‘It’s happened again. Third time this week.’
‘So get someone to deal with it.’
‘It’s not that simple.’
‘Yes it is. Get the name, get the address, and send security.’ Straker didn’t even bother looking up from file he was reading. ‘Or are you telling me, Alec, that SHADO Security can’t find the person who keeps Googling me? Anyway, it’s probably just a film fan.’
‘Ed.’ That voice was not going to give up.
There was silence. Straker sighed, closed the file and this time, reluctantly, stared up into Alec Freeman’s craggy face.
‘Go on. Tell me.’ The SHADO Commander leaned back in his chair and waited.
‘It wasn’t just your name this time. They also googled Shadow, with a ‘w’ I must add, and UFOs. But…’
‘Yes…….’ Straker pondered for a moment then came to a decision. ‘Okay, run a full G6 and get me the facts. If this is a security breach, we need to be sure we contain all the people concerned. Any idea where the search originated?’
Freeman huffed with a faint tone of disgust. ‘Blackpool.’
Jake Wilson dragged himself from the tangled mess of crumpled bedding and almost slid out onto the floor. Pulling back the curtain he peered through the dirty glass. Great. A taxi. Why the hell did they bother? Why couldn’t they just accept the fact that there was no way he was going in to the Unit today, or any other day for that matter.
And yet every sodding day the taxi arrived.
Sod it. And he fell back on the dirty bed, rubbing his sweaty face with his hand, pulled the covers up and fell asleep, to dream of spinning shapes, and blood and screams. And death.
‘The de Vere Hotel. I’ve booked your room. Two nights. Are you sure about this Ed? After all you don’t usually do this sort of thing. And after all….’ the speaker paused, unsure of how to carry on this topic of conversation.
‘After all what, Alec? I’m getting too old to be playing secret agent games? You think that Security should deal with this? Or is it the fact that I am going to be leaving you in charge for three days. Three days at the most. You can cope with that, surely?’
‘Look, you’re planning on going up there alone, no back-up, no security. Of course I’m worried. This hacker, whoever he is, has got some details of SHADO, some information somehow. He could be a threat, a threat to the whole organisation, but in particular a threat to you. I think you should reconsider the whole trip.’ And Freeman sat back, almost sulkily, his annoyance furrowing his brow.
‘And miss the delights of visiting Blackpool?’ Straker grinned ruefully, ‘No, Alec. Have you read the file on the young man concerned? No? Well I suggest you do. It makes for most interesting reading. And when you’ve read it, then, if you really feel I should cancel the trip, I will. But somehow I think you’ll agree with me on this one.’ And Straker handed his second-in-command a thick file. ‘Here you are. Oh, and Alec?’ Straker smiled genially.
‘Yes?’ Freeman looked up from reading the first page of the document.
‘I’ll try to bring back a souvenir for you.’
Alec had capitulated, as Straker had known he would do, and now the SHADO Commander was in the jet, flying to Blackpool. Well, it was easier than driving, although Blackpool’s small airport could not cope with the logistics of landing and refuelling the SHADO SST and he’d had to use the rather slower Gulfstream. But it would suffice for such a short trip.
He read the file again on the brief flight, and thought about the past. It had come back to haunt him now, hadn’t it. And he would have to clear up this mess now. Still, ultimately it was his responsibility, and he hoped that some good might come from this trip.
He might even get to have a walk on the beach.
His car was waiting and he drove to the hotel, not a long journey, but enough for him to get a feel for the place. A vibrant town. That was the slogan on the signs as he eased his way along the rutted roads, past the derelict council houses with boarded windows and burned and rotting sofas festooning the overgrown gardens.
Vibrant. He laughed mirthlessly. Hell, it had been, what, seven years since he had last been up here to this festering, dying relic of Victorian splendour. And the whole town looked as if it was on its last legs, like some haggard old film star, desperately trying to rekindle her fading career by starring in some third rate porn film.
The hotel was out of the way, not on the tacky sea-front, with its kiss-me-quick tawdry shops and overpriced tourist attractions, but hidden away discreetly, and surrounded by golf links. An oasis of smart respectability in the otherwise sordid surroundings.
Alec had booked the luxury suite for him; quiet, expensive, expansive. Typical Alec. Straker would have been as content with a standard room. It was a place to sleep. No more, no less, just as his home was merely that.
He unpacked, hanging up his suit, and putting away his belongings, neatly, tidily. A far cry from the last time he was here. The suite had the obligatory Jacuzzi, two bedrooms, a waste of money Alec, and a lounge area overlooking the lake and golf course. He sat down, waiting for room service to bring his steak and salad, thinking, planning, and remembering the last time he was here.
He had always suspected that this might happen, that he would be called to deal with the events of the past, but it was not looking good. Not good at all. Still, he would deal with it. Tomorrow.
Jake woke up, again, to hear the sound of footsteps downstairs. Hell. They were back. Three days early. Shit. Why hadn’t he tidied up last night? Why hadn’t he realised that they were likely to come back early.
After all, they spent most of their time shouting and fighting and just because they had gone on holiday, if two weeks in a caravan in Morpeth could be called a holiday, that was no reason to assume that things would be hunky-dory between them.
God he hated his Aunt and Uncle. Hated them with a passion and a loathing that consumed him utterly. He could not remember a time when he didn’t hate them, but there again, there were a lot of times he couldn’t actually remember.
That last weekend with his mother and brothers, the one when they…… and he was so close to recall, the memories so very, very close he could almost taste them, but it was no good. It was all gone. Just a blank page in his mind.
There seemed to be a lot of blank pages in his mind these days.
He heard the footsteps up the stairs, quiet on the threadbare carpet, light steps, not the hulk of his uncle, nor the heavy breathless puffing of his grossly overweight aunt.
No, this was someone else.
And he froze with horror, a memory flashing through him like lightning. Blood, and pain and terror. He was a child again, paralysed with terror, unable to breathe, unable to move, even to cry out.
In his fear he whimpered faintly, clutching the stained and thin sheets to his face, terrified that he would be found, that they, whoever they were, would drag him from his place of hiding, would tear open his clothes and would….
The bedroom door opened and he screamed.
Ed Straker had known, as soon as the town of Blackpool was mentioned, who it was researching Straker and Shadow and UFOs. It had taken him no more than a couple of seconds to recall the name.
Jake Wilson. He had not thought of Jake for years now. In fact he had almost expunged the name from his memory.
It had been an unpleasant series of events, culminating in an even more unpleasant conclusion. But it had been the only option open to SHADO at the time. Though now Ed Straker wondered if he had, at the time, done the right thing. Oh yes, it had been the right thing, legally, but morally? He had always had his doubts.
And now he was here, to clear up the mess he had left behind seven years ago. He shifted the gun in his holster, as if to convince himself that it was there.
He had unlocked the front door to the shabby council house with no problems at all. No alarms inside, no big dog barking. Just a dingy hallway with peeling wallpaper and nylon carpet.
His shoes stuck to the threadbare surface as he carefully explored the downstairs. Lounge. Huge plasma tv but no books, no pictures, just stained and torn sofas, and the stench from the remains of several take-aways mouldering in cartons and noodle boxes on the floor.
Kitchen; greasy cold water in the sink, filthy mugs, sticky floor. He opened the dining room door. Worse.
Straker shook his head in disgust, both at the state of the house and at himself. He had done this. It was his fault.
And now, somehow, he had to sort it out. Well, the boy was upstairs probably. He certainly wasn’t at his school. Although it wasn’t really a school was it? A special unit they called it, for children with serious medical problems. Including mental instability and depression. Oh yes, and suicidal tendencies, drug addictions, and compulsive behaviours.
Great work Straker, he thought disgustedly.
He took his gun out, readied it, and climbed the stairs, stepping lightly, feet on the edges of the treads to avoid creaking and warning anyone. Although from all accounts Jake would most likely be in a drug induced stupor and wouldn’t be able to even see clearly, let alone react in any way that would be a threat.
He opened the door, slowly, carefully, mindful of his training, even after more years behind a desk that he cared to admit.
The scream startled him. Not a loud noise. A child’s scared scream, more of a muffled shriek really. A cry of terror, of horrified recollection. And Straker knew that Jake Wilson remembered him.
‘Shit.’ He stepped closer to the bed, his face creased with disgust at the state of the bedclothes. ‘Jake. Look at me. Do you remember me?’ his voice was quiet, determined, forceful.
The eyes that stared back at him were brown and tearfilled with shock.
‘Jake. I won’t hurt you. I promise.’
The hands moved, clutching the covers as if to pull them over his head, to hide away and hope that all this would disappear into a nightmare from which he would awaken at any moment.
Straker sighed. It was going to be harder than he thought. He sat down on the edge of the bed, slipping his gun back into its holster and put one hand out to clasp the boy’s hand. ‘Jake, I won’t hurt you, I’m here to help you. Look at me. Look at me and tell me what you can remember.’
The voice was hesitant, scared, tremulous with suppressed fear. ‘Straker. That’s your name, I remember you. You were there when… Oh God.’ His body went rigid with shock, and he arched his back, screaming, screaming properly this time, loud agonised screams that filled the house until Straker hit him sharply across the face, a ringing slap that shocked the boy into silence.
Jake lay there, eyes wide, gasping for breath, the red mark of Straker’s hand livid on his pallid skin.
‘Now. Let’s start again. What do you remember Jake? And why were you researching me on the internet?’ Straker went into command mode, his voice stern and demanding. It was not a voice that one could ignore.
‘You’ve got a gun. You’re going to kill me.’
‘No I’m not.’
‘You killed them. I remember. I remember it all now.’
‘Do you. Well then, think back, think back carefully Jake. And tell me what you remember. Everything.’
Ed Straker looked around the office, his office now. Finally completed, the large Perspex desk, a left-over from one of the film sets, the mural on the wall over the conference table, another left-over, the moving mural behind his chair, not a left-over, more a means of escapism he had told Colonel Freeman with hint of secret amusement.
There were some finishing touches to be made yet, but SHADO was, to all intents and purposes, fully operational as from last week. Staff fully trained and in place, Moonbase up and running, albeit with a minimal complement of crew, the skydivers already on patrol out in the oceans.
All that was needed now was a UFO. Although Ed Straker would have been quite content to have spent his days in his office, reading dire film scripts for ever, if it meant that Earth would not have to suffer another UFO attack.
The paperwork was already mounting up on his desk, piles of folders, all Top level secrecy. That was going to be one of the major headaches; the paperwork. It wasn’t as if his second-in-command, Alec Freeman, would be able to help much in that area.Henderson had insisted that Straker, as SHADO Commander, deal with the formalities and form filling side of running the covert organisation.
So Straker was resigned to being desk-bound and leaving Alec Freeman to run the shop as it were. Although Alec was currently off world, supervising the final staff inductions on Moonbase. Damn. Straker envied him.
He settled down with a coffee and a pile of folders, working through them methodically, meticulously, until;
‘This is Space Intruder Detector. I have positive track….’ Straker was in the control room beforeSIDhad finished the details.
A UFO. Not the first, not the last.
Just one though, and coming in on a track that was almost impossible to predict, veering all over the place, erratic speed, erratic course. Well, whoever thought this would be easy.
Straker watched, and hoped as the Moonbase contingent set about their task. But it was clear that the UFO would evade the interceptors. Damn. They needed a means to predict the path of the UFOs, to be able to spot them even as the aliens approached at speeds faster than anything imaginable. That was the next thing on Straker’s ‘to do’ list.
Until then, well they’d do their best to stop the aliens, even if it was not always successful.
And this time it wasn’t. Skydiver was unable to intercept. The UFO landed. Not, fortunately, in the middle of a city, but in the sea. Just off Blackpool in fact Only just off Blackpool. Still on the continental shelf.
Damn. Straker swore vehemently. Out of Skydiver’s reach.
The SHADO Commander organised a full contingent of armed SHADO staff, technicians, medics, everyone who might be useful and they set off.
Forty-five minutes. The flight in the new SHADO copter was quick. Noisy, noticeable, but quick. Straker grimaced. Thank God it was night time. There would be more reports of strange lights in the sky, but with any luck they could put it down to reflections from the Illuminations. That would be the official response anyway.
UFOs? Nah. No such thing.
They arrived in force, quietly, well as quietly as a well-armed force of highly trained soldiers, armed to the teeth could arrive, and deployed silently, efficiently, along the sea front, out of sight of the tourists wandering along the promenade.
Straker issued orders. Armed divers into the sea. Armed guards on watch. Everyone armed. Everyone ready. Now it was a case of waiting. And hoping that no-one got in the way.
And then he saw it. The thing he had feared most.
Jake started shaking, sweating and nearly crying as he forced himself to remember the events of that night. The events he had locked away inside his mind for seven years, refusing to let them escape, even though they had returned at night, in his dreams, to haunt him. September 2003.
Straker had gone downstairs while Jake sat there, skinny arms wrapped round his knees. Jake recalled his first sight of Straker; the blonde hair, the aura of power, of command, the sense that Straker would have no compunction about killing anything that got in his way. And he had been right.
And now Straker had returned, and was here.
The bedroom door opened and Jake looked up fearfully. Straker handed him a mug.
‘Coffee. Two sugars. Powdered milk. Only reasonably clean mug I could find.’
‘I don’t want it.’
‘Drink it. I haven’t poisoned it. I’m not here to harm you. If I really wanted you dead Jake, I’d have done it a long time ago.’
Jake took the mug and sipped it cautiously, then drank it down, grateful for a hot drink. He handed the mug back to Straker and then, almost without thinking, relaxed and lay back on the pillows, arms behind his head.
Straker noticed the deep scars that slashed across the boy’s forearms, but didn’t a say anything.
He folded his own arms and watched the boy.
‘So, memories. You clearly recall something. Tell me.’ It was not a request, not a pleasant discussion. Straker’s tone was definite. A command.
Jake closed his eyes for a moment and thought.
‘First night of the illuminations, we went onto the beach. The tide was out so we walked along the edge of the sea looking at the lights in the water. You could see the Tower shining in the water. And the lights from the trams and the displays. We played at seeing who could get closest to the water without getting their feet wet. It’s one of the few happy memories I have.’ He stopped, looked at the man sitting there. ‘You took it all away didn’t you? All the memories, all my childhood,’ he said bitterly.
‘I had no choice. Then or now. But you are remembering what happened aren’t you.’
‘No thanks to you.’ The eyes were hard and angry
‘So, carry on. What else do you recall?’
‘There were lights under the water, green lights, not reflections, not the Illuminations, moving lights that got closer to the surface and I remember wanting to get nearer to them. I went into the water, up to my knees and it was cold. I went out quite far, before Mum shouted at me, not because I was being naughty, but because I was some distance away from her and the rest of them. And then, and then…….’ He stopped speaking and sat up, rocking silently backwards and forwards in distress, scarred arms wrapped around his head this time.
Straker put one hand onto his shoulder. ‘Jake,’ he started to speak but the boy jerked upright and shouted at him
‘Don’t touch me, go away. It’s all your fault. I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want this.’
‘I can’t go away Jake. Just as you can’t make the memories of that night go away now. I have to know what you remembered, and then, well then I may be able to help you.’
‘Help me? Oh yes, like you did before?’ the contempt was plain to hear.
‘I did help you Jake. I saved you, and if you really think, really try, you may remember that. That I saved you that night. I just wasn’t in time to….’
‘To do what? Save my Mum and my brothers? I remember it all now. You, shooting that alien, dragging me out from the water, carrying me to safety. Gee thanks. Thanks for letting me live. For handing me over to my loving aunt and uncle. As you can see it’s been a great life. And I owe it all to you. How can I ever repay you. Oh. Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll find a way, eventually.’ His voice dripped with scorn.
The SHADO Commander stood up and paced the room.
‘Should I have left you to die? Left them to kill you as they had killed your family. Dear God Jake, you were, what, eight years old. Your mother and brothers were dead by the time my men and I found them and you would have been next.’ Straker was angry, and not just with the boy sitting there in the unmade sordid bed.
He was angry with himself for allowing that small child to be left with these people. People who, although they might have had the custodial rights to care for Jake, certainly did not, in Straker’s judgement, have the ethical rights. Sometimes family links were not a good enough reason.
And Ed Straker remembered as well. The corpses, the woman, the children, bobbing in the gentle wavelets, the reflected lights of the garish Illuminations washing around the red-stained water.
The small boy, some distance away, initially unnoticed by the aliens. The aliens themselves, too engrossed in retrieving the organs from the body of their last victim to be aware of the SHADO team.
Straker shooting one of the aliens himself as it ran towardsJordanand collapsed, knocking the small boy over and falling on top of him to push him under the water.
Straker dashing into the sea to grab the choking, spluttering, terrified child and hold him safely, tenderly, carrying him to the SHADO medics.
And afterwards, after the clean up, Straker arranging for the coroner to give a verdict of accidental drowning on those who had died.
Jake. He was the only loose end. The one factor they could not erase. Oh they had re-homed him, like a stray cat, with his aunt and uncle, but Straker had not really been happy about the situation.
It was the amnesia drug that was the problem.Jacksonhad been adamant that it could have harmful effects in future years if administered to children of Jake’s age, but there had been no other option. It might have been better all round if Jake had died. But at that moment in time, Straker could no more have let the boy drown that he could have let his own son die.
And that decision had come back to haunt him.
Straker looked down at Jake Wilson, lying there, asleep, the drug in the coffee having taken effect rather more quickly than he had anticipated.
He took hold of one of the boy’s arms, pushing the shabby pyjama sleeve up past Jake’s elbow. Grimly he noted the silver scars from self-harming slashes and the needle marks, the signs of persistent drug use. There was no hope now.
He had come to see if he could retrieve something from the debacle of September 2003. But it was hopeless.
He had a job to do. As SHADO Commander he was responsible for the protection of the organisation. He was the ultimate SHADO bodyguard as it were. And when there was a difficult or unpleasant task, then it was his responsibility to be there, to defend that to which he had given so much over the years.
Shortly afterwards, the tall, slender man opened the front door and headed back to his car, parked discreetly some distance away. He drove off without looking back.
Alec Freeman was not surprised to find Ed Straker back at work a day earlier than expected. Everyone knew that the Commander was a workaholic.
‘So how was Blackpool?’
‘Blackpool. Need I say more?’
‘And the boy?’
‘Won’t cause any problems. Not now. And Alec?’
His file. You can archive it. We won’t need it again.’
Blackpool Evening Gazette.
Report; Page 5. The body of Jake Wilson, 15, was discovered today by his guardians who arrived home after a brief holiday to find their nephew dead in his bedroom from a suspected overdose. Police state that he had been dead for several days. Friends of the youngster stated that he had been suffering from severe depression and paranoia for some months, although he was known to be a habitual drug user. Neighbours say Jake had a visitor shortly before he is known to have died, but police have been unable to find any evidence.
LtCdr. May 2010