My Dearest Rachel,
By the time you receive this letter, I will be far from home. It is not how I hoped our engagement would be, but duty calls and I have no other option but to do as I have been commanded.
I already miss you, my dearest, but I hope that upon my return we shall be married. Although I do not know, as yet, when that will be. I do know however, that you will be in my thoughts constantly.
Yours, ever, Edward
The flight was delayed. Typical. Waiting on board an aircraft, even a SHADO supersonic jet, while air-traffic control quibbled over departure times, was not Ed Straker’s favourite past-times. Especially when he had been planning on a quiet couple of days catching up with paperwork and getting in some much needed rest.
He had been rushed off his feet for the past few days, dividing his working hours between the SHADO HQ, Harlington Straker Studios and the annual financial battle with the IAC. It had got to the stage where something had to give, and it turned out to be his temper. The final straw had been when he had been called out of a meeting in the studio boardroom by an emergency call from SHADO HQ, only to discover that the suspicious radar signal had emanated from a weather balloon.
‘Damn it, man. Can’t you get anything right?’ he stormed at the unfortunate operative, who almost cowered beneath Straker’s withering glare. Alec Freeman interrupted before Straker could continue.
‘Commander, could I speak to you in your office for a moment? I need to discuss next month’s roster for Moonbase.’
Straker stared at his second-in-command before heading into his office. Freeman followed him, closing the door and standing there, his powerful presence almost creating a physical barrier between the SHADO Commander and the outside world.
‘Well?’ Straker stood, waiting.
‘Well, what?’ Alec Freeman folded his arms.
‘The roster. What about it?’
‘Oh that. I just wanted you out of the Control room. You looked as if you were going to drag poor Grant from his seat and throw him out. It’s not his fault the radar signal wasn’t clear. You know those weather balloons can give off the same images as a UFO in certain conditions. Even Keith Ford would have called you down just now. So what the hell is going on with you?’
Straker grimaced and sat down behind the perspex desk, rubbing his face tiredly with one hand. ‘Sorry Alec, it’s been a long day, in fact it’s been several long days, and when Grant called me down….’ he paused, and leaning on the desk, rested his head in his hands. ‘I was in a meeting with Henderson…’
‘Henderson? In the studio?’ Alec Freeman queried.
‘Yes, Henderson. Sometimes the good General actually acknowledges that there is another side to SHADO. He came to see what the Studio’s financial situation was like. I think he was hoping to defer some of our budget increase in the grounds that the studios can cover any shortfall in our finances. The IAC are meeting tomorrow in Washington to discuss next year’s appropriation and Henderson wants to prove to them that SHADO doesn’t need the all money we have requested. He feels that my request for the funds to build four new Moonbase Tracker stations is, in his own words, proof of my self-aggrandizement. He considers that I am merely building my own power base, and refuses to listen to any arguments. He says that if I want the tracker stations, then the Studios can fund them.’ Straker looked up at his friend with weary bloodshot eyes. ‘General James Henderson. A man with no imagination and even less common sense.’
‘I couldn’t agree more, but what are you going to do about it, Ed?’ his friend said, pouring a coffee and adding sugar and milk before putting it down on the desk in front of his friend.
‘Do? There’s very little I can do, Alec.’ Straker drank his coffee gratefully, then sighed, ‘The only option I have left to me is to fly out to Washington with Henderson and talk to the IAC myself. Explain to them exactly what these four tracking stations would do, how they would benefit SHADO, and how they would enable us to increase our interceptions by almost thirty percent. Thirty percent, Alec. That’s a hell of an increase. We need that thirty percent. We need those tracker stations.’ He looked up at Freeman, a rueful smile on his face.
‘So you’re going to Washington? Tomorrow?’ Freeman was somewhat taken aback. ‘Does Rachel know?’
‘Not yet. And no, not tomorrow, Alec. The flight leaves in two hours. Just enough time to get home, and pack. I won’t even be able to tell Rachel in person as she won’t be back until later tonight. Damn. I’d better get going. You can look after things here for a couple of days can’t you? I have no idea how long it’s going to take. I don’t think there’s anything you need to do upstairs for a while, now that the latest film is nearing completion.’ Straker stood up, and stretched. ‘With any luck I can catch up on some sleep on the flight. I’ll send Rachel a message if there’s time when I get to the airport, but if you see her first, tell her I’m sorry won’t you?’ he smiled regretfully at his friend and then headed out, pausing as he passed by the radar operative to place one hand in a gesture of apology on Grant’s shoulder.
And now, three hours later, here he was, still waiting, still stuck on the ground with James Henderson bending his ear about budgets and costs and expenses. There were times when Ed Straker really wished he had never heard of aliens and UFOs and this was most certainly one of those times. Ignoring the strident voice next to him, he pulled out his phone and emailed his fiancée.
From; Cmdr. SHADO.
To ; Col. R. Philips. SHADO Chief Sec.
Private communication. Not to be archived/recorded/
Rachel. Tried to get hold of you before leaving; regret sudden departure. Henderson insists I attend IAC meeting tomorrow – Washington. Miss you. Ed
Sent by secure SHADO phonelink
My Dearest Rachel,
Preparation for the coming XXXXXXX has continued and we are as ready as we possibly can be. I received your last letter yesterday. I am glad to hear that all is well at home and that you are enjoying the good weather. It has been very XXXX here here and we are all glad when there is a XXXXXX. I am keeping well and although I am, admittedly, a little nervous about the coming XXXXXX. Whatever happens, we are going to be stationed here for a while to ensure that everything is in order. Don’t worry if you do not hear from me for a while, I will write when I can.
Your beloved Edward.
This letter subject to censoring
At least the IAC had chosen to meet somewhere easily accessible for once, and even more fortuitously, close to the hotel. Straker had time for a quick shower and a change of clothes, a suit rather than the casual clothes he had worn for the flight out. Henderson of course was resplendent in uniform on the plane. But then Henderson hadn’t spent the last three days chasing UFOs, arguing with film producers and stroppy actors and trying to complete the report for the IAC. And Henderson, lucky thing, had probably managed to get more than six hours sleep in the last thirty-six hours.
Straker sighed wearily, knowing that the next few hours were going to be very hard work. The IAC were, on the whole, amenable to his requests for further finance to improve SHADO’s capabilities, but Henderson was dead set against the latest proposal, and Henderson had quite a strong voice in the IAC.
Damn James Henderson. Ed Straker knew that the planned tracker stations were expensive; no not just expensive, hideously, astronomically expensive, but the cost was worth paying if it helped SHADO prevent further alien attacks.
It had become clear over recent months, that the aliens had once again advanced their technology. The Moonbase failure rate was steadily increasing as UFOs changed their approach patterns and subverted the Moonbase radar systems, and without the new stations, Moonbase might just as well pack up and go home next year. And once Moonbase was finished, then it would be open season on Earth.
He locked his report in his briefcase and left the room.
At Reception he paused. Henderson had gone ahead, and Straker had not expected him to wait, but the commander had been anticipating meeting one of the local SHADO senior staff members here in the hotel. There was no one. He frowned, displeased; not at the lack of courtesy, but the absence of expected, almost mandatory, security. He would have to deal with this later. It was one more annoyance in a day already full of little petty annoyances.
It was only a few blocks to the UN centre, where the IAC meeting was taking place, and, despite the cold weather he decided to walk. The lack of security didn’t worry him unduly, he was armed and could look after himself, and this was after all, a well-policed and fairly safe area. He shrugged his shoulders to settle his holster more comfortably, picked up his briefcase and set off, walking briskly.
‘Thank you gentlemen,’ Ed Straker smiled at the group of distinguished military men seated around the table. ‘It’s good to know that you appreciate the need for the additional funding. We can commence construction of the tracker stations within the next three months. We will be able to extend our Moonbase detection capabilities by at least another ten percent once the initial phase of the construction has been completed, in six months, and I anticipate that they will be fully operational within the next year.’ Ed Straker glanced at General Henderson, glowering at the end of the table. ‘General, thank you for inviting me here to speak to the committee. It’s been a very successful meeting.’
Henderson was silent, refusing to acknowledge Straker’s accomplishment in persuading the IAC to provide the needed funding.
‘Gentlemen.’ Straker nodded a salute to the group, ‘I’m sure General Henderson will keep you updated on the progress of the stations.’ He picked up his papers, locked them away and with one final, triumphant smile at the discomforted General, left the room, sighing with relief as the door closed behind him. Victory. After several hours of difficult and tortuous negotiations, finally, victory. The funds had been approved, and he could now move onto the next phase in the development of SHADO.
He set off back to the hotel intending to change, pack and get the very first flight home, then realised, with extreme annoyance, that he needed to check up on the local base to see why he had not been met at the hotel.
There were no messages waiting for him, no apologies, no SHADO senior officer. This was getting to be more than an irritation. This needed serious investigation.
From; Cmdr. SHADO.
To ; Col. R. Philips. SHADO Chief Sec.
Private communication. Not to be archived/recorded/
Meeting successful. Plans for new lunar stations finally accepted. IAC showing sense at last. Tell Alec to start things moving. Some concerns over regional SHADO base. Think I might need to stay on and do an inspection.
Sent by secure SHADO phonelink
Darling Rachel, Well, we were successful in our mission. Very few casualties fortunately, although we have taken a large number of prisoners. They are a sad looking bunch, poorly equipped and very neglected. It appears that their officers have taken all the supplies and left the poor soldiers to fend for themselves. I cannot help but feel sorry for some of them; young men who have been forced into fighting for a cause they do not understand and a surprising number of forced Russian conscripts. We will be sending many of them back to England. I wish I was going with them, but it seems that we will be here for a while longer.
I will write again soon.
Your loving Edward
He got a taxi to the base. It was easier and less hassle that trying to get someone to come out and pick him up, and besides, he could then arrive unannounced and ‘catch them at it’ as it were. The Washington base was a few miles out of the city, disguised as a computer company. It didn’t need to hide a huge underground base; the whole set-up was small-fry compared to the Harlington Straker base and many of the other units scattered across the world, but it had the capability to detect incoming ‘visitors’ and alert HQ. It was also responsible for much of the computer software research and development that enabled SHADO to stay at the forefront of the race against the invaders.
But it was obvious that the base had either not been alerted to his arrival, or even more worryingly, not bothered that he was in the area. Not good, either way.
The taxi stopped outside the imposing building housing the unit. NEO-Micron Technology. The newest name in computer development. SHADO’s Washington base.
He walked up the step to the main entrance, unnoticed by the receptionist, until he was standing there in front of her.
‘Yes?’ She finally looked up at him and her face paled. ‘Sir.’
‘Move away.’ his tone was cold and abrupt. ‘Keep your hands where I can see them.’
He stepped round to her desk, positioning himself so that she was unable to watch him input his command cipher. Swiftly he typed the master code that allowed him unrestricted access to all the Base’s security levels. ‘Now. Come with me. I don’t want you warning your boss that I am here.’ He led the way, ignoring her completely. Helplessly, she followed him.
Stepping into the small office area that acted, much like his own Studio office, as an access lift to the main control section, he opened the cigarette box on the desk. It was an outdated anachronism, but as such, it was unlikely to be used by any innocent visitor.
‘Straker.’ It was all that needed to be said.
The computerised voice almost seemed to hesitate out of fear before answering ‘Voice Print Identification Positive. Commander Straker.’ and the room moved downwards, not the eighty feet that was needed to access SHADO HQ, but still underground. He sat in the chair behind the desk, noting the dust that marred the modern steel surface. He stared at the bland walls until the room slid smoothly to a halt and then he stood, silently, and walked briskly out into the corridor, the receptionist behind.
He entered the main area and stood, motionless, surveying the scene. As they realised that he was there, the operatives fell silent, shocked at his arrival. And as he looked around he could see signs that all was not well. Consoles left unmanned, discarded printouts still waiting to be destroyed, half-empty coffee-cups on workstations. The room was a mess.
There was a hurried movement nearby as a Senior staff officer came towards him. ‘Sir, we weren’t expecting you….’ his voice trailed away as the SHADO Commander turned to face him.
‘Clearly.’ It was all that needed to be said.
He paused for a long moment, his icy stare seeing everything, missing nothing. ‘I want the Senior Officer’s Log reports for the last two months, the Communications archives and all the latest staff medical and psyche evaluations. You have five minutes to produce them. I’ll be in the Base Commander’s office.’ he said, an undercurrent of anger in his voice, and he walked out, ignoring the sudden frantic activity that his orders created.
The Base Commander was absent. Straker swept the desk clear of the detritus of coffee mugs, notes and unfiled papers, tipping them into the waste bin, then sat, waiting, fingers tapping impatiently on the glass surface. What the hell had happened here?
‘Sir,’ the communications officer appeared at the door, carrying files and the electronic notebooks that were used to record all the daily logs. ‘Where would you like these, sir?’
Straker sighed. It was going to be one of those days. ‘On the desk.’ he answered sharply. ’Notify Colonel Ross that I am here and I want to see him immediately. And bring me some coffee.’ He picked up the first of the notebooks, inputted his code and began scrolling through the accounts.
Several minutes later he was interrupted by another officer. ‘Sir, I’m sorry sir, but Colonel Ross is not answering his phone and we are unable to reach him by normal means.’
‘Try abnormal means, then.’ Straker spoke curtly, without even raising his head from the record he was studying, then continued reading. The officer disappeared, confused and somewhat embarrassed. Straker worked on, undisturbed now. There was nothing in the records that would explain the lack of efficiency, the complete apathy that seemed to have pervaded the base. But the unexplained absence of Ross was yet another cause for concern. He needed some help here.
He pulled out his phone, unwilling to let the operatives in the base know what he was planning, and speed dialled HQ. ‘Straker. Get me Alec Freeman.’
From; Cmdr. SHADO.
To ; Col. R. Philips. SHADO Chief Sec.
Private communication. Not to be archived/recorded/
Rachel, bigger mess here than I had anticipated. I’ll be here for a few days at least, sorting things out. I need you to stay at HQ to oversee the debriefing of any staff that I send back. Alec will be coming out this afternoon to help go through the reports. Ed.
Sent by secure SHADO phonelink.
My Dearest Rachel,
I now have two chevrons on my uniform. I am no longer a mere private in this army as I have been promoted to the grand position of Corporal. It is a big responsibility and I hope that I will be able to live up to the demands placed upon me. There are rumours that we will be coming back to England later in the year. If so, I will apply for short leave and hope that you will do me the great honour of becoming Mrs Edward Straker.
Your ever devoted Edward
Alec Freeman flew the Shadair hypersonic jet himself. The plane, equipped with Scramjet, could achieve better than Mach 5 across the Atlantic. Best way to travel. The thought of flying on a commercial jet was enough to give him nightmares; the cramped cabins, the dire food, the appallingly slow speed but mostly the fact that he wasn’t in control.
He had been perturbed to get Ed’s demand that Alec fly out to join him in Washington. Ed didn’t like leaving HQ understaffed, but this had seemed to be fairly urgent. Alec wondered what had gone wrong at the base in such a short time since the last inspection. As far as he could remember, the Computer research company had passed its most recent audit with flying colours, so something had happened, and had happened in the last two months.
There was no point worrying about it. He might as well just enjoy the flight.
‘Alec. Sorry to drag you all the way out here.’ Straker looked weary, as usual, and stressed, also as usual. ‘I need you to give me your thoughts on the situation here, and it’s easier if you’ve seen for yourself what‘s been happening.’ Unusually, Straker was driving , unwilling to trust any of the local SHADO employees.
‘It’s good to get any chance to fly these days,’ Alec said ruefully, ‘I seem to spend most of my time in the office. I’ve left Ginny in charge at HQ. She’s going to contact us if there are any problems, but I don’t anticipate any.’
‘Well, we’ve certainly got problems here. The whole base seems to be working far below its expected standard. Sloppy recording, unfinished accounts, slack security, it’s as if they simply can’t be bothered. And yet, just two months ago this was one of the highest ranking bases for efficiency.’ Straker frowned, clearly concerned. ‘I’ve got all the logs for the past weeks and I need you to help go over them to see if I’ve missed anything. Although for the life of me I can’t see anything untoward. Just general ineptitude. And that worries me more than if it were down to aliens.’
‘So what are you going to do with the senior staff? Demote them?’ Alec queried.
‘I’ll send Ross back to HQ for debriefing as soon as he turns up. I want Colonel Philips to oversee that. If there’s any alien influence, she’s the best person to deal with it. But as yet, we still have to find him. That’s my main concern. And then I think Paul Foster should come out here and take over for a few months. It’s the sort of role he would be good at. Running his own base, reorganising it and getting to grips with the problems. The responsibility would do him good. And it would get him out of HQ for a while. He’s beginning to get cabin fever. He’s been stuck there for a few weeks now.’ Straker smiled grimly.
‘Good thinking.’ Alec agreed. ‘I’ll arrange transport for Paul when we know what’s happening here. Ross can fly back on the return flight if we’ve found him by then.’
‘Do that, will you Alec. Thanks. Hopefully we can catch the same flight as well, if we get this place sorted out. I don’t want to leave Paul with too big a problem. With any luck we’ll find that it was just one rotten apple, not the whole barrelful.’
Straker had commandeered one of the boardrooms for his investigation. The records were neatly ordered on the table and he had clearly read most of the available data. He left Alec to read through the pertinent files, and called the base to see if the Base Commander had been located yet. He grimaced at the news. Ross had simply disappeared. No-one had seen him for the last twenty four hours.
They worked through the rest of the day, reading, analysing, cross-referencing, until;
‘Ed, when did Mark Ross have his last CT scan?’
Straker leafed through the reports. ‘He had one the week after the audit. Seven weeks ago, just before taking a week’s furlough. He should have had one since then…let’s see…. no. .. nothing.’ Straker looked across the table at Alec. ‘Perhaps we are nearer to an answer. Let’s suppose something happened to Mark. It would have had to happen in those four weeks between his CT scan and when his next one was due. We need to go through the records again, Alec. Look for anything unusual that occurred in that time, relating to Ross or the base itself.’
It took time. Too much time really, but eventually they found it. A small anomaly. Just one minor detail that could so easily have been overlooked. Two weeks after Colonel Ross’s last security CT scan, the base had undergone a routine SHADO maintenance check. A standard procedure, but in this case the base had not been due for the check for another three months. And Mark Ross had instigated the maintenance check, without informing SHADO HQ.
Straker grinned at Alec. ‘That’s it.’ he said with some relief. ‘At least we can assume now that Ross is probably under alien influence and that something happened here during that maintenance check. Okay. Let’s get some of our staff over here to tear the base apart.’
It was easier said than done however. Straker refused to let any of the Washington staff get involved, and insisted that technicians from HQ were necessary. They would have to comb the entire base to find out what had been done during the so-called maintenance check. A messy, time-consuming and laborious task.
And the sooner they started, the sooner they would be finished and he could get home. He stretched wearily and then picked up his phone to arrange a SHADO flight for the security staff. Now it was just a case of waiting.
The base was virtually closed down while the SHADO experts combed every niche, every compartment, every access duct.
And then, success.
‘It was hidden inside the ventilation channel leading from the colonel’s office to the control room. It appears to be some form of transmitter, emitting ultra-low frequency sound waves on a very specific bandwidth. They wouldn’t be heard by anyone of course, but they would have the effect of making anyone within range of the transmitter feel lethargic and unable to concentrate for longer than a few minutes. It would have affected everyone in the control room and the surrounding areas and the effects would have lasted even when they had left the affected zone. The effect, although initially almost unnoticeable, would have been cumulative,’ the technician said, dropping a small alien device into Straker’s outstretched hand.
‘So this would have been put there during the check?’ the commander asked, scrutinising the small gleaming object with interest.
‘Possibly, although it seems most likely that Ross himself placed it there shortly afterwards. He would have had access to all the areas that the maintenance staff inspected, and it would have been a good opportunity for him to have hidden this, knowing that it would not be discovered for at least another three months. And who knows what could have happened here in the meantime?’
‘Are we any nearer to finding Mark Ross?’ the SHADO commander wanted to know.
‘Sorry sir, there’s no sign of him anywhere. We’ve instigated a full scale search but there’s nothing yet.’
‘Very well. Colonel Freeman and I will be heading back to HQ later today, when Colonel Foster has arrived to take charge here. I want you to stay on here for a couple of days to complete the sweep of the base. I don’t think you’ll find anything else, but we need to be absolutely sure. Oh, and get this over to the research department for them to study will you please?’’
‘Very good, Commander,’ the technician nodded as Straker tossed the small device back to him
From; Cmdr. SHADO.
To ; Col. R. Philips. SHADO Chief Sec.
Private communication. Not to be archived/recorded/
All under control here. Transport arranged and will be leaving for airport this afternoon. Will phone you once on plane. Ed
Sent by secure SHADO phonelink
By the time you get this letter I shall be, hopefully, on the way home for leave and to recover. The doctors are very pleased with my progress and expect me to be ready for action within a couple of months. I have a most impressive scar on my shoulder now, which will be something to show my friends at home! Fortunately I do not recall much of the incident, just waking up in the field hospital when it was all over, and I was glad that you did not hear of my injury until I was up and recovering. My arm is still in a sling however, and will be for a couple of weeks still.
Your beloved Edward
‘Well, I think that’s everything done, as far as possible. I’d really like to know where and how Mark got that transmitter and how the aliens got to him as well. Mark Ross was almost fanatical about security. He wouldn’t have simply walked up to the aliens and let them take control of him. Besides, there was no recorded activity in this area around that time. So how the hell did they subvert him?’ Straker sighed, knowing that he was unlikely to ever get the answer to his question.
‘Could they have got to him before, and waited to activate the implant?’ Alec Freeman asked before answering himself, ‘no, of course not, it would have shown up on his CT scan. It must have happened in the time period between his scan and the maintenance check. I didn’t see anything in the records though, and the security team reported nothing untoward at his home, apart from his obsession with World War II. Did you know about that?’
Mark’s hobby? Oh yes. I used to tease him about it. He spent most of his furloughs exploring old battlefields and researching historical accounts. Every man must have his hobby I suppose. You have your research into single malts, he had World War II.’ Straker grinned at the Colonel.
‘And what’s your hobby Ed?’ Alec retorted slyly.
‘Me? Oh you know me Alec. I like nothing better than annoying old generals.’ And the commander laughed as he recalled Henderson’s aggrieved face at the end of the IAC meeting.
‘So, what now?’ Alec brought the conversation back to the current situation.
‘Well, we’ve done as much as we can here. We just need to meet Paul and then we can get back to HQ.’ Straker admitted with some relief. ‘The staff are beginning to recover from the effects, and the base should be functional by this afternoon. Paul won’t have much of a problem getting the base back to its usual standard. He can even move into Mark’s office now it’s been cleared.’
‘Look, Ed, do we really need to be here when Paul arrives? The security guys are going to be around for a couple more days and Paul is unlikely to have any problems with the staff now that the transmitter’s been removed. Why don’t we fly back this afternoon in the jet. It’s all ready and waiting. We can be back in HQ in a couple of hours.’ Alec Freeman tempted his friend.
Straker grinned back at him. ‘You just want any excuse to fly don’t you? Admit it, Alec.’ He paused, considering, ’Okay, it’s actually a good idea. It will leave Paul free to do his own thing without feeling that we are watching over him, and I really need to get the new tracker project started. Right. I’ll go and inform the senior officer that we’ll be leaving shortly.’
It was another filthy day. Rain pelting down as they left the shelter of the portico and headed to their parked car. Head bent to avoid the worst of the downpour, they walked briskly across the road, Straker a couple of paces ahead of Alec, hurrying to get out of the miserable weather.
Through the hissing of the rain Freeman heard the sound of a vehicle accelerating and looked up, just as Straker turned, and, a horrified expression on his face, grabbed Alec by the front of his coat and twisted around to fling the older man out of the path of the way of the rapidly approaching van. The Colonel, struggling to keep his balance, was just able to recognise the driver. There was no expression on the face of Mark Ross and he seemed to be making no attempt whatsoever to avoid the two of them.
There was a sudden, heart-stopping sound. Alec spun around, appalled, just in time to see the front edge of the vehicle catch Ed a heavy blow on his shoulder, spinning him around and flinging him violently into the side of the car that was waiting for them. Straker’s head hit the windscreen with a sickening thump and he slid, unresisting, down the side of the car onto the ground, where he lay still, eyes closed.
‘Bloody hell,’ Alec groaned, kneeling down beside him, frantically feeling for a pulse. ‘Ed, why does this always seem to happen to you. Shit.’ But there was relief in his voice as his friend stirred and opened his eyes to look up at Freeman.
‘Alec?’ he asked, eyes unfocussed.
‘Keep still you idiot.’
‘Because you might have broken something.’
‘No. Why idiot?’
‘Because you didn’t get out of the way.’
‘There wasn’t time. He would have hit you.’ Straker’s voice was faint but lucid.
‘So you got hit instead. Idiot.’
‘It would have killed you. You know that. My head hurts.’ He shifted his position ever so slightly and grimaced. ‘And my shoulder. Shit. Rachel will be so cross.’ He closed his eyes against the pain and Alec heard the sound of running footsteps in the distance as the security team arrived.
‘Ed,’ Freeman muttered in exasperation, ‘ trust you to always get into trouble. Now I’ll have to be the one to tell Rachel what’s happened.’
He stayed with Straker, through scans and x-rays, examinations and tests, until late in the afternoon the Commander was settled in a guarded room in the hospital, under secure SHADO protection. Then, assured that there was no serious injury and that Straker would be allowed out in forty-eight hours, he went to phone Rachel Philips. Ed was asleep, his face bruised and shoulder strapped and immobile, but he was alive, unlike Colonel Ross whose body had been found later by the security team.
Just as with Michael Jenson last year, Ross had obviously had an implant inserted in his brain. When they found him, he had been dead for a couple of hours, long enough for the pool of blood from the brain haemorrhage to have congealed on the floor of the van. Now it was a case of trying to find out where and how Mark Ross had managed to get into the clutches of the aliens long enough for them to have operated on him.
Record of voice mail message;
From; Colonel A Freeman. SHADO.
To ; Col. R. Philips. SHADO Chief Sec.
Private communication. Not to be archived/recorded/
Rachel. I really wanted to speak to you, rather than leave a message. Just to let you know, Ed’s been involved in an accident. There’s no need to panic, or rush out here. He’s just hurt his shoulder, and has slight concussion. Doctors say he’ll be okay to travel home in 48 hours. He’ll phone you later, after he’s had some rest. I’d stay on and keep an eye on him, but he insists that he’s alright and that one of us needs to get back to run things at your end. Dave Johnson’s keeping a close watch on him. I’ll be back on the next flight. Don’t worry, he really is going to be okay.
Sent by secure SHADO phonelink
My Darling Wife,
How wonderful it is to be able to write that word, ‘wife’. My dearest, such a short honeymoon, but such a wonderful time together. I cannot wait to see you again, and hopefully this war will be over soon and I shall be home with you once more.
I have been assigned to a new mission with the other members of the Parachute Brigade. I cannot say more, but I am well prepared for the task. I will write to you whenever possible, although it may be infrequent. I have the photograph of you wearing your pearl necklace safe in my wallet and every time I look at it I am reminded of Shakespeare’s words;
‘She is mine own, and I as rich in having such a jewel as twenty seas, if all their sands were pearl, the water nectar and the rocks pure gold.’
I cannot wait to hold you again.
Your loving husband, Edward
Dear Mrs Straker
It is with regret that I have to inform you that your husband, Corporal Edward Straker, was seriously injured during an assault on enemy forces on the night of December 24th. He was taken to the Field Hospital, but died within a few hours of his injuries. His Sergeant told me that your husband was unconscious from the outset and suffered no pain.
I would like to offer my sincerest condolences at your loss. Corporal Straker was a well-respected member of our company and his loss will be keenly felt. I regret that I am unable to give you any details about the mission that your husband was engaged in, only to say that his work was of vital importance in the fight against our enemy, and without his efforts, many more brave soldiers would have lost their lives on that day.
Captain J. Cooper.
It was a neat little pile of letters, all tied together with a faded blue ribbon. The envelopes creased and getting increasingly fragile with age. The name and address on each one barely legible now. They lay in the shoebox, itself old and battered, on top of a long, blue leather jewellery case and an official looking letter in a buff envelope.
Mr Grantham pursed his lips as he read the note which accompanied the shoebox. It was not an unusual request, but he envisaged difficulties in contacting the person mentioned in the letter. It was not that the recipient was unknown, or difficult to trace; far from it. Grantham’s secret passion was Science Fiction films and he was well up to date on the latest blockbusters in the cinema.
In fact he had been to see one only last night. Another masterpiece from Harlington Straker films. And Ed Straker was the man he needed to contact. Peter Grantham smiled to himself. This could be interesting.
He picked up his phone. ‘Miss Cooper, can you get me the number for Harlington Straker Studios in England. I need to speak to Mr Ed Straker, the owner of the studios. It’s a personal matter of some importance.’
He waited. Peter Grantham was used to waiting. You didn’t make money in this business by trying to rush things. Patience. That was what was needed.
He tapped his fingers on the desk, humming the music from last night’s film. It had been a cracker of a film, action and adventure with some of the best special effects he had seen. Harlington Straker excelled at outer space camera work, some of which was so good it was as if they had actually filmed out there, in Low Earth Orbit. Those effects in last night’s film were exceptionally detailed and realistic. No wonder Straker was in line for yet another Oscar for Executive Producer.
The shrill note of his phone woke him from his daydream.
‘Yes, Miss Cooper… I see. Yes, I’ll speak to Mr Freeman. Thank you….Mr Freeman? Peter Grantham here. I was hoping to speak to Mr Ed Straker…..Oh. I see. Well, it’s a matter of some urgency I’m afraid. Let me explain, I am acting on behalf of a Mrs Rachel Straker, …….’
Alec Freeman interrupted him. ‘Mr Grantham, Ed Straker hasn’t married her yet. Her name is still Philips, and why she should need a solicitor is beyond me. Could you tell me what this is all about?’ His voice was decisive and firm and also rather threatening in a quiet and unobtrusive way. Peter Grantham decided that he would not get past Mr Freeman without at least some explanation.
‘Mr Freeman, I have been appointed as advocate to Mrs Rachel Straker, not, may I assure you, the Rachel you are talking about, who I understand is engaged to Mr Straker of Harlington Straker Studios. The Rachel Straker I represent celebrated her ninetieth birthday two weeks ago and is currently in a nursing home in Lexington, Massachusetts. I do urgently need to speak to Mr Straker regarding Mrs Rachel’s bequest. He is her great nephew and I believe her last surviving relative, and it is imperative that I get in contact with him as soon as possible. Could you give me his telephone number?’ Peter Grantham asked diffidently.
He had a great fondness for the old lady, perhaps because she reminded him so much of his own grandmother. She had that old-world gentility that was so rare nowadays, in this world of high-tech computer generated living.
‘I’m sorry Mr Grantham, I can’t give you a contact number for Mr Straker, he’s actually in the States at the moment and not due back for another couple of days, but I can speak to him on your behalf and ask him to call you as soon as it is convenient.’ Alec Freeman replied, reluctantly. It meant that he would have to get Paul to speak to Dave at the hospital, firstly to see if Ed was awake and then to see if the commander wanted to talk to Peter Grantham himself. More hassle. Just what Ed didn’t need right now. But, it was clear that Grantham was serious about this request. A surviving relative? Alec thought that Ed was the last of the family. This could be interesting.
Peter Grantham had to acquiesce. He would not get to speak to Ed Straker today, unfortunately. He put the phone down and hoped that Rachel would hold on a little longer and that Mr Straker would call him before it was too late.
Ed Straker woke up slowly, reluctantly, gradually becoming aware of the sounds in the room, the feel of the starched cotton sheets against his skin, the painful throbbing of his head and shoulder. He felt sick and decided that it would be advisable to lie still, at least until the nausea had passed. Eyes closed, he tried to remain awake while he gradually recalled and ordered in his mind the events of the past couple of days.
He could hear two people talking quietly in the background, Paul Foster and was that, yes, Dave Johnson.
‘As you can see, he’s still asleep Colonel. I spoke to the doctor a few minutes ago and they think it will be at least another few hours before he wakes. I can get him to call you then, if it’s not urgent. I really don’t want him disturbed right now.’ Dave’s voice quiet and calm, and in control.
‘Well Alec needs to get in touch with him as soon as he wakes. Something to do with a relative, here in the States. I didn’t know Ed had any surviving relatives. I think his father died a couple of years ago and his mother died when Ed was in the Air Force.’ Paul Foster’s voice, more insistent and sharper.
‘If you two don’t shut up and let me get some sleep, I’ll transfer you both to Murmansk.’ Straker muttered, allowing himself the pleasure of a small grin as he drifted back into slumber, relaxing in the knowledge that Dave was keeping watch.
It was later when he awoke again, properly awake this time. Opening his eyes he squinted at the bright light in the room. Early morning from the looks of it. He needed to get up and get home, back to HQ and work.
He eased himself up and grimaced as his shoulder protested painfully. It even hurt to move his fingers he noted, but at least he could move them. It was pretty obvious that he wouldn’t be doing much driving, or even much work, for a while, not if the heavy strapping that virtually immobilised his left side was any indication. Damn. He reached for his phone to call Rachel.
From; Cmdr. SHADO
To; Col. R. Philips Chief Sec
Private communication. Recording prohibited by order C-in-C SHADO
*****************no record exists*****************
Sent by secure SHADO phonelink
‘Morning Alec, how are things going?’ Straker enquired, from the comfort but also loathsome confinement of his bed. ‘Dave said you needed to speak to me?’
‘Good to hear you Ed. How’s the shoulder? Hope you’re taking it easy there. I’m glad you called. I’ve had a message from a guy called Peter Grantham outside Boston. Says he’s the attorney acting for a relative of yours, a Mrs Rachel Straker.’ Colonel Freeman’s curiosity was piqued by the revelation that Ed Straker had a hitherto unknown relative in the States.
‘Rachel Straker? I’ve never heard of her. Who is she?’
‘Apparently she’s your great-aunt.’ Alec waited.
‘Peter Grantham needs to speak to you urgently. It seems that the old lady is quite ill and not expected to live for much longer.’ Alec Freeman would have given anything to have been able to see Ed Straker’s face at that moment in time.
There was a long pause. ‘Okay Alec, give me his number and I’ll get in touch with him. If necessary I’ll have to go to Boston today to meet him. Sorry about this. It leaves you in HQ without much support for a while longer.’
‘We can manage for a few more days, Ed,’ Alec assured him, ‘and you wouldn’t be able to do much here anyway, not until you’ve got some mobility in your shoulder. Take a couple of days and get it sorted out. I’ll speak to you later.’
Peter Grantham was surprised and pleased to get a call from Ed Straker. The attorney explained the situation to the commander.
‘Mrs Straker was married to your paternal grandfather’s brother, Edward, who lived in the UK and died in 1942 serving in the Parachute Regiment. There were no children from the marriage, and in 1946 she moved over to America where Edward’s brother George had emigrated some years earlier. It seems that George’s son, your father, wanted nothing to do with her, as he considered that she was only after the family money. However, Rachel has followed your career and wants to meet you. She kept scrapbooks of all your films you know, up until recently that is. She’s far too frail now, and living in a nursing home in Lexington. I don’t think she has much longer to live, Mr Straker, and as you are the main beneficiary of her will, I think it would bring her a great deal of happiness to meet you at last. If you could come out to Lexington to see me, I can explain the situation in more detail and you can decide if you would like to meet her.’ Grantham paused, waiting, expecting to be rebuffed by this very busy film executive.
‘Lexington.’ Straker thought about transport, ‘I can be there late this afternoon Mr Grantham. I’ll come to your office and then perhaps visit Mrs Straker tomorrow morning. Will that be agreeable? Give me your address and I’ll call you on arrival.’
‘I can meet you at the airport Mr Straker if that would be helpful?’
Straker grinned to himself,’ No, that’s fine Mr Grantham, I’ll be flying into Hanscom Air Force Base and they won’t allow you in there.’
Peter Grantham was intrigued by a film executive who was able to use an Air Force Base for personal use, but, wisely decided against further questioning. He gave his details to Ed and set off to visit Rachel, concerned by the deterioration in her condition.
Ed Straker overruled the doctors who wanted him to remain in hospital for a further twenty-four hours. Dave Johnson had brought his clothes from the hotel, and with his jacket round his shoulders over a loose fitting t-shirt and his casual trousers, he left the hospital, breathing a sigh of relief as he walked out.
‘I’ve arranged a copter to take us to Hanscom, sir,’ Dave informed him, ‘it won’t be as fast as a SHADO one, but it’s a short journey so I hope you don’t mind.’
‘Anything as long as I can get away from here.’ Straker grinned ignoring the discomfort from the livid bruises that marked his skin.
The journey was relatively quick, the pilot silent, unsure of his passengers. Air Force helicopters were not used to transport civilians unless those civilians were people of power or influence. And both these men were armed and had that indefinable look of military service. He would have liked to know more, but he knew when to keep quiet.
Straker was also quiet on the journey to Lexington. He was more tired than he cared to admit and his shoulder, although strapped up, was excruciatingly stiff. He hoped that Peter Grantham would not keep him for long. SHADO had arranged a hotel near to the Air Force base and Ed was hoping to have an early night, before meeting this mysterious Mrs Straker in the morning and then, hopefully, flying home.
But by the time the helicopter landed at the base, it was clear that Straker was not going to be fit enough to meet with Rachel Straker’s attorney. He looked exhausted and grey, and Dave Johnson immediately took charge, ordering his boss to do as he was told and not argue. They arrived at the hotel and Johnson demanded that Straker go to bed and rest. The Commander was only too glad to comply, leaving Dave to contact Peter Grantham to explain the situation.
It was too late for Grantham to come out to the hotel even if Straker had been awake. Reluctantly the attorney agreed to meet Straker and Dave Johnson at the nursing home in the morning. Johnson put the phone down and went to check on his principal. Straker was asleep, worn out by the exertion of the day. Dave frowned with concern and sat down in the lounge to keep guard, ready for any eventuality.
It was several hours later when Johnson was woken by his mobile ringing insistently. He listened to the caller, spoke briefly in response, then went through to the main bedroom, reluctantly.
Straker was still deeply asleep. Dave hated having to disturb him but it was necessary.
‘Commander?’ the voice was quiet, but enough to wake him. Tired though he was, after the exertions of the previous day, Straker opened his eyes for a brief moment.
‘Dave? What is it?’ He lay there, knowing that he would never have been disturbed unless it was an emergency. ‘HQ?’ he asked, expecting an affirmative.
‘Sorry to disturb you sir, but Mr Grantham has called. Said that the nursing home have been in touch and Mrs Straker is unlikely to live out the night. He wondered if you wanted to go out to see her. He seemed rather concerned about the old lady.’ Johnson wasn’t sure how the SHADO commander would take the news. He half expected Straker to shrug and dismiss him.
Straker was still, and Johnson wondered for a brief moment if he had fallen asleep again.
But no. The commander breathed deeply, almost a sigh of regret, opened his eyes then eased himself up in the bed.
‘Okay, I’ll get dressed. Would you mind driving me out there Dave? If you’re not too tired that is?’ the commander asked. ‘I should like to see her before it’s too late. Can you tell the home that I’m on my way and get them to inform Grantham? Thanks.’ He dressed quickly, wincing as his shoulder protested painfully, and wearing his uniform as opposed to the casual clothes he had travelled in. It was an instinctive decision. His uniform, especially that of a USAF Colonel, might smooth any ruffled feathers amongst the staff at the nursing home, who were unlikely to welcome visitors at such a late hour.
The roads were empty. Straker didn’t say much in the car, thinking about this woman that he had never met, had never even been told about. How cruel of his father to have simply ignored her existence, as if she was a reject to be discarded, to be cast aside like rubbish. And now he would be meeting her, for the first time but also probably for the last time. He wondered what they would say to each other; if there was anything that could be said after so many years of silence, of neglect.
The Nursing Home was a modern building, designed to appeal to the outsider, not to those who were confined within its uncomfortable steel and glass walls. Surrounded by neatly landscaped and floodlight grounds it appeared to be more of an office block than a place where people spent their last days or weeks. At least there wasn’t the all-pervading smell of age and death.
The night staff nurse, young, bored, officious, showed him down the bleak sterile corridor with its ubiquitous reproductions of modern art screwed to the walls, to the room where his great-aunt had spent the last few weeks.
‘Rache doesn’t get many visitors. In fact I hadn’t realised that she had any living relatives.’ She told him in a tone almost accusing him of neglect.
‘I didn’t know about Mrs Straker until yesterday,’ Ed answered curtly. ‘I would have been in touch with her had I realised that she was here.’ he frowned at the thought of anyone spending their days here in this impersonal building.
‘Well, at least you’re here now. And just in time probably. She started with a chest infection a few days ago and isn’t doing well.’ She looked at him as if to gauge his response. She decided to push harder. ‘Would it bother you, Colonel Straker, seeing someone die?’
He stopped. Turned to her. ‘Death? No. It doesn’t frighten me. I’ve seen more of it than you can possibly imagine. It’s how one dies that is important. A gentle death, with someone who cares, there beside you. If I can give Mrs Straker that, then it will be the best thing I can do for her. Don’t you agree?’ His eyes were icily cold as if he knew she was probing his emotions, trying to get a response from him.
‘Yes. Yes, I suppose so,’ she muttered. ‘Here. This is Rache’s room.’
She was about to push the door open when he stopped her, his free hand on her arm.
‘Mrs Straker. That’s her name. Not Rache or Rachel. Mrs Straker. She deserves that courtesy at least.’ And he let go of her arm and entered the dimly-lit room.
It was difficult to see anything at first. The bland impersonal blinds had been pulled down and the only illumination came from a single night-light over the bed. But he could hear her. Shallow breathing, the rattle of pneumonia. Old man’s friend. That’s what it used to be called. And it was coming to take Rachel Straker just as it had tried to take him last year. But she had lived her life. And maybe it was time for her to move on. He could see more clearly now, as his night vision improved. The small figure lying still in the bed, covers drawn up, hands on top of the pastel bedspread.
But there, above the end of the bed, where the patient would be able to see it when, if, she awoke was a surprise that he had not expected, not here in this practical, uncaring, no-nonsense facility. He wondered if Peter Grantham had brought it and had hung it up for Rachel to see.
A large oil painting; a portrait surrounded by an old-fashioned heavy gilt frame. He stood, amazed, for a while, just looking at it. It was as if he himself was the subject of the picture, as if he had sat for the artist only yesterday. Short white-blonde hair, blue eyes; even in the dim light he could see the man’s bright blue eyes. The face, with its defined bone structure, could have been his. And the left arm in a sling. Just as he, Ed, had his arm in a sling. Even the clothes were almost the same style. His uniform of dark blue with the paler shirt underneath; the man in the portrait, for it was a man, for all his seeming youthfulness, wearing a military jacket.
He stared at his doppelganger, saddened as well as awed by the family likeness. This man would have been his great-uncle. Had he survived, he would have had a life, children, a real existence apart from this one last remaining proof that he once breathed, lived, loved. And here was Ed Straker looking at the only reminder. The portrait must have been painted on Edward’s last visit home, when he married Rachel. How strange, that he had injured his arm. Almost too much of a coincidence really.
There was a movement in the bed and he turned quietly, not wanting to startle her.
She was watching him, her eyes still alert and bright in the lined deeply drawn face. He had not expected her to regain consciousness. He smiled at her and she moved one frail hand on the covers as if reaching out to him.
‘Edward.’ She sighed, so quietly that he could hardly hear her. ‘Edward. It’s been so long. I’ve been waiting for you.’ For one moment he didn’t move, didn’t know what to do. Then sympathy flooded into him as he recalled her long, empty life spent waiting for her husband, and he leaned forward, gently clasping her thin fingers.
‘Hello my love, I’m here.’ his voice soft, husky with emotion. He felt near to tears.
Without letting go of her hand he sat down next to her. ‘I’m here Rachel,’ he reiterated, ‘and I won’t leave you ever again.’ It wasn’t a lie. He knew that she would not last much longer; he had seen enough death to know that she only had a very short time left and when she did die, well, Edward would be there, waiting for her. Edward would not leave her, and he, Ed, would not leave her either. It was the least he could do for her.
In the still dimness he held her hand, looking down at her as she gazed at him, at her husband. She smiled whispered something, but it was too faint to catch. He bent over her and heard her ask, ‘Your medals Edward, where are your medals? They won’t let me have them.’ She sounded distressed.
‘I have put them away for now,’ he answered, ‘I’ll show them to you tomorrow, my love,’ and then, seeing that her breathing was becoming more laboured, offered her one last gift. He kissed her, tenderly and with compassion. Her eyes looked into his and then she closed them contentedly and her body relaxed into that deep sleep that precedes death.
He sat with her, silently, holding her hand, watching her as the time passed, as her life gently ticked away with each passing second, until with one soft, almost unnoticed breath, she was gone.
An easy death. A gentle passing. To slip away between one heartbeat and the next. He could not mourn for her. But he sat there with her, still holding her hand until he was sure that any last remaining traces of her life, her presence, were long gone.
Dave was waiting for him in the car when he finally left. The night staff wanted to organise her funeral with almost indecent haste but he declined to co-operate with them, insisting that, as her last relative, he would arrange it himself.
There was too much to consider, too many questions that needed to be answered before he would allow her to be buried. He needed to sleep, to think about Edward, about his wife, and to do the right thing, the only thing that he could now do for Rachel.
It wasn’t easy to get back to sleep afterwards, back at the hotel. Even though he was tired, very tired, there were too many unanswered questions twisting in his mind. Restlessly he tossed, his thoughts flitting from Mark Ross to Rachel, not his Rachel, but the old lady who had lived such a lonely life. And why had she never received Edward’s medals? Surely they would have been sent to her after the war, even if she had emigrated by then they should have reached her, here in the States.
It was yet another puzzle to be solved. Ed Straker felt that he owed it to Rachel to get hold of Edward’s medals and give them to her. Too late perhaps, but it was something that he could do for her. The only thing really. It would mean going to see Peter Grantham in the morning and getting as much information as possible about Edward’s military service, but as SHADO Commander he had the security clearance to access the most secret information stored by any government.
Decision made, he eventually relaxed and slept.
Later that morning he woke, ready to get on with the day’s business. There were things to be done now, before he could return to England. He got started, first calling Rachel , a long emotional conversation, then Alec to update himself on any events in HQ, and after that arranging to meet Peter Grantham at the attorney’s office after lunch. He spoke to Paul Foster, more as a courtesy than to check up on the young Colonel, and arranged the funeral for Mark Ross once the forensic team had finished their examination. One more life ended by the aliens. One more funeral service to attend. Ed Straker had been to far too many funerals of men and women killed in the service of their world.
It was after two o’clock when he finally arrived at Grantham’s office and was shown immediately into the attorney’s room. Grantham stood up open-mouthed as he stared at the living embodiment of Rachel Straker’s long dead husband.
‘Good God, Edward,’ he almost stuttered and Straker stepped forward, hand outstretched.
‘Ed, usually. Not many people call me Edward. But I assume you are thinking of Rachel’s Edward. I was surprised at the family resemblance myself. It was almost like looking in a mirror.’ Straker admitted.
‘I was so glad that you were with Mrs Straker last night, Mr Straker,’ Grantham chuckled, ‘it seems peculiar saying that name. Having dealt with Rachel for so many years I am not used to saying Mr. Straker.’
‘Call me Ed. I was only too pleased to be there for her.’
‘Thank you, Ed. Yes, she would have been pleased to see you. Did she recognise you?’
Straker smiled softly, ‘No, she saw what she wanted to see, her husband, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.’ His eyes had a far-away expression as he remembered her last moments. ‘Anyway, Mr Grantham, I’ve come for some information about Edward and his military service.’
‘Oh? I hope you aren’t expecting me to be able to help you. Rachel and I tried for years to find out exactly what happened on Edward’s last mission, and why she never received his medals, but the British government refused to give us any details at all.’
Straker smiled. ‘I have some influence with the powers-that-be in England, Mr Grantham. I may well be able to get the information fairly soon. I would like Rachel to be buried with her husband’s medals if possible.’
Grantham smiled. ‘Let me know if there is anything I can do to help, won’t you. Oh and one more thing. Mrs Straker made her will some years ago. She left all her belongings to you, not that there’s much left now. Most of the furniture and paintings were sold off to help pay for her nursing fees, but there is one very special piece of jewellery and the oil painting that I hung in her room at the Nursing home. They both belong to you now, along with Edward’s letters home from the war. Here.’ and he handed over the small battered shoe box. ‘The nursing home have your painting, if you want to collect it later. Have you done anything about the funeral yet?’
Straker took the box and held it carefully. ‘Thank you. The funeral? No, not yet. I’ll do that when I have found out about Edward.’
‘Good luck then. I hope you have more success than I have had.’ Grantham told him as they parted.
He got the next SHADO jet back to London, leaving Dave to return to the Washington base to assist Paul Foster, and was secretly delighted to be met at the airport by his fiancée. She, however, was clearly dismayed to see his bruises and his arm still immobilised. He looked at her contritely. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered, almost shamefaced as she regarded him, ‘but there was nothing else I could do.’
She smiled then, a forgiving smile, and kissed him before picking up his case and escorting him to the waiting car and driver.
‘First stop Vauxhall Cross?’ she asked.
‘Please. You’ll need to come in with me though. Hope you don’t mind being my bag carrier?’ he grinned at her.
Vauxhall Cross, home of the SIS, was an imposing building, designed to impress, to awe the general public, and as such was a far cry from the secret, utilitarian SHADO HQ, hidden away from prying eyes. Inside there was the usual security archway to go through. Straker stepped to one side and spoke discreetly to the supervising officer, before showing his clearance.
Within moments a senior staff member had appeared to escort them through a small side door into the inner section where they were immediately given access to the highest levels of restricted areas.
It was then a relatively simple matter to obtain Edward Straker’s military records. Ed sat in the small briefing room with Rachel and waited for the Archives Officer to bring him the file. He was expecting a simple buff envelope, with perhaps three of four sheets of badly typed, faded paper and a trio of medals, nothing special, just the ordinary run-of-the-mill service medals that every soldier got.
What he was not expecting, and what actually arrived, was a large carton, clearly stencilled; Top Secret.
He signed for it, and then, with Rachel’s assistance, carefully pulled the waxed ribbon off the box, laying it to one side. The sheer size of the archive surprised him. Edward had been a relatively ordinary soldier, a member of the Second Parachute Regiment. This looked as though he had been involved in far more secret activities, but even if he had, why were his records still considered classified after all these years?SOE’s records had been released years before.
At Straker’s orders the monitoring cameras in the small room had been switched off, as had the recording devices. He looked across at Rachel as he lifted the first envelope out of the box. Edward James Straker, date of birth, enlistment date, all the minutiae that made up the military mind. He slipped the papers back and picked up a second, fatter envelope, tilting it so that the contents started to slip out onto the table.
And then he froze. Quickly he tipped the papers back into the envelope, put it into the file, closed the box, picked up the ribbon, all in silence, his face pale with shock. Rachel looked at him.
‘Ed?’ she questioned, quietly, but he shook his head at her and pushed the box across the table.
‘Bring this.’ he ordered and stood up, walking briskly out of the room. He was stopped almost immediately by the officer.
‘Sorry sir, you can’t remove any items from this area.’
Straker simply pulled out his security clearance, flicked it in front of the officer’s startled eyes and continued on his way, Rachel following as quickly as she could, almost having to run to keep up with his long strides.
Once outside he called for immediate transport and stood next to her, his jacket open, right hand ready to pull out his gun if necessary, eyes flickering constantly to watch for trouble. Rachel was seriously concerned. What had been in the archive that would have caused Ed to react in such a way?
The car pulled up alongside and he waited until she was safely in before sliding in next to her, not out of courtesy, but more as a need to ensure that the records she was carrying were safe.
‘HQ. Best speed,’ he curtly ordered the driver who responded enthusiastically with lights and sirens.
Dear God, Straker thought to himself. Why had this never been picked up before. Edward, he thought to himself, you poor innocent. How cruel life was, sometimes; how bloody, bloody cruel.
Alec Freeman arrived for the emergency meeting of senior staff to find the conference table strewn with papers, photographs, envelopes and numerous small boxes, all taken from Edward Straker’s sealed archive.
‘Looks interesting,’ Alec’s first comment brought a wry grin from Straker.
‘More than interesting Alec. Seriously disturbing in fact. I picked the file up this morning. Just look,’ and he held out a picture of Edward Straker in his uniform.
‘Bloody Hell,’ Alec was nearly rendered speechless, ‘is that… it is. It’s an alien. Shit.’
The picture, although monotone, grainy and faded with age, showed the soldier standing next to the body of an alien. There was no mistaking the shape of the helmet, the chains that embellished the spacesuit, the darkness of the visor with the thick liquid behind.
‘It’s a fake. It has to be,’ Colonel Lake was also stunned by the revelation.
‘No. No it isn’t. I only wish it were. But there’s more,’ and Straker picked up more photographs; a UFO, partly buried in a sand dune, another dead alien nearby, eviscerated corpses littering the area.
There was more evidence; scraps of red material that could only have come from a space suit, a length of chain, all stored in the neat tidy boxes that had been hidden away in the sealed file since 1942. Other remnants from the scene had also been squirreled away; several bean-sized, brightly patterned and beautifully marked ovoids, obviously alien: a strangely designed knife, still stained with dried blood, shards of glass-like material, all these were laid out on the table, along with other more mechanical looking objects Rachel picked over them, thoughtfully.
‘Dear God.’ Alec repeated Ed’s own earlier thoughts. ‘Where the hell did these come from?’
Straker was quiet for a moment. When he spoke his voice was soft and full of emotion. ‘My great-uncle. Edward Straker. He died shortly after the photographs were taken according to these records. His personal account of what happened is also here, as is the report by his commanding officer, after Edward’s death. No wonder his military service details were sealed.’
He seemed to be visibly upset by the revelation. He leafed through the papers on the table, ‘Reports, eyewitness accounts, artefacts, they’re all here. Definitive proof that aliens were active on Earth during World War II.’ He looked up at the three colonels sitting around the conference table, his eyes haunted by the thought of what had happened to Edward. ‘And the remains of that UFO, and the aliens who were in it , not forgetting Edward Straker’s body, could still be there, buried in the sand. We need to find them.’
He picked up the small brown cardboard box that contained Edward’s medals, and opened it curious to see why they had not been forwarded to his widow. And there, on the top, two things he had never expected to see. No wonder his widow had never received them. He picked them up in awe.
Sergeant Tom Parrish
Following reports of an aircraft crashing some distance away, Corporal Straker and myself went to investigate. We found the craft half-buried in a sand dune and a group of enemy soldiers were being guarded by four men in red suits who were wearing helmets as if they were deep sea divers. Cpl Straker moved closer to the group as I covered him. I saw one of these men attack a prisoner in a horrific manner, gutting the man there on the sand. Cpl Straker, despite my orders, immediately ran towards the group, firing his rifle in an attempt to stop any further mistreatment of the prisoners. Cpl Straker was successful in killing two of the strangers with his rifle. The other two red-suited men then advanced on the Cpl, who defended himself and managed to kill both of them.
I joined the Cpl and we released the remaining men. There were too many for us to take prisoner, so we removed their weapons and let them go. A few of the group indicated that they were Soviet citizens who had been forced to fight for the Reich. I decided to escort these men back to our company, leaving the Corporal to bury the bodies. I took some photographs of the scene before I left.
While I was escorting the men I heard the sound of a huge explosion and I ran back to the site..The half-buried craft must have contained explosives and these had detonated, causing it to be completely destroyed. Shrapnel was spread over a wide area and Cpl Straker was dead from a head injury. I buried his remains with those of the enemy that he had killed, along with their weapons and other effects, and marked their grave with a German rifle so that we would be able to retrieve their remains at a later date. I removed several items of evidence from the site to give to my commanding officer as proof of this account.
Report handed to Captain John Cooper.
Special Operations Executive.
Report – Tunisia Incident December 24th 1942 Grid Reference; QX 1295SR
This record and all pertaining evidence to be sealed. No information to be released under any circumstances. Corporal Straker’s medals to be retained.
Corporal Edward Straker
War Medal 939 – 1945
Iron Cross Ist Class (Posthumously)for exceptional gallantry on the field of Battle Dec 24th 1942 Awarded to Edward James Straker for his actions on that day in saving a group of enemy soldiers with no thought for his own safety.
Order Of Lenin (Posthumously) Awarded to Cpl.E. Straker for outstanding service to the motherland in defence, strengthening peace and strengthening labour.
Ed Straker placed the medals on the table. ‘He should have had these,’ he said sadly to himself. ‘At least Rachel should have seen them, should have known about him.’
There was silence in the room. Straker looked up, smiling grimly. ’Well, we have a fairly accurate grid reference so hopefully it’s just a case of going out there and finding any remaining evidence. If they were buried in sand, in the desert, chances are the remains will still be there, possibly mummified. Alec, can you go out to the area and start the search.’
‘What are you expecting to find, Ed?’ Alec asked, wondering why they were bothering about a UFO that crashed over sixty five years ago.
‘I don’t know, Alec. Simple as that. I really don’t know. Possibly some technology that we haven’t seen before, some more of these artefacts. Let’s see what’s out there shall we? You can take the SST if you want more flying experience,’ and he grinned knowingly at the colonel.
The meeting ended, and Straker started to tidy up the litter of papers and objects, putting them back into the box one-handed. Rachel Philips picked up one of the small ovoids and examined it curiously. ‘This is very interesting Ed. Do you mind if I take it back to my office to study? I’ve never seen anything like it before.’
He nodded at her, distractedly, his mind on other matters; Edward’s medal’s, the involvement of theSOE, the arrangements for Rachel Straker’s funeral. He was going to be very busy in the days ahead.
The flight out to Tunisia was uneventful and fast, just as Alec liked his flights. They had a helicopter waiting at the airport to take them to the burial area somewhere off the C211 road in the Jebi National Park. Thank God for GPS, Alec smiled wryly to himself, knowing that otherwise the chances of finding a burial site after this many years was impossible, especially in the constantly shifting dunes.
The helicopter descended, sand blowing up in fierce clouds around the team as they disembarked. Alec ordered the team to spread out with detectors, searching for any signs of the remains. It took just a few minutes before one of the men called him over. There, submerged in the soft, slurring sand, a rusting German rifle. Alec Freeman smiled.
They removed Edward’s body first, the leathery, mummified skin tanned with the effects of the dry heat, wisps of yellowing blonde hair clinging to the crushed skull. His uniform stiff and brittle, but still recognisable. The alien corpses were close by, and were soon safely stored in containers. Edward’s remains, however, were placed in a simple coffin and Alec draped a Union Flag over it as the helicopter took off. There had been no signs of any remaining UFO fragments. But they had the aliens, the remaining artefacts and weapons, and Edward.
While the SHADO forensic team at HQ set to work with their usual efficiency and expertise, Ed Straker set to work on the reports that had arrived. The autopsy findings, the analysis of some of the objects found in Edward’s archive, the regular daily logs to be checked and authorised. They would contact him if the team found anything unusual.
The commander almost laughed. Everything that originated from the aliens was unusual. They still had numerous inexplicable pieces of equipment salvaged from downed UFOs, as well as the almost incomprehensible autopsy reports concerning some of the bodies recovered over the past years.
One day, he thought, one day they might actually understand some of these results, might be able to use some of this alien technology themselves. But not yet.
And probably not for a long time to come.
But one day……..
He picked up the daily logs. It was awkward with his shoulder still strapped up, but he read through them, signing, authorising, annotating. It took time, but he was in no hurry today. There was no need to rush.
Then the autopsy report and the analysis of the small metallic fragments found in Mark Ross’s skull. Cause of death; a massive brain haemorrhage probably occurring when the implant exploded. Straker leaned back in his chair. They still don’t know how that had happened. How Mark had become the last victim of the aliens. He hoped they would not have to increase the frequency of the CT scans.
The final piece of paperwork. He picked up the research groups report into the objects found in the graves and Edward’s archive. Started reading. And in a blinding flash of insight, it all became horrifically clear.
He ran from his office, his chair crashing back onto the floor unnoticed.
Dear God would he be in time? It could already be too late.
She was sitting behind her desk, flicking through a report, when he burst through the door, gun in hand. For one long second he just stared at her, then pointed his Glock directly at her, his eyes terrified and desperate. And, with almost a sob of despair, he pulled the trigger.
Rachel Philips was still unconscious, thick bandages covering her skull. Ed sat beside her, holding her hand, willing her to wake, to smile at him, to forgive him for what he had done to her. His mind was in utter turmoil remembering the events of the past few hours. The scientists’ discovery that the small ovoids were inert implants, that they became active when subjected to human touch, and that they then extruded tiny limbs and moved towards the nearest source of life, insinuating themselves into their victims’ brains.
That was how Mark Ross had been subverted by the aliens. On reading Mark’s diary later, it became clear that the colonel, with his usual passion for all things WWII, had visited a historical site during his furlough, and had acquired several ‘items’ of interest. Among them at least one ovoid. It would not have taken long for the small device to work its way into his brain, through his eardrum, or possibly past his eyeball. And Mark had, no doubt, got the transmitter at the same time. They had found one similar to it in the grave.
But Straker’s thoughts turned to Rachel. He had almost forgotten that she had picked up one of the ovoids, that was, until he had read the report, and realised that she was in deadly peril. Sitting there, holding her hand, he shook with the memory of running into her office, and seeing the obscene silvery thing slithering with an appalling swiftness down her hair, towards her ear. It was nearly in position. He had no other choice, no other option if he was to save her from becoming subjugated by the alien device.
He had aimed his gun at her head, praying that his marksmanship was good enough, that his hand would not betray him, and pulled the trigger. The bullet skimmed her skull, leaving a deep and bloody gouge, but catching the alien monstrosity and utterly destroying it.
She had given one startled look of pain and anguish, one sharp cry of agony, before losing consciousness. And despite all the attempts of the doctors, she was still unconscious. He was beginning to despair.
Alec stepped in, unnoticed, and just stood there in the background, silent. There was nothing to be said. Nothing that anyone could do. Apart from wait.
Hours passed in a blur of emotions. Regret, horror, loneliness, despair. Helpless and exhausted, despite all his efforts, his eyes closed and he slept, his head resting on the bed next to her hand.
Someone was playing with his hair. He usually hated that when it happened. It messed it up and made him feel uncomfortable, but for some reason he quite liked the sensation this time. He opened his eyes, realised where he was and eased himself upright, stiffly as his back complained.
Her hand reached out to him and she opened her eyes and smiled.
Rachel Philips grimaced as she felt the bare patch on her head just above her ear. The stitches were neat and precise, and she knew that the resulting scar would be virtually invisible, especially after her hair had regrown, but it looked dreadfully conspicuous as she looked in the bathroom mirror. She pulled her hair forward to try to obscure the whiteness of her bare scalp, and felt an arm circle around her before she was pulled back against him. He held her closely, his arms tight and his hands clasping her firmly to him. She leaned back, relishing the touch of his skin against hers, the warmth of his body, his breath on her neck.
‘Will you forgive me?’ his voice was soft and hesitant.
She twisted in his embrace so that she was facing him, her lips reaching up to his. She didn’t say a word, simply held him, kissed him, forgave him, thanked him.
They brought Rachel Straker home by SHADO Supersonic transport. Home to England, to lie in a quiet country church beside her husband. Both coffins were draped with the Union Flag, Edward’s medals resting proudly on top of his. Ed kept a quiet vigil overnight, not from any sense of duty, or propriety, so he said, but ostensibly to ensure that nothing untoward happened.
Alec simply smiled and said nothing
And the following day, in the bright sunlight, Ed Straker, in his Colonel’s uniform, waited outside the church for his fiancée to arrive with Alec and the others.
Rachel looked at him. ‘Ed,’ she asked, bemused, ‘is that a new medal? Or have I simply not seen it before?’
He looked sheepishly at her. ‘I’ve had this quite a while. Just thought that I should wear it today in honour of Edward, especially as he has something similar.’ His hand flicked over the five pointed gold star on its white red and blue ribbon on his chest. ‘I think he earned his more than I did though.’
And then he turned and smiled, as a motorcade approached. Several vehicles with outriders in attendance pulled up alongside the church and four men in high ranking military uniforms got out, nodding a greeting to each other and approached the SHADO Commander.
‘Gentlemen, you are most welcome,’ Ed Straker greeted the group. Discrete but super-efficient SHADO security ensured that no cameras, no press, no reporters, were in the area to record the presence of the four Defence Chiefs. Britain, USA, Germany and Russia. They shook hands with Straker, and, after a few minutes pleasant conversation, entered the dim coolness of the church to take their places in the pews.
It was a simple, but nonetheless moving, ceremony. Straker had considered asking for a full military funeral for Edward, and after all, the young soldier qualified for that honour, but it would have raised difficult questions. So, this was the compromise. But it had an unexpected advantage. The Chiefs of Staff were among the very few individuals in the world who were fully conversant with SHADO’s operations and Straker had arranged a conference at SHADO HQ to discuss the recent events.
Afterwards, after the prayers, the readings and the quiet eulogy, the coffins were carried out to the graveyard. And as Ed Straker threw a handful of earth on top of the coffins lying side by side, he was startled by the sound of overhead planes. He looked up. There, in the ‘missing man’ formation, four SHADO Sky jet fighters performed a flypast to honour a soldier who had fought aliens long before any of the SHADO team were born.
Rachel touched his arm and he turned to her and smiled, and reached out to gently touch the pearl necklace that she was wearing. The legacy from Edward to his wife, and now passed to Ed Straker’s fiancée. Ed had given it to Rachel the evening before, quietly, almost diffidently, simply fastening it around her neck with a brief explanation before they went out for a meal at their favourite restaurant.
Later that evening, when she went to bed by herself, as Ed stood guard in the church, she found, on her pillow a note in his own distinctively elegant hand.’ ‘You are mine own, and I as rich in having such a jewel as twenty seas, if all their sands were pearl, the water nectar and the rocks pure gold.’
The meeting afterwards, in SHADO HQ was long, involved, contentious. None of the powers wanted to accept that aliens had been active on Earth for longer than they had assumed possible, but the evidence was conclusive. They went away promising to investigate all sealed archives from the war years and to report back to the SHADO Commander.
And later still, in the late evening, after all the fuss had died away, Ed Straker sat in his office drinking coffee with Alec.
‘It was a series of coincidences when you think about it Alec. If I hadn’t gone to Washington, and then hadn’t had to stay behind in the hospital, I would not have been on hand to visit Rachel Straker that night. She would never have mistaken
me for Edward and therefore I wouldn’t have investigated why her husband had not received his medals. That led to the discovery that the aliens were on Earth as early as the 1940’s. Edward’s legacy was the information he left us, the alien objects in his archive that have proved so informative.’ He smiled wearily, then stood and stretched. ‘Well, I’m off home. I want to be in early to go through the reports again and Rachel wants me to put that oil painting up in our apartment tomorrow.’
He smiled slightly at the memory. The portrait had nearly caused their first argument. Rachel had wanted it to be hung in the living room at home, Ed had wanted it in his studio office. But, the disagreement ended abruptly when Ed simply kissed her firmly and decisively, leaving her quite breathless, then pulled her down beside him on the bed, and effectively ended any dispute for quite some time.
He nodded a farewell to his friend and set off.
It was a cool, moonlit night, and he enjoyed the drive home, thinking about his Great Aunt, and her lonely life. But his Rachel was waiting for him.
Deep under the pyramid, buried in the soft sand, under thousands of tons of meticulously carved rock, the small, beautifully marked ovoid lay, waiting as it had waited for thousands of years, for the touch of a human to bring it to life.
Thomas Straker married Alice……… in England in 1881
They had four children
1 Thomas b 1883 d 1918 married Mary b 1896 d 1919
One child – Edward, b 1919 d 1942 married Rachel b 1921 d 2010 no children – Rachel moved to Boston in 1946 to be near Edwards on relative; George
2 Sidney b 1897 d 1899
3 James b 1903 d 1904
4 George b 1905 d 1982 moved to USA (Boston) 1930 married………
One child George b 1940 d 2007 married ……..
George had one child
Edward born 1969 married Rachel Philips 2010
|Personal account of the writing of LegacyThis story came about because of another story I had already written; Castled, in which Ed fastens a string of pearls around Rachel’s neck while they are away for a weekend
So I thought it would be fun to do a short story just about the string of pearls. I wanted them to have a history as it were, so I created a family link between Ed and someone in his past. I worked out the family tree and then realised that if I wanted to kill Edward off in WWII, then it would be easier if he was British, as I know a bit more about the British army. It actually took several days to get the people and years in a suitable order. I drew the family tree just so that I could refer to it when necessary. I needed a link to Ed, and therefore allowed George to emigrate to America earlier than WWII.
So, the story originally began with Peter Grantham and the box of letters. Then I realised that it could be fun to read the letters, by putting them at the beginning of each chapter and link them to Ed’s activities.
I tried to be a little ‘vague’ about Edward, initially, hoping that some readers might think that the letters were from Ed, especially as they seemed to cover what he was doing, and could have been written to ‘his’ Rachel.
The story really took off in my mind when I thought about Ed meeting the old lady for the first time and her mistaking him for her own long-dead husband. Up to that point it was simply going to be almost a love story, just showing him getting the pearl necklace, but my imagination ran riot, as it has a tendency to do!
So. I needed a reason to get Ed to stay behind in Washington. And to meet her at night, when she would be confused. Which is why he had to get injured. I decided to create a scenario where the Washington base was under alien influence… at least the Commander of the base was. Then it all fell into place and it was relatively straight-forward after that.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing the part where Ed arrives at the base, and what happens there. Although I was cringing when I wrote about him getting hit by the van… knowing that I had done it again to him! The small ovoids part came about because I had got into my head a vision of Ed having to shoot Rachel… so I thought it would be great to write that, and make it seem as if he has killed her.
I was particularly pleased with the Vauxhall Cross scene and the fact that Edward was a victim of the aliens… it sets the scene for further stories about aliens arriving earlier than we think.
The part I am not so happy with is the discovery that Edward had the two medals. I had to have a reason for the files to be sealed and this seemed like the easiest explanation, as well as giving me an opportunity to get the ‘big guns’ in for his funeral. And I finally managed to let Ed wear his Russian medal!
The epilogue? Well, why not? My personal theory is that the aliens have been harvesting humans for a lot longer than we think… and after all, the Egyptian mummies were gutted…. who is to say that this wasn’t done by aliens?
Which poses another question…….. why are they still coming? Why were they not successful all those years ago?
Hmmmmmm… I’ll answer that question in another story.
And other information… My father was in Algeria in WWII, in the Parachute Brigade, (he later went on to work for MI6 as part of the Special Air Service for a while) and my uncle, who was engaged, died in a submarine on Dec 24th 1942.