There weren’t that many people on the Embankment yet.
Of course, it was still relatively early. And there was the cold rain to take into account, which was threatening to turn to sleet at any moment according to the earlier weather forecast, or even snow if the temperature dropped even more dramatically than was expected. There was also a violent wind, which chilled right through the bones, and against which bystanders needed to fight. But none of this would really matter later tonight, when the streets and pavements would be crowded with so many people that the heat generated by their presence, combined with the powerful lights illuminating almost every dark corner, and the consumption of various alcoholic drinks, would be enough to ensure that no cold, nor rain, nor wind would have much effect on anyone.
Tonight was New Year’s Eve, and no matter the weather conditions, all of London would be in a festive mood, with many residents out on the streets, gathered at various landmarks of the city to celebrate the coming of the New Year together. The restaurants were already packed with people, eating to their heart’s content, the alcohol flowing freely, waiting for the moment when they would go out to join the crowds for an evening and night of revelry. It was the same on December 31st of each year. As if the festivities held at the end of each passing were regarded as the last occasion ever to celebrate such an event.
Tonight, Captain Black coldly reflected, as he walked purposefully down the rain-covered pavement by the side of the Thames, that might actually be true for a number of these people.
Since he had been taken over by the Mysterons more than two years ago, holidays had little or no meaning for him. He didn’t celebrate his birthday anymore; Christmas had become like any other day for him; and the celebrations for the New Year had lost any meaning to him. Except this year, maybe, as it had become an occasion for his masters to strike a new blow at the Earthmen, right in the heart of one of their greatest metropolises – and right in the middle of their festivities.
Spectrum had been quick to understand the cryptic threat the Mysterons had issued that morning, Black realised, as he passed by patrols and security checkpoints set in various strategic areas. But it had been relatively easy for him to avoid them, as he knew all too well how they worked. After all, he had been one of them; and he had trained the best amongst them. And he knew London like the back of his hand, as well if not better than any policeman born there; he could easily slip into the darkness of a nearby side street, or blend into the crowd. In addition to that, there was always the possibility for him to ‘dissolve’ into thin air – a ‘safety measure’, given to him by the Mysterons, in case of emergency. His masters would never let him come to any harm that could endangered his usefulness to them on further missions.
Tonight’s blow would not come directly from Black’s hand, however. His only task on this night was to find the herald from whom death and destruction would come, and to ‘secure’ his service. Another agent for the Mysterons, who would carry out their intentions without any question, and who would die doing so.
Somehow, the little of what was left of the human Captain Black, who the Earthmen had once called Conrad Turner, and who was still present deep inside the mind of the Mysterons’ main agent, felt a wave of sorrow at the thought of delivering one more person to the control of his ruthless masters. He, better than anyone, knew perfectly well the pain and guilt such service meant. He felt it each day, and with added force each time he murdered someone for them. Fortunately, most agents, unlike him, didn’t get to live too long after they had been taken over, so they didn’t suffer in the way he was forced to.
With dispassionate and experienced eyes, he looked around the people surrounding him and going about their business unaware of the threat hanging over their heads. As always, he was searching for the best candidate for the upcoming assignment. This time, it didn’t have to be someone with specific training to carry out the mission. He need someone inconspicuous in appearance, seemingly totally harmless, who would go through the Spectrum and police security lines without arousing suspicion, to reach the middle of Trafalgar Square, and to stand right next to Nelson’s Column.
There, the agent was to explode – at precisely midnight. There was always a crowd in Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve. No doubt the explosion would kill more than a few nearby bystanders. And if the blast should cause Nelson’s Column to fall, as planned by the Mysterons, this would no doubt cause even more victims. Ensuing panic should do the rest, and the Mysterons’ threat would be complete.
“At the coming of the New Year, a hero will fall from his high pedestal, to crush the lions guarding his feet, and cause havoc and terror on the celebrating populace.”
Not very subtle, Black had to admit, and it was no wonder Spectrum had discovered the target so easily. But the Mysterons’ aim wasn’t to be subtle, this time around. They just wanted to make a point that even during the Earthmen’s celebrations, they could act, and carry out their threats.
Black passed by a couple standing under an umbrella, checking out the menu a restaurant had displayed on its window. Inconspicuous, for sure. But they were past their fifties, and didn’t seem in great shape. If there should be a problem and they needed to run, they wouldn’t get very far before being caught. However, seeing them together gave Black the idea that he should indeed look for two people. One could serve as a red herring for the authorities, leaving his or her accomplice to carry out the deed. The Mysterons would often rely to him to come up with the strategy of attack, if the chosen agent didn’t have to do it himself. It was part of Black’s job, as it was to choose their agents. He would carry his task dispassionately, because he had no choice, but each time he would lose another part of his soul.
He passed by an old man and a young girl, who was possibly his granddaughter. She was pointing excitedly at a shop she wanted to visit. For the same reason as the earlier couple, Black dismissed them. A little further away, he met a group of three youngsters, resting on the railings by the Thames smoking cigarettes that, by the smell of it, were not made out of tobacco and talking and laughing loudly.. He mused about that possibility, but when he saw a policeman approach them, he quickly turned his attention elsewhere, hoping he had not been seen. He expected every policeman and security agent in the city had a copy of his portrait on him, with instructions to contact Spectrum if ever he was spotted.
Over there, hiding from the rain under the canopy of another shop, he saw a group of young women, two of whom went their own way after saying ‘good bye, see you later’ to their companions. For a moment, Black followed them with his eyes and considered them. No, he finally decided, as they pushed open the door to a nearby restaurant. He couldn’t reach them while they stayed in there, and there was no telling when they would be out. He needed to find someone soon.
As he stood in front of the restaurant’s window and observed the customers inside that seemed about to take their leave, he spotted a young couple standing not that far away from him, cuddling under a large umbrella. They were about twenty. The young man was choosing a flower from a flower stand, and, after paying for it, turned to his companion. While she held the umbrella a little awkwardly over their heads, the wind threatening to tear it from her hands, he stuck the stem of the flower into her hazelnut-brown hair, which she wore loose on her shoulders. Delicately, he placed the flower just over her brow; she smiled up at him and he smiled back, before leaning to brush her lips with his, and they exchanged a tender kiss. When they broke their kiss, the young woman, with some red on her cheeks, rested her forehead against that of the young man, and even though it was said in a mere whisper, Black distinctively heard her call him by his name, ‘Kevin’, with such tenderness in her voice that there could be no lasting doubt as to the nature of their relationship.
Young love – blooming in the middle of a war they didn’t think they had anything to do with. Innocent, and unaware.
They were perfect.
When they left the shop and started strolling slowly down the Embankment, in the same direction Black had been walking earlier, he started following them; but he kept his distance, and made an effort to look casual, so not to attract attention. His eyes were riveted on them; he didn’t want to lose his quarry, not now he had found them.
A little further on, he saw the young woman come close to her boyfriend under the umbrella, as if wanting to share some warmth with him. He put his arm around her waist and pulled her against him, and leaned to whisper something in her ear, as they continued their leisurely stroll. They laughed happily, and again, deep inside of him, Black felt a pinch of sorrow and guilt for what he was about to do. But he couldn’t help himself; the Mysterons’ orders had to be carried out.
The couple, still laughing, were passing a small dark alley, when a young man – who was even younger than them – came out of the darkness and stopped them. They stood there, listening as he spoke to them, his hand extended in a begging gesture. Black stopped walking too and watched; he couldn’t hear what the newcomer was saying to the couple, but it looked like he was asking them for some spare change. However, he could see that there was something else; and it wasn’t just the way the young man was dressed, with patched jeans and an old mock-leather coat, festooned with studs and chains. It wasn’t even his hair, all untidy, and tied up in a ponytail, nor even the ring through his nose. No… it was something he recognised in his eyes, which were fixed on the couple; they were deep and bright and were following Kevin’s every gesture. All of Black’s instincts as a soldier were telling him that this young man was up to no good.
Black knew he was absolutely right when he saw a second young man, similarly dressed, suddenly step out of the dark alley to stand by the couple; he had a gun in his right hand and he swiftly pressed it against Kevin’s head. The latter froze, and his companion gasped loudly, before the first boy seized her arm and roughly pulled her into the alley.
The other boy forced Kevin in as well, and as the umbrella fell to the rain-drenched pavement, the whole group disappeared from Black’s view.
For a moment, he stood there, motionless, his eyes fixed on the opening of the alley. He knew that alley, having passed in front of it many times in past years; it was only a dead-end, leading nowhere. He couldn’t see anything that might be happening there, but he had a pretty good idea. His quarry was being mugged, relieved of whatever valuables they might have on them. They might also be mistreated. He looked around; there was barely anyone on the sidewalk with him; no one else who might have noticed what had happened; no-one close enough to be of any help to the young couple now in trouble.
Black returned his attention to the opening leading into the dark alley. From where he stood he could hear nothing but faint murmurs coming from it, carried to him by the wind. He lowered his eyes and stared for a moment at the umbrella, which was spinning on the ground like a top having lost its momentum. The rain splattered on the pavement, with a dull, uneven rhythm, and for a moment, his mind, previously filled with his determination to carry out his masters’ orders, seemed to forget all about it, and it was curiosity that made him stride towards the dark alley. As he approached, he thought he heard sounds he knew all too well, coming faintly to him: blows of flesh against flesh and a gasp of pain… and a female voice, shivering with fear, rising in weak protestation.
He stopped in front of the alley and looked into it, with the same unemotional expression that had been his since he was taken over by the Mysterons. He was just in time to see one of the muggers, armed with a knife, slapping the young woman across the face; she gasped and stumbled against the wall she had her back to. By her side, her boyfriend was on his knees, holding his stomach, and retching, in front of the other thief who was looking down at him with a sadistic smile of satisfaction on his face. The gun was in his hand, and he was aiming it at the crouching man, stroking the trigger in a way that left no doubt that he was itching to use it.
There could be no other outcome for Kevin and the girl: they had seen the faces of their assailants and because of that, they had to be disposed of.
Black considered the scene. If he were to let these two boys have their way, he wouldn’t have to kill his two intended agents himself. Their innocent blood wouldn’t be on his hands and the result would be the same. His masters could as easily Mysteronise Kevin and his girlfriend, and he would give them their instructions, before leaving this place, and waiting for his next mission.
He just needed to stand there and wait, and all that would be finished…
He watched as the desperate young woman fell on her knees next to her boyfriend and raised pleading eyes to their assailants. “Please,” she begged, “don’t hurt him…”
“Annie, don’t try,” Kevin told her between two gasps. “They’ll hit you again…”
It was at this moment the two thieves realised Black’s presence; they turned their attention to him and stared at him. He stared back at them blankly and in silence. They immediately recognised the unexpected danger he represented for them: he was an unwanted witness, and as such he could denounce them to the authorities, just like Kevin and his girlfriend. Black saw the fire in their eyes, as dark as their soul, burning with the hatred, and fear – and their total lack of any compassion. He could see their desire to do evil, just for the thrill of it.
They would kill him as easily as they would kill the two innocents they were mugging.
Black could have gone away before they could react; he could have evaporated into thin air to escape this threat that could cost him his life. But something stopped him. He didn’t move from his spot, and still standing tall, kept on glaring silently at both thieves, with no apparent emotion on his face.
He didn’t even move, when the gun was turned towards him.
“Hey you! What do you think you’re doing there?”
“Run, sir,” Kevin wheezed.
A kick silenced him and sent him sprawling to the wet pavement; Annie gasped in despair and leaned over him, crying. Leaving his companion with the knife to keep an eye on them, the other boy brandished his gun, still aimed at Black, and cocked the hammer.
“Come in here, mate.”
The Mysteron agent didn’t even bat an eyelid. Slowly, he approached, his eyes set on the barrel on the gun aimed at him. Slightly raising his eyes, he could see, beyond the gun, the crooked, evil smile of the boy and the murdering glow in his dark eyes. He barely listened to his malevolent cackling, or to the sound of his own steps on the pavement, or the tapping of the rain. All this was drowned by the seemingly distant, echoing sobs of the young woman, who was tending to her lover, sprawled at the feet of their assailants, trying to recover his breath.
The boy with the gun was not letting Black out of his sight. “You are going to give us all your money, mate.”
“I don’t have money,” Black responded impassively. “Nor any other valuables.”
The sound of the deep, emotionless, voice that he owed to the Mysterons seemed to unnerve the two boys; he saw the one with the gun twitch, as he gestured him to go towards the wall to join the young couple. Black docilely followed the instructions, but did it with measured slowness, as he went around the other boy holding the knife.
“What’s with the voice?” the boy with the gun spat at him with obvious irritation. “You trying to scare us?”
“No.” As he said that single word, Black quickly moved behind the boy with the knife and his hand, swift as a cobra, coiled around his wrist and stoically and savagely twisted it. The boy yelled in pain so loudly that Black barely heard the bone break. The other boy instinctively pulled the trigger, and there was a detonation, which caused a frightened cry from the young woman still on her knees. But the bullet never reached Black; he had calculated his move so that the thief with the broken wrist would serve as his shield.
He already had the knife in his own hand when the boy, struck by the bullet, fell to the ground… leaving the other assailant as a perfect target at which he threw the blade. It embedded itself deep in the boy’s heart, and he looked down at the handle emerging from his chest with incredulity. The gun escaped his clutch and he sunk to his knees, before his face hit the pavement with a sickening crunch.
“My voice is the least you should fear from me,” Black said, looking down impassively at the dead boy. He had barely broken into a sweat, and wasn’t even breathing hard. It had been so ridiculously easy.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you!”
Annie, crying tears of gratitude, was clutching at Black’s legs. He lowered his eyes to her. They were still unemotional, and displayed little consideration, even at the sight of her haggard expression. She was close to panic; she knew she had escaped certain death, and that she owed her life and that of her lover to this stranger. She didn’t seem to notice the blank way he was looking at her. All that mattered to her was that she and Kevin were safe.
Black wasn’t sure what compelled him to help her to her feet, before leaning to take her boyfriend’s arm and force him up. Kevin staggered and Black kept him up, until the young man could lean against the wall. Annie reached for her boyfriend, and held on to his free arm, as he looked around in confusion. He pulled her close to him and held her tight. She was shivering in his arms. He raised his eyes to meet those of Captain Black.
“I thought they would kill us…” he murmured. “But… but you arrived and saved us…” He shook his head in incomprehension. “H-how did you do it? It was so fast…”
“Training,” Black replied simply. He wasn’t willing to give more information. He heard one of the boys moan softly; it was the one he had used as a shield. He glanced down at him; he was sprawled on the ground next to his accomplice – who was dead. He was holding his bleeding side; he would cause no more trouble than his dead companion.
Black returned his attention to Kevin. “Can you walk?” he asked him.
The young man nodded uncertainly. “Yeah, I can… I guess I can.”
“Then take your girlfriend and go. Leave this place.”
Kevin exchanged confused glances with Annie. “Leave this place?” he echoed, as if he couldn’t understand. “But… shouldn’t we call the police and –”
“These boys might have accomplices around, who might not like what happened here. They must not find you.”
The thought that other boys, just like those who had attacked them, might show up and try to finish the job, was enough to convince both Kevin and Annie that it was better that they leave without any delay. They nodded and took a few steps towards the exit. But as they were about to leave the alley, they turned one last time towards Black.
“How about you? What if someone indeed shows up? What will you do? And… what about these guys?”
“Do not concern yourselves with me,” Black retorted with the same emotionless voice. “I will take care of this – and see that justice is served.”
Kevin nodded anew, with some uncertainty. Annie, on impulse, quickly left her boyfriend’s side and went to Black; reaching up on tiptoe she put a swift kiss on his cheek. “Whoever you are – God bless you.”
And with that, she returned to Kevin, and both were gone. Black watched them disappear and listened to the sounds of their hurried steps as they diminished in the distance, until they were drowned by the sound of the falling rain.
God bless you, the girl had told him as her goodbye. He could have told her that truly, gods from another world had cursed him with a life of slavery in their service, doing evil deeds that could receive no redemption – and certainly no blessing.
The whimpering at his feet made him turn his attention to the surviving thief. Unable to walk because of the pain, he had crawled to the wall, and was now leaning against it; his eyes, open wide with fear, were fixed on the body of his companion, lying in a pool of blood, only a few feet from him.
“Billy…” he stammered. “You killed Billy…” He looked down at the blood flowing abundantly from his own body and grimaced. “Oh man… I’ve been shot… I’m gonna die… I’m bleeding to death…”
“No.” Black leaned and picked up the gun lying on the pavement, where Billy had dropped it when the knife pierced his heart. Pushing the hammer back into place, he casually walked towards the last thief, seated on the ground, haggardly watching his approach. The Mysterons agent looked impassively down at the boy’s frightened face. “This wound would not cause you to die.”
“You’re sure?” the boy asked hesitantly.
“Yes.” Black cocked the hammer, and aimed the gun right between the thief’s eyes, which grew wider still with fear and incomprehension. “But this will.”
Implacably, he pulled the trigger, and watched as the body shivered under the impact and then went still.
Black threw the gun down and very calmly left the alley, to resume his walk along the Embankment. He didn’t need to stay to know what was happening back there, in the dead-end where there now lay two dead bodies.
He didn’t even know exactly why he had changed his mind, and had decided to spare Kevin and Annie. Perhaps, he considered dispassionately, it was this time of year that had stirred something that was hidden deep within his soul. Maybe it had been repressed for so long, that witnessing the simple love between two innocents was the impetus it needed to finally express itself, if only for a brief instant, to spare the lives of two people, who didn’t deserve to die.
‘The Mysterons also have compassion’, he once had told Symphony Angel. He didn’t truly believe these words held any truth at the time, even as they came out of his own lips, and he still was unsure if he should believe them today. He had come to know the Mysterons, and he knew that compassion wasn’t something they comprehended. The ‘compassion’ they had shown Symphony that time had only proven to be part of a strategy to help him escape Spectrum. Only his own, repressed compassion might have saved Kevin and Annie tonight. His killer instincts exacerbated by the Mysterons’ control, however, had caused the death of their assailants.
Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to Men…
He had been a man of peace once, and of goodwill too; it seemed it him like it was a very long time ago, but he still remembered it from time to time, even if it was like a vague, and insignificant memory. Perhaps the Mysterons would, eventually, tap into that subdued memory and understand that these Earthmen they were fighting so bitterly were more complex that they imagined.
He felt more than he heard the two presences approach him from behind and he turned around to face them.
Billy and his friend might not be as inconspicuous as Black would have liked, but they would have to do. Justice was certainly served. These two deserved their fate.
Kevin and Annie would surely find a policeman, to whom they would tell their story; Spectrum might even get involved, once they had given his description. They might even find the bodies of these two thugs in the dark alley, and would probably alert every patrol and every checkpoint what the suspected Mysteron agents they were looking for looked like.
That might give Spectrum just a fighting chance to stop the threat this time… and the Mysterons weren’t that averse to giving fighting chances. They even were willing to give them to Earthmen, every so often…
… But not that often.
“You know what you must do,” he told the two new Mysteron agents.
He watched, with no satisfaction, as a smile appeared on the face of each of the young men. “The Mysterons’ instructions will be carried out.”
This story started with a picture (presently adorning the title art). ‘Black walking in the rain’ is a montage of many parts, that I created in 2009, for a story I only wrote only five paragraphs of. Although I had an idea of the plot, I couldn’t find the inspiration to properly finish the story. So I simply posted the picture on the Spectrum HQ Forum, and people commented on what could possibly be the story behind it. It was obvious that Black was up to no good.
The inspiration returned a few days ago, nagging me… and I wrote the first draft rather rapidly. Of course, this is a shorter story than what I’m used to write! But this was always meant to be short. After two years, my story was now completed!
My thanks, as always, to my beta-readers, this time Hazel Köhler and Marion Woods, who did a wonderful and quick job that helped me through the tweaking and revision of this story. You’re both stars!
Captain Black, of course, as a member of the cast of ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’©, is a creation of the team behind this wonderful series that, still today, after so many years, continues to entertain us in so many ways.
Happy New Year 2012 to all.
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