A Captain Scarlet short story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop
(This story takes place shortly after the events of last year’s Christmas story, “A White Christmas Carol”, by Chris Bishop, Mary J. Rudy and Sue Stanhope.
Merry Christmas, Mary and Sue – and Hazel our ever-reliable beta-reader.
Visibility was now practically zero.
Groaning, Symphony Angel consulted her control panel. She could only fly by instruments now. The snow was too thick to clearly see through – at least far enough to be really useful – and it was falling so violently against the windshield of her craft, that the wipers were barely strong enough to clear it. It could as well be night outside right now, for all the good being able to see would have done her. She might as well face it: without her instruments, she would have no idea where she was.
The small plane she
was presently flying was a far cry from the sophisticated craft she was used
to. It wasn’t a state-of-the-art
interceptor jet, able to fly more than 40,000 feet high, to get over those
stormy clouds filled with blowing snow, or to reach speeds that this simpler,
uncomplicated, older plane would barely be able to attain a trifling fraction
of. But it was a sturdy little machine. The small, one-engine craft, despite
its age, was holding its own, and the helm was responding well to Symphony’s
commands - and as long as she had fuel in the tank, she was determined to keep
it up in the air.
“Cedar Rapids Control to Symphony Angel… Do you read me?”
Symphony grumbled with some irritation on hearing her Spectrum code-name through the speaker. She flicked the radio on, with a brusque gesture. “Very funny, Ted,” she grunted, addressing her caller. What could he be thinking about, calling her like that? Of course, he knew about her being in Spectrum, but that was not a reason to make it public knowledge, by shouting it in front of everyone else who might be with him in that room right now. He probably guessed her thoughts on the subject, as he addressed her anew, in a good-natured tone.
“Don’t worry, honey, I’m all alone in the Control Room at the moment. Nobody heard me. Beside, if even they heard, they would have a hard time connecting that name with Spectrum. It fits you like a glove. People who know you know what an angel you are… and you have such a beautiful singing voice…”
Despite herself, Symphony couldn’t help but smile. She had to admit he was right – on one account, anyway. Personally, however, she never truly saw herself as ‘angelic’.
“You’ll never change, Ted,” she replied in answer. “Always the charmer… That’s probably why you’re my favourite uncle…”
“And you are my favourite niece too, sweetheart.”
“That’s easy – I’m your only niece.” She paused. “Any news from Adam?” she asked with expectation, hoping that that was the reason why he had contacted her.
“Negative. Still no news from Blue Angel.”
Symphony scowled. She imagined Adam – Captain Blue – nearly having a fit if he heard anyone referring to him as ‘Blue Angel’ – even in jest. Even Captain Ochre had not dared call him that – after having learned of his relationship with their blonde compatriot from the Angel Flight. Somehow she was sure Blue wouldn’t like it at all. She, on the other hand, found it quite charming.
“Let’s stick to Lucky Seven, Uncle Ted,” she said with some reluctance. “That’s the craft’s name after all, and it’ll be easier for me to refer to it that way.”
“Understood, Angel. I’ve been trying to contact him ever since his radio went dead nearly two hours ago. I guess he IS experiencing radio trouble."
"Or worse," Symphony groused.
"Now let's not jump to conclusions, Karen. I know it's bad weather out there, but that doesn't mean his plane crashed, or something. We would have known it by now."
"You're sure about that?"
"Karen… you did tell me that your boyfriend is as good a pilot as you are yourself…"
"Perhaps even better." She wouldn't admit that to Blue himself, but since he wasn't around to hear her…
"If he has experienced problems with his craft, it's probable that he landed it safely somewhere. And if it's electrical problems, then it might be the reason why his radio's dead."
"And the weather is so bad it can also cause interference," Symphony admitted. That would also explain why he's not contacting me with his Spectrum personal communicator, she added inwardly. She shook her head, the worried frown on her brow deepening. She hated not knowing.
"Karen, you’re low on fuel. You should come back. Don't worry about Adam. If he has landed on the plains, he would have found a secure shelter by now. We'll go looking for him when the winds have calmed down."
"Which will likely be in the morning." She shook her head again, dismissively. The thought of leaving Adam lost in the wilderness, all alone, for a complete night, wasn’t even an option for her. "Sorry. I can't do that right now. I'll continue the search."
"In that wind and with so little fuel?" her uncle Ted protested. "You'll reach point of no return in ten minutes. Please, be reasonable…"
"Look, if it were me, Adam would keep looking," Symphony interrupted abruptly. "I can do no less for him." She paused briefly. "Beside, it's Christmas. We promised that we would be together today."
"I won't be able to reason with you, will I?"
There was a chuckling scoff on the speaker. "You're really your father's daughter… As pig-headed as he was. Okay… I'll stay here at Control until you give me some news. But, Karen… BE careful. I don't want to tell your Ma you had an accident with that plane. She'll skin me alive."
"Don't worry, you won't have to. Just call her to explain we'll be back late, Adam and I."
"I'll keep you posted. Symphony Angel out."
Symphony flipped down the level and concentrated once more on her piloting. What an evening to go out, she reflected, scowling, trying to see through the falling snow. And what a Christmas evening it turned out to be. The day before, they had been thinking that they would not be able to leave Cloudbase to attend the Christmas dinner that her mother had invited them to – and this very morning, at the last possible minute, during a Christmas meal with which he had surprised all of his staff, Colonel White had given them permission to board a plane and go, with his blessing. That was an unexpected announcement and of course, neither of them had stayed long enough to discuss it. After Symphony had taken the time to call her mother to announce the news, they had prepared their things as quickly as possible, and had left base to fly directly to Cedar Rapids International Airport, Iowa.
Symphony sighed, on remembering how attentive Blue had been, when, during their trip to the family ranch by taxi, she had excitedly described to him the wonderful feast her mother was preparing for them. Amanda had shown herself so very pleased to hear that they were coming, and her plans for a Christmas dinner would have fed the entire Cloudbase senior staff if they had come along. Amanda wasn’t a woman to do things by half, and for her, it was a very special occasion to receive her daughter home for Christmas, along with her future son-in-law. She appreciated the young man and couldn’t hope for a better companion for her Karen – who was all the world to her, especially since her husband’s demise, a couple of years back.
Symphony had to admit that Adam – despite coming from the quite different social background of Boston High Society – had a lot in common with her late father. Her father had been a robust man, with a strong personality and sharp wits; he had the same high ideals as Blue and she recognised a similar moral fibre in them both – especially as her father had tried hard to instil it into her as well. Blue was disarmingly charming and caring – as her father had been – especially towards her; they had both set her on a pedestal and had both professed that they would do anything for her.
And both men had a love of flying that Symphony had always been – and still was – able to share.
Blue had learned, quite recently, that Harry Wainwright had been the one who taught Karen to fly planes – and that revelation had come as a surprise.
“I thought you had learned to fly while in the Secret Service,” he had commented. “For a mission where you needed to pilot aircraft…”
She scoffed mockingly. “Riiiight. And you believed that I learned in mere days or weeks all the art of being the great pilot that I am, Big Blue? That doesn’t sound realistic. I mean, I’m GOOD, but not THAT good…”
In reality, she had known for a long time how to fly craft – although, she confessed, maybe not the sophisticated craft she was to fly during that specific mission. At the time, she just needed a crash course, to sharpen her skills, and to learn about the more advanced technology she would have to face. That had been easy, as she was a natural flyer, and since that time, she hadn’t been able to let go of flying anymore. It was something in her blood that she had been dismissing for too long until then.
She had been in contact with planes since she was very little. Harry Wainwright often took her along when he was visiting his brother, Ted, who ran a small flying company in the area. Ted’s official business was to fly tourists, but his company also had many different contracts for transporting passengers and goods from one state to another. And on some occasions, his company was called upon to perform search missions and transportations, when someone got lost or was the victim of an accident in the wilderness. Harry would often join in those activities, when work at the ranch – or lack of such – would allow. For him, it was a pastime he couldn’t pass up.
Harry would take any excuse to fly, and soon, his only daughter Karen started to display the same disposition. She was still a teenager when she held a helm for the first time and experienced the thrill of piloting her own plane. Her father ‘was to blame’ for that, Amanda Wainwright had said, with good humour. But he was a good instructor, and Karen, as always, in everything she studied, was a very good pupil. She soon earned her pilot license, and was flying small craft alone, before the age of sixteen. Blue could only envy her that – he himself had been passionate about flying from an early age; but he had had a hard time trying to convince his parents – particularly his father – to let him gain his license and fly planes on his own. Karen obviously hadn’t had the same problems with her father – on the contrary, Harry Wainwright had indulged his daughter in the passion that he himself had – and was more than happy to do so.
Ted Wainwright’s fleet of craft consisted of ‘Wilderness’ type planes – small Cessna-like planes specifically built for areas with rigorous weather during long and snowy winters – as was the case in Iowa. The landing gear was equipped with sturdy runners that could be lowered following a manual command from the control panel inside the cockpit, to replace the wheels and enable the plane to land on snow-covered land. One such craft was Harry’s favourite plane – he had affectionately named it ‘Lucky Seven’, a name he had taken from an old story he had read once as a child, about a World War II American fighter plane. The craft’s sturdiness and impressive manoeuvrability had saved his life once, a long time ago, during a difficult landing in a very violent blizzard. Harry had declared at the time that Lucky Seven would be able to fly through Hell and back without so much as a scratch – with the right pilot at its helm. Of course, Harry was that pilot – or so he claimed with a twinkle in his eyes. It was also probable that the fact that his young wife – at the time pregnant with what would be their only child – was desperately waiting for him was enough of an incentive for Harry to come back in one piece and in good health. The misadventure hadn’t, however, stopped him from flying again… despite the ear-bashing he subsequently received from both his wife and his brother, for being so careless as to fly in such bad weather.
And it was in that plane that Adam was lost - in a blizzard very similar to the one that Harry had flown in so many years ago.
Symphony shuddered suddenly, as very worrying thoughts crossed her mind. History was repeating itself, and she wasn’t sure she liked it one bit. Lucky Seven might be a good craft, but it was an old one. MUCH older than the one herself was piloting at the moment. It was already old when Harry was flying it in those early years.
Why did Adam insist on taking THAT plane?
She reached for the radio and tried to make a new call.
“Lucky Seven, this is Symphony Angel…” She bit her lip. Adam might not like hearing her use her Spectrum codename. She quickly reverted to her craft’s usual designation: “Surveyor Four to Lucky Seven – calling Lucky Seven. Please state your position and situation. Lucky Seven, if you’re hearing this, please answer.”
Still nothing. The speaker remained desperately silent.
“Adam, for Heaven’s sake, why won’t you answer?” she called angrily. “What am I gonna tell Paul when he comes to Mom’s house tomorrow and doesn’t find you?”
She sighed in frustration at the stubborn silence answering her. This was really getting worrying…
Paul – Captain Scarlet – was indeed coming the next day, to spend a few hours with them before taking them back to Cloudbase, late in the evening. Scarlet’s parents were absent from their home in Winchester, England, as they hadn’t expected their son to have a furlough for the Holidays this year. So Paul had been celebrating Christmas on Cloudbase with most of his friends and colleagues, and with Rhapsody Angel, his lady love. Coming to Iowa in order to pick up Blue and Symphony was a welcome extra for him, as he had heard Symphony’s praise of her mother’s cooking. Paul had a hearty appetite – just like Symphony – and he was looking forward to trying Amanda’s cuisine first hand.
Symphony would hate to have to tell Scarlet that something had happened to Blue. Just as much as she hated thinking about that herself.
History is repeating itself indeed, she reflected gloomily, as she consulted her instruments and checked on her position.
Adam and she had arrived at the ranch without any trouble earlier in the day. The road was clear, as the snow announced by the forecast news had not started yet – only a few flakes were falling as the taxi pulled over in front of the door to the family house, where Amanda had welcomed them. The sky was a deep grey, and the air was cold, and indeed it was easy to tell that a big snow storm was coming. Inside the house, they had been greeted by a wonderfully warm atmosphere, gay decorations all over the place and faint Christmassy music. Mouth-watering smells were coming from the kitchen, where Amanda had been busying herself, since she had received the call announcing her daughter’s visit – and perhaps, Symphony reflected, knowing how her mom loved to cook, even before that.
Leaving the kitchen where the turkey was finishing cooking in the oven, Amanda came to join Symphony and Blue in the living room and they started to talk for a long time – mother and daughter reminiscing about past Christmas Holidays.
“From what Karen has told me, you’re a wonderful cook, Amanda,” Blue had commented. “It sure smells delicious in the kitchen.”
“I love to cook,” Amanda answered. “We didn’t get to entertain often during the Holidays, but once in a while, when we were younger, Harry would invite every one of his relatives’ families, and they would all come here, to have their Christmas dinner. And I did almost everything. From the turkey to the last apple pie.”
“That must have been lots of work!”
“Oh, it was, but Harry knew how much I loved it. I miss that, today. Almost all of the family has left the area, and gone away. But in those times, I was indulging myself… and Karen too, whenever she had the chance to go behind my back and lick the bowls…”
“Ma!” Symphony protested loudly, reddening . Being reminded of her childish antics in front of her fiancé was really embarrassing.
“Remember when you and your cousin Ernie got sick over that sugar pie you stole from the kitchen window?” Amanda continued, barely listening to her daughter’s protests. “You should have waited for it to cool down… I had put it there for a reason…”
“Yeah, I know…” Symphony said, rolling her eyes. “We got punished for it too – with the granddaddy of all bellyaches!”
“Serves you right,” Blue said, grinning.
“You never stole a pie from your parents’ kitchen, I suppose?” Symphony accused him.
“Technically, it was Mrs. Krugger’s kitchen. And no, I didn’t steal any sugar pies from her…” He gave a pause, apparently thoughtful. “Candy apples, perhaps…”
The rest of the conversation had continued with good-humour, Amanda and Symphony asking Blue about his memories of past Christmases as a child. He told them about the happy rivalry between himself and his brother Peter – about the army of dolls his young sister had received nearly every Christmas, and of the pony that was given to his youngest brother Davey – who was barely two years old at the time. He mentioned the parties given by his parents – regarded as important social events all over Boston, with the house full of relatives from afar, and strangers he barely knew. Strangers who were doing business with his father’s firm at the time the yearly invitations had been sent. Through it all, Symphony had the distinct impression that these social parties weren’t exactly Adam’s favourite things at Christmas. She had watched him when she and Amanda had talked about their family gatherings – and obviously, that was the kind of Christmas party of which Adam would have loved to be a part.
About the only member of the family who had stayed in the area – probably because of his flying company – Ted Wainwright had been invited for Christmas dinner – and finally met with his niece's fiancé. Ted had kept telling Amanda that he was looking forward to making Adam's acquaintance.
"I hope you don't mind I invited him,” Amanda said a little sheepishly.
"Not at all,” Blue answered with a kind smile. “I'm always looking forward to meeting Karen's family."
“You’ll like him,” Symphony observed, addressing her fiancé, “and he’ll like you. You’ll see what a great guy he is.”
"He knows that Karen has been seeing someone,” Amanda explained. “I told him as much… but I didn't mention your engagement, of course…"
"This'll be a good occasion to mention it, then," Blue grinned, exchanging a glance with Karen. "No sense in keeping it a secret any longer."
"Yes," Amanda agreed. "I think you’ve kept this a secret from enough people until now as it is… Or so you believed."
"I still can't get over the fact that the colonel already knew about it," Symphony said, rolling her eyes.
"Him and half of Cloudbase," Blue groused.
Amanda scoffed. "And that should surprise you? Really, you two, anyone would have had to be blind not to notice anything." She smiled good-naturedly. “So when’s the wedding?”
“Give us some time, Mom!” Symphony protested. “We have yet to decide a date…”
“And that won’t be before the colonel has settled everything for us,” Blue added quickly, before Amanda could complain that they were lazy. “I suspect this isn’t an easy matter. But if anyone can find a way to get around regulations for us…”
“…It’s Colonel White,” Symphony agreed with an energetic nod.
“You see, he isn’t the ogre you two thought he was,” Amanda remarked with a fond grin. And Symphony and Blue had the impression that it was the nth time they were hearing the argument. They braced themselves for what they knew would follow. “He’s willing to help you and all – he’s a good man. How could you ever doubt that?”
“We never doubted he was a good man,” Symphony objected. “It’s just that… well… he’s a stern commander. Very strict about the regulations.” She exchanged a glance with Blue. “That is… normally he is.”
“Well, I think you’re judging him a little too harshly,” Amanda insisted. “See how he has permitted you to come visit me today – on Christmas Day.” She smiled again, and reached across the table to put her hand on her daughter’s and future son-in-law’s joined hands. “And I, for one, am grateful to him.”
“That was nice of him, all right,” Symphony agreed.
By then, the snow was falling merrily, beyond the windows, and big, heavy flakes had started covering the ground with a thick layer of pure white snow.
The phone rang, and Amanda had answered, to discover that it was Ted Wainwright calling. He would be late for dinner and was apologising for it, but an emergency had just come up. There were two children lost in the wilderness; excited by the fresh snow that had recently fallen, adding to the layer already covering the ground, and against all caution, they had taken a single snowmobile and gone for a ride. What was worse, they had not taken a mobile phone, or walkie-talkie. They were supposed to go for an hour at the most, but they had not been seen or heard from since before noon. The snow announced earlier that day was threatening to turn into a blizzard before long, and the children needed to be found before they were caught in it.
“Those kids acted irresponsibly,” Ted noted. “Taking one snowmobile for a ride in the wilderness, and no way to contact anyone…is madness. There’s no way they can call or go for help in these condition, if their machine broke down.”
“Which is likely what’s happened,” Symphony said, following the conversation as her mother had put it on the videoscreen and voicebox. “So you’ll be joining the search?”
“Yeah. The company’s squad of Wildernesses are still the best option in this kind of situation. Problem is, most of my pilots have gone away for the Holidays, and I’m almost down to a skeleton crew. I’m still trying to reach my pilots, but… I don’t think I’ll have all the men I would need. Which will make the search rather difficult.”
There was barely a pause following that declaration; glances were exchanged between Blue and Symphony, as the same idea struck them at the same time. The next second, Karen made the offer that was burning their lips: “Uncle Ted…if you need help - there’s two experienced pilots here. And both of us are willing to offer our services to help find those kids.”
It had not taken that long for Ted Wainwright to accept the offer. So Blue and Symphony had taken the ranch’s Jeep and driven to his company’s private airstrip right away, where their help was welcomed with heartfelt gratitude.
From the second they met, Blue and Ted hit it off nicely. Ted didn’t lose any time in taking them to the hangar and introducing them to the ‘Surveyors’, his Wilderness craft, that Symphony knew so well, and that he had acquired a good number of years ago. Ted had succeeded in contacting three of his pilots, who would each fly one of the Surveyors. Four of those planes were in perfect flying condition, waiting to soon be taken to the strip for take off, but the two remaining planes that completed the Surveyor squad were in for repair or routine maintenance, and were deemed unfit for flying.
“And those?” Blue asked, pointing to three obviously older planes lined up at the far end of the hangar. “Are they fit to fly?”
“Those are the old original Wilderness planes,” Ted answered quietly. “Probably the best craft of its kind to have ever been built. I had to replace them with the Surveyors about – what – fifteen years ago, when spares started to get hard to find. Those are the only three left of the old squad I owned. You could say I’m keeping them for sentimental reasons.”
“But are they still airworthy?”
“Yeah, two of those are still in flying condition. Lucky Two and… Lucky Seven.” He exchanged a glance with Symphony, and Blue detected a faint, fond smile tugging on his fiancée’s lips. “I flew Lucky Seven only a week ago. No problem at all. You know that was the plane Karen’s father used to fly?”
Symphony nodded. “He used to call it his lucky charm,” she confirmed. “In fact, he was the one to come up with the name ‘Lucky Seven’ for that plane. Uncle Ted liked it so much, that he then named all the craft ‘Luckys’…”
“His lucky charm?” Blue repeated with a smile of his own. “Well, then… I hope he wouldn’t see any problem if I fly it?”
Ted hesitated. “It’s a good plane. But you have to be firm with it. The helm is a little hard.”
“I’m sure it’ll give me no trouble at all.” Blue gave an nod of appraisal, stroking the surface of the plane with his hand. “I have some experience with similar craft. I flew something quite like this one in Sweden… a little while ago. That helm also needed a firm hand.”
Ted briefly consulted Karen to check what she thought of this. She shrugged, the smile on her face a little wider than previously. “Adam’s a great pilot, Ted. I’m sure he’ll make Lucky Seven behave. Beside, Dad would’ve been glad to have him fly it. Especially if it means it could save a couple of kids’ lives.”
And Ted had finally consented to let Adam fly the old plane. Lucky Seven was prepped quickly and joined the Surveyors, and the whole squad took off to go in search of the missing boys, aware that the dangerous storm was approaching fast. Ted Wainwright stayed at the Control Tower to co-ordinate the operations, keeping contact with all his pilots and with the numerous other search teams on the ground, who were participating in the search.
Less than an hour later, just as the blizzard was starting to rage across the plains, the kids were found by the pilot of Surveyor Three who gave the coordinates to the ground search teams. The latter discovered the boys – scared and covered with snow, next to their broken-down snowmobile. They were swiftly brought back to their parents – where, in all probability, they would receive a good ear-bashing about the danger of taking a ride alone on the plains, with a blizzard approaching.
Ted called all his pilots, ordering them to come back to base, but just as he was talking with Adam, in Lucky Seven, the latter’s radio broke down suddenly. And only silence followed.
Since then, Captain Blue had not answered any call.
The Surveyors stayed in the air, and a new search was organised, this time for the missing plane. By now, the blizzard had hit and the winds were blowing harder and harder as time went by. Still, no trace of Lucky Seven was found, either on the ground or in the air. And the weather was becoming so bad that there wasn’t any real hope of finding anything. It was even becoming dangerous for the craft to stay out in the storm. Reluctantly, Ted recalled his pilots – but Karen flatly refused to come back. She would continue the search, even if she would be doing it alone. No amount of pleading from her uncle was enough to make her yield.
It has been hours, now, Symphony reflected grimly. What’s happened to you, Adam? I hope it’s nothing serious… God, I DO hope so. I would never forgive myself…
Ted was right, she reassured herself. If the plane had crashed, they would have heard about it by now… Someone would have heard something – an explosion… seen something – a flash of light and fire… The authorities would have been contacted… But what if there wasn’t any explosion – and no flash? What if it had happened too high, or in a place where there wasn’t anyone to see anything?
She shook herself. No, I mustn’t have thoughts like that; he’ll be all right… He ought to be. After all, Adam has survived the worst the Mysterons have thrown at us these last few years, right?
And even before they came along, Adam had already survived more than his share of dangerous situations – even personal attacks against his life. He was a lucky guy, a survivor – he would not die in something as mundane as a plane crash – and during a rescue search for two missing kids. Besides, a plane crash didn’t mean certain death either…
He’s flying Lucky Seven, Symphony reflected, trying hard to convince herself. That was Dad’s plane. His lucky charm… Dad would not want Adam to have an accident with HIS plane. He would watch over him… He liked Adam. He understood what we mean to each other…
A beeping sound attracted her attention to her control panel and she saw a blinking red light. Ten minutes of fuel left. Point of no return. She didn’t have enough fuel now to go back to the airstrip, even if she wanted to. She sighed deeply. Sure, she could always land on the snow-covered ground… But she was hoping she would only have to do it after she had found Lucky Seven and Adam. The chances of that now – considering the little amount of time left to her – were growing excessively slim.
Come on, now, Wainwright… Keep your eyes peeled… Look around. Adam can’t be very far!
About two minutes later, she thought she saw a flash catch her eye through the windshield. A white light. Symphony veered her craft in that direction; her heart suddenly beating faster, she narrowed her eyes and watched expectantly. A minute passed slowly. Two…
The flash appeared again, and Symphony felt her heart beating so wildly now, she had the impression it would jump out of her chest. On each side of the white light, she saw two green and red lights, blinking in unison. They were the position lights set on the end of each wing of a Wilderness craft.
She came as close as she dared. When she saw the outlines and the markings on the craft, there was no more doubt in her mind. It was the plane she was so desperately seeking.
She quickly grabbed the radio. “Surveyor Four calling Lucky Seven! I’m right behind you; I’m seeing your position lights! Answer, Lucky Seven!”
No response; Symphony frowned. Radio must be dead, just as Ted thought. Or Adam would answer my calls. He would not ignore me.
Symphony was about to call Ted at the airstrip and inform him of the good news when she saw Lucky Seven veer suddenly. She nearly lost sight of it. Smothering a not-so-tasteful curse, she increased speed and followed, keeping her eyes on the disappearing craft. Piloting a faster craft, she swiftly caught up with it, and got closer, so she would not run the risk of losing it. She wondered if the plane’s radar wasn’t faulty as well. The pilot was flying as if he wasn’t aware of her presence. Once again, it was increasing speed and flying away.
Temporarily forgetting to contact Ted – there would be time for that later – she decided to make her presence known. She pushed the helm forward, and her Surveyor quickly gained on Lucky Seven, reached it, and put itself on its left side. Symphony looked beyond the cockpit, but it was impossible to see inside the other plane. The falling snow was making it difficult, and it was too darn dark inside the cockpit, with no lights at all – a good indication that there indeed might be electrical problem inside.
But the position lights outside were all functioning. She could still see Lucky Seven’s outlines, so very clearly.
It didn’t appear like a plane in distress at all; its flight was stable – even considering the bad weather.
There was no sign that the pilot had seen her yet.
Symphony pushed her plane forward, passing in front of Lucky Seven, and wiggled her wings just in front of its nose before taking position to its right. That was a trick Captain Blue knew very well, and had seen her do many times. If you didn’t see that, Adam, it’s because you’re blind…
However, as she expected, Lucky Seven reacted to her demonstration. With a demonstration of its own. She saw the wings wiggle in turn, as the other craft went in front of her. But instead of passing to her right, like she had done, it made a barrel turn, then flew over her, passed underneath and returned in front, briefly wiggling its wings once more.
Symphony’s eyes widened with surprise, mystified by the other craft’s acrobatic show.
What the Hell…?!
That wasn’t something Adam would do. That was a move her father used to make, when they were flying together, their planes side by side, a move he had showed her, so many years ago.
She shook her head. I’m imagining things… This can’t be…
She watched with incredulity as the craft in front of hers tilted its wings and lowered into a slow descent toward the ground, obviously inviting her to follow.
She hesitated. Did she dare go after it? Did she dare let it out of her sight? She wasn’t sure anymore. All of her conscious mind was telling her to be careful, to be suspicious of this silent craft which wanted to take her…
… Take her where?
The word ‘Mysteron’ flashed into her mind, and she knew a moment of panic – even despair. What if the Mysterons had used – or even created – this storm? They were known to have done that, in the past… What if they had caused Lucky Seven to crash, so as to replace it with this plane, which was maintaining radio silence and acting so strangely?
What if Adam was dead?
No… She didn’t want to think about that.
Lucky Seven had slowed its speed and returned to Symphony’s side. She looked towards it, now wary of its presence, wondering what it wanted, what she was to do.
Lucky Seven’s wings wiggled again and took the lead once more, followed by Symphony’s apprehensive eyes.
She heard static sounds coming from her radio speakers, and almost jumped. Someone was trying to contact her, but the broadcast was bad. Nervously, she fiddled with the radio controls, before she had the impression of hearing a faint voice, breathing into the speakers.
“… Lucky Seven calling…”
The voice was barely perceptible through the static. Symphony frowned with perplexity.
“Lucky Seven, this is Surveyor Four… Adam, is that you? Can you hear me?”
There was a moment of silence. Short, but noticeable. Then, the voice made itself heard again, still faint, but more clearly this time…
… And oh so very familiar to her.
“Follow me… I’ll guide you…”
She nervously raised her head, to stare toward the outlines of Lucky Seven that she could still see through the cockpit. Her heart was pounding. Surely, she was dreaming…
“Don’t be afraid… I’m here to help…”
And then, the radio went completely silent, static and voice disappearing all of a sudden.
Symphony was still looking ahead, mesmerised. Lucky Seven made another, single barrel roll in front of her plane and lost altitude again.
A new beeping sound made itself heard from the control panel, but Symphony didn’t need to look at it to know what it meant. She was almost out of fuel. Barely a minute left before the engine would stop.
Decisively, she pushed her helm and followed the other plane.
Lucky Seven was gradually lowering toward the ground, slowly, as if making sure that it wouldn’t lose the Surveyor following it. There was no chance of that; Symphony had no intention of letting the older craft out of her sight.
The ground appeared clearly. Lucky Seven flew close to it, gracefully, almost as if it wanted to land, and Symphony, still wary of what it was doing, what it might do, watched it with attention, her brows furrowed deeply…
There was a unexpected flurry of snow that suddenly engulfed Lucky Seven; it disappeared from Symphony’s sight in the space of two seconds… and when the winds blew the snow away, the craft didn’t reappear. The young pilot didn’t even blink. She looked around with confusion, searching for the other plane, wondering where it had gone, but there was no more trace of it in the sky, or near the ground…
Symphony’s attention was caught by a red light she saw, through the still falling snow, blinking regularly against the surrounding white landscape just underneath the spot Lucky Seven had flown over.
Then she saw other such lights. She almost gave a double take when she realised they were emergency flares.
She flew her craft a little lower still, mindful that she was now flying on reserve fuel and that she had mere seconds of flight. The flares were surrounding a snow-covered mass she could easily recognise as a plane, apparently intact, and which had obviously landed safely on its landing gear. It was immobile and dark, except for the flares disposed all around it… and the faint light coming from the domed survival tent set between its two front wheels.
Symphony didn’t even have enough time for another surveillance flight over her discovery. Her Surveyor was completely out of fuel and the engine was spluttering. She needed to land without delay. She lowered the landing gear, with the runners down, and pushed her craft towards the ground; she felt the runners touch down and the plane started sliding smoothly on the snowy surface. She applied the brakes. Surveyor Four came to an halt right next to the already landed plane, at a mere two metres’ distance from it.
Symphony shut everything down and looked meaningfully toward the snow-covered plane outside. Driven by a sudden impulse, she took the gun stashed in the dashboard, checked the magazine and put it into the pocket of her coat, before opening the door to jump into the thick layer of snow covering the ground. She waded through the snow toward the small tent, her heart pounding with a mix of anticipation and dread. As she drew closer, she could see that the snow-covered plane was indeed the Lucky Seven Adam had taken off in at the airstrip, hours earlier…
She was nearing the tent when she saw a figure dressed in a heavy coat stoop in the low doorway and step outside, straightening its tall frame in the wind, to look straight at her as she approached. Instinctively, the hand in her pocket squeezed around the handle of her gun. Her heart sank when she recognised Adam’s benevolent smile, and the twinkle in his blue eyes, well before he remove the hood of his coat to reveal his blond hair.
Could he be a Mysteron or…?
He quickly came to her with his arms extended, took her into his arms before she could even react and lifted her up in the air.
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you!” Blue said, laughing, stumbling in the almost knee-deep snow. “I thought I’d be old and grey before anyone found me.” He put her down and looked into her face, smiling broadly. “Thank God, you found me…”
Only then did he notice the wariness in her eyes, and the way she was looking so closely at him. His brow furrowed in perplexity. “What’s wrong, Karen?”
She shook her head and her hand reached for the bump she could see on his brow. There was a cut right in the middle of it, covered with coagulated blood. Her fingers trembled as they almost touched it. Blue grimaced, and flinched back. “Ah, I see… Well, don’t worry about that. It’s only a scratch...”
And then, she was in his arms again, almost knocking him down in the process, kissing him, smothering the explanation he was continuing to give. He gasped in surprise, when she drew him even closer against her heart, squeezing him tightly, and he frowned over her shoulder, taken aback by the intensity of her embrace.
“I said it was only a scratch,” he said in an almost sheepish tone. “I… er… knocked my head when I landed earlier…”
“Hours ago,” Symphony suddenly interrupted him. She pushed him away slightly and looked straight into his face again; now there was a radiant smile on her face, and her eyes were wet with unshed tears of joy. She stroked his face, taking great care not to touch the bump over his eye. Still there, not healing rapidly like it would in a Mysteron replicate. Not that she needed further proof that Adam was really Adam, but it was nice to have this confirmed anyway. “We’ve been searching for you for hours… But there was no trace of you!”
“Rather easy to get lost in this storm, don’t you think?” he answered with an apologetic smile. Blue gave a brief frown. “What about the kids? Your uncle was calling me about them when we lost contact with each other. Are they all right?”
Symphony smiled. It was so like Captain Blue to express his worries for others like that, even when it was he whom others should be concerned about.
“The kids were found – safe. But then, you disappeared. And we had to launch a rescue search for you… What happened?”
He shrugged and gestured at the plane behind him. “This old crate started having electrical problems, and almost everything went dead on the control panel. I was lucky to land it with the minimum of damage… I tried to contact base, but the radio was dead as well. So I took the survival tent I found inside the baggage hold and prepared myself for a lengthy stay... waiting to be found. Seeing how bad the weather was, I fully expected that the search for me had been called off, and that I would pass a long, cold night out here, in the wilderness. I even have some nice coffee brewing, inside that tent.” He smiled again and looked into her face, lovingly. “I should have known you would be the one who’d find me.”
Symphony smiled back. “You know I would never have stopped looking for you.” She nodded toward Lucky Seven. “You got some juice left in it?”
“Yeah, practically half the tank.”
“Perfect. The Surveyor is completely dry. I have a battery-operated siphon onboard. We’ll take what we can from Lucky Seven and we’ll be able to get back to civilisation in no time. But first, I’ve got to call Ted to tell him I found the prodigal son. He’ll be happy to know that you’re in good health. And that you didn’t damage his plane.”
Blue grimaced. “If you want my opinion, he should have this old crate in mothballs. Its place is in a museum…”
“Don’t you dare talk about my father’s plane in such terms, Big Blue,” Symphony gently chided him. “You did say you were able to handle it, didn’t you?”
“And it did bring you back to the ground in one piece, didn’t it?”
Blue sighed. He looked up at Lucky Seven, standing behind them like a giant looking after the both of them. “Yeah, it did,” he conceded, patting the plane. “It’s a sturdy craft, and it held its own when I landed it. Other craft might have broken in pieces.”
Symphony caressed the smooth hull, gently, almost affectionately. “I admit, she has probably won a well-earned rest,” she said, with an approving nod. “I’ll talk to Ted. And I will tell him that this should be Lucky Seven’s last flight… And last rescue,” she added, addressing a teasing smile toward Blue.
He nodded in turn, very slowly. “I rather think I’ve flown away from my assigned search co-ordinates,” he continued. “It’s pure luck you found me like you did.”
She hesitated. Should she tell him? Should she tell about that other Lucky Seven she had seen in the air? Of her doubts about what might have happened to him? Of the voice she had heard over the radio – she didn’t dream it, she was sure of that now – a voice she had heard so often during her life, and that she had never thought she would ever hear again, except maybe in the after-life?
Could she tell Adam that she believed her father, flying Lucky Seven, his plane, again, had helped her find him?
No… He wouldn’t believe it. Adam was too rational to believe in…
She simply shrugged. “Yeah,” she said finally. “Yes, I suppose it’s pure dumb luck. Or perhaps I was meant to find you.”
“That I would believe,” Blue replied with a new nod, before smiling again. “So shall we make that call to your uncle now, or begin siphoning the gas from this plane first?”
“Let’s make the call – I want Ted to tell Mom that both of us are all right – but before we do anything else after that, let’s get inside that tent of yours… Some of that coffee you mentioned earlier sounds really nice.”
“Even if it’s me who made it?” Blue asked mockingly.
Symphony’s answer was a smile, as she drew closer to her fiancé to caress his lips with her own. “It is Christmas, honey, and I believe miracles can happen during Christmas… so I’m sure even your coffee will taste heavenly...”
It was during a chat with my friend Mary J. Rudy that came the idea for this story. The subject of the chat – and what the story had became afterward – had little in common, to say the truth, but it did provide the spark I needed for writing one last, short, story that I wanted to present for this year Christmas Challenge.
Mary knows far more than I do about planes – and she has a fascination for World War II war planes (that she was able to pass on in her story ‘Do Thunderbolts strike twice?’). That could be what brought back the memory of that old story I once read in a short comic strip – and that I mentioned in this story of mine. About a WW II fighter plane called Lucky Seven, which was considered the lucky charm of all its squadron – except to the squadron captain who was fearing the day Lucky Seven would be shot down, and how his men would react when they’ll believe their ‘lucky charm’ was gone. That day arrived, of course, but the story had the ‘ghost plane’ return to save its captain’s craft, before disappearing forever. I don’t remember the title of the strip, nor the comic book from which it comes, and I remember even less the author or artist who created it. I acknowledge the inspiration it gives me, but took only the ‘ghost plane’ theme and the name ‘Lucky Seven’ from it – the rest of the story I wrote is of my own device.
The characters of Captain Blue and Symphony Angel (and Captain Scarlet and the other Spectrum officers, who didn’t appear in this story – for once! – but were mentioned) are copyrighted property of their creators and the companies owning the rights.
All my thanks to Mary J. Rudy (who unwittingly provided the spark!), to Marion Woods (who kept encouraging me, and made the first corrections to this story), and to Hazel Kohler who finalised the beta-reading process. This one was meant as a surprise for you, Hazel.
Merry Christmas and a Happy Year 2005 to you all.
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