Sometimes the bad guys win.
Crossover with (the original
1967 adventures of) 'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.'
where he had fallen, sprawled untidily across his bed. A shaft
of orange light pierced a gap in the curtain, signalling
another day gone already, another day lost. He watched the
beam track its way slowly across the room, illuminating the
faded blue of the carpet and turning it an ugly brown. He
shifted his eyes upwards, studied the ceiling rose. In another
life he might have drawn it, spent hours getting the light and
shadow just right. But he'd had to give that up, the drawing,
because everything kept coming out jagged and black. He closed
his eyes and drowsed for a time, poised upon the edge of
dream. Virgil dreamed poetry now, in amongst the shades of
things that once were.
woke he found the burning afternoon sun replaced by the cool
buzz of pink neon ghosting through the room. He lay in the
flickering dark, listened to the sounds of traffic on the
street below, lifted his arm and looked at his wristwatch. A
plain silver watch that told only the time. He dragged himself
from the bed, undressed and showered, lit a cigarette and
stared at himself under the hard fluorescent light. What did
he look like now? So difficult to judge in the flat surface of
the mirror. He turned his face to the right and then back
again. His hair was longer now, unruly, because he wanted to
hide himself behind it. He wanted to be the chain-smoking
lounge pianist, playing for money in the evenings and letting
women comb their fingers through his curling hair. His mouth
twisted. He'd had more women in his life as vagrant pianist
than he'd ever had as rich playboy.
He drew on
the cigarette and watched in the mirror as he exhaled. He
tried hard not to think about it, but the past was like sticky
tar that kept drawing him down. He'd spent all his life in
that past, struggling with the early mornings and regulation
haircuts. Forever building and working and thinking. But
Virgil had always preferred the nights and cigarettes for
breakfast. He wasn't like his brothers, who were born for
sunshine and regiment. Astronauts and pilots and aquanauts,
they were made for action, for giving and taking orders.
Virgil was made for turpentine and places where time didn't
matter. And so he finally had the life he always thought he
was made for, and he had the women and the cigarettes, but he
wanted that other life back. His brothers, the sun, the
endless blue sea.
his eyes, there in front of the mirror, and thought about his
sunshine brothers, thought about that last sun-bright day on
the island. On the back of his eyelids he could see Three
lifting heavenwards, a trail of flame piercing the blinding
blue sky. Alan and Gordon were on board, sent to collect John
so that Gaat might have them all together. But none of them
had returned. Gaat had smiled at that, another part of his
perfect plan falling into perfect place.
dropped the cigarette into the sink. Returning to the bedroom
he opened a drawer and removed a small box of cash. He counted
the bills and returned the box to the drawer. He'd never had
an intimate relationship with money before, never had to count
it and save it for the things he needed. But he managed, and a
few months after it had all fallen apart he saved enough to
hire a plane and return to the island. He hadn't known what
would happen, how Gaat might react. If this was yet another
part of the grand plan and Virgil was sliding right into it,
the predictable Virgil peg fitting neatly into the Virgil
hole. It was so hard to fight against somebody who was inside
your head, somebody who knew exactly what you were thinking
and what you were going to do. Virgil wondered, not for the
first time, how his father and Kyrano had so badly
underestimated Gaat for so long, how badly they had failed to
see how near the danger had become.
despite the fear that had coiled slick in his stomach, a great
serpent of quicksilver filling him up and twisting around and
around in its struggle to break free, Virgil had gone to the
island anyway. And in the end nothing had happened. He'd been
allowed to land, escorted to the villa and permitted to spend
the day with his father. And at the end of that day he'd been
allowed to leave again, unmolested.
worked harder, smiled at more women, collected more money and
returned to the island whenever he could. His father had
changed, an undistinguished beard concealing his expressive
mouth. He'd taken to roaming the island in tattered shorts,
his hard body weathered and tanned by the relentless tropical
sky. His father was a wild thing now, reshaped by the endless
torments of his captor. But he still smiled, still embraced
his son, still had hope that an end would come to all this,
somehow. But Virgil didn't know how, couldn't see his way past
the mire and the complexity and the constant need for secrecy
and more secrecy. And his father himself, insisting that he
could fix this. That if he couldn't Scott would. Scott, his
first born, his Superman. He could stop the earth spinning and
send them all back to a better time couldn't he, back to
before all of this. But Virgil knew things his father didn't
know. Scott had gone to fight another war and this island, and
the shining glory of International Rescue, was sinking into
myth and legend.
would watch his father's profile as he searched the endless
horizon for a sign of something. Anything. Hope, probably, was
floating out there somewhere. Jeff would ask if Virgil had
seen his brothers, and Virgil would say 'Only Alan, Dad.'
Virgil would talk about Alan's racing and his recklessness,
the buzz cut, the golden hair all gone. He would say how Alan
didn't look like his baby brother any more, he looked harder
and more like their father than Virgil had ever thought
possible. His father would sigh and ask again if he'd seen
Scott. 'Not since that time I told you,' Virgil would say.
Then his father would look at him, really look at him. 'Why
don't you get a haircut son?' he would ask, and Virgil would
look at his father's face. 'Why don't you?' And they'd snort
at the ridiculousness of it, that after all those years of
trimming and pomading and unholy neatness they'd end up like
this, on the beach.
chose a dark shirt and pants and put them on. He wore his
clothes tight now, closer to his skin, because it made him
feel safe, made him feel in control. He looked good despite
the unruly hair and unshaven face, and women, and occasionally
men, told him so. But Virgil dressed for work not play, and
kept his colours muted. He was no Cass Carnaby after all, he
was just a simple pianist playing in dark bars, dallying with
enough waitresses that he was spoiled for hot dinners. But
Virgil preferred the hard burn of scotch to food. He found it
dulled the memories that forever threatened to overwhelm him.
remembered his third visit to the island, when Gaat had
insisted he stay for dinner. Virgil was permitted to use his
old room to dress, since dinner was a formal affair and Virgil
must look nice for the occasion. He had stood in his room,
naked and dripping from the shower, and breathed the old
smells of paint, and of him. He fingered his possessions - the
paintbrushes, the aftershave, the television remote control.
He looked at the made bed, the open wardrobe. His clothes, too
large for him now, had waited patiently all this time, hanging
in nice neat rows. He smoothed his old suede vest, the one his
brothers hated, selected a white shirt and dark trousers and
raked a trembling hand through his hair.
in the formal dining room, the one the family had never used.
The windows were open to the sea and the setting sun, and Gaat
was resplendent in embroidered gold and manicured fingernails
as he postured at the head of the table. Jeff appeared in
tattered shorts and shirt, jostled along by one of Gaat's men.
Virgil wondered what life was like when he wasn't there.
Images came to him, all the horrors that his uncontrolled
imagination had presented in the months after he was forced to
leave his father behind, random nightmares from the jukebox in
his head. Jeff met Virgil's eyes over the stark white
tablecloth. Had his father always had those scars? Virgil
looked away, at the open sea, the orange sky.
conversation was stilted and driven by Gaat, who was
frightening in his magnanimity. Kyrano, bent and aged,
silently delivered dish after dish. Traditional Malaysian
fare, satay and rendang and nasi lemak. Things Kyrano had
cooked years and years ago, when he was new to his American
family and their apple pie and ice-cream.
had asked, 'how is life back in your country? How are your
brothers? Why do they not come to see their father?'
stared at the table, unwilling to step over the line that had
just been drawn. 'My brothers are all well,' he answered
finally, not looking at Gaat's face. But the line had been
crossed anyway. 'Liar,' said Gaat, and Virgil felt pressure
building in his head. 'You never see your brothers at all.
They don't seek you out. They don't care about their father.
And they don't care about you.'
flown home in the dark after that, with a headache that wasn't
from the wine.
midnight, as Virgil perched on a stool and smiled at a
dark-haired woman who was maybe old enough to be his type, an
unexpected shadow fell upon him. 'Excuse me,' the shadow said,
'Virgil Tracy?' Virgil blinked in surprise, half drunk already
and not quite sure why the earth had suddenly threatened to
tilt. 'Could you come with me?' the shadow said, gloved hand
on Virgil's shoulder. 'Um,' said Virgil, blinking at the blue
uniform. Not Scott. Scott doesn't wear blue anymore.
officer led him through the night, across the silent and empty
street. He was tall, taller than Virgil, straight and narrow
with yellow blond hair. 'I'm Captain Blue,' he said, his long
boots tapping on the pavement. 'Your brother is in the car.'
slowed, not sure again, suddenly uncertain. Captain Blue
sensed the hesitation and turned, studying Virgil as they
stopped beneath a street light. Virgil looked into his face
and was startled by bright eyes and an unexpected gentleness.
Virgil had to try hard to imagine this man fighting, killing.
But there, he could see it, the blood behind the steel blue
eyes. Virgil thought back to when Scott had joined Spectrum
and had come to him wearing a crisp new uniform and hiding
nothing behind his eyes. It was right, Virgil had realised
that day, what Scott had done, though Virgil hadn't wanted it.
He had wanted Scott to stay with him and fight their battle,
not somebody else's. But Scott needed a uniform. And Scott
needed a purpose.
A car door
opened and closed and Scott was there, all dark green Kevlar
and tight black wool. Scott had been broken, Virgil realised
with sudden and blinding clarity, and Spectrum had repaired
him and painted him the wrong colour, the colour of deep water
on a treacherous day. And they had given him a different name,
Captain Viridian, as rules and regulations required. So Virgil
followed rules and regulations and said it plainly as he
looked straight into Scott's eyes. 'Captain Viridian.'
Scott replied, hard and crisp and as brittle as Virgil's
breaking heart, and Captain Blue had the grace to look
uncomfortable if Scott didn't. Virgil waited, studying the
familiar lines of his brother's face, the square cut of
Scott's jaw as it set firmly against him. He wondered what
this Scott thought of him, if this viridian Scott loathed his
lack of focus and discipline, if he disdained Virgil's uncut
hair. And Scott looked back at him, dark eyes sternly roaming
Virgil's open face, looking for something maybe, something he
had hoped to find and couldn't. And then he spoke, this cool
you going to the island next?'
too drunk for this, he realised. Or not drunk enough. 'I don't
know. I don't have enough money right now.'
nodded. He withdrew a package from his vest and handed it to
Virgil. 'I need you to go.' His eyes darted briefly to Captain
Blue and then back to Virgil. 'I need you to give Father a
message. It's in the envelope.'
slid his fingers over the crisp bundle, measured the weight of
its contents as they stood in silence beneath the hard yellow
light, surrounded by the flicker and pulse of moths dying.
Virgil felt like he too was dying, his fluttering heart
impaled upon Scott's stony gaze. He floundered in the moment,
one more piece of him breaking away.
another word Scott turned and strode back to the red Spectrum
vehicle. 'I've seen John,' Virgil called suddenly to the
retreating figure. Scott paused for a moment at that, the
muscles of his face tightening before he took his seat in the
stood on the street a long time after they had gone, thinking.
Thinking he didn't want to go to the island anymore. He could
no longer face Gaat's sly innuendos and the palpable threat
that one day Gaat would never let him leave. Last time, when
he'd tried to leave, he'd been escorted back to the villa.
Once more Gaat waited in the sterile dining room. Once more
the steaming dishes were arrayed on the great white table.
Gaat poured wine and Virgil drank it all, glass after glass
after glass, recklessly taunting his host with his
me,' Gaat said, seeing the redness in Virgil's cheeks, sensing
the fly poised to land upon the web. But Virgil didn't look.
He remembered a day when Brains, pale and trembling, had
turned from his torturer and whispered 'Don't ever look at his
eyes.' And Virgil never forgot, never focussed on the black
terror no matter how tempted, or how drunk, he became. So he
didn't look at Gaat's eyes, though Gaat asked him again and
poured him more wine, and came to sit beside him and whispered
so his father couldn't hear.
that night on the island, in his old room, alone in his bed
with his memories and the palm trees outside the window,
calling to him. And the next morning on the runway Gaat had
stormed down and bellowed at Virgil as they stood sweating in
the blistering sun. 'One day I won't let you leave,' he
ranted, frightening with his wrath and his menace. 'You'll
stay here, on my island, another toy to amuse. You'll come
when I call and do the things that I tell you to do!'
swallowed the fear, wondering if at last the moment had come.
He closed his eyes and softly asked 'Why? Why do this? To your
family? To mine? Tell me why.' Gaat paused, the palpable force
that was his alone receding back into his body. Virgil felt
the pressure in his skull diminish and he opened his eyes
again, stared at the warping tarmac.
said Gaat, gently, as if explaining something simple to a tiny
child. 'A long time ago your father took something from me.
And my brother should have been there for me when I needed
him. Not there for Jefferson Tracy.' Gaat broke off for a
moment, damped down the rising anger and hatred. Commenced
patiently again. 'For an endless number of years the two of
them have taunted me with everything they had and everything
they were and I needed to wound them and take it for myself. I
wanted it back, what I had lost, and I wanted to see them as I
had once been. Broken and bereft of all hope.'
shimmered off the bitumen and the dank odour of kelp blew in
from the sea. Gaat stepped closer, lowered his voice,
whispered to Virgil like a lover. 'It wasn't as difficult as I
thought it would be, the breaking, and now I am bored with
them.' He studied Virgil, scrutinising the downturned face,
inhaling the damp scent of his body. Virgil closed his eyes
again, wilting beneath the burning sun and the humiliating
onslaught of Gaat's eyes. 'I can't help wondering if the sons
aren't made of sterner stuff than the father.' Gaat stepped
back and gestured for Virgil to enter the plane. 'One day I
will find out.'
clambered into the aircraft, his shirt wet against his back.
Gaat's deep laugh boomed inside his head as the engines roared
to life. 'Don't you want it all back? All the things you have
Virgil thought, never.
on his bed, pulled the package from his pocket and opened it.
It was full of cash, clean new bills, neatly bound together.
More than enough for what he had been asked to do. He imagined
that Scott was paid very well as part of the World Security
Forces and he'd take the money, thank you very much. A smaller
envelope, unmarked, fell from the bundle, and Virgil held it
in his hand for a long time, studying it, smelling it,
thinking about what might be in it. He wanted to open it, to
know what Scott would write to his father, strangely jealous
that Scott had never written to him. That Scott could only
spare Virgil a few cold hard sentences before leaving him
alone in the dark. He lit a cigarette and put the letter
beneath his pillow. Maybe during the night the contents would
bleed through the paper and he might have new dreams. Better
had pressed a crumpled piece of paper into Virgil's hands.
'Son, can you take this to your grandmother?'
Dad,' he'd replied, 'As soon as I get a chance.' But he hadn't
gotten a chance for weeks, and he'd had to catch a Greyhound
bus and then hitchhike right out to the edge of town. He'd
walked the long dusty drive to the house and knocked on the
faded door, not seeing the dry fields, the peeling paintwork
of the window frames. The door had opened and, surprise, his
brother was standing there, a resurrected and sun-bleached
Jesus. John smiled and stepped back to let him in, as if
Virgil had only stopped by to sell a vacuum cleaner. No
display of affection for the long lost disciple.
hugged his grandmother, gave her the letter, then sat on the
same sofa he had sat on as a teenager, back when he had lived
in this house. John moved crockery in the kitchen as their
grandmother assailed Virgil with the standard questions. 'But
why doesn't Jeff call me? Why don't you visit more often? I
don't understand what's happened…' Virgil stared at his hands.
How could he tell her any of it when even the smallest portion
would break her heart.
note, Grandma.' She obliged, unfolding the grubby page with
stiff fingers while he watched. She was getting older every
visit, falling helplessly in upon herself right before his
eyes. She looked at the note, looked at Virgil. 'But darling,'
she said, dropping her hands to show him the empty page.
'There's nothing on it.' Tears welled in her eyes and he
scooted forward to snatch the paper from her, to hold her
hands tightly in his own. 'That's 'coz there are no words,
Grandma, no words. He loves you and he's thinking of you and
he wants you to know that.' He looked at John, a ghost caught
in the doorway. And he cursed his father in his madness, for
sending an empty piece of paper to his mother.
Virgil asked John where he had been for nearly two whole
years, but John didn't answer, just stared at the dry and
empty fields as if he'd never seen them before, or never
thought he'd see them again. Virgil tried again. 'After you
ditched Three, where did you all go?' John's expression glazed
as he focussed on the far horizon. Virgil sighed inwardly and
gave up. He leant back against the fence and closed his eyes,
turned his face to catch the sun.
unbelievable, you know. Them coming to get me.'
didn't reply. He was replaying that time on the back of his
eyelids. John trapped on Five, communication and systems cut
for days and days until Gaat decided to bring him home.
I was going to die up there,' John continued, his voice very
quiet. And this time Virgil did open his eyes and look at his
brother, the bleached profile burning another hole into his
memory. 'Without the systems it was so quiet. So dark. There
was only me up there. Just me, breathing, and the oxygen
getting low.' He paused for a moment, thinking, maybe, about
the darkness and the silence and the black void that had tried
to swallow him alive.
finally arrived we argued. We fought. Gordon split my lip, son
of a bitch.' John laughed at that, touching the scar with his
thumb, remembering the insult. 'I wanted to come home, I
wanted to see that bastard's blood on my hands. But they
wouldn't have it. I didn't know, they said, I didn't
understand, I hadn't been there. They told me all we could do
was ditch Three and run away. Can you believe it?' He turned
to Virgil, because plainly he still could not. 'They wanted to
remembered that moment like he was there, because he'd watched
the grainy footage over and over in the days after he'd been
taken from the island, after he'd been abandoned by a wet
canefield outside Suva and had to walk the long humid miles
into town. On a small and stuttering television he'd watched
the great rocket settle gently on yellow sand before toppling
slowly into the green surf. His brothers had emerged,
clambering one by one along pitted orange metal and dropping
into the water. Silent and grim and matter of fact, as though
they did this every day. They'd waded ashore, discarding their
hats and sashes in the waves as they strode into darkness and
isn't much room for fighting on the control deck, you know.'
John turned back to the horizon with a wry smile 'Gordon
pinned me down while Alan aimed us at Australia. Twisted my
arm so far up my back I heard the joints pop.' He leant
towards Virgil conspiratorially. 'That kid learnt more in WASP
than he ever let on.'
quiet for a moment as they listened to the cicadas screaming.
Sometimes Virgil wanted to scream like that. Sometimes, when
he was asleep, maybe he did.
couldn't forgive them.' There was pain and disappointment in
John's blue eyes.
that. They'd let him down and he'd walked away. Virgil rubbed
his face, thought about shaving and all the reasons why he
wouldn't, then said, 'Did you know that Three is still on that
beach? Tourist attraction.'
insistent knock roused Virgil from his bed. He staggered
through the apartment, eyes gummed with sleep, and opened the
door. Captain Viridian stood on the landing, Spectrum insignia
on his uniform and anger on his face. He strode past Virgil
into the sparse apartment, scrutinising the room with every
measured step. Then he turned to Virgil and exploded.
you to go the island. I gave you money. Why are you still
here, a week later?'
wasn't ready for this. He wasn't awake yet, wasn't ready for
sensory input, and Scott of all people should know that. He
rubbed his eyes wearily and looked around the room for his
cigarettes, anything to distract him from Scott and his anger.
He shook one from the pack then proffered it to Scott.
you.' Scott could barely contain his irritation. 'I don't
raised an eyebrow as he bent into the lighter. 'That's new.
And here I thought you'd end up sucking cheroots like dear old
eyes sparked for an instant, but the fire was quickly
smothered. 'I asked you to give Father a message.'
will.' Virgil's temper was beginning to rouse. 'But I have
things to do. A job. I can't just up and go any time I want.'
glared at him. 'You need to go now. I need you to go now. This
week. And give him the message.'
message. What's in that message, by the way? How much you love
him? How much you miss him? How sorry you are that you
abandoned him?' Virgil stepped closer. 'I'm the only one who
visits him you know. The only one. Me. The rest of you
abandoned him...' He broke off in something like pain,
something like disgust. Something like hatred. He stared into
Scott's cold blue eyes but could find nothing except his own
pale face reflected there. 'You abandoned him.' Virgil's voice
faltered. 'You abandoned me.'
then as the rift stretched further between them, a great
gaping chasm that they could no longer find their way across.
Scott reached into his vest and withdrew a bulging notebook.
He methodically opened the pages, strewing paper all over the
small table. Maps and notes and photographs. Surveillance
photographs. Of his brothers.
abandoned you? I abandoned none of you!' Scott was angry now,
his voice rising as he rifled through the photographs. 'Here.
You've seen John? I've seen John too.' He thrust a photo at
Virgil's face. 'Cairo. Translating.' He threw the image down,
thrust another one forward. 'Alan? Here's Alan at Daytona,
Alan at Parola. No surprises there.' Another photo was thrust
at Virgil. 'Gordon? Never left Australia, running dive tours.
And you!' He rummaged amongst the pile on the table. 'Here's
Virgil on Friday nights, on Saturday nights. Here's Virgil so
drunk that women fight about who will take him home. Here's
Virgil,' he said, 'right in front of me and…' He stopped
abruptly, gathered the photos together and placed the bundle
back inside his vest. He rubbed his face and sighed, and for
the briefest instant the old Scott, Virgil's Scott, was there,
in Virgil's living room. 'Jesus Virg, we got as far away from
each other as we could get, but I never lost any of you. I
knew right where to look.' Their eyes met. 'Because I'm your
stared at Scott, letting the implications settle into his
consciousness. More than anything he wanted to go to his
brother and touch him, embrace the hard reality of him, inhale
the familiar scent of him. But instead he let the long
crushing months of loneliness and anger and bitterness swell
until he could no longer contain it inside himself. Like a
volcano that had lain dormant and ignored for far too long,
Virgil finally erupted.
this time, all this time, you knew where everybody was and you
left us all alone and miserable? Even worse, you've been
watching me? Following me around town? You've been in town
this past week, waiting for me to charter a plane, making sure
I did what you asked, and you never once spoke to me?'
Virgil's voice fragmented into shards as his anger collapsed
in on itself. 'What are you that you could do that?'
else I am, I'm still your brother.' But it was Captain
Viridian who said that. Cool Captain Viridian pretending to be
his brother, pretending not to hear the splintering anguish in
Virgil's voice. 'Do your brother a favour and take our father
taxied the plane to the base of the cliff and stepped out onto
the runway. He stared at the jagged rock wall towering above
him, knowing that behind it and three feet of tempered steel
lay his greatest masterpiece, and that in all probability he
would never see her again. He lifted his head and looked up at
the observation deck, saw Gaat perched there, a black vulture
framed against the blue sky, peering down at him. One of
Gaat's guards approached and Virgil raised his arms,
permitting the search but never taking his eyes off the
his way down to the sea, fighting through the jungle that had
overtaken the track and found his father there, on the rocks.
'I saw the plane,' Jeff said as he stood to greet him. 'How
are you son?'
good. Still surviving. How are you, Dad?'
surviving.' Jeff's faded blue eyes twinkled.
talked until the sun set, watched as a great mass of cumulus
mushroomed over the sea, piling itself high into the fading
sky as it tracked its way towards them. Virgil saw lightning
on the purpling horizon and knew he'd be going nowhere
tonight. He could feel Gaat crouched somewhere in the oncoming
darkness, a great black shadow pressing against his back,
waiting for him, setting the trap. Virgil felt the serpent
coil in his stomach, flickering and twisting, cold fear made
tangible so that he had to swallow hard and tighten his throat
against it. He trembled suddenly, once, stopped before his
father could see. Turning in the twilight he pushed the
crumpled envelope into Jeff's calloused fingers. "Scott sent
you a message.'
he say?' asked Jeff, eyes wide as he turned the envelope over
and over in his hands, carefully smoothing the creases, too
afraid to open it now that it was finally here. Virgil could
feel the tremor threaten to overtake him again and he tensed
his body against it, looked up at the rushing sky.