May 19th 2010 07.28 hours
Paul Foster hummed to himself as he entered the studio office. A beautiful May morning, bright skies promising a warm maybe, with any luck, even a hot day and it was Wednesday. A good day. Especially when tomorrow was the first day of his vacation. Two weeks in Antigua in one of the island’s smaller hotels. Wonderful. Two weeks away from SHADO and Straker, away from Alec and aliens, film directors and fans. Just today to get through. Easy.
He strolled into the control room. Shit. It looked a mess. Papers everywhere, charts, maps, data printouts. What had been going on while he was asleep? It looked like he had missed all the fun.
‘Colonel. Good morning.’ Keith Ford greeted him with a tired look, ‘you picked a good night to leave on time.’
Paul Foster turned round. ‘Seems I did, Keith. Why did the commander not call me?’
‘Oh, you know Commander Straker,’ Ford’s laugh was weary , ‘he said we didn’t need to get you out of bed. We managed alright, even though there were, if I recall, ten different attempts during the last eight hours. The Commander sent Colonel Freeman down to get some rest about two hours ago and he,’ Ford nodded towards Straker’s office, ‘has probably got his head down on his desk and is asleep in there if my guess is right. The commander has been here for the last twenty hours now. Don’t wake him Colonel. He is very tired.’ Ford turned back to his console, effectively shutting out the youngest member of the SHADO command team.
Foster stood there, rigid with suppressed anger. How dare he. How dare Straker ignore him, decide not to call Foster in, even though they were in the middle of a major attack. It was tantamount to declaring that the SHADO Commander had no faith in Paul Foster.
And there and then Paul decided that he would show Ed ‘Smug Bastard’ Straker just how competent Colonel Paul Foster could be, given the chance. He leaned over Keith Ford’s console. ‘Don’t worry Lt,’ he murmured in a soothing yet smug tone, ‘I wouldn’t dream of disturbing the Commander, far from it.’
He went to get a coffee, noting that the main office door was closed. Unusual, but if Ed Straker was head down on his desk asleep, then chances are that the little creep Keith Ford had shut the door to stop anyone disturbing the precious boss as he dreamed.
Behind the closed door Straker was asleep. Head down on his arms at his desk. Too tired to even contemplate the journey home. Even if Rachel was waiting for him.
Lazy sod. You wouldn’t catch Colonel Foster asleep at his desk. No sir. Never.
His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice. Not a husky, feminine, sultry voice, with overtones of sexuality, or a dark, masculine voice with hints of power and presence. No. SID was an out-and-out androgynous, genderless hermaphrodite. Though why the hell they couldn’t have given the damned machine a more appealing voice he would never know.
‘This is Space Intruder Detector. I have UFO on positive track. Bearing green 305.56. SOL 1 decimal 3.’ Paul Foster watched for a few minutes as the UFO almost sauntered into the Solar System as if it were on a sightseeing excursion rather than a smash and grab raid for useful organs.
‘Still Sol 1? Bloody hell, that’s slow. Ford, recalibrate the sensors.’ Foster ordered the Chief Communications Officer, pleased to have someone to boss around.
‘I’ve rechecked the sensors Colonel. Several times. It’s an accurate measurement. There’s something else you should know. This UFO, it’s mass is greater than normal. As much as five time greater. And the analysis of its composition indicates that it is composed primarily of thorium, astatine and there are some traces of technetium. All radio-active elements.’ He looked up at Foster, worry lining his brow.
‘So, what difference does that make? We know they have been using different materials in their crafts in the last few months and the theory is that that they are running low on resources. Where is it heading? Moonbase or Earth?’
Keith Ford consulted the screens again. ‘It appears to be slowing down now and it’s just coming up to Lunar orbit. If it continues to slow at this rate it will be stationary when it gets within Interceptor range.’ he paused, ‘and that doesn’t make any sense. It’s a sitting duck. The interceptors will have no problems targeting it.’
Foster looked over his shoulder. ‘Well, that’s their problem. Alert Moonbase. Tell them to go ahead with the attack as soon as the UFO has gone past Lunar orbit.’
‘Is there a problem Ford?’
‘Do you think Commander Straker should be notified?’
‘For this? One stationary UFO? No. Let the Commander sleep.’ And Keith Ford could hear the slight tone of derision in Foster’s voice.
‘But Colonel, he left specific orders to……’
‘Lt. Ford.’ Paul Foster was beginning to get annoyed by now, ‘ I said No. And I mean No. Tell the interceptors to be ready to attack when I give the order. We’ll wait until the UFO gets to the outermost edge of Middle Earth Orbit.’
They watched the screens, listened to the communications between Moonbase and the Interceptors, waited until the UFO had stopped and was just sitting there,
Paul Foster leaned forward, waiting for the moment. He looked at the time reference. O7. 38 hours.‘Interceptors. Prepare to fire,…… Fire.’
A direct hit. All three nuclear missiles. On target.
And twenty minutes later the world ended.
September 2nd 2012 (approx)
Ed decided that it was about time he had a shave. It had been at least a week since his last encounter with a razor and he was beginning to feel uncomfortable. He wondered if the razor would be sharp enough, or would he have to admit that it was no longer useful. He hated throwing things away, but a dull razor, well, that was not really any good was it? The blade was getting a little rusty in places as well.
He dressed quickly, his trousers crumpled and baggy and worn. The tshirt thread-bare and splitting at the seams. They had fitted him once, a long time ago, but few of his clothes fitted him now, he had lost too much weight, and he was not the only one. Keith was looking particularly gaunt, almost skeletal, and not surprisingly, considering that bout of influenza or whatever it was that he had caught; was it five months ago? Keith was lucky to still be alive. They had lost four of their group to the illness, despite Ed’s efforts to isolate anyone who was suspected of being infected. Thank god Keith had only caught a milder version. But it had still taken him weeks to recover.
He remembered the problems they had encountered afterwards, simply trying to get the corpses outside. Still, they had managed it in the end. It was hard enough here without having to try to store bodies in the mortuary, especially as they could not spare the power to run refrigeration units..
Psychologically, of course, it was so much better to give the bodies of their former friends a burial, even the quick, almost indecently rushed, service that he, as one-time leader, had presided over, under the boiling, rolling black clouds that covered the sky.
The heavy, foul, black rain had drenched them as they stood there, a tiny, ever-dwindling group of desperate survivors and he exercised his authority on one more rare occasion, and had made all of them shower on their return to the sanctuary of shado. An unpleasant experience, a cold shower, and it had seemed a waste of precious water, but he felt that it had been necessary to give his friends, his last remaining family, the chance to say goodbye to their compatriots, and if they had to waste water afterwards, well so be it..
He rubbed his face, remembering time when he would have thought nothing of shaving twice a day, of running hot water almost wantonly. Now however, every drop was counted, every use was questioned, and so, did it really matter if he was unshaven, unwashed?
Not really, it just made him feel better, reminded him of the life before. He could rub his face and feel clean and …… human.
No, he’d put off shaving until, until… well, the way things were looking it wouldn’t be that much longer would it. And he’d shave then. Maybe. He picked up one of the few razors blades that he still possessed and put it away, carefully, under the dwindling supply of wearable clothes. The other blades he took through to the control room, and added them to the cardboard box, labeled ‘Spares’ in the corner where the Communications console used to sit. Well, with any luck they wouldn’t need a ‘spares’ box for much longer.
There. Decision made. He might suit a beard anyway, although it didn’t really matter one way of another now. It wasn’t as if his hair was neat and tidy anyway. It was just easier to tie it back now, that was the only advantage to having it long. He didn’t care anymore, really. And after all, there was no-one left to mind or care how he looked.
Rachel. And his gut wrenched with the pain of memory, with the thought of her and what she might have endured, alone.
But he put the thought away, buried it deep down, behind the everyday minutia of worrying about supplies and stores, cables and connections. He had too much to do now to allow the memories of the past to warp his judgment.
He clenched his fist tightly, so that the dirty, split and cracking nails dug into his palm, and then, wiping his eyes with a hand scarred from soldering burns and begrimed with oil and dirt, he went over to where Keith was working.
‘How’s it coming along?’
Keith looked up, his once rounded chubby face now lined and grey, skin sagging in deep wrinkles on his neck, a sparse beard framing his jaw. ‘Oh hi, Ed. It’s doing okay now. We seem to have sorted out the power fluctuations and now that Ayshea has repaired the interface, we might be able to press on with the next step in a couple of days. Then….. well it will be a case of ‘wait and see’. This might work or it might not. I don’t have the physics or maths to understand it beyond the most basic level, that’s your job. Unfortunately.’ He grinned up at the older man, ‘It’s all down to you now. So you’d better look after yourself, understand?’
Ed patted him on the back. ‘We couldn’t have got this far without you Keith. It was your experience in communications and wavelength technology that enabled us to get the information we needed from the database. And get our last computer working. I could never have worked out the necessary equations by myself. Without that computer we would never stand a chance.’
He looked round the control room with its mess of tangled cables trailing across the dirty floor, the cannibalised computer systems that spewed their inner workings out of the broken cabinets, and the names, written large in felt pen on the walls. Those who had died. And now there were so few of them left, so very few. Three. Out of ……how many had there been at the beginning? Thirteen? Or was it more correct to say ‘at the end’? because that was what it had been. The end. The end of everything. He remembered that poem. From the old science-fiction book he had read when a child.
Weep my country for your sons asleep,
The ashes of your homes, the tottering towers.
Weep my country, Oh my country weep
For birds that cannot sing, for vanished flowers
The end of everything, the silenced hours.
Weep, my country.
But he had done his weeping. Too many times in the past three years he had wept. At the deaths, at the funerals, at the memories, and he had wept while he wrote the names of the dead in thick felt pen on the rough concrete walls of the underground sanctuary that was their only home, their only hope. Not just those who had stayed behind, but the names of those who had fled, who had gone to be with their families. They too would have died by now, he hoped at any rate. The alternative was too awful to contemplate.
There were too many faces that he could recall, too many names written in his handwriting, and above them all, in bold letters, their overriding aim. The one goal that had kept them working, kept them going when it would have been so easy, so simple to give up, take the tablets and lie down to sleep…. for ever. He looked up once more at the words, although he did not need to read them to know what they said.
There are no limits; Anything is possible.
‘Keith, I’m going out for a while. I won’t be long. Is that okay with you?’
‘Up top? Are you sure? Be careful Ed. We need you.’
‘I’ll be careful. Aren’t I always careful?’
‘Okay then, but let Ayshea know where you’re going. She worries about you.’
‘I know.’ His voice was tinged with sadness, ‘but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll take a gun with me if that will help her to stop worrying.’
‘I didn’t know we had any ammunition left.’
‘We don’t, but it might reassure her. She doesn’t need to know it’s not loaded. Anyway I won’t be going far. You know where I’ll be, don’t you?’
‘Alec. It’s been too long. Far too long and I may not get another chance now. Hopefully, at any rate.’
Ed Straker put one hand on Keith Ford’s shoulder in silent salute.
‘Say hello to Alec from me will you?’
Straker smiled sadly. ‘Sure thing Keith.’
The tunnel was still blocked, still impassable which was a good thing. He squeezed past the barricade at the entrance and proceeded up the narrow passage to the barrier. It took time to unlock each of the stiff airtight doors, but once he had done that, he clambered tiredly up the steep slope to the surface.
It was as he remembered it from the last time.
The black sky, still roiling with obscenely thunderous clouds, the heavy acidic rain that burned one’s skin and left holes in the ragged material of already shabby clothes if you stood out in it for long, the coldness, the horrendous roar of the wind screaming in his ears. He hugged the ruins of the building as he edged around to where Alec was.
‘Hi Alec.’ It was a relief to finally be here. He sat down, in the shelter of the building, out of the wind, the rain.
Hi Ed. Not seen you for a while. Quite a while in fact.
‘No, been busy. Sorry. I meant to come last month but Keith was still recovering and we needed to repair the water purification system.’
‘Did we what?’
Repair the system?
‘No, well, not properly. It’s running at about twenty percent capacity now. Probably not enough to keep us going for much longer. But, with any luck we won’t need it for much longer either.’
So it’s nearly finished?
‘Yep. Just the last calculations to do. That’s my job. It’s going to take a while, loads of fiddly little equations, but then it will be time. I don’t know how we are going to test it though. We probably won’t be able to test it at all, just hope it works.
Then it’s all over. Finally. How have things been down there?
‘We’re managing. Just. We ran out of coffee and sugar, about three months ago it must be, although to be honest we don’t really keep track of time down there anymore. I couldn’t tell you the day or the date. In fact I couldn’t even tell you the time right now. We have an atomic clock that still works, still keeps accurate time, which is going to be pretty vital later, but no one really bothers with that on a day to day basis. We have more important things at the moment to worry about. There are only the three of us left now. Keith, Ayshea and me. If I hadn’t had Keith and Ayshea to help me I would never have got as far as we have.
And how are things up top as you call it? Up here?
‘Christ Alec, it gets worse every time I come up here. I think the sun has been hidden behind these clouds since Day One. Nothing is growing as far as I can see, not that there are many people left to do any farming. Even the stray animals are starving. That’s one reason I haven’t been to see you. It’s getting too dangerous now.’
I know, I understand. Don’t worry about it. What about the aliens?
‘Them? Oh they are safely ensconced in their domes, with all their home comforts. They mostly stopped trying to get down to us some time ago, although there have been some sporadic attempts recently. I don’t suppose it’s worth the hassle, now that there are so few of us left. They generally leave us alone and we leave them alone. It works.’
But you don’t like it.
‘Damned right I don’t. We should be trying to kill them, not ignoring them. Alec. I…. I think they have stopped their raids on the last stragglers. I think they are … they are….’
Go one. I know what you are going to say.
‘Do you? You always did understand me, sometimes better than I understood myself. Perhaps that’s why we worked so well together. I needed you to be the human face of SHADO, while I was the cold calculating bastard. But now, now it’s all different. Now I’m just another desperate survivor. And there aren’t many of us left now.’
Tell me. The aliens. You need to tell me don’t you? You haven’t told anyone else or you wouldn’t be here, now. That’s why you’ve come here today. So that you can tell someone. So. I’m here. Listening.
‘Alec. I think, no, I know, the aliens are breeding humans like cattle. Breeding to create spare parts. Locked away inside those enclaves, women being forced to carry babies, human babies which are then taken and either allowed to grow up to be part of the breeding stock, or used as a convenient source of fresh, healthy organs. Last time I came up here, when I was looking for parts for Janus, I got close to one of the domes; they are springing up everywhere now; and I could see inside. Christ, Alec. I can’t forget….
No, you won’t be able to forget easily. But soon, hopefully it won’t matter will it? You are close to the end aren’t you? That’s the other reason you’ve come up here isn’t it? It might be your last ever chance.
‘I hope so, Dear God I hope so. It’s been harder than I ever thought possible. We lost so many people. Good people.’
‘Sorry. Of course you know. We lost Paul last week, Alec. He sacrificed himself to protect me. And to protect Janus. I couldn’t save him. It seems such a waste of a life.’
Good for Paul. He was brave you know, brave and foolhardy and impetuous. That was his main problem. Perhaps we should have been tougher on him, or gentler. I’m not sure. Still, it’s too late now .
‘He never really recovered from what happened though. He was always trying to find ways to undo what he had done. And now we are nearly there. Nearly there Alec, after all this time. I wish…… Damn. I wish…..’
I know. You wish I was here with you, you wish Rachel was here, but we’re not, Ed. Accept it. Deal with it. Move on. And if this works, well, it won’t matter. None of this will have ever happened.
Ed Straker wearily rubbed his face with his hands, and stood up. ‘I have to go now Alec. This rain is getting harsher every time I come up top. Keith says hello. Ayshea misses you. Shit, Alec I miss you. I miss you so much. I have the final dregs of a bottle of whisky waiting for that last day, when we might be able to change everything. I’ll drink it for you. It’s your favourite. All that’s left now. And maybe I’ll see you again, after.
Hope so. Take care Ed. And Ed. This sounds silly I know, but, I love you.
‘Goodbye Alec. I loved you, you old fool.’ Ed patted the rough metal marker that stood at the head of Alec’s grave and headed back to the tunnel, making sure that he was not spotted by any last remnants of humanity that might be prowling like rabid, feral animals around the Harlington Straker ruins.
September 2nd 2012 (approx)
Personal Journal; Keith
Nearly there. At least I hope so. Only us three left now. We can’t do much more now, but there isn’t that much more to do. Just the final calculations and adjustments. That’s Ed’s job, and I don’t envy him. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of work. But, if it does work…. Ed has gone up top, to say a last farewell to Alec I suppose. He has missed him more than he will actually say. Alec’s death affected us all, but Ed more than anyone. The two of them were such close friends before, and we all knew that Alec kept an almost fatherly eye on Ed, and was always there to support him when things were difficult.
God I hope this works. I can’t imagine what will happen to us if it doesn’t. But I suppose that Ed has a contingency plan. He always does.
May 19th 2010 07.46 hours
The explosion from the disintegrating UFO was larger than Paul Foster would have expected. Much larger. Very very much larger.
‘Christ Almighty.’ He stepped back from the console as if the image of the blast could somehow harm him. Keith Ford ripped off his headphones with a cry of pain as his eardrums were assaulted by electronic screaming as satellites exploded and harsh bursts of static ripped through the systems.
‘Electomagnetic Pulse. Colonel. It’s an EMP. What the hell do we do?’ he turned terrified eyes towards Foster.
‘Get Straker. … NOW.’ shouted the colonel, looked around the room as the other operatives moved back from their consoles alarmed by the impending threat. Ford ran to the office, but the door opened before he reached it.
And then Straker was there, bleary eyed, ‘Shut down all systems, all power lines isolated. Everything. DO IT.’ Paul Foster had never heard the Shado Commander shout. But this was not just a shout, this was a desperate scream almost. A frantic plea, a last chance to save something.
Foster stood, perplexed as Ed Straker yanked one of the consoles away from the wall and tore out its power cables. Fat sparks flew and cables writhed under the strain. Foster tried to stop him, tugging at his arm in an attempt to prevent the SHADO Commander damaging any more equipment and Straker turned, his eyes cold with fury, with pure and utter rage and with one swift blow hit Foster on the head, knocking him to the ground.
He spun round. ‘Everything. Isolate everything. Turn off all mobiles, all radar, all communications. Switch everything off. Unplug everything. You have about five minutes.’ He looked at Keith Ford. ‘The EMP. What altitude? How strong?’
‘At the upper limit of Low Earth Orbit sir. Three Interceptor missiles, simultaneously. It was a huge UFO, sir at least five times the usual mass’
‘Any indications of radio-active elements in the UFO?’
‘Astatine, thorium and small traces of technetium.’
Straker closed his eyes, clenched his fists. He took a deep breath. Activated the Base Intercom. Spoke precisely, every word clear and distinct and emotionless.
‘This is Straker. Listen carefully. There is an EMP heading for Earth in the next fifteen minutes. Earth is finished. Dead. Anyone who wants to leave; go now. You have three minutes to get to the surface before I seal the base, permanently. I’ll warn you. You probably won’t last long outside, but if you have family and want to be with them, you should go. Now.’ He looked at around the control room. ‘I mean it. And time is running out. GO,’ he shouted and almost like rabbits released from the glare of headlamps operatives shook their heads, stood up, looking around in confusion and then, hesitantly at first, made for the exits.
Keith Ford stood there, looking at Lt Johnson. ‘Ayshea?’ he muttered.
‘I’m staying Keith, this is the closest thing to a home I have. Besides…’ she looked at Straker, by now ashen and shaking. ‘I think I may be needed here. I can’t leave him.’
Straker watched, watched and nodded a farewell salute to the operatives who looked back at him as they fled for the exits even as he continued switching off machines, ripping cables from walls, isolating power conduits, consoles, anything electrical, even turning off mobile phones and laptops, and then, as the last elevator rose to the surface, as the last fleeing operative ran across the Harlington Straker complex in a desperate attempt to reach home, he took a deep breath just as Alec Freeman dishevelled and half-dressed, ran into the control room
‘Ed. What the hell’s going on.. Oh my God….. ‘ his voice trailed away as he saw the blank screens, the chaos in the control room, saw Straker standing by the master computer console. The only one still operating. He moved towards him, but Keith held him back. ‘Alec. EMP surge. The big one.’ Ford whispered and Colonel Freeman went white with shock, gasping for air, clutching at the walls to stay upright.
Then, Ed Straker straightened his shoulders and calmly and coldly used his ultimate command authority to activate the procedure that irrevocably sealed the headquarters off from the world above. They heard the thunderous sounds as the elevator shaft imploded, as the stairwells and cargo lifts disintegrated in massive explosions, as the inches thick steel doors slammed down on the corridors, cutting off any hope of escape through the emergency exits.
They were safe.
They were alive.
They were trapped.
And Straker put his head in his hands, shuddering with the grief and horror and knowledge that swept through him.
Ayshea had hold of Keith’s hand as they watched on the one screen that Straker allowed to remain connected to the outside world. The only one connected to the SHADO Satellite situated way out beyond LEO and therefore protected for a few precious minutes longer.
The EMP surged through space, ripping huge unseen holes in the ozone layer, the E One surge which obliterated all computer systems world-wide followed closely by the almost deadlier E Three wave that wiped out all satellites, all spaceships, and destroyed transformers and power grids.
Everywhere. The wave spread in all directions, out to the farthest reaches of the Solar System, firstly impacting against the lunar surface and destroying Moonbase in one huge explosion that was visible from Earth, then racing out to destroy SID and the Deep Space Probes.
And then the final nightmare event that Straker had foreseen, had predicted, in that terrible moment when Keith Ford had given him the details of the composition of the alien craft. The first of the nuclear power stations, its reactor running wild under the immense electrical surge of a catastrophically overpowering electromagnetic field, erupted in a coruscating flash of radioactive emissions and then the chain reaction began.
Travelling along the power lines along the cables, the wires, the fibre-optics and even along old disused telephone wires, the EMP raced from one power station to the next, across the world from one source of radio-activity to another and another.
And Earth died. They did not need to see it to know it was going to happen. It would happen whether they watched it or not. But they watched, for as long as possible, they watched. Silently.
It would happen slowly, over a period of days in some places, where the power fizzled out and remained out, and the rioters and looters took over, quicker, in a matter of hours, in most places where the explosions and flames destroyed whole suburbs, whole neighbourhoods, whole cities. It was inevitable.
No electricity, no computers, no power. No life. A population reduced to fighting for clean water, food, shelter, fuel, anything that they needed to make life tolerable, bearable.
A sky filled with black radio-active clouds, the beginning of a nuclear winter.
And then, minutes after the devastating EMP surge obliterated the hopes and future of the Earth, the small group in the basement headquarters of SHADO saw the first of the fleet of UFOs landing, victorious, on a devastated and utterly destroyed Earth. A world ripe for the harvesting.
Straker turned off the screen moments before it, too, was contaminated by the EMP. His eyes wet with tears, his head bowed with the horror of what they had seen, what they knew was going to happen.
‘Sir.’ Regardless of protocols, of deference, Ayshea put her arms around him. Held him tightly. ‘Ed, what now? What do we do?’
He stood, shuddering in her arms, then she felt him tense, gain control of himself and he stepped back, and looked at her, at Alec, at Keith Ford and Paul Foster, at the other SHADO family members who had remained. So few of them, so very few. Just thirteen. Thirteen from a complement of over a hundred.
‘This way.’ They could hardly hear his voice he was so quiet, but he led them to the underground section, to the base accommodation unit and into his own private room.
‘Sir?’ Keith questioned him as Straker began to pull the simple wardrobe away from the wall.
‘Give me a hand Keith will you?’ And together they manhandled it clear of the wall. There was a door behind. Doubly hidden, in Straker’s private, now rarely-used room and behind his wardrobe. Unlocked, unmarked, unremarkable really. No-one would have known about it. In silence he opened it and went inside.
‘My God.’ Simon Bishop gasped as he followed Straker into the huge, concealed storeroom. ‘How long has this been here?’ He turned to the commander in awe. ‘You planned for this? How did you know?’
Straker shook his head sadly, ‘No Simon, I never planned for this, I never planned for the world to end, but I always knew there might come a time when we needed to be sealed off for some time, if security was compromised, or there was a problem with contamination. And so…’ he looked around the packed space. ‘Supplies for over two years, if we are careful. Food, water, fuel, medical, hopefully everything we might need. Spare computer consoles, electrical supplies, even paper and pencils.’
‘Christ, Ed, you’re bloody paranoid you know that?’ Alec said, looking around the stored supplies. He turned back to his friend and spoke honestly, ‘Ed. What the hell are we going to do? What hope is there? You should have gone, gone to Rachel. You could have been with her. You’d have made it back to your place in time.’
‘Please, Alec,’ Straker whispered, looking at Freeman, begging him not to continue, ‘Don’t say anything else. I can’t bear the thought….’
‘Commander, why did you stay? What good will it do you or any of us? All these supplies? We are going to die here, captured by the aliens, or starving to death eventually when the supplies run out. Why did you stay?’ Keith Ford grabbed his arm fiercely.
Straker stared at him, looked deep into the eyes of the loyal SHADO communication chief. ‘I don’t really know Keith. Part of me says it’s hopeless, but there’s a part of me that thinks…..’ he shook his head, almost despairingly.
‘Thinks what…..what Commander?’
‘I think we can stop it. Stop it happening.’ And he looked at them, clear blue eyes red-rimmed with terrible distress, but intelligent, alert, thinking. ‘I think we can change time.’
May 19th 2010 22.23hours
Personal Journal; Ryan
Dear God. Dear God.
Why did I stay.
I might have been able to get home. Might have made it.
Though to be honest I doubt it. I know what the traffic is like at this time of the day.
And Straker only gave us a couple of minutes to decide whether to stay, and maybe live. Or go and definitely die. And I know which I prefer.
Besides. Straker’s always been someone you could rely on and to be honest, I’d rather spend my last days here in SHADO with my friends.
At least they don’t stab you in the back like my ex-wife did. She’ll get her reward though.
We’ve often talked about the effect of an EMP. I don’t think it’s going to be very pleasant, these next few days and weeks. No power, no lights, emergency services virtually non-existent. A slow, violent, decline into death.
No, I’ll take my chances with the Commander. You never know. His plan might work. I wouldn’t put it past the old guy.
I wouldn’t put anything past him.
May 19th 2010 09.14 hours onwards
And so they had set to work. The remaining thirteen of them. Three women and ten men. The last SHADO group in existence, unless other bases, other units had been able to act as quickly as Straker. But it was unlikely. It was the mention of technetium that had made the Commander realise the appalling danger.
Technetium, combined with the radio-active material from the Interceptors nuclear weapons, not just one missile, but all three. The perfect combination to create a powerful Electromagnetic Pulse that would surge across the world, and, from its point of origin it built up strength and power as it was fed by the two other elements, thorium and astatine. From the moment that the nuclear missiles hit the massive UFO, Earth was doomed.
If only Paul had waited. If only Ed had been awake. If only.
Straker reorganised the entire complex. All the basement rooms were closed off, the corridors leading to Control stockpiled with the food stores and water; easily accessible and also easily policed. The vast majority of rooms left dark, unheated, unused. It was too expensive in terms of fuel usage to heat or light corridors and vacant spaces. He regretted the loss of the piano in the staff lounge, his one source of relaxation, but he could never have played it again, not unless Rachel was there beside him.
Straker and Freeman’s offices were converted into sleeping quarters, with narrow beds brought from sick bay. The three women had Alec’s small office, the men shared Straker’s. It was a tight squeeze, but the need to save fuel was paramount. The small fuel rods that the SHADO Commander had stored away would be needed to power the computers and, eventually, hopefully, to power the Janus machine, as it had been informally nicknamed by Ayshea.
Janus; the Roman god with two faces, one looking forward into the past, one looking into the future. There had been discussions about the name, and Keith Ford had suggested Chronos, after the God of Time, but Ayshea had complained that it was a sad name, the name of someone growing old, of time passing by.
Janus was the god of change, of hope, of a new beginning. In the end she had simply started calling it Janus and assumed that everyone else would call it the same name. And so they did.
And the control room was at the heart of it all. They dragged useless computers, chart tables, unwanted consoles, Straker’s huge Perspex desk and assorted unusable furniture out into the empty, dark, abandoned corridors. Paul Foster, subdued, with a look in his eyes of a haunted animal, organised a simple kitchen area with microwaves. There was no fridge, no freezer, but these were not needed. The food stores were mostly freeze dried and there was a water recycling system as well as stored water. Each person responsible for cleaning their own plates, mugs, cutlery.
It worked well.
Despite objections from the other members of the group, Ed Straker made one radical change. There would be no seniority, no command structure. First names, no titles. Alec Freeman was unsure. Paul Foster was quietly perturbed, but Straker held out. First names only, no formality, no precedence.
He knew that the success of the operation depended on everyone working together, sharing knowledge, and it was likely that the contributions from others, especially in regard to practical electronics and communications, would be vastly more significant than his.
Oh, he would make any necessary, final decisions, but only after consulting the rest of the team, the ‘family’.
For that was what they were.
A family. Reliant on each other for support, encouragement, help, and Ed, no longer Commander Straker, merely Ed, knew that having a command structure would fragment his family, could tear them apart.
Every single person was valued, if not for their technical expertise then for other qualities. Perseverance, medical knowledge, humour, the ability to make the freeze-dried foods into a meal that tasted of more than packaged protein, storytelling, salvaging, supporting, sheer brute strength.
Everyone was needed. Everyone had a part to play.
Keith, the communications expert with an unbeatable understanding of wavelengths, and means of transforming power into signals, Ayshea, superb computer technician.
Christine, skilled paramedic, Simon, quantum mechanics specialist, all of them vital, even Alec, with no real scientific background but who could be relied upon to boost morale, to keep everyone working and working cheerfully.
Ed knew that his own personal strengths in maths and astrophysics were not duplicated within the group and that he would be called upon to do most of the theoretical work, and certainly the intricate calculations that would be needed if they finally managed to achieve a working prototype. But he could not do it without everyone else. It was going to be a team effort. Even Paul Foster was needed. Paul’s experiences as a test pilot would be invaluable in building and designing the engine.
So, everyone together, equal, partners.
It was better this way, better for everyone. No-one making unilateral decisions, no-one lording it over a rag-tag bunch of survivors like some medieval lord of the manor. Straker knew how desperate things were likely to get in the future. He needed to be able to rely on these people if he was going to achieve his goal. Because sure as hell, some of them were going to die. And quite probably, soon.
The equipment that they would need in order to build, or attempt to build a machine that could travel faster than light, was ‘up top’. On the surface, along with aliens, starving refugees, scavengers, and feral animals that would by now attack anything that moved. And the shado team had to go up there.
It was all based on one simple equation. A basic mathematical equation. Taught in schools everywhere.
Acceleration equals changes in time divided by changes in velocity.
Turn it around. Twist the variables. Open your mind to possibilities, to other ways of working, to different perspectives. And above all, think.
And that was what Ed excelled at. Thinking. From the very first moment on Day One when the EMP had been created, when he knew that Earth was doomed, he realised that the aliens had planned the end result. Had calculated that a slow moving UFO would be seen as a soft, an easy target, especially after so many hours of intense activity and had reasoned that SHADO would attack the UFO and thereby create the devastating EMP which would render Earth defenceless. And he knew that the aliens would be coming. In their Faster than Light craft. Capable of speeds in excess of SOL 8. But this time they would not let their ships self-destruct, they would need them, to take their abundant harvest home to their own world.
UFOs. Here on Earth.
If the small group of survivors hidden deep beneath the ruins of Harlington Straker could get a UFO, could steal the necessary parts from within it, then they might be able to create a machine that would go, not faster than light to another solar system, but faster than light back through time. And change history.
May 24th 2010
Personal Journal; Mike
Well, that’s a turn up for the books. No more titles. No more command. Bet Paul ‘I’ll be Commander one day’ Foster didn’t take kindly to that. I think it will work. I hope so. Ed Straker‘s right. We need to work together, as a family. After all, we are the only ones left here now, and if that doesn’t make us a family, I don’t know what does.
Christ it’s hard though. I keep thinking about outside. I don’t suppose my orchids have survived. I would imagine that very little will survive now. Nuclear winter, that’s what they used to call it. Clouds covering the sky, no sunlight, temperatures at least three degrees lower than average. Oh yes? Global warming? What a laugh. All those scientists with their predictions and their gloom and their rising temperatures.
You certainly got that wrong didn’t you.
June 23rd 2010
‘Ready?’ a whispered question.
The only answer a nod.
A wave of one hand. ‘Go.’ The voice hoarse, muted, worried.
Keith and Paul crouched down and moved stealthily towards the abandoned UFO, covered by Alec and Ed, both heavily armed. Late at night though it was, and even with the dirty black rain falling heavily, there were still some feral hunters out and about, searching for anything they could find, particularly anything female. Straker had made Ayshea and Christine and Laura stay behind in the safety of the underground bunker. One of the few, the very few command decisions he had made over the last month.
The back-up group watched anxiously as the two men approached the UFO, canted over on its side, doorway gaping open, clearly damaged, whether by the EMP or simply by a bad landing.
But the aliens’ loss was their gain.
He stood and waited as Paul, ultra-cautiously, peered into the UFO’s dark, ominous doorway. An arm waved. All clear. And the rest of them hurried over, keeping low, keeping quiet.
It took too long to strip the alien craft of anything that might be useful, too long by far, but they had decided that it was getting too dangerous to keep coming out here, raiding the surrounding area. Last time, they had been spotted by a large gang of scavengers and they had used up more precious ammunition trying to defend themselves.
With Alec and Ed on guard, the others ripped out every piece of equipment that they could haul and dragged them to the top of the tunnel. Straker’s tunnel. One of the ones he had designed when the underground complex was built. They were meant to have been used as escape tunnels, and this was the only one left that was usable. The others had systematically been blocked by carefully placed explosive charges, when Straker had ordered the complete isolation of the complex. Only one tunnel had been left usable. Straker’s tunnel.
The one behind his desk had gone, destroyed in the ‘shut down’ procedure, as had the one from the hidden armory up to the roof top, but one remained undamaged, accessed only from the previously hidden store room behind steel doors and multiple locks. No-one on the staff had known about it apart from Ed, and it soon became named after him. It consisted of a steep, sloping passage up to the surface, ending in submarine style air-lock steel door that exited in an unused guard house by the car park. It was not an easy route, especially as it had more airlocks at intervals, designed to prevent the spread of any contamination from the surface.
But it was a way out. When they needed one. Such as now.
The plan was simple. As all plans generally are. Easy to talk about. Difficult to put into practice.
On that terrible Day One Ed Straker had taken them all into his office, his office for the very last time. Had made them all sit and had poured them all a drink; whisky for the most part, and large drinks as well, and made them all drink it. He had been the only one without a glass in his hand.
And he had explained his idea. How the aliens used Faster Than Light speeds to encroach into the Solar System, and how, if this small shado family could get hold of some of the alien technology, they might be able to re-create an engine capable of FTL speeds.
But not to travel to somewhere else, no. It would remain stationary, and instead of travelling across distances, it would travel across time. For that was the essence of space. Space was time. Every astronomer and physicist knew that. You looked into the night sky and you were looking back into time. In every direction.
And Ed, no longer the SHADO Commander, just Ed, believed that working together, in time, they might be able to send one person back through time to avert the catastrophe. He had no idea how, or who, but he knew that he had to try. One thought spurred him on more than the thought of changing history, of putting the world to rights, or preventing the catastrophe. One thought alone.
He had left her, left her to die alone. And he would never, ever forgive himself, even though he had known at the time that he had no other option. That he would never have been able to reach her in time, even if he had left immediately. And so they were here, outside in the filthy, acidic rain, risking everything on this one slender chance.
Alec and he covered the group as the precious supplies were hauled to the door of the tunnel, then the whole group gathered together to make the journey back down, one of the most perilous parts of the operation. It was now, when they were heading down the steep slope to the first door that they were at their most vulnerable.
They set off, Ed and Alec at the rear, checking to make sure that they were not followed. There had been some hideous scenes last time they had come up; emaciated, starving dogs ripping decomposing corpses, the sky filled with black acrid smoke and drizzling gritty soot black rain onto them that etched tiny holes in their clothes as it ate away at the fabric, the horrendous screaming of the wind, a wild wind, as if the air itself had lost its mind and was insane, and worst of all, the sight of the gangs of aliens, methodically scouring the landscape for living beings.
Things were not much better this time. Maybe not as many dogs, or corpses, but the rain was as filthy, the sky as black and threatening, and aliens still wandered confidently around the desperately bleak environs.
It was only due to Paul’s quick reflexes that Ed had avoided capture by the heavily armed invaders in their red suits. The one-time Commander had noticed a peculiar greenish dome shape curving over what had been a nearby children’s play area. It reminded him of the underwater dome that had housed the fake SHADO Headquarters.
Kevin Anderson. Ed wondered what had happened to him. Anderson had left HQ when Ed had given the ultimatum on Day One. Anderson, with two young boys at home. They would be dead by now. Probably. Hopefully.
Ed had moved, almost hypnotised by the glow of the lights, towards the dome, forgetting for a brief second the warning he himself had given the team before setting out.
‘Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Concentrate on the job in hand. Nothing else matters.’ But he had been distracted. And it was only the fact that Paul grabbed him by the arm and pulled him down onto the slutch and scum covered pathway, that prevented Ed being seen.
He grinned sheepishly at Paul. ’Thanks. I owe you.’ And was rewarded by a brief smile. The first time he had seen Paul smile since Day One. He patted the younger man on the shoulder. ‘Good job Paul. Come on, let’s get going.’ And they headed for their little haven of warmth and comfort, deep below the ruined Earth.
June 23rd 2010
Personal Journal; Alec
Well, we did it. I didn’t think it would be as easy as it actually was in the end, although Ed nearly cocked it up at the end and only quick action by Paul saved him. Idiot!
We got the parts down after a struggle. Ed is going round with a grin on his face, and even the others seem to be much more cheerful. Paul has relaxed a little, after weeks of being withdrawn and almost terrified of everyone. I think Ed must have said something to him. Thank heavens. I was getting more than a little sick of Paul’s martyr act. The stupid sod caused all this. And nothing he does will ever persuade me that he has matured.
Ed. How am I going to summon up the courage to tell you? How can I find the words? I worry so much that you will not be able to carry on, after. We have been friends for so long, so very long. I will miss you. But there is nothing I can do now to stop the inevitable. I just hope that it will be quick and relatively painless. But somehow I doubt it.
December 25th 2010
Ayshea knew what it was like to cry, to cry until utter exhaustion overtook you, until you could simply not cry anymore because there was nothing left to give. And Christine was the same. Chris and Ayshea had cried on each other’s shoulders more times than she cared to count. And they had all cried on Keith, and Dave and Alec and, yes, even Ed. No-one thought it a sign of weakness, or failure, just the natural reaction of people whose lives had been totally devastated.
But Laura had never cried openly. Never leaned on Ed and held on to him as if he was the only thing that could save her from the horrors of the night. Never talked to Ayshea or Christine. And that worried Ayshea more than anything.
Today was Christmas Day. Their first one. There was a meeting planned after the main meal. Ayshea wasn’t expecting anything special to happen, just the usual chat, a brief discussion about what progress was being made, then Alec would crack jokes and flirt, Dave and Ryan would try to get Laura to join in the conversation, Ed would quietly and almost diffidently hand out compliments to all for the work they were doing and would talk about the next stage in the Janus project.
They would all sit around and be able, for a while, to forget the world around and above them. To forget the loss of the life they once had.
Ayshea remembered the last Christmas in SHADO. Ed Straker had been on duty at midnight, and had sent everyone home early. She hadn’t really wanted to leave, after all there was nothing special to go home for. No family, few friends, and most of those were in SHADO anyway. Besides, she always liked being on duty when Ed Straker was in. The control room was more efficient, more focussed when the Commander walked through the base.
She wondered if he had any idea what she dreamed about at night, alone, when her mind was set free to indulge itself in visions of a tall slender man with improbably blonde hair. What she still dreamed about. And one of the things that made this existence bearable was the knowledge that Ed was there with her, although he would never be hers, ever.
It was Ed who kept Ayshea focussed. His smile, his looks of approval, of care, of concern when she cut her hand on yet another alienly sharp edge. Ed. There, watching, helping. Perhaps she should talk to him. Yes, that’s what she would do. He probably hadn’t realised she was concerned about Laura.
December 25th 2010
Personal Journal; Ed
Christmas Day. It seems just like every other day here in this underground home. No changes in the pattern of daylight, no dark afternoons, no stars to watch. I miss Orion. As a young a boy I used to wait excitedly for the first glimpse of him rising above the horizon and even as recently as last winter I would peer at the night sky from October onwards to try to spot the stars as they emerged but not this year.
No stars, no sun, nothing. Even if we went outside, we would not be able to see the night sky. That glory has passed. I don’t suppose it will be seen again by any human now. It will be years before the sky clears, before the black, all encompassing clouds disperse and the sky is revealed. Too many years. And mankind cannot live, cannot exist on this dying world for many more years, surely. The absence of sunlight has killed off much of the plant life; all that seems to exist now are scrubby lichens and tough woody plants. The deciduous trees are all dormant, but I don’t suppose they will revive in the spring. There will be no spring here. Not now.
Still, we are making progress. The UFO has been slowly dismantled and much of it is now down here in our cramped and cluttered little dwelling. Ayshea complains that she keeps falling over and stubbing her toes on alien equipment, but she is always the first to volunteer when it comes to trying to fit parts together, to reassemble unfathomable pieces of alien technology into a coherent working machine.
She has settled to this uncomfortable and restricted world surprisingly well, unlike Laura.
I have concerns about Laura. I wake up often to hear her crying at night. More than crying really. Sobbing. Quiet, suppressed sobs, muffled in a pillow.
On occasions I have gone through to see if there is anything that might help; a word or two, even a hug. But she lies there, her face pressed into the stained and crumpled pillow, her shoulders rigid with the need to be silent. And it is clear that she does not want to be seen crying or to admit that she is having nightmares, and yet, after all, who among us isn’t having nightmares.
I have woken, sweating and almost screaming with panic and fear on more occasions than I care to recall. Keith, Keith wanders around some days with a look of wild terror on his face. We all sleep badly at times, even when we are exhausted after a long and difficult day battling with the recalcitrant UFO technology.
But Laura is different somehow. She doesn’t get up in the morning and sheepishly admit to ‘a rough night’, she brazens it out, defying anyone to find fault with her work or her attitude or her concentration. And she is becoming more isolated within our small family because of her refusal to face the stark fact; this is our life now, for the foreseeable future. And we must make the best of it. At least until we either succeed in our task, or, admit defeat.
My fear is that Laura is close to breaking. Closer than anyone here.
And today is Christmas Day. There will be nothing special today, no event to mark the day, no gifts, or cards, or even a special meal. It will pass like every other day, unless Paul has found some hidden treasure in the supplies; maybe a stashed bar of chocolate.
I have thought that we would not even be able to share a drink, for the remaining alcohol we have is too precious to waste in drinking. But I discovered a bottle of champagne in one of the storerooms and I hope we can share that later. We have one thing to celebrate.
We are all still alive. Still surviving, still working towards our goal. And, please God, we succeed, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. And that worries me.
I worry about our future, I worry about the amount of supplies we have, and whether they will be sufficient, about the progress we are making, about whether we are all on a wild-goose chase.
And Alec. I am desperately, desperately worried about Alec.
January 3rd 2011
The team spread out, searching frantically, torch beams lighting the pelting rain like strobes. Straker motioned to his friend, ‘Stay there, Alec, watch for any scavengers will you.’
Alec felt grey, tired and old and grey. His face lined with pain and worry. Ed had tried to persuade him to remain below, instead of coming up here, but Alec, stubborn as ever, had refused. So, he was here, and the pain in his chest was finally easing. He clenched his fist, counting the seconds as the tightness slowly unclamped until he felt that he could actually breath at last. He wondered if Ed suspected anything. Alec knew that he had been a fool, a bloody fool to think he could get away with it, to think that nothing was the matter, when all the time he had known that a thorough medical examination would have revealed… whatever it was. But the thought of being medically retired from SHADO had been horrendous and so he had kept it hidden, hoping, stupidly, that it would all go away.
Damn that Laura. If she hadn’t gone completely berserk and decided to go home, home being a neat two-bedroomed flat about five miles away from the studio, they wouldn’t be out here, in the foul rain hoping to find her before any wandering aliens got lucky.
Thank God they had realised that she was gone, that the tunnel doors were open, before anyone or anything had managed to find the way down to their shelter. Though what the hell they were going to do with Laura once they found her, Alec had no idea.
It was not as if they could sedate her, or treat her paranoia, if that was what it was. It was probably just old-fashioned insanity. Her mind had finally gone. And so had she, out into this vile landscape where her friends were risking their lives to try to save her.
For what ? A future in which she would be locked up, out of harm’s way. But they were still looking for her.
Even Ayshea and Christine were out here, searching, calling quietly. They all kept as low as possible and skirted around the area where the nearest dome was gleaming like phosphorously luminous slime.
Aliens wandered around the devastated landscape with the confidence of invaders who knew that they were in charge. There were no humans to be seen, other than the desperate few of their little group trying to find their lost companion before it was too late, before they aliens found her first. Alec watched from his hideout as one of the group of red-suited aliens turned and pointed at something. Someone.
And then, ahead, they saw her, wandering like a lost child. Heading for disaster. For death.
Personal Journal; Christine
January 6th 2011
Ed asked me to say something at the memorial service today. I don’t think I can. I will break down. I don’t know if anyone knew that Dave and I were lovers, had been lovers since before Day One. I suspect that Ed knew. He tends to know everything that goes on. We were discreet of course. SHADO didn’t really approve of relationships between operatives, unless approved by higher authorities.
I loved Dave so much. He was the one good thing left to me in this crazy nightmare world and I don’t see how I can survive without him. But I will have to.
If only Laura hadn’t lost her mind. If she had only talked to us, told us how she felt, we could have helped her, maybe. Instead she risked all our lives. And Dave and Ryan lost theirs. We don’t even have their bodies to bury. Just the vision of them being captured and slaughtered as they tried to get Laura back to us. And Laura? I don’t know what happened to her.
But Ryan and Dave, my Dave. I had to stand there and watch. Ed wouldn’t let me help. I wanted to help, but I know there was nothing that I could have done, nothing.
You had to be brave didn’t you. Had to try to rescue her. Even when she walked straight up to that bloody monstrosity and virtually surrendered to it. Dave. Why didn’t you let her go? She was as good as dead anyway. You left me behind. And now I have no one. And we are down to ten.
May 19th 2011
Early in the morning, before anyone else was awake, or even aware that it was morning, Ed slipped quietly out of his narrow bed, stretching stiffly to loosen muscles cramped by the exertions of the previous day. The physical effort needed to move the alien parts into position for Janus had tired him more than he had expected, and his arms and back ached with the unaccustomed strain.
He picked up his pen, sat at the table and opened his diary. The cartridge in the pen was his last, and he knew that he would probably have to finish this entry in pencil, which he regretted. He wondered if anyone else was keeping a personal account of the events here in their underground world, detached from the hell that was the real world above.
And he wondered what they wrote, what they thought, what they felt. And if anyone would ever read what they had written.
May 19th 2011
Personal Journal Ed Straker.
One year on. It seems as if we have been working at this project for ever. I can hardly remember the feel of sunshine or a gentle breeze. We are all taking vitamins in order to prevent any problems caused by the lack of sunlight. The physical aspect is easy to overcome, but the psychological effect is much harder to deal with. The lighting in the basement is good, but it is not sunlight. Although, even if we were able to survive outside, the sun is not shining there either. The sky is still thick with black clouds, covering the sun. Just occasionally, when we venture out on the surface, there is a glimpse of a pale, thin, watery sun, but no real brightness, no warmth, no comfort in its light.
Water supplies continue to cause problems. The recycling system is still not working at maximum efficiency, and we are having to use some bottled water although this is kept to a minimum. James is working on the problem. I hope he will be able to solve it shortly.
Food stores are good, although we have had to ration coffee and chocolate. Paul is getting used to black coffee as I am. Eventually we will have to get used to just plain water for drinking, if the water problem is sorted. The prospect of having my last cup of coffee does not thrill me. It is one of the very few pleasures left now. The scant supply of alcohol, from the few bottles in what was my office, has been locked away for use in extreme emergencies.
Janus is looking .. well honestly, Janus is looking a mess. We thought we had got the electronics sorted, but then somewhere we slipped up and we are just now getting the damaged parts replaced. The sprinkler system in the control room still worked, fortunately, otherwise we would have been hard pressed to save ourselves let alone Janus. It has put us back by at least another six months or so. But, we are making progress, slowly, hesitantly, with plenty of false starts and wrong paths.
The engine from the UFO has now been disassembled and the pieces laid out in the corridor. Paul has done an incredible job of piecing together the jigsaw of the aliens incomprehensible machinery, and he is leading the team next week to go and search for more parts. I have nothing but admiration for Paul. He has shown his true colours at last. And without his efforts, we would have never got this far.
Perhaps I made a mistake in pushing Paul into the command team. He would have made a superb Skydiver captain. Or perhaps his skills might have been better utilised in developing and leading a fleet of fighter planes. Whatever, it is too late now. I must bear some responsibility for what happened, for Paul’s mistake. For the fact that he felt it necessary to try to prove himself to me. As if he really needed to prove that.
And if this works, if by any incredible miracle we actually get Janus to work, then I won’t remember this, won’t realise that it was my insistence on dragging Paul into command that helped create the mess we are in right now. I hope I make a better job of dealing with Paul if I get a second chance.
We haven’t managed to contact any other groups via radio or other means. The static charge from the almost permanent thunderstorms seems to be constantly interfering with our attempts to communicate with the outside world. That is, if there is anyone out there to receive our messages or reply to them.
I often wonder if the heads of governments are waiting, safe and cosy and protected in their underground bunkers, for this Armageddon to come to a conclusion. But it won’t, because even if the Earth recovers, even if the nuclear winter ends and the plants start to grow again, and the sun starts to shine, the aliens will still be there, waiting for us to come out of hiding, waiting with their knives. They have made this ravaged Earth their temporary home, have set up camp and they are settled in for the duration.
Some less depressing news now. At one of our group meetings a couple of months ago, Ayshea persuaded us to ransack the Staff Lounge and we brought back books, DVDs and, after a considerable struggle, managed to drag the piano into the corridor just off the control room. We all agreed that it was necessary for our well-being to waste some fuel each week and have a film night. The generator doesn’t really use up that much fuel and it has made a tremendous difference to morale. I can do without the films, but the bliss of being able to play the piano is indescribable, even if it is getting very slightly out of tune. To forget everything around me, to imagine that while I am playing the world is normal, the sun is shining, and life goes on as usual. I try not to think about Rachel while I am playing. But it is hard.
Today is the first anniversary of Day One. I don’t think the others realise, or if they do know, they are being diplomatic and keeping the fact to themselves. It’s not really a day I want to celebrate, but Alec was always one for a celebration. Any excuse to open a bottle.
He should have been here now, expecting to have a small sip of the last of the malt whisky, his favourite, Isle of Jura. Just a couple of inches left in the bottle last time I looked. I would happily open it and pour it all out for him if he walked in through that door. Alec Freeman. I feel as if I should have a small drink in his memory. But it would be wasted on me, and we might need it.
To Alec Freeman. Best Executive Officer a Commander could ever have. Best friend a man could ever have. I miss you Alec. God I wish you were here.
I shall end this account for now. I feel slightly guilty wasting precious paper on trivia such as this, but, the outcome of our actions is uncertain, and I want to leave a record for anyone who, one day, in the future might land on this once beautiful planet and might, just might, find this diary. I hope so. I really do.
The Control room was dark. Empty. Silent. No-one around at this time of night. The lights turned off, the systems shut down until the following morning. But in one corner, under the soft glow of the one emergency light that remained lit at all times a man sat, head bent, peering at the page as he wrote in the near-darkness.
Personal Journal; James
One year. One bloody year of rations, of cramped confined living, one year of working without a real idea of what we are doing, or where it will all end up. And for what? Just to satisfy Ed’s insane fantasy that we can undo what has happened. Let’s face it. It’s not going to happen. Not in a million years. We are all going to rot away down here, until the supplies run out and we either starve or go down fighting for the last scraps. Or kill ourselves when it becomes too unbearable. I’m sure Ed has got that planned as well. But I’ll go along with his dreams, at least for now. It’s better than the alternative.
Ed has been very withdrawn recently, more so than normal. I think he misses Alec more than he would ever admit. To be honest, I miss the old guy. He was always good for a laugh. It’s quiet here without his loud voice booming in the background. I’m glad it was quick. I had suspected for a while what was happening and I don’t think I was the only one, although Ed never said anything. And Alec, of course, never admitted that he was unwell, even towards the end when he could hardly breathe. So now there are even fewer of us. I wonder who will be next? Who will be left here at the end, alone,? I know one thing. I’ll make damned sure it won’t be me.
Sept 21st 2011
Ed lay there in the narrow bed, the faint light from the corridor outside softly illuminating the room. He should have been up earlier, checking over Janus, collecting the day’s rations from the ever-dwindling supplies out in the corridors, checking to see if the water recycling system was still working. But he was in bed.
Christ he was tired. Bone tired. And today he was going to have a lie-in. A whole thirty minutes. He would simply lie here, pretend to be asleep, and let the others get up, eat, and start work. And then he’d get up. He might even treat himself and have breakfast for once.
Eighteen months nearly. Eighteen months of worry and fear. Worry that he might not be able to do it. To get Janus to work. Fear that if he did get it working, he might not, after all, be able to change what had happened.
For all his expertise in physics and chaos theory and all the other off-the-wall and esoteric sciences that had crept into his subconscious over the past decade, he knew that what he was attempting to do was so abstruse, so untried, even in the most bizarre theoretical journals, that it was likely to end in total and abject failure.
And what would he do then? What would the others do? Give up? Lie down and die? He knew that one or two of them looked at him with sideways glances as if trying to judge just how far along the road to insanity he had travelled. He didn’t really have the people skills needed to work with them. He was a commander, and he was good at that, but this was different.
There were times when he wished that he had kept the command structure. It would have been so much easier to simply order them to do the work. No questions, no discussions. Just, ‘do it’ and it got done.
But they would never have coped with that, would never had worked together as they were doing now. A team. United with one goal. To beat the enemy, to win back their own world. Even the everyday niggles over rations and coffee and who’s turn it was to tidy away the detritus of the day, even those grumbles were muted. Everyone knew that there was no favouritism, no special treatment. It worked.
But today, today he was going to treat himself. Just this once. He hadn’t bothered last year, the day had been and gone before he realised its significance, but he had been working out times and dates just last week and remembered about today. And damn it all, he had done the same for them in turn.
Ayshea smiled to herself as she made coffee. Black; the milk had long gone, and there was no sugar left. She knew he dreamed of sweet coffee, even though the others had got used to drinking coffee as it came.
Everyone was up now, except Ed. And that was most unusual, but today she wasn’t surprised. He had kept it a secret, or so he thought, but she knew about this day.
Sept 21st 2011
Personal Journal; Ayshea
I thought he was asleep at first. The others were very quiet when they got up and said he was sleeping but I’ve got to know him by now, over these last long months. He wouldn’t be asleep, not when the other men were getting up. And then I worked it out. What today is. His birthday. I wish I could give him a present. But there is nothing. The only thing he wants is for Janus to work. and that is not possible; yet.
But I think it will work, but not for months yet. There are too many variables still to be thrashed out, too many theories to be put into action. But we will get there. I believe him. Things are falling into place; the power systems, the interfaces, the reversal of polarity that we thought would never happen. And although the whole thing looks like something that a three year old would construct out of tin cans and scraps of metal and oddments of wires, when we switched it on yesterday it worked. Oh not as it should. That’s still a long way off. Ed will have to do all the theoretical stuff for that, and we won’t be ready for at least another six months, and then there’s all the de-synchronisation and thrust reversals to do, which will take several months, but, the acceleration drive works. Thank God.
Ed was so delighted, although he didn’t say very much. Just smiled that lovely smile and thanked everyone. Probably the best present he could get really, although I did find a present for him.
I made him a mug of coffee, with sugar. There was a small stash of sugar still left over. Christine wants to save it for medical emergencies, but I persuaded her to let me have a couple of spoonfuls just this once.
When I took it in, he opened his eyes, and I sat on edge of his bed and said happy birthday and gave him the coffee. I know that he wished it was Rachel bringing him a drink, but he smiled at me and that was enough. I wish I had dared to kiss him.
Maybe one day, when Janus goes into action to change everything. Before he forgets about all this. That would be nice.
December 31st 2011
The second Christmas underground passed without much comment. Paul had spent several weeks rewiring the computer system from the UFO and ensuring that it was compatible with their output. Easier said than done, but he had grown in confidence over the last eighteen months and knew what he was doing.
Paul thought back over the last few years. God, he’d been such an arrogant fool. He blushed when he remembered his carefree attitude, his overwhelming misplaced confidence. How he had imagined and dreamed of one day being the Commander. As if. As if he could ever have done it in reality. He simply didn’t know enough.
Oh not just about the technical side of things, that wasn’t so important. It was the ability to outthink the aliens, to anticipate their moves to outwit them, that he couldn’t do.
But, as he worked there, lying on the filthy floor, surrounded by wires and cables and random pieces of machinery that spilled out across the floor like entrails from an alien’s victim, Paul Foster finally realised that he had changed.
Ho no longer wanted to command. To lead. To be responsible for what would happen. He had done that, and this was where it had ended up. A ruined world. Commander Straker would not have let it happen, but ‘Commander’ Paul Foster had. And he would never forgive himself. Still, it looked like the old man was on to a winner. Janus … for all its ugliness, its cobbled together appearance, its mish-mash of assorted alien and human technology, was beginning to come together.
And it would work. Ed was convinced.
Paul wondered what would happen once they’d got it running. Would they be able to alter the past? And how much would anyone remember. Probably nothing. He sighed, regretting that he would be condemned to repeat his mistakes and carry on like the arrogant smug git he had been before. But if, if by any miracle, he remembered, then he was determined to change, to reassess his performance and, if necessary, sidestep out of command into another area of SHADO, where his skills might be better used.
Perhaps Ed would let him develop the much-discussed fleet of fighter planes that the IAC had approved. Paul smiled to himself. Yes, he’d be good at that. And he’d remember to ask for help when he needed it.
But, Janus was the priority now. He sat up and calculated the power output. Not enough. He’d better check with Ed first though. Before he did anything. And there were still the cables to connect to the Utronic transponder that they had cannibalised. And the boards to re-stabilise, and the timers to calibrate. He set to work.
And it was New Year’s Eve. A new year tomorrow. January. Janus. He was lying on the floor, head and shoulders under the disassembled carcass of one of the old SHADO computers, trying to extricate a delicate piece of electronic hardware, when he heard Simon, shouting desperately.
January 1st 2012
Personal Journal; Simon
Shit. Why the hell did he have to do that? What was the bloody point? Such a fucking waste. If only I’d got there sooner we might have saved him. Shit. I thought at one stage we had managed to bring him round, but it was wishful thinking really. He wanted to die. I’d suspected that for a long while. He would lie in his bed, in the dark and talk about death, about how Ed, being Ed, would have a plan for when Janus didn’t work. He even talked about the different ways he could kill himself. But I never truly, really, believed that he would. And he fooled us all.
You bastard, James. How dare you be so arrogant, how dare you decide that you have the right to abandon us. That you can simply walk away and leave us. Well, I’ll tell you now, you self-centred, self-righteous fucking bastard, we won’t miss you, we’ll manage without you, we’ll get Janus to work and when it does, you selfish sod, I’ll spit on your -grave.
Dear god, I thought Ed was going to die himself, when he helped cut you down. I’ve never seen him look so haunted, so desperate, so deathly. To have one of his family, because that’s what we are, his family, to have one of them decide that suicide was the only option… you might as well have asked him to put the rope around your fucking useless scrawny neck and kick the chair away from under your feet. You coward. You utter fucking coward.
If only for what you did to that man I’ll make you pay James. When we get back, you conniving, worthless piece of scum, I’ll make you pay. Somehow.
Early April 2012
Cold. That was the first impression that they got as they exited the tunnel. Cold. Not the fresh chill of a brisk spring day, or the crisp chill of one of those glorious winter days when the sun shone and the sky was blue and the grass was white with frost. Nor even the cold of a damp wet April day.
This was alien weather, unknown to them, foreign.
This was a bone-chilling cold.
It sank deep into one’s body within moments. It froze the marrow in your bones, and chilled the blood in your veins. And yet it wasn’t really as cold as it had been before.
It was just that the world was dead. And the death affected everything. The way you saw things, felt things, tasted, heard, smelt.
Cold. Bitter and deathly.
They crept in silence across the denuded ground towards the remains of the UFO. Not much left of it now. Most of the internal workings were safely ensconced underground, but more was needed, more of the peculiar metal that was so useful in soldering parts together, and that could only be found inside the UFO.
Ed, sheltered by the wall of the Sound Stage, was on guard. The frequent trips ‘up top’ had attracted the attention of the aliens and the last few trips had ended in all out gunfights, fortunately with no casualties on the humans’ side. But they had used up virtually all their ammunition and Ed, as the best marksman, was delegated as sniper and guard.
He wiped the rain out of his eyes, focussing on the small group as they huddled together, prior to making a dash to the UFO. Just four of them .It had been decided that it was too dangerous to send more than four, although it would make retrieval of the metal harder.
Ed could protect four of them. That’s what he had told them, confidently, his voice calm and assured. The truth was that Ed had only got four bullets left. And he had already come to a decision. If the aliens managed to grab any of the four, as they had with Laura and David and Ryan, then he would shoot to kill. But not the aliens. There would be too many of them for him to eliminate.
And so he was determined.
None of his family would suffer as the others had suffered. He was a good enough shot to get it right, first time. For each of them.
He waited, fingers getting numb, eyelashes heavy with the rain, until the four of them returned, smiling, proud, thrilled to have been successful and to have survived.
He followed them down into the warmth and relative comfort of their little home, pleased that they had made it back, safely.
April 28th 2012
Personal Journal; Paul
Simon, Phil, Mike, Christine.
Only four of us left now. Shit. What a way to go. To survive everything, the EMP, the attacks, the horror and despair, only to die from a simple bloody virus. Despite all our precautions, all our efforts they all died during the night. Ed sat up with them, he wouldn’t let anyone else do it, saying that if they were still infectious, then he didn’t want anyone else catching it. He woke us early to tell us that they had all died. It sounds like they caught some variant of influenza. Or even that Spanish flu that killed millions. Whatever it was, it was nasty. A dreadful way to die. But is there any way good way to die? I certainly wouldn’t want to go like that, coughing and drowning as my lungs filled. Give me the chance to go out like a blazing star. Doing something worthwhile, for once.
God have mercy on them. And us.
Thank the lord that Keith appears to have only caught a mild version and is slowly recovering, although we are still worried about him.
The only good thing is that none of them were important. That sounds callous and cruel, but if it had been Ed or Keith, we might just as well have opened the doors and invited the aliens in. There would be no chance of getting Janus finished. And we are getting there.
If only I had waited. Had asked for help, had realised what the aliens had planned, had seen the threat. But I was too wrapped up in my own self-importance, my dreams of promotion, my thoughts of being, one day, Commander. As if I could ever take his place, could ever be the man he is. And I have come to understand that, now. After these months, these long long months I finally understand. I need to develop, to mature, to learn so much more. Ed tried to teach me, tried to show me, but I didn’t listen, didn’t want to listen really. I saw the future. I saw myself, as Commander, and it blinded me to everything else.
Damn. It was all my fault. If Janus doesn’t work, it will be my responsibility in the long run. I made the mistake.
But, we are winning. Slowly. I only hope that we four can survive to the end. Can change the past and make a future better than the one I made here.
August 24th 2012
He fought frantically, desperately, for minute after minute after minute. Thirty compressions, two breaths, thirty compressions, two breaths. On and on hoping, praying for a sign, a breath, a movement. He felt ribs crack under his clenched fists, felt the head still and lifeless as he tilted it back to force air into the unresisting lungs. Until, a hand on his shoulder pulled him away.
‘Ed. Stop. It’s no good. He’s gone. You can’t bring him back.’
He sat down on the filthy floor, his hand reaching out to the lifeless fingers of his friend.
August 24th 2012
Personal Journal Ed.
In memory of Paul. Died this day.
Colonel Paul J. Foster, former test pilot, SHADO Colonel, and friend, died early this morning saving my life when one of the enemy managed to get down the tunnel into our base. With no thought for his own safety he pushed me out of the way onto the ground and he was hit by the alien’s weapon. There was nothing we could do for him.
Keith managed to knock the alien to the floor, and disarm it, but it was too late to save Paul.
We shall miss him. He was a valued member of our dwindling team, and more than that, he became a close friend. I know that he deeply regretted his actions on Day One and he strove ceaselessly to help us with Janus. It is partly due to his endeavours that we have made such tremendous progress recently.
I hope that I will have the chance to speak to him again, one day soon, when Janus sends us back.
And Janus will work. I have no doubt.
Paul. You will be remembered.
Sept 4th 2012
Ayshea rose quietly, unwilling to disturb Ed and Keith. She looked over at them fondly, both still deeply asleep. It seemed strange being here in this room now at night, but she had argued over the last few days that she could no longer bear to sleep alone any more, and now that Paul was no longer with them there was really no reason at all why she should not share the spacious room.
In actual fact she was terrified of being alone at night, terrified that something might happen to Ed and Keith, and that she would wake in the morning to find herself the only survivor. It seemed so long ago that there were the thirteen of them, all working towards a common goal; Janus. But events had taken their toll and she was acutely aware that the three of them could quite possibly be the last people still free on Earth.
She didn’t dare consider what would happen if Janus didn’t work. But the thought was always lurking there, in the dark recesses of her mind; a traitorous thought, trying to catch her unawares and make her falter in her work.
Ed had put up a screen in the old office, to give her some privacy, but it wasn’t really necessary. There was no longer any place for undue modesty here. No thoughts of sex or love or physical contact other than the hugs and kisses they shared when things were either working well, or were too grim to bear. Although that she knew, given the chance, she’d sleep with Ed. Given the chance. And she grinned to herself.
But chance would be a fine thing now.
Sept 4th 2012
Personal Journal; Keith
Nearly there, although I hardly dare think it. Ed says there are only the final calculations to do and then….
Will it work? I don’t know. Please God I hope it does. Because the consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about. And we have worked so hard for this, so very hard.
Ed looks exhausted, as does Ayshea. Although I look at her sometimes and notice that she is staring at Ed in a way that doesn’t surprise me.
And I will make it easy for her, on that last night. I know what I will have to do, if Janus doesn’t work. What my ultimate responsibility will be. And I don’t want it. I break out in a cold sweat whenever I think of it, but, over the years I have come to love Ayshea, and recent events have simply reinforced that feeling. Oh, not in that way, as a lover, but as a sister, or even more, a true friend. And I will give her one last small gift. On that last night, before we turn Janus on and throw the switch.
I hope Ed won’t mind. I don’t think he will. But it could make a world of difference to Ayshea. And that’s all that matters now. Before the end. Before whatever end we face.
Sept 13th 2012 evening
Keith softly walked across the room, stockinged feet making no noise on the hard surface. Ed was still working away, head bent, calculating, recording, adjusting, all the incredibly detailed equations that he need to complete, still written out on the papers strewn across the table. He had been at it for hours without a break. Keith stood nearby, waiting.
Eventually, as he realised that his presence had gone unnoticed, he coughed, quietly, unwilling to make too much of an intrusion.
A blond head lifted up, shaggy hair almost falling into Ed’s red-rimmed eyes.
‘Time for a break, Ed, you need to get a drink and something to eat.’
‘A drink? No, I’m okay Keith, don’t really fancy water right now.’ And the blue eyes sparkled with slight amusement.
‘How much more have you still got to do?’ Keith perched on the edge of the table, looking down at the incomprehensible calculations that covered the pages.
‘Nearly there now. Just have to calculate the position of Shado HQ with regards to where it was at the moment that the UFO came into range. Some of that will, of necessity, be guesswork, as I don’t have a precise time to the second, but if I can get to within a couple of yards, we stand a better chance of success. I need to do that tomorrow though, so it will be accurate to the time when we switch on. Did you mention something to eat? I’ll have a steak, medium-rare, mushrooms, fries, salad. Any chance of that?’ and his eyes glinted again.
‘Sorry Ed. Ayshea ate the last steak, just a few minutes ago.’ Keith laughed, ‘you’ll probably have to make do with reconstituted Quorn pieces. In gravy.’
‘Wonderful. My favourite.’ Ed smiled, cynically, sarcastically, but there was an undertone of genuine relief in his voice. ‘Well it’s going to ready for tomorrow Keith. I will have it all set up. I just need a decent night’s sleep before I do the final Maths. Then ….. well. We’ll see won’t we?’ he put down his pencil and stood up, stretching to relieve stiff muscles. ‘God, I need a shower. But that will have to wait. Come on. Let’s see what Ayshea’s managed to cook. It’s a good job Janus is ready. I don’t think the supplies will last much longer.’
It was late that night before Ed finally finished all the calculations that he could do before the final moment. Yawning with tiredness he went through to the office where he slept, and sat on the edge of the rumpled bed, wondering if he had the energy to actually undress. And then he felt her arms around him, felt her lean against his back, her head on his shoulder and he flinched.
‘Ayshea?’ he asked quietly, concern in his voice. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Ed,’ her voice hesitant and soft, whispering in his ear, her breath warm on his skin, ‘Ed, please, please let me sleep with you, just sleep. All I want is to be held, to be safe, to be cared for. Nothing more. Please.’
It was the voice of a frightened child. He turned and wrapped his arms round her and held her head against his shoulder. Keith peered around the door, just a glance and then nodded almost imperceptibly before moving away. Ed heard him go into the other room, heard the creaks as Keith lay down on one of the unused beds in the empty room across the corridor.
Ayshea began to cry, gentle tears, soft tears, and Ed pulled her close to him and lay down, her head on his chest, her hands on his body. He could feel her ragged breathing as she settled and he stroked her head and murmured to her and she slowly calmed and relaxed.
Eventually she slept and he lay there, still smoothing her hair, breathing slowly so as not to disturb her. He dozed and finally, peacefully, his mind relaxed and eased by her warmth, her presence, he fell asleep.
At one point in the night Keith must have come through and covered them with the blankets because Ed woke the following morning, warm and drowsy, her body curled next to his, her face calm and peaceful. He had slept well, and, refreshed, he now knew what he had to do before the final moments.
He had decided. After months of worry, of uncertainty, he had worked it out. He would not leave Keith to deal with the future, he would do that task himself.
He smiled tenderly at her and kissed her as one would kiss a sleeping child, then eased out of the bed and tucked the covers around her to let her sleep a little longer.
‘Keith?’ Ed’s voice was stern as he saw his companion waiting almost fearfully near Janus.
‘Look Ed, she was lonely, she was scared and she needed last night. Needed to be held. And I wasn’t the one she wanted holding her. All I can say is that you made it bearable for her. You’d have done the same as me if it had been the other way around, wouldn’t you?’
Ed smiled reluctantly. ‘Yes, you’re right, as usual Keith. Look, there’s something I need to get sorted before I do the final Maths. Can you wake Ayshea and get something to eat? I won’t be long.’
He went into the corridor, to the locked compartment where the last remaining medical supplies were kept and opened it, discretely pocketing a small bottle before pulling out the last remaining bottle of whisky. Then he headed back to begin his final day.
They had had to set a time for the final moment. Ayshea had wanted the time that they were aiming for. 07.36 hours, thinking that it would be easier to program, but Ed, gently, but quietly amused, had told her that it made no difference. So they agreed on 11.00 hours. It would only take him a couple of hours to do the final calculations and input the program, and he settled to the task, undisturbed.
Keith stood and waited, his mind a turmoil of conflicting thoughts; worry and excitement, sadness and joy. He knew that if Janus worked, then none of the last months would have happened, that the world would simply continue as it was before the EMP, and he wanted that, desperately, but at the same time there was that knowledge that he, the Keith that existed now, would no longer ‘be’. And he worried about that.
But he worried more about what would happen if Ed disappeared, as they were expecting him to do, once Janus was powered up, and then nothing changed. If Ed failed. If the world continued as it was.
Keith would have to …… but he refused to think about it. He just prayed that it would not come to that.
Ayshea was quiet this morning, but her face was calm as if she had accepted what was to happen. Quietly she tidied up the control; room, moving cables, scraps of paper and snippets of wires, ensuring that the space where Ed was going to stand was free from any dirt, any hindrance.
For it had been decided that Ed would be the one going back. He would program the computer to send the exact amount of power through the machine, and would then stand between the terminals, grasping the conductors, as Keith initiated the command. Then, if all worked as planned, the power from the machine, now forced into the new timedrive, would course through him and send him back through time to that moment when the UFO appeared in the Solar System. Hopefully.
There were so many variables though. Time and space could not be calculated precisely, could not be guaranteed to send him back into the control room, even into SHADO HQ. But it was their only chance.
Ed had not openly spoken of his fear that he could re-materialise inside a wall, or even, more horrifically, inside another person, but whatever his fears, he simply had to do this.
And it was time.
Sept 13th 2012 early evening
Personal Journal; Ed
So it’s tomorrow. I don’t know whether I am more terrified of the thought of failure or of what will happen to me when I arrive there. If I arrive there. In time. In the right place. What will I do? How will I make myself change what has happened? And it will all be down to me. My actions, my reactions, will decide whether the world survives. Or dies.
10.54 hours Sept 14th 2012
‘Well, nearly there.’ Ed smiled at them, ‘go on then, Ayshea, aren’t you going to give me a good luck kiss?’ and he held her hands.
‘Ed,…’ she looked at him with love and regret, ‘Ed, ..I..’ she couldn’t go on.
‘Ayshea, we couldn’t have done with without you. Whatever happens, remember that.’ He kissed her gently and turned to Keith.
‘One last thing Keith. I promised Alec I’d drink his health before I left. There are three glasses of his favourite whisky on the table. Mine’s the smallest. I don’t want to arrive reeking of alcohol. Let’s have a drink now, in memory of him and the others.’
Keith brought the glasses over, handing the one with the merest swirl of amber liquid over to the once commander of Shado.
They raised their glasses in a silent toast, each thinking of friends, of the past months, of what was to be. And then drank. Ed watched them, the slightest sad smile on his lips. Done. His final responsibility. And hopefully they would never know.
He stepped between the terminals. Grasped the bare wires. Waited as the atomic clock, now linked to the complex system, flicked through the seconds, counting down in hundredths until just before the final moment. Ed nodded at Keith and Ayshea, tightened his grip and then…………….
Janus flared into life.
May 19th 2010 07.28 hours
Paul Foster hummed to himself as he entered the studio office. A beautiful May morning, bright skies promising a warm, possibly even a hot day and it was Wednesday. A good day. Especially when tomorrow was the first day of his vacation. Two weeks in Antigua in one of the island’s smaller hotels. Wonderful. Two weeks away from SHADO and Straker, away from Alec and aliens, film directors and fans. Just today to get through. Easy.
He strolled into the control room. Shit. It looked a mess. Papers everywhere, charts, maps, data printouts. What had been going on while he was asleep? It looked like he had missed all the fun.
‘Colonel. Good morning.’ Keith Ford greeted him tiredly, ‘you picked a good night to leave early.’
Paul Foster turned round. ‘Seems I did, Keith. Why did the commander not call me?’
‘Oh, you know Commander Straker,’ Ford laughed wearily, ‘he said we didn’t need to get you out of bed. We managed alright, even though there were, if I recall, ten different attempts during the last eight hours. The Commander sent Colonel Freeman down to get some rest about two hours ago and he,’ Ford nodded towards Straker’s office, ‘has probably got his head down on his desk and is asleep in there if my guess is right. The commander has been here for the last twenty hours now. Don’t wake him Colonel. He is very tired.’ Ford turned back to his console, effectively shutting out the youngest member of the SHADO command team.
Foster stood there, rigid with suppressed anger. How dare he. How dare Straker ignore him, decide not to call Foster in, even though they were in the middle of a major attack. It was tantamount to declaring that the SHADO Commander had no faith in Paul Foster.
And there and then Paul decided that he would show Ed ‘Smug Bastard’ Straker just how competent Colonel Paul Foster could be, given the chance. He leaned over Keith Ford’s console. ‘Don’t worry Lt,’ he murmured soothingly, ‘I certainly won’t disturb the Commander, far from it.’
He went to get a coffee, noting that the main office door was closed. Unusual, but if Ed Straker was head down on his desk asleep, then chances are that the little creep Keith Ford had shut the door to stop anyone disturbing the precious boss as he dreamed.
Behind the closed door Straker was asleep. Head down on his arms at his desk. Too tired to even contemplate the journey home. Even if Rachel was waiting for him.
Ed was awake. Arms rigid with tension, fingers clenched on the terminals, with desperation. Unable to breathe, to think, to be aware of anything other than the kaleidoscope of appalling lights that flared and burned incandescently through his tightly closed eyes.
It seemed as if he had been here holding these bare terminals for years, decades, even. It was as if he had lived here, been born here and would die here in an eternity of stretched, distorted and warped time. He would have screamed but the sound choked in his throat.
And then, after untold eons, it stopped. Simply stopped. There was a wrench throughout his body as if every part of him had been twisted, stretched, pulled out of shape like elastic, and then snapped back into place. And then Ed screamed faintly, hoarsely, with the sudden explosive pain that jolted through him.
The sudden, unexpected sound woke Straker. Startled out of his nightmare, he lifted his head quickly to see what had disturbed him. And in a moment of both pure horror and pure relief, he stared at himself; at a gaunt wasted figure, unshaven, with long hair. Stared at himself; at a red-eyed, exhausted man woken from sleep, his face marked from resting on his folded arms.
He reached out one hand, the nails splitting, yet manicured, ingrained with dirt, yet fastidiously clean. And he looked into his own eyes and saw the horror and the hope within them. Then he was gone and yet, still remained.
Ed Straker leaned back, gasping for breath. Dear God. What a nightmare. There had been something almost real about it. His hand was shaking slightly as he stood up. Stupid really, he should have left earlier, got a driver to take him home, called Paul in sooner.
Still, he would go now. Better late than never.
He opened the office door, still shuddering at the memory of the nightmare vision that had appeared in front of him, and, yawning, headed into the control room.
‘……………..it is composed of mainly of thorium, astatine and there are some traces of technetium. All radio-active elements.’ Ford was saying to Paul Foster.
Technetium. Straker stood still. Thought for one moment. Stepped towards the console.
‘Lt Ford. Let me see the data.’
Keith Ford looked up, puzzled. ‘Certainly, Commander.’ and he handed the electronic log over to the SHADO commander.
Straker flicked through, so rapidly that it seemed as if he was merely glancing at the information. But he was reading it, reading every last detail.
‘Ford. Put me through to the Interceptors. Now.’ The tone in his voice was urgent, worried.
‘Straker here. Under no circumstances whatsoever are you to fire on that UFO. Return to Moonbase immediately. I repeat; return to Moonbase immediately.’ He looked at Paul Foster. ‘I’ll explain later Paul. Just let’s see what this UFO does shall we? My bet is that it will hang around until the interceptors have left the area and then it will head back home.’
He would give no further explanation, simply turned to watch the screen. Paul Foster looked at the time reference on the constantly updated datastream. 07.36 hours. He waited, wondering.
There was silence in the control room, the seconds passing almost unnoticed as Straker stood, isolated, unspeaking, refusing even to acknowledge Paul’s presence. He waited, as still and cold as a marble statue, and as expressionless.
The UFO moved. Suddenly, rapidly, it spun, turned and headed out of the Galactic plane, away from the Solar System and Earth at SOL 8. Moonbase tracked it briefly before they lost it.
Paul Foster turned to Ed Straker, ‘Commander, why… Ed. Ed? Are you alright? Here. Sit down.’
Straker had started to shake almost uncontrollably, and had turned pale and ashen. Foster helped him to a seat and bent over him, concerned, just as Keith Ford groaned in distress and almost collapsed over his console. There was a soft thud as Ayshea also fell forward, her black hair covering her face as she fainted.
‘What the hell is going on?’ muttered Foster as he called for Shroeder to come to the Control Room.
Straker leaned back, his face pale and twisted with distress. ‘Paul, check Ayshea, make sure she’s alright. Keith?’ He turned to Ford, ‘Keith? Take a deep breath. It’s alright. Look around you. Where you are. It worked Keith. It worked.’
Keith Ford sat up, slowly, staring round with a dazed expression. Straker stood up, shakily and went over to him, bending over the Communications Chief and putting an arm around his shoulder to the absolutely stunned amazement of the rest of the staff in the room. ‘Okay Keith? Do you remember? All of it? I wasn’t expecting this to happen,’ Straker looked over to Ayshea, by now sitting up and shaking her head. ‘Ayshea? It’s alright. Janus worked. We’re back. Come here.’
He helped her to stand up and held her arm as she nearly fell. ‘Ayshea,’ he said softly, gently, and put his arms around her in a close embrace. And then, then, he kissed her, unconcerned at the operatives watching, at the breach of protocol and rules. At the looks of astonishment from those around them.
A long, tender kiss, almost as a hidden history was contained in that contact, before he let her go and stepped over to where Keith was still sitting, watching them, his eyes shining with unspoken emotion.
‘Keith.’ Straker did not need to say anything else. The Communications Chief stood up and wrapped his arms around the SHADO Commander, holding him tightly, wordlessly for long moments, before they parted, grinning huge smiles of relief and delight.
‘Ed? What the hell is going on?’ Paul Foster interrupted.
Straker smiled wonderingly as he gazed around the control room , at the neatness, the smartly dressed operatives, the quietly humming consoles. Then his eyes widened in fear. ‘Paul, where’s Rachel, and Alec. Are they alive?’
‘Ed, what the hell is going on? Are you awake or are you having a nightmare? Of course Rachel and Alec are alive. Rachel will be here in a couple of hours and Alec is downstairs getting some sleep. What’s got into you three?’
‘Get them here now, Colonel,’ Ayshea said quietly. ‘Ed, I mean Commander Straker needs to see them now.’ And she stepped close to Ed and put her arms around him, her head on his shoulder, for the last time. Then she stepped back, looking up at him with eyes filled with joy and laughter.
May 26th 2010
Commander Straker tidied up the pile of folders on his desk and stacked them in the tray. He sighed. Back to normality, if ever SHADO could be called normality.
Lt Johnson brought him a mug of coffee, milk and sugar, just as he liked it. He looked at her, smiling conspiratorially, ‘Good to see you back at work Ayshea. How are you coping with the nightmares?’
‘Oh, easing up now Ed, sorry, Commander. It’s almost as if the whole experience is fading into the past, as if it never really happened. It seems so … distant somehow.’
‘Keith tells me the same. I know you’ve spoken to Dr Jackson and he’s happy for you to be back at work, but let me know if you need any more time off, won’t you?’ he smiled at her.
‘I’ll be fine Ed… sorry, just habit I suppose. I think, as the memories fade, it will be easier, but there are so many things that I don’t really want to forget, so many good times. And yes, it was horrendous, but there were good times, weren’t there?’ she asked him anxiously.
‘Oh yes there were. A lot of good times, but also…’ he paused, unwilling to drag up memories. ‘Ayshea, why don’t you take a few more days off work anyway? Spend it recording what you can remember. I started writing down the things I wanted to recall, before I forget them. Jackson thinks we should have forgotten most of it in a few days from now, and there are so many things I need to do as a result of our experiences.’
‘Paul, you mean?’ she looked at him, honestly.
‘Yes, Paul for one. I need to move him to a post where he can develop his skills, where he can become a leader. And Alec. He needs to have his workload lightened. Since we came back I ordered him to have a full medical examination. The fool had managed to get away with just the usual cursory check-up. He has myocarditis. Treatable, and hopefully we have caught it in time, but he will need to be monitored closely. So there are lessons to be learned from our stay in that other time. And we have a chance to do things better this time around.’ He smiled up at her. ‘Thanks for the coffee, Ayshea. Lieutenant.’
She smiled, at him, knowing that it would probably be the last time he would call her by her name in such a familiar, friendly way. She turned to leave, just as Keith Ford came into the room.
‘Commander, can I have a word? Ayshea, please stay, this concerns you as well.’ Keith was clearly distressed, his hands shaking slightly, his voice agitated.
‘Certainly, come in.’ Straker closed his office door as they sat, Ayshea watching Keith with concern. ‘Now, I presume this is something to do with the past?’ He leaned back.
‘Ed,’ he paused, hesitantly.
‘Keith, stop worrying about names, it’s all going to be fading from your mind soon enough. I think I can cope with my friends calling me Ed for a few more days.’ And he grinned at them.
‘Sorry, …Ed. Look. I’ve spent the last week worrying. I need to talk to you both. Seriously. This is something I can’t talk to Jackson about, or anyone else. Only you two would understand.’ His eyes were filled with horror, with fear, with memories which he could no longer cope with, alone.
Straker stood up. Went over to the table and poured a glass of Alec Freeman’s whisky. Brought it back and handed it to the Lieutenant. Keith took it in shaking hands.
‘I know what you want to talk about, Keith,’ Straker told him a quiet voice. ‘You need to talk about what you would have had to do if Janus hadn’t worked. If I had disappeared and you had been left there, alone. And the world hadn’t changed.’
‘You always were the clever one, Ed.’ Keith smiled grimly. ‘I can’t deal with the thought of that final decision. Of having to do the only possible thing left to me. The only sensible solution. To have to kill Ayshea and then myself.’
His hand shook and the amber liquid in the glass swirled around. Ed stood up and went around the desk, to stand beside him. ‘Drink it Keith, it won’t do any good in the glass,’ he ordered.
Keith gulped down the whisky, and leaned back, sighing. ‘What would you have done Ed?’
‘Me?’ Straker stared bleakly at the mural behind his desk. It had been dark and motionless for so long, but now the bright swirling patterns illuminated the room. ‘Me? I made the decision for you Keith. I was hoping we would not remember what had happened. But I should tell you, now, for your peace of mind more than anything.’ He took a deep breath. ‘That last drink of whisky, before you activated Janus, the drink to toast our friends to wish us success? Your glass and Ayshea’s were laced with hydromorphone tablets that I had crushed up earlier. You would have felt sleepy shortly after I had left, would have gone to sleep quite quickly in fact, and then,’ he paused, thinking, ‘you would have, quite simply, never woken up.’
There was silence.
‘Oh Ed.’ Ayshea stood up and hugged him, tightly. ‘I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for you. Knowing what you were doing, and what you might have returned to, if Janus hadn’t worked.’
‘But it did. And we are here, and the world continues.’ He hugged her in return and then let go and stepped back, before pouring another drink for Keith. ‘We have a chance to make sure we are better prepared in the future, prepared for any eventuality. Let’s hope we take it.’
‘Have you any idea why we remembered what happened? None of the others have any recollection at all?’ Ayshea asked, as Keith sipped the rest of his drink and thought about what his friend had told him.
‘There are lots of theories, but it’s usually the simplest ones that are most likely.’ Straker sat back behind his desk, its Perspex surface tidy and organised. ‘It’s probably best to think of time as a piece of string. It goes in a line, but Janus made the string loop back upon itself, to rejoin the initial line and start a new path from where we managed to change history. May 19th to be exact. However, we travelled along the whole of the string, unlike everyone else, those who died. They were not on the string at the end of the loop, so they don’t remember. Because we survived, we still have those memories. Don’t worry too much about it. Just enjoy each day.’
He opened his office door. ‘Keith, Ayshea, if you need to talk to me again I’m here, but I think you will find your memories soon fade, soon become a bad dream. That loop of memory that we three experienced will probably detach itself from the mainstream of consciousness, much like an oxbow lake separates from the main river channel. And then it will gradually cease to exist. It will be as if it never happened. At least I hope so.’
He watched them leave, then picked up a folder on his desk and read through it again, and, nodding to himself, signed the final page. There. The orders for Paul Foster to transfer to Warton, to the secret Aircraft Design Operations unit that was based there, to begin the development of the Fighter Task Force. That was where Paul needed to be, where his skills would be utilised properly.
It was not going to be an easy posting for Paul, but it would give him real experience in leading. Leading his own team. After all, Ed owed it to Paul. Without Paul, Ed would not have survived to finish the final work on Janus.
And SHADO would benefit. The organisation would get a better trained man at the end. That was the main thing.
Then there was the problem of James to deal with. James needed to be watched, closely. Given support if necessary. But certainly James could not be relied upon anymore. And Laura. He would have to order frequent psyche evaluations on both of them, and possibly move them to other, less vital posts in the organisation. Still, he would deal with that later.
He put the folder back and leaned back, steepling his fingers and thinking.
He closed his eyes, remembering, recalling, the long, long months, over two years in fact, of work; the fear, the horror, the friends, the losses. The terrible moment when he watched his friends drink that final drink, knowing that, should he fail and return, he would return to find them asleep and slowly, peacefully, dying. And he would be alone, one last solitary survivor in a dying, nightmare world.
He picked up his personal journal and leafed through the many pages, skimming over his neatly written account of the events of that now no-longer-existing time. Sighing, he closed it and put it in his briefcase. He would continue it tonight. It was important to get it down, before the memories finally disappeared for good. He had learned so much, about himself and others. And they had been given a second chance.
Enough. Enough of the past and the memories.
Commander Ed Straker flicked his intercom. ‘Miss Ealand, can you tell my driver I’ll be leaving in a couple of minutes? Thank you.’
And finally, thankfully, he put it all behind him, and went home.
To Rachel. To his future with her.
LtCdr June 2010
I don’t really know what started me off on this story.. but the idea of changing time was very interesting. I think it began with the thought of Ed and Ayshea together and just developed from there.
Originally I had only intended to have just five people live on – Ed, Alec, Ayshea, Keith and Paul, but then it steamrollered into the whole bunch. One concern I had was that I wouldn’t be able to justify their presence and I realised pretty soon that I was going to have to kill some/most of them off. The ‘conversation’ Ed had with Alec was one of the first parts I wrote. I didn’t want to give too much away, but had to mention Paul’s death etc.
Some aspects of the story came about more from need than any planning on my part… The store room and the tunnel in particular. But I could see them being a reality, just as I could see the need to shut down the whole base and seal it off from the outside world.
Then once I had done Ed’s Personal Journal, not the first one, but the one after the first year, it seemed logical to put a Personal Journal entry at the end of each ‘Chapter’ …. although in the end, some chapters are no more than personal journal accounts, with very little else happening.
I tried to get each person to write a diary, but Laura didn’t… I got to the stage where I felt that I would be writing chapters merely to provide a base for a diary entry, so I stopped. It was quite good fun trying to write in a different style for different people.. I particularly liked Simon’s entry…all the swearing… I was in a bad mood that day and thinking about people who made me angry!
The hard part was trying to get the dates worked out…. I got to the stage where I had to write down the months and years in order so that I could remember what was happening. But I think I probably made several errors. When I print it off and proof read it ( I can only do that to a ‘hard copy’) I’ll make any necessary corrections.
I also wanted to show Paul changing and maturing. We are so mean to him at times, even though he does occasionally deserve it. But I’d like to see him get the chance to prove himself. and I think he will now.. if I can get round to writing the story about him in New Mexico.. why did I choose there? I have no idea what it is like.. I think I shall move him up to Lancashire where British Aerospace have their Warton factory.. fairly close to me so I see their new planes fly overhead! ( I did move him!)
One part I was pleased with was the difference between Ed and Straker. ‘Ed’ being the man in the alternate world, and ‘Straker’ being the one in the original. At the end, when Ed comes back, Straker sees ‘Ed’ and then, they become one… Ed Straker….. both together.
And I loved the bit where Ayshea sleeps with him.. …. innocence.
Some grim parts as well… I’m never afraid to tackle unpleasant issues..
Alec’s death.. quite possible
Laura’s breakdown… well, I can see it happening
James’s suicide.. definitely possible
And yes, I think Ed would have arranged the whisky laced with the painkillers.
I like the ending. I always intended to have them remember what had happened, but then I realised that it would cause problems eventually, so that’s why they will gradually forget. And I had planned to have Keith and Ayshea get together, but somehow that just didn’t gel.
Janus? . I have NO idea how it works. I hope it was relatively convincing, as was the explanation for the Acceleration equation. – wonder if you could really do it?
My time-line length of string theory … well sometimes the simplest answers are the best.
So, thanks for reading AfterMath. And please let me know if you spot any glaring errors!
The poem on Sept 2th 2012 is from a book I read about 45 years ago. I do not recall the writer’s name, or the book, but the poem has stayed with me.