ORIGINALLY POSTED JANUARY 1RST 2003
Do you believe in Father Christmas? Many people say that he doesn’t exist – can’t possibly exist – and science seems to confirm this; to get around the World in a single night he’d have to travel at an impossible speed – particularly for reindeer. The antlered beasts, which obviously cannot fly, would explode if they were to attempt reaching and maintaining the ridiculous speeds and poor old Santa would be crushed to death by the tremendous G forces.
Do you still believe?
Aboard the flying aircraft carrier Cloudbase, Spectrum’s top base, the personnel were preparing for Christmas. The Officers’ Lounge had been decorated, as had the Control, Conference and Amber Rooms. Even the Room of Sleep had some tinsel in unobtrusive places.
In his quarters, Captain Scarlet was wrapping the last of his gifts to friends and family whilst singing along quietly with the traditional carols coming from his CD player; they reminded him of Christmases of bygone years, at home in Winchester. I wonder if I’ll get the chance to go home for Christmas this year, he thought as he carefully addressed a brightly-coloured parcel and placed it under the little tree beside his desk. Mum does keep dropping hints about how little she sees me. Not that that can be helped of course, what with one thing and another; particularly those blasted Mysterons!
“This is the voice of the Mysterons.”
He frowned up at the speaker above his desk, his mood ruined completely. “Don’t you know what this month is?” he demanded hotly. For pity’s sake, it’s my birthday in two days! I didn’t want anything special, but some peace would’ve been nice!
The voice continued. “We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. The tradition shall be destroyed by the legend. We will be avenged.”
“As cryptic as ever; wonderful!” the British captain remarked. “You should have your own crossword,” he smirked to himself as he began to stow the gifts he had yet to wrap under his bed and put away the wrapping paper. I’d have a few ‘cross words’ to offer them, if they ever got stuck!
The speaker above his desk came to life again. “Attention all personnel. Cloudbase is now on yellow alert. Will Captains Grey, Scarlet, Blue, Magenta and Ochre please report to the Conference Room, immediately.”
“But of course,” Scarlet muttered, turning off his CD player as he left the room.
Colonel White noted the miserable expressions on the faces of some of his men as they entered the room and took a seat.
Even Scarlet looks somewhat downcast, he thought with a slight frown. He’s usually much more cheerful. He saw Captain Blue take a seat beside the red-clad captain and give his hand a quick squeeze. He smiled to himself. Good old Blue; you can always rely on him to boost morale. He cleared his throat and started the meeting. “Gentlemen, I understand how you must feel about a Mysteron threat so close to Christmas; I must admit that I would rather like some down time, myself. However, this threat must be dealt with; with the professional attitude and dedication with which you always work.”
“Of course, Colonel,” Magenta replied for all of them.
He gave his officer a subtle nod of gratitude. “Now, you have all heard the latest Mysteron threat. What do we have to go on?”
“Nothing,” Scarlet muttered, a little louder than he’d intended. The look on his face spoke volumes; he was obviously envisioning long hours spent trawling through information.
He dealt him an icy glare and cleared his throat. That’s quite enough, Scarlet, if you don’t mind.
“Well, I think it’s pretty obvious,” Captain Ochre piped up.
“Really?” Captain Magenta asked in surprise.
He nodded. “What was it they said? ‘The legend’ll destroy the tradition’? They plan on using Santa Claus, to somehow wreck Christmas. Maybe they’re gonna make him steal all the presents…”
Colonel White frowned at him. So much for the professional attitude!
He wasn’t the only one who was annoyed. Captain Scarlet was also glaring at him, one dark eyebrow raised. “Captain Ochre, if you really don’t already know, Father Christmas doesn’t exist.”
Ochre turned to stare back at him with a look of horror on his face. “You mean to say that you don’t believe in Santa?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well,” he said, grinning at him, “you must’ve been a naughty boy, then! Bad kids never believe in Santa, because they never got any presents from him!”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes at him. “No, Captain, my parents just happened to be truthful. I pity you, if yours allowed you to be deluded.”
I think it’s high time this was put an end to, White thought. A little levity is all well and good, but I think this has gone quite far enough.
Ochre was already responding. “No wonder Santa didn’t visit you, if you didn’t believe in him and never even left a carrot out for Rudolph!”
“That’s quite enough,” the colonel told them, before Scarlet gave a reply. “This isn’t a game, gentlemen.”
“I’m not joking, Sir,” the Midwesterner told him. “I honestly think that they intend to use Santa somehow. I mean, what other legend would they be able to use at this time of year?”
“There are other legends, you know,” Blue reminded him, “and other beliefs and traditions, for that matter.”
“Yeah, I know; but can you really see the Mysterons using the birth of Jesus against us?”
The colonel nodded. “That is a good point.”
Captain Grey was frowning thoughtfully. “I hope you’re wrong, Captain Ochre. I mean, how many ‘Santas’ will there be at large?”
“Uh…” Blue tried to estimate quickly.
“Rather a lot,” Scarlet cut in, meaning to save him a headache.
“How are we meant to find the right one out of all of those?” Grey asked.
It had been a long couple of days. Captain Scarlet sighed and rubbed at his temples. “Nothing,” he muttered in frustration. “After two days of research – nothing! The Mysterons knew what they were doing when they made this threat, that’s for certain! It’s going to take us a year just to find a lead!”
Captain Blue stood and stretched. “Maybe you need a break, Paul. You were here when I arrived.”
“I want to find some sort of clue, first,” he told him. “I haven’t been able to think about anything else since we heard the threat.”
His partner grinned at him. “Then you definitely could use a break. Coffee?”
“I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea,” the British captain replied, tactfully not commenting on Blue’s cups of coffee.
He smirked at him. “If my coffee’s that bad, you could always get the drinks…”
“Oh, I see. Like that, is it?” Scarlet stood slowly. He had to admit that it felt good to move. His retrometabolism tended to protest if he was still for very long; making his body feel cramped and stiff.
“Go and try to clear your head, Paul. Maybe you’ll see things differently when you get back.”
“Maybe,” he replied doubtfully. “I’m not sure, myself. I can’t help thinking that if there was an obvious clue available; we would have found it by now.”
“I know what you mean. The Mysterons sure picked a tough one, this time.”
“You can say that again!”
“Do you think Rick’s right about them using Santa Claus? I mean, they usually give us some kind of a clue…”
Scarlet shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know. Perhaps they’ve changed the rules to their sick little game.”
He stared back at him, momentarily unable to think of a reply. “I hope not,” he said eventually.
In a top-secret location in the frozen North, Father Christmas had loaded up his sleigh with gifts and was just starting his long journey. Using magic, he had the laws of physics turned off for the night. It may well be the reason why, on the night before Christmas, many strange and wonderful things are said to be possible.
Unfortunately, the Mysterons have developed their own ‘magic’…
The first indication that something was wrong was Rudolph’s nose; suddenly, it wasn’t glowing any more. It seemed to return to normal for a moment, but then the glow slowly spread over the entire animal. Without a warning, the deer exploded with a bang.
With that, another law of physics caught up with them – reindeer (or any other kind of deer, for that matter) can’t fly. All at once, the sleigh – complete with glowing, exploding reindeer and its cargo of gifts – fell from the sky. By the time the sleigh hit the ground, Father Christmas was already dead; the G forces had got him.
Two green halos of light traced the bodies on the ground carefully. Before long, there was a brand-new Santa – complete with sleigh and reindeer – on his rounds as if nothing had happened.
On Cloudbase, things were getting increasingly tense. If the tradition that the Mysterons had threatened was Christmas, time was fast running out. Despite exhaustive efforts researching traditions and legends, nothing significant had presented itself.
Lieutenant Green was sitting quietly at his station. He was just thinking that it was going to be a long, quiet shift, when he received a call from Canada.
“Colonel White,” he turned to the Commander-in-Chief of Spectrum, who was standing in one of the observation tubes of Cloudbase's Control Room, deep in thought.
He jumped slightly and turned to face him. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
“I have a call for you, from the World Police.”
White returned to his desk. “What do they want?”
“They've found a sleigh,” he told him, “and nine... roasted reindeer,” he suppressed a chuckle.
“Very funny, Green,” the Colonel rumbled. “I know that it's Christmas and that we usually-”
“No, Colonel, honestly – there really is a call for you from the World Police,” Green interrupted hastily.
White frowned at him. Regarding 'roasted reindeer'? Surely not! “Very well, Lieutenant, put them through.”
At Reindeer Lake, Canada, DI Marshall stamped his feet in the snow. This wasn't the sort of job that he enjoyed, nor were the conditions the sort that he wanted to stand around in. He rubbed his gloved hands together in an effort to warm them. Why was I called out here in the first place? he wondered. This has to be a hoax – some kind of deranged stunt pulled by some moron who's got too much time on his hands! That's what this is. The sound of static crackling over his radio brought him out of his reverie.
“Marshall,” the Chief of Police thundered at him.
“Here, Sir, he replied quickly.
“I have Spectrum on the line. Seems they want to take over your investigation.”
A small smile spread over his cold, tired face. They can have it! “Right, Sir.”
“They'll be sending out two of their best men, apparently.”
Marshall was too preoccupied to think that strange. He simply nodded and stamped his feet again. “I'll be expecting them.”
Captain Ochre groaned for what felt like the hundredth time – which it most probably was. “I can't believe we're doing this – I mean, it's a hoax, isn't it?” He was piloting the SPJ carrying himself and Captain Magenta to the closest airport to Reindeer Lake, which was apparently quite remote.
“What d'you mean?” Magenta demanded. “You were the one who said that they meant to use Santa.”
“Look, when I said I believed in Santa, I was only joking!” Ochre shook his head, smirking at the memory of Captain Scarlet's expression. “Yeah, I think they mean Santa; I think they'll take over some impersonator and... oh, I don't know! Gun some kids down? Leave some plastic explosives under a few Christmas trees?”
Magenta shuddered. “If that's what they have in mind, they'll target certain people – some World leaders.”
“I know. I was kind of hoping that I'd find some VIPs that'd have names to do with traditions,” he shook his head. “I couldn't find any.”
“So... Why do you think Colonel White's sent us out to investigate this... this...”
Ochre shrugged. “I guess he wants to cover every possibility. Besides, this is probably pay-back for my... uh... 'levity' during the meeting.”
“Then what's he punishing me for?”
The Midwesterner turned to smirk at him. “For being my partner?”
He chuckled. “Relax, Pat, we won't be out here long. We'll report what we find to the colonel and hotfoot it back to Cloudbase.”
“'Hotfoot' it? Have you seen the weather out there, Rick? Frostbite it back, more like!”
Ochre laughed. “We'll be OK. Don't worry, I made up a couple of hot flasks of coffee before we left.”
“Thanks, Rick,” Magenta smiled at him. “So, you don't think this has anything to do with the Mysterons, then?”
“Do you? I mean... it's just weird! The Mysterons have never done anything like this before...” he shook his head. “No, it has to be a hoax. We'll get there and find that the reindeer are made of fibreglass and that there are footprints and tyre tracks all around it. You wait and see.”
Marshall was pleased to see the Spectrum officers. He walked them around the 'crime scene' (rather quickly, though he was careful not to seem rushed) and waited to be dismissed, expecting Spectrum to take over entirely.
Captains Ochre and Magenta, however, were in no hurry to get rid of him. They wandered around making comments and asking questions.
Magenta kicked at the sleigh thoughtfully. “How did it get here?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Marshall replied with a shrug of his shoulders.
“I suppose kids could've dragged it here for a joke?” Ochre ventured, offering Marshall some coffee.
He accepted the steaming drink. “I doubt anyone would go to such lengths.”
“You don't know what Ochre's like!” Magenta declared, laughing.
Marshall stared into the cup that he'd just emptied, wondering what Ochre might have done to it. He suppressed a shudder and handed it back with a nod of thanks. “Anyway, there is no evidence of this lot being dragged here – and they would've had quite a way to come. I doubt kids could've done this.”
Magenta cast his partner a questioning glance.
“Yeah, yeah, I know; I overlooked the lack of prints,” he shrugged. “Heck, I was just hoping for an easy answer for once.”
“You and me both!” Marshall declared. “After all, it is Christmas Eve.”
Magenta sighed and rubbed his gloved hands together. “Anyway, something like this can't just fall from the sky-”
“That's the strange thing,” the police detective muttered.
The Spectrum officers cast him curious glances.
“What is?” Ochre asked.
“Well...” he scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “That's what brought me out here. Someone reported hearing a series of explosions and seeing something falling from the sky.”
“A plane in trouble?” Magenta asked.
“Well, that was what I expected, obviously,” he gestured at the mess about them. “This is the crash site – it's all I could find after a careful search of the area.”
“Who was the guy who called you out? A writer?” Ochre asked.
Marshall shook his head. “A respected member of our community. Never drinks, doesn't make stuff up. Known him years.”
“Well, it sounds like some crazy publicity stunt to me,” the Midwesterner remarked.
“Yeah?” Marshall cocked an eyebrow at him. “What publicity?”
“I'll get back to you on that, OK?”
Seated at his circular desk in the Control Room, Colonel White listened to Captain Ochre's report with a puzzled frown.
“So that's the situation, Colonel. It has to be a hoax, and yet...”
“Yes, Captain? I'm listening.”
“Well, Colonel... if it is a hoax, someone's been planning it for quite some time. It doesn't look like a hoax at all. There are no footprints or tyre tracks aside from those made by us and the police.”
“Could it have been rigged up by the Mysterons to confuse us?” White asked. It wasn’t the Mysterons’ style, but he had to ask.
“It crossed my mind, but to what purpose would that serve them? I don’t think they’d expect us to believe it belongs to the real Santa…”
The Colonel nodded. “You’re right of course, Captain. I’ll call Scarlet in here and see if he can think of something we might have missed.”
White looked up, as Ochre cut the transmission. “Lieutenant Green…”
“Yes, Sir,” the communications officer acknowledged, quickly. He punched a button on the console before him. “Captain Scarlet, report to Control immediately,” he turned to Spectrum’s C-in-C. “He’s on his way, Sir.”
Scarlet frowned, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Colonel, but this doesn’t make sense. The Mysterons never leave false clues - whatever the situation.”
“I have to agree, Captain. Do you think that this is unrelated to the Mysteron threat?”
Scarlet studied the information that had been gathered from Captain Ochre’s report. “I don’t know, Sir. Do we know who reported it?”
“A ‘respected member of the community’, apparently; I should think that finding and interviewing him is next on the agenda.”
The Captain nodded and then blew out a sigh. “If I didn’t know better…”
He shrugged, looking sheepish. “I’d probably think that that sleigh belongs to the real Father Christmas…”
Colonel White leant forward slightly. “What are you trying to say, Captain?”
“Well, Sir… up until recently… I didn’t believe in beings from other planets…”
“So… what you mean to say is that if the Mysterons exist, it’s highly possible that a legend can be perfectly true…”
Scarlet looked away. He knew perfectly well that this was stupid, and yet… “I suppose I do, Sir.”
His superior nodded thoughtfully. “Well, I suppose we should consider it to be a possibility. I take it the research that you’ve been doing has brought no reward?”
“No, Colonel,” he shook his head tiredly. “I’ve been working at it constantly – as have Captains Blue, Grey, Ochre and Magenta. It’s been a complete waste of time!”
“Then I must agree with you; it looks as if the Mysterons planned on using the real Father Christmas in order to carry out their threat all along. You and Captain Blue will somehow have to track down and stop him, Captain Scarlet.”
“Scarlet thinks what?” Magenta asked Ochre in disbelief, having listened to his version of the conversation he’d held with the Colonel.
“And that’s not all,” the Midwesterner told his partner, picking through the assortment of charred reindeer bodies, broken gifts, and sleigh debris, “this can’t have been dumped here by pranksters. They’d need a massive truck to move some of this stuff. And have you noticed…” he pointed at the harness which still held the deer remains, “these deer were in the harness when they burned.”
Magenta turned an odd colour. “Ugh!”
“Yeah, but that means…” he shuddered, “unless we’ve got a very sick gang running around…”
“Who’ve worked out every detail,” Magenta added.
“Something happened to the sleigh – and deer – while they were out here…”
Marshall ran up, in time to hear the last part of the exchange. “Here’s something else…” he held up a red hat; which was trimmed with white fur about the brim. “It’s stained with blood inside. Whoever was wearing this must’ve taken a pounding.”
Ochre and Magenta exchanged glances. “Any bodies?” Ochre asked.
Marshall shook his head.
“I don’t like this…” Magenta commented, glancing about him.
“I’ll call Cloudbase.” Ochre told him. “There’s more to this than meets the eye!”
“How on Earth are we going to locate someone who doesn’t even exist?” Scarlet asked in an irritated tone, as he and Captain Blue attempted to ride out a snowstorm in a Spectrum helicopter.
His partner turned to him with an equally annoyed expression. “If you say that once more…” Their aircraft rocked slightly as they hit turbulence, making him turn his attention back to piloting.
“All right, all right, we’ll just have to bear with it…” Scarlet said as he ran his hand through his dark hair. He shook his head, donning his radio cap. “I’m sorry, Captain Blue. Let’s not argue, eh? It is Christmas Eve.”
His partner chuckled humourlessly. “It’s been a great holiday so far, hasn’t it?”
“Wonderful,” Scarlet agreed. “I couldn’t even go on leave in Winchester for my birthday…”
“Yeah, I thought you were pretty grumpy,” he noted. “Did you have any special plans?”
He shook his head. “Not really; just a quiet day at home. A whole day spent not having to think about Mysterons and terrorists…”
“Sounds like Heaven,” Blue remarked sympathetically.
“It would’ve been good enough for me,” he replied, staring out of the window at the swirling snow.
Blue cast him a quick glance from the corner of his eye. Best snap him out of it, he thought. “Are you detecting anything?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so. I feel a bit sick, but I think that’s a combination of the snow making me dizzy and the turbulence.”
“You’re all right, are you?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I tend to feel worse than this when I detect the presence of a Mysteron – and my eyes don’t usually feel tired, either,” he saw his partner cast him another glance. “I can assure you that I’m not about to be sick.”
“Right. Good,” he frowned at him, wishing that the British captain would cheer up. His current expression did little to reassure him that he was ‘fine’. “Let me know if you detect anything, all right?”
Scarlet nodded and turned to give him an apologetic smile. “S.I.G., Captain Blue.”
‘Father Christmas’ was having a field day (or should I say ‘field night’?) – he’d left a bomb under every tree, along with all the presents. This was going to be too easy…
Just as it was beginning to look as if the Mysterons would win this round with ease, he almost collided with a helicopter that had been obscured by swirling snow.
“What the…?” Blue pulled on the controls of the aircraft, just avoiding a collision by inches. “Then… you were right, then – it is Santa Claus!”
Scarlet came out of his surprise before his partner. “No, it’s not – it’s a mysteronised Father Christmas!”
Blue nodded, pulling himself together. “Right… have you got the electron gun?”
“Of course,” he held it up.
“O.K., I’ll hold her steady so you can get him.”
Scarlet left his seat and went to the side door. He opened it, took careful aim and fired… but missed, hitting a mysteronised deer. “Blast!”
“Well, never mind Blitzen – just blast Santa.”
The British captain turned to give him a strange look. “I’m so glad that this conversation isn’t being recorded!” he aimed the gun again, this time hitting ‘Santa’ smack on. “Got him!” Scarlet crowed, as Santa fell from his sleigh with a cry. He saw him swirl to the ground and vanish from view as the swirling snow swallowed him.
“Er… Paul…” Blue began, as a thought hit him.
“What is it now?”
“We’ve killed Santa Claus…”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “Adam, you know better than that. We haven’t killed anyone – the Mysterons murdered him, and we destroyed their clone.”
“That’s not what I mean…” he looked away, awkwardly.
“Well?” the British captain asked impatiently.
“So who’s gonna deliver the presents? Santa can’t.”
Scarlet groaned. He hadn’t thought of that. “I…” he tried to think of a good, simple solution but found none. “I think I’d better call Cloudbase.”
After listening carefully to his junior officer’s report, Colonel White frowned as he thought hard. “Well, Captain Scarlet, I can only think of one solution…”
“Spectrum will have to step in. If Christmas is ruined due to the threat, the Mysterons will have a partial victory.”
“I know, Colonel, but…” Scarlet began.
“This is what I want you to do. Stop at each and every house – and be sure to remove parcels that fail the detector test. I’ll send out every available agent to assist you.”
“But the presents…”
“Was the sleigh destroyed?” he asked.
“No, Sir, but…”
“Then you should have no problems.”
Scarlet sighed. “But, Colonel, there is still a problem.”
“And what’s that, Captain?”
“How do you catch a team of runaway reindeer, Sir? More importantly, do we really want to trust reconstructed gifts?”
“I know what you mean, Captain, but unless you have a better idea…”
There was a tired sigh from the radio. “No, Colonel, I’ve long ran out of ideas.”
“Then my suggestion would be to do the very best that you can,” White told him, “as you always do.”
After what seemed an eternity, Captains Scarlet and Blue managed to locate the runaway sleigh. At last, they began to catch up with it as the snowstorm began to relent a bit. As Blue drew up beside the unusual aircraft, Scarlet opened the door again and prepared to take a death-defying leap into the sleigh.
“This is as steady as I can hold her, Captain Scarlet,” Blue told him.
He turned to smile at him. “Right. I suppose it’s now or never, then.”
“Good luck, Paul.”
The British captain leapt into the bitterly cold, snow-filled air. He could barely see, and wondered whether this had been such a good idea. He felt something and grabbed at it – hanging there for a few seconds, not quite daring to open his eyes to see if he’d actually made it…
Captain Blue punched the air. “Well done, Paul!” he yelled, hardly able to contain himself. The only problem was that Scarlet had managed to lose his cap when he jumped into the open air. If anything were to go wrong for him, he could easily be lost. Blue shook the thought from his mind, and focused on the job in hand.
Scarlet realised he had grabbed the harness of the first reindeer. He carefully climbed onto the back of the animal, which tried to kick him off.
“Easy, Rudolf, I don’t want to hurt you.”
The deer behind jabbed at him with his antlers.
For pity’s sake! What’s wrong with them? He then realised that these deer had to be reconstructions, like ‘Santa’ – the original ones had been reported dead. It was little wonder the deer seemed so determined to get rid of him!
Now what stunt do I have to pull? He wondered, as the creatures continued to make his job all the more difficult. Grabbing the harness, he inched his way back toward the sleigh. I hope this works…
As he passed the next deer, it bit his hand with all its might. Scarlet winced, letting go of his only lifeline. This done, the deer had very little trouble to make him lose his balance. He swiftly wrapped his legs around the harness, crossing his ankles for extra support. Another jolt from the antlered beasts sent his front end slipping, so that he was hanging by his legs. For some reason, he glanced to his left and caught a glimpse of Blue’s anxious expression behind the window of the helicopter. He waved to his partner in an attempt to reassure him, and began to move again.
Blue was following his progress anxiously. Be careful, Paul - take it easy!
As he watched, Scarlet made it to the sleigh without further mishap and picked up the reins. He could see that Scarlet was giving some sort of command, but the deer weren’t responding at all. Concerned, he decided to radio the Colonel.
Captain Scarlet was fast running out of patience. He jerked at the reins. “Come on! Take us down! Land! You’ve lost – can’t you see that? You can’t continue your mission, so you might as well just give up, hadn’t you?” He shivered and felt his teeth chatter as the wind whipped at his face. It was beginning to snow hard again. “Come on, for pity’s sake!”
He turned his gaze to the helicopter, feeling Blue’s eyes on him. He tried to put on a cheerful smile for him, but he knew that he probably just looked cold and frustrated.
Blue smiled back at him and held up the electron gun.
He frowned, wondering what he was trying to do. He knew that his partner wouldn’t try firing at the sleigh with him on board.
Captain Blue frowned back at his partner. He must be pretty tired and cold, if he’s that slow on the uptake, he thought. He usually can practically read my mind! He put the aircraft on auto and opened the door nearest the sleigh. He gasped as the blast of icy air hit him. Quickly, he recovered himself and held out the gun to the British captain. “Paul! Try this!”
Scarlet frowned back at him.
I guess he can’t lean over far enough to take it, he thought. He put the electron gun aside and drew his pistol from its holster, pointing it at the deer in a dramatic manner.
Scarlet grinned and nodded his understanding, drawing his own pistol.
“Right, let’s try this again,” Scarlet shouted at the deer. “Take us down, or…” he stopped himself before saying ‘I’ll fill you with lead’. He hated clichés. “Take us down or you’ll be very sorry!” he didn’t expect a reaction. He expected to have to shoot the beasts until the sleigh fell from the sky. He was immensely surprised when the deer actually took heed. “Ah, thank you.”
Once it was on the ground, Captain Scarlet began to study the contents of the sleigh. He picked up one of the parcels from behind his seat. It seemed perfectly ordinary, but he didn’t trust that. He waved to his partner as he landed the helicopter and jumped from the cockpit.
“Nicely handled,” Captain Blue congratulated him. “Are you sure you’ve never driven a sleigh before?”
“Of course I haven’t! Britain rarely gets enough snow, for a start!” he shivered and pulled the collar of his coat about his ears; he was missing the extra protection that his cap would have given him from the elements.
Blue touched his arm. “Are you all right?”
He nodded. “Could you get the detector out of the helicopter? We should test the gifts.”
Scarlet went on removing the packages and sacks from the sleigh and then used the detector on them when Blue returned with it. “They’re all reconstructions! Even the sacks the parcels are in have been mysteronised!”
“Captain Scarlet, take a look at this!” Captain Blue called to him. “There’s a glove compartment!”
“I should think you’d need one,” he commented, shivering as if to emphasise his point as he clambered into the sleigh beside him.
Blue continued to ‘investigate’ the interior of the driving area of the sleigh, reminding Scarlet of a curious child. Looking inside the ‘glove compartment’, he found a piece of paper. “Look!”
“The list!” Scarlet leaned over his shoulder. “Let me see, Adam.”
He shrugged and handed it over. “What’s the matter, want to see if your name is on it?”
Scarlet ignored the comment. “Aha! He’s even ticked off the places already visited!”
His American partner turned to stare at him. “You’re kidding!”
Scarlet tapped the paper. “Not at all. What do you think? Have the Mysterons landed something on our laps just by getting too cocky?”
Blue laughed, shaking his head. “I…” his grin vanished as he caught sight of the deer. “Paul! Out – now!”
Tucking the list into his pocket, Scarlet vaulted over the side of the sleigh and gave a yelp of pain.
“Paul!” In a flash, Blue was at his partner’s side. “Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
“Turned ankle,” he winced with pain. “Never mind that now – let’s get out of here!”
Blue nodded, and put an arm around him for support. “Right.”
They didn’t get very far before the deer exploded; one after another, throwing the two Spectrum officers to the ground.
Scarlet raised his head and turned to Blue with a worried expression. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m O.K. Have you got the list?”
“Right…” he rummaged around in his pocket, “…here,” and brought out the long slip of paper.
“Great!” Blue enthused, standing up.
Scarlet frowned as he stared at the sleigh – or the wreckage that was left, anyway. “Or not so great… How are we going to make deliveries with that?”
“We’re not,” his partner noted as he helped him to his feet. “I guess we’ll have to use the helicopter, as the Colonel suggested.”
Chewing his lip, the British captain frowned. “Won’t we wake everyone up with the noise?”
“So you’ve got a better idea, Captain?”
“Well no, but I don’t want to wake the whole world up! That’ll cause more problems!”
Blue rolled his eyes. “Stop making excuses!”
“But that’s not our only problem. What about all the gifts? They were Mysteron reconstructions – remember?”
“Paul, we’ll be all right – trust me. Go take a chill pill.”
His partner turned away to sneeze and rubbed at his arms. “I’m quite cold enough, thank you.”
Blue chuckled. “It means ‘relax’,” he told him. “I didn’t think I’d have to tell you to calm down, though; you’re usually pretty cheerful…”
Scarlet sniffed and gave another sneeze. “I’m tired, I’m cold and I wish I was back on Cloudbase,” he told him grumpily. “I’m starting to think that I’m having a strange dream in the middle of a very difficult regeneration… I mean, this is extremely odd, even by Mysteron threat standards!”
The Bostonian captain laughed and put an arm around his partner. “If you’re right, it means that I’m sick or injured too – and I’ve never heard of sharing dreams before, so I guess that makes it real.”
“It happens in films, apparently,” he muttered, rubbing at his forehead. “But not in real life, as far as I know.”
“Come on, Paul,” Blue squeezed his shoulder. “Let’s get back in the helicopter. Then we can see what Colonel White has to say.”
Scarlet nodded and smiled at him, knowing that he was worried about him. “My ankle’s much better,” he told him. “It’s still giving me twinges, but it’ll be fine in a moment.”
“Good; that means your retrometabolism’s still working,” he noted.
He rolled his eyes. “Of course it is!” I hope he isn’t going to jump every time the cold starts bothering me, he thought with annoyance. Of course, he’s probably reacting in this way because I complained of feeling tired… but I’m not about to tell him that the reason why is that I hardly left off researching possible leads. I know how he’ll react to that, and I’m hardly in the mood.
Once he and Captain Blue were back in the helicopter, Captain Scarlet contacted Cloudbase using a pocket radio.
“You sound rather cold, Captain,” Colonel White noted.
“I am, Sir,” he admitted, shivering violently. “I’m afraid that things haven’t exactly run smoothly…” he sneezed into his shoulder and winced, glad that he wasn’t talking into the microphone of his radio cap. “Excuse me, Sir.”
“Are you all right?”
He nodded and sniffed. “It’s the cold air, Colonel. I’m fine.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Now… what do you mean by ‘things haven’t exactly run smoothly’, Captain?”
Scarlet let his eyes move over the smoking remains of the deer and sleigh, and then the list of houses that they had to visit. “Well, I’m afraid that all of the gifts are reconstructions; therefor unsafe…”
“Yes, I suppose that was to be expected.”
“And I’m sorry to report that the deer decided to explode, rendering the sleigh unserviceable.”
“You and Blue are all right, are you?”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, we’re fine; thank you, Sir. But it means that we don’t have any gifts or transport.”
“Would it be very difficult to use the helicopter, Captain?”
He hesitated, thinking hard. “No, Sir, but I don’t want to wake everyone in the tiny hours of the morning…”
“Captain, we’re beyond those considerations, now. I’m afraid we’ll have to make do with what we have.”
Scarlet sighed and gave in. “I suppose so, Colonel.”
“As for the presents…”
“Yes, Sir?” he asked, hopefully.
“Why don’t you try flying to the North Pole, to get more?”
Scarlet wasn’t quite sure about how he should answer that. Was the Colonel mocking him? No, surely not. It wasn’t the time for it. He was frighteningly serious. Shrugging, Scarlet merely said, “S.I.G., Sir,” and ended the call.
Blue looked up. “You sure had a long talk with the old man. What did he say about our problem?”
His partner looked away. “He’s flipped…” he mumbled, shaking his head.
“Paul?” he asked, frowning at him with concern.
“I think he’s finally lost it! He just told me to go to the North Pole and ask for more parcels.”
Blue groaned. “Why didn’t I think of that? Of course! The elves can help us out…”
“You can’t be serious!” he ran a hand through his hair, dislodging melting snowflakes. “How are we even going to find them? I mean, I doubt they really have a big, red and white pole outside the workshop; like they do in children’s cartoons! In fact, I very much doubt that they’d have anything that will give their position away!”
“We’ll just have to hope, won’t we? We can’t just give up and go home!”
Locating the ‘North Pole’, where Father Christmas was said to live was strangely easy enough, since it was supposed to be an elusive location. In other circumstances, both Captains Scarlet and Blue would have been worried at the easiness of their mission – not to mention the strangeness of it. It was Christmas Eve, after all. And they had already witnessed more than their share of strange things.
So what could possibly be stranger than a real-life elf, looking up at them with wide, confused eyes?
“I’m sorry… what did you say happened to Santa Claus?”
Blue shot his partner a glance, clearly willing him not to lose his temper.
Scarlet sighed, making a great effort to calm himself. “We’ve already explained. Father Christmas was mysteronised – taken over by the Mysterons to…”
Blue cleared his throat. “The thing is, the gifts were kinda… lost… and now there’s nothing to give the children of the world.”
“Now I understand. Do you want some replacements?”
Scarlet frowned, wondering why the elf didn’t seem to give his boss a second thought.
His partner didn’t seem to notice, however. “Yes please – if that’s possible,” he replied enthusiastically.
The elf sighed. “Well, now, there might be a problem there. It took us all year to prepare those gifts.”
“But… but you’re magic!” Scarlet began.
The elf grinned at him. “Ah, so you still believe in magic, eh?”
The captain looked away, his face flushing. After what he had seen tonight…
“Well, I’m glad of that – you’re going to need that faith.”
Scarlet and Blue exchanged puzzled glances. “Er… why?”
“How could you possibly deliver the gifts, if you have no faith?” he chuckled, as he led the captains to the gift stores.
“But… there’s nothing here!” Scarlet exclaimed, staring at the rows of empty shelves.
“Well, fancy that! It’s all gone!”
Finally losing his temper, Scarlet grabbed the elf by the scruff. “Now listen to me,” he said through clenched teeth, looking him right in the eyes. “I’ve taken about all that I can stand. Are you going to help us, or allow the Mysterons to ruin Christmas? I know that gifts aren’t the be all and end all, but… well… it would be a sad affair if every child in the World woke to find an empty sack or stocking, stale mince pies and…”
“I get the picture!” the elf chuckled. “Calm down, sonny! As you said before, we have magic on our side. Now, look inside the next room.”
Scarlet did as he was told, though he couldn’t help wondering whether he was only being given the run-around. He gasped as he looked about him. Upon these shelves were row upon row of parcels, toys and sacks. “Adam! Look at this!”
“I am,” Blue answered, from just behind him.
The deputy head elf joined them. “These are supposed to be our start on next year,” he explained. “Not much, I’m afraid, but a small start for you.”
“Small start?” Scarlet turned to stare at him. “But these are far too much for our little helicopter!”
“Helicopter? Helicopter?” the elf laughed at him. “I should think so! If we could fit everything in a helicopter, we’d have modernised over a century ago!”
“Then what can we do?” Blue asked, staring at the heaps of gifts.
“Leave it to me,” the elf advised, handing them each a sack. “Just take these, and prepare your helicopter – we elves will see to the technicalities.”
“You call this ‘technicalities’?” Blue protested. “Whatever you do, we will never be able to deliver all those presents before the night is over!”
“Father Christmas does it every year,” the elf reminded him.
“But we’re not him!”
The elf grinned at Scarlet and waggled his eyebrows. “Ah, but you’ve still got magic on your side! It’s how it’s done, sonny: through magic. Trust me. And due to time zones, you have about thirty-one hours – that’s a long night!”
“It certainly is,” Scarlet agreed. “But we’ve lost time already. Besides which, there are other ‘technicalities’, as you put it. Two sacks aren’t going to hold many gifts…”
“You’ll be surprised!”
He arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps…” he shook himself, returning to the list of doubts that were troubling him. “How are we supposed to scramble down the chimney?” he screwed his eyes shut, anticipating the reply he’d get. “And don’t even contemplate telling me that I’m thinner than Father Christmas!”
The elf chuckled and handed him a little silk bag. It was tied up in a red ribbon. “Take this; we call it a ‘magic key’. Not all houses have chimneys – increasingly few, in fact – and that’s what Santa uses to access such houses. However, if you feel brave enough, I can assure you that you won’t be harmed if you ‘scramble down the chimney’ – we elves will be in control of the situation.”
Scarlet took the key gratefully.
“Yes,” he scratched at his ear. “As you’ve already said; it’s going to be a long night… I don’t know about Father Christmas, but I… uh… well… I’m sure Captain Blue and I will have to… uh… use a bathroom, at some point. Our helicopter doesn’t have facilities on board and...”
The elf smiled at him. “Oh, that’s easy enough! Don’t worry yourself about that.”
Scarlet frowned at him. That’s easy enough for you to say, he thought.
“How many times do I have to ask you to trust us? You don’t have to worry.”
“Well, that’s the helicopter sorted, Captain Blue,” Scarlet called, as he poured a load of antifreeze over the rotors.
“Right,” his partner replied, “I’ve put the sacks in the back, but I don’t know what good they’ll do…”
The elf chuckled. “Tell me, sonny, have you ever heard of the feeding of the 5000?”
Scarlet climbed off the helicopter, carefully. “I’ve heard of it, but…”
“Yes?” The elf looked up at him with curiosity.
“Jesus was the Son of God. Spectrum officers are only human.”
The elf chuckled. “Aha! But you’re not in control, here – we are!”
Scarlet felt a little uneasy as the elf grinned at him. He cleared his throat and turned to Blue. “Do we have everything?”
“What about this?” the elf asked, handing Scarlet an extra-large packet of salt.
“What would we want with this? I doubt we’ll have much time to stop for lunch, somehow.”
“You never know when that might come in handy – it melts ice.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes, threw the near-empty can of antifreeze and packet of salt into the cockpit of the helicopter and jumped in. “Come on, Adam.”
“Wait!” the elf handed Blue two insulated flasks. “Speaking of ‘lunch’…”
Scarlet eyed the flasks doubtfully.
“That’ll help – trust me, all right? You don’t want to get too cold when you’re out on the job – it’ll slow you down.”
Blue smiled at the elf, shaking his hand. “Thanks for everything.”
“Don’t mention it.” As he watched, Blue clambered aboard the helicopter and started the engine. The elf smiled and waved them off.
“Right, Adam, take us down,” Captain Scarlet instructed, as they arrived at the first house on the list. It was one that had already been visited; he put the Mysteron detector in the top of the sack and prepared to jump.
“S.I.G., Captain,” Blue replied. He could see why his partner hadn’t been keen on using their helicopter, now. It was going to be difficult to hover above the house – neither of them wanted to attempt landing up there – without waking anybody.
“See you in a minute, Adam. Hold her steady.”
“Hey!” Blue protested suddenly, as a thought hit him. “Who said you get to do this bit?”
The British captain looked at the chimney and winced, shaking his head. “All right, if you want to break something squeezing down that tiny hole, I have no objection.”
Blue followed his gaze. “Well… if you’re gonna put it that way…”
Scarlet rolled his eyes with an exasperated sigh. “What am I supposed to do with this sack, anyway?”
“Don’t tempt me, Paul.”
Blue watched his partner leap onto the rooftop, rolling on impact, and scramble into the chimney; pulling the sack behind him. Rather him than me!
Captain Scarlet frowned. I’d never realised chimneys were like this! I pictured a straight passage from the fireplace to the rooftop – this has lots of passages, twists and turns, like a maze… I just hope I don’t get lost, or stuck… he almost cried out as some old coal was dislodged by his boots, making him slip a little way. You’d think they’d at least sweep their chimney for Father Christmas! On the other hand, I would have expected it to be a small, cramped passage… It isn’t that bad! He smiled to himself. It’s not as dusty as I expected, either. I’m glad of that – I should think a good sneeze in here would wake the household easily enough!
When he finally reached the bottom, he scrambled out of the fireplace and dusted himself off. Now, where’s the sack? He pulled it out of the grate and got to work, knowing that Blue would probably be wondering what was keeping him.
He located the booby-trapped present and placed it beside the fireplace. This done, he pulled out the gifts – there were more in the sack than he’d thought possible – and heaped them under the tree. He smiled and turned to make his way back up the chimney, when his eye fell on a plate of mince pies and a glass of sherry. Well, that’s very thoughtful! His smile broadened. I suppose it would be rude to leave it…
“How was it?” Captain Blue asked, as his partner scrambled aboard the helicopter.
“The chimney was filthy, and I almost went the wrong way…” Scarlet grumbled. He smiled suddenly and licked his lips. “But it was worth it.”
Blue gave him an odd look, shrugged and headed for the next house on the list.
They stopped at the second house. Scarlet scrambled over the back of his seat into the rear of the helicopter and gasped in astonishment. “Adam! Both sacks are full of presents!”
“What?” he turned in his seat to look. “How?”
“I don’t know! I suppose the elves must be refilling them when I return them, or something. The one that I took with me last time was certainly empty when I brought it back!” he frowned. “Which one should I take with me now?”
Blue sighed. “How should I know? Try looking for a label, or something.”
“There’s nothing on…” the British captain stopped and stared at one of the sacks. Tied to it was a little gold label, which said: ‘This one, stupid!’
“That’s not amusing, Adam.”
“What? What isn’t?”
“Never mind,” Scarlet pulled the sack over his shoulder, leapt from the helicopter, and made his way to the chimney. The sack was rather heavy, and on this occasion he almost fell off the roof with the extra weight. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so easy, after all…
Once he’d got to the chimney, it was tempting to chuck the sack down and be done with it… but of course, that’s not right.
In any case, he thought, I have the booby trap to find and remove.
And so he carefully wriggled down the chimney, with his bulging sack of gifts. However, this house was going to be a little difficult. For starters, the family’s dog – who obviously sensed something wrong – began to bark and growl, waking the man of the house.
“Psssssst…” Kevin Hawker woke his wife with a quick nudge. “Jan, quick – someone’s downstairs!”
“Oh, Kev!” she stared at him with alarm, pulling the covers up around her.
“Shhh! Don’t disturb the kids. You phone the police – I’ll see to our uninvited guest…”
“Be careful, then,” she warned him. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Kevin grabbed the baseball bat that he kept under his bed for just such an occasion and made for the door. “Don’t worry.”
Scarlet heaped the presents under the tree with care, having already removed the Mysterons’ gift. He was wary of the dog, which stood behind him to ensure that he wasn’t there to steal anything. The constant growling was a strong indication that the captain’s presence was far from welcomed.
Scarlet jumped. Someone’s moving upstairs! Blasted dog!
Footsteps sounded on the stairs.
How does Father Christmas cope with a job like this? Scarlet tried to shove the rest of the gifts under the tree before someone found him there.
“Hey! You!” Hawker growled, as he found the Captain digging into the sack. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Scarlet sighed tiredly and placed the remainder of the gifts under the tree. “Sir, I’ve had a rather long night,” he began.
“I should think you have!”
He thinks I’m a thief! Scarlet thought in dismay.
“What’s in the sack, then? Silver? Money?” Hawker asked carefully, as if to prove him right.
He shook the sack out. “Nothing; the sack is empty. I’ve left all the gifts under the tree.”
“Oh, that’s a good one! You were stealing presents from under the tree!”
Scarlet clenched his jaw. “I do not steal!”
“Of course not – you borrow, don’t you?”
Taking a present from the pile under the tree, he gave it to the man. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Mister… Mister…”
“Hawker. But perhaps you should tell me who you are…” he looked the captain up and down, “And those are interesting clothes – what happened, then? Couldn’t you get a Santa suit in your size, so you decided to wear a Spectrum officer’s uniform instead?”
“This is my uniform, Sir. I am a Spectrum officer – I’m Captain Scarlet.”
“Right. And you’re playing Father Christmas!”
Scarlet surreptitiously put the mysteronised parcel and Mysteron detector in his sack and slung it over his shoulder. “I’ve already told you – you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Then you’ll have to tell your story to the police.”
Oh no! That’s the last thing we need!
Seeing the expression on the Captain’s face, Hawker chuckled. “Don’t want to go inside again, eh?”
Scarlet tensed. He didn’t have a criminal record, and wished that this man would stop jumping to conclusions. Why couldn’t one of the children have come down, instead?
As if that wasn’t enough, his epaulettes flashed blue. His partner’s voice came over his pocket radio loud and clear. “When Santa got stuck up the chimney, he began to shout…”
“Stop it, Captain Blue,” Scarlet hissed.
“You’re not really stuck, are you?” Blue’s concerned voice asked him.
“No; not exactly. Uh… the man of the house seems to think that I’m a thief…”
“Right… I’m coming down.”
“What? You can’t leave the helicopter on the roof! It wouldn’t support the weight!”
“Who are you talking to?” Hawker demanded with annoyance.
“My partner, Sir. Would he be able to land his helicopter on your driveway?”
“No, he cannot land his hel… helicopter? You have a helicopter? If you have enough money to own a helicopter, why are you stealing from under my tree?”
Here we go again, Scarlet rolled his eyes. “Captain, land on the driveway, if you can.”
“Hey! I just said…”
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet. See you in a minute,” Blue’s voice replied, ending the conversation.
Hawker glared at him in fury. “Let me get this straight… you have a helicopter…”
“What are you using that for? It’d give you away!”
Scarlet sighed, tiredly. “We are using a helicopter because we can’t use anything else. A plane won’t… is no good, and a car isn’t fast enough…”
A knock at the window interrupted them.
“That should be my partner,” Scarlet informed Hawker.
“If that’s your partner, why can’t I hear the helicopter?”
Scarlet groaned, as he realised that he couldn’t hear the helicopter, either. “Would you give me a moment?” Without waiting for an answer, he contacted Captain Blue.
“Yes, Captain Scarlet? What’s keeping you?”
“Ad – Captain, where are you?”
Blue’s voice sounded rather irritable when he replied. “Where do you think I am? Out on the doorstep! I sure wish I’d had some of that drink or whatever it was the elf gave us in those flasks – I’m freezing!”
“And… where have you put the helicopter?”
“Paul, what’s wrong with you? The helicopter is out here – couldn’t you hear it?”
He frowned. “Well, as a matter of fact…”
“You have got to be kidding me! Look, are you gonna let me in, or are you leaving me to die of hypothermia out here?”
“Well?” Hawker demanded the moment Scarlet ended the call.
“The helicopter is in ‘silent mode’, apparently,” the Captain replied, awkwardly.
“Pull the other one! You can’t put a helicopter on ‘silent mode’.”
“Perhaps you can’t,” Scarlet mumbled, remembering the elf that he had spoken to. He hadn’t forgotten his comment about the elves being in control of the situation.
“So, you expect me to let your ‘partner’ into my house, do you? And why would I do that?”
Scarlet groaned. “Well, at least let me out!”
“Not until the cops get here.”
“Then at least let Captain Blue in…” He frowned. He had to give a good reason for letting his partner in, and somehow he couldn’t imagine that ‘I don’t want him to catch his death’ would be reason enough for Hawker. “He’ll get away, otherwise.”
Hawker studied Scarlet, carefully. “All right, I’ll let him in,” he muttered, relenting, and moving into the hallway. He turned, wagging a finger in the Captain’s face. “But no tricks, sunshine,” he gestured at the holster hanging from Scarlet’s belt. “And lose the gun.”
Colonel White frowned. “Shouldn’t we have heard from Scarlet and Blue by now?”
“Sir?” Lieutenant Green looked up.
“Rhetorical question, Lieutenant,” the Colonel replied, drumming his fingers on his desk. “I just hope there’s nothing wrong. Have you got a fix on their position?”
“Yes, Sir. The helicopter has landed in North Dakota.”
“Landed? I’d better call them and see what they’re doing.”
“Look, for the last time, we are not here to take anything.” Scarlet pulled a toy out from under the tree, and showed it to Hawker. “Did you buy this for your son?”
He studied the present, thoughtfully. He couldn’t actually remember buying so many gifts. “Come to think of it, there should be four for each of them.”
“Well, with all that I’ve put under your tree, they now have eight each,” Scarlet commented. He stopped as his epaulettes flashed. “Would you excuse me a moment?”
Hawker nodded, and stared at the tree.
“Captain Scarlet, where have you been?” Colonel White thundered, as soon as the call was answered.
“Well, Sir, I… we…”
“I’m waiting, Captain.”
Hawker turned a curious glance in his direction. “Who are you talking to?”
“There was a hold-up. It seems I disturbed Mister Hawker, and he thinks that I’m a burglar, Colonel,” he continued, ignoring the inquiring glance that he was receiving.
“Right, let me speak to him.”
Scarlet handed Hawker his communicator, so he took up the conversation.
“Mister Hawker, this is Colonel White of Spectrum. My men are on a highly secret mission, which they must return to immediately.”
“Well, Colonel, I don’t understand what’s going on. But looking at the evidence…” He looked at the gifts under the tree again, then through the window, where he could see a helicopter sitting on his driveway, with its engine running – an engine he couldn’t hear. “I think I’d better let them go,” he added with a sigh.
“Thank you, Sir, and merry Christmas.”
Scarlet made himself comfortable in the seat of the helicopter. “Where are we going, now?”
“The next house on the list,” Blue shrugged. “Just relax – I know where I’m going. Do you know which bag you need?”
Gritting his teeth with annoyance, the British captain unfastened his seatbelt and turned to lean over the back of the seat and study the sacks. “Neither of these are marked.”
“Well, then, just grab one,” his partner advised, shrugging.
“Don’t be stupid, Adam. I can’t just choose one at random – that’d cause more problems than we can afford.”
“Then don’t ask me for advice, O.K.?”
“Fine!” Scarlet muttered, examining them again. He blinked in surprise. Written on a little holly-shaped gift tag were the words ’TAKE ME’. He turned to the front, slung the sack in front of him, and glowered at Blue. “Adam, will you stop playing games?”
“What did I do?” Blue asked, without turning to look at him.
“This is the second time that you’ve left a note attached to the sacks. If you know which one I should take, why don’t you just tell me?”
“What? Paul, what are you talking about? I haven’t left you any notes!”
Scarlet shook his head. He was tired and becoming increasingly irritable. I really shouldn’t take it out on Adam, he thought. It’s hardly his fault that I’m far too stubborn for my own good.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
He nodded and turned to smile at him. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m sorry.”
“It’s O.K.,” his partner assured him. He pulled out one of the elves’ flasks and handed it to him. “Try some of this – that elf did say that it’d help…”
Scarlet looked doubtful. “I’ve had rather a lot to eat and drink already, and we’ve only stopped at two houses! We’re behind schedule – far behind schedule…”
“Just try some,” Blue advised him. “I only had a sip, and I feel great!”
He nodded and poured a small amount into the lid of the flask. It was a deep, plum red colour and smelled very sweet. He raised it to his lips and tasted it experimentally. The flavour was incredible – he recognised cinnamon, honey and citrus fruits, along with something strong that he imagined to be wine… there were other flavours as well, which he couldn’t place. It warmed him instantly. “Strong stuff,” he remarked before draining the cup.
“How d’you feel?”
He frowned as he thought about it. “Fully recovered!” he gasped in amazement. “I feel as if I’ve just come out of a regenerative sleep – no fatigue, no… no anything!”
“Good! Let’s get a move on, then.”
Scarlet was still frowning. “How does it work? For me I mean. I mean… my retrometabolism tends to stop medicines from working for me. I would have expected to have to down the entire contents of the flask in one gulp to even feel an effect!”
“Maybe it doesn’t work like medication,” Blue said thoughtfully. “I mean, everything else works by magic; maybe the drink’s no different.”
“You could be right,” he replied. “I just hope that it lasts!”
Eventually, all the houses that ‘Mysteron Santa’ had called at had been taken care of. Not wanting to carry the booby trapped parcels around in the helicopter, Captain Scarlet advised Captain Blue to head for an isolated location to jettison them.
“Supposing they don’t explode straight away?” Blue asked him with concern. “What if a hiker or wild animal comes across them?”
“We don’t have much choice,” he replied. “I doubt many people will be out hiking on Christmas Day, somehow. As for wild animals…” he shook his head. He didn’t like the thought of animals getting injured any more than he did innocent people. “I just hope they stay away.”
Blue nodded and directed the helicopter due north.
“Here we are,” Captain Blue announced at length. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, all right!”
Scarlet looked out of the window. He suddenly caught sight of some debris and realisation dawned. “Isn’t this the scene of Father Christmas’ mysteronisation?”
He nodded. “There have been a few explosions here already; what’s a few more? We’ll have to warn the World Police to keep their personnel away until Spectrum gives the all-clear, but that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Mm; good choice.”
Blue landed the helicopter and the two officers picked their way over to the sleigh. He gave an involuntary shudder as he and his partner surveyed the mess.
“When Ochre said that it was a grizzly sight, he wasn’t wrong.”
“No. No, he wasn’t,” he turned to Scarlet. “Where shall we put the booby traps?”
He frowned and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “In the sleigh,” he decided. “Under the seat, in case anyone happens along. I wouldn’t like someone to pick one of these things up and take it home!”
“I don’t know,” he replied thoughtfully. “It’s snowing again – we could bury them in the back… or even behind the sleigh, or amongst the reindeer…”
“No; wolves could well turn up on the scene in search of food. I wouldn’t want to deliberately leave explosives in their meal.”
Blue grinned at him. “O.K., behind the sleigh it is.”
“I’ll do it,” Scarlet told him. “I know that the drinks the elves gave us stop us from feeling the cold, but we have no way of knowing whether it’ll fend off things like frostbite – and I’d rather take the risk safe in the knowledge that I’ll recover quickly.”
“I suppose you’re right. I’ll go and wait in the helicopter and take a look at the list, then.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue.” Scarlet got to work; scrabbling at the snow under the sleigh. He hoped that burying the mysteronised gifts there would be safer, as anyone who got too close could stand on one of the packages. Of course, the sleigh could be thrown at someone… he shook his head. Come on, Paul, concentrate! All right, they haven’t exploded yet – they’re probably set to go off on Christmas morning, for pity’s sake! He deposited the parcels in the hole that he’d made and covered them up quickly. This done, he joined Captain Blue.
“Hey, Paul, I’ve noticed something…” Blue said as Scarlet took his seat in the cockpit and strapped himself in. “Next to some of the houses on the list, there’s a little key, next to the rest, there’s a cloud.”
“Let me see!” he took the paper from him and studied it, frowning thoughtfully. “Smoke! I’ll bet it’s smoke – it’s black, after all – that would mean that they have a working chimney. The others would be a ‘magic key’ job.”
“That makes sense! I wish I’d noticed that before – it would’ve saved you getting trapped behind that fireplace, last time.”
“Yes; that was fun, I can tell you!” he shivered at the memory. “I wondered why it was so damp and dirty… until I came to a bit of MDF that was blocking the fireplace and wouldn’t move, obviously.”
Blue hid a smile. “I wondered what was going on, when you jumped back out of the chimney! I thought you’d woken somebody else up!”
“Yes… I should think I looked a sight!” Scarlet noted with a frown, “Especially with all of those sooty cobwebs in my hair!”
“You did look a bit of a mess,” his partner remarked sympathetically.
He ran his hands through his hair and grimaced. “I should think that I still do!”
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t notice the little pictures sooner, O.K.? I don’t understand why you didn’t clean yourself up before you left the house, though.”
Scarlet arched an eyebrow at him. “You don’t just use a stranger’s bathroom without asking, do you? It isn’t polite! After Mister Hawker, I certainly wouldn’t want to wake anyone – or hang about!”
“Talking of hanging about, let’s get going,” Blue said as he started the helicopter up again.
Upon arriving at the next house, Captain Blue landed on the road outside the front gate. There was a snowman leaning on the mailbox, grinning at them in the light cast by the lamppost.
Scarlet cast it a doubtful look. “I don’t like the look of Frosty – he looks as if he’s either going to pelt us with snowballs or jump on us.”
His partner laughed. “Aw, come on! He’s probably meant as Santa’s welcoming committee!”
“He offers a rather cold reception,” the British captain deadpanned.
Blue groaned. “Oh, Paul!”
He chuckled quietly. “Well, off you go; you can take this one.”
“You want me to take out the snowman?” he asked, confused.
“What?” he raised an eyebrow at him. “Whatever gave you that idea? No! I meant that you can deliver the presents this time – it’s not exactly dangerous.”
“Yes, O.K.,” he grinned. “I didn’t think you were going to let me have a go.”
Scarlet returned the grin. “I’d have let you take a turn sooner, had I known which ones didn’t require the use of a chimney. Anyway, I think I’ll take the opportunity to clean myself up a bit…”
“S.I.G. I’ll bring you back a cookie.”
Captain Blue crept inside the lounge and set down the sack to turn on the light.
“Purrup!” a large, fluffy white cat padded over to him and rubbed itself around his boots.
He smiled. Pity Paul didn’t come in with me – he loves cats! “Hello, puss-cat,” he said softly. “Merry Christmas!”
The cat blinked up at him and then tried to climb inside the sack.
Blue brushed the animal aside and went to work, humming quietly.
The cat jumped up on the back of the sofa and watched him; its big eyes glowing eerily as it stared at him.
Probably wants his present now, he thought with amusement. “Sorry, puss-cat, you’ll have to wait until Christmas morning, like everyone else.”
The cat hissed. “Now!” it mewed at him.
Blue almost dropped his sack. To think I laughed at Paul when he said that Panther talks to him! He shook himself and reached inside the sack, pulling out the last of the gifts. Amongst them was a little sugar mouse. “Is this what you want?”
The cat sat up, nodding its head and raising a paw.
Blue smiled and handed it over. “There you are; I guess one present before the big day can’t hurt.”
He slung the sack over his shoulder and turned to go, surveying the room one last time.
The cat had been licking the mouse in front of the fire. With a mew it jumped to his feet and went to the little coffee table that stood beside the hearth.
Blue frowned and stepped forward, wondering what the animal was trying to tell him. On the table was a plate of home-made biscuits, glass of milk and a little note saying “Thankyoo Santa”. He smiled and helped himself. “Thanks, puss-cat, I’d forgotten my own gift!”
“Were you left anything nice?” Scarlet asked innocently as his partner climbed back into the cockpit.
He nodded and handed him a biscuit that he’d saved for him. “Milk and home-made cookies.”
“Yeah. Isn’t that what you’re meant to leave out for Santa?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t. Well, technically I wasn’t the one who left the gift out – it was my father. He always bought him a small bottle of whisky and I helped my mother to make mince pies – one of which was always left out for Father Christmas.”
“Whisky?” Blue shook his head in disgust.
He shrugged. “It keeps the cold out!”
“We don’t need anything to ‘keep the cold out’! The stuff the elves gave us does that.”
He rolled his eyes. “Well, they don’t know that, do they? What’s wrong with a drop of whisky?”
“We’re on duty, that’s what!” Blue frowned at him. “You don’t mean to tell me you’ve been drinking whisky, do you?”
“Whisky, brandy, rum, cream liquor…” he smiled. “It tastes better than milk!”
Blue stared at him in horror. “Can your retrometabolism take all that?”
“Oh, I’m sure it can. I’ll be fine,” he told him. I haven’t felt any effect at all, he thought. My retrometabolism must be absorbing the alcohol faster than I can drink it!
The American captain frowned at him doubtfully. “I sure hope you’re right. Mixing drinks isn’t exactly a good idea.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake! Father Christmas must do it every year!”
“Yeah,” his partner replied, “lots of people do, but that doesn’t make it a clever thing to do.”
“Oh, let’s just get moving!” he told him crossly. “We haven’t time to sit about arguing!”
Blue gave an annoyed sigh and powered up the helicopter. The breeze from the rotor blades ruffled the snowman’s scarf. Then his head fell off.
“Well, it looks as if you ‘took Frosty out’ after all,” Scarlet remarked with amusement as they took off and headed for the next house.
When the round was finally over, Captain Blue set a course for the North Pole.
“Where are we going?” Scarlet asked in surprise. “Cloudbase is south of here, not north!”
He nodded. “Nice to know you still trust my sense of direction,” he remarked.
“Well, it has been a long night…” the British captain blinked in surprise. He suddenly felt strange; drowsy, overly warm and… drunk.
“Are you feeling all right?” he heard his partner ask him in concern.
He shook his head in an effort to clear it. “I… I think so… What about you?”
“I’m fine. I think the stuff the elves gave us is wearing off, though. I’m getting tired.”
He nodded. “Yes… me too.”
The moment they arrived, the elf that had assisted them earlier that night rushed out to meet them.
“I wasn’t expecting you to come back here,” he told them. “I’d have given you a bigger flask each!”
“S’alright,” Scarlet slurred, leaning against the helicopter in an attempt at hiding how unsteady on his feet he’d suddenly become.
The elf winced. “Surely you had more sense than to take everything that was left out for you? Like you said yourself, sonny, Santa’s magic, you are not.”
The captain grinned at him. “I’ll live!”
Blue took his arm and guided him towards the workshop. “The minute we get back to Cloudbase, I’ll get Doctor Fawn to take a look at him. He’s right – he’ll be fine.”
“If you say so,” the elf replied. “I guess it’s my fault; I should’ve explained to you what those drinks were for.”
“They kept the cold off,” Scarlet noted, resting his head on his partner’s shoulder. The intoxicated feeling was growing stronger.
“It’s designed to do more than that. It makes you almost immortal – you won’t tire, have to use a bathroom… get drunk… though the effects will gradually wear off.”
I dread to think what I’ll feel like when it wears off completely, Scarlet thought. I should have listened to Adam!
The elf patted his hand. “I’ll show you both to the men’s room and then I’d better dose you up on our Christmas tonic again before you head home.”
Scarlet heard his partner yawn before thanking the elf.
“We’ve got the sacks and flasks to return,” he was saying. “That’s why we came back. They’re in the ‘copter – don’t let us forget about them.”
“I won’t sonny, don’t you worry.”
What happened next, Scarlet couldn’t remember. Suddenly, he was as alert as he had been during Father Christmas’ rounds.
“Are you all right now?” Blue asked, concerned.
He nodded. “Yes, I’m fine. What happened?”
“You almost collapsed in the bathroom. I thought you were gonna throw up!”
He scratched his ear and turned away, feeling embarrassed. “Sorry.”
The elf handed Scarlet a mugful of Christmas tonic. “Here, sonny, drink this. It should see you right until you’re back on your base.”
“Thank you,” he accepted it and took a sip. “This really is delicious; could I have the recipe?”
He laughed. “It’s just mulled wine with a secret ingredient.”
“What’s the ‘secret ingredient’, magic?” Blue asked.
The elf nodded. “Of course! What else could rejuvenate you in such a way?”
“Nothing on Earth,” Scarlet remarked, taking another sip.
“Now, listen to me,” the elf told them. “Once you take off, make straight for your base. I don’t want you crashing your helicopter due to fatigue,” he glanced at Scarlet, “or anything. The effects wear off gradually – the tiredness will become impossible to resist if you try to ignore it for too long.”
“How long’s too long?” Blue asked him. “We’ve got a debriefing to sit through.”
The elf rolled his eyes skyward. “Oh, terrific! I’ll make you up some more to take with you, then. Don’t want your boss thinking you’re implying that he’s boring, do we?”
“I’m sure Colonel White would understand,” Scarlet told him. “He might even leave off the debriefing until tomorrow.”
“When you’re feeling nice and hung-over,” the elf remarked cheerfully.
Scarlet winced and hoped that that wouldn’t be the case. He saw the elf grin at him. “Is that funny?”
“It serves you right for behaving so stupidly,” he shook his head. “No, it isn’t funny. I just hope that you only get a hangover; I dread to think how much alcohol you’ve drank!”
“And you’re giving him more?” Blue asked him with a frown.
The elf gave another merry laugh. “Mulled wine isn’t alcoholic! The alcohol gets burnt off when it’s heated.” He stood up. “I’m going to make you up some more to take with you, in case you have that debriefing. Just promise me that you’ll rest the minute it starts wearing off.”
“From what you’ve said, we won’t have much choice,” Scarlet noted.
Colonel White, seated at the centre of the conference table, looked up as Captains Scarlet and Blue arrived and joined their fellow officers in standing to attention. “Be seated, gentlemen.”
He studied the faces of his men before opening the meeting; many of them looked tired, particularly Captains Ochre and Magenta, having spent most of the night in Canada. Strangely, Captains Scarlet and Blue seemed to be fine – in fact, Scarlet looked better than he had when he’d talked with him in the Control Room. He’d have to ask for an explanation later.
“Members of Spectrum, I thank you all for the work you’ve done this Christmas Eve. I would particularly like to thank Captains Scarlet and Blue for taking on the role of Father Christmas.”
“Captain Santa and his little helper!” Ochre turned a grin at them. “Who’d ‘ave thought it?”
Scarlet smiled back. “Captain Blue is taller than me,” he reminded him.
Ochre shrugged. “That must make you the little helper, then!”
“Have you quite finished?” the colonel asked, frowning at his officers.
“Sorry Sir,” Scarlet replied for the three of them.
White continued as if the interruption hadn’t occurred. “From what I’ve gathered, everything ran smoothly; is that correct?” he asked his red-vested officer.
“Yes, Sir, that’s right. I must say, it was an amazing experience…”
Grey leaned forward in his seat. “Want to tell us all about it?”
Scarlet smiled. “I don’t know whether you’d believe half of it. I still feel as if it was all a dream!”
“Me too,” Blue seconded.
The colonel cleared his throat. “Perhaps you could tell me how you got on with your helicopter. I remember that you had concerns about having to use it.”
“It was fine, Colonel,” Scarlet told him. “The elves somehow silenced it. We only woke one person, but that was all the fault of his stupid guard dog!”
Ochre frowned at the comment. “I thought you like dogs!”
“I like nice, friendly dogs,” the British officer replied. “I do not like horrible, aggressive things that will growl and snarl at you every single time you try to move!”
The Midwesterner laughed.
“So the helicopter wasn’t a problem,” White noted. “Were there any problems at all?”
He shook his head. “No, there weren’t. Well… I did get a bit of a fright when I tried doing the ‘Chimney Routine’ in a house that had an electric fire in the hearth. I didn’t realise my error until I found the fireplace blocked.”
Blue chuckled at the memory. “He came hurtling out of the chimney like…” he shook his head, still laughing.
“Yes, I’m sure it was hilarious,” Scarlet muttered darkly.
The colonel cleared his throat again and frowned at them.
“How d’you get in houses that don’t have open fires?” Magenta asked. “I used to wonder about that as a kid.”
Scarlet grinned. “That’s easy – we were issued with a ‘magic key’. It fits any lock.”
Blue smiled at the Irish captain. “Santa’s magic, Pat.”
“Yeah, but you guys aren’t,” Ochre pointed out. “I didn’t think you’d be able to pull it off! I mean, going around the World in one night? Captain Scarlet might be able to come back from the dead, but even he can’t move faster than sound!”
“We filled Father Christmas’ place for the night,” Scarlet told him. “In any case, his elves were in charge of the situation; not us!”
“You mean the magic worked for you?” Ochre asked.
Blue nodded. “It had to, didn’t it? Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to deliver the gifts in time.”
“What happened to the reconstructed presents?” the colonel asked.
Scarlet fidgeted on his seat. “I’d forgotten about those! I’m sorry, Colonel.”
“You brought them back with you?” Captain Grey asked him in surprise.
“Of course not! I admit that I can be a little forgetful, but I’m certainly not incompetent!”
“It’s been a long night,” Blue said quietly, obviously trying to calm his partner. “I guess it’s to be expected for you to be a little forgetful.”
White nodded. “Quite. Now… if you didn’t bring them here, what happened to those parcels?”
“We buried them at the scene of the mysteronisation,” Scarlet told him. “I know it was probably irresponsible, but we couldn’t carry them around with us and… well… I didn’t know what else to do with them.”
“Neither of us did,” his partner added.
The colonel nodded his understanding. “I shall be sure to inform the World Police of the situation. Thank you, gentlemen,” he gave them a slight smile. “You haven’t forgotten anything else, I hope?”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t think so, Colonel.”
“Good,” his smile broadened. “I think that in that case all that remains is for me to thank you all once again and to advise you all to have a well-earned rest. Merry Christmas to you all.”
“Merry Christmas, Colonel White,” Magenta replied as he stood.
As everyone filed out, Captain Blue put an arm around his partner. “It’s wearing off again,” he noted.
“Yes, it is,” he agreed. “I hope my retrometabolism kicks in soon.”
“Come on, Captain Scarlet, let’s get you back to your quarters…” he said cheerfully, allowing him to lean on his shoulder.
The British captain stopped suddenly with a gasp and clapped a hand to his head.
Oh no! He’s not going to get sick, I hope, Blue thought with concern.
“I’ve just had an awful thought!” he rasped. “What about next year?”
Meanwhile, the original Santa Claus got to his feet, brushing the snow off his coat with annoyance. Of course, he is a creature of legend, so it wouldn't be at all easy to kill him in the first place – even for the Mysterons! He was annoyed because he had been knocked out for so much time that he hadn't had the chance to make his distribution! But this year's Christmas has been saved because Spectrum interfered and did the job for him.
Well, he'd be there next year.
He just had to replace his reindeer!