SHADO control was quieter than normal, due to the fact that alien activity had noticeably decreased during the past couple of weeks, but an air of unease permeated the vast complex.
Lieutenant Commander Leo nodded a slightly distracted welcome to Miss Ealand and then entered Straker’s office. She had absolutely no intention of sitting down in the Commander’s chair. Oh no. The mere thought made her scared, particularly on a day like today, when she should have been at home catching up on sleep. But Straker had called her in, and when Straker ordered you to do something, you did it. No questions asked.
Once underground she strode; although she felt like running but that would have appeared unseemly, towards her destination. Straker’s office. His door was open.
He gave her one quick look. Blue eyes blazed with annoyance. ‘LtCdr. Leo, come in. Don’t bother to sit down. This will only take a moment.’
Oh hell. What had she done now?
He continued to leaf through a stack of papers on his desk. ‘Have you heard of an organisation calling themselves ‘Fanderson’?’
There was a moment’s hesitation. ‘Err………..No sir, I haven’t heard of them.’ Shit. Should she know about them?
‘Good. That means you are probably unknown to them as well.’ He looked up again. ‘Fanderson are a very influential organisation who are becoming increasingly active. They have somehow obtained highly classified information on some of the world’s most important organisations, including Spectrum, International Rescue and,….’ he glared at her, lips tight with anger, ‘SHADO. They are holding what they purport to be a convention in Bristol this weekend. I want you to attend. Find out what goes on there; find out how much of a security risk they are. Get inside that organisation and, if necessary, call in reinforcements. Report directly to me every two hours. Miss Ealand has all the details. You will be going as a new member to the organisation, and travelling by train. Make it realistic. I have chosen you because of your unique talents.’
‘LtCdr, Fanderson encourage their members to display items relating to the organisations they study, models and so forth. I understand you dabble in sketches?’
‘Sir.’ Blast. How had he known about her hobby. And more to the point, what sketches had he seen?
‘Take some of your work down. Display it. That way you can fit in better.’ He gave her one last look; a wry quirk of his lips that made her blush. ‘Yes. I have seen them. The sketches. Take about six. Here are your documentation and train tickets. I will expect a full report on Monday.’ He picked a folder and started reading, effectively dismissing her.
It was a struggle to pack everything into one suitcase, especially as she needed to take a special SHADO communications and recording system, but eventually she managed it. And the train journey was a novelty.
Ah. Clever. Very clever. Someone had created a photo route from the station to the hotel. She admired the thoughtfulness. If Fanderson was as well organised as this, perhaps Straker was right to be concerned that the security of SHADO might be compromised.
The hotel had been carefully selected. Efficient staff and even more efficient and disarmingly friendly committee members who welcomed her and made her feel as if she was part of a family, not just an anonymous interloper. She unpacked and reported to Straker. The Commander was very concerned. ‘So you are saying that there might be more to this organisation than initially appears?’
‘Well, Commander, they are highly prepared. This event has been put together with great attention to detail. I will attend as many of the events as possible so that I get an overall view of the organisation. But obviously I will be unable to be present at every function.’
Straker grunted with annoyance. ’Well, do your best. Get to know people, talk, take photographs; you know what to do. But LtCdr. I want results. If this Fanderson organisation poses a significant threat, we need to be prepared to act with extreme prejudice.’
The concert was as ideal place to start. Surely there would be some subversive messages hidden in such an innocuous event as a recording of an orchestra. Filming was forbidden so she had to rely on her eidetic memory. But it was not what she expected. Not a grainy, poor quality and pirated copy. This was a perfect recording of a powerful and thrilling concert. And looking around in the darkened room, packed with Fanderson members, she could see that they were as enthralled as she was herself. It was as if they were actually there, with the orchestra in front of them.
Her concerns about the security of SHADO were increasing every minute. Fanderson had clout. Serious clout. Not a two-bit group of geeks, not a small bunch of cult fans, these were serious, dedicated, intelligent and therefore highly dangerous, individuals. Probably with considerable influence as well. She shifted her shoulders to move her holster into a slightly more accessible position. Better to be safe than sorry.
In the bar afterwards, drinking orange juice, and wishing for something stronger, she chatted to a group of writers. A treacherous meeting. They knew far more than anyone should have known about International Rescue, but the Thunderbirds organisation was not her immediate concern. Jeff Tracy would have to do his own investigations into Fanderson.
And eventually, disconcerted and more than a little dismayed by the openness with which the people here discussed Spectrum, and WASP and International Rescue and SHADO, she finally went to bed. Straker was not happy. And he made that very clear to her.
‘So, you are telling me that you have no evidence? No definite proof? Just your suspicions. That is not enough.’ Straker was still in his office, even at this late hour, still trying to find some scraps of information on Fanderson. He spoke softly, but she could hear the venom in his voice, his rage at the possible threat to SHADO. ‘I wanted to send Colonel Freeman on this assignment, but he would, no doubt, have been recognised. You have to do better than this, LtCdr. I am relying on you to get to the bottom of this organisation. Find out what makes it tick. Find out how effective it is. If Fanderson decide to expose SHADO’s existence to the world, have no doubts. I will act. And I will act quickly and with ultimate force. Straker out.’ He cut the connection with an abrupt nod.
She was up early the next morning, covertly photographing the evidence in what was called the Exhibitions room. A good excuse to go there; her sketches were on display, but frighteningly there were incredibly detailed and perfectly rendered models of a SHADO Mobile, Sky 1, a Lunar rocket launcher and the SHADO SST. Damn. How had they got the blueprints to create these? And looking around she saw further incriminating evidence.
Eagle transporters, other models she recognised from a wide variety of organisations, along with photographs and drawings. It was impossible to photograph everything, it would have appeared too suspicious, but she took it all in, with a slight frisson of pleasure at seeing such incredible attention to detail. Perhaps SHADO should run a G6 on some of these model makers to see if they were suitable candidates for posts within the organisation.
As Straker was fond of saying, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies even closer’. She would try to talk to some of the creative geniuses who had done this work and sound them out about working for ‘Harlington Straker’. But time was passing and the Opening Ceremony was about to begin.
Ah yes: Opening Ceremony. Where she would, no doubt, find out about ‘secret handshakes’, passwords, and possible entry into the inner echelons of this organisation.
The stirring music began…and she gasped. Hell. Straker. They had his photograph. And inside SHADO Command. As well as snapshots from every other organisation. How had they done that? Although she had to admit, the music was appropriate! ‘I need a hero’.. perfect! And she sat and smirked as she thought of how Ed Straker would react when he saw this.
There was simply too much happening throughout the day to inspect everything. She was selective. She had to be. SHADO was her priority.
It was not easy, but she managed to get a front row seat for the superbly filmed documentary reporting on the incident when Captain Carlin managed to obtain that very first alien survivor. A brilliant piece of investigative reporting produced by a man called Gerry Anderson. He needed to be watched. He seemed to be a focal point for much of Fanderson’s work. Anderson. She wrote the name down, then realised that he would be lecturing later in the day. That would have to be scheduled in as well.
The rest of the morning passed in a daze of lectures, seminars, discussions, informal chats. Even autograph signings. She queued up to get one of her sketches signed by a charming, erudite man with a wonderfully adaptable voice, and then purchased a book which was autographed by yet another charismatic person, whose accent seemed very familiar.
Somehow she found the time to contact Straker and warn him about Gerry Anderson. He was typically acerbic. ‘Anderson.’ Straker pinched his nose as if in pain. ‘I’ll get Lt Ford to run a check on him. Good work, LtCdr.,’ he threw a brief unexpected compliment at her, ‘keep in contact. I will be here until late evening. If there are any developments get in touch.’
Anderson. He was the key to all this. The man whose name was on everyone’s lips. Anderson. She could hear the susurration as it was whispered and passed from one member to another. Anderson.
It was hard to find a seat in the vast room where he was going to speak, but it was imperative that she attended. SHADO might be able to get further information regarding any subversive activities to which Anderson was linked. But it was vital to see the man himself close up, to listen to him, to assess his strengths and ascertain if he was going to be a threat.
He was not what she expected. An elegant, quiet elderly man, obviously passionate about his life’s work, which was to educate the world about Spectrum and WASP and SHADO and International Rescue among others. She wondered again just how this unassuming gentleman had managed to obtain such highly classified information. And looking around the packed auditorium she saw that everyone was as engrossed as she was, was listening spellbound as he talked about his vision, his hopes for the future, his pride in the achievements of the past. He was a leader, an innovator, a man with a vision and the strength to achieve his goals. Charismatic and confident. She wondered if he had ever met Ed Straker. The two men might get along very well. Both dedicated to the point of obsession.
There was a lot to think about. She went to the bar.
Straker had insisted that she attended a particular ‘workshop’ as the last formal event of the day. A meeting of journalists who somehow had access to secret files from Spectrum, International Rescue and SHADO. These had been written up and placed in various protected sites so that others could read them and learn more about actual events. Their knowledge of procedures and systems was terrifying. Huge data banks of reports had been assembled and made accessible to Fanderson members and even to others outside Fanderson. She was glad to note that there was no-one there, apart from herself, who had access to, and had been collating, SHADO information. Yet.
After a quiet meal, she prepared for the most difficult part of the assignment. The Discovery, Interception and Surveillance, of Covert Operations, codenamed ‘Disco’.
With trepidation she entered the large room, unsure what to expect. An Alien! But.. no.. obviously a well-designed costume to allow other members to familiarise themselves with the appearance of aliens. And there were others there as well, in uniform. International Rescue, Spectrum, Moonbase, to name but a few. The noise was rather too loud (and secretly she was having far too much fun) to be able to conduct her investigations with the commitment that Ed Straker demanded of his staff, so after some time she headed for the calm of the outer area to discreetly interrogate other Fanderson members.
Later that night she slept restlessly, her head spinning with the information she had gleaned. Facts and figures, stories, details, reports. Everyone was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, welcoming. Worryingly so.
The Sunday programme was even more perturbing. SHADO featured heavily. A lecture with snapshots of Sky 1 launching, including details of its launch procedures, more unbelievably meticulous photographs of Moonbase, of vehicles, of Interceptor cockpits, even of UFOs. How had they acquired these? Who was the traitor in the SHADO organisation? And more importantly, did Fanderson have plans to reveal the existence of SHADO to the outside world?
Straker was looking even more tired when she contacted him on the secure vidlink. ‘Any further developments LtCdr?’
‘No sir, I am still analysing the data I have collected. I really need to attend the final closing ceremony before I can come to a proper conclusion.’
He was not pleased and made it obvious. ‘Very well. You have until 18.05 to complete your investigations. There is a task force waiting for the order to storm the hotel, administer the amnesia drug to all the guests and take any surviving ringleaders into custody. If I have not heard from you by 18.06, then I will assume that you have been compromised and I will order the assault. Straker out.’
Frowning, she read her schedule again. Yet another documentary that explained the events that led to the destruction of that underwater dome inhabited by aliens. Yet another mystery. How had they obtained that information? Had they managed to hack into the SHADO computers to download the coded data? There were still more puzzles to come. It was too soon to call in the clean-up team, so she sat quietly in the bar, observing, sketching quick outlines of some of the faces, chatting openly to others, but all the time wondering. Who was friend? Who was foe?
How many of these charming, friendly, incredibly knowledgeable people were, right now, plotting to destroy the very heart of the world’s security organisations. A chill shiver rushed through her as she realised the implications. Total anarchy, riots, power struggles. The feeding frenzy for the superb technology possessed by these organisations.
She had to make the right decision.
Heavy-hearted, trembling with the responsibility, she took her place at the closing ceremony, expecting to be exhorted to go and tell the world about the evils of SHADO, of Spectrum, of the location of the Thunderbirds home. She looked at her watch. Only a few minutes to go.
Straker looked at his watch. Only a few minutes to go. He looked at Alec Freeman. ‘This could be it Alec. This could be the end of SHADO. If LtCdr makes the wrong decision, if Fanderson is, in reality, a fanatical organisation hell-bent on world domination, we might not be able to stop them.’ He sat there, waiting, outwardly calm, but Colonel Freeman could see the stress, the rigid fear that filled the SHADO commander. There was nothing to do but wait.
‘Commander.’ Her voice was breathless, panting with either fear or excitement, it was impossible to tell.’
He leaned forward and flicked the vidlink switch. ‘Straker.’ Curt, brusque, his voice harsh with suppressed tension.
‘Commander, it’s all right. Fanderson isn’t a threat. I went to the closing ceremony. It is all so obvious, if you know what to look for.’ She paused, gasping for air.
‘LtCdr, I am just about to order the assault team to move in on that building. Now. Tell me exactly what is happening. What have you found discovered?’
‘Fanderson isn’t subversive Commander. It isn’t a threat to SHADO or to any organisation. In fact it is the very opposite. It’s a dedicated, and growing, select group of individuals who see it as their responsibility to ensure that all the organisations they represent are free to continue their operations in the world. International Rescue, WASP, Spectrum and the others, and that includes SHADO. Commander Straker, Fanderson has no intention of trying to destroy us, far from it. Their members are committed to ensuring that we succeed, that we never fail and that the ideals of Gerry Anderson live on, for years to come. You can stand the assault team down Commander. They won’t be needed. Trust me. ‘
Straker took a deep breath. He looked up at Alec Freeman, paused for a moment then turned back to the monitor. ‘Very well LtCdr. I will recall the team. I expect your full report tomorrow morning. Are you travelling back this evening?’
‘Err, umm. Well Commander,’ LtCdr hesitated, ‘ I feel that it would be wise to get to meet even more of the group, so I will be staying on and returning tomorrow. If that is alright sir.’ She added quickly.
Straker grinned at her, relief lighting his eyes. ‘Very well, LtCdr. And I’ll say it again. Good job. And thank you.’
She smiled at him, closed the connection and went to join her new Fanderson friends in the bar.