Straker drove his Saab home, his mind tumbling over the events of the last few hours rather than concentrating on driving safely. But it was late, very late and he was tired, so it really wasn’t his fault that he failed to see the large dog fox standing in the middle of the road until it was almost too late.
Damn. He spun the wheel and slammed on the brakes instinctively, foolishly, and the car swerved to one side, hitting the stone milepost that was, oh so conveniently positioned there. Just in the right place to catch his front wing and bring the car to a sudden sideways halt. There was a painfully explosive noise, and as he felt the side airbag thump into his head, just before he lost consciousness, he knew that he would have one hell of a headache tomorrow.
Twenty-four hours off work. Twenty-four hours. At least he hadn’t broken anything, apart from the car. That was going to take time to repair. The SHADO workshop technicians were notorious for being meticulous when it came to doing repairs to his cars. They would go over every inch of it to ensure it was perfectly safe. And until they were completely satisfied he would have to make do with one of the spare cars. Damn. He hated driving those.
And the headache was as bad as he had anticipated.
‘My head hurts. Is there nothing stronger you can give me?’ he muttered complainingly.
‘Dr Schroeder says it’s just a simple concussion. Stop complaining about it hurting or you know what will happen. You’ll get ordered to take even longer off work, and to be honest I really don’t think I could stand it. You are the world’s worst patient, did you know?’ Rachel looked over at him as he sat, restlessly on the sofa in their apartment. ‘Look, you have nothing to do, apart from rest, so why don’t you do just that. I’m off to work shortly. Stay there and read, or listen to some music or maybe work on that sonata you’ve been practising. Just don’t go out or do anything strenuous. I’ve warned the detail next door to keep an eye on you.’ She smirked at him as she went to get her briefcase and he frowned at her crossly.
‘I don’t like being an invalid.’
‘Oh grow up Ed, you’re not an invalid, you’ve just bumped your head. And it’s your own fault anyway. Maybe next time you’ll do the sensible thing and make sure you get driven home after a long shift. Hmm?’ she looked at him, her eyebrows raised questioningly.
He stared almost angrily, then relaxed and smiled up at her. ’You’re right, as always. How does it feel to be right again? Look, go to work. Keep an eye on things there for me please. I’ll behave myself here.’
‘Promise, now come and give me a kiss before you go.’
She leaned over him and he pulled her down to sit on his lap. ‘Do I not get more than a kiss?’ he asked, his face buried in her hair.
‘No,’ she wriggled away, to sit beside him on the sofa. ‘I’ll be late for work, and you are supposed to be resting. So rest.’ And she stood up, kissing him quickly before she moved out of his reach.
‘Spoilsport,’ she heard him mutter crossly as she closed the door behind her.
He heard her get in the lift, and then surreptitiously, not wanting to be seen, he went to the balcony and watched as she drove off to work. A whole day by himself with nothing to do. Ye Gods he’d go insane if he obeyed the doctor’s rules and did nothing all day.
The thought of playing the piano was not enticing, neither was reading. But he didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He sat down again, but then stood and paced the room, restless and uneasy. His head hurt, more than he thought it should do, but Rachel was right. If he complained about it to Schroeder, he’d end up in the MRI scanner and that was an experience he certainly didn’t want to go through again. Not for a very long time. No, he’d keep quiet about the headache and maybe it would ease off. Maybe.
In the kitchen he looked around for something to eat, more from boredom than hunger. Fruit? A definite no. For some reason the thought of apples was nauseating all of a sudden. He didn’t want coffee, or toast, or even the bagel she’d bought for him earlier this morning.
Ice-cream. That was what he wanted. It would soothe his headache surely. Even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t do any harm, would it? He raided the freezer, pulling out boxes and bags until he found what he was looking for. Excellent.
And soon he was back on the sofa, eating Honeycomb ice-cream straight from the tub, and finally licking the last remnants from the spoon before running his finger around the inside of the smooth white waxed cardboard to glean the last delightful golden crunchy scraps of frozen deliciousness.
He licked his finger with childish delight before putting the empty tub on the floor, and leaning back with a sigh of pleasure.
How long had it been since he had eaten ice-cream like that? Out of the tub? He remembered doing it as a child on those occasions when he went to the cinema, but that would have been before he became a teenager, probably before he went to high school even. When he was still a young child.
Childhood. Playing in the field behind the house, riding his bike to school, going fishing with his father; the taste of the ice-cream had brought memories back, happy memories, of times long past, long forgotten. And memories of his parents, his mother, neat and precise; even when she was gardening she looked smart. His father, upright, tall, slender. A soft voice but a strict man. And yet Ed had loved him, had admired his father, and yes, had feared him on occasions, but only when it was merited.
Damn his head hurt again. He winced and pressed his hands against his eyes. The bruise on the side of his head was tender, but that was not where it hurt most. The light was bright and seemed to be getting brighter and more penetrating, so he stood up, staggering a little and went to turn it off, before closing the curtains against the dull sunlight. Darkness. Much better.
He closed his eyes and fell asleep on the sofa, curled up like a child, murmuring to himself as he dreamed of ice-cream and fishing trips, cycling and playing in the long grass in the field.
But, gradually, slowly, this one turned dark, turned evil with memories of the past, memories of events that were long forgotten, but that were now resurfacing. He strove to wake, to free himself from the mental chains that tied him into this sleeping existence, but he was trapped.
No matter which way he turned, or what he did, he could not escape.
And he sobbed, silently, terrified beyond words, beyond sound, beyond tears, even, until…….
The knock at the door woke him, and he lay there for a few seconds, trying to re-orientate himself, his heart pounding as if it would explode, his lungs gasping for air, sweat on his face.
Hell, that was a nightmare and a half. And his head was hurting even more if possible.
He sat up, shuddering, sweaty and still dragging deep breaths as if he couldn’t draw enough air into his lungs. The door, again. He ignored it, needing to concentrate on simply bringing himself back into the real world, and putting the nightmare visions, of dark airless spaces with looming monsters surrounding him, back where it belonged. In his subconscious.
The door opened, and for one moment he held his breath in fear. A face peered round the doorframe.
‘Alec? What are you doing here?’ his breathing slowed, his heart rate eased up, his eyes relaxed.
‘Rachel sent me to make sure you were behaving yourself. I was half expecting to find you doing reports or on the phone to Paul Foster. Did I wake you from a pleasant sleep?’ Freeman had a glint of amusement in his eyes.
‘Cut it out Alec. My head still hurts.’ Straker was grumpy and not inclined to jest, especially as the nightmare still lingered there in the back of his mind, like a many-tentacled leviathan that had come out of hiding to torment him.
‘Still hurts eh? Perhaps you’d better come in and have a scan on that thick skull of yours?’
‘No!’ the answer was a panicked response, and Ed was almost out of his seat before he realised how it must have sounded. ‘Sorry Alec, I’m just tired. I’ll be fine tomorrow. After a decent night’s sleep. Look, I won’t keep you, I’m sure there are plenty of things you need to be doing at HQ. Tell Rachel I’m resting will you. Thanks.’
It was a distinct and clear message to go away, and Alec Freeman, after one look at Ed Straker, sitting there looking almost child-like, scared and frightened, though frightened by what Alec had no idea, decided to risk all and ignore the warning.
‘Coffee on? I’ll get you a drink.’ And he wandered through to the kitchen. Straker heard him rummage around opening cupboards and drawers. ‘Ed? Where do you keep your coffee filters now? Rachel’s re-organised this place and I can’t find anything.’ His plaintiff call drifted out into the living room.
‘No idea, Alec,’ Straker lied. ‘I don’t want coffee anyway. It’ll only make this headache worse. I’ll have something later. Look, I’m going to lie down for a couple of hours. Let yourself out will you.’ And he went into the bedroom and closed the door, shutting Freeman out, both physically and mentally.
He undressed, dropping his clothes in a pile on the floor instead of hanging them neatly as was his usual practice, and then pulled a rarely worn pair of pyjamas out of the drawers.
Once in bed he lay still, curled on his side, hands close to his face, thinking. And then he pulled over a spare pillow from Rachel’s side, and hugged it close to him, as a child would hug a favourite teddy bear. Comforted, warm and with the headache finally retreating into the distance, he fell deeply asleep.
The tall dark-haired woman rang the doorbell and waited. There was no sound inside, although outside on the driveway there was a boy’s bicycle lying abandoned on its side in the long grass that edged the path. A basketball hoop was fastened to the wall, a slightly deflated basketball sitting sadly nearby, no longer a perfect sphere, but with an ever-so-slightly flattened base. She knew what would happen when anyone tried to bounce that ball. A dull ‘thuck’ and it would rise a foot or so into the air for one feeble bounce.
But these were clear indications that there was a boy in the family. A boy who, right now, was not at home, was in fact now listed as a Missing Person. A priority case when a child as young as this was reported missing. And it was her job to interview the parents.
It was a job she was good at, very good at in fact. But that didn’t make it any easier.
She rang the bell again, and saw through the frosted glass, a shadowy shape coming towards her. It melded into a more distinct form and she saw it reach out to open the door. She pulled out her ID.
‘Lieutenant Freya. May I come in?’ she smiled, her best feature she knew. A warm, welcoming, trusting smile. The sort of smile that gets you into peoples’ houses.
The door opened wider. ‘Lieutenant.’ The woman who answered the door had an indefinable elegance, and a graceful economy of movement. Small gestures with her hands, her fingers, expressed more than words as she beckoned to her visitor.
Freya followed her into the living room; a huge room with a fabulous moonlit expanse of windows that overlooked rolling fields. The sea sparkling with silver moonbeams in the distance.
‘I’m afraid there’s no news yet Mrs, I’m sorry, I never asked what your surname was. So many children these days have different surnames to their parents. It does make life confusing sometimes.’
The beautiful woman smiled. A tidy, self-contained smile that hid a world of secrets. ‘Mrs Draco, Zeta Draco. I use my husband’s name. I’m afraid we are considered a little old-fashioned nowadays.’ Freya could hear a hint of a foreign accent in her voice. An unusual name, but then so many names were.
Especially now, when the world was getting so much more cosmopolitan.
‘And your husband? His name I mean?’
‘Oh yes, Giauzar, bit of a mouthful really. I just call him Guy. He’ll be here in a minute. He’s just having another look for Ed out by the beach. But….’ she began to cry, quiet tears that welled up and spilled down her cheeks. She dabbed at them with a tissue. ‘He’s such a good boy really, Ed, I mean. Oh he wanders off, and gets engrossed in things that interest him, and sometimes forgets to come home for tea, but he never stays out late. He is always home when he says he will be. Always. He knows we would worry about him.’ She sat twisting the scrap of tissue into small shreds that littered the floor like white flakes.
‘Tell me about Ed’s friends. Could he have been with them today?’
‘His friends? Well, he’s pretty much a loner really, doesn’t play much with the others of his age, not that there are many others of his age. He prefers to be doing his own thing, exploring and researching, finding new places, beachcombing. That sort of thing. Oh yes; and he likes the field. He goes there a lot, especially when there’s something new there. We keep telling him to be careful, to watch out for …….’
She broke off and started sobbing again. Freya pulled out a small packet of tissues from her pocket and handed them over, then stood up as she heard the front door open.
Mrs Draco looked up, hope in her eyes, ‘Ed, is that…oh. It’s you Guy. I was hoping…’
Her husband shook his head. ‘No sign of him Zeta. I can only hope he’s found somewhere safe to hide for the night. He’s sensible, he knows what to do if night falls suddenly. I hope.’
‘We are doing everything we possibly can to find Ed for you. I promise.’ Freya reached over and took Mrs Draco’s hand. She was shocked at how cold and fragile it felt. ‘I need to look around his room if that’s alright with you? And if you could find me a picture of him, and maybe one of his favourite possessions, that would help us.’
‘I’ll show you his room,’ Guy said, ‘Zeta, can you find the Lieutenant that picture we took of Ed last month. You know which one.’
Ed’s room looked like any normal nine year olds room. Posters of his favourite team on the wall, models of spaceships and satellites hanging from the ceiling, assorted paraphernalia on the surfaces, pencils, rubbers, a slide rule, notebooks, the odd piece of construction kit that was left over after completing a model. All the usual random things that make up the life of a nine year old boy. There were books everywhere she looked. Books on the floor, on the bed on the cupboards. Freya picked up one of the books. Astronomy. And not a book aimed at nine year olds either. This was much meatier than that, a book for university students in fact. So Ed was seriously into astronomy. She put the book down, thinking about stars and planets, and spaceships.
Freya looked at the photograph that Zeta gave her. A handsome boy. With an indefinable look in his eyes. Blue eyes, crystal blue, not golden like his mother’s eyes or green like his father. And the hair. Blond was not really the word to describe the colour. It was ashen, nearly platinum, and she could tell by the way it was lay almost caressing his face, that it would be soft hair, soft and fine and delicate. He stood there, in the picture, a glow of happiness surrounding him.
No, Freya revised her initial impression. Not a handsome boy; a beautiful one. A wonderful child, a glorious child, loved and cherished and infinitely precious.
Freya hoped they would be able to find him, soon. She didn’t relish the thought of what might happen if they didn’t.
Ed Straker opened his eyes and thought, allowing his senses to flow together to make a whole person, a wholly awake person. Bed. Pillow, pyjamas. Pyjamas? What the hell was he doing wearing pyjamas? He looked at his watch.
And sleeping in the middle of the day? He sat up, quickly. A little too quickly as his head complained painfully.
Ah, yes, now he remembered. The fox, the loss of consciousness; even if only for a moment or two, staying at home, eating ice-cream.
Ice-cream? What was all that about?
And then going back to bed. To sleep.
Still, he must have been tired if he had fallen asleep so quickly.
Shit. Alec had been round hadn’t he?
‘Damn.’ Ed swore softly to himself. He’d need to contact Alec, apologised to him for being so abrupt, so dismissive. He flung back the covers, frowning as he saw his discarded clothes, strewn across the floor in an untidy heap.
He showered, spending longer under the hot water than normal as if needing to wash away more than just the aftermath of the earlier nightmare, and then dressed, quickly, efficiently.
It was still early afternoon by the time he was ready …. ready for what though. He knew that if he went into work he’d get put on medical leave for even longer, and it was several hours before Rachel was due to get back from her shift in HQ. He’d go for a walk. That would do him some good. A bit of gentle exercise. After all he hadn’t been able to go running for some days now, especially as there had been so much unexplained activity in the Solar system. And not the usual UFOs either.
It had made everyone edgy, trying to decipher what the latest sightings could be. There had been random appearances on the very fringe of the system with inexplicable reports from SID and the Deep Space Probes and the Space Observation Platforms. Huge objects, just winking in and out on the radar, massively huge objects in fact. Straker had eventually put it down to a MACHO, for want of any better explanation. But he was not really convinced about the sightings being MACHOs. Not really. Years of fighting aliens and UFOs had taught him that the universe was not only more complex than he had imagined, it was also more complex than even he could ever possibly imagine.
But the objects had not come near Earth, and that was the main thing. As long as they were happy to remain at a distance, and leave this little world alone, he was happy to do the same.
For now, at any rate.
Later, wandering almost aimlessly around the quayside he paused to watch the boats as they bobbed at the end of their cables in the calm waters. He would have to think about buying a boat. A speedboat perhaps, in black with red stripes with jet turbine engines. A really, really powerful boat. He could imagine the sensation; the thrill of hitting the rising waves and then bouncing over the tops before sliding down the other side, the wonderful feeling of almost flying over the surface of the water. And the noise. The sound of the two engines almost deafening him. Yes. It was about time he treated himself to something expensive, something racy, something …….impressive.
Thoughtfully he headed back to the apartment, contemplating names for a speedboat.
Dragon. Something like that sounded okay, sounded….right.
Colonel Freeman was …. concerned, would be the best word to use. Not worried so much , just ….a little bothered over the events of the morning. It was not like Ed Straker to get arsy over something as trivial as a bump on the head. He’d had far worse things happen to him and never made a fuss. But when Alec had visited him, Ed had seemed almost… scared.. would be the right word to describe his behaviour.
Alec huffed to himself. Well, if the SHADO commander wanted to be left alone, he’d oblige, for now.
It wasn’t as if they were particularly busy dealing with alien attacks anyway at SHADO HQ right now. The recent sightings had tailed off, with only those peculiar ‘real’ UFOs still around. Real UFO’s in the true meaning of the phrase. They really didn’t know what these were. The only thing for certain was that they were not spinners. They appeared too quickly for one thing, almost seeming to materialize instantaneously, and also they remained well outside the orbital path of Neptune. They just came into sight, sat there for a few hours and then….. disappeared without doing anything. As long as that was all they did, Alec Freeman, like Ed Straker was content to let them come, stop for a while and then go home. Sightseeing? Casing the joint? He had no idea what they were up to, but there was simply nothing they could do about them.
If Ed had been in HQ today he’d have no doubt had everyone working on his theory about the sightings being Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects. They would all have been busy scanning, recording, collecting data, and hopefully coming up with an answer at last.
But Ed Straker wasn’t. Wasn’t in HQ that is. He was at home complaining about his head and acting like a child. Well, Ed would be back in HQ in the morning, and Alec would be able to hand the whole problem back over to him. Thankfully.
The rest of the day passed slowly, very slowly for Ed Straker until at last, just after nine, pleading a headache, truthfully in fact, he had a quick bath and settled to sleep, long before Rachel had even considered going to bed.
It was midnight before Rachel had completed the work she had brought home. Yawning she closed the final folder, locked it in her case, which was then locked in the safe, and looked at the clock. That late? Ed would be wondering what had happened to her.
Her bedside light was still on, a dim warm glow in the darkness, and she undressed quickly, sliding under the covers to snuggle up to him, anticipating his arm moving over her to hold her and maybe even…. but instead he simply ignored her, curling up even tighter under the light -weight duvet until he was facing away from her and still fast asleep.
She frowned, then shrugged, then rolled over, pulled the covers around her shoulders and, just a little bit peeved at his continued indifference, slept.
It was just coming to early dawn when he opened his eyes, not just awake, but wide awake, alert, restless and ready to get up, get dressed and set off, out into the fresh air, the freedom.
A quick shower, more from necessity than desire, and then he opened the wardrobe door. And looked, puzzled and slightly bewildered at the neat array of almost military suits and shirts. Surely not. He touched the elegantly tailored outfits, flicking through the rack with inquisitive fingers, as if he had never seen these clothes before. Certainly not anything as perfect and stylish as these garments.
He stood back, thinking. Then reached for a cream coloured suit that seemed, well, comfortable. Familiar. Even though it was as if he had never worn it before, never worn anything as close-fitted and smart. He dressed, quickly, carelessly, ignoring the woman still sleep in the bed, as if he had not noticed her, was unaware of her presence.
In the kitchen he opened the fridge and pulled out the carton of milk, pouring a glassful and taking it onto the balcony to drink as he looked down on the early morning activity in the basin below. Watched as the sun rose, misty and soft in the distance, casting a gentle grey glow over the water and buildings.
And then he saw it. Black and sleek, two turbine engines looming over the stern, red stripes flashing down over the shining jet-coloured hull. Boy, that was some powerboat. Just the sort of thing he had dreamed of possessing. Perhaps the present owner would consider selling it… the thought made him smile and he gulped down the rest of his cold milk as he imagined racing it across the water, outpacing every other powerboat and leaving a huge, creamy wash in its wake.
The milk left a white moustache on his lips and he wiped it away with the back of one hand, before staring at the hand, at the fingers, as if unsure whether they belonged to him. He flexed each hand, feeling the latent strength, the dexterity and then flexed his muscles, conscious of the power that lay hidden beneath his skin.
He heard a noise from behind, and turned. She was there, standing looking at him as if questioning what he was doing.
‘I’m ready to go. Is that all right?’ he asked her, eagerly.
‘Just give me a minute, you were up a little earlier than I expected. I could do with a coffee first.’ She replied almost hesitantly, unsure of his behaviour.
‘All right, but don’t be long. I’ll be downstairs.’ He sounded a little put-out that he couldn’t leave immediately. Rachel wondered how he had managed to get dressed so quickly, especially as he had not turned on the lights and the bedroom, with its black-out shades had been in darkness. She poured a coffee, drinking it quickly, thinking. If Ed was in a hurry to get to work today, perhaps he’d had a call from HQ. But it was unlike him not to have told her. Unlike him not to have woken her when he got up, or brought her a coffee.
She watched him as he fastened his jacket, carefully, and shrugged his shoulders to settle the holster more comfortably, and realised that he hadn’t shaved this morning. The faintest silver stubble gleamed on his jaw, catching the light on his fine-boned face. She was tempted to reach for him, and run her fingers across the fine bristles, to feel them against her skin, but pushed that intrusive image back where it belonged.
It must be an emergency call then, if he hadn’t shaved. She sighed, reluctantly and as she turned to put the coffee cup in the dishwasher heard the front door close.
Straker had picked up the access card for the car they had assigned to him. Probably the usual boring BMW. He hated those. It always seemed as if every other driver on the road was out to get you when you were behind the wheel of a BMW, and the police were never far behind either.
That was why Straker preferred his Saab. Classy, discreet, and, once the SHADO tech guys had finished with it, better powered and equipped than any other vehicles you could buy. Straker had never once pushed his car to the limit though, never really put his foot down and seen just how fast it could actually go. Probably faster than most police cars, probably faster than almost any ordinary, non-SHADO car in fact.
Apart from an R8 Spyder.
Now that was a car.
Straker had, for one brief moment considered ordering one, but his head had overruled his heart. As always.
Boring really, always being sensible. Such a staid thing to be, middle-aged, well, old really. Sensible was for oldies.
And deep down Ed still harboured a secret desire to drive a Spyder. A red one. Not bright red, more… more…. dark crimson red. That would be good. Sighing, he went down to his parking space, to the waiting BMW.
My God. He looked around almost in disbelief, expecting to wake up at any moment.
Surely not. How the hell had they got hold of one of these?
He ran an appreciative hand over the flanks of the thoroughbred car, feeling its sleek lines, the perfect smoothness of the glossy paintwork, the tyres unmarked by grit or any signs of wear. Twin exhausts promised a glorious orchestral reverberation of throaty roaring with the potential to break, no, to utterly annihilate the speed limit.
And he slid behind the wheel, and started the engine……
It was even better than he had imagined. The low rumble of power, the almost unnoticeable, almost erotic feel of a perfectly tuned engine. Power. His to command.
Rachel hurried out to where he sat, his hands caressing the steering wheel, fingers running almost sensuously over the leather circle as he surveyed the dashboard. She opened the door, bemused. ‘This is a little extravagant isn’t it? Did you ask specifically for one of these?’
He smirked at her, ‘Beautiful isn’t she. Let’s see what she can do,’ and he grinned wolfishly and drove off, smoothly slipping through the gears, weaving through slow-moving traffic until he reached the slip road onto the motorway.
‘Ready? Hold on.’ And he pushed his foot down. Hard.
‘Jesus, Ed. Slow down.’ Rachel clenched her hands with fear as the car leapt forward, the sudden acceleration forcing her back into her seat.
‘Why? This is fun.’ And he grinned at her again with a look that she had never seen before, a look of almost childish delight at the thrill of driving such a magnificent beast of a car.
‘Ed. Stop.’ Rachel was nearly pleading with him, as the car plaited up the road, in and out of other vehicles, the speedometer touching 120 mph. Not nearly fast enough, he thought, wondering if he could get her up to her top speed. But the road was busy with commuter traffic and he didn’t want to risk damaging her.
She closed her eyes as he swerved and then powered down the outside lane, flashing his lights at slower vehicles that were in his way, the engine roaring its presence. She could hear him laughing with the sheer thrill of speeding, of racing the car down the motorway, of feeling the power of the engine, hearing the roar of the exhaust.
It was only the sudden arrival of the police car that ultimately persuaded Ed to slow down, and eventually to stop on the hard shoulder, hazards flashing in synchronicity with the blue lights of the police Volvo that had pulled him over.
He reached into his breast pocket to pullout his ID and turned to Rachel, eyes bright with excitement. ‘Boy, that was the best fun. Now, I think my Aeacus clearance should get me off, don’t you?’ and it was then, while he was looking at her, that she hit him, hard.
A resounding slap across his face.
Then she stepped out of the car and stood there, watching the traffic speed past, the wind blowing her hair into her eyes, stony-faced and silent as the policeman approached.
The police car escorted them the rest of the journey, Rachel driving, without a word spoken. She didn’t look at him once, after the police had nodded reluctantly, yet secretly impressed, at Straker’s clearance documentation and agreed to let them continue on their journey without taking any action.
She had simply ordered him out of the driver’s seat and taken over. Ed strapped himself into the passenger side, his cheek still reddened from her hand. He folded his arms and hunched down in the leather seat, refusing to be the first to break the uncomfortable silence.
‘Mrs Draco, it’s Lieutenant Freya here.’
‘Ed? Have you found him?’
‘Not exactly, but we think we know where he is, and ..’
‘Is he alright? Please say he’s alright?’
‘We’re pretty sure that he is fine, Mrs Draco, it’s just going to be a while before we can tell exactly where he is. I’m coming out to you now to fill you in on the details. Just one more thing, though. You told me Ed was, what, nine?’
‘Yes, nine, nearly ten.’
‘I see. How mature is he? What I mean is…’
‘Oh. Yes. I see. Well, any time now I suppose.’
There was silence.
‘That may cause some problems you know, Mrs Draco. We’ll have to deal with that when we find him. I hope you are prepared?’
‘Yes, as long as we get him back safe and sound. That’s the most important thing. That’s all that matters.’
‘We’ll do our best. I’ll be with you shortly. Please don’t worry, Mrs Draco, Ed seems to be a sensible boy, I’m sure he is quite safe.’
Ed Straker got out of the ox-blood-red Spyder and slammed the door, before walking angrily into his main office. He ignored the receptionist, the actors and producers who were loitering in the main area hoping to speak to him, he ignored Miss Ealand and continued to ignore Colonel Philips who had followed him as silently, her face stiff with suppressed rage.
Once inside the sanctuary of the office, the red door firmly closed, she turned to him, before he had a chance to activate the V P I.
‘Okay. Do you mind telling me what the hell all that was about?’ her voice was cold and harsh.
He looked at her, blue eyes star-bright with a mixture of anger and impatience. ‘That? That was me, having some fun for a change. And why not? There’s precious little fun to be had around here nowadays. Everyone seems more concerned with work and being sensible and obeying rules that are meant to be broken. I didn’t do any harm, did I?’ And he turned away from her as she opened the cigarette box and the room descended.
She led the way out to his office, determined to continue the conversation there, to get to the bottom of whatever it was that had made him behave so…. so.. childishly this morning.
But he did not follow. Instead he gazed around the busy control room, watching with unfeigned interest at the activity all around.
Lt Ford was only half-visible; his upper body was currently hidden in the depths of one of the consoles, which was giving of a stream of static and soft hisses, the screen jagged with broken lines that rampaged randomly across the surface.
Ed stepped closer, as if mesmerised by the patterns displayed. He put out one finger, tentatively, almost enquiringly, and touched the screen, tracing the lines and murmuring to himself for a moment or two. Keith, his voice muffled by the console in which he seemed to be hiding, called out, ‘Can somebody pass me a digital synapse emitter please?’ and reached out expectantly.
Straker seemed to shake his head, as if awakening from a dream, picked up the required tool, and, putting his hand on the open console leaned down to pass the emitter to Keith’s outstretched hand.
There was a flare of blue light from the console, directly under Straker’s hand and he lurched back just the console beneath the screen reactivated and powered itself up.
‘Shit.’ Ford pulled himself out quickly, away from the open case of the console. ‘What the hell?’
Straker looked at him, nonplussed. ‘I just put my hand on it and it seemed to switch itself on.’ He looked down at his hand. Blisters were beginning to form where he had made contact with the unguarded surface of the computer. He looked up at Rachel, perplexed and with a brief look of fear and pain in his eyes.
‘Commander, your hand is burned. What on Earth happened there? The console interface was powered down. There’s no way it could have switched itself back on, not without going through the proper procedures.’ Lt Ford said, before contacting Shroeder to come to the Control room.
Straker held his hand tightly against his chest, trying not to show how much it hurt. He bit his lip, not wanting to admit to the pain, but finding it difficult to ignore the burning sensation that seemed to spread through him, from his blistered fingertips right through his entire body. It felt as though he was ablaze with heat, flaming, fiery heat that threatened to engulf him. But it also felt… right somehow, as if he should feel like this, hot and burning with energy.
‘Ed, you need to get that under some cold water, right now,’ Colonel Philips ordered, guiding him away from the control room towards one of the small restrooms located on the corridors. She held his hand under the flowing water, as he stood, silent and, she could feel the movement in his arm, shaking with pain and distress.
He stared at his hand, at the water pouring over it in clear rivulets, at the blisters on his fingers and palm, and he leaned against her, his face pale and with a look of scared expectation.
‘I didn’t think it would hurt me,’ he whispered to himself before turning to her. ‘It hurts,’ he said in an accusatory tone, and tried to pull his hand out from under the stream of cold water.
‘Don’t be silly, Ed, it needs to cool down, or it will get worse.’ She forced his hand back under the water and he acquiesced, reluctantly, although she knew that he could easily have pulled his hand away. He was so much stronger, but he seemed not to consider that fact.
Shroeder arrived, tutting with disapproval when he saw the blisters, and took charge, ordering Ed back to the Commander’s office where the doctor dressed the burned hand efficiently and quickly. ‘Do try not to do anything else, Commander,’ he said in an exasperated tone before handing him a couple of painkillers. ‘Here, these will help. I need to see you first thing tomorrow to have that re-dressed. Keep it dry. And keep out of trouble. Please?’
Straker tilted his head sideways as if to consider the doctor. ‘Trouble? When did I last get into trouble? It’s not my fault the console decided to blow up.’ He grinned at Shroeder and Rachel, then leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes tightly. ‘I just wish this headache would ease up a little.’
‘Still having some pain Commander? Perhaps you’d better come down to Sick Bay and have an MRI sc……….’
Straker was out of his seat before Shroeder could finish.
‘No. No, I won’t, and you can’t make me.’ He sounded almost terrified, panicked beyond simple fear of being in an enclosed space in the MRI scanner.
‘Ed, calm down, nobody’s going to make you do anything. Just sit down and I’ll get you a drink. Coffee alright?’
‘No, not coffee. I don’t like coffee. Can I have a glass of water please?’ he shuddered a little as if cold, and Rachel beckoned to Shroeder to follow her out into the control room.
‘There’s something not right here, doctor,’ she warned him, ‘Ed’s behaviour is peculiar to say the least. I really think you need to get him down for a scan to see if that bump on his head did more than we initially thought.’
Shroeder paused, I’ll do my best Colonel, but he can be very stubborn. Look, take him a drink and I’ll see if I can persuade him to come for a CT scan at least. That’s far less stressful and I can use the portable head CT unit.’
Colonel Philips headed back from the water cooler with a styrofoam cup of water and opened Straker’s office door.
Ayshea heard the sound of the cup splashing its liquid over the floor as Rachel dropped it, before turning to the startled Lieutenant. ‘Ayshea. Get Colonel Freeman here, now. Lock down the base. Totally. No one in or out. And get Level One security to the Commander’s office. Immediately. Call me when they are outside.’ Rachel barked the order then, taking a deep breath, went into her fiancés office and closed, and locked, the door behind her.
The usual police response when dealing with a missing child was, first of all to ascertain exactly where the child was, then, if possible retrieve said child and return it home, more often than not with a sound telling-off and a threat of a good spanking. However, in some cases, such as this one, retrieval was not so simple. Ed had been playing in the field before he went missing. And that was enough to make them act circumspectly.
The field was not something that you treated with recklessness. Not, that is, if you wanted to survive. So, Ed had been there. Probably had disappeared from there.
Lt Freya had called in extra support for her search. And they were out there, right now, with a pretty good idea of where he had ended up. But as to the condition he was in? Well, that was anyone’s guess. Freya just hoped that the young child hadn’t done something foolish.
She listened to the incoming reports.
And sighed with relief. They had found him. Got his exact location. And he was alive. It was only a matter of time, now, until the team could get in to bring him home. Thankfully, she ended the call, and went to tell his parents. They would no doubt want to be there when the team rescued Ed. They would want to bring him home, safely.
Rachel waited, her back to the door, her hands pressed flat against the smooth surface, her face expressionless. She watched him as he sat there, fiddling with the items on the desk, rolling the glass sphere around in his fingers like the Ed Straker she knew and loved so often did. But this was not Ed Straker. This…. this …. being, was, most definitely, not Ed Straker, not her Ed Straker, the SHADO Commander, her fiancé.
Ed. What had happened to him? She shook with the horror of realising that he, the man who she loved, no, she adored, he was not here. This was a stranger, a changeling, sitting in Ed’s seat, peering through the glass ball, fiddling with Ed’s gold pen. And glowing.
A blue nimbus surrounded him, almost as if he was in a mist of the palest brightest light. And then, he looked up at her.
Ed’s voice, Ed’s mannerism’s, the way he looked at her, his head slightly tilted to one side as if appraising her, the gentle, half-hidden smile on his lips, his eyes shining with pleasure at seeing her. But those eyes were not shining with pleasure now. They were shining with a blazing brilliance that was almost too bright to bear, as if he was filled with a radiance that poured out of him.
Ed. Please. Be safe. Come back. Wherever you are. Come back.
She turned away from him, unable to deal with her emotions, just waiting for the signal that Security was outside, ready to deal with whoever, whatever was here in this room, sitting in Ed’s chair.
Then the buzzer sounded.
She stepped away from the door, turned and opened it. Ed stood up, looking almost scared, as the armed guards entered.
‘Take the ….Commander….. to security. Heavy guard. But do not use any physical contact.’ Colonel Philips ordered them as they looked unsure of what to do when faced with a Commander who was … glowing. They remained motionless, as if they had not heard her instructions, had not even seen Ed in his chair.
‘Colonel, what do we do when we get him there?’
‘Put him in a cell and wait for Dr Jackson. Go on. Now.’ she told them as they hesitated for a moment before approaching the SHADO Commander’s desk.
‘Commander… would you, er, come with us, please, sir?’
Rachel Philips was expecting Straker to make some objections, to argue or even worse, but he simply stood up, as if used to obeying direct orders from people in authority, straightened his jacket with his habitual ease and walked out of the office, a faint corona of diamond blue light encircling his slim form.
The Control Room was silent, heads turned to watch in astonishment as the walked out, into the room where Alec Freeman was standing, perplexed.
‘Hello Alec.’ Ed’s voice was cheerful, unconcerned, friendly. He reached out to his friend, but one of the guards put a firm hand on Straker’s arm to restrain him.
There was a crack of lightning, dark, dark blue lightning and the guard was flung across the room to crash into one of the consoles.
‘That wasn’t very nice of you,’ Ed complained to the guard, before reaching out with his hand in an attempt to help him to his feet.
Rachel pulled him back, ‘Ed. Or whoever you are, stop right there.’
He turned to her, eyes no longer palest brilliant blue, but now dark like sapphires, sparkling with unseen energy.
His voice was sullen with suppressed anger, or perhaps fear. He looked at her fiercely for one moment. She held her breath, terrified of what he might do, what he might be capable of doing and then he sat down, suddenly, on the steps, holding his head tightly as if in pain. ‘My head hurts. It really hurts. Make it stop. Please.’ His voice was faint with anguish
‘Ed,’ she sat next to him, cautiously, carefully, putting her arm around him to draw him nearer to her, ‘Ed, come with me to Sick Bay. The doctor needs to see you.’ Rachel had no idea who or what she was dealing with, but one thing was clear, this ‘alien’ this impostor who was pretending to be her lover, was in real distress.
He leaned against her, head on her shoulder for a moment as if to draw comfort from her, then suddenly jerked away. ‘You aren’t her. Where is she?’ He stood up and stared frantically at the onlookers, fearful and anxious.
Alec stepped forward, his hand outstretched, ‘Ed, come on. I’ll take you to the doctor. It’s quite safe. No one will hurt you.’ Freeman’s calm voice seemed to have a soothing effect and Ed meekly put his uninjured hand in Alec’s and allowed himself to be led out, down to Sick Bay, followed by the security detail and a desperately worried Rachel Philips.
The operatives in the Control room stood and stared, dumbfounded.
Lt Freya smiled at Zeta and Guy. ‘Nearly there. Not long now.. I know the waiting is hard, but we have confirmation that he is alive, and safe. We just need to get him out with the minimum of fuss. The team will be in place shortly and then it’s just a case of going in.’
Guy, stern green eyes watching the monitor, nodded, but Zeta was more persistent. ‘Can I go with them? He might get frightened. He might do something foolish.’
Freya considered, weighing up the situation. If, as the Dracos had said, this child was nearing maturity, then anything could happen.
‘Very well. As long as you do exactly as you are told. Is that understood?’
Ed was in Sick Bay, holding Alec’s hand tightly, his fingers gripping with a strength that Alec had not believed possible. The pale blue aura that had previously surrounded the Commander had faded, and now the only sign that something was not quite right, was the blaze of light that almost seemed to pour from his eyes.
That, and the fact that he was now floating about six inches off the ground.
‘Damn. What the hell is going on?’ Alec muttered to Rachel as Ed perched himself on the examination table and watched with interest as Jackson prepared him for the portable CT scan.
‘This won’t hurt, will it?’ Ed asked anxiously.
‘No, Commander. It’s quite painless, quite safe. I just need to see why you still have some discomfort in your head. It will only take a minute. Now,’ Jackson switched the scanner on, ‘just remain very still, good….. good… excellent. All done. You can take the monitors off now.’
Ed pulled off the monitors with a sigh of relief, just as the intercom activated.
‘Red Alert, Red Alert. This is a Maximum Security Alert. All personnel to stations. Prepare for ……………’ Straker was out of the room and heading for the hub of the SHADO HQ before Keith Ford had finished, Alec close behind him.
‘Colonel Freeman,’ Ford looked relieved to see the Second-in-Command. ‘We have reports from Deep Space Probe 32. An Unidentified object, on course for Earth. Speed SOL 18.’
‘SOL 18? That’s unheard of. They’ve never gone faster then SOL 8. What else do we know?’
Ford turned to his console. ‘It’s mass is …. …..’ he turned back to face Freeman, his eyes wide with fear, ‘It’s mass is almost that of the Moon, Colonel. It’s on a direct collision course with Earth. And at the speed it’s going it will reach us in 36 seconds.’
‘Dear God.’ Alec murmured to himself. There was nothing they could do, no defences that would work against something as huge as that. Earth was doomed. The UFO, or what ever it was, would simply obliterate Earth. At least death would be quick. That was the only good thing. Bugger. He wished he had a drink in his hand; a final toast to the world, to life, to everything.
There was a touch on his arm. A gentle touch, almost hesitant. Ed stood there, holding out a glass. ‘Is this right?’ he asked, questioningly, and handed Freeman a tumbler filled to the brim with a golden liquid.
Alec sniffed it; single malt. He stared into Ed’s innocent eyes, into the blue, bright, brilliant gaze. ‘Yes. but there’s a little too much. Even for me.’ He was beginning to get an extremely uncomfortable feeling about Ed.
‘Sir.’ Ford’s voice, urgent, imperative.
Straker turned to the Radar operator. ‘What is it Keith?’ clearly back in command mode and in control, stepping away from Alec Freeman who was still holding the glass of whisky.
Ford confused, looked from one to the other, unsure who was in charge, ‘Sir, Commander, ….Colonel. It’s stopped. It just suddenly stopped. There’s no reports of it slowing, or veering off course. It just, somehow, stopped. Instantaneously. That’s impossible. At those speeds it would have torn any craft apart. It’s now on a lunar orbit, exactly halfway between SID and the Moon.’
‘What do the Earth satellites show, Keith?’ Alec had placed the tumbler of whisky on a table, carefully, as if he thought it could explode, and he leaned over Ford’s shoulder to see the readings for himself.
‘Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s as if it doesn’t exist. Shit. What is going on?’ but as he turned to Ed and Rachel there was a terrible, glorious, unworldly sound of high-pitched singing, ethereal and almost beyond human hearing. He covered his ears with his hands in a vain attempt to block out the piercing sound that threatened to rupture his eardrums and he saw that everyone else in the control room was suffering the same auditory agony.
All except Ed. He was standing there, eyes wide with delight, with relief, with sudden, blinding comprehension.
They heard him speak over the singing. Just one word, just two syllables, but it was enough. A child’s heartfelt plea to a parent. ‘Mummy?’
The singing died away, slowly fading to a gentle humming, a soft, lullaby of sound that soothed and comforted and eased away their worries and fears.
Alec, protective as ever, moved closer to Rachel Philips, carefully positioning himself between her and Ed Straker. The sound diminished, died away, and Ed still stood there, eyes brilliant with expectation, with joy, the sheer unadulterated happiness that only a child, reunited with its parent, can ever truly experience.
And the room was suddenly full, not of noise, or singing, or people, but full of light. A light so powerful it was as if the sun itself had shrunk to fit inside this small insignificant little space, had dimmed its brilliance to prevent the walls simply disintegrating under the strength of its light and had become a fragment of its real self, the merest fraction of its true glory. And Rachel, through her tightly closed eyes could see the brilliant glow of the light, like golden, sunlit eyes staring at her.
Nothing could surprise them now, not the sight of their Commander, standing, eyes blazing with blue light, arms outstretched as if waiting to embrace and be embraced, not the sudden appearance of further lights, dimmer now, as if they had realised that these puny, ephemeral humans could not cope with their everyday magnificence, not the voice that filled the whole of SHADO HQ with a majestic, glorious chiming ring.
‘Edasich. I was worried about you. It’s time to come home. You don’t belong here.’
Straker stepped forward and encircled the centre of the illumination.
‘Mummy. There was a nova. I had to find somewhere safe…..I’ve hurt my hand. Are you cross?’ Straker’s voice was as splendorous, as resonant, as full of grandeur as his mother’s.
‘Edasich.’ The voice was infinitely patient, loving, forgiving. ‘Cross? No. Never. Give me your hand.’ Straker held out his blistered, bandaged hand and light burned away the clean white dressings, burned away the reddened and swollen blisters, leaving pure new skin, unmarked by any scars or damage.
Ed smiled and looked around the control room and at Rachel and Alec as if for the last time. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered. ‘I’m really, really sorry.’
He began to shimmer, to cast off his physical form, and the blurred and indistinct outline that had once held the shape of Ed Straker melded into a sphere of sparkling blue diamond-bright light.
Rachel’s eyes filled with hot, agonising tears as she realised that this supreme creature, this wondrous being was her own Ed, her own true love. And now he was not hers. Not anymore. She turned away too distressed to watch further.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and leaned against the comfort of the contact. Alec. As always. There to support. And she would need him. Dear God, she would need him. How could she manage without Ed? How would she go on, day after day?
‘Wait.’ A hesitant voice, concerned, caring. ‘Edasich. My dearest Edasich, these creatures? They have cared for you? Looked after you?’
‘Yes. They’re my friends. I’ve been happy here. Why?’
‘Perhaps it is wrong to just take you from them without telling them. Perhaps they will miss you.’
A different voice, colder, more clinical interrupted. ‘Zeta, this is not what we agreed. We are here to get your son, Edasich. Nothing else matters. These are mere humans. Their world is no concern of ours. We must go now.’
‘No, Freya,’ Edasich’s mother blazed with indignation. ‘No. My son has been missing for some hours and they have looked after him. And although they are weak, and small and insignificant and their lives are but a tiny infinitesimal spark in the immensity of the universe, they have cared for him. They have the right to know where he is going. You are not a parent yourself. You do not understand these things.’
Freya was silent, her light dimmed in acquiescence.
‘Edasich, my beloved son, you must tell me what happened to you. Tell me everything.’
Her light diffused until it was almost bearable to look at her. Straker, no longer a tall slender figure in a cream suit, no longer the SHADO Commander, now an ethereal light named Edasich, a hot helium star from the constellation of Draco, son of Zeta and Giauzar, of that same constellation family, Ed Straker resumed his former appearance and, once again in human form, sat on the steps in the control room, smiling at the people around him. His blue eyes were still bright, but with emotion, not fire. He looked up at Rachel and Alec, at the staff in the SHADO Control Room. All silent, all overcome with awe.
‘My friends, my very best friends. What can I tell you? How can I make this easier for you. I have to go sometime you know.’
‘Please Ed, what happened to you, tell us what happened. That way we can begin to understand and … …oh God, I don’t want to lose you. Please, don’t leave me.’ Rachel clung to him, sobbing, her tears staining his cream suit. He kissed her gently, caressed her face with his fingers, pulled her close to him to hold her head against his shoulder and let her cry.
‘Rachel, Alec. I’ve learned so much from my brief time here. You taught me the value of laughter and friendship and trust. I will miss you. I will miss you all.’
‘Ed, who, what..’
‘Me? That’s simple Alec. My name is Edasich. I’m the offspring, in the truest sense of the word, of two stars in the constellation Draco. Guiazar and Zeta. I have been in existence for more years than you can possibly imagine, but in terms of a star’s lifetime I am still only a child. In fact I am only just now reaching the stage where I might be considered a mature star. But stars are not simply balls of gas, despite what your astronomers might have you believe. Stars have, over the millennia, evolved and transformed to become living, sentient entities, with thoughts and desires and feelings.’ He paused for a moment to let them assimilate the information. ‘Adult stars are able to take on forms of other living creatures so that they can learn about the universe. This is my mother, Zeta,’ and he smiled at the woman who had appeared there beside him. A woman with golden eyes, and flowing wheat-coloured hair. ‘I have only just gained the ability to take on human form, and yesterday I was playing….’
‘Playing? You, Ed , playing?’ Alec Freeman tried to smile even though he too was close to tears.
Edasich smiled tenderly, ‘yes Alec, strange though it may sound I was playing. I am only a child after all. And children need to play. I was out in the field. The star field to be precise. Where new stars are born. Unfortunately I got caught up in a nova. It was unplanned and unexpected and I remember very little of what happened. I do recall an explosion, and being hurt and I did know that I needed to get to a place of safety before the field was engulfed by an approaching galaxy. I didn’t have very long and I couldn’t recall who I was or where I belonged, but we are taught at an early age how to protect ourselves.’ He paused, looking down at the concrete floor, thinking, remembering.
‘Ed? What did you do? How does a star protect itself?’ Rachel put her hand on his arm.
He turned to her, smiled, with those gloriously blue shining eyes. ‘Simple. We become babies.’
‘But, you, you are forty years old, You’re not telling me that you’ve been missing for forty years are you?’ Alec gasped.
‘Alec. I’m a star. How long do you think I will live for? Ninety years? More like ninety thousand million years. This life here on Earth, these forty years I have spent as a man, as a human among you all, have been but the span of a few hours, if that, in my world. And now I must return. I regret that more than anything, regret that I must leave you, leave you all. You have all meant so much to me here in this time, this place.’
He smiled sadly, and stood up, straightening his jacket as if for one last time.
‘Oh, Keith. I’m sorry about the computer earlier. It was my fault I got burned, I wasn’t thinking and my mind was focussed on making it work properly. And Alec, that glass of whisky? It is real. It’s your favourite brand. Enjoy it. I have that power now. It started to come back to me when I banged my head the other day. The ability to create things out of star-matter. After all, everything; all of us, you, me, the entire universe in fact, is made from the stuff of stars. And if a star can’t manipulate star matter, who can? That,’ he grinned at Rachel with child-like little smile that was so endearing, ‘That is how I came to the drive the Spyder. That was such fun.’ And he laughed out loud. ‘And it was fun to see you get cross, Rachel. I haven’t seen you get angry like that before. Something else I will take away with me when I go home. Although I never got to drive that powerboat.’ He paused, pensively. ‘I will miss that. Miss seeing new things, miss being here, with you all. I would have liked to see SHADO succeed. To beat the aliens and free Earth. To marry you and have children with you. To watch my family grow up. To learn what it feels like to grow old.’ He looked up, sadly, at his mother. ‘Mummy?’
‘Can we help them stop the aliens? Please?’
‘Edasich. You know the rules. We cannot interfere with other worlds. Much as we might want to, it is not allowed. I’m sorry.’ She held out her arms to him and he hugged her tearfully as she stroked his blond hair and kissed his head.
Rachel watched, watched as he clung to his mother, watched as the two shapes slowly began to glow again, to transmute back to pure light. Her hands were clenched tightly, and she held her breath. She would not break down now, not here. She would look at him one last time, with love and then…. then she would carry the memory of him with her. Forever.
But suddenly Edasich stepped back from his mother, his head tilted to one side. ‘Is Daddy here?’
‘I wanted to ask him something.’ Edasich was subdued, deferential.
‘Go on. I think I know what you want.’ There was a note of acceptance, of resignation, but also of pride in Zeta’s voice.
‘Mummy, would you and Daddy mind if I stayed here a little bit longer? Just till tonight? I promise…’ his voice was pleading, ‘I promise to be sensible and come home straight after. Please?’
Rachel interrupted. ‘Ed, Edasich I suppose I should call you, don’t stay. I couldn’t bear to spend just a few more hours with you, knowing jhtat you will be leaving later tonight. It’s going to break my heart when you go. Please, don’t make it any harder, just go now, before…….’
‘Rachel, my dearest Rachel,’ Straker’s voice, soft, deep, cultured, ‘Oh Rachel. Tonight? Tonight, for a star, could be in a hundred years time. Plenty of time for you and I to live our lives together, to marry, have children. To grow old together, you and I, to do all those things that we both want to do. Break speed limits, drive powerboats, fly to Mars, and, most importantly, help this small insignificant little planet, this wondrous world that has given me so much, to help this Earth throw off the threat of the aliens. I can stay. With you. If my parents will let me, but more importantly, if you want me to. You and Alec and all my friends here. Well?’
‘Stay, please stay,’ she whispered as she clung to him, her hands caressing his face, the stubble still there on his jaw, rough under her fingertips. He bent to kiss her gently on her lips, his hands framing her face, his touch tender and caring and compassionate.
He looked questioningly at his mother.
‘Mummy?’ the voice of a child, not the SHADO Commander.
‘Very well, Ed. But you know the rules. You must give up being a star while you are here, and you must come straight home afterwards. Promise?’
He beamed with delight, with excitement. ‘I promise. I’ll behave. I always do. And I’ll see you later. Tell Daddy I’ll be home in time to go the beach with him will you?’
Alec interrupted, ‘But how can you do this? We’ve seen you, we know what you are.’
‘Don’t worry about that, friend of Edasich, you won’t remember this. In fact this will not happen. Edasich will simply stay here for a short time, in our idea of time. He will grow old here and die here, probably after a very long and very successful life. Stars tend to do that you know. His life will blaze across the world and leave a shining path in its trail. A path that with be remembered for a thousand years to come and more. And then he will come home, this evening, and play with his father and tell us all about the exciting day he has had, and the friends he made here. Very well, Edasich. Go and play with your friends. I will make everything right here. Oh. One more thing,’ she bent to kiss him fondly.
‘Yes Mummy?’ his face eager with the anticipation of being allowed to play for longer, and he listened, and nodded seriously as she whispered in his ear, before kissing him one last time and fading away. The Control Room in SHADO HQ filled with light, a brilliance that blinded everyone, and filled with noise that deadened their senses with its intensity and strength. They closed their eyes, covered their ears, closed their minds to the almost physical sensation of light, of noise, of power. And then…………..darkness. Silence.
Ed Straker intended to drive his Saab home. But his mind was tumbling over the events of the last few hours and it was late, very late and he was tired, so he decided to be sensible and safe and boring and get someone to drive him home.
Once in the back of the new X5; he hated BMWs he remembered with a wry grin, he strapped up and picked up the early morning edition of the Telegraph that his driver had collected for him.
There was time to catch up on any important news, if government spending could be considered important news. If it wasn’t about aliens or the SHADO budget for the next fiscal year, he wasn’t really bothered at the moment.
The driver slowed almost abruptly, and Straker frowned.
‘Sorry sir, fox in the road. Didn’t want to hit it.’
‘No problem,’ Straker replied aware that he too, would have braked instinctively, although probably not in time to avoid an accident.
He turned to the next page in the paper.
And then he saw the advert.
Dark, glossy grey, streamlined, fast, responsive. An Audi R8. Oh not a Spyder, that would be a waste of money, and the waiting list would be horrendous, even with his studio connections, but an R8? He could have one in crimson. He leaned back in his seat. Why not? He could afford it.
But it was an expensive plaything, an unnecessary luxury and he could manage without it. He would be sensible, he decided and folded the paper away, and put thoughts of breaking the speed limit in a crimson R8, firmly at the back of his mind.
Then somewhere, in the back of his mind Ed Straker, Commander-in-Chief of SHADO, heard a woman’s voice, soft and gentle, a mother’s voice whispering in his ear before it faded away. ‘Don’t forget to have some fun.’
And he opened the paper again and looked.
Started June 14th 2010
Dragon gave me the idea of writing about Ed as a demi-god with amnesia, and as Denise wanted a challenge story involving children in HQ, I thought I could combine the two ideas. Ed as child ‘god’ in HQ , rediscovering who he was. The only problem was that I couldn’t find any ‘god’ in any myth or religion who was male and had a name that could be shortened to ‘Ed’.
The original idea was that the demi-god (Ed) would have forgotten his past and be unable to use his powers and had taken refuge as a human. The main consideration was that I had to allow him to stay on in SHADO/Earth afterwards, and the time factor had to be considered. So, thinking about stars, and their life-span I decided to have Ed as star.. again, difficult to find a star with a ‘male’ name beginning with ’Ed’ – which I needed for the last line of the prologue!
Anyway, Draco has a star called Edasich… so I borrowed it, and made it into a hot helium star with a blueish colour. Ed’s parents Zeta and Giauzar are also stars in the constellation. Zeta means Dancer and Giauzar means Dragon. In retrospect I should have made some references to this in the story.. maybe by describing them slightly differently.
The field, where Ed plays was always intended to be the star field where new stars are created. I was trying to confuse readers into thinking that Ed was a human etc.
I injured Ed ..again. But he had to have some reason to start behaving in a childish way and to start to recall his powers. I had this vision of him in HQ, creating havoc.. but eventually didn’t go down that route for various reasons.
So he banged his head… And I tried to bring in some childish behaviour… complaining about being an invalid, muttering ‘spoilsport’ that sort of thing. Then he watched Rachel leave and I had the idea about eating ice-cream. I’ve never had him do that before and it was fun to imaging him eating it as a child would.
The part where he remembers his childhood was a deliberate attempt to mislead the reader.. to make you think that maybe he had been a kidnapped child who had never been recovered, and that he was remembering his ‘real’ parents. Alec comes to see him, as expected, and Ed gives more clues that all is not right.. not wanting coffee, going to bed, and wearing pyjamas, as a child would. Oh yes, and snuggling up to his pillow as if it were a teddy bear.
Again I wanted to confuse the reader with an image of a normal family home, but there are clues; Zeta appears- a shadowy shape that melds into a more distinct form. And her husband’s name.. a clue that all is not as it seems. The description of Ed’s room was fun to do, having never had a son I had to guess a lot!
There’s another clue at the end; the picture of Ed, a glow of happiness surrounding him.
Ed wakes up. In pyjamas. Unusual.
And, bored, goes for a walk. I love power boats and it was such a good opportunity to put one into a story. And Ed wants one as well. DragonStar.. another pointer to his past.
The little aside in HQ with the recent activity in the Solar System will, hopefully make sense after you have read the story. It’s Lt Freya, looking for him.
The most awkward par tot write was the evening events when Rachel came home…Sex? Absolutely not! It had to be kept right out of the scene so I had to gloss over that time.. put Ed to bed, early as a nine year old would do, curled up and fast asleep.
In the morning he gets dressed, and there is a hint, that you might pick up on later, that he is glowing. He doesn’t switch the light on to find his clothes even though it is dark.
And he has a glass of milk. Love the image of a milky moustache on those lips when he has finished!
Then he sees the powerboat. I put that in after I had written the Chapter.. it seemed to cry out for it!
When he gets dressed I didn’t let him shave…. A child wouldn’t have so he doesn’t, and I was going to pick up on it later .. I might still do that! (I did!)
Ed is ready to go before Rachel and I hope it sounds almost childish the way he says ‘I’m ready to go. Is that alright?’ As if he was asking permission to go and play.
And his wishes come true again. A Spyder. Boy I could imagine him behind the wheel of one of those! Although Eddie, in Separated, drove an R8!
And he behaves like a naughty schoolboy….smiling wolfishly! . about time you had some fun Ed!
I was so pleased that I could Rachel to slap him! And his reaction afterwards, sulking.
The intial part, with Zeta and Freya was a way to get across the fact that something was going to happen to Ed anytime now.. he would gain his powers! Although I didn’t want to state that fact clearly. And the fact that he would ‘mature’ might cause problems… which it did, to Keith’s console and the fact that Ed could ‘create’ a car, a powerboat etc.
The bit about wanting to have fun was also an attempt to show that this was no longer Ed Straker.
The part with Keith and the computer console worried me… drat.. I was going to have to hurt Ed yet again.. I could envisage Denise coming after me with her pen… but it gave me the chance to show him reacting as a child would do …and also to add the details about his feeling ablaze with heat.
The chapter ended with Rachel dropping the drink of water and locking the door … hopefully a cliffhanger!
This starts with the news that Ed has been found, and gives us a clue that the field is a little more than it appears.
Rachel has to face the fact that Ed is not.. well, Ed! At least she thinks that,. He is glowing…blue like the star that he is.
His reaction to being restrained is understandable and brings into account the fact that he is developing his powers and can retaliate if necessary.
Then he realises that Rachel is not ‘her’.. his mother.
The UFO that appears is Freya’s ‘police car’ as it were. Huge, powerful, easily capable of destroying Earth, but they just want Ed. And Ed is reading Alec’s mind and pouring him a drink! Too large a drink, as a child might pour a whisky, but it shows us how Ed relates to Alec, his friend before ‘Straker’ takes over again to protect SHADO.
I had the last sentence of this chapter in my mind for most of the story as I wrote it. ‘Mummy?’
Such a lovely image.
I was SO pleased it worked! (well I thought it worked!)
This turned out to be longer than I had intended, but there were a lot of loose ends to tie up. It needed to be written as a conversation between Ed, his mother and Rachel and Alec, and unfortunately there was little opportunity to develop it to include others, Keith for example. I think it is a little unwieldy as it stands even without the addition of others.
I hope Ed came across as a child in the beginning of this part, with the way he talked and behaved (I hurt my hand, Are you cross) and later, as he resumes his natural form he takes on the maturity of a star, concerned about his friends.
I tried to get all the ends neatly tidied away in this chapter, Ed simply playing in the star field, the nova which caused him to lose his memory, the encroaching galaxy which threatened him so that he had to hide, his newly discovered ability to create things out of pure matter, and of course, his age.
That was the crux of the story. The fact that he had spent forty years on Earth, and it had been less than a few hours in his real world. In actual fact it would probably have been less than a picoseconds, but then the story wouldn’t have worked. Give me some poetic licence!
And throughout this part he is Edasich, no longer Ed.
Finally he asks his mother (Mummy? again… love it!) to break the rules and help his friends fight against the aliens.
Zeta, at the end, is proud that he wants to stay with his friends, that he acknowledges their existence, their importance and she lets him play a little longer.. Hopefully for a many few years still.
I had to have an uplifting end to this chapter. There have been a few desperately sad stories recently (mostly mine!) and I wanted to leave the reader knowing that Ed would prevail against the aliens and would have a long and wonderful life. Even though the aliens are not mentioned as being defeated, Zeta’s comments give the reader a clue ‘ His life will blaze across the world.’. what more could a person want?
At the very end she whispers something to him as he gives her a kiss, not a sad kiss, of farewell, but a ‘see you later’ kiss.
Back to the Prologue… only Zeta has changed things and Ed decides to allow himself to be driven home. The accident doesn’t happen, he doesn’t regain his memory, all is well.
And he sees the advert for an Audi R8… well, I had to end it like that!
He smiled, wolfishly. What an image!! J
Go for it Ed! Just don’t get caught by the speed cameras!
Oh yes; the title? Missing Persons; Freya works for that department. Ed is Missing from home and, Rachel and Alec would miss him if he returned home and left them. Will it do?
Written in four days!!
Hope you enjoyed it.
LtCdr June 2010