Written by Tom J Fraser
Art by Valentina Mozzo
The story so far: 1987. University student Scott Stewart developed powers and became the first national superhero, Captain Scotland. Amid romantic entanglements, animal testing demonstrations, Uni work, rising debts and campus bullying Scott went on a ‘cosplay’ night out with a close friend and was attacked. The origins of that attack came from a mysterious pyramid shaped object just above the Earth. Captain Scotland entered the pyramid…and disappeared.
30 years later.
“Welcome to Reporting Scotland. I’m Jackie Bird. Tonight’s main story – there was traffic chaos this morning on the new Queensferry Crossing, just hours before it is due to close this evening for urgent road repairs. A bearded middle aged man, wearing what looked like a saltire onesie, prevented traffic from moving freely over the bridge during the St Andrew’s Day rush hour. Eyewitness reports suggest he appeared out of nowhere, looking disorientated and distressed. At one point it looked like he was going to fall over the edge of the bridge before Police Scotland detained him without harm. No further details are known at this time.”
Her pen flicks furiously, tapping annoyingly on the control desk in front of her. She suggests camera angles and close ups to colleagues around her. There’s something familiar about that unshaven man in the news report. Something she remembers from her distant past.
9am, earlier that day…
I’m flying. At speed. Finally free. Around Edinburgh’s folly. Leith, skipping on water like a smooth pebbled stone. There’s a ship with ‘Britannia’ written on it and a portside I don’t recognise. The sands of Portobello and North Berwick Beaches whip up a storm before I fly through the whale jaw of Berwick Law. City bound, muscles flexing. There are trams. Since when? Whoops, nudge that cyclist a bit forward so his back wheel doesn’t get clipped by a car. Christmas is coming alive around the Scott Monument – I’m sure it’s just November? Prevent a mugging, wallet back in safe hands for his kids Christmas gift.
I feel so alive.
Up the mound, the museum, around Edinburgh Castle, down towards the Grassmarket.
I drop off warm baked rolls to those sleeping rough in cold doorways and then a quick skateboard around Bristo Square by the Uni’s McEwan Hall (thanks, kid, now get back to school!).
Faster. Forward. Bouncing between sports stadiums and golf courses. I provide a gust of wind so she gets her birdie on the fourth hole. Over the frozen Pentland Hills. Spinning around swirling land masses that point to Jupiter. I follow the arrow up as far as I can go then down, catapulting off the Five Sisters bings. I just miss the tip of Linlithgow Palace and head to Falkirk. Wow, almost hit two steel horses heads. They look amazing. Once around the Wallace Monument. Twice around Stirling Castle. Everything’s changed. I’ve changed.
But there is one constant.
A sleeping volcanic beast that pulls me speeding back to Edinburgh city like a magnet. Via the comic shop I passed. No pockets. No sporran. No money. I’m so fast as they open up the shop doors for the day – they would just feel a wee draft. Steal a copy of ‘Watchman’. No, not Watchman, ‘Doomsday Clock’. Feel bad – note to self, don’t steal comics again. A spin round Duddingston Loch, St. Margaret’s Loch and then onto St Anthony’s Chapel to clear the soul. To my final destination.
I watch him climb up to meet me at the top of Arthur’s Seat, a rock formation from an extinct volcano in the centre of Edinburgh. I have always loved this place – the panoramic view of the city is wonderful.
I breathe in the air, feel the cold, crisp wind on my face. It feels like an eternity since I felt this good. I make myself look older, and the beard stays, as I listen to chattering voices down below.
I tune in and hear them speaking several different languages, but all celebrating Saint Andrews Day together. I suss that wee rascal Prince Harry is a little older and marrying someone called Meghan. Teenagers say ‘You Tube’ rather than ‘ya choob’. Others use words like ‘Brexit’ ‘and ‘Piers Morgan’, which I don’t understand.
The man making his way up the hill is slightly slimmer than I remember. Certainly aged, each stride obviously starting to take its toll on the knees and hips. He keeps checking an object in his hand, as if it’s showing him the way, reading glasses perched on the edge of his large nose. Everyone below keeps checking similar objects. Swiping and jabbing them with their fingers, ignoring the natural beauty around them. Some smile and point whatever it is at full arm’s length towards the rising sun, then stick ears and dog noses on their captured image on ‘Instagram’ or ‘Snapchat’. Is it a camera? Some look wired for sound but there is no chunky Walkman clipped to their waists as they run around the glorious Holyrood Park and Palace.
He gets to the top, his police uniform slightly crumpled and mud splashed on freshly cleaned shoes. He composes himself, breathing in before exhaling out and taking off his peaked hat. I’m sitting on a rock, comic book protecting my bottom from the cold, back against stone plinth. We nod in recognition of each other, a wry smile coming to my face.
“Hullo Scott,” he says. His accent has more of a Scottish brogue than I remember.
“Hello Bruce,” I reply, happy to see him.
“So, where’ve you been, the last thirty years?”
My name’s Scott Stewart. I always dreamt of being a hero…a superhero. Ever since I picked up my first Superman comic when I was ten years old. I never imagined my dream would come true, but it did. Then my dream became a nightmare. Now I’m on top of Arthur’s Seat, talking to my best friend from University. The last time I spoke to Bruce Addison we were still in our late teens, thirty years ago. He is asking a good question. I disappeared. Now I’m back. We both look fifty…and I still have purple hair!
The beauty of a strong and long-lasting friendship is, no matter when you saw each other last, you continue from where you left off. As if nothing had happened in between time. Familiar and comfortable in each other’s company. I need that from Bruce. We both do.
I was abducted by creatures in a pyramid shaped Unidentified Flying Object. The occupants didn’t have a name. I gave them one. The ‘Infinity Syndicate’. I tried to fight them off, but my powers were nullified inside the ship. During that time, I learnt very early on that they had given me these gifts, enhancing the power of the earth through me. I once dreamt I’d acquired my super strength by inventing a serum for impotency, which produced something else entirely when injected into the blood stream. Bruce reminded me that was the latent infantile thoughts of a teenage boy brought on by an overactive fascination with pretty girls, animal testing guilt and the Bobby Ewing shower scene in the ‘Dallas’ TV show! It didn’t make it easier knowing the object of my affection, Shona MacDonald, had gone on to make her fortune as one of the scientists who discovered Viagra ten years later. Bruce hadn’t seen her since, her fortune taking her out of his alumni circles, but did note to me he was on blood pressure tablets. A side effect of becoming Chief Constable of Police Scotland, from an early and less stressful career as part of the Police forensic team.
Of our friends, Madeline Shepherd had made a career in journalism, Cybill Hayes had been a stand up comedian but moved into politics, Sister Peroxide a school teacher, Spike Bunn a social worker and David Willis a Professor at Glasgow University. “David will be glad to see you,” Bruce said, “You should give him a call soon.” Most of our mutual friends had married and had kids, now all in their teens. I had been in my teens when I disappeared. I was nineteen, my whole life ahead of me.
Bruce had searched for me, when I went missing. All my friends and family assumed my debts had got the better of me. That I was too ashamed to face my wealthy parents, having rebelled against them and their Trossachs estate a few years before matriculating at Edinburgh University. They are both still alive, but Bruce warned me my father was in a bit of bother because of his eye for the ladies and some inappropriate hugging.
Having not found my body everyone had been clinging on to the vain hope I’d gone abroad for the last thirty years! Rumours are my mother is intending to send father on a round the world trip to look for me one last time, rather than continually embarrass her around close friends. If I turn up on their doorstep after thirty years, chances are she will still send him anyway!
I’d been in a state of suspension all that time. Forced against my will into an odourless cocoon, being fed information about my abilities. My super strength. My ability to fly. The ability to morph my appearance to fit in with any surroundings. Even an ability to bend time! It did not surprise me when I was told by such powerful beings that others had been given super powers too. That we would all be preparing the way for ‘Sanctuary’, whatever that meant.
It didn’t seem like a long time in the flying Pyramid. Just like a good night’s sleep. Yet it also felt like an eternity. Then they just spit me out – I’d never felt so much pain. I arrived on a bridge I didn’t recognise, looking over at two I did. The police arrested me but I easily broke the cuffs and flew away as soon as they let me out of their car at the entrance of the station headquarters. Bruce knew it was me instantly. He knew where I would go.
Arthur’s Seat. A favourite weekend haunt of first year Pollock student residents, come wind, rain or shine. A jolly romp usually regretted when a little worse for wear or hung over. This is where Bruce and I went on a regular basis – it made you feel on top of the world!
I was dressed as ‘Highlander’ Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod atop Arthur’s Seat that May Day. The girls from Uni had come to wash their face in the morning dew, in the hope of maintaining their beauty. As was tradition I had ‘acquired’ a steel sword from our debating team visit to another university. I planned to wake the Dragon and take my seat as the true King Arthur (my middle name) with the sword, before claiming our ransom demand for its return.
It was stormy, stupid and the lighting flash that hit the hunk of metal I raised aloft as I shouted ‘there can be only one’ nearly killed me. I was saved only by the rubber DM’s on the feet of my kilted legs.
My power’s developed once I woke from the week-long coma. The lighting strike had little to do with acquiring my powers – it was just plain bad luck. I didn’t know that at the time. I only told one person. The one person I trusted over all others. That person who was sitting with me now, tucking into a tuna and mayo sandwich. I truly loved Bruce, he was my Ramirez, and I knew I could rely on him to watch my back then and now.
“What is that?” I asked Bruce, after I had exhausted our chat and come to the conclusion I didn’t have all the answers behind my thirty-year incarceration.
“Dynamic Earth. Built to celebrate the beginning of the 21st Century. You’d like it. Lots of rocks!”
“I can’t believe I wasn’t here for the 21st Century Hogmanay. Listen, what do they call 2000AD comic now? No, don’t tell me, it’ll spoil the surprise. I want to know what that funny looking building next to Dynamic Earth is?”
“That is the Scottish Parliament. Currently a finishing school for reality TV stars. Bugs and baking more sexy than food banks and universal credit, it seems. You’ll probably become a Z list celebrity too. Expect the call from Strictly Come Dancing soon enough! The parliament is where the Scottish Government is based. They gave us free prescriptions, free hospital parking, same-sex marriage, no upfront tuition fees, no smoking inside public places and increased taxes are likely. I can’t even clip an annoying wean around the lugs without getting a custodial sentence.”
“We have our own Government? You have to pay for your education? Are you sure I’m not on some alternative world?”
“This is real life Scott. There is still a Tory Prime Minister in charge of the UK Government, but it’s not Thatcher. The Scottish National Party are in power in Scotland. And the sky didn’t fall in when they took over from the Scottish Labour Party. The Scottish Tories are the second largest party. But you won’t remember any different, having disappeared before something called the ‘Poll Tax’. Some of those demos against that clever idea were quite scary!”
“Would it have frightened the wits out of my mum and dad?”
“Sorry, Scott. Probably best not to quote Rolf Harris. It’s a long story.”
It was true. I had a lot to catch up on. It was ‘Scottish Book Week’ and Bruce suggested I read about some magic kid called Harry Potter, but his favourite was Rebus. We were both disappointed Scotland hadn’t made it to the World Cup (again!) but rugby was our game now! He refused to talk about America and Trumps Toilet Tweets as Bruce felt there was only so much new and unbelievable information I could take in one day. The world, it seemed, had gone mad and had not learned any lessons from history.
I couldn’t comprehend we’d lost Diana, Freddie, Bowie, Jackson, Prince, Houston, George Michael and CompuServe. ‘Doctor Who’ had been axed at the BBC and brought back to Saturday night TV. There were some good and pretty bad new ‘Star Wars’ movies, my favourite Superman was dead and the Justice League were in the cinema. I’d missed Bruce’s favourite TV shows ‘X Files’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ and their ‘reboots’ but would be able to ‘binge watch’ whenever I wanted. He recommended ‘Outlander’ and noted if I didn’t catch up on ‘Game of Thrones’ I would be left out of several dinner table conversations!
A wave of nostalgia was in the air but it would all be new to me. Bruce told me I could ‘google’ it all. I looked at him confused – he offered me his ‘mobile phone’ to have a go. It was less chunky than I remember on ‘Tomorrow’s World’! I couldn’t comprehend swishing my finger across a smudgy glass screen to get the information I needed. It all felt a little Star Trek. Being forced fed information in an airless cocoon seemed more natural to me. Bruce called that Facebook!
The Parting of the Ways
It was time to go.
More visitors were starting to walk up Arthur’s Seat and Bruce reckoned it would only be a matter of time before my face would be shared with hundreds of others from the incident on the Queensferry Crossing in the morning.
Bruce couldn’t be seen with me, and said the final report of the bridge incident would go away. He would make sure my costume would be known as a ‘onesie’ on the headline news in the evening, whatever a ‘onesie’ is. That would give me time to get myself together, clear my head, before a wave of ‘selfie’ requests when I finally came back to active duty. What is a selfie?
Bruce smiled and said it was good to have me back. It was time to shave off the beard and go and see my mum and dad – but I like the beard! The 21st Birthday Trust Fund I didn’t cash in would come in handy for the work I had to do.
With a wave of his hat Bruce started the stumble down the hill, along a path smoother than I remembered. He had my comic in his back pocket. What kind of person steals a comic?
“Y’know Bruce,” I shouted after him “the beard is just for show.”
I had just made myself look older so it wouldn’t freak my friends out if I met them. I had been in suspended animation, a place where time stood still. I had not aged at all in thirty years.
“I’m still the 19-year-old Scott Stewart at heart. I’m still the Captain Scotland you remember.”
“I hope so Scott,” Bruce shouted back, half looking at me, “It’s the Year of Young People in 2018. A storm is coming for them, on all fronts, and we need all the help we can get. Thirty years is a long time to not have you on the team. Remember, you were not the only one on Arthur’s Seat that day. The Infinity Syndicate told you that. There are others. And Sanctuary is coming.”
I morphed back into my younger self, taken completely off guard by what Bruce had said.
Suddenly, my back didn’t seem covered any more.
To be continued…
Copyright 1987 and 2017