Luke Harris wriggled in his bed, too excited to sleep.
“But, Mom,” he protested as his mother tried to tuck him into bed. “I can’t sleep.”
“You have to sleep, honey,” she told him, patiently. “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”
Luke stopped fidgeting, and thought about this. “Okay, Mommie.” Within seconds, he fell asleep, dreaming about the presents he might be getting from ‘Santa’ in the morning.
Melissa sighed with relief. Finally, she’d managed to get Luke to sleep. It had been the same every Christmas since he’d been old enough to understand. Normally Nick could handle the boisterous six year old, but he’d had to work late tonight again.
Commander Nick Harris yawned widely, displaying an impressive array of white teeth.
“I suppose we should call it a day,” he said sheepishly, grinning at his colleagues. “There’s nothing here that can’t be left until after Christmas, and I can’t imagine that Luke’s behaving himself.”
Guilty smiles from the other parents in the Science division told him that they had been thinking the same thing of their children. Christmas Eve was not the time to be away from one’s family.
“Go on,” he said, waving towards the door. “Get lost. Go home to your families, and don’t let me catch you here tomorrow.”
“Same for you, sir,” shot back one of the women.
“Don’t worry about me,” Harris replied. “I don’t intend on being here. Merry Christmas, everyone.”
He shoed everyone out before making a note in his diary of the discovery he’d made that day. It was small and seemingly insignificant, not important enough to be included in the official report unless further investigations turned up something significant. He cast an eye over the laboratory to make sure that everything had been shut down properly before locking up for the holiday.
“You promised Luke you’d be home, Nick,” Melissa accused her husband as he walked through the door.
Harris ran a hand through his hair. “I know,” he admitted. “I tried to get away, but I just couldn’t. But I will be here tomorrow.”
“Good,” Melissa stated. “Now, help me put the rest of these presents out.”
Rhapsody Angel hummed merrily as she broke off a length of white thread, rethreaded her needle and continued with her sewing. It was a skill she now excelled at, as a six-year-old child required many repairs to her clothing. Rhapsody knew that this job would not come undone.
Giggling like a schoolgirl, she hurriedly fastened off her thread at the end of her piece and placed the item into a suitcase, piling more clothes on top of it.
“Rose?” she called out to her daughter in the adjoining room.
The little girl poked her dark head around the door.
“Yes, Mommie?” she replied.
Rhapsody sighed. She had never succeeded in teaching her daughter her preferred pronunciation of ‘Mummy’, as Rose’s speech was heavily influenced by the American agents on Cloudbase.
“Have you got everything you want to take to Granny and Grandpa’s?”
Rose nodded silently. She had always been a very quiet child, unwilling to waste words where a simple gesture would suffice.
“Okay then, Rosie,” Rhapsody said brightly. “Now we just need to find Daddy…”
On cue, the door to the family’s quarters slid open and Captain Scarlet walked in and surveyed the room, taking note of the suitcases close to the door, and the small backpack that Rose was carrying.
“My,” he exclaimed, picking up Rose, who had rushed over to greet him, “you girls have been busy this afternoon, haven’t you?”
Rose nodded proudly. “I helped Mommie pack,” she announced.
“Good girl,” Scarlet told her.
“Hurry up, Paul,” Rhapsody said, consulting her watch. “It’s already dark in England.”
“Okay,” Scarlet replied. He set Rose down, and stepped behind the partition wall that marked out the sleeping area of their quarters. He changed quickly into the clothes that had been left out on the bed for him, re-emerging moments later. He scooped up his daughter and, holding her secure in one arm, picked up the larger of the two suitcases with the other.
“Come on, girls,” Scarlet said, smiling. “Let’s go.”
“Yey!” Rose cheered.
Scarlet gently lifted his sleeping daughter from her booster seat and handed her to Rhapsody. As he began lifting the suitcases from the boot of their rental car, a silver-haired woman rushed from the house and embraced him.
“Hi, Mum,” he said, returning her hug. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Mary Metcalfe said, stepping back slightly and surveying her son. She had discovered only a few months previously that Scarlet had been Mysteronised several years ago, at the beginning of the War of Nerves, meaning that he was virtually indestructible, and could not die unless electrocuted or completely dismembered, and also that he did not seem to age, although this was a phenomenon that had only been noticed recently.
“You’re looking well,” she commented.
Scarlet nodded. “The Mysterons have been quite quiet recently.” He picked up the two suitcases and followed his mother and wife, who immediately began chatting, to the house, where his father was waiting at the door, restraining their elderly and arthritic Labrador, Humphrey.
“Still thinks he’s a puppy,” General Metcalfe noted. “Welcome home, son.”
“It’s good to be here,” Scarlet replied, smiling and kneeling to stroke Humphrey’s head. He laughed as the dog licked his face. “I’ll just take these cases upstairs and get the presents.”
Metcalfe frowned. “I thought you’d had them all sent here. Your mother has been taking deliveries for two weeks!”
Scarlet shook his head in amusement. “You know what Dianne’s like. They’re just little bits and bobs.”
Metcalfe nodded his understanding as Scarlet straightened up. “Just like your mother,” he noted with a smile as Scarlet headed for the stairs.
Luke woke up. It was still dark, so it must have been late.
“I wonder if Santa’s been yet,” he whispered to himself, and crept out of bed towards the lounge area. As he approached, he could see a figure moving in the room. It was a fat man with a beard that seemed to glow in the very dim light. He turned towards Luke, who shrank back, remembering what he’d been told about Santa not coming if you’re awake. Once Santa wasn’t looking any more, Luke tiptoed back to bed.
Katie Mitchell woke up to see Father Christmas tiptoeing past her door. He noticed that she was watching, and put his finger to his lips. Katie nodded and went back to sleep.
Scarlet and Rhapsody woke with a start for the third time that night. Rose had jumped onto their bed and was currently bouncing up and down with excitement.
“It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas!” she squealed with glee. Fortunately this time, Scarlet noted, she had actually waited until the sun had risen. The previous two attempts to waken her parents had been in the pre-dawn hours, and they had not been too impressed.
Scarlet and Rhapsody exchanged brief glances, sighed and sat up.
“Shall we go and see what Father Christmas has brought you, Rosie?” Rhapsody asked patiently.
“Yeah!” cried Rose, bouncing off the bed and running for the stairs.
Scarlet cleared his throat, making Rose stop in her tracks. “Only if Granny and Grandpa are awake,” he told her sternly.
Her small shoulders slumped. “Awww…”
At that moment, the door to the senior Metcalfes’ room swung open, and General Metcalfe emerged, tying the cord on his dressing gown. “We’re both awake,” he announced, causing Rose to latch onto his legs in the closest approximation of a hug she could manage.
“Would you like to go downstairs, Rose dear?” Mary asked softly, also emerging onto the landing space.
“Yes, Granny,” Rose said, barely containing her excitement.
“All right then,” Mary said, taking Rose’s hand and starting to walk down the stairs.
As Scarlet and Rhapsody got out of bed and fumbled for their slippers, the radio on Scarlet’s bedside table beeped.
“Who’s calling at this time on Christmas Day?” he grumbled.
“They’re probably calling to wish you a merry Christmas,” Rhapsody said with a smile.
“I doubt it,” Scarlet replied darkly, reaching for the handset. “Scarlet here,” he announced, depressing the call button.
“Good morning, and Merry Christmas, Captain,” came Colonel White’s voice. “I apologise for calling on you, but it was a last resort. Captains Blue and Grey have been struck down with ‘flu, and you are the closest field agent available.”
Scarlet recalled that both captains had been feeling unwell for a couple of days. “I understand,” he stated. “What’s the problem?”
“There’s been several murders at Spectrum London overnight. I’d like you to investigate.”
“Mysterons?” Scarlet asked.
“Possibly, but there is no evidence to support that at the moment. There has been a threat announced, but we are not certain as to how it fits in with the current situation. Lieutenant Green?”
There was a pause, then a horribly familiar sound came through the small speaker grasped in his hand.
“’This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. We will warn you again; you will never discover the secrets of the Mysterons.’”
“That’s it?” Scarlet inquired. “No ‘We will be avenged’?”
“That is the full recording, Scarlet,” White confirmed.
“Very well,” Scarlet said, sighing. “I’ll be on my way… Rhapsody, did you remember to pack a uniform for me?”
Rhapsody nodded, then her face blanched, but Scarlet had already turned away and did not see.
“I’ll be there as soon as possible, sir,” he told White.
Scarlet turned back towards his wife. “Well, duty calls.” He caught sight of her face. “What is it?”
“Oh God, Paul, I’m so sorry,” she gabbled. “I didn’t think you’d actually need your uniform…”
Scarlet shoved his head around the living room door. “I’ve been called to London,” he announced. “Spectrum business, I’m afraid.”
Charles and Mary nodded in understanding, all too aware that their son was never truly ‘off duty’.
“Why are you hiding behind the door?” Mary inquired.
Scarlet scowled and fully emerged into the room. Mary nodded, trying, and failing, to hide a smile.
“Oh dear,” she giggled. “Haven’t you got a spare?”
Scarlet rammed his cap onto his head. “No!” he shouted, turning on his heal and heading for the door, which slammed behind him, just as raucous laughter broke out in the room.
An hour later, Captain Scarlet snapped to attention at the Reception of Spectrum’s London base. “Captain Scarlet, reporting for duty,” he stated, staring straight ahead.
“What the devil is that, Captain?!” the base commander, Major Douglas snapped, gesturing to Scarlet’s uniform. “Don’t you know what the situation is here? A bit of decorum would be in order, not decoration!”
“Yes, sir,” Scarlet said, still staring ahead, not daring to look at the major. “My wife’s idea of a joke, sir.”
“I see,” Douglas frowned. “I don’t suppose that it can be undone quickly?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. I’ve already tried.”
“Very well, it will have to stay then. I’m glad you’re here. Those tyrants from Intelligence are creating mayhem. Come through.”
“Intelligence?” Scarlet quizzed as he followed Douglas through the reception building. “I thought that this case was being dealt with by the senior staff as there is a Mysteron threat involved.”
“You know SI,” Douglas said gloomily, leading Scarlet out into an open area. Small buildings lined the sides of the court, which also had a play area in the centre. Scarlet noticed that a number of the buildings were cordoned off by multi-coloured Spectrum tape.
“These are the officers’ quarters,” Douglas explained. “As you can see, there have been several murders here alone. There have been more amongst the non-commissioned officers. This way, please.” He led Scarlet towards the closest tape barrier.
“Is there anything that links all of these agents?” Scarlet asked as he ducked under the tape.
“Yes,” Douglas replied. “They are all members of our Science division. “This is Commander Harris,” he continued upon reaching a door and indicating to a body lying on a bed.
Scarlet stepped forward and made a quick examination of the body. “This appears to be a straightforward shooting,” he commented. “Are there any witnesses?”
“No,” Douglas informed him quickly. “His wife wears earplugs to sleep, and their son was asleep in another room.”
“How old is the son?”
“Six,” Douglas advised.
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure he was asleep the whole night? I know that my six year old daughter wasn’t.”
“Well, you know how difficult it is to question children. They’re all so excited about Christmas.”
“They?” Scarlet quizzed. “You only mentioned one son.”
“Most of the members of the Science department have families, Captain,” Douglas explained. “We’ve got a group of hysterical women, husbands in denial, and kids who want to know why they can’t open their presents. There’s also a couple of teenagers in shock.”
“Exactly how many murders are we talking about here?”
“Ten, Captain,” Douglas admitted. “The whole of R&D and the biological science departments.”
“And no one saw anything?” Scarlet exclaimed incredulously. He then stopped and thought. “Biological science?”
Douglas nodded. “The whole department.”
“Doesn’t your biology department deal with the Mysteronisation process and Mysteron DNA?”
Douglas looked shocked. “Yes, how did you know that? That’s not common knowledge, even on Cloudbase.”
Scarlet gave him a small smile. “Why would I not know, Major? It’s my DNA that your research is based on.”
“Of course,” Douglas realised. “You would know. Do you think that there is Mysteron involvement, then?”
“It’s a strong possibility,” Scarlet told him. “What was your R&D team working on?”
“Methods of Mysteron detection,” Douglas grudgingly informed him.
“Let me check into Cloudbase and update Colonel White,” Scarlet sighed.
“Very well.” Douglas pointed towards a door. “That room is free.”
Scarlet entered through the door shown to him, which was the child’s bedroom. A large poster of the Nicks hung on the wall. Scarlet activated his RadioCap.
“Do you have any news, Captain?” White asked, wasting no time.
“Yes, sir.” He promptly filled his commander in with the latest developments.
“I see. The Mysterons are most likely to be involved then. I’ll arrange for Captains Ochre and Magenta to join you as soon as possible to assist in the investigation. And Scarlet, try not to tread on Intelligence’s toes. They won’t like it.”
“No, sir, thank you, sir.” Scarlet acknowledged.
Scarlet returned to the main building, where the families of the dead were staying in two rooms whilst the investigation took place. The adults and the two older children were in what appeared to be a large briefing room. The younger children, mainly aged between four and six, were in an interview room being supervised by two schoolteachers who had volunteered to care for them whilst the adults were interviewed. Scarlet noticed one of the children sat in a corner, crying. One of the teachers was with her, but the girl seemed to be uncooperative, turning away from the woman.
Douglas noticed the scene that had captured Scarlet’s attention.
“That’s Jessica Horowitz. Her mother was a member of the biology department. Her father left when Dr. Horowitz became pregnant, and still lives in Austria as far as I know. She was found by the next door neighbour this morning.” Douglas placed an odd emphasis on the last sentence.
Scarlet nodded his understanding. The poor girl knew what had happened, even if the other children didn’t. And, if Scarlet had understood Douglas’ unspoken statement correctly, young Jessica had actually found her mother’s body.
Playing a hunch, Scarlet pushed open the door to be greeted by shrieks of “Father Christmas”, “Santa”, and, Scarlet could swear, “Papa Noel”. However, none of the children’s excited reactions to his uniform tunic were matched by Jessica Horowitz’s terrified scream. The teacher with her tried to quieten the child, but the impassioned cry started off the other children, who promptly began to make more noise than was surely humanly possible. Scarlet stepped back as the children advanced on him, still shouting and closed the door. He sighed, thanking his lucky stars that Rose was such a quiet child, turned and started back towards the briefing room where the adults were. As he was about to open the door, he considered his attire and though better of that particular course of action. They could be left until Ochre and Magenta arrived.
Reconsidering his hunch, Scarlet thought hard, and hailed Cloudbase again.
“What is it, Scarlet?” Colonel White answered testily.
“Well, sir, it seems to me that the children are the most likely to be witnesses, sir,” Scarlet said hesitantly. “Most kids don’t sleep well on Christmas Eve.”
“Yes, Captain, and you are the most qualified person to deal with interviewing them,” White pointed out.
Scarlet sighed. “You mean I’m the only father. That’s true, but children don’t tend to talk to adults, sir, especially strangers.” He deliberately sidestepped the real issue of the trouble with his interviewing the children.
“What do you mean, Scarlet?” White enquired.
“You’re not going to like this, and neither is Rhapsody, but…”
Scarlet met the car that screeched to a halt outside the main entrance of the complex. He’d tried to persuade Ochre and Magenta, who had landed quarter of an hour beforehand, to accompany him for moral support, but they had flatly refused.
“You have got to be kidding!” Rhapsody yelled, climbing out of the driver’s seat, dressed in her uniform, but looking far from angelic. “This is the craziest idea you have ever come up with!”
Scarlet, avoiding Rhapsody’s glare, opened the rear door and unbuckled Rose from her booster seat. As he turned to lift her out, he could see Ochre and Magenta at the window of the reception area, laughing. They weren’t the only ones, he noticed.
“Dianne, you’re drawing attention to yourself,” he hissed at her. “Come inside and let me explain.”
“Explain?! Don’t you think she’s a bit young for work experience? Besides, there is a reason that Rose doesn’t go to school, remember?”
Scarlet seized Rhapsody’s arm. “Come inside before you say something you’ll regret,” he told her firmly, steering her inside and into an office that had been set aside for the three Spectrum agents. He managed to put Rose down whilst maintaining his grip on Rhapsody.
“Go and sit down with Uncle Rick and Uncle Pat, Rosie,” he told her. “And remember…”
“‘I’ve got to call them by their colour-codes’,” she recited.
Scarlet closed the office door behind her, much to the disappointment of Ochre and Magenta.
“Let me get this straight,” Rhapsody said, her face still flushed with anger, but her voice remaining calm. “You want to put Rose into a room full of kids and interview them?”
“Dianne, there have been ten murders here,” Scarlet reminded her patiently. “None of the adults have seen anything and the children won’t talk to us.”
“You think they’ll talk to her?” Rhapsody asked, calming down slightly.
Outside, Captain Ochre stood with one ear to the door, whilst some of the ground staff quizzed Magenta.
“Lovers’ quarrel,” he told the group of Spectrum security guards. “They’re married, and from what we were told, he wants their daughter to talk to the kids.”
Eyes shifted from Magenta to Rose, who was reading from a large book.
“Ochre,” Magenta hissed, realising what his partner was doing. “Get away from the door.”
Ochre straightened, and headed back towards the group of officers. “They’re not arguing any more,” he shrugged.
“Captain Magenta?” Rose said in Spanish, putting her book down. “Why is my mommie so mad?”
Magenta thought for a moment at how to explain it to Rose. “I think she’s worried about you, sweetie,” he said finally in the same language, “but Colonel White thinks you’re up to this mission.”
Her eyes lit up. “Honest?”
Magenta smiled, knowing the girl’s particular fondness for the commanding officer. His blessing would mean a lot to her.
“Would I lie to you? Colonel White has complete faith in your ability to complete this mission.”
“Cool,” Rose mumbled in English.
“Dianne, when you were six, would you rather talk to an adult or a kid?” Scarlet asked, by means of explaining his train of thought.
“Okay,” Rhapsody said, nodding. “I can see where you’re coming from, but what if she says anything?”
“About me, you mean?” Scarlet asked, suddenly understanding his wife’s concern. “I think she’s old enough to understand.”
“Paul, she’s six!”
“I bet you had secrets when you were six,” he retorted. “If we make her think of it as a secret, she won’t say anything.”
“Interesting,” Rhapsody said thoughtfully, giving Scarlet a sly look. “Are you sure you’re an only child, because you’re thinking a lot like a girl.”
Scarlet smiled in return. “There were a lot of girls my age on the base when I was Rose’s age. I was outnumbered fairly significantly, and they always had secrets.”
“Ah, of course,” Rhapsody said teasingly as Scarlet advanced across the small space.
“I was,” he murmured in self-defence, leaning down to kiss her.
Ochre, back at the door, turned away in disgust.
“Ew, they’re getting smoochy,” he announced.
“Ochre, stop acting like a teenager,” Magenta sighed. “They are married. They’re allowed to ‘get smoochy’.”
“Yeah, but not in public,” Ochre complained.
“Behind a closed door is not exactly public,” Magenta explained patiently whilst rolling his eyes at Ochre’s childishness. “It serves you right for being nosey.”
Major Douglas appeared from the security offices, where the officers were trying to retrieve the security tapes from the previous night. Magenta wondered briefly why it always seemed to be a difficult task, getting security officers to retrieve video footage, when the files would be plainly labelled.
“Is this her?” he asked the two field agents indicating the small child, who was still reading a comic book. He recognised the picture on the cover to be one of the ‘Tintin’ series, the books of which were still enjoyed by children worldwide despite being one hundred and forty years old.
“Yes,” Magenta replied, “this is Rose.”
“Yes, I suppose it must be,” he commented. “Doesn’t she look like her father? Where is Captain Scarlet? I’ve just been advised of a problem.”
“He’s in the office,” Ochre advised, grinning evilly, “but he won’t mind you going in.”
Douglas nodded, knocked on the door once and opened it. Scarlet and Rhapsody sprang apart.
“Oh,” Douglas exclaimed, stepping backwards hurriedly. “I was told that I could come in.”
“Let me guess,” Scarlet said dryly, his voice carrying into the reception area where Ochre was currently sniggering childishly. “Captain Ochre.”
“Yes, Captain,” Douglas confirmed. Ochre could see from behind that his ears were burning red.
“Come on in, Major,” Scarlet said, “and let me introduce you to my wife, Rhapsody Angel.”
Douglas closed the door behind him and extended a hand. “Welcome to Spectrum London,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” Rhapsody said graciously, taking his hand and shaking it.
“Captain,” Douglas said, remembering why he had disturbed the couple, “as you are aware, not all of the children here are British nationals.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, I noticed that the Harris boy was American, and I assume that Jessica Horowitz is Austrian from your reference to her father,” he confirmed.
“You don’t understand,” Douglas continued insistently. “We have scientists from all over the world here. Not all of their children speak English fluently.”
“Ah, I see,” Rhapsody said, smiling. “What are their native languages?”
Douglas frowned. “There are two French children, one Spanish, and Captain Scarlet was correct about the Horowitzs.” He looked between the pair as their smiles broadened, and wondered briefly why Rhapsody seemed familiar. “Have I missed something?”
“It won’t be a problem, Major,” Scarlet explained. “Rose speaks all three very well.”
“Major, our daughter has lived on Cloudbase her entire life,” Rhapsody explained patiently. “It’s a multinational base, and each agent speaks their native language when speaking to Rose. We have a German lieutenant, and the head of the Angel pack is French. Captain Magenta taught her Spanish. She speaks three languages fluently, and a couple more well. She’s a fast learner.”
“Okay,” Douglas sighed, then stopped dead as his memory prompted him. “I know you - you’re Lady Dianne!” he exclaimed.
“I was until I got married,” Rhapsody confirmed, curiously. “How do you know that?”
“I worked with the FAB for a while,” he told her. “I didn’t know you were with Spectrum now.”
Scarlet cleared his throat. “Shall we get on with it?” he asked pointedly, before the pair started to reminisce.
“Certainly,” Douglas agreed. “Shall I take you through?”
“In a moment,” Scarlet said. “I need to brief our field agent first.”
He ignored Rhapsody’s glare as he called Rose into the office. Douglas stepped out, noticing for the first time that the book that young Rose had been reading was, in fact, ‘L’Affaire Tounesol’, or, as he knew it, ‘The Calculus Affair’. Scarlet and Rhapsody hadn’t been kidding when they said that she could speak French, at least.
Scarlet smiled as Rose entered, beaming, her head held high. Ever the little grown up, he thought fondly. Growing up on Cloudbase seemed to have matured the child quickly in some respects. She did tend to at least try to act as a grown up whenever she was in public, but Captain Green assured him that this was normal behaviour for any child that age and not to worry. At least it gave her a mature outlook on her studies, and she was happy to do her homework for her tutors. Symphony seemed to set the most of all of them, but Scarlet suspected that this was because the American Angel was impervious to Rose’s attempts to charm her way out of being assigned homework in the first place.
She stood to a passable attention before her father and saluted him.
Right, proper grown up then, Scarlet thought, amused and trying not to smile openly. He saluted her back and said: “At ease.”
Rose dropped her hand and changed her posture to, again, a passable military ‘at ease’.
“Miss Metcalfe,” Scarlet began. Might as well treat it like a proper briefing. “I have been authorised by Colonel White himself to make you an honorary Spectrum cadet for the duration of this mission, and as such, you must report any findings to the field commander.” He paused before adding: “Who is me.”
“Yessir,” Rose replied eagerly, trying her best, her parents could tell, not to jump up and down with excitement. It frustrated her that she was too young and small to be a proper member of Spectrum, like the adults around her. This was, quite possibly, the best Christmas present ever! Not that she’d been allowed to open her Christmas presents yet, even after Daddy had promised. Mustn’t call him ‘Daddy’, she told herself sternly. You’re on duty now.
“Cadet Metcalfe,” Rhapsody continued, carrying on with Scarlet’s charade. “Your mission is to talk to the children in the interview room that you will be going to in a few minutes and question them about what happened in their houses last night. Do you understand your orders?”
“Yes, Mom… ma’am,” Rose replied, blushing at her slip. They were treating her like a grown up at last, and she nearly said ‘Mommie’? You’re on duty, she repeated mentally.
“One more thing, cadet,” Scarlet said. “These children do not know the truth about Mysterons. They don’t have the same access to Rainbow Clearance material that you do, and they are not authorised to have such information. You must not say anything about it to them.”
“No sir,” Rose confirmed.
The children of the victims had been given biscuits and juice by the school teachers who had agreed to supervise them, and Rose had slotted herself into the group very well, considering that she had never attended school before. Rhapsody watched through the one-way mirror as Rose giggled with a group of the children, a cup of coffee going cold beside her.
“I still can’t believe we’re doing this,” she muttered, almost under her breath, tapping her fingers on the desk between her and the mirror.
Scarlet looked up briefly from the computer screen he’d been studying. “She’s fine,” he commented, distracted by what he had discovered. “Uh, guys? Would you check this for me?”
Magenta looked at him from a similar screen, several of which were around the antechamber, but Ochre kept on staring at his screen. He typed in a quick command, then inquired, “Have you got a missing section?”
Scarlet stared. “Yes, how did you know?”
“Just found one too,” came the swift response. “What time’s yours at?”
Scarlet peered at the screen as he skipped back to the last frame before the recording stopped. “It starts at 02:10.00 and ends at 02:20.00. That’s odd,” he noted, scowling.
“Yeah,” Ochre agreed. “Mine’s 03:00.00 to 03:10.00. It’s like they were programmed to switch off for 10 minute intervals.”
Magenta nodded thoughtfully. “There’s not many people would be able to do that,” he noted. “The security system here is very advanced. You’d need the proper authorisation to shut down the cameras.”
“Could they have hacked in?” Scarlet asked.
Magenta shook his head, almost smugly. “Not a chance,” he told his colleague.
“One of yours?” Ochre asked, knowing the answer from the expression on his partner’s face.
“Mine and Green’s,” Magenta confirmed.
“Surely someone would have noticed that the cameras weren’t working,” Rhapsody commented, still staring through the window.
The three agents nodded in agreement. “Have the security guards been questioned?” Ochre asked the group.
“Major Douglas said that he was seeing to it,” Scarlet replied, flicking through the tapes quite rapidly now that he knew what he was looking for.
“No,” Rhapsody murmured unexpectedly, shaking her head. She pointed at the scene in the room. “Paul, please tell me she’s not doing what I think she’s doing.”
Scarlet turned away from the monitor and got up to join his wife at the one-way mirror. He studied his daughter, to whom Rhapsody had been pointing, and smiled. Ochre and Magenta also joined them.
“It looks to me like she’s interpreting for that kid beside her,” Ochre commented.
“She is,” Scarlet confirmed with a smile. “So much for her being an Angel.”
Ochre smirked at the memory of three years ago, of three-year-old Rose careering around the Control Room of Cloudbase, a toy aeroplane strapped to her shoulders, declaring her desire to be an Angel pilot, like her mother, just as Colonel White entered the room and the child collided with him.
“Does she still call the old man ‘Uncle Charlie’?” Ochre asked innocently, causing Magenta to choke on the mouthful of coffee he’d just taken.
“Occasionally,” Rhapsody admitted, scowling. “It’s very hard to get her to stop when people keep encouraging her, Rick.” She turned on the American, who rapidly plastered an innocent look on his face.
The door to the room opened, and the four agents turned away from the window, only to be greeted by a very unwelcome sight.
“I hope what they’re telling me isn’t true,” Special Agent Conners of Spectrum Intelligence stated bluntly, without greeting the officers.
“And a ‘Merry Christmas’ to you too, Conners,” Ochre muttered under his breath.
“What is it that you’ve been told, Agent Conners?” Scarlet asked smoothly, shooting a sharp look at Ochre, who returned to his computer screen.
“The security guards have advised me that you have put your daughter into a room full of children in an attempt to investigate the deaths that occurred last night; which, by the way, should rightfully be under the jurisdiction of Internal Affairs.”
“You were advised correctly,” Scarlet told the Intelligence agent, still remaining calm, not allowing Conners to goad him. “However,” he continued smoothly, “there is a Mysteron threat surrounding this incident that puts it into Cloudbase’s jurisdiction.”
“She’s coming out,” Magenta announced, cutting off what would no doubt be a derisive retort from Conners. Sure enough, the female teacher was escorting Rose away from the group towards the door. A few moments later, the pair appeared in the antechamber.
“Report, cadet,” Scarlet said, not allowing Conners the chance to speak.
Rose, however, had recognised the new addition, and scowled before answering. “A lot of them are too excited or confused to make much sense,” she explained. “They don’t understand why they’re there.”
“You didn’t tell them, did you?” Scarlet inquired of the child.
Rose gave Conners, who was standing against a wall with his arms folded, another glare. “No, Captain,” she said. “Most of the ones who did wake up last night say…” Rose scowled again before imparting her information. “They say that they saw Santa. Katie says that he was tiptoeing past her bedroom door, going towards her mom and dad’s room, and Juan said something similar. That’s weird, isn’t it? Santa wouldn’t be doing that, would he?”
Conners snorted derisively, a smug grin on his face. However, the look that Rhapsody gave him made him think twice about saying anything in reply to the child’s statement.
Scarlet, however, nodded in agreement. “Well done, Cadet Metcalfe, you’ve done well. I think that will be all for now.”
“Yes, sir,” Rose said cheerfully. She’s been praised for her work. Maybe she’d be asked to do more missions now that they knew that she could do it.
Scarlet turned to address his wife. “Rhapsody Angel, would you drive our gallant cadet back to her grandparents?”
Rose’s face fell.
“Yes, sir,” Rhapsody replied, trying to keep the joy out of her voice upon seeing Rose’s expression. She wanted nothing more than to get her daughter out of there and back to a place where she knew that there were no Mysterons around, but the look on her little girl’s face was heartbreaking. She had been so excited when she had been given her ‘commission’, and gone about Spectrum business gladly and now it must seem like she was being rejected.
“Come on, cadet,” Rhapsody said gently, holding out her hand, which Rose took gratefully and the pair left the room.
“Thank you, Agent Conners,” Scarlet said quietly after Rhapsody had closed the door.
“Why?” Conners asked in shock. There had been no trace of sarcasm in the captain’s voice, nor any trace of the hostility he expected from any Cloudbase officer.
“Thank you for not shattering my daughter’s illusions about Father Christmas,” Scarlet clarified. “Or Spectrum, for that matter.”
“You’re welcome,” Conners replied. “I have to know why though. Why, exactly, did you allow a six year old child to interview potential witnesses to homicide?”
“Because they wouldn’t open up to us,” Scarlet admitted. “I’ll bet you had the same problem.”
“We did,” Conners grudgingly admitted. “I hate interviewing children. They don’t see things the way we do.”
“No,” Ochre piped up. “They see things more clearly than we cynical adults.”
“Really?” Conners said, eyeing up Scarlet’s attire. “That’s an interesting outfit, Scarlet,” he commented dryly. “These kids have been seeing ‘Santa’, have they? Interesting.”
Scarlet shot him a murderous look. “Rhapsody sewed it on, okay?” he said defensively, before realising exactly what the Intelligence agent had been driving at. “Oh, come on! You can’t think that it was me?”
“You have to admit that it’s a possibility,” Conners pointed out. “How are we to know that you are not the Mysteron agent? We wouldn’t even be able to confirm it using the detector test. Very convenient.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Ochre shouted. “You know as well as us that Scarlet is free of Mysteron influence, and that he can’t be Mysteronised again.”
“We’ve also got a more sensitive Mysteron detector than the X-ray device,” Magenta pointed out softly. “One that would know instantly if the Mysterons were affecting Captain Scarlet.”
“We do?” Scarlet and Ochre asked in unison.
“Sure we do,” Magenta told them. “Rose might be a normal kid in every other way, but she senses Mysterons better than you, Scarlet.”
“Rose?!” Conners did not sound impressed. “The child is six years old, and you would…”
“I would trust her over a detector any day, Conners,” Magenta interrupted calmly. “If you had ever seen her around a Mysteron agent, you’d understand.”
Whatever Conners would have said in response to Magenta was interrupted by Douglas returning to the antechamber.
“We haven’t been able to locate the chief of night security,” he announced. “I have organised a search team, but my guess would be that he is our suspect.”
The three field agents nodded in agreement.
“He would have the authority to access the security systems,” Magenta commented.
Scarlet frowned, picturing in his mind a typical night watchman. “Do you have a picture of this man?” he asked Douglas.
“Certainly,” Douglas replied, handing Scarlet a slim line paper folder. Scarlet opened it to reveal a personnel file.
“I think we have our ‘Santa’,” he announced, dropping the open file onto the desk.
“Mommie?” Rose inquired from her booster seat in the back of the car. “Could the Mysteron have dressed up as Santa, like Daddy is?”
Rhapsody smiled and glanced in the rear view mirror at her daughter, who was still frowning; not in a sulk as before, but instead in thought.
“He could well have, Rosie,” she replied. “Daddy thinks that he might have done.”
Before she had left headquarters, Rhapsody had asked to be kept informed of developments, and had just received notification of this very fact through the hands-free earpiece that was connected to her Spectrum radio.
“So they can catch him soon, then?”
“Yes, Rosie,” Rhapsody reassured her. “London’s security guards are searching for him right now. He’ll be caught soon.”
“I wonder why we haven’t found the Mysteron yet,” Ochre pondered as he inspected the body of the former head of night security, Sergeant Entwistle.
“Maybe he’s not finished his mission,” Magenta said, pulling an X-ray negative picture from the Mysteron detector. He’d checked the body to ensure that it was the original and not the copy. The Mysterons had a tendency to discard their clones once their task had been completed, and so they needed to know which body they had.
“What do you mean ‘not finished’?” Ochre demanded. “This guy killed everyone in that department!”
“Yes,” Magenta countered, “but the department itself is still there. If this is related to some discovery they’ve made, then their research materials are still in the lab. As are their records.”
Ochre’s eyes opened in shock. “Has the building been checked?”
“Scarlet’s done it,” Magenta confirmed. “There’s guards posted too, but my guess is he won’t strike again until tonight.”
“Probably,” Ochre said, rolling the overweight body onto its back with some effort and inspecting a bullet wound. Suddenly, he stopped mid-prod. “Research materials?”
“Yeah, what about them? They do stuff with DNA.”
“I know,” Ochre said. “Then there’s still a target out there. After all, who can they get their material from?”
Comprehension dawned on Magenta’s face, just as a loud noise came from the next room and one of the junior officers called, “Captains? You might want to take a look at this…”
Seeing that Ochre was busy with the body, Magenta went to the door to investigate. A second body lay on the floor, clearly having fallen out of a locker that the security guards had prised open.
Rhapsody cast a wary eye out of the kitchen window whilst helping Mary peel carrots for the Christmas dinner later. Unfortunately, there had been no snow that year, but Rose was still playing outside, with Humphrey for company. Rhapsody was worried. Scarlet had insisted that all was in hand at the base and that she and Rose should go back home, but Rhapsody was no fool. She had worked out the same thing that he had – that as long as he and Rose lived, the research that had been destroyed by the deaths of the staff, whatever it was, could be recreated. As long as Rose was away from London HQ, she was safe from the Mysterons’ threat, or so Rhapsody feverently hoped. Besides, considering Rose’s uncanny ability to detect Mysterons, surely the child was safe where she was.
Finishing up with the carrots, Rhapsody moved reluctantly away from the window and crossed through the lounge on her way to the bathroom. A flash of movement through the window caught her eye. On edge as she was, she stopped and peered through the glass. There was definitely something – or someone –in the trees at the front of the house. Quietly so as not to disturb the Metcalfes, she went out the front door. Shivering as the cold air passed through the fabric of her uniform, she patted the holster on her belt, reassuring herself that her service weapon was still there, just in case her fears were realised. Just why she hadn’t removed the gun when she had returned to the house, she couldn’t remember, but she was currently grateful that she had overlooked it. Hugging herself in an attempt to fend off the ruthless biting wind, she set out towards the place she had noticed the movement.
Despite the objections of Ochre and Magenta, Scarlet insisted on joining them in the search for the Mysteron agents.
“After all,” he had said when they had lodged their initial protests, “if they’re looking for me as a target, then wherever I am is where they’ll be.”
However, after spending a large amount of time scouring the base for the errant Mysteron agents, it seemed likely that Magenta was correct in his assumption that the agents would wait for night to fall before striking again, and they headed for the R&D building, which would draw both agents to the same place, if indeed one was after Scarlet and the other the building itself.
The agents sat inside the research building, out of the cold, waiting for the night shift to start. In the lab itself, Ochre picked up what appeared to be a large video camera. Flipping the plasma screen open and pointing it at Magenta, he was surprised to see a skeleton appear on the screen, much as the picture of a Mysteron detector worked. Aiming the camera at Scarlet, his guess was confirmed when Scarlet himself appeared on the screen instead of the skeleton.
“Stop playing with that thing, Ochre,” Scarlet reprimanded him.
“It’s a Mysteron detector,” Ochre said in defence, subtly flicking the ‘record’ button.
“All the more reason not to play around with it,” Scarlet said. “In this building is the future of the War, what the Mysterons are trying to stop us from using against them. I shouldn’t be surprised if they were trying to work on a miniaturised version of that for field use.”
“Sure beats taking pictures of everyone,” Magenta pointed out.
“Just think,” Ochre said, “if we could install these all over the world, the Mysterons wouldn’t stand a chance of not being detected.”
“And I’d never be able to travel off Cloudbase,” Scarlet noted darkly.
Ochre panned down with the camera, away from Scarlet’s head before smirking.
“No, you wouldn’t, would you?” he noted in an amused tone.
“What do you mean?” Scarlet asked.
“Well, you’re buck-nekkid,” Ochre told his mortified colleague.
“What!? Turn that damned thing off!”
Ochre experimentally flipped a switch that toggled him onto a normal video view of the room.
“Hey, look. Normal. Wave for the camera now that you’re dressed, Scarlet.”
“You’re enjoying this,” Scarlet grumbled, his ears glowing bright red.
“Well, that answers that question, then,” Magenta noted with interest. “I must admit, I always wondered what would happen if we took a picture of a Mysteron who wasn’t wearing what they were reconstructed in.”
Scarlet turned his back on Ochre, who appeared to be in a particularly infantile mood in order to continue a sensible conversation with Magenta.
Rhapsody knelt in the spot where she had seen the motion. Although there was no snow, the ground in the wooded areas was frosty enough to keep any tracks, obvious even in the dwindling winter light, and someone had definitely stood here before moving off round the back of the house at a slow pace which would prevent his being seen or heard by anyone. Rhapsody was under no such constraint, and ran in the direction of the footprints, her fear building.
She could see the man up ahead, carrying a gun and heading in the direction of the back garden, where Rose was probably still playing innocently. Rhapsody increased her speed, incensed at the thought of anyone threatening her little girl. She was making so much noise on the crispy ground, but the Mysteron agent, which was what the man logically must be, seemed to ignore her.
A bark from Humphrey, so close, made the Mysteron hesitate. Rhapsody seized her chance.
“Stop!” she shouted. “Drop your weapon and put your hands on your head.”
God, how much did that sound like a cheesy cop-show line? she thought briefly as the Mysteron agent turned on her, not complying with her instructions in the slightest.
“Foolish Earthwoman,” the Mysteron agent told her. “You cannot stop me with that weapon. I will succeed with my mission. The Mysterons’ instructions will be carried out.” He levelled his gun at her.
Rhapsody fired first, before he had even had the chance to finish his speech. “Not on my watch,” she sneered as the bullet met its target and pierced the construct’s chest. The Mysteron staggered and fell to the ground, bleeding severely.
“You know,” Rhapsody continued, conversationally, as she approached the prone form. “You really do give yourselves away by calling people ‘Earthman’ or ‘Earthwoman’. Congratulations on figuring out the genders, by the way. If you didn’t say things like that, or ‘Mysteron instructions will be carried out’, you’d stand a much better chance of succeeding. Oh, and, by the way,” she added, re-aiming her gun, “I might not be able to kill you with this, not permanently, but I can keep killing you until the electron gun arrives.”
She fired again, at point blank range, and the bullet found the heart.
Looking up, Rhapsody realised that she was right at the edge of the wooded area, and whilst Rose was playing in another area of the garden and could not have seen the events, there was a window in the house that would give a grandstand view. And had. In the kitchen, Mary’s white face stared out of the window towards her daughter-in-law, before withdrawing.
Moments later, General Metcalfe appeared from the back door of the house. He was carrying Rhapsody’s coat, which she gratefully donned, and a gun of his own. He also had a pair of camping stools that didn’t appear to have been used for some time. Handing one stool to Rhapsody, he unfolded the other and sat down beside the body as he heard Mary calling Rose into the house.
“We wait,” Rhapsody said dispassionately. “If he wakes up, we shoot him again.”
Metcalfe nodded as Rhapsody fished around in her coat pocket and withdrew her radio.
Scarlet sagged slightly as a wave of nausea hit him. The night shift had started ten minutes ago, not that any of the day officers had gone off-duty, and it appeared that their suspicions had been founded.
“Mysterons?” Magenta asked, noticing.
Scarlet nodded tersely. “It only feels like one, though,” he said, puzzled. “Coming this way.” Scarlet had become more in tune with his in-built Mysteron detector in recent times, learning to trust and interpret what it told him much more accurately.
“One?” Ochre whispered. “Where’s the other?”
“How should I know?” Scarlet hissed through gritted teeth. “Let’s just deal with this one for now.”
The whole team of officers tensed as Magenta passed on Scarlet’s information through his RadioCap. The building was totally surrounded by officers. The Mysteron had no chance of success.
“Captain Magenta?” a nervous voice said over the radio. “He’s here on the north side.”
“North side,” Magenta shouted to the others stationed with him on the west side, who moved out to cover their colleagues.
As Magenta emerged from the side of the building, he could see what had made the agent who had contacted him so nervous. The Mysteron agent was laden with explosives that, if a stray bullet were to hit them, would send them all to Kingdom Come.
“What are you going to do, Earthmen?” Entwistle taunted them. “You might have the building surrounded, but you cannot fire at me without detonating these explosives.”
A movement at Magenta’s side tore his attention away from the Mysteron Agent. Scarlet had moved away from the group, unnoticed, and was moving to a position behind the agent.
“Scarlet, what are you doing?” Magenta whispered into his microphone.
“We can shoot him from behind, as long as I’m far enough away,” Scarlet replied. “Keep him talking.”
“SIG, Scarlet,” Magenta acknowledged.
“Where’s the other agent?” Magenta called out. “We know that you killed Davis too. We found the body.”
Entwistle laughed, and the explosives in his arms wobbled precariously, jogged by the motion in his rotund belly.
“Davis is far enough away not to be any of your concern,” he said mockingly. “He is fulfilling his purpose.”
“Which is…?” Magenta prompted, keeping an eye on Scarlet, who was now directly behind Entwistle.
“The humans must never discover the secrets of the Mysterons,” Entwistle said cryptically. “Surely even you humans can work…”
He cut off suddenly with a strangling sound and toppled forwards. A dark stain was spreading across his charcoal grey uniform in a circular fashion.
“Dammit, Scarlet!” Magenta shouted. “He was just about to tell us where Davis was!”
“Sorry,” Scarlet said, approaching. “I couldn’t hear him. I had to be far enough away to ensure that the bullet didn’t go straight through him.”
“Too late now,” Magenta said. “Where’s Ochre with that Mysteron gun?”
“Here,” his compatriot announced, appearing to Magenta’s left through the crowd of charcoal-clad agents. Ochre took aim and discharged the weapon into the dead Mysteron.
As he was pondering the whereabouts of the second agent, Scarlet’s epaulettes flashed white and his microphone dropped into place.
“Captain Scarlet?” White’s voice announced over the speakers in the cap. “We have received a message from Rhapsody Angel.”
“Yes, sir?” Scarlet said, immediately panicking.
“You are to return to Winchester immediately, and take a Mysteron gun with you.”
“Oh, my God!” Scarlet immediately picked up the Mysteron gun that he had temporarily propped up against the wall of the R&D building and ran towards the exit, and his car. Paying absolutely no attention to Colonel White, he steered the car onto the M25 and raced against the fortunately light traffic.
His fear for his family growing by the second, Scarlet reached Winchester in record time to be greeted by his mother in the driveway, who looked shaken.
“Round the back,” she told him.
Apprehension building, Scarlet picked up the Mysteron gun and ran as fast as he could around the house to where he could see Rhapsody’s white coat standing out in the darkness. She was sitting calmly on an old camping stool opposite his father, with a dead body between them.
“You’re… you’re all right?” Scarlet stammered in shock.
Rhapsody rolled her eyes. “Yes, Paul, we’re all right.”
“When Colonel White said that I needed to come back, I thought…” He couldn’t finish the sentence. The idea of anything happening to his family, to those closest to him, was too much to bear.
“We’re not completely inept, you know,” Rhapsody chastised him, before taking pity on her husband and standing to embrace him.
Scarlet returned the hug fiercely, reassuring himself that all was fine. “I was so worried,” he said softly. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the Mysteron agent began to stir. General Metcalfe, however, calmly cocked his handgun and fired one bullet into the man’s back. The agent grew still again.
“Come on, son,” he said, “we need that gun of your to finish off the job.”
Scarlet broke away from the embrace and shouldered the rifle-type weapon.
“You’ll have to move away, Dad,” he said. Metcalfe stood and moved behind his son. Scarlet took careful aim and fired at the body, which arched under the electrical onslaught before growing still again.
Metcalfe wrinkled his nostrils at the acrid smell of burning flesh. “Let’s go in, dear,” he said to Rhapsody. “The cold is beginning to penetrate my coat.”
Rhapsody smiled. “Mine too,” she admitted. “We’ll leave the hero to deal with Spectrum.”
Scarlet turned, hurt. He saw the teasing look on Rhapsody’s and his father’s faces and submitted. “I’ll contact London, get them to pick the body up.”
Captain Blue stretched out in his bed. Confined to sickbay with Captain Grey for the duration of their illness, both were bored. They had watched a movie, but that had finished some time ago. Grey was sat reading a book at the moment, and so missed Captain Ochre approaching the Plexiglas of their quarantine room.
“Hey, guys,” he greeted them cheerfully over the intercom system. “I’ve got some entertainment for you.” He brandished a small rectangular object.
“What’s that?” Blue asked as Grey marked his page and put his book down.
“A memory card,” Ochre announced. “You’ve got to see this.” He placed the card into a reader that was connected to the television in the room. The TV flickered to life, and an image of Scarlet appeared.
“What is this, Rick?” Grey asked curiously.
“I found a camera on the surface,” Ochre explained gleefully, pausing the playback right at the beginning. “It was a Mysteron detector and a regular camera. I’ve got playback from both.”
Blue frowned. “Whilst that sounds interesting from a work perspective, I’m not sure what’s so funny about it.”
“Watch and learn, my friend,” Ochre said, “watch and learn.”
The playback resumed.
“All the more reason not to play around with it,” Scarlet said, obviously continuing on from a time before the recording had begun. “In this building is the future of the War, what the Mysterons are trying to stop us from using against them. I shouldn’t be surprised if they were trying to work on a miniaturised version of that for field use.”
“Sure beats taking pictures of everyone,” Magenta pointed out, off camera.
“Just think,” Ochre said, “if we could install these all over the world, the Mysterons wouldn’t stand a chance of not being detected.” Ochre’s voice was muffled slightly, evidently behind the microphone.
“And I’d never be able to travel off Cloudbase,” Scarlet noted darkly.
The image panned down with the camera, away from Scarlet’s head to his body.
Blue and Grey gasped simultaneously.
“Ochre, this is watchable, right?” Blue asked, preparing to avert his eyes if the worst should happen.
“Yeah, yeah,” Ochre said. “I’m not that bad, you know. It’s the next bit you want. The end is for the girls.”
“No, you wouldn’t, would you?” Ochre noted in an amused tone.
“What do you mean?” Scarlet asked.
“Well, you’re buck-nekkid,” Ochre told his mortified colleague.
“What!? Turn that damned thing off!” Scarlet snapped on screen, his ears turning red before their eyes.
The view switched to a normal picture suddenly.
“Hey, look. Normal. Wave for the camera now that you’re dressed, Scarlet.” The image panned back to reveal Scarlet’s attire.
“What is he wearing?” Blue asked, choking on a mouthful of water.
Grey laughed loudly. “This is the best thing I’ve seen all week!”
“You’re enjoying this,” Scarlet grumbled, his ears still bright red.
“Well, that answers that question, then,” Magenta noted, still off-screen. “I must admit, I always wondered what would happen if we took a picture of a Mysteron who wasn’t wearing what they were reconstructed in.”
Scarlet turned his back on Ochre, and the image turned back to the Mysteron detector image, showing Scarlet’s bare back. The camera had panned back since last time that had been used, revealing…
“That’s the bit for the girls,” Ochre told his friends. “I thought they’d enjoy it.”
“I’ll bet,” Grey agreed. “Make sure the colonel doesn’t see that though.”
“Hey, Ochre?” Blue called out. “Get a still of him in that Santa outfit, will ya?”
“Sure thing,” Ochre said, ejecting the card from the reader. “See you around.”
Scarlet sighed as the Spectrum helijet finally took off carrying the body of Corporal Davis to Cloudbase to be submitted for Dr. Fawn’s tests. What he actually did with the bodies that he received, no one quite liked to ask, but it kept him out of mischief for a day or so.
Turning back towards the house, he could see Rose’s eager face pressed against the kitchen window, and he suddenly remembered that the poor child hadn’t had a chance to open her presents. She was in a better situation than the kids at London, admittedly, but even so, the suspense must have been nearly killing her.
As he opened the back door leading into the kitchen, Rose turned to face him expectantly. Scarlet lifted her from the worktop, groaning slightly under her weight as he twirled her around, realising just how big she was actually getting these days.
Setting Rose down on the floor, he said to her “Let’s go and open those presents, shall we?”
“Yay!” Rose cried, racing off towards the living room.
Colonel White paused outside the Amber Room as he heard peals of laughter from within.
“Play it again,” he heard Melody say.
“Knew you’d like it,” Ochre said.
“Who’d have thought that Scarlet had such a shapely ass?” Symphony said, elicting more giggles from the women.
Right, White decided. Something is going on in there. He strode purposely towards the Amber Room door, which obligingly opened for him to reveal Ochre standing by the data player, and an image of Captain Scarlet on the screen, wearing his Spectrum uniform, plus an addition.
“What the Hell is that?!” White roared.
Scarlet threw his cap onto the pristine bed, and fingered the white fur trimming around his uniform thoughtfully.
“Dianne? Why did you sew this on?”
He was answered by a piece of material flying into his face. He grabbed it before it fell to the floor and inspected it. It was a Father Christmas hat. He smiled and shook his head, before donning the item.
“I couldn’t resist,” Rhapsody replied, once he had done so. Scarlet noticed that she had placed a gold tinsel ‘halo’ on her own head, and a pair of adult-sized fairy wings were fastened to her back. He smiled and walked quickly around the bed.
“Well,” he murmured, taking her in his arms. “Since you put it like that…” He kissed her passionately, before pinching her halo.
“You don’t deserve this,” he said, brandishing the object. “You’ve been a bad girl this year, and I should know.”
Rhapsody lunged for the halo, but Scarlet held it above his head, out of her reach, laughing. She pushed him towards the bed and he fell onto it, still laughing. The halo dropped out of his hand, and Rhapsody reached over him to grab it. He let her do so, but grabbed hold of her and pulled her off her feet as she returned the tinsel ring to its rightful place. He kissed her again.
“Merry Christmas, my Angel,” he murmured into her hair as they made themselves more comfortable.
In the woods behind the Metcalfes’ house, Captain Black watched as the last lights went out in the house, then gathered some dry twigs and small branches, and lit them. Whilst it was cold outside, this fire was not for warmth. He drew a small book out of his pocket.
The Earthmen must never discover the secrets of the Mysterons. This information cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of Spectrum again. It must be destroyed.
Captain Black dispassionately dropped the book into the flames.
They didn’t know, the human part of him cried. He had given up hope of reasoning with the Mysterons, but he still needed to feel grief and despair at the actions that they forced him to commit. They didn’t even know what they had found, and you killed them all!
This story has been a long time in the making – I started writing it in approximately October or November 2002, when the first Christmas challenge was announced. I was in despair one break time at school, puzzling over a plot for Christmas when a friend, who was in no shape or form a science fiction or Captain Scarlet fan, nor a writer said to me: “You could have a Mysteron running around as Father Christmas killing people.” And thus ‘Santa Claus’ was born. Therefore, I must extend my heartfelt thanks to him, without whom, this story would never have existed in the first place, so I say thank you, Jason. Maybe I’ll Friends Reunited him someday and let him know…
Three weeks ago, this story was only half finished. I was getting more and more depressed because a) I was getting more and more ill, b) I hadn’t had any hot water for two weeks and c) I’d promised Chris (and myself) that I would have this finished this year. Parts of it are two years old. I was stuck. I’d gotten myself to a certain point, and was unable to get any further. I knew what I wanted to do, but I just couldn’t seem to get it done. At this point, Chris Bishop and Marion Woods stepped in and showed me where I had gone wrong at the beginning (and you were right, girls, too many scientists), and where I could go from where I was at the time. It’s thanks to them that this story is now finished. Some of the scenes are theirs by design. I was shown the way by two of the best and I am forever in their debt for it. So, massively heartfelt thanks to Chris and Marion.
I also must thank Chris for granting her permission to refer to her marvellous Christmas story from 2002, Miracle at 40,000 Feet. The reference about the Christmas three years previously, with Rose wearing the cardboard aeroplane is taken from this story, as is Colonel White’s nickname of ‘Uncle Charlie’. The first time I was told about this scene, I laughed until I cried (I think I was revising for AS finals at the time, and the comic relief was desperately needed). I could never imagine Ochre letting the child give up a name like that easily – one that totally undermined White’s stern image so innocently.
I also have to thank my beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, for her ruthless scrutiny, expert corrections of spelling, grammar and punctuation and her kind words of support. I’m told she’s the best in the biz, and I believe it too. Thank you Hazel.
I have to note that I probably wouldn’t have got back into writing without the support of the small ‘band of writers’ who meet online to support each other, exchange new ideas and bemoan the new CGI series. They gave me the confidence I needed. So thank you to Caroline, Cerise, Doc B, Doc D and Mary. You know who you are, and you’ve helped more than you know.
Finally, thank you to you, the readers. The feedback I got from P&J was amazing. It was such a boost of confidence to continue writing. I know they say that people write for themselves, but knowing that there are people out there who enjoy it makes it all the more worthwhile.
I’d better stop now. I’m sure you don’t want to hear my ramblings any more. Enough inane natter, I feel.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
December 7th, 2004.
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