His existence was an evil dream, the kind he used to have, in days and nights of an horrific childhood. He lived in fear, in the beginning of the end of things, in abject terror. In every moment of his young life, from the moment his parents sent him into the bomb shelter and did not follow him, to the final days when he could finally hear human voices that were not insane with fear and despair, he had lived in sheer terror.
He lived there again, in a place of fear, deep inside his own mind where he should be alone with his personal nightmares like any other Human being. Yet he was never alone, and he was no longer wholly Human. He had brought them home with him and they were with him all the time now, where no one else should ever be.
It was always said that in this life, we are always, ultimately alone. That was no longer true. He could tell them with certainty: just go to a place like that crater on Mars. Or... just live on Earth now. Even the dead couldn't escape these bastards. The whole landscape of his mind was changed. If he'd had the will to shake them out of his head, he would find a way to make them stop -
You would not, they admonished him. They always knew when he returned to this state of mind. You know that you would not. You know you blame them all for the war. You blame them all for the deaths of your parents. You blame them for the fear. That's what truly caused you to make the mistake. Was it not?
Yes, yes, he would immediately concede. I obey. I obey. Is that not enough? Is the horror that I wreak not enough for you? Are you not already satisfied with what I do?
You know the answer, they replied. There can be no end until there is no life on Earth. Annihilation of Earthmen is what we demand. Obey us, fulfill our demand. Only then will we grant you peace.
He knew that it could be no other way. He knew also that if anyone should suffer this horrific Judas dream, it should be none other.
To gather his sanity, to comfort himself and to satisfy his masters he turned upon his kind in hatred. He could not allow any part of himself, the pacifist, the friend, the guardian, to exist any longer. To gain any distance from his masters in his own mind he had to turn to evil.
He could never truly understand his alien, invisible masters. Evil, he could understand. He had seen Human evil at its worst when he finally rose from the bomb shelter to find his mother and father reduced to stains, silhouettes burned into the wall.
Returning to that moment in his mind made it simple to justify the annihilation of this destructive, fearful race. Keeping that image in his heart, which was now blacker than his mind, blacker than his glazed eyes, blacker than the uniform he had worn in the name of peace, made it easier.
Giving himself over to evil made it easier to live with giving up his soul to them that now controlled his will. He could do this without surrendering the last private spaces of his mind; letting them consume his psyche completely meant being eaten alive by alien devils, and this he had no will to do even to avoid becoming the executioner of children.
What little was left of him he must keep for himself, even going to the grave with the blood of the world on his hands.
He knew it was coming, but they always let him hear their doom upon the Humans.
This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. You started us on the path to vengeance with your needless attack on our world. Now you will pay for your thoughtless aggression - we will raise the dead from their morbid sleep. Do you hear us, Earthmen? We will raise the dead!
He knew that his erstwhile brethren sometimes found his Masters' threats rather cryptic, and he had to admit, so did he.
He reached to his Masters with his mind, as they had taught him.
How shall I accomplish this, Masters?
Every time they spoke in his mind, he found them less alien but never less discomforting.
Captain Black, you will travel to New York City. There, you will proceed to the place called 'Potter's Field' where you will concentrate our powers upon the Human remains interred there.
When you arrive there you will meet other agents who will help you to distribute the retrometabolism effect throughout that area. The obvious results will terrorize the populace and distract the emergency response system.
During this time, we will execute another mission against Spectrum.
Ah. What could his Masters be planning for his old friends and colleagues?
What shall be accomplished there, my Masters?
The voice was a little colder.
You will be informed when it is time for you to know.
That was it; there would be no more. Now it was time to go to work, and New York City.
He could rarely use common means of international or even transcontinental travel since being identified as a Mysteron agent. Getting onto a jetliner was a difficult proposition since the risk of being recognized by security personnel was nearly 100%. He had been in Florida gathering information on the weather control industries for potential troublemaking when the current threat was made. He could travel on a small commuter or charter plane or by boat.
Travelling by boat was slow but afforded him a bit of planning time and even comfort. He had done it before, even in his private life before his Spectrum days. He had also not been given a timetable. Here, he had one of those few moments when he could make a choice of his own without experiencing their powerful compulsion. Once he was on the boat, they couldn't do much unless they chose to expend the energy and focus to teleport him off the boat and simply drop him off in New York City.
Now he could sleep for a while. Sleep was a thing so elusive to him, the way he was now.
He found a small cruise line in a directory, one going north from Miami, and packed his scant gear, discarding or destroying anything not important enough to keep. One thing he always kept, which his Masters had never seen fit to tell him to discard, was his Spectrum uniform. He had disconnected the communications system and remote monitors so he couldn't be located, but otherwise he kept it in pristine condition.
He chose not to meditate on the reason he had not gotten rid of it. That could give his masters an invitation to tear into his mind, and there was yet a small part of it that desired to hold just one thread that could lead him back to his humanity should he ever find a reason or even an opportunity to regain it. The uniform was his last connection to his former existence, the time when he was not filled with cold, quiet self-hatred.
He went into the city in his stolen car and abandoned it near the seaport. Then he bought tickets and boarded. Now he could sleep for a couple of days while he let his blackened subconscious ruminate upon the details of his next inhuman act of vengeance.
There were so many reasons why the Mysterons chose to lean on him so powerfully to achieve the many objectives they assigned him. His ability to meditate in his sleep - when they allowed him to sleep - was one of the traits that made him astonishingly efficient. When he awoke he would have at least a solid basic strategy to begin his work before learning the lay of the land.
He'd been to New York City, but he had no idea as yet where 'Potters Field' was. Presumably one of the agents awaiting him did. He would try to contact them when he was close to New York.
That was unnecessary.
Captain Black, this is Sergeant Cebanov. I am leading the team that will assist you. I sense you are approaching.
This was unexpected. Most agents he'd encountered were of a rather dense nature, except for those recruited from organizations that demanded powerful intellect. He was meeting one of the more useful of his new brothers.
Cebanov, meet me at the New York City Port Authority in two hours. We will then proceed to your base of operations. Is it close to our objective?
Cebanov was a thinker. He might have been a Spectrum Marine, Black considered.
We are well-positioned for the mission, Captain Black. I have three agents with me and am instructed by the Seniors to select several additional agents.
Now he was sure of it.
Very good, Sergeant. I expect you have equipment for the existing agents. Have your team acquire weapons for three more, and a variety of inexpensive weapons and munitions for roughly one hundred more recruits.
Cebanov was enthusiastic.
One hundred, Captain? You anticipate that kind of success?
Black smiled in his sleep.
The Seniors deserve a generous margin of expectation considering their abilities, do they not, Sergeant?
There was a pause.
We will stretch our resources to the limit, Captain. We should be able to pull it off. Weapons for our team, plus for a hundred new recruits, in addition to the special ordnance I've already procured. Understood, sir.
Black let the link go and went back to deep sleep. Things went so well when he had competent personnel at his disposal.
When he awoke in his cabin, Black sensed the Sergeant's presence immediately. He had already sent his comrades off to obey Black's first orders.
Black's preliminary plans called for securing this cemetery and raising the duplicates without actually disinterring the remains. This meant that he would have to spend much more time and effort concentrating the retrometabolistic energies upon the buried corpses but still less time, all told, than digging a hundred graves. Any bodies intact enough to provide enough information for retrometabolism would be in the most recently used section of the cemetery. This would be most efficient.
The beauty of recruiting for the Mysterons was that the new recruits needed no training. They knew what to do, and they were free to exercise their programming once they received their code prompt:
You know what you must do.
Black found his man at the Port Authority, standing by a pillar and watching for Humans with Mysteron detectors. He could see why Cebanov had been recruited. The man looked like a living weapon with eyes of fire. He could possibly have prospered well enough in Spectrum to advance to field agency, maybe even to Cloudbase.
"Well met, Cebanov. Help me to claim my equipment and we'll get right to work."
"S.I.G., Captain Black," Cebanov affirmed with a sinister grin. "They'll be red when we're done here today." He moved over to the baggage claim area to find Black's cases.
"Indeed," remarked Black as he followed. "I believe this plan will prove to be most disruptive to Spectrum and anyone working with them."
"Did the Seniors see fit to tell you anything of what else they're planning?"
"No. They like to keep things need-to-know. It's uncertain whether Spectrum can get anything out of one of us if they use chemical interrogation techniques.
"What kind of weaponry have you acquired, Sergeant?"
"Silent assault rifles, silenced high-impact sidearms, all rounds are armor-piercing." The man knew what sort of mission he was preparing for.
"What did you tell your agents to acquire for our army of the Dead?"
"Much cheaper stuff, of course. Assuming the prediction of one hundred comes to fruition, we need to have enough weapons and ammunition, so economizing available currency is the rule. The new force will be equipped with hunting rifles and medium-caliber pistols."
"You know your business, Sergeant. What l want you to think about on the way to your base is targets. Once this begins the new agents will probably be attrited quickly. The Seniors want maximal mayhem. They want a distraction the authorities cannot possibly ignore."
The Marine smiled at Black darkly. "I know what I have to do." He grinned mischievously. "Some well-planned assaults on police stations should help. Burning firehouses and a few arsons while that is going on. A few massacres in public places. Public utilities disabled by violence. A few heroes atop the local water towers sniping at traffic. Mayhem the Mysteron Seniors want, mayhem they'll get."
Black smiled approvingly as they walked together. "I am correct, am I not, Cebanov? Your background is in Spectrum?"
"Yes, Captain. Marines. I put out all sorts of fires. I ended a lot of terrorists. I worked for you indirectly a number of times, sir. Mostly I worked with Captain Ochre."
Black's countenance darkened - in his case, a frightening thing if any Human were to see it. It could be compared to a moonless, starless night becoming blacker, or gallows humor turning morbid.
"Forget Spectrum. We serve higher powers now. Ruminate on your specific targets and I will communicate with our Masters. They would like an update."
"Yes, sir. I'll transmit to my agents in the meantime. They'll map out the best local targets, as I describe your needs to them." Cebanov was confident. "They're all locals. I chose them from municipals, so they'll know exactly where to send our deadmen."
"Do that, Cebanov. How far is it to your vehicle?"
"It's in a parking lot one hundred meters away."
"Then transmit to your agents now. I will need to prepare for our special operations while we ride."
Black had not expected the cemetery to be on an island. It was secured by a rather ancient fence and gate that could well be over 200 years old.
As for the terrain, it was a forested area and the autumn season lent plenty of camouflage to the operation. Plenty of branches had been blown down by the wind and millions of colorful leaves obfuscated the landscape. Without the leaves, the land might have almost any combination of hills and gullies.
In his old life, Black might have appreciated the surroundings. Now his heart was cold to anything but vengeance. Beauty had no place in his existence now. His heart was a stone, dead and cold in his chest. He could barely notice it beating.
In the smallest corner of his mind, something remained of the very smallest joule of remorse, like the last spark of a Human soul.
He watched the small party of agents force the locks open and pull the old metal gate apart. As he moved through, he noted that the agents, except perhaps for Cebanov, looked on him with a kind of mild awe. Perhaps Cebanov thought himself more his peer.
Such was another facet of his old life left behind him: human relationships, mentorships, the few social contacts he ever maintained. He was a loner before and now he was as dead to the idea of Human fellowship as one could be.
He didn't even think of this as life anymore. If a word were to come to mind it would be existence.
He was as dead as anyone his Masters had ever killed and replicated. His only saving grace was that he wasn't so robotic as most of those the Mysterons created. He knew the reason for that.
What created the occasional replication like Cebanov, he couldn't be certain. Perhaps when someone with a certain mental presence about them was selected by the aliens, they managed to create a servant superior to the others. Scarlet certainly seemed like one of these. If he hadn't been disconnected from the Seniors, somehow, he would have been a true peer to himself.
What would it have mattered? Cebanov was certainly worthy of some consideration but there was nothing left inside Black to share with him.
Cebanov, a Marine, could not have been a pacifist-turned-terrorist. He was simply a trained-killer-turned-terrorist.
He'd had a love of the humanity from which he'd always stood distant.
That's what made him so miserably dead inside, tearing himself away from his love of peace.
Turning himself over to the devil was easy. Tearing himself away from God was brutal.
They had reached the edge of the cemetery. The last of Cebanov's agents came up behind them in a truck. This contained the weapons which would be used by the Army of the Dead.
Black wondered what really went on in the minds of the Mysterons' servants, especially knowing what they really were. How did Cebanov feel about being the duplicate of a dead man, created to destroy the species from which he was copied?
He never discussed anything with them but business. There was no small talk among Mysterons. Yet in that small stronghold of private thought remaining in his mind, Black wondered what it was like to be wholly their creature.
This was when he realized why they had not retrometabolized him back on Mars. Their first agent could not be detected too soon if they were to gain a foothold.
Now it didn't matter. Now they knew, nearly all the time, what they could risk with their duplicates and when they would need Human agents. With a brilliant analyst like Black to make these determinations for them, they could hardly ever go wrong.
Their first objective was always to maintain terror. The stated objectives of a mission were usually quite secondary.
For example, this mission's stated objective of 'raising the dead' was of secondary importance. The Mysterons were interested in the distractive terror it would produce in the population, disrupting the cogence of any response to their unstated parallel effort.
The agents took their positions around an area which Black demarcated for them telepathically. This was by necessity a very large area, because many of the remains would be unsuitable, however recent. Vagrants and unidentifiable bodies often came here in less than pristine condition, Black realized.
Once they had created a rough block of about five hundred square meters' area, Black leaned back his head. Before he began exerting his Masters' power for them, he considered the possibility that Scarlet might be present, close enough to detect the massive use of Mysteron energies in a fairly concentrated area. He would remain behind for a time while Cebanov led the deadmen to their mission objectives.
He closed his eyes, and meditated on the fetid, ripening flesh as he imagined it in the graves in front of him. The rest of the team received this image from their link with him and added the power of their concentration.
Then he imagined the bodies rising through the ground, live, fresh, vibrant, aware. The shared concentration of the link reinforced the image and made it powerful.
Then the powers of the Mysterons made it real.
The green energy, circles of focused electrical power that wasn't simply energy but information, traveled across the graves from the position of each agent. It was a dark gift the Seniors gave them all, even to him who remained Human, if only by the virtue of mere flesh.
He knew the green energy was now flooding the wooden casket in each grave, enveloping and soaking the corpses, seeking all of the information available in the DNA and the molecular structure. In those intact enough to provide the information necessary to create a functional replica, the energy would then seek nearby empty space, then absorb matter around that space to create the new agent.
That space and matter was just above the ground, where upon each of one hundred and seven graves lay a new Mysteron agent and enemy of Humanity.
They rose to their feet, already knowing they were about to receive their first marching orders.
Black saw right away that many of them had been homeless and destitute. Some of them were even children. This registered sharply in the back of Black's mind, where the Human remnant resided.
A good number of these risen agents had replicated from slightly decayed corpses, and appeared exactly so. This might affect their ability to obey more complex commands, Black realized, but Cebanov, sensing this concern via their link, assured him he could compensate.
The appearance of some shambling rotters can only help to inspire the locals to new heights of fear, the Marine suggested. Black could sense his dark smile through the link.
I am sure you have noticed that our Masters have succeeded powerfully in supporting our efforts here, Cebanov. He smiled his own dark smile. As a military man, he could never help but appreciate the aliens for their efficiency and effectiveness.
Impressive, sir. I know for certain the Seniors will know best how to employ my talents, unlike Ochre. There was definite resentment in Cebanov's sentiment. Perhaps that is why they chose him, Black thought to himself. He was disappointed that he had not been the one to recruit the Marine. Yet he knew his Masters had a slowly increasing number of talented replicant agents and even a solid network of Human collaborators, thanks to him.
It was now time to get this army of the dead moving. They stood waiting patiently for the prompt, the beginning of their obedience to the invisible beings from Mars.
"You know what you must do," Black said to them. This was the first time he had ever prompted such a large number of new replicants, let alone recruits from peasants' graves. Yet he had complete confidence in the dark powers of his Masters.
"I know what I must do," they answered in perfect unison, each for him or herself.
They were an army twice doomed, Black knew.
Cebanov and the other agents then broke the link and began marshalling the new soldiers to the weapons van.
Black remained standing where he was. He knew that not long after the force of agents had cleared out of the great field of graves, an SPV might well come tearing through the open gate, bearing a former fellow Spectrum captain to confront him. All were capable opponents; but only one could possibly detect him from a distance, and only that one could wield powers similar to his own.
Unless someone else was closer and knew of his presence, it would certainly have to be Scarlet.
Black again meditated on the anomaly that was Captain Scarlet. What had separated him from the control of the Seniors? Not even they fully understood what had occurred. Could the impact of that 800-foot fall truly have been the condition responsible for the imposition of the original Metcalfe's motivations? He had been retrometabolized by the Seniors themselves. Was it simply because the use of the process on Humans was new to them? This had not happened since that time.
Despite Colonel White's well- known propensity for calculated risks, the most surprising element of the equation was the decision to trust Metcalfe's retrometabolized copy. If he had been in White's position, or had not been sent to Mars and had remained in charge of Cloudbase personnel security, he would never have stood for it.
Yet, it had profited Spectrum greatly and had clearly taken the Seniors aback. Had they solved the problem that had created the Scarlet paradox?
There was a deeply buried part of him that hoped they had not.
Captain Black, there are several Spectrum Angels closing on your position. The attacks have begun and it is time to position you to complete the mission.
Black nodded silently. He was to be teleported out of the cemetery to avoid capture, and to place him somewhere to better advantage.
He disappeared slowly as three attack planes flew deftly over the treetops, upside-down as the women piloting them searched for him.
He reappeared in the center of a desolate city intersection. It was strewn with carnage of flesh and steel, and storefronts all around were burning. Cebanov had done his duty well. Black reached out to him to establish a new link, but could not find him. Were he more Human than he now found himself, he would have been saddened.
Black stepped over several bodies, some of which he had only recently animated, and opened the back doors of a crashed van. He could hear the alarms of municipal response teams on the other end of the city. The other mission was going well, relatively unimpeded. As he reached into the van and removed a biological warhead from the twice-dead hands of Sergeant Cebanov, he once again subsumed all thoughts of pity in his blackened and yet blackening mind, bathing himself in hatred for his own sake. He could have no pity for the multitudinous Human victims, his newly-risen and twice-fallen agents, Sergeant Cebanov or himself. Sentiment could only mean the surrender of his remaining free mental resources to his Masters.
He set the timer on the warhead and carried it to the crowd of injured people a block away. On the way there, he found a large coat on a corpse. He wrapped it around the warhead.
Once he reached the crowd, he waded in and set it inside a box of emergency medical supplies. Then he walked away, finding a quiet spot from which his Masters could retrieve him again.
From an isolated ATM machine, Conrad Turner watched as Captains Blue, Ochre and Scarlet desperately sought the warhead, barely reaching the supply cabinet in time after racing clumsily through the crowds of wounded people and emergency personnel.
It didn't matter that the warhead did not explode, Black knew. The point was entirely to reduce the people of this city to a constant state of panic and paranoia.
With three Spectrum Cloudbase officers and thousands of troops on the ground with them, there was no way that Colonel White could put out all the brush fires Black's agents and others set for him today, all over the Earth. The Human Race was dying of a thousand tiny paper cuts, and there was no hope. The Mysterons were winning their war of nerves.
The Martians' best point man slowly dematerialized inside the ATM, with little prospect of sleep or comfort wherever his invisible masters were taking him.
Worst of all, he knew, he had no prospect of release from his ever-deepening well of impossibly bitter self-hatred. If he were to burn in some hellish afterlife, it could be no worse than this -
- and he would have privacy.
He honestly looked forward to burning in hell.
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