He regretted it the minute he had spoken. Shit. If only he’d thought for a moment or two. But it was too late now.
Shit. And shit again.
There was nothing else to do but grin and bear it. If that was at all possible. Next Thursday. Yes. That particular day. The one after Wednesday and the one before Friday. Why couldn’t it have been either of those days? Why did it have to be Thursday?
If only he had not been so pleased at finally managing to track down that damned UFO that had been hiding underwater for the last four days. Four days. Four long tiring days spent tracking, trailing, investigating, searching until eventually it emerged from its watery lair in an attempt to escape and was targeted very successfully by Sky 3. But it had taken too long and he was tired, tired of standing here in this damned underground prison working every hour, while his fiancée waited for him at home.
Shit. And then Alec had sneakily put in that request for a day off from his set shift pattern to attend a wedding. Yeh. Right. A wedding. An old girlfriend’s wedding. Really?
Alec didn’t attend weddings. Alec was trying to get out of coming to work next Thursday. But he hadn’t realised that until too late, until he had seen Alec’s sly grin when he agreed to cover Alec’s rota so that Freeman could have the day off.
Shit. He knew what was going to happen. And there wasn’t a damned thing he could do to stop it.
Or was there?
Ed Straker began to smile.
Paul Foster arrived at HQ rather earlier than normal on the Thursday in question. He parked his lilac BMW in its designated space, wishing, as always that he had waited the extra four or five months for the ‘New York’ colour scheme of metallic black paint with dark grey leather interior, instead of opting to take the first new vehicle that arrived in the showroom.
How was he to know that, having paid a very considerable deposit, he was going to have to accept a brand new BMW in a tasteful shade of Rodeo Drive with Hollywood interior. In laymans terms; lilac and pale blue. Quite fetching, if you were female, but it did very little for Paul’s reputation with the ladies.
Ed Straker however, had a really classy car. Not too flash; Paul would have gone for an Audi R8, given Straker’s wealth, but the Saab was a beauty. Not that Ed let anyone else drive his car often. Paul had only managed to get behind the wheel on two occasions, both times simply to bring Ed’s car to the Main Entrance. But it was a dream to drive, responsive, smooth, speedy. And upgraded to SHADO top specifications. He knew what that meant. Foster wondered if he would ever get his BMW to have the same as high specs as Straker’s car. Unlikely. At least not until he was in charge of SHADO.
Furthermore the Saab was a decent shade of dark grey with black leather interior. Not quite the same asNew York; the Saab colour was called Lava, or perhaps Charcoal, but the interior was certainly not the crappy pale blue that Paul had to tolerate every time he got behind the wheel. It was the lilac that really jarred on Paul’s nerves though.
But today, well he was going to enjoy today. This was a day that only came round once every year, and he intended to make the most of it, Straker or no Straker. There was very little that could spoil today. Maybe an alien invasion, but even that would probably have little impact on his plans.
It was a pity that Alec Freeman was off attending that wedding, but Ed Straker would be coming in this morning, and there were plenty of other staff members working. Especially Keith Ford.
He rubbed his hands together, grinning. Yes, it would be a good day, today.
Ed Straker winced as his fiancée placed the cold pack on his knee. ‘Serves you right for not warning up properly before your run.’ she scolded him. ‘You won’t be able to walk far today. You should go and see Dr Shroeder when you get to work; he can strap it up for you properly.’ She nodded to his two agents watching worriedly.
‘I’ll be alright,’ he grumbled, gingerly stretching the wrenched joint. ‘I’ll take it easy today, and rest it. The worst part will be having to use the lift here. At least I can be driven into work, but it’s going to be a nuisance.’ He stood up and tried walking, but it was clear that it was too painful. ‘Damn.’ he muttered, sitting down again. ’I’m going to need a stick until it eases up.’
She looked at him, thoughtfully. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. Otherwise I won’t be able to walk anywhere. I think there’s one outside in the entrance hall,’ he said to the agents, one of whom went out and returned quickly with an elegant ebony walking stick which he handed to his employer. ‘Thank you. That will do.’ Straker smiled, standing once more and trying once more to walk across the room, successfully this time to his obvious relief. ‘Right gentlemen, shall we go?’ and the SHADO Commander limped slowly, and painfully, out of his apartment and into the lift.
Rachel watched him go, and then waited on the balcony until she could see him exit the building and get into the back seat of the chauffeur driven car that would take him to work. Straker’s own Saab was still there, parked discreetly in its allotted space. She smiled again. Excellent.
‘Not a word. Not one word. Understand Paul?’ Straker was in a foul mood judging from the tone of his voice. Paul Foster stood silent as his boss limped into the control room of SHADO HQ, leaning heavily on a cane.
‘I twisted my knee this morning. Hurts like hell and I’ve a mountain of work to do.Henderson faxed me at home this morning with an urgent demand for some updated information. It seems he wants much more detailed information about the plans to build a further nine Deep Space probes. I’m sorry about this, but he wants the report by twelvenoonat the latest, or he won’t put the request before the Finance committee when I meet them this afternoon. Unfortunately it’s going to involve a considerable amount of work. I had intended spending the morning getting the data and recording it, but it needs the Control Room computer systems and involves repositioning Hubble several times. I won’t be able to do it now, so I’m going to have to rely on you to help me out. Lt Ford isn’t part of the command structure so I can’t let him support you. This is highly classified stuff I’m afraid.’
Ed Straker made his way painfully across to his office, and closed the door.
Paul stared glumly at Keith Ford who had a quiet look of relief on his face, ‘Well, looks like I’m going to be kept busy all morning now.’ Foster muttered, annoyed at the unexpected chain of events that had conspired to ruin his well- thought out plans.
The SHADO Commander sat behind his desk, his cane lying elegantly across the Perspex surface. He had completed the initial paperwork that had to be done every morning; checking the night shift’s log, authorising the forthcoming day’s activities and now he needed to get things moving. He used his private intercom to finalise the arrangement, and then called Paul and asked the Colonel to bring him a coffee.
‘Thanks Paul. Sorry about this,’ and he indicated the walking stick. ‘hope you don’t object to being my errand boy today?’ he looked questioningly at the younger man. ‘If we don’t get this report forHenderson…
He was interrupted by Miss Ealand on the intercom. ‘Commander, the technician is here to upgrade your car. Shall I tell him to book another appointment with you for later in the month?’
‘Upgrade? Your Saab? What are you having done to it this time, Ed?’ Paul Foster was intrigued. It was a well-documented fact that the SHADO Commander’s car was without a doubt the most technologically advanced vehicle in the whole fleet of SHADO cars.
‘Hmm? Oh that. ‘Straker looked up, dismissively. ‘Seems the tech department have worked out a new paint scheme that enhances the security aspects of the vehicle; makes it less likely to be caught on radar by aliens. Something similar to the paint they use on Stealth bombers. It’s all to do with Colour Adaptation Modification. I told them they could try it out on my Saab, but of course I haven’t driven to work today.’ Straker grimaced as he moved his leg, his knee obviously aching. It’s a hell of a nuisance, because they wanted it road-testing before the end of the week so they can start to use it on all vehicles. It’s a rather discreet shade if I recall correctly. Cinder; I think they called it, something like that anyway. Probably not too dissimilar to the present colour. That’s the only reason I agreed to let them try it out on my car. Damn. I’ll have the Tech Chief on my back now. As if I haven’t got enough to deal with already.’ He frowned, clearly thinking about the need to collate the data for Henderson.
‘Hang on a second, Ed.’ Paul Foster smiled, ‘they can try it out on my car if that would help? You probably won’t be able to drive yourself for a few days yet, and my car is available. I don’t mind having it resprayed by the technicians if it will help with their research.’ He looked innocently at the seated commander. ‘What do you think?’
‘Are you sure Paul? It would be a great help to them. I feel rather guilty messing them about like this. Thanks. I’ll tell them to do your vehicle instead. You won’t mind writing a brief report on the effectiveness of the upgrade will you?’ Straker leaned back, a look of relief on his face.
Paul Foster thought about his ghastly Rodeo Drive exterior. At last, he would have a car with a respectable colour; and it would have the very latest upgrade, even to a better spec that Straker’s. ‘No, no problem Ed. I’ll be glad to help.’
‘Miss Ealand, sorry to have kept you waiting.’ Straker flicked the intercom. ‘Tell the technicians they’ll have to do the respray on Paul Foster’s car. I don’t want to waste any further time before we try it out, and he’s more than happy for them to use his vehicle as a test.’ He nodded at Foster. ‘He’s bringing his keys up now.’
He turned to Foster, ‘Don’t be long Paul, I need you to start programming Hubble very soon.’
Colonel Foster smiled as he headed for the executive lift. Today might just turn out alright after all.
Commander Straker grimaced as he studied the fax. Nine sets of co-ordinates. That’s what Straker had in front of him.
Nine sets, and each set of co-ordinates meant that Hubble’s angle and position had to be adjusted, stabilised and then the telescope had to be programmed to perform the required functions, namely, photograph the specific area using infra-red as well as normal imaging.
It would take at least 30 minutes to complete each section. He would have been quite content to stand behind Paul and work with the Colonel on the project, but now of course that was impossible. He would have to leave it to Foster to do alone.
It was within Foster’s capabilities, but such a time-consuming task was onerous to say the least. It would take him longer than if Straker himself had been doing it; the commander’s knowledge of astrogation was far advanced to Paul’s but Ed knew that Paul would be able to figure it out, eventually.
It would, unfortunately, leave Colonel Foster with very little free time for the rest of the morning, but hopefully he might have finished just before noon. Then Ed could get it over and done with before he went to his midday meeting. He flicked his intercom. ‘Colonel Foster, I have the co-ordinates ready for you now if you want to get started.’
Paul Foster stared glumly at the paper. Nine. Nine of the buggers. Sod. Each one requiring extensive mathematical calculations just to ensure that the Hubble would be accurately positioned, and then further demanding programming to enable the correct functions to be put into operation.
Still, at least he was getting his car upgraded. Eloise would be pleased. She had been definitely dismissive of his lilac BMW. He would take her somewhere fancy tonight, somewhere pretentious and ostentatious. Dark grey paintwork. He could fantasise that he was the SHADO Commander-in-Chief, in his classy, newly-upgraded car.
Perhaps he would wear his new pale suit, not the cream one, that was still a little too presumptuous, but the ecru coloured one, that set off his eyes.
‘Ok, Keith, I need to take over your console now,’ and he started to input the first set of co-ordinates into the programming system.
‘Right Ascension; 00hr 42.7m Declination; +41degrees 16 minutes.’
It seemed to take forever. He couldn’t leave the Control Room while the data was being processed, there were too many variables to consider, but eventually Hubble was positioned. And then he had to take the photographs.
Easier said than done.
Shit. Why the hell did Ed pick today of all days to stuff his knee up? On any other day Ed Straker would have simply stood here and dictated off by heart, without having to resort to calculations or tables, a set of logarithms and spatial points that Paul would have entered, and presto – the job would have been finished in a fraction of the time.
For the first time Paul Foster wished he had spent more time studying the finer points of stellar navigation.
Done. At last. It had only taken forty-five minutes. He hoped he would get quicker with the other data.
He took the first set of details through to the commander. Spatial co-ordinates, star maps, images, nearby singularities, dark matter regions. Everything.
‘Thank you Paul, just leave it on my desk.’ He didn’t even look up.
Ungrateful sod. Paul cast a fleetingly brief look of sheer hatred at his commanding officer, sitting comfortably there behind his desk. Straker chose that precise moment to look up, his blue eyes focussed on Foster’s face. ‘Anything the matter Paul? Are you able to manage? Let me know if you want any help will you and I’ll ask one of the techs to come in and show you how it’s done, if you need it.’
There was simply no answer to that. He grunted a curt response and headed back to the Communications console armed with the list of co-ordinates for the next eight points in space.
R.A. 23 h 28.8 m Dec. +14 deg 45 m
R.A. 05 h 14 m 32.2s Dec -08 deg 12 m 06 s
R.A. 00h 57 m 42.4.s Dec+61 deg 04 m 59.8 s
R.A. 23 h 05 m 52.0 s Dec -35 deg 51 m 11 s
R.A. 22 h 57 m 39.1 s Dec -29 deg 37 m 20 s
R.A. 13 h 26.8 m Dec -47deg 29 m
R.A. 11h 14m 47.7 s Dec +55 deg 01m 08.5 s
R.A. 12h 45 m 07.83 s Dec -45 deg 26m 24.92 s
It took forever.
Everything that could go wrong, did. Hubble refused to move, moved the wrong way, rejected data input, read it incorrectly, spat out the bits it didn’t like. In other words, sulked like a toddler who wanted an ice-cream and wasn’t allowed to have one.
‘Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble,’ they called it in SHADO. The inability of the immense telescope to obey the simplest instructions. It always seemed to work perfectly when Straker programmed it, but there again the damned machine was probably as terrified of Ed Straker as most of the SHADO operatives were.
And through it all, throughout the swearing, the cursing, the frustrations and the infuriation, Ed Straker sat calmly in his office, resting his twisted knee and unable to move far without the aid of a walking stick. Damn. Ed Straker could have done this job in his sleep.
But Straker had hurt his knee.
Paul Foster worked on, not daring to take a break in case the dratted machine decided, once more, to go on strike in the middle of a set of calculations. The last time that happened, it formed a causal loop that rendered all the inputted data null and void. And created even more work for him.
And Straker sat in his office, his leg up on a stool, reading reports, drinking coffee and quietly catching up on paperwork. He even had Keith Ford in his office, helping him do the financial accounts.
Eleven forty. Finally. Finished. The last piece of datum. The final computation. The ultimate image. All done. And in the allotted time. Straker would have no complaints this time. Surely.
He took the completed calculations through to the commander.
‘Thank you Colonel.’ Straker smiled at him. Well, that made a change. At least the boss acknowledged his presence. Straker returned his attention to the paperwork on his desk, dismissing Foster with a brief nod. Foster grinned to himself. There was still time, before noon, to put some of his plans into action.
As Paul left the office he heard a cool, almost amused, voice. ‘Oh, and by the way Paul. I need to you find the official name of the principal stellar object at the centre of each area that you mapped. Can you have that additional information for me in twenty minutes?’
It was simpler to get out the starcharts and use those. He commandeered the large chart table in the centre of the Control Room and, armed with the list of co-ordinates, started.
R ; 00hr 42.7m Dec; +41deg 16m Andromeda,
R.A. 23 h 28.8 m Dec. +14deg 45m Pegasus
He wrote the list out, neatly
Andromeda R.A.; 00hr 42.7m Dec; +41deg 16m
Pegasus R.A. 23 h 28.8 m Dec. +14deg 45m
Rigel R.A. 05 h 14 m 32.2s Dec -08 deg 12 m 06 s
Indus IC59 R.A. 00h 57 m 42.4.s Dec+61 deg 04 m 59.8 s
Lacaille 9352 R.A. 23 h 05 m 52.0 s Dec -35 deg 51 m 11 s
Fomalhaut R.A. 22 h 57 m 39.1 s Dec -29 deg 37 m 20 s
Omega Centauri R.A. 13 h 26.8 m Dec -47deg 29 m
Owl Nebula R.A. 11h 14m 47.7 s Dec +55 deg 01m 08.5 s
La Superba R.A. 12h 45 m 07.83 s Dec -45 deg 26m 24.92 s
Shit . Shit. Shit.
He had planned this all along.
The clever bastard.
And even Paul Foster had to admire the man.
Then, exactly at noon, the office door opened and Ed Straker walked confidently out, not limping, not leaning on his cane; instead, twirling the stick as if he were leading a marching band.
He grinned at Paul. ‘Oh Paul. I’m sorry, I made a mistake earlier. The colour scheme for the new SHADO Colour Adaptation Modification for your car? It isn’t cinder. I got confused. I knew it was something to do with fire. It’s Blaze. Hope you don’t mind having a fluorescent orange BMW.’
And the Control Room, and in particular Keith Ford, so often the butt of Paul Foster’s jokes, exploded with laughter
April 1st 2010
I do not own these characters. Just borrowing them for a while. I’ll return them when I’ve finished.
Maybe. If they are in any fit state that is. The galactic co-ordinates are, I hope, accurate.