A Spectrum Story for Christmas
star of wonder, star of light,
The complementary voices of Symphony and Melody Angel were raised together in the strains of the familiar Christmas carol as they finished decorating the tree by fixing an ornate, multi-faceted crystal star on the top, which reflected the lights of the Amber Room in a sparkling cascade across the walls.
Harmony smiled and said, “That looks very well, girls. The tree is even better this year than it has been in others.”
The Spectrum Angels had developed a series of rituals around the process of decorating the Amber Room over the years they’d been on Cloudbase and each of them enjoyed playing their part. This year, decorating the tree had fallen to a team consisting of Harmony and the American Angels.
As usual, Harmony had been employed in wrapping the presents the Angels had bought for each other and for the team of the senior colour captains, with whom they shared so much of their time. Her innate ability at creating charming and elegant displays, as much as her skills at origami, made Harmony the ideal candidate for that task, and as she did not celebrate Christmas in the same way as her colleagues, doing the presents was one way she could play her part in their enjoyment in her own inimitable way.
Standing beside her was Captain Magenta, holding a plastic storage crate with multicoloured, deftly-wrapped parcels of all shapes and sizes, carefully piled within. He had added the less-expertly-wrapped offerings from his colleagues to Harmony’s exquisite parcels and was waiting to assist her with piling them around the base of the tree.
Captain Blue and Captain Grey - who’d been co-opted onto the decoration detail as what Melody had chosen to designate as ‘Assistant Decorators: with special responsibility for Ceilings’ – gave a gentle round of applause as their compatriots finished.
Symphony gave an ironic bow and winked at them both with a merry smile. “I think decorating the tree and putting up the garlands is probably the best part of Christmas. I mean, you have the pleasure of anticipating all the presents you’re going to get, and the fun you’re going to have with the people you care about all around you.” She skipped over to slip her arm through Captain Blue’s, before confiding, “Christmas is my all-time favourite time of year.”
“What about Thanksgiving?” Grey asked her teasingly. Symphony lived very much for the moment and he recalled her saying almost the same thing less than a month ago.
“Well, yes, that too – but Christmas is special.”
“And birthdays?” Magenta suggested.
Symphony’s arched brows sank in the pucker of a slight frown. “No, I’ve never really enjoyed my birthday. When I was just a kid I always wondered why everyone took the decorations down on my birthday. I used to get so worked up about it,” she confessed with a wry glance at her boyfriend, “that my grandparents used to take them down a day or two early and always make sure I had birthday cards and presents and cakes – but I always felt responsible for the ending of Christmas, nevertheless.”
“Sure it wasn’t just a ploy to make sure you got more presents?” Magenta asked, with a sceptical smile.
Symphony shook her head and Melody gave a wry grimace, adding, “I have to agree with you, Karen; having a birthday near Christmas is a major set-back – everyone gives you one ‘special’ thing ‘for both’.”
“You shouldn’t have worried, älskling,” Blue said sympathetically, “In some traditions Christmas presents aren’t exchanged until Twelfth Night anyway – in honour of the three kings reaching Bethlehem.”
“I know… sort of, but you can’t explain that to a kid,” she reasoned.
“I thought presents were always given on Christmas Day,” Harmony said, “like a ‘birthday present to Baby Jesus’.”
Before anyone could answer, Captain Blue began, “Well, it sort of started out like that, but it got all mixed up with the legend of Saint Nicholas so that some places exchange gifts on December 6th – St Nicholas’s Day - and some on the Feast of Epiphany, which is your birthday, älskling. The Swedish tradition is to exchange presents on Christmas Eve, but mostly it has mutated into one huge commercial spend-fest…” He paused to consider his mother and sister’s extravagant spending over Christmas.
“Quick! Change the subject,” Melody interjected, “or he’ll lecture us for hours and hours…”
Everyone laughed, even Captain Blue.
Carefully, Harmony started placing the presents around the base of the tree. “I don’t know about these three kings you are speaking of, Captain,” she said. “They came to give presents to the baby?”
“Yes, they did. They brought gold, frankincense and myrrh – that’s what the song is about,” Melody replied and sang:
We three kings of Orient are;
“Orient? They were from China or Japan?” Harmony asked in surprise.
“No – that’s poetic license, I think,” Melody explained.
“They were scholars and important people,” Blue chipped in. “One, Balthazar, was supposed to be a Moor – African; well North-African.”
“See? I warned you,” Melody remarked with a dramatic sigh. Her dark eyes caught the forbearing smile on Blue’s face and she winked. The genial captain was a favourite target for her teasing, but it didn’t do to push even him too far. As the only daughter in a family of five, Melody was adept at teasing young men, and she could see that, for the moment, Blue seemed mellow enough not to mind.
Symphony chuckled. “It’s a nice carol, kinda sticks in your mind…” She hummed a few bars. “Must be the tune, although it’s kinda gloomy somehow, for a Christmas carol.”
“Well, the words are gloomy,” Blue replied.
“No they ain’t,” Melody argued. “It’s all about giving presents. What’s gloomy about that?”
To everyone’s alarm, Blue cleared his throat and they feared he was going to sing, but he merely recited, in a sing-song voice:
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
“Nice present for a new-born, don’t you think?” he added.
Melody grimaced, realising she ought to know better than to get into a dispute with the knowledgeable captain.
“It is kinda creepy,” Magenta agreed as he handed Harmony another of the parcels. “But gold isn’t creepy… and he gets that too, don’t forget.”
“Sure,” Blue shrugged, and made no further comment. Symphony could see that something had unsettled him.
“What’s up?” she asked, squeezing his arm.
Blue shook his head. “Nah, s’nothin’.” His Boston accent was unusually evident in that simple phrase, alerting Symphony to the fact that he was lying.
“Come on, out with it, Adam. You’ll have to tell us what’s bugging you – well, me anyway,” she amended, remembering her lover’s pathological dislike of making a spectacle of himself or his emotions.
Grey nodded in agreement, backing her up. “Don’t go all mysterious on us now, Blue.”
The tall American shivered as if he’d felt someone walking over his grave. He shook his head and gave a weak smile. “It just reminded me of something.”
Symphony, who was now aware of the terrible trauma the young Adam Svenson had undergone as child, when he’d been kidnapped and held for ransom, patted his arm. “It was a long time ago –”
“No not really,” Blue said surprisingly. “It started in ’68; when we’d just discovered the truth about Captain Scarlet’s recovery and his escape from the control of the Mysterons.”
“Eh?” She was puzzled.
“What’re you thinking about, specifically?” Grey asked.
“When we had to move that bomb from the car park in London to the underground blast site where it could detonate safely. It was early on in the War of Nerves and we were still unsure what Paul could survive. Nonetheless, he took the truck down in this slow-moving, industrial elevator and drove it out into the cavern. Then he had to run back and set the thing going to get out of there as fast as he could. I was waiting at the top, watching the indicator as the elevator rose… counting the seconds off until the bomb was due to go… He wasn’t back at the top when it exploded. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. The ground shook, the noise was ear-splitting, even where I was, which was deemed to be safe enough. Paul was still in the elevator; the blast ripped through the cage and he was entombed all right, entombed in tons of mangled metal and rock. I was frantic, calling him on the radio cap – but there was no reply; I hoped it was just because the blast had destroyed the comms links in his uniform. It took the rescue teams almost ten hours to get him out. They didn’t expect to find more than a shattered, burnt skeleton and they couldn’t understand why I was so anxious they get a frigging move on and find him. Of course, by the time they did get to him, he hardly looked more than slightly scuffed at the edges and a bit cut and bruised, but imagine – just imagine what it was like, lying there, in the dark, bleeding and shattered by the blast.”
“Ugh-” Melody groaned. “I don’t think I wanna imagine that.”
Blue continued as if she had not spoken, his eyes fixed on the star glittering on the top of the tree. “He was still unconscious when they found him, but I had to keep the emergency doctors away from him and get him across to the Spectrum helijet. When he came round on the flight back to Cloudbase, he couldn’t tell me much about it – except that he’d heard my voice over his radio cap which he’d lost in the blast and was lying too far away for him to reach. He said he remembered answering me: when I said ‘are you all right’ – he said ‘I will be…’ and then he… ‘passed out’. I couldn’t know that while I was waiting for the rescue team to reach him, obviously, and I kept talking to him over the radio link – just in case he could hear me. I don’t know what I said, I just rabbited on – I think the rescue workers thought I was crazy. They were certain I was talking to a dead man, of course; which in a disturbing way, I was.” His expression revealed his great sadness as his head sank onto his chest. “That was just the first of many similar incidents – but he risks his life as a matter of course, every time he leaves this base. I honestly don’t know how he does it time after time.”
Harmony looked up from where she was crouching by the tree. “I think we all under-appreciate what Captain Scarlet goes through in the course of his missions,” she ventured to say with a gentle smile.
“But, Blue, remember that the verses of the carol go on to say: ‘Glorious now, behold him arise’,” Magenta said hoping to reassure his friend, “and that’s what we see, of course – Scarlet bouncing with health, time after time.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Melody interjected. “It’s just like the song says, Adam.” She started to sing once more, although her voice was a little shaky:
now behold Him arise;
To everyone’s surprise Blue interrupted her, to say with startling vehemence, “King and God? No, he’s neither of those and he’d hate the very suggestion – but, it seems to me that he is the perpetual ‘sacrifice’, true enough.”
The others looked uncomfortable at his intensity and Blue shook his head as if baffled how to explain the conundrum that was Scarlet’s continued willingness to face pain and death in the course of his duties. He sighed and when he continued, it was in the far more restrained manner his friends were accustomed to from him. “Yet, when all’s said and done, he is a willing sacrifice where he can make the difference to the success or failure of a mission, or where he can save civilian lives, or where he can protect his friends. I mean, he should have been here with us today, decorating the Amber Room, but instead he’s in sick bay recovering from being caught in that explosion in Ecuador. You weren’t there, you didn’t see what he did, but he saved the lives of about fifty miners – he got them out and went back inside to diffuse the device the Mysteron agent had planted in the mine. I kept telling him to get out, and he kept saying ‘in a minute, I’m almost there’. He was so pleased when he told me he’d made it safe and he’d started to come back to the surface when a second – undetected - bomb went off underground. The roof came down and the shaft collapsed around him. This time I knew he’d survive – he’s survived worse, let’s face it - but it was another long, arduous wait while the miners dug him out. I know Paul hates fire more than anything, but me – I go with being buried alive. You know what his first words to me were when he came round in sick bay? ‘Was anyone hurt?’ He’d just survived being buried down a mine shaft and his first concern was for everyone else…”
There was a long silence as the Angels and the officers considered what Blue had said. Harmony was sitting on the steps, her arms hugging her legs to her chest, her chin resting on her knees as she listened to Blue’s story. She closed her eyes, sadness flooding her delicate features. Melody sniffed slightly and raised a hand to her eyes, turning her head away from the others to hide her tears. Magenta cleared his throat abruptly.
It was Symphony who broke the silence. “He’s a king among men, at the very least. We’d all agree on that, Adam,” she assured him, with a comforting glance at her lover.
The others murmured in agreement.
Captain Blue ran a hand over his face. “Hey, I’m sorry to put a dampener on the mood – I guess I have more of a morbid streak than I realised.”
“No, you’re just worried about your friend,” Grey said, adding unexpectedly, “Christmas is a time when we should all be grateful for more than just material things. For the friends we have, for our health and for the simple fact that, so far, we’ve managed to keep the Mysterons from carrying out their stated intention of destroying all life on Earth. Seems only right we acknowledge that, without Captain Scarlet, it’d be a damn near impossible task to achieve – with him, we stand a chance.”
“Yeah, I’m glad he’s on our side,” Melody replied.
Harmony and Magenta nodded, both of them were considering Grey’s words thoughtfully.
Magenta was about to speak when the door to the Amber Room slid open, startling the group around the tree. They turned in time to see Captain Scarlet saunter in, his radio cap set at a jaunty, non-regulation angle on his dark hair and an affable expression on his handsome face.
He stopped and looked with some consternation at the faces of his friends as they stared intently at him. He wondered if he’d left his trouser zip undone.
“Hi, guys…” he began rather tentatively. “I see I’ve missed the crowning of the tree – I was with Doctor Fawn, undergoing his final ‘final’ tests. Once his back was turned, I fled… So, what have I missed? I’m back to A1 and ready to party…” They continued to stare at him, speechless. “Guys? Is anything wrong?”
“Paul! You’re here and you’re okay!”
He answered Symphony’s statement with a confused, “Yes, I am.” He glanced at Blue for enlightenment as the impulsive Angel pilot rushed to his side and threw her arms around him. His partner merely glanced away with an enigmatic smile as she hugged him and kissed his cheek. “Why shouldn’t I be here and okay?”
“No reason,” Magenta said, a huge grin breaking out on his face as he handed Harmony the final present. “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.”
“Glad to hear it,” Scarlet commented, disengaging Symphony’s arms from around his neck. “Nice to see you too, Karen, but go cuddle with Adam, eh? Rhapsody’ll be down from Angel One in a minute or two and I don’t want to spend Christmas explaining what I was doing locked in a compromising embrace with you… not that I’d be averse to a quick snog under the Christmas mistletoe later on, you understand?”
“Paul Metcalfe, you are incorrigible!” she said with a euphoric smile.
Captain Scarlet grinned in return. “I do like Christmas,” he said jovially. “And you can’t blame a chap for trying…”
Melody began to sing:
Glorious now behold Him arise;
Captain Scarlet enthusiastically joined in with the chorus and suddenly the whole group – except Harmony – were singing:
O star of wonder, star of light,
And, for once, nobody even tried to stop Captain Blue from joining in.
kings of Orient are;
O star of
wonder, star of light,
King on Bethlehem’s plain
to offer have I;
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
now behold Him arise;
Words & Music: John H. Hopkins, Jr. 1857.
Hopkins wrote this carol for a Christmas pageant at the General Theological Seminary in New York City.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Lots of thanks and Seasons Greetings to the usual suspects: Hazel Köhler for a shockingly speedy beta-read, Chris Bishop, for everything – as always - and the rest of the crew: Caroline, The Docs (Brown and Denim), Keryn, Mary and the ever-sweet Sue
Here’s hoping 2007 can only get better….
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site