(The character of ‘Rose Metcalfe’ is used with the consent of her creator, Lezli Farrington. This story takes place three years into Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel’s marriage.)
“What’s the weather forecast down there?”
Seated at the round control desk, reading a document up until now, Captain Blue glanced over at Captain Ochre, a few feet away from him, at the communication station, standing in for Lieutenant Green who was away on leave for the Holidays. Both men knew where ‘down there’ was for Captain Scarlet.
Ochre let out a sigh, trying to sound patient. “The same as it was fifteen minutes ago. And the same as it was fifteen minutes before that. In fact, it hasn’t changed in the last hour, the whole time you’ve been asking that same question.”
“Paul, will you calm down?” Blue added with a slight smile. “Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
In the commander’s seat, as he had taken over command from Colonel White some hours ago, Captain Scarlet shrugged, as if trying to appear indifferent to Ochre’s and Blue’s remarks. That didn’t deceive anyone, and his two colleagues could see that he was still very anxious. And they knew the reason why. There was a huge storm spanning most of England; a blizzard like the country had not seen in decades. And that was threatening to disrupt Captain Scarlet’s plans for the next few days.
“Oh, I don’t know, Blue,” Ochre said, grinning broadly. “Seeing as it’s the first Christmas Scarlet is planning to spend with his parents in three years, and that, at the same instant, the mother of all blizzards starts to wreak havoc over most of his country – I think that maybe somebody is trying to give him a message.” He didn’t have to turn around to feel the fierce stare Scarlet was shooting at him. “Were you good this year, Paul? Maybe Santa has decided to punish you…”
“I imagine you should know,” Scarlet replied, putting down his pen, and intertwining his fingers to lean his chin on his hands. “After all, you’re an expert in what ‘being bad’ is, Ochre. I expect you got your share of coal in your stocking when you were a boy.”
“He still receives some to this day,” Blue added with a chuckle.
“Oh, go on,” Ochre replied, turning his seat around. “Seriously, Paul, you should relax. The forecast announced that this blizzard should be over and done tomorrow.”
“Just in time for you to board that SPJ and go to your parents’ place,” Blue added.
Scarlet shrugged again, picking up his pen to continue his report. “Just my luck, I suppose,” he mumbled. “England hasn’t seen a blizzard like this for over a century, and Mother Nature had to choose THIS year to send one! Maybe Rick is right: somebody is trying to tell me something.”
“Oh, and like what exactly?” asked Blue.
“Like, maybe I shouldn’t be leaving Cloudbase for the holiday this year. Maybe we should all be staying here, like we’ve done for the last three years.”
“By ‘we’, you mean Dianne, Rose and you?” Blue shook his head. “Come on, Paul! You know how much your daughter is looking forward to spending Christmas at your parents’? She would be so disappointed if you don’t go.”
“Well, what if the weather doesn’t clear up?”
“It will clear up, don’t you worry. What’s the matter? You’ve been talking about it for the past three weeks! Have you changed your mind?”
“Have you suddenly got cold feet?” Ochre noted from his station.
“I’m not getting cold feet,” Scarlet snapped hastily. He took his time to think it over, and then sighed. “Yes, well… Maybe a little. This would be the first Christmas Rose will spend away from Cloudbase, and… I don’t know, I’m a little worried.”
“Because she’ll be away from the security provided by this oversized flying tin can?” Ochre replied with a snort. “Oh, come on now! Don’t be ridiculous! What have you to fear?”
“Don’t ask that question,” Scarlet said between his teeth.
Blue gave a sigh. Scarlet was so looking forward to going back to Winchester, to his parents’ house, with Rhapsody and their three year old daughter, Rose. This sudden change of heart, so close to their departure, wasn’t surprising Blue very much. Rose meant the world to Scarlet. Nothing was more important to him. But because of her dual heritage – because of her link to the Mysterons, due to the unique condition of her father – the little girl had barely left the safe military background she had lived in until now. Spectrum had been keeping a close eye on her since her birth, fearing that she may one day become a target of the Mysterons.
So far, since her birth, they hadn’t made any move against her, however, and that had led Captain Scarlet to wonder if they really cared at all, knowing of her existence. So the little family had multiplied their visits and their stays on the ground, on various occasions, so that little Rose could learn a bit more about the world at large, and know that it wasn’t restricted to the confines of a hovering military base. Certainly, her staying on Cloudbase was for her own well-being, but Scarlet – and especially Rhapsody – had doubts that it could be all that good for her.
“What I meant, Paul,” Ochre added in a softer tone, “is that you’ll be there to take care of her. You, and Rhapsody. And your parents. You’ve been down to the ground with her before. Last time you stayed, what, three days?”
“Four. At my cousin Jessica’s home, in Scotland,” Scarlet answered.
“Well, now you’ll be staying a full week,” Blue said in turn. “Provided we don’t call you back, if an emergency comes up. I say you should go down there and appreciate that time you’ll have, all of you. You don’t get that many opportunities. So you’d better not spoil it.”
Scarlet hesitated, obviously pondering the arguments. He didn’t need that much to be convinced. A smile spread across his face, and he nodded his head, now visibly more relaxed. “You’re right,” he finally conceded. “I shouldn’t be worrying like this. After all, it is Christmas…”
“And it looks like Rose’s first Christmas on the ground will be a white one,” Blue said with a grin.
“Hoping the blizzard will stop in time for us to fly down there!” Scarlet said. “No,” he added quickly, seeing Blue getting ready to protest again. “This time, I’m not looking for a motive not to go. I’m just contemplating the possibility that we may be too late to at least spend Christmas Eve at my parents’!”
He quickly checked the report that lay open on his desk, for the last time, making sure everything was in order, put his signature at the bottom of the last document, and closed the rainbow-stamped folder with a deep sigh of relief. “There, it’s done!” He looked down at his watch. “And just in time too. The colonel will be arriving any minute to relieve me.”
“Lucky stiff,” Ochre piped up from his station. “WE’ll be the ones stuck with him…”
“Stop complaining,” Scarlet advised him. “Working with him isn’t as bad as you make it sound.”
“No. It’s even worse!”
“Here comes your chunk of coal for this year!” Blue chuckled. “And it won’t be Santa who’ll be giving it to you!” He addressed Scarlet again. “Are your bags all packed and ready to go?”
“Just about,” Scarlet answered. “That is, MINE are ready. There’s still a couple of last minute things that Rhapsody wants to add to hers. You know her: she packs everything but the kitchen sink for just a few days’ vacation!”
“Sounds like her, all right.”
“Tell her to take a lot of winter clothes,” Ochre remarked. “ESPECIALLY for Rose. Why, with all that snow you’ll have, I’m sure the kid will want to play in it! You know kids love snow.”
“As long as she doesn’t catch a cold,” Scarlet grinned in turn. “The colonel would be angry enough if she brought that back to Cloudbase and passed it on!”
“That’s a way of getting more vacation time and staying on the ground for another week, you know?”
“If Rose CAN catch a cold,” Blue remarked then.
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. “You know what Doctor Fawn said about that, Adam. So far, there’s nothing to indicate that Rose has inherited my, uh, natural immunity. Or anything else of the kind, for that matter. She’s growing up normally, like any other normal human child. Which is a relief in itself. Especially for Dianne.”
“Not that it would have made any difference to her, I’m sure,” Blue added.
Scarlet nodded again, a fond smile tugging on his lips, thinking of the two women in his life. He was probably about to add something else, when the door to the Control Room slid open. The three men began to rise to acknowledge their awaited commander’s presence, only to realize it wasn’t him at all who was coming into the room. They saw the very tiny figure of a little girl burst in, running, making a buzzing sound that tried to imitate the humming of a plane. The small child was wearing around her what looked like a cardboard aircraft, strapped at her shoulders, with a black ‘A’ painted on the side; a helmet made out of a cut-up soccer ball was falling over her eyes. She rode the aircraft straight to Scarlet, while Blue was looking at her with an amused twinkle in his eyes, and a fond smile. Only Ochre put his nose deep into his file and feigned not to see her.
“Daddy, I’m a pilot!” the child declared, stopping in front of Scarlet, the smile upon her face threatening to crack her face in two. She proceeded to make a full circle on herself, a perfect 360 degrees. For a moment, Scarlet thought she would lose her balance, by spinning that quickly, but then she turned to him again, blue eyes sparkling. “See? I can spin!”
“I can see that!” Scarlet said laughing. “Who showed you that, Rosie? Mummy?”
“Unca Adam!” Rose Metcalfe declared, pointing toward Blue.
“And who made you that plane? Uncle Adam?”
Rosie pointed to the other side of the room. “Unca Rick!”
All eyes turned toward Ochre, who didn’t lift his head from his file. He shrugged indifferently. “I should have known she wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret,” he mumbled.
“Why, Rick, you old softie!” Blue said, laughing out loud. “That’s so sweet of you!”
“Sweet?!” Ochre snorted derisively. “I just wanted her out of the way, while I was building my models! Didn’t want her to knock them down and break them! So I made her that… plane, from an old cardboard box I had in my quarters. You promised you wouldn’t say anything, squirt!”
Ochre’s falsely grumpy tone didn’t deceive or impress anyone. Rose less than anyone else. Ochre often acted that way around her, pretending he didn’t care much about her, but in reality, he was always there to baby-sit her if need be, or make her things, or come up with games they could play together. Scarlet was even a little bit worried that Ochre would give his daughter his annoying habit of playing tricks on people, as he had made the child his innocent accomplice on more than one occasion.
“What are you doing here, Rose?” Scarlet asked the little girl. “You know you’re not supposed to come into the Control Room…”
“I guess she was just looking for her dad,” Blue declared. “She must miss him, she hasn’t seen him much these few last days. Isn’t that true, Rosie? You came to take your daddy away from this place, didn’t you?”
Rose nodded her head with energy. Her ‘helmet’ was bouncing on and off her eyes. Scarlet had to make an effort not to laugh too openly. He simply smiled, repositioning the helmet on her head so she would be able to see, and patting the small girl’s cheek. “All right, I never was able to refuse you anything. Give me just a few minutes, and I’ll be with you.”
“Okay, Daddy!” The pilot and her plane took off for a tour of the room, humming wildly.
“She’ll have a great time in Winchester,” Blue stated, looking with Scarlet in the child’s direction. “I just can tell.”
“I’m sure she will,” Scarlet answered. “She’s been talking for days about seeing her grandparents. I hope we WILL be able to go down there. You were right earlier, she would be too disappointed, if we couldn’t.”
“As long as she is with you and Dianne, she’s the happiest child in the world. You know that.” Blue’s smile broadened. “Glad to see you’ve really changed your mind about that trip.”
After a stop in front of Ochre, who had then proceeded to rearrange one of the straps holding the plane as it was threatening to slip from her shoulder, Rose had started her engine again to turn the craft around and direct it straight at the door. “I’m gonna be an Angel pilot, just like Mummy!” That brought a smile upon everybody’s lips, as the engine was now going full tilt.
The door slid open at exactly the second Rose reached it, and she collided against a pair of black-covered legs. Instantly, the sound she was making died away, and she raised her eyes. Towering over her was Colonel White, who was looking down at her with a frown.
“Hi, Unca Charlie!” the child beamed, with a smile the size of the entire Control Tower. The frown deepened on White’s brow, but she didn’t seem to take any notice. “I’m an Angel pilot!”
The second they had seen Colonel White enter the room, Scarlet, Blue and Ochre had understood there could be hell to pay. There were many parts of Cloudbase where Rose wasn’t allowed. That included most of the upper rooms of the Control Tower. And most ESPECIALLY the Control Room, which was the domain of the Spectrum commander-in-chief. And it was so very obvious by the look on his face right now that finding the child here, innocently playing around, didn’t please the colonel at all. Someone was certainly responsible for that.
He was probably about to reply that Angel pilots were not allowed to fly their craft inside the base, when the child’s mother suddenly appeared from behind him, and entered the room quickly to crouch beside her.
“Rosie, what are you doing here? I’ve been looking all over the place for you!” Rhapsody Angel proceeded to unstrap her little girl from her ‘plane’ and took her up in her arms, addressing an apologetic smile to Colonel White. In the meantime, Scarlet had risen from his seat, to quickly walk the distance separating him from the door.
“Please excuse her, sir,” Rhapsody said with a bashful expression. “She’s becoming quite elusive. And she hasn’t got the hang of discipline yet.”
White’s eyes nearly disappeared under his brows. “I wonder who she gets THAT from,” he muttered, addressing a murderous sideways look towards Scarlet. The latter was hurriedly gathering the cardboard plane from the floor. He didn’t appeared as embarrassed as White had hoped he’d be. HE was in charge of the Control Room, and HE was the child’s father. The colonel decided he was the one to blame. He was very close to letting his temper get the better of him. Rhapsody could see that. She quickly came to the rescue of both father and child.
“I’m afraid it’s my fault,” she then offered courageously. “Rose has been asking for her father all day. I told her he was on duty at the Control Room. I expect she decided to come and see him, the second I turned my back on her.”
“It’s quite easy getting from the officers’ quarters through to here, sir,” Scarlet added carefully.
“Don’t you think I know that?” There was still a certain edge to White’s voice.
“Sir, since you’ve arrived, may I go now? We’ll take Rose and then she won’t be in the way anymore.”
White hesitated. He didn’t think he should allow such disregard for discipline, just like that. Rose had to learn that she wasn’t to come around the Control Room any time it pleased her, and especially bringing toys with her. But looking at the little family, he felt himself softening up a little. ESPECIALLY when he caught Rose looking straight at him, with that innocent smile on her face. I must be getting old… He took a deep breath, letting all his irritation flow out of him, grunted, and finally nodded.
“All right, go,” he replied less harshly, moving towards his desk. “But don’t let it ever happen again.”
“Oh, it won’t, sir,” Scarlet answered, Rhapsody echoing his reply, and Rose shaking her head to the negative, although she didn’t seem to have any idea what it was all about. Scarlet pushed both mother and child outside, closely following, with the cardboard plane tucked under his arm. “Come on, girls, we have some packing to finish!”
“Bye, Unca Rick!” Rose called out loud. “Bye, Unca Adam! Bye, Unca Charlie!”
The last word made White stop in his tracks. He spun around, just in time to see the door sliding close and the departing family who had hurriedly left without looking behind. Captain Blue and Captain Ochre were keeping deadly quiet and had stopped working on whatever they were doing. Both were wishing to be somewhere else, but at the same time, they had tremendous trouble not to chuckle.
“What are you waiting for?” White suddenly shouted at them, turning around to look at them. “This is a military base, not a… a kindergarten! Go back to work!”
“Yessir!” both captains answered with the same tone.
“And if I ever catch the one who taught that child to call me ‘Uncle Charlie’, he’ll be in DEEP trouble!”
“You should never have referred to the colonel as ‘Uncle Charlie’, when you talked about him to Rose,” Rhapsody Angel admonished her husband once they were in the quarters they had been sharing for the past three years. The place was double the size of other officers’ quarters. When the two had married, a wall had been taken down between two of those quarters and rebuilt for a slightly bigger living area for the family, a sleeping area for the parents – separated by part of a wall from the living area, for some privacy – and a small, adjacent room for Rose, with a communicating door. Not even Captain Blue and Symphony Angel had quarters as ‘big’. They were still confined enough, however, for Rose to try to get out and wander about the base, whenever she had the chance. Like she had done today. She was normally an obedient child, though, and about the only places she wasn’t allowed to go where she would go anyway were the Control Room… and the Colonel’s quarters, right next door. Because she knew those were the places where she would get to meet her ‘Uncle Charlie’, of whom she was particularly fond. For some reason, Colonel White NEVER intimidated her. Which was something lots of people couldn’t even say for themselves.
“You know how he HATES to be called that,” Rhapsody continued, watching as Scarlet, seated on the sofa of their Christmas decorated living area, was busy building a small pre-fabricated toy rocket on the low table, with Rose looking on with deep interest.
“He ACTS as if he hates it,” Scarlet replied, trying to fit a wing onto the toy. “You know how much he loves Rose. He could never get angry at her.”
“At Rose, no. But at US…”
“You worry too much, my love.” Scarlet’s answer was careless enough. His wife wasn’t so sure the subject should be discarded that easily, but she could see she wouldn’t get to him at the moment. He was far too busy. Having finished building the rocket, he presented it to Rose. “How’s this, Rosie?”
The child’s answer was a vigorous nod. But she only glanced at the toy very briefly, before pushing it aside.
“Are we going to see Granny soon?” she asked, carefully eyeing her father.
“Tomorrow, if the weather allows. There’s lots of snow falling over England at the moment. Would you like to play in the snow?”
Another vigorous nod. “Will Santa find me?”
“He never forgets you. I don’t see any reason for that to change.” Scarlet’s brow furrowed a little. “Santa? Oh, you’ve been hanging around Uncle Adam and Auntie Karen too much, haven’t you, Rosie?”
“AND all our other American colleagues,” Rhapsody added, looking down with interest at the cardboard plane Ochre had made for the little girl. “She’s picked up quite a few American expressions; she asked me earlier if we’d make ‘snow angels’ when we were down there. I’m afraid I had no idea what she meant!”
“Auntie Karen told me!” piped up Rose. “She said you and Mummy would like it!”
“I’m sure we will, sweetie,” said Scarlet.
“I’m afraid Father Christmas will forever be ‘Santa’ for her,” Rhapsody continued.
“You must admit that the other name is quite a mouthful,” Scarlet remarked with a grin. He noticed the serious expression upon his daughter’s face. There was something else on her mind. He frowned again. “Now what seems to be the problem? You seem so preoccupied.”
“She’s worried that… ‘Santa’ won’t find her if we leave Cloudbase,” Rhapsody explained, approaching from behind. “Because he always came here in the past.”
“Well, if the weather doesn’t clear up, that won’t be a problem,” Scarlet muttered. “We may be stuck here until after Christmas Eve…”
“We won’t go to Granny’s house?” Rose asked. There was obviously some worry in her big blue eyes.
Scarlet nodded quietly. “So you want to go to Granny’s house, but at the same time you’re worried that Santa won’t find you if you leave here?” he said, rubbing his chin. “Well, now… that’s a problem. What should we do about it?”
“She had me write a letter to Father Christmas,” Rhapsody said, crouching behind the sofa and leaning close to her husband. “To give him your parents’ address, so he won’t forget about her.” She produced a green envelope, not yet sealed, with a Santa Claus stamp on it.
“Well, that sounds all right to me,” Scarlet grinned. “But what about if we don’t leave?”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes. “WHY do you have to make everything so complicated?” she grumbled with a sigh of annoyance.
“Hey! You’ve got to admit it’s a possibility,” Scarlet replied. “And I’m sure that’s worrying Rose too. Isn’t that right, sweetie?”
Another nod. Rose wasn’t a child to waste too many words, when she could avoid it. Scarlet took Rhapsody’s envelope and opened it to take out the letter. Unfolding it, he could see, underneath a drawing of Santa Claus driving his team of reindeer, a proper letter to Santa Claus, in the stylish writing of his wife. She hadn’t only made believe she was writing a letter for her daughter. She really HAD written it. Even though Rose couldn’t read it. Scarlet looked at Rhapsody with curiosity.
“I can see you went to a lot of trouble with this,” he noted.
She reddened a little, and then shrugged. “Anything for our daughter, you know that,” she said as an explanation. “Beside, I haven’t written to Santa for years. I had to apply myself.”
“Well, then…” Scarlet took the fountain pen he had in his tunic pocket, and put the paper down on the table. His eyes were glittering, as they did every time he answered a challenge. Even a childish one. “Let’s see if I can come up with something as good.” He started to add to the letter, underneath his wife’s writing. “Dear Santa…”
“I already put that,” Rhapsody remarked, the amusement vastly obvious in all her features.
“Give me a chance, will you?” Scarlet protested. He thought a little, then continued to write. “If I can’t be at my grandparents’ house in Winchester… That’s where we’re going, aren’t we, Rose?” He looked up briefly to see his daughter giving him a big smile. He dutifully continued to write his note. “If I can’t be at my grandparents’ house in Winchester due to the blizzard, please leave my presents at the same place as last year…”
Rhapsody looked over to the corner of their quarters, where stood the six foot tall Christmas tree that they had decorated with lights and ornaments a couple of days earlier. “Under the tree, in my parents’ quarters on Cloudbase,” she said musingly.
“I don’t think Santa needs that detailed information,” Scarlet replied. “He knows where Rose lives, after all…”
Rhapsody chuckled. “You’re taking the easy way out, Metcalfe.”
“Thank you very much for answering my letter… Yours truly, Rose Metcalfe.” Scarlet looked up at his wife, grinning, pointing to the last line. “You forgot to write THAT.”
“Show off,” she snorted playfully.
“How’s Santa going to get it?” Rose then asked, with a dubious frown.
“Yes, now THAT’s a problem,” Scarlet agreed, his frown such a perfect copy of his daughter’s that Rhapsody nearly laughed, seeing the obvious resemblance.
“Well, there’s an address in North Pole, Canada, where we can send it…” Rhapsody noted. “It’s been working for over a century, and everybody in the world can use it. Santa always answers, they say.”
“I’ve heard of it, but I’m afraid it would arrive too late,” Scarlet replied. He made a show of thinking hard about it. Then he looked down at his daughter. “I’ve heard that when you want to send a letter to Santa Claus, you only need to put it into the fire in a fireplace and he’ll receive it right away.”
“But it’ll burn!” Rose protested loudly.
“Yes, to you and me, it looks as if it’s burning. But you’ve got to think HARD about Santa Claus, and, by the power of the Christmas magic, the letter will fall right into his lap, as if it hadn’t burned at all. And then he’ll be able to read it.” He looked at Rhapsody over his shoulder. “Much quicker than that address in Canada.”
“Christmas magic, really?” Rhapsody said with a brief nod. “Where did you hear about that?”
“I don’t really remember, but I know it works.”
“We haven’t got a fireplace,” Rose remarked at that moment.
“No. No, we haven’t.” Scarlet looked down at the table, and noticed a Christmas candlestick, all decorated with ornaments and plastic mistletoe, standing in the middle of it. “But we can have fire, that’s all we really need, isn’t it?”
Rhapsody went in search of a lighter carefully put away out of Rose’s reach and gave it to her husband. Ceremoniously, he lit the candle, and then, folding the letter and putting it back into its envelope, put it over the flame, letting it catch fire. He glanced over at Rose. “Now think about Santa…” He saw the child shutting her eyes tightly, obviously concentrating very hard. He smiled and put the remainder of the burning paper onto a glass plate Rhapsody had brought in for the occasion. “Now I don’t think you’ll have to worry anymore,” Scarlet said, causing Rose to open her eyes to watch with some kind of fascination as the paper disintegrated into ash on the plate. “Santa Claus will receive your letter, and he’ll know what to do. Whether you’re here or in Winchester.”
Rose smiled broadly. Then she ran into her father’s arms, hugging him tight. “Thanks, Daddy!”
Scarlet held her close. “Hey, you know I would do anything for you!” He looked up to exchange glances with Rhapsody. The latter was smiling fondly; the expression on their daughter’s face warranted all of Scarlet’s efforts. She patted his back approvingly.
“Well done, Captain Scarlet,” she said, hugging him from behind. “You’re the best ‘Daddy’ in the world.”
“How could I be so unlucky?!”
Captain Grey was literally battling with the control column of his Spectrum Passenger Jet, trying to keep it steady in the punishing winds of the storm. That wasn’t an easy task. Although an experienced pilot, like all Spectrum senior staff officers, Grey was more at ease on the water or underneath it, as his first training had been to man watercraft and submarines. He could only admire Captain Blue or Captain Ochre for their easiness at flying aircraft in whatever weather conditions. Now, he was feeling as if he was establishing his worth, under the worst of conditions.
“Why me?” he mumbled, his mood rather gloomy. “Why did it have to happen to me? And on Christmas Eve, to boot?”
Grey had left Spectrum Headquarters London just before the snowstorm had hit England, some hours ago, and had headed for Paris, France, where Spectrum business had called him. He had heard a weather forecast over the radio, warning of the violence of the blizzard, and had felt considerable relief to have left just in time. But then, the storm had begun to spread to the coast of France. Grey had hurriedly finished his business and prepared to go back to Cloudbase, onboard an SPJ, hoping he would be able to beat the approaching storm.
It quickly caught up with him, and he was now right in the middle of it. No snow, though, but a violent rush of winds, seemingly coming from all sides, and rain that was reducing visibility to near zero. And lightning and thunder rumbling all around the plane.
Grey had called Cloudbase to inform them of the possibility of arriving behind schedule, due to the bad weather. Hearing his friend Ochre’s concerned tone over the radio, he had reassured him that it was nothing he wouldn’t be able to handle.
He was almost bragging, at the time. And now, he was plainly having second thoughts.
To make matters worst, his scheduled co-pilot, coming down with the flu at the last possible minute, wasn’t able to come with him, and had to stay in Paris. So Grey had to pilot the jet alone, and was certain that Colonel White would reprimand him for such disregard for personal security, once he got back to Cloudbase.
If I even make it there! he added inwardly.
He was at this point in his reflections when a bolt of lightning flashed across his windshield, and a sudden gust of wind pushed the craft to the left. He found himself fighting with the controls.
Okay, Brad… You’d better concentrate on the job at hand… Or you’ll plough yourself right in the ground, thousands of feet below, and they’ll be scraping up your remains for years to come. You just have to get yourself OVER those clouds; after that, everything will be okay. How hard could that be, anyway? The Angels do it all the time…
Wish I had one of ‘em with me right now…
Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel had tucked Rose in rather early, as she was so eager to leave for her grandparents’ home the following day. No sense in telling her that they would probably not be leaving soon, and that maybe they would have to wait a little longer than previously planned, she would not have listened. She just wanted to go to bed and go to sleep as soon as possible, so that the night would be over and tomorrow would finally be there. In a manner of minutes, she found herself in the world of dreams, leaving her parents to spend a quiet evening alone together. They had sat on the sofa for a long time, doing nothing other than nestling in each other’s arms, watching the blinking lights of the Christmas tree; talking very little, just enjoying each other’s company. Then, they had gone to bed, quietly, without making too much noise, for fear of disturbing their little angel sleeping in the small room nearby.
Lying next to his sleeping wife, Scarlet was restless. He was feeling nervous. He had the impression that something was about to happen; he had no idea what it would be, but he knew for sure it would be devastating.
He was just certain his Christmas plans were going to be sent down the tubes.
The Mysterons had kept Spectrum busy for a full month before, without giving anybody a chance to rest – evidently, Scarlet less than anybody else, as he was called on to make use more than once of his special abilities, inherited from the time he had been under the aliens’ control, some years ago. Then, for the last week, they had kept quiet. Too quiet, in fact, for Scarlet’s taste. He wasn’t counting on them giving time off for the Holiday Season. That would be too much to ask. For the Mysterons, there would be no better time to strike. After all, for them, it was a ‘war of nerves’. Nothing could be more demoralizing for their human opponents than to face a threat, during a time when everybody should be in a celebratory and festive mood.
No, they were up to something; Scarlet could feel it deep inside himself. They were just waiting for the right instant. And just the thought of that – especially that it could even involve his family, his very precious daughter – was enough to stop Scarlet finding restful sleep.
A sound in the dark suddenly made him open his eyes and stare at the ceiling. He frowned, wondering if it was coming from his overactive imagination. Looking to his right, he could see Rhapsody, sleeping against him, an expression of peaceful contentment upon her face. He was sure she couldn’t be the cause of that sound he thought he had heard.
He was preparing himself to go back to sleep when the sound made itself heard again. Something had fallen on the floor, in the living area nearby. He couldn’t see anything, partly because of the darkness, and partly because of that half-wall that had been kept to separate it from the sleeping area. He could just make out the flickering, multicoloured lights of the Christmas tree, reflecting upon a far wall.
Then he saw a shadow.
Now fully awake, Scarlet sneaked out of bed, trying not to disturb Rhapsody. He wouldn’t want her to wake up, for no reason. After all, it could possibly be Rose, who had got out of bed, and was playing in the living area, so late at night. He checked his watch. The illuminated hands indicated to him that it was nearly two o’clock in the morning.
Scarlet put on a night robe, took his gun – just in case – and carefully walked towards the living area, nearly hugging the separating wall. He glanced about, straining his eyes in the semi-darkness, looking for any intruder, keeping his weapon out of view. If it IS Rose, I certainly don’t want to frighten her…
A shifting shadow made him look toward the Christmas tree. He saw a large red blob moving at its foot. His first thought was that Rose had found his uniform and was playing with it again, despite the fact that he had strictly forbidden her to do so. Then he realized that the silhouette was far too large to be Rose. And that it wasn’t wearing his uniform at all.
There really WAS an intruder in their quarters, and that made Scarlet’s blood boil. He hastily stepped out of his hiding place, gun at the ready, and walked into the living area, toward the tree and the red shadow at its foot. Before he could call to the intruder, his feet entangled with something big and he stubbed his foot against a piece of furniture. He let out a grunt of both surprise and pain, and half-crashed to the floor. The sound startled the intruder and he jumped to his feet, nervously. It was all Scarlet could do at the moment to get himself up, struggling with the object that had entangled itself with his feet.
That was about at that exact moment that the quarters’ speakers suddenly came to life, first with the crackling sound of static, then with the ominous alien tone that Scarlet had never grown accustomed to over the past few years.
He just KNEW they would manifest themselves.
“This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know you can hear us, Earthmen. Spectrum will soon destroy the Spirit of Christmas for us. We will be avenged!”
Marvellous! thought Scarlet, still trying to free himself. Just what we need! A cryptic threat just before Christmas!
He was suddenly aware of a presence near him, and raised his eyes in time to see a rounded and rosy face, surrounded by a long beard as white as snow, and looking down at him with concerned blue eyes, surmounted by shaggy white brows.
“I hope you didn’t hurt yourself, son.”
The intruder was presenting a helping hand, but Scarlet was barely aware of it. What he was aware of, however, were the general features of the man looking down at him, and the way he was dressed. That suddenly made Scarlet jump to his feet, kicking away the object still around his left one. The man took one step back, startled. Scarlet could very clearly hear the faint jingling of bells coming from him. He was a big, red-clad old man, with an over-present belly, white fur decorating his coat, a red hat, black boots, and a big, shiny, silver buckle on his black belt. Scarlet blinked several times, staring at him; if not for the Mysterons’ voice he had just heard, he would have sworn he was dreaming!
Wary at seeing the man approach him, Scarlet lifted his weapon. “Stay where you are!”
The man dressed as Father Christmas stopped instantly, eyeing the pistol with a somewhat disapproving look. “I wish people wouldn’t do that!” he sighed, with a tone of annoyance.
“Who are you?” Scarlet barked. “What are you doing here?” He looked around, nervously. “Is this some kind of joke? Has Captain Ochre hired you to play a trick on me?”
“Captain Ochre?” the big man repeated, furrowing his brow, as if recalling who that could be. “Oh, you mean Richard, don’t you? Can’t always recall all those names you’ve given yourselves…” He gestured toward the gun. “Please, can’t you put that away? I assure you, I am no threat to you.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m not reassured!” Scarlet snapped, not lowering his weapon, and keeping it aimed at the intruder.
“What’s going on here?” The voice of Rhapsody Angel made itself heard behind Scarlet. She called out to the computerised environmental controls, and the lights came on. The intruder groaned with obvious displeasure when he saw the gun in the young woman’s hand, aimed straight at him. She, too, opened disbelieving eyes when she clearly saw the Santa-clad man, standing there, a few feet away from her husband.
“What is this?” she asked abruptly, with a deep frown. “Captain Ochre’s idea of a joke?”
“I can assure you, young lady… Your friend has nothing do to with my presence here.”
“Spectrum Security!” Scarlet shouted toward the comm-link set upon the wall of their quarters. The voice-recognition device automatically registered the urgency of his tone to open up a channel to the requested service. “This is Captain Scarlet. Intruder alert in my quarters. Send a armed security team in here right away, with an electron gun and a Mysteron detector!”
“Great!” the white-bearded man mumbled. “More weapons… You guys will ruin everything! I’m on a tight schedule, you know!”
“I bet!” Scarlet hissed between his teeth. A brief glance on the floor informed that the object he had tripped over had been the cardboard plane made by Ochre for Rose. Now it was lying all over the place, broken beyond repair. I have to tell Rose not to leave her toys lying everywhere!
The intruder grumbled something, and went to sit down on the sofa, but the severe voice of Rhapsody instantly called him to order.
“Stay right where you are, mister!”
“Oh really! Do I look like a threat? Would you put the weapons down, the two of you?”
“Certainly not!” Scarlet replied harshly. “You’ll stay quiet until the security team arrive, is that clear?” He briefly glanced over his shoulder, toward Rhapsody. “Did you hear the Mysteron threat?”
“Yes, I did,” she answered, nodding. “A loud crashing noise woke me up just in time to hear their melodious voice.”
Scarlet was too mortified to confess to her that HE was the cause of that ‘crashing noise’ she had heard.
“These… ‘people’ give you a lot of trouble, don’t they?” the Santa-like man asked.
“You probably know that better than we do,” Scarlet replied, his eyes flashing with anger. “Now, answer my question! Who are you?”
“Well, friends call me Kris, but…”
“Yes, Kris Kringle.”
“Kris Kringle? Just who do you think I am?”
“Well, to Spectrum, you are Captain Scarlet,” the man said, chuckling. “But to me you’re still Little Paul Metcalfe.”
“And HOW do you know that?”
“Shouldn’t that be obvious, lad? And no, that doesn’t mean I’m ‘working for the Mysterons’!” Despite the weapons aimed at him, he sat down heavily on the sofa and let out a big huff. “I’m afraid the Mysterons and I would not be on very good terms!”
A few feet to Scarlet’s left, the door leading to Rose’s room opened and the sleepy little girl appeared in the doorway, blinking her eyes in the ambient light; she obviously had been awakened by all those strange noises in the night. Scarlet almost protested, upset that she should be there. He wondered if she had heard the terrible voice of the Mysterons, and was concerned that it might have frightened her, hearing it like that in the middle of the night. But she didn’t appeared frightened in the least, not even upset. She was just rubbing her sleepy eyes, looking around, wondering what was going on.
Then she discovered the Santa-dressed man seated on the sofa. And suddenly, her eyes went big and bright.
To both Scarlet and Rhapsody’s utmost horror, she excitedly darted toward the intruder. Scarlet barely had the time to move into her path to catch her before she could reach the man calling himself ‘Kringle’.
“No, Rose!” Scarlet said in an urgent and severe tone. “Don’t go near him!”
She turned a confused expression at him. She could see his eyes trembling, but failed to see the worry in them; and certainly she couldn’t understand why he was holding her so tight. Even TOO tight; in his concern to keep her away from Kringle, he was almost hurting her.
“Daddy?” she said in a whisper, apparently a little frightened by his behaviour. “What is it?”
“Don’t go running to strangers like that, Rose!” he urged her. “Never, do you understand?”
“But Daddy… It’s Santa.” The timid reply from his daughter made Scarlet’s heart sink. He didn’t know how to explain to her that this red-clad old man couldn’t possibly be Father Christmas. That it was most probably part of some Mysteron trick for one of those devilish plots they had prepared, and that he didn’t want to take the risk of seeing her near that man.
“You must always listen to your father, child.” That was the intruder’s voice, speaking softly to Rose; Scarlet just about to tell him to butt out, when the door leading into their quarters slid open and four guards entered to surround the suspicious visitor, keeping him in their line of fire; the latter let out a sigh and rolled his eyes, with exasperation. “Oh no… Not more weapons! This is becoming ridiculous!”
“Get him out of here!” Scarlet snapped, infuriated by the man’s mere presence. “Search him for weapons, check him out with the Mysteron detector and take him to the brig!”
Upon seeing the guards roughly hauling ‘Santa’ to his feet and escorting him through the door, little Rose had suddenly protested and started to struggle to get free from her father’s grip. Scarlet found he had his hands full, trying to keep her away from the intruder, firmly enough, but without hurting her. He tried to reason with her, but she simply didn’t listen. She was crying and protesting, and trying to escape. She couldn’t understand rationally what was going on. The only thing she was seeing with her child’s eyes was that her Santa Claus was being manhandled and taken away from her, under the order of her own father. That didn’t make any sense to her.
“Please, don’t!” she pleaded, her voice nearly drowned by her tears. “That’s Santa, Daddy! That’s Santa!”
“Rose, calm down!” Scarlet tried to call to her. “That isn’t Santa Claus.”
“He is! I know he is! Please, don’t hurt him!”
“We won’t, Rose. Please, calm down!”
“Santa!” Rose’s imploring eyes reached out for those of the elderly man standing in the doorway, being dragged away from the room. He addressed her a quiet, comforting look, and then nodded in her direction.
“It’s all right, little one,” he said in a deep, gentle voice. “These men are only doing their job. They won’t hurt me.”
The door slid closed on him, and only then did Scarlet allow himself to let go of his daughter. Rose’s first move was to dart toward the door but she seemed to suddenly change her mind, and went directly to her mother, clutching her legs, as if not wanting to let go, and crying helplessly.
“He’s gone!” she sobbed loudly. “Santa’s gone! They’re going to hurt him! I know they will!”
There wasn’t much that Rhapsody could do to comfort her, stroking her dark hair and hushing her soothingly. Rose continued to cry, holding on to her mother’s legs in desperation, without calming down. Rhapsody looked up to Scarlet, with a querying, almost imploring look. Feeling dreadfully uncomfortable, he approached and tried to reach for Rose.
“Rose… Please, listen to me.”
She didn’t even acknowledge him, except to clutch her mother’s legs more tightly… and to draw back from her father’s touch. Scarlet froze instantly, his heart sinking deeper still.
“Rose… Don’t do this, sweetie, please.”
His pleading tone fell on deaf ears. Rose had screwed her eyes shut, and was sobbing silently. Rhapsody took her up in her arms, exchanging worried looks with her husband. Both felt so helpless at seeing their daughter so upset, for what seemed to them such a futile reason.
“Come on, Rosie,” Rhapsody whispered in the little girl’s ear. “I’ll put you back to bed…”
She didn’t answer when Rhapsody took her back to her room. She avoided making eye contact with her father. He felt a pang of pain as he watched her being taken away from him.
He didn’t know what was hurting him the most. The accusing look he had seen earlier in the eyes of his daughter. Or the way she was now ignoring him.
He had to do something about it.
“Kris Kringle? Are you serious?”
“That’s what he said, sir.” Scarlet stood next to Colonel White, in front of the window permitting them to see into the security room. ‘Kris Kringle’ was seated all alone in the room, at a table, sipping water from a plastic glass, very quietly. He had not made a threatening move so far, and had quietly undergone the search without any protest. He had had his red coat removed, and was now only wearing a delicately woven, old-fashioned silk shirt, decorated with fine red embroidery.
“Seems passive enough,” White murmured, rubbing his chin, eyeing the man conspicuously.
“Aside from the fact that he keeps saying that he’ll be late for his ‘round’ if we continue to keep him locked up in there,” Scarlet snorted derisively.
White nodded. There was no other place he would want the intruder to be, until they were sure of who and what he could be. The ‘security room’ had been especially designed to detain Mysteron agents – or suspected Mysteron agents; seeing as sometimes they could transform themselves into walking bombs, and explode. Should a case like that present itself, the room would be able to withstand the explosion and contain it, without any damage anywhere else on base. Even the observation room was secure enough, with its unbreakable one-way-view Plexiglass window, permitting observers to watch what went on in the room without being seen or heard.
“It’s not a false beard,” White murmured, “or a false belly… He seems to really be the age he looks…”
“You DON’T really believe…”
“Of COURSE not.” White turned around and walked towards the table. There was a large bag made of a red velvety fabric on it. Captain Scarlet had found it in his quarters, after the arrest. It was empty of anything, and was lying flat on the table. White opened it to look inside, thoughtfully. “I’m just trying to understand WHERE this old man posing as Father Christmas comes from.” He nodded. “Nothing in there. Did he leave anything in your quarters? I don’t know, seeing his taste at playing Father Christmas, maybe he put a... ‘gift’ amongst the presents under your tree.”
“Everything has been taken from our quarters, and Rhapsody has gone with a team of investigators to check that out. So far, everything seems in order. I mean, everything is accounted for, and nothing has been added.”
“The boxes are being opened?”
“Yes, sir.” Scarlet sighed. “So much for my special surprise for my wife,” he grumbled in an undertone. “Now she probably knows what I’ve given her for Christmas this year.”
“What about Rose? How is she?”
“All right, I suppose.” Scarlet sighed again, morosely. He had not really talked to his daughter since Rhapsody had taken her back to her room. To be precise, she had not wanted to see him. When he had gone to visit her, before leaving to make his report on the incident, she had totally ignored him, by making believe she was asleep. But he knew perfectly well she was awake. “We left her in the care of Symphony and Captain Ochre. I don’t want her without surveillance, at the moment.”
White nodded, thoughtfully. There was a strange look upon the features of his junior officer. His concern was plainly evident; the man definitely had a scare over the incident. The thought that this intruder could have put his little girl in danger was still upsetting him. But along with the worry and fear he was still feeling, there was also a dangerous glow in his eyes; one that indicated beyond any doubt that he was determined to protect his daughter from any danger, no matter the cost.
“I can see how this could be distressing you, Scarlet,” White remarked with some sympathy. “But you must not let it cloud your judgement. The Mysterons said they wanted to destroy the Spirit of Christmas. More precisely, they said that Spectrum would do it for them. I don’t think your daughter has any part whatsoever in their plans.”
Scarlet glowered at him. “Thank you for trying to reassure me, sir,” he responded with a tone still dry enough. “But that doesn’t change the fact that THIS MAN was in OUR quarters. And I can’t help wondering what he wanted there.”
The door slid open, to allow Captain Blue to walk in. He was holding a file in his hands. White and Scarlet looked at him, expectantly. While Scarlet had been giving his report to the Spectrum commander, Blue had been conducting the interrogation and investigation of the intruder. Now, the American captain seemed rather unsure, as he stared back at his English colleagues.
“Well?” Colonel White asked with some impatience.
“Well, sir,” Blue started carefully, “since Mister… ‘Kringle’ had no identification on him, we had to conduct an identity search in the Cloudbase databank, to find out if he couldn’t be part of the crew… a civilian member, maybe. Which would have been surprising, but…”
“Yes, that had to be checked. So I take it he’s not?”
“No. So far, Captain Magenta’s found nothing that would lead us to believe that.”
“Could he have stowed away in one of the incoming aircraft?” Scarlet asked.
“That would be the only explanation, although I can’t see HOW he could have managed that.”
“UNLESS somebody brought him aboard.” Colonel White frowned, an irritating thought crossing his mind. “Are you SURE he wasn’t hired by Captain Ochre to play one of those obnoxious pranks he’s so fond of?”
Captain Scarlet smiled almost despite himself; White was only the third person to come to that conclusion.
“That would be VERY surprising,” Blue replied, shrugging. “Captain Ochre was very upset when he learned that an intruder posing as Santa Claus had entered Captain Scarlet’s quarters.” He looked at Scarlet. “He was concerned that this guy may have been after Rose.”
“Don’t you think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind?” Scarlet grumbled. “Seeing the disguise he chose…”
“The question now would be what business a Mysteron agent had in your quarters,” White replied. “And in what way it could serve his mission.”
“Er... Sir,” a still unsure-looking Captain Blue then objected tentatively. “It’s not even sure he’s a Mysteron agent.”
White narrowed his eyes at him. “Whatever do you mean, Captain? You DID have him checked with a Mysteron detector?”
“Yes, sir. But the results... are not conclusive.” Blue fished out a couple of pictures from his file and handed them to both Scarlet and White. “See for yourself.”
White glanced at his photo, and shrugged, a bit annoyed. “I can only see the top of an empty chair.”
“Well, sir...” Blue indicated the other room, through the window, through which they still could see the seated Kris Kringle. “THAT’S the chair in question. And he was sitting in it, just as he is now, when we tested him.”
“What?” Scarlet exclaimed, showing his own picture to Blue. “You mean, THAT’S the result of the test?”
“We tried it twice. With the same results.”
“Using the same detector?” White asked.
Blue nodded. “I sent somebody to fetch another one from the armoury. While I sent the first detector to be checked. Could be defective.”
“But in that case, there would be NOTHING on that photo!” Scarlet protested. “We see the chair, part of the table, the wall behind… It’s as if you tried to photograph a ghost, or something!”
“He doesn’t have a device on him to do that kind of trick?” White asked with a frown. “Something similar to our anti-photography gear? A variant of that?”
“No, sir. We would have spotted it right away.”
“A variant,” murmured Scarlet, thoughtfully.
“What if he is a different form of Mysteron agent?” Scarlet proposed. “Instead of being impervious to X-rays, they would go right through him? Maybe they’re trying to find a way to counter our detector.”
“Come on, be serious!” Blue sighed.
“You have another explanation, Captain Blue?” Scarlet grumbled with annoyance.
“What about your own sixth sense, Scarlet?” White asked thoughtfully, not ready to accept nor dismiss Scarlet’s theory just yet.
“Well, I don’t feel any Mysteron presence in him. But that doesn’t prove anything. As you know, my sixth sense isn’t always reliable.”
“Too true. We’ll see what the test with the other detector says, then.”
“And what could be wrong with the one that took these pics,” Blue added.
“If the results are the same, I doubt it will do us any good,” Scarlet stated gloomily.
“And in the meantime, we still have to find out what the Mysterons plan to destroy this time,” White remarked. “That cryptic threat doesn’t tell us much. Do either of you have any ideas?”
Both Scarlet and Blue shrugged their ignorance of what it could be. From the corner of his eye, Scarlet noticed the alleged Mysteron agent, dressed as Santa Claus, heavily raising himself to his feet and coming toward the window, to knock on it. The sound couldn’t be heard from this side, but it was obvious he was saying something and that he wasn’t too happy. Scarlet drew White’s and Blue’s attention to their prisoner. The three Spectrum officers approached the window to observe the man. White pressed a button next to the window, activating the room speakers.
“...know you men are doing your job,” they heard Kringle say in an annoyed tone. “But you’ve got to let me go. I’ve got a job too, you know, and I’ll be awfully late if you keep me in here much longer!”
“Growing impatient, isn’t he?” Blue noted.
“He’s still staying in character,” White replied. “Maybe the Mysterons have Mysteronised a madman.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time, sir.”
“Colonel, I’d like to speak to him,” Scarlet then said, looking intently at Kringle. White was about to press the other button next to the first one he had pressed, but his junior officer stopped him. “I mean, face to face.”
“You want to enter the room?” White asked with a puzzled tone.
“Whatever for?” Blue added in turn. “What if he ignites, all of a sudden? You’d be trapped in there.”
“That’s why I want to go alone,” Scarlet objected. “And personally, I don’t think he would explode on me. I’m not the Mysterons’ target. They want to destroy the Spirit of Christmas. Whatever that is.” He nodded toward Kringle. “Talking to him may provide some clues to what the Mysterons are planning. Sometimes, they like to brag. I think it’s worth the risk.”
White hesitated. He wasn’t so sure the risk was that warranted. But seeing Scarlet’s determined face, he gave in. It was true they were still a long way from deciphering the riddle.
“All right, do it. But be careful. The minute you see he MIGHT want to explode, I want you out of there on the double. We don’t really know how well your retrometabolism would react if you’re blown to smithereens. And I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell your wife and child that something’s happened to you.”
“I won’t let that happen, sir,” Scarlet said with the briefest of smiles.
“Mean it, for a change,” White replied, sighing inwardly. “In the meantime, I’ll call a staff meeting and we’ll see if we can figure out what it is the Mysterons want to destroy this time.” He nodded towards Kringle, pacing relentlessly in his prison, and narrowed his eyes, thoughtfully. “Maybe our visitor is only serving as a distraction, to keep us busy and away from their actual target.”
“Anything’s possible, sir,” Scarlet remarked, glaring at the prisoner. “We all know how sneaky they can be. But I do intend to try and pry some information from our ‘Mister Kringle’. Mysteron or not, I expect him to explain himself.”
Spectrum Passenger Jet 41 had finally landed on Cloudbase’s runway, and had been lowered into the hangar below, where Lieutenant Silver and a group of security guards were waiting patiently for the craft’s pilot to come out. It took only a few minutes for Captain Grey to step out of the jet, and to approach Silver, with a large grin. “Never thought I’d make it in one piece!” he declared, shaking hands with Silver.
“Difficult trip?” Silver asked with a perplexed frown.
“Difficult all right!” Grey snorted. “That monstrous blizzard over England had moved in over France, by the time I left the airfield. I thought I’d left just in time, but it caught up with me. I was right in the middle of it. Visibility was practically zero!” Grey watched with puzzlement as three guards moved toward the SPJ he had just left. “Is something going on?”
“You can say that again,” Silver sighed. “The Mysterons announced a threat not two hours ago. We have to check every incoming and outgoing aircraft.”
“Oh no!” Grey grumbled. “Talk about a homecoming! What’s the target?”
“The Mysterons said they want to destroy the Christmas Spirit. Using Spectrum.”
Grey blinked. “Say what? The Christmas Spirit? And using Spectrum? They can’t be serious!”
Silver glared at him. “Since when are the Mysterons not serious about a threat, sir?”
“Point taken. Then it’s a cryptic threat. I REALLY hate it when they do that!”
“Colonel White is calling a staff meeting, sir. He has been informed of your arrival. You are to join in, when you have been cleared by the security check.”
“The security check?” Grey shot a curious look behind Silver. He could see the remaining guard there, keeping his hand on his gun, still in its holster. “Lieutenant, you’re not saying…”
“It’s nothing personal, sir,” Silver said with an apologetic smile. “The Mysterons DID say they wanted to use Spectrum. The Mysteron detector is in Hangar Deck Control. If you’ll follow me…”
Silver moved towards the door not far behind him. For a moment, Grey stood there, apparently wondering if he should comply. Then he sighed, and nodded his agreement. “Sure, Lieutenant,” he said with a dry smile. “After all, it’s only a matter of security…”
He followed Lieutenant Silver, with the guard bringing up the rear, and the three entered the office.
When Captain Scarlet entered the security room, Kris Kringle stopped his pacing and looked intently at him, fire in his previously quiet eyes. He seemed more than just annoyed, now. He was plain angry.
“Will you Spectrum people keep me in here long?” he asked. “I have work to do! And I can’t put it off to another day, you know!”
“Yes, tight schedule, you said,” Scarlet noted, nodding quietly. “Isn’t it a little early to start your round, Father Christmas?”
“I’ll have you know, young man, that it’s already December the 24th, in some parts of the world, right now! What do you expect, that I should start my round a minute before midnight?!” He grumbled, went around the table and sat on the chair he had previously occupied. “Wouldn’t give me enough time,” he added moodily.
Scarlet glared at him. “All right, enough games,” he said, sitting down on the remaining seat. “Now we’ll talk seriously.”
“Oh, really?” Kringle snorted. “And then what? You’ll let me go?”
“I can’t let you go.”
“But what about…”
“Your round? You can stop that, right now. Do you really THINK I’ll believe that?”
“Yes, you always were a boy who wouldn’t believe until he saw with his own eyes.”
“Stop pretending that you know me,” Scarlet said ominously.
“But I DO know you, Paul Metcalfe,” Kringle replied insistently, leaning over the table. “I’ve known you since you were…” He put his hand about two feet above the floor, “…that height, I think.”
The frown Scarlet gave him was anything but patient. It didn’t help matters that Kringle pointed to him, with his big finger, and chuckled openly. “Now that’s EXACTLY the face you were pulling the first time I saw you.”
“Will you STOP that?” Scarlet snapped, suddenly getting to his feet. “I’m not the least bit convinced by all this!” The older man shut up instantly and stared up at him. He didn’t appear frightened, or impressed in the slightest. There was just some curiosity in the clear, blue eyes, in the middle of that wrinkled but jolly face. Scarlet was determined not to let himself be deterred by the apparently innocent features of the man. He ceremoniously put down on the table the big velvet bag he had brought in from the other room.
“I want to know what you were doing in my quarters,” he said flatly.
“What do you think I was doing, Paul… Excuse me… Captain?”
“I’m asking the questions, Mister Kringle.”
“So you decided to call my by my name. But please, call me Kris.” Seeing that Scarlet was keeping a set face, he cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you’ll like my answer, to be truthful.”
“I came to leave a present for your daughter.”
Scarlet twitched, hearing that. Kringle was right; he didn’t like the answer. For more than one reason.
“Nothing had been added to the presents that were already under the tree. We checked.”
“That’s because I didn’t have time to leave it. As you recall… I was interrupted.”
Scarlet snorted. “Were you carrying it in that bag? It’s empty, Mister Kringle. It was like that when I found it in my quarters.”
Kris Kringle smiled. “For YOU, it’s empty, son,” he answered candidly. “Not for me.”
“You’re going to tell me it’s a MAGIC bag?” Scarlet said between his teeth.
“That’s my working bag. And well… yes, I guess it’s a magic bag.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “I would have been surprised if you'd said anything else!”
“It would be rather pointless and tedious to tell you of its origins… The truth is, I don’t know myself HOW it came to be...” Kringle seemed not to take notice of Scarlet’s exasperated expression as he gave all these details. He wasn’t really looking at him, actually, stroking the expensive fabric of his bag, and removing some lint he found on it. All the while, Scarlet was watching him with curiosity, not quite knowing what to make of his actions.
“It’s quite handy, you see,” Kringle continued. “Doesn’t take up too much space… It’s not too heavy… And I can find anything I need in it, without making any effort to…”
“MISTER Kringle, please!” Scarlet cut in. “Will you stop play-acting?!”
“But I’m not acting, Captain. I’m telling you the truth!”
“All that nonsense isn’t the truth! The truth is that you’re working for the Mysterons!”
“Now THAT is nonsense! Since when would Father Christmas be in league with those awful Mysterons? You know I wouldn’t hurt a fly!”
“You’re not Father Christmas,” Scarlet replied coldly. “You’re a Mysteron agent.”
“And what gives you an idea like that?” Kringle asked with a frown.
“You failed the Mysteron detector test.” The captain hesitated a moment. “Sort of.”
“Sort of?! What kind of a test is that?”
Scarlet sighed. “There is a possibility the Mysteron detector is defective. IF it isn’t defective, however… that would mean you don’t respond to the test like a normal agent would. Nor are you responding to it like a normal human being would.”
“Oh! I see!” Kringle then realized, nodding thoughtfully. “That’s that test you did with that X-ray device, isn’t it?” He saw the perplexed and suspicious way Scarlet was staring at him, and offered a bashful smile. “I’m so sorry the test isn’t conclusive. I know I’ve been having trouble having my picture taken… With normal cameras, that is. So it may be that your ‘Mysteron detector’ is experiencing the same problem…”
“You don’t appear on any of the pictures,” Scarlet replied gloomily. “I’d say that’s FAR from normal.”
“And so, what does it say to you?” Scarlet didn’t answer, contenting himself by staring rather coldly at a calm-looking Kringle. The older man leaned toward him. “Listen to your heart, Paul. Deep down, you know I’m not a Mysteron agent. You know who I am.”
“I know you’re NOT who you pretend to be,” Scarlet said, his tone still very icy. “You’re NOT Santa Claus.”
“You never really believed in me, did you?” Kringle asked with incredulity. “No… there was a time you believed. Long, long ago… when you were but a wee boy, as stubborn as you are now, now that you are a man. But I think you believed enough in me in those days, to try to pass on that belief to your own child today…”
“Keep away from my daughter,” growled Scarlet. “Whatever you want from her…”
“But I don’t mean her any harm, Paul,” Kringle murmured with a softer tone. “I would never hurt her, or any child in this world. You must believe that. Yes, I know your job doesn’t permit you to trust the word of just anybody. Seeing how the Mysterons work, you don’t even know if the person, even the friend, you’ll encounter next won’t be an enemy. I don’t blame you for not trusting me, for being wary of me like that. I don’t blame you for protecting your child the way you do. I understand perfectly.”
“You understand a little TOO perfectly,” Scarlet replied. “If you’re as innocent as you pretend to be about the Mysterons… how come you know so much about the way they work? How do you know so much about Spectrum too?”
“There is a lot I know about, Captain Scarlet. Much more than you can imagine.”
“And that doesn’t reassure me in the least,” Scarlet replied, furrowing his brow deeply. “Now why won’t you be honest and tell us what you know about the Mysterons’ threat?”
“You mean the one I heard when you startled me earlier in your quarters?”
“Why don’t you tell me what they mean by the ‘Spirit of Christmas’?”
“HOW should I know that?”
“Listen,” Scarlet replied, the irritation mounting in him. “YOU appear in my quarters, out of nowhere, dressed as Santa Claus, and at the same time, the Mysterons pronounce their threat. Don’t you think it’s obvious you’ve got something to do with it?”
“I’ll remind you it’s Christmas time, Captain. And that threat of theirs could mean anything. It’s got nothing to do with my presence here.”
“Right. And I’m Rudolph!”
Kringle let out a deep sigh. “You’re wasting your time with me, Paul. You’d better concentrate your efforts on something else, if you really want to stop this Mysteron threat. And let me go, please! I’ve got work to do! It’s my busiest day of the year, you know?”
“You’re going nowhere,” Scarlet replied, standing up. He had come to the conclusion that the Mysterons had indeed replicated a madman. That, or this man was cleverer than he looked. “You’re staying right here, until we figure out who you are, where you come from and what you’re doing here.”
“And all that, you naturally assume, has a link to the Mysterons.” Kringle shook his head. “A awful lot of children will be disappointed this year, you realise that?”
“Try to find a chimney to get out of here,” Scarlet deadpanned. He turned around and directed his steps towards the door. Kringle suddenly raised his voice behind him.
“Would you at least tell Rose I received her letter?”
Scarlet spun around, staring disbelievingly at the Santa-clad man. He saw him quietly nodding his head. “I’m sure she’ll be relieved to learn that.”
Scarlet tried his best to keep cool. How the hell could this man know about the letter? He was about to ask him that when he thought he had figured it out. It was only another trick from the prisoner. After all, Father Christmas received thousands and thousands of letters each year. Kringle was still playing a character, still trying to make the Spectrum officer believe he was the real deal. Any mention of a letter didn’t necessary mean a specific one.
Still, the remark had disturbed Scarlet a little, and it was with a pinch of doubt lingering in his mind that he stepped out of the room, letting the door close behind him.
Captain Scarlet went directly from the Detention Centre to the Conference Room, where the staff meeting had ended, about half an hour earlier. He found Colonel White, along with Captains Blue, Ochre and Magenta already working with numerous files in order to find out whatever it was the Mysterons meant by the ‘Spirit of Christmas’, they intended to destroy. Scarlet gave a quick report to Colonel White, concerning the ‘chat’ he had had with Kringle, and White simply nodded. He didn’t seem surprised by the result, actually, as he had already suspected that Scarlet’s effort wouldn’t prove conclusive.
Another thing that didn’t prove conclusive was the second series of tests by a new Mysteron Detector. The new pictures taken of Kringle were exactly the same as the first series, and everybody was rather baffled by them. No explanation could be found, except for the rather outlandish possibility presented by Scarlet himself earlier on. As for the explanation given by Kringle to the British captain… Well, Scarlet wasn’t even considering it, to begin with. It wasn’t really an explanation.
Called to the Control Room, White left his officers, and Scarlet joined his fellow captains in their research. It didn’t take much more than a few minutes for him to lose whatever was left of his patience, as he couldn’t see the end of the pile of documents set in front of him.
“This is utterly ridiculous!” he exclaimed, suddenly. “They can’t be serious this time! It must be some kind of joke!”
Captain Blue, consulting a file he had opened, raised an eyebrow, giving him a sideways look, before lowering his gaze again onto the paper he was reading. “You know the Mysterons don’t make jokes, Scarlet,” he stated. “They don’t have a sense of humour.”
“Unless they go and Mysteronise Ochre,” Captain Magenta, installed in front of a computer, declared, as he continued typing and scrolling down documents on the screen.
Captain Ochre, his nose in a file too, suddenly raised his head and let out a cry of pure outrage. “That’s it! Give them ideas, while you’re at it!”
“Relax, Rick. You know you’re out of danger… It’s Christmas they’re aiming at, not April Fool’s Day!”
Feeling like an injured party, Ochre opened his mouth, with the obvious intention of addressing Magenta with a fierce rejoinder. Somehow, this time, he couldn’t think of anything to say. He waved away the Irish captain’s remark with annoyance. “Let’s get down to business!” he grumbled. “If we ever want to get this done before Christmas!”
“You mean, if we want Christmas to happen this year,” Blue replied.
“Frankly, Adam…” Scarlet shook his head. The frustration in the room was palpable. Everybody, he knew, was feeling the same as himself. “The ‘Spirit of Christmas’ is a state of mind,” he continued restlessly. “A concept, an idea… Something intangible. It’s not solid, not an object or a person. HOW can you destroy it?”
“It could be a puzzle,” Magenta said, not looking away from his screen. “Remember we thought the same thing about ‘time’, years ago… And it turned out the Mysterons were talking about a person.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Ochre sighed tiredly. “We all know, YOU were the one to decipher the riddle. You never let us forget it, Pat.”
“Please!” Scarlet grumbled. “A little less argument, and a little more work here? This is getting us nowhere.”
“Don’t worry,” Ochre said, thumping the gloomy British captain’s back. “We’ll get through this, as always. Hopefully, before Christmas is through. Then you’ll be able to set out for that leave of yours, with your family.”
“I don’t want to sound like a pessimist,” Magenta then sighed, looking at his watch. “But it’s already December 24th. So we’d better work this out quickly, before the deadline.”
“If only we knew exactly what it is they’re planning,” Scarlet retorted. “But, no, we have no clues! Not a single one. And the fact that they said they would use SPECTRUM to carry out their threat makes matters worse!”
His tone was increasingly growing grumpy, and everybody knew the reason for it. There was his Christmas leave, of course, which, despite Ochre’s assertion, was more than likely going to be postponed. Not because of the blizzard over England, but because of the present Mysteron threat. There was also the fact that he had found that Santa-dressed man in his quarters, and couldn’t get anything out of him under interrogation – except his claims that he was indeed ‘Santa Claus’.
Many things about that man were unexplained, to say the least. His sudden presence on Cloudbase, how he could even be there in the first place, how he had foiled the various levels of security, getting as far as entering Scarlet’s quarters without the family’s personal code. Why the Mysteron detectors were giving those strange pictures when used on him. Why he seemed unlike any other Mysteron agent they had encountered, and was continuing to play the charade that way, even though he was under arrest. What could possibly be the purpose of that big, empty, velvety bag he had been carrying with him, and which was now lying on the table, between Scarlet and Blue.
All those unanswered questions were particularly getting on Scarlet’s nerves, and he was taking this very personally. Because, in addition to all that, there was also the fear he felt for his little girl. They had learned from Rhapsody that Rose was now very angry at her father for having ‘Santa’ arrested, unaware of the danger he could represent for her. It wasn’t so surprising that Scarlet was so stressed out.
Blue narrowed his eyes, looking at his friend closely. “How about you take some time off, Paul?”
“Time off? With this threat hanging over our heads?”
“Let’s face it, you’re not thinking straight, at the moment,” Blue replied, with a very quiet tone. “You’re preoccupied, that’s obvious.”
“Yes, you are. I know you pride yourself on leaving your personal problems aside when you work, but at the moment, I think you’re unable to do that. You’re concerned about what happened in your quarters tonight. You’re concerned about Rose. Don’t deny it.” He paused a second, waiting for Scarlet to answer. But his partner kept silent, thus confirming Blue’s observation. The American shook his head, thoughtfully. “You’d better go, buddy. I’m sure you’re dying to see her right now.” He gave a sly smile. “No pun intended.”
Scarlet hesitated a second. “Are you sure you…”
“Hey!” Magenta called from his station in front of the computer. “We’re got enough minds between us three to think it through without your brain mixing things up!”
Scarlet gave an inquiring look toward Ochre. The latter’s answer was a broad smile. “Go on, Paul. Go see your little girl,” he offered gently.
“You see?” Blue insisted. “It’s unanimous. Go now. Take the time you need, and let us handle this one for the moment. Come back when you have things settled with Rose.”
Scarlet didn’t need any more encouragement. With a smile and a thankful nod, he gathered up his cap, and left the Conference Room, without looking over his shoulder. Blue watched thoughtfully as the door slid closed on his best friend’s departure. Then he absentmindedly looked down at the red bag, on the table. He stroked the velvety fabric, wondering what to make of it. What Captain Scarlet had told them about it earlier came to his mind, but he discarded it almost instantly, judging that it had to be the most ridiculous assumption he had ever heard.
“Okay, guys,” he said with a sigh, addressing the two remaining captains with him. “Let’s see if we can crack this one, without Scarlet.”
“Without Grey too,” Magenta then said, suddenly. “Wasn’t he supposed to be back on Cloudbase by now?”
“The storm over Northern Europe delayed him,” Ochre remarked. “But I heard his SPJ touched down about an hour ago…”
Blue’s brow furrowed deeply. “Then where is he now?”
The grey-clad officer was marching down the corridor straight to the Detention Centre, oblivious to just about anything or anyone around him. He wasn’t nervous, as nobody was distrustful of him, and simply saluted him in a friendly manner. The base was on alert, he knew. That incident at the hangar had delayed his plans, but it couldn’t be helped. He had to follow the orders received, and had acted so he wouldn’t raise suspicion about himself. The important thing was to keep a low profile, until he was ready to strike. He realized, however, that it wouldn’t take too long for Spectrum personnel to realize that something peculiar had happened in the hangar bay. Somebody would be sent to investigate, and they would eventually find him out.
But it didn’t matter, as it would be too late.
Soon, he mused, he would strike a victorious blow for the Mysterons…
When Captain Scarlet entered his quarters, it was to find his wife gathering up a few misplaced items lying on the floor, to put them back to their rightful places. The security guards who had searched the place earlier for anything that could have been left there by the white-bearded intruder had done a thorough job, she had to admit, but they were anything but careful about the surroundings. Not that Rhapsody would bother about that much, under the circumstances, but she was about sure she would be tidying up after them for hours. That was a rather grim thought, as she liked their living quarters to be neat and clean – which wasn’t always possible with a small child in the way, always leaving toys lying somewhere around the place.
One look at the gloomy-looking Scarlet was enough for Rhapsody to figure out what kind of mood he was in, as he silently walked toward their sofa, to let himself fall heavily onto it. She kept looking at him for a minute, and watched as he put his feet up, tiredly, on the low table in front of him. He knew how she hated that, but at the moment, he seemed to have temporarily forgotten about it. And she couldn’t care less herself.
“You look awful,” she commented, approaching to sit next to him. “A lot on your mind?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, quite a lot, I’m afraid,” he answered with a sigh.
“The investigation isn’t going well?”
“You could even say that it hasn’t even begun!” He paused, then shrugged. “No, that’s not true. It has begun, but we haven’t made much progress.”
Understanding that he needed comforting more than anything else at the moment, Rhapsody snuggled up closely against him. He put one arm around her shoulders and drew her closer to hold her tight. He then began to explain all he knew – or didn’t know. He especially related his conversation with Kris Kringle, and the frustration that had resulted from it. She listened intently to him, without uttering a single word, until the very end of his story.
“So he didn’t admit he was a Mysteron?” she finally asked.
“Not even once,” Scarlet grumbled. “And he continues to pretend he’s ‘Santa Claus’, as if we would really believe that. I’m telling you, either that man is completely crazy, or he’s cleverer than he appears.”
“Or both at once,” Rhapsody noted, with a nod. “In any case, he left nothing suspicious in here. Whatever it was he was planning to do, he didn’t have the time. I think you surprised him just in time.”
“I wonder,” Scarlet murmured, frowning. “If he’s indeed working for the Mysterons, and seeing as they’re planning to ‘destroy the Spirit of Christmas’, I keep asking myself WHAT it was he wanted in here.”
“They said they wanted to use Spectrum,” Rhapsody reminded him. “What if… one of us was the target?”
Scarlet shuddered. The thought wasn’t really a reassuring one. He didn’t know how safe he was himself from the Mysteron influence, should they try to Mysteronise him, as they had done in the past. But he wasn’t comfortable with the idea that any of his family or friends could be targeted. As Kringle wasn’t armed – apparently – he couldn’t see how he could have hurt them. He tried to shrug the idea off, changing the subject.
“If we knew what the Spirit of Christmas means to them, that would help.”
“Is there a Christmas activity with which Spectrum could be involved?”
“We’ve already checked, Angel. Nothing remotely close to that, I’m afraid. That would have been too easy.” He sighed again, tiredly. “The others are still trying to figure that out, at the moment. I came in here to check on Rose.”
“She cried herself to sleep,” Rhapsody said sadly. “I suppose seeing ‘Santa’ being arrested like that came as a shock to her.”
“Poor kid,” Scarlet replied, half-grumbling. “I often wondered if it was wise to tell her all those stories, about Father Christmas and all, and let her believe in them. Now I see WHY I had such doubts.”
“You’re too pragmatic,” Rhapsody said with a faint smile. “You know children need those fantasies to brighten up their lives. Didn’t you ever believe in Father Christmas yourself?”
“Me!? No.” Scarlet paused a second, hesitating, under his wife’s inquiring gaze. A reluctant grin tugged at his mouth. “All right, maybe. Yes. But only for a short, a VERY short time,” he added quickly.
Rhapsody chuckled. “I was wondering where you had got that trick with the letter and the candle.”
“From my father, believe it or not,” Scarlet informed her. “Don’t ask me where HE got it from, though. And don’t ask HIM, next time you see him. I doubt that he’ll ever admit to doing it, even for me, let alone tell you where he learned it!”
“I knew your dad was a sweet, charming fellow,” Rhapsody said, the smile on her lips broadening. “Not as stuffy as he makes out, most of the time.”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully, not really hearing the last part of what his wife was telling him, his gaze fixed upon the door leading to his daughter’s room. “I’ve got to talk to Rose soon,” he murmured. “I can’t let her be angry at me like that for too long. That accusing look in her eyes was almost unbearable.”
“Paul, she’s only three years old,” Rhapsody remarked gently. “She’ll get over it very soon. You know how much she loves you. She can’t stay angry at you forever.”
“I see you still don’t know how long a Metcalfe can hold a grudge, Angel.” There was a lighter tone in his voice, however, and Rhapsody could see he didn’t really mean what he said. He was only joking. Or half-joking. In any case, it was a good sign that he was mellowing. Slowly, he nodded, acknowledging her reflection. He turned in her direction, locking eyes with her, tenderly stroking her cheek. “You’re right, of course. She’ll come around. But I’ve got to see her, anyway. First thing in the morning. I want to talk to her.”
“That I can understand,” Rhapsody said with a nod of her own. “And don’t worry, I’ll be there to stand by you.”
“As always, my lady. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
They exchanged a sweet, very brief kiss that was interrupted by a buzz from the comm link. Scarlet grumbled with irritation, and went over to the comm., pressing a button. He didn’t want to activate it by voice control, for fear of disturbing his sleeping child in the other room. The blinking blue light on the comm. informed him of who was calling.
“Yes, Captain Blue?”
“Captain Scarlet, have you seen Captain Grey this evening?”
“No, I haven’t. Hasn’t he got back from France yet?”
“His SPJ touched down here more than an hour ago,” the voice of Blue explained. “Right in the middle of the staff meeting, to be precise. Following standard red alert procedure, a security team was immediately sent to check both his craft and himself.”
Scarlet didn’t like at all the sound of what he was hearing. The hair on the back of his neck started to stand up straight. “What are you saying, Captain?”
“Well, since then, we’ve heard nothing from either Captain Grey, nor Lieutenant Silver, who was leading the security team. They can’t be found anywhere. I’m in the SPJ hangar at the moment. One of Silver’s men told me that while they were checking if the jet was okay, the lieutenant took Grey into Hangar Deck Control, for the Mysteron Detector test.”
“Silver was alone with Grey?” Scarlet frowned.
“No, he had a guard to back him up, just in case. But he’s also disappeared.”
Scarlet’s heart sank. Captain Grey was a fellow officer, as well as a very good friend, who had always been very loyal to him. From what Blue was telling him now, it looked very much as if the Mysterons could have got to him, at some moment when he was on ground, or during the flight back to Cloudbase. And upon arrival, knowing that he could be spotted by a simple Mysteron detector test, he could have got rid of Lieutenant Silver and his man – that would have been simple for a man as experienced and skilled as Grey. And then he could easily escape through the many corridors of the base, and hide anywhere, waiting for the moment to strike.
That was not a comforting thought at all.
“Grey did encounter very bad weather, during his trip back,” he said musingly, trying to hide his feelings.
“Yes, he did,” Blue agreed. “He was right in the middle of the storm over Northern Europe.”
Damn! Scarlet thought with irritation. My God, Brad, what if…
“All security personnel are on alert at the moment,” Blue continued. “At the moment, they’re searching for any trace of Grey, Silver and Sergeant Smith, the security guard that was with them. We’re hoping to find any of them soon. The colonel wanted me to inform you, so you’d better be on your guard. If Grey comes to your place…”
Scarlet gave a sigh, closing his eyes. “S.I.G., Captain Blue. We’ll be careful, if we see him.”
“A security team will be at your door shortly.”
“Good. That will be reassuring for me, when I come to join you. There’s no way I’m going to stay in here while a Mysteron prowls Cloudbase’s corridors.” And there’s no way I’m going to leave my family without protection while I’m gone!
“Somehow, I was expecting that from you. You’ll find me in the hangar.”
“I’ll be there as soon as that security team arrives.”
Scarlet cut the communication and turned towards Rhapsody. He could see the concern and sadness on his beautiful Angel’s face. She had heard all of the conversation, of course, and the news she had learned, at the same time as himself, was a devastating blow.
“Paul?” The hardened expression on her husband’s face was enough to confirm to Rhapsody that he felt the same way as she did. Gently, she touched his arm, and felt him shivering under her fingers. “Paul, not Brad? The Mysterons haven’t got to HIM?”
“I don’t know,” Scarlet murmured, not looking at her directly, unwilling to let her see in his eyes how hurt he was by the simple idea of losing yet another friend to the Mysterons. He didn’t want to frighten her even more. Even though he knew how strong she was. “But seeing the developments, I’d say it’s quite possible… and that we shouldn’t take any chances.”
“I’ll have to go, love. The minute those security guards arrive, I…”
Scarlet stopped suddenly. His wandering eyes had found something that had drawn their attention. His brow furrowed deeply, with perplexity. Rhapsody saw him move toward the low table in front of the sofa, to kneel in front of it, and look underneath. She approached, curious.
“What is it, Paul?”
Lying on the carpet, Scarlet had found a green envelope. He picked it up and showed it to his wife, an inquiring look in his blue eyes.
“It must have come from the box I bought recently for all those Christmas cards we sent. It’s the same kind we used last evening for that letter to Father Christmas.”
“I know, I noticed.” Scarlet’s puzzled expression deepened. He couldn’t help thinking at the last thing ‘Kris Kringle’ had said earlier, when he had left him in the security room.
Still on his knees, he was about to examine the envelope and its contents more closely when the door to Rose’s room slid open. Both parents looked up to see the small child standing in the frame, holding a white Teddy Bear wearing a Christmas hat. There was a weary and lost expression in the little girl’s eyes, as she looked into the room, apparently not seeing her parents at first.
She suddenly seemed to see them, a few feet from her, looking back at her with some concern in their eyes. A hesitant Scarlet gave her a shy smile, unsure of how she would react to him, and started to speak to her as gently as he could, so he wouldn’t frighten her.
“Hi, sweetie. What are you doing up so late? Shouldn’t you be in bed, sleeping?”
He didn’t really count on her running to him, as fast as her little legs could carry her, and colliding with him to snuggle close against him. At first surprised at her reaction, seeing how angry she had been with him earlier, Scarlet felt his heart warm up instantly. He held her tight, comfortingly, against his heart, letting out a contented sigh. He didn’t have to look up to know that Rhapsody was looking down at them with a satisfied and relieved expression on her face. She had been right all along. Their daughter had come around.
“I love you, Daddy…” Scarlet could hear Rose’s sobs, muffled against his shoulder. He patted her reassuringly, shushing her tears.
“It’s all right, sweetie. I love you too, you know…”
“They’re gonna hurt him…”
Scarlet’s brow furrowed a little. Even though there wasn’t any more resentment toward him in his little girl’s voice, he could still hear the concern she felt for that intruder she thought was Father Christmas. It wouldn’t suit well to get angry at her for that, not now, and anyway, she was too young to understand. So he set out to reassure her, concealing the truth from her about what was going on.
“No, Rose, don’t worry,” he told her with a very gentle tone. “You know Spectrum won’t hurt Santa… We’re the good guys, remember? We don’t go around hurting good people… You know I wouldn’t do that.”
She shook her head to the negative, insistently, still not looking up at him. “Not you, Daddy. Them. They’re gonna hurt him, I know.”
Scarlet was about to insist further; but then, a doubt insinuated itself into his mind. Them. Maybe she didn’t mean Spectrum. Him or anyone else from the organization. No, maybe she could mean…
Scarlet’s gaze fell upon the green envelope he was still holding in his hand; there was a Santa Claus stamp staring him right in the face. The envelope was not sealed, and he could see a folded paper in it. With Rose still clutching at him, he hurriedly opened the envelope, and unfolded the letter he found in it.
He first saw the heading, composed of Santa Claus’ sleigh and reindeer. Then the elegant writing of his wife, addressing Father Christmas…
Then his own writing, added underneath it.
He blinked several times, not believing the impossibility he was seeing.
“Tell Rose I received her letter…”
“Oh, dear God!” Scarlet pushed himself to his feet, lifting Rose up with him, and then put her into her mother’s arms. On Rhapsody’s face, there was an expression of incomprehension; she had seen her husband open the envelope and read the letter, but didn’t see what was on it. She couldn’t even begin to understand what could be going on in Scarlet’s mind as he hurriedly gathered up his cap and walked swiftly toward the door.
“I don’t have time to explain!” Scarlet turned around, putting on his cap as the door opened in front of him. He couldn’t tell her. He felt she wouldn’t believe him, not without concrete explanation. He even wasn’t sure he believed all of it himself. He had to make sure first. And if he was right, if Rose was right…
He just took the time to address a last word to his daughter: “Don’t worry Rose, nothing will happen to Santa. Daddy’ll make sure of it!”
With that, he disappeared quickly through the sliding door, and sprinted down the corridor.
With a team of security guards, Captain Blue was looking around in the SPJ hangar, hoping to find any clue of where the missing Captain Grey, Lieutenant Silver and Sergeant Smith had gone to. So far, they’d found nothing out of the ordinary. The SPJ seemed normal enough, but it wasn’t a sure indication that it was Mysteronised or not. If it was rather easy to spot a living Mysteron agent, using the Mysteron detector, it was totally different for a recreated object. There was no way to tell the difference between an original and a duplicate – except by using Captain Scarlet’s own sixth sense. But even then, the result wasn’t reliable. Scarlet’s special gift didn’t always work, unfortunately.
Alone, Blue entered the control room he had previously been into a few minutes earlier. The place looked like a storm had hit it; the worktable had been knocked over, and the floor was littered with paper. Obviously, there had been a fight in here. One of the security guards had earlier found a small stain of blood on the floor, indication that somebody had been wounded.
Blue looked around the silent room once more, scratching his head, trying to figure out how things must have happened. According to witnesses, Grey had been brought in here, and had come quite docilely. Nothing to indicate that he would resist the Mysteron detector test. Blue found the remains of the Mysteron detector on the floor. Broken beyond repair. Blue deduced that, with the door closed, at the moment they were about to do the test, Grey might have made his move against an unsuspecting Silver. Killing both the lieutenant and Sergeant Smith. Neither of the two men were amateurs. Surely they had been on their guard. Grey must have acted very quickly, in order to surprise them.
Crouched on the floor, examining the Mysteron detector, Blue discovered that there was still a picture in the device. Blue was about to press the button to eject it, when a faint sound caught his ear. He raised his head, listening carefully. Thumping. He was hearing regular thumping, faint, but obviously coming from close by. He looked around, pricking up his ears, to find the source of the sound. It seemed to come from a nearby door marked ‘File Room’. Blue went to it and pushed the button to open the door. The door refused to open. He then went to work on the door lock, to find it was protected by a security code. He didn’t take the time to go through a series of combinations to find it. He used his pistol to destroy the lock.
The door opened instantly, and a bound and gagged body fell against Blue’s leg. The grey tunic the man was wearing had a red stain on it, under his left shoulder, but he was still alive, judging by the moans coming through the gag. Blue let out a sigh of relief; he quickly crouched down, and swiftly removed the gag. Captain Grey let out a loud gasp, taking in a deep breath, that started his whole body shivering.
“Thank God!” he croaked. “Air…” He grunted as he tried to get into a sitting position, but Blue kept him down.
“Lie still, Brad. You’ve got a bad wound there. Boy, am I glad to see you alive!”
Grey nodded, blinking several times, still trying to regain his breath. He had really started to suffocate in his narrow prison. His eyes fell on a body lying in there, not moving. He grunted. “At least, I was the lucky one,” he whispered tiredly, his eyes threatening to close.
Blue glanced at the body inside, and recognized the black and white uniform of a security guard, sporting a large red spot on his chest. That was Sergeant Smith, and by all appearances, he had died of a gunshot wound. The same kind of wound inflicted on Captain Grey.
Blue dropped down his cap microphone to call the Control Room.
“Yes, Captain Blue?” the voice of Colonel White answered him.
“Sir, I found Captain Grey!” Blue said hurriedly. “He’s not a Mysteron, and he has been wounded. He needs medical attention right away.”
“S.I.G. We’re alerting sickbay. What exactly happened to him?”
Blue looked down at his friend, lying across his lap. The wounded officer was in shock, shivering violently; he had trouble staying conscious. The blond American gently shook him, so he wouldn’t pass out on him. “Hang on, Brad. Help’s on the way. Can you tell me what happened?”
“Silver…” Grey muttered, nearly inaudibly. “Lieutenant Silver… Mysteron… he shot us… The detector…”
Blue looked around himself, and saw the Mysteron detector he had left on the floor when he had started to work on the door. Not very confident that it would work, he ejected the photo that was still inside. He grunted his approval when he saw the picture popping out of the detector, and took it.
He didn’t need more proof than the one he was now holding.
“Sir,” Blue said hurriedly into his mic. “It was Lieutenant Silver.” He looked again at the picture he was holding in his hand. That of a positive image of Lieutenant Silver, from the Mysteron detector. “He shot Captain Grey, and Sergeant Smith too. Silver is a Mysteron, and he’s free, somewhere on base!”
“S.I.G, Captain! I’m putting the whole of Cloudbase on red alert. Wherever he is, Lieutenant Silver must be found!”
In the corridor of the Detention Centre, Corporal Brady was the only guard left in front of the door leading to the security room, where the fake Santa Claus – Mysteron or not – was kept. He didn’t feel in any danger, convinced that the only threat could come from the prisoner behind the door, and that he couldn’t possibly get out of there. Should he decide to transform himself into a living bomb – as Brady was told the Mysterons had been witnessed to do in past Spectrum missions – he knew the reinforced steel doors and walls would contain the explosion and keep him safe. So he had no need for concern.
When he saw the door in the wall opposite sliding open to reveal a colour-coded agent, Brady stood to attention, getting ready to receive a superior officer. Too late he saw the gun in the man’s hand and didn’t react quickly enough by raising his own weapon. The silencer on the officer’s gun muffled the sound of the detonations. Hit in the side, Brady was thrown against the wall and lost hold of his weapon; he slid down to the floor, trying, once there, to grab his pistol. His attacker stepped on his hand, mercilessly, causing Brady to cry out in pain.
“Not good enough, Earthman.” The butt of the pistol caught Brady on the side of his head, and he fell the remaining distance to the floor, where he stayed motionless.
Lieutenant Silver looked down with contempt at the unconscious guard. Unceremoniously, he pushed him aside, away from the door he was blocking access to. Then, carefully, he checked his ammunition. He had more than he would really need for his mission. He only had used six bullets, two for this one, and four bullets during that incident in Hangar Deck Control with Captain Grey and Smith, killing the latter and seriously wounding the former. By now, he was sure that Grey was dead, asphyxiated in that cabinet he had left him in, after binding and gagging him. All that because he had jokingly stated his intention of trying the Mysteron detector on Silver once he had gone through the test himself. If only Grey had kept quiet about it. The operation was purely customary, under red alert conditions; it would have been done in a matter of minutes, and then Silver would have been able to leave to accomplish his mission for the Mysterons, without being bothered. But Grey had to insist. And his insistence had caused Silver to worry, and to finally raise the captain’s suspicions to the point where he actually used the Mysteron detector. Silver had no other choice but to shoot him, along with Smith, to get them out of his way.
Silver’s mission was about to be completed; he was certain now, with Cloudbase personnel looking all over the place for Grey – who, following his disappearance, was thought to be a Mysteron – that nothing could stand in his way. The Mysterons would be avenged.
Silver pressed a button. The outer door of the emergency airlock slid open and the lieutenant stepped into the narrow space between the two doors leading to the security room.
While running to the Detention Centre, Captain Scarlet was wondering if it would be wise to inform someone of his suspicions. He had come to the conclusion that he couldn’t tell anybody just yet. They wouldn’t believe him and might even think he had gone crazy. He wasn’t even sure himself he was absolutely right, anyway, although he couldn’t deny the evidence that had just been handed to him. And he wasn’t that sure either that Rose – his little Rose – had really provided him with a clue to what the Mysterons were planning to do. Could it have been triggered by her link to them – through him? Or was it simply just her innocent, childish way of seeing things far more clearly and simply that any adult could? Either way, if what he suspected was true, Scarlet just knew he had to act fast.
When he arrived at the Detention Centre, he KNEW something was definitely wrong.
The first thing he saw was Corporal Brady lying on the floor, near the first door leading to the security room. Drawing his gun, Scarlet approached carefully, and crouched to check on him. The man had at least two bullets in him, but was alive. Only unconscious. Scarlet looked around, in search of the person who had done this. The corridor was completely empty.
He was about to use his cap radio to call for help and medical care, when he heard a sound behind the door Brady had previously been guarding. Scarlet’s features hardened. The culprit was already inside, of course. If the captain did make a call, he would hear him. Scarlet gave Brady’s arm an encouraging pat, seeing no other choice but to make him wait a little, then rose to his feet to stand next to the door, against the wall. He pressed the ‘open’ button.
The door silently slid open. Scarlet peeked cautiously inside. The second door beyond the air lock, leading to the security room, was open too; that was contrary to the security procedures concerning that particular room, which, at the moment, seemed plunged in semi-darkness. Also odd. Scarlet realized that somebody must have forced the second door open, and probably destroyed the security system, and that by doing so, he must have also destroyed the lighting controls. There could be no other explanation.
Scarlet stepped into the airlock, silently, then approached the second open door. He saw someone moving around in the security room, apparently searching, gun in hand. He could see it was a colour-coded officer, wearing a grey tunic. He had his back turned to the door.
He then heard the frustrated voice of the man, and knew instantly that it wasn’t Captain Grey.
“Where are you, old man?”
Captain Scarlet stepped into the doorway. “Looking for someone, Lieutenant?”
Lieutenant Silver nearly jumped and turned around, to find himself facing Captain Scarlet, staring sternly at him, blocking his way out. He seemed surprised to see him there.
“Captain Scarlet,” he said, at first with an unsure voice. “The prisoner…” He cleared his throat, regaining his cool. It was noticeable how he was keeping his gun down, carefully. He nodded around. “I don’t know how he did it, but he seems to have escaped.”
Scarlet registered the information, knowing instantly that Silver wasn’t lying to him, and was not responsible for the prisoner’s disappearance, since he had heard his frustrated shout earlier, but he felt that he had no time to puzzle over this new mystery. He shook his head and stepped in, his gun levelled at Silver, who was looking at the weapon with a seemingly confused expression upon his face. “It won’t work, Silver. I know WHY you’re here.”
“Captain?” Silver answered, feigning to be puzzled by the remark. “I don’t know what you mean…”
“What have you done to Captain Grey?”
Silver hesitated. “Captain Grey is a Mysteron, I tried to stop him, but…”
“WHY didn’t you inform the Control Room, then?”
“I… I followed him here. I think he wants to kill the prisoner…”
“Throw your gun on the floor, Silver.” The lieutenant’s confused answers only served to confirm to Scarlet that the man was trying to gain time. As he was approaching, he could also felt a faint nausea mounting in him, indication that he was facing a Mysteron.
He saw Silver letting go of all the pretence and raising his weapon as quickly as he could; he didn’t stand a chance as Scarlet pressed the trigger twice.
The Mysteron agent fell down on his back, behind the wooden table.
For a few seconds, there was complete silence in the room. Scarlet carefully approached the Mysteron, keeping his gun levelled at him. He leaned down over him to check for a pulse, but couldn’t find one.
He then looked around, concern on his face.
“Kringle!” he called out loudly. “Kris Kringle! Where are you?”
In answer, he heard faint footsteps behind him, in the direction of the open door and turned around to greet the old man he thought was going to appear. A new wave of nausea hit him at the same moment that two detonations made themselves heard. Scarlet felt the pain in his right shoulder and hip. His arm went numb, making him lose hold of his gun. His right leg gave way under him and he found himself half-sprawling on the floor, next to Silver.
When he looked up, it was to see the implacable face of Sergeant Smith looking down at him from the doorway.
“The Mysterons always have a back-up plan, Captain Scarlet,” Smith said with a cold sneer. “Did you forget that, after all these years?” He narrowed his eyes at him. “Where’s the target?”
“Out of your evil reach,” Scarlet answered, trying to keep his voice firm. “You can’t hurt him.”
“We’ll see about that, Captain. I don’t intend to fail, I can assure you. In the meantime, I’ll put you out of the way. If only temporarily.” He raised his gun, levelling it at Scarlet’s head. “Merry Christmas, Captain Scarlet.”
This isn’t the way I planned to spend Christmas, was the absurd thought imposing itself in Scarlet’s mind. He was already seeing himself in sickbay, lying in his specially adapted bed, with his family and friends gathered around. But instead of the gun’s detonation filling the room and the feeling of the bullet ramming home, Scarlet heard a very loud thud. Kris Kringle had appeared behind the Mysteronised guard and hit him across the shoulders with what appeared to be a metal tray. The blow sent Smith sprawling onto the floor of the security room. That gave Scarlet a chance to get hold of Silver’s weapon, not far from him. He lined up on Smith before he could raise his gun again, and pressed the trigger. The Mysteron fell again to the floor, his weapon dropping from his hand.
From the doorway, Kringle had watched the scene, apparently unsure of what to do now. When he saw Smith motionless, and Captain Scarlet trying to get his bearings in order to raise himself, he stepped in and approached the officer to lend him a hand. Scarlet found that the man had more strength in him than he would have thought.
“What do you know,” he grimaced, trying to put some weight on his wounded hip, but finding he couldn’t for the time being, “Father Christmas saved my life!”
“I hardly think so,” Kringle remarked morosely. He made a face. “I hate violence. But more than anything else, I hate violent people. Is it finished?”
Hearing those ominous words, Scarlet shivered, and turned around. The fallen Lieutenant Silver had raised himself a few inches from the floor, to settle himself against the wall behind him. The Mysteron addressed the two red-clad men with a very cold, assured smile. “You have not yet won… Earthmen.”
Scarlet saw with horror that Silver was going into a trance. He knew perfectly what that could mean. “Out!” he said hurriedly to Kringle. “We must get out of here!”
The older man didn’t ask questions; he seized Scarlet round the waist and helped him limp as quickly as possible out of the security room. The Spectrum officer didn’t need to turn around to know what was going on behind him. He knew how things were happening with Silver, about the fumes pouring from him, chemical factors gradually mounting in him, until they would reach critical mass and be released in a sudden, destructive burst of energy. Spectrum’s scientists had never really found out exactly how that worked, but one thing was certain: the effects were absolutely devastating. And deadly.
The nausea within Scarlet told him Silver’s body was now reaching the completion of the process, as he and Kris Kringle reached the outer door. There was little time left; Scarlet pushed the old man into the corridor, against the wall to one side of the door, stepped out himself and rammed his thumb onto the ‘close’ button, hoping it would work. He heard the explosion behind, as the door was sliding closed. It wasn’t as strongly built as the inner one, he realized, when, even as it closed, he saw it bursting out of the doorway, under the pressure of the explosion. Scarlet, standing in front of Kringle in an attempt to protect him, felt the heat against his back, burning away his uniform and shredding his tunic and shirt, blistering his skin. But that was all. Nothing more. All in all, the room, the door, all of Spectrum’s specially designed security measures held against the explosion. As it was meant to do.
Wearily, Scarlet looked over his shoulder; the door had been half blown out of the doorway, by the force of the explosion, but it was still there, although distorted in a grotesque and odd way.
“NOW, I think it’s finished,” he finally said in answer to Kringle’s earlier question. He turned around to grin at the old man, who was looking warily at the half-broken-down door.
“Are you all right?” Kringle asked with concern, having got a glimpse at the back of Scarlet’s destroyed uniform.
The Spectrum officer shrugged it off. “I’ll be okay.”
“Ah yes, your special ability will take care of it,” Kringle noted, nodding.
Scarlet looked at him with curiosity. “You know about that too?”
“Of course I know. I know a lot of things. You know what they say: I know who’s been bad and who’s been good.”
Both men glanced down at Brady, moaning on the floor, a few feet away from them. Kringle leaned down to the wounded man in concern. He nodded his head, with satisfaction, after a quick examination of Brady. “He’ll be all right too,” he declared. “He’s been lucky.” Seeing the inquiring look on Scarlet’s face, he added quickly, “I was a healer in a previous life, before… taking on this job.” He got to his feet. “He DOES need medical attention right away, though.”
The sound of rapid footsteps down the corridors made Scarlet prick his ears. It looked like Brady was about to get help quickly. Scarlet narrowed his eyes at the old man standing in front of him.
“You and I have some unfinished business,” he remarked quietly.
“Indeed we do,” Kris Kringle responded with a broad and jolly grin.
There wasn’t any way that Rhapsody Angel could put Rose back to bed after Scarlet had so suddenly left their quarters. The little girl was too anxious, and frankly, Rhapsody felt the same. And like her daughter, she would have been quite unable to say why. Probably not for the same reasons as Rose, she was willing to bet. The little girl just felt excited, while her mother couldn’t help feeling concerned.
It had been quite some time since Paul’s departure, and Rose had been playing with some toys on the carpet at Rhapsody’s feet. The child had significantly calmed down, but Rhapsody’s worry had done nothing but mount inside her. She tried to find peace by putting the radio on for some Christmas music, but that didn’t help much. Especially when the majority of the songs turned out to be melancholic pieces.
When the door slid open, Rhapsody, who was reading a magazine, literally sprang to her feet. She gasped in surprise upon seeing her husband enter, the top of his uniform half-shredded at the back, some stains of blood apparent on his right shoulder, but his face wearing a broad, satisfied grin.
“Paul!” She quickly went over to him, her own face creased with some concern – and wariness, to see him standing there in such a state, with Rose playing nearby. She wasn’t too keen for their daughter to see him like that. Normally, he would go to sickbay until he was totally healed – and would get to change his clothes before Rose noticed that anything wrong had happened.
“What happened to you?” Rhapsody asked with concern, in a hushed voice. “You look as if you’ve been in a war or something…”
“I’m okay, love,” he answered quickly, pushing her aside, his smile still very broad. “Just let me get a change of clothes and…”
Scarlet was surprised to see his daughter running to him; he caught her on the fly and heaved her up in his arms, so he would be able to look at her levelly. “Hey, sweetie! I thought you went back to bed.” He saw the way she was eyeing him with a big frown, obviously curious about what had happened to his uniform. “Daddy’s been cleaning the chimney,” he explained with a bashful tone. He didn’t expect her to believe him, but at least, that brought a smile to her face – although a faint one. He saw Rhapsody rolling her eyes at his silly explanation.
“Where have you been?” the Angel pilot demanded, with a frown of her own. “Everybody’s been trying to contact you. Adam found Captain Grey. He’s not a Mysteron, but he’d been locked in a closet after being shot by…”
“Lieutenant Silver, I know,” Scarlet cut in. Rhapsody looked at him with wide-open eyes. He shook his head, concern evident on his features. “How’s Brad?”
“He’s been taken to sickbay, and should be okay after a few days. He’ll have to spend Christmas there, I’m afraid.”
“Poor Brad. He’s not going to like that, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure too.” Rhapsody’s frown deepened. “And how did you know about Silver?”
“It’s a long story. But right now…” Scarlet looked Rose straight in the eyes, “…I’ve got a surprise for my favourite little angel, here.” He stepped aside, clearing the doorway. Kris Kringle walked in, dressed in all his Santa attire. Rose’s smile broadened suddenly, and her blue eyes lit up upon seeing him.
“Santa!” She stretched his arms out to him, and Scarlet gave her to Kringle, who settled the little girl comfortably in his own arms.
“Hi, Rosie!” he said, addressing her with his most joyous of smiles. “How are you doing?”
He moved toward the sofa with the child, and Rhapsody was about to follow, ready to protest loudly about his presence there. She couldn’t understand how her husband could have been so reckless as to bring the man to their quarters; even less could she understand why he had handed him their daughter like that. She wasn’t comfortable with the notion, and she wanted to take Rose back. But Scarlet stopped her in her tracks; when she turned toward him to give him a piece of her mind, he gently raised a finger to silence her. “Trust me,” he whispered, still smiling broadly. “Everything’s all right.”
Still a bit unsure, Rhapsody watched as Kringle sat on the sofa, putting Rose on his lap. The little girl seemed so pleased, when he started talking to her in such a hushed and soft tone, that her worries left her instantly. And her husband seemed so sure of himself that she couldn’t do anything else but to trust his judgement. He wouldn’t let Kringle near Rose if there was any danger. Of that she was certain.
“Would you tell me what happened?” she whispered, leaning toward Scarlet, as they both watched the secret conversation between their daughter and the Santa Claus-dressed man. “Magenta called in, a couple of minutes ago, looking for you. He told me about an explosion in the Detention Centre.”
“I’m not sure you’ll believe me,” he answered in the same tone. “I’m not so sure I believe all of it myself.”
“Well, you’d better come up with an explanation quickly,” Rhapsody warned him. “I’m sure the colonel will want to know what’s going on… and why you let a suspected Mysteron agent out of his cell.”
“He’s not a Mysteron agent.”
“I’d already worked that out. Or you wouldn’t have brought him here.”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. After he had been sure that Brady would be taken care of by the security team, led by Captain Magenta, that had found them some minutes ago, he had hurriedly left the Detention Centre with Kringle, to avoid having to answer too-awkward questions. He didn’t even know as yet how he would explain all this. Surely, everybody was now wondering where he had gone to, with the ‘prisoner turned target’.
After a few minutes’ chat with Rose, Kris Kringle handed her a candy cane, and put her down on the floor, telling her she had better go to bed soon, if she wanted to find any presents under the Christmas tree in the morning. Rose nodded vigorously, and then went to kiss both her parents, took her mother’s hand and dragged her to her bedroom, thus indicating that she wanted to be tucked in. Both mother and child disappeared into the small room.
Kringle got to his feet with a big sigh, and turned as Scarlet approached to face him. “You’ve got a fine little girl, there, Paul. You have every right to be proud of her.”
“She’s the most precious gift I have ever received,” Scarlet confessed. He smiled lightly. “Right next to my wife.”
Kringle nodded his approval. “I have to thank you for saving my life.”
“I didn’t do much, I’m afraid. You were already out of the Security Room before I got there.” He smiled again. “HOW did you get out, anyway?”
Kringle raised an eyebrow. “The same way I entered your quarters.”
There was a pause, as Scarlet tried to figure out how it could have been done. Kringle gave a rueful smile. “The same way I enter any house which doesn’t have a chimney.” This time, Scarlet’s brow arched in perplexity, wondering if the elderly man wasn’t mocking him. He had confirmation of that when he heard him laughing loudly.
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“I would if I could, Captain, believe me. But I can’t.” Kringle shook his head. “So you figured out it was ME those Mysterons were after?”
“Took me long enough to understand,” Scarlet replied, with a faint smile. “What better way for the Mysterons to destroy the Spirit of Christmas than by killing Father Christmas?”
“The Spirit of Christmas is more than just one man, Paul. It’s something else, much more important than presents, and gifts, and parties… It’s joy, and peace, for all men and women of goodwill all over the Earth. It’s acts of kindness, and charity, and hope for a better world. It’s something that can’t be defined in such words that the Mysterons, I’m afraid, will understand. Or are willing to understand.”
Scarlet nodded quietly. He saw Kringle crouching to pick up his red bag, lying on the floor, and it suddenly occurred to Scarlet that it WAS there. The last he had seen of it, it was in the Conference Room.
“How did you…?” Scarlet’s words died on his lips; he wasn’t sure how to formulate the question, and simply pointed at the bag. Kringle offered a bashful smile.
“You said it yourself: it’s a magic bag.” He opened it and put his arm deep into it. For Scarlet, the bag was still empty, but the next second, Kris Kringle produced a small gift-wrapped box that he handed to him. He fished out two other boxes that he put down on the table, neatly. “That’s for your little Rose. And one for you, and for your charming wife. I think you’ve earned it.”
Scarlet shook his head, eyeing the box in his hand, quite perplexed. He gave up on trying to understand where it came from. He gave up on trying to understand ANYTHING about this strange experience.
Rhapsody walked out of Rose’s room, and closed the door behind her, before approaching the two men and standing next to her husband. “She’ll sleep until the morning,” she said with a sigh, the tension obviously gone from her now. “It’s been a long night for her.”
“For all of us,” Scarlet agreed.
“And mine isn’t finished yet,” Kringle replied thoughtfully. “I’d better get going, if I want to finish in time.”
“Yes,” Scarlet agreed. “Before somebody sees you and wants to keep you for further questioning.”
Kringle raised a brow. “I thought YOU had done that already.”
“I wasn’t nearly mean enough, Mister Kringle.”
“I told you: my friends call me Kris.”
Scarlet nodded. “All right. Kris.” He shook the hand the man presented to him. “I envy you your job, Kris.”
“And I don’t envy you yours, Paul.” Kris Kringle let out a deep sigh, shaking his head, sadly. “But I guess someone has to do it.” An idea seemed to come to his mind and his face lit up. “But maybe you’d like a nice change of pace? Why not do the remainder of the round with me? The two of you?”
Rhapsody’s jaw dropped; frankly, she didn’t know what to make of this. She addressed Scarlet with an ‘Is he serious?’ kind of look. To her surprise, she saw her husband, at first hesitating, then simply shaking his head to the negative, as if the offer was a most natural one.
And HE was very serious when he answered it.
“I’m tempted, Kris, really, I am. But I can’t accept. We can’t go AWOL like that, and especially not under the circumstances. I have to report to my superior straightaway, to try to explain to him what happened tonight.” He chuckled. “I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t have me committed after that!”
“I see what you mean,” Kringle said, laughing.
“Next year, maybe? If we can bring Rose.”
Kringle offered his brightest smile to date. “Of course. It’s a date, then.” He slapped his apparently empty bag onto his back and moved toward the door. Another thought came to his mind and he turned around to face Scarlet. “Oh, when you see Charles, and if you have trouble convincing him, tell him he gave me quite a job, years ago, searching for that whistle he asked me for, shaped like a cardinal bird.”
Scarlet’s brow rose. “How OLD was he when he asked you for that?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“You two are not serious, are you?” Rhapsody suddenly said. “You’re leading me on…” She offered both men a bashful, unsure smile. This was turning into a very weird night. The only explanation she could find was that they were making fun of her.
“My dear lady,” Kringle said with a laugh. “I’m always serious when it comes to my job. A lot like you, actually.”
“Father Christmas…” Scarlet had opened the pocket of his tunic, to fish out a green envelope he ceremoniously gave to the man standing before him. Rhapsody’s perplexed eyes followed the envelope as it changed hands. “I believe this is for you.”
“Your daughter’s letter,” Kringle said with a nod.
“That’s what made me realize… I was wrong about you.”
Kringle took the letter and put it in his coat pocket. “Tell Rose she’ll be able to see her grandparents for Christmas.”
“One I’m offering all of you with all my heart.” Santa Claus smiled again, and addressed a grateful nod to Scarlet, before the door opened and he stepped out of the private quarters. “Merry Christmas to all… And to all, a good night.”
The door slid closed on him and Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel stood there alone, watching the closed door, without finding anything to say at first. Eventually, Rhapsody Angel cleared her throat, and then started to speak, as, very slowly, her husband was leading her toward their sofa.
“If I understand things clearly,” she told him, “that was the letter WE wrote to Father Christmas for Rose?”
“Yes it was.”
“The one you burned with that candle.”
He nodded to the affirmative. Rhapsody stopped in her tracks, forcing Scarlet to do the same.
“And you believe that THAT was the real Father Christmas?” Rhapsody insisted, with a furrowed brow.
“If Father Christmas exists, then yes, I believe it was him.”
Rhapsody let the information sink in. “I can’t believe it,” she murmured, her eyes staring into empty space.
“Look, Angel, I know this is incredible, but…”
She gave him a violent thump on the chest. Not enough to hurt him, but enough to silence him and to make him understand how irritated she was at him.
“I can’t believe you passed up the chance for us to do the round with him!”
This story is based on characters created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Some events and characters Copyright © of all trademarks materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, crafts, etc.), owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information of the series are all been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.
This story is also a respectful tribute to the movie(s) “MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET” – which, I learned recently had had not three, but at least five different cinematographic and TV versions, from 1947 to 1994. The character of “Kris Kringle” has been taken from that wonderful Christmas story – who has became a beloved classic all over the world – no matter the version it has been seen as! I even saw the character used in different TV series, over the years, during special Christmas episodes.
My thanks to the following people:
To all of you, who had read this story, I hope you enjoyed it.
This is my gift to you.
I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas.
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