When the stars shine down at Christmas
There’ll be peace across all lands
And all the children’s laughter as they clap their little hands
Will make everybody happy that it’s Christmastime at last
And the perils of the world are a thing now of the past.
“Oh, not that again,” Captain Grey complained as the jaunty tune started on the music channel broadcast. He reached over and grabbed the remote control, turning the sound setting to mute. “Can you believe that someone gets paid for writing and producing that stuff? It’s banal.”
“Somebody must have thought it was a good idea,” Melody Angel said reasonably. “And at least it’s for charity.”
“And that excuses everything, does it?” Captain Magenta remarked, looking up from his magazine. “I mean, if there was a televised … bull fight, or a whale hunt for charity - that’d be okay?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly. Nothing’s getting hurt.”
“Except my poor, innocent ear drums,” Captain Grey observed wryly.
“At least they can sing,” she replied swiftly and hummed a few bars of the offending song. “And it’s a catchy tune; I think I’ll download it to the music banks.”
“Make it for the Amber Room only. Please?” Grey pleaded.
“Oh, don’t be such a grump,” Melody exclaimed. “Christmas is a time to be charitable, so cut them some slack, Brad!”
The trio were sitting in the Officers’ Lounge on Cloudbase one November morning and the TV broadcast had just announced that the novelty Charity Christmas Single performed by the cast of the hit TV show, ‘Captain Starlight of PRISM’ had become the biggest selling download globally, less than 24 hours after it had been released.
“I suppose if it raises money for a good cause, I can live with it,” Grey said, with a smile at the young woman. “It’s more that I know we’re going to hear precious little else until Christmas and, you have to admit, Nolie, it is going to get repetitive.”
She nodded and grinned back at him. “I’m sure if you ask at the Spectramart, they’ll supply you with ear plugs, Brad,” she said, laughing.
Captain Magenta glanced at his colleague and remarked, “Better suggest they get in a bulk shipment, Brad. I suspect your ears won’t be the only ones suffering by Christmas.”
Colonel White sat for some time after the confidential phone call ended, fuming with anger and trying to come to terms with the latest directive from the WP’s office in Futura.
President Roberts, currently languishing in the doldrums at the polls, was looking at ways to raise his profile and boost the popularity of his senate supporters in advance of the mid-term elections. Unlike his immediate predecessor – the much-missed President Younger – Roberts was a no-holds barred politician, not averse to courting the popular vote to ensure his continuing domination of the World Senate. He wooed the press, courted the TV networks and liked to show his common touch by associating with TV stars and film celebrities, although in reality he was a fairly humourless man with an acerbic tongue and a stubborn streak that made working with him difficult and compromise impossible.
White sighed and shook his distinguished head, and when he spoke his voice was tinged with resignation, “Lieutenant Green, where are the captains?”
Lieutenant Green took a quick look at a screen and punched a button. “They’re all in the Officers’ Lounge, sir,” he replied, glancing at his commanding officer. “Shall I put them on screen?”
“No; I think this is better done in person; they’re not going to like it. Ask them to wait there, Lieutenant.”
He picked up his uniform cap and locked down his workstation, before strolling over to the door and leaving his chief communication officer looking after him in bewilderment.
“I really don’t know,” Green insisted in response to Captain Ochre’s third time of asking. “He just said you were all to wait there for him. And that you weren’t going to like it,” he added mischievously. Green was the epitome of tact and diplomacy, but even he liked to get his own back on the base’s practical joker when he got the chance. He raised an eyebrow. “What have you been doing that you don’t want him to know about anyway?”
“None of your business,” Ochre retorted good-naturedly.
Captain Magenta cut in, “What you never knew you can’t be penalised for not reporting, can you?”
“Well, as long as I’m not going to get the blame…” Green said.
“No way,” Ochre assured him. “Anyway, who mentioned blame?”
“Not me,” Magenta chimed in.
“Nor me,” Ochre asserted.
“Okay, I’m convinced. You’re both as pure as driven snow,” Green said ironically.
“Now who’s the gullible one?” Captain Grey said, grinning.
The conversation ended as the door slid open and the colonel walked into the room.
The captains came to their feet, standing to attention.
“Be seated, gentlemen,” White said, taking a seat between the two groups of officers.
The Officers’ Lounge was rarely as bedecked with Christmas decorations as the Amber Room tended to be, and as everyone had been incredibly busy over the past weeks, this year was no exception. There were two rather subdued garlands on a wall, and someone had woven tinsel through the abstract metallic artwork – unofficially known as ‘the scaffolding’ - that formed a feature of the room. A rotund plastic Santa was impaled on one of the prominent stakes, his jovial face seeming to wear an expression of pained surprise.
It is, White supposed, as he looked around the room, a nod towards the festive season, at least.
He studied the attentive faces of the men gathered around him. On one side sat Captain Ochre, his face wearing such a carefully neutral expression that the colonel was instantly alerted to possibly impending mischief. Next to him sat Captain Magenta, his usual field partner and co-conspirator in whatever shady plans Ochre had in mind. Magenta was much better at dissembling, and he was keeping his glance away from his partner and apparently studying the decorations with interest. Beside them, Captain Grey, the eldest and most decorous of the squad, looked relaxed and returned his commander’s glance with equanimity.
Across the table from them sat Spectrum’s premier team of agents. The partnership of Captain Blue and Captain Scarlet had developed into a deep and lasting friendship and the pair were usually to be found together – even off duty. The bond had been forged out of the dangerous missions they’d undertaken together, but even so, they still had their differences.
Scarlet’s intense blue eyes met White’s piercing glance with a slight frown. He was already starting to grow anxious, whereas the more laid-back Captain Blue was wool-gathering and looked to be miles away on some private daydream.
White cleared his throat and had the satisfaction of seeing Blue straighten up and concentrate.
“Gentlemen,” the colonel began, “I have just received orders from the World President that will impinge on us all.”
“What does he want us to do?” Scarlet asked. He’d had a previous run in with Roberts, who was well-known to be uncooperative.
“He wants us to play hosts, on Cloudbase, to him and his entourage for the broadcast of his Global Network Christmas message.”
“Can he do that?” Blue asked quickly. “Spectrum’s charter commits us to political neutrality.”
“He claims this is not a political event, but merely a goodwill message to the countries of the World Government,” White said dourly. “I don’t think we can shirk it.”
Scarlet grimaced. “So when is he coming to record this message of goodwill to all men?”
“It will be a live broadcast on Christmas Eve.” The officers reacted with alarm. “And he will be bringing guests with him to underline his non-political theme.”
Colonel White’s irritation was obvious from his tone and the officers shared concerned glances.
“A presidential party on Cloudbase – live on TV? I see scope for one almighty disaster somewhere, and I’d bet money we’d get the blame,” Ochre protested. “I wouldn’t advise the President to even try it. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
“Undoubtedly, Captain,” White agreed, “I have already tried to reason with President Roberts - especially when I heard who the guests will be.”
The five men all looked towards him and Colonel White drew a deep breath before breaking the bad news.
“He’s bringing the cast of the TV show ‘Captain Starlight’,” he said glumly. “So they can sing their charity song live on air.”
It took some time for the hubbub to die down.
“I have remonstrated with the President, Captain Blue,” the colonel reiterated, in the face of his officer’s continuing appalled protests, “but he’s determined to do this. He says because the real Spectrum agents can’t appear on the broadcast, it would be an excellent joke to pretend he was really under the protection of PRISM. It will keep the event ‘light-hearted’ and non-political, according the President. He advised me to ‘loosen up’.”
“Then why can’t he make the broadcast from their studio? Civilians on Cloudbase would be bad enough, but actors? That’d just make it worse. And what actors!” Blue moaned.
“They’re not so bad – well, most of them aren’t,” Ochre interjected. “We’ve met them, Blue, you haven’t.”
“That show is an insult to Spectrum, Ochre. Bringing them here will only make it look as if we endorse their fatuous ‘adventures’. Besides, this is a secure base,” Blue retorted.
Colonel White nodded.
“You have a point, Captain Blue,” he said. “However, the President guarantees the actors will make no attempt to deviate from the pre-arranged, non-secure areas we’re to make available to them. I’m sorry – Roberts is adamant he wants to do this. He says that he’ll be fulfilling the words of the song, which I understand are, ‘when the stars look down at Christmas’?” Several heads nodded confirmation. “Because that’s what they’ll be doing: the TV stars, looking down on the world, from Cloudbase,” the colonel explained with some bemusement. He added with just a touch of cynicism, “And of course, there are Senate elections in the offing and he wants to get himself noticed.”
“This is worse than that calendar they wanted to do,” Blue continued with surprising vehemence. “At least that didn’t pose such a security threat to Cloudbase. I suppose there’ll be a film crew as well and minders and make-up people and Lord-knows-who coming with them?”
When the colonel nodded, Grey rubbed his nose and said, “That does make a helluva lot of people to keep track of, Colonel.”
“Not to mention the disruption and problems it will cause us on Cloudbase,” Blue added.
“The programme is still very popular; even on Cloudbase there’ll be more than enough people who’ll be anxious to see the stars and get autographs or have their pictures taken with them,” Scarlet agreed. “But I agree with Ochre, most of the actors aren’t so bad.”
“There will be no fraternisation allowed,” the colonel snapped firmly. “And definitely no photography. To a large extent we can control what the film cameras show and I will be ordering Lieutenant Green and his support staff to rig a delay in the system, so that Spectrum can vet the footage and obscure any image that is too revealing, be it of an individual or of the base. It is simply not possible to do that with numerous individual cameras. No one on base will be allowed to take photographs and nor will the visitors. Roberts wants his publicity and I can’t stop him from ordering us to comply, but I can prevent this turning into a total security disaster. And I will.”
The officers around him nodded in agreement. Several of them had specific personal reasons for not wanting their faces seen on global TV, quite apart from the overall security blackout that Spectrum imposed.
The colonel continued, “Nevertheless, although these people may be our unwanted guests, they are guests and they’ll be treated as such. But that does not extend to permitting any ‘Starlight groupies’ to become involved in the event. They arrive, they broadcast and they leave.”
“Oh blimey, I’d forgotten the ‘Twinkles’ on the base,” Scarlet said sombrely.
“Twinkles?” the colonel asked.
“That’s what they call the fan base, sir,” Scarlet explained. “From the rhyme, ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’? Twinkles… they seem to think it’s cute. There are quite a few of them on base, ranging from the Angels to the cleaners.”
“Good Lord, this is far worse than I realised,” White said mournfully.
There was a bush telegraph on Cloudbase that disseminated news with a speed and accuracy that never failed to amaze Colonel White. He had not clamped a security notice on the information about President Robert’s visit – nor the names of his guests – but even so, he was astonished to discover that in the canteens that evening everyone was talking about the visit of ‘Captain Starlight’ to Cloudbase.
A devoted band of fans were already putting together a request that everyone who wanted to should be allowed to meet the stars, and work had started on banners of welcome, intended to decorate the hangar bays.
Lieutenant Green reported a surge in electrical demand when the programme was broadcast and all over the base people crowded round the screens to watch the show.
Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue had the promenade deck to themselves as they perched on the low wall and looked out over the long runway below them.
“I can’t believe the colonel’s going to let it happen,” Blue said moodily. He was immune to the magic of Captain Starlight and, whereas Captain Scarlet could at least see the funny side of it, he found the whole show distasteful.
“Hey, it could be worse. They’ll only be here for a comparatively short time and they’ll be contained in the Hangar deck until they go to the Conference Room. The only other places they’ll be allowed are the Officers’ Restaurant and on the Prom Deck. You know the colonel will ensure everyone gets checked with a Mysteron detector and all the equipment will be checked too. The base will be on amber alert. What could do wrong?”
Blue gave his friend a sceptical glance. “How many times have you said that and we’ve had a crisis on our hands?”
“Not that often,” Scarlet maintained stoutly. “Look, Adam, you’re going to have to get used to this idea and go with the flow. I don’t see what you’ve got to get so uptight about, really. It’s just a dumb show, a bit of fun – that’s all. The Twinkles will get all excited, true enough, but then it’ll be over before they know it.”
“Cloudbase isn’t a stage set. Spectrum’s purpose isn’t entertainment and none of us are as moronic as the ‘heroes’ of that show, but we’ll get tarred in the public imagination with all the negative things that go with ‘Captain Starlight of PRISM’.” Blue looked at his friend and could see the scepticism in his expression. “Okay, I’ve made my point, I’ll shut up about it, but you can’t expect me to like it.”
Scarlet gave a rueful shake of his head. “No, I don’t expect you to like it – you got that right, at least.”
Blue gave an apologetic smile. “Just call me a party-pooper. I’m sorry, but I can’t shake off a feeling this is asking for trouble.”
Scarlet smiled. “If it is asking for trouble it isn’t us asking for it, and whatever happens, Spectrum will deal with it. Don’t we always? Now, come on, Party-pooper, the show should be over by now, and you should be safe from having to watch it.”
Scarlet stretched as he stood up and waited for Blue to pick up his radio cap. With a friendly chuckle he punched the bigger man’s shoulder and shook his head.
“Come on, let’s try the Amber Room. We might as well get the précis of this week’s episode from the prettiest TV critics around.”
“SIG,” Blue said, sounding much happier at that thought.
Rhapsody and Destiny were deep in conversation as they entered the room.
Symphony looked up from her magazine and smiled. “Hi guys.”
“Where did you two get to? I thought you’d want to watch the show and suss out the competition,” Rhapsody teased, reaching a hand out towards Scarlet.
“I’ve met the competition and I know I have got nothing to worry about,” he replied, polishing his fingernails on his tunic, with affected modesty.
Rhapsody laughed and dropped his other hand. “Well, you missed a scorcher. Starlight and Rue were trapped in an underground cave with a biotronic bomb about to explode. They escaped with seconds to spare.”
“Saving the world in the process, I suppose?” Scarlet asked.
“What on earth is a biotronic bomb?” Blue asked. He’d walked across to where Symphony sat.
“Ah, that is a bomb made of nasty germs and bacterias, and when that infects someone it makes them go all old and wrinkled!” Destiny explained. “The evil badmen of the week tested it out on one of the Seraphs, but Starlight found a cure and restored to her her youth and beauty.”
“Yay! Go Starlight!” Scarlet exclaimed, laughing across at Blue. “You see, it couldn’t possibly be based on anyone we know. I know I could never have found a cure for something as dreadful as that.”
“Plastic surgery?” Blue suggested, earning himself a dig in the ribs from Symphony.
“Don’t be such a wet blanket, Adam,” she warned him. “You’re going to have to be nice to our guests when they get here. I’m rather looking forward to it. Some of those actors are pretty hunky.”
“Oui,” Destiny agreed, winking an eye suggestively. “Who knows what Santa might give us into our stockings this Christmas?”
The other Angels laughed.
“Blue’s worried about the security aspects,” Scarlet remarked, adding in support of his partner, “He does have a point.”
Symphony stood up. “Sure he does, but he also has a chip on his shoulder.” She rested her hands on Blue’s shoulders and mimicked sweeping away the metaphorical chip before she stretched up to kiss his cheek. “Take me to supper, Harvard, and I’ll listen to you moan about Captain Starlight all you want?” she suggested.
“Don’t encourage him, Symphony. I’ve only just managed to get him to change the subject,” Scarlet teased.
Blue gave a wry smile and escorted his fiancée out of the Amber Room.
“Do you think he has a chip on his shoulder?” Rhapsody asked Scarlet.
“No, I think he has a point; but he’s going to have to accept that we have no choice. The World President arrives tomorrow and his guests come too.”
“I wonder if they’ll bring us all presents,” Destiny asked, with a slight pout. “We have none to give them.”
“They’ll get to eat Christmas dinner on Cloudbase, that should be present enough,” Scarlet said. “I just hope nothing does go wrong, that’s all.”
The WAAF’s Presidential Jet Number One taxied down the runway and rumbled off into the blue Caribbean sky. On board were an excited group of actors, film technicians, Presidential aides and the World President himself.
Andrew Roberts was a difficult man to get to know and had a reputation of being a bastard to work for. He did, however, have an unerring sense of how to win public approval, and an ability to turn on a fountain of charm when faced with an election husting; but when it came to winning debates and getting his own way, he was an unyielding and unashamedly Machiavellian politician. Many of the world senators, who had never had to work with him during his tenure as Leader of the US Congress, had voted him into the world presidency expecting an easy-going exponent of compromise. They had received a shock when the new president had quickly introduced a full and controversial legislative programme.
He was getting most of it through as well, but the mid-term elections, which were due in the New Year, threatened to reduce his level of support in the senate to below that of an effective working majority.
Instinctively, Roberts had launched a charm offensive and began a series of public engagements designed to remind his wavering supporters what a decent chap he really was; and if that meant associating with brash, vain and intellectually challenged actors, then he was prepared to make the sacrifice.
Right now he was sitting sipping champagne – which he disliked – listening to Drake DeBonnaire, the actor who played the eponymous Captain Starlight, regale everyone with stories about himself.
Most of the actors had moved away, but there was a crowd of the President’s aides listening with flattering attention to the popular actor. Although Roberts continued to sit amongst the group, an attentive expression on his face and laughing on cue, he had long since stopped paying attention to DeBonnaire’s self-absorbed monologue.
Instead he was ruminating on the likely reception he’d receive on Cloudbase. He knew Colonel White disliked his idea for the Christmas broadcast, knew that he was taking a risk – however slight – with the security of Spectrum’s headquarters and the dedicated personnel who lived on board; yet the positive publicity it was bound to attract was – in his opinion – worth every risk.
Spectrum had sent Captain Ochre down to Glenn Field with a Mysteron detector and everyone making the trip had been tested, checked and searched for possible weapons. The colonel had insisted that everyone be tested again on their arrival, and a quick glance out of the window showed two Angel Interceptor jets flying guard. Captain Ochre was in the cockpit flying the plane and, excusing himself to the unconcerned DeBonnaire, Roberts made his way onto the flight deck.
Ochre turned round to see who it was.
“Hello, sir. We’re making excellent time. Our estimated time of arrival is fifteen minutes.”
Roberts nodded and smiled at the co-pilot, a young Spectrum lieutenant, dressed in a yellowish-brown coloured tunic.
“May I present Lieutenant Topaz, sir,” Ochre continued, seeing Roberts’s glance.
“Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant,” Roberts said, with a nod. He indicated the Angel Jet visible from the cockpit window. “I see Spectrum are taking no chances, Captain.”
“No, sir. Nothing’s being left to chance. We’ve learned a lot about what the Mysterons are capable of, although there’s still a great deal we don’t know, of course. We’re not going to risk any kind of attack.”
“That is comforting. Of course, I know only too well that the Mysterons like to play tricks and games with us –“
“Deadly games, sir,” Ochre amended with severity. “It’s a War of Nerves with them; they aim to make us sweat.”
“Quite,” Roberts said sourly. He wasn’t used to being interrupted. “But so far we’ve stayed one step ahead of them.”
“Yes, sir, but sometimes it’s only by the skin of our teeth, and that’s why we don’t take risks.”
“I’m sure Cloudbase must be just about the safest place for me to be,” Roberts retorted.
“Possibly; but take into account that it is a huge aircraft carrier, floating 40,000 feet above the ground. That’s a long way to fall, should anything happen. Sir.”
Roberts’s response was cut short by an incoming message from Angel One:
“Angel leader to WAAF PJ One: come in please. Routine check-in.”
“WAAF PJ One to Angel Leader, Spectrum is Green. Over,” Topaz replied and turned to look out at the gleaming, sleek white plane that had come alongside. He waved.
“Angel Leader to WAAF PJ One: Concentrate on your flying, Lieutenant. Angel Leader Out.”
Ochre chuckled. “Now look what you’ve done,” he said to the grinning lieutenant, “You’ve gone and upset Melody Angel.”
Topaz shrugged cheerfully and turned back to his console.
A few minutes later the radio crackled into life once more. “Cloudbase to WAAF PJ One, we have you on radar. Visual contact in eight minutes. E.T.A. Cloudbase, ten minutes.”
“SIG, Cloudbase,” Ochre replied. He turned to the World President. “If you’d like to resume your seat, sir, I’ll be making the announcement to fasten seat belts very shortly.”
Roberts bid them a polite goodbye and wandered back into the main passenger lounge, where DeBonnaire was still addressing a somewhat diminished audience of admirers. A young air stewardess and a tall steward were encouraging people to return to their seats, and for the first time Roberts noted that they were wearing discreet Spectrum logos on their dark-green service tunics. It seemed as if Spectrum had replaced every one of the WAAF personnel with their own agents.
He resumed his seat and prepared for the landing on Cloudbase.
Colonel White, wearing his dress uniform, led his senior officers, who were all similarly attired, down to Hangar Bay One, which had been decorated and made suitable for receiving their VIP visitors aboard Cloudbase.
All the colour captains were present, and the Angel Squadron was represented by Symphony and Harmony, the two pilots currently off duty. The two young women, dwarfed by their masculine escort, walked together, and their voices were the only ones to be heard as the party moved through the corridors heading for the lower levels of the base.
“I understand the World President is a countryman of yours, Symphony,” Harmony remarked. “He is not as popular at home as President Younger was.”
“More than a countryman,” Symphony responded with a grin. “He’s an Iowan too. In fact, he comes from my home town – Cedar Rapids.”
“Really?” Harmony thought for a moment and added, “I suppose even Presidents must come from somewhere.”
Symphony chuckled. “I guess so. Andrew Roberts is about the only notable thing to come from Cedar Rapids though.”
Captain Blue chipped in, “What about Grant Wood, the artist?”
“Well, sure, but that was centuries ago,” she argued, and he wasn’t born there, he just lived there.” She gave her fiancé a disapproving frown and he responded with a genial smile. “I mean if you’re going to dig up every celebrity that ever drew breath in the place, the list might be a couple of dozen people long.”
The welcoming party moved forward as the Presidential party disembarked from the jet and Lieutenant Purple piped the VIPs aboard, in the best naval tradition. As the President’s guests milled about waiting for the formalities to conclude, the watching support staff broke into spontaneous applause and a little cheering. Colonel White frowned and glanced at the President, relieved to see that Roberts was grinning and acknowledging what he assumed was the enthusiasm for his arrival, with a gracious wave.
“Welcome to Cloudbase, Mr President,” he said, saluting with dignity.
“Glad to be here, Colonel, amongst the brave men and women of Spectrum.”
The colonel led him along the neat guard of honour. Roberts paused beside Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue, who were known to him from a previous mission, and addressed a few words to them.
He lingered longer beside Symphony and Harmony.
Captain Grey had been delegated to escort President Roberts on a tour of Cloudbase. This privilege was not being offered to the civilian guests for reasons of security. He managed to steer his charge away from the Angels and led the way towards the lifts to the other floors.
With a sigh, Colonel White turned his attention to the civilians.
Dale Burland, the Executive Producer, had designated himself as the spokesman, and advanced to meet the colonel, but the star of the show, Drake DeBonnaire – Captain Starlight himself – pre-empted him by extending his hand towards Colonel White, declaiming:
“Colonel White, may I say that I and my fellow thespians have been looking forward to this visit for many weeks. I instructed the team to be sure to bring enough signed merchandise for all the staff on your base – at no cost to them, naturally. The cast of ‘Captain Starlight of PRISM’ acknowledge the inspirational role played by your organisation in our show. We like to think that we have brought a little glamour into the humdrum existence of your crew.”
Colonel White, unfailingly polite, had taken the outstretched hand but found his own gripped in a tight lock, while a photographer suddenly emerged from the crowd behind them and started taking photographs.
Captain Magenta stepped forward and placed a hand over the lens. “No photography on Cloudbase,” he said sternly.
Drake DeBonnaire dropped the colonel’s hand and glared at Magenta ferociously.
“No photographs? I know you’ve already stopped the film crews using their gear until the World President makes his speech and we sing our song – which is completely stupid! So how are we supposed to publicise our visit?”
“You won’t be publicising it, Mr DeBonnaire,” the colonel said, unconsciously wiping his hand on his uniform trousers. “Spectrum is a top security organisation and Cloudbase is a top secret base. There will be no filming and no photography.”
“But I told my agent to arrange a photographer for my personal publicity,” DeBonnaire said. “It was agreed-”
“Not by me,” White interjected, “and on Cloudbase, my word is law.”
He moved on to welcome the other actors, leaving DeBonnaire open-mouthed with shocked protest.
As Magenta had already broken ranks, the parade dispersed and Captain Ochre joined Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green to greet Matthew Nash – the young British actor they’d met on the previous mission.
“Hi there, Matt,” Ochre called cheerfully, extending his hand.
“Hello, Captain Ochre, great to see you again – and fantastic to be on Cloudbase! I make believe on a fantasy version like this, but let me tell you, nothing – no CGI or clever film tricks – can prepare you for the real thing!”
“We like to think so,” Captain Scarlet said, shaking hands with Nash in his turn. “Now, may I introduce you to someone I think you ought to know?” Nash nodded and smiled. “Now, this is Captain Blue. Captain, this is Mr Matthew Nash, alias Captain Rue of PRISM.”
“Good day to you, Mr Nash,” Blue said stiffly.
“Oh my,” Nash gasped quietly, “I guess you’re the man I should apologise to.” He extended his hand and Blue shook it, politely. “Believe me, Captain, I have nothing but admiration for you and your colleagues. You’re all the real heroes.”
Blue smiled and Scarlet realised that even if he had coached Nash in how to win over his sternest critic in Spectrum, he couldn’t have said anything better calculated to counter Blue’s disapproval.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr Nash. Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre told me how much help you gave them on their mission to the film studio.”
“And I am honoured to meet you, Captain. You and everyone on this amazing base.”
Blue’s habitual good manners, and Nash’s apparently genuine embarrassment, had won the day.
Once he realised Blue wasn’t going to berate the younger man for – as he liked to put it – making a mockery of Spectrum twice a week, Ochre moved on to greet the young actresses that played the PRISM Seraphs: Kismet, Serenade, Concord, Mellifluous and Madrigal.
“Hey,” Ochre said, as he exchanged enthusiastic kisses with the four young women who rushed to meet him. “One’s missing. Where’s the lovely Madrigal?”
Kismet, a curvaceous platinum-blonde, giggled and pointed towards the side of the hangar bay where the baggage was being unloaded.
Jeanie Johnson, the actress known as Madrigal Seraph, was partially hidden by a pile of crates and was facing the other way as she watched her suitcase being unloaded. At almost the same moment that Ochre called her name, Matthew Nash called her, and she turned to hear him say to Captain Scarlet:
“Come and see Jeanie, she’s been dying to meet you again!”
Ochre joined the others and went to welcome her aboard.
“Hello, Captains,” she said, smiling broadly as she moved towards them. “Isn’t this amazing?”
The men stopped dead in their tracks and stared at her. Then Ochre gasped:
Matthew sent to stand beside her and put a loving arm around her shoulders. “Yeah,” he said proudly, “we’re expecting a new arrival any week now.”
“Holy cow,” Ochre muttered. “How did I miss that!”
The young couple shared a self-congratulatory smile.
“We haven’t made it public,” Nash said.
“How do you hide something like that?” asked Ochre, gesturing towards Jeanie.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she replied. “Since the bump became noticeable, Madrigal’s only been seen in close-up or from a distance or from the back – and that’s my body double. The show’s sponsors didn’t want it known that Matt and I were a couple, they thought it would spoil the interaction between the characters for the viewers. Luckily, the craze for kaftans and smocks has meant that it hasn’t been too difficult to hide it in public either – until recently, of course. I feel the size of a house!”
“I think we’re more concerned about how you got permission to be here at all,” Blue explained. “I mean, Cloudbase is at 40,000 feet and altitude isn’t good for pregnant ladies; it can result in… problems.”
“I’m fine, Captain, really I am,” she said, although the smile faded slightly from her face. “And nothing was going to stop me being here.”
“Jeanie looked into all that side of it before we came,” Nash explained. Jeanie nodded in support. “And it said it was okay if you take precautions and you’re fit. And she is. Besides, the company said it was okay too; she has an important solo in the song, so we really need her here. The sponsors were insistent she came once they knew she was okay and up for it.”
“Does Fawn know?” Blue asked.
Ochre, who had been responsible for checking the visitors on board the SPJ, shook his head.
“Fawn?” Nash looked blank.
“Doctor Fawn runs Cloudbase Medical,” Scarlet explained. “Has anyone from your medical advisors or the company personnel notified him about your happy event?”
They both shook their heads.
“I think… maybe…we should,” Ochre muttered glumly.
“Yeah, me too,” Blue agreed.
“He’s not going to be happy about this unexpected development,” Scarlet said, with a wry glance at his friends. “Boy, am I going to enjoy telling him,” he added, with a mischievous grin.
Captain Scarlet’s prediction was entirely accurate. Doctor Fawn was incensed.
“How pregnant?” he demanded over the video link to Sick Bay.
Scarlet pursed his lips thoughtfully and shifted so that his legs were slightly apart. He leant back as if he was carrying a heavy weight and extended his hands in front of him over an imaginary bump.
“About this pregnant,” he said innocently.
Ochre guffawed with laughter.
“Oh, very funny,” Fawn snapped. “You can get that woman down to Sick Bay right now. I’m going to need to run tests and ensure she hasn’t suffered from the flight or the altitude. Then she’s going straight back to where she came from. I’m not risking having her on this base for a minute longer than I have to.”
“But it’s Christmas Eve; the last shuttle’s already gone.” Scarlet said.
“Then someone’s going to have to fly her groundside,” Fawn insisted. As the Chief Medical Officer on Cloudbase he knew he had the authority to override every order given, even by the colonel, if the need arose.
“We’re all on emergency ‘let’s-protect-the-World-President’ duty for the duration of this visit,” Scarlet explained. “Especially me.”
Fawn gave him a sharp glance. “Don’t you worry, it won’t be you. I want someone who can get her to the ground with the minimum of in-flight turbulence and the smoothest landing. You fly like you drive and that’d be too risky.”
“Huh,” Scarlet said sceptically. “I don’t know where the myth of my reckless driving comes from, but it’s a downright calumny.”
“Okay,” Fawn said sceptically, “and every time I patch you up after some reckless deed of derring do, I’ll remind myself of that.”
Scarlet grinned, despite the doctor’s words. He knew Fawn well enough to know that his bark was always worse than his bite. “So, you want a careful driver, Doc? There’s only one person really fits that description.” He turned to Captain Blue. “You’re wanted,” he said.
Drake DeBonnaire was angry. He had been promised a publicity coup and this was being in danger of being denied him by some pompous little bureaucrat in a fancy uniform. His appeals to Dale Burland and one of the World President’s aides had got him nowhere; it seemed that this jumped-up colonel really did have the right to call the shots on this crummy base.
Doesn’t he know who I am? he thought. I owe it to my fans to make sure they can keep up with every step I make. This would be the biggest thing in Hollywood… and he’s worried about anyone seeing ‘secrets’ of his silly base on the screen. As if they’d be looking at anything but me!
He looked around for his publicity photographer and saw him deep in conversation with Captain Magenta and two of the production crew. Colonel White was talking to Dale Burland and Martin Felsen, the actor who played PRISM’s commanding officer, Colonel Fright. Nick Hudec and Roman Ciskowski, PRISM captains Hokum and Coral, respectively, were happily engaged talking to the two Spectrum Angels who had formed part of the welcoming committee, while the PRISM Seraphs were surrounded by a gaggle of brightly-uniformed Spectrum agents.
Drake instinctively knew what was wrong with this scene: nobody was paying any attention to him - but for once he wasn’t as outraged as he usually would have been. In the back of his mind an idea was forming. It was a slow process and involved him dragging back into his conscious mind past memories of how things actually worked.
More years ago than he liked to remember, he had started out as a technical assistant on a day-time soap. By finding subtle ways of bringing himself to the attention of the producers, and sleeping with the director’s wife, he had managed to get himself a small role in the show. From there, the only way had been up and he had schemed and manipulated events until finally, he was the lead star. For almost a decade he had ruled the world of day-time TV, until some scheming, testosterone-laden, male-juvenile had pulled the same tricks he’d used and ousted the old king, by insisting his character was written out - with no chance of return.
Well, I showed ‘em, he thought with a vindictive satisfaction. I told them they’d be nothing without me and I was right! Their ratings plummeted when that fly-by-night ham went into movies and I – I became a much-loved global superstar – in my own show! Now I’m not going to risk losing that position just because some anal retentive soldier doesn’t want his shiny toy shown to the world. Oh no – Drake DeBonnaire is a match for any Colonel White!
Jeanie Johnson did not want to report to Sick Bay and she and Matthew Nash were arguing that there was no need .
“I am fine,” she insisted. “Look-” She gave the three officers a twirl.
“Very nice,” Ochre said, “But you have to realise, Jeanie, that no one on this base has the right to say ‘no’ to Doctor Fawn when he says ‘get your ass down here, pronto’. We’ll get reported and be in big trouble if you won’t co-operate.”
“Yeah,” Scarlet said. “He’s told me to take you to Sick Bay and I have my orders, Jeanie. Fawn’s a tyrant, even I have to do what he tells me.”
Blue rolled his eyes. “You’re scaring her to death, guys. Ms Johnson, believe me, Doctor Fawn is merely concerned for your welfare.”
“Captain Scarlet said he wants to send me home,” she exclaimed. “I’m not going home and if he has the power to send me back, I won’t go and see him either! I am sorry if it’s going to get you into trouble, guys, but I want to be part of this – it’s an historic event!”
Ochre shrugged in despair. “See reason, Jeanie,” he pleaded.
She shook her head. “I am not going.”
“Mr Nash,” Blue said, turning to the young man. “Please try and make her see sense. Doctor Fawn is always open to reason.” Blue glared at Scarlet when he gave a hoot of derision. “He is a reasonable man. If everything is all right and he’s sure Ms Johnson is not in any discomfort, it is quite likely he’ll agree to her staying here for the duration of the visit. After all, he quite understands the importance of the event. However,” he continued, ignoring Jeanie’s splutter of protest, “if Ms Johnson refuses to co-operate, he will be quite within his authority to insist that Colonel White ‘deports’ her from the base as an unacceptable medical risk. As I see it,” he turned to Jeanie, “your best hope is to see Fawn and speak to him. If you don’t, you will certainly be sent home without a hearing.”
“Matt, don’t make me go,” she pleaded.
“It’s not up to me, Jeanie,” Matthew Nash replied thoughtfully. “I think Captain Blue’s got the right of it. I’m sure this Doctor Fawn has to be a sensible guy – after all, he’s a Spectrum officer too, isn’t he? You’d better go and see him and with any luck this’ll all blow over when he gives you a clean bill of health. Please, darling, don’t make a fuss. Everyone only wants what’s best for you and the baby.”
Her face crumpled slightly as she realised that she was effectively outnumbered and that her accepted ally had changed sides. She considered for a moment and then gave a brief nod.
“Okay, I’ll see him,” she conceded. There was an audible sigh of relief from the Spectrum officers. “But I want you to come with me.” She pointed at Blue. “Captain Scarlet doesn’t seem to think I should be here anyway, and I want someone to speak to this Doctor Fawn and tell him I’m okay.”
Glad that she was prepared to see sense, Blue gave her his most dazzling smile and Jeanie responded with a coy smile of her own.
Ochre rolled his eyes and muttered in an aside to Scarlet: “What is this power he has over damn near every female he meets?”
Scarlet smirked. “Not a clue, but I’m taking notes…”
Ochre grinned at him and said out loud, “Well, I think that’s settled then. Blue, you are hereby appointed Madrigal Seraph’s champion and defender – to no great surprise - and poor old Captain Rue is sidelined – yet again.”
“It’s the story of Rue’s life,” Nash said jovially, and hugged his partner. She cuddled against him for a brief moment. “Luckily, it isn’t mine,” he added, as he planted a kiss on her forehead. “I will see you just as soon as the doctor gives you your visitor’s pass, Jeanie.”
Captain Grey’s tour of Cloudbase had reached the engine rooms. President Roberts and his aides were admiring the impressive control panels and listening to Grey’s explanations of the power and capabilities of the state of the art engines.
Robert ‘Scotty’ McPherson, the chief engineer, was standing proudly beside one of the control panels ready to answer any questions, while his crew were smartly at attention in honour of their visitors.
“No doubt there are copious fail-safes, to prevent emergencies?” Roberts asked genially.
“Och aye, sir,” McPherson replied. “These beauties cannae fail. Any break in the power triggers automatic back-up systems and the repair ‘bots’ move in to fix things and there’s the latest nano-technology to isolate and repair any damage.”
Roberts was nodding encouragingly. “And it is tested regularly?”
“Och aye, sir, and there’s never been any problem wi’ it. Like I said, it cannae fail.”
The reception in Hangar Deck One was going well. The crew and the visitors were all enjoying the chance to unwind in what was, for both groups, exciting company. Colonel White was pleasantly surprised to discover that both Burland and Felsen were cultured men, neither of whom had any false idea of exactly what sort of programme they were making.
“It’s entertainment, pure and simple,” Felsen said. “But we do try to make it clear how much we owe to the forces that are actually doing the work of protecting us from the terrorists and rebel forces that still exist.”
“Yeah,” Burland agreed. “Although I guess you could also say that now we play it for laughs more than we used to. The only person who still believes he’s in a realistic adventure show is Drake. But, despite the comedy elements, Colonel, we don’t treat the actual premise as a joke. We realise that you and your organisation are risking your lives in earnest. I guess it is a TV cliché that one man could do all the things Captain Starlight does without getting so much as a scratch. Starlight should’ve died a hundred times, but TV doesn’t work that way. You get an actor signed up and you have to keep him.” He pulled a face. “Sadly, Drake’s so associated with the role now, we’d be hard pressed to recast him.”
“I quite understand, gentlemen,” White replied. “The programme is very popular with many of the crew here. Of course, there are a few diehards who consider that it trivialises what Spectrum does.”
“I’d be happy to talk to them,” Burland said. “We have nothing but admiration for Spectrum and all the World Government forces.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Mr Burland,” White remarked, trying to imagine how long the TV executive would last under the withering scorn of Captain Blue. “I am sure that this visit will go some way to reassuring the doubters.”
He glanced across the hangar and saw Scarlet and Blue escorting a young woman towards one of the lifts. He made a mental note to find out what they’d been up to, later.
Drake DeBonnaire had slipped away unnoticed and made his way to the cargo hold of the WAAF jet, where the props crates and equipment for the broadcast had been stored. He waved an imperious acknowledgement to the crew technicians and Spectrum officials busy unloading the gear, and went to the crate labelled ‘Drake 1’.
“Open this for me, willya?” he asked the nearest member of the film crew.
“What you looking for?” the man asked, as he sorted out the key and unlocked the crate.
“A little personal gift for one of the Spectrum Angels,” Drake said with a leer. “I reckon I’m on a promise there, buddy.”
For a split second the man’s expression expressed deep scepticism, but then he shrugged.
“I guess they don’t get out much,” he muttered, as he stood back and allowed Drake to rummage in the crate.
When the actor had finished and taken out a plastic briefcase, he locked the crate again and nodded an indifferent ‘farewell’ before returning to his colleagues.
Drake sneered at the retreating man and walked to a quiet part of the hangar deck where he could unpack his case in private.
He took out one of the small cameras that were usually attached to the actors’ costumes for a character’s-point-of-view shots of the action sequences. The cameras used a wireless download to the main film storage disc, allowing the actor full freedom of movement while providing the watcher with the excitement of a vicarious experience. Drake didn’t use them often , as all of his stunts were done by his body-double-stuntman, but he was familiar with them. He tested the three batteries in the pack with the camera. One of them had power for about 30 minutes’ film time, but the other two needed recharging.
That should give me time to film around this reception deck and then, I’ll need to slip away and replace the battery pack with a new one for the other parts of the base. When it’s over I can collect the film disc before we get back on the plane if l connect it to a power source down here. I’ll set both batteries to recharge and take the spare with me – just in case.
He looked around for a suitably concealed socket.
“As you can see, Mr President, this screen gives a schematic representation of every power conduit and access point across the base. If so much as one of the lovely Angels blows a fuse on her hairdryer, we can isolate the fault and be there in a trice to put it right,” Chief McPherson explained.
“It is certainly a remarkable piece of diagnostic equipment,” Roberts replied, leaning forward to study the keyboard that controlled the display board. “Has this technology been rolled out through the other military services?”
Captain Grey answered, “I believe that the World Space Control are currently testing a modified example, sir. The WASPs have a version similar to this and there was a prototype version in the Unitron tank, but that project was, as you know, discontinued a few years ago.”
“Hmm; I shall recommend that the Supreme Commander Earth Forces considers the uses of this technology throughout the services. Repairs and maintenance costs are forever increasing and we must find ways to reduce the overheads… Why is that light flashing, Chief McPherson?”
With a confident smile, as if it had all been arranged to show just how good the system was, the Chief stepped forward and peered at the display.
“That green light is showing the activation of a power point in the hangar decks… Hangar Deck One, to be precise, sir.”
“That’s where the reception’s being held,” Grey said urgently. “I wonder why anyone needs to plug anything in there.”
The light turned red.
“There’s a fault,” McPherson muttered, “but just on the one circuit.” He turned to a technician. “Get me a report on that, Wilkins.”
“S.I.G., Chief,” the man replied.
“You’d better get it fixed pronto, Chief; leave the diagnostics till later,” Grey advised. “The colonel won’t want the reception interrupted by a problem with the lights or the air supply.”
“S.I.G., Captain,” McPherson said with a hint of irritation. He punched a button and a corresponding light flashed on the screen. He smiled. “There goes the repair-bot. It’ll be fixed in no time.”
World President Roberts stood and watched.
Suddenly more red lights flashed and blinked across the vast screen. Overhead the lights flickered.
“Chief?” Grey said cautiously.
“I’m on it, Captain.” McPherson swung into the control seat and barked an order: “Lieutenant Pine, check the power grid; we’ve got a cascade!”
Grey watched as the random pattern of failures continued to spread. A frown appeared between his dark brows as he recognised a pattern forming.
MERRY XMAS EARTHMEN
All over Cloudbase the power grid failed, the lights went out and everything ground to a halt.
The Mysterons had struck without warning.
There was surprisingly little panic when the lights failed in Hangar One – at least for the first few minutes.
“Please stay where you are,” Colonel White called out across the deck. “The repairs should not take more than a moment or two.”
The emergency lights had come on, casting a faintly greenish tinge over the hangar and the people gathered in it. The colonel found an officer at his side and it took him a moment to realise it was Captain Magenta.
“Shall I contact Engineering, sir?” Magenta asked, as the seconds ticked away.
“Please do, Captain.”
Magenta activated one of the intercoms on the hangar wall. “Chief McPherson, we have lost light and power in Hangar Bay One,” he reported.
The colonel could hear the static from where he was standing.
Bugger, he thought. “Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps you would care to return to the Presidential Jet with Symphony and Harmony Angels, where there will be light and heat, until the repairs are completed. Lieutenant Viridian, please ensure everyone has a drink and something to eat. All other officers, to me, please.”
The lift came to a standstill with a violent jerk that caused the three occupants to stumble into each other.
“Are you all right, Ms Johnson?” Blue asked, steadying their guest as she almost toppled over.
“Yes, I think so; what’s happened?” Jeanie asked, as the emergency lighting came on.
“A minor glitch,” Scarlet said. He was already at the control panel. “These things happen from time to time; it’s nothing to worry about. Chief McPherson prides himself on setting things to rights in double-quick time.” He pressed the alarm. “That’s just to let them know there’s someone in a lift. They’ll prioritise repairs to this power relay now.”
She nodded slightly and a small frown appeared on her face.
“Taking their time, aren’t they?” Blue remarked quietly, going over to join Scarlet by the panel when nothing happened after thirty seconds or so.
Scarlet’s response was a concerned frown. He tried the intercom and got a blast of static. Blue tried his radio cap and grimaced as the static assaulted his hearing.
“I don’t think this is your average blown fuse,” Scarlet said quietly.
“There’s been no threat,” Blue replied in a horrified whisper.
“And what is to say that they have to give us warning? If we’ve been daft enough to put all our eggs in one basket – the World President and every Spectrum officer together on Cloudbase – they’d be crazy to put us on our guard before they attacked, wouldn’t they?”
“You think Cloudbase is under attack?”
Scarlet shrugged. “The Mysterons don’t take Christmas off, we’ve learned that over the years. I had a gut feeling this whole visit was a stupid idea!”
“Welcome to my world,” Blue retorted with some bitterness.
Scarlet gave him an apologetic shrug. “The World President’s wishes obviously have to override the professional concerns of us all. But I guess you have the right to say ‘I told you so’, if anyone does. What worried me is we don’t know what’s happening, or the full extent of the problem.”
“While we’re stuck here unable to do anything,” Blue added.
Both men glanced up at the maintenance hatch.
“One of us could go,” Scarlet said, in response to the unspoken idea. “We can’t leave Jeanie here alone and we can’t take her with us – even if we could get her through that hatch – we don’t know what’s happening out there.”
They both turned to look at her.
Jeanie was leaning against the hand rail, her face had become deathly pale and she was biting her lower lip.
“What’s the matter?” Scarlet gasped, hardly daring to let the thought of the worst possible answer cross his mind.
She turned frightened eyes on them. “I think I’ve gone into labour. That jolt, it must’ve started something. I’m all wet. I think my waters have broken.”
“This can not be happening,” Blue moaned.
“It is and you’ll have to cope with it,” Scarlet said.
“Why me?” Blue protested, turning a challenging gaze on his partner.
Scarlet replied defensively, “Because you’re the one who got a ‘distinction’ on Fawn’s ‘First Aider’ course.”
“For reasons I won’t go into right now, the Field Officers’ first aid training course does not include delivering babies,” Blue snapped.
Jeanie gasped and started to sink to the floor. Even in the dim light of the lift they could see she was scared and in pain, and both men moved over to help her down. Once she was crouched on the floor, blowing out short gasps of breath and clinging to Blue’s strong arms to steady herself, Scarlet removed his tunic ready to put behind her shoulders. He fanned her with his radio cap.
“I don’t know what to do!” Blue wailed, panic in his voice.
“Well, nor do I,” Scarlet retorted.
“Nor me,” gasped Jeanie tearfully. “It’s my first time too. What’s going to happen to me – and to the baby?”
Blue helped her to lie down, with Scarlet’s tunic under her head and knelt beside her. “It’s okay, Ms Johnson, we’ll get you to sick bay before anything too important happens. Just try and relax.”
“Better be quick then, Captain.” She tried to choke back another scream. “I don’t think we have long; this baby’s decided to be born here and now!”
He patted her hand and Scarlet continued fanning while she rode the wave of the contraction and then lay back, gasping for breath.
Suddenly, Scarlet said, “Adam, the medical comms system should still be functioning. We should try to raise Fawn.”
Blue nodded in relief, and activated his cap mic.
“Blue to Sick Bay: come in Sick Bay. We have a medical emergency.”
There was a pause that seemed to last forever and then faintly and with some interference, they heard Fawn’s voice.
“We’re trapped in the elevator on our way to Sick Bay, and Ms Johnson’s waters have broken, she thinks, and she’s getting… contractions, I think.”
“Urmm, quite often,” Blue replied.
“Time them,” Fawn ordered. “And I will try to connect to the lift intercom from here. Cloudbase seems to have lost power, but thankfully, my emergency generator’s working. Switch the intercom over to loudspeaker.”
“I’m on it,” Scarlet said. He left Jeanie’s side and switched the intercom to open. They heard bursts of static, some muttered cursing and then Fawn came through, faint but clear enough.
“Got you on loudspeaker, Doc, but you’ll need to speak up,” Scarlet said. He turned back to where Blue was helping Jeanie through another contraction. He stared at his wristwatch.
“That was a contraction,” Scarlet announced.
“How dilated is she?” Fawn asked.
“Dilated?” Blue gulped. “You mean, like her pupils?”
“No, you drongo! The birth canal – how dilated is it?”
“I just knew you were going to say that…” Blue muttered and sighed. “I don’t know,” he replied.
Blue closed his eyes and swallowed.
“Excuse me, Ms Johnson,” Blue said. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to… need to… examine you, if you don’t mind?”
Biting into her lip, and then gasping for breath, Jeanie nodded permission.
Blue crouched down and rather gingerly lifted the skirt of her voluminous dress. With some difficulty he managed, with her help, to slide her underwear off and dropped it to one side. Jeanie obligingly bent her knees and spread her legs wide, then screamed again, panting heavily.
“Two minutes, fifteen seconds,” Scarlet reported.
Nothing daunted now that he was following orders, Blue considered uncertainly for a moment. “Six or seven centimetres,” he suggested to Scarlet who was peering over his shoulder.
“No, closer to eight,” his friend said.
Jeanie stared at them in disbelief for a moment and then said, “Pardon me, Captains, I appreciate there’s a need for accuracy, but try to remember it’s me you’re discussing!”
Blue dropped the skirt as if it was burning his fingers. “Oh, sure; sorry, ma’am.”
“Oh, call me Jeanie! For God’s sake, Captain, you’ve just been staring at my-” She groaned at the top of her voice as another contraction wracked her body.
“What’s going on?” the doctor’s voice demanded.
“She’s about eight centimetres,” Blue told him, his face red to the ears.
Scarlet was having difficulty suppressing a need to giggle that was as much to do with embarrassment as amusement.
“Yeah, you’re definitely having a baby,” Fawn remarked.
“I think we’d already worked that out for ourselves,” Scarlet said dryly. “What do we do now, Doc?”
“Could you see the head?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t look,” Blue admitted.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Fawn muttered. “Captain Blue, get your act together; you’re going to have to deliver this baby. I’ll help as much as I can, but you have to be my eyes and ears, and I need to know if the child has turned in the womb, a breech-birth is much more problematical.”
Scarlet glanced at Blue’s despondent expression and clamped his hand on to the American’s shoulder. “You can do it, Blue-boy, I know you can.”
“Doesn’t look like I have much choice,” Blue said, with a sigh. “Okay, Doc; I’m your man.” He smiled reassuringly at Jeanie. “Believe me, Jeanie, Doctor Fawn’s the best there is; he’ll get us through this.”
“All of us,” Scarlet added.
Fawn’s voice was reassuringly matter-of-fact as he settled down to issue instructions. “Right: first of all, make her as comfortable as you can. Paul, you’ll need to support her shoulders and encourage her to push when I tell you to. Jeanie, when you need to let rip, scream your heart out if it helps; don’t worry about these two, they’re almost grown ups now, they can cope. And, both of you two, for heaven’s sake, stay calm, or she’ll panic too. ”
“S.I.G.,” the captains replied.
Fawn continued: “Now, listen, Adam, this is what I want you to do…”
Lieutenant Pine used the manual override to open the door to Hangar Bay One and shone his powerful torch inside. He picked out Colonel White standing with Captains Magenta and Ochre and Lieutenant Topaz beside him; all of them had their Spectrum issue pistols drawn.
“Hello, sir,” Pine said, as he led the team of three technicians into the hangar. “Chief McPherson sent me and the team up to see if we can discover what started the power-loss cascade. It was definitely this location that we registered the first problem. Nothing seems to be improving the situation, so the Chief reckons whatever started it is still having an effect. Do you remember what was happening, sir?”
“Where is the World President?” Colonel White demanded.
“Down in Engineering with Captain Grey and Chief McPherson,” Lieutenant Pine replied, quailing slightly in the face of White’s stern expression. “He was there when this happened and the Chief’s really mad that we haven’t been able to put it right quickly. Sir.”
“He’s safe?” White asked.
“The World President? Oh yes, Colonel. He’s watching how we cope with the problem.”
“I bet he is,” White muttered. “Thank you, Lieutenant, do you have communication with Engineering?”
“Not right now, sir. Only the medical systems are still functioning.”
“Right; Captain Magenta, you had better lead the search around the hangar deck for… possible causes of the power-loss cascade.”
“And heaven help the man who triggered this off when I get my hands on him…” White concluded.
It didn’t take long for Lieutenant Pine to identify and correct the problem, once Captain Ochre had discovered the illicit electrical cable connections to the battery packs and the film drive. He unplugged the offending cables and isolated the socket until the repair-bots could get along to replace cables and links.
One of the technicians started off at a run to take the information back to Engineering, while the others checked other sockets and cabling.
“What are they?” the colonel demanded of Pine, as the young man slipped the offending items into a heavy-duty plastic bag for examination back in the workrooms.
“Well, that’s a recharge-coupling for these batteries, and this looks to me like an external hard disc, for storage,” Pine said. “I don’t think it’s one of ours though, sir; there isn’t a ‘checked’ sticker on any of it.”
White held out his hand and Pine handed over the equipment. The colonel studied it in the gloom of the emergency lighting.
“Is this the sort of thing anyone might own?” he asked.
Pine rubbed his nose thoughtfully. “Well, someone might, if they were into amateur filmmaking. You can get very small wireless cameras that transmit straight to the disc.”
Ochre took them from the colonel. “I’ve seen things like these too,” he said. “When I was in the police we’d find them in the dens used for illegal bare-knuckle fights or animal baiting. Sometimes for porn too – you’d be surprised the places people would find to attach the cameras.”
“I’ll take your word for it, Captain,” the colonel said sourly. He glanced at the lieutenant. “This isn’t our equipment? You’re sure?”
“No, it isn’t Spectrum issue,” Pine said, looking at the equipment again through the plastic.
Ochre sighed. “It must belong to one of the VIPs, sir.”
The colonel nodded. “Yes, I very much fear you might be right, Captain.”
Pine swallowed and asked, “Can I take them, sir? The Chief will want to make sure they’re clean.”
“Not yet, Lieutenant,” White said. “I will let Chief McPherson have them as soon as I can.”
“S.I.G., sir. Can I go and lend the Chief a hand?”
“Yes, Lieutenant. You may go.”
Lieutenant Pine had not had much direct contact with Colonel White, but he was perceptive enough to know when someone was about to blow their top.
He went back to Engineering with alacrity.
“What’re we going to do, Colonel?” Ochre asked, handing the equipment back to his commanding officer.
“We’re not going to do anything,” White said in the familiar, even tone that alerted every elite officer to an impending explosion.
“We’re not? I know they’re guests, Colonel, but Cloudbase could have been in danger if we hadn’t found out what was causing the power outage in time.”
“Yes,” White said briskly, as if he was emerging from a reverie. “I am well aware of that. I want you and Magenta to keep an eye on the actors while I have a word with the film crew and technicians. Topaz, you’re with me.”
“S.I.G.,” Ochre replied, and beckoned his field partner over.
Colonel White went on board the Presidential Jet, and with the help of Lieutenant Topaz, Symphony and Harmony managed to get all of the film technicians together in the rear cabin. There were more than he’d anticipated and it was quite a squeeze. He held the plastic bag with the electrical equipment in aloft and said genially:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I need to know if you recognise these, and if any of you were responsible for connecting then to the power socket in the hangar?”
The technicians took the bag and passed it amongst themselves. They admitted recognising what it was, but all denied all knowledge of how it came to be connected to the power grid.
Their spokesperson, a smartly-dressed woman, explained, “Look, any one of us could have connected this, but if we had, you’d have known about it. We always ask permission if we need to recharge something. These days you can’t assume it’s okay to plug in without asking and even if we are given permission, we’ll use an isolator coupling to prevent corruption of the storage disc. Can’t risk losing the day’s work through some unexpected power surge.”
Colonel White nodded. “That’s as I thought.”
She continued, “I don’t recall our inventory containing these particular gadgets anyway; we’re not filming action sequences and, as was agreed the live feed will be vetted before it is transmitted and stored by Spectrum, so we wouldn’t need a disc or a wireless camera.”
“Do you have any idea who might’ve connected these to Cloudbase’s power supply?” the colonel asked.
“I think it was one of the actors,” a young man volunteered.
“Such as?” There was a shuffling amongst the crew and everyone avoided eye contact. The colonel continued, “I will, of course, be asking them all anyway; you will only be saving my time and theirs if you have any information or suggestions.”
The young man’s neighbours had drawn apart from him slightly, as if they feared contamination by association, but for a moment the youngster said nothing.
White waited a calculated time and then said, almost conversationally, “If no responsible person is identified, Spectrum may well be forced to take action – legal action – against every one here.”
It was a bluff, but it presented the crew with enough of an excuse to loosen their tongues.
“Before we left I saw Drake – Mr DeBonnaire – packing something into the props crates,” a young make-up artist said hesitantly.
“Was it Mr DeBonnaire you saw that makes you think one of the actors connected the film devices?” White asked, addressing the young technician directly for the first time.
“He was away from the others doing something. I just noticed because he usually wants to be the centre of attention,” the man said.
An older man spoke up. “While we were still unloading the gear, he asked me to open one of the crates; said he wanted some personal gifts for the Angel pilots – reckoned he was on a promise.” There was a collective groan of scepticism. “I didn’t see what he took out though – except it was some kind of briefcase – and I didn’t watch what he did next.”
“Well, he had his own press photographer along,” someone else chipped in. “Maybe the guy said he’d need these?”
“Drake is a publicity junkie,” the spokeswoman agreed. “If I had to suggest one of the cast as the prime suspect, I’d start there, Colonel White.”
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen; I am most grateful. However, please keep our discussion to yourselves for now. Leave it to me, if you please.”
They nodded and drifted away in small groups gossiping amongst themselves. As the colonel picked up his electrical evidence, the power was restored and the lights came back on outside the plane.
Thank goodness, he thought, and moved purposefully into the front cabin, where the actors were preparing to disembark again.
In the lift, the lights came on again and, as the repair-bots did their job, the winch kicked into life, although the occupants barely noticed. When the doors opened, Doctor Fawn was waiting in the corridor with two nurses and an emergency gurney from Sick Bay.
They saw Captain Scarlet, looking absurdly proud, standing in the middle of the lift holding a noisy bundle wrapped in his uniform tunic, while Captain Blue was still kneeling beside Jeanie Johnson. She was looking dishevelled, tearful and tired, but somehow, distinctly triumphant.
“Well done,” Fawn said heartily to everyone. Then he glanced at Scarlet. “What is it?”
“A baby,” Scarlet replied brightly.
“Uh-huh,” Fawn said, as one of the nurses took the bundle from the captain and the other went to assist Captain Blue in lifting Jeanie onto the gurney, where she settled back gratefully onto the pillows. “They come in two varieties, Captain, boy and girl. Which one is that?”
Scarlet beamed. “A boy, definitely a boy.”
“Have you chosen a name?” Nurse Ingram asked Jeanie, as she handed the baby over to her.
“Matt and I chose names weeks ago. Her name is Angela.”
Scarlet blinked in surprise.
"I told you it was the umbilical cord," Blue hissed.
“Nice going, Scarlet,” Fawn said to the embarrassed officer. “I think you may be in need of some remedial human biology training.”
Everyone chuckled and Scarlet flushed. Fawn smiled at him and then patted Blue on the arm.
“Well done, Adam. Now you’d better come to Sick Bay; you look like you’ve just had the baby yourself.”
Blue glanced down at his tunic, which was smeared with blood and a damp mixture of bodily fluids he had no wish to identify. He nodded at Fawn and despite the state he was in, felt inordinately proud of himself.
As they trailed after the gurney, Scarlet said:
“I could have sworn…I saw…I mean, I thought I saw…”
“A genuine mistake, anyone could’ve made it,” Blue agreed ironically and then sniggered. “Come on, I don’t know about you, but I need a cup of coffee and a shower.”
“Champagne would be more suitable,” Fawn remarked, “suitably non-alcoholic, of course.”
Blue shivered. “Never touch the stuff – especially the non-alcoholic variety,” he replied, and it was Scarlet’s turn to chuckle.
The news of the birth travelled around Cloudbase like greased lightning and President Roberts and the proud father arrived at Sick Bay within seconds of each other, both with an excited entourage.
Nurse Ingram met them at reception and barred the way.
“You can’t go in,” she said firmly, “until Doctor Fawn says so.”
“But I’m the baby’s father,” Nash explained.
She stood her ground. “When Doctor Fawn has finished checking the mother and child, you’ll be the first to go in,” she promised. “Until then – no one gets any closer than this.”
Despite this obstruction, the World President was full of good cheer. He had seen a demonstration of Cloudbase’s resilience in adversity and been – almost - present at the birth of what he was already calling ‘Spectrum’s first grandchild.’ He was snapping orders at his aides, telling them to rewrite his speech to include the ‘historic event’.
“You’ve made his Christmas, anyway,” Ochre remarked to Matthew Nash.
Nash grinned. “Do you think Doctor Fawn will be long?”
Ochre shook his head. “He’s the fastest doc in the ‘verse, is Fawn. Why, he even cures Captain Scarlet quicker than your Doctor Kildeer cures Captain Starlight!”
Nash laughed. “Drake does make some miraculous recoveries, doesn’t he? All dictated by the filming schedule, of course.”
“Yeah, he does,” Ochre agreed jovially, adding to himself, “so does Scarlet, all dictated by the Mysterons, of course…”
The only people not crowding into the Sick Bay were Colonel White, Lieutenant Topaz and Drake DeBonnaire. Topaz had drawn the actor to one side as his excited colleagues had streamed after Matthew Nash, who was dashing headlong towards Sick Bay with Captain Ochre leading the way, and brought him to where Colonel White was waiting by the private elevator that went to his Ready Room.
“Mr DeBonnaire, I would appreciate a word with you, in private,” White said, ushering the actor to the lift.
“Sure,” Drake said confidently and stepped inside.
Topaz stepped after the colonel and pressed the ‘up’ button.
The lift rose up through the decks and burst into the daylight, continuing to rise up one of the struts towards the command centre. Drake gawped in astonishment, pleased to think that the discreet camera on his lapel was getting all of this. When the lift stopped, the door opened into the colonel’s private office, away from the public areas of the base, and White invited him in.
DeBonnaire was excited. He had been outraged to discover that this miserable spoilsport did have the authority to prevent him publicising his visit, but he felt sure the colonel had reconsidered his publicity ban and was ready to do a deal. Drake was more than ready to agree to a dozen or so signed photographs of them together, and perhaps some of his personal gear, authenticated as to provenance to ensure it was a collector’s item, in exchange for the world-wide publicity rights of everything that had happened.
After all, who knows more about effective publicity than me? he thought.
The commander indicated a seat by a neat and surprisingly clear desk and DeBonnaire sat, waiting to bargain his way to the biggest publicity coup of the year. Topaz stood silently by the lift entrance, his hands clasped behind his back.
Colonel White considered his visitor while he walked around to the other side of the desk. DeBonnaire was tall and broadly built, with a deep voice that was rumoured to be irresistible to women of a certain age. On closer examination it was easy to see that he was a little overweight and his once handsome face showed the unmistakable signs of rejuvenating plastic surgery: the unnaturally puffy cheeks, the wide eyes and the wrinkle-free forehead. His abundant dark hair was thinning on top and from the tint of the exposed scalp, White suspected the regular use of hair dye.
Nevertheless, however pathetic the jumped-up, tin-pot hero seemed to be, White had no intention of underestimating his opponent. He produced the plastic bag and laid it on the table before Drake.
“Tell me, Mr DeBonnaire, have you seen these before?”
Drake hesitated. “I know what they are,” he hedged, a slight frown between his brows. “But these things all look the same to me, so I can’t answer 100% that I have seen these very ones.” He glanced up at the colonel and asked innocently, “Why?”
“Because, Mr DeBonnaire, these are what was responsible for the power loss cascade Cloudbase suffered. A power loss that put more than one life at risk, I might add.”
“And what’s it to do with me? My life was one of those at risk, if there was a risk, as you claim.”
“Because the blithering idiot who connected these to Cloudbase’s power grid did not even pause to consider what the outcome of his actions could be. You see, Cloudbase is a secure base and as such it is a totally self-contained unit, 40,000 feet – which for the uninitiated, is a whopping seven-and-a-half miles - above the ground. That, Mr DeBonnaire, is a very long way to fall. Every electrical circuit has to be monitored, not because we begrudge anyone the use of the power, but because if anything damages those circuits, the inevitable outcome – eventually – is that this base will crash and the lives of everyone on board – and the present complement is 602 people – will be over. Not to mention the lives of many thousands of innocent civilians if the base crashed onto a city and, without power to steer her, she could’ve come down anywhere along the west coast of America.”
Drake fidgeted, avoiding the colonel’s perceptive gaze and shrugged. “Then you should make sure this person understand that,” he said. “But, I ask again, what’s it to do with me? I’m an actor, not a technician. I don’t meddle with equipment.”
“I’m afraid I don’t believe you,” White snapped sternly. “You were observed to be loading some personal effects before the flight took off and you removed something from the same crate during the reception. Furthermore, you were observed to be doing something in a corner of the hangar deck just before the power outage started. It is my belief that you were connecting this equipment to a power socket.”
With a nonchalance he did not really feel, Drake said, “I know I am always being ‘observed’ – it’s the price a star pays – so I wouldn’t be stupid enough to ‘break the rules’, would I?”
The colonel tilted his head as if considering this reasoning. “That is a point I had not considered. Lieutenant Topaz, you had better ask one of Spectrum’s security officers to check the internal security tapes and see if they can identify exactly what Mr DeBonnaire was doing on the hangar deck just before the power outage.”
“I wasn’t doing anything!” Drake blurted out, thoroughly alarmed. “I deny it. You can’t prove it, anyway.”
“But I can,” White snapped. “I told you this is a secure base, Mr DeBonnaire, secure inside and out. What is more, every security camera has a protected power source. Every angle of this base is covered, so all I have to do is call for the recordings to be scanned and I can provide enough evidence to convince even the most die-hard fan that you are the person who put all those lives at risk.”
“Well, what if I did? Nothing happened – nothing was going to happen, either – you’re making it up. These places have so many fail-safe systems nothing would have happened. Everyone knows that; the Health and Safety police would never let you fly it without a fail-safe system. So, what’re you going to do about it? Charge me for the power used?” Drake blustered.
“Nothing so practical, sadly,” the colonel said. “I am sure President Roberts is going to tell everyone what happened in his global address and I cannot risk him sowing doubts about whether Cloudbase is thoroughly safe. Any doubts raised in the public could result in Cloudbase being denied access to national airspace and that cannot be allowed to happen. So, in providing him with the explanation of what happened, I will, naturally, have to reveal the name of the guilty party. So, unless you admit you were responsible for the power outage cascade and apologise to everyone on this base for putting them in danger before then, I will have to release the security footage to the World President and the World Press, in order to collaborate my explanation.”
Drake went pale. “That would be a breach of confidentiality – my lawyers would take Spectrum to the cleaners-”
“ ‘Captain Starlight’ guilty of risking the lives of 700 people by his thoughtless, selfish, not to mention forbidden, actions’,” White mused, “I can almost see the headlines now – something much snappier than I can dream up, but they’d leave no doubt as to who was to blame.”
“That’s blackmail!” Drake spluttered.
White paused thoughtfully. “Yes, you might be right.”
“What is to say that Roberts won’t spill the beans anyway?”
“Oh, I am sure you could encourage his discretion with a suitably contrite donation… to his favourite charity, for example?”
“But everyone here will know,” Drake said.
White nodded. “You don’t have long to make your mind up, Mr DeBonnaire. We had better join the official gathering in the Conference Room. That is where the President will be making his broadcast from… in approximately 75 minutes from now.”
Drake looked nervous; the idea of having his actions – which for some reason he still couldn’t quite understand, seemed to have been disapproved of – broadcast around the world to his doting fans was not something he liked to contemplate. There were devoted fans who would always worship him, he was sure of that; but the ridicule of the fickle masses was something he knew his career would never survive.
“And if I apologise for my genuine mistake, you’ll let the matter drop?” he asked sulkily.
“I will,” White said, and saw relief flood into the actor’s face. “Of course, I can’t make that promise on behalf of the other members of the cast and crews or the television company…”
“They’ll lynch me!” Drake gasped, as the full import of the situation dawned on him.
“They might,” White agreed, but added with a reassuring smile, “but not on my base, Mr DeBonnaire…” The smile quickly faded to be replaced with an uncompromising glare. “And quite frankly, what happens when you leave here is somebody else’s problem and can’t come quick enough for me.”
Drake leapt to his feet.
“Sit down!” White thundered with all the expectation of obedience his years of command had instilled in his voice.
Drake obeyed – as better men than he had done before.
“You will be accompanied for the rest of your visit by Lieutenant Topaz. He will not leave your side until you step off the World President’s jet at the airport again. You will not be allowed anywhere near any broadcasting equipment and your luggage and person will be searched for illicit recordings, now and before you leave.”
“I will not submit to that!” DeBonnaire exclaimed.
“Then you will spend the rest of the visit in our brig, Mr DeBonnaire. I will not tolerate anyone flouting the restrictions I have imposed on this visit; those restrictions were there for a reason. Spectrum’s security has to be paramount and the safety of this base and the people on it are my prime concern. I will take any actions necessary to protect them.”
The colonel leant across his desk and said fiercely:
“Do you even comprehend that this is not a fantasy, Mr DeBonnaire? There is no one writing a script that prevents any one of my officers being killed in the course of a mission and for them that really is the final curtain! There are no ‘expendable extras’ on Cloudbase and I will not allow some vain, egotistical soap star to put their lives at even greater risk.”
“I wouldn’t do that!”
“You’ve already done it!” White thundered. “I could have you arrested and charged with putting the life of the World President in danger - that’s treason, Mr DeBonnaire! And believe me, if you take one pace out of line or say one word that doesn’t follow the rules, I will do it! Do I make myself clear?”
DeBonnaire was pale and trembling, but White realised that it was now with fear and not some self-important sense of angry injustice. Thankful that he had finally got the seriousness of the situation through to the culprit, he leant back in his chair and glanced at Topaz.
“Lieutenant, escort our guest to Sick Bay and ask Doctor Fawn to do a full body search and scan. Then you may accompany Mr DeBonnaire to the Conference Room, where, I feel sure, he will have something to say to the World President and his colleagues from the TV show.”
Drake staggered to his feet and stumbled over to the lift, where his escort ushered him inside and stepped in afterwards. The last sight he had of Colonel White was the implacably stern face of the Commander-in-Chief of what was probably the world’s most effective security force, and there was no forgiveness in it.
As the lift door closed and the pod descended towards the main decks, Colonel White sighed and shook his head.
“God help this planet if we ever have to rely on people like that…” he said aloud.
“Ladies and gentlemen, children, friends, colleagues, comrades and allies, thank you for inviting me into your homes on this very special day. This wonderful world of ours is a marvellous mix of faiths and creeds, beliefs and philosophies, customs and traditions, so it is difficult for us all to meet on common ground to give thanks to the Providence that has given us another year of peace and plenty; yet I venture to hope that all of us can accept the symbolism of this Christian day of rejoicing enough to join our voices in harmony long enough to acknowledge the positive aspects of our lives. So I hope you will join me in my sincere prayer that this will continue.”
World President Roberts smiled warmly at the camera and with a well-rehearsed spontaneous gesture brushed his grey hair back from his forehead, as he settled back in his homely armchair, his face assuming a sympathetic expression.
“Of course, I know that not every life is an easy one and many of you will be experiencing difficulties in your personal lives as the economy of your nation state suffers or the vagaries of the weather patterns fail to ensure a decent harvest. The World Government, while respecting the sovereignty of every member state, is firmly committed to providing support for regions suffering from such difficulties; we have provided funding to aid the recovery of global manufacturing and commerce, as well as for additional irrigation programmes around the world, such as the rebuilding of the important desalination plant at Najama in Peru.”
His expression hardened to one of stern authority.
“The destruction of the Najama plant was an outrageous act of terrorism and such acts continue to be perpetrated by the callous foot soldiers of those misguided nations who consider the fellowship of the nations in the World Government as an affront to the individuality of their people. My government has stated many times that we respect the right of every member state to find their own way to peace and prosperity, as long as they shun the ways of anarchy, corruption – both political and moral - and belligerence. Sadly, not every national government finds this acceptable which is why my government has sworn to maintain the level of funding to the security forces that protect and defend the borders of every member state from incursion and terrorist raids.”
“I thought this was supposed to be apolitical?” Captain Scarlet hissed to Captain Blue who grimaced as Colonel White turned to glare at them.
The World President relaxed in his armchair and gave a twinkling smile.
“But this happy occasion is not the time for talk of recriminations and aggression. This holiday is a time for families to be together and friends to extend the hand of comradeship across religious and ethnic divides, and for all of us to thank those men and women who devote their lives to protecting the lives of the many from the aggression of the few. To that end I am speaking to you today from the heart of one such organisation: Spectrum.”
“Now, there has been some criticism of the secrecy that surrounds Spectrum and its mission to defend the world from terrorism, but that security is there to enable the dedicated personnel of this estimable organisation to carry out their duties in safety. Spectrum remains the lynchpin of the World Government’s commitment to protect its citizens, and I am here today to extend the thanks of my government to Spectrum and the other World Security forces for their stalwart defence of the planet.”
He stood up and walked a few steps to the left, where the distinctive patterned walls of the Conference Room came into shot.
“Here on Cloudbase, where the men and women of Spectrum’s elite forces are stationed, they are capable of spanning the globe with their protective arms, giving equal attention to every member state. It is perfectly understandable, yet a personal sadness to me, that I cannot introduce you to the fine men and women who serve us all so well. They are here now, watching this broadcast and I will ask them to raise their voices with me to wish you all the ‘compliments of the season’. Ladies and gentlemen…”
Smiling broadly, Roberts waved his arms as if conducting a choir and the well-rehearsed crew of Cloudbase duly chorused ‘seasons greetings from Cloudbase’, before dissolving into laughter and a spontaneous, if somewhat ironic, round of applause for their own cleverness.
Roberts was grinning and applauding with them and when the noise died down he continued, glancing surreptitiously at the teleprompter fixed below the one camera the colonel had agreed to.
“Today Cloudbase has witnessed two historic firsts: this live broadcast to the people of the world, and, a very happy event in the lives of two well-known people. For it was my intention to conclude this broadcast with a surprise appearance by Spectrum’s ‘alter-egos’-”
“Told you,” Blue hissed.
“- the excellent men and women of our own ‘Primary Response Initiative for Saving Mankind’: PRISM.” Roberts beamed in excited delight. “For Spectrum’s Commander in Chief, Colonel White, granted his permission-”
“Hummph,” White snorted.
“-for those well-loved characters to accompany me and entertain us all with their chart-topping charity hit song. Yet, while we here, Cloudbase experienced a serious technical malfunction, which could have represented a threat to all of us on board and to the people living on the land we are stationed over. But I witnessed with my own eyes how quickly Spectrum’s superb crew of technicians were able to repair the base, proving to me just how insignificant a threat this superbly engineered aerial base is, despite the concerns of those doubters who claim that it would pose an unacceptable risk to the world’s cities, if it were to malfunction. In real time, while this incident was actually occurring, two Spectrum captains were accompanying one of the charming PRISM Seraphs to the base’s medical facility, because, despite all precautions, that young lady was about to have her baby.”
He twinkled at the camera with a teasing smile. “Ah, you’re wondering who I’m speaking about, I know you are! So, without further ado, let me tell you that a beautiful baby girl was born right here on Cloudbase – in the elevator! – delivered by those two brave captains! Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the first truly global citizen, Cloudbase’s granddaughter: Baby Angela Nash!”
He led the applause as Matthew Nash wheeled Jeanie Johnson and baby Angela into the camera’s field of vision. Roberts shook hands with Matthew and with Jeanie, posing for a moment with his hand resting gently on the covered head of the sleeping baby, secure in the knowledge that the picture would be on every newscast and the front page of every newspaper tomorrow.
Jeanie was smiling proudly, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears of emotion. Roberts smiled down at her and said:
“I know you want to say a few words, Ms Johnson.”
Jeanie nodded and turned to look, not at the camera, but directly at Scarlet and Blue. “Matt and I have been married for almost a year now and we were both so excited when we knew about our baby. Our contracts prevented us from making the news of our marriage and then the baby public, so it has been top secret! But I never thought I would have my baby here on a top secret base, and I have to thank the two wonderful captains who did such a magnificent job while we were stuck in that elevator and who ensured my little girl had the best possible start in life, despite the unexpected nature of her arrival.”
There was another round of applause and both Scarlet and Blue looked extremely embarrassed.
Jeanie continued, “Matt and I decided on names for the baby some time ago; we chose Angela for a girl as the expected date was around Christmas and we thought Angela was a suitable name for the daughter of a Seraph.” She grinned and there was a ripple of laughter from the onlookers. “Now I want to add something to that and Matt agrees.” Nash nodded vigorously. “We know we can’t ever be told the real name of the man who delivered Angie, so we can’t name her after him personally, but somehow it seems appropriate, given Matt’s role as Captain Rue of PRISM, that our daughter’s full name will be Angela Blue Nash.”
“Sh-shoot,” Captain Blue gasped aloud in astonishment, his embarrassment reaching acute levels when Jeanie blew him a kiss.
“Thank goodness you kept that clean, Captain,” the colonel remarked dryly.
The interjection and the riposte were picked up by the sound equipment and broadcast around the globe, as the assembled crew and visitors joined in laughter and applause.
“The voice of Colonel White heralds the climax of our broadcast,” Roberts said, delighted at how things were working out. “Ladies and gentlemen of PRISM, if you would care to join us here…” The cast of the show, wearing their colourful costumes, went to stand around the President and the happy new family. Drake DeBonnaire, considerably subdued after his confession, stood in the centre, closest to the World President as had been agreed, but found himself standing in significant isolation as the other actors grouped themselves apart from him.
“Now, I would be delighted if all of the personnel of Cloudbase would join us in singing ‘When the stars shine down at Christmas’,” Roberts announced. “Come on, Spectrum, let the people of the world hear you, even if they can’t see you!”
Everyone looked at the colonel, wondering what he would say at this deviation from the agreed schedule. White sensed the longing in the crowd and sighed, giving the unrepentant World President an exasperated glance.
“As you wish, Mr President,” he said, with a nod at his personnel.
A rough, yet enthusiastic, cheer went up.
“That doesn’t include you, Blue,” Scarlet cried, forgetting the ongoing broadcast in his enthusiasm. “This is the season of goodwill to all men and your singing can only be classed as aural warfare!”
“Gee, thanks, Scarlet…” Blue retorted good-naturedly enough. “You’re no Caruso yourself, you know?”
“Gentlemen,” White interjected, raising his hand to quell the jocularity. “Remember where you are.”
“Sorry, sir,” they replied smartly.
The jaunty, jingling tune started over the sound system and the cast of the TV show began to sway and snap their fingers in time to the beat. Unseen by the global audience of millions the crew of Cloudbase did the same. Captain Scarlet had his arm around Rhapsody Angel, who had come off duty in time to join the audience for the broadcast, while Symphony Angel was holding Captain Blue’s hand and swinging it back and forth to the beat, as she belted out the words:
When the stars shine down at Christmas
There’ll be peace across all lands
And all the children’s laughter as they clap their little hands
Will make everybody happy that it’s Christmastime at last;
And the perils of the world are a thing now of the past.
As the music faded in an excited round of laughter and applause, everyone in the room exclaimed:
“Merry Christmas, everyone!”
“‘Merry Xmas, Earthmen’? You are sure that’s what it said?” Colonel White asked Captain Grey for confirmation.
Grey nodded. “It certainly looked like it, Colonel.”
“Has the full system diagnostic been completed yet?” White asked.
“It finished about five minutes ago, sir. The Chief can’t find anything wrong. Lieutenant Green is still running the computer diagnostic.”
“Nothing at all wrong?” Colonel White rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“No, sir.” Grey hesitated. “Could we assume that the Mysterons were, for once, entering into the spirit of the occasion and simply wishing us ‘compliments of the season’?”
“I doubt the Mysterons understand the spirit of Christmas, Captain,” White reasoned.
Grey shrugged. “Well, nothing happened and the problem with the power outage cascade was traced to the visitors and their illicit connection to the power grid, so maybe it was a coincidence?”
“I wish I had your optimism, Captain.”
They were alone in the colonel’s ready room off from the main Control Room. In the canteen and on the Promenade Deck below them, several parties were in full swing and in the distance they could hear traditional Christmas songs belting out of the sound systems:
What will your daddy do when he sees your mother kissing Santa Claus? Ah-haaaa!
President Roberts was in high spirits and it seemed that even DeBonnaire’s transgression was going to be forgiven – or at least, go unpunished. The cast and crew of the show were not inclined to be so forgiving and it was quite possible that the high-handed treatment they had received from DeBonnaire over the years was going to be repaid with considerable interest.
The colonel glanced at the security camera displays and saw that on the Promenade Deck, which was suitably decorated with lights and Christmas garlands, Captain Ochre was dancing energetically with one of the Seraphs, while Captain Magenta was deep in conversation with another of the young ladies. In the canteen, Rhapsody Angel was surrounded by a couple of handsome actors and three admiring technicians, while Symphony was enjoying the attentions of the World President himself. Jeanie Johnson was sleeping in Sick Bay with her baby daughter at her side, but her husband was getting quietly drunk in company with Captains Scarlet and Blue.
“I wish I could believe the Mysterons believed in Christmas,” White said with considerable longing in his voice.
“Yes, sir; it’d be nice if we could believe they did,” Grey replied, surprising the colonel who hadn’t realised he had voiced his thought aloud.
“Lieutenant Green to Colonel White; come in please, Colonel.”
“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“I have the diagnostic report, sir.” Green paused then rushed on. “It would suggest that the message Captain Grey saw was the result of a… prank, sir.”
“A prank?” White glared at Ochre’s gyrating form on the monitor. “What exactly do you mean, Lieutenant?”
“Well, sir, it seems that Technician Janice Hickman had programmed Technician Liam Reilly’s screen to display the message on Christmas Day at the start of his shift. Sir. It seems that the power cascade triggered the message early, sir, and that’s what Captain Grey saw. Sir.”
Mentally apologising to Captain Ochre for suspecting him without cause, the colonel said, “Very well, Lieutenant. You will, of course, make this known to the Chief, won’t you? And I will expect a report on my desk with details of the retraining of both technicians by… let’s say Twelfth Night.”
White could hear the smile in his officer’s voice. “Oh, and Lieutenant, you will make it clear to the Chief and both technicians that if anything like this ever happens again I will have them off Cloudbase quicker than they can say ‘Season’s Greetings’.”
“S.I.G., sir. Green out.”
Captain Grey was grinning. “You see, Colonel, sometimes wishes do come true at Christmas.”
“Only in so far as the Mysterons were not involved this time, Captain, but yes, we can still hope,” White replied, with a rare smile on his face.
Boxing Day was something of an anti-climax on Cloudbase. The World President and his guests had left, and the broadcast was nothing but a memory; although Lieutenant Green had announced that it had received the biggest ever audience numbers for a live broadcast and that the telecast was already the biggest downloaded programme in the history of the World Broadcasting Corporation.
“You actually delivered it?” Symphony Angel asked Captain Blue.
“Yes; I delivered the baby. Well, I caught it as it slipped out, to be truthful.”
“That’s amazing,” Rhapsody commented admiringly. “And what was Paul doing while you were doing this?”
“Oh, he was supporting Jeanie Johnson, literally: she was leaning against him and he was helping her with her breathing. We had no pain killers, so it was pretty tough on her,” Blue explained.
He was sitting in the canteen surrounded by Symphony, Rhapsody and Nurse Ingram, being quizzed. Several people had come by their table to express their congratulations to him and he was starting to feel rather uncomfortable about the whole event.
“You both did a good job,” Belinda Ingram reassured him. “Jeanie came through it pretty well, with hardly any tearing. Doctor Fawn commented that for natural tearing rather than an episiotomy, it wasn’t at all bad.”
Blue shifted uneasily. “Fawn told me how to support the head as it crowned, so the perineal tissues weren’t torn. I don’t think I did it quite right, but I only had to help the baby rotate to free the shoulder once the head was out… then she sort of… just slipped out.”
“You sound like quite an expert,” Rhapsody said. She grinned at her fellow Angel pilot. “You won’t have to worry, Symph, when your turn comes.”
“Oh no,” Blue said quickly. “Next time I shall be doing the hand holding and someone else can work the business end!”
Nurse Ingram and Rhapsody Angel burst into laughter as Symphony protested at that announcement by vehemently thumping her fiancé’s shoulder.
“But, Älskling, whenever you have a baby it’ll be with every modern convenience and not in some poky elevator,” he protested.
Belinda nodded. “And at least he hasn’t said he won’t be there at all, Symphony… all too many men can’t take it – even these days.”
“All men are wimps,” Symphony remarked sourly.
Rhapsody agreed. “Yeah, I mean look at ‘man flu’. Two sneezes and a sore throat and they think they’re dying. It’s probably a good job they don’t have to suffer with periods, never mind babies: they’d be invalids for most of their lives…”
“Yeah,” Symphony said, with a sardonic glance at Blue. “They have it easy really, don’t they?”
The three women glanced at each other and said in unison:
“And they still call us the weaker sex…”
With a groan of abject defeat, Blue dropped his head into his hands. Oblivious of the conspiratorial, yet affectionately amused, smiles of his three companions, he muttered, “I think I’d rather face the Mysterons than a group of women indulging in the pastime of Man Bashing.” He looked up so suddenly that Rhapsody only just managed to cover her smile with a sombre expression.
“I apologise, okay?” Blue said. “I apologise for being male, for not suffering the inconveniences of being female and for being unable to have babies. I apologise for helping Jeanie Johnson have her baby and for anything else I have no control over which upsets you or anything I have inadvertently done that offends your sensibilities. What more can I say?”
Rhapsody’s smile had grown into a broad grin during this speech. She placed a hand on his arm and said, “Adam, on behalf of womankind, I accept your apology. You are probably the most sensible man I think I have ever met. We may have to consider making you an honorary female.”
Blue’s head dropped again. “Just shoot me now, please…before the other guys do it.”
Symphony slipped an arm over his hunched shoulders and hugged him. “Oh, Sky, how I do love you,” she purred, grinning at the others over his bent head.
He peered up at her, with an exaggerated hang-dog expression. “You do? Really?”
“Really. So much so that you might even be forgiven for all those terrible faults you’ve just admitted.” Blue’s expression grew hopeful and he started to smile. “One day,” Symphony concluded, with a teasing wink of her eye.
In the brightly lit clinical ward of PRISM’s command base, Colonel Fright turned to Doctor Kildeer and placed a hand on the surgeon’s shoulder.
“Do all you can, Doctor. I know it was simply evil misfortune that trapped Starlight in the burning building, but it is a tragedy for PRISM. Rue and the fire fighters performed miracles in their effort to rescue him, I just hope they weren’t too late. He has suffered such horrifying injuries.”
“Don’t worry, Colonel, PRISM’s medical staff have the best equipment and finest skills. Even after such terrible burns there is hope - and we will rebuild Starlight’s face if we have to,” Kildeer promised.
Fright nodded. “PRISM needs Captain Starlight to ensure that we can continue to protect the Earth from the evils that face us. All of the men and women of PRISM are willing to lay down their lives in the service of their fellow humans, but somehow Starlight embodies the courage and devotion of the whole organisation. He is the human face of PRISM and we look to him to lead us in the fight.”
Doctor Kildeer, a small man with large, doe-like eyes, nodded and moved silently to the bedside of the still figure.
Mellifluous Seraph was weeping by the door of the ward. “Oh, Colonel, will Starlight survive?”
Colonel Fright placed a fatherly arm around the young black woman and looked into the camera, his concern radiating from every pore.
“We must hope and pray that he does, Mellifluous. We must just hope and pray.”
The scene dissolved, and, as emotive music welled up onto the soundtrack, the screen showed pages ripping off a day-by-day desk diary. The weeks mounted up…
…Three Months Later….
The new scene opened in the familiar setting of Starlight’s personal quarters. Kismet Seraph sashayed into shot and called back over her shoulder to an unseen companion.
“While you’re in the shower, Starlight, I will make coffee for us. Don’t be too long, will you? We’re on duty soon and you mustn’t be late for your first day back on duty!”
“You’re right, Kismet. I’m looking forward to getting back to full duty again. Its been too long since I was at Rue’s side fighting for truth and justice. He’s done a great job during my recuperation – him and all the other captains – and the dear Seraphs, of course.”
“We missed having you around, Starlight,” Kismet simpered. “But I have enjoyed our weekend in the Californian sun. I wish it could have lasted forever…”
Starlight’s figure was seen walking into the shower and there was the sound of running water and splashing.
Kismet made coffee, humming to herself. She carried the mugs over to the low couch and settled down, arranging her kimono-style robe around her to reveal a length of shapely leg.
The water stopped and moments later Captain Starlight emerged from the cubicle. Above the towel wrapped around his slim hips, an impressive array of muscles and a chunky, tanned torso was revealed for the first time. He was rubbing his damp, dark hair with another towel.
“Come on, before it gets cold,” Kismet chided sweetly.
“Sure,” Starlight said. He stopped drying his hair and dropped the spare towel to reveal his handsome, young face. “Our future starts today, Kismet,” he said.
“Oh, yes, Captain Starlight. This is the first day of the rest of our lives and we will have so many new adventures.. .”
The New Captain Starlight smiled into the camera until the picture faded and the jaunty signature tune started.
“Captain Starlight….. He’s the one who knows the enemy’s game.
Captain Starlight… to his many foes a dangerous name…. a superman!”
A voice-over announced: “Captain Starlight and the members of PRISM are fictional characters, any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Join us soon for the next series of Captain Starlight of PRISM, starring Dane Keene as the New Captain Starlight!
In the Officers’ Lounge on Cloudbase, Captain Ochre turned the broadcast off and glanced across at his companions including Rhapsody and Symphony Angels, who were sitting side-by-side on the couch, transfixed by the TV monitor.
“Well, girls; there you have it. Out with the old and in with the new, as they say. It’s amazing what you can achieve in a power-shower.”
“Hmm,” Symphony said appreciatively. She closed her eyes and drew her legs up closer to her body, raising her hands to lift her red-gold hair from where it lay on her shoulders and piled it up on her head, allowing the strands to tumble through her fingers. A lascivious smile played on her full lips.
“Is that a positive ‘hmm’ or a negative one?” Ochre enquired quite unnecessarily.
“Oh, definitely a positive; he is well tasty,” Symphony replied. “I think he’ll be a big hit.”
“Extremely tasty,” Rhapsody agreed happily.
“You mean, you think he’s better than that idol of flawless masculinity, Drake DeBonnaire?” Captain Magenta asked, in the hope of provoking an outburst.
Rhapsody gave him a pitying glance. “A cardboard cut-out would be better than DeBonnaire, Patrick. Nobody really took him seriously as an action hero; he was far too camp, for a start. They may have intended Captain Starlight to be a hard-hitting drama, but he made it into an unintentional comedy. Nolie was telling me that according to the fanzines, the new series is going to be pitched for a more mature audience, with proper plots and a much more ensemble cast. Still, I hope they don’t make it too solemn – every life needs a little humour in it, after all.”
“Very true,” Captain Scarlet agreed. “And DeBonnaire is certainly a clown, he proved that on Cloudbase.”
“It hasn’t taken the TV company long to get rid of him,” Magenta remarked.
Rhapsody explained, “It seems Drake always refused to renew his contract for longer than one series, so that while the show was so popular he could demand more money for every new series. That’s why they always had cliff-hangers at the end of the series and the final episode was never filmed until they knew if he was coming back. This time they simply didn’t offer to renew his contract at all. The fan sites were awash with speculation, but, of course, DeBonnaire couldn’t say why he was being dropped without revealing what he’d done.”
“It was a clever way to recast the part,” Captain Grey commented. “And a good marketing ploy to keep everyone guessing right until the end of the series who was going to play the new Starlight.”
“I hope they don’t decide to recast the Seraphs,” Ochre commented. “I rather like the ones they have.”
“Yes, we know you do,” Grey remarked. ”Don’t you have a date with Concord Seraph pencilled in for your next leave?”
Ochre grinned salaciously. “Sure do.”
“Still trying to work out which bits wobble, Rick?” Captain Blue asked genially.
Ochre coloured slightly as his friends chuckled. He hoped that by now they’d have forgotten the comments he’d made before any of them had met the actors for the first time.
I should’ve known Blue would never forget, he thought, resigned to having the mickey taken between now and his date with the actress.
“So, it’s a thumbs up for the new Captain Starlight, then?” Magenta said. “Getting shot of good ol’ Drake was a good move, you reckon?”
Rhapsody nodded emphatically. “Oh yes, I shall be watching. Especially if, as I hope they do, they end every episode with a Starlight shower scene…”
“Dianne, really!” Captain Scarlet exclaimed in mock horror at her comments, as Symphony exclaimed:
“Oh yes! That’d be worth watching the show for on its own.”
With her large, blue eyes sparkling with amusement, Rhapsody went to Scarlet’s chair and put her arms around his shoulders. “Don’t worry, Captain; I am sure I speak for all the Spectrum Angels when I say, however hunky the new officer in PRISM is, none of us would swap any one of our captains for all of them.”
“Too right,” Symphony said, sidling up to Captain Blue’s chair. “Although, you have to admit… Dane Keene does wear a towel very well.”
“Well, if that’s all it takes…” Blue retorted.
“Yes?” she encouraged, as he fell silent.
“If that’s all it takes, then we have nothing to worry about,” Scarlet concluded, coming to his friend’s support. “And if you don’t believe me, Karen, you can come and scrub my back any time you like…”
“It isn’t your back she’s interested in,” Rhapsody purred in his ear as she leant down to whisper. “But if you’re asking for volunteers…”
And then it was Captain Scarlet’s turn to blush.
‘Captain Starlight of PRISM’ first saw light of day in and was based on an idea devised by Sue Stanhope and myself. That never came to fruition, but Sue allowed me to use the basis for my story. Occasional references have been made to the ‘TV show’ in other stories of mine and I have always had a vague idea that one day I would find a way to get Captain Starlight to Cloudbase.
Finally, I did find a way and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
My thanks, as ever, are due to Hazel Köhler, who gets the results dumped on her whenever the Inspiration Fairy’s been round at my place, and who always instils rigorous punctuation into the resulting waffle with great tact.
There are not enough ways to say ‘Thank you’ to Chris Bishop, for her wonderful website, the fantastic stories she entertains us with and – I’m lucky enough to say – for her friendship. So, I am afraid, ‘Thanks, Chris’ will have to convey all that and more.
Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons™ belongs to Carlton – I think – and possibly some other companies as well… it isn’t mine anyway, so I am only tinkering on the edge of what is theirs and I mean no harm by it.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson showed us all just what puppets could do to save the world, back in the 1960s and I, for one, believed every word. My imagination owes them and the wonderful crew that brought their creations to life, a great debt of thanks.
Finally, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!
12 November 2011
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