Original series Suitable for all readers



Noth the Way to Spend a Birthday, a Spectrum short story by Chris Bishop


Symphony Angel exited the SPJ cockpit to enter the passenger cabin, which at the moment had been transformed to resemble a first-class lounge. She spotted the lone occupant, comfortably seated next to the table, currently busy reading a book. He glanced at her, then nodded to acknowledge her presence, while she crossed to the coffee machine to pour herself a cup.

“Would you like some coffee, Colonel?” she asked over her shoulder. “Or tea, perhaps?”

“No, thank you, Symphony.” Colonel White waved at his empty mug, which stood on the table by his side. “I’ve just finished my third coffee. I think that, for now, it’ll be enough for me.”

With that, he returned to his reading. While preparing her coffee, Symphony read the title on the cover of his book; she recognised it as one of the latest whodunit thrillers which had been at the top of the world’s bestsellers list for the past few months.

She poured some milk in her coffee and, as she started to prepare another one, noticed that the machine was running empty. She filled it up with fresh water, powered it up and, taking her mug, came to sit opposite Colonel White. He glanced at her, with only a hint of curiosity in his eyes, but said nothing and returned his attention to his book.

Symphony cleared her throat. “So,” she said matter-of-factly, “back from your New Year Holidays already, sir.”

“Mmm-mmm.” Colonel White nodded briefly, his eyes still set on his book.

“You went to New York, this time?” Symphony asked.

“Mmm.” That sounded like an approval, but this time, White didn’t nod.

“So you didn’t celebrate the New Year with your family in London?”

 “The only family I have left are two old aunts – my mother’s sisters. They live in Kent, not London. Currently, they’re travelling abroad and are not in England.” Colonel White turned a page of his book. “So seeing as I couldn’t be with them, I accepted a friend’s gracious invitation.”

“In New York. Fascinating city, isn’t it?” Symphony continued.

“Fascinating indeed,” White said. He glanced at the young woman over his book. “But I never said I stayed in New York. You just picked me up there.”


White lowered his book. “Why the sudden inquisition, Symphony?” he asked.

“Oh, just trying to make conversation, sir,” the young woman quickly defended herself. She waved in the direction of the coffee machine. “I’m just waiting for the coffee to be ready, so I can take a mug to Captain Ochre.” She smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry if I sounded too curious. Of course, you don’t have to confide in me.”

“I hope not,” White replied quietly.

Colonel White sighed. “Symphony, while I find your interest in me quite… flattering… I have about an hour of reading to do before reaching the end of this book. And since we still have about that time of flight before arriving at Cloudbase…”

“According to the onboard computer, we’ll be there in sixty-five minutes, sir,” Symphony confirmed. “If conditions remain the same.”

“Splendid.” White indicated his book. “Then you see I barely have a minute to waste to learn who Lord Barnaby’s murderer is.” There was a ‘ding’ from the coffee machine. His eyes still fixed on Symphony, Colonel White stated, “And I believe your coffee’s ready.”

Symphony felt herself reddening, taking the hint that Colonel White didn’t really want to discuss where he had gone for the New Year, nor with whom he had celebrated it. Which, all things considered, should not surprise her, as she knew he was a very private man. But ever since Captain Grey – who had assumed the role of deputy commander in the colonel’s absence – had charged her and Captain Ochre with picking their commander up in New York, they had been curious about why he had chosen to stay there for his furlough, instead of London, where he usually went.

The subject was discussed at length in the cockpit, until Ochre finally suggested that, since the colonel was still technically off-duty, maybe he would be inclined to amiably chat about it with someone he was partial to.

And as the colonel seemed to have some kind of a particular fondness for his Angel pilots, that made Symphony the likely candidate.

Damn you, Fraser. I should have known better than to let myself be coerced into this...

 “I think you’re right, sir.” Quickly, Symphony scrambled to her feet and went to the coffee machine to get the mug she had promised Ochre. Then she returned to the table to get her own mug, excusing herself to Colonel White who seemed to take little notice of her, as he had returned to his book. Symphony walked back towards the door leading to the cockpit.


The young pilot stopped in her tracks and looked over her shoulder at Colonel White. “Sir?”

“Happy birthday,” the Spectrum commander said quietly, without raising his eyes. To him, the previous conversation seemed all forgotten.

Symphony smiled timidly. “Thank you, Colonel.”

She then swiftly disappeared into the cockpit, without noticing the amused look Colonel White was shooting at her, nor the mysterious smile on his lips.


As she entered the cockpit, Captain Ochre, seated in the co-pilot’s seat, turned around and welcomed her with a smile. “So did you find out where the colonel –”

“Nope,” she interrupted him swiftly. She handed him his coffee and put her own mug into the cup-holder, before flopping down into the pilot’s seat, and proceeding to put on her headset.

Watching her and wondering why she was so brusque all of a sudden, Ochre took a sip of his coffee and then grimaced, before looking down into his mug.

“Hey, it’s black. Where’s my milk?”

“First off, if you want milk, get off your butt and go get some yourself,” Symphony replied, almost before he had finished his sentence. “Secondly, if you want to know where the colonel was or what he did during his holidays, I suggest you ask him yourself. I looked like a complete fool out there.”

“Whoa, somebody got out the wrong side of the bed today,” Ochre commented.

“Not at all, I’m fine.”

“I meant the Old Man. He was in a bad mood?”

“Actually, no. He was his usual polite self while making it perfectly clear that it wasn’t my place to inquire about his personal business.” Symphony flicked a button, and checked the latest information from the onboard computer. “And he remembered it was my birthday,” she added as an afterthought.

“Lucky you. Nobody remembers mine.” Ochre glanced thoughtfully at the young woman seated beside him. “Or is that what’s bothering you?”

“What?” Symphony almost snapped at him.

“Oh, I was right. You are in a fine mood! Maybe the Old Man’s the only person who remembered what day it was… and me, I wished you a happy birthday when we boarded this plane earlier.”

“Did you?” Symphony groused. “Can’t say I remember...”

“You probably don’t because the only person you want to wish you a happy birthday hasn’t said anything so far.”

Symphony clicked her tongue in annoyance. “Fraser, you’re not making any sense.”

“You know what I mean. Come on, Symph, you know Blue would never forget your birthday. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t preparing a surprise party for you just as we speak.”

“That’s highly unlikely,” Symphony replied with a shake of her head. “You know he’s been away in London for the last three days. He’s not expected back before after the colonel arrives.”

“Then he’ll call you.”

If he’s not too busy.”

“He’ll make time, you’ll see,” Ochre said with confidence.

“Maybe…” Symphony nodded thoughtfully, then shook herself. “In the meantime, we’d better get back to business and fly this bird back to Cloudbase.” She flicked another button to take back control of the SPJ. Then, looking straight ahead into the clear blue sky beyond the cockpit, she added to herself, in a low voice: “I bet it’s the butler who did it.”

Captain Ochre stared at her in confusion. “What?”


There was indeed a birthday party thrown in Symphony’s honour upon her return to Cloudbase, but Captain Blue, who was not back from London yet, wasn’t the one behind it. Instead, it was Rhapsody, Destiny and Harmony Angels, with the help of Captains Scarlet and Magenta, who were off duty at the time.

Apparently, Captain Ochre was in on the secret; soon after they signed off from their assignment, he personally escorted the young woman to the Amber Room, where the others were waiting for her. The Amber Room was indeed the ideal place to throw a party for one of the Angel pilots, as it meant that at least four of them would be able to attend, all the while performing stand-by duty. Colonel White tolerated it – as long as said party didn’t involve indulging in any excessiveness… or alcohol drinking of any kind.

Melody was doing Angel One duty, and the idea was for her to join in a little bit later, when Destiny would take her place. Even Captain Grey came for a quick visit, at the same time conveying Lieutenant Green’s good wishes. To say that Symphony was pleased that her friends had remembered her birthday was an understatement; however, the most important person she would have loved to see that day wasn’t present, and that put something of a damper on this happy moment. But she was grateful to the others for all their efforts, so she did her best to hide her disappointment.

As Fate would have it, the party didn’t last very long. It was just starting to pick some speed, when the Mysterons crashed it about twenty minutes in, by uttering one of their ominous threats. The echo of their sinister voice had not even died away before everyone set themselves in motion. Lieutenant Green ordered the three Angels to take off, and Symphony rushed to the elevators with Destiny to take to the air almost immediately.

It was as if the Mysterons had specifically waited for the very first day of Colonel White’s return to make themselves heard. Probably, they had expected to take Spectrum by surprise, while the organisation’s commander-in-chief was still settling himself back into his duties. They were greatly mistaken if they hoped that; they didn’t know the colonel at all.

The Mysterons’ threat was very straightforward: they were planning to strike at the oil and gas fields of the North Sea, within the next twelve hours. If successful, such an attack not only meant a huge energy crisis across the globe but also, might create a gigantic environmental disaster. Knowing where they would strike was one thing; now it was for Spectrum to discover how they would carry out their threat.

While Symphony was annoyed at having her party spoiled by the alien threat, she welcomed the action. At least it took her mind off the fact that Adam had missed her birthday.

 And it was more than likely that they wouldn’t be with each other before the day was over; the threat was important, the deadline short… All of them would be very busy in the next hours, racing against the clock to stop the Mysterons. It didn’t look like any of them would have a moment to spare. Blue, who was already close to the target, would certainly not return to Cloudbase before the crisis was over.

Truly, Symphony thought, this wasn’t the way to spend a birthday…


The twelve hours passed, and Spectrum scored another victory for Earth. It had been a close one though, but the damage – which could have proved catastrophic had the aliens succeeded – had been minimal, all things considered.

As they often did in these situations, the Mysterons had prepared the ground and put their pawns in place well before making their announcement. It turned out they had taken over the captain and part of the crew of a LNG class supertanker – aptly named the Kraken. With nearly 250,000 cubic meters of liquid natural gas stored in its giant tanks, it was already sailing its way straight towards the giant complex of platforms recently built in the southern part of the North Sea. The Mysterons’ intent was very obvious: they wanted to ram the supertanker into the platforms.

But the plan was discovered in time. With the tanker so close to the platforms, an airstrike was unthinkable; the result would have been as disastrous as the Mysterons’ original plans. With not a moment to spare, it was up to Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre to board the Kraken from the sky with hoverpacks. They fought their way through the Mysteronised crewmen and reached the bridge, to take control of the helm and force the tanker off its course.

The Mysterons, of course, had a contingency plan; a small plane coming from the Netherlands was spotted in the exclusion zone ordered by Spectrum for the duration of the threat, its flight path clearly indicating it was going straight to the tanker. As it didn’t respond to any warning calls, or didn’t seem inclined to obey orders to change its course, the Angels had no choice but to act quickly. It was Symphony Angel who dispatched the plane, before it was too late to stop it – and yet, as she watched its fiery debris rain around the departing tanker, she couldn’t help but shiver, thinking that one of them might hit, and cause the spark that would blow the whole area to Hell.

Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened, and the Kraken safely sailed to England, with Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre at the helm. With the twelve-hour deadline now passed, the threat was all over, and it was with a sense of a job well done that the Angels flew back home to Cloudbase.


Feeling drained and dragging her feet, Symphony Angel tiredly returned to her quarters. It was dimly lit when she entered, the ambient light having been turned to the evening settings, and as the door closed behind her, she proceeded to remove her boots, feeling some relief as she stretched her feet and wiggled her free toes.

She yawned, instinctively putting her hand in front of her mouth, and spotted the time on her watch. It was ten minutes to midnight. With the Mysterons’ threat, she had been up for nearly twenty hours straight, without a wink of sleep, and now wanted nothing more than to hit her bed and wake up late in the next morning. She could afford it; she wasn’t due on duty before noon the next day. Of course, she could always use the Room of Sleep to replenish her strength in only four hours, but it wasn’t exactly the same. Nothing could beat real sleep in a real bed. And there was always the added bonus that, in the morning, someone would fix her a nice hearty breakfast to properly start the day.

In the last twelve hours, Symphony had almost forgotten that it was her birthday, and she barely had time to think of Adam. The last she had heard of him – hours ago, it seemed to her – he was in Denmark following a possible lead on Captain Black. That was before Spectrum discovered the truth, and Blue didn’t make it back to participate in the operations to stop the Kraken. It was obviously a red herring, meant to keep Spectrum busy, while the Mysterons pursued their real plans.

Surely he wouldn’t be back on Cloudbase before the next morning, which meant he would have missed Symphony’s birthday entirely. Not by any fault of his, though.

“Hello, beautiful. I heard you had a rough day?”

Symphony was about to turn up the light a bit when she heard the soft voice behind her, coming from the other end of her quarters. Recognising it instantly, she swiftly turned on her heels. In the dim light, she saw the outlines of a tall man, dressed in a blue tunic, standing only a few feet away, just by her bed. She could almost see the roguish smile on his shadowed face.


Symphony forgot about the light and swiftly crossed the distance separating them to jump into Captain Blue’s arms. He laughed as he received her and held her close to him, with her feet off the floor. Their lips found each other, and they kissed passionately as he lowered her to the floor.

When they broke the kiss, he tenderly caressed her cheek with his left hand, his eyes bright and cheerful. “Happy birthday, sweetheart,” he said.

“You made it!” Symphony said blissfully. “Just in time for my birthday.”

“Only just!” Blue laughed, and glanced at his watch. “With what, five minutes to spare. Talk about cutting it close!”

“We’re known for that in Spectrum,” Symphony chuckled. She took one step back, leaving Blue’s embrace, but took his left hand and kept it between hers. She looked deeply into his eyes and frowned. “But how come you’re here? I thought you were still in Denmark.”

“And I might still be, if not for Colonel White,” Blue explained. Her frown deepened enquiringly, so he continued: “When he contacted me over there and told me the lead I was following was wrong and that the Mysterons had made their move, I requested to join the operations in the North Sea. However, he told me that there was very little I could do at that point, as Scarlet and Ochre were about to board the tanker, and that I’d be better off to come back to Cloudbase right away.”

“He said that?” Symphony seemed surprised. “Right in the middle of the operation?”

Blue nodded. “Mmm-mm. Well, he was right; it would have been too late in the day for me to be of much help. I would have arrived after everything was done and dusted. So I followed orders and came back here. I actually arrived before you and the other Angels were back.”

“And while I was busy writing my report, you were here, waiting to surprise me?”

“Oh, I still had a report to write too before coming,” Blue replied. “Even if I didn’t find anything in Denmark. Believe me, it was a rather boring report to write…”

“No Captain Black, then?”

Blue shook his head. “I’m afraid the Mysterons led me on a wild goose chase, hon. But we had to check, anyway. Just in case…”

“Of course.”

“Oh. Before the time is up...”

Blue let go of her hands and twisted around to pick up a large box lying on top of the bed beside him. It was just at that moment that Symphony noticed it. It was a long, flat, blue cardboard box, held closed with a beautiful white bow. He handed it to her, grinning cheerfully. “No birthday is worth it without a gift.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “And just one minute before midnight. Quick, open it before it’s too late!”

“Oh come on, whatever’s in there is unlikely to turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight!”

Blue chuckled, as she started to undo the bow. She was holding the box in one hand, but it was too big and she almost dropped it, so she moved closer to the bed and put the box down on it. She untied the bow completely and opened the lid, while Blue stood behind her, expectantly.

The first thing Symphony saw was delicate tissue paper, through which she could see something shimmering. Delicately, she pushed the paper aside to reveal what it was hiding.

She gasped.

The large box contained a dress. A beautiful, red, sequined dress. And one she thought she recognised. She carefully took it out of the box and unfolded it, holding it at shoulder height. It flowed down in front of her, and she pressed it against herself, looking at it carefully. Plunging neckline, without shoulder straps, reaching to her ankles and slit very high on the left.

There was no doubt, it was the same dress.

She had worn it on one occasion, the summer before. It was in Las Vegas, where she and Adam had planned to elope. However, circumstances prevented them from going through with it, when Adam was kidnapped by the same man who had already abducted him as a child. In her attempts to find him, Symphony had found herself posing as a lounge singer in a casino, whose owner was suspected to be in cahoots with the kidnappers. Adam, of course, was eventually freed – with the help of Captain Scarlet, Destiny Angel and, of all people, Colonel White – but he never had the chance to see the dress.

She looked up to meet Blue’s eyes. He smiled warmly at her. “You now have your gown for the ball, Cinderella.”

“Adam,” Symphony breathed. “I can’t believe it… Where did you find it?”

“Uh… Easily enough, actually. I simply contacted Marsha Billings, at her artist management agency, a few days back. Destiny told me she was the one who provided you with the dress when you went to investigate that lead in the First Base Casino. I asked Marsha if there was any chance of me buying the dress for you. She thought it was very sweet of me and she made me a nice price.”

“You called her?” Symphony said in surprise. “Oh, Adam… It must not have been an easy thing for you. What with her involvement with your kidnapping all those years ago…”

Blue waved the comment aside. “It was many years ago. She did help save my life back then, which left her in a wheelchair. And she helped again last summer… so as far as I’m concerned, I don’t bear her any ill will.” He smiled sheepishly as he watched the young woman whirling around the room, the dress pressed against her body. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure you would be happy with that gift. After all, you did complain about it when my father mentioned it at Christmas, a few weeks back. Saying it was too tight and revealing? But then, Destiny told me you actually found it fabulous and confided in her that it was a shame it wasn’t yours. So… are you happy with it, honey?”

“Oh, Adam…” Symphony blushed violently and returned to stand in front of him. “Of course, it’s so tight I need to suck my belly in to wear it and keep it from ripping. Of course I found it revealing when I wore it in that casino lounge in front of a hundred drooling men whom I didn’t know. But…” She glanced down at the dress and sighed before smiling fondly at Blue. “It’s still the most fabulous dress I have ever worn. So yes, I’m so very happy that you actually bought it for me. And Marsha’s absolutely right; it is very sweet of you.”

If there was any tension in Captain Blue, he visibly relaxed at these words. He flashed her a wide grin. He opened his arms to her. “Don’t I deserve a befitting ‘thank you’ then, Cinderella?”

Symphony laughed. “Of course you do, Prince Charming.” The next second, she came to him, throwing the dress over his shoulder. He held her tight, and she did the same to him, basking in the warmth of his love.

“Thanks, Big Blue,” the young woman whispered, close to her fiancé’s ear. “That’s a wonderful gift.”

“I’m glad you like,” he replied. “You know I had a devil of a time having it delivered to Cloudbase in time for your birthday. It was a bit short notice. It actually arrived today.”

“Today?” Symphony was a bit puzzled. She looked at Blue, frowning slightly. “But with the Mysteron alert, no incoming flights were allowed to Cloudbase since this morning. And you know, it’s not exactly as if FedEx can easily deliver packages up here.”

”There was no plane that landed on Cloudbase,” Blue agreed. “Except for one.”

Realisation dawned on Symphony. She nodded her understanding. “The SPJ Ochre and I flew to bring Colonel White back to Cloudbase this morning.”

Blue nodded in turn. “Mmm-mmm. I had Marsha send the dress to Spectrum New York, addressed to me. And then I called Colonel White, on his personal communicator, asking if he would be so kind as to bring it back with him. He agreed without hesitation and as I understand it, he kept it in his luggage, until he was able to hand it to me… He did that about an hour ago, when I handed him my report.”

“He was in on the secret?” Symphony asked in surprise.

Blue nodded again. “He knew he was bringing me your birthday gift.”

“And he knew it was that dress?”

 “I’m not sure he approved, but he knew, all right,” Blue answered, chuckling. “He huffed and told me he would prefer you not wear it in public when off duty – ‘cause he doesn’t need the distraction amongst his personnel. After all... this is a military base.”

Symphony giggled. “The sweet old darling… Don’t tell him I called him that, please! All that time he had that dress in his luggage, and I didn’t suspect a thing. He doesn’t have to worry. If he doesn’t want me to wear it on Cloudbase, I won’t. There’ll be other occasions for that.”

“But will you make an exception for me?” Blue asked with a raised eyebrow. He glanced around, making a show as if he was checking that nobody was around. “In here, in private…? You know I never saw you in that dress…”

Symphony narrowed her eyes at him. “Why do I have the feeling you didn’t buy that dress only for me?”

“When a man buy his sweetheart a dress like that one, you know it’s also for his benefit, darling,” Blue said teasingly. “That’s the worst kept secret in the universe.” He winked at her. “And don’t you agree I deserve a reward?”

“I… have another reward in mind for you,” Symphony replied languorously.

Blue seemed to give it some thought. “One doesn’t have to exclude the other.”

 Symphony nodded. “You know you’re a glutton, Mr. Svenson?” She stepped back from him and showed him the dress, offering him a thin, inviting smile. “You’ll have to zip me up.”

“Hey,” Blue said, smiling with gratification. “It’s a dirty job, but somebody got to do it.” He gave her a wolfish grin. “And I also volunteer to zip you down, when it’s time.”

Symphony rolled her eyes in amusement. “Somehow, I had the feeling you would say that…”


The End



Author’s notes:


It has been a long time since I wrote a piece centering on Symphony Angel and Captain Blue, who count amongst my favourite characters to write about.  So I thought it was about time I return to them.


This short story, written exclusively from Symphony's point of view, is a continuation of A Symphony in Blue, as well as a follow up to, in reading order, A White Christmas Carol, The Last Flight and Christmas with Adam's Family.


Many thanks to Hazel Köhler for beta-reading this story as fast as she did.  She contributed greatly for this story to be posted in time for the Christmas Challenge.


Many thanks, as always to Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, and all the team working with them for the wonderful series that caught our hearts and imagination 50 years ago.


As I'm writing these lines, I just learned that the voice of Captain Ochre, Jeremy Wilkin, passed away just before Christmas.  Although Ochre's only made a short appearance in one scene, and got a few mentions in others - in which it is said he saved the day, side-by-side with Captain Scarlet, in place of Captain Blue - I wish to dedicate to story to his memory.  Rest in peace, Mr. Wilkin.


Merry much belated Christmas to all and may the Year 2018 be a good one for everyone.







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