A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop, Mary J. Rudy and Sue Stanhope
It was with uncertainty that Colonel White eyed the young woman standing in front of him. He made a step forward, stopped in his tracks, and narrowed his eyes, hesitating. He cleared his throat.
“The Ghost of Christmas Present?” he asked.
She raised a brow. “You doubt me, Charles Gray?”
The fact that she used his real name to address him left little doubt in White’s mind that she really wasn’t Symphony. He was about sure that Symphony would not do that.
“Don’t tell me. You chose the image of Symphony so as not to alarm me?” As she didn’t answer what seemed like an obvious remark, he continued, a little more hesitantly, “So the real Symphony is all right?”
“Why shouldn’t she be?” the Ghost asked, this question apparently perplexing her.
“I’m sorry. I… There was a lingering doubt in my mind that you Spirits were using the image of deceased people to approach me.”
He saw the shadow of a smile appear on the Ghost’s face. “If it will put your mind at rest, that’s not so. Your Symphony is very much alive.”
“And… Conrad?” White insisted. “Captain Black?”
She nodded slowly. “That is why you thought we were using images of deceased people,” she reflected. “Because of the uncertainty surrounding the fate of your friend.” She shook her head. “I cannot reveal to you if he is dead or alive.”
“I should have realised,” mumbled White. That was frustrating for him, and the scowl on his face was more than obvious. The Ghost chuckled. Her laugh had something similar to the real Symphony’s; for some reason, White found this annoying.
“Don’t make such a face, Charles,” the Ghost replied, approaching briskly. “This night is for you. It…”
“… isn’t for my friend, I know,” White cut in. “Your… ‘colleague’ told me as much already.”
“He did indeed,” the Ghost said with a new nod. Her hand reached for the colonel’s arm. Her touch, he realised, was very similar to that of the other Spirit. But the way she looked back at him with that enticing smile and brightness in her eyes made him feel more comfortable in her company than he had been with ‘Conrad’. Still, he couldn’t relax completely, especially when she addressed him anew. “Shall we go, now?”
“Where are we going?” he asked with a furrowed brow.
“Not far, don’t worry,” she replied. “Not far at all.”
The world began to turn black around them.
Obscurity gave way to light – and the scene around both Colonel White and the new Ghost had changed. Silently, he examined his surrounding, assessing it.
“I don’t know why you’ve brought me here,” Colonel White grumbled as he recognised the Radar Room.
“This is the Present. You are here to observe, that’s all,” replied the Ghost quietly. She motioned in the direction of the radar console, where Captain Magenta was seated, in front of the radar screen. “Do not worry,” she remarked, seeing White making a step back upon discovering the presence of his officer. “We are as invisible here as you were during your first visions.”
White watched with impatience as Magenta updated his half-hourly report. Again, there was nothing to add. White looked on with some satisfaction as he noted the boredom and the gloomy expression of his insubordinate officer.
“You’re pleased he’s so unhappy?” asked the Ghost.
“Pleased? Not exactly,” White replied. “But he’ll think twice before defying regulations again.”
“You think so?”
White narrowed his eyes. No, she was probably right. Next time he would have to be even more vigilant to catch Magenta out.
The door slid open and Captain Magenta looked up at the newcomer. Standing in the doorway was Captain Grey holding a handful of letters and cards. He smiled as he saw Magenta’s heavy eyelids as he struggled to stay awake in the intense boredom of what amounted to solitary confinement with only a blank screen for company.
“You’re early,” Magenta commented with surprise. “It’s only been an hour.”
“Yeah, but I bet it feels like four,” Grey answered with a tired sigh.
“It feels like ten!” Magenta grumbled. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“I’m here to relieve you, the Old Man has another job for you.”
“Oh, God, does he want me to swab the flight deck or something? I swear that man gets worse every Christmas!”
“Oh, I see,” snapped White. “You brought me here to listen to their abuse? You think I care what they think of me?”
“You might be surprised at what you might hear,” replied the Ghost, indicating with a sweep of her hand that White should listen to the remainder of their conversation.
“I know,” Grey sighed, “but I don’t think we help matters.”
“What? He treats us like kids!”
Grey sighed again. “Don’t you think we act like kids sometimes?”
“No, I don’t.” Magenta stood and signed the duty log with a flourish. “We’re grown men, Grey. Accomplished, intelligent men! You were a Lieutenant Commander in the WASPs and I…” Magenta paused with a frown, slamming the pen back down. “Well, I’m a lot more honest than he thinks.”
“That’s not fair, Pat.”
“No?” Magenta stared intently at the pen as if willing it to move on its own. “I heard what he said to you.”
“What?” asked Grey uncertainly.
“He was shocked that you were involved, but not me. This is the sort of thing he expects from me. To him, I’m still a criminal.”
“That’s not true!”
White was taken aback to find that both he and Grey spoke at the same time.
“No?” asked Magenta. “I wish I was so sure.”
“Pat, it’s not you, it’s me. He expects more from me. I’m the only Navy man here. Like him. I don’t know, he relates to me sometimes. Maybe he thinks I should set an example?”
Magenta shook his head and sighed. “The radar’s all yours, Grey. What does he want me to do? Fix the computers?”
Grey nodded bleakly. “How did you know there was a problem with them?”
“No kidding,” Magenta grumbled. “Lucky guess.” He nodded, taking a deep breath. “I’ll get on it.”
“Green’s in the Control Room, you’re to meet him there,” Grey explained.
“I’d better be on my way then, before I get another lashing for slacking.”
Grey smiled and raised the cards and letters he held. “Well, what do you think the colonel’d do if he knew I was in here catching up on my correspondence?”
“He’d probably put you on a charge,” Magenta frowned, “the mood he’s in.”
“Is that what they think of me?” White asked, surprised by the bitterness in Magenta’s tone. “They think I’m such an ogre?”
“No, he wouldn’t and you know it,” laughed Grey. “He wouldn’t be happy, but he’s not THAT bad!”
“No, I know, not normally, but he’s sure as hell miserable now!” snapped Magenta in return.
“Ease up, Pat, it’s Christmas,” Grey implored.
Magenta rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yeah, okay, you’re right. I better get going. I’ll see you later, Brad.”
Grey waved as Magenta left his place then, with a sigh, picked up the pen lying on top of the duty log.
“Why is it, I wonder, that you defend your officers to the hilt whenever they are criticised?” remarked the Ghost by his side, with a quiet enough tone. “If they are so incompetent…”
White glared at her. “They are not incompetent!”
“Don’t tell me. Tell them.”
White watched in silence as Magenta marched sullenly from the room and Grey settled in for a long, dull watch.
Signing his name in the duty log, Grey sat down on the seat his comrade had just left, and before him, arranged the cards, letters and paper he had brought with him. One card appeared old, its edges slightly yellowed, but otherwise in perfect condition. Grey held it in his hands as if it were the most delicate and precious crystal. Gently he ran his fingers along the lightly scalloped edges; opening it, he read and re-read the message held within.
White watched with a look of confusion as Grey closed the card, his eyes now tightly shut, looking away to his left. White frowned as he took a step closer and noticed Grey’s face contorted with an inner pain, his eyelashes dampened with unshed tears.
Taking a deep breath, Grey looked up once more; placing the card to one side, he unfolded a letter and started to read.
“What was that?” asked White.
“You don’t know?” asked the Ghost with some surprise. “But you know Captain Grey so well, don’t you?”
White sighed; of all of his officers, he would agree that he was closest to Grey. Perhaps it was because of their common Navy background; perhaps it was that, temperamentally, they were similar? But White would be the first to admit that Grey was a private man – possibly even more private than himself – and that there were many things he doubted he would ever know about him. He rarely confided in anyone – not to his comrades-in-arms with whom he had worked for so many years – and even less to his commander.
“I know as much as he is prepared to confide,” he replied with a sigh.
“You’re very similar,” the Ghost replied. “Christmas is a painful time for him too.”
Colonel White looked at her, scowling as he did. What right did this Spirit have to comment on such personal matters? About to speak, White was distracted as the door opened.
Grey looked up from his letter and smiled as he saw Destiny framed in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, Destiny, I relieved Magenta early. He’s in the Control Room, trying to fix the computers.”
“I know, I was on my way to the Amber Room when I saw him,” Destiny replied as she entered the room. “He told me what happened. I came to see you. Partly to thank you, but also to tell you that I’m going to the colonel to tell him my part in this. It’s not right that the two of you should be alone to be punished like this, especially as it was me who actually chose and bought the wine.”
“I knew it,” mumbled White behind her. “I knew she had a part in this smuggling wine business! I would have bet my pay on it!”
The Ghost with Symphony’s face sniggered impishly. “I thought you weren’t a betting man, Charles,” she remarked, much to White’s annoyance. “If you were so sure she was involved in this affair, why didn’t you punish her as well?”
“I had no proof,” White retorted dryly. “Her… ‘accomplices’ didn’t denounce her. They kept her out of it, and preferred to take the fall alone.”
“Oh. I see.” The Ghost seemed to give it some thought. “So, when the going gets tough, your people stick together, Charles.” He gave her an upset look. She smiled slightly. “Even against you, it seems.”
“Destiny, no,” Captain Grey was saying to the Angel pilot. “What’s the point of doing that? You won’t get Pat or me off the hook and you’ll be in trouble too. The last thing we want – me and especially Pat – would be for you to get saddled with extra duties.”
“But it’s so unfair. For you. I know you were talked into helping, against your better judgement.” Destiny tilted her head, almost daring Grey to deny what she knew to be true.
“Okay,” Grey smiled, “I admit, Pat did pull the ‘you owe me a favour’ card. But I’m no saint, you know, I’d have done it anyway.”
Destiny returned his smile. “Well, don’t tell him that, or he’ll be expecting to use the ‘favour’ card again!”
“I know, I couldn’t believe my luck that he felt the need! This ‘adventure’ started with the best of intentions – Hey, this was meant as a happy surprise for the others!”
“I know,” sighed Destiny. “That’s why I got into it myself.”
Grey smiled. He was aware of Destiny and Magenta’s budding romance, despite their discretion. One never knew with Magenta; most of his adult life had been spent shrouded in a veil of secrecy, so he no longer needed to try when keeping something such as this under wraps. Destiny had been the one who had shown the most marked change. Her very nature made her passionate and fiery, and although her feelings were by no way transparent, Grey had noticed the emotional charge whenever the pair were near.
“So no more talk of going to the colonel, all right?”
Destiny offered a nod and a thin smile; she still felt guilty, but realised that Grey wanted a change of subject.
“You’re writing letters?”
“Yeah, I thought it would be a good time to catch up, I have a large family. An expensive time of year, you know.”
“You have brothers and sisters?” Destiny asked, realising only now that she didn’t know that much about Grey’s family.
Grey nodded and smiled. “Three sisters and a brother.”
Destiny raised her eyebrows. “That is a big family, and where are you?”
“Second eldest,” Grey replied. “My sister, Nicole, is about five years older than me. She has kids too, three of them,” Grey beamed. “And my brother’s wife has one on the way too.”
“Yes,” Destiny chuckled, “I see why it’s an expensive time for you.” Destiny’s laugh was cut short as she noticed Grey’s dulled reaction. “What’s wrong, Brad?”
Grey lifted his head enough that it was clear that he was responding to her question but without meeting her eyes.
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
Destiny’s eyes followed Grey’s and for the first time she spotted the card placed to his right. The envelope on which it was placed was clearly not one you would expect to accompany a card, more one to keep a precious object clean and free of damage.
“Is that card from your wife, Brad?” Destiny asked, almost bluntly. Others might have been surprised at how quick her assessment had been. But those who knew Destiny, knew also of her quick and trained mind. After all, she had worked for WAAF Intelligence for a time, where her abilities of deduction were well-recognised.
“Yeah,” Grey answered simply. Destiny noticed, with sadness, that his voice was suddenly deeper, almost gruff, as he said that one simple word.
“You must have loved her a lot, and miss her terribly, I’m sure,” Destiny said sympathetically.
“Yeah.” This time Grey almost sounded as if he were far away, his thoughts lost in the past. “It’s five years old now,” he continued, running his fingers around the treasured card, “but I can still smell her perfume.”
Destiny faltered; it was unheard of for Grey to open up in this way, and it was frustrating that now of all times she was expected on duty in the Amber Room. Crouching near the chair, Destiny found herself smoothing Grey’s hair comfortingly and finishing with a gentle kiss on his cheek.
“I’m sorry, Brad, I wish I didn’t have to go, but I’m due on standby duty.”
Lowering the card, Grey tilted his head to meet her worried gaze. “I know. Don’t worry about me, Juliette, I’m fine, really.”
“I’m really sorry, Brad. I’ll come back later when my duty watch is over.”
Grey smiled meaningfully. “No, Juliette, I’m sure there’s somewhere else you’d rather be.”
Destiny cocked her head slightly as she stared at him.
Grey continued before she had a chance to speak: “I thought I might do an extra shift in here anyway, I have a lot to do.” Grey waved a hand indicating the stack of letters and cards he had to answer. “Perhaps you’d let Pat know for me?”
“You’re a good man, Brad.” Destiny gave his hand a light squeeze, silently acknowledging Grey’s offer.
“Now, go on, the Amber Room’s calling you.”
“Joyeux Noël, Brad.”
Grey smiled. “Merry Christmas, Juliette.”
White watched as Destiny rose and left the room and Grey turned once again to his letters.
“I had no idea,” White commented sadly, turning to look at his officer. “We have more in common than I realised.”
“Each of your officers has his or her cross to bear,” replied the Ghost meaningfully. “And they mostly do it in silence.” She touched his arm. “Come. We’d better leave him to his privacy. There is much more to see.” The now familiar warm feeling enveloped White and the darkness followed.
White looked around at the new scene surrounding him. The décor was certainly familiar here too – coloured in brown and ginger, with a large curved windowed wall that permitted one to gaze into the sky…
He was in the Amber Room.
From the white metallic supporting beams, tinsel, garlands and holly had been suspended, and a beautiful artificial tree had been erected dead centre of the room. Soft holiday music was coming from a small radio, set on a low table. It was then White noticed that the sky outside was dark – it must still be Christmas Eve, then…
The colonel frowned a little, looking around, before turning to the Spirit standing by his side, in total silence, waiting for his reaction. “Aren’t you going to take me anywhere besides Cloudbase?” he asked in an annoyed tone.
She raised a brow in surprise. “This is your life at Christmas Present; do you spend your life anywhere else these days, except immersed in your work?”
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to answer; in fact, he didn’t get to answer, as sounds of female voices behind him made him spun around. He wasn’t very surprised to see two of the Angel pilots seated, below his feet, on one of the sofas on the lower landing – in full uniform. There were almost always two pilots on stand-by duty here, trying to pass time during their duty shifts. They would read books or magazines, or play chess or cards, or engage in conversation in the meantime. At the moment, however, the pastime they had chosen was oddly different from what he was used to seeing them engaged in.
“Come on, Symphony,” Harmony Angel was admonishing in her soft voice. “It’s not that complicated. You can do it.”
Colonel White came closer to the edge of the landing and looked down in curiosity to see exactly what the two young women might be doing. A collection of coloured papers was spread on the low table in front of them. A series of small, artistically crafted pieces, made of paper folded into the form of various animals, was covering the surface of the table. White easily recognised a swan and an elephant, and even a giraffe, amongst the graceful pieces carefully set on the table, on Harmony’s side. It was more difficult to figure out what the other pieces, on Symphony’s side, might be, however, as Harmony, with all the patience she was renowned to have, had apparently been trying to teach her American colleague the refined art of origami. And Symphony was apparently putting her best efforts into making a new piece. The intensity was showing on her beautiful face.
“Not that complicated,” muttered Symphony, “not that complicated… That’s easy for YOU to say! Your mother showed you how to do this when you were seven years old!”
“Four,” Harmony corrected. “And that has nothing to do with it. It’s all patience, and delicacy… and concentration. All of which I know you have.”
“You’re sure about that?” Symphony asked in a dubious tone.
“Come on. Even MELODY is able to do it!”
Triumphantly, Symphony put her new piece on the table, right on top the pile of papers. “There!” she declared with a large grin. “What do you think?”
Harmony was looking doubtfully at her friend’s new creation. White looked down over her shoulder, scratching his chin. For the life of him, he would have been unable to figure out WHAT it was the American pilot had just made.
“Er… What is it exactly?” Harmony said carefully.
Symphony looked offended. “Why, it’s a dove!” She searched the table and picked a piece that she put right next to her new one. “Like you showed me earlier. Can’t you see the resemblance?”
Definitely not, White thought to himself. And apparently, Harmony was thinking the same, as she looked at Symphony’s new creation and then the earlier piece. She slowly shook her head. “It looks like… Gojira.”
“Gojira? You mean ‘Godzilla’? You’re kidding me!”
Harmony realised that her comment, meant to make Symphony laugh, had instead insulted her. That was certainly not her intention! She smiled shyly and tried to soften the blow: “But not bad for a beginner – ”
Symphony snatched up her dove. “Here, I’ll make another one for you!” She crumpled the paper into a wad and stuck a ribbon on it. “There, a Christmas ball!” she growled, throwing it at the doorway. White distractedly followed the direction of the ball, and saw it hit a puzzled Captain Blue, who had just stepped into the room as the door slid open.
“What’s this?” he said, leaning to pick up the ribbon and swinging it with the ball dangling at the other end of it. “Attacking a superior officer with odd projectiles?”
“Just count yourself lucky it wasn’t a bottle of glue,” Symphony warned him.
He grimaced. “Touché,” he said, walking further into the Amber Room. Symphony stood up, to welcome him with a gentle kiss. “Sorry I couldn’t come sooner,” he apologised. “Merry Christmas.”
“And Merry Christmas to you, Big Blue.” That made White raise a brow in perplexity. Big Blue? Since when has Symphony been calling him that? He watched as she led Blue to the sofa to the place where Harmony had been sitting.
“Merry Christmas, Harmony,” he told the Japanese girl with a broad smile. “I know you don’t celebrate but…”
“I appreciate the thought, Captain Blue – Adam.” She stood on tiptoe to plant a kiss on his cheek – he was so much taller than she was. “Merry Christmas to you too.” She looked up to him with an apologetic expression, before glancing at Symphony and back again at him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help the two of you get some time together.”
Blue waved his hand, dismissing the thought. “Don’t think anything of it. It wasn’t really your fault.” He sat down on the sofa with Symphony, and stretched out his hand to take a piece of paper from the table, while Harmony took a seat in front of them. “We all know whose fault it really is,” he continued in a gloomy tone.
“That’s right, Blue,” grumbled Colonel White behind the younger man, who seemed to be folding the paper in his hands in a distracted manner. “You would say that, wouldn’t you?” He walked around, and down the steps to the lower landing. He went to stand in front of Blue, staring him with an angry glow in his eyes. Oh, what he would give to be visible JUST at that instant! He would love to see the look on Blue’s face!
“You’re not still angry with the colonel, are you?” Symphony then asked him, in something of a reproachful tone. That surprised not only White, but also Blue.
“Why – yes, I’m still angry at him! Aren’t you?”
The young woman shrugged. “Yes, I must admit, at first I felt very upset. But I realised – it’s Christmas. What good will it do me to stay upset on Christmas Day?” She saw her fiancé’s doubtful glance and continued, addressing a shy smile at Harmony. “Besides, maybe what the colonel said had some truth to it. Maybe we’ve been taking Chan for granted? A little bit?” she added with a chuckle, demonstrating her thought to her colleague by showing a short distance between her index finger and thumb.
Blue’s smile broadened. “Is it any wonder I love her?” he asked, looking at Harmony with bright eyes.
“She’s a nice girl,” admitted the Japanese Angel. “But somewhat prone to exaggeration. I don’t feel that you’ve been taking me for granted, Symphony. Not at all. It pleases me to cover for you whenever it’s possible for me – besides, I know you’ll do the same for me. Like you did last July.”
“The ‘Festival of the Stars’, wasn’t it?” Symphony recalled.
“Tanabata, if I’m not mistaken?” Blue added.
“Very good, Captain Blue,” Harmony said with a broad smile. “I see you remember.”
“Yes, I remember a lot of things…I even remember how to do this.”
Blue produced the piece of paper he had in his hands. He had carefully folded it, so it would be a perfect twin to the swan that was standing on the table, in front of him. He put them side by side, addressing a mischievous smirk to Symphony.
“How did you…?”
“I learned when I was a kid,” Blue laughed. “Mom had a big book of origami in the library. “We would sit hours folding paper and making all kinds of animals!”
“Show-off,” Symphony replied, almost pouting. “How can you compete with a guy who’s perfect?”
“I’m not perfect.”
“Almost perfect, then.” A soft beeping sound made itself heard and a small orange light started blinking over the elevator doors leading to the Angel jets on the upper deck. Symphony got to her feet, picking up her helmet. “Rhapsody’s coming down. My turn now. Sorry to leave you like this, Big Blue.”
“I am the one who’s sorry not to have come a little sooner,” Blue said with a sigh. “I’ll see you in four hours, then, honey.”
“Symphony, before you go…” Harmony reached for a little multicoloured packet she had put under the table and stood up to hand it to her friend and colleague. Symphony looked at the bright paper, and the elegant ribbon that bound it. “This is for you. Merry Christmas, Symphony.” She presented it in formal Japanese style, bowing and offering the packet with both hands outstretched.
“Chan, that’s… so sweet of you,” Symphony murmured, taking the packet.
“It’s just the customary almond cookies I always give you girls on Christmas Eve, when you go up for duty on Angel One,” the Japanese girl said with a broad smile. “The ones my mother used to bake for my father.”
“I know,” Symphony replied with a smile of her own. “It’s becoming quite a tradition in the Amber Room, isn’t it?” She took her friend in her arms for a warm hug. “You’re the real Angel amongst us, Chan. You know that?”
“Next year,” her friend told her with bright eyes, “I’m getting you an origami book.”
“Hey! Don’t go stealing my idea!” Blue protested.
“Now you’re mean,” Symphony laughed. “The two of you!” Behind her, she heard the elevator seat arrive, and the amber doors open. As she turned around, she could see Rhapsody disengaging herself from the seat. On her knees was a sachet quite similar to the one Symphony was now holding.
“I’d better get going,” the American pilot said, moving to take Rhapsody’s place. “Before I get myself in more trouble with the colonel.” She saluted Rhapsody, then Harmony, and blew a kiss in Blue’s direction, as she took her place on the seat and the doors closed on her. Blue watched through the door, as the shadow of the seat could be seen moving up to reach Angel One above.
“Hi, Adam,” Rhapsody said, putting her helmet down. “You seem rather grave tonight.”
“Just… thoughtful, I guess,” Blue replied. “And feeling like I am a lucky guy.” He hesitated a second, still pensive. “Chan, Dianne… Do you think the colonel was serious, when he told Symphony he might reconsider giving us his support for our marriage?”
“Is that what you’re worried about?” Rhapsody asked. She sat down. “No, Adam. I don’t think he was serious at all.”
“I don’t think so either,” Harmony added. “Have you ever seen him change his mind over something?”
There was a doubtful expression in Blue’s eyes, as he continued to look in the direction of the doors, behind which Symphony had disappeared. “I wonder,” he murmured. “I can’t help but worry.”
From the spot where he was watching the scene, Colonel White had kept quiet, oblivious to the Ghost’s presence by his side. Thoughtfully, with eyes not showing any of his emotions, he was looking at the concerned Blue. In a distracted gesture, he rubbed his chin.
“Were you serious?” a female voice softly said to him.
He came out of his trance, and looked to his side, as the Ghost with Symphony’s face had come closer. “You should know the answer,” he grumbled.
“No, I don’t,” she replied, her voice still kind. “And neither do they,” she added, nodding in the three officers’ direction. “Is it any wonder they’re worried?”
“Then they don’t know me.”
“Do you even know yourself?” Obstinately, White didn’t answer. The Ghost gave a sigh. “You still have a lot to learn tonight…” He felt the warm touch of the Ghost again on his shoulder and tensed as he knew what was coming.
The scene grew dark again.
“This is probably the worst Christmas Eve I have ever spent in all my life!”
Colonel White spun around. A second earlier, he was surrounded in total darkness; now he and the Ghost accompanying him found themselves in the middle of the Officers’ Lounge, welcomed by those obviously dissatisfied words that rang out very close to them.
Suddenly, something flew by at eye level, millimetres away from his nose, startling him. A… dart?!
He followed the trajectory and saw it hit a target set only two feet away from him. On the target was mounted a recent photograph of Spectrum Intelligence Agent Martin Conners, with concentric circles and point numbers drawn over it. The dart tip had been driven deeply into the forehead of the unfortunate agent’s picture, with two other darts also embedded in the same area.
“You’re losing your touch, Blue,” came the rueful comment of Captain Ochre. White turned around again. An obviously upset Blue walked by him to get the darts back. He came back to take his place some feet away from the target, where someone had marked the floor at the proper distance used in a ‘regulation’ game of darts.
“What, Blue again?” White murmured, frowning with perplexity at the sight of the younger man. “How did he…”
“This is some time later, in the same night,” the Ghost explained, anticipating his question. “He came here after his visit to the Amber Room. And he’s still unhappy.”
“Obviously,” White groused, giving a critical glance at the board by his side.
Ochre, seated next to a long table on which was set an enormous amount of food and beverages of all kinds, picked up one of several sandwiches piled on his plate. He pointed to the target. “Aim for the nose. That’s 50 points.”
“I can read, Ochre,” Blue muttered, taking position again. The dart flew from his hand and hit the target between the eyes.
Ochre grimaced. “Well, one thing for sure, the guy’s dead. Definitely.”
“Yeah, well,” Blue continued grumbling, “I know you hate Conners, but at the moment, I would certainly find another target more satisfying.” He paused a second, before sending the new dart, which hit an ear. “Got a picture of the colonel lying around?”
Melody, who was standing nearby, sampling the pâtés, addressed the blond officer with an appalled look. “Oh now, you’re not serious, are you, Captain Blue?”
“Deadly serious!” The third dart hit the photograph dead centre – right on the nose.
“Ignore him,” Ochre told Melody. “He’s been in this mood most of the day.”
Blue was on his way to retrieve his darts yet again when he turned around to glare at Ochre. “Don’t tell me you don’t feel as upset as I am!” He snatched the darts from the board. “Because I know you are upset, Ochre,” he said, pointing a finger at his colleague. “Upset that tonight you won’t be able to show all the hard work you’ve been doing these last few months.” He gestured toward the second table at the other side of the room – the one that Colonel White had seen earlier, and which was still covered with a large multicoloured cloth. Obviously, the cloth wasn’t covering the buffet, as he had first thought earlier.
“Yeah, it’s true, I would have preferred if the colonel would have at least LISTENED to me so I could explain myself… That surprise was more for him than anyone else, I guess…” he muttered.
“Surprise?” White asked, turning to the Ghost in curiosity, and then looking in the direction of the large satin cloth. “What kind of surprise?”
“You would have me tell you?” the Ghost asked with a mischievous smile.
“Don’t say it,” grumbled White. “It’s ‘not your place to do so’, is it?”
“But well, at least my surprise will still be there tomorrow to show. With any luck,” Ochre then sighed. “The same can’t be said about all that good food there…” he added with regret, glancing at the buffet. “There haven’t been that many visitors to feast on it, unfortunately. It’ll all go to waste…” He groaned. “Oh now, it’s me who’s depressed,” he said, biting into an egg salad sandwich.
“Everybody’s too busy,” Melody declared. “What with so many computer systems failing, a lot of the chores the computers normally take care of have to be done the old fashioned way.”
“You mean by hand,” Blue reflected.
She nodded. “And it’s taking a lot more time.”
“Tell me about it,” mumbled Blue. “I was so busy writing my report directly onto paper that I nearly missed seeing Symphony before her Angel One duty.”
“You’ll see her later,” Melody offered with a kind smile. “You’ll have all the time in the world to be together when you’re married, you know that.”
“Will we?” Blue replied in a growl.
“Come on, Blue, you’re not still worried about what the colonel said to Symphony today, are you? You know it was said during a fit of anger. He surely didn’t mean it.”
“I DIDN’T,” White grumbled from behind. He gestured in Blue’s direction in annoyance. “Why won’t he give me the benefit of the doubt?” he asked, staring at the Ghost by his side.
“The same as you give all of them?” she asked softly.
He glared at her. “Don’t play that game with me, young lady.”
“I don’t play games,” the Ghost replied. “And,” she added quickly, “I’m hardly as young as I look. Remember I am not the young woman you know as Symphony – although I share her image.”
White didn’t answer; with a gesture, the Ghost indicated that he should follow the conversation that was still going on.
“Mag is right, Adam,” Ochre then said to his friend and colleague. “You’re worrying over nothing. Come on, you know how the old man is… He’s often in a bad mood – but deep down, he’s an old softy.”
“Oh, am I really?” grumbled White. He could hear the Ghost sniggering by his side. “Stop that,” he warned her.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Blue sighed, taking position in front of the target again. “Maybe I’m really just angry with him because he spoiled that visit to Iowa Karen was planning for us. It would have made a nice change.” He sighed. “Well, I suppose that, even if he had allowed it, with all that’s been going on tonight, we wouldn’t have been able to go anyway.”
“You’re probably right,” admitted Ochre. “And we know who we have to thank for THAT.”
He had hardly spoken than the door leading into the room slid open, making everyone look in that direction. They uttered a collective groan when they saw three people in civilian clothes, wearing multi-coloured security badges upon their jackets, enter the room. The three Spectrum officers were able to see the presence of a security guard on the other side of the door, just before it slid closed. They stared intently at the newcomers – the auditors who had come onboard with Conners and whom now they knew might be responsible for the partial computer breakdown.
“May we help you, gentlemen, ma’am?” Blue asked with all the politeness for which he was famous.
“We’re… sorry to disturb you,” the first man, Tim Copely, said bashfully. “But… since we’re unable to continue our work in the Bursar’s Office, the security guard outside guided us here for a break – until the computers are back online. I hope you don’t mind?”
“No, why would we mind?” mumbled Ochre under his breath. His remark remained unheard, except for Melody and White who each glared at him with annoyance.
“Please, make yourselves at home,” Blue invited graciously. “It may be a while before you’ll be able to go back to work.”
“So we understand.” Peter Finch nodded his thanks, on behalf of himself and his colleagues, almost uncomfortably. “We’ll… get some coffee,” he said, pointing to the coffee dispenser not far from the door. The three auditors walked quickly that way, passing in front of Colonel White, who was following them intently with his eyes. He saw and heard the two men, still walking up front, exchanging words, arguing in a low tone, as they reached the dispenser.
“Why did you have to check that file?” Finch admonished.
“Well, how was I to know it would do that?” his colleague defended himself.
“You are going to get us in BIG trouble, Tim!”
“Gentlemen?” Melody asked, frowning in curiosity as she had caught some words. “Is there… something we can help you with?"
“Er… No, thank you,” Belinda Jackson, standing behind them, answered with a smile. “We’re just taking a break.” Then she hissed to the other two, “Quiet, boys. Now’s not the time. We’ll talk shop later.” The two men kept quiet, and started pouring themselves some coffee. “My, does that table look… inviting!” Belinda continued, drawing attention away from the subject.
“It does indeed,” Copely added with an approving nod and obviously avid eyes.
“Well, don’t be shy. Go ahead, help yourselves,” Melody graciously invited them.
“It's going to waste, anyway,” Ochre muttered under his breath. He felt more than he saw the murderous glare Melody addressed him, and innocently stuffed himself with a new sandwich.
“It is Christmas, after all,” Blue added, approaching, offering a smile to the newcomers and gesturing toward the table. “Eat all you want.”
“Why, thank you, that’s most generous,” answered Finch with a bright smile.
“We ARE famished,” Belinda Jackson added. “We’ve been working all day, with nothing to eat or drink except coffee…” She scooped up a large spoonful of potato salad. “This looks good…”
“Bet you would prefer to be on the ground, back with your families,” Ochre noted, watching as the three auditors were filling plates with different kinds of delicious food.
“Oh, most certainly,” agreed Copely. “I told my wife I’d be back for supper.” He sighed. “Guess I was wrong…”
“Couldn’t… this work of yours have waited until AFTER Christmas?” Blue continued.
“I’m sure it could have,” nodded Jackson. “But, Mr Conners insisted that this needed to be taken care of before the Holidays… He must have his reasons, but…”
“You don’t say,” muttered Ochre, shaking his head. “He insisted…” From the corner of his eye, he noticed both Copely and Finch approaching the cloth-covered model and about to put down their plates and cups of coffee on top of it. He cringed and nearly jumped to his feet. “No, not there!” His sudden cry stopped the two men in their movement. With an impish smirk, he gestured toward the table. “Please, use the table… That… thing under there isn’t one. You can sit on the sofa if you want.”
Exchanging inquiring stares, the two men left the model’s side in silence. White was staring at the object hiding under the cloth, more and more curious to know what it could be.
The men had just joined Belinda at the sofa when the door slid open once more and a distinct, general groan could be heard from everyone in the room as Martin Conners stepped in. That made the Spectrum officers look in wonder at the auditors, who were now pulling strange faces. Blue exchanged a knowing glance with both Melody and Ochre; so, Conners was about as popular with the auditors as he was with any of the members of Cloudbase’s senior staff. Their reaction didn’t go unnoticed by Colonel White either.
“Does NO-ONE like that man?” the Spectrum commander muttered, looking crossly at the Intelligence agent.
“Here you are,” Conners said, discovering the auditors’ presence in the lounge. “What are you doing here? We have work to do.”
The auditors looked gloomily at each other, exchanging a whispered conversation, before Finch raised his head to address the newcomer. “Mr Conners, it’s been a long day and we haven’t had a break yet. Have a heart!”
“Yeah, Martin,” Ochre declared from his seat, pointing at the clock and glaring at Conners. “It’s past midnight already… Christmas Day, you know?”
“Work has to be done, Christmas Day or not,” replied Conners dryly.
That got Colonel White’s attention. “Sound familiar?” the Ghost said in his ear.
“The machines aren't working,” Jackson then added to her colleague’s plea. “What do you expect us to do in the meantime?”
Conners scowled. “You can use pencils and columnar pads. They still work.”
“Surely, you’re kidding?” protested Copely.
“I suppose they should wear green eyeshades, and garters on their sleeves as well?” Ochre whispered to Melody, leaning towards her so that only she would hear. The young woman sniggered at the thought.
“I have prepared a series of questions here...” Conners continued, ignoring the disbelieving and murderous stare the auditors were giving him, and showing them a folder he was holding in his hands. “I'm sure the good captains - and the Angels too…” he nodded in an affected, courteous fashion in the direction of Melody, “… will be happy to answer them.”
“Wonderful,” Finch commented from his seat next to Ochre. “Christmas Day, working on accounts with pen and paper… I feel like Bob Cratchit.”
Captain Ochre, who was drinking his coffee, nearly choked on it upon hearing those words. Colonel White addressed both the auditors and the now coughing captain a strange look. He was grateful to the Ghost by his side for not saying anything.
“Why, Captain Ochre,” Conners declared in a syrupy voice, with a very thin smile, “thank you so much for volunteering…”
“Volunteering for what?” croaked Ochre, glaring at the Intelligence agent.
“To give the auditors their first ‘spoken interview’ while waiting for the computers to come back online. Since you appear off-duty, and I promised the colonel I wouldn’t disturb his on-duty officers, we might as well start with you.”
Ochre’s coffee cup stopped halfway to his lips. “What, again? Look, Conners, I already went through that, LAST year!!”
“Oh yes, I remember reading that in your personal file...” Conners looked distractedly at his ever-present folder. “But who knows, maybe you have been padding your expenses to supplement your gambling problem...” he muttered under his breath.
“Wha… I DON’T have a gambling problem!” Ochre bristled. “I SATISFIED my payroll deduction for the sports betting three months ago! How dare you make such an insinuation?”
“How dare he indeed?” White, who was still watching everything, grumbled. “Ochre is the most honest man I have ever known.”
“So, they don’t only have flaws?” the Ghost asked matter-of-factly.
“They’re HUMAN,” White reflected dryly. “But they’re good people.”
“Don’t you know that gambling on base isn’t allowed, Mr Conners?” Blue asked in defence of his comrade.
“Even World Series pools, Captain?” Conners countered.
“Why, I ought to…”
Seeing Ochre ready to jump from his seat, and concerned at what his next move might be, Melody put a soothing hand on his arm. “Let him talk. Don't you see he's out to make you angry? Don't give him that satisfaction.”
“One day, Melody,” Ochre muttered. “One day, I’ll have the satisfaction of punching his face.”
“If you read my personal files,” Ochre continued, looking at Conners, then at the three auditors, who now looked fairly uncomfortable witnessing the scene, “then you must know I’ve got nothing to hide!”
“Certainly,” Melody approved with a brief nod.
“Captain,” Finch started hesitantly, “we assure you, we have no quarrel with you.”
Blue gave a deep sigh. He turned back to his target, and took aim again. “Guys, I went through these every year at my father’s firm. Remember, this is just a routine annual audit, not a fraud investigation. These people are just doing their job,” he declared in a quiet, unfazed tone. He seemed to give it some thought. “Well, the three from Spectrum ACCOUNTING, anyway...”
Finch didn’t seem very thrilled to leave the wonderful meal he was having, as he rose from his seat and put down his plate with obvious regret. He gave a sigh and leaned toward Ochre. “Don’t worry, Captain… We’ll do our job properly – notwithstanding any comments that… Mister Conners might have. Unlike him, we’re totally objective.”
Ochre noted the glowering way Finch stared at Conners – and the latter answering back in kind. If he needed further indication that the auditors didn’t like Conners at all, he had not a doubt left now.
“Well, that’s a relief,” grumbled Ochre, reluctantly rising from his seat. “OK, Mr Finch, I know the procedure. I’ll be as co-operative as I can be and answer all your questions truthfully.”
“Then it shouldn’t take long,” Copely answered with a grin. “Is there some place we can do this in private?”
Ochre sighed. “Will my quarters do?”
“Perfect,” Conners said from behind. “That way, if we need for you to produce documents, they’ll be on hand.”
Ochre simply glared back at him, before turning his back on him and addressing the three auditors. “If you’ll follow me, gentlemen… ma’am.”
He preceded them toward the door, and they followed, while behind them, Conners was walking the remaining distance separating him from Blue. The latter threw a first dart, hitting the board dead centre.
“YES, Mr Conners?”
Conners looked from the captain to the target he was aiming at. He would have been blind not to notice the photograph pasted on it. He gave a frown and looked back at Blue. The latter, without so much as blinking, threw a new dart – which hit the target straight on the nose. Conners scowled his disapproval, but feigned to ignore the board.
“You’ll be next. Right after Captain Ochre.”
“SURE, Mr Conners.” He threw the third dart. “NO trouble at all…” Conners glared anew at the board. He shrugged in some kind of disgusted way and turned away.
He had seen that Blue’s aim was more than appropriately accurate. Blue’s face slowly cracked into a broad grin. “Perfect score,” he said under his breath, looking with satisfaction at the three darts – all of them pinned dead centre on the board.
White watched grimly as Conners finally left the room, following Captain Ochre and the auditors. There was a deep scowl on the colonel’s face as he considered the Intelligence man’s loathsome behaviour toward his senior staff.
“What a despicable man,” he reflected, almost to himself. “The more I get to know him – the less I WANT to know him.”
“I take it you wouldn’t like to turn out like this kind of man, Charles?” the Ghost asked, almost innocently.
He turned to her, in an almost offended way. “Oh, please! Don’t compare me to HIM!” She raised a curious brow at his outburst, but didn’t say a thing. White’s frown deepened. “Are you sure it was ME you had to visit this Christmas? Seems to me you would have found a better candidate in him.” He nodded abruptly in the direction of the door behind which Conners had disappeared seconds before. The Ghost contented herself with a thin smile.
“’Tis you who concerns us tonight, Charles,” she replied softly. “It is you who has to learn… And it appears that you are, indeed, learning…”
“Spirit, I still don’t see the reason…”
“Hush.” Gently, the Ghost raised her hand to put it on his shoulder. “There are other places we have to visit…”
Here we go again, thought White. He tensed as the room, once more, grew dark around him and disappeared…
The room swirled briefly and seemed, somehow, to unfold before White’s eyes. He now found himself standing near the door of the Information Centre. Lieutenant Green stood hunched and frowning over one of the many computer monitors. Beneath the console, Captain Magenta was muttering to himself; clearly things weren’t going very well.
“What’s he doing down there?” asked White, unsure whether he truly expected the Ghost to be able to explain.
“He’s isolated the source of the problem, and he’s trying to re-route the systems to bypass the corruption,” she replied matter-of-factly. Clearly, she seemed to know what she was talking about. Why am I not surprised? White thought, nearly rolling his eyes.
“Hmm,” he mused. “How long have they been working on it?”
“Nine and a half hours. See?” The Ghost indicated the far end of the Observation Tube running through the room. Part of the sky they could see beyond was slowly starting to lose its dark colour, and was now tinged with a faint reddish hue. “It’s the early hours of the morning.”
“But they…” White turned a concerned face to his two junior officers. He could plainly see the exhaustion on Lieutenant Green’s face. “Without a break?”
“They haven’t even stopped to eat. This is important, you yourself gave them the instruction to work flat out until they fixed it.”
“They’re not the only ones who work long hours around here, you know!”
“Oh yes, Colonel, you’re famous for it. And look what it’s done to you.” The Ghost eyed White as he opened his mouth to protest. Continuing quickly, the Ghost pointed back towards the computer. “They’ve been awake for over thirty hours. Don’t you remember the Mysteron alert of last night?”
White took a deep breath. He could hear Magenta muttering and cursing under his breath and felt certain that it would be none-too-complimentary of him. It was probably out of morbid curiosity that he approached to find out what exactly Magenta was saying; he was rather surprised when he was finally able to hear the words.
“Come on, come on, you useless pile of electronic junk… You’re gonna get back online, you hear? I had something to do with every upgrade you’ve had for the past three years... So I’ll be damned if I let a damn computer get the better of me… Not even you.” He gave a sigh. “Okay,” he called out loud from beneath the console. “Let’s try it again.”
Lieutenant Green reached up and flipped two switches simultaneously.
“Goddamn it!” yelled Magenta as sparks flew all around him. As he pushed himself out from underneath the console, White gasped in surprise as he saw the exhausted and frustrated expression on his pale face.
Magenta cupped his hands around his face. “Think, think!” he urged himself.
“You’re too tired, take a break, man!” White ordered. But of course, his call remained unheard.
Magenta looked up and caught Green’s eye. The younger man’s eyes were sunken and dark; he appeared distant and distracted.
“Seymour, this isn’t doing either of us any good. Go and get some rest, or something to eat at least.” He smiled faintly at the lieutenant. “I’m sure there’s plenty of sandwiches left from the buffet in the Officers’ Lounge. Go and help yourself.”
“I can’t leave you to do this on your own,” Green replied, indignant but without any real enthusiasm.
“Do I have to pull rank, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, you do,” Green replied with a lopsided grin.
Magenta offered the same grin in return. “Okay, one more go, then you get some rest. Okay?”
“Till we fix it, Captain,” Green replied sternly.
“Okay,” Magenta sighed as he rubbed his eyes, “we know the cause, we’ve isolated the problem and everything is backed up. So why won’t it come back online?”
“We could try re-booting again?” Green suggested with a shrug. From White’s understanding of his words, it was clear they had done that numerous times already. The new sigh from Magenta only served to confirm his assumption.
“Seymour, I would quite happily boot this thing around the whole base if I thought it would help. No, we’ve covered…” Magenta paused, stifling a yawn, as he considered one more option. “God, we must be tired to have missed that one…”
“What?” asked Green, curious to know the answer, especially if it could mean the possible end of their torments.
“You remember, oh, about six months ago, when we installed the new encryption program?”
“Yes,” replied Green, still uncertain of what was on Magenta’s mind.
“The extra coding we added?” Magenta nodded. “To link to the virus software, to prevent hacking?”
Green closed his eyes and sighed in annoyance. “The computer doesn’t recognise the access code, because it’s encrypted.”
Magenta nodded, a thin smile on his face. “Give me a minute,” he added, crawling again beneath the console. “Now try,” he shouted only moments later. Both Green and Magenta breathed a sigh of relief as the familiar hum of the bank of computers filled the room. Standing once more, Magenta brushed down his uniform with his hands.
“Well done, Lieutenant,” he smiled gratefully. “Now go get some rest, you’ve earned it. I’m sure Lieutenant Sienna can cover for you in the Control Room.”
“What about you, Captain?” asked Green with concern.
Magenta shook a weary head. “First I have to make my report to Scarlet, then I’ve got to relieve Grey in the Radar Room, he’s been there over nine hours.”
“Pat, you’re too tired, you’re not up to it. Let me…”
“Oh, no!” Magenta shook his head firmly. “No one else is going to get into trouble on my behalf.”
Green hesitated a little. “I don’t like to ask, Captain, but… whatever possessed you to bring alcohol onto the base?”
Magenta shrugged. “Everyone’s been working so hard lately. It’s been tough on us all, from the colonel right down to the base cat. I just thought it would be a nice surprise. A chance to relax a little.”
“It would have been nice,” agreed Green. “I doubt you’ll get much of a chance to relax at all now, though.”
“No. Well, my own fault,” Magenta shrugged resignedly. “I guess I brought it upon myself.”
“These are your slack, incompetent, untrustworthy officers?” asked the Ghost meaningfully.
“I never said…”
“Really? Didn’t you?” queried the Ghost.
“Actually, before we go, let’s see what was causing all the trouble,” Magenta smiled.
“But we know,” Green replied. “It was that program from the Bursar’s Office.”
“Yeah, well, I want to know more. We know how it got in there, but I want to know what it was doing. You’ve got the disk, let’s run it in isolation, see what it’s for.”
Green handed the disk to Magenta, who slid it quickly into the drive, and then waited impatiently the few seconds for the program to load. As it did, Magenta looked on in astonishment at the poor quality of the design and structure. A few moments later, however, a smile began to form on his face, soon widening to a broad grin.
“Oh, Seymour, you have GOT to see this!” Magenta spoke excitedly, beckoning to Green as he did. He chuckled. “If only to serve as witness that I haven’t tampered with it!”
Surprised by Magenta’s sudden wakefulness, Green approached and peered at the monitor before them. His reaction was instant and similar to Magenta’s, the grin on his face almost so wide as to prevent him speaking.
“Oh, fantastic!” the young lieutenant agreed enthusiastically. “It was worth the agony, just for that alone!”
Both men had come suddenly alive with sheer jubilation at the data set out before them.
“I cannot wait until the colonel sees this!” Magenta cried gleefully. “It’s almost too good to be true!”
Colonel White stepped forward, trying to peer over the shoulders of the two junior officers, who were chuckling happily at the screen.
“Come, there’s more to see,” the Ghost instructed.
“Wait, I want to know what all the fuss is about,” White said, still straining to see the monitor; but inside he knew his plea would fall on deaf ears. Once more, she touched his arm and the room swirled into darkness. To the last moment, White watched his two officers who had worked hard into the early hours of Christmas morning. He had mentally accused them both of cursing him for forcing an unpleasant task upon them, when in reality their curses had been for their own inability to wrap up the job quickly. They were showing their dedication in a way that, deep down, he knew they always did. Perhaps he had been a little harsh toward them all. Yes, more than a little.
When the darkness gave way to light again, White instantly recognised the familiar surroundings of the Control Room – his domain. It was always a rather quiet place when he was working there alone with Lieutenant Green, but tonight, he noted, it was even quieter than usual. Green wasn’t in his usual place, in front of the large transparent computer wall – there wasn’t even someone seated at the round control desk. The only sound he could hear was the low humming of the computer, mixed with soft, Christmassy, background music. White gave a deep frown, and turned to the Ghost, still ever by his side.
The voice made White turn toward the green door, which had just opened not far from him so Rhapsody Angel could step onto the moving walkway. Like him, she was looking around for the object of her search.
“Over here,” came a quiet response. White raised his head in the direction of the Observation Tube, which protruded from the exterior wall. Captain Scarlet was standing there, looking out at the sky, in a thoughtful posture very similar to that of the colonel himself, when he would do the same. He had been there all the time, White reflected; he simply had not seen him.
“Are you alone?” Rhapsody asked, approaching Scarlet’s position.
He nodded, without turning around or detaching his eyes from the spectacle of the early light of the rising sun. “At the moment; Lieutenant Burgundy will be up shortly to stand watch at Communications,” he answered. “I sent Magenta and Green for a well-earned rest a few minutes ago, now that they’ve brought the computers back online.”
“I’m sure they welcomed the break.”
He raised a brow. “I had to order them out. Especially Magenta. He wanted to relieve Grey in the Radar Room. I told him Lieutenant Sienna would take over from Grey and that he would also take a well-deserved break.”
“Won’t that put you in the colonel’s bad books?” Rhapsody asked with a faint smile.
“He did leave me in charge of the Control Room while he was resting, didn’t he?”
Rhapsody had reached him and hugged him from behind, leaning warmly into his back. “And what about you? You’ve been up for forty-eight hours…”
He shrugged. “I’ll survive. As always.” He turned around to take her into his arms. “Good to see you, Angel.”
“Good to see you too,” she smiled.
White scowled at the exchanged kiss, before turning to face the Ghost. “What, a romantic interlude now? What could I possibly learn from this?”
She stared up at him, unblinkingly. “Was it so long ago that you’ve forgotten how it feels, Charles?”
He sighed deeply. “Look,” he said in an annoyed voice, “the previous Spirit already took me on a trip down memory lane. It wasn’t really a happy experience…”
“But you were glad to see your wife again,” the Ghost cut in, her voice still poised. “You can’t deny that.”
He kept silence a short moment, considering her words. “No, I can’t deny it,” he admitted, almost reluctantly.
The Ghost gestured in the direction of Scarlet and Rhapsody, who were breaking their kiss but remained in their embrace. The Angel pilot looked up brightly and presented a brilliantly decorated bag to the captain.
“You must be hungry.”
“What’s this?” he asked, taking the bag and raising it to eye-level. “Oh, I know… Harmony’s almond cookies, right?”
She answered with a nod. “I thought of sharing them with you this time,” she said with a mischievous giggle. “I remember last year, how you complained that I didn’t leave you at least one.”
“Well, that was naughty of you,” protested Scarlet with the same kind of smile she was displaying.
“Keep that up, and you won’t have any this year, either,” Rhapsody warned.
Scarlet cleared his throat. “Yes, ma’am,” he finally conceded. He smiled again and, under Rhapsody’s loving gaze, started opening the bag to peer into it, and chose two cookies, one of which he gave to the young woman.
“You found out about their relationship just recently, didn’t you,” the Ghost said to White.
“A few months ago, yes,” he nodded.
“You don’t approve.”
He scowled anew. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“But you didn’t tell them.”
“They don’t even know I know. Or at least, I don’t think they know.”
“Strange. Why is it that you approve of Captain Blue and Symphony Angel’s relationship, and not of this one?”
“Theirs is a different situation altogether.”
“Yes, I realise the circumstances behind this relationship are very different, because of his unique abilities – ”
“You mean, because he is able to take all those risks no one else could take and survive.”
“Well, yes, but how is it different to THEM? They love each other, Charles.”
“Listen, you may think I’m a cold-hearted and unfeeling man, but you couldn’t be more wrong,” White protested. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for either of these couples. Considering the line of work we are in, we can’t afford any emotional distraction that might affect our faculties. Any mistakes because of such distraction may prove fatal.”
“Can you HONESTLY say that it has affected their work in any way?” the Ghost objected. As White didn’t deign to answer, she continued, after a short pause, “Are you thinking about Captain Brown? How it hurt his wife when he died in the line of duty?”
“No,” White replied, but couldn’t avoid a faint shudder going through him.
“Then you’re thinking about your own experience,” the Ghost reflected. “How the death of your wife affected you. Personally and professionally.”
He shivered more visibly. “It’s all behind me now.”
“Is it? The Past takes a much greater place in your life than you seem to believe, Charles Gray. In fact, it dictates most of your present life.”
“That’s enough,” White demanded between his teeth.
“Not nearly. Watch and listen still.”
She gestured to the young couple standing in the doorway of the Observation Tube. Slowly, they had turned around and, side by side, they were now looking out through the window. Scarlet encircled Rhapsody’s shoulder with his strong arm and drew her close to him. She leaned her head on his shoulder and let out a deep sigh. “You know, seeing you standing there just now… you reminded me of the colonel.”
“Really?” Scarlet chuckled, “Well, all things considered, there are certainly worse people I could be compared to…”
“Thank you,” White remarked sourly behind them.
“Although at the moment, he may not be anybody’s favourite person onboard Cloudbase,” Scarlet continued.
“Really,” the Ghost added, stealing a glance at White’s scowling features.
“I know,” sighed Rhapsody. “What can be bothering him, do you reckon?”
“I don’t have to listen to any more abuse,” mumbled White, turning around.
Scarlet shrugged. “Oh, many things, when you look at it. These last two or three days haven’t been very easy on anyone – especially him. Yesterday was particularly harrowing, with Conners’ presence onboard, the computer crash, and so on.” White had stopped in his tracks, to turn a probing stare at his junior officer.
“He works himself too hard, sometimes,” Rhapsody agreed with an understanding nod.
“Yeah,” Scarlet said with a shake of his dark head. “As hard as any of us, I suppose. But we are lucky. Most of us – you, me, Adam, Karen, and most of the others – we have a place to go… or people we care about. But him… he doesn’t have a place – or someone to go to.” Pausing, he drew Rhapsody even closer to him, holding her in a strong, loving embrace. “I have the feeling Christmas may not be the happiest time of year for him.”
Scarlet’s words, pronounced with a tone of sadness, sank deep into Colonel White’s mind and soul; he stared with incredulity at his young compatriot, who was holding the woman he loved so close to his heart. He didn’t know quite what to say. The Ghost with Symphony’s face approached him silently, and with him watched the young couple’s silhouette becoming more and more defined against the brightening sky.
“You thought they would abuse you,” the Ghost remarked quietly. “Instead, you abused them. They might have been angry with you, but all of them have great respect for you. They are dedicated to you and to their work.” She nodded toward Scarlet and Rhapsody. “You won’t admit it, but you are dedicated to them as well. That’s why you don’t put a stop to this relationship. That’s why you promised to support Captain Blue and Symphony Angel’s marriage.”
“I still don’t know if it is a wise decision,” White answered thoughtfully. “Leaving them to pursue this… fantasy… Allowing them to run the risk of being so overwhelmed by their feelings that they might overlook their duties and… pay the ultimate price for it.”
“TRUST them, Charles.” White turned to the Ghost who smiled up to him anew. “Trust them to trust their own feelings. Like you used to trust your own.”
“I never doubted my feelings…”
“You’re lying to yourself. I know, you have to be confident, to be efficient in your job. You are. Or you think you are. Usually.” He opened his mouth to protest further, but the Ghost interrupted him again, “… But it’s not specifically those feelings I was referring to. And you know it.” She smiled again. “My time is up,” she said. “There is one last voyage for you to make, but I will not be your guide.”
“One last voyage?” White murmured, frowning deeply.
She gently put her hand on his lips, requesting him to keep silent, and he felt the warmth of her touch as, around them, the room slowly started to darken. She continued to speak, with the same soft and rich voice: “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will be your new guide for this ultimate vision. Follow his steps closely, look at what he shows you, as everything will be of the utmost importance to you. But don’t expect him to say a word. He won’t talk to you, but he’ll show you more than you will want to see. No doubt, it will disturb you. But it will be the end of your journey. The rest then, will be up to you.”
“Spirit,” Colonel White started protesting again, more than a little concerned by her words, “Where will I go now? What is it you wanted of me?”
“You will see, Charles,” the Ghost said with a final smile, reaching up to graze his cheek with her lips. “When all is done, you will see.”
The obscurity was now complete and everything faded away; and the Spectrum commander felt suddenly all alone, standing in nothingness.
The lights went on rather abruptly, making Colonel White blink and look around in puzzlement. The second Ghost had disappeared, just as she had said she would. Yet, he didn’t find himself in his private quarters this time. Rather, he was standing alone in one of Cloudbase’s brightly lit passageways. There was an alert horn blaring and the emergency lights were blinking all around. He turned around, the confusion mounting in him, as he could hear Lieutenant Green’s voice booming from a nearby speaker.
“Spectrum is Red! This is not an exercise! All personnel report to Action Stations! Security at Level 5 lockdown! Sickbay personnel, prepare for priority one emergency! Repeat: this is not an exercise! Spectrum is Red!”
Sickbay. White looked anew around him, with a new sense of recognition. If he wasn’t mistaken…
There. On the wall, behind him, he noticed the directional sign. Deck C. Where Sickbay was situated. The door leading to it was to his right, right after the corner. He made his way toward it, wondering why his guide had left him here, to wander all by himself.
He had just reached the corner when he stopped in his tracks.
Standing next to the door he wanted to reach was a tall, dark form, draped in a large black robe, a big hood covering his bowed head, hiding his face in shadow. There was some kind of eerie atmosphere surrounding this new apparition; a coldness surrounded him, very similar to the coldness that inhabited the darkness in which White had found himself this night, during his numerous travels through time and space. The coldness now seemed to be part of this… creature… standing there. That sent a shiver down the colonel’s spine.
“Hello?” White called uncertainly, taking a step forward. “Are you… here for me?”
The apparition lifted his head to him. Even though he couldn’t see the eyes, White could feel the intensity of his look. The shiver went deeper into his bones. “You’re the Third Spirit, aren’t you?”
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, he thought. Just as the previous Spirit had warned him. “He won’t talk to you, but he’ll show you more than you will want to see.” When the Second Ghost had told him that, White had barely taken notice of her words. Now, seeing this new Ghost, looking like a Grim Reaper without his scythe, he started to feel really uncomfortable.
“If you’re the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come,” White continued, “then this must be the Future, right?”
Without a sound, the Ghost pointed to the door with his hand. The hand was very pale, nearly white, but definitely human.
“Do you want me to go in there?”
He had hardly spoken when the door burst open, under the violent push of a gurney shoved suddenly against it.
White realised with shock that the gurney with its occupant, and the people accompanying it, had gone through him. He followed and found himself in the middle of Sickbay, with the Ghost pointing at a new door, the one leading into the main trauma room. There were many people inside, all of them working frenetically, as the two orderlies pushed the gurney forward and stopped it in front of Doctor Fawn, his assistant, and two nurses. Captain Ochre followed them inside, with Captain Blue close behind him. Blue’s face was deathly white, his eyes wide with concern, and the front of his blue tunic covered with blood — that, judging by the amount, obviously wasn’t his. Like the orderlies who had pushed the gurney through White, everyone passed in front of or through the colonel without seeing him – which confirmed to the latter that he was still, indeed, in the middle of another of those visions he had experienced…
If he had any doubts, he just had to raise his eyes to see the dark Ghost standing still against one of the walls, his shadowy form a total contrast with the surrounding brightness.
“What’s going on in here?” the colonel murmured.
He could hear moans of pain coming from the man lying on the gurney. His unheard question was echoed by Doctor Fawn, as the physician was leaning with concern over his patient, who the orderlies and nurses were trying to keep still while he was examining him. “For God’s sakes, what happened?”
The shouts from the medical team nearly drowned the question, just as a nurse was easing Blue away from the scene. “Stand aside, Captain, leave room for us to work.”
“But… but that’s my partner there, and…”
“You’ll be in the way, Captain. Stand aside.”
Ochre led Blue gently away by the arm, and kept him at a distance. The reluctant Blue submitted, but nobody could see White to stop him from approaching. Sure enough, he could see Captain Scarlet lying on the gurney, his unzipped tunic a darker red than usual, and the charcoal shirt now being cut, and then urgently ripped apart by the hands of Fawn. That must have caused pain to the English captain as he let out a sharp cry and went even paler than before. His head fell heavily onto the gurney’s padded surface, and he groaned helplessly, gasping and shivering, as Fawn examined his now bared chest and midsection, covered with a thick layer of blood, much of which was oozing profusely from a very visible and deep wound right under the ribcage, but also from other wounds.
“Multiple gunshot wounds,” Fawn muttered, checking everything with an expert eye, and listening to the gasping sound coming from Scarlet’s throat, “one lung and the liver have been hit… Maybe the spleen. He’s losing a lot of blood…” A violent spasm from the patient made him reach for his shoulder. “Going into shock. Easy, Captain… We’re going to help you get through this.” He received no answer, as Scarlet was busy struggling against the pain consuming him. “Right, people, you know the drill, get him stable and make him comfortable until his retrometabolism kicks in…”
Fawn continued his examination as he spoke, but noticed one part of the blood-soaked tunic that one of the team was removing from Scarlet’s body. “Hang on a minute…” He grabbed the tunic and gave it a closer look. “What’s this, burn marks?” He looked over his shoulder, toward Captain Blue. “What happened to him?”
White turned around to see Blue taking one step forward, then stopping, before starting to explain in a hesitant tone, “It… it was in the hangar bay… when the USS transport arrived. He… he got shot with…” He swallowed hard, apparently not able to proceed. Ochre, by his side, realised that Blue was also in a state of shock and continued for him.
“He was shot with that.” He raised Blue’s hand to show the pistol he was holding. It was a weapon that White didn’t recognise at first glance, but it was obvious by the loud curse he heard coming from Fawn that the latter knew exactly what it was. The words the doctor uttered afterward made White’s hair stand up straight on the back on his head.
“An electron pistol?! Damn it, why the bloody hell didn’t you SAY SO???”
White spun around, to stare with eyes wide with horror at the young man lying on the gurney, now obviously fighting for his life. “Electron pistol?” he murmured. “How… There is no electron pistol!” He raised his head toward the Ghost he could see standing at the same spot as before, not having moved one inch, completely untouched by the scene. “When is this?” he asked.
“We’re sorry, Doc,” Ochre began, “it’s just that it happened so – ”
“Ochre, Blue, wait in the other room, please,” Fawn replied harshly over his shoulder.
“Doctor?” Blue asked in a murmur, his eyes haggard.
“The suture room, next door!” Fawn snapped, then softened his voice. “Please, we need to work in peace if we are to save him!” As the two captains reluctantly complied, he leaned over his patient. “Captain Scarlet?” Fawn called to the wounded man whose eyes were threatening to close. “Captain Scarlet, stay with us… We’re going to help you…” The doctor raised his head to his aides, giving his orders at an accelerated rate. “My instruments, quickly! We need to get him stable! We have to get this bleeding stopped! Start an IV, four units, type-specific… he’s losing a lot of blood… Nurse Barlow, give him a sedative to help ease the pain…”
“No sedative…” Scarlet suddenly replied between two laborious breaths. “Edward… no… sedative…”
“Paul, you’re in a lot of pain,” Fawn protested, leaning over his patient. “Let me help you…”
A shivering, bloodied hand grabbed the doctor’s white coat with a strength apparently born of despair; Scarlet rose a few inches from the gurney, and with a sweat-covered face, and wide-open blue eyes filled with pain, looked deep into Fawn’s face. “No sedative,” Scarlet repeated between clenched teeth, fighting to force each word out. “I… want to be… conscious when…”
He couldn’t get the rest out, and didn’t need to, anyway. The door flew open once more, and Rhapsody stepped in, to stop in the doorway, looking with anguish at the scene that presented itself to her eyes. Everybody stared at her, even Scarlet, who had let go of Fawn’s coat to lie again on the padded surface; he didn’t seem to be able to detach his eyes from the newcomer.
“My God, what happened?” murmured Rhapsody. She cleared the doorway and raced toward the gurney where Scarlet lay, pushing aside one orderly who tried to stop her. Behind her followed Symphony, but she stopped and turned to face Blue. The latter had desperation splattered all over his face, and was keeping all his attention on what was going on. White caught the look Symphony then exchanged with first Captain Ochre, then Doctor Fawn. What he saw of the two men’s reaction left little doubt of the gravity of the tragedy. He angrily stepped in the direction of the Ghost, just as Rhapsody reached Scarlet’s side.
“WHERE did that electron pistol come from?” he demanded forcefully. “Spectrum doesn’t have anything like that – at least, not as far as the prototype goes, and it doesn’t work! And even if it was working, I wouldn’t allow it to be issued without proper protection… for all of them, but especially for him…” White’s voice trailed off. The Ghost kept silent, staring at him through his hood. “WHAT year is it?” White continued. Still the silence. That infuriated the colonel. “Won’t you EVEN TALK TO ME? I thought you were here to give me answers! You’re not making a very good job of it!”
As if he was indeed about to answer, the Ghost raised his head. White held his breath, expectantly; instead of hearing words coming from beyond the hood, however, he found himself now in the suture room, and heard voices coming from directly behind him. He turned around to see Symphony, who had joined Blue and Ochre there, leaning toward them to whisper, “What happened exactly?”
Blue, still watching the goings-on in the trauma room, didn’t even acknowledge her presence. It was Ochre who answered, with a dull shake of his head. “Total chaos, that’s what happened. Colonel White and the three of us went to the Hangar Deck to welcome Shane Weston and his staff; nothing unusual, just part of the established security protocol during a Mysteron threat, you know? Well, as soon as the plane door opened, Scarlet started to have that funny feeling he often has…”
“There was a Mysteron onboard the plane?”
Ochre nodded. “Weston himself.” Symphony became sombre, and watched through the window as Ochre continued, in a shaken voice. “When they stepped out of the plane, Weston was surrounded by his staff. Everything happened so fast… Weston drew a gun and pointed it at Colonel White. Scarlet jumped him, trying to disarm him. It went off, but when Scarlet failed to fall, Weston started shouting to his men to shoot Scarlet, that he was a Mysteron. One of them had a Mysteron detector…”
“Probably part of that ‘sharing responsibility’ stuff the colonel agreed to last year,” Ochre spat with obvious disdain. “It’s been causing us nothing but trouble ever since…”
White, hovering about, felt a twinge of regret at these words, and turned around to look at Scarlet, while Ochre continued, in a lower tone. “We didn’t notice it at first… And before we could do anything, it was used on Scarlet – and he tested positive, of course… And the USS men shot him down.” He heaved a deep sigh. “We tried to stop them, Karen, we really tried… but the USS kept us out, even drew their guns on us. They just kept shooting him…” Ochre drew a shaky breath. “Scarlet was able to turn Weston’s gun against him… but that was only seconds before one of Weston’s staff drew his own.” He gently took the weapon from Blue’s hand. “This gun. An electron pistol,” he said, his voice growing shakier. “Those bastards had developed their own electron pistol, using Spectrum technology…”
“Oh no…” Symphony turned around to look in the same direction Blue was watching intently. She could see Fawn and his crew working desperately. “But… he’s alive. He…”
“He’s gonna be okay,” Blue murmured. “The pistol didn’t kill him. He survived. He’s going to make it.”
“Adam, it… it doesn’t look good.” Ochre’s voice cracked, and he found nothing else to do but to put a comforting hand on his compatriot’s shoulder.
White left them, his eyes fixed on the wounded man on the other side of the door, on the doctors and nurses around him, working frenetically – on the young woman, oblivious to their efforts, standing next to the gurney, holding her lover’s hand. Somehow he could hear the voices through the doors – without the use of the comm. link. They were clear, but at the same time, seemed to come from so far away.
“Too much blood lost… We have to stabilise him for surgery.”
“No sign of retrometabolism yet…”
“Discharge from the electron gun must have disrupted the process…”
“Heartbeat decreasing…BP’s dropping…he’s bleeding out…”
“Come on, Paul, stay with us!”
He suddenly found himself close – so very close – able to look into the desperate eyes of Rhapsody, filled with tears, trying to present a brave façade as she offered Scarlet a reassuring, encouraging smile. “They’re going to help you,” she whispered. “You’ll be okay. I’ll be here when you come back…”
At first there was surprise in Scarlet’s trembling eyes as he looked back at her, with uncertainty. Then, with what seemed like a huge effort, he raised her hand to his bloodless lips, and only grazed it slightly, before offering a faint but sad smile. “Not… not this time, my Lady,” he said in a weak voice. “Not this time… my Angel…” His eyes closed tiredly and he let out a deep breath.
The machine over his head started buzzing endlessly.
“Cardiac arrest!” yelled Doctor Fawn. “Prepare to defibrillate!”
“Paul?” Rhapsody called shakily.
“Rhapsody, get out of here!” Fawn ordered, taking the young woman by the shoulders and forcibly tearing her from her spot. “Get her out! Quick, damn it, get to work, everyone! Let’s MOVE, people!”
Fawn’s assistant stared in disbelief. “Doctor, CAN we shock him? I mean, it’s Captain Scarlet… to introduce an electric charge – ”
Doctor Fawn grabbed the defibrillator paddles himself. “We’ve no choice, man! We’ve GOT to try!”
Rhapsody was shoved aside before she could protest; with her hand on her mouth, she watched as the medical team started their resuscitation efforts. Silent tears started trickling from her eyes, washing her colourless cheeks. She seemed so frail right now, so helpless. White was near her, watching too, unable to say anything, barely able to think, looking from the dying officer on the table, to Rhapsody, to the three other officers on the other side of the window and to Scarlet again.
“It’s… it’s not my fault…”
The dark figure of the Ghost was next to him, watching too, in only one direction. His.
“It’s not my fault!” White yelled at him, feeling the accusation in the Spirit’s stance. “How could I ever imagine that the USS would use Spectrum technology to create their own Mysteron pistol?” He looked down, shaken by the thought, and turned to look at Scarlet. “…And that the Mysterons would use it to kill my best man?” he murmured, with a catch in his throat. “My God… This isn’t what I wanted.” He turned to face the impassive Ghost. “This isn’t what I WANTED!” he shouted again.
No answer still, as the Ghost contented himself with pointing with an accusing finger in direction of Rhapsody who was being guided out of the room by one of the nurses, backing away, keeping her eyes on Fawn’s medical team. White followed suit, unsure, looking often over his shoulder. He passed the doors, and the first thing he heard was Rhapsody crying – in Blue’s arms, who seemed to come out of his own shocked state just enough to comfort her.
“He’s… not going to come back, Adam… is he? He knew it… He’s not going to come back…”
Unable to say anything that would ease her pain, Blue simply drew her closer and held her tight in his strong arms. He stared helplessly at Symphony who came closer to put a comforting hand on the shoulder of her sobbing friend.
“I’m sorry,” White whispered, knowing full well she couldn’t hear him.
“Damn them!” Behind them, Ochre had thrown the electron gun against the far wall in anger – before punching the one behind him, making a dent. His outburst made Blue look up at him with disapproval – but the blond officer didn’t voice a reprimand; he didn’t have the heart for it.
“Please, Rick, not now,” he simply requested.
“Not now?” Ochre shouted with fury, turning on his heel to face his colleague. “You don’t get it, Blue? They’ve WON! All it took them was one strike. JUST ONE STRIKE! And they disabled us! That was their threat this time, remember? Disabling Spectrum!”
“We’re not done yet,” growled Blue with a flash burning dangerously in his eyes.
“No… No, we’re not done yet,” Ochre admitted with a sigh. “But you know, Blue, it’ll be a hell of a lot more difficult NOW… Now we’ll… we’ll have more casualties.” He looked through the window. “A LOT more, now that we’ve lost…” His voice cracked when he saw Doctor Fawn finally abandoning his efforts and giving a shake of his head, a devastated expression on his face. “My God,” Ochre murmured. “How could this have happened?”
“We knew this day would come,” Blue replied, stroking Rhapsody’s hair comfortingly.
“Yeah, I guess we knew,” Ochre agreed. “But… it could have been avoided. All this… because of an administrative decision.”
Again, White felt the accusation in the words. And again, he felt the pang of guilt eating at his heart. Of course, he thought, they would consider me responsible. Of course, they would be right. How can they respect me after this? How can they continue to follow me after a mistake that has claimed Spectrum’s best defender’s life?
“You can’t know that for sure,” Blue protested. Good man, Blue. You can always count on him to be loyal to his commander… White paused in his reverie, thinking of the earlier scene in the Amber Room. …even though he doesn’t always AGREE with his commander’s actions… “I’m sure the colonel…”
“…ONLY thought it was THE BEST decision to make at the time!” Ochre snarled in anger. “Of course, Adam. We would never think he would have suspected what tragedy that decision might bring!” He picked up his cap from the table he had thrown it on earlier and put it on decidedly, his eyes still fiery with anger, but apparently, starting to cool down a little. “It’s a shame really,” he continued coldly. “A real shame that he won’t be here to see how wrong he was. Or maybe he realised it at the end.”
White almost felt his heart miss a beat and stared, eyes wide with incomprehension as Ochre turned around to direct his steps toward the door.
“We lost our two best assets, Blue. Now keep telling me we still have a chance.” Two? thought White. Who’s the other one, then?
As he stepped out, White quickly followed, just as the doors closed behind him. He watched as Ochre, with a quickened pace, walked down the corridor leading out of Sickbay. The passageway was empty, and the only sound was the captain’s departing footsteps, that seemed to echo through White’s ears. The walls were unusually white and bright, and empty – except for the shadowy figure of the hooded Ghost, who was now standing in front of White again, startling him with his sudden appearance.
“What- what was that all about?” White asked, looking at the Ghost. “Spirit, what did he mean by – ‘maybe he realised it at the end’?” Silence was still his answer, and it was even more uncomfortable than previously. And then, the Ghost looked to White’s left. The Spectrum commander shivered. He felt something was there. Something he had to see, but didn’t want to see. And he was getting the very distressing feeling that he knew what he was going to see. He swallowed hard, and, ever so slowly, turned around.
His feeling revealed itself true, but it didn’t prevent him from shivering from head to toe and gasping in horror.
On another gurney, set against the wall, lay a body. The face was covered with a simple piece of white cloth, with a dark mark of blood staining one side of it. The rest of the body was otherwise unmarked, clad in full uniform. A Spectrum uniform.
With white tunic and boots.
White stepped back, his feet unsteady, his face drained of all colour, horrified. He kept himself upright on the wall, his eyes unable to leave the vision presented by this body.
His dead body.
“So,” he said in a shaky voice, a lump forming in his throat, “that’s what Ochre meant… Not only Scarlet, but me as well?” He looked at the Ghost who didn’t reply yet again, contenting himself with staring at him. “I am to die by Weston’s hand – and Scarlet will be killed – once and for all – without being able to save me?” Still the silence. “All that because… because I’m about to accept that proposition made by the World President – and presented by Weston himself. To share Spectrum’s responsibilities with other world security organisations. With the USS… my old command.” He started walking around in the narrow corridor, pondering, his mind in turmoil, followed by the Ghost’s unimpressed gaze. He gave another glance at the dead body. And shivered anew. He diverted his eyes instantly and looked at the Ghost.
“That’s what you’ve been showing me, isn’t it, Spirit? If I take that decision, I will cause not only my own death, but the death of Scarlet – and possibly of others, because Scarlet wouldn’t be there anymore to take the risks others would undoubtedly die from taking. My decision would have terrible consequences – I’m not presumptuous enough to think I’m irreplaceable – not like Scarlet – but I know I’m doing a damn good job, and I can’t see anyone who would be able to succeed me without being subjected to preliminary problems – with the Mysterons taking advantage of that.” White frowned. “When?” he asked again. “You haven’t told me yet. When will – when COULD this happen, Spirit?”
The Ghost simply stepped aside. On the wall behind him was a medical pad. White quickly took it and read the date at the top.
“24 December… 2071.” He eyed the silent Ghost. “Next year?” He lowered the pad, his eyes looking into empty space. “It won’t happen,” he murmured. The Ghost raised his head in a doubtful stance, and seeing that, White’s tone of voice took on more confidence. “It won’t happen,” he repeated. “If I don’t take that decision – if I decide NOT to let Spectrum share its responsibilities with the USS – or any other organisation – IT WON’T HAPPEN. Isn’t that right?”
The Ghost didn’t answer. He turned around and started walking down the corridor. He was moving very quietly, but it seemed to White that he had to run to keep up with him.
“Younger told me the final choice would be mine. And that he would support any decision I would make. I’m sure I can even find others to support me. The previous World President – Bandranaik – Spectrum was HIS project. I’m sure he WOULDN’T want to have Weston or anybody else mess with it.” The Ghost kept silent again, and seemed to remain oblivious to his plea. White gave a deep sigh and moved on. “I KNOW all of this was – will be – partly due to my behaviour towards the people surrounding me. My officers. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust their judgement, and consequently, thought they wouldn’t be able to continue doing a good job. As they have, consistently, these last few years. So I searched for other solutions – and chose the easiest one. I wanted Spectrum to share its burden. To share my burden. This is part of my mistake. Spectrum is my responsibility. The only people with whom I should share it should be my people. My officers. I should have known that. I know it now.” He grabbed the Ghost by the arm, in an attempt to halt its progress. For the first time, the Ghost stopped in his tracks. And slowly turned to face him. “All of this tonight doesn’t have to happen. It still can be changed. It is not written,” White continued, in a half-assured, half-pleading voice, with as calm a tone as he could muster. “If it was the case, if nothing could be changed, you would not have shown me all this tonight. You would have left me – left us – to our fate. There is still a chance to change things. Change everything.”
The Ghost seemed to ponder his words for an instant that seemed an eternity of silence to White; then the hooded head turned to him and it was the Ghost’s turn to touch his shoulder. The familiar warmth the colonel had experienced, preceding all his ‘jumps through time’ this night, bathed him again. He grew nervous; the Spirit had not yet answered his question, and they were about to leave; he gazed expectantly into the shadow of the hood, where he knew eyes were looking back at him.
“The choice is yours, Charles.” As the darkness started to surround him, the sound of the voice made White tense even more. He thought he recognised it, it was unmistakably familiar, and yet… somehow different. He narrowed his eyes, trying to see beyond the hooded shadow. Then the Ghost reached for the hood with his free hand and slowly pulled it down. As the darkness grew deeper around them, a well-known face appeared to White, surrounded by dark hair, with a warm smile. Brilliant blue eyes looked back at him, as he could do nothing more than gape in total surprise.
“There’s always hope, when there’s a choice,” the voice told him in a friendly tone. “So all you have to do… is choose well. And the future will be what you choose to make it…Colonel White…”
The darkness was now complete, and the face of Captain Scarlet disappeared totally, as White suddenly experienced the impression of falling into a pool of total blackness, the Spirit’s utterance of his name echoing in his ears…
It was the proverbial rude awakening, as Colonel White felt himself falling – and landing on the floor, the rug covering the surface doing little to deaden the shock to his back when he made contact. He found himself fighting desperately with covers that seemed to want to entrap him. Strong hands grabbed him.
“Colonel White!” the same voice called to him more forcibly. The hands held on to his shoulders trying to force him to be calm. White finally disengaged himself from the covers and looked up, wide-eyed, breathing hard. He saw the concerned face of Captain Scarlet leaning over him.
No Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The real Scarlet.
“Are you all right, sir?”
“Scarlet!” As if to make sure he wasn’t still in a dream – or a vision, he wasn’t sure as yet – White seized Scarlet’s head between his hands and looked into his face, an expression of incredulity and apprehension fairly obvious in his eyes. He waited for the warmth of the Spirit’s touch, he waited for the room to shimmer and disappear – but the warmth never came, and all he was able to see in the younger man’s features was still the same concern he had seen earlier – and surprise. “You’re alive!” White exclaimed.
“Er… why, yes, I’m alive,” a puzzled Scarlet replied, helping his commander to untangle himself from the covers and up to his still unsteady feet. Supporting himself on his officer’s shoulder, White got his footing back, and stood tall to look around his private quarters, taking in everything with a quick, assessing glance, still apparently a little lost. All seemed normal, in its place – just as he had left it before going to bed. He turned his attention back to Scarlet, and squeezed his shoulder with some kind of – fondness? Friendliness? Scarlet was baffled at the gesture, especially when he saw the large smile spread on the colonel’s face.
“Sir, are you all right?” he repeated, still a little concerned.
“Of course, I’m all right!” White replied in a sprightly voice. He frowned briefly. “How did you get in here?”
“Er… I was passing your door when I heard shouting,” Scarlet explained. “I tried to use the comm. to call you, but you didn’t answer – so I used the emergency code to enter and found you battling with whatever enemy you were dreaming about.” He offered a bashful smile. “Must have been some nightmare, Colonel.”
“Nightmare?” White repeated. “Yes, some of it was rather nightmarish…” The smile reappeared on his face. “…But most of it was a revelation,” he added, patting Scarlet’s shoulder.
That left the English captain even more puzzled than before.
“What time is it?” White asked with a faint frown.
“0700 hours, sir,” Scarlet answered, a little sheepishly. “I’m sorry we let you sleep so long, but I thought that considering the circumstances, you might as well enjoy a few more hours of rest. You looked like you could do with it, and…”
“Seven in the morning?” White repeated pensively, not really listening to Scarlet’s explanation. “Christmas morning?”
“Why, yes, sir.”
“So much to do,” murmured White. “But hopefully, still plenty of time to do it.”
Scarlet looked on as his commander turned around, gathered up his covers and threw them on the bed, before walking to his working desk. He saw him snatch up a multicoloured folder and open it quickly, to check on its contents.
“Sir,” Scarlet said tentatively, “you’ll be happy to know that the computers are now working properly. Captain Magenta and Lieutenant Green worked all night to make sure everything will be functional and…” Scarlet stopped his report as he witnessed his commander tearing in two and then four a series of documents he just had taken from the folder, while humming a Christmas tune.
White raised an eyebrow, looking back at his junior officer, as he took another wad of papers from the folder and subjected them to the same fate as the previous one. “Yes, Captain?” he asked, thus encouraging Scarlet to continue.
“Sorry, sir,” Scarlet said, shaking himself out of his reverie. “After bringing the main computer back online, Captain Magenta was able to confirm what Lieutenant Green had already discovered yesterday evening, concerning the source of the problem… A virus had been introduced into the system by an unsafe and untested program that had been installed in the Bursar’s office. The program the auditors were using to check the senior staff’s personal financial reports. Thankfully, Magenta and Green were able to save or repair all the corrupted files. No important information was lost due to the incident.”
“I’ll have to have a word with London about proper testing of their programs – and virus checking,” White said thoughtfully, destroying a third and last wad of papers, before closing the folder.
“Captain Magenta already – uh – suggested that to their offices, Colonel. And made proper recommendations so it’ll never happen again.”
“Well, that’s very good!” White said enthusiastically, with a large grin, walking briskly to Scarlet. “We can always count on Captain Magenta to take the proper steps in that kind of situation.”
“Yes… sir,” Scarlet answered, unsure if the colonel was genuinely sincere or if he was being sarcastic. He hesitated a little, before continuing, “Captain Magenta also found some interesting information in the data he and Lieutenant Green were able to save. I think he wants to have a word with you about it…”
“Scarlet,” White sighed suddenly, waving his hand, “enough of the official report. We’ll concern ourselves with that later. I’m sure I’ll have all the interesting details of Captain Magenta’s findings soon enough.”
“Sir?” asked a perplexed Scarlet. “Are you… sure you’re all right?”
“Never been better, my good man. But right now, I have other concerns. I will need your help, if you’re willing.”
“My help?” Scarlet cleared his throat. “Of course, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Here.” White crouched down and took one of the two boxes he had confiscated the previous day from Grey and Magenta. He put it into Scarlet’s arms, before the captain could step back in surprise. “Would you mind sorting this out? Six of each would be amply sufficient. I think Captain Magenta went a little overboard with twelve of each, what do you think?”
“Sir?” Scarlet asked, opening wide eyes.
“Have it delivered to the Officers’ Lounge, quietly. We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, would we?” White continued, smiling broadly and turning around. “I’m going to take a shower in the meantime, and change. I expect to be quite busy this morning!” With that, he disappeared into his bathroom, before a slack-jawed Scarlet could add anything. The box weighing heavily in his arms, he could do nothing but watch as the door slid closed on his commander.
“Well,” Scarlet muttered, more and more baffled by what he had witnessed, “maybe he should get more of a good night’s sleep, and less of those two-hour rest periods in the Room of Sleep.” He put the heavy box down on the corner of the desk. Maybe Fawn is right about the Room of Sleep after all… Not too good for the health!
When the door of the Control Room slid open in front of Colonel White, he was rather surprised to find that Lieutenant Green was there, seated at his station. What was even more surprising was that Captain Magenta was there too, leaning over the young Communication Officer’s shoulder; both men were concentrating intently on Green’s computer screen, exchanging words at what they were seeing there. Their discussion was being carried on in lowered voices, and the colonel had to prick his ears to catch some of it. Silently, without using the moving conveyor, he approached them, making sure they wouldn’t see him. The words became clearer as he closed on them.
“You see?” Magenta was asking his junior officer. “You see that line? That’s where the mistake is.”
“Yes,” Green agreed with a nod, “a simple mathematical error. Can’t believe THAT could have sent Conners on the warpath…”
“And that,” Magenta continued, indicating another point on the screen. “Scroll down a little.” White, who had stopped a mere two feet behind them, watched as Green followed Magenta’s instructions. Peering over their shoulders, he could see a full screen of data rolling down before his eyes. It slowly stopped when Green reached a certain point, and both men groaned.
“Look at that mess,” Green muttered. “That’s a failsafe program… But I’ve rarely seen so much damage. It’s completely corrupted… No wonder it gave all those faulty results.” He sighed. “It also means that that interesting bit of info we found earlier may also be faulty, Captain.”
“A shame, really.” Magenta gave a scoffing sound, with an apparent note of disappointment in it. “Well, I suppose it was too good to be true.” He pointed at another line. “Look at all those lines. No wonder it attacked the whole computer database. It acted just like a virus. We were lucky to retrieve all our data.”
Green nodded pensively. “Let's hope Ebenezer will appreciate this...”
Behind them, Colonel White raised a brow, more amused than anything else. It was time to make his presence felt, he thought. Quietly, he cleared his throat. He saw Green and Magenta visibly freeze – and shudder.
Slowly, both Captain Magenta and Green turned around. They saw their commander standing there, so close to them, legs apart and his hands behind his back, looking at them with a glow of curiosity in his eyes. There was no way he couldn’t have heard the last remark by Green, and the fact that he wasn’t saying anything right now wasn’t a very good sign, they thought. The thin grin they could see on the colonel’s lips at the moment could only confirm that feeling that he might not be very happy. Magenta snapped to attention, and Green started to rise from his seat to do the same.
“As you were, gentlemen,” White quickly instructed, raising a hand. “I can see you’re very busy, preparing your report to… Ebenezer…” He paused. “I wonder who that could be?”
We’re dead, both men thought simultaneously. “It was a… a code name, sir,” Green stammered. “We used it… during our last mission.”
White waved him off. “Never mind that for now. What do we have here?”
“Sir.” Magenta gave a sigh, knowing he couldn’t avoid this. He wanted to come clean with his commander. “We just came back, Colonel, to finish investigating the cause of the computer crash yesterday.”
White raised a brow. Not good, thought Magenta. “I know exactly what you’ve been up to, Captain,” White began sternly, while Magenta steeled himself for fresh punishment. He was rather intrigued when he saw the thin smile on his commander’s lips broaden into a genuine smile. “…and therefore, over the New Year, I want you to take a well-earned break.”
“Sir?” Magenta’s jaw literally dropped open and he stared in open-mouthed amazement at White.
“I read Captain Scarlet’s report. You worked very hard, both of you, as you always do. I rely on you a great deal, but don’t always express my appreciation. Especially to you,” White added looking directly at Magenta. He paused. “Patrick.”
Magenta was stunned into silence, not knowing quite what to say.
“Merry Christmas, Captain,” White said, extending his hand and taking the Captain’s.
“Th…thank you, sir,” Magenta replied, pausing as he regained his composure. “And a Merry Christmas to you too, sir.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Lieutenant,” White grinned, shaking hands with Green. “And you have earned a break too.”
“S-sir,” Green nearly stuttered. He swallowed before pursuing, “thank you, Colonel.” He hesitated, not sure if he should dare continue his line of thought. “You seem… more relaxed today,” he finally remarked with a bashful smile.
“Yes, that night’s rest did me a lot of good,” White confirmed brightly. “Quite refreshing. Er – I need your help for a few tasks, if you wouldn’t mind, Lieutenant.”
Green nearly frowned. Mind? Since when would White ask if he would mind? Nevertheless, he nodded his agreement, if a little uncertainly. “Of course, sir, you know you can count on me.” White thanked the younger man with a brief nod of his own, and turned rather briskly to Magenta. “Captain…”
“Sir?” Magenta, tensing at the sound of the colonel’s formal tone.
A grin appeared on the colonel’s face. “I’ll need your help, too.”
“Sir, what – I’ll help you, of course, but – what do you…”
“There's a… fridge… in the Conference Room, Captain...”
Magenta tensed even more. Here we go again, he thought. The old man is not likely to forget about the wine…
“Could you have it transported elsewhere, please?” White continued.
Magenta sighed. “Of course, sir… I'll have it removed to the storage room...”
White dismissed the suggestion with a wave of his hand. “Oh, no... the Officers' Lounge will be a far better place, since we’ll need it there.”
Magenta blinked in surprise. “S-sir?”
“I think you’ll rather like this… ‘project’ I have in mind,” White continued. “There’s four of us in on this now, counting Captain Scarlet. But don’t tell anybody else. We’d better keep it a secret for now. It won’t be long before the surprise, though.”
“Surprise?” Magenta said, exchanging a stunned expression with Green. “What kind of surprise…”
“But…” White continued, without giving his junior officer the chance to continue, “…before you do that, Captain... I heard there was something interesting you wanted to tell me?” He nodded in the direction of Green’s station. “Concerning the computer crash?”
“Oh. Oh, well, it’s not exactly the news we thought it would be, sir, but…” Magenta paused, then moved away and invited the colonel to come closer. “Here, sir. See for yourself, and we’ll explain everything.”
White nodded and approached Green’s chair, to watch the screen and listen to the two junior officers’ report on their findings.
Captain Grey was the first to arrive in the Officers’ Lounge. All of the senior staff had been ordered to an impromptu meeting in the Lounge. But instead of summoning them using the newly repaired communication system, White had sent messages to each individual officer. White had chuckled as he sent out the individual orders, knowing full well that each of them would assume the worst and yet be confused by the choice of venue.
“You weren’t in the Radar Room for your shift, Captain,” White remarked quietly, as the door slid shut behind Grey.
The latter stared guiltily at his Commander-in-Chief’s severe expression. “Sir, Captain Scarlet relieved me from duty. He thought, well, I’d been awake for almost…”
“Captain,” White interrupted abruptly. Grey nearly came to attention, under his commander’s scrutinising eyes. “How long since you’ve seen your family, Captain Grey?” White pursued in a quiet tone.
“You have family, Captain,” White pointed out.
“I… yes, sir, I have,” Grey answered hesitantly. “In fact, I was just writing them letters last night…” His voice trailed off when he noticed the colonel’s expression. “…During my Radar Room shift,” he finished, almost miserably.
He was about sure his commander wasn’t very happy to hear that. He watched as White slowly nodded acknowledgement of the information.
“When do you propose to visit them?”
Grey frowned. “Colonel?”
“Brad,” White continued without so much as a pause, taking Grey aback with the free use of his first name, “you have the good fortune of having a large family. You should take a couple of days to visit them during the Holiday Season. You’ve been working very hard lately. Make yourself happy and take a well-earned furlough.”
Grey’s jaw almost hit the floor at those words. He stared at his commander with incredulity. Then he saw the smile spreading on White’s face, and the hand he extended.
“Merry Christmas, Captain.”
“Sir… Merry Christmas, sir,” Grey replied, not sure if he was dreaming, shaking his commander’s hand with energy. “And… thank you.”
The door slid open several more times to reveal the Angels, all except Harmony, on duty in Angel One. Even Doctor Fawn had torn himself away from his Sickbay, which he didn't often do. Captain Blue and Symphony Angel had arrived together, and like the others, they were both intrigued to know why they had been called to the Lounge. The next to arrive was Captain Ochre. Colonel White was standing before them, smiling almost serenely. That served only to further confuse everyone about the exact reason they had been summoned there, this early in the morning.
“We’ll get started in a moment, we’re just waiting for…” White stopped mid-sentence, as the door opened one last time. “Ah, Captain Magenta, Lieutenant Green, please come in. I think that’s everyone.”
“Sir?” Blue began tentatively.
“Yes, Captain?” asked White brightly.
Blue suddenly realised that he had no idea how to phrase what he wanted to ask. Certainly the colonel was acting strangely, but how could he phrase that politely?
“Er… nothing, sir, I’m sorry.”
White suppressed a smile. It wasn’t that he wanted to make his officers feel uncomfortable, but it would certainly heighten the surprise if they did.
“Members of Spectrum,” White began with his customary greeting, “I’ve asked you all here to thank you for your continued hard work and tireless efforts. I realise that the problem with the computers, which Captain Magenta and Lieutenant Green spent most of the night repairing, has resulted in a much increased workload and has come close to ruining your Christmas. I hope this will make amends.” Pressing the ‘speak’ button of the comm. link integrated into the table in front of him, White continued: “Captain Scarlet, if you’d like to bring it in, please.”
The door opened once more to reveal Captain Scarlet at the head of a line of formally-dressed mess stewards bringing all manner of tasty delicacies into the Lounge. In his arms, Scarlet carried a box that Magenta recognised instantly as one of the cases of wine brought onto Cloudbase only the day before. His eyes lit up as he considered the possibility of retrieving the bottle of vintage champagne that Destiny had found for them both.
The stewards proceeded to set up the food at the table used the night before, two of them taking their places behind the trays and meat-carving station as the others left. “Please do the honours, Captain Scarlet,” White smiled as he watched his junior officer open the box and lift out one bottle of each colour.
The assembled officers were at first unable to take it in. This was White, Colonel White, and he had arranged a party. But then, it wasn’t the first time he had taken them by surprise like this, was it? He had done something similar for Spectrum’s first anniversary, and then again for the Americans’ Independence Day celebrations. Each of them wondered in turn why they had doubted him and felt a pang of guilt. Colonel White waited patiently whilst everyone charged their glasses with their choice of wine.
“This last year,” White continued when everyone returned their attention to him, “has been one filled with much tension. The Mysterons kept us on our toes for the most part of it – and I’m sure, you’ll all be thinking I did too. In more ways than one,” he added with an almost mocking smile. He heard a few chuckles amongst the assembly, and continued. “But I’m happy to say, we all came through it with more victories than defeats. All because of your hard work and dedication. It’s that hard work and dedication – that makes Spectrum what it is.” He raised his glass. “Merry Christmas, ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, raising his glass.
The toast was returned in a chorus of voices.
“A last note,” White suddenly added, attracting attention once again, “which specifically concerns two of our valued members. I’m sure you all know about Captain Blue and Symphony Angel’s engagement. If you don’t… well I’m afraid it means that you’ve been asleep for the last two or three years.” New chuckling sounds were heard around, as White’s smile broadened and he could see both Symphony’s and Blue’s cheeks flush violently at the reference to their not-so-discreet relationship – despite all their efforts to hide it. White turned to them. “This past year has been filled with excitement – but I’m sure the upcoming year will be even more exciting for the two of you – for it will be during this year that this relationship of yours will reach its logical and happy conclusion.” He raised a brow. “Which will not be an end in itself,” he added good-naturedly, raising a few laughs around. He bowed to the couple, and raised his glass again. “Congratulations to you both.”
Other congratulations were heard from all sides in the room, and hands vigorously thumped Blue’s broad shoulders, and kisses landed on Symphony’s cheeks. The now bashful-looking couple were smiling broadly, unsure whether or not they appreciated all the attention – but certainly reassured that their commander didn’t seem to have changed his mind concerning their upcoming marriage. Blue looked levelly at White – he felt guilty for having doubting him that much. He should have known Colonel White would never take back his given word.
“Not a word, Captain,” White cut in suddenly, fully expecting to hear the young man’s excuses. “I know what you want to tell me.”
“You do?” Blue asked with a puzzled frown.
“No thanks are necessary,” White continued. “In fact, Captain, I feel that I should be the one to thank you. And offer you a gift that I’m sure you’ll appreciate. – and your blushing fiancée even more.” He kept himself from smiling further when he saw more red appear on Symphony’s cheeks. “You are not required to stay at this party ‘til the end. A SPJ has been prepared for you to take you to Iowa, whenever you are ready.” Blue and Symphony exchanged a surprised glance. “Due to the time difference, you’ll be able to make it in plenty of time for that Christmas dinner you wanted to have there.” White nodded to Symphony. “Give my regards to your mother, please. And my best wishes for a Happy Christmas.”
“I… we will, sir!” Symphony replied excitedly with a bright smile. “We certainly will. Thank you so very much!” On an impulse, she quickly stepped forward and planted a kiss on her commander’s cheek. The gesture seemed to amuse everyone around – and surprised her more than White himself. He smiled in turn.
“Ladies and gentlemen, have fun,” he said around. “Eat and drink – although one of you Angels will have to refrain from the alcohol – if only to relieve Harmony Angel from her shift in a few minutes. She might not celebrate Christmas, but she’s certainly entitled to join the fun.”
“I will go, mon Colonel,” piped up Destiny. “It would be my pleasure.” White nodded his thanks.
Everyone finally started to relax and enjoy themselves. After a little while Colonel White noticed Captain Magenta and Captain Scarlet, both standing not that far from him – Magenta was apparently explaining something to Scarlet who was frowning in disbelief. He went to them. “Something on your mind, Captains?”
“Colonel?” Magenta replied as his commander approached. “I was just explaining to Captain Scarlet the latest details of what we discovered about the computer crash yesterday.”
“It seems there are… new developments in the affair, sir?” Scarlet asked in turn.
“Ah yes,” White said with a faint smile. “New developments indeed. Well, Captain Magenta, you might like to know that, following your report on the cause of the systems breakdown, I followed it up with Mr Finch, the senior auditor. The program that Mr Conners brought onto Cloudbase was designed with a code to prevent unauthorised use.”
Magenta nodded. “That’s standard procedure,” he explained to Scarlet who was following the story.
“Yes, but the code was designed quickly and for a specific purpose by one of Spectrum Intelligence’s systems technicians. As you have discovered, the program was corrupt – and corrupted the results of the accounts details when they were run through it. When the auditors discovered that, apparently the same problem that was experienced in Spectrum Accounting with that program wasn’t recreated here, on the Cloudbase database. So they attempted to test the program – and one of the auditors ran Mr Conners’ own details through it.”
“And it crashed,” Scarlet nodded as he spoke. “The corrupted failsafe feature caused that as well.”
“Yes, Captain, and it also crashed our minor systems with it.”
“That must be a flaw in our failsafe, sir,” Magenta remarked. “I’ll get right onto it and make sure it won’t happen again.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Captain Magenta. You will relax and enjoy yourself.” White paused as he saw the look of uncertainty in Magenta’s eyes. “That is an order, Captain.”
Magenta furrowed his brow. “Yes, sir,” he muttered uncertainly. At his side, Scarlet quickly suppressed a faint smile.
White looked up as he saw the door to the Officers’ Lounge slide open. The audible sighs he heard around the room confirmed his suspicion. Entering the room as if he owned it, in strode Martin Conners, followed by the three auditors. White beckoned to them immediately and turning to Magenta and Scarlet as Conners approached, he murmured, “I think you’ll enjoy this.”
Magenta and Scarlet found themselves exchanging a curious sideways glance, not knowing quite what to make of White’s conspiratorial whisper.
“Mr Conners, I’m so pleased you and your auditors could join us.” White gestured an invitation. “Please, have something to eat.”
The three auditors needed no more encouragement. Nodding appreciatively in White’s direction, they promptly turned on their heels towards the freshly-laid buffet table. As Conners approached, White muttered an instruction to Magenta, who started pouring red wine into a new glass.
“Mr Conners,” White continued, “won’t you join us for a drink? I think you’ll need it.”
Conners reached out hesitantly to the glass that Captain Magenta was offering him, as if it were poisoned.
“Thank you, Colonel. Although we must be getting back to work shortly – we have a lot left to do.”
“Mr Conners, I’ll put aside for a moment that it was your program that crashed all the auxiliary systems on Cloudbase – because it was untested, and contained corrupted code, as you are now aware – but I have a question for you...” White paused a second. “Tell me, why did you come here?”
“To audit your senior staff’s accounts…”
“Why was it necessary?” Scarlet asked, emulating his commander’s courteous tone.
“Because we found discrepancies.” Conners nodded to Colonel White. “I did explain this to you already, Colonel.”
“Of course you did,” White answered nonchalantly, looking down into his glass. “And you know that your auditors found nothing to substantiate your claims?”
“Not yet, certainly, because of the computer breakdown we experienced,” Conners defended himself. “But I’m sure they will.”
“Well, I have to tell you that one of my officers found this.” White turned toward the table behind him, where bottles of wine and glasses were standing, and picked up a thin folder, which he politely handed over to Conners. It contained a short report consisting of two pages.
Conners took it and began to read, at once realising that it was based on his own account and showed similar discrepancies to those he had found in the Accounting Offices in Spectrum London. Scarlet only needed tilt his head a little to see the content of the report. He grinned, remembering Magenta’s earlier report to him.
“This is impossible!” Conners spluttered, reddening visibly as he spotted Magenta’s smirk widening by the second. His arm shot out to point an accusing finger at the Irishman. “You did this!”
Magenta shrugged. “That’s right, I found it, when I checked the source of the—”
“No, I mean you planted it!”
“He did not, Mr Conners,” said Green, stepping forward. “I was there when he found it—”
“And I verified that they found it,” added Finch, stepping forward to stand beside the pair of officers. “Which was when we reported it to the colonel.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my expenses!” snarled Conners, waving the report under Magenta’s nose. “I know your background, Captain Magenta, and I know that you wouldn’t hesitate to stoop so low as to—”
“MISTER Conners, how dare you!” warned Colonel White. “It is not at all what you think.” Now it was White’s turn to point to Conners. “Before you say another word, I suggest you listen – and pay attention.”
The Intelligence agent stood before White, still glaring daggers at Magenta as his breathing returned slowly to normal.
“My officers did indeed find out this information,” White continued calmly. “And Auditor Finch confirmed it, and reported to me – that there is a serious flaw in your program. You see, Mr Conners, the account report you’re holding in your hands is, indeed, erroneous. Almost as much as the data you were using to accuse my officers. Oh, you did find a mistake in one of their accounts in London, Mr Conners. Simply because the records had been mis-keyed. A simple clerical error caused your program to produce the wrong result. It was easily detectable once one of your auditors – much more competent in that field than yourself – ran it through an uncorrupted accounts database.” Conners gave White an inquiring look. “The corruption in the program you used is exactly what caused those apparent discrepancies,” White continued, pointing to the file Conners was holding, “in my officers’ accounts – as well as in YOURS. If you had bothered to check them on your own account – you would have discovered that.”
“Maybe you were unable to check that out?” Magenta offered. He didn’t receive any answer.
White didn’t mention anything, but he was thinking that it was more than likely that it never occurred to Conners to check his own account – thinking himself as so righteous all the time, he must have thought he was above something like that. It was Tim Copely who had tried to access Conners’ account to begin with. An attempt which had resulted in the launching of the corrupted failsafe program in all of Cloudbase’s supporting programs.
But that last piece of information, admitted by Finch a couple of hours ago, White would not tell Conners.
“So, armed with what you thought as ‘enough evidence’, and thinking that you were on to some suspicious behaviour on the part of my officers… you have come here, commissioning the help of three auditors from the accounting division – and went on a wild goose chase. On Christmas Eve.” White offered an affected smile to the Spectrum Intelligence agent. “It seems quite obvious, in the light of our investigation, that YOU – Mr Conners – quite SIMPLY – made a mistake.”
Conners opened his mouth to speak, but got no further.
“Mr Conners, I suggest you apologise to each and every one of my senior staff, in writing, immediately upon your return to London. And to those three auditors, whose Christmas holiday you very nearly spoiled.” White paused for a moment as he watched Conners’ reaction. Seeing none, he sighed, and smiled again, thinly. “Well, now that all of this is over and done, and all behind us, what do you say we forget about it – and continue celebrating the holiday?” He motioned to the table. “Make yourself at home, Mr Conners.”
“No, Colonel.” Closing the folder, Conners straightened himself, shooting a look first at Scarlet and Magenta, standing on each side of the colonel, and then at White himself, before taking a deep breath. “I believe I should be on my way back to London now. I see no reason for me to stay and… impose my presence anymore.”
“Leaving so soon?” Scarlet inquired in a falsely disappointed tone.
“If that is your choice, Mr Conners,” White replied quietly. “We’ll be quite happy to accommodate you. Captain Scarlet?”
“Yessir,” Scarlet responded.
“Would you arrange for a pilot to take Mr Conners back to London?”
“My pleasure, Colonel, my very great pleasure!” replied Scarlet in a tone that turned increasingly more emphatic with each word.
Only minutes later, White watched Conners leave the Officers’ Lounge with his allocated pilot and breathed a sigh of relief. He knew that there wasn’t a single person in the room who would miss the loathsome man. He took a sip from his glass.
“Oh, Captain Magenta,” he then said to the young man who had stayed by his side. “You must remind me to congratulate Destiny on her fine choice of wines. Most excellent.”
“Destiny, sir?” Magenta replied, carefully.
White merely nodded in return. He feigned not to notice Magenta’s embarrassment. “I couldn’t help but notice that one of the bottles you brought on board with you was a fine bottle of vintage champagne,” he replied instead.
“Were you planning on a… private celebration, Captain?” White asked with a raised brow.
“Sir, I… that is…” Magenta stammered.
“Colonel.” Grey suddenly appeared at Magenta’s side. He had been approaching the two men, and had heard the start of White’s inquiries. “I’m afraid you’ve pre-empted our surprise.”
White turned to Grey with a puzzled expression clear on his face.
“Sir, the champagne was a Christmas gift for you,” Grey explained.
Magenta almost choked at the words. He watched with increasing worry as Grey fished the bottle from the box behind them and presented it, with both hands, to their commander.
“Why, thank you!” White replied, obviously stunned at Grey’s words. He examined the bottle with a critical eye and nodded approvingly. “I’m quite touched, really. I’m sorry I ruined your surprise.”
“That’s quite all right, sir,” Magenta growled hoarsely, glaring daggers at Grey.
“Yes, sir,” Grey continued, unruffled, ignoring Magenta’s obvious anger. “But it’s not our only surprise for you. Captain Ochre has been working on something, that – well, I think you’ll like.”
Ochre’s ears pricked at the mention of his name and he turned to see Grey grinning and nodding towards the brightly coloured sheet.
Proudly and with careful determination, Ochre peeled back the cover to reveal the nine-foot model of Cloudbase, complete with miniature Passenger and Angel jets positioned on the flight deck. At several places on the model, instead of the grey-coloured metal walls, Ochre had installed clear plastic panels – to show off exquisite interior detail, including miniature figures of technicians, Angels and colour-coded officers. There was even a helijet receiving maintenance on the Hangar Deck.
Gasps of amazement and delight filled the Lounge as everyone gathered around to admire it. “Merry Christmas, Colonel, and ‘members of Spectrum’,” Ochre said with a smile.
“No wonder you’ve been stinking up the base so much these past couple of months!” Magenta joked. He smiled and continued, “But it was worth it.” Others nodded in heartfelt agreement.
White moved closer to the large yet graceful model, perfect in every detail. He gazed at it, in silence, obviously admiring it.
“Oh, and don’t worry about storing it, sir,” Ochre added. “I’ve already made arrangements with Commander Stone at Koala Base. They’re going to use it down there as a training model when classes resume after the Christmas break.”
“That is a most impressive piece of craftsmanship, Captain Ochre,” White said, turning to Ochre, standing next to him. “I… simply do not know what to say.”
“You like it, sir?” asked Ochre, beaming with joy at the compliment.
“Very much so, Captain. A wonderful surprise. I only wish we could keep it here, but obviously that just isn’t possible. Thank you, and thank you also for sorting out an appropriate home for it.” The Spectrum commander-in-chief cleared his throat. “I can honestly say that this Christmas has been one of many surprises, and valuable lessons.” White found his voice trailing off, with all of the senior staff and the three auditors looking on expectantly for him to elaborate.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” White said with a genuine smile.
“God bless,” returned the auditor, Tim Copely, raising his glass in a toast.
That was indeed a Christmas with many surprises, White reflected, when, after a few hours in the Officers’ Lounge, he came back to his private quarters and sat down in front of his desk. He leaned comfortably against the back of his seat, putting the bottle of champagne down on the floor, and heaved a deep sigh. He felt a little tired – not as much as the previous day, but at the same time, he felt good. The night had brought him a strange experience – very strange indeed. He had no doubt he had lived through something authentic – but at the same time, he wasn’t sure if he had slept and dreamed all those ‘visions’ – or if he had been fully awake to experience them. He would probably never truly know.
His eyes fell on the multicoloured folder he had left on the corner of his desk, and thoughtfully, he reached for it, and opened it. He took the pieces of ripped documents from inside and pushed back his seat to reach the paper incinerator on the wall behind him; he pushed all the papers into it and pressed the command, watching with satisfaction as the red light announced to him that the documents were being disposed of. A good thing, he mused. Nothing would be left of that proposition that the World President had sent him on Christmas Eve.
Earlier, after his shower, he had contacted the World Government Cabinet. He had been fortunate enough to catch President Younger, still there, and about to leave his office for a few days. White had taken the opportunity to inform him that Spectrum would do without any sharing of responsibilities with other security organisations. Too much information and too many vital issues would be shared as well, which could put in jeopardy the very security of the Spectrum organisation – and of its members, most importantly. The responsibility of protecting the World against the Mysterons could be Spectrum’s burden only – and Spectrum would content itself with the manner of assistance the other organisations were presently providing – asked by Spectrum when required. It was a heavy burden to bear alone, certainly – but it was, White had declared, the only way for Spectrum to be able to do its duty effectively, with the continued successes it had known so far since the beginning of the Mysterons’ War of Nerves.
Leaning over his desk, Younger had silently listened to White’s address with attention, and through to the end without interrupting him. When the Spectrum commander had finished, the World President gravely sat back in his seat. “If this is the way you want it, Colonel, it is the way it’ll be done. As I said yesterday, you are the one to have the last say concerning that proposal – and I trust your judgement implicitly.” Younger had paused a moment, before continuing in the same tone, “Spectrum is too important to the safety of this planet to be played with, Colonel. That’s why we must ensure that it will continue to operate as effectively as it has been so far.” He had then offered an encouraging smile. “You have my full support, Colonel White, and my assurance that this proposal won’t have any follow up. This is the last you’ll ever hear of it. And I’ll see to it that Spectrum will receive all the additional budget it needs to continue doing its good work.”
White had relaxed considerably at the World President’s promise, and had sighed with relief. “Thank you, Mr President. And I can assure you in turn, that Spectrum won’t let the people of this planet down.”
“Of that, Colonel, I have no doubt.” The smile on Younger’s face broadened then, and he nodded slowly. “And it is we, who should thank you, and all of Spectrum, Charles. Convey our Christmas wishes to all your agents.”
That had been the end of it. And now with the disappearance of the last piece of evidence that his proposal from Weston was gone as well, White permitted himself to breathe again freely. He had cast out the threat that had been hanging over his and Scarlet’s heads – and over all of Spectrum at the same time. The possible future he had seen during those… visions – would probably not come to pass now.
Distractedly looking towards his computer screen, a new thought now occurred to White. He straightened up in his chair and reached for the keyboard, and keyed the command to access his mail program. It took him only a few seconds to open it and to call back a message he had received the day before and which he had pushed to the back of his mind ever since he had read it and not answered. Now was the time to do so, he reflected. Finally.
And without any constraints.
He started typing his message, his anticipation growing at each word that appeared on the screen.
I regret to say that I won’t be able to accept your kind invitation to spend Christmas Day at your home in Iowa. I’m afraid my duties on Cloudbase prevent me from leaving right now and that it may be a few days before I’ll be able to free myself.”
White smiled thinly to himself. Of course, Amanda Wainwright wouldn’t feel that alone – she would have the visit of her daughter and of her future son-in-law. He didn’t mention it in his letter, not wanting to spoil any surprise Symphony and Blue might have planned. Surely, Amanda would be happy to see them arrive – and White reflected that he wouldn’t feel quite comfortable in imposing his presence, anyway. It was far better to leave these people to spend Christmas as a family, together.
His features brightened, as he continued to type heartily on his keyboard.
“However, since your message mentions the Holiday Season, I will MAKE myself free next week, and accept your invitation for New Year’s Eve…”
Captain Blue and Symphony Angel would be back on Cloudbase, he reflected. Captain Grey and Melody Angel would be back from visiting their respective families too. So except for Captain Magenta, everyone would have resumed their duties. All the others had scheduled furloughs for after the Holiday Season. So unless an emergency arose, White would be able to take some leave too, with a peaceful mind. He would leave Captain Scarlet in charge of Cloudbase. His young compatriot, he considered, was getting very proficient, riding the Command Chair.
“I’m hoping to see you soon, and that we’ll be able to join together in the celebration of the upcoming year.
Be sure you have all my affection,
White was about to send it when, as an afterthought, something came back to him. He typed again, quickly, muttering the last line.
“PS…” He leaned back on his chair, reaching for the bottle of champagne at his feet. He looked at it appreciatively, his smile now wide on his face, and nodded, as he sent the message, reading the rest of the last line aloud:
“… I’ll provide the bubbly…”
This story is meant as a respectful tribute to the novel 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens - and to the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
This story is a collaborative effort by all three authors. But if you are curious to know who wrote what, ask for a colour-coded copy of this story by e-mail.
All our thanks to Hazel Köhler - who, as always, provided a wonderful support as beta-reader and consultant. Your help is greatly appreciated.
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site