“Give me a hand with this, Pat, instead of just lying there on your lazy ass.”
Captain Magenta grinned at Symphony Angel, perched precariously on a red kick ladder as she was attempting to hang a festive silver garland onto the wall above the computer console in the Officers’ Lounge. He was relaxed, stretched out comfortably on the long grey couch just below.
“Now what did you go and say that for, darlin’, when I’m admiring the same lovely view myself?”
Symphony let out an exasperated breath. “Oh, for goodness sake, go drink some bromide.”
There was a muffle of laughter from Captain Grey, who stood next to the large round porthole window, wrestling with the six-and-a-half-feet-high fake Christmas tree.
“Would you like that I stick one of these pins in his thigh, chérie?” Destiny Angel bent over the Irish-American, wielding her weapon of choice.
Magenta grinned, and swung his legs out of reach of the Frenchwoman, getting to his feet to help Symphony. “Okay, okay, just kidding, you say something nice to a fair colleen and it’s all blown out of proportion.”
“Hmm, we’ll see how you like ‘out of proportion’ when I let slip to Ms O’Brien that you can’t keep your eyes to yourself,” Symphony said, flicking the garland at him.
He dodged it with ease. “Hey, I can’t help my eyes. But my hands, well, that’s another story; I promise I’ll be keeping them for decoration hanging.”
“You won’t keep them if you don’t.”
Magenta chuckled and exchanged places with Symphony on the kick ladder.
“It’s not my fault I love women, I’m just misunderstood,” he said, as he stretched up to place the clear tape across the tinsel to stick it in place.
“So was ze Marquis de Sade,” Destiny replied, pulling more decorations out of the poly-crate in the centre of the room.
Grey guffawed that time.
Magenta continued to grin. It was so easy to yank the Iowan girl’s chain, which he liked to do, on occasion, just for old times, and if there was a tiny bit of devilment there, he could be excused for wanting just a smidgen of payback for not choosing him over his blond friend.
The smooth swooshing sound of the door opening announced a new arrival to the lounge, and in strode the gold–clad Captain Ochre. “Hi, ladies, Pat, Brad,” he said, making straight for the pot of coffee brewing on one of the side units.
“Hi yourself, Rick, grab a mug and then help us with these,” Symphony replied. “Magenta’s about as much use as a sugar surf-board. Have you just got back from Japan? Where are Adam and Paul?” There was a sudden panic-stricken look on her face which Ochre swiftly tried to dispel.
“Blue-boy is fine, Scarlet has a few bad burns but he’ll live, naturally. They’re in Sick Bay just now, with Fawn.”
“So how come you’re here already?” Symphony asked accusingly.
“Adam wanted me to come and make sure you knew he was okay, while he waits for Paul to recover.”
Symphony visibly relaxed.
“Boy, Fawn’s a stickler for procedure,” Ochre continued, as he poured himself a coffee. “He had the SPJ hosed down on deck, then trashed our uniforms, then insisted on zapping every inch of us inside and out with one of his snazzy bio-detectors to detect any residuals. Looks like I’m clean, so I reckon I’ll still be able to father children.”
“Yeah, if you can find a woman dim enough to fall for your dubious charms,” Symphony retorted.
Ochre gave her a look of mock hurt. “What did I do to deserve that?”
“Don’t sweat it, boyo,” Magenta called down from his perch, “We’ve all been getting it in the neck.”
“Hey, leave me out of this,” Grey said. “I’ve just been minding my own business trying to get this frigging tree up.”
“That time of the month, again, honey?” Ochre suggested sweetly.
Symphony grabbed a lurid pink cushion from the couch and lobbed it with devastating force at the smirking Ochre. He ducked it with ease, but it hit Grey squarely in the face instead.
“Hey, will you guys quit behaving like kindergartners in case the Colonel walks in?”
“Wrong time for a spot check, Brad,” Ochre glanced at his watch. “We’re safe for now.” He took a swig of coffee from his mug, put it on the coffee table and picked up a string of lights. “Oh, I do love Christmas, it brings out the best in everyone.”
The Control Room was the one place where any signs of the festive season did not dare penetrate the air-base. Most of the staff, senior officers and Angel flight included, assumed that was because their commander-in-chief was a stickler for protocol, or, in Ochre’s opinion, a stiff-upper-lipped Brit who had no concept of what it meant to let your hair down. Only a few people in the upper-echelons of the World Government were privy to the real reason for his apparent lack of enthusiasm for the celebration: for, in a previous life, Charles Grey, then the head of the British section of the USS, had lost his wife on Christmas Eve when she was pregnant with their long-wished for daughter.
Even now, he still wasn’t completely reconciled with the traumatic memories of that night, and wanted little to remind him of it. However, he wasn’t churlish enough to stop his staff from enjoying the festivities, although it was with somewhat weary resignation that he allowed them to hang reminders of the celebration all over Cloudbase.
But, at that moment, White wasn’t in the Control Room: Lieutenant Green, his trusted aide, was manning the base while he took a break from his ceaseless duty. Needless to say, the infernal stuff was here too, on the Promenade Deck, a place of quiet contemplation for the senior staff, which was, at this hour, empty except for him and his female companion sitting at a table where a chess-set separated them.
“I think that might be checkmate, Colonel.”
White stared at his king, facing ruin, and blinked. How in blue blazes did she do that, and in so few moves? The destroyer of his last knight, which had settled the game in her favour, looked altogether too pleased with herself. Vivid blue eyes sparkled with mischievous delight at having beaten him at long last.
“Well, Rhapsody, it is indeed. Congratulations.”
“There’s no need to apologise, you played magnificently.”
“I hope this means you’ll still play – with me?”
His craggy face creased in a rare smile. “Of course, I wouldn’t swap this time for all the Darjeeling in India.”
Rhapsody gave a girlish giggle in response to his little joke, and he wondered if she had any inkling of just how much he cherished these meetings. But he knew that he must guard the feelings they brought with them deep down in a place where no one, least of all she, could see.
He held all of the feisty, brave women of the Angel squadron in high regard, counting them as equals in every way to their male counterparts, and yet, every time he uttered the words: Launch Angel flight, he would be filled with a momentary hesitation, knowing that every time, there was a possibility, however small, that one or more of them would not return to land safely home on deck, and he would have to live with the consequences.
He was not a man to indulge in favourites, but these games of chess he played with Rhapsody were indispensable. They allowed him the most cursory of joys, a tiny, vivid and clandestine imagining of the future he’d been denied: that of being a father.
The beeping of his epaulettes signalled Green trying to contact him.
“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“I know you don’t like to be disturbed just now, but I thought I’d let you know that the away team have returned safely from Japan. All decontamination procedures have been followed, and Cloudbase is not at risk.”
“I’m gratified to hear that, Lieutenant; I assume all members of the team are well?”
“Yes, sir; it was just Captain Scarlet who sustained a few radiation burns from being the closest to the reactor unit.”
White didn’t look directly at Rhapsody, but his peripheral vision was still good and his USS training, although very rusty, still left him with the ability to note things about her body language that would escape the average person; as in the way her tensed shoulders sagged almost imperceptibly, and the infinitesimal sigh that left her lips.
“Very good, I’m on my way back to the Control Room; I’ll stop in to see how they are doing.”
“I suppose I should be getting back to the Amber Room too, sir.”
He knew he probably shouldn’t be encouraging the relationship, but something inside him relented. It was Christmas, after all.
“You’re not on duty for another four hours, Rhapsody; perhaps, you ought to go to Sick Bay instead of me? I’m almost certain Captain Scarlet would prefer to hear your charming voice instead of mine. You can tell him from me, that he’s done a good job, once again.”
She kept her face as impassive as she could, but there was no mistaking the warmth that lit her eyes from within.
“Thank you, sir, I appreciate that.” She got up to go, but hesitated, drawing in a slight breath. “Colonel, I hope you’ll grace us with your presence at the party this year, we’re holding it in the Officers’ Lounge, this time, it’s a little bigger than the Amber Room, as some of the junior lieutenants are coming to join us, if that’s acceptable to you, of course…”
He felt his jaw tighten. “I – well – that’s very kind of you, but unfortunately, I have rather too many pressing things to finish, year-end reports to submit to the President, and the World Council.”
The light in her eyes dimmed a fraction, and he felt the weight of his sadness heavy upon him.
“Yes, of course, sir, I quite understand.”
Did she? How could she possibly? How could any of them?
Rhapsody took one of the support arm escalators from the Promenade Deck down to the main body of Cloudbase, then exited the access passage and walked the short distance to the Sick Bay on her left. The bio-metric scanner accepted her high level clearance into the reception area, but after that she had to run the gauntlet of Fawn’s people. The last thing the good doctor wanted was Spectrum personnel running willy-nilly through his domain.
“Afternoon, ma’am.” The security guard on duty greeted her as she walked up to the desk, on which stood an enormous vivid-red and green poinsettia, Fawn’s only concession to the Christmas spirit. He was as bad as the Colonel.
“How can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Captains Scarlet and Blue, Colonel White asked me to visit them and pass on his regards.”
He consulted a screen on the desk console. “Captain Scarlet is still in the isolation ward, ma’am.”
“It’s okay, Kaplinski,” a voice from the doorway announced, “I’ll take her through.”
“Okay, Nurse Jackson.”
Rhapsody gave her fellow Englishwoman, one of Fawn’s senior nurses, a warm smile. “Thanks, Judi, how are they both doing?” she asked, as they left the reception area and walked along the quiet corridor towards the isolation ward.
“Fawn’s passed Captain Blue fit for active duty about ten minutes ago. Some of Scarlet’s burns were quite deep, but he’s healing fast, so I’m pretty sure Dr Fawn will release him in time for tomorrow’s festivities.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
Jackson palmed the door panel to the isolation ward, and when the door slid open she was almost bowled over by the tall, rangy figure of Captain Blue on the other side.
“Now, you can’t be that keen to get back to duty, Captain,” she said, with a knowing smile on her face.
“Uh, sorry, nurse, bad timing, didn’t realise you were outside. Hi, Dianne, are you here to see Scarlet?”
“Yes, and you as well, although it seems you’re very much up and at them already. The colonel sent me in his stead, and he told me to pass on his thanks for a successful mission accomplished.”
Blue smiled. “Always good to hear.” He cocked his thumb back in the direction of the wards. “Paul’s getting there, but he’s itching like blazes, maybe you’ll have better luck stopping him picking at his scabs…”
Rhapsody made a face.
Blue grinned. “Okay, maybe not. See you later. I’ve got to scan in our mission report and then wrap you-know-who’s present, or I’ll be scratching my own scabs too.”
“I thought we’d decided just to give token presents to everyone this year? That’s why the girls and I stayed up till all hours these past few weeks making some bloody crackers. There was no way the colonel was going to allow us to buy them and bring them onto the base, even if they did go through the security checks.”
“I know you did, Dianne, and I’m really looking forward to them at the party, but I’m betting you’re expecting a little something extra from you-know-who as well?”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” she replied, with a blithe smile.
Scarlet had been cleared from the isolation unit and was now propped up in a bed in the adjoining ward, his fingers toying with an inflamed and crusting right cheek. Jackson had discreetly departed on another errand to leave the two of them alone. Not that it was remotely possible to get up to anything intimate, with security eyes over the place, however, Scarlet’s face brightened considerably when he noticed the redhead.
“You look as if you’ve been lying wrapped in tin-foil on a beach for hours,” she said.
“Radiation burns do that to you. Now that the pain’s gone I’m left with this bloody itching. I swear it’s even worse.”
“Well, you have to stop,” she said, and then smiled wryly. “I don’t know why I’m saying that, it isn’t like you’ll get any scars after they heal.”
“So I’ll be back to hale and handsome in a few hours time?”
“Oh yes, with a dash of modest.”
It was Scarlet’s turn to smile. “I hope that means I’ll get a kiss on Christmas Eve.”
“Maybe, if you’re a good boy.”
He grinned, and then scowled as he rubbed at a red patch on his neck. Rhapsody frowned.
“Don’t you want to ask Fawn for something for the itching until you heal completely?”
“I suppose so, never thought to ask.”
“And he didn’t offer you anything?”
“Honestly, men! I’ll go speak to Judi on the way out.”
She squeezed his arm. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Voila – c’est parfait!” Destiny took a step back to admire their handiwork in the Officers’ Lounge.
“Well, thank all the saints for that,” Magenta said with a grumble in his voice. “Does this mean I can finally get down off this step ladder?”
“You’re such a wimp, Pat,” Symphony replied. “It looks lovely, Juliette, thanks for taking the time to organise it all, and I wish you’d let us give you some money towards it, this lot must have cost you a fortune.”
Destiny had taken it upon herself to supervise the Christmas decorating in the lounge this year. She announced beforehand that very little could compete with the over abundance of Jackson Pollock décor, and declared the room a colour-free zone apart from silver and white.
She waved her manicured hands in a dismissive gesture. “It is nothing, a few baubles here and there. My father knows a little factory near Marseille where we can buy them – as you say, moins cher.”
“Just my luck, I won’t be able to enjoy them, or the party,” Grey said. He glanced at his watch. “I guess I’d better make tracks if I want to get to Itasca before the shops close. I still have to get presents for the twins.”
“Kids grow up fast, Brad.” Ochre slapped him on the back. “You don’t want to miss the opportunity to see them, especially at this time of year. Another twelve months go by, and you might not recognise them.”
“Yeah, and it isn’t everyone who gets the hallowed Christmas Eve vacation slot,” Magenta reminded him, his brown eyes crinkling with his smile.
Grey grinned. “Okay, okay, just tighten the screws and make me sound like an ungrateful slob.” He headed for the door. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”
“I will save you one of ze crackers,” Destiny called out as got up to go. “We can pull it together when you return to Cloudbase.”
Ochre tried to keep a straight face and failed. Unfortunately for him, he’d taken a draught of coffee at the same time and ended up spluttering and coughing, and was unable to take evasive action when both Angels converged on him.
“Oww…” he yelled as Destiny stabbed him with the pin she’d threatened Magenta with earlier, while Symphony bashed him over the side of the head with a convenient cushion.
As he tried to defend himself, Grey chortled. “Isn’t there anywhere your mind fears to tread, Rick?”
Ochre headed back to his quarters later that evening after completing his duty assignments. They all had to suffer them – the irritating minutiae that, however tedious, was necessary on their floating base. He still missed Sable, damn it. The Canadian had been good at his job, and they were still in the throes of replacing him after his untimely and horrible demise almost two months ago. Still, Lieutenant Peru, his replacement, was catching on fast, and he felt justified in selecting the Czech woman, Milena Vacek, from a very qualified pool of ground agents to fill the important role of Security Officer on Cloudbase. Some people might have accused him of positive discrimination, but he knew from experience even before he’d met the Angels, that women were every bit as tough as men, and brought a different yet complementary thinking process to problems.
And maybe, a tiny niggling thought insinuated itself, he was still compensating for Lieutenant Jade’s death and trying to reassert the status-quo.
The door to his quarters slid open and he trudged in, the light levels rising automatically at his presence. He bypassed his living area, heading straight for a shower. He unzipped his tunic, threw it on the bed, followed by his boots, which he placed in front of the closet, and flexed his throbbing toes in relief. After removing the rest of his uniform, he stepped into the shower cabinet, and dialled it up to hot. The water hissed, needle sharp onto his skin, and he exhaled, long and hard, the vestiges of their difficult but successful mission in Japan sluicing down the drain. He didn’t really need another shower after being hosed down by Fawn’s med-techs, but it felt good nonetheless.
Everyone was doing their best to keep things light for this sometimes trying holiday season, himself included, but sometimes it was frigging hard. He envied Brad his family life; okay, they weren’t his own kids, but it was better than nothing. For the thousandth time he regretted burning the boats of his past life for the sake of his career in Spectrum. Maybe then he’d have had his own nieces and nephews to visit. But Brad was lucky; the WASPs weren’t the mean streets of Chicago – Ochre had made what he’d thought was the right choice to protect his nearest and dearest, but now, a few years into this senseless war with the Mysterons, he missed his brother and sister-in-law and their kids more than ever. Every one had a family behind the scenes, even Magenta, why had he made his personal life so God-damned complicated?
The four minute chime sounded, so he quickly rinsed all the suds before the water automatically turned off. After drying himself, he wrapped the towel around his waist and padded onto the carpet of the bedroom. Light winked off the thin metal contraption that lay in the middle of the bed and he smiled wryly. Keep grinning even when you feel like crap inside – the story of his life. Everyone expected it of him, of course – he’d never quite escaped being the class clown – and when it came down to it, self-deprecating humour beat morose rumination nine times out of ten. He picked it the delicate piece and tried it on for size in the mirror – breaking into a rueful chuckle at how ridiculous he looked. He knew from experience he wasn’t lacking in the charm department, but it didn’t hurt for a guy to have a little help, or to have a little fun.
Harmony Angel studied the calligraphic scroll on the wall above the chest of drawers as she finished dressing in her white flight uniform. It wasn’t the words inscribed in kanji that drew her, but the remembrance it induced, wondering whether the man she’d originally given it to, was making his own preparations for Christmas.
So many times in the past couple of years she’d considered throwing it away, too much a reminder of past tragedy, but something always stayed her hand, because, paradoxically, in parting with it, she felt as it was a betrayal of his memory. They hadn’t been given the time to create anything more than a fleeting friendship, and she occasionally wondered – what if?
But now that could never be – for Conrad Turner, who had been Captain Black of Spectrum - was the most wanted man on Earth.
Was she a fool for indulging in such sentimentality? A nagging feeling had never left her, that Black was unlike the other Mysteron constructs; that he was still somehow human, and had been coerced, against his will, to obey the commands of his new masters - cursed for all eternity for daring to breach the portal of alien gods. What a terrible fate for someone who had loved peace so much he was willing to die for it, and who now had become an instrument of strife between two planets.
She pulled her eyes away from the scroll. Dwelling on such matters did nothing to change anything, and only affected her state of tranquillity. Instead, she breathed deeply for a few moments, restoring her equilibrium, and then, crossed to her closet, with the intention of finding something suitable to wear for the evening party celebrations. Not a slave to fashion, like Destiny and Rhapsody, she did enjoy dressing like a woman occasionally. She pushed her hanging clothes along the rack, colour coded for ease of choice. The red silk dress would do – it was two years old, but she felt that she needed this lucky colour tonight. It was always a mood enhancer.
She placed it on the bed for later. Right now, she was due in Angel One.
It wasn’t long before the Officers’ Lounge began to fill up. Music drifted from the hidden speakers. With Lieutenant Green acting as resident DJ, Lieutenant Verdigris had pulled the short straw, and she was now the one sitting at the communications console with the Colonel for company for the first two hours of the party. Some of the staff wore their uniforms, such as Peru, in her bright orange tunic, and Aqua in her light blue-green. Melody also wore her flight uniform, as she planned to relieve Harmony in an hour’s time; but some of the old hands were enjoying the opportunity to relax in civvies.
Destiny wore a sparkling silver, knee-length dress that matched the decorations, and Rhapsody, almost out-dazzled her in shimmering blue. Symphony had plumped for a jumpsuit in white and gold, Green and Navy had gone sub-tropical in loud Aloha shirts and Magenta, Scarlet and Blue had pushed the style boat way out and got wolf whistles from the Angels for their black tuxes and bow ties.
Naked flames were normally verboten anywhere except the kitchens, but Destiny had dared the wrath of Colonel White and placed fragrant candles in the niches of the portholes where they wouldn’t be at the threat of being knocked over, and the aromatic scents of spicy cinnamon, clove, orange and spruce permeated the air.
Jim McWhirter and his chefs still had to feed the skeleton staff of three hundred people Christmas lunch with all the trimmings the following day, but that didn’t prevent him from providing enough party food to sink a submarine. Added to that, some of the senior staff had provided their own delicious offerings to add to the mix. Melody had been sent raspberry pound cake and pecan pie from her folks in the mail, and Destiny was sharing her parents’ Christmas gifts of truffles and a bûche de Noel, the French equivalent of a Yule log.
Lieutenant Green had made his own Trinidadian black cake. He’d soaked his glace fruits and peels and dates in dark rum for about three weeks and now, after baking, it had turned indigo black, oozing with moisture as he carved slices of it onto plates for everyone, while taking a short break from putting his song playlists together.
Rhapsody munched on a hunk, and closed her eyes in enjoyment. “I think this is the booziest cake I’ve ever eaten, Seymour. I’d better watch I don’t have too much or I swear I won’t be legit for Angel duty.”
Scarlet nodded equal assent, since he couldn’t speak with a mouthful of the dense fruitcake. He’d now fully recovered apart from the faintest of red patches on his cheek and was determined to forget about saving the world for at least a few hours, if the sodding Mysterons would let him.
The sound of Slade’s Merry Christmas howled from the speakers.
“Oh, jeez, not that old chestnut,” Scarlet said, with a grimace. “It’s about a century old. Haven’t we got anything a bit more recent?”
“I don’t think there’s has been a new Christmas song since 2025,” Rhapsody said, “We just recycle all the same oldies.”
“Some are better recycled than others, though,” Green added.
“You can say that again.” Scarlet nodded, brushing crumbs from his tunic. “If I hear ‘Last Christmas’ one more time I’ll start banging my head against a desk, or move to a Buddhist monastery for the entire month of December.”
Rhapsody giggled. “I do rather like this one though, you can’t help wanting to sing and bop along, it has such a happy, jolly feel that somehow transcends time; a true classic.”
“Cars are classic, Dianne,” Scarlet noted with faint sarcasm. “Not Christmas ditties.”
“What time do you think we should hand out the crackers?” she said, ignoring his sudden burst of Scrooge-like tendencies.
He glanced at his watch. “Probably when everyone’s here that’s going to be here.”
“That was such a nice idea,” Green said, cutting up the last of the cake and putting it onto plates. “They must have taken you ages to make.”
“Well, it wasn’t just me, the other Angels helped, and Lieutenant Copper.”
“Speaking of, where is Grainne tonight? I don’t see her.”
“She’s still on duty, but she’s coming, along with Purple when he swaps shifts with Peach.”
When the saccharine notes of ‘Last Christmas’ began to trill out of the speakers, Scarlet made a gagging noise.
“Oops,” Green said, and quickly wiped his sticky hands quickly on a napkin. “Guess I’d better go change the playlist.”
“Please do,” Scarlet replied.
Lieutenant Navy had appointed himself resident barman, and despite the regulations on alcohol consumption for large gatherings, he believed he’d succeeded in creating a range of lip-smacking cocktails to adorn his makeshift bar. The delicate steel sculpture that normally sat atop the set of counters had been removed for safe keeping to a storage closet and the surface was now covered in various bottles and glasses.
“Oh my, this mojito is gorgeous,” Symphony enthused, standing next to Blue and Magenta. “I’m almost prepared to forgive you for not having any alcohol in it. Adam, you’ve got to try this.”
“Okay, Ramon, you heard what the lady said, lay one on me.”
Navy grinned. “Sure thing, here you go.” The Cuban-American handed him a tall glass filled with ice and topped with a sprig of green leaves.
“Looks kind of like a mint julep.”
“But better,” Navy insisted.
“What’s a mojito, then?” Magenta asked. “If a cocktail hasn’t got a good Irish whiskey in it, I’m not interested.”
Navy tapped his nose with a white-toothed smile on his tanned face. “Ah, but this one’s my grandmother’s secret recipe, all the way from Havana.”
“It’s just sugar, lime juice, soda water and mint,” Blue said. “Well, and white rum, usually,” he added, looking rather disconsolately at his tumbler.
“Don’t worry, you won’t miss the rum,” Navy said.
Blue took a swig, and he coughed, his eyes flying open.
Symphony giggled. “I did warn you.”
“What the hell – “
Magenta grinned. “I think I’ll stick to the punch, thanks.”
“Coward,” Symphony said, and then turned her attention back to Navy. “So did you spend many Christmases in Cuba, Ramon?”
“We used to alternate, one year in Miami, one in Havana. We did the same stuff though, always on Christmas Eve. Every family gets a suckling pig and cooks it in the front or back yard, and we’d party the whole night, with a stop to go to midnight mass, the whole neighbourhood, then it was back to the party for more eating and drinking.
”That must have made for some interesting church services,” Magenta replied, with a grin.
“Oh yeah, it sure did. There’s lots of singing, really loud singing.”
“What you guys chatting about?” Symphony interrupted Scarlet and Rhapsody, as she and Blue joined them.
“Christmas pop songs and the lack of new material,” Rhapsody replied.
“Oh, I’m a sucker for ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, Symphony said.
“Now, that one is loaded,” Blue said. “My mom loves it even to this day, and it was the required accompaniment to the decoration of the Christmas spruce in the family home in Boston. Mind you, as they say, nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
Rhapsody smiled. “I’ve heard that somewhere before.”
“Yeah, it’s about as ancient as this tune, and first appeared in that form in a novel by a twentieth century novelist and editor of the New Yorker called Peter de Vries, who noted that, nothing was what it used to be – not even nostalgia. However, some sources say that the English magazine Punch had the idea in the first place, and it’s been rearranged a few times since then, most bizarrely by a baseball player called Yogi Berra.”
“And you, of course.” Rhapsody’s eyes twinkled. “Where do you get all these things from, Adam? You never fail to amaze us with your encyclopaedic knowledge of all things esoteric.”
Blue smiled. “I do a lot of reading, and I mean a lot. It’s boring as hell waiting for Paul to wake up.”
“Thanks,” Scarlet retorted.
“You’re welcome, buddy, any time, and I have you to thank for my addiction to Trivianet.com.”
Counsellor Ebony, dressed for the party in a simple yellow silk long-sleeved top and black velvet trousers, peered into the Control Room, saw White’s chair was empty, and Verdigris sitting at the communications console.
“Hello, Lieutenant, I didn’t mean to disturb you at your work, I was just hoping to have a quiet word with the Colonel for a few minutes.”
The New Zealand girl raised her dark-haired head, as if just noticing the black woman in the doorway. “Oh, hello, Counsellor, he’s just popped out to the rest room, I don’t think he’ll be long.”
“I’ll wait, then, if you don’t mind. Sorry to disturb you.”
“No worries. I’m just listening to chatter, it’s pretty quiet down there, thank goodness. Half the world’s asleep and the other half are partying.”
Ebony nodded. “That’s how it should be, and I fervently hope it stays that way, there’s a party going on here too.”
Verdigris chuckled ruefully. “Yeah, I know.”
“Never mind, next time.”
“Oh, hello, Counsellor, what brings you here?” White’s deep voice sent Verdigris’ eyes swivelling back to her monitors.
“You do, as always,” Ebony replied in her equally rich voice.
“That sounds most ominous,” White sat down behind his curved desk. “What have I done now?”
“Nothing yet, but I was hoping you’d take a stroll with me to the Officers’ Lounge.”
White’s eyebrows lowered fractionally, his eyes busy with a screen where a report waited for his sign-off signature. After that, he could relax, if such a thing were possible.
“I have far too much work to do, Counsellor, and even if I did not, I’m sure my staff do not wish me hanging around their celebrations, making them uncomfortable with my presence.”
Ebony lowered her voice, leaned closer to White over the desk. “You know that’s not true; they respect you, and I’m sure every one of them would be glad to see you there.”
White raised his eyes, gave Ebony a clear look. “Exactly, they respect me, and I respect their privacy, there are few occasions in the year where they are all able to be together, and I do not intend to curb any high spirits.”
Ebony pursed her full lips. “And that’s the only reason?”
“Don’t push it, Counsellor.” White’s voice was almost at a whisper; there was no need for Verdigris to hear their discussion. “I know your security clearance, and that you are aware of – my background before I joined Spectrum, but there is no need to parade it in my face.”
She pulled back. “Point duly noted, and I apologise if I’ve given offence. I was only – “
“Doing your job. I know. But I’m absolutely fine, and I suggest you should go and join the festivities before all the food runs out.”
“Very well, I’ll wish you a merry Christmas, Colonel.”
“And to you, Counsellor.”
“Mmm, these biscuits are délicieux, Milena,” Destiny said, “What is it that you call them?”
“Maslove pecivo, Czech butter cookies, a simple recipe, but as you say, delicious. My mother is worrying about me so far away; I cannot convince her I am a grown woman and can bake for myself. Of course, I don’t have the time to bake since I have started working in Spectrum some years ago.”
“Darn it, that sure sounds like a vicious circle,” Melody Angel said, with a throaty chuckle before taking a bite of one of the sugary golden biscuits.
“I imagine zey are very bad for my waistline,” Destiny said, followed by a slight sigh.
“Honey, everything here tonight is bad for our waistlines.”
“Yes,” Lieutenant Peru said, with a faint smile. “But us Czechs need all the sugar to help us get through the cold winters, you understand?”
“So what excuse do I have?” Melody said, with a grin. “You think pound cake doesn’t do exactly what is says on the tin?”
“You are like a whip, Magnolia.” Destiny pouted. “I just ‘ave to think about sugar and my hips…” She made an expansive outwards gesture with her slender fingers. “My mother, she also thinks I will be sad and lonely at Christmas, and she always sends me the chocolate to cheer me, but I do not ‘ave the heart to tell her that I cannot eat one kilo by myself.”
Melody gave a throaty chuckle. “It’s Christmas, hon, if we can’t let our hair down a little tonight, when can we?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Symphony muttered.
“What is it?” Rhapsody turned towards the direction of the blonde Angel’s disbelieving stare. “Ah…I see what you mean.”
Ochre strolled into the lounge, a slight smirk tilting the edges of his mouth upwards. Three spokes and a circumference of wire formed a cap that fitted over his Spectrum regulation kepi. A longer wire protruded from the front, at the insignia, to a length of about fifteen inches, and a large bunch of red-ribboned mistletoe dangled on the wire three inches from its end.
“Careful now, folks, I don’t want to skewer anyone,” he said, as he worked his way into the centre of the room.
Magenta was chatting with one of Cloudbase’s helmsmen, Lieutenant Purple. The latter tried to keep a straight face in front of his senior, but Magenta had no such qualms. He snorted and guffawed simultaneously. “Oh bejesus, Rick, you’ve outdone yourself tonight.”
Ochre grinned back, then turned his attention to the trio of women chatting a foot away from Magenta, while Purple at last gave way to a grin that split his thin face.
“Well, who wants to be the first lucky lady?” Ochre said in a breezy voice.
Peru glanced swiftly sideways to Destiny with a look of alarm, evidently taken aback by the offer of her superior officer. As Ochre kept the jaunty expression on his face, Destiny, well acquainted with the ways of her colleague, took immediate pity on the young woman, and stepped towards Ochre, dipping her ash-blonde head underneath the long length of taut wire.
Her eyes twinkled at him. “You are a – what is it that you say – a scoundrel?”
Ochre winked back at her. “I know, but you’d all be disappointed if I didn’t come up with something ridiculous for the holiday season.”
“I think Patrick is right, you ‘ave outdone yourself.” She gave him a soft kiss on the lips and turned to Melody. “Your turn, chérie.”
Melody shook her head, helpless with laughter, hands on knees. She finally wiped one eye. “Oh what the hell - ”
She planted a kiss on Ochre’s freshly shaven cheek.
“Is that it?” he said. “That’s all I get for the time it took me to make this thing?”
“Yep, that’s it, take it or leave it; anyway, I have to go.”
“Already? But I just got here?”
“Well you should have been here earlier; the party’s been going for an hour.”
“Yeah, well some of us had work to do, this base doesn’t run itself.”
“And now I’ve got work to do, I’m swapping shifts with Harmony.”
“I thought she hated parties.”
“I think hate’s a bit of strong word, sure, she’s not over fond of them, but we insisted she came. She shouldn’t always be the one to pull duty when the rest of us are enjoying ourselves.”
“Well, that’s nice of you.”
“Yeah, I’m all heart. See ya.”
During this exchange, Lieutenant Peru stood warily, uncertain whether to walk away or remain privy to their conversation. She had evidently decided on the latter, keeping her eyes suitably focused on something else until Melody had departed.
“Don’t worry, Milena,” Ochre said, tapping the length of wire that protruded out into space. “These girls know me, and it’s all just a bit of fun, between old friends, I wouldn’t expect a smooch from you.”
Peru coloured slightly. “Thank you, sir, I mean, it is not that I -”
He waved a hand, avoiding her further embarrassment. “I hope you’re having a good time at your first Cloudbase party.”
“Oh yes, it is not at all what I expected.”
“Well, we’re all a long way from home up here, and we don’t exactly live a normal life, so I reckon when we’re off duty we can all go a little nuts, just so long as we turn it off when it matters.”
“Yes, sir, I really think I will very much enjoy working here.” She thrust out the plate of cookies. “Would you like one, they were made by my mother, in Prague.”
“Seems like everyone’s mother has been baking full-time.” He reached out, having to stretch due to the headpiece. “Thanks, I don’t think I really thought through this design very well.”
Peru smiled. “No sir, but it is, as you say, it is a bit of fun.”
Harmony smoothed down the front of the silk dress and appraised herself in the mirror on the inside door of the closet. She’d acquiesced to party protocol and added a spot of red lipstick to match her dress, and lined her eyes with kohl, both of which made her ivory skin look even paler in contrast,
Too much, she wondered, and for what? It wasn’t as if there was anyone in the Officers’ Lounge she wanted to impress, male or female. She wasn’t a party animal, normally shied away from them with the excuse that she didn’t celebrate Christmas, and she usually got away with it, although this year the other girls were having none of it.
She was about to close the door when something caught her eye. Her heart stilled in her chest – ice banding around it - a ghostly reflection in the mirror - of someone that shouldn’t and couldn’t have been there. She whirled around, but her bedroom was empty, not a sign of an intruder. Her stomach fluttering, she rushed out into the living area.
Empty. No one present to disturb the sanctity of her quarters. And there had been no sound of a door closing.
She sat down on a small settee and took several deep slow meditation breaths, calming herself – waiting.
After ten minutes she wondered if she was being ridiculous. There were no alarms blaring, no Mysteron threat booming through the loudspeakers, and she realised she’d been subconsciously waiting for them. Should she raise the alarm herself? What would the colonel say? He was a busy man tonight, with all his reports and she knew of his aversion to being disturbed on Christmas Eve. She was, for all intents and purposes, seeing a ghost in her imagination. That last thought jolted her memory, reminded her of a book that Rhapsody often talked about, an old English tale set on Christmas Eve, a morality story of sorts about a man who was visited by ghosts – what was it called again? The name eluded her.
After another ten minutes she began to wonder if she had simply imagined it, as if her subconscious was conspiring against her this evening. She had been thinking about him more than usual as she had waited out her uneventful four hour shift in Angel One, which had left her in a less than serene mood. Perhaps she was simply tired. She ought to have had thirty minutes in the Room of Sleep before she went to the party. She glanced at her watch, a last New Year’s gift from her father before he died. There was nothing for it, time to go.
“So, in my country,” Peru was telling the Angels, whose circle had been added to by Lieutenant Copper, fresh off duty and still in uniform. “On Christmas Eve, if you are a single girl, you throw one of your shoes over the shoulder. If it lands with the toe pointing into the room, away from the door, that means they will stay single for the next year, if it’s the other way around, they will have to start making wedding preparations.”
“Well, that’s a fun one, girls,” Copper said. “In old Ireland, we leave a candle in the window.”
“What is that for?” Peru asked.
“Nothing to do with marriage prospects. It was to symbolise Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay before Jesus was born, and so it meant that your house was welcoming to strangers, if they needed a bit of food, like. ‘Course, there aren’t many people knocking on doors for food these days, but the folks back home still like placing a candle in the window, for old time’s sake.”
Peru nodded, “Yes, traditions have a way of resisting change.”
“We only leave the shoes in front of the fire to be filled with presents,” Destiny said, almost as an afterthought.
“What, nothing for Santa Claus?” Rhapsody said in mock horror. “Not even a mince pie and a glass of sherry?”
Destiny wrinkled her nose. “I fail to understand what you English enjoy about such a mélange.”
“It’s an acquired taste.” Blue leant his head into the crowd of women as he stood chatting with Scarlet. The two men nursed glasses of warm spiced cranberry and apple punch.
Destiny’s eyes crinkled mischievously. “Mes amies, I think we should all try this tradition.”
“What – mince pies?” Rhapsody said. “I think Jim made some, although they’ve got lost in amongst all the other pastries.”
“Non, chérie, I mean the throwing of the shoe over the shoulder.”
“Oh right,” she glanced across at Scarlet. His face gave nothing away. “Well, I’m up for it,” she said brightly. “Anyone else?”
“Couldn’t hurt,” Symphony said.
“Famous last words…” Blue was heard to mutter.
Destiny wandered nearer to the entrance, and the buzz of conversation muted a little, as did the music, as Lieutenant Green leaned over for a better look at the proceedings.
She removed one of her kitten-heeled shoes and Ochre called out: “Mind you don’t put a dent in the door, honey.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, tossed the shoe over her right shoulder and then turned quickly to see how it had landed.
“Ah well, looks like you won’t be planning for a wedding next year, Juliette,” Rhapsody noted.
The Frenchwoman pouted and crossed the floor to retrieve the item. “Bof, I am far too busy in any case.”
“I’ll go next,” Rhapsody announced, rather excitedly.
“Better watch out, Scarlet.” Ochre sidled up to him, and whispered out of the side of his mouth, “She’s got her eyes on the prize.”
“Rick, go and point that ruddy thing somewhere else. You nearly had my eye out.”
Rhapsody’s elegant shoe landed awkwardly, the toe pointing in a direction perpendicular to the door, giving nothing away about her marital future.
“Strike two,” Symphony drawled. “You wanna try, Milena?”
The Czech girl shook her head.
“You surely don’t believe in that nonsense, do you?” Symphony replied, rather bluntly. “None of us actually believe it’s going to really work, you know, it’s just a bit of fun.”
“Come on, Karen, she indicated she didn’t want to,” Ochre said.
“No, Symphony is correct; I started this game, I should be happy to join in with it.” Peru unzipped her right boot and wandered over to the spot where the other girls had thrown their shoes.
Symphony scowled at the three captains. Blue’s face was neutral but Ochre rolled his eyes.
“I didn’t mean to be rude,” she insisted.
“Well, at least you admit it, you and your big mouth,” he replied. “Anyway, looks like you’re off the hook, the toe’s pointing into the room. That’s strike three.”
“Maybe she wanted it to land the other way,” she retorted, “What made you the expert on women’s inner desires – the man who’s so loaded with charm he needs his own private mistletoe?”
Ochre grinned, refusing to get riled. “So, looks like it’s your turn now, Symph.”
“Come on, Karen, you’re not getting away without having a go,” Rhapsody called out to her, and all eyes were directed on the Iowan girl.
“Oh, for crying out loud.…”
Symphony’s ballerina pump landed on the floor, the toe pointing dead straight at the door.
“Oh boy…” Ochre said.
Blue turned his head, his face still neutral, and said in an even voice: “Another word, Rick, and I’m gonna remove that wire and wrap it around your neck…”
Symphony smiled to herself as she picked up her shoe and stood up, just as the door of the lounge slid open to reveal a newcomer.
“Chan!” Symphony gave the surprised Asian girl a hug.
Harmony looked at her with some confusion. “Why do you only have one shoe on?”
“Just a little game we were playing, come and have one of Ramon’s mojitos, that’ll cheer you up, you look as miserable as sin –” As she saw the sudden distraught look on Harmony’s face she grimaced. “Darn it, now what did I say that for? Ochre’s right - me and my big mouth. What I meant to say was – you look lovely tonight, Chan. You ought to dress up and wear make-up more often.”
Harmony’s mouth moved into a small smile. “Thank you, perhaps I will.”
Her eyes grew wider as she spied Ochre and his headwear coming towards her.
“Hi, pretty lady, can I steal a kiss?”
Harmony put a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle the giggle that threatened to bubble up from her throat.
All the staff that were able to attend the party had arrived, so several dances and twenty minutes later Rhapsody stood on a chair and announced that it was time for handing out the gifts.
“We have boy crackers and girl crackers - ”
“And if we’re not careful we’ll have a lot of little crackers,” Ochre called out, receiving a collective groan in response.
“If you are quite finished, Rick,” Rhapsody continued. “Girls will hand out crackers to the boys, and vice-versa, and opposite sexes will pull crackers. I think there’s enough of us to go around, and if not I don’t suppose anyone will complain of double duty. Each one contains a joke, a hat, and a small gift suitable for the sex of the recipient. There are no returns and no refunds, and all the jokes are hopefully clean.”
“Well, that’s boring,” Magenta said loudly, and there was more laughter.
Rhapsody delved into the box marked ‘Girls’ and pulled out a large golden cracker with a name on it. “Well, fancy that, it’s you first, Captain Ochre.”
The Midwesterner raised his hands. “Man on a mission coming through.”
The English girl handed it to him. “There you go, happy Christmas, Rick.
He accepted with a lopsided grin, and in a low voice said: “Would I be risking a smack if I asked you to pull mine?”
Rhapsody’s eyes alighted ever so briefly on Scarlet before they settled back on Ochre’s face. They both knew where they stood with one another. Another time, another place, things might have been very different. As it was, she still retained a very warm fondness for the incorrigible American.
“It might not be me that slaps you…”
Ochre smirked. “I’ll take my chances.”
Soon all the crackers had been handed out and then the fun of pulling them began.
“Jaysus, where did you get these jokes from, girls?” Copper called out to the Angels, as she unfurled the piece of paper inside the cracker she’d just pulled with Green. She now sported a dashing silver paper hat on her dark curls and was delighted with her tiny bottle of perfume. “This one’s as old as Methuselah.”
“The old ones are the best,” Magenta called out. “Get on with it!”
She smiled at her lover. “Okay, what happened to the man who stole an advent calendar?”
Ochre’s hand shot up. “Oh, I know this one – lemme think – oh yeah, he got 25 days!”
Copper groaned. “See what I mean?”
There was another snap as Symphony pulled her cracker with Magenta. “Oh, this is a good one,” she said, “What do you call Santa’s little helpers?”
“Elf-service?” Ochre suggested.
“Shouldn’t that be where he goes when he has a headache?” Scarlet suggested.
“Not bad at all, guys,” Blue answered, “But the answer is: subordinate clauses.”
There were claps and wolf-whistles. Symphony fondly slapped his shoulder.
“Always knew Blue was a walking dictionary,” Ochre said.
“Jealousy will get you nowhere.”
Navy pulled his cracker with Ebony. “Okay, what did Adam say on the day before Christmas?”
Blue gave Ochre a stare. “Not a word…”
Ochre grinned. “As if I would.”
“That’s easy,” Purple announced. “It’s Christmas, Eve.”
“I’m not sure I can stand much more of this,” Copper announced.
Ochre offered his cracker to Harmony with a roguish smile. He’d finally dispensed with his portable mistletoe hat; he felt it had done its job of lightening the mood. “Fancy giving mine a pull?”
She smiled, despite herself, the American always managed to make her laugh whatever her frame of mind. She grasped one golden end with both hands and Ochre did the same.
“Okay, count of three,” he said.
It was then, as she looked over his shoulder, past the figures of Rhapsody and Scarlet, who were looking into one another’s eyes, obviously about to share their crackers, that she saw him.
He was a dim reflection in one of the porthole windows – no, not a reflection – it was as if he was floating outside, his form rendered indistinct by the thick glass.
But surely that was impossible.
“Harmony, are you okay?” Ochre’s voice was suddenly tinged with concern and she felt the tension in the cracker release as the frown appeared over the bridge of his nose. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
No, please no, not tonight, not here, not while we are all so happy, anything but tonight, Conrad, please, by everything that you once were, brave, caring, noble, peace-loving, do not do this!
The scenario took on a nightmarish aspect, as she saw Scarlet offer his cracker to Rhapsody – and Harmony noted the two green rings, moving across the silver tube.
She begged him - with her soul, reaching out, across the room, through the window where Black’s spectral form floated in cold dark space. She felt herself moving, in slow motion, sluggish –
Why doesn’t Scarlet know? Why can’t he see what I see?
The two of them pulled, she heard the snap and a puff of greenish gas erupted from the split cracker, enveloping both Scarlet and Rhapsody.
“Colonel,” Lieutenant Verdigris swivelled around to face her superior, a troubled look clouding her face. “Captain Blue is reporting an incident in the Officers’ Lounge.”
“What sort of incident?”
“There was a – gas emitted – from one of the crackers – it’s Captain Scarlet, and Rhapsody Angel.”
Shock churned through White’s stomach, he forced it down and kept his voice even. “Are they hurt?”
“I’m not sure, sir, they’re both unconscious, so is Harmony Angel. Captain Magenta has already called for emergency med-support, and they’ve all been taken to the Sick Bay. Captain Ochre has evacuated the Officers’ Lounge and it’s in the process of being decontaminated – that’s all I have so far, sir.”
“Very well, thank you, Lieutenant. Tell Captain Blue I shall head down to the Sick Bay to see for myself.”
White strode purposefully to the doors leading to one of the escalators. Did the Mysterons have a hand in this incident? Scarlet would recover, he was sure of it, he always did, but what of Harmony and Rhapsody?
The escalator moved sedately, far too slowly for him, while he stood immobile, his fingers clenching and unclenching into fists, the only outward indication of the turmoil inside him. He must not be at the mercy of any type of favouritism or partiality amongst his staff; therein lay the slippery slope to demoralisation and distrust. But he was only human, at risk of his species’ emotional frailty; unable to keep at bay the memories of his loss, at the possibility of yet another loss of someone he cared for more than he knew he should, tonight of all nights.
Oh, Lord, help me.
White waved a hand for the security guard to remain at ease and kept moving swiftly through Sick Bay until he reached the isolation ward. Through the porthole window on the outer door of the airlock he could see Dr Fawn and Nurse Jackson moving about, both garbed in face masks and bio-hazard suits. His skin prickled.
Fawn glanced up, as if aware of his presence and then said something to Jackson. She nodded, and headed for the airlock separating the isolation ward from the corridor. She peeled off the mask and suit and stuffed them into the disposal unit which pulled out from the wall.
There was a moment of waiting and then a green light flashed above the door and the buzzing sound indicated the airlock was clear.
“Colonel,” Jackson greeted him grimly, “It’s certainly been a busy couple of days.”
“Quite. What news do you have?”
“That makes sense? Not a lot.”
“Are they injured in any way?”
“No, but they’ve got what seems like some kind of rhinovirus that’s got a really fast incubation period.”
“They have a cold?”
“Yes, looks that way, they’ve both got the classic symptoms, chills, a runny nose, hacking cough, sore throat, oh – and one other thing…”
“Their skin’s turned green.”
Once it seemed that whatever Scarlet and Rhapsody had been subjected to from the gas didn’t seem to be in danger of killing them, White and Fawn could breathe a sigh of relief. Ochre even joked to Blue and Magenta that they had their very own Grinch and Mrs Grinch for Christmas.
He wasn’t laughing quite so much when he too turned green several hours later, at the same time as Harmony Angel, followed by most of the Christmas Eve party goers.
Fawn issued a quarantine directive, stating that all but non-essential personnel must remain in their quarters to stop the virus spreading, but by Christmas morning half of Cloudbase were looking decidedly green around the gills and snivelling. The base-wide Christmas lunch was cancelled, since half the catering staff were poorly, so it was a decidedly down-beat ending to what had started off as a fun evening. No one seemed to be in danger of dying, it seemed, but the virus certainly caused a lot of headaches for Colonel White – literally – as base operations were severely hampered by the number of people falling ill.
“Do you think this was a Mysteron attack?” he asked Fawn.
“It’s possible, I haven’t been able to isolate the structure of the virus yet from the residue of the cracker, but if it’s anything like our common cold, there probably isn’t much point. It’ll be mutating as we speak, and in a few days time hopefully our antibodies will deal with it, we just have to make sure absolutely no one leaves this base for any reason until we’re sure that the infection won’t spread any further. We can’t risk an Earthly epidemic of people turning green, we’d have a heck of a time explaining that one to the public.”
“Agreed. I find it very strange that we were given no warning about this threat.”
“Yes, it isn’t like the Mysterons.”
“I’m coming to the conclusion that we really don’t understand them at all.”
“Perhaps the Mysterons have a sense of humour?” Fawn remarked grimly.
Something woke Harmony in her cot. As with human rhinoviruses, some people fared better than others, she wasn’t one of them; it had hit her particularly badly, and Fawn had ordered her to remain under his care a few more days for observation. Her head ached and her nose was full of alien snot.
She opened blurry eyes and then with shock, saw the black clothed figure at the bottom of her cot. She was about to raise the alarm, but something stayed her hand.
Black looked like a holographic figure, as if he wasn’t completely there.
“Hello, Harmony,” he said quietly, in that rasping, ominous voice. And yet, she didn’t feel any menace from him, if anything, it was the opposite.
“Captain Black….” She breathed out his name. She should sound the alarm.
“I saw you,” she continued, her voice nasal. “Outside the porthole; and I saw the Mysteron rings on the cracker…”
Black nodded slowly. “They sent me to kill Scarlet, but the explosion would have killed everyone in the room, so I changed things – a little, so the results weren’t quite as catastrophic.”
“You…can do that?”
“Sometimes, but it’s very hard.”
”Did you change the explosive into a virus?”
“I don’t really know. It’s impossible to explain. But sometimes, when I’m close to someone that I – share a strong emotional connection with, I seem to be able to fight the hold the Mysterons have on me, for a very brief time. I can resist their commands – not completely – just enough, to lessen the blow.”
“I begged you not to kill us.”
“I know. But each time it becomes more difficult. They are aware of it, and they’ll try to completely destroy this – connection. I’m afraid this may be the last time I’m able to oppose them in this way. Even now I feel them pulling me - ”
She felt herself fighting back tears. She knew Black had killed people, but it was so difficult to hate him, when she knew now the prison he existed within.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Black almost smiled, but it was more of a grimace, and then, his body, if that’s even what it was, began to shimmer, discorporate, until it finally vanished from the foot of her cot, leaving her shaken, like a leaf in the wind.
“Happy Christmas, Conrad,” she said, almost to herself.
She thought she still heard his voice, like an echo from the vast, cold darkness of space.
“Don’t forget me….”
Author notes and acknowledgements
The usual suspects in this work of fiction are the creations of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and they continue to provide us with substance for our stories and artwork. It’s primarily to them we fans owe our thanks. I realise I don’t own these characters; I and my fellow Scarletinis just enjoy keeping them alive out there in cyberspace… and don’t make a cent off it!
Lieutenants Purple and Peach have been mentioned in annuals as Cloudbase ‘pilots’, but I prefer the nautical term ‘helmsman’.
My original characters of Copper, Peru, Verdigris, Ebony, Navy, Jade and Aqua have appeared in various stories of mine through the years.
The budding friendship between Harmony and Captain Black was first explored in my story, ‘Sayonara, Captain Black’.
I’d also like to thank Marion Woods for her beta-reading and for correcting my usual inability to place a comma in the right place, as well as her always valuable suggestions to improve the story’s clarity. As always, any mistakes, plot-holes, or omissions are entirely on my part.
Thanks also to our wonderful web-mistress, Chris Bishop, who has a life, strangely enough, that doesn’t have anything to do with Scarlet, yet still manages to embellish our stories for the website so that they look like mini-masterpieces onscreen. I don’t know anyone who takes as much care as she does with her wonderful site.
To her, and all my fellow devotees of Captain Scarlet out there in the Anderverse, may 2017 bring us all peace, prosperity and good health.