"Hurry it along there, hurry up ... we don't have ALL day you know!" The guide told his party of tourists, as he made abrupt gestures with his hands to get them going. "There are special Old-Age Pensioner Tours in easier caves, so don't whinge, whine and complain to me ... C'mon, move along there."
This guide, Troy Feywood, was quite notorious in the world of 'Cave Tourism' for his rude overbearing manner, but nothing could be done about him. Twenty three years ago when the entrance to 'Feywood Cave' was discovered on his land, he had sold it to the 'Ultimate World Cave Tours' company on the condition that he had a job-for-life as a tour guide in it. They had foolishly agreed, without first checking out the man for his temperament and communication skills and, therefore, they had to take all of the abuse from irate tourists after they had suffered a two hour underground ordeal which they could never forget.
"Now this passage is called 'The Fat Woman's Misery', which makes a nice change," Mr. Feywood declared in a harsh voice.
A few female gasps of shock and a couple of suppressed male snickers were heard.
"Don't worry ladies," he told them, "if you get stuck, I have the 'Old Persuader' handy." He held up a cattle prod for all to see and charged it up, it hummed and crackled to a horrified audience.
"YOU WOULDN'T DARE!" gasped a plump woman in a low tonal growl.
A smug sardonic smirk was all she received in answer.
"This is positively inhumane!" another screeched. "DO SOMETHING." She elbowed the gaunt pale-faced, dark-haired, dark-eyed stranger next to her.
She received a cold stare in return and an expression that seemed to say, "Why should I?"
"Well ... Someone do SOMETHING," she appealed to the others.
There was a general stampede to get through the gap before those women tried, no one wanted to be 'accidentally' zapped by being in the way. Most of them had been forewarned about the bad-tempered guide and, for some, that was half the appeal of the cave. Others braved it for its famous outstanding beauty.
The overweight females squeezed through without any 'persuasion' necessary, although one had been told by the guide - when she threatened not to move from the spot - that she could stay in the dark with the cave spiders for all he cared - she moved then.
It was later when the guide, ever watchful and harrying his charges as usual, noticed the pale gaunt man moving off in the wrong direction.
"HEY! You there," Guide Feywood bellowed out, "where the hell do you think you're going?"
Captain Black, generally checking out the cave for the benefit of his Mysteron masters, gave the guide a venomous glare. He had been waiting for an opportunity to sneak off and investigate the caverns on his own, but he and the Mysterons hadn't counted on the beady-eyes of the cave's guide.
That was the exact moment Troy Feywood sealed his own doom.
The glare was wasted on the small grumpy man, who was quite immune to the anger of others.
"Get back in line at once, you STUPID man," Mr. Feywood shouted. He strode up to Captain Black and grabbed his arm. "The last thing I need is another bunch of rescuers traipsing around through my cave searching for yet another dopey lost tourist who wouldn't have the brains of an underdeveloped flea!"
He gave Black a shove in the direction of the others with a force that took the Mysteron Agent totally by surprise, causing him to go stumbling down the incline and right in amongst the watching crowd - who were silently grateful that it wasn't one of them singled out for attention. That had a domino effect of knocking them off balance, ending with a small boy falling into a nearby rock pool.
"My baby! my baby!" the mother wailed, whilst waving her arms about for dramatic effect, "who will save my son?"
The current, stronger than usual - caused by recent heavy rains, started carrying the boy towards a narrow gap which then disappeared into a small dark cavern.
"Get your grubby little brat out of that water this instant!" screeched the unbelieving Troy Feywood. "He's polluting the water; fibres from his clothes, not to mention body grease and secretions, could irreparably damage the cave's fragile ecosystem. What were you thinking of, woman, letting him swim in there?"
"He's not swimming, he's drowning," she sobbed, "he can't swim."
"GREAT! Now I'll have another investigation on my hands ... all those bloody questions again and why? All because some idiot mother couldn't watch over her kid properly. I simply don't believe it and now we're way off schedule."
"How can you think of schedules when there is a little boy in danger?" snarled another woman. Supporting murmurs were heard. "Jump in there and get him out."
"Are you nuts? That water's ice cold, I could catch my death."
His death was precisely what Captain Black was looking forward to, as he plunged into the waist-deep water - reached out and grabbed the passing toddler by his clothing at the scruff of the neck. Still holding the struggling child thus, he strode out of the water and handed the sodden, wailing boy back to his mother.
Saving him wasn't an act of kindness, the Mysterons didn't want their agent mixed up or delayed by an investigation going on and all the publicity caused by a dead or injured child would have ruined their plans completely. They felt that Captain Black had attracted more than enough attention as it was, because of the guide, and they were not happy.
"OH ... You Darling Wonderful Man, You," screamed the mother, whilst throwing herself at a startled Captain Black, making him skid and fall back onto the floor. She then proceeded to feverishly kiss his face all over, his pallid appearance didn't alarm her at all - even if he had been covered in moth-eaten warts she would have acted the same. The crowd, happy now, cheered her on and clapped their hands, with the occasional wolf-whistle thrown in.
The guide went ballistic. "Get off him, get off ... this is disgusting. How can you two carry on like this in front of others? This is a cave full of the marvels and beauty of nature, not a bordello! You can carry on your cheap tawdry affair when you are back outside, NOT IN MY CAVE!"
Captain Black finally managed, with great effort, to push her off, but, later on, he was upbraided by the guide once more when he was spotted throwing away a piece of paper with the woman's phone number on it.
"Now," Troy Feywood rubbed his hands with glee, looking pleased with himself. "Now, we have the great pit. You will notice that there is a barrier around it, because several people have been dumb enough in the past to fall in. It drops down two hundred and fifty metres; so whoever goes in, doesn't come back ... any takers?"
The lights went out.
Captain Black, guided by the Mysterons, was able to easily locate the guide in the pitch darkness, pick him up and toss him over the railing. Any part of Black's mind that was his own would have felt a certain satisfaction at what he had done, although the Mysterons did have twinges of doubt - they felt that, maybe - in the long run, they had done all Earthmen a favour in getting rid of that creature.
An echoing scream of confusion and outrage was the last ever heard from the original guide.
"What was that?" a male voice asked. "Did someone fall in?"
"Don't be so daft," another answered in a scoffing tone. "It's just one of those stupid pranks guides play in these places. I mean that's such an old trick, you'd think they'd try something more original."
"I see a green light," a child cried out excitedly.
"Maybe this cave is haunted by lost tourists," her brother joined in with breathless expectation and joy.
"Sorry kids," their father told them in a knowledgeable tone, "glowworms give off green light ... something to do with their digestive processes."
"Oooower," the boy whined in disappointment, "I want to see a ghost, I want to see a ghost."
"QUIET KID, or you'll become one," barked a voice in the dark ... The guide was back, or more correctly, his Mysteronised double.
"Turn on the lights, I'm tired of this silly joke," grumbled someone else.
"Afraid of the dark, are we?" was the sneered rejoinder. "Afraid the cave monsters will get you?"
Some children started screaming in terror at the suggestion.
"They really love tasty little children best of all," he added with relish, then gave off a menacing laugh.
"You're sick," a lady snapped. "Now put those bloody lights on!"
An hour later, a pack of weary frazzled tourists finally emerged from the cave, a quarter of them lugging heavy children in their arms. The tour guide had told them that the 'cave monsters' would dissolve their feet and thereby ensured two things: one, that the woman with the rescued child wouldn't pester Captain Black anymore; and two, that those children would have lifelong phobias about caves.
"I don't see what great sin we have committed that we have to search this particular cave," grumbled Captain Ochre.
"Actually, this cave system is supposed to be one of the most spectacular and beautiful in the world," answered Captain Magenta, still reading the catalogue he was holding.
"They ALL say that," scoffed his companion, "but it's not that I'm grumbling about ... it's rumours I've heard about the guide, Troy Feywood - it seems he has quite a reputation for being harsh and rude."
"Are you seriously worried about THAT?" he was asked incredulously.
"You're right, I'm overreacting and the rumours are probably all blown out of proportion. Hmph, what's he going to do to us anyway? Bite us on the ankles?"
They both laughed.
"YOU'RE LATE!" snapped a voice from behind, making both men jump.
"Sorry, but we were given a mixed-up map and were turned around ..." Captain Ochre started to explain.
"Save it for someone who'd believe you; I heard you laughing, you think it was funny making me wait," Troy Feywood complained.
"Not at all, but we are here now. I'm Cap ..."
"Yeah, yeah. Captain Yellow and your friend is Captain Pink," he bent his wrist in an effeminate manner.
"Captain Ochre and Captain Magenta," Ochre answered forcefully, feeling nettled.
"The other colours suit you better," the guide sneered and walked off to his office to get the keys.
"GOD! I think your rumours were right!" gasped Magenta. "What an odious little man."
"Psychologists would probably say he wasn't cuddled enough as a child."
"I can see why, I'd rather hug a snake!"
"Less venomous for sure."
"C'mon, don't just stand there gossiping like a pair of old crones, let's get a move on," the guide yelled out from the locked gate at the cave's entrance.
"Watch your head," the guide cautioned, after Captain Ochre had cracked his skull on an enormous stalactite.
"Watch your step," he said later, this time after Captain Magenta nearly broke his leg when he stepped into a huge pothole.
"Ever thought of putting in a proper walkway," Magenta grumbled, rubbing his sore shin.
"Walkways are for sissies," he was informed, "so, I can see why you'd want one."
"I really hope this man turns out to be a Mysteron," Magenta harshly whispered to Ochre.
"Why? As if we don't have enough trouble with him as it is," he answered, hastily ducking under another limestone formation, but nearly twisting his knee when it was caught between two stalagmites.
"Hurry up, hurry up ... God, you two are slow!" the guide yelled back, quite enjoying the workout he was giving them.
"If he turns out to be a Mysteron, I can kill him," Magenta growled.
They both rounded a corner, found themselves without footing and subsequently sliding down a steep bank of damp flowstone, ending up in a shallow pool of frigid water at the bottom.
"You men are very unsteady on your feet, have you been drinking?" their torturer snickered.
"Arrgh! This water is so cold and I'm soaked through," Ochre complained, taking off a boot and emptying it.
"Forgot your waterproof thermal undies?" was the taunting reply.
"Why didn't you warn us that was slippery?" he was crossly asked by Ochre.
"You have eyes, use them. Yours mustn't be much of an organisation if you two are the best they can send - you are quite pathetic, I've seen eighty year-olds walk through these caves with more agility and grace. C'mon, I doubt we should be sitting around passing the time like this, there's so much more to see."
"You're not going to kill him," Ochre growled to Magenta, "I am ... Mysteron or not!"
"I doubt that we are the only ones to feel that way ... and to think, I used to like seeing caves - he's putting me off for life."
"VANDALS!" the Mysteronised Troy Feywood later screamed in another part of the cave. "DESTROYERS OF BEAUTY! TERRORISTS! Men have to destroy anything worthwhile which they lay their greedy eyes on; look what you have done, you great blundering fools!"
Captains Ochre and Magenta had taken a wrong turn and had crashed into a small grotto full of fragile soda straw formations, sending shards of calcite crystals in all directions.
"Do you know how many hundreds, if not thousands of years you have destroyed?" the guide continued his onslaught of abuse.
"If your track was properly marked this wouldn't have happened!" snapped Magenta, shaking bits of broken soda straws off his clothing and getting cuts on him from sharp edges still clinging to the ceiling, he had nearly poked his eye on one.
"That's right, put the blame on someone else. I tell you what ... this won't go unpunished."
"Meaning what?" Captain Ochre asked, with barely suppressed anger, keeping his hands clenched - he so wanted to reach out and throttle the miserable scourge standing in front of them.
"There are huge fines for defacing formations in caves and I'm certainly reporting you. I personally think you should be locked up."
"You're the one who should be locked away, you're just plain mad."
"MAD? MAD! How dare you come here and despoil my cave and then act in a rude arrogant manner towards someone who was kind enough to help you to find your way around out of the goodness of his heart."
Both captains' thoughts at that statement were unprintable.
"I think you are doing all this on purpose," Ochre suggested, when his fuming had lessened.
"WHAT? Do you really think I WANT two nearsighted bungling elephants stomping around breaking things?" Hysteria seemed to overtake the guide.
"I'm sure we would have been able to find our way around much better without you, all you are is a damned nuisance," the mustard coloured captain told him straight.
"Then you can find your way out without me then!" The angry little man stormed off.
"Good riddance," sighed Magenta, "now perhaps we'll be in less danger."
The lights went out.
"GREAT. Now what?"
"That evil malicious little rat ... I swear ... I am going to make him pay for this," Captain Ochre forcefully spoke out into the inky darkness.
"All is not lost, I have a map of this cave and a flashlight."
"You must be psychic."
"No. When Colonel White started talking about caves and sinkholes after hearing the last Mysteron threat, er ... how did it go?"
"A great beauty will suffer a sinking feeling."
"Yes, well I thought it would be handy to be prepared to crawl about in unlit passages."
"You're keen, now this whole place is an unlit passage."
"I wonder what put caves in the old man's head in the first place." Magenta then mused.
"Oh ... that. It's coincidental actually, he had been reading about them and about how some town once partially disappeared down one when it collapsed and caused a sinkhole. Then it turns out that there are caves in the hills all around Suki Springs, which is supposed to be the most beautiful small town on Earth ..."
"Yes, so the judges say - ten years in a row and that's the reason so many politicians from all over the world like to come here this time of year." Magenta rolled his eyes. "They have to relax in tranquil settings after all their arduous duties - The Poor Little Things!"
"I can safely bet that judging doesn't take place when they're in town."
An amused chuckle was the response.
Captain Magenta found that his map didn't help him much, since neither of them had any idea which part of the cave they were in. Then their flashlight started dimming, so the unfortunate pair had to call in for help. Their cap microphones were suffering from interference in that part of the cave, so their information was sketchy. They were told that they should try to make their way to the cavernous opening in one section of the cave called 'Feywood's Colossal Cavern' on the map. They were further advised that help was on the way, as it now seemed highly probably that they were in the most likely trouble spot.
"He's named just about every feature in this cave after himself," spat Magenta in disgust, trying to find the place on the map.
"Well, no one else was going to name something after him," Ochre reasoned.
"I don't know, how about a disease? Feywood's Degenerative Syndrome."
"I heard that," a voice in the dark told them.
Captain Magenta swung his torch around, but couldn't spot the owner.
"I was going to turn the lights back on for you; if you were ready to ask forgiveness for your rude offensive behaviour, but I can see that you haven't learnt any manners at all." Feywood went on to describe what he thought of them and mankind in particular. The doppelganger had a sort of 'freedom' in that he could be as rude as he liked without being out of character.
While he was ranting on, the two captains whispered to each other, turned off the torchlight, got down on all fours and carefully crept away. Their efforts were almost in vain, however, when Captain Ochre felt, what seemed to him, dozens of little legs scurry across his face - he never found out what it was either. It had occurred to them that it would be a good idea to lie in wait for the guide, since he seemed to be following them, and to grab him to try to force him to turn the lights back on.
An hour later; stiff, cold and disgruntled, they finally saw a bobbing torch light heading their way.
"GOTCHA! You stinking scrawny little weasel," triumphantly called out Captain Ochre, as he and Magenta pounced at their prey.
A cry of complete surprise and consternation met his ears.
"You are going to tell us where the light switches are, or you'll be sorry," Captain Magenta promised, putting the man in a painful armlock.
"Captain Ochre? Captain Magenta? Is that you two?" asked Captain Scarlet's voice in the darkness behind them.
Captain Ochre hurriedly picked up the dropped torch and shone it on the face of ... Captain Blue.
"OOPS!" declared Magenta, hastily letting his prisoner go.
"That hurt," Captain Blue told him accusingly. "What's the big idea?"
"We were abandoned by our guide."
"I don't wonder!"
Ochre and Magenta hastily explained. They were then told in turn that none of the lights worked; they had been tampered with and so Captains Scarlet and Blue had just followed the walkway by torch light.
On hearing that there REALLY was a decent walkway, two captains renewed their vows of revenge.
"Pity your guide isn't still with you, I'd be able to sense if he's a Mysteron or not," Scarlet told them.
"I doubt it," disputed Magenta, "he instantly gave both of us nasty sensations."
"Probably just got off on the wrong foot," Blue guessed, with a grin.
"Wish you were there."
"No thanks, my arm still hurts because of your experiences with him."
"So, why did you want to meet us at the giant cavern?"
"We found out some disturbing information," Blue told him.
"Go on," he was warily urged.
"That cavern is beneath a large dam that is in a valley next to and slightly above Suki Springs."
Captain Scarlet took up the narrative. "And if that part of the cave were to collapse ..."
"Don't tell me, we'll all drown and so will the town and all its brain-dead politicians," Magenta surmised.
"Sssh, don't say that ... even if it is true."
"Well, who's brilliant idea was it to build a dam on top of a large limestone cave?"
"The rocks over that particular area are supposed to be impervious to water."
"Any excuse will do."
"In any case, we'll have to check out the cavern for suspicious objects."
"Shouldn't there be an explosives expert here?" Ochre asked.
"Yes, but the closest one has a couple of problems. He suffers from claustrophobia and is afraid of the dark," Scarlet explained.
"Some expert you found!" sputtered Magenta.
"He said he can talk us through it," Scarlet reasoned.
"Mighty big of him."
"Apparently he once had a very bad experience in a cave as a child and that left him mentally scarred for life," Scarlet further explained.
"And we might end up physically scarred."
"I bet anything it was this cave and this bloody guide," jumped in Ochre.
A group of captains swore under their breaths, as they walked further along the path, words that boded ill for Troy Feywood or his doppelganger, whichever the case may be.
"Is anyone making any attempt at all to evacuate the town?" asked Captain Ochre.
"Yes," answered Scarlet. "Captain Grey has that thankless task. He was pretty upset when I last heard from him, because half the people there wouldn't believe they were in any trouble. They even wanted to form a committee to do a viability study into the supposed dangers they faced."
Groaning sounds of disbelief was heard from the other captains.
"He did manage to make some ground when he told them that 'reality could strike in the form of a wall of water that would crush them and everything in its path, whether they approved or not, as they were all replaceable and easily forgotten.'"
"Good old Grey, the diplomat," chuckled Ochre, as he followed Blue around a bend in the path.
"Ah ... that's the 'Great Feywood Pit', so "Feywood's Colossal Cavern' is just around that next bend- on the other side of 'Feywood's Monument'," Captain Blue cheerfully pointed out.
They all stood and stared a while at the huge cavern before them, even if it was by torch light. After all the decorative formations they had passed, they found this place was almost plain.
"There is still a couple of sizable columns here," Magenta commented, "so water must seep in from somewhere, or has at least done so for many thousands of years."
"Could be a fault line of some sort, so a well placed explosion would probably work," Captain Blue remarked, gloomy now.
"That could be 'Feywood's Handiwork'," Captain Magenta had his torch beam fixed on a object right at the very top of the largest formation in the room. "Who feels like climbing a wedding cake?"
"That's what that type of column is often called."
"Yes, I suppose it does look a bit like a frosted cake."
"But ..." Magenta grinned, unable to control his thoughts, "it might be full of troglobites."
"Only if YOU climb it. You are closer to a troglodyte than any of us - in a hairy sense ... and a mental one too, no doubt."
"I said 'bite', not 'dyte'," he smirked, glad someone had taken the bait. "Troglobites are those blind cave creatures that live permanently in caves."
"Thinking of becoming a cave guide?" Captain Ochre asked, not impressed - he knew Magenta had been reading all that earlier in the brochure he had.
"After today ... I'll pass."
"Good, does that means we're finished with the natural history lesson?" Captain Scarlet asked, with a touch of acid in his voice.
"Who's our best climber?" Captain Ochre inquired.
"Captain Black," Magenta instantly responded and then noticed all the withering stares he was receiving. "Er ... that is ... from what I heard in the past, he was supposed to be damned good."
"If he were here, then we could very politely ask him to climb back up there and retrieve it for us." Ochre's voice was heavy with sarcasm.
"He could be watching us right now, quite easily."
"Thank you so much for that."
"I DO sense something," Scarlet told them, holding his head.
"A Mysteron with a bazooka trained on us?" was Magenta's further unwelcome contribution.
"Will you keep your wonderful charming thoughts to yourself!" snapped Ochre, then a thought struck him.
They turned their torches off and had a hurried whispered conference in the darkness.
"I seriously think, Captain Ochre, that you should climb up there, you being the most agile of us," declared Captain Blue in a raised authoritative voice.
"Yes, your dexterity is well known," agreed Scarlet.
"HA! What Morons you all are!" the scoffing snarl from the Mysteronised Troy Feywood could be heard, he just couldn't let such comments go by him.
"I take it that you are the 'friendly' guide we've heard so much about. Why don't you come over and introduce yourself?" Blue suggested.
"Why should I? You don't look any more impressive than those other hopeless twits and I know who you are," Mr. Feywood sneered.
"How do you know?"
"Your pretty little uniform colours tend to give you away and with little matching booties too," was the snide reply. "Where are your colour-coded purses?"
"We are not allowed to use them anymore, as they caused too much jealously and little old ladies kept stealing them."
"Ha, you Earthmen are so witty - aren't you?"
"We are also clever," Captain Blue pointed out with relish.
"What do ... OW!"
Feywood had been set upon by the two men who had had more than their fair share of suffering because of him. They had managed to sneak upon him whilst Captains Blue and Scarlet distracted him. They then dragged the struggling cursing bundle of fury over to their colleagues.
"Any weapons on him?" Scarlet queried.
"Only his tongue," Ochre replied; still keeping a firm grip, as yet another stream of vitriol burst forth off the self same body part.
"Right," Captain Scarlet then addressed the aggressive creature. "So, I take it that you are responsible for that item sitting up on top of that column?"
"You will never reach it in time, fool, it will go off any minute now."
"Won't that destroy your precious cave?" Captain Ochre asked him.
"Only a small part of it and that hardly matters to ME."
Captain Scarlet started ascending the column and found it very hard going.
"Told you that you were all simpletons, look at that dopey idiot," Feywood laughed. "He's climbing on the wrong si ..." The Mysteronised guide suddenly shut up.
"Thanks for that," Scarlet told him with the greatest pleasure, when he had reached the other side. "It is much easier over here and faster too. See, you can be helpful when you try ... Don't understand why I heard so many complaints to the contrary."
The guide was silent for once and just stood glowering.
Captain Scarlet reached the device and using his cap microphone talked to the explosives expert, but wisely didn't tell the man exactly where he was - it had been mentioned in passing that the man also suffered long-range phobias. Scarlet found out some more disturbing information concerning the bomb he was studying.
"Captain Blue, I'm dropping this down to you - throw it in the pit, it might be far enough away not to affect this area. Do it quickly, we don't have much time and don't drop it."
As it was falling through the air towards Blue's outstretched hands, Captain Ochre found his hand being severely fanged and Captain Magenta felt his tender shin being kicked. That was enough to loosen their hold of the Mysteron and he wriggled free, pushed Captain Blue into a wall and grabbed the bomb.
"You're not going to stop it, you're not," he squealed, running and dodging the determined captains.
"It's like trying to catch a slippery pig in the dark," panted Ochre, just missing again and then losing sight of him.
Magenta and Blue had managed to crash into each other when the guide ducked and sprinted back to the column. He had forgotten about Captain Scarlet, who, on his way down, promptly leapt on him and managed to wrestle the device off the Mysteronised man. The Feywood copy still didn't give up though and managed to clutch at the device once more as Scarlet was about to drop it in the pit. A tugging match ensued and then stopped abruptly - Captain Scarlet had decided to let him have it. The little guide had barely time to wonder why, when he felt himself bodily lifted from the ground. Captains Ochre and Magenta had picked him up.
"I would like to thank the Mysterons for the opportunity to do this to you," Magenta expressed with great satisfaction.
"Ditto," added Ochre, as they tossed him over the barrier and into the pit - then they all dived for cover.
The resulting explosion didn't harm the cavern or the dam, but it did affect a reasonably sized underground river that flowed in the cave system's lower regions. It found itself blocked off and its only escape route took it out into the valley occupied by the township of Suki Springs. No lives were lost, but the town was completely flooded and ruined. A certain prime minister of a small country did face major embarrassment when he was found floating in the water, naked and handcuffed to his bed - a fact he found very hard explaining to his wife who was absent that day. Neither she nor the media believed him when he said he had been set upon by masked men. "Wearing bright red lipstick and eating grapes!' his wife had snapped at him, before giving him a resounding slap across the face in front of the cameras.
Taking into account the nature of the Earthman they had destroyed and balancing that against the property damage done, the Mysterons did not consider it a victory.
12th November, 2000
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site.