A Spectrum short story for Christmas
By Marion Woods
(The events in this story take place shortly after the conclusion to my story, ‘Silent Majority’.)
Symphony Angel frowned slightly as she became aware of the way the conversation ceased when the occupants of the post room realised who had arrived. She gave the staff member a sardonic glance as she handed the small pile of letters to the desk clerk for the next mailbag to Futura, where they’d be franked with the local postmark so that none of the mail from Cloudbase showed any indication of where it originated.
She noticed that all of the four women working in the office were refusing to meet her eye and she wondered why. It was true that, over Christmas, there had been a little ‘awkwardness’ between the support staff and the senior officers, when the Mysterons had found a way to infiltrate a chemically engineered shower-gel onto Cloudbase. The gel, with its beguiling scent, had been widely used by the support staff and, once it got into the bloodstream, it had ‘brainwashed’ the users into staging a mutiny – at least, most had been involved in the attempted coup, led by Captain Black, but, in a significant minority the effect had been to heighten senses and emotions, and there were several instances of passionate encounters between colleagues. Captain Scarlet had organised the unaffected staff into a strike force and led the recapture of the base, which Doctor Fawn had produced an antidote. The base was only just getting back to normal. But she had been the only member of the senior crew who hadn’t been directly involved and this unjustifiable cold-shouldering was starting to annoy her. She decided to investigate just what was making everyone so cagey around her.
One of the department’s administrative staff, Janet Kimber, was a close acquaintance; coming, as she did from Des Moines, a city that Symphony – a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa - knew well. The two women had quite a lot in common and spent the occasional lunch hour discussing local gossip and the fortunes of their favourite sports teams.
Symphony walked over to where Kimber was sitting at her desk, apparently engrossed in a pile of paperwork.
“Hi Jan,” she said friendly enough. “When’s your coffee break? I’m off duty for a while and I thought we might catch up on the gossip.”
Officer Kimber looked up and coloured. “Oh, hi Symphony. I’m not due to go for ages yet – although that’d be nice. Some other time, maybe…”
The Angel pilot turned with a bright smile to the departmental supervisor. “I’m sure Sergeant Hall won’t mind if you skip off early – will you, Sergeant?”
The woman gave a non-committal shrug; Symphony’s tone of voice was more an order than a request. “You go if you like, Jan,” she said, abdicating all responsibility.
With a barely concealed show of reluctance Officer Kimber tidied her desk and reached for her cap. Symphony ushered her from the office, holding the door open for Kimber to go first.
They walked side by side towards the canteen. Symphony said nothing and Kimber’s agitation increased accordingly. Finally, her nerves at breaking point, she drew a deep breath and asked:
“What’s wrong, Symphony?”
“Why should there be something wrong?”
Kimber stopped and sighed. “I know you better than that, Karen. You’re angry about something, aren’t you?”
The sudden, snappy reply made Kimber jump. “Yes, I am! How observant of you to notice, Janet. If you must know, that was the third time I’ve walked into an office and the conversations have immediately dried up. It doesn’t take a budding Einstein to figure out I’m the topic of conversation. What’s going on, Jan?”
“Nothing - that I know of.” Kimber’s assertion failed to convince Symphony.
“Janet… if someone doesn’t tell me what’s going on, I am going to get very angry indeed – and that’s not something anyone wants to see, believe me.”
Kimber exhaled and shrugged – she could see no way of avoiding an interrogation by the volatile pilot and no way of distracting Symphony from her pursuit of an explanation. “It’s just that –” her voice trailed away as Captains Scarlet and Blue wandered around the other end of the corridor, deep in conversation and obviously heading the for the canteen too.
Captain Scarlet saw the women first. “Hi Symphony,” he called, nudging Blue’s arm and nodding towards the others. Captain Blue said nothing, but his handsome face became wreathed in a brilliant smile when he saw his fiancée.
“Hiya,” Symphony called back, adding sotto voce to Kimber, “You haven’t got out of telling me what I want to know, Janet; this is just an unexpected reprieve.” She led the way to join the waiting men. “Do you know Officer Janet Kimber, from the post room, Captains? She’s from Des Moines – virtually my next-door neighbour. We were going to have coffee…”
“I don’t know that we’ve ever been formally introduced, but won’t you both join us?” Scarlet said with a friendly smile at the dumbstruck Kimber. “I wasn’t looking forward to having to spend my break listening to Blue explain the latest thinking on the plausibility of travelling at warp speeds in space. I’d much rather look at two pretty faces and chat about something inconsequential, like – oh, I don’t know – the latest fashions…”
“That’s the mistake all men make – well all straight men, anyway – there’s nothing trivial about fashion, Captain,” Symphony reproached him teasingly. “I was at school with this gay guy who was an absolute guru when it came to fashion… He went into the business – and now he’s working for Andre Verdain. I got a letter from him with his Christmas card, just packed with hints about what’s going to be the hottest look next season…” She linked her arm through Scarlet’s as they walked to the canteen door and continued, “I could ask him to give you some advice, Captain Scarlet – your entire civilian wardrobe is so… last year!”
Scarlet’s eyebrows rose in mocking alarm. “I can’t afford to change my entire wardrobe – you’d be better off talking to Blue.”
“He manages okay on his own.” Symphony glanced back at her boyfriend as he escorted Janet Kimber through the canteen door, adding playfully, “Probably because his mother buys him a complete refit every season…”
Captain Scarlet’s hearty laugh echoed around the canteen.
By the time the two captains left, Officer Kimber had relaxed enough to join in the friendly banter and had surprised herself by discovering that the redoubtable Captain Scarlet and his partner, the staid Captain Blue, were actually witty, engaging young men, with a wicked sense of humour.
Her relaxed mood came to an abrupt end however, when Symphony put down her latte and said, “Now Jan, you were just about to enlighten me as to what’s going on, before we were interrupted…”
With the air of someone about to face a firing squad Kimber replied, “Well, Karen, you see: it’s like this…”
Captain Blue stormed out of his bathroom shouting angrily at the unknown individual on the other side of the door to his quarters to leave off pressing the frigging doorbell.
He thumped the door lock and as the door slid open, he was almost bowled over by the entrance of a white and gold-clad tornado with strawberry-blond hair and flashing hazel-green eyes.
Symphony Angel spun round as the door slid closed and not even the sight of her fiancée wearing nothing but a towel around his hips, shaving lather and a surprised expression on his face, was enough to assuage her fury.
She launched straight into a tirade. “Do you know what they’re saying? Do you?” She advanced towards him. “Do you have the faintest idea? I’m so mad I could scream! What are you going to do about it - that’s what I want to know?” She prodded him the chest, so that he backed away. “It’s so unfair, it’s … it’s –”
Blue grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. “Calm down,” he ordered. “What the hell is wrong? Who’s saying what, for heaven’s sake?”
She shrugged off his hands and threw herself into his armchair, a hand pressed against her forehead as she struggled to regain her temper and swallow the angry tears that threatened to blur her vision.
Seeing her slightly calmer, Blue went into his bathroom and wiped the lather off his face, reaching for his bathrobe before he went back out. He filled a glass with water and handed it to her, then sat on the end of his bed, waiting. After a long, tense silence, he asked:
“Älskling, whatever is the matter?”
Symphony sipped the water and turned her rage-filled eyes on him. “They’re calling me all sorts of awful names – saying all sorts of terrible things – and I… I don’t know what to do! None of it is true…” Angry tears tipped down her cheeks and she brushed them away with a rough gesture.
“Okay. First question: who is saying these things and calling you names?”
“Everyone on Cloudbase!” she exclaimed dramatically.
“Everyone, eh? The colonel? Paul? Dianne?”
“No, of course not – as far as I know anyway - although, for all I know, even they might think it of me!”
“Second question: what are ‘they’ saying about you?”
“Oh come off it Adam, you must know!”
“I don’t have a clue,” Blue assured her, although a nagging doubt was forming in his mind even as he said it.
The presence of her imperturbable fiancé always had a calming effect on Symphony, but still her bottom lip trembled and she took a while to dredge up the self-control to tell him what the problem was.
“They are saying that I’m … that you – that we’re…” She took a deep breath and tried again. “Somehow they’ve all heard about the car you bought me and my mom, and, although they’ve got the details wrong, they’re saying that you’re my…that I’m –” She floundered to a halt.
“- Only in it for the money?” Blue suggested, the colour draining from his face as his worst fears were confirmed.
Symphony’s face blazed with embarrassment. She nodded and avoided meeting his eye. “It isn’t true,” she vowed. “I wouldn’t care if you didn’t have a dime – you know that, don’t you, Adam? You know I love you.” She raised fearful eyes to his face.
“Yes, Karen, I know that.” He gave her a reassuring smile and then sighed guiltily. “Älskling, this is all my fault; I should’ve guessed something like this would happen before I went and bought the car. The colonel even warned me it might. Still, I hoped I’d got away with it.”
“The colonel warned you? Great, so even he knew you were going to buy the car?”
“No, he only found out afterwards, in a roundabout way. Don’t worry, I straightened it out with him – and well – he gave me what Paul so descriptively calls ‘a right bollicking’. But if anyone’s in his bad books, it’s me, so you don’t need to worry about it. But still, it really has nothing to do with anyone else on the base, and if they do have something to say, they should say it to me – not you.”
“They aren’t saying it to me – they’re saying it about me – and behind my back what’s more.” Her anger was firing up again.
“Gossip and tittle-tattle – ignore it, Karen. I do.”
“It isn’t you they’re calling a whore,” she said heatedly.
Blue’s expression hardened. “If anyone says that in my hearing I’ll dismember them - very slowly, joint by joint – whoever they are,” he vowed.
“A fat lot of good that’ll do,” Symphony wailed. She shook her head and sighed. “Oh, dammit, you’ll have to know the worst, I suppose. It isn’t just rumours about the car. I’m afraid that stupid video-disc I made for you has – somehow- got into the public domain, so to speak. Janet Kimber was telling me that she, and the other post room girls on her shift, saw it in one of the support staff lounges last night, where it was causing a great deal of comment. The women thought it was awful and the men thought it was great – or so Janet said. But what is far worse is that people thought it was for real! That I really was importuning you for a load of expensive gifts…”
Captain Blue’s eyebrows rose. “But that was a joke – it was so obvious. How could anyone not see that?”
Symphony shrugged. “I knew it was a joke – and I knew that you’d recognise it as a joke – no one else was ever supposed to see it. I guess there are people on Cloudbase who don’t know the senior officers as well as we all know each other. Did anyone else see it when you played the disc, Sky?”
Blue squirmed slightly, recalling the scene in the Officers’ Lounge when he’d opened the slim, home-recorded video-disc Karen had given him as part of her Christmas gifts.
“Well, I didn’t play it straight away…” he havered, “but Paul was still there, but he thought it was a hoot. Grey and Ochre were still there, I think, but Magenta had gone on duty by then and I don’t think Green had arrived. Oh, Doc Fawn was there – but he wouldn’t spread it around.”
She stared at him with angry exasperation. “You opened it in the Officers’ Lounge? You might as well have broadcast it base-wide! I did mark it ‘for your eyes only’, Adam.”
“Yeah, I know, but I didn’t see that until later,” he apologised. “Nevertheless, none of the guys would tell anyone about it – you know that Karen.”
“Someone did,” she growled. “If it was Rick – I’ll kill him with my bare-hands!”
Blue shook his head. “Rick wouldn’t do that – he’s very fond of you, really and besides, he thought it was funny – everyone did. No one took it seriously, Karen.”
“I wish I’d never done it! It was just that Dianne played me the song when we were on standby one evening and I thought it would be a neat idea to sing it for you…”
“It was a neat idea; I shall treasure it forever,” he reassured her. She blushed at the affection in his eyes as he smiled at her. Blue cleared his throat. “Okay; let’s do this systematically. Where did you record it, for a start?”
“Dianne and I went down to the theatre and used some of the props there to create the set. We’d lifted the soundtrack from the original recording and so we had a backing track to use. Dianne arranged the lighting and worked the recorder. We did a couple of takes, to get it right – I fluffed the lines the first time. Then we edited it in the reconnaissance evaluation suite.”
“The chances are that someone got hold of a copy in one those venues.”
“I’m damn sure we completely destroyed the master tapes, for that very reason, Adam. We only made three copies – Yours, mine and Dianne’s.”
“And have your discs been kept safe? Someone could have used either of them to burn extra copies.”
“Or they might have used your disc to copy.”
“It’s still on my shelf; I can’t see Philly helping herself to it, can you? Can you say as much of your ‘batwomen’?”
Symphony pulled a face; Captain Blue’s young, female orderly was infatuated with her boss, but – she had to agree – she couldn’t see the ingenuous youngster spreading the contents of the tape around Cloudbase. On the other hand the other three female orderlies, who worked for the five Angel pilots, were far less devoted to their employers and were inveterate gossips. Symphony had a shrewd idea one of them had spread the news of Blue’s extravagant gift around the base in the first place.
“Did you lend your disc to anyone?” Symphony asked, rather than discuss the Squadron’s personal staff. She was well aware than none of the colour captains on the base had a decent word to say about the three orderlies – known collectively as ‘the batwomen’.
“No… I brought it straight back here. Only time it was out of my possession was when we all went to get some lunch.” Blue’s face fell. “I left it in the player…” he confessed, slapping his palm against his forehead in abject remorse at his own stupidity.
“There you are then – that was a perfect opportunity for someone to copy it! There were probably a couple of orderlies in and out of the place whilst you were in the canteen.”
“Yes, the shifts change while we’re at lunch,” Blue confirmed. “That gives us two more suspects. But why would anyone copy something that was a personal joke between friends?” he asked, but he knew the answer before he finished the question.
The disc contained an outrageous performance by Symphony using the backdrop of the old ‘comic’ song that Rhapsody had introduced her American friend to. The recording Rhapsody owned of ‘Santa Baby’ had originally been recorded over a hundred years ago by a sultry cabaret singer called Eartha Kitt. The song was ostensibly the preposterous Christmas list of some one who could only be described as a very ‘material’ girl.
In a very sultry routine, Symphony had performed an extremely provocative strip-tease, removing elbow-length gloves and a figure-hugging evening dress to reveal a be-ribboned basque and black-lacy stockings, while she purred:
Blue was not familiar with the song and he profoundly wished that he had watched the disc alone. Karen’s performance had been unsettling, and he couldn’t fail to notice the effect it had had on his companions, as much as himself. The other guys present had laughed it off – unwilling to offend or embarrass either of their friends and well aware of Karen’s sometimes unwise, but genuine feelings for him - but it wasn’t hard to see why people who didn’t know the truth about the relationship between the two Americans might assume Symphony had been serious in her demands – especially when the news of the car he’d given her and her mother, to replace the old, decrepit truck they were using on their ranch, had leaked out at the same time as the disc had surfaced.
“What are we going to do about it?” Symphony interrupted his reflection by shifting in the chair to look directly at him. “And don’t say ‘ignore it’. You and your family might be able to afford to turn your noses up disdainfully at the tabloid gossip and the paparazzi, Sky; but my good name is all I have.”
Blue ran a hand through his still damp hair, causing it to stick up in peaks. She gave a silent snort of laughter at a sight both rare and comical and then forced herself to be serious.
“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “something similar happened to my mother when she and dad got married – especially as I wasn’t that long in arriving on the scene afterwards. I can remember my grandparents talking about it one year – the relationship between the Ellises and the Svensons had a lot in common with that between the Montagues and the Capulets, at the time. I don’t think they can have realised I was there because they were extraordinarily frank on the topic. I didn’t understand much of it at the time, of course, but it seems the gossipy Boston busy-bodies said Mom had trapped dad into marriage for his money…” He met her appalled stare with a wry smile. “Of course, to an outsider, that was a far more plausible explanation of why anyone would marry a killjoy like my father, rather than the fact that a sensible woman might actually be in love him, which is what the truth was – however unlikely it seems. Now, I may have my downsides, but I’m positive they pale into insignificance beside my father’s worst traits.”
He paused, seeing Symphony’s look. “Okay, reasonably positive,” he amended and continued, “so I fail to see why anyone should attempt to rationalise your feelings for me, by speculating that you love the money they imagine I have, more than you covet my lissom, athletic body…” He glanced obliquely at her, his eyebrows raised in hopeful expectation of a heartening response.
She decided to pander to his ego – for once – after all, it wasn’t often he went fishing for compliments. “You are an absolute sweetie,” she reassured him, responding to his amused grin with a smile of her own, “and that body is reason enough for any woman to cast caution to the wind.” She laughed at his exaggerated expression of smug vanity. “So, what did your mom do about it? I can’t see her taking that sort of calumny lying down.”
Blue scratched his half-shaven jaw thoughtfully and said, “She treated it as a huge joke and played along until everyone was so embarrassed that they’d ever thought it possible, that they dropped it.”
“You mean I should actually make out like I am only involved with you for the money?” Symphony was aghast at the suggestion.
“No – but treat the suggestion as too ridiculous for words – it’s hard for prejudice to survive ridicule.”
“And do you really think I can do that, without losing my temper with people? I tend to get so riled up, as you know.”
“You’re also one of the most capable woman I know, Karen – just apply that sharp intellect and your own good sense to the problem, and you’ll see that it’ll fade away to nothing. They’ll all find something else to gossip about quickly enough; if you don’t let them see you’re bothered by it.”
“You’re right, of course. I will try not to get upset by it, Adam. But I hate to think of anyone but you having a copy of that disc…”
“Oh, I think we can find a way to trace those bootleg copies and destroy them. I’m sure Paul and Seymour would love a New Year challenge of a treasure hunt…and Pat and Rick would be only too happy to lend a hand, if needed. If the orderlies have made copies, we’ll find them - and make it quite clear that nothing like this is ever to happen again. They might plead extenuating circumstances, by claiming that they were under the influence of the Mysterons’ shower-gel at the time, but there’s really no excuse for such an invasion of privacy. I’m sure Colonel White wouldn’t take a very lenient view of the incident.”
“We can’t tell the colonel,” she exclaimed. “What if he wants to see the tape? I’d die, Adam – I’d simply curl up and die!”
“I wasn’t planning to tell the colonel; I reckon I can put the fear of God into the miscreants well enough.” The expression on his normally good-natured face left her in no doubt that somebody was in for tongue-lashing from Captain Blue at his most intimidating.
Symphony got out of the armchair and walked across to him. She slid her arms around his shoulders and kissed his forehead, trailing kisses down his cheek to his fervent lips. Her hands slid beneath the bathrobe. “What would I do without you, Adam?” she whispered softly into his ear
“Cope – you’re perfectly capable of looking after yourself – but I guess there’s no reason why you should, when you have me to do it for you…” His kisses grew more passionate as his hands stroked down to her thighs and pulled her against him.
“Did I ever tell you how just sexy you are after you’ve showered?” she asked breathlessly, her fingers smoothing his rumpled hair back into place, while his hands wrestled with the fastenings on her uniform tunic. “No? How remiss of me… I guess I’d better just give you a demonstration instead….”
“Hmm – that’d make the perfect distraction to take our minds off things…”
“You think of everything, my - sweet - Blue- baby….” she murmured, punctuating her words with kisses. “Here’s this - what was it? – ‘lissom and athletic’ body and brains and money too – all at my command… Aren’t I the lucky girl?”
“Hmm, I’d say so…” Blue agreed mischievously, as he pulled her down beside him onto the bed.
By the afternoon of the following day, Colonel White was well aware that there was something going on, but his normal source of information had dried up – Lieutenant Green was being unusually reticent. He did know that Captains Ochre and Magenta seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time accessing the computerised log records for the base’s electrical equipment and – he suspected – doing some snooping in the duty rotas as well. What he didn’t know was why….
When he saw Captain Scarlet heading for the Officers’ Lounge with a computer print out, and looking decidedly annoyed, his curiosity grew stronger.
“Is there a problem, Captain?” he asked as Scarlet came closer.
Scarlet looked up in alarmed surprise. “You startled me, sir,” he said. “I’m afraid I was miles away.”
“So I noticed. What’s so fascinating in the printout?”
“What this? Nothing – really. It’s just a duty rota – there’s the usual squabbles about who is doing too many shifts and who is due leave. You know how these things get so convoluted…”
“I do, but I’m surprised you’re sorting it out, Scarlet. Isn’t Captain Grey the shift manager this quarter?”
Scarlet opened his mouth, drew a deep breath and then said, “Yeesss; but he’s pretty busy at the moment. What happened over Christmas has thrown the duty rotas into a right mix-up. I’m just lending a hand.”
It was obvious the colonel was not fooled by that excuse; Captain Scarlet’s aversion to doing paperwork was a too well-established fact for the lie to hold up. The captain made to fold the paper and put it away.
“Is there something I can do to assist you? I have seen copies of the files, of course, but I didn’t see any potential inequality in the most recent rotas.”
“What? Oh no, sir; I mean you have more than enough to do without messing about with support staff rotas…”
“I have more than enough to do without listening to you prevaricating, Scarlet. What are you, Magenta, Ochre and Lieutenant Green up to? There has been enough confusion on the base over the past couple of weeks; I will not tolerate you – or them – creating more!”
“We’re just trying to set the record straight, sir.”
The colonel extended his hand. “Give it here - and that is an order, Captain, in case you are in any doubt.”
Cursing his misfortune at having run into the Commander-in-Chief, Scarlet dug the papers from his pocket and handed them over. There’s always a chance the colonel won’t guess what the relevance of the list is… he thought, metaphorically crossing his fingers for luck.
Colonel White was mildly surprised to see that the list was just what Scarlet had told him – a list of duty rotas – but a second glance revealed that these had been correlated with the computerised records for the use of the video-disc recorders in the Officers’ Lounge and then across the base.
Glancing at his officer’s innocent expression but noting the wariness in his sapphire-blue eyes, White decided he’d had enough of this cloak and dagger act. He activated the door to the Lounge and nodded for Scarlet to precede him into the room.
Even so, it took him quite a while to get to the bottom of things; Spectrum trained its agents well in anti-interrogation techniques and Captain Scarlet was the best agent in the organisation, so that, in the end he was forced to resort to a direct order for information.
Slowly and with an obvious reluctance, Captain Scarlet told him the story of Captain Blue’s extraordinary Christmas present…
Symphony pressed the buzzer for admittance to the colonel’s ‘ready room’ situated just off the main control room.
She heard his deep voice call her to enter and walked in, a smile on her face. The smile faded when she saw the colonel seated at his desk and, standing rigidly to attention slightly to the left of the desk, his back to the door, Captain Blue. A frown puckered her brow. She glanced at Adam as she drew alongside but he didn’t move to acknowledge her presence. She looked down at the colonel, fearful anticipation already seeping into her heart.
There was no welcoming smile in the colonel’s blue eyes, and his expression remained stern as he returned her glance without speaking. With a rueful grimace, Symphony came to attention, her hand snapping to her forehead in a belated salute.
“Finally,” White growled. “I sent for you some time ago, Symphony Angel.”
“My apologies, sir,” she replied, confusion obvious in her voice. “I have just left Angel One after the four-hour morning watch, sir, and I needed to … use the bathroom, sir.” A smile twitched at the corner of her lips, but there was no response from the colonel.
“I said immediately; I expect my orders to be obeyed.” White glanced down at the paperwork on his desk for a moment and added, “Of course, I understand that you believe compliance with the regulations and, more particularly, obedience to direct orders is discretionary, Symphony, but I am here today to make the point perfectly clear – once and for all – that you are in error.”
“Colonel?” she asked in uncertainty, and, in her need for reassurance she risked a glance at Captain Blue who had still not moved. She could see a nerve throbbing in his temple as he stood beside her: Adam was struggling to keep his temper. If she’d had any doubt before, she knew now they were in serious trouble.
“Are you capable of understanding the written regulations of this organisation, Symphony? I ask because if there is some problem that prevents you fully understanding what’s written, then we may have to find another way of getting them into your thick skull.”
This insult caused her to bristle with resentment. “There’s nothing wrong with my understanding, Colonel,” she responded with vigour.
“Splendid; then perhaps you will be able to explain to me what it is – apart from deliberate, calculated insubordination - that allows you to pick and chose which ones of the regulations you will obey?”
“I’m sorry sir, but what am I supposed to have done to merit this allegation?”
“Did you – or did you not – make a video disc of an erotic nature, using Spectrum equipment and then present this ‘artistic endeavour’ to Captain Blue?”
Symphony blushed and opened her mouth several times, speechless for a second. “Sir,” she said finally.
White held up a small silver disc and asked, “Is this yours, Symphony Angel?”
She glanced at it. “I don’t know, sir, they all look the same to me.”
“Let’s see, then, shall we?” White swivelled and pressed a remote device that started the screen beside his desk. “There is another disc already in the machine. They are the same, as Captain Blue will testify, having watched them both before you arrived.”
“Sir. Yes sir,” Blue said in a brisk military manner.
Symphony turned horrified eyes to the screen, seeing the picture fade up to show the set she and Rhapsody had created, with herself, reclining on the chaise Longue, as the jaunty tune started up and her voice filled the room with the words of the song. As the words echoed away, the vamp on the screen winked and burst into a girlish giggle as the picture faded.
The colonel turned his gaze back onto the embarrassed woman across the desk. “Can you deny that the woman on that recording was you?”
“No sir. Where did you get that from?”
“You are not here to ask me questions, but to provide answers – if you have any. Symphony Angel, do you have any reason why you should not be charged with bringing your rank into disrepute and – unless you can prove otherwise – misuse of Spectrum equipment?”
“Colonel, if I may-” Blue began.
White’s voice thundered through the room. “No, Captain, you may not! I gave you no permission to speak.”
“Sir. Yes sir.” Blue went even more rigid as his head jerked back to upright, his lips compressed and his pale-blue eyes focused on the wall behind the colonel’s desk once more.
“Colonel, I never meant the disc to be seen by anyone but Captain Blue – it was a joke, sir – a silly little Christmas present – that’s all, sir. I swear it.”
“Is this the kind of present you are accustomed to give to all of the colour captains, Symphony?”
“No, Colonel; just Captain Blue.”
White stood and walked around the desk to tower imposingly over the young woman. Symphony’s stance echoed Blue’s as she stared ahead of her in an effort to avoid the anger she saw in her commanding officer’s eyes.
“I am disappointed in you, Symphony. I know you to be an intelligent woman, an excellent agent and a superior pilot – you have a great deal to offer Spectrum - but you consistently flout the regulations and, what is more, you seem to imagine you can do it with impunity. I will not tolerate it any longer. You are intelligent adults – I demand that you both start to act like it.”
“Sir,” she cried – “It isn’t Adam’s fault – Captain Blue’s fault!” She rolled her eyes in despair at that slip of the tongue. “He knew nothing about the making of the disc and his only offence is to have accepted the gift I offered him, which he did in all good faith, Colonel!”
“For your information, Symphony, Captain Blue has already admitted to me that it had come to his attention there exist bootlegged copies of this disc, and that he requested his colleagues’ assistance in tracing them and ascertaining who was responsible for making them. He assures me that this is why he, and Captains Magenta and Ochre, were apprehended in the early hours of this morning in the quarters of Lester Hughes – the man they believe responsible for making the initial copy of the original disc – in the act of removing property from that room.”
Symphony looked at her fiancé and her shoulders drooped. Blue was up to his neck in trouble if this was true.
“I told Captain Blue about the copies, sir, and asked him to track them down. I was concerned that they might be seen by…”
White slammed his fist down on the desk. “Forget it, Symphony. Captain Blue has admitted his guilt – nothing you can say will prevent me delivering my sentence for his misdemeanour. Nor, I hasten to add, do you stand a chance of getting her off the hook, Captain, content yourself with knowing that I will exercise leniency towards your accomplices, in this instance. So, keep your eyes front and your mouth shut.”
“Sir – yes sir.”
“Colonel, I admit that it was a stupid thing to do, but it was only ever meant to be a joke – I never intended any disrespect to my rank or to Spectrum by it – it was just a giggle between friends -”
“Oh, you two are rather more than friends, I think. I have tolerated the somewhat less than discreet ‘relationship’ between you two, until now – but I can no longer do so. It has led to a serious breach in discipline in more than just the pair of you. Once the consequences of your actions start to involve other members of the personnel, my tolerance is exhausted. If you wish to continue serving on Cloudbase in your present capacities, you will – with immediate effect – review your behaviour towards each other and me – for it is an insult to my authority when you behave in such an outrageous manner.”
Colonel White studied the misery on the faces of his officers – suppressing his instinct to leniency with difficulty. He was very fond of Symphony and admired and respected Captain Blue as an exemplary officer, but he realised that his partiality had led them to believe they were behaving in an acceptable manner – and they were not.
“One more lapse in behaviour from either of you and I will not hesitate to have you both complete your term of service at terrestrial bases – a long way apart from each other - and you can both spend the remainder of your contracts ferrying supplies about the globe. Do I make myself clear?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
“You can thank the fact that neither of you have conventional military experience, that you are not spending your immediate futures in detention. Symphony Angel, you will be docked one month’s salary – to cover the expense of the materials and equipment you appropriated, and the staff time of several colour captains – and one lieutenant – in this search for the discs. An entry will be made on your service record, which will be deleted – if you manage not to re-offend – in two years. Captain Blue, docking your salary won’t make much difference to you, I’d imagine, but it will happen, none the less, and in addition, you will perform 100 hours of basic duties on board the base in your own leisure time and in addition to your normal duties. I will inform Sergeant O’Neill that he may call on your services as he feels fit, with immediate effect. A permanent entry will be made on your service record.”
He saw Blue’s face grow pale beneath his tan. “Good God man, I can’t have my senior officers committing burglary on Cloudbase! What did you think I would do? Slap your wrists and tell you not to do it again?”
He went back to his desk and sat down. “I will deal with Orderly Hughes’s offence with equal severity – you may be sure. A base-wide announcement will be made to the effect that anyone found with a copy of this – joke – will also be disciplined. There will be a twelve-hour amnesty, during which time all discs are to be handed in to Captain Magenta, who will dispose of them. That is to include the ones you two have. You may inform your accomplice, Symphony, that she’s lucky she isn’t up on a charge as well. Now get out of my sight – both of you!”
The subdued couple saluted and marched from the office with military discipline.
Colonel White shook his head and looked down at the video disc on his desk. “Hurry down the chimney tonight,” he muttered and a slow smile spread over his features. “Whatever next?”
Captain Scarlet slipped through the door to the container cargo deck as it slid open, and shivered. It was cold in these cavernous spaces beneath the habitable areas of Cloudbase. He stood quietly and listened. There were sounds of movement away in the distance and he marched towards them. Eventually he saw Captain Blue, enveloped in bulky thermal overalls, shifting empty crates from the floor onto a trailer. Scarlet stood and watched for a moment; his partner was unaware he had company, and Scarlet could hear the tuneless hum of what could well have been music, emanating from his friend.
Blue dumped the last crate onto the trailer and turned to walk to the handle, obviously intending to move them to another part of the deck. He saw Scarlet and stopped. The humming died away.
“Hi, Blue-boy,” Scarlet called, walking closer. “I thought I’d come see how you were getting on…”
“Never better,” Blue responded in a voice dripping with irony.
“You want a hand?”
“No, I’m okay, thanks. I’ve nearly finished – only another two or three loads to go for this shift.”
Scarlet came alongside and took one half of the metal handle anyway, the icy-cold biting into his hand as he yanked it in tandem with his friend.
“You’ll get chilblains,” Blue warned him.
“For a minute or two, maybe,” Scarlet agreed. They walked together, dragging the heavily-loaded trailer across the deck.
When they arrived and Blue put the brake on the trailer, he turned to his friend. “What particular guilt-load are you exorcising here?”
“I’m just out to be helpful,” Scarlet said, blowing on his frozen fingers to warm them.
“Sure you are.”
“Dammit, Adam, you don’t have to be so perspicacious – nor so understanding. I’d rather you just yelled at me, or took a swing at me, or something!”
“I’d feel better if you did,” Scarlet tried to explain.
“No, I mean why should I want to get mad at you? And frankly, I don’t care how guilty you’re feeling, if that helps.”
“I didn’t have a choice; the old man was sure there was something going on and he wasn’t about to let me get away with not telling him.”
“I wouldn’t have dumped you and Karen in the shit if I could have avoided it.”
“I feel really bad about it.”
“Dammit – stop it, will you!”
Blue grinned. “It was stupid of me to raid Hughes’ quarters – and even more stupid to have roped in Pat and Rick. I’m just grateful they weren’t blamed for it – and that none of you got into serious trouble with the old man – even if he did lay down the law a little to everyone. So, I’ll do my time and pay my dues with a good enough grace – but you shouldn’t be here helping me. It’ll do neither of us any good if White finds out. ”
“You are too good to be true,” Scarlet carped, sitting on the trailer. “It’s annoying.”
“You want me to rage against the fact that I was caught red-handed? I was in the wrong, Paul. And besides, it could have been worse. The colonel could have moved one of us to a terrestrial base.”
They heard a voice calling: “Captain?” and Blue gave a grin.
“I know that voice,” he said. “Over here, Philly!”
His orderly, Phillipa Daniels, wrapped up in several tunics and overalls and carrying a thermos flask in her gloved hands, hurried over. She was surprised to see Scarlet perched on a crate and wearing nothing except his normal uniform, but then she gave all her attention to Blue when he asked her: “What are you doing here, Philly? You shouldn’t be down here, it’s a dangerous place.”
“I brought you some coffee. It gets proper cold down here.” She looked at him with dark eyes full of concern. “I think it’s really mean of the colonel to make you do this – it was all Lester’s fault, after all – you were only looking for proof of his… wickedness. It ain’t fair!”
Blue caught Scarlet’s eyes and stifled a smile. “Its okay, Philly, the colonel was only doing what he felt necessary; I was way over the line.”
She didn’t look convinced and sniffed contemptuously. “You’d better get this down you,” she said, slightly mollified by being taken into his confidence.
“You’re a star, Philly. Thanks, I appreciate it. Is there enough for Captain Scarlet as well?”
“Only if you share the cup,” she said. “I didn’t know he was here.”
“I’m okay; you drink it, Adam.”
“Thanks, Paul. Now I’m standing still I admit I am beginning to feel the cold. Philly, you get back in the warm – right now - before you catch cold.”
“I’ve made sure the shower’s charged for the maximum length of time, for when you get back.” She fussed about, pouring out the steaming liquid and handing it to him. “And I’ve left a meal for you to micro-wave when you’re ready for it, because I’m supposed to be off-duty now, but I can wait if you need me to?”
He shook his head. “No, I’ll be fine. Thanks, Philly.” Blue sipped the coffee gratefully. “This is heavenly.”
Philly beamed at him, delighted to have been of use. “I’ll be off then,” she said, eyeing Captain Scarlet warily. “You’ll catch your death, Captain Scarlet, sir.”
“Not to worry, Philly. I’m hardier than I look.”
“Well, if you say so… goodbye, Captain.”
“Bye Philly, and thanks again.”
They watched her hurry away.
“She’s a gem, that one,” Blue said as he drained the coffee and screwed the cup back onto the flask.
“She fancies you rotten, you know,” Scarlet said mischievously.
“That’s a shame, because I’m spoken for.”
“How is Karen? She likely to talk to me anytime soon?”
“Yeah, she’ll calm down eventually. It wasn’t your fault, she knows that.”
“I bet she wishes she’d never made the disc?”
“She does; but I don’t. That was some routine, you have to admit.”
“Oh sure,” Scarlet agreed warily. He doubted the wisdom of praising Symphony’s … ‘talents’ too enthusiastically to her boyfriend.
“You know, next time we get to go on leave together – I have her promise to give me a repeat performance - live and …eh, interactive.”
Their eyes met and moments later their laughter echoed around the cargo deck.
“Sometimes, having to face the consequences of your actions isn’t all bad…” Blue remarked innocently.
“How do you always manage to walk away from the shit smelling of roses?” Captain Scarlet spluttered.
Blue grinned and shrugged his broad shoulders. “No idea. But let’s just say, you’re indestructible and I’m lucky. That’s a winning combination, if you ask me.”
“Long may it continue,” Scarlet agreed. “Now, let’s shift the last of those crates and get out of here, before I really do catch my death of cold. I can see us both getting in even more hot water if we have to explain that one to the colonel.”
“S.I.G.,” Captain Scarlet.”
This story is a sort of ‘codicil’ to the Christmas Story I wrote for 2004 – ‘Silent Majority’. The idea had been around in my head for some time, and when I heard my daughter playing her Christmas songs CD – again – I revisited it and finally got it down on the screen.
The Song ‘Santa Baby’ was written by J. Javits and P. Springer. I tweaked their lyrics – so I hope I don’t get sued…
Thanks to Caroline Smith for her comments on the first draft – any mistakes are entirely mine - and Chris Bishop for her wonderful website and her friendship. Thanks also to the friends who said – sounds like a good idea to me. I hope they still think it was…
The characters from the TV show, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ belong to Carleton – I think and probably lots of other people too. Credit belongs to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson – what would we have done without them?
I hope you enjoyed reading it.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site