A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story for Christmas 2003
by Tiger Jackson
The Christmas Eve watch is always a lonely one.
On Cloudbase, Rhapsody Angel was on duty in Angel One. She also had four more hours on standby in the Amber Room. All the holiday festivities would be over by the time her shift finished, long after midnight. It would be a lonelier and longer night than usual.
At Coningsby airbase, Royal Air Force fighter pilots were on duty as well. This year, Group Captain Kingsley and his wingman, Flight Lieutenant Rickman, had drawn the short straws. Most nights, the duty office and ready room were far from lively but there always were more than two people around. On Christmas Eve, however, those unlucky enough to be on watch had to rely on each other and the telly for companionship. It was depressing.
Rickman stifled a yawn. “Long night, isn’t it, sir?”
Apart from a nod, Kingsley didn’t answer. There was no excitement at all. Even the weather was ideal: a cold, moonlit, cloudless night and so clear a man could count stars if he was inclined to. Or bored enough.
“We could almost wish for a war to break out,” chuckled Rickman. “Just for variety.”
You should always be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.
The alert klaxon sounded. “Scramble! Scramble! This is not a drill!”
Reflexively, both men had leaped to their feet even before they heard the order, grabbing up their flight helmets as they ran out of the hut towards their Merlins. The flight crews were already there, waiting to strap the pilots into their cockpits and remove the boarding ladders. Kingsley and Rickman swarmed up the sides of their respective craft and were halfway into their harnesses before touching down in their seats. The crew-chief snapped the last buckle into place then barked orders to her crew to stand clear.
In accord with RAF procedure, the Merlins’ engines were routinely kept warm in case of emergency. They fired immediately. Both fighters rose into the night sky and, in seconds, diminished to the size of pinpoints as they raced away at hundreds of airspeed kilometres per hour. The crew chief glanced at her watch. From the time the klaxon had sounded to the Merlins’ launch, less than three minutes had elapsed.
Group Captain Kingsley and Flight Lieutenant Rickman listened grimly to their assignment. Radar had picked up an unidentified craft flying over the Channel, approaching the coast of Lincolnshire.
“At least we’re dealing with only one bandit and not a blitz,” radioed Rickman.
Kingsley agreed. But he was uneasy. A single aircraft could be an advance scout for a much larger attack force, of missiles if not aircraft. And the RAF’s skeletal Christmas Eve duty watches would be hard pressed to meet and hold them until all the off-duty pilots could return and get airborne. Even now, the recall orders would be going out and defence stations preparing for the worst. He and Lieutenant Rickman were the first into the air. It was up to them to identify the bandit and relay the information as fast as possible, so others could prepare for the worst.
The Merlins levelled out at 25,000 feet. It was becoming cloudy out over the Channel. Kingsley’s headset crackled. “Wolfhound, Control.”
“We’re feeding the bandit’s coordinates to your onboard computers.”
Kingsley and Rickman both acknowledged, then sped towards the bandit’s reported location at Mach 1. The onboard radars picked up something. “Keep your eyes peeled, Rickman. We should have visual any time now.”
Kingsley couldn’t see anything at first, then spotted the bandit as it ducked in and out of the clouds. If not for a faint red glow, Kingsley doubted it would be visible at all.
“Seems strange,” Rickman commented, “to have only one red light showing. Can’t tell if it’s on a wing or maybe its nose.”
“Strange it should be showing a light at all,” said Kingsley. “Not exactly the thing for a stealth flyer to let itself be seen.” He attempted to contact the unidentified craft but got no answer. Warnings that it would be fired on also went unheeded. “Rickman, prepare to fire on the bandit.”
“Sir, something’s going wrong with my radar. It keeps losing the bandit. I can’t get a lock on target.”
Kingsley immediately discovered he was having the same problem. “It must have some kind of jamming signal.”
“It’s getting out of range!” And indeed it was. Although the Merlins were pushing their top speed, the mysterious craft was rapidly pulling away from them.
Group Captain Kingsley felt cold. Nothing on Earth could move that fast. He radioed to Control and told them to report a possible Mysteron invasion craft to Spectrum.
Rhapsody Angel’s epaulets flashed green.
“Angel One — Immediate launch!”
“S.I.G.” Within seconds, the Interceptor was in the air. As the Angel flew to the rendevous point, Lieutenant Green briefed her about the strange, unidentified aircraft being pursued by the RAF.
The Merlins had managed to keep the UFO in sight, barely. Rickman had noted that they were straining their engines and burning fuel rapidly. Rhapsody eased her Interceptor alongside the RAF fighters.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” she radioed. “Rhapsody Angel, Spectrum, here. What seems to be the problem?”
Forgetting the darkness, Kingsley and Rickman shot a glance towards each other. Although the RAF had plenty of female pilots, they somehow hadn’t expected Spectrum to send one in an emergency like this.
Group Captain Kingsley outlined the situation, particularly their inability to catch up to or make contact with the bandit or UFO, whichever it was. “Can you handle it?” he asked doubtfully.
“Not a problem.”
The Interceptor sped away from the Merlins, leaving their pilots slack-jawed.
Ahead, Rhapsody could see the faint red glow, which grew ever brighter as she approached. “I have visual contact with the UFO,” the Angel reported. “It doesn’t resemble any kind of aircraft I’ve ever seen. It’s long and narrow with no visible wings. There’s some kind of red light on the nose.”
“It could be a missile of some sort,” Lieutenant Green responded. “But there’s no known kind that carries a light in Spectrum’s databases.”
“Acknowledged. I’m going in for a closer look.” Rhapsody pushed the Interceptor to its maximum speed but found she could not close with the UFO. It maintained the gap between them, yet didn’t seem to be making an effort to get away from her.
“Angel One to Cloudbase and Wolfhound. I can’t catch up to the UFO. I am within missile range and I have a lock on the target. I’ll attempt to make radio contact before firing.”
“S.I.G., Angel One.”
Rhapsody broadcast her identity and a request for identification to the UFO. The reply surprised her.
“Happy Christmas, Lady Dianne!”
Rhapsody was astonished. How could the UFO’s pilot know her name?
“Cloudbase, Wolfhound, the UFO has responded. Are you receiving the transmission?”
“Receiving what?” Lieutenant Green and Group Captain Kingsley both asked.
“The bandit’s transmission, of course.”
“Rhapsody, we can hear you, that’s all,” replied Green.
“Ditto,” echoed Kingsley.
Rhapsody’s radio crackled. The strange yet familiar voice spoke again. It was deep and resonating, and sounded as if it contained years, no centuries of laughter and smiles. “I remember the year you asked for a pair of wings and flying lessons. You were all of five years old!” The speaker chuckled warmly. “Not a typical request, not at all. That’s why I remember you, lass. And why I’m not surprised to see you tonight. Come alongside, my dear! Come alongside!”
The UFO slowed down, allowing the Interceptor to catch up. As she drew closer and saw what she had been pursuing, Rhapsody was astonished.
“I don’t believe it. It can’t be —!”
The transmission broke off abruptly.
On Cloudbase, Colonel White and Lieutenant Green both tensed.
“Cloudbase to Angel One. Respond Angel One.” The receiver crackled. “Rhapsody Angel, respond! Rhapsody!”
Group Captain Kingsley snapped on his transmitter. “Angel One! Angel One! What is your situation? Respond please!” The seconds stretched out. Ten, eleven, twelve . . . he counted silently. “Rickman, prepare to fire on the UFO.”
“Arming weapons,” Rickman instantly replied. “I’ll fire as soon as I’ve got anything close to a fix on the bandit this time. What do you think’s happened to the Angel?”
“I wish I knew.” There had been no sign of weapons discharge, no sign of an explosion, no trace of smoke or other debris hanging in the air. Just the silence.
Laughter rang out in the RAF pilots’ headphones and through the Control Room receiver on Cloudbase. “I’m all right. Everything’s fine!” came Rhapsody’s cultured tones. “I’ve identified the UFO. It’s not a threat!” Then she sang:
“Peace on the Earth
“Good will toward men
“From Spectrum’s own Angelic choir!
“I’ll escort Santa Claus through the night —
“So gents: please hold your fire!”
Colonel White breathed a sigh of relief. He turned on the transmitter at his desk. “Cloudbase to Rhapsody Angel. You’re cleared to take on escort duty. Good luck. And Happy Christmas.”
“And so the Angel protected Santa and his reindeer all through Christmas Eve. When he’d left presents for all the children all over the world, Santa’s bag still wasn’t empty. He had a gift for the Angel, so she would always know how much Santa appreciated her help. He gave her a little pouch made of red velvet, trimmed with white fur. Inside was a golden sleigh bell. And Santa promised the Angel that if she ever wanted to fly with him on Christmas Eve again, all she had to do was ring the bell.
“And that’s how a Spectrum Angel saved Father Christmas.”
The children beamed. “Wow! That was a wizard story!” piped Nigel Simms, who, at age eight, was not easily impressed.
“Did it really happen, Auntie Di?” lisped his four-year-old sister Emma.
“Of course not, silly,” said Nigel, cutting off whatever his aunt had been about to say. “Santa Claus wouldn’t need Spectrum’s protection! His sleigh is fast enough to outrun anything, even an Interceptor.”
“Oh.” Emma sucked her thumb absently for a moment. “I’m going to be a Nangel, too. I asked Santa for wings.”
The children’s mother, Rowena Simms rose to her feet. “Time you were both off to bed. Father Christmas will be starting his rounds soon,” she added, seeing rebellion in the little faces, “and he can’t come while you’re awake. Say goodnight now.”
“Do we have to, Mummy?” whined the children in perfect unison.
“Yes, darlings. You know you can’t have Christmas until you’ve been to sleep.”
“It’s one of the rules,” Rowena said firmly, and herded the children out of the room.
Lord Robert’s eyes danced. “I seem to recall using that same logic on two other small, recalcitrant children not so many years ago!” He laughed as his son, Edward, and daughter, Dianne, jokingly rolled their eyes, then grinned at each other.
Edward kissed his younger sister on the cheek. “I never dreamed you were such a great storyteller, Di! You have a marvellous imagination. The way you put yourself in the starring role made it seem real. The kids were enthralled.”
“I’m glad they enjoyed it. But I think I’ll call it a night, too. I had a long day at work,” said Dianne. “You know how busy airline security gets at this season, with so many travellers.” A chorus of cheery “good nights” followed her out of the door.
When she reached her room, she quickly changed into her warmest clothes, then slipped down the back stairs, through the warm but quiet kitchen, and out the door into the clear, moonlit night. The crust on the snow was solid but she trod lightly so she wouldn’t break through and leave a trail to show where she had gone.
One of the best things about a large country estate, Rhapsody Angel mused, is that there is plenty of open land. And enough trees around the house to create a screen. From behind the trees, no one could see the house, but no one in the house could see beyond the trees, either.
She pulled the fur-trimmed red velvet bag from her pocket and held the gold sleigh bell in her hand for a moment before giving it a firm shake. Then she waited, smiling broadly, as she heard the answering ring of the sleigh bells worn by eight tiny reindeer, led by one more with a shiny red nose.
Happy Christmas to All!
Tiger Jackson 2003
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