Rachel Chonicles: 15 Castled

Castled

(a chess move designed to put the king in a place of safety)

‘Coffee, Commander?’ Keith Ford held out a Styrofoam mug to the tall, silent man standing at the edge of the room, whose mind was clearly on other more important things.

‘Hm? Sorry? Oh yes, thank you Keith.’ Straker took the cup, sipping it as he watched the radar screen displaying the flight pattern of the incoming UFOs. He had been here, in the control room for nearly five hours now, trying to make sense of the random erratic flight paths that the UFO’s seemed to be following.

It wasn’t as if they were heading for any important area, or even a highly populated zone. South-west Scotland was what you might call low in terms of UFO desirability; few people, especially out of the brief holiday season; poor resources, unless you valued pine trees and the thin fishing stocks left in the area; and very poor communications. Mobile network coverage was dire, unless you had a SHADO mobile, linked to some of the most secret and technologically advanced satellite systems.

All in all not the sort of place you would expect to be a UFO target. But here they were, again. The sixth time in as many months. It was all very perplexing. And he didn’t like being perplexed. It made him feel as if he were merely a pawn in their games. An insignificant piece of the puzzle. One of those minor pieces that you could afford to discard without affecting the bigger picture.

He liked to be in control, to see where all the pieces went, where they were going to end up, and how his actions could affect the final result. He liked being able to affect the final result. It was the only thing that made his work worthwhile.

He finished his coffee and headed back to his office, to sit. You could solve quite a few problems by just sitting around, as he had often told Alec. Leaning back in his chair, fingers interlaced, he let his gaze wander around the room, idly, not really looking, just meditating.

He caught sight of his chess board in the corner of the room. It was a fairly new addition to his office and somewhat of an anachronism really. He usually had little time to spare for playing chess, much as he enjoyed it, but after his visit to Tracy Island he had found it a very therapeutic activity; hence the chess board.

He was currently involved in an internet match with theTracypilot, Virgil, and it was beginning to get interesting. He studied the board, anticipating Virgil’s next move; probably Qh6 – g5. If so he could really make things difficult for Virgil by moving Nb7 – d6. That would put the cat among the pigeons. Anyway, he had other things to think about now. Chess would have to wait.

And he focussed on the more complex and important problem at hand.

UFOs. Always heading for the same area, always flying over the North Sea up theSolway Firthand then; well, generally, then they were shot down, to crash in the sea. The only problem was that it was becoming too predictable, too easy.

And more often than not there was little or no wreckage to be found. It was getting to the stage where he felt like stationing a Skydiver almost permanently off the coast of the Isle of Man, or perhaps the zone to the north of Rathlin Island would be better; it was more isolated and further off the major ferry routes.

Maybe it was time to send in the big guns. Time for Alec Freeman to earn his salary. He smiled ruefully and picked up the phone.

 

Chapter 1

Opening Game the formal sequence of moves at the start of a chess game

‘A weekend in a Scottish country hotel. What strings did you pull to get this Ed?’ His Chief of Security leaned across and smiled enthusiastically

He had to lean close to her to be heard over the noise of the rotors. ‘I promised the owner I would give his mistress a leading role in the next adult movie we make,’ and grinned at her, knowing full well that she did not believe him for one second.

‘Ed.’ The tone in her voice was enough.

‘Alec told me about this place last year after I sent him up here. There had been some fairly concentrated UFO activity locally and I wanted him to investigate. He didn’t find anything, apart from this hotel which he visited briefly and raved about. I always wanted the chance to come here and this seemed like the ideal opportunity, although I have my suspicions that he was more interested in its range of single malts than its accommodation. With that UFO last month also heading for this area, I decided that it was about time I came out myself to see what was going on. Although I hate to say it, Alec must have missed something, but I have read all his reports, and went through the evidence and I can’t find anything amiss. Still, two heads are better than one.’ He looked at her, smiling, until he saw the annoyed look on her face.

‘So I am only along to help you solve a SHADO problem,’ she complained, then grinned at his abashed expression. ‘Don’t worry. Ed, I know how important this is. If we manage to get a short break as well, that is a bonus.’ She smiled at him and leaned across to give him a brief kiss. ‘I just hope you haven’t booked separate rooms.’

He smirked at her, ‘Actually, they only had a double left. I hope you don’t mind? As my subordinate you will have to sleep on the sofa,’ and he had to duck quickly as she reached out to hit him in jest.

He looked out of the window at the view below. TheSolway Firth, glistening with the perfect early afternoon sunshine; an armada of yachts all nestled in the small bay opposite the hotel. It was the ideal place for a short break.

He had almost been glad of the most recent UFO assault in this area; it had given him the opportunity to get away from HQ for a while. He didn’t see what Alec Freeman could possibly have missed in his investigations, but it did give Straker an excuse for a holiday with his fiancée. It was a good thing that SHADO and the studios were relatively quiet; otherwise he would have been unable to justify taking his Chief of Security with him on what would turn out to be, hopefully, a casual break.

Straker was relieved that the hotel did not have facilities for a helicopter landing pad. It would have made them far too noticeable and he intended that for this weekend they would both be just another ordinary couple on holiday. Arriving in a well-equipped, almost military-style helicopter would have been rather ostentatious. The Shadair copter was to land at a nearby army airfield, adjacent to a military shooting range, instead and Straker had arranged for a hire car to be waiting there for Rachel and him.

The helicopter touched down and they waited for the rotors to slow.

‘Good afternoon Commander, Colonel,’ the Base Captain greeted them, unaware of their exact status, but having been forewarned of their titles by his General. The Captain had been distinctly unhappy when he had been ordered to provide landing facilities for what to all intents and purposes were a couple of civilians. He had soon been put right, though. He remembered the uncomfortable telling-off he had been subjected to after complaining about the army providing facilities for wealthy Americans who had more money than sense.

‘Captain Moore, you will accord the two passengers the highest respect and regard. Although I am not at liberty to divulge any further information, you will be meeting the Commander-in-Chief of the most important organisations in the world. One of his Colonels will also be accompanying him. Please ensure that security is at maximum. I do not want to hear one whisper of this visit escaping from the barracks. Is that understood?’

‘Perfectly, General.’ and Captain Moore did. He watched as the two passengers disembarked and headed for their nondescript hire car. Definitely one military person; the man, tall, slender, and with military bearing despite being dressed casually.

She however was harder to define. There was that same aura of determination about her, a sense of toughness and what he would call presence, but her attitude towards the man she was accompanying was far too…. how did one define it? Deferential certainly, but also more than that. Intense? Passionate? Surely not.

And then she stopped and looked at the Commander and Captain Moore knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were deeply in love with each other. He wished his wife looked at him in that way. He wondered what it was like being loved by a woman like that.

One of the security guards provided by the Base Captain loaded their cases into the trunk, or boot as Straker remembered it was called here, before saluting smartly and getting into the jeep to escort them to the main exit.

Straker had given the map a quick glance, and that was all that was needed for him to fix the route firmly in his mind. He switched off the bland, androgynous sat nav

Once off the base the roads were clear of traffic; only a few heavy lorries, heading from the ferry terminal at Stranraer, to overtake. It was a pleasant journey, being able to drive himself, with no escort car trailing behind. SHADO’s Chief of Security had been adamant that additional agents were unnecessary, especially as she was travelling with him. Besides, this was hopefully going to be more of a holiday than work, and she most certainly did not want to be spied on by secret service men, not when she was with her fiancé.

Rachel Philips had definite plans for this weekend.

The hotel, at the end of a long road, single track with occasional passing places, was on the very edge of the bay. White painted walls, grey window lintels and gravel pathways. A typical Scottish country house with a gentle rolling hill behind leading to dense woodland on the top. Forestry Commission woodland, from the looks of it; with regimented rows of evenly spaced pines lined up like chess pieces on a board, ready and waiting to be harvested.

He parked the rather jaded Mondeo next to the row of expensive cars, personalised number plates in abundance, that fringed the car park.

‘Perhaps we should have brought the Saab,’ he said dryly, as they paced across the gravel to the Reception area which was as splendid as expected; expensive chequerboard patterned carpets, heavy antique furniture beautifully polished and maintained, with original oil paintings hanging in every available space on the wood panelled walls, and with that indefinable aura of grand country living permeating throughout.

They went through the usual formalities, credit card, signing in, and Rachel tried hard not to laugh when Ed realised that he had no idea of the registration of the car.

‘Honestly Ed,’ she smiled, ‘you can recall all the command codes for every section and yet you can’t remember a number plate.’

‘It’s not my fault.’ he pleaded, grinning ruefully, ‘I just drive the thing. I don’t have to remember silly details like registrations.’

His American accent caught the attention of a burly, thick-set man entering the wide welcoming hallway.

Straker heard him mutter disparagingly, ‘Americans. Think they own the place. Typical.’

Ed watched him go up the curving staircase, noting the way he held his partner’s arm possessively and controlling, the way he spoke to the small child following them, barely disguising his contempt for the young boy.

‘Hurry up Michael. Do you have to dawdle everywhere? ’

Straker felt a hand on his arm and realised that he had been tense with anger at the other guest’s behaviour.

‘Forget it Ed. He’s not worth the effort.’ she spoke quietly and he relaxed and turned back to the receptionist.

‘Car registration? Oh yes…..’

Their room was perfect. A huge bay window overlooked the beach with a headland to their right; there was a bathroom with a tub big enough for a rugby team, and the room itself was dominated by a luxurious four poster bed. He raised an eyebrow at this and she smiled with sheer delight, glancing up at him mischievously.

‘Come on. Let’s get out and walk along the beach. I’d like to get an idea of the layout of the area and I could do with some fresh air after the last few days. I don’t think I saw daylight at all during the whole week.’ He put on his leather jacket.

The beach was shingle; small, neat water-rolled pebbles slithering and tumbling underfoot as they walked. She picked up various ones, admiring the smoothness, the colours, the banding, then tossed them away to join the thousands of others lying on the sea washed shoreline, commenting on their origins and formation. He watched, amused at her interest; to him rocks were just rocks and he told her so.

‘Philistine.’ She mocked him in jest and tossed the next pebble at him, and he caught it almost absent-mindedly.

He walked beside her, enjoying the feeling of freedom but, as always, keeping a part of his mind prepared for any eventuality. Even in jeans, sweatshirt and leather jacket he still wore his holster and gun. He might be on holiday, but the aliens didn’t take any notice of that.

Unfortunately.

Perhaps next time he decided to have a holiday he would send the aliens an advance notice.

Commander Straker invites you to join him on his vacation.

Details as follows; …..

RSVP

At least then he would be ready for them.

 

Chapter 2

The headland led to a deserted, abandoned castle ruin. Built of closely fitted red sandstone blocks, it perched on the top of the headland, a mere shadow of its once imposing bulk. Dark holes gaped in its crumbling walls; vegetation grew freely in the cracks and spiral stairways led up to long disappeared levels. The storerooms and cellars and dungeons below ground had been blocked off years before by collapsed walls and subsidence. A couple of crenellated turrets still remained, no longer accessible, but still keeping guard like sentries on duty.

Once it had been a local vantage point used to keep lookout for invaders, to help protect the local minor laird from attack, with Great Hall and armoury and storerooms heaving with soldiers and workers. Now it was empty, unused and redundant; its stones taken to repair nearby farm buildings.

He imagined SHADO’s HQ one day in the future; deserted, abandoned, left to ruin, its resources pilfered to replenish other more useful bases. He wondered who would take the mural behind the conference table, then shook his head. Getting maudlin in your old age Straker, he thought. But it was a grimly realistic thought.

One day, hopefully one day, SHADO would cease to be needed, and what would he do then? The thought worried him slightly, but also thrilled him. To be able to lead his own life, even if he did have to carry on as Film Executive. At least it paid well. And he was good at it. Very good at it indeed. His rapidly increasing collection of Oscars proved that.

His mind strayed further. Perhaps he shouldn’t have come away this weekend; perhaps he should have stayed in HQ where he would have been able to deal first hand with this current situation.

She must have realised what he was feeling and she reached for his hand, holding it tightly. ‘Stop thinking about work, Ed. They’ll call you if they need you remember?’ and she kissed him gently as if the touch of her lips could remove his worries.

He leaned on the crumbling stonework overlooking the bay. Out in the middle of the water a small island guarded the bay. Firmly placed as a sentinel, its steep cliffs shunned any attempt at casual exploration. He could see the white dots of sheep on the grassy top and wondered who was watching over them.

The island seemed to be a fortress of its own, secure and safe, unapproachable and well-defended by the ocean. It would be interesting to go out there and look more closely at it sometime, but this weekend was all the time he could spare between meetings and studio work. He hoped that the little local problem with the aliens would be resolved speedily and then they could relax for a short time before heading back to HQ on Monday.

Back at the hotel they changed for dinner. She had brought a pale blue dress, the exact colour of his eyes, long and fitted, slightly shimmering; its narrow straps emphasising her slender shoulders. He fastened a single strand of pearls around her neck and then changed into his cream suit, the one she preferred, his holster concealed under the jacket. It was ingrained into him; he had no intention of using the weapon, it was simply that he felt somehow naked without it.

The large oak-beamed dining room was decorated in the traditional style. Suits of armour, like robotic knights, stood guard in the niches; claymores and battleaxes crossed blades high on the walls and, Rachel had to laugh, but laughed quietly, above the stone fireplace hung the ubiquitous stag’s head. Glassy-eyed, open-mouthed, it stared out over the room, as if monitoring the guests to ensure their good behaviour.

‘Remind you of anyone?’ she whispered to him.

‘Definitely James Henderson,’ he whispered back, ‘I recognise the moment; just about to bellow at me when I ask for more money.’

Their table was discreetly positioned in a corner, and Straker, as ever security conscious, sat facing the room, watching the other diners as they entered, alert, aware, even when somewhere as remote as this.

The couple he had noticed earlier were seated nearby. The wife, at least he assumed it was the wife, looking small as if to trying to hide from view; the boy, blonde haired like his mother hunched in his seat, head down, fiddling with his napkin.

Straker could hear the man’s voice, dominating the room as he expounded his opinions on the accommodation, the surrounding countryside and the lack of attractions. The SHADO Commander made a quick assessment; a large, blustering man, going to seed rather early in life, probably a relatively successful business man with his own company, and overly fond of alcohol. Ed decided that he would avoid meeting the small family group if at all possible.

The meal was excellent, service discreet and efficient, and they were relaxing over coffee when his phone buzzed, even though he had turned it off. It could only be one thing.

‘Damn,’ he muttered to her, ‘HQ.’

He turned aside to be more private so that the other diners would not be able to lip-read his conversation. Security conscious as ever.

‘Straker.’ a quiet voice, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Rachel watched and waited, concerned.

‘Sorry to trouble you Ed. Thought you should know. Incoming. In your area. Sky 7 in position. I suggest you both stay indoors this evening, just in case they are after either of you. I’m getting back-up in the area as soon as possible in case something goes wrong. It’s only one; Moonbase got the others and Carlin is well positioned for an interception. It could just be a repeat of last year’s activity, although I thought we’d finally persuaded them to leave that area alone.’

‘Thanks Alec, I’ll tell Rachel. Do you need us to come back?’

‘No, that shouldn’t be necessary. Just stay indoors and stay safe.’

‘Will do. Keep me informed.’ Straker put the phone down and looked at Rachel with exasperation.

‘Do they want us back?’ she asked quietly.

‘No, just one in this area. Alec wants us to stay inside for the evening. Peter Carlin is on the job. There shouldn’t be any problems.’ he told her, although part of him needed to be there in the Control room overseeing the operation. Still, it was just the one and Alec was perfectly capable of dealing with that.

Straker could see the man with the small wife and subdued son watching him disapprovingly.

‘Rachel. Shall we?’ he asked and she stood up as he held her chair, then she led the way out. He heard a comment from behind him, a comment supposedly not for his ears, but spoken in a way that he could not help but overhear.

‘Bloody Americans making phone calls in the dining room.’

Straker paused and for one gloriously evil moment visualised himself going back across the room, pulling out his Glock and ramming it against the ear of the unpleasant little upstart. No, he reasoned, it would also frighten his wife and child, who already looked frightened enough.

Instead he had to content himself with a contemptuous stare at the man who reddened and turned away.

Rachel was waiting for him in the doorway, watching him stride confidently, assuredly across to her.

‘You look like you intended doing something thoroughly nasty to him Ed,’ she grinned, ‘Ignore him. There are always little people trying to justify themselves at the expense of others.’ and she took his arm and kissed him, a long, hard kiss in full view of the diners.

‘There,’ she said, releasing him. ‘Better?’

He was silent, just looked at her, his blue eyes staring, still and focussed, unwilling to break the spell she had just placed on him.

‘Come on.’ she said, ‘If we have to stay indoors tonight I think we should head for the lounge. At the very least I can have a glass of wine and try to beat you at chess.’

He followed her out into the elegant country house lounge with its random sofas in small groups around tables, and open fires at either end of the room.

They sat down, chess board on the table between them, playing with fierce concentration and competitiveness, although she knew that he was seriously distracted by the earlier phone call from Alec. The enemy never seemed to leave them alone, but it did mean that she had a chance of beating him for a change.

They had been playing for some time when he became aware that they were being watched. He looked up.

 

Chapter 3

The blonde haired boy, aged about eight, stood there, watching them play, his eyes riveted to the chess board. For one moment Straker thought he saw John standing there, a few years older but still John. This boy had the same intensity in his eyes, the same eagerness to learn and the same fragile look that John had. There was a sudden pain deep within him. A physical hurt that reached into his chest and grabbed his heart as if it would stop it beating.

He took a deep breath to focus on reality. The boy. A stranger, not John. Remember that, he thought to himself although his heart ached with the desire for the boy to be his son.

‘Hello,’ he said in a voice that trembled so slightly that a casual observer would never notice. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Michael.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Michael. I’m Ed Straker and this is Rachel, my fiancée. Do you play chess?’

Michael hesitated then answered in a quiet, diffident tone, ‘Yes, but I don’t play at home. I’m in the chess club at school though.’

‘Excellent. Would you like to join us? I’m sure your parents won’t mind, will they?’

Michael looked anxiously back at his mother, sitting in the depths of the overstuffed armchair as if hoping it would swallow her. She smiled at him, a small, tight smile as if afraid for him.

‘Mum doesn’t mind.’ Michael looked relieved.

‘Good. Sit next to Rachel then and help her beat me. It’s your move Rachel. You might want to go over your strategies with Michael. I’ll just go and introduce myself to your mother, Michael if that’s okay?’

He stood up and crossed to where the thin, worn woman sat, quiet and reticent.

‘Good evening. You’re Michael’s mother?’

‘I’m sorry, is he intruding?’ she seemed inordinately concerned that her son should not be a nuisance.

‘Not at all. I’m always pleased when a child is interested in chess. It shows a keen mathematical mind and the ability to think ahead. I just thought I should introduce myself.’ And he handed over a business card. ‘Ed Straker. I’m here for a short break with my fiancée. Michael is welcome to join us for a while as long as you don’t mind.’

‘Thank you Mr Straker. Michael loves playing chess, but doesn’t get much opportunity. His stepfather doesn’t think it’s a proper activity. Nigel would rather Michael was playing football.’ He smiled up at him.

He realised that she was had been, once, very attractive, and had probably been slightly plump with a soft roundness to her body, but was now thin and gaunt, with lines of tiredness and stress showing on her face. He wondered what her husband had done to her to make her look so old before her time.

Rachel and Michael were obviously sharing some secret, due to their conspiratorial glances and smothered giggles. He sat down, aware that he was the focus of their attention and also aware that Michael looked relaxed and confident, a far cry from earlier on when he had been obviously in fear of his stepfather.

‘Your move, Ed.’ Rachel informed him, eyes glinting with amusement. ‘Michael doesn’t need any help from me; he’s got his game all planned out.’

He paused, analysed the board, wondering what they had seen that he had missed. He took his time then carefully moved his bishop, knowing that he had not been concentrating on the game properly before and might have missed an opportunity.

They played on for a few moves, Straker beginning to realise that this boy was indeed good. Good enough to beat him if fact, especially as Ed had not given his full attention to the game.

Michael looked knowingly at Rachel, put his hand out and slid his queen into play. An innocuous move to all intents and purposes.

Straker responded with his queen and then sat back staring almost accusingly at Rachel as he suddenly realised what Michael’s move had achieved. ‘Damn,’ he said softly, admiringly, to himself

The youngster took Straker’s rook. ‘Check.’ He paused, worried that his opponent might take offence.

‘Excellent move.’ Straker smiled at him, reassuring the boy and then sat there, studying the board, playing out strategies. ‘Mate in what, four moves? I resign.’

And he tipped his King over, looking approvingly at the young boy. ‘Or would you rather play to the end and beat me properly?’

For one fleeting second Michael looked scared as if he was waiting for some verbal or physical assault for having dared to beat an adult.

‘No? Well played, very well played Michael. Would you like another game? That is if Rachel doesn’t mind?’ Straker put his hand out to shake the young boy’s small, almost underdeveloped hand with its badly bitten fingernails.

‘Really?’ Michael still seemed unsure

‘Really.’ Straker confirmed.

They set up the board again and began. It was deadly serious. Ed had no time for people who allowed children to win every time. This boy had a gift for chess, and Straker wanted to see for himself just how talented he really was.

The two of them were concentrating on the board to the exclusion of everything around them, when Michael’s stepfather arrived from the bar.

Red-faced with alcohol he was in no mood to listen to explanations from his wife. He saw his stepson associating with the abhorrent American and stepped up, jolting the chess board aggressively so that the antique ivory and jet figures fell over, tumbling and rolling on the chequered surface.

One of the bishops rolled to the edge and would have fallen had Straker not reached out and caught it. He held it, clasped firmly in his fingers, reluctant to put it down onto the board as if it would have been at risk of further onslaught had he replaced it.

‘Michael. Go to bed. Now.’ his stepfather ordered, ‘and you, you keep your hands off my son. I know your sort.’

If it hadn’t been for the young boy, standing there terrified, Straker would have stood up and let the stepfather attack him. It would have been immensely satisfying using his self-defence skills and getting the drunken lout firmly on the floor in one or two swift moves.

But no; there was a small boy to consider.

‘Thank you Michael,’ he said, smiling at the lad, ‘You are a very good player. I hope you keep it up. Your mother has my details if you want to finish this game anytime.’

He turned away from the scene, unwilling to watch the boy being dragged back to his mother by the irate man.

Rachel approached, wine glass in hand. ‘What was all that about?’ she asked worriedly.

‘Oh just a drunken incompetent dad not able to deal with a more capable son.’ He told her, ‘let’s go upstairs. I don’t want any more hassle tonight.’

In the safety and privacy of their room he contacted HQ and got the latest updates. The UFO had gone to ground, or rather to water, some five miles out to sea in their approximate area.

‘Should be safe though Ed,’ Alec reassured him. ‘Sky 7 is on patrol and we think it was damaged before it hit the water so chances are it has probably started to disintegrate already. Diver 7 is heading for the area now to begin searching for wreckage.’

Reassured, he put the phone away and went to join Rachel.

Chapter 4

‘SHADO HQ to Sky 7, Freeman here. Have you got any news Peter?’ Alec Freeman was getting concerned at the lack of results. ‘We could really do to find that wreckage before it disintegrates. Do you need any underwater support?’

‘Colonel, it’s rather difficult finding anything here. There’s a vicious undersea current just off shore, and we are still trying to work out where the UFO could be. Chances are it has been swept away but with the tide going out it’s taking longer to calculate the exact location. It could be that it has been beached further along the coast. The support team will be useful sir, when they arrive.’

‘We are just getting the team finalised Peter. A fully equipped search unit with three mobiles and support helicopters. They should be with you in a couple of hours. Just remember that the Commander and Colonel Philips are in that area right now. I hope this isn’t an attempt by the aliens to get the two of them.’ Freeman closed the connection and turned to the woman standing impatiently at his shoulder. ‘Okay Ginny, tell me.’

The attractive, blonde woman smiled at him. She and Alec Freeman had been seeing each other for several months now and so far the relationship was developing into something more than a casual fling. Alec was still wary of commitment though, andVirginiaLakewas determined to make him change his mind. Alec was too unadventurous really when it came to serious relationships.

‘Right Colonel. Following last year’s activity in the zone I researched the whole area and found some previously unknown data that puts a whole new light on the alien incursions there. Did you know that there are three abandoned strontium mines near the UFO trajectory terminations?’

‘Strontium? That’s…’

‘An alkaline metal. Silvery-grey and forms a radioisotope, strontium-90, which is used in nuclear power sources. The mines were abandoned when other richer sources were found in areas easier to mine. I speculate that the aliens are targeting that particular area in an attempt to get their hands on whatever deposits still remain in the mines. We have found traces of strontium-90 in the wreckage of UFOs that have been recovered which suggest that it is a necessary component of their craft.’ She looked at him, waiting for the questions to start.

‘So why did we not get this information last year? Why did it take until now to find out about these mines? It would have put a completely different perspective on the investigation last year. I would have put a full scale search into place. As it was, we found absolutely nothing to explain why the UFOs were targeting the area. Damn. Ed won’t be happy.’ He was angry, but not with her.

‘It seems that the geological data that we were given by the military was inaccurate and out-of-date. They obviously didn’t think we were serious when we said what we needed. Don’t worry….’ she told him before he could interrupt her, ‘I have written a report for the Commander. I think it would be best to let him deal with the people concerned.’

She grinned at him. Straker in a bad mood was not a pleasant sight, especially if he was dealing with someone’s incompetence.

The fact that this incident also involved UFO’s, increased the anger factor. Both Colonels knew that some paper-pushing official who had obviously not done his job thoroughly would be out of work very shortly.

And why not? SHADO were dealing with people’s lives every day, and Straker and his team demanded the highest commitment from everyone. And officials who did not meet Straker’s exceptionally high standards were removed from their posts as soon as possible, whoever they worked for. Ed Straker had friends in high places and was not afraid to use them.

Thinking of the boss made Alec wonder if he should contact Ed to warn him about the possible alien interest in the mines.

No, he decided. They had only just got to the hotel. Let them have at least one peaceful night there before involving them in SHADO affairs. Nothing would happen overnight, Alec was sure of that. He would contact Ed first thing in the morning and bring him up to date on events.

Decision made he went to organise the support team, ensuring that the members were heavily armed and aware of the recent developments.

 

Chapter 5

Middle Game the central phase of the game

He was woken from a deep, agreeable sleep by the sound of doors banging and raised voices. A woman was crying, almost hysterically. It was just after eleven.

Rachel, head resting on his chest murmured sleepily. ‘What’s happening?’

‘Don’t know. Stay there, I’ll go and check.’ He found his discarded pyjamas and put them on, slipping on his dressing gown, and picked up his Glock from under his pillow, holding it securely hidden in his pocket.

The corridor outside was busy with people; the night manager, assorted night staff and there in the back the obnoxious man and his wife. She had been the one crying, he realised. She was still sobbing almost uncontrollably.

‘Be quiet, can’t you for once.’ Her husband turned on her, his hand almost raised to strike.

Straker stepped forward. ‘What’s happened?’ he interrupted the group calmly, quietly, controlled. The composure of his voice stilled the noise. The night manager turned to him, relieved to have someone else to deal with, to be able to ignore the unpleasant dispute between the angry husband and distraught wife.

‘This couple’s young son,’ he began.

‘Michael?’ Straker interjected anxiously.

‘Yes Michael. He is not in his room. He went to bed at about nine, and when his mother checked on him thirty minutes ago he was not in his room. It looks like his bed hasn’t been slept in. We think he left the hotel shortly after being sent to bed.’

Straker turned back to go to his room.

‘That’s right. Turn away. That’s all you are good for.’ the stepfather called after him.

Straker picked up his phone from his bedside. ‘Michael is missing. We’re going to need your help.’ he told Rachel who was watching sleepily but curious, and headed back into the hallway, speed dialling HQ, his eyes fixed firmly on the group.

‘Straker.’ his voice cold and authoritarian, watching the stepfather. ‘Alec. We have a situation here. A missing child……. Yes……. aged…’ he looked up. ‘How old is Michael?’

The stepfather was silent.

‘Ten, he’s just had his tenth birthday.’ Michael’s mother answered.

‘Alec, the boy is ten, but looks much younger. Get Peter Carlin to start searching this area. Thermal, night vision, everything. It could just be a coincidence but I don’t want to take the risk after what happened last year. Rachel and I will start a search outside the building……. yes I know, but we know what we might be up against. We’re both equipped. Keep in contact.’

He put the phone away in his robe pocket, ‘Now. Michael. What is he likely to be wearing?’

This time it was the stepfather who answered. Surly and unfriendly but now realising that here was someone who had more authority than he had, despite being a foreigner.

‘His jeans and sweatshirt are missing. Dark jeans, pale blue sweatshirt. He hasn’t taken his coat. Can you help us?’

Straker didn’t bother to answer, just turned to Rachel who was by now dressed in her outdoor walking gear and ready, though her hair was ruffled and she still looked deliciously, temptingly, half-asleep.

‘Alec has a support team already on the way to help Carlin. They are going to come here first and help us. Can you set up a perimeter search with the staff? I’ll get dressed and join you. Are you armed?’ His last comment was quiet, not meant to be overheard.

She nodded. ‘Yes to both. I’ll get onto it right away.’

He went into their room, the bedcovers still rumpled and askew; pulled his clothes from the wardrobe and stripped off dressing gown and pyjamas. Dressed quickly and efficiently, adding shoulder holster, gun and spare magazine, phone, leather jacket. Ready.

Downstairs he met up with Rachel who had acted as he would have expected. Staff had been organised into groups and assigned zones for the search. That left the parents. Straker went to them, where they were sitting, opposite each other, not touching, not looking, their body language cold and unloving.

She was even paler than before and smaller, and she shrank back in the chair as he approached.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I don’t know your name.’

‘Carter, Suzanne Carter but Michael’s surname is King.’ she told him diffidently

‘Mrs Carter,’ he sat next to her, ‘I have a group of men coming to search for your son. They are used to doing this sort of work and I hope they will find him very quickly. In fact,’ he stopped speaking as he heard the distinct sound of Sky 7 fly in a slow circle overhead, ‘that’s one of them now. Have you got any idea of where Michael could have gone? Did he talk about any particular places nearby that he wanted to see?’

The boy’s stepfather snorted, ‘Michael was only interested in two things. Couldn’t get him to watch or play any sports. Only wanted to play chess or study geology. Stones. What kind of boy is that?’

‘A very intelligent one from all accounts Mr Carter.’ Straker answered him in a tone bordering on contempt.

He turned his attention to the Night Manager. ‘I want to see a current Ordnance Survey map of this area, as high definition as possible. And I’ll need a flashlight.’

He waited impatiently while they searched, until they came back with a map which he spread out on the table, perusing it with care and marking on it several points.

‘It’s unlikely that he would have gone into the woods at night unless there was some specific purpose, some particular reason to go there. Did Michael have a torch?’

‘Only a small one, nothing very powerful,’ his mother answered.

‘Well, if he’s out in the open our search plane will find him soon,’ Straker told them.

‘Was that what I heard before?’ Mr Carter, less belligerently now, asked. ‘It sounded much more powerful.’

’I’m an exceedingly wealthy American, Mr Carter, I have access to exceedingly powerful aircraft.’ Straker smiled a cold tight smile that did not reach to his eyes.

His phone bleeped. ‘Straker…… I see…. Thank you. Continue to search and extend the grid by another five hundred metres in all directions.’ He put the phone down. ‘No sign of him above ground, but that doesn’t mean he has gone out of the search area. This Ordnance Survey map shows that the whole of this region is riddled with caves and a few disused mines. Strontium mines for the most part. There are three in this immediate area. It’s more than likely that he has gone to explore one of the mines, if he is as interested in geology as you say, and has simply got lost in the dark. There aren’t many strontium mines still accessible.’

He stopped and looked at them. ‘I suggest you both stay here. If Michael returns he will want to see you. I’ll head out and start looking in the mines. I have the hotel number. I’ll call you if I find him, and you call me if he turns up here. You have my card, Mrs Carter?’

She hesitated, and he knew that her husband had torn it up. ‘Here, don’t lose this one. Callme.’ and Straker was gone.

 

Chapter 6

Outside in the cool of the night he met up with Rachel to discuss the search. With his eidetic memory he could visualise the position of the mines almost as if the map was imprinted on his mind.

‘Chances are good that he headed for the mines just on the other side of the headland,’ he told her ‘If so, Carlin won’t pick up any thermal signals from him and the strontium will prevent me using my phone to communicate. I’m heading that way. Do you want to come or would you be better organising the search from here?’

She looked thoughtful. ‘If phones won’t work then I’ll stay here at first. That way someone will know where you are going and I can join you when the team arrive. Just phone me before you go underground won’t you?’

He looked at her with renewed admiration for her calm and controlled attitude, and kissed her quickly, a hurried goodbye before he strode off to the car, the borrowed flashlight bouncing beams of light across the car park.

The headlights lit the rough farm track as he drove up the fairly short track to the woods at the top of the hill overlooking the bay. The farm track petered out to a single pathway under the sullen black trees standing lookout and soldierly in the dark.

The three mines were all located on the other side of the wood, close to where it bordered the coast on the other side of the headland. He looked back at the hotel down below, nestling in the curve of the bay, and at the ruined castle further on. Was that a light in the castle? Or just moonlight reflected from the sea? It was hard to tell.

He called Captain Carlin and asked him to check the area of the castle once more with thermal imaging. But he didn’t think the boy was there. There was little in the castle to interest a lad keen on geology.

He headed under the silent cover of the trees, feet slurring on the dry pine needles that lay thickly underfoot, his flashlight disturbing rooks who angrily chattered at him as he passed under them. Above the tree canopy, stars could be seen in the gaps between branches, between rows.

The Milky Way was a glittering band of spattered lights. He wished he could spare the time to stop and look. He didn’t get the opportunity for star-gazing at night when he was at the studios; the street lights made it impossible to see anything apart from a hazy orange blur across the sky.

Perhaps later.

He walked on, calling the boy’s name softly, not wanting to scare him. He knew that Michael would be unlikely to respond to an angry, loud voice. The boy was obviously cowed by his stepfather. Besides, in the silence, in the dark, a soft voice carried as clearly as a loud one and resonated less.

It would have been enjoyable, this quiet, solitary walk under the trees with the light from his flashlight and the occasional star from above, if it had not been for the missing boy.

Straker hoped the boy was safe, hoped he had simply gone into the mines and got scared, and had decided to stay there until help arrived. The other possibilities were too dreadful to consider. Aliens. With renewed UFO activity reported by HQ, it seemed likely that the aliens had somehow got a toehold in this immediate area.

Why? That was the burning question. Alec had found nothing last year to indicate why the area was so tempting to the aliens, but Alec had obviously not been informed about the Strontium mines. And yet that would explain the renewed activity. He carried on, his footsteps soft in the night, quiet and cautious, thinking about UFOs and strontium and missing children. Trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle into their correct places on the board.

Eventually the trees ended; suddenly he was under their murky shadow, then out into the sharper- shadowed light of the stars. The path continued, heading down the other side of the headland into the bay at the bottom.

The strontium mines were over to the left of the narrow track and he aimed in that direction, towards the ruined castle but from the other side, his visual imagery clearly recalling the map as if it was laid out in front of him.

The fence posts, old and leaning, joined by warped wire strands were the first indication of the site of the mines. He lifted up the wire and bent down to step through the gap. The trees were well behind him now and ahead the ground sloped down to the cliff edge. Not a high cliff, but enough to be a hazard.

The mine entrance, at least the first mine entrance, was dug into the hillside to his left. He could see its dark gaping mouth in the moonlight. As he headed towards it, Sky 7 flew overhead, noisy, deafening but very reassuring. He made a quick call to Rachel to tell her where he was heading and to confirm his position, then stepped into the thicker darkness of the mine.

It had been abandoned for decades now, and although it was still explored by random passers-by who sometimes made their way several yards into its claustrophobic interior, it had not had many visitors over the years.

Broken lengths of timber lay on the floor sinking slowly into the thick, gluey mud where rainwater had pooled in the hollows.

There was the sour, acid smell of animal urine and dung; foxes, he thought, rank and unpleasant. ‘Michael.’ He called out, ‘It’s Ed Straker.’

There was no answer. As he ventured further into the stygian gloom he looked at the drier dust on the floor. No recent footprints. Michael had not come in here. Grateful to get out of the close confines of the tunnel he backtracked into the fresh night air and called in.

Rachel had organised the search of the castle, more to give the staff something to do than in hope of finding the boy. The SHADO team from HQ were arriving shortly and she would come and join him with a small rescue team in the SHADO helicopter when the group landed. There was nothing else to report.

Straker moved on, across the top of the cliffs, sea on his right, rolling grassland on his left. A second mine. Boarded up with heavy stones preventing the rough planks from being moved.

There was one more mine ahead. The largest.

He paced the rough track looking for the entrance, moving the flashlight around in a wide arc, piercing the darkness. There it was, a hundred yards or so ahead.

Then, above him Sky 7 started to circle, its searchlight casting a wide disk of light onto the ground, Straker at its centre. He looked up, grinning with relief at the sight of the powerful craft. Peter Carlin switched on his speaker and the sound focussed on the man standing in the circle.

‘Commander, good to see you. I’ll wait here until the rescue team catch up to you and then I’ll head back to sea. We’re still searching for wreckage.’ Straker waved at him in acknowledgement and watched as Carlin continued his circling, his superb piloting skills keeping Straker in the very centre of his light as the Commander headed for the mine entrance. Once there, he again called Rachel to tell her where he was.

‘I’ll be coming to join you with three members, in the rescue copter when it arrives. We’ll be another twenty minutes or so. The others are waiting in the hotel for Carlin to tell them what to do.’ she told him. ’Take care Ed. If Michael’s in there and hasn’t come out he could be hurt. Be careful won’t you.’

‘Yes mother,’ he replied, in a slightly exasperated tone and heard her laugh. ‘Going in now. Speak to you shortly.’ And the phone went dead as he entered.

 

Chapter 7

This was far more promising. A much bigger mine, with some rudimentary equipment still in place; just the sort of place a boy interested in geology might want to explore, and the sort of place his stepfather would deride.

‘Michael?’ his voice echoed in the tunnels.

He eased himself in past the party blocked entrance, careful not to crack his head on the overhanging and protruding rocks that stuck out at odd angles. Grass and other roots had grown down through the roof making made a thick cobweb-like curtain that tangled and brushed through his hair as he pushed through it. He traversed the rough passageway for a hundred yards, calling as he went.

And then, ahead, he heard it. A soft cry as if of pain, of fear, of worry.

‘Michael, it’s Ed Straker. Are you alright?’ his voice was gentle, concerned, not wanting to add to the boy’s distress.

‘Mr Straker?’ Ed could hear the desperate relief. ‘Mr Straker, I’ve hurt my leg.’

‘Hang on Michael, I’m nearly with you.’ He squeezed carefully past a fallen boulder that had partially blocked the main tunnel. The tunnels gradually widened out and ahead he could see an open space, more of a large cave than a tunnel really, stretching into the darkness, columns of rough hewn rock left in random places to support the roof.

Ahead of him in the bright beam of the flashlight, he saw the boy lying on the floor, one leg bent under him in an awkward position. Straker hurried over, putting the flashlight down beside the boy and carefully checking the twisted leg to check for broken bones. Michael tried desperately not to cry but the shock, the pain and the relief were overwhelming and he began to sob, wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve, embarrassed.

‘Here, use this.’ Straker handed him a clean handkerchief, in a casual manner and the boy gradually calmed himself as his rescuer continued calmly to assess the damage to the boy’s leg. He saw the boy’s discarded torch lying on the floor and picked it up, slipping it into his pocket.

‘Sorry if this hurts, Michael. It looks like you’ve broken one of the bones in your leg. It’s going to be painful and you won’t be able to walk on it. I can’t get help because phones don’t work down here. I need to get outside to make the call.’

‘Please don’t leave me alone,’ the boy was almost distraught, pleading and grabbing Straker’s arm to prevent him from leaving.

‘I promise I’ll only be five minutes, Michael. Trust me. I can’t move you by myself, it would hurt you too much. I can leave the flashlight here for you so you won’t be in the dark.’ Straker tried to reassure the boy but to no avail.

‘Don’t go. They’ll come back if you leave me. I’m scared of them. Please don’t leave me.’

‘Scared of who, Michael?’ Straker reached inside his jacket for his gun, but refrained from taking it out. The boy was scared enough already without being even more intimidated by the sight of a weapon. ‘Who, Michael? It’s important. Very important.’ Straker’s voice was firm, authoritative, and Michael was scared into answering.

‘I only saw them once. I don’t think they saw me. They had red suits and helmets like the ones deep sea divers wear. They came from further up the tunnels and went over there. There were three of them’ He pointed to a narrow tunnel that led off the cavernous space.

Straker dropped to sit beside the boy and turned off the flashlight. ‘Michael, whatever you do now be silent. Don’t make a sound. Do you understand?’ he whispered. He knew that the aliens would be likely to return back into the cavern from the small side tunnel and that they would possibly see him and the boy.

‘Yes, but….’

‘Shhh, as quiet as possible Michael.’ Straker ordered.

‘But who are they?’ the boy whispered as Straker held him closely to comfort him and protect him from the evil in the darkness.

‘It doesn’t matter. Just be very, very quiet. With any luck they won’t notice us. Now. Silence. Just hold onto me as tight as you want.’ Straker thanked the gods that he was wearing his dark jeans and sweatshirt. He recalled the boy’s sweatshirt; pale blue and he shrugged out of his leather jacket and wrapped the child in it. Better. Michael needed the extra warmth as well as the camouflaged protection of the darker material. The boy’s eyes opened wide with fear at the sight of Straker’s shoulder holster and Glock, but he kept quiet, huddled in the comforting security and heat of the heavy leather jacket and the strength of Straker’s arms around him..

Ed Straker knew that Rachel would be expecting him to call in any minute, and would initiate a search as soon as he failed to contact her. But if there were aliens in the mine, Michael and he might easily be seen by the enemy and taken before the search team arrived.

They waited in silence. Straker could feel the boy’s heart pounding against his own chest, could hear his rapid breathing, and feel his thin body shaking with shock and pain and terror.

He held him tightly, wrapping his arms around the boy to keep him warm and quiet, and hopefully, safe.

Dear God, he couldn’t bear to let anything happen to this boy, this child who reminded him so much of John.

And then in the distance, from the direction that Michael had indicated, he saw a gleam of light as if from a lamp, and heard, faintly, very faintly, footsteps. Heavy metallic boots on the soft dusty floor.
They were suddenly there. The muted glow of their light reflecting off the rocky walls. Walls which glowed a faint yellow in the sparse traces of oxidised strontium that still remained untouched by the miners.

Three of them, tall and rangy, but with a muscular power stronger than you would expect for such thin bodies. Straker had always likened their strength to that of orang-utans. Surprising strength, immense strength in fact from such thin bodies.

He held the boy’s head firmly against his chest, one hand over Michael’s eyes.

‘Shh,’ he whispered, ‘don’t move.’

Straker remained frozen, only the gentle movement of his breathing indicating that he was alive. Even his eyes were still, half-closed to prevent them reflecting light, but open enough so that he could see what was about to happen.

Where had they come from? He could see the tunnel ahead, leading further into the depths of the hillside and he could understand why they might have been exploring or excavating the tunnels. After all strontium was a highly desirable resource and undoubtedly valuable to them. But where had they been hiding until now? And how had they got into the mines without being seen by someone?

The aliens, red-suited and helmeted, moved across the cavern, silently, just the soft footsteps echoing in the emptiness. He held his breath, as if not breathing would make him invisible, would protect this precious child from being seen. Please, he prayed, don’t let them get this child. Not this one.

And his prayer was answered.

The light gradually dimmed as the intruders headed back up the main tunnel away from them, away from the entrance.

Straker waited, waited desperately, impatiently, but also with the patience of someone who knows how important waiting can be. He held Michael’s head still, still keeping him quiet and controlled.

Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, an eternity in which stars were created, worlds formed, civilisations rose and fell, he thought it would finally be safe to move. He eased away from the boy and knelt by him. Straker switched the flashlight to soft beam, needing to see where he was stepping, but acutely aware that the light could alert the aliens to them. He put it in Michael’s hands.

‘You will need to hold the light so I can see. I’m going to pick you up and carry you out, Michael,’ he whispered. ‘It will hurt, hurt a lot, but you mustn’t make a sound. Can you do that?’

A small sob broke the silence. ‘Yes, I’ll try.’

‘Okay, here goes, take a deep breath.’ And Straker picked him up, as carefully and gently as possible. He could hear the crepitus as the broken bones grated on each other, could feel the rigidity in Michael as he fought the pain, but the boy stayed silent.

Straker knew how much it was hurting Michael, but it was infinitely preferable to the consequences if they were captured by the aliens. A broken leg was survivable.

He set off along the tunnel, managing to squeeze past the boulder without too many scrapes and bruises, without jolting the boy too much, then heard noises ahead, and saw a flashlight beam bouncing off the walls as the rescue party arrived.

‘Ed, is Michael with you?’ Rachel’s voice was wonderful to hear, and he stood still waiting for her to reach him, unwilling to subject Michael to unnecessary movement. The medics would be better equipped to deal with his broken leg.

‘Michael’s here and he’s fine, apart from his leg, that is. He’s been exceptionally brave, all things considered.’ Straker lowered the boy gently to the ground and the two trained rescue personnel started work on the child.

‘Rachel,’ his voice told her that there was a problem and she moved away from the small group to talk to him without being overheard.

Michael told me he had seen aliens in the mine, further up and I saw three of them. Fortunately none of them caught sight of us.’

She could tell from his expression that it had been a nightmare experience.

He carried on, ‘We need to get a full SHADO team up here as soon as possible. This might be why the aliens have been targeting this area for the past couple of years. I just don’t understand how they got into the mine without someone seeing them on the headland or the paths.’

She had her gun out and ready now, looking around the space to check for anything unusual, although in an environment such as this, everything could be considered abnormal.

Seeing that the other SHADO operative who had come with the group was standing aside, unneeded, she ordered him to return to the waiting helicopter with all haste, and inform HQ that the Commander had positively identified aliens in the tunnels and that a full assault team needed to be organised immediately.

Straker went back to check on the boy, finding him in the process of having his leg splinted so that the team would be able to carry him out without further injury. Michael was trying desperately not to cry out with the pain of the procedure and Straker held his hand tightly, feeling the small fingers with their bitten nails squeezing into his palm.

Eventually it was over and Michael relaxed, as his strapped leg subsided from a burning white-hot knife pain to a more bearable dull ache. He slowly released Ed’s hand, looking tearfully up at the tall blonde man who knelt beside him with such concern in his blue eyes.

‘Okay Michael, now we can move you out of here safely.’ He nodded approval to the two medics who set off to get the stretcher from the entrance. Straker was talking quietly to the boy when he saw a blinding flash of multicoloured light and heard a deafening crescendo of noise echoing down the tunnel towards them.

 

Chapter 8

Captain Peter Carlin, patrolling the hillside in Sky 7, keeping his Commander safe, was distracted by the sight of the ocean appearing to glow. He turned his craft to face the scene when, with a monstrous roar and flurry of boiling bubbles the UFO rose from the ocean and headed straight for Sky 7.

The rescue helicopter had just landed minutes before and still had its engines running. Peter Carlin knew that any missiles that he fired at the UFO would also catch the helicopter in the backlash.

He knew that Straker would probably have no compunction about ordering him to fire, but it was not a decision that he was prepared to make. He held off firing his weapons until the UFO was just, barely, out of the helicopter’s immediate area and then let rip with everything he could bring to bear.

The UFO attacked simultaneously. It was a desperate struggle as the two craft engaged in an all out battle, missiles and beams flaring across the sky. Carlin gasped as his sleek jet was hit by a brilliant glare of jade green light, and his control panel erupted in flames, burning his face and arms briefly until the extinguishers came into action. It was no use. Sky 7 was dead. He had to get out.

Reaching under his seat he pulled the ejection lever and the canopy above him disintegrated and blew away, just a micro-second before the powerful ejector rockets blasted his seat up and out of the dying craft. He crossed his arms over his chest and put his head down, praying that the UFO would not have the speed or agility to chase after him. He felt the back-wrenching jolt as the parachute burst open, jerking him to what seemed like a complete halt after the freefall, moments after his escape from his jet. It was almost peaceful, this gradual descent to the surface below but he could still hear the UFO screeching as it flew nearby. He hoped he had managed to hit it; to cause such damage that it would not be able to survive.

He opened his eyes and stared around. There. Almost on a level with him, still several hundreds of feet in the air, thick red smoke visible in the gleam of the flames bursting from it, and veering erratically across the dark sky, the UFO.

He watched dispassionately as it plummeted downwards towards the ground.

Then with a feeling of complete and total dread realised that it was heading straight for the entrance to the mine; the entrance that he had last seen lit by Sky 7’s circle of spotlight as Commander Straker walked inside.

With a noise so loud that it was almost a physical assault on the senses, the UFO crashed down onto the hillside, right over the entrance to the mine, breaking apart and throwing flames and wreckage across the ground. The sky was filled with poisonous coloured flames and vile smells as the craft disintegrated into thousands of fragments under the attack.

 

Chapter 9

Straker flung himself on top of the child, his body protecting the youngster, his hands covering the boy’s face as the other two men ran for safety. A blowtorch blast of flame and heat powered toward them from the direction of the entrance, and at the same time the entire tunnel shook with the force of an explosion. Straker felt the explosion’s blast force him down over the child and he struggled to breathe in the hot, burning air as the oxygen was absorbed by the flames. There was a truly vile stench of noxious fumes.

Rocks and soil dislodged from the roof fell around them, bouncing and shattering as they hit the rough walls and floor. He felt a sharp blow on the back of his head and instantly sensed the warmth of fresh blood on his scalp. He hoped Michael was safe under him.

The noise stopped, the echoes died away, the ground stopped reverberating and eventually the tunnel returned to its former quiet darkness. Straker sat up. ‘Michael, are you hurt?’

He held the boy’s hand. There was an overriding smell of hot metal and accelerant fumes.

The answer was shaky, but clear. ‘I’m alright, Mr Straker. What happened?’

‘I don’t know. Rachel? Are you okay?’ he asked and then called to the two medics. There was no response from anyone. Frantically he felt around for the flashlight, hands scrabbling in the dark on the rock strewn floor until his fingers touched it. He switched it on, sending its beam in sweeping moves around him to locate the three others in the team.

Rachel was just beginning to stir, groaning slightly as she tried to sit up, her head also bloody from a cut. He went over to her immediately and checked that she was not seriously injured. No, just a nasty gash that was bleeding heavily as head wounds tended to do. As his was doing. It was not too bad though. He gave her a reassuring smile and helped her to sit up then started to look for the other two members of their group.

He found them, or at least he found the parts of them that had not been buried beneath the landslide. It was perfectly obvious that neither of them had survived the explosion and subsequent collapse of the tunnel. He could feel no pulse on either of them. He stood for a moment, head bent, their deaths on his conscience as so many deaths were. Then he returned to the living. There would be time for mourning the dead later, when they, Michael, Rachel and he, were safe.

Rachel had managed to wriggle over to where Michael sat, and the two of them were holding on to each other, for comfort and warmth, Rachel with a blood stained handkerchief on her head. Ed sat with them, wrapping his arms around the small shivering boy to try to instil some warmth into his cold body. The Commander looked at his fiancée over the boy and shook his head at her. She smiled at him, a thin, scared smile but one that also showed that she trusted him to get them out of this place safely.

‘Michael, Rachel,’ he started talking and told them what had happened. ‘The tunnel is blocked now and we can’t get out that way. It may be quite a while before anyone can get down to us from outside especially as there was a massive explosion outside. I don’t know what could have caused that, but chances are it has something to do with the strangers Michael and I saw in the mine earlier on. Whatever it was, we are now trapped on this side of the entrance.’

Michael started to shake with fear, his breath coming in gasps as he realised what was happening.

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ he began to cry.

‘Michael, it’s not your fault,’ Rachel tried to console him but Straker interrupted her.

‘Actually Rachel it is his fault, but that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is getting out of here. Now Michael, seeing as you helped to get us into this mess, can we rely on you to help us get out safely?’

Rachel was shocked at his almost callous tone towards the boy, but then saw the determination on Michael’s face. Straker had said just the right thing. No easy platitudes to comfort and console, just the truth, unpalatable though it might be.

Michael looked into Straker’s eyes and saw, not contempt, or a patronising stare, but a man who would tell it as it was. And Michael knew then that he would do what Straker needed him to do to get out of here, however unpleasant, however frightening, however painful. He nodded his affirmation.

‘Good man.’ Straker touched him on the shoulder, a salute from one soldier to another, unspoken praise that said more than words could ever say.

‘Rachel, are you okay to walk? How’s the head?’ he asked her concerned.

She looked pale in the draining light of the powerful torch, but she smiled at him nonetheless. ‘I’ll be fine Ed. You look worse than I do I’m sure.’ and she reached out to touch his head where the sharp splinter of rock had cut it. He had quite forgotten about it and her touch reminded him how much it stung.

‘Ouch.’ He complained, more to get a reaction from the boy than from pain or discomfort. ‘That hurt.’ He sounded petulant and she laughed quietly at him, Michael joining in as Ed winked at him.

‘Seriously Ed, what now?’ she asked him when they had assured each other that they were all, indeed fit enough to move.

He thought for a few moments. ‘We have two options. The first is to stay here and hope that the search team can dig us out before our friends back there find us.’ He looked at Rachel and she knew that that was not his preferred option. It was not hers, either. ‘The other thing we can do is to head inside the mine, and explore some of these tunnels. The main tunnel heads in the direction of the headland and I remember reading that this headland is a warren of tunnels and caves created by smugglers long before the mines were opened. I think there’s a chance that we can find a tunnel that connects to one of the smugglers’ tunnels further along the headland. If we can find that tunnel, we can call for help. The only thing we have to be careful of is meeting those strangers that Michael and I saw earlier.’

He looked down at Michael. ’Okay by you?’

‘I don’t think I can walk though, Mr Straker.’ the boy apologised.

‘Don’t worry about that too much Michael. Rachel insists on telling me how strong she is. She can carry you when I get tired.’ His eyes glinted with amusement as he scooped up the boy in his arms and set off down the passageway back to where he had found him, Rachel alongside him as much as possible, lighting the way with the flashlight.

For all his relaxed attitude, Straker found it very hard going carrying the boy through the mine. The roof was low and the floor uneven and he struggled to keep Michael from banging his injured leg on the walls. They made slow progress back to the cavern.

This was where it would, most likely, get interesting, Straker thought to himself. This was where the aliens had gone. And they were following.

The tunnel curved into the hillside, dropping gradually down deeper into the earth. Discarded tools and shattered rocks littered the base of the tunnel, creating obstacles that threatened to trip unwary explorers. They had to move slowly, carefully, and it was particularly difficult carrying a child.

Straker had to stop several times so that Rachel could help him lift Michael over boulders or around partial blockages in the tunnel, but at least they were still able to continue. He dreaded what would happen if this turned out to be a dead end or they came face to face with the aliens he had seen earlier. All his hopes were pinned on finding a passage that led to another entrance and away from any aliens.

The tunnel squeezed them in, the roof gradually descending so that they had to bend down, the sides closing in until Straker felt as if he could not breathe with the constriction of the passage. It was extremely difficult trying to carry Michael by now and the boy wriggled out of his arms and, white with pain and the effort needed, hobbled along the narrowing passage, Rachel and Ed supporting him as much as possible. Straker stopped, desperately trying to regain his composure, and felt a gentle hand on his arm.

‘Okay?’ Rachel asked softly, ‘you can do this, Ed. It must get wider soon, otherwise they wouldn’t have come down here.’ she reassured him.

He nodded, pale and sweating with the combination of fear and the warmth inside the passage, and moved on, comforted by her presence, secure and reassuring.

Please, he thought, please don’t let it get any narrower. And it began to widen. He could feel the tension lessen in his shoulders and he could focus on the task ahead.

He picked Michael up again, carrying him on his back this time, the boy’s arms around his neck, holding tightly, and they moved forward at a quicker pace, still as silently as possible, still listening for any sounds from the tunnel ahead.

He recalled the map of the area that he had seen before coming out here. The headland with the ruined castle at its point, the Hotel on the bay to the left of the headland and on the other side of the castle, to the right, the entrance to the mines. He knew with an innate instinct that they were heading in the direction of the castle.

The passageway widened even more, grew lighter with reflected light from an unknown source ahead, and then he could see where it turned a corner.

And suddenly he knew where the tunnel ended. He stopped, unsure of whether to risk going on, risk taking the boy into such a perilous situation.

The tunnels were not from the mine, they were to the mine. Passageways cut out of the rock to help the smugglers transport their goods safely without being caught by the revenuers. This tunnel was going to come out in the cellars of the ruined castle.

And the chances were good that there would be another tunnel leading down to the shore, into a cave, so that the smugglers could unload goods in secret. The only problem was that there were enemy forces ahead. They must have their base in the cellars of the castle. That’s where the aliens had been heading, and there was no other way out except through the cellars. The alien contingent were there, round the corner, working on whatever it was that they had been planning since last year’s incursions. Since they had discovered a way to get from the safety of the sea into the caves and up into the castle, using the tunnels that had been dug years ago.

He eased the boy down off his back and lowered him gently to the floor. ‘We may have a situation,’ he whispered softly, and explained to Rachel what he had surmised. She frowned, trying to picture the map in her mind.

‘What’s the matter?’ Michael, on the floor looked up at them in concern. ‘Can we get out, or are we stuck?’ It seemed as if he would begin to cry.

Straker bent down next to him, hand on the boy’s shoulder, comforting, quietening him. ‘No, we can get out Michael, I’m pretty sure of that, but there may be some of those strangers ahead of us in the tunnels and the castle. If so, then Rachel and I are going to have to deal with them.’

‘You mean you’re going to shoot them?’

Straker gazed at him for a moment. This was no time to pussy-foot around. ‘Yes Michael, we are.’

The boy took a deep breath. ‘Okay. What can I do to help?’

Rachel leaned over to him. ‘Just do as we tell you Michael, whatever we tell you. All right?’

He nodded silently and she stood up, moving over to where Ed was standing, leaning against the rough wall, thinking.

‘Ed?’

‘I’m sorry,’ he apologised.

‘What for?’

‘For getting you involved in this, for ending up here, trapped with aliens ahead of us and probably a full scale battle to face.’ He turned to her, his face worried and tense.

‘Don’t be silly, you couldn’t have known what was going to happen. Besides, if we do have to fight the aliens, there’s no-one else I’d rather have at my side than you. And do you know why?’ she held his hand.

‘Don’t tell me it’s because of my sparkling personality?’ he jested, eyes glinting with amusement.

She simply pulled him closer to her and kissed him, briefly. ‘It’s because you’ll do everything you can to protect other people Ed. Even at the expense of your own safety.’ and she stood back and saluted him. ‘Commander.’

He smiled at her but it was tinged with sadness and worry. The responsibility for these two weighed heavily on his shoulders. It wouldn’t have been so bad, he thought, if the boy hadn’t reminded him so much of John and if Rachel had simply been Colonel Philips instead of his fiancée.

But he was stuck with the situation.

Okay, time to make the best of it. He stood up straighter, determined and focussed. ‘Michael, Rachel, stay here and keep quiet. I’m going to check ahead.’ And he set off, keeping close to the rough walls, moving as silently as possible.

 

Chapter 10

Michael smiled wanly up at Rachel, his splinted leg stretched out on the floor, Straker’s jacket dwarfing his thin frame. He shivered and she pulled the jacket around him, snugly, kissing him quickly on his forehead. ‘Pity we don’t have any chocolate. Don’t suppose Ed has any in his pockets?’

The lad rooted through the pockets, pulling out a car key on a leather fob, and then a smooth banded pebble which he handed to her with a puzzled look. She took it very seriously, holding it carefully and then putting it in her pocket with a smile.

They waited, quiet and companionably, her arm around his shoulders, his head resting against her, dozing in the dark warmth. She hoped he would sleep a little, would get some rest. He had been so incredibly brave, she realised, dealing with all that had happened to him.

She felt him wriggle beside her. ‘Are you still awake?’ she asked, ‘I was hoping you might have fallen asleep.’

‘Only babies do that,’ he replied somewhat scornfully. ‘I’m not a baby.’

‘No, you are most definitely not, but you must be very tired and it would help you if you had a sleep.’

‘I’m too scared to sleep,’ he said in a quiet voice and she could feel him shuffle a little bit closer to her.

‘Do you know, Michael, I’m a bit scared as well.’ She admitted. ‘I don’t like tunnels or dark places. And neither does Ed.’

He laughed almost scornfully, ‘Mr Straker, he’s not afraid of the dark is he? I don’t believe that. He wasn’t afraid to come and find me in the mine. My stepdad wouldn’t have done that.’

‘No,’ she admitted, ‘he doesn’t mind the dark but he doesn’t like small places. Like tunnels. He’s probably more afraid of being in here than he is of meeting those strangers you both saw.’

‘The aliens from another planet you mean?’ he asked.

She sat up, away from him and looked at him, carefully. ‘What do you mean ‘aliens’ Michael?’

‘You know, little green men, except these aren’t green and they’re not little. I’m not stupid.’ He informed her.

‘I never thought you were, Michael, it’s just that most people don’t believe in aliens,’ she smiled at him, ‘especially ones in red space suits.’

‘So why are they here? What do they want from us?’ the boy was persistent. Rachel could see no harm in telling him the truth, or at least a watered down version of the truth. He would have to be given the amnesia drug later anyway, after having seen the aliens in the mine so she might as well keep him quiet and tell him as much as was sensible.

‘The aliens: we don’t know what they call themselves, have been coming to Earth for years. We think they are coming to steal from us, things like the strontium in this mine for example, and other things that they need. Unfortunately, they can be quite dangerous and don’t hesitate to kill people if they are seen. I work for a secret group that tries to stop them, and we are pretty good at our job. Mr Straker is in charge of the organisation.

He stared at her. ‘I’m not surprised; I thought he was more than just a rich business man.’

He was extremely perceptive, Rachel thought, and wondered what else he might have picked up on during their travel.

‘Now, tell me about you.’ she tried to distract him.

‘Me? Oh there’s nothing much about me. I like chess and I want to go to university and study geology when I am older and my stepdad doesn’t like chess and thinks rocks are boring. Silly stones he calls them.’ His voice was surprisingly bitter and angry for such a young child.

‘What about your Mum? What does she think?’

‘Mum? She doesn’t say much. She’s scared of him. He’s a bully. He made her give up work. And lose weight. She used to enjoy sewing and designing her own clothes but he doesn’t let her do that now.’ He rubbed his arm as if remembering a previous physical hurt.

Rachel, tight-lipped with anger at what this young child had had to endure, determined that one way or another, Michael would not be bullied by his over-bearing step-father again. She hugged him to her, and kissed him again on the forehead and he did not flinch away as so many boys of his age would have done, but leaned against her, comforted by her touch and her presence.

They settled down in a companionable silence, each reassured by the other. Rachel wondered what would happen to Michael in the future. Given the chance, given the education, he could become a brilliant chess player, a future Master.

Michael had to be good if he could beat Ed, even on one of Ed’s off days, and if he was good at chess, which needed patience, concentration and analytical skills, what other subjects would he excel at? It would be worth keeping him under scrutiny.

A possible SHADO recruit. Aged ten. She smiled at the thought then stopped smiling as she heard the sound of faint footsteps coming up the tunnel from where they had come. Footsteps following them. Not a rescue team. They would never have cleared that landslide in time. No. There was only one thing it could be. Aliens.

Damn. And Ed was not here to help.

‘Michael,’ she whispered, ‘we need to hide. I’m going to put you over there in the corner behind the rubble. Whatever happens, keep quiet and stay hidden. Do you understand? Can you do that for me?’

His face was whiter than before, but he nodded and let her carry him over to the corner where he lay still, eyes half-closed, hardly breathing with terror. She ensured that he was well hidden before she headed away from him, not wanting to be found near the boy. She turned off the flashlight. If the aliens caught her, they might not notice Michael and he might be safe.

Might.

Please Ed, she thought, hurry back.

Straker turned the corner and saw ahead, a long flight of uneven roughly carved steps, leading to an opening which was lit from the other side with a soft, flickering light.

He could hear strange noises, a low throbbing, humming from machinery, watery bubbling and splashing sounds, and the occasional voice, although he could not work out what was being said.

Gun in hand he stepped up the irregular treads, slowly, step by cautious step. He pulled out his phone, testing to see it he had any signal here, underground in this cavernous cellar, out of the mine, away from the metal that the aliens had come here to collect.

Yes.

Thank the lord for small mercies. He dialled HQ, knowing that the call would be diverted to the nearest team, and left the phone on. It would be enough for the SHADO team to triangulate his position and get to them. But he needed to deal with the aliens first, if possible. Or at the very least, to assess the situation. He carried on, determined to see what was around the next corner.

The assault team, newly arrived from HQ and warned about the aliens in the mine, were waiting at the hotel for the signal. Then it came. Commander Straker’s phone; no message, no text, but there didn’t need to be. The mere fact that it was activated was sufficient.

Quickly they triangulated his position and set off, heading for the ruined castle, not knowing what to expect, but braced for the worst.

The castle was apparently deserted, and although they could get a clear fix on the phone signal, there seemed to be no way to access the cellar spaces under the main body of the ruin. There was only one other option, to try from the coastline.

They made their way quickly to the shore, following the rocky, seaweed-strewn, high tide mark around to the first of the caves that opened onto the sea. A dead end, and the same with the next three caves. All seemed promising, deep and tall, leading back into the headland but they all came to an end several yards further in.

‘Sir, over here.’ one of the scouting party called back to the captain. ‘This cave leads up into a definite tunnel. It’s been disguised and partly blocked, but it leads upwards.’ They followed it, treading on slimy algae-covered rocks that gradually morphed into a flight of crude steps. Upwards, towards the castle. Towards the aliens.

‘SHADO team to Colonel Freeman.’ the leader quietly reported in. ‘following the passage upwards. No sign of the enemy yet. Will report in when we have located the Commander’s group.’

Silently they continued, careful not to slip on the treacherous steps. Ahead the passageway widened and deepened until they were almost inside a room instead of a tunnel. Ahead they could see archways leading to further rooms; the cellars and storerooms for the castle. Now where were the aliens and where was the Commander?

Straker had approached the cellar from the other side of the castle and had soon realised that he was outmanned. There were simply too many aliens. Clustered around banks of quietly humming machines, studying rows of bubbling tubes, sitting around consoles, there must have been at least twelve of them, coming and going.

Even if he had been fast enough, and he knew he was about as fast and accurate as anyone could get, he simply did not have enough ammunition to eliminate them all before he would have to reload. And then they would simply grab him. No, there was an assault team on the way, hopefully a heavily armed, well-prepared assault team. He would be better heading back to Michael and Rachel.

Reluctantly he turned away from the tempting site of aliens with their backs to him.

Stalemate. No one winning. Yet

He reached the safety and darkness of the tunnel where he had last seen Rachel and the boy. Darkness? The flashlight should be on, shouldn’t it, he thought?

‘Rachel’ he called softly, ‘Michael’

There was no answer.

 

Chapter 11

End Game The closing stages, when there are only a few pieces left.

The soft light that filtered down the passageway from the aliens’ laboratory or whatever it was, was too faint to let him see much then he remembered that he had Michael’s small torch still in his jeans pocket, and he switched it on. The battery was running low and the beam was more of yellow than white light, but it gave him some more focussed illumination, at least, sufficient to see with. He began to move carefully across the rough surface, searching for any signs of them.

And there she was, sprawled across the floor, gun in her hand, fresh blood on her head. There was a red-suited figure collapsed on the floor nearby. Its cracked faceplate leaking green fluid from a neat bullet hole in the transparent casing.

He could hardly move for the terror of what he would find when he reached her, but he forced his reluctant body to take one step and then another until he was at her side, kneeling, careless of the rough ground, the blood on her head and face soaking his jeans, his cuffs, his hands as he touched her.

He bent over her, his fingers caressing her face, desperately feeling for a sign of life, a breath, a movement of her lips, her eyes. He lifted her gun from the still hand. There was a sound from behind him and he spun round instantly, reflexes as sharp as ever, still holding her gun, pointing it in the direction of the noise. Then he saw the faint outline of the child, tucked into a corner, almost out of sight. In his distress at finding her injured, he had forgotten the boy.

‘Michael! What happened?’ Straker called over to him. ‘What happened to Rachel?’

‘They came up behind us,’ the boy was almost sobbing with terror. ‘They came up and she made me hide. Then they saw her and she tried to shoot them but she only got one of them and then the other hurt her.’ he was openly crying now, tears running down his face. ‘The other one, the one that hit her, he went back down the tunnel. I think he may have gone to get his friends.’ Michael, still in the corner tried to shuffle towards Straker but he was to shaken to do more than move a couple of inches.

‘Stay there Michael, just until I’ve seen to Rachel.’ Straker didn’t want a child to see her injuries if they were severe. He went over to where Michael was still sitting, propped up against the rough walls. Putting her gun down, he gave him a quick, firm hug of reassurance, made sure that the boy was unharmed, and then hurried back to her.

Straker bent over her again, his head on her chest, listening to her heart and the sound of her breathing. He closed his eyes with sheer relief when he heard a strong beat and deep even breaths. He checked her eyes, noting that she was responding to light. Thank God, he thought with relief.

And just at that moment, just as Straker was concentrating his whole mind, his whole being, on his partner, the second alien returned, stepping into the passageway with almost silent footsteps. It stopped as it saw Straker leaning over the unconscious woman and then moved swiftly and surely towards him, one arm holding its weapon outstretched and pointing at the kneeling man.

Something alerted him to the danger, but it was too late. Even as he turned his head and dived out of the way the alien fired and the beam of light caught him on his leg. It was enough to paralyse him and he fell against the wall, sliding down to lie crumpled on the floor, one hand still with enough sensation and mobility to reach out in vain for her.

The alien approached, its expression unseen, but Straker knew that it would doubtless be exultant at having captured him.

His last thought before he lost all feeling, as the alien bent down to drag him away, was his unspoken apology to Michael that he had not been able to save him after all.

Checkmate.

Chapter 12

He woke in a hospital bed. Pale blue walls, white ceiling. He could see the metal rails around the bed with the curtains hanging down. A small room, not a ward or even an annexe. His head hurt, and his leg. It was light and he last recalled being in the dark, in the night, in the tunnel, with the alien.

There was someone sitting beside the bed, but it was too much effort to move his head sideways to see who it was. He muttered at them and a face appeared in front of his. It took time to get his eyes to focus properly, to be able to see who it was.

Dark hair, a white dressing on her forehead. Rachel.

He smiled and she leaned over and kissed him on his forehead, holding his hand and smiling back at him.

‘Hello, about time you rejoined us,’ she said softly. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Tired,’ he replied truthfully, remembering that he had been up most of the night.

The door opened and someone familiar came in.

‘Michael.’ Straker walked over to the boy lying in the bed. ‘The doctors’ tell me that you are going to be fine. They have set your leg and you can go home as soon as you can use your crutches properly.’

He smiled at the child, lying there, small and innocent, under the white sheets. Rachel looked at her fiancé and handed him the small striped pebble that Michael had found in Ed’s jacket.

He looked at it, ‘Old red sandstone banded with dark grit; quite common in this area,’ he told her, casually tossing the pebble into the air and catching it. Then grinned at her and slipped it back into his pocket before kissing her quickly.

‘Mr Straker, what happened?’ Michael wondered how he had got here, how anyone them had survived the incident.

‘What do you remember?’ Straker sat down next to his fiancée and held her hand.

‘I remember the alien fired at you and you fell, then I don’t know what happened.’ Michael was puzzled. How had the three of them escaped?

‘It’s quite simple Michael. When I went over to you, I carelessly left Rachel’s gun next to you on the floor. A stupid thing to do and very dangerous. Guns are not meant to be left anywhere a young child can get at them. I would be extremely angry with any of my men who did such a thing. Fortunately for Rachel and me you are neither stupid nor reckless. When the alien paralysed me, and started to drag me away, you picked up Rachel’s gun and fired at it. A good shot by the way. You hit it in the chest and it died pretty quickly. However, the recoil threw you back against the wall and knocked you out. Our assault team were fairly close and once they had eliminated all the aliens in the castle they came searching for us. They flew the three us straight to hospital in their helicopter. There wasn’t room for your parents, but they should be arriving any time now.’ He smiled at the lad, and then continued in a deadly serious voice. ‘You won’t remember anything about this later, Michael; the doctor will be giving you something to make you forget all about the aliens, but before they do I must thank you for saving my life and, more importantly, for saving Rachel. Is there anything I can possibly do to repay you?’

Michael thought for a moment and then spoke. ‘I want you to do something for my mum.’ And he told the couple sat round his bedside about his concern for his mother and his fear of his stepfather.

Straker listened to him, smiled, then pulled out his phone. ‘Alec, I need you to do a full G6 on the following couple; Mr and Mrs Nigel Carter……….’

 

Epilogue

Mrs Carter, soon to be known as Ms King, drove her small Citroen C2 up to the entrance of the Harlington Straker Studios and stopped at the security barrier.

‘Good morning. I’m the new assistant wardrobe mistress. Mr Straker appointed me last week. I have my security pass here.’ She held up her ID. It was strange that a film company should be so insistent on security, but she didn’t mind.

With her bully of a soon-to-be ex-husband now being investigated for serious tax evasion, and Michael settled happily at King’s School,Canterbury after receiving an anonymous scholarship, she was now able to concentrate on developing her own career.

The future for both of them was looking wonderful.

LtCdr

Writing Castled

A Personal Account

I started this story way, way back in December, I think. I planned a shortish story aboutScotland, and an area with which I was quite familiar.

It was a fairly basic and uncomplicated story to begin with. Alien attacks on a certain area of Kirkudbrightshire, (Kerr – coo- bri- shire) Ed and Rachel going up to investigate and getting caught up in the situation.

It got a little more complex when I introduced Michael.. in fact the story is still listed on my PC as ‘Michael’ and only changed its name later when I thought about putting the chess aspect in.

The hotel, the headland, the strontium mine (only one actually) do exist .. in a way although the mine isn’t really as accessible as in the story! Oh and the Military shooting area also exists. I often wondered what it would be like to drive through it!

I enjoyed making Michael’s father a pompous idiot, and his behaviour dictated the rest of the story.

The chess game was fun to do especially as I had already introduced the idea of Ed playing Chess (Rescued)

It was relatively easy to get Michael into the mine, and then have him rescued by Ed. It was fiddly trying to work out the logistics… where would the team from HQ be, when would they arrive, who is going out etc, and then the practicalities had to be worked out.

So Ed goes to find Michael. And phones don’t work in the strontium mines.. good excuse to keep him incommunicado. I hope the description of the position of the mines was clear and you could understand.. I hate it when I cannot understand where something is simply because a writer hasn’t painted a clear enough picture.

I absolutely LOVED the image of Ed standing in a circle of light as Sky 7 circled above him. If I could draw that, I certainly would! I can see it in my mind though!

I had to get Michael’s leg splinted so that they could move him, which meant that the rescue team had to reach them. But, I needed to have Rachel and Ed and Michael alone and trapped in the mines, so that meant that the UFO had to be destroyed.. a good opportunity to kill off the support team!

So they are trapped, and have to go deeper into the mine to find an exit.. Plausible? I hope so! I liked putting in the bit about Ed being claustrophobic and struggling as the tunnel got narrower. I could never go into a mine tunnel!

Then they find the end of the tunnel..and the aliens.. and realise that the aliens are in the castle in the old smugglers’ passages. This was where it could all fall to pieces!

I had to get Ed in the castle, the rescue team nearly there and Rachel and Michael in danger.

And Michael saves the day!

I deliberately tried to mislead the reader at the end, but hinting that it was Ed in the hospital, when in actual fact it was Michael.

And all’s well that ends well.!

I particularly liked the conversation in Chapter 10 between Michael and Rachel, and the part at the end where Ed hands back the pebble that he caught earlier.

This is a fairly ‘slow’ story, even though the action takes place really within the space of a few hours. I was a little overly descriptive as well, but I indulged myself and let my imagination run wild on occasions, without going into detail (huge bath, four-poster bed, discarded pyjamas, Rachel looking deliciously tempting)

And one last thing. I mentioned every chess piece at some stage in the story.

Not one of my most intense, dramatic stories, but hopefully easy to read. And enjoyable. And that’s all that really matters.

And then, having written it, I realised that I wanted to write the story of how Ed got the pearl necklace that Rachel wore.

So I wrote Legacy.

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