The Needs of the Many Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Freeman and Jackson watched in silence. Stillness filled the air. Straker sitting there, head bowed, hands lying open on his lap, the odd twitch of shoulders and spine the only sign of movement as his subconscious fought to keep him upright, dark stains on his shirt, sweat stiffening his light blonde hair and in front of him in a hole in the ground, a parcel wrapped in dark paper. The smell of brandy wafted across the clearing and the two watchers looked at each other, perplexed.

‘What the hell’s going on?’ Freeman murmured and took a step closer. It was enough to startle a bird into chattering noisy flight and Straker jerked awake, gasping, looking around as if terrified, then scrabbling upright to stand, swaying as the onlookers came out. The transition from sleep to alertness was too much and Freeman stepped forward in time to catch him as he slumped, limp and helpless.


‘Please don’t ask. This is something I have to do.’ Straker, recovered and sitting on the ground again with Freeman close by ready to help, looked up at Jackson. ‘I have to burn it. It’s the only way I can move on. Put the past behind me.’ He twisted his fingers together. ‘I know you don’t understand. You can’t. But …’ He gestured to the bottle. ‘I hoped this would help it burn quickly. I couldn’t risk using wood. I didn’t drink any, if that’s what you’re wondering.’ He was unable to prevent the trembling in his voice.

‘I was not wondering anything Colonel. I was merely concerned for your well-being, as was Colonel Freeman here. When gate security notified me that you had left I asked Alec to accompany me. Just in case.’ Jackson reached down and took Straker’s wrist for a few moments. ‘Yes. That is better. Getting back to normal. You should rest for a while. We’ll take you back to your hotel and you can get some sleep. Much more comfortable than out here.’

‘No. Not yet.’ Freeman interjected. ‘Ed. You said you have to burn it? What exactly?’

Straker knew there was no way he could avoid explanations, or being taken by force if necessary back to his rooms, even kept under guard in future. Maybe an ignominious return to Vulcan, his mission a failure before it even started. There was only one thing he could do now; tell the truth and pray that Freeman would not ask awkward questions.

‘That. My …my hair. From.. from…’ He swallowed and carried on. ‘I came here to burn it. No one should know, no-one.’ The desperation in his voice made Freeman move closer. ‘I cut it before Jackson saw it. I can’t throw it away, it has too many memories.’ He looked up at Freeman, eyes haunted and wide with dread. ‘Please.’

The coil of hair was longer than any Freeman had seen, and he reached out to touch it with a surprisingly delicate hand, wondering how many years it had taken to get to that length, how many years Straker had been held prisoner. And under what conditions. No wonder the man was scared and unsure and hesitant. ‘Fuck.’ The curse was barely audible. He stood up. ‘We’ll help you, won’t we?’ He glared at Jackson. ‘Have you got a lighter, Doug?’

There was a pause as Jackson considered the situation; Straker still hunched on the ground and Alec standing almost protectively over him like an older brother. It was not something that he had intended, but perhaps it would enable the alien to settle into his life here. He seemed to be struggling to find his place at the moment. And once Freeman was on board, as it were, and not just as a flying instructor, things might go a lot easier for the displaced Vulcan.

‘I have a light.’ Straker pulled a small firestarter from his pocket.

‘Well then go ahead. Or do you want us to leave?’ Freeman bent over him, not too close now.

Straker thought for a moment. Male family and friends were the only witnesses to this rarest of ceremonies in his tribe; there for support as the link to a lost betrothed was severed and burned. ‘It would be an honour if you would both remain.’ He got to his feet, rejecting Freeman’s offer of a hand, then hunkered down to strike the flint close to the wafer thin edge of the paper.

The first bright sparks took hold and flames spread, crackling as the tissue curled and withered into dust, as the hair disintegrated to ash until there was nothing left. No one spoke. The smell of burned hair dissipated, the birds resumed their soft rustles in the branches, a jet thundered down the runway in their direction, lifting into the air to scream overhead and soar upwards. The wind from its passing disturbed the grey ash, sending it floating into the air. The flames had long since died, the embers cooling. Straker bowed his head and in the silence of his heart said the final words of the ceremony. He straightened his shoulders.

‘I thank you for sharing this with me.’ He led the way, not looking back, for there was no reason now. It was over. He had done all he could.

Jackson held Freeman back. ‘Colonel. I think what has happened here should remain between us, do you not agree?’

‘What do you take me for? The last thing he needs right now is anyone talking about this.’ Freeman pulled his arm from Jackson’s grasp and hurried on, watching the man ahead climb over the low fence, his movements slow and laborious. They would be taking him back to the hotel, to a bare and impersonal room where he would sit and watch television and let the horrors of the past fester in his mind. No.


‘Yesss?’ The voice was an amused drawl as if the doctor had anticipated this very moment, may even have brought Freeman along in the expectation of this event.

‘He can stay with me. I’ve got a couple of rooms spare. I can keep an eye on him. Better than …..’ His voice trailed away.

‘That would be most generous of you. I am sure that Colonel Straker will appreciate the offer.’ The quirk on Jackson’s lips was enough. ‘I will authorise the move but perhaps you should ask him first? And Alec,’ he said, looking over at Straker, now leaning on the car, head down, his back to them. ‘Look after him, please. He could be of more importance than you or anyone else might possibly imagine.’


Straker sat on the bed, hands clasped together, wondering what to do now he was here. Another room in another building; Freeman’s house this time, yet it was still a prison cell. He had stayed silent in the car while the two men explained what they had in mind. There was no point in talking; he knew he had no say in the decision, he was now nothing more than a pawn, looked after while of use and then maybe discarded when he had played his part and was no longer of value. Perhaps Henderson would treat him in the same way; keep him locked away in yet another room until they had taken everything from him and sucked him dry. And then? Who could say what would happen then.

Maybe Jackson would get his wish to do more tests. He shivered. He had read about past atrocities carried out in the name of science. They might do the same to him. After all he was as much an alien here as the ones who had murdered his family and who were now attacking Earth. And that fact, the realisation that he no longer knew what was going to happen to him, was more frightening that anything else he had undergone. He just wanted to do his work here, to be trusted and to help humanity. That was all. But if imprisonment, and whatever came next, was the price to pay, then somehow he would deal with it. He would have to; he made his choice on Vulcan, a lifetime ago it seemed.

The room was quiet. He watched dust motes floating in narrow sunbeams, listened to footsteps downstairs as Freeman went about his business. He could see faint traces of ash on his fingers, could smell smoke on his skin and in his hair. Short hair. He blinked away the thought and let one hand stray to his scalp. It still felt…different. There was nothing to do but wait here until he had permission to leave. Freeman’s words, earlier, had been clear. Another order to obey without question. ‘This can be your room. Put your feet up and I’ll bring you a drink later.’ It was marginally bigger than the one in the hotel and closer to the base, but that was all. No lock on the door but a cell just the same, even to the lock  on the window. Perhaps Jackson was relying on the older Colonel to keep him contained here. It would not be a difficult task. There was nowhere else for him to go.

He stood up and started unpacking, leaving his own personal clothes at the bottom of one holdall where Jackson had placed them after helping him pack. There was no need to hurry: shirts and grey sweatshirt on hangers, his jacket hung by the open window to freshen, socks and smallclothes tidy in drawers. Everything put away out of sight, even his personal belongings: razor and soapstone, knife and comb, and the memory globe, still in its box. He looked around. An impersonal room. Anyone could be living here. There was no sign of his presence and that was the way he wanted it to be. And there was nothing left of her either. He was on his own. It was the only way forward now.

With nothing else to do, he stood by the window, staring at the patch of scrubby lawn, its grass dry and withered in the heat. His aching hunger was a constant companion since his arrival here and a discomfort that made it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his work. There was no connecting bathroom and he hoped that Freeman would remember that he was here and escort him, later, to the facilities. For now, it was not a problem, but his thirst was. In the end, he took off his sweat-stained shirt and stretched out on the bed, his mind unable to stop its restless worrying. The ceiling blurred and he wiped his eyes clear, rolled onto his side, curling up in an attempt to ease the discomfort and let tiredness overtake him.

He became aware of T’Shaan, close by, laying one hand on his bare shoulder and leaning over as she used to do at home when he was sleeping. He could feel her breath on his face, her words soft in his ear. Where had she been? The bond was no longer there and he had despaired of ever touching her thoughts again, but now she was with him once more and so he reached up, pressing fingers against her face to repair the link. Skin touching skin, fingertips firm against temple and cheek. Freeman’s face, craggy and pockmarked, but Straker’s fingers didn’t feel the roughness, or the afternoon stubble or the man himself, frozen with shock. It was T’Shaan’s face under his hand, her hand on his shoulder, as he opened his mind and drew her in, desperate to be cherished once more.

Dark warmth enveloped his thoughts. An unexpected sensation and he froze, unable to pull away from the compassion engulfing him, a level of empathy he had not expected. A quick mind, alert, intelligent, and thoughtful but not T’Shaan’s mind. Whose then? He explored further, a tentative journey through a stranger’s thoughts, rifling through memories, sharing childhood recollections and steering his own thoughts away from intimate memories hidden deep within. He knew who was standing over him now, and he knew without doubt that he was safe.

It was hard to pull away from the strength of such a reassuring masculine presence. He wanted to sink into the promise of comfort and security, of not being alone any more, but it had to be done. A sigh of regret escaped his lips as he began his slow and careful retreat from the meld in order to leave Freeman unharmed from the experience.

By the time they were separate he was shaking and exhausted. Freeman had not moved from his position by the side of the bed. Eyes closed as if in sleep he was still leaning forward, supporting himself with one hand on Straker’s shoulder. He shuddered, jerking backwards out of reach and Straker rolled away from him as Freeman, frowning as if he had forgotten something, blinked with bewilderment. ‘You’re awake. I thought…. I thought you were asleep.’

‘No. I was just resting. Should I have been?’

‘You look tired.’ Freeman waved a hand. There was a mug on the small bedside table. ‘I brought you a drink.’

‘Thank you.’ He reached for the mug. Coffee. But it was sweet and hot and he sipped, grateful that he did not have to ask. It tasted better than usual, or perhaps he retained some residue of Freeman’s own tastes or of the man himself. It was not an unpleasant thought; if anything it gave him a sense of peace, as if he needed that infinitesimal presence in the back of his mind in order to be whole again. Freeman sat on the end of the bed and watched.

‘Jackson wants me to report to Thornton. You okay with that?’

‘Report?’ Straker put the mug down and pushed himself upright. ‘About today?’

Freeman shook his head. ‘No. What happened today remains private. Between us. No one else.’ He frowned. ‘He’s worried that you’ve lost weight since arriving. Have you?’

The belt, two notches tighter, his constant hunger, the increasing weakness he could sense in his body. There was no way to answer. He could feel his face flush and he clasped his hands together.

‘Base food isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.’ Freeman gave a brief grin and stood up. ‘Give me a couple of hours and we can go out and get something. Okay with you?’

‘If I may be permitted to use the bathroom?’ Straker lowered his head.

Freeman looked at him. ‘What?’

‘The bathroom. Before you go downstairs. Please?’

There was a long silence. ‘Christ, Straker, you don’t need to ask. Or …’ Freeman paused again. ‘You’re not a prisoner now. Whatever’s happened, you can walk out of here anytime you want.’ He opened the door. ‘Two hours. Get some proper sleep or come down and watch TV. Go for a walk. Whatever you want. I’ve got some work to do, but you won’t disturb me.’ He nodded and went out and Straker heard footsteps going downstairs. The bedroom door was still open and he ventured out onto the landing. No-one stopped him and, once finished in the bathroom he went back into his room, wondering with some trepidation how long he would be staying in this house but, for the first time in days feeling that his mission and his future here on Earth, might just work out.

It was just a case of being patient. Henderson would arrive sometime. Until then, he would spend his time learning about this world. And preparing for the fight against the aliens.