A New Captain Scarlet story for Christmas
By Cat 2
There was no way to get around it.
He’d been putting it off long enough. They left in an hour, and unless he planned to show up on his mother’s doorstep with a stranger, he’d best get this over with.
Drawing a deep breath, he dialled his parents’ number.
“Hey Mom,” he said as his call was answered. “Is it O.K if I bring someone?”
“He’s been very mysterious about his new girlfriend.” Julia Jacobsen Svenson flitted around the kitchen, making final preparations, as her house prepared to receive its onslaught. “Wouldn’t even tell me her name.”
“Probably afraid that you’d order the invitations.” General Abel Svenson lowered his paper and stared at his wife. “Don’t push the boy. Either of them.”
They were spared this conversation by the ringing of the doorbell.
Miriam Ad Bann didn’t own many civilian clothes.
Even off-duty, she tended to wear her Spectrum uniform.
That was the reason, or so she kept telling herself, that she kept fiddling with her jumper. She wasn’t used to wearing it for long periods.
It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she was terrorised.
In Hiran culture, girls still married men chosen by their fathers. Miriam hadn’t even met her late husband until their wedding day, though admittedly she wouldn’t have minded never meeting him.
Meeting the parents was a new experience, and one that she was almost certain was going to turn out badly. She knew Adam’s father and both brothers were in the military. Who knew how many friends and comrades they had lost to Hiran bombs. Hiran raids.
It hadn’t been so bad on the journey out of Spectrum. Serena was there as well, going to stay with her RAF boyfriend’s family over the festive season, and they’d had quite a good laugh.
However now on the civilian jet, alone with her thoughts, she was afraid.
“Hey.” Adam’s hand grabbed hers and yanked it away from her sweater. “It’ll be fine. They’ll love you.”
At that moment, the airline stewardess came with the coffee Adam had ordered. The phrase would have had more reassurance, if the stewardess hadn’t accidentally spilled most of the coffee over Miriam.
Miriam sighed and accepted the paper towels Adam offered her.
“Adam!” The yell came across the airport and nearly shattered the blast-proof glass that had been erected during the global terrorist Wars.
“Luke,” Adam said, grasping the hand of a blond-haired man. “It’s great to see you.”
Luke and Adam were alike, though Luke was slightly smaller and stockier. He was still in uniform, and clutching a standard issue kit bag for the US Army.
“Heard from Mom you were bringing a girl,” Luke said. “Why?”
“Ben’s got a steady, and now you too.” He shook his head. “Mom’s going to be at me to bring a girl home.”
Adam grinned. “Believe me, Mom’ll cope. She’ll be too busy planning the weddings.”
Luke grinned sheepishly. “So, when do I meet her?”
Adam turned slightly and took hold of Miriam’s hands. “Luke, I’d like you to meet Miriam Ad Bann.”
Luke’s eyes ran over her; it made her feel reassured, strangely. She was being judged as a future wife and mother. She hoped, irrationally, that she met with approval.
Eventually Luke grinned. “Nice to meet you, Miriam,” he said, holding out his hand.
“And you.” Miriam extended her hand. She waited for him to comment on the snake tattoo protruding from her sleeve.
“So how you guys getting there?” he continued. Definitely more boisterous and livelier than Adam. “You ordered a cab or what?”
“Got one waiting,” Adam said, retrieving his bag from the end of the line.
“Well,” Luke demanded, “what are we waiting for? Mom’s going to kill us if we’re late.” He reached out to grab Miriam’s bag, but she beat him to it.
“It’s all right. It isn’t heavy.”
Luke’s eyebrows rose. “Beautiful and a light packer. Even Dad’s going to be nagging you to marry this one.”
It was only a twenty minute ride from the airport to Adam’s family’s home, or their ‘current home’ as Luke called it.
During the whole journey he never shut up, joking, asking questions about her life, her family, but apparently being satisfied when she didn’t answer. Slowly, Miriam could feel herself relaxing.
Perhaps Harmony and the others were right. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the disaster she kept envisioning.
The house was a simple, red-brick building that stood amidst a small, ridiculous neat, garden with a white picket fence. Her stomach tightened again. This was very much America, and she couldn’t see a Hiran girl being welcomed. There was even snow falling.
The door opened, sending a semicircle of light along the dark path. A woman was standing in the doorway. With blonde hair that owed more to Maybelline than nature these days and a warm smile on her face, she could only be Mrs Svenson.
“Luke!” she exclaimed, enfolding the young man in her arms.
“Mom!” He struggled to get free, but eventually gave in and hugged her back.
Adam was getting the bags from the taxi, but he lifted his head and grinned. “Hey, Mom.”
“Adam.” Julia had him in a similar bear hug, but experience had taught him to bear it. That and he had missed her.
She broke away, looking at her eldest. “So where’s this girlfriend you’ve been hiding from me?”
Miriam took that as her cue, and stepped out of the taxi. Adam, grinning, reached out to take her hand.
“Mom. This is Miriam.”
Julia’s smile faltered.
Abel Svenson had been in Black Ops for nearly twenty years before his promotion to the Pentagon. He’d raised three boys, all doing their bit for the country and the world. In short, he was not a man to be frightened by anything.
He was however less than happy about being cornered by his youngest other half.
Cecilia looked American. That was the only way to describe her.
She was the brown cheerleader type, not the blonde, the one who would stand at the side of some senator, waving at crowds with a couple of rugrats at her side. In short, a perfect wife for Benjamin. So why did it feel fake?
“Abe?” His wife’s voice distracted Cecilia, enabling him to slip away from her. “Come and meet Adam’s... friend.”
He stepped out of the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about.
Adam’s face was a picture of the tension that only he could cause. Luke looked like he’d swallowed a lemon. And coming through the door behind him, was a young woman.
She was of Asian blood, with green eyes and a headscarf that matched them. She was wearing a red sweater, with a stain that he recognised as coffee, and loose black jeans.
“Dad.” Adam’s voice was full of controlled anger. “This is Miriam.”
As he took her hand to shake it, he noticed the tattoo of a snake protruding from her sleeve. Lifting his head, he met her eyes and saw something he didn’t expect to see there. Expectation.
“Welcome to the family,” he said.
“I hope you girls won’t mind sharing a room.”
After a meal that felt like it would have fed them for a week, Julia was heading upstairs with Miriam trailing behind her. They had lost Cecilia when they started climbing the stairs, but as Julia was refusing to even look in Miriam’s general direction, she hadn’t noticed.
“But we believe in old-fashioned values in this house. No sharing a room before marriage.”
As Miriam would have admitted that she was still adjusting to being able to sit alone with Adam in private, she wasn’t especially bothered.
The room was small, the two beds crammed in along with a chest of drawers and a wardrobe. Cecilia’s clothes were already unpacked and taking up most of the room, but the room still looked cosy, especially with the snow falling outside the window.
Carefully, she closed the curtains and the door, and took off her coffee-stained clothes.
“Why?” Julia demanded, like a wounded animal. “Why couldn’t he choose a normal girl? He could have stayed with that nice Serena, but no…”
Abel Svenson smiled. “Leave it alone, Julia, I think he’s chosen well.”
“Well?” Julia’s voice had caused Old Blue, their dog, to start howling. “She’s a terrorist!”
“No, she was a former Freedom Fighter,” Abel corrected her. “I’ve read her file. She left nearly three years ago, and has been with Spectrum for two , as Lieutenant Almond.” It was all true. After he’d heard rumors about his son being involved with the former freedom fighter, he had contacted Adam. Despite all Adam and Charles Grey had told him about Miriam, he had been concerned about his son’s being with this girl. He had asked a friend at the Pentagon to provide the files of all Hiran Deserters, and had read all the information he wanted to know about Miriam.
The Hiran, a nomadic race from west of the Syrian Sea, were mainly thought of by people as terrorists, as they have been staging attacks against the world, in protest at the occupation of their homeland, by renegades of the Global Terrorism wars. Born into the Bay Tribe, Miriam grew up with the Hiran’s struggle with renegades constantly in the background, and by her marriage to Menfac Ad Bann, a well-known warlord, she found herself involved with the fight against the renegades. She had studied Chemistry, and was something of an expert, but despite of this, the authority had not been able to link her to any attacks, which might have caused people their lives. She had offered information about six major attacks that her husband’s people were planning. This, coupled with the fact she was serving with Spectrum as engineer to the Angel’s aircraft, was enough for Abel to tell him she was on the level.
“You knew about her?!” Julia demanded.
“I knew how’d you react and it didn’t seem fair. Better to meet the girl with an open mind.”
He began to pace the room. “She’s brave, she’s strong and she’s determined. She’s got out of a life that few survive, she’s done so knowing that it meant the loss of everything she’s ever known and she’s rebuilt her life outside of it. There’s also no evidence linking her or her family to most of the major Hiran attacks. There is evidence linking her former husband, but the medical reports indicate that he was brutal to her during their marriage.” He shrugged. “But more than that, Julia, she makes Adam happy. So leave the kids alone. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen whatever we do.”
The tree knocked again.
Miriam groaned. She had grown up in the desert, where there were few trees, and in a tent that lacked windows. In short, the ash tree outside the house was waking her by its branches tapping on the glass.
That was what it was. That and nothing else. She was a grown-up Spectrum agent, not some child to be frightened by stories of demons.
She pulled herself up into a sitting position, and gazed around again. There was precious little light, but as her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw something lying on the chest of drawers. A chill hit her stomach as she recognised it. Fighting the sense of nausea, she slipped on her new orange dressing gown and left the room.
The whole house was in darkness, as she let her feet guide her to the kitchen. She was stupid to be so afraid. There were many reasonable explanations for what had happened. For what she had seen. It wasn’t… It didn’t have to be…
“What are you doing?”
She spun around, her hand moving automatically to where her sidearm should be. Silhouetted in the doorway, she could just recognise the figure of Benjamin.
“The tree outside the window kept waking me up. I came down to get a glass of water,” she said, relaxing against the cupboard. “And you?”
“The same.” She stood to one side and he retrieved a pair of mugs from the cupboard.
“So,” he said, calmly filling them with water. “What’s your game?”
The face that turned towards her was brutal and animal.
“To be blunt, I don’t give a damn what you’re doing with Spectrum; if they’re stupid enough to let your sort in, they deserve whatever they get. But if you start coming on to my family, then you’ve crossed a line.”
Miriam could feel the anger pulsating behind her eyeballs, as she said as calmly as she could, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Benjamin sneered, and for a moment Miriam was convinced that he would hit her. “Militant extremism is not something you give up. Most fundamentalists with a history of violence would never renounce those beliefs.”
Miriam fought for control before she replied.
“That would undoubtedly be true, IF I was an extremist or a Fundamentalist.” She pushed on, not giving him a chance to respond. “Check my record. My targets were all with one aim in mind. Reminding people that just because the war’s over, doesn’t mean the peace can begin.” White spots were appearing on her cheeks, as she pressed on. “My sister was raped and killed by renegades from your army when I was five. My mother was murdered by a rocket grenade and I was badly injured and nearly killed when I was ten.” She fixed her eyes on him. “Most Hirans aren’t extremists. We’re just trying to get our homeland back.” She sighed. “And there’s a point where you realise that nothing justifies that.” She paused for a moment, letting what she had said sink in. “Besides which,” she continued, rolling back the sleeves of the dressing gown, “do you think if I had come to infiltrate your home, that I’d wear this openly?” She pointed to the tattoo on her wrist, that marked her as a member of the Bay tribe of the Hiran people “I could have it laser-removed or even hide it with makeup. But I don’t. I leave it there, so that I never forget what I was.” She sighed and moved towards the door. “Excuse me. Adam has promised me a tour of the neighbourhood tomorrow and I would not like to disappoint him.” She stepped past him, though she felt his eyes follow her down the corridor.
The snow fell around their feet as they walked through the streets. Adam kept pointing out things that he remembered from his childhood.
They had lived here for a year when Adam was six, and it was evident that he still held fond memories of the place. After a while he stopped.
“All right. What did he say?”
“What did who say?”
“Benjamin. And don’t tell me ‘nothing’ He’s my baby brother. I know him too well.”
Miriam sighed. “Nothing that hasn’t been said about a million times,” she said. She paused for a moment and added, “I think I may have met his girlfriend before though.”
Miriam shook her head. “It was before I came to Spectrum.” She shook her head slightly to try and dislodge a snowflake from her nose. “Have you ever heard of Morgan’s band?”
When Adam shook his head, and she continued, “They are, or were, possibly more accurately a fanatics group of ... Pagans.” She paused letting the revelations of her words sink in. “And if she too has managed to escape, then I don’t see anything to be gained from forcing her into the open.” She shivered slightly.
Adam sighed, knowing it was useless to press her.
“Come on,” he said. “There’s a malt shop just around the corner. We can go there to get warmed up...” He continued talking, but Miriam hardly heard him. She had noticed the marks of a scythe on the tree they were passing under. Right next to where some small green shoots were sprouting.
Julia had to admit she was surprised when both Adam and the woman, as she privately called Miriam, were up and ready for Midnight Mass. She was also surprised that Benjamin said he wasn’t interested, and that he and Cecilia would wait up for them with mulled wine. As they said good bye, she noticed that Miriam leant in close and whispered something in Cecilia’s ear. The girl turned white, but neither made any comment.
She enjoyed the service and for all the tension she caused, she had to admit that the woman was good in church, even if she kept singing the carols in her native tongue, but as her husband reminded her in an undertone, she still sang Silent Night in German, so who was she to judge.
“Thank you for inviting me,” Miriam said, as they stepped out into the cold December air.
Abel grinned. “Got to love Midnight Mass. Your people do something similar?”
Miriam nodded. “Kind of. At midnight we go into the desert with candles. Christmas is fasting, not feasting.” She smiled. “It’s different here. Definitely colder though.”
Adam slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her into a hug, and yet again Abel felt relaxed. This was weird. Cecilia was so American and felt so fake, Miriam seemed to be the complete opposite, yet felt very real.
They walked in silence, their feet crunching in the snow, all enjoying the sense of wonderment, until they reached their house.
The door was wide open. They froze. Abel called for the base police, while Adam and Luke silently moved in.
Inside they found nothing. Only Benjamin, fast asleep on the sofa, alone. Of Cecilia, there was no sign.
“You’re sure you can’t stay longer?” Julia’s eyes rested hopefully on her eldest, but he shook his head.
“Leave’s up, Mom.”
She sighed. “All right. Call to let us know you’re safely there.”
Abel shook Miriam’s hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said, grinning. “And thanks.”
“I was right then?” she asked, surprised.
“They caught most of them this morning. Never thought I’d live to see Morgan’s rise again.” He leant in. “I haven’t told Julia or Benjamin yet.”
“I doubt they’ll thank me,” Miriam said softly. She shrugged. “Thank you for having me.”
She stepped up the stairs, sinking into her seat next to Adam.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
Miriam flushed. “Cecilia hadn’t left the Morgan’s,” she said slowly. “When I knew her, she called herself Briar Rose. The Morgan’s often took names of plants, or animals, and they had a bad habit of sacrificing humans, especially near the winter solstice.” She sighed. “When we were walking around the town, I noticed they’d cut some mistletoe.” She shook her head, sadly. “She was genuinely in love with him: that was no act. I told her that if she didn’t leave, I’d tell Benjamin she’d been one of us.” She shrugged. “She knew he’d never forgive her for that.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Adam asked. Miriam paused.
“In my culture, you can’t marry without parental consent. On at least one side.” Her eyes slid to her lap, and she played with the hem of her sweater. “I know I can never go back to my family. Never ask their permission to remarry. I wanted to, at least for a little while, feel that your family approved of me.”
Adam reached and took her hands into his. “Have you ever heard the saying ‘friends are the family we choose for ourselves’?” he asked.
Miriam nodded slowly.
“Well,” Adam said slowly, “since virtually everyone who I count as a friend approves of you and of us, I’d say we’ve got all the permission we need.”
He leant in and kissed her.
“And thanks,” he said, even softer, “for keeping my little brother safe.”
She snuggled into him, and his fingers stroked the tattoo on her wrist. She nodded gently to herself. It hadn’t been as bad as she was expecting.
This is very different to the story I intended to write. The first one I wrote was so depressing, I felt obliged to write something more cheerful. This was what came out.
Miriam Ad Bann – Lieutenant Almond – is my creation. She has made her appearance in “Five Years Gone” which can be read at Fanfiction.net and will be posted on this website in the beginning of 2009.
Miriam’s people, the Hiran, described in this story as living in a region called Hira by its inhabitants West of the Syrian Sea , are also my invention and are not to be confused with the African people of Hiran, in Somalia. When I was writing this, I actually had no idea that these people even existed, a search on Wikipedia at the start of “Five Years Gone” turning up no results. I was very surprised when Hazel told me, and by then it was too late, my muse had constructed the whole history of the Hiran people in my head. If this offends anyone, I’m sorry, it was meant purely as fiction.
Thanks to Chris Bishop and Hazel Köhler for their wonderful beta reading skills and for letting me post. Happy Holidays everyone.