Original series Suitable for all readersAction-oriented/low level of violence


Technical Difficulties



By J. Calvin Smith







     Captain Black gazed with a face devoid of passion at the colossal wreck before him.  The castle remains stood or, rather, slouched on a level, barren plain, surrounded by gloomy gray mountains.  The portion of Captain Black that was still Captain Black had no knowledge of the name of the town or area where this ruin stood; Mysteron orders had sent him there via many twisty roads, and he had gone without question.  Mysteron orders, after all, must be carried out.

     There had been a fierce battle here, the Mysterons had informed him, many centuries before.  The forces of good had defeated the forces of evil, an army from beyond the grave, or so legend had it.  Rival clans had united to fight a common foe, and commanding them was an unbelievable man, a man from the future, a loudmouthed braggart who somehow had possessed the key to defeating the evil that the two rival armies, now united, had faced.  When these fallen castle walls had stood so long ago, Captain Black thought, they must have witnessed a fearsome battle indeed.

     But the Mysterons also told him that something might have gone wrong, something that would allow the forces of evil on Mars to unite with these ancient forces of evil dead on Earth.  The mighty man from the future was rumored to have transported himself back to his own time once the battle was won.  He had done this by speaking an incantation found in the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the legendary Book of the Dead.  In returning to his own time after defeating the skeletal hordes, the stranger should have rendered the Necronomicon powerless, breaking the hold of the demonic realm.

     However, the Mysterons also informed him that this stranger also had a short memory, and had experienced trouble with the incantation.  In fact, the battle with the evil dead started because the stranger had forgotten the correct words to speak when he retrieved the Necronomicon from its graveyard home and brought it here, to this castle.

     If that was so, if a mistake had been made, then the Necronomicon had power still.  The dead, the destroyed could come alive again.  The book, bound with human flesh and inked with human blood, could unite with the Mysteron's knowledge and power over those they destroy, and produce such might and knowledge that the Mysterons felt sure they would come much closer to their goal of crushing, utterly destroying, the people of Earth.  Captain Black could almost taste the Mysterons' appetite for this power and this victory with his own tongue.  The humans would indeed pay for their chosen imbecile's technical difficulties.

     "Spread out.  We must search the entire castle.  Do not waste time on rubble you cannot move, but be thorough," he said to the two Mysteron clones beside him.  The former man and woman had been tourists exploring the castle with curiosity and naive glee.  They had been in the Mysteron's way.  Their son, who had been exploring with them, ran off in a panic typical of twelve-year-old boys witnessing the cold-blooded shooting of their parents by a darkly-dressed stranger.  Captain Black paid the boy no mind; the youngster had no possible knowledge of who the dark man was or what he represented.  Still, Black suspected that he had better hurry.

     As the man and woman began their separate searches for the Necronomicon, Captain Black gazed at the portion of the castle still mostly intact: the parapet.  He then entered it through a rotted door whose fragile pieces he fiercely kicked inward, and climbed a winding staircase.

     Halfway up, he entered a small room with a dusty table which bore two terribly tarnished candlesticks.  There were several ancient instruments of alchemy and sorcery in this room, both on and around the table.  There were also, strangely, some curious items from only the previous century: various automobile parts, shotgun shell casings, a small beaded chain with the rotted remains of what was once probably a key fob.  A worm-eaten pile of paper bound together in the middle of the table almost made him groan in despair at an unsuccessful mission, but then he moved the shredded remains aside and looked at the object that was revealed beneath.

     Human skin, shaped like a bookcover with a human face, was closed around several dozen perfectly-preserved pages.  It was the Necronomicon.  Captain Black reached for the book...

     ...and withdrew his hand quickly as a bullet ricocheted off the table.  Looking up, he saw a yellow-uniformed Spectrum officer standing in the doorway, gun raised.

     "Step away from the table, Captain Black!"

     What?  How had they been alerted?  That boy, he must have had a camera, must have taken a picture of Black to the authorities.  Spectrum, he knew, was wired into every police photographic laboratory there was.  And those new portable digital cameras were owned by every sightseer in the world.

     There was nothing for it but to jump out the room's window.  Since the room was not very far up the parapet, Captain Black leaped, landed and rolled to absorb the impact, managing to draw his own gun at the same time.  He was able to get a shot off at a Spectrum officer standing only several yards away.  The bullet clipped the officer, who had been facing away from the parapet, in the back of the neck.

     Captain Black noted with satisfaction that the officer was the famed Captain Scarlet, as Scarlet fell like a sack of flour.  Severed spinal cord, most probably, Black thought as he ran away from the castle and into a dense copse of trees, hurriedly and silently communicating to the Mysterons to get him out of there.

     By the time Captains Blue and Magenta reached the copse, Black  was long gone.








     My name is Ash.

     Man.  I can't believe I saved the world and got fired, all in the same week.  I guess what they all say is true.  Life's a bitch and then you lose your job.

     It all happened after I led the armies of Lord Arthur and Duke Henry to victory against the army of the dead, who had been led by an evil zombie clone of myself.  I returned home to my own time, the twentieth century, by saying the incantation found in the Necronomicon and drinking a potion.  Well, I didn't say every last syllable of the incantation.  I didn't drink all the potion either.  But you'd think that after killing all those horrible skeletons and saving two, count 'em, two noblemen, that someone just might give a guy a break!  Besides, the stuff tasted horrible.  I wasn't about to chug-a-lug crap like that.

     Anyway, I get back to my own time, and I start back at my job in Housewares at S-Mart.  I'm doing my usual bang-up job, smiling, being helpful, saying the slogan, you know, "Shop smart...shop S-Mart," like a good little employee.  I'm also informing my less imaginative co-workers of my adventures in the distant past.  I must say, one babe there was very impressed.  She said my stories were kind of cute.  Hmf.  Cute.  I saved the freakin' world, I figure.  I coulda been king.  But she liked to hear about that, and I would have been proud to tell her.

     But we were interrupted.

     Some shopper gets possessed because these evil dead creepoids figure they'll hold a grudge against me for not saying every teensy word just exactly right.  This blonde-haired, crag-faced she-bitch starts screaming threats right there by the checkout counter.  Her face looked like ten miles of bad road.  She cold-cocked me into the sporting goods section and then ripped a cash register right off its foundation and tried to kill the cute chick with it.

     That got me mad.  Real mad.  I broke into the gun case in sporting goods, pulled out a twelve-gauge, made sure it was loaded, and then proceeded to teach this member of the Ladies from Hades that not just love comes from the barrel of a gun.

     I fired a shot that knocked the cash register from Witchie-Poo's grasp.  It got her attention.

     "Lady, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store."

     "Who the Hell are you?" sneered hag-face.

     "Name's Ash.  Housewares."

     "I'll have your soul!"

     "Come get some."

     Then, it was basically a contest between demonic hatred and superior firepower.  I'll bet you can guess who won.  But soon it was all done; the smoke was clearing, the girl was kissing me in gratitude, and the satanic shrew lay atop a twenty-five pound bag of pine bark mulch, S-Mart special this week only.  Then my boss walked up behind me.

     "You just shot a customer," he said blandly, eyes wide.

     I looked at him, then looked at the body.  "She was evil.  She was going to kill us.  She had to be destroyed."

     "You just shot a customer.  With one of our guns."

     I gaped at him, not believing that he couldn't understand the situation.  "She...she had a cash register.  Just ripped it right up.  She was going to make mincemeat out of, er, uh, what's your name?"

     "Cheryl," answered the cute girl, also staring at me slackjawed, pushing away slowly from my embrace.

     "That little old lady couldn't have picked up that register," said my boss.  "You shot a customer.  With one of our guns.  And then you fraternized with your fellow employees."


     "You're fired.  But wait right here, mister.  I'm calling the police."

     "I...uh...hey, wait a minute!"

     The police were there within minutes.  They handcuffed me and removed me from the store.  I tried to explain to them that there was a dead woman in the store who had to be dismembered before she could try to come back to life again.  You try telling the cops that sometime.  As they pushed me into the back seat, the younger of the two officers stared at my handcuffed wrists.  The left one was real human skin.  But my entire right forearm was steel, a mechanical hand I had made for myself in Lord Arthur's castle.  "What are you?" the young officer asked.

     "Just a guy with a job to do," I told him.  "Now could you let me out of here so I can make sure that lady doesn't..."

     Several screams and an inhuman cackle came from inside the department store.  The two officers seat-belted and locked me inside the car.  The older officer placed the shotgun, which he idiotically insisted on calling the murder weapon, on the front seat, and then ran inside with his companion.  I could tell from their cries of alarm that they were not ready for what they saw.

     "If you'll just let me out of these handcuffs and this car, I'll show you how to deal with that monster!" I yelled after them as crashes and more screams emanated from the building.  "She's an evil I know about; she followed me back from the past because I misspoke the words--"

     Then I paused.  Not just because they couldn't possibly hear me.  But I knew the words!  It was as simple as that.  I twisted around to reach my left pants pocket with my real hand, and pulled a flask out of the pocket.  That flask contained the remainder of the potion that was to send me back to my time and end the scourge of the Deadites once and for all.  Perhaps it could still work.  Because now, I remembered the words!

     I put the flask between my knees, pulled the stopper out, then lifted the liquid to my lips with some difficulty.  I drank the whole container, then spoke the incantation exactly as it had been taught to me:

     "Klaatu Varata Nikto!"

     I expected right then that the screaming, crashing and cackling would cease.  But I couldn't tell.

     I had no idea what was happening inside S-Mart because of the weird whirlwind that had begun to surround the police car from the time I pronounced the words.  I pressed my head against the car window to see a horrid vortex opening up in the skies above me.

     "Oh, no, not again!" I screamed as the vortex sucked the car up into the sky.  "You sons of bitches won't even give me a break for getting the words right!"







     When the vortex disappeared, the car hit the ground and the door burst open.  I tumbled out, rolled a few times and felt the handcuffs' chain snap from the impact of my metal arm on the ground.  The pain across my whole body would not subside sufficiently at first to let me open my eyes, but I rolled over on my back.  I heard voices.

     "No sign of Captain Black.  What happened here?"

     "This vehicle just fell out of the sky.  There was a flash, and I saw it pop right out of the clear blue and land here."

     "Captain Magenta, that's impossible."

     "I tell you, Captain Blue, I saw it."

     I was finally able to open my own eyes.  Two men stood beside the wrecked police car looking over me with some concern and alarm.  They wore strange costumes of different colors, but each had some sort of hat with a little rainbow emblem on it.  One was dressed in purple, the other in blue.  I figured their names went with their costumes.

     I could see two others as my eyes focused more clearly.  One man in a yellow uniform stood in a window of an old building nearby.  Another man in a red uniform lay not far from the wrecked car.  He was apparently dead.  Blood was streaming from the back of his neck, a gunshot wound making the exposed skin match the uniform.

     "I saw it too, Captain Blue," said the man in the window.

     "We don't have time to figure this out," the man I presumed was Captain Blue said to him.  "We've got to get Captain Scarlet back to Cloudbase.  Did you figure out what Captain Black was looking for, Captain Ochre?"

     Captain Ochre.  Captain Scarlet.  Captain Magenta!  Whatever happened to calling colors yellow, red, and purple, for God's sake?

     "There's a very old book in here," said Captain Ochre.  "Captain Black was reaching for it when I found him.  It looks like a grotesque human face, and it has a lot of strange writing and pictures that look like they were drawn--"

     "In blood," I rasped.

     "Get down here with that book," said Captain Blue, staring at me in fear, though I personally felt I had no strength to harm him in any way.  "Whatever the Mysterons are looking for, I think this man and that book both have something to do with it."


     Minutes later, I was finally able to stand.  I was herded by the uniformed men, who called themselves Spectrum officers, into a small passenger jet, along with the dead man in the red uniform, whom Captains Ochre and Magenta bore on a stretcher.  Captain Ochre had given the Necronomicon to Captain Magenta, who was apparently a linguistic expert of some kind and wanted to have a look at the strange writings.  Captain Ochre piloted the jet and we took off for the place they called Cloudbase, whatever that was.

     "I've got about a million questions for you guys," I told them as we sat down in various seats in the plane.  The body of Captain Scarlet lay on the stretcher in the back.  Captain Blue was removing the handcuffs from my wrist with a bolt-cutter, and Captain Magenta was across the aisle from us, looking intently at the pages of the Necronomicon.

     "Well, that's good, because we have about as many questions for you," replied Captain Blue, removing the destroyed handcuffs from my wrists.

     "What year is this?" I asked.

     "2070," said Captain Blue.  "You don't know the year?"

     "Well, this isn't exactly my time.  I spent most of my life in the late twentieth century, but I recently took a tour of the Middle Ages."


     "I got sucked back there just like I got sucked here into the future."

     Captain Blue shook his head.  "How do you know about that book?" he asked, gesturing toward Captain Magenta.

     "That's the Necronomicon Ex Mortis.  The Book of the Dead.  It contains incantations, funeral rituals, human sacrifice instructions...lotsa nice stuff for reading when PENTHOUSE starts getting you bored," I said.

     "He's right," said Captain Magenta.  Then he started moving his lips in strange ways, trying to pronounce some of the words on the page at which he was looking.

     "Don't do that, idiot!  That's what got me into trouble in the first place!" I shouted at Captain Magenta.  He clammed up and glared at me, cross but thankful.  "I heard a tape of some doctor who had found the book.  He read words from it, and the next thing I knew, my girlfriend was..."

     "Dead?" asked Captain Blue.

     "Possessed," I said.  "I had to dismember her to keep her from attacking me.  Before long, the evil got into my own body.  That's how I lost my hand."  I held up the metal hand to show them.  "I cut it off with a chainsaw."

     "What a ruthless and bloodthirsty man you are!" exclaimed Captain Ochre in the cockpit.  "Captain Blue, we should not have taken him with us."

     "No, no, I got rid of the evil inside me!" I tried to explain.  "The book was in the professor's cabin, where my girlfriend and I were staying.  There was a passage in the book that freed me of the evil influence, only it sucked me back into the middle ages...just like I came here.  I had to save the armies of Lord Arthur and Duke Henry before I could go back to my own time."

     "The ancient castle of Lord Arthur was where we found you and the book," said Captain Blue.  "The Mysterons want the book; they sent their agent, Captain Black, to get it."

     "Did you say that those who become possessed have to be dismembered?" asked Captain Magenta.

     "Yes," I replied.  "Or else they come back."

     "Retrometabolism,"  said Captain Blue.  "Or something very like it."

     "Retro...Mysterons...what's going on here?  Who are these Mysterons?"

     "Invaders from Mars; invaders without form, Mr.--"  Captain Blue stopped.

     "Name's Ash," I told him.

     "Mr. Ash, the Mysterons were inadvertently attacked by Captain Black on Mars two years ago; they possessed him and vowed revenge on us.  Spectrum has been defending the world against them ever since.  They, like the evil you have fought, know how to bring the dead back to life.  But they do it by cloning."

     Just then, I heard a muffled groan.  It was coming from Captain Scarlet's body!

     "Shoot him!" I screamed, standing up.  "He's been possessed by the evil!"  I tried to reach for Captain Blue's gun, but he struck me in the chest, knocking me back down into my seat.  I could only cough.

     "Captain Scarlet is not possessed.  He has...remarkable recuperative powers."

     "Coulda fooled me," I gasped, as I watched the red-uniformed Spectrum agent sit up stiffly on his stretcher, rubbing the back of a neck that was amazingly free of any sign that there had been a bullet wound.  "That's not remarkable, that's historic!"

     "We cannot tell you the circumstances behind Captain Scarlet's regenerative powers; that is a state secret," said Captain Blue.  "But know this:  He is on our side."

     "Who..." said Captain Scarlet, slowly opening his eyes and staring at me.  "Who are you?"

     "His name's Ash," said Captain Magenta.  "According to this book, he is the chosen one, gifted with the ability to break evil's hold on the human domain."

     "He's from the twentieth century," said Captain Blue, getting up and walking back to Scarlet.  I could tell from the exchanged glances that the two were close friends.  "How're you feeling?"

     "I've been better.  I'm lucky it was only a single bullet wound."

     "Well, Dr. Fawn's going to be upset that he can't do tests on your recovery."

     "I hate to disappoint him."

     "He'll get over it.  Besides, we need you in top condition to help us deal with recent developments."

     "Yes, such as Captain Black.  He shot me."

     "Right after you went down, we lost Captain Black, and then a twentieth-century police car came out of the sky and crashed onto the ground, disgorging this man as its only passenger."

     "Good Lord!  What about the two Mysteron agents the boy spoke of?"

     "The boy who took that picture of Captain Black?"

     "Yes.  I was trying to find his Mysteronized parents who were searching the ruins, but who ran off when we landed."

     I spoke up, "If they're still down there, and the book's up here, they won't be fooled for long.  If they know about the Necronomicon--"

     "Perhaps they can zero in somehow on the energy it still possesses," completed Captain Scarlet.  "It would become a homing device, leading them to us and Cloudbase."

     "You have been in contact with the book?" Captain Blue asked me.

     "Yeah.  I retrieved it for Lord Arthur's sorceror before they had the big party in the courtyard.  You know, the party with skeletons and dead people and swords.  Dead man's party.  And the book was in the cabin of the professor's where I took my girlfriend before that.  Well, actually," I continued, scratching my head, "it was sort of after that, time-wise.  I mean--"

     "I understand what you mean, I think," interrupted Captain Blue.

     "They might have sent Captain Black to Lord Arthur's castle simply on a hunch that the book would still be there," suggested Captain Scarlet.

     I added, "Of course, now that I'm here, they might be able to trace the book anyway."

     The three men who weren't flying the plane nodded worriedly.

     I pointed to Captain Magenta.  "All the more reason for you to figure out how to get me home.  I'll take the book with me; just help me get out of here."

     Captain Magenta sighed, "There's a great deal in here about the Chosen One, and it's all cryptic.  It will take some time.  The thing about sending you home is that each of the ways you used before cannot be used again, according to the writings I've read so far."

     "Figures," I growled bitterly.

     "We have left two Spectrum agents on the ground to continue searching for the two Mysteron agents," Captain Blue told Captain Scarlet.  "But Ash is right; they will be able to trace that book to us through him."

     "Unfortunately," sighed Captain Scarlet, "we do have to brief the Colonel.  He will have to approve whatever decision we make."

     "Coming up on Cloudbase," said Captain Ochre.

     I was quite startled because I had not felt us descend in preparation for landing.  Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window and saw in front of us, growing steadily, an aircraft carrier that seemed to be tens of thousands of feet above the Earth's surface.  The jet we were in landed on what appeared to be the deck of this place called Cloudbase with a fighter escort.

     "How does this place stay in the air?" I asked Captain Scarlet.

     Blue gave him a cautioning look before he could open his mouth.

     Scarlet merely nodded and said, "I can't tell you that.  Besides, it's almost a whole century more advanced than anything you know of."

     "O.K.," I said, grinning a grin that belied my nervousness.  "Just keep 'er in the sky long enough to get me home."


     After we landed on the flying runway, we disembarked via a special elevator chamber that dropped the plane down into some kind of hanger in one of the lower levels of the base.  From there we took enough turns and stood on enough moving walkways and escalators to make me about as lost and dizzy as I've ever been.  But within minutes, we were all seated about the control console of Colonel White, the head of this organization called Spectrum, or at least the head of Cloudbase.  The old man was sharp as a tack.  He listened intently as his men described the situation to him: how I got there, who I was, what Black was looking for.  He asked few questions but seemed to be able to find out exactly what he needed to know.  He seemed to be a born leader.  S-Mart could have used him as manager instead of Jerk-Face.  I probably wouldn't have been fired, if that were the case.

     "Have you been able to obtain more information from your study of the book?" he finally asked Captain Magenta.

     "Yes, there is a passage that speaks of a second battle that the Chosen One must fight," said Captain Magenta.  "He would be in league with angels and other heavenly beings, but would return to Earth and banish an evil from the skies."

     "But that is pure mythology," stated Colonel White, frowning, "just the sort of fantasy I would expect from an old book."

     "Not necessarily," said Captain Scarlet.  "Perhaps it is an allegory."

     I scratched my head.  "I thought it was a human face on the cover; it doesn't look any crocodile I've ever seen."

     "AlleGORY, not alligator," Scarlet explained impatiently.  "Suppose the angels meant our Angels."

     "Baseball team?" I asked.

     "Fighter pilots," he sighed.

     I smiled at the memory of my brief glimpse of the beautiful female navigators, then tried to figure out what he meant about an allegory.  Oh, well, reptiles or no, I saw basically what he was getting at.  "Yeah, that could be what the book means.  And the heavenly beings are you guys," I suggested.

     "And the evil from the skies means the Mysterons," concluded Captain Magenta, opening the book to the page he had found.

     "So I gotta help you guys, if I want to get home," I said.  "What else does it say about what I have to do?"

     Magenta read some more silently, then said, "'The Chosen One must cast the source of evil into the bowels of the Earth."

     "Source of evil?  Certainly Captain Black!" pronounced Colonel White.

     "Maybe not, Colonel," said Captain Blue worriedly.  He turned to face Magenta.  "What else does it say about the source of evil?"

     "Nothing.  The passage ends abruptly, as if cut off," said Captain Magenta, equally worriedly.

     "This whole freakin' thing started with the damn book," I suggested.  "Maybe that's the source of evil.  I remember the army of the dead hungered for it."

     "But the bowels of the Earth?" asked Captain Scarlet.

     The room fell silent as we all thought.  Then, it struck me.  "The pit!"

     They all turned to face me.  Blue, I could tell, still didn't look too sure I had both oars in the water.  "Pit?" he said.

     "Pit, Captain Azure," I said smugly.

     "Blue," he said with a warning tone in his voice.

     "How did you get off without a fancy color for your name?  Promotion?" I asked.  He sniffed, so I continued my explanation.  "There's a pit in the courtyard of Lord Arthur's castle.  It was an execution and torture pit in which some of the evil dead dwelt, waiting for victims."

     Ochre shook his head.  "We found no such pit on the castle grounds."

     "Well, they kept it sealed with a mechanical hatch.  It was pretty advanced, I thought, for a medieval society."

     "There was a boarded-up space with an ancient crank by it," said Captain Magenta, nodding slowly.  "Perhaps the pit is underneath, and it was sealed up because of the old legends."

     "But what if the source of evil is Captain Black?" asked Colonel White insistently.

     "Then he has to go in the pit along with the book," I explained patiently.  God, these people were slow.

     "And the Mysteronized tourists?  What if they send more agents?" asked Blue.

     "Pit, pit, pit," I said.  "We lure them all, unless I can destroy them beforehand."

     "You?" asked Captain Scarlet.

     "I'm the one who has to get rid of the book," I told him as I stood up.  "I'm the Chosen.  I'm the one they want."

     "You're an arrogant braggart," mumbled Captain Ochre under his breath.

     "I heard that," I snapped.

     "We cannot give you a weapon," said Colonel White.

     "I know.  But I've got this," I said, holding up my metallic hand and flexing the fingers.  "I can crush rocks with this hand."

     "But it won't kill Mysterons," said Captain Scarlet.  "Not for good."

     I sighed and smiled.  "There's also the shotgun in the front seat of the police car."

     "No good," said Captain Blue.  "Again, it would only be temporary."

     I frowned.  "What kills them?"

     "Electricity," said Blue.

     I thought a while.  Then the idea came and I smiled.  "Where's your mechanical shop?"


     "Soldering gun," I said, and the gray-uniformed officer handed me the 21st Century equivalent.


     The wiring was tricky, especially around the elbow.


     "Power source?" I asked.

     Captain Blue handed me a two-pound gray slab with platinum contacts on top.  "It's the most portable we've got."


     I tightened the screws at my wrist where the wires joined, then at my belt holster where the battery sat.


     One of the Angels came by the open door as I was re-working the hinges on the little door on the back of the metal hand.  I looked up and winked at her.  She went off in a huff.


     "That should do it," said the gray-suited officer, making sure my belt was secure, then turning on the power switch next to the battery.

     I held up the hand.  My whole body was humming in resonance with the power source.  Sparks jumped from finger to finger.  "Groovy," I said, and fingered the switch, turning the electrical field off again.

     "Get that damned thing away from me," said Captain Scarlet, wide-eyed.

     "Let's roll," I told the assembled officers.

     "You all have your jobs," said Colonel White, standing at the door.  "Find those agents.  Use the Mysteron rifle if you must.  And wait for Captain Black to try again for the book."

     "S.I.G.," said the officers.

     "P.D.Q.," I added.

     "Oh, button it," mumbled Captain Blue.








     Night was falling in the courtyard.  Halogen lamps were set up in its corners.  Spectrum sentries in gray uniforms had failed to find the Mysteronized tourists.  Great, I thought.  Not only would we have to open the pit, lure Captain Black, and destroy the book, now we had to watch out for an ambush.  I sighed as I crossed the courtyard to the police car, reached in through the door that had been flung open when it fell, and pulled the shotgun out of the dilapidated front seat.  The gun still seemed to be okay, and it still had the bullets I had put in it just to be safe before my boss had found me.  I put it into the holster I had also retrieved from the car, slung the holster so that the gun rested against my back, and walked to the middle of the courtyard to join Captains Scarlet and Blue.  Captains Ochre and Magenta were several yards away, removing planks that had been nailed into the ground, luckily only loosely, to cover the rusty pit hatch.

     "Here's the book," said Captain Blue, handing a satchel with a shoulder strap to me.  The Necronomicon Ex Mortis was inside, wrapped with a black cloth.  Just as well; the sneer on the face of that allegory on the cover was beginning to get to me.  "You know what you have to do," continued the blond-haired captain.

     "I'll be able to do it as soon as Captains Purple and Yellow get that hatch open," I told him.  His frown deepened.

     Captain Scarlet corrected, "No, when Captains Magenta and Ochre get it open, what you must do is stand near it and wait for Captain Black to show up, so that you can lure him into the pit with the book."

     "I know that," I shot back.  Then I turned away from them and walked toward the two men who had removed the last of the planks from the closed pit hatch.  "How's it coming, you two?"

     "Well, the planks are out of the way," said Ochre.

     "But there's no way we'll work that rusted mechanism to get this hatch to open," said Magenta.  "Any ideas?"

     I grinned.  "You need a can opener, and I just happen to have one on hand," I said, lifting my robot arm.  With it, I gripped the seam between the two halves of the round hatch and pulled on the metal door nearest me.  Slowly the antiquated rusty steel came up.  A square foot chunk came off, and I fell backwards.  I stood up again as the two Captains coughed, fanning their faces at the odor from within the now-open pit.  After I removed two more chunks from the torn hatch, I wiped sweat off my brow with my left hand and said, "Now, any sign of those tourists?"

     I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I turned around and faced a man and woman who were both wearing tasteless floral prints and silly tourist hats.  But their gnarled faces and blood-red eyes showed me that they probably didn't just want to ask me if I had the latest Michelin guide.  I had just enough time to scream, "It's the Deadites!" before a simultaneous pair of incredible right-crosses sent me flying over the heads of Ochre and Magenta.  I landed on a pile of rubble in a way that caused a lot of pain, but nothing broken.  I groaned and sat up, looking to see where the attackers would strike.

     Captain Magenta walked around beside me to assist in guarding the book, still concealed in its satchel.  Captain Ochre saw the two tourist-monsters begin walking toward Magenta and me, and away from him, and tried to rush one of them from behind.

     "Someone doesn't know how to run silent-leeee!" cackled the possessed wife of the possessed tourist in a horrible parody of song, spinning around and catching Captain Ochre, unable to stop running toward the evil duo, by the shoulders.  "Maybe he'll have better luck flyiiiiiing!"  She tossed the screaming Captain Ochre high over her head to sail forward and land in her mutated husband's ugly arms.

     "He's not the one you want," I gasped finally.  "He doesn't have the book."  I then jumped up and gave the decay-faced man a savage high karate kick to the head that should have sent him into la-la land.  It did make him drop Captain Ochre, but he snapped his head back forward and grinned at me evilly.  I had to distract him away from me somehow, or else he'd have the book in two shakes of an Angel's pretty hips.

     "Don't let these monsters get to the car!" I shouted with a conspiratorial wink toward Scarlet and Blue, who had just barely come to realize the party was under attack.  The idiot demonic duo swallowed the bait and began to run toward the dilapidated police cruiser.  Then they paused, as if they weren't sure whether to believe my words.

     Captain Blue shouted, "Mysterons!" as Captain Scarlet prepared to use the strange rifle he carried.  He was slightly nervous about carrying it, and I wondered why, but then the tourist man took a leap, not toward the police car, but in the direction of Captain Blue, landing inches in front of his face.  The tourist grabbed the blond captain by the neck.

     "Where's the book really, Earthman scum?" the Deadite-Mysteron rasped as he lifted the choking and flailing Captain Blue into the air like he was a puppet.

     "Use that rifle!" I screamed at Captain Scarlet, figuring the gun was that special anti-Mysteron weapon they were talking about.

     "I might strike Captain Blue," Scarlet shouted back at me, but then, realizing the desperation of the situation, he nodded and took aim.  The gun sent an electrical beam toward the tourist man just as the tourist woman started toward Scarlet.

     At the sound of the high-pitched whine, Captain Blue's attacker let go of him and whirled to face Scarlet, and then joined Blue on the ground--Blue gasping, the tourist man dead.  Then the woman got within an arm's length of Scarlet and took a powerful swipe.  The special rifle went flying out of Captain Scarlet's hands, and the possessed woman leaped at him with an animal howl.

     A well-placed shot from my Remington altered her flight path just a tad.  She landed beside Scarlet with a face full of buckshot.  Scarlet's shoulders relaxed, and he walked over to retrieve the rifle.  Its barrel was badly bent, and he frowned.  "She's not dead," Scarlet reminded me worriedly.

     "You don't have to tell me that," I said, walking over to him.  "And Captain Black hasn't even shown up yet."  We both looked again at the body of the tourist man, and immediately wished we hadn't.  It was decomposing into an almost shapeless blob of bubbling liquid flesh.

     "At least they don't seem to know you have the Necronomicon," said Captain Magenta, still standing beside the pit with Captain Ochre.  "Good bluff; it worked well for a few seconds."

     "Those seconds were all we needed," I grumbled.  "Besides, like you said, they don't know."

     "Now we do!" said the woman in feral glee, springing to her feet and knocking me down onto the ground.  She straddled my waist with her knees and reached for the satchel.

     "Not so fast," I said, punching her in the face with my steel hand.

     The already bullet-ridden face did not seem to even feel my blow.  "Try again," she sneered.

     "Glad to," I said, this time remembering to switch on the battery power with my other hand.

     My second blow sent an aura of electricity coursing over her entire body.  She howled in fear and agony, and then seemed to dissolve into smelly, gooey mush right on top of me.  I saw Captain Scarlet recoil in disgust.

     "Yuck," I agreed, getting up.  "Now where's this Captain Black?"

     "Look no further," said an unfamiliar voice.  I looked in its direction and saw Captain Ochre and Captain Magenta staring wide-eyed at a man between them who had not been there seconds before.  He stood on top of the intact half of the hatch with a self-satisfied smile on his pallid face.

     "Captain Black?" asked Scarlet, as Captain Blue had regained his breath and stood up beside him.

     "No, look at his face," said Ochre.  "It's different."

     "He's joined with the Evil Dead," I said, walking toward the man, who was dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and dark pants and shoes.

     "That's right, finish your mission," said the menacing figure in a deep voice that still had the Deadites' scratchiness.  "Bring that nice book you have over to this nice pit, so that I can feast on your bones.  You have lost, after all."

     He then somersaulted over the pit and landed right in front of me.  He reached for the satchel, and I grasped both of his arms.  He was quite powerful, and I did not think I could keep him from getting the book for long.  However, I was able to guide his footsteps and push him back.  The power humming in my steel arm did not seem to be affecting him as it had the tourist woman, but I saw that it was weakening him enough to allow me to guide his footsteps.

     "Your struggle is in vain, Earthman," sneered Captain Black through gritted teeth.

     "I don't think so," I told him, my face clenched in a similar sneer.

     "I shall have that book," hissed Black.

     "One way or the other?" I asked, smiling slyly.

     "One way or the other," he replied menacingly.

     "That's nice," I puffed.  "You two deserve each other."

     Soon we both stood again at the very edge of the opening I had made in the pit.  I could hear water bubbling and unseen things writhing below.  I could smell the evil rising from the depths of the pit.  Captain Black's right hand came closer and closer to the satchel, and my strength was weakening, as was my sense of balance.  This was it, I thought.  Black would get the book, and I would be thrown into the pit.

     Then a shot rang out from the direction of Captain Scarlet.  In a split second, I saw the Spectrum officer smiling as he held my shotgun--which he must have slipped out of my holster as I was wiping ooze off of my shirt--and Captain Black gesticulating in wide-eyed alarm as he let go of me and clutched his wounded right shoulder, and my satchel sliding off my own shoulder and into the pit.  Captain Black lost his balance, teetered, and followed.  Before he fell in, I saw the satchel, with the book inside, dissolved in an instant by fiery vapors from deep within the pit.  Black would not get it now, and the evil dead presence would, I hoped, let go of him.  And his soul, if he had one.

     I had no time to thank Captain Scarlet for coming through in the final seconds, though, because I felt my body being sucked skyward by another suddenly-appearing whirlwind.  I wondered where I was going to end up this time.







     I spun.  I flipped end-over-end.  I lost my sense of gravity or time.  I basically had a nice reunion with my old whirlpool-like buddy.

     I fell screaming, and where I ended up was on my back in the parking lot of S-Mart.  As bad as it had felt to land on medieval English dirt, twentieth-century American pavement felt worse.  I lost consciousness for a minute or two, I figure.

     I kept dreaming, replaying Captain Scarlet's rescue of me over and over, like it was on a loop.  The unexpected shot, the confident smile, the nod that said, "You don't have to thank me."  I vowed that if I ever regained consciousness, I was going to try to live a hundred years more, to do just that...to thank him.

     When I came to, the two policemen were standing over me, staring in disbelief.

     The older officer said, "He just fell out of the sky."

     "Yeah," said the younger officer.  "And right after that woman in the store dissolved.  This guy was right about dismembering her after all.  She came right back to life, the manager said."

     "He just fell out of the sky," repeated the older policeman.  "And where's our car?"

     The manager of S-Mart came out and joined them.  I was still out of breath, so I just stared up at the trio, who all stared down at me.  "Is he gonna be all right?" asked the manager.

     "I guess so, he's awake," said the younger officer.

     "You going to arrest him for murder?" asked the manager.

     "That woman wasn't really dead when we got here.  She got back up," said the younger officer.  "So I guess not."

     "Oh, well," sighed the manager glumly.

     "He kept yelling that he wanted to help us," said the younger officer.  "You think maybe when the car disappeared, something happened to kill that monster lady?"

     "I guess so," shrugged the manager.  "That makes him kinda responsible, doesn't it?"  He sighed, still looking down at me.  "So I guess I have to give him his job back."

     "He just fell out of the sky," said the older policeman.

     "You really think he had anything to do with what happened back in there?" asked the younger officer.

     "What do you mean, what happened back there?" said the older officer, slack-jawed.  "I didn't see anything happen back there."

     "Neither did I," said the manager.

     "Neither did I," said the younger officer, relieved that he would not have to put any of this in an official report.

     "Get him some water," said the older officer to the manager, pointing toward me.

     "You're right," said the manager, walking back to the store.  "He's still on company time."

     "Where's our car?" asked the older officer.







     "You say he fell into the pit and disappeared?"

     Captain Ochre nodded to Colonel White as Cloudbase's compliment of senior officers sat around the conference table.  "I saw him for a second, and then, after Ash flew up into the sky, I looked back down, and there was nothing in that pit," Ochre added, almost incredulously.  "Even after we brought a light around to see better.  No water, no evil smell.  Just an odor of dust.  The old pit looked almost...thankful."

     "The whole place felt like a malevolent power had been removed," said Magenta.

     "Perhaps we saw the end of Captain Black and the Mysteron Threat right there," surmised Captain Blue.

     "Doubtful," said Scarlet.  "It is more likely that the Mysterons, seeing him wounded, herded him back to safety like they always do."

     "But only after the influence of the evil dead on him had dissolved," added Magenta.  "I saw his face as he fell; it was changing back into the face we know."

     "Then we may simply be back to square one," sighed Colonel White.  "But at least these...Deadites won't plague us anymore."

     Lieutenant Green appeared in the doorway of the conference room.  "Colonel, I just thought of something," he said enthusiastically.

     "Yes, Leftenant, what is it?" replied Colonel White.

     "The Mysteron threat this time, the one none of us could remember."

     The Captains and the Colonel nodded, remembering that their minds had lost track of the threat they had received minutes before the whole business at Lord Arthur's castle had begun.

     "`The hopes of Earth will be reduced to Ash,'" Green recited in an ominous voice.  It was a pretty good imitation.

     All the men in the room nodded and laughed in relief.  "They were indeed, Leftenant," said White.










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