Sarah couldn’t remember when she first had the initial idea, only that she woke up one morning in early December with the plan fully-formed in her head. It was such a good plan that she was tempted to share it with everyone, but decided that until she was sure it was feasible, she’d keep it to herself.
Eventually, the others went about their daily business and she was alone. So, feeling like a conspirator, she shut herself away to use the videophone.
She smiled cheerfully at the familiar face on the screen, which smiled back with equal pleasure:
“Hello! What a surprise; I haven’t seen you for far too long.”
“Yes, it has been too long, Amanda, I’m sorry. I’m dreadful. I always mean to call, but you know how it is, I’m sure. There’s always something that gets in the way of the things we’d rather be doing. They say the road to Damnation is paved with good intentions and, if that’s so, most of them are probably mine. I should stick to my plans more often. How are you?”
“I’m well, thanks. I can see you’re looking well. Everyone in the family okay?”
“Sure, at least, as far as I know. There’s only one person worse than me for not calling up when he should and that’s my son: Adam, of course, not the other two; they’re on the phone or underfoot every other day at the moment. I know they’re busy in Spectrum: you see them on the news sometimes, and it scares me, every time, I don’t know about you. I know all the reasons why he hasn’t got the time to call home, I hear them often enough, but if ET could do it, surely it isn’t beyond the capability of an intelligent young man to make five minutes to reassure his anxious family that he wasn’t blown to bits or smashed to smithereens in the crash that’s been all over the news media?”
“Yes, it is a bit thoughtless of him-” Amanda started to reply, but Sarah carried on:
“I’m sure it must be just as bad for you with Karen. I know they’re all wonderful pilots and the planes are as safe as houses, but I can’t help thinking that when they fly that fast it wouldn’t take much to flip them off course or crash them into a mountain. And then, they’re stuck up on that floating base and what would happen if there was a hurricane or a tornado, I’d like to know? Lightning’s always dangerous, even at 40,000 feet – I’m sure of that. Adam says I worry too much, and I probably do, but it isn’t as if I do it on purpose. Men never understand, do they?”
She smiled brightly and Amanda Wainwright shook her head in agreement; as always the beginning of an encounter with Sarah Svenson had left her feeling slightly bewildered. She wondered if it was worth speaking now. It wasn’t. A mere moment later Sarah carried on:
“Amanda, I’m calling under false pretences – although it is always wonderful to speak to you, of course, and I really should do it more often – but I need a favour. I’ve had this wonderful idea – well, I think it is wonderful although I haven’t told anyone else yet and perhaps they won’t think it is such a good idea after all, but I like it. So, I thought, that is, I hoped, that if I ran my idea by you, you might consider helping me?”
“Well of course; if I can! You should know that, Sarah.” Amanda Wainwright smiled at her friend’s doubtful expression. “How can I help?”
“It’s complicated – well, I mean - it isn’t complicated if I can do it, because I will do it all, except the bits I can’t do; but before I can do anything I need to know if I can do it.”
“Uh-huh,” Amanda said reassuringly, and settled down for a long conversation.
Ever since she had first met Sarah Svenson she’d been aware that her friend’s mind was, as Adam had once described it: ‘a many-splendored thing’, in that it was always simultaneously pursuing multiple thoughts and schemes and her enthusiasm for expressing all of her thoughts at once meant that actually deciphering what the main thrust of the conversation was could take some time.
“I want to ask Mary’s advice too – you do know Mary, don’t you? She’s a wonderful woman; I met her some years ago when the boys started working together – I went over to their delightful house when Adam was ill and we ended up helping them sort out a difficult mission in Portsmouth.” Sarah grinned. “I got arrested! It was so exciting! John was outraged when I told him, although whether it was at the British Police for daring to arrest me, or at me for being arrested, I didn’t bother to enquire. I just let him fulminate for a while until he calmed down. I’ve never been so scared in my life and Mary was so brave. And then the boys came and rescued us, so it all worked out in the end. That’s when I first met Karen too. Ah, such happy days!”
Amanda nodded, delighted that she now had enough clues to make an educated guess as to which particular ‘Mary’ this was. “Yes, I’ve spoken to Mary Metcalfe, although we’ve never actually met properly.”
“That’s why I need your help, of course – and hers,” Sarah said, as if everything was perfectly obvious.
“To do what exactly?” Amanda asked.
“Didn’t I say? I could’ve sworn I’d explained it all to you! I’ll forget my own head next – it must be my age!”
Amanda said nothing. Sarah was only a couple of years older than she was, although, as Sarah’s son was almost seven years older than her daughter, Sarah liked to imply she was far older than her friend.
“I’m all ears,” Amanda prompted, as the silence lengthened.
“I need you to get me permission,” Sarah said. “I felt sure you’d be the very person to do it and until I have that, I don’t know if I can do it, or how to do it, if I’m honest.” She went on to explain in detail and as she listened, Amanda’s smile grew.
“It’s a great idea, Sarah! I’ll certainly do my best. Leave it to me.”
“I’ll have to, I wouldn’t dare ask…”
Charles Gray was enjoying some rare ‘down-time’. He had completed a rigorous work-out in the gym and pool before taking a relaxing sauna and felt he was justified in spending the rest of his off-duty spell in lounging in his quarters with a cup of Earl Grey, two digestive biscuits and his latest book. Of course, if anything happened he expected to be told immediately, but for the moment it was enough that the only noise was the recording of Elgar’s cello concerto playing in the background, just loud enough to cover the all-pervasive hum of the engines.
He looked up with a frown as the videophone ‘bleeped’. The frown disappeared as he realised it was not the official communications line, but the personal line and he put the book down and strode quickly to answer it before the voice message cut in. To his delight the caller was Amanda Wainwright and he settled down to enjoy her conversation.
“Hello, Charles; I’m glad I caught you. How are you?”
“All the better for seeing you, my dear. I had not anticipated that pleasure until the weekend.”
“It’s all right to call without an appointment, isn’t it?”
“Any time,” he assured her.
“Good; I don’t like to interrupt, but sometimes I miss not being able to call on the spur of the moment. Oh, I know you’re a busy man – I see you on the newscasts sometimes – but … well…”
“You can call whenever you like, as long as you’re prepared for my not being able to talk to you. Right now I am off-duty and all yours!”
She smiled at him and he smiled back with a tender expression on his face that would have surprised his officers.
“Was there something specific you wanted to talk about?” he asked.
“Actually, yes there is. Guess who called this morning.” He shook his head and shrugged. “Sarah Svenson.”
“Ah; before you say anything else, Amanda, I can’t make Captain Blue go home for Christmas if he doesn’t want to. So there is no point his mother asking you to tell me to order him to go to Boston. Heaven knows, I need more willing staff over the holiday season than I can usually get.”
She chuckled. “No, that’s not what I’m calling about. I guess Sarah has finally accepted that her adored boy would rather do anything else than spend Christmas with his father.”
Gray raised a thoughtful eyebrow and muttered, “Not just his father, I think.”
“Charles! Sarah is a lovely woman – you know that.”
“Certainly she is; she is, however, rather over-powering in anything except small doses. I quite understand why Adam doesn’t talk that much – he probably never got the chance.”
Amanda chuckled and said, reassuringly, “Well, she’s over-awed by you. She said she’d never dare ask you herself.”
“Ask me what?”
“Sarah has a wonderful new project for Christmas and she’s asked me to ask you for your help and your permission.”
“Why does she need my permission and what help?”
“Oh my! Sarah’s vagueness must be contagious. Sorry, Charles; let me explain.”
Grey listened to her, a frown appearing between his dark brows as she explained the scheme.
He sighed. “Lord protect me from mollycoddling mothers.”
“As long as you’re not including me in that number?” Amanda replied, pouting slightly.
“Of course not,” he replied, irritated that she’d heard him. “But I do think Mrs Svenson is perpetually unduly concerned about a grown man who is perfectly capable of looking after himself, that’s all.”
“Hmm. Well, you can always say no.”
“And do you think that would stop Sarah Svenson?”
Amanda grinned. “What’d’you think?”
“And so I said that he had a duty to consider the welfare of the officers under his command and the families of those officers. He’d already said he needed more staff than he could get with everyone asking to go home for Christmas, and agreed that those who stayed on duty ought to be given some consideration for sacrificing their personal lives to the needs of the organisation.”
“You’re quite right, Amanda,” Sarah replied. “So what did he say then?”
“He said, ‘Cloudbase was a fully operational military base, not a holiday resort’ – but he’s always saying things like that.”
“Oh well; I guess it’s not to be…”
“Oh it is! I wasn’t settling for a brush-off like that. He couldn’t even say he had to go to a meeting as I knew he was off-duty. I asked him to give me five good reasons why we couldn’t do what we want to and he couldn’t – so we can!”
“Marvellous! I knew you’d be the right person to get us the permission. Were you able to get the other information sorted out?”
“Yes, up to a point. Charles doesn’t know and so I had to make him promise to find out. He’s going to investigate and – always assuming they don’t have an emergency on at the time – he’ll ensure the base is over the mid-Atlantic.”
“I’ve spoken to Mary and she’s really keen to lend a hand. She’s told General Metcalfe what he has to do. It’s so exciting!”
“We won’t have long, Sarah; you do realise that?”
“Yes, but it’ll be wonderful, won’t it?”
“It certainly will!”
Captain Scarlet glanced at his companion and said thoughtfully, “What do you think the colonel’s up to?”
Captain Blue looked up from his magazine and stared blankly at his friend. “You think he’s up to something?”
“Of course he is; haven’t you noticed? He’s been hanging around the Officers’ Lounge for the last few days.”
Blue shook his head. “No more than usual.”
“Oh, come on! We usually see him in here about once a month and he’s been here every day this week.”
“There’s no restrictions on the number of his visits, Paul.” Blue shrugged and suggested, “Maybe he’s lonely?”
Scarlet laughed. “If he was he wouldn’t let us see it. No, he’s up to something. You watch him.”
“If you say so.” Blue returned to his reading and the silence lengthened. Scarlet, who was not good at inactivity, finally asked:
“What’s so fascinating about that magazine?”
Blue looked up again, successfully hiding his irritation. “It’s a review of the year’s best new non-fiction books. I was looking for something for my father’s Christmas present, if you want to know.”
“Oh. Does your father ever find time to read anything?”
“I don’t know,” Blue replied, closing the magazine as he realised his opportunity to finish it was over. “He likes to have a shelf of up-to-date new books in his office, though. The more erudite the better. I suspect it intimidates the general populace.”
Scarlet sighed theatrically. “I guess it is that time of year: second-guessing your family and friends and trying to find suitable gifts that won’t leave your credit card reeling.”
Blue smiled, there was little chance of his credit card ‘reeling’ from over-spending at Christmas, however generous he was in his shopping. “What do you want this year?” he asked.
“Oh – don’t worry about me. You don’t have to get me anything.”
“I know I don’t. I will, though, and if you don’t tell me what you’d like, you’ll have to take pot luck.”
“Your ‘pot-luck’ presents are usually more than acceptable.” Scarlet grinned.
“A bottle of Malt Whisky every year is a little repetitive, though.”
“And how many times have you heard me complain? No, the issue here is, what do you want, Blue-Boy, that I can afford, that is?”
“I don’t mind. Surprise me.”
“You always say that!”
“Must be true then.”
Scarlet glared at him and then asked, “What’re you getting Karen?”
“She’s provided me with a long shopping list. I shall ask my mom to do the honours.”
“Diane wants some perfume.”
“That’s easy enough.”
“Yes, but she hasn’t said which perfume and I don’t know what she likes.”
“I’ll ask Karen for you, if you want? She’ll know.”
“Please; I don’t want to get the wrong thing. I’m sure she’s mentioned what she uses but I can’t remember.”
Blue shook his head. “You see? That’s where I score in all those magazine quizzes they’re forever doing about ‘how romantic is your boyfriend’ and you don’t.” He grinned at Scarlet’s outraged expression.
“Huh – it’s not normal to remember everything!”
“No,” Blue agreed, “but it makes for an easier life at times.”
Scarlet sighed. “Let’s go to the gym. I’m bored.”
Blue got to his feet readily enough and followed his friend out of the lounge: his Christmas preparations would just have to wait.
As they left the lounge neither of them noticed the light on the communication console go out as the open channel was closed.
“…So, I was talking to Harmony about what she’d like and what she’s already bought before she went on duty and it occurred to me that we ought to try and co-ordinate things a bit,” Melody Angel confided to Rhapsody Angel. “You see, I’ve ordered some of those chocolates she likes for Destiny and I just hope no one else does the same or she won’t fit into the Angel Jet by the New Year.”
Rhapsody laughed. “I’ve bought her a Liberty silk scarf, so you’re okay, and Karen was ordering a video-disc of that film Juliette was raving over after her last visit home. The one with that sexy actor in?”
“Oh, yes; she was very enthusiastic about him, wasn’t she?”
“Well, he’s a tasty piece of eye-candy.”
“Just as long as we don’t have to watch it non-stop in the Amber Room,” Melody said, adding with a wry smile, “Unless it has sub-titles I won’t understand a thing.”
“I’m sure she’ll show restraint,” Rhapsody assured her, tactfully ignoring the fact that Melody had a gift for languages and was currently learning Japanese – for fun. “Have you decided what to get Karen?” she asked casually. The clash of their personalities meant that two American pilots were not always the best of friends, although on duty they were the ultimate professionals and trusted each other’s competence in any emergency.
Melody grimaced. “Not a clue. Have you got any ideas I could pilfer? I don’t want to appear… unfriendly.”
“Well, I’ll swap you a few of the items she’s written on her list for Adam if you give me some ideas for Harmony?” Melody nodded. “There were some things on Karen’s list I can’t see him buying for her – I mean, quite apart from the usual inanities like diamond tiaras and block-long limousines.”
Grinning, Melody said, “How that man puts up with her demands I don’t know. He deserves to be canonised.”
“She’s not that bad, Nolie! Anyway, he ignores most of them, as she expects him too – that’s why she throws in the really extravagant ones. Besides, we all know love is blind, don’t we?”
“Then he definitely needs glasses…”
Chuckling, Rhapsody began to tell her friend some of the items on Symphony’s present list that were unlikely to be bought by her devoted admirer.
Neither woman noticed the Comms link to the Control Room was open.
“It’s a waste of money buying all these Christmas gifts,” Captain Ochre stated, somewhat belligerently. “I never know what to buy and, anyway, Blue has everything a human being could ever wish for.”
Captain Magenta gave him a perceptive glance. “Just because he bought you that designer model kit last year, you don’t have to return the favour by splashing out on something for him. He’d probably be offended if you did.”
“It was nice of him,” Ochre admitted. “Even if I’d been able to justify the cost of one of the limited edition kits, they’d sold out even before they went on sale. He must’ve pre-ordered it.”
“He’s a very organised kinda guy,” Magenta said. He wasn’t going to admit that it was him who’d drawn Blue’s attention to the expensive kit Ochre’d been sighing over in one of his model-maker magazines.
“Sure, Captain Perfect…” Ochre muttered, although for once there was no irony in his voice. “Look, Pat, I’m not proposing to spend millions, but I’d like to show him that I can give the matter some thought too. What I want is a run-of-the-mill thing that won’t stick out like a sore thumb compared to the stuff I’m getting for everyone else. You must have some ideas – Symphony talks of nothing else but what Adam wants these days.”
“Even Karen has enough tact not to talk about that to me,” Magenta snapped. He was touchy about his unrequited affection for the young Angel pilot. Ochre looked suitably chastened and his friend soon relented enough to pass on an idea that had just come to him. “You remember when we first met Blue, he was driving that classic Ferrari?”
“Sure, he nearly got me killed trying to race him along the rural back roads.”
“Well, I know he’s very proud of that car, so why don’t you construct a model classic Ferrari, put it on a mount and give him that? It won’t cost you a fortune, but it’d show you’d thought about it. I’m sure it wouldn’t be beyond you to put the self-same number-plate on it either. Just an idea, of course.”
Ochre’s face broke into a grin. “Pat, you’re a genius! I’ll do it – I’ve got time if I order a kit today. Can you ask Symph what Blue-Boy’s registration number is?”
Magenta sighed. “Sure, I mean it’s not like she’d tell you if you asked her yourself, is it?”
But his friend wasn’t listening, he was already firing up a computer ready to order the kit. Magenta sighed and turned to pick up the tele-screen remote from the table beside his seat; there was supposed to be a game on soon. He noticed that the Comms link was open and idly wondered why.
“Well, he’s certainly provided a lot of information about what not to buy because someone else is already buying it,” Mary Metcalfe remarked. She was sitting in her husband’s study at their home in Winchester, on a conference call with Sarah Svenson and Amanda Wainwright.
“There’s some information about what people want, though,” Amanda remarked, defending the details Charles had sent from Cloudbase.
“Yes, but usually it’s the people we know well enough already,” Mary remarked.
“We could just divide up the names and just go and buy something that we think they might like,” Sarah suggested. “I mean, I can do Adam, of course, but should I? It might be a better surprise if someone else did our children, so that they get something they might not have thought they’d get if we’d bought it for them.”
“Well, I’ve got something for Paul already, as a family present,” Mary said uncertainly into the somewhat bemused silence.
“Yes, but if I bought him a present without you telling me what he likes, that would be a surprise to him, wouldn’t it?” Amanda replied. “Then you bought something for Karen… Only that’d leave Sarah with Adam, of course, so that won’t do.”
“But we all know Adam, don’t we?” Mary said, “He’s the connection between the others in a way. I bought him a nice leather wallet last year, because Paul mentioned his old one was falling apart. He seemed very touched by it. He is such a dear boy, Sarah.”
“Yes, I have done a good job with him, if I say so myself – he has excellent manners. I don’t know where I went wrong with the others…”
“But we can’t buy him a new wallet every year,” Amanda complained.
“That old wallet was the one his grandfather gave him,” Sarah explained. “He always said he didn’t want a new one, but when you gave one to him, Mary, he must’ve decided it was time for a change. It’s in the safe in his bedroom now. I gave him a dress watch last year but I doubt he gets to wear it much.”
“He was wearing a splendid watch when he took us to dinner in Paris on Karen’s birthday,” Amanda remarked.
Mary rolled her eyes. “He took you from Iowa to Paris for dinner?”
“I was in London over the New Year, so it wasn’t so radical,” Amanda admitted coyly.
“I wish I’d known, we could’ve got together,” Mary cried.
“I was… with a friend…Maybe next time?”
“Oh, yes, do let me know when you’re over here. I enjoy seeing you both.”
Sarah had been surprisingly quiet during this exchange and she suddenly exclaimed: “I’ve had an idea! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It was the meal in Paris that reminded me. John was given one last year by a grateful client and I think we could give them all one. I’m sure everyone would appreciate it and have a good time.”
“One of what, Sarah?” Mary asked, smiling to herself.
“They were quite new last year and John thought they were a good idea. We’ve used his in a couple of places – it guarantees good service and the best of everything.”
“What does?” Amanda prompted.
“It’s called a Gourmet Passport and it’s like a gift voucher. It means that you have so much ‘credit’ you can use in a number of the best restaurants around the world. There are about 50 restaurants in the scheme; if you want you can use it in the same one or go travelling about. I mean they all go everywhere and it’d be nice if they had the option, when they had the chance, to live a little luxuriously. What do you think? Will it do?”
“That sounds a little expensive for thirteen people,” Amanda remarked.
“No, no; it isn’t! I mean, I’ll organise it all as it was my idea and there are quite a lot of them to buy for,” said Sarah.
“It might mean Paul would eat a decent meal every so often; I’m sure he doesn’t eat properly on Cloudbase,” Mary remarked.
“It’s a very nice idea,” Amanda agreed. “Let’s Mary and me get some small presents to add to it, so they have a parcel to open and not just an envelope.”
“Good idea,” Mary said. “Perfume for the girls and… chocolates for the boys?”
“Chocolates for the girls,” Amanda said firmly. “Perfume is a minefield.”
“Key fobs,” said Sarah. “Leather ones, in their uniform colours.”
“Where are we going to get pink and orange leather key fobs from?” asked Mary doubtfully.
“Leave that to me,” Sarah replied.
“Then what can I do?” Mary asked.
“You can wrap them up and write the tags,” Amanda said. “Don’t forget one in white, will you, Sarah?”
“Of course not, Amanda; Charles is the man who made all this possible!”
The Christmas Eve party in the Amber Room was going well and it was about to move up a gear. Once her duty stint in Angel One had finished, Symphony changed into her latest party outfit: an iridescent, metallic mini-dress that clung to her curves and left little to the imagination, and hit the dance floor with a rather preoccupied Captain Magenta.
Destiny Angel, elegant in a midnight-blue, halter-necked cocktail-dress, her blonde hair swept up in a gravity-defying arrangement, raised her thin eyebrows in alarm at her friend’s behaviour, but beside her Rhapsody, still in uniform as Angel Three, was giggling as she watched the effect Symphony was having on even the most staid of the officers as she wriggled enthusiastically to the classic pop refrain: ‘if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it!’.
“Mon Dieu, this will be to the dismay of Captain Blue,” Destiny murmured.
“Don’t worry, Jules,” Captain Scarlet said. Unnoticed, he had come to watch the performance, and was standing behind them with his arms around Rhapsody’s waist. “Adam attended a private dress rehearsal last night and, if I’m any judge, there’ll be a private encore tonight…”
Rhapsody shrieked with laughter. “Paul, you are awful.”
“Come on, Angel, let’s show these Yanks how to cut a rug with style…” He swept her out into the small open space.
Destiny sighed and delicately sipped her non-alcoholic punch. She was beginning to feel decidedly overdressed and feared that she would be a wallflower all evening. Her mood lightened as Captain Grey approached and, somewhat diffidently, offered his hand to her. With a charming smile, she accepted and soon her inhibitions were as much a thing of the past as Symphony’s.
Colonel White glanced at the clock and prepared to go off duty. Lieutenant Claret had already relieved Lieutenant Green and Lieutenant Purple was due to relieve him. It was unusual for the base to be commanded by two lieutenants but the colonel had every confidence in his junior officers and, after all, he wouldn’t be far away.
He formally handed over command to the younger man and then hurried down to his quarters. He had considered staying in uniform, but under the circumstances, he preferred to wear something less official. He went down to the Amber Room and was welcomed by all of the party-goers with a flattering display of pleasure.
Symphony skipped over. “Hello, sir; it’s good to see you at the party. We plan to distribute the presents from under the tree at midnight, so you haven’t missed anything much.”
He took in her outfit with one glance and the flushed expression on her face and thought that it was probably a good thing he had missed some things.
Captain Scarlet joined them. “Merry Christmas, sir.”
“Merry Christmas, Captain.”
“You’ll have to dance with the Angels, sir. It’s compulsory this year. Look, there’s Rhapsody and Magenta and Ochre and Harmony.”
“Where’s Captain Blue?”
Symphony giggled. “We sent him to fetch Doctor Fawn. He promised to come and he hasn’t put in an appearance yet. Blue won’t take no for an answer.”
The colonel nodded and glanced at the clock. “Let’s hope they are both here by midnight.”
“Come and dance with me, sir?” Symphony asked, as the raucous dance music softened into a more romantic mode.
“My pleasure, Symphony,” he replied, thinking that the sooner he got this over, the better. But he need not have worried, Karen Wainwright was a skilled dancer and despite her outrageous costume, she behaved herself and moved demurely in his arms.
The dance was concluding just as Blue and Fawn arrived and the colonel handed his partner over to the tall American with barely concealed relief.
“There was a plane coming in to land as we walked over,” said Fawn, as he joined him at the buffet. “A WAAF one – except that the nose cone was painted red.”
“I suppose even the WAAF is entitled to a dash of Christmas cheer,” White replied.
“Hmm. What’s going on?”
“How should I know?”
Fawn’s expression was one of patient explanation. “Because if you didn’t you’d be contacting the Control Room and the WAAF to find out by now.”
“Bear with me, Doctor,” the colonel said, with just the slightest of smiles.
As if it had been arranged with the DJ by some designing romantic, Captain Blue’s arrival resulted in a medley of slow dance tunes, and the colonel was amused to see all the four Angel pilots in the arms of elite captains: Symphony and Blue – of course; Scarlet and Rhapsody, Grey and Destiny and the newly-relieved Melody with Captain Ochre. Harmony Angel always volunteered to take the midnight Angel One shift on Christmas Eve, allowing her Western colleagues to celebrate the festival in their own way, and she had slipped away at the same time Blue and Fawn arrived.
As the sultry love song faded away leaving the dancers motionless and still entwined on the crowded dance floor, the sound of marching feet became audible in the corridor. Colonel White stepped aside as the Amber Room door snapped open and a unit of security officers strode in.
“What’s going on?” Captain Scarlet demanded, moving in front of Rhapsody and the others, to provide them with some cover.
“Colonel White, sir,” Sergeant Delaney said, managing to keep a straight face. “We have intruders on Cloudbase.”
“Intruders?” Every elite captain moved to join Captain Scarlet, those in uniform resting their hands on their service revolvers.
Then Sergeant Delaney moved aside to reveal the intruders:
Sarah Svenson was fighting an urge to giggle at the sight of so many astonished expressions; Mary Metcalfe had eyes for nobody but her son and she smiled to see Dianne peering round him at the new arrivals, while Amanda Wainwright winked at the colonel before grinning at her astonished daughter.
“Merry Christmas!” Sarah cried, and rushed forward, her arms outstretched to enfold her son in a bear hug.
“Mom? What’re you doing here?” Blue gasped, as he disengaged himself from her embrace.
“It’s Christmas,” Sarah explained. “We’ve come bearing gifts.”
“Three Wise Women, instead of Wise Men!” Karen cried, “Oh, that’s brilliant!” She hugged Sarah and then rushed to her mother’s side. As she hugged Amanda, she glanced up at the colonel. “You knew all about this, didn’t you, sir?”
“Well, let’s just say, I was kept informed,” White replied.
There was a smattering of laughter as everyone relaxed and relished the unexpected surprise.
“How did you get here?” Scarlet asked his mother, his arm around her shoulders.
“Oh, that was easy; I told your father I wanted the use of a WAAF jet.”
“And he agreed?”
“I think he said something about the need for an emergency delivery of essential spare parts; but I wasn’t really listening,” Mary explained playfully.
Scarlet laughed. “Mum, you’re amazing – you all are, the three of you!” He dropped his voice to a whisper and added, “And I bet I can guess which one of you sweet-talked the colonel into agreeing to this little adventure… “
“If you can, I wouldn’t mention it, if I were you,” she replied.
“I wonder what he was promised as a sweetener.”
“Paul! That is none of your business… I’m just grateful we got permission.”
“So am I.” He hugged his mother. “Merry Christmas, darling.”
Over the tannoy came the midnight chimes of Big Ben relayed from London. There was much hugging, followed by indiscriminate kissing under the strategically placed bunches of mistletoe. Captain Scarlet made sure he found Rhapsody alone, but his romantic purposes were spoilt as he struggled to contain his laughter when they clearly heard Amanda Wainwright’s asking her daughter in a disapproving whisper: “And just what do you think you’re wearing, Karen Wainwright?”
The colonel had bent the rules as far as he could, but that did not include a long stay on Cloudbase, so as the sky began to brighten the visitors were getting ready to leave. They had handed out their gifts to every one of the elite officers along with the colonel, Doctor Fawn and Lieutenant Green. Amanda was delighted to see that the key fobs were a close approximation of the elite colour officers’ uniforms and everyone had been most appreciative of the very generous restaurant vouchers.
Sarah had also brought several large hampers of Christmas food to be shared amongst the crew and small gifts for every member of the staff who was having to work over Christmas, so that no one was left out.
Scarlet, Blue and Symphony accompanied their visitors back to the Hangar Deck where the WAAF plane was almost ready to depart. Colonel White had already said goodbye and was watching over the CCTV from the Control Room.
“I shall expect to be taken to a nice restaurant with you both,” Sarah said, as she held Karen and Adam’s hands, “as soon as you get a chance.”
“Promise, Mom; although we might need to do some research before so that you really do get the very best of the best,” Adam said, smiling. “And we’ll drop by and collect Amanda too, so it’s a real family affair.”
Amanda reached up and kissed his cheek. “I shall look forward to it. Take of yourselves until then.” She kissed Scarlet and waved farewell as she went into the plane.
“I’ll expect you home soon, Paul. You must have enough leave saved up by now. Your father wants to see you; it’s a shame he couldn’t come with us.”
“Three wise women,” Karen reminded her, “It doesn’t say ‘three wise women and a significant other’.” She smiled. “I hope I see you again soon, Mrs Metcalfe.” She kissed both women and left them alone with their sons.
“I wish we didn’t have to go,” Sarah said, clinging on to Blue’s hand. “But it has been fun; I’m glad we came.”
“So am I – so is everyone,” Blue replied. “I’ll call you when you’re back home – just to make sure you get back to Boston okay.”
“Oh, it’ll be fine. I have a Svencorp jet waiting to take Amanda and me back from Winchester. She’s going to stay with us until the New Year; I’m getting tickets for the ballet. I don’t expect your father will even have noticed I’ve been away. I’ll give him your… regards, shall I?”
“Yeah, wish the old curmudgeon ‘merry Christmas’ from Number One Son.” He hugged her. “Take care of yourself, Mom. Love to the others. I’ll come and see you all soon – circumstances permitting.”
“Be sure you do!”
He watched her climb the stairs to the plane and then wandered away, to where she was watching for him from the window.
Mary watched him for a moment and then turned to her son. “They’re nice people, Paul; I like them both.”
“And they like you – but what’s not to like? You’re the best there is, Mum. Take care and give dad my… Oh, give him my love.”
“I will. Come home soon, Paul. And be careful.”
“Oh you know me, Mum; more lives than a cat. Happy New Year when it comes.”
“Bring Dianne with you next time. I like her too.”
Scarlet chuckled. “S.I.G., Mrs Metcalfe…”
Many people are familiar with the perennial difficulty of ‘where do we go for Christmas’, with families and in-laws both expecting a visit. Spectrum officers presumably have a get-out clause: ‘I’m on duty’, but I imagine some parents would find that wore a bit thin after a few years. From this grew the idea for this short, and rather frivolous, story.
My thanks, as ever, to my Beta-Reader (par excellence) Hazel Köhler. Any mistakes in the text or inanities in the narrative are my fault and remain in despite of her best efforts. Thanks also to the Magnificent Chris Bishop for her website, her tireless enthusiasm and – well – just everything really!
I hope you enjoyed reading the story and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
01 December 2014