Chapter 1: This is the voice.
Two rings of blue light appeared on the console next to Captain Green and began to move slowly across the surface. Paul let out a groan at the sight.
“This is the voice of the Mysterons.” The deep, slow voice surrounded everyone in Cloudbase.
Paul fell forward in his chair, his head connecting loudly with the desk as he groaned with greater emphasis.
“We know that you can hear us, Earth Men.” The voice continued.
“Oh my GOD!” Paul folded his arms over his head.
“Our vengeance continues for your attack on our city.”
Paul sat back up suddenly, his blue eyes wild and bloodshot.
“It was nearly 300 years ago, you psychopaths!” Paul yelled.
Rhapsody and Harmony exchanged glances and backed away from the outburst.
“In three days, we will destroy the water supply for New York City.”
The blue rings faded as the message ended. Paul was staring at the ceiling as if in a trance. A moment of uncomfortable silence passed with everyone looking anywhere but at Paul.
Colonel White shook herself and squared her shoulders, time to do what she did best.
“Well team, you heard them. We’ve got three days to prevent this attack. Captain Green, I need you to access the schematics for New York’s water system. Rhapsody, Harmony, the Angels are to cancel all non-urgent flights, you’ll need to be available at immediate notice. Captain Magenta, give orders to move Cloudbase to 400 miles east of New York City. Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet, with me to the briefing room. Everyone got that?”
“S.I.G.” They replied in unison.
As Colonel White stood and turned towards the briefing room, a flurry of activity broke out in the control room. The bright Spectrum agents set to task knowing that the fate of millions of people depended on them, yet again.
Colonel White seated herself at one end of the conference table and motioned for the two men to join her. Captain Blue had the nervous mannerisms of a rookie, being overly deferential to Captain Scarlet and following his lead too closely. Paul practically fell into a seat, his scarlet uniform was crumpled and faded. Colonel White hadn’t noticed just how scruffy he’d become as his descent into apathy had been so gradual. Like boiling frogs, Spectrum hadn’t recognised the signs of stress and fatigue in Captain Scarlet until it was too obvious to miss. This new threat would only delay the attention that he clearly needed.
“Paul, have you been introduced to the new Captain Blue yet?” Colonel White asked.
“We met briefly in the mess hall this morning. I hadn’t realised the position would be filled so quickly.”
Colonel White winced at the edge in his voice. This was a neon sign for the nosedive that his conduct had taken today. The position had only been vacant for a week since the previous Captain Blue had perished in action. Paul had been partnered with numerous agents holding the title of Captain Blue over his years of service, some had retired, some had been promoted, and some had died in service. He knew the score when it came to filling empty positions. There was always an eager, fresh agent ready to make the jump to Cloudbase.
So why, mused Colonel White, why did this personnel change seem to bother him so much more than usual?
“As usual, you two will be partnered.” She moved the briefing on quickly, apparently ignoring the verbal barb from her subordinate. “I’m going to need you on the ground. Liaise with the Spectrum office in New York for vehicles and supplies. There’ll be a transport ready for you as soon as we reach our new coordinates. Understood?”
“S.I.G.” Captain Blue fired off a speedy salute with his response.
Captain Scarlet opened his mouth to object but the Colonel cut him off.
“While you’re preparing, Captain Scarlet, I expect you to obtain a new uniform from stores. Don’t dishonour the organisation.”
Through visibly gritted teeth, Captain Scarlet gave the customary reply. “S.I.G. Colonel.”
Colonel White knew that she would have to have a hard conversation with Captain Scarlet upon his return. She just hoped that she could find the words to use when reprimanding a highly decorated, well respected, and apparently immortal man.
Chapter 2: Down To Earth
Paul fidgeted in his seat, trying to ease the irritation caused by stiff, new fabric against his skin. Beside him, Captain Blue had appeared to be on the verge of speaking for over twenty minutes, yet no sound escaped him. The two men were strapped into the transport and speeding towards a landing site arranged by the New York Spectrum office.
“My name is Kyle, by the way. We actually met at the Montreal field office a few months ago but I’m sure you don’t remem-”
“Your name is Kyle Murphy, you’re 26 years old. You were born in Saskatoon to three mothers in a polyamorous triad. Your family soon moved to a commune and you consider yourself to have over a dozen parents. You joined Spectrum Cadets as a young teenager and began training to become an agent as soon as you turned 18. You’ve always idolised the Scarlet role and hoped to one day hold that position. You’ve been in a relationship with your non-binary partner, Rain, since the Academy. Yes, Captain Blue, I remember you.”
“Well, I mean, I didn’t, umm.” Captain Blue faltered and trailed off.
Paul turned to look at the young man.
“You didn’t know that there has only ever been one Captain Scarlet. You didn’t know that I’m 325 years old. It’s OK, no one does outside of Cloudbase or Spectrum high command. It’s a closely guarded secret.” Paul softened in the face of Kyle’s obvious distress.
“I just wanted to say that I’m honoured to be partnered with you. I didn’t get a say in when I started the job.” He looked ashamed of himself nonetheless.
An uncomfortable silence rested between them. Paul felt like he’d kicked a puppy, seeing the expression on his partner’s face. He hated knowing as much as he did about Kyle, he hated that he could recall every word that had ever been spoken to him and every line he’d ever read. He had stopped trying to get to know the various people who had held the title of Captain Blue early on. It hurt him too much to lose them, whether to old age or in the line of duty. But here he was, faced with his thirtieth partner and nothing had changed.
A beep from the console alerted the men to a message from Cloudbase. The schematics were being sent to them with some notes from Captain Green on likely weaknesses that the pair should investigate. Captain Blue used his suddenly lifelike hands to manipulate the display, enlarging an area of vulnerability for inspection.
“This appears to be the most likely approach for the Mysterons, Captain Scarlet.”
Paul raised his eyebrows in an involuntary display of surprise.
“You’re right, kid. That’s exactly where they’ll strike. Good instinct.”
“Thanks. But how can you be so sure?” Captain Blue was suspicious of the confidence Captain Scarlet had. He could shrug off being called a kid by an immortal.
Captain Scarlet eyed his new partner carefully, making a snap decision on whether or not to trust him with the whole truth.
“The thing is, for a sentient supercomputer race, the Mysterons are really not that inventive. Almost every threat is recycled these days and they vary very little from the first attempt.” Paul gave him a moment to absorb the information before continuing. “They will take control of a supervisor in order to get access to the water system. An explosive device will be placed at the location you identified, the detonation of which will block off enough water flow to cause an excessive build up of pressure at these points.” He indicated a number of areas on the schematic with his realistic fingers.
“Ah yes, I see. That would destroy the whole system!”
Paul nodded in affirmation.
“Exactly. We should still investigate for other possible leads, but so far they haven’t deviated from their original plans. At least, this way I shouldn’t have to run another suicide mission.”
Paul saw the younger man pale.
“Me, not you. I’ve died countless times. Countless.” His voice was cold again.
Any further conversation was made impossible by the landing of their transport.
Chapter 3: The Folly of Mysterons
Captain Scarlet had been right. The Mysterons did not deviate from their plan, allowing the Spectrum agents to anticipate their every move. The cloned plant supervisor was quickly apprehended with no chance to plant the explosive. Captain Blue gave a thorough debrief to Colonel White from their SPV whilst Captain Scarlet dosed the captive clone with a sedative to knock him out for transport to Cloudbase. Doctor Fawn would be able to restore the man’s consciousness and mortality in a few hours, allowing him to take up his human life as if nothing had happened. Paul envied him.
“Colonel White passes on her congratulations for a job well done.” Captain Blue had stepped out of the SPV, his communicator was still in the process of flipping back to his cap brim as Paul glanced at him. “Her orders are for you to stay here and watch out for any secondary attacks and I’m to transport the captive to Cloudbase. Captain Ochre will be joining you here shortly in order to assist you.”
Paul nodded his understanding and Captain Blue continued.
“I didn’t mention what you told me about them repeating the attacks. I hope that was the right thing.”
His need for Paul’s approval was clear in his voice and on his face. Paul felt a pang in his heart, involuntarily recalling every time a rookie Captain Blue had used that tone.
“Yeah, you did good.” Paul clapped the younger man on the shoulder.
As he watched the transport take off and return to Cloudbase, Captain Scarlet reminded himself that Kyle wasn’t to blame for the situation he found himself in. He thought back to his first partner at Spectrum; Adam. The man had been born to wear the uniform of Captain Blue, and no one had been happier than Paul to see his buddy promoted to Colonel White’s role following the retirement of their first commander. He’d done a fine job leading Spectrum, but Paul had had to watch his best friend age, lose his strength and succumb to the march of time in a way that Paul himself would never experience. Adam had often expressed his jealousy of Paul’s thick, black hair, his unending youth, and extended life. Paul wondered if Adam would feel the same if he could see his life now. The pang in his heart had turned to a lead weight that sat heavy in his chest as he drove the SPV back to the water treatment plant.
Captain Scarlet set himself up in a back office at the plant, every camera he’d installed in the place fed into screens in front of him. Captain Ochre was walking a patrol and checking in with various employees on his route. As confident as Paul was that there wouldn’t be a second attempt, he wasn’t about to let complacency be what let the Mysterons destroy the lives of millions of people. He watched Captain Ochre progress around the facility, content that he was carrying out a thorough sweep.
“Captain Scarlet, this is Colonel White. Come in.”
The mic arm descended from his cap peak for his response.
“This is Captain Scarlet, go ahead Colonel.”
“Doctor Fawn has just reported that the civilian has been successfully reconditioned.” Paul bit his tongue to keep back the snide comment he wanted to make. “However, she reports that the civilian is asking if we’ve found the bomb yet. It appears that the explosive device is at a drop point and hadn’t been retrieved yet.”
“We do not have the device at this time, Colonel. What intel do we have on the drop point?”
“Lieutenant Indigo is sending you the coordinates now. Captain, the device may be armed. Time is of the essence.”
“S.I.G.” Captain Scarlet closed the comms channel before he told the Colonel exactly what he thought of her warning.
He remembered her first day on Cloudbase as Symphony Angel all those years ago, even if she didn’t. He’d seen the progression of her entire career with Spectrum, every high and low. He bristled at taking advice from someone who was essentially a toddler to him.
The location information appeared on a display in front of him, the drop point was a fair distance away from the plant, near the harbour. He relayed the update to Captain Ochre and headed out to the SPV. If the device was set to go off according to the original schedule, he wouldn’t have much time to disarm it.
Luckily, the drop point was exactly as described and the access code hadn’t been changed. Paul eased the device out of the secret compartment in the mailbox and checked it over. It was armed but appeared to be a fairly simple model. He was confident that he would be able to disarm it in the SPV. He concealed it under his arm and began to walk briskly back to the vehicle, not wanting to cause any further alarm than a fully uniformed Spectrum Captain would normally cause. A rumbling noise drew his attention to the device, the detonation sequence had been triggered, Captain Scarlet had been too late! He knew from experience that the device would take sixty seconds to detonate from this point.
Looking around, there was nowhere safe for a controlled explosion. Even in the reinforced chassis of the SPV, the blast could cause multiple injuries to civilians. Paul saw his only chance and, with a sinking feeling in his stomach, he took it.
“Get out of the way!” He yelled as he took off at a sprint towards the water. The crowds of people parted, opening a clear path for the man in red. With the bomb under his arm like a rugby ball, he charged forwards, reaching the harbour wall and vaulting it. He landed in the water and swam as fast as he could out from land, using the weight of the device to pull him below the surface. He needed as much water as possible to be between the explosion and the city. Depth would help but wasn’t enough on its own. Paul pushed through the water with every ounce of strength in his body until his muscles screamed for oxygen and his lungs were red hot with agony. His grip on the bomb never faltered.
Chapter 4: Aftermath
Hours later, after the sun had set and the crowds dispersed, as the news cycle had begun to tire of the looped footage released by Spectrum, a lone figure emerged from the water. Exhausted, naked, and chilled to his core, Paul crawled a short distance up the slipway and collapsed. Captain Ochre stepped out of the shadows and draped a blanket over his colleague’s shoulders.
“Can you stand?”
“I think so.” Paul pushed himself up on to his knees, wrapping the blanket around him as he moved.
Captain Ochre ducked his head under Paul’s arm and helped him to his feet.
“The SPV is just at the top of this slipway. One step at a time, Paul.” The concern in his voice was clear.
Captain Scarlet welcomed the support, glad that it came from Captain Ochre; a good man and excellent field agent as well as the closest thing that Paul had to a friend these days. Captain Ochre had become his unofficial recovery lead these past few years, often being the first face that Paul saw or the first voice that he heard after a catastrophic event. His brand of compassion never crossed into pity, or worse, envy.
“Just a few more steps, old man.”
“Thank you, Henri.”
Captain Ochre’s smile beamed into the darkness as he laughed, white teeth exposed from behind dark lips.
“I’m glad to see that I’m still immune to your foul moods!” Henri chuckled. “I doubt our new Captain Blue would have got much more than a grunt from you.”
Paul groaned. “You heard about what happened at Cloudbase?”
“Yeah, you know what a gossip Captain Green is.” They reached the SPV and paused the conversation while Captain Ochre eased Captain Scarlet into the vehicle.
“There’s a fresh uniform for you here when you’re ready. I’ve got hot tea in this flask, just how you like it. Are you going to let me take your vitals?”
“Let me warm up a bit first, yeah? No need to worry Doctor Fawn with readings from an icicle.”
Henri chuckled again and shut the door of the SPV. He poured a mug of tea for Paul and put it next to him. After a few minutes of silence, Paul allowed Captain Ochre to attach the sensors to his chest, wrist, and temple so his vital signs could be sent to Cloudbase and Doctor Fawn could rest assured that her favourite patient had made another full recovery.
“So, you feel like talking?” Captain Ochre had a way of opening up Captain Scarlet without making it feel like an intrusion.
Paul sighed and pulled the blanket around himself a little tighter.years
“I’m just tired, Henri. So very tired.” For a moment, Henri swore you could see all 325 years on Paul’s impossibly youthful face. “I thought I’d done all my grieving, gone through all my anger. I’ve had a long time to come to terms with my situation. But something about seeing the thirtieth face in that blue uniform just broke me.” He buried his face in his hands.
Henri reached forward and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Paul.” He said, softly.
Paul raked his fingers through his hair before looking up to meet Henri’s gaze.
“You might be immortal, but you’re still human. Everyone asks too much of you, including yourself. No one would blame you for retiring or taking a decade off. You’ve done more than enough already.”
Paul nodded slowly, turning over the possibility in his mind. A rest would be good. Then his thoughts turned to the events of today; if he had been sunning himself by a pool or seeing the sights in some far off corner of the world, who would have paid the price? He set his jaw and his face hardened at the thought. Henri sighed, recognising the signs.
“If I’m not here, someone else is. Someone else who won’t be as lucky as me. I can’t have that on my conscience.” Paul ignored the heavy pit in his gut, a small price to pay for the countless lives he’d saved.
Henri stood and took Paul’s face in his hands.
“Bless you, Captain Scarlet. You’re a better man than we deserve.” He placed a gentle kiss on Paul’s forehead and turned away, taking the driving seat of the SPV.
“Cloudbase, this is Captain Ochre. We’re returning to the transport now. ETA to Cloudbase is 0400. Over.”
Chapter 5: Reprimand
Colonel White deals with the only infinite resource in the universe: The stupidity of men.
The seed of a headache was taking root behind Colonel White’s eyes. She had scoured the personnel file for Captain Scarlet, read every log entry that mentioned him, and even called her predecessor for advice. There was simply no record of Captain Scarlet ever having received any kind of disciplinary action. She was on her own. One thing was for sure, though; she was going to include a thorough write up on this whole mess for the next Colonel to use!
The briefing room door slid open with a muted hiss.
“You wanted to see me, Colonel?”
She looked up to see Captain Scarlet in the doorway. At least he was looking appropriately smart again, clean shaven and in a fresh uniform.
“Yes, thank you. Come take a seat.” She watched him consider the room and decide to sit on the same side of the table as her, two spaces away. A good sign that he wasn’t feeling adversarial today, she hoped.
“How are you feeling, Captain?”
“Better after a decent sleep, thank you. Doctor Fawn is content that I’m back at peak fitness.”
Colonel White nodded and made a note on her tablet, letting the silence sit between them. She put down her pen, folded her hands on the table in front of her, and looked him in the eyes.
“So, what’s going on with you?”
Captain Scarlet sighed, a flash of vulnerability crossed his face and left only a resigned sadness creasing his brow. He looked down at his hands, fidgeting in his lap.
“I’ve got a dilemma, Colonel. Something I really don’t know how to solve.”
Her heart broke for him as she caught a glimpse of the toll this war had had on him, a fleeting impression of the man behind a centuries-old mask.
“I’m so tired.” He continued. “I’ve forgotten what it is to enjoy life, to laugh, to love. I’ve known only duty for so long that it’s worn me down. I know that I need a break, I need a chance to reconnect with my humanity, to be Paul Metcalfe for a while and not Captain Scarlet. I also know what might happen if I’m not here. I carry the memory of every agent who has died in the line of duty since the war began, I agonise over the details and my choices. Could I have done more? Should I have reacted differently? I can only sleep at night as it is because I know that at least I was there. At least I tried, y’know? If someone were to die whilst I was taking a vacation? How could I reconcile that in my own conscience? What if a situation like yesterday arose, and there were civilian casualties? I couldn’t carry the guilt of that. So I continue to sacrifice myself for the greater good, knowing that this war will never end and my part in it will only ever get more draining.”
Colonel White sat in stunned silence following Paul’s confession. She saw the exhaustion, the guilt, and the pain that he had been carrying with him for so long.
“Paul.” He looked up at her, revealing the barely contained tears welling in his eyes. “Have you ever had any kind of counselling or therapy from Spectrum?”
“Uh, yeah. I had a six week course back when Adam died.”
“Yes. The next time I asked, Spectrum said I’d used up my allocation.”
Colonel White put her face in her hands.
“Paul, did it ever occur to you to bring up this fact in the intervening 250 years?”
He looked taken aback by the edge in her voice.
“I mean, they said I’d had all I was allowed.”
“You.” She said, pinching the bridge of her nose in apparent disbelief. “You are an immortal being. You are the very definition of a special case! At this point, Spectrum would do pretty much anything you asked! I mean, you have no idea how scared the coordinators are of the idea of you leaving. If they knew that you didn’t even think you could ask for a vacation...” Colonel White trailed off at that thought.
She composed herself.
“I think the first thing you need is someone to talk to, professionally. I will arrange that for you. Ideally, you’ll then see that you are allowed to look after yourself and we’ll sort you out with some time off. I’ll even throw Captain Ochre into the bargain for you.”
The way that Captain Scarlet’s face suddenly matched his uniform told Colonel White that her instinct had been right.
“Thank you, Colonel. I don’t think that will be necessary for some time. Therapy sounds like a good idea for now, though.”
“I’ll get the wheels in motion right away. In the meantime, do you think you can keep a professional demeanour? Especially in Control?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“And I expect you in full dress uniform for the ceremony tomorrow, clean, pressed, and shined appropriately.”
“The medal presentation for Captain Puce. The details are in your inbox but he specifically requested that you present it. Don’t let him down, Paul.”
He couldn’t help but snicker. “What did Captain Puce do to earn a medal? Did he finally progress to big boy shoes?”
“Captain Scarlet!” Colonel White’s tone brought him to attention. “I will not have you disrespect him in my presence. Captain Puce is a war hero!”
If asked, she would deny any trace of a smirk on her face as she spoke those words.
“Thank you for your time, you are relieved of duty for the rest of today. Dismissed.”