The Needs of the Many:Chapter 9

Chapter 9

‘Colonel Straker. Jackson tells me you’ve settled in, all things considered.’ Thornton pulled out a chair and sat down. ‘Nearly three months now.’

Straker nodded. ‘General.’

‘And Freeman here has nothing but good things to say about you. Says you’re up to speed on everything.’ Thornton gave a quick sideways glance at Freeman on the other side of the refectory table. ‘Thank you Colonel.’

Freeman nodded, crumpling his napkin and tossing it on his empty plate. ‘Don’t forget Ed, your turn to cook tonight.’ He pushed back his chair and left.

Straker waited, silent, concentrating on the last of his scrambled eggs. A relatively new taste, but enjoyable nonetheless. As with many experiences over the last weeks: driving Freeman’s car, going to the pub, buying provisions in local stores. Adaptation, he realised with a start. He was becoming accustomed to these impulsive, emotional humans with their openness and enthusiasm. A difficult race to understand, but he was aware of one fact. He would have struggled, might even have failed, without the support of Alec Freeman.

‘So, Colonel. Are you ready?’ Thornton leaned across the table.


‘To do what you came here for. You don’t imagine I’ve been ignoring you these last weeks, that I’ve not been watching you? Closely? I was worried at one stage. You seemed to have problems adjusting to life here.’ He shook his head and reached out to take a spare slice of toast from Straker’s plate. ‘And you’re an … ‘unknown quantity’ I suppose is the best description. I couldn’t risk letting you loose. Not until I was sure.’

Straker looked up at him. ‘I understand. I would have done the same in your position. But now?’

Thornton leaned back, tapping on the table with the fingers of one hand. ‘Henderson’s coming over to see me later. I’ll mention your name and your interest in, should we say, recent unexplained activities.’ He grinned. It made him look different, as if the smile washed away the cares of the world, leaving a younger man sitting opposite Straker, eating a slice of pilfered toast. ‘Should get him interested. We’ll see what happens after that. But I think he’ll take the bait.’ He dropped a small corner of crust on Straker’s sideplate, winked and stood up. ‘Keep up the good work. I’ll be in touch. Very soon.’

He took a couple of paces before turning. ‘Oh. I forgot. Your back pay’s finally been credited to your bank account. Sorry it’s taken so long. Jackson has the details. Don’t spend it all at once.’ Another boyish grin and he was off.

The buzz in the dining room resumed its usual level. Straker cleared the last pieces of toast, and drank the dregs of his orange juice. No need to rush, he had time to get a coffee as well, but there was a strange feeling in his stomach. Not hunger. That was in the past. His integration into this world was complete, his hunger and fears a thing of the past. All thanks to Alec Freeman, his mentor and more important, his friend. His only concern now was ensuring that his cover story remained intact. It was not pleasant, lying to a friend, but it had to be so. Alec could never know the truth. Ever. It would be too dangerous.

The sensation in his stomach increased. A fluttery feeling; not nausea, not pain either, more a feeling of anticipation. Strange. He picked up his cap and left the room, hoping that he was not going to be ill. He would spend the day reading the Astrophysics books Jackson had loaned him; it would pass a few hours and be a pleasant distraction, though not very challenging and he wondered about Thornton’s final comment. ‘Don’t spend it all at once.’ Perhaps he might have enough money to buy some more clothes. He hoped so. And it was Freeman’s natal day at the end of next month and the RAF officer was planning a party. Now he would be able to buy a gift. Another problem solved.

It was hard to concentrate on the text books; the maths and equations were not taxing by any means, but his thoughts kept straying to Henderson. He knew what the man looked like, but photographs could only tell you so much. In the end he put the books aside and went back to his blueprints for a proposed base on the moon. One day he might get to walk there. He smiled at the thought. And then shook his head. A Vulcan, getting excited about walking on an airless barren satellite. His tutors at the Academy would have been perturbed to say the least, though they would never let such an emotion reveal itself. Perhaps the influence of humans was more intense than he anticipated, or perhaps it was that deep inside, he still onto held a tiny fragment of Freeman’s mind, a calm and gentle touch that pervaded his waking thoughts, and gave him hope. He determined to spend more time meditating tonight, once he had made the evening meal, and he put frivolous thoughts of the Moon aside and worked on, at peace with himself.

He was in the kitchen when Freeman arrived back, later than usual and looking a little rushed.

‘Leave that. Thornton wants to see you. His house. Right now.’

‘General Thornton?’ Straker put down a handful of chopped mushrooms and slid the pan off the heat.

‘Jackson’s waiting outside. Two minutes. I’ll see to that. Get changed.’

It took longer than two minutes to change and ensure he was presentable and Jackson was tapping the steering wheel with impatient fingers when Straker hurried out.

‘Took your time Colonel.’ He drove off at speed.

‘Is there a problem? Something happened?’

‘All I know is that the General asked me to drive. He wants to see you right now. I have no idea why.’ Jackson concentrated on driving as Straker ran through possible scenarios: an alien attack or a problem with his security, even a message from Vulcan, though that was improbable. In the case of any emergency they would contact him first. And there had been nothing since arriving here. Nothing at all. Not that he was desperate for any contact. His former life no longer filled his waking thoughts or his dreams and with a tinge of guilt he realised that he had not thought of T’Shaan for several days either. But that was to be expected, it was the mind’s natural defence when a link was torn apart. In due course it healed itself, leaving only a sense of peace. He still loved her, and always would but her death was over two years ago, on a far distant planet. This was his home now, for as long as was necessary.

The car pulled up. A large house, cars parked round the edge of the wide sweeping driveway, lights blazing in the windows. He could see silhouettes inside, figures moving about. Music poured into the night.

Straker undid his seatbelt and opened the car door, stepping out onto the pea-shingle. A moment to neaten his hair with a brush of one hand, cap put in place and adjusted, jacket tugged straight. He took a deep breath and hesitated, one hand still on the car door, until Jackson leaned across. ‘I’ll wait here,’ he said and pulled the door shut.

He was on his own. Again. Several steps to the front door, his hand reaching out just as the door opened. A rush of confusing sensations: music and loud voices and laughter, unfamiliar faces turning to him, women in elegant dresses, men in suits and smart casual clothes. He felt awkward, standing there in his stiff military outfit. He tugged off the cap, tucking it under his arm. ‘Colonel Straker. To see General Thornton.’

More faces staring at him now. He stood in the light, blinking and uncomfortable, aware that he was intruding into a private gathering. The crowd in the spacious entrance hall parted. ‘Straker.’ Thornton beckoned to him. ‘Come in. This way,’ he gestured, then turned to a waiter. ‘Find Jackson and tell him not to wait.’

Straker followed, head down to avoid the curious looks that followed the two men. ‘Excuse the chaos,’ Thornton said, opening a door at the other end of the vast living area. ‘Birthday party. Wife insisted. You know women.’ He sounded embarrassed and stepped inside to allow Straker to enter the room. Straker had a brief impression of polished oak panelling and bookshelves, leather chairs, decanter and half-filled glasses on a side table before Thornton spoke again. ‘Someone I want you to meet. Henderson?’ He stepped forward. ‘This is the officer I was talking about earlier. Ed Straker.’ He picked up one of the glasses and drained it. ‘God, I needed that. Okay gentlemen, I’ll leave you in peace. Duty calls. Oh, and Straker?’


‘Find me when you’ve finished here. I’ll organise a driver.’ The door closed behind him and Ed Straker turned to face the man sitting there. Lt. General James Henderson. A man trying to save his world.

‘Straker? Come and sit down.’ The voice was gruff, the accent difficult to place, but the tone of command unmistakeable. Straker lowered himself into the other chair. ‘Thornton tells me you’ve been investigating some unexplained events. Military Intelligence stuff. Incidents that have no logical explanation. Missing people. That sort of thing.’ Henderson leaned forward. ‘You know what I’m talking about don’t you. What I mean. Unidentified Flying Objects.’

‘Yes, I do.’ Straker put his hands on his knees. ‘I’ve been searching for any pattern to the raids, maybe trying to find what they want. And I’ve been looking at possible ways to create some form of defence, some way to stop them. Whoever they are.’

The older man rubbed his hands together and smiled with relief. ‘So you believe they exist? Aliens from another world? Coming here, killing and mutilating?’

There was only one answer. ‘Yes.’

Henderson picked up his tumbler and took a mouthful, then sighed in relief. ‘I’ve been trying to tell governments for a while now. Difficult job, persuading desk-bound bureaucrats what’s happening. Most of them don’t want to believe. Frightens them I think. And they worry about mass panic.’ He stood up. ‘Drink?’

Straker sat in silence as Henderson took the stopper out of the decanter. There was a chink of glass on glass, a slosh of liquid, and the tumbler passed across. He took a couple of sips in silence then cradled the glass, his eyes watching Henderson.

‘Right. Let’s get down to it. I need someone to help me. Someone with military and intelligence experience. Dammit no. Someone with real talent and intellect, who can see beyond the smokescreens. And who understands what I am talking about. Do you?’ Henderson took another mouthful of whisky and put the glass down hard on the table. ‘Do you Straker?’

‘I believe so, General. I know these aliens have been coming here for longer than we might expect. We have to find a way to protect Earth and yet keep that knowledge secret.’

‘Exactly. We think along the same lines.’ Henderson sat back and gave a brief smile. ‘Get yourself comfortable Colonel. You and I are going to have a long talk.’

Henderson had finished his second glass of whisky and started on a third long before they finished. Straker had not touched his since the first sip, too engrossed in talking about his research and theories and explaining some of his ideas.

‘A base on the Moon eh? That won’t come cheap.’ Henderson muttered.

‘No. but you have to look at the advantages. With sensors linked to a manned satellite in an opposing orbit, we’d have a clear view across the solar system. Be able to detect any UFOs long before they came into range. It would give us time to organise a defence, maybe even intercept them out in space.’ Straker pointed to the rough sketch he had drawn. ‘Here. And another one here. We could – ’

‘We, Colonel? Actually that sounds fine to me.’ Henderson grinned and then stood up, grunting with the stiffness in his back. ‘Go and ask Thornton if he can spare me a few minutes will you, but don’t leave just yet. I want to see you afterwards.’ He held out his hand. ‘Hadn’t intended to talk so long. Thank you Ed. You’ve given me a lot to think about.’

The brightness and noise outside was startling after the quiet of Thornton’s study. He stood back, watching people move to and fro, helping themselves to the buffet and drinks. Thornton was nowhere to be seen and so he moved away from his quiet niche into the bustle, searching for the one person he might recognise.

‘You must be Ed Straker.’ He turned at the sound of a woman’s voice, soft and amused from behind. ‘Are you’re looking for my husband? I’ll go and find him.’

‘Actually, ma’am, General Henderson would like to speak to him, if possible. I was asked to wait.’

The woman sighed with amused exasperation. ‘I knew Josiah would end up working tonight, even if this is his party. Stay right there.’ She turned and put her hand on the arm of a young woman. ‘Mary, this is Colonel Straker. Take care of him while I go drag the birthday boy away from his battle games.’ She grinned at Straker. ‘Don’t frighten her with war stories Colonel. She’s a college friend of my daughter, staying with us for a few weeks.’

Mary. He held out his hand. ‘Pleased to meet you.’ She had blue eyes and ash-blonde hair, her hand felt small and warm in his and he let go with a sense of regret. She said something to him but he didn’t catch the words. ‘Sorry?’

‘A drink? What can I get you? Champagne?’ She looked around for a waiter.

‘Sorry.’ Another apology. He shook his head. ‘Something non-alcoholic, please? If that’s possible?’

‘Sure.’ She wandered off and he watched her, hoping Thornton would not appear too soon.

‘Thank you.’ He took the glass she offered and tasted. ‘That’s fine.’

‘So you work for the General? Or should I not ask?’ She blushed and bit her lip. ‘I don’t know much about the military. This is all new to me.’

It was easy changing the subject to ask about her own career plans and her family and her holiday, and then, their drinks finished, get a refill for both of them, and a plate of food to share. She chattered about her parents and her university course, and it was only when Thornton arrived after more than half an hour that Straker realised he was reluctant to leave.

‘Straker. Enjoying yourself? Sorry to drag you away, but James wants a final word. Okay with you Mary?’ He grinned at the young woman. ‘Colonel Straker has work to do right now, but I’ll return him as soon as possible.’

It took a moment to adjust to the calm and relative darkness of the library after the noise outside, and he hesitated on the threshold, aware that the General was sitting at the desk now, reading through papers.

Henderson looked up. ‘Come in Ed. Do you want to stay as well Josiah?’

‘No. Best if I leave the two of you to sort it. Colonel?’ Thornton gave another boyish grin. ‘There’ll be a driver waiting whenever you’re ready, but there’s no rush. I’ll see you tomorrow at some stage.’

Straker stepped inside as the door closed behind him. For an irrational moment he wondered if Mary would be waiting once he was finished here. ‘You wanted me sir?’

‘I do. In fact, Straker, I want you to come and work for me, for this new organisation I’m setting up. That is, as soon as Thornton’s department can expedite the paperwork. How do you feel about that?’

A wave of relief swept through Straker. Justification of everything he had endured. There was only one answer and the formal and archaic words came easily to mind. ‘I am yours to command.’ An echo from the past and he gave an infinitesimal bow, unnoticed in the dim light at the corner of the room.

‘Then welcome aboard Colonel.’ Henderson seemed to relax at last, his face losing its stiffness, heavy jowls creasing in a smile of genuine relief. ‘There’s a lot you need to do. And as soon as possible. Advanced astronaut training for example. Thornton likes your idea of satellites and a lunar base as much as I do. Original thinking on your part. But I will need you to oversee those developments. Now,’ He pushed the papers and a briefcase across the desk. ‘This is as far as I’ve got with my own ideas for what we need. Go through it, see what you think works and what doesn’t, add your own ideas and get back to me with revisions and suggestions in thirty-six hours. Think you can handle that?’

It was hard to keep the sheer relief from his voice. ‘Yes, General.’ He picked up the thick file, giving it a quick glance. Five stark letters on the front. He slipped it into the briefcase and locked it.

‘I’ve been looking for someone for a while. Nearly gave up hope until Thornton mentioned you.’ Henderson stood up, reached out one hand. A firm grip, confident, assured. And welcoming. ‘So, Colonel Straker. Welcome to SHADO.’

He walked out in a daze, his mind full of the things he needed to do; read Henderson’s proposals, revise his own list of ideas and incorporate them if necessary, draw up his blueprints and get the measurements checked, work out a time schedule for construction, and .. a touch on his shoulder stopped him. Thornton’s wife.

‘Colonel? Leaving us already? I think Mary would like to say goodbye. There are so few people of her age here, and she enjoyed talking to you.’

He could see her in the corner, watching him, a hopeful look on her face. It would have been impolite to refuse, he told himself, and he took a firm grip on the briefcase and went over to say a brief goodbye.

It was later, much later, when he finally found the driver assigned to take him home, having talked about art and music and aircraft, then London and her home country, England. For some inexplicable reason he found himself promising to come over at the weekend and take her for a tour of the base. He would have to ask Alec for the loan of his car. But tonight he had work to do. He sat in the back of the vehicle, weary after the stresses of the evening and yet too excited to contemplate sleeping. Anyway, sleep could wait. He would do a brief meditation once he got back to refresh himself for the hours ahead, and then set to work.

Straker opened the front door and listened. Alec was still up, watching the late night news. The remains of the evening meal were waiting to be heated, but the kitchen was spotless as usual. He went through to the living room.

‘Back? What happened?’ Freeman turned down the volume. ‘Want a drink?’

‘No, I have work to do. I met General Henderson. He…’ And then it hit him. He couldn’t tell Alec what had happened, couldn’t tell him that this was the most important thing he had ever achieved. And he would leave here, in a couple of weeks no doubt, and might never see Freeman again. He shook his head. ‘Doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you later.’

‘Bad news? Something wrong?’ Freeman looked up, concerned.

The truth had to be told at some stage. Maybe it would be easier to do it now, while he still had that sense of accomplishment, of exhilaration at the prospect of working with Henderson. ‘He wants me to work for him doing lunar research, that sort of stuff. Says we need to look out to space if we want to develop new technology.’ He shrugged and tried to hide the grimace of regret. ‘Means I’ll be moving on shortly. Sorry. It’s been…’

‘No problem. Been good having you here.’ Freeman hauled himself out of the deep sofa. ‘I’m off to bed. Don’t stay up to long, you look tired.’

‘Yes. Commander.’ Straker gave a mock salute and Freeman tilted his head, thoughtfully.

‘You’re more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you before. Whatever Henderson said, it seems to agree with you. Something to get your teeth into at last, a purpose in life. God. I’m sounding philosophical.’ He put his hand up to hide a yawn. ‘Risotto in the pan. Beer in the fridge. I’m off to bed.’

The television was still blaring out its stories. Always the bad news; after all, who wanted to hear about good things, about kindness and friendship and taking care of a fellow man? Straker turned it off and went back into the kitchen, thinking about Alec and SHADO, and his thoughts then turned to the weekend ahead. And Mary.


3 thoughts on “The Needs of the Many:Chapter 9

  1. Chapters so far Roy? I am currently working on Chapter 17. Depending on how I feel about this story, it could go up to 40 !! But probably not!

  2. I agree, really brilliant! Lightcudder, you’re weaving such a fine net between your (fictional) story and the things which might have happened before the scenes we see in the episode Confetti Check-A OK. So believable! Wonderful.

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