The Star-Spangled Kid
Times Past, 1948
The Caveman Kid
Part 7 of The Nebula-Man
by Doc Quantum
In the wake of the battle with the Nebula-Man, the Star-Spangled Kid finds himself in the days of the caveman, where he struggles to survive. Even worse, he realizes that he’s brought the common flu virus back to this primitive age, which could potentially wipe out the human race before history even begins! Can the Kid find a way to quarantine himself before he infects the cavemen?
To Be Continued from The Vigilante: Times Past, 1948: Sanders’ Last Stand
The first thing that hit me was the smell of sulphur, so strong that I felt immediately nauseous from it. As I opened my eyes, I found myself in a strange place. All around me was a rocky landscape and a yellowish sky above me.
“I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” I said, although there was no one else around to hear me. I was used to making comments like that, since I was usually not alone when in my costume.
I looked down, and sure enough my costume was still fully intact — bright blue and red, with stylized white stars emblazoned all over them. It was a fitting costume for someone calling himself the Star-Spangled Kid, but I had a feeling it would be rather out of place here.
My first thoughts were of where I had been and where I was now. A few moments ago I had been with Stripesy and the rest of the Law’s Legionnaires in the Himalayas. We’d traveled there to confront the fearsome Nebula-Man, and when our battle ended, the Nebula-Man exploded. After that, I found myself here.
But where was here? I began to walk along this rocky, sulphurous landscape in an effort to make some sense of it all. Was I thrown by an explosion to some remote part of the Himalayas? And if so, did the rest of the Seven Soldiers of Victory survive as well?
Then I heard voices — harsh, guttural voices — in a language unlike any I’d ever heard before. Deciding that caution was the order of the day, I sneaked behind a rock to observe them, for I was standing above a ridge from which, I discerned, their voices had come. Three men ran into view a moment later, and my hopes were dashed. They had pale, grayish-brown skin, were dressed in animal furs, and carried primitive weapons. But as I began to wonder whether they were really as large and beast-like as they seemed — almost like giant beast-men — I realized that they were running very fast.
A moment later I found out why, when a saber-toothed tiger came chasing after them. My heart sank as I realized that I’d been sent back in time again, but this time to the days of the cavemen.
Suddenly, my parched throat became rough, and I coughed before I could stop myself. Glancing back down into the valley, I realized that the saber-toothed tiger had heard my cough and now stopped in its tracks. Then the three men, carrying spears tipped with flintrock, took that momentary distraction to turn back to the tiger and attack it. I did not wait to see whether they succeeded in subduing the tiger, instead bolting and running in the opposite direction.
It was not entirely fear for my own safety that caused me to run, though I admit that the thought of other beast-men or saber-toothed tigers out there did not fill me with much confidence for my survival. My fears were for the future, for I could tell by my cough, my parched throat, and my runny nose that I had brought back with me a very terrible, very contagious disease — the common flu.
I know what most people’s reaction would be to having the flu: That’s a shame, but I’ll be fine. Except I wasn’t worried about my own survival of the flu — I was worried about the survival of the human race itself. For all I knew, these primitive-looking beast-men were the direct ancestors of modern man, and even if they were not, they most certainly could be in contact with them. So, to introduce a modern influenza virus into a human population that had no natural, hard-won immunities to any modern diseases would be utterly devastating.
People still forget, even though it was thirty years ago, that the Spanish Flu killed more people than the First World War. If I recall my statistics correctly, in fact, somewhere between twenty and forty million people died from the Spanish Flu of 1918. That’s more than the Black Death. And I was a carrier with an active flu. I knew right then and there that my first and possibly only goal was to prevent myself from becoming another Typhoid Mary.
To that end, I searched for a dwelling in this rocky terrain where I could quarantine myself indefinitely, or at least until I was sure that the flu had passed. I still held out hope of a rescue from my fellow Legionnaires, but I knew from past experience that time travel was tricky, and there were no guarantees of anything.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I was able to find a cave after a brief search. The terrain seemed to be littered with them, which explained where the beast-men — I surmised them to be some kind of large Cro-Magnon offshoot — were likely to make their home.
Tentatively, I made my way into the cave, already feeling winded and tired from the run, only confirming in my mind that I had the flu. I must have picked it up shortly before our fight with the Nebula-Man, and it wasn’t until now that I began to really feel its effects. With hundreds, perhaps thousands of flu strains around in the twentieth century, its side effects could vary widely. I was just grateful that it didn’t seem to be a stomach flu, because that would have made things much worse.
Within the cave were several corridors accessible by three main side-tunnels. I decided to explore the others later and chose the third tunnel. The cave corridor became very dark very quickly the farther I went in, but I gradually began to adjust my eyesight to the low light levels, allowing me to keep moving in. I wanted to get as far away from the entrance as possible.
But as I stepped forward tentatively, I felt my right foot break something beneath it, and a shattering sound alerted me to what I was stepping on. It was a thin crystalline formation of some kind, most likely quartz. I had stepped into a crystal cave of the kind that is rare in 1948 but must have been more plentiful back in this era, back before they were ransacked for various uses.
Determined to explore the beautiful crystals in the cave a bit more, I knew I needed to see better than I could at present. Then an idea hit me. Why not rig up a series of crystals to act as mirrors and focused lenses, delivering more light to the back of the cave?
It was a simple task to perform, and it certainly got my mind off of my flu, but as I began inspecting the beautiful crystals that became larger and more extravagant the deeper the cave went, I heard voices again. The Cro-Magnon beast-men were outside near the mouth of the cave.
All I could do was freeze in place and listen. With a great sense of relief, I could tell that they were moving on. But it had been a close call, and I realized that I needed a strategy to scare off anyone. In effect, I needed a scarecrow. A plan formed in my mind, and I set to work.
I spent the rest of the afternoon gathering the largest and flattest of the quartz formations and delicately placing them aside for later use. Then I waited until nightfall.
Under the cover of night, with only the light of a crescent moon to aid my vision, I went out in search of supplies I would need. In my search for a cave earlier, I had glanced at a patch of bushes that ran down into a cavern. Walking cautiously toward those bushes, I began to search them for berries of any kind, and I found and gathered several red berries and blueberries, placing them in my cowl, which I used as a pocket.
Then I froze in place as a distant growl alerted me to the very real danger of being mauled alive, and I frantically searched for my final supply, but I came up empty and was forced to return to my cave. There, I ate only a few of the easily recognizable blueberries and avoided the unfamiliar red ones altogether. I thought quickly about what I could possibly do about the last supply I needed, until I realized that the solution was all around me, and I ground up some of the quartz crystal into a fine white powder.
As the night wore on, a refreshing smell wafted into the cave. It was rain, and I had never been so happy to hear it and smell it before. I went back to the mouth of the cave and extended my cupped hands out to catch the drops, then thirstily satisfied myself with several handfuls of water. Then I took one last handful into the cave with me and dropped it into a small indent on the cave floor.
In the last remaining hours of night, I tried to catch up on sleep, but I could only sleep lightly, my dire circumstances being what they were. My worsening flu didn’t make it any easier for me, either. So when the early rays of dawn began streaming into the cave, I was grateful that I would be able to finish building my scarecrow.
For the next couple of hours I used the red, white, and blue pastes made out of the two types of berries and the quartz powder to paint a fearsome sight upon one of the flat quartz crystals. I then gathered the other large pieces of quartz and arranged them in a sort of lens. When I was satisfied that they were in the right place, I adjusted the smaller pieces of quartz I was using as mirrors to reflect light within and then back out of the cave from behind my makeshift lens.
Satisfied with my work, I took a chance and left the cave for a moment to see if it worked. Amazingly enough, I had managed to make my harebrained scheme work. I had painted a distorted picture of myself in my red, white, and blue Star-Spangled Kid costume that was visible only from the mouth of the cave. The quartz lenses helped to make the effect work by giving the painting a ghostly look, providing the illusion of movement as you moved your eye past it.
But I had taken one chance too many. The same guttural yells from the Cro-Magnon beast-men reached my ears, and I realized that I had been spotted. Cursing to myself, I ran into the first side-tunnel in the cave and kept on running, this time far deeper into the cave than I had originally. I was soon lost, but at least I had managed to keep my flu virus to myself.
Still, as I sat there in the utter darkness of the cave, I knew that it was only a matter of time before my own time was up. I wasn’t even sure whether my scarecrow would work; for all I knew, the beast-men could be on their way to me right now, defeating my plan entirely. Dark thoughts came to my mind. If necessary, would I be able to kill any of the beast-men I came into contact with to keep them from infecting anyone else? Would I be able to end my own life, thus ending any chance of infecting another?
Those dark thoughts soon passed, for I had never been one to dwell on despair. Nor had I ever killed or had thoughts of suicide. I hoped and prayed that those options would never become necessary. I hoped and prayed for a miracle.
And although I did not know it then, that miracle was on its way in the form of three costumed men from the future.