A ‘NEW CAPTAIN SCARLET’ STORY FOR CHRISTMAS
BY SKYBASE GIRL
“I’m sorry, Sir Charles. Lady Grey is still unavailable to take your call. Would you like to leave a message?” The polite male voice was flatly dismissive.
“Yes, I would. It’s the same message I’ve been leaving for the past three days.” Colonel White glowered at the computer screen. “Are you sure she knows I’ve been calling?”
His wife’s secretary looked affronted. “ Yes, of course, sir, and believe me, I will ensure she understands how anxious you are to speak to her.”
“Please do that.”
The colonel terminated the call abruptly and gazed down once more at the letter lying open on his desk. He had not, for one second, thought it would come to this. Divorce, after almost thirty years of marriage? It was unimaginable.
He knew how angry she had been when he had explained to her – quite reasonably, he thought- just why he could not, once again, spend a family Christmas in Gloucestershire. It had just been one more disagreement as far as he was concerned, and there had been plenty of those over the years. He was horrified to discover that she had seen it as the final nail in the coffin of their marriage.
“If you won’t come home for Christmas, don’t bother coming home at all,” she had snapped, before angrily hanging up on him.
He hadn’t realised the significance of those words until her lawyer’s letter had arrived. Now, she wouldn’t even speak to him. He suspected her secretary was complicit in this; David Parker had seemed uncomfortable at fielding his increasingly urgent calls.
Colonel White was a man who expected his own way and usually got it. He was sufficiently self-aware to realise that he probably treated his family in the same way as the colleagues he managed. It had worked in his favour for so long that he had never questioned the wisdom of his approach. Out of the blue, it seemed, his wife had made it plain that she was no longer prepared to accept what she regarded as ‘cavalier’ treatment, and he hadn’t a clue what to do about it.
She must know I’m doing this because I have to, not because I want to, he thought resentfully. It would be different if we had succeeded in destroying the Mysterons, but…
He had allowed several of his senior officers to have Christmas leave, including Captain Scarlet and Destiny Angel. They were heading for Canada to spend Christmas with Scarlet’s family. In the absence of any imminent terrorist threat, the colonel had happily agreed to this; they needed a break, he knew. However, the absence of his most trusted personnel meant he felt unable to leave Skybase in the hands of anyone other than himself. So, he had cancelled his own plans for Christmas.
Quite why this decision had caused so much controversy, he simply didn’t know. Throughout their marriage, he and Diana had often spent long periods apart. They had both, on occasions, put their careers before their relationship. He had missed many Christmases over the years. Birthdays, family holidays, even their Silver Wedding celebrations had been casualties of the job. Any problems this caused were invariably resolved by adopting a give and take approach.
He was uncomfortably aware that in the main, she gave, and he took. It had always worked, though. He thought she had long ago accepted the fact that doing his duty as he saw it, required much self-sacrifice on both sides. He realised gloomily that the sacrifice was now apparently going to include their Pearl Wedding anniversary.
Why is she making such a fuss about this? He thought, irritably. After all, it would have just been the two of us, rattling around in that bloody great big house.
Their daughter Victoria was immersed in student life in London and he suspected that her extensive social calendar would not include spending Christmas in the country with her parents.
Well, it was too late to do anything about it now. It was Christmas Eve, and his wife’s present to him was a request for a legal separation. She had decided, the letter intimated, that she could just as easily conduct her business, as chairman of the Global Heritage Foundation, in New York, as in London. She was leaving it to him to decide what should happen to their large Georgian home in Gloucestershire.
He crumpled up the letter and, in frustration, threw it at one of the computer consoles. It whizzed past the nose of Lieutenant Green, who was carefully crossing the control room with two mugs of coffee in her hands. She jumped, spilling some of the contents on both her uniform and the state-of-the-art flooring.
“Can’t you watch where you’re going?” He snapped. “Call the cleaning staff, get this mess mopped up!”
“Yes, of course. Sorry, sir.” Green’s large, brown eyes were full of concern at this uncharacteristic outburst. He had been out of sorts for days, she knew, but he was not normally a man given to displays of bad temper.
“Are you all right, Colonel? Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes. You can mind your own business,” he replied tersely. “And that goes for everyone else around here,” he added, as the door opened to herald the arrival of Captain Blue. “I’m going to the gym for an hour, Lieutenant. Think you can manage to hold the fort without creating more havoc?”
“I’m sure I can, sir,” Green mumbled, deciding not to add, I usually do. It would not be wise to antagonise him further.
Blue glanced at the Colonel’s retreating back and whistled softly.
“Whoa! You got your head handed to you on a plate!”
Green sighed ruefully. “It isn’t the first time, and I doubt it will be the last.”
“What’s going on with him, Serena?”
“I’m not sure,” she said thoughtfully. “Family trouble, I think, judging by some of the phone conversations I’ve overheard. Lady Grey isn’t too happy that he’s staying here over Christmas.”
Blue looked puzzled. “That’s a pretty normal state of affairs for them. I wouldn’t have thought that it would send him into a total strop.”
“He got a letter this morning. Seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, as they say.” She sighed, and looked round the control room. “He was using it as a missile just before you arrived. I assume he was aiming for the bin, but he got me instead. Oh, here it is.”
She bent to retrieve the crumpled piece of paper from the floor and made to deposit it in the waste paper bin. Blue grabbed it from her hand, straightening out the creases.
“Give it here. Let’s see what this is about.”
“Adam! You can’t start reading someone’s private mail!” Green was shocked. “Especially the Colonel’s! He’ll have you court-martialled if he finds out!”
“Well, he’s not going to find out, is he? This is for the greater good, Serena. Trust me. If we don’t do something about his moods, we’re all going to have the Christmas from hell.”
“Okay.” Green reluctantly looked over his shoulder as he rapidly scanned the closely-written sheet, and gasped out loud, as they both took in its contents.
“Oh, Adam! Divorce! God, I knew they had problems, but I had no idea that things were as bad as this!”
She turned stricken eyes to his.
“Yeah. Not good, is it?” Even the normally unflappable Blue looked perturbed. He crumpled the paper up into a ball once more and threw it in the bin. “You were right, Serena. We shouldn’t pry. We can’t interfere in this. Let’s just forget we’ve seen anything.”
“No. No, there must be something we can do, some way to help.” Green’s brow was furrowed in distress. “I can’t believe she means to go through with it. They’ve always been devoted to each other, no matter what. We can’t let this happen.”
Blue shrugged. “Well, I don’t see what we can do. It’s their marriage, their business. It’s not for us to judge the rights and wrongs of the situation. And if he suspects we know anything, we’ll be mincemeat.”
“Not if we sort it out,” she said eagerly. “I’ve got an idea which might do just that.”
It was 8.30 pm on Christmas Eve and Colonel White had morosely retreated to the privacy of his quarters. There had been no word from his wife and his flighty daughter didn’t appear to have even given him a thought. The remaining Skybase personnel who were not on active duty, were busily arranging their own festive celebrations. A party was starting on the Observation Deck, which was the only area with sufficient space to take the enormous Christmas tree that had been donated by Spectrums’s primary sponsors, the United Nations. The gift of a tree had quickly become an eagerly-awaited tradition for the personnel of Skybase, and part of that tradition was the battle to decide by whom it would be decorated and what the colour theme would be. This year, the Angels had drawn the trump card and decided on a pale blue and silver theme. The room had been transformed by the considerable creative skills of Symphony and Harmony, although there had been the usual grumbles by the folks who thought last year’s red and gold scheme had been much more suitable. The various restaurants on the base were busy serving Christmas fare to both cosy courting couples and larger, noisier groups. Even the corridors on every level were filled with snapping party poppers and the noise of seasonal songs emitting from open doors. Colonel White usually enjoyed the festivities, but this particular year, he found himself hating every minute of it. He had resisted every entreaty to join in with his colleagues and subordinates, to their evident surprise. Although he was not a man who often let his hair down, he was not known as a killjoy. Tonight, however, he realised that even the expression on his face could curdle cream.
Best to just stay away, he thought bleakly.
He picked up a newly published book on the Battle of Waterloo and tried to immerse himself in it. He had barely got past page three, when his com-link buzzed. Lieutenant Green’s coffee-and-cream-coloured face swam into view.
“What now?” he growled.
“Colonel, I would really appreciate it if you would come on down to the Arrivals Lounge. We have visitors.”
“On Christmas Eve? Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” The Colonel scrambled around to find his discarded boots and cap. This is all I need tonight. Better not be General Volkov and his cronies, he thought grimly. The Russian military hierarchy delighted in ‘surprise’ visits, which were usually intended to catch the recipients on the hop.
The Arrivals Lounge would have been more aptly termed the Visitors Lounge, as normally only non-Spectrum personnel ever used it. Most returning Skybase employees made their way through Engineering to their allotted destination. Despite Lieutenant Green’s message, the room appeared to be in darkness as the Colonel approached.
He turned the door handle at the same moment Green turned on the light. There, in front of him, stood his wife and daughter. He blinked in disbelief, for once completely lost for words.
“Well,” Diana Grey said, tartly, “I was led to believe this was a good idea, but now I’m not sure.”
Green looked worried, while Victoria Grey dissolved into a fit of giggles. “Daddy, you look like a stranded goldfish!”
“Well, I just… I mean, what are you doing here?” Colonel White was struggling to regain his composure. “I didn’t expect….”
His wife sighed heavily. “Well, if the mountain won’t go to Mohammed, Mohammed will have to go to the mountain. Isn’t that the old saying? Your very enterprising Lieutenant here, persuaded me that Christmas on Skybase might not be such a bad thing. I do hope you’re not going to prove her wrong, Charles.”
White glanced sharply at Green. “ What’s going on? What have you been up to?”
“Not much, sir.” Her face was innocent. “I just thought it seemed a shame that you were going to spend Christmas apart from your family. I know it’s against regulations to invite family on board for this type of thing, but…..”
“But if anyone can break regulations, you can,” his wife interjected. She moved forward to place her hand on his arm. “After all, you’re the boss, isn’t that right?”
She gave him a sudden smile, the familiar smile that could uplift his heart, even after thirty years. “Maybe we both need to be a little less intransigent, don’t you think?” she said gently.
Colonel White had forgotten the presence of Lieutenant Green, and even that of his daughter. His attention was focused solely on his wife. “What are you saying, Diana? You want to try to make a go of things, after all? I thought, after that letter….”
His wife had to stretch quite a long way to wrap her arms round his neck. “You might be an old fool, Charles,” she said softly. “But you’re not the only one. We both have too much to lose to give up now. Let’s get Christmas Day over and see where we go from there.” She looked at Lieutenant Green. “I do hope all your quarters come with decent sized beds. I haven’t come all this way to spend my time in a guest room.”
Colonel White laughed out loud, wrapping her in his arms. “To hell with policy,” he murmured. “If you’re prepared to give us another chance, I’m prepared to change things. I’m just so pleased you’re both here.” He beamed at Green. “Lieutenant, I’m sure you can fix us up with a meal in the Starlight Restaurant? Then, no doubt, there will be a party we can gatecrash.”
Victoria Grey grimaced. “I’ll pass on the meal, if you don’t mind. There’s nothing worse than watching coffin dodgers smooching, especially when it’s your own parents.” She looked at Green, speculatively. “He mentioned a party. Could we skip straight to that?”
“Sure.” Green ushered her out of the room, tactfully leaving the Colonel and his wife to enjoy their privacy. “The biggest party is on the Observation Deck. I was heading that way myself before you and your mother arrived. Want to join in?”
“Absolutely!” The colonel’s daughter sounded enthusiastic. “To be frank, this was the last place I wanted to be. You have no idea what I’m missing by not staying in London. Then, I thought, there must be yummy men on Skybase, too.” She stopped, turning sparkling eyes to Lieutenant Green. “Captain Scarlet, for instance. Daddy says he’s a little too old for me, but I don’t think so. Older men have more experience. Sex is always more fun with a man who knows what he’s doing. Don’t you agree?”
Green managed to turn her choking splutter into a cough. “I’m afraid Captain Scarlet isn’t here,” she said, hastily. “He’s in Canada, spending Christmas with his family.” And probably will never know what a lucky escape he’s had.
Victoria’s pretty face clouded over.
“Oh, what a shame,” she murmured. She brightened almost immediately, however, as Green opened the door to the Observation Deck, revealing a noisy party, already in full swing. “Well, there must be lots of others. Him, for instance.” She inclined her head towards Captain Magenta, who was already giving her a smile that was a naked sexual invitation. “He’s delicious! Introduce me, please.”
“My pleasure,” Green replied demurely. “Victoria, meet Mario. Mario, this is Colonel White’s daughter. She and her mother are joining us for Christmas. Fix her up with a drink and some food, would you?”
“Delighted to meet you. I had no idea that the boss had such a beautiful daughter.” Magenta was at his sweet-talking best, as he bore Victoria away to the corner of the room that had been set up as a bar.
Green turned away, laughter bubbling up in her.
They deserve each other, she thought with wry amusement, wondering nonetheless, how long it would take her colleague to realise he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Blue came up behind her, a glass of Coca-Cola in each hand. “Not very exciting,” he said apologetically, “but the best I could manage seeing as we’re both on duty.”
He handed her the drink and glanced round the room, waving to the colonel’s daughter in recognition.
“Since Victoria’s here, I guess your plan worked, then.”
Green gave a smirk of satisfaction. “Spectacularly well, I’d say, although it took all my powers of persuasion. The Old Man was so pleased to see them, I’m hoping he won’t ask any awkward questions. I think he and Diana will work it out. As for little Vicky, something tells me she’s about to give Mario the best Christmas present he’s ever had.”
Blue looked over to where Magenta and Victoria were already deep in conversation, directly beneath a bunch of mistletoe. He was thunderstruck.
“Cripes, Serena, what are you playing at? Thrusting Victoria into the arms of Romeo over there, is not the smartest move to make! If the Colonel thinks his innocent little girl has been corrupted by our resident Lothario…..”
“The last time she was an innocent was probably when she was still in diapers,” Green said dryly. “Believe me, Adam, the only person being corrupted here will be Mario. I bet she has moves he’s never heard of. She’s a complete vamp. I suspect she hasn’t been ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ for a long time, and her father has no idea.”
Blue grinned. “Is that vamp, or tramp?”
Green made a face at him. “Whatever. I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but she probably doesn’t deserve it.”
She tucked her arm through his. “Let’s forget about everyone else tonight, and just enjoy the party. Lead me to the food. I’ve spent so much time trying to knock sense into folk, I haven’t had a bite to eat all day!”
“Can’t have that,” he replied gravely. “You need to keep your strength up for all the dancing I plan to do with you later!”
“Maybe it’s my toes I need to worry about then,” she replied laughing, allowing him to drag her in the direction of the buffet table. “And let’s hope that the Colonel and Diana don’t decide to check on their daughter’s whereabouts any time before breakfast!”
It was after midnight in the Starlight Restaurant and most diners had either gone to bed, or moved on to one of the parties that were still in full swing. Only Colonel White and his wife remained seated at a secluded table in a corner of the room.
The meal had been relaxed and good-humoured. Neither of them had touched upon the circumstances that had brought them to this, but now Diana sat, silently pensive, lost in thought.
“Penny for them?” her husband asked lightly, trying not to be concerned at the sudden shift in mood.
“Not worth a penny,” she smiled back at him. “I was just trying to remember how long it is since we’ve had a meal together. You know, something special like this. It must be years.”
The Colonel realised with surprise that it was a certainty, rather than a probability. “Maybe if we had done this more often, things would be different.” He cleared his throat. “I realise that I have neglected you for far too long. I didn’t know how unhappy you were. You should have told me, before it came to discussing divorce.”
“And if I had, would you have listened?” His wife raised her eyebrows at him. “Would you have done anything about it?” She looked exasperated. “Charles, I’ve been trying to talk to you for years, you just never heard me. This marriage has been a sham for a long time. We’re almost like strangers. The only thing we have in common is that we’re both Victoria’s parents.”
The Colonel was bewildered. How has it come to this? “I have always wanted to be married to you,” he said softly. “In all the time we’ve spent apart, I’ve never stopped loving you. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
She sighed. “I haven’t stopped loving you either. You’re still the most interesting, exciting man I know. But clearly, we can’t continue like this. I’m not prepared to linger on the back-burner of your life any longer, Charles.”
“Do you want me to retire? I know that was the plan when I joined Spectrum. I was just going to get the organisation up and running, maybe give it a year, then hand the reins to someone else. Someone younger, perhaps.” He gave her a rueful smile.
“And look what happened to that idea.” Her face twisted. “You’re more involved now than ever. You couldn’t walk away if you tried.”
He hesitated, trying to choose his words with care. “Diana, the world is facing problems that I couldn’t have dreamt of when we started Spectrum. I can’t abandon them. I’m sorry that I can’t tell you more about what we’re up against, but believe me, the stakes have never been higher. I wish you understood.”
“Oh, I do, believe me. For most of our marriage, you’ve put your work first, work that in the main, you couldn’t tell me about. I accepted it, because that commitment and integrity was what I loved in you. Your sense of honour and belief that nothing less than your best would do.” She laid her hand over his. “I know you have to carry on with this, whatever it is. You wouldn’t be the man I married if you didn’t.”
“So how do we turn this round? The relationship, I mean. I don’t intend to lose you, Diana.”
He was resolutely determined. Stubborn old fool, she thought. “Perhaps we could change our living arrangements,” she said with a smile. “This place isn’t so bad. There are married couples stationed here, aren’t there?”
He nodded. “A few, yes.”
“I assume then, that they have larger quarters. You could move into somewhere bigger and I could visit more regularly. Maybe weekends, or a few days here and there. And before you tell me that it’s against regulations, you might want to consider that rules are made to be broken. Your authority as commanding officer isn’t going to be compromised by having your wife to stay sometimes.”
“I suppose so.” He smiled back at her. “I’ll try to come home more often, too. That is, if you decide not to go to New York.”
“Oh, I think I just said that because I was so mad at you. I could never leave Greenslade Manor. It’s our home, after all. Besides, there is no better place to hold a party for our thirtieth wedding anniversary. And,” she tightened her fingers round his hand, “don’t dare tell me that you can’t be around for that, or it will be murder, rather than divorce!”
“You have my solemn word that I will be there.” He stood up, pulling her to her feet. “Nothing short of plague and pestilence will stop me.” Not the Mysterons, either.
Having his wife on board Skybase regularly would pose problems, he knew. If a situation occurred while she was there, it would be difficult to hide. He looked down at the woman who had been at the heart of everything he did for so long, and suddenly realised that maybe it wasn’t important. Their partnership was taking a new path and they would deal with whatever they encountered on route. New rules for a new situation.
“I thought,” he said tentatively, “ that we might take a walk before bed.”
“Great!” She made a face at him. “What are you going to show me? I’ve already been to Engineering. I suppose the kitchens could be worth a look.”
“Forget the kitchens. I thought we could look at the spare living quarters, see if there’s anything that takes your fancy.”
She reached up and kissed his cheek. “That’s almost the best idea you’ve had all night. Merry Christmas, darling. Let’s make sure we have lots more to celebrate.”
The idea for this came about after I watched “Heist” and wondered how Colonel White and his wife managed to stay happily married while living more or less permanently apart. The conclusion I came to was – they didn’t ! Hence this story. I sincerely hope they will have a happy ending, but perhaps only time and more adventures will tell!
Many thanks to Marion Woods for her usual speedy, efficient beta-reading. My complete inability to understand paragraphs, coupled with poor computer-literacy skills, must be enough to try the patience of a saint. May all the Beta Queens be awarded haloes!
Thanks also, to Colonel Chris for the work required to format and post the story, especially when she has her own busy schedule.
I’ve enjoyed all the stories posted so far in this year’s Christmas Challenge, and I consider myself fortunate to be in such illustrious company. Good luck to everyone else with projects still to come ! I look forward to reading all your work in the weeks ahead.
January 8th 2008