By Sage Harper
“Guys, I’ve had a really good idea.”
Captains Ochre and Magenta looked up in alarm at their colleague, Captain Blue, who was grinning at them with inane satisfaction.
“Is this like the good idea that nearly got you blown up, or the one that prompted Symphony not to speak to you for a week?” Ochre enquired tentatively.
“No, seriously, this actually is a good idea.”
“Go on then, Adam. We’re listening,” Ochre relented.
“You know that Brad hasn’t really been in the festive spirit?”
“Well, he’s no more of a moody bastard than usual,” Magenta pointed out, “but, yeah; go on.”
“I just thought it would be nice if we did something to help cheer him up. Something that’s sort of festive.”
“What - like serenade him with carols?” Ochre cleared his throat as if in preparation for bursting into song.
“For the love of God, no!” Magenta implored. “It’ll just push him right over the edge… That goes double for you, Ads,” he added with a wary glance at Captain Blue; thankfully, he showed no sign of being about to start singing.
“Hey, I’m not that bad,” Blue said good-naturedly. “Anyway, you should be grateful; I did single-handedly get us out of giving a carol concert for that visiting general.”
“Touché; all right, no singing,” Ochre said. “What did you really have in mind?”
“You know, if I’d actually got an idea about how to accomplish my goal, I’d have begun with ‘how about we do this…’ but, I don’t have an idea – so I need you two to help me out here.”
“Well, his quarters are looking a bit bare, not even one string of tinsel. Still, it makes a nice change from Rhapsody’s; you couldn’t swing a cat in there without it getting tangled in fairy lights. So, yeah, maybe we should go decorate Grey’s room for him,” Magenta suggested.
“That’s an excellent idea, Pat,” Ochre concurred. “What d’you think, Adam?”
“Sounds good; we could do it now, if you like. I’ve got an hour or so to kill while Scarlet’s on duty.” Blue scowled. “Then we have to do these stupid progress reports.”
Magenta nodded. “No time like the present.”
Captain Grey looked at the duty rota and sighed. That had been a common reaction amongst the Captains, but his was for a different reason. With his schedule practically clear for all of Christmas day, there was no excuse not to get involved with the festivities. So far he’d managed to avoid getting roped into anything, although it was not through lack of trying on the part of some of his colleagues. He remembered how, only the other day, Lieutenant Viridian, who was - as Blue put it - ‘a one-man God squad’, had attempted to drum up support for his own pious brand of celebrations. He had managed to corner Grey two days ago and had then delivered a passionate lecture, during which Grey had mentally switched off…
Throughout his devout Catholic upbringing Grey had heard this story a million times over; it was tedious on every occasion. Switching off to that droning voice also prevented him from thumping Viridian, who was annoying enough to yank the chain of even the normally mild-mannered Blue.
So, Grey diplomatically feigned attention, and at the first possibly opportunity said, “That sounds wonderful, Viridian, but I shan’t be joining you. Not part of that religion you see, but happy Hanukkah.”
Magenta, who joined him in time to hear the closing remark, looked a little perplexed; especially after Grey gave a rare chuckle when out of the lieutenant’s ear shot.
“Are you Jewish, seriously?”
“Nah, it’s just the easiest way out. If I say that I’m Jewish, or whatever, he has to back down, otherwise it’d be religious harassment. Not that I actually directly said anything of the sort. He just assumed, like you did.”
Magenta scowled a little, he didn’t like being taken for a fool.
“So what are you then; theologically speaking?” he asked.
“I’m actually an atheist,” Grey answered. “Just don’t tell my folks, or Viridian, obviously.”
“Your secret’s safe with me. I might even have to share the tip round – Viridian’s becoming a public menace…”
“Not to that many people though; don’t want to go arousing his suspicions.”
“Course not; but, God, the look on his face was priceless.”
For a while the pair felt totally at ease, and truly friends. Not that they didn’t get on; but there was just a little awkwardness on both sides. Magenta had trouble building a rapport with his more reserved colleague, and, for his part, Grey had difficulty handling the Irishman’s exuberance.
“Are you anything yourself?” Grey asked.
“Recovering Catholic, but otherwise nothing in particular.”
Grey smiled. “Same here.”
“Neat, we could form a support group or something.”
“Howdy, stranger,” Ochre’s voice brought Grey out of his reverie as he joined him at the notice board.
“Hi, Ochre. You’ve got radar watch right after Christmas lunch, but I’ll cover, if you like?”
Slightly taken aback by his colleague’s offer, Ochre took a minute to select his response.
“That’s… umm, nice of you, Brad, thanks; but you don’t have to.”
“It’s fine; consider it my contribution to the festivities: keeping out of the way.”
Ochre had never been the most subtle person, so he just came right out with what had been bugging him for a while.
“Why do you hate Christmas? You’ve come over all ‘ba’ humbug’. What’s up?”
“It’s kind of complicated, but basically, I just can’t get into the whole thing. It’s so in your face and sociable; really not my scene. Which doesn’t mean ‘don’t get me a present’; just, count me out of Dianne’s Christmas extravaganza.”
“Yeah, that is getting progressively more hard core,” Ochre admitted. “She wanted to do a carol concert and everything, but two bars of ‘Silent Night’ from Blue and it got scrapped.”
“Ah, that was good of him; you can always count on Blue to save the day - in his own strange way.”
“Yup, Ads rocks. Okay, I’m on duty now, so see ya, Brad. You going for a swim?”
“Of course. See you later, Rick.”
Grey very rarely called his colleagues by their first names, so it was kind of special when he did. It was like you had earnt it. Ochre smiled, then he called up Magenta.
“He’s gone for a swim; get ready for our mission and meet me in my quarters.”
Ochre had been telling a little white lie. He wasn’t on duty for three hours, which left plenty of time for ‘Operation Ba’ humbug’. The name had been his own creation, and Ochre was disproportionately proud of it. With some further thought he had even created a name for the little team; ‘The Society for the Prevention of Ba’ Humbug’. Self-explanatory, but he still felt it warranted a mission statement. Magenta had humoured him and printed up calling cards, which read as follows…
The Society for the Prevention of Ba’ Humbug.
Striking Christmas cheer into the hearts of Scrooges the base over.
No job too big or small (within reason).
“I hereby call the second meeting of the ‘Society for the Prevention of Ba’ Humbug’, to order,” Blue announced, holding a notebook and pen, out of habit from the monthly staff meetings.
“So what’s the plan?”
There had been a late addition to the society. Symphony Angel had come in with Blue, feigning not to notice the knowing looks from Magenta, and now from Ochre.
Magenta handed round carrier bags; one containing a small tree, another, what looked like a cake box, the rest full of various decorations.
“Oh, I see,” Symphony said with a grin. “That’s real sweet, guys.”
“Right, we’ve got everything, let’s go.”
They crept up to Grey’s door and stood there for a moment in confusion. The other Captains and Angels had given their room codes to their close friends, but they realised, with a stab of guilt, that no one knew Grey’s. Eventually, Magenta was able to override the lock with the equivalent of a skeleton key.
It was impossible to suppress their glee as they worked efficiently, watching their efforts unfold around them.
They had cut it really fine, and Magenta, acting as lookout, had needed to waylay Grey just outside the corridor whilst the others dived into Blue’s quarters, next door. As a final touch Ochre pinned a calling card to the door.
Symphony made an appalling job of pretending not to frequent Blue’s quarters very often; she knew exactly where the ‘blind spot’ in the soundproofing was, and clambered up on the desk to listen, as Grey entered his quarters.
Stopping outside his door, Grey considered the card. It seemed so ridiculously out of place, and there were none on the other doors. It’s very bizarre; he thought and shrugged it off as one of the many peculiar things that happened around the base from time to time; but then he opened the door and saw what was inside.
Grey had never been a huge fan of Christmas decorations, but these were as tasteful as any he’d ever seen. Tiny, twinkling fairy lights surrounded his pin board, as if it were a Hollywood actor’s mirror, luxuriously thick tinsel was draped around his picture frames, a small table-top tree stood on his desk, adorned with appropriately sized Shaker-style ornaments; sugar cookies, gingham ribbons and, of course, a dinky, rustic-looking angel. Around the base were several of the smaller wrapped presents that had been left by his desk (no need to hide them, as he thought no one would come in) and they all looked rather well squeezed, as if the decorating elves had been trying to guess what was inside.
He actually laughed out loud; it was such a wonderful surprise. Someone, or several ‘someones’, had clearly gone to a lot of effort. He couldn’t think why though; after having been so antisocial, avoided the seasonal festivities and even admitted outright to being an atheist.
Then he remembered Blue’s stated ‘theory of Christmas’: that it actually had three meanings; the birth of Jesus, very much the insufferable Viridian’s territory; the rampant consumerism and greed which no one liked, especially considering most of them were borderline skint; and then the best part: all the wonderful, happy things, peace, love and goodwill to all men (women too, of course). This was definitely in the third category.
He wondered who was behind it. Who possessed the aesthetics to make something so beautiful? Who had the gift of the gab needed to scrap together the stuff itself? Who, frankly, would have the audacity to break and enter his quarters? And what kind of person would get the others together and pull it off?
That turned out not to be too difficult to establish; on the back of the calling card, in Blue’s hand, was written:
Artistic coordinator: Karen
Scrounger in chief: Pat
And in a different, more feminine hand:
Brains behind the outfit: Adam
Grey smiled, even without the confirmation he had already guessed. He heard some movement in the next room and went to the vent and shouted through.
“Stay there, I’m coming in.”
They tried to look nonchalant, but unlike their previous accomplishment, failed terribly.
“I know what you did to my quarters,” Grey said, keeping his tone neutral.
“You… umm, you like it?” Symphony asked.
Grey couldn’t help grinning.
“I love it; thank you so much, guys. Really, a very wonderful gesture, and totally unexpected.”
“That’s ‘cause it was a surprise,” Ochre explained. “And you wouldn’t have expected it anyway, because you’ve always been such an antisocial Scrooge.”
“Ochre!” Symphony swung out to kick him; judging by his yelp she impacted a little harder than intended.
“No, it’s okay; Rick’s right.”
Ochre gave a satisfied nod.
Grey looked a little uncomfortable.
“I really haven’t been very friendly, at any time of the year. Normally that’s not so bad, but at Christmas, well, there’s so much going on and everyone’s all ’best buds’. It’s kinda hard to see that, knowing I’m not part of it.”
It seemed that while the Captains were all friends, they had made especially close bonds with their respective field partners. It had just been taken for granted; but of course Grey didn’t have a field partner, not since Black had disappeared. Those two had got along so well and it had seemed insensitive just to assign Grey to someone else, or vice versa. From what Magenta knew, Grey had been married years ago, only to be widowed soon after. Magenta couldn’t imagine how painful it was to see so many others doing the whole ‘happy couple’ thing; even he had Ochre to commiserate with.
“Aw, Brad, we had no idea you felt that way,” Magenta said carefully.
“Yeah, but you don’t have to be on your own, if you don’t want,” Ochre declared. “There’s a few of us kinda on our own, so we’ll be hanging out and stuff… We’re all going along to the base movie tonight, so feel free to tag along.”
“Sounds like fun; may very well take you up on it,” Grey said.
“Well, I shan’t be joining you,” Magenta said. “I have a date,” he added smugly.
“No way!” Ochre said, with melodramatic incredulity.
“Yeah, way!” Magenta retorted.
“Well, who’d thought it,” Ochre mused. “I know Spectrum is an equal opportunities employer, and all that, but I never realised they employed blind girls.”
Magenta scowled, and swiped at him, then turned to Grey. “Have fun with the babysitting,” he said cheerfully.
“Ah, Rick’s nothing I can’t handle,” Grey said confidently.
There was no doubting that Ochre played the fool; he teased and joked and was an unrepentant ladies’ man. That was the aspect of his character most frequently shown, and the one which Magenta brought out and related to. Yet Grey had noticed another facet to Ochre; a ‘sensible side’, calmer, wiser, with deeper running feelings and his own private hurt. So perhaps, as they weren’t so dissimilar after all; there was hope he and Ochre could build a greater rapport.
“Well, it’s been fun, and all that,” Magenta began, checking his watch and standing up. “But I really should be going; I need to prepare for my date, and all that.” He added, picking up on one of Rick’s pet phrases.
“Sure you do,” Ochre said. “Come on then, Brad; let’s leave them all to it. This date preparation can be very time consuming, and all that.”
“I don’t have a date,” Blue pointed out, “neither does Symphony. We’ve got to go on duty.”
Ochre and Magenta gave derisive snorts, and Ochre enquired if ‘going on duty’ was some ‘cute’ Massachusetts’ euphemism for what the pair of them got up to… and all that.
Blue rolled his eyes and continued regardless, “… whatever, we shall no doubt see you around sometime.”
“Sure you will, and all that.”
Watching the three leave the room, Symphony gave a contented smile.
“We did good, Ads,” she said, slipping an arm round him.
“Yup, mission accomplished. Now for the next one; to patch up Paul and Dianne’s latest lovers’ tiff.”
“I think that one needs even more planning.”
“You’re right; let’s go discuss it over coffee and mince pies.”
Thanks to Marion, for again being such an excellent beta.
Also to Chris, for everything.
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