There weren’t many Scandinavians among Cloudbase’s complement – but those there were constituted an important minority. The most prominent one was – ironically – Captain Blue, who, although American by birth, had close family connections to Sweden and Norway, and spoke enough of the language to get by.
There were also several technicians, Lieutenant Silver, the head of the administrative staff, and two cooks.
Doctor Fawn, who had spent a few years working in Scandinavia for the World Medical Organisation, was, thanks to his ex-wife, both proficient in the language and familiar with the culture, so he was considered ‘one of us’ by the others.
When a new administrative lieutenant – Lieutenant Jasmine - arrived in the summer, she made a welcome addition to that select group.
Pernilla Lantz was Norwegian, tall and slim, with long, naturally blonde hair; she was young and pretty, and, as it turned out, sweet-tempered and charming. She was given the responsibility for monitoring duty timesheets and quickly became a familiar figure to everyone, from the elite captains down to cleaning staff. She was undoubtedly popular, especially with the men, and it was well known that Captain Ochre had her name at the top of his legendary – and almost certainly fabled - list of ‘potential dates’.
One day, in late autumn, Captain Blue was making his way from the officers’ lounge to the canteen, when he saw Lieutenant Jasmine walking towards the escalator from the opposite direction. He stopped, waited for her to join him, stepping onto the staircase after her and, as they rode up to the canteen, he asked her in Norwegian:
“How are you settling in, Pernilla?”
“Very well, thank you, Captain.” She smiled, but answered him in English. “I’m getting very good at finding my way around now; I haven’t got lost for… ooh, days.”
He laughed. “It is a bit of warren, isn’t it? But always remember, if Lieutenant Flaxen can find her way about, anyone can.”
She gave an admonitory shake of her head. “Flaxen has been very kind to me. She is not as bad as you make out.”
Blue gave an apologetic shrug and replied, “No, I know she isn’t – but you will never convince Captain Scarlet of that fact.”
Lieutenant Flaxen was a senior admin Lieutenant and an efficient, if slightly accident-prone, member of the Cloudbase team. She was renowned for having caused Captain Scarlet more injuries than the Mysterons, due to her seeming inability to function properly in his presence. This was not her fault, but was – according to Captain Ochre, her somewhat unlikely champion – because Captain Scarlet was too scary for normal people to cope with, and ‘Flax’ was a sensitive soul.
Lieutenant Jasmine spoke up in defence of her colleague. “Well, I can say that I sympathise with Flax, I get a little tongue-tied in his presence too; the captain is an awesome person.”
“Awesome? You don’t know the half of it, ‘Nilla.”
Even on Cloudbase the full truth about Captain Scarlet’s powers of retrometabolism, which rendered him virtually indestructible, were a closely guarded secret. Few people, outside of the medical staff and the senior officers, knew that Scarlet could recover from even a fatal wound. His seeming invulnerability had given him a fierce reputation amongst the other staff and the continuing need for secrecy, as well as his own lingering feeling that he was not quite human anymore, meant that he generally chose to stay aloof from the hurly-burly of life on the base.
“You’re his field partner,” she continued, “I don’t suppose he seems that way to you.”
“No, you’d be wrong. I think Captain Scarlet’s pretty awesome too. You’re forgetting I’m the guy who has to bring him home after a mission.”
Jasmine saw the momentary flicker of sadness in her companion’s pale-blue eyes, and she laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “Everyone says that you are his best friend; it must be hard for you to see him get wounded so often.”
Blue smiled at her and patted her hand. “Yes, it’s not the kind of thing you can easily get used to; but every Spectrum agent takes on the job willingly, knowing they may be called on to risk their lives.”
“Easy for us to say, safe on Cloudbase; I don’t think the field officers can be so blasé about it.”
He shook his head, thinking of this last time he’d brought Scarlet back to Cloudbase, crushed and bleeding. He’d sat out the hours until his friend had recovered consciousness, as he always tried to do, and now he was on his way to get something to eat - and a change of scene from the room in Sick Bay dedicated to Scarlet’s recovery.
“Will he be all right this time?” she asked him gently.
Blue nodded. “Sure, he’ll be up and about before you know it.”
“That is good news.”
He glanced into her attractive face and saw the genuine concern she’d expressed mirrored in her clear, blue eyes. He smiled at her.
Just then, they entered the field of vision of Symphony and Melody Angels, making their way on the down escalator, from the canteen to the Amber Room.
Blue turned towards to acknowledge them as Jasmine removed her hand from his shoulder.
“Hi girls,” he called up to them.
When Symphony did not reply, Melody called back.
“Hi, Captain. Seeing you out and about must mean Scarlet’s on the mend?”
Blue nodded. “Yeah, he’s conscious again. I’m going to get something to eat while Fawn does his never-ending tests. Apparently, Göran promised he’d make kjøttkaker today and I haven’t had those for years… since my grandmother used to make them, in fact.” He glanced at Jasmine and gave her a wink, “That’s if Pernilla leaves me any…”
She laughed. “You’re teasing me, Captain.” She pushed her fist into his shoulder as they approached the top of the escalator.
Blue grinned and wagged a reproving finger at her. “Assaulting a senior officer is a serious offence, Lieutenant. I might well have to place you in solitary confinement.”
She laughed and said, ‘Oh, go on with you; you are a tease…”
As she stepped from the moving stairway she saluted the Angels, moving on with a glance over her shoulder to see if Blue was following.
He paused long enough to say, ‘See you later, älskling.” And he disappeared from their view.
Melody glanced at Symphony’s stony expression with some trepidation.
“Hey,” she drawled, “I think it’s kinda cute that since Jasmine arrived the Scandinavians have been celebrating their culture a bit more; don’t you? If those ‘K-yut-Kake’ things were the meatballs I had – they were nice.”
There was no response.
“Symphony?” Melody shrugged and said in a dispassionate tone, “Okay, honey, you can kill him later if you want to, but right now we have a shift to do… come on, Karen.”
She put her hands on the taller woman’s shoulders and guided her off the escalator.
Symphony walked into the Officers’ Lounge later that week and stared at the scene before her eyes.
Doctor Fawn – a rare visitor to the Lounge - Captain Blue and Lieutenant Jasmine were sitting in a huddle on the upper level bench at the far side of the room, while Captains Scarlet and Grey were sitting in the main area, reading magazines and drinking coffee.
Scarlet looked up and raised his hand in a welcoming gesture. “Hi, Symphony,” he said loud enough to be heard around the room.
Lieutenant Jasmine started to get to her feet to salute her superior officer, but Blue’s hand on her shoulder pushed her back into her seat. Symphony heard him say something and Jasmine gave a barely suppressed chuckle.
Fawn looked up from the conflab, gave her a quick smile and returned to the discussion.
Blue didn’t look at her at all.
Captain Scarlet knew this wasn’t as astonishing as the look on Grey’s face suggested; he knew there had been a particularly lively argument between Symphony and her fiancé a few days ago, and that – for once – Blue was not prepared to do whatever she demanded in order to placate his jealous lover.
Usually, his friend took Symphony’s tantrums in his stride, riding out her wild accusations until she calmed down and apologised. Whatever had caused this breach in relations – and Blue wasn’t saying – was obviously something he felt strongly enough about to dig in his own heels over. There was a stubborn streak in Adam Svenson - if you mined deep enough – and Karen Wainwright was hot-tempered enough to keep digging where wiser folk would stop.
Scarlet studied Symphony’s expression and deduced that the fact that her demands were not being met this time must be making her more wretched than ever.
She slammed the report she was delivering down on the table between Grey and Scarlet, turned on her heel and stormed out.
Grey glanced at the trio on the sofa and then at Scarlet. “What was all that about?”
Scarlet shrugged. “I haven’t a clue. She’s not happy about something, I suppose.”
“Hmm. Blue does seem rather taken with Lieutenant Jasmine… you don’t suppose…?”
“You gossip like an old fishwife, Brad.” Scarlet turned the page of his magazine. “Take my advice and leave things well alone.”
“Oh, I’m not going to get between Symphony and her prey… either of them,” Grey muttered, and returned to his article on diving off the coast of California.
First of December was the unofficial start of Cloudbase’s Christmas season when the timetables went up for Christmas leave and duty rotas.
The first Christmas cards started to arrive, tinsel started to appear on workstations, the menus were published for Christmas dinners, invitations were sent out for the various ‘events’ that celebrated the season and the post room began to take delivery of innumerable parcels.
Everything officially started with Captain Scarlet’s birthday party – on December the 17th – which was an unofficial precursor to the ‘proper’ Christmas parties: the Christmas soirees in the Officers’ Lounge, the Amber Room, and various staff rooms over the base, but the planning and preparation went on for weeks beforehand.
The atmosphere in the Amber Room was unusually sombre as Rhapsody and Melody started to discuss this year’s decorations and the imminent arrival of their Christmas tree and - most importantly – the mistletoe that came from Rhapsody’s parents’ estate.
“You do know that she’s going to spoil it,” Melody said heatedly. “She’s going about like a wet weekend.”
“She’s fallen out with Adam,” Rhapsody explained. “He seems to be spending more and more of his time with Lieutenant Jasmine…”
“Can you blame him?” Melody sniped. “Karen makes his life a misery. Pernilla’s is a nice girl; I know which I’d prefer, if I was Adam.”
“She loves him, Nolie. Have a heart.”
“Well, she sure has a funny way of showing it sometimes.” Melody sighed. “Oh, I know she adores him, Dianne, but it gets so wearing when she’s forever acting like a tiger with a cub. Any woman who goes within shouting distance of Blue gets the evil eye.”
Rhapsody laughed. “I know; but we have to support her right now, Nolie; she’s really miserable.”
Melody rolled her eyes. “She always is when she gets herself into these situations.” She saw Rhapsody’s unspoken appeal to her better nature, and continued, “Tell you what: let her hang the mistletoe this year… then she can trap him under some, and I bet you, within five minutes they’ll be all over each other – again.”
“Oh, I never bet against stone-cold dead certainties,” Rhapsody remarked, as she wrote Symphony’s name against the mistletoe box of her task-list.
Symphony was sitting in the Amber Room with Harmony. It was less than a fortnight to Christmas, and they were using a quiet spell of their standby-duty to wrap the Christmas tree presents the Angels gave to the Captains on Christmas Eve. Their select gathering was the final event of the Christmas festivities, spilling over into Christmas Day itself, often enough – Mysterons permitting.
Harmony was concentrating on producing the intricate and exquisite parcels for which she was rightly known, while Symphony was holding the scissors and sticky tape, preoccupied with her own gloomy thoughts.
Her quarrel with Captain Blue had still not resolved itself. She’d bumped into him in the gym the other day and although he’d been polite, he hadn’t gone out of his way to talk to her. Finally she’d asked him if he intended to continue spending his free time with ‘his new friends’, at the expense of their friendship.
She closed her eyes against the remembered image of his unsympathetic expression as he’d told her that he didn’t see any of his friendships as exclusive, and if she didn’t like him occasionally getting involved with something that couldn’t include her, she’d have to act as she thought fit.
When she’d mentioned Lieutenant Jasmine, he’d simply given an exasperated sigh and walked away. She’d felt as if the whole world was suddenly a very dark and lonely place.
It was Harmony who first heard the distant sound of singing.
“Someone has their music turned up very loud,” she commented, taking the next sliver of tape from Symphony’s outstretched finger.
Symphony turned her head and strained to listen.
The music got louder: there were several voices, singing unaccompanied in a language she didn’t know.
It came closer.
As the door to the Amber Room opened, the lights went out and both Angels sprang to their feet in surprise.
Standing in the doorway was a young woman, dressed in a long, gown; the vivid red sash that ran from her shoulder to the floor looked like a trail of blood against the brilliant white of the silken fabric. Her fair hair was loose and flowed over her shoulders. She was holding an imitation flickering candle in her hand and around her head was a wreath of evergreens, sporting seven small candles that also flickered light.
Natten går tunga fjät rund gård och stuva;
kring jord, som sol förlät, skuggoma ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända Uus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
She sang a verse of song as she led a small procession of similarly dressed women into the room. Then the others joined in, their voices ringing round the Amber Room in a spine-tingling weave of sound.
Natten går stor och stum nu hörs dess vingar
i alla tysta rum sus som av vingar.
Se, på vår tröskel står vitklädd med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Mörkret ska flyta snart urjordens dalar så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.
Dagen ska åter ny stiga ur rosig sky.
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Symphony gasped to see Doctor Fawn amongst the men who now came into the room at the tail end of the procession. He was wearing a long white tunic over, what looked like, baggy white pyjama trousers and he had a tall, star-studded pointed hat on his head, as did all the similarly-dressed men in the group. Everyone was carrying an imitation candle.
The tallest member of the group was Captain Blue; and as he ducked his head to enter the doorway, he reached up to make sure the tall wizard’s hat was still on his head. Meeting Symphony’s astonished gaze, he gave her an affectionate smile. But even Harmony was surprised when he joined in the singing in a clear, high-tenor that was nothing like the singing voice they expected to hear from him.
Bringing up the rear was the chaplain, wearing red vestments, and when the singing stopped, she read out a verse, a translation of the song.
goes with weighty step round yard and hearth;
The darkness shall soon depart from the earth's valleys,
Thus she speaks wonderful words to us.
The day shall rise anew from the rosy sky.
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
And then the whole procession chanted:
light is carried forth, proud on its crown.
Harmony was enchanted and clapped her hands, smiling in recognition as Lieutenant Jasmine approached her and took a small bun from a large basket being carried by Göran Janssen, one of the cooks from the officers’ canteen, who was immediately behind her. She presented it to the diminutive Angel and moved on to Symphony.
The American met the Norwegian girl’s friendly gaze with some embarrassment, yet she reached out to take the cake Jasmine offered her. Smiling sweetly, Jasmine moved on, and the singing broke out again, as she processed back to the door and turned out into the corridor, her train of followers in her wake.
Symphony watched the door close behind the last to depart and sat down heavily as the lights came back on.
“What was all that about?” she asked Harmony.
“I do not know,” her friend replied, biting into the small bun. “But the cake is good.”
The next day, Symphony went along to the Officers’ Lounge and to her relief, found Captains Scarlet and Blue alone in there.
As the door closed behind her she said a general ‘hello’ and when Scarlet returned her greeting, she gave him a pleading glance.
“Hi, Karen… ah, I see… Well, I’ve just remembered something and I’ve just got to… go… somewhere. I’ll be back in about ten minutes,” he said, adding in a whisper as he walked past her, “Don’t kill anyone, will you?”
She walked down onto the main floor and stood facing Blue, who was sitting in an armchair, his long legs stretched out before him, and a cup of coffee and one of Göran’s buns on a plate beside him.
He looked up at her, the tiniest of smiles on his lips. But he didn’t speak.
She sat down in the seat Scarlet had vacated.
“You going to eat that cake?” she asked.
“Yes – you got one last night,” he responded, but there was no antagonism in his voice.
“It was nice. Mind telling me what it was?”
“It was a Lussekatt. They’re the traditional gifts handed out by the Kinken Jes, who process on Saint Lucia’s Day.”
“Is that what you were doing last night?”
He nodded. “When I was a kid we always used to take part at the Church service. For obvious reasons Saint Lucia has to be a girl, and until Kate was old enough, we just took part in the community celebrations, in later years we did it at home as well. I haven’t done it for decades… it brought back a lot of memories.”
“How long had you been planning this?”
“Oh, for some time – there were costumes to make and we had to get permission from the colonel, and… well, you know how it is.”
“I would have, if you’d told me,” she commented wryly.
He gave a shrug, his fair eyebrows rising in concert with his shoulders.
“We wanted it to be a surprise, so it was a big secret. When Lieutenant Jasmine heard that we never celebrated Sankta Lucia, she thought it was a shame, and suggested we do it this year, and take the Lussekatt around the base. It seemed like a silly idea at first, but Pernilla convinced us all to give it a try. Göran and Jan Bengtsson agreed to make the cakes and the gingerbread, and when everyone had agreed to join in, we asked the Chaplain to come along too.”
“So that’s why you were spending so much time with Jasmine…”
“Hmm.” He nodded.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It was a magical thing to see the procession. Harmony talked about it all evening. Destiny was disappointed to have missed it, but I gather someone gave her one of the …Lussekatt?”
“Pernilla made sure everyone got one.”
She nodded. “I bet she did.”
His expression hardened and she raced on, “It was even more magical to hear you singing - especially like that…”
“I didn’t know you could…”
“I learnt to do it as a kid, but I generally chose not to do it, as a rule - but Sankta Lucia’s is special.” He gave a rueful smile. “When I’m not singing in the upper register I really do sound a rusty saw on a wet log, though.”
She sniggered at him. He grinned at her.
“Forgive me?” she pleaded.
“Don’t I always?”
“Hmm.” She nodded. “You do know that it’s because I know I couldn’t live without you that I get so… scared when you’re with another woman.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know why; I couldn’t leave you – and I don’t want to. Can’t you trust me just a little bit? You should know by now that I’m a one-woman man, and you – älskling – are that woman.”
Symphony looked down and blushed. “I should, I know that. I will try.”
“Why do you continue to doubt me so much? I do everything I can think of, and as much as I’m capable of doing from what you ask of me, yet you never seem to accept that I love only you.”
“I don’t know. I want to believe you, because I love you too. But I guess I’m just ornery – and way too cynical for my own good.”
“Could well be.” He gazed at her for a long moment. “I just wish you would trust me.”
“I wish I could, believe me. I want to, I really, really do!”
“Then why can’t you? How much ‘proof’ do you want? You know I’d marry you tomorrow if it was possible. Is that what this is about?”
“No. We agreed that working for Spectrum was important to us both; we have both made that commitment. It’s not about getting married, Adam. These days it isn’t shocking to spend your life together without tying the knot, after all. I don’t know… I guess I just don’t understand why you love me and one of the few characteristics I share with you is that I like to understand what’s going on.”
“Is that all? Älskling, for millennia people have used aphorisms like ‘love is blind’ to try and comprehend why two people fall in love. My favourite is probably ‘opposites attract’, and I suggest that, quite apart from the obvious difference, we’re almost diametric opposites. Isn’t that enough?”
Karen shook her head. “I don’t think so. I wish it was that simple. Sometimes it seems to me that I can’t live without you, but then, there are times when I can hardly live with you.”
“Well, I’m no saint…” he began.
“But that’s just it!” she interrupted. “Compared to me, you are!” She flushed. “I know I’m a first class bitch sometimes, Adam, you don’t have to pretend otherwise.”
He reached out and took her hand, bringing it to his lips. “I love you; for better or worse. I can’t help myself, that’s just the way it is. You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.”
She smiled and drew his hand to her lips. “Thank God for that, at least. Whatever I’ve done – or will probably do in the course of our lives – you have to know that you’ll never find any one who loves you more than I do.”
“I don’t even want to look.” He drew in a deep breath. “ You know, Karen, Sankta Lucia’s the patron saint of the blind – maybe she could perform another miracle and open your eyes so you can see just how much I love you, älskling.”
She slid from the armchair to kneel beside him, wrapping her arms around his torso and resting her head on his chest. He stroked her golden hair for a long moment, and then gently tilted her chin up, so the he could lean forward and kiss her lips.
Captain Scarlet peered in round the partially open door and saw the couple wrapped in their embrace. He closed the door again, and turned to smile at Captain Grey who was standing behind him, waiting to enter the lounge.
“Give them another five minutes, Brad,” he said, adding with considerable satisfaction, “It looks like Christmas is on again. I’d better tell Rhapsody to double the mistletoe order or no one but those two will get a look in, this year…”
When the Webmaster sets you a challenge, you have to respond, don’t you? Chris Bishop set me a challenge on Friday night: to write a really short Christmas Story.
Well, here we are on Sunday morning and this is the story. I don’t know about ‘really short’ – but it is short by my standards!
The Scandinavian celebration of Saint Lucia takes place on December 13th. I got the details of it from researching the Internet, and, as I don’t speak any of the Scandinavian languages, I have to hope the hymn quoted, and the translation I found, are the real thing. My sincere apologies if they’re wrong, it is never my intention to offend anyone.
The characters of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ belong to Carlton International – or they did, anyway – and they were created over 40 years ago by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. My own imagination may have warped them somewhat from the originals, but if that’s the case, it was done from nothing but a sincere admiration for those originals, and grateful thanks for all the pleasure they’ve given me over the decades.
Thanks – as always – to the indefatigable Chris Bishop, who is an inspiration to us all!
So finally, may I – in the spirit of the story - take this opportunity to wish everyone a ‘God Jul’, and a Happy New Year.
30th November 2008.
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