching him with a broad grin on his face. He extended a hand towards him. “So long, partner,” he drawled.
Blue grinned and slapped his shoulder. “Yeah, so long, Paul. See you around, mate.”
Scarlet laughed at his execrable attempt at an English accent. “There is so much I could say, but I guess good luck sums it up pretty concisely.”
“You too,” Blue responded with an understanding smile.
The trio watched as he shinned over the edge and down into the cave below. Blue knelt down and peered over the edge.
“You okay, Paul?”
“I’m fine. I guess I just have to wait until Adam gets here.” He reached up to catch the canteen of drinking water Ochre was lowering to him. Then they lowered his air tanks and diving gear.
“You won’t have to wait alone. We’ll be here. If it doesn’t work… if the rescue party doesn’t arrive, we’ll get you back up and try again tomorrow,” Ochre shouted down.
“I don’t think it’s quite that simple,” Scarlet called back. He wandered over to a convenient low rock and made himself as comfortable as he could. He glanced back at the aperture to see that Blue was sitting on the edge, his legs dangling into the void.
“Careful, Adam, if there is another tremor you might fall,” he called.
Blue waved a hand in acknowledgement of the warning, but he didn’t move.
“I should have brought a book with me,” Scarlet remarked casually. He drew the bar of chocolate out of his pocket and broke off a section to chew. He was more nervous about this than he cared to admit – even to himself.
Blue’s voice echoed down from the roof, “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with R…”
Scarlet laughed. “Rocks,” he replied, adding, “You don’t have to wait with me, Adam.”
“I’ve nowhere else I need to be right now. It’s your turn.”
They went through ‘water’, ‘boulders’, ‘sand’ and ‘more rocks’ – which caused some dispute. Blue maintained, with his annoying air of superior logic, that, as the rocks in question were different from the first ones he had ‘spied’, he was entitled to use them, although he conceded, in the face of Scarlet’s amused indignation, perhaps he should have used D R – different rocks – instead. Such inane and good-humoured arguments were so familiar, that Scarlet began to forget his anxiety about meeting up with ‘real’ Adam, and relaxed back into the trivial game with a new found serenity.
Suddenly, he leapt to his feet.
“Watch it, Adam, the ground – it’s moving!”
Blue scrambled back from the edge, Ochre hauling him to safety as the whole volcano seemed to twist and shift. Around the cave, the shingle poured towards the water’s edge and the larger boulders sank down into the heaving ground. Scarlet struggled to keep his footing and to save himself from being swept into the water, which had begun to bubble and swirl in its rock cauldron.
He heard Blue’s voice shouting his name, and yelled back an inarticulate cry, to prove he was still alive. Then, as suddenly as the quake had started. it stopped, and the crashing of the rocks quietened. He raised himself from where he had been lying face down on the shingle and got unsteadily to his feet. He looked up at the aperture, but there was no sign of anyone there. The rope that Ochre had left hanging was gone and he was alone.
Well, I can only hope Adam was ready and that he’ll be here soon, he thought glumly. It had not occurred to him that he would lose contact with his party before his rescue arrived.
Scarlet had another piece of chocolate and sat down to wait. The water was still churning but it wasn’t long before a blond head broke the surface. Adam Svenson emerged from the sea, stumbling up the shingle. He removed the regulator from his mouth. “Hello, Paul, I hope you haven’t been waiting long? I wasn’t sure you would have got the message.”
“Yeah, I got the message. Good to see you, Adam.” Scarlet emulated his friend’s casual tone, but he could sense his partner’s underlying relief at their reunion.
“Captain Tempest is behind me with extra air tanks and Phones is waiting beyond the cliffs with the sea-bugs to ferry you back to Stingray. We couldn’t be sure one of you wouldn’t have been injured. It wouldn’t be so long-winded, if I hadn’t crashed one of the sea-bugs yesterday.”
“I have the necessary diving equipment, but it sounds like you have thought of everything, as usual.”
“I try,” Adam said, with a modest roll of his eyes. Scarlet laughed.
Captain Blue looked around the cavern, a frown appearing between his eyes. “Where’s Lieutenant Garnet? I felt sure you would have met up with her – I met her, with a Karen from the same dimension you were in. Isn’t she here?”
“No, she… didn’t make the trip back,” Scarlet said.
“What happened to her?” Blue asked in concern. “She said she was fine, but that she wanted to come back with you… Karen mentioned some subversives who were causing trouble in Spectrum – did one of them harm her?” he asked angrily. He was momentarily distracted when Captain Tempest broke the water and made the climb out to the beach.
“It’s a long story,” Scarlet said, “but I promise I will tell you all of it – back on the real Cloudbase…”
Adam flashed a brief glance at him and, noticing the caution on his friend’s face, said brightly enough, “Now, it seems like have I heard that phrase before...” He introduced Tempest to Scarlet and the two men weighed each other up momentarily.
“Before we go, Adam, tell me, what’s happened to the pacifier?” Scarlet said, as Blue helped him to strap on the air tanks.
“Nothing. We’ve been picking up such pieces as we can find – but I doubt if we’ll ever be able to get it to work again. Gaspari and Dincerler have disappeared; I guess we can assume they were Mysterons.”
“And the one at Vesuvius?”
“Very badly damaged. The boat house caught fire.”
“As soon as we get to where we can radio Cloudbase, we must have the colonel order its immediate destruction. It has to be smashed beyond repair.”
Blue pursed his lips. “Why? What do you know that I don’t?”
Scarlet told him of the Mysterons’ plan to travel the dimensions, using the machines to annihilate all life on every world.
Standing beside them, Captain Tempest caught his breath. “I never realised these Mysterons posed such a threat, Captain Scarlet. We only hear about the things Spectrum manages to foil and they always seem isolated and unconnected attacks.”
“The Mysterons are a far greater threat than the public realises, Captain,” Scarlet agreed. “I trust you will not discuss anything you hear beyond this cave?”
Tempest nodded. “Every organisation has secrets that are not widely known, Captain Scarlet, even the WASPs has its share.”
Blue laughed. “Oh yeah, I bet you’ve found Atlantis and have a whole undersea civilisation tucked up your sleeve, Troy!”
“Why stop at one?” Tempest managed to joke in return. The Spectrum officers laughed. “Is there no way we can stop the Mysterons – and anyone else - from using these ‘portals’?” he asked as the laughter died down.
“I have some suggestions from the World President and the Commander of Spectrum from the dimension I was in,” Scarlet shrugged. “It isn’t exactly going to be easy communicating with the others though.”
“We should get out of here,” Blue said with a glance at his watch. “The aftershocks will start soon, if they follow the usual pattern. We might get ourselves lost if we’re not careful.”
They moved to the water and Tempest led the way in. Blue smiled reassuringly at Scarlet as the Englishman adjusted the regulator in his mouth.
“Sure is good to have you back, Paul. It won’t be long now before we’re on Cloudbase. I know one Angel who’ll be overjoyed to see you again.”
Scarlet removed his regulator and said, “How is Symphony? I’ve missed her.” He grinned, diving away from the sweep of Blue’s arm as the American laughed.
Seconds later he heard the splash as Blue followed him into the black depths.
Atlanta Shore watched Symphony as she prowled the deck of Stingray once more. It seemed the Angel pilot wasn’t going to stop worrying about the men every time they left the sub. Atlanta adjusted her reading glasses and turned the page of her magazine. I have far more confidence in Troy than Symphony has in her young man – that is obvious, she thought complacently.
Symphony glanced at her companion as she caught the sound of the page turning. How can she sit there so smugly? she raged. Doesn’t she have the imagination to visualise what they might all be suffering out there? That quake was the biggest yet… I can’t see the sea-bugs anymore. Oh, hurry up, Adam, or I shall go distracted here!
She reached for the binoculars and trained them on the distant cliffs.
Suddenly the sub began to rock violently. Atlanta jumped to her feet, her magazine discarded in the turmoil. She made her way to join Symphony, who was staring with hopeless fear out into the sea. Around them, the currents tore seaweed from its moorings and tossed huge boulders around, and even Stingray’s powerful stabilisers were not enough to hold the sub steady.
“Any sign of them?” Atlanta asked.
Symphony shook her head. With a supreme sacrifice, she handed Atlanta the binoculars and continued to peer out into the rapidly worsening gloom. The seabed was being raked by the tremor and the water was turning to a fine mud.
“Look!” Atlanta squealed, handing the binoculars back. “Over by those cliffs, I can see a sea-bug. It’s Troy, it must be!”
Symphony squinted through the glasses, “No… looks more like Phones to me,” she said. Atlanta gasped in dismay and reached for the glasses again.
It was Lieutenant Sheridan, wrestling with his sea-bug in the choppy water. Symphony caught the distorted sound of his voice over the radio and went to adjust the setting.
“Say again, Phones,” she shouted. “Say again!”
The words were disjointed, but between them they could piece together the message,
“The entrance to the cave has been blocked by a huge rock fall. Troy and the Spectrum captains are trapped in there! I am on my way back… we must try to clear a way!”
Atlanta watched Phones approach, and grabbed Symphony as the lieutenant was caught by a tide of water and swept further away from the submarine and back towards the rocks.
“It’s a whirlpool!” Symphony watched as the water began to swirl around; dragging Phones and anything else not anchored firmly back towards the rocks. She turned to the control panel and stabbed a few buttons.
“What are you doing?” Atlanta cried in alarm.
“Can you drive this boat?”
“I know how to,” Atlanta confirmed.
“Then fire two rockets at the cliff face, break up the rocks, and with luck it’ll also stop the water’s spinning momentum.”
“There are people out there!”
“Who will be killed if we don’t do something to help!”
Atlanta shook her head. “We might kill them.”
“If we don’t, that whirlpool will. Turn the boat about through 45 degrees and that’s an order, Lieutenant Shore.”
Under protest, Atlanta adjusted Stingray so the missile tubes faced towards the rocks. And whilst she was doing that, Symphony studied the armaments firing system; it was nowhere near as sophisticated as that of the Interceptor jets – but she could see how it worked.
As Stingray came to rest, she set the target co-ordinates and with a silent prayer, pulled the launch lever. Two sting missiles snaked from the submarine and crashed into the cliffs. With an agonising slowness, the tops crumbled under the impact and fell to the sea bed, causing an updraft of water that flung Phones clear of immediate danger and up towards the surface.
Symphony sighed, adjusted the co-ordinates, and, praying her luck would hold, launched another two missiles. The women watched them as they swerved down into the newly opened area of cliff and detonated, the blast wave even making Stingray rock.
As the debris cleared, they could see an opening in the cliffs. It was jagged and irregular, but it was an opening.
“Come on, Adam, Paul, come on…” Symphony breathed.
Atlanta pointed. “There! I can see someone moving!”
Sure enough, a figure was wriggling from the hole. As the dark-haired man hit the open water he turned and appeared to be waiting. A second figure emerged, and even from this distance Symphony could see the fair hair. He turned and went back into the hole.
Symphony bit back a cry of dismay. The first figure grabbed Blue’s legs and tugged, slowly, like drawing a cork from a bottle, Blue emerged from the tunnel, dragging a third body with him.
Phones arrived on his sea-bug, and the three of them manhandled the injured man onto the handles, and Phones headed back towards the submarine.
“One of them is injured!” Atlanta cried. “Troy, oh, Troy!” She hastened to the air-lock and opened it to receive the sea-bug and its passengers.
Symphony continued to watch as the other two divers – one of whom was Adam – made their way slowly to the safety of the submarine. As she heard the airlock open, she turned and went to see if she could help. Atlanta was already there and as Phones helped the patient out, he said, “Here, Atlanta, get him to a couch. He’s hurt pretty bad.”
Phones gave her a quick smile. “No, Atlanta, it’s Captain Scarlet.”
“Paul!” Symphony came alongside and helped stretch Captain Scarlet on the couch. They removed the air tanks and fins, whilst she examined him. There was a deep gash across his forehead, disappearing into the black hair. Blood ran freely down his face. Symphony mopped it up, and cleaned the wound.
Tempest and Blue came out to the airlock and walked straight over to where Symphony was busy with Scarlet.
“How is he?” Blue asked.
“I tell you, Adam, he must be dead. No-one could survive being hit by a boulder that size,” Tempest said, as he accepted Atlanta’s fulsome hug of welcome.
“He’s bleeding a lot, but I guess he’ll be okay,” Symphony said, ignoring Tempest and looking with a wan smile at her own beloved captain.
“We were approaching the cave mouth when the second quake hit. There was a jagged overhang of rock and a huge slab was dislodged by the tremor. It came crashing down and I’d have been right under it, except that Paul shoved me out of the way, but it caught him a glancing blow as it fell. He was knocked unconscious, lost his respirator and was swept down away from the exit. I had to get him back and by then the cave mouth was blocked by a rock fall outside. It was good thinking to blast another way out. I guess we all owe you two ladies our lives.” Blue turned to include Atlanta in his thanks.
She blushed. “Actually, Captain Blue, you should thank Symphony, she had the idea and she fired the missiles.”
“But I couldn’t have done it without Atlanta’s help. She lined the sub up and held her steady.” Symphony smiled at the younger girl.
“I’ve always said Atlanta is a great girl,” Troy said with a grin. “And now it seems that the WASPs don’t have the monopoly on great girls… fine shooting, Symphony.”
Symphony was about to give her usual sharp reply to what she saw as any sexist remark, but she caught the pleading look on Blue’s face and merely said, “Why, thank you, Captain Tempest. The Angels aim to please.”
“Aim to please,” Tempest laughed. “That’s a good one!”
On the couch, Scarlet stirred and opened his eyes. “Symphony,” he slurred, “have you had your baby yet?”
“He’s delirious,” she said, taken aback by the remark.
“He’d better be…” Blue remarked caustically.
The crew of Stingray were impressed by the speed with which Captain Scarlet regained his health and vigour. Symphony carefully wrapped his head in what Scarlet maintained were enough bandages to have effectively mummified him. She hushed his complaints by explaining that, as he had been bleeding so much, the Aquanauts needed to believe the wound was still dangerous under all the bandages – unless he wanted to explain it away some other way.
Sitting in the rear of Stingray as the sub cruised on the surface, Scarlet gave a heavily edited version of what he’d experienced, concentrating on the potential danger of the pacifiers.
“It sure is a shame those machines are dangerous, Cap’n,” Phones commented, watching the smoke pouring out of the volcano. “’Cause I reckon this one’s gonna blow its top.”
“In a way, I rather hope it does,” Blue murmured. “That way, it ought to damage enough of the tunnels to block most portals.”
“I rather fancied doing some exploring,” Scarlet said with a shrug. “Properly prepared and knowing what to expect, it could be a fascinating experience.”
“Yeah, hundreds of Captain Blacks… remember?” Blue cautioned him.
“That was what was odd, Adam. Apart from Cadenza’s colonel, we only saw one Conrad Turner. The man in the pacifier’s cave was the same Captain Black we all knew – except Cadenza, of course.”
Blue shifted uneasily. “You mean the Mysterons don’t need more than one of him?”
“Perhaps to them every dimension is the real one…”
“That was a nasty bump on the head you got,” Blue jibed, and sipped at his third cup of coffee. “You know, I reckon Spectrum should recruit Lieutenant Shore.”
“Why?” Scarlet could see the amusement in his friend’s eyes.
“She makes a damn fine cup of coffee…”
Atlanta simpered her thanks and blushed prettily as Troy started to protest…
Scarlet met Blue’s eyes and they both dissolved into laughter.
Colonel White closed Captain Scarlet’s report for the second time and gave a sceptical sigh. He had already read Captain Blue’s report of the rescue mission and the failure of the search to find any serviceable parts of the pacifier. The machine from Vesuvius was also useless. So, although Scarlet had verbally passed on the message from the ‘other dimension’, events on Sicily had rendered it pointless. The newscasts had been full of the devastating eruption of Mount Etna; in which millions of tons of lava had spewed from every vent on the volcano, flowing down and effectively creating a new surface to the whole mountain. If the theory that the Mysterons could function in any number of dimensions was true, they would have to find another way to access this one, at least.
Colonel White was familiar with his officers’ report styles and he had an uncanny ability to tell when things had been omitted. He felt sure now that Scarlet was skating over the fate of Lieutenant Garnet. Captain Blue had reported seeing ‘a Lieutenant Garnet’ who fitted the description he had of Claudia Vecchio – a woman who had refused to accompany him. Captain Scarlet spoke of her as being present in the ‘new’ dimension – right up until his return to the rendezvous with Captain Blue. Questioning had not really provided much more information, although Scarlet would not say outright that she was dead.
The colonel decided on ‘missing in action’ – he typed the words onto the screen he had open on his computer, saved and closed it down. There would be plenty of time later to think of a suitable replacement for her in Naples. He paused to consider the attractive young woman he remembered and mentally wished her well.
He glanced at his desk clock and decided to call it a day. He pressed his communication link to the Officers’ Lounge and asked Captain Ochre to take command for the remainder of the shift. Lieutenant Green was busily working at his computer banks, but he had only recently come back on duty and he was used to working with the other officers when doing night duty. In fact, White suspected, they had a fair old time – swapping stories.
Once he had left the Control Room, he ambled around Cloudbase as was his custom - he always did the rounds of his command, before he turned in for the night – he liked to think of it as part of a long tradition, going right back to Henry V before Agincourt. The ‘little bit of Harry in the night’ that Shakespeare had written of.
His stroll came to its conclusion on the Promenade Deck, as always. He was in the habit of star-gazing for a time before turning in, and had a small telescope mounted on the wall that formed the end of the flowerbeds. As he moved towards it he saw two men - one fair-haired and one dark - both off duty and casually dressed in sweats and jeans. They were sitting dangling their legs over the wall, staring out into the dark night sky and beside them stood an almost empty six-pack of bottled beer.
The colonel made a move to reprimand them, but as he approached, he heard the dark-haired man say,
“I wonder if the others ever do this.”
“Drink beer that’s been smuggled on board?”
“Drink smuggled beer with a good friend and count shooting stars and just generally lounge about.” He took a swig from the bottle in his hand.
“Look, there’s another one! That’s 35 to me and… 18 to you. You’re not concentrating.”
Scarlet drained his beer. “Sorry.”
“Have another one,” Blue offered.
“No, I shouldn’t. It won’t affect you at all. Finish it off, Paul, I can hardly take it back and ask for a refund, can I?”
“S’good stuff, where did you get it?”
“That would be telling.”
“How do you always get to know about these scams anyway?” Scarlet asked.
“Money talks.” Blue tapped a finger against the side of his nose and grinned.
“You’d better watch it or that could become your answer to everything,” his friend warned.
“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Blue said jovially, in the face of his friend’s sudden solemnity.
“Where on Earth did you pick up that expression?”
“Oh, that figures, there’s a woman who knows all about money…”
“And still prefers you to me. Incomprehensible really…” Blue shook his fair head and swigged at his beer.
The dark man laughed and stretched a hand out towards the velvet-black and starlit night sky. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet - somewhere out there, Adam.”
“No, I have all I need right here,” Blue said contentedly. He glanced at his friend and asked the question that had been bothering him since Scarlet first explained about his adventures. “Was I really a woman, somewhere out there?”
Scarlet smiled. “Sure you were, but then so was I and Magenta and Green too. Dianne, Karen and Juliette – if you can believe it - were guys… that took some getting used to.”
“I’ll say.” Blue grimaced and sipped his beer again. His imagination was really struggling to get to grips with some of the concepts.
“Eva is just as uncertain about the fact that her doppelgangers are men, as you are about the fact that she’s a woman,” Scarlet remarked and saw Blue’s eyebrows rise in disbelief.
“She wasn’t really called Eva, was she – you are having me on?” he pleaded.
Scarlet shook his head. “No, she was Eva Svenson. The other Adam didn’t think much of it either, but she was far more ‘laid-back’ about it all. So much so, that she even gave me a kiss for you…” he teased.
“That’s okay.” Adam squirmed. “You can keep it. I’ll take it as read.”
“Everywhere else we went, you were a guy,” Paul reassured him with a smile. He remembered the injured Adam in Boston and frowned. “Not every dimension had experienced the same events as here, or not with the same results, anyway. That was even more disconcerting.”
“From what you were saying, the Mysterons in the other dimension were far more… subtle than those we’ve experience of here,” Blue mused. “Undermining the financial probity of the World Government, infiltrating business organisations, and corrupting politicians, sure beats blowing up oil refineries, and the like, as a means of prosecuting a war of nerves. Maybe we ought to make a case to the colonel, for a squad of officers to perform spot-checks outside of Spectrum? We can’t afford to let them get a toe-hold – far better to stop it starting, than have to stop it once it’s started.”
Scarlet swigged his beer and asked, “You going to volunteer? I can just imagine you sweeping into SvenCorp with a warrant to check the books….”
“Hey – my father may be a complete bastard, but he’s a completely honest bastard!”
“Whoa! Down, boy - it was meant as a joke, Adam! Jeez, you Svensons – you fight like tigers amongst yourselves, but like demons if anyone takes a pot-shot at any one of you!” He glanced at his friend, who appeared mollified by his response. “Joking aside, you might have a point and it could have added benefits too…”
“Oh?” Blue said coolly. The dig at his family’s company still rankled.
“Yes, it could keep Agent Conners out of our hair. If he did the investigating, he’d be far too busy to bother with the likes of us…” Scarlet suggested, remembering the World President’s enthusiasm for the idea.
“Conners,” Blue snorted. “No, Paul, you couldn’t do it. Using him as the investigator would probably contravene several articles of the Geneva Convention, for a start!”
“But wouldn’t it be worth it, just to see the faces of some of those World Senators, when he started investigating their finances?”
Blue chortled. “Well, I’d sure pay good money for a ringside seat.” Scarlet grinned. "But what makes you think Conners would actually leave Spectrum? It’s just wishful thinking, Paul!"
“No, not necessarily,” Scarlet said, deciding to play Devil’s Advocate. “We know Mr. Conners is a man with a sense of mission. I’m sure he could be made to see how vital his participation in a ‘clean-up-everywhere-else’ campaign would be. Who else could Spectrum trust to be incorruptible and dedicated to his task, in the face of what will be undoubted hostility and opposition?”
Blue face was a picture. He raised his hand to his mouth and made a gagging noise. Scarlet laughed. “Well, I guess anything's worth a try, if it gets rid of him, I suppose,” the American conceded.
“If that fails, there is always a strong kick in the posterior whilst he’s standing on one of Cloudbase’s runways. That could do the trick....”
“Well, you’ll have to administer it, Paul. If you fall over the edge as well, we'll pick the bits up later.” Blue teased.
“Thanks very much, Adam, that’s awfully decent of you, old chap!” Scarlet grimaced. “You know; it’s little things like that, that make me really glad I came back....”
Blue joined in the laughter, and they clinked their beer bottles together in a mutual toast to their friendship.
They drained the bottles and sat in silence for a while, and then Scarlet continued, “Do you suppose there is a reality where Conrad never ordered those shots fired? Where the mission to Mars was a success and the Mysterons are our allies?”
“More than likely - there may even be a reality where you and I are not friends.”
“Oh come on, don’t you think that’s pushing things a little too far?”
“Yeah, well maybe….”
Scarlet swigged his beer and said, “Believe me, Adam, just as north is always true, you were always… just the same…despite appearances to the contrary and regardless of what sex you were!”
“God, how boringly predictable that makes me sound.” Blue gave him a horrified grimace.
“Not at all – it’s a comforting certainty, in a strange world, to know that whatever seems to be wrong - the essential decency that is the bedrock of your character will be a constant.”
Blue snorted with laughter, but the colonel could see a blush mounting in his tanned cheeks. He suppressed his own amusement as he heard Blue mutter, “You should get a job as a PR man…I am sure my father could use your talents.”
“I just might at that…” he chuckled.
Smiling, Colonel White turned away and walked silently back to the door. Just once wouldn’t hurt, he guessed, but tomorrow he was going to have to get Lieutenant Green to discover who was smuggling alcohol aboard and then he’d have to deal with it.
Paul Metcalfe strode past the abandoned house they had chosen to use as shelter and looked towards the beach. In the distance, he could see the two of them, Karen sitting on the sand whilst the child pottered about collecting shells to decorate the huge, shapeless mound she had made. The breeze brought snatches of her excited prattle back to him. He smiled contentedly.
He had had few expectations about life after the Mysteron attacks but they had managed to do pretty well for themselves. All over the planet there were small communities, managing to survive and starting to slowly rebuild a civilisation that had almost vanished forever. Karen and he had travelled aimlessly, until they decided to see if what Adam had told them about his inter-dimensional visitors had a basis in truth. Now they were here in Sicily, but he did not know if they would stay here much longer. Part of the hunger in his soul was to see his home again, and Karen had always said she did not mind where they went as long as they went together.
He quickened his pace and called a greeting to them both.
Hearing him, they both turned and the toddler began to run to him with the ungainly speed of all infants. He hunkered down and opened his arms to her. She threw herself into his embrace and giggled in delight as he stood and raised her above his head, twirling her around until he began to feel giddy.
“Daddy, I made a castle, a big, big castle. Mummy says it’s the biggest castle she’s ever seen! I’m gonna put pretty shells on it and we can all live there for ever…”
“That’s nice, Hope. Can I see it?”
She nodded and squirmed to be put down. Then she raced off again, her golden hair streaming behind her like a flag.
After he had duly admired the ‘castle’ and the child had wandered off looking for more treasures to adorn their new home, he joined Karen on the sand. They sat side by side in companionable silence for a while, keeping a wary eye on the little girl as she skipped along the beach.
Finally Karen asked quietly, “Did you do what you set out to?”
“Yes, more or less. Adam was right, there are tunnels under Etna and they do seem to connect to ‘other realities’ and with other moments of time. I think his visitors were real ones. There was a series of minor earth tremors whilst I was there, which opened passages to other parts of the volcano. I spent some time exploring them and then, after one ‘quake I met someone…”
“No, it was me… well, another me. I didn’t see anyone else,” he lied convincingly. “I told him what we knew – or rather what we believe to be the case. I think he believed me.”
“You are not sure?” she smiled.
“Well, he seemed a rather stiff-necked individual.” Paul smiled. “Not like me at all…”
Karen laughed. “Oh, not at all…”
He grimaced at her. “You have to admit, I’m not as bad as I used to be… Anyway, this guy said he was a lieutenant. He took some convincing, but I think I managed to make him believe me, in the end. He wanted me to go with him to Cloudbase, and I was tempted to, I admit, but I was worried about getting back to you, and so I had to leave him. The first tunnel took me back to the Svenson house – and no, I didn’t stay - the place wasn’t even damaged, so it must have been years ago. I went back into the tunnel and waited for the next quake to re-shift the portals. I didn’t see Lieutenant Scarlet again… the timeframe must have shifted once more.” He sighed and smiled at her. “We have done all we can, sweetheart. We have to hope the other dimensions do all they can.”
“It is still hard to think there are other realities - places where maybe… things are different.”
“You still miss him.” It was a statement delivered without emotion. He had been right not to mention the other Adam Svenson he had encountered. It would only have opened old wounds.
“Part of me will always miss him, Paul, just as part of me will always love him. How can it be otherwise when every time I look at his child I see him?” She reached out and touched his arm, smiling up into his carefully expressionless face. “But it has been almost four years now and you have become so very important to me and to Hope - who adores you.”
Paul smiled. “As I do her, she is a constant delight, Karen. I never expected to have the luxury of a family life. Whenever Dianne and I talked about it, we were always uncertain about having children of our own; we could never be sure what effect my Mysteronisation had had on me, or what it might do to any child of mine. To me, Hope is the daughter I always wanted, I couldn’t love her more if she were my own.”
She kissed his bearded cheek and rested her head against his shoulder as he supported her with his strong arm. “I love you, Paul Metcalfe. I love you for your kindness, your generosity of spirit and your strength, for the way we can share memories and the way we … we have grown… comfortable together.”
She placed a finger against his lips and continued, “I can accept that I may never mean as much to you as Dianne did and that’s as it should be. But I know neither Adam nor Dianne would want us to mourn forever. I am content with the way things are. I hoped you were too.”
He smiled. “Of course I am.” He looked along the beach to where Hope was dragging a long strand of seaweed back towards them. “We are a family, the three of us.”
“And what if that was about to change?”
He frowned at her. “Change? How?” Realisation dawned as she smiled at him. “Karen, do you mean…?”
She nodded. “We’ll see what the future holds, Paul, but it looks as if Hope won’t have to grow up all alone and that, God willing, you will soon hold your own child in your arms.”
He hugged her, speechless with a fierce and yet anxious joy. As the little girl drew near, calling for her mother, Karen moved towards her daughter and Paul leant back on the warm sand with an absurd feeling of contentment. “You know,” he said conversationally to the vast blue emptiness above him, “sometimes I get surprised at just how wonderful life can be….”
Synchronicity – where to start? This began life in the summer of 2003 as a possible Halloween Challenge Story and developed into a much longer and far more complex story than I have ever attempted before. It suffered as much as from being put aside for me to write stories that did become Halloween and Christmas Challenge stories, as from its length and complexity. The first completed version was revised -and largely re-written- once the earlier parts were posted. My apologies for the delay.
That it was ever finished is due to the unflagging and generous support I received from the usual culprits: Chris Bishop (The Boss), Hazel Köhler, Sue Stanhope, Mary J Rudy and Caroline Smith. They have seen the story twist and turn through innumerable dead-end versions, until it emerged in the present form. I only hope they feel that it was worth their efforts.
My thanks are also due to Hazel Köhler for her impeccable beta-reading, and for her patience with someone who will keep putting capital letters where they do not belong. We won’t mention the commas and semi-colons.
It only remains for me to say – as always – any mistakes are mine alone. I never claim to be an expert, so where I have erred, I apologise.
I have no rights to any of the main characters or organisations used in the story – their creation is entirely the work of imaginations far greater than mine. The Agent Conners mentioned in the story was created by Chris Bishop, as were the members of the Svenson family. Lieutenants Garnet and Flaxen, as well as the Cerise, Mauve and Cobalt mentioned in the story are mine – so are Sergeants Ruffolo and Harcourt. I guess I am also responsible for the alternative versions of the Spectrum Captains and Cadenza and Sonata, with the inhabitants of their respective worlds.
‘Attack on Cloudbase’ remains one of my favourite episodes of the TV series and I thought it would be nice to extrapolate different conclusions to the story – depending on whether Symphony was dreaming or not. The possible results from the event not being a dream led to the scenes in the ruins of the Svenson House in Boston and the final scenes on Sicily. It is not necessarily how I hope, or imagine, the war of nerves ended.
If you managed to read to the end – well done! – and thank you.