“Spectrum Hovercraft 21 to Cloudbase control. Patrolling through last quarter of grid reference 5-B. Research completed, nothing to report.”
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet. Proceed to grid reference 5-C and continue research.”
“S.I.G., Lieutenant. No positive report from the other teams either, I guess?”
“No, Captain. Still nothing, I’m afraid.”
Captain Scarlet glanced in the direction of his colleague seated in the driving seat. He saw no obvious reaction in Captain Ochre’s features; the American was looking straight ahead, with a blank expression. That was enough to indicate to Scarlet that his friend was worried.
“How soon should we expect the arrival of the detector van?” he asked into the radio.
“It’s on its way, Captain. But the pilot of the cargo plane transporting the van is having trouble due to the bad weather. We hope it’ll reach the area in about an hour.”
Scarlet repressed a sigh. “Thank you, Lieutenant,” he said softly. “Continuing investigation. Scarlet out.”
He cut communication and entered new data into the onboard computer, crossing on the digital map the area the hovercraft was leaving, and entering the coordinates of the next zone they were about to search. He examined the information from the map.
“It’s pretty uneven ground from here to the Korvatunturi Fell, Ochre,” he said to his colleague. “And unfortunately, it’s still visibility zero. So we’ll have to progress with instruments and very slowly.”
“One hour. It’s way too long, Scarlet.”
Ochre’s remark was spoken in a very low, dark voice. Scarlet looked at him. His colleague was staring straight ahead through the large windscreen, even though there was nothing to see but a white wall of heavily falling and swirling snow. The storm was raging outside of the hovercraft’s confines and the latest weather report, received barely fifteen minutes earlier, was not very encouraging. There was nothing to indicate when the winds and snow would calm down. That wasn’t helping in their research.
“We’ll find her, Rick,” Scarlet said.
“I’m starting to doubt that,” Ochre replied. “And if we do, in what condition will she be? It’s hell out there. A hell of minus twenty degrees, with winds that make it feel like it’s even colder. We have no idea where her Angel has fallen and have no contact with her. We don’t even know whether she’s dead or alive.” He waved despondently at the swirling snow beyond the windscreen. “It’s like… looking for a needle in a haystack.” His hand returned to the steering wheel. “Damn Mysterons,” he muttered. “It’s all their fault.”
Scarlet sighed. Ochre was right. It was indeed the Mysterons’ fault.
Their latest threat targeted the Norwegian royal family who were holding a Christmas banquet in Oslo, in honour of the visiting German chancellor. The Mysterons had taken over four prototypes of so-called ‘intelligent’ rockets from a Danish W.A.A.F. airbase, meant to be launched in a series of tests in the North Sea – and diverted them towards Oslo.
Spectrum had figured out the origin of the attack and from there, it had been relatively easy for the Angel fighters to intercept and destroy the missiles – save for one of them. Damaged at the beginning of the intervention, it went into an erratic flight path and Melody had gone after it, leaving her Angel colleagues to deal with the other rockets.
According to the Angel craft’s transponder, the plane had travelled at its top speed of 3,000 miles per hour, trying to keep up with the rogue missile. It went from Oslo, and across the border of Norway, nearly all over the length of Sweden to finally reach Finnish territory. For a time, both the W.A.A.F. airbase and Spectrum had been able to follow the irregular flight path of both rocket and Angel fighter, and it was obvious that the rocket was using its built-in computer in an attempt to shake its pursuer and escape destruction. But it was without taking account of Melody’s determination. She wouldn’t let go, not until she was sure the rocket was destroyed and wouldn’t cause any harm to anyone.
And then, over a mountainous area in Finland, nearly 800 miles from Oslo, she was finally able to get the rocket in sight and had proceeded to destroy it…
That was according to one of Melody’s last coherent contacts with Cloudbase; the end result of her mission was soon confirmed from the W.A.A.F., with a report that the missile had indeed been shot down.
… And that was when things went wrong for Melody.
Her final message to Cloudbase was filled with static and difficult to make out, but from the little Lieutenant Green was able to get from it, she was experiencing trouble with her aircraft and had little control over it.
And then her radio went dead. The Angel’s transponder was working with difficulty at this point and the last signal it sent to Spectrum only suggested that the craft had crashed somewhere in or near the Korvatunturi fell area… but whether Melody had ejected or not wasn’t really clear. Hopefully she had.
However, it was impossible to raise her through the radio. No signal from her Spectrum Personal Tracker could be detected either, and the transponder from her aircraft had gone dead as well. All Spectrum had was information regarding her latest location, and even that wasn’t accurate. The area over which the Angel had been flying was treacherous, the temperature was freezing and there was a violent snowstorm raging. To add to the difficulty, most of the electronics weren’t working properly… probably, Green suspected, because of the northern lights currently happening in the area, as the result of unusually high solar activity. He even suggested that this phenomenon could have been the cause of Melody’s problems with her aircraft and communication, though he had no proof to support this supposition.
Scarlet wasn’t entirely ruling out Mysteron intervention. They could very well have caused Melody’s Angel to crash. They were known to have done that in the past, although why they would have done so now, Scarlet couldn’t guess.
“You must not lose hope,” he told Ochre in a reassuring voice. “Rick, we will find her and she will be all right. Don’t doubt that. Ever.”
“Will she?” Ochre muttered. “Paul, how can she survive in this horrible weather? She’s so frail…”
“Frail?” Scarlet echoed, raising an eyebrow. “Are we talking about the same girl, here? This is Melody Angel, Magnolia Jones… She might be small, by all standards, but she’s the toughest woman there is. She survived nearly a year all alone on a desert island, scratch-building a plane to get back home…trust in her to do whatever it takes to survive, whatever the odds.” He pointed to the screen. “Even in that weather.”
“I know.” Ochre sighed and momentarily closed his eyes, before looking at his instruments again. “It’s just that I’m so terribly worried for her. Paul, we just started something together…and the last time we talked to each other, we argued. Again. I don’t even remember what the subject of the dispute was.”
“I’m worried too, Rick,” Scarlet said. “So I can imagine how much worse it could be for you. I’m thinking about Rhapsody… she could easily be in the same situation, if she had been the one chasing after that damn rocket.” He shivered and shook his head. “I know how you feel, believe me.”
“I know, Paul. It’s just that – I realise that time is against us right now.”
“Yes. Yes it is.” Scarlet paused for a moment, leaving the silence hanging between him and his friend. Then he said, in a soft voice: “Want me to take the wheel for a moment?”
Ochre hesitated for a brief second, then nodded slowly. “Yeah. Please do. I can do with a break from driving this tin can. I’ll take your place at the detection panel.”
The cold wind slashing against her unprotected skin made Melody gasp, as she walked with difficulty in the knee-deep snow. Her teeth were chattering against the violent lashes of the cold wind and she was barely able to keep her eyes open. She couldn’t see beyond a few meters; she couldn’t see the stars in the sky and she couldn’t hear anything. There was only the thick, whirling snow falling wildly from above, and no sound at all but the whistling wind which seemed to be blowing from all directions.
From what she remembered of the area she had flown over in pursuit of the rogue rocket, it was a landscape of barren snows, isolated and seemingly away from civilisation. The last data she had read before her onboard instruments went wild mentioned a remote region over the Korvatunturi Mountains. Lapland, she had realised. She also remembered from the readings of her instruments that the ambient temperature was in the vicinity of minus twenty Celsius. She didn’t need her instruments to figure that out, however. Just being here, lost in the snow, the cold and the winds, she could easily guess.
The breath from her mouth and nostrils was coming out in very visible vapour in the cold air; each deep breath brought a pain in her side. She shivered; the cold was chilling her to the bones. Instinctively, she tried to hug herself; the pain in her right arm went all the way from her shoulder to her elbow, reminding her that she could barely move it. Melody groaned, and trying to ignore the pain, forced herself forward.
She was so tired and cold; all she wanted to do was to give herself up to the pain and the cold and fall into a merciful sleep. But she knew that if she were to sleep, there was a good chance she would never wake up.
She should have known when she had seen the northern lights. That green colour could only mean bad things were going to happen.
Yes, of course, northern lights often were of a greenish colour, but since the start of the war of nerves, that particular shade of green had always been considered as a bad omen for Spectrum officers. This was the shade associated with many accounts of an eerie light manifesting itself just before Mysteron activities occurred. Many members of Spectrum had seen it themselves – Melody amongst them.
Of course, it didn’t mean, in any way, that northern lights were of Mysteron origins – Melody wasn’t so dense that she didn’t know that. The assignment Spectrum had just completed in Oslo was indeed Mysteron-related, and Spectrum had won that game, fair and square. Perhaps the Mysterons were sore losers and intended to avenge themselves by taking her as a target. Or perhaps she was imagining things, and this was a simple hazard of her work.
Maybe she had pushed her craft a little too hard in her attempt to intercept the rogue rocket; maybe there was some technical problem with the electronics she wasn’t aware of. Maybe it was the bad weather – she had, after all, plunged right into the middle of the grandfather of all blizzards which covered the whole area. Maybe it was indeed the Mysterons.
The northern lights themselves weren’t the problem – of that Melody was certain. They were only a massive display of shimmering glows in the sky, caused by the clash between the sun’s gaseous particles as they entered the atmosphere. However, some extremely massive sun activities that were at the origins of the northern lights could also cause radio interference and electronic and electrical problems. That she also knew.
Whatever the exact cause, the result was the same. As she was flying, Melody’s craft suddenly became uncontrollable; her instruments went totally wild, lights blinking everywhere, alarms bleeping madly. The helm was totally unresponsive and her radio went dead. She wasn’t even sure that any of her last contacts with Cloudbase, after she had blown the rocket out of the sky, had been received properly.
Blind and dumb, unable to do anything to regain control, she was only aware that her Angel was diving to the ground at an incredible speed. She knew she could plough into a mountain at any moment; her only chance of survival had been to eject. Her electronics completely dead, she had pulled the lever manually and counted her blessings when the canopy over her head actually opened and her seat shot through the air.
Unfortunately, the furious winds immediately picked up her chute as it opened, tossing it and rolling it in all directions. Melody had no control over it; it was all she could do not to panic and to keep whatever remained of her last meal in her stomach. She was so dizzy she had no sense of what was up or down, nor of her height. In a brief flash, she had been witness to her Angel driving itself into the ground and exploding into a giant ball of fire. Fortunately for her, the high winds, still tossing her like a dead leaf, carried her away from the site of the explosion and from the flying debris. Seconds later, the force of the wind made her parachute go into a candle shape and she dropped like a stone to the ground which, luckily, wasn’t that far beneath her.
The deep layer of snow covering the ground wasn’t nearly enough to dampen the force of the impact when her seat brutally hit and broke under the shock; she felt it through her back and right arm. Her helmet protected her head from the worst of it, but even so, she almost lost consciousness. Instinctively, she pressed the release button, freeing herself from the seat and the chute, as the wind started to drag it across the ground. The seat pursued its course alone, and left behind, she watched it disappear behind the wall of falling snow.
It took Melody a few minutes to regain her wits, calm her rapidly-beating heart and gather back some of her strength. She could barely move to begin with, hurting in every part of her body. When she had been able to finally sit up, it had been with great difficulty, her right arm barely responding to her mental commands. It didn’t feel, or look like it was broken; more likely, it was dislocated at the shoulder, where the pain was more vivid. She definitely wouldn’t be able to use it much for the time being.
She had been extremely lucky; although she felt a buzz in her head, the helmet had done its job and saved her from serious injury. When she finally found the strength to remove it, the look of it had made her shiver: the surface was cracked, opened like the shell of an egg. One more millimetre, and she would have suffered a severe head injury.
She could have died in that crash. And yet… she was alive.
But for how long?
She needed medical care soon; she needed a shelter from the lashing and cold winds; she needed someone to pick her up from this place and take her to safety.
Still walking through the thick snow, Melody looked at the Spectrum Personal Tracker she kept in her right hand. There still wasn’t any comforting blinking from the currently dead red light in the middle of the device, and she felt the same despair as she had on her last unsuccessful attempt to activate it – when was it exactly… an hour, two hours ago? She imagined it had been damaged during her rough landing, but she didn’t know how badly. She didn’t dare get rid of it; what if it was only a loose wire and it should start functioning again? Throwing it away would mean losing all chances of being rescued.
Before ejecting, she had just had time to send a last message to Cloudbase with her coordinates. But considering how bad her previous radio contacts had been, she doubted it would reach base, or any communication centre for that matter. If the sun activities causing the northern lights were substantial enough, they could even have interfered with this ultimate distress signal.
Her mind was in a fog and she couldn’t even remember exactly when she had started walking. In normal circumstances, procedure was that she should stay in the immediate vicinity of her crashed plane and wait to be picked up. But as she assessed her situation, hoping that help would arrive soon, she began to realise that these were not normal circumstances at all.
No-one would come; she was stuck here, on her own.
She would freeze to death if she stayed put. She had to move to survive; find shelter where she would be protected from the bad weather. So she had set out a course, going in no particular direction, hoping that Spectrum, or anyone else, had picked her distress signal, that her SPT would finally work and give out her location…
That someone – anyone – was currently braving this storm in order to find her.
Walking in the snow – which seemed to be deepening at each step – was becoming increasingly difficult. Melody could feel herself growing weaker, and breathing through the winds lashing her was becoming difficult. Ice on her eyelashes hindered her vision. Her hands were numb, and she could barely feel her feet.
Absently, she remembered horror stories she had read and heard about; how people, even though they had survived extreme cold, had lost some of their extremities; fingers, toes… even their nose in some instances. She shivered at the idea. She couldn’t imagine herself living without some of her fingers; her career as a fighter pilot would certainly be finished if that happened. The though of losing her nose wasn’t anymore appealing.
I wonder how Rick would look at me if I had no nose? was the absurd thought that came into her mind. Rick liked beautiful women as companions… she knew that before she had become involved with him. But would he leave her if she was so disfigured? She didn’t think he could be so shallow as to abandon her in her moment of need – but at the same time, she wouldn’t blame him if he should prove unable to look at her ever again. And on the other hand, she wouldn’t be able to support his pity.
Come on, don’t think like that, she admonished herself. You won’t lose your nose, or your fingers, or any other part of your anatomy. Damn it, you survived a tropical desert island for a year –a few hours lost in Lapland won’t kill you!
But it felt so cold…
“Rick, where are you?” she whispered. “I know you would never abandon me…You have to find me.” She smiled weakly through the lashing winds. “Now would be a good time…”
But there was no response to her plea; no voice, no sound of engines from overhead or coming through the falling snow. Only the incessant whistling of the wind.
Melody felt a ball of despair form in her throat, almost choking her. Suddenly unable to take another step, she fell on her knees. She hugged herself tighter, grimacing under the pain of her right arm and bowed her head. A tear pricked at the corner of her eye – and froze almost immediately on her cheek.
“Please,” she sobbed with a shaky voice. “Come and get me…” She raised her head and looked desperately to the sky. “Anyone… please hear me.”
And then, she saw it.
A red dot of light in the sky, at first barely visible through the snow. She opened her eyes wide with hope and looked straight at it.
She saw it move, slowly, seemingly lowering itself towards the ground. She couldn’t decide was it was exactly. Perhaps the position light of some craft… But she didn’t know that many craft with only one such red light.
For a short moment, it hovered in front of her, in the distance, and then seemed to become brighter. It was obviously coming towards her. Hope renewed, Melody found the strength to pulled herself up. She waddled through the thick snow to meet it, breathing hard, heart pounding in her chest in such a way that she thought it would explode.
The red light became increasingly brighter as she approached it, and she hoped that soon, she would be able to see something through the thick falling snow; the shadow of a craft, or a vehicle… anything, that would indicate she was now saved.
But suddenly, the light went off.
Melody took another step or two, before even realising it had disappeared from her view; she stood there, knee-deep in the snow, looking frantically in the direction she had seen it last.
“No…” she murmured. She took a few more desperate steps. “No, please… don’t be gone...” Her anxious call then turned into an almost hopeless cry: “Please! Whoever is there, help me! I’m lost and cold! Help me, please! I don’t want to die!”
Melody didn’t dare hope that someone would hear her, and come to her rescue. Not really. But she knew she had to try.
So when a faint jingling sound resonated through the night, that made her stop in surprise.
She narrowed her eyes, putting her left hand over them to protect them from the snow and wind, and scrutinised the empty space in front of her.
The sound grew louder through the whistling of the wind and Melody recognised it this time. It was the sound of jingle bells.
A shadow appeared through the falling snow in front of her. Slowly, she made her way towards it.
The sound grew even louder and the shadow started to take form. It was large and bulky, with a long neck. It stood on long, sturdy legs –
– Four of them.
It was some kind of animal.
Melody stopped in her tracks, frowning. At first, she thought she was facing a horse, but she quickly realised that wasn’t exactly the case when she spotted the antlers on the animal’s head.
The animal gave a deep bleat and came closer, its bells jingling anew. Emerging from behind the thick curtain of falling snow, it stopped a few feet in front of her, raising its head high, watching her with bright, curious eyes.
It was a magnificent stag.
A reindeer, more precisely. And the odd thing about it was that he was wearing a harness and a bridle. They were of a bright red leather, festooned with silver nails and small bells.
It took a moment for Melody’s mind, half-dazed from the cold, to realise that she wasn’t dreaming… that her eyes were seeing exactly what they were seeing, and that the animal was real.
It stood there, very still, quietly looking at her through the falling snow, white vapour coming out from its muzzle in the cold air. It was huge, with an impressive set of antlers on its head in between white ears that were turned attentively to her. It didn’t look aggressive in any way, nor did it seem surprised to find Melody here; far less surprised than the young woman was herself, in fact, because she couldn’t figure out why it was there and where it had come from.
Melody approached the animal very slowly, murmuring soft soothing sounds so as to not frighten it away. The reindeer continued to watch her, moving his ears. He didn’t move, even when she was very close to him. Melody extended her hand, almost not daring to touch him. From up close he looked even more impressive. He could easily hurt her should she startle him, but more than that, she was afraid he might run away – or vanish into thin air, as if he was a figment of her imagination.
Her fingers grazed the animal’s fur; they buried into it, touched the warmth surface of the skin beneath. The reindeer snorted under the contact but didn’t move. He wasn’t a dream; it was real, and he was there – a means for Melody to escape a frozen grave.
He was obviously a tamed animal, judging by his harness, and he was very docile. In another country, Melody might have found a tamed reindeer rather bizarre – but she was in Lapland, and she remembered that domestication of reindeer was very common among the Sami people living in that large, almost desert area.
His owner must be nearby, she thought hopefully. She didn’t really believe he would be out here, looking for his missing animal, but surely his house couldn’t be that far. Reindeer had the reputation of being very resilient animals in the most extreme weather, but she couldn’t imagine that this one would have gone too far from his home in such a terrible blizzard.
If he can take me to his master, I will find shelter, Melody told herself as she carefully and gently stroked the reindeer. I will be safe and warm and I will be able to contact Spectrum and they’ll pick me up.
But weak and cold as she was, she wondered if she would be able to reach her destination, wherever it could be. She leaned her brow against the reindeer’s side, and closing her eyes, sighed deeply. Her left arm hugged the animal’s neck, almost possessively, clinging to him with what remained of her strength. She didn’t want him to go away.
She opened her eyes and saw a large, silvery tag riveted on the side of the reindeer harness, not far from her head. A single word was engraved on it that she couldn’t make out. She leaned closer to it in order to see.
Cupid, she read.
She frowned in mystification. The owner of this animal certainly had an odd sense of humour, giving his reindeer the name of one of Santa Claus’ own reindeers.
But then again… maybe not as odd at it might seem.
“Cupid… that’s your name, boy?” she whispered.
The reindeer’s white ears moved at the sound of her voice. Melody swallowed hard; her throat felt tight, as she pressed the palm of her hand against the body of the animal.
“I need help, Cupid,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I know you probably don’t understand me… but I need to get out of this cold... I need warmth and food and a way to contact my friends. Can you take me to your master?”
The reindeer snorted. He turned his head in her direction. Bright eyes looked directly at her.
“Can you take me home, Cupid?”
He bleated and turned his head back up front. He shook himself, and snow fell of his back. Melody stepped back when she felt the animal move, dreading that he might break into a run and disappear. She was amazed to see him actually kneel in the snow, on all four, just in front of her.
He stayed there and waited quietly. Melody stood by his side, unsure what to do. Cupid turned his head towards her anew and his eyes met hers, in an almost interrogatory way. He bleated and snorted again, and turned his head up front.
He seems to be inviting me to climb on his back, Melody reflected in wonderment. How likely is it that he understood me?
But was it safe to actually mount him? What if he was to kick out and throw her down and stamp on her, even accidentally? Domesticated as he seemed, she didn’t think he would do her any harm intentionally… but he was obviously a draft animal, not one likely to be mounted.
And then there was her dislocated shoulder; could she hold on to him, with only one arm?
She didn’t have a choice. Whether the reindeer really wanted her to or not, an un-hoped for opportunity to save herself had been presented. She put her SPT into the interior pocket of her uniform, and, her heart thumping loudly in her chest, she came closer, tentatively, and touched him again. He didn’t move one inch. She carefully climbed on his back, making sure none of her movements would be too brusque and frighten him. Yet, Cupid still didn’t move.
Her numbed fingers of her left hand had barely curled around one of the harness’ straps when the reindeer suddenly stood up; she clung to him for dear life, grimacing against the pain shooting through her right arm, her heart beating faster, fully expecting to be thrown from his back. But nothing of the sort happened.
Cupid started walking, seemingly taking no notice of the charge on his back. Melody leaned close to him, taking as much warmth from his body as she could, her fingers and her face digging into the fur on his neck.
“Home, Cupid,” she said in a little voice. “Please, take me home.”
Cupid’s strides became longer and his walk transformed into a quiet trot. Melody didn’t know exactly what direction he was taking but she didn’t care. She was just hoping he was going back to his master… and was relying on his instinct to take them straight there.
“Spectrum Hovercraft 21, to Cloudbase control. We have nearly completed research of sector 5-C. Where the hell is that detector van you promised us an hour ago?”
Captain Ochre was on the radio, as Scarlet drove the vehicle in the heavy snow. The weather had not improved since the start of the search three hours before. If anything, it was worse; visibility was still zero and even the cameras could barely pierce the white curtain in front of them.
“Spectrum Hovercraft 21, this is Cloudbase…” Much to Ochre’s surprise, it was the displeased voice of Colonel White, who was answering his call, and not that of Lieutenant Green. For a relatively brief moment, he felt slightly dismayed that his commander had been the recipient of his angry outburst, but that reaction left him almost immediately.
“Colonel,” he said, biting back his frustration and ignoring the colonel’s obvious exasperation. “We really need the detector van to help us locate Melody Angel. It might be able to pick up her SPT signal in this bad weather. When can we expect it to arrive?”
“I’m sorry, Captain Ochre…” A sentiment of dread fell on Ochre at the sound of these words. It wouldn’t herald anything good. “The cargo transporting the van couldn’t reach the airport nearest to you. The weather had worsened considerably and it had to turn around.”
“Turn around…?” Ochre repeated in dismay. “Sir, why weren’t we informed of this?”
“This just happened, barely five minutes ago. We were still hoping to have the van at your disposition up until then. But in view of the circumstances…” White paused and then added: “Pursuing flight in that weather would have put the pilots in jeopardy. We couldn’t take that risk. I also called back every other craft flying over the area for the same reason.”
Ochre swallowed hard. He exchanged glances with Scarlet, who had turned his attention to him. He could see the same worry in his friend’s face.
“I understand that, sir… but what about Melody? We still have to find her. You didn’t call back any of the hovercrafts or SPVs patrolling the area?”
“Not yet. But I will have to do so soon.”
All of Ochre’s being revolted at the idea.
“Sir,” he protested, “Melody won’t stand a chance –”
“Listen to me, Captain,” White promptly interrupted him. “We all want to find Melody Angel, and make sure she’s all right. But we have been searching for her for nearly four hours, without finding a single trace of her. We know her Angel crashed, possibly in grid reference 4-A –, and it’s quite possible she was at the helm when that happened.”
“Didn’t Lieutenant Green tell us her onboard computer reported that she ejected before crashing?” Captain Scarlet asked.
“It did… But with all the interference with that last signal, it is possible that information might not be reliable. Hovercraft 17 searched the location of the crash – as it was on the side of a mountain, it was impossible to find the debris of the Angel. It’s probably already buried under fallen snow. And Melody… might be underneath with it.”
“I refuse to give up on her,” Ochre said obstinately.
“I don’t want to either, Captain – but we have nearly covered all the area in search of her, and we’ve found nothing so far. As I said, it’s been four hours… Quite frankly, even if Melody had been able to eject, do you really think she could survive very long in these weather conditions?”
“I…” Ochre hesitated. He didn’t want to admit that all could be lost for Melody. Didn’t want to even think it. But he could offer very little argument to his commander. “She’s a fighter, sir,” he said, trying to muster as much conviction as he could. “If indeed she ejected, and I’m sure she did – then she’ll find a way to survive.”
“Captain Ochre –”
“Remember, everyone counted her dead when she crashed in the Pacific,” Ochre cut in, exchanging new glances with Scarlet. “Nobody thought she had survived for months on that deserted island… but she did. If anyone could pull it off again, it’s her.”
Colonel White sighed. “I’ll give it an hour, Captain,” he finally said. “Time for every team to cover their sector. That’s more than I ought to give, considering how unlikely the chances of Melody Angel being found alive after all this time.”
Ochre blew a sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir.”
“One hour, Captain Ochre. After that, I will recall everyone, for their own safety. Cloudbase out.”
Ochre heard the communication being cut, even before he could mutter ‘S.I.G.’, in answer to his commander’s last words.
“One hour?” Scarlet repeated quietly, while checking his instruments.
“More or less,” Ochre said in a dark voice.
“You know, I hate to say this – but the old man could be right, Rick.”
“No.” Ochre stared intently through the large windscreen, hoping to see through the falling snow. “You were the one who was right earlier, Paul. She’s a survivor. She’s alive.” He looked at his companion. “She’s out there, waiting for us to find her. So let’s do that and bring her back home, buddy.”
Melody had no idea how long she had been on Cupid’s back, or how far his tireless stride had taken them away from the place he had found her. He was still trotting relentlessly, the depth of the snow hardly an issue for him, his precious charge collapsed on his back and barely able to hang on to him.
The warmth provided by the reindeer’s body wasn’t nearly enough to protect Melody from the biting cold, which went right to her bones. She couldn’t move her fingers, and her face felt like it was frozen. Her desire to sleep was now overwhelming and her fight not to succumb to it had now become a desperate one. She didn’t know how long she would be able to hold on.
When would her mount reach his master’s house, she wondered? It seemed to be taking an awfully long time…For all she knew, Cupid could be taking her further away from help, deeper into the mountains, where no-one would ever be able to find her.
No, I must not think that. He’s taking me to safety. I know he is. I must just hang on a little longer…
But her strength was just not enough at this point to match all of her courage and determination and with Cupid’s next step, she found she couldn’t keep her balance anymore. She slid down his back and fell heavily onto the thick snow.
She stayed there for a moment, breathing hard, with her eyes closed, feeling desperately alone and weak. She opened her eyes and looked up to the sky above. White fluffy snowflakes were falling from the darkness onto her nose, on her cheeks, brow and chin. She could barely feel their touch on her bare skin. She was too cold.
She heard jingles nearby, and Cupid’s huge furry muzzle appeared in her line of vision, blocking the sky. He blew in her face as he leaned towards her, seemingly examining her. His breathing was musky, but its warmth gave her some strength. She reached with her left hand to pat his forehead, just within her reach.
“I’m sorry, boy, I can’t go further...”
He snorted; Melody could have sworn it was a sound meant to support her, in some way or another, to encourage her to not give in. And then, unexpectedly, the reindeer’s front legs bent into a kneeling position. His back legs followed and he laid his large body right next to Melody, as close as he could get to her. With gratitude, the young woman attempted to crawl onto him again, but her numb limbs refused to allow her to pass even one leg over his large back. She crumpled at his side, heaving a deep sigh of despair.
“It’s useless,” she moaned. “I don’t have the strength anymore.”
Slowly, she cuddled up against Cupid, trying to draw as much warmth as she could from his bulk. She buried her face into the thickness of the reindeer’s fur, stifling a sob as he twisted his head to look at her. He nudged her with his muzzle. She looked at him, almost feeling the curiosity in the depths of his eyes.
“You did your best,” she said. “And I did too. But I don’t think we can go any further. I’m grateful you’re here, Cupid…your presence is comfort enough.”
She had been delusional enough to believe she could make it on her own. Maybe she should have stayed near the crash site, waiting there for help. Maybe she would have stood a better chance that way.
Her cold hand reached into the inside pocket of her uniform. Her fingers eventually worked their way into the opening. The SPT was still there, beating against her heart. Useless, defective. Unable to call for any help.
She got it out and looked at it despondently. Without it, Spectrum had no idea where to find her.
She didn’t really expect it to work now, but nevertheless, she pressed the button protruding at the top. The light didn’t come on, as indication that her efforts were not in vain.
Exhausted, Melody’s hand lowered to rest on the reindeer’s side, her fingers loosely clutched round the SPT. She was losing the fight to stay awake; her eyes were closing inexorably.
“Useless,” she mumbled, gazing one last time at the device in her hand. “If only it had worked…”
Her voice trailed off and her eyes closed one last time. Cupid bleated and nuzzled her gently; but to no avail. She remained unconscious.
Then the reindeer turned his interest to the object resting between her loose fingers. He approached it with his muzzle, snorting lightly. Gently, he touched it with the tip of his nose - which started to glow a bright luminous red.
As red and luminous as the light which suddenly came on the SPT.
“I’m receiving a signal!” Captain Scarlet said suddenly.
Startled, Captain Ochre snapped out of the brooding trance into which he had plunged in the last half-hour. Time was running out, and he was just about to give up hope of ever finding Melody. He turned towards his colleague, not daring to believe he had heard what he thought he’d heard.
“Wh-what? Scarlet, what are you –”
“It’s there!” Scarlet excitedly pointed to the computer screen with his finger. “Straight ahead. It’s Melody’s SPT!”
Ochre’s heart missed a beat. That was almost too good to be true; and yet, there it was on the screen, a red dot of light, blinking steadily, if faintly. Reading the data, he came to Scarlet’s conclusion. It was indeed Melody’s personal transmitter.
“It’s not far,” he said. “Only two or three miles.” He stared at his colleague. “And… it just started like that, just a few seconds ago? How come it wasn’t functioning up until then?”
Scarlet shrugged. “Wish I knew... Perhaps it was experiencing some kind of temporary malfunction…”
“Perhaps the sun activities that might have hampered the signal have cleared up?” Ochre suggested.
Scarlet shrugged. He doubted any sun activities were responsible for the loss of signal from the SPT. Although anything was possible.
But what if it was a Mysteron trick after all? He didn’t dare voice that nagging suspicion; he didn’t want to alarm Ochre or to anger him. In the end, he settled for praying that Melody was alive and well. The beacon only indicated the young woman’s position; it didn’t give the most precious information about her wellbeing. If the SPT signal had started of its own accord, she could very well be dead anyway.
But if she was alive, time was of the essence.
Scarlet pushed the engines to the maximum. He heard the rotors behind whirling faster, as the hovercraft jumped ahead. “We’ll be there in five minutes,” he told his colleague. “I’ll report to Cloudbase. Go get the coats out, so we’ll be ready to go as soon as we reach destination. Get some blankets, liquid… whatever might be useful when we find her. And,” he added in an afterthought, “we might need to get her immediate medical help once she’s onboard.”
Ochre didn’t need Scarlet to repeat himself. He was already on his feet before his friend had completed his instructions. “S.I.G.,” he called over his shoulder, reaching for the small cabinet containing their winter gear. He noticed his hands were shaking. He didn’t voice his concern, but he hoped that Melody was all right.
She has to be, he tried to convince himself, as he heard Scarlet make his report to Cloudbase.
So close to finding her; it would just be too cruel if they arrived too late.
It took even less than the five minutes announced from Scarlet to reach the point indicated by Melody’s SPT. While the two Spectrum officers were concerned that the signal would eventually die out, it didn’t. It kept going continuously, indicating the same exact position since the first moment they had picked it up. Scarlet had entered the coordinates onto the hovercraft’s computer, to prevent any possibility of change, although he was aware it might be a pointless safety measure. If Melody had lost her SPT, this signal, which was filling them with so much hope, would be useless. And then all would surely be over for her.
Scarlet stopped the hovercraft. The signal came from about ten meters in front of them, but he couldn’t see a thing, not through the windows or the directional camera. The winds were still blowing strong, dragging the falling snow all over the place, offering nothing but a moving white curtain to his eyes.
Ochre handed him his coat, and he started putting it on; meanwhile, his colleague was doing a last minute checks, making sure the signal readings hadn’t changed. He was already in his winter gear, set to leave the hovercraft. Like Scarlet, he watched through the windows, squinting his eyes.
“I can’t see a foot in front of me,” he muttered. He unhooked the portable hand detector from the panel and turned it on, watching the indicators on the small screen. He nodded with satisfaction. “The signal is clear – it comes from dead ahead. Let’s go.”
He turned around, ready to leave the cabin, but Scarlet caught him. “You wait for me, Ochre. You said it yourself: we can’t see a damn thing. If you step outside on your own, you’re liable to wander around and get lost.”
“But Melody –”
“A lot of good you’ll do Melody if you lose yourself in that blizzard, mate,” Scarlet insisted. “We’ll go out together. We’ll hook ourselves to the line, just in case.” He patted his friend’s shoulder and took the handheld detector from his hand. “I’ll walk in front.”
“No discussion.” Scarlet didn’t want to elaborate. He didn’t know how his friend would react if whatever they found would prove to be the worst possible scenario.
He quickly realised he didn’t need to voice his apprehension. Ochre perfectly understood. He nodded his acknowledgement and Scarlet finished preparing himself. Once he was ready, they both stepped into the rear compartment, where everything was ready to receive Melody: a bunk with blankets and pillows had been set up against a wall and the medical kit had been readied.
The two Spectrum officers went to the exit doors and swiftly put on the snowshoes waiting for them. Then Scarlet opened a side panel, to take the security line from it. He snapped the hook at the end to his belt, and then, after making sure that Ochre did the same with the next hook, pushed the button to open the door.
It slid across and immediately, the cold wind outside hit him. The lashing snow made him gasp. He put his forearm in front of his mouth, lowering down his protective goggles, and stepped out, closely followed by Ochre.
Both men stood on the lower hull of the hovercraft, which was covered with ice. Carefully, they walked towards the front and Scarlet was the first to jump onto the snow. He glanced at the handheld detector in his hand, realising it still indicated the same position as before. Straight ahead. Barely ten meters. He looked through his goggles, trying once again to pierce the wall of falling snow.
And then he thought he saw… a flickering red light.
Ochre had jumped next to him. “Have you seen that?” he asked him.
“What?” the American replied. Obviously, he had not seen anything, but he certainly was interested by whatever Scarlet might have discovered. “What was it?”
Scarlet shook his head. The light had disappeared from his view. “I’m not sure…” he muttered. He slowly got his gun out, and handed the handheld detector back to his friend. “Stay behind me,” he instructed him.
“Scarlet, whatever you’re thinking –”
“It’s just to be on the safe side, Ochre. We don’t know what could be waiting for us over there. It might not even be Melody.”
Ochre couldn’t object to that, although it was plain he didn’t like it. He knew though, that in the circumstances, Scarlet was definitely the more level-headed of the two. So he nodded at his friend’s request, and kept a few feet behind – just in case.
“Keep me informed on the direction,” Scarlet instructed him.
Ochre lowered his eyes to the hand-held detector and pointed in front with his gloved hand. “Straight ahead. Nine meters.”
Slowly, Scarlet advanced, Ochre walking behind, attached to the same line. He kept his eyes focused on the direction given by Ochre; it was the same direction he had seen the red light before.
As he got closer, he saw it again; bright red and flickering through the falling snow. And yet… it wasn’t something menacing. It was like a beacon.
A dark silhouette appeared through the falling snow; Scarlet first saw the antlers, and then the noble head, attached to a lean neck… and the red light, that flickered at the end of that head, to finally die out as it turned to look in his direction. He heard the jingle of small bells and the bleating of an animal.
“Sweet Jesus…” he heard Ochre mutter behind him.
Both men stopped. They were now in front of a great reindeer, lying in the snow and looking straight at them.
And there, resting against its side, half-covered by snow, they could see a human figure, with features that were very familiar to them.
“Melody!” Ochre bellowed.
Before Scarlet could stop his friend – he was concerned any sudden movement might alarm the beast lying next to Melody – Ochre had thrown himself in Melody’s direction, paddling awkwardly with his snowshoes in the snow until he could reach her and kneel by her side. Scarlet kept his distance, watching the reindeer apprehensively. However, Ochre’s sudden presence didn’t seem to upset the animal in the slightest. He simply turned his head round, away from Melody, either ignoring the newcomer, or to seemingly wanting to give him some space.
Scarlet approached in turn, reassured that everything was all right. He knelt by Ochre’s side. The latter was already examining Melody, whose face was very pale, and her eyes closed.
“She’s alive,” the American captain said with relief in his voice. “Unconscious but alive. Paul, she’s so pale…”
His voice broke off and Scarlet shook his head in understanding. Ochre was overwhelmed with joy, but at the same time, very concerned for the wellbeing of his girlfriend. He knew exactly how he felt. If such a thing had happened to Rhapsody, he felt for sure he wouldn’t fare much better than Ochre.
“Take her into the hovercraft, Rick,” he told his friend. “Gently....we don’t know if she has anything broken.”
“Sure. Sure, I will. And... what about him?” Ochre looked at the reindeer, against whose side Melody was resting against. He seemed to discover the animal for the first time. “Where the hell does he come from?”
“No idea, Rick. You’d better not lose any time. Take Melody. I’ll follow you.”
Ochre nodded and gently, almost tenderly, he took Melody into his arms, lifting her away from the reindeer. The animal didn’t budge.
As Ochre pulled Melody against his chest, she gave a low moan, and both men turned their attention to her. Ochre was looking down in concern. To Scarlet’s ears, it sounded like she had said something, but now she had grown quiet.
“What did she say?” he asked his colleague.
“I’m not sure,” Ochre said with a shake of his head. “It sounded like… ‘Cupid’, or something.”
Scarlet frowned in perplexity. “Cupid?”
“Or ‘stupid’ maybe… maybe she realised she was in my arms?” Ochre offered a weak smile. “That must mean she’ll be all right, then. If she’s able to talk, and to insult me, she’s not too far gone, Scarlet.”
Scarlet simply nodded, but didn’t dare extrapolate on the subject.
Ochre rose to his feet. He made his way towards the now barely visible hovercraft, following the line to which he was still attached. In a matter of seconds, he and Melody were but shadows disappearing into the snow. As he slowly got to his feet, Scarlet turned his attention to the reindeer still lying in front of him.
“Cupid,” he repeated, thoughtfully. He leaned his head to one side. “Would that be you, by any chance?”
The reindeer snorted loudly and then proceeded to climb back onto his feet. He shook himself vigorously, removing the snow from his back and took a few tentative steps. Scarlet backed away. The animal was huge, by all standards. He didn’t know reindeers could be as big. But then again, he’d never met many reindeers in his lifetime.
The animal stood there, snorting into the cold winds, paying little attention to the man by his side. Scarlet scrutinised him, and took a particular interest at his nose. After a moment, he shook his head.
I could have sworn… But it’s not possible, is it?
Must be a trick of my imagination.
He looked gravely at the beast.
“Whoever you are…wherever you come from, I think you saved my friend, boy.”
The reindeer turned his head to stare intently at Scarlet. The latter briefly nodded at him. “And for that, I’m grateful to you. We all are grateful to you.”
The reindeer bleated before inclining his head in apparent acknowledgement. Then he turned heels and followed by the sound of jingling bells, trotted into the night... to disappear behind the curtain of snow. The bells died out a few seconds later.
For a moment, Scarlet stood there, staring in the direction the reindeer had disappeared, a thousand questions pressing his mind, trying to figure out what kind of miracle he had witnessed. The cold bite of the wind brought him back to reality and he shook himself.
He turned around and walked towards the hovercraft, without a single look behind him.
When Scarlet entered the hovercraft, it was to find that Ochre had already installed Melody on the bunk and had made her comfortable under many layers of blankets. In one corner lay the discarded remains of the young woman’s uniform, still covered with rapidly-melting snow. Ochre had only taken the time to remove his snowshoes, and still with his coat on, was busying himself with moistening the unconscious Melody’s dry lips with a wet towel.
Scarlet had closed the door and was kicking his snowshoes off when he heard a faint moan coming from the young woman. He turned around, just in time to see her open tired eyes. She frowned when she saw her compatriot crouched beside her.
“R-rick?” she whispered, almost in disbelief.
“Hey there, beautiful,” he softly replied with a tender smile. “You gave us quite a scare, you know?”
“Y-you found me?”
“Yeah, I did. Well, Scarlet helped me a little too.”
“More than a little, I would say.” Scarlet approached the bunk and stood behind Ochre, looking down with a smile at the young woman. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Melody.”
Ochre nearly rolled his eyes. That certainly was a line Scarlet had heard often.
“Thank you… both of you,” Melody said with a slurred voice. “I thought… I was a goner.” Her eyes were threatening to close and she was obviously making an effort to stay awake. “If not for Cupid…”
“The reindeer?” Scarlet asked with a frown. As she nodded feebly, he asked: “Why do you call him Cupid?”
“His name was on a tag… on his harness. I don’t know where he came from… but suddenly he was there. He found me wandering around. I mounted him, and I thought he was bringing me to his home… but…I was too cold… I fell… How did you find me?”
“We followed the signal from your SPT,” Scarlet explained.
“B-but… it wasn’t working… I tried to activate it, many times.”
“Well, it probably kicked in at some point,” Ochre reasoned. “And not a moment too soon, I would say.” He leaned and kissed her brow. It was damp, and very cold and he didn’t like the feel of it. “You should rest now, Mags,” he whispered. “You’re safe now, and you’ll feel much better very soon. We’ll see to that.”
“T-thanks, Rick,” Melody said in a very low, very weak voice. “I knew… I could count on you to find me…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes closed. The next moment, she had fallen asleep, and Ochre looked at her tenderly. He gave a deep sigh of relief.
“Would you believe she’s dehydrated?” he asked, not even turning around to address Scarlet.
The latter shook his head. “Yes, it also happens in very cold weather - more often than people believe. They wrongly associate dehydration with hot weather only.” He looked in concern at the unconscious young woman. “Any trace of frostbites?”
Ochre shook his head. “No, only frost nips, by the look of it. Thankfully. She suffered greatly from the cold. She also has a dislocated shoulder, and some bruises, from the look of it… maybe a concussion. Otherwise… she seems relatively okay. We need to take her to a medical facility, Scarlet, as soon as possible.”
“I’ll ask the onboard computer to draw a route to the nearest one,” Scarlet said, removing his coat. “Don’t worry, Rick. She woke up, and from her speech, I would say she’s lucid, if very tired from her ordeal. She will be all right, now that we’ve found her; she’ll make a full recovery.”
“I believe she will,” Ochre said with a crooked smile. “She’s one tough lady… I should never have doubted that.” His brow creased. “Paul… what do you make of this animal out there? The reindeer? He saved Mags’ life, didn’t he?”
“Yes, I believe he did,” Scarlet said softly. “He kept her warm, at least, so she wouldn’t die from exposure.”
“Where did he come from? It’s the middle of nowhere around here… There’s not many souls living in the area – obviously, it’s a domesticated animal. Melody mentioned the harness… I saw it, and you did too, didn’t you?”
“I saw it, yes,” Scarlet said thoughtfully. “And I also saw…” He frowned. “Rick, did you notice his nose?”
“What about it?”
“I don’t know… I had the impression it was… shining red, at some point.”
Ochre turned to look his friend over his shoulder with a doubtful expression.
Scarlet shrugged. “Seconds before we found Melody,” he tentatively explained. “As if it was meant to guide us to her.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Ochre asked him. “It must be a trick of your imagination, pal.” He took Melody’s SPT, which lay on the floor nearby and showed it to him. “Maybe that’s what you saw glowing red. The light on this thing. It gave you that illusion.” He pressed the button, but nothing happened. “Of course, it’s dead now. Melody was very lucky it worked when it did… or we might never have found her.”
Scarlet shook his head doubtfully. He wasn’t quite sure of what he had seen, but he could have sworn it definitely wasn’t the glow from the light of an SPT. It was much brighter than that.
“What happened to the reindeer?” Ochre asked him.
“Wherever he came from, he’s gone now,” Scarlet answered. “He turned his back on me and disappeared into the blizzard… probably returning home.” He frowned deeply. “Cupid…”
“What’s that?” Ochre inquired.
“That’s the name of one of Father Christmas’s reindeer,” Scarlet explained.
Ochre chuckled. “I thought it was Rudolph who had a red nose,” he said in an amused voice. “Not Cupid…”
“My grandmother… she used to tell me stories,” Scarlet replied thoughtfully. “She said… it wasn’t only Rudolph who had a shiny red nose, contrary to the general idea. Each year, the reindeer took turns on leading the sleigh, for Christmas Eve… And the leading reindeer, whoever it was that year, would show the way with his glowing nose.” He shrugged. “I only heard that story from my grandmother, and never from anyone else. So she might have invented it…”
“Probably did. Because I never heard of this either.”
“It makes sense, though,” Scarlet continued thoughtfully.
Ochre raised an eyebrow, as he returned his attention to Melody. “Sure…” he said almost mockingly. “A grown man thinking one of Santa’s reindeer had helped in the rescue of a young woman lost in a terrible blizzard… That makes sense, all right.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Scarlet protested.
“Beside,” Ochre moved on, “that theory of yours doesn’t add up, even if it wasn’t so silly. We’re not exactly near the North Pole. So the chance of encountering one of Santa’s reindeer…” He stopped himself midsentence and shrugged it off. “What am I doing here, trying to rationalise your theory?”
Scarlet smiled. “You’re right, Rick, it’s a very silly thought. We probably will never know where that reindeer came from. More than likely, he’s the property of some Sami farmer, living somewhere in this area… who decided that tonight was a good night to take a little stroll away from his stable. Let’s just be grateful he was there to begin with.”
“And hope he’ll return to his home safe and sound,” Ochre said with a slow nod.
“Reindeer are resilient creatures,” Scarlet said. “That blizzard out there probably isn’t the first one he encountered. I'm pretty sure he'll find his way back home safely.” He pointed to the door leading to the cabin. “I’d better take this show on the road, and report to Cloudbase that we have Melody safe and sound… and that we’ll get her to the nearest medical facility for treatment.”
“Yeah, make sure you do that,” Ochre said, concentrating on the unconscious Melody again.
“Keep Melody company, Ochre. Make sure she’s comfortable and warm. It could be a long ride before we rejoin civilisation… and maybe when we do, she might be able to shed some light on this whole story, though I doubt it.”
Scarlet walked towards the door, which slid open in front of him. He was about to cross the threshold, when a thought came to his mind, and he turned to Ochre again.
“You know we are in Lapland, right? Actually, not that far from the Korvatunturi Fell?”
“Yeah, so?” Ochre failed to see Scarlet’s point.
“So… you might not know this, but in some legends, especially in Finnish folklore, the Korvatunturi fell has been known as Father Christmas’ home and workshop, well before some other legends started pointing towards the North Pole.”
Ochre gave his colleague a strange look; either he was annoyed that Scarlet would take such a silly idea so seriously – or he genuinely was perplexed by this new information. Maybe he wasn’t even sure that Scarlet was being truthful.
“Are you kidding me with this, Metcalfe?” the American asked with a doubtful frown.
Scarlet shrugged dismissively; he had to confess to himself, he didn’t have the slightest logical explanation why Cupid’s nose seemed to be shining red… Maybe indeed, he had imagined it.
But he wasn’t about to admit it to Ochre.
He gave his friend a teasing smile. “Just some food for thought, on our way back,” he said non-committedly. “We’re only a few hours away from Christmas, after all – so maybe, we’ve just been witnesses to a Christmas miracle?”
He turned around and disappeared behind the sliding door, leaving his colleague to muse on his words and to wonder if by any chance, he was serious.
Grandmother Metcalfe's stories about Father Christmas's reindeer taking turn as leading reindeer and then having the shining red nose because of it has no other source than my own imagination. So like Captain Scarlet, you will probably never heard or read about this elsewhere but in this story!
'Cupid' is indeed the name of one of Santa Claus' reindeer (the others being Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Donner, Blitzen... and of course Rudolph). I could have used any of those other names, but I picked 'Cupid', because that specific name conjures in my mind the image of a cute cherub-like character flying around with a bow. And a cherub is... an angel.
My thanks to Skybase Girl for beta-reading this
story at the last possible minute. Any error you found in it are mine and mine
‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ are the creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and all the team who at the time worked with them. The rights of the series are those of their rightful owners.
I hope you enjoyed this story. I just enjoyed writing it!