by Tiger Jackson
A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short story for Christmas 2005
Colonel White had summoned Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue for a mission briefing. He looked up as they approached, punched a button on his desk, and waved them to the two chairs that rose silently from beneath the deck. The men seated themselves and waited attentively for the briefing to begin.
“As you’ll recall,” began Colonel White, “not long ago, Captain Black attempted to carry out a Mysteron attack against San Francisco by further destabilizing the San Andreas fault. While you were kept busy successfully averting the disaster, Black managed to escape.”
Captains Scarlet and Blue both nodded. They remembered all too well how close the city had come to annihilation.
“Since then, in addition to Spectrum, personnel from every law enforcement and security agency in North America have been on the lookout for Captain Black. But there was no sign of him anywhere until today.” The colonel pressed a button on his desk and a picture appeared on the screen behind him. “Those are the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. A Spectrum field agent was on holiday there, a back-country skiing trip. There are cabins hidden in the forest but although they can be reached with difficulty by roads in the summer, they’re virtually inaccessible in the wintertime. Yet he discovered fresh tracks going up the mountain in that direction and none returning.”
“And you think Captain Black may be hiding out there?” asked Captain Scarlet. “Did our agent actually see him?”
“No, and that’s why we’re not notifying any of the other agencies that are searching for him. But there’s been no sign of Black anywhere. If he’s still somewhere in North America, it’s not unlikely he’d hide out in a remote and inhospitable area. It’s only a slim chance that he’s there in the Cascade Mountains but we can’t afford to ignore it.”
“If he’s there, we’ll find him,” said Captain Blue firmly.
“The quartermaster will provide you both with your necessary cold-weather clothing and survival gear. You’ll fly to Mount Rainier National Park in Oregon where you’ll meet with a ranger, McKenzie, at the Paradise ranger station. He’ll provide you with snowmobiles and maps of the area. Good luck, Captains.”
Captain Blue signalled for a halt. Captain Scarlet stopped his snowmobile alongside Blue’s and waited while his partner checked their position on the GPS. “We’re about three miles from the first of the cabins,” remarked Blue as he sealed the GPS in a pocket of his anorak.
“Just our luck it snowed again last night,” groused Scarlet. “If it hadn’t, we might have been able to spot Captain Black’s trail from the air and narrowed down the search area.”
Far up the mountain, Captain Black scanned the snow plains for signs of pursuers. There! A patch of red made a stark contrast against the flat white snow and blue shadows. He trained his binoculars on it. So, Spectrum have discovered where I am. He smiled coldly. I’ll have to roll down the welcome mat.
“Let’s get going,” said Blue as he started forward onto the snow pack. Captain Scarlet followed a short way behind.
Captains Blue and Scarlet were well out onto the snow plain when they heard the explosion. To their horror, they saw a large snowpack high on the mountain’s face break away and begin to slide.
“Gun it!” shouted Scarlet as he twisted his snowmobile’s throttle. Captain Blue shot ahead as he raced to get out of the avalanche’s path. Captain Scarlet struggled to keep up but his snowmobile’s engine rattled and coughed as he gave it more gas.
Captain Blue could see the edge of the avalanche zone just metres ahead. Feeling his machine buck and slide sideways as the leading edge of the avalanche neared, he gave the throttle one more hard twist and heaved forwards desperately. The snowmobile leaped, then surged forwards into the trees. He was clear of the edge! Blue turned hard, spraying a huge arc of snow.
“That was too close!” he gasped to his comrade. “Oh my God,” he whispered, discovering he was alone. Only moments ago, Captain Scarlet had been right behind him.
Captain Scarlet was still urging his recalcitrant snowmobile to pick up speed when the avalanche’s leading edge surged into him. In less than a second, he found himself rolling helplessly down the hill, his ears filled with the roaring of the avalanche and the snowmobile’s engine. He tried desperately to push the snowmobile away from himself, to swim with the avalanche and stay on its surface, and to clear his mouth and nose as they filled with snow. Just as suddenly as he’d begun rolling, he came to a halt, snow piling around and over him, and solidifying like cement.
Dazed, Captain Scarlet tried to open his eyes. He was cold and all around him was dark. Oh my God. I’m buried alive! Should I try to dig my way out? Which way is the surface? He tried to move; the burning pain in his chest told him some ribs had gone, probably broken by the tumbling snowmobile. One arm had ended up folded over his head and made a small air space. He wiggled it slowly and carefully, and managed to get a hand in front of his face. Just in time, he thought, as he broke the ice mask his breath had begun to form over his nose and mouth. Suffocation is not my favourite way to die. He could feel his other arm and his legs and tried to move them. Nothing. He was held fast by the weight of the snow.
I’ve got to reach my personal locator beacon. It’s the only hope for myself and Adam. Excruciatingly slow, Captain Scarlet worked his one free hand down the front of his anorak, trying to reach the pocket he’d slipped the beacon into. He broke the silence beneath the snow with a curse. There was a tear down the side of his anorak; pocket and beacon were both gone.
There was no time to lose calling for search and rescue; they couldn’t possibly get here for hours. Captain Blue had learned from sad experience how little time there was to save someone buried in an avalanche. He was his friend’s only chance of surviving. Blue turned his snowmobile downhill and began searching.
It’s so dark. I’m cold. It’s getting hard to breathe. I’ve got to try to move, to dig myself out. I can move one hand and one foot a little bit.
I don’t want to die.
Dimly, Captain Scarlet heard Captain Blue’s voice calling his name. It sounded like he was far away. But the snow in front of his face seemed a bit whiter now, as if a light was shining through it.
Is this it? Am I dying? thought Scarlet.
Seconds later, the light became excruciatingly bright as the sun shone down on his face and loosened snow fell into his eyes and made them sting. He blinked and saw his partner staring down at him anxiously.
“Adam?” His voice trembled and his teeth began to chatter. He couldn’t help it. “How did you find me so fast?”
Blue almost laughed. “Thank your lucky stars you were made Captain Scarlet! And that you weren’t completely buried. One of your boots is sticking out above the snow. That bright red of yours stands out like a beacon against all the white. When I saw you move your foot, I knew I had a chance to get you out.”
After much more digging, Scarlet was freed from what was nearly his snowy grave. “Any sign of my snowmobile?”
Blue shook his head. “I didn’t bother looking for it. I imagine it’s somewhere farther down the mountain or else buried somewhere. We’ll have to ride tandem on this one. C’mon, let’s get you down to the ranger station.”
Scarlet tried to shake off his friend. “I’ll be fine in a few more minutes. We came up here to find Captain Black. And we know someone set off a charge and started the avalanche.”
“Paul, do you have any idea how long it took me to dig you out? Even if he thinks we’re both dead, Black knows Spectrum are on to his whereabouts. He’ll be long gone by now.”
With a sigh, Scarlet nodded. “I know. At the very least, we’ve got to check those cabins for any signs of recent inhabitants. He could have left some clue that will point us to where he’s gone or what he’s planning next.”
Colonel White nodded as the captains finished their report. “Unfortunately, our roadblocks weren’t set up in time to prevent Captain Black from leaving the area. No doubt we’ll be seeing him again.”
“It’ll be too soon for me,” murmured Blue.
“That will be all gentlemen.” The debriefing was concluded.
Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue picked up their caps and left the Control Room. Neither man spoke until they reached the corridor outside the Control Room. Scarlet shook his head angrily. “The old man let us off easy. We should have had Black this time!”
“We would have, if he hadn’t set off that avalanche.”
“You should have continued on after him instead of rescuing me. You know I’d have been all right,” growled Scarlet.
Blue stopped. “Would you? You were stuck good, Paul. A little longer, and you would have suffocated. Longer still, and you would have frozen. It wasn’t easy for me to find you in the first place! I’m not sure I could have found my way back to where I thought you’d fallen and then been lucky enough to spot your boot sticking out of the snow!” Blue glared at his friend.
“My retrometabolism would have kicked in. You know that.”
“What if I couldn’t find you again? You’d still have been buried, and probably gone through the process of dying all over again. It would have been another day before I could get rescuers to help me look for you, and how would you have explained your impossible survival or recovery?” Blue shook his head. “Besides, I had to do it. Long story short, I was buried in an avalanche once, when I was a teenager. I dug myself out, but my skiing instructor died. It took us only twenty minutes to find him, but —” He sighed, then locked eyes with his friend. “Anyway, I don’t have complete faith in your retrometabolism, Paul. I made a choice between you and Black, and I don’t regret it.”
Captain Scarlet held his gaze, then gripped his friend’s shoulder. “Thanks, Adam,” he said softly. “I mean that.”
Captain Scarlet sat at his computer to check his e-mail. He smiled as he read the familiar e-address: in every war in every time, messages from home were always the most welcome, especially with Christmas approaching. This time, his mother had attached a photograph she’d recently come across and wanted him to see. As he looked at it, a long-forgotten episode from his childhood flashed before him.
The Metcalfe family had gone up to Fife in Scotland to visit Paul’s grandmother. It was only Paul’s third Christmas but he’d already learned that packages from Grandma Emily were special. Gleefully, he tore away the shiny wrapping paper and opened the box, spilling the contents, red snow boots and a matching red anorak, hat, and mittens, across the floor. He squealed with delight at the bright colours.
Major Charles Metcalfe was flabbergasted. “Mother, why on earth did you choose red? Paul will look like a warning beacon! Why not something more masculine like blue or dark green?”
Emily Metcalfe assumed a mock-serious expression. “I’ve raised boys myself you know, Charles. You’ll soon learn, it’s only fair to warn others he’s around.” She chuckled. “And the first time he runs off when your back is turned, you’ll be very grateful for how easy it is to spot him.”
On Boxing Day, Major Metcalfe took his son on a surprise outing to a dog-sled outfitters. The boy was entranced by the sight of the huskies being put into their harnesses and attached to the sleds.
“We ride with doggies, Daddy?”
“Yes, Paul. We’re going for a dog-sled ride!”
The dog-sled outfitter, Ian MacLeod, greeted the Metcalfes warmly. “It’s always a pleasure to have guests who aren’t afraid of new experiences. We get a lot of lowlanders who expect to sit down and be driven instead of handling their own sled!” He laughed heartily. Major Metcalfe joined in, but his wife Mary looked a bit disconcerted.
MacLeod led the way. “This is your sled and dog team over here, Major. Your son will ride in the pocket, of course.”
The boy furrowed his brow. “Too big to ride in pocket!”
“This is what we call a ‘pocket,’ MacLeod explained patiently. “You sit on the sled, wrapped up in blankets to keep warm and safe, like you’re tucked away in a pocket. Okay?”
“Okay. Where are the reins?” asked Paul.
MacLeod laughed. “Dogs don’t wear reins, boy. You drive them by shouting orders.” He then instructed Major Metcalfe about the names of the dogs on his team, the correct way to give them commands, and the proper techniques for guiding and stopping the sled. When he finished, he beckoned to Paul to climb on the sled and wrapped him up. He pulled the straps snug but not too snug, so the boy could move about some.
“We’ve had a lot of snow this month, so the banks on either side of the trail are about a metre deep, but we’ve broken a good wide trail between them. Your dogs are familiar with it and they’ll follow my team, so you shouldn’t have to do too much to urge them on. Keep your foot on the brake, Major, until I’m at least 100 metres ahead, then let your dogs go.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us, Mary?” Major Metcalfe asked.
Mary Metcalfe kissed her husband. “I’m quite sure, Charles. I’ll stay warm in the lodge and enjoy a cup of tea while you two are gone.” She stooped to give her son a hug then stood and waved as they left.
The dogs were running fast and strong, needing few commands to keep them on track even when cornering; they seemed content to chase MacLeod s team. Major Metcalfe was alert but relaxed, enjoying the fresh, cold air and his son’s excited chatter and exclamations. But suddenly a deer came out of the forest that surrounded them. It leaped down off the bank and darted up the trail ahead of the sled. The lead dog barked and surged forward, eagerly followed by the entire team.
Major Metcalfe shouted “Whoa!” at the top of his voice. As MacLeod had warned him might happen, the dogs didn’t heed. The major applied the footbrake just as the deer darted sideways off the trail, and the dogs followed.
The sled tipped up sideways, spilling its driver off the runners at the back. Desperately, Major Metcalfe clung to the front bar and threw his weight against it to keep the sled from overturning. It skidded violently before landing upright. The near-wreck had slowed the dogs but not stopped their frenzied pursuit of the deer. The terrain was growing rougher. He had to get back up and regain control of the sled before he suffered a serious injury.
The major hauled himself towards the bar and got an arm over it, then pulled first one, then the other foot forward and back onto the runners. Finally he stood up. “WHOA!” he shouted at the dogs again while slowly and intermittently applying the brake.
Between the braking and the terrain, the dogs had slowed enough to allow the deer to bound away and out of sight among the trees. The dogs stopped and sat down, panting with exertion and disappointment at their quarry’s escape.
The major took a deep breath. “Well that was some ride, wasn’t it, Paul?” he said, trying to sound amused. His son didn’t answer. “Paul? PAUL!” The sled’s pocket was empty.
When the dog sled went up on its side, little Paul had slid out of the pocket and been flung through the air like a rag doll in a tornado. He landed face down in the side of a snow drift, which cushioned his impact with layers of snow. He lay still for a few moments, more surprised than stunned by the impact. By wriggling, Paul compacted some of the snow around him so he could move his arms a little. He was able to move his legs, so he tried to kick and push himself up with his arms, but he couldn’t. He got tired quickly and lay still. Soon he began to feel very cold.
The dogs had been astonished by the volume of Major Metcalfe’s roar and the force with which he turned the team around and set them to racing back the way they’d come.
The young father cursed the dogs silently as he anxiously scanned the snow ahead for any sign of his missing son. “How far are we from the trail? I’ve got to find him! What if he’s injured? Oh, God,” he prayed, “let my boy be okay!”
The colours were stark yet they blended together to conceal: white snow; grey rocks; trees of deep browns, blacks, greens; blue shadows. They concealed animals small and large; they had swallowed a full-grown deer! And somewhere among them now, there was a lost little boy. Despite the cold wind in his face, Major Metcalfe tried not to blink lest he miss anything that might be Paul.
He had just begun to feel a film of ice forming on his eyes when he spotted an incongruous bit of colour moving against the snow. He shouted at the dogs and applied the footbrake as he blinked furiously to clear his vision. He looked again, unsure he was really seeing the bright colour he wanted so much to see.
They were little red boots sticking out of a snow drift. And they were wiggling.
Paul was shivering harder than he ever had in his young life, and he was so tired. But the cold didn’t seem so bad now.
He’d just begun to drift towards sleep when he felt something grab his feet. The boy came abruptly out of his torpor and screamed in terror. “DADDY! DADDY!”
And an instant later, he was freed from his snow-bound little cave and wrapped tightly in the arms of his sobbing father.
“Paul,” the major whispered, kissing the blue cheek. “Paul, I love you so much!”
They were at least a half hour away from the outfitter’s headquarters. Paul was awake but very, very cold; he needed to be kept warm until they could reach a doctor, and his father couldn’t hold him and manage the sled at the same time. Major Metcalfe unhitched one dog and made it climb aboard the sled and lie down before he laid Paul down next to it. Then he wrapped boy and dog together tightly beneath the remaining blankets and made certain the straps were secure. The team quivered with anticipation as he stepped onto the sled’s runners. He gave them the command to go, and they broke into a gallop, barking constantly, as if to warn anything approaching along the trail that they were coming. They didn’t slow down until they were back at the outfitter’s.
Huddled beneath the blankets, the little boy shivered violently. The husky whined softly and turned her head to lick his face with her warm tongue. The boy opened his eyes. The dog whined a little louder and squirmed closer as the sled made a sharp turn.
“Doggie?” the child whispered. When the husky whuffled a little, as if answering him, he snaked an arm over the dog and snuggled up to it, burying his face in the deep, warm fur. The dog continued to make little noises of comfort, and the boy giggled as the dog’s fur tickled his nose.
“Major Metcalfe? Mrs. Metcalfe?”
The doctor noted how young the couple was, and how anxious they were for news of their son. They rose together, clutching one another’s hands tightly.
With an encouraging smile, he began. “You did the right thing, putting that dog in the pocket with Paul to keep him warm and keeping them together until you brought him to the hospital. He won’t suffer any lasting harm, physical or psychological, from his experience.”
“Can we see our son now?” asked Mary.
“Of course.” The doctor led the way to the bed occupied by a small boy and a large husky. “The dog simply won’t leave him; we tried to put her in another room but the howling was disturbing the other patients, so we brought her back in. In my learned opinion,” the doctor declared with amusement, “your son has acquired a new growth at his side, and, well, there’s nothing we can do about that, medically speaking. I believe they’re joined for life.”
There was no explaining the mutual, inseparable attachment that had grown so quickly between the boy and the husky who’d kept him warm. But there was no denying it either.
“Her name’s Mush!” chirped Paul happily. Mush smiled a dog’s smile and licked her boy’s face.
The photograph had been taken not long after he’d been released from the hospital, Captain Scarlet recalled. His three-year-old self, dressed head to toe in the bright red outdoor clothing he’d gotten for Christmas, stood smiling between his kneeling grandmother, who was giving him a big hug, and a blue-eyed grey-and-white husky who was almost as tall as him. He remembered Mush affectionately; she had been an excellent companion for an active, adventurous boy and teenager. Little Paul had continued to wear red snow togs, his favourite colour, through childhood, until he graduated to ski wear in his teens. Quite often, some part of it was red.
What was it Captain Blue had said after digging him out of the avalanche? “Thank your lucky stars you were made Captain Scarlet!” It hadn’t been just luck. When he was newly recruited by Spectrum and asked for his preferences regarding his colour code, he had indicated that he’d prefer some shade of red, the brighter the better.
The brilliant colour did make him extremely visible, of that he was certain. I’m sure Captain Black spotted me on the mountain and triggered the avalanche for that reason, he mused. But red has also saved my life — more than once — because rescuers can find me easily. He chuckled. And if it also serves as a warning that I’m on the job, Mysterons beware!
Captain Scarlet looked at the picture again and decided he would get his mother a very special frame for it. And, after too many years, he would thank his grandmother for her wisdom in giving him scarlet clothes to wear in the snow.
As unlikely as it sounds, dog-sledding is a casual sport in the United Kingdom. And even more surprisingly, sled-dog rallies are held at places such as Fife, although I imagined an especially heavy snowfall occurring around the time of this story. Visit www.snopeak.co.uk for more.
For information and tips on avalanche survival and rescue, see http://www.secretsofsurvival.com/survival/avalanche_survival.html. To get an idea of how dangerous the Cascade Mountains are in wintertime, read a survivor’s story at http://www.drizzle.com/~rdpayne/smithbros/cantgiveup.htm.
A warm thanks and Merry Christmas to Chris Bishop, Mary Rudy, and Marion Woods for their proof-reading and editing, which as always saved me from my own and my word-processor’s dreadful mistakes. May Santa leave the Spectrum swimsuit calendar boy of your choice on your hearths!
And to everyone, whatever winter holidays you celebrate, may they be wondrous and wonderful!
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site