This story previously appeared in Issue 86, of The Power Star fanzine, and is posted here without the authorization of the author, with due acknowledgement – C.B.
The Mysterons...sworn enemies of Earth, possessing the ability to recreate
an exact likeness of an object or person--but first, they must destroy.
Leading the fight, one man fate has made indestructible. His name:
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place shortly after the second episode of the series, "Winged Assassin", approximately one month after the initial incident with the Mysterons that turned Captain Scarlet into the ultimate weapon against the Mysterons...
Captain Scarlet sipped a cup of black coffee as he sat at his desk in his quarters and scanned the morning logs from Spectrum offices worldwide on his personal computer. This had always been a major part of his job with Spectrum; he was quick to spot trends in even the simplest reports that might lead to clues to terrorist activity. It was part of the reason he'd climbed the World Army Air Force ranks so quickly; during his days in WAAF Special Forces, this skill had been invaluable to the WAAF command, and they had rewarded him with promotion after promotion until he was a colonel at age 28, the youngest colonel ever named in WAAF history- and World Army history. He'd been well on his way to making General by age 35 before Spectrum recruited him a year-and-a-half ago to join their newly-forming organization, formally chartered less than a year ago--and now he was back to doing what he did best, watching trends and performing field strategizing.
But this morning, the logs were void of even the most obscure clues, reporting "no activity" or "all quiet" all around. Scarlet typed his analysis of the reports into the computer, then closed out the program and leaned back in his chair, stroking his chin thoughtfully. Friends who'd seen him in this pose always teased him about his resemblence--not in looks, but in actions--to his father, WAAF European Commander General Charles Metcalfe, who was the archetypical British Commander. The comparison always amused the young British captain, who had spent most of his career trying to make his own way in life, trying to avoid being accused of riding on his famous family's reputation. Yet another example, he reminded himself, that heredity and environment have equal parts in shaping personality.
No sooner had the thought completed itself than it made him frown. Scarlet was hardly sure any more what "heredity" meant in his life. The Captain Scarlet who was sitting at this desk, doing this work, was not the man Spectrum had originally recruited, Colonel Paul Metcalfe. He was his clone...and a former Mysteron agent.
It had been only a month since Spectrum had first started fighting the Mysterons, but already the unseen energy beings from Mars had exacted their toll on Spectrum. Their first victim was Captain Black, Spectrum's top agent, who had led the disastrous Zero-X Mission to Mars that first discovered the Mysterons. Black himself had unwittingly started this war by firing on their complex, completely destroying it. The Mysterons showed the Earthmen their awesome power of reversing matter by recreating their base, then took Black over completely, turning him into their agent of destruction on Earth. Black's first job had been to recruit two assassins to carry out the Mysterons' plans to destroy the World President.
His choice: Two top Spectrum captains... Scarlet and Brown.
On their way to pick up the World President in New York and escort him to a Spectrum Maximum Security Building, Scarlet and Brown's Spectrum Saloon Car had been attacked by an unseen energy force that blew out their front tire and sent the car careening out of control over an embankment. Both men in the car were killed...and instantly recreated into Mysteron terrorists. The new Brown died in service to his Mysteron masters, exploding as a walking time bomb inside the Maximum Security Building, barely missing killing the World President. The new Scarlet survived by a fluke: Trapped by Spectrum at the top of the London Car-Vu observation tower, the clone was shot through the heart by Captain Blue, then fell 800 feet to certain death...only to revive six hours later on Cloudbase, completely healed and unable to remember anything about the Mysterons. It was as if he hadn't been killed in the car crash, but instead spent twelve hours in a coma, perfectly cognizant of his identity and his past, but missing twelve hours of his life--the six he spent as a Mysteron, and the six he spent recovering from the trauma of the fall.
It had taken two weeks for full evaluation by Spectrum Intelligence and Dr. Fawn, Spectrum's chief medical officer, to determine that whatever this clone had done while under the Mysterons' influence, he was now no longer under their control...and he was the "real" Captain Scarlet, with all his memories, personality, skills, and genetics intact. There was, however, one difference:
He was now virtually indestructible.
Infused into his new body's genetic code was the Mysteron ability to regenerate matter...an ability that Dr. Fawn had dubbed "retrometabolism" because it reversed normal metabolism patterns of transformative consumption. Scarlet's body literally rebuilt itself when it was injured, healing even fatal injuries within hours, and could do so time after time. Scarlet had died once since his rebirth as Spectrum's "indestructible man" and been back on duty in less than eight hours. He'd cut himself shaving and watched the cut vanish in less than a minute. He'd turned his ankle on the jogging track and felt the pain fade moments later. Fawn was excited about the implications of such an ability, and Colonel White was intrigued by the way it meant they could now fight the Mysterons on their own terms.
Scarlet, however, spent much of his quiet time pondering what all this really meant. There were times he almost managed to convince himself that he hadn't really changed, that he was exactly the same as before all this started. After all, his parents--who were not told the full story about the attack, but were only told that he had been injured in a car crash and impersonated by a Mysteron impostor who'd done all the things he'd been accused of doing--didn't notice a difference, and neither did his beloved yellow Labrador Retriever, Humphrey. After a period of adjustment, his fellow officers didn't treat him any differently. His best friend, Captain Blue, didn't treat him differently either, and certainly if anyone would have cause to ostracise him, it would have been Blue, whom the renegade Scarlet took several shots at during the showdown at the Car-Vu. But nights like last night reminded him that things were, indeed, very different.
Last night, like many a night since this incident, he'd been unable to sleep. He'd lain in bed for hours, wide awake and unable to relax enough to fall asleep. Finally, about 0200, he'd dropped off from sheer exhaustion, only to snap awake at 0500, nearly a half-hour before his alarm was to go off. Odd thing was, he didn't feel tired. But it bothered him that he couldn't sleep, and worried him that there might be something more seriously wrong, something Fawn might not be able to detect due to his new physiology.
Scarlet leaned forward in his chair and spun the computer's trackball controller until his mouse pointer touched an on-screen window called "PERSONNEL". He tapped the mouse button to open the window.
"Enter Desired Name", the text in the window read.
Scarlet tapped out the word "Fawn" on the keyboard.
It only took a moment for the computer to retrieve the information. "Dr. Fawn--Cloudbase Medical Officer--Logged into Sickbay computer system."
Good. Fawn was on duty. Scarlet stood, retrieved his RadioCap from the desk and donned it, then left the room.
Dr. Fawn was sitting at his desk in Sickbay, steeping a teabag in his mug very slowly as he stared intently at his screen, occasionally tapping a couple of keys with his unoccupied hand, when the electronic door to the room slid open. Fawn looked up at the doorway. "Ah, Captain Scarlet," the Australian physician greeted. "What can I do for you this morning?"
"Dr. Fawn," Scarlet acknowledged. "If I'm interrupting..."
"No, no," Fawn reassured. "Just a medical database scan. It can run without my help." He paused. "Is something wrong, Scarlet?"
"I'm not sure."
Now Fawn was intrigued. "Come in," he indicated. "Have a seat." He gestured over the examination table.
Scarlet reluctantly sat down on the examination table and doffed his RadioCap. He was beginning to hate medical exams. The past month, he'd been in Sickbay more than he'd been in hospitals his entire life.
Fawn pulled up a stool next to the table. "So, Captain," Fawn said, "what's bothering you?"
Scarlet sighed. "I can't sleep," he admitted.
Fawn raised an eyebrow. "Insomnia?"
"Well, not really. There are some nights when I have no trouble sleeping. But most are like last night, where I was awake until two a.m. and only slept about three hours."
"Alarm went off too soon, did it?"
"Actually, I woke up before the alarm."
Fawn looked at him oddly. "Wide awake?"
Now Fawn was even more intrigued. "Hm-m-m. I take it you've eliminated the usual suspects--too much caffeine, eating too close to bedtime?"
"Yes. I didn't have any caffeine after six last night, and I ate lightly all day yesterday."
"I see. Take off the top part of your uniform and we'll have a look."
As Scarlet did so, Fawn pulled a small lighted auriscope off the Sickbay wall, where it was recharging. "Sometimes a mild ear infection will cause insomnia because of the lack of equilibrium causing disorientation in a horizontal position, though I doubt that's the cause here." He peered in Scarlet's ears one at a time. "No problems there. Your ears are perfectly clear." He put the scope back on the wall and activated his penlight. "Look straight ahead."
Scarlet did so, and Fawn shone the light in each of his eyes. "Pupils are normal," the doctor reported. "Does that hurt or bother you?"
"No," Scarlet admitted.
Fawn pulled out a tongue depresser from his cabinet. "Open wide," he urged.
Scarlet opened his mouth.
Fawn peered down his throat. "Any pain? Difficulty breathing?"
Scarlet shook his head.
"Hm-m-m." He tossed the tongue depresser into the garbage and put his stethoscope to Scarlet's chest. "Breathe."
Scarlet took a deep breath.
"Again," Fawn said, moving his stethoscope.
Scarlet breathed deeply again.
"One more time."
Scarlet took another deep breath.
Fawn removed the stethoscope. "Have you had any painful injuries recently--pulled muscles, strained joints, that sort of thing?"
"None that didn't heal before bedtime."
Fawn raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. That rules out every common cause of transient insomnia I know of. Your lungs are clear, your throat is fine, your ears are fine, and you've got no sign of unresolved trauma or pain. Let me take a blood sample. Hold out your hand."
Fawn swabbed the tip of Scarlet's left index finger with an alcohol swab, then took a micro-tube with a fine needle attached to the end of it and pricked Scarlet's finger, drawing a sample of blood into the tube. "Hold that," he said, pressing a gauze pad against the pierced tip.
"What do you think it is?" Scarlet asked, pinching the gauze against his index finger.
"I'm not sure." Fawn put the tube into the Auto-Analyzer for chemical analysis of its contents. "This should only take a moment."
Scarlet felt the twinge of the prick wound subside and removed the gauze pad.
The only trace of the sample taken was the tiny bit of blood on the dressing. The wound itself was gone. Not even a red mark remained to indicate where the needle had struck. Scarlet looked at his left hand for a moment.
Fawn took the used dressing from Scarlet. "Amazing," he noted. "Simply amazing."
"Glad you think so," Scarlet said, putting his hand down.
A printout came out of the machine moments later, and Fawn took it in hand. "Scarlet, what did you have for breakfast?" he asked.
"The usual," Scarlet replied. "Eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, orange juice."
Fawn rolled his eyes. "Heart attack on a plate. When did you last eat?"
"About an hour ago--why?"
Fawn smiled slightly. "Of course. I should have guessed." He handed Scarlet the printout.
Scarlet looked at the paper. "What am I supposed to be seeing, Doctor?"
"With what you ate, certain chemical levels--cholesterol, protein, sodium, caffeine--should be very high in your bloodstream. Check the readings."
Scarlet scanned the sheet. "All normal," he said softly.
"Exactly. Which means your body has already processed the chemicals and put them to use or burned them off. Captain Scarlet, you are perfectly healthy. If all of my patients were this healthy, I'd be out of a job. And if all of my patients were this healthy, none of them would need more than two or three hours of sleep either."
Scarlet looked at him. "I don't get it."
"Do you know why people sleep?"
Scarlet shook his head.
"It has nothing to do with the fact that it's something we've done since we were babes, or with the clock on the wall. It's part of the natural cycle of the human body--or of any living organism, for that matter. No matter what the organism, its life cycle is divided into two distinct phases: An activity phase and a rejuvenation phase. The activity phase is when things happen--flowers bloom, crops bear fruit, people are up and about and doing things. The rejuvenation phase is when activity ceases temporarily—seeds lie dormant during the winter, plants grow after the flowers are gone, people sleep. While there is no activity, the natural regenerative powers of the organism get a chance to function, to rebuild, to revitalize it for the next cycle of activity. That's why a good night's sleep always feels so good."
"So why am I having trouble sleeping?"
"The same reason there's no high level of cholesterol or caffeine in your bloodstream right now, and the same reason your hand's already healed...your retrometabolism. It keeps you from breaking down as fast as other people, and then regenerates your natural balance faster. Simply put, you physically don't need eight hours of sleep a night any more. Your body is telling you how much sleep it needs--about three hours or so a night."
"Then why are there some nights I seem to sleep just fine?"
"Because you're probably mentally worn out on those nights. And the mind needs to rejuvenate just as the body does. I'd almost bet the nights you sleep `normally' track with the days you've been under a lot of stress."
"That would be a safe bet. So what do I do about this?"
"I suggest developing nighttime hobbies. I don't want to drug you...and I'd be willing to bet it wouldn't work anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"If you can't even keep excess cholesterol--a chemical that occurs in the human body naturally--in your bloodstream for very long, your retrometabolism would probably burn right through an invading agent like a sedative. I'd almost bet you can't even get drunk anymore--after all, alcohol's nothing but a fast-acting sedative that absorbs quickly into the bloodstream and dissipates within hours."
"Yes, but it tastes good in beer."
Fawn laughed. "Australian lager, not that caramel-colored rot you Limeys call `beer'. Whoever named it `bitter' got it right."
"Please, Doctor, show some respect. Australian lager and English bitter should not even be mentioned in the same sentence."
"You're right. I'm being rude to my country's brewers by ranking them with the Brits."
Scarlet shook his head. "Impertinent Aussie."
"That's Dr. Aussie to you, Captain Scarlet. Get dressed. There's nothing wrong with you that getting adjusted to your new body won't cure."
Scarlet pulled on his black rollneck shirt. "I wonder if I shall ever get used to it," he sighed.
"It's not as if you have a choice, Scarlet. Life goes on, and if you don't go with it, it will pull you along and you won't have any say in where it takes you."
Scarlet zipped up his vest and donned his RadioCap. "I suppose you're right. Thank you, Dr. Fawn." He started to leave.
Scarlet turned around.
"If you want to talk...I'm available. We all are. It's not as if you have to go through this alone."
"Unfortunately, Doctor, I do. But thanks for the offer." With that, Captain Scarlet left the Sickbay, more keenly aware than ever of how different he truly was.
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