The next few days were theirs – and theirs alone. It was to be their reward for having to work over Christmas and for not having had a chance to get away together since her birthday in April. They’d planned for it over the long weeks of tiring duty rotas, dreamt of it during the long, lonely nights. Anticipation, shining like a beacon through the never-ending days, had sharpened their imaginations, heightened their senses and quickened their desires. Now, in a few short hours, they’d be enjoying the totally self-indulgent romantic holiday they’d booked as a Christmas gift for each other, as well as a celebration of his birthday.
Rhapsody had packed carefully before starting her last shift, selecting the fabrics and colours he liked to see her in, a few choice creams and lotions, and even a couple of personal ‘adult toys’. So, when her duty ended she almost skipped back to her quarters and stripped off her uniform, discarding it on the narrow single bed.
She stepped under the shower and, after washing her hair, sponged herself over with the expensively perfumed lotion he’d given her, singing a popular love song to herself as she did so.
Stepping out, she wrapped a warm towel around her torso and another round her hair and went back into the main room, humming happily. She dried her hair and, once satisfied, she painted her toenails and fingernails in a soft coral-pink, and then applied her make-up with elaborate care.
Glancing at her wall-clock, she frowned slightly and began to dress, slipping on the satin, lace-edged panties and rolling the sheer stockings up her legs, smoothing them out before she carefully fastened the suspenders. The delicate lace-cupped bra and silky camisole completed the set.
She hoped he’d appreciate the fact that she’d forgone personal comfort to cater for his lingerie fantasies.
She looked excitedly at the dress she was going to wear as it hung on the hanger on her closet door. It was new – he’d never seen it before. When she’d spent a few days in London visiting her family, she’d gone on a shopping spree with her mother. They’d found the dress in an exclusive designer boutique, the turquoise-blue silk shot through with a rainbow of shimmering colours, and they’d both agreed it was worth every penny of the small fortune it cost. Encouraged by her mother, she’d tried it on – and there was never a moment after that when she’d have left that building without it. She’d managed to smuggle it back to Cloudbase without his knowing about it, and now it was time to discover if he’d like it as much as she did.
Captain Scarlet was – unusually for him - running late. The de-briefing meeting had overrun when the colonel had been called away for a phone conversation with the World President, and now, try as he might, the urgent report he’d been asked to produce covering the recent mission he and Captain Blue had undertaken just wouldn’t come together in an acceptable fashion.
As the minutes ticked by he grew more irritable, snapping at his colleagues as they tried to involve him in conversation. He was still tapping away at the keyboard when Captain Blue wandered in, fresh out of Sick Bay where Doctor Fawn had kept him in for observation after he’d sustained a nasty crack on the head in the course of the mission, and consequently in a very good mood.
“Are you still here?” he asked his partner quietly in surprise. “You’re going to get lynched if you keep her waiting, today of all days.”
“Think I don’t know that? I’m still trying to get this report to make sense…”
Blue peered over his shoulder. “You’ve spelt assassinate wrong… it’s ‘a-double-s, a-double-s.’”
“Thanks, Adam! You’re one big help.” Irritation fizzed in Scarlet’s voice as he spoke.
“Hey, don’t bite my head off just because you’re rushing things. ‘More haste, less speed’, as my old granddad used to say.”
“How about ‘push off before I punch you’ – did he used to say that too?”
Blue shook his head and ‘tutted’ disapprovingly. “I had no idea you were getting so lecherous. What’s wrong; got a hyper-active libido, or just not been getting enough recently?”
“Adam!” Scarlet spun round angrily. His relationship with Rhapsody was far less well-known than his partner’s with his fiancée -Symphony Angel – and he wanted it kept that way.
Suddenly aware that he’d completely misread his friend’s mood, Blue appeased Scarlet with an apologetic hand gesture.
“Go away!” his partner snarled, turning back to the screen.
Blue sighed, rolled his eyes at the other captains and to make peace with his friend said:
“Look, you go and get ready. I’ll finish this.”
Scarlet looked up from the screen again, hope flaring in his sapphire-blue eyes. “You will?”
Blue nodded. “I guess I really am better at the paperwork…” It was a standing joke between the pair that Scarlet did almost anything to avoid writing reports and filing mission statements.
“Thanks, Adam! You’ve probably saved my life, you know?” Scarlet needed no second prompting to get up from the desk and grab his colour-coded cap.
“Yeah, yeah, sure I did. Oh, and happy birthday for tomorrow, Paul.”
“Thanks, Adam. I’ll be back on Monday. No! No, on Tuesday! I’ll back on Tuesday.”
“If you don’t get a move on, you won’t be going anywhere to be back on Tuesday from,” Blue said, joining in the good-natured laughter as the Englishman sprinted through the automatic doors and ran down the corridor.
“Where’s he going?” Captain Ochre asked, as the room quietened down.
“Didn’t he mention it?”
“No. He’s played things pretty close to his chest. We know he’s going somewhere, we deduced he’s going with someone – and the clever money’s on Rhapsody – but we don’t know where he’s going.”
Blue sniffed, flexed his fingers like a concert pianist and started typing.
“Where is he going?” Ochre asked again.
“I haven’t a clue. Somewhere he found on the Internet. Expensive, exclusive, isolated. That’s all I know,” Blue replied absent-mindedly, as if his attention was already caught up with the report. At least, all I’m going to admit to knowing, he added to himself, suppressing a smile.
“Oh dear,” Captain Grey said with mock alarm, “I sense another lecture from the colonel in the offing: the one about ‘making a full disclosure of our whereabouts when we’re off base’.”
Blue merely grinned and carried on typing.
“Hello there. Sorry I’m late. My word, you look fantastic – absolutely fantastic.” Captain Scarlet gabbled in his eagerness.
“I was beginning to worry.”
“Things just kept going wrong. I ended up in a rush.”
“So I see; your hair’s still damp.”
He grinned. “Yeah, but at least I had time to shower and shave; if Adam hadn’t offered to finish the report, I’d still be there at that frigging machine.”
“You were writing a report?” Her eyebrows rose in exaggerated surprise. “I thought the age of miracles was supposed to be over?”
He chuckled. “Adam was incarcerated in Fawn’s merciless clutches and the colonel was champing at the bit to have something to file, so it fell to me. I suspect by the time we get back, Adam will have completely re-written it and it’ll be safely filed away with all the others.” He grinned as a thought occurred to him. “Of course, he’ll probably say that finishing it for me was my birthday present from him.”
She giggled, Captain Blue had been racking his brain for weeks for a suitable gift for his friend. “Well, as it means you’re here in time to catch the shuttle, I’d say you should just concur gratefully.” She reached out a hand and squeezed his fingers. “They’re loading up now; you’d better give them your suitcase.”
He nodded, but before he moved to do as she suggested, he bent down towards her and whispered, “I don’t care if we are standing in full view of hangar deck 2 and its staff, I’m just going to have to kiss you…”
She turned her head so that their lips met in a butterfly kiss.
“Better now?” she asked, smiling.
“No – infinitely worse… I just hope this journey goes without a hitch, any delay could have serious consequences…”
“Go and hand over your luggage, you soppy romantic…”
Walking over towards the technicians Scarlet reflected that romance had very little to do with how he was feeling.
From London airport they picked up the charter plane they’d hired and flew up to Inverness. The hire car was waiting for them, the route to their destination already programmed into the sat-nav onboard computer. As the short day was already closing in, they set out to drive the remaining miles immediately. Dianne was so excited that she left the driving to Paul, although they’d shared the piloting of the plane.
She watched the countryside slip past, pointing out the crisp mantle of snow that lay on the higher ground beyond the road. “It’s going to be a winter wonderland!” she enthused.
“Fine,” he replied, slightly distracted by a sharp bend in the road. “Just as long as it isn’t a bleak midwinter. These roads are treacherous enough as it is.”
“Well, we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our bedroom, if we don’t want to. There’s heaps of things to do indoors.”
“Yeah, I’ve spent the journey imagining quite a few of them.” He gave her a quick grin and went back to concentrating on the road.
She threw back her head and laughed. “Down, tiger, we’re not there yet. Besides, I’m famished. I want a nice hot meal when we get there – before we do anything else.”
The sat-nav beeped and told them they’d reached their destination. Dianne peered into the gloom as the landscape was revealed by the sweep of the headlights.
“Oh, Paul, it’s just like it was on the Internet. Look, there’s the loch and the woods. It’s going to be like a real fairy-tale castle, I just know it!”
“For this price, I hope so!”
She gave him an exasperated glance. “You have no romance in you at all.”
“A few hours ago you called me – and I quote – ‘a soppy romantic’,” he argued without rancour. “You can’t have it both ways.”
“Ah, I was misled by your charm, Mr Metcalfe; but I realise now that wasn’t romance, that was lust.”
“Nothing wrong with lust.” He grinned at her. “Especially for the woman you love.”
“I’m still going to have something to eat first,” she teased, then gave an excited squeal. “Look! There’s the castle. Oh, Paul – it’s wonderful!”
The elaborate building had several of the round towers with pointed roofs that always looked to Paul like rocket silos. It stood on a broad plateau of the mountainside overlooking a deep, dark loch and protected from the elements by a dense wood of mature trees. Downstairs lights blazed out into the darkness, illuminating the snow-covered gardens with specks of yellow light. Paul drew the car up before the front door and got out.
“I’ll go and make sure we’re expected,” he told Dianne and scrunched over the gravel driveway into the reception.
The main hallway was decorated by an enormous Christmas tree, covered in ribbons and lights, and in an alcove leading to a twisting corridor was a dark wooden bench, laden with brochures and an electric bell. He pressed it and waited.
A few moments later a well-dressed woman emerged from a room across the hall and walked towards him.
“May I help you?” she asked politely as she approached.
“I hope so. I’m sorry we’re a bit late, but we do have a reservation – my wife and I. My name is Blake – Paul Blake, from London?”
“Of course! Welcome to Castle Cathcart, Mr Blake. I’m Lady Morag Cathcart. You’re not late at all; we’ve only just started serving dinner.”
“Oh great; Dianne – my wife – she’s starving.” He smiled at the woman and added, “I’ll go and fetch her and our bags then. Where should I put the car?”
“I can send the boy to fetch the luggage, Mr Blake, and, if you’re happy for him to move the car, he can put it in one of the garages, out of the weather.”
“That’d be just fine, your ladyship.” He handed her the keys. “I’ll be right back.”
Dianne saw him appear in the doorway and got out of the car, shivering slightly in the cold night air.
“All okay?” she called.
“Yes, this is it. Someone will get the bags, so come inside. It’s bitterly cold.” She scampered up the steps to his side and he bent to kiss her. “Remember, our name is Blake and we’re a married couple from London.”
“You don’t have to remind me. Look, I even put a ‘wedding ring’ on.”
“You really were an ace secret agent, weren’t you?”
“The best there was, Mr Blake. Now, lead me to the heat - and the food.”
Lady Cathcart made them both feel welcome as they registered, and a lanky young man – possibly her son – carried their luggage in. They were shown to a winding stair in one of the towers and led up to the top – there was no lift.
“This is the honeymoon suite,” the youth said, adding, “Well, one of them.” He put the suitcases down by the wardrobes, and while he went through where things were and the routine of the hotel, Dianne did some exploring.
They’d booked into what the web brochure had called ‘a romantic suite’ and it was certainly luxurious, with a large four-poster bed, comfortable-looking armchairs and a table, a TV and entertainment centre and soft lighting. She peered into one of the smaller rooms – a bathroom – and then the second, larger room.
“Hey, guess what?” she called gaily. “They have a bathroom in here with a proper, double-sized sunken bath!”
She turned to wink at him, and saw that the bell-hop was still there, grinning at Paul who had gone slightly pink. She went back and threaded her arm through his, adding, as much for the stranger’s benefit as his, “This will make up for us not having had a proper honeymoon. It’ll be such fun!”
“We’ll be serving dinner for the next half-hour or so. Just come down to the dining room – on the right of the main hall, if you’d like to eat.” The young man accepted Paul’s proffered tip with a knowing smile which broadened into a grin as Dianne exclaimed:
“Give us five minutes and we’ll be there.”
He left them, and laughing she went to bounce on the bed.
“This place is amazing. I can’t believe it! I’m so glad we decided to come here.” She reached for Paul and he came and took her in his arms, pressing his lips to hers.
“Hmmm… feed me and then I’m all yours…” she promised.
They walked into the dining room and Lady Cathcart led them over to a table set back from the other guests in a quiet corner. The lights were dimmed and the table lit by elegant golden candles. She handed them both leather-bound, handwritten menus and said, “I do hope you will accept this bottle of champagne, courtesy of the hotel?”
She beckoned forward a smartly-dressed waiter who showed Paul the label of the relatively good quality champagne. He smiled and nodded.
Dianne gave an excited gasp as the cork popped and accepted a flute of the fizzy wine, saying, “This is so kind of you, Lady Cathcart.”
As the staff withdrew they pledged each other across the table and with a delighted smile Dianne turned her attention to the menu. Paul was less hungry and less relaxed; his experience of security work had left him with an innate wariness of unfamiliar places. He glanced around the room. There were very few people dining with them, although he suspected in a week or so, over the Christmas and New Year period, the place would be packed out, despite the high cost.
He frowned as he caught sight of one of two businessmen eating their meal at a table across the room, beneath a wall light.
“Damn-and-blast,” he muttered, just loud enough to attract Dianne’s attention.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, adding jovially, “Have you just seen the prices?”
“There’s a man over there – he knows me.”
She was too experienced an agent to turn and look. Instead she raised her glass of champagne and sipped it, leaning back in her chair and smiling.
“When you and your mother were out scouring the retail outlets of Knightsbridge for bargains, I was at Atlantic airport, checking a reported sighting of Captain Black with Adam, and when we couldn’t find hide nor hair of him, Adam took the opportunity to drop by the company offices to see his father about something or other. John Svenson was just concluding a meeting with that man when we got there, and, for reasons best known to himself, he introduced us. The man is Daniel Gibbons of Mottram and Gibbons, the American bio-engineering company.”
“You sure? It can’t have been a long encounter, Paul.”
“I particularly remember because, out of the blue, John Svenson cracked a joke. He told us ‘Mottram and Gibbons’ were in a bad way – some big Government-backed project had gone pear-shaped, leaving them with a serious cash-flow problem – and he said he thought it was a shame because Gibbons was a decent man, and the company was inherently sound, so he really hoped he wasn’t watching Gibbons’ decline and fall.”
“That’s a joke?” Dianne sounded sceptical.
“Listen; Adam told me he can count the original jokes his father’s ever made on his fingers and still have a few digits to spare. So I guess by Svenson standards that was a rib-tickler.”
She rolled her eyes and asked: “Is Gibbons likely to remember you – that’s the real question here.”
He shrugged. “He might, especially if he’s still hoping to get some cash out of SvenCorp.”
“Mr Svenson didn’t hand the much-needed cash over then?”
“Some, I think – but not enough. Adam said he might well be looking to pick up the pieces for a good price, if the company goes under. Being Adam, he went on to say that it’d be a perfect candidate for a leveraged buy-out under those conditions. You know what he gets like when he starts talking business-speak.”
Dianne grimaced and sipped her drink thoughtfully.
Even though Captain Blue had chosen not to work with his father in the family’s finance company, he still had some tinge of the callousness that made John Svenson the successful financial magnate he undoubtedly was. Dianne also knew that this was one of the frequent sources of conflict between Blue and Symphony, who complained that he discussed closing factories and shedding jobs with no consideration for the people involved – and made it clear that she didn’t like it. Symphony’s upbringing had been far less privileged than her fiancé’s – in fact, of all the Angels her family had probably been the least comfortably off – and she empathised with the unknown workers John Svenson’s deals left unemployed.
Of course, it wasn’t hard to see why Adam was the way he was; his upbringing had been steeped in his father’s business activities and such discussions must have been commonplace, so Dianne suspected insensitivity to the dilemmas of unknown individuals was bred into him, and reinforced by never having to wonder if he had enough money to pay for his next meal.
This attitude seemed to be rubbing off on his best friend and partner: Paul and Adam had worked together for some years now, and their shared experiences had forged a bond between them that transcended mere friendship, so this wasn’t by any means unexpected. Besides, although Paul’s family was not in the same financial league as the Svensons – few people were – they were solid country gentry, firmly upper-middle class and hardly on the breadline.
He’ll probably think I’m being overly sentimental, she thought, especially because I can’t claim to have any experience of being that strapped for cash either, but this close to Christmas it does seem heartless to talk about allowing a company to fail just so you can make even more money.
She sighed, but decided not to get embroiled in an argument with him that might well spoil their weekend. Paul wouldn’t appreciate hearing his friend criticised, especially not when Adam had so recently done him a favour.
Instead she replied, “Well, you have nothing to do with SvenCorp, so hopefully Mr Gibbons will leave you alone – leave us alone. After all, he can see you’re not exactly here on business.”
“True,” Paul said, and took a sip of champagne. “Mind you, the odds against coming to a place like this and meeting someone you know must be astronomical.”
She nodded and sighed. “I suppose the old adage about it being a small world is true.”
He reached for her hand. “Let’s try and ignore him; this weekend is for you and me, after all.”
“Yes,” she said, “it is. So no sneaking off to phone Adam - or his father – even if Gibbons does speak to you! Promise?”
His momentary hesitation, slight though it was, told her far more than his less than whole-hearted verbal agreement did.
Just then the waiter came for their orders, and they had to concentrate on making their selection, and when they’d finished and he removed the oversize leather folders, the men at the opposite table had gone.
The food was excellent and they lingered over their meal, extracting every pleasure they could from the experience. Since his Mysteronisation, Paul’s appetite fluctuated widely. When he had recovered from a serious injury – or a death – he was always ravenous and would eat and drink large amounts, but other than that his appetite was insignificant, and he ate chiefly for the pleasure of it; so much so that, often enough, an intimate meal together became an integral part of their romantic foreplay.
Tonight was no exception.
When Dianne finally finished the rich, chocolate dessert she’d chosen and shared with Paul, feeding him spoonfuls across the table, the waiter asked them if they’d like to take liqueurs and coffee in the library or the lounge.
“The lounge, I think,” she said, smiling up at the young man.
It was a bad call: the only other guests in the lounge were Daniel Gibbons and his companion. They’d hardly settled into their chosen seats before he came over.
“Forgive me for disturbing you,” he said, addressing Paul, “but I believe we’ve met before. I’m Daniel Gibbons.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Paul replied quickly and decisively. It was important to sew doubt early on.
“Recently, in Boston?”
“I haven’t been there for years,” Paul replied, with a shake of his head.
“Surely, you were there with John Svenson’s son?” Gibbons insisted, frowning at Paul with intensity.
“I’m afraid not. My name’s Blake and I live in London.”
“That’s remarkable; I felt sure…”
“I wish you were John Svenson’s son, darling, he’s as rich as Croesus,” Dianne said, smiling warmly at Dan Gibbons to distract his attention.
“That’d do nicely,” Paul agreed.
“Well, it looks like I’m in the wrong. I’m very sorry to have disturbed you – it’s my mistake,” Gibbons said.
“No problem, Mr Gibbons; it’s a pleasure,” Paul said, holding out his hand towards the older man.
Gibbons shook it and then, as Dianne held her hand out too, he shook that rather more warmly.
“We’re here on a delayed honeymoon,” she explained coyly.
“Oh yes, we wanted somewhere secluded. We don’t get that much time to be alone.”
“Well, I’m sure I hope you’ll have a great time and I apologise for intruding.”
“Goodbye, Mr Gibbons, so nice to have met you,” she said with a finality that made it clear she didn’t expect to be speaking to him again.
“Goodbye, Mrs Blake.”
Paul watched the man walk back to his companion. The other man turned at his approach and for the first time Paul could see his face clearly.
“Whoa; that’s not good, not good at all.”
This time Dianne did turn to look, concerned at the alarm in his voice.
“You know the other man too?”
“Yes, and so should you. Look again.”
She gave the man a concentrated stare. “Nathan Ambrose,” she murmured wearily. “Looks like Dan Gibbons is really scraping the bottom of the pond if he’s doing business with the likes of Ambrose. How that man stays ahead of the law beats me.”
“Good lawyers,” Paul responded succinctly. “You know, Di, I have a nasty feeling about all this. I think I ought to warn the Svensons; if Gibbons is caught up with Ambrose, things must be really bad for his company.”
“You can’t! You promised, Paul, and besides, it’s none of your business.”
“I know it isn’t my business, exactly – but whatever he says about it, SvenCorp’s business is Adam’s business –the whole family is caught up with it. And if SvenCorp gets involved with lowlife such as Ambrose, it could do it real damage.”
“Paul, Adam’s father deals with problems like this every day without your help,” she argued angrily. “We came here to be together, and to relax. You’ve had such a rough time of it, lately, my darling; this was supposed to help you get away from it all. If you call Adam, it’ll spoil everything.”
“But Ambrose is trouble,” he reasoned, “big trouble. Look at what happened a couple of years ago, when he put one over on the Charing Cross and Marylebone Bank. The place went under eventually. All I intend to do is warn Adam to warn his father. It’s what any friend would do in the circumstances; surely you can see that, Di? You’d warn one of the Angels of possible trouble heading their way, if you saw it.”
“But we’re not talking about just warning Adam, are we? If you speak to him - or his father - they’ll expect you to get involved, and bang goes our weekend.”
“They won’t,” he said dismissively. “Adam knows we’re on holiday, he won’t expect us to do anything else. Trust me, I know he won’t.”
“Adam will tell his father and John Svenson will pester him until he calls you. And if Adam is as involved with SvenCorp as you say he is - I bet you he’d be on the phone within an hour, and what grounds will you have to refuse his request to find out more? Keep out of it, Paul.”
He looked across at her, seeing a glint of annoyance in her soft, blue eyes. She didn’t lose her temper with him very often, but – in accord with her red hair – when she did it was swift and explosive. He could see that she was close to losing it now and he dropped his eyes to study his brandy glass for a long moment.
She saw his eyes flicker towards Gibbons and Ambrose and then he said, in a voice that was truly contrite, “I’m sorry, Dianne. I have to tell them; I owe it to Adam. It’s the least I can do and it won’t take me a minute. He won’t call me back – you’ll see.”
She met his eyes as they returned to her face to study her reaction, and felt a spurt of jealous anger shoot through her. She’d always prided herself on her own understanding of what Paul and Adam meant to each other, and how mutually supportive they were. She also knew Karen got a lot more exasperated at the close bond between the two friends than she did herself, and she doubted that Adam ever told Paul just how much grief he got from his fiancée over it. She liked Adam Svenson; he was a decent man and a good friend, to her as well as to Paul. However, there had to be a limit and she’d just reached it.
“You do what you like, Paul; you’re obviously not going to listen to what I have to say about it. I’m going upstairs. I don’t expect to see you – you’ll be too busy sleuthing for your friend – so I’m going to lock the door.”
“For heaven’s sake, be reasonable…”
But his protest was in vain as she stalked out of the lounge and raced up the stairs before her anger could cool.
Undeterred by Rhapsody’s anger, Captain Scarlet walked outside into the bitingly cold night air and strode purposefully through the gardens towards the edge of the cliff that overlooked the dark waters of the loch. He had no intention of risking anyone overhearing his conversation with Captain Blue: even if Gibbons and Ambrose didn’t realise he was a Spectrum agent, they might see him as a conduit to continue lobbying the Svensons and Dianne would have been proved right.
He used his personal mobile phone and dialled Blue’s personal number. He got his voicemail.
Hi, this is Adam Svenson’s phone. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, please leave a message and a number where I can reach you, and I’ll get back to you when I can.
“Adam, it’s Paul. You’ll never guess who I’ve run into at Castle Cathcart. I thought I ought to tip you off because Dan Gibbons is here with Nathan Ambrose. No idea why, of course, but maybe you should let your father know? Anyway – please don’t bother to call back – that’s all I know, and Dianne will skin me alive if you interrupt our holiday. I’m in enough hot water as it is just for making this call – and I mean metaphorical hot water, dammit. I still have to sweet-talk my way back into our apartment. The things I do for you, Blue-boy. See you Tuesday.”
He closed the call and slipped the phone back into his jacket pocket.
The sky was inky-black with innumerable stars visible in the vast, open canopy above him. There was a new moon, just powerful enough to make a shard of silver reflect in the smooth, silent loch. The snow was several inches deep, and a deep frost was hardening the surface, so that his foot broke through a crust of ice with every step he took. Even as a boy, Paul Metcalfe had liked the night, and since his Mysteronisation he needed very little sleep. He frequently took command of Cloudbase overnight, and while the duty Comms Lieutenant manned the computers, he would stand in one of the observation tubes that reached out into the vastness of the troposphere, wishing he could experience that emptiness first hand. Even on nights when he wasn’t on command duty, he would often wander the corridors, or sitting gazing out at the stars from the restaurant, or more often from the Promenade deck. Sometimes he had Adam’s company, when his friend was suffering from one of his periodic bouts of insomnia, but part of the satisfaction he took from the experience was the solitude.
Here the intense darkness reminded him of home, and of the nights when he slipped out to walk the ever-willing dogs around the much-loved valley and familiar hills. Even though it was so cold, he took the time to appreciate his surroundings, looking back towards the castle, across the formal gardens and along the avenue of pollarded trees, their bare branches glistening with snow and frost.
Musing on the unlikely twist of fate that had brought about his present situation, he was sure Dianne wouldn’t stay mad at him for long; he could see the warm, yellow glow of the lights in their apartment at the top of the nearest tower, and knew she was probably waiting for him to come and apologise.
He gave an anticipatory smile. Making up is always fun… I guess that’s why Adam and Karen stay together.
With a renewed sense of purpose, he set out to return to the hotel.
He had just reached the gravel driveway when he saw the sweep of approaching headlights and heard the crunch of wheels. Instinct made him fade back into the shadow of the trees, pulling the collar of his dark jacket high around his chin.
A grey sedan pulled up at the front entrance and the driver got out. He paused a moment, scanning the driveway and the hotel before him, and for one moment he glanced towards the gardens where Scarlet was hiding. Scarlet drew a sharp breath as his eyes confirmed what the familiar sensation of dizzy nausea was telling him.
The man was Captain Black.
Black walked away from the sedan and up to the front door. He pushed it open and stalked inside.
Impulsively, Scarlet ran forward, and then paused. He wasn’t armed, and apart from his mobile phone he had no means of communicating with Spectrum. The chances were that Blue wouldn’t be back from wherever he was, and leaving another message to the effect that he’d spotted Captain Black wasn’t going to be much use. He glanced up at the still illuminated window of the apartment where Rhapsody was. He pressed the quick-dial button for her number and waited.
Her phone rang and then her voicemail cut in: she hadn’t got the machine switched on.
Cursing, Scarlet reviewed his options. As long as Dianne stayed sulking in her room, he figured she’d be safe, but it meant he had no way of getting Spectrum back up. It was his over-riding duty to discover what Black was doing here and – if at all possible – stop his scheme and apprehend the most wanted man on the planet.
To do that, he needed a weapon and his gun was in the apartment, along with his Spectrum waveband communicator. He approached the front door cautiously and seeing no one in the main hall, he slipped inside. He was walking towards the stairs when he heard Black’s voice coming from the library. He detoured to listen against the partly open door.
“Gibbons has the bacteria with him; I’m sure of it,” Nathan Ambrose said.
“You were instructed to have it in your possession by now,” Black’s deep voice rumbled in reply.
“He’s nervous – very nervous. My instructions were not to scare him off.”
“The Mysterons do not tolerate failure,” Black warned.
“I will not fail. The Mysterons’ instructions will be carried out. I have convinced Gibbons that you are an agent of the Bereznian military and you wish to buy the bacteria. Earthmen are always swayed by the lure of money.”
“Our schedule does not allow time for play acting.”
Ambrose continued to remonstrate. “I could have killed him, our masters could have killed him, but that was not part of the plan. Gibbons’s access to Spectrum’s research facilities was too valuable an asset to risk his being detected by the Earthmen’s security devices.”
“Do not tell me what the Mysterons intend to do,” Black said flatly. “I am here to collect the bacteria and you do not have it.”
“It is in his room, with him. We can collect it now,” Ambrose said.
The voices were coming closer and Scarlet had to slip away from the door. He glanced around and realised there was nowhere to hide. Sprinting towards the stairs as fast as he could, Scarlet was all too aware of the fact that he was in direct line of sight from the library, and he had no doubt Black would recognise him.
He’d almost reached the cover of the arched staircase when he heard a shout behind him.
He didn’t stop but sprinted on upwards, desperate to get to his communicator and weapon and be on the way back down, leading them away from Dianne, before Black caught up with him.
He reached the door and pounded on it.
“Dianne – open up! Black’s here!”
“Paul? Don’t be so stupid!”
He thumped harder. “Rhapsody! S.I.R!”
He could hear her coming towards the door and as soon as the key turned in the lock, he forced the door open and pushed his way in, knocking her onto the bed.
“Lock it after me,” he ordered as he collected his gun and communicator from the bedside drawer. He paused long enough to kiss her lips and raced back out of the door and down the stairs.
He cannoned into Captain Black, knocking the Mysterons’ agent from his feet and the pair tumbled down the stairs together, cracking heads and limbs against the unyielding roughness of the walls.
Scarlet was the first to his feet as they lay winded on the hall floor, and pushing Ambrose aside, he turned to face Captain Black.
“Get to your feet,” he gasped, gesturing with his gun.
Black rolled over onto his hands and knees, his head down as if in defeat. Then suddenly he lurched forward, his shoulders ramming into Scarlet’s legs, so that he fell backwards, the gun spinning from his hand as he fell.
Black straddled Scarlet and punched him hard between the eyes. There was a crunch, and amidst the excruciating pain, Scarlet felt a sudden gush of hot, sticky blood pour from his shattered nose. He swallowed hard, and the unmistakable taste made him struggle upright in an urgent need to prevent himself drowning in his own blood. His assailant was caught off-balance, and Scarlet slithered away and staggered to his feet, stumbling for the door and out into the blackness.
Black pursued him, although the trail of blood made it impossible for his adversary to hide.
Scarlet staggered on though the garden heading for the cliff top. He had some vague idea that he might either hide somewhere on the cliff face, or wrestle Black into the icy waters. The copious loss of blood was making it hard to keep focused on his scheme and he had to stop, gasping for breath and spitting mouthfuls of salty blood out onto the silver-tinted snow, conscious all the time that Black was closing the gap.
Light-headed, he came to a halt close to the edge and waited for Black to reach him.
The older man was in a much better physical shape than Scarlet, and obviously in no mood to waste time disposing of his adversary. He had stopped to pick up Scarlet’s Spectrum gun and now he aimed it and tried to fire.
The gun did not work.
Scarlet managed a smile. “I disabled it. I don’t leave it open to misuse when I’m off-duty, so it’ll only operate when I fire it. You taught us all to do that as a matter of course, Conrad. Your memory must be slipping.”
“You have interfered with the Mysterons’ plans again, Captain Scarlet. You will be punished.”
“I guess you have to try; although I’d have thought even you would have got the message that you can’t stop me, Black.”
Scarlet wasn’t quick enough to dodge when Black rushed at him, propelling him towards the cliff edge. The pair wrestled, slithering in the blood-red snow. Scarlet found himself disadvantaged as much by the nausea the proximity of a Mysteron generated within him, as by his loss of blood, and he struggled to remain conscious.
Finally, Black managed to get his opponent to the brink of the cliff and with a final push, thrust Captain Scarlet over, down into the freezing embrace of the loch.
He watched as the water closed over the body, and with a glint of satisfaction in his dark eyes, turned and walked hurriedly towards the house.
Dianne had gone back to their room annoyed with Paul’s stubborn decision to get involved in what she genuinely considered none of his business. True, he was close to Adam Svenson and knew and liked his friend’s family, but surely she was right to say there was a cut-off point?
She locked the door behind her, although she expected Paul would come after her and she’d unlock it. She rested her back against the wood, listening carefully for the sound of his footsteps, until she realised with embarrassed irritation that he wasn’t coming.
She went into the bathroom and got ready for bed, pulling on the satin pyjamas and dressing gown she’d intended to lounge around in on the lazy mornings. She brushed her long, copper-red hair until it shone, and cleaned the make up from her face.
But there was still no sign that Paul was going to come and apologise to her.
She retrieved her book from her suitcase and lay on the bed, but the momentum to read was lacking. The turret room was warm, and she was tired after a busy day and a good meal, and it wasn’t long before she began to feel dozy.
If he wants to spend the night on the sofa, that’s up to him, she thought defensively, trying to justify her actions. He’ll have to learn that he can’t always be in the right. Karen’s right about that, if nothing else; these guys are all so used to getting their own way that they think they can walk all over our finer feelings with impunity.
It was all very well feeling justified, but as Rhapsody put her book onto the bedside table, she decided she’d have rather felt loved.
She had just slipped into the silky sheets and closed her eyes when she heard footsteps running up the stairs and moments later Paul’s voice shouting to her as he thumped the door.
Struggling to focus, she remonstrated with him, but on hearing the emergency red-alert code – S.I.R. – she knew it must be for real, no Spectrum agent would use that without good reason.
As she turned the key she was flung back by the opening of the door, and fell across the bed.
“Paul! What’s going on?” she demanded, watching him retrieve his gun and race back towards the door, pausing just long enough to kiss her.
“Lock it after me!” he ordered, and disappeared down the stairs.
Rhapsody went and peered down after him, but she couldn’t see much due to the twisting spiral. She heard a shout, followed by a muted thud and the rumble of bodies falling.
She closed the door and rushed to get dressed, anxious to go to her lover’s assistance. She put a pair of denim jeans on over her pyjamas and struggled into a chunky sweater. She paused to brush the hair from her eyes and turned to see Nathan Ambrose standing in the doorway.
He was pointing a gun at her.
“You’re going to come with me,” he said angrily.
Dianne drew herself up and said with an aristocratic burst of anger, “Get out of here! What do you think you’re doing?”
“I know you’re a Spectrum agent, and you must not be allowed to interfere with the Mysterons’ plans, Earthwoman.”
Her heart sank. She realised the man would have no compunction about shooting her if she disobeyed; Mysteron agents had no compassion.
“Let me get some shoes?” she asked, and when he made no reply she slowly bent down and reached for one of the brogues she’d lined up under the dressing table.
In one swift, fluid movement, she flung the shoe towards Ambrose and rushed him. He dodged the missile easily enough, his pistol firing harmlessly into the ceiling. Dianne tried to get past him, using all of her strength against him, but the Mysteron seemed impervious to her blows.
He spun around and brought the pistol butt down onto the back of her head.
Rhapsody gasped in pain and crumpled to the floor as everything went black.
Captain Blue finished his tour of duty with relief.
He’d taken a nasty crack to the head on the last mission he and Scarlet had undertaken, and Doctor Fawn had kept him in sickbay overnight to make sure he wasn’t concussed. He’d been pleased to escape in time to wave his friend off on his vacation, but now he felt exhausted. He debated going down to the Amber Room, where he knew Symphony was on stand-by duty, but decided against it. If she wanted to see him, she’d drop by his quarters when her duty finished; in the meantime, he could do with some peace and quiet and maybe even a little sleep.
He strolled into his quarters and took off his cap and his tunic, before reaching down to unzip the blue boots. He stretched and rubbed the side of his head, gingerly feeling the small swelling that was still there.
After making himself a drink, he sat in his armchair and rested his feet on the low coffee table. As he shifted to get comfortable, he knocked a pile of glossy magazines Symphony had left behind her onto the floor. Sighing, he bent to pick them up and saw his cell phone on the table; the discreet red light that notified him of an incoming message was blinking.
This close to Christmas, the chances were that it was his mother asking what he wanted as a gift, or telling him of things she’d seen that he might like to give his brothers and sister and would he like her to arrange it for him. Knowing that the chances of doing his own shopping this year were slight, he was more than ready to accept her help. He picked up the phone and accessed the message.
Moments later he was quick-dialling his father’s private number.
Colonel White had just left the Control Room and was making his way to the officers’ restaurant for something to eat, when he froze and almost tripped off the end of the escalator. The Tannoy system was crackling – a well-known and much feared indicator that the Mysterons were about to issue yet another threat.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX AND OUR RETALITAION FOR THAT ACT OF AGGRESSION CONTINUES. WE WILL DESTROY KATANIA. WITHIN THE NEXT TWENTY-FOUR HOURS THE FATE OF KATANIA WILL BE SEALED.
As the echoes of that menacing, deep voice faded into silence, Colonel White turned and marched back up the escalator.
Lieutenant Green had already summoned the on-duty captains to the conference room, along with the standby-duty Angel. He glanced up at his commanding officer and reported what he’d done.
“Excellent,” White replied, collecting his notebook and pen. “Ask Captain Blue to join us, will you, before you come along yourself. With Captain Scarlet away and Captain Magenta in Futura, we need every man we can get on this one. If the Mysterons make even a partially successful move against the Bereznian capital city, their military government will retaliate with an all-out attack on the states of the World Government. We have to move quickly.”
“S.I.G., Colonel. I’ll get Lieutenant Claret to cover the comms desk and be right with you, sir.”
Captain Blue was the last to arrive in the Conference Room; he saluted and took his seat between Captain Ochre and Destiny Angel.
“Lieutenant Green,” Colonel White said, by way of starting the meeting, “Please play back the Mysterons’ threat.”
Everyone listened again to the chilling message.
“Well, for once they’re not playing hide and seek with us,” Ochre said. “They’ve told us exactly where they mean to strike and when.”
“Indeed they have, Captain,” White agreed. “But we don’t have any indication how they plan to accomplish their threat.” He turned to Lieutenant Green. “Has the research library come up with anything yet?”
“No, sir. There is a team of four researchers working on it.”
White nodded. There was a small, dedicated staff of researchers, who monitored world news from every printed and broadcast source. They were all experienced and good at their job and it was rare that they failed to turn up something of use. However, the Bereznian Government was notoriously wary of broadcasting information, and sometimes events came out of the blue.
“Do you intend to alert the military government to the danger, sir?” Blue asked.
Colonel White raised a dark eyebrow and gave a sigh. “I’m not sure they’d believe me if I did, Captain. When we have more concrete information, it might be worth contacting them, but at the moment we have nothing except the threat, and the Bereznians are not privy to the full extent of the Mysteron menace. They’re likely to dismiss us as scaremongers.”
“Can we risk not warning them?” Captain Grey asked.
Just then the intercom buzzed and Lieutenant Claret excused himself for interrupting.
“I have Doctor Giardello on the line, Colonel; it seems he has something of a potential problem to report.”
“Put him through, Lieutenant.”
Doctor Robert Giardello, the head of Spectrum Intelligence’s Research and Development department – SIRAD – came onscreen.
“Colonel White, I am sorry to interrupt your meeting, but I have just concluded a most perturbing conversation with Mr Daniel Gibbons.”
“Please continue, Doctor Giardello,” the colonel said politely. He had great respect for the scientist and tolerated the man’s occasional absent-minded self-absorption.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of Mottram and Gibbons, the bio-engineering company from the mid-west? Well, Daniel Gibbons is the leading light in their research, and a man I have been doing business with on behalf of Spectrum for some months now. The company have developed a genetically altered bacterium capable of cutting the time taken for unfiltered water to be made potable. These bacteria feed on harmful pathogens, but are in themselves harmless and when introduced to a self-contained body of water, they die out once they have exhausted their food supply – not unnaturally. I can see that it will have great potential on Cloudbase and, of course, any other installation where water is isolated and reused.”
“Fascinating, Doctor, but how may we help you?” the colonel asked, gently guiding Giardello back to the reason for his call.
“Forgive me. Mottram and Gibbons were not only working on their WFB-zero85 project; at the instigation of the World Navy and the WASPs they’ve been working on a similar bacterium that could revolutionise air filtration. In fact, they did develop such a bacterium – the AFB-107 - for use in submarine fleets, and since it could have proven useful for Cloudbase, SIRAD provided the company with testing facilities at a local research base. However,” he added at a rush, seeing the colonel open his mouth to interrupt again, “in tests, the bacteria proved to be something of a hazard. They multiplied so quickly that they removed everything from the atmosphere, including the oxygen, and in so doing produced a vacuum. Naturally, this would be of no use on Cloudbase, or in a submarine.”
“I’d say not,” Ochre muttered, with a sly wink at Grey and Blue.
“Well, it seems that the funding for this project was all but exhausted and the military were demanding the promised results for their investment. Mottram and Gibbons were desperate to find the cash from somewhere. To this extent, they accepted an offer for their, shall we say, ‘over-enthusiastic’ bacteria from the Bereznian military.”
“Doctor, if you have called to ask for more funding-”
“No, Colonel; I am sorry, but I felt you needed to understand the situation Mr Gibbons found himself in. He was aware of the restrictions on trading with Bereznik, but then he was approached by someone offering to act as an intermediary, he reluctantly agreed. He went to a place in Scotland-”
“Cathcart Castle,” Captain Blue interjected, as a frown clouded his handsome features.
“Why, yes indeed it was, Captain Blue,” Giardello said, surprised. “It was there he was to meet the Bereznian contact, in the company of his go-between-”
“Nathan Ambrose,” Blue said, concern in his voice.
“Yes – tell me, is this already known to you all?” Giardello asked.
Captain Blue met the colonel’s stern gaze and began to explain. “Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel are staying at Cathcart Castle, sir. Captain Scarlet informed me earlier that he had seen Mr Gibbons in company with Nathan Ambrose. You see, my father’s company does business with Mottram and Gibbons, sir.”
White nodded. He knew the reputation of the slippery Nathan Ambrose well enough not to wonder why Scarlet had felt obliged to report the information to his friend.
“Is that all you have to tell us, Doctor?” he asked Giardello.
“No, that’s just the start. I thought you should know the background. Dan Gibbons called me in a state of some alarm, because a serious incident had occurred at the hotel. It seems the Bereznian colonel they were to meet attacked another guest at the hotel – a Mr. Blake – and shots were fired. Nathan Ambrose barged into Gibbons’s room and demanded he hand over the bacteria, after which he left the hotel with the Bereznian colonel and Mrs Blake in the colonel’s car.”
“That’s Scarlet’s alias,” Blue muttered, although he was sure the colonel knew already.
“Mr Blake has disappeared too, although a trail of blood leads from the hotel to the cliff above a lake. The police are there now, searching for Blake’s body-“
“Do we have a description of the Bereznian?” White asked Giardello abruptly.
“Gibbons hardly saw him, but he said he was tall, dark-haired, with a pale complexion –“
Colonel White had heard enough.
“Captain Blue, you will leave for Scotland at once. Captain Grey and Captain Ochre will accompany you. Your mission is to find Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel, track Captain Black and if possible, retrieve the bacteria.”
“It is a tenuous link to the Katania threat, Colonel,” Grey said thoughtfully.
“If Captain Scarlet is dead, it is of the utmost importance that he brought back to Cloudbase before he recovers,” White replied. “And if Captain Black’s involved – and it sounds like he is – we need to know what’s happening.”
“Sure, but what about Katania? How can this filter bug be a threat to a city?” Ochre asked.
Giardello cut in with an explanation. “Beneath Katania lies a complex series of bunkers, used to house generators and military supplies and so forth. The members of the Bereznian high-command are completely paranoid, and this bolthole is self-contained, with its own water and air filtration units. If bacteria AFB-107 were introduced to that air filtration unit, it would create a vacuum. Then there would be an implosion big enough to rock the city to its foundations.”
“Right – you had all better leave at once – speed ultimate, Captains. Destiny, I want Angel One to patrol that sector, so that if Black tries to leave with the bacteria the plane can be shot out of the sky.”
“S.I.G.” Destiny acknowledged the order calmly, but she had a request of her own to make. “Colonel, if Rhapsody is missing, then one of the Angels should go to find her. I know the captains will all be able to rescue her, but sometimes there are times when a woman needs another woman? I think you must understand me?”
Colonel White paused for a moment as the full implication of her words bore down on him. Finally he said solemnly, “Very well, you may go with them, Destiny. And I pray to God you’re not needed.”
The arc lights and headlights of the police vehicles shone out over the dark water of the loch and the snow was churned into slush by the constant to-ing and fro-ing of people and machines. The hotel was ablaze with light as the staff and guests congregated in the library to wait interrogation by the dour inspector in charge of the case. Forensic officers searched the rooms from which Mrs Blake had vanished, Nathan Ambrose’s apartment and the gardens.
Lady Cathcart, in stout shoes and with a thick sweater over her dressing gown, supplied copious amounts of hot coffee and sympathy to her shocked guests. This was not the kind of reputation she wanted her establishment to acquire.
At around 2.00 a.m. the relative calm was shattered by the arrival of a helijet, out of which emerged three Spectrum officers and a young woman.
Lady Cathcart could understand why the inspector’s nose was put out of joint as a leader of the Americans, a tall, fair-haired man who introduced himself as Captain Blue, pulled rank and took over the search and the investigation.
One of the dark-haired Americans, dressed in a subtle shade of gold and introduced as Captain Ochre, immediately went up to the rooms to ‘debrief’ the forensics team and take a look around, whilst Captain Blue went down to the loch, and the final American, dressed in grey, commandeered a police car and drove away from the hotel. The young woman – who sounded French from her accent – went back to the helijet and took off to train a powerful searchlight around the shore.
Captain Blue commandeered the police launch – which was in fact the hotel’s pleasure boat – and disappeared into the night, following the searchlight.
Lady Cathcart made coffee for the cold and damp policemen, and laced it with a slug of whisky.
They were still drinking it when Captain Ochre came back into the library.
“Did you see the man who shot at Mr Blake?” he asked Lady Cathcart after he had politely declined her offer of refreshment.
“Only from a distance as the car drove away. I definitely saw Mrs Blake in the back of the car – you couldn’t mistake that colour hair – and Mr Gibbons swears he saw Mr Ambrose dragging Mrs Blake’s body across the hall to the front door.”
“She was alive?”
Lady Cathcart shook her head sadly. “I can’t say for sure, she was slumped in the back of the car – upright, but slumped against the window.”
Ochre nodded. “Thank you. I’ve seen all I need to in the bedroom. I’ve locked the door and I’ve got the key. No one is allowed access in there; so if you have another key, you’d better hand it over.”
“There is a master set and a set the chambermaids use,” she explained. “I can fetch them for you.”
“Please. Just the keys to the Blakes’ room and Mr Gibbons’s room. He will have to spend what’s left of the night somewhere else.”
She nodded and disappeared out of the library, heading for the ground floor office.
Ochre’s cap mike swung down and the epaulettes on his tunic flashed blue.
“Captain Ochre, we’ve found him. He’s not dead, but he’s unconscious and freezing cold. Can you ask Lady Cathcart to provide us with somewhere private to bring him, plenty of towels and blankets and some warm drinking water?”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue. You’re not taking him back to base?”
“No, there’s no need, and besides, once he comes to we’ll need to question him. There’s nothing Fawn can do for him that we can’t. He hasn’t been shot or seriously wounded as far as I can see. ”
“Sure; I’ll get on to it. You’d still better alert Cloudbase. The colonel will want to know.”
Captain Scarlet’s face was a far from pretty sight. Captain Black’s punch had fractured his nose and although the water had washed the blood from his face, and probably reduced the swelling because it was so cold, his nose was badly bruised and at a very strange angle.
Captain Blue carried his partner into Lady Cathcart’s private sitting room, which she had given over to them. Ochre had already switched on a large, five-bar electric fire in there, in addition to the log-burning fire that still gave some warmth from its dying embers. The room was full of furniture, including a long, well-upholstered sofa. Blue laid Scarlet there, and once he’d stripped him of his wet clothes, dried and wrapped him in the warm blankets, he dribbled some of the tepid water into his patient’s mouth and considered what to do next. The process of retrometabolisation always gave Scarlet a major thirst, but he was reluctant to give him more to drink in case he choked. He decided on ‘little, and often’.
After tidying up some of the mess, and giving Ochre further orders, he settled down in an armchair close to the sofa, and sipped the hot coffee Lady Cathcart had provided, prepared to wait while the miracle of retrometabolism worked its magic on his friend. After a few moments he started to tell Paul all that had happened on Cloudbase in the time he’d been away.
There were no hard and fast rules about how long any recovery took, and Blue hoped it wouldn’t be long before Scarlet regained consciousness and could answer his questions. Then they’d decide if he needed to be sent back to Cloudbase. However, he was surprised when, only a few minutes after Ochre had delivered what he’d asked for and left, Scarlet’s blue eyes opened and he sat up.
“Paul, are you okay?” he asked, in concern. “I didn’t expect you to come to quite so soon.”
“Yes.” Scarlet’s voice sounded nasal and he put a hand to his aching head. “Where’s Dianne? Is she okay?”
Blue hesitated to reply, but one sharp glance from his partner told him he had no choice. There was no way to soften the blow, so he kept it brief and to the point.
“Ambrose has abducted her and he left in Black’s car – with Captain Black.”
“Hell and damnation! How long ago?”
“About three to four hours. It took me a while to find you.”
“You should’ve gone straight after her, Adam! Never mind me!” Scarlet snarled, making an effort to stand up.
Blue’s hand pressed him down on the sofa again. “Calm down, buddy, we’re on their trail. I’m the only one who’s dealing with your end of the problem. You know how the colonel frets if he thinks anyone outside of Spectrum might see your particular skills in action, but the Old Man isn’t going to risk harm coming to one of his girls, either,” Blue replied soothingly. “It was all systems go from the minute we had the news.”
“You must’ve got here pretty quickly,” Scarlet said approvingly, intending to appease his friend.
“We were lucky. Dan Gibbons rang Dr Giardello; it seems they have a working acquaintance. Ochre’s been checking out Gibbons’s room and the room you two had, and we’ve stood the police down. Colonel White doesn’t want civilian forces involved.”
“Oh, and why not? Nathan Ambrose is a known troublemaker; it seems to me if they can nail him on a kidnapping charge, everyone would be happy. They’re easier to prove than white-collar fraud – as you well know.”
Scarlet sounded as if he had a severe cold and he pulled a pitiful face at his friend. Sympathetically, Blue handed him the glass of water and he sipped it, swilling his mouth out and spitting into the bowl of water Blue had used to clean him up, before he drank the rest and refilled the glass.
“Yes, I know fraud’s not easy to prove,” Blue replied, “but this isn’t about Nathan Ambrose. The Mysterons have made a threat against Katania, a threat we think might be related to the theft of the bacteria Gibbons brought here to trade.”
He went on to explain what Dr Giardello had told them, and whilst he was explaining, Scarlet finished the jug of water and started examining his face in the mirror.
When Blue finished speaking, he nodded and asked, “Sounds plausible enough to me, Blue-boy. Before we start though, there’s something I’d like you to do for me. Straighten my nose out, will you?”
“Well, I can’t see to do it, and it’s making breathing difficult. If it heals in this position I’ll be hampered by a lack of breath on the mission.” He glanced up at his field partner, so see a reluctant expression on Blue’s face. “Don’t be such a wuss, Adam – it’s not going to hurt you.”
Reluctantly, Blue moved to stand in front of his friend. “Close your eyes,” he ordered.
“I hate to see a grown man cry.”
Scarlet chuckled and obeyed cheerfully enough. He felt Adam’s fingers gently tilt his head towards the light slightly before gingerly touching the swollen bridge of his nose, and he was about to make a facetious comment when a searing bolt of pain shot through him making him gasp and involuntarily jerk away from Blue’s hands.
“That’s the best I can do,” Blue was saying matter-of-factly when he opened his eyes.
The American picked up a towel and fastidiously wiped his fingers. “You might not win a prize for best-looking victim, but you’ll do. However, if your retrometabolism doesn’t straighten it out properly, Fawn will have to take a chisel to you.”
“You are all heart,” Scarlet said. His eyes were still smarting from the pain, and fresh blood was seeping from his nostrils.
“You’ll want some clean clothes, I guess?”
Scarlet looked up from re-examining his face: Blue had done a decent job. “Yes, please; Lady Cathcart’s probably suffered enough traumas today without seeing me walking mother-naked around her home.”
Blue gave an amused snort and walked over to the far side of the room. “Here; Ochre brought them down from your room, so don’t blame me for the complete lack of fashion sense and colour coordination.” He dropped the pile on the end of the sofa, and politely turned his back. “I didn’t know you even possessed a sweater of such… brilliance,” he remarked.
Scarlet glanced wryly at the chunky pullover and replied, “It’s a birthday present from my mother; one of her more eccentric ones, I might add. But, I thought it’d keep me warm in the frozen north, and naturally, she’d be pleased to see it on the photos.” He heard Blue chuckle and went on to ask, “Who’s here exactly?” as he started to dress.
“Ochre, Grey and Destiny.”
“The colonel thought Dianne might appreciate a woman’s presence.”
Scarlet stopped mid-way through pulling up his boxer shorts. “I never thought of that side of it. We have to find her, Adam – and quick.”
“We will. Destiny’s already flying over the area in the helijet. We’ll find her, Paul. I promise.”
Spectrum helijets were equipped with the latest in tracking technology, and Destiny was already scanning the area with the high-powered cameras. The police vehicles had churned up the roads, but she knew which direction they had come from. The screen showed that there was one set of tracks which deviated from that route and she was trying to follow it along the deserted road. The GPS map of the area revealed that the road led to an isolated distillery and beyond that lay a small private airfield.
As she drew closer she could make out the shape of a helicopter, parked some way away from the main runway of the airfield and close to the fence that separated it from the ramshackle complex of warehouses and sheds. There was a car parked some way from the fence, on a small apron of tarmac outside of a portacabin, where a large model, of what Destiny presumed was some kind of giant serpent sporting a tartan beret, cheerfully welcomed people to the ‘Visitor Centre’. The car seemed to have been abandoned in a hurry: the back door was still open and the front bore witness to a recent collision. In the distance Destiny saw the wire-metal gate had been smashed down.
“Destiny Angel in helijet P60 to Cloudbase command.”
“Go ahead, Destiny.”
“I think I have found the place where Captain Black might be meaning to escape with the bacteria. Transmitting co-ordinates immediately.”
She pressed the console and watched as the computer recorded and transmitted her location.
“I can see a car, which may be the one driven from the hotel. I can see nobody moving around. They might be inside the buildings.”
Colonel White’s voice replied over the radio. “Good work, Destiny. Angel 1 is on red alert, and still within the sector, Angels 2 and 3 have been launched and should arrive at your location within the half hour. You should rejoin Captain Blue and the others; I suggest you make a concerted attempt to delay Black’s departure for as long as possible.”
“I could blow up the helicopter, Colonel?” she suggested.
“No, that would warn Black we’re here, and might give him a chance to escape. Besides, if the Mysterons didn’t transport him and the bacteria out of there, we’d probably lose him in the dark. This could present us with a chance to capture him and his associates.”
“Do you think he has Rhapsody with him?”
“We have to hope so and that she’s safe. The co-ordinates have been sent to Captain Blue, and Captain Grey has collected SPV P601 from the local agency. Liaise with Captain Blue, Destiny, and arrange a rendezvous en route to your present location.” He paused and the young Frenchwoman could hear the concern in his voice as he concluded, “God’s speed and good luck to you all.”
It was rather crowded in the SPV. Captain Grey was driving with Captain Blue alongside him in the co-driver’s seat.
Captain Scarlet was perched on the fold-down seat that provided the barely adequate passenger accommodation. “Are we there yet?” he asked.
“No,” Blue replied with exemplary patience, “but we are about half way there.”
“Can’t we go any faster?” Scarlet demanded.
“Only if you want us to crash,” Grey retorted. “It’s pitch black out there and this road twists like a snake.”
“Why not let me drive then? I bet I could drive faster,” Scarlet muttered.
Grey looked across at Blue and saw the smile on the younger man’s face. “Is he always this bad a back-seat driver?” he asked with amusement.
Blue nodded. “And now you know why he’s so far in the lead in the ‘who can smash up the most SPVs’ contest as well.”
Grey chuckled and even Scarlet, as worried as he was about Rhapsody, gave a rueful smile.
“Very funny, Adam,” he conceded with some slight embarrassment. “But in case you’ve forgotten, we’re after Captain Black and not only that, we’ve got to find Rhapsody before anything happens to her.”
“I hadn’t forgotten, and neither had Brad,” Blue said sharply. “That’s why we aim to get us all there in one piece.”
“Destiny to SPV P601. I can see movement at the warehouse. Someone has come from a building and is walking towards the fence with the airfield.”
“We’re almost there, Destiny,” Grey responded. “Is there anyway you can prevent them leaving?”
“No, I do not think so. I am some distance from the factory; I see the movement on the distance scanner only. Besides, the colonel does not want us to alarm Captain Black and have the Mysterons vanish him away.”
“Is it only one person, Destiny?” Scarlet asked.
“Oui, just one person.”
“Destiny, I want you to circle to the far side of the airfield, as quickly as you can, and then switch on the searchlight. Make as if you were searching the airfield for anything unusual, but approach from the other side. There’s a chance that Black, if it is Black, will keep hidden and not risk taking off in the helicopter until you’ve left,” Scarlet said peremptorily.
“Is this an order, Captain Blue?” she asked.
“Yes, Destiny, it’s as good an idea as any,” Blue replied.
“S.I.G,” she responded briskly.
“Please, Brad, can’t we go just a little faster?” Scarlet pleaded.
Rhapsody came to with a pounding headache. She groaned and shielded her eyes from even the dim light of her surroundings. She was able to look around very slowly, trying to piece together where she was.
The solid floor she was lying on had the smooth coldness of metal and so did the wall close by. The floor sloped slightly towards a drain of some kind in the middle of what she realised was a large circular silo. She raised herself to a sitting position and slithered across to lean against the wall, biting her lip to prevent herself crying out. Looking upwards was painful, but she risked a few glances and saw that the top of her prison was open, and a huge clawed metal device, looking like a giant rotary whisk, lay across one side of the steep metal wall. For some reason, it filled her with foreboding and she shivered.
Beyond that, there were innumerable pipes and a high walkway that threaded its way through the jumble above her head.
She shifted slightly to try and ease her aches and pains, and gave another involuntary groan. This time she was heard, and above her the dark figure of a man appeared, silhouetted against the dim light. He was standing at the rim of the silo, looking down at her, so she realised there must be another walkway about halfway up the side of the vat.
“You are awake, Earthwoman?”
She did not reply, merely drawing her knees up to her body and resting her forehead on them. She couldn’t trust her voice not to sound feeble, and until she was able to show a suitable amount of strength and defiance, she wasn’t going to speak.
The man – and she presumed it to be Nathan Ambrose, although his voice now carried the flat, deep intonation Spectrum associated with the Mysterons – repeated the question loud enough for the words to echo around her metal prison.
This time she did raise her head and say, “Yes.”
There was movement above her and a second man joined Ambrose peering down at her.
“Good. You will be useful to us, Rhapsody Angel,” Captain Black said.
The sound of his voice made Rhapsody gasp and look upwards with a sudden movement that set her head pounding and brought stars before her eyes.
“I will never help you, Black,” she managed to gasp.
Captain Black seemed unimpressed by her defiance. “Spectrum will come looking for you and that is distraction enough for our needs.”
“You know Spectrum never puts the well-being of an agent before the success of their mission,” she snapped, and for the first time she began to understand just what the full consequences of that regulation might be for her.
“I know Captain Scarlet is not supposed to put the safety of his friends before his duty,” Black reasoned, “and I also know he does so anyway.”
Rhapsody gave no reply, partly because she was still feeling so groggy, and partly because deep inside her a small flame of hope burst into life: Paul was out there and he would save her, or die trying.
Black moved away and Ambrose followed him. She strained to hear what they were saying, but couldn’t make out the words.
Closing her eyes, she gave way to her despair and allowed a few hot tears to roll down her cheeks. She wondered just how Paul would be able to rescue her – or even find her in this bleak wilderness. She reasoned that Ambrose had only managed to get her away from the hotel because Paul was trying to deal with Black, and the thought that he might have been injured or killed in the tussle was not a pleasant one.
She gave a deep sigh and tried not to fret too much. Spectrum had discovered that the Mysterons were not infallible, so there might be a chance for her to escape and she’d need all her energy, strength and experience to make the most of it when – if – it came.
The SPV drew up out of sight of the warehouse complex. They could see Destiny’s helijet flying in a search grid over the distant airfield as instructed. The three captains left the vehicle and checked their guns, Scarlet having armed himself with one from the SPV’s armoury.
Blue contacted Destiny and Cloudbase and informed them they were about to enter the site.
“S.I.G, Captain Blue,” the Angel pilot replied. “There is no sign of the person who came from the warehouse, they may have returned to it, or another building. Angel 1 is patrolling a circuit just beyond the sector, to avoid detection, and Angels 2 and 3 are on station towards the coast.”
“Maintain your surveillance, Destiny, but come in closer to the perimeter fence now,” Blue ordered. “We may need back-up.”
Captain Grey had walked across to the site entrance, where the gate had been forced open by a car driving through it at speed. There was a small portacabin set back from the gate, showing a light through the half-open door. He approached it cautiously, his gun drawn ready to fire, but a quick inspection showed the two security guards had been shot at close range before they’d even had time to defend themselves.
“Bring the Mysteron gun here, will you?” he asked at the conclusion of his report to Captain Blue over his cap radio. “We can’t risk their being retrometabolised against us.”
Blue and Scarlet joined him, and Blue used the powerful electron rifle on the bodies.
“That doesn’t mean they haven’t already been Mysteronised,” Scarlet remarked.
“True. Do you sense any Mysterons close by?” Blue asked.
Scarlet shook his head. “A vague feeling of unease, but nothing else. If Black is here, that’d account for any nausea, anyway. Sadly, this sixth sense of mine isn’t something I can fine-tune like radar or a Geiger counter. Every Mysteron makes me feel queasy; it’s only that Black makes me feel much worse.”
“Yeah, he makes me feel sick too,” said Grey, an angry frown on his handsome face as he looked down on the charred bodies of the security guards. “I know the Mysterons have him in their power, but if there’s any decency left in him, you’d think he’d fight it.”
Scarlet looked askance. “From what we know of the experience – which isn’t much – they don’t have the option of disobeying, the compulsion to act as they tell you is overwhelming.”
“I kinda hope he has no decency left,” Blue remarked quietly, with a slight shudder. “Imagine the horror of knowing what you’ve done and what you will have to do.”
“You have way too much of a conscience,” Grey observed, rather surprising his companions. “Or maybe it’s down to military training? Kill or be killed becomes a mindset, if not exactly a way of life.”
“Well, it’s one I’m glad I don’t have,” Blue retorted. The military and civilian elements of the elite squadron of Colour-Captains usually worked together without any problem, but just occasionally some slight friction surfaced when one or other of the groups complained about their companions. Accordingly, Blue justified himself: “I know I can kill when I have no other choice, but I don’t do it without regret.”
“Look,” Grey said, pausing as he pulled the portacabin door closed. “I never meant we’re all mindless killers, we’d be as bad as the Mysterons if we killed without regret. I just meant… well – I don’t know: I meant that I could have wished and hoped that Black – of all of us - would have had the strength of character to keep the Mysterons at bay. He whipped Spectrum into shape, and he gave every indication then that he was damn near invincible…”
“A lot of that was an act,” Blue explained, as he shouldered the Mysteron gun. He and Black had been field partners at the time of Spectrum’s initiation, partly, as Colonel White had explained at the time, because Blue, although an experienced security agent, had only the minimum of ‘military’ training, and partly because no one else was forgiving enough to work with Captain Black after he had finished ‘whipping Spectrum into shape’ – or so conventional wisdom had it. Paradoxically, it was this same combination of skills and outlook that made Scarlet and Blue such a formidable field partnership.
“Conrad was always a very private man, not easy to get to know or to work with at times; but I found him to be a rather idealistic and… kinda shy man,” Blue concluded, seeing the questioning looks from his colleagues.
“Well, he did a bloody good job of hiding that fact,” Scarlet remarked dryly. “I always felt he didn’t like me much, although I’m not aware that I ever did anything to deserve his dislike – maybe that’s why I can sense him more powerfully than most Mysteron agents now?”
“Bad vibes?” Grey suggested.
“Sort of. Anyway, whatever he is and whatever he may or may not regret doing, he’ll kill all of us without hesitation now, if we’re not careful,” Scarlet said, effectively drawing the discussion to a close. “And let’s not forget, he has Rhapsody in there with him too.”
“Sure thing,” Grey agreed.
“Where exactly are we?” Blue asked, as they started a cautious advance towards the buildings.
Scarlet, who was nearest to the entrance, ran back to where the gate was hanging perilously off one bent hinge, and read the company logo on the notice board.
“Gailbhinn Distillery,” he read aloud to himself, stumbling over the name. Then he called across to the others, “Blimey, this is the place where they make one of the most exclusive single malts!” They looked in bewilderment at him as he caught them up. “The Gailbhinn. My father gave me a bottle when I made colonel in the WAAF. Talk about nectar of the Gods… “
“A brewery?” Grey asked.
“A distillery – but close enough.”
“Right, but let’s not forget we’re here to find Rhapsody, and stop Black from leaving with the bacteria. Although, later on we might see if it’s possible to acquire some free samples,” Blue said, with a wink at Scarlet.
“Not a drop shall touch my lips until the mission’s successfully completed, Captain,” the Englishman vowed aloud, clasping his hand to his heart as he did so. Blue chuckled and didn’t hear his friend adding to himself, “And not even then, unless I’m able to share a ‘wee dram’ with Dianne.”
The three of them spread out across the approach road, covering each other as best they could.
Nathan Ambrose came back to report to Captain Black.
“A Spectrum helijet is patrolling the airfield and an SPV is parked near the gate. They must be on to us.”
Black gave no indication that he was concerned at this. He merely held out his hand and took the vial of cultured bacteria from Ambrose. “You will stay here and delay them. I will take the culture to Katania.”
For the merest second, Ambrose wavered and then he said, in the flat, emotionless manner of all Mysteron agents, “The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out.”
“If the Spectrum agents come in here, you will kill Rhapsody Angel.”
“Delay them; prevent them from following the aircraft.” Black spared a glance into the silo, where Rhapsody sat huddled up to keep warm. “Spectrum has a regulation which forbids its operatives to place their safety, or the safety of any of their colleagues, over the success of their mission. We will make them realise that human emotions make fools of all men and whilst they obey them they cannot defeat the Mysterons.”
“And if Captain Scarlet does not come to her aid?”
Black gave the merest twitch of a smile. “For this female, Scarlet will come. That is why you were told to bring her. It may be that she will need some encouragement to attract his attention. He will not be able to resist her screams. ”
Ambrose nodded and turned his gaze in the direction Captain Black was indicating with a hand gesture. “I see,” he said. “I will do as you command.” He looked down at Rhapsody again, who, hearing the indistinct conversation going on above her, was staring upwards in intense concentration trying to catch the gist of what was being said. She glared at him and looked away. “She is beautiful,” he said.
Black gave a slight shrug. “Such considerations are unimportant. She is expendable.”
Nathan Ambrose gave a small sigh. Whatever sliver of humanity remained in his psyche regretted the destruction of such an attractive young woman, but the Mysterons had him in their thrall and he knew he would kill her without hesitation when the time came.
Captain Scarlet paced on in silence through the crisp snow. Ochre hadn’t provided him with a pair of boots and so he was still wearing his waterlogged shoes. He’d been too anxious to start the pursuit of the kidnappers to wait until Blue could fetch the room key or send Ochre to search for suitable footwear, and now he couldn’t help regretting it as icy snow soaked between the tops of his shoes and his jeans making his toes freeze in the damp socks. At least it had stopped snowing, and the cold air had cleared his head. He felt ready for the fight he knew lay ahead of them although he was instinctively marshalling his strength. Retrometabolisation tired him, and he was getting hungrier by the minute, even though he’d eaten some of the emergency rations stored aboard the SPV. He was also aware that Blue was keeping a concerned eye on him as they advanced towards their objective.
Their progress halted as Captain Grey drew close to the first outbuilding. The place was in darkness apart from the security light that came on as Grey approached. He froze, every nerve strained for a sign of danger. Behind him he sensed Blue, his gun at the ready, was also scanning their environs.
“Try the door,” Blue hissed.
Grey advanced gingerly and laid his gloved hand on the doorknob. It was locked and there was a security keypad by the keyhole. He peered through the small glass window beside the door and squinted into what looked like an office. A red light high on the far wall caught his eye as it blinked on and off, and he moved away with care.
“Looks like an office. It’s all locked up and there’s an alarm on inside,” he reported to Blue, as Scarlet backed towards them, his gun also at the ready to fire and his sharp senses on the alert.
The Englishman bumped into his field partner and without dropping his surveillance said, “If we check out every building it’ll take hours to find them. I’m worried about Rhapsody, Captain; I don’t trust Black and something tells me she’s in mortal danger.”
Grey glanced at Blue, noting with some surprise that the younger man was taking this seriously. It wasn’t often that he got to work with Scarlet and he supposed that Blue had come to trust his friend’s hunches through experience.
“Can’t you sense anything, Paul?” Blue asked. “We can’t risk rushing into the compound and leaving our access to the SPV undefended…”
“Forget the text book’s military tactics, Adam,” Scarlet advised. “I’ll lay odds the Mysterons haven’t read it for a start. Black’s somewhere in those big warehouses –I’m sure of it.”
“Why?” Grey asked sharply.
“It’s where I would be,” Scarlet replied decisively. His deep blue eyes were narrowed, his nostrils slightly flared and his lips compressed into a thin, straight line, as if he were focusing all of his alien-enhanced senses on the hunt for his enemy.
“We don’t know if those two guards were Mysteronised,” Blue reminded him.
“No – they weren’t.” Scarlet shook his head firmly.
“Okay, let’s move on then,” Blue said.
“Wait a minute, Captain,” Grey interjected. “You can’t be sure of that.”
Blue gave him a slight smile. “Scarlet’s sure, and that’s enough for me. Let’s find Rhapsody and try to stop Black leaving.”
“At least tell Destiny to patrol closer,” Grey reasoned. “The noise of the helijet will help cover our approach.”
“There’s no need for stealth,” Scarlet replied. “Black knows exactly where I am.” He glanced at the dark-haired American and saw the unease in his eyes. “But, if it makes you happy, call the helijet up. It’s a good idea,” he conceded as an afterthought.
Blue nodded and Grey contacted the Angel pilot with the new instructions.
By the time he had finished, Scarlet was hurrying towards a dark warehouse, with Blue in close pursuit. He checked his gun for the nth time and followed them as quickly as he could.
Nathan Ambrose watched Captain Black leave the vast open malt house and turned to look down at Rhapsody. He gazed at the beautiful young woman for a moment and then walked across to a small metal ladder leading to a mezzanine floor that ran half way around the room. At one end, a door led out into another part of the building and beside it stood a control panel.
Ambrose automatically knew which buttons to press to start the giant machine into motion. The electric motors growled into action and a deep rumble started in the distance. It came closer and Rhapsody screamed in surprise as a jet of water burst from an overhead pipe and a mash of barley and hot water began to fill the cylinder. She knew very little about distilling, but she’d already come to the conclusion that the faint, yet distinctive, aroma in the air was probably connected to the production of whisky. There were plenty of local distilleries in the area they were visiting, and it was something Paul had been looking forward to – a tour to sample the local produce. She suspected she was imprisoned in a vat of some kind and jumped to her feet as the liquid poured down on her.
“Let me out!” she screamed and tried unsuccessfully to clamber up the sheer sides of her prison. She slipped back into the water, and realised that it was already over her ankles and rising rapidly. She bit her knuckle and tried to think of a way out; the mash would be over her head before it reached the rim of the vat, and she wasn’t sure she could stay afloat in it.
Suddenly she heard a loud ‘whumph’ from beneath her feet and realised gas jets had ignited to heat the liquid to boiling point. She drew in a shaky breath and bit back a sob as tears flooded into her eyes. In desperation, she thumped her fists on the metal walls, shouting and yelling, although she had no real expectation that there was anyone close by enough to hear.
As the lethal golden stream reached her waist, she began to sob, exhausted by her exertions and by a growing fear. “Paul!” she screamed with all of her remaining strength. “Paul!”
Outside, Captain Scarlet held up his hand and demanded silence from his companions. They stood still, straining to hear whatever he had.
“Come on, she’s in here!” Scarlet cried, and darted away towards the largest shed of all.
Before Blue and Grey could follow him inside, they heard gunshots.
Ambrose was perched on the high rise walkway, with a clear view of the door. He fired as soon as he saw it open – a mistake that gave Scarlet the chance to leap aside and the bullet whizzed past him, burying itself in the wall.
He drew his gun and fired back, more to give himself cover than to hit his assailant. He ran forward, darting behind one of the metal vats. A bullet zinged off the side, echoing through the vast room.
“Dianne”” he yelled. “Where are you?” From the other side of the room, at the far end of the line of three vats, he heard her calling. “I’m coming!” he shouted, “Hold on, darling!”
Blue and Grey had reached his side and Grey was laying down a stream of covering fire, effectively pinning Ambrose down on the walkway by the control panel.
“She’s in that vat. I have to get her out,” Scarlet told his partner. “Can you try to turn off the liquid?”
Blue nodded. “Keep me covered, Captain,” he said, laying a hand on Grey’s shoulder.
“S.I.G,” Grey acknowledged the order and paused to reload his gun. “Move when ready.”
Scarlet and Blue scattered. Scarlet moved round the vat and darted to the next one down the line, and around that one before Ambrose realised where he’d gone. Blue went in the opposite direction back out of the door. He’d seen a staircase on the way in, and gambled that it led to the walkway above the malting house vats.
As Scarlet reached the final vat, he realised that he’d have to cross a wide, open corridor between the rows, to gain access to the short metal stairway that gave access to the open vats. He waited until Grey started another barrage of shots and raced for all he was worth across the divide. He felt the sting of a bullet as it entered his calf muscle and staggered to the floor. Grasping his leg, he half-hobbled, half-crawled to the stairs and began to drag himself up.
Inside the vat, Rhapsody was struggling to keep her head above the increasingly hot water. Steam was rising from the sweet-smelling mash, and a froth forming on the surface. Her foot slipped as she bounced up and down to stay afloat, and she sank into the liquid. Thrashing her arms to keep away from the hot sides and bottom of the metal copper, as she broke the surface she sobbed out one word: “Paul.”
It was a miracle.
He was there, reaching over the rim and stretching a hand down towards her.
“Here, grab my hand.”
She struggled towards him, but couldn’t reach high enough to touch him. Sobbing, she sank back below the surface.
Scarlet looked around for something to anchor himself to, and grabbed the metal support bar of the huge whisk. He edged across the seething liquid and when Rhapsody surfaced again, called to her.
She looked up, surprised to see him so close and managed to reach one hand out towards him. He edged closer, leaning down perilously close to the surface and grabbed her slender hand in his. The muscles in his arm and shoulders bulged with the effort of trying to lift the exhausted woman out of the mash, but he couldn’t get enough leverage. Instead, he edged back towards the rim, pulling her with him.
Rhapsody screamed. “It’s boiling hot! I can’t get close to it! I won’t!” She struggled and he nearly lost her.
“I won’t let you touch it. It’s insulated outside – quite cool. If I lift you, can you grab the rim?” She shook her head, already beyond helping herself. “Dianne, my darling, please, you have to help me,” he pleaded.
He could see that she was on the edge of consciousness and realised she had no strength to pull herself up. He screamed a curse into the fetid air. “I won’t lose you!”
He became aware of a figure moving closer to the rim of the vat, and turned angry eyes towards it, expecting to see the gloating face of Captain Black or Nathan Ambrose. To his surprise he saw Captain Blue.
“Bring her here,” his partner said, divining the problem with a swift glance and moving alongside the beam Scarlet was lying on. “I’ll lift her out once I have her.”
Scarlet struggled to move back along the narrow beam, pulling the now-unconscious Dianne towards the side. Blue leant over and reached down as far as he could. With the last vestiges of his strength Scarlet managed to lift her head and shoulders clear of the liquid and Blue grabbed her under the arms.
Seeing her safe in his friend’s arms, Scarlet let go of her hand, and rested momentarily. Glancing back, he saw Blue struggling to lift the sodden woman from the vat – even the big American’s strength was barely enough. Afraid that Blue would drop her, Scarlet started to slither back, just as Grey appeared beside Blue, and lent his strength to the task. Scarlet watched anxiously as the two men hauled the inert figure from the boiling water.
Once Rhapsody was lifted clear and over the rim, the two captains examined her anxiously.
Scarlet heard Blue’s voice calling, “She’s alive. Just unconscious. She may have been scalded...”
“Thank the Lord,” Scarlet breathed and collapsed back along the metal bar to rest.
He barely had time to draw breath. The automatic process Ambrose had started was still in progress, and with a jolt that shook the building, the huge whisk began to move, lowering itself into the mash and slowly starting to revolve, each individual metal arm rotating around the main spindle which also moved around the vat, driven by solid metal gear wheels.
Scarlet slipped and grabbed the nearest handhold, a threshing arm branching from the spindle. With a despairing wail, he was dragged into the boiling water.
“Frigging Hell!” Blue screamed, jumping to his feet a second too late to grab his friend. “We have to get him out!” He leant over the rim, peering through the steam for any sign of his friend.
Grey laid Rhapsody’s head gently down on the walkway, and ran back, past the bullet-riddled body of Nathan Ambrose, to study the control panel. He was conscious of Blue’s loud exhortations that he hurry up. He found what he hoped was an emergency stop button, and pressed it.
“Has it stopped?” he yelled.
“Yes, but Paul must be pinned down by this frigging mixer! I can’t see him, Brad.”
“I’ll see if I can find the button to make it retract,” Grey promised and renewed his examination of the control panel. Why don’t they put some labels on these things? he thought as his frustration mounted.
Blue had raced down to floor level from the lower walkway, and he was examining the underside of the vat. Grey had managed to turn the gas jets off, but the temperature gauge said the liquid inside the vat was still at boiling point.
“There has to be a way for this to be drained out,” Blue muttered, but his examination found nothing. “What the hell,” he snapped and drew his pistol. “There’s no whisky on Earth worth a man’s life.” He fired several shots into the vat; the bullets pierced the metal and boiling liquid spurted out. He stepped out of its way and continued firing until he was out of bullets.
Grey joined him and emptied his gun into the vat as well. Blue sprinted back and peered into the vat. The water level was slowly sinking and the malt house floor was awash with the steaming liquid.
“Some of the holes are clogging up,” Grey warned him in alarm.
Cursing, Blue spun around looking for something that would clear the blockage. He saw a large wooden paddle hanging on a nearby wall and yanked it down. Returning to the vat he leant perilously over the rim and dragged it round the side where the holes were.
“That’s done it; it’s flowing again,” Grey said, relief flooding his voice. “But you’ll have to keep doing that, Blue.”
Blue’s back and shoulder muscles were aching from the strain long before he saw the first sign of Scarlet’s body: the vibrant flame-coloured sweater, trapped beneath an arm of the whisk. As the water was now no more than thigh high – or so he estimated – he lowered himself into the vat, and gritting his teeth as the water soaked into his uniform and stung his hands, struggled to untangle Scarlet’s body from the threshing arms. Finally, he dragged the corpse from the sludge formed by the dregs of the mash that coated the bottom of vat, and between them he and Grey got their friend out of the vat and onto the walkway.
Captain Grey laid Scarlet’s dead body beside Rhapsody and turned to help the bedraggled Blue to scramble up the side, and back to safety. They rested against the vat and Blue pushed his radio cap back from his forehead, exhaling deeply.
Grey gave a silent snort of laughter, as the adrenalin finally faded from his system. “It’s a good job Paul likes whisky,” he said flippantly. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if he never touched a drop again.”
Blue shook his head. “Oh, I hope not. You see, I had a word with his mother about what to get him for his birthday, and you’ll never guess which brand of malt whisky she recommended.”
His friend gave him a look of slightly hysterical disbelief, “You have to be having me on…”
“You reckon?” Blue rolled his eyes and grimaced.
Grey grinned. “Well, you can always drink it yourself; except of course, that you don’t drink. Well, not much anyway,” he amended, as Blue began to dispute his assertion.
Grey’s epaulettes flashed and Destiny’s voice interrupted their banter.
“Captain Grey? I cannot contact Captain Blue. What is happening? Have you found Rhapsody?”
“It’s okay, Destiny. Rhapsody’s safe and so is Scarlet. Blue’s comms circuit has probably just shorted out. He’s been paddling…”
Destiny interrupted his rambling. “What shall I do about Captain Black? He is now taking off in the helicopter. I could try to shoot him down.”
Grey glanced at Blue and relayed the information; as the Field Commander, the final decision rested with him.
Blue had no doubts about what must happen. “Tell Destiny to inform Doctor Fawn that he’ll have two incoming wounded, and she can fly them straight back to Cloudbase. Leave Captain Black to the Angel squadron. Tell Angel One to liaise directly with Captain Ochre and the ground forces about recovering the bacteria and – and this would be a bonus – apprehending Captain Black.”
Grey nodded and repeated the orders.
“S.I.G,” Destiny replied, a strong hint of disappointment in her voice, “but for once I could have wish I was on Angel One duty!”
Harmony Angel acknowledged the order passed on by Destiny and glanced at the coordinates her colleague had transmitted.
“Angel One to Angel flight: Captain Black is travelling in a civilian helicopter, code-marked ‘ScotsAir M236’. This craft must be prevented from reaching its destination – believed to be Katania. Attack pattern, delta 5.”
“S.I.G.,” Melody drawled in response.
“SI.G., Angel One,” Symphony replied before asking, “Any news about the mission team?”
“Destiny tells me everyone is going to be all right, Symphony.”
“That’s good news, Angel One.”
“Sure is,” Melody cut in. “Now, let’s see if we can’t bring this all to a successful conclusion and bring that chopper down where we can capture Captain Black and salvage the bacteria.”
Captain Black was making good progress towards the coast when he saw the distant shape of a sleek, white, delta-winged Angel Interceptor approaching from the west. The civilian chopper was no match for an Angel Jet and although he pressed the machine to its maximum speed, he was already aware that his escape plan had failed. He had been rather surprised that the Spectrum helijet hadn’t attacked, but had put it down to the Spectrum Agents’ concern for their wounded. Even now he realised Scarlet’s body and the injured Rhapsody would be on their way to Cloudbase.
He gave a rueful smile and sat back in the pilot’s seat.
CAPTAIN BLACK, THE EARTHMEN ARE CLOSING IN. THIS PART OF THE MISSION IS OVER.
The Mysterons’ orders will be obeyed.
Black felt the familiar tingling sensation that accompanied his Masters’ act of dematerialising him to allow them to transport him away from danger. He closed his eyes and the last thing he saw was the first of the three jets swooping down on the helicopter, guns blazing.
Doctor Fawn emerged from the medical room where he had been examining Rhapsody, to be met by a trio of concerned people.
“How is she, Doctor?” Colonel White asked. He had come down from the Control Room when the helijet with his wounded officers aboard had arrived back. There was a growing sense of relief aboard the base that the mission had been successfully completed. Captain Ochre had reported from the crash site that the vial that had contained the bacteria was smashed, and its contents, such as they were, had been isolated and placed in a containment field. But there was no sign of Captain Black.
Beside him, Destiny Angel clenched her hands together under her chin, and Fawn could see the rosary chain dangling from them.
“She’ll be all right,” the doctor replied, smiling as he saw the relief that flooded into the assembled faces. “She’s regained consciousness, is aware of what happened to her, but not quite how she was rescued, although she did ask if Captain Scarlet was here. I told her he was, and gave her a sedative which should keep her asleep until he’s well enough to tell her all about it himself.”
Destiny smiled for the first time since she’d seen her friend carried aboard the helijet by Captain Grey.
Not wishing to make light of the seriousness of the young Angel pilot’s condition, Fawn continued, “If she’d been in there a minute longer, it would have been far more serious. As it is, she’ll be in intensive care for a week or so, and even after that she’ll need plenty of rest.”
“Whatever time you think necessary to ensure her complete recovery will be authorised, of course,” the colonel assured him.
“She may as well go home for a while, but I’ll keep her here until I’m sure she’s all right.”
Colonel White nodded. Doctor Fawn’s attention to the detailed welfare of the personnel under his care was well known and greatly appreciated by the staff on Cloudbase.
Captain Grey asked, “How’s Captain Scarlet? It’s been a long time for him to be unconscious; I mean, I kind of expected him to be up and about by now. Especially as Blue said he came round so quickly after they found him drowned in the loch. Is he going to be all right, Doc?”
Fawn scratched his neck and shrugged slightly. “I suspect he wasn’t a hundred percent recovered when he toppled into the vat; and that might account for the delay in his recovery this time. After all, total immersion in boiling water for so long is invariably fatal, even if he hadn’t drowned again.”
Grey’s dark brows sank over his eyes in a concerned frown. “Yes, I guess so. That just didn’t occur to me in so many words.”
“Do you mean he was boiled alive, Doctor?” Destiny asked, her voice quavering and her beautiful eyes awash with tears. Fawn knew that - some years before they joined Spectrum – she and Scarlet had been lovers, and they had remained close friends even though the romance was long over.
He took pity on the young woman and tried to temper his concern. “Well, you know retrometabolism isn’t an exact science, Destiny, but I’m not worried about him just yet, and nor should you be.”
“That’s excellent news, Doctor,” Colonel White said, and his companions nodded.
“He was very burned when Blue carried him to the helijet,” Destiny said. “More than Rhapsody.”
“Yes he was, but I’d lay odds that he’s going to be fine as well.” Fawn reassured her. He gave a deep intake of breath and added, “You know Blue is in there with him? They both have this superstition that it helps Scarlet recover if someone he knows is talking to him. I can’t say I believe it, but it does no harm. Anyway, because of that, I relayed the good news about Rhapsody to Captain Blue over the intercom before I came out of the examination room, and I have no doubt Blue will have passed the message on to Scarlet. If I know my man, that’ll be enough to help matters along.”
Grey nodded. “He was very worried about her and risked his own life to save hers. I think he’d heard Blue say she was alive before he fell into the vat, but I can’t be quite sure about that.”
“Captain Scarlet is a very valiant man,” Destiny said. “He would help any of us if we were in danger.”
Grey nodded again and glanced at the colonel. Jeopardising the success of a mission to save a colleague was against the regulations, but everyone knew it was done. The only problem was that they could not always be sure the colonel would turn a blind eye to it. Every officer knew that the ‘Old Man’s’ bark was worse than his bite, but there were times when he had to play strictly by the rules.
White drew a deep breath. “I know we can always count on Captain Scarlet doing his best - for everyone and on every mission he undertakes,” he said, with a significant glance at his subordinates. “In this case, he was, strictly speaking, off-duty, and it was quite natural for him to wish to protect his companion. I am sure we are all grateful he was able to participate in defeating the Mysterons’ latest threat.”
Fawn smiled. “That’s right, Colonel.” He understood that the commander-in-chief believed that, even though it subverted the regulations, the loyalty and trust between the elite officers was a vital aspect of Spectrum’s success.
“Yeah,” Grey agreed quickly, glad to seize the escape route he was offered. “It was our lucky day when Gibbons decided to meet his ‘buyer’ where Scarlet decided to take a vacation.”
Changing the subject, Fawn continued, “Although Captain Scarlet continues to demonstrate that he is virtually indestructible, we don’t know enough about his ‘gift’ to be certain that he’s going to recover from everything that happens to him, every time something happens. Still, on this particular occasion, I think I’m right in saying that the Gaelic words for whisky translate as ‘water of life’ and Scarlet must’ve drunk a bellyful, so the odds were always in his favour, and I’m sure he’ll soon be right as rain.”
The trio gave a polite chuckle.
The colonel was about to speak again, when the door of a nearby examination room – the one kept exclusively for Captain Scarlet’s use – opened and Captain Blue’s head emerged.
“Oh, hi, Doc. He’s awake and he’s complaining. He wants to know why he has to stay in this room, with nothing to look at except my ‘ugly mug’, when he could be recuperating alongside Rhapsody, and he’s asking if it is now medical policy aboard Cloudbase to starve him to death…”
Fawn gave an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes. “See, I told you he’d be fine,” he said to the colonel.
Realising his commanding officer was present for the first time, Blue gave a sheepish smile, emerged from the room. Carefully keeping his back to the door, and saluted. He was wearing a standard, back-fastening, medical gown, which barely reached down to his knees, and was barelegged and barefoot. He was officially on the sick list as well due to the scalding on his hands, which had been treated by the senior nurse and slipped into some protective padded mittens, so that he looked like he had boxing gloves on. But Nurse Ingram had also insisted on examining him for any additional scalding, and had made him strip off so she could examine his arms and legs, although they proved to be largely unscathed, thanks to the protection afforded by his uniform.
Without hesitation she had disposed of the waterlogged boots in the internal garbage chute, and was of the opinion that the pale-blue tunic, black sweater and trousers should follow them, as it was touch and go if the odour of the barley mash could ever be eradicated. However, at his request, she had agreed to ask the laundry service to see what they could do, and had removed the offending garments from Scarlet’s room, leaving Blue with no option but to continue to wear the medical gown.
Colonel White suppressed the smile generated by Destiny’s boldly appraising glance at the rapidly-blushing Bostonian, and acknowledged his officer’s somewhat unorthodox salute with solemnity.
Fawn turned back to Blue and replied, “When Rhapsody wakes up, and if she wants to see his ‘ugly mug’, I will see what I can arrange. Until then he’ll have to make do with my word that’s she’s fine.” Blue grinned and nodded. Fawn continued, “I suppose he wants his usual ‘recovery’ menu?”
Blue was nodding his head again when faintly, through the partly open door, came the fervent response:
“Of course I do – with all the trimmings! After all, in case you’ve all forgotten, today is my birthday!”
When Captain Black became conscious of his surroundings once more, he was in a dark alleyway, and when he emerged into the brightly-lit street he instinctively knew it was one of the main central thoroughfares of Katania. He walked aimlessly through the deserted streets, waiting for the orders that would tell him what to do next to be relayed by the Mysterons.
It was in these blurred intermissions between his assignments, that the bruised and bloodied remnants of his humanity stirred deep within his tortured and fractured mind. As he walked, he experienced the sensations of a primitive, intrinsic folk memory: a sense of inclusion, of optimism - of the elusive promise of benevolent, altruistic kindness that Christmas generated. For one brief moment, the Spirit of Christmas touched the ruined, hopeless heart of Conrad Turner.
He reached the big central shopping plaza and strolled past the shop windows proclaiming the approach of Christmas – the season of goodwill to all men. As he passed a gaily-decorated Christmas tree outside one big department store, he dared to hope his orders wouldn’t come until after Christmas…
The thought had hardly crossed his mind before he suddenly became aware of a weighty bulge in the pocket of his long, leather jacket. He drew out a small vial of glutinous gel. For a brief moment it glowed green.
He held the fate of Katania in his hand.
CAPTAIN BLACK, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU MUST DO.
A casual observer might have imagined a hint of sadness in the obedient response: The Mysterons’ orders will be obeyed.
Paul Metcalfe’s birthday comes so close to Christmas that it almost certainly gets over looked in the excitement. For that reason, I like to try to write a dedicated birthday story for him, although inevitably, it does stray into the area of a Christmas story at times.
This story is meant to be about Captain Scarlet’s birthday.
Although there are many distilleries around Inverness and Speyside, there isn’t a ‘Gailbhinn Distillery’ in Scotland, or anywhere else, as far as I know. I chose the word from an online Gaelic dictionary (http://www.ceantar.org/Dicts/MB2/mb19.html) and it means ‘a great rough hill’. While I’m at it, for those who don’t know, the word ‘whisky’ derives from uisge, which is an abbreviation of uisge beatha, the Scots Gaelic for 'Water of Life'. It was first used in the 18th century. Before then people referred to ‘usquebaugh’ or ‘aqua vitae’ (the Latin for 'Water of Life').
I am not that conversant with whisky manufacture to be entirely sure that the events in the story could actually happen, but, if they could happen, it is more then likely that they would happen to Captain Scarlet, who is – as we frequently read in fan fiction – notoriously accident prone, especially on festivals and holidays such as Halloween!
He always bounces back though!
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler for agreeing to beta read my narrative, when she should have been working on her own stories! Any mistakes, misunderstandings or downright inaccuracies are entirely mine.
As ever, my thanks to Chris Bishop as well. Where would we all be without her marvellous website and forum?
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ belong to Carlton International, I think. I am certain that series was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, with the help of the talented people who made the show, to entertain children in 1967. It is still entertaining children – young and old – in 2007, which is a testament to their skill and talent.
So, with a final ‘thank you’ to you for reading this, I wish Captain Scarlet ‘Slainte Mhor’ and a very Happy 40th Birthday….
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site