He enjoyed wandering on the beach in the early morning. No-one else was about, and that meant no one to question him, or make demands. And it was good to get away, to get out and roam free in the welcome silence, with bare feet sliding in the thick soft sand.
There were always interesting things to be found, intricate pieces of worn and twisted driftwood, small, perfect shells, the random detritus discarded by careless waves. This morning was no exception.
The geode, at least it looked like a geode, was half hidden in the crushed-shell sand. He bent down to pick it up, noting its rough grey surface, perfectly spherical, pitted with tiny blackened holes, but otherwise unmarked.
As any inquisitive ten year old boy might do, he lifted it from the vanilla sand and shook it, gently, just to see if it was hollow, to see if there was anything loose inside. And he nearly dropped it.
July 21st 2010
The last sentence. The last word. The final full stop. Done.
Now he just needed to read it through, to make sure that everything had been recorded. All those little details. All the facts. All the events.
Well, who could say what would happen next, afterJacksonhad read it?
He sighed, leaned back in his chair and read through the report one final time. Perhaps it would be easier if he simply headed for the secure holding cell now, instead of waiting forJacksonto send his henchmen over.
He wondered just how uncomfortable straightjackets were. Well, he was probably going to find out.
It was not the weight that surprised him, although the sphere seemed to be far lighter than it should be, as if it were made of polystyrene instead of rock. No, it was not the weight, nor the warmth that radiated from the rock. That deep, even heat that warmed his hands without burning. Neither was it the feel of the smoothness against his palms, the velvet texture that seemed so much at odds with the visibly pitted and scarred surface.
No. It was the voice.
July 12th 2010
The very last mobile reported in. All clear. All over. At least until the next attack.
Ed Straker sighed, finished his coffee and stretched. Three days. Three hellish long, exhausting days. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes for a moment and promptly fell asleep.
Alec woke him, a short time later.
‘What.’ The commander was grumpy to say the least. ‘Don’t tell me there’s another sighting.’
‘Home. Now. I’ve arranged for Paul to drive you. Go home and get some sleep. Understood?’
‘And since when were you appointed Commander, Colonel Freeman? Or did I miss out on that board meeting? When you’re me, then you can tell me what to do. Understood?’
‘Ha. Very funny. Don’t give me that ‘I’m perfectly all right’ crap, Ed Straker. You look shattered. You’ve been here for the past three days without a break. Go home. If you even think of arguing with me I’ll getJackson to order you to take a week’s leave. You know I will. And you know he’ll jump at the chance. Okay?’
The only answer was a glare as the SHADO commander stood up with slow, stiff movements and reached for his briefcase.
‘Oh no. No paperwork. Nothing. Home. Sleep. Rest. And when you wake up, don’t even think about rushing back here. Read a book. Take a walk. Jackson?’ and Alec raised an eyebrow as if asking whether he needed to call the SHADO psychiatrist. ‘I’ll call you back in if there is an emergency, but with the three of us here, we should be quite capable of handling things. Our friends won’t be back for a while now. Not after the beating we’ve given them. We can cope here without you. Trust us.’
Straker grunted morosely and, with obvious reluctance, surrendered.
He shrugged his jacket on, glared once more at Alec Freeman who was, by now grinning with delight at having been victorious in the battle of wills, and walked out of his office still yawning and stumbling half-asleep to his other office and thence to the outside world.
Paul Foster was waiting by the main entrance and Straker strapped himself into Foster’s car and leaned back, eyes closed again as if it was too much effort to keep them open. He ached with tiredness and the strain of trying to keep alert.
It had been a horrendous three days with constant incursions and attacks, and the stress was beginning to catch up with him. Perhaps Alec was right.
Perhaps he should do more than just go home and get some sleep. Perhaps he should, perish the thought, have a holiday. It might be the sensible thing to do. He hadn’t had a proper break from SHADO for longer than he cared to remember. A vacation. Somewhere hot and quiet and restful. Nothing to do all day but doze in the sunshine and give himself chance to catch up on sleep. It might be an opportune time to do it as well, with Alec and Paul and Virginia all back in HQ. He could leave them to deal with things for a few days, surely? See how they got on with handling the day to day running.
Damn it. He deserved a break.
But first… bed, sleep.
Once inside his house he switched off his mobile and pager, and, with a slight feeling of guilt, as if he was doing something forbidden, disconnected the landline. If SHADO needed him they would have to come out and get him.
The house was quiet and dark, and once inside the seclusion and sanctuary of his bedroom he undressed, not even bothering to hang up his clothes, not tonight, not as tired as he was right now.
Not troubling himself with finding and putting on pyjamas, he slipped, naked, between the cool, calming sheets, weary muscles stiff and painful. He sighed with gratitude at the sensation of release, of being able to, finally, let go, and turning onto his side, stretched out and was asleep within moments.
He gasped and fumbled his hold on the sphere, only just managing to stop it from slipping from his small hands onto the sand below. Slowly, with care,, he tightened his hold on it, his slender fingers, the nails bitten down to the quick and the knuckles chewed and ragged, clasping it as if it was a precious jewel. He looked around, sure that this was a yet another practical joke being played on him by some other child, someone else whose parents were on the base.
But there was no one in sight. And in a way he had not expected there to be anyone else. It was too early in the morning for the other children to be out. They would all still be in bed, asleep, undisturbed by nightmares and shouting and threats and the fear of what might happen if he tried to intervene. He had learned a long time ago not to intervene, but there were times when it was the only thing that he could do.
No, there was no-one around. He had not imagined it. The voice was still speaking to him. A calm, controlled, slightly feminine but also mechanical, voice, like the base security systems automated response tone. And so he lowered himself to the silken sand, unmarked by any other footsteps at this hour of the morning, and with quiet apprehension, but also with a slight quiver of excitement, he prepared to answer the questions.
July 12th 2010
‘Exactly my thoughts, gentlemen.’
The three colonels stood in the SHADO Control room, watching.
‘Well?’ Paul Foster, worried tone.
‘Well, what?’ Alec Freeman, defensive.
‘Well, do we get Commander Straker back in?’ Foster, questioningly.
‘Like hell we do. We should be able to deal with this ourselves.’ Freeman, assertively. ‘Besides which, he’d never let us live it down if we called him in for a false alarm.’
ColonelLakejoined in the discussion. ‘It’s not a UFO. At least it’s not one of ours. It’s not anything I’ve ever seen before. The only person who might know what it could be is the commander. But do you really want to call him out for this? Chances are he’ll take one look at it and tell us it’s a piece of some old satellite. I, for one, certainly don’t want to face the wrath of Ed Straker. Do you?’ and she looked at the two men.
‘Not really,’ Paul Foster admitted.
‘Well, then. Let’s try to deal with this ourselves. Run through the facts again will you Alec?’
The SHADO Second in Command paused as he recalled the salient points. ‘First, it’s definitely not a UFO. Far too small, and travelling far too slowly. Second, the data we have shows that there are no life forms on board, just a powerful energy source. Thirdly, we have no idea what kind of energy source it is. It doesn’t have a recognisable signature. Fourthly, it is heading into Earth’s atmosphere, having evaded all out attempts to capture it. Fifthly, it does not look as if it will burn up in the atmosphere as it is now heading on a trajectory that will bring it down to land somewhere in theSouth Pacific ocean, fairly close to a small group of uninhabited islands and atolls. From the data we have managed to get, it appears to be about the size of a football. Peter Carlin is going to try to retrieve it and bring it to base. With any luck it will be here in a couple of hours. We can decide what to do then, after the research guys have finished with it, of course.’
Ed Straker was still asleep when the SHADO courier, young, attractive and very recently married Lt Deepin Smith, nee Deepin Eyerneen, arrived at HQ two hours later with the secure container. The SHADO commander was dreaming of beaches and gently rippling wavelets, warm breezes, soft sand and cool spaces under tall trees. He stirred in his sleep. Muttered something about trajectories and flight paths and landing speeds then settled deeper into his dreams.
As a matter of course, the shielded container was taken straight to security. Scans, both CT and ultrasound, X-rays, spectrographs, energy readouts. Everything possible, even an old fashioned stethoscope was used to try to fathom out exactly was hidden inside the sphere with its dull patina. Nothing. X-rays were useless.
It was as if it was a solid object, filled with lead. Scans showed a blur of indistinct ‘things’. Totally foreign to anything they had seen before. Silence.
Freeman,Lakeand Foster were, to say the least, miffed. Mightily miffed.
‘So you are telling us that you don’t know what this is? Where it came from? What it is made of? You can’t tell us anything at all?’ Freeman was incredulous. ‘With all the state of the art equipment you have here in this laboratory and you can’t even identify one single aspect of this UFO, Rocks?’ Freeman glared at the newest recruit to SHADO’s scientific research department.
The young man blushed under the fierce gaze of the Executive officer, ‘Stones, sir,’ he replied in a diffident tone, refusing to meet Alec Freeman’s angry look.
‘Stones? What the hell does that mean?’ Freeman was nearly apoplectic with rage. He knew that he would have to call Ed Straker back into work if they could not find something that would identify this object.
The scientist blushed again. ‘My name sir, it’s Stones, Dr. Jeremy Stones, not Rocks. As for the object. It seems to present no security risk, at least not at present. And although, technically, it should be classified as a UFO, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the usual UFOs that we deal with here in SHADO. This…’ and he indicated the small dull, shape that resembled a buckyball more than anything else, ‘this has no similarities to them whatsoever. Totally different size, mass, construction and material. I would hazard a guess that this is a completely different alien artefact. Nothing to do with ‘our’ aliens as far as I can tell.’
‘Great.’ Paul Foster’s annoyed tone indicated that the young test pilot did not think that the situation was great. Far from it in fact. ‘So we are no closer to fathoming this damned thing out then?’
‘Sorry sir, no. The only person who might have any insight into this is the Commander. I took the liberty of accessing his data files on unusual objects and I discovered that some years ago he had made tentative investigations into reports of any sightings of objects similar to this. Unfortunately, the exact nature of the results of the investigations are sealed under the Commander’s personal code and can only be retrieved by him.’ Dr Stones told them, a worried frown lining his brow.
‘Shit.’ Alec Freeman scowled even harder if that were possible. ‘Can you tell us anything? Anything even remotely useful?’
‘Well, Colonel, to be honest, I don’t think this … article, whatever it is, poses a threat. If, as the sealed report seems to indicate, this is the same type of alien object, then we are unlikely to be in any danger. The commander could, no doubt, confirm my speculations. I suggest that you contact him as soon as possible.’
‘Like hell I’m going to wake him up just for this.’ snarled Freeman with an angry shake of his head. ‘We should be capable of dealing with this by ourselves.’
Dr. Stones continued. ‘As a result of my findings, I have not continued my investigations, though I do feel that spectrograph analysis and the use of a titanium tipped drill could provide us with an insight to the sphere’s inner core and the source of the energy output.’ He looked questioningly at the three senior members of SHADO staff.
Foster, Freeman andLakelooked at each other.
‘I think we should.’
‘Definitely. Ed’s left us in charge. Let’s do this our way.’
There was a pause.
‘Agreed.’ Colonel Freeman sighed, and turned to Dr Stones, ‘Alright, Rocks, or Stones, whatever your name is. You have the go ahead to do the tests.After all , we need to defend ourselves against anything Call us as soon as you have any information.’
And the three colonels headed back to the safety, and the refuge that was Ed Straker’s office.
It was some thirty minutes later when the worried scientist called Colonel Freeman.
‘Colonel, Dr Stones here. We have a problem with this sphere…..’
‘Well, what sort of problem?’ Alec Freeman growled.
‘The drill was damaged in the attempt to penetrate the sphere but we did manage to get through the outermost surface layer. Unfortunately it now appears to be leaking some kind of thick fluid. We have run tests on it, but they are inconclusive. I really think you should call Commander Straker . We need to know what we are dealing with,….. and we need to know soon.’
It had been almost an interrogation at first. The questions came thick and fast. Location. Precise location in fact. Then name, sex, age. There had been a slight tone of disappointment in the strange voice when he told the sphere that he was ten.
‘Only ten?’ the voice had said in its peculiarly stilted tone. As if it had been expecting someone older.
He answered back apologetically, as if asking forgiveness for his age. ‘I’ll be older one day. Old enough. And then….’ he muttered to himself.
‘It does not matter,’ the voice replied, as if aware that it had upset him. ‘Your youth is of no consequence.’
‘But it does matter. If I was older, then…..,’ he hissed back with anger, then fell silent as he realised that maybe he had said too much, had opened the floodgates and that everything would come out. Everything. His teeth tore at a loose hangnail and he bit the small flap of skin away, leaving a tiny droplet of blood on the edge of the ugly damaged nail.
‘Why does it matter to you? You will grow older with time As the years pass, so you will age, and mature and become an adult. Why wish for your youth to be over?’
‘Because…….’ and he took a deep shuddering breath and, in a quiet, hesitant voice, began to explain.
July 12th 2010
Asleep, alone, Straker curled up under the duvet, his fingers clenched on the down filled cover, his muscles rigid with tension. Something was wrong. They were going to hurt him, they were going to break him. Gasping with panic he clutched the duvet and writhed in a futile attempt to evade their sharp weapons. It was no use. With a scream of agony he awoke, sweat pouring off him, his heart pounding desperately.
A nightmare. Just a nightmare. That was all.
Or was it? It felt so real. He even hurt where the drill had pierced his skin. He put his hand to his shoulder expecting to feel the wetness of blood but there was nothing. A nightmare then. Not reality. But, somehow the pain was still there. Sharp, insistent. He rubbed his shoulder and it subsided under the pressure of his fingers. Probably a trapped nerve, his logical and rational mind told him. Sleeping too well, too deeply, that was the problem.
Reaching for the glass of water on the bedside table, his hand shaking, he drank deeply, shuddering with the memories of the dream, even though the images were beginning to fade. His heart eased its thudding, his breathing slowed and he lay down, trying to relax. It was harder than he expected; random memories flashed across his mind and every time he felt himself on the very edge of sleep he would jerk awake as an image, a sound, a remembrance of past events shocked into him.
Enough. He concentrated on the relaxation techniques he had learned over the years, tightening muscles and relaxing them, striving to get his body and mind to work together to banish the fears and allow him to sleep. It took a long time, but eventually he tipped gently and smoothly over the lip of awareness and into sleep, so softly that he was not conscious of the gradual transition from his waking state.
And so he slept, deeply, needfully, his mind cleansing itself of the poisons of the days, his body purging itself of the toxins trapped in his muscles and blood and bones from stress and over exhaustion.
But then as his thoughts recovered, as his memory wiped clean the recent horrors, other memories, other impressions began to insinuate themselves into his dreams, unwanted, unbidden, unwelcome.
Black and silver, the long sinewy shape curled into his mind, into his dream, and he could hear its soft moans, its whimpering as it tried to evade the ones who were trying to harm it. He wept with it as it struggled, terrified, to speak, to tell them that it was here. But no-one was listening. And for the second time Straker woke up, confused, alarmed, and knowing that there was, quite definitely, something wrong.
He stretched out his arm again, for the glass of water, his mouth dry and parched, but it slipped from his hand and fell, its cut glass elegance smashing into fragments on the polished wooden floor.
Damn. He sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his face and reached down to pick up the shards. Damn again. An unseen sliver cut into his palm, across the base of his thumb, leaving a deep incision that began to bleed freely. Sighing with exasperation and annoyance at his own carelessness, he got out of bed, careful to avoid any further accidents involving glass pieces and bare skin. The cut was clean, and deep, and although not exactly painful, it was reluctant to stop bleeding. He rinsed it under the tap, patted it dry and applied a neat dressing.
Was it worth going back to bed? Somehow he doubted it. Nightmares didn’t often disturb him as much as they had done tonight, but it was a sure bet that if he tried to get back to sleep, he’d have another one.
Wrapping his dressing gown around him, against the chill of the early morning, he padded through to the kitchen and made himself a coffee, then sat at the table and read the newspapers that he had not had chance to see yet. Bugger. Bloodstains on the newspaper.
Had the damned thing not clotted yet? He replaced the dressing with a thicker one, hoping that the wound would have dried enough for him to have a shower later. It was still only… he looked at his watch…. 04.02. only another ninety minutes before he would normally be getting up.
He would have breakfast and then a shower. And with any luck by then his hand would have stopped bleeding and he wouldn’t end up having to go toJacksonto have stitches put it. That was the last thing he needed right now. He had askedJacksononce about his seemingly callous predilection for doing minor operations without the benefit of anaesthetics.
The reply had left him speechless. He recalledJackson’s sickening grin as he had confessed to enjoying seeing his patients squirm in pain. And then the doctor had gone on to ask Straker ‘But will there be many people honest enough to admit that? It is a pleasure to inflict pain.’ and his face had a look of utter bliss, of far away pleasures.
Straker had determined never to letJacksonnear him again. And to get him out of SHADO at the first opportunity. There was no place in his organisation for people likeJackson. Doctors had an ethical code. Surely.
Then someone knocked at the door. Great. It was going to be one of those days. And it hadn’t even started yet. The sky was still shrouded in darkness, only the merest hint of grey touching the horizon to promise the rising of the sun.
He didn’t bother to get up to open the front door. He was too weary, too tired. And not just physically tired. He was worn out. He had reached his limit. He waited, too exhausted to care any longer really.
There was only one reason anyone would be knocking at this time of the morning. SHADO. And whoever it was would have a key and be coming in through the door any……………
When Paul Foster entered Straker’s house, he was not surprised to find his superior officer already awake and sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee almost as if he was awaiting for the call out to HQ. The rumour currently going round HQ was that Straker was in league with the aliens, and that they phoned him whenever they were about to make a quick foray to Earth for a few spare parts. Paul could imagine the conversation.
Straker; Oh hi, how are things with you all?
Alien; Well enough, except that the new organ transplant from the chickens is not as effective as we thought. My offspring keep coming up and asking; ‘Why do my wings itch?’
Straker; Sorry about that. I’ll see if there is a better source of easily available donor material available. I thought that chickens would be ideal, but obviously not. So, what can I do for you today.
Alien; Ah well, can we order a takeway for tonight?
Straker; Sure thing. What do you need?
Alien; A couple of medium livers, three large hearts and some kidneys would do nicely… oh just hang on a mo……. Sorry can we make that four hearts and an extra pancreas. The wife fancies a change. On second thoughts….
Straker; (annoyed) Can’t you make your mind up?
Alien; So I changed my mind. Your point is?
Straker; (exasperatedly) Look. It’s not exactly easy running a supersecret organisation and also trying to keep you lot supplied with regular parts. I’ll do my best. Payment on delivery as usual? As it’s a big order there won’t be a delivery charge. This time.
How else could the SHADO Commander know exactly how to deal with the UFOs and exactly where they were heading. It was either that or Ed Straker was good at guessing the alien’s strategies. Damned good.
‘Well, how many?’ Straker asked the young colonel wearily.
‘How many UFOs? I presume that’s why you are here, Colonel. It isn’t for my sparkling conversation. Not at this hour of the morning at any rate.’
‘Sorry sir. We retrieved an alien object late last night shortly after you left. All the investigations have proved inconclusive despite the best efforts of the research team. We were reluctant to call you in, but it fits the description of an object that you were researching several years ago.’
Straker pinched the bridge of his nose as if in pain, ‘Describe the object and where it was found’
‘It’s a grey sphere, about the size of a football, looks a little like one a geode. We picked it up afterSIDreported it to be coming in on a slow trajectory, heading for the South Pacific. It appears to have an energy source, but all our tests have been inconclusive. That last attempt, to drill through the outer casing with a titanium tipped drill resulted mainly in damage to the drill, although some fluid has been discharged from …’
‘My God. You didn’t drill into it did you?’ Straker was aghast, his face paler than normal. ‘Give me two minutes to dress. And warn HQ that they are not to go near that sphere. They must not touch it, under any circumstances. In fact, just to be safe you should order an immediate evacuation of all personnel. You bloody idiots. Damn. We’ll just have to hope that I can get there in time. And that you haven’t caused too much damage.’ He would say no more.
Straker refused to let Paul drive to the studios, taking the wheel himself. In later years Paul Foster would still shudder at the memory of that journey. The headlong dash in the dark, on the wrong side of the road if it seemed that Straker could save a precious second or two by doing that. The powerful car overtaking every other vehicle. The sheer, reckless speed of the journey. Straker had seemed almost possessed with a desperate need to get to the HQ in the shortest possible time. Paul clung onto his seatbelt, eyes closed for much of the nightmare trip, and simply prayed to whichever gods might be listening.
The car slammed to a halt outside the main entrance, tyres slithering on the tarmac, Straker unfastening his seatbelt and opening the door even before the engine had stopped vibrating. He was in the elevator and activating theVPIsystem as Foster ran in, Paul only just managing to squeeze through the office door as it closed.
HQ was virtually deserted. Only a skeleton staff remained. Consoles left switched on, but unmanned, systems unmonitored. Paul Foster began to sweat. What the hell was so dangerous about that tiny innocuous sphere that would cause Ed Straker, the coolest person in SHADO, the man who was not phased by aliens or UFOs or even the dread horror of the IAC President, what could possibly cause Ed Straker to react with such urgency.
And Paul Foster did not want to get any closer to the sphere.
‘Where is it?’ Straker barked at Freeman andLakeas he marched into his office. He paused, and looked at the sphere, resting inside a plexiglass cube on his desk. Dark green liquid, thick and viscous, formed a neat circle on the base of the cube. A tiny, almost unnoticeable hole in the upper part of the sphere sporadically produced further drops of liquid in small oozing globules that wended their way down the delicately patterned sides of the sphere.
Straker stood, motionless, staring at the alien object, the green liquid. Carefully he picked up the ball, holding it as if it was made of cut glass. The green fluid continued to seep out, onto his hand, and, unnoticed, onto the bloodstained dressing on his thumb. He froze, his eyes wide with surprise.
Then, with a deep breath he lowered the sphere into the surface of his desk, one hand protectively on top of it, as if claiming it as his own.
‘Thank god you’ve not caused any serious damage. Right. Everyone. Leave this to me. Colonel Freeman, get a car and driver to take me to the air terminal as quickly as possible. Foster, tell the transport co-ordinator that I will be needing the SST readied in the next thirty minutes. They are to fly me to Hao airport in French Polynesia. It’s the emergency landing site of the Space Shuttle so the airstrip can take the SST. ColonelLake. Get in touch with the Hao SHADO base. I’ll need their Skydiver ready and waiting there for me when I arrive, complete with supplies and basic survival equipment for up to one week.’ He looked at them, his face grim. ‘Well? Move. I now have to deal with this problem that you have created.’
They looked at him, startled by the acerbity in his voice.
‘Ed? Exactly what is this thing? Why do you need to take it to Hao? If it’s that dangerous then you shouldn’t be dealing with it. At least not by yourself.’ Alec Freeman’s concern was clear.
Straker smiled, a far-away look in his eyes. ‘This Alec, oh it’s not dangerous, unless of course you had succeeded in opening it. This…. well, it’s something I had given up hopes of ever seeing again. Fate, I suppose. And now I have an obligation to see that it is cared for, and protected until…..’ he shook his head. ‘Enough questions. You will have to manage without me for a week.’
It had seemed so natural, sitting there, talking to a disembodied voice. Telling it all the things that he had never revealed to anyone. But that was the surprising thing. It was easy to talk to a stranger. And not a human stranger either. There would be no one to report back on what he had said, no one making surreptitious notes or sneaky recordings of what he said in his soft, hesitant voice, no one watching him, and planning what action to take. So he let it all out. Everything.
It poured out of him in a torrent of quiet words, punctuated by an occasional gentle questions. He felt his body start to relax, to loosen the rigid tightness of control that he fought to maintain. And he held the sphere and wept, silently, as the calm voice comforted him and reassured him. As he had never been comforted before.
July 13th 2010
He did not stop to collect anything from his house. He knew he could get any other supplies he needed from the Skydiver, but he knew that he would probably not require anything in particular, other than food and water for the next few days, apart from a quiet beach, sunshine, sand and of course, solitude.
He had not expected this to happen, not after all this time. It had been so long ago that he had almost forgotten about the incident. Had put it in the back recesses of his mind to be thought about almost as a dream, a child’s imagination. Even back then, when he was just ten years old, he remembered thinking that nothing would ever come of the incident.
But it had, and he would have to make the best of it. Still, the next few days, however they turned out, would be a change, a break from the grinding routine of SHADO. He just hoped that the damage had not been severe but then he remembered the nightmare. Of course, that was it. The drill, the pain in his shoulder. He sighed with relief, knowing that everything would, after all, be fine. And he began to relax. He laid one hand on the grey sphere which lay, safe and secure in the seat beside him in the cabin of the SST now speeding across theAtlantic. ‘Only a few more hours,’ he said, ‘it won’t be long now.’
Thirty years. Was it really thirty years ago? So much had happened since then. He had grown up, had married, become a father, and lost a son. And now here he was, fulfilling a promise made when he was a child. Made before he knew anything about aliens. Before he knew anything really.
Hao airport came on air and he prepared for the landing as the crew brought the jet in for a smooth touchdown before taxiing to the arranged parking area. He had not spoken to them at all during the three hour flight, just sat there, hand on the sphere, thinking about the past, occasionally muttering to the dark grey shape next to him, as if it could talk.
The sphere nestled in the crook of his arm as he walked across the tarmac towards the waiting SHADO jeep to be taken to where Skydiver was waiting in its hidden dockyard.
The trip out to the island he had chosen was brief, mercifully brief. He could feel the Skydiver captain watching him with almost pity. The rumour had no doubt reached even here from HQ. He could almost hear the comments. Straker had lost it. Big time. Gone off the rails and was heading for a breakdown. Taking off without warning just to carry some ball or something half-way across the world.
At last they dropped him on the beach. The tide was coming in, the waves pushing up the bay, and crashing onto the sand, as he stepped out of the small boat. Warm water soaked his feet, his trousers, and splashed onto his jacket, but he didn’t notice, and wouldn’t have cared if he had.
It was a perfect spot. Secluded, uninhabited, hot, with palm trees clustering round the back of the bay and sheltering the top of the beach from the worst of the sun. The sand was thick and fine and a pale cream colour. He waited until the Skydiver captain had unloaded the survival kit of tent and supplies, then nodded an acknowledgement to the bemused officer.
‘I’ll radio you when I need picking up, Captain.’ Straker informed him. ‘Don’t come back here until you hear from me. Understood?’
He turned his back on the small boat as the captain headed back to his submarine and walked up the beach to a spot above the high tide mark, but out of the shade of the trees.
The hot sand felt good on his feet and he knelt and scooped out a shallow depression, careful not to go too deep into the cooler layers beneath the surface. Smiling a little he placed the sphere in the depression, scuffing sand around it to settle it into place, and then, stripping off his slightly damp jacket, he lay back on it, next to the ball, hands behind his head, eyes closed. There was nothing more he could do now, apart from wait. And remember……….
All the years, all the memories came back to him. The hot sand on that particular morning, the smell of the sea and the heat, the sound of waves gently invading the beach, the voice, quiet and calm, consoling and comforting.
It had all changed after that morning. Everything. His whole life had seemed so bleak, so filled with darkness and an aching loneliness up until then. And the voice had changed his future. Oh, it hadn’t done anything, hadn’t magicked away the fears and the despair, but since that day he had coped, had learned to deal with the reality of life, had faced the future with a braver heart. And he knew that somewhere, out there, someone cared enough to listen.
Now it was his turn to repay the debt. Such a simple thing to do. Just sit here, and watch it, and wait. That was all he had done all those years ago, on the beach, sit and watch and wait.
The sun glared through his closed eyelids, and he put his arm over his face to shield them. Once he was sure the sphere was warm enough, he would go and set up the tent and sort out the supplies. But, it was pleasant just lying here, feeling the hot sun ease his tiredness, nothing to do, nowhere more important to be for a while. Just resting.
And then he heard the sound he had been hoping, waiting to hear. Not just on the journey here, but in all the past years.
Hello Ed. A voice that sounded, not mechanical this time, but warm, rich, mature, as if it, too, had grown up, become an adult.
He sat up, brushing sand from his arms and hands, before placing one strong, well- manicured hand on the smooth, warm, silken surface.
‘Hello.’ he smiled, shyly, ‘I wasn’t sure if you would remember me.’
How could I forget you? You were the one who talked to me. Of course I remember you Ed. How long has it been?
He grimaced, ‘Thirty years. It seems almost a lifetime, thirty years.’
Ah, so you are all grown up now. And did things work out for you as you had hoped? Did things get better?
‘Well, I’m an adult. As to whether things worked out… I suppose you can say they did. I survived, learned to deal with the problems, learned to keep my head down and stay out of the way. I took your advice and stood up to the other kids who thought I was different. It worked. Thanks to you.’ His voice was barely audible above the hushing waves.
You do not seem very happy, now. Does my presence here cause you problems?
He thought for a long moment. ‘Not really. It’s a little bit awkward because I have certain responsibilities that I can’t ignore for too long, but they will just have to wait for me. At least for one week. If you want to stay longer then it might be difficult, but …we’ll deal with that later.’
Good. I shall enjoy being here with you. I like your company Ed. You were very kind to me all those years ago, and I hope to be able to repay you in some small way.
There was silence. He lay back, fingertips just touching the grey smooth surface. Eventually he spoke. ‘Will I see you properly this time? I only caught a glimpse of you before. Very briefly. As if you were hiding from me. You don’t have anything to fear from me. I promise.’
I know, but then you were only a child and you might have been frightened by my appearance. I am….. different to anything here on your planet you know. Unlike any creatures that live here. That is one of the reasons I have come here, to experience a new world. My world does not have seas like this, or a yellow sun. Or air that moves by itself. My world is very different. Very beautiful in its own way, but very, very different.
‘I’d like to hear about it, that is, if you’d like to tell me?’ Straker asked, with a wistful note of enquiry.
Very well, I shall tell you. On condition that, afterwards, you tell me about your life and the things that have happened to you. Agreed?
Straker tugged off his shirt and lay back again on the soft sand, wriggling a little to get more comfortable. ‘Agreed,’ he said, smiling to himself, and the soft voice began to speak.
Magrichtlinasary was the one of the eldest of her family. The matriarch one might call her. If one would call her a ‘her’. Male and female had no meaning on the arid planet that she called home, but she was comfortable with the designation of ‘her’ and was content to be known as a female.
Sex was an unknown quantity, a topic for which she simply had no point of reference. Her species reproduced by multiple fission. Simple, practical and uncomplicated. Once a certain size was attained, then the mature adult, in a manner similar to caterpillars on Earth, turned into a chrysalis and after a period of several months, re-emerged as several small versions of the original, each with the memories of the ‘parent’, but totally independent personalities. Magrichtlinasary had memories that went back to the earliest times of her race, when they crawled out of the sand and grew wings.
Ed listened, fascinated, awed by the thought of a world such as hers. A world of dryness and thin air with a giant red sun. A world that was beautiful in its own way, but lacking the richness of this planet. Magrichtlinasary loved colours, revelled in the tones and hues and subtle shades that filled this world. So many colours, unlike her world which was almost monochrome.
Not black and white, but every shade of red, from the palest softest baby-pink, to the deepest, richest crimson, verging on darkest purple. The sheer breadth of colours here, though, was overwhelming, from the glorious rich greens and gold to the brilliance and coolness of the blues that filled her mind with images and wonder. She longed for colours such as these on her own planet.
The voice paused, waiting for a response from the man lying nearby. He turned his head, sand crystals sparkling in silver blond hair, and his fingers stroked the sphere delicately.
‘We take so much for granted on Earth.’ he said, ‘ I never considered what it would be like to live without the colours we see around us. I never fail to be amazed at the sight of Earth from space. It is such a magnificent spectacle and so few people get the chance to see it. So, tell me more. About your world, about your people. Please.’
There was a pause. A sigh. Then…
‘Very well,’ Magrichtlinasary answered with reluctance. Straker waited, patient and drowsy in the heat. He knew that soonhe would have to move into the shade of the trees, to avoid the worst of the sun if he was not to get burned by its fierceness. He wondered why she was seemed so loath to talk about her species.
He was to find out.
They were a hunted race, the prey, never the predator. Sought after, chased, they had, over the eons, evolved the perfect solution to avoid becoming the latest meal for one of the many oversized carnivores that dominated their world. But she would not elucidate any further.
Instead she told him about her family, her ‘sisters’, several hundreds of them, who lived in huge groups, all caring for each other, watching over each other. How every fissipar as the newly emerged were called, was watched over, cared for, loved and nurtured by all the older members of the family. No youngling was ever maltreated, or bullied or neglected. They lived in a world of love and security and trust.
Straker sighed with quiet regret, remembering his own childhood. He sat up, brushing sand off his arms and wrapping his hands around his knees. Memories flooded back. The arguments, the shouting, the accusations, all those hateful recollections of a tainted childhood. He lowered his head, his eyes stinging with the brilliant flashes of sunlight that reflected off the water.
The sphere was silent. Nothing needed to be said. She knew. She had known for years, ever since that first meeting, ever since he had sat beside a small grey bauble in the sand and risked all by talking to her, by telling her, by revealing the utter misery of being a ten year old.
‘But it does matter. If I was older, then…..,’ he hissed back in anger, then fell silent as he realised that maybe he had said too much, had opened the floodgates and that everything would come out. Everything. His teeth tore at a loose hangnail and he bit the small flap of skin away, leaving a tiny droplet of blood on the edge of the ugly damaged nail.
‘Why does it matter to you? You will grow older with time As the years pass, so you will age, and mature and become an adult. Why wish for your youth to be over?’
‘Because…….’ and he took a deep shuddering breath and, in a quiet, hesitant voice, began to explain.
He had sat there, thirty years ago and told her. The secrets. His mother, weak, submissive, afraid taking refuge in alcohol. His father, brutish, strong, and too fond of using his fists in order to get his own way. Neither of them particularly interested in him. He was just the proof to the neighbours that they were a ‘happily married couple’. One child. Just the one.
That was all that was needed. And so he was born.
Oh they cared for him, physical neglect would have been noticed, and the consequences of that would have been instant dismissal and utter humiliation, but emotionally? Well, emotional neglect was not visible. And even when he was punished for being too noisy or untidy, or merely in the way, the bruises were always carefully hidden.
A childhood of utter misery. But he learned. Learned to avoid them, to find other places to be when they both started drinking early in the evening. Learned to hide, learned to submit, meekly, without arguing at other times. Learned to cry in silence, without tears.
He talked about the other children in the base. The bullies, the ones who could sniff out a fragile child and make their lives even more hellish. The taunts, the mean tricks, the loneliness.
And he had told her about his interests, how he would sneak out of his room late at night, through the open window, down the dormer roof and then onto the old concrete bomb shelter that was so convenient and close to the house. He would make his way to the beach and sit there on the sand, looking up at the stars and learning their positions. Sometimes he would even fall asleep there, under the gentle soft night sky. He had no fears about being out at night. After all, could there possibly be anything outside that was worse than what he faced inside his house?
Magrichtlinasary had been silent, her mind filled with horror and a deep ache of sadness.
And she was silent now.
Straker looked up from his hunched position on the beach and wiped his face with a hand that shook very slightly. It was in the past. There was no point dredging up old memories. The wounds had healed, the scars faded, and he had survived, had, in fact done more than merely survived. He had survived well. That was the best revenge after all. To survive well. To succeed despite everything that the world could throw at you. And by god it had thrown everything it could at him over the years.
He stood up, sand streaming from his limbs, and headed down to the small pile of supplies that they had left neatly stacked on the beach above the high tide mark. She was silent, perhaps aware that he needed this time to come to terms with the past, to deal with those memories that he had thought he had hidden beneath a wall of silence, a wall of seemingly cold emotions and bleak aloofness.
There was a shell there, next to the pile. Just an ordinary Arcopagia crassa shell, a little thicker than he would have expected and heavy as well, for its small size. No lines or striations on it. It was undamaged, the curved edge a smooth line, with no chips or indentations. He held it, running his fingers over its delicate pale blue surface. He took it back to the sphere and placed it in the sand next to the grey ball, smiling a little.
Then he got on with the serious business of putting up the shelter and sorting through the supplies. The tent, once erected, was in the rougher ground at the highest point of the beach, shaded by the trees but not near the undergrowth. He hung his sand spattered jacket and shirt on a convenient branch, placing his shoes carefully beneath. Pausing, he considered the situation. Stupid. But he felt almost foolish even contemplating it. No. It would be more foolish not to. As long as he was sensible. So, hesitantly, almost with a sense of embarrassment, he stripped off.
The sun felt good on his bare skin. The warm breeze caressed him and for a moment it was as if he was that child again, stripping bare early in the morning, long before anyone else was awake, and feeling free. He was so tempted to go and swim, just to see if it was as wonderful as he remembered. Unencumbered by restrictive clothes, the utter freedom, the bliss of warm water lifting one up, the pleasure in doing something that was frowned upon by stupid, unimaginative adults.
Straker grinned to himself as he wandered back to the sphere and sat next to it. He put his hand on it once again and then noticed the dressing from the cut on his thumb earlier. He shook his head ruefully and carefully tugged the stained binding away. It was dry and clean. Good.
The sun had lost its intensity now and he was content to simply lie there in the warm sand, letting the light dapple across his skin. If nothing else, he would be able to relax here, to get a suntan as well. Closing his eyes he drowsed, unwilling to talk to her. For he knew that she would want to know what had happened to him after. And he was not sure that he was ready to tell her, yet. He was not sure if he was ready to tell anyone.
He sat there on the sand, talking, letting it all spill out. She had listened, not interrupting until he had finished and was sitting there shaking a little as if scared.
‘Is there no one who can help you? No one you can talk to?’
He laughed a little at that. ‘Help me? No. My dad is the most senior officer here. No-one would ever believe me if I told them what was happening. My parents make sure that no one sees them when they have been drinking. No-one except me.’
‘I see.’ her voice echoed her sadness. ‘So you are alone then. You have no friends? ‘
‘I’m the son of the base commander. What do you think?’ the bitterness sour in his voice.
She ached to hear such frankness, such resentment in so a young child. ‘I would like to help you if possible, if you would accept my help.’ she offered in a hesitant voice..
He wiped his eyes, defiantly. ‘How can you help me?. I mean, you’re just a ball…. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. But I don’t see what you can do.’
‘What would you like me to do? If there was anything you want, what would it be?’
He thought, fingers steepled, considering. ‘I’d like to stop being afraid. Afraid of my parents, and of my classmates. And…’’ he muttered to himself, embarrassed .
‘I didn’t hear you then,’ she said, gently.
‘I said….. I’d like to be braver, to stop being a coward. To be able to stand up for myself.’
‘Is that all? You don’t want revenge on those who want to hurt you? To get your own back?
To hurt them as they hurt you?’ the curiosity was clear in her voice.
He shook his head and then grimaced, realising that she wouldn’t be able to see that, whatever ‘she’ was inside the ball. ‘No, I don’t want that. I just want to be happy. To enjoy myself without worrying about the others.’
There was stillness, silence, broken only by the tumbling waves and in the distance the roar of the first of the jets taking off on their early morning exercises.
She spoke again. ‘Edward, ….’ and he interrupted her..
‘Please, everyone calls me that. My parents. My teachers, my….’ he was going to say friends, but thought better of it, ‘my classmates. Please, I’d prefer you to call me Ed. If, that is, you don’t mind?’
‘Ed. Hmm.’ She pondered the word, as if rolling it around in her mind. ‘Such a short name. My name is long, very long, but then I have lived a long long time and you are only very young. Perhaps, as you grow older your name will get longer.’
‘I don’t think so. Just Ed Straker. That’s my name. And it won’t change, certainly won’t get any longer.’
She laughed, a delightful ripple of musical laughter that filled him with elation and a thrill of joy. ‘Don’t be too sure of that … Just Ed Straker. I can see you in the future, with a different name…..’ and she laughed again.
He leaned back on the sand, eyes closed, thinking. ‘I have to go soon. They’ll be getting up and I don’t want them to find out that I am here.’ Regret filled his voice.
‘Ed, pick me up, hold me firmly, and don’t whatever you do, don’t look away.’ The voice had an aura of command, of absolute authority and he found himself obeying it without the slightest hesitation.
The sphere felt warmer now, warmer and somehow smoother, and, as he held it, as he stared at it a crack appeared. A single brilliant line of scarlet, glowing like the sunset only far far brighter. He nearly turned away from the intensity of the light, but her words to him filled his mind.. ‘don’t look away’ and he knew that he had to obey her, despite the instinctive need to flinch and close his eyes tightly.
For one moment he wondered if he would be permanently blinded by the light, but he pushed the thought aside. He trusted her. What ever happened, he trusted her. Fool though he might be.
The luminosity increased, became a physical sensation of heat, of light burning into his small, skinny body. And then it was gone leaving a vivid after image burned onto his retina. He gasped with the shock of the comparative darkness, and the sphere rolled from his fingers onto the sand. There was the sound of laughter again.
‘Ed. You need to leave here shortly. Can I ask you to do one thing for me first? Please?’ the voice sounded so joyful, so ecstatic, that he felt like laughing as well, but, aware that he still had to face the demons of his reality, he simply answered in a quiet voice.
‘Yes, what do you need me to do?’
‘I need to be somewhere warm and isolated. This is not really where I planned to end my journey. I was diverted by a sudden storm off the coast. I need a beach, away from the people who come here. A place that is deserted, where no-one will find me. Can you do that, before you go?’
‘I know just the place,’ he said eagerly, scrambling to his feet and lifting the ball. ‘It’s pretty close to here, but no-one ever goes there because this beach is much nicer. I’ll take you there.’ And he set off, running as quickly as possible, his footprints already slipping back into obscurity in the soft silver sand.
The secluded beach, reached by a steep, overgrown and obscured path, was tiny. Crushed shells and dried seaweed littered the high tide line, and driftwood decorated the upper part of the bay. Not an attractive beach, but that was the advantage. It was never used. Never visited by any Base personnel who preferred the comforts of the wide clean and safe beach where he had wandered earlier.
He slid down the slope to the sand, scuffing his elbows and dirtying his jeans.
‘What do you need now?’ he asked sadly as if knowing that this would probably be the last time he would speak to her.
‘Just put me in the sand above the high tide mark. That is all.’
He scraped a hole in the sand, lowered the sphere and made sure it was secure and not able to roll out. He patted it once, embarrassed. ‘There.’
‘You have my thanks Ed. I will always remember your kindness. I hope that you will find things a little … easier in your life now. I have given you a small gift to help you. It will not last for long, just until you become an adult. It is what we give our children, when they are young, to protect them from those who would seek to harm them. You will discover it later. Now. You must go. Do not come looking for me later. I will not be here. But, promise me one thing. If I come back here to your world, you will sit with me on some deserted hot beach and talk, for longer next time. Maybe we could spend a week getting to know each other?’ there was a note of hope and pleading in the voice.
‘I promise,’ he said quiet and subdued.
‘And now, goodbye.’ The last word was spoken in a final tone that allowed no answer, other than…
‘Goodbye,’ Ed Straker stroked the sphere one last time and then, without looking back, climbed the steep path to the top of the cliff.
He walked home thoughtfully, wondering what the gift was. He didn’t seem to be any bigger, his hands were still small and his fingernails still bitten and sore. He didn’t have super speed or x-ray vision; he tried both those possibilities without success. Super strength? No.
Perhaps she had been lying. But somehow he didn’t think so.
He took a deep breath as he approached his house.
They were up. His heart sank and he began to shake.
He was for it now.
July 13th 2010
‘Hmm?’ he stirred, waking from a drowsy sleep, warm, comfortable, relaxed.
‘It’s your turn now. Tell me about what happened to you after you left me on that quiet beach.’
Such a long time ago. He had almost forgotten until today. He recalled the feeling of cold dread that had chilled him as he saw the lights on in his house. They would be up, waiting for him, wondering where he had been, if he had talked to anyone. His footsteps faltered, he wanted to curl up and hide. But that would do no good either. They would find him.
Slowly the man stretched, feeling the sun drying his skin. He needed to move into the shade, and he told her that.
‘Why?’ she asked curiously.
‘I’ll get sunburned. It’s very fierce out here. Even though I tan easily, the sun is too strong at this time of the day. Do you mind if I go into the shade?’
‘Is it hot there as well?’
‘Oh yes,’ he grinned ruefully, ‘it’s certainly hot. I should have asked for suitable clothes as well as supplies, but as there is no-one around, it doesn’t matter.’
‘Clothes? Ah, yes. I see what you mean.’ And he could hear the laughter in her voice. ‘But if you need to shelter, by all means do so. I can join you there if you will carry me. Though, you will not have to carry my transport device for much longer I am happy to say.’
Perplexed by her comment he carried the grey sphere up to the shade of the palm trees, and sat down on the sleeping mat that he had pulled out of the supplies. He opened a bottle of water and drank, the cool liquid far more refreshing than the coffee that he relied on at work. Everyone in SHADO drinks coffee he thought to himself, and wondered how long it would be before he started to crave the caffeine that was the only reason he drank the stuff.
‘Ed.’ the voice was persistent, impatient.
He sighed, reluctant and unwilling to open old wounds. But he had promised her and promises had to be kept. ‘Very well. I’ll tell you. But there isn’t really a lot to say.’
He had crept as quietly as possible up the steps that led to the bomb shelter, reaching up to grasp at the convenient branch that allowed him to swing his small thin body onto the roof, and then……….
‘Where the hell have you been?’ the hand, heavy and strong grabbed his shoulders and pulled him down onto the ground. He lay there, arms above his head, trying to protect himself from any blows that might land on his face, but his father was too wise, to cunning for that.
He reached down and yanked the boy up, flinging him against the rough concrete of the shelter. Ed felt the coarse surface scrap his scalp, and graze the side of his face, despite his father’s attempts to avoid any visible signs of rough handling.
And then suddenly, without any idea that he was going to act the way he did, without planning, or thinking about it, without even pausing to think about what the consequences of his action would be, Ed looked up at the angry, reddened face glowering down at him and shouted. Shouted with all the power he could muster. Shouted as he had never shouted at his father before.
‘Leave me alone.’ And it was enough.
Almost as if he had said the words to a magic spell.
His father loosened his hold, stepped back, shaken and confused. Ed shook himself free of the clutching hands and ran, ran for the safety of his own room, as shaken as his father by the sudden turn of events.
He slammed the door, flung himself on the neat bed and curled up, expecting the door to crash open and the tall figure to be there, threatening, terrifying. He waited, hardly daring to breathe. He waited, hands clenched in fear, mouth dry, shaking.
But nothing happened. Nothing.
He could hear them get on with their usual morning routines, cleaning teeth in the bathroom, the hissed angry words as they argued with each other over the smallest complaints, the heavy tread of footsteps past his room (he flinched, but the footsteps continued without pausing and he nearly wept with relief) the smell of coffee, toast , slightly burnt, then the crash of the door as his father left.
Silence. Not a sound in the house.
He wondered if he dared to get up, to leave his sanctuary and go into the kitchen to get some breakfast. Hunger gnawed at him, his stomach growling. Cautiously he opened the door and peered around. No one. No footsteps, no voices. His father’s jacket, gone. So he had left the house.
Ed tip-toed along the hallway to the kitchen then opened the fridge and pulled out an open carton of milk. Grabbing a packet of biscuits, he headed back to this room, only to stop when he nearly bumped into his mother. She slipped the bottle into her dressing gown pocket, but he had seen it. And knew. He turned from her, disgusted, sickened by the sharp, acid smell of gin that wafted on her breath. She had started early then, today. Earlier than usual.
‘Why don’t you stop? Stop drinking, stop making everyone miserable?’ he muttered to himself and she gasped, straightened up. Stared at him as if she had never seen him before, as if he was a complete stranger, not her only child, her son.
‘I should, shouldn’t I? ‘ she said, her voice hoarse with a combination of shame and alcohol, and she tilted her head to look at him. ‘Edward. I’ve been selfish haven’t I? Look. Go and get changed and I’ll make you some breakfast. Ten minutes? Okay? Pancakes alright?’
He had thought it was a joke, another cruel trick like so many before, but, he put on the uniform that was obligatory at the base school and went back down to the kitchen, expecting to find her sitting, glass in hand, eyes unfocussed. Pretending to drink lemon juice.
Pancakes. A stack of them. Light and fluffy. She had always been good at making pancakes, but he couldn’t remember when he had last eaten them.
She watched him as he wolfed them down, as his hunger receded and he drank the glass of cold milk she had poured for him.
Finished, he wiped his mouth and sighed with pleasure. ‘Thanks Mom, that was great.’ but he still watched her, waiting for the drunken stumble as she walked across the kitchen , the fumbled plate as she put it in the dishwasher, the shaking hand that reached out for the glass of ‘lemon juice’.
Instead she smiled and ruffled his hair with one hand. ‘Go on, you’ll be late. Have a good day.’
It was all so surprising, that, once out of the house and on the way to school he forgot about taking the detour.
July 13th 2010
‘So. What happened then?’ Magritchlinasary asked eagerly, as if pleading with a parent who had paused while reading a much-loved bedtime story. ‘Come on, tell me.’
Straker laughed. ‘You are nosey aren’t you? Very well. I have nothing else to do it seems, so I may as well tell you. On one condition.’
‘Yes? What is that?’ there was a note of hesitancy in the voice now.
‘That you show me yourself. Soon. It’s very awkward talking to a sphere, even one with a voice as pleasant as yours. I’d like to see what you look like. Really’
There was a long pause. ‘I told you when I came I was a stranger, and I am somewhat afraid that you might find my appearance … distasteful.’
‘Hmm…’ he grinned down at the ball. ‘A multi-tentacled tarantula? A slimy slug-like serpent? Or perhaps something really fearful.. a ..’
‘You are laughing at me Ed.’ she laughed herself and he recalled the first time he had heard that musical sound, that morning when she told him that his name would be longer, be different to ‘Just Ed Straker’. And how right she had been. Commander Ed Straker. A longer name. A much bigger name. In more ways than one.
‘Laugh at you? Never. I was just thinking that for all mankind’s insistence on the human race being supreme, there are things out there beyond our understanding. I wonder what other friendly species are out there waiting to visit us.’
‘So you are not afraid of us? Despite the fact that we come from another world?’
‘No. I am not afraid of you. Whatever you look like. How can I be afraid of a friend?’ And the honesty in his voice thrilled her.
‘Very well, tell me what happened and I will reveal myself to you.’
He drank some more water, and for a moment was tempted to go down to the water’s edge to cool himself in the rolling waves, but no, she had asked him to tell her, so he would.
‘I usually took the detour to school on Fridays. Mike and his gang had a habit of waiting on the corner of the next road on Fridays. Mike had a reputation of being tough, and he liked to use that, to build on it by terrorising the other kids. He was big, very big and he used his size to threaten anyone he could scare. I was small, thin, pale, and worst of all, the son of the Base Commander. Great. Perfect fodder for the bullies. Mike knew I would never dare tell my father. Boys were supposed to be able to stand up for themselves. If I’d told him about Mike, my father would have made things far worse. He wouldn’t have stopped Mike, he would have given me ‘lessons’ in how to look after myself. In other words he would have beaten me to a pulp. That’s the sort of father he was.’
He turned to look down at the sphere.
‘And you stopped it. Didn’t you. I don’t know quite what you did, that morning, but you stopped it. Completely.’
‘I just helped you Ed, that was all. If you hadn’t had the courage within yourself to fight back nothing I could have done would have helped. All I did was what we do to our younglings. We enable them to influence others by the use of their voice. We are a hunted race, easy prey. So many of our young are taken before maturity, so many die needlessly. We give them as much help as possible, by giving them the power to command, to put their thoughts and wishes into the minds of their enemies. In that way, we can help some of them survive the dreadful depredations from our enemies. As adult we learn different methods of survival, but our fissipars are not developed sufficiently to be able to do as we do.’
He thought back to that moment when he saw Mike leaning against the wall, watching as his gang proceeded to terrorise their latest victim. The adrenaline coursing through Ed’s body would normally have made him turn and run, away from the sight of the boy, slumped on the pavement, being systematically kicked by the thugs who surrounded him.
But not today. Something felt…. different today. Ed moved forward, cautiously, ready to run if they turned on him, but also ready to stand his ground.
‘Get off him. Now.’ his voice was harsh, almost a growl, and for one moment he thought that they had not heard him. ‘You heard me. Back off. Leave him alone. Or..’
Mike turned to him, a smirk on his usually sullen face. ‘Or you’ll what?’
Ed folded his arms, straightened up, stood as tall as it was possible to do when you are only ten years old and one of the smallest in your class. ‘Or I’ll stop you. Understood?’
The gang froze as if turned to stone. Nobody moved apart from the boy on the pavement who moaned and curled up to protect himself from further kicks.
‘Go on. Get away from him.’ and Ed stood there, patiently, as if he could wait all day.
There was a muttered comment from Mike, and the gang eased back, stepped back, looked at the small blond haired boy who watched them with such contempt in his eyes. Contempt, yes, but there was fear as well, had they chosen to look more closely.
‘No need to make such a fuss. He’s not worth it, anyway.’ Mike grumbled and led his gang away, hurrying as if he was scared of being seen by one of the Base guards.
Ed knelt down beside the other boy, who was still huddled up. ‘They’ve gone now. Are you okay? Did they hurt you?’ he put one hand on the curled-up figure.
The boy looked up hesitantly, as if fearful that the gang would still be there, ready to lash out again with heavy feet.
Ed held out his hand to help the boy up. ‘Hi. I’m Ed. They really have gone. Don’t worry.’
The hand that clasped his was larger than Ed’s and stronger. But this boy was taller and heavier than Ed.
‘Hi,’ the accent was unmistakeable. British, from the new squadron that arrived last week, Ed thought to himself, and waited.
‘My name’s Alec. Alec Freeman.’
School was …… better than usual. He kept his head down as normal, but word had got around, and he was left alone. Well, not alone. Alec came up at recess and asked if Ed played chess, and the rest of the break passed with them engaged in a cutthroat match. And it all changed from then on. Ed found that all he had to do was stand firm, tell his tormentors to leave him and …. they did.
He didn’t know how it worked, but his life was immeasurably happier. Even when older, after the growth spurt that had turned him into a slender, tall and extremely handsome teenager, he still retained that ability to assume command of any situation. Thanks to Magritchlinasary.
He turned to the sphere. ‘Well then. I’ve told you everything, well, nearly everything. Your turn now.’ and he waited.
‘If you must,’ she answered. A slender line of brightest red, like lava emerging from the grey slopes of a volcano, appeared on the surface of the sphere. It was brighter than the last time he had seen the sphere split open, and he covered his eyes as the glare became almost unbearable
‘There. You can look now.’ a worried, tremulous voice.
He opened his eyes. The sphere was cracked open revealing an interior of incredibly intricate machinery, tiny control panels. A perfect, miniature spaceship.
There was a movement beside him. He looked down at the creamy swirl of sand.
‘My god, you’re…. beautiful.’ he gasped.
He had had no idea what to expect. Certainly not this. Not by the wildest stretch of the imagination. She was no longer than his forearm. Black, deep glossy jet black, scaly and so shiny that her scales reflected the sunshine and she seemed to glow with rainbow hues. A huge open mouth, with needle sharp white teeth, a wide pink tongue, yellow eyes, gloriously bright and alert. A serpent.
Well, no. Not a serpent he realised as he noticed the four legs each ending in splayed feet with silver talons. A ….. dragon. A miniature, perfect dragon. With wings. Soft black wings draped alongside her, and he stroked them gently, wondering at the suede-like sensation. Bright silver fronds framed her head and travelled down her spine to end in delicate fringes at the tail.
‘You are a dragon.’ he said in soft admiration, ‘a winged Chinese dragon. You are utterly exquisite.’
If a slender black dragon could be said to blush, then Magritchlinasary blushed. She squirmed slightly at the unexpected compliment and writhed her sinuous body closer to him until she was coiling herself around his arm, her head at his elbow, her tail, with its elegant fronds of silver wrapping itself in and out of his fingers in intricate coils.
He lifted his arm up so that he could look into her eyes. ‘Hello,’ he smiled at her, ‘nice to meet you properly at last, Magritchlinasary. After so many years.’
She laughed sibilantly, relieved that he did not find her objectionable or distasteful. ‘My name is too long for friends to use. Call me Gritch, as my family do.’ Outside the sphere, using her own voice instead of the communications device, she had an almost oriental accent and she struggled to pronounce the ‘r’ in her name.
‘Very well, Gritch it is. Now, are you going to tell me more about your world? And about the ways you protect yourself. Or are you using that voice control over me?’ Ed tilted his head sideways.
Gritch coiled herself tighter on his arm, her tiny talons digging into his skin.
‘Oh I think I will show you how we protect ourselves later,’ she hissed delicately, and her fronds rippled as she laughed. ‘I know all about your species now, all about the human genome and that is the most important thing. So, let us enjoy the afternoon. Would you take me swimming? I enjoy the sensation of water on my scales, and the movement of the waves. Our seas are small and tideless, so we would never dare to swim in them. The debris has built up over eons to create thick layers of silt and mud that could trap and ensnare an unwary swimmer.’
Much later, even years later, when he thought about that afternoon his memories were of watching her snake through the crystal clear water, propelled by her strong wings as if she was flying. He sat in the shallows, careful not to get burned, just enjoying the utter bliss of not having anything to do.
He should have been worried about HQ, about how the others were coping, about any possible UFO attack, but somehow, the tiny magical creature that cavorted so playfully in the water around him seemed to have eased his concerns and he felt more relaxed and carefree as he had not felt for months, years in fact. Utterly at peace.
He lay back in the shallows as she chased darting fish and flickering shadows just like a child playing at catching raindrops or falling leaves. She didn’t eat any of the fish and he wondered at that, not knowing what she ate. Eventually the sun eased its intensity and he realised that he was getting chilled. Regretfully he stood up, holding one hand in the waves for her to coil herself around his arm, and then he headed up the beach to his shelter.
He let the sun dry his body, and she lay beside him, a warm head resting on his shoulder, her breath, hot and redolent of sunshine, gentle on his chest.
It was dusk when he awoke from his drowsy half-sleep. She was still there, resting on him, a surprisingly heavy weight for such a slender creature. He sat up, lifting her and lying her down on the sand, her eyes closed, her wings fluttering ever so slightly in rhythm with her soft breathing.
He padded up the beach to the tent, wrapping a towel around his hips before he found something to eat. Emergency supplies were never designed to whet the appetite, but after a day that started before dawn, he was now hungry. He selected a meal and tugged the ring pull that activated the self-heat system. Five minutes.
He sat there in the growing gloom and watched the little, dark, sinuous shape as it lay on the sand, and thought about the past.
His transition from that scared young boy into the confident teenager, aiming for military service, able to stand up to any bully, and with a reputation of being the brightest student in the school. The one that everyone else aspired to follow.
He ate his meal in silence watching her until the darkness hid her from view. Then he made his way down the beach and knelt beside her. She was just beginning to stir.
‘Gritch, it’s late. I am going to get some rest. What about you? Do you need anything?’
Her mouth gaped open as she answered him. ‘I will be safe here Ed. If I need you I will find you. Sleep well.’ And the golden eyes closed again.
It was too warm to sleep in the tent, even with the flaps open, so he lay on the sleeping bag on top of the mat and watched the stars until he fell asleep.
It was still dark when he awoke. He lay there, aware that something; a sound, a movement, a touch, had disturbed his dreams. Still. Absolutely still. He breathed shallow, silent breaths, listening, his senses stretched to their limits as he strove to recognise what it was that had broken his sleep. And then a voice, a rich, dark voice spoke.
Ed.’ It was Gritch, but at the same time it was not. A deeper voice, a feminine voice, and close to his ear. He turned his head, perplexed.
She was lying next to him. The light from a full moon casting a sliver glow over the scene.
Ebony scales, silver fronds and silver talons. But she was no longer a delicate dragonet. Stretched out alongside him, she was longer than he was tall, her tail stretched into the sand beyond his feet. He remained very still, waiting. She placed one clawed forefoot lightly, so very very lightly on his chest, the scales warn and dry and very tantalising on his bare skin.
He backed away, almost instinctively, and she flinched.
‘Ed? what’s wrong?’
He sat up, hands wrapped around his knees as if to hide his body from her. ‘Nothing, there’s nothing the matter. I wasn’t expecting…. I hadn’t..’ he faltered, unsure how to continue.
‘Hadn’t expected this?’ she lifted one clawed limb, ‘hadn’t expected, or perhaps hadn’t wanted?’
He looked at her.
‘You’re very perceptive for a dragon.’ He told her softly but he relaxed a little, his fingers loosening their tight clasp, his back straightening up. He stared out at the sea, starlight shining in his eyes.
‘I’m a dragon Ed. And yet I am more than that. Our species has more in common with the human race than you might think.’ She blinked her huge eyes slowly. ‘I shall be honest. I desire you. Who wouldn’t desire you. And we would be good together I think.’ She paused, and laid one talon lightly on his shoulder. ‘But you seem perturbed by my presence. I shall go if you wish.’
He could hear the disappointment in her voice. The regret, the uncertainty.
‘Don’t.’ His voice was almost a whisper, ‘Please stay.’
The stars continued on their paths, the water rippled out to low tide, and he sat and thought, her talon still on his shoulder, his eyes bright with more than starlight. Bright with regrets of his own.
He had never expected this outcome. A week of warm sun, of swimming, relaxing, talking to an old acquaintance. Thanking her for her help in the past. That was all that he had expected to happen. Not this. The thought thrilled him but also terrified him. What would he be letting himself in for? Disappointment? He had had enough of that in the past, and sometimes it was better to simply keep emotions at bay, locked behind the stern face and cold exterior that he had successfully, and painfully, acquired over the years.
Her claw moved down his arm to his elbow, to where she had rested her head earlier that day, that perfect dragon head, so delicate, so small, so undemanding.
‘Ed?’ such a sad voice now, so full of sadness, of longing, and he could not bear it. He turned to her, grasped her foreleg, the silver talons sharp against his fingers. His eyes searched her face, her jewel-like dragon eyes staring at him questioningly, begging him to caress her, to touch her. And he placed one finger gently on those lips as she started to speak again.
‘Shh.’ He whispered and leaning forward he allowed his lips to touch her flickering tongue gently, delicately, a butterfly kiss, tenuous and fleeting. She tasted of sunshine and the faintest, lightest tang of salt. He pulled back, breathing deeply, wondering at his own temerity, at his foolishness. There was a tiny tear glittering on the scales of her cheek, and he brushed it away with one finger, before gently framing her face with his hands as he leaned in to taste her again. A longer contact this time, his fingers moving through the silver fronds of her mane to pull her closer, to deepen the kiss and let her explore his lips, his mouth as well.
She sighed with contentment, with pleasure as his hands moved down, over her body, down her forelegs, sliding over the smooth, warm skin. And then, almost hesitantly he pulled her closer and, holding her in his arms, lay down. She curled up beside him, one claw now on his chest, idly playing with the blond hairs. One silver talon carefully, randomly, idled down his torso to his navel, and the fine tracery of hair that started there.
His skin shivered involuntarily and she paused, then simply bent over, kissed him once more, to reassure him, her tongue licking his skin as if to taste him before continuing her exploration of his body.
He lay still as if unsure how to react, how to respond, but her touch, the closeness of her body, the scent of sunlight, the incredible sensation of that single sharp digit etching its line down his skin conspired to reawaken his desires, his need, his wanting. And he responded to her caress with his own touch, his own lips and hands and fingers bringing her fully to life.
She coiled around him, her long sinuous body writhing against him, tangled mane of hair against his chest, against his face, his body, her limbs seemingly everywhere.
He clung to her, his senses almost overwhelmed by her caresses, her touch, her sheer joyous delight in his stirring response to her. And finally, when his whole body shouted for release, when he could no longer bear the delicious torment of her touch, her mouth, her lips against a body that had not been kissed or loved or aroused for so long, he joined his body to hers to cling to her, shuddering as ecstasy swept through them both.
He lay there for a long time, simply content to hold her, to run his hands down her spine, over the silken scales, through the tangled and sweaty silvered fronds, relishing the feeling of blissful exhaustion.
She in turn lay still, entwined around him, her forelimbs, motionless now and resting on his chest, feeling his heartbeat, the movement as he breathed. So, she fell asleep, safe, loved, satisfied. And he too, slept.
The sun woke him, its light stirring him from sleep. One hand reached out, not knowing what to expect. But the space next to him was just that. A space. He wondered if it had been a dream, if the whole encounter had been the result of a fevered nightmare, or sheer exhaustion, but then he became aware of warmth, of weight on his chest.
She was there, curled up, nose tucked under one soft leathery wing, tiny claws entwined in the hairs on his breastbone.
With one tentative finger he stroked her tangled silver fronds and down her spine as he had done in the night. He felt her stir, stretch, felt her muscles ripple as she came gradually to awareness. Black eyelids opened, golden gleaming eyes stared into his blue irises. She sighed, wriggled a little as if to settle herself down more comfortably.
‘Yes it did.’
He frowned. ‘Did what?’ his hand absentmindedly stroking her supple body as it uncoiled and stretched further.
‘It did happen. Don’t worry about it Ed. Don’t even try to understand it. Just enjoy the moment. I most certainly did.’ And there was a note of deep satisfaction in her throaty dark voice.
‘I told you Ed, don’t think about it. Now. I need something to eat.’ And she slid in a rather inelegant heap onto the sand, her claws still caught in his hair so that he winced and had to untangle them carefully.
He stretched as well, wondering at the way he had slept, dreamlessly, deeply. Sleep that had totally refreshed him. He couldn’t for the life of him remember when he had last slept like that. He rolled onto his side to look down at the little tousled and twisted body struggling to get to its feet.
He stood up, easing stiff muscles, running his hand though dishevelled hair, and down his body to brush sand off the fine pale golden hairs on his arms and legs. Then he knelt down next to her.
‘Here, let me help’ and he lifted her up, smoothing supple black wings into place, and then holding her as tenderly as if he was holding a new-born baby. She hissed a little with embarrassment, but resigned herself to his ministrations. ‘So, food. Exactly what do you eat Gritch? Perhaps I have something suitable in the supplies.’
‘No matter Ed. All I need is sunshine. A few hours of hot sun…’ her voice trailed away with a blissful sigh.. ‘hot sun, hot sand and ..’ she looked up at him, her tongue licking out to taste his fingers, the salt sweat from the night dry on his skin.
‘Come on then.’
He let her wrap herself around his arm as she had done the day before and then he walked down the beach to where the sun had heated the sand. He scuffed bare feet into the creamy fine surface. Yes it was warm, warm and dry. He knelt down and let her slide off his arm to lie stretched out, wings at full-span, limbs splayed to soak up the energy-giving rays of the hot yellow sun.
‘Ahhh..’ she closed her eyes in ecstasy and arched her back, as the sun warmed her.
Straker watched for a few minutes, his presence forgotten in her joy at experiencing the return of heat to her body. With an almost envious glance at the somnolent creature, her dark shining body clearly visible on the sand, he headed for the sea, to swim, to wash away the sloth of sleep. And to think.
He had no idea how to deal with this situation. What he should do, what he should say.
Oh he knew what he was supposed to do. Call in Skydiver, get Gritch taken to HQ, interrogated, investigated, but he knew that there was simply no way he could do that. Not to this exquisite fairy-tale creature that was, now, snoring gently in the sunshine. He grinned as he listened to her soft, loose breathing, the fronds on her head fluttering, her tail twitching in response to some dream or other. And of course there was last night to consider. The repercussions of that were…
He closed his mind to any further thoughts. He had promised, all those years ago, to stay with her for a week, to sit on a hot beach and talk to her. And he owed her that. He knew that, had he not met her on that beach thirty years ago, his life would have been immeasurably different.
So, he would deal with the consequences of his actions when he returned to HQ. Until then…. and he smiled as he saw the lithe little body stir into wakefulness, raise its tiny head and look around for him.
SHADO HQ was quiet, as if the normally inconsiderate and intrusive invaders had accepted that they were not wanted at the present time and had agreed to cease hostilities, at least until the real commander of the opposing force had returned from his current mission.
Alec Freeman sulked as he sat in Straker’s chair, behind Straker’s desk. Nothing to do. No-one to fight, no-one to order around. God he was bored.
‘God I’m bored.’ he reiterated to Paul Foster. ‘What is it with the aliens? Everytime Ed Straker goes away they shut up shop. When is he due back? I can’t cope with this inactivity.’
‘Skydiver picked him up at 1800 hours, so we can expect the first sighting from Moonbase anytime in the next few hours,’ Foster, as bored as Freeman drawled. ‘One week. He’s been away one whole week and no reports from him, no contact until his radio call to Skydiver earlier. Wonder what he did all week?’
‘I’ll let you be the one to ask him,’ Alec said, morosely. ‘This lull in the aliens attacks makes me believe in the saying in HQ..you know….. Straker thinks he’s God?’
‘Nah,’ Foster grunted, ‘you’ve got that wrong, God thinks he’s Straker.’
‘Actually no.’ The dry voice startled them both. ‘God just wishes he was Straker. So, when is the boss due back?’ColonelLakewalked into the office, carrying the stack of reports that she had finished updating.
‘Well, according to my calculations, he should have been here over an hour ago. I wonder where he is?’ Freeman mused, sipping his coffee.
The quiet of the small room was broken by another voice. ‘Well, Colonels, I’m glad to see you’ve managed to hold the fort.’ Ed Straker, his fair skin now several shades darker and with his hair bleached even paler by a week of sunshine, stood there.
‘Ed. You look……’ColonelLakestuttered to a halt.
‘Well you look relaxed, tanned. We were concerned that you didn’t get in touch with us. Did things go okay?’ Alec enquired.
‘Fine. Everything was fine.’ Straker was clearly not willing to give further details, but stepped forward to take his seat behind the desk. Sighing a little, he sat, resting his hands on the smooth black surface, as if caressing it with his fingertips. There was a heavy white dressing just visible under his suit sleeve, and he winced a little as it snagged on his sleeve.
‘So? You’ve been away a week? What happened?’ Alec persisted
‘Do? Nothing. I did nothing Alec, just kept a promise to an old friend and sat on a beach talking.’
‘Just sitting doing nothing? I don’t believe you Ed.’ Paul Foster interjected. ‘What did you do about the problem with that sphere?’
Straker smiled enigmatically, ‘You can solve quite a few problems by just sitting around, Paul. You should try it sometime. Now. I need to write up my report.’ He nodded to them and, without another word they left the room.
Straker leaned back in his chair, wincing again as his arm throbbed. It had been a spur-of-the-moment decision, made in the car on the way back to HQ. He had stopped at the small shop, and minutes later had been sitting there, gritting his teeth as the tattooist had carefully etched a delicate black and silver winged dragon curling around the SHADO commander’s forearm. A permanent reminder of a tiny, incredible, wonderful creature who had transformed his life for that one wonderful week.
He recalled watching her tiny spaceship lift off from the sand and head up onto the atmosphere on her journey back home to her own system. He had stood there for a long time, watching until he could no longer see the little grey dot. Then, he had taken a deep breath and radioed Skydiver.
He sighed wistfully, and started his report forJackson.
The last sentence. The last word. The final full stop. Done.
Now he just needed to read it through, to make sure that everything had been recorded. All those little details. All the facts. All the events.
Well, who could say what would happen next, afterJacksonhad read it?
He sighed, leaned back in his chair and read through the report one final time. Perhaps it would be easier if he simply headed for the secure holding cell now, instead of waiting forJacksonto send his henchmen over
He wondered just how uncomfortable straightjackets were, in reality. Well, he was probably going to find out.
Then, as he heard the psychiatrist’s unmistakable footsteps nearing his office he made a swift decision.
He closed the file, and waited.
‘You seem very relaxed after your mission Commander. In fact you look as if you have spent the time lying on a beach with nothing to do but wind down. You appear to have benefitted from some uninterrupted sleep as well. Obviously the sphere was not as interesting as we first thought.’
Straker smiled and, turning round, tossed his report into the vapouriser. He thought about the long, warm, wonderful nights, the days spent swimming, sunbathing, enjoying her company, and sighed again.
‘Well,Jackson,’ he said, ‘Let me tell you. Things aren’t always what they seem.
LtCdr. August 25th 2010
When I set this challenge I already had a sneaking idea of where I wanted to go with it. A small spaceship (the machine) with a creature inside (called Glitch). I had intended the story to be almost a comedy, with Straker off dealing with the ramifications of the arrival of the ‘alien’ and HQ being left in chaos as a result of the actions of Freeman, Foster and Lake. Each colonel would have been affected by the presence of ‘Glitch’ as a result of trying to open the sphere. (Alec becoming a Tibetan monk, Foster growing wings, Lake obsessed with housework!) But Straker would have met her before and would have removed her to a hot beach where she would be able to ‘hatch’ before travelling back to her own homeworld.
Anyway, I soon realised that it was not a style of writing I was comfortable with.. too forced and scrappy, so I rethought the general idea. I kept the bare bones of chapters 1, 2 and 3 and added parts; the events from 1980 for example and as I did so I could see how that meeting could have affected Straker’s whole life.. so he became a neglected child who finds the sphere when he is ten years old.
One of the hardest parts to get ‘right’ was the trip out to the island.. I couldn’t work out whether he was going to fly there solo, or take a seaplane or a boat or Skydiver. Little niggly things like ’how would Straker transfer to Skydiver at Hao’ worried me ( yes, I’m that anal about inconsequential details) and I rewrote that part at least four times before I copped out and had him simply transfer to Skydiver while the sub was berthed at her nearby dockyard. Easy really…!
Once I got into my mind that Magritchlinasary (drove me mad trying to type that name!) had ‘saved’ him as a child, then the story took off. I rewrote parts of the prologue, and bits from earlier chapters and then set to and did the back story. Straker being the victim… blond, pale, clever, typical victim, especially if you have neglectful parents. So Gritch ‘saved’ him, by giving him the power to use his voice to command. I didn’t go into details of the ‘enemies’ on her homeworld, as I thought it was unnecessary.
I had intended to have a ‘blood-link’ between them ( which is why he cut his hand and she was also injured – his blood mixed with hers when he picked the sphere up in his office) and this was going to be the way that adults on her world protected themselves.. shapeshifted or morphed into the same sort of creature that was attacking them.
But then, having written the scene at night, I was persuaded to do it as between a dragon and Ed. So, very hesitantly, with loads of reservations I tried it. And it worked much better. Ed was so fascinated, so enthralled by the dragonet that it would have been a shame to have turned her into a mere woman. ( But I did keep that version .. just in case the second one didn’t work out!)
It was the first time I have ever written anything so.. intimate? And it was not easy.
But it was fun.
After that scene I could have carried on and described the rest of the week, but I thought it was better to hint at it.. ‘ all I need is hot sun, hot sand and……’ and the other part I really liked was where he looks back at her on the beach ‘and smiled as he saw the lithe little body stir into wakefulness, raise its tiny head and look around for him.’ Ah.
I left the rest to your imagination.
The tattoo was a complete afterthought. But although I don’t think the Straker in the series would ever have had a tattoo, the one who made love to a dragon would certainly have considered it. And I like to think of him remembering her as she coiled around his arm…….