A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short story.
by Tiger Jackson
Captain Black had run into a dead end. He whirled around to face his pursuer.
“Give up, Black! There’s no way out!” shouted Captain Scarlet.
Black saw the gun in his foe’s hand. He knew he could not escape, but Black turned to present a smaller target and reached for his gun anyway. Before he could draw it, Scarlet fired once. Time seemed to slow down. Black could almost see the bullet that struck him in the thigh, just above the knee, with a dull thudding impact. His leg felt cold and numb, but there was no pain. He glanced down at it, then looked back at the man who had just shot him. Black seized his gun and attempted to draw it. Scarlet fired again. This time, Black felt the bullet’s impact in his right arm. A fierce heat was followed by searing pain as the bone shattered. Yet he continued attempting to raise the gun, as if his arm was on a string and the controller did not realise the puppet was broken. Once more, Scarlet fired. The bullet tore into Black’s chest. He felt a deep sharp pain, like an acute cramp. Gasping for air, he watched with a curious feeling of detachment as the gun slipped from his fingers and he slowly began to fold up. His ears were filled with loud, rhythmic noise: it was the frantic beat of his own racing heart, Black realised. It seemed to take him a long time to fall. But when he hit the floor, time suddenly sped up again. The excruciating pain of his wounds flashed through him and he couldn’t seem to breathe. He clutched frantically at his chest with his good arm, trying to tear his shirt open and relieve the pressure on his chest.
Captain Scarlet bent over his foe. Black’s visage was contorted with agony and his breathing was laboured. He ground his teeth to keep from crying out as pain spilled from his rich brown eyes.
“Lie still. I’m calling for help,” Scarlet told the stricken man as he activated his radio cap’s mic.
But before Cloudbase responded to Scarlet’s call, Black narrowed his eyes to slits. “It’s too late, Earthman,” he grated in an inhuman voice through clenched teeth. Black’s body faded, became transparent, then disappeared.
In a shabby, minimally furnished room, a rat slunk along the wall, sniffing the air every few steps for the odours of food or a predator. It froze as it suddenly detected a new and powerful smell, one that had not been there a moment ago. It began to salivate as it anticipated the taste of fresh blood.
Captain Black opened his eyes to find that he was alone; Captain Scarlet was gone. He was finding it hard to breathe; it felt as if his lungs were refusing to inflate. Gingerly, Black raised his left hand to touch his chest and then looked at his fingers. He was not surprised to see that they were bluish and coated with bright red. His chest was pierced. Probably one or both lungs had collapsed. Black let his hand fall to his side. Captain Scarlet had shot him in the chest, had shot him several times, Black remembered now. The Mysterons must have teleported him, and left him lying on this bed in yet another anonymous room somewhere. And, he realised, he was being punished.
He’d been injured on missions before. Usually, the Mysterons fixed him up while teleporting him, somehow combining the teleportation process with a retrometabolic beam like the one he’d seen them use on Mars. But sometimes, when he had failed to carry out a mission, they had let him suffer with his injuries for a while before healing him. Occasionally, they did not heal him at all, but left him to recover naturally. Black tried to shift his position slightly and keened as pain shot up his broken arm and injured leg. He lay still and waited until the pain became tolerable again.
Laboriously, the rat pulled itself up onto the bed with the injured man, then froze when he moved. It crouched. It watched. It waited.
Black wheezed. The Mysterons had never before left him unhealed with such serious injuries. It was possible, he knew and so the Mysterons would know, that his lungs could mend and reinflate on their own after a few days. Possible, but not likely; he suspected the bullet had caused too much damage. A small hope kindled deep inside Black. Could his captors have misjudged the extent of his injuries? Was there a chance he might finally be released from his captivity by death? He smothered the tiny flame; he didn’t dare to hope. The Mysterons had no intention of releasing him, ever, he was sure. He gasped for air. His pain and distress were too obvious for them to leave him suffering much longer. The Mysterons would use the retrometabolising beam on him soon.
Time passed. And still, the Mysterons did not act.
The rat crept forward, moving cautiously up the side of the bed. As light as it was, Black felt the flimsy mattress shift slightly with the rat’s weight. Revolted by the sight of the creature, Black lashed out weakly with his good arm. The rat nimbly danced away, its beady black eyes shining with a new menace. It crouched again and watched him. It could afford to be patient.
Captain Black felt weak and nauseous. He knew he’d been bleeding and struggling to breathe for quite some time now. He could see light through the window’s dingy glass, yet the room began to darken. His eyelids felt heavy, yet the rest of his body felt curiously light, as if he was becoming weightless. Was this how death began? Black wondered before closing his eyes. A minute spark of hope still glowed within his soul.
Someone was tugging at him. Annoyed, Black frowned, then blinked. He turned his head to see who it was. The hungry rat had finally tired of waiting and had begun its feast by chewing on his blood-soaked trouser-leg. Black sat up and whipped his right arm to deliver a savage, chopping blow to the rat. It shrieked just once as its body tumbled to the floor in terminal convulsions. Black slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed and scanned the room. There was little enough to see. The bed he sat on; bland-coloured walls that hadn’t been touched by paint in years; a wooden chair with black clothes neatly draped over it; an undistinguished dresser; a rag rug that clearly deserved its name; and a sink with a clouded mirror. There was nothing at all to suggest where on Earth he was this time. Assuming he was still on Earth and not in Hell. Captain Black grimaced. If it was the latter, it could hardly be worse than the last few years of his life had been.
No, he was very much alive — he could feel it. The Mysterons had healed him and killed hope while he lay unconscious. Black covered his face with his hands as rage welled up in him.
He didn’t want to sit here in this room, this kennel, and stare at the empty walls, waiting until his Mysteron masters gave him orders or inflicted some new torture. He had to get out, if only for a little while. He got to his feet and grimaced as he felt pain lance through his knee. Apparently the Mysterons had decided not to heal him completely, but leave him with just enough pain to remind him of their power over him. As if he needed reminding. He peeled off the blood-soaked turtleneck and trousers and soaked a flannel with the cold water that poured from the hot-water tap. He looked in the mirror as he washed the blood from his chest and arm. There were no new scars; it was as if Captain Scarlet hadn’t shot him at all.
Once he was clean and dry, Black donned the fresh clothing and tied his bootlaces. He noted impassively that the rat’s body had stopped twitching, and with his good leg kicked it out the door and down the dingy hallway. No doubt the rat had companions who would see to its disposal. He left the bloody clothes where he’d dropped them; they’d be gone by the time he came back.
He wasn’t surprised to discover that the small, rattle-cage elevator did not respond to the call button. His anger flared up again as he realised he would have to take the stairs. He gritted his teeth against the grinding, jarring pain of each slow step down, down, down, flight after flight.
“Hey, Mr Black!” someone called as he reached the lobby. American. Urban. Black readily identified that much from the voice, but he couldn’t precisely place the speaker’s accent. Not that it mattered much in a highly mobile world; the man could be a recent incomer or a lifelong native resident of whatever place this was. “Mr Black! Gotch ya a letter from some forrin broad!” Black said nothing as he slowly approached what passed for the front desk. The flophouse manager continued to chatter on. “Said her name was Gabby Ella, somefin’ like that. Tall and a real good looker. She oughta be a model or somefin’ with that black hair and them blue eyes. Her clothes musta cost a bundle! What’s a classy broad like her commin to see you fuh, huh?” He leered as he handed over a sealed envelope. The Mysteron agent glared at the man, before he turned away and strode out the door, ignoring the desire to limp and relieve the pain in his leg.
Captain Black walked around the corner and leaned against a wall, sweating with pain and the effort of fighting to control it. He looked at the envelope in his hand. It was unusual, but the Mysterons had occasionally used other agents such as Gabriella to deliver messages by hand. It had to be from them; no one else could know where he was. Tearing it open, he found a card inside.
Black stared at it, then threw his head back and laughed, a mirthless, bitter noise. The card’s message was simple.
GET WELL SOON.
Stories can be triggered by many things. In this case, I was reading Jack Heston’s Crisis: Anasta, published in Mike Adamson’s fanzine Red Alert. In Jack’s story, as in many others, Captain Black was wounded, then disappeared before he could be captured. At that moment I wondered, what happens to Captain Black next? This story offers an idea.
I apologise to the domesticated-rat fanciers who read this story, but the rat’s behaviour is not an invention. It’s an amalgam from many, many sources containing eyewitness descriptions of how wild urban rats behave toward helpless people. It also helps explain why I once kept as many as 22 barn cats gainfully employed.
Many thanks are owed to Doc Brown for taking the time to beta-read and make some excellent edits to my prose. Feedback helps me to become a much better writer.
Thanks are also especially owed to my father, who long ago suffered battlefield wounds similar to Captain Black’s and provided me with invaluable material for this story.
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