“You got Simone a rock?”
Lieutenant Green’s incredulity was obvious as she peeked into the small, glittery gift bag on her lap and saw a piece of granite nested in the silk paper. Captain Scarlet, concentrating on the road ahead as he drove their Cheetah towards London, smiled. “It’s a pretty rock,” he argued.
“Well, I guess…”
“It’s going to be even prettier when I tie the details for a mountain-climbing trip to Lake Tahoe to it.”
Green gasped. “You’re taking her there for Christmas? Good for you! She’s going to love this!”
His smile turned into a contagious grin. They had stopped on their way from Bristol to do some last-minute shopping and Green was now holding the results in her hands—Scarlet’s rock, some shaving soap for Captain Blue (he was almost out) and his gift from her, a large and complete Swiss army knife, which she had even managed to find in green. The knight would bear his lady’s color after all...
She put the silk paper back around the rock to hide it. “This mission must be quite pedestrian for you. Escorting Colonel White on his vacation.”
Scarlet shrugged. “It’s a nice change. Sort of winding down right before my own vacation. Short reconnaissance trip first, then a few days going from social functions to Greenslade, then I’m off with Simone.” He passed a slower car on the motorway. “I’m surprised you didn’t ask for Adam to team up with you, though.”
“No… He won’t be back from Koala Base in time and those emergency driving seminars he’s giving were planned a long time ago. He loves doing them, I couldn’t deny him the pleasure. And I know he’s my ray of sunshine and I love him to bits, but honestly, you’re much better in social contexts than he is.”
“I don’t think he’d argue the point, actually,” Scarlet commented.
“Besides, we’re apart already since he’s out there, so a few days more or less… then we wind down while you’re out for Christmas and then we’re off for New Year’s Day.”
“Anything planned for that?”
“Mom’s taking a short break in her singing tour, so she’ll be at her beach house in Texas. I thought it could be the perfect moment for the first official meeting in person...”
Scarlet chuckled. “Uh-oh... So is this going to be a ‘third degree’ or ‘shower of presents’ kind of thing?”
Green smiled fondly. “Probably both. But she likes Adam already. And they have talked a bit on the videophone when we happened to be together when mom called, so it’s gonna be fine, really.”
“I’m sure it will.” He concentrated more on the road as they arrived at a roundabout, drove into it, then continued on the motorway. “So, Lieutenant Green, what is your status report after this visit to the Children’s Hospital? Any things we should consider when the colonel and Lady Grey are on their actual visit there in a few days?” he asked in a more business-like tone, although the smile in his voice was obvious.
“I’d avoid the underground parking lot. Too much winding around if we need to get out fast and we’d be stuck in a fatal funnel if there are people queuing at the exit. One of us should remain close to them and the other a little further off to be able to look around. We have to make sure Lady Grey’s assistant leaves us the keys to the hotel suite at the charity dinner venue and one of us will go scan it before we get there to be ready.”
He nodded approvingly. “Good call. Don’t forget to write this in your report.”
She tapped on her cap. “All recorded in already, I’ll just have to transcribe it once we’re back on Skybase. In a strange way, I hope we’re all doing this for nothing. What purpose would the Mysterons have in attacking a hospital full of children anyway? They’re surely not a threat.”
“Instigating fear? Draining morale? Getting at Spectrum? They don’t care about collateral damage, you know. We always have to consider that anything is possible with them. The colonel’s visit was made known to the public by the media, people will be watching if it’s on the news. There’s not much we can do about it now but make sure that nothing wrong happens.”
“The only thing that I want to happen is what happened today. You caused quite a commotion when you walked in. A real Spectrum officer in uniform, can you imagine? Those kids were beside themselves with excitement. That little boy whom you let try your cap on will remember this for the rest of his life.” She chuckled. “So will his mom, but probably not for the same reason…”
He flushed, remembering the rather effusive woman Green was referring to. He hurried to try and divert the subject. “They were awed by you too. Especially when you stopped to talk to them. You really reassured the parents that their children would be okay.”
“I just felt I had to say something to them. I saw the same look of distress on my parents’ faces when I was in the hospital. Sometimes, people go there because their child is sick, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end. I may not have been ISA material after my own heart valve replacement, but I think I didn’t do too bad after all.”
Scarlet glanced at her, smiling. “I’d say you did pretty good!”
She smiled back “I can’t believe it’s been twenty years already…” she chuckled. “Don’t tell Adam, but I had the biggest crush on my handsome cardiologist at the time. He was an expert in robot-assisted surgery, from Australia don’t you know! Top of his field and everything… I was devastated when I was declared fit enough and didn’t have to do visits anymore. For this nine-year old girl, he was a true knight in shining armor.”
“Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me.” Scarlet assured her.
The return trip was uneventful. They decided to stop somewhere to grab a bite to eat before heading back to the Spectrum ground service facility in Heathrow and catching the shuttle up to Skybase. The holiday season definitely looked promising so far.
Captain Black had waited for the Spectrum officers to leave the hospital before making his move. He could have tried something to get rid of them, but the setting was wrong and they would have spotted him right away. Besides, the impact would be even greater if his attack could also include White and his wife. It was better to wait a couple of days… and set up the premises in the meantime.
He walked into the gift shop and browsed for a little while. Finally picking a plush toy from the display, he paid for it, adopting a non-threatening, slightly worried expression like many other customers the attendant had seen before him.
He then made his way down corridors, the toy still in his hand, looking like a concerned relative searching for a small patient. In reality, he was scanning the location, mapping possible exits and places to hide for when he would come back two days later.
He would also need some inside help, he figured, both to let him know about the Spectrum visit schedule and to assist in taking care of the targets. An orderly would do. As he walked down a hallway, Black spotted the perfect candidate, a middle-aged man who looked rather strong, and old enough to have a senior status that granted him access pretty much anywhere. Black followed him at some distance, mentally noting the numbers on doors they passed. When the orderly entered a supply room, the ex-Spectrum agent saw his chance. He stepped into the doorway, knocking on the doorframe to announce his presence but blocking the exit at the same time.
The orderly turned around. Black plastered an apologetic expression on his face and softened his voice. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you can spare an extra blanket? I’m visiting with my niece who’s in room 306 and she seems to be cold…”
When Conrad Lefkon made an effort, he could show a surprisingly high level of charisma. That hadn’t stopped because of what he was now. The orderly smiled. “Sure thing, let me see here,” he said, turning around to search through his supplies.
Black closed the door and locked it, an evil glint in his eye. He put the plush toy on a nearby shelf, before moving stealthily behind his victim. The orderly was dead before his head touched the floor.
Moments later, Black exited the supply room, the plush toy in his hand again as if nothing had happened. The orderly followed soon after, going about his chores, but with a slightly automated way of moving around.
The hall of the top floor of the United Nations building in London was mostly deserted. Colonel White stood close to the double doors, waiting for Lady Grey to finish her last meeting before her vacation. He was dressed in a pair of trousers and a casual jacket.
Scarlet and Green stood a little farther away in an attempt to give him some privacy, but checking the surroundings regardless. Green noticed how her commanding officer was standing in a seemingly calm manner, but the rhythmic drumming of his fingers on his leg, as subtle as it was, betrayed his nervousness. “I didn’t think I could find something so cute and sad at the same time,” she commented to her field partner in a low voice. “Simone was right when she said they’re entitled to more privacy. This is awful. He should be able to surprise his wife as she leaves work, and greet and kiss her without an audience.”
Scarlet, more used to such assignments than she was, put his hands in his jean pockets. “I know, but it’s how it works. Just look away when Lady Grey comes out of the conference room. It’ll be better once we’re in the car, and even more at Greenslade Manor, where we’ll have the security system to back us up.”
The young woman checked her watch. “The meeting is about to end. Are you going to get the car while I stay here to accompany the colonel and Lady Grey?” she asked.
“I can. Will you be all right on your own?”
Green nodded and Scarlet went to have a few words with his commanding officer before making his way to one of the elevators. She watched him go, resisting the urge to touch her sidearm hidden under her tunic. Captain Ochre had lent her the concealed holster and weapon—Captain Blue’s were too bulky for her—and had made sure she practiced quite a bit with it under different clothes beforehand.
She could not help but smile at the thought that she, the computer geek, would be wearing the weapon strapped to her thigh under her evening dress at the posh charity dinner White and his wife were going to attend two days later. Her smile widened when she remembered Blue had watched the footage of that type of training with much interest, not to mention what he had done afterwards… she forced herself to think about something else. She hadn’t seen her partner in nearly a week and this wasn’t helping.
The doors to the conference room opened and the first participants came out, chatting casually. Green became more alert, but the situation was clearly non-threatening. White didn’t take much interest in the people walking past him, but he perked up when he saw his wife approaching. Green told herself she would follow Scarlet’s advice, but couldn’t help peeking to see how Lady Grey would react. She looked delighted and almost skipped forward to reach her husband.
They talked in low voices, joined hands and touched their foreheads together, and somehow it felt more intimate than if they had kissed right there in front of everyone. There has to be a way to get her to visit Skybase once in a while, Green thought, scanning around to give them privacy.
The ride down in the elevator was quiet. Green noticed that the colonel and his wife were still holding hands. If anything, they drew closer on their way down; the young woman remembered that it was how they had met, perhaps even in that very same elevator. Would she be able to do that thirty years or so from now, walk up to the reception desk downstairs where she had seen Blue’s imposing silhouette for the first time and still be holding his hand? She hoped so.
The unmarked sedan was waiting near the entrance when they stepped out. Scarlet was standing next to it. He greeted Lady Grey with his irresistible Metcalfe smile and moved forward to open the rear door for her, but White beat him to it. Then the older man went around the car to sit next to his wife. “Looks like you’re riding shotgun,” Scarlet said to Green with an amused glint in his eyes.
“Guess so!” She added in a whisper: “I would have felt bad separating them anyway.”
“True.” He opened the car door for her. “Lieutenant…”
“Thank you, Captain,” she replied solemnly before taking her seat.
Scarlet took his place behind the wheel and soon they were off. The drive to Gloucestershire was eventless and mostly quiet at first, since Colonel White and Lady Grey were seemingly content in savoring each other’s presence. Then, as if they realized they weren’t alone in the car, they began to talk to the two Spectrum agents in the front. Lady Grey did most of the talking, actually, enquiring about Scarlet’s and Green’s plans for the holiday season and explaining what was planned for the few days they were together.
Green listened and participated in the conversation, but couldn’t help thinking that this whole assignment promised to be rather boring, aside from visiting the children’s hospital. What do I tell Adam? Be grateful for uneventful days? Perhaps I should follow that advice myself, she thought.
She repeated those words of wisdom like a mantra the following day when the most exciting moment for both Spectrum agents was a game of pool in the recreation room and some last minute arrangements for the hospital visit the following day. Scarlet declared that this was probably going to be one of the shortest mission reports he would ever have to write.
The next morning , they all packed in the Cheetah available at Greenslade Manor to travel to Bristol. The vehicle was not as roomy as the sedan, but it went with the uniforms, not to mention provided some leeway for parking and maneuvering if needed. Both women sat in the tighter seats in the back, grateful that their evening outfits had already been taken to the venue by Lady Grey’s ever-efficient assistant.
The Cheetah was easy to spot with its bright red color and unique shape. And apparently, some of the little patients were waiting for their arrival because they were at the windows, pointing and even waving at them. White waved back with a smile. “Can’t believe it’s been nearly thirty years since you brought me here for the first time, Dee,” he murmured.
Lady Grey stretched out and touched her husband’s shoulder in a loving way. He reached up to put his hand over hers, squeezing it gently.
“I managed to get the journalists to agree to wait until the dinner tonight for the official statements and pictures. We just have to make a quick visit to Katie’s office to sign the administrative papers for the donations. Then we can spend time with the children in peace after that,” she commented.
“Good. The less I see the press around Spectrum, the better I feel.”
“It was to be expected, Charles, Spectrum has become one of the larger benefactors for the foundation. Just think of the children you’re helping. They can buy a new robotized operating station because of it.”
He patted her hand before letting go of it. “Don’t mind me, I’m being a grumpy old man.”
Both Scarlet and Green managed to keep a straight face as if they hadn’t heard his comment. Good thing the car was equipped with a rear-view camera and not an actual mirror, the young woman thought. She couldn’t see her field partner’s eyes and it was better that way.
Instead of using the underground garage, Scarlet drove around the hospital complex and parked the car close to an entrance, positioning the Cheetah in a way that would make it easy to leave in case of an emergency.
The chief of staff was obviously waiting for them because she came out the door almost as soon as everyone was out of the car. She and Lady Grey greeted each other enthusiastically. “This way, ladies and gents,” she said, “We’ll go to the staff room right away.”
They walked along a few corridors, Scarlet waving through a ward window at a little boy he remembered seeing during his inspection run two days before. “Things are going well, aren’t they?” Lady Grey asked her friend, “Are you going to be ready in time, Katie?”
The other woman laughed, opening the door to her office. “We’re doing our best, but it’s been frantic today, especially since the children know Santa is coming over tomorrow for a visit.”
She motioned for everyone to sit at the central table. White and Lady Grey did; Scarlet remained close to the door and Green somewhat in between, even if they both knew the situation was not dangerous at all. “The scouting party was in full action this morning,” Katie continued, reaching into her desk to retrieve a small pile of files that she brought to the table.
“Scouting party?” Scarlet asked, intrigued, while White and Lady Grey were studying the papers, probably the fundraiser results and other administrative documents.
“The kids try to find the stash of presents. They choose volunteers amongst those who can walk around and they do their little investigations,” Katie explained.
“Are they any good at it?”
“Very. We’re running out of hiding places.” Katie’s tone of voice showed that she wasn’t annoyed at all by it. “Perhaps we could send the presents to Skybase next year,” she added, laughing.
Lady Grey raised her head, smiling.
“Don’t give her ideas, Katie,” White said firmly, waving a warning finger in his wife’s face. “No,” he stated, before turning to wave his finger at Green and repeating his “no” in a stern voice.
He didn’t miss the look both women exchanged and rolled his eyes as he walked towards the door. “Maybe they’ll forget in a year from now?” Scarlet suggested in a low voice, trying to be encouraging.
“I wouldn’t be so lucky,” White muttered back. “They’ll probably have a delivery plan with an Albatross ready by then.”
Scarlet didn’t even try to hide his smile.
The visit with the children lasted longer than they thought. Not that they minded. They took the time to sit and talk with those who could gather in the play room, answering questions, playing silly games, even signing the cast of little Geoffrey, who had taken a really bad fall on a hiking trail (and learned a valuable lesson about remaining on the marked paths at the same time).
They shared shortbread and milk with everyone, which turned into a giggle fest when Colonel White ended up with a milk moustache that, according to little Timothy, matched his uniform perfectly. White played along rather convincingly, but it was obvious to the adults that he had done it on purpose.
Once they were done, they walked along the corridors, visiting with the other patients who couldn’t leave their rooms, providing that they weren’t bothering them or disturbing their treatments. Some of the parents were there, including one of those Green had talked to on the inspection run, and they were delighted to tell the young woman that she had been right, and their daughter was showing signs of improvement already. Impulsively, Green gave the little girl her personal contact address to get news later on and see how her healing would go.
Katie was with them for a while, but had gone back to her office to finalize some details for the evening’s event. She met with them again as they were departing for the dinner venue, where they would use the suite to change and get ready. White and Lady Grey also wanted to review their speeches and still had some time to do that. Katie walked with them up to the exit, said her farewells for now, then returned to work.
The orderly watched them go by, a friendly, yet slightly distant expression on his face. The situation was definitely not ideal to do anything. That “shortbread tea” event had been added at the very last minute on that day and the Spectrum guests had not ventured away from more crowded areas. He had counted on them going to one of the places where the presents were located, either to have a look or drop off some more. Then, he could have trapped them there and taken care of them. Even only one or two of them would have been a small victory.
All is not lost, we can still have opportunities. They will relax their guard if the threat does not come right away.
The orderly blinked, not afraid or surprised by the low, haunting voice he heard in his head. The instructions had simply changed. Not that he cared. He would be ready when the Mysterons would need him.
“Scarlet to Skybase, come in.”
Green paused in putting lipstick on and listened through the open bathroom door for a second before finishing her task. She could hear her field partner as he talked to Captain Ochre, who was in charge while the colonel was on vacation. First, they discussed the fact that Skybase was currently following its plot and moving over the Atlantic, then Scarlet issued his report of the situation so far.
Giving herself one last look and fluffing her hair—she had let the ends curl a bit and it looked quite festive—Green walked into the living area of the suite. Scarlet, his Spectra-tech open in front of him, was currently explaining that the evening might end rather late because there would be some speakers, then dinner, and then probably some dancing.
“That’s fine, just send a short notification when you’re back in your suite,” Ochre said. “With any luck, the Old Man will be tired and you can sleep in tomorrow.”
“I don’t know about that... he’s surprisingly tough. He’s probably going to want to go for a jog around the block first thing in the morning,” Scarlet commented.
“I hope you have your sneakers with you because you’re the one who’s going if he ever does,” Green said.
Scarlet made a face, but beckoned to her with his head. Green walked to him, peeked over his shoulder at the Spectra-tech display and gasped in delight at seeing Captain Blue standing next to Ochre. “You’re home!” she exclaimed.
“Got in a few hours ago,” Blue replied, a grin lighting up his naturally stern expression.
“Remember guys, we’re here,” Ochre piped in, giving Scarlet an amused glance.
Blue made a quick hand gesture and Green responded with a subtle nod of her head. “This won’t take long,” she added for Scarlet’s benefit and she moved to her appointed bedroom with a swish of her elegant lavender and gold dress, taking her own Spectra-tech with her.
Scarlet saw Blue leave for the Observation deck, already dialing. “Now you see them, and now you don’t!” he commented.
Ochre shrugged. “Let the lovebirds go. We were done anyway. Send the notification, and then just a heads up of what’s planned. By then, we’ll have completed the maneuvers to move Skybase to its new location and send you the coordinates.”
“S.I.G.,” Scarlet acknowledged.
He closed the Spectra-tech and put it in his trouser pocket. He was adjusting his tie when the door to the master bedroom opened and Lady Gray came out, smiling. “Are we all set to go?” she asked.
“Pretty much. Serena’s tucking Adam in for the night but she should be back any moment now.” He smiled when she nudged him in a playful chiding. “May I say, Lady Grey, you look charming tonight,” he added.
“Thank you for flattering an old woman’s ego.”
“I don’t see any old woman in here. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She laughed a little. “I thought your name was Paul, not Mario,” she commented.
He smiled, surprised. Apparently, she knew quite a bit about her husband’s officers… White joined them just before Green’s door opened and she emerged, looking a little worried when she saw that everyone seemed ready. “I didn’t take too long, did I?” she asked.
“Not at all. We’ve only just beaten you to it,” Lady Grey assured her.
“Right. I’ll lead the way,, unless you want to do it, Paul?”
“No, that’s fine,” Scarlet replied, before they all exited the suite.
They made their way to the reception hall, Scarlet staying a little ahead of them to open doors, while Green brought up the rear. Katie was by the entrance, welcoming the attendees and exchanging pleasantries with them. She spotted the small group and waved at them, complimenting Lady Grey about her sharp-looking dark red attire.
“We have reasons to celebrate, I thought it was appropriate to wear a festive color!” the colonel’s wife replied.
They were interrupted by a few journalists who wanted to take pictures for their articles. Scarlet and Green tactfully moved away for a moment, making sure they were not in the frame, but continued to look around nevertheless.
Once the journalists approached other attendees, Katie moved to open the conference room door and Scarlet went ahead of her to do it instead, scanning the room as he did. “Thank you Captain,” she began, as they backed away quickly to avoid a catering employee coming out at a brisk pace. “I think they’re a little flustered that we decided to delay the dinner till after the speeches. It’s our fault, really, we did it at the last minute,” she explained as they weaved around the tables to reach their seats.
“I suppose they had to rearrange their serving schedule and put away the dishes if they were out already, I’d probably be flustered as well,” Lady Grey commented.
Some of the other people from the hospital were already seated when they arrived. White held his wife’s chair for her to sit down and Scarlet did the same for Green, while Katie was off again to oversee other arriving attendees. “Does she ever slow down?” Green asked, amused.
A man sitting across from her at the table shook his head, laughing. “No, never,” he stated.
As other people arrived and settled down, they continued talking around the table. The jolly-looking man was Doctor Raymond Slaner, one of the radiologists at the hospital. He talked a little about his work with the children, then the unit they were getting with the money. Lady Grey seemed to know him because she was participating actively in the conversation, asking about his family and plans for the Christmas holidays. Apparently, he was to play the role of Santa Claus the following day for the children, and bring them the presents hidden around the hospital, then he was off for a two-week break with his wife and sons in Italy. He could have left earlier, but wanted to do this, saying he enjoyed it too much to miss.
As soon as everyone was seated, the first announcement began. The hospital director gave a heartfelt, but longish speech about the season and the needs of his institution; unfortunately, he set the pace for most speakers after him. Looking around once in a while to scan the room, Green noticed the caterers by the entrance, one of them fidgeting a little, probably because their serving schedule was changed and she hoped everything would be at the right temperature and ready on time.
The last speaker was applauded with much enthusiasm, but it wasn’t clear whether it was because he announced an additional amount for the hospital or because it meant that the food was on its way. The waiters and waitresses moved efficiently between all tables, serving the guests in an impressive display of coordination considering they were dealing with a choice of three menus. At first, Green felt a little overwhelmed with all the comings and goings, but she could see that Scarlet was not nervous and it helped her relax somewhat and even enjoy the pheasant in a puff pastry that was served to her.
Others, including Colonel White, had selected the pheasant; Lady Grey had opted for the prosciutto-wrapped halibut and both Dr. Slaner and Scarlet had chosen the beef tenderloin—probably in hopes of having something a little more substantial on their plates—that also featured a salad made to look like a bouquet of flowers. Dr. Slaner leant towards Scarlet and exchanged a few words with him. They both laughed at their own private joke before starting to eat. Green had to hold back a chuckle herself at imagining what Blue would have done with the cucumber “flower pot” not to mention the amount of complaining he would have done later.
As expected, the rest of the evening was uneventful and typical of any social gathering of the sort. There was some entertainment around dessert time, then some dancing, in which both Spectrum agents participated a few times separately while the other was keeping an eye on things. No major incident came to disturb the celebration, save for a few guests who had a little too much to drink and began singing Christmas carols next to a table where an impressive Christmas tree made of macaroons was displayed (and was slowly losing its panache as it was being depleted as the evening went along).
The group returned to the large suite late and after Scarlet scanned it, they all stepped inside. Everyone looked tired and appreciated Lady Grey’s decision to stay there for the night. If the men were less enthused by the prospective shopping she had planned for the following day, they didn’t say anything about it. “We don’t have a set time tomorrow, so you can relax,” she stated.
“It’s your vacation, you decide what to do. We’ll adapt to the situation,” Green assured her.
White squeezed his executive officer’s shoulder briefly as he walked past her. “We’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
“Goodnight, children,” Lady Grey added before she closed the master bedroom door behind her.
“Goodnight,” Green called out, raising her hand in a farewell gesture.
Scarlet, standing next to her, blinked. “Did she just call us ‘children’?” he asked in a low voice, his mouth stretching into an incredulous smile.
“Uh-huh… she’s probably tired… but technically, we’re young enough I guess…” She sighed. “Ugh. I don’t know what I want to get rid of the most, my shoes or my holster,” she muttered.
“Well, you can use the bathroom first if it helps you feel better, I’ll report to Skybase in the meantime,” Scarlet offered.
“Thanks Paul, you’re a star.”
She went to her room, kicking her shoes off right away and replacing them with slippers. Then, she removed her thigh holster and put it away carefully before gathering the items she needed to get ready for bed and heading for the bathroom across the hallway. She tried not to take too long, then crossed the hallway again to find Scarlet’s door ajar. She knocked on the frame lightly, then pushed the door open to find him sitting on his bed. He had taken his jacket and tie off and had unfastened a couple of buttons on his shirt. He looked uncertain about something. “What’s wrong?” she asked, frowning in worry.
“I don’t know… I feel a little lousy. At first, I thought it was because my tie was too tight, but…” he gestured toward his now free throat and shook his head.
Green walked into the room. “Is it the Mysterons?”
He shook his head again. “It doesn’t feel the same.”
“Did you binge on that macaroon tree? Even you can’t come out unscathed from eating all that sugar and artificial coloring,” she teased with a lopsided smile.
“No, it didn’t look all that appetizing. Besides, I would have had to go past the carolers.” He held his stomach, grimacing. “Wow, this hurts!”
“I have antacids in my travel bag. Would they work on you?”
“They won’t last for long, but they might kick start the retrometabolization process.”
She reached out to touch his forehead to see if he was feverish. It reminded him of how protective and maternal she had been toward Colonel White on the Proteus (and even more so afterwards on the Chinese ship while they were waiting for a Hummingbird to carry them back to Skybase) and he smiled despite the pain. “I’ll survive,” he commented. “I just need to sleep it off.”
“Well, okay, but don’t hesitate to call out if you need anything.”
She went to her room to retrieve the antacids while Scarlet prepared for bed; when he came back, she was putting a cup of liquid on the nightstand. “I made you mint tea. I had some in my bag. It’s gonna help you. I brought you little packs of sugar, I wasn’t sure if you put some in it.”
He walked past her to sit on the bed, kissing her cheek as he did. “Thanks, mom.”
She shook her finger at him. “I’m serious. If it gets worse, call out,” she stated, starting to leave.
He nodded. “Leave the door ajar, please.”
She left the room with a wave of her hand. Scarlet took the antacid and grimaced at the chalky taste. He took a sip of the tea to help it pass, but grimaced again. How can she drink that stuff? he asked himself, wondering for a moment what was worse; enduring the pain or drinking the herbal tea.
Green woke up to a silent apartment. She took a few seconds to get her bearings, stretched, and got up. She prepared silently for the day, then went to check on Scarlet through the half-open door. He was lying in bed with his eyes closed. His face looked relaxed and she figured he was feeling better. She smiled. Whereas Blue’s face still looked stern when he slept, Scarlet’s looked younger, almost vulnerable. She wasn’t sure Spectrum’s premier and most fearless agent would be delighted to know that…
He stirred, then opened his eyes. “Good morning,” he said in a low, surprisingly awake voice.
“Did I wake you up? I’m sorry.”
He sat up and shook his head. “I have been awake for a while, I was just being lazy.”
“How are you feeling?”
“As good as new! And famished, honestly.”
Retrometabolization took a lot of energy, he had found out with time, and he had quite a healthy appetite, especially after healing. Green smiled. “Well, you’re in luck. Lady Grey’s assistant made sure the fridge and pantry were filled with breakfast stuff! I saw that yesterday when I made your tea.”
She eyed the mug on the night table and saw he hadn’t drunk it all. Scarlet managed to look a little sheepish about it, but she didn’t seem offended. “Adam doesn’t like it either. He said it tastes like swill.”
“I’d say old grass clippings, rather.” He avoided the flick she aimed at his head, chuckling. “I drank half of it!” he protested.
She picked up the mug and left the room, giving him an amused look. While he got dressed and shaved in the bathroom, she went to take items out of the pantry and refrigerator as quietly as she could. Lady Grey’s assistant had provided them with a wide choice of pastries, some eggs, milk, cheese, fruit and even bacon.
Scarlet entered the kitchen and eyed the food on the counter appreciatively. “How about an omelet? We seem to have interesting ingredients here,” he said.
“Sure. Knock yourself out.” She started the coffee brewer, then set the small table in the dining area while he sliced cheese and cut bacon into small pieces.
“If we had potatoes, I could have made home fries,” he commented as he worked.
“Oh, yum! I must remember that for our vacation. I promised Adam I’d make him chicken-fried steak for breakfast one morning and that would go great with it.”
Scarlet gave her an odd look. “Chicken-fried uh?” he half mouthed, half uttered aloud.
She laughed at his confusion. “With peppered gravy. Totally unhealthy, but darn it it’s the Holidays and I figured we can go Texas all the way for once.”
She continued to set the table, but looked up when she heard the door at the end of the hallway open. Colonel White, dressed in jeans and a dark grey pullover over a shirt, stepped into the living area. If she was surprised to see him dressed so casually, she didn’t show it. “Good morning, Sir!” she said with a smile before adding anxiously, “We didn’t wake you up did we?”
“Not at all. However, the smell of coffee and whatever you’re making convinced us to come out. Good morning,” he replied.
Lady Grey wasn’t far behind and sat at the table after greeting everyone. Green moved to fetch cups of coffee for the newcomers, only to be stopped by White who stepped in front of her. “Please sit down,” he told her.
When she hesitated, he shooed her away with his hand. “Cream and sugar, if I remember correctly?” he asked, before getting another cup of coffee and setting it in front of her.
Scarlet turned away from the stove for a second, looking quite amused to see the young woman speechless. He exchanged a few words in a low voice with his commanding officer and they both settled into an effective cooking and serving routine that had everyone sitting at the table in only a few moments. “You should have a holiday meal like that for your senior officers, Charles, everyone brings something and you eat casually, enjoying everyone’s company,” Lady Grey suggested.
“That’s a good idea, actually!” Green exclaimed.
She almost suggested that it would also be a good idea to invite Lady Grey to Skybase as a guest at the same time, but thought it wise to let the idea macerate a little. She couldn’t rush this and risk White shutting down about the idea right from the start.
The conversation changed to the presents for Scarlet’s nephew and Blue’s nephews and niece, and Lady Grey thought it would be interesting to get them something “from overseas” and was more than happy to suggest perfect places to do that. However, Scarlet was spared from giving his opinion on the matter by the sudden ring of a portable phone. Lady Grey stood up. “That must be Victoria, she said she’d ring me to tell me when she’s arriving tonight, she said, adding: “Don’t stand up, darling,” when White rose from his seat with her.
Her cheerful expression turned into a frown when she looked at the phone screen. Still seated at the table, Scarlet, Green and White looked at her as she said an uncertain “Hello?” into the device.
She listened for a few seconds before cutting across whoever was babbling away: “Calm down, Katie, one thing at a time. I’ll put you on the speakerphone so we can all hear you.”
“This morning has turned into a complete debacle!” Katie’s obviously stressed voice said as Lady Grey sat back down and put the phone on the table. “First, two of the nurses in cardiology called in sick with an awful case of stomach flu, then Dr. Kendral and nurse Lawson from oncology… to top it off, Dr. Slaner caught it as well and can’t come over! I’m understaffed, I have a hard time managing the duty rota on such short notice and close to people’s holidays, and now Santa can’t meet with the little ones!”
They heard muffled voices in the background and Katie let out a sound between a groan and a sigh. “Dr. Sinclair as well… goodness…”
“Is there anything we can do?” Lady Grey asked.
“I’m in damage-control mode. I think I’ll be able to scramble to find some replacements for the personnel, but I can’t do that, plus handle the present distribution.” She sighed. “I need to find someone to replace Dr. Slaner… I can’t let the children down like this…”
An odd silence fell on the group around the phone. Then, Scarlet said in a quiet voice: “I’ll do it.”
He realized that he had just more or less committed the group to going back to the hospital despite it not being the original plan for the day, and flushed, looking at White. “Sir?”
“Captain Scarlet?” Katie asked, hope clearly showing in her voice.
White wiped his mouth with his napkin, looking back at his officer. “It seems you’ve beaten me at offering to do it,” he said, smiling at the younger man’s obvious relief.
“I could kiss you!” Katie’s voice sounded ecstatic. “Both of you! All of you!”
Lady Grey offered to call another of their mutual friends to help and both women agreed on a time to arrive and get ready for the activities. The call ended in a better way than it had started and Katie returned to her search for replacement personnel while the others finished their breakfast. Then, Lady Grey stood up to go and call her friend. Scarlet and Green washed the dishes brought by White as he cleared the table, then went to Scarlet’s room to contact Skybase and let them know about the change of plan.
They both sat on the bed to better see the screen of the Spectra-tech. Lieutenant Silver’s face appeared, but was soon joined by Ochre and, rather unsurprisingly, Blue.
“There’s a change of plans on our side,” Scarlet said, “Several of the hospital staff got ill and we’re going to help with Santa’s visit.
“The staff are ill?” Ochre asked.
“Some of them. They dropped like flies this morning, apparently.”
“Actually… you were sick too, Paul, just not as badly. Come to think of it... all of the people named were at the dinner yesterday... could there be a link?” Green asked.
“You weren’t affected, and neither were Lady Grey or the colonel.”
“But we didn’t eat the same thing. Dr. Slaner had the tenderloin, as did I, and as did the oncologist...” Scarlet frowned. “Did the others? Do you think it could be intentional?”
“You mean the Mysterons?” Ochre asked.
Blue rolled his eyes. “They can level off cities or blow buildings up, but they’d waste time and energy to give the runs to a dozen nurses and doctors at a random charity dinner? Come on!” he protested.
“I didn’t need that mental image, thank you,” Ochre muttered.
“Well, Adam does have a point. If it was their goal to eliminate people by contaminating the food, why take only a few out? Why not poison everything?” Green argued, “They would have gotten both of us, the colonel, his wife, not to mention a few of the local top political people, eminent doctors...”
Scarlet shook his head. “It didn’t feel like a Mysteron threat. I didn’t feel woozy in that way. It’s probably just a bad coincidence.”
“So what’s the plan for today? Do we take this into account? I take it you’ll have more details when you actually go to the hospital?” Ochre asked.
“Yes, we should. Lady Grey’s assistant is supposed to come here and pick our things up to bring them back to Greenslade Manor. I suppose this won’t change. Then we squeeze ourselves back into the Cheetah and head for the hospital again. In a way it’s not so bad, since it’s unexpected. If the Mysterons had planned something, it won’t work anymore. They didn’t know I was going to offer to play Santa Claus for the kids.”
Blue laughed. “I want to see pictures!”
“Won’t the kids be suspicious to see the others there, but not Scarlet?” Ochre asked.
“He was called on another mission and had to leave, you know how those things are…” Scarlet provided.
“How can you play Santa and still act as a bodyguard, though?” Blue interjected. “You’ll have kids on your lap and knowing that gorgeous person sitting next to you, she’ll be pretty involved as well. Who’s going to look after the old man?”
“He’s going to be with us all the time. I… think. I don’t see why he’d be elsewhere,” Green said.
“If I take a Hummingbird, I could be there in about two hours and serve as backup,” Blue offered. “It’s not like we’re swamped in work over here anyway.”
“You can meet us at the hospital. Bring a change of clothes though, just in case the colonel decides to keep you until tomorrow so you’ll be our transport back to Skybase,” Green commented.
“And I will be waiting for your next report, which hopefully will be that nothing is happening,” Ochre concluded.
Scarlet and Green signed off and went back to the living area, where they saw that Lady Grey’s assistant had arrived. Green offered to help him with the luggage and the two Spectrum trunks containing the uniforms. They had hesitated a bit at first about this arrangement, but the man was beyond any reproach and the trunks could only be opened using a combination and fingerprint, so whoever might steal them would be wasting their time. The Cheetah was not big enough to accommodate four people plus the trunks, so it was the best they could do.
The two women squeezed into the back of the bright red vehicle again, Lady Grey wondering aloud how her husband’s officers—many of them tall and athletic men—could even think of fitting in there
“The back seats were almost an afterthought,” Green explained. “They weren’t supposed to be there, and you saw how we had to push the backrests to gain some room. The Cheetahs were not meant to be passenger cars. The additional weight and different distribution on the surface makes them less maneuverable at high speeds and even less so with the booster.”
“Well, let’s hope we don’t have to pursue anyone at this point, then!” Lady Grey commented.
“Don’t worry; when the seats are pulled back like this, the boosters are deactivated. And it will remain that way until Captains Blue and Grey go to do some tests on new models the R&D department are working on in February, ” Scarlet added.
Katie wasn’t at the door to greet them, as she was probably still trying to get her missing workers and overseeing things. They found her in the same staff room they were at the day before, on the phone with a medical temp employment agency, thanking profusely whoever was on the other end of the line. She hung up, saw the newcomers, and gave them a relieved smile. “Thank goodness!” she exclaimed, rushing towards Scarlet and taking his face into her hands to kiss him.
He was so surprised by her gesture that he let her do it, laughing a little. Katie then proceeded to hug and kiss the others before she updated them on the situation: “I was able to get three nurses, and one of our other cardiologists agreed to postpone his holidays to help… of all the times for this to happen…”
“Do you know what caused this?” Lady Grey asked.
“Would you believe it if I told you that the catering service contacted us this morning after I rang you? They said they fear that when we changed the evening’s activities, they did their best to accommodate us, but apparently, some of the plates were already out—those with the tenderloins—so the salad bouquets became contaminated with the dressing being exposed to warmer temperatures, they were not picked back up right away… and you know how that story ended.” She looked at Scarlet. “I remember you had the tenderloin yourself, Captain. You must have had one of the fresher ones, because you certainly look as healthy as a horse! Poor Raymond wasn’t so lucky. His holiday abroad is pretty much ruined.”
“That’s awful… did they at least apologize?” Green asked.
“They did. Profusely. But it’s caused problems to many people.” Katie lowered her tone of voice. “Apparently, the mayor was supposed to attend another function today, but he had to cancel, as he can’t stray far away from the loo…”
Green covered her mouth with her hand to hide her grin and made a commendable effort not to laugh, remembering Blue’s earlier comment. “I hope they all feel better soon.”
“So do I, I can’t afford to work with this skeleton crew for very long… thank you for coming back, really. I wasn’t sure when one of the orderlies suggested that I called you, I didn’t want to be a bother.”
“He was right. We’re happy to be here. What can we do to help?” Lady Grey asked.
“We have to finish setting up Santa’s Grotto, prepare the snacks and refreshments in case the little ones want anything, fetch the presents from all of the hiding spots, and you, young man,” she addressed Scarlet, “have to dress the part.”
“I can’t just dress up while you do all this work!” he protested.
“The kids can’t see you, Paul. Captain Scarlet was called elsewhere, remember?” Green said.
“I think we can manage to carry a few presents around on our own,” White added.
“Will you be fine?” Scarlet glanced at his field partner as he asked his question.
“Yes I will. There’s no threat.”
“All right. Let’s get started!”
Katie showed Scarlet where the costume was, before excusing herself and taking the others out to where they were needed. He looked in the box on the small couch and took the items out to have a better look. The red suit was made of thick, rich-looking velvet. Looking at the pants, he knew right away that they would be too big, but he figured that they might be that way to accommodate the padded belly he would have to strap on. The pants were a little on the short side, but it shouldn’t show if they were shoved into the boots, which were actually gaiter-like contraptions he would put over his own shoes, which were conveniently black. There was the customary fake, yet luxurious white beard, a matching wig and a hat, and some white gloves that were too small for his hands. He figured everyone would forgive him for not wearing them. There was a small bag containing some stage make-up, probably to redden his cheeks; he hoped someone would help him with that because he didn’t want to look like a clown.
Scarlet removed his shirt, folding it neatly and putting it on the couch armrest, but kept his undershirt and jeans. The suit pants would surely accommodate them and were not made to hold his belt and concealed holster anyway. He strapped the padded belly on, feeling a little ridiculous, and pulled the top of the red pants over the bottom part of it, tightening the draw string to hold everything in place.
Sitting down to fasten the gaiters was a little tricky with the added bulk of the belly, but he managed to do it by the time Katie came back. “Red really suits you,” she commented with a smile.
“Perhaps I’m Santa in disguise all year long.” He gave her his Metcalfe smile, before adding: “I will need your help with something, if you don’t mind?”
He pulled the make-up bag out of the box and showed it to her. Katie laughed and went to sit across from him on the coffee table. “It will be my pleasure, Captain.”
She didn’t do much, but he felt like his face was covered in blush and could feel it on his skin. I can’t believe girls go through this each day, he thought, leaning a little forward so that she could apply some white powder to his dark eyebrows.
“A very convincing effect, if I say so myself. It will be even more stunning with the wig and beard on,” Katie stated, standing up. There’s a mirror behind you next to the lockers if you want to see.”
Scarlet stood up as well and went to stand in front of the mirror to get a look. His cheeks and nose were reddened as if he had been outside in the cold for a while—which was expected from Santa—but what got his attention even more was his now grayish eyebrows. He had the fleeting thought that it might be the only way they would ever be this color and it struck a chord inside of him. I’m probably the only guy on Earth actually wishing for my hair to turn gray, he mused, reaching up to touch his brow.
“Don’t!” Katie warned, startling him. “You’ll smudge the effect!”
“Sorry,” he commented, looking sheepish, and went back to the couch to put on the rest of the costume.
He tried to push the dark thoughts aside as he dressed and tried to focus on the present. Should he change his voice? Should he talk with a different accent? He figured he should, since he was Santa and not Captain Scarlet. He was pretty decent at imitating his mother’s, so he decided to go with that.
As he went back to the mirror to adjust the wig, the door to the staff room opened slowly to reveal a little boy. He probably was one of the scouts Scarlet had heard about and was looking for the presents. He froze when he saw “Santa” in the room and gaped. Scarlet, relieved to have put the beard on before the wig, smiled at him.
Katie was about to say something, but the boy exclaimed: “Blimey!” and hurried back out.
Before the door closed, his shrill little voice added: “Santa is here!”
Scarlet’s mood improved immediately. He would make those children happy for the day and found out he could easily concentrate on that.
In the meantime, Colonel White, Lady Grey and Lieutenant Green were in the common play area, where some orderlies had installed Santa’s “throne,” which was basically one of the staff room armchairs that they had covered in some red fabric and garland to make it look more festive. “We need to set up a table for the refreshments and arrange the room for the presents and everyone to sit,” one of the orderlies said.
“Are the refreshments ready?” Lady Grey asked.
“Yes, they’re in the kitchen,” the orderly replied.
“Why don’t I go with you to fetch them? During that time, my husband and Serena can help with setting everything up here.”
White frowned at the idea of his wife going somewhere on her own. “Are you sure, darling?” he asked.
“Quite. It’s not like Simon here will get us lost.”
The orderly smiled, managing to look innocent. He had known the woman while he was alive; now that he was a replicant, he needed to still act the part. The colonel’s strict gaze remained on him for a while, then he sighed. “All right. But don’t overload yourself and take a serving cart if needed,” he said, before picking up a chair and placing it on one side of the room.
“We’ll be back shortly. Please prepare a table where we can put the items when we come back,” Lady Grey said, then left, putting a comforting hand on the orderly’s arm as they went.
They walked down a corridor, then took an elevator to a lower level, where the kitchen was located. “I hope you made sure that the food was kept at the appropriate temperature,” Lady Grey said, “We don’t want a repeat of what happened last night at the charity dinner.”
“No, we made sure everything would be ready and as expected,” the orderly replied, matching his pace with hers.
“What did you prepare for the lunch? I hope they’re allowed something festive.”
“We have chocolate and normal milk, juice, finger sandwiches, some chocolate pudding and little mince pies. We also have fruit—it will depend on the child, really.”
“It sounds quite bountiful!”
They entered the kitchen and went to the back where the large storage refrigerators were. The orderly opened the heavy door and stepped inside, hiding a smile when he heard Lady Grey follow him. “The trays are to your right,” he indicated. “I’ll go fetch a cart.
“Right. We’ll need it,” Lady Grey replied, stretching a little to look at the contents of a higher shelf.
The orderly exited the refrigerator… and closed the door, locking it with an audible click. Old fool, he thought, reaching out to turn up the control dial on the front of the large unit.
Green felt her Spectra-tech vibrate on her belt and picked it up to answer the call. “Lieutenant Green,” she said, stopping what she was doing to lean against the ‘throne’s’ armrest.
“Hello, beautiful. I’ve checked with Silver, and I can’t land really close once I’m there unless I use the helipad on the roof. Do you think you could see if the hospital will allow that?” Captain Blue’s voice said.
“I’d have to check with Lady Grey’s friend,” Green replied as White approached her to follow the conversation. “You can’t obstruct the helipad if there’s a medical need for air transport.”
“No, of course not.”
“You can go ask her right away,” White said, turning away to rearrange chairs and upholstery. He caught Green’s look of uncertainty and added in a slightly exasperated tone, “I can survive on my own for a few minutes, I doubt the cushions will attack me, Lieutenant.”
“I’m being shooed away,” she explained to Blue, straightening up and heading for Katie’s office a little further away.
White watched her go, then saw the orderly come back alone. “Where is my wife?” he asked, frowning.
“She’ll be on her way shortly with one of the kitchen helpers. They needed two carts for everything after all. I’ve come ahead to make sure there’s enough room and then we’ll start to fetch the presents,” the orderly replied, imperturbable as he uttered his lie.
The replicant still maintained his role perfectly when he asked White to help him fetch a first batch of presents. They carried in the colorful boxes and set them down in the allotted space. Each of them was labeled with a name and a room number, so that they would be easily recognizable. “This is going quite well, your help is truly welcome,” the replicant said, still playing his part.
“It’s our pleasure. It was more appealing than shopping, honestly,” White replied with a conspiratorial smile.
The replicant smiled back, but said nothing. He wondered for a moment if he should go to another location before trying anything, but the more he waited, the more there was a chance that the two other Spectrum agents would come back, so he decided against it. “Are you ready to get another batch?” he asked White.
“Lead the way, Simon.”
Both men headed down another corridor, toward another, farther, location. Some nurses watched them go by and one of them said: “There go Santa’s little helpers.”
White gave them an amused smile, but the orderly pretty much ignored them, intent on his task and scanning his host’s memories to locate the most isolated of the locations so that his victim would not suspect anything before it was too late.
Scarlet closed the door behind him and followed Green down the corridors to the play area. He couldn’t stand the waiting around and had decided to see the progress of the setup. If it wasn’t ready, he was sure that he would find some children to visit and talk to.
“I’ll have to stop by the security office to let them know about the Hummingbird. Then I’ll contact Adam to coordinate his arrival,” Green said.
“Tell him not to forget his elf costume,” Scarlet said, assuming his Santa voice.
She laughed. “I will, just to see the look on his face.” She lowered her voice and brought her head closer to his. “Are you sure you can keep that voice for the whole time?”
“Without any problem, child,” he assured her, the smile in his voice reaching his eyes. “And have you been nice this year?”
“Hmm… most of the time…”
He chuckled as they rounded the corner to reach the play area, then stopped. Neither Colonel White or Lady Grey were there and both Spectrum agents looked around, starting to worry. An older nurse, installing a red cloth on a table, smiled at them. “Welcome, Santa. We should be done soon. Lady Grey is on her way back with some vittles and Sir Charles went to get more pressies,” she explained, pointing at the small pile of boxes next to the “throne”.
“Have they been gone for a long time?” Green asked.
“No, only a few minutes,” the nurse said, then went to perform other duties.
“Why haven’t they waited, especially the colonel?” Green complained in a low voice. “He knows better than this!”
“He’s probably not very far,” Scarlet replied, scanning the area.
“Watch it. You lost your accent already,” she warned. “I’ll hurry down to security, then fetch them back. Won’t look too professional if we lose the people we’re supposed to protect.”
“Call me if you need help,” Scarlet stated as she left, then reverted to his Santa voice when he saw a little boy standing by the nurse station, staring wide-eyed at him: “Why, hello there!”
Overjoyed at being greeted rather than scolded, the boy limped forward, his uneven gait caused by a restraining contraption on one of his legs, and started talking the second Scarlet bent down to pick him up. ”Santa” went to sit on his “throne”, listening and nodding at the appropriate times, smiling when he saw that his new friend’s chattering had drawn more kids out of their rooms. He gestured to them and they slowly came out to settle around on the cushions and chairs while the hospital personnel bustled around to finish the setup as fast as possible.
Captain Black knew it was risky to appear in person at the hospital again, but with the failure of their first attempt at eliminating their targets, he had to make sure that this time they would succeed. In a way, the unexpected event at the charity dinner had played in the Mysterons’ favor and they would be fools not to take advantage of it, especially since everyone’s suspicion level was lowered at this point. The replicant was supposed to separate the Spectrum commander, his wife and his executive officer as much as he could, while Black himself would handle Scarlet, lure him towards the hospital’s incinerator and make sure he would be burned to a cinder with no way of putting him back together.
He walked back from the infirmary, both annoyed and glad that it was some distance away from the main hospital building. He would have to be stealthy in attacking Scarlet, but at least it would take Spectrum some time to figure out the Mysteron plan… and even longer to reach their premier agent. And once Scarlet was out of the way, it would be easier to pick off the others if the replicant hadn’t already done it.
He had considered luring his enemy to one of the chutes linked to the incinerator so that he would have to cover a smaller distance, but Scarlet could probably find a way to escape before it was too late and this wouldn’t do at all… a hostage? Black stopped. Not a child, Conrad Lefkon protested and the man staggered a bit under the mental struggle.
“Sir, are you all right?” a nurse asked as she passed him.
“I’ll be fine. It’s the emotions. You know how it is…” he mumbled, trying to move away, but she took his arm to steer him towards a small waiting area, where she sat him on a chair.
The nurse had her back to the entrance of the area and was hiding him from the corridor... which was actually practical when Lieutenant Green passed by purposefully and didn’t see him. He slouched a little in his seat so as not to attract her attention and addressed the nurse: “I’ll just sit here for a moment. Thank you for your help.”
She smiled. “Worried parents often forget to eat and sleep. Make sure you stop at the café for a bite before returning to your little one,” she advised.
“There’s also a nurse station down the hallway if you need help.”
“Thank you again.”
She gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and left. No hostages, Black decided. They were cumbersome and he didn’t have the time to battle Lefkon’s conscience about this. He remain seated a little while longer to make sure Green wasn’t close by, then left the waiting area to locate Scarlet.
Green was walking briskly towards where she had been told the kitchens were. After a quick trip to the security office, she had come back to the play area to see Scarlet with two children on his lap, listening attentively to them, yet no sign of either Lady Grey or Colonel White. Even if none of the personnel seemed worried about it, she was beginning to feel uneasy about the situation. Lady Grey had been gone the longest and unless there was a problem with the food, she should have been back by now. The older woman wasn’t exactly strong-looking, but she could obviously handle a rolling cart and there was no reason for her not to be back yet.
The ride down in the elevator seemed to take forever. Green stepped out quickly and turned into the mostly deserted hallway, where a worker confirmed that she was headed in the right direction.
No one was in the main kitchen, so Green proceeded into what looked like the storage area. She called out, but no one answered because it was deserted as well; the shelves were holding various food items, there were a couple of wheeled carts in there, and at the back, several large refrigerator units. Where is she? The young woman wondered, now truly worried. Perhaps one of the kitchen staff saw her…
She turned around to leave but stopped when she heard a faint thump behind her. She listened, motionless, wondering if she was hearing things, when she heard the thump again. It was coming from the back of the room… she blanched. No.
She rushed to the refrigerators and opened the door to the closest one… it was filled with produce, but otherwise looked absolutely normal. The second one was similarly filled and Green started feeling a little silly for thinking that someone was locked in there just like in the movies—she heard the thump again and it was closer.
The third door had the lock on and she flicked it away before pulling on the handle. She was met with a draft of freezing air and, to her horror, Lady Grey emerged from it. “Oh my goodness! What happened?” Green asked, taking her sweater off hurriedly to help the obviously shivering woman into it.
The sleeves were too long, but it was just as well, since it covered her hands. Lady Grey spoke while Green rubbed her arms in an attempt to warm her up: “I don’t know! I was looking at the trays of food while Simon was getting the cart and the next moment, the door closed! I thought he couldn’t figure the mechanism out and went to get someone, or that he was simply getting the cart and didn’t notice the door had closed, but it was taking quite some time...”
“Considering he was getting the presents with the colonel and said you were on your way back with another worker…” Green froze. “Aw, shoot!” She picked up her Spectra-tech as Lady Grey looked on worriedly, still rubbing her arms to get the circulation going. “Green to Scarlet, come in!”
There was no answer. Green repeated her call more urgently, instinctively starting to head back towards the play area. Lady Grey followed, trotting behind the younger woman to keep up but not complaining about it. Activating herself in that way was probably warming her up and she looked livelier as they boarded the elevator. “This wasn’t an accident, was it?” she asked grimly while the doors closed behind them.
“I truly hope it was,” Green replied, before pressing the button to the desired floor and trying to raise Scarlet again.
The area was slowly filling up with children even if nothing was ready yet. They didn’t care much about it and only had eyes for the man dressed in red who was holding court on his velvety chair. Scarlet was managing pretty well, not losing his accent for one second, and was currently delighting the children with a story about a little boy and his magical pet cat. Some of the staff were also there, listening and smiling at the cheerful tale.
Scarlet, caught up in his own game, was moving his arms about, acting out what he was saying when he felt a wave of nausea go through him. He lowered his arm. He knew the feeling too well and it definitely wasn’t yesterday’s salad. He swallowed, clearing his throat before looking down at little Jonathan sitting on his lap. “Um, this is a little embarrassing, but Santa has to go somewhere really quickly,” he said, looking contrite and silently asking a nearby nurse to take the little patient off of him. “I have to see what’s happening with my co-workers. I was called,” he whispered to her, hoping his white lie didn’t show.
As soon as Jonathan was off his knee and his I.V. pole moved aside, Scarlet rose up and dashed off down a corridor, muttering: “This shouldn’t take long.”
He thought he heard a child make a potty joke as he left, but didn’t pay attention to it. He struggled a bit with his suit, trying to reach his Spectra-tech while he hurried along, nearly hitting a rack of medical supplies as he rounded a corner. A few moments later, he turned again, nearing the elevators—and collided with Captain Black, who was coming from the other direction.
There was an awkward moment of silence as Black recognized Scarlet and looked him up and down with a somewhat disbelieving expression on his face, but he recovered quickly and smiled evilly. “Is this an effort to make Spectrum more sympathetic to the public?” he commented, obviously amused.
“I should have known you’d show up. Things were going too well. Was last evening a botched attempt from your masters?” Scarlet replied.
Black almost looked offended. “Why would the Mysterons bother with giving food poisoning to a dozen nurses and doctors at a charity dinner? Although I must say that it served us nicely, since you all came back here instead of returning to Greenslade Manor… although you seem to have lost them somewhere… shouldn’t you be looking for them at this point? Did you go hunting for presents on Christmas morning when you were a child?”
Scarlet lunged forward to try and catch Black but he was slowed down by his costume. Black escaped his grasp and turned to flee, but Scarlet grabbed onto Black’s sleeve, pulling him back. They struggled for a little while and Scarlet finally managed to catch Black in a stranglehold. “I don’t have time for this,” he said through tight lips.
“What kind of message are you giving the children?” Black grunted back.
“That Santa won’t tolerate evil men around them.”
At that moment, a nurse came out of a side room, alerted by the commotion. She let out a surprised and scared yelp, the tray she was holding clattering down to the floor. Black took advantage of the situation and freed himself.
He ran past the elevator doors, choosing to go for the stairs instead, pulling on a couple of I.V. poles that were lined up against the wall to make them fall and slow his pursuer down. Scarlet jumped over them in a surprisingly deft movement considering he was wearing the bulky Santa costume, but it was enough to make him reach the stairs too late to see if Black had gone up or down. He listened for any telltale footstep sounds for a few seconds, then his eye caught movement downwards and he wasted no more time, taking the steps down as fast as he could.
Two floors below, Black opened the door to exit the stairwell and turned right, only to realize he wasn’t in the location he expected. This corridor looked unfamiliar and was much busier than he would have liked… he weaved around some bewildered employees, whose confusion only increased when they saw Santa in full pursuit, and picked up speed in what he hoped was the crossway to reach the infirmary where the incinerator was located.
He ended up close to the hospital prayer room. Cursing under his breath, he took a left and saw an exit a few yards away. Change of plan, Black thought. It would take too long to try and backtrack to the incinerator now; however, he could still lure Scarlet away from the others while the orderly replicant took care of White and his pesky executive officer who thought she was a fully-fledged field agent.
He made a beeline for the door, avoiding another worker who only had time to move aside so as not to be hit by the incoming Scarlet as well, and exited the building, still at a run. He jumped down the few steps leading to the service road and parking location for personnel and service vehicles, then ran straight ahead, trying to scan the location and find anything that could help him escape the situation.
Unfortunately for him, Scarlet gained on him and yanked him back, trying to pull him to the ground to immobilize him. Both men rolled on the pavement, exchanging blows, not noticing a small car driving up the road in their direction. Inside was one of Katie’s emergency interns, who was trying to find a parking space. She slowed, then stopped, staring incredulously at Santa and some man fighting on the ground, then, rather unwisely, exited her car. “Stop that! Both of you! I’m calling the police!” she warned, pulling her phone out.
Black punched Scarlet in the stomach, which was ineffective because of the false belly, then tried for his face, knocking the gold-rimmed glasses off. Scarlet was stunned for a moment under the violence of the blow and Black struck again for good measure, before standing up and pushing the intern aside to climb aboard her car. “You can’t do that!” the woman protested, but she was cut off by Black shutting the door in her face and putting the car in reverse. “Oi! Come back here, you bloody—“
The car turned around in a screech of tires and sped off. Scarlet, now on his feet, reached for his Spectra-tech, successfully pulling it out of its holder. “Scarlet to Skybase, come in!” he exclaimed into the device.
“Scarlet, report,” came Silver’s voice almost immediately.
“Captain Black has just fled the hospital in a blue car, plate number…” he looked at the intern inquiringly and she recited the number. “I need you to locate him while I get the Cheetah.”
“I’m on it,” Silver said.
There was a short silence as Scarlet guessed that she was accessing local cameras and satellite feeds. “We’ll get your car back,” he assured the intern before running in the same direction Black had taken, as he knew the red car was not very far away.
“I have located him, Captain, he just turned on Horfield Road.”
“Good job, Lieutenant. Send the data to the Cheetah, and to Captain Blue’s Hummingbird as well. Where is he?”
“He’s currently over the Channel, he should be with you shortly. Sending data now.”
Ochre appeared behind Silver. “Where’s Green?” she asked
“I don’t know. She went to look for the colonel and his wife—“
“You lost the colonel and his wife?” Ochre cut him off.
“I’ve been kinda busy lately” Scarlet snapped back, reaching and unlocking the Cheetah.
The bulky suit was cumbersome, but he didn’t bother with it, hurrying to start the car and leave. The tracking information was already on the central screen, telling him where to go.
“Green’s not answering her Spectra-tech,” Silver said through the car’s audio system.
“Great,” Scarlet muttered.
“Blue to Scarlet, I’ve passed the coast and on my way to rendezvous with your location in about fifteen minutes,” Captain Blue’s voice suddenly sounded in the cabin.
“S.I.G. I’m going to need your help.” He concentrated on passing another car. “Lieutenant Silver, can you try to reach Lieutenant Green again?”
“Of course, Captain,” Silver replied.
“Why? What happened to her?” Blue asked, his tone of voice instantly showing worry.
“She went to get the colonel and his wife. Hopefully, it’s just a question of the signal being cut; who knows where those presents were. We’re taking Black away from her, at least we have that,” Scarlet explained.
He thought he heard Blue curse under his breath “We’ll go back to her as soon as we can, Adam,” he assured the American officer, before concentrating on his current task, happy to see on the GPS tracker that he had finally gained on Black.
At almost the same time as Scarlet and Black were engaged in their stairwell pursuit, the doors to the elevators opened and out came Green and Lady Grey, the latter still wearing the younger woman’s dark blue sweater. They arrived in the play area to find the children sitting there with a few employees supervising the group. Green forced an enthusiastic expression on her face and said: “Hey guys! I see you’re all here, but where’s Santa?”
“He left just a moment ago,” a little girl provided.
“I think he had to visit the ‘other’ throne,” a little boy added in a stage whisper, which made a few other children giggle.
“He had to see someone about a reindeer,” another said, giggling, while some of the personnel were trying to calm the children down.
“Actually, he went looking for you,” a nurse said quietly, while the declaration by the children went up a notch with “present deliveries” and a rather dubious reference to Christmas pudding.
“Did he?” Lady Grey asked.
“Yes, he left in the same direction you came from. Didn’t you see him?”
Both women shook their heads. “Has Colonel White come back?” Green inquired.
“No. He left with Simon—“
“Where are the presents hidden?” Green’s urgent tone of voice startled the nurse and she began to stammer.
Lady Grey put her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “I know where they are. Follow me,” she said.
They headed off in the opposite direction. “We’ll go to the farthest one first,” Green told Lady Grey, who nodded and picked up the pace.
“Should we still wait?” the nurse called out, but received no answer as they were too far—or too preoccupied—to hear.
The farthest location turned out to be a large depot for medical supplies and surplus equipment. When they arrived, they noticed a push cart with several colorful boxes already piled up on it. The door to the depot was closed, but it was the kind that shut automatically, so it wasn’t suspicious in itself, although it would have been more practical to block the door open with a stopper.
Green slowed down next to the cart and stopped Lady Grey from advancing further. “I’ll go have a look. Wait here,” she said in a low voice.
“Serena…” the older woman began, but stopped immediately when Green turned around with a finger on her lips; her eyes widened when she saw that her husband’s assistant reached for her pistol, whose handle was now visible on her lower back against her white shirt.
Green was hesitant to draw her weapon considering she was inside the hospital and didn’t want to attract undue attention, but kept her hand close to it while she approached the door silently. She tried to peer into the room through the window, but the glass was frosted and she couldn’t see anything helpful. She pushed on the door to open it; it gave in noiselessly and she stepped in.
Colonel White was up on a stepladder reaching for some presents on the top shelf of a rack. At its foot, Simon the orderly was apparently waiting for him to pass down the boxes, but as soon as White had his back turned, he reached for an elbow crutch resting against the shelves and brought his arms back, with the clear intention of using it like a baseball bat and swinging it at the ladder, or White’s legs, to make him fall.
“Hey!” Green exclaimed.
At the same time, Lady Grey, who had not waited outside as she was told, took in the situation right away and screeched: “Get away from my husband you… you fiend!”
She picked up the first thing she found on a nearby shelf—a stainless steel basin—and hurled it at the orderly. It bounced on his shoulder and fell to the floor with a loud clang. It had probably not hurt him much, but he did flinch and turned his attention away from his intended victim, who wasted no time in kicking out from his higher standpoint.
The orderly was hit in the chest and stumbled back; Green sprang forward to grab him and try to immobilize him. He fought back savagely, trying to throw punches at her. White stepped down from the ladder, telling his wife to get out of the room, but Lady Grey remained where she was, close to the door, watching in fascination.
Seeing that Simon was busy fighting Green, White took the opportunity to grab him from behind and hold him back, but the replicant lashed out in a desperate last attempt and caught Green square in the face. Time seemed to slow down for her as she both felt blood start to come out of her nose and her Spectra-tech vibrate at her waist at the same time, but instinct kicked in immediately to make her ignore both and she retaliated, delivering a solid uppercut that would have made Blue proud.
The replicant sagged, held only by White, who brought him down to the floor and put him in an arm lock, making sure he couldn’t stand back up if he came round. “We need something to tie him up,” he said as Green looked around, gingerly pinching her nose to try and stop the blood flow, “Diana, please leave now,” he added.
Lady Grey ignored him and started looking around as well. “I see tubing for I.V.s,” she said, taking a packet off a shelf.
“That’ll do,” Green took the packet and ripped the wrapping off, handing the tubing to her commanding officer, who did a quick and efficient job of twisting and tying it into makeshift handcuffs.
In the meantime, Lady Grey had found some gauze pads for Green’s nose. She was looking away from the scene, but turned around quickly when a bright flash of green lit the room briefly. She found her husband now kneeling on the floor and Green standing next to him, removing her arm from her face to shield her eyes. The orderly was gone.
“Charles?” Lady Grey asked uncertainly.
White pursed his lips. This was exactly what he had tried to avoid. He stood up, taking the gauze from his wife’s hand before turning back to Green. “You’ll have to have this looked at,” he commented, handing her the pads.
“I don’t think it’s broken...”
“No, but I’m afraid you’ll look like a raccoon for Christmas.”
She groaned. “Adam is going to have kittens when he learns about this...”
“Where’s Scarlet?” he asked, giving her a look of sympathy.
“I don’t know... I felt my Spectra-tech buzz when we were figh—“
“Charles!” Lady Grey cut them off, sounding more authoritative.
He turned to her, looked at her with a serious and saddened expression. “After we find Scarlet and the situation is settled, I’ll... I’ll answer your questions,” he told her, walking to her and putting his hands on her shoulders while Green was trying to raise Scarlet.
Lady Grey stared at her husband, her eyebrows creased in a small frown. “I believe it’s time that you do,” she agreed.
When Green wasn’t able to contact Scarlet, she turned to Skybase. Silver answered immediately. “Scarlet is in pursuit of Captain Black. He took the Cheetah out and we are currently helping him track the car he is after. Captain Blue has changed his flight path to assist him. Scarlet said he tried to reach you but got no answer.”
“We had a situation of our own; one of the orderlies was replicated and we had to fight him off.”
“Is everyone all right?” Ochre asked.
“We are now. He had put Lady Grey in a refrigerator and tried to trap and kill the colonel. He had managed to separate everyone.” Green watched as her commanding officer gave his wife a horrified look and brought her closer to him. “I’m not sure if the Mysterons were distracting us to get at Scarlet, or distracting Scarlet to get to us.”
“They would have been overjoyed at getting both, I think,” Ochre commented. “Right now it seems they have failed on your side of things.”
“Where is Black now?”
“He’s headed westwards. Scarlet is slowly gaining on him considering Black had a head start, but a normal car is no match for the Cheetah. I’ll send the tracking coordinates to you.”
“Thanks… What I’d give for my computer right now…”
“Keep us informed if anything happens at your end. We’re tracking Scarlet and Blue closely and we’ll let you know as well. At this point we can only pretty much wait to see what happens.”
Green felt a hand trying to pick the Spectra-tech from hers. “I’ll handle the follow up for this. You need to see a doctor,” White said.
“Sir, you’re on vacation. Besides, it’s not even bleeding anymore,” Green protested.
He stared at her silently and pulled on the Spectra-tech. She let go reluctantly. Lady Grey approached her and put her arm around her shoulders. “Come, dear, we can at least find something cold to put on it to reduce the swelling…” she coaxed the younger woman along toward the door, giving her husband a pointed look.
Somehow, he figured the discussion ahead wasn’t going to end well…
Scarlet cursed under his breath at the fake belly he was wearing. The damn thing was hindering his movements as he drove, but he didn’t have the time to remove the outfit as it would make him waste precious seconds. The longer he was after Black, the farther he was from White and that was probably exactly what the Mysteron agent wanted. He felt sorry for the woman whose car Black had stolen, but as soon as he could, he’d end this with an emergency immobilization technique, which meant the blue car would probably be damaged.
Blue was almost upon his location and they were keeping the communication channel between the Hummingbird and the Cheetah open so they could speak. “Once I reach you, I’ll go ahead and try to get him to stop, or at least go somewhere less crowded so there’s not much damage if it turns ugly,” Blue said.
“Easier said than done, he’s taking me on a road where there are no side exits. There aren’t a lot of people though.”
“Good. No one will get hurt when I blow his ass up.”
“We might want to capture him if we can?” Scarlet commented, trying not to roll his eyes at his friend’s gung-ho attitude.
Skybase informed them that Colonel White and Lieutenant Green were following their progress from the hospital staff room, where Green had connected the Spectra-tech to a computer monitor so they could see better. They preferred not to talk too much over the link and distract the two agents currently in pursuit. Black had taken Scarlet westwards and the Spectrum agent was now slowly gaining on his quarry on a long stretch of road that curved left and right, following the River Avon. On his right, he could see the wall of a cliff, the mix of rocks and vegetation a brown and green blur as he went by.
At the end of a curve, the road went from a single to a double lane. Scarlet frowned in determination and floored the gas pedal. Like a rocket, the Cheetah burst forward, eating the remaining distance between the two cars in an instant. The opportunity was perfect. He slowed down as he approached the back of the blue car on the right side, then turned his own wheels to nudge it. With a screeching of its tires, the blue car turned on itself, then came to face the wrong direction.
Black wasn’t deterred by the situation. He had been an excellent driver while he was a Spectrum agent, and it surely hadn’t stopped now. He went with the turn and put the car in reverse, effectively fleeing Scarlet. “Nice try,” he mouthed with a lopsided smile, picked up speed, then swung the car back around and was on his merry way as if nothing had happened.
He sped off, passing other drivers quickly, then cut across the lanes to take an exit on the cliff side. The maneuver was precise and he didn’t stay in the wrong lane for long, but the driver of an incoming SUV saw him at the last moment.
It all happened in a few seconds. The other driver swerved violently to avoid him, making her own car go left and right. The small SUV hit one of the supporting posts on the cliff side, bounced and spun across the lanes… right in front of Scarlet.
Instinctively, his hand went to the jet booster handle and he pulled down on it. A warning chime sounded and nothing happened. The seats are pushed back! he thought frantically, then jerked the steering wheel to the right to avoid hitting the SUV.
The Cheetah’s low frame prevented it from rolling over and it skidded into a broad circle, missing the cliff by a hair’s width. It ended up in the bus lane, facing away from where he wanted to go, but it suddenly didn’t matter anymore when he saw the SUV, which had plowed into the guard rail on the riverside, sitting at an angle with its back end leaning toward the slanted river edge below.
“Scarlet?” Blue’s voice sounded in the cabin. “You’re held back? You’re not moving on the map anymore. I’ve caught up with Black, I can try to shoot his tires to slow him down…”
“No. Never mind him. Abandon pursuit. I need your help where I’m at,” Scarlet replied.
“Now, Adam!” he insisted, looking on both sides before crossing the road again, stopping the Cheetah close to the other vehicle.
Not waiting for the other man’s answer, he sprang out of the car and ran to the SUV. The driver opened her door carefully and, oblivious of the her injuries to her forehead and arm—or that Santa was running towards her —stepped onto the ground and quickly turned to the back of the vehicle to try and open the other door, which was damaged and dented close to its hinges. From the way the SUV was positioned, Scarlet saw that it was the only access to the back, unless someone went down behind it on the river’s edge and even then it would be too low to reach the door.
The woman was not successful in her attempts, but it could have been due to the fact that she was crying and hurting. “Let me try,” Scarlet said, pushing her gently aside and grabbing the handle.
The door was unlocked, but wouldn’t budge much, since the dent was hindering the movement. He put his foot on the fender to give himself more leverage and pulled with short, sharp moves until his shoulders ached, but only managed to open the door slightly. That wouldn’t work at all. What if I broke the window? He wondered.
Trying to block out the distressing, tearful “She’s not moving!” repeatedly uttered by the woman, he rushed back to the Cheetah to retrieve a small tool kit from under the seat and picked a small device he knew was stored there. Hopefully, since the windows were tinted, he’d pull on the whole glass once it was broken to remove it from the opening. I hope the belly will go through the hole, he thought grimly, returning to the SUV.
He stood next to the window, looking worriedly at the small form still inside, put the tool against the tinted surface and pushed. He heard the satisfying telltale cracking of the window and the tool went through. Unfortunately, he also heard the much less satisfying sound of the SUV sliding backwards toward the river and grinding against the railing helping to hold it where it was.
The vehicle jolted, making the woman scream in horror, then tilted toward the water before sliding again beyond Scarlet’s reach. “No!” he shouted in protest, preparing to jump in after it, fake belly or not.
He didn’t have to. In a flash of white and blue-green, Blue’s Hummingbird swung in over the water and since he had had time to grasp the situation, the American officer launched the magnetic grappling system as soon as he could. The four disks attached themselves to the SUV and held it where it was. From the ground, Scarlet waved at Blue to get his attention, then mimicked holding a baby in his arms before pointing at the vehicle. Blue nodded, then in an impressive display of control, played with the winches on the grappling system to raise the back of the vehicle first, then flew forward slightly to push it back onto the road, lowering it gently to the pavement. He disengaged the grappling system while Scarlet ran around to reach the undamaged door and get a better access inside.
Looking around for a place to land, Blue directed the Hummingbird to a grassy observation point further along the road. If the police told him to leave, he would easily point them towards more pressing matters, he figured. Grabbing a first-aid kit and blankets, he hurried back to the stricken SUV where the frantic woman was pacing about, wailing piteously. Scarlet, who had pulled on his fake beard to free his face, was crouched over a little girl, performing CPR on her.
Scarlet finished a series of compressions on the child’s chest, tilted her head back with gentle but firm hands and breathed into her mouth twice before starting over. He was saying encouraging words as he did, counting the compressions on the hand he wasn’t using.
“We need to get her to a hospital,” Blue stated, then turned to the woman. “You need care too, ma’am.”
Scarlet nodded in acknowledgement between compressions. The woman didn’t listen to him and continued her pacing, crying out “Annie!” in a shrill voice.
Blue contacted Skybase to give them an update of the situation while trying to assess the woman’s injuries. “Let me know if you want me to relay you, Paul,” he addressed his friend, when he saw that he was about to breathe into the little girl’s mouth again.
When Scarlet pinched her nose, she gasped loudly, taking a gulp of air and he released her, letting out a joyous “Atta girl, Annie!”
The child’s mother started crying in relief, falling to her knees next to Scarlet. Blue exclaimed: “She revived!” into his cap microphone, smiling when he heard Ochre and Silver cheer back.
Annie took a few deeper breaths and opened her eyes. She frowned, then asked in a weak voice: “Santa?”
“You had us worried for a spell there,” Scarlet replied, pulling on his beard to set it back in place.
After checking for broken bones and other injuries, he took the blanket Blue was handing him and wrapped the child in it. Her mother, thanking every deity she could think of, went to pick her up, but she was shaking so badly that there was no way she could manage. “Allow me, ma’am,” Blue said, taking her place and picking the child up as if she weighed nothing. “We’ll fly her to the hospital to make sure she gets the care she needs.”
“I’ll handle things here and follow you with the Cheetah,” Scarlet commented, eyeing a police officer who had just arrived on the scene.
“S.I.G. Meet you there.”
Blue started toward the Hummingbird, followed by the woman carrying the first-aid kit. He asked Silver to contact the hospital dispatcher and tell them he was on his way to the helipad with an actual emergency. Annie stirred in his arms and he looked down at her to see that she was trying to say something. “Santa…” she murmured.
“He’ll be following us in his sled, sweetie, you’ll see him later, okay?” he replied, trying to sound reassuring.
“She’s right here with you.” He twisted his body a little so that Annie could see her mother. “She’ll get in first and then we’ll settle you in.”
He let the woman climb up the small steps to the hatch of the helicopter and she sat on one of the back seats. The little girl was small enough to lie across her lap and the other seat. He tried to make her as comfortable as he could, although he was trying to hurry at the same time. He still made sure they were both secured before he sat in his seat and powered up the Hummingbird.
He lifted off carefully, making sure he didn’t jolt around or made sudden movements, then turned around to head for the helipad, which he had seen on his way to join the chase. Travelling by air meant he was only moments away from it, as he didn’t have to deal with road traffic. Silver had apparently been successful in reaching the dispatch, because there was a team of people waiting as he approached,, ready with a stretcher.
The medical staff approached the Hummingbird as soon as it touched the ground and the hatch opened. More at ease with negotiating the small steps, Blue picked up Annie and quickly handed her to the waiting team, telling them that the mother needed attention as well; he suspected that she would minimize her own pain to be with her daughter.
He followed them to Accident and Emergency, where Annie was whisked away and a nurse came to get her mother. He hesitated at first, wondering if he should stay in the waiting room or try to find the others, but he was curious to know if the little girl was truly out of trouble, and the hospital seemed like a maze, so it was probably best to wait for Scarlet to arrive. He hoped that the police hadn’t been a big problem.
He removed his cap and began turning it into his hands absent-mindedly, looking up once in a while to see if anyone came out of A&E. The door hadn’t opened by the time Scarlet arrived, still wearing his costume, but with the fake beard pulled down under his chin. He looked a little tired, perhaps defeated, Blue noticed. “Everything okay?” he asked, standing up.
“A Spectrum team is on the way to deal with the police. They found the car that Black had stolen, empty, about three miles down the road. The SUV will be towed. Spectrum Legal has been already notified… Thank God there weren’t more people there at the time, it could have been much worse. Any news?” he asked, tilting his head toward the Emergency door.
Scarlet sighed. “I feel like what happened is my fault. I should have abandoned pursuit much earlier. I was too focused on getting Black and that’s what mattered… All in all, I’m not better than them.”
Blue knew exactly who “them” were and rolled his eyes. “We obviously didn’t see the same thing. You had slowed down and he accelerated, and made a dangerous move while he was way ahead of you. I saw it on the GPS and I saw his change of direction. I could have stopped him, but you called me back.” He thumped Scarlet on the back. “And I’m really glad you insisted.”
The door opened and out came Annie’s mother. She had a bandage on her forehead and arm and still looked worried, but less than when she had left the Hummingbird. She approached Scarlet and Blue slowly. “I wasn’t sure you’d still be here,” she said.
“How is your daughter?” Scarlet asked, looking concerned.
“She was very lucky you stopped to help. They still have tests to run on her, and I can only see her for a few moments each hour at this point, but the doctors seemed confident. She’ll spend Christmas day here, at least, but the alternative was much worse.” She teared up, looking at Scarlet. “Thank you, Santa,” she added, hugging him and his bulky suit.
He hugged her back, unsure of what to say. The woman pulled away. “I have to ring my husband so he comes over,” she said.
“I’m glad you gave us news. Thanks for that.”
She squeezed both of their hands in hers. “Happy Christmas,” she wished them, before letting go and turning around to go back through the Emergency door.
They watched her go. Then, Blue continued where he had left off: “You could have continued the pursuit and hoped that someone else stopped but you didn’t. He left. You stayed and you ran to help. And if I hadn’t been there to lift the SUV, you would have jumped in after it without a second thought. And when you finally got inside the SUV, you pulled the little girl out and you revived her. Which, in case you forgot, is the opposite of what the Mysterons do. So cut the crap about being one of them already, or I’ll have to kick your ass to beat some sense into you. And that would look pretty bad right now because you’re dressed as Santa Claus, so please don’t force me to do it.”
“I’ll try not to.” Scarlet patted Blue’s shoulder, appreciating the encouragement his friend was giving him in his rough and unconventional way. “Come on, lets head back to the play area. I still have presents to hand out and I know someone there who will be glad to see you.”
~ The End ~
Author's Notes and Disclaimer
Thank you Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and the CGI team for creating such a beautiful playground! The characters are not mine, I'm having a great time writing the stories, and no profit is intended from this.
Many thanks to Skybase Girl for beta-reading the story so quickly, considering I was seriously starting to stretch the limit of this year’s Christmas challenge! Any remaining mistakes are mine.
Many thanks also to Chris Bishop for putting so much time and effort on her website, making sure they look their best—and in the case of this particular story, for finding the title that fit perfectly!
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site