Mary Metcalfe had only one son.
It wasn’t as if she and her husband had not tried to have any other children, but unfortunately, Fate had decided otherwise.
His birth had been an event in itself. He was due to be born on Christmas Day; however, a few days before, on the evening of December 17, Mary ploughed her car into a fence on a road which had become slippery because of heavy snowfall. She was not seriously injured, but the shock seemed to make her baby decide he was ready to face the world. And so Mary had been rushed to the hospital where she gave birth to a healthy, strong and impatient baby boy, which she and her husband named Paul, the same as her father.
It wasn’t really difficult to understand that, for Mary, her son was the most precious person in her life, although she loved her husband, Charles, with all of her heart. He too loved the boy more than life itself.
Even though they were difficult times in those days, young Paul grew happy in a family in which he literally became the center of the universe. He was a strong, vivacious and energetic boy, perhaps, too energetic at times, and intelligent beyond his years.
Like many only children, in many aspects he was spoiled, but not beyond reason. Charles came from a strict and proud military background in which responsibilities, duties and honour were very important. Those ideals were no stranger to Mary either, as her own family always believed in ‘doing what was right’. They succeeded in instilling a strong set of values in their son, and he grew up to become a man they had every reason to be proud of.
As was expected, Paul followed his family’s tradition in joining the military. Mary was very much aware that, for the man of action her son had become, a quiet career behind a desk was not an option and that he fully intended to carry out his duties to the fullest of capacities. That meant throwing himself into action, facing dangers and putting his life on the line with little care for his own safety, if it meant getting the job done and saving others’ lives. While this choice meant that she would worry constantly about him, Mary felt pride in Paul’s achievements. For her, he was the perfect son every mother would dream of.
Not only was he smart, good-natured and successful in his career, brave beyond measure and totally fearless, he was also tall and decidedly handsome, with a dazzling smile that would make any woman fall head over heels for him. And while he had his fair share of feminine conquests, he remained hopelessly single – much to Mary’s frustration.
She knew her son’s merits and she knew his flaws too. He could be arrogant at times, particularly stubborn when he put his mind into it, impatient, and over-confident of his capabilities. He could be impulsive and totally reckless, taking risks without thought of the consequences for himself – or for the concern of his loved ones. Mary preferred not to think of his way-too-constant brushes with death experienced throughout his active military career within the W.A.A.F.
“Really, Mum, you don’t have to worry that much about me,” Paul once told her reassuringly, during one of his always too infrequent visits – which had became even more infrequent in the last months – when she had told him how much she was concerned for his safety. “Really, you don’t have to. I’ll be okay.” He had given her one of the most disarming smiles he had the secret of. “You know, nothing bad can happen to me.”
Although she appreciated his attempt at comforting her, Mary wasn’t so sure she at all liked the casualness he displayed over the matter. He was still very young and carefree. From experience, she knew it could lead to carelessness, and that the consequences could be very high. She had displayed it herself many years before, when she had decided to take that car on that slippery road, only days before she was to give birth to him. If the accident had been more serious, she could have died – or lost him.
“Don’t take it too lightly, love,” she gently admonished him. “Do take care of yourself, won’t you? I feel dreadful every time I hear of the missions you undertake… You’re taking so much risk.”
He sighed. “You know what kind of job I do, Mum. Someone has to do it. What I do saves lives. The risks I take are worth it.”
“Yes, I know that. And I’m proud of you for doing what you do. And I know that some things are unavoidable. But it doesn’t mean you have to take unnecessary chances and needlessly put your life in danger. Like you so often do.” She stroked his cheek affectionately. “It’s good that you want to make sure others are safe and sound, Paul,” she said softly. “But you have to make sure you’ll be too. If only for my sake.”
He answered with a slow nod. “All right, Mum. I promise you, I’ll be as careful as it’s possible for me to be and to always come back to you.”
She couldn’t help chuckling. “That’s not much of a promise, coming from you.” For her, it was an obvious reference to the recklessness he often displayed, and to his propensity to find trouble whenever he felt he needed to. She realised he wouldn’t commit himself further and was suddenly concerned that he might feel he was distressing her needlessly. She felt like she needed to reassure him: “I mean, you’re not often home these days to begin with. You’re always away on some assignment or other, somewhere far away around the world.”
“You know that can’t be helped, Mary,” Charles told her reasonably. “That’s his job after all. And his duty.”
“Yes, I know,” she replied, somehow bothered by her husband’s intervention. She had lived with him long enough to know how things went. And he seemed to forget that before marrying him, she had had to deal with the same situation as a child in her own family, as her father was a member of the Intelligence Service.
“Then how about this?” Paul said, with the same impulsiveness he often displayed. “What if I promise you that, whenever it’s possible for me to free myself, I’ll always be with you for Christmas Day?”
“Always?” his mother asked with uncertainty.
Paul shrugged. “Well, it obviously won’t be every year. But whenever I can get a furlough, I’ll be here for Christmas. And if not for Christmas, at the latest, for the New Year.” He smiled roguishly. “But I do prefer Christmas, so I’ll certainly do my best for that.”
“Unless there’s an emergency of course,” his father commented.
“Of course. Emergencies do come under the category of ‘things that cannot be avoided’,” Paul replied, looking at his mother and winking at her.
“I don’t expect you to make promises you can’t keep, love,” Mary said softly.
“Well, I’ll keep that one, Mum.” Paul leaned down and kissed her gently and the cheek, before squeezing her tight against his heart. “And make me a promise in return, will you? Stop worrying needlessly about me. There’s no need for that, I tell you. I know how to take care of myself. I’ll be fine.”
Mary made the promise, if a little half-heartedly.
Through the following months, Paul was unsurprisingly very busy and his parents didn’t get to see him often. However, the next Christmas, he fulfilled his promise and came back home in time for the family celebrations. And in the next few years, he did the same – only once missing the pledged appointment, and coming only on New Year’s Eve. That time around, he was escorted by a strikingly beautiful young woman, a French girl with blond hair and almond eyes – a young French pilot he was stationed with in the Azores.
For a time, Mary thought she had met her future daughter-in-law, and that, at last, her son was contemplating settling down with the young woman. But although there had been talk of marriage between the two, that never happened, and they separated as friends. Mary felt disenchanted. She liked Juliette very much; Charles, however, didn’t share the same opinion as his wife; for some reason, he didn’t quite approve of the French girl. He thought she wasn’t the right person for his son.
Within the year that followed, there was a drastic change in Paul’s life; he left the W.A.A.F, after being approached to be a part of the newly created security organisation called Spectrum. For Mary, it wasn’t a relief at all. From what she knew, Spectrum had been designed as the ultimate security task force, a job that consisted of keeping peace in the world, thus relieving some of the pressure on the other security forces. It meant that only the best would be part of that very elitist organisation and as such, Mary was very proud that Paul had been chosen as one of its first members – to become ‘Captain Scarlet’, one of Spectrum’s very few colour-coded special officers. But it also meant that the risks he would eventually be facing would certainly be amongst the most dangerous there were on the surface of the planet. And that didn’t reassure her in the least.
Despite her promise to her son, Mary couldn’t help worrying even more than before, although she did her best not to show any of it.
As for Paul, he did keep his pledge to return home for Christmas. The first years weren’t too bad, as he started his special training for Spectrum and the organisation slowly took shape. Then, after Spectrum officially started to perform its duties, Paul’s visits became even scarcer then before.
Mary didn’t know of all of the dangers Paul had had to face, or all of the risk-taking missions he had undertaken since he joined Spectrum.
He kept his promise, and was home at Christmas for his 31st birthday. But the following year, he couldn’t come for the Christmas celebrations. He had called, however, to give them news about him, but it wasn’t exactly the same.
He had only been able to free himself a day or two after the New Year had begun, and to join the gathering that his parents had organised with the rest of the family.
“I’m really sorry I couldn’t come sooner, Mum,” he told Mary that evening, as the last of their guests had left their home and he found himself alone with his parents at last. “So far I’ve been able to keep my promise to you, except once, but this year… I really couldn’t make it.” He shook his head, dejectedly. “You can imagine that with Spectrum now, it could become more difficult for me to find time,” he carefully pointed out, causing his mother to look directly at him. “I will need to stay on duty on Cloudbase from time to time, with the others also wanting to see their respective families during Christmas…” He shrugged. “It’s only fair, you know?”
“Of course, darling,” Mary replied. “I understand that, and I’m just happy that, up until now, you’ve been able to come home to us for Christmas. I also understand that this year, it wasn’t possible for you. But at least, you are here with us now. You did call at Christmas, and I appreciate it. That’d be a good alternative, should it be impossible as well in the coming years. You’ll call us, so we can exchange Christmas wishes?”
“And to let you know I’m all right at the same time?” Paul offered with a thin smile. “Of course, Mum. I’ll make sure to call you, if I can’t come for Christmas next time. But stop worrying about me, please. I’ll be okay.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t help myself,” Mary retorted with a sigh. “We almost lost you last year, Paul. When your car drove off the road in New York all those months ago, and all the reports your father could find about the accident was that you might have died… I felt absolutely horrible.”
He smiled at her, but it was some kind of a sad smile. Mary could see there was some strange expression in his eyes, as if what she had just said had touched something – a bad memory which had been haunting him, or something similar. Paul had told them – she and Charles – that the accident in New York had had little consequence; obviously, it had not killed him, like those who had caused the accident had intended it to, and considering he had came back home a couple of weeks afterwards, he had probably only been lightly injured. At least, that was what she assumed, but it was apparent that there was something more important that had happened during that accident. He had lost a partner, after all, a close friend. Mary knew her son well enough to know that he probably felt responsible in some way for it. Some kind of survivor’s guilt; he was alive and his friend had died.
“Something wrong, Paul?” she asked him.
“No, nothing.” He brushed the top of her head with a gentle kiss. “I’m okay, don’t you think anything of it. And I keep telling you, love: I’ll be fine. Always.”
For an unknown reason, that ‘always’ bothered Mary more than she could tell. It didn’t feel natural. And the way he was so distant with them… She didn’t like it much.
The next year, he came even less home. Again, he was absent the next Christmas, but as he promised, he contacted them on the very day, and again, was able to make it for the New Year’s celebrations. His duties with Spectrum took more and more of his time. The Mysterons proved particularly restless. They were an enigmatic group of terrorists, who had suddenly come onto the scene, threatening anyone and anything, with apparently no connection between each of their targets. They were violent and deadly, and in since their appearance, they had quickly become the worst threat the world had to face. They had been responsible for the accident that almost claimed Paul’s life in New York and killed his friend, and those months ago. As Mary came to understand it, Paul had dedicated himself to fight them. Perhaps, she imagined, in a way to atone for his friend’s death.
Spectrum’s business was mostly secret to the world at large, even for those close to the organisation’s agents, and, quite frankly, Mary preferred not to know more than was strictly necessary. She suspected Charles knew more than he let on; she had often discerned the worry in her husband’s eyes whenever it was reported that Spectrum had been on a mission against those the Mysterons. He knew something, that was obvious, but he had never confided in her and didn’t seem inclined to do so in any hurry. Nor would she ask him or Paul to. But she couldn’t help to think that, if the two men in her life weren’t were keeping secrets from her, then there was something very serious going on. And she had the feeling it all had to do with these Mysterons.
This forthcoming Christmas, Paul had called her on his birthday to tell her he was going on assignment for a few days, and reassure her that he should have finished in time to come for a visit this time around. He had arranged things with his commander who had given him his permission. Paul was very excited over this impending visit. He was obviously looking forward to it, after two years of not being able to keep his promise to be home for Christmas. He was pleased to learn from his mother that this year, there would not be an all-out dinner with all the members of the family, a few chosen friends, and part of the neighbourhood. Apparently, this year, it would be a quiet dinner at home, between himself, his parents, and perhaps a few uncles, aunts and cousins he had not seen for a long time. No more than about a dozen people, at the most. Quite frankly, that suited him very nicely.
“We should arrive during the evening of Christmas Eve,” he told his mother over the videophone. “Will that be all right, Mum?”
“Of course it will, Paul…” Mary frowned. “What do you mean, ‘We’?”
“Ah… I’ll not be alone,” Paul revealed to her. “You’d better count an additional plate for the Christmas dinner. I’ll… be bringing someone with me.”
That certainly made Mary curious. “Will you, now?” she asked him. “And an additional bed as well?”
“Ah well…” Paul seemed to give it some thought. “Yeah, I guess you should prepare a guest room as well. I doubt we’ll be sharing a bed while at home,” he added pensively.
His comment made Mary even more curious at who this ‘guest’ he was talking about could be. She decided to grill him – as inconspicuously as she could.
“I know Adam as a big appetite,” she commented, thinking of his son’s usual partner and now best friend. “Not as much as yours, that’s true, but perhaps I should get a bigger turkey.”
Paul laughed. “Ah, it won’t be Adam coming along. Actually, he swapped furloughs with me so I’d be with you for Christmas Eve. No, I’ll be bringing someone else. But… just on the safe side, you can get that bigger turkey of yours. If only because of me. I haven’t had any of your Christmas cooking in a long time. I’d kill for your turkey. And of course, don’t forget the roast potatoes, pigs in blankets, gravy, stuffing…”
“I honestly don’t know where you put all of it!” Mary replied, laughing in turn. “I swear, you’ve been eating like an ogre each time you come back home! What, don’t they feed you at all on Cloudbase?”
“Not as well as you, Mum.”
“And you don’t put an ounce. I’m starting to get really jealous.”
“Well, obviously, I’m still a growing boy and I need lots of energy.”
“I will start to believe that.” Mary smiled back at the image of her son over the videophone. “So who will you be bringing, Paul, if not Adam?” Is that someone I know?”
Paul tutted and waved a finger at her, playfully. “How curious you are, love. I’m not telling you. I’ll introduce you to each other when we get there. In the meantime… patience.”
“I’m not a patient woman, Paul. You know that. You get that from me.”
Mary saw him rolling his eyes. “Don’t I know it? Bye for now, Mum. We’ll see you on Christmas Day.”
And with that, Paul cut communication. Mary looked at the blank screen with a thoughtful and happy expression on her face. From the sound of things, the person Paul was bringing along was someone very special to him. And if she didn’t miss her guess, it could only be a young woman. And about time it was too, she was starting to despair of him.
She tried to grill Charles on the subject, to learn if her husband knew something about it. Although now a retired general, Charles had still some businesses going on with the W.A.A.F and the World Government – as an advisor, supervisor or other capacities of the kind. He had met with Paul a couple of times during the previous year, and maybe he knew what could be going on, but he was adamant that he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Honestly, Mary, do you really think Paul had time to tell me he was going out with some girl, while we met for official business – in a room full of other people who’re not supposed to know he’s my son?” Charles returned to the reading of his newspaper. “If he’s seeing someone, he kept quiet about it. Maybe it’s not as serious as you think?”
“Maybe it wasn’t that serious when he met with you,” Mary reasoned. “Maybe it has become serious since then…” She watched carefully as Charles shrugged the question behind his newspaper. “Do you think I should buy this girl a gift, just in case?”
“Mary!” Charles lowered his newspaper and glared at his wife with a look of near-exasperation on his face. “Honestly, did he tell you his guest was a girl, to begin with?”
She waved that notion aside, and chuckled. “Oh, honestly, Charles,” she said teasingly. “Paul’s been interested in girls ever since he learned there’s better things to do with them than play football.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Charles replied, rolling his eyes. “Paul has a number of colleagues, friends he’s close to. Maybe it’s someone who has nowhere else to go during Christmas and he kindly invited that person over. You know how our son is.”
“He wouldn’t make that much mystery over who that person could be if it was the case,” Mary reasoned.
Charles narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re not planning to influence him into settling down, are you?”
“Who said I was planning to do anything?”
“I say it. I know how you are, you’ve been hoping for him to get married and give you grand-children for a long time.”
“I can assure you, I’m not that eager to become a grandmother,” Mary protested.
“Well, it’s not our call, anyway.” Charles huffed and returned his attention to his newspaper. “Mary, if this is indeed a young woman Paul’s bringing as a guest, and if indeed he’s serious enough to contemplate to marry her, then I would advise you to stay out of it and let things take their natural course. Paul’s a big boy… and anyway, you know he’ll only do things he decides to do himself. We have little influence on him anymore.”
Mary smiled dotingly at her husband. “Of course, Charles. You’re absolutely right… as always.”
He groaned behind his paper. “Why do I have the feeling you’ll only do whatever you want to do, anyway?”
Laughing softly, Mary went her way and happily made plans for the forthcoming Christmas dinner.
She busied herself in the coming days with decorating the house, shopping, groceries and cooking. She welcomed Charles’ help in the kitchen, but there wasn’t much she allowed him to do, except for peeling vegetables, washing fruits, checking on the gravy and making sure the china and the silver were clean and spotless. If truth could be told, while following his wife’s orders in the kitchen, retired general Charles Metcalfe felt exactly as if he was a private in a military camp, on potato peeling assignment for the troops.
But as the days went by and Christmas approached, the news on television, in the newspapers and on Wordnet became all of a sudden very distressing. Mary tried not to take any notice, but she couldn’t help getting interested when it was mentioned that the Mysterons had attempted to sabotage a large World Government sea farm facility off the Western Coast of Canada.
There wasn’t much detailed information, but apparently, Spectrum had just been successful to prevent the disaster, but not without sacrificing a portion of the farm. She imagined that this operation had to do with the assignment Paul had told her about a few days before, and so, after learning that no casualties had been reported – outside of two unknown terrorists – she felt relieved that the assignment had been a success and that Paul would more than likely be safely back home – in time for Christmas.
But then, on Christmas Eve, when she still didn’t get any news from her son since his last call, something else happened that caused her to worry.
She found herself in front of the television set, with her husband, fretfully watching the news reports from Reykjavik, in Iceland, where the British embassy had became the scene of a violent and unexpected attack by terrorists, who had taken hostages inside the building and were conducting a siege against the Icelandic police and the military forces surrounding the place. The details were still a little sketchy, but rumour had it that the Mysterons were behind the attack, and that their aim was to revive the infamous dispute of nearly ten years before between Britain and Iceland and destroy the still fragile diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Mary and Charles were interested in the news, because their niece, Jessica Blake, was part of the Universal Secret Service agents assigned to the embassy’s security and to the safety of the ambassador and his family. They couldn’t tear themselves away from the screen, as they watched the events unfolding before their eyes, with many exchanges of fire between the terrorists and the authorities, explosions and fire all around the embassy, and the sounds of the newspeople reporting confused information. Already, there were casualties, but nobody knew exactly what was exactly happening and who was dead or alive.
Charles had called Oliver, Mary’s brother and Jessica’s father, himself a high-ranked official at the U.S.S. office in London, but even he didn’t have any news of his daughter and was worried sick. All he was able to tell his brother-in-law was that since the Mysterons were somehow involved in the attack, it was fully expected that Spectrum would soon be on the case, and would participate in operations to take the embassy back from the terrorists – and save the hostages that still remained alive inside.
That information from Oliver wasn’t very surprising; if the Mysterons were involved, then it was a sure bet that Spectrum would intervene. Fighting the Mysterons was their main mandate, and they had full authority on the matter.
And the best fighter they had against the Mysterons was Captain Scarlet.
But what Mary could see of what was going on in Reykjavik was so terrible, that she couldn’t bare thinking that her son would somehow be involved with it. And she just knew he would be there, in the thick of the danger.
On that Christmas Eve, when he was supposed to be on his way to join them.
She felt Charles’ hand seizing her own and squeezing it tight and reassuringly.
“Don’t you worry, Mary,” she heard his deep and reassuring voice, which strangely seemed to come from afar. “Everything will be all right, you’ll see. Spectrum will sort this out. Jessica will be back, safe and sound.”
She shook her head timidly, almost desperately. As much as she loved the charming young woman who was her niece, she was very afraid that Paul would do something reckless which would put him in some kind of danger.
And if she had to make a choice, right there, right then, about who she would rather see come back home safe… She certainly would choose her own son.
She almost hated herself for thinking it, but she couldn’t help it.
The authorities in Reykjavik drove witnesses away from the scene; they requested that the news cameras be taken away from the site and that no transmission or report was relayed to the public during the course of the police manoeuvres, so not to give to the terrorists any information that might interfere with the operations. Although the reasons to do so were understandable, that made matters even worse for the viewers, Mary and Charles amongst them, who were left wondering even more what exactly was going on.
The cameras were showing the scene from such a distance that it was almost impossible to discern what was happening, especially through that thick storm-like snow that was falling over Reykjavik and the heavy smoke surrounding the building. They could still hear explosions and the crackling of guns, and the excited reporters were making more-or-less accurate accounts on what little they were allowed to tell. One of them carelessly let it out that a Spectrum helicopter had arrived on the scene and that a man in a red coat had been seen being lowered down on the roof of the embassy.
Charles Metcalfe was furious that an information such as this had been conveyed on television; Mary’s heart pounded faster in her chest.
A red coat. That undoubtedly was Captain Scarlet.
“You can’t be sure of that, Mary,” Charles chided her, when she told him. “There may be a number of Spectrum officers wearing red.”
But Mary wouldn’t hear it. It was Paul, she just knew it. Just as she knew that Charles was convinced of this as well. Only, he was trying to hide it from her, to reassure her. And maybe reassure himself.
For a long time, it seemed to them, they stayed almost motionless in front of the television, waiting nervously. The reporter who had made the imprudent statement earlier had been taken off screen, along with most of his colleagues. News was very scarce now, and no-one wanted to commit themselves on what might possibly be happening. The operation was ongoing, and one report too many could botch it up and cause many deaths. Already, Mary was worried sick that it was too late, and that her son’s life might be in jeopardy. She even asked her husband to make use of his contacts, make some phone calls to people who might be able to tell them something – anything – but he shook his head.
“No, if Spectrum’s already involved in the operation – and from the little we know, it seems to be the case – nobody’ll be able to tell us anything. Or want to tell us anything.”
“Surely, we wouldn’t jeopardise the mission?” Mary protested.
Charles hesitated to answer that one. “Us, certainly not, but calls could be monitored,” he explained. “And if the Mysterons are as powerful as Spectrum led us to believe… who knows if one word too many could not be dangerous?”
Mary nodded slowly, accepting that she would unfortunately have to wait to know the outcome of the events in Reykjavik.
Some time later, the restriction on any information was finally lifted, and reporters were allowed back on the scene… but only at a safe distance. The mission had been successful, but had not gone without any casualties. A spokesperson from the police, very calm, but still looking physically and emotionally drained, reported to the camera that the terrorists had made some victims inside the embassy, while Spectrum had joined the authorities efforts to save as many people as possible and put an end to the siege. That had not stopped the building from being set on fire, and at this point, it was almost completely alight, with the firefighting team of Reykjavik attempting desperately to circumscribe the amount of destruction. Fortunately, the embassy had been completely evacuated of anyone who until recently had been kept inside by the terrorists.
Officially, there was no report that Spectrum had lost any personnel in the operation. However, a rescued member of the embassy staff commented that, through the thickness of the smoke within the premises, he had seen a colour-coded Spectrum officer fighting some of the terrorists, and being wounded by them – shot at almost point-blank range. The last he had seen of the man, he was still alive, and carrying on with the fight.
The man was wearing a red coat.
Her heart missing a beat, Mary had grabbed Charles’ arm, digging her nails through his sleeve and into his flesh. “Darling, it’s our boy he’s talking about!”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Charles reasoned. Nevertheless, he was on his feet, almost instantly, and on his way to get the phone. “Now that the operation is finished, I might be able to get some information,” he said swiftly. “Don’t worry, Mary… I’m sure Paul’s okay. Remember, that witness said the Spectrum officer was alive the last he saw him.”
“But wounded,” Mary reminded him, with a hopeless voice.
Charles gave her one glance, and requested that she stayed where she was and wait for his return with fresh news. He went into the other room to make his call.
For Mary, this new wait was abominable; Charles had closed the door between them, so she couldn’t hear a thing of whatever conversation he might have on the phone. When he came back, a few minutes later, she looked desperately to him. He shook his head helplessly. He couldn’t get to make the call directly to Cloudbase; all communications with Spectrum’s main base and with their local base in London were prohibited until further notice. To say that he was disappointed – and annoyed – was an understatement.
“Apparently, the crisis’s not yet over,” he explained. “Spectrum’s still fretful that the Mysterons might launch another attack. It seems it’s their habit to make another attempt when the first one isn’t successful.”
“Didn’t you explain who you were?” his wife asked him.
“Of course. And I gave them the security code Paul gave me, if ever I needed to call Spectrum in an emergency. They assured me that they had no news about Captain Scarlet being injured in the operation. They couldn’t confirm to me either that he was involved with it, to begin with.”
“That doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, and that he isn’t fine,” Mary replied inflexibly.
Charles sighed. She was right, of course.
“Why won’t they tell us what’s going on?” Mary insisted. “Our son could be seriously injured… Dead, even.”
“Spectrum is just doing its job, sweetheart,” Charles replied, trying to be the voice of reason. “They’re not keeping us in the dark on purpose. The restrictions on this mission have not been fully lifted yet, as far as they’re concerned. Possibly, they don’t know all the details of what has been going on. They’ll have to investigate more, make sure everything is fine now. When they know more, they’ll let us know.”
“I have received assurance that someone will call us back as soon as it’s possible to give us news. And they told us not to worry needlessly,” Charles added in a soft, reassuring voice. “I think we should follow their advice. At least, we can wait until morning.” He looked at his sad-looking wife. “I’m sure that if Paul had been seriously injured during this mission, they’d have informed us.”
Half-heartened, she nodded her agreement. She couldn’t help thinking that the time he had had that terrible accident in New York, and there had been incorrect news that her son might have been dead, Spectrum had not really come forward to tell them he wasn’t – not for long hours after the event.
“Do you have some news about Jessica?” she enquired.
On that front, Charles was more successful. Another direct call to Oliver Blake informed them that Jessica had been seriously wounded during the mission. Spectrum had rescued her personally, and she had been one of the first people to be rushed out to the nearest hospital in Reykjavik. From what Oliver had been able to tell his brother-in-law, Jessica was in a stable condition but unconscious since her rescue.
“She lost a lot of blood,” Oliver told Charles through the videophone, while Mary was standing by the door, listening to her brother’s report on the situation. “But apparently she’ll be okay. Out of action for a little while, I’m afraid. So… you understand we won’t be at your place tomorrow. Emily and me, we’ll be flying to Reykjavik tonight.”
“Of course, Ollie. Mary and I, we understand.”
“Charles, from what I heard – it’s Paul who found and rescued her,” Oliver then continued. “He found her on the roof, where she tried to seek refuge. She was already wounded.”
“So he was there,” Mary said suddenly. Charles seemed to become aware of her presence only just then, and he glanced at her over his shoulder, to make sure she was all right. At the moment, she seemed to be holding up fine.
“Yeah, he certainly was there, Mary,” Oliver replied, as she approached and came into view. He offered a sad smile. “And he probably saved my baby’s life.”
“Did you have some news from him?” Charles asked swiftly. “Have you heard what might have happened after he found Jessica?”
“I’m afraid not. All I know is that the Spectrum operation was a success, despite there being casualties amongst the hostages inside the embassy.”
“So none of these casualties are part of Spectrum’s own personnel?” Charles insisted.
“Not that I know of. I mean, nothing was reported to me that Spectrum had any casualties.” Oliver shook his head. “Spectrum keeps to itself… but I’m pretty sure that Paul’s all right, if you’re worried about him. You would have been informed if it wasn’t the case, right?”
“You’re probably right, yes,” Charles agreed, nodding slowly.
“I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, Charles, but I have to go,” Oliver informed him. “The plane will be waiting for us now. Please, when you see Paul… Will you thank him for us? Tell him we owe him one.”
“We will, Ollie. Give our best to Jessica, over there. And… I hope this will be a good Christmas for you, despite all that happened.”
“With my daughter alive, it certainly is one, anyway. Take care, Charles… Mary. A Happy Christmas to you too.”
The communication was interrupted and Charles turned to Mary, who was staring at the empty screen with an expression that was just as blank.
“He was there, Charles,” she repeated with insistence. “Ollie just confirmed it. I just knew it was him.”
Charles grunted and shook his head dismissively. “But your brother also said that he didn’t hear there were any victims amongst the Spectrum personnel. So if you trust him with the news that Paul was indeed there, than you should believe what he said about that as well.” He sighed deeply. “Look, tomorrow’s Christmas. How much do you want to bet that Paul will be here, at some point of the day, without a scratch on his person, and with that lovely girl you’ve been talking about for days hanging on his arm?”
She glared at him warningly. “Please, don’t humour me,” she begged. “This is not a laughing matter.” She nodded in direction of the living room behind her. “The news on TV said he’s been injured, and –”
“I’m not humouring you and I’m pretty sure that Paul’s quite all right,” Charles interrupted. “And as far as the reports on television go, I would not put too much faith in them. These kinds of reports are notoriously sensationalist, you know that as well as I do. Beside, that man who claimed he had seen that ‘Spectrum officer wearing a red coat’ did say there was a lot of smoke inside the embassy.”
“That’s true…” Mary admitted, lowering her eyes. She still wasn’t convinced, nor reassured.
Charles looked at her with compassion. He knew she often worried about Paul, but it wasn’t like her to fret over him in such a manner. She was a strong woman, and usually, she wouldn’t let herself be bothered that way with negative thoughts. In all the years they had spent together, she had been confronted with difficult moments such as these, and she always knew how to face them bravely. She knew what kind of life Paul lived and it was mostly all right with it. He blamed the television for the live broadcast of this ongoing operation, where the pictures and information which should never have been shown in the first place had obviously troubled her deeply. He suspected she was very tired, which wasn’t very surprising with what had been going on all evening.
“You should get some rest, love,” he told her softly. “A good night’s sleep will do you a lot of good.”
“I honestly cannot rest while I do not know if our son is well or not,” she retorted.
“There’s nothing you can do about it tonight,” Charles insisted.
“What if Spectrum should call and –”
“I’ll stay up tonight. If they call, I’ll answer.” Charles smiled encouragingly. “I might even try to see if I cannot reach someone, while you sleep. I might be more successful than earlier at some point during the night.”
“If you do, be sure to inform me,” she insisted.
“I will, Mary. I promise.” Charles came to her and planted a kiss on her forehead, affectionately. Under his arms, he could feel how tense she was. “We have a lot of work to do tomorrow,” he reminded her. “It’s Christmas after all, and with these news on TV, we haven’t finished preparing everything for everyone’s visit. You want for it to be ready when Paul’s arrive, don’t you?”
“Are you really sure he’ll be with us tomorrow?” Mary asked with obvious doubt in her voice.
“Love, I’ve never been more certain of something in my life. Paul did promise he’ll be there for Christmas. And this year, it sounded like it was very important for him.”
Still doubtful, Mary shook her head, and slowly detached herself from her husband’s arms. “I don’t think I really will be able to sleep tonight,” she announced, as she turned towards the stair and started climbing up.
But she was wrong. She was so tired that, as soon as her head hit the pillow, she immediately fell asleep. Fortunately, it was a dreamless sleep, and she was spared the visions of violence and death which had been dancing in her mind all evening, while watching the news on television.
When Mary woke up the next morning, she was slightly lost at where she was, as she obviously overslept her usual waking up hour. It took her a few minutes to remember exactly the events of the evening before. A look at herself revealed that she had fallen asleep with the same clothes she had been wearing the previous day, which was an unusual thing for her to do.
At a glance, she discovered that her husband’s side of the bed had not been disturbed, which meant that he didn’t come to sleep at all the previous evening. Perhaps he had stayed up all night by the phone as he had promised, or more realistically, he could have fallen asleep in the living room.
Through the window she could see large snowflakes falling slowly outside. How quaint. A bit of snow on Christmas Day. She couldn’t recall if the previous day the weather forecasting had mentioned any snow. It was true she had been otherwise preoccupied.
She felt much better, and not as distraught as the day before. Still this morning, she worried over her son’s safety, but she also felt a bit silly to have overreacted the way she had. She chided herself for her uncharacteristic behaviour. She knew all too well he led a dangerous life, and she had thought she had accepted it – just as she had to accept that he wouldn’t live any other way. His sense of duty was deeply ingrained within him and he wouldn’t change the way he was for anyone – nor would she wanted him to. That was certainly a part of what made her so proud of him.
But that didn’t stop the fact that she would felt concerned about him. Always.
She left her bed and went for a shower. She was late and, as Charles had so rightly mentioned the previous evening, she had lots of things to do today. It would not serve her to simply sit in a corner and simply wait, thinking and crying until she was sick with worry about what could have happened to Paul. She would be better served by getting busy and keeping her mind off the subject for a while. She needed to get everything ready for tonight’s Christmas dinner. She didn’t expect that everyone would come. Already, her brother Oliver and his wife Emily would not be in attendance. Neither would Jessica, of course. Mary took a mental note to call her brother later on and check how her niece was doing that day.
Sometime later, she was slowly walking down the stairs, fixing her last earring, when she heard an odd sound coming from the back garden. That made her stop in her track and she frowned, listening; She knew that whopping noise, which increased by the second. It was the sound of a helicopter’s blades, coming into approach.
Her fears of the night before came back to haunt her.
In long strides, Mary crossed the hall and then the living room and hurried to the back entrance. Charles was already there, with his hand on the door knob, about to open it; he was wearing the same clothes, but they didn’t seem as crumpled as her own when she had woke up. Neither did her husband look like he had not sleep at all the previous night. She knew him well enough to know that most of the time, he never looked tired, and that even two-hours sleep a night was enough for him to feel refreshed and ready to take on a new day.
He beamed at her when he saw her coming; he didn’t seem to notice the new look of worry in her face when he opened the door for her.
“Didn’t I tell you, you didn’t need to worry, love?” He commented with a cheerful voice. “Look what’s landing in our background!”
Mary had half-a-mind to rebuke him, as she passed by and stood in the doorway to see a Spectrum helicopter gently settling down on her lawn. She still was apprehensive that bad news would come out of this craft, in the form of someone coming over to tell them, in person, that their son had been killed in action, or that he was so grievously injured that they needed to be rushed by his side.
She looked on, fretfully, as the side door of the helijet opened, and she saw the tall figure of a man leaping nimbly onto the ground, a suitcase in one hand and a bag over his shoulder, before turning around to offer his free hand to a fashionably dressed young woman, who gracefully stepped out of the craft to stand by his side. Mary’s heart leapt with joy and relief almost as soon as her eyes set that man, who had his back on her; she didn’t have to see his face to recognise her son.
Paul and his companion waved at the helicopter’s pilot – a nice-looking young black woman wearing the Angel pilot uniform – who waved back at them before she took the craft off the ground and into the air. Then Paul turned around, inviting his guest with his hand to follow him, and they both walked up to the house.
Watching them, Mary decided that she would act as dignified as it was possible for her, to welcome them into her home. Paul didn’t have to learn how silly with unnecessary concern she had been over his wellbeing, so she wasn’t about to let on anything about it.
She left the doorway, and walked calmly towards her son. He was smiling widely at her, as they approached each other. The young woman by his side was strikingly beautiful, with long red hair and smiling, bright blue eyes. Mary thought she had seen her before, but she couldn’t recall where exactly.
When they stopped in front of each other, Paul put his suitcase down on the ground, and embraced his mother warmly, kissing her cheek as he did so. Mary had to stretch on tiptoe to reach him and hug him in a similar way.
“Merry Christmas, Mum!” he said joyfully. “How are you?”
“My boy, how good it is to see you!” she replied, as they broke their embrace. “Merry Christmas to you too.” She gave an intent look in direction of the young woman by Paul’s side; he got the message, and turned to make the presentation.
“Mum, may I introduce you to Dianne?”
“Dianne Simms, Mrs. Metcalfe,” the young woman introduced herself. Out of an impulse, she stepped forward and took Mary in her harms to hug her. Immediately, Mary liked her. “Merry Christmas to you.”
“And to you as well, my dear,” Mary answered, stepping back to examine the young woman carefully, while holding her hands in hers. This girl was beautiful, elegant, utterly charming and seemingly intelligent.
She was just perfect.
“Paul, she’s absolutely delightful. An angel.”
“Yeah, Mum. I know,” Paul said, chuckling, as Dianne’s ears started to turn red. “And doubly at that. She’s one of the Spectrum Angels.”
“Is she, now?” Mary commented, narrowing her eyes at Dianne. “Oh, I thought I had seen you before, dear. Now I know where.”
“We briefly met at the commissioning ceremony, Mrs. Metcalfe. I’m Rhapsody Angel.” Her beautiful eyes rose over Mary’s head, and the older woman heard the footsteps of her husband as he closed in behind her. “Hello, General Metcalfe. It’s good to see you again. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Rhapsody… ah… Dianne. Sorry.” Mary realised that her husband had probably already met the young woman before, in the context of his job, so it didn’t come as such a surprise that they seemed to know each other. She watched as Charles smiled lightly, and he extended his hand to shake Dianne’s. “I must admit, it’s quite a surprise to see you here… as a my son’s guest.” His smile became a teasing one. “Erm… even maybe more than a guest, I imagine?”
“Charles, we’re going to embarrass her,” Mary suddenly chided her husband. She remembered that one of the other Angel pilots just happened to be the young French woman that Paul had gone out with a few years ago – the one that Charles didn’t really approve of. If he objected to this one as well, and ruined this relationship for Paul, she swore she was going to file for divorce. She quickly changed the subject and turned to her husband: “You knew they were coming this morning, didn’t you?” she accused him.
“Yeah, I did,” Charles confessed, the smile on his face demonstrating plainly that he didn’t have a hint of guilt in him. “Paul called a couple of hours ago, and announced his arrival. I went to wake you up,” he swiftly defended himself, and he saw his wife ready to reprimand him, “but you were so deep asleep, and you so needed it, I thought it best for me to let you, instead of startling you in your sleep. You could have thought I was bringing you bad news.”
Mary furrowed her brows at this revelation, but still, she could see his intentions were in the right place. In any case, he was right; if he had woken her suddenly, she might have been concerned something was wrong before he could even say a word.
“Well, the surprise was well worth it,” she commented, addressing a smile to first her husband, then her son. “Now that you’re here…”
“I’m sorry we are late,” Paul told her apologetically. “I know we were supposed to arrive yesterday evening but, well… We were kind of busy.”
“I know,” Mary answered understandingly. “We saw on the news last night what was happening in Reykjavik. Dreadful business.”
“You did, uh?” Paul gazed at her intently, making a show to appear suspicious. “Is that why Dad didn’t want to wake you to tell you I was coming this morning? You didn’t worry too much, I hope?”
“Me?” Mary scoffed dismissively. “Of course I didn’t…” She caught sight of Charles rolling his eyes, and hoped Paul had not noticed.
“Of course not,” Paul said musingly. “And Dad didn’t call Spectrum last night asking news about my wellbeing either.”
“For all the good it did me,” Charles Metcalfe replied with a huff.
“Security was still very high last night, Dad,” Paul explained. “We feared the Mysterons might attempt another assault.”
“We did hear on TV that a Spectrum officer wearing red might have been shot,” Mary then said hesitantly. “And we thought it might have been you, love.”
“Oh, that news…” Paul laughed it out as if it was nothing. “You know how television is, Mum… Yes, the bad guys fired at us, but they were lousy shots… And you know, we’re wearing very good Kevlar in Spectrum.” He smiled reassuringly. “I wasn’t hurt… as you can see for yourself. I don’t even have a scratch.”
“What did I tell you, Mary?” Charles said to his wife. “That boy of ours, he’s… indestructible.” Mary caught the exchange of looks and smiles between her husband and her son. Charles was even worse than her when it came to Paul, who was the ideal son he had always wanted. There was a complicity between them that even she had never been able to intrude on. Sometimes, she envied her husband for that connection with their son, but she fully realised that between them, it was a ‘guy thing’, and that she had no business to get her nose into it.
“Why don’t we get inside, before we catch our death in this weather?” Mary suggested waving towards the still open door behind them. “With everything that happened yesterday, I’m late with my dinner preparations for tonight, so I’ve still got a lot to do today… Dianne, I hope you’re good in a kitchen?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Metcalfe,” Dianne replied with an awkward smile. “How about we find that out together? I know I’m good at following orders… So you’ll just have to tell me what to do.”
“A woman after my own heart,” Mary laughed. “And please, call me Mary. As for you two, gentlemen – don’t think we’ll do all the work while you sit and chat in the living room. You can assist us, of course.”
“Oh, I don’t like the sound of this…” Charles muttered. “You’re a tyrant in that kitchen, Mary.”
“My kitchen, my rules, Charles Metcalfe. Come with me, Dianne.” Mary seized the handle of her son’s suitcase before he even had the time to reach for it and turned around to stride in direction of her house, followed by Dianne. “You’ll have to tell us about this latest mission of yours, Paul,” she said over her shoulders. “Your uncle Oliver told us you found our dear darling Jessica on the roof, wounded, and that you saved her. He also told us she’ll be okay… Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I heard she’s going to be fine… er… Mum?”
Mary turned around, hearing the hesitation in her son’s voice. He was there, standing exactly where she had left him, looking at her with an inquiring, almost apprehensive expression on his face. Charles was by his side and was looking at her too. The same thought seemed to be present in the minds of both the men in her life.
Paul tilted his head to one side. “You’re sure you’re okay?”
She smiled at him. “Yes,” she confirmed with a brief nod. “Now that you are home, I’m all okay.”
He grinned back at her. That same roguish grin he always had when he sought to reassure him. “I promised you, Mum. Whenever it’s possible, I’ll always be home for Christmas. I missed it last year and the year before… But I guess this year, I managed to hold to my promise, right?”
“You certainly did, love,” Mary answered with another, vibrant smile. “You certainly did at that!”
Many thanks to Marion Woods, for beta-reading this story. Her help is really appreciated, at such a short notice. Any mistakes found after she has done checking it out are my own!
This story makes references to events told in ‘Cindy’s Angel’, the first Captain Scarlet Christmas story that I wrote for this website quite a few years ago, and in which I introduced the character of U.S.S. agent Jessica Blake, Paul Metcalfe’s cousin.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons© was created by Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson and the team of creators and artists who worked with them. I acknowledge that this work of fiction is their own creation and not mine, and that I only borrowed it to play with, with respect to their work.
The characters of Mary Metcalfe, and of her husband, General Charles Metcalfe, have been originally created by Mary J. Rudy, and appeared for the first time in the story ‘Chance for a Lifetime’, to which this story refers as well. Mary used the General again, on his own, in the story ‘A Cross to Bear’, which was set before Spectrum had been created.
Although not part of the official canon, both characters, over time, gained enough popularity within the fan fiction community to become an almost integral part of the fandom. Many authors have written about them through the years, adding their own facets to the characters, and adding to their history.
This story is dedicated to the mothers of all soldiers, who worry about their sons away from home, unable to attend family celebrations, and who do their best to support their boys with their love, courage, and understanding.
May you all have a Happy Christmas.
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site